It’s hard out there for Mrs Rowland. Her life is devoted to surpassing the Greys as often and as thoroughly as she can, and when she hears that they’ve gone on a cowslip-hunting adventure, she decides that she’s going to throw some sort of Grand Picnic as a means of topping them, with meat pies and several hams and of course it rains because Martineau doesn’t want us liking Mrs Rowland too much, and having it rain on her Grand Picnic seems (to Martineau, at least) to be justified, and allows us to see another example of her being uncharitable:
This course of meteorological events involved two great vexations to Mrs Rowland. One was, that the neighbours, who could pretend to entertain the strangers only in a quiet way at home, took the opportunity of the rainy weather to do so, hoping, as they said, not to interfere with any more agreeable engagements.
The other vexation for poor Mrs Rowland is that the place she was going to drag everyone to for meat pie and ham, Dingleford Woods, had already been visited by the Ibbotson sisters. And I guess once one has been cowslip hunting next door and already visited Dingleford Woods, there’s not much else to do in Deerbrook.
Philip Enderby has been spending a lot of time at the Greys, much to the delight of poor Miss Young. Martineau writes that Miss Young’s happiness, the “little colour in her cheeks at last” and “a change in the tone of the philosophy” that seemed less intellectual and more heart-felt, was caused by her newly-formed friendships with Hester and Margaret. And that may be the case; it’s Martineau’s novel. But I have to believe — especially because of some later developments — that Miss Young isn’t also a little flushed with the presence of her former paramour.
This new relationship, though, between the Miss Ibbotsons and Miss Young, is causing Hester a little tsurris. Margaret is spending a lot of time with Miss Young learning German — and Hester eschewed that back in chapter 5, claiming she was “afraid of the undertaking.” Hester sees her sister engaging with and confiding in someone new, and she starts to feel the first pangs of the eventual separation that must occur between them. Hester had worried a little about this back in chapter 2, when Margaret had asked,
“I wonder what difference it would have made between you and me, if we had had a brother.”
“You and he would have been close friends—always together, and I should have been left alone,” said Hester, with a sigh. “Oh, yes,” she continued, interrupting Margaret’s protest, “it would have been so. There can never be the same friendship between three as between two.”
My heart breaks for Hester. Granted, I’m not a ravishing beauty (remind me to show you my bald spot); but I often suffer the same kinds of insecurities Hester does. Am I interesting enough? What can I possibly bring to a conversation, since few people want to talk about the Married Women’s Property Act or the lesser-known novels of Wilkie Collins as often as I want to. There’s a line from a song I think about: “I never spoke of my plans to travel. I was too afraid I wouldn’t be begged to stay.” And that’s where Hester is, too. I think Hester — and women like Hester — get discounted frequently because they’re beautiful. It’s easy to take advantage of their beauty; to believe that they’re going to be fine and taken care of because that’s just what happens to attractive people. And in a lot of respects, Hester has been taken care of for most of her life by other people. That’s why this encroachment on her sister is so troubling to her.
Margaret senses this conflict in Hester, and assumes it might have something to do with Miss Young. She invites Hester to hear a reading from Edmund “Fairy Queen” Spenser (to which the only appropriate response is “No thanks, I’m good”), and Hester agrees. (This is why you’re lonely, Hester. You’ve got to pick better entertainment.) Seeing Margaret and Miss Young together, Hester realizes how foolish she has been with he petty jealousy, and everyone settles in for a nice long bout of A Hymn of Heavenly Beauty.
Before they can get to the “Vouchsafe then, O thou most Almighty Spright” line, though, Philip Enderby bursts into the room, followed by the twins and the neighbor kids. Enderby’s been hanging around a lot, as I said, and he no doubt put the kids up to this interruption. There’s a lot of weird flirting, with Enderby engaging the ladies in a lot of questions about secrets and mysteries — and in the middle of all that, Enderby slips a book onto a stack of Margaret’s books. Maybe that’s the nineteenth century version of being a Smooth Operator.
While this romantic level of secrecy is playing itself out, the children have their own ridiculous secret: they want Enderby to buy them candy for the grand tea party they have planned. I mention this now because it’s going to be important later. Generally, I am not ever interested in the charming challenges of children.
Enderby is not able to see Margaret find his book (a volume by a man named Johann Ludwig Tieck; my hope is that it was The Blond Eckbert); his sister calls to him through a window — at first sweetly (“Philip!” cried a soft, sentimental voice under the window.) and then…not so sweetly. (She saw the braids of the hair of the young ladies, and her voice was rather less soft as she called again, “Philip, do you hear? I want you.” — I kind of love Mrs Rowland.)
In the meantime, Miss Young sees the new book on the stack, sees the inscription (“From P.E.”), and for a moment this reader gets a sinking feeling in his chest when he worries that Miss Young will mistakenly think the book is for her, and there’ll be a whole lot of heartbreaking embarrassment to work through.
