Table of Contents
- Mary Wollstonecraft’s thoughts on modesty
- Backstory with Mr. Oliver
- Miss Oliver walks into Rye with Peter
- Clarice embroiders garters for Peter
- Original return from Hastings: confrontation with Mrs. Cross
- Sir Kit’s original return from his trip
- A dream
- Sir Kit quotes Rousseau
- Lady Tassell has a mnemonic to remember how Miss Oliver takes her tea
- The original final scene between Miss Oliver and Lady Palethorp
This followed on Sir Kit and Miss Oliver’s conversation about Vindication of the Rights of Women and girls learning “indelicate tricks” at school.
I was not precisely certain what modesty had meant to Mrs. Godwin. Iphigenia and I had puzzled over her circumlocutions in school, and concluded that she objected to using a chamber pot in front of other people. It had not seemed a lofty ideal then—indeed, we had giggled till we needed the chamber pot ourselves. It seemed even less so now.
This followed directly from “The cake at school is better, I’d told him vengefully, that first Christmas vacation.“
Shame filled me—old shame, thick on my tongue. I had tried to tend our hearth after mãe died—had known it was my work to do—but after a few days of watching me shake and startle my way through lighting the fire, Papa had taken it over until we could find a maid-of-all-work. I had huddled under my quilt as he sat up in bed, tied on his black armband, and crawled across the floor to the fireplace.
More than one morning, he had sat by the oven and wept for my mother, before gathering himself to return to his bed and strap on his peg leg. I had known he didn’t want me to hear, so I pretended not to.
Now I understood that I should have gone to him anyway, when it was too late. Why had I been cruel about the cake?
In the first draft, Miss Oliver did manage to leave the house a couple of times; here she succeeds in borrowing a footman and walks into Rye to mail her letter.
I reflected that tomorrow was Wednesday, and that I needed a new shoelace, and slipped the letter into the bottom of my grandfather’s box.
The next afternoon, seeing no reason to incur Sir Kit’s wrath for recklessness—and indeed, the heat was making the soldiers from the Martello towers quarrelsome and rowdy, and more drunk than usual—I asked Mrs. Cross if a footman might be spared to accompany me to Rye. If she had said no, I would not in the least have believed her. The maids were busy with their washing, but there were always far more footmen than the house had any need of, excepting on formal occasions.
However, she reluctantly agreed, and presently Peter appeared in his heavy livery and gloves, looking distinctly unenthused. It seemed to be always Peter who waited on the nursery; I wondered if he volunteered, or if the color of his skin meant that he was given more than his fair share of drudgery. There was no way to ask, or know; I could not be his friend any more than Sir Kit could be mine.
I could not be anybody’s friend, in all this great house.
“I could ask for the cart,” I offered, making us a perfect triumvirate of reluctance—Sir Kit might need to be consulted for that.
“It’s market day,” he said. “Mrs. Bishop has the cart.”
I tried to hide my relief.
We went faster on foot than the slow-moving line of carts on the road, the dry ground hard enough that we could jump the ditch and walk in the grass. Soon we had gone through the town gates and were pushing our way through the crowded fish-market. The smell was overpowering—but it was fresh fish today, at least, and salted. My stomach rumbled.
The crowd overpowered me a bit, too. I had not seen so many people since I came to Goldengrove. In the open it had not struck me, but here, with them pressed up against me, I felt my breath coming short.
I nearly passed Mrs. Bishop and Charity coming back from market in the Goldengrove cart without remarking them. Even Peter’s tactful nudge did not save me from offending them, for I did not at first take his meaning and craned my neck about, with much swinging of my parasol, before spotting the cook. I tried to imbue my smile and wave with blithe welcome, cringing inwardly at their expressions: the peculiar satisfaction of having one’s low estimation of somebody confirmed.
“I never notice anybody when I’m out walking,” I said despairingly to Peter. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked right past my father, or my dearest friend.”
