Mr. B's Testimony X

Mr. B's Testimony Corresponding to the 1st Week of Marriage continued

I woke to dull, constant thudding and a piercing shriek. Someone was at the chamber door. Pamela was clutching me and saying, "Don't let her in."

I decided then that my sister was completely insane. It was her voice outside the chamber door. She was shrieking loud enough to waken the household. Based on the light outside the window, it was not much past six. I cursed and got out of bed, groping for my dressing gown.

"Don't," Pamela said, and I said, "If she wants proof we're married, she might as well get it," and stomped to the door.

My sister, Barbara, barreled in.

"You can't hide your wickedness from me," she yelled.

"Why should I hide?" I snapped. "This is my house."

Barbara stared at the bed and began waving her arms. "Witness this," she cried to Jackey and her waiting woman who stood in the hall. "The creature is in his bed."

"Get out," I roared at Jackey before he could witness anything, and he slinked away. I stomped back to the bed and put my arm around Pamela. "Come closer, Beck," I said to my sister's waiting woman. "I want you to see my dear angel. Don't be afraid, Pamela."

Barbara shrieked, "Wicked, abandoned wretch," and I'd had enough. I picked her up—she's a tall woman but shorter than me—and carried her out of the room to her chamber where I dumped her on the bed. I turned to Beck.

"Look after your lady," I said. "But do not either of you leave this apartment until she is calmer," and I returned to Pamela. She was shaking, so I hugged her and left her in her closet (she was already writing before I was gone) and went downstairs to straighten out the servant situation. My sisters' servants are, in general, very loyal, which is commendable. But they had no rights in my household. I made this clear both in the house proper and in the stables.

I went to fetch Pamela for breakfast. She didn't want to come down. "I don't want my presence to aggravate your sister," she said, looking up at me from her desk.

"I'll eat with you then," I said.

"No, sir. No, eat with your sister."

I didn't like it, but I knew Pamela was right. My sister was my responsibility. Besides, there was no reason Pamela's meal should be ruined because my family can't control itself. I sent some chocolate and toast up to Pamela through Mrs. Jewkes.

I ended up eating breakfast alone. Barbara was still too upset, and Jackey was out somewhere, avoiding me, which was wise. I badly wanted to take a ride, but I didn't want to leave Pamela in the house without me. I tried to get some work done in the study. Towards noon, I went upstairs and into Barbara's chamber. She was pacing, hands clenched at her sides.

"I am married," I said, leaning against the door frame. "You should become accustomed to the idea."

"I refuse to believe you would belittle our name so much."

"It is no longer your name," I said. "Nor has it been belittled. Pamela is very like our good mother—"

"How dare you?" she shouted. "To marry so low when you could have the highest born lady in the land—"

"I was never so sought after," I told her. "It was your own imaginings that created a marriage of great significance between me and some silly girl."

"Silly? Silly? You go and marry a baby-faced slut—"

I let the slur go, for the moment: "So, you admit, Pamela and I are married."

"No, I don't. Tell me you aren't." She faced me, hands tightly clasped. "Tell me you have not sunk so low."

"I have married," I said. "I have married Miss Andrews—"

She scoffed at my use of Pamela's maiden name.

"I have married Miss Andrews, and I am well-pleased with the marriage. She is—" I laughed softly—"a very good match for me."

I wanted to tell my sister then about Pamela's character, how she cared about me, made me happy and comfortable. She also kept me honest, challenged me and provoked my interest: Pamela was no light or superficial character. I confess, I wanted my sister to approve.

Barbara laughed, and her laugh was not kind: "She is a match for your bad behavior," she shouted.

I turned and went downstairs and into the garden. If I'd stayed I would have struck someone or thrown something.

After a long walk, I went to fetch Pamela for dinner and while I was there, Barbara barged into our chamber.

"Do I have to follow you all over the house?" she said when she saw me in the closet. "Do I deserve to be shunned by you?"

"You brought it on yourself," I said. "You have insulted me, insulted my house, insulted a person dearer to me than any other. Our mother never acted like this."

She sneered. "So much contempt for a sister that loves you and so much tenderness for a vile—"

I strode across the floor and put my hand over her mouth. "Be silent," I said. "You don't know what false charges you are making."

She burst into tears. When Pamela cries, I take notice. When my sister cries, it is not because she is hurt; it is because she has been thwarted. I strode around the bed chamber. Pamela had come to the closet door and watched us carefully, cautiously—cat-like.

"Am I not independent?" I said to Barbara. "Am I not of age? Why did you use your husband to send me a lecturing letter?"

"Listen to his self-importance," she said. "Ever since your Italian duel, brother, you have strutted about like a manslayer.

I glanced towards Pamela. Her eyes were wide.

