Hearts Adrift – Part Sixteen

Armitage_004

Chapter Sixteen

 

In the two weeks that followed the ball, Manon was swept into a flurry of activity attending balls and soirées and enjoying outings to the park and riding journeys. Lucian was her attentive groom when she went riding while Marcus Lascombe, a charming fair-haired giant with dreamy blue eyes was Manon’s usual companion for the theatre. His brother Joseph, considerably shorter than Marcus, was a slender, handsome and amiable man who loved to take her out for poetry evenings. Then there were a number of other young bucks, scarcely older than Manon who endeavoured to ask her to a ball or a soirée with the enthusiasm only the young possess. They made Manon smile, yet she did not respond to their pleas, because she had no interests in beguiling innocent boys still engaged in their studies at university.

However, none of Manon’s suitors had proposed to her, not even Lucian Blackthorne, a fact that left Manon nonplussed. Since she was unable to accept Richard, she was determined to say yes to Lucian if he asked her to be his wife. She liked Lucian. He was an earl’s son; that was true. He was wealthy as well, but that was not what made him attractive. It was his high-spirited, humorous manner and his boyish charm that drew Manon to him. She knew that life with Lucian would be anything but dull. They were certain to have fun together, and even joy, and perhaps love would blossom one day if they let it grow between them. Manon was prepared to give love a chance again, with Lucian. Yet he had not said a word so far.

 

As Manon had expected, her uncle wished to be informed about the situation. He questioned her on one of the rare nights that she was not engaged. The four of them, with Pru and Jake Davies being of the company, were dining en petit comité.

“Manon, have you received any offers of marriage as yet?”

“No, Uncle. So far, no one has ‘come up to scratch’ yet.”

She smiled at him, seeing that her words somehow seemed to upset him. “I apologize, Uncle. I know a lady should not speak in such terms.”

He did not reply but quickly lowered his gaze and continued eating.

Pru, however, knew she could not have misjudged the look of pure sorrow she saw in the baronet’s eyes when the proposal was mentioned. Oh, it had only been there for a second. Sir Richard was too well bred to allow feelings to show on his face for longer than that. But it had been there, nevertheless. Manon, she knew, had seen it too; it was what had compelled the young woman to quickly apologize. Sir Richard had become utterly distressed when Manon joked about Sir Lucian’s proposal, or the lack thereof, Pru registered. That, or Pru was no longer able to read people’s gazes as she had been doing all her life.

Unobtrusively, from the corner of an eye, Pru observed the two. At any given moment, they were either avoiding each other’s gaze or throwing furtive looks at each other especially when they thought the other would not see them. A tension most definitively hovered between the baronet and his niece.

Allowing Pritchard to remove his empty plate, Richard de Briers cleared his throat and thus claimed the attention of the other diners.

“Estate matters claim me back to Bearsham Manor, as I was informed today by a letter from my steward, Trevor Waldham. There is no need to accompany me, niece, if you wish to stay in Brighton. Jake, I trust you will prepare young Jéhan for the journey and instruct his nanny that she is to pack his belongings.”

“Yes, of course, sir. Will…”

“I beg your pardon!” Manon’s voice rang with sudden alarm when she abruptly stood, drawing all attention to her.

Richard looked at her wearily and said, “Yes, Manon?”

“Are you taking my brother away from me?” Her green eyes blazed with sudden fury, Richard saw. He drew a breath to keep his composure before patiently explaining, “That goes without saying, Manon. Jéhan is my heir. He will accompany me wherever I go.”

“Then, Uncle, I must also prepare myself for travelling.”

Manon addressed Pritchard in a polite voice and asked him if he would kindly inform her maid Bessie to start packing.

“Yes, of course, Miss Favier,” the butler answered. He gestured to a footman to take his place at the table before he left the dining room.

“Manon…”

Her uncle’s quiet voice was laden with authority. He was fixing her with his most unwavering gaze. Pru Butterworth watched in amazement at how Manon’s chin went up in defiance and how her eyes and her whole expression focussed on her uncle.

“Yes, Uncle?”

“Please, sit down and listen to me.”

Richard gave his niece a stern look in the hope that she would listen to reason. He thoroughly regretted not having spoken to her of this before and cursed his omission, because he had known full well how firmly the two siblings’ lives were intertwined. Manon might never trust him again if he did not present this correctly to her. He kept his voice as soothing as was possible.

