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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

October 05, 2021 12:30AM
Henry kept to a sluggish trot back through the trees. He had, in fact, thought it might be safer to go around the forest, but the driving rain and absence of even the faintest path forced him to reconsider. The horses were taxed and unused to pulling together, and with three to bear the slightest irregularity might upset them. Nor could he risk a wrong turn in the open with all landmarks veiled beyond the small glow of his lamp; safer to retrace their steps and make for the hunting trail as a guide out. Weakness of the flesh proved an ample distraction from the mind's anxiety: an awful heaviness settled in his throat and lungs, while his shoulder ached as he laboured to hold both the lantern and ragged straps so unluckily cut earlier.

What he saw when they found the trail made his heart sink further: the way back toward Woodston was blocked by a large overflowing mudhole, possibly dug out by the curricle's own passage. He tried to sound it out a few feet and was compelled to turn back. "A wonder you made it through at all," he professed with blunted feeling, refusing to consider the danger Catherine might easily have fallen to, and turning his mind instead to what should be done.

Unfortunately, he saw but one alternative. "I think we had better head for Northanger, as we can find the river easy enough, and thence get to higher ground on the other side. Any other way is likely to prove as perilous as this one, and besides there is a doctor near the abbey." He did not say what they should do if that way was barred as well, entrusting to Providence what he could not command as he passed by the curricle to head in the other direction. Eventually they came to the rushing water, and while it was very high he was beyond grateful to find it had not yet submerged the old wooden bridge; still, he determined to test the boards first, even commanding Brutus wait from dashing across. The high stirrup caught his foot on dismounting, and Henry fumbled to keep his balance as he landed with a jerk.

"I am well!" he called in answer to his wife's cry, putting as much cheer into his voice as possible, and absently speculating whether a thing could be made so if said often enough. He walked forward and back, then led the stallion, striving to discover if there was any give or crack that might cause difficulties. All seemed sound, but he insisted that Catherine cross first before Will drove the curricle over.

"What of our safety?" his brother demanded at this scheme, repeating again his bitter complaints over loss of his leg.

Henry caught himself from an equally acrimonious reply as he helped Catherine down from her seat. "Follow as you can," he instructed Will, then warily advanced, not relaxing his grip on her hand till they had safely reached the far side, scorn and distemper behind them.

As they waited, Henry attempted to shield her even as she raised the umbrella higher for him. "My dearest Catherine, I am so sorry," he began, but found he could not articulate all he was sorry for. It was too immense, and his brain too fogged to detail it.

"I wish no one had been harmed," was her eventual answer. "And that it were all safely over. But it is very like a book, is it not?"

He stared, and only managed to recognize her attempt at humour from her smiles. He tried to laugh but found himself coughing, and felt her arms reach to offer support.

"Oh, Henry, you must not ride any more, let Will take your place."

"No, we should not chance unbalancing everything with my added weight, and it is a good while before we come out to the road. Do not fear, I have taken this trail before and can easily manage it." He did not quite capture his earlier confidence, and turned away from his wife's piercing eyes, not wishing her to see how little he believed his own words. Henry was saved by the curricle's appearance and quickly helped her back up, but this time did not ignore the foul abuse this action gave rise to. "Remember there is a lady present," he admonished. "And that our father will want a full accounting of what has transpired."

The simple act of remounting made him dizzy, yet he spared not a moment before setting off. His fervent prayer was to make Northanger Abbey before true night fell, and as the shower tapered off he was better able to get his bearings. Yet his inner workings seemed to worsen even as his outward situation improved: coughs came upon his frame more regularly, racking spasms he could not contain, and it felt as if every bone and tendon ached, not helped by the military style of the saddle and his own lack of familiarity with it. He would never complain about a day spent visiting again; even his worst parish outing had nothing to compare with this hellish travail.

It felt like an interminable time before they finally cleared the last oak. He tried to estimate how far they had to go and failed miserably. It was as if the drive would never end, and he like Orpheus doomed to continually wander through a frigid misty underworld, his wife behind him, doubting whether they would reach safety or no. He did not realize they were at the abbey's gates until the horse began to shy at the impediment, and he startled from his stupor enough to get it back under control, the dog cavorting at its hoofs.

"Hello the house!" he raised his voice loud as possible. "Captain Tilney is wounded!"

This hue and cry brought forth several men, and soon enough they were under the archways and blessedly out of the dank gloom. Henry accepted help without embarrassment, past caring for his pride, instructing, "His leg is broken; Doctor Morton must be sent for," as Frederick was lifted down and taken inside, then when the boy leapt to aid his mistress from her perch, "My deepest thanks, Will, for your valuable service tonight."

"Of course sir, I'll see to things here, don't you worry."

"I am sure it is in the best of hands." Henry's attention next turned to Catherine's needs, and he ordered a bath prepared. "I believe my sister has left some of her wardrobe here; have them sent to the room Mrs. Tilney will use."

Catherine protested their separating. "You are more in need of care than me, and you promised you would rest when we arrived."

"And so I shall, you have my word," Henry assured her, stifling the sneeze that threatened to spoil his picture of competence. "But my father will want to know what has occurred, and it is best I make explanations rather than leave it to servants. You should get out of these wet things at once, before you catch cold."

"I am worried you are ill. Let me come with you, and then we may go up together."