I said as much to her as to Barbara, "I am not ashamed of that duel." And to my sister directly, "The issue is the liberties you take with Pamela."

"That little strumpet—"

I exploded. She was using my past against me like she always did, and she was deriding my wife at every opportunity.

"Get out!" I yelled. "I renounce you. I renounce my relation to you."

I took her by the arm. She clung to the curtains like a little girl rather than a woman in her thirties. "I won't," she yelled back at me, "not in front of her."

And suddenly Pamela was in the room between me and Barbara, which was not wise.

"Don't," she said, "don't be unkind to your own sister."

"Am I supposed to owe my brother's forgiveness to you?" Barbara said.

"That's enough, Pamela," I said as calmly as I could. I couldn’t bear that she would take my sister's part against me.

I put my hand against Pamela's back and propelled her into the closet. She sat on the chair and began to cry. It was much worse than my sister's tears, but I was too angry to care at that point. Right then, I wanted to be in Nottingham with Hargrave.

Beck had arrived in the chamber and was trying to calm Barbara who was yammering on about the bed again: it was a site of great wickedness, blah, blah, blah.

"It's my bridal bed," I said.

"Swear to me that Pamela Andrews is truly your lawful wife."

"I already told you, but yes, I will swear. She is."

"Who married you? Was it not a broken attorney in a parson's habit?" A reference to the sham marriage. I don't know how she heard about it, but, like always, she planned to use any mistake on my part against me.

"Mr. Williams married us. Parson Peters gave her away. The ceremony was performed on my land in my little chapel. Mrs. Jewkes was present."

That actually quieted her for almost a minute. She stared at me and bit her lip.

"I'm glad our father and mother didn't live to see this day," she said finally.

"What would they have said?"

"They would have given their consent," I said. At least, my mother would have. My father would have banned me from the house, but he wouldn't have stopped the marriage—he never concerned himself that much about my life. In any case, "I do not require your consent, madam."

"Suppose," she said archly, "I had married father's groom—what do you say to that?"

I folded my arms and shook my head. "Does your pride see no difference? A man ennobles the woman he takes, be she who she is. He adopts her into his rank, be that what it will. But a woman, though nobly born, debases herself by a mean marriage, descending to the rank of the man."

This may not be fair. I suppose the members of this democratic hearing think it appalling. But it was the reality of my existence. And my sister's. And Pamela's. The man was the head of his household, the wife a member of that household.

"Excuses," Barbara said but half-heartedly. "I suppose all young men should marry their serving wenches."

"If they are all like Pamela," I said, "why not? She's better than both of us."

"Oh, you worship her like an idolater." She was back to sneering. She strode into the closet. I didn't stop her, but I followed closely.

"Well, Pamela," she said to my wife, "you have done wonders. You have made my rake brother a preacher. But don't you dare call me sister."
Pamela didn't answer. She was no longer crying, and her chin was set, but I saw how her hands clenched the table. If I had been less angry, I would have sent my sister and Beck out and spent time comforting her, but I wasn't thinking entirely rationally.

"Let's go to dinner," I said. "Pamela, I hope you will give me and Lady Davers your company."

Barbara jerked. "How dare you include her!"

"Don't vex her," Pamela said quietly.

"You'll get nowhere with her, my dear," I said to her.

"I'm leaving this house," Barbara cried and ran out of the room.

Good. I could get on with my marriage which I had been enjoying.

But Pamela was at my elbow, saying, "Follow her."

"If you come with me."

She held back.

"I charge you to come down," I said and went out.

Barbara had ordered her servants to fetch her things and prepare her carriage. She was situated on a seat in the foreyard with Beck, looking forlorn. I went into the parlor and walked about in a lessening fury. My sister was the only sibling I had. When I was rational again, I suppose I wouldn't want to break with her absolutely.

I called out the window for her to come in. Jackey sauntering up just then, I told him to escort her since she wouldn't give me the honor. Barbara is a glutton for flattery. She came in but balked when Pamela arrived.

"Must I sit at the same table with that creature?"

"Come now, aunt," Jackey said, "we must not forget common courtesies. If they are actually married, there's no help for it. We mustn't make mischief."

"I will wait on you," Pamela said to Barbara.

"No, you won't," I said.

I sat Barbara on my right and Pamela on my left. That relaxed Pamela, but it bothered my sister, who tried to get Beck to sit next to Pamela (implying, you understand, that Pamela was no better than a servant), but I caught Beck's eye, and Beck stayed on her feet.

Barbara sat sideways on her chair, not looking at us. When I served her, she hit my shoulder. "That's how wives behave," she told me.

I gritted my teeth and smiled. "You haven't hit me in a long time," I told her, not since I was sixteen, at least.

Jackey was gaping. "You're very patient," he said. "She hits me all the time."

"And her husband," I said.

