For your reading pleasure, I present to you: Chapter 2 of Maria Grace's pre-Emma story, A Preference for Gingers! This story follows Emma's protege, Harriet Smith, at her time at Mrs. Goddard's School. If you missed part one, you can catch up on that here; chapter three will be posted this time next Tuesday!
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Harriet Smith has abandoned all hope of a home and family of her own. After all no one prefers gingers.
Chapter 2For the next several days, Harriet kept to the younger girls, leaving the Miss Martins to enjoy the wonder of Belinda and Wynne’s company. It seemed the feeling was entirely mutual. In the parlor after dinner, Belinda gushed about the pleasures of her new friends and how she expected to soon secure an invitation to their house for dinner.
“Ooo! A dinner invitation!” Wynne clapped. “That would be so delightful. I think it a very nice way to practice for your coming out. Don’t you agree, Harriet?”
“Mind your diction, Wynne, a proper young lady does not slur her words together in unseemly ways.” Mrs. Goddard did not look up from her knitting. If anything, her needles clacked together more rapidly.
How funny that her knitting needles could so clearly reflect her moods.
“Yes, Mrs. Goddard. Still, I do think it would be very nice.” Wynne plucked at a stubborn stitch gone awry.
“I should like it very much. I might even be invited to spend the night when they see how entertaining I am.” Belinda pretended to sketch a little still life she had spent a great deal of effort arranging on a small table near the fireplace. Artistic though it might be, feathers, fruit and books did not seem to belong together.
“Perhaps your expectations are a bit too high.” Mrs. Goddard did not look up from her work.
“Too high? Whatever do you mean? Have you not seen what a very gay time we have together?”
To be sure, Belinda seemed to enjoy their company very much. But, if she thought about it very much, Rachel and Margaret did appear a touch less satisfied.
“Have you considered that perhaps your father might not wished you connected with a family of farmers? Your society is a little high for that, is it not?” Mrs. Goddard’s eyebrow rose just so.
Was she making a joke, or was she serious? It was an odd thing to say. Humor was so difficult to make out sometimes. Harriet bit her lip just in case. It was very poor manners to laugh when one should not.
“I do not know. Perhaps that might be true. I do not regard such things though, at least not very much. They are very agreeable girls.”
“With a brother considered a rather eligible match in some circles.”
“Indeed? I had not given that a second thought.” Belinda flicked her long elegant fingers.
“I am pleased to hear it. Your father would not wish to see you entertaining suitors from Highbury.”
“I am not looking for a suitor, madam.”
Belinda would have been more convincing if the corner of her mouth had not drawn up and her eyebrow twitched.
“I am pleased to hear it.”
Wynne covered her mouth and giggled. “But flirtations are an entirely different matter.”
“Wynne!” Belinda jumped up so fast she knocked her still life apart. A wooden bowl tumbled to the floor and rolled onto Mrs. Goddard’s foot. “Look what you have made me do!”
Mrs. Goddard picked up the bowl and walked to Belinda. “I need not to remind you, any of you, that I do not approve of flirtations. They are unseemly and dangerous to a young woman’s reputation.”
“Yes, Mrs. Goddard,” they all intoned together.
Mrs. Goddard removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Shall I clean your glasses for you?” Harriet reached for them. “Smudges always give you headaches.”
“Thank you dear.” Mrs. Goddard handed her the glasses.
Wynne rolled her eyes and Belinda smirked. Harriet clenched her jaw Why did they always do that when she spoke? Did they not realize it was hurtful and rude? Still, it was not her place to correct them. But she would make a point to ensure the little ones did not ape their disagreeable habit.
The Miss Martins attended every day for the next several few weeks. Though usually in the company of Belinda and Wynne, sometimes when the girls took their daily walks, they would break away and walk with Harriet.
Those were jolly times indeed. They discussed the chapters they read of Romance of the Forest as they passed the book between themselves. Margaret had a truly wicked sense of humor as she parodied the characters. Rachel’s astonishing memory allowed her to repeat lines from the book for Margaret to play against. How they laughed and laughed. Though Harriet had relished many friendships, the Miss Martins were by far the finest company she had ever enjoyed.
When she had the rare opportunity to enjoy it.
More often, she watched from the other side of the room as Wynne and Belinda fawned over Rachel and Margaret. She probably could have joined them, had she been of a mind to—of a mind and a stronger constitution. Belinda and Wynne would not dare tell her she was not welcome with them. Still, they had a way of letting her know when her company was appreciated and when it was not. When the Miss Martins were there, it definitely was not.
