© Nicole Fitton
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Chapter 1 - January 7th 1912
The winter sun low and full tries its best to shine warmth, but the air is chill and remains stubbornly glacial. There’s a bite, a crispness to the day, and those with a mind to walk tell of crunch and a sheen underfoot on the paths and shingle. There are no fanfares, no fireworks; there is nothing to separate January 7th from January 6th. It’s a day that slips into being as effortlessly as a sixth born child. For most, it’s another day of humdrum, another day of flatness.
Only within one small corner of England does the day merit more than frost and shimmer. To the North East of London, hidden behind tall walls and sprawling countryside, normality has been replaced with anxiety.
Virginia studies herself in the mirror. She has a slender figure and delicate features. Her hands follow the soft lines of her dress, and for a moment, her angry thoughts disrupt, allowing the drift of the gown to distract her. It is a testament to the skill and precision of the craftsman’s needle, and she runs her hands across the small pimples of thread, which make up the tiny stitches. Almost invisible to the naked eye, they swirl and curl to form delicate flower patterns, both small and large. China white silk flows out from her bodice, and Ivory ermine weaves with freshwater pearls across the gown’s cuffs and neckline. It is a thing of beauty; a work of art, and she is wearing it. Her mood lightens, and for a moment, her unhappiness is suspended and held at arm’s length like an unwanted gift. Her questioning eyes reflect from the mirror. **Is this really what you want? Really?** Virginia looks away. She is resolute. There is no escaping her duty, and by golly, she will do it to the best of her ability. Clearing her throat, she sniffs down the hint of emotion that sits between her tongue and teeth and clenches her jaw tightly. She is a Penrose; screaming will serve no purpose.
The gems she is expected to wear shine up from their napkin of silk, diamond white and sapphire blue orbs encased in gold. They will provide the perfect shackle for the illusion of a flawless wife. Their sparkle will make up for its absence behind her eyes - they will sit like an extravagant noose around her porcelain neck. She feels nothing. She finds the word 'marriage' in her father's dictionary. The words' firmly attached' and 'obstinately fused' jump up from the page. The dictionary talks of contracts and legal acceptance – there is no mention of love, no mention of choice, or freedom. The words swarm through her thoughts, all black and white in a sea of colour. There is so much she doesn't understand. She relays her feelings to her mother.
"Love? You talk about love? You poor deluded girl. You were not put on this earth to love; you are here to serve Virginia. Love is a bonus, not a right."
Her mother's words are as always to the point and emotionless.
"But Mama, did you not marry for love?" she asks.
Laughter fills the room and echoes back toward her full and wide.
"Oh, you silly thing, I married for position. Love…" she says, as if hearing the word for the first time and repeating it back, "Love…I suppose it came eventually, don't worry, Virginia, your father, and I found our way, and so will you, my gal."
Taking Virginia's hands, she pats them softly and smiles awkwardly.
"Let us say no more about it. You are to be a beautiful bride, correction - you are a beautiful bride. On with it now Virginia, on with it." Her mother turns and leaves, closing the door behind her.
Her thoughts pull her first left then right; they are like loose threads scattering in the wind. She will learn to love Thomas; that's all there is to it; surely, it cannot be so hard if she sets her mind to it?
The fire in the grate burns deep reds and burnt orange as the flames funnel into order and are drawn quickly up the chimney. An occasional crackle and pop from the tinder hits the fireguard; it is the only sound. A wedding day surely should have more joviality than a seasoned log. Pacing the room, she gathers a feel for the gown as it bevels out behind her. Her hands, despite the warming fire, remain stubbornly cold, and she rubs them vigorously. She looks around at the slightly crooked walls and the somewhat faded curtains, at a family photograph sitting proudly on the mantle piece in its elegant silver frame. So many times, she had wanted to leave, to escape and run. Now though, she wishes to stay more than ever.
Penrose Hall, with its grand formal rooms and smooth cream brickwork, is all she has known. Full-length picture windows frame the 5000-acre landscape of rolling hills and clusters of woodlands. Originally a 16th-century manor house, Penrose, having been extended over the years, is now a much grander affair. Amongst its many attributes, an ornate ice well and a rectangular boating lake are unusual features. Her childhood and the needs of the house were indistinguishable. In the springtime, she helped with lambing, Summer, and Autumn; she busied herself with the harvest, and in winter, she would take her beloved spaniel and aid the shoot. Although never stated, she always felt supplementary to requirements. She was as a speckled diamond set in an inferior mount, an adornment strategically placed for maximum reflection.
