The would-be other woman (or man) on WIP Wednesday

In my stories, I quite often have a rival for the position of beloved. Usually one that the hero or heroine would not consider, and often a villain or villainess. It adds a certain something to contrast my innocent heroine with a nasty harpy, or my honourable hero with a wicked deceiver.

Lots of authors do the same, from what I’ve observed, so today, I’d love to see a snippet of a scene with someone who is NOT the one.

Mine is from House of Thorns. My hero is seeking help for the lady who has injured her ankle at his house, going to the only two people he knows in the village: the man who acts as steward for the property he has purchased, and the man’s sister.

“I am not here about Miss Neatham’s housing, though she must find her new accommodations very poor after Rose Cottage. Could you not find her anything more suitable?”

“In an instant, if she can afford to pay. She has no income, Gavenor, and will not be able to afford the place she is in for long.”

“Pride is cold comfort when the roof leaks.” The new voice was redolent with satisfaction. This would be Pelman’s sister. No fairy this one — rather, a hearty country-woman with the undefinable resemblance to a well-bred horse that seemed to characterise the type.

“Livia. Allow me to present Mr Gavenor, the gentleman who has purchased the Hurley estate. Gavenor, my sister.”

Bear bowed. “Charmed, Miss Pelman.”

She simpered. “Mr Gavenor, how delightful that you have joined our little community.” She prattled on about the paucity of social equals and the joys of a visit to Liverpool, not far distant across the Mersey.

That was a prime attraction of the estate. Many of those making their fortunes in Liverpool’s shipping and woollen industries would want to a country place to mark their arrival in the netherworld between their middle class origins and the upper classes who would never accept them. And Thorne Hall was ideally suited, though not if your interests were in London. The new Baron Hurley was a London man to the bone, and had been glad to get rid of the place. Bear had paid a price that would make him money even if he had to raze the ruin to the ground and start again.

Miss Pelman was attempting to dig into his plans. He ignored the hints; time enough for her to disapprove when they were accomplished.

“You may be able to help me, Miss Pelman,” he said.

“Pelman told me you have need of a housekeeper, Mr Gavenor, and I would be willing to fill the position. On a temporary basis, as a favour. You understand that I would need maids to do the actual work, of course.”

“I do not need a housekeeper, Miss Pelman. Though it is kind of you to consider it.”

“Oh? Then you have someone?”

“I have my manservant. No, Miss Pelman, that was not the favour. I…” He stopped to consider his words before he put himself and Miss Neatham in the suds. “I happened to chance on a Miss Neatham, who has twisted her ankle and is unable to return to her home tonight. I offered to check on her elderly father, and found him in some distress. Can you recommend a neighbour who might be willing to look after him for the night, until Miss Neatham is able to make appropriate arrangements?” There. That was all true enough without giving this witch some scandal to hold on to.

But it didn’t satisfy.

“Miss Neatham? Rosabel Neatham? Where is she staying? Who is she staying with?”

“A cottager has taken her in,” Bear said. “Terrible weather to be out in, too. The lady is fortunate she was close to somewhere dry.”

“Lady! Well some might call her a lady, I suppose.”

“Mr Neatham, Miss Pelman?”

“I suppose Mrs Able might oblige. She does sick bed nursing and laying out and the like. I shall give you a note. No. Better. Wait for me to get my cape and I shall take you.”

“Thank you. I won’t ask you to come out in this rain. A note and directions, and I shall manage perfectly.”

“Not at all, my dear Mr Gavenor. Why, we are neighbours now, and one must help ones neighbours. I insist.”

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6 thoughts on “The would-be other woman (or man) on WIP Wednesday

  1. A witch indeed! I wonder what complications she’ll be able to throw in the way of the hero and heroine?

    Here’s a bit from my WIP, in which Elizabeth tries to rebuff the advances of her friend’s brother, George Cowley. He’s no villain, so she’s going for a gentle let-down. I’m not sure she entirely succeeds.

