Taking the bull by the horns.
As she and Henry emerged from her room, with Anna detecting an awkward sensation of something still leaking from her down there, she could hear the older lady sounding-off, downstairs.
“Georgiana, where did David and that young woman that came with us; Molly, disappear to? They were both here one moment, and then the next, they were both gone.”
“Molly got some more bread started in the oven as David helped her, Mama. You must have heard the pans rattling as she did that, and then they went out together.”
Georgiana would say nothing of them holding hands as they’d left, after warmly greeting each other out of Mrs. Broadhurst's view, or that she had seen them kiss, then run across the yard together and disappear into one of the succession-houses. They could, presumably, be private with each other, once they’d got themselves lost in all of that greenery, glimpsed behind the glass.
“Mama! Why do you think? David is at that age where he notices young women who are attentive to him, and he is obviously attracted to that one, as she is to him.”
“Why?" Mrs. Broadhurst was choosing to be deliberately obtuse. "He’s too young for that. You should go and rescue him.”
“Mama! I can assure you, he… is… not too young, and he does not wish to be rescued.”
Not with what Georgiana had seen. Neither of them needed to be rescued, or wanted to be.
And, not after what she’d seen them both doing, as they greeted each other, thinking no one could see them when they had touched...!
No wonder Molly had leapt at the chance to accompany them to the Barringer estate, and to make sure their driver was able to find it. Not that he could have missed it. It was the only large property in the exact direction that Molly had pointed out.
Mrs. Broadhurst had seen enough for herself, and had even seen Molly launch herself out of the carriage as they’d arrived and rush over to lead David out of the way of them being seen embracing each other. She hadn’t missed much of anything but, as a mother, knew enough to say nothing about some things, until she was good and ready.
She already had enough she needed to say to her elder son, and to ask him, when he appeared. He was here somewhere.
She watched Samson go bounding up the stairs. He'd soon sniff him out and find him.
She continued speaking to Georgiana.
“What is there about this part of the country that engenders such reckless behavior between the sexes as I have witnessed for myself ever since I arrived? There seems to be an outbreak of fertility at every turn; heated coupling in every nook and cranny, and it has clearly infected my own sons from even the little I have seen and learned. What is the world coming to? The sooner we return to London, the better satisfied I shall be. The air up here is not healthy for my nerves, or for your safety.”
“It may be something in the water, Mama, rather than the air. Isn’t that what you always say when things don’t quite suit you or go your way?”
The older lady sniffed. Her daughter knew her too well. “Then don’t drink any of it. And you are mistaken, I am always suited; and furthermore, things always go my way.” Even if they didn’t.
She saw her elder son descending the centrally located stairway down into the large hall, with someone partially hidden by his body and Samson fussing around them both. She couldn't properly see his companion.
“Ah, there you are, Henry. I have a bone to pick with you. Surely you didn’t think I would miss that entry into the family bible did you? How could I rest, after that? I must learn more about this folly, before it goes any further. What Havey-Cavey things have you been up to by yourself?
"But you were not by yourself were you? You were partying and carousing here, kicking over the traces, while we were still stuck in London. Where have you got this… this… harpy, this... 'Beatrice Angelica', hidden away?”
Henry continued descending the stairs, smiling down at his mother and his sister. He was not going to be provoked into responding to anything until he was ready. He was in full control
“Mama. How nice to see you." He heard her sniff loudly. "Is that a new carriage that you have? Nice to see you too, Georgiana; lovely bonnet, by the way." He was determined not to tell his mother anything, while she was in the mood she was in.
“I see you are your usual unruffled and unruffle-able, temperate self, Mama.” His words were designed to goad and infuriate her in their calmness, especially as she was too easily ruffled by either of her sons, and she knew it.
He was always able to get a rise out of her before she saw what he was doing.
Georgiana touched her gently on the arm to remind her how excitable she was, and to stop her saying any more. Not that she could have said anything else, easily.
