Authors: Allie Borne
“Why, hello, Bernard! You look smashing in your dinner jacket. I do believe the master will be impressed.” Smiling impishly, Linnie squeezed Bernard’s arm in salutation.
“That had been my hope, M’Lady,” Bernard responded, inclining his head in a way she took to mean he did not wish to make eye contact with her.
“H-ad been?” Lindsay inquired, haltingly.
“It seems his Lordship has been detained and will be unable to join us until tomorrow’s dinner. He has sent a note for you,” Bernard explained, extending the letter by the corner, as if it were some sort of detestable rubbish.
“Th-thank you, Bernard. I will read it in the sitting room before I go in to dinner.”
“Of course, My Lady, I will await your convenience.”
Taking the note to the fireplace armchair, Linnie leaned towards the flame to decipher the message. It was brief, to the point, polite, with a minimal required amount of regret. “
He will make it up to me? As if I am some sort of mistress, expecting payment. How dare he? He has no respect or deep emotion what so ever!
He leaves me one day into our honeymoon to buy farm equipment, of all things! He does not even invite me along, does not bother to see that I am well situated,” her whispered rant died off in a sigh, as she sequestered the impotent flood. She would not cry in front of the staff. She would not act as her mother had and shame herself. She would have a stiff upper lip and carry on, as Grandma always said, “There is nothing else we can do, but carry on.”
Throwing her lover’s note, her first as a married woman, into the fire, Lindsay stood and walked into the dining room alone. To her surprise, John’s tall frame sat, awkwardly stiff at the seat in the middle of the table, Lindsay sat at the foot of the table and looked at her husband’s valet inquiringly. Leaner, fairer, and taller than Charles, many women might consider John the fairer of the two. Lindsay could hardly bear to look at him, for the disappointment she felt, in not seeing her husband.
“Your husband requested that I eat with you, in here, tonight, as he will be away and unable to entertain you. He feared you might grow bored without a conversation partner.”
Now the tears sprang up, making her vision swim. “Thank you, John, but I do not wish to be an object of pity. My husband need not hire help to keep me company, just yet. I do not believe I am that unbearable. Please feel free to eat wherever, with whomever you wish.”
Stiffening even further, John eyed Lindsay with a jaundiced eye. “Well, since my cousin does not pay me and because I am here with plans of becoming his estate manager, rather than the ‘hired help’ as you so assume, I suppose my station dictates that you be the company I keep. If I offended you with my jumbled explanations, I do humbly beseech your forgiveness, but, do not, for an instant, think I mean to pity you, Mistress Donovan. For, in so doing I insult my kin, to whom I find myself most devotedly loyal. Charles in no way intends to mistreat you with my company. I, therefore, choose to stay.
Flushed with embarrassment and anger at Charles for not properly introducing John, Lindsay bent her head over her soup and ate in silence. “I am sorry. I did not know,” she whispered after a few moments. “I am not myself lately.”
“Apology accepted. Now let us have some wine and forget about the whole affair, shall we?”
Lindsay was too miserable to turn the disastrous dinner around. More and more lately, she was finding herself reverting to her typical, fiery ways. How much she had worked to master the quiet voice and calm self assurance of a lady! In two days, within these walls, she was already shouting for her help and insulting her in-laws. All in all, her tutoring could be written off as a total loss.
The bed was cold and lumpy as she climbed in for a second time, alone. Tonight, however, her face stayed dry as she tossed upon her pillow.
~ ~ ~
Charles rose before the dawn to dress. His horse was saddled and waiting, as instructed. He planned to ride Diamond out to the most distant homestead, then work his way back. If Charles could catch the farmers as they rose, they would be needing to tend their live stock and less likely to chat or complain.
By noon, Charles was hot, hungry, and drained. Two-no-three sleepless nights in a row were taking their toll. His drive to reconnect with his wife grew stronger, however. So he returned the ledger, deposited the coin in the safe and mounted his horse for home. Luckily, Cynthia had remained well out of view after he had failed to show himself in her bed chamber last night.
Arriving home at just after one, not a soul was around to great him. Walking out to the pump, Charles washed and entered the kitchen to scavenge for a meal. Sighing in frustration at the meager pickings, he buttered a piece of hard bread and poured a glass of ale.
