MB Book 13 – Chapter 2 – The visit

As the clock was striking noon, Charles was helped out of the carriage and slowly made he way up the steps to Amelia’s front door. Mary opened the door and was much surprised to see a one legged man  standing on the steps before her. “Is your mistress in? “he asked, “I have come at her invitation to visit her.” Mary was about to respond, when a voice called down the stairs “Let the young man in and show him into the front parlour”.  Much surprised Mary followed the instructions and showed him into the parlour. It was immediately clear to Charles, that this was not the room usually shown into by visitors, but he had little time to consider the matter before Alice appeared at the door and said “Thank you so much for coming Mr de la Rochelle, Amelia will be down shortly. Will you take tea?” Without really waiting for an answer, Alice instructed Mary to bring tea then turned and disappeared again upstairs. Charles looked round the room. He was still standing leaning onto his crutch and he spotted a chair with arms and moved towards it but did not sit down. He did not want to be caught out sitting as he had been the night before.  While he was taking in his surroundings, there were muffled sounds of arguing coming from upstairs, and from time to time voices became very shrill indeed.

Alice returned and told Charles that Amelia would be down presently. Mary came in with the tea and laid it on the table, and as she left, Amelia swept in through the door. Swept was the operative word, she was wearing an enormous night gown with an enormous, ornate dressing gown thrown casually over the top of it. It was clear that her magnificent hair had had only a perfunctory brushing and the total effect appeared to be that she had only recently got out of bed.  She looked at Charles and said “Hello” and gave Alice a glare that would have killed at 20 paces. Alice stood her ground.  “Would you like to sit down?” she said to Charles and made to start pouring the tea. Amelia parked her voluminous skirts in a chair opposite Charles, who had taken the armchair.  Charles said “How are you this morning? Did you sleep in late after your exertions of  last night?” “I’m afraid sir, I did. I did not know – – -” but before she could finish her sentence, Alice said “Damn. Mary has forgotten the sugar. Amelia can you serve the tea while I go and get some?” She left the room and Amelia went through the ritual “Do you take milk? Before or after?” “No” he replied “I have it just as it is. I’m sure that it is brewed just to my taste” and as she concentrated on pouring the tea into the tiny cups he stole a glance at her. “I did enjoy our meeting last night” he ventured, and emboldened by her silence went on “and I would like to say that its a long time since I felt some comfortable in the company of a woman.” She look up at him and the corners of her mouth turned up just enough towards a smile that it encouraged him to go on “The reason I think is that you did not give me ‘that look’ when I made you aware of my impediment.” “What look is that?” “One of pity and compassion and understanding” and his voice hardened when he said ‘understanding’. Amelia stood up “Like this” she said and gave him the most exaggerated look of pity, compassion and understanding that she could muster “Does that make up for my omission last night?”, but Charles was already smiling broadly. “Oh yes!” he said “that will do very nicely, Thank you so much” “Well sir” said Amelia sitting down again and picking up her tea cup. She took a sip of tea and went on “Well I don’t have any of those feelings for you. In fact, I have seen men, and women with far greater injuries than you, who have moaned far less, and showed a fraction of the self pity you do. In fact I was being hypocritical!” she finished firmly. Charles waited. he did not actually count the seconds passing, but looked steadily at Amelia who was looking at him in an aggressive manner (although her heart was beating hard inside). After what seem an age, and neither gaze wavered he said “I know” and they both smiled. Was this the moment when there became an understanding? Or should I say ‘An Understanding?). There was no question that when he said “May I take you out for a drive tomorrow” she would say no.  Charles finished his tea and having made arrangements to pick up Amelia and take her for a picnic on the morrow, took his leave. At the bottom of the steps he turned to wave and find Amelia in her flowing robes with a slight breeze ruffling the material waving in return.

On the following morning Charles turned up in his gig as arranged with a picnic basket on the back. Amelia was dressed in her best, a beautiful pale blue dress with a bustle and layers of material decorated in complex patterns and materials. They chatted amiably until they reached the foot of a small hill where Charles stopped. “Please can you tie up the horse, Amelia?” he asked, and it was only then that she realised that this jaunt was going to be even complicated than she had imagined, and chastised herself for her lack of forethought. Charles got down from the gig and lifted a small trolley from the back. Indicating to Amelia that he would like help, they both lifted the heavy picnic basket onto the trolley. Charles fixed a rope to the trolley and made his way up the hill. At the top he turned and indicated to Amelia to push the trolley towards him as he pulled the rope. Amelia was most clearly not dressed for this type of activity and by the time she reached Charles her dress and her pretty shoes were splattered with mud. Nevertheless, together they were able to lay out the picnic which was a sumptuous affair and begin to eat. Charles had started to get rather nervous and towards the end of the meal he said “Amelia I have something to ask you”. Amelia knew what was coming but could not take his words for granted so did not reply. He took the silence for encouragement and went on “Amelia, will you marry me?” He was relieved when it was out, but Amelia had turned pale. “I cannot marry you” she said, with a break in her voice. “Why not, I am sure you love me” “But it is so soon since we met and we hardly know each other. Its out of the question and besides there are reasons. I intend never to marry”. Charles was flabbergasted by this outburst, he had been so sure. “Why, tell me the reasons, I demand to know”, which was totally the wrong thing to say and Amelia retorted “Do not make demands on me”. There was a stunned silence between them. Very little was said on the way home, until Charles broke the silence “I was so sure that you loved me” he said “I have to return to my farm in the next couple of days”. Stopping the gig, he turned to Amelia and said “Can you tell me why you intend never to marry?” She turned to him with tears in her eyes. “I do not want to be ruled by any man, I want to keep my possessions and neither I nor my possessions will ever become the property of a man. And besides I can never be a farmer’s wife.” and here she could not resist looking at the stump of his missing leg, “If I do marry, I would want to have children”.  “Then let us for the time being remain friends. Will you do that? When I return to my farm may I write to you?” “Of course you may” she replied. She got out of the gig at her front door, turned to him, gave him a wan smile, then climbed up the steps and went into the house without looking back. Charles drove away with sorrow in his heart. It appeared that his last chance of happiness had gone.

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