“As I said before, dearest Manon, there is no need to accompany me to Bearsham Manor. Jéhan will be safely under my protection and properly looked after by his nanny and his tutor. The boy is no longer your concern, Manon and besides, you have several events that claim your presence in the days to come. I suggest you stay here with Miss Butterworth and honour the invitations you have received.”

“But … Jéhan has always been with me, from the day he was born! We have never been separated, not even for a day! Please, Uncle, let me come with you! I cannot stand to be without my brother! I promised our father I would protect him with my life, and I will!”

She shoved her chair backwards and swiftly crossed over to her uncle’s place at the head of the table. To Richard’s utter shock, Manon threw her arms around him.

“Please, dearest Richard! I beg you, do not take my little brother from me!”

Pru and Jake exchanged surprised glances upon Manon’s use of a romantic endearment instead of the usual title of ‘Uncle’ that she always employed. Yet they could barely keep their jaws from dropping at the reaction of their employer.

Richard de Briers had risen and he put his arms around Manon. He was gently stroking her now shaking shoulders. “I am not taking him from you, sweetling. Please, do not weep so. I … I cannot stand it.”

His gaze went to Pru, a plea in his eyes. Pru rose and came to take Manon from him. The girl went quietly with her companion – to Richard’s immense relief. It had cost him a formidable amount of willpower not to kiss the tears from her cheeks and make her smile again. His heart went with her when he saw Manon and Miss Butterworth leave the room.

Sighing deeply, Richard gestured to the footman to serve the next course, which was dessert. He then turned to Jake Davies.

“Jake, will you join me in the library after dinner? I have some matters to discuss with you concerning the young master.”

“Certainly, sir,” Jake replied, still stunned by the whole performance and its implications. His master could not … would not … No!

 

Half an hour later, Manon had been bathed by Bessie and put to bed.  A cup of hot cocoa had been served to help Manon sleep. Pru came to sit next to her bed and took her hand.

“Dearest Manon, I think you have something to tell me,” she said quietly and looked comfortingly at her companion. Manon turned her face away, but Pru had seen the silent tears that ran down her cheeks. Poor little mite, she thought. Poor sweet child.

“Is your uncle the one you lost your heart to, Manon? You can tell me; it will ease your mind to tell someone, dearest. Such a burden should not be borne alone.”

Still Manon did not answer and she tore her hand from Pru’s and covered her face. Her slender shoulders shook with violent sobs.

“Manon, we do not choose whom we love. Love chooses us, just like that. It is no crime to fall in love with one’s uncle but it would be if you gave in to temptation and acted upon that love. I cannot believe that your uncle would commit such a dishonourable act, Manon. Richard de Briers is a gentleman of the first water.”

“He has not done anything. He has always behaved impeccably. We never … touched each other again, not even after …”

Manon’s voice faltered, and she burst out in tears again.

“After what, dearest? Tell Pru all; it will relieve you.”

“After I confessed my love to him. He … he was the kindest of souls and he tried to comfort me. He also begged me to stop loving him and to search for a husband, but … oh, Pru! I cannot! I cannot, not ever! I love him so much, Pru! Oh, why must he be my uncle? What have I done to the Heavens to deserve such a torture?”

“There, there,” Pru soothed, anxious because Manon was so thoroughly distressed and because Pru could not seem to offer her comfort. “You must be strong, my darling, and pull yourself together. Sir Richard is right. You must be married and find a new happiness with your husband. The love you feel for Sir Richard can never be allowed to grow. You know that, do you not?”

Manon nodded, unable to speak. She valiantly tried to dry her tears, but they kept streaming down her cheeks. She fumbled for a handkerchief. Pru offered her a clean one so that Manon could blow her congested nose. Finally, she was able to speak again without sobbing.

“Yes, Pru, I do know all that. However, how do you think it feels when I am forced to meet him every day and eat at his table and sleep under his roof and never be allowed to tell him that I love him? How torturous it is to be confronted with him, day after day, and to see how magnificent he is? When he is all dressed up in his fine clothes with his splendid figure, his fine, broad shoulders, and his handsome countenance, he is temptation come alive, Pru. Yet I can never touch him or caress him. I am only allowed to peck him on the cheek and never truly kiss him on the mouth. It is slowly killing me, Pru.”

