Which was why Captain James Salisbury found himself up on his own red-brown hunter at six the following morning, feeling both tired and ungrateful. He was also severely regretting his decision to ask Jon to stay.
Jon and Bethy rode slowly a little way behind talking nineteen to the dozen about anything and everything. The previous night when he'd agreed on the little trip he had forgotten that Elizabeth would need to be chaperoned. His mother couldn't do it; she had never learnt to ride, so James had been dragged from his comfy bed in order to listen to his friend and his sister converse idly about horses while he rode about twenty paces in front pretending he wasn't listening.
Not even the satisfaction of confirming his matchmaking skills could make up for the loss of his sleep. Suddenly James realised that, somewhere in his cycle of self pity, both Elizabeth and Jon had disappeared. James simply smiled. He'd known it was going to happen soon. Jon was far too polite for anything... indiscreet to happen, and he was well aware of a young couple's need to be alone.
James rode back along the path slowly, because his mother would have had a fit if he'd turned up back at the house with no Elizabeth and no Jon in tow. He swung himself down and led the horse back, no point in tiring the animal, but was forced to shove them both into a shrub at the sight of Elizabeth and Jon further up the path.
Elizabeth was sat on the ground, clutching her ankle and stuttering apologies. Jon had clearly just jumped down from the horse and was kneeling over her, holding her arms and speaking to her softly. James turned to his horse and told it to hush, just as it gave a rather large sneeze.
'I-I'm s-sorry...' Elizabeth sniffed as Jon pulled her up by the elbows.
'There, no harm done.' Jon smiled at her 'Can you walk?'
'I-I...' Elizabeth looked down at her torn and muddy dress 'Oh no! Mama will be so angry...' Elizabeth turned away and hid her face from him. Jon timidly touched her arm.
'Why are you hiding from me?' he asked softly.
'Because my dress is ruined and my hair's come down and you'll think I'm... I'm...'
'I'll think you're what?'
'...Ugly.' she whispered, turning away again. Jon's face went hard and he pulled her arm again, forcing her to face him. She did, but hung her head so he couldn't see her face.
'Elizabeth.' She whispered, Jon smiled slightly.
'Elizabeth. When are you going to realise that I don't think you are ugly? You seem to think that a few scars on your face make you a bad person.' He sighed 'Elizabeth, look at me. I could never think that you are ugly Elizabeth, because that would make me a hypocrite, would it not?'
James watched as Jon swiped his thumb across her cheek, removing her tears as she sniffed 'Elizabeth, please listen to me when I tell you that you are beautiful. Your brother brought me here, presumably in the hope that we would form some kind of relationship, and I am assuming that you were not appreciative of that, I certainly wasn't, but now... I can't explain it. Suffice it to say I share your brother's hope now.'
'If you are Elizabeth, I am Jon. Jonathan is a mouthful.'
They smiled shyly at one another, Jon took both her hands and ran his thumb over her knuckles.
'Jon I-I trust you. I really do. For the first time in a long time, I am finding myself trusting someone that I don't know very well.'
'Thank you. Do you think your brother is going to leave us alone now?'
Elizabeth whipped around sharply, seeing her brother hiding being the shrubbery, blushing profusely 'James! Chaperoning is not meant to be translated as spying!'
James smirked quietly as he led Hunter out and saluted Jon. Jon's eyes flickered as he realised what James was doing and ripped off a textbook salute, playing along. Elizabeth scowled at them both, a smile pulling at her lips.
'Captain, requesting permission to accompany Miss Salisbury on a turn about the gardens.'
'Certainly Commander. Have all the necessary safety precautions been met?'
'Very well Commander. As you were. I will escort your horses back to the stables.' James walked away down the path, stopping only to dissolve into a fit of giggles when out of sight of both Elizabeth and the house.
'Well, now that we have rid ourselves of your brother, will you take a turn about the gardens with me Miss Salisbury?'
Elizabeth smiled gracefully 'Certainly Commander Walker.'
Jon bowed his head slightly to her, before taking her arm in the crook of his and wandering with her down the path.
They walked a while in companionable silence, before Elizabeth broke it with a question that had been preying on her mind.
'May- may I ask how you... acquired your scars?' she asked shyly.
Jon smiled slightly 'You may, as long as you do me the same courtesy. During the great war when I was only a lieutenant, we used to mount attacks at night quite a lot because they could not see the horses approaching. Unfortunately it also made barbed wire very hard to see. It was... frightening. With the bombs and the darkness... and the wire.' Jon shivered slightly 'When we went across no-man's land they told us that the bombs would tear the wire up. It never worked, and the casualties were always huge... anyway when we went over in November 1917 it was dark and... I got lost. I ran into the wire eventually, both me and my horse, we were caught up for nearly three hours and... every time I moved I got slashed with the barbs.'
Elizabeth squeezed her fingers on Jon's arm 'Is that how...'
'Yes.' He smiled slightly 'Partly. When they found me, eventually, they couldn't get me down, I was too tangled up. Your brother and a couple of others had to cut me down with their sabres. There was a barb digging into my face... they let some kid cut it and his blade slipped.'
Elizabeth winced in sympathy. 'Did it hurt a lot?'
Jon smiled slightly again 'More than anything I have ever felt before or since. Only when I got to hospital though. At the time I was too tired and cold to care about anything much.'
She squeezed his fingers again.
'Come on then.' Said Jon 'May I hear your story?'
Elizabeth looked away from him and worried her lip between her teeth. Jon stopped and turned towards her, taking her arms in his hands. 'Elizabeth... '
She sighed and looked at him 'When I was six years old, James came home from school. He tried to teach me a little chemistry, he heated a glass on the stove in the kitchen. He told me to stay back but I didn't. The glass shattered and the pieces went into my face, my father beat James for it, I suppose because he needed someone to blame.'
'How old were you when James went away to school?'
'Only four. He went aged nine at my mother's request. I missed him every day. In this house we were often alone together, he was the only one who would play with me because I wasn't pretty enough for my mother's liking and my father ignored us both. We ran wild for most of our time together. My mother decided I should be a Lady on the day James left.'
'And this was not popular with you I'm taking it?' Jon smiled again
'Definitely not. It made no difference anyway. I was still lonely, only this time I was lonely while walking around with books on my head.'
Jon snorted quietly 'I was lonely as a child.'
'Because of your mother?'
'No, she never really had any interest in me. She had me to try and repair their marriage, as you may be able to guess it didn't work. My father installed his mistress under our roof and my mother followed suit. When she died she left everything to me, just to spite my father. Needless to say, he wasn't happy about it and I was sent away to school like your brother.' He smiled mirthlessly 'It seems to be the upper class solution to having a son they don't want, doesn't it? I don't think I've ever been wanted by anyone throughout my whole life.'
Elizabeth started slightly 'But I want you...'
Jon looked at her in surprise, she coloured and looked back down at her feet 'What I mean is... You see it's usually only James and... It's nice having... a friend around.' She finished lamely.
'My dear Miss Salisbury, I am very glad that you consider me to be your friend and that you find me nice to have around.' He sighed and squeezed her hand 'Even before I met you, I envied James. I always wanted a sister. I'd have spoilt her rotten, I shall be a terrible father, should I ever have a daughter. She will be able to get round me in the blink of an eye.'
The young couple shared a smile, Jon's eyes lingering slightly too long on Elizabeth. She looked back and caught the end of his long look. To Jon's delight, instead of blushing or stuttering, she looked at him and laughed. It was then that he found out that he simply had to kiss her.