My eyes were riveted on Douglas’ suddenly ashen face, which showed the expressed shock and disbelief he was experiencing. He walked slowly toward Petite-Maman, gently took her hands in his and spoke to her in urgent French. I roughly translated their conversation on behalf of the rest of the audience. It sounded like this:
“I beg you, Ma’am, are you certain of the baby’s age?”
“I assure you, Monsieur, that the baby was approximately eight pounds in weight. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck and he must have died in the womb which caused the beginning of birth.”
“When was this, the birth?”
“Ten years ago, not long before Christmas.”
“So it is true …” Douglas murmured, “Christina and I met in June …”
My heart, in sudden emotion, went out to him yet I could not move or venture a gesture of comfort. Douglas’ own apparent distress proved that Christina Finney must have been very dear to his own heart since, ten years after her death, she still had so great a power over him. Not for the first time did I feel extremely jealous of the Finney girl.
Marianne’s eager voice roused me from my sombre thoughts with an alacrity that was so very much in her nature.
“Oh, it is indeed true! Dear Mr Spencer, she did deceive you then! She must have been already with child when she came to Torquay and her sole purpose was to trick some unfortunate young man into marriage, so as to give the child the benefit of his name and position.”
At this point, Christopher, her husband, interrupted her in his quiet, determined way.
“I fear, my love, that it might not have been the only reason for the Finneys’ coming to Devonshire. During my stay in Liverpool I found out that Finney was in dire straits with regard to his financial circumstances. He was in great need for funds and his creditors were closing in on him quite rapidly. Finney and his friend, Wilkinson, had invested a great deal of their money in some very insecure schemes which proved to be disastrous. Finney had lost virtually all his money while Wilkinson, whose father had just recently died, was able to survive on his newly received inheritance money. Ten years after the affair which drove Spencer from his home, however, Wilkinson found himself in equally disastrous pecuniary difficulties as his friend, yet he had managed to keep the creditors at bay by the promise of inheriting Sir Matthew’s fortune and estate. He came to live here as soon as Douglas was sent away to Jamaica. He wormed himself into the esteem of Sir Mathew, who was very distressed by the conduct of his only son.”
“Oh, oh, I cannot believe how it was possible for Sir Matthew to treat his son that way!” Marianne exclaimed, “Surely it would have been preferable to …”
Douglas’ wavering voice stopped her in mid-sentence. Fighting to hide his emotional distress – and only barely succeeding – he let his distasteful gaze travel over the assembly.
“No, I will not tolerate any disapproval of my good father. He was right in punishing me, for had I not done exactly what he most disapproved of? I had indeed seduced Christina! I had known her intimately, even if I was not the father of her child …”
His words died away in a dreadful silence and everybody sat staring at him with compassion. The silence dragged on for several minutes and, although I wanted desperately to break it, my constricted throat could not find the words I wanted to force out.
Elinor’s calm, level voice took over for me.
“Christopher, did you happen to discover who Miss Finney’s lover was, back in Liverpool?”
“No,” our brother-in-law answered, “the girl was said to be quiet and very protected. Her father always kept her in his house and in the company of close friends and family. No one I spoke with knew of any suitors.”
Again, silence engulfed the room. I was beginning to feel dizzy with weariness and tension. I realised I was not closer to Douglas as I had been since we were rescued from the underground passage. He withdrew from me whenever we were not alone.
The soft French speaking voice of Petite-Maman spoke to me and I startled.
“Mademoiselle, do you still have the letter I gave you, that day when we met on the moors?”
I was confused at first and I stared at her, not comprehending what she was talking about. Then, belatedly, I remembered and took the cream-coloured envelope with its blue ribbon and seal, from my pocket, where I had kept it ever since she gave it to me. I transferred it from skirt to skirt with each passing day and each change of clothes – it never left me. Like a talisman one does not want to be parted from. I was still unable to utter the slightest word but I handed the envelope to Douglas, who accepted it from my trembling hand. He tilted his inquiring eyebrows and looked at me.“Margaret, what is this?”
