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Jared Pechacek @vandroidhelsing
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An invitation to a ball is a matter of some excitement and interest under normal circumstances; when it is given by a new arrival in the neighborhood, however, it is a cause almost of phrenzy.
Mamma folds up the little sheet of hot-pressed paper. “Well, my dear, shall we attend?”
“I am sure you heard me speaking of them to Mrs. Charles the other day,” says Mamma, returning to her breakfast. “A Mr. and Miss Weston, down from London. They have let Worthing Park, which, though there is only one young man, I should say will be a fine thing for you girls.”
You find Margaret in Papa’s library; it is always the first place you look. She misses him more than you; but then, she remembers him better.
“I suppose one of us is meant to marry him,” she says dryly, when you have finished repeating the news.
Margaret does not often smile, and she keeps to that tradition now.
“We will see indeed,” she says.
It is an everlasting wait until Thursday, but it comes at last. As you dismount from the carriage, you think you look quite fine in your muslin and new shoe-roses, but you know that no body in your family can chuse a gown, and it is quite possible you are a fright.
Mamma and Margaret precede you into Worthing Park. It is a splendid, well-situated, modern building, and tonight it is dazzling and warm and full of people. The Westons are greeting their guests, and you pay your respects to them.
Mr. Weston is a charming young man and Miss Weston is a charming young woman. You had seen her riding the other day and admired her seat and energy, but him you have never seen. Both of them are exceedingly handsome.
You are almost the last to arrive and there are few people behind you, and they are of little account. Your aunt Miss Leigh is in the room ahead and beckons to you.
“Do talk to me,” Aunt Leigh says. “I have no body to chaperone, and no body to chaperone me.”
“Have you spent much time with our hosts yet?” You ask.
Your aunt smiles her crooked smile. “Aren’t you your mother’s daughter. Yes, I have.”
Aunt Leigh’s smile grows wider and more crooked.
“They are good-humoured people,” she says. “No body knows any harm of them. And you have seen their manners for yourself. I should say that if you have a cap to set, you can set it in either fashion you chuse.”
She is about to answer your questions when Mr. Weston himself walks by.
“I believe my sister hoped to speak with you,” he says in passing.
You & your aunt are about to resume speaking when Miss Weston herself walks by.
“I believe my brother hoped for a dance,” she says in passing
As politely as possible, you chase through the crowd after Miss Weston. You catch up to her as she finishes giving orders to the butler.
“Ah, Miss Leigh,” she says, turning to you with a smile. ”The ballroom is that way, and I believe the dancing is about to begin.”
Her smile grows puzzled. “I believe I only said my brother would like to dance with you.”
“Hm,” says Miss Weston. “Did he?” She laughs as if at a private joke. “Perhaps you might call on me in a day or two then. I had hoped you might open the ball with Tom, but I hear the violins & he must have found some other young woman. Now, let me look out some partner for you.”
“Are you?” she says. “I have already spent more time in conversation with you than any one, so you are my oldest friend in Sussex; if you won’t dance, at least let us go into the ballroom, sit on a sopha, and make personal remarks about my guests quite as if we were old friends.”
The music and heat in the ballroom are both intense. Though some of the great windows stand open, the summer night is warm. You and Miss Weston find your way to a sopha where you command an excellent view of the room, and commence immediately fanning yourselves.
Through the crowd you see the turn of Margaret’s aigrette (which you suspect to be rather outré) and wonder idly who she is dancing with. At the far end from the entrance is the door into the card-room; you see Aunt Leigh, who must be winning a small fortune, as she always does.
“Pardon me if I am too forward,” says Miss Weston, “but I know how things are in the country, and I must beg you to tell me—as an old friend—if there are any young ladies in the room who might set traps for my brother. Not you, of course, but some other pretty thing.”
The set has shifted so that you can see Margaret, moving with her usual determination not to forget the steps. Her partner is Mr. Weston.
“I would be happy to provide you intelligence,” you say.
Miss Weston asks you to point out Miss Wither and Miss Eliza, which is very easy, since they are fine girls. The dance ends and Margaret and Mr. Weston, seeing you, make their way over.
