The Woodhouses' Fairy
A young heiress, all the more one with keeping a house in the fashionable parts of London, cannot be expected to remain at home for the whole length of the day. Any lady will be able to occupy their afternoons with a number of activities, sponsored by their friends. Miss Oakland had been living in London for four years, and thus had a large acquaintance.
Some would hear with surprise that neither the independent fortune a benevolent aunt had left her upon dying, nor the inheritance of Granfield Park, stood as Georgiana Oakland's main qualities. Her reputation stemmed from two main points: the first was a general agreement that she was one of the fairest of her sex; and the second, that she possessed an elegant mind. Thus she was very sought after, as a companion, as a flirt, and as an host.
For Miss Oakland, who allied all those commendations, was at three and twenty still unmarried. She had had a lively relationship with a Thomas Woodhouse, which had produced expectations from the neighbourhood, for it had lasted almost three years. Then the young man had proven to be in possession of a wild side as no one ever suspected of him, in leaving for the New World. Everyone in London had been shocked; for Miss Oakland stayed and continued on living as she had always done.
In those circumstances, it may be supposed that she must have been exercising her right to entertainment amongst her friends when a lady called on her that day.
To the great surprise of the housekeeper, her proposal to sit down and wait for Miss Oakland, who could not be much longer, was turned down. The fact that the lady was in no condition to be running around was indisputable; but the woman was greatly agitated. She declared that 'no, indeed, she could not wait. She would be back in a matter of hours. If the mistress was to come back, she was to be detained in by all means, for the lady had distressing - oh, very distressing indeed! - news'. It was of the utmost importance that Miss Oakland heard her out. She then departed, in such a feverish state that she thought neither of leaving a card nor a name.
The housekeeper proved to be right, for the visitor had not left the house for half an hour that the young lady entered it. She was greatly puzzled by all this, as she knew no woman of her acquaintance to be expecting, and wondered who could have been calling on her with such urgency. She exclaimed that no one would have thought to ask the woman her identity, for that would have shone some light on the matter if anyone had bothered.
"Describe her," she asked Mrs Pope again and again, and the poor woman had to repeat everything she remembered for the twentieth time.
"Surely that cannot be everything!" Miss Oakland asserted at the retelling of the roundness under the fashionable blue dress, of the brown hair in disarray and of the frantic look on the ashen white face.
All this mystery worried her. She was of a sort who liked things to be in good order; surprise was not a feeling she enjoyed. Determined to understand the circumstances thoroughly, she cleared her day of all previous engagements, and resolved to remain at home.
The lady finally came back shortly after dinner. She was announced as Mrs Flewellyn by a bewildered Mrs Pope, who couldn't understand that the span of a few hours had done nothing to calm down her agitation. The woman who entered the drawing room was wholly unknown to Miss Oakland.
"Miss Oakland – I am terribly sorry... Terribly sorry to impose like that. It is most untoward when we have not been introduced but... Ah! I am Amelia Flewellyn," she said.
"Pleased to meet you," Georgiana offered, puzzled.
"I was – still am, after all – Thomas' sister."
"Thomas'?" Georgiana repeated.
She had to wonder at a visit from the sister of a man she had not seen in over a year, a woman who had never seen it befitting to call on her before, even when the relationship had been strong.
"Yes, yes, Thomas... I have the most dreadful news – oh! I don't know how to say this! Why must it be me? But of course it can't be anyone else."
Miss Oakland suggested that her visitor should calm down and offered her a seat. She was overexerting herself, and in such a state as hers, it might be quite dangerous. Here, she should have a cup of tea. It would set her down quite nicely.
"Oh, how kind you are!" Mrs Fellewyn exclaimed. "I do understand why Thomas loved you so much!"
Such love had not stopped him from going to explore America, though; even when she had said she wouldn't leave England. Georgiana did not voice her thoughts and contented herself with pouring some tea in her visitor's cup. Mrs Fellewyn took a shaky sip.
"The news reached us yesterday," she said, putting her cup down. "It was a telegraph, and it said... It said... It said that my brother – that Thomas – had an accident... And that he – died."
Georgiana dropped her cup. The porcelain twinkled against the table before breaking, making the boiling hot tea fall on her lap and soak through her petticoat, and yet she barely registered it in the deafening silence that had taken over her ears.
"Excuse me?" she said in a voice that sounded strangely strangled.
Mrs Fellewyn had started weeping. It was not a pretty sight, for the woman looked too much like her brother to ever qualify for good looks. What had been handsome in Thomas was sadly masculine for his sister.
"I am so sorry, I know you must have loved him dearly!" she wailed.
Georgiana stood up, absently brushing the porcelain shards from her dress.
"It's impossible," she said. "Thomas can't... He can't be dead."
Georgiana walked to the fireplace in a half-daze. Mrs Flewellyn was saying that he had been bitten by a snake. The little fool, running around in America while he knew nothing of the dangers over there! On the mantelpiece was a drawing by Miss Oakland's own hand, a portrait of a handsome young man in the sanguine. She slowly passed her fingers on the glass that covered it, making out the strong jaw and the straight nose, tracing out the full lips. She finally let her hand descend back to the marble on which the drawing had been put by the hand of the portrayed himself. She braced herself and managed to stop the impending tears from falling.
"What are you doing here?" she asked without taking her eyes away from the portrait. "Why did you not simply send a letter? Why would you have bothered to come here, when you never took the time when he was still alive, and alive here? Is it only to watch me cry? Or is it that you wanted to triumph over me, because I will never have him back? You really lack compassion."
