Chapter 1 ~ Marianne
Marianne Brandon woke gradually, peacefully, to the comfortably familiar sounds of dressing in the small room just beyond the bedchamber door. The soft opening and closing of a drawer, the splash of water being poured from jug into basin, the slow and steady swish and click of a razor being stropped. And a sharp but stifled indrawn breath, which told her that the scrape on her husband's upper lip had not yet healed, despite her and Neel's appreciable, and unappreciated, ministrations.
She heard no voices. The two men, Christopher and Neel, had known each other for so many years, from their early days as officer and valet, serving together from Madras to Malacca; had known so many quarters, cramped and spacious, modern and ancient, convenient and inconvenient; that there was little need for question and answer, remark and reply, direction and acknowledgement.
Marianne smiled, and stretched luxuriously under the bedclothes. Not lazily, she reminded herself. She was not being lazy. She would have liked nothing better than to slip out of bed and into the dressing room; where on many mornings in the first and third years of her marriage she had delighted in taking over from Neel such domestic tasks as sharpening a razor blade, brushing a coat, and buffing boots.
During much of the second year she had had to forego most of these pleasures; in the early months wanting only to lie abed, alone and quiet, in the mornings; and later on feeling too unwieldy to bend over a pair of boots--even when the feet inside them were propped, one at a time, up on the wash-stand or windowseat; and sometimes she had been unable to tolerate the scent of boot cream, which until then had been one of her favorite fragrances. And there had been no question of her being allowed to exert herself in helping to push or pull the boots onto her husband's feet.
And the boots were on, now, evidently; without her help. No one, not even Sir John Middleton, could clump about as heavily in slippers--not even on bare floorboards--as most men, booted, trod on carpeting.
Dear Sir John! Marianne smiled again. He who had so graciously permitted her to play the piano forte at Barton Park; who would always be a welcome, if not a model, guest at Delaford; who had told her, on her wedding day (as the two of them had stood in the porch of Barton church, waiting to start down the aisle towards the handsome officer, resplendant in his uniform, at the rail): "There is not a man on earth whom I would rather see happy than Kit Brandon, nor is there a man on earth who can make you happier than can he, whom you so richly deserve, my dear."
Marianne drew her hands across her eyes, which were suddenly moist; then, hearing the door open, she attempted a convincing yawn. Her effort did not, however, deceive her husband.
"Do you fell unwell, my love?" he asked.
She blinked up at him as he stood in the doorway, his lips mirroring her smile but his eyes full of concern.
"I feel very well, dearest." She reached out her hand to him, and he came and took it, and held it, gently; gazing down at her with such troubled and tender regard as made more tears come to her eyes. "I am very well indeed," she assured him; and drawing his hand to her lips, placed a kiss upon it. "And you must hurry to the church, for you and Edward have much to discuss this morning."
She put her finger to his lip, just below the red scratch mark on the soft, freshly shaven skin. "And I must tell Elinor to have Henry's fingernails trimmed more carefully."
He put his hand over hers, and drew her fingers from the wound to his lips. His breath was warm on her own fingertips as he said, "Elinor is no more to blame than was Henry. Had I not been dandling the child, he would not have felt the need of reaching out for something to hold onto. The first time it was my hair. That, he did not miss. The second time he reached for my nose. I turned to avoid his grasp . . . and he scratched my lip. No great harm was done."
"You will have a scar."
"Then I shall grow a moustache to conceal it."
Marianne laughed. "I fear that would be cause for greater injury to you, should Henry grab at those hairs."
"What would you have me do, then?" he asked; and his eyes regarded her quizzically and compassionately.
She did not answer his question, but asked one of her own. "Will you pray for a son, or a daughter, while you are at church?"
He bent his head and kissed her fingertips, one after the other. "I shall pray for two arms and two legs," he said. "Two hands and two feet. Ten toes, and two thumbs, and--" He broke off at a knock upon the bedchamber door. Before either he or Marianne could speak again, the door opened, and a little girl entered the room. A child with ringlets like Marianne's own but of the same red-gold as Brandon's hair. The child darted towards the bed--then, at a whispered "Cecilia!" from outside the door, she checked; and bobbed a curtsey. "Mamma! Papa!"
