Dinah spoke before she could prevent it, her thoughts in a myriad that spread out in every direction.
“I think you wish to numb yourself to whatever it is that torments you,” she found herself saying, aware of how Titania was looking at her in surprise. “I think you do whatever you can to hide the truth of your heart from yourself – and the way you have chosen to do so is to drink yourself into a stupor and to then gamble whatever you please, without any true consideration.” The words were still tumbling out of her, hastily spoken in the urge to have them escape from her lips. “If only you would confront such feelings, look directly into your heart and face the truth that lies there, then I believe you would no longer seek to numb yourself,” she finished. “I may tell you repeatedly that you are the same as any other gentleman, but you will continue to believe that you are less of a man because of your limp. Unless you can look at yourself and accept the truth of who you are, you shall never be content.”
Silence filled the carriage for some minutes, and Dinah’s cheeks slowly flooded with color as a slight sheen of sweat broke out over her forehead. She had spoken out of turn. She had said too much. She ought not to have been so forward.
“Very well said, Dinah.”
Her head lifted. Titania was looking back at her with a gentle smile on her face, one that spoke of reassurance and encouragement.
“And if you are wise, brother dear, you will listen you our fair cousin,” Titania continued, looking across at Lord Whitehaven, who managed to open his eyes just a crack. “For I believe you will find great wisdom in what she has to say.”
Lord Whitehaven made a small noise in the back of his throat, although what it was meant to signify, Dinah did not know. She sat quietly in her chair for the remainder of the journey, looking at the silent figure of Lord Whitehaven and wondering the very same question as he had asked.
Now that she had spoken so bluntly, now that she had told him the truth about what she thought of his behavior, just how did he view her now? Was he angry with her for what she had said? Would he revert back to how she had always known him—unkind, ill-mannered, and inconsiderate? Or would he look at her now with respect and consideration, continuing forward with the beginnings of an understanding that had started to grow between them?
Lord Whitehaven opened his eyes again suddenly and looked at her, his face a mask of pain. Dinah did not react, not smiling nor frowning at him, but rather merely holding his gaze to try and let him know that she was present with him and not about to turn her back on him or rain down judgement upon him. He gave a small, jerky nod and then closed his eyes again, making Dinah believe that, somehow, in that silence, there had come an understanding there. An understanding that she would not reject him now, just as she prayed he would not reject her also.
“My dear, you have a letter.”
Dinah jerked violently, embarrassed as she realized she had been dozing at the dining table, resting with her elbow on the table in a most unladylike fashion. Luncheon had been a quiet affair, and Dinah had thought that Lady Whitehaven had already departed the house, otherwise she would not have allowed herself to act with such impropriety.
“Are you quite all right, Dinah?” Lady Whitehaven asked, looking at Dinah in concern. “You have appeared rather tired these last three days, which is why I have not pressed you to go to the balls we had already agreed to.” She tipped her head slightly as though this would help her see Dinah better. “And Titania seems just as tired as you.”
Dinah tried to smile, finding that the first thing coming to her mouth was a lie. “Titania and I have been doing a great deal of talking lately,” she said, aware that this was not the truth in all its entirety. “We have stayed up rather late, I confess.”
Lady Whitehaven, however, looked quite delighted at this, with evidently no suspicion that Dinah was not telling her the whole truth. “Well, that is wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Since I know that you and Titania have not often seen eye to eye.”
“Indeed,” Dinah replied honestly. “I will be honest with you, Aunt. I have come to see that I have been often very critical of my cousins—and that such an attitude has been wrong.” She accepted the letter from her aunt with a smile, aware that the twinge of guilt she felt over not telling her aunt everything as regarded Lord Whitehaven would have to be dealt with later. “Thank you.”
Lady Whitehaven made to make for the door, only to stop and turn back around to face Dinah.
“I must say, Dinah, that I do not hold it against you to be so critical of your cousins. After all, you have endured a great deal and given that your mother was very devoted in her faith, I well understand that you wanted to emulate her.”
