Today’s words: heave, ponder, and valid.
The song… Lots of influence from it in this, including the lyric that became the title, even though it’s not exactly… historical.
I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
“If you have time to ponder, you’re procrastinating.”
Grace sighed, not wanting to listen to her mother’s words, not now. The wedding was less than a week away, and of course her mother thought that she should be caught up in the same flurry of activity as the rest of the house, all frantic as they rushed about, trying to finish every last detail. She put a hand to her stomach, hoping to settle it before she ended up over her bed pan, heaving.
Marriage was a young woman’s duty, and she was past her prime in that market, so having Mr. Thatcher express an interest in arranging a liaison between her and his son had been a blessing in her parents’ eyes. Grace had never met the man, his father’s business kept him abroad most of the time, and so she would face him for the first time at the altar. That was the part that kept her stomach rolling—being bound over to a stranger for the rest of her life, being dependent upon him, being in the same position of service to him as her mother was to her father…
The disgrace of being an old maid was easier to bear than this. She knew her position, her duty, everything that was expected of her—her siblings had already married and settled, and her sisters considered her a failure, accusing her of making up all her previous suitors to avoid the shame of being so plain, so completely undesirable to anyone. If not for Mr. Thatcher’s pity, she supposed she might have gone on that way forever.
She closed her eyes. Love was reserved for those with beauty, and that was a lesson she’d learned years ago, when her childhood friends had married off around her, when the boy who’d always seemed destined to her said his heart belonged to another. She should have married at seventeen, as they had, but now she was twenty-four and suitable only for an arrangement such as this—too high bred to be employed, too ugly to be married to a man who’d seen her before, and too ignorant to change her fate. She could not credit herself with any kind of skill that might earn her wages, and short of betraying her own morals, she knew of know way to support herself if her parents turned her out or she did not marry. That was the way society worked at present, and perhaps someday some suffragette would change that, but she was not one of them.
Her mother’s eyes were on the hand on her stomach, and she pulled it away, lest her mother start to think that her reticence for this marriage stemmed from some unrequited affection and foolish surrendering of her body to the man who held it. “You’re ill again?”
“This whole situation makes me quite nervous,” she said, biting her lip. “I’ve never met the man, and who is to say if we should suit each other at all? Why would we think so? I have had not so much as a letter from him. Why would he want me?”
“Now, now, you know you’re being foolish,” her mother said, cupping her cheek. “You are of the finest family, have the best connections, and a not inconsiderable dowry. Of course he would want you. All men should.”
Grace stared at her. “No man has before, and to foist me off on someone—”
“Foist you off? Is that what you call it? This is an opportunity for you, child, and a fine one at that. You could do much worse, and you seem poised to do so. Would you rather court scandal or spend your life in the service of your great aunt?”
“Then stop fretting and accept what you have been given.”
Grace swallowed. Her mother would call her foolish for bringing it up, but she was, in some ways, genuinely terrified by what she’d heard about her fiance. “What about the rumors about his first wife?”
“Is it? They say she did away with herself—or that he did away with her.”
“If she did, it was because she was a flighty, irresponsible sort, which you are not, and so you need not worry about it,” her mother said, giving her a smile. “Mr. Thatcher is very amiable, and I cannot imagine his son ever capable of such an action.”
“We don’t know that he isn’t. We’ve never met his son.”
“Grace, you’re being tiresome. He was not even there when his wife died. You have no valid reason for these fears, and I will not have them spoken of again. Now go and have Bessie do something with your hair. You’re a mess, and we are dining with the Thatchers tonight. I expect you to be on your best behavior—no discussion of these unseemly rumors.”
“Yes, Mother,” Grace said, wondering if there was any way she could prove to herself that her fiance had no part in his wife’s death before she married him, if maybe she could find something in the Thatchers’ house to know one way or another.
She almost wished she was flighty. She would just throw herself off the nearest bridge and settle the matter. She was afraid she was too much of a coward for that.