Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chapter 2: Encounter

Faith Wallace was not a close friend of Daphne’s, but when they were together, they always had something to talk about. She lived in a neighborhood, not far from Alexander and Irene Charter, in the rather small home of Kirkman Manor. Faith was much older than Daphne, but like her, was unmarried. Her age revealed itself mostly in the lines about the eyes and her hair was often hidden underneath a bonnet to conceal the slight gray of her otherwise dark brown ringlets. Despite her obvious signs of maturity, Faith was an able and vivacious woman, especially when she delved into the lives of her neighbors. She often visited the Charter’s home as a guest of Irene’s sister, Jane Zofia, who looked to Faith for guidance as she was very young and was unsure of herself in society. Miss Wallace had made a project of young Jane, determined to see her bloom into an accomplished woman that might catch a rich man’s eye. Never mind that Jane already had an older sister more than capable of seeing her flourish. In Faith’s opinion, Mrs. Charter was much too concerned with the duties of a wife to notice her.
It was two months since the news that Mr. Trenton was buying Birchwood fell on Daphne’s ears. The time was spent recovering from her broken heart while listening to tales of the charming young men preparing to join the neighborhood. In the beginning, Daphne bore the talk of men for her sister-in-law’s sake, but it had been torture on her sensibilities. However, as the leaves changed, so did her feelings until she could hardly stand their absence a moment longer. Would they be as Irene described? She dearly hoped for her confidence in the male sex in general was severely shaken and she did not wish to look upon them with suspicion her whole life. She was at the ball Irene promised at Falcate, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mr. Trenton and his friend. She had sat down almost immediately after she and her father arrived and occupied herself by scanning the overflow of guests. It was then that Faith joined her.
“Daphne! It has been so long since we have spoken! You look very well indeed,” Faith greeted.
“Thank you,” Daphne replied. “Indeed, I believe almost three months have passed since I saw you last. Tell me, how have you been occupying yourself?”
“I made a short trip to visit some family. It was only a thirty-mile journey, but it was so tedious! And then the constant talking of my Aunt nearly drove me mad. What an obtuse woman she is, my dear Aunt! Such a bore! I do so loathe to speak ill of anybody especially my relations, but she has absolutely no personal charm and never anything important to say. But what else am I to do? Oh, I have thought of traveling to London for the excellent shopping, but then I am often busy with my efforts to educate Miss Zofia. What a pleasant girl she is. Have you spoken much with Jane?”
“No. Not especially. I do not visit Falcate as often as I like to. When I do, I usually speak with my sister-in-law or my brother. From what I know of her, she is a very sweet young girl.”
“And so accomplished; not only is her performance at the pianoforte exquisite, but her art is so inspiring. If she was a man, her paintings would grace the London art galleries, and at just seventeen.” Faith looked at Daphne expectedly for some sign of praise or admiration. After an uncomfortable pause and no reaction from her companion, Faith changed the subject.
“Have you heard much about Mr. and Mrs. Charter’s bachelor friends?” Faith mused.
“No. All I know is that one of them is named Mr. Trenton and that he is buying Birchwood.”
“Well then you know more than I. Birchwood you say? He must be awfully rich.” Faith thought about that revelation for a moment before commenting, “Perchance he will fall in love with me and then I will be rich.” She laughed at this thought, but Daphne was not amused. She knew her friend’s mind; that the only thing Faith looked for in a man was how many pounds his estate was worth and did not care anything about character. Money was always the object of her affections. The more the better Faith always told Daphne, and it always made an ugly man handsome.
Suddenly, the room fell into silent whispers. No longer did music play and loud laughter ceased as the guests of honor had come. There was anticipation in Daphne’s breast that she could not understand. She knew nothing but what she was told of these men, yet she was eager for their introduction. Briefly, her eyes fluttered closed as she took a steadying breath to calm her quickened pulse. Voices rose about the room until it was almost impossible to hold an acceptable conversation. As Mr. Charter introduced the two gentlemen to other guests, Mrs. Charter approached Daphne and Faith.