“Tom,” says Miss Weston, fanning herself briskly, “you are in great danger here.”
Miss Weston forestalls your exit. “I have been reliably informed that there are some in this town with matrimonial designs upon you,” she says. “You are surrounded.”
“Again?” he says. He bows to you. “I have danced with one Miss Leigh; may I dance with the other?”
You join the set as the music resumes. At Miss Weston’s invitation, Margaret takes your place on the sopha. You long to know what they are speaking of, but it must be admitted that Mr. Weston’s presence is a pleasing distraction.
“I’m glad you and Charlotte seem to be firm friends already,” he says. “I had worried when it came time to leave London that she would be very lonely here.”
The dance separates you, and for a moment you are very grateful for the current slim fashion in trousers.
A suspicion forms in your mind. “She did not actually ask to speak to me, did she?” you say.
He laughs self-consciously. “No. I admit to deceit in my effort to secure an acquaintance for her.”
He grins very widely. “I should hate to accuse my sister of anything,” he says. “But I will say that I do my own asking.”
He laughs. Both the Westons laugh beautifully: you have never heard such pure delight. But that is his only answer, and pure delight is not much of one.
You are separated from them both at supper. But you and Aunt Leigh, Margaret, and Mamma are all seated near to each other.
“Well, Rosie,” says Mamma, “how has the evening gone for you?”
You cannot help a guilty glance at Margaret, who does not notice.
“Quite pleasantly,” you say.
Aunt Leigh’s looks are always very knowing, but now she gives you one that makes you feel as if your aunt has been replaced with a telescope. It is Mamma’s turn not to notice.
“I’m glad to hear you’ve kept out of trouble,” she says complacently.
“For once,” says Margaret.
You know Mamma would not embarrass you by talking about matches—not at a party, certainly—but you must turn her mind as a precaution.
Margaret smiles.
“Mr. Weston is very charming,” she says.
“He is,” you say.
Meanwhile Aunt Leigh’s eyes dart back and forth between you, and you can practically read her thoughts. Mamma, who keeps everything behind a jolly smile, is more difficult.
“I imagine we’ll be seeing more of them, then,” says Mamma.
“I believe we shall,” says Aunt Leigh.
Is now, you wonder, the time to mention that Miss Weston has invited you to call on her?
“How lovely,” says Mamma. Your aunt agrees, with an ironic twist that you hope nobody else hears. Not everyone is as perceptive as she is, but at times like these, you fear everyone is far more so.
Pray heaven that your heart remain hidden. As always.
The ball ends, as all such things do, with a sense of dissatisfaction: every party of pleasure is a maze of paths untaken, & who is to say if yours was the best?
Mamma prefers to depart quickly, & you barely have time to take leave of your hosts before you are in the carriage.
A few days pass, quiet but for Mamma wondering every hour how soon would be fitting to ask the Westons to dinner, & every hour determining for herself the answer: not yet. Margaret is more than usual in the library, yet whenever you see her, she is in the same place in her book.
You have not heard from the Westons in that time and have begun to wonder if the strange intimacy was just the work of an evening, a labor which day shall not continue.
Mamma has taken the carriage god-knows-where, so you set off for Worthing Hall on foot. It is not far, but the night was very wet, and before long you are extremely muddy, and more than usually conscious of your appearance. But surely the Westons won’t mind.
You are in an absolutely shocking state when you are admitted to Miss Weston’s presence. Her first reaction is to toss aside her needlework and ask if every thing is all right; her second, when you explain you are here in response to her invitation, is to laugh.
Her third reaction is to rush you out of her sitting room and into a spare bedroom. “It may be a warm day,” she says, “but no good comes of wet feet. And hadn’t you rather change into dry clothes altogether?”
“Of course,” she says. “Let me hunt out something suitable for you.” She squints slightly. “I should say we’re roughly the same size.”
“You’re taller,” you say, a little too quickly.
“Well, what’s that between friends,” she says. “I think I have just the thing.”
She flits away.
There seem to be two doors to the room. You came in through one, but the other is opposite and you can’t think where it could lead.
