Actions

Work Header

I Was Just Passing

Chapter Text

Three Carriages Converge

 

Imagine if you will three carriages like the fates
Starting in three places to converge on one road,
On one life, which also itself had converged and was
Converging on a host of lives. Such roads are dappled
By sun coming through high clouds, low tree branches.

Imagine the past, a family of cause and effect, parents
And children, baggage and hopes. Imagine the future,
A singular fellow, rich and drunk with power, knowledge
Of what must come to pass. Imagine the present,
Like two dames, one old, one young, assuming that

What has happened will always come to pass. Then
Imagine them all converging at speed, the past seeing
What's coming and urging caution, a decrease
In speed; the future forging on recklessly, increasing
Speed; the present commenting on what is, what has

Always been. Sometimes all the present can do
Is hold on, hold tight, and just keep breathing,
If quickly. The future will shove itself through,
Willy-nilly, leaving the past to be pitched out
Over a wall: to break, bleed, suffer, unconsidered.

What others do, those who ride present and future,
Desperate to balance compassion and progress, or
Still reeling from the madness to come and reaching
Back for security: those choices will color all
The coming convergences, coming lives, and coming.

Chapter Text

Even a cat may look at a king, the saying goes and,
Knowing cats (even those tasked as mousers),
One may imagine that such felines judge their masters.

I couldn't say, me, though on that fine afternoon,
I did have myself a moment. "Good Lord," said I,
As I espied in the distance, the Highflyer captained,

Or so it seemed, by a familiar figure. The spark
In my pipe went out just as the spark under my own
Waistcoat felt a chilling lack of fire here. There,

However, the fire burned black: black in the frothing
Quad of horses whipped past their usual frantic
Run, black in the tophat, greatcoat and searing glance.

I knew the voice crying, "Whoa!" of old, though
It had been long unheard in Halifax--perhaps
For the better, I wondered? Little time availed me

To consider it as the highflier came to shuddering
Halt before me. The other driver was helped down
As she gave explanation of his sudden accident and

Directions for his care. "Lucky you were there," said I,
"To step in." She sneered, "No one else rose
To the occasion." The one man who stepped up

To her then, calling it a reckless undertaking, well,
Surely he should have known better? She stepped
In his shadow, looked him in the eye. "All were given

The opportunity to alight and walk." We from Shibden
Know better than to do ought else than obey, follow:
However much sweat and consternation follow thereafter.

Chapter Text

I have been an Icarus. I have flown
Too near the Sun, and now I crash
Back to Earth at Shibden, shabby
As have my grand hopes revealed
Themselves to be. May it not now
Be time to cast off my wings, to walk
Again the long green hills of Hallifax?

Chapter Text

It was barely an hour before I realized my grand hopes'
Demise had narrowly brought me home before my family
Sped, through inaction, toward their own. Perhaps fate
Had colluded to bring me back in time. Fickle bitch.
Could not she have instead colluded to stiffen
The backbones of my family? Surely, I cannot be
The only one to see the necessity of throwing off
Convention when it impedes necessity, of taking on
Courage when it allows for survival laced with
That necessary luxury that one's place in society
Requires? Very well. Back on with the armor:
Ebony pelise, spencer, stock, greatcoat, hat, and

Walking stick to beat the very air that dares stand
Against me as I charge into town to handle urgencies
Over comforts. Oddly, Briggs and his wife were not
Responding to their door. Very well. Horace said,
"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which,
In prosperous circumstances, would have lain
Dormant." I improvised. Even Shibden has secondary
Paths, a back door. I went around, found the back
Also blocked. But a keg, a box, a modicum of grit,
And I was on the wall, taking off my hat, setting
It beside me so I might jump to the inner yard.
"Excellent," thought I, retrieving, brushing off

My hat. "Certainly neither my father nor Marian
Would have seen their way clear to such adventure."
I knocked upon the back door, surprising Briggs' wife,
Who let me in, took my hat and led me to the man,
More than half asleep, his ulcered leg a warning
Against living long. At least he knew me, knew
Where the book was, was able at least to tell me
My accounts, tell me of the coals I might exploit.
A good man, Briggs (though mortal), to the end.
If only they who held my affairs of the heart
Were half so loyal to me as he who held
My worldly affairs so loyally to his own.