Pamela pressed her foot to mine and shook her head. I guess she felt sorry we men were ganging up on my sister, but Barbara was behaving like a brat. Besides, Pamela should be on my side.

Barbara behaved better once the servants came in, remembering her station and curbing her tongue. Not that the entire household hadn't heard every word of our arguments, but there's a difference between screeching at me in private and screeching at me in front of the footmen. I turned the conversation to innocuous topics.

"We're going to Bedfordshire tomorrow," I said when the servants had withdrawn.

"Would you care to accompany us? You and Pamela could share the carriage—" under the table, Pamela's hand clutched mine—"and when we reach home, Lord Davers could come stay. You could help Pamela choose clothes, go with us to church—"

"I will do no such thing," Barbara snapped and went to slap me. I took her wrist and tried to remember that she was my sister and Pamela wanted us to all be friends.

"Dear aunt," Jackey said with his mouth full, "he isn't asking you to do anything out of the common."

Barbara was building up to a rage again, her mouth set, her cheeks crimson.

"May I go?" Pamela said to me, and I nodded. As she neared the door, I said, "Look at her: there goes a sweet, beautiful lady."

I admit—I said it to provoke my sister, and she reacted. Oh, yes.

"I'm sure I would dote on her as much as you if she were my harlot."

And Pamela turned back. Her voice was shaking but her eyes were steady, flinty even:

"Your ladyship is cruel," she said. "It is no surprise that gentlemen take liberties when ladies of honor say such things. Your lady's interference, if your brother had not made me so happy, would cause me great misery."

I rose. Pamela's passion had tipped the balance; my sister had to go.

Behind me, "No fear, wench," Barbara called, "you will hold him as long as anybody can. Poor Sally Godfrey never had half the interest in him, I assure you."

And everything broke. Sally Godfrey was a young lady I romanced when I was nineteen. The affair was mutual though I grant, now, that the lady in the case always suffers more than the man. Her mother tried to force us to marry, by sword point if you can imagine that; I refused, thinking Sally was part of the plot. She wasn't, and later, when she contacted me to make amends, we resumed our liaison. She got pregnant which is when my sister entered the picture. She took care of Sally during her lying in, then tended the child—named for her mother—and established her in a boarding house. I am grateful to my sister for all that, but it was the sort of thing she held over me in extremes.

I had not wanted Pamela to hear about it this way. I'd wanted her to meet the child, not have the child thrown at her head in the middle of an argument.

Nor did I want to have memories of Sally evoked at that moment. I had loved Sally as much as a callow nineteen-years-old can. I had importuned and chased her as much as I'd importuned and chased Pamela. I thank God I didn't catch her—in retrospect, we were not well-suited—but the affair had a lasting effect on my heart if not my morals.

My sister knew this. She knew what she was doing when she mentioned Sally.

"Stay," I said to Pamela, my voice shaking now. "My sister has accused me of being a dueler and a profligate. I want to answer those charges."

The duel came about because a man of title in Italy attempted to assassinate a friend of mine. The reason was neither a sister nor a fortune; rather, the man owed my friend money. He accused my friend of cheating, then, when that failed, used intermediaries to try to kill him. I challenged the man to a duel. I wounded him, and he later died—of the wounds or of fever, I don't know. His relations made a half-hearted attempt to pursue me, but gave it up when I wrote them a full account of the business. I may have also sent them money. In any case, they let the matter drop, and I wasn't sorry for my part in the business.

I told all this to Pamela and then told her about Sally.

"That's all the bad my worthy sister can tell you," I said, looking straight at Pamela who met my eyes. "I wanted to tell you at a more proper time when I could have convinced you that I wasn't boasting of my prowess but rather telling you of my concerns."

They were both silent. Pamela gave me a small half-smile, and ordinarily, I would have relaxed from her support, but I was still agitated over Barbara's indiscretion. I'd told the stories as I knew them without pause or reflection—much less reflection than I am showing now.

"Oh, brother," Barbara said in a pleading voice. "Oh, Pamela, stay to hear me beg his pardon."

It was always the same—she would rage and destroy and then act the innocent. I broke away and stormed out of the parlor into the garden.

"Get my carriage ready," I said to Colbrand. I needed to get away, to be somewhere other than that house. I saw Barbara and Pamela come into the garden and strode away from them. I didn't want to speak to anyone. I didn't want Pamela to see me so angry.

They rushed after me. "Stop," Barbara called, "I have asked Pamela to be my advocate. That should pacify you."

It didn't. She had co-opted Pamela like she tried to co-opt everything. And Pamela had agreed. Pamela was urging her on now.

"If you'll forgive me, I'll forgive you," Barbara said.

Typical. Typical for my sister to cause an upheaval and then try to pass around the blame.

