He’d be disappointed, of course, but maybe somewhat relieved also. Yes, on one hand I had been an asset, and had developed trading skills, put them to good use for the benefit of the family. But on the other hand there was the drinking, the brawling, and, of course, the rift with the Cobleighs.
Shortly after the two dead carcasses had been deposited in our front yard there’d been another incident where we woke to find the flock had been let out in the night. Father thought the fences had been deliberately damaged. I didn’t tell Father about what had happened at the quayside, but it was obvious Tom Cobleigh still harboured a grudge—a grudge that wasn’t likely to go away any time soon.
I had brought it down on Father’s head and without me in the picture, then perhaps the vendetta would end.
So as I laid my head down that night, my only decision was how to break the news to my father. And how my father might break the news to my mother.
Then I heard something from the window. A tapping.
I looked out with no little trepidation. What did I expect to see? I wasn’t sure, but memories of the Cobleighs were still fresh in my mind. Instead what I saw, sitting astride her horse in the pale moonlight of the yard, as though God himself were shining his lantern upon her beauty, was Caroline Scott.
She was dressed as if for riding school. Her clothes were dark. She wore a tall hat and a white shirt and black jacket. With one hand she held the reins and the other was raised, about to throw a second fistful of gravel at my window.
I myself had been known to use the very same trick to attract the attention of a lady friend, and I remembered well the terror of waking up the whole household. So when I threw stones at a casement window, I usually did it from behind the safety of a stone wall. Not Caroline. That was the difference in our social standing. She had no fears of being run off the property with a boot in her behind and a flea in her ear. She was Caroline Scott of Hawkins Lane in Bristol. She was being courted by the son of a man ranked highly in the East India Company. Clandestine assignation or not—and there was no doubt this was clandestine—hiding behind stone walls was not for her.
“Well . . .” she whispered. I saw her eyes dance in the moonlight. “Are you going to leave me sitting out here all night?”
No. In moments I was in the yard by her side, taking the reins of the horse and walking her away from the property as we spoke.
“Your actions the other day,” she said. “You put yourself in great danger in order to protect that young thief.”
(Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I did feel a little guilt at that.)
(But not too much guilt.)
“There is nothing I hate so much as a bully, Miss Scott,” I said. Which did at least have the benefit of being true.
“So I thought. This is twice now I have been most impressed by the gallantry of your actions.”
“Then it is on two occasions that I have been pleased you were there to witness it.”
“You interest me, Mr. Kenway, and your own interest in me has not gone unremarked.”
I stayed silent as we walked for a while. Even though no words were spoken there was a meaning in our silence. As though we were acknowledging our feelings for each other. I felt the closeness of her riding boot. Above the heat and scent of the horse, I thought I could smell the powder she wore. Never before had I been so aware of a person, the nearness of her.
“I expect you have been told that I am betrothed to another,” she said.
We stopped along the lane. There were stone walls on either side of us, the green pastures beyond interrupted by clusters of white sheep. The air was warm and dry around us, not even a breeze to disturb the trees that rose to make the horizon. From somewhere came the cry of an animal, lovelorn or hurt, but certainly feral, and a sudden disturbance in the bushes startled us. We felt like interlopers. Uninvited guests to nature’s household.
“Why, I don’t think . . .”
“Mr. Kenway . . .”
“You can call me Edward, Miss Scott.”
“Well you can continue calling me Miss Scott.”
“Oh go on then, you can call me Caroline.”
“Thank you, Miss Scott.”
She gave me a sideways look, as though to check whether or not I was mocking her.
“Well, Edward,” she continued, “I know full well that you have been making enquiries about me, and though I do not pretend to know exactly what you have been told, I think I know the gist. That Caroline Scott’s betrothed to Matthew Hague, that Matthew Hague bombards her with love poems, that the union has the blessing not only of Caroline Scott’s father, which was beyond doubt, but also of Matthew Hague’s father.”
I admitted I had heard as much.
“Perhaps, in the short dealings we have had together, you might understand how I would feel about this particular arrangement?”
“I wouldn’t like to say.”
“Then I shall spell it out for you. The thought of marriage to Matthew Hague turns my stomach. Do you think I want to live my life in the household of the Hagues? Expected to treat my husband like a king, turn a blind eye to his affairs, run the household, shout at the staff, choose flowers and pick out doilies, go visiting, take tea, trade gossip with other wives?
“Do you think I want to hide myself so deeply beneath an obsession with manners and bury myself so completely beneath the petty concerns of etiquette that I can no longer find myself? At the moment I live between two worlds, Edward, able to see them both. And the world I see on my visits to the harbour is the world that is most real to me, Edward. The one that is most alive. As for Matthew Hague himself, I despise him almost as much as his poetry.
“Do not think me a helpless damsel in distress, Edward, because I am not that. But I’m not here for your help. I have come to help myself.”
“You’ve come to help yourself to me?”
“If you wish. The next move is yours to make, but if you make it, do so knowing this: any relationship between you and me would not have the blessing of my father, but it would have mine.”
“Excuse me but it’s not so much your father who concerns me, as his musket.”
“The thought of making an enemy of the Hagues, does that put you off?”
I knew at that moment nothing would put me off. “No, Caroline, it doesn’t.”
“I hoped as much.”
We parted, with arrangements made to meet again, and after that, our relationship began in earnest. We were able to keep it a secret. For some months, in fact. Our meetings were held entirely in secret, snatched moments spent wandering the lanes between Bristol and Hatherton, riding in the pastures.