Posted at April 24, 2020

Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 1)

Chapter One

London, June, 1895

The Kingston family of London saw little conflict during their time of residence in London’s neighborhood of Mayfair. As with many wealthy families, they took up the habits of the aristocracy with town and country homes. However, they spent most of their time in London, enjoying the season in and simply retreating to the country before the unfashionable month of August arrived. The family’s head, the honorable William Kingston, was the younger son of a wealthy, but until his father’s rise to the peerage, untitled family, and had cleverly acquired his own fortune through extremely well timed investments. He was an intelligent if somewhat shy man who was glad to amaze with his financial talents but unwilling to mix in company.

His wife, Maude Kingston was a similarly low ranking younger sibling of a family with money who had been matched with him by their eager mothers. The marriage was not an unhappy one and William showed a rare goodness of character in men of his standing by staying faithful to his bride. Together this similar and content pair had reared three children, Randolph, Ruth and Mary. The first two children were closer in age than they were with their younger sibling, whose sudden appearance eight years after the birth of her elder sister was a surprise to all.
Mr. Kingston was kind to all of his children but he could not help favoring his daughter Ruth. She showed a cleverness inherited from himself and a sharp wit which she had not. Ruth, long a spinster at the age of twenty-eight, proved a comfort to her father. In her youth he dreaded the idea of his brightest child being taken from him by a young man. It cheered him that all was too late for her and she would always be there to make him laugh and to care for him when he grew infirm. Mr. Kingston was well aware of the selfish nature of his happiness, but it did not weight too heavily on his conscience.

