Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chapter 21

     Angus wrote the letter to Catherine as Mrs. Drayton suggested and sent it with Lucas on his load to Charleston in the new sloop,  "the Belle."  The trip would not be wasted should she decline the invitation. But she did accept, and he waited while she packed a large trunk with gowns and satin slippers.  Her spirits were high and she smiled cheerfully as she stepped onboard wearing a fancy pair of pointed shoes with the new fashionable silver buckles.
    "Easy now, Miss Catherine," Lucas cautioned, observing the shoes.  "The decks can be slippery. And you best button up your cape to shield you from the wind."
     Her billowing skirts bulked around her as she took a seat and braced herself.  She was eager to make the journey down river in "the Belle."  No one used the roads anymore if they could help it.  Lucas pushed off from the dock and maneuvered the little sloop through the harbor.  A blustering wind blew them into a mist of dark clouds and spraying sea. A dreary gray sky loomed overhead and she pointed to to rain clouds at a far distance.
     "January. What did you expect but that infernal rain?"
      She shivered.  "What if it does rain?"
     "Then it rains," he answered sourly, throwing her a blanket.
     After about an hour, she caught sight of the long ominous dock of Ashley Loche as it stretched across the marsh into deep water.  It had taken Angus the better part of a year to sink the sawed tree trunks into the deep water and open the passage to receive supply vessels sent from London and the Dutch West Indies.  There was a vessel tied to the dock now, unloading plank boards, bricks and nails and sundry chippendale furniture for the manor house.  Catherine clapped her hands.  It was exciting to see some of the furnishings being unloaded.
     As soon as the sails of "the Belle" were lowered and rope was thrown  to be tied, Angus met them on the dock.
     "Thank you for coming," he said to Catherine squeezing her hand as he assisted her onto the dock. "Mrs. Drayton is in need of you." She did not seem to notice and paused to observe a pair of Queen Ann chairs with satin bottoms. "For the dining room," he told her. "Also, I will need your advice on the arrangement of this furniture whilst ye are here."
     He allowed his arm. She took it gently, then  tightened her grip as one of her shoes caught in an open ended plank.  He braced her with his arms.  "I will not let ye fall," he said. "Watch me and step where I step."
     Her eyes were staring solemnly ahead at the red brick  manor house and  a trail of  smoke drifting from the  chimneys. The expression on her face was one of utter pleasure at the prospect of taking charge. As soon as they were inside the house, she hugged Mrs. Drayton and whispered in her ear: "I hope that we have some parties whilst I am here."
     "Of course, my dear."
    Angus paraded her on a tour of the house, pointing up the newly acquired statues, artwork and pewter dishes.  She took notes in her head about the changes that she would make.  She would demonstrate her eptness in caring for so grand a manor during the  next several months, arranging the furnishings to her liking, planning the meals and even train a darkie to spin yarn.  The house servants were indeed a daunting task.
     "There is so much to be done!" She told Angus excitedly. "Perhaps even more than I can accomplish in one visit!  But I am not complaining, it is such a pleasure to set the household aright!" 
     "But I have never seen ye so happy."
     "Actually, nothing is all happy.....well, perhaps a party of friends, or a brooch."
     "Do you feel that your happiness is here, at Ashley Locke."
     "Yes indeed!"
     He decided to once again propose marriage, but first tested the waters.
    "Do ye still have that wee diamond brooch that Lord Manigault gave ye?"
     The excitement disappeared from her face as she contemplated an answer. The question was a brutal awakening of her foolish past of which Angus had a part.  But he had to know if she still had feelings for that lord.  "Why yes," he answered uneasily.
    "Ye kept it for sentimental reasons?"
    "No! I kept it because it belongs to the Abergavenny estate in Monmouth and is of great value. Besides,  it wears well with my gowns."
     "Then ye hath no lasting affection for Lord Manifault?"
     "Angus," she whispered as though she were afraid of being overheard.  "I do not wish to be reminded of those days."
     "But I must know the answer. What are your feelings for Lord Manigault?"
     "Oh, I hath long since forgotten about him."
     " My affection for you hath not changed, but once when ye rejected my proposal, ye iinsisted that I was not good enough for ye."
     "I admit that I am needed at Ashley Loche."
      He removed his gloves and showed her the callouses.  "I am still the boy from Moore County!"
     She was shocked. "This is a rather dramatic and unnecessary display...." she snapped.
    "Nevertheless, these hands built this plantation and I am not a prissy gentleman like Mr. Weathers nor will I ever be."
     "No, I think not."
       I am a lonely man, Catherine." He spoke the words unexpectantly in a moment of weakness when he yearned to express his heart and declare his love.  "And the truth is that I need a wife here on the plantation. You know that I shall always love you."
     "Mrs. Drayton speaks of you with loving affection."
     "What are your feelings?"
     "She is encouraging....says that we need one another. That I belong in this house. When I think of myself as the mistress of Ashley Loche, the idea is appealing."
     "Catherine, do ye think that ye could ever love me?"
     "Yes, Angus, like Mrs. Drayton said. She did not love her husband when they married, but learned to afterwards.  It will be like that."

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