Posted at May 31, 2020

Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 10)

Times are tough in the US at the moment, I hope this continuation of creative writing can help some people escape the outside world for a few minutes.

Chapter Ten

At the sight of her elder sister, Mary was overjoyed. She appeared somewhat tired from her newly married life and perhaps even more exhausted by the unvarying society. Her sister’s appearance was a welcome change to the Farnsworths’ estate in the small town of Coalsmouth. The manor house belonged to Robert’s father, a baronet, who offered his youngest son the modest Farnsworth House on the estate upon his marriage. Robert had been the first to marry, but as a fourth son, was only provided with a large, pleasant house, rather than any other grand property in his father’s possession.
Mary had taken to her duties as a new wife rather well. As her husband was not going to inherit any title, she did not have the worry of living in the grand house with her in-laws. Still, running a house, modest though it was, was a new task for her and Ruth saw that Mary was still growing accustomed to being mistress of Farnsworth House.
“Dearest Ruth!” she cried, throwing her arms around her sister at once. “I’m so glad to see you! I didn’t think we could drag you out as far as Kent but we have! Do sit down.”
The servants collected Ruth’s cases outside and the butler led both his mistress and her sister into the sitting room. Mary grasped her sister’s hands the moment they sat down beside each other.
“Oh, do tell me all the London news!” Mary begged. Ruth laughed at her sister’s enthusiasm.
“I’m sure I must’ve written it all in my last letter.”
“You wrote about where everyone was going, of course. But that isn’t news!” Mary objected with a laugh.
“Then what does count as news?”
Ruth was soon interrupted by a servant bringing in a tray of tea. Once it was served and each lady sipped from her cup, the servant was dismissed and Mary continued to press her sister for any interesting gossip.
“What about Anthony?” Mary asked, her blue eyes growing larger as she glanced at her sister over her tea cup.
“I told you, he’s gone to Devonshire for August.”
“Is that all?”
“What else should there be?” Ruth asked, eager for the subject to change as quickly as possible.
“Did you say goodbye?”
“He wrote to tell me he was looking forward to meeting again in September. That’s all.”
Mary stared at her sister as if she hoped to wheedle out a detail she was not sharing. Sadly for her, Ruth truly did have no exciting news to share about Anthony.
“I should have thought he would propose,” she said disappointedly.
“What gave you that idea?” Ruth asked, her brow wrinkling as she placed her tea cup and saucer on the table.
“He always seemed so fond of you. He only ever enjoyed dancing or talking with you. Any time you weren’t nearby he sung your praises to anyone who would listen.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Ruth insisted. “Tony and I are only good friends.”
“If you’re sure,” Mary teased with a sly grin.
Ruth did her best to laugh off the comment and the look her sister gave. But this subtle encouragement instead made her heart sink. To constantly hear from everyone she knew, including Anthony himself, how highly he thought of her was more painful than pleasing. It continued to drive her mad and she did not want to dwell on the confusion that Anthony’s engagement brought her.
Ruth was teased by her sister every day for the first week of her stay and at first she bore it well. It soon occurred to her that she may have to confess to her sister the truth of the situation, but she did not want to betray Anthony’s trust by revealing something which she had no right to tell. Mary was not foolish enough to be completely ignorant of her sister’s unhappiness and soon spoke privately with Ruth. After Robert had gone into the village, Mary joined her sister in the bedroom they had made up for her. Ruth was surprised to see her as she had expected to enjoy some time alone that morning to write a few letters. Mary was pale and her eyes filled with concern.
“Are you alright?” Ruth asked her, setting aside her pen and paper.
“I’m fine. Only, I feel like you aren’t enjoying your stay here.” Mary sat on the bed as Ruth continued to organize the writing supplies at the desk.
“I’m very glad to see you,” Ruth began. “Only I wish you wouldn’t always talk about Anthony to me.”
“Oh I am sorry. Have you two quarreled?”
“No, not at all. I just wish that as my sister, you could believe that there is nothing between us except friendship.” Ruth’s sincere look was enough to convince her sister of that truth. Mary apologized for her behavior but did offer one last lament that Ruth and Anthony would not be married.
“I only want you to be happy,” Mary said, once more pitying her sister for her lack of a husband. Ruth shook her head.
“But I am happy,” she insisted. “I don’t have a care in the world.”
This statement was not entirely true, but Ruth did not bemoan her lack of a husband. Rather, she detested herself for not being able to combat the feelings for Anthony which grew even in his absence. She dearly wished for at least one other soul on the planet to speak to about his engagement and the difficulties it brought her. Yet he was her closest friend apart from Randolph and Mary. Naturally, she was forced to be silent to both.
Mary’s suspicions were not quieted within herself, but she was resolved not to make her sister unhappy. When a letter arrived from Devonshire for Miss Kingston at Farnsworth House, it took all of Mary’s strength not to say a word about it. She was silent when she saw who had written it, but Ruth had not overlooked the hope in her sister’s blue eyes. The latter carefully put the letter aside as if she did not need to read it presently, but later brought it up to her room with her to read it in private.
Dearest Ruthie,
I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your time in Kent. When my aunt told me about your staying with your sister I was glad to hear it. I received your letter and began this note as soon as it was read. It has been all that has given me any joy since my arrival in Devonshire. My father makes things as difficult as he ever did. As usual I am scolded, corrected and quarreled with daily. My mother and father avoid each other as best they can and my sister spends her time complaining about country fashion and manners.