“I am so glad you could come Daphne. Your presence is most welcomed as well, Faith,” Mrs. Charter said.
“What is all the commotion about, Irene?” Faith asked.
“The gentlemen have arrived just now. I will introduce them to you two when Mr. Charter is finished with them. Your brother insisted they meet his friends first, Daphne,” Mrs. Charter said.
“That is Alexander all right,” Daphne laughed shaking her head. “Even as children he had to be first at everything.” The three women laughed and Mrs. Charter placed a gloved hand upon Daphne’s shoulder as if to entreat her into her confidence. They were interrupted from further words by a call from Mr. Charter.
“I will be right back. Please excuse me,” Mrs. Charter said as she walked to her husband.
“What suspense, Daphne, that your brother has us in by keeping Mr. Trenton to himself.”
“Yes,” Daphne laughed, for she was not in the same mind as Faith. The anxiety previously felt only served to convince herself of her unsteady disposition. Her heart was healing, but it was still tender and needed more time before she considered even the friendship of another man.
A few moments later, Mrs. Charter led the two men to Daphne and Faith. They immediately ended their conversation when the trio joined them.
“Ladies, I would like you to meet Mr. Miles Trenton and Mr. Bryce Edwards. Gentlemen, this is Miss Faith Wallace and my sister-in-law, Miss Daphne Charter.”
Mr. Trenton and Mr. Edwards bowed as the ladies curtsied. Mrs. Charter looked from Daphne to the gentlemen hopefully. “Please,” she whispered to herself, and then left them to make conversation.
As Mr. Trenton smiled at the two women, his azure eyes twinkled with kindness. A stray lock of chestnut hair had fallen onto his smooth forehead giving him an youthful, boyish appearance. He was tall, but his figure did not loom menacingly over those around him. A person in Mr. Trenton’s presence felt himself an equal. His facial features were much handsomer then his friend, but Mr. Edwards was not lacking in looks. His curly, sandy blond hair was cut short, and the permanent signs of continuous smiling surrounded his hazel eyes. He was several inches shorter than his companion, but his sportsman activities gave him a thick, athletic build that matched him in strength to taller men. The pair had known one another since Cambridge, finding in each other a similar wit and vivacity toward life. They were often mistaken for brothers for the bond between them was as strong.
“How do you find Birchwood, Mr. Trenton?” Daphne asked, amazed to find no tremble in her voice.
“Well I--” Mr. Trenton stopped as his eyes met with Daphne’s. He felt his heart pound and his stomach turn. Without hardly know why, he found himself saying, “I find it more wonderful then anything I have ever seen.”
Daphne smiled warmly at him. She had experienced the same sensations he had. She lowered her head demurely and blushed slightly; something she had never done. Though his statement had been ambiguous, she felt his meaning. She admonished herself for being so weak in her resolve to be more careful when it came to the opposite sex, but something about Mr. Trenton made her trust him instinctually.
Faith had not noticed the way Mr. Trenton and Daphne were looking at one another. At first sight of Mr. Trenton, the decision was reached that he would make the ideal husband. He was rich, to be sure, but he was not unpleasant to look at. Therefore, he was perfect. She continued to carry on a conversation with them as if she were the very center of the world in the hopes that Mr. Trenton would make notice of her.
“Is not this a beautiful neighborhood, Mr. Trenton?” Faith asked. Giving him her best performance, Faith lowered her dark eyes and gazed up at him through long eyelashes.
“Yes,” he answered, not taking his intense stare off Daphne. “Very, very beautiful. I have never seen anything quite like it before.”
Daphne smiled and turned her head away as she blushed ever more violently. Faith, who believed herself to be the most agreeable creature, mistakenly thought he had directed his comment at her and so she smiled at him gratefully. Mr. Edwards, however, was not so ignorant as to the way his friend was looking at Miss Charter. He glanced back and forth between them with a slight grin on his face. Laughing to himself, he remembered how his friend often disdained any talk of a wife. Mr. Trenton had declared himself a bachelor for life and had resolved to be removed from all society that pressured him with young eligible daughters and talk of heirs. Mr. Edwards attempted to discourage this decision, but perhaps this move would be advantageous after all.