Instead, it’s just heartbreak.
Miss Young realizes the book isn’t intended for her. it’s intended for Margaret. And she sort of bids goodbye to any glimmer of hope that Enderby might stop being a jerk and looking past her infirmity:
She knew Mr Enderby; and knowing him, foresaw that she was to be a witness of his wooings of another, whom she had just begun to take to her heart. This was to be her fate if she was strong enough for it,—strong enough to be generous in allowing to Margaret opportunities which could not without her be enjoyed, of fixing the heart of one whom she could not pronounce to have been faulty towards herself.
The reason Mrs Rowland needed to get Enderby out of there with a quickness is because she had reached a similar realization that Miss Young did. Not quite as pointed, though, since she only knows that her brother seems to be trawling for both sisters, and Mrs Rowland can’t bear to think about her brother being connected, even distantly, to her Arch Nemeses, the Greys. Rowland is disheartened to learn that his sister has discovered his secret crush; however, in the “good news” column is the fact that she hasn’t guessed which sister he’s set his heart on: Margaret. His sister seems to be suggesting that he must be interested in Hester, because everyone is interested in Hester, and Enderby lets her think it’s Hester because this part of the plot also moonlights as an ’80s teen movie where the hero is a jerk who can’t bring himself to admit to the other cool kids that he likes the nerdy girl with glasses. There’s usually a fashion montage where they put the nerdy girl in a series of outfits that are either too slutty, from the 1940s, or have crazy hats before finally someone suggests that maybe the nerdy girl with glasses might try taking off her glasses (because in these movies no one wears glasses for their corrective powers; they’re simply a short-cut to character development) and then she’s a total babe.
But I digress.
Enderby decides to play with this idea that he’s after the pretty one a little longer, because he figures he can’t tell his sister that he’s both (a) choosing the absolute wrong girl; and (b) choosing the uglier of the absolute wrong girl. And this is exactly what Hester needs because we’ve already discussed how great her self-esteem is.
I hate Enderby.
After escaping the disappointment of Mrs Rowland, Enderby makes his way back to the now empty schoolroom, because the Miss Ibbotsons have headed off somewhere else, and the only kindness Martineau is going to offer Miss Young is to let her have this heartbreaking scene with no other witnesses.
“I only came for my hat. You are in the children’s secret, of course, Miss Young?” [The secret I mentioned above.]
“About their feast. Yes, I believe I know all about it.”
“I am going to ask some important questions for them at the confectioner’s. You will not object to my bringing them a few good things?”
“I? Oh, no.”
“I would not act in so serious a matter without asking you. Can I be of any use to you in the village? Or perhaps you may want some pens mended before I go?” [“Can I get your pen mended?” You guys!?!]
“No, I thank you.”
“Then I will not interrupt your letter any longer. Good morning.”
Enderby plays lightly with the idea of responsibility when there’s nothing at risk. He didn’t think to talk to her about the serious matter of his change in affections towards her back when she was in the Victorian version of traction. But which sweets to buy at the confectioners?
There are no words, people.
Chapter 6 is devoted to Mr Hope’s letter to his brother Frank. The most interesting thing I learned in chapter 6 — because I am so not interested in these men fighting over Margaret, I’ve got to tell you — is that it takes about six months for mail to get from India to England. We know this because Mr Hope sits down to immediately answer a letter that has just arrived from his brother, and Mr Hope dates his letter as “June 20th” and opens the letter by saying “Dear Frank,—Your letter of December last has arrived to remind me how far I am past my time in writing to you.”
Hope opens the letter with some complicated explanation about their grandfather’s will. At some point, the grandfather was going to leave everything to Mr Hope and Frank, and only giving their sisters £100 (“likely, from some notion about women not wanting money, and not knowing how to manage it”). Mr Hope has instead re-arranged everything so that Frank and his sisters split the money and Hope will get the £100. This is probably going to be important, which is the only reason why I’m boring you now.
The rest of the letter is filled with Hope gushing on and on and on about how amazing Margaret is, and how he hopes no one else realizes how great Margaret is, and anyway, most everyone will be so distracted by how pretty Hester is, he should be free and clear in his quest to achieve Margaret. He has a twinge of fear that maybe that hanger-on Enderby might have some designs on Margaret — but he feels pretty confident in his chances.
(There’s a point in the letter which broke my heart a little for the Miss Ibbotsons. Hope writes, “They came for several months, and no one hints at their departure yet.” I remembered back to chapter 1, where the sisters were pretty sure that they’d want to head back to Birmingham when they were finished with this visit to Deerbrook. But we all know that’s not going to happen.)
The next section, we’ll get to briefly meet Mrs Plumstead, whom I should have mentioned earlier, only I didn’t realize she was going to be a considerable character. I’ll give you a hint as to what kind of force she’s going to be in the novel: someone asks, hearing her shrieking from quite a distance away, “somebody [is] killing a pig.”