Posted on 2014-02-09
Anne waited for the admiral to explain himself, but so far he was not hurrying. He was simply looking at her contemplatively. It was impolite to ask him why and she could only hope that he would remember what she had asked.
Fortunately Captain Wentworth appeared to be just as curious about the answer. "Did Sir William speak of eloping?"
"He did," Admiral Croft said cheerfully. "In jest, or so he said. And he mentioned Miss Anne, but I suggested that one of the other girls might be more amenable. Who knows, he might have taken my words to heart."
Anne still found it very unpleasant to have been the subject of such conversation. "I must thank you, Admiral, for there was never a hint of an understanding between him and me, and as such I would never have agreed to an elopement had he suggested one."
"I have never been so interesting to other people in my life!" Anne exclaimed. Perhaps she should have eloped with Captain Wentworth eight years ago. Her life would certainly have been completely different and she gave a wry smile. Although in earlier years she would not have considered it a possibility, she was no longer so sure what she would do now. Should Captain Wentworth suggest it, it would be the most practical thing to do.
"Do not worry, Miss Anne, there was only the one fellow talking about you that I know of."
"But he wanted to elope with her?" Captain Wentworth cut in. "Or was he simply marking his territory again?"
"I have no idea," said Admiral Croft. "I wonder where Sophia is. She had something to do upstairs, but I had thought she would be back by now."
"Are the children going to stay here?" Anne was eager for a change of subject.
"For the time being. I have no objections to having them here, in case you thought so. I rather like them. But it gets quite lonely if they are all upstairs together, Frederick is out in the park and Sir William has eloped with someone."
There it was again, that subject. Anne stood up quickly. "Would you mind my looking in on Mrs Croft?"
"Not at all, not at all," he said generously. "She is upstairs somewhere, but you know the way."
Anne walked upstairs to where she supposed Mrs Croft might be. There was an old nursery, of course, and she expected it to be in use now that there were two very young houseguests. But Mrs Croft was not there; only a maid sat working there while the two children slept.
Anne went on to Mrs Croft's sitting room, although she did not know why the lady would be there with the admiral being downstairs. She was in luck, however, for Mrs Croft was writing something at the table.
"There you are," Mrs Croft said with a smile. "Had you heard about our newest mystery?"
"Sir William's being missing, you mean?" She hoped there were not more puzzling events.
"Yes. Have you found any connection to Mrs Clay's death?"
"No, although Captain Wentworth still thinks he did it. I was never really convinced of that, because we did not find any real evidence that it was Sir William. He was merely behaving suspiciously and following me around. But given that he seems to have spoken of having an understanding with me -- which he does not -- perhaps he was simply trying to catch my attention. We are no closer, I say." She sat down and grimaced. "I do not think we are very good at this. We found out how and where, but not who."
"Be careful, though," Mrs Croft warned her. "It may still be Sir William. There is no saying he could not kill one day and try to catch your attention the next. Or it may be someone who would not like you to find out. The admiral, in any case, has forbidden me to look into the matter, on account of -- well, something. He does not want anything to happen to me."
"Is it not unkind of us not to dismiss Sir William?" Anne struggled with this. He was her cousin. Should she be doing more? "We know him."
"Do we? And even people we know may do awful things. Be selfish and unkind, for your own safety, Anne. Nevertheless, there are people you may trust. Us, of course. Frederick, in some ways --"
"In some ways?" Anne interrupted. She believed she could trust him completely with regard to her safety.
"I mean he did not kill Mrs Clay. He does have other faults."
She found herself eager to confide in Mrs Croft a little. "He may not be extremely proper, but that is all."
"Yes, he said his children would not be little Elliots, so I can probably trust him in more ways than only some." She spoke confidently.
Mrs Croft gave her an alarmed grimace. "If there was an occasion for such a remark and even you are calling him not extremely proper, I was probably right in saying some ways."
"I thought it was reassuring."
"It probably was. It is very agreeable that the two of you speak that same language. Outsiders, however, may not understand. Was there any danger of you having children?"
"No, no, people could think we had been doing something we had not been doing, you see," Anne said with a blush. Confiding in someone always brought its uncomfortable moments as well. In retrospect she had been doing something odd. "So that was his explanation, should someone find us. But they did not."
"I am glad they did not, because it is very reassuring to know he will not take you as his mistress when there is so much other trouble he could cause." Mrs Croft's sarcasm was audible.
Anne looked blank. It was not entirely honest of her, but it was easy.
Mrs Croft continued. "Where were you?"
"At Kellynch Lodge, keeping watch in case Sir William came to harm Lady Russell, because someone else has been spreading gossip about my father having married someone who may be carrying the rightful heir." She looked ashamed of casting Sir William in such a suspicious role without proof.
This caused Mrs Croft to look in wide-eyed silence for a full minute. "And who precisely thought this might be Lady Russell?"
"Captain Wentworth. Because she has money and my father was in need of either money or beauty. But it was not Lady Russell, of course, and it is not anyone else either. It is merely gossip. Nobody came to harm Lady Russell and Captain Wentworth went home, and nobody got me with child either."
"Thank you for that reassurance, Anne. I was about to ask."
"Lady Russell never noticed."
"Nor any servants, I am sure. This sounds like a terribly clever plan, hiding in a place where no Lady Russell and no servants could see him, only you. I wonder where that could be." She held up her hand. "But do not tell me such an obvious thing. Tell me instead that there will not be more such occasions."
"I do not know that yet."
"You would not oppose them."
Anne felt the heat on her cheeks, but she held her head high. "In the interest of the investigation."
"Right. Now, if someone does threaten to get you in that condition, come to me."
"Your brother told me where to kick."
"Oh. Yes. That might indeed be more effective. I am glad Frederick is so helpful. However, if you have any questions, come to me. I cannot see Lady Russell answering them in any helpful way, because you seem to have embarked on a rather improper path."
"I would never say these things to Lady Russell," Anne confessed. "I am only telling you because I believe you would not be shocked and you would not condemn me, and I do need to speak about it, I feel. But if even you think it improper, perhaps it is? It did not feel that way."
"That is the treacherous bit, yes, although I cannot say I have ever done anything improper. I was respectably married when everything occurred that would be improper for an unmarried woman." Mrs Croft looked at her appraisingly. "Respectable marriage is not an option?"
She winced. "Oh, no." Marriage was not an option. It would not be for him.
"Would you care to enlighten me about Frederick's inexplicable disdain of all Elliots, dead or living? Excluding you, I should say."
"Excluding me?" Anne brightened a little.
"I know Edward met your family when he lived around here, but Frederick has been rather vague about it. Your sister does not appear to have met him before either. It almost makes me wonder if he suffered a disappointment there. I can see how it would embarrass him today. But we also have you, with whom he is on inexplicably good terms, but he will not talk about you. I cannot make sense of it."
Anne looked away.
After confiding in Mrs Croft she felt a good deal better. Mrs Croft was glad to see her confusion cleared up, but she could not say anything about her brother's feelings or intentions. Anne had not said anything about her own feelings either and she loved only silently, but she suspected some of it might have been obvious.
"Now let us join the gentlemen," Mrs Croft decided.
"You will not tell them we spoke about this, I hope?"
"Not at this moment."
They found the gentlemen still in the room where Anne had left them. Admiral Croft looked pleased to see his wife, evidently fearing that the captain would soon desert him to do some more investigating. Captain Wentworth, however, looked comfortable in his chair. "We have been speculating," said he. "There are several possibilities. Elopement, flight, accident, murder, business."
Anne thought some of those were more plausible than others, but just having spoken to Mrs Croft she did not dare to be too forward. She did not want Mrs Croft to scrutinise her interactions with Captain Wentworth.
"Elopement? Where does that come from?" Mrs Croft inquired.
"From our imaginations. But it would not do to amuse ourselves with such speculations if he could be somewhere out there lying dead in a ditch," Captain Wentworth checked himself.
"I have sent some groundsmen out for a search," Admiral Croft added. "Which is all we could do, given that he left no clues. We cannot ask his valet about any plans he might have had, because apparently the valet left a few days ago."
Anne forgot her resolve. "Was that before or after Mrs Clay's death?"
"After, I believe."
She dwelled on that. The valet could have been involved, or he could have realised that his master was involved. It was too much of a coincidence for the man to leave at a time like this. Had he known Mrs Clay?
"Sir William did quite well then. I should have lasted less than a day if my manservant had abandoned me," Captain Wentworth remarked.
"You --" Mrs Croft began, but then thought the better of it.
"I am sorry, Sophia."
"But what did you tell me upstairs, Anne? Your father is said to have been married?"
Thankfully Captain Wentworth was quicker to answer. "Our local clergyman thinks he must have been, because it is what he would have done himself had he been in Sir Walter's stead. How did Mr Ingleby spend all those years before his wife was born, I wonder? I noticed she was much younger than her husband."
"She is his third wife," Anne said solemnly.
"Third?" the captain cried. "One does not hear that very often. Not successively, at any rate."
"Simultaneously? What would one do with three wives at once?" the admiral wondered.
"My last surgeon had at least three wives. He was a very good surgeon in spite of it. But that explains Mrs Ingleby's age and her husband's inability to imagine a man doing otherwise. Someone should tell him he should not invent stories, however, but he may not listen to me."
Anne spoke up. "I thought we had best go together."
Mrs Croft held up two hands. "Is Mr Ingleby spreading lies? To whom? And what would it solve to confront him?"
"He has told at least two people," said the captain. "Perhaps that is all. Not everyone could have an interest."
"Then it might not be of any use talking to him, because he might not spread it any further."
"I want to," said Anne in determination.
"What if he did it?" Captain Wentworth narrowed his eyes.
Posted on 2014-02-22
While everyone was still wondering if and why Mr Ingleby could have done it, Captain Wentworth was already on the next thought. He did not waste any time. "What do you suppose he would think if we went there together? With him being a man who seems unduly preoccupied by the uncontrollable urges of men in himself and others? Seeing a man and a woman together is bound to give him some very bad ideas."
"Uncontrollable?" Anne did not know what to make of that precisely. Captain Wentworth himself did not seem to be particularly uncontrolled.
"It is nonsense, but he seems to think it his duty to speak of it to other men. If I were to go there with a woman, he would say something undesirable to me, or to you, and give us no chance to say what we had really come to say."
