Learning the Worst and the Best.
He heard a muffled sob from beside him, and saw that Sophia was pale and unsteady on her feet. She might have fallen but for his steadying hand on her waist and holding her arm. He wondered if he had hurt her feelings by what he had done and said. He was not used to guarding his tongue out of fear of being misunderstood. He continued to steady her and then held her close to him to give her support and comfort as she held onto his arms and cried. She was emotionally and physically exhausted. She did not object or pull away as she certainly would have done in other settings and circumstances, or earlier, but held on to him and sobbed into his shirt. She was too young to be faced with this. The tension that had built up over the last few days needed to be released.
“You rang, Miss?” Abby, who had just entered the room after hearing nothing when she had knocked, saw the young lady crying in the gentleman’s arms. Her eyes flashed to her mistress, fearing the worst.” His lordship spoke.
“No, Abby. It was I that rang. Her ladyship is still with us, and hopefully will be so for many more years, so calm your fears.”
“Yes, sir.” Then why was her younger sister in his arms, like that?
“Please see that Sophia’s…. Miss Sophia’s bed, is warm, and make her a posset of warm milk and even with some brandy. We still have cows or goats, do we?
“Yes sir. Goats and cows, both.”
“But before you do that, I will need paper and writing materials. You can send Benson with them to me. Also, when you have her bed ready and a good fire made up in her room, come back in here and let me know. And please let Nurse know that if she can break away for a few moments, I would like to see her, but there is no urgency in that, either.” He smiled at her. “Did you understand all that? Rather a lot all at once, I know, to try and remember, but my mind is racing along, and I am sorry for that.”
“Yes sir.” She itemized what he had told her. “Benson, then Nurse; I can do those two at the same time, then miss Sophia’s bed; a fire in that room, then milk and brandy.”
She shook her head and muttered on her way out of the door, careful not to be overheard.
'Good girl, indeed!' She would have even more to tell now, making up to Mistress’s sister, with her in his arms, and him here, barely two hours. He had likely got her befuddled enough too, with that strong beer he had given her earlier to take advantage of her, and would, if she took any notice of that suggestion of putting brandy in her milk.
The rumors of his libertine ways were probably true. No woman was safe in this house any more, but if he expected to get up to his old tricks with the younger women on staff, she would be gone. She had heard of Mary, and the antics the two of them had got up to for some years. Her mother had told her of it, and now he was getting up to his old tricks with the mistress’s sister. A leopard does not change his spots.
“Come, Sophia.” He kissed her on her forehead—an avuncular kind of kiss—feeling sorry for her, but also grateful to her. “You are dead on your feet with fatigue and worry. You shall rest here on this cot until your bed is ready.” He picked her up bodily, as though she weighed nothing, with no objection from her, and lay her down; slid her slippers from her feet, puffed a pillow up under her head and covered her with a blanket. She held onto his arm.
“Thank you, sir. I am sorry for earlier.”
“Think no more of it. I was brutal with you, I know that, but it was not the time to be offended. However, I understood your concerns. I just chose to override and ignore them. We are all working to the same goal I think. And my name is Robert. I keep reminding you of that.”
“Thank you, Robert.” She still held his arm. “Before I rest, may I ask you a personal question? Perhaps several of them, before I might rest.”
“I believe you have earned that right.”
“What are your plans here? Will you take over the estate and run it as your brother did? I had heard that you might never wish to leave that other life that you chose, but you are needed here now, and you need to be here.” She waited to see how he might answer her, now that she began to feel that she knew his secret. He hesitated and allowed her a further opening. “What plans do you have for the children and my sister when you do whatever you decide to do, if she survives this?” He put his hand over her own to comfort her.
“Such concerns that you have! I have barely thought about those things myself. However, what I think we can be sure of at this moment, is that she will survive.”
He had better not tell her what his plans might be. They had changed again in just the last few minutes. He was not sure what his own plans could be, just yet, or what he might be allowed to do. Too much depended upon one other person, and she was not yet conscious. He had dispelled one uncertainty that had threatened to overturn his life when he had come to realize that his sister in law would be likely to survive. Now, he was faced with another uncertainty, almost as onerous, and one that he could discuss with no one.