She was only eight years Manon’s senior, Pru mused, yet at that same time, she was feeling as if she were trice as old as the girl. Love could be such a cruel sentiment. Manon should be happy and joyous at this moment, enjoying her youth. Above all, she should be experiencing the love of a good, kind man instead of being ripped apart by her forbidden feelings for her attractive uncle. But that was just how life was, sometimes. Nothing, no unfair setback, was ever to be excluded.

“Darling Manon,” she said in an infinitely gentle voice, “life has treated you terribly unkindly. You lost your parents and you had to flee your native country. Now these unbidden feelings assault you. It is indeed cruel, my darling, but you must find the courage to fight against all this. I know you can fight, Manon. You are a brave, clever, strong young woman, and you can do it. Of that I am most thoroughly convinced. You are not alone in this, dearest. I am with you and I will support you. For now, I think Sir Richard is right. You should remain here with me and create a distance between you and him. That will be the first step towards peace of mind, Manon. Only when you are not in his presence will your love for your uncle return to a more appropriate level.”

 

The next morning, Manon said goodbye to her little brother as he mounted their uncle’s splendid carriage. Jéhan was excited and happy, whereas she felt as if her heart were being ripped apart.

“We will see each other again soon, mon chou,” Manon said, biting back tears and squaring her shoulders against the sorrow that was lurking nearby. “I will follow you to our uncle’s estate in a few weeks. Now, you will be a good boy, won’t you?”

“Yes, yes, Manon! Hurry, let go of me! We are about to leave!”

Manon smiled when she saw Jéhan’s enthusiasm. At least he was cheerful enough for the both of them.

The company – Jéhan, Jake and Maisie – climbed into the carriage, on the back of which one of the grooms was finishing the strapping of the luggage. Richard de Briers, who had been watching the proceedings from the front porch of the house, stepped forward.

“Well, niece, I will see you on the first of August, then. I asked Lucian Blackthorne to accompany my carriage when it carries you to Bearsham Manor. I hope you will have a pleasant time in Brighton until we see you at the estate.”

He took her hand and placed a kiss on its back, then pulled on his gloves and swung himself onto his big chestnut stallion.

Manon hastily retreated when Spartacus stepped aside, lest the animal tread on her foot. Mere seconds later, the horse and carriage disappeared round the bend and from Manon’s sight. She felt like she had lost a limb.

Climbing the stairs to her room, Manon had the distinct impression that, with Richard gone, the house had lost its very soul. It was definitively missing all joy now that Jéhan no longer filled its corridors and rooms with his cheerful babbling and light footsteps. When she entered her large, well-lit bedroom, she lowered herself onto her bed, lying on her back and resting her head upon her arms.

She needed to think, and to take her life into her hands again. Since coming to Brighton, she had had the impression that her life was being led for her instead of the other way around. Now that she was alone with Pru, without Richard’s constant supervision, Manon knew she could make plans of her own.

 

 

The Last Days in the Desert

The Last Days in the Desert 2016

Last Days in the Desert follows Jesus in an imagined chapter from His 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. On His way out of the wilderness, He struggles with the Devil over the fate of an ordinary family in crisis, setting for himself a dramatic test with distinctly human conflicts.

Last Days in the Desert is an American drama film about the temptation of Christ, directed and written by Rodrigo García. It stars Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds and Ayelet Zurer. The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2015. The limited release date is set for May 13, 2016.

Last Days in the Desert 2

 

John Thornton’s Unfolding Dream – 24

Chapter 14 

Margaret could feel the noon sun streaming in on her arms as the black cover was lifted from her head. ‘Who are you?” She asked with annoyance.

“You can call me Reg, m’lady. I hope you have not been too uncomfortable. Our instructions have been to see you are well taken care of but removed from the realm.”

“Removed from the realm! Do you not think someone will notice that I am missing?” Margaret said, her ire rising.

“M’lady, we know who will be looking for you. That is why you are being taken to France. My Lady wishes it.”

“Your Lady?”

“Yes, My Lady. She is of great wealth and land holdings. She fancies the same man that you do, so she is seeing that you are not accessible to him, so he will turn to her.”

“Oh, is that all? London people of high society just do away with their perceived competition, is that it?”