One cold and rainy morning, Harriet paced the front hall. The Miss Martins had not yet arrived and with weather so bad, it was difficult not to worry. Mrs. Goddard insisted they would not come today. It was only sensible that young ladies would not walk out in the rain. But, it was just possible that they might, so Harriet begged leave to watch for them. And just in case, she made certain a welcoming fire crackled in the morning room and dry towels warmed in the kitchen.
A heavy fist pounded on the front door.
Harriet scurried to open it. A broad-shouldered man in a sodden great coat and hat stood beside a half-drowned looking Margaret.
“Pray do come in. Quickly now, you are soaked to the skin.” Harriet took Margaret’s pelisse and the man’s very heavy coat.
“This is my brother, Mr. Robert Martin,” Margaret barely got the words out through chattering teeth. “I am very cold…”
“You would not be, had you not insisted in venturing out in this weather.” Mr. Martin removed his hat. Rivulets poured off and puddled on the floor.
“Come to the fire. I will fetch some towels.” Harriet directed them to the morning room and hurried to the kitchen, pausing briefly to tell Mrs. Goddard of Margaret’s state.
She returned, arms piled with towels and stopped short just outside the morning room.
“Margaret dear, we were all so worried about you. I am so relieved to see you, though perhaps it would have been better for you to stay at home.” Belinda glanced up at Mr. Martin.
“I am glad to hear they teach sense at this academy.” He slicked water off his cheeks with his palms.
Harriet swallowed back her sigh. Perhaps she should let Belinda tend to their needs. But it was not fair to them to force them to wait, cold and wet, until she noticed their requirements. Harriet slipped inside.
“This might be better suited to the task.” Harriet handed him a warm towel.
He took it from her hand, his eyebrow raised. Was he not accustomed to warm towels? Harriet draped a towel around Margaret’s shoulders.
Margaret clutched the towel around her, shivering.
“Stand a little closer to the fire.” Harriet guided her forward.
“No, no, you do not want her dress to catch fire.” Belinda grabbed Margaret’s elbow.
“As damp as she is, I think there is little danger of that.” Mr. Martin harrumphed and stepped a little nearer himself.
Margaret slipped Harriet a sidelong glance and giggled.
“Well you are here, now, Margaret. I shall be about my business now.” Mr. Martin glanced about the room, presumably for his coat.
“What business could you have on a day like this? Surely you would be better served warming yourself by the fire and staving off a nasty cold.” Belinda gestured to a chair.
He glared down his nose. “A farmer does not last long if he is gainsaid by weather such as this.”
Harriet retrieved his coat from the stand in the front hall. “Here, sir. But first,” she held out several warm towels. “Your comfort would be increased if you put these under your coat.”
Mr. Martin laid the towels over his shoulders, a funny little crook to his lips. “You are most kind Miss…”
“Miss Smith, my friend Harriet Smith.” Margaret’s shivers had nearly stopped.
“Mr. Martin,” Mrs. Goddard bustled in with a tray of hot spiced apple juice. “If you cannot stay, pray, at least have this before you leave.” She handed him a mug.
“Ah…thank you.” He took it from her as though uncertain what exactly to do with it.
Poor man, he was definitely not at ease in company. Much like his sisters and some of the little girls when they first came to Mrs. Goddard. Sometimes it took them time to adjust and some gentle help understanding how to be acceptable in company. How strange to think a grown man might feel very much the same.
He drank it down quickly enough to be considered rude. Belinda sneered a dainty little smirk behind her hand. She never liked to make allowances for anything even slightly improper.
“Thank you.” He handed Harriet the mug and hurried away, Mrs. Goddard following close behind.
Harriet gave Margaret another towel and helped her take down her hair. She rubbed it with the towel.
“Where is Rachel this morning?”
“She slipped in the mud just a bit from the house and turned her ankle. She could not walk all the way here on it.”
“I am very sorry to hear that. I looked forward to discussing chapter five with her. The story takes a most surprising turn.”
“Oh, I know, what did you think when—”
“I am surprised you did not drive here in your carriage,” Belinda murmured.
“We only have a gig and the hood is not yet mended. It is not very good for wet days. The wheels get stuck in the mud.”
“But your good brother intends to remedy that soon, I am sure.” Belinda patted her hand. “You poor dear, soaked to the skin. You cannot remain in your wet garments! Harriet, how could you insist on such a thing? It is too cruel.”
Harriet sputtered something unintelligible.
“You must come up to my room and borrow one of my dresses to wear whilst yours dries.”
