Authors: Elisabeth Ogilvie
Published by Down East Books
An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
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Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB, United Kingdom
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Copyright Â© 2016 by Elisabeth Ogilvie
First Down East edition 1984
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The 1984 Down East edition of this book was previously cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:
Ogilvie, Elisabeth, 1917â
Jennie About to Be / Elisabeth Ogilvie
1. MaineâFiction. I. Title.
813' . 52âdc20 94-14450
ISBN: 978-1-60893-612-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN: 978-1-60893-613-7 (electronic)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
Whether we be young or old,
Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.
on a March morning, a blackbird was singing from one of Uncle Higham's chimney pots in Brunswick Square. Officially it was spring. Thousands had died in the usual London winter, like the victims of some ritual sacrifice to ensure the return of spring, if not of the sun. Tamsin had died, a thirteen-year-old slavey with no meat on her bones, too small to lug heavy coal scuttles upstairs or earthen slop jars down. If God had marked this particular sparrow's fall, He had done nothing either to stop it or to break it.
Jennie Hawthorne, who woke every morning thinking of Tamsin, did not rage against God for His refusal to take responsibility for His own acts. Her father had reared four daughters to believe that God had created the world but not the rules. Once the terrestrial globe was set spinning in space, as they could spin the globe in his study, it created the immutable laws of nature; once mankind began, it designed its own system by some quite dreadful trials, horrifying errors, and some happy surprises. The combination of natural and human laws would never reach perfection, Papa had stated, but it could certainly be improved upon. In the meantime he considered himself fortunate to be raising his daughters in the world of Pippin Grange and its surrounds, enclosed as safely by the gentle Kyloe Hills and the North Sea as the orchard was enclosed by its high wall of gold-lichened rosy brick. The fruit ripened sweetly here in spite of the sea winds blowing across the Fenwick Flats. So did the Hawthorne girls.
Carolus Hawthorne had expected that before he died they would all be women grown, safely established, armored by his somewhat cynical philosophy against Life's more brutal shocks. He had almost succeeded by that late summer afternoon when his heart suddenly stopped and toppled him from his saddle in Ember Lane as he was riding home from Belford.
Sylvia was already married to her hunting parson; Ianthe had procured on her own a situation as companion and governess in the household of a wealthy young widow, who had come to Beal to recuperate in the sea air after her husband's death. But Jennie and Sophie were still at home. Sophie, fifteen, and in torrents of grief, had been kindly assimilated into the family of the distant cousin to whom the comfortable old Elizabethan house had passed by entail.
Jennie (Eugenia), twenty-one, had been taken off to London by her mother's sister. “We'll make you a good marriage,” said Aunt Higham with steel in her voice and her eye. After years in London she was still a north country woman and always rose with a ferocious relish to the toughest challenge.
London had been endurable.
“The true gift of God,” Papa had said, “is the courage to endure. He doesn't dispense the blessings and the blows. He plays no favorites. He gives us strength to deal with the worst that can be done to us.”
“But I would die of grief if anything happened to you, Papa,” Jennie had once passionately told him when she was about fourteen.
“That would be mere self-indulgence,” he had replied, “if not the supreme vanity. You would be saying, in effect, that your suffering was so great that God couldn't give you enough fortitude to bear it. You would be saying you were greater than God.”
Jennie sighed over the wreck of an enjoyably emotional and dramatic gesture. Papa laughed and reached up a long arm and picked an apple from over his head. It had gleamed among the thick dark leaves like a golden apple of the Hesperides; he gave it a polish on his blue sleeve and handed it to her.
“One of Eve's finer accomplishments was introducing us to the apple,” he said. He took one for himself, and they walked slowly in the dense orchard grass, in the cidery heat of September.
That was one of her happiest memories in a collection of happy ones; in the London September seven years later, less than two weeks after the funeralâWilliam's surplice blowing in the summer wind that sang in the churchyard yewsâit had been a talisman, a touchstone.
, she said grimly to herself all during the first endless days and in the hours when she lay awake.
