The Recovery Continues
When Robert returned, he saw Nurse scurry off to check that the children were indeed settled. He had told her that she had no need to return and to get some rest herself, and not to appear before morning. He knew she would never be able to stay away for that long, but it did not matter. Sophia, still tired, had excused herself from sitting with him, and had headed off to bed.
He had earlier retrieved a couple of his father’s naval strategy books from the library and decided that he would dig into those to while away the night-time hours. It was still early, barely nine o’clock, and would be daylight for another hour or two.
He checked upon Selena, holding her hand in his own and saying nothing. He satisfied himself that she was resting, before he moved away and sat down near the fire. He had a lot to think about. Was he doing the right thing passing himself off as his brother for the sake of this woman? What might happen when she woke up to who he really was, and how would she look upon him then? Too late to back away now.
He had earlier had a settee brought in so that he could relax properly and even stretch out as need be, which he could not do in any other chair in the room. He weighed his options. Everything he hoped to achieve depended upon Selena and her recovery. He tried to put his mind off things he could not change, and dreamt instead, about the ones he could, given his way. After some moments of that he opened his book and tried to immerse himself in that.
The noises of the house gradually diminished. He bestirred himself to light some candles, and then listened as the clock started on its never-ending journey as it struck the hour. Eleven o’clock. That was followed fifteen minutes later by the chimes for the quarter hour, followed by the half, the three-quarter hour, and around again to announce midnight. The night was dragging on around him much slower than it should. His own lack of rest was beginning to catch up with him. He yawned and saved himself from nodding off by making up the fire, though the evening was still warm, and then wandered over to stare out of the window, standing behind some of the curtain to block the weak light behind him from affecting his ability to see out.
The moon was getting higher in the sky and sending ghostly shadows over everything. His eyes grew used to the dim illumination, and its ghostly glow. There was a faintly blurred rainbow about the moon, with a yellow mantle, and then a faint ruddy ring around that, as a halo, but there were no other colors that he could see from the reflected sunlight.
There was a slight noise at the door behind him, and he saw Abby, rumpled, and in her nightdress, and not at all as shy with him as he might have expected with her so lightly clad. Nurse could not have sent her to check on him, surely? Obviously not. Not so carelessly and lightly attired. Had she not been warned of him?
He was surprised to see her; anxious at first, and not sure why she was here. He then noticed that she had a small bundle in her arms. One of the girls: Anne. Abby had not needed the guiding light of a candle with the moon shedding its light through all of the windows on her way to this room.
“Over here, Abby.” He moved out from behind the curtains. She relinquished her small burden to him.
“I hope you do not mind, sir, but she would not sleep, no matter how tired she might be, and was crying for you.” He was pleasantly surprised to hear that.
“Crying for me? Not for Miss Sophia?” He saw Abby shake her head. “What next?” He smiled kindly at her. “No, Abby, I do not mind. Thank you. I think I need their company now, as much as they seem to need mine.” He hugged Anne close up near his face, as though he had handled children all his life, and spoke to her as her own father would have done. Abby saw her settle against him as she heard his voice, her father’s voice, comforting her.
“So, my little one, you could not sleep?” He gently touched her nose with his own. “Too much on your mind after the excitement of dinner?”
She replied sleepily. “No, Papa. I wanted to be with you.” She had called him ‘papa’! He was not about to correct her. Abby had not corrected her either, or she would have had a tearful child on her hands.
“Just as I want to be with you, my little one.” He kissed her and looked up to see Abby observing him with a strange look on her face.
“Thank you, Abby. You did the right thing. She will settle now.” He watched Abby return to the other children.
He was not to know that Abby was rapidly re-evaluating her own opinion of him. The tales were all undoubtedly true; that he was a rogue and could bowl any woman off her feet, but she did not feel threatened by him.
Maybe he was not so very bad, and he more than made up for that bad side of him with the changes he had made to the entire mood of the house. The children loved him without reservation. Even Miss Sophia was falling under his spell. Her too! Might it be so easy to be captivated? Yes, it would be. She began to surprise herself, admitting that.
Robert took up his seat once more, reclining along one end of the settee, with Anne leaning into his shoulder and lying upon him. She was settled now, asleep again almost immediately with her arms over his shoulders, contented, now that she was where she needed to be. He would not be able to get back to his reading now, but he did not care.