“That is a very good thought.” Mrs. Goddard said. “But I think Harriet is much more her size. Harriet, take Margaret upstairs and loan her a gown. Bring her wet things to dry in the kitchen.”
“Yes, Mrs. Goddard.”
Margaret grabbed Harriet’s arm and dashed upstairs. “Oh, thank you! I was afraid Belinda would force me to use one of her hers and leave me beholden to her.”
Harriet led Margaret to her cozy little room under the gable. “Why would she do such a thing? I am sure she was just concerned for your health. It is not good for you to be so cold and wet. I am sorry I did not think of it first.”
“You are far too kind and sweet for your own good. Harriet. Cannot you see Belinda wants to wrest a dinner invitation from us?”
“No, the thought had not crossed my mind at all.” Perhaps that was a small fabrication. “Here, do you like this dress, or would you rather this one?”
“They are both very pretty—I do not know. You pick.”
“Well this one is my favorite, so I should be happy to see it on you.”
Margaret slipped off her sodden gown. “You see that is the difference between you and Belinda. You would happily lend me your favorite gown and never say a word of it to anyone. Belinda would force a gown she did not favor upon me and crow to the world of the kindness she bestowed. All the while reminding me of how very fine her gown was and how much I must enjoy wearing it.”
“You do not like Belinda very much, do you?”
Margaret sniggered. “Not really. You had not noticed?”
“I thought you very fond of her—you and Rachel both.”
“Why ever would you think such a thing?”
Harriet blushed and turned away to find Margaret some dry body linens and stockings.
“Oh, Harriet!” Margaret touched her shoulder. “We have hurt your feelings spending so much time in Belinda’s company.”
“No, no, not at all. It is quite right for you to spend time with anyone you like.”
“But not when it leaves you to believe you are not our dear friend.”
“Truly it is nothing. Pray do not be concerned.”
“I am, though. Belinda is haughty, self-important and cunning. I do not like to be used. She seeks to manipulate Rachel and me to her own ends. We just have not figured out a way to wrest ourselves away from her. She is so very persistent.”
“She is that.”
“Pray, forgive me - us if you have felt in any way slighted. We would much rather have your company than hers.”
Harriet blinked rapidly. What a very kind thing to say, although Belinda would not appreciate hearing so. “I do enjoy keeping company with you and your sister very dearly.”
“Then say you will come home with me for dinner tonight.”
“But your mother—”
“She asked me to extend the invitation. She thought it would cheer Rachel’s spirit very much. She already expects you tonight. My brother agreed as well, though he was grumpy about it as he usually is. Say you will come, please.”
“I must ask Mrs. Goddard's permission, but if she consents, I should be very happy to have dinner with you tonight.”
“How wonderful! I am sure he already spoke to her about it. Hurry and help me dress so we may ask her directly!”
Margaret dragged Harriet, wet garments in hand, downstairs. Margaret dashed off in search of Mrs. Goddard while Harriet made her way to the kitchen. Cook directed her to set a drying rack by the fire, perhaps two, as she expected more before the day was out.
Harriet piled the wet things on the large table and wrestled the drying racks from their spot in the pantry. Mrs. Goddard usually had the wash sent out so they were not needed but for the odd bit or two in rainy weather. Though she was exceedingly grateful not to have to do laundry herself, the distinct disadvantage now was that she found herself at odds with the awkward racks. Lightweight, but ungainly at the best of times, there was a particular knack to setting them up, one which she had never acquired. The seemed much like the puzzles she was so very bad at solving.
“How can you be so dumb, yet clever enough to obtain an invitation from the Martins?” Belinda stood in the kitchen doorway, hands planted on her hips.
“I do not know what you are talking about.” Harriet smacked her ankle with the corner of the rack.
“Of course you do not.” Belinda flounced in and circled Harriet. “You are far too simple to understand much of anything. I cannot fathom why Mrs. Goddard would want you as a teacher.”
It was true. Or at least it seemed so very often. She was a fright at ciphers and geography always left her confused. But she could read and knew her gardening and her needlework and handwriting were always praised. She could sing very prettily and write a very proper letter…
“You do not even understand what I said.” Belinda stopped in front of the fireplace.
Poor Belinda. She always got this way when she was jealous or angry. It happened regularly enough. Such little things seemed to vex her. It would not do to add to it, though one day it might be very satisfying to speak her mind, just once.
“I need to dry Margaret’s dress, and you are standing in the way of the drying rack.”
“And what are you going to about it?” Belinda folder her arms across her chest.
One never won an argument when Belinda was in this temper. Harriet shrugged, pressed one drying rack at Belinda and gathered the other under her arm. “Cook said to set this up by the fire.” She retrieved the clothes from the table and picked her way to the morning room.
