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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

September 13, 2021 11:30PM
Henry Tilney had enjoyed a far easier morning than his wife. He always loved driving and riding, and found joy in his parish calls. Most of his flock were of a very genial nature, and so the first visits of the day involved an agreeable exchange of pleasantries, condolences, and news. It was the ultimate goal of the miller, and the miller's disdainful neighbour, which he dreaded. As if in answer to his mood, the clouds looked more ominous the closer he approached his destination.

One aged soul warned the young parson he might wish to turn back, for recent showers had made the river rise, "and it shan't be long ere it floods."

This intermittent state of inundation had plagued the countryside since just before Henry returned from Oxford. It was tied up in a quarrel between his father's estate and another's land grant; he had endured countless lectures involving the vagaries of boundary lines, the calumny of surveyors, and the sanctity of property rights regarding a tributary which had been rerouted by such nefarious machinations as canals and sluice gates. Whatever purpose the latter innovations might have served had long been stymied by lawyers in and out of court, leaving some trenches fallow as the grave while others overflowed with reckless abandon. It fell to the less vaunted inhabitants of the country, as is often the case, to adjust their means of living when greater powers will not.

"I shall go a little farther," he declared, "but you may be right, it does look ill."

Receiving further encouragement for caution at his next stop, Henry felt fully justified in sending a message to the mill that he would call later in the week and directing his curricle for home, a decision proved all the more correct as the wind picked up. To comfort himself, he thought of his wife, and what a surprise he would give her by returning ahead of his intended schedule.

Upon approaching his own green gates, he saw she was not in the garden, and it was no difficult matter for him to determine on a more dramatic entrance. "For she shall like as not be in her little room, and if I come in at the rear I may take her unawares." Always fond of a joke, and fonder still of exciting her delight by his presence, he quickly unhitched and tethered the team in the yard; then crept up from the stable to the back of the house, past the kitchen, and into the hall toward the drawing room. With hat in hand he threw the door open, prepared to receive all the reward a young husband must expect upon such an entrance.

You may imagine how different were the emotions he experienced at discovering her in the arms of his profligate brother.

It is fortunate that though sometimes uncharitable, and quite willing to believe the worst of his fellow man, Henry was not a jealous lover: he had complete faith in his wife's goodness, affection, and honour. Moreover, were he in need of further assurance of Catherine's fidelity, her reaction should have answered, for the startled cry she uttered was not alarmed but relieved. Indeed, she flew to him at once, taking his arm, and nearly burrowing into his side.

Clearly, Catherine was glad of his presence, and just as clearly, whatever had occurred had served to frighten rather than arouse her sensibilities. This understanding did little to lessen his indignation, and only for her sake did he strive to govern his tone. "I did not realize you had a visitor. Frederick, how long have you been here?"

"The time has passed so pleasantly I cannot recall the hour. Do you, my dear?"

Feeling her shrink back at these words, Henry determined to remove Catherine as far from the source of her distress as possible. "Would you ensure the horses are looked to? I did not spare time to instruct Will before coming in."

"Oh! he is not here, neither he nor cook," she began, then stopped herself, "but I will see to it, Mrs. Forest will help me." So saying she left the room at once, before Henry could inquire further or offer to perform the office himself.

"Quite a nervous little thing," Frederick observed, turning Henry's mind back to the matter at hand. His brother raised a glass to his lips. "Very friendly though."

Ignoring this comment, Henry put his hat down and began to strip off his gloves. A setting of fruit drew his eye, as did the bottle of wine bestowed as a wedding present, one which he had been saving for an altogether different occasion. "I wonder to see you here at all: I had thought you were still in town."

"It pleased my father that we both attend the club's meeting, whenever it shall finally occur. I have been at Northanger this past fortnight. Dreadfully dull, even worse than usual."

Idleness and deprivation were never good for the Tilney men, a flaw Henry admitted to even in himself. Disappointment tempted him to become cross; his brother and father were often inconsolable when denied their pleasures, to the detriment of their retainers and relations. With the recent foul weather few might be willing to risk travel for a political gathering falling outside a general election. Henry could readily guess there had been no dinners and little sport, requiring they entertain themselves, which was an office neither man was suited to by temperament or inclination. "They have likely driven each other to distraction," he surmised, and doubted whether the captain had come to Woodston entirely sober.

"I am sorry for it," Henry answered truthfully, "though I could wish you did not bring your troubles here. We have enough of our own."

"Do you? From all description I had heard it was a little paradise. Have you a 'heaven in hell,' as the author writes?"

"And have you been reading Milton? I am glad to hear our father's library is being put to good use." Henry took up an apple, feeling the need for sustenance during this interview, but was surprised to see it already bitten into.

Frederick poured yet another glassful—Henry gloomily calculated nothing should be left of it soon—and smiled. "Mrs. Tilney appeared not to like the taste of that one; for myself, I could find nothing wrong with it. Perhaps you may judge between us?"

It is to Henry's credit he did not obey his first impulse to chuck the apple at his brother, but refusing to be baited walked to toss it out a window instead. He noted the worsening conditions with some concern, then turned to meet the other’s gaze. "I must always side with my wife in such affairs. She has excellent judgment, and a very good understanding. I have never known her to err when it came to a test regarding the knowledge of good and evil."

The barb was perhaps too rhetorical for Frederick's current state; it failed to land at all, and he shrugged rather than rail. "Spare me your sermons. I thought to know your lady better, as we have never been properly introduced."