“It is for you, Monsieur Spencer, from the young lady I attended. She pressed it into my hands just before she died,” Petite-Maman said, looking forcibly into Douglas’ eyes.
“My love, will you not open it?,” I urged. “This clearly is Christina’s last message to you and she must have felt guilty …”
The words died in my throat as I watched yet again the emotions on Douglas’ countenance. He stood very upright and rigid and held the letter in his hand. He stared at it, frozen in memories of the girl who had engaged his heart for the first time so long ago. Christina Finney might have wounded Douglas by her betrayal, yet she had never lost that special place in his heart – that magical, deep touch of first love. For that, I would always hate her.
Elinor’s husband Edward suddenly stood and walked over to Douglas. He turned toward the rest of us and, in his quiet, soothing parson’s voice, addressed us.
“I think we should let matters rest for tonight. Mr Spencer, as well as our Margaret, have been through quite an ordeal. They need some peace and quiet so that they can reflect on what has been revealed here.”
“Quite right,” Christopher agreed. “Spencer, old chap, I suggest you stay here for tonight. Your room has been readied so that you can get a decent night’s sleep. Tomorrow we can attend to the most pressing matters of how to retrieve your inheritance. I have asked my lawyer, Mr Morley, to come over from Torquay and advise us on the legal issues of your late father’s will. I hope you do not find this too forthright of me?”
Douglas roused himself from a state of apathy with some difficulty, nodded and said: “No, Brandon, not at all. Thank you, Mr Ferrars, and you too, Brandon, for the suggestion of retiring to bed. I think I will give in to it.”
Without a word to me or the rest of us, he turned on his heels and motioned to Jack Twinkler to follow him out of the room.
The night breeze, wafting through the open window of my bedchamber on Delaford’s second floor, was hot and sultry. It did nothing to cool the room, beside stirring up whatever air and dust it contained. I lay on top of the covers in my flimsiest muslin nightdress, perspiring and unhappy, because I could not find sleep. No, I mused to myself, unhappy does not cover my discomfort and sleep lack. Miserable is more like the way I felt, utterly and deeply miserable, and I was at my wits’ end about how I would ever be come cheerful again.
When had my luck changed? Why does Douglas behave as he does now? Always, when there were people around, he seemed to withdraw from me. It is a very different behaviour from the one he shows me when we are alone. When we were cooped up in that horrible passage, he was a tower of strength and gentleness. He saved my life with no regard to his own personal risks. He had asked me to be his wife in such a romantic way that I still feel weak in the knees from the sheer loveliness of it. At that moment, as in all the moments we were alone, I knew that he loved me as deeply as I loved him.
But tonight, with Christina’s professing letter burning in his hand like a piece of red hot coal, Douglas looked like a stranger to me, wrapped up as he had been in memories of the girl, he gave his heart to, when he was no more than a boy. It was doubtless that he had indeed loved Christina. Worse, he still had some feelings left over for her, or perhaps regret, guilt, or bereavement. I need to find out what it was that stirred him so, if I was ever to become happy with him. I would have to prove to him the depth of my commitment.
I gave up the struggle, rose and went to the open window. I gazed into the hot August night with its deep indigo sky pierced with a myriad of star pinpricks and adorned by a waning moon. The garden of Delaford lay beneath my window. It appeared like an enchanted kingdom beckoning me to explore it. I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders and went outside through the drawing room’s French windows and onto the terrace. The slate flagstones felt cool beneath my bare feet and I slowly walked toward the smooth lawn. The grass was soft and thick and I strode over the lawn’s width toward the Home Wood. In contrast to Watcombe Manor’s neglected landscape, here there was meticulous caring of the grounds. No undergrowth or weeds disfigured this estate. I reached the wood and faced the lawn and house, hugging my shawl about me. Delaford was a lovely house and a happy one; it sheltered Christopher and Marianne and their children, my nieces, Amelia and Emily. Soon there would be a new baby and I knew how fervently, this time, Marianne was hoping for a boy.
