Chapter 8 is basically “How Do You Cause Some Problems For Maria?” One way is you can make her a screen for her fireplace with various illustrations on it, like a cathedral, or your father with your father’s big warty nose, or, as Martineau suggests, “Charles the First taking leave of his family.” For those of you not up on your kings and queens of England (besides Sir Elton John) (*rimshot*), Charles I was handily dispatched via chopping block for trying to do away with Parliament. That’s the only leavetaking I can imagine that would be noteworthy. It doesn’t seem likely that the kids would work painstakingly on a silhouette cutout of Charles I heading out for work that morning. (Though who knows. It’s the nineteenth century and the kids don’t have Twitter. Who knows what kinds of things count for fun. Pushing a hoop with a stick? Playing at Methodists?)

Margaret has gone to visit Maria, and has taken stock of her fireplace screen, as well as noticed that Maria doesn’t have a cat because that’s what lonely, crippled spinsters need. Why not two cats? It’s not like she’s ever going to get married, what with that bum leg. Three cats and a hobby that involves scrapbooking, and Maria will officially be the most miserable stereotype in this novel. Great.

However, speaking of cats, there’s a reason Maria may not have one. And it goes a little something like this:

“She [a Mrs Ticker, whose only appearance will be in this anecdote] said she saw a kitten run into the passage, and that it never came out again; so that it followed of course that it must be here still. One day, when I was in school, she came over to satisfy herself; and true enough, there had been a kitten. The poor thing jumped from the passage window into the yard, and went to see what they were about at the forge. A hot horse-shoe fell upon its back, and it mewed so dolefully that the people drowned it. So there you have the story of my cat.”

Horrifying! (Also, I’m assuming that all of this happened away from Maria, because I have to believe that she would have something to say about how one can live a fulfilling, if lonely, life after an accident and maybe they could try some Bactine or something before resorting to drowning, for the love of Pete.)

After sharing that her health isn’t as great as it had been (so don’t be surprised if she isn’t around for the sequel: Deerbrook II: The Deerbrookening), Maria shares the main news of this visit: mainly, that Mrs Rowland has declared war against the Hopes and Margaret. And, since I am engaged to marry Mrs Rowland because I think everything she does is one hundred percent superfantastic, I, too, have declared war against the Hopes and Margaret. That’s what you do for the people you love.

Maria tells Margaret that “This capture and imprisonment of her mother…is chiefly to get her from under Hope’s care. I fancy, from her air, and from some things she has dropped, that she has some grand coup-de-theatre in reserve about the matter.”

I bet she does.

Maria also says Mrs Rowland “hints, very plainly and extensively, that your brother and sister are not happy together.”

Even better.

Further, Maria says that Mrs Rowland “says the most unwarranted things about Mrs Grey’s having made the match.”

She did.

The issue is, Maria is calling all of this slander — or, at least, the last two items. That first one, about imprisoning her mother and the coup-de-theatre: who knows. But we know that Hope and Hester aren’t happy; and we also know that Mrs Grey is the one who pushed Hope into this marriage. It’s not slander if it’s true. It’s awesome. I watch a lot of “Real Housewives of New York.” I know a sweeps-week stunt when I see one.

Since Maria seems to know so much about her family’s business — slandered or not — she also asks Maria what she knows about these rumors of Hope grave-digging. And yeah, Maria has a story about that, too:

“The beginning of it was, your brother’s surgery pupil [a character we’ve never heard anything about until now, p.s.] having sent a great toe, in a handsome-looking sealed packet, to some lad in the village, who happened to open it at table.”

What now? Everything about that story is presented as straight-forward and matter-of-fact. Like, of course that happens; simply everyone is sending great toes in handsome-looking boxes. Like it was the fact that he opened it at table that’s the problem. I’m telling you: this is why I won’t live in the country. Well, this, and the fact that I’m afraid of D.B. Sweeney. (Long story.)

Maria tells Margaret that she can no longer sit helplessly by while Mrs Rowland maligns everybody in Deerbrook. She’s going to have a private talk with Mr Rowland to explain the extent of Mrs Rowland’s gossip, and that she often engages in gossip in front of her children. Margaret asks her if she’s not worried about her employment; Maria brushes that fear away.

Hester has sent a cart for Margaret, and Margaret doesn’t feel like now is the right time to challenge her sister on when she should be called home. When she walks through the door of the house she’s sharing with the Hopes (and that’s something to keep in mind; she’s there as Hester’s guest. She has no legal claim to any part of the house she’s in. It’s not like it’s any better for ladies who aren’t married. Pretty much, you don’t want to be a lady in the nineteenth century, no matter how much you think you might rock a hoop skirt and crinolines), Hope jests about Margaret returning so early from her visit with Maria. This gives Hester an opportunity to not turn the other cheek or do unto others as she says, “It’s quite time Margaret was giving us a little of her company, I am sure.” Because Margaret isn’t in the house every. single. day. Because Margaret and Hester haven’t already spent all of their lives together.

