Chapter 1—Mr. Hedge
Larks trilled in the hedges, filling the warm breezes with song. It was a languid, cerulean afternoon, dotted only with a very few shreds of cloud. A russet-headed and bespectacled young lady strode rapidly down the lane, muttering to herself and occasionally swiping at the weeds at the side of the road with a stick she had found. One could almost say she stomped pettishly, punctuating her angry diatribe with swipes of her stick.
“Why, oh why, does she treat me so? I cannot fathom why she should want to make me into such a ninny, as my sisters are wont to be! Who can countenance such treatment, I tell you? Not I! ‘You may NOT read’, she orders! ‘Spend a little care with your gowns’ she says! ‘Put on your bonnet or you shall be all freckled’, says she. ‘Why do not you go and talk to that nice Edward Dyson’!” Here she hacked several weed heads viciously from their stems. “The boy is a trout. A TROUT, I say!” She walked on a bit, huffishly slashing at the hedgerow. Glancing about she noticed that her Abigail had fallen even further behind than before. “Amalie! Amalie! Where have you got to?” she called to the laggard. “Mother would be on about this as well. ‘You refuse attendants so often of late that people shall be thinking you positively indecent!’” she mimicked.
“She is at me all the long day to improve this and improve that—none of which is my mind! What is a girl to do, I ask?” Another few weeds flew through the air. “Bonnet, be hanged! I have half a mind to lie right down in that meadow and let the sun bake my face so FULL of freckles, I become one!” Swipe. “’Educating a woman in aught but the womanly arts is a waste of time’, she says. How can that be, I ask you? What kind of informed conversation can one have with a limpet? What does such a woman offer, which would at all, signify?
I find the natterings of my sisters incredibly insufferable! Who can bear it when they begin to prate about their gowns and their bonnet trimmings and who said which silliness at the Sommerfield ball? If I hear another word about the cut of sleeves this year, I shall fall down in a choking fit and expire!”
Here she eyed the road as if indeed to throw her self upon it in protest, but then thought better of it. “Furthermore, the spectacle problem. She says I am rendered quite ugly by my spectacles. That very well may be so. But WITH them I am able to see more than a foot in front of my face! She wishes to forbid me to wear them, even though Papa purchased them in town just for the purpose of my being able to see. What ROT!” She took off the offending eyewear and polished them upon her dress and replaced them on her nose. They weren’t particularly fetching, however with them off, the girl squinted fiercely, which was even less appealing. “She could at least have left me my only solace! ‘If you cannot bring yourself to be civil and enjoy a Season in town with us, you may not, then, enjoy the use of the library. You are entirely ruining your eyes with all that wasteful reading.’ Enjoy a season in town? I should think it the Pits of the Inferno should I have occasion to waste good hours there.”
She turned to the hedge and glaring asked it, “Could YOU endure one day being forced into such a dress as would cut off your breath most completely, thrust into the middle of a twittering, irksome, noxious crowd of strangers to hawk your ‘wares’ for strangers to maunder over?” She glared fiercely at the offending hedgerow.
“No, I thought not. What can be the grace of displaying myself as a prize pig at a country fair? I tell you--such a husband as to be got from such a tangle, I can do without! Think on ‘t! Such a gentleman can have nothing to love about someone they have merely seen across the press. There can be no genuine feeling, no knowledge of fine sensibilities, no understanding to be had. It is in all ways not the thing! The only redeeming quality to such a venture would be in making an acquaintance.” Suddenly from the opposite side of the hedge came a snort.
“Is not that the very point she wishes to make?” Francesca gave a start and reddened.
“Who is there?” She thrust her hand into the hedge in order to make a hole through which to peer. She was unsuccessful as the hedge was much too thick to afford a window.
“Oh I do not know…it might be the hedge speaking.” The voice shook with a chuckle.
“Show yourself at once!”
“Not I. It is most obvious to me that you are having a conversation to which you want no audience--certainly no witness, the knowledge of whom might later cause you some measure of embarrassment!”
“Then why make any comment at all, good Hedge?”
“I am sorry, I could not hold my tongue. Such sentiments as you have just uttered so prettily have often caused me some little pause for thought. At any rate, I am certain we shall see each other at some future time and I should like our meeting to be a happy one. Thus, I will bid you adieu.”
“Well then. Until that happy hour…oh most condescending Mr. Hedge!” With one last attempt to see into the hedge, she stepped back to the road with a quizzical look on her now less tempest-filled face.
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