Thursday, April 12th, 2018
Annis’s mother helped her upstairs after a light repast and some hot tea in the parlor.
“Oh, Mama, I am so tired.”
Her mother began to help her undress. “We all are, my dear. We are all being driven along by nervous energy, and that is the wrong kind. None of us has had time to relax or come to grips with the new reality. We are all being pulled off in a hundred new directions every day so that we do not have time to breathe even, never mind to think. Everything has happened far too fast around us, and none of it seems real just yet. I have had little time to sit and think about any of it, and I never had any expectation of it working out as it has, considering….
“I’ll order more food to be sent up if you wish, for you need to eat something you know, to build your strength up again. I wish I had paid more attention to what you were all eating or not, but I was too wrapped up in my own grief and concerns. That must change.”
“No, mama, there is no need. I did eat well at the inn, so I did not even need to eat as I did downstairs. I am but tired, probably as much from the ride and lack of food earlier as much as for other reasons to do with my own emotions and finding out some things about myself that I do not like. William was kind, and saw that I had a substantial meal at the inn or resolved he would not return home with me but would see me stay there and have my sisters join me. He insisted that he would see that I was well recovered before he would think of heading back. I began to worry that you might think the worst with us away for so long, and after we had seen Thomas turn back.”
“I was not worried for you, my dear. You were in good hands. I may have been more worried for William, considering the mood you were in after yesterday. Nothing worse for a man’s equanimity than a downcast female for company. Up until then, I think that he was more vulnerable than you might have been.”
She was too tired to note that her mother’s comments might have been confusing to her, had she given them any thought.
“I think that I would like to be alone and to rest for a while, Mama.”
‘Of course you do my dear, but I cannot leave you in this mood. We need to get you out of these things and then see to a nightdress for you. I will not rest myself until I know that you are resting. You will recover all the faster with quiet rest and sleep.” She began to help her remove her dress as though she were still as young as Sophia even.
“How could I have been so wrong about him, Mama? I harbored unkind thoughts and would have done him serious injury at one time, yesterday even.”
“My dear, I told you that you have so much to learn about men, and unfortunately, I cannot be your teacher. They will be. But I can help and give you pointers. They all seem to be so easily read like an open book, and then we find that they are not, for they continually surprise us. The scurrilous villains at first blush actually turn out to be heroes and vice versa, and all when we least expect it.”
“But it cannot be that simple.”
It isn’t. They can take years to understand, though they say the same of us. When you get to know them, you will find that they are all complicated brutes at times, or can be, and are the more lovable because of it, as your father was, or the more roundly hated. It is either a greater love or a growing hate, I think, after a few years. But rather than show either one, those who are unhappily married or do not recognize what they have, just become lifeless and aimless and often seek other amusements outside of their family.”
“A mistress? I do not want that from my husband.”
“No wife does if she has any sense.”
“I want love in my life. I want the kind of love that you and Papa had. But I am not sure that I will ever find that. I am obviously not mature enough, though I thought I was. I do not know who to trust now, and I dare not trust my own feelings either after being shown to be so wrong. I am too severe a critic of everything.” She absentmindedly allowed her mother to continue to slowly undress her.
“You are learning about life, emotions, and human relationships. A little late in life, I think, but then we made the mistake of sheltering you too much. It is often a painful experience. William is like your father, but I told you that. You can trust him. But not too far. You are far too pretty for that.” She had seen the way he looked at her from time to time.
“And yet he can be so violent. Too violent for a gentleman.”
“Yes. Thankfully for us, he is and was. But any gentleman can be violent when it is called for. Mostly, it is we women who help make greater gentlemen or bigger brutes out of all of them. He is a gentleman where it counts and not a gentleman when required.”
“I don’t think I understand that.”