“My Lady does,” stated Reg, off-handedly. He had a lot of money in his pocket right now and was feeling cocky. As soon as he delivered his parcel to the proper address in Paris, he and Goose would have to disappear for a year with another fifty pounds in coin. That was enough to see them through life, he thought. He just had to get her there unharmed.

“What will your Lady do with me in France?”

“I would imagine she will release you once she is married to the Baron. She wants you unharmed which you should be thankful for. So, if you do not try to escape we will keep you safe, but if force is required, we have that permission, too.”

“Who is this Baron?” Margaret asked, feeling certain there had been a mistake made.

Reg continued to look out the coach window as if she had not spoken.

“There is has been some dreadful mistake, here. I know no Baron at all.”

Reg just smiled, not willing to play her little game. He had his orders, and that was all he needed.

“Where’s your friend, Goose?” Margaret challenged, hoping to get him talking again.

“Miss, do not worry about anything except yourself. It will take another day or better to reach the port for crossing.” Belfour offered.

“What about clothing and personal items that a woman needs?”

“My Lady has seen to all of that and there is baggage on the back of the coach for you. I might as well give you some instructions. Unless you want to sleep on the ground, we will stop here and there, at a tavern, preferably, to eat and sleep. You will not have your own room, but we will make it as private as we can. You will be accompanied when you need to  . . . ah, well . . . refresh yourself. Should you try to holler out or escape, you will be tied to the inside of the coach for the duration of the trip – no matter what you need to do. I hope that is clear. As for the Baron coming after you it will be days before he has any directions in mind if he has any at all.”

Margaret sat there resigning herself for now. With a saddened heart, she realized that John’s note to her was in her bag still on the train. She wondered who this Baron was and who was his young lady who was sitting somewhere safe and comfortable. “What are John and Kindle thinking of, right now,” she asked herself. They both would be worried. “Poor Edith and Aunt Shaw; they must be sick from fear by now.” Being near Milton, she felt there may have been a chance of rescue but all was grim now. Still . . . she had the hope that John could see her or hear her. She would not give up on hope; it was all she could cling to from this horrible mistake. When the night fell, she would tell him that she was headed for France and more if she happened to know where they would stop for the night. She assumed Goose was the coach driver.

“Look Reg, if you want me to be manageable, you will have to make some concessions. I want my wrists to be unbound. In addition, when we stop I want you to find a book for me to read, or I promise you, I will go mad on you. You will most likely have to harm me and how will that sit with your Lady?”

“We will see,” Reg said. “We are going to be stopping for a bit to eat soon. I will see how you act and then make a decision whether to leave you unbound. In traveling the back way, were you to escape from the carriage, you will certainly be killed by wolves. There could be men wandering about, too. Somehow, out here, I doubt they would think you were a damsel that needed rescuing. They would have other thoughts and want to keep you. I want you to clearly see all of your options. Know that we are your safest choice.”

Margaret thought if there was any positive aspect to all of this it was the fact that they were not interested in her as a woman. Well . . . at least they were not going to act on it if they were. She sat and gave this whole incident a lot of thought. She did feel her best path was to settle in and do what she was told until some opening availed itself. She would cull them into thinking she was a weak, silly woman who would do what she was told.

 

John was nearing Milton. He had spent most of his time trying to dispose himself to Margaret. He had made plans for her search and rescue while traveling on his long train journey. He was disheartened when he caught a glimpse of her being pushed into a carriage while wearing something black over her head. He was almost sure she was being driven away from Milton. He would gather with Higgins and Branson and talk this over. Also, he would send a note to the Baron letting him know what he thought was going on once he sensed a direction. He knew the Baron would eventually amass an army if he had to and there was no sense marching them northwest to Milton if she was not close.

 

The door opened to Gilbert, and he reached in and kissed Eve before she had a chance to welcome him. “You surprised me by answering the door yourself, Eve.”

“I cannot lie. I heard a horse, and looked out the window and saw it was you. This is such a delight, please come in.”

“I wish I could sweep you into my arms and tell you all the ways that I want to love you, but this is a sad occasion that brings me here. It is your friend, Margaret. She’s disappeared and feared kidnapped.”