I mean, I get that Hester is needy — but I feel like Martineau has no cruise control for this character trait, and she sort of runs away with it to the point that it becomes difficult to empathize or sympathize with Hester. She becomes constant as a migraine.

Hester tries to have a conversation with Margaret about her visit with Maria:

“I wonder you left Maria, if she is so poorly.”

“I determined that I would not, another time; but this time I had promised.”

“Pray do not make out that I am any restraint upon your intercourse with Maria. And yet, — it is not quite fair to say that either.”

“I do not think that it is quite fair.”

“But you should warn me, — you should tell me, if I ask anything unreasonable.”

Because that’s totally going to work with a nutjob like Hester. She seems like the kind of lady that takes criticism well.

In chapter 9, Margaret starts walking. Long, aggressive, passionate walks because she’s got a lot on her mind, what with a sister who won’t quit, and a boyfriend who’s probably going to marry some other lady, and a brother-in-law who would totally set up a camera in the shower if such bear a thing as cameras in the shower existed in the 1830s. Plus, she’s got Mrs Rowland armed for bear against her and, finally, she’s trapped in Deerbrook. So yeah: she walks. A lot.

During one of her walks, she happens to run in to Mr Hope, and she decides to tell him what’s been going down, Rowland-style, in the village. She shares the story of the toe, the body snatching, the hiding away of Mrs Enderby from the world, that Hope and Hester are unhappy, and that Mrs Grey had a hand in their marriage. It’s quite a dump of information — and it’s all a little dizzying to Mr Hope (who, remember, can’t even handle an argument between two sisters without fainting).

“We shall agree,” said she, “that the worst of all this is, that there is some truth at the bottom of part of it.”

Margaret is just getting everyone prepared for the worst. She’s not telling Hope which of the items it is that might likely be true — but Hope panics because he has a secret, and we always panic when we have a secret that feels like it’s going to be exposed any second. “O Heavens!” Hope says. “Is it possible that Mrs Grey can have told the share she had in my marriage?” But no, Margaret knows nothing about Hope’s secret (because she has retrograde amnesia, right? I mean — I can’t figure out any other way for her not to be aware of what’s going on. Maybe she has situational blindness); instead, she’s talking about how visible Hester’s…personality is. To everyone.

Relieved, Hope shares with Margaret that things are going to get worse for Hope and Hester before they get better — that life in Deerbrook is about to get a lot more focused on their household. “She and you do not know a tenth part of what is inflicted upon me.”

We’ll leave the Hopes and Margaret in their dire situation for a moment to check in with the Rowlands. The end of chapter 9 sees the Rowlands packing up their house to go on holiday, leaving Mrs Enderby behind. I think we can be pretty sure that Martineau’s getting them out of the way for a reason, because this vacation is a surprise to me, and I like to think that I’m pretty close with my Life Partner, Mrs Rowland. I’m hazarding a guess that with Mrs Rowland out of the way, we’re going to learn a lot of information that she won’t be around to spin.

One of the reasons Martineau wanted to get Mrs Rowland out of the way is because Mr Enderby shows up in chapter 10. We learn this at the same time Margaret and Maria are learning it, from the gad-about Sydney Grey, who is as bad as his mother and sister for spreading news, gossip, and rumor. Margaret has to take the news well, because she’s in Miss Young’s classroom, and she doesn’t want to make a spectacle of herself in front of the children. However, at the first opportunity, she hightails it out of there and hopes to get hime without being seen or without running into Enderby before she’s able to reach the safety of her home turf.

Margaret has every intention of telling Hester that Mr Enderby is in town — until she’s actually standing in front of her, and then finds she can’t. I totally respect that impulse in Margaret; Hester doesn’t strike me as the kind to take unexpected new in any sort of expected way. And since this news might foretell a future that takes Margaret out of the house away from her, I’m even more convinced that she’ll probably want to keep this as much to herself as possible.

Fortunately (well, almost fortunately: God doesn’t give with both hands…), the Greys show up, keeping Margaret from saying anything to Margaret even if she wanted to. After the Greys have settled in for a long conversation about sick rooms (causing me to wonder why everybody in Deerbrook doesn’t have the Greys over, they’re such scintillating conversationalists), there’s a knock at the door (and here’s the part where it’s not so great that the Greys are there): in walks Mr Enderby.