“He dealt so firmly and calmly yet violently with Thackeray from what I hear, and with his father, from what I actually did overhear, though without the physical violence. But it was all still there, nonetheless, and ready to erupt. I could not believe what I was hearing, and it all seemed so calmly delivered but with such undertones of hatred and loathing—at least from one of them while he stayed calmly smiling, I am sure. I could not see him then, for he had locked the door to keep me out—wise of him I think, considering my mood—but I could sense how it was all unfolding. What I heard completely horrified me. I would have done him injury at that moment, except for that locked door.”
“You should not have eavesdropped. One never overhears what one should. Better to have it all out into the open and deal with someone to their face and say what one means.”
“I would have done that, but he locked me out. But was Papa ever like that? I cannot imagine it.”
“Do not move so, my dear, I will never undo this if you are so agitated.”
“I am sorry.” She stood still and allowed her mother to continue.
“Your father could be firm. He could be as firm as was needed and as violent as was needed too, but that was when he was younger, long before any of you were born. Well, not so long before. After that, we were married and settled, and he had no need then to protect me in quite that way.”
She picked up a brush and began to brush out her daughter’s hair.
“Oh dear. I never thought to broach any of this so soon, but I must, I can see that now. I shall tell you something of me, my dear, that…well, you may judge me ill for what I will tell you, but it may help you understand a little of me and of your father and perhaps of yourself, for you are human with the same human weaknesses as the rest of us.
“I was the focus of quite a lot of attention—the wrong kind of attention—when I was younger. Like the young fool I was, I encouraged it too for I was vain and liked to be flattered. I did not know enough to know better not to encourage certain men. I looked a lot like you actually, physically, but I had been brought up in a more difficult setting. I went out more, for I had an aunt—Aunt Cecilia, almost a sister to me, for she was older only by about four years—who took me under her wing, and London was not so far. I was mature for my age, with a figure that men might fight over and did once, even when I was just sixteen. Perhaps we sheltered you all too much, for you have some difficult lessons to learn about men. About just one of them, I think, from what I think I see.”
After she had seen to her hair, she continued to undress her daughter as she spoke, and then once she had put all to one side, she opened a drawer on the dresser to find a nightdress for her.
“No nightdress. Oh dear, I thought there was one here. I’ll get a warm nightdress from the airing closet and send Molly up with it. No matter, the room is warm.”
Annis picked up the brush and would have continued with her own hair as she stood before her mirror, but found that her muscles were too stiff. “I was wrong on so many things, Mama. I am afraid I let myself be influenced by….”
“By Addie’s letter?” Her mother continued to fold her clothing out of the way.
“Yes. It was…it was dreadful what it said of him, of William. I dare not show it to you. You were upset enough as it was.”
“I will get you to show it to me sometime but not at this juncture. I am sure she paints a lurid picture of him, but then she long believed he had mistreated her dog by shaving its tail, and that was the start of it all. He did not do it, however, but some other boy did, and he rescued the dog, though she gave him no credit for that. There was also some violent episode with one of her young female relatives, blamed upon him. But she knew none of the truth of that and was not about to believe anything different. Especially when the young lady delivered, sometime after he had gone abroad. He may tell you some of it if you have the courage to ask him.”
“Oh no. I couldn’t do that. It is none of my business. There was more than that, Mama.”
“Yes, I am sure there was. You will learn to put less trust in gossip and rumor as you learn more of life. I know it is difficult to separate truth and rumor, but it is necessary, or we would trust no one. You will soon learn who you can trust and who not. But you can still be wrong.”
“But can any of what Addie wrote be true?”
“I do not know what she wrote, but I can guess. Unfortunately, yes, it can be. Addie does not go out of her way to tell lies about anyone, my dear. Not to us at any rate. But she can often get things wrong or twisted about when she allows herself to do so in anger or frustration. She can sometimes be brutal with the truth where others are concerned. She can be evasive and less than honest with the rest of society, especially about her father, but who cares about them? She does it so well too; keeps them all on their toes. But then that is another story. Sometimes, I think she forgets who her best and most trusted friends are and can be quite hurtful of us at times, though she means well.”
