Bedtime Story

 

Philippa, Lady Cavendish, wife of the fifth Earl of Cavendish was feeling miserable. She was severely indisposed, the pain in her abdomen had not lessened a bit even after the herb tea that Betsy had brought, her legs felt heavy, her whole body was bloated. But, the main reason for her misery was not knowing what her husband was going to do. For the past fifteen days since she had married him, he had fallen asleep besides her not removing to his chambers even later in the night, but since she could hardly do her wifely duties today, she wondered anxiously how the routine was going to be affected.

Philippa still remembered vividly the afternoon when she had literally ploughed into him while she was returning from her shopping expedition. Unable to contain her curiosity she had opened her latest purchase, a book, and had directed her eyes to it for only a brief second, when she hit something, someone, hard. The book had fallen down with a thud, as she recovered, rubbing her forehead slightly, to look at the most fashionable, handsome man she had ever seen in her life. He had stooped to retrieve her book and she had been most grateful that it caught his attention enough to give her time to stop her inelegant stare. "I did not know this has become available", he had exclaimed and then turned to apologize to her profusely for his insensitive remark, hoping that she was alright. It had been just a brief encounter but she still remembered it all too well.

Her father, who was in trade, had had great plans for his son and daughter, to introduce them into society, to marry them into families of noble blood. Her large dowry of forty thousand pounds was to be used to capture some impoverished yet titled young man, for there were quite a few, now that the war was over and funds were really short. Philippa loathed the idea, but she had not thought that even this fortune would entice young men enough to marry her, for she had no beauty and too much wit.

She had next met him in a Ball, to which her father very proudly had secured an invitation and she had arrived with her aunt, a gentlewoman. He had approached them quite purposefully, her beating heart recognizing that he was going to apply to her for dancing. But when they were introduced a cloud of uncertainty had hung over his eyes for a few seconds piercing her heart. He had asked her to dance eventually and he had been the perfect gentleman. They had talked of books, music, travels during the dance and then during a musical evening and then in a dinner party at their attorney's house. While he had become more and more restrained, she had fallen more and more in love with him.

By the time she had come to know that his estate was in need of money and that he was trying unsuccessfully for some loans, she had been so much in love with him that she had wished he would marry her for her fortune at least. What else did she have to recommend herself, she had thought bitterly, she had no beauty and definitely no position or pedigree. When she had finally accepted that he would not ask her, when the season had come to an end, he had surprised her one day by proposing. He had nervously stammered, during a morning walk. He had appeared out of nowhere, conveyed in broken words how much he admired her and would she do the honor of marrying him, he had asked in a low voice. Phillippa had assented readily enough as soon as she recovered from her surprise but despite all the delight and happiness and excitement, there was a little part of her heart that had remained dark.

But it had not affected her feelings for him. She was even more in love with him now. The past fortnight had been utterly and completely blissful. His house and grounds were most handsome. There was so much work to do, people to meet. He was constantly closeted in the library with his steward, the parson and various other folks from the village. But he always made room for her. They would go riding in the morning, he would point out the various sights explaining the past and his plans, would inform her of his days meetings and the progress they had made while they took tea in her favorite evening room, he would listen to her play the piano with a smile especially when she slurred through the difficult passages.

A motherless child, her aunt had lectured her briefly on her wifely duties in such terrifying terms. But he had been such a generous and considerate husband. Tears sprang to her eyes as she remembered his gentleness in understanding and removing her fears. He had fallen asleep beside her everyday to wake up and leave to his chambers only in the morning. Obviously he would not stay here today. Without his protective hand across her, without his steady breathing as her anchor, how could she sleep? She sniffled slightly, feeling gloomy.

There was some slight noise and then the connecting door opened and he stood there. He smiled at her, started walking towards her and then realizing she was already in bed, frowned.

"Philippa, are you unwell?" he asked with concern in his voice.

She stammered somewhat and told him about her discomfort.

"Ah", was all he said. She was perplexed. Did he not understand? Did he expect to..? She repeated that she was not feeling well. He was starting towards the bed and he looked surprised at her repetition. But simply nodding his head, he continued. He got onto the bed and settled himself. When he turned to her side, though she wanted him near her, in her tired confused state, she could not but blurt out, "But I will not be of any use to you my Lord".

