The Elusive Miss Wakefield

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Further entanglements.

Charlotte eventually climbed into her own bed, the one he had been used to sleeping in, for an equally restless and sleepless night, tormented by thoughts of her brother having fallen in love in just this way, just as quickly, and with this man’s sister. She had found herself caught up in an almost undeniable urge to forge a new union in an unmistakable and shocking way. That feeling had been almost entirely beyond her control. She had known that had they kissed earlier—as she had wanted to do, but dared say nothing to encourage that—that like Georgiana, she would have been lost at that moment. She almost had, when she had bade him good night with just such a gentle brush of her lips against his, and the touch of her body against his, as she had closed her door. It was quite frightening to contemplate how one’s own emotions could so easily betray one’s cautious upbringing. She had broached none of what role she was playing, with Georgiana just yet, feeling that it was more important to forge strong bonds of friendship first and realizing that from those would flow trust and necessary confidence, though likely to be all one sided, unless she was able to disclose who she really was. That, however, was becoming more difficult with each passing day.

She lay awake for some considerable time, wondering if he might dare come back to talk to her again, as she hoped he might (their conversation had ended too soon, leaving so much unsaid after such an interesting beginning). Perhaps she might have courage enough herself, or folly enough perhaps, to return to the library and find him in front of the fire, as he had earlier found her. But what would she do then? He might still be awake, and what might he think of her at that moment, returning to that same room where he now was and just as poorly covered as she had been before?

It was certain that she would not sleep easily. She put those awkward thoughts from her mind and concentrated on trying to find sleep. However, sleep would not come. She then recollected that she had left her diary by her chair in the library. She could not leave it there, and risk him reading any of it, though most of the entries were of a harmless nature and even cryptic. That would be her excuse for returning if he said anything. However, there was another reason, too—her writing might tell him more than he should learn of her. If he were to compare her writing in that diary with what she had written in that letter to him, letting him know of her brother’s death, her secret, guarded so well for so long, would no longer be hidden.

She went quietly back to the library without even noticing that she had left her wrap behind in the bedroom. She was relieved to find him asleep in that chair, as he had earlier found her. His sketchbook was beside him on the floor. He was breathing deeply, and it was obvious that little would disturb him. She retrieved that book and cautiously went back to the chair she had earlier occupied. She studied it in the still-bright light from the fire. It was the fourteenth book of drawings, identified as such inside the cover, with a date just a year earlier, and various other little notes in the front. It was almost full of his drawings. He would soon need to start another.

She turned to the last pages and discovered that he had indeed observed her for some time before she had awoken. There were five drawings of her, the last three had clearly been drawn from memory, and were as he had seen her after he had returned to the library from escorting her to her room, and had been completed as far as they were in just the short time he had left her in her room. He obviously drew, quickly.

In that last one, he had captured her holding a candle out for him as he had sorted through his clothing to take with him. She had not realized that she had been so well illuminated by such a small candle, except there had been another over by her bed that may have allowed him to see more of her through the betraying fabric of her nightdress. He had looked at her and observed her more carefully than she might have been aware of, and had seen more of her than she was comfortable with. His drawings had made her appear almost as though she had not been dressed, considering the vague details that he had tantalizingly captured of her glimpsed through her nightdress. Had her breasts and her nipples been so obvious like that, just hinted at and visible there, beneath the fabric, as he had drawn her? He was indeed mischievous, as Georgiana had told her. Then she recalled that she had read somewhere that even Leonardo da Vinci had drawn his figures—women and men alike—unclothed at first, with all of the anatomical reality, though carefully done. He did that in order to have their limbs, their dimensions, musculature, and posture correct, before he draped them to hide the more embarrassing detail, yet without actually hiding it at all. It might almost appear that he had followed that form with her. How shocking!