Her childhood had been a push me pull me affair, and she grew into arguments and voiced her dissatisfaction with her cossetted existence. She turned her youthful exasperation to good use and became a proficient pianist but, it was the books within her father's library which galvanised her troubled mind, making her passionate and alarmingly well informed. At first, it had been Kipling and his 'Just So' stories, which made her late for dinner. But books by Mary Wollstonecraft and William Morris, half-buried and forgotten in the dusty gaps of the library shelves, reached out to her inquisitive mind and she lost days as the pages continued to turn.
Her endless questions on life, on equality, on freedom, and religion gained no traction within the estate and brought her nothing but stern glances and disapproving eye lines. She learnt to think, and sort, and manage her thoughts on the inside and never to speak of them. Thinking was of far greater benefit, she concluded; after all, no one could tell her what to think despite their many attempts.
"Now Ginny," her mother would say, "no man wishes to marry a clever woman."
"Well then, I am in luck, Mama, as I do not wish to marry," would come her reply.
Growing up, for the most part, ignored had its advantages. Days spent reading by the lake or riding through the woods gained no inquisition, and she could come and go as she pleased.
Despite the Times newspaper proclaiming the age awash with change, she saw little evidence of it within her coppice of the landed gentry. She stares at herself in the mirror.
"How do you do, I'm Mrs. Thraxted, so pleased to make your acquaintance."
No matter how many times she says the words they just don't fit, they feel stiff and wooden. She tries again, perhaps if she smiles…
"Mrs. Thraxted, so very pleased to meet you…" God, now she looks deranged!
She will become Mrs. Thraxted, wife of Conservative politician Thomas Thraxted whether the words work or not. The political divide across which the families sit - Penrose Liberal, Thraxted Conservative matters little as far as the suitability of the coupling is concerned. In the blink of an eye, she will be 'obstinately fused.' Society clings to the status quo like limpets on a rock, and silently she despises them for it. Endless days of tea and polite conversation stretch out in front of her for all eternity. Surely this is not all life has to offer her? Virginia shrinks back from the mirror as if her future stands within a hair's breadth of it. She rubs her hands again.
Accepting Thomas' proposal had been the easy part. He needed a wife and she a husband. For an intelligent woman, she has been rather stupid. What did she know of the man to whom her life would soon be beholden? Truth be told, she knew very little. Thomas Thraxted, the only son of Lord and Lady Thraxted, is a rising Conservative party star, and that is the total sum of her knowledge. The wedding was organised swiftly, and before the enormity of it could overwhelm her, the day arrived. By January 8th, 1912, Virginia Penrose would be gone. In her place would stand a woman she did not know and a name which did not fit - Mrs.Thomas Thraxted.
Aged 30, Thomas Thraxted had held onto his bachelor status longer than most. He strikes her as a melancholic man. Perhaps, he is to be her man of sorrows, and she his wife of woes. Her father had always preferred the company of men to the frivolity of women; perhaps the same is true of her future husband.
She turns her attention back to the dancing fire, all flame, and flutter.
"Are you truly so sad?"
Her mother stands at the doorway with Tilly, her maid in tow.
"No, Mama, I am not. I am just thoughtful and meditative; that's all."
Tilly hands her a bouquet, all yellow and white.
"Do you not desire happiness, Virginia?"
"Of course, I do, Ma, but I don't see my happiness within the confines of marriage nor a nursery," she says.
"You will have a good nanny, as I did with you and your sister."
"But we rarely saw you, Ma, so what is the point of children you do not see, surely it is better not to have them at all?"
Her mother rolls her eyes.
"Please, Virginia, do not make trouble where there is none. You will have a good home and a loving husband, and hopefully, children, can you not be content with those things?"
Virginia falls silent. A response is pointless; her mother cannot understand it is not the future she desires. She has absolutely nothing in common with her mama, and she would die of boredom if she had to live just one day in her mothers' shoes.
"I shall try Ma, truly I shall try," she says softly.
"If you cannot reconcile yourself, Virginia, then you shall have to endure… otherwise… well, let's not think of otherwise. Best foot forwards my girl, and there shall be no more talk of it."
