Chapter 1: 22 Minutes Past 10:00
She's a sight for exhausted eyes when I wake up
In my sunny yellow room, but the sun shines
Directly from her in her black jacket and skirt.
"What time is it?" I ask, and without even looking
She says, "Twenty-two minutes past ten." I smile.
Most people would round up or down, but not her.
She says she hasn't been here long, that over
Breakfast, she and Miss Parkhill had a polite
Skirmish over which one of them would come up
And see if I'd woken. She adds, unnecessarily,
"I won." Then she kisses me and it's like passing
Sunshine from one person to another, her to me.
But I only got five hours of sleep, tormented
By thoughts of Mr. Ainsworth, how dirty he always
Made me feel, my betrayal of his wife and myself.
I say maybe she shouldn't say anything to him,
Since he'll be angry, embarrassed, humiliated
If he knows I told anyone about what went on.
"What went on? You were quite right to tell me.
And that makes him embarrassed or humiliated?
Bad luck." As I wash and dress, she tells me
Her plan to sink a coal pit, asks if she might
Borrow some money from me for the purpose
Temporarily. "How much? Of course you can."
The key, I finally decided, was to act: to do the thing,
And after, verbally second guess yourself so that others
Would be forced to justify what you did, so that you
Don't feel badly about it. So far it has been working
Remarkably well, first, buying the open carriage,
Even though, in retrospect, it was a very dangerous
Vehicle. And now, drinking tea with the Priestleys,
I dither about whether or not to go see Miss Walker,
And even wonder if meeting with the church trustees,
As planned, despite... the event... might appear to be
Unfeeling, indecorous. This leads them to insist
That life goes on. But Miss Priestley tells me that
Miss Walker has been unwell since news of my wife's
Death. "That might explain why I never heard
Back from her, and also all the more reason for me
To go and offer what comfort I can." Mrs. Priestley
Is very encouraging, pointing out that Miss Parkhill's
Presence would mean there would be no impropriety,
Something I honestly had given no thought to.
Grubby stinking wretch.
Chapter 3: You've Persuaded the Invalid Downstairs
After such an odd little morning with this Miss Lister,
Battling, over tea and toast, over which of us might
Try to rouse Miss Walker, and my longer acquaintance
Losing to her more recent particular knowledge of Ann's
Bereavement, and then my waiting over another cup,
Finally, Miss Lister brought her down, dressed and
Coiffed, and looking remarkably well, so of course
I ordered more tea and handed her the note that
A servant had brought her, watched her read it, glance
At Miss Lister, and take a moment in her sitting room
To pen a quick reply. Then it was back to toast,
Compote and light talk of the woes of French grammar.
Chapter 4: Small Steps
Back when William first told me of this young clergyman
And his wife, who might be coming down to interview
With the church trustees, I don't think it hit me that they
Might be friends of some long standing with Miss Walker.
I think I only realized that once the poor woman died,
And we all saw what a terrible load that was on the girl;
Her health, which was never robust, suddenly failed her,
Leaving it up to her Aunt Ann and her friends to support
Her. And Anne Lister. Any time over the last ten years
Or more, I might have seen that as a kindness, but all
Of Miss Lister's motives were now to me suspect. So,
When Ainsworth suggested putting a few things
Together, the scrapbook and whatnot, and sending
Them over to Crow Nest, William and I agreed:
"Small steps," if only to curtail the young man's tears.
And when he asked if there might be another reason
For her reticence to see him--"There wouldn't be
Someone else?" I hurried to assure him there wasn't,
Despite William's pained, knowing look. I repeated,
"No one else. No. Quite the opposite." I stand by it.
Chapter 5: The More in Awe of Our Creator
I swear I cannot help it. The girl was sketching flowers
And we got talking about the diverse kinds, with different
Numbers of petals, different thicknesses of leaves, and I,
Without much thinking, started to talk about these new
Ideas about evolution that I picked up in London and Paris.
And that led me to talk of Georges Couvier and his
Decision to set aside biblical interpretations of how life
Began and pursues a more scientific understanding.
I should have realized bringing my city ideas to little
Halifax would require a very careful touch. Ann doesn't
Seem to mind my nontraditional approach, but then,
That could be why she always beats me at backgammon.
She actually pays attention to the game, while I let myself
Get distracted by a pretty face or a chance to show off
My learning. Miss Parkhill thinks scientists are heretics,
Yet most scientific men I've known are quite religious.