"Good morning, my darling." Marianne smiling reached out to draw Cecilia close, while Brandon prevented the child--gently--from climbing up onto the bed. He turned towards the door and the young woman who now stood there clutching Cecilia's bonnet. She made a more reverent curtsey than Cecilia had; and said, "Forgive me, Colonel Brandon. Mrs. Williams sent me to bring the child to you in the hall. But seeing your door, she made to cry out if I did not let go of her hand . . . I did not want her to disturb Mrs. Brandon . . ."
"She has not disturbed me, Polly," Marianne assured the girl. "How could I be disturbed by you?" she asked the child, smoothing the tumbled curls and straightening the folds of the pelisse that covered the little white muslin gown.
"Will she be warm enough, do you think?" Marianne directed the question to Polly; but it was her husband who answered.
"She will be perfectly comfortable." He placed a kiss on Marianne's brow; then, straightening up, held out his hand to their daughter. "We must away to church."
Cecilia turned to him, smiling up at him; and placed her hand in his.
Brandon looked down at Marianne. "Shall I send Briggs to you with a cup of cocoa?"
Marianne could not suppress a shudder; and Brandon looked contrite. "Forgive me," he said. "I meant tea. And a little toast?"
"A very little." She looked up at him, attempting to unite pardon and apology in her smile. "And very weak tea. And no butter."
He bowed his head, humble of mien albeit not without a twinkle in his eye. "Of course. I shall tell Mrs. Hetney to send up a cup of weak tea, with no butter."
Cecilia giggled, and he looked down at her and gave her a solemn wink. "Come, my Celia. We must make haste, or your uncle will begin Morning Prayer without us."
Father and daughter each gave Marianne a kiss, and she smiled and watched them leave the room; while Polly remained behind to draw back the window curtains.
"Open the windows too, Polly," Marianne said.
"Both of them, madam?"
"Both of them. I want to smell the roses."
"Yes, madam." Polly did not shrug her shoulders, but her voice questioned the wisdom of so much fresh air so early in the day . . . or so early in one's pregnancy.
Marianne pushed herself up to a half-sitting position against her pillows; slowly--it did not do to move quickly on these mornings. She wanted to go to the window; to look down at the roses trained along the wall of the house; but it did not do to look straight down from a first-storey window. She sighed, and sat up, gently; propping herself on her elbow, and accepting the offer of Polly's strong arms.
"Shall I help to your closet, madam?" the girl asked.
"In a moment," said Marianne. She took the soft Kashmir shawl that Polly offered, and drew it about her as she listened to the sounds from beyond the window. Not the window below which the roses bloomed, but that which overlooked the carriage sweep. She heard boots crunching gravel, and the echo of tiny slippers; a horse's hooves, and snorting. She heard voices--"Hold him, James."--"Now put her up, Neel."--"Steady, there."--"Come, darling, take my hand--now up you come." And the horse snorted again.
Marianne smiled. Soon Cecilia would be wanting a pony. Indeed she wanted one now, but her parents were agreed that she was yet too young. Too young, as well, to walk all the way to the church and back again. But Black Prince, though sometimes impatient, was gentle; and would carry his two riders safely. And Edward would not begin Morning Prayer without them.
But nor would his patron keep him waiting. They were away now: father and daughter; their steed snorting again, and responding, with quickened hoofbeats, to Cecilia's bidding: "Go, Back Pince!"
Chapter 2 ~ Brandon
"Go, Back Pince!" Cecilia shook the ends of the reins that she clutched above Brandon's gloved hands. He held the horse to a walk, but the black ears swiveled back to the sound of the child's voice.
"Black Prince," said Brandon.
"Back Pince," echoed Cecilia.
"Prince," Brandon repeated. "Purr. Like your kitten. Pur-r-r-rinse. As after you have washed your face. Purr. Rinse."
"Purr. Rinse." Cecilia giggled, grinning up at him in delight. "Purr. Rinse."
"Yes," said Brandon. "Black Prince. Go, Black Prince."
"Go, Back Purr . . . go, Back Pince."
Brandon sighed, and stifled a laugh. "Do you want to come to church with me?" he asked. "Or shall I take you to the parsonage house to see Amy and Henry and Tetty?"
"Go to church," was the decided reply. "Morning Pair. Papa and uncle."
"Morning Prayer. Very well." This time he could not suppress a chuckle. Cecilia laughed, and Black Prince snorted.
Brandon laughed out loud, for sheer joy. Yes, he would pray for a son or a daughter. For a child as healthy as this one; as intelligent, and as pleased with life. As pleased as I am, he thought; looking down at his daughter's hands resting on his, holding the reins as he had taught her, like a true horsewoman.
