In the last chapter of Tabitha’s Folly, Henry and Tabitha meet for a quiet moment in the gardens. He declares his desire to work to make her happy. They agree to partner up for a night of poetry recitations.
Henry rode back from the apothecary, pleased with his find. He anticipated Tabby’s reaction with a burst of exhilaration and spurred his stallion faster. A carefully wrapped package in his coat pocket pressed against him.
He marvelled at the change in direction his life had taken in the past week. And how obvious his feelings for Tabby should have been all this time.
His heart pounded with the beating of his horse’s gallop across the Yorkshire roads. He remembered his moments with Tabitha, and hope filled him. She had drawn his likeness, from memory. She smiled, truly happy, in the gardens with him yesterday. He spent the next half hour planning all the different methods he could use to make her smile.
He rounded a corner on the dirt road back to Somerstone Manor, and a cart came into view. He pulled up on his horse, encouraging the animal to slow. As he approached at a walk, that footman, Damen, and two maids turned to him. The women bowed their heads, typical of servants, but Damen maintained eye contact, a challenge in his face. Henry stared back until he passed.
Was it worth having a conversation with him about his insolence? Possibly. Something about Damen set him on edge. Perhaps a conversation with the Countess was in order.
Entering the house, he inquired after Tabitha and found her in the library.
Her face brightened when he entered the room. “Henry!” She approached him, both hands reaching for his own.
He clasped them with a gentle squeeze. “How are you, Tabby? Finding lovely novels?”
“At the moment, no. I was looking for a poem we could recite.”
He remembered their partnering for poetry recitations, further brightening his prospects with her. “Capitol. What have you found?”
She reached for two volumes.“Well, there is this book of the works of Tennyson, or there’s Byron.” She winced a little at the mention of his name, which he found amusing. The poet associated with those of ill report, or at least it was noised about that he did.
She reached for another book. “Or of course, there’s Shakespeare.”
He nodded. “Not Romeo and Juliet, I pray.”
“Oh, happy dagger!” she squealed, pretending to hold a knife.
The image, humorous though it was, chilled him, and he quickly changed the subject. “Let’s have a read, shall we?”
They moved to a small settee under the window. Warm sun shone in beams onto its fabric and heated his back as he sat. He moved as close to her as he dared. Then he said, “I have something for you. A gift.” He pulled the wrapped parcel from his pocket.
Her eyes widened in delight. “Henry! What is it?”
“Well,” he grinned. “You’ll have to open it to find out.”
The door banged all the way open, and Julian entered, with Edward fast on his heels. “What’s this?” Identical frowns lined their faces.
Tabitha slipped the parcel behind a cushion.
Henry held up Tennyson. “We are choosing our poem.”
“Excuse me?” Julian’s eyebrows rose in disbelief.
A small sigh escaped Tabby’s lips before she said, “Yes, brothers. We have been partnered for the poetry recitation.” Her lips made a large and overly innocent expression. Henry wondered how often he had been beguiled by it, unawares. She pointed at Julian. “Who will you be partnering with?”
Henry added, “Felling’s friends are still here, Ladies Walter and Summers. They will be looking for companions I am certain.”
Julian stood taller. “Are they? Perhaps I shall make use of that opportunity then.” He winked.
Edward cleared his throat. “I am surprised to see you both in here, alone.”
Tabitha raised a hand, palm up. “We are hardly alone,” her tone placated, “with people coming in and out as they so often do.”
“And the door” Henry frowned, “being left wide open.”
“As things are,” He eyed them both until Tabitha squirmed next to him.
Henry wanted to pummel Edward.
“I believe I shall spend some time reading.”
Julian turned to leave. “I think I shall find Lady Summers then, if you have things taken care of here.”
Edward nodded and then walked toward the bookshelf to their right, likely on the pretense of searching out a good book.
Tabitha pulled out an anthology of poems. He enjoyed her nearness, their hands brushing as they took turns turning pages.
Henry leaned back, searching for Edward and then stopped on a page. “I shall recite this one.”
Her eyes widened and she swallowed, turning bright pink. “Are you sure you should? It’s Byron.”
He waited until he had her full attention. “I’m certain.” He had much of it memorized so he stared into her eyes and spoke slowly, “‘She walks in beauty, like the night.’”
Tabitha didn’t look away.
Such a light of hope lingered in her blue depths, that he continued a bit more recklessly even with Edward’s presence in the room. Her eyes shone, her lashes curled up, framing them. He wanted to forever hold her regard in such a way that her eyes would shine up at him just as they were in that moment.
Edward turned the corner of one row of shelves, and Henry paused a moment. As soon as their chaperone turned his back, Henry murmured. “‘And all that’s best of dark and bright, meet in her aspect’” He ran his finger along her forehead and down her cheek. “‘and her eyes.’”