“It comes from reading so much, I expect, ma’am.”
It was a generous answer, but I could not immediately answer, for I had brought vividly before my own senses the streets in Lively St. Lemeston, and being shouted after by Papa or Iphigenia. There were so many people here, and none of them glad to see me.
“Yes,” I quavered, far too late. “Perhaps I am getting to need spectacles.” This was a particularly ingenious lie, for it also gave me an excuse to rub at my eyes. We turned onto narrower streets, the buildings rising higher on either side, the sky curving above us like a bowl clapped over a mouse to keep it from running.
He looked at me with concern. “You’re overheated, ma’am. Step into the church a moment. It’s cool and quiet in there.”
Oh—yes, that was the church. No wonder the buildings were so high, blotting out the sun. I would have liked to say no, but poor Peter was flushed and sweating himself in his livery. “Yes,” I said reluctantly, “I think that would do me good.”
I had spent the morning explaining the law of supply and demand to Tabby; it occurred to me that the short supply of honesty in this world was only matched by the low demand for it.
I paused to read the clock as we went in. Two clockwork cherubs gazed back with disdainful expressions, framing the crisp gilt motto For our time is a very shadow that passeth away. I almost asked Peter to read it for me, to cement my lie, and despised myself.
The minute-hand clicked down to the quarter-hour, and the cherubs jerked into motion with a piercing chime. I started violently.
Peter looked embarrassed for me. “It’s only the quarter-boys, ma’am. They ring at quarter-past and quarter-to.”
Making an excuse seemed exhausting. I nodded, hoping he only thought me ancient, and not mad.
I was almost glad to find something in Rye I did not like. The church was far larger than St. Leonard’s at home, and older. The roof was so high, and yet there was no illusion of soaring; the stone arches were graceless, their pillars thick. You could not forget how heavy it all was. As we came in the door, I heard a strange clunking from overhead, and looked up in trepidation to see an enormous pendulum above us.
It was quite clearly intended as a solemn memento mori, and for a moment I almost felt the weight of it, as I had on Good Friday morning in Mrs. Humphrey’s breakfast room: my life marked out in grim seconds, passing too quickly and not quickly enough. The whole world measured in regret and dread.
God’s metronome, I thought, and almost giggled.
When I looked at Peter to see if he’d caught me, he smiled. “People say Queen Elizabeth took the clock from the Spanish Armada and presented it to the town as a mark of favor.”
I blinked, for I could not imagine why the Armada would carry such a thing, and the pendulum struck me as rather Puritanical than Papist. “Do you think it likely?”
“I don’t know about the clock, madam, but my gammer—beg pardon, my grandmother—remembers them putting in the quarter-boys, and the pendulum too.”
Despite this slight unbending, he wouldn’t sit in my presence, but stood respectfully at the end of the pew. When his flush had subsided, I stood. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather wait here?”
His face said plainly that of course he’d rather, and of course he couldn’t, and why did I persist in asking foolish questions? I sighed, and when I had bought my shoelace and mailed my letter, I gave him sixpence. “I’ll sit on the wall by the quay. Buy yourself an ice.”
“Better not, ma’am. Sailors can be a rough lot.”
So we went together to buy ices. At least Peter condescended to eat his on the sidewalk while merely watching me through the window.
Afterwards, I sat on the wall by the quay, and he stood a few paces off. I watched the boats and tried to pretend I was alone and unsupervised. I wondered if he was doing the same.
Peter had matched his pace to mine on the walk into Rye. But on the way home, though I would have liked to go leisurely and relish the still, clear evening, the setting sun seemed to make him uneasy. The Goldengrove gates were closed when we reached them, and I could feel the tension in his arm as he helped me over the low boundary wall. As we hurried up the winding drive under the low sun’s baleful red eye, his strides lengthened until I was trotting to keep up. Barely had he knocked at the door than it swung open, the porter sighing in relief when he saw us. Behind them, the porter’s wife and Mrs. Cross glared accusingly.
