Thursday, October 30, 2014

Becoming Mrs. Norris: Part Six

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five

The wedding of Maria Ward to Sir Thomas Bertram was a triumph for all of Huntington, providing the entire town with a constant flow of gratifying gossip for many months. Lady Bertram arrived in state a few days before the ceremony to meet and approve her new daughter-in-law. Sir Thomas’ mother had not left the neighborhood of Mansfield in more than a decade. An entire floor of the best inn was required to house her and all her entourage: a companion, a lady’s maid, and her steward, who was brought along to make the travel arrangements, not to mention the coachman and two footmen. Not a person in the town was ignorant of how much Lady Bertram paid the innkeeper, what the party dined on, and that her ladyship came equipped with her own bedding.

The time leading up to Maria’s marriage was a dream-like haze to Miss Ward. Busy with patterns, menus, and flowers, she had little time to dwell upon the loss of Mr. Richards. In the general distraction, Maria and Frances were even less careful of their sister, so used to being cared for by her, than was their custom, and Miss Ward’s concerns were soon entirely lost in the bustle. She kept up with all her usual activities and more, only betraying her state of mind through the crease between her brows and the tightness of her smile, so her companions might be forgiven the lack of sensibility on this occasion. Lonesome suffering is the price those souls who seek to conceal their concerns from others must pay for their selflessness.  Instead of being commiserated with, it was she who soothed Maria’s frayed nerves when she met her new mother. The two ladies were much alike in disposition, but as Lady Bertram was a good deal more sophisticated, their similarities did nothing to hinder the formation of a ready attachment. This most daunting hurdle aside, Maria had nothing but her toilette over which to fret.

The big day dawned fair and rather warm for the season. Both her sisters attended the bride, and her uncle gave her away. The ceremony was performed by the usually absentee rector, who was not one to miss out on the union of anyone of influence, freeing Mr. Norris to attend his friend. Sir Thomas, cool and confident, was not a burdensome charge to his best man, and the two were able to have a perfectly rational and focused conversation as they passed the time at the church before the arrival of the Wards.

“The Misses Ward go with you to Mansfield?”

“Just Miss Frances. I think Ward believes I will bring Richards to Mansfield behind his back. I admit to entertaining the notion, so irritated was I with the man, but I cannot disobey her guardian.”

“He is wrong to separate two people who clearly care for one another and are not without means of support,” Norris said indignantly.

“Yes. Very wrong. I have spoken my mind to him on the subject, and that is all I can do but try and find Miss Ward a new beau. It would be a great deal easier if I could take her with us now. She will, however, join us for the season, at which time Miss Frances returns to her uncle.”

“I shall call on Miss Ward and keep her company an evening. She will feel the absence of her sisters more without her young man to distract her.”

“That is kind of you, Norris.”

The ceremony was undistinguished by any deviation from the text. Both bride and groom were happy, beaming, and fashionably dressed, just as they should be. They were remarked to make a very handsome pair, and great expectations were placed on the appearance of their future brood. A wedding breakfast was held by the elder Lady Bertram at the inn, as Mr. Ward had made no motion to host one himself. The wedding cake was consumed in its entirety, and all agreed on the success of the day.

Sir Thomas and Maria departed after the breakfast for Mansfield to be followed the next day by Lady Bertram’s party, now expanded to include Frances. She was to join the others at the inn first thing in the morning. Miss Ward slept in her youngest sister’s room that night, and they stayed awake talking well beyond the time they blew out their candles.

“I will miss this room,” Frances said. “I do not love it, and at times I have even hated it as much as the rest of this awful house, but it has been mine long enough to make me sentimental. I wonder if I will see it again?”

“Of course, you will, silly Fanny! You will be back in a few months, and it will be my turn to be gay.”

“You will try your chances in London’s marriage market?”

Miss Ward’s blush went unseen in the dark. “I must do what my uncle requests and try to find a more lofty husband.”

“But you love James!”

“I will overcome it in time,” she replied, not believing a word.

“It will be dreadful being here alone,” Frances lamented. “How shall we stand it? I wish I might come out and marry and never return.”

“It will not be so bad,” her sister said soothingly, but her words were again lies. Alone in the house, Frances would have to report to their uncle, as Miss Ward usually did, and there would be no one to shelter her from his temper and maliciousness. Her sister was determined to find a husband and break the guardianship. As Mr. Ward seemed disinclined to ever allow both ladies to visit Maria at the same time, for certain perverse reasons he would not share, it was the only way to escape.

“Maybe I might find a husband even without being out. Other sixteen-year-olds have done so. Maria said I could dine with them when they have company, and there are sure to be some eligible young men in the neighborhood.”

“If they are truly eligible and their intentions are good, I am sure Lady Bertram will instruct you accordingly.”

“You mean I could get married if I am asked?”

“Love is a precious and fickle thing. If it comes your way, grab it.”