"So if you went to berate him, you should not give him any reason to berate you, however undeserved it might be?" It occurred to her that Mr Ingleby might also think they had come to discuss a wedding, but she had best not say that.
"Precisely." He frowned and looked at the floor.
Mrs Croft leant towards Anne. "You could pretend you are not there to berate him."
"But what other purpose could we have?" Was Mrs Croft thinking the same as she was?
"It rarely works well to go to someone and accuse him of something, be it lying, or perhaps even murdering Mrs Clay."
"Perhaps we could do to him what he does to others." Captain Wentworth raised his head with a gleam in his eyes. "We could say we heard he had been messing about with Mrs Clay before her death."
The captain's suggestion was met with silence. Anne was too busy thinking to see how Admiral and Mrs Croft were receiving the idea. It was she who finally spoke first, however. "Do you think that can be done? Is it not wrong?"
"It is a battle."
"But we are not battling --" She broke off -- because they might be. But they would still be lying.
"We have two objectives," Captain Wentworth explained. "First, we want him to say something about Sir Walter. Second, we might accidentally find out he killed Mrs Clay."
"Which is not likely." Anne disliked being the only one talking to Captain Wentworth, but Admiral and Mrs Croft left it to her and she did not want to appear stupid. He would appreciate an answer. He did not like fools. "Mr Ingleby is a clergyman."
"And they never do anything wrong."
"They make more of an effort to do things right."
"More of an effort to conceal their faults, I say. He is as likely a candidate as any, the present company excepted."
"Thank you," said the admiral. "Very glad."
"I have said before that he has nothing to offer," Anne protested. She did not know why was suddenly so fond of this idea. There had been absolutely no clue leading up to it. "Mr Ingleby, that is, not the admiral."
"Yet he is on his third wife. Something must have persuaded her to accept him."
Anne did not know what that could be in Mrs Ingleby's case. She was not from around here and what her circumstances had been before her marriage, Anne did not know. Perhaps she had been destitute with no other choice than to accept the first husband who would have her.
As usual, Captain Wentworth quite liked his own idea. "We shall not tell him who told us about him and Mrs Clay until he tells us why he lied."
"That is --"
"It is a battle. Listen. We are not telling all the parish. We are not telling anybody else, in fact."
Anne looked at Mrs Croft. Surely if she thought this a bad idea, she would have said something already? Was she alone in this?
Mrs Croft shrugged. "It is a stupid ruse, but not immoral to me."
"Stupid?" asked her brother.
"Yes. Thoughtless. Why would the two of you ask him about Mrs Clay? You are not related to her. What interest could you have? What reason? You need to think about that before you take any action."
"But why is he now suddenly a suspect?" Anne wondered. "I still do not see why."
"They have urges in common. It suddenly occurred to me that his urges and Mrs Clay's urges might have been well-matched," said Captain Wentworth.
"Surely he would not be so weak?"
"Surely he could. But you are right, Sophia, I may need to come up with a reason for asking."
"Ah," Mrs Croft suddenly looked very innocent. "I have an idea."
Anne could see she liked her own ideas as well as her brother liked his. She wondered which of the two would win.
"You could," Mrs Croft spoke on, "go to him and say you have been a little improper, but you know he will understand because you heard he has been fiddling with Mrs Clay himself -- although I advise you not to say this in front of Mrs Ingleby -- and you came to ask him what to do next, because obviously you have no intention of marrying anyone."
Captain Wentworth considered this. "And you think he will then concentrate on refuting or denying the bit about Mrs Clay? Rather than ask me who I am talking about?"
"You will find out soon enough if you were wrong about Mrs Clay. I expect he might become angry. But..." she said warningly. "I do not think you should take Anne with you or even identify her as the woman with whom you have been having improper dealings. If he has been spreading lies about Sir Walter, he may not hesitate to do the same about her. Would it even be his lie if he repeated what you told him?"
"I have not been having improper dealings," the captain protested. "There was nothing improper about any of it." He looked to Anne for confirmation.
"Never mind that," said his sister. "It is indeed nobody's business but of the two of you. Certainly, if neither of you think anything of it, we should not be thinking anything either. But if you speak to a man easily given to wild imaginations about urges it may be wisest not to identify the woman. You may have to pretend she was in Portsmouth. He may even know you spent time there doing something obscure."
"Not really obscure. It did in any case not have anything to do with --"
"But he may ruin your reputation as well if he is so loose-lipped."
Captain Wentworth gave a wry grin. "He has a strange opinion of sailors as it is. I should only be telling him exactly what he is already supposing they do. In fact, it will probably be less than he is supposing they do. I cannot say what he supposes, because I fear Miss Elliot will faint."
Anne had not known she could feel so insulted. "Faint? I have never fainted in my life!"
Perhaps he saw her indignation, because he was willing to clarify a bit. "If you do not faint, you will come very near it, so I will not say what he thinks exactly. I will only say it does not apply to me."
Anne did not like to be kept in the dark, but perhaps Mrs Croft could enlighten her later. She settled for looking dissatisfied.
"Why?" Anne asked of Mrs Croft when Captain Wentworth had gone out. She kept her voice low, so as not to disturb the admiral who had taken up a newspaper. "Why do people assume I shall faint?" She would only ask because Mrs Croft was unconventionally sensible.
"Yes, it is terrible, is it not?" Mrs Croft asked in a sympathetic tone. "I so disliked that myself when I was young."
"Do I strike anyone as weak?"
Either the admiral had not been as engrossed in his newspaper as he had been pretending, or Anne had raised her voice enough for him to hear, for he answered. "Why, no. You might even last on a ship."
Anne gathered it was a compliment he did not often bestow. She smiled gratefully. "I might? Thank you, Admiral. But why can he not tell me?"
"He has no idea what ladies know," Mrs Croft guessed. "He does not see any ordinary women at sea. He may not know what makes them faint, or he has been told they all faint. Perhaps he does not know what fainting is."
"But what is Mr Ingleby's opinion of sailors?"
"He has never dared to share it with me," shrugged Mrs Croft. "And I do not know if he has shared it with Frederick, or if Frederick is simply drawing his own conclusions, but I am guessing he thinks sailors spend all their time in port in the arms of some woman."
"Several, Sophia, several," said the admiral.
"No, several women. It does not sound half so good if you say they have only one sweetheart."
"I am not fainting," Anne pointed out. She might think the topic of sailors in the arms of women slightly uncomfortable, but she would not faint.
"Tell him so," Admiral Croft said encouragingly. "Fainting is nonsense indeed."
Anne hoped Captain Wentworth was meeting with some success at the rectory. She sat for a while without speaking. "Although your arguments made sense, I still wish I could have gone with him. In that case I should have known everything that was said. Now I may only get a watered-down account of things." But she should not complain. Complaining was never elegant. "I should like to be informed, but I do not know how long that may take. Perhaps I had best go home."
"We shall keep you informed," Mrs Croft promised.
Anne walked home. She was curious, but she could not wait at the Hall for hours. Elizabeth, she had been told, had packed her belongings and moved to the Lodge, ostensibly because she no longer wanted to be a burden to her hosts. Anne suspected it had more to do with being alone with the Crofts and two small children, because Elizabeth had never felt herself to be a burden to anyone. She was simply bored. Of course Sir William might return, but Elizabeth might have given up any hopes of him proposing to her -- if she had had any at all.
Elizabeth did not have much of a choice, Anne reflected. She could stay with either Lady Russell or Mary, but her nephews were not her favourites and Mary was all to apt to put any visitor to good use entertaining them. It worked better with some than with others, but the constant trying would annoy Elizabeth tremendously.
Anne came home to find Elizabeth and Lady Russell drinking tea. She hoped Lady Russell had not told her sister anything about Mrs Clay, but it turned out that Elizabeth had not yet given her any opportunity. She had been rather upset and did not seem pleased to see Anne.
"Where have you been?" Elizabeth demanded.
Anne tried to remember exactly what she had been doing and in which order. "I went for a walk and then I was invited in by the admiral." That was close enough, even if it did leave some things out.
"He was glad to see me go, I think."
"He did not say anything of the sort."
"As if he would. They took in Penelope's children, I heard. I was told that was who they were. I had never met them. She was my friend, but I had never met them. Not like Mary. I really could not face staying with her. That was her plan, you know. She would have me stay with her children while she went off to Taunton with Charles. I wondered why she did not ask you for that task, because you like that sort of thing, but she could not get hold of you because you are always out."
Anne wondered how true it all was. A note could have been left for her. Or, even better, Mary could simply have asked the Musgroves to look after the boys. If there really was a trip, that was. Usually Mary only had ideas about trips, but she never went anywhere. Charles did not usually take her along.
"Do you know where Sir William went?" she asked.
Elizabeth turned up her nose. "I do not even want to know. Or care."
Posted on 2014-02-28
"It is a pity Sir William did not tell you where he went," Anne said after a few moments of wondering if she could have a proper conversation with her sister. "He might have had an accident as well."
"He knows I do not enjoy walking in this weather," Elizabeth said in a bored tone. "Why should he tell me if he went out? He would hardly expect me to come along."
"You might not even have been up yet when he left on Sunday morning," Anne speculated. Her sister always rose late.
"I try to get up as late as I can. Sleep is very good for your skin."
Anne reflected that it was no wonder that Mrs Clay had had so many freckles if she had regularly got up during the night.
Elizabeth surprisingly volunteered some information. "He walked out on Saturday evening as well. I heard him leave."
"But you do not know where he went that time or when he returned?"
"No, I am very glad he did not stop by my room to tell me he was back. He would not have survived the attempt."
"It is not very clever to say you would have murdered him if the man is missing. Some people --" She thought of Captain Wentworth. "-- will think you hid his body to cover up that murder."
Elizabeth thought this idea too ridiculous to warrant anger or indignation. She merely raised her eyebrows. "I say it is not very clever to think I would murder people. Well, not during the night in any case."
"Then you did not kill Mrs Clay." Given that Elizabeth had been the only person who had seemed to care a little, Anne had never thought it likely.
"Killed? Surely she fell in?"
"No, she was killed."
