But Who is this?
“Come in, Miss Sophia. We are just getting his Lordship bound up.”
‘Sophia’. He knew that name. Her ladyship’s younger sister. He looked up at her and stared. He almost stopped breathing. She bore a striking resemblance to Selena as he remembered her from ten years earlier. He felt the color flooding to his face.
“His Lordship?” She was confused and at a loss for words as her eyes surveyed the scene. “I heard laughter, earlier. But… but…”
Nurse came to the rescue. “Oh, yes. I’m sorry, but you would not be aware that he was here, how could you be?” Nurse’s hands fluttered to try and introduce them. “Master Robert, Captain Penfield; Lord Penfield”—she eventually got it right— “just arrived from his ship not ten minutes ago. And this is Miss Sophia, her ladyship’s sister.”
Their eyes met. He had recovered most of his composure by then.
She saw that she was being looked over with interest and mild curiosity. And something else. She was uneasily conscious that her hair might be unkempt, and that her dress was creased where she had managed to sleep in it. She was as shocked to see him, as much as he was curious about her.
Nurse stated the obvious. “He is wounded too. Some ruffians on the highway.”
Robert smiled at the young woman, having recovered his wits and his voice. “Ruffians, attacking a ruffian and a villain! Stupid fellows! What next?”
She was no more tongue-tied or backward than the three girls once she had recovered her wits and added her own comment. “I hope they fared worse than you, sir, for having done that to you.” She was not shy to voice her thoughts.
“They did! They certainly did. There are two of them still lingering on the road, waiting to be put to rest, but not too cognizant of it in their present condition”—she thought she might understand what he meant, considering the bloody state of that saber—“and another one or two who might not be long for this world if I can find them, but one of them got clean away. I had not realized this land of my birth had turned so violent in my absence. How fortunate that I could be just as violent, or even more violent, than they were.”
She realized that there was a bloody shirt on the hearth of the fireplace, with an equally bloody coat on the floor, and that the children were not only keenly helping, but were completely at their ease with him, as though they sensed a close bond with him. He did not seem to be in too dire a strait, nor did they.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” The Captain’s eyes flashed approvingly in her direction. It was Nurse who answered.
“No, Miss. You have done more than enough already, looking after the mistress. I thought you were still up there. You must be exhausted. Is there anything you need? If there is, I’ll see to it the moment I complete this.”
“No. Thank you. I came away for a while to stretch my legs and for something to eat and drink. Deirdre is with her for a few moments, and my sister is not so very restless now. I think she may be resting better than she was. I thought I heard the children in here, so I came to see.”
“Is Mother alright, Aunt Sophia?” Emily, and her sisters had been distracted, momentarily, by their uncle’s arrival.
“She soon will be, my dears, and then you can all see her.” Robert looked up into her face and could see the pain that was behind that deception, causing his own heart to sink, but it was better that the children did not know what she might know. She looked tired and completely worn down with worry and doubt. He wanted to leap up and rush over to her and steer her back to her sister as he went with her.
Patience, Robert. Patience. He held himself in check and wondered how he might hold her where she was, and not let her escape just yet.
“Miss Crowther? I think I have your name, or, Miss Sophia.”
“You were used to call me, Sophia”—her voice tailed off. “Your brother did, that is.” She was overly tired, still in another world and seemed unable to comprehend, for a moment, that he was not his brother, Charles. “I think you need just call me Sophia, sir. I see no need for pointless formality at this time if you do not object.”
“I do not mind. When I am done here, Miss…, Sophia, which will be very soon, I would like to speak with you about your sister if I may.” There, he had managed to broach the subject that was important to him. She did not try to put him off.
“If you are sufficiently at ease and rested after your ordeal. But I think you should get cleaned up and get rid of that sword first.” She noticed that the arm that Nurse was working on, was supported by holding on to the handle of a saber that looked as though it had been recently used to some dastardly purpose. But then he had admitted as much.
Robert picked up the open bottle from the floor and eased brandy onto everything on his arm, to soak in, and then allowed Nurse to finish binding him up.
“I think that is going to hurt you even more, sir.” Emily, who was leaning against his leg, and looking attentively up into his face, was waiting to see what would happen. She knew about such things from experience and was eager to see how he would respond.
“Yes, I expect it will, in a moment or two.”
