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Most Women Are Dull and Stupid

Chapter Text

I know that I should have seen this coming and I did,
Years ago when a lot of the talk first started. Of course
Eliza supported her, defended her. She liked the girl,
Saw (I think) a tiny bit of who she once wanted to be
When she was just a girl. And after that, defending her
Became habit, especially as the girl became a woman
And a well-travelled conversationalist at that. So yes,

I did see this coming long ago, but I'd forgotten that
Something even so long unseen cannot eventually
One day become shockingly visible, even obvious.
Hopelessly, I tell her not to mention it, to ignore it,
So that if talk starts, people won't connect us with it.
I should have remembered what a gossip she is.
I should have remembered my wife just never shuts up.

Chapter Text

I always enjoy when the Priestly's call, well, not
The husband so much. William has hard time
Calling a spade a spade. Eliza on the other hand
Will analyze the spade's motivations for digging,
Whether it's a garden or a grave. This morning,

For example, he showed shock that Ann would
Go to York, so suddenly, with Miss Lister, to consult
A doctor there when she had a doctor here. But
Eliza calmly said it was to separate her from her kin.
William tried to shush his wife, but that horse

Had left the paddock. I told him. I said, "What is
Unspoken, William, is not always unkown."
I finished my bit of cake. "You mark my words.
Oh yes. Miss Lister will have her in Paris before
We know it." I shared a knowing glance with Eliza.

Chapter Text

Long since accustomed to waking, often, in the darkness
Of the night, unable to sleep, or late after such a night,
And barely able to truly wake, and long since accustomed,
In either case, to waking alone, our trip to York was nothing

But an astonishment. She said no one would think twice
About two respectable ladies, traveling together, sharing
One room at a respectable place like the Blue Swan, but
Truly what surprised me most was that before, then after,

I truly slept. She called it the sleep of the innocent, but
I don't know. Now that I have the knowledge, even though
Of a woman, that usually constitutes something other
Than innocence, I wonder if it could be called instead

The sleep of the well-sated. How did I not know what deep
Surging, pulsing joy her hands could give me? I'd not
Thought a man could do the same with his, well,
Workman's tools. And she asks me all the time, "Like this?

Is this all right?" And listens when I say ah, yes or no.
And then this morning, on waking, we met each others eyes
And started all over again, breathing heavily, feeling so
Deeply. And when I was still shuddering in the wake

Of what she had given me, she rolled over to check the time.
"Dr. Belcombe will be here in twenty minutes," she said.
I tried to take the watch away and she distracted me with
A flurry of kisses. I think she's the best medicine I could have.

Chapter Text

I had told Ann that Steph was the best doctor, was the one

I went to for my troubles <although the mercury rub

For my Mariana trouble had only made me feel even more

Poorly>, that she could trust him entirely. They liked

 

One another immediately, and she talked with him candidly

About her nerves, and what her other doctors had suggested.

He came to join me afterwards and seemed if not

Wildly hopeful, at least calmly optimistic. He explained

 

Nervous hysteria--yes, in her head, but not something

To dismiss on that account. She had, as I knew, experienced

A great deal of pain and loss in her few years. Some people

Coped better than others. Friendly acceptance, coupled with

 

Travel, would do her a power of good. He said he thought

Me the best thing to happen to her. I do hope he's right.

Every day I find myself even more fond of her than I had

Expected. If I can also help her happiness, I'll be satisfied.

Chapter Text

One of the first rules, when you serve your betters,
Is not to accuse one of them and theirs, even when,
As in this case, one of them knows what happened,
Knows who caused it, and thinks she knows you know.

She asked me about the accident, what I saw, and
Mentioned that James had said I thought I recognized
The driver of the gig as caused it. "Couldn't say, ma'am,"
I hedged. "It all happened so fast." She knew I was

Facing him as he approached, but I didn't let on.
"Like I say, it was all over and done with before we knew
What was going on." She said James said I had named
Christopher Rawson. "Both my brothers work for them

Rawsons, ma'am, and with him being a magistrate...
What good can it do?" "There are other mag--" "Oh, aye,
And they all p--" Shite, in for a penny. "They all piss
In the same pot. Anyway, it could have been anyone."

No one quite knows what to make of this Miss Lister,
The way Miss Walker has seemed so much livelier
Since they started calling on each other. Still, betters.
And I know better than to open my mouth about that.

Chapter Text

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't check in
With the men, especially with such an unusual
Situation as a tenant done a runner. Thomas,
Hard at work swinging his pick and taking out
Rock, had to wipe sweat out his eyes just
To recognize me. The heat takes its toll upon
Everyone, so I did not feel amiss offering him
A short break by way of conversation. He did
Seem more worried about the tenancy than
About his father, but more than one man
Has taken the family's savings and gone away
To get blind drunk for a week before running
Home. Thomas is a good man for working
So hard to make sure he was one to return to.