How could they not be? "The more we understand
About what complex and sophisticated beings we are,
The more in awe of our Creator we become, surely."
And just as she asked me why I pursued Couvier and
Whether he thought me extraordinary, the bell rang
And I recalled a reason I had to doubt and curse God.
But in murmurs coming to us from the hall, I thought
I heard James being stiff, protective, sent to defend.
Chapter 6: Did You Tell Her It Was Reverend Ainsworth?
I know it's not my place to judge the family's callers,
But over the years I've worked for her, I have seen
A pattern, very clear: there are the ones who come
To enjoy Miss Walker's company in the present, and
Those who come hoping to enjoy her fortune in future.
I wasn't sure which one Miss Lister was a while back,
When she first returned from the Continent and began
Calling on Miss Lister regularly.
Well, one hears
Things, down the pub now and again. But the new,
Odd thing about Miss Lister isn't so much what t’ folks
Say as what has reappeared at Crow Nest after years
Gone missing: Miss Walker's laugh. I had just begun
In service a few years before her parents' deaths,
And I still remember her and her sister laughing.
The rooms used to ring with it, gloriously. Then,
There was darkness and mourning and readjustment.
Then, one day, Miss Walker ran down the road
After "the neighbor lady" and her all in black without
A funeral, but she came for tea and amused the sisters
With her conversation and banter and wit, and
For one brief afternoon, there was laughter again.
The next day dawned, light dimmed, laughter
Stilled, mourning stretching on from yesterday,
Through today, and took a long time before
They were ready to wear color again.
When this dark-clad clergyman shows up
At the door asking to be admitted and not taking
No like a gentleman, it gets my ire up a bit.
He says, "Did you tell her it's Reverend Ainsworth?"
I want to say, "Oh, aye, I forgot how to do my job
For a moment. Let me go fix that!" Instead, I assure
Him I did, and that she still finds herself too ill
For more visitors, and firmly push the front door
Closed behind him, with a most decisive click!
Chapter 7: Might That Not Be a Good Thing?
Honestly, I do not know what to make of Miss Walker's
New friend. She is tall and dominating, like a man, but
When she talks of her studies of anatomy, paleontology,
Geology, she lights up like a woman. She is rather
The perfect combination of the two, if such a thing might
Be said. It's rather like her curious costume, like
An ebony riding habit, as if she was always on her way
To hounds. No wonder Ann prefers her company.
And yet, still without a husband at twenty-nine,
It's not like she's going to get too many more suitors,
Especially with her poor nerves as they are, or so I
Have often thought. So when the letter and the scrapbook
And the biographical account of the clergyman come,
I said, "Perhaps he plans to propose!" And yes, it is a bit
Early, maybe a trifle indecorous, but he might be the last
Man who will ask her. Might that not be a good thing?
Chapter 8: There Are Some Things...
It's been years since anyone touched me like this, not
The "grubbling" we do, because of course that is
Utterly brand new, but the rubbing balm into my back
And shoulders, to heat away the constant ache.
Her hands are strong and gentle (at both this and that)
And soothe my body, though my mind persists
In its circular worries. I keep thinking of consequences.
I tell her I am glad she did not face off with him
When he called. She says, "I still intend to, if it becomes
Necessary, if they offer him the position and he has
Not gotten the message, if he has not the wit to turn it
Down." "Will you stay tonight?" I ask. "Of course, but
Won't I be putting Miss Parkhill's nose out of joint
If I do?" she asks. "I doubt it," I say. "I think you fascinate
Her..." (I saw the same besotment on Delia Rawson
That one time.) My mood lowers again and I stand
And go to my bedside table. "There are some things,"
I say hesitantly. "I'd like you to get rid of for me,
If you would." I hand her the ring and the small Bible.
She reads the inscription with a sneer. "Wretch."
"I'm glad I told you what I told you, but I feel so
Humble and depressed in my estimation of myself."
"Yes, well don't. You are blameless." She speaks
With such conviction. What would I do without her?
Chapter 9: And Then I Thought We Might Exchange Rings
When I think of them while I'm watching her, it seems
Extraordinary to me how different they are. Eliza and I
Discovered ourselves when we discovered each other,
And it should have grown past that, but society is unkind
And, as I have learned repeatedly, we are not all equally
Strong, in body or in mind. Mariana flared with passion,
But feared the same constraints. She let me down, and I
Cannot imagine her happy with Charles, but she will not
Leave him, however many times I ask. Mrs. Barlow
Taught me many things, things an Englishwoman in Paris
Could only be taught by another English traveler:
Anatomy, passion-dealing, tips and tricks for seduction.
