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Posted at April 28, 2020
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Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 2)

Chapter Two

Mary sat at the vanity in her bedroom before breakfast. Her mother had passed on the information regarding Mrs. Johnson’s handsome and accomplished nephew, as well as the minimal information given regarding Mrs. Chamberlain and Miss Harriet Chamberlain. She heard her mother with the usual complacency of her temper, but could not find herself terribly interested in the subject. The promise of a calm country living with a certain Mr. Farnsworth sounded much better to her. They had spoken to one another as many times as they were able in company and she had reason to believe he might propose soon. Perhaps these reasons were mere hopes and therefore she could not tell her sister, mother or brother about Mr. Farnsworth and her preference for him above all others.
With these ideas, Mary was wrestling when a knock at her door came, startling her out of her thoughts. She bid the person on the opposite side of the door to come in and was rather surprised to see not a servant, but her sister.
“Good morning,” Mary said pleasantly, primping herself as though she had been lately dressed and her hair sculpted. The lightness of her address to her sister, she hoped, would not rouse any suspicion with regard to the matters of her heart which she was so deep in thought about not a moment before.
Ruth slipped into her sister’s bedroom and closed the door behind her.
“I was passing and wondered if you were down yet,” she explained without prompting. Ruth’s somewhat deep and dry-humored voice was quite opposite to her sister’s higher register.
“Oh. I’ll be down soon.”
“What’s taken you so long?” Ruth asked not unkindly, but out of simple curiosity.
Mary replied that she did not know and perhaps had simply lost track of time in deciding what to wear. Yet her apparent nerves on the subject gave her away to Ruth immediately.
“Is something the matter?” Ruth asked, coming closer to her sister and sitting on her bed. Mary could see Ruth behind her in the mirror and looked away from her sister’s reflection before answering that all was well. Ruth did not believe this poorly acted reply and her lips curled into an amused smile while her dark eyes showed concern. “Dearest, you can tell me anything. What’s causing you so much distress?”
As far as Ruth knew, there were no pressing social events upcoming on the family’s calendar and there would be little to worry about until all the lords and ladies of the country estates just grander than themselves poured into town. At the moment, there was peace in London, apart from the excited gossip of Mrs. Johnson. Maude had mentioned their neighbor’s relations to Ruth only in passing. Yet Ruth could easily surmise that her mother had revealed a grand plan of matchmaking to her younger daughter.
“Has Mamma upset you with the news about the Chamberlains?” Ruth asked. Mary’s immediate blush answered her question. The color in her sister’s cheeks did not fade as they continued on the subject.
“She hasn’t upset me,” Mary explained. “Of course I’m glad to meet any of Mrs. Johnson’s family or friends. Only I do wish Mamma wouldn’t get her hopes up.”
“Why not? Have you seen his photograph and disapproved?” joked Ruth, whose humor was always roused at the expense of hilarious matchmaking plans of which only one party was aware.
“No, it isn’t that.”
“Then you have someone else in mind,” Ruth said. Mary’s eyes drifted toward the floor and the redness of her cheeks deepened. Ruth told her sister not to worry, that she would not press her about the subject if she was not ready to talk of it. She at last reassured Mary that she could paint a terribly bad picture of her character to Mr. Chamberlain if she wished. At this, Mary giggled, knowing her sister’s arch sense of humor well. She politely rejected this offer and told Ruth that she was welcome to do and say what she liked. Satisfied with this idea, Ruth decided not to disrupt her sister’s peace any longer and made her way downstairs to the breakfast table.
It was there that she found her father reading his paper and absentmindedly reaching over for his tea or a slice of toast as he read. At the entrance of his favorite child, however, he brightened and closed his paper at once.
“Ruth, my dear,” he said with warmth. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, Papa,” Ruth replied with a smile. She took breakfast from the table in the dining room with the help of Somers and sat down by her father who, naturally, took his place at the head of the table. Being a rather quiet man, William did not have much to say to his daughter. He merely smiled and asked her if she’d slept well before taking up his paper again. Ruth was surprised that Mary had still not come down, but was not in the least surprised that her brother was nowhere to be seen. When she asked about his whereabouts, her father’s expression darkened and without taking his eyes away from his paper he grumbled.
“No doubt your foolish brother has been spending money wildly through all hours of the night.”
Ruth could not help but laugh at her father’s willingness to incriminate Randolph. He was certainly not the most responsible young man, but William’s idea of his son was quite an exaggeration compared to his real habits. His son had probably only slept too late after perhaps a late night of wine and cards with his friends at one of their homes. That he should be gambling or visiting a theatre with a less than charming reputation until five in the morning was less likely.
