Monday, October 27, 2014

Becoming Mrs. Norris: Part Three

Part One / Part Two

“You wished to see me, Uncle?”

“Yes. Sit down.”

This was highly unusual. Miss Ward had been asked to sit in the smoky office only twice during her residence in the house. The first time she was taken to task for having put more than her share of fuel on the hearth in Frances’ room (at the doctor’s orders when the child had a severe head cold); the second was when Miss Tilney was dismissed. She looked at the indicated chair with more than reluctance.

“It won’t bite!” he barked at her in annoyance. “Sit down!”

She obeyed.

“I suppose I ought to commend you for your part in bringing Sir Thomas to heel. No way Maria could have hooked such a fish without help. She is an idiot. Amazing my brother kept the silly thing, but he was always a sentimental ass. Pardon me for lack of gratitude. I would be in high alt to offload one of you pesky gals so tidily, but watching Maria drool over her baronet was enough to ruin my dinner. I do not want to repeat the experience more than necessary. Sir Thomas will come next week, and if he does not ask for her hand that night I will have no more to do with it. Do you understand, Missy?”

She blinked, trying to see through the billowing cigar smoke. “I cannot force Sir Thomas to propose, sir.”

He smiled menacingly. “Just put some fire under his seat. Tell him Maria has a handsome cousin coming to visit to whom she has been long attached, or some such nonsense.”

“He won’t believe it. Anyone in the town could tell him no such person exists.”

“Well, think of something! You can be wily enough when you put your mind to it! She is your sister, after all, for whom you profess such tenderness despite her infirmities. If Maria pulls off this coup, think of what it might mean for Frances.” He puffed thoughtfully. “Or you, even, if you wished to give Richards his walking papers.”

“Of course not!” She was betrayed into displaying her horror, and her uncle grinned at the spectacle. “Only think how very awkward it would be when he is your clerk.” 

“That can be altered.”

This was very bad, but Miss Ward knew not how to parry this unprecedented attack. All she could think to say was, “I will do what I can to hurry Sir Thomas’ courtship along.”

“Of course you will. Now go!”  

Sir Thomas called the next day. Maria was not yet downstairs when he arrived, leaving her sisters to entertain her beau until her curls could be forced into proper behavior.

“Thank you again for a lovely evening last night, Miss Ward. The mutton was just as I like it.”

It was overdone, and he barely touched it, but she accepted his praise with a nod. “It is you we ought to thank. It is not usual for us to be so well entertained of an evening.”

“I understood Richards to be with you every Wednesday.”

“He is,” she blushed self-consciously, “but you must not mistake those dinners for dinner parties, if I might make the distinction. Mr. Richards is invited to discuss business. Any pleasure we derive from his company is secondary to the purpose. Last night and next week will be rare treats for us, the likes of which we shall not expect soon again.” She hoped the hint was brazen enough to be unmistakable. Just as she was on the verge of changing the subject to the weather, Frances provided further elucidation.

“What my sister means to say, Sir Thomas, is that Uncle does not plan to receive you again if you have not proposed to Maria within the week.”

“Frances!” Miss Ward admonished. Sometimes she wondered if a name could become blasphemous, just from being said in horrified exclamation often enough.

“It is true. You have been worrying yourself mad over it all morning.”

“Sir Thomas, please forgive Frances. She forgets that she is not yet out, largely because she cannot curb her tongue.” She shot malicious daggers at her youngest sister.

“Why am I forever being yelled at for speaking the truth?” Frances moaned before running from the room, leaving an awkward silence in her wake.

“I am sorry, Sir Thomas,” Miss Ward began again, but he silenced her.

“Do not fret, Miss Ward. Youngsters will say outlandish things, and I confess I know something of your unique circumstances from my friend, Norris. Rest assured that I have every intention of marrying Miss Maria, if she will only have me.”

“Oh! My dear Sir Thomas, can you not see how much she dotes on you?”

“I thought I detected a preference,” he modestly agreed. “Should I speak up at once? I only hesitated asking Mr. Ward’s permission last night because it seemed too soon.”

“No. Do not let him rush you anymore than he already has. Besides, I do not think I could secure you an audience with my Uncle before next week.”

“Perhaps Miss Maria’s engagement will open the door for your romance, too?” he asked knowingly.

She averted her gaze. “Perhaps.”

He laughed good-naturedly. “I like Richards, Miss Ward. I think he will make an excellent brother-in-law.” This statement caused its audience to turn pink with pleasure. Delighted with her response, Sir Thomas pressed on. “And you are not to be fretting yourself on Frances’ behalf. Until you are in a position to keep her, she can provide her sister companionship at Mansfield Park.”