“I am sure you praise Newport so highly in order to gain our favor. Surely you have seen much of England as to put all of the county to shame,” Daphne countered, rallying her confidence. Nothing made her return to her old self more than talk of faraway places.
“It is true I have seen much of England, but nothing has captured my attention so, for the people here are all smiles and welcoming. And I am most pleased at Birchwood’s proximity to the sea. Sometimes I think I shall float away upon it! Do you care for the ocean, Miss Charter?”
“I confess, though with much embarrassment, that I have an irrational fear of water, Mr. Trenton. A fear, I am sure, ladies of society cannot claim.”
“Surely not irrational, Miss Charter. I have heard many people own to more silly notions, such as the fear of appearing less than perfect, including ‘ladies of society.’ No, Miss Charter, your admission is nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps we shall have to remedy your fears.”
“And your ‘superior’ knowledge of the world shall be my teacher?” Daphne asked in a teasing tone.
“Well, I don’t know. I have every expectation of learning quite the opposite, Miss Charter.”
“How do you mean?”
“You strike me as nothing if not knowledgeable. After a thorough discussion of why you fear the water, for example, I believe I may never set foot in a bath.”
The music and laughing had begun again as Daphne smiled in pleasure. Couples started filling in the set, preparing to dance.
Mr. Trenton turned and looked at the set. Then he returned his gaze to Daphne. He was most desperate to ask her to dance, though he generally delighted not in such pleasures, as he never conversed easily with young women. However, taking in a deep breath, he summed up his nerves.
“If you are not otherwise engaged, may I have the pleasure of having this dance with you?” he asked Daphne.
“Oh, you honor me with such an offer. Of course I will dance with you, sir,” Faith chimed in, mistaking his intentions.
Mr. Trenton became extraordinarily uncomfortable. He wanted to dance with Miss Charter, but he did not want to injure Miss Wallace’s feelings or humiliate her by refusing her hand. So, with a smile, he gave her his arm and led her to the dance floor.
Daphne watched the couple leave in confusion. She was almost certain he had addressed her. She suddenly felt foolish for thinking so. How could anyone like me over Faith, she thought. Embarrassment swept over her as she thought of how silly she acted in his presence.
Perceptive as he was, Mr. Edwards rolled his eyes at Miss Wallace when she accepted his friend’s offer to Miss Charter. He could not believe how blind Miss Wallace was or how ridiculous! He barely could hold back his laughter. As he looked to Miss Charter, his heart sank. Mr. Edwards could sense a foundation building between her and his friend. To have it all ruined before it could begin by Miss Wallace was a terrible thought. It pained him to see anyone feel dejected, so he offered her his arm.
“Thank you. You are very kind, Mr. Edwards. I would be happy to dance with you,” she said taking his arm.
As the music started playing and the couples began to dance, Mrs. Charter watched her sister with Mr. Edwards. This was not what she had planned at all. She expected Daphne to be dancing with Mr. Trenton. Mrs. Charter had high hopes for the match. They were each of them good-natured and even-tempered, not prone to extravagance or falseness. They were surely both handsome to look at as well. In Mr. Trenton, Irene saw the remedy for Daphne’s woes. She thought she had seen them smile at one another very particularly. Then why were they dancing with other partners? she wondered. Perhaps Mr. Edwards had asked Daphne first. Yes, that must be it, she thought. She was satisfied with that.
The dance seemed to move in slow motion for Daphne. She could not help watching Mr. Trenton, the way he danced gracefully across the floor, his hands as he reached out to Faith, or the small, simple gestures of his expression. The corners of his mouth upturned slightly in response to something spoken by Faith, which she could not hear. Every time he happened to glance her way, she turned her attention once again to her partner. She hoped he would not notice her heart was not entirely focused on this dance.
“The Charters are fantastically kind,” Mr. Edwards said. “They keep good company in their lovely home as well.”