Chapter Text

As we rode back from York, Ann, arrayed in pink,
So much brighter than I'd ever seen her, had
A fit of imagination, asked what I thought the future
Might be like... Maybe on the newfangled railroad,
They'd have a string quartet to amuse the passengers
On long journeys. Playing along, I said, "Why not
Hire a fiddler for carriage rides as well, to make
The long and bouncing journey feel less like
A tribulation and more like a jig or reel?"

Chapter Text

Twenty-nine years I have practiced, unrelentingly and patiently,
To drip a clear comprehension of the necessary social conventions
Into this stupid girl. And for the last ten years, I thought
I'd succeeded. She behaved, she knew her place, she only called
On the most respectable of our neighbors, never traveled far,
And certainly not unexpectedly like this. She took direction
From her elders and betters, who worked hard to protect her
From fortune hunters and predators. Now it's hard enough
To keep up with her. And I've had to answer to everyone:

The Priestleys, the Rawsons, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards at Pine Nest.
I've had to explain, to justify why you would go off
So abruptly when you've got a perfectly fine doctor here.
Something shifted, that horrible morning of the accident.
Now with this Miss Lister in her life, she is utterly unmanageable.
This strange woman who insists on wearing black and even
Collecting her own rents. She mocks me. Telling me Italy
Never made her feel queasy. I think that this Miss Lister
Has my niece entirely under her unconventional spell.

Chapter Text

I saw a world of patterns, fractals, repetitions, as though Creation
Were made precisely so that we human creatures could work
To understand what the Lord was thinking when He made us.
This Darwin's ideas, surely they had to be testable. Hence,
My intense study of anatomy. I always thought, if one studied
Enough, one could cast away the veil of the mystical and find
Truth, or failing that an explanation for my own oddity.

I knew most women, all but me perhaps, were uninterested.
I always took for granted that I was the only one there.
And then, three carriages converged in the wood, at a crossroads,
The dominion of Hermes, an inherently magical locus.
Suddenly, this fair Ann with her impish smile caught me
In her lacy net, and I like a Greecian sailor, heard her
Salty chuckle and I cast myself into the sea to be with her.

I'm so sorry. What were you saying?

Chapter Text

The best way to burst a bubble of ebullience,
I've found is to forward news of ill fortune,
All the details divulged encyclopedically:
Who, where, when, how. In this case, of course
Mrs. Ainsworth, not far from her home, just
On the road, within sight of it, a few days ago,
At dusk. Perhaps one of the horses spooked?
Her husband was unclear on that particular
Point. No matter. And no, I don't have brandy
Or smelling salts. I find having a hearty
Constitution will carry me through all crises.

Chapter Text

I know how Anne Senior tends to favor her namesake,
Obviously. But my elder daughter can be a handful,
Can be very full of herself. She is, in fact, quite a snob.

"So what if this Mr. Abbott makes carpets? Our father's
Father's father was a wool merchant. She forgets that.
She conveniently forgets when she's doing her 'fifteen

Generations, all the way back to Charlemagne.' Trade.
We are descended from trade, just like the rest. So,
Marian, if you want to invite this fellow to tea, do."

I put my spectacles back on and return to my paper.
Dear old Anne has been, I hope, put in her place,
And my youngest seems amused and pleased by me.

Chapter Text

As much as I have always disapproved of people
Not keeping themselves to themselves outside
Of marriage (lowborn or high), and even though

I found it a right bother to have to figure out how
To keep the girl's pregnancy a secret, protect her,
Since if Herself found out, there'd be Hell to pay,

And for as much as John Booth, a lovely man,
But a bit, well, not what a young girl like her might
Normally look for, as much as he's stretched

My long half-forgotten French, still, she was
For a little while a mother, and now she is not.
I know that pain. She says, "I didn't want the baby

And now it's gone," as if those two facts had
Anything to do with each other. A life inside you,
That changes everything, that does. But right now

She's not ready for me to speak of my loss. Now,
She needs a spot of tea, to gather herself. And
We'll help ourselves to sugar for comfort.

Chapter Text

On a windy night like this, I always think
Of the first night he came back poorly
From the pub. I shouted at him for spending
Our little hard-earned money, given I was
Expecting our Thomas. That wasn't the way
I'd meant to tell him, and it infuriated him.

So many things in our life together, which
Should have been joyous, went all wrong.
Drunk at Thomas's christening, drunk
At the boy's fifth birthday. Then, for while,
Just honest labor for an honest wage,
But it never lasted all that long. Tonight

Nature is aping his rages, and I find myself
Unnerved. I keep expecting to see him,
That he'll sleep off his long drunk and
Return to us with a killing thirst. Perhaps
Thomas is right, that he's finally run off.
I can only hope I'm done with him for good.

Chapter Text

I cannot account for the sudden, dire change in her today,

Upon picking up the letter, not even reading it. <And her aunt

Is a vulgar, cruel, poison toadstool of a woman.> I had her man

Drive us back to Lightcliffe, sent Eugenie with the sad news

And had her collect my night things and bring them back.

