Picking up where Walter left off, staring out the window while Bea leaps through the rain. In case the cadence of our storyteller’s narrative is throwing you off, maybe it helps to know that he was born and raised in Castlemaine, Ireland – though he spent most of his life moving all around the territory and knows nearly as much about England and Scotland as his own mother country.
PART II: Walter Makes a Call
Glancing back at our Miss Bea, Walter became conscious that she was moving quickly past. Clearly the time had come to take action. Rain be hanged, Walter did leave the comfortable indoors and rush to the side of his newfound creature of mystery.
Bea, I’ll have you know, was taken much aback at this intrusion in her plans, and even more embarrassed that anyone had seen her behaving in such a fashion. And Walter being in a bit of a state already, the ensuing conversation was understandably awkward. Barely twenty words passed between them before Bea begged her leave and hurried on, leaving Walter staring after her, soaked clean through.
‘Miss Bea’, as Walter thought of her, danced through his imagination that evening, his dreams that night, and his breakfast the following day until he felt intoxicated with the thrill of it. You may as well know he determined to go to the cottage and pay a visit, and it kept his thoughts full all the while between when he decided to do it and when he could reasonably do it in civilized society. Furthermore, there was the issue of directions.
Having again employed the help of a passing maid, the mid-morning found young master Walter on his way to Alden Cottage. As his brother and Mr. Morrison had purposed to go fishing that day, the two of them were long gone and therefore in no danger of prying into the lad’s plans.
The sun was just gracing the previously gray day when he arrived at Alden Cottage. Bea, disappointed at the turn of weather, was resigning herself to an hour with her needle and thread while Martha was tirelessly coaxing her to come out to help her gather rainwater.
“I’d rather not, Martha,” Bea patiently repeated, and only made a tiny stitch in the dress she was mending. Now I won’t have to tell you that being coaxed to do anything is the most tiresome thing in the world, but Bea was used to it and had become very patient by now.
Walter knocked about this time, and both girls were surprised, but visitors are not uncommon, even in a poor village. They minded their manners and stood to welcome their guest. Martha, being a sensible girl, immediately noticed how well-dressed and highly bred he was. And after all, wealth does have its attractions.
Walter had never made a call by himself, and very nearly turned back before committing to a knock, but he was hungry for more of Miss Bea’s company. After some moments of small talk and making proper introduction of himself, Walter inquired after the girls’ father. Martha gently made him aware that she and her sister had no kin beside each other, and received his embarrassment with the gentility of any great lady.
For his part, Walter owed his fluster less to the mistake and more to the realization that he had absolutely no idea how to proceed. In asking permission to court a girl, everybody knows you go to the father. And if not the father, the grandfather. And if not the grandfather, the uncle. Or elder brother. Perhaps even a benevolent old friend of the family. In the absence of any of these, Walter was – understandably – flustered.
He stood to take his leave, but thought better of it. These were unusual circumstances all round. Why not be frank?
“Miss Martha,” he began, and Martha attended him with an earnest look, which you might as well understand. Martha was, as I mentioned, a sensible girl. She was content to work respectably for her living, but she knew their small inheritance would not last forever. And she did hope to see herself and her sister suitably married one day. Acquaintances with rich men from the city are never a hindrance in such a case.
Back to Walter, who was going redder in the face every minute. Eventually he got out the purpose for which he had come. “Miss Martha, I’ve come to beg your permission to keep company with your sister.”
In the astonished silence in which Martha blinked rapidly, Bea found her words first. “Oh, no!” and blushed when the other two heads in the room swiveled in her direction. “I beg your pardon sir… I couldn’t.”
Martha was even more stunned by this than by the first. “What?”
Bea kept her attention fixed on Walter. “I thank you for your attentions, but I regret that I cannot accept them-”
“But why ever not, Bea?” Martha was persisting.
Uncomfortable as she was, having two pair of eyes gaze unblinking in her direction – and truth be told, discomfited further by the disbelief with which her beloved sister was now regarding her – Bea’s agitation increased.
“Because I’m not free!” Her answer did nothing much to set her at ease, as she was still the object of everyone’s surprised stare. Martha stood up.
“Excuse me, Mr. Randolph, would you allow me a moment with my sister?” Not waiting for him to reply, Martha briskly moved to the adjoining room, beckoning for Bea to follow.
Inside, Martha began the more intimate questions. Walter was obliged to wait awkwardly in the parlor and try to distract himself by pondering the design of the doilies on the furniture, though he desperately wanted to apply his ear to the door.
But since I’m telling the story, I get to decide who knows what, and I’ve decided to tell you about the conversation in the kitchen. Martha was in the process of interrogating Bea about her suitor at the edge of the wood, with whom she has an understanding.
“Bea, darling,” she says – a bit tiredly. Because you really must admit that little sisters, delightful though they are, can be very tiring. “I thought you had given up on the prince by the lake. I thought we had agreed you would forget him.”
“He’s not ‘the’ prince, for the hundredth time! ‘Prince’ is his name.”
“Yes dear, but even so, it isn’t a proper name for a man.”
“It’s not his fault, he didn’t choose it. How can you be against him if you’ve never even met him?”
“My dear sister I don’t believe I’ve ever even seen him!”
“I told you, he’s a quiet man. He doesn’t go out visiting, his work keeps him alone. He’s always busy working except when it rains. That’s when I go and meet him.” Here Bea adopted the dreamy, glazed-over look that she sometimes got whenever she spoke of her Prince. It always made Martha uncomfortable, and even more so now.
Martha set her chin. Prince or no Prince, he was a ragamuffin no-name after all, and here in the parlor was a fine gentleman who could provide a decent life. “Bea,” she says, “I think you should consider what young Mr. Randolph has to offer.”
Bea, of course had a sound, strong will of her own, and in her mind there was no further discussion to be had. “Martha,” she says with equal gravity, “I think I’ve made my decision.”
And so poor Walter was sent away. Though it must be said that the knowledge of his rain-creature having a mysterious suitor hidden away in the wood somewhere only adds to the allure of the situation.
Martha, for her own bit, was sad to see him go. As she stood by the door with the sun twinkling down in a romantic fashion, she stole a glance at Bea – sitting at the window, sewing away, completely oblivious to the angst in the room.
“Bea dear,” Martha said as she closed the door, “I would like to meet your Prince Michaelman sometime soon.”
“As well you should,” Bea returned. “We shall go together when next it rains. Although I don’t always find him at home. We may be compelled to wait a bit.”
Martha was surprised at this. “Perhaps, my dear, if the young man is as worthy as you believe – he might offer to come and visit you someday.”
Bea looked up, surprised. Now it was her turn to blink in rapid silence, for she had nothing to say to this.
© Cortney Matz, 2008
Continue to Part III