Daphne was snapped into reality at the words of her partner. Her mind raced to think of something to say.
“Yes. Indeed. Thank you sir. I am sure Mr. and Mrs. Charter would appreciate your comments.”
Mr. Edwards smiled at her. He knew her mind was on something, or rather someone, else. This gave him great delight. Mr. Trenton was considered everything gentlemanly and handsome by all ‘ladies of society’ that knew him. He was witty, kind, rich, and most importantly, unmarried. But these fortune hunters held no interest for his friend. Once, Mr. Edwards heard him say he would never marry if it meant he had to cater to the ignorance a society wife would possess and that he would rather marry a penniless orphan with wit than the richest woman in England that had no more than two words to say about anything other than fashion, gossip, or money. In Daphne, Mr. Edwards perceived a potential companion for his dissatisfied friend.
“Miss Charter, forgive me, but I was never one to talk idly when dancing. I cannot stomach it—the weather, the graciousness of our hosts, though indeed worthy of praise, or the suitable number of couples for a particular dance. I confess this sort of discussion bores me and reveals nothing of one’s partner. Let us speak of more interesting subjects, shall we?” Daphne smiled, agreed most happily, and opened a topic of conversation dear to both their hearts.
“Tell me, Mr. Edwards, what do you think of this Lord Byron fellow?”
The conversation between Mr. Trenton and Miss Wallace was quite different. All Miss Wallace could talk about was her own accomplishments and general greatness. Of course she praised Mr. Trenton’s dancing whenever she could and tried to make herself as agreeable in his eyes as possible.
“You dance superior to anyone else I have ever met. Such fluid movements and grace is rarely to be seen. I am certain I myself have never been privileged enough to dance with such talent in this room or any other in these parts. Do you dance often in…I am sorry, where is it that you are from?” Miss Wallace asked.
Mr. Trenton heard none of her words. Though he was usually everything polite and charming, he was preoccupied by thoughts of another lady. Miss Wallace repeated her question but to no avail.
“Mr. Trenton, you seem a tad distracted. Do I bore you perhaps?” she teased.
“Uh, no,” he stumbled shaking his head. “I am sorry. You are not a bore at all. Meeting all these lovely people has left me in a stir. I did not mean to make it seem as if I was displeased.”
“Not at all, sir,” Miss Wallace laughed. “You pay everyone here a great compliment when you praise us. On behalf of all them and myself, thank you.”
In reply, Mr. Trenton just smiled. In his partner he found what he had been trying so hard to evade: a self-centered, ingratiating gossip monger trying to gain his favor. He wanted to change the subject to Miss Charter. He could not account for the immediate interest he had in this pretty and clever girl, two attributes he had never seen in one.
“How long have you known Miss Charter?” he asked.
Miss Wallace turned fully upon her partner in puzzlement. This change in conversation displeased her. Why was he inquiring about another woman while dancing with such a beauty as her? With her eyes narrowed, and her voice full of indifference, she answered, “Well, I have known her for a few years, but we were not genuinely good friends. Our friendship really began above eight months ago, when her brother married my best friend’s sister. We were in each others company so often we could not escape the acquaintance.”
Escape, he thought. What a word to use for such a girl. Mr. Trenton would have become familiar when he first met her. Imagine knowing of Miss Charter for so long without making an attempt to become familiar her shining character.
“Why had you not formed a friendship when you first met Miss Charter?” he asked, then immediately regretted it.
Faith glared at him sharply. It was clear this line of questioning perplexed and perhaps angered Miss Wallace. She was curious as to his meaning and resentful of the potential answer.
“May I ask, sir, where you intend to go with these questions? Am I under some sort of suspicion?”
“No. I am sorry. I should not have asked you that. I would not want you to feel uncomfortable.” Feeling that changing the subject to Miss Wallace herself would be prudent, Mr. Trenton quickly remarked, “You dance very well, Miss Wallace; a true proficient.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at his comment and promptly forgot his previous inquiry. It made her delusion that he had an attachment to her stronger.