The ones before that were only a little less revealing. She had been helping him in the kitchen, and while she had been distracted, he had captured her in his mind to draw. He drew well. There was no mistaking that it was her in any of his drawings, but she wished that she had been better and more substantially attired. He had seen far too much of her for her comfort, and had not been shy to draw what he had seen. She had not run off, as she should have done.

She turned the pages back, as her glance shot to him from time to time to make sure that he was not awake and aware of what she was doing. Reassured, she sat back in the chair, balancing the book across her legs and careless of her appearance, probably as careless as she had been earlier when he had first walked in upon her. She looked at him for some moments, wanting to be sure that he was indeed asleep.

She reached across and picked up the tankard of beer that he had filled, and drank it slowly, as she thought about all that had happened that evening. Her mind was anywhere but where it should have been. She refilled it and settle back to study his book in more detail. She was trespassing a little, she knew that; but as he had drawn her, she felt that she did have a right to know what he had drawn, and what he might have seen of her.

His first drawing of her was with her asleep in front of that chair in a mound of cushions and without any blanket covering her legs as she had found when she had first awoken. She turned the page and moved back and forward from one to the other. There were two of them he had done, before she had become conscious of his presence. The first was one he had drawn quickly, in order to capture what he could see of her before she might have woken up and had seen what he was doing, and might have objected, as she certainly would have. She had not awoken to object, so he had put that one aside, after writing the date and a title Miss Wakefield as I first encountered her: a Vision to remember” (she was indeed a vision to remember—a shocking one, the way he had captured her!) She would have to be more careful how she relaxed in the future if she might not be alone. The second drawing had been made in greater detail, Miss Wakefield in repose. She was alarmed to see how honest he had been with that one too, and how truly relaxed she had been after she had changed her position as she must have done, even between the drawings. She had known nothing of that either, fortunately. What must he have thought of her, encountering her like that? Yet he had said nothing . . . And she had snored, though he had not said that in quite that way. He had found humor in it. The drawing was honest in every way—too honest and revealing. No wonder he had tried to put her at her ease after that, and had somehow succeeded. She did not understand how she might have been able to be in any way comfortable enough to stay after that. Being a typical man, he would not be embarrassed by any of it, but would take advantage of the opportunity, fortunately without taking his advantage any further. If questioned about it, he would just dismiss it as something to do with an artist being obliged to draw what he saw, though truth in such things was sometimes too harsh for a woman to bear. Yet he had not drawn her unkindly—just too well, and too forthrightly. Most women were critical of themselves when the mirror showed them so well. However, nothing was likely to shock him. She felt embarrassed that she had been caught that way, though he had said nothing of it to embarrass her.

She felt thirsty after eating the meal they had shared and picked up the tankard once more. He was fast asleep. He snored too, as she would be sure to point out to him, and he would not know what she was doing even now to turn the tables a little, nor to question why she had returned to the library. She barely knew the answer to that herself, or was loath to admit what had really drawn her back. It had not just been her diary, or fear of discovery through her writing. Had he been awake, they could have spoken together until morning. Fortunately, he was not awake.

Perhaps he was like many other men she knew, including her own brother, Oliver—a memory that caused her a momentary stab of pain. He had been like the mythological Janus, with two faces looking in opposite directions. Two disparate characters, devil and saint, one pleasant, careful of his reputation, gentle, thoughtful, kindly romantic, mildly flirtatious—which they revealed to their friends and family in most protective circumstances. And the other one, less careful when away from the scrutiny of those who knew him. She had see him in that other role; that of incautious lover when he was being signaled discreetly by that young widow Cowperthwaite. She had followed them both, and once they had been out of the view of others, he had led her off into the darkness and out of the way. Charlotte had asked him about that, but he had just looked at her and had responded almost offhand. “Oh, that. Yes, she wanted to ask my advice on something, and we had needed to speak where it was quiet.” He was not likely to admit what might have transpired between them, if anything had.

