I am not charmed by children. If you have children, and you’re reading this, then of course I love your child (Little what’s-his-name, right? He’s in that grade where they do the thing?) Your child is a precious angel. Your child is the sine qua non of childhood. I’m building an altar to your child right now, as we speak, as I type, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression about how much I love your kid. All those other kids, though? The ones that aren’t your precious flowers? And especially these kids at the beginning of chapter 9?
One of the reasons for going cowslip-picking a couple of chapters ago is to dry them out and boil them for tea. (Someone had better hurry up and invent cable for these people is all I’m saying.) All the Greys’ nearby neighbors are invited — including Mrs Rowland who, though, chooses not to come. Mrs Rowland is fast becoming my favorite character in the novel. (My absolute favorite character we’ll meet a little later in this post.)
Mr Enderby shows up stuffed with candy. This causes the children to descend on him like in that one Tennessee Williams play where Elizabeth Taylor’s cousin is eaten on the beach by a mob of Italian kids. Once he’s picked clean, the party truly begins.
Martineau describes the various actions — who sits by whom; who is happy that Mrs Rowland couldn’t make it (bastards); the pleasure Miss Young takes in watching others have fun because that’s all a crippled lady lives for is the happiness of others. We also get a hint that Hester Ibbotson might have the tiniest of crushes on Mr Hope.
A rain storm breaks over the village, and for some reason Marinteau decides to drag the servants outside so they could watch what a great time everyone else is having indoors. Because that’s how I like to spend my free time at work. “No holiday for me, thanks! I’ll just stand here in a corner by the cucumber frames and peep at you through the sitting room window.” But the servants and the party participants are disturbed by a terrible noise from outside:
“What in the world is that noise?” asked Margaret.
“Only somebody killing a pig,” replied Sydney, decidedly.
“Do not believe him,” said Mr Enderby. “The Deerbrook people have better manners than to kill their pigs in the hearing of ladies on summer afternoons.”
“But what is it? It seems coming nearer.”
I love this moment for several reasons. Firstly, any mention of pig-killing reminds me of Arabella Donn, and I love Arabella Donn a lot. Sure, she’s terrible for Jude, and Hardy wants to suggest that she contributes to his downfall — but girl can work a wig, and she knows her way around a slaughtering. The other reason I love this scene is that it introduces us to Mrs Plumstead.
Mrs Plumstead is mentioned briefly in chapter 5, and I didn’t think to bring her up because it really is a fleeting reference and I wasn’t sure if she was worth the note-taking. Martineau alludes to the fact that “[i]t was believed that poor Harry Plumstead” — her husband — “died of exhaustion from his wife’s voice.” She’s Deerbrook’s postmistress, taking over the job after griping her husband to death. She’s currently carrying on a flirtation with some man named Owen, the parish clerk.
We don’t actually meet Mrs Plumstead, though, until chapter 9 — when her shrieking is mistaken for the killing of a pig. The servants, who had previously been watching the tea party from without, quickly demand to be let in for fear of their lives. Once Mrs Plumstead comes in to view, its apparent that she’s chasing and screaming after some poor woman not known to anyone in the tea party. One of the men tries to interrupt Mrs Plumstead in her pursuit, but with no luck:
“We must put a stop to this,” cried Mr Grey and Mr Rowland, each speaking to the other. It ended with their issuing forth together, looking as dignified as they could, and placing themselves between the scold and her victim. It would not do. They could not make themselves heard; and when she shook her fist in their faces, they retired backwards, and took refuge among their party, bringing the victim in with them.
The scene ends as oddly as it begins: Mr Hope eventually calms Mrs Plumstead down enough that she sort of vaguely wanders away. Martineau tells us, “The countrywoman was commended to the servants, to be refreshed, and dismissed another way. There was no further reason for detaining her when it appeared that she really could give no account of how she had offended Mrs Plumstead in selling her a pound of butter.”
To calm people down after the excitement, Mrs Enderby (Philip and Mrs Rowland’s mother) is called on to sing a creepy song about lovers who die and how their corpses provide the growing matter for both a rose bush and a brier, because ain’t no party like a Victorian party, can I get a wut wut! Later, someone suggests that people sing “catches” which, I think, is another word for rounds. (Rounds, by the way, made me very anxious as a child, because I wasn’t sure if people would know when to stop singing and then what would happen if everyone started singing a round and then got trapped and couldn’t eat or sleep? They didn’t have a Saint Joseph’s Valium for Children when I was young; but maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea…) Martineau writes, “They proceeded to catches at last; and when people really fond of music get to singing catches in a summer-house, who can foresee the end?” And if I had a nickel every time I never said that.
Mr Enderby wants to get in on the song-singing, and demands that someone sing “Fair Enslaver.” When it turns out that the Ibbotson girls don’t know the words or tune to “Fair Enslaver,” Enderby turns to Miss Young and demands that she sing it because dude is all class. When Miss Young (whose first name is Maria) seems to pale a little, Mr Enderby has a touch of decency to say, “You had rather not, perhaps. Pray do not think of it. I will find something else in a moment. I beg your pardon: I was very inconsiderate.” And Webster of the Dictionary fame leaps up and says, “YES! I shall use that as the definition of understatement!”