The first indication that she had said something terribly wrong was the way he went immobile. He slowly turned to look at her with a stricken look in his face. Then wordlessly he left the room. Phillippa lay in her bed, frozen, her mind crowded with thoughts. Was he angry? disappointed? What was she to do? Before the heart-wrenching pain hit her, he returned with a book in his hand.

"If you would like, I can read a book to you", he said in a guarded voice. She nodded her head, afraid to open her mouth.

He climbed on to the bed, lay down next to her on his back and opened the book. He cleared his throat and started reading in a steady voice. His voice was clear and resonant. After about a page, seeing that she was lying down staring at nothing, he asked in a gentle voice. "Where does it hurt?"

"Mainly here", she said pointing to her stomach.

He tilted slightly, placed his hand there and then without another word continued with his reading, his whole body in what must be the most uncomfortably twisted position. The warmth emanating from his hand and the gentle pressure eased the pain and his soothing voice slowly rocked her to sleep. She cuddled closer to him, her head on his shoulder and fell into deep sleep.

The next morning when she woke up, sun's rays were streaming through the window. She had overslept, he had left her room. She wouldn't go riding but after a long, hot bath and a good breakfast, she was feeling much better. She went for a slow walk and sat down on a stone bench on the garden and thought about the previous night. Can there be anybody equal to him? How considerate he had been. Tears welled in her eyes remembering his touch.

He was obviously very much affected by her words, what did she say - she will not be of any use to him. Why should that affect him so much. She could not understand. His subsequent actions told her it was not a common disappointment or anger over her state. It was something else. After mulling over it for a good part of an hour, she rose, sighing slightly. She turned to head back to the house and saw him coming towards her.

He gave her a tired smile, as soon as he came near her. "How are you feeling?", he asked. His eyes were red from sleeplessness and he looked somewhat subdued, not at all the otherwise confident man she knew.

"Much better, thank you My Lord", she replied.

After an awkward pause, after staring at her hand for a few seconds, Philippa unable to bear it, burst out, "I am sorry My Lord, if I have in any way offended you yesterday".

He looked at her, surprise followed by uncertainty and then caution. He waited for a few moments and then said slowly, "I think I should be the one apologizing for having led you to believe", he paused as though struggling for words, "to believe that you must be useful to me instead of showing you how grateful I am that you..", he paused frowning. There was a look on his face and Philippa had an uncanny realization that something momentous was going to happen.

He took a step away from her and then turning towards her punching one hand into another palm forcefully, he cursed and then exclaimed, "Devil it, Philippa I should not have proposed to you"

She was stunned. Of all the things, she had not expected this.

His face softened and he said in a much calmer voice, "I know I have no hope. Philippa, when I first saw you that day, I was so enchanted by the sparkle of life in your eyes that I kept thinking about you. I tried in vain the next two weeks to find out who you were. I was so thrilled to see you in the ball until I realized that you were an heiress. I knew what the inevitable conclusion would be. I told myself that if I had any pride I shouldn't but the more I talked to you, the more.. and when I realized that you might be gone and I may not see you forever, I couldn't take it anymore and ..", he sighed deeply.

She began to feel light headed as something marvelous began to build up inside her. He was telling her that he loved her. He loved her.

"I know you think I married you for the money. I thought foolishly that I had a lifetime to convince you otherwise. I thought I was. Yesterday, it did not even occur to me to go to my chamber and sleep in that bed. Sleeping with you seemed to be the most natural thing. But when you uttered those words it was like a slap. You obviously think you mean nothing to me and that I am just using you, God, how much you must loathe me and.. and despise me"

There was so much censure in his voice and self-disgust in his eyes that she could hardly hear what he was saying. "Loathe you. Oh my Lord, how much I love you", she exclaimed, unable to contain any longer. His look of surprise was comical that she burst out laughing at the irony.

He slowly smiled, still a little uncertain.

"I wanted you to stay with me yesterday so much that I was feeling guilty about causing you discomfort. You see I think you were the one that was short changed. I got the most caring, handsome, wonderful husband but you got a measly few thousand pounds", she gave him a watery smile.

He wordlessly came near her and after a few moments when he silently met her gaze, he pulled her roughly into his arms, "No my darling, sweet Phillippa, I got you and you are the most precious, priceless, invaluable thing in the whole world", he declared in a husky voice, before taking over her lips possessively.

 

2001 Copyright held by the author.

 

 

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