Chapter Text

I am desolated.

The passion of our shared bed was sweet.
He held me warmly, even though his French
Was elementary. But passion is made of few,
Simple elements: fire, blood, air gasped for,
Water sweated out. Earthiness:
We French understand such things.
Most bloodless English do not.

I had thought

This woman who seemed to understand,
Herself, the pleasures of a shared bed,
Would be someone to whom I might
Explain and be understood. In France,
I am convinced, such a woman would.
But these English, with their--
Elementary at best--understanding

Of such connections:

They make me despair. English gin
Is not the way I would have chosen
(As if any woman would so choose if only
She had such choice). But to what else
Could I possibly turn in this cold, damp,
Passionless country? The plump one,
Monsieur 'owdo, offers me his hand...

What else can I...?

Chapter Text

The French claimed the Arthurian knight Percival
Was a liminal figure: either he "pierced the vale"
Between this world and the next, or possibly
He pierced the valley, as I suppose I do every time
I march from Shibden to Hallifax and back, or
Every time I climb a mountain and return
While traveling abroad. But that is literature.

This, alas, is our loyal old Lister carthorse,
Not a noble knight's steed by any standard,
Just a good old animal who loves and receives love,
Like Argus. God, like me, for that matter.
For what else are we other than animals seeking
The love of other animals God set down, first
In Eden or possibly the paleolithic... Anyway,

It is hard to see Percy so much older than he was
When I last saw him last year, when I fled home
Most recently. Now Marian and Booth both tell me
How he stepped up heroically just before I came:
The accident among the Hardcastles, Walkers
And the wretch who caused the whole debacle.
I would horse-whip the man if only I knew

Who he was that caused my already weary
Carriage horse to fare so poorly. I rub his nose.
He knows my touch. I hold his neck, reach for
My watch and count. The number does not ease
My anxiety. I wipe his nose with a rag. A week
Of ill health. I order a mustard poultice, rest.
If only my own traveler's unease could also rest...

Chapter Text

You can love someone and still barely restrain
A killing rage, beneath a long plaid frock. Sometimes,
I swear, she enjoys this game she plays, where she
Is Uncle James's actual son, just in a pelise, pretending
That the rest of us barely exist at all. For example,

Would she ever even bother to mention to me,
Or to the servants, whether she'll join us for lunch?
Would she ever consider what it might look like,
This figure she makes in Hallifax! London is one thing.
Paris! Of course, in Paris, no one would notice her,

Strange as she is. That is what Paris is for,
Apparently. But this is Hallifax. People talk!
And not very kindly, by all accounts, surely.
And now she wants to collect the rents, as if she
Were just as good as a man. What will they say?

The old part of me, from when we were small, wants
To ask what happened in Hastings with her and her--
With Miss Hobart. The wiser plaid-frocked part of me
Knows I don't want to know. Because knowing
Would mean I'd have to admit who she really is.

Chapter Text

When the past travels with me, I write in my diary.

I cannot very well lie to it. I may lie to myself,

Bien sur, but to the past? It has a way of remembering

Everything, not just my joyous defeat of a mountain, no,

But also my own defeat at the hands of fickle desire

Or fear of desire. I tear off my silk stock to relieve

My heavy breaths that characterize my remembrance

 

Of my most heavy, recent past: desires, hopes, losses.

<What a comfort my journal is. How I can write in crypt

All as it really is, and throw it off my mind and console

Myself-- I thank God for it.> At a moment like this one,

Though, I think twice about what I thought I meant

About consolation. Here, I let my fingertips peruse

The many recent pages, plain hand and crypt--

 

The crypt most recently ascendant--and tears creep close.

What mortification I feel now on looking back. <Sunday

April 15, 1832. The truth is out. She will go to Italy.

But not with me.> Even then I knew how anomalous

I appeared: wearing black at the seaside when not one

Of my recent relations had died. As I descended

The white stairs in the breezy house we had let,

 

I felt my difference, as I always do, even if the servants

Kept their heads down, even if I rarely went, with her

Or alone, into Hastings proper. I know what I am, or

So I had thought. I suppose, as a modern Englishwoman,

I had thought the present triumphant over the past,

However classical and wise. I had thought I might be

Myself, appear myself, and draw no undue opprobrium.