It is how most of their conversations ended. No more talk, let's say no more on the matter, that's enough said. But it is never enough.
Today her body joins the protest her mind has battled for years. Even wearing such a beautiful dress, her rebelling bones are unwilling to coordinate, and she looks discombobulated. Wearing 'the gown,' she is incapable of even the simplest of tasks. For better for worse, isn't that what they say? He would have to take her as she is – all crazy bones and cold hands.
"Today's the day Miss; you must be fair excited?" Says Tilly keeping her gaze focused on the fire as she prods and pokes it, encouraging the flames to divert and rise between the cracks of coal.
Virginia attempts a weak smile but says nothing. Wiping her dirty hands down her apron, Tilly reaches into its pocket. She pulls out a familiar-looking manila envelope and holds it between her thumb and forefinger before turning to face Virginia. She has half a mind to set it to flame but thinks better of it, after all her mistress will be married soon enough, what harm can he do her now?
"I'll go and see about your breakfast now, Miss," says Tilly, her voice subdued and without tone. Placing the envelope onto the bedside table, she departs hurriedly, citing overcooked kippers and burnt coffee. Virginia's heart starts to skip and kick, stirring a flicker of optimism, perhaps all is not lost.
**My dearest Love,
You must think me insincere and bereft of all honour. I cannot bear the thought of you thinking me negligent. I apologise from the bottom of my heart for my absence. I have not had the liberty to write due to a situation in which I have become entwined. I do not, for one moment, imagine or expect you to excuse my behaviour. All I ask is for you to read this letter. A letter I have written thrice over and repeated many times within my mind. With caution firmly thrown into the wind, I petition you thus. You are and always will be the lady who has captured me. Please do not think me sentimental or romantic, you know me well enough to know it is not so. A madness has consumed me over the situation we find ourselves in. Are we not to follow our hearts and pursue true happiness? It is with the heaviest heart and much soul searching that I believe this is not a courtesy bestowed upon us. I have searched and sought confidential counsel as to what might be done. Alas, it seems our situation is much as we feared.
Your last letter spoke of your impending marriage, and I bravely congratulate you. It is the knowledge of your happiness, which is and always will be my desire. It is your happiness which entreats me to wake each day.
You must believe me, my love, when I say there is no man alive who loves you more vehemently, more passionately than I. We are both to follow a path for which only destiny holds the map. I shall think of you often and wish you a good fortune every day I draw breath. You shall do your duty, and I shall do mine. Our lives shall go their separate ways, but remember dearest one, I shall always be your Freddie, and you shall still be my Ginny. I pray for your happiness. Please think fondly of me. If you are ever in need, I am always here for you.
Your Freddie **
Her tears drop like stones in a bottomless pond. There is to be no last-minute reprieve, and she feels the noose tighten around her neck. The sharpness of her last meeting with Freddie stabs at her, and she winces at its remembrance.
During the Summer of 1911, and under the mixed protection and careful planning of Tilly and Otto, Freddie's emissary, a rendezvous was arranged, and happy memories began. Their liaison lasted, but months yet it gifted her a love that transcended time. As mighty as the Penrose family were within England, they possessed no royal blood and no sway in German noble circles, which were prerequisites to any serious relationship with a German nobleman. Freddie would be stripped of both title and fortune should they take things forward. Society held the keys to their happiness, and the door of acceptance was firmly closed. Marrying Thomas Thraxted as ridiculous as it seems is necessary for both their sakes.
Virginia re-reads the letter over and over. The words grab and envelop her. She cannot escape the inevitability of it all; she might as well marry Thomas as marry anyone. Tilly returns and watches her mistress. She feels awkward and sets her hands to plumping cushions and tidying tea trays.
"Freddie has been most honourable Tilly. He has given me his blessing to marry. There is nothing more to be done."
She catches a tear intent on falling and feels its saltiness invade the small crack at the side of her mouth. Despite its near invisibility, the pain it inflicts is large and hollow, and she wants to scream and claw. She did not ask to be a Penrose.
"Now then, my girl, look at you daydreaming – no dillydallying."
Like a gust of wind from a place, no one visited her mother's voice rings loud. It is the same voice her mother uses to address the servants, flat, and lacking emotion. A spitting log, its fiery embers hitting the fireguard make her jump, and she breathes deeply. The coldness of her hands spreads to her feet. She moves them up and down in an attempt to inject an ounce of life into them. Another deep breath helps her to iron flat the voice that sits on the tip of her tongue, ready to pounce and declare all life insanity.