 

But I know, whatever it is, it's very bad. When an Englishwoman

Refuses a cup of tea, well, it's. That's. It simply doesn't. I take

My own cup, try to collect my thoughts. I ask, "Do you want

To talk about Mrs. Ainsworth?" Through her still drizzling tears

She says, "She was... kind." "You must have been very close."

 

"Why do you say that?" "Because you're so upset." "No!

Not close like we are, if that's what you're thinking." Something

Is there I can't decipher, so I sit back in my chair, sip tea, wait.

Finally, she says, "It's death. Anything to do with death terrifies

Me..." And yes, thought I, but I remembered the Ann of ten years

 

Ago, both of whose parents had passed in such a short time,

Yet the girl had run down the Lightcliffe road, run after me,

Calling me and inviting me to tea. This feels... different. People

Suffer differently, but external pain presents with less power

Than internal torment, and that is what it looks like to me.

Chapter Text

Usually, it's me who is tapping, impatient to be off, to be
On to the next thing. She taps the table, but there is no
Purpose to it. It isn't excess energy to be channeled to work--
Seeing the men doing their jobs (or not), writing letters,
Writing in my journal, walking into Halifax for ink.

I think, there is too much going on for her to take it all in.
She has not even changed from her night clothes. She needs
A purpose. I think of Mrs. Priestley's sudden trespass
A few days ago, before York, and how that breach might be
Mended. "I wonder," I say, "if we should pay a house call

On the Priestleys. This morning, first thing. Because
If we skulk and avoid her, it'll look like we have something
To hide, something to be ashamed of, and we haven't.
We don't. We're just two respectable women who choose
To spend time together. That's all." Ann whispers, "She saw

Us." "She didn't, not really. The point is, if she says anything,
And if we carry on as if we have nothing to hide, it'll undermine
Anything she might say. If we avoid polite company, it could
Make people think there's truth in what she says." "But now?
Today?" "I think it's best to deal with such things head on."

It takes a while of cajoling and another two cups of tea,
But pretty soon she is coming round to my way of seeing
The thing. I leave her maid to help her dress, noting the news
From London, grinding my teeth at the ongoing reforms,
Then put on the charm as she comes down the stairs...

Chapter Text

Yes, yes. I should have seen this day coming as well,
When Anne would face Eliza's fierce disapproval
With aplomb and wit, and undoubtedly bald-faced lies.
Still, one can't help admiring her confidence, and how
She does seem to have done young Ann good. We sit,

Stiffly, facing each other, a bit like two firing squads
Facing each other down, or trying to. Eliza asks
If Ainsworth will still come to meet the church trustees,
And I offer to put him up here, if it would make it
Easier for her. She immediately accepts, her gratitude

Painfully obvious. Also, painfully obvious, in the silent
Moments when the clock's ticking tracked the length
Of this interminable call, was how much Anne wanted
Ann to make a full recovery, and how uncomfortable
Eliza insisted on continuing to be with the lot of it.

I am of two minds. My wife is not wrong to find such
Relations unseemly, though she ignores my insistence
To distance ourselves. And yet, the good Anne has done
My cousin is so palpable, even with Ann's mourning,
I could almost see my way clear to ignore all of it...

Chapter Text

At moments like these, when a hapless man tells me
That his brother isn't someone to mess with, and he clearly
Is not in fact threatening me (as his brother surely would)
But rather, as he says, "telling me for my own good,"

I often think of what Ann said in the carriage, about music
That might go with us on a journey, to amuse us as
We suffer the bouncing, the ups and downs, the boredom
Of the same scenery over and over. I think, what if,

In addition to that, we had a cellist, say, sit in the parlor
While we had such somber business conversations, and
Play a suitably somber tune, as if we were operatic players
And the world offered us themes to sing arias to...

Chapter Text

Don't get me wrong. I do love her. Often. Sometimes.
When she's not making me maddeningly cross.
She isn't good at affection, gives me a rare loud kiss
Or a rough, quick hug. I know what it means, but
I don't know how to return it. I barely remember Sam,
But I know they got on so much better than we do.

So I offer to walk down to Halifax with her; on the way
I apologize for the fight at dinner a few weeks past.
She doesn't accept immediately, of course. Has to make it
About her. "I know you don't think it upsets me, but
It does. It upsets my equilibrium." "Mine too. Anyway,
I'm going to Jackson's for flannel for new drawers.

I've a new pattern with an improved gusset. I can
Make some for you if you like..." I see her soften.
She says, "I plan on traveling again... New drawers
Would be useful." That moment led to the next, as I
Brought up Miss Walker and their friendship.

She asked me, tentatively (and when did that last
Happen?) that the girl might move in at Shibden
As Anne's companion. I told her I'd be pleased to see
Her settled. Her grateful surprise did not keep her from
Characterizing Mr. Abbott as an imprudent match.

Chapter Text

Well, everybody's heard about Her, haven't they?
I heard the lads who hang around the bank, hoping
For Rawson to toss 'em ha'pennies, flee when they see
Her coming. She took her stick to Jimmy the Hand,
I heard. But never expected to see Her fer meself.