At that moment, a stunning vision of beauty, dressed in a light green dress became more clearly exposed at a turn of the stairs. She was leaning on her son’s arm with every sign of belonging there and never wanting to leave it.
Mrs. Broadhurst was struck dumb, instantly regretting what she had said.
Georgiana chuckled, nervously.
Henry had gone and done it, at last. And behind all of their backs without any warning, or even a by-your-leave. Where had he found this beauty?
“Mama, Georgiana, please meet this delightful… harpy; my wife… Beatrice Angelica, or, more accurately, and as I just learned for myself, yesterday, Anna Rothschild, of the Appleton estate. The woman with whom I am in love, and that I married... several weeks ago.”
He avoided any of the more difficult explanation as to how he could marry someone when he did not even know what her proper name was, or without the intervention of a vicar.
Some questions were best not asked, and that, was one of them.
His mother just stood there with her mouth open, speechless, for once in her life.
“I had to give her those first names myself, in order to marry her. She lost her memory after falling from her horse into the river, and hitting her head upon a rock.”
He saw the dyspeptic expression on his mother’s face, already regretting her earlier comment about a, ‘harpy’.
“What is it, Mama? Are you not feeling well? Indigestion perhaps?” He knew what the problem was. Foot-in-mouth disease. "Do you need to go and lie down?"
His mother soon found her tongue as she ignored her son's continued teasing, and took Anna’s hand, once they got to the bottom of the stairs, silently apologizing to her for referring to her as a ‘harpy’.
She closed her eyes and lowered her head as though in obeisance to this beauty.
“Henry.” She sounded hurt as she looked up at her son, castigating him with her eyes. “Could you not have given us some warning? Let us know?”
“I didn’t have time, Mama. I had no warning myself of what was happening to us both, and then, after barely two weeks together, I lost her for almost a month. That was the day my life almost ended. I have been frantically looking for her ever since, but as I didn’t know her proper name or anything about her direction, I got nowhere.
"David, who’d come after me, found her first, but could not let me know. He didn't know where I was. I only just found her again for myself, an hour or two ago.”
And what a hectic intervening two hours those had been!
No doubt, David was discovering those feelings for himself about now, after being absent from Molly for only one, desperately, lonely night.
Anna clenched her legs more firmly and blushed up at Henry.
He felt her arm tighten upon his, and he could guess what was happening. He should have been more patient, as well as giving her a handkerchief to hold back those little difficulties as she clenched it between her legs, but they had been in some haste to get downstairs with him hearing that his mother had arrived, and was throwing her weight around.
He pressed his handkerchief into her hand, without saying anything. She would have to find a time and a place to deal with it for herself. He couldn’t help her now, though he would have liked to.
Anna, apologized herself. “Please excuse me, Ma’am, we have a wedding to prepare for, and I have caused enough of a distraction.”
She walked over to Suzanne to help her, as Henry turned to his mother to stop her following her.
“But enough of these embarrassing personal exchanges, Mama. We can cover those this evening, or even tomorrow, back at Appleton as we battle it out. I take it you will be staying there with us. Today is Miss Barringer’s wedding day, so we must do what we can to help her on this special occasion."
Neither Mrs. Broadhurst, nor Henry’s sister were averse to helping, as it became obvious what was needed; mostly in terms of setting the large table to one side of the hall, though it would take two men to position the beer barrels, near the door.
Anna took Suzanne to one side where no one would overhear them. She had more important things to discuss than to deal with Henry's mother just yet.
“Suzanne. About this thing… we discussed last evening, when I thought I would be unable to help you.”
Miss Suzanne was listening, even though her mind was almost anywhere but on what was being said.
“My circumstances have changed with Henry arriving as he did. I am happy to say that I am now in a position to help you." She paused. "Financially.”
She had Suzanne’s undivided attention now.
“I did not realize that I was so wealthy, until Henry told me. If you will allow me, and I hope you will, we can solve this present difficulty with your creditors, for you.”
