In the last episode of Tabitha’s Folly, Henry finally recognizes his attraction to Tabitha, but she seems as disinterested in him as ever. He is on assignment for the Liberty Seekers and is almost caught hiding a message as Tabitha seeks him out in Statuary Hall. The footman subtly reminds Tabitha of the harmony they could make together.
Dappled shade under a large oak tree cast light patterns on everything around her. The warm sun soaked deep inside Tabitha, and much like a lizard baking on the rocks at home, she reveled in it. Since her drenching in the river, she had not felt comfortably warm. Nor comfortable.
The more she thought about Henry, the more hopeless she felt. Surely he would never develop any real interest in her. Especially now he was on assignment from Edward to chaperone.
And so Tabitha had accepted Reginald Beauchamp’s invitation to share a spot on the lawn, with a small picnic. All of the Easton brothers stood about nearby. She had yet to see Henry but knew he would appear. Edward had them on rotating assignment.
Just the thought of Mr. Beauchamp waiting for her at the piano bench the other evening, and she on the arm of a footman, still burned her cheeks and made her want to hide.
But she soon relaxed. He was nothing if not congenial and fun.
He flipped the hair out of his face, lounging on their blanket, one leg crossed over another out to his front. “And this my dear, is how you experience a grape.” He had spent a good amount of time peeling the fruit and threw it into the air, to catch it with his mouth. And as it had, every time he attempted, the soft grape went right in.
“Oh! All the work, Mr. Beauchamp, perhaps you should just eat the grapes.”
“If this were work, I’d have nothing to do with it. This, my lovely friend, is about pleasure.” He began peeling yet another. “You know, we haven’t discussed our rendezvous at the piano.”
Dread filled her and she felt her face heat anew. “Must we? I feel there is much to misunderstand in that moment.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Was there?” His lifted chin pointed out the footman in question. “It seems pretty clear to me.” A wicked teasing gleam lit his eye.
This would not do. He could not be left thinking she planned dalliances with people, with footmen. “I assure you I happened upon him while I was finding my way” Or losing it. “And he offered to accompany me. He was quite chivalrous.”
“So I left too soon?” He handed the next perfectly peeled grape to her. “Shall I have another opportunity for a delightful encounter?”
“We are having one now, are we not?”
“But it could be so much better.” He leaned closer to her and tucked her wind blown tendril of hair behind her ear. “In a different location.”
Henry cleared his throat.
Tabitha leaned back, but Mr. Beauchamp stayed close and whispered, “Are you under lock and key?”
She frowned. “It appears I am.”
“I have ways around this.” He winked and then, as Henry sat to join them, overly close, Mr. Beauchamp leaned back again on his hands. “Hello Lord Courteney. Grape?”
Henry grunted. “No, thank you.” He positioned himself to be at the center of their cozy space. “How are you, Beauchamp?”
Tabitha couldn’t help admiring Henry. Even while incredibly intrusive, he looked so handsome. Like he took extra care with his appearance, his hair just so, his clothing pressed to perfection. He even smelled better than usual.
She smiled as she breathed it in and closed her eyes.
“You seem pleased with yourself now.” Henry’s voice took on an accusatory tone.
She started. “Oh, well…”
“We’ve been having a lovely time.” Mr. Beauchamp raised his eyebrows. “Discussing all manner of things. She is quite safe with me here.” He toyed with a blade of grass. “Perhaps I could even step in at times, as a form of chaperone myself.”
Tabitha opened her mouth to respond, but closed it again when the indignation in Henry’s face was so obvious.
“You will not.”
Tabitha laughed. “What he means to say, and I am sure you can appreciate my dilemma, is that I have more than enough people watching out for me already.” She looked meaningfully at Mr. Beauchamp until he smiled.
Restless, her eyes sought any other distraction. “There is that lovely pond with a boat, waiting to be utilized. How is your rowing prowess?”
His face lit. “You, my dear, are looking at a regular rowing aficionado.” Standing, he offered his hand to Tabitha. “Shall we?”
“That would be lovely.” She refused to look at Henry as she walked away, but she felt his displeased glare at her back. Satisfied, she rested a hand on Mr. Beauchamp’s arm. “Thank you. It has been years since I have been in a rowboat.” She leaned closer. “You won’t dump us over, will you?”
“Heavens no. Though I am not as expert as I let on. I just sensed you could use some… space.”
“You are not mistaken. Thank you.”
Although she tried to enjoy his charm, his gentility, his affability, she could not help but think of the last time she and Henry had been in a boat together, and he was teaching her how to fish.
“Reel it in gently, Tabby, or he’ll get away.”
“Like so? I feel I’m being as gentle as I can. The fish is so strong, isn’t he?”
“You are doing well, just be patient and soon we’ll have him right up next to the boat where we can see him.”
His arms brushed against hers, his hand on the fishing stick, ready to assist if she needed it. In that moment, she had thought life could not be more perfect. The brothers were on the lawn and except for Oscar’s occasional shout, the world was quiet. Bugs skipping across the glassy water. The musky swampy odor of the other side of the pond, just tickling her nose.