“A penny for them …” a deep, very familiar voice behind me spoke.
Douglas was in dishabille and wore nothing but shirt and breeches – he looked devastatingly handsome. My startled gaze roamed over his tall, lean body and its broad shoulders and thin waist. His long, muscular legs ended at large, strong-boned feet. Bare feet. His were so incredibly attractive that my throat tightened as if I were back in the underground passage again and I could not breathe.
I took in the smooth triangle of chest in the V-shaped opening of his shirt, from which rose the perfect column of his neck. His face, pale in the weak moonlight, was finely chiselled – the smooth, strong bones, displaying the strength of his nose and jaw and the sensuality of his mouth. His eyes, however, were unreadable and appeared almost black in the night.
The shawl fell from my shoulders and out of my trembling hands, forming a large white triangle on the lawn’s darker shaded area. I was suddenly immersed in heat, blood coursing loudly through my veins and pounding deafeningly in my ears. Heaven help me, but I wanted him then and there. When he took a step toward me and extended a hand, I grasped it into my own, sank down onto the shawl and drew him on top of me. His long, lean body covered me completely. For the time of a heartbeat, Douglas supported himself on his elbows and gazed down on me, his eyes now a pale grey in the low, near moonless night. Once again his eyes were unreadable.
“Meggie …” he said in hoarse, almost gruff voice, his lips parting as if he needed to breathe heavily. The weight of him, even as he supported himself on his elbows, was almost too much for my slender body but I did not care. I welcomed him as it felt so good, so right. I felt the pressure of his erection against my equally aroused womanly place. My whole body suffused with heat. Urgently I raked my hands through the heavy black mass of his gorgeous hair. Instinctively my lower body came upward to press even closer to him; he uttered a low, throaty groan.
“Ah … woman, what are you doing … do you want me to ruin you here and now? If I do not get up, I will. You are so lovely, my Meg, you smell so good and your body is so soft and warm against mine …”
“I want you to love me, Douglas, here and now … I have waited so long to have you as my lover, please, do not deny me …”
Unable to suppress a sob, I drew his head down and pressed my mouth upon his.
Homesickness can do funny things to people. It can create fierce patriotism where once there was just allegiance; it can create an idealised society in the mind, one in which no one is ever cruel or selfish or rude because that’s the society the homesick person wishes to return to; and it can distort language, so that emotive terms such as the name of home itself should be avoided in case of excessive lower-lip quiver.
Blighty comes out of feelings like these. It’s an affectionate nickname for Britain (or more specifically England) taken from the height of the Victorian rule of India, that was first used in the Boer War in Africa, and popularised on the fields of Western Europe in the First World War.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word is a distortion of a distortion: the Urdu word vilayati either means foreign, British, English or European, and it became a common term for European visitors to India during the 1800s. A mishearing changed the v to a b, and then bilayati became Blighty, as a term to describe British imports from home, such as soda water. There again, it was also claimed by Rupert Graves that it derives from the Hindustani word for home: blitey.
Having picked up some use during the Boer War (because nothing breeds in-jokes and slang like soldiers living and fighting in close proximity), the term really took off during the long years of trench warfare in World War I. Soldiers would talk openly of dear old Blighty, indicating not only a longing to be away from some of the most horrific battlegrounds in human history, but also a wish to return to a time when such horrors were unthinkable. This elegiac tone was caught and carried by the War Poets: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, both of whom used the word when describing their experiences.
The War Office soon picked up on this, releasing a free magazine for active servicemen called Blighty, which contained poems and stories and cartoons from men on the front line. Then there were slang terms like Blighty wound, an injury good enough to get a soldier sent home, but not life-threatening, as depicted in the 1916 Music Hall song “I’m Glad I’ve Got a Bit of a Blighty One” by Vesta Tilley.
The third run of ITV’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher will premiere on Sunday September 7th at 9:05pm, it has been announced.