And down the pit? Here? In't She a lady? Do ladies
Do that? She even looked at me busted head, but Holt
Blamed me fer not wearin' me hat, and that's true
But when you work from dusk to dawn, you gets
Weary, and hats are the last thing you think about.

Chapter Text

I examine the figures and the boy, and Holt asks,

As if expecting me to have changed my mind,

"And are you still determined to go down the pit?"

Foolish question. Squished into a coal cart, I ride

The rail, smacking my head once, and then the lad

Behind me says belatedly, "Mind your head, mister."

 

But I rise above it, as we glide lower into darkness.

I think, again, of Ann's idea about music on trains,

And I think again, I should always want fiddlers

To play a jig to keep up with my always moving

Body and my always-moving mind. Down here,

I can imagine digging money out of the hills

 

Hand over fist, imagine not constantly chasing

After someone with more per year <though that

Would be the part that wouldn't matter, the fortune,

If they could dig me my own from my land, and I

Could focus on simply finding someone with whom

I shared tastes, with whom I could share my evenings>.

Chapter Text

Water dripping, tools clanging, the little coal train stops.
Holt puts his hand out and I give him my lantern, and
Get out, only realizing a second later that he meant
For me to take his hand for help. No matter. I step straight
Into a muddy puddle, but just on the way down,
I know I've been covered in coal dust. It's up my nose,
Down my throat, and all over my hands. Too bad.

Here I am a hundred feet down, and now I can get
Real answers, not just from reading books. Holt says
In this mine he has fourteen people, men, women and boys,
Some of whom are girls. They work two twelve-hour shifts,
For maximum productivity. He explains the difference
Between this horizontal pit, and mine, which would be

Vertical, hence the need for a winding engine and greater
Cost up front. "But you'll be laughing when the profits
Come in, and for years to come." I like this man
Washington has found me. He takes me seriously, speaks
Plainly, and doesn't expect me to be "reasonable," soft
Or feminine. I can simply be a person of business to him.

Chapter Text

On the walk back into town, I blow my nose
Into my white handkerchief, and it comes out grey.
No matter. That's also one of the benefits of wearing
Mostly black all the time. Hey ho. I make my way
To Parker's law office and tell him a tale of me

Knee-deep in water, and how it made me realize
We'd need a clause in the lease to keep them
From turning the water back on me. I am afire
With ideas, and the Madeira warms me after the chill
Of the cold, wet pit. He asks me my strategy. I say

I won't be intimidated and I want to be paid
Honestly for what they've taken. He says, "Christopher
Is a bully and an opportunist. If anyone's equal
To him, it's you. But he will play dirty." I tell him
About the accident above the hall where small Henry

Lost his leg, and Christopher's part in it. I also
Mentioned my disappearing tenant, asked his advice
About the tenancy. Parker's another man I do so
Appreciate for his willingness and ability to focus
On the business at hand, rather than propriety.

Chapter Text

A narrow washtub is such an awkward way to wash,
But Eugenie is good about keeping the pitchers
Of hot water coming, rinsing off the soap that has,
Finally, gotten off the last of the coal dust. Good riddance.
Why must adventures always come with a mess?

The moment I think this, Eugenie comes with a new
Pitcher and a letter, delivered by Miss Walker's servant.
I dry my hands and read, then feel my heart rate increase.
I am needed at Lightcliffe. It's providential I am clean.
I think I'll need all my armor to face this newest mess.

Chapter Text

Oh, the irony. A hundred feet deep, amid the damp and dimness,

I felt all the clarity of my ambitions. Here, above ground, even

Daylight can't show me the way. She's had a letter. From Ainsworth.

And she thinks he's going to propose. And if she had any feeling

For me, wouldn't she burn the thing? Instead of fire, I find water,

 

Tears. She's sitting in the window, all damp pale blue crinoline.

A clergyman. Every woman's dream. But he's hot off the marks.

It seems indecent for him to be suggesting such a thing so soon,

And his wife not even in the ground yet. But a proposal of marriage

<from a man> is not something to be sneezed at. And yes, I am cross!

 

But I cannot be cross with her. It won't help. We must think

This through. But why will she not show me the blasted letter?

She says, "It's marked private." What sort of reason is that?

<She and I are all but engaged. Surely I have the right to read

Her correspondence, especially with someone who is (unknowingly)

 

Setting himself up as my rival.> With him, she might be a mother,

Then a grandmother, then she really would have fulfilled

Her destiny on Earth as a woman! I can give her anything

But that. In tears, she says she loves me, always has, since

The time she met me at eighteen, no, fourteen. But does she now?

Chapter Text

Once again, I'm hearing cellos in my head as I roll over onto
My side in her bed, pull the covers up. Then she speaks.
"She was a lot older than him... She used to joke how I
Should take her place if she went first... Someone would
Have to take care of him." I ask again, "Why will you not
Let me see the letter?" Her silence rings with her mad
Unspoken, unspeakable thoughts. All she says is, "I said.
Because it's marked private." Which is no reason at all.