Vere was different. I fell in love with her mind, then,
When I was well and truly hooked like a fish, she turned
Those blazing eyes on me, and all I wanted after that
Was to press myself against her, lay a trail of kisses
Across those pristine shoulders, let my hand make its
Petticoated way up her legs all the way to-- But no.
She always pulled away. I could seduce her mind as hers
Had long since seduced me, but her body stayed
Out of range. But Ann... Long ago I found her dull
And stupid, but age and adversity had sharpened her
Wits, loneliness had heated her fires. She is, as some
Like to call me, extraordinary. So mere weeks later,
Here I lay, on the left side of her bed, rolling toward her
In the candlelit dimness. We are more open in the dark.
I can say things like, "I've been thinking. Without a more
Formal tie between us, this is just as wrong as any other
Casual connection." And she, calmer in the darkness,
Says, "But we said when we settled at Shibden, after all
Our travels, that would be as good as a marriage..."
"Yes, but I wondered if you would be willing to take
The sacrament with me, and swear oaths, and exchange
Rings..." "Like a wedding?" she breathed. "Yes!" Then,
"In front of people?" "No! It would have to be a... private
Understanding. But in all other respects, yes, very much."
She looks away. "You'll get fed up with me..." I frown,
A little tired of how little she seems to value herself
When I value her so much. Does she think I have bad taste?
"I don't when I'm with you," she explains. "With you
I can take on the world." I don't know a word to say,
So instead I kiss her, deeply, letting her feel my deep want.
Chapter 10: Surveillance of My Correspondence
There are times when one needs a friend, yes, of course.
But more importantly, there are times when one needs
Even more, a friend capable of dictating a well-worded
Letter. Anne's facility with letters is one of the first things
Ever I learned about her, and it has served me more
Than once in my time of need. "I have given my friend,
Miss Lister, surveillance--" (and of course she corrected
My spelling, as I'm bad at words coming from French)
"Surveillance of all my recent correspondence. Any
Subsequent communication you choose to make with me
Should be sent via her at Shibden Hall. Sincerely,
A. Walker." Such a business-like sound that letter had.
With any luck, it will send him into paroxysms of doubt.
Chapter 11: You've Heard of Her?
My wife is like a runaway Highflier when she has a bee
In her bonnet. Now, for example, when Ann Walker
Is clearly showing her disinterest in Reverend Ainsworth,
She takes up his cause, offers to go to Crow Nest.
She tells him, as he must already know, how much loss
Ann has experienced, but claims that means that she
Does not know for herself what is good and needful.
I'm not totally convinced of that, although it is true
That one person or another have taken advantage
Of her. I think of her cousin Atkinson, but I have no
Doubt that Eliza is thinking of Anne Lister. Still,
It is curious that when our man comes in and says
That Anne Lister has come, and the fellow asks,
"Is that Miss Lister of Shibden Hall?" he looks
Suddenly ashen, as though the very name struck
Fear in him. Eliza asks, "Why? You've heard of her?"
Chapter 12: We Must Do What We Can
The singular... person... who strode into the room
Causing Mr. Priestley and me to jump to our feet--
This is Miss Lister? This is a woman? They introduce
Us and she says, looking me right in the eye, "You
Must be heartbroken." But all I feel is uncertainty,
As in a drunken stupor when up and down seem
Oddly sideways. She says she just came to ask
A favor, then says, "Sorry, Mr. Ainsworth, this must
Seem very banal to a man that's just lost his wife.
We had a carriage accident here during the summer,
Not quite as tragic as your wife's, but a boy lost a leg.
His father's one of my tenants. He'll never work
On the farm, sadly, but my land steward's daughter
Reads to Henry and he's quite bright." She turned
Back to Mrs. Priestley and asked if she would have
The lad in her school, so that he could learn to read,
Write, and account, and thereby make something
Of himself. Then she said more, about the accident,
About who caused it, who refused to take responsibility
Despite being rich, and no one wanting to testify.
I could feel the room grow colder and my ears buzzed
'Til all I could hear her say was she'd see herself out.
We dropped into our chairs, but the moment I sat
I realized that she knew, and I had to do something,
Lest she make a very imprudent choice for all involved.