Suzanne had gone pale, not sure what she was hearing, or not sure she could believe it.
“I have the perfect wedding present for you and Richard. We would like to remove this financial worry from you, while allowing you to continue with this property, just as you have for the last many years. We can see that there will be enough money to expand what you are doing, and even to make repairs to the property, to the house, and to its roofs, to bring everything back to the way it was, and should be.”
Suzanne was not sure what to say. Her prayers had been a long time being answered but it sounded as though they had been answered, at last.
“That would be wonderful, but I am not sure I can accept.”
Anna would have none of that. “Of course you can. This property is not so encumbered as that other one of the Maskells. Please, Suzanne, you must let us help you, for my sake not just for your own, even though I know it is difficult.
"It is not charity. It will be a loan, only, and I have my own selfish reasons for trying to persuade you. I really cannot afford to lose what you so ably provide.”
That way of expressing it made it sound more acceptable, but they had already landed in difficulties because of old man Maskell mortgaging everything to the hilt, and squandering every penny he could get his hands on or raise without actually selling off any of his land. Except, with the old man now dead and buried, that hemorrhaging of their income could now be cut back.
All they’d ever needed, was enough breathing room, which they had begun to get, once the old man’s health slowed him down. His death had been a mixed blessing. It had freed them from the old man’s predations upon their property, but had also triggered his creditors to spring into action, smelling blood.
Anna continued to try and persuade her.
“I need you and your hothouses, Suzanne. We can become even closer together in business. We are planning hothouses of our own that you could help us with. We would not be in competition, so you see, it would solve many problems if we entered into this kind of partnership with each other, and it would stop the creditors, cold.”
Suzanne could see the advantages to all of them.
“But that is too generous.”
“On the contrary, my motives are all very selfish, as I told you.”
Now, she was beginning to think, and to see possibilities.
“We would sit down together and agree on those together in the next few days as I learn the full extent of what it will take to secure this property for you. You will, of course, repay me the principal when it is convenient for you to do so, and without interest, or we shall agree on some nominal rate.”
Suzanne felt that a lifeline had suddenly been tossed to her.
“I will never be able to thank you enough.”
“Actually, there is a way, Suzanne. But it is a lot to ask of you on this day, of all days."
“Ask. What could you possibly ask of me, to compare with that?”
Anna lowered her voice.
“Henry told his mother and sister, that he and I are married, and we are, but just not, ‘churched’, in the official way.”
Suzanne knew all about that, and would be correcting her own omission in that direction with a proper ceremony, sanctioned by the church, in another hour or so.
“While there is a vicar here, and without intruding too much, or taking away from your day, I wonder if you would object to Henry suggesting to the vicar that there should be another, private ceremony, immediately following yours? You have made preparations for enough guests and we will be but a few more.”
“You would be more than welcome. We made preparations for many more guests than we can reasonably expect, so I would not refuse anything. Of course I would not object. If it can be done, it shall be done, though the vicar is a stickler…”
Anna smiled knowingly at her. “Sticklers, always have their price, Suzanne." She paused. "Oh my. How mercenary that makes me sound, and I already shocked Henry once, that way.”
“I shall suggest it to the vicar then, to talk to… Henry.”
“Thank you. This will be a much better day for all of us, after a slightly uncertain beginning.”
Miss Barringer was close to tears. Her day had indeed suddenly become so much better.
"You have answered a prayer, Anna.”
“Just as you are answering mine, Suzanne. How else could I be married on such short notice? We are already running it much too close, and to have eyebrows raise when we both give birth, and they start to wonder about dates…?”
Now, all Anna would need to do, would be to speak with Mr. Maskell and decide what was possible for that larger estate. She had ideas for that too.
They turned back to the others, seeing that they had been joined by Molly and David, both looking a lot happier about things, but also with secrets that they were concerned others might see; blushing at each other as their eyes met, leaving Georgiana with nothing to guess at.
It wasn’t just something, 'in the water', it was everything else around them in their close-knit community!