“Harriet?” Mrs. Goddard’s voice had an edge of irritation, but it was not nearly so irritated as it would soon be. “I told you to dry those in the kitchen.”
Harriet handed the pile of wet things to Margaret who just stared at her.
“There was no room by the fire.” Harriet edged around Mrs. Goddard and set up the drying rack.
Fickle thing now chose to behave quite properly.
“No room? Whatever are you talking about?”
“Belinda may be better able to answer than I.”
No doubt Mrs. Goddard rolled her eyes. It was her most common response to Belinda.
“I see. Never mind then.” Mrs. Goddard helped Harriet lay the wet garments over the rack. “Margaret has asked for you to visit for dinner tonight and I have given my permission.”
Margaret squealed and clapped softly.
Harriet draped the last stocking to dry and curtsied. “Thank you very much, madam.”
“Margaret, go up to the school room and begin your lessons. I will send Harriet up directly.”
“Yes, madam,” Margaret dipped in a quick curtsey and scurried out.
Mrs. Goddard followed her and shut the door.
Oh gracious, was Mrs. Goddard far more upset about Belinda than usual? Harriet’s neck prickled. It was awful when Mrs. Goddard scolded.
“You may relax, dear. I am not at all upset with you.”
Harriet exhaled heavily. “Pray, do not be too angry with Belinda. She does not know how to manage envy. I am sure she would like to behave more properly…”
“You do not need to explain her to me. I understand her very well, my dear. You forget just how long I have been keeping young ladies in my school.”
“Forgive me, I just do not like seeing you disquieted.”
Mrs. Goddard patted Harriet’s hand. “You are very thoughtful of me, child. I am pleased Margaret invited you. Come here, sit by me.” She sat on the couch and pointed to the cushion beside her.
Why did Mrs. Goddard look so serious? Harriet sat beside her and peered into her face.
“Do you recall the afternoon we talked in the gazebo?”
“I told you then it was my purpose to see you introduced into society?”
“Girls typically prepare to come out by attending small gatherings in homes, with family and old friends. That is what you will do tonight.”
“You mean I am coming out?”
“Not precisely, not yet. But you are preparing for it, practicing, shall we say. The Martins are good people, even considering Mr. Martin’s manners are less than polished. He is most solicitous of his sister’s' happiness and reputations. He will guard yours as well. So if the evening is…ah…less than perfect, there will be no unkind talk.”
“You are afraid I will embarrass you?” Harriet stared at her hands and rubbed them together in her lap.
“No, I never said that.”
“But you are concerned I will say or do something—”
“I would not send you out if I was not absolutely certain of you. But, I remember my first time in company and it was not without its difficult moments. In case that happens to you, I want to make sure you are with those who will be kind.”
“Oh.” That did not sound so bad.
“What is more, I have the greatest trust in you that you shall be properly behaved in company not coquettish with Mr. Martin. He is a good man, but it is well known in town that he is not yet in a position to marry. He is supporting his mother and brother and sisters. Any kind of flirtation with him would be unseemly and unwelcome.” Mrs. Goddard chewed her lower lip. “He does not make you nervous with all his gruff manner and dour looks does he?”
“No, not at all. He was not at all disagreeable. What else does one expect someone to be when cold and wet and in need of going out further in such distasteful weather.”
Mrs. Goddard chuckled and shook her head. “Only you would say, or even think such a thing. You shall have a very pleasant time with your friends tonight.”
“I do hope so, and look,” she pointed to the window, “it even looks like the rain is tapering off. Perhaps by tonight it will have ceased altogether.”
“You always do seem to see the bright side of things, my dear. Highbury may not be very much, but it is likely the only society you will have the opportunity to experience. I will see you have the chance to know it and be known by it. I hope to introduce you to more friends like the Martins. I shall promote you as any mother promotes her daughter. Nothing may come of it, but then again, it may.”
Mrs. Goddard had such hopes for her. But such dreams were frightening things with their power to hurt if they did not come to pass. “I should like to meet new friends, I think. I am sure they are many agreeable girls in Highbury.”
Mrs. Goddard kissed her cheek. “Yes, there are and I shall make a way for you to meet as many of them as possible, beginning with the Martins. That is the best hope we have of seeing you mistress of your own establishment someday.”
What a frightening thought, fearful and delightful both. Could she even manage such a task should it come her way? Mrs. Goddard seemed certain of it and she had never misled Harriet. Maybe, just maybe…oh, it would be very, very pleasing to be able to have children of her own one day. “I will.”
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