Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter Fifty-Eight



"Tell me again why I must suffer through this?"  I asked April and Nancee as I was being pinched and prodded.

April snorted, "Mostly because I have to."

Nancee gave an unladylike laugh.  Mrs. Linder however was not amused.  "Really Widow ... and you too April ... the two of you go about in the most ... most ... well ... casual of dress.  And while I understand it suits your daytime duties to do so it simply cannot be so when we give this Neighborhood Gala with so many from around the Region attending."

"Mrs. Linder ... really ... as a Widow it is not even proper that I ..."

April interrupted, "Oh no.  Everyone knows you only wear that black out of some sense of duty and that by now you should even be out of the half-mourning stipulated in your husband's will.  Do you know how many questions I have to field about where 'the little widow' is and when is she going to come out?  So if I have to go to this circus then you have to go.  We can escape together after we've put in an appearance and then go keep the old ladies company in the vestibule or something."

Rather more forcefully than necessary, showing that she was reaching the end of her patience with the both of us Mrs. Linder said, "Oh no you won't escape.  If I have to go then the two of you have to go ... I ... I mean ..."

My look of surprise must have been something to behold because suddenly Mrs. Linder giggled.  She actually giggled and then blushed.  "Yes, yes, I know.  My husband tells me that I can come off as an unbearable prig but the truth is you do not know how much help the two you have been in making this whole transition so much easier.  I can actually sleep at night and I'm not forever vomiting acid into the azalea bushes.  And I don't have very many ways to show how much I appreciate it.  I just want you to have a bit of company and relaxation."  She further surprised me when she became a bit weepy.

And then April astounded me by going over and hugging her sister in law revealing that perhaps the family was much closer than my casual observation of them.  "There now, no need to blow our heads up so large we can't leave the room.  I suppose if you must suffer the slings and arrows then we can support you by taking a few for the cause.  But really, no matchmaking."

The hideous possibility caused me to shudder and mutter, "Saints no."  I hadn't meant to be heard but apparently all of the Linder women did as did the seamstress who had to spit out the mouthful of pins she had or risk swallowing them.

"Oh dear," I sighed.  "I had not meant to say that aloud."

There were chuckles all around then Mrs. Linder sighed and said, "Not even a little matchmaking?"

April and I both said, "No" at the same time.

Nancee was not so definite but April shook her head at her apparently interested look.  "You are too young."

"I'm not looking for marriage yet but a little fun might be nice."

"That kind of fun," I warned her.  "Can be dangerous.  Let the others be your guide.  Some of the young men around here have hay for brains after they've gotten a glass of punch or two in their system."

Now it was Mrs. Linder's turn to say, "Oh dear."

I looked at her and said, "Keep their mothers and grandmothers in full view and guards on the pathways to keep the more ... er ... adventurous from roaming where it isn't wise.  I'll speak to Mr. Holman so that the most trustworthy staff are given the responsibility of the usual suspect places like the larder, the wine cellars, the stable and the above and below stairs that should be off limits.  Most have manners but there are a few that can't seem but portray themselves as dung for brains ... pardon the unusually strong speech.  You should really speak to Ronald Nealy ... or have someone else do it ... and have him make sure that Senior Guardsmen make themselves visible - but not obtrusive - throughout the grounds.  I'd make sure the Commander and his wife are on the guest list and in attendance as well, that will curb any ... frivolity from the Guard element that aren't on duty."

Mrs. Linder nodded.  "Yes."  She was rapidly added notes to a clip board that sat on a small table beside her, then looked back at me.  "Are you sure you won't forego the black for indigo or gray?"

"No," I told her for nearly the dozenth time.  "While I won't argue the point that technically I could get away with it without shocking anyone, I do not wish the talk that such a choice would arouse.  By staying in black it allows me some ... latitude that other colors would not.  At least now I don't have to worry that someone is scheming to set me down so that their daughter's status isn't overshadowed or worry that their son might get ideas where none should be."

Shaking her head Mrs. Linder opined, "You are far too cynical for your age."

"Age has nothing to do with it," I responded.  "I simply know the company that will be around.  Hay for brains is actually kind compared to how some of them have been known to behave."

"Really Widow," Mrs. Linder sighed.  "I haven't met anyone that has acted in such a manner."

"I should hope not.  Even those with hay for brains aren't complete idiots; and if they are, their families have set keepers over them.  The Linder would stomp them flat if they were anything less than respectful in your presence."

Nancee asked, "But ... but you were the wife of The Linder too.  Didn't they treat you nicely then?  Or are you just afraid that they'll treat you differently now?"

I glanced at April and Mrs. Linder before answering carefully, unsure what she had heard or thought she knew.  "My situation was different Nancee.  I was only fourteen when I came to be a wife.  I was also a third wife behind two ... very influential sister wives."

She asked, "They were mean to you?"

I felt uncomfortable and wasn't sure how to proceed.  The other two women gave me no guidance as they too seemed curious but with staff in the room I didn't think it wise to be completely honest.  "Nancee all I can say is that my situation was different than what you will likely face when you take a husband.  The Linder I was married to was older and had a great many responsibilities and not much spare time to ... to guide me through the life I suddenly found myself living.  I'm not someone he even sought but was rather ... well ... part of a package like a ... like a treaty bonus I suppose you might say.  Widows Ceena and Tonya already had an established place in the society of Little Linderton and the surrounding area.  When I arrived here at Linderhall I had nothing in common with my sister wives, including age, so communication was ... poor.  I was very blessed to have been taken under the wing of the staff here and it gave me a purpose I needed very badly."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you need a purpose badly?"

Floundering somewhat I tried to explain that, "Everyone needs a compass, a purpose, that helps them to keep moving forward and in the right direction.  I don't feel that I can really explain certain aspects as ... as frankly they are uncomfortable; but, what I will say is that while I gained a great deal of status when I came to live at Linderhall, it came at a price.  I lost the daily contact with my only living relative, one who had cared for me like he was closer than a brother.  In fact I lost contact with almost everyone that I had once thought of as friends.  I lost my opportunity to finish my education.  And ... and in a very real sense I ... I lost my childhood."  I tried to think what words to use that someone wouldn't find offensive, that told enough of the truth without revealing too much of it.  "I was alone Nancee.  Very alone.  And vulnerable. The Linderhall staff ... well they became a family for me.  They offered me guidance so that I could be the best I could and meet the challenges that my status brought with it.  And they did it because they cared, something else I desperately needed after being taken from Harper."

"But why ..."

I was saved from further questions by the arrival of the sister called Chell.  I had not been introduced to her before this time and while I had been expecting someone like April I got something totally different.  She was very polished, very proper, and very dismissive.

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