Thursday, June 21st, 2018
Some hours later, Annis caught up with her elusive youngest sister.
“Sophia. No, do not try to run off again.” She held her by the shoulder. “You have been avoiding me after that episode in the barn.” Annis had tried to get Sophia alone for some hours, but Sophia had been avoiding her, recognizing that she was about to be taken to task for what had happened.
“You deliberately plotted to get me out there, as ill dressed as I was, to rescue a kitten that did not need to be rescued at all and with me winding up in an embarrassing situation. I was surprised to learn that you clearly knew the kitten was not there at all, for William had rescued you in almost the same way earlier, and the kitten too.”
“Yes. But I was not sure that the mother cat would not return there with the kitten, and I did see the rat again, so I had to find you then.”
“I am not sure you are to be believed.” But it had sounded plausible.
“But Annis, William had gone by then, so I had to do something. But then he came back again. I do not know what you were complaining about after that. William would not have allowed you to fall. Besides, I thought it was brave of you. He did not seem to mind helping you. He seemed to find it all very interesting, despite your fussing and complaints for I know he liked looking up at you in your nightdress. I thought it quite funny at times with you trying to hide yourself from him, and so did he. He has seen you in less.”
“It was not funny. It was embarrassing with me in just that nightdress. I guessed what you were up to you know? You must stop trying to throw William and me together. Was he aware of what you were doing? Did you plot it together?”
“Of course not. I would never have dared tell him anything of that. He would have told me it was not proper to put my sister into that predicament, though you and he seem to get into them all by yourselves often enough.” Annis wondered with some growing concern what it was that she might think she knew.
“Why should I not try and throw you both together in that way? He is in love with you, but you seem to blow hot and cold with him, whatever that means. I overheard Mama and Charlotte speaking of how you encourage him daringly one minute and then seem to be too cautious the next, and they think you are annoyingly frustrating for the poor man in the way you behave, and should take pity on him. I have watched you with him, and him with you. Charlotte even says that you seemed meant for each other, and she didn’t approve at first when she saw you both together by the trough, but I did. She also thought that William was moving things along quite fast, whatever that means, or maybe you were, when she and Mama saw you shaving him and tempting him, and encouraging him so outrageously to touch…different…. things.” She decided to say no more on that. “But Mama approved. What does outrageously mean?”
Annis could not hide her blushes at hearing her youngest sister hint at such deeply personal things that others had seen when they should not have. “You must allow others to have some measure of privacy young lady, and you should not speak in that way, Sophia.”
“I know. I won’t say anything.” Sophia looked at her sister. “But I like William, and you and he were meant for each other, and I think I do know what that means now. If you won’t marry him, I will. I have told him that I love him. I did ask him to marry me too, if you won’t, but unfortunately, I am not old enough. Even I know that. But he told me that if I were of the same mind when I was twenty-one that he would certainly marry me. You are twenty one.”
“Oh, Sophia. What would you know of such things? It is not proper what Charlotte may have said…well… mostly not proper.” She was uncomfortably brought to realize that it had all been true. She had encouraged him to be bold with her, perhaps more than was wise, and perhaps more than just a little. “But he is married now.”
“No, he is not.” Her youngest sister almost stamped her foot in annoyance at her sister’s foolishness. “He is a widower and a young man, so Mama said, and he needs a new wife now to fulfill his needs (whatever they are), and if you are not careful, he will leave us all and find one to oblige him in that way somewhere else, and if that happened I would never forgive you.” She was flushed as well as annoyed. “I heard Charlotte say that just the other day too, that he would soon leave us without something strong to hold him here. She said a young man surrounded by so many foolishly fond women and so much temptation denied him, must have a wife to calm him down and to focus his male attention—as Molly does with Thomas I think, when she takes him into the barn and encourages him to touch… and to do what they do. And your breasts are much bigger than Molly’s.” She reflected for a moment. “So that is what male attention means.” She chuckled over that sudden, embarrassing realization, but felt it wise not to continue along that line of thought, “…and that if he could not soon attach himself to you…in that way…as Thomas does to Molly; ’attach’.” She suddenly saw meaning in that too, “…but you were resisting for some reason that no one seemed to understand, and I don’t…that he would be gone. Though I did not understand all of what she said. He must have an attentive living wife to love. Why is it improper to say what is obvious to everyone? He loves you and would like to touch your… and become ‘attached’ to you, and I think that you love him from what I have seen.”
Annis was flushed. “You see too much, and seem to know more than is good for you. Also, to be attached in that way, is not what you are assuming. What would you know of any of that, young lady; of mature love, or of what Molly and Thomas get up to?”
