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I Just Went There to Study Anatomy

Chapter Text

All of my days had been ordinary for so long, dull,
Either solitary or crowded with relations, so
The extraordinary days stand out, like a bright blue
Day amidst a long grey winter. Her smile is so much
More stunning even than I had remembered. She looks
At a person with such focus, you feel seen. I am used
To being talked over, about, considered the topic
Of conversation and not its subject. One forgets
That spring, when it finally arrives, comes suddenly.

She says she remembers the room, and I tell her
What it was like meeting her all those years ago,
After my mother died suddenly after my father,
How she came for tea and stayed to walk with me
In the garden. I ask if she remembers my running
After her to invite her to tea. I felt like such a fool.
She says she thought me animated. That is not
A word people often say of me. She sits on one
Yellow sofa and I suddenly realize how far across

The room the other is. Her bright smile invites me, and
I sit beside her. Her eyes are magnetic. She recalls
My sister. I tell her about Elizabeth's children,
Tell her I'm fond of children but not sure I would want
To give birth. I cannot seem to stop talking; surely
A real lady would never admit that. What will she think
Of me? But she says she also never felt compelled to
And tells me she dissected a baby once, and yes,
That it was dead, of course. Of course. I can feel

All the blood leave my face, but as she describes
Her studies in Paris, I realize that she is not unfeeling,
But rather endlessly curious and clever and unafraid.
She speaks of her fascination with the body and how
It works, and I feel a fascination building in my chest.
She calls the brain extraordinary, but she is the one
Who is extraordinary. She says it governs all that we
See, hear, think, feel, desire, and I find it harder to think.
I feel, I desire I do not know what. Her hands and eyes?

Chapter Text

I had forgotten what this part was like, when I walk
Into a room and feel a woman's eyes drawn to my own
And I foresee what the hour will bring. Exhilarating,

This power I have to magnetize a woman, to talk
Her round to my way of seeing the world, to inject
Her with my own fascination for complex phenomena.

It's like this sometimes. I can't help myself. I speak
Faster, make grander gestures with my hands, and
Choose my words with an instinct for what she needs

Most to hear. I can see that my excitement is palpable
As I say, "We invent. We analyze. We build cathedrals, write
Music and poetry. We fall in love." I leave a short pause

And I see her falling in love, not all the way as in a summer
Deluge, but just the first drops watering the golden
Blossoms, glittering in golden sunlight. "Aren't we lucky,"

I say, "To be alive, to have life. Isn't every tiny moment
An inexplicable delight, packed with potential?" She sees,
I think, without forming the words, the potential I offer.

Chapter Text

When was it last like this? When was it ever? We talked
So much from the moment I entered the room, it was
Half an hour before she suggested I take off my great coat.
I told her about Georges Cuvier. She told me about
Her sister's wedding to the Scot, and how one little
English cousin dared another to flip a kilt, to the great
Embarrassment of all the ladies in the room. I described
The Swiss Alps. She complained of Dr. Kenny, thought
I knew she hated him. "He's awful. I thought you did."
"When?" "When you got rid of him, sent him outside
To look at your horse." "Well, yes, I could see that
He was irritating you." She laughed. "He's never
Touched me. It's just the way he always looks
Where he shouldn't." Her eyes fall to my heart-shaped
Stickpin, and mine fall to the bodice of her gown.

I school my face. No good getting caught doing
The very thing she hates, though now the thought
Is in my head, I find I must change the conversation.
I tell her of two other Halifax doctors, advise her
To take control from her tribe of relations. Again,
I am functioning on two levels. My words come out,
But I am surprised both at the way she takes
For granted her family's interferences, and by
My own strong sympathy, at her sad acceptance
Of their label for her, invalid, and the seeping
Warmth I feel as I try to validate this woman
While avoiding letting my eyes drop below her face.
To cover I hold her hand. Her skin is cool
To my hot touch. The clock rings two. I rise
To take my leave. Better to take things slowly.

Chapter Text

1. Washington

Most women of wealth and status move slowly, sedately,
On foot or in a carriage. If you want to speak to them,
They are very easy to find. Not this one. She strides

Everywhere, so she is not limited to the carriage roads,
And even if you can locate her away from her estate,
Then you must hurry to keep up with her! I thought

Beforehand of what my approach might be. Surely
Her father would have told her what a nasty, expensive
Business coal could be, recommended propriety

Rather than productivity. That is not the work
She has asked me to do for her. Instead, I have gathered
Figures and information, found her a good guide.

If she will apply her cleverness to coal, I'll collude
And give her the very ablest service that a man
Or a woman like herself could possibly desire.