He could get used to this. He looked closely into her face. What wouldn’t he have given to be father to this one, indeed, to all of them. He had never felt so contented or so well trusted. Nor so protective. Yes, he could get used to this. He moved a strand of hair off her cheek and kissed her on the nose again. Nothing would be likely to disturb her now.
He was surprised to find Sophia quietly join him sometime just after that. Another one to tempt him. Or to distract him. She was another one that Nurse had not sent. He smiled in welcome. Soon, the entire family might be here. He would not object. He had a bet with himself as to how much longer Nurse might be able to stay away. She would be turning over in her restlessness and burning to find out what he was doing, unable to sleep. He would give her no more than another hour. Sophia felt the warmth of the room meet her at the door. She could see that Selena was still resting. Robert slowly rose to his feet with a bundle held up close to his face. One of the children.
“I could not sleep. I had too much on my mind.” He moved across to the bed and placed a small figure that had been in his arms on the pillow beside Selena. He answered the question in her eyes as he returned to sit with her.
“Anne,” he explained “She was crying and would not rest without me, so Abby brought her, and left her with me while she went back to the other two. Anne would have woken them up. There is no better place than beside her own mother where she will rest in much more comfort than in my arms. It will do them both good.”
He noticed that Sophia, like Abby, was also carelessly attired in her nightdress with a loose wrap, and bare feet. This would not do. Did they feel that they could so easily ignore the rumors about him and tempt him so mercilessly? They could not know that he was beyond temptation—except Sophia seemed to know something—so what recklessness infected them?
Sophia sat at the other end of the settee from him, and more in front of the fire where she could feel the warmth on her legs. There was something so very friendly and relaxing about an open fire and warmth. She was still sleepy. She yawned, almost sparking the same reflex in him. There must have been a draft near the floor, so she brought her feet up onto the settee with her to stay warm and wrapped her nightdress about them. She gave no thought to how tempting a sight she might be for him as she did that in the bright light of the fire. Here was another one who had become too relaxed and trusting in his presence. She was likely to earn Nurse’s censure. Sophia explained why she had come.
“After all that has happened today, I could not rest until I saw that Selena is still alright. I am ready to cry with joy at what I have seen change since you arrived. It is too much to expect that she is recovering after such a difficult time. I fear they will not give you credit for that, but eventually they will.” He doubted it.
Sophia continued. “I tried to think only of a good outcome, but I feared so much for what might happen with her not regaining consciousness.” He said nothing but just watched her and let her speak. “I think a fox woke me up. They seem to screech so piercingly.” She became silent as she stared into the fire.
“Yes. I remember. An entrancing and welcoming sound that I had forgotten. We don’t get those noises at sea.” There were other noises and sensations however, that he did miss. The groaning of ropes under tension; the bells sounding the watch; the gentle slapping of waves against the hull, or their great thundering crash, in a storm, where the entire deck would be awash, and men might have been thrown from their bunks; the occasional flapping of sails as they came about, and then the roll of the ship as she heeled over, coming to a new heading.
He would, however, not miss the cannonades of enemy vessels or other sounds of battle; the screams, nor the fighting, with never ending gunshots and the clash of sabers, or the aftermath of that; fighting to stay afloat and to assess damage and repair it. Then, there were the inevitable bodies to dispose of overboard; many of those were men well known to him, and, of course, there were the wounded to tend to. Always the wounded.
“There is still some wine left if you would like some, and I have another bottle on the side table over there, but only the one glass. You drank very little of it over dinner.” She nodded. She had wondered if the wine she had drunk with dinner had not been watered down a little, though neither he nor Benson had said anything.
He passed her his glass which he had filled earlier but had then been neglected with Anne appearing.
“Thank you.” She took a drink. This one, was not diluted in any way. “I normally do not drink such a robust wine, but this seems to be a very interesting taste.”
“Yes. A little older than today, I think, or even this week, or this year. That was an interesting dining experience.” She nursed the glass, twirling it as she studied the fire through its deep color, and sipped at it before she spoke.
“You are proving to be more of a surprise to everyone with each passing hour. I wonder when they will begin to realize…” her voice tailed off, not ready to continue what she was about to say. He continued it in his own mind; when will they begin to realize what trouble they had so calmly received into their midst? He kept his thoughts to himself.
“You had the girls ready to eat out of your hand after the miracle you performed with their mother. And then that dinner!” She smiled at those memories of dinner. Her opinion of him had been changed before then. She had difficulty reconciling what she knew of captains in his Majesty’s Service with this man; the gentle man who seemed so much at home with children.