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is based on the real life career of celebrated 19th century detective Jonathan ‘Jack’ Whicher and follows the eponymous character who is an Detective Inspector with London’s Metropolitan Police Service. The drama is produced by Hat Trick Productions and stars Paddy Considine. The executive producer is Hat Trick’s Head of Drama Mark Redhead.
The show’s third run, which consists of 2 two-hour films (Beyond The Pale and ‘Till Death Do Us Part), follows Jack Whicher as he pursues his new career as a private inquiry agent, having left his position with the Metropolitan Police Service. The new films were penned by Helen Edmundson and directed by Geoff Sax and David Blair.
As a young man in the 1940s, poet Allen Ginsberg wins a place at Columbia University in New York City. He arrives as a very inexperienced freshman, but soon runs into Lucien Carr, who is very anti-establishment and rowdy.
After a while, Ginsberg discovers that Carr only manages to stay at Columbia thanks to a somewhat older man, a professor, David Kammerer, who writes all of his term papers for him, and seems perhaps to have been an ex-lover of Carr’s. It appears that Kammerer is still in love with Carr, and is revealed to be pressuring Carr for sexual favors, in exchange for assuring that he cannot be expelled.
Ginsberg soon meets, through Carr, William S. Burroughs, already far into drug experimentation. The writer Jack Kerouac, who was a sailor at that time and expelled from Columbia, also meets and spends time with them. Ginsberg takes part in various extreme escapades with this extraordinary group of people.
Carr eventually tells Kammerer he is done with him, and recruits Ginsberg (who has a crush on him) to write his term papers instead. After a while, Kerouac and Carr attempt to run off and join the merchant marine together, hoping to go to Paris.
There is a confrontation between Carr and Kammerer, during which Kammerer is killed by stabbing (and perhaps also by drowning). Carr is arrested, and asks Ginsberg to write his deposition for him. Ginsberg is at first reluctant to help the unstable Carr, but after digging up more crucial evidence on Kammerer and his past relationship, he writes a piece entitled “The Night in Question”. The piece describes a more emotional event, in which Carr kills Kammerer who outright tells him to after being threatened with the knife, devastated by this final rejection. Carr rejects the ‘fictional’ story, and begs a determined Ginsberg to not reveal it to anybody, afraid that it will ruin him in the ensuing trial.
We learn from Carr’s mother that Kammerer was the first person to seduce Carr, when he was much younger and lived in Chicago. After the trial we find out that Carr testified that the attack took place only because Kammerer was a sexual predator, and that Carr killed him in self-defense. Carr is not convicted of murder and receives only a short sentence.
Ginsberg then submits “The Night in Question” as his final term paper. On the basis of that shocking piece of prose, Ginsberg is faced with possible expulsion from Columbia. Either he must be expelled or he must embrace establishment values. He chooses the former, but is forced to leave his typescript behind. A week or two later he receives the typescript in the mail with an encouraging letter from his professor telling him to pursue his writing.
Post Edwardian 1944
Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg
Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr
Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac
Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs
Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer
Elizabeth Olsen as Edie Parker
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Naomi Ginsberg
David Cross as Louis Ginsberg
Kyra Sedgwick as Marian Carr
David Rasche as Dean
John Cullum as Professor Steeves
|Directed by||John Krokidas|
|Screenplay by||John Krokidas
|Story by||Austin Bunn|
|Music by||Nico Muhly|
|Edited by||Brian A. Kates|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Classics|
|Running time||104 minutes|
In this gripping remake of the 1957 classic, rancher Dan Evans agrees to help transport captured outlaw Ben Wade to the nearest rail station, where they’ll board a train to court. But all the while, Wade’s henchmen are plotting their next move.