 

2. Holt

With fair warning from Washington, whom I've always
Respected, I set my mind to meet the mind of a man, even
If it was presenting itself in the form of a lady. I presented
Myself to her, ran down her options from the worst
To the best, if the most difficult. She wants a skillful
Negotiation to get what's she's owed out of that blackguard,
Rawson the elder, who does more disservice to the title
Of gentleman in his greed and disregard for the law
He is sworn to serve, than she does to the name lady.
No, better still, she takes lady and raises it with her keen
Mind and powerful feeling of honor. Reminds me of them
Tales of Elizabeth rallying the troops at Tilbury: beneath
Them petticoats, she has the heart and stomach of a king.

Chapter Text

I've seen more ups and downs these last many weeks

Since Himself told me of the chance to rent near Halifax,

It could almost match road we travelled with all our bags

And children piled on the cart. Such hopes! His dream

Of a better piece of land, some money put away...

The climate down in Halifax is gentler than back up home,

The growing time longer, and the stones, when we dig them

Out the fields, will be good building stone. We could build

Sommat. That was our hope. And said I, the lads will miss

Their friends, but we won't miss the six-month winter.

 

The more fool me. And when our Henry started yelling,

Well, there was nowhere for us to turn, nought to do

But surge ahead to get past the stone embankment

And a hairline into the edge of the wood. There was

Nought to do at all. I shall hear our Henry's screams

In my sleep for all my days.

                                                I recall once, as a lass,

Seeing a falcon circling above and then dive down!

The coney was only yards away from me and I heard

The snap of its neck. Even as the fine ladies commanded

Their footman to take Henry and haste to Shibden,

That was what I was thinking of, that is all I could.

 

It's torn my heart to see Henry suffer and never speak.

Even when that kind young man, Thomas, come

And give him the toy soldier, and tell him his age

And rank, and ask Henry to keep Thomas up to date

On the fellow's adventures, Henry wouldn't even say

Thank you. So when She came in, the odd woman that

Himself had described to me, with her frock like a man's

Suit, with her tophat and cane, I didn't know

What to do but take the hat and cane as She handed me

Them, and hope She'd not take offense at Henry's

Silence. We could not go back. That home was gone.

 

And I would have thought, if I'd thought at all, that She

Might ask after Henry's health, receive our thanks

For her paying for Dr. Kenny, and be off. Even Himself

Wasn't prepared for what did pass. She picked up

The chair and set it by Henry, looked in his ears and

Down his throat like the doctor himself, felt his wrist

And counted it against her pocket watch. She spoke

Of the constable and the groom and all them who

Might have seen ought. And then She asked:

 

"What do you think, Henry?" And for the first time

In weeks, he spoke, to my horror. "Are you a man?"

My breath stopped. She said, "Well. That is. A.

Question. And you are not the first person to ask."

She paused and my hand gripped her cane tight.

But then She said, "I was in Paris once, dressed

Extremely well, I thought. In silk and ribbons.

Ringlets in my hair. Very gay, very ladylike.

And even then, someone mistook me for a..."

 

And I thought She looked sad, and then calm.

"So no, I am not a man. I am a lady. A woman.

I'm a lady woman. I'm a woman." I feared

My hands would leave prints in the brim

Of her fine black hat. But then She asked Henry

About the toy soldier Thomas brought him,

And he told her the name and age, and She talked

About her soldier brother, long since passed

And clearly, thought I, long missed by her.

"I taught him to shoot straight, and he taught me

To fight with a sword." "Can you really fight

With a sword?" asked Henry. "After a fashion.

I've never been called upon to do it, but

You never know the day." After that She said

She'd look in on the magistrate. It seems

Even the highborn have their ups and downs.

Chapter Text

1. Aunt Anne

It's always the soup that does it. She can't abide the way
We eat our soup. Well, Jeremy has been slurping his
For as long as I've been alive. And Marian will insist
On blowing on hers to cool it and, four times out of ten,
It blows back in her eye. Back when Anne was in her,
What did Jeremy call them? Her wild days? She would
Offer to bet me whether it would or not. But I'm not one
For gambling, and surely not against such a near certainty.

Tempting, though, this afternoon. I see that look in her eye,
The finger tapping impatiently against the crystal wine glass.
Improvements. Elegance. Legacy. And then Marian will--
Well, maybe it won't happen today. All families quarrel,
Surely. But she's only been back a few weeks. Could she not
Wait to ruffle everyone's feathers as she so often does?