Anne looked at Lady Russell, who of course knew nothing about previous conversations about fainting and who would not feel annoyed that here was someone supporting the silly notion that women could faint. She supposed she ought to feel concerned and look for smelling salts, but instead she could only sit and look annoyed while Lady Russell bent over Elizabeth and revived her.
It took some minutes before Elizabeth was capable of speaking. "She was killed? Who killed her?"
"We do not know that yet." Anne wondered if this was how Captain Wentworth had felt -- she now had to speak with caution, because she did not know what else could make Elizabeth faint. Although, really, her caution was justified and his was not. "But we think it was a...friend of hers. Not you."
"A friend? I do not know of any friends."
"Men," Anne clarified, gripping her chair in case Elizabeth would faint again at the shocking notion that men could be friends.
"Acquaintances, you mean?"
"Men." Elizabeth tried out the word as if she heard it for the first time. "But they must have been from her London days if that was the case. I do not know about any acquaintances here. She was always at my disposal, except when she went to visit her family."
"That must be why she went out during the night. So you would not notice."
"But you are saying she was meeting someone. A man. Under my nose."
Elizabeth blinked. "But why? Goodness, she would meet better men through me. We spoke of that. She joked about what she would do if I ever got married. I introduced her into better circles; she would not have wasted her time on people from her past."
"Not for marriage," Anne agreed, although the idea that Elizabeth had had Mrs Clay under her wings in order to find her a good husband was unsettling. "But there are people who believe she might have been acquainted with them for...pleasure."
"Pleasure." Again, this seemed to be a word that Elizabeth had never heard before.
"I heard from a maid that at least one man visited her in her room." She gripped her chair again. Surely that was worse news than hearing Mrs Clay had been murdered?
But Elizabeth did not faint; she merely frowned.
"Is this something that really could have happened?" Anne inquired.
"She might have been a little too susceptible to a man's attentions," Elizabeth said, still frowning. "I do recall telling her not to smile so readily at unworthy men. I know that some may consider it encouragement. But...in the house? That captain?"
"No," Anne said sharply and then amended her tone. "Not the captain. The maid said it was someone else. Such as Sir William."
"Why not the captain? We all know it is what they do."
Anne felt secure in her limited personal knowledge of sailors. "Really? Did he come after you as well?"
"He would know better than to try," Elizabeth said with a haughty shake of the head.
"You are more beautiful than Mrs Clay."
"My dear Anne, I am not going to waste my good name on a sailor."
"He has a nice fortune." Not even the daughter of a baronet could dismiss his fortune.
"He is all yours," Elizabeth said generously. "That is, if he was not first Mrs Clay's."
"So, you agree that she did not possess exemplary morals?"
"I can see her being tempted by a man with less than exemplary morals, which is not quite the same thing."
"And this man was Sir William."
"You are determined."
"There are no other men in the house who qualify."
"There are servants."
"Servants." Anne pondered that. Sir William's valet had disappeared, although no one seemed to know precisely when. Servants were generally overlooked, but many of them were staying in the house as well. The valet could have visited Mrs Clay. This did not explain whom she had been meeting outside, unless Sir William had found out about his man's behaviour and put an end to it inside, whereupon they had needed to meet outside. It did make some sense if she thought about it like that, but how very strange that it was Elizabeth who had led her to this thought.
Though why the valet had found it necessary to murder Mrs Clay she could not immediately explain. Nor why Sir William had now disappeared.
Elizabeth had some thoughts about servants. "If you give them too much time off, that is what they get up to, you know. They have no innate sense of decency and decorum."
"Well, I am glad you will never be tempted by a handsome footman," Anne said sweetly.
Lady Russell had been listening. "These are very serious accusations you are making, Anne."
Anne did not see how they could be avoided. "I am convinced that they key to her death lies in the connections she had during her life. Someone with whom she was intimately acquainted murdered her."
"Why?" Elizabeth wondered.
"We -- I have yet to find out."
"That is not something you should be doing, Anne," said Lady Russell.
Anne had no wish to hear she should leave it to men or to the authorities, so she got to her feet. "No, you are right. I have a book to finish."
Anne went upstairs to her room to find her book. She was not particularly keen on finishing it immediately, but she had said she would, so she must. Only a few pages separated her from the end. After that she should probably do something Lady Russell would consider useful. It would not include going out, unless she offered to go to the village. Perhaps there was something someone needed.
Although she had only a few pages to go, she could not concentrate. Her mind kept straying to Mrs Clay and even to Mr Ingleby. How was Captain Wentworth faring with hinm? She imagined a few beginnings of conversations, but she had no idea how they would progress. At long last she put her book aside and went back downstairs. Lady Russell was doing her accounts and Elizabeth was looking glum.
The reason soon became clear -- she was out of money. Lady Russell was not as generous as Sir Walter had been and her asking what she needed -- so she could give the exact amount and nothing more, or so Elizabeth presumed -- had not been to Elizabeth's liking. If she said ribbon, she would not be able to buy more than that, but she wanted to buy something, anything and not particularly a ribbon.
Anne had considerable savings in a box upstairs, but she did not mention them. She had grown too wise. They must wait for Sir William to arrange allowances for them. That was ample proof that Elizabeth had not had a hand in his disappearance.
Anne thought it peculiar that she was looking at everything from that angle now.
"I want new black stockings," Elizabeth complained.
Now that was an errand that could be sensible. Anne was prepared to go with her. She might even pay if there was a real need. "Have you really nothing left?"
"I could buy some cheap ones, I suppose," Elizabeth said reluctantly. "But you know what I think of those."
"Nobody ever sees your stockings," Anne said cheerfully. "And being in mourning you will not show them to anybody either. Is that Mary I see passing by the window?"
"Lord, not Mary!" Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "She bores me so! She is married, she has a home, she has money. Mark my words, she will tell you so."
"I will not disagree with her," Anne smiled.
"To be proud of having married Charles Musgrove. She needs to do more than that to impress me. Perhaps she can give me some money. Now that would be a good idea. The last time I saw her she was boasting of being rich and respectable."
It was indeed Mary, but she had not come to gloat over being married. She was full of excitement over something else. "Have you heard what happened to Sir William?" she cried.
"No, we have not," Anne replied calmly, but she was immensely curious.
"You know we have two carriages and one is absolutely foul. I want to get rid of it and Charles finally listened to me. So he had agreed with a man to buy the carriage. From not too far away, but I forgot exactly where. It could have been somewhere to the east. Well, this man was coming along one of the lanes and his attention was drawn by something. I could not tell you what exactly, for he was quite vague, but then he found a man."
"Dead?" Anne exclaimed.
"Oh, as good as."
"Apparently. He was in a field and unable to get out. And this man who had come to buy the carriage could not get into the field."
"There was a bull," Anne guessed.
"How do you know?" Mary resented the interruption. "Has someone already been here to tell you?"
"No, I -- do go on."
"The man came to tell Charles. Apparently he met no one else on the way."
"Was it on Sunday?"
"Sunday? Why would he arrange for someone to come on Sunday? No, it was this morning. And do you know what Charles said? Leave him be. Would you believe that? He said that. He thought it was a labourer."
Anne thought it did not sound like Charles at all. More like Mary herself, in fact.
"But then he sent out two men anyway and they came back with..." Mary paused for effect. "...Mr Elliot! They had him taken to the big house. I was really aggravated about that, but Charles said they had more room there. As if could not take proper care of him! He is my cousin and he is nothing to the Musgroves!"
"So he was not dead?" Anne cut in.
"No, not quite."
"Was he hurt by the bull?"
"I do not think so," Mary said doubtfully. "But he was dirty and cold. Mrs Musgrove took him in, or perhaps she had Henrietta and Louisa help, you know, trying to get a good marriage out of it for them."
"Did they not send word to the Hall?"
"Oh yes, I took the carriage and let the servant off at the Hall."
"Did you take the carriage Charles was planning to sell?" Anne raised her eyebrows.
"I took the one I intend to keep. If he planned to sell it, he failed."
Posted on 2014-03-13
"I should speak to Sir William," Anne decided.
"Why?" Mary inquired. "He is half dead and besides, Mrs Musgrove will not let anyone near him except Henrietta and Louisa. I am sure they help to bathe him too."
Anne could not imagine it, but she was not going to contradict Mary, who would only say she had not been to Uppercross and so she could not know. Indeed she could not. "There are some things I must ask him."
"Wait until he has recovered. If he does at all," Mary said darkly. "If I am not even let near him, why should you be? At least I have a husband and sons, so I am used to suffering men. You can have no experience with men at all, suffering or not."
Perhaps Mary's presence was not as useful as she thought. Anne could imagine how it had gone. She understood Mrs Musgrove perfectly when she had kept Mary from Sir William. "I shall leave it to Mrs Musgrove to admit me or not," she said mildly, but she trusted that she had a greater chance of being admitted than her sister.
"And I am telling you she will not."
"Then I shall have wasted a journey. Or not. I may sit with Mrs Musgrove instead." She did not know what Mrs Musgrove would say to a very sensible request. Much of it depended on Sir William's condition. He might not be fit enough to receive visitors and in that case she would not press. "I shall go back with you, if I may. You are going back soon, are you not?"
Since Mary had only come to share this news, she could not think of anything else to prolong her stay. She looked hesitant.
"What are these things you must ask him?" Lady Russell inquired. "And must you ask them now?"
"They have to do with some of the things I told you, which I hope you will not repeat now." She glanced at Mary, with whom such information was not at all safe.
"Oh, you have a secret, do you?" asked Mary, who was far better at sensing them -- even where there were none -- than at keeping them.
Lady Russell ignored Mary. "How will you get back?"
"I can walk."
"I would rather you did not, Anne," she said in concern. "Obviously things happen to people around here who are walking. Why do you not leave him to get better and try tomorrow? I shall take you in the carriage. I have some business that way."
Anne conceded that it might be the best option. If Sir William had only been found that morning and Mary had come here almost directly, he might not be sufficiently recovered. Besides, she ought to confer with Captain Wentworth. He might have information for her that made a trip to Sir William unnecessary, or at the very least less pressing.
She wondered where he was now and if he was going to come and see her after his meeting with Mr Ingleby. Taking a little walk around the house would look suspicious, because she would have no apparent purpose. Going away farther would make Lady Russell afraid. Anne feared her godmother would not let her go on any walks any more. She could not forbid her, of course, but she would voice her objections.