Russell Crowe as Ben Wade, a ruthless leader of a band of outlaws
Christian Bale as Dan Evans, a one-legged veteran turned rancher
Logan Lerman as William Evans, Dan’s eldest son, who dreams of being a cowboy
Ben Foster as Charlie Prince, Ben’s right-hand man, undyingly loyal to Ben
Peter Fonda as Byron McElroy, an elderly Pinkerton agent hired by the Railroad to hunt Wade
Dallas Roberts as Grayson Butterfield, an agent of the Southern Pacific Railroad
Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter
Lennie Loftin as Glen Hollander
Gretchen Mol as Alice Evans
Vinessa Shaw as Emmy
Kevin Durand as Tucker
Luce Rains as Marshal Weathers
Luke Wilson as Zeke
Marcus Sylvester as Slick
Carmilla Blakney as Rebbi
Rio Alexander as Campos
|Directed by||James Mangold|
|Produced by||Cathy Konrad|
|Screenplay by||Halsted Welles
|Based on||Three-Ten to Yuma
by Elmore Leonard
|Music by||Marco Beltrami|
|Edited by||Michael McCusker|
|Distributed by||Lionsgate Films|
|Running time||122 minutes|
Elinor, my trustworthy sister, took matters in hand in her usual sensible way. I was whisked away by two maids and brought to my room where they assisted me in bathing and changing into my nightdress. I felt suddenly very worn out and had no objection when Elinor instructed me to bed. I had one plea to her, however, before I was ready to surrender to sleep.
“Please, Elinor, make sure Douglas is cared for. He saved my life, several times in fact, and I could not bear to see him slighted by mother.”
“I will do my best, dearest, but now you must rest.”
Lovingly, she drew up the sheets and stroked my hair. I smiled at her and said.
“Thank you, Elinor, for supporting me when I needed it the most. Without your sisterly support I might have given up on Douglas long before.”
Did Elinor’s face freeze or did I imagine it in the drowsy state I was in?
“Rest now, Margaret.”
When I woke up, it was early afternoon. Fully refreshed and very hungry, I jumped out of bed, dressed, and ran down Delaford’s wide staircase to find Douglas. The only person I found was Mother, sitting in the drawing room and working on her needlework. She told me the colonel was out on business and Marianne was resting, the date of her giving birth coming nearer. Elinor had gone back to Edward, and the parsonage and Mr Spencer had gone home.
“Gone home? Mother, that is not possible! He was wounded and exhausted!” I said in exasperation.
“His servant went for his carriage and took him away to Watcombe Manor, I presume, where he can take up quarters now that his cousin is dead. Margaret, I hope you do realise it is only for the best? If it became known what transpired yesterday, you would be irreparably ruined. You have been behaving extremely foolish, child, running into danger like that. You not only jeopardized your reputation but also your life!”
A horrible thought dawned on me and I could not keep myself from voicing it.
“Douglas has asked you for my hand in marriage, I presume?”
“Yes,” Mother answered, her lips pursed in a primly way, “or rather Mr Spencer did inform me of his intension to wed you. He did not ask me, he just told me.”
“Well, after all, I am indeed of age. He does not need your permission to make me his wife, Mother.”
“He was quite emphatic in his pointing this out to me, Margaret. It did not put me in a generous disposition toward him. I assure you his behaviour was not that of a gentleman or of good breeding.”
I had to suppress a smile when I imagined the course of their conversation. Douglas in his usual forthright manner of explaining – telling Mother that we were to be married. Mother’s rising indignation and increasing sense knowing she was outwitted. However, Mother had one ace up her sleeve and said. “When I realised he would not give in and set you free, I appealed to his conscience. I pointed out that he still had the reputation of having raped that poor girl ten years ago and that, if he really loved you, he must not bestow upon you the suspicion of marrying him because he took advantage of you.”
For a moment I was simply speechless with rage, not only with Mother for digging a trap for Douglas, but also with Douglas himself for acting as if he were truly guilty of an act he did not commit. With an effort, I managed enough control to keep silent and, instead, thought hard how to repair this new damage to my wedding plans.
It was fairly clear that I would have to prove to my disillusioned mother that the man I was in love with was worthy of my love.
Slipping out of the house, I ventured for the stables where I found my favourite little groom mucking out one of the boxes.
“Johnny, would you do something for me, please? I need you to run two errands, right now.”
“Yes, miss, what are they?”
After I explained to the young groom what I needed him to do I went to find Christopher, whom I had seen entering his study a while before.