Gilbert caught Eve as she almost slid to the floor. Their butler arrived and took Eve’s other side while Gilbert guided them into the parlor and gently sat her on the settee. He sat beside her, rubbing her hands. “Eve, I am sorry. I know this is a terrible shock for all of us. Kindle is not himself, either. We have known about this since late yesterday afternoon.” Gilbert went on to tell her about Mr. Thornton and his gift plus all the plans that seemed to be birthing.

“Eve, I am here to ask if Margaret has ever mentioned anything unfavorable about anyone. Could she have spoken of anyone who would want to do her harm?”

“Oh Gilbert, you must find her. I have only known her very well for a short time, but she has never mentioned anyone such as you ask. As in any social circle, there were young men seeking her favors that she was not disposed to but not to any extent that something like this could happen.”

Eve leaned over to Gilbert and cried on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her and laid his head atop hers, not caring of the propriety of the scene.

“We will find her. We do have ideas of our own but wanted to eliminate anything you might know.”

Eve rose up, dabbing her eyes with the lace hanky.” What ideas?”

“I’d rather not say just yet. Should we be wrong, we would seriously ruin a reputation. Just know that we are taking some action, and Mr. Thornton is going to let us know if he has any more visions.”

“She’s never spoken of this Mr. Thornton to me. Either she’s just met him, or he may be in this kidnapping.”

“We gave that a lot of thought, Kindle and I, but we feel certain that he is as much in love with her as is my cousin. Strange, I know. Moreover, this Mr. Thornton did say they were new acquaintances. He admits knowing her for two days and declaring himself to her. Apparently, she has been in his visions for several months – and he lives all the way up in Milton of all places.

“That is an interesting, yet disturbing story. I wish I could have talked to Margaret about him. How did Kindle take that news on top of all the other?”

“He’s confused. It is dwelling deep within himself, and he is struggling, as I have never seen before. I feel very sad for him right now. If I thought about you in the same situation, I would be driven insane.” He leaned in and kissed her, holding her tight against him.

“I am sorry I cannot stay. We have many irons in the fire. I will probably be absent from your loving company until this is resolved but I will keep you informed of any firm news we have on Miss Margaret. I must go.”

They both stood and Eve walked him to the door. He pulled her outside just to the side of the open door and kissed her hard, taking her breath. He did not care that a livery boy was waiting there with his horse. Not saying a word, he turned, walked down the wide steps, and mounted his horse. He nodded his hat as he ruffled the reins.

 

It was early in the afternoon, and the sky was threatening rain as it always did in London. Baron Brampton took a deep breath and exited the coach when his driver opened the door. The grand portico shielded his driver and guards from the rain while he ascended the marble steps. The door was opened to him before he could knock. He adjusted his uniform, pulling down his coat to its sleek look.

“Good afternoon, Baron. If you wait in the parlor, I will tell Lady Carter that you are here.”

“Very good,” said the Baron.

He walked into the first room on the right with the large walk-out windows that were opened wide permitting a nice flow of summer air to flow through the downstairs. Feeling nervous about what he would say, he paced the room, pretending to study the offensive collections of God knew what. He hated this room. It did little to imbue him with self-confidence when he needed it most. He had never needed it before, in his life, at least where women were concerned. The female was an entirely different adversary. He had known many a man who had failed, never to learn the rules of such an opponent. Right now, he was no better off himself. She would be cunning, and she would act sorrowful but unknowledgeable. This was reconnaissance only. The best he could hope for was a small almost indiscernible change in her expression when she heard of Miss Hale being kidnapped.

“Baron, what an unexpected delight,” Lady Carter said as she whisked into the room wearing a very lovely dress which dipped low exposing her full bosom. Kindle thought it looked more fitting for a ball.

“She must be going all out,” he thought.

“What brings you here, today?” She said as she rang for the butler. “Would care for tea or something else?”

“Tea would be fine, Lady Carter.”

“Tea it shall be,” she said, catching the butler’s attention.

“I have come to see how you were doing since my visit of two days ago. I want to apologize for being so harsh. We have been such good and close friends, and I have dwelled unhappily over my previous visit. I could not let it go on any longer.”

“Baron, when you called on me you were honest and noble with your words. One hopes to always know the truth. I cannot fault you for your feelings for another. They are rarely maneuverable to one’s wishes. How is that going, by the way?” Lady Carter asked, anxious to hear his next words.

