Author’s note: The long scene that follows the first paragraph below was originally a stand-alone flashback/interlude; it later became the version you’re about to read, which fits in as Gray and Sophie’s (mostly Sophie’s) memories of their visit to Gray’s family in the first summer after their wedding, and explains why they decide not to make another such visit before setting off for Alba. It’s pretty rough, having been cut for reasons of length and relevance early in the revision cycle, but I still rather like it, and thought some of you might too.
When they had begun to plan this journey, Sophie had tentatively suggested that they first make another visit to Gray’s family in Kernow, on the grounds that they could not be sure when they might again have the opportunity. “Have you forgotten our last visit?” Gray had asked her, incredulous, and Sophie sighed and admitted that she had not.
Their first Oxford digs had been at the far end of Beaumont-street, on the second floor of a house whose owners had clearly begun to think better of living beyond their income. Their meagre belongings unpacked, Sophie had at once sat down with pen and writing-paper to inform all her small acquaintance of their new direction; and when this brief task was done, had looked up at Gray, frowning over a grimoire on the other side of the minuscule table, and said with unaccustomed diffidence, “Will you not write to your parents?”
By way of reply, Gray turned to gaze out of the window. “It would be a waste of good paper and ink,” he said after a moment; “I hardly think my father will be better disposed to me now, than when I last saw him; and on that occasion, you know, he would not bid me welcome to his house, and spoke not a word to me for the whole fortnight of my visit.”
Gray had persuaded Sophie to a reconciliation of sorts with her own father, and she felt moved to reciprocate in kind.
“Your father may have cast you off,” she reasoned, “But your mother has not; as lately as a few months ago, after all, she was attempting to find you a wife …”
A snort of mirthless laughter.
“Truly, Gray, she will be glad for news of you,” Sophie persisted; “and she will be glad to know that you are married, will she not? Though perhaps not over-pleased with your choice.”
“Jenny will write to her, no doubt, and tell all the news.”
Sophie opened her mouth to say But that is not the same; Gray’s thunder-cloud expression, however, dissuaded her for the time being.
Her subsequent attempts to renew the discussion had convinced her, that this was the one subject on which Gray did not wish to hear her opinion; for, though he listened patiently enough, she could not change his mind. But Sophie, from the painful circumstances surrounding the loss of her own mother, was determined to leave nothing undone, which she could do to forward a reconciliation; and at the first opportunity, having found out from Jenny the Marshalls’ direction in Kernow, wrote to her mother-in-law herself.
Agatha Marshall’s reply, when at length it arrived, was not very encouraging. Actuated, however, by the possible consequences of offending the Princess Royal and, by extension, the Princess’s father, she had included in it a civilly worded, if unenthusiastic, invitation to her son and daughter-in-law to visit her home in the course of the following summer.
Sophie, astonished at her rapid success, had relayed the invitation to Gray in high delight – which was almost instantly extinguished by his snatching the letter from her hand and exclaiming, “Sophie, what have you done?”
“I wrote to your mother some time ago,” Sophie repeated, “and this is her reply.”
Gray glowered at her. “I did not give you leave to write to my mother.”
The small part of Sophie that remained Appius Callender’s stepdaughter quailed at his tone; but the rest of her was spurred to annoyance, and she knew Gray well enough by now, to understand that she was in no danger. “There is no reason on earth that I may not write to my own mother-in-law,” she retorted; “and I only did so, because you would not. So it is your own fault, Gray.”
Gray drew a deep breath and slowly smoothed out his mother’s letter, which he had crumpled into a tight ball in one fist. He read it through.
“Sophie,” he said at last, “do you remember once telling me, that you did not wish me to fight your battles for you?”
“Yes,” Sophie admitted. “But–”
“Cariad, I know you meant well. And, if indeed we are now to be welcomed to my father’s house, I suppose it would be churlish to refuse. But I beg you will let me, as you yourself put it, fight my own battles in future.”
“You had no intention of fighting this one!” said Sophie, a little stung. “If I had left the matter to you–”
“We shall go if you wish it,” Gray said. “But, cariad, you may find that some breaches are not worth the healing.”
They had subsequently received a much more sincerely enthusiastic invitation from Sophie’s uncle, the Duke of Breizh, and had in the end agreed that breaking their journey thither to spend a fortnight at Glascoombe could do no one any harm. Though Edmond Marshall did not deign to appear when Gray and Sophie arrived at Glascoombe, Gray’s mother, his brothers George and Alan, and George’s wife were all on hand to welcome them.