He continued to read. She leaned toward him, the yearning in her face obvious to him. He could have kicked himself for his years of blindness. He would repair the foibles of his bumbling youth. And give her joy now. With Edward stooped over a thick tome, Henry recited more.“‘And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, the smiles that win,’” His hand cupped her cheek and he ran a thumb lightly over her mouth.
His gaze lingered on her lips. He studied every gentle crease and dip in their plush and soft form. The curve, the rise at the top of her mouth. His breathing came faster, his heart reminding him of her effect on him. With great effort, he pulled his eyes away and continued.
The tints that glow,
He reached forward and pulled at a curl against her cheek.
She closed her eyes at his touch.
Edward cleared his throat.
Henry had forgotten his presence. He swallowed.
Tabitha’s eyes flashed in annoyance, scowling at her brother. She carried such a burst of fire in her, Henry had to chuckle.
“But the best part is coming.” He created some distance between them. He wanted to express what he valued most in her.
“‘A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!’”
His core was so affected by the innocent manner in which she loved him, he knew he would never be the same.
Edward grunted. “And you will read that? To the group?”
Henry felt a moment’s unease. Turning to Tabitha, he asked, “Did you not like it?”
But Tabitha placed a hand on his arm and winked. “I have found another of great interest. Shall I read it?” She tilted her page so that Henry could see. The First Kiss of Love, By Lord Byron. He bit back his shocked reply and looked at her with renewed respect. She could be quite bold apparently. He would not be surprised by anything she did any longer. Glancing at Edward and back to her, he nodded. “If you wish. Perhaps we can read them both?” He bit his cheek to stem the laughter, already enjoying Edward’s predicted reaction.
Tabitha stood and cleared her throat. She held out her arm. “Away with your fiction of flimsy romance,” She waved her hand as if to brush them aside. “those tissues of falsehood which folly has wore;” She dropped to the ground on her knees. “Give me the mild beam of the soul-breaking glance, or the rapture” she held a hand against her chest. “which dwells on the first kiss of love.”
Henry was equal parts enraptured and amused.
“I must disagree most firmly with your choice, Tabitha.” Edward stepped forward, ready to take the book from her grasp.
She stood again, holding the book away from him. “Oh, come now, Edward. You haven’t even heard the whole of it.” Her eyebrow rose, a moment of impasse between the two siblings filled the silence with unspoken energy. For the first time, Henry recognized that between the two, Tabitha might be the most difficult to cross.
A throat cleared, and the Countess and several of the other guests entered the room. “Are we having an early recitation? I’m so pleased to hear it. Do continue.” The Countess’s skirts moved around her ankles as she entered the room and sat in the chair nearest Tabitha. She continued the next line herself. “If Apollos should e’er his assistance refuse…Invoke them no more, bid adieu to the muse, and try the effect of the first kiss of love.”
Henry wasn’t sure what the others would think of such a recitation. Out of the corner of his eye, ladies fanned themselves. Some sighed. He avoided looking in the Countess’ direction.
After a moment’s hesitation, Edward paced, and his irritation seemed to spur Tabitha on.
One of the younger debutantes this season moved forward and linked her arm with Edward’s, distracting him fully. Henry nearly choked when Edward smiled into her face and walked her a few feet away from them, engaged in conversation.
Tabitha’s voice, honey to his ears, continued. “I court the effusions that spring from the heart,” She clutched at her heart. “Which throbs with delight to the first kiss of love.”
Henry felt his face heat, but he watched her in growing fascination.
“Your shepherds, your flocks—those fantastical themes, Perhaps may amuse, yet they never can move,”
What woman was this? So caring and dear to him, impassioned and sincere.
She extended her hand and gently pulled him to his feet. Then stood as close as she could before she continued. “I court the effusions that spring from the heart, Which throbs with delight to the first kiss of love. The first,” She paused and lifted her face to him. “kiss of love.”
Her wide eyes blinked, so close. Her lips, soft, spoke of his dearest desire. The sincerity in her expression became his undoing. He put his arm around her back, all the while searching her face. Her eyes darkened; they filled with desire. His own ignited. He tilted his head, his lips yearning for the softness of her own. When he was close enough to feel her breath on his mouth, Edward coughed. “Surely not, Henry.”
- Chapter Fifty-Two: Poetry and a Kiss, Perhaps?
- Forty Seven: Stolen Moments
- Forty-Two: Distrust all Around
- Thirty-Eight: Up to Something
- Thirty-One: Whist and Wagers
- Twenty-Seven: Midnight Meetings and Stained Glass
- Twenty-Two: A Choice in the Dark
- Eighteen: Blast his New Attraction
- Eleven: Awash in the River
- Seven: A Delicious Distraction is Afoot