This was far more exciting than all of the intrigue in London!
Anna began to feel as though she were on top of things at last, but Henry had given her that strength.
“Now, Suzanne, set us all to work to lift these preparations from your shoulders, and you shall go and change, while we see to this for you if you will tell us how to go on, and I shall let Henry know the good news and endeavor to persuade my future mother-in-law to forgive both Henry and me for our many failings.”
Suzanne was able to smile for the first time in many months, as Anna continued.
“You must look the best for your wedding, so if you do not mind, I shall help you dress, before the Vicar arrives.”
Molly had already begun to take over the kitchen, and had put David to work, helping her take bread out of the oven. There was nothing more welcoming than the smell of freshly baked bread to welcome the guests.
Georgiana nudged her mother.
“You’d better give in gracefully, Mama. Henry has met his match at last, and I suspect David has, too.”
Mrs. Broadhurst was beginning to reach the same conclusion. Now, she had fences to mend with this young woman that had entered her elder son’s life, and tread carefully, with the woman (not the girl) that David had been slain by, and who seemed well-able to organize David and others.
Ah well, things could be a lot worse.
She watched Suzanne head for the stairs.
“I misjudged you at first, in an unforgivable way, Miss Rothschild.”
Anna smiled at her. “Thank you. But you must call me, Anna. But what else could you possibly think, seeing a name in front of the family bible and with no preparation for it? Of course you would think the worst.”
“Anna. What I said was still inexcusable. I must learn to watch my tongue, better. As old as I am, I still have not learned that. I have never seen Henry so happy or so different. When he first came back from the Peninsula, I was in despair. We could not get through to him, but you did. How did you manage that?”
She knew that was another question that one should not ask, and raised her hand to her mouth to stop herself asking any more awkward questions, as Anna smiled.
“I feel now, that you must have dropped from heaven for him.”
Anna touched the older woman’s arm.
“I had that same feeling about Henry, when I became cognizant of how close I had come to losing everything. But my dropping from heaven? Not quite so melodramatic, Ma’am, but almost.
“I rose up out of the water instead, although it was Henry that pulled me, unceremoniously to the surface after leaping in after me, as though caring nothing for his own life. He saved me from drowning that first moment we met. We were both sodden and getting very cold, and there was no closer place to take me than the Lodge.”
She looked intently at Mrs. Broadhurst, letting the implications of that, sink in.
“You should not blame Henry for what happened after that Ma’am. We were both very wet, and were helpless pawns in a much larger game of life.”
The older woman could guess at what Miss Anna was hinting at, without directly admitting to anything.
Of course, a closer relationship would have been expected, considering the undeniable temptations with the clothes having to come off, and with such a tempting beauty laid out, helpless, before him. What man could ever refuse that?
Anna chuckled nervously over the impression that she was creating for the older woman. Georgiana stood close enough to hear everything, but said nothing.
Mrs. Broadhurst added her own views. “The stable lad at the lodge, said something about Henry pulling you out of the river and you being at Murton for two weeks with him, as you recovered. He could be encouraged to say no more than that, which concerned me, with him usually chattering on, endlessly about nothing, and then you were gone, with Henry rushing off after you, and then a few days after that, David headed out after him, leaving us nothing more than a cryptic note, and then a few comments in a much later, letter. I understood none of it, then."
She sighed. “However, having met you, I do understand it now. Now that I have seen you and the wondrous effect you have on him. Of course he was helpless and could not have ignored you.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. He has a wondrous effect on me too. I never expected to fall in love as I did, but I did.”
"A man like my son, if he is very, very lucky, will encounter a woman like you, once in his life. Most men, don't ever meet that one woman, and never know what they are missing from their lives. I think Henry knows what he found that day, and I am far from judging either of you for what you are giving to him, and are also giving to me because of it; the first days of peace that I have known for years."
Anna took a deep breath.
"Thank you, Ma'am. Henry was that kind of a gift for me, too. I had long given up on finding happiness that way.