“You do not mind if I sit here quietly while I drink this, do you? I am not up to conversing just yet, but I can sit quietly and think, unless I fall asleep first.”
He was far from minding. “No, I do not mind. I shall be glad of your company to pass the night-time hours. Even in silence. Others may disapprove of your disregard of my reputation, but I doubt that you care about such things. I don’t. And what will you think about as you sit here?”
“You, mostly. And what I have learned about you.” He watched but remained silent as she sipped at the wine.
“I have difficulty reconciling what I heard of your violent naval exploits, and what I have seen of you with my sister, and with the children. Even with Nurse. How could a man with such a reputation, the naval one of course”—she corrected that slip—“be so at ease with the children, and could be so caring in your examination of my sister. You have such a fine sense of humor as to bedevil the entire household—and me—into thinking you are a scoundrel? Everyone is convinced of it, even Nurse, and she should know you better than anyone. Perhaps you do it to hide your real purpose here.”
He was not about to ask her what she thought that might be. “Give it time, Sophia. I have been here barely a day, and you cannot possibly know me as well as you think you do.”
She knew more than he realized, but she could not tell him just yet, what it was that she knew.
“As for everyone assuming that I am a scoundrel, as you so kindly put it. Others use a harsher expression behind my back, perhaps that is because that is what they remember of me. I was one.” He stared into the fire. He harbored many secrets that she could not possible guess, but only one that was important at this moment. He looked across at her.
“Although Abby might not believe it. She was very trusting of me when she brought Anne to me. In only her nightdress too, as you are. Most daring of you both.
“I should pad off along the corridor tonight, and rattle a few of their doors out of mischief, as that is what they expect of me. Actually, I had better not. Whatever would I do if one of them were to have been left open in anticipation of my visit, or even if a voice from within, invites me in. Then, I really would be found out!” It was her turn to listen.
“I was a severe embarrassment to the whole family. The rumors were not so far wrong. No woman who gave me the faintest whiff of encouragement was safe.” She was not sure she could believe him and was provoked to come to his defense.
“I think I am as safe with you as the children are, and as all of the other women in the house are. My first impression was mostly correct about you and needed only little revision.” He raised an eyebrow at her assumption. What did she think she knew after just a few hours?
“Yes, you are safe, for some reason which escapes me.” She doubted that last part. She was safe with him, and she knew why. He was in love with Selena, but no one else seemed to see it. She passed him the glass and watched him finish it off, before he refilled it and passing it back to her.
After some moments of silence between them when he made up the fire, Sophia brought his mind back to one of the many things that he had said, that intrigued her.
“Were you really banished from the dining room over a piglet? I would like to know more.” He smiled at her and obliged her curiosity.
“We both were; Charles and I. And banished from other parts of the house too, especially the gun room, but that was a different story. That piglet changed all of our lives, mostly for the better now that I think about it, though others would disagree, considering what happened after that. We were fourteen; a dangerous age for us both. We brought a piglet into the dining room on a serving tray with a large domed cover over it. It was very much alive, but quite inebriated from the wine-soaked bread we had fed it and was happy to sleep it off in the dark under that cover and on a soft blanket. Charles and I could scarcely contain ourselves with anticipation of what would happen. Except, like impetuous boys, we had not thought it through.
“I am sure you can imagine the pandemonium that ensued when the cover was removed in the center of the table, and with everyone expecting to see a glazed pork roast. The pig soon recovered once the cover was taken off and decided to make its escape along the table. It took almost thirty minutes for the dust to settle and for the dining room to be cleared, and then preparations made for the dinner that should have been.
However, our fate had been sealed before then. They did not know which one of us to punish, but as we were both usually equally culpable, we were both blamed and were expelled from the dining room for a month. I never saw grandfather so incensed. He would have beaten us within an inch of our lives if he could have caught us, but not in front of the womenfolk, fortunately for us.
He looked at her and smiled. “Such freedom had its benefits to two boys ripe for mischief, as Charles and I were.” She waited for him to explain, knowing that he would not avoid telling her anything, no matter how embarrassing it might be for either of them.
“It meant that for the remainder of the month, once we had eaten in the servants’ area, we could wander at our leisure, free of parental criticism or supervision, and we did. So long as we stayed out of sight of the dining room window, we were not noticed.