She comes back with her maid and between the two of them they slip you out of wet things into dry—you keep your mind very steadily on the mantel ornaments—and for a moment Miss Weston’s hands hover near your head. “I wonder,” she murmurs.
“I was only thinking of how to do your hair,” she says. “Of course, you can’t be seen like this, but for a moment I’d hoped we might leave you looking like—like a dryad.”
“My,” says Miss Weston, with a return to her manner of something you hadn’t noticed had gone from it. “How this color brings out your cheeks. Well. Chapman will take care of you from here. I must go see about the tea and find where Tom has got to.”
She leaves.
You sit there while Mrs. Chapman combs out your hair, which the wind has played merry havoc with.
Okay: you have five minutes to ask Mrs. Chapman something. I’ll choose which ones to answer but I’ll probably go with either the first three OR the three I think make the story more interesting. Be quick; be engaging. GO.
Time’s up! Now let’s see what we’ve got.
For the sake of time and character limits let’s pretend you have phrased your questions exactly as you would for a young woman in a world with lots of rules. (Though, granted, so far we haven’t exactly been about rules.)
“Oh, I was Mrs. Weston’s maid for years,” says Mrs. Chapman fondly. “And I stayed on, first for her sake, then for the young miss’s. Never was there such a family, Miss Rosamund.”
She doesn’t quite answer. “Miss Weston is so new to the neighborhood,” she says, and that’s it.
“O!” Mrs. Chapman turns her face away for a moment; you see it in the mirror for a second, crumpling. When she turns back, she is calm but not smiling. “Let us say that the master and mistress came into their inheritance very suddenly last year,” she says.
Better not ask her anything else, you feel. After a few minutes of silence, Miss Weston reappears.
“Well,” She says brightly, “how is everything here?”
Miss Weston seems almost suspicious of your manners, but Mrs. Chapman has finished your hair, and there is no reason to linger. You go through the splendid house to one of the sitting rooms.
“Look what the wind blew in,” Miss Weston sings out as she opens the door.
Her brother is there, and so is another gentleman, just as handsome, whose dress is of such elegance that even you notice it.
“My brother you know,” says Miss Weston. “This is the Honourable Mr. Edward Watson. Mr. Watson, Miss Rosamund Leigh.”
With a thrill of horror, you realize you shall never be able to keep yourself from calling the gentlemen by the wrong name.
It shall start in jest, and you shall pretend not to know you have made a mistake. Then from there it shall become reality. There is no hope for you. This is where everything ends.
“Tea?” says Miss Weston, offering you a cup.
“Sugar?” says Miss Weston.
The sugar clicks into your cup.
“Milk, or lemon?” she asks.
Mr. Watson relaxes. Do fine young gentlemen object to lemon? Well, no matter; nothing you do is for the sake of pleasing someone so wholly unknown.
“Mr. Watson has just come from London and will be here for a week or two,” says Mr. Weston. “He’s a very old friend of mine.”
You say something very polite. Mr. Watson says something very polite. Mr. Weston watches the scene with a smile in his eyes.
“I was just thinking, Tom,” says Miss Weston, setting down her cup, “we ought to do something while he’s here. A good dinner, or a garden party.”
“Excellent idea,” says Mr. Weston. “I’m sure your friend here would love to assist you in planning something.”
“Too obvious,” Mr. Watson whispers, then starts a fit of coughing so you can pretend you didn’t hear him. You do not, it must be said, catch his meaning.
Miss Weston smiles and looks at you without quite meeting your eyes. “I’m sure I’d be very happy for your help,” she says.
The weather is very fine and settled, so one could have a garden party if one chose. However, the Westons have very little acquaintance in the country, and a lot of strangers in one’s garden, perhaps falling into flowerbeds and ponds, is not a thing to be endured.
It is perfectly acceptable for friends to fall into one’s pond, after all: it furnishes cheerful gossip for weeks. But a stranger? My dear, it is not to be borne. No body will visit a house where any old guest can be found, climbing out of green water with weeds in their hair.
But a small dinner in summer brings its own troubles. It does not do to exclude too many one’s new neighbors, which such a dinner must by necessity. And to crowd people into a close dining parlor on a warm evening—there are not ices enough in the world to make it tolerable.