With his only son Randolph, he was rather less satisfied. His only son and heir could not be described as unintelligent, but he was certainly foolish. Unlike his mild father, Randolph was rather loud and at times brash and boisterous. Where his father enjoyed books, business and an evening glass of wine, Randolph indulged in as much wine, women and song as his surroundings had to offer. However, he was not wholly a bad young man as he was close to and protective of his two sisters. Like his father, preference tended toward Ruth, but he showed equal kindness to the young and impressionable Mary.
Mary Kingston was her mother’s favorite. She was quieter, more obedient and while not as pretty as her elder sister, had a better chance of marrying. She was only twenty years old and her harmless disposition would make her an ideal wife. In spite of these qualities she was in no way dull. Mary loved to laugh as she often did with her brother and sister, though her sensibilities were a bit more delicate than that of her siblings’ due to her age.
Maude had long given up any hope of Ruth’s getting married, but spent a good deal of time doting on Mary and bringing her as much into society as she could once she came of age. Mary’s disposition was rather like her father’s, however, in that she did not often long for dinners, parties and balls. Ruth, being wittier and wiser, did not enjoy these tedious evenings much either, but made sport of her companions with her brother. Ruth was not malicious, and she only enjoyed laughing at those who thought themselves far too great. She countered the comments of her spinsterhood with a remark that would amuse herself while flying over the head of the person it was aimed at. This was enough to bring her amusement in the company of gossips and matchmakers.
However, the Kingstons’ neighbor, Mrs. Tobias Johnson was close to Ruth and determined to see her married. An extremely energetic woman in spite of her advancing age and her formidable weight, Mrs. Johnson’s high spirits led her to matchmaking wherever she could. With two daughters grown and married, she was in need of new projects and as a favorite, Ruth remained one of them.
This same neighbor, the delightful Mrs. Johnson paid calls and made visits often to the Kingstons’ London abode. She called on Maude or Ruth several times a week to invite them to this or that luncheon or to talk about a ball or a dinner. She also came with news of various suitors for Ruth and Mary. Maude gladly heard the names and details of each man put forward by Mrs. Johnson without his knowledge. These unaware volunteers did little to please Ruth, who had long found that she was glad to give up the idea of marriage. Spinsterhood did not frighten her and indeed if she could spend the rest of her life in the company and care of her father and brother, she would not be sorry.
This was not enough for Mrs. Johnson who longed to see Ruth become a titled woman to raise her family’s standing once more. “Such wit and beauty wasted!” Mrs. Johnson would frequently bemoan. Ruth was not opposed to meeting most of the gentlemen suggested by her dear neighbor and friend. Her hopes were simply never high that they would turn out to be all that Mrs. Johnson described. More often than not, the gentlemen were dull, disinterested or simply not Ruth’s idea of a good match no matter the size of the fortune and estate she could be mistress of.
And yet, it was with such another of these missions that Mrs. Johnson called on Mrs. Kingston one afternoon. She saw no point in taking a carriage from only a few houses down the street, and could often be seen shuffling quickly down the lane. Her stout body often scuttled along with such speed, that her plump body wobbled to either side. Her figure could often be soon perceived from the front window of the sitting room. However this room was hardly used and Mrs. Johnson was brought by the butler, Somers, to the parlor where Maude sat. Somers announced the arrival of their neighbor to Mrs. Kingston and quietly slipped away after being asked to bring some tea. Mrs. Johnson, at least ten years Mrs. Kingston’s senior, huffed and puffed as she always did after hurrying to their home. She removed a fan from her reticule to revive herself, as was always necessary. Maude, still spry, if a bit weathered as evidence by a few wrinkles, waited for her dear friend to cool down before speaking.
“So what brings you to us today, my dear Mrs. Johnson?” she asked politely.
“Oh my dear!” she gasped. “I have such excellent news!”
Mrs. Johnson continued to fan herself and even dabbed at her temples delicately with a handkerchief. Somers soon brought the tea, handing a cup to each lady and leaving the tray on the table under the window before being dismissed from the room.
Maude was often as calm and composed as her husband but was of a much friendlier disposition. She waited with a smile to hear just what this excellent news was.
“I’ve just had word from my brother, Mr. Chamberlain in Devonshire,” Mrs. Johnson began. “He tells me he is far too busy to visit London. Though that is hardly surprising as he hates it here and his family never come! But he tells me that my sister-in-law will come with my niece and nephew and stay right here on our very street!”
Maude was delighted to hear of this, as she was fond of Mrs. Johnson and would be glad to meet her relations. However. She had trouble understanding what made this news quite so excellent and once again waited for her friend to proceed.
“You see, my dear. My nephew has just finished a campaign in Africa and is come home to England just a few months ago! Did I ever mention he was a military man? Well, both of my nephews have served in the army – that is my sister’s boy as well – but only Anthony kept it up. Yes, my nephew Anthony and my niece Harriet will be coming! And Anthony is eager to meet all of my friends at last.”
Maude raised a cheerful eyebrow at the end of Mrs. Johnson’s merry rambling.
“And you suppose your nephew would be well suited for Mary?” she asked with a warm yet sly grin. Anyone could have guessed what Mrs. Johnson was up to.
“Mary…or perhaps dear Ruth!” Mrs. Johnson replied in the highest spirits.
Maude protested that “dear Ruth” was past all hope of matrimony as she always did. It seemed wiser to get her youngest daughter settled before she turned down every offer like Ruth had done before her. Mrs. Johnson countered that Maude was too harsh to give up on Ruth, whose beauty could still do her credit in any ballroom. As usual, Maude was unconvinced.
“But my dear Anthony is such a lively young man, you know. He might make Mary nervous.”
Maude considered this point and inquired about his age, to which Mrs. Johnson replied that her nephew was just twenty-seven last month. Upon hearing this, Maude twisted her mouth as she paused a moment in thought.
“I can see what you’re feeling,” Mrs. Johnson said with a laugh. “He is younger than Ruth, but I don’t think that would deter him.”
“But is it wise?” Maude asked. “Surely a woman ought to have an older husband. No one younger would take Ruth on. No, I think you’d best introduce him first to Mary.”
Mrs. Johnson agreed to this, yet assured Mrs. Kingston that she should not give up hope of Ruth enjoying Anthony’s company. She began to tell tales of the letters he wrote to her on occasion. While in Africa, he often wrote to his mother and sister who passed along tales of his adventures. When she had heard of what he had been up to, she took the opportunity to write him a note herself. After receiving her letter he had written to her most cordially and she was glad to hear from him directly. He had made no mention of hoping to marry, of course. But as he had told his mother that he was pleased at the idea of London society at last, Mrs. Johnson herself could conclude that Anthony was ready to take a wife.
Maude again listened with pleasure to Mrs. Johnson’s pleasant ramblings as she spoke of her nephew. It was clear that her main object in visiting the Kingstons’ home was to speak about her eligible relation. All she mentioned of Miss Chamberlain was that she was a pretty girl who was perhaps rather looking forward to meeting gentlemen with both town and country houses. Her sister-in-law was described as kind and after this, not another word was mentioned of her. Mrs. Johnson was full of Anthony’s praises. His mother had sent her a photograph of him in his uniform and he looked most handsome in it. He has also done well for himself in the army’s campaigns and been promoted to captain! Maude heard all of these details and continued to hope that Mary might be well settled in due time.

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