“But in doing so, I have become hard and crass,” Dinah responded, feeling the pain of such an acknowledgement but also a refreshing sense of peace filling her. “It was Whitehaven, in fact, who showed that to me. My mother was kind and compassionate – as was my father – and her devotion did not harden her in the way I have chosen to harden myself. It was my choice to be judgmental and condescending instead of accepting that how someone chooses to conduct themselves is entirely for their own deliberations.”
“Unless, of course, it is ruinous or hurtful to others,” Lady Whitehaven interrupted, making Dinah nod.
“My cousins did not act in the way that I thought they ought to, even though they did not hurt anyone by their actions nor ruin themselves entirely, as you have said,” Dinah finished. “Therefore, I was in the wrong. I hope to change my behavior now so that it is an improvement for both myself and those about me.”
Lady Whitehaven clasped her hands together, came around to Dinah’s chair, and reached down to hug her. Dinah, surprised by such a display of affection, hugged her aunt back and was surprised to see the tears gleaming in Lady Whitehaven’s eyes as she let Dinah go.
“I have only ever wanted you to be happy, Dinah,” Lady Whitehaven said, her voice a little hoarse with emotion. “I have seen how you have tormented yourself over the way your cousins have chosen to behave, and I have known that such an attitude could not bring you any such happiness. Now, mayhap, you will begin to enjoy your life instead of bringing such sorrow and struggle to your own heart. And what is more, I am glad that Grayson has been so willing to speak to you.” She let out a contented sigh and turned around to make her way to the door again. “It may be that, finally, he is also changing from a rather selfish and arrogant sort of gentleman to one who is considerate and kindhearted.” Pulling open the door, she gave Dinah a long smile. “Although I shall only see evidence of such a change once he has recovered from this illness of his, I suppose,” she finished, before walking out of the dining room and leaving Dinah to herself.
Dinah let out a long breath, wincing inwardly with the knowledge that she had deliberately hidden the truth from Lady Whitehaven as regarded her son. In fact, more than that, she had lied to Lady Whitehaven outrightly, telling her that Lord Whitehaven had taken ill and wanted to stay in his rooms in darkness until he was recovered. Lady Whitehaven had been instantly worried about him and had sent for a doctor, who was taken into Lord Whitehaven’s confidences as regarded keeping the truth of his condition from his mother. The doctor had obeyed, of course, and had reassured Lady Whitehaven that her son required only rest and quiet until he recovered, which should be within the week.
That had been three days ago. Since then, either Titania or Dinah or both of them had been sitting with him in the late hours of the evening, making certain that Lord Whitehaven was recovering and did not require anything. There had not been much conversation, however, which meant that Dinah did not know the truth about what had occurred to leave Lord Whitehaven in such a state, nor how he felt about her presence with him. Titania had reported that her brother had been utterly silent with her also, which brought Dinah a sense of relief.
Jerked back to the present and the letter that Lady Whitehaven had given her, Dinah looked down at the seal and saw that it was from her father’s solicitors. They had been in touch a good deal when she had first arrived in England, informing her of her dowry and such, but she had not heard from them in some time. There appeared to be no need to do so. Frowning, she saw how the address had been rewritten. Evidently, the solicitors had sent it to the estate, and it had then been forwarded to her here in London. Turning it over, she broke the seal and began to read.
Her heart leapt in her chest as she read it. The letter was brief but to the point. Her father’s house, remaining possessions, and everything else that had belonged to the admiral had been sold, and the money was now finally ready. It was settled into her account and entirely at her disposal.
But it was not this that filled Dinah with such surprise. Rather, it was the sheer amount of money that was revealed in the letter. It was more than she had ever expected, more than she could ever dream of! If she lived on this carefully, then it would do her very well for the rest of her life!
Suddenly, many possibilities opened up to her. Possibilities that she had never even considered. She could buy a small cottage and live there quietly. There would be no need to join with a convent, for she could concentrate on her faith in solitude whilst still be able to greet her family whenever they wished to see her. Lady Whitehaven would have to content herself with the fact that Dinah did not want to marry, which would come about in time, and at the very least, she would be content with the knowledge that Dinah would not be left to struggle through life with very little to support her. With this money, her whole world would change.
But what of Whitehaven?