"I wish you well," I said, "but we should not come near each other anymore. I'm going to Bedfordshire."

"Without me?" Pamela said uncertainly, and there were tears in her eyes.

"You'll break her spirit," Barbara said, shaking her head.

She was, in fact, ranging herself on Pamela's side—as she would do when I quarreled with anyone other than herself. I wish I could say I did it on purpose. I didn't. I was really furious with both of them, more so since I knew my anger at Pamela was irrational.

Barbara threw up her hands. "I only said what I did because I love you."

"It was spite," I told her.

"Very well. I own it. And now I will be gone." She turned to Pamela. "God bless you," she said and kissed her.

She'd gone from "creaturing" to "God blessing" Pamela in less than twenty-four hours. I groaned.

"Women are the devil," I said. I looked at Pamela's white, stunned face. I thought, Welcome to the family, Pamela.

I went and put my arms around her and Barbara's waists.

"You see how he behaves when offended," Barbara said to Pamela. "Though I've never known him make up so soon."

"I'll take care how I behave," Pamela said shakily.

That chilled me. I truly disliked seeing Pamela cowed. She needed a break from me. I sent her into the house and took Barbara and Jackey on an airing. Barbara was in high good humor as she usually is after a fight. I am not so inclined.

"Oh, you are so stiff," she said, laughing.

We ended up stopping to see Lady Jones who was dining with the Darnfords. I sent a note to Pamela that we would return later than expected. I wanted the Lincolnshire families to see that Barbara was reconciled to my marriage. The Davers' name carries some weight, after all.

Barbara put on a great show of amazement at hearing the Darnfords praise Pamela, but she mostly did it to tease me. I wasn't in the mood, and she then teased me for behaving like a stately married man. I tried to smile, but I was thinking about Pamela and wishing I could go home and talk to her about what had happened.

Barbara loves company, and I wanted her to hear how Pamela was treated by the Lincolnshire gentry, so we stayed until ten. Pamela was still up when we returned home, talking to Mrs. Jewkes and Beck. She looked up cautiously as we came in, and I went and kissed her.

"My sister has been hearing your praises, Pamela," I said and grinned crookedly at her.

She nodded solemnly. My heart ached.

Barbara sat with Pamela for a half hour, providing a monologue of the night's entertainment. I went up to the bed chamber. I heard Barbara a few minutes later, prattling to Beck on the stairs.

Pamela came in a few minutes later. She stood hesitantly by the door. Her behavior reminded me of the days before our marriage. I held out a hand, and she neared me, took it. I gripped her hand tightly.

"I thought you'd taken her part," I explained. One haranguing female in the family was enough; I couldn’t bear if Pamela sided with my sister against me.

She shook her head. "I wanted to reconcile you. I offended without realizing it."

"When I get angry like that," I said, "it is better to leave me alone. I always come to myself, and I am sorry for the violence of my temper—so much like my sister's! I hope I will not be tyrannical with you, that you will bear with me. It is just, when I am in such a mood, it is better to be a reed than an oak—to bend with the hurricane than to try to resist it." To let me work out the problem myself rather than fix it for me, in fact.

"I'll try," she said.

We'd dressed for bed and sat against the headboard, my arms around Pamela. She snuggled against me, and I sighed in relief.

"We had terrible upbringings," I said. "My sister and I. You know how our class is raised—born to large expectations, educated badly, humored by nurses, indulged. My father was a stern, humorless man, but even he ignored my willfulness towards others because I was a gentleman. My mother bore the brunt of my insolence. She was a fine woman, but she saw her own marriage as a game to be won."

Pamela protested. She had liked my mother.

"Their unhappiness was more his doing than hers, but my mother still preferred to make her own arrangements than to reach an understanding. Most marriages in our class are entered into by two headstrong and arrogant people who plague each other to eternity. The gentleman has never been controlled. The lady has never been contradicted. Their expectations of each other are wildly at variance with reality. They quarrel, appeal to parents and friends. They end up in separate beds—" Pamela made a soft noise of disgust, and I hugged her more tightly—"and finally settle into either indifference or aversion."

I didn't want that. I couldn't bear the idea.

"And should I never contradict you?" Pamela said softly, running a finger down my hand.

"Yes," I said, "but not for contradiction's sake. I want us to behave reasonably, Pamela. I don't want you taking part in outside quarrels against me, especially when my quarrel is not with you."

She nodded, and I raised her hand to my lips.

"It isn't that you've done anything so bad," I said, "or anything at all, really, but I don't want my private family to have divided loyalties."

She turned then and studied my face. I let her look, let her see my uneasiness—that my sister, however much I loved her, reminded me of worse scenes, scenes I never wanted to see repeated.

Pamela brushed my hair out of my eyes, leaned forward and kissed me.

I honestly don't know, even now, what I did to deserve her.

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