The Wives of Highbury

The Wives of Highbury

This is the first installment of my new serial.  Enjoy!

Miss Emily Brown stood before her mother’s looking glass.   The glass had been in her family for generations, which was clear from its condition.  The color was beginning to tarnish, and there were small cracks spiraling arbitrarily though the glass.   

But Emily knew her mother and grandmother stood before it on their wedding day, just as she was doing today.  And from what they both told her, time didn’t change how a young woman felt on the most important day of her life.   

She was wearing the same gown they wore on their special day.  It was altered to fit her figure, which was much smaller than either her mother’s or her grandmother’s.  She had admired the dress through her entire childhood.  It was a favorite pastime to hide inside her mother’s wardrobe so she could look at and touch the blue and white lace that covered the ivory satin gown, caressing the material between her tiny fingers.  She dreamed of the day it would be her turn to wear it. 

And now her day to wear the gown had arrived.  Did they feel the way she did when they wore it? Were they excited yet nervous? Happy yet apprehensive? Did they know their duty, yet were they afraid? 

How was she, a mere girl of 17, to please a man of 32? It was true her mother had taught her well.  She was capable of running a household.  She was proficient at many of the accomplishments she should be; she could sing and play the piano, spoke French and Italian, and could draw and paint.  She loved children, and loved teaching them.  In truth, as she got older, she loved it so much she told her father what she really wanted was to be governess. 

But it was not to be.  Her father said only girls that were poor were governesses.  John Brown was a solicitor in their town of Highbury.  He was known for his knowledge of laws that affected the landed gentry in the area, and was well regarded for his efforts.  Yet he was not welcome in the social circles of the gentry that he served.   She knew he wished to change that.   When one of his best clients, Mr. Henry Woodhouse of Hartfield, a popular gentleman and land owner, happened to mention he would like to find a wife, her father invited him to dinner, where he was introduced him to Emily.  She found Mr. Woodhouse to be fairly good looking.  He was charming and articulate.  She liked him, but never thought, because of the difference in their stations, that he would be interested in her as anything more than someone who could make good conversation and amuse him with her musical talents.  He was just another one of her father’s wealthy clients. 

 He came to their home only a few times for tea before he took her for a walk one evening and told her he had asked her father for her hand, and he had consented. He told her it would be his greatest pleasure if she would become his wife.   

She was stunned; unsure of what to do, and more importantly, of what to feel.  He was a good man, her mother said.  He would give her and her children a good life.  Still, Emily felt confused.  What about love, she asked her mother.  Shouldn’t there be at least some love; some feelings of passion? 

True love took time, her mother told her.  She said she was not in love with her father at first, but learned to love him.  And as for romantic love, well, that didn’t last.  Mutual respect and caring were much more important.  

Her father wasn’t as kind regarding her questions of love.  He said her marrying Mr. Woodhouse would raise the entire family up.  Her sisters would be able to make better matches when it was time for them to wed.  It was her duty to the family to accept the proposal. So, she did her duty, accepting Mr. Woodhouse, and hoped that all would work out well.   

She jumped when there was a knock on the door. 

“Mother, is it time?” she asked. 

Not yet,” she said.  “But something has come for you from Hartfield.” 

Her mother opened the door and handed her a small box with a note. 

“Looks like something from your intended,” her mother said with a knowing smile.  “I will let you enjoy it in private.” 

She closed the door behind her.  Emily opened the box to find a pair of earrings.  They were beautiful; a diamond earring with a drop emerald.  She had never owned anything so elegant.   

She opened the letter.   

My Dearest Emily: 

I hope you like the earrings; they belonged to my mother, and they were among her favorite pieces.  I think they will look well on you; enhancing the beauty of your eyes that are almost as green as the stones. 

My dear, I know you don’t know me well, and you are apprehensive.  I must tell you I feel the same.  But anything worth having in life is worth the risk.  We can never know for sure what life has in store for us. What I can tell you with certainty that I will be true to my vows to love, honor and cherish you.  But I also promise to respect your wishes and your opinions, and we will have a full partnership in all things.   I will be your protector, your confidante, and most importantly, your friend. 

I’ll see you at the altar, my darling.  I will be waiting. 

Your husband-to-be, 

Henry Woodhouse 

 

Emily exhaled, as if she had been holding her breath for weeks.  She knew then that everything would be alright.  Her mother opened the door. 

“It is time, my dear.  Are you ready?” 

Emily nodded, taking her mother’s hand.

 

7 Responses to The Wives of Highbury

  1. Aaah, this is a lovely beginning. I had no idea Mr. Woodhouse was a romantic. Looking forward to reading more.

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