He’s primarily there to ask where Mr Hope is. He has returned to find his sister gone and his mother in worse shape than he had expected. He hopes Hope can pay a visit, and wonders why his mother has been allowed to fall into such a state in the first place. He also tells Hester (out of earshot of Margaret) that he wants to speak to Margaret later, after Hope has had a chance to look over Enderby’s mother. He has something he wants to discuss with her in private. This means either that rumor is true, and he’s going to tell Margaret that she needs to get used to the idea of a funky bridesmaid dress in hot pink with flower-patterned shoes (plus, work on her Electric Slide); or, he’s going to propose marriage to her. Or he’s going to tell her that the owls aren’t what they seem, that he’s been enjoying some damn fine coffee, and that he’s thisclose to discovering the true murderer of Laura Palmer. (I’m re-watching “Twin Peaks” at my mom’s house because I can’t watch any more episodes of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” — and, for real? That show is still on? — and I can’t hear my brother tell the same “A seal walked into a club” joke. Home is where you think you want to be until you’re there and someone else holds the remote. I think I cribbed that from Robert Frost.)

It’s the middle one. He wants to propose marriage. But first, he wants to be a real a-hole to Margaret. He starts out by saying that he has learned, from his mother, about the weird rumor running around town that he is engaged to marry someone named Miss Bruce. But the real rub for Enderby is this:

“I was shocked…to the very soul to find that you, Margaret, believed it.”

“How could we help it? It was your sister who told us.”

A reasonable enough question, I think. It’s not like Enderby was writing Margaret letters keeping her up to date, or getting her information in some other way. (Of course, he can’t, etiquette-ly, write to Margaret anyway. They aren’t formally engaged yet; nor are they related. Men just couldn’t run out and become penpals with any lady they saw whose bustles turned their eye. Enderby responds, though:

“What does my sister know of me compared with you? I thought—I hoped—but I see now that I was presumptuous—I thought that you knew me enough, and cared for me enough, to understand my mind, and trust my conduct through whatever you might hear of me from others. I have been deceived—I mean I have deceived myself, as to the relation in which we stand. I do not blame you, Margaret—that is, I will not if I can help it—for what you have given credit to about me; but I did not think you would have mortified me so deeply.”

I love that “I don’t blame you” business, since it’s tacitly coupled with “but I’m going to make you feel rotten anyway.” When he left Deerbrook the last time, he honestly, as far as I can remember, did not leave Margaret with any understanding that they were ever going to be more than village acquaintances. “But he gave her a book,” some might say. But you know what? You can’t wear a book on your ring finger. Doesn’t count. He could have slipped her a note or given her a bigger hint, something like, “Have you ever thought about changing your last name to Enderby? No reason, really. Just small talk.”

Oh, and oh yeah: Where does he get off suggesting that Margaret, who has known him all of nine-plus months, is supposed to know him better than his own sister, who has known him his whole life? And there’s also the fact that Mrs Rowland, who normally can do no wrong in my eyes, spread a lot of false gossip on this front. And while Margaret may not know, necessarily, how testy Enderby gets when people talk smack about his sister (we learn this at the beginning of the novel; one of the reasons he’s not overly friendly with the Greys is because he knows they often gossip about Mrs Rowland), we know how testy he gets; and if we were in a position to counsel Margaret about any of this, we would have told her to go ahead and believe Mrs Rowland because Enderby wouldn’t like it if she didn’t. Margaret suggests some of this to Enderby, too:

“You are partly wrong now; you are unjust at this moment,” replied Margaret, looking up with some spirit. “I do not wish to speak of Mrs Rowland—but remember, your mother never doubted what your sister said; the information was given in such a way as left almost an impossibility of disbelief. There was nothing to set against the most positive assurances—nothing from you—not a word to any of your old friends—”

And Enderby doesn’t really here any of this, because he’s too busy coming up with this next bit of a-holery:

“And there was I, working away on a new and good plan of life, living for you, and counting the weeks and days between me and the time when I might come and show you what your power over me had enabled me to do—and you were all the while despising or forgetting me, allowing me no means of defending myself, yielding me up to dishonour with a mere shake of the head, as if I had been an acquaintance of two or three ball-nights. It is clear that you knew my mind no better than I now find I knew yours.”

She ends up with him. At least, at this point in the novel, and as far as I can tell, they’re going to be together. Margaret doesn’t take any of this information she’s learning about Enderby — that he gives really unclear directions, is vague about his motivations, and then throws blame wherever it will stick — and think, “Spinsterhood is too maligned in this day and age. Nothing wrong with a nice spinster. Or, maybe, a lesbian. I bet that Miss Young would make a fine life-partner, as long as she doesn’t expect me to give up my walks.” Nope. She falls for him.

The chapter ends with Hester and Hope having a stupid fight about whether or not Margaret deserves a good marriage. I don’t understand the question in the first place, and it seems to be just another opoprtunity for Martineau to remind us that Hope is in love with Margaret, and that he’s unhappy with Hester, and that Hester is such a pill.

These scenes have the monotony of a child playing “Chopsticks” on a badly tuned piano. And yet we’re only a little more than halfway through the novel. There had better be some more Mrs Rowland — and soon. Or I’m going to dash off an angrily-worded letter to the author.