“It’s very late,” the housekeeper said—to Peter, but clearly aimed at me. The hapless footman cut his eyes in my direction, as if to say, It’s not my fault she dawdled.
“I’m sorry we worried you, Mrs. Cross,” I said with a touch of impatience, for the table between them was strewn with cards and sherry glasses, it was barely eight o’clock, and I could not see any great hardship in our lateness. “But it was such a lovely evening—”
“It’s naught to do with me, madam,” she said peevishly. “You worried Sir Kit, that’s all.”
“Peter could not have got us here sooner unless he carried me,” I said, making an effort at last to be conciliatory, for his sake. “I’m not used to so much walking, and neither are my shoes.”
To my relief, Peter did not bat an eyelash at this falsehood, and even Mrs. Cross seemed to grudgingly accept it, as the sort of thing to be expected from overbred ladies. Why were they all so put out?
Is Sir Kit a good master? I did not trust them enough to ask, and I was quite sure they did not trust me enough to answer: Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice.
Mrs. Cross led me up to my tower, unlocking and then locking each door as we passed it. I wished I could mind her hostility less—not to mention the prospect of a scolding from Sir Kit—but wishes were not horses, and the slight freedom of the day was soured. I was obliged to let her light my lantern, too, and undo my buttons and stays, feeling our mutual dislike with each snick of a lace through an eyelet.
I thought perhaps Sir Kit would not come, to punish me, but within an hour he was on the nursery landing. “You gave us all a scare! I would have sent your letter by rider, if you had asked.”
He had questioned Peter about my errands?
But perhaps the footman had volunteered the information it to justify our late return. “Thank you, sir,” I said. “That is very kind. But I really went into Rye to do some shopping, and since I had the letter written, I brought it with me. I hope you didn’t take Peter to task for our lateness; it was such a fine evening, and my legs were tired.”
“Checkmated in one move!” he said. “You know I could never be angry at your legs.”
My face heated, and so did my legs. I tugged at my hem to be sure it covered my ankles.
Comes soon after the last one.
Tabby and I walked in the garden, where she repeated to me the names of flowers and spent ages clumsily extracting beads of nectar from yellowing honeysuckle blossoms. Clarice had brought her work-bag, and was embroidering forget-me-nots on a pair of garters.
“How do you say forget-me-not in French?” she asked.
I ripped out the corner of an old page of our weather diary and wrote it down for her. I stared at it tiredly. I ought to give her something else, for the other leg.
She glanced over my shoulder. “It sounds funny when you say it, but it looks wicked written down,” she said with satisfaction. I thought of Lady Palethorp’s breathless voice last night in my bed, and said nothing. “I think he—” She cut herself off, as though there had been any doubt before the garters were for a man.
“Which one is he?” I asked. I was too tired to take much interest in Clarice’s affaires de coeur, but I trusted some of the footmen even less than others.
She looked down, hesitating—but she wanted to boast, too. I felt a sharp pang of envy at her happiness, even as I thought to myself, Of course he’ll forget you. “Peter,” she said, her smile breaking forth.
I swallowed. “He’s very handsome,” I allowed. “But he…” I took a deep breath. “Sir Kit sets him to watch me, sometimes.”
“Sir Kit sets everybody to watch you,” she said matter-of-factly.
“He told Sir Kit I had been to the Post Office in Rye,” I tried again.
She squinted at me. “So?” she said, rather put out. “What’s the big secret? You’re allowed to mail letters.”
That was true, I supposed. Peter could not have supposed the information would damage me much—and as far as Peter knew, it hadn’t.
“I haven’t told him about my lady,” she said. “We’ve got more interesting things to talk about.”
Now Clarice was cross. My head ached and my eyes were made of lead. “How serious is it?” I asked, trying to smile. “Shall I write Be true, for the other leg?”
She considered. “Not quite that serious.”