You and Miss Weston go round and round for two mornings on this topic. She is very good at ideas; you are very good at finding their errors. She speaks sharply to you once, which does not sting as you expected. To be the object of something not courtesy—but you must focus.
“Well, Rosamund,” she says at last (she never calls you Rosie), “I surrender. Whatever you decide, I will obey.”
“Perfection,” she says. Then, with a small grin, “I’m afraid this will be in your hands. You know the country best, so you must pick a place. And whom to invite—I’m sure I don’t know the first families still, though they have all called on us. And I must ask another favor.”
“Can you tell me—“ she tries to find the right words. “Is it possible you know what your sister’s precise feelings are for my brother?”
You think back. You have seen them in company only three times: at the ball; when you all three called on the Westons as a matter of form; and the previous evening when you all met for cards.
They have certainly met on other visits in the last few weeks. Mamma or your aunt might have further observations. But Margaret did smile at the ball, and has smiled since. Is it possible that—?
“I see,” she says when you have told her what little there is to tell. Her smile had vanished but returns full force. “I thought the same; it’s only her feelings I did not know—and still don’t, I suppose. But you know her best, and if you think that is significant, well.”
She taps her pen lightly on her writing desk. “Now we have a purpose for the picnic. It’s still in honor of Edward, of course, but now—“ her smile is growing bigger “—we have an OUTCOME.”
She laughs. “I should love to have Margaret for a sister,” she says. “And then we’d see such a lot of each other.”
“It would,” she smiles.
The door opens and Mr. Weston peers around its edge.
“What mischief are you two up to?” he asks.
“Oh, you know,” says Charlotte. “Planning that party. Let’s have some tea and we’ll tell you all about it.”
Okay, break until tomorrow, and tomorrow is for lovers, they say, probably, somewhere. 10 AM PST. Mark your calendars.
Any picnic requires good weather, good food, pleasant company, and the possibility of scandal. You cannot do anything about the first two; the third is only occasionally in your grasp; and if you are useful for anything, it is the fourth.
The party is set for two weeks from now, the fifteenth of July. You have planned to be at the Westons' nearly every morning, and Charlotte, all aquiver with the excitement of matchmaking, has just deputized you to ascertain Margaret's exact feelings, and perhaps give them nudge.
Charlotte smiles. "Good," she says. The clock chimes 12, & she rises hastily. "I had quite forgot I have some things to do in town," she says. "If it were not the other way from your house, I should take you home."
Mr. Watson happens to be passing by the room, & she summons him.
She asks him a few questions about the picnic—for, since they are great friends, she is quite willing to consult him on any dishes he might particularly like to have—and when she mentions that you shall be going home, he offers himself as escort.
The weather is very good & you are in no danger of muddying yourself today—not least because Mr. Watson keeps to the roads, instead of cutting through fields & jumping over stiles. After some brief conversation, he falls silent, but you feel that he may have something on his mind
He is much like Margaret: perfectly willing to talk among his friends, but with a mere acquaintance, quiet & withdrawn. Armed with this knowledge, you are able to draw him into conversation, and, suspecting that the weight on his mind has to do with the Westons, guide him thither
Time for another round of questions! Same rules as last time: I'll answer either the first three or most interesting three questions asked of Mr. Watson in the next five minutes. Time starts now.
Time's up! Let us look.
His face is blank as he says, "He thinks her a lovely girl. I'm sure I don't know more than that."
His face warms from white to red. "Not soon," he says, making an effort to meet your eyes. "Or at any rate, not soon to Sussex. In fact, I feel I've staid too long already."
He chuses his words with great delicacy. "I am extremely fond of Miss Weston. But wealth, you know, can be a blindfold. Sometimes I fear she and her brother look on the rest of us as playthings, since they have outgrown other toys."
You are not sure how to take this.
"I love the Westons dearly," he says. "Do not mistake me. But very often, in their elegant way, they use the rest of us. Their friendship is genuine. But I am not certain they understand love as anything but a parlor game." The hedge is very interesting to him right now.
Indeed, Charlotte's attitude towards topics like marriage has always been bantering and playful. At the ball, did she not make a sport of guessing which young ladies in the room might wish to marry Mr. Weston? Her lack of manners suited you, but was it a sign of something wrong?