“You are asking questions that I have not yet asked myself just yet, but I soon will need to ask them. My first intention is to see that this present disruption is not made any worse. My most important consideration, however, is to see that my nieces and their mother shall suffer no inconvenience and shall want for nothing that I might provide for them. That also includes you. The rest of it can wait for a while. You shall be the first I tell when I make any decision, and I am sure that you will give me the benefit of your advice, for I shall both ask, and need it. This is all new to me and I must learn how to behave around gentle women and children, as well as relearn something about diplomacy, and how to deal with the gentler sex, as I stumble my way forward.” He smiled at her. “I promise that I will give you a better answer when I have one.”
She looked up at him. There was nothing he needed to learn about women, or children, or diplomacy. If Nurse believed him to be a threat to anyone, she was wrong. She knew what she had seen. She did not fully understand it all yet, but she would rest on it.
She watched him for a few moments after that, and then closed her eyes and was asleep in seconds.
She did not notice when writing materials were brought, nor did she see his lordship’s indecision over writing one of his two letters. He cast frequent glances at his patient and almost as frequently stood up and looked down upon her, striving to decide something momentous. Every few minutes he saw her take more of the lemonade, and observed her breathing, as he also felt for the strength of her pulse. At last, he buckled down and finished his difficult missive and sealed it. Later, one of the younger grooms was sent off with both letters to be delivered in London as soon as a horse could be saddled for him. He was to take a pistol with him and be ready to use it, and he would need to stay overnight.
Neither did Sophia notice when a lightly-seasoned soup was brought in, and after the girl had left, thinking it was for him to eat, he trickled it from the edge of a spoon into the patient’s mouth over a long period of time, while taking the larger pieces of meat and vegetables for himself. He paused often and dabbed gently at her face where he had spilled a little of the soup. At other times he paused and caressed her at the side of her face as he looked at her or raised her hand to his lips to kiss it.
Sophia became conscious of some of what was happening when she could hear him speaking, far off, but could not make out what he might be saying. She knew, though he did not even notice himself, that he'd shed tears of relief and joy at what he now knew, though he was still concerned over his patient’s lack of response.
Could fate now be smiling upon him in a strange way, to have guided his ship and his footsteps, and thrown him back into a life that he had been forced to turn his back upon?
Lady Penfield, Selena, seemed to be not as totally oblivious to what was going on around her as she had been, but might even have been verging on consciousness at times, from the way she responded. He rejoiced to see those signs. She even sighed from time to time, her eyelids flickered, and her fingers moved. As long as the reflex action to swallow was present, she was allowed to take all of the soup, and whatever water and lemonade she could manage in small doses over the next hour or so.
When Nurse next came in, Robert had some quiet words with her about some of what he had learned and had done…but only some of it…and the preparations he was making.
Nurse listened quietly as her eyes flickered between her mistress and Miss Sophia, and then came back to his lordship’s face. Her face changed from one of censorious concern and worry, to one of surprise, and then of relief, as her glance flashed again over to her mistress, and then to Sophia, lying on the cot, relaxing now, and then to the face of her now adult Master. Could he have changed so much?
She left the room with a feeling of overwhelming relief that she had not felt for the last week, but also a feeling of anxiety and concern. Two, young and beautiful women in the house would need to be looked after until she was able to ascertain if her Master might have mended his earlier ways. He was a navy man, and the stories of their antics ashore were too well known. Her own husband had told her some of it, but that ‘some’, had been shocking enough, and he had earned her censure for it.
Five minutes later there was a troop of children brought quietly into the room, attended by Nurse and another maidservant. They had not expected to be allowed to see their mother at all, and Nurse had obviously told them that they must be quiet about it, and for them not to rush about as they might be inclined to do, and usually did. But they were good about it, still overawed by their uncle Robert, and how things seemed to have changed since he had arrived.