I wrote souvenir d’amitié, and passed it to her.
“What does it say?”
“A remembrance of friendship.”
“That’s a lot more letters than be true,” she said drily, but she tucked the paper into the bag.
Before I decided to have Sir Kit come home while Miss Oliver was in Hastings, I had given her a bit of an “I am Mrs. de Winter now” moment with Mrs. Cross.
My bemused surprise at the relief flooding the porter’s face was not entirely feigned. “If you like. I didn’t mean to worry anybody, I only went for a walk. The sunset was lovely from the beach. Give me a candle for the stairs, would you?”
The stairs were hell on my aching legs. I was resting on Lady Palethorp’s landing, eyes irresistibly drawn to her door, when Mrs. Cross caught me up, scowling and out of breath. “You gave me quite a fright, madam,” she said, as though she expected an apology.
I was tired and sore, and beginning to be hungry again. “Mrs. Cross, today is my half-holiday,” I snapped. “I don’t understand why you should all be so put out by my going for a stroll.”
Her eyes widened. “It’s dark outside, madam!”
“The sun set not ten minutes ago.”
“Hmmph. I do hope the soldiers didn’t give you any trouble,” she said in a tone that implied I’d been camp-following with a vengeance.
“That is very kind of you.”
“Sir Kit won’t like it.”
“I don’t believe Sir Kit would like how you’re speaking to me,” I said hotly. “So long as I do nothing improper or immoral, I cannot think the baronet would attempt to dictate how I spend my holiday. But if you disagree, we may take the matter to him directly upon his return. I am quite ready to abide by his decision.” I was gambling she would not risk putting her influence with Sir Kit to the test against mine—for I had no confidence in the result, if she took me at my word. He trusted her with keys to every room in the house.
Sir Kit’s original homecoming.
With Sir Kit gone, the servants were merely obliged to gather in the chapel on Sunday morning for Mr. Christie to lead them in the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards, Tabby and Clarice and I went for a walk in the cool of the morning, escorted by Peter and Mark to protect us from the strange men who had come from other parts of England to work the harvest.
During harvest-time, the Sabbath was less punctiliously observed than usual. Some of the fields were already being worked. The servants were full of satisfaction at the stacked sheaves of wheat, the heavy carts rumbling into the corn barn. They gossiped about the harvests in other counties and the price of grain, if there would be enough for Parliament to permit its sale to the gin distilleries, and whether their cousins would travel to Kent for the hops harvest or stay in Rye Bay.
“Papa says this field has the best heart of any in Goldengrove,” Tabby said proudly.
I felt very much a town mouse, unable to share in their enthusiasm. Of course I knew the harvest was necessary, that without it England would starve. The land was in good heart, and we drank its blood too.
There was something off in the rhythm of the laborers’ dreary hymn now—a wrong note—a drumbeat? It was out of time, too fast. I strained my ears trying to understand. The beat grew louder, and separated itself from the harvest altogether—hoofbeats at a neat trot, swifter than a plodding farm-cart could go.
My throat went dry.
We were on our local road, off the main way from Rye to Hastings. But there were other farms nearby, or it might be the post-man, or—
But I wasn’t surprised when the rider crested the hill.
“Papa!” Tabby leapt forward. We all dove after her, but as I was closest, it was I who caught her and got the brunt of her elbows and kicks. “Papa!”
“Your Papa will not be very pleased if you run under his horse’s hooves,” I said dryly,
She remembered her part, and went demure and still. I released her gingerly, poised to grab her again, but she only straightened her bonnet and smoothed her dress, with an indignant glance at me for rumpling it. Amused, I helped her pick the grass from her stockings.
It was only when Sir Kit swung down from his horse and lifted her up, his pure joyous laughter ringing out over Tabby’s delighted cries, that the full horror of the moment rushed in upon me. He was marked for death, and knew it not. He met my eyes, and I looked away.
