Chapter 13 - The Promise
The coin of sealing wax bearing Edward's monogrammed stamp cooled and firmed to a dull finish on the folded parchment, the last of three such sealed letters. Edward put away the quill, paper, wax and stamp in the drawer of the small desk in his room, satisfied that he had put his thoughts and instructions adequately in writing. He tucked the parchments into the inner pocket of his uniform coat as it was draped over the chair by the door. He turned toward the bed to gaze longingly upon the reason he wished to write the letters.
Katharine slept on her side, facing away from him, the bedclothes having fallen away, exposing much of her to him. She slept now as she had finally fallen asleep in his arms, indeed, as they had made love - unclothed and unashamed. Before last night, he would never have dared to dream of waking to such a sight. Now, it seemed like the most natural and right thing in all the world.
In all my life, I must have done something of value somewhere along the way, for I am blessed now with this woman, this love.
His eyes found the creamy silk of her shoulder as it rose and fell slowly with each deep in-and-out of Katharine's slumber breathing. He followed the line from her shoulder down to the inward curve of her waist, and up to the roundness of her hip and down once again along the long slope of her thigh and leg until it disappeared into the tangle of the linen sheet at her feet.
He felt the familiar awakening deep within him once again that, before last night with her, had been only an unpleasant reminder of his self-imposed solitude. Last night, with Katharine in his arms, in his bed, it was a most welcome sensation, one that he was surprised to learn he could experience time and time again. Now, he felt a pang of regret, as he knew time and his duty worked against his desire, and would not allow him such pleasure.
He walked over to the bed and gently untangled the sheet and velvety soft coverlet from where they had been discarded, and pulled them up over Katharine's delicate form, tucking them around her shoulders. He carefully sat on the bed next to her, longing to wake her with a touch, a kiss, that would rekindle the fire they had created during the night. He knew, however, that he could not.
She sighed deeply and contentedly, turning toward Edward, feeling him beside her as if he had forever been there. She curled into the warmth of the covers and of him. He slowly and tenderly brushed her curls back from her face and watched a satisfied smile curl the corners of those lips that he now knew so well. A warm hand came to up grasp his and bring it to her lips for sleepy kisses. It took just the gentlest tug on the hand to bring Edward's lips down to her. As their kiss lifted Katharine's morning haze, she felt the smooth wrap of linen at Edward's throat, the soft moleskin once again covering his muscular thighs, the ruffle of linen against her cheek as his hand rested on the pillow next to her face.
Her eyes came open to the regrettable amber light of early morning streaming through the window, casting a glow behind Edward as he leaned over her. It was morning. This morning. And Edward was dressed to leave her.
"Oh, God, Edward! So soon?"
"Not quite yet, love. We have some time. But I regret it cannot be spent in the pleasures of last night. If you were to indulge me just one more time, I fear you might render me too fatigued to report for duty today!"
"I had hoped this morning would not come," she said with a resigned smile and sadness in her eyes.
"You and I both."
Katharine took a deep breath. I will not let him see me come apart. He deserves my strength. I will not send him off with tears in my eyes. He deserves to know that I accept this as I accepted him last night.
Edward took her hand in both of his and spoke earnestly, seriously.
"Katharine, we have some things to discuss before I leave. Important matters. There are things you must know in the event that . . ."
Katharine closed her eyes to his words. NO! Her heart screamed the word, not able to bear the thought of Edward not coming back to her, but her mind understood. Her hand reached out to still his lips.
"I'll get dressed."
* * * * * * * *
Katharine followed the sound of voices as she came down the stairs, finding Edward with Margaret and Henry in the dining room. When she walked in, the voices hushed and she saw Margaret pull her hand away from Edward's arm.
"Miss Katharine," Henry said jovially, "how fine you look this morning! No more britches, I see!"
Katharine laughed, in spite of her somber mood, and gave Henry a gracious curtsey.
"No, Henry, I grew weary of that fashion. But it is nice to know that if ever called upon to don such a costume in the theatre, I feel confident that I shall wear it quite believably!"