Otherwise you are guilty of self-indulgence and vanity
. “Oh, Papa!” she gulped, and wept. God didn't forbid tears, any more than He had ordained that she should have to suffer the agony of homesickness along with the pain of losing Papa. There was no one, nothing she could blame, and that was infuriating. No. He sat up there, armored in regal indifference, showering strength like rain, and you could take it or leave it.
didn't care. Weeping in rage, she took.
So the winter had been gotten through, and this was the morning of the day when Jennie Hawthorne was going to run away. She had chosen the fifteenth of March as appropriate. “Beware the Ides of March,” she and her sisters used to croak at each other on the fourteenth. “Julius Caesar”, done in sheets, with the most beautiful pieced coverlet from the cedarwood chest for Julius's imperial raiment, was their favorite drama. They could all quote from anywhere in it, and did at length with hardly any provocation, so often that Papa finally refused to attend another performance of the Pippin Grange Players unless they changed the play. “Romeo and Juliet” then became the favorite.
Remembering, Jennie found herself sliding backward into the sweet and enervating melancholy that could immobilize her. She bounded out of the bed in a room only marginally warmer than it had been all winter before Tamsin started the morning fires. At first Jennie had offered to do her own fireâshe was used to it in Pippin Grangeâbut Uncle Higham had explosively cleared his throat, and Aunt Higham shook her head at her.
Today was the Ides of March, and she was going to run away, or make plans in that direction; she qualified it, being a realist. A fine sunrise would have been a good omen, but at least it wasn't raining.
Her nightgown of thin cambric muslin, with lace insertion threaded with ribbons, was part of the new wardrobe the Highams had provided for her. So was the wrapper of fine creamy wool. But she bundled herself into her old dressing gown, woven in a coarse brindle-colored wool from sheep on the home farm of Pippin Grange. It was roomy and warm, meant to be worn for comfort, not for style, in the old house at the edge of the North Sea, so when she wrapped herself in it, she was in one sense home. She slid her feet into the shapeless slippers Martyn, the shepherd, had sewn out of Ebony's hide, fleece side in, when the wether died of old age. Ebony had been born and orphaned the same spring when Jennie was born. He had been mothered by Sylvia and Ianthe, and his baby cries had blended with Jennie's; when she crept on the lawn, he was as playful and interested as the dogs. Six years later he had officiously attended the baby Sophie, stamping a hoof imperiously at the dogs.
Martyn had made slippers for both her and Sophie, and the girls fondled them, blind with tears because the fleece should have been on the broad back they'd scratched or the rump they'd slapped.
“Old lad'll warm thy toes for many a year yet,” Martyn said. Ebony's fleece had held off the winter drafts scudding along the tilted floors of Pippin Grange, where lucky Sophie still wore hers. They and the robe didn't belong in this London room with its delicate satinwood furniture and hangings of pastel-flowered cotton. The contrast amused Jennie, and if the maids were scandalized, they didn't show it, and her aunt didn't know what lived by day in the depths of the wardrobe, behind those panels painted with classical garlands.
Jennie took her little marquetry keepsake chest from on top of the armoire. The key was in her workbox, and she rummaged through it, compounding the usual tangles. As always, she thought her untidiness had finally lost her the key, and panic brought out a fine sweat on her body, but then, as always, she found it. This time it was in her needle case.
She got back onto the narrow bed and, sitting cross-legged like an Arab in a tent among the four slender posts and under the deep ruffle of the flowered tester, opened her box. She handled the contents, one article at a time. There were a seal from Papa's watch chain and her share of her mother's few jewels; she'd gotten the topazes because of her eyes. There were her father's copy of Milton from his student days, her silver christening mug and porringer, and one of young Sophie's sketchbooks. Her head drooping, her long, tangled brown hair falling forward past her ears and curtaining her face, she turned the pages. There was Papa, talking to the dogs. Sylvia's Carolus Jerome on a blanket in the orchard. (Papa's watch was being saved for him.) There was herself with Nelson, the old pony. She sniffled and slapped the book shut.