“Oh, don’t be shy, Miss Oliver.” Happiness overflowed in his voice. “Won’t you shake a weary traveler’s hand?”
I dreamed the wheat was burning in the fields. I was at the end of a long line, all the servants and neighbors—a bucket chain, but we had no buckets. We were all waiting and the harvest was burning. “It’s all right,” Jael said. “We’ll eat salt fish this winter.”
I giggled. “Eat fish.”
She rolled her eyes.
I didn’t wake up. In the morning my sheet was soaked in sweat.
Sir Kit laughed. “I’m at least as chivalrous as Saint-Preux.”
Saint-Preux was Julie’s lover in Rousseau’s celebrated novel about adultery. His name meant something near to Holy Knight—which had probably sounded nobler to Rousseau than it did to me. Knights stirred up by sermons on the Holy Sepulchre had massacred the Jews of York. “I agree,” I said dryly, and tugged lightly at my hand.
But he pressed it to his heart, quoting Julie: “ Je tremble toujours d’y rencontrer votre main, et je ne sais comment il arrive que je la rencontre toujours….” I tremble lest our hands should touch, and I don’t know how it happens, but they always do…
My gorge rose at the idea that he had used this low, tender tone with her once.
I don’t know whether he thought the convulsive jerk of my fingers fear, or an overflow of strong emotion. But he released me at last.
From the breakfast scene with Lady Tassell.
“You must take some air once we have contrived to find more clothes for you both,” Lady Tassell said. “There’s a lovely path behind the house, quite level for nearly half a mile. Would you like my groom to accompany you?”
“No, thank you,” Jael said. “I think a little solitude will do us good.”
Lady Tassell nodded in easy agreement—and to my surprise, for I had thought my tears quite exhausted, my eyes filled and my mouth trembled. I set the cup down in a panic lest I spill it. The click was appallingly loud.
Chairs creaked behind me, and conversation stopped.
I pressed my palms into the edge of the table, hoping my stiff arms would keep my shoulders from shaking. I was only a governess and not entitled to displays of emotion at breakfast. “I’m s—” I swallowed. “I beg your p—” Could I leave the room without returning Jael’s teacup? I could not decide. I could not move.
We must act, or atrophy.
A hot tear slid down my cheek and splashed into the teacup.
The countess appeared again at my elbow, making up a fresh cup of tea and handing it to me. “Come, child, sit down.”
Did that mean bad news? I watched my cup as I walked so I would not spill it. “You remembered how I like it.”
“There aren’t so many possibilities. I have a system. Your name is Oliver, which sounds like olives; this reminds me that you like your tea clear as oil, sour, strong-tasting, with something to take the bitterness out.”
Her calm voice affected me insensibly. I slipped back into my seat, thinking, I should teach Tabby about mnemonics. Then I wondered if I would have the opportunity to teach Tabby anything again.
In the original draft, there was less denouement but also maybe more resolution? You’ll have to be the judge of that.
“You have to speak to Mr. Munk.”
“I don’t have to do anything,” she said. “No one can make me do anything now.”
I let her go. She was right. I could not make her do anything. I ought not to want to.
I had killed for her. What had she done for me? What would she ever? She could not even speak to Mr. Munk, so that I might know I would not hang for murder.
“Lady Tassell offered to find me another position,” I said. “I might take it.”
Now she clutched my hand. “But who will help me?”
“Your rich friends in London,” I said in a hard voice. “A better question is, who will help me? So far, no one but Lady Tassell has tried. I know very well I have no claim on you. I have no claim on anyone. I am a governess, and evidently you wish me to continue to be one, but if all I am to have, after everything, is a post—I had rather have a peaceful one. If I do not hang first, for helping you.”
She drew herself up, though her face was wet and shining. “You’re not as clever as you think you are,” she said nastily. “Or don’t you remember when I helped you last night?”
A chill swept me. I had forgotten. “You had a key. You had it all along.”
