Sighing inwardly and feeling her anger fade away, Dinah nodded and gestured for Titania to continue. Inwardly, she considered that Titania’s words would have very little worth, given that Titania had been nothing more than a flirtatious young lady who had, somehow, found a devotion within her heart for only one gentleman. She was happily married now, yes, but that did not mean that she would be able to speak to Dinah’s circumstances, and certainly she did not believe that Titania understood anything about what it was to be devoted to God in the way that Dinah’s mother had been.
“A love and an affection, such as the one you saw in your mother, does not come solely from prayer and study,” Titania said gently, her hand still atop Dinah’s joined ones. “They come from a willingness to accept people as they are, to let go of their mistakes, and to allow forgiveness to flow towards them. Love does not point out other people’s faults but rather seeks to treat them with kindness and consideration. It does not hold onto wrongdoing – and I believe that includes not even holding onto your own guilt, Dinah. It holds you back; it restrains you. You must allow yourself to feel God’s forgiveness over your sins, my dear cousin, for I am certain that you have asked it of Him.”
Dinah nodded mutely, hating that her cousin was making such sense and yet trying to tell herself that she ought to listen and accept what was being said.
“You have nothing to concern yourself with then,” Titania continued quietly. “Allow yourself to make mistakes and not to fall into despair over them. Seek to give an apology if you require it, but do not linger on your faults – nor linger on the faults of others, Dinah. I know that you have often thought me to be failing in one way or another, but I have never allowed your consideration of me to affect my decisions nor my behavior—for I have never thought them to be any of your concern.” She shrugged, speaking as bluntly and as plainly as ever. “My behavior is my own concern, for do I not also pray and study God’s word as you do? It may not be with such devotion as you, and mayhap you think that wrong of me, but I believe, Dinah, that my behavior and the choices I make are seen by God and therefore only to be my concern and no one else’s. You should not judge me, and I should not judge you, not unless there is something of great wrongness in my character or my behavior.” She smiled gently, her words betraying nothing but a consideration and a love for Dinah. “In doing so, one’s character becomes quite lovely, for it is filled with a love for others that brings out compassion, consideration, and hope. I do not yet have such traits in all their fullness, but I long to do so. I believe that is the character that your mother possessed, Dinah, and it is a credit to you that you wish to emulate her – but do not be mistaken in your belief that. in order to gain such a character, you must judge others, berate yourself often, and turn towards shame, guilt, and disfavor. Rather, seek out the light.” Her hand dropped from Dinah’s, although Titania’s smile remained. “I hope I have not offended you, but I had to speak to you in such a manner so that you might understand my perspective.”
“No,” Dinah replied, surprised that her voice was hoarse with emotion. “No, indeed, I do not feel any anger towards you, Titania. Thank you.” A little astonished that she did, in fact, feel gratefulness towards her cousin, Dinah looked into Titania’s face and saw the surprise in her eyes as she looked back at her. Perhaps Titania had not thought that Dinah would be so willing to accept such words from her, but the truth had been in everything Titania had said. Dinah knew that she did, very often, linger over her own faults. She would seek forgiveness from God as she ought but thereafter would continue to cling onto her shame, going over and over it in her mind and praying almost continually until the feeling slowly faded.
Perhaps there was another way.
Suddenly, a wall of shame crashed into her, making her blink back sudden, forceful tears. In that one moment, visions of herself as she had behaved in the past came flooding back to her, reminding her of all the times she had spoken harshly to her cousins, how she had criticized them and laid out Bible verses in defense of what she had said. Covering her eyes for a moment, Dinah fought to keep her composure, feeling as though she had been washed in weakness, overcome by all that she now knew.
“Dinah.” Titania’s voice was gentle. “I did not mean to upset you.”
“No,” Dinah replied, lifting her face and taking in a long breath so as to steady herself. “No, you did not upset me, Titania. Thank you for speaking to me.”
Titania said nothing, looking back at Dinah with her intense gaze that Dinah knew to be so familiar and yet so unwelcome.
“I—I should go and seek out—”
“Oh, of course,” Titania interrupted, screwing up her face in evident frustration. “You have missed the first part of this dance. I am sorry, dear cousin. I did not know that you were engaged for the cotillion. Which gentleman was it you were to dance with? Here, do let me see. We should be able to find him together.”
Before Dinah could protest, Titania had grasped Dinah’s dance card and had lifted it to try and find the name, only for her eyebrows to lift and her hand to drop back down to her side.
“You have no gentlemen as yet,” she commented, as a faint blush came to Dinah’s cheeks. “Why is that, Dinah?”