2. Jeremy

I think her tendency to "run things past" me so that I know
"What's going on" would be just as annoying in a son,
Though her brothers never did take charge so. And they did,
From time to time, at least make the pretense of seeking
My opinion. But their small plans for improvement never
Seemed so strange or, I suppose, Continental. I dare not think
"Parisian." Such thoughts never help. But an ornamental
Moss house? A chaumiere? A shed? What the devil for?

Oh, here it comes. She's sick of the place looking like a farm,
Despite the fact that is and always has been to some extent,
As the lowing cows outside attest. And Marian has not the wit
To change the conversation, but must always, always challenge.
Sons were easier in everything except outliving them. Daughters,
Being women, must always make the world about themselves.

3. Marian

Oh, here it comes. The first manorial court in Halifax. Good old
Henry the Fifth, and Agincourt and all the rest. She will insist,
Will Anne, on our ancient lineage and quiet dignity. But where
Is the dignity in a sister who acts not just like a brother but like
The oldest? We should have inherited evenly from Uncle James.
Order, Chaos, Travails, Solutions

 

Which style of garden, I asked her, did she think Eden followed?
Good old English disorder or French elegance? She laughed,
Asking how could Eden follow what came later in history?
And what on Earth brought me to ask such questions? Gesturing
Broadly to the Lytcliff grounds, I asked how she could wonder:
Her family had clearly nurtured such elegance for generations.

She turned a full circle, those robin's egg blue eyes widening
As she took in her home as though she had never before seen
Or noticed the stands of trees, the spray of irises and azaleas.
"Do you think? Only I don't have much against which to compare.
This is just home. I never thought about it really." Such simplicity
Draws me to her. I say, "There is a French influence here, surely,

In the way the geometry of the larger frame--the walks,
The tall jardinieres boasting tall flowers, the line of sight
With the house, now hidden, now revealed--" "I hadn't noticed,"
She said. "But now you mention it, I have always found this
Sort of order calming, restful. You know, especially on the days
When my tribe of relations are only being a great trial."

I sigh, my own trials so recent in my memory, but I have learned
At such moments I do not need to be the center of conversation.
Thus I learn of the cousin desiring a loan, without clear purpose,
Without interest, without stated date of repayment. I think
The Morte d'Arthur never properly illustrated the truest distress
A damsel may fear is not so much violent as pecuniary.

Chapter Text

Which style of garden, I asked her, did she think Eden followed?
Good old English disorder or French elegance? She laughed,
Asking how could Eden follow what came later in history?
And what on Earth brought me to ask such questions? Gesturing
Broadly to the Lytcliff grounds, I asked how she could wonder:
Her family had clearly nurtured such elegance for generations.

She turned a full circle, those robin's egg blue eyes widening
As she took in her home as though she had never before seen
Or noticed the stands of trees, the spray of irises and azaleas.
"Do you think? Only I don't have much against which to compare.
This is just home. I never thought about it really." Such simplicity
Draws me to her. I say, "There is a French influence here, surely,

In the way the geometry of the larger frame--the walks,
The tall jardinieres boasting tall flowers, the line of sight
With the house, now hidden, now revealed--" "I hadn't noticed,"
She said. "But now you mention it, I have always found this
Sort of order calming, restful. You know, especially on the days
When my tribe of relations are only being a great trial."

I sigh, my own trials so recent in my memory, but I have learned
At such moments I do not need to be the center of conversation.
Thus I learn of the cousin desiring a loan, without clear purpose,
Without interest, without stated date of repayment. I think
The Morte d'Arthur never properly illustrated the truest distress
A damsel may fear is not so much violent as pecuniary.

Chapter Text

I'm not sure what surprises me more: her facility
With these words for my dilemma or that I know myself
Never to have had such. Yet she makes me feel the words
Are mine, that I might own them. And she says, if this
Comes up again, she will make herself available to help,
But does not expect that I will need her. She astonishes
Me, day by day, in how she treats me as though I were
Whole, and always had been, as if I could be clever
Enough someday to have confidence enough to speak
For myself. "Take the excursion I'm going on soon
With my cousin to the Lake District," I tell her.

"My Aunt Ann set it up. It's to be for three weeks.
But that can be a very long time, even with a friend."
And at first I think she sees what I'm getting at,
But then she says, "You fear you'll tire of her?"
But isn't it obvious, I think, that she'll tire of me?
Surely Anne sees that. Surely she only puts up
With me because-- Well, I'm really not sure why.
I am not clever or interesting, as she is. Only
The novelty of our acquaintance is likely keeping her
Spending time with me and then actually calling again.
I so wish I had the power to make her truly see me.