George was an imposing figure, only half a head shorter than Gray and rather broader of shoulder; under a shock of artfully disarranged golden curls, he eyed the newcomers with wary attention. His wife – whose forename they must discover for themselves anon, for Mrs Marshall the elder introduced her only as “Mrs George” – could not, thought Sophie, possibly be as colourless as she seemed; how could anyone? Alan, the tow-headed youngest of the family, had as yet neither George’s bulk nor Gray’s height, but did possess a very charming smile, which he turned on Sophie almost at once; whether because there was some genuine friendship in it, or because no one else seemed at all that way inclined, she found herself warming to him, and returning a perfectly heartfelt smile of her own.
Gray saw, though Sophie did not, how George, Mrs George and Mrs Marshall rocked back at her sudden transformation from anxious nonentity to — if he knew his wife at all — a startling, luminous beauty. Only Alan seemed unaffected; which meant, Gray could not help suspecting, that only Alan had believed what they must all by now have heard about the events of Samhain-night.
“So,” said Agatha Marshall to her second son, after breakfast the following morning, “this is your high-born bride? I must say, Graham, your sister’s report led me to expect quite a different sort of girl. But then, Genevieve is so apt in general to see only the best in people.”
Gray kept his temper with some effort: at least, thank the gods, his mother had not chosen to so insult Sophie to her face. “I am sorry you are not pleased with Sophie, Mama,” he said. “She had hoped you might become good friends, as she and Jenny have.” He did not add, I warned her not to expect too much.
Mrs Marshall sniffed. “I hope I know how to make my daughters-in-law welcome,” she said; “Mrs George will tell you so, I am sure.”
As Catharine Marshall had in fact devoted an entire hour’s walk about the park with Sophie to complaints about their mutual mother-in-law, Gray could think of no very civil reply to this.
“In any event, Mama,” he said instead, “we cannot stay above a fortnight, for we are promised to Sophie’s relations in Breizh for the whole of August.”
“Yes, so you said in your letter!” his mother said indignantly. “I do think, however, that your relations might be supposed to have an equal claim.”
“Most of Sophie’s relations have never met her,” said Gray; “until last winter, they all believed her dead, and they are eager to become better acquainted. Besides,” he added, “as a fortnight’s visit is all that my father has previously been persuaded to consent to, we thought it best not to further strain his goodwill.”
“Graham, how can you say such a thing?” she exclaimed.
Gray counted ten, in Greek, and reminded himself again that they should be on their way to Breizh within a fortnight.
“Call it the wisdom of experience, ma’am,” he said. Then he excused himself politely and went in search of his wife.
Over the course of the next two days, Sophie had observed that Gray’s father spoke to him only when it could not be avoided; that his mother appeared to have forgotten that he was no longer a child; and that George was continually recalling, in a hearty back-slapping manner which reminded Sophie horribly of her stepfather, occasions on which, as a boy, he had got the better of his younger brother in this or that contest of strength, skill or endurance.
Gray seemed able for the most part to ignore these slights, calmly turning the conversation whenever this could be managed, and reacting with no more than a slight tightening of the jaw. Sophie however found them maddening, and was near to jumping up from her seat to embrace Alan merely for remarking, after a particularly insulting anecdote from George, “Do you remember, George, when you wagered Graham he could not light the nursery fire after you had poured out the kettle over it, and you were so sure he should not be able to do it, that you stood too close and had your eyebrows burnt off?”
Gray’s lips twitched, but he said nothing; and George, looking disgruntled, was likewise silent.
“How can you let George speak to you so?” Sophie demanded indignantly, when they were alone. “He is as bad as the Professor, Gray. I cannot understand it!”
“Can you not, cariad?” Gray said wryly. He kissed her, and steered her gently to a seat before the dressing-table, where she bent her head for him to pull out the hair-pins.
“It does no good to argue the point, you know,” he continued. “Their minds were made up by the time I was four years old, I think; certainly George’s was, and there is no procuring his good opinion. If I have yours, however, and that of our friends and my colleagues, what care I if my parents think me a coward and George thinks me a fool?”
“You may care nothing,” Sophie muttered, in the general direction of the fists clenched in her lap, “but I shall consider myself free to care as much as ever.”
“Your pardon, cariad?” said Gray.
“Oh! It was nothing,” said Sophie. She could not quite bring herself to meet his eyes in the glass; fortunately however, he had finished removing the pins from her hair, and was at that moment bending to kiss the top of her head.
Matters came to a head on the following afternoon, when Sophie and Catharine were helping Mrs Marshall cut flowers for her dinner-table – were, that is to say, cutting flowers under her direction.
“When I first met Gray,” Sophie remarked quietly to Catharine, as they bent together over a stand of yellow daylilies in search of the newest blooms, “he was weeding a border in my stepfather’s garden, and pulling up all the wrong things. Yet he has often told me how much he loved this garden! I expect he must have spent all of his time in it with his nose in a book, or watching the butterflies and birds.”