Chapter Text

I've sat in this chair since long before the sun even thought
To rise. I was overheating lying so near to her but feeling
So very far away. Rising and sitting apart made rational thought
Easier, if not easy.
I had thought she was unlike Vere,
Who so often I feel intentionally misunderstood things I said,
Trying to force me, I suspect, into speaking more plainly,
Which we both knew I could not do, any more than she could
Afford to hear me do it. Such a game of cat and mouse we played.

Somehow, with Ann, I think I had felt more like Argus,
Lying outside in the sun, just waiting for some young girl
To come worship me, pet me, love me. What a fool. If I am
A big dog, then she is a canary in a cage. We have nothing at all
To say to each other.
Unless we do-- Unless perhaps this is all
A misunderstanding. After all, how many of her friends and
Tribe of relations have tried to influence her, for her fortune
Or--
She lies in her bed, sleeping hard after a sleepless night,
Snoring lightly, like a lady. And me in my men's underthings
Sitting in this chair as the light slowly rises and the colors
Of the room turn from greys to gold and green and blue--

She wakes, looks around, anchors on me. She asks me
My opinion on her marrying him. My opinion! She asks
What I think other people would think. I don't even need
To answer that. She has to decide for herself, not
For other people, and alas, perhaps also, not for me.

Chapter Text

Barely had I woken, and found her sitting in her odd men's
Underwear on my chair, looking... distraught? But that made
No sense. I, of course, felt it all bitterly: to lose her, this
Magnificent woman? For him? For such a one as him?

She said I must make a decision, she gave me only a few days,
Not the six months we'd agreed on. "He will be expecting
An answer, soon. I deserve the same." She was not wrong,
But how could one, how could I set aside my family's decades

For her brilliant brief moment? And also, that other thing,
The thing I dare not mention, or try to explain. If she ever
Loved me, if she loves me now, once she understands
What a fraud I am, that will disappear like morning dew.

Chapter Text

When she woke, felt me gone, sat up and saw me
Sitting there in my misery, my first thought was
How very young she seemed, a child woken from
A nightmare, seeking assurance, and finding none.

When I told her she'd have to make a decision,
She asked me what I thought, what other people
Would think of her passing up a chance at such
A man at her age. She knows what they would think.

When she asked if we'd still see each other, she
Took my "No" with surprise. I said, "If you take him,
You'd have to give me up." "No, but not as friends.
Only, as this, Anne." Only as this? "Only this" would be

The basis of a lifetime spent together, wife and wife.
Only this is the most private, sacred thing two people
Could share. Only this-- Only this-- Only--
How could we go back to common friendship now?

Chapter Text

Crying again. How I detest these tears. And I cannot tell her

How many times I have shed these tears before. I should

Know better by now, I tell myself. Women will marry.

 

She is no different than the rest, though I'd thought--

She is weak in the end, and afraid, just like them all:

Mariana, Nibs, Mrs. Barlow, Vere. None will commit,

 

<or at least not to me, not to a woman>. I told her,

You must make up your mind, and then there will be

No going back. But if you choose him, we could not

 

Stay friends. It would be too painful. <Already it is

Too painful, like a raw and ragged cut one could have

Avoided with a bit more care: I keep choosing

 

Women like knives, pour out love like heart's blood,

And wonder why I end pale, worn, weary.> Then she

Frets about the sudden deadline, but seventeen years

 

Is not sudden. I have awaited a woman's decision

Half my life. I weary of waiting--and worse, of then

Attending a wedding. No. I rise and gather my clothes,

 

And go. Three days: the time of Christ in the tomb.

I will endure my wait as I must. As Horace wrote,

"Suffering is but another name for the teaching

 

Of experience, which is the parent of instruction

And the schoolmaster of life." If she wavers, can I

Ever again throw myself into such education again?

 

Chapter Text

<I behaved as well as I could, though perpetually

Saying to myself, 'Well, I care not how she decides.

I care not much for her; the whole thing was only

Ever a game.' As I left, she hung upon me, crying,

Sobbing aloud, saying, 'I hope we shall meet under

Happier circumstances'--as if the circumstances

Of our next meeting were not entirely up to her.>

 

I walked home, at much slower than my usual

Pace, my thoughts and movement alike turgid

As though I pushed through snowdrifts, as on

The alp, though instead of icy cold, I felt only

Numbness, and the heavy warmth of all my

Garments, the weight of my enforced patience.

 

<'Well,' said I to myself as I walked off,

A pretty scene we have had, but surely I care

Not much, and I shall take my time of suspense

Very quietly, easily reconciled either way.>

I reread what I have read and try to own it,

As I always have before. Surely my journal

Can reconcile my memories and my thoughts?

 

But this afternoon my pen is a weak instrument

For recording what must be. I drop it, weary,

Bilious, inky fingers shaking, my hair in my eyes.

I'd slept perhaps two hours the whole night,

But sleep was even further from me than sweet

Equanimity. I ran, spewed my grief another way.