She heard Mrs Fellewyn's sharp intake of breath and basked in her discomfort. She was not compassionate enough not to rejoice at Mrs Fellewyn's suffering too.
"As a matter of fact, Miss Oakland, I am here to ask you a favour," Mrs Fellewyn confessed.
"A favour?" Georgiana said, struggling to keep her voice levelled. "How dare you ask me for a favour? You never acknowledged me. The only reason your family let Thomas frequent me is Granfield Park!"
"Even you hide from your mother, Miss Oakland. Can you wonder that such a family as ours would want as little as possible to do with her?" Mrs Flewellyn replied.
Georgiana paled, but did not answer. There was nothing to be said; Lady Susan was a shameful spot in the Oaklands' history. Georgiana had spent nights agonizing over her mother's actions and years dissociating her own name from such a sadly well-known one.
"Well, as you can see, I am pregnant. I would want my brother's soul to be passed down to my child," Mrs Flewellyn said after a while.
"You want me to go and get his fairy," Georgiana said, turning to her visitor.
Mrs Fellewyn nodded.
"Before your baby arrives."
"He is due in less than five months."
Georgiana shook her head. She was not Thomas' wife. Surely there had to be someone better suited than her.
"My brother Edward will go too, but he is not the most tender man on Earth. Besides, he was never that close to Thomas. You were Thomas' lover. He loved you so... so much!" Mrs Fellewyn exclaimed.
"This is a convenient thing for you to affirm. He never asked me to marry him. I have no obligation to hunt for his fairy, and none to put my life in danger for a man who left me. I am very sorry, madam, but I fear I cannot be of any help to you."
"But your love is certainly enough to induce his fairy to let itself be captured by you. Please, I need you to go! We cannot let his soul not be passed down to someone in the family!" the lady exclaimed.
Miss Oakland perfectly understood her plight. Lady Susan herself had not had the effrontery of withholding her husband's fairy when his niece had given birth; and she usually cared but little about honour. Yet Georgiana was still much bitter about Thomas' abandon of her last year, and she was sure it would hinder the fairy's capture.
"I don't understand. Won't it be shipped off to you with his body regardless?" Georgiana asked.
Mrs Fellewyn turned her eyes away.
"He died on Cheyennes' territories. They hold his body."
Georgiana massaged her temples. Indians didn't believe in the Old Continent traditions of passing down the deceased souls into one's own family. It was too opposed to their own of letting a fairy wander until it found a new host by itself; . If anything, they found the practice barbaric and unnatural.
Mrs Fellewyn, and if Georgiana understood correctly, the rest of the Woodhouse family, actually expected her to get into Cheyenne territory to get Thomas' fairy back. They did not seem to realize that the Cheyenne would never let go of Thomas' body as long as its fairy hadn't merged into a baby. It was a pointless errand; and yet Georgiana was starting to think about it. The idea of Thomas' existence continuing, half a world away from her, had already been very bitter to her when he was still alive. But leaving his fairy over there when she had the power to make it otherwise? She did not think she could leave him so much independence.
"This fairy could be anywhere," she stated.
"Oh, it won't. Fairies never go very far away from their former bodies."
"Yes, only a few miles radius... For a tiny orb of light half the size of a cricket ball, it does make it like looking for a needle in a straw ballot."
Mrs Fellewyn looked agitated again. She was probably thinking that she was not convincing Miss Oakland.
"That's why Edward will be with you."
Georgiana had to make an effort to keep the grimace out of her face. She was not very fond of Mr Woodhouse. She had met the two brothers at the same time and Thomas had charmed her with his foolish, adorable wildness. Edward was wild in a more rough fashion. He was the sort of man who looked like he did not care a dime about society standards and the good opinion of people, and that was probably the case. He had been known to have numerous mistresses, and though that was nothing reprehensible in itself - Miss Oakland herself had had one or two lovers before Thomas - it was rumoured that one of them had fallen pregnant, and that he had refused to marry her. Georgiana couldn't fathom what sort of callous man wouldn't marry his pregnant lover. Sex outside of wedlock was commonly accepted these days, as was living in concubinage, something that, less than a century ago, would have meant losing her reputation for any respectable woman. But children born outside of wedlock were a different matter altogether.
"I'm afraid it won't do any difference," she lied.
"Miss Oakland, I'm begging you, you have to do this!" Mrs Fellewyn started crying. "Edward would never be able to catch the fairy by himself, not with what his relationship with Thomas was. I am in no state to travel, and neither is my mother! This is a formal request from the Woodhouse family, that you would please help us retrieve Thomas' fairy."
Georgiana looked at her with furious eyes. She would not have expected them to steep to invoking a formal request, especially after Mrs Flewellyn had given her opinion of Lady Susan so forcefully. And now they were ready to take it before her mother to coerce her into accepting? The last thing Georgiana wanted was for Lady Susan to start meddling in her business when she had spent so long getting the old bat's nose out of it. Or worse, they could take it directly before the Queen. That would make Lady Susan unavoidably interested for the next ten years.
"Fine, I'll do it," she finally relented.
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" Mrs Fellewyn exclaimed. "We shall be indebted forever to you!"
Oh yes, they shall. For Miss Oakland would go and come back with the fairy, and then she would be the one holding the vial. She simply hoped that by that time, she would have found a favour big enough to make the Woodhouses uneasy about granting it.
This chapter has been revised. I'd like some opinions about which one of the first or second version was the best?