 

How naive. I had thought if I just was myself, if I,

To the greatest extent I could, would be truly who I am,

Vere would accept me, love me, want to keep me--

But then, I had thought that before: with Eliza,

With Mariana, with Mrs. Barlow, with-- But perhaps,

I see now, I was naive. The world easily rejects

What it cannot easily comprehend. Such an object

 

Am I. Still, then, gracefully making my dark way

Down the bright stairs, I thought I still had a chance

With her, with any clever, interesting aristocratic

Woman of means. Surely, thought I, they would

Do well, and know it, to be rid of the danger of childbirth.

Surely, thought I, they would think themselves well rid

Of a man and his hairy, estate-stealing ways.

 

The more fool me. Seagulls wafting by the house

Knew more of love and loss than I did. I stood at that door,

Hearing her giggles, his light laughter, and thought almost

Nothing of it: not enough, surely, to keep me from

Turning the handle, pushing open the door, seeing

Them spring so suddenly, so guiltily, apart. And yet,

As Vere introduced me to him, I knew for certain

 

That she was setting him in that moment, not as my rival--

No, the time for that had passed without my noticing.

After he had left us I learned that he had in fact

Proposed. "And I shan't say no," she admitted. Even

In my journal I did not feign indifference, not this time

After so many times before. I recorded how I let myself

Drop to my knees, drop my hated face into her lap,

 

Weeping, "Why? Why?" even though, at some cranial level,

I knew exactly why. I knew the sociality, the financiality,

The acceptance and ease of a simple handshake between

Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Cameron would fast and long eclipse

The novelty of a handshake between anyone and Miss Lister.

My head aches with the sheer humiliation of it. I move

To tear those pages from my journal, but natural courage

 

Advises me to stay my hand. I reluctantly let go. Lessons

Need to be learned. There is a knock on my door--here

At Shibden, in Halifax, in the present. I drop my journal

To my trunk and rise. I rise to answer Aunt Anne's

Disappointed face. We embrace. She knows me too well.

Her mentioning, again, that accident of the Hardcastles,

That wretch and the Walkers. Can it be coincidence?

Chapter Text

So, thought the bright yellow bird in his gilded cage,
That pink-winged lady who perches on the pillowed chairs
While the strange blue-bodied Kenny with the flourish
At throat and claw, he is worrisome. She is like me,

Not a yellowhammer, of course; she is too large
And pink and sad and not inclined to sing. And yet...

The moment when he recommended avoiding trauma
By leaping off the twig to leap into an excursion
In the lake district with her cousin, a brown-winged
Finch with a lovely song (a bird the true finch knew
Both by her plumage and her light-winged music),

That was when the fellow in the Walker's daily
Gilded cage knew that he had sung what he needed to.

Chapter Text

Even by day with sunlight streaming in through old glass,
My tallow candles struggle to stem the dimness. And sure,
The Stag's Head is never empty on most days, as local
Men gather for a quick dinner and small beer between work
And yet more work--

--and there's talk too, of the Reform Bill,
What it means that the rich will now be forced to share
A bit of power, give them as had never before had the vote
A bit more say. If a man rents at fifty pounds, say,
Like this Sowden here, niggling over two pounds
With the woman (woman!) who holds his lease, imagine
A man like him even ten year ago, having the vote!--

But on rent day, more people gather to eat, drink, mutter
About the landlords, pay their rent. This time, though,
It's not Briggs collecting, poor fellow so ill with dropsy,
But Herself, the one they call the fella in a petticoat.
She's a bit odd is that one, if half the things folk say
About her are true. The most recent, that she drove
The Highflyer all the way from Wibsey after the driver
Got thrown, and she had all them ladies and men
Hanging on for dear life--

--It looks a bit like that
Now, as she sits manlike with her box and book
Of accounts, when Sowden threatens her: "Someday tenants
Will throw the landlords off the land," he says.
"You know that, don't you?" There's a hush, no one
Quite looking their way, but ears cocked to hear her
As she steps up to him to look down her aristocratic nose.
"When the time comes," she says calmly, "us landlords
Will make sure we give as good as we get." He backs down.
The room breathes again, like those passengers
Giving thanks as they stepped down off the coach and walked.