“Shh. Don’t scare the fish, now.” He tapped her nose, then cleared his throat. “I was just thinking, this is much like falling in love someday will be.”
She held her breath and silently begged he would continue.
“There I am, an innocent chap, swimming along and something catches me, right on the mouth.”
“Well now, hear me out. See, it’s gentle, so I hardly notice a subtle little tugging,”
She leaned in closer, drinking in every word.
“until I am reeled in closer and closer all the while oblivious she’s got me.”
They were inches apart, Henry staring off across the pond, Tabitha studying his face.
“Then one day, I bump the side of the boat.”
Her fish at last sidled up to them, flipping and rolling just below the surface.
When he turned to face her, his eyes held a new light, searching deep inside her own. “I wonder if it will be just like that.”
Then the fish flipped his fins out of the water and splashed her in the face. “Oh! Oh dear.” She laughed, and Henry handed her his handkerchief, the spell lost.
Thinking on it again, she smiled.
Mr. Beauchamp rowed them about the water for fifteen minutes, making her laugh. And she felt light and happy, forgetting for a spell all the frustrating moments of the last two days.
Then her gaze fell on her brothers, with Henry, watching from the shoreline. And they all wore identical frowns.
“We’ve got to do something. She can’t be growing any kind of tendre for Reginald Beauchamp.” Edward crossed arms over his chest.
Miss Greystock approached from the side, and Henry shifted to make room.
“If you remember, Sir James agreed to go for a walk after breakfast this morning with Miss Easton.”
They all paused and turned to Miss Greystock. And then one by one, they smiled.
Julius raised both eyebrows. “Now there’s a smashing idea. She has something. He’s a right easy chap to know.”
“Impeccably dressed.” Tauney lifted his chin to draw attention to a new knot.
Miss Greystock interrupted “And eligible. I could aid in their spending more time together.”
Edward moved to stand at her side. “Brothers, this lovely woman is also intelligent. Have any of you noticed how perfectly fetching our dear Miss Greystock is?” He offered his arm and she placed her hand while Edward led them away, conversing.
Henry felt his frown deepen as he watched their backs. Utter nonsense. Sir James was in love with someone else, Miss Greystock, actually.
But a worry tickled inside. The lady in question quite obviously did not seem to hold any interest in Sir James. And he would make an excellent match for Tabitha. A surge of jealousy began to rage, fed by one specific and valid worry.
What if Sir James would be the one to make Tabitha happy?
She and Beauchamp approached the dock. He leapt out and held a hand to aid in her exiting the boat. Laughing as their small conveyance tipped precariously, her face filled with light and Henry realized he missed that carefree happiness. Much of it had been missing here at the house party. He filled with sympathy for her. And a tinge of guilt his overbearance had been the cause of her troubled expressions.
Beauchamp approached. “Easton.” He tipped his head toward all the Eastons. Then his eyes wandered up toward the house. “Battledore! Smashing. And it looks as though Oscar is unevenly paired. Do you think he’s up to the task?” He turned to bow to them all, nodding again at Tabitha, before making his way toward the game.
“Thank you for a pleasant afternoon Mr. Beauchamp.” Tabitha called after him, but he was already on his way up the grass, Miss Winters about to serve with shuttlecock in hand.
An awkward silence settled over the Eastons and Henry.
Tauney finally said, “So, how was your boat ride?”
“Oh, do be quiet. I’ve had about enough.”
Julius and Tauney stared. Henry had rarely seen her respond so bluntly.
“Well, look at you. Lawn games all around and the three of you have to stand here watching me row about the lake.”
She brushed past them, heading up toward the house.
And Henry’s hope fizzled more, the farther she walked.
Later, when Tabitha should be in bed, in the dark of night, she crept along after her brother, Tauney, to find the group on a ghost hunt. “Are you sure this is really happening tonight?” She couldn’t believe people were gathering in search of a legendary ghost.
“Of course it is, why else would I have dressed in such a manner?”
She giggled. “You do have that certain ghost-hunt flair…”
He wore all black, even a black cravat. And on his head, a black beret. “Miss Anne said she was coming.” His eyes held hopeful excitement.
“I like her.”
“Like her? What a mild and perfectly detestable thing to say about such a creature. I have never seen a more beautiful sample of the divine. The very sun had not fully shined until it first laid eyes on her.”
“Yes, I know Tauney. And I am happy for the both of you because she seems to return your rapture in equal amounts.”
He held a hand over his heart for a few seconds before they continued walking.
Chatter from the group up ahead directed their path. Soon Tauney was at Anne’s side, and Tabitha was alone, unsure why she came. Everyone seemed to be talking with another. For once, her brothers had thought two of their group was sufficient to keep an eye on her, and neither Tauney nor Julius were taking the role seriously. She relaxed by degree and began to enjoy the anonymity of darkness and the quiet of being alone and free.
She followed the group at the back, caught up in the quiet steps, the whispers, the occasional squeals from the ladies amongst them.
Then a hand touched her arm, warm, gentle. And a finger gestured that she be quiet.
The footman stood beside her, beckoning that she follow.