"Good," she said. "Tomorrow."
"But what is this about?" Mary inquired. She felt she was being left out of something again.
Anne would not tell her, but she feared that if she left the room, Mary would somehow manage to obtain from Lady Russell the information she was looking for. Mary had no business knowing. She was far too indiscreet. "It is personal, Mary. It deals with our allowances. You have no business with them, since you do not plan to give us anything and we must depend wholly on Sir William." There, that sounded good enough.
Mary looked offended. "I hardly have anything myself and you know it."
Anne agreed -- not with her not having anything, but she knew all too well.
Mary continued. "But if there is money to be had, I think I have as much of a right to it as you do. I am an Elliot as well."
"Well, you were," cut in Elizabeth. "Until you married a Musgrove." She made it sound like the most undesirable thing in the world, which for her of course it was.
Mary looked even more offended. "I shall always remain an Elliot." But it was a good thing that she chose not to take any more insults, because she got up and said her goodbyes.
"So what is she?" Elizabeth asked languidly. "An Elliot or a Musgrove? I suppose it depends. Does she have any right to money?"
"No. Neither do we," Anne reminded her. "Not from Sir William."
"I suppose I should get married then. Lady Russell, you must now not have the idea to invite acquaintances with unmarried sons to dinner. I should think I already know all the available ones. I rather thought you should take me to London -- or have me live with you forever."
Lady Russell could only laugh. "My dear Elizabeth, I rather think it would end in taking you to London and having you live with me forever, because I doubt I could introduce you to anyone you could stand marrying. I do have a friend with a cousin of sorts," she said thoughtfully.
"He cannot be any good. Why is Anne not married to him already?"
"I suppose because I have never met him." Anne wished to get away from this conversation. She wanted to go outside, but she had better go up to her room first. It was probably a wiser idea to stay there.
She went upstairs and tried to finish her book again. It would still not work, so she stepped onto her balcony. From there she might catch a glimpse of Captain Wentworth. It was not likely for him to pass exactly when she was looking, nor to pass so close to the Lodge. But less likely things had happened.
It turned to be as unlikely as she had thought, because when time came to change for dinner, there had been no sight of Captain Wentworth at all. This was disappointing, for it was not likely that he would come after dinner if there was no pressing emergency.
Admiral and Mrs Croft would tell him about Sir William, but if they did not know Mary had gone to Kellynch Lodge, none of them might know that Anne already knew. He might then think of telling her. She gained a little hope.
But it was a disappointing thought that once there was nothing left to discover, all these small meetings would end. Once they had solved the mystery, what reasons could Frederick have for talking to her? She would almost wish for new, confusing developments that would extend the case. Although they talked quite pleasantly, it was always about the case. She could not recall an instance that had absolutely nothing to do with it. But perhaps she was in part to blame for that herself, because she was reluctant to say anything to which he might not want to respond.
Life had changed at the Lodge now that Elizabeth was here. This would not be the only surprising incident, Anne suspected when her sister entered her room while she was dressing. Inadvertently she shot an alarmed glance at the balcony door, but there was no one on the balcony. It was odd, for Elizabeth had rarely come to her sister's room before, nor had Anne very often gone to hers. Anne waited for an explanation.
"Listen, Anne," Elizabeth began. "Do you think you could persuade Lady Russell to take us to London or Bath as soon as possible? You appear to have some influence over her. I shall go mad here. She keeps a different acquaintance from us and --"
"Not as different as that," Anne interrupted.
"Oh, really. All those times she did not dine with us, she must have been dining with people who were also not dining with us. So, very different indeed. I want to go to London."
"It is not very likely," Anne warned her. "She is not thinking of going this year. In fact, she has plans to go to Bath after Christmas."
"Bath." Elizabeth spoke with a resigned sigh. "At least I know people in Bath, but will they still know me?"
She was surprised by Elizabeth's insight. Perhaps she was ready for another conclusion. "Well, if they will not know you in Bath despite having known you before, how well do you think you will fare in London where no one knew you before?"
This gave Elizabeth something to think about. She stood silently for some moments while Anne changed dresses. "Say, do you think I could still afford my maid? Would Lady Russell allow me to keep her?"
It was astonishing that she was even considering the possibility of losing her. Anne did not immediately know what to say.
"Surely she must allow me?" Elizabeth asked.
Anne said nothing. She was showing how she could dress without a maid, but that would not be convincing. She was Anne; there would probably not be any need for her.
"Suppose we have an engagement! I could not do my own hair!"
Anne could not do her own hair either -- not in any fashionable way, that was, so she usually stuck to pinning it up in some unfashionable way. She smiled.
"There is nothing amusing about it. I wonder if Lady Russell has become so strict because you told her to be."
"Strict? I know nothing about that."
"She asked me how much my maid was being paid. I do not know! Does this mean she plans to dismiss her? I had not thought about who would be paying her, but I do not suppose it could be me!"
"I have no idea. She did not speak to me about your maid."
"You probably told her it was an unnecessary expenditure."
"I did nothing of the sort. However, if someone were to ask me if it was an unnecessary expenditure for someone without money, I should probably say yes."
Elizabeth was not happy enough with that answer to want to stay. She left in a huff, leaving Anne to wonder if her sister was developing some qualities she had not possessed before. It was not possible to do so if nothing had ever existed, Anne believed, but perhaps they had never been properly developed for some reason. It was still too early to tell whether it would make Elizabeth's stay here more pleasant, but certainly if she started wondering herself who would be paying her maid, it would save Anne a lot of explanations.
Anne continued doing her hair. Unfashionably, of course.
She was a bit disappointed that no one from the Hall had sent her any information, which they must surely have by now. She assumed Captain Wentworth had long since returned from calling on Mr Ingleby. Even if there was no news, he or Mrs Croft could easily send her a note that read no news. She thought she would prefer that over nothing, even if she would be extremely curious as to what had led to there not being any news. Any conversation would yield some kind of news. Besides, she might draw other conclusions than Frederick.
He was slightly too fond of his own conclusions, she reflected indulgently, and therefore it was imperative for her to give her opinion. She wished she did not have such limited opportunities for seeing Captain Wentworth. There were really only a few hours in each day and even if she used them all, it would be thought scandalous, to say nothing of meeting him after nightfall. But she was almost wishing he did not care about that.
She went back to Sir William, who might have spent goodness knew how long in a field. Regardless of what he might have done, because it was not clear what he might have done, she felt sorry for him. But there were also things she did not quite understand. She had escaped from the field -- which might be a different one -- and she would have been able to do so without Captain Wentworth. It might simply have taken longer. Unless there was a field with a tree in the middle, Sir William up that tree and the bull circling it, she would think there were plenty of opportunities to run once the bull's back was turned.
He would have to tell her that himself if he was sufficiently recovered tomorrow. There had been no mention of injuries, so once warmed up and rested he should be fine. That was of course if Mary had not left important information out.
What did it mean that Sir William had been in that field? Where had he been going? He had been there once before, but Captain Wentworth had assumed he had been following her. Anne had not been there this time. She did not think the way was so interesting as to require exploration on a Sunday morning. But perhaps it did, because there would be no one else about at that time.
She would not have any answers until the following morning, she supposed, but as she was going downstairs to the dining room, a kitchen maid hurried out of the shadows and pressed a note into her hand. "Someone gave this to me outside when I was going to the chickens, but he said it was secret and I couldn't leave the kitchen until now."
Anne thanked her and resisted the urge to unfold the note then and there. It had to have been Captain Wentworth. Had he hidden behind the chickens? Well, at least they were not dangerous.
Posted on 2014-03-30
The note burnt in Anne's hand, so she transferred it to a pocket. It was quite annoying that she could not read it yet, but the risk of Lady Russell or Elizabeth seeing it was too great. They would want to know what it was. But really how long would it take? She stationed herself by a window and unfolded it, hoping that she would be thought to look outside.
"Oh good grief!" she muttered when the small piece of paper was completely covered in minuscule writing. Someone had written her a complete novel. It was impossible to decipher this before dinner. She scanned the lines at the end to find the sender's name. The missive seemed to end abruptly, without greetings. There was simply a wavy line that started with F. The wavy line, she assumed, stood for the other letters of his name that did not quite fit any more.
F. Frederick. He had signed like that. For some reason this made her happy. It was nothing, but it was so much.
She returned the paper to her pocket, but kept her hand on it. Of course some kitchen maids would try to read it, but if the girl had not seen any oppportunity to give it to her, it was doubtful that she had had the chance to read it. It took a kitchen maid much longer to decipher a text, Anne would think, and she was in more danger of being asked what she was doing than Anne herself. Cook did not like the maids idling.
Anne tapped her leg as she was thinking. The note was rather too long to contain a request to meet -- he had written everything down already. She needed probably not hurry. If he had wanted to meet after dinner, he needed not have wasted so much ink in already writing down what he wanted to say in person.
She turned when Lady Russell entered the room. All chances of reading were now lost for the next two hours. It was too dark in the watercloset and the note too long for that to be a viable option. Anne resigned herself to speculating. She wished she had scanned the note for Mr Ingleby's name, but she could not recall seeing it.
Perhaps she should be sociable, she thought when Lady Russell directed a curious glance at her. "Elizabeth came to my room," she said. "Very odd, is it not?"
"Odd? Perhaps if she was not wont to do so."
"She feared you would dismiss her maid." Anne kept her eye on the door, so she might stop speaking when it opened.
"Well," said Lady Russell, but she said no more.
"And you, of course, have been asked to champion her cause."
Lady Russell lowered her voice. "Elizabeth herself is more costly than the wages of her maid. Not that she would know it. I am not decided yet. She cannot go on as before. There must be some change. After we know what Sir William's plans are, we can look into what can be done for her. And you."
Anne understood. "If Sir William thought she was comfortable he would give us nothing."
"He might not."
Anne unfolded the note and spread it our on her desk. She had a book at hand that she could place over it, should Elizabeth come in again. Elizabeth, however, was still playing the piano downstairs. Perhaps she believed she needed those skills now. Perhaps she was simply bored.