“They watched him closely for the sudden stab of excruciating pain that the brandy would cause. They had undergone similar baptisms for various scratches and minor wounds, and the pain had been unbearable. They had danced around for a few moments, so it would be interesting to see how a great cowardly man would handle it. He would obviously let out a loud bellow of pain. They stepped back in anticipation, but nothing seemed to be happening. They felt slightly disappointed and denied. He seemed completely at ease as he spoke.
“Hester, would you mind passing me that bloody cloth from the bowl please? You will need to wring it out first, or I will be in great trouble with Mrs. Gurney within moments of my walking through the door, for making even more of a mess on her floor and carpet.”
“Yes sir, I do know that.” She gingerly lifted it out of the pink water with some distaste and wrung the water out of it so as not to splash everything, and then passed it to him. She dried her hands on the towel.
He passed the wet cloth down the blade to clean it off, and then again, before he gave it back to Hester to replace in the water. He then followed that with the towel that Nurse had finished with. When he was satisfied that the blade had been thoroughly cleaned and was dry, he replaced it in the scabbard that Emily brought over for him.
“Thank you! Ow! Ow! Ow! Oh, that hurts!” He tapped his feet on the floor, sucked in his breath, and screwed his face up, as he watched for the gleeful expressions that he knew would appear on their faces. He took a fast look at Miss Sophia and saw that she was also smiling. From what he heard, it was probably the first time she might have smiled in days. He would need to do more of that and distract her in other ways to achieve what he hoped to achieve. He was sure he would be able to manage that. The rest of the house might need to be shaken up too. He was very good at that, but he had fallen out of practice.
Robert was not disappointed in the response of the children. They laughed at him. He had to smile and winked over at Nurse. He had confirmed what Nurse had told them; that men really were such ninnies. Emily took the piece of wood with its small bloody patch where his sword point had rested and replaced it with the other kindling by the fireplace.
He noticed Sophia standing back and taking it all in and probably judging him in her own way. In truth, the brandy had hit him earlier, but they expected some display from him so he gave them one.
“There. Now I can get my shirt on. Thank you, Hester. That was very helpful, as was your part in this Anne, and I must also thank Emily for helping too.” He stood up, and dropped his clean shirt over his head, observed by all five of them, and then took his fresh coat from the table where Benson had laid it out for him and shrugged into it with some assistance from Nurse.
“Not quite as fashionably attired as one might like, and a clash of styles and shades, but who might complain? It will do. Like old times, is it not, Nurse?
“Will I see these young ladies for dinner later on? I take it I will be invited to stay for dinner, rather than being sent on to the nearest hostelry. That is if they will not object to having to dine with a rogue such as me?” They were not about to object. “Or will that interfere with what you have planned for them?”
“Invited for dinner indeed. And why would we send you on? How could we? The house, and what happens in it is yours to direct now. I see no reason why they could not dine with you if you would like that, sir, though they often dine separately from the adults and at different times. Except the dining room has been empty now for a while.”
“That will never do. We shall all dine together then. In the dining room. Miss Sophia too. I shall not expect to dine in majesty, having just arrived, and my tastes are simple. I think I would like to have my dinner, all of my meals, surrounded by such priceless beauty, and they can defend me from the servants. I do not know what to expect here after being away for so long after my mother and father threw me out on my ear for bad behavior!”
The children would ask later what uncle Robert had meant, and had his mother and father really done that? They were not sure what to believe.
“The manners on board ship are likely to be very different from here, and I may need some pointers as to which fork, or spoon to use; not to eat peas off my knife, and not to slurp my soup, or gulp my wine. Or is it expected that one slurps soup these days, as they do in some countries? Besides, I may need them to search for my thumb, later.” He noticed that Sophia stood quietly to one side and listened. No doubt she was adversely judging him for his levity at such a time as this.
Nurse over-rode their laughter. “Come girls we shall leave your uncle Robert and Sophia to talk.”
She picked up the bloody shirt and coat, to see they were popped into the boiler, and they all moved off in great excitement. Abby would see to the basin and other things.
The children could not believe their good fortune. They had been invited to dine with their Uncle Robert, their father’s twin brother! They would be eating in the dining room at the large table and would be properly waited upon. And Nurse would not be there, but Aunt Sophia would be! Better and better! Now if only Mama might be there, everything would be complete again.