She reworks her shroud of porcelain. A bit of powder here, a touch of rouge there, no longer tear-stained, no longer Virginia Penrose. Soon she will be invisible.
The art of disguise is as familiar to her as the air she breathes. Years of displaying one emotion while feeling another have taught her well. She is highly skilled and above suspicion of anything improper. A face she no longer recognises stares back at her. She will not become unhinged today. She will be the bride everyone expects her to be.
"Everything will work itself out; you'll see Miss," says Tilly squeezing her shoulder softly.
Virginia smiles wide and full she can feel the crack at the side of her mouth expand and contract. Carefully she lowers her veil. Tears are replaced with eyes that glisten but do not shine. Holding her head high, she steps from her room and descends the staircase.
To an outsider looking in, the wedding is a resounding success. The great and the not so good are packed sardine-like inside the chapel's small frame. Liberals, Conservatives, family, and friends sit side by side, eager to see the whirlwind Penrose/Thraxted romance reach its expected conclusion. Thomas' idea to hold the wedding at Thraxted Manor, rallied no objections from Virginia, after all, it is to be their home together.
She does not doubt her husband is a good man, and over time, she believes she will find a degree of what her mother calls 'dutiful love' for him. If her life is to have any meaning, then she must cast off her desires and place her efforts into her marriage. Her liaison with Freddie is over, gone. Her marriage needs to succeed.
Wedding celebrations complete, and the last guests bid good night, Virginia makes her way along the hallway to the unfamiliar bedroom. Nervous excitement drives away her exhaustion. Despite her tryst with Freddie, she remains a virgin, although she reflects it's more because of circumstance than desire on her part.
The clock reads 1:30 am, and she tries to still her nerves. She folds her hands first one way then another. For once, they are reasonably warm. From the bedroom window, she can see a cloud-shrouded moon, high and ethereal. Its glow baths the garden below in soft crystal and deep shadows. Virginia toured the gardens with Thomas on her first visit to Thraxted Manor. He had impressed her with his knowledge of the flora found within the estate. They had wandered the grounds unchaperoned. Her father's jovial encouragement should have been an indication of familial expectations from such a visit, but of course, she had ignored the nagging, ever hopeful she was incorrect.
Her engagement ring sits beneath the now added band of gold and catches the light from the cloud released moon. Under the spell of the moonlight, waves of prismic colour reflect out across the ceiling. She twists and turns her engagement ring, delighting in the abstract patterns which appear on the papered walls and high ceiling.
Thomas' proposal had not been spectacular or romantic; it had been practical and measured. It could as easily have been a request to attend afternoon tea as a proposal. She dared not refuse. Refusing Geoffrey Bennett shortly after her first debutante season had caused many unspoken difficulties. Her agreement to Thomas' proposal was rewarded by a polite non-descript peck on the cheek and a 'jolly good, jolly good.' There is so much she does not understand about Thomas. Once they return from honeymoon, she resolves to try her hardest to fit in with whatever life he has planned for them both.
'Mrs. Thraxted' still did not sit well within her mouth, and whilst she awaits her husband's arrival, she practices its arrangement.
"Mrs. Thrax -ted, Mrs. Virginia Thrax-ted, Mrs. Ginny Thraxted."
It is no use; the name is too big, too cumbersome. Their honeymoon is to begin in less than 24 hours; she needs to get it right. Thomas has devised and planned their honeymoon with little input from her. They are to spend a month in France and Italy. For once, she is happy to be a passenger. Any man willing to make all of the arrangements so ardently will surely be a useful husband.
Sleep takes her, and she awakes disorientated. She is not yet acquainted with the creaks and sighs of her new house; it speaks an altogether different language to that of Penrose. Disturbingly, it is Freddie who fills her dreams.
The clock reads 3 am. There is no sign of Thomas. Perhaps he too is nervous.
The corridors with their tall ceilings and silent darkness feel cavernous as her noiseless feet move her forward. Tall columns neo-classical in appearance emerge to her left and right as she descends the staircase, the coolness of their marble, felt more than seen. It is hard to believe she is a Thraxted now, and she repeats the name silently, hoping it will work its way into her. She pulls her shawl tight across her reedy shoulders and tiptoes along the lower hallway. The house remains silent, and she stifles a half-hearted laugh. Many scenarios have dialled across her mind, but a runaway groom had not been one of her torments.
