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Authors: Miss Ware's Refusal

Marjorie Farrel

BOOK: Marjorie Farrel
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MISS WARE’S REFUSAL

 

Marjorie Farrell

 

Chapter 1

 

Judith awoke with a start. Outside her window she could hear the cries of early-morning vendors and the clatter of milk wagons. The street sounds that characterized the city would not reach a crescendo until later, but the chorus of bakers and watercress girls was startling enough to one who was used to being awakened by the sun and the rooster from the home farm.

Gradually the unfamiliar furniture took shape and the street sounds faded into the background of consciousness as Judith savored the sweetness of waking in her own bed in her own house, free to rise when she wished and not in answer to the demands of others. The small bedroom, with its worn furniture and faded curtains, looked luxurious at the moment. She could hear Hannah starting breakfast, and Stephen whistling as he dressed.

After a few minutes she got up, and having splashed her face with cold water from the pitcher, she pulled her wool shawl around her shoulders and opened the curtains. Her bedroom overlooked the backyard, a tangle of grass and weeds, with two old rose bushes on either side of the door. The weeds and the roses were enjoying that last spurt of growth that occurs in early autumn. The weeds were high and turning from green to a deep red. The roses were sending out long shoots to reach the more distant sun, a few last pink and yellow blooms flung open. Like the sudden shooting up of flames from a dying fire, thought Judith, and then she turned quickly to dress and help Hannah with the breakfast.

Her brother was already down in the small room at the front of the house that served as both morning room and dining room. He was engrossed in the Morning Post, and Judith stood on the threshold and cleared her throat. Stephen peered over the top of his paper and then jumped to meet her as she moved toward him.

“Judith! I thought you would still be sleeping. Come in, sit down.” Stephen smiled at his sister and said, “You don’t know how good it is to have you here.”

“If there are two happier people in this city, I would not believe it,” replied his sister. “We have waited a long time for this.”

“Yes. And I believe it has been a much harder time for you. At least I was my own man at school.”

“No,” replied his sister, “my first position was a nightmare, but I was lucky Mrs. Hastings found me a place with the Thorntons. They treated me almost as a member of the family, and were as sad to see me go as I was to leave them. But no matter how kind a family, the governess is still betwixt and between. I am happy to be free!”

“Well, sit down, my dear, and relish your freedom.”

“For a day or so.” Judith laughed. “Then I will set to work on this house, and perhaps find some way of bringing in a little money.”

“I wish you would not, Judith,” said her brother. “I am making enough to support us both, and I want you to rest and have time for your painting.”

“Oh, I shall take advantage of every moment. I have learned how to do that,” Judith said. “But I want to contribute something to the household. I know that you will be a successful barrister someday, and we will be living on some fashionable street in Mayfair, but for now your salary covers only necessities. I don’t want to be a burden, and besides that, if I can bring in something from sewing or—well, I don’t know quite what—we can get to the theater and opera. We could buy books.”

“Books! I can just see us, squeezed out of here already,” teased her brother, remembering his sister’s bedroom at the rectory.

“I will try to restrain myself.” Judith smiled. “When must we leave?”

Stephen glanced at the clock on the sideboard. “In a few moments. Now what do you plan to do with yourself this first week?”

“I thought Hannah and I could investigate the pantry and go out for supplies. And since the Thorntons were most generous in their going-away present, I might try to find a circulating library, or even a booksellers, and treat myself to a novel. Where would I go, and how would I get there?”

“Hatchards is one of the most popular. You could take a hackney to Piccadilly and then walk. Are you sure that you want to go by yourself?”

“Oh, yes. I will have to get used to finding my way around, so I might as well start soon. It will be scary, but exciting. I haven’t been in London since we visited Grandfather years ago.”

“I am not sure it is the thing for you to go alone. Shouldn’t you take Hannah with you?”

“As my abigail?”

Brother and sister looked at each other and laughed at the thought of their tall, distinguished-looking companion acting as a lady’s maid. Hannah was a distant cousin who had come to work for their father, the vicar of Cheriton, after his wife had died.

When the vicar himself had passed away, and Stephen was up at Oxford, Judith was forced to find work as a governess. Hannah had gone to live with her sister and brother-in-law. It had not been an ideal situation, for Hannah was so used to being in charge of a household that it was hard for her to sit back and watch someone else carry the keys. All three had been relieved when Stephen, having settled in this small house, had written and offered Hannah a place with him. Terrifying as it was for her to leave the countryside, where she had always lived, she jumped at the chance to be in charge again, and to “mother” the two she considered her own. Hannah was a woman of few words who rarely spoke of her feelings, but she was fiercely devoted to the Wares, and their laughter was full of their equal affection for her.

“No, Stephen, I think I am old enough to go about the city by myself. That is one advantage of being a young woman of no fortune—a certain amount of freedom. I will get along famously.”

“I hope so. Please be careful,” Stephen said as he stood up and brushed the muffin crumbs from his coat. He was tall, like their father, but there the resemblance ended. His hair was thick and black, like his mother’s, and he had her startling blue eyes.

Judith, on the other hand, aside from her short stature, looked more like the vicar, with her reddish-brown hair and sprinkling of cinnamon freckles on her face and arms. Her eyes were hazel, with flecks of green, and her skin was fairer than Stephen’s. She was small and quick in her movements, he tall and languid. To an unobservant person, they appeared not at all like brother and sister, but those who knew them well could see a likeness when they smiled. Then their faces showed both the sense of humor of their mother and the tenderness of their father.