Chapter Text

People have always noticed my extra vitality, as if it were
A barometric high, something to be guarded against.
Long ago, Sam warned me about gesturing with a teacup
In my hand, and lukewarm tea in Marian's face just once
Was enough to prove him right. And, too, Mariana was not
Wrong to recommend I never pick up even the slightest
Trinket that might belong to Charles. Oddly, Vere never
Saw cause to ask me not to handle her things. Or--

Perhaps the messages she sent and those I received...
Differed. Today, I pace In Ann's library (whose volumes
I long to handle and scrutinize) as I dictate a well-worded
Letter: polite but firm, generous as befits family, but prudent
As befits a lender whose terms have not yet been addressed.
The letter is calm. My hands almost give me away.

It is a lovely piece of work: whale ivory, I think, though
Carved with elephants, one at the top, hilt-like and somber,
But all down the haft, thirteen smaller elephants linked
Tail to trunk as they follow their mother leader at the top.
Down the center of the shaft, eight roses, declining in size,
Remind me of our ancestral wars. And the rest is lace,
Carved holes to make the thing light for a lady's hand.
I pick it up to fiddle as I downplay her instinct toward her

Own, assumed, weakness. How can I tell her, she may be
Small, but even small elephants may wreak havoc in must
Or lead parades in the Orient when acting upon their own
More dignified nature? And what oddity but myself would
Dare even think to compare a lady to an elephant? Barely
Can I gather my thoughts before she has changed the subject:

She is going on holiday with her cousin, Catherine, her oldest,
Dearest friend, the one who, in fact, gave her this paper knife.
The Lake District, think I, our own true England's geographic
Don Juan. The knife moves over and over in my hands and,
As she points out, three weeks can be an eternity, either,
As she points out, in trying good friends' (or lovers') patience
With each other, or, think I, stretching the time of forgetfulness
Between when I say farewell and she returns, beaming:

Full of some great secret happiness I have had no part in.
And Catherine is Stansfield Rawson's eldest, and it has, as
She points out, all been arranged and she cannot-- Crack!
My hands as of old have betrayed themselves and me.
But this time I am bleeding. My suave certainty of moments
Ago has fled me. She offers her handkerchief to staunch

My blood, but nothing can staunch my embarrassment.
I stammer my apologies, my stupidity, my offer to replace it,
My acknowledgment that nothing I could replace it with
Would have the same sentimental value, compared to a gift
Given her by such a long-time, loyal, bosom friend. I inhale
To further communicate my deep feeling of-- But she breathes,

"Oh, I think it would..." And as my jaw fights to close upon
Its own astonishment, she holds the cotton tight to the wound,
To shorten my pain. And when last did such as this happen?
Without thinking, I ask, "Would you like to come to Switzerland
With me? In the spring? I can't go sooner. Then Rome at Easter?"
"I've never been abroad..." She seems stunned at the thought.
"Well, then you haven't lived." And she mentions, once again,
Her dear brother's death on his honeymoon in Naples...

For surely as she kneels at my feet here, her hand
Tight-laced with my own, I cannot help the feeling that, like
An elephant with its own grace Northerners can't recognize,
She might have a strength beneath the lace to surprise me.

Chapter Text

Never in all my years have I dealt with ought like this.
Of course, one hears stories, yes, especially back when I
Was her maide de chambre, back when my French was--
Well, never sans erreur, but passing good. Good enough
For Her, and that's saying something. But these last weeks

Have set me back on my heels, and that's a fact. Think it:
The new French lady's maid, all prim and proper, suddenly
Vomissait on the Highflyer, and here in the garden, and taking
A bottle or two of gin, and vomissait encore. These are not, not
Not the actions of a proper French lady's maid. Unless....

Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure it out, to do
The counting against the calendar, to consider old George
Playforth, with the twinkle in his eye and his trousers
Right full, and then reconsider how himself getting shot
Out of a tree might well have put this poor girl out...

And aye, I did at some point happen to say sommat about
A man with a good Christian heart who might make as
The child was his, but John Booth? Our John Booth? Booth
With flowers and the single word of French I taught him:
"Oui." The damnable word as got us here in the first place.

