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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

December 20, 2021 11:30AM
The last two days spent at Northanger Abbey passed without any further terrors to dispel their comfort. Henry was able to once again ride with his father, in even higher spirits and more strength of body, and Catherine was pleased at table to observe how cordial they appeared conversing with each other. They would perhaps never enjoy the same easy understanding as existed with her own father; yet it appeared they were able to peaceably discuss what subjects pleased them both, and left off those unproductive for this purpose. Had the captain been able to join them Catherine believed she could find it in her heart to accept his presence as well. Since he was still confined by his injury, however, she did him far more justice, and graciously yielded the majority of her husband's spare moments. By this means she afforded herself with the gratification that comes from kindness, without the need to endure the actual means of accomplishing it.

She passed her time in walks, reading, mending, and waiting on the general, who was determined to offer as much paternal advice to his daughter-in-law within the space of their few hours together as had been lacking during the entirety of their acquaintance to date. It is well she did not feel obligated to attend to every word, as sometimes their meaning was not readily apparent. Henry shook his head after one such conversation when his father left the room, and assured her that whatever might be that man's standards, his son possessed no similar proclivities when it came to the arrangement of furniture or especially the scheduling of meals. "He has his ways, which we must accommodate ourselves to while here; but we have ours, and there is no need to confuse the two."

"Yet there may be some improvements undertaken. I am not unwilling to hear him out."

"That is as it should be: listening is a fine art to practice, provided the hearer possesses steadfastness of character. And that I know you have in abundance."

So while Henry encouraged his brother, Catherine exercised her principles by allowing the general to manifest his own. She took to writing things down when they were together, a practice that endeared her to him, though it must be confessed her notes did not altogether conform to what had been said. Oftener they contained questions instead of answers, which might later be applied to her housekeeper or mother. Yet however little she meant to do exactly as she was told, she always paid her instructor the distinction of inspiring her thoughts, thanking him most prettily for his efforts and therefore receiving the approbation that came from a ready assumption of her conformity. If it is unknown for a family to occasionally achieve better harmony by fixing their understanding of each other rather than full disclosure, the compliment of originality must be applied to this arrangement by any of discerning taste.

As further proofs of my premise, their attendance at services the next day was of so marked a change in the performance of this duty as should be remarked on. For the general did not merely allow but urged Catherine to avail herself of any of the viscountess's clothing which was available, and ordered the housekeeper to ensure someone sensible was assigned to see to his daughter's needs. When Catherine tried to claim there was no need for these attentions, she found herself balked by two voices, for though Henry spoke more generously, he nevertheless insisted she give way. "It is only right," he said later, as they went upstairs, "for now Eleanor will feel she has been able to furnish us with some tangible aid."

It still felt strange when Catherine found herself attended by two maids, and presented with an extravagance of dress, after making do with her simpler habits for the past week. Feeling self-conscious, yet also delightedly fresh and tidy, she was soon paid the compliment of inspiring admiration from the two gentlemen, and while Henry was quick to take her arm in leading her to the carriage, the general was no less eager to be seen helping her out in full view of the assembly. There was no rush to enter the church today; they were made to loiter as some of the congregation came to greet them, and Catherine was introduced to so many she soon lost count, deciding she must rely on Henry's superior knowledge if asked a name. Her deference and composure only added to her appearance, and it is debatable whether father or son was more proud of the scene unfolding, even if the latter's sensibilities might be of sincerer expression.

How soothing it was to finally take their pew, and for Catherine to enjoy the rare opportunity to stand alongside her husband as they shared in the familiar litany, bowing heads in thanksgiving, mouthing hymns of praise, and uniting with these newfound friends in a study of holy writ. It passed more quickly than the lesson's fastidious inspection of the apostle's choice of clauses would have suggested. Catherine found herself the subject of even more scrutiny after its conclusion, as all those who had not arrived early enough to be introduced must now have their turn in sharing the honour, and the general was not above approaching those unaware of this privilege who might otherwise have left without it.

When at last it became clear that most of the congregation were departing, and General Tilney safely detained by a group of his usual friends, Catherine asked her husband if he might show her the church itself, as she had not felt comfortable exploring before. They were aided in this examination by the vicar, who had patiently waited his turn to speak to the young couple. He expressed his gratitude at observing Henry's recovery, though admitting to former knowledge of it thanks to the doctor's intelligence. "And indeed, I think he has spoken to a number of people, for we have not enjoyed this large an attendance in several weeks."

Catherine observed that the fairer weather must be as much an inducement as their presence, prompting Henry to offer his own theory regarding whose fairer appearance might inspire worship, so that she could not help answering his pointed comment about radiance with the same colour painted in her own cheeks.

The older clergyman smiled sagely. "Henry has always been very fond of words; it is good to know his wits are unharmed by his experiences, though nothing thus far has seemed able to restrain them."