 

<Don't do this. Don't you dare do

This to me again, I prayed

In rage. Don't you dare-->

 

Chapter Text

That afternoon, in my sitting room, when she first--
And I didn't know how to. Or think about it. Because,
Of course, those thin pink lips. And yes, tender,
Warm feelings. Because those chocolate eyes,
Brown and sweet and rich with feeling. But then

She turned away, apologized, asked if I despised
Her, but how could I? Had she embarrassed me?
No. Had she missed the mark? No. Got it wrong?
No. Misread it? No. One syllable. That was all
I could manage, my mind in a crash like the road

Weeks ago, with the carriages and the little boy
And everyone panicking. I am panicking now,
I know because I can never tell her. But I can
Also never take her. But she is all I want, she has
Always been what I have ever wanted, since

What? Fourteen? That blue day with all flowers
And bees buzzing round them, and her in all black,
But somehow also sunlike in how she drew us
To her, me and Elizabeth. That afternoon she said
She'd be in a thousand miseries until the following

Day, when she saw me again, thinking she'd over-
Stepped the mark, wondering if I hated her or
Despised her. Then, I reassured her, it wasn't
Going to happen. But tonight, I think I know
The kind of sleepless night she was describing

Chapter Text

Grandmother has always had a way, hasn't she,

Of always making our parents, aunts and especially

Our uncles feel uncomfortable. Between taking

Uncle Christopher to task about letting Miss Lister

Run rings around him, though everyone knows,

It was Uncle Jeremiah who negotiated--

                                                                        (But

The family likes Jeremiah, or at least doesn't

Dislike him.)

                        --and showing unabashed admiration

For Miss Lister, for her cleverness, her company,

Her conversation--

                                    (and here I couldn't help

But get the feeling Grandmother was inserting

A dig about her children's conversation...)

 

--"That's why I like her. Even though she is

A bit of an oddity. She's been to so many

Places, done so many things. Most women

Are dull and stupid, but not her." You and I

Exchange looks. Presumably she thinks that

Also of us? And not just of Mother and the aunts?

 

Uncle Christopher has no such moments of

Humble introspection. He claims to be just as

Clever as Miss Lister--

                                    (which is in itself quite

A compliment from him, who normally claims

All women are beneath him. Her, he claims

As his equal. I wonder if he notices his own

Words... Grandmother has, you can be sure.)

 

--He claims to have the measure of Miss Lister;

Grandmother scoffs, "I doubt it!" Then Uncle

Jeremiah, in his haste to point out the power

Miss Lister has in their business dealings,

Says something that makes Father ask if they

Have been stealing her coal. Uncle Christopher

Speeds over Grandmother's shock. "She claims

She'll sink her own pits, and her demand

For a price is just nonsense. I'm tempted

To tell her where she can shove her upper bed--

Sorry, ladies, and call her bluff." Grandmother

Gives him a pitying look. "Well, perhaps,

Her little friend will help her. She's got plenty

Of money." "Sorry? What? Who?" "Miss Walker!

Your cousin! They went to York together,

And now they're inseparable!" "Really?" says

Uncle Christopher, clearly feigning boredom.

Grandmother smirks, "Next stop, Paris.

Maybe Miss Walker will let Miss Lister dip

Into her purse. Whatever else she's been

Letting her dip into." Eyes flick away

From Grandmother and back, embarrassed.

Not her. "So sorry, ladies." Not. Sorry. At. All.

 

Chapter Text

D.
What was Grandmother talking about, with that
Odd comment about... dipping? Because it sounded...

C.
I wouldn't worry about it. Yes, of course, Miss Lister
Is odd, as everyone says, but Miss Walker is very--

D.
Because I also heard Uncle Christopher say once
To Father, that Miss Lister likes the ladies, but--

C.
I shouldn't let it worry you. Who doesn't like
Ladies? We... smell nice, and er, dress well, and--

D.
But it sounded more like the way that drunk
Fellow on the stagecoach that time, said those--

C.
Miss Walker says she is clever and kind, and when
She appeared at Eskdale, she lifted Ann's spirits.

D.
I liked her. When I met her. With mother. She said...
I was like you, except in the lips. She was very...

C.
The point is, our Uncles Christopher and Jeremiah
Don't like her. Mother, ah. But Grandmother does.

D.
True. And Grandmother is the smartest in all our pack,
The queen on the family chessboard. Very well.

Chapter Text

A man can take his sorrows out on the Earth. He can cut

And pick, sort and barrow, and feel like a job well done,

End of the day. And a road seems a proper sort of thing

For a man to pay his attention to. A road is a solid thing.

It serves. It gets people, and things, there and back.

 

<Hard physical labor, that's what can burn off sorrow,

When reading and writing can't. Digging up a sapling,

Cutting its root, yanking it loose. When the arm and back

Muscles labor, the heart and mind lose their grip. Sweat

Can be a tonic for the soul, as we wring out the body.>

 

"Me and the lads generally stop for our dinners

Around now, Miss Lister," I say. "If that's all right..."