Judith looked at her brother fondly. He was dressed well, in a coat of blue superfine that set off his eyes, and he looked every inch a confident professional. Three years ago he had been thinner and more unfinished-looking. Today, his shoulders filled his coat to perfection, his jaw was squarer above a cravat tied perfectly in a most conservative knot. He reminded her, in his seriousness, so much of her father, while looking so like their mother, that she impulsively reached out to him and was enfolded in an affectionate hug.

They both laughed shakily when Stephen released her, and Judith wiped her eyes with the corner of her napkin as she watched him out the door. Then she squared her shoulders and turned toward the kitchen.

* * * *

A few days later, after hours of cleaning and inventory and shopping for everything from brown sugar to curtain material, Judith was ready for her first expedition into London. She was dressed in a wine-red kerseymere round gown, which brought out the chestnut highlights in her hair. It was a plain dress, but nothing to be ashamed of. Her gray pelisse was worn, but she was satisfied with her appearance. She knew that she was no beauty. In fact, without an indefinable something, a combination of humor and lively intelligence that brought her face alive, she might have been categorized as plain. But between the strength of her personality and her love for rich colors, no matter how worn her clothes, Judith always had a decidedly attractive air.

She set out, with Hannah’s admonitions to be careful ringing in her ears. In the country she had been used to taking long walks in her hours off, and she was eager to explore some of the city on foot. Today, however, because she only had a few hours, she decided to treat herself to a hackney to and from Hatchards.

The store was on Piccadilly, and for all her self-confidence, Judith was a little overawed by the exquisite young ladies who patronized the establishment. Most were accompanied by footmen, who followed behind, holding the latest romances from the Minerva Press for their mistresses, as they exclaimed over a favorite author’s newest with their friends.

Although Judith was a voracious reader, and able to lull her critical faculties when engrossed in the latest popular novel, today she had only the money to buy one book, and she had decided upon Miss Austen’s latest. She had just found
Emma
and was feeling the new pages and anticipating the enjoyment to come when she heard a familiar laugh. She looked up and saw the lovely face of Lady Barbara Stanley in animated conversation with another young woman.

Barbara was the daughter of Lord Richard Stanley, and the two young women had met at Mrs. Hastings’ Seminary for Young Ladies. Judith had taken the younger girl under her wing, helping her over the initial homesickness. They had become quite close, despite the differences in age and rank, because of their shared sense of the ridiculous and the essential un-spoiledness of Lady Barbara. Judith had spent one Christmas holiday and part of a summer with the Stanleys, becoming acquainted with Barbara’s parents and her brother, Robin. For a few years they had written to each other faithfully, but Judith had not heard from Barbara for months and had not had an answer to her last letter. She had assumed that, with Barbara’s come-out last spring and the differences in their circumstances made more marked, the friendship had faded away, as many schoolgirl friendships do, when the common surroundings and concerns give way to different lives.

Lady Barbara must have felt Judith’s gaze, for she looked up just as Judith buried her head in the book, not wanting to risk a cool response from her old friend. Better to remember the old intimacy as it was than to embarrass both of us, she thought.

“Judith? Judith, is it you!”

“Hello, Barbara,” she said hesitantly.

“However do you come to be here? Oh, how easily I might have missed you. Why did you never answer my last letter?”

Judith felt herself relax, and realized that she had armed herself against rejection by her old habit of presenting a serious and emotionless countenance to the world, while keeping her real feelings hidden.

“I never received a reply to my last letter in April,” she replied. “I thought perhaps you were too busy with your come-out.”

“I did write, sometime in May. But you did not think I was too busy,” Barbara said shrewdly. “You thought I had forgotten an old friend in the excitement of the new ones. I was concerned, not hearing from you. But we were so caught up in the progress of the campaign and in worrying about Robin’s safety that I must confess I have had little time to write anyone.”

“Was Robin at Waterloo?” Judith was afraid to ask anything further, since so many young men had not returned. But surely he had survived, since Barbara was not in mourning.

“Yes, and he was lucky enough to come home whole,” replied Barbara, answering Judith’s unspoken question. “There are many families who weren’t so lucky. But, Judith, tell me how is it you are here in London? Surely the last time I heard from you you were still with the Thorntons in Somerset?”

“And so I was, until a week ago. You knew that Stephen and I had planned to set up house together? He is finally established as a fledgling barrister, and we are settled cozily into a small house on Gower Street. I have been busy helping Hannah set up the house, but I could not restrain myself any longer. I had to find Miss Austen’s latest.”

“That sounds just like you, Judith.” Barbara smiled. “And would your next visit have been to call on old friends? Somehow I think not.”

Judith blushed. “No, you are right. I would not have called.”

“And I would never have known you were in London had we not met by chance. I could be very angry with you Judith, were I not so happy to see you.”

“I would have sent you a note,” protested Judith. “I just did not want to presume on an old friendship.”

“Judith, I could shake you. You haven’t changed a bit. You are still the oddest combination of intelligence and hen-wittedness that I have ever met. Did you ever consider you were depriving me of your company, rather than sparing me? I can just see you, mourning the loss of an old friendship and never dreaming your friend might be missing you.”

“You are right, Barbara. I don’t know why, but it is difficult for me to see beyond my experience of a friendship. I am only just beginning to realize what pride lurks behind my ‘humility,’" Judith said ruefully. “I apologize.”

“No apologies. I must have your promise, now, that you will call tomorrow.”

“Not tomorrow,” replied Judith, “for you could not believe the work that still needs to be done in such a small house. But I promise I will call early next week. Is Tuesday convenient?”

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