But Henry would not hear of her facing the general under such circumstances. "I will be but a short time behind you: now, please go in, there is nothing you should be concerned for now except your own comfort."

Reluctantly she left, turning back to look at him a final time before following the attendant into the house. Henry at once stopped the nearest groom as he wiped the mud from his boots. "Have the coach made ready with the surest team. Mrs. Tilney will travel back to Woodston tonight."

It was a testament to how strong the Tilney command ruled in the household that no one questioned his stern order but made to obey at once. It had been Henry's private vow that his wife never be forced to spend another night in the house she had once been so odiously banished from, and after all her misadventures he meant to ensure she did not suffer any new grievances at the hands of his family.

"Sir," a voice penetrated his thoughts, causing him to face the butler. "Your father wishes to see you now."

"Of course." He surrendered his wet hat and greatcoat, then rubbed his temples with a proffered cloth in an elusive attempt to make himself presentable. He was grateful the dark prevented any mirrors from mocking his appearance when trudging up the familiar steps, across the long great hall, and into the confines of his father's private sitting room.

"Henry!" was the brusque greeting he received upon entry. "What do you mean upsetting the house like this so late, and in this weather?"

"It was not my intention—" and he would have taken a seat, but a sharp glance from the general staid him.

"You know better than to get dirt all over the furniture, or at least you did. No telling what your habits are like now."

The barely veiled comment against his marriage caused Henry to stand ramrod straight, determined not to give an inch to the man before him. "I do know sir, and I would never dream of testing your forbearance. That is why my wife will be returning to Woodston as soon as the coach is ready."

"Why is she here?" was the next inquiry. "Get to the point: I have no patience for that insipid tongue of your's tonight."

"No sir." So Henry launched into an abbreviated version of events to date. He was forced to omit much of Frederick's disreputable conduct out of sheer expediency, not wanting to get tangled in the minutia of the tale before reaching the heart of the matter.

"I took the liberty of sending for the physician," he summarized, feeling slightly light-headed and wishing the glowing coals had been stoked back up. "Frederick does not appear in need of treatment beyond the leg, but I cannot be sure."

"He is a campaigner, he will live," the general answered with military stocisim. "D—n stupid way to extend his furlough; a good lesson for him. You will be spending the night of course."

"Yes sir, but about Mrs. Tilney—"

"You shall both stay here. No need to add to the day's folly: I will not risk any more horseflesh." He rang and gave instructions for his son and daughter to be settled "out of the way."

Henry wanted to object, but felt his throat close up and therefore only dropped a short bow when dismissed. On following the footman upstairs, he asked to first see where Catherine had been settled, and was led to a small guest chamber. "Henry!" she exclaimed, almost falling into his arms, but he stopped her.

"I am too filthy for such an embrace, I merely wanted to see that you were taken care of."

"Oh, yes, but Henry you must get warm, you look ever so chilled."

"I feel it, but I can get cleaned up easily enough, and I wish to speak to you first. My father has decreed we stay the night—"

"Good!"

"—but I have ordered the coach made ready regardless. There is no need to inconvenience us both: you might be home before midnight."

Catherine looked near to tears at the suggestion. "Henry, no, I could not leave you! Please, will you at least sit?"

"I would spoil the chair," he demurred, even as he longed to lay down and never get back up. "And I would not have you stay here a second longer than necessity requires; Will may accompany you, if you had rather not go alone. I will remain long enough to learn what is to become of Frederick, discuss whatever business my father requires, and likely arrive back in Woodston by midmorning tomorrow."

But Catherine broke into true sobs at this proposed schedule, begging him to let her stay, pleading not to be sent off, and beseeching they remain together. It was more than he could stand after everything else.

"As it seems I am outnumbered in this case I will not argue the point. But we leave first thing in the morning. Now, they may still have questions for me, and I would not have your sleep disturbed by interruptions. I shall be close by, though, pray be easy on that count." She at last agreed, and Henry assured her they would go down to breakfast together before departing. Only when his wife surrendered to the maid's attention did Henry depart, and was vaguely bemused to be shown to his old quarters farther along the gallery. Inside he found a fire, hot plate, and fresh ewer of water awaiting him like ministering angels. He ran to the inviting flames in relief, kicking at his boots and stripping his coat off, feeling as if he could have danced upon the hearth. The light meal was soon devoured, as he was overcome with a ferocious hunger; and was on the verge of ringing for more, when a coughing fit rent his frame with such violence he fell onto the bed. Still unwashed he crawled in, pulling every blanket on top, desperate to get warm, unable to fathom doing more that night.

Morpheus did not take him so soon, and he tossed and turned fitfully, dull aches threading through every fibre of his being. Worse, his chills were eventually replaced with a burning sensation, such that he could not bear the heat of the room. Stumbling about, he managed to coax the window open, desperate to quench the fire coursing through him. Coughs kept him half awake, even as exhaustion claimed him, and he only sank into oblivion when the rain stopped past one.
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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

MichelleRWOctober 05, 2021 12:30AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

Alicia MOctober 12, 2021 07:22PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

MichelleRWOctober 13, 2021 12:20AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

Mary L.October 06, 2021 03:58AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

MichelleRWOctober 07, 2021 03:24AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

MichelleRWOctober 05, 2021 12:56PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

Shannon KOctober 05, 2021 03:51AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 9

MichelleRWOctober 05, 2021 01:04PM



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