At first the field seemed completely silent. The silence unfolded into small sounds if one paid attention; listening carefully, James could hear the rustling of the wind through the grass and the tree leaves, and the insects moving—slight, barely-there signs of life.
Both Wentworth and he were lying side by side under the shadow of a willow tree, too indolent to care much about the passage of time. James shadowed his eyes from the bright day with his arm, and he had to move it every now and then when the linen started to stick humidly to his forehead and the bridge of his nose.
The only thing that would drag him away would be the fact that they did not have any food with them. It would have to be got at Kellynch Hall, or better yet, at the curacy.
They had woken up early to go shooting, and had persevered in the activity well into the morning. Now both their guns lay abandoned a little way from them; they had sent the birds to Mr Wentworth's cook earlier, and there was nothing left for them to do.
The last few weeks had been like something out of someone else’s life—someone careless, perhaps, someone content. It had never before occurred to James that he was not content.
Two blue butterflies were tussling for a spot in a small yellow buttercup, and he found himself watching them from under his arm; lowering it, he used it to prop himself up slowly, still staring. One lost, and flitted for a moment around the other, annoyed.
It flew closer, and he stilled; he did not want to scare it away.
'I know what you are thinking,' said Wentworth from his right. He sounded annoyed.
'What am I thinking?' The butterfly approached his hand in fluttering, jerky movements, and he stopped breathing. Polyommatus icarus, he thought—it had no black lines crossing the white fringe in its wings.
'I am a terrible shot.'
The butterfly came to a stop on a blade of glass by him, showing its grey underside, and James breathed once, out and in.
'Indeed,' he agreed, before his brain could catch up with his mouth, and flinched. The butterfly fled. Still looking after it, he lay back down again, and tried to continue as if it had always been his intention. 'Indeed, you are not. You are not a terribly good one, that is all.'
Wentworth let out a sudden bark of laughter. 'I do not know if I should be offended that you think so, or flattered you would not lie to me.'
James said nothing; he would not lie to anyone, but he suspected that saying so would be less than perfectly diplomatic at the moment.
'Flattered, I should think,' mused Wentworth. 'Offence would take so much more energy. It would probably entail getting up and going off in a huff.'
'Better not do that,' agreed James, nonplussed.
'No, I will not be offended. Sad as it is, I have learnt to come to terms with this particular shortcoming—even my sister is a better shot than I am.'
James thought idly that it did not sound like he had come to terms at all. 'Is she, really?'
James felt him roll to his side before answering. 'Indeed. Truth to be told, had my sister been born a man, she would be an admiral by now. Being a woman, though, she found herself a Captain—an excellent man if ever I saw one—and got him promoted.'
When James turned to look at him, Wentworth had laid his head on his coat again, looking up at the tree branches. His profile was close, and James could see his eyelid twitching slightly as he squinted. James turned away.
'You followed her into the Navy, then?' he asked, less from curiosity than just to say something.
'Partly, perhaps. She probably thinks she made me follow.'
Wentworth's tone was amused, but James could not help wondering what kind of person could think they had made Wentworth do anything. 'I cannot say I could follow my sister anywhere—but to the city, of course.'
'And do you?'
'No, I do not much care for the city. I love Kellynch Hall too much; I used to miss it dreadfully when I was at school.'
'I could never understand being so attached to a place—though Somersetshire is as good a place as any for it,' Wentworth hurried to add, unconvincingly.
'But I could lay a bet on you feeling so for a ship, am I wrong? You are a sailor, through and through.'
'What do you know about sailors?' asked Wentworth, mildly. 'But yes, I can imagine feeling so for my own vessel.'
'I cannot understand the sea's attraction,' said James, in an equally neutral tone. 'Land, now, that is something a man can feel attached to. It is steady; it is home.'
There was a pause, and James thought Wentworth would not answer. When he finally did, he sounded thoughtful. 'It would, to you. I could tell you a thousand of common phrases; I know you think I read far too little, but I do not lack for literary images of the sea.
'But no—it is only... it is as you say, land is steady, it is always the same. It takes years and years to change; a man could be buried in a country parish for decades without him or the world noticing the time's passing. I would not wish it for myself.'
James could not speak, his own life a long string of empty decades lying before him. No, he thought, it was not so. He thought about the pleasure he felt when he could settle a matter between two tenants, the triumph of arranging his father’s investments so that they would not lose everything in fripperies, the contentment at seeing the land stretching ahead and behind him, his, and more than that, his home, forever. His heart filled when he thought about his land and his people, those to whom he owed everything; those to whom he belonged as much as they belonged to him.
He said nothing.
'No, I am a seaman, you are right. And a man of war, too. The service fits me perfectly.'
James found his voice. 'The Navy was a foregone conclusion, then, admiral sister or not.'
'I readily believe it,' said Wentworth. And he added, after some minutes, 'And you are a country gentleman, through and through?'
'I... yes, I think so. I cannot imagine myself anywhere else.'
'That is a shame; there is plenty of adventure for all country gentlemen, out there in the world.'
There was a pleasant drowsiness in the air, thought James, that was conducive to confidences, but he did not want the mood to turn too serious. 'Not for this one,' said he, finally, smiling at the canopy. 'All the adventure I want is here in Somersetshire.'
'That is, none.'
James felt Wentworth raising himself up on an elbow again, and then his eyes on James' face. 'So you do not want to travel before taking your place in your father's house?'
James found a blade of grass in between his fingers, and twisted it, looking still at the green shadows overhead. 'I... not really, no. I am needed here.'