"Yes, of course," she says, still digging hard. I hand her

My bottle. "You should have a drop of beer if nowt else

For your dinner, ma'am," I say. "You've been digging

 

Like the devil." She tosses her shovel, takes it, drinks.

<I drink, deeper than I expected to, more thirsty

Than I had thought. It is refreshing. I say, 'Need to talk

To you about Eugenie. It really is an inconvenience...'

'Oh, it's all off,' he says, sadly. 'Sorry?' 'It's not happening,

 

So we're all right. As you said, it were a step down

For her. Would never have done. She realized that

When she got back from York. So...' I sat next to him

On the stone wall, playing back recent memories.

I say slowly, 'She was very pale in York and tearful...'

 

I pretended not to notice, but... Was she pregnant?'

He looked shocked, then relieved. 'Well, it wasn't mine.'

Realization hits me. 'It was George's, wasn't it?

I thought they were getting on well in Hastings and

In Langton and then...Good Lord! I thought she was

 

Preoccupied with something when we got back here,

But I couldn't decide if was just, you know, Shibden.'

He chuckles, says, 'I felt sorry for her: a new place, and

A load of unfamiliar faces, and Mrs. Cordingly said--'

'Cordingly?' 'She confided in Mrs. Cordingly, what with

 

Her having a bit of French, and none of us knew what

To do to help her--' 'Sorry, all of the servants knew?'

He nodded guiltily. "Mrs. Cordingly said what Eugenie

Needed was a man with a good Christian heart to step in,

And do the decent thing.' 'Oh, John.' 'Well, it weren't

 

Entirely a selfless thing. I am a bit smitten with her.'

And I never thought I would say something like this

To one of my servants, but. 'You do realize you are

Too good for her, don't you?' And then, as Ann had,

When I was vacillating about Vere's wedding, and she

 

Gave me sound, earthy advice, he said, 'Well, isn't that

Often the way when you feel like that about someone?

It's rare both parties feel exactly the same.' And with

Rather more honesty than I'd have expected from myself,

I said, 'I don't know. A thing can start that way, but then...'

 

'But you won't dismiss her?' he asked. 'Hmm. Well,

Proper French lady’s maids don't grow on trees, certainly

Not in Halifax...' And he asked, 'Are you... all right... ma'am?'

'I'm always all right." I take another swig from the bottle,

Hand it back to him just as Washington appears. Hey ho.>

Chapter Text

Sleepless nights move through the darkness to their own
Uneasy music, not disharmonic and not without melody,
Yet also very unlike a lullaby. Very little could lull me
Tonight, and nothing as night turns first to dark morning
And then to the predawn chatter of birds as light rises.

Tune-deaf, the sun announces itself through the gap
In my red curtains, challenging me to rise and face
The day as it does. I sweep the blinds open. The estate
Greets me silently, still somewhere between shabby
And elegant. I wash the crust out of my eyes and shake

The water off my hands. Today is the appointed day.
I shall, I must! assume that I have not misjudged her.
Unlike all the others, surely she could, she can throw
Off this suitor and take me instead. Today, I may,
I will--finally--become one half of a complete whole.

Chapter Text

I wondered if her "improvements" might come to this,
Returning to that nasty business coal I'd managed
To avoid myself. And after watching her run rings
Around the Rawsons, I'm not entirely surprised
When she changes horses and decides to sink her own
Pit, as well as reopening Listerwick. She was always
Impetuous, strong-minded, and a little wild, qualities
I had in the army, but not much since. James was
Right to leave her the estate, though I'll not tell her.

But she can't do ought alone. She wants investment.
She unrolls the plans, shows me what she learned
From Washington and Holt, where they might best
Sink a new pit. And, knowing her as I do, though
For many years from a distance, it does not surprise
Me that she mentions another possible... backer.
Well, Miss Walker is a prudent match, if they can
Make it work, however unconventional it is.
I'd be happy to see her settled, stop running away.

Chapter Text

When her servant passed on the fruit basket, and

Nestled in it a note, I felt weak, but took it up

To my library. Was the fruit her way of softening

The blow? "Oh, Adam, we're getting tossed out

Of Eden, but hey ho! Here's an apple!" <And one

Small part of me is listening now, to later record

How I shook off my irrational dread and boldly

Tore open the letter.> Both eager and terrified,

 

I read: "My love, I find it impossible to make up

My own mind. I promised you an answer, and

I'm at your mercy. I have written the words

'Yes' and 'No' on slips of paper, and put them in

A purse. If you still think it better to decide today,

The paper you draw out first must be the answer.

Whatever the event, I shall always remain

Your faithful and affectionate Ann Walker."

 

I drew out 'No' then 'Yes' hardly believing

That she would choose such a-- That she would

Think I would-- That--

                                    I balled up the letter and

Set off for Crow Nest, got there in twenty-five

Minutes. The moment she entered her sitting room,

I started yelling quietly. "What am I supposed to do

With this? Do you think I want my future happiness

Decided by fate, by which bit of paper comes out

 

First? Like a raffle ticket?" "No..." "I'm taking it

As a no," I snapped, tossing the purse aside.