Chapter 13: If You Weren't So Insignificant
In my hurry to defend my poorly worded letter, I ran
After the dark figure hurrying off, and as I began, she asked,
"When are you leaving?" I told her when the interview was
And my plan to leave the next morning. She told me
It would be unwise of me to accept the position.
In my usual way, I convicted myself of mistakes: the wording
Of my first letter to Miss Walker being overfamiliar, and
Too quick off the mark, and I was under the influence
Of opium, for my toothache and the loss of my wife. But
Unlike my usual friends' habits of immediately absolving me
Of the sins I mentioned, she showed herself to have knowledge--
Explicit knowledge--of what went before the letter. "And,
Knowing the circumstances as I do," she said, "I hope
You would understand the necessity of abstaining from
Any further communication with her. Otherwise, you will
Be exposed. As an adulterer. And a fornicator." I tried
To argue there were two sides. I tried to say the advances
Were not unwanted. I tried to say she was complicit in it.
I said she wanted it more than I did. But this hard-eyed...
Woman, I suppose... merely stared at me, unblinking.
Then she looked me up and down, unimpressed, saying,
"If you weren't so insignificant, I'd horsewhip you
'Til you were black and blue." I tried to sneer. "If you expose
Me, you'll expose her." "Mm. I hope you see the propriety
Of us never hearing from you in this world ever again.
We have no reason to fear bumping into you in the next."
I had always imagined God's angels looking sweet, innocent,
Blonde and ringletted like Miss Walker. It had never occurred
To me that the soldiers of the heavenly army might be dark
Avengers, with a walking stick for a flaming sword...
Chapter 14: Argus
There's an art to keeping track of your pack
In all the whirling activity of a place like this.
Shibden wants looking after, and I make it
My business to be in the middle of things.
Out in the courtyard, I can keep track of all
The comings and goings, smelling where people
And horses have been and who they've been with.
This morning Miz Anne smells of floral perfume
And worry and satisfaction, like she was in a fight
And won the right to piss on a tree first. Excellent.
Miz Marian smells annoyed; that's no surprise.
Everyone else smells the same as usual. Soon
It will be time for lunch. If I amble in--not too soon,
Not too late--Miz Cordingly might give me a bite
Of what doesn't get et from the table. She's a good
One to have in yer pack is Miz Cordingly...
Chapter 15: Ordering a Ring
How many years has it been since I first imagined
This: sitting down to write a formal letter to a jeweler
In York, asking for a French onyx cabochon and rose-cut
Diamond engagement ring from their display cabinet,
For which I would enclose a banker's draft of thirty pounds.
Back then, thirty pounds would have been an unimaginable
Sum, a pirate's treasure or a king's pocket change. Back then,
I had no way to imagine I would ever inherit Shibden, or be
In a position to collect my own rents, sink my own coal pit.
Almost thirty years later, my dreams are coming true.
Chapter 16: But Surely That Isn't the Only Reason
I am no more a busybody than anyone else I know
But I am curious. The idea that anyone as old as
My friend Miss Walker would think twice before
Saying yes to a clergyman, especially at her
Advanced age... it's just incredible. So I might have
Pushed, just a bit, for her reasons. I mean, "not in love"?
That's such an Austen reason, and Miss Walker has
Never struck me as an Elizabeth or an Emma. Surely
She has some other reason... What if she were actually
In love with someone else, secretly? But Crow Nest, now.
Crow Nest rarely sees gentleman callers. Since I have
Been here, it has mostly been just me and Miss Lister.
And then, of course, Mrs. Priestley, who called her
An invalid, so of course she disappeared upstairs.
And that... well, it seemed after that... Perhaps...
Perhaps Mrs. Priestley had really come to see me?
Because she said such strange things once Ann had fled.
About the two men hanged a while back, and
Miss Lister also being "unnatural" and not because
Of her scientific studies in Paris. Or not only that.
Chapter 17: Belt Buckle
I was slopping the pigs when I saw it, a shine,
A small shining object, half buried in the muck.
I went over the fence and picked it up, and
Knowing hit me like a pig looking for food.
I stumbled, but got myself out of the sty,
Breathing heavy from the knowing and the stink.
But gradually, relief hit me harder than disgust
And I went back in, set the buckle on the mantle.
I folded bed linens until Thomas returned.
