In the last chapter of Tabitha’s Folly Henry and Edward have words about Henry’s suitability. The Footman and Henry behave strangely. Everyone seems to distrust another.
Henry’s fishing line floated along the water, no fish in sight. His eyes sought the shoreline. Again. “Look at them.”
Oscar grunted. “I feel at times I am even competing with Damen, though he is a footman.”
Henry cast his line out again. “I can only agree with you there. It is uncanny how he draws their attention.” He did not trust Damen. No one else seemed to see it, but Henry knew something was not right.
Tauney grinned. “They do make a magnificent sight though, don’t they?” He gestured to the line of pretty gowns, sitting about on chairs with easels to their front. His gaze lingered longer in a certain direction. His soft sigh told Henry he had not yet recovered from whatever had gone wrong with Miss Anne. Henry turned to look at the shoreline more fully. They were a beautiful sight. Each lady had a paintbrush or charcoal lifted to her canvas, while studying Damen, in repose.
Oscar’s line tugged. “I’ve got one!”
Tauney and Henry groaned. Oscar had a gift at excelling in everything. And today, it grated.
Oscar urged the fish closer to the boat. “I suspect Tabby is not drawing Damen.”
Oscar surprised him. Henry asked, “What makes you think so?”
Tauney gripped his shoulder, holding his gaze. “Because her heart is engaged elsewhere.”
Tauney’s eyes showed their sincerity. If anyone knew Tabby’s heart, it was Tauney.
Henry’s heart filled with hope. “And what do you think of that?” He looked from Oscar to Tauney.
“We support you.” Oscar pulled on his string. “Edward is daft to think there is anyone better suited for our family than you.”
Henry sat taller in the boat. He knew she was affected by him, but how serious were her intentions? Why would she never admit to having any? “We have been friendly for so long, acting like family already, it is difficult to read her feelings. I will admit.”
Oscar paused, ignoring his fish. “How engaged are your own feelings?”
Henry knew he was asking with sincerity, knew Oscar deserved an answer so Henry tried again to sort out his thoughts. “I admit to arriving at this awareness slowly. I didn’t know myself how I felt about her. But these past few days, I find my heart so engaged, my feelings, myself, so captured, that I am seriously considering joining the Easton family, officially.” He eyed them both with a touch of nervousness. “If you’ll have me.”
“Capitol!” Oscar leaned over, the boat wobbling precariously in the water, and shook Henry’s hand. “I will support you in your efforts.”
“As will I.” Tauney put his arm across Henry’s shoulders. “I don’t think Tabby could be happy with anyone else.”
Henry filled with a sense of pride at this disclosure. He thought of her smile, not the polite one, the one that filled her face and lit her eyes, and he wanted to see it again, not smiling at Reginald or the footman, but at him, because he had done something to put it there.
Even with her brother’s assurances, Edward’s words rang in his ears. “I have seen only confusion and hurt in her eyes where you are concerned.” Could Henry make her happy?
Her laugh rang out to him over the water. His eyes searched the grass and could not determine the cause for certain but he suspected Damen was involved.
Tabitha giggled. Damen had been employed to hold the bowl of fruit they were to draw. His face a mask, the only indication it might not be a favorable pastime was the occasional clenching of his jaw.
The ladies, intent upon their subject, likely cared little for the fruit.
She chose instead, an image from memory. The Easton estate, a man on horseback on the crest of a hill in the distance. Henry. But no one would know it was him.
As she drew his lines, the erect way he sat upon Starling, his stallion, she puzzled over his behavior. His new attention, the fiery light in his eyes, the thrills inside whenever he came near. But her hope was marred by suspicious meetings, by his unreasonable anger toward Damen, Edwards concern for her happiness. Just how embroiled was he in his political dealings as a Whig?
They soon packed up their things. The men, coming in from fishing. Oscar of course had caught several large fish and boasted to all who would listen.
Her breath caught as Henry approached. She left her easel uncovered and wondered if he would guess her subject.
She packed as slowly as possible, watching him approach. His tall form moving with such a fluid grace, she admired his every step. As soon as his shadow blocked the sun, she stood. Henry leaned forward and spoke in her ear. “Hello, Tabby.”
She relished the gooseflesh that ran up her arms. “Hello.” The sun too bright to look up into his face, she turned her attention to the lake. “The view is splendid.”
“I will miss it, I think. Come, let’s see what you’ve drawn.”
She quietly waited while he inspected her work. “But this is home, isn’t it? The view from your house out the West side.”
Pleased, she warmed toward him and the familiarity he had with her home. “I’ve done it justice then.”
He nodded. “You have.” He peered closer then his eyes flicked to hers. “Is that?” He reached for her hand. “Starling?”
She felt her face heat but would not look away. Taking a deep breath, she searched for courage. Then she said. “It is. A day last spring you were taking an early ride.”
“You’ve painted it from memory, even the white star on his left leg.” He stepped closer and reached for her other hand. “And my hat, tilted just the way I wear it.” His eyes searched her face. “You noticed me, even then.”
She nodded, trying to breathe, even shallowly, the fear of disclosing even that, causing her knees to tremble.
“Have I been blind?”
She swallowed. “I don’t know.” She cleared her throat. “I will admit to wondering.” She looked down. “At times.”
He placed her hand on his arm. “Shall we go for a walk?”
She thrilled at the feel of his strong arm beneath her hand. “I’d like that.”
“Will your art be well enough out here? Or shall we attend to it?” He rested a hand atop hers. “I’d not wish to lose that piece.”