A smile even graced Edward's lips, as he was grateful to see her playfulness return.
"A lovely look, to be sure. Isn't that right, Edward?"
"Oh, Henry! Unlike you, the Captain here is not seeing Katharine in a dress for the first time. I am certain he has had adequate time to appreciate how fetching she looks in a skirt." She cast a mocking frown at her husband and picked up her cup and saucer.
"Come, Henry. This room is a much too cold for my tired bones after that carriage ride! Let us finish this in the kitchen by the fire."
Henry, fielding Margaret's cue to leave Edward alone with Katharine, picked up his coffee and followed his wife out of the room, tossing a wink at Edward. It was returned with an appreciative smile.
"Is it always their custom to leave a room when a guest enters, or are they just unsettled about what they must know went on here last night?" Katharine asked him, as she walked to him at the head of the polished table. She bent to kiss him lightly on the lips. He kept her close to him as he spoke.
"Unsettled? Hardly! Why, Margaret was just telling me that the sounds of our pleasure last night could be heard all the way in the village and were met with much relief and joy that the lonely old captain out at Rosecliff was, apparently, no longer lonely."
"Oh, really?" Katharine questioned quietly. "Only in the village? I was certain that your men aboard the Indy back in Portsmouth would have reached the same conclusion!"
He pulled her close for another kiss, enjoying their playful banter, which he knew masked their dread over what the next hour would bring. His eyes searched hers, seeing unbridled love and trust there. Not fear, not hurt, not accusation about duty always coming first. Just understanding and trust.
"Coffee? Tea, perhaps?"
"No, thank you. But I would like nothing more than for you to tell me that the orders were a mistake and you'll not be reporting for duty for yet a week."
"Would that I could, Katharine, but no mistake was made. I must go today."
"I see," Katharine said quietly. Then she added, with a sly gleam in her eye, "Well in that case, coffee would be nice."
Edward cast her a look of utter exasperation and she just smiled her most luminous smile.
"Well, Your Grace, I see you have not lost your sense of humor in the face of my imminent departure."
"Oh, Sir Edward," Katharine replied in the Duchess' broad Yorkshire tilt, "without a good humor, I am afraid I would find your departure too hard to bear on my delicate sensibilities."
He poured her coffee with a smile, then put his hand over hers on the table. The words of a light and teasing manner surprisingly came easy to the two of them this morning, but they both knew that more would have to be said. Those words failed them at the moment, and they sipped their coffee in silence.
Finally, Edward spoke.
"Katharine, I have given this matter a great deal of thought, so please let me say this without interruption." He took a deep breath and gave himself time to choose the right words.
"I have always been certain of one thing in my life. And that is that my life, my calling, is to the sea, to His Majesty's Navy. It is the very lifeblood coursing through me, and I cannot deny that."
"Nor would I ask you, Edward . . ." Katharine interjected, and Edward held up his hand to silence her.
"Please, Katharine, let me finish. Now, this morning, there is another certainty which I cannot deny. I am certain that I will never know love such as I know it now. It also is so deep within me that I dare not live without it. And therein lies my dilemma. My life is my duty, and there is little room in it for marriage, for a wife. Oh, yes, I know that many captains and officers manage with wives, but so often, those are marriages of convenience, of having the home fires stoked and burning for when the men return. It is a hard life for many a captain's wife, fraught with uncertainty, bitter loneliness, ungodly fears, and little more than letters to sustain love."
Katharine's heart pounded as she weighed the message of Edward's words.
"I used to believe that was the only way to love, the only commitment to make." His eyes drifted downward and Katharine knew he must be thinking of Evelyn and the tragic burden he carried for so many years.
"I love you with more of myself than I can give to you in a marriage right now. And I cannot bear the thought of you, here alone, as my wife, awaiting letters, watching for my return, for you have so much more to give than that." He paused. "I told you I could not make promises in my position, but I must ask you for yours."
"A promise? Yes, Edward, you know I would promise you anything!"