Then I showed it him, told him what he knew,
What he'd heard Sam say a hundred times,
About pigs, and what they'd eat, or who.
Chapter 18: Torments of Conscience
Just when I thought that I had sorted everything out
To an acceptable level, if not to my full satisfaction,
A letter comes. Why is it always letters? How is it
That inky letters on a folded page more often bring
Bad news rather than good? First that anonymous
Drivel about me and other women. She faced that
Head on. Then... his... drivel, and her inability to show
It to me, to tell me, until circumstances forced her hand.
And I sallied forth like a soldier, except that my weapon
Was also a well-worded letter, and after that, well, words
And the suggestion of my walking stick taking the place
Of a horsewhip. After that, I thought we were free
And clear: the clergyman cleared off, the coal seam
Ready for bidding, the ring I have dreamed of ordering
Ordered. And now this letter from her, telling me
Not to order it. Mm. Well. Too late. She says it is
Because of her torments of conscience. Well, what
On Earth triggered that? Because in York, she had
No such torments. If there were torrents, they were
Waves of passion, rocking her to her bone marrow.
Now this. She feels too weak to travel out of the kingdom
At any point in the near future. And I do not know why.
Chapter 19: Conscience Is Not Always Just
Conscience may not always be just, but fidelity is.
Where conscience may be too lenient or too severe,
Fidelity never wavers from the middle way. Like a dog
Who bites down on the robber's arm and holds steady,
She affirms what she knows: the scent of the loved one,
Familiar and commendable, and the scent of the aggressor,
Rank and troubling. Where conscience may be lulled
To sleep or tossed in feverish recklessness, fidelity
Is ever vigilant, standing guard over the beloved.
We cannot judge ourselves, and I do not believe
You deserve your "torments of conscience." At dawn,
I will rise and hurry to Crow Nest, and we will,
Together, talk over any plan to reestablish your health.
Affectionately and very faithfully yours, Anne Lister.
Chapter 20: Not Much Appetite
In retrospect, I suppose it was obvious, or at least
Obvious enough. The costume of hers, based, one assumes
On a riding habit, inconspicuous enough. And her insistence
On speaking of anatomy, her disregard of the Biblical
Description of creation, her taking up with heretical
"Scientists" like Couvier and his ilk. She joins us here
At breakfast, still pink in the cheeks from her twenty-
Minute walk from Shibden, which is easily thirty minutes
Away-- I say I find I have not much appetite, and she
Sets down her teacup, says I do look peaky, suggests
A walk, but advises me to wrap up because it is blowy--
Then, when I rise, she rises, the way a man would.
How did I not see it? She is, in some bizarre way, a man
In a woman's body and clothes, well, the clothes--
But I leave and make my way to the other room to draw,
And pray I can find a way to salvage Ann's soul. If indeed
What Mrs. Priestley says is true, she may need a host
Of angels to protect her from the coming Armageddon.
Chapter 21: What We Do
when she said she might take Ainsworth, my heart
nearly stopped beating and I thought at first that perhaps
the devil had been here himself, but she said he hadn't,
so I asked, "What's been said?" and she described how,
three months ago, two men were hanged outside a prison
in York, in front of a crowd of thousands who jeered at them
for doing... what we do... with each other...
and I asked who told her that, and she said Miss Parkhill,
and I asked how Miss Parkhill knew what we did--
and Ann said that she doesn't, but that people were
starting to make assumptions--unless Ann told her, but
she said she would rather die than people know what
we do... she said people were making assumptions,
and I asked, based on what? and she said Mrs. Priestly
had called and she had, ill-advisedly taken ill and left
the two of them alone--and, now, she said all of the
neighborhood would be making lewd comments...
But. We are friends. We are respectable women
Who are friends, and if we continue to present ourselves,
Unashamedly, as such, the whole thing will reflect badly
Only on Mrs. Priestley. Have some courage, Ann!
Chapter 22: If It Were to Become a Criminal Offense
It always astonishes me how little she trusts her own
Mind, instincts, heart, how much she leans on others
To decide what she might think or feel. Now, somehow
She has this idea from Mrs. Priestley, via Miss Parkhill,
That what men do together, being illegal, might make
What women like ourselves do-- And I tell her it is not.
But beyond legality is Nature, the nature God gave me
And, as she has often implied, her as well. I say it again,
And perhaps she'll hear me this time. "Have some courage,
Ann. We haven't committed a criminal offense. We can't
Be hanged for it. Yes, I am sure. However," I insist,
"If it were a criminal offense, if it were to become one,
Well then, I would have to put my neck in the noose.