“I will. Thank you, my dearest sister! What would we all have done without you?” She threw her arms around Miss Ward’s neck affectionately.

And what will I do without you? she thought. I shall find out soon enough.

Frances departed on time in the morning. Despite her late night, she awoke well before she needed to. So excited was she to be leaving Huntingdon, she had little emotion left for a tearful goodbye to her sister, who walked over to the inn to see her off. Their uncle did not join them.

Miss Ward put up a brave front, but a few tears were shed as she embraced Frances a final time. She was suddenly struck by the fear that she would never see her littlest sister again. It took a great deal of resolve to let her go, but she forced her arms to release and stood sentinel until the carriage was out of sight.

Miss Ward spent the first of many horrid dinners alone in her uncle’s company that night. Conversation was sparse, but what was spoken was designed to disconcert her.

“You must feel rather abandoned, I should think. No sisters, no doting lover: how shall your fill your days?”

“I am not one to lack occupation,” she briskly retorted.

“No. You are not. Always managing or coordinating something, you are, and when you bore of it, as you surely will without your sisters to distract you, I imagine there is a servant in need of a scold.” He smiled one of his rare, horrible smiles. “I can see you thirty years hence, the bane of all the servants and tenants in your neighborhood. You will be intrusive and overbearing. Just made for lady of the manor. I was right to send off Richards.” As she had nothing to say in response, he allowed the matter to drop, though references to future meddling in the affairs of nonexistent dependents became a new favorite taunt. It allowed him to remind her of James without actually having to say the poor man’s name. 

He was forever in her thoughts.  She wondered what he was doing and lamented the cruelty of fate should he really be expecting her to wait for him.  She made idle trips to the bakery in the vain hope that Mrs. Morgan might, once more, be made use of as an intermediary, but she was never beckoned into the back room again.

Maria proved a surprisingly strong correspondent, and the regular missives arriving from Mansfield Park became the highlight of Miss Ward’s days. She wondered if Frances had not taken their parting conversation too seriously, for Maria wrote of her flirting with two entirely different gentlemen at the same dinner party. Miss Ward replied that she hoped Frances would not make a cake of herself, and urged Maria to keep her on a tighter string. One of the gentlemen in particular, a Mr. Price, did not conform to the social aspirations of their uncle’s to which James had already been sacrificed, being a young lieutenant in the marines of no family, few expectation, and shaky gentility. He was a guest of a neighbor, which is how he came to be at Mansfield, and Miss Ward sincerely hoped he would be departing soon. Maria wrote of him no more, so she supposed he had.

Time passed slowly, but the New Year finally came and went, and the time began to approach for Frances to return to Huntingdon and Miss Ward to accompany Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram to London. Frances treated her return to her uncle’s home like one being incarcerated in a dungeon, never again to see the light of day. She sulked the entire carriage ride, Maria reported, and confined herself to her room upon arrival, there to remain for nearly two days, until the last minutes before the London party’s departure.

Knocking on her sister’s door, Frances entered when beckoned and readily accepted the lovingly proffered embrace.

“I had wished to visit with you before I left,” Miss Ward chided. “Why would you not come out of your room?”

“It is too dreadful being back here, alone without you for months! How have you born my absence?”

She put on a brave face. “The days were quiet, but I found a great deal to occupy myself, and I shall be able to look back on these past months fondly.”

“And dinner with Uncle in the evening?”  

“A largely quiet affair.”

“I hope he holds his tongue with me, too,” Frances said.  “If we needn’t talk, I think I can bear it.”

“You will do marvelously, just wait and see. You have all your friends in town to marvel with first-hand reports of the splendors of Mansfield. You will have visitors every day and dine out three times a week.”

“I am sorry to hide in my room so long. I will miss you, Emily. I wish I might go to London, too.”

Miss Ward patted her head soothingly. “Perhaps next year. I shall miss you, as well.”

“Do you really think so?”

“If I can manage to get a proposal out of an eligible suitor, you certainly shall.”


“How will you bear to do it, when you must still love James?’

“We bear what we must, Fanny dear.”

**********

Come back tomorrow to read Part Seven: The Conclusion

**********

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3 comments:

  1. This is a dark tale, but it certainly does a good job of exposing why the sisters are the way they are.

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  2. I haven't read the final part yet so I think Frances couldn't stand her uncle's capricious manners and run away to marry Lieutenant Price. This disaster forces Emily Ward to come back to her uncle's house and forgo her London season and endure his scolding. Now the only unmarried sister, she decides to marry Mr Norris when he offered for her hand.

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    Replies
    1. Well, after reading the final part, my guess is quite correct. Now I have a little sympathy for Mrs Norris but in no way can her actions to Fanny Price is justified. Yes, Mrs Norris was angry with her youngest sister for ruining her chance of finding a suitor and bearing her uncle's taunts for seven years. I haven't read Mansfield Park yet but I think Austen's Mrs Norris is selfish who only cares for her own needs.

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