I would also mention the displeasure the last meeting with Miss Yardley afforded me, but as you know I never wish to go into detail on that subject. My correspondence with you, Ruthie, has been the only thing to cheer me up. Do tell me about all of your adventures in Kent and send my best wishes to Mrs. Farnsworth.
I fear I must already return to business and to my father. Do write soon.

The warmth of his letter was both reassuring and heartbreaking. He had not enjoyed Miss Yardley’s company, but he had seen her. This dispirited Ruth no matter what Anthony’s feelings had been. Was he purposefully tormenting her by adding to the already acknowledged report that he preferred her to everyone else? She could not think him so cruel and calculating. The idea that he might be aware of her love for him was dreadful. And while she wanted to write back to him as soon as possible, she decided to wait a while, not wanting to give rise to suspicion. She was also determined not to spend all of her time thinking of someone she had come away to forget. Mary was sure to need help adjusting to her new life and Ruth was eager to see if Robert proved to be a decent husband. He was kind enough to Mary, but the formerly shy youngest son, now master of his own home, had taken up the habit of teasing his guests and lording his status over his servants. Ruth, as their first real guest, was the subject of Robert’s awkward attempts at clever humor. His lack of confidence in himself was evident with every jab he took at Ruth and every criticism he gave to his butler or housekeeper. Mary urged him not to be so out of humor but he only laughed.
“No husband yet, Ruth?” he would say every morning. “What will you write your mother?”
She grew weary of his comments quite quickly and one morning, she finally reacted. Though she dreaded giving Robert any satisfaction in getting a rise out of her, she thought that a severe voice might warn him off ever joking about her again.
“Could we talk about something else?” she said at a loud volume one morning at breakfast. “Anything else, really? You could perhaps tell me about this part of the country. I’ve never spent much time in Kent before and I would love to hear about all of the wonderful things to do here.” Though her words were kind, Ruth’s tone was sharp and she stared into Robert’s eyes quite pointedly as she spoke. This assertiveness drew just the response she hoped for from Robert as he stammered nervously about the parish, the number of people in the village and what they got up to.
“I’m sorry your first week here has been so quiet, Ruthie,” Mary said, hoping to take the attention away from her husband’s folly.
“Not at all. I wouldn’t want Mr. Farnsworth to think I was averse to relaxation and fresh country air.”
“We can give you a tour of Coalsmouth if you like,” the younger sister offered.
“That would be lovely,” Ruth replied, though still maintaining eye contact with her brother-in-law.
“Actually,” he stuttered as Ruth raised an eyebrow. “The village fête is in a few days. It isn’t much, of course, but I expect all of the villagers will want to see you.”
“Yes!” Mary exclaimed with delight. “The people here already know that I have a beautiful and accomplished sister!”
“Am I very accomplished?” Ruth asked. “I didn’t think we English girls were permitted to be accomplished in much. I can’t play the piano, I can’t dance very well. I do speak French better than your average girl, I suppose.”
“And you can sing like a bird!” Mary boasted on her behalf.
“But is that any accomplishment? I should like to have a university education and make my own fortune. That would be something…”
“I don’t like where this conversation is going,” Robert confessed. “You’re talking nonsense, Ruth and it’s making me nervous.”
Ruth chuckled to herself, as it was her plan all along to return the discomfort that Robert had served her. She thought she had done very well.

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