There is to be two love matches and it pleases Frank Gresham Senior immensely. Their — his, really — debts need to be settled but with Frank marrying Mary Thorne, Arabella will perhaps stop nagging him. A voice at the back of his mind tells him that he is being a little unfair. In truth, without Arabella, he doesn’t exactly know how he would have faced it all.
There is still Augusta to be taken care of but should anything happen to him, Frank Gresham Senior knows his son will provide for his sister. And if she is as much her mother’s daughter as he knows her to be, she will be perfectly fine.
This is on this thought that Frank Gresham Senior decides to call it a night, retire and have what might be his first full night of sleep not riddled with guilt in a long time. When he leaves, the children — almost all adults now — are still so excited that Frank doubt they’ll even sleep tonight.
Lady Arabella marvels at them from a corner of the room and misses her husband’s departure. She’s a soldier coming home from the front, a pilgrim reaching the Holy Land, she feels so very tired. Soon Frank will go and live with Mary at Boxall Hill, Beatrice will leave for the Oriel’s estate and Augusta will be next. Arabella suddenly realizes that she will be left quite alone with no one but her husband. She cannot remember them being alone together, and it is an odd concept, being alone together.
Her heart sinks in her chest. However manipulative she has proved to be in the past, lady Arabella Gresham does have a heart. She waves her hand dismissively at Augusta who asks her, in her mousy little voice : ‘‘Are you quite alright mama?’' Then, she leaves the sitting room and the youngsters still celebrating. She wants nothing more but to sleep.
A maid helps her get rid of her cumbersome clothing. If they drive their bargain well enough, they will be able to hire more help now, she thinks. A small smile graces her lips and she dismisses the girl. In her nightgown, she takes care of her own hair, she always has and always will. Especially since she has been spotting white hair taunting her more and more often these days. The room is cold. It has been weeks since she has asked for a fire to be lit in her chamber. It costs too much and she’d rather her daughters have it. Tonight, she feels she could ask for one but decides against it — an humbling punishment for her treatment of Mary perhaps.
Frank Gresham stops breathing altogether. There is someone in his room, he can feel it. The form moves toward his bed, not fast, nor discreet but she knows where she is heading despite the darkness. Frank is not the bravest of men and so he does not try to move; he’ll die tonight, smothered by a pillow or stabbed to death. He’s old and he doesn’t really mind just now. But Death does not come.
He opens his eyes just as Arabella clumsily lifts the covers of his bed.
‘‘Belle?’' He whispers, dumbfounded.
His wife doesn’t bother answering him. She instead climbs into the bed and brings the covers over herself, settling in a mere four inches away from him.
‘‘Belle are you alright?
— Go back to sleep.’'
A cold foot collides with one of his legs. Silly woman. He blindly searches for her hands under the covers. She groans when he misses and starts protesting when he finally finds one, pulls her to him and shushes her in the process. She has to admit that he feels warm and nice, just like she had hoped when she decided to leave her ice cold room in the first place. And with his hand gently stroking her head, she falls asleep in a blink.
Come morning and the whole house is in shambles. Lady Arabella has disappeared, they shout until someone has the idea to ask Mr. Gresham. The room is dark and Augusta stumbles in, the household in tow.
‘‘Papa! Papa!’' She cries. ‘‘Papa! You must wake up! Ma —''
She stops dead in her tracks. The room falls silent; Lady Arabella sleeps, peacefully, in her equally asleep husband’s arms.
The household retreats silently, agreeing to never speak of it.