Sophia was not shy to relate what she had seen. “Molly and Thomas do that ‘attaching’ thing every Sunday in the barn after the get rid of all of their clothes while everyone else is at church… and they really are attached like that, like the dog and the bitch that time when they couldn’t get apart, for I watch them doing what they do whenever I can. They like being attached to each other, though they joked about hiding something away in that nurturing garden that Molly has within her shrubbery.” Her sister seemed to have a slight coughing fit, but not enough to concern her sister. “It is very interesting, but I am not sure that I know what they meant about the garden. I looked but could see nothing there. Mama and Papa were in love and did that too. When I could not sleep and came into your bed once or twice, I sometimes woke to see you and Charlotte watching them in their bedroom through that little crack in the plaster when they did not know it, and you thought I was asleep.” Annis listened to her sister in some surprise. “After they had gone quiet, you and Charlotte giggled a lot and thought it quite funny sometimes, and you went very quiet and wide eyed at others and held on to each other just after he had taken off her nightd—”
“Sophia.” Annis interrupted her and stopped the further flow of embarrassing disclosures. “You must never speak of such things. Nor should you have watched as you did.”
“Well he did. You and Charlotte watched. But I did not understand all of what you were saying to each other, except that you thought that what was going on was quite confusing. I could see your shocked faces, and you wondered why mama did not cry out more and object when papa…”
“Stop, Sophia.” Annis was blushing quite red.”
“Well, it must have hurt.”
“Sophia, you must never repeat any of that nor will you ask anyone about it. You will learn all about that when you are older.”
She could see that Annis was quite upset. “I won’t say anything. Molly doesn’t object or cry out when Thomas pushes that part of himself….”
“Well he does.” She would clearly not be shut up. “But she doesn’t seem to mind when he lies on top of her as he kisses her. As for not watching mama and papa, you and Charlotte did, and you found it entertaining from what I could see, for you did not stop watching them.”
There was no answering that. Sophia saw, and understood far more than anyone might give her credit for.
“You and William spend a lot of time laughing together too, just as I remember Mama and Papa doing, and they were in love and were not afraid to show it. Mama says that when two people love each other, it is natural that they want to be together all of the time, and should marry, and that is what I was helping to achieve. I was hoping that you and William might do what Mama and Papa…”
“Stop! Stop! You must not speak nor even think such things. You must not speak of them to anyone.” She looked severely at her sister. “Another thing; that episode of getting me out to the barn to… You should not have done it in the way that you did, telling lies about that kitten needing to be rescued.”
“But it did need rescuing. Earlier. So it was not all of it a lie.”
“And hiding my clothes to get me out there so unsuitably clad while you spun that tale of urgency.”
“I didn’t. The maid was in earlier and took them. They were still damp from the water you spilled on your dress just before we came to bed. It did not dry out as you thought it might. But it was urgent. William would soon be gone to the outer fields and would not be able to help you down as he did me, and I wanted him to have to help you down, especially if you were in only your nightdress. You and that seem to attract his attention and interest, more than when you are fully dressed. I like to watch you together. Thomas and Molly know what to do when they are alone in the barn at home, and it is ever so interesting to watch them undress each other and become attached and excited, as they do so often, but you…”
Annis suddenly recovered her tongue after being rendered speechless yet again, over what her sister was daring to tell her. “Enough. Sophia. I am surprised at you. What Thomas and Molly get up to when they are alone, or think they are alone, is none of your business nor mine either, and you must never tell that to anyone else. You must not speak of Thomas and Molly’s trysts to anyone else. Nor should you watch them as you do. You see too much. You will be caught eventually, and that would upset them dreadfully. Yes, you threw William and me together, but I was in my nightdress, and that is not acceptable, no matter what you thought.”
“Why not? The way he was looking up at you and smiling, it was clear that he likes you in your nightdress, and you didn’t seem embarrassed when that was all that both of you, and even all of us had on that morning of the fire. He was in his nightshirt when he rescued you, and that was all you had on too, and you were both wet and it was easy to see—”
“He was looking at you in a strange way then too and he wanted to take your nightdress off you. Charlotte noticed. And so did you, and you seemed to like it and even encourage it then. Mama was even smiling, and she should not have been smiling like that, for I know her ankle was hurting her. You have been with him in only your nightdress several times after that fire, and he often helps me on and off with mine when I get ready for bed or need bathing or changing.”
“You are six years old, and believe me, it is not the same.”
“Not yet. But when I develop breasts and hair there, like you have, he will…for he finds them interesting too when you are not looking at him. But I think he likes you even more when you are not in it. You had no nightdress on that afternoon after you had come back from that ride with….” She stopped speaking, realizing that she had perhaps said more than she should.