Kindle paused. He wanted to have her full attention. She had to be staring him in the face. “I have not seen her since last we spoke, but she did not arrive home as expected,” he said with sadness in his voice. His eyes were frozen on hers. There it was! A tiny quirk at the corners of her mouth that were quickly covered over, but mostly the eyes gave it away. They brightened for an instant.

“You say, she did not come home as expected? How frightful that must be for her family and . . . you, of course. What is being done about it?”

Kindle thought he might have an eventual weapon with disinformation in the future. “What can be done, really? We are having the entire route investigated, but unless someone receives a ransom note, we are at a loss, I believe. Her family is trying desperately to think of anyone wishing her harm. That is not leading anywhere. It appears there have been a couple of unhappy potential suitors. One is not in London at this time, and he will have to be sought out,” Kindle lied. As he sat there watching her controlling her emotions, he felt sick. She was a she-devil. If he hadn’t been a gentleman, he would strangle the information out of her, here and now. “What would cause someone to do such a thing?” he threw back at her, pretending to find interest in her answer.

“Kindle, I am sure I wouldn’t know,” Lady Carter feigned innocence. “Perhaps she has a jealous lover of which you have no knowledge. Maybe you have enemies and by taking the young lady, they wish to bend you to their way. Most likely you are correct in waiting for the ransom note.” That gave Lady Carter an idea to send them on a wild chase.

The Baron was astounded that she had included in her reasons the very cause of his current plight. She was even more devious than he originally thought. Purposely, she must want him to read between the lines. “This insidious bitch . . .” His thoughts were disturbed.

“How are you dealing with this, dear friend?” She asked.

Kindle had thought before he answered. If he suddenly played down his interest in her, lessening her value to Lady Carter, she might eventually let her go. Alternatively, would she kill her? He felt she had plans to kill her anyway.

“I am terribly worried for the poor lass, but I have been having second thoughts about her. I wish no harm to come to her, and I will do all in my power to find her and punish the perpetrators. However, after talking things over with my father,” his lies spilled from his lips like water, “he has opened my eyes to the disadvantages of marrying so decidedly below my station. I am coming to the conclusion that he may be right, but I would like to see her freed, and unharmed to confirm my feelings are changing.”

“Baron, you know I am happy to hear of your awakening to reality. What happens if she is not recovered?”

“I will probably dwell in misery feeling heavy that I was the cause of her death. I would probably never look for love again. I have already talked to Gilbert that he’d better have a son so I can leave the title with a male heir in the family.” Kindle was proud of that line, and it was even true.

“You mean that you do not think you’d marry if she is never found?” Lady Carter asked in disbelief.

“Naturally. Besides my own self-loathing, how would it look to my people and the crown if I were to go on with a happy life knowing I was probably the cause of a woman’s death? I am a soldier from the Brampton line of soldiers. Such matters weigh hard upon us. Whether she is never found, never heard from or is found dead, is of no difference. If there be any suspicion around me in the cause of her death, it will take centuries for the Brampton’s to hold their heads up again,” Kindle said, almost wishing he could remember all he was telling her. He had many lies to remember.

“My my,” said Lady Carter, “I had no idea your reputation was in such jeopardy.” She was bewildered and realized the grave error she had made. She would have to do something about this situation immediately before the young lady was found with her men.

Kindle could feel a sense of consternation in her. He had pulled his bow, and his arrow was true. He wanted desperately to smile, but this is where he could excel at this game. He had to get home and contemplate her next move. He knew how to play chess, and he knew it well. He had checked Lady Carter for the moment.

 

*     *     *

 

Margaret finally found some comfort in not being bound by her hands. She behaved well at the inn while eating. When she needed to attend to herself, she was accompanied to the outside privy door, and the tiny space was checked before she was allowed to enter. As she was seated in the carriage once more, she was surprisingly handed a book to read.

“There. You held your part of the bargain, and I held mine.” Reggie sat back and folded his arms across his chest in triumph watching as she turned to the front title.

“Raising Pigs for Market?” Margaret wanted to burst out laughing even under this ridiculous situation. “You expect me to read ‘Raising Pigs for Market’? I see that you do not know how to read, and you must have stolen this from the innkeeper, but I must admit you did hold up your end. I cannot say that I will find much of interest, but it will pass the time. Thank you for that.” Margaret couldn’t hold the smile back as she started flipping the pages and saw a pig’s reproductive organs.” Oh my,” she squealed, holding her hands over her mouth as she turned the book to Reggie for him to see.