It nearly rose to Henry's lips to question how his brother thought he should become acquainted with a person ignored for the better part of a year, but he mastered himself. The trick to managing Frederick had always been to avoid getting drawn into an argument and instead discover what was actually provoking him, which Henry suspected was the usual need. "I would have assumed you would sojourn somewhere offering more variety than our humble abode. Or were you unable to?"

Here he aimed better, for Frederick tossed his head and loftily proclaimed he had enough funds to see him through Judgment Day. This bravado likely covered his frustration at not being able to avoid dependence, curtailing any number of activities usually indulged. It no doubt explained why Woodston had suddenly become desirable: as Henry’s money was almost entirely outside their father’s control, any dealings between the brothers might avoid the same's scrutiny. Indeed, since taking the living, he had once or twice been persuaded to grant a small loan, although more out of a desire to preserve their sister’s peace than his brother’s. The sum had always been paid in a commensurate, if not timely, manner.

It was years since either had availed themselves of such an arrangement. Then again, it might have been as long since his brother had been forced to submit wholly to the general's discipline; and it was obvious the man was courting mischief. Since Henry felt bound by his marriage to refuse advancing any funds except for the most dire of needs, the subject would need to be approached delicately. To show evidence of irritation would only encourage an obstinacy entirely opposed to any amiable result.

With these thoughts in mind Henry took the chair usually occupied by his wife, folding one leg over the other. "Well, and how have you enjoyed your jaunt today? For myself I saw several fine specimen of bird. If you have time I will share the particulars, including the state of Mrs. Sowell's poultry."

It was exactly the sort of tone Henry had used to employ when redirecting attention away from their sister, although in times past his weapons might have included descriptions of muslin and lace or literary recommendations.

"Really?" Frederick's lip curled in a sneer.

"Yes. The eggs you see are speckled, though the hens are not, and there is some debate over whether someone has been switching them at night. You know the sort of nonsense boys get up to here in the country. Of course, as I advised the family, it is better to suspect the hens themselves may merely be taking turns, as it were, and wish to save themselves the trouble of laying all the time. We may need to start a rotation, and allow our fowl the same rest come Sabbath as their friends."

He might have been successful at driving Frederick to the point with sheer nonsense were other diversions close at hand, and had he kept strictly to his purpose. But Henry was enough of a Tilney that, while displaying remarkable temperance during this interview, he was fairly smarting for a chance to indulge his wit, pent up as it had been all day. Getting carried away in his story, he nearly forgot himself when describing the mysterious absence of the rooster, "who might be the chief perpetrator after all."

"Roosters usually are," his brother interrupted, recollecting Henry to his audience. "No cocks here, I suppose? Pity the poor chick left to her own devices: any stray bantam might turn her head."

Now it was Henry's turn to pale, an impulse he did not check in time as betrayed by his brother's satisfactory smirk. He was growing perilously close to losing his temper, and coolly inquired how much longer Frederick intended to stay. "I would start out now to make Northanger before evening."

"And abandon this lovely tête-à-tête? I would not dream of ending my first visit to your marriage bower so soon."

"But are you quite at your leisure? I am sure our father still keeps his meals on schedule. Why," here he took out his watch, exclaiming, "it is a quarter past three. I should not wish you to be late."

Frederick failed to acknowledge any concern, sending his volley back while taking up another apple. "He is touring the roads with his surveyor to determine repairs; I was warned they may be in conference over the affair well past the usual hour. There is no need for you to worry on that account."

Here was an unexpected impediment: if he could not use parental authority as his ally, Henry despaired of any civil lever to pry his brother loose. "Unfortunately both Mrs. Tilney and myself are also quite occupied, and so are not able to receive you at this time. Kindly say when you are next available, and we may plan for a more favourable opportunity."

It was as strong and plain a dismissal as he could marshal while remaining seated, and he was proud of how calmly he had managed to utter it.

Later, he would realize it was certainly his fault for not warning Catherine to maintain her escape after making it. Had he moved nearer the door instead of sitting by the window, he might have prevented her from entering the room even when she did return. But it was an insight best made with the benefit of reflection, which his present frame of mind did not allow. Thus he was too taken aback when a knock came to answer with appropriate speed, allowing Frederick to cross the room before Henry had gained his feet.

She at least did not tremble when escorted in, nor did her voice fail as she inquired "whether Captain Tilney would join them for dinner?"

Henry could not help resenting the offer; his better nature realized she only meant to please, but once again his wife's inexperience and obliging disposition played right into another's hands. Frederick bowed artfully, and only Henry's long experience detected the slight unsteadiness of his heels. "Splendid timing Mrs. Tilney, your husband had just expressed some doubt on the subject. How foolish of him to doubt your genius. I would be honoured to share anything you deign to serve."

Catherine was still looking at Henry for an answer. He nearly said exactly what he thought of her genius but one look at his brother's simpering air quelled the feeling, and instead he reluctantly forwarded the invitation. To storm or rant was to give Frederick what he wanted. However difficult, he must take Petruchio as his guide to kill with kindness. A good thing that Henry was fonder of comedies than tragedies, as Mercutio might have led them both to a very different resolution
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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

MichelleRWSeptember 13, 2021 11:30PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

Alicia MOctober 12, 2021 07:08PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

MichelleRWOctober 13, 2021 12:03AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

Alicia MOctober 13, 2021 03:48AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

Shannon KSeptember 19, 2021 02:06AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

MichelleRWSeptember 19, 2021 07:07PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

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Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 3

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