“You said I had much to learn about men? One man? William?”
“You do, indeed. Perhaps not William.” She was loath to elaborate on what she had been happy to have seen when she had noted them together. Annis may not have seen it or understood it yet, but she had. “The one you will eventually meet if you have not already. But I think you have even more to learn about yourself. It is not so much about someone else as it is about you. That is where the greatest change will need to be made, for you cannot, nor should you ever try, to change any man. Women think that once they get married, they can change a man and bring him into line with what they would like to have in their husband, but they can’t. That is what leads to conflict between the sexes and creates animosity and unhappiness. Appreciating and loving someone for what they are and who they are now, not as you think you would like them to be, is one of the keys to being happy. Men can be rogues and frustratingly dense, obtuse, awkward, even unfeeling—or so it seems to us women at times in our emotional states. Your father could be when I forgot the rules. But he did not ever hurt me deliberately, though it took me a while to see that. I hurt myself more than he did. They can be clumsy in word and deed without intending it, especially when they foolishly insist on telling the truth at some crucial moment, rather than telling us what we most want to hear. Difficult for them to do, as theydeal with reason and common sense, and cannot read our unpredictable female minds. They can also be magnificent, generous, gentle, kind when one least expects it, and considerate and thoughtful. We women bring out the best and the worst. But they see far more than we give them credit for, and their feelings can be disturbingly evident all too suddenly and when one least expects it.”
“No. Not Thackeray.” She was emphatic in denial of that. “Nothing to do with Thackeray. Much more personal than that. Oh dear.” She seemed frustrated that her daughter did not understand her better.
“I don’t understand.”
“No, I suppose not. We did shelter you too well, didn’t we? I am rushing you along too fast and expect too much. As your sisters are not here to learn any of this, perhaps it is time to be more expansive of my early history. I am sure I will shock you, for I was younger than you are when I met my…your father, but I do not care. Think of me what you will. I am beyond caring at this stage. In fact, I never did care what anyone thought of me once I had married him. Or before.”
“Arabella was born in early December. The sixth. It was earlier that same year” that I first met your father.”
Annis looked at her with a startled look in her eyes.
“Oh yes. We needed no lengthy courtship or engagement. In fact, I am not sure we were ever engaged in the usual way. He was my blinding flash of light into what had suddenly become a drab existence before he arrived, yet it hadn’t seemed that way until then, for he completely turned my life and expectations upside down in the blink of an eye, even as he walked through that door in London in his naval uniform. I can see it now as clearly as though it were this morning, and it was almost twenty-five years ago. We first met in early March of ‘91, and were married in June of that same year, once I persuaded my mother that marriage was necessary and needed to be soon. Very soon. The same year that Arabella came into the world.” She smiled as she watched the look upon her daughter’s face in the mirror and saw her eyes fly to her own as she did some rapid mental evaluation of the dates.
“Yes. Utterly disgraceful that I dare admit such failing of character and moral fiber to my young and impressionable daughter. Bella was an early baby my dear. Yes one of those. A very early baby.”
“Mama.” She chuckled nervously as her mother laughed at the amazed look on her face.
“Well. It is often said that babies—later ones, those conceived after marriage—will always be carried the full nine months, but because of the intense passions of… some relationships, first babies may be earlier. Bella was one of those.” She had the grace to blush.
“Mama.” They both laughed at the peculiar revelation but mostly at Annis’s evident surprise at her mother’s unexpected confession and history.
“But what of those who do not marry at all and bear a child?”
“The Trevelyan girl? Yes, they do happen. But that one was different. Those pregnancies always go full term. You know that. Many months of denial usually, and then out pops the embarrassing evidence to announce it all so loudly to the world. But there is always a man involved somewhere lurking in the shadows, where they often do their worst as well as their best, no matter how much they—the bruised and compromised young ladies—might protest that there wasn’t. Foolish, stupid girls. Better to admit the truth at once, and get it behind them.”