I lose a little patience with Maria at this point, though, because she musters through and decides to humor Enderby by singing the song anyway. He’s never going to learn, Maria, if you keep coddling him like this. Also: he dumped you because of an accident that wasn’t your fault. This really isn’t the guy you want to hitch your wagon to. Seriously.
As the evening draws to a close, Mr Rowland reminds everyone that his wife is still obsessed with dragging everyone to Dingleford Woods for an outdoor picnic and Ultimate Best Time Ever in the History of Good Times. “How’s Wednesday week for everyone?” he asks. And everyone says ok.
Chapter 10 opens with a lovely scene of Mr Hope training a pony for Miss Young to ride. She’s been invited on the Dingleford Woods excursion, and without a pony she would be stuck waiting at the carriages while everyone had wonderful adventures.
(Here’s an early scene from when Zach and I first started dating
Zach: So. You’re from Oregon. That’s…pretty wildernessy, isn’t it?
Mike: Incredible forests. And mountains. I’ve really missed mountains since moving here.
Zach: You probably…ah…camped? A lot? “Camping,” I think they call it?
Mike: Pretty much every summer.
Zach: [sadly, with a touch of panic] Oh. You probably miss it. Probably want to get back to the Great Outdoors and, uh, stuff.
Mike: I didn’t really like it. Sleeping on the ground. All that dirt. It’s tough to read outdoors when you’re swatting away bugs.
Zach: Oh thank God.
The day before the big outing, Mr Hope had planned to ride the pony out to the picnic grounds so that it would there and waiting for Miss Young when she arrived with the group. However, that…doesn’t go as planned.
Back at the Greys, Hester and Maria are singing while Sophia plays the piano and Mrs Grey listens. Mr Grey pokes his head in, beckons for Mrs Grey to follow him, and they have a private conversation out of earshot. She’s gone for a while — several songs’-length at least — and returns a little agitated. Eventually, she catches Sophia’s attention and takes her out of the room for a closed-door meeting and oh my God does that family love a secret confab. Sophia comes back, looking as shaken as Mrs Grey did when she had returned — but everyone decides that it’s for the best not to bring the Ibbotson sisters into any confidences. Best just to mutter behind closed doors and then pretend all this secrecy is for their own good.
It eventually comes out that Mr Hope has been in a terrible pony accident and is lying in a coma some distance away. When I read this news I immediately think of poor Mrs Rowland because this is definitely going to screw up the Super Fantastic Picnic and Country Bear Jamboree. Hester is immediately in a state, because, as it turns out, she actually is a little in love with Mr Hope and this is going to make the wedding tough. I imagine Hester immediately makes notes about questions to ask Miss Young about feelings “…down there” in case he’s paralyzed from the waist down.
As the chapter continues, we’re given brief updates about the state of Mr Hope, including this piece of news: “[he]was no longer in a stupor: he was delirious.” (I write in the margins “…yay?”) This decides it for the group, and the Grand Picnic is to continue, even though Mr Hope is thisclose to My Left Footing it off the pages of the novel.
The picnic is as awkward as you’d expect it to be — especially when it turns out that Mr Enderby is appointed as Miss Young’s guide (rather than Mr Hope). Once everyone has settled in for whatever one does at a picnic (“You know, you can eat potato salad indoors,” Zach says), Mrs Rowland immediately grabs Hester and takes her for a long walk through the woods and you just know this is going to be awesome because Mrs Rowland has been the very model of tact all the way through this novel.
As readers, we’re not immediately privy to what is being said between Mrs Rowland and Hester. Is it about Mr Hope and what a lifetime of changing bedpans might be like? Is it about how great the picnic is? What I think is a little innovative about Martineau’s novel is how she puts the reader in the position of indulging in a little bit of gossip, too. We don’t have all the information; all we can do is guess and worry at what’s going on between those two ladies.
The tête-à-tête is interrupted by Mr Enderby, who has good news about Mr Hope. As everyone readies to get back in the various carriages, Hester says to Margaret, “I cannot be in the same carriage with that woman. No; you must not either. I cannot now tell you why. I dare say Miss Young would take my place, and let me go with the children in the waggon.”
Finally, once everyone is home and the sisters are safely shut up in their room, Hester spills it: Mrs Enderby’s main topic of conversation was about what a bad idea any relationship between Hester and Philip will be.
As we learned a chapter or so ago, Mr Enderby (Mrs Rowland’s brother) is pretending to his sister that he’s in love with Hester Ibbotson to hide his true affection for the dowdier sister, Margaret. We also learned that Mrs Rowland would be mortified to have any connection at all to the Greys — even if it’s only a distant connection through the Ibbotson sisters. Mrs Rowland has a score of other reasons, though, that don’t involve her familial vendetta against the Greys. Probably the most awesome is this:
“that they did not much value beauty,—that they should require for him something of a far higher order than beauty, and which indeed was seldom found with it—”
And I fall in love a little bit more with Mrs Rowland for her “You’re too pretty for our family” stance against Hester, while also feeling broken-hearted for Hester again. It’s not her fault she’s pretty, and her beauty keeps people from engaging with her authentically.
As the chapter ends, Margaret and Hester read to their servant, Morris, from the Bible. Mr Hope is out of the woods — but he may wish he were back in them before the novel is through.