You probably want the long version, but I am afraid there is not enough space. On the subject of our inquiries: he did not engage the enemy. I am inclined to believe him there. He might have tried, but the rewards for the enemy would have been negligible. However, he does have suspicions regarding others. After a little pressure I obtained a list of names of people who have travelled, since as you know travelling invites the devil into your soul and off go all your morals if you spend more than one night in a town of more than a hundred inhabitants. I did not address his propensity to tell lies. There was no occasion for it, but I put in a few good words for the old man - please give this the appropriate consideration! I did also not feign any trouble for which I needed counsel. I thought he might take it too seriously.He had nothing new to say on the subject of our missing object, except that it had not surprised him for the aforementioned reasons. F~~
Anne laid the letter aside. It contained nothing new, not even a time for a new appointment. Which, she supposed, could mean they were to stick to their old time and place tomorrow morning, unless he now thought there was no longer a reason to meet because he had written everything down. She frowned.
It was nevertheless kind of him to have shared this absence of news with her. She appreciated the effort of hiding behind the chicken coop until a trustworthy maid appeared who would not be able to make sense of the note.
She was curious about the list. It would only be useful if it was short. He did not write it was surprising, nor did he write what it was for exactly. Were they men who could kill? Were they men who would have taken up with Mrs Clay?
At first she had not known who the old man was, but now she wondered if he might be Sir Walter. In that case Frederick had put in a few good words for him. And he wanted her to give it the appropriate consideration. It must not have come easily to him then. No, she did not expect him to find it easy or agreeable to say something good about Sir Walter. She had thought he would have found it impossible.
Lady Russell had some bad news in the morning. Anne had waited forever until it was time for breakfast and then Lady Russell said she wanted to be off immediately afterwards! "Immediately?" Anne cried. She had assumed it would be later. This was a grave disappointment.
"Yes, at eleven. I can deliver you to Uppercross and pick you up on my way back."
"At eleven?" That was impossible. She was supposed to meet Captain Wentworth at eleven. She could not possibly miss that meeting. What would he think if she did not appear?
"I have a few things to do," Lady Russell said uncomprehendingly. "I had best start them early."
"Yes, but I have to do something before we leave." Anne eyed the breakfast table and weighed her options. Perhaps she could do it now -- although it would mean going into Kellynch Hall and not to the statue -- and trust Mrs Musgrove to feed her something or other, which she always did. She would not go hungry. "I promise to be back at eleven."
"Anne?" Lady Russell exclaimed when Anne pushed back her chair and made for the door. "What? Where are you going?"
"If I am to come with you at eleven, I must forego breakfast," Anne said in a decided voice.
"But you are so thin as it is!"
"I will ask Mrs Musgrove for cake, I promise. She has very fattening cake, as you know." Anne had no time for a discussion. She hurried to get her coat and then ran to Kellynch Hall.
There, slightly out of breath but still able to speak, she asked to see Captain Wentworth. She had no time to go the circumspect way by asking for Mrs Croft first. The servants were trained not to show any surprise at unexpected appearances or requests and she had no time to be concerned about it.
Captain Wentworth, however, was no servant. His eyes widened and he stared. It was true that he could do little else until the servant had left the room, so Anne did not assume it was because she looked odd.
"Were you chased here?" he inquired finally. "Good morning."
"Why do you think I was chased?"
He gestured a bit. "You look as if you ran -- away from something?"
"Oh, no. I ran because I am in a hurry. Lady Russell wants to leave at eleven. Are Admiral and Mrs Croft late?" It registered only then that they were not there.
"Are they? I thought I was early." He checked his pocketwatch. "I suppose they are a minute late. We do not stand upon ceremony here."
Anne thought hard. "Should I speak quickly or should we hide or what should we do?"
"Yes! Hide! Behind the curtain."
"What?" Anne asked uncertainly, unable to interpret his sudden enthusiasm.
He stepped towards her and took her by the arm, taking her towards one of the thick curtains.
"What?" Anne said again.
"Shhhh." He had good ears and had heard something outside the door. "There they come," he whispered. "Do not move."
Anne flattened herself against the wall. He stood beside her and it was quite dark, the curtains being so thick. There were voices in the breakfast room now. She could hear that Admiral and Mrs Croft had brought the children with them. They spoke of not seeing Frederick, which was odd because he ought to be there. He coughed, which she was sure was entirely for their benefit. There were squeals and she imagined them looking around. She could not help but smile.
"But what if they find me?" she whispered as softly as she could.
"Well, they should, because you have to be back home at eleven."
The logic of this comment kept her silent. When he coughed again, they found him, of course. They were surprised to find Anne as well, but very welcoming. Only Mrs Croft gave her a somewhat mysterious look and when she passed her, that lady tapped her hair.
"Oh yes, I ran," Anne apologised. Her hand went up and she felt that her hair was indeed slightly out of order. "I had something to discuss. Is there still a mirror hereabouts?"
"No," the admiral said cheerfully. "I have removed them all. You look fine enough."
"Well, thank you, but --"
"Once the children have attacked the rolls, you can use that silver dish," he pointed.
Captain Wentworth shot his brother-in-law an incredulous look. "Are you serious? That silver dish?"
"It will be empty soon enough. But you could also take her to the mirror, or help her here, or simply not care. I say she looks fine enough. Had the wind blow through her hair, but that is a good thing. The mirror is in a small, dark room," he said to Anne. "It might not be useful for that purpose, although of course we would never imagine any other purpose."
Anne was undecided. "I do not care about my hair so much as about not discussing anything in front of the children that might be bad for them to hear. I have to be in the carriage by eleven, so I do not think I could wait until after breakfast."
"You have my permission to take your plates to the alcove," the admiral said generously. "Since I have always known Frederick to be too hungry to put off his breakfast. Have you eaten?"
"No," Anne answered. "I did not have time. I will eat something at the Musgroves'."
"Get her a plate and some food, Frederick," the admiral ordered. "You cannot eat in front of a lady and give her nothing."
Captain Wentworth did as ordered and let her take a seat in the alcove. There was really only place for one large person or two small ones, and they were seated close together by necessity. Comfortably so, Anne decided. She did not mind at all.
"I wonder how long it takes for the children to want this as well," he said in a low voice. "Anything that departs from the ordinary is incredibly attractive. And I realise we are all assuming you came to discuss something with me, but I do not think you actually specified."
"Er, yes. It was with you." Anne blushed a little. "They found Sir William. I suppose you heard."
"Yes. Interesting, was it not? I am curious what went on, but I suppose it is too early to ask."
"Lady Russell will take me there at eleven. Well, she will leave me there. She has other things to do. I am going to see how he is and if he can tell me something."
"Did you receive my note?"
"I did, if it was signed F? I do not know anyone else who would."
"It was indeed no one pretending to be me."
"And you hid behind the chicken coop?" She raised her eyebrows and bit her lip, trying not to smile.
"Stupid chickens thought I had come to bring them food," he grumbled. "They would not leave me alone."
"And you put in a good word for..."
"I will not do it again. It was difficult."
"I appreciate your effort. Very much."
"Here." He gave her the plate. "Let me get us some coffee."
Anne ate on as she waited. He returned and set the cups on a ledge. "Thank you. You will not have to do it again," she said.
"No, say anything good about..."
"If strategy requires it, perhaps," he said, although he had earlier said he would not do it again. "It may become easier in time. I have a list of people who might have been susceptible to Mrs Clay's charms. I took the liberty of removing myself from the list."
"I am glad."
"As I told Mr Ingleby, my tastes run in a different direction. This might be the case for other men on this list as well. On no account do I think it conclusive. Besides, I got the impression that it was Mrs Clay's tastes that decided, not so much the man's."
"Helpless victims, therefore?"
"Not entirely. I mean she was not a helpless victim. And did I detect some sharpness in your tone?"
Anne confessed that he might have.
"I try to avoid being a helpless victim as much as I can. In this particular case, I succeeded. In other cases perhaps not, but you will not mind them."
She raised her eyebrows, although she had no right.
"You will not mind them," he repeated. "Only I might."
Posted on 2014-04-04
Anne concentrated on her coffee for a while. The captain did not pour modest cups. Perhaps he did not want to walk twice. Then she remembered she had no time for leisure. She was here on business. She must continue with it.
"They are keeping them in tolerable order this morning," Captain Wentworth said appreciatively. "I had expected them here already."
Anne did not know of what he was speaking. "Who?"
"The children. They are not always kept in any order."
"Not always? But they have only been here for a short while." She had not seen much of them yet, but she could not imagine they were running wild. Apart from a little excitement over finding someone behind a curtain, they had been very well-behaved.
"And they have been under the table, on the table and behind the curtains every day in that short while," he said dryly.
"You have also been behind the curtains."
"Yes, that was an unwise move."
Anne was startled, thinking he regretted taking her there. She did not know what to say and tried to think of an apology. She was the one who had suggested hiding after all, although she had never thought of the curtains.
"You have nephews," he then said. "You must already know that they want funny things repeated and repeated and repeated. I, on the other hand, only recently found out and I cannot always foresee what might be a regrettable action. I am still learning."
"Oh. They will want you to do it again tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow?" He laughed softly, so as not to alert the two youngsters. "How about when they have finished taking two bites of the bacon? They never take more than two bites -- and they still get it every day! I should say no more bacon, but --" He shrugged.
Anne tried to glance past him to see which bite they were on -- and who would finish the rest of the bacon. "So we must hurry."
"You are going to see Sir William?"
"Someone needs to ask him what he was doing. He might have a useful explanation."
"But will you confront him alone?" He did not sound as if he considered that a good idea.
"He is laid up in bed at Uppercross." She did not see how Sir William could pose any danger.
"And you will go into his room?" Captain Wentworth had his reservations. That was clear.
"With or without Mrs Musgrove. I have yet to decide on a strategy if she will not let me."
"You are not to go into his room without anybody knowing it."
"He will not attack me. He is recovering. From I do not know precisely what, but if they put him in a bed there instead of sending him here, he will not exactly be capable of much."
"He must not get any ideas either."
"You go into women's rooms!" Anne protested, but not too loudly. "If I tell Sir William my children will not be little Elliots, he will know where he stands."
"How could I --" But he stopped. "What will you ask him?"
"What he was doing outside, where he was going. And if he knows anything about his valet. Was his valet on Mr Ingleby's list?"
