Along The Welland 1

The Swing by John-Honoré Fragonard (1767)

When Emma greeted the Mrs. Butterworth in the front hall, the young woman inquired curiously about the housekeeper’s errand with the teacart and Sevrès china.

“Your father ordered tea for his guest,” the woman explained without a blink.

Emma nodded, still openly confused.  “I see.”  Not bothering to suppress her curiosity, she asked, “Shall I take it in for you?  I know you’d like a few moments to look in on Abby and Georgie.”  A genuine smile accompanied her statement.  Abby and Georgie were Mrs. Butterworth’s two granddaughters, and were known to frequently play in the later afternoon in an empty room in the attics.

Easily acquiescing and giving Emma an impulsive smile in return, Mrs. Butterworth turned over the chore to her young mistress and bustled away while Emma thoughtfully turned in the other direction.

It was unusual for her father to have guests Emma was not expecting.  Since she had not heard of the arrival from Abraham, the butler, Emma assumed her father had greeted the man himself, an even rarer event.

Completely puzzled, Emma knocked on the door and opened it at her father’s lighthearted response.  “Emma!” he cried, standing from his armchair before the fire.  He was patently delighted to see her.

“Papa, I offered to bring the tea in for Mrs. Butterworth,” she announced, glancing about as she placed the tea trolley in its familiar place between her father’s chair and the empty one across from it that she normally occupied after dinner.  No one else seemed in evidence.  “She said you had a guest?” Emma inquired, lifting up on her toes to kiss her father’s cheek.

Emma’s papa waved his hand toward the terrace.  “Yes, he just stepped outside for a moment – ah, there you are!” he brightened, stepping forward.

Turning, Emma’s mouth opened wordlessly even as her father brushed around her and held out his hand, oblivious to Emma’s momentary lapse in manners.  “And here is Emma.”  Her father looked at her with a benign, distant smile.  “Emma, dear, you remember Lord Welland, of course.”

Emma nodded automatically, mute in her shock, as she belatedly made a brief, jerking curtsy, noticeable by its distinct lack of appropriate depth or grace.

Pale green eyes twinkled as the man absorbed Emma’s shock. Consummately smooth and visibly amused, he came forward and took her suddenly cold hands in his, then bent his head as he raised her fingers and brushed his lips against her knuckles.

“You’ll be pleased to know,” Emma’s father continued enthusiastically, patently unaware of the undercurrents right before him, “That Lord Welland has returned from Ireland just yesterday and has come to renew his betrothal agreement with you. Congratulations, m’dear.”

“Actually,” Welland corrected, “It’s not the betrothal I wish to discuss, but the wedding.”  He smiled at Emma, a little too intently for her memories, and added, “With Jasper gone, it behooves me to marry as soon as possible, and it happens that I am acquainted with the new Bishop of Lincoln.  He has granted me a special license.  So,” he glibly finished, “We can be married immediately.”

Emma blinked, the rush of memories beginning to fluster her thinking.  “How fortuitous –“ she began, before an swelling of furious outrage stopped the polite words. Instead, she straightened to her full height, still noticeably shorter than both men in the room, and snatched her hand away from Welland’s loosening fingers. “How dare you?” she threw at him. “Presuming, and after all this time, that I would still want to marry you. And now!”  Emma stamped her foot, whirled to leave, then turned back to level a parting shot at both men.  “I would never have thought either of you to be so insensitive as to imagine that I would just blindly ignore the, the … everything about the last three years!”

In a half-second, she was gone.

Pipwell sighed, his pleased expression draining to simple resignation.  “That doesn’t look good, you know.  Not good at all. She’s got the wind up, she does.”

Lord Welland watched the doorway, where his eyes had followed Emma’s twitching, susurrating skirts out of the room. After listening silently for a moment, as if to be sure she had actually left, he murmured, “Actually, I thought it went rather well.”  He glanced down to the tea, still steaming in its pot, “She didn’t yet have a teacup to throw.”

“True, true,” the older man concurred with a sigh. “She’s got her mother’s temper, that’s for certain. Don’t suppose as how that would change your mind.”

“No,” Welland replied, a bit distantly, clearly caught in a moment of distracted abstraction. “It wouldn’t change my mind at all.”

* * *

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