Chapter Text

The message to call in at Shibden--and not from the Captain--
Came as a bit of a surprise, but I know my worth and I know
The Lister tenants, and I could put two and two together
To an extent. One couldn't live in Halifax without at the least
Hearing of Miss Lister, even though everyone knew
She traveled more than she stayed. Everyone by now
Had heard about the Highflyer, but sounder heads than most
Swore it was true. So I had an idea when I got the note
What sort of conversation we might have, and I was not
Far wrong. It took me a moment of course, to take her in
But then I just got on as if she were a man, and that seemed
To suit her well. And although, as I told her, I don't know
What she wanted to know, I could soon find out, since I know
People who do. I also told her I'd not be surprised to learn
That the Lawsons are already stealing her coal, though coal
Trespass is hard to prove. I could see her taking me in,
Taking in what I told her, taking in that I had taken her in,
A woman with the mind of a man, and compass to match.

Chapter Text

My journal like a mirror allows me to see
Myself, not as others see me but as I am,
In my disappointments

(as at Hastings
Wearing my usual mourning black while
Contemplating Vere's perfect white
Shoulders. I could inhale her scent as I
Inhale the salt air, but she never let me
Get quite close enough to turn her airy
Demeanor to fire)

and in my gathered
Confidence, the confidence of a battered
Knight who nevertheless draws his armor
Around himself as I do: pelise, waistcoat,
Silk stock tied just so, my hair as Eugenie
Perfects it just in time for the visit
Of the hoped-for lady who, once, I had
Thought would give me her scarf, her ring,
Her hand, our future together--

It is difficult
But necessary to remind myself of such
Disappointments. Only overcoming them
Will allow me to see myself happy one day.

Chapter Text

Around the Lister family table I remember
All too well my misgivings about her idea
For us to dwell at Shibden. Certainly when
Charles irritates me most, I can gloss over
What I know to be the distasteful side
Of that scheme. All families bicker. But this
Family takes dinner more like the Spanish
Armada, with Anne as Sir Francis Drake, or
More likely Elizabeth in her armor. Not for me

Such windy battles. In her dark bedroom
We share a "kiss" and she notes the time;
I think she'll never change. No matter how
I argue that she should marry a man
So as to have title, fortune, the freedom
To do as she likes. She asks, "Have we
Met?" So uncompromising, so stubborn
In her determination to find a woman
For both her days and nights, someone

To share everything with, she cannot see
How unreasonable she is to expect that
Any woman would, could, agree to such
An arrangement. Not in this lifetime.
In the end, we all marry the men to gain
Some semblance of security, some place
In society, whether or not we can ever
Achieve happiness. But neither will she
Her way; the woman she desires does not exist.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, I had liked to keep
Upon myself traces of her perfume,
Having let my middle finger dive deep
And wet on the pathway toward her womb.

And even now, I am the larger spoon:
Soup- to her tea-, we cuddle in our thirst
And shudder both to passion's raging tune--
Engorged upon a sea-storm tropic-cursed--

And roil. Groaning, keening, she begs for more
Though she refuses to acknowledge me as wife
And do anything at all to throb my core.
Back and forth, we remonstrate our life

Together. I use the sheet to finger wipe,
Hoping the next few years will see us ripe.

Chapter Text

Ten years can change us all. Ten years ago,

At tea at this girl's house, I thought her dull,

Stupid, and no oil painting. I remember it

Distinctly, as I remember everything. And then,

Today, when opportunity arose for me to confirm

My opinion of her, my opinion of my powers

Of observation and clever reading of people's

Characters, I found myself instead drawn

To look at her cornflower eyes, her ivory neck.

 

I found myself wishing to feel those eyes on me.

Well, I always command a room, of course.

That is only natural. And this warmth seeping

Through me as she shyly looked at me, then

Looked away, that too comes from Nature,

Our only steady guide. She seemed not to like

Dr. Kenny, so I sent him to tend to Percy,

Settled myself on her chair's arm, stretched

My arm behind her on the chairback, almost

 

Like I was framing her. No, she is no oil painting.

