PART III – Martha Gets a Surprise
The agreeable weather lingered for some days after. Bea endured them as patiently as she could – for as you’ll remember, she had developed a measure of perseverance in patience over time – but in truth she was somewhat disposed to brood. She longed for a dark, moody day. Perhaps some lightning.
But the sky would be clear as crystal, showcasing a brightly burning sun as though it were something to be proud of. Headstrong, fickle weather. Really, you would think you might at least depend upon the seasons.
Martha herself wouldn’t have minded a shower or two, being eager to tag along on her sister’s next foul-weather visit. Until the day Mr. Randolph came, she had no idea of Bea’s affections being fixed on anyone, let alone this Prince character. Frankly, Martha had always considered him to be a made-up person. Whenever Bea spoke of him it seemed like a blend of all the personalities they both admired – a little of their father, some of Mr. Winthrop their neighbor, and some of the town butcher. Martha had humored her little sister as a matter of helping one another get through the process of grieving and starting fresh. But now.
It was Sunday morning and the girls were getting ready to attend church – the only activity Bea could be prevailed upon to manage regardless of what it was doing outside. Try as Martha did to engage her sister in conversation, Bea was taciturn and withdrawn – not altogether unusual given the circumstances, but today Martha found it irksome.
“And did you notice that Mr. Winthrop got the fence mended for us? Such a thoughtful man he is. Pays attention to everything.”
Martha left lots of pauses for Bea to murmur in agreement, and when again there was no response, she resolved to give up trying to draw the girl out. But even that was irksome. Usually Martha’s silent rows with Bea would occasion her a trip to the garden or a sweep of the kitchen – some activity to settle her mind – but now was hardly the time. They were but a breath away from leaving the house, just putting on their wraps, and so there was nothing for Martha to do but take it out on her hat. It was a foolish hat; it felt loose and floppy, and wouldn’t sit right, and she savagely pinned it again and again until the poor thing looked like it had got in a fight with a flying squirrel.
Church was dull. Bea was bored. Martha was grim. The preacher was verbose. Walter seemed to be the only alert person in the room, and as soon as the last Amen was said, he was on his feet to meet the girls.
On seeing him, Martha turned a bit green with embarrassment, but I don’t think anybody noticed, least of all Walter. He was full of excitement to introduce his brother, Mr. James Randolph. And of course they were already acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Morrison. No sooner had the introductions been made, the hands shook, the charming and obliging words of welcome spoken, than Walter invited the sisters to join them for dinner.
Bea and Martha stole a glance at each other, communicating in an instant with that secret language that sisters sometimes possess. With her look, Martha plainly said, “Oh, yes, let’s. Please, Bea.” And in her eyes, Bea responded, “Martha, I’d rather not.”
But when they returned their faces to Walter and company, Bea surprised Martha by agreeing to come round that evening, thanking them very charmingly for the invitation.
The dinner was a great success, being all the things Bea and Martha liked most and afforded least. They had only been to dine with the Morrisons once before, and had fasted all afternoon in anticipation of it.
After dinner the girls were obliged to take a tour of the house, as the Randolph brothers had become attached to the rooms and were eager to display the knowledge of them they’d been acquiring during the long rainy days of late. Littlefield was a grand house, with a grand history, and it made Martha feel grand to be shown round it so. Even Bea seemed to be cooperating, paying compliments to various furnishings and asking intelligent questions. Martha began to allow herself a tiny hope that perhaps her heart was softening toward Walter after all.
The elder Mr. Randolph, on the other hand, seemed very attentive to Martha in particular – a fact that did not escape the notice of Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, who exchanged a few silent communications of their own. Martha was a sweet, capable, and very attractive young girl of twenty. And James Randolph had a good heart, stable income and a mind to marry soon. There seemed to be much to wriggle one’s eyebrows over.
Walter was showing Bea the detail on a certain grand painting hanging in the particularly grand room they were touring at the time when he noticed something of the above for himself.
“Miss Bea,” he says, “have you noticed the way my brother and your sister have been talking so earnestly?”
Bea actually hadn’t noticed at all, but felt foolish admitting it. So she nodded. “It’s nice they’re getting along.”
When Walter looked back at Bea, her conscience tickled her a mite. It’s as though she suddenly remembered that just a few days before she’d had an indication of interest from the boy, and that she’d refused him.
“Mr. Randolph, I hope you will forgive me for my… behavior the other day. I was surprised, you see, and-”
But this wasn’t what Walter wanted to hear and he put out his hand to stop her. He knew she’d meant no disrespect, and that she was sorry things hadn’t worked out between them. He knew she wanted to be friends. What he was really interested in was what on earth she was doing with herself on those rainy days.
But there seemed to be no polite way of phrasing the question.
© Cortney Matz, 2008