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The Society of Women (day 3)

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My dear Henry –

I should I suppose begin this letter with an abject apology for my failings as a sister, this delay in communication to you being so long as to seem to the outside world unnatural, but as it is rivaled only by the length of time since your last letter to me, I shall count myself forgiven and move forward to my news.

–Or I would, were I to have any such, but I am afraid that you would consider me sadly dull and domestic. From the address you will see I continue with my friend Mrs. Fraser, whom I know you have been accustomed to find somewhat lofty beyond her deserts, as well as disposed to complaint (it amused you to refer to her, I recall, as the Ice Queen of Sorrows, though if you were to share a house, or worse a bedroom, with the august Mr. Fraser I should be surprised if you did not find yourself both chilly and in deep mourning). I myself have been in the past perhaps too light in dismissing her professed love for me as a fashion and a flattery, though one I enjoyed even as I laughed at it. A common failing of mine, I admit.

Mr. Fraser has been gone from us these months, an ailment common to his age sending him to immerse himself in the waters at Bath, and such is the mutual understanding of minds between the wedded pair that she did not offer, and he would not accept, her companionship on such a journey. It seems whatever climate is most beneficial to Mr. Fraser is by unfortunate mischance the climate that is most singularly unhealthful for my bosom friend. Do not smile, you naughty boy, and muse that such an arrangement is the surest guarantee of marital concord and continued happiness for both parties. – Although I must say, in this case such a speculation might be forgiven, as in this quiet village, with only such entertainment as I, her one companion, can provide, Mrs. Fraser enjoys a surprising health and contentment. One might even say she blooms.

Perhaps you will say that distance from the city, and its rumors of scandal, lends her spirit more strength than the countryside, or even my wit. I shall bow to your experience in that regard. But as no whiff of scandal attaches to my name, urging me to flee from polite society (save, of course, my relation to my beloved brother, and to whom after such a passage of time I no longer bear a grudge – do not distress yourself over that, if ever you did. It is a long while since my mind has been troubled by thoughts of Mr. B—, or my sweet-natured Fanny. His sweet-natured Fanny, as I suppose we must now name her.), there is no explanation but the pleasure of the country and of the company for my good spirits.

Oh, you would laugh to see how we occupy ourselves here – the morning rides accompanied by a fat old footman from the park, who pants and hangs behind as Mrs. F and I race until we're breathless; the daily visits to the main street with its eight shops – eight, Henry, imagine! – each with a bowing shopkeeper or trembling shopgirl humbly offering the best of everything for our delectation; the visits at the vicarage whose horrors my pen cannot convey. How Mrs. F and I laugh when we are alone in the evenings! Yet the days fly by, so much more quickly than the time it has taken to write about them.

And the evenings – oh, I hesitate to continue, lest you stop laughing and immediately embark on a journey to rescue me. Even you must have some brave impulse to save your sister buried somewhere deep – very deep. But before you don your heroism and your traveling cloak, I must write what you will stare to hear – not the dullness of our evenings, but the fact that I love them.

One might say there is little to love. Most nights Mrs. F and I dine alone and then spend the evening in the same manner, with talk or cards or music to distract us. Even worse than such pastimes are the nights when we do not dine alone, when the squire and his wife join us with their son, my most ardent suitor. The faces Mrs. F makes to me as he sings my praises, neither sweetly nor in tune, I cannot describe to you – even as I write I laugh to think of them, and in the evenings when she looks at me I can hardly keep my countenance.

Yes, I am sure I could find more fitting suitors if I ventured back to London, as my sister bids me. But I am determined to bide here as long as Mrs. F will have me. The days fly by, and the evenings entertain us as I have said (though I never let the squire's son hear our mockery; and if his attentions persist past the fall I shall give his father a hint to send him away. I have no more desire to break hearts, even simple ones.) –And the nights, the nights we spend quite warm and merry, Mrs. F and I, despite the cold. We wrap up quite tight in our blanket, and whisper stories and secrets to each other in our big bed all the night long, quite as if we were still girls at school together. You would laugh to see us so engaged.

Or perhaps you would not.

Let me know how you go on, Henry; you can find me here, with Mrs. F. I have quite abjured the city and the company of men; neither has done me good that I can see. –Perhaps only you can understand the comfort I take now in the society of women. Our minds were ever alike on certain matters.

Your loving sister,

Mary