Chapter Text

One of the great beauties of our Lord's creation is
The infinite variety of His creatures, and from my own
Perspective, especially those of the fairer sex. Naturally,
Over the years as I have been forced to find different
Ways to subtly tease out if a woman is like me, or
Could see her way clear to finding out if she could be,
I have learned several methods of gently leading up to
The kind of conversation that might lead to other,

Very particularly other, types of conversations.
Since Ann is so deeply English, I eventually hit on 
A strategy based on something uniquely continental,
No--uniquely French, no--uniquely Parisian. Only
Something that she would look upon as outrageous
Might crack her shell and offer passage to the soft-
Boiled egg waiting beneath: pocket holes. I laughed,
Even as I said it (in part because men are so out-

Rageously, ridiculously predictable and) ,in part
Because of the irony: this rhetorical device I used
Was literally a covert, sneaky way in. I mentioned
Mrs. Barlow (the widow) and put on her the onus
Of a worldly explanation. "What are they for?"
Asked Ann. "Well," said I, "I did wonder. Then I asked
An English lady I met <and kissed>, and she told me--
But maybe Miss Walker would prefer if I did not say...?"

But she insisted that I could not hint at something
So intriguing, then not tell her. "Well. It's very French.
Only the French. No, only in France. No, only in Paris. 
Well." I dropped my voice, and in just a bit louder than 
A whisper, though the door was closed, I suggested, 
"Apparently, it's so a man might pleasure himself..." 
(I gestured) without drawing attention lf..." Her mouth
Opened and closed. I said, "Oh, you've gone red!"

And acted embarrassed, which I both was and wasn't.
The stunned look was amusing but also heart-breaking,
In a way. How is it men get away with such shenanigans,
Even if only in France, or only in Paris, and women are left
Blushing and stammering? Even as I play the intrigue,
I think, how can we be whole while playing part-roles
In the part-plays of the part-lives the men insist on writing?

Chapter Text

Of all the conversations I have had or heard here

On this familiar sofa, never have I passed such pleasant

Unexpected hours as I have with her. She talks about

The pleasures of Paris, both the intellectual ones

She experienced studying anatomy, and the other kind

The kind men take for themselves. Even the walls here

Must be blushing, and she apologizes but also smiles.

My face grows warm. She leans in toward me, quietly

Asking if I've ever kissed, seeming to disbelieve my no.

                                   

How is it that she touches, with her shining brown eyes,

Some part inside me that the world would not believe exists?

She looks at me so deeply, sees animation, confidence--

All of the things she is, and none of my invalid parts.

I hardly recognize the reflection of me I see in her...

 

"Have you wanted to?" she asks softly.

                                                            "Kiss? Only to see

What it's like," I answer. "Have you?" Her lips, thin

And perfect, draw my gaze, and I cannot look away.

 

"Wanted to?... Yes."

                                    And it almost seems as if her eyes

Are on my lips, and I wonder what sort of man might have

Seen her as I am seeing her, this singular, clever, and

Magnificent woman. My pulse throbs as I ask, "Who?

When?" Her eyes hold me. She looks as though she cannot

Pull her gaze away.

                                    She whispers, "Every time I come here."

 

She cannot mean that the way it sounds, as if she were

Speaking of me, as if anyone would feel about me anything

Like that, but she touches my cheek, runs her thumb lightly

Over my lips. "And I think you feel the same about me.

I think that you're a little bit in love with me."

Never had I felt such tumult of feelings, the fluttering

Of my heart, warmth between my legs, rush of confusion.

"Have I overstepped the mark?" she asks quietly. "Am I wrong?"

 

And I can barely string words together as a thin, feeble

Barrier against the storm within. "I do have warm, tender

Feelings for you," I lie, not having words for softness like

Freshly washed bed linens or heat like the great fire of London...

Chapter Text

I have spent my twenty-nine years looking within. Surrounded
By so much death, I have always myself been the only focus
I could trust. I always thought of my bed as a refuge, a place
To retreat to, not a, not-- I don't know what I am thinking of.
And anyhow, I meant the sofa, of course, a place to retreat to
When my friends and endless relations weary me. Suddenly

I find myself not desiring to retreat. She, I think, never retreats,
But forges forward always and devil take the hindmost.
Reflecting on the most extraordinary afternoon conversation,
I find myself energized, worked up, and what is that phrase
Everyone uses about me? Taken out of myself. Except that
I feel very much every bit of myself, the blood roaring along

Through my veins, my heart racing to catch up with her,
Even though, when we walked in the garden earlier, she took
Her time, did not stride the way I know she does when going
About her usual business. They say the men have to trot along
To keep up with her, her servants, her, our steward, Washington,
Her tenants and family friends. But not with me. With me,

She took her time, listened to my rueful description of my tribe
Of relations and how they speak to me. She took her time.
Why does that feel so significant? And the way she leaned toward
Me on the sofa, as if eager to hear what I might have to say.
She looks, really looks and sees. She listens, really listens and hears.
Who does that? At least, surely not with me. Certainly not with me.