"Of course. All strangers or former strangers are on it. They have lived in other places, you see, and they have all been corrupted."
"But you believe you are not, so the others may not be either." Besides, it was nothing but Mr Ingleby's opinion and if he compiled a list based on only one criterion, it would certainly be wrong.
"I believe I am not?" he inquired. "Do you believe I believe I am not?"
"I believe it is not relevant to the murder case." She could guess, but she really did not know.
Captain Wentworth returned to the main problem after he had stared at her for a while, clearly wondering if he should defend himself. "I think I should be there."
"Why? I can do this alone. Besides, you will not want to travel with Lady Russell and Lady Russell would not understand why you had to travel with us. I have not told her about you."
"I can travel alone. Wait for me there."
The Musgrove girls must not get any ideas either, Anne thought. He would not be free if he went. They would want to speak to him and sit with him, and if he left the room they would follow. "I can do this alone," she repeated.
"I do not doubt it, but we are only doing things separately if we cannot do them together."
Anne raised her eyebrows. That was news to her. "One, I was not aware of that. Two, I think this counts as one of those things. I am not opposed to your being there; I simply do not see how it could be practical. How would you explain your reasons for needing to see him? I am at least his cousin."
"I could pretend to be his friend. We stayed at the same house. I must have some interest in his wellbeing by now. I did not go there with you; we happened to have the same idea at the same time. Mrs Musgrove might as well let us in together, so the patient is not fatigued too much by two visits."
"It might be and it might not." Anne did not want to give in yet.
"Let us give it a try," he coaxed. "Or else you will have to hide behind our chickens to pass me a note and I shall not know until then."
"I have access to your house. I do not need the chickens."
"Should I expect you on my balcony?"
"You do not have a balcony."
"Should I expect you somewhere else? When I open my closet perhaps? Oh...when I turn down my blankets?"
Anne stared as if he was mad. "Yes. Really."
"But I would rather know as soon as possible. I do not think I could stand the suspense. You going there to discuss goodness knows what with Sir William."
"Not goodness knows what -- I have just told you what I want to ask."
"Yes, but you do not know how he is going to steer the conversation. You may have that plan, but it may go awry."
"You do not need to be there to save me. I am not helpless." She would get up, but he was blocking the way and she could only climb over him. Being about twenty-five years too old for that, she did not. "May I pass?"
Captain Wentworth realised he had some power. "No."
"What?" Anne looked incredulous. "Captain?" she begged softly, not wanting to alert the others in the room.
"I answer to that, yes. In fact, I answer to almost everything except Fred. The last person who called me that is now shark food," he said matter-of-factly.
"It is a bit difficult to feed me to a shark at Kellynch, but I shall keep it in mind," Anne assured him.
"You do not sound impressed."
"I cannot see how it would affect me. For the obvious reasons. Now may I pass?"
"This was a test," he said. "Should Sir William pull you into his bed and refuse to let you go, what would you do?"
"I wonder that you could even come up with such a thing."
"Someone must, if you do not, or you will find yourself in a pretty fix."
"The man is ill, injured, I do not know what! The last thing on his mind is having his way with me!" She hoped at least, that that was what he was talking about. She did not like sounding uninformed.
"I have known men," Captain Wentworth said slowly, "whose minds were on nothing else."
"Certainly if Sir William were that sort, he would have tried already?"
He nearly rolled his eyes. "He had Mrs Clay to satisfy any need that had to be satisfied. Besides, you would hardly tell me if he had tried to kiss you or something."
"Perhaps not, but I can tell you that the fact that he is still alive means that he did not try." Anne raised her chin. She was fairly sure she would not have killed him, but it would not hurt to let Frederick believe she would have.
The captain gasped.
"There. May I pass?" He let her pass without a word, still having his mouth slightly open. She was satisfied with that reaction and walked to the breakfast table. "My compliments on your coffee," she said to Mrs Croft. "It is truly delicious."
"Thank you. We are trying a new brand that Frederick brought from overseas." Mrs Croft picked up a piece of bacon that one of the children had dropped and handed it back. "I am afraid we have been keeping it exclusively to ourselves, because we cannot get a new supply once it is gone."
"Oh, but he filled my cup to the brim."
She gestured dismissively. "Do not fret about such a trifle. We do not mind sharing it with you."
"What did you say to him?" Mrs Croft asked in a low voice.
"I suppose I made an unladylike remark." Anne was loath to go into detail. It was not simple enough for a short explanation. "We disagree on whether I should do the next bit of investigating alone. Well, that was it. I had better go back to sort it out before I leave, to avoid any embarrassment on the spot."
Captain Wentworth allowed her to sit down again. "Did you ask Sophia for advice?" he wondered.
"No." She liked sitting so close, even if they did not agree on one point. That was nothing but a show, she felt. They would agree if it really mattered. "I do not need her advice. This is not a complicated matter."
"No, it is not," he agreed. "Can we go without Lady Russell?"
"If you thought we could, you would not have hidden behind the chickens."
He took a sip of his coffee. "Is Lady Russell disposed against me?"
"Lady Russell would not think it very proper if we travelled together." That was her assumption, at least. Lady Russell had never had to think about this particular matter yet.
"Oh," he exhaled. "Do you know how tempting that is? I could travel with you to Edward's and be extremely proper."
"Why to Mr Wentworth's?"
"Because that is the only trip I have planned."
"I do hope you are not planning to abduct me. I doubt your brother would approve." Anne tried to imagine what he would say if they arrived there together. She could not think he would say nothing at all.
"Of abducting you he would not. Of travelling I am not sure. But let us return to the subject. What is the difference between walking together and travelling in a carriage? I see none."
"I suppose one could close the curtains and...do things."
"I suppose one could hide in the shrubbery and...do things -- and there would not even be a coachman nearby who might overhear!"
"Yes, I know," Anne said irritably. There were also people who would disapprove of walking, but there was no point in bringing up something he already knew. She was certain he knew. What he was trying to accomplish was therefore unclear. "But other people see things differently. If you want to walk to Uppercross, I cannot stop you, but I really think there is no need. I am going with Lady Russell and now I must hurry. Thank you for the breakfast."
Posted on 2014-04-09
"Why, Miss Anne!" Mrs Musgrove exclaimed. "Did you hear about our guest?"
"Indeed I did. It is Sir William I came to see. How is he today?" She looked around, but she did not yet see Captain Wentworth. If he had ridden he would have been able to make it before her, but not if he had walked. She had not seen him on the way.
"Come, sit down, my dear. Let me tell you all about it. Have some cake."
Anne had counted on not being able to escape the cake, so she accepted a slice as she listened to Mrs Musgrove's account of things. Sir William was a poor man and he had suffered terribly, but as the story unfolded Anne could detect only cold and fatigue. That by itself was enough to call him a poor man, of course, but she was glad the bull had not taken him on the horns or trampled him.
"We have plenty of room," Mrs Musgrove finished. "And plenty of hands."
Anne forced herself to smile. "That is extremely generous of you." She knew Mrs Musgrove did not mean it as a slight to Mary, who would certainly be able to put up Sir William if she could also put up Anne on occasion. At any rate, Anne had little influence over Mary and it was no use telling her. "But how is Sir William today? Can I see him?"
"He was sleeping when we last looked, but I will send Henrietta up for a look. Sit here and have another slice." Mrs Musgrove tried to rise with some difficulty.
"No, no," Anne said hurriedly. "Do not trouble yourself to get up, Mrs Musgrove. I can ask Henrietta. Where is she? Or I can take a look myself."
"She should be in the front room with Louisa and Captain Wentworth."
"Captain Wentworth?" she asked immediately. "What is he doing here?" But she knew what he was doing there and she had also known he would be held up by the girls. All of them were so predictable.
"He came to see how his friend was, but as Sir William was asleep, Henrietta and Louisa took it upon themselves to entertain him."
What a chore, Anne said to herself. They must be hating it. She wanted to see Sir William first, yet she did not like the idea of leaving the captain with the two girls. If she took him with her, however, he would never find out she was capable on her own.
"I shall find them and see what we can do," she promised Mrs Musgrove. She knew where the front room was and she found the others there quickly enough. The girls were looking bright en enthusiastic, not doubt telling Captain Wentworth all about the patient. They did not often have baronets upstairs.
"Anne!" They were enthusiastic to see her as well. "Do you know who is here? You will never be able to guess!"
"Captain Wentworth?" Anne tried not to ruin their pleasure. She also tried to ignore Wentworth's smug look. He had beaten her here.
"Sir William! He was found in a field!" Then they too started to explain how and why.
She listened politely, although by now it was the third version of the story she was hearing. "But," she said when she knew they were nearing the end. "Was he injured?"
"Mama gave him a thorough scrubbing down with hot water," answered Henrietta, her lip trembling. "She detected no injuries."
Louisa, being younger, was less in control of herself; she giggled. Anne could see she entertained the same suspicions as Captain Wentworth, for he was looking a trifle shocked. Louisa, she could tell, wanted to tell her something, but not in front of him. It probably had something to do with taking peeks at her mother scrubbing down Sir William.
"I should like to visit him. Could one of you run up to see is he is up to it?" She was glad the Musgroves were not the sorts to worry unnecessarily about girls going into male patients' rooms.
"I have just been," said Henrietta. "And he was not yet ready. Besides, Captain Wentworth is first."
"Oh, but I have no need to see him first if Miss Elliot is in a hurry," he said in a generous voice, trying to hide his amusement at Anne's alarm that he might get to ask the questions before she did. "She can go first or we could go together. I do not know if she has anything private to discuss."
"It is to a certain extent private," she said, in case Henrietta and Louisa would otherwise feel invited.
Captain Wentworth knew why. "Certainly I think we should not all four go in at once. Either Miss Elliot will go alone, or she and I will go together."
"It would not be good for the patient otherwise." Anne hoped that the questions she was going to ask him were not worse for him than having an entire party descend upon him.
"True, true," Henrietta nodded. "Mama has even forbidden us to go in together. Said it was too much noise. Louisa, we should do our chores while they are busy. Then we have all day for other things." She gave Anne directions on where to find the patient and then the two girls were off.
Anne exhaled. "That was easy."
Captain Wentworth laid his hand on her back to urge her out of the room. "Not yet. There is always a catch when things are seemingly easy."