He stoops to pick up a stick to whack the heads off dandelions you pass. "I have wondered if they have a sort of wager," he says. "As to which can marry off the other first. If they have, it is well-intentioned monstrousness. If they have not, it is thoughtless monstrousness."
"If so," you say, "Miss Weston clearly intends her brother and my sister to make a match of it."
He hits a dandelion with particular energy.
"But then what does Mr. Weston intend for his sister?" you ask.
He is silent.
You come home and go to Margaret in the library. You are so accustomed to seeing her there that when you find it empty, you are for a moment sick with worry.
She is hardly ever outside except for her turn about the lawn each morning, so when you see her sitting on a rustic bench under the great elm tree, reading a novel aloud to Mamma, who is cutting roses, it is so shocking you feel as if there has been an earthquake.
You sit beside her on the bench and open your parasol over the pair of you. When she has come to the end of the chapter, Mamma picks up her basket of roses and goes inside. The perfect opportunity for sisterly chat, if you are so inclined.
Margaret hates being told she is too serious, so you cast about for a way to remark that she seems happier these days.
She does not blush, which you would expect from a Margaret Leigh asked about her association with a Thomas Weston, but she smiles brightly.
"Isn't it delightful having such a family in the neighborhood?" she says.
She sighs. "You don't remember Papa very well. Indeed, sometimes I think you chuse not to. I cannot speak of him to Mamma, and I cannot speak of him to strangers. There is nobody who understands, not in this neighborhood. Mr. Weston does."
Margaret closes her book. "I am not in love, depend on it. I do not think I have that sort of love in me. My heart is not made that way. But even to speak of Papa in such terms as social intercourse allows, is a blessed relief."
"The Westons have fled a great sadness. So have I." Margaret leans against you. "Even to know that someone else can—can know the outer edges of one's grief—to know one is not alone—I suppose it might look like love, when it is freedom."
You put your arm around her; which, as you are holding the parasol still, is quite awkward. Margaret laughs. "You always know how to spoil an earnest moment," she says; which you must admit the truth of.
You and Margaret sit quietly in the summery garden until Jennings comes to find you for tea.
Miss Weston practically pounces on you the next day. "Well?" she says. "How soon should I order my wedding clothes?"
As gently as possible, you make it clear that this shall not happen. After a moment's disappointment, she says, "Ah, well, we must find someone else for Tom."
She practically pulls you into one of the parlors. She is putting far more thought into this picnic than you had expected; as if she intends it as a distraction from something.
Sifting through a stack of possible menus, all much crossed-out and rewritten, she says, "The gentlemen were to go out riding, but Mr. Watson has said he isn't feeling well, so Tom is hanging about the house with nothing to do. I don't understand, Rosamund; I'm sure I don't."
"Men," says Charlotte. "Or rather, these two men. I thought they were great friends, but Mr. Watson seems to find excuses to stay indoors and declares he'll go back to London immediately the picnic is over."
Charlotte chews the end of her pen abstractly. "At any rate, it's very difficult to plan entertainment for a guest who takes to his room so often, and a brother who wishes to move to town again when we've just got ourselves settled here."
"It's true," says Charlotte. "I thought he loved the country, but then I thought the same of Mr. Watson, and here they both go like pendulums, right back to London." She sighs. "If he goes through with it, I will miss Worthing Park very much, and the friend it has brought me."
You have the picnic more or less settled, the invitations written, and every thing set in motion by the time you leave that morning.
Mr. Weston happens to encounter you on the lawn. "Miss Leigh!" he calls. "I had something in particular to ask you."
You walk together towards the gate.
"I don't know if Charlotte has mentioned this to you," he says, "but I am seriously considering giving up the lease on Worthing Park and going back to town."
A great unease fills you.
"I should be sorry to go," he says, looking back over his shoulder at the house. In an upstairs window, you see a face that may be Mr. Watson, but if so, he slips out of sight instantly. "I find myself often restless here, but I do love the country."