Lightly, but clearly, Betsy’s voice rang out from the wash yard, a bawdy bar tune on her lips. Charles laughed and moved his own lips to the words of the song. A rich, velvety voice laughed with him at a racy verse about a wench and her lover, causing him to catch his breath.
Bread in hand, Charles wandered from the kitchen to the open patch of land beyond the vegetable garden. There, behind the tool shed, his beautiful wife bent over a tub of wet laundry, wringing out shirts and attempting to sing along with the chorus.
“Oh, wives and women of quality don’t have a lick o’ fun, compared with me.” Her off key, untrained, voice was sweet and full of joy. Linnie was caught up in the moment, her eyes and hands engaged, her face soft, her hair curling wildly in the cloud of humidity.
Immediately, Betsy stopped her crooning and turned to hang the quilt on the line. “Wh-at?” Lindsay laughed, turning to see the cause of her cohort’s silence. “Oh!” she responded. Shocked into silence as well, Linnie’s flushed cheeks turned a brighter hue. So much for presenting her best side when Charles returned.
“I did not mean to interrupt,” he began, “verily, I was hoping to learn the words to the last verse of that song. It is so often drowned out by the revelry it inspires, when I have heard it at the pub.”
Betsy kept her back turned, too uncertain of her new master to know if he spoke in earnest, or with sarcasm. Lindsay knew that Charles’ wit often took over for him in moments when he knew not what to say. Therefore, she ignored his comment and asked, “Are you hungry? I set aside a plate for you. Would you like to eat in the dining room?”
“No, I would like to eat here,” he said. “I will return presently. Please do not let me interrupt.” Shrugging, Lindsay turned back to her shirts. She was much too achy and tired to worry overmuch at Charles’ discomfort, much less his opinion about her appearance as a laundress.
Charles returned with a lawn chair and his covered plate. Eating and drinking, he watched Lindsay hang the rest of the laundry. As she returned to the house, Charles gathered his items and accompanied her.
“How was your trip, Sir?”
“Beneficial. I accomplished quite a bit.”
“And the farm equipment?”
“Ah, yes, Lord Bonneville will be sending it to our tenants on the morrow.”
“Hmmm. I had wondered about that-our tenants, I mean. I had thought we had twenty, but I see little evidence of such rent monies here.”
“There will be space for up to twenty tenants, eventually. Now, we have four homesteads. None of these have been paying rent, as they have been constructing or resurrecting their homes. I have provided the materials with the understanding that I will take thirty percent of their profit from crops this fall.”
“Lindsay, I am tired. Do you mind ever so much if I take a nap in your bed? The thought of the cot is a bit underwhelming at this point.”
“To be honest, I had to offer the cot to John, as I hired a handy man and placed him in the stable room. You have only the bed on which to sleep.”
Charles smiled contentedly as he laid his dishes in the kitchen and headed towards his rest. “Will you join me, wife?”
“Aye, husband. I will join you. I am asleep on my feet. Just give me a moment to put up this wash tub and speak to Bernard about dinner.”
By the time Lindsay climbed the stairs to her room, Charles was fast asleep, boots and all. Lindsay tugged off his boots and her sticky, hot dress. Rewetting her wash cloth, she cooled off and lay down, falling asleep before her head hit the pillow.
“Clang! Clang! Clang!” Charles rose to the sound of the dinner bell. Lindsay’s hair tickled his nose. He had nuzzled himself against his wife’s back. He pushed up her hair to kiss her neck and noticed an ugly purple bruise there. Grabbing her arms, he pulled her up and turned her around, startling her from her slumber.
“Who hurt you? Did you fall? Did I...did I do that, the other night?”
“Wh-what? What are you talking about, Charles?”
“Your neck. You are injured. Did someone hurt you?”
“My neck? Oh, no! I fell asleep on the garden bench and my head fell back. I am fine!” she laughed as Charles hugged her to him fiercely.
“Lindsay, in the note, I meant what I said. I will make this,” he said, gesturing to the house, “all of this, up to you. I know I misled you, and for that, I am sorry.