This observation led to others on the same subject, and Dr. Prewitt was kind enough to indulge Catherine any number of inquires regardless of the gentleman's feelings. Before long they had canvassed not only the church's history but Henry's own within it, from christening to ordination. The vicar ended by thanking the young lady for attending so well, followed by a hint to his colleague that however necessary it might have been to continue his path of sanctification through marriage in another parish, the fruit of that labour would be expected to bless his home eventually. This advice, solemnly delivered, was answered by matching blushes in his small audience, and allowed him to depart with all the dignity of having delivered a final word in conversation with a person who seldom granted him the opportunity before, even at the baptismal font.

In companionable quiet they turned toward the aisle, and Catherine found herself drawn once more to the monument of a very different Mrs. Tilney. Henry followed her eyes, and she saw his attention catch as well. "Do you like it?" he asked.

Standing with her husband, and filled with both a better and measured consideration for the place he sprang from, she could now see some element of beauty that was heretofore overlooked. It was still not her idea of a warm testament, or indeed very fitting with the other architecture of the church. But it was solidly built, and furnished all who looked on it with a reminder that once there was a woman esteemed so highly that even in death, she must be honoured.

"I find it very inspiring; there is nothing else like it here."

"That is certainly true." Henry continued looking it over, for once keeping his thoughts to himself while perusing his mother's legacy. Eventually he added, "And there will probably not be another, since the artist commissioned no longer ranks among the living. It was a great expense, like everything else to do for her."

Catherine nodded, and examining the inscription again, asked if Henry would translate, "For you know I never can make out Latin."

"'Love is in our power, but not to lay it aside.' It is a common enough maxim, of the sort your brothers probably laboured over like I and my fellows did at Oxford."

"It is a handsome sentiment."

"Oh yes, a handsomely carved phrase. Any one who has read his letters will have an idea of its meaning, and by acknowledging the same will distinguish himself as handsome to know, while all those who have not will be impressed by the engraving. A more munificent monument was never before designed."

Here Catherine recognized her husband's habitual philosophy returning, and by this turn in speech perceived he was not overcome with any melancholy remembrances. She therefore took leave to acknowledge, "I am sure it is very correct. But I do not think I should like anything like it at my own grave."

"Oh?" Henry's smiling gaze turned to her. "And what sort of relic are you about to request from me?"

"None at all. For I would hope we neither of us would have need to consider those things, by living so long together. Any memorial must be provided by our children."

"As another Henry said to his bride Catherine, 'That is good English.' I believe we should take our bow, and leave this stage: no better denouncement could be devised." Fitting steps to his speech, he guided her to join their father outside, and so on to their conveyance. As they were about to pass beneath the tall arch of the door, Henry confided, "I must confess I would appreciate any epilogue you might provide on the subject, when we are at last home."

There was not a Catherine written who would shrink from such an invitation; and though the queen of France might need some coaxing to yield to nice customs, our heroine was only restrained by her deference to the present hour, secure in the knowledge that there were but so many left before the fruition of their hopes was accomplished.

From the chronology already described, it must be evident that the conclusion so long in coming was nigh. No further storms blew in to disturb their travel, and no new conflict arose to disrupt their final act. Catherine discovered she was able to bid adieu to the Tilney estate with far different feelings than ever she had anticipated. While providing the setting of her deepest fears and heartaches, it had also served as a place of shelter and provision. The edifice would never be a mere abbey to her again, or indeed only Henry's place of origin: in a very real sense, it now belonged to her as well. She felt as if the carriage ride to Woodston should match these sensations, and stretch so that all the insights of her sojourn might arrange themselves comfortably in her mind. But like many a person before has discovered, Catherine found that a journey long anticipated may be speedily accomplished, and she was barely aware of their turning the corner away from one building before next recognizing the familiar path up to the parsonage. Even the general's commentary could not divert her attention from each well-loved and longed-for sight.

If the trip did not match her imagination, their welcome at its conclusion more than compensated, for all of their retainers and dogs greeted them, and even a songbird heralded their entrance. Well wishes, congratulations, and all due deference to the general were paid, including the wise Mrs. Forest's invitation to enjoy "a very small repast, just something that might be enjoyed on the ride back if he could not stay." This provision was well-received by the man in question, who despite his oft-repeated strict schedule, was inclined to tarry while consuming the tarts and custard. He also spent the interval examining the framework of the chimneys, inspecting the kitchen's cleanliness, and surveying the drawing room, all of which were in such fine order that he congratulated Catherine for already moving in the direction of their plans. It is a mark of her own development that she elected to share credit rather than disabuse him of a notion so firmly rooted in his own sense of self-importance. Only when the gentleman was safely gone away did Catherine praise her housekeeper more naturally, rushing into her arms with a heartfelt embrace and the warmest professions of thanks she could conceive for anticipating everything her mistress had failed to say might be wanted. So strong were Catherine's feelings that she nearly wept, and it was only by Henry's gentle persuasion that she was convinced to allow the other woman to clear the table and quit the room, lest her own answering tears be discovered.