Would her sister’s perceptive and embarrassing revelations never cease? “And what do you think you know of that? Surely you had all gone into the garden to pick roses at that time?” Annis had an alarmed look on her face with her eyes wide and a distinct blush on her cheeks. Her sister’s seemingly innocent observations were alarming.
Sophia had said more than she had intended. Again. She had a sheepish look on her face and recognized that an explanation was now called for. “Mama and Charlotte did, but I stayed behind and decided I would go up to see if you were all right. I pushed the door open. You were bathing in front of your mirror with nothing on, and William was behind you.”
“Sophia. You little wretch. I hope you did not speak of that to anyone else.”
“Of course I didn’t. It was all interesting. He was very gentle with you, just as he is with me. I don’t know why you made such a fuss of it all. Why did he have his eyes closed, though he didn’t at first? I see you that way all of the time. He bathes me that way too, but he doesn’t have his eyes closed then.”
“That is different.”
“Yes, it was. He was looking at you once or twice when he thought you were not looking at him. But you didn’t respond as you should have. He didn’t hug you close, or tickle you, or kiss you on the middle or blow loud noises on your bare belly or bum, or turn you upside down, as he does me and sets me off laughing and screaming.”
“Yes. I suppose there are some things I can be thankful for.” Annis was surprised to recognize a pang of regret at that moment, which she soon dispelled. “But that was wrong of you to watch us like that. Getting me into that barn under a false pretext was also wrong. If two people are attracted to each other, they will find their own way. It does not help things along if someone else is pulling the strings so clumsily.”
“But I do not want him to leave, Annis. Nor does Mama or Charlotte, and I don’t think you do either. Do you?” There was a plaintive tone in her voice.
“No. Of course I don’t. But how can he leave? This is his home, not ours.” How she might stop them from leaving him, was more to the point, but she was not sure how to do that or, seeing how it might be done, was not sure that she had the courage to do it.
“That is not what I meant, Annis. We will soon need to leave and go back home when the repairs are finished. I heard Mama say as much, and they soon will be, and then he may not come with us to stay at Underby if his interest is not fixed—whatever that means—that male attention part again, I expect, and getting attached, as I know he would like to do to you. He is my friend. I have never had a friend like him.”
Annis was almost speechless with shock at what her sister knew and had seen. “I doubt that we can stop him from coming or going, or whatever he might decide to do. He is a man, and men do what they choose to do, not what a woman might suggest. I have little influence on him. He married Bella, remember? We are all in mourning, though it does not seem that we are at times. He has a habit of distracting all of us cleverly from our grief. But what is more important is that I could not stop him if he did choose to leave us or to let us go.”
She noticed that Sophia had tears in her eyes. “But, Annis, you could stop him if you wanted to. You could if you set your mind to it. You can do anything you set your mind to. You told Charlotte and me often enough that we can outwit any foolish man if we were to set our minds to it. You just haven’t thought about it enough, but I have. He would stay with us if you were to persuade him to attach to you, and let him do to you what Thomas does to Molly, for they seem so happy doing that, and even laugh afterwards, despite her crying out as she does as they hug each other so hard and make some strange grunting noises. It must not be very comfortable with him being big like that, though she does not sound to be in pain that way, no matter how big he becomes or how hard he pushes…” Sophia’s voice slowly faded as the shocked look on her sister’s face.
Annis decided not to respond to that. “I was referring to the young men in the village. William is of a different class. You know, if I hadn’t seen you being born and helped you into the world, I would doubt that you were really my sister. You must stop this plotting to throw William and me together. It is not proper so soon after Bella…”
Sophia had fled the room at that point in tears, and Annis was left to agonize over what she had said to hurt her sister and how she might have dealt with it all differently, for everything Sophia had said had a glimmer of truth in it. More than a glimmer. She didn’t want him to go either.
She decided to give her youngest sister some time to calm down and she would try to find out more of what her mother and Charlotte had said, for they had certainly not confided in her, whereas Sophia seemed to know everything that was going on. Even about Thomas and Molly. That in itself was shocking enough for Annis to have seen, never mind Sophia. Though she found that she had envied them their tender show of affection for each other, before her conscience got the better of her, and she quietly removed herself from spying on them.
Annis considered long and hard over what Sophia had said and began to see her situation quite differently. What did she really want to see happen in her life? She accepted that Sophia seemed to have a perception and an understanding well beyond her six years, though she had not told Annis anything she had not already seen for herself. She decided that she would try and recover some of the ground she may have lost with her sister. Perhaps Sophia and Charlotte were both right, and that it was also time to be more demonstrative of her own feelings towards William before she really did lose him.