There is not an ounce of individuality on display in any room she has passed. Only a spray of white roses and lily of the valley within a crystal vase an indication of her wedding celebrations not even 24 hours previously. Everything has been neatly swept away, and the house stands well-ordered, not a hair out of place.
A shaft of light seeps underneath the door of Thomas' study, and she moves cautiously forward. Surely, he is not working, not tonight! Voices low, pique her interest and she steps closer. She is but a breath away from the oak door and smells its woody fragrance. Perhaps she should return to her bedroom, it is not seemly to be found wandering at such an hour, even if it is now her home. How could she explain her wandering to Thomas? But Thomas cannot be found she reasons and crouches down beside the closed door. Peering through the keyhole she realises it's a mistake and backs away from the door at speed sending a large urn crashing to the floor. The lithe bodies within stop and listen. Sharp pieces of glass crunch underfoot as she retreats quickly back along the corridor. She should never have gone in search of him, she should never have been so stupid she chides. She hears the door creak open and she begins to run. Behind her Thomas is standing in the doorway his face flushed.
"Ginny wait, please…" he shouts.
She needs to put as much space between her and the door as she can. Her thoughts rush at her as a dam about to break, and she allows instinct to drive her forward. She is in the garden now, running towards the maze. She stays low, allowing the large Yew hedges to blanket her. With the moon behind her, the landscape is reminiscent of a freshly painted scene, all soft tones and faded grey. Its beauty is dark, and she senses the razor-sharp edges of holly and Hawthorn ready to cut into her at any moment.
A small bench angles at a corner turn providing welcome sanctuary, and she collapses onto the solid wooden seat. Her breath is rapid, shallow, and she can feel her blood pulsing. A flux of emotions starts to push in and out with each heartbeat. Embarrassment is quickly replaced with loathing, which is quickly replaced with sadness. The bench holds no comfort within its sturdy frame, but it matters not. She does not seek comfort, only an explanation. But what explanation is there? Have her eyes betrayed her? – Is she delirious? She draws her knees toward her chin. Each sob is fused with crushed hope and barbed loss. It is a wretched sound, raw and full of sorrow. Her future is lost before it has begun. There is no wifely role for her to fulfill, and she feels the serrated blade of betrayal drive itself deeper within her. Thomas is lost, and now so is she.
"Ginny…. Ginny…" Thomas has found her.
Her head hung low she remains still and stares inanely at the band of gold that adorns the third finger of her left hand. The rainbow diamond of her engagement ring no longer sparkles, it looks lackluster and ugly in the world of faded grey. She feels his eyes as he explorers her in the silence, only his breath quick and urgent a reminder of his presence. Thomas places his jacket tentatively across her shoulders; she does not flinch, does not move, and continues to stare down at her hands. She turns her engagement ring inward toward her palm and closes her hand tightly. The diamond presses hard into her soft flesh, and she wills it to cut deep. The indentation feels solid and she squeezes tighter. But the diamond does not yield; it does not confirm the reality of her nightmare and only provides a small dip on her pale skin.
The enormous Yew hedges hold them as if they are suspended in a vacuum. The first call of birdsong echoes out slow and flute-like. How long they sit suspended, she cannot say. She has battled the silence and managed to channel her screams inwards. All around save the call of a blackbird perched within the hedge reverently silent.
Thoughts of Freddie of their fleeting happiness are now more painful than ever, and she wretches. Her marriage to Thomas can never be real. Is she to blame? Perhaps she is not worthy of his affections. An everlasting cold invaded her bones the moment she turned her eye toward the keyhole. It has burrowed inwards towards her marrow, and now she is only numb.
She dares not close her eyes for fear of the images that explode beneath them. Splashes of salty sorrows fall onto her lap, but unlike yesterday's tears, today are the beginning of an ocean of troubles. Thomas is speaking, but his words are vacant, the hedges have taken his voice. With each gentle slice of wind, his words are swept into the tall canopy and consumed. She needs to lift her head higher, to look him dead in the eye, but she cannot. She is falling, and it is a welcome relief.
