Posted at May 18, 2020

Victorian Era Fiction to Get You Through COVID-19 (Chapter 8)

Chapter Eight

Mary’s wedding, hurried at her own request, took place a mere three weeks after Mr. Farnsworth’s proposal. She was determined that they should be married before the season ended, as she could not bear to wait any longer. Arrangements were made, much to Maude’s dismay, as soon as possible. She had hoped for her daughter to have a grand, elaborate wedding with all the finery of a Worth gown and an exquisite hall in which all of their friends and relations could fit. Instead, Mary was pleased to have an intimate wedding in a reasonable location while wearing a much more mild gown. These arrangements suited her a great deal more than the gilded imaginings of her mother would have.

Ruth and Anthony were once again in each other’s company at Mary’s wedding. As a bridesmaid, she could not sit with her dear friend during the ceremony, but they saw plenty of each other at the reception. They exchanged a few pleasantries while Ruth busied herself with bridesmaid’s duties. Anthony avoided dancing as much as she did, until his aunt insisted that he stop “hiding in corners and have a dance with Ruth.” Once they were thrown together, Anthony seemed embarrassed. Given his usual happy manners, Ruth was unsure as to why he should be uncomfortable. They had been forced to dance together many times, as finding another partner would have been the greater of two evils.
“Is anything wrong?” she asked him.
“Not especially,” was his bland reply, but he did seem agitated. She wondered if he had had news from his fiancée whose name he had not revealed to her. As he was in so unpleasant a mood, Ruth decided to avoid pressing him on the subject, even in a friendly and joking manner. Quickly sensing her discomfort, he smiled.
“Anyway, you look lovely this afternoon,” he told her.
“Well, thank you. I had better look lovely in such an expensive gown,” she jested in her usual form. Anthony had expected nothing less, particularly after she had received a compliment. He continued to say that it did indeed suit her and complimented her sister’s choice of color. He also mentioned how well Mary and Robert looked together. As they spun about the dance floor, Ruth saw for herself how Mary smiled at her new husband. She also noticed how her family seemed indifferent to their happiness. William was as usual unaffected, Maude busy talking with her neighbors (and no doubt boasting of this triumph) and Randolph enjoying champagne and flirting with Miss Chamberlain among others.
“My brother seems attached to your sister,” Ruth observed after a few moments of silence.
“She’s been warned about him, though. His reputation with the ladies is a bit…well,” Anthony searched for the right word but there was no polite version of what he wanted to say. “Notorious.”
Ruth nodded slowly, understanding what he meant. Randolph had a terrible reputation as a playboy and it was not undeserved. He was a flirt and never seriously pursued any lady that he was attached to. Ruth dreaded to think of how he behaved among less reputable young women and was happy to know as little as possible of her brother’s affairs. She did notice, however, that he paid a great deal of attention to Miss Chamberlain and never tired of her company. Still, if Anthony did not approve, she did not want to encourage the match.
“What about you?” he asked. “Has there been anyone to catch your eye this season?”
Ruth’s heart beat quickly at this question. Just when she had settled into thinking of him purely in a friendly way, her feelings betrayed her. Of course only he had caught her eye and she was glad of a distraction in some ways. To love one-sidedly was useful as she never needed to hope but could enjoy all the pleasure that preferring someone’s company afforded. Anthony’s indifferent attitude toward his fiancée had, in fact, given her a sense of false hope that she unconsciously clung to. Naturally, she could not say this to him and instead insisted that everyone in London was the same as ever and she had given up hope of anyone catching her eye again. When he asked her about any past attachments, she laughed, listing a few names and telling a few anecdotes of their situations. He shook his head at all of them.
“No, no. You were right to turn those fellows down. I haven’t know them as long as you have, but I know for a fact that not a single one of them is good enough for you.” He then began to humorously list the faults of each of the men she had been set up to marry in the past. Ruth only laughed, but in her heart she felt a deep sadness. This praise of her alongside his disapproval of every man she had ever met did little to crush her cruel, secret hopes. Why does he not break it off? She began to wonder. If he does not care for her any longer why should he keep up the charade? Ruth did her utmost to be sure that her real feelings did not betray her by appearing on her face after he had finished speaking. She did feel she must look distracted but Anthony either did not notice or was kind enough to pretend he did not. Much to her relief, the dance ended shortly thereafter and she excused herself for a drink of punch.
As she relaxed in her own company, her sister approached her. Mary was the loveliest bride Ruth had ever seen and denied that it was only her own sisterly pride that made her believe so. Her dress suited her perfectly and the light filtered through her veil, making a delightful glow around her smiling face. Ruth saw how her sister was glad to be at last married. Her one goal had been accomplished and she cared for nothing else. She told Ruth how happy she was, and bestowed that exasperating wish that Ruth would only be as happy.
“But I am happy,” Ruth protested with a laugh. “Why shouldn’t I be?”
Mary glanced at her with the lovingly patronizing eyes of an elder sister rather than a younger, who wished their own unrivaled bliss on all they knew whether those intimate friends did or did not desire it.
“Oh you know what I mean,” she said. “I think you can still find someone to marry.”

“There are other things in life to enjoy,” Ruth joked. “Now go and dance more at your wedding and stop wasting your time with me.” She grinned as she sent her sister back into Robert Farnsworth’s arms. As she watched the dancing safely from a corner again, Randolph approached her from behind.
“I know what you must be thinking,” he said, startling her. “Shut up, Mary! No one could ever spoil me as much as my brother and father.”
Ruth urged him to be quiet although she laughed as she ordered him to do so. Naturally, her amusement was not discouraging and he continued to hilariously, if rather unfairly, imitate his youngest sister while embarrassing the elder. Maude was quick to stop her oldest children from making a scene. Randolph apologized and sought the company of Miss Chamberlain as soon as he was able. Ruth, meanwhile, stayed where she was, watching as Anthony intercepted her brother in order to keep him away from Harriet.

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