Which she is, he reflected. Given a few years, and a suitable pony, she will be riding all over the estate: down to inspect the stewponds; out across the fields and the pastures, to watch the corn turn golden with the turning of summer into autumn, and to see the new lambs when the winter has turned into spring. Perhaps when her brother, or sister, arrives--perhaps that will be an appropriate time for her to have a pony. James and I shall teach her to ride, and when Marianne is able to go out and about again Cecilia will be able to come with us. I shall write to Mr. Constable, and ask him to come again and paint the four of us. And should he like to paint the mill as well, while he is here--
"Will Neel fall down, Papa?"
Brandon shook his head, clearing it of painted images. "What is it, my dear?"
"Will Neel fall down when we do?"
"What do you mean, love? When do we fall down?"
"At Morning Pair. When us worship and fall down, and Neel. Will Neel fall down when we do?"
They were nearly at the church before Brandon could control his voice enough to answer. "Oh, my Celia," he chuckled, reining Black Prince to a halt at the gate; "I think your uncle can answer that question better than I can. He is, after all, the parson."
Brandon chuckled again as he watched the church door open and his brother-in-law step out onto the path. "Yes, my love." He kissed the top of Cecilia's bonnet. "Uncle Fez.
"Come take this child," he added, addressing himself now to his brother-in-law. "I believe she wants to catechize you."
"Before breakfast?" Edward Ferrars took his niece in his arms and smiled at her. "Upon what theological point do you wish to question me, madam?"
Cecilia giggled and bit her fingernail. A sliver came away in her teeth, leaving a jagged edge.
"That is how he did it," said Brandon, swinging down from the saddle.
Edward blinked at him. "Forgive me, brother. I am not at my best so early in the day. What is how who did what?"
Brandon opened his mouth to explain about Henry's fingernail and his own upper lip; but the baffled look on Edward's face made him change his mind. "Ah," he said instead, as he tethered Black Prince to the gatepost. "A question worthy of a bishop." He cocked an eyebrow at Edward. "Or of a heretic, perhaps?"
A level blue gaze met his. "Deserving of a sermon, at any rate," Edward said mildly. "And I shall prepare one for Sunday morning."
"Do. For I would rather hear your thoughts on such a subject than everyone else's ideas about organs."
"I must however make at least some mention of organs," said Edward. "If I say nothing about them during the service, I fear the--"
Here he paused, and set Cecilia down on the path. He kept hold of one of her hands; Brandon took the other; and Edward continued-- "I fear the A-D-M-I-R-A-L will say a great deal about them after the service."
"And he does not go to Portsmouth until Monday." Brandon sighed, and looked down at his daughter, who was tugging at both the hands holding hers; intent not on the discussion between the two men, but on impelling them into an inspection of a butterfly that flitted about among the flowers lining the path. Brandon took a step or two towards the flowers, and Cecilia, smiling, pulled her hand free of her uncle's and reached out towards the butterfly.
"Do not touch," Brandon said; and turning back to Edward: "I could wish the gentleman back in Constantinople."
Edward smiled. "I dare say he wishes himself back there, at times. But he is here, and he is anxious to play an active part in the life of the community."
"But not to have his agent continue playing for Divine Service." Brandon took another step towards the flowers, following Cecilia. "And if William Preston leaves as well, as George Redding fears he may, we shall have neither band nor organ--"
Cecilia tugged at his hand again, reaching out to the butterfly, which prudently directed its flight towards a flower further away. "Cecilia," he said, "would not you like to visit your cousins at the parsonage house?"
She shook her head. "Morning Pair."
"She is right, Christopher. Come." Edward took Cecilia's hand again and led her, and so Brandon, towards the church. "Morning Prayer. And afterwards, breakfast at the parsonage. And lessons for you with your cousins, Cecilia. And study for your papa and me as well."
"After Morning Pair," said Cecilia.
"Yes," Brandon agreed. "After Morning Pair--Prayer."
"With all the whales?" Cecilia asked.
"Yes. All the whales. And all the beasts--"
"And the cattle."
"And the mountains and hills and all the green things upon the earth."
Cecila danced for joy, being unable to clap her hands. Then she walked quietly, sedately, into the church with her father and uncle. "The corn in the fields," she whispered, as she took her place beside her father, while her uncle crossed the chancel to the reading-desk. "And all Defford Woods," she added.
"All Delaford Woods," Brandon agreed, as he opened his prayer-book.