“Good morning, Margaret,” he greeted me. “I trust you are feeling better today? You do know Douglas Spencer has returned to Watcombe Manor, yes?”
“Yes, Christopher, and I want to consult you on that matter.”
At that moment the door opened to let Marianne in. She was looking well that morning, though she was suffering from her growing pregnancy, causing her much pain to her lower back. She had gotten into a habit of supporting it with both her hands whenever she got up from a seated position.
“My love, come and sit,” her husband said as he rose to meet her. “You know you should not be on your feet too long.”
“Now, Margaret,” Marianne began as she lowered herself onto the settee, “what is it that you need to discuss with Christopher? Something to do with Douglas Spencer, I have no doubt?”
“Yes, and with Mother too. She has played a mean trick on me, Marianne. With her usual obsession for propriety, she has succeeded in driving Douglas away by appealing to his love for me and pointing out he still has not freed himself from the suspicion of rape. She is very aware of the fact that Douglas is still feeling guilty about Christina Finney and she used his deep love for me to force him away. I believe she wants me to be suspicious in that he indeed raped her. So there is but one thing I can do – I have to exonerate him once and for all from the consequences of his one-time encounter with the wretched Liverpool witch.”
Marianne shook her pretty head in disbelief. “Mother … I am sure she does indeed mean well but she has a strange way of showing it. She has absolutely no insight into men’s nature. Do you remember how she encouraged me to be with that ruffian Willoughby, who charmed her even more than he did me? That man was not worthy of her admiration, yet she did not see it. Nor did I, for that matter. Enough said about that, I think. However, Douglas is a good man but not to Mother. Once she heard the gossip that was bringing him down, she did not look any further and judges him wrongly. How will you proceed in convincing her otherwise, dearest?”
With a smile of satisfaction, I meticulously laid it out for my sister and her husband.
That very same night I managed to assemble all persons concerned in the drawing room: Elinor and Edward, Marianne and her husband, Mother, and a very shy Petite-Maman, to whom Johnny had brought my written note. The clever stable lad had coaxed her to come to Delaford with him, a difficulty I had foreseen would arise as soon as she learnt what she was needed for. The only one who did not turn up, was my Douglas, who sent Jack Twinkler to apologize for him.
“The guv’nor says ‘e’s not well, miss. Begs ye to forgive ‘im but ‘e’s sticking to ‘is bed ternight!”
I squeezed Jack’s arm in great concern for that might just have been true!
“Oh, Jack, is he sick? What is wrong with him? Does he have a fever?”
“Nah, miss! It’s just ‘im bein’ stubborn. Says ‘e’s not right fer yer, says ‘e doesn’t want ter be yer downfall an’ all! I scolded ‘im but ‘e just doens’t want ter listen!”
“Well,” I sighed, “there is no point gathering here without him. He is the key person to this mystery.”
I raised my voice to draw the assembly’s attention and they all turned expectantly to me. Mother had a suspicious look in her eyes but I ignored it and looked at the gathered people.
“Jack tells me his master will not join us here tonight so I am afraid we have gathered to no avail since Douglas is the reason I asked you to come. We might as well …”
I was interrupted by the door being opened rather forcibly – Douglas stalked into the room, wearing a guarded expression on his handsome face.
“Ah, Spencer!” Christopher exclaimed, “you made it after all! Take a seat, old chap. Our Margaret, once she has made up her mind, is very determined to have her way.”
Douglas nodded a greeting to the persons assembled and strode toward me.
“Do excuse us for a moment,” he said firmly and staring earnestly at the assembly. He then took my elbow and drew me with him into the hall.
“Margaret, I hope you know what you are doing. Your mother is very much against our marriage, claiming you will …”
“Douglas, if you have second thoughts about our marriage, then do not beat around the bush! Tell me this instant before I make a fool of myself trying to exonerate you. I would rather not make the effort, in that case.”
“Exonerate me? And how would you succeed in that, my love? You weren’t even living here when all this happened!”
“You did not answer my question, Douglas.”