'That is not what you want, though, is it? It is what you ought to do.'
'It may mark me as an eccentric person, but they are the same thing, for me.' The blade snapped, and James wound it around his index finger. He was not lying, exactly, but he was not saying all he thought, and the two actions were too similar for him to be comfortable.
'Eccentric is one word for it,' said Wentworth, sounding amused, and James blushed. He did not know what to say, and so he said nothing. Wentworth added, 'So this is what Edward meant, when he said Mr Elliot was an upstanding young man.'
'I hardly know,' said James, avoiding his gaze.
Wentworth settled back down on the grass. 'I think it was. He speculated you would be a good influence on me; I know he thinks I am too much of an adventurer.'
'I do not think I could be much of an influence on anyone; not even my family pays me any heed.' He had said it in jest, but then he was never any good at jesting—it sounded bitter. He hurried to talk over the awkward silence he fancied would follow. 'What does your sister think?'
'About me not settling down?' Wentworth did not wait for James' assent before continuing. 'She does not consider being a sea man as being unsettled. She would wish me to marry, of course, along the way, to someone similar in character to herself, someone who could travel the sea with me and put up with my impulsive ways.'
'She does not sound like someone who would put up with anything, if you do not mind my saying so.'
Wentworth laughed. 'I did make her sound terrifying, did I not?'
'I do not know about terrifying, but she sounds like a formidable woman,' said James, smiling. His eyelids began to droop, and he came up on his elbows and propped himself against the tree.
'That she is. She is a formidable sister, too; she keeps me in line.'
James knew he had not been able to curb the incredulity from his voice, but Wentworth seemed not to mind.
'She tries, at the very least. She does say that I am too pigheaded, so presumably, she is not completely happy with her own work.'
'I do not doubt you are pigheaded,' said James, 'but I find that is a common sisterly complaint.'
'What are you pigheaded about?'
'I do not like society enough, according to Miss Elliot.'
'Is that right?'
'Not really; I find I like it well enough. We are presumably talking about different things, my sister and I, when we mention society. She means I do not like her friends.'
His sister was annoyingly insistent about it. She did not want him to marry—James thanked the Almighty for that—but she wanted him to flirt, to talk, to spend an inordinate amount of time in the company of the insubstantial people that made up the whole of her acquaintance. He remembered observing deeper thought and a more sensible approach to life in school boys, whose whole ambition consisted of winning a fistfight.
He did not find social butterflies as remotely interesting as real ones.
That he was the only son—the heir—conferred upon him a sort of privileged position. Neither his father nor his elder sister liked him, but they both—especially his sister—knew to tolerate him. They desperately wanted to transform him into someone more acceptable, but James suspected they were arriving at the conclusion that it was a lost cause; for his part, he used all the leverage the situation afforded him to try to keep his sisters' fortunes intact, and his father from falling into debt. It was a constant struggle in which he had only one ally—an old friend of his mother's. His younger sister was away at school, and he suspected that even if she had been there, she would not have been much help.
'Fair is fair, since she likes your friends not at all.'
James sat up. 'I would not say Elizabeth does not like you,' he said. It was true, but it was not honest, so he added, 'She is cold with people she does not know.'
'She has said that you should find better things to do than being in my company,' pointed out Wentworth, reasonably. 'I am not offended; or rather, I was, but I am not any more. And in any case, not with you. One cannot choose family, after all.'
'She did n—' James stopped, and started again. 'She would not be as crass as that.'
'She may have not said it in so many words—but they represent her underlying feelings perfectly.'
James did not want to agree, but thought it useless to insist. In general he tried not to dwell on his sister's less Christian attitudes.
'In any case, I am starving here—let us go visit my brother; I am sure his cook by now has something ready we could steal,' said Wentworth. He had not finished saying it when he stood, and proceeded to put his clothing in perfect order again.
James attempted to make himself stir. His sister troubled him. She was older—no one could blame him for neglecting her education—but still he grieved her lack of depth, her unrelenting imitation of their father. Oh, he was a bad son—but how could he avoid seeing the latter's behaviour as anything but vain, as anything but the shallow spectacle of a peacock? His filial feelings were tried.
The butterfly reappeared under Wentworth's projected shadow, and James found himself wishing—insanely—that he could be as mindless. To be able to travel, worry free, duty free. He knew he sometimes thought of Wentworth as possessing that careless liberty of spirit—but he knew he was being unfair. Wentworth's life had its own duties, its own unimaginable worries and dangers.
And in any case, he did not want to leave. No, his ideal life was not in a ship, or in far away lands; it was in Somersetshire, inside Kellyinch Hall and under this willow. But he could not deny that the life he had imagined and thought perfect before knowing Wentworth would not satisfy him now, and perhaps the most baffling thing about this discovery was that he knew not why.
'Come, Elliot,' said Wentworth, and the butterfly flew upwards. Following its flight, James found himself looking at Wentworth's smile over his extended hand. 'Come,' he said again, 'do not be sluggish. Let us leave this unfortunate hunting business behind.'
'Do not be obtuse,' said James, accepting his help and getting up. 'You will be eating thanks to my good marksmanship.'
He shrugged into his coat, still watching the bit of intense blue hovering between them, until it tired and flew off.
'Be that as it may, hunting is dreadfully dull business,' answered Wentworth, good-natured, and started off towards the curacy.
James smiled and hurried to catch up with him, deciding not to say anything about having sour grapes for nuncheon.