"Katharine, please promise me you will continue to live your life. Go back to the stage - take your bows, laugh, surround yourself with people who care for you and who will make you happy. Know that we will be together whenever it is possible and for however long as it is possible. When the time comes, and certain it may, and I am serving ashore, we will marry. But for now, under the circumstances . . ."
So that is what troubles him. He is afraid of losing me to the solitude of devotion, as he lost another love so long ago.
She placed her hand against his lips to silence him.
"Enough, my love. Shhhh. I told you before that I am not expectant of anything from you but your heart. And I could not love you as I do and not love the part of you that must put your duty first. You would not be complete, indeed, you would not be the man I fell in love with, without that."
Katharine got up from the table and knelt before Edward, taking his hands and kissing them. She looked earnestly into his bottomless brown eyes and spoke more quietly, intently, to be certain that Edward understood her meaning.
"I will give you that promise, Edward, and it will be the most honorable thing I have ever done. Have no worries, darling, we are both too old and wise to be foolish about our love. It will not be wasted."
She saw a flicker of relief in his eyes, then a familiar sparkle returned.
"Too old, are we? I heard no complaints last evening about being too old for some foolishness."
He pulled her up into his lap and kissed her deeply, his mouth stealing her surprised laughter, and leaving behind a contented smile.
If I live through all eternity, I would never tire of the
taste of her lips on mine!
"No, Captain, no complaints at all!"
Edward laid his head against Katharine's warm and welcoming bosom and she held him there. He tried to breathe in enough of her personal scent to never have it fail his memory again. She laid her cheek softly over his head and let her fingers gently work themselves among the long curls that hung below the black ribbon that bound his hair. Every touch, every smell, every taste was to last them for God-only-knew how long.
After several minutes, Edward's heart near collapse under the weight of the moment, he looked up at Katharine and spoke.
"Come. Let's take a walk, shall we? I feel the need for some sea air."
"It seems to me, Captain, that you shall have more than enough sea air quite shortly."
"Yes, true, but not that which I can share with you, my dear! Come."
Edward led Katharine from the dining room, picking up his uniform coat from the chair he had placed it on and shrugging into it as they walked to the front door. Katharine turned to look at him and once again saw the ever dutiful and valiant captain, a symbol of all things right and honorable in this world. Navy blue and the gold of kings. Might and power. She would never lose this image of him, of her Captain. Her heart fairly stopped beating for all its emotion that her life should be forever entwined with his, come what may. She gave him a proud smile.
"Have I ever told you, Captain, that you certainly cut a dashing figure in that uniform?"
"Actually, no, madam, you haven't."
"Well then, let me say that I do not believe there is any finer or more handsome a man in the uniform of His Majesty's Navy." Katharine felt the heated sting in her eyes of approaching tears. "I am so proud to be a part of your life, so proud of you."
"As I am of you, my love," he said quietly, kissing her forehead. "As I am of you."
Edward retrieved Katharine's cloak from the hook by the door and wrapped it around her. Grabbing his own, he ushered her out into the morning in a swirl of navy wool.
This late November morning had dawned brighter and a bit warmer than the several before it. The wind was calm, and the heavy gray clouds that always seemed a part of the sea-land-sky painting this time of year had been replaced with a wash of pale gray brushstrokes against a steely-blue sky, growing ever brighter with the ascending sun.
They headed toward the gentle hills overlooking the sea, and Katharine could see now in the daylight, the vast landscape that surrounded the cottage. Dormant, to be sure, but hardly barren, the grounds of the cottage seemed overrun with gardens both formal and casual, tamed and trimmed, and tumbled and tangled. As she walked, Katharine could almost smell the roses and the lilacs that lined the fences, and see the riot of colors that in the spring would replace the shades of dull browns and faded greens she saw now.
Edward seemed to read her mind. "Wait until you see the cottage in the summer. You will fall in love with it all over again."
"I shall love to visit in the summer," she replied. "This is such a wondrous place. And Margaret and Henry - they have made me feel so much at home here.
"They wish it to be your home, you know," he said simply, and with a hint of regret.
"Oh, they understand how things must be for me - for us - right now. But you had best be sure to visit them often. Margaret needs to spoil someone when I am away!"
