CHAPTER TWELVE – CONFLICTS AND CONFRONTATIONS
The inter-connecting doors between the drawing room and the family dining room, so often flung open to merge them into a whole because of his mother’s long accustomed habits, were shut when John returned to the drawing room some while later, having changed in readiness for dinner that evening. He could not hear the murmur of servants’ voices, nor the muffled tingle of silverware and glasses being placed upon the dining table and so assumed that all the preparations had been completed. He did not go and peer into the dining room to check, however, trusting implicitly that his servants, knowing well what he would expect, would have dealt with everything with an abiding exactness to detail, from the laying of the table itself to the food that would be served. Had his mother been at home she would have supervised everything with her sharp and meticulous eye in order to assure herself that nothing was overlooked and that the best silverware and glass had been brought out, just as was always her habit when guests came to dine. As it was, with her usual adroit perceptiveness she had given orders to the cook that dinner be an affair to rival the most opulent parties in London, having assumed that Captain Lennox would be staying at the house, just as John himself had indicated to her that he might last evening. She had also instructed that dinner be served in the more formal dining room downstairs rather than the family dining room that she quite looked upon as a natural extension to the drawing room. It had been the one detail which John himself had changed, for they would be but a small party and the room downstairs was too large for such a modest occasion.
He had quickly learnt from Jane that his mother had not yet returned from visiting Fanny - a fact that surprised him, for she was not known for tarrying too long from home if she could help it. It seemed likely that his sister, jubilant in her goal to prise their mother free of the house, had requested that she stay on and take dinner with them before returning home. It was just the sort of thing that Fanny would insist upon, knowing that their mother would not decline the invitation and risk causing offence to Mr Watson, so allowing Fanny the time, no doubt, to salve her acute curiosity pertaining to his and Margaret’s engagement.
At the thought of Fanny’s wishing to learn every detail that his mother could afford her, he felt a sharp sting in his heart. His mother’s dissent concerning his wish to marry Margaret continued to pique him immensely and gall him even more. Certainly, although he had perceived from the outset that she would find it difficult to accept the news, he had never expected that her reaction would be quite so vitriolic. The tension in the house had become almost palpable because of it.
Did she not realise how harshly she tortured him with her reproachful attitude? Did she not know how ruthlessly she tore at his steadfast admiration and love for her – a love that had buoyed and sustained him so faithfully as he’d charted his way through the long years of hardship and toil? He had tried to dissuade her from her unyielding course and yet so far he felt as though it had all been unheeded. He groaned as if from some unspecified bodily pain, wondering whether it would ever be possible to instil within his mother his actual pleasure in marrying such a woman as Margaret for the very fact that she was capable of independent action and thoughts without cow-towing like a sycophant to him in the way that he had witnessed Fanny do with regard to her own husband.
“Margaret…” Out loud he spoke and her name filled the air around him, as potent as the effect of her fragrance upon his senses; and he could not help but smile to himself to feel it envelop him.
She had not yet appeared, having retired from his company to change for dinner a little before him. In the hushed repose of the room he reflected upon the honeyed memory of those precious moments of earlier when he had presented her with her ring. No man could be as proud as he that she should wear it, for it symbolised so eloquently their unity. Love for her consumed him like the fire he stared into; it leapt from his belly, hungry in the anticipation of spending his life with her. Just as he had confided to her this very morning, he could not believe how quickly he had become accustomed to her presence in the house – and how much he missed her when she wasn’t with him. The connection, at once so tenacious and yet so intangible, between them seemed to grow stronger with every day that passed. It flourished into bloom, their instinctive and passionate natures nurturing the flower of their love. And it would endure. Like the pressed rose that was treasured up in his pocket book, the precious keepsake from his visit to Helstone, it would not fade. He would not allow it. His mother’s disapproval, Fanny’s petty comments, even Henry Lennox’s inappropriate feelings would not dismantle the steadfast bondage of what they shared…