She is in bed surrounded by crisp white linen, and for the briefest of moments, her mind is calm. A smooth hand caresses her forehead. The remembrance of her first night as a married woman draws into sharp focus, and she tenses. Thomas pulls back his hand from her head. He is staring at her, his eyes dark and cold. Her head turns quickly, and she buries herself deep into the pillows. Why did she ever say yes? She is everything her father thought she was and more. She is but a foolish girl.
Nothing is how it is supposed to be and she lies a while unable to move, unable to think. The rhythmic sound of Thomas' breathing is slow-paced and haunting. Curiosity gets the better of her, and she turns to face him.
His eyes are closed, but she can tell he is not sleeping. He is motionless atop the blankets and still wearing his wedding suit. It is the closest they have ever been. It feels uncomfortable and off beam as if the wrong piece of a puzzle has been forced into place, making the whole scene look peculiar. She is sharing her bed with a stranger. Men have their secrets her mother had warned - a mistress, gambling debts perhaps, but not this. How could she navigate this?
New levels of torment at each remembrance catch her. A wisp of dark hair highlighted against a backdrop of a glowing fire, a body casting its shadow onto pale flesh. Virginia shifts awkwardly. Thomas' eyes flicker and open. She pulls the bedclothes up underneath her chin and holds them tight.
"I carried you from the garden. I think you fainted," he says, his eyes held against the ceiling. She stares at him in seething silence, but his gaze remains vertical.
"A scullery maid saw us, but I doubt she thought it odd, a newly married groom carrying his weary bride to bed," he pauses then exhales. Thomas turns to face her, and she sees the small lines above his brow and the redness forming in the whites of his eyes.
"I am a scoundrel, Ginny. You have married a scoundrel of the most wicked kind. I fear I have been undone." His words sound hollow, spoken but not felt.
Her mouth falls open, and before she can construct an appropriate response her bruised spirit spits words forth.
"Do you despise me so much, sir? Am I just a frivolous woman without feeling or honour, a whimsy for you to disregard so lightly?"
She wants every word to hurt him, and leave gaping exit wounds as they pass through.
"I have no imagination for what my eyes so clearly saw, I…I have no way of explaining how or what I feel."
She cannot gauge his response and whether her words have had the desired effect as his expression remains unchanged from one of pursed lips and light frown.
"You are never to speak about what it is you think you saw; do you understand?"
"Your actions, sir, have undone us both. You have condemned us to a life of woe, and I am much afflicted. You, Thomas Thraxted are seditious, and your actions will bring us both to ruin."
Her face has flushed, but there is no heat, only pink and red from brow to chin. Perhaps she has said too much as she sees his expression change, his face visibly tightening.
"Your candour Virginia, however harshly felt, is truthful," he pauses. His face looks pale and drawn, but his eyes burn as if touched by tinder.
"It is inappropriate to discuss my affairs with you or anyone else. They are my affairs, do you understand?"
He waits for her response, reluctantly she nods but says nothing.
"However, it is regrettable… the way you…" His voice drifts, but his eyes remain fixed on her.
"As my wife, you cannot condemn me, Virginia…and you must accept the situation."
His eyes try to bore deep, but her shutters are raised. She looks back at him without fear and pushes back a pervading blankness toward him. His expression softens.
"I am fond of you, Ginny, and I want us to put this whole sorry misunderstanding behind us. What can I do to show you my regard? I feel perhaps things have not realised themselves the way they should. Please, just say, and it shall be done, whatever you wish?"
He props himself up on a pillow facing her straight on.
Perhaps there is a flicker of remorse, perhaps not. There is no apology. His words are a yardstick by which to measure him. Sadly, he is lacking in everything she needs in a husband. Her marriage of less than twenty-four hours will never work. Regardless of how much she yields or tries to be the perfect wife, it will never be enough, because she is not enough. For now, her anger must be chastened and directed to a more acceptable end. He offers her nothing tangible. Words are of no cost to him, yet perhaps there is away for her to escape the dreadfulness of it all. She needs to clear the fingers of fog which assault her and make everything groggy and blurred. What she thought she knew of her husband must be forgotten. Her loyalty is her only bargaining chip. The cloud of confusion lifts from her, and her thoughts begin to form quickly.
"We are to leave England for France and Italy, are we not?" She asks, trying to hold the quiver from her voice. She casts her eyes down so he cannot see her rawness or the fragile cracks behind her words.