No one listens to the invalid, or looks at her, past taking her pulse.
I stand at my window, looking out on the garden, thinking of Eden,
Whether English or French, and the French, the Parisian men,
And why people, not her of course, but why people go there. I hold
Tight to the bloodied handkerchief. Her precious blood. She is with me,
Here at the window, encouraging me. But I do not comprehend why.

Chapter Text

I've always thought the girl has spent too much of her time
Reading the penny dreadfuls and the ladies' novels, expecting
Some white knight to ride up and save her but, at the same time,
Expecting them to have pecuniary motives. She puts people off,
Even her relations, always expecting them to be after her money.
And yes, Atkinson, of course, but aside from him... She's naive
And nervous, with a weakness in her spine. I suspect it's menstrual.
It's kind of you to take an interest in her since we took the liberty
Of calling on you with her, introducing her to you. She has not always
Been well, gets anxious and frets about the oddest things. She does
Not have enough to think about. What she really needs,
I've often thought, is a friend. Not one of us old folks, constantly
Interfering, but someone nearer her age yet still a bit older,
Wiser, more worldly-wise than Catherine Rawson. Someone
Who can lead her on a steady path. Perhaps, I think, she has
Found one... Might I heat up your tea, Ms. Lister? Do try these
Figs. My husband knows they are my favorite and gets them
Special for me any time he finds himself in London...

Chapter Text

I charge from one good friend to another, a blur of ebony
And debonair. I always walk fast, always have done,

But this, this is different. This is the energy and speed and
Sheer life force I always feel most forcefully when a woman

Is on my mind, night and day and night. By and by,
Miss Walker will fall into my view of things. I saw that shift

In her gaze. I felt that shift thirty years ago, when I first saw
Eliza and knew that something inside me had changed.

I knew I was not the girl I'd thought I was. She felt that
Today. And perhaps Mrs. Priestly is right. What sweet Ann

Really needs most is a slightly older friend. And perhaps now
That she's realized that she can fall in love with a woman--

With, well, me--I do believe that if she's fond enough of me,
Well, couldn't we truly work to make each other happy?

Chapter Text

When all the world except Argus has an opinion
About what I do with my time, with my estate, even
With my muddy boots and all I really want to do
Is unlock my trunk and pull out the current journal.
Lock myself away for an hour to write down my own
Opinion on the events of the day, when so much
Is happening both inside and outside my mind,

Then is the worst possible moment to pick up
My post and recognize her seal on the back
Of the letter. I've tried not to think of it, since
I returned. I've occupied myself, kept busy.
But I can feel the stiff card underneath the paper,
The card engraved with her name, and his.
I remember her soft voice as if it were yesterday,

And the call of the gulls, those damnable gulls
Whose calls shall always remind me of that bright
House in Hastings, and all my foolish hopes
For our future happiness together. Icarus too
Heard the call of the gulls as he flew higher, too
High, too near the sun. Such weightlessness
Makes the crash to Earth so much more painful.

Chapter Text

I told that woman I have thought a lot about it,
The accident just above her hall, and I have thought
How that road is out of the constable's jurisdiction,
Strictly speaking, and with my carriage gone back
To the manufactory in Liverpool, there is no evidence
To link me to the scene. As I told her, in such absence
Of evidence, there is not much for the constable to do.
She asked, "Is it not the constable's job to gather
Evidence?" She looks me deep in the eye as she says it.
It's a rare person, and a rarer woman, who steps up
To me like that. But then we know what a singular
Sort of woman she is. Somehow she manages
To look up at me while looking down her nose.

Chapter Text

Sometimes it can be exhausting being her friend.
On days like this, when she sits listlessly, listening
To her music box, over and over, and I have to carry
All of the day's conversations all by myself, I focus
On the details: how many bonnets are you taking?
Should I bring the parasol? I hope we need it.
It would be frightfully dull if it rained the whole time
We are in the Lake District. What books are you
Taking? Now that got her attention, naturally,

As it offered her a chance to mention Miss Lister.
Miss Lister recommended some books. Miss Lister
Lent her some to take with us. A life of Charlemagne?
Why on Earth would Ann need to know about
Charlemagne? Finally, I said it. "You've talked about
Nothing but Miss Lister since I got here." Did I sound
Jealous and petty? Lord knows I didn't mean to.
I tried to make it clear that I was concerned for her.
"You do know what people say about her, don't you?"

That got her attention. She closed the dratted music box,
Turned to me, gave me her attention. "What do they say?"
"That she can't be trusted in the company of other women."
She asked me who said that and I could only say, "People."
Well, I could hardly name my brothers or their wives,
Now can I? She frowned, asking, "Well, what does she do
To them? Bite them? You can't say a thing like that
And then not justify it. What does she do?" That was
When I realized perhaps I shouldn't have said anything.