She smiled. “The servants will attend to it.”
As Henry led the way, her heart fluttered at his nearness. She tried to slow her breathing, to be normal, so as not to scare him away. They walked in the direction of the rose garden.
“I saw a beautiful rose bloom this morning I thought you particularly might enjoy.”
Curiosity piqued, and her interest engaged, she walked fasted. “Oh? I’ve walked the garden many times. Is it the lavender color, I wonder?”
He chuckled. “No, but I see I was correct in my prediction of your interest.” He looked off over the hills around them. “I thought you might enjoy a specimen in your own garden.”
They arrived and he led her down the paths past the fountain to the back corner where a lovely rose, orange in color, had just opened.
“Oh. It’s beautiful.” She turned to thank him and held his gaze. His expression, so earnest, searching her own still. She allowed a bit of her hope to return.
“I’ve made you smile.” He lifted his chin and nodded in satisfaction.
“Has it become a challenge for you? To make me smile?”
“Of sorts, yes. It has become my particular mission to bring out your happiness. I hope you will permit me?”
What was this new wonder? To be flirted with by Henry? “I’d like that.” She watched him, not daring to look away and miss his endearing expression.
Then Edward approached, and the air felt cool. “There you are.” The frown lines about his eyes obvious from the head of the garden where he stood.
Henry called back. “Yes, we are here. A new rose has bloomed I knew she would like.”
His voice sounded light but there was an intensity in his gaze she found puzzling.
Edward joined them. “Are we to be taking a stroll or sitting her among the roses?”
Tabitha groaned. “Edward, what are you doing?”
“Yes, Edward, what are you doing?”
“I am serving as escort and chaperone.”
Tabitha’s face flamed even hotter. Would their new tentative standing become too awkward? Would Henry find it too trying?
She stepped closer to Henry. “We are going for a walk. If you wish, you could sit on a bench, perhaps?”
Her heart pinched when she saw a flash of hurt cross Edward’s face.
Henry turned to her. “It’s all right, Tabby Cat. Edward can join us. Perhaps we can talk him into this very variety of rose for your garden at home.”
Her heart warmed toward Henry anew, smoothing out the situation. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind her brother’s behavior as much as she feared.
Edward walked at Henry’s side, and the two talked of issues on the estate and their tenants and neighbors. Was she once again relegated to the trip-along-behind little sister?
Then Tauney came forward out of breath. “Edward. The Countess is requesting your presence. I can continue here.”
Edward adjusted his waistcoat in a sense of self-importance. “Very well. Thank you, Tauney.” He nodded to Henry and then hurried out of the gardens.
Henry shook his head, chuckling. Then Tauney said, “I’ll leave you two then. I’ll just be at the head of the garden and will come running if I catch wind of his return.”
“What?” Tabitha could not believe it.
“Shall we sit?” Henry’s boyish grin twisted her insides in happiness.
“Yes, there is a marvelous fountain, just wait until you see!” She rushed closer to the center of the garden, tugging on his arm.
Henry hurried closer and let her hand slide down his arm so that he could encase her small palm in his own.
She thrilled at his touch, so new, while at the same time, familiar. They approached a fountain, towering over them both, a gentle mist landing all about them as the water cascaded and splashed down upon the nymphs and fairies.
“Do you suppose the Countess had this commissioned?” Henry’s face, though amused, seemed curious.
“I don’t know, but I love it. All at once magical and full of adventure as well as innocent and fun.”
Henry gestured that they sit on a bench nearby. “And do you wish for magic and adventure?”
Surprised at his inquiry, and pleased, she thought. “I like most what is comfortable.”
When concern flickered across his eyes, she remembered all his mysterious actions of late and found they bothered her less. “But a hint of adventure is always welcome.” She felt her face heat at what she was thinking to say. Summoning her courage, she said, “depending on who is beside me.”
The lines in his face smoothed and a spark of light lit his eyes. “The best adventures can only be shared. They are no fun alone.”
“And are you an adventure seeker?” Perhaps she would get some answers.
“Of a sort. At times, I suppose. I am more a seeker of change.” He began playing with her fingers. “Sometimes what is comfortable becomes too easy, and at times, all wrong for us.”
His face wrinkled in concern, worry.
She pulled her hand away. What could he mean? Were they too comfortable?
“No, Tabby. I just mean life. Our situation. We can get too comfortable as the nobility while so many in England suffer.”
Now she regretted pulling her hand away. “I guess I never think about those things.”
“Most don’t.” His face took on a distant expression, his brow wrinkled while he looked out over the tops of the flowers around them.
The sound of falling water soothed her, and the smells of the roses infused her with courage.
She reached for his hand and held it in her lap.
His eyes widened, then he moved closer. His gaze traveled over her face. “How could I have been so blind? All these years.”
She swallowed, unsure what to say, as she’d had the same question.
“Last night during games they talked of a night of poetry recitations. We are supposed to pick partners. And I was hoping.”
Tauney came running back in and stood near as if he had always been present. Tabitha suppressed a giggle.
“I was hoping you’d be my partner?”
She nodded. “Of course. Though I don’t know how much use I’ll be in the actual performance.”
He eyed the garden entrance and she followed his gaze. Edward and Tauney were talking in hushed but intense voices.
“I want to spend time with you. Even if we never perform the thing, this way we can be together.” He stood and lifted her hand to bring her up beside him. Then he leaned forward, his mouth at her ear.
Soft breath tickled her neck and his lips brushed her ear as he said, “Until next we can have a moment.”