"Yes, yes, indeed, we are, this very morning."
He sits upright, and his shoulders visibly relax, he seems relieved. He thinks he's got her, compliant, and tame.
"I should very much like to visit the spa at Bad Arolsen…"
Her eyes remain downcast, but there is now more force behind her words.
"In Germany," she adds for good measure.
"They say the waters there hold restorative properties. In my current circumstance, …I… I feel I am in much need of restoration."
Her performance is solid; she is about as tame as a raging bull weighted with disguise.
"I have family friends there whom I should very much like to visit. Do you think it possible to detour for a short while on our way to Italy?" She does not mention the fact that the spa town is home to the man she truly loves, truly desires to be with now more than ever.
"Yes, yes, of course, consider it done."
Thomas' reply surprises her, both by its speed and his enthusiasm.
"I, too, have heard the spa waters can be very soothing. I shall begin to rearrange our itinerary at once."
A peculiar smile spreads across his face, it was neither happy nor sincere, and it bothers her. There has been no discussion nor any challenge; Thomas seems surprisingly pleased to accommodate her request. For now, he must believe she is malleable and open to persuasion. She will keep his secret, after all, what choice is there? She will trot along beside her unusual husband and play the dutiful wife if she can just hold everything together until they reach Germany.
"We shall fair well, you and I Ginny, you are truly a most gracious woman."
Taking her hand, he kisses it softly. It is a gesture he has performed thousands of times over. Staged, practiced, but never sincere.
She is bargaining with the devil. If her husband's passions lay elsewhere, then so be it. All that matters now is getting to Germany as quickly as possible. She needs to see Freddie, to ask for his help, he will know what to do. Life may have shown her more sides than she cares to see, but she will use it all to set things right.
Major Mulkenny looks on, and waves as the couple depart. He does not trust Thomas Thraxted, but he needs him. The men Mulkenny works with are dangerous and hidden by shadows, Thraxted is not, he needs his level of influence to ensure his plan goes smoothly. Mulkenny watches the motorcar slide from view and allows a sly smile to cross his face. It is a face that suits his spiteful nature, pitted, and edgy. He is tall and whip-thin and walks with a slight leaning to the left – a remnant of a battle long since forgotten. His hair holds the fashion of the day but looks unsettling on a military man. Recruiting Thomas had been the easy part of his plan – everyone has their price and their secrets. Thomas had wanted to renege on their deal, no one did that to him, especially not some jumped up British politician. It is a matter of honour.
Only once the plan had been executed would there be any room for negotiation, and even then, he might refuse his request, after all a British politician on side may prove useful further down the line. His attendance at the wedding was Thomas' idea, and it was a good one; no one would suspect a thing at the groom's wedding. All of the pieces were now in play. He must be patient and wait to hear back from Thomas.
Bar pleasantries Thomas does not speak on the short journey to Dover. He stares from the window, and his mind is elsewhere. Virginia leans back against the headrest, eyes closed. Tilly promises to send her hastily composed letter to Freddie as soon as they reach Boulogne, all she can do now is hope.
Bobbing and weaving, black-headed gulls ride the thermals and flank the ship both left and right as they leave the port. The English Channels usually choppy waters sit silently unruffled. Shades of Hooker's green spread as far as the eye can see. Small diamonds of white foam rock backward and forwards, finding a perfect rhythm. A wake of foamy suds fans out behind the boat. Soon the wake will be no more, and the sea will convert back to green, leaving no trace of their passing. The salty air catches on her lips and reminds her of happier times. A childhood spent beach combing near Penrose brings a small smile at its remembrance. She would steal away to a quiet cove and watch the waves roll in and out. Each wave produced a different scroll as it curled towards the shore. She wished to be back on that beach with nothing more to think about than the formation of the waves.
She has no desire to be below deck with her troublesome husband, and making her excuses finds her way back up to the promenade deck at the top of the boat where the wind is light and cold. She embraces its sharpness, enjoying the tingling feeling she feels on her cheeks. There has been no mention of their wedding night and Thomas seems vacant and distant. Virginia watches the waves as they tinker and play both forwards and back. She keeps time with the vessel's gentle movement and allows the rhythm of the ship to bewitch her. The sea looks intense and inviting. It could be so quickly done, a silent world beneath the waves, so calm, so tranquil with everything forgotten. A voice from behind makes her start.