A multitude of emotions played on that beloved face and my heart hurt for him. For so long Douglas had been an outcast – he could not bring himself to believe in a good outcome any longer. He gripped me by the upper arms and hissed:
“Damned, Meg, you know what I want! Marrying you is my heart’s desire, my life’s blood! Nothing would make me happier, but your mother certainly has a point.”
“Do you trust me, Douglas?”
“With my life, you know that, Meg!”
“Then, sit down and leave it all to me.”
His mouth was on mine in a brief, hard kiss, and then I heard my mother’s gasp of surprise! Unfortunately, the door had been left open and our embrace had been witnessed by all. Douglas, releasing me, whispered in my ear. “Your mother is going to be a handful, is she not?”
“Yes,” I said softly, “but we will not let her. Have you noticed she did not seemed perturbed by your swear word yet balked when you kissed me?”
“You little witch!” Douglas grinned and kissed me again. Mother was beside herself then
“Margaret Dashwood, I insist you behave appropriately as is suitable for a young lady of good breeding. And you, Mr Spencer, will refrain from acting the rake you most certainly are!”
“Oh, Mama, stop it! Do you not see they are in love?”
That was Marianne, the kindest of souls, who never raised her voice – and surely not to Mother – except where emotions were involved!
The latter stared at her with offended pride but Elinor, sensible as ever, laid a calming hand on hers and shook her head in admonishment. To my surprise, Mother yielded with a graceful nod.
Douglas and I came back into the room and I cleared my throat before commencing my story.
“After we met on the moors, Douglas and I did not set off well at first. I was convinced he was a dangerous rake, a notion he all too well enforced by acting the part to perfection. However, after I heard part of his story from various sources, I offered to contract a marriage of convenience with him. After my wretched experience with Phineas Wilkinson, I saw no other way of protecting myself from my half-brother’s troublesome meddling. Douglas behaved like the man of honour he is by refusing me but the inevitable had already taken place. We had formed a mutual attachment for each other and …”
“Margaret!” the mocking voice of my beloved interrupted me. “Can you not simply say that we fell in love? You do like expressing yourself somewhat elaborately, do you not?”
He wrapped his arm around my shoulder, drew me to him and continued:
“Margaret is right. We love each other deeply but there is the stain of rape on my character to be reckoned with. Mrs Dashwood, I am fully aware of the fact that I cannot make Margaret my wife without removing it. So we …”
“ … are going to prove that Douglas was not the father of Christina Finney’s child!” I exclaimed hastily and cutting Douglas off. I was prevented from going on further with my story by the united cry of stupefaction from the assembly, including Douglas.
Quickly, before they would all recover from their surprise, I went to Petite-Maman and drew her beside me in front of our audience.
“Racontez tout ce que vous m’avez dit, il y a quelques jours, s’il vous plait? Je traduirai.”
“There is … not a need, Mademoiselle. I … know … to speak … a bit of the English …”
That was enough to make me utter a gasp of surprise but the gypsy closed her eyes for a better concentration and started her story.
“Before ten years, I was working as a … merde, je ne connais pas le mot exacte … a woman for helping les mamans accoucher?”
“A midwife?” Douglas offered.
She nodded vehemently.
“Yes, a midwife! I was asked to help a young woman in Torquay with the accouchement. Her father was en panique because she was having the baby too soon. I was surprised that there was personne d’autre que moi. I was alone there and they were rich people, so that was not normal. Pas de docteur Anglais, vous comprenez? She had a little boy but he came de travers … I do not know the word …”
She clicked with her fingers impatiently.
“A breech delivery,” Douglas supplied.
“Yes, yes, but that was not the only thing surprenant … erm … not normal: the baby was big, pas prémature, vous comprenez?”
“Full term …” Douglas whispered, fully aware of what it meant, but Petite-Maman hastened to continue.
“La pauvre petite, a lot of blood and I could not save her. Her name, she said, was Christina Finney. Before she died, she gave me a letter and said: ‘Ask Douglas to forgive me’.”