But now her attention was on me, so I said, "Apparently,
She's a bit like a man." "Well, that's ill-mannered!
Why would people say such things? Because she's
Singular and clever and doesn't conform to the ways
People think a woman should think or look or be.
You need to meet her. She is one of the nicest, kindest,
Most interesting people I've ever met. She'll probably
Come by to recommend interesting places to visit..."
And I thought, time to change the conversation again.

Chapter Text

Now on the one hand, Anne can be one of the most
Annoying, frustrating, selfish, thoughtless people
I have ever known. She comes late to meals and reads
While we are eating, checks out of conversations
Before everyone else has finished talking, comes home
Late, and with her boots muddy, tracking all over
The rugs worse than Argus does. And don't even
Get me started about her inheriting from Uncle James.

And yet.

On an afternoon like this, when she races in late,
Gives Jeremiah Rawson her standard firm handshake
And refuses to be cowed when talking business...

On a day like this, when he demurs and insists
That she set the price for the coal, she says, "Per acre?
226 pounds 17 shillings and 6 pence." And he sits
Suddenly, breathless, saying, "That's ridiculous..."

And at first I think, well, now she's blown it, but
Really I should know better. She lays it out,
How Mr. Holt said at least two hundred an acre,
And when she'd asked how much the Rawsons
Spent on getting their coal up and how much
It went for in town, how much it cost to hurry
It to the surface--six shillings for twenty corves,
Which is thruppence-ha'penny per corve, which is
Fourpence-ha'penny per corve clear gain...

And then she ran through all the calculations:
Dividing by twenty, and times that by five,
Four thousand something square yards per acre,
And dividing his clear gain by two, for getter
And proprieter to have equal share of profits,
That equals 226 pounds 17 shillings and 6 pence.

Well, the look on his face as she rang for the servant
And hurried on to the next thing... I can live with a bit
Of mud on the carpets just for that alone.

Chapter Text

I knew she would run rings around you, little brother.
I used to know her years ago, when she first moved
Here to live with her uncle and aunt. Even then she was
A handful. Her parents couldn't cope. She went to
The Manor School for while, until she was expelled,
For what I can easily imagine: she likes the ladies.

She's clearly bluffing. She won't sink her own pit
And no one would play that price. Never you mind,
Love. We'll bid our time. She never stays long.
You'll see. She'll be off traveling before you know it.
Her tastes have become rather more refined and
Exotic than anything she can find in Halifax.

Chapter Text

I know that I have many talents, but this is not
One of them, drawing a person's likeness with such
Elegance, showing a bit of their character with paint.
She is nervous about this holiday, and I came
To encourage her to draw the views of the lakes
So that she might show them to me on her return.

She says, "I always like the idea of travel, but then...
My brother died, you know, in Naples..." I laugh
Lightly, say she shan't die in the Lake District.
"Quite the opposite. It will make you feel alive."
And from my pocket I take a velvet bag, offer it.
Her face lights up. It's so easy to make her smile.

"I bought it in Venice two years ago. A gondolier
Can take you anywhere in the city you want to go,
And bring you back safely. Wear it, always, and then,
When you think of me, you'll feel perfectly safe."
I pin it to her lace shawl, the gold like her hair,
Just as her pale blue dress brings out those eyes.

She is not the hardy traveler I am. Few people are.
But perhaps it is just this delicacy of features
That makes her, like this little broach, beautiful,
And I, with no paint, have just touched up her own
Likeness, added the particular sparkle I see there
So often when she looks up at me--

Chapter Text

She's been all over Europe: Paris, Rome,
Switzerland. She's climbed mountains. For me
Some days it's more than I can do to leave
My bed. And yet, when she talks of this
Wedding in London and how she really
Doesn't want to go, I feel akin to her.

What if the groom was someone she once
Had feelings for? What if seeing him
Take the hand of a woman in silk, ringlets,
Flowers just feels like it would all be too much?
But something about that picture just
Doesn't sit right. Anne forlorn? Impossible.

So I offer, "Sometimes when there was something
I didn't want to do, but I've had to do it,
It's ended up being one of the best days.
So if you went, what seems complicated might
Just sort itself out." She looks into my eyes,
And I think she knows that I see her.

Chapter Text

How many weddings have I attended, trussed up more tightly than usual in corset and stays, only to watch from several pews back as each pair swear oaths and are given the gift of a shared name, a shared life from that day forward? Too many. I have grit my teeth and smiled and smiled and offered my best wishes and walked away so angry I was shaking. Today I cannot even smile.