She liked the feeling of his hand there and she did not hurry.
"Am I going to have to carry you?" he wondered, sounding a little vexed. "Or are you gathering courage? Do I need to come in with you?"
"Oh...it is very kind of you to allow me to go alone. I had not trusted that you would." Asking him to carry her was probably taking it too far, although it was extremely tempting.
"I shall be right outside the door. Did you think what I was thinking?"
"What was that?"
"They sponged down Sir William?"
"Oh." Anne gave a brief chuckle. "Let me tell you all about it after I have had some private time with the girls. They are dying to tell me."
"What do you think of it?"
"If it is necessary, it must be done. I think it was Mrs Musgrove and she was probably too busy to check if they were sticking their heads around the door." She gave an indifferent shrug. "I should probably have thought it extremely exciting too when I was their age. Remember they are young."
"Are they?" He did not appear to have noticed. "Anything between fifteen and thirty looks more or less the same to me."
Anne wondered if girls of fifteen looked old, or if ladies of thirty still looked young. "They may look the same, but their behaviour is not." She led the way upstairs. "Where will you be while I go in?" she asked when Captain Wentworth had nothing to say on the matter of female behaviour.
"Outside the door, until I hear any suspicious noises."
"And then you will come in and rescue me?" she asked a little sarcastically. On no account would she sound hopeful.
He bowed. "You always were pretty clever."
Since it was a sort of compliment, Anne was nonplussed. But then, she realised, he must be speaking sarcastically as well.
Anne found Sir William in his bed. He was wrapped up in his blankets, but he was awake. Upon seeing her enter the room, he stirred as if he wanted to sit up straighter.
"Anne!" he said.
"How are you?" Anne looked him over, but he no longer looked cold. "I came to see how you were. You were missing."
"Ah, yes. Stupid bull."
"Yes, I --" But she did not know if it was wise to reveal she and Captain Wentworth had been kept in that field for a while as well. "I know. They can be dangerous. What happened?"
"I went for a walk," he grimaced. "I had not seen the beast. It kept me there for a day."
"There was a shed and some hay. Or straw. I always get them mixed up. I rolled myself in it and in an old coat I found."
"In the shed?" Anne interrupted. She had not seen a coat there.
"No, I had found it elsewhere. It came in useful during the night, but I could not sleep due to the foul smell in the shed. Besides, it got quite cold."
She shivered. "This was Sunday?"
He grimaced again. "Nobody walks out on Sundays? Nobody came by."
"I do not know. I do not usually go that far on Sundays myself, so I cannot say whom I should encounter where."
"I do not observe Sundays so very strictly. That awful Ingleby would probably think it my just deserts, eh?"
"Probably," Anne said evenly. "But it was simply an unfortunate coincidence."
Sir William looked a little surprised. "Yes. So I was all alone and the stupid bull followed me everywhere. Why do they exist?"
"For breeding purposes."
"Yes, yes. I did not know you would know."
"I have lived here all my life." Of course she would know. "Why were you walking out so early in the morning?"
"It was a pleasant day."
"No, it was not," Anne recalled. "Not particularly so."
"I simply walked out."
"Why did you pick up an old coat on the way?"
"It was a good coat. I thought someone might be able to use it."
That was extremely charitable. She was not sure it was in character. He had probably had other reasons for picking it up. "It was a woman's coat, was it not?"
He looked surprised again. "How do you know?"
"Because I know of one coat that was missing." She had to stay calm now and not let excitement take over. She had to continue asking sensible questions. "Where did you find it?"
"A little further on, along the lane that leads to the village from where the mailcoaches leave."
"Right." She looked thoughtfully into the distance. It might have been left there by someone who was thinking of leaving the area. She was not sure it was Mrs Clay's coat, but it could be. Someone would have to go and find it to make sure. "Where is the coat now?"
"In the shed."
That would be a nice task for Captain Wentworth, going back into the field and the shed. She nodded.
"Why are you asking?"
"It might be important."
"What do you know?"
"I know a lot," she replied, not intending to reveal the exact extent of her knowledge. She was still not absolutely clear on whether he or his valet was looking the most guilty. "What do you know about Mrs Clay's death?"
"Is there anything to know? It was an accident, was it not?"
"Do you really think so?"
Sir William looked her in the eye and looked for some time.
"Let me call in Captain Wentworth," Anne decided. "He will want to hear this."
"Wait! Why? Where is he?"
She nodded at the door. She expected him to be right behind it still. Perhaps he was even eavesdropping. Would he be?
She walked to the door and opened in, gesturing for Wentworth to come in. "You can come in now." He followed her in silently but rather willingly and she turned back to Sir William. "Do you really think Mrs Clay's death was an accident?"
Sir William looked from one to the other and nodded slowly. "I see. That was why you were on the bridge."
"Why were you?" Anne asked before Captain Wentworth could take over. She did not know if he was going to, but she did not want to wait to find out. She had let him in as an observer and she took care to stand half a step ahead of him.
"Falling off the bridge seemed strange to me."
"Had you been meeting her in the mornings?"
"Meeting her? What for?"
Anne felt the captain move beside her. She silenced him with her hand, for she did not need him to clarify this. "For breeding purposes."
Sir William blinked. "Cousin!"
"Did you? Not necessarily in the morning. Did you? Did you like her in some way?"
"I liked her in some way," he admitted.
"But not any more when she was carrying a child?"
"Difficult," he said, but he had nowhere to go in his bed. He could not walk away. "Difficult."
"Important," Anne insisted. "You did not care about your children being little Elliots?"
"I beg your pardon?" Sir William looked confused.
"She could have had your child. Would you have married her? Did she tell you about the child?"
"She told me, but I had never liked her enough to consider marrying her, or I would have done so already, do you not think?"
"Was it your child?"
"The fact that you are asking means you are reckoning with a possibility that it might have been someone else's." He gave her a calculating look.
"I am afraid her reputation was not very good," Anne said apologetically. "And neither is yours."
Captain Wentworth gave a little snort of sorts.
Posted on 2014-04-13
Sir William looked incredulous when Anne informed him that his reputation was not very good. Or perhaps he could not believe it was Anne who would tell him so.
"Was it your child?" Anne repeated. She thought that if he had had no plans to make Mrs Clay Lady Elliot, he would at least have set her up in London if she had had a child by him. He had enough money to do so -- and, she hoped, enough decency.
"I am not sure there was going to be a child. She might have been using it as a threat to get her way."
So Mrs Clay had indeed mentioned it to him. "That she had been lying is a possibility, but it is rather irrelevant because someone might have acted on her saying there would be a child."
"It would hardly damage me to have a natural child," Sir William remarked carelessly.
She knew that was the sad truth, but she did not like him to speak so carelessly of it. "Who was your competition?"
"Competition?" The baronet let out a contemptuous laugh.
"Who else were making use of her favours?"
"Wentworth, possibly?" he suggested with a sly smile at the captain who had still not spoken. "She always professed to be rather fond of sailors. Lieutenants and captains in particular."
Anne wondered why Captain Wentworth was not defending himself. Should she do it for him? It was not easy to do so without revealing too much. She took care to speak very evenly. "It can never have been his child. He has not been here long enough. Some time has to pass between creating the child and finding out."
Neither of the men seemed to have better information and they remained silent.
"What about your valet?" Anne continued. "He has disappeared."
"He went to London. A relative was dying," Sir William said cautiously.
"How did he know?" Perhaps it would have sounded more plausible if the relative had lived in some small and unknown village. It was so easy to say London.
Sir William shrugged with a frown. "I suppose he received a letter. How else does one know?"
"And you did not think it odd that he left around the time of Mrs Clay's murder?"
"I should have thought it inconvenient at any time. I am now fending for myself."
"Allow us some consultation," said Anne and she unceremoniously pushed Captain Wentworth out of the room. "Why are you not saying anything?" she whispered.
"You did not want me to."
"But he practically accused you of...."
"Having used Mrs Clay for breeding purposes?" he asked with another suppressed snort. "Everybody in the room knew that to be a lie, so there was no point in saying anything about it. You know I will only use Mrs Wentworth for that purpose."
"No, you said no little Elliots."
"Which is the same thing." He raised his eyebrows questioningly, as if that should have been absolutely clear. "But what did you think of his answers? He is not telling us all. I do not know why. If he were innocent, he could easily tell us everything. I am not sure he will be honest with you. Delicacy and all."
"I am not delicate." She was neither physically nor mentally delicate.
"I know that. He has yet to find out. Shall I talk to him alone?"
"I can --"
"You did not fail. You did very well." He briefly touched her shoulder.
That pleased her. "You were not shocked?"
There was a grin. "I was only agreeably shocked."
"I did not know what you were going to do or say. It was very puzzling."
"I hope you were not afraid I was going to knock an injured man unconscious for suggesting I availed myself of Mrs Clay."
"No, that in particular did not occur to me, but I did think you took the suggestion very lightly."
Wentworth did not care. "He is jealous."
Anne did not understand. "Of what could he be jealous?"
"You are sharper than that usually. I wonder if he would get rid of Mrs Clay because you would not have him if she had a child by him."
"But that would hardly be the thing that decided the matter!" Anne protested. And what did that have to do with his being jealous? Would not Mrs Clay have been jealous if that was the case?
"He may not know that. Many men do not. Let me go in alone. He may be more detailed to me. He may not think certain things appropriate to discuss with you."
"But do you think they are?"
He knew what she meant. "Yes, I shall tell you everything. I promise."
Anne felt it was necessary to stress something again. "There is no need to be cautious for my sake. I could only learn if I did not yet know."
Captain Wentworth smiled. "To understand the world, of course."
"I love -- well, I love that sort of thing." He abruptly put his hand on the door. "Going now."
Anne wandered around a bit as she waited, but then she decided to go downstairs. Captain Wentworth was not going to tell her everything here; he would do so elsewhere. Perhaps she could find Louisa and hear what she had to say.
Louisa was cutting flowers, a task she paused all too readily when she saw Anne. "Oh, Anne! Were you up to see Sir William?"
Anne was a little bemused at the question. She had been thinking everyone knew she had come here to see Sir William, Louisa especially. "Yes, I was."
"I have the most scandalous thing to tell you!"