"I would be honored to subject myself to such treatment!" Katharine let her tone get more serious. "And I am honored that they wish it to be so."
"They adore you, you know."
"You mean, they approve of me, don't you?" Katharine corrected with a smile.
Edward laughed. "Of course they do. They can see how happy you make me, and perhaps now, they can belay some of the constant worrying they tend to engage in where I am concerned. Margaret, especially, feels she has found an appropriate surrogate in you - someone to anchor my life away from my ship, as she has done."
"People worry about those they love."
"They certainly do, and if the measurements of both are proportionate, then I must be much loved, for I am certainly much worried about."
"And so it shall remain, my love."
Edward could not help but kiss her, to feel through their intimacy the meaning behind each and every casual word they spoke. He would have liked to do nothing else but kiss her, but their walk on the hillside had a purpose, and words were needed.
"Katharine, please know that, despite my leaving, you are, of course welcome to stay here as long as you like before returning home. Margaret and Henry would love that."
"As would I, Edward, but I made you a promise, remember? I must return home soon and settle the issues which have troubled me for some time, then return to life in London. As soon as my trousseau arrives, I shall depart for Falmouth. And Henry has insisted upon taking me, if that is agreeable to you."
He laughed at Henry's initiative. "I would have it no other way, and Henry knows that!"
They shared a smile, then Edward, seeking guidance in choosing his words and thoughts, turned to his familiar blue-green inspiration for a moment. When his gaze returned to Katharine, there was a determined edge to every word.
"Katharine, I would like, that is, we all would like, for you to think of Rosecliff as your home, your future, if you will have it so. You bring a wholeness to my life here, indeed to everything here, and I cannot imagine these hills, or those rooms without your presence."
"Oh, Edward. I have felt a strange calling here ever since I arrived. Like I was coming . . . home. Yes, my love, I will always think of this place as our home and our future. And Margaret and Henry feel as much family to me as they do to you."
Edward had sensed this. That was the reason for the letters he had written this morning. He could not bring himself to speak with Katharine directly about the details of his arrangement, or the event which would set things in motion, so he had written them in a letter to her to be read after his departure. Margaret would see to its delivery. He had written a similar note of explanation his older brother, Nathaniel, and also a letter to his solicitor, both of which Henry would post in the village when they set out for Portsmouth. Edward felt that the recent and blessed changes in his life required attention, and he had made sure details were not overlooked. He prayed that Katharine would not see his plans as masterful or presumptuous.
Katharine found herself wishing, and not for the first time, that time would simply stand still. But when she heard, then saw, Henry bringing Edward's fine carriage around to the front drive, she knew that it could not.
She looked into Edward's eyes and saw her own thoughts mirrored there. With a look that would bind their souls more than words ever could, Edward took her by the hand and they walked back to the cottage.
* * * * * * * *
Margaret waited by the door, with a bundle of two new shirts she had stitched up in fine fashion for the Captain, as well as clean, fresh linens and drawers. Margaret never missed and opportunity to provide a homey touch to the Captain's seachest, and tucked a wrapped pomander of shaved sandalwood, dried apple and citrus peels in the bundle for good measure. Henry took the package, along with the four jars of her plum and rosehip chutney, and two tins of cinnamon sweet cakes, one for Edward, and one for James, who had a standing order with his aunt for the favored delights, out to the carriage.
"Now, Captain, I shall expect an extra measure of prudence from you in all your deeds and actions, for now you are protecting one more heart along with your own on every voyage."
"Of course, Admiral. So it shall be."
Edward gave his treasured friend a great, lasting hug and Katharine saw the meaning behind the ritual. There were no teary farewells, for departure was an accepted part of a naval officer's life, and hence the lives of those who loved him. But she could see in their embrace the unspoken emotion of love and fear of loss.
Margaret released him and was rewarded with a salute of utmost respect and a playful wink.
"Aw, g'on with you!" She turned him toward the carriage and watched as he took Katharine's hand and walked to the end of the walk.