More like a watercolor, pale and given to fading

Into the background if the light is wrong, but

That doesn't mean she isn't beautiful,

In her own way. To Kenny, reluctant to leave,

I said, "Tick tock" as much to discomfit him as to

Please her, make her smile. The Priestly's

Told her of my journal, warned her of getting

On my bad side and ending up in it.

 

But I reassured her that offending me was not

Necessary "to grace the pages of my journal.

Sometimes, I write about people I really like."

We shared a look, a smile, and for me, that

Old seeping warmth. <Thought I to myself,

Shall I make up to Miss Walker? Though she

Scarcely knows it herself, I can see the poor girl

Already seems thoroughly in love with me.>

Ten years can change us all. And I am changed.

Chapter Text

In but a few weeks, I have moved like a tide through feeling

            Like the waves at Hastings, pushing and pulling, hope and despair,

And though from the start I never planned to stay here,

            Considering a return to Paris, or Italy, Milan, Copenhagen, Moscow,

I find myself feeling instead the pull of roots that dwell unseen

            Beneath the surface along with fertile soil, stone, and coal seams.

I'd never stay for long, of course. Halifax is not a place where life

            Runs riot like the carnival in Rome at Easter, not a place like Paris.

 

And yet. There is some truth to what Mariana said, not all of it,

            Not about women, but about me running rather than traveling,

Running from the banal and commonplace, the expectations

            Of others. In this girl's eyes, ten years later, I suddenly see myself

As I have seen it in mirrors, someone to notice listen to, admire.

            <What she lacks in rank, she certainly makes up for in fortune.

Shall I stay here at Shibden and restore its drooping fortunes

            and endeavor to make wealthy little Miss Walker my wife?>

Chapter Text

We Listers don't agree on much. We've made an art
Of fighting while chewing and swallowing. We've made
Another art of difficult kindnesses. My Uncle James,
Wisely, left Shibden to me so that Father would not need
To make difficult decisions at his age. My Aunt Anne
Tells me what I need to know, so I may rightly steer
Poor Marian whose decisions often reveal a lack
Of judgment. Even Argus has been known to throw
Himself on my feet just as I am about to jump up and
Pursue an argument with one of them in another room.

And Booth is not the brightest, but his heart is kind.
He gives me Percy's reins and loads the gun, stands
Holding it up to Percy's head, and I know what he is
Thinking. When Percy was a foal, he gamboled about,
Was slow to take to bridle and harness, wishing
Rather to run. Through kind lessons, John trained him
To be docile and hard-working. And though I do
Prefer walking, any time I entered the stable, Percy
Would turn and neigh a hello to me, take a carrot
From my hand with dainty bites. So this is hard,

Not just for John, standing with the gun, but for
All of us. Hemingway and Eugenie, I know, will be
In the kitchen, holding Cordingly's hand; Elizabeth
Always loved Percy, always had a small bowl for us
If we were dropping by Percy, to take carrots to him.
Marian and Aunt Anne will be in the parlor, holding
A wake of their own. My father will be upstairs, where
No one will hear him weep when the shot is fired.
John's tears flow freely. "I can't," he says. "I know
He's suffering, but I just can't." His hand falls.

I take the gun, hand him the reins. "It's all right," I say,
Because of course it is. We all have limitations, all,
Weaknesses, and compassion is not the worst to have.
I hold the gun between Percy's soft brown eyes,
So much like my own, which I close then open, then aim,
Fire. Farewell, good and faithful servant. I check
The time, so that I may record when this life ended.

Chapter Text

I have done multi-story series before, but I can't remember how to add a new story to this fic, even though I did this only a month or so ago. I have emailed AO3 for help, but they have yet to answer my distress call. If any of you can help me out, I'd be grateful.

It doesn't help that I am in "higher education" and am having to turn my on-the-ground lesson plans into online lesson plans over this weekend and am stressing out about it to roughly 87% of the max.

This fan-fic is SUPPOSED to be where I DECREASE my tension. Hahahahahahaha. Deep breath.

I adore my ListerSisters and ListerMisters. Help me. Help me help you, because I imagine we are all suffering these days.

Thanks.