Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Becoming Mrs. Norris: Part Five

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four

That night was the worst Miss Ward had known since she lost her parents. Sleep was impossible as all the ramifications of Mr. Richards’ departure from her life flooded upon her. Not to see him, not to talk to him, never to have the children of whom they had so often dreamed … these were the notions that consumed her mind until the break of dawn, when she finally drifted into sleep from sheer emotional exhaustion. She did not sleep long. Her household duties commenced early, and soon enough, a maid was drawing back her curtains. Mindlessly and by force of habit, she dressed herself and began to go through the motions of the day.

Her first duty was a trip to the bakery. Her uncle would not employ enough hands in the kitchen, and so they purchased their bread in town. It was usually one of her favorite daily tasks, but on this morning, Miss Ward was seen to shuffle down the road, her shoulders hunched like that of a far older woman. The brisk air did nothing to stir her senses as it usually did. It was a wonder she even arrived at the correct destination, for she thought not of where her feet carried her.

“Good morning, Miss Ward!” Mrs. Morgan said upon her entry. “Step right over here to collect your order.”

The world was already a surreal enough place that Miss Ward moved towards a side room unquestioningly, even though she had always collected her order at the counter in the past. Once sheltered from the main shop, the baker’s wife turned to her excitedly.

“Mr. Richards was here first thing this morning, Miss. Said to give you this when you came in.” She held up an enveloped sealed in red wax with an R. Miss Ward snatched at it eagerly. “Lovers’ trysts! It is all very romantic, Miss Ward, and I don’t mind being your go between this one time, but do ask your young man not to make a habit of it. I expect we will be hearing the banns read on your behalf soon enough.” She winked. “Now that Miss Maria is so well spoken for, there is nothing keeping you back!”

Miss Ward was appalled to be spoken to so familiarly, but she thrilled to know James did not leave town without saying goodbye, and at least gossip had not yet carried about word of his dismissal. With a quelling glance, she collected her goods and departed.

Such a missive must not wait to be read. As soon as she was off the town’s main road, she retrieved it from her reticule and broke the seal.

My dearest Emily,

I write this in the utmost haste, without nearly enough time to express all that I feel. Your uncle is sending me to Scotland immediately. He arranged for a business associate to take me on at a far better salary than I presently enjoy.  It is an opportunity too good to refuse, but in that it separates me from you and puts a temporary pause on our plans.

How I hate to postpose our happiness even a day, but Mr. Ward is correct: I cannot say no. I do think that separating us was his main motivation in recommending me for the position, as he refused to countenance my speaking with you before my departure, but we will have the final say in the matter. I will spend two or three years in Edinburgh – no more than five – making my fortune, and then I shall return to marry you.  I wish I might send for you, but the company will provide my housing only if I am unhindered by a family. The time will pass quickly, and you will spend it luxuriating at Mansfield Park, seeing Frances properly into the world. You shall be a far better chaperone for her than Maria, you must know. I shall return for you wealthy enough to support you near the style you will by then have grown accustomed to. It will all be for the best.

It is devastating to not say goodbye in person, but the travel arrangements Mr. Ward made allowed me no time to see you. I do not think I can contrive to write as your uncle wished me not to, but know that I love you, and please stay true to me no matter what is said to the contrary.

Your eternally devoted,

James

Miss Ward had long ceased walking. The first notion that clearly penetrated beyond his love was that James did not see the situation in the same light as her uncle had presented it to her the evening before. This begged more questions than it answered. She could think of no reason why her uncle would have so decidedly put an end to all her expectations if there was still hope for James and her to marry. He would much prefer to watch her flail in uncertainty before providing the final blow than let her absorb it all at once, or at least so she thought. And why would James not be allowed to correspond if they were still engaged, as his tone and all the expressed sentiments implied? No. The more she studied the letter, the more it became clear it was written in no small degree of desperation, as did the method employed in its delivery. He was trying to pretend her uncle could not keep them apart, that love and loyalty would defeat evil schemes, but she knew better. He had guardianship of her until she was twenty-five: nearly a full four years more. If Mr. Ward was determined to see his niece married into a loftier sphere than that occupied by the clerk, she had not the slightest doubt he would prevail. While he could not coerce her into marriage, her could certainly make life unpleasant if she resisted. Surely she would resist for a while, but she knew eventually she would break down, especially if Frances was made a pawn in his terrible game.

The only hope now lies at Mansfield, she thought as her feet began to move on their own accord, propelling her back to the hated edifice she had for too long called home. Even if I have lost James forever, at least we need not remain here much longer. Perhaps, if Sir Thomas sees the injustice of Uncle’s actions, he might even be able to help us.   

With such thoughts as these in her mind did she approach the baronet on his next call. As expected, he was struck by the cruelty of Mr. Richards’ dismissal. Indeed, he felt it far more deeply than she expected.

“A terrible way to treat a man! His employee, no less! My dear Miss Ward, you have my deepest sympathies.” He frowned. “Something ought to be done.”

“My dear Sir Thomas, please know the relief and gratitude with which I greet your words. I knew you would come to our aid. Indeed, when we are all settled together at Mansfield Park, I think you could invite Mr. Richards to visit, and there is very little Uncle could do about it.”

He looked somewhat alarmed at this notion, and she wondered if he was too scared to defy her uncle. Truthfully, he was just daunted at the prospect of having both his new sisters disrupting his visions of future domesticity, but not being able to say so, he returned, “Perhaps the thing to do is speak to Mr. Ward about it myself.”

Miss Ward knew not what to make of this. No one had ever interceded on her behalf with her uncle, and she had no notion how he would respond to such a tactic. “I do not know that my uncle would not be rather offended in my discussing the matter with you, Sir Thomas,” she cautiously replied.

