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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 31

December 21, 2021 01:00AM
There is very little to be related next concerning this adventure in the lives of hero and heroine. But what facts remain to be considered are provided within this epilogue, short and concise as all such finales should be.

While the general had expressed every intention of personally overseeing the improvements of Woodston's parsonage and byways, he was distracted in these efforts by two divided interests. One was the lawsuit he brought against his neighbour, as a means to end the danger to his property and progeny. Catherine was at first dismayed to think they had been the cause of this dispute, but Henry advised her otherwise: the quarrel was old, and the resolution likely to take just as long to settle considering the lawyers involved. Whatever the outcome, it was unlikely they would have any further part to play.

The second was the invitation forwarded to both gentlemen of Northanger Abbey for a stay in Brighton with the viscountess and her husband, where the captain might receive the best of care, and the general all the deference of appearing in the company of a title. This scheme was so eagerly accepted and looked forward to that all other projects were either postponed or delegated. Catherine received a lengthy, officious dispatch with his dictates in lieu of his presence, which she read with full deference, and shared with her husband, who found much more between the lines written. Regarding the actual orders, very little was done accordingly, as the Tilneys were agreed on a more gradual policy of incremental adjustments than a full renovation. Fortunately, what rodents had arrived that fateful day were no longer to be seen, though whether this was from any other event than the changing of the weather could not be discovered. With the harvest completed, Henry met with Woodston's farmers to restore their streets to a state deemed acceptable to the needs of the parish over more vainglorious suggestions.

Catherine's own letters bore greater fruit, and the parsonage received a steady stream of mail over the next few weeks. Here it was good she had been so extensive in her correspondence, and they received happy congratulations in ever lengthening instalments, so that every other day provided further evidence of their good fortune and universal good will. Even Mrs. Allen sent two sheets' worth, which included repeated questions on whether Mr. Tilney might need to replace his wardrobe. Her husband's postscript was by comparison restrained but no less fervent in his application for the young couple’s mutual good health, and their attendance when next the Allens might travel, with a sly suggestion about Bath and its appeals.

But the best of these replies came from their sister Eleanor herself, so long absent from this narrative, and yet so often alluded to, she must make at least one brief appearance. It was a month later, and Henry had just returned from a rigorous day surveying the work on the main road. No sign of his former ailments remained, and he recounted his day over tea with good humour and a healthy appetite. As the couple turned to discussions of the approaching winter, and plans to be made for the church, they were interrupted by an express sent by courier bearing the Vermond crest.

"I hope nothing is the matter," Catherine said as Henry broke the seal. "Is there any report on the captain's health?"

"That is not mentioned at all; I must assume he continues as usual. But it is not the fate of any Tilney male that prompts our brother's pen." Here Henry continued reading, and Catherine was surprised when he said no more, only growing more animated with each new line perused, so that by the end his smile was as bright as the new buttons upon his waistcoat. Looking up at last he opened his lips, then stopped, looked back down at the sheets, and finally pushed them into her hands without comment.

She took them up eagerly, ignored the first paragraph full of travel and horses, and at last found the part that had so arrested her husband's speech, for it was written not in the viscount's hand but Eleanor's own. Catherine's reading echoed Henry's as she learned what had so disconcerted him, and she found she must read through all the words again before looking up in wonder. They eyed each other with mutual enthusiasm, each unable to voice the depth of their feelings, until Henry finally asked with great elation, "And how shall you enjoy being addressed by the future heir to Vermond as 'My dear aunt C?'"

"Oh, I care nothing for what I am called, I am so happy for them both! Only think how soon it will be. We will be able to join them when she is confined, will we not?"

"Even were the armies of France to cross the channel and forbid our obeying any rites of the church forever after, I would make every effort for us to attend. To be denied a christening after the loss of their wedding would be the greatest deprivation imaginable. Though Lent shall be very difficult to observe with any solemnity considering the festive event we anticipate."

"Yes, certainly; for if Eleanor has counted out right, it will be as if Easter arrives twice next year."

"Now there is a much better way to view the matter, and I adopt it at once as the only rational means to consider it. And, since it is not the Lenten season now, I propose we begin celebrating at once."

So it became necessary to make the happy announcement to their small household, and to raise a toast of cider toward their sister's continued good health and preservation. The women kindly offered to help their mistress in sewing gowns, while Will dubiously hoped the little one would not be as much trouble as his own sister's children. A short missive was sent in return via the courier, with the promise of longer tidings to follow. After this celebration they determined to enjoy a walk, the house proving too limited a space for the thrill yet passing between them. This removal encouraged them to canvass the subject still further, discussing the relative merits of boys and girls, whether the respective parents of the viscount or viscountess would boast more over this accomplishment, and how perfectly well motherhood would suit so gentle a soul as Eleanor.

Catherine was so warm in praise of her sister's merits, so firm in her conviction that no one could deserve the appellation better, it was a moment before she realized Henry had stopped speaking. "Do you not agree?"

"I must confess, though I always believe my sister worthy of any tribue, I cannot share your sentiments to the same extent. Only I hope you will acquit me of any disloyalty if I reveal my motive."

"Which is?"

"That there must be more than one lady who deserves to be similarly blessed."

"Oh, yes, of course, there are many worthy mothers, even quite a few to be delivered here in the parish. I am sure I would wish all to be so happy."

"To see the whole world pacified and loved is the hope of any devout Christian. But however an increase in baptisms may provide a clergyman with ample employment, I confess those were not the circumstances I referred to."

She considered what he had said, and the tone in which he had said it, a mixture of archness and warmth announcing he was close to offering his own unique form of compliment. "There cannot be too many you would place on par with Eleanor."

"No, there are few indeed I admire so well. Fewer still I will admit to loving with a whole heart. And only one, I find, who may share any privilege with commensurate deserving grace."

Reddening even as she anticipated his hints, Catherine was pleased to accept the profusion of his heart and the firm security of his arm with equal delight, and they strolled in companionable quietude for a time before turning back to the parsonage. "Happiness must be something that grows as it is shared," she commented, speaking on what she had been considering.

Henry nodded. "Nothing can be surer: and we are the beneficiaries, by the generosity our relations have bestowed on us."

"Then, though I know not how it could be so, we must all become even happier in the future, when you are granted the opportunity to share our joy in return, as I know of no one better to perform the office."

This sentiment forbade any rebuttal, and Catherine savoured the rare event of surprising her husband by praise of him. It little signified to these honest hearts that it was not their own nursery to be established yet, just as they had never envied the viscountess the privilege of marrying before themselves. Their recent trials granted them greater appreciation for the blessing of familial accord; and in returning up the path, they found the distances travelled as nothing to their present felicity. It therefore remains to ask whether it might not be best for all those joined in holy matrimony to brave an adventure or two, when character and charity unite to redeem the past's hardships into the present's prosperity.

Finis! Thanks to everyone who's followed along with the story. Today on my blog I share a little love back to all the comments that inspired me.

Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 31

MichelleRWDecember 21, 2021 01:00AM

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