Mr. Weston finally turns his attention back to you. "I find I'm not sure what I want," he says. "I feel like a weathercock. Some days the wind is west, some days east. I sometimes wish the wind would point me one way only, but then I'd miss the views in the other direction."
You would not necessarily describe it so, but you believe you may know his feelings.
His face lights up. “I see.” He takes you to the gate and tips his hat to you. “I think, then, I have no need to ask you any thing at all. I’m off to London tomorrow on business, but I’ll return in time for Charlotte’s picnic.”
He is confused by your confusion & you suspect that not even Charlotte has ever replied to him with such flat bewilderment. Wealth, after all, is the greatest producer of mutual comprehension, especially if one party is poor.
"I will see you at the picnic," he says, & you go home
A slight drizzle is no real impediment to an English picnic, or so Charlotte assures you when it looks like rain. But the morning dawns with the merest bit of fog, and you are no longer obliged to test your patriotism with muddy scones and damp gowns.
You, Margaret, and Mamma take the carriage to the green hillside just outside Worthing Park, collecting Aunt Leigh on the way.
"I do hope, Jane," says Mamma, "that there shan't be cards, for I tell you I can not stand the jingling in your reticule afterward."
You are able to assure Mamma that Charlotte has determined a day without cards, for they have a tendency to blow away.
"Thank God for that," is Mamma's only reply; Aunt Leigh accepts this blow with equanimity.
The cloths are already laid and some canopies erected when you arrive. Charlotte is just overseeing the last few details as you disembark from the carriage; she waves to you. Nearer at hand is Mr. Weston; even nearer is Mr. Watson.
Mr. Watson offers his arm to Mamma, who takes it, & you walk behind with Aunt Leigh. As you pass Mr. Weston, you see Mr. Watson look away, his face slightly pink, and Mr. Weston's head turns to follow him as if drawn by a magnet.
Of course.
However, one must keep one's composure.
You stifle a laugh with difficulty; it may be a sob, which makes it easier. If only everyone were allowed to speak plainly—if only one were allowed to BE, plainly. You must & shall make your happiness for yourself; it were well if, along the way, you could help others make theirs
Once you have settled Mamma, you draw Mr. Watson aside on some pretense and take him a short way off: near enough for decency's sake, far enough not to be overhead.
Mr. Watson's face does something indescribable. "I believe I may be done talking to him."
Charlotte calls to you; there is not much more time for you to persuade him.—But you are not well acquainted with him, and do not know how to tip the scales of his heart.
He looks at the sky, where clouds skip across the blue. "That is a relief," he says. "But if he loves her not, he may love someone else. And I should not like to lose my—friend—to marriage." He laughs hollowly. "Marriage complicates things so, in society."
Charlotte calls again.
You shove him a little too forcefully in Mr. Weston's direction and dash to Charlotte.
"I thought you'd never come," she says. "Look here, I think I've solved a problem that—"
"Oh," she says.
It is a cool morning but Charlotte is very warm.
“I should not like to go back to London,” she says. “But Tom is adamant I should not remain at Worthing alone. Therefore—“
A bark of surprise from Mr. Weston interrupts.
She laughs. “I had been about to say, if you knew any young lady of the neighborhood who might like to be a companion, to please recommend them. But it sounds as if you’ve already been solicitous on my behalf.”
This seems, in plain language, too good to be true.
All the while, Mamma and Aunt Leigh sit gossiping about things they HAVE noticed; only Margaret sees you, and as is so often the case, what Margaret sees, she does not tell.
“I see,” says Charlotte. She links her arm through yours. “Well, how happy Tom will be when I tell him.”
Messirs Weston and Watson are deep in conversation with their heads very near to each other. Tom’s hand rests on Edward’s shoulder: mere amicability if one did not know precisely what they were saying.
“Hm,” says Charlotte. “We should stop having guests, if this is what happens.”
Somehow, the picnic must continue. Four hearts can only be so bare without coming to harm. But the tenor has changed; no body is even pretending it is a farewell. You and Charlotte sit somewhat apart, as do the young gentlemen; you are each hardly aware of anyone else.
Too soon, yet not soon enough, it ends. Mr. Weston sees you and your family to your carriage, and presses your hand gratefully. At almost the same moment, Charlotte dashes gaily up.