He snatched the book from her hand to look closely at the penciled diagram. Margaret burst out laughing and snatched the book back. Now, Belfour was having a hard time not smiling.

As she sat thumbing the pages before getting down to the “page turning” reading, she felt she could lull them into giving her the information or giving her the benefit of the doubt when it came to trusting her. All her concentration would now go into finding out where they were headed tonight so she could tell John as darkness came upon her.

She started with, “How far into the night can one travel without light?” From there it led to what she wanted to know. They had another five hours of traveling but would bed-down somewhere in Doncaster tonight, albeit late. At lunch, Goose and Reg had been whispering among themselves and she thought she heard the word voyage, which she had not thought much of until now. She was told she was being taken to France, but it seemed they would sail from a very northeastern port. She struggled to picture the kingdom in her mind. Oh why hadn’t she paid more attention to that in school, she asked herself. It would come to her, or she would overhear it or wheedle it out of Reggie. After all, they told her she was going to France. What difference could it make to know from which port they would sail? She knew they would have to trust her to behave and walk aboard the ship as if pleased to leave. Was that her chance? She wondered.

 

Hearts Adrift – Part Fifteen

Armitage_004

Chapter Fifteen

 

When the cotillion ended, Richard led Blanche to a seat. He then bid her leave to go and see to his many other guests, whom he had been neglecting somewhat. She graciously released him and turned to a girl whom she knew from childhood but had not seen since. Richard hastened after his niece – he had forgotten all else, after he noticed the paleness of her face when she left the dance floor.

But where was Manon? Standing in the doorway to the entrance hall, he scanned the crowd gathered there, which was easy because of his height. He was about to return to the ballroom when he glimpsed her small form disappearing onto the terrace. When he noticed that Miss Butterworth was with her, Richard felt slightly less concerned.

Before going after the girls, he again looked into the ballroom for his friend Blackthorne. Lucian was dancing with the well-endowed daughter of a Brighton merchant and seemed to be having a fabulous time, judging from the expression of satisfaction on his face.

Stepping onto the terrace, Richard saw the two girls heading for the maze in the garden. He realised something must indeed be wrong, because Miss Butterworth had her arm around Manon’s waist in support. Manon herself seemed unsteady on her feet. What the deuce had happened? Was Manon ailing, or injured? Surely, Miss Butterworth would have taken her to her room and called for a physician if that were the case. With growing concern, Richard accessed the maze through a different entrance than the one the girls had taken. He wished to hear why his niece seemed so perturbed, even though he resented being forced to eavesdrop.

“Dearest Manon, what is it?” Miss Butterworth asked. “We should return to the house, and put you to bed. You look terrible; you are white as a sheet!”

“No, no, I will recover in a while, Pru. Just let us sit for a few moments.”

“But … you are clearly unwell, dearest. Shall I find your uncle and …”

“No!”

The word came out like a cry of despair.

“Oh, Manon!” Miss Butterworth said in anguish,  “You look truly ill.  You are trembling all over, dearest!”

“It will pass, Pru; just stay with me and hold me.”

Richard gritted his teeth in powerless frustration. What had befallen his sweet niece that she should be so disturbed? If Lucian had made any improper advances, he would demand satisfaction.

Her voice barely more than a whisper, as if talking were difficult for her, Manon pleaded, “Not my uncle. He must not know about this. I … I will … be … right as rain …”

Manon got to her feet, swaying lightly, but she managed to make a step in the direction of the house. She then collapsed without a word. Pru uttered a small scream and bent over to her. To Pru’s utter bewilderment, Manon burst into heartbreaking sobs.

Richard  clenched his fists in an effort to keep himself from bursting through the yew hedge to see what was wrong with Manon. He heard Miss Butterworth’s shushing noises as she endeavoured to comfort his niece. Manon was crying her heart out in a most inconsolable and desolate manner.

“There, there, dearie! Tell me what is grieving you so, please. Pru will help you and make it right.”

Nothing was forthcoming from Manon but wracking sobs, as she was weeping like a child would do, forlornly and heart-wrenchingly.

Eventually, Manon’s crying subsided and Miss Butterworth coaxed her once again to confide in her.

“I cannot tell you, Pru,” Manon whispered, so quietly that Richard could barely understand.