“I am sure you feel as if you have given up a good life to come here alone to this derelict home and churlish company. Give me time, Linnie, and things will be as they should be. I had planned to fix up the place before bringing home a bride, before bringing you home. It just became necessary to wed sooner than anticipated.”
“You should have told me, Charles, about your dilemma. You should have included me. I thought I was your friend. Now, I realize I knew only the superfluous ‘Charles’ and I feel hurt and alone. I have no friends here. I have not even had you, these past two days.”
“Well, I am here until Monday. Then, I will need to go to port to fetch our windows. Friday, I will be spending at the Bonneville estate. I will be doing business with them on a weekly basis, at least until the fall, Lindsay.”
“But, why? What is the necessity? Straightening, she said, I am going with you on Monday.”
“To the docks? Out of the question.”
“I am going, Charles, or I am going home.”
“How? No one is here that loves me!” Too late, she realized she had thrown down a challenge and she rushed to cover it. “I mean, at home, at the Beaumont estate, I have my sister and my grandparents. Do you think she is okay, Charles? I am worried sick over her.”
“Lindsay,” Charles knelt, facing her on the bed.
Taking her hand, Charles looked searchingly into Lindsay’s cobalt eyes. “I am here. Am I not enough?”
“Charles, you have not been here. You have been an absent spouse, like my father, avoiding his mistake-of-a-wife.”
“You are no mistake, Lindsay. You are my closest childhood friend. You are my joy and my pride. I just want to make this house a home for you. This means being away a lot at first. Can you understand that?”
“Here,” she said, pointing to her head, “here I understand it. I am not sure about here,” she placed her hand over her heart.
“If I take you into the town, do you promise to follow my every direction?”
“Yes! Can I bring Betsy? Oh, we need some cloth desperately and I can ride back with you on Doc! Yes! Finally some fun on my honeymoon!”
“I have married a rare wife, indeed, who finds a visit to the docks a cause for celebration.”
~ ~ ~
Charles was able to smooth the path between John and Lindsay at dinner, sharing childhood stories and laughing, they forgave and forgot the last night’s tension. “Well, I have promised Bernard a game of chess,” John stated, standing to excuse himself. “Bernard asked me to tell you, Lady Donovan, that he has fulfilled your request.”
“Thank you, John, and please, call me Lindsay.”
“Of course, Lindsay. Good evening.”
“Good evening,” Lindsay and Charles responded in unison.
“Lindsay, I fear I am not very tired after our recent rest. I need to enter in some figures in the ledger and gather my clothes for tomorrow.” Charles sighed and rubbed his shoulders.
“Yes, of course, but, if you will first allow me to show you something?” Her impish smile had his heart beating faster, and thoughts of their wedding night flitted through his mind.
“Lead the way, My Dear, I am yours to command.”
Lindsay suddenly felt nervous as she made her way to the study. Walking through the billiard’s room, she was glad that she had not had time to sweep it out, as she had planned. This way, the difference between the two spaces would be more apparent.
Opening the door to the study, she walked to the far wall and then turned to gauge his reaction. Bernard had lit a fire and several candles around the small space. The effect was magical. The room felt hidden and special. Lindsay was pleased with herself.
“However did Bernard and Betsy find the time to get this room prepared? And the desk, it works? What a pleasant surprise!”
“I did it.”
“I did it. I dusted and mopped and cleaned the fire place. I moved your things and hired a man to fix the desk. I did it.”
“Why? I mean, bless you, Lindsay. I am immensely grateful. I love it. I really do. But, why this out of the way Study, of all rooms?”
“Well, the attic room will be needed, but mostly because I knew you could use a space all to yourself. I wanted you to have that.”
“Thank you, Lindsay. It is perfect. You are perfect.” He drew her into his arms, tracing her temple and cheekbone with his knuckle.
“You never cease to amaze me. A common woman would have restored the bed chamber. No, a common woman would have left me and headed home. You are no common woman. You are my match, Lady. You make me the man I was meant to be. Without you, I am common. Do not ever forget that.”
Leaning in, he kissed her nose before bending further to plunder her mouth. He had intended on escorting her to bed and then finishing the books. Instead, here they stood, on the rug of his ‘new’ study, a fire blazing merrily.