 

I am too old for this. I let my hopes rise, every time. I let them almost carry me away on the wind: liking, teasing, conversing energetically, wooing. <In other days, with other brides-to-be, although I in my foolishness simply called them women, there were other things, touching, grubbling, all leading to a tolerable kiss or two or twelve...> But I was younger then. Perhaps my powers of attraction have waned?

 

And it is always exactly like this, in the end: some man up front and every beautiful woman <I have ever loved>, leaning on her father's arm, and all the women in brightly colored dresses, unlike me, always "joining" in public in the eyes of all the people and "under the eyes of God" and always joining together "this man and this woman," <but never this woman and me>.

 

Always I have pushed down the injustice of it, as today, I have pushed down the festive mutterings all around me that beat and clash in my ears like bronze gongs. The sweet organ music is a torture to my ears, as I hear it as the long carpet she walks up the aisle to join him.

 

I feel more like a captured soldier, an officer holding tight to the pride of his uniform even while surrounded by his enemies wearing another color. I stand here like a soldier. No one here is looking at me. Why would they, when Vere is shining in her virginal white, as she should <for all of me at least>. And Donald in his kilt, sporran and fly, looking like a lord. And she looking at him <as I had hoped for long she might someday look at me>. No, no one is looking at me on this festive day in my funerary uniform holding the line. I shall never marry

 

a man. The priest drones on about marriage as an honorable estate, symbolizing the tie between Christ and the Church, his bride. Men and their symbols. If God were truly just, why would he have made me as he has?

 

The priest says, for this reason, "marriage is not to be entered into lightly, inadvisably or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding." Yet how many men have taken wives for exactly that reason? <And why would God grant us our perfect bodies, our senses, our desires if he had not meant for us to enjoy them? Another someone-else's wedding. Once more, I grit my teeth.>

Chapter Text

By the time we must all shake their hands, Mr. and Mrs.,
I have composed myself again, at least enough to make
A good show of it. She says she is, and is visibly, pleased
To see me. I tell her she looks beautiful, for the truth is,
She always has. "Oh, you are curious," she says. "You wear
Black even to a wedding." "Oh, I started wearing black
Because of a wedding sixteen years ago, when my friend
Mrs. Lawton married a charmless buffoon. It's a tradition
I've continued." I hear the words I said, then add, "Not
That Donald is charmless, or a buffoon." "No..." I take
A breath, as does she, begin again. "I came, despite
My aunt's illness and my estate affairs, because I wanted,
I wanted to say... I hope you and Donald will be very happy
Together." The feeling with which she thanks me
Strikes me hard, and makes me slightly generous. I say,
"Our time on Earth is brief. And we should all strive
To make the most of it, and be as happy as we can be."

I know she hears the sincerity in my voice, sees it
In my eyes. Softly she says, "I'm sorry if I hurt you.
I was always very fond of you. You must know. But...
I'm just... not like... that." And I nod, feeling
Suddenly untethered. She could have said anything,
Chosen any word. Not like you. Not like what you wanted.
She chose... "that." A word meaning a thing. And then,
I realize that Miss Walker's soft-spoken advice,
Which led me here to the thousand miseries I have felt
In these last few days, was sound. Vere and I had been
Complicated, unlikely, so very close to nothing really,
If I am to be honest with myself now. And Vere,
As beautiful and kind as she is, is indeed not like me,
Not like "that." Very well. I have wasted time, and
I shall no longer let time waste me. If I am to be me
And as happy as I can be, it is time to go home
And be myself and happy, finally, unapologetically.

Chapter Text

The long road north from London to Halifax,
I weathered gamely (unlike my servants), knowing
With every quickened beat of my heart against my chest
I was finally moving in the correct direction.

When one travels extensively as I have, distance
From home becomes the measure of one's achievements,
The further away from the banal and mundane, the better.
I may need to rethink the wisdom (or so I thought it)

Of my youth. Horace wrote, "It is courage, courage, courage
That raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely
And present a brave front to adversity." Now my blood
Pounds its wisdom through my veins. Now I write

In my journal, plain hand, crypt hand, plain again,
I endeavor to explain to myself my choices, good and ill.
I think of the gondola, and wonder if Ann, in fact, might be
Truly the gondolier who might guide me home.

Compared to the long journey south, accompanied
By all my second guessing, my pained passions,
The journey back home took no time at all, and
The moment the horses halted, I had leaped down

From the carriage, hurrying into Shibden, taking stairs
Two at a time, more myself than I had been in days,
Weeks. No more second guessing. No more flying
Too high. I would go to the Lake District, land at last.