Men rarely revealed that other side of themselves to their family. They left any suggestions of an alternative existence to the workings of rumor and speculation by others, based upon nothing more than a possible glimpse of a word exchanged in some salon, a fleeting touch, and even the suggestion of an understanding and secretive smile, or a look from across a room. One could write an entire story on nothing more substantial than a stolen glance. Drawings could do the same thing too.

She and Oliver had spoken openly about that contradiction in behavior, though he did not go into any details of his own life. He had been honest with her and had tried not to shock her, but he had shocked her. She realized then that she and her brother were not as much alike after all, as she might have assumed, but had grown apart as they had matured and had gone along different tracks. Look at how he must have behaved with Georgiana, even in their first moments of meeting, and obviously in a mutually acceptable way. Love of that kind, overturned all of those socially accepted expectations of propriety. If she were honest with herself in turn, she realized that women were captivated by the promise of such love, though might never dare to admit it—far too dangerous—sometimes not even to themselves. Women had far too much to lose if their reputations and behavior were called into question.

She closed the book and looked across at him. He had a mischievous smile on his face even in sleep! He was no older than she was, yet . . . She should not judge him too harshly. He was just a typical young man, she realized, entranced by the female form in a strangely intense way. All men seemed to be unpredictable beasts, and not much different from each other once one scratched below the surface to find not a more pure metal, but a yet deeper tarnish. All easily forgiven.

A sudden mischievous urge overcame her, and she retrieved his pencil from by his chair and sat back as she opened his book at the next blank page and sketched him in turn for herself as she saw him. She checked that he was indeed asleep by watching him for some moments, and propped the book on her leg as she concentrated, frequently glancing over the top of the book at him as she drew him in the light from that single candle and the firelight.

She paused for a moment and analyzed her own feelings at that moment. She had never felt so at ease or relaxed since she had left Fallowfield, and certainly not since Oliver had had his accident—if it had been that. The room was indeed warm, though some of that could be her. She looked across at Henry and studied him carefully as he may have—must have—earlier studied her. She might almost have been sitting in the library at Fallowfield with Oliver, and with Anne even then entering the library to see what they might have found to occupy themselves. They had been happier times. She blinked her eyes to dispel that momentary feeling, as pleasant and disturbing as it had been, and focused upon what she was doing before she fell asleep herself.

He would be surprised to see that he might have his equal as an artist. She completed her first sketch . . . more an outline of character . . . and caricatured with emphasis on the sharp eyes (though his were closed), which clearly missed nothing, and the mouth and nose, with flaring, overthick eyebrows, thin lips, thinner than his really were, and meant to lend a sinister air to his face. He was carelessly dressed, with his shirt open at the neck, and his sleeves moved back from his wrists, revealing a sunburned and muscular forearm, though not as lightly dressed as she had been, and still was, and she caught him as no one else might ever be allowed were he awake. He was sprawled out in his stocking feet—sprawled out as no gentleman would ever choose to be found or captured in any drawing. She turned the page then and sketched more honestly and leisurely to capture the real man, as he really was, sitting there, relaxed, and as his sister believed him to be.

When she had finished to her satisfaction, knowing that she would now be able to sleep comfortably and to have turned the tables upon him, she titled them both. The first was titled A Mischievous Portrayal of Character? and the second was Henry Stavely, Most Certainly Caught Off Guard and at Repose in the Library, As I Was. The Biter Bit. She smiled to herself in her own gentle mischief and initialed them both. He would be surprised when he saw those in the morning, or when he later opened his book again.

She was overcome for a few moments by another feeling, and then continued to write, after turning the page. After she had finished some few minutes later and satisfied with what she had written, she closed his book and placed it by his chair where she had found it. She retrieved her diary for which she had originally returned to the library—or that would have been her excuse had he been awake—and continued filling entries into that, concerning what had happened just that evening while they were still fresh in her mind. She refilled his tankard from time to time—the library was quite warm—and then she lost all sense of time.

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