Despite everything she was inclined to like Catharine, who seemed as much out of place at Glascoombe as she was herself. My dear Catharine, she longed to ask, but knew she never could, whatever can have possessed you to marry George Marshall?
Catharine giggled. “Oh! I cannot imagine that George would fare any better,” she said, snipping off a spray of pink lilies and handing it to Sophie. “Though he knows as much about the farms as my father-in-law,” she added hastily in his defence; “it is only that he does not much care for crops that one cannot eat, or sell.”
“And Gray knows all manner of herb-lore,” Sophie chuckled, “only he expects his plants to look just like the diagrams in books, or to come from the herbalist’s shop, dried and weighed and tied up in brown paper and string.”
Most unluckily, Mrs Marshall happened just then to approach very close behind Sophie and Catharine. “I am not surprised to hear it,” she sniffed; “Graham always was afraid of hard work.”
Sophie had been exercising restraint for some time, and had grown very weary of it. She straightened abruptly and rounded on her mother-in-law. “I beg your pardon, ma’am,” she said, “but that is perfectly untrue.”
Gray himself at that moment rounded the corner of the house to behold his mother and his wife squaring off across the latter’s armful of pink and yellow day-lilies, and nearly ran against his sister-in-law in her attempt to creep away.
Catharine caught his sleeve. “You must stop her!” she whispered urgently. “She is about to say something dreadful to your mother – I can feel it.”
Had Catharine but known it, Gray was very much in sympathy with her at that moment: could he have seen any means of averting whatever storm was brewing, he would have done so at once; but it was clear from Sophie’s air of steeling herself to carry through a hazardous commission that, even if thwarted now, the storm would break sooner or later. As well, perhaps, to clear the air.
“Your son, ma’am,” said Sophie, “has several times saved my life, and at least once saved my sister’s also. He is the bravest man I know, and one of the least foolish, and he is certainly no stranger to hard work; and it was his doing entirely, that the plot to assassinate my father did not succeed.”
Agatha Marshall goggled at her daughter-in-law; Catharine – who had not after all succeeded in running away — glanced fearfully from one of them to the other. Gray went around her, and a stand of bee-balm and lovage, to stand behind Sophie.
My mother will think I put her up to this, he thought wearily, or that Jenny did.
“Your doing, also,” he said, laying a hand on Sophie’s shoulder.
“I know you do not like to hear yourself praised, however truthfully,” said Sophie, with a brief shimmering glance up at him; “and I have nearly done. Ma’am,” turning back to his mother, “I cannot make you change your opinion of Gray; but I should be very much ashamed of myself if I did not at least try.”
Gray could no longer see her face; but her shoulder under his hand quivered with tension, and her armful of lilies shook, shedding a little drift of yellow pollen grains into the air.
“My dear,” said his mother, “you have evidently a very good opinion of your husband, and I should not dream of attempting to alter it. I trust that in future you will extend to me a like courtesy.”
And with a bow chillier than even Amelia Callender could have produced, she turned away from her son and daughters, and stalked up the path to the house. Catharine, biting her lip in distress, relieved Sophie of the lilies and scampered away after her.
Sophie was not so rash as to give vent to her feelings aloud while her antagonist remained within earshot; but she broke away from Gray’s restraining hand and paced furious circles around him, muttering something under her breath which he did not try to discern. Finally she halted before him and burst out, “How can she? How dare she? Gray, I should not wish to speak disrespectfully of your parents, but—”
“If that is so,” said Gray wryly, “you had much better hold your tongue; it is difficult otherwise to speak in any other way. Or, at any rate, such has been my experience. Jenny seems not to have the same difficulties.”
“Jenny has the patience of Penelope,” said Sophie. “I regret to say that I have not.”
But she had at any rate simmered down from the boiling ire of a few moments since, Gray observed with satisfaction. “I shall observe merely, that we have the most of our fortnight in Kernow still—” no, to survive would put altogether the wrong complexion upon things— “still before us, and we must not let Mama’s opinions spoil it. After all, you know,” and for the first time the thing seemed real to him, “we are not poor relations any longer; we are the possessors of a very handsome estate in Breizh, which the poor opinions of any number of my relations cannot alter.”
Sophie looked at him side-wise, and said nothing.
“Tomorrow,” said Gray, “I shall take you to see Dowr Carrek, and you shall tell me whether you like it as well as the bay at Rosko.”
The excursion to the coast was a great success, as was a subsequent one with Catharine and Alan to explore the renowned gardens of Trelesyk Manor; but of the visit itself, the best that could be said was, as Gray remarked to Sophie on the day of their departure, that it had been a very brief one.