Despite the quality work of their servants, Catherine and Henry still found a great deal to do on their return. She must stroll her beloved yard, and admire its cultivation, while discovering opportunities to prepare a better garden come spring. He must check on the horses and ensure the stable had been well tended during their absence. A nervous Will dogged his steps in trepidation, having been convinced by a week's reflection (not to mention the daily admonishments of the household women) that he ought not to have taken Mrs. Tilney out in so terrible a gale. However, his master—little interested in criticism—nearly disconcerted his stable boy as thoroughly as his wife had their housekeeper with earnest praise and gratitude for guarding said lady's welfare.

It is well they took care of these domestics early, for very soon after the parsonage received visitors. Not only the good Mr. Jones, who called at the first moment possible, but many of the village came to pay their respects. Mrs. Poole was kept busy finding ever more creative ways to assist Catherine in entertaining, supported by the former's foresight in pressing some of the apple crop into a vinegar that went very well with anything else served.

By the time the youngest of the Hayes children were carried home, neither Henry nor Catherine felt capable of consuming more than the barest dinner. When they were finished, they retired by mutual agreement to the cosy glow of the study, settling in two chairs before the hearth. They continued thus as long as daylight remained, revelling in the satisfaction of familiar circumstances and surroundings. Catherine was pleased to finally finish the next to last piece of her mending basket, and consigned the waistcoat to some future date. Putting aside her things, she looked about and sighed. "I do not think I could ask for anything else in the world," she spoke her thoughts aloud.

Setting aside his much examined periodical, Henry clasped hands over his chest. "That is a strong pronouncement, and certainly a pious one. I find there is very little I could ask for as well."

He might have spoken with solemnity, and kept his eyes firmly on the fireplace, but Catherine was certain he preferred her to challenge him by the twitching of his fingers. "I hope you are not suggesting we should be ungrateful for our circumstances. It would be very wrong to demand even greater blessings after receiving so much." She was not as successful as her husband in averting her eyes, nor schooling her features, and so he noticed she was very close to breaking into a full smile.

"Perish the thought: may it never be said we are so mercenary. No, you are quite right, we have only to thank God, and accept the rest promised those who depend on the goodness of Heaven." Here he yawned in a grand manner, and dropped his lids with similar affectation.

"I would not disturb your prayers. But if you want something specific, I am sure we might appeal to Mrs. Poole: she is likely still sorting through her jars in the kitchen."

"Nay, I would not disturb our cook with my needs."

"Is it Will you would like? He might still be awake."

"Let the boy sleep; there is nothing to bother him about."

"Then I will go and find Mrs. Forest. She will know just how to please you." And Catherine, barely able to stop from laughing, stood to hide her expression.

Just as quickly did Henry rise, and catching her up in his arms, reveal his own aspect of merriment. "Capable and inspiring as that good woman is, she has done quite enough for today. There is a different woman altogether who I wish to supplicate, and she alone can answer me."

"Then what is it you wish?" Catherine asked softly, for fear she would release her feelings in a rush and miss whatever clever pleasantry Henry offered next.

It was not levity that suffused the beloved face, but a bemused tenderness. Without further words, he gently brought her closer so that they were nearly eye to eye, with only the space of breath between them. Then ever so carefully he bent down, and astonished her by bestowing a kiss on her nose. She could not hold back further and broke into stammers of glee, which he answered with equal fervour, and neither was quite clear of what was said by the other, only that it was in every way right and good, with many cries of each other's names and as many eager confirmations of their mutual impassioned desires. This state of affairs could not remain comfortably within the bounds of their study, and it was imperative they repair to the bedchamber even before the sun quite surrendered its last light. This proof of the time did not dampen their enthusiasm nor cause the slightest hesitation in their mutual admiration. They rather took their ancestors' example when made in the divine image and were unashamed.

Neither was quite aware when the moon rose or the stars appeared, or indeed of any other wonders of creation they had been entrusted dominion of. There was only one command they comprehended and obeyed with earnest fidelity, in like mind and singular purpose, as they cleaved unto each other as one flesh. In considering that they had endured nearly a fortnight's deprivation, amidst trials and adversity, their commitment cannot be wondered at, nor their renewed constancy astound. In short, it is the result that must have been expected from all still pouring over this account. There could only be doubt as to the duration of their efforts, which would be impolite to inquire after, and so will not be related in further detail. Let it be for the reader to determine what sounds most pleasing to relate, and that will be the measure by which this passage may draw to its just and worthy end.

Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

MichelleRWDecember 20, 2021 11:30AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

Alicia MJanuary 06, 2022 02:29AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

MichelleRWJanuary 06, 2022 11:31AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

Mary L.December 22, 2021 07:20PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

MichelleRWDecember 22, 2021 10:43PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

Shannon KDecember 21, 2021 03:01AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 30

MichelleRWDecember 22, 2021 01:29AM


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