“I do no see why he would be when we are all soon to be family.”

“Uncle is sensitive to what he perceives as intrusion.”

“Nonsense, Miss Ward! The man is no charmer, but he is a gentleman and lives by the same codes of conduct that guide us all.  As encumbered as he is known to feel by your guardianship, he will welcome my interest. Is he in his office now?”

“I believe so,” Miss Ward meekly replied.

“Good. I shall pop in while Maria finishes her toilette. I see I shall spend many an hour waiting for her to finish dressing,” he said, in no way unhappy at the prospect, and left the room.

Miss Ward sat in nervous anticipation for Sir Thomas to return, and when ten minutes passed she called Frances to her to help defray her anxiety.

“What is it Sir Thomas wished to speak to Uncle about? I would think he would avoid him as much as possible, now the proposal is settled.”

“I believe he intends to intercede on James’ behalf,” Miss Ward said in far from certain tones.

“Much good it might do you. I hope he does not take it amiss.”

“As do I.”

But Mr. Ward did take it amiss. What good was the baronet to him after taking Maria off his hands if it were not to introduce her sisters to equally eligible bachelors? He listened as Sir Thomas, who sat entirely undisturbed by the hazy atmosphere, expounding on his good intentions towards his intended’s sisters, perfectly assured his benevolence would be welcomed.

“So you see, sir, while I agree Miss Ward might look higher, and a visit to Mansfield will give her the opportunity to meet a broader variety of gentlemen, if Richards proves consistent and the lady likes him, I do not see why they might not be wed. It would be cruel to keep them apart. They might marry from Mansfield, if it is the expense that concerns you.”

“The girls all have dowries enough to cover any wedding extravagancies. I am not opposed to them visiting their sister, but you seem to be under the misconception that they shall be leaving my guardianship upon your marriage, while I assure you I have every intention of fulfilling my duties to them. Until Miss Ward comes of age at twenty-five or finds an acceptable husband, the ladies will remain members of my household.”

Sir Thomas was confused. “I understood you found their guardianship burdensome?” 

“Indeed I do, but that does not make me any less inclined to honor the trust my departed brother placed in me when he left them in my care.”

“Very well. The ladies will still want to make prolonged visits to Maria, I am sure, and I hope you do not object if Richards makes up part of the party on occasion when they do.”

“But I do object, Sir Thomas. My former clerk is immersed in a rather dangerous exploratory venture in the north. He will be kept busy with his occupation for the next several years, if he survives that long.”

“What does he do that incurs such danger?”

“He is working with a mine survey group.”

“Is that so very dangerous?”

“In this particular terrain, yes.”

“But why would the man agree to such a risk?”

“He is in need of money. The job pays lucratively.”

“And is that to be the end of the matter?” Sir Thomas asked with some indignation.

“Yes, but to say my nieces’ visits will not be so often or so extended if I believe they are meeting with company of which I do not approve. Nor shall Miss Ward be allowed to receive or send any communications to Richards. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly well, sir! You certainly have the right to dictate the terms of your nieces’ visits, but I must say I think it shabby for a man with no affection for them to take such a perverse interest in their affairs. “

“Yes, I do have the right. Think what you like, Sir Thomas. It concerns me little. You won’t shab off now the notice has already been sent to the papers.“

“I have no intention of doing anything of the sort! I love Miss Maria.”

“Then take her with my blessings, for all the good they will do you. The sooner the banns are read, the better.”


“I already spoke to Norris on that account this morning. The wedding will take place in three weeks’ time. Good evening, sir.” The baronet bristled, leaving the room abruptly and shutting the door with distinct enough temper to elicit a chuckle from Mr. Ward.

**********

Come back tomorrow to read Part Six!

**********

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11 comments:

  1. I have more sympathy for her but she still had the chance to be a better person when she did marry

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    1. Certainly! I'm don't want to justify her behavior to Fanny, just offer a possible explanation for it. Experiences such as these might have made her more sympathetic to an uprooted child instead of cold and mean.

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  2. Yes, most definitely. I feel her pain at losing the person whom she love most.

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    1. I do too! What's more, I feel rather bad about making this happen to her, but I needed a catalyst to harden her. There were other options, but they were all pretty horrible.

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  3. So she either waits another four years to be free of him or marries somebody else sooner. I am wondering what event will change her, as despite all these years of unhappiness she is doing very well. I am wondering whether she marries to free herself and Frances and despite that sacrifice Frances then makes the poor marriage to Mr Price

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    1. That would have made for a longer story than had time to write this year, unfortunately. I can totally see how that would work. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how I ended the story (I feel safe saying this now it's posted), with her attitude to Fanny being chocked up to good intentions run terribly amuck.

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  4. I feel very sorry for her now!!

    But I also note Sir Thomas' horror at the prospect of harboringnher with a little amusement, esp. Given what we know will come to pass.

    I hate the idea that you will kill off poor Mr. Richards...but will eagerly read your next post!

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    1. Sir Thomas was the character in the story that was the most fun to write. So pleased you enjoyed him! I felt really bad about Richards. I did not, at first, mean to make him so pleasant.

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  5. Mr. Ward is just despicable! To keep guardianship just to mess with people's lives is so annoying to me! I love the way you write the characters and the angst you make me feel for them! LOL
    Great job hon! Looking forward to reading more!!

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    1. Thank you for both the praise and the indignation! I'm so pleased the story worked. It was touch and go there when I was writing it, and I didn't finish it soon enough to gain any kind of distanced perspective on the text.

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  6. Every chapter makes me feel sadder for her! The uncle is really a scroodge!!

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