Dinah tried to shrug in a casual fashion. “I have found none I wish to dance with,” she answered, with as much conviction as she could. “I have n
ot been engaging in conversation or the like, Titania. I would not hide the truth from you. I have not been seeking out such a thing from anyone.” Thoughts of joining the convent were still circling around her mind, which was combined with Lady Whitehaven’s insistence that she marry and the confusion that came with considering both things at once.
“Are you afraid of doing so?” Titania asked bluntly. “If so, then why do you not seek out my brother? I know that he would be glad to…” She frowned and then shook her head. “Although I do not recall him dancing as yet, even though this is now his fifth ball of the Season.”
“I was seeking out Lord Whitehaven, in fact,” Dinah told her cousin, truthfully. “If you will excuse me, I will speak to him now.” She saw Titania nod, giving her a half smile before taking her leave. Wishing that she could find a way to tell Titania just how much her words had meant, Dinah could only squeeze her cousin’s hand briefly before moving away. Titania had been right to state that Dinah had always looked down upon her behavior, for she had found her much too forward, much too brash and flirtatious – but yet, Dinah knew that Titania was also correct to state that such things were none of Dinah’s concern. She might pray for her cousin, as she did for the rest of them, but that did not mean that she ought to pronounce judgement on Titania. Beside which, Titania had now found a suitable match and was, in fact, deeply in love with her husband. There had been no consequences for Titania’s behavior, as Dinah had once believed. There had been nothing but joy and contentment, which, Dinah thought, throwing a look over her shoulder towards Titania, was what Titania had always wanted.
Turning her head back, she only just prevented herself from walking directly into Lord Whitehaven, who, catching himself, moved back quickly, although his gait was somewhat awkward.
“Oh, good gracious!” Dinah exclaimed, a flush creeping up her neck. “I am truly sorry, Whitehaven.”
Lord Whitehaven did not look particularly pleased, for his expression was dark and his brows low. “Whatever are you doing, Dinah?” he muttered, grasping her by the elbow and turning her away from the other guests so that they might converse in a quieter corner of the room. “Is something the matter?”
Dinah swallowed hard, waiting until his gloved hand had left her elbow before she spoke. Looking up into his face, her eyes lingered on his lips for just a moment, sending her flush all the hotter as she recalled how they had been pressed to her own. A delicious sensation flooded her as she thought of it, licking her lips and dropping her eyes to the floor so that she would not betray herself to Lord Whitehaven. It seemed he did not recall it, and therefore, there was no need for her to even consider mentioning it to him.
“I do apologize, Whitehaven,” she stammered, feeling more than a little awkward. “I came to find you. I–”
“Came to find me?” Lord Whitehaven interrupted, sounding quite astonished. “You mean to say that you have come here specifically to speak to me?” He chortled loudly, although it did not hold any meanness of spirit. “And after all I have done to you, Dinah? Goodness, something must be afoot!”
Dinah, thrown a little off balance by his remark and wondering if he did, in fact, remember trying to kiss her, cleared her throat gently. She looked away from him, trying to regain her sense of composure.
“It is only that I wish to apologize, Lord Whitehaven,” she told him, only seeing out of the corner of her eye how his smile began to fade as she spoke. “I compared you to a pig and that was wrong of me to say. I ought not to have tried to insult you, even though my feelings on the matter were quite legitimate.” So saying, she took in a long breath, lifted her chin, looked back at him. “I seek your forgiveness, Whitehaven.”
Lord Whitehaven said nothing for some moments. His eyes were wide with surprise, his expression one of utter shock. Dinah felt her heart begin to pound furiously in her chest, fearing that she would begin to sink into the floor in embarrassment if he continued to say nothing. Lowering her head, she looked steadfastly at his feet, swallowing the lump in her throat and twisting her fingers together.
And then, Lord Whitehaven let out a low whistle, raking one hand through his hair as he shook his head gently.
“You are utterly remarkable, Dinah,” he said softly, making her look up at him sharply for fear that he was mocking her. “You come to me to seek out my forgiveness when it is I who has been treating you poorly for a good length of time.”
She shrugged, hearing the quietness of his voice but fearing that he was still to make a mockery of her. “I speak to you with all honesty,” she told him, wanting him to believe her and to keep his teasing to himself. “I feel a guilt in my heart that I have prayed over, but it has become apparent that I must seek your forgiveness also.” She drew in a long breath, steadying herself. “It does not matter about your behavior, I think, for how you feel about such a thing is not my concern.”