‘Mary Anne’, by David Dumbleton

Short stories
Arbury Hall, Warwickshire

Mr. Charles Newdigate of Arbury Hall was away on business and his mother, Maria was overseeing the Estate in his absence.

“Well Robert”, Maria said to the Estate Manager after they had concluded their business, “how is your family?”

“It is kind of you to ask Ma’am”, said Robert. “My wife is not too good but the children are pretty well, thank you, although Mary Anne has her moments”.

“She comes with you sometimes, I see her in the trap”, said Maria. “She seems very bright”.

“Oh she is Ma’am and very good hearted too and I love her dearly”, said Robert, “but she has “moments” when we can’t do a thing with her and she is a trial to her mother. The other day she was in the trap with me when she said, ‘I am so ugly and worthless Pa, I am going to drown myself in Astley Pool.’ I said to her, ‘Well, why don’t you drown yourself in Seeswood, that pool’s bigger and deeper’, I was so angry with her. When she was younger, she said she would cut off her hair, she has lovely long hair, and run away to the gipsies. But mostly she is such a good child and loves to go to the Almshouses in Bedworth and chat with the old folks, and she always has her head in a book. I am sorry Ma’am to go on so but she is so worrisome to me.”

Maria Newdigate smiled. “How old is Mary Anne?”

“Just turned fifteen, Ma’am”.

“When you next come, will you bring her to me?  I would like to talk to her”.

“That’s very kind of you, Ma’am but I do not want to impose on your goodness but as it happens I will be coming to the Hall tomorrow”

The next day the Estate Manager drove over to Arbury Hall with his young daughter and presented her to Mrs Newdigate. What Maria saw was a girl, tall for her age, with long brown hair, brown eyes and not the prettiest nose, but there was however something about the child which was attractive.

Mary Anne curtsied to Maria and took Maria’s hand when it was proffered. They entered the Hall. Mary Anne gazed in wonder at the glorious fan vaulting of the ceiling and the ornate stucco work.

“Oh Ma’am, it is so romantic – it must be very old”.

“Not so old as you may think”, said Maria, “at least, not what you see”.

“Surely it must be”, said Mary Anne, “it is how I imagine the Castle of Otranto”.

Maria’s eyes widened. “Have you read that, my dear”

“Oh yes, and Rasselas, that’s by Dr Johnson you know. I think he must have visited here as he lived at Lichfield and that’s not far away, is it?”

“I really don’t know”, said Maria, feeling as though she was being spoken to by an equal rather than a fifteen year old girl.

They progressed to the Saloon. Mary Anne was entranced. “This must be the most beautiful room in the world, Ma’am. It is quite bewitching”.

Marie smiled, “I think we shall have tea, my dear”.

“You love reading, Mary Anne”, Maria said after the small repast.

“Oh yes, I think I have read most of the books at home. I have even read the Bible, that’s a remarkable book, you know”

But are you naughty and disobedient sometimes, most children are”.

Mary Anne blushed.  “Oh yes. Sometimes I have a megrin and have such doleful thoughts that I am quite wicked and I think that is why I am not pretty at all”

Maria, as a mother, was deeply touched and her eyes filled with tears at this and clasped Mary Anne’s hands in hers.

“My dear, you are not pretty but you have great beauty of soul and as you get older that beauty will shew in your person. Promise me that you will not do silly things such as drowning yourself!”

Mary Anne giggled. “No, I shan’t but wouldn’t it be so romantic to drown trying to save someone you love. One day I think I shall write novels like Miss Austen”.

“Well, if you do, I hope you will include our family!”

“But is it not discourteous to include living persons and even more so when they are as distinguished as you and Mr. Charles”.

“Perhaps then you could just hint at our name- New:Old; Gate:Port -there we have it!” and Maria threw up her arms “Newdigate” “Oldport”!”

“Oh, that is elegant”, said Mary Anne, “I must remember that”!

“Well, your father must be waiting but before you go, I want to show you something” and she led Mary Anne into the library.

Mary Anne gasped. “So many books!”

Maria said, “My dear, whenever you wish, you may come and read any of the books in the library”.

“Oh I will”, said Mary Anne delightedly.

“But only if you promise not to cut off your hair or run off to the gipsies”

Maria watched Mary Anne skip down the drive to join her father.

And Maria said to herself, “Mary Anne Evans, if I am not very much mistaken , your name may in future years become even  more distinguished  than the Newdigates,  if that is possible”, and she smiled and went into the garden.

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