"Do tell," Anne said with a smile. She wondered if it was not equally scandalous of her to have deliberately gone here to hear that thing. But then, she was not delicate, she had just said.
"I saw bits of Sir William quite naked!"
"Bits!" She was in fact glad it had only been bits. She had been expecting worse from the highly excited looks.
"Unfortunately -- I mean fortunately, of course -- my mother was blocking my view."
"That was most fortunate."
"He is very hairy! I did not know men were so hairy. I would rather my husband did not give me such a fright."
"Then do not marry Sir William, I say."
"Perhaps Captain Wentworth is less hairy," Louisa speculated.
"I do not know. I could ask."
Louisa burst into giggles, but she clearly thought Anne was joking. "You make me laugh, Anne. You would not! Ask Captain Wentworth! Oh no! What would he say? But what do you think?"
"What do I think about what?"
"Would Captain Wentworth be less hairy?"
"I...I have never seen them side by side in such a state." And she could hardly reveal she had seen Captain Wentworth swimming.
"I wish someone knew."
"He would know it himself, I suppose, but what will you do with the information?"
"I will decide whether to like him or Sir William better."
"Oh." Anne wondered whether she should discourage Louisa to like either. Sir William might not be the sort she wished on an innocent girl, and Captain Wentworth she would like to keep for herself.
Because Lady Russell would not have liked it in the least if Anne went home alone, she had no choice but to wait dutifully at Uppercross. Rethinking the matter she decided it would take far too long to put off speaking to Captain Wentworth until after they had both got home, so she left Louisa again to go upstairs. There she waited for him to come out of Sir William's room.
"Do you know of some room or closet where we might speak in private?" he inquired.
"Anything with a door."
"I do not live here. I am not even related to people who live here. I cannot simply go into any room I like."
"They seem to know you well enough."
"The music room? I do not think Henrietta or Louisa are ready to go there yet and they are the only ones who play." Anne led the way, hoping they would not run into any Musgroves on the way. As she took the turn to the music room, she could hear Mary speaking to Mrs Musgrove in another room. Now it was even more imperative to find a quiet place.
"So," said Captain Wentworth as he assessed the thickness of the doors and walls and whether he needed to lower his voice. "Fire away."
"Are you very hairy? Louisa wishes to know."
Wentworth looked taken aback. "That is the last question I was expecting after speaking to Sir William. I was up there dragging serious information out of the man with great difficulty and you were apparently with Louisa discussing my body with, I imagine, no difficulty at all."
"Yes, I am sorry."
"That question is the epitome of shallowness."
"Yes, I am sorry."
"No, you are not. I perceive some amusement." He bent forwards and looked her in the eye.
Anne tried not to step back. No, she tried not to step forwards into his arms. It helped that he was not holding them out. "Well, it illustrates the difference between fifteen and thirty very nicely, does it not?"
"If you are amused at the question, there can be no difference. Did you tell her about seeing me when I went into the pond? You must have seen something. I know you pretended to be afraid of my drowning, so you did look."
Anne blushed. She had not pretended anything. She had genuinely been afraid. "No, I did not."
"No, you did not see anything, or no, you did not tell her?"
"No, I did not tell her."
"So you know the answer. What was the reason for this interesting discussion? And why must I be told?"
"Sir William is too hairy," Anne said solemnly. "For Louisa."
"Too hairy for what purpose?"
"I cannot begin to imagine, but I should like to give you a fair warning that she is now wondering about you."
"Because now she wishes to -- oh, tell her I am an ape."
Posted on 2014-04-16
Anne could not help but smile. She rather liked that he did not want Louisa to pursue him.
"I see you anticipate amusing cries of horror," said Captain Wentworth. "Instead of lecturing young women on the shallowness of their preferences. Is hairiness a recurring topic among young women? Are we discussed in such detail? I thought it was all income and a bit of general character thrown in for good measure. Oh, and perhaps a handsome face. What is the order? Income, face, character, hair?"
Anne squeezed her eyes tightly shut as if not seeing anything meant she was not there. She did not want to have to answer that. She could not say income was not the most important thing. What would he think then?
Apparently he did not really expect an answer, for he continued speaking. "But you must tell the girls that hair is all important. See, if you run away from your husband in horror when he undresses, there can be no...er...what you so delicately described as breeding."
Anne had her eyes squeezed shut and her hands in front of her face. "It is a general agricultural term."
"I see it is indeed a terrible prospect to live with an ape," he said sympathetically. "You are completely horrified. I am sorry for putting such images into your head, but I can just see it -- and the poor man would not understand at all why his wife ran away from him!"
Anne felt she might collapse -- she hoped in laughter, but she was not entirely sure.
Captain Wentworth seized her by the arms when she began to sway. "Are you ill?"
"No." She took a deep breath and steadied herself. "And I am not going to faint either, but I do not thank you for the images!"
"Of course blowing out the candles is always an option," said the captain. "Although that would not be my first choice."
"Why not?" Anne forgot she had been interested in hearing what Sir William had told him. They could deal with that later. This was more important, was it not?
"The next time we need to search the pond, you go in and I watch. I think that is only fair."
This confused her. "I do not see..."
"Exactly, I did not see. Perhaps we had best get back to what the baronet told me, before the noisy people find us here." He cast a glance at the double doors separating them from the next room.
"Would they say anything?"
"Well, they would certainly interrupt and they are such a talkative lot that I cannot imagine them not saying anything, so it would be difficult to continue speaking once we are no longer alone. We should simply not be able to make ourselves heard."
"But what else do we need to search the pond for?"
"There was something that escapes me now, but it was really important. Back to Sir William. He seems to have entertained some of the same suspicions as we did, but he did not know about us and in any case he was loath to tell anyone because his own conduct had been less than exemplary when it came to Mrs Clay. She had seduced him, he said, and he had gone along with it, knowing it was probably not his personal attractions but his rank that motivated her, but he did not care, because he was a widower and, he said, he could do with some attention."
"We knew that already," Anne said with some disappointment. "But what is in the pond?"
"He furthermore said that he suspected Mrs Clay of having other men, because he had once seen her winking at his valet and putting her hand on my posterior and --"
Anne let out a shocked gasp.
Captain Wentworth was completely indifferent about it. "That occasion did not register with me, so who knows if he was telling the truth. I noticed only the unmistakeable occasions where she manoeuvred herself between me and a wall and things like that. But I was not interested. I am not uninterested in such manoeuvres per se, mind you, but not with Mrs Clay."
"So, Sir William did not like his valet also...er...having access to Mrs Clay, so he warned her to break it off. I suppose he thought that now that he was a baronet, he was too much of a touch above the servants and sharing a woman with them was unthinkable."
"And then Mrs Clay told the valet."
"Possibly -- and possibly he was angry. It is also possible that Mrs Clay liked the valet for his person. It cannot have been his position or his money. And possibly he liked her."
"And whose child was she carrying?"
"There is no way of knowing. I can tell you, though, that Sir William certainly performed all the necessary actions. He told me so. If any others did as well, only they and Mrs Clay will have known. I do not think she can have known whose child it was, unless the woman can feel it happening. I must ask Sophia. But perhaps it is, as you said, irrelevant. It matters only whom she told and obviously she told Sir William in the hopes he would think it his heir."
"But he did not care? He made no plans to marry her, nor plans to provide for her."
"He might have done if it had become obvious that she was expecting. Or so he said, but he might have said that to appear a little more decent."
"So," Anne said, thinking. "Sir William's valet might have been angry because of something she told him and picked up a rock in anger. It does not make sense for Sir William himself to have been so angry."
"And then the valet fled."
"But why could Sir William not tell us?"
"He could not tell you. Actually, nobody cares much what a widow and a widower get up to together, but he had plans to win you over and he knew you would not approve of his conduct."
"He should have thought of that before he took up with Mrs Clay!" Not that it would have made any difference with regard to her.
"Yes," the captain, looking satisfied with himself. "It is not as difficult as he would have it. Thinking men have no problems with that. One can think and walk away."
"What shall we do when there is nothing more to solve?" Anne asked suddenly. "It will be so boring."
"I am going to Edward's. I must. He invited me. If anyone has died a suspicious death in Edward's parish, I will send for you immediately. I do not yet know on which pretext. Edward is not very particular about your coming over, I am sure; he is my brother. He will let us do our work."
"But what if no one dies there at all?"
"It is possible," Captain Wentworth admitted, "that Edward put the fear of hell into everyone and that nobody would dare to murder another being. It would be extremely disappointing. But I do not even think Edward believes in hell. He writes sickly happy letters these days." He slipped his hands down from the arms he was still holding to seize her hands. "But I am not going to kill someone for you!"
"I should hope not."
"You look as if no dead bodies means the end of the world. Work up some enthusiasm for live bodies."
She was in close proximity to such a live body, holding hands with it in fact. She could easily pull herself forwards, but it would be too bold. "Yes, I much prefer them."
"Very good. Now, I suppose, you must wait for Lady Russell while I go home and tell Sophia that Sir William will be back by the end of the day and that he will travel to London hopefully tomorrow."
"To London!" She tried to remember if he looked well enough to travel. It was no surprise he would go back to Kellynch Hall, but London was a different matter entirely.
"Yes, let him finish the business with his valet. There is no saying he will get it done properly, but we do not even know what the man looks like or what his name is. Let Sir William take himself off to London. We do not need him here."
It occurred to Anne that he sounded rather eager for the man to be gone. "But you will go to your brother's." He would not be here himself and as such it should not matter to him.
"Exactly. Suppose he feels like putting on the charm now that the only persons who knew what he did are gone."
Anne wondered where she was going then.
"He would try to charm you. Your using agricultural terms with such facility may make him think you wish to engage in such actions."
"I do! At some point! But not with him." She did not think she would be in any danger. Besides, Sir William was going away. There was no need to discuss what he would do if he stayed.
Captain Wentworth appeared shocked. "You do? When?"
"When the situation calls for it," she said gravely. "One cannot have a family otherwise. But Sir William will have nothing to do with it."
"Well, let me know when you have fixed on someone for that purpose. I do not know if I can invite you to Edward's if you do," he said, patting her shoulder. "Unless I abduct you before you decide on anyone, so I can be prepared for any deaths in Shropshire. I must be off now."
He was gone before she could think of anything to reply. What would happen in the future?The End