Mary, however, did eventually join them at the breakfast table as did Maude, to everyone’s surprise.
“My dear,” William greeted her with astonishment. “Why are you not taking your breakfast in bed?”
Maude explained to him that she had promised to pay an early call to Mrs. Johnson. Mary grew pale as their neighbor’s name escaped her mother’s lips. Ruth took it upon herself to ask the questions.
“What does your call entail, Mamma?”
“Nothing extraordinary. She simply asked me to call on her in the late morning today and so I shall. I expect she will want to talk about the upcoming events of the season. It will be in full swing soon, you know!”
“How could we forget?” said Ruth with a poorly hidden grin.
Her mother glared at her for a moment as she could not see the humor in the season as Ruth did. She saw only the constant failure of her attempts to marry her off over the course of ten seasons.
“I know you do not appreciate the season,” Maude scolded. “But think of your sister.”
“Indeed. Not to worry, Mary. Mamma will soon auction you off to the highest bidder.”
Where Mary could take a joke and laugh shyly along with her bold sister, Maude saw no humor in the situation.
“Right. I’m off to see Mrs. Johnson,” she told them firmly.
Once she was gone, William set down his paper again to admire the faces of his daughters. One had all the beauty of face and figure and all the intelligence behind her eyes that should have been appealing to any man worthy of her. The other was pale and soft and while not a phenomenal beauty, had her own charms enough. Ruth bore resemblance to her father in her physical appearance. She had his dark hair and dark eyebrows which framed a set of deep hazel eyes with long eyelashes. She had his tall, straight nose and his thin but not overly slim lips. Where she received the luck of her fine cheekbones and nearly olive skin was perhaps more of a mystery.
Mary, on the other hand, resembled her mother in many ways. Her lighter brown hair, blue eyes (which were shared by her brother) and small, round nose gave her the classic English rose appearance that her sister lacked. Both sisters resembled a parent, but William’s features looked much better on Ruth&s face while Mary’s beauty was just slightly more attractive on her mother.
The child who bore the features of both parents, with his light eyes and distinct Kingston nose, meandered into the breakfast room a few moments later. His sisters delighted in seeing him, while his father ignored him.
“And a good morning to you, Father,” he remarked with his usual exuberance. Ruth’s one failing in her father’s eyes was that she shared a similar sense of humor to her brother. Randolph kissed the cheek of each sister affectionately before sitting down beside Mary with his plate of breakfast.
“Good lord, Randolph. We’re at breakfast, not in a ballroom. Surely the sight of your sisters is ordinary enough that you should not need to do that.”
There was little that Randolph enjoyed more than winding up his father or shocking his mother. He apologized for his conduct but with such an air of sarcastic insincerity that his father returned to ignoring him. Ruth, though desperately trying to stop her smile, gave her brother a reproachful look. Mary too fought to keep her composure after this incident, which so often occurred between her father and brother. Yet neither of them yielded. Randolph would continue to irritate while William would refuse to find amusement in his son’s antics. Occasionally he would even grumble that Randolph’s nanny had not punished him sufficiently as a child.
“So!” Randolph cried, rubbing his palms together excitedly and ignoring the coldness of his father. “What are you up to today, girls?”
Mary was silent and Ruth tilted her head in thought.
“Well there isn’t much to do just yet,” Ruth replied.
“Quite so. No boys to flirt with yet, eh, Mary?” he teased and his sister flushed. Ruth quickly steered the conversation away from this topic.
“More importantly,” Ruth said clearing her throat, resentful that her brother should think they were ignorant enough to care only about the men who wandered into London. “We have not had any invitations from friends either because no one is arrived yet. I thought I might take a walk in the park this afternoon if the rain stays away.”
“What a splendid idea,” Randolph replied. “I’ll go with you, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course you may,” Ruth said with a smile. Randolph was a much more liberal chaperon than anyone else of her acquaintance, and Ruth could be free to wander as she pleased. “I did plan to look for a flower shop as well, though you know how I am terrible at choosing flowers. But Mamma has asked me to choose some new arrangements for the house.”
“That seems a task better suited to Mary,” said Randolph, well aware of his sister’s disdain for bouquets. Ruth was perfectly happy to appreciate wild flowers or a beautifully constructed garden, but she saw little point in watching the beautiful blossoms die in her home.
“This afternoon I’m to pay a few calls,” Mary explained.
“So Mamma’s second choice must go,” Ruth added. She and her brother laughed together.

“Fair enough. I’ll go with you to the florist if I must,” he joked. “The proprietor’s daughter is exceedingly charming.”
At this, William rested his paper on the table and excused himself.
“Poor Papa,” Randolph said once his father was out of sight. “Always out of humor.

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