    ***

    Next to me, Mr. Cowley was engaged by Miss Broward, to his right. Our hostess had taken the greatest pity on that young lady, giving several broad hints to the gentlemen about the importance of attention to her youngest guest. Jamie had chosen a seat on her other side and Lt. Nichols directly opposite. She was well placed to attract their attention with her affable manner and pleasing person. Mr. Cowley treated Lady Highdown’s obvious attempt at matchmaking with good cheer, listening with polite attention to all Miss Broward’s comments on her favourite Gothic novels, the pieces she most enjoyed playing on the pianoforte, and her hopes for her first assembly.

    “Do you dance, Mr. Cowley?” she asked.

    I could not help myself, breach of etiquette or no. I leaned around George and said, “I assure you, Miss Broward, Mr. Cowley is an extremely fine dancer. You must engage him for the first dance; you will be the envy of every girl in the hall.” I did my best not to smirk as I shifted my gaze to see how the object of this attack took it.

    He smiled tolerantly at me, his eyes twinkling at my little trick, then turned back to his interlocutor. “Miss Broward, it will be a pleasure and an honour to lead you out at your first ball.”

    Remembering how I had been at that age, I knew Miss Broward wanted to shriek with delight at this conquest, though her good breeding led her merely to tip her head in acceptance of the compliment, saying, “I shall look forward to it.”

    “And will Miss Collington be my partner for the second dance?” he asked me.

    “Why, certainly, Mr. Cowley. I plan to dance with every gentleman in attendance.”

    He gave me a more searching look in response to this, but his attention was soon engaged once more by Miss Broward.

    During the second course, when Miss Broward’s attention was drawn elsewhere, he turned to me again. “That was quite sisterly of you, to arrange my first dance.” He still seemed amused by my little scheme.

    “I try to be of assistance where I can.” I leaned closer and spoke more softly. “The Browards are in need of it at the moment.”

    He raised an eyebrow at me, then said in the same low tones. “I meant it was sisterly toward me, when I’d hoped —”

    I sat up straighter in my chair and gave a little laugh. “Oh, of course! I find that adopting a sisterly or a brotherly manner is the best way for friendship between men and women to go forward, do not you? Yet, of all the countless volumes that have been written on the topic of sentimental friendship between women, it seems that too little attention has been paid to friendship between the sexes. Some even hold that it is impossible — a view which I find rather bleak.”

    He regarded me seriously for a moment before speaking. “I will not say that friendship between women and men is impossible, for I have many acquaintances with women which I value most highly —”

    “I hope I do not flatter myself too much by counting myself among that number.”

    This interjection put him off his stride for a moment, but he soon righted himself. “Yes, certainly — but it seems there exists a risk, a danger even, of one side or the other wanting something more, which doesn’t exist in friendship with one’s own sex.”

    Here it took a supreme effort of reserve not to exclaim aloud. “Exactly the reason for adopting a fraternal attitude in such friendships,” I said, “for certainly, once one comes to think of a friend as one’s sibling, there can be no thought of that ‘something more,’ as you put it.”

    “Yet something must always be held back between men and women to safeguard against such dangers, do not you think? Otherwise, what purpose is served by all our prohibitions against men paying too great attention, or women making themselves too encouraging? And this holding back must interfere with the deepest levels of intimacy that mark true friendship.”

    “It makes me sad to think you may be right, but let us put the blame where it properly lies. It is this ‘wanting something more’ that puts friendship at risk, bringing it to ruin if that ‘something more’ should end badly. Once friends can agree to set this ‘something more’ aside, then nothing should prevent their forming a most satisfying acquaintance.” It all sounded so rational.

    Mr. Cowley cleared his throat. “I understand you perfectly, Miss Collington.” His look was now serious, not to say somber.

    “I am so glad we are in agreement,” I said, putting the real warmth I felt for him into my smile. I raised my glass to him. “Shall we toast to it?”

    He raised his own glass, but before he could speak, Jamie leaned forward from his spot farther up the table. “What’s this about another toast?”

    “To friendship!” Mr. Cowley said with admirable spirit, considering the occasion.

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