“Oh! My dear Sir Thomas! You are wonderfully beneficent! I cannot wait to inform Mr. Richards.”

She had to wait longer than expected. It was Mr. Richards’ custom to call casually several times a week, but the ladies were forced to forgo the pleasure of his company until Sunday after morning services, from which he escorted them. Miss Ward waited until her sisters had fallen well behind them before saying, “We have seen neither hide nor hair of you all week, James. Had not Mr. Smith informed me that you were at the Crown on Friday, and that he had not received a call to your sick bed since, I would have been worried for you.”

“I am sorry, my dear. If Mr. Ward would simply allow us to publicly acknowledge what everyone already knows, I might have sent you a note. I see your uncle chose not to inform you he ordered a full overhaul of the filing system last week. That night at the Crown I was only partaking of a hasty meal before getting back to it. I have at least two more days of rather ceaseless toil before me.”

“Of course, Uncle did not tell me,” she complained, as she only ever did to James. “I have no doubt he watched me fidget these past several days with great glee.”

“He certainly has enjoyed watching me squirm. I asked three times for him to give you my apologies. He is the very devil, I am sure.”

“You shall be able to join us for dinner this week?”

“Yes. I shall complete the task Tuesday afternoon. Actually, this is rather a good opportunity for me. I had suggested the overhaul months ago based upon a system of my own design, and if works as well as I expect, it could be the making of me.” He spent the rest of the walk expounding upon his ideas, while Miss Ward cast upon him a gaze of admiration worthy of Maria. So enrapt was she with his plans and ambitions that not until they reached Mr. Ward’s house did she remember to tell him of Sir Thomas’ intentions.

“He will marry Maria. Frances will have her debut from Mansfield Park and maybe even enjoy a season in London. Any roughness in her manner is entirely the result of her age. I have no doubt she will do very well with such advantages.”

“She will marry an earl, I am certain. What will such fine relations think of me, the poor clerk of passable gentility?”

“They will do what they can to make sure you are not poor, of course. Why are such connections valued if not to promote the interests of deserving relations? This is the dawning of a new horizon for us, James. We shall escape from beneath the heel of my uncle’s tyranny and live new and exciting lives amongst those who dictate the fates of nations!”

He laughed at her fantasy. “And I thought I was ambitious! You shall have me Prime Minister before long if you continue in such grandiose visions. A sense of having done my best, enough savings to enact needed improvements on my little property when it comes to me, and you and our children by my side are all I ask for in life. If wealthy in-laws want to make sure the routine is periodically shaken up by a refreshing holiday at one of their fine estates, then they are most welcome, but I shall ask for nothing more. I want to advance on my own, not on the backs of my relations.”

Miss Ward thought his sentiment both noble and incredibly foolish, but she was enough in love with him to overlook the latter. Relations will advance each other, and should James ever receive such preference, it was unfathomable he should resist. Smiling fondly, she replied, “I know you will do great things.”

“It might be a struggle at first, but if it is just the two of us, unencumbered by your sisters, we can scrape by comfortably.”

“I have been raised to scrimp and save, dear James. We might even be able to put something by at the end of the year, for whoever else might come along. A tidy saving might be accumulated if one is diligent and frugal. I am quite looking forward to employing my ingenuity in how to make a little go a long way. ”

He kissed her hand and looked deeply into her eyes. “As long as we are together, the world cannot stop us. We must thrive. Let us read the banns as soon as Sir Thomas proposes.”

“If Maria would consent to a double wedding, it would be a great savings,” she excitedly agreed.

“At last, we will be wed! It seems almost too good to be true after such an interminable wait.”

“But James,” she protested, “this is happening much sooner than we could have ever imagined.”

“It has still been too long. You are sure Sir Thomas will hold firm?”

“I have not the slightest doubt. He will ask for her hand Wednesday night, and we will be married before winter.”

Maria and Frances came into sight at they turned the corner at the end of the road, and the lovers made their hasty goodbyes.

“Until Wednesday, James.”


“It cannot come too soon, my dear.”

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Come back tomorrow to read Part Four!

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A TWISTED AUSTEN GIVEAWAY

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4 comments:

  1. It's scary seeing a young Mrs. Norris in love

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  2. If I don't compare her character to how she behaved in Mansfield Park, I think she is like any normal girl in love. There must be something that occurred to become the person she is in Jane Austen's novel.

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  3. I enjoyed how Frances interpreted her sister's hint! Have you given her a first name or did I miss it?

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