“With your permission, Ma’am, and you may have heard some of it as Suzanne and I spoke, I would like to marry Henry, properly, today, other than just in that family bible with that other name Henry gave me, as I could not remember my own.
“I would like to marry him using my real name, and to do it with the blessing of the church, this time.”
“I understand, my dear, but what makes you think you need my permission? You are both independent, and of age, as Henry will remind me soon enough if I say anything.”
“Yes, we are, but I would like to get off on the right foot with you.”
She was being very gracious.
“You already did, when I saw you descending those stairs on Henry’s arm, and appreciated the effect you had on him. Despite what I said in an unguarded moment, my dear; my heart, and my thanks went out to you at that moment.”
Anna struggled to continue.
“There is one other thing, Ma’am. I hope you will still thank me, and not think too ill of me when I tell you the rest of the news.”
The older woman chuckled, as Georgiana moved closer, determined not to miss any of it.
Mrs. Broadhurst already could guess what was coming, and so could Georgiana. Henry had been like Samson guarding a bone, with Anna on his arm. It was obvious how they felt about each other and what must have happened between them back at Murton to have required that entry into the family bible.
“There usually is, more to tell, when two young people are as in love as you two obviously are, and were alone without any, more-adult supervision for as long as two weeks, and, in the situation you were both magically caught up in.
“I am a mother. I think I can guess. One look at Henry’s face and the way he hung onto you as you came down those stairs, told me everything that a mother needs to know.
“When are you due?”
She knew! Anna blushed, but it was important that Henry’s mother knew the worst at the outset.
“How did you know?”
“A mother’s instincts. I know what I saw; what I am seeing; and I heard enough about him pulling you from the river, and I can guess at the rest. I shall not judge you. Henry was a premature baby himself! I suspect it is a more common occurrence than is usually admitted to.” She scowled at Georgiana and glanced across at David as she said that.
That admission, helped Anna get over her own difficulty admitting to it.
“Eight months? Perhaps, a little less than eight.”
“He didn’t waste any time with you, did he.” It was not a question, or a criticism, but an observation.
“Mama!” Georgiana had heard all of it, and intervened before her mother could say any more, as she was likely to do, and embarrass them all.
Anna, came back at her. “We, did not waste any time with each other, Ma’am. I was at least half to blame, and was fully compliant.”
“You are being too generous on my son. Don’t take me amiss, my dear. I not only give you my permission, but I would like to welcome you into our family. And it looks like I may have to say something to David too, before they head down that same path, unless they have already.”
They had; and that would also need to be dealt with, but kindly.
Georgiana touched her mother on the elbow to remind her to watch what she said.
“Though perhaps I’d better not say anything to David just yet." She sniffed again.
“So, my first suspicions were correct. There is something exceptionally potent in the water hereabouts." She could still have some fun, and was even beginning to enjoy the situation.
“Ignore my earlier suggestion, Georgiana. Drink the water, and even the beer, it’s made from the same stuff, and it probably becomes more potent that way. It usually does. It loosens inhibitions and other things beside. It can even loosen bodices and raise petticoats from what I saw when we were leaving Appleton, though it has the same devastating moral effects in London too.”
There was no point in pleading with her mother to be more cautious in what she said.
Georgiana suspected that her mother was actually beginning to enjoy herself.
“I may take up residence in this area if that prospect does not horrify you, Miss… Anna. I begin to like the surroundings and the atmosphere. Now, what are these rumors I kept hearing of a property near here, for sale? I also would like to hear more of these Maskells. Did I hear mention of an older, unmarried brother?" She turned.
Georgiana saw where this was going.
"Mama. You must stop your matchmaking."
At just that moment as Georgiana turned to leave the house before her mother got too carried away with what she was thinking and saying, she bumped into a young man, almost falling, except he caught her, and held her.
There was a look exchanged.
Mrs. Broadhurst smiled. She knew that look. Another one felled! This must be that older Maskell boy. There really must be something in the air of this place.
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