"It... isn't a no..." she whispered. "Well, it isn't

A yes! Will you accept him?" "I don't want to,

But..." "But? What!" "If I did, it would be out of

Duty." "Duty to who? Mrs. Ainsworth?" And that,

With her abject tears, her sobbing out of control,

Is how the wretched thing came tumbling out.

 

Chapter Text

I have always thought myself immune to women's tears,
But this obvious misery stops me in my tracks. Seeing
Her folding herself into a sorrowful ball of golden curls
And tear-stained silk, I find myself growing quieter.
"Ann. Talk to me. We're adults. Nothing can be this bad."

"But I'll never see you again. If I tell you the truth,
You won't want anything to do with me!" I look
Carefully into her eyes, lift her chin so that she has
To look at me. Quietly, I say, "I might surprise you.
Hmm?" "It's... him. The Reverend Ainsworth. I've been...

Indiscrete... He's had... intimate knowledge of me..."
And, at first, as the knowledge landed inside me, time
Seemed to slow. I thought: But she said she had often
Disliked thinking of men like that. I thought: I wondered
Where she learned to kiss like she does. I thought:

How could anyone take advantage of this sweet
Marmalade of a girl? Because there is no way on God's
Earth that this young woman wanted advances on her
From a married man. She sobs, "He said he was in love
With me, that she wouldn't live long, and I didn't know

How to say no. That's why when she died, I-- Because
I knew it wouldn't be five minutes... And I told him
I didn't want to, but he managed situations where he
Was alone with me, here or at their house... Anne,
Do you understand the problem?" Horrified, I sat

Beside her, taking it in. "Were you... connected?"
She nods, sniffling. "Once. Does that not put me
Under obligation to him?" I wipe tears away
With my thumbs. "He inflicted himself on you
In his house, while visiting his wife. You were under his

Protection! With his wife in the other room! No,
You are under no obligation to him!" "You're cross,
You're shouting." "I'm not cross at you, not shouting
At you. I'm glad you told me!" And as she continues
Crying, I gentle her, reassess my thinking, make a plan.

Chapter Text

I have, over the years, had far too many moments when
My regard for someone shifted in but a few blinks,
But then it has almost only ever been from good to bad,
From trust to betrayal, from hope to devastation.
She is different. All of this is different. She did not lead
Me on in bad faith. She was banking on her friend's
Continued health, a reasonable assumption. She was
Hoping the worst would not come to pass. We all
Do that. And quite likely, as she is so trusting, and him
A clergyman! I feel the ground beneath my anger shift
Away from her. For a moment, I pity her, as she cries,
So abject in her tortured innocence. I often forget
Just how young she is, and if this had been going on,
As I hated to imagine, for years, since she was much
Younger… Sitting beside her, I look her in the eye,
Hold her face, kiss her forehead, grateful that finally
She told someone, told me, won't have to carry it all
Alone anymore, will know for certain from now on
That she will be kept safe. And she snuffles about

How she thought I'd be cross, that I'd expose her
When she wasn't fit or free to say yes to me--
And I pull her close, barely able to say more than
"No, no, no---" Then she leaps up to show me
The letter, finally, with his signature and seal,
And as I try to read, she says that she could tell
No one "as he said it would reflect just as badly
On me... I know you'll think I'm weak, and stupid..."
I stare at her, appalled she'd think I'd expose her,
Think her anything but taken advantage of,
Victimized by this so-called man of God.
She says, "If only I'd had someone like you
To confide in, this wouldn't have happened."
And I think her tribe of relations failed her,
But I also underestimated her, thinking her
Faint-hearted rather than fed-upon, silly
Rather than suffering. I think that she is
Correct. Had I but known, had I known her then
My horsewhip would have been bloodied quickly.

Chapter Text

After all my nightmares and melancholic worrying,
To finally get it out, to finally say aloud what I feared
Even thinking about, and to see her not recoil--

Yes, she stood up, looking down at me for a bit,
But mostly out of shock, not horror at me, but horror
At him. I'd had his voice in my head, convincing me

That the guilt was shared between us, until she said
I had been under his protection, pointed out that I
Had no way to get out of the predicament he put me

Into. I don't know if I shall ever have more tears to cry
After these solemn, terrible three days. But she pulls
My head to rest against her shoulder, the one place

I never thought I'd be again, and she says, "You do know
That I'd have gotten you out of this scrape, don't you?
Whether you'd said yes to me or not?" "Would you?"

Her eyes show shock again, perhaps at my lack of faith.
She tosses his letter away, growling, "Grubby little
Wretch." Now it is my turn to be shocked. How little

Over the years I could ever have thought of anyone
Dismissing him like that, with three words. She kisses
My face, muttering, "And in a dog collar." I remind her,

"He'll still be coming for this position at the church,
A ruse to get near me." She pulls me in again and rocks
Me. "Shh. You have nothing more to fear from him."