constance stood at the window of the music room ,looking out at the moors, and at the ever-drizzling rain.
“well, miss,” exclaimed her stepmother, as she entered the room in her widows weeds, “up to your old tricks, i see. staring out at the moors like a great booby. i would have thought your impending marriage to captain charlton would have roused even you to some sort of activity. do you not have invitations to write, dresses to be measured? instead i find you here in your usual vapid torpor.”
constance did not turn around. “but, mother,” she replied in her sweetest and most even tones - for she always respectfully addressed the widow of her late father, sir roger martingale , as “mother” - “i have explained to you on more than one occasion that i have no intention of marrying captain charlton, as faultless a gentleman as he appears to be.”
lady martingale sighed. “i thought this had been settled. i will ask you then - not on the first occasion, to borrow your phrase - what you plan to do, if you do not marry captain charlton? we have tried, god knows, to explain that the estate is bankrupt , that you have no dowry to speak of, and that captain charlton is a savior fallen from the skies in agreeing to marry you.”
when constance made np reply, her stepmother went on. “i ask you again, what plan do you have? will you take to the roads as a beggar? i do not know if you have talents as a beggar, but you surely have no others.”
“i could find work as a governess,” said constance.
“there are thousands of unfortunates in your position, aspiring - if that is the word - to becoming governesses. most of them have some accomplishments to offer as credentials - such as playing the piano or the harpsichord, or speaking french or italian - accomplishments pitiable in themselves, but which have eluded you.”
“something will happen,” said constance,
“something will happen!” exclaimed lady martingale.
“yes, i am not going to vanish into thin air, just because i do not choose to marry captain charlton.”
“the bishop is coming to dinner,” said lady martingale. “i will ask him to have a few words with you when he arrives.”
“i will listen to the bishop with all courtesy,” replied constance. “but i am not going to marry captain charlton.”
later that afternoon, when darkness had begun to cover the moors, a lamp was lit in the library, and constance stood before the bishop.
“well, my child,” the bishop began in his most cordial tones, but without entirely concealing his boredom and distaste at the task lady martingale had requested of him , “what is this about not marrying captain - captain - the worthy captain, eh? i am a man of the world and i can assure you that he is a most excellent match.”
“i do not choose to marry captain charlton.”
“and why not, eh?”
“because i want my freedom. i should be free to choose whom i wish to marry.”
“freedom. eh?" the bishop paused for a moment. "may i ask you a few questions , my dear?”
“did you choose the day of your birth?”
“not that i recall.”
“did you choose to be born a fair-faced briton, and not a woolly-headed blackamoor from africa, or a coolie in indo-china, or a gaucho from the pampas of argentina?”
“i do not remember doing so.”
“did you choose to be born in this splendid century, a subject of our beloved queen, rather than a subject of nebuchnednezzar or caesar?”
“i can not say.”
“and did you decide yourself to be born in good health, of good proportion and sound of breath and limb, and not some sort of crawling, gibbering monstrosity?”
“again i do not recall doing so,” constance persisted.
the bishop put his fingertips together and smiled. “well, in that case, why should you get to choose whom to marry, eh? what is the difference? one thing is as much the lord’s will as another, is it not?”
“i only know i do not wish to marry captain charlton.”
“and do you have any particular reasons to reject captain charlton?”
“i do not need any particular reasons.”
the bishop raised his eyes to the ceiling. “she does not need any particular reasons. such, dear lord, is the bitter fruit of attempting to educate the weaker sex.”
constance made no reply. for his part, the bishop felt that he had done his duty by lady martingale, and he wanted his dinner.
the bishop rose from his chair. “i have enjoyed our conversation, miss. it is always instructive to me as a clergyman to talk to the younger generation.” and with that he departed.
constance stood for some minutes looking out at the now completely darkened moors, before joining her stepmother and the bishop and her brothers charles and arthur for dinner.