“I won, Tom,” she says. “Give me my prize.”
You remember Edward’s speech about playthings, and your blood runs cold.
“Prize?” says Aunt Leigh, and you wish someone who sees so much were not quite so present.
“A joke,” says Charlotte, speaking to Aunt Leigh but looking at you. “We had a little joke between ourselves, which we neither of us took seriously.”
“I believe *I* won,” says Tom.
Charlotte shakes her head. “Really, Rosie won for me.” She reaches into the carriage and pats your hand. “By being the only honest person in Sussex.“
“The game was worth playing, wasn’t it, Rosie?” she says, and her contrition is evident; a wind of complete honesty has moved Charlotte Weston; you have only to accept her apology to keep her on this course.
She smiles. Aunt Leigh’s eyes bore into you, and you know you are in for a thorough questioning.
“I beg your pardon,” you say to Mr. Weston, at Charlotte, “but I believe I won your wager, and I will be claiming my prize whenever it is convenient for you.”
You say farewells and the carriage sets off. You pass Edward and nod politely; his grin is sudden and he executes an elaborate bow in your direction.
There is a challenge ahead for you both, to be sure. But if he is willing to stay, knowing what he knows, perhaps there is hope.
“Well,” says Aunt Leigh, settling in but keeping her eyes on you, “I am very glad you did not make a scene at THIS picnic, Rosie. You seem to behave better around the Westons.”

You smile. “And soon they shall learn to behave better around ME.”
“I do not pretend to understand you,” says Mamma, to whom you’ve relayed Charlotte’s wish for a companion. “But that won’t be of account after much longer, when you have gone.” Moved perhaps by an intuition she does not understand, she adds, “I hope you will be very happy, dear.”
Margaret squeezes your hand as you part for the night. You have never needed to explain anything to her; and perhaps she should never have needed to explain herself to you.
There is time for everyone of good will to change, perhaps, and make amends. As long as there IS will.
Worthing Park is a place of splendor once more. Nearly a year after you first entered it, you stand near its front door, greeting guests as the second mistress of the estate.
Tom and Edward are around somewhere; their status as bachelors has yet to be confirmed in the eyes of some ambitious gentlewomen and merchant’s daughters, but if they could see what you have seen, they would have ambition no more.
Charlotte beside you is resplendent in scarlet & gold; she dresses almost like a married woman now, but you keep to simpler fashions, except for the matronly turban you have put on after Mrs. Chapman despaired of making you presentable in this humidity.
Mamma & Aunt Leigh arrive.
Mamma is effusive in her praise of the decorations. You bask in that, but it is just as meaningful when Aunt Leigh looks around and says it is very nice. It is unclear what Mamma knows, but she has stopped asking about husbands. It is very clear what Aunt Leigh knows.
You point Mamma in the direction of the other dowagers on their sophas, and Aunt Leigh toward the card rooms. Margaret came with a friend and is already in the ballroom.
“How old is Miss Leigh?” Charlotte whispers.
“6 and 30?” you say uncertainly.
“Mr. Frederick is here somewhere, and he is near that age. I wonder if she—“
You know that voice, that thoughtless playful gaiety. It almost cost Charlotte YOU. You look at her scornfully. She subsides.
For a moment, however, you DO wonder. What if, with Charlotte, you chose to aid Aunt Leigh a little?

No. If she had wanted a husband, she would have got one for herself.

Hearts may be weathercocks, but not shuttlecocks. And you were always a poor gameswoman.
The last of the guests is here. You & Charlotte turn toward the ballroom as the footmen close the doors.
“I wish I could dance with you, my love,” she whispers
“Later,” you say, squeezing her hand.
If only gentlemen outnumbered ladies on this occasion. But you’ve planned too well
Tom and Edward appear to lead you both to the top of the set. You pass Margaret, who is laughing with a group of other young ladies as they hurry to take their places, and smile.
The violins strike up and you take Edward’s hand, but your eyes stay on Charlotte.
Pray heaven your heart remain hidden, but only because if it were exposed, all the house would be set aflame. Which would delay the dance.
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Thanks for playing!
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