It was a Tempest with dark eyes that appeared that evening to an informal dinner - consisting of all the current occupants of the great estate and a "quick" dinner, which meant they dined in the Small Dining Room with a table set for twelve and three removes.
Lady Wivenbrough, the highest ranking lady, presided over the table. There was also Mrs. Brougham and her companion; the brothers Samuel and Daniel Creevey, ages sixteen and twenty; Major Stanton, his wife, and Major Stanton's sister, Emily. Mrs. Brougham was one of Saintignon's elderly dependent, the young brothers Samuel and Daniel his wards, and nobody knew the exact connection of Major Stanton & company (for he had three children dining in the nursery) to the Saintignon family. From Mrs. Brougham's frostiness towards them, it appeared that they had come for a dinner party a very long time ago and had simply continued to stay, thinking, quite correctly, that they would remain unnoticed in such a large mansion.
All, however, took this opportunity to celebrate Saintignon's upcoming nuptials, and wine flowed freely at the table. Tempest began to develop a very bad headache.
"Tempest," Yolanda whispered. As it was an informal dinner, they were seated willy-nilly around the table, without regard for status and gender, as two women would usually be seated separately.
Tempest turned to look at Yolanda with bleary eyes.
Yolanda inhaled upon seeing Tempest's face. "You look horrible," she breathed. "Are you quite all right?"
"Just a headache," Tempest evaded with a weak smile.
"Make your excuses," Yolanda prodded. "Go on, do it! You'll be lady of the manor soon enough!"
Luckily for Tempest, the party was in such high spirits due to the following wine to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of the absent lord of the manor. After dinner, Mrs. Brougham's companion played the piano in the drawing room as Major Stanton and his wife performed very lively and expert entrechats to the inebriated whistles from the men. The occupants of the drawing room were so engaged in their festivity that Tempest was able to beg exhaustion and retire to her bedchamber. In less than fifteen minutes, a knock sounded on her door, and Tempest opened the door to a concerned Yolanda.
"You look completely spent!" Yolanda said in a hushed voice as she closed the door behind her. "I haven't had a chance to speak to you since we left the inn. What has happened since that time?"
Tempest covered her face with her hands. "I can't go through with this, Yolanda!" she said on a deep groan.
"You mean marriage," Yolanda said, settling herself in the settee.
"Yes, of course I mean this marriage!"
"I'm only wondering," Yolanda said cautiously. "Because you've said so before and yet here we are."
"I don't mean to snap at you," Tempest said with contrition. "Only look at this mess I've managed to land myself. What can I do about it all?"
"Well," Yolanda said slowly. "I think you could have spoken to him back home. Or written him a letter. Or stopped him before he left on his business."
Tempest didn't reply, but fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Yes, yes, and yes. Squandered opportunities, all. And now time was counting down faster than an unspooling reel of thread that had been dropped downhill. She hadn't expected Saintignon to be out for the entire evening, and for him to be completely absent from the county when she asked the butler after his whereabouts. She should have made more of their afternoon in the parlor.
"Only I think you have secretly begun to care for him," Yolanda added.
Tempest whipped her head around to stare at Yolanda.
"Well, why not?" Yolanda said reasonably. "He is a personable person now that he has stopped doing all those heinous things you hated. And it has made your parents so happy."
"It isn't love," Tempest protested.
"No," Yolanda agreed. "But-now, don't go off on me, Tempest, because I know I'm nowhere near to getting married-but surely there are different kinds of love. And Lord Talleyrand certainly cares for you very much."
"Now he does. What of the future?"
"What can any of us say about the future?" Yolanda asked, shrugging. "And they do say that love can grow in a marriage. And he has demonstrated his devotion to you very clearly."
Tempest didn't respond.
"I think," Yolanda said hesitantly. "I think that you are a very idealistic person."
"I?" Tempest said, jerking her face towards her friend.
"Yes, you. I know that we're all supposed to be practical Cheltendon stock, but you are so full of dreams and ideals. Don't look at me like that, Tempest. Why else have you defended all of us against bullies this age? Why else do you espouse theories that others deem radical? Why else do you hold on to these dreams of a white knight when a flawed, but very eligible man stands in front of you, offering his name and protection? I love you dearly, as well as all your idealism. But love isn't romance built of a series of secret glances and longing, or serves to exist only when the moment is right, or even only for the beautiful and perfect. It isn't wishing madly for just a glimpse of his face. True love is something that takes work, hard work."
"How came you by this wisdom?" Tempest asked, smiling ruefully at her friend.
"Because I've felt the tendre every young girl feels, I suppose," Yolanda said with a shrug. "And I've also felt it go away-poof!-as if it never existed. You just wake up one morning and the longing and the melancholy and the dreaming disappear. Therefore,I know it's not real. But it is surprisingly addictive," she added thoughtfully.
"Were that I could be as wise as you," Tempest said, affection for her younger friend flooding her.
"Not wise at all. Only resigned to my fate. Look you here. My parents won't send me to London, or Bath, or any of those grand cities for a Season. I'll make my debut in Cheltendon and marry a nice local man. I don't suppose I'll be madly in love with him, but if he is kindly and gentle, I'll have no cause for complaint, now do I?"
"Would I that my parents didn't aim so high for me," mourned Tempest.
"Pish-tosh, Tempest! They have sacrificed immensely for you! And here you are, with a man who is kindly to you and appears very much devoted to you and sincere in his promises. How can you not appreciate that much, at the very least?"
"You make me seem very ungrateful indeed," Tempest said, looking at the ceiling again.
"No...only you must feel for this other man very deeply."
"It is...not reciprocated," Tempest said in a very soft voice.