There were no words for their farewell. They both knew that thoughts of this moment had entered into almost their every word and action last night and this morning. There was nothing left to say. Edward took her in his arms and kissed her, long and deep, savoring every taste as if it would be his last. When at last he pulled away, he saw no tears, no anguish, but a smile. That luminous smile. That smile will be the sunshine, fair winds and calm seas of my heart until the next time I hold this remarkable woman in my arms.
"Godspeed, my love," Katharine whispered, as she laid a final touch upon his cheek. "Godspeed."
* * * * * * * *
Katharine fingered the monogrammed wax that sealed the parchment. Margaret had given her the letter when she brought Katharine tea by the fireplace in the keeping room.
"Edward wanted you to have this after he had gone," she had said.
Katharine had looked blankly at her, and Margaret just smiled a knowing smile, and had given her privacy to read. She sipped the tea, letting it warm her from within, and contemplated what Edward had to say that he felt he must put in writing.
Finally, getting nowhere, she broke the seal on the parchment, unfolded it and began to read.
"My dearest Katharine,
I have asked Margaret to pass this on to you after my departure. I feared the gravity of the
circumstances which must be discussed here would prevent you, indeed, us, from thinking clearly and
rationally. It is my most sincere wish for you to understand the importance of this issue to me. Your presence in my life now has given me cause to consider not just my future, but yours as well.
It is vital to me to know that, in the event of my death, you are provided for. I can well imagine your reaction as you read this, but please, my love, hear me out. I understand that your family situation shall always provide you with a measure of financial independence, and that your strength and fortitude allow you to throw caution to the wind in matters of conventionality, but I cannot help but fear, my love, circumstances which would challenge and diminish that strength. It is therefore imperative to me that arrangements be made for your well-being, and comfort.
I have sent a letter to my solicitor, instructing him to alter the terms of my last will and testament to provide lifelong security for you and for any child which may result from our union of last night (yes, my love, the thought has crossed my mind). Previously, the disposition of my entire estate was in the hands of the Pellew family, specifically, my elder brother, Nathaniel. A letter has been sent to Nathaniel as well, advising him that I have now indicated that, in the event of my death, the home and property that is Rosecliff, and the contents thereof, are to be transferred in their entirety, yet with stipulation, to you. The stipulation being that Margaret and Henry shall continue to live there in perpetuity, as they so desire. I so believe you shall find this to be an honorable arrangement, and, as I have discussed this at length with Margaret and Henry, know that they are pleased and secure with it as well.
I apologize, darling, for the cold tone of this, my first letter to you, but I felt the need to lay the terms before you in a fashion that would not be clouded by the emotion I know we both feel. I promise to inundate you with letters of great news and heartfelt passion just as I pray you shall do for me. And please, Katharine, do not look upon this arrangement as boldness or manipulation, for it is with the utmost love and honor that I wish to do this. Your acceptance of this shall provide me with immeasurable comfort whenever we are apart.
I promise to write soon, once I have our new orders and have settled back into the comfortable routine of life aboard Indefatigable. And I further promise to speak more of the lasting image I carry of you, your scent, your taste, your touch, and what they mean to me, than I have been able to do in this letter. Until then, my darling, I remain forever
Katharine's hand shook as she finished reading. She did not hear Margaret return to the room, but was grateful as Margaret offered her handkerchief to blot the tears that clouded Katharine's vision.
"You know about this?" Katharine asked her.
"Of course, dear. Edward discussed it with Henry and me this morning. Rest assured that we are most pleased and happy with the arrangement, as long as it suits you," Margaret said, somewhat tentatively.
"It suits me. Yes, it suits me well, indeed. I hardly know what to say . . ."
"Then you need not say anything. Edward's heart and mind work together, you know, and this is truly what he wants."
"Then it shall be. Although I do not wish for a moment to think of the awful circumstance that will bring such an arrangement to pass."
"Nor do I, love, nor do I. Then let us take our minds off such matters. You have yet another day or so here before traveling home, and I think 'tis high time you saw more of this wonderful home than this fireplace and the bedrooms!"
Katharine laughed. "As you wish, Admiral, as you wish!"