She took the hairbrush from her daughter’s hands and continued to brush out her hair as she seemed unable to. She noticed some bruising on her back, but her words about that were interrupted before they had even begun.
“So Papa forced himself upon you? I would not have th—.”
“No, he didn’t. Nothing of the kind. You are fair and far off there. I expect you thought my first admission was surprising enough, so prepare for an even worse one my dear. Had everything been left to your father, who tried to be a gentleman throughout it all, your sister would not have been born until at least a full nine months after our marriage, which might have been a year or more beyond our first meeting. Totally out of the question. It was I who decided that I wanted none of that, but I did want him. It was I who rushed things along before my parents managed to sabotage everything I wanted, and before he lost interest in me and found a more accommodating female of which there were many about….” she paused, “…which I now realized he would never have done. I was the one who set the scene for him to seduce me. He had no choice in any of it, but he did not know that until later, and we often laughed over it since then. I had to do that. I feared he would be snapped up by some scheming, immoral…perhaps I should say some scheming immoral woman other than myself, for I suddenly had flexible morals where your father was concerned. I was utterly determined never to lose him. I had no need to worry. He was mine alone. He stayed that way until the day he died.” She blinked back a tear. “There was nothing immoral or wrong in what I did. It was necessary, and I would do it all again. It was essential for my sanity and peace of mind and his. I have never regretted it.”
She paused as she thought about all that had happened years before and even chuckled over her recollections. “Unfortunately, my accommodating and kindly aunt got all of the blame for leading me astray when it was all my own doing. She had done nothing of the kind. We were able to laugh at it in later years, but she must have been hurt by the misplaced trust she had placed in me. It seems that I, and not my aunt, was the viperous influence in the family. She was not the kind of woman who would let such a thing affect her for long, for she soon bounced back and married shortly afterward anyway, and we write often and laugh about it all now.”
She was surprised at recalling so vividly some of those earlier memories. “No, my dear, your father neither seduced me nor ran off with me nor compromised me…in that way, as was the rumor going about at first. I did all of those with him and took him quite off balance. Mind you he did not object too much. That is what I was referring to when I spoke of disturbingly sudden feelings becoming evident when one least expects them. I, who had led a blameless, uninteresting life, trapped your father, my dear. The first and only man I have ever known and loved, and we thanked each other for it with every breath we took. So now you know some of my disgraceful past. My parents relented quickly after I told them what I had done and what the outcome was to be. They had little choice if they wanted to cover the scandal over. We married and came to live with your uncle here and away from the prying eyes of relatives. The family was saved from the shame of it all by my moving away with all of the soon-to-be-born evidence of my disgrace. I have never spent a more happy time than all of the years we were here raising all of you. Loving and being loved. There is nothing more that anyone can aspire to I think, than to be as happy as we were. Ah a nightdress. Someone read my mind.”
Molly appeared with a nightdress and towels over her arm and a jug of steaming hot water.
“Thank you, Molly.”
Annis picked up her warm nightdress. “Mama. I will see to getting myself dressed and into bed. I need time to think and to rest.”
“Of course, you do. I gave you a lot to think about and to digest and not all to my credit, but I was honest about my feelings for your father. When you encounter your own, you must make your own decisions about how to go on, but do not shrink from making those decisions as too many do for fear of what others might think. I do not think that Bella would have, had she known that this might come to pass as it did. I shall go and reassure William that you are nothing more than tired. He was quite concerned for you.”
“He was?” Annis looked startled. “Yes, I think he was, wasn’t he? Though why he should be after the dreadful way I have treated him and what I have chosen to believe of him, I cannot understand.”
She soon would understand.
“You will. You are still young, naïve, and inexperienced of men my dear, despite your twenty-one years. They—most of them—do not harbor ill thoughts as we women sometimes do or store up resentment as some might. He forgave you everything. He knew what he had to do, and he knew the risks he was taking and the likely repercussions of it. He knew the burden we all labored under.”