Because I love, and only love, the fairer sex. My heart
Revolts from any love but theirs. These feelings
Haven't wavered or deviated since childhood. I act
As my God-given nature dictates. If I were to lie
With a man, surely that would be unnatural, surely
That would be against God, who made us, every one
Of us in all of our richness and variety. You are the same.
You told me you feel a repugnance towards forming
A connection with the opposite sex..." Her distress
Is palpable as she shushes me, so close to tears,
As I am. I plead, "Don't let them poison you against me,
Against us. We can be happy. You know we can. We can
Have a rich life together..." I try to smile although
My face is wet, giving me away, but she just refuses
To hear me. She asks, "What if I married him, only for
Appearances...?" I stood up, unable to contain myself.
"That would never do for me. Why should I compromise
Myself to lie with another man's wife? That would make me
A liar, a cheat, a fornicator. That is not what I want. That is
Why our present connection, without a more solemn tie,
Is wrong. I want you to be my w-- my wife, and everything
That means: to love and to cherish, to have and to hold,
According to God's holy ordinance." That moment, it felt
Like suddenly, finally, I had broken through, I had reached
Her understanding and she had seen my heart. She said,
"Anne, I adore you. When I'm with you, the world makes
Sense, but alone, all my thoughts, my family--" "You never
Need to be alone. We can navigate the world together. And,
With God's blessing, he will give us strength and courage."
Chapter 23: Tail, Between Legs
When the Priestley's man brought me my coat, I felt
Inextinguishable relief. Part of me, since the meeting
Outside the Priestley's house, had been waiting in terror
For the avenging angel to appear to convict me of
Fornication, adultery, being a man with an older wife.
I dreamed of her swooping in on the interview, and,
Because of this I was jittery, giving half answers,
Stuttering, asking them to repeat their questions.
Even not in the room, I heard her rock-hard conviction
That she and Ann would not worry about ever seeing
Me in the next world. That is just the sort of thing
To make a confident man doubt himself, his calling,
His fitness for the job on offer. And predators always
Smell fear. They said, in the end, that they thought
I was not a good fit. I agreed. And then I fled
Chapter 24: At the Bookshop, and Very Gay, Very Ladylike
Having recently expanded my business from "A. Fell,
Books, London" to also include "A. Fell, Books, York,"
That morning when my assistant came to my back room
Where I was appraising an antiquarian bible, to apprise
Me of an important customer, I jumped up to greet her.
"Good morning, Miss Lister!" But she barely acknowledged
My greeting, choosing instead to note what the two
Well-dressed young ladies were perusing. "Mm,"
She said, "James's Life of Charlemagne. Yes, that's
Very good. I've read that. Twice. It's excellent."
She left the two girls blushing and not knowing why.
I've heard such things of her, that in addition to her
Prodigious intellect, her God-given talents include
Charm, the sort of dapper, swaggering charm a friend
Calls seductivity, which can't even be an English word.
("No, of course not," he said when I mentioned it.
"It's French.") "What can I do for you this morning,
Miss Lister?" I asked. She said quietly, "I'm looking
For a Book of Common Prayer, gilt-edged, bound
In red Moroccan leather, if you have it, with
An attractively marbled flyleaf." I smiled. "I do
Have one exactly like that, but at eight shillings..."
"Good," she said, and I went back to get it, thinking
The things I've heard of this woman include her
Not being one for God or Church. Yet this book
Is not unusual for her. She always gets the latest
Copy of Reverend XX's sermons, to read at her estate
To her family and servants, in addition to the books
She buys on geology, husbandry, forestry, and her studies
In the classics. And if, while I'm looking for her book,
She sets down her top hat and gloves, and follows
The nubile ladies out with her eyes on their
Thoroughly fashionably padded derrieres, well,
As my friend would say, "All's fair in love, war, and
The presentation of an appropriate piece of fruit."