"Ah. Well, I gathered not," Yolanda said tactfully. "Do you plan to tell him, this other man?"
"No! At least, I don't know how I can. I have no inkling where he is now."
"Could not you write to him?"
Tempest considered where Rochefort was, quite possibly on a ship sailing far, far away. "No."
"Will you see him again?"
Tempest wondered if her life as Saintignon's wife would be spent mourning for a love that could have been, gazing sadly after Lord Rochefort as they passed in ballrooms. But perhaps he would be long gone, aiding Lady Susanna on her charitable pursuits. "Perhaps not," she murmured.
"It seems then that the opportunity has passed," Yolanda said, shrugging a shoulder. "Would you spend the rest of your life waiting for him to appear again?" she demanded to know. "While life marches unerringly on?"
When Tempest didn't reply immediately, Yolanda said, "There, I've done enough scolding for tonight. And when I came here to cheer you up too! Only, do you suppose the reason you don't feel kindly for Lord Talleyrand is because you prefer widows and orphans?"
"I beg your pardon?" Tempest asked, confused.
"You know. The downtrodden. The poor-spirited. You always have such a big heart for the weak, Tempest, and defend them to the end. And heaven knows Lord Talleyrand is not weak or needing of your pity. In fact, he seems to delight in fighting your battles for you."
Tempest blew out the air through her nose in a very unladylike manner.
Yolanda reached over and covered Tempest's hand with her own. "Dearest, whatever the case may be, I wish for you all the good things of the world!"
"And I you," Tempest said. "It has truly been such a comfort to have you near. I must see what I can do to marry you off to a gentleman who lives exceedingly close by. You would make some lucky man a very good wife someday, if only I could find someone who deserved you," Tempest said.
"Whoever he is, I hope he realizes his good fortune!" Yolanda replied blithely.
After Yolanda had retired to her own room, Tempest rang for the maid to prepare her for bed. Then she lay awake thinking of choices, the choices one was given in life and the choices one made for oneself.
She thought of Yolanda, whose life was limited to the choices given her by her parents and who seemed oddly content with her lot in life. It seemed that were Yolanda offered the choice, she would not choose much differently. Tempest thought of Saintignon, whose choices consisted of the whole world on a platter, but who sought to also make his own choices and decisions regardless of others' opinions. His words that day on the steps of the Ferris' manor so long ago now revealed that if life didn't go according to his plan, he was willing to move heaven and earth to see it happen. A man who chose to live without regret, one who chose not to be dictated by others' choices for him, someone who wasn't simply the mindless beast she had labeled him but a person who steadfastly pursued his goals. Put this way, it now seemed strangely admirable if heedless of polite civilization.
Her friend, Yolanda, was the exact opposite of Saintignon in stance and choices, but both chose to stand by the choices they made with no regrets and no second thoughts.
She thought next of Lord Rochefort, who had choices made for him, who seemed likely to pine away for the rest of his life until Tempest yelled at him to wake up out of limbo. He had then crossed that insurmountable barrier of his own character to grasp what would not have been his to grasp.
And what of herself? She thought of her parents, who had sacrificed much so that their only daughter could marry well-a reckless gamble, given that daughter was little blessed in the way of looks or social niceties.
The comparison seemed funny now, ironic, even, that she, who told Rochforte to be brave and make his own destiny, would be so tied down to the choices of her parents, of Saintignon, of society's approval. She, who considered herself above the materialistic slavery of London society, was less free than any of them. She had not made one choice for herself, and look where she had ended. All she did, she realized, was to urge others to be brave, to stand up for others. But was she brave on her own behalf? It appeared not.
She and Lord Rocheforte were two of a kind, bound by others' choices, unwilling to settle for less, and unwilling to reach for their goals. Tempest, alone in the dark, gave a bitter laugh as she contemplated life's little ironies.
And yet, even Lord Rocheforte had left her behind. He had gone after his own dreams, the dreams of a lifetime, and left her behind. In the metaphorical world split between the doers and the lamenters, it seemed she was alone in the dark realm of the latter.
She groaned, massaging her temples between her fingers. Despite the repeated mantra that Saintignon was nowhere as bad as she had initially thought him (persistence and steadfastness were generally considered positive traits) and that Rocheforte was nowhere as good as she had dreamily labeled him (inability to speak one's mind and willingness to pursue one's goals were the underpinnings of cowardice, after all), she considered the trite phrase that the heart wants what the heart wants.
Because while all three statements should have been mutually exclusive, they also coexisted in her reality to wreak havoc with any ability to reach a rational decision. The rational decision being, of course, Saintignon, the willing, available, not quite as bad as all that, suitor; not Rocheforte, the absent, aloof, disinterested sometime friend.
Life had been decidedly simple when no men and no decisions loomed on her horizon.
On her second night in the Lake District, her first night in the South Wing of the famous primary residence of the twelfth Marquis Talleyrand, Viscount d'Chamborne, Baron de Vere, etc., etc., Tempest lay awake, wallowing in self-recriminations until morning.
She was not to know that second chances were not the missed opportunities of a lifetime, and that the morrow would be the beginning of this knowledge.
A/N: This was a fun chapter to get out. Lots of self-reflection and insight into the characters that I felt were intrinsic to good character development. Tempest, as many people had noted, is pretty immature, as are all girls at a certain point in life. She's pretty impetuous too, but in my version, at least, she gets tempered with time and realizes that love isn't like in the books. Ha! Oh, the irony of that statement.
I really hope that this fanfic can be tied up sometime within this year or the midst of the next. At the very least, this is progressing much faster than my other one, which seems almost dead in the water :(. As always, much thanks for all the lovely reviews. I recently started to really ship Dramione. If any of you are interested, I have a one-shot posted! -shameless advertising