Mr. Trenton continued the dance in silence. He only listened as Miss Wallace talked and was reminded why he disliked to dance with ladies he did not know. One never knew what their conversation might entail until a better acquaintance was established. Something told him, however, that had he danced with Miss Charter, he would be more agreeably engaged though he knew her very little.
Mr. Charter was socializing with his wife when he was given the letter addressed to Mr. Trenton. He did not want to interrupt his dance, but the express was said to be of a pressing issue. Begging his pardon, he tapped slightly on Mr. Trenton’s shoulder. Handing the note over, Mr. Charter explained it was of some urgency and bowed to Faith in apology. Although he would not admit it, at least out loud, Mr. Trenton was happy to end his dance with Miss Wallace, and quickly opened the express after excusing himself from his partner. His expression deteriorated into despair as he read. His hands shook and he almost dropped the flimsy paper. He quickly finished reading the last lines and then hurriedly requested his carriage. Mr. Charter called for the man’s hat and coat. He looked upon his still new friend with concern.
“What is the matter, sir?”
“I would rather not say, Mr. Charter,” Mr. Trenton replied in a grave voice.
“Can I offer my services? Surely there must be something I can do?”
“No,” Mr. Trenton offered a feeble smile for his kind new neighbor, a man he knew for only five month’s time and yet was more genuine than many he knew all his life. “I thank you, but I need no assistance.”
“What shall I tell people if you are missed?” Mr. Charter asked.
“Just tell them that an urgent personal matter has driven me away,” he called as he ran to his carriage. When he climbed inside, he looked at Mr. Charter, and sensing his distress, he calmly said, “Do not worry. It will be well, and if you will be so kind as to apologize to Mrs. Charter for my sudden departure I would be grateful. Also, please tell Mr. Edwards I had to go home. He will know what I mean.”
“Of course I will, sir. I hope things turn out for the best.”
Inside the dance had ended, and voices were stirring. Mr. Charter silently explained to his wife about Mr. Trenton’s leaving. The news made her heart sad. Not only for him, but also for her sister-in-law. She had hoped for many encounters that would lead to some potentially happy news. Of course there was no question she might be jumping ahead a bit, but there was no harm in dreaming. The reaction from Mr. Edwards was much different. His face turned ashen and his knees went weak. Mr. Charter led him to a guestroom so he could lie down. The couple feared for his health, but he denied the aid of a physician.
Daphne could not help but notice Mr. Edwards being escorted away. She looked around for Mr. Trenton, but he could not be found. He was not with Faith, for she was talking with Jane. It was obvious something was amiss. Daphne looked for her sister to see if she had an explanation.
“Irene, what has happened to our guests?” she asked with a false smile and trying to sound as unconcerned as possible.
“Oh, Mr. Trenton had to leave in a hurry because of a personal matter and poor Mr. Edwards has suddenly taken ill. Why do you ask? Were you promised an audience with the man?” Irene asked with a searching grin.
Daphne tensed and stumbled to find an answer that would not make her embarrassed. Finally, she said, “Well it just seemed odd that Mr. Trenton would disappear without taking leave.”
Mrs. Charter was certainly disappointed at her answer. “Yes, indeed, but it was kind of him to give Mr. Charter some point of clarification.”
“Well, please excuse me while I talk to my sister,” Mrs. Charter said. She was too uncomfortable because of the plans she made for Daphne and Mr. Trenton to remain any longer.
As her sister-in-law walked away, Daphne thought about Mr. Trenton’s personal affair. She allowed her weary form to slowly sink into an obliging sofa and watched the couples dance and twirl about. They all became a blur and the voices in the room formed a loud din until she could not distinguish one word from another. As she had on many occasions, Daphne found she was lost in her own thoughts. She wondered what it was that took the intriguing man away. Then a thought came into her head: was it her that drove him away? She silently cursed herself for being so free with her opinions. Did he not want to be in my presence? she pondered. Though she might be wrong about that, there was one thing she knew for sure; she would most likely never seem him again.