Chapter 25: She Inscribed It for Me
The beautiful prayerbook that she gave me, inscribed,
As it was, with a statement of such poetic faith,
That no rood, no cross, could ever bend so low that it
Could not be raised by our Lord, which must give us
Faith--it reminded me of what she had written to me
About the difference between conscience and fidelity,
And made me ask her what she'd done with the Bible
And ring I'd given her, which he'd given me. "They're safe,"
She said, though the big smile she'd been wearing faltered
Momentarily. "Do you like it?" I answered, "It's exquisite,
Thank you." She got quite serious then. "When you told me
About... what he did... it gave me a responsibility, and a power
Over you, that I intend to use wisely and in very much
In your best interests. I'll never let you down. Time
Is a great thing. I don't believe your misgivings about him
Will last longer than a season. Meanwhile, we'll redouble
Our efforts to agreeabilize with Miss Parkhill. I can't
Go home. Marian's got Mr. Abbott round for tea..."
Chapter 26: Knocking Down Shibden
It is easy for a man like myself to make a good
Impression even on a landed family. The very spark
Of genius that has enabled me to do well for myself
In trade is precisely that which will make them
Admire my sagacity and good sense. "Ah, yes,"
I say, "With these old piles, the best thing you can do
Is knock it down and start again, because the land
Is perfectly good and in a desirable enough place.
Not that you should. It's over four hundred years old.
It's a relic." Her aunt seems... frosty, as Marian says,
"Have more fruitcake, Mr. Abbott." I take it, saying,
"Some find that sort of thing interesting, but,
Miss Lister, you're elderly, if you haven't noticed.
Winter must be very cold for you, and you must be
A martyr to rheumatism..." "I have lived here all
My life, Mr. Abbott. I have never once--" But Marian
Interrupts. "You've got ulcers. She's got ulcers.
On her leg." At the aunt's icy look, I back up.
"You're hardy. But look at the new technology.
Some of these new houses have under-floor
Heating!" "Oh," says Captain Lister. "You mean,
Like the Romans used to have?... Tell us about
New Zealand, and Australia." "What?" I ask.
Marian says, I told them you have property there."
"Yes, but I haven't been. Such a long journey!
Not for me. Too bad I couldn't meet your sister.
You hear so many stories about her. Of course,
I take them with a pinch of salt. I get along with
Absolutely anybody!" Oddly, I spend the rest
Of the dinner cleaning up on the fruitcake.
Chapter 27: The Big Dogs Start Biting
My little brother hasn't got the balls God gave Welly.
Always nattering about Her and what She's going to find
Out about what we've, he's, done. He wants to give in,
To give her the ridiculous price she's asking for
Her coals. He's a coward, but I'll not let her let him
Bring me down too. No. And I'm not paying her
Fucking silly prices. Does she think we're stupid?
"No," he says. "She thinks we're stealing her coal.
She knows it. And she wants paying for it. You
Have to accept that we have no choice, not if we want
Not to get found out, and not have legal action taken
Against us. Yes, it would be expensive to sink her own
Pit, but Mother's right about Miss Walker." So why,
I ask, is anyone letting her hand in Ann Walker's...
Anything, for God's sake? If she wants to run with
The big dogs, she's going to have to find out
What it's like when they really start biting.
Chapter 28: Come and Thrash Me Like You Usually Do
My energetic state is stifled here, between one woman
Who has been told I am the devil incarnate, and the other
Who--I'd thought--knew exactly who and what I was,
And rather liked it. But now I am unsure: I, for whom
Certainty is the backbone of who I am and have always been.
The sitting room rings with uneasy silence, one not wanting
To hear me, the other not wanting to speak. How can I wring
Them out of this space? A walk, even a short one, goes against
Medical advice; what doctor would advise against fresh air?
So I suggest backgammon. "Come, Miss Walker. Thrash me
Like you usually do!" I set up the board. Ann comes over, but
Miss Parkhill is evidently fed up with me. She says, "You
Don't have to be here, Miss Lister, if you're bored. I was asked
By Miss Walker's aunt to keep her company while she was
Under the weather. To be candid, there barely seems any point
In me being here when you're here so often." I say,
"The more, the merrier, surely. We were all getting along
So nicely before. Let's have another go at your past perfect."
And I picked up her grammar book, but she clamped
Her hand on mine, sneering, "Two's company." I leaned
Down on the book, taking a breath, then I said, "Well,
Miss Parkhill, if that's how you feel, maybe you should
Go home." She gathered up her portfolio and wrap,
Archly announcing, "I'll be in the other room," and left us.
Chapter 29: I’d Rather Starve
As the door closes behind the girl, I think Mrs. Priestly
Should never have used her like that, putting her in
The position of a pawn. It’s not Miss Parkhill’s fault.