She rolled her eyes. “No I didn’t.”
“You’re right,” I said. “You’re right, I didn’t trust you. Why should I?” I shook my head. ”I know it isn’t your fault. I know it’s his. But I need…” Tears sprang to my eyes again. “I need someone to look after me too. I can’t just…I can’t be…” I didn’t have the words for what I couldn’t be. “I can’t be Miss Oliver forever. Or if I have to be—if I—” I thought of my mother, how she had called me Rah-rah when I was small. Rah-rah had been a girl; Miss Oliver was like a clothes-tree, rigid and impermeable and sexless, a convenience for other people.to hang things on they didn’t wish to carry. Already I could feel my ribs pressing together, curling closer to my breastbone, an unyielding barrier between her and me.
She stared at me.
“I didn’t love him,” I burst out. I love you.
“Did that make it better, or worse?”
She started walking again. “When Tabby is grown, she’ll still need a chaperone,” she said diffidently. “And then…I shall want a lady’s companion. I…want a companion now. I should be lonely without one.”
My throat closed. “I’m not much company. Perhaps you’ll be lonely with one.”
She snorted. “Fishing for a compliment? I told you I didn’t have patience for all that fussing and compliments and simpering.”
“I wouldn’t tell anyone,” I forced out. “Even if you didn’t keep me on.”
“I see.” There was a pause. “I shan’t push you off the cliff if you say you want to go, if that’s what you mean.”
I could not look at her. I could not move my feet. “It isn’t. What I meant.”
Lady Palethorp stopped, several feet away. “I don’t know what you want,” she said exasperatedly.
I want you to love me.
“Would you really be lonely without me?”
“Not forever,” she snapped. “Don’t stay on my account. Maybe Clytemnestra will take you back.”
I raised my head and looked her in the eye. “I committed murder on your account.”
She was beginning to look angry. “And now, what? You have to go to a convent and eat bread and water to atone?”
“I didn’t want to do it,” I said. “I hated every second of it. I did it on your account.”
Her bosom heaved. “I know that!”
“If I’d do that for you, why wouldn’t I stay for you? When it’s what—when it’s what I want anyway?”
She drew in a sharp breath. “Good,” she said shakily. “That’s settled then.” We walked another few steps, and then she wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my shoulder. “Kiss me, won’t you?”
I decided that an epilogue is inappropriate for a Gothic, and a lot of these ideas got worked into earlier scenes anyway. Still. I’m excited for their messy life together.
I believe some part of me thought that I would be less afraid after committing murder. That by feeling so much fear in one moment, and acting in spite of it—by choosing to commit the ultimate crime in defiance of God and man—I would somehow burn the fear out of me.
I didn’t. I am as afraid as I was before—more afraid. Sometimes it’s more like a habit than real fear, the way I look at the post and wonder if any of the letters will be blackmail or a summons, the way any confident knock at the door suggests the constable, the way I watch Tabby and wait for her to say, You killed Papa.
My nightmares, even, are worse than before. Maybe it’s only sharing a bed that makes them worse—it’s so much warmer.
But now, when I wake up drenched in sweat, heart racing, I’m not alone. Sometimes Jael rocks me in her arms and sings a Portuguese lullaby; sometimes she sleeps on unaware, snoring lightly; sometimes she says in exasperation, You’re worse than a babe in arms for sleeping by, and turns her back to me, and I snap, You never slept by Tabby when she was a babe, and we lie in hot angry silence. Sometimes she tries to rock me, and I can’t bear to be touched; sometimes she understands that and sometimes she doesn’t.
It doesn’t matter. I know she’ll be there in the morning. She knows who I am, what I am, how I am, down to the bone, and she still wants to start her day by sharing a breakfast table with me.
I’m English enough to shy away from saying it outright—but I’m of the nacao, too. So here it is, in black and white: I feel the same way about her. Strong coffee just makes my hands shake; Jael wakes me up.