“Why not, my sweetling? I am certain I can help you.”

“No, dear Pru, even you cannot help me, no one can. I am doomed!”

 

 

 

Miss Prudence Butterworth recognised the raw sentiment Manon displayed as the oversimplified despair of youth. After all, Pru had six sisters, and all were younger than she. Especially the two youngest, Mariah and Venetia, had a tendency to blot out every ounce of reason when thwarted in love. Mariah had once tried to drown herself when one of her beaux chose another girl over her. Unfortunately for her – or, from the family’s viewpoint, fortunately – Mariah had chosen the gently babbling brook at the back of their garden as the stage for her melodramatic act. The water was shallow and extremely muddy, and Mariah had sunk into the black sludge up to her armpits. By the time their father and their male servant managed to pull her out, Mariah’s despair was gone. Instead, she was bewailing the ruin she had made of her best muslin morning gown.

Manon, Pru realised, was in the same mood Mariah had been just minutes before she jumped into the brook. She was blind to everything else but her own deep despair.

Pru knew she had two sensible options. She could try and comfort Manon with conventional, empty phrases, or she could refuse to follow her into despair and instead chide Manon back into reason. Pru chose the latter.

“Pish and nonsense, Manon! Are you listening to yourself? Doomed, no less! You must recover yourself and act like the sensible young woman that I know you are. You are a de Briers, a member of an old and proud family, and you owe it to yourself to act as such. Quit your waterfall of tears and tell me what is wrong, now! Otherwise, I am taking you to your uncle, and you can explain to him why you are snivelling and wailing like a babe whose toy has been taken away!”

 

Manon startled at Pru’s stern tone but at the same time acknowledged her words as wise.

“You are right, and I apologize, Pru. I guess I was just overwhelmed. The ball is so grand, and I am still learning how to behave.”

“Weeping will not help when you need to use your head, Manon. You are too melodramatic by far. Has someone offended you or hurt you? Was it Mr Blackthorne?”

“Lucian? No, he has been the soul of kindness to me.” She shook her head before continuing, “You must promise never to tell a soul of what I am about to entrust to you, Pru. Promise me, please?”

Puzzled to the extreme, Pru promised.

Manon continued, eyes downcast and hands clenching in her lap.

“I have allowed myself to lose my heart to someone I cannot have for a husband, Pru. It was foolishly indulgent and terribly unfortunate. Now I am condemned to push that love away and hide it forever.”

Pru studied Manon for a while, asking herself how much the girl was affected by her self-declared impossible love, and she found that Manon seemed deeply hurt. How could this have come about? It could not have occurred that same night, Pru realised. No, this was something that must have happened earlier. Manon’s sorrow was painful and real, and it must have been festering for some time, for the girl had been downcast for days. Pru recalled how even the most exquisite gowns, bonnets ,and slippers had not elicited more than a sad, fleeting smile from Manon. Come to think of it, Pru mused, Manon had had an air of melancholy over her lately that was uncharacteristic for the sensible and lively girl that Pru had come to know. For now, Pru would desist prying into Manon’s heart, but she resolved to find out what was troubling her young friend in the days to come.

 

Richard watched the pair return to the house arm in arm. Conflicting thoughts assailed his mind. On the one hand, he was pleased that Manon had found a friend in Miss Butterworth, who seemed to have the right approach to Manon’s impulsiveness. On the other hand, he realised that Miss Butterworth was shrewd and tenacious and that she would try to find out who Manon’s impossible love was in order to protect her adequately.

Hearing Manon’s confession to her friend, he had foolishly rejoiced, even though he knew he had no right to do so. Blast it all! He needed Manon to marry, and fast, too. It would be the best thing that could happen, for both of them.

 

While he wandered back to the house, Richard had to fight against his own black mood. This was becoming ridiculous, he thought. Manon’s tears over the heartache that their mutual love had brought them affected him in the same way. He had always considered a broken heart a mere invention of romantic novel writers, and something that Sir Richard de Briers, an established gentleman with a comfortable position in life, would never have to endure. He was a respected and well-to-do member of England’s country gentry, and the master of his own prosperous estate. Misfortune was not something he was likely to experience, and should a setback come his way, Richard had always assumed he would be able to rectify it.

How wrong he had been, and how foolishly conceited!