I turn, saying, "Let me apologize. Come on, we can sort
This out--" I know I can agreeabilize with anybody.
But her voice changes. "I can't do this, Anne. It's become
Impossible. I shall have to take him, or I shall have no
Peace, either from my relations or here in my head.
You should go. I can't do this anymore. It's wrong!"
And I insist, "It's perfectly natural." She won't hear me.
"No! It’s not! It's against God! It's repugnant and queer!"
That sends me rocking back on my heels, but I stay
Calm, keep my voice steady, saying, "You do understand,
It does occur to you, presumably, hopefully, occasionally,
That I have feelings too, when you say something like that?
Mm? You agreed to swear oaths on the Bible. You agreed
To take the sacrament with me. How on Earth can you talk
About taking Mr. Ainsworth, who hurt you, after all that?"
"I'll still lend you the money to sink your pit..." she offers,
As if to mollify me. I stare, appalled, stricken. "How dare you?
What do you think I am? Do you seriously imagine I'd take it?
If you were my wife, yes. If you were someone else's, no, never.
I'd rather starve. And I would never exploit you like your idiotic
Relations. I'm going home. You understand nothing about me.
I thought you did, but you don't. Absolutely nothing!" Then
I slammed out, so angry, I could barely see clear to put on
My coat and hat, veer left, like a chess knight, and head home.
Chapter 30: Crypt-hand, Stiff and Aching
<She neither deserves nor understands what I've done
for her in getting rid of this fellow, this wretch,> I thought
To myself as I strode home.
<I ought not to care. I ought to let her take him and
have done with it. She's too insipd,> I argued to myself
On the Lightcliffe Road.
<and nervous and poorly for me, surely. And what would I do
with her abroad?> I asked myself.
<Even if I could get her there, I'd only have trouble with her,
and for what?> I demanded.
<If she had any real feelings for me, she wouldn't carry on
like this. Surely,> I thought, <when the no-account stepped
out of the shadows and brandished his stick-->
Chapter 31: Thug
Dressed as much like a man as me, except in skirts,
Th'unnatural thing strode toward me in all her
Vainglory, muttering to herself, but I stopped her in her
Tracks, I did, simply by saying, "Goin' home?"
She didn't have her stick, but I had mine and her eyes
Locked on it right quick when she caught me tone.
"What the hell are you doing--" she started to ask,
But I caught her crost the jaw with me stick, knocking
Her to the ground. Her hat came oft and I repeated,
"I asked you if you're goin' home?" I pushed her up
Against the stone wall and reached for her queer,
Growling, "Some people think it's time you went home
And stayed there. Keep still." I reached again but she
Got a hand on my stick at her throat and with my other
Hand busy southwards, she managed to push the stick
Away with one hand and punch me in jaw wift t'other.
When I stumbled back, she pitched me stick off t'hill
And punched me again in jaw, while I punched her
In t'stomach. Punch fer punch. I wa'n't told she were
So strong, so I backed off, spat in her face and gave her
The warning. "Leave Miss Walker alone." And then,
Keeping me dignity intact, I barreled off. She'd be all
Afright, I knew. I'd earned my pounds (and more scars
On me face, but long's no one knew their source, all good).
Chapter 32: Behind My Back
*Gives O'Hoolley & Tiddow the bro nod*
I know what they call me behind my back.
As I spit out blood, pick up my hat, I think of
All the names: Jack-the-lass, Gentleman Jack,
Fella in a frock. Not wildly creative but
Hurtful nonetheless, just like this thug
Trying to warn me away from Miss Walker
But I will remember his ugly mug
And find out his name, who sent him.
Already my eye is swelling as I stumble
Along the road home. This time I won’t
Make it in twenty-five minutes. Humbled,
I forgot to check the time before I left
Crow Nest. Thus it ends: two Yorkshire ladies
Who might have settled down together,
At shabby little Shibden, happily and gayly
Now will reside apart and alone,
All my planning and seducing, ever so fine,
Undone. Well, that has happened before.
But it won’t stop me. I won't toe the line.
I’ll keep looking for a woman to be my wife.
And the thug, warning me off, speaking her name?
That’s not coincidence. I’ve made some enemies.
Most ladies love me, but gentlemen frown
When I beat them at negotiations or cards,
And someday, I’ll beat them at their own
Game, winning a lifetime of love with a woman
It’s just a matter of cracking the code.
For now, I’ll stumble home and watch my back.