The Other Miss Bates
Jane Bates has left Highbury to become the companion of the invalid widow Mrs Sealy in Brighton. Life in the new, fashionable seaside resort is exciting indeed. A wide circle of interesting acquaintance and a rich tapestry of new experiences – balls at the Assembly rooms, carriage rides and promenades on the Steyne – make her new life all Jane had hoped for.
While Jane’s sister Hetty can be a tiresome conversationalist she proves to be a surprisingly good correspondent and Jane is kept minutely up-to-date with developments in Highbury, particularly the tragic news from Donwell Abbey.
When handsome Lieutenant Weston returns to Brighton Jane expects their attachment to pick up where it left off in Highbury the previous Christmas, but the determined Miss Louisa Churchill, newly arrived with her brother and sister-in-law from Enscombe in Yorkshire, seems to have a different plan in mind.
I’m delighted to welcome author Allie Creswell to booksaremycwtches today with an extract from the second in the series of the Highbury trilogy.
Heartbreak and the ensuing heartache are incredibly difficult emotions to describe. It is so easy to over-write the vacillation between reasoned assimilation of the new circumstances, anger and the kind of misery which no words can articulate so that it becomes hyperbole or just purple prose. On the other hand, to under-play it is a betrayal of the character.
Here is my attempt. Jane Bates has learned that the man she has loved for over a year is to marry another. Disappointment for herself, and in him, is no compensation for the assaults of abject misery which overwhelm her. But there is a comforter whose gentleness, restraint and understanding suggest to the reader, at least, that Jane’s heart may not remain broken for ever.
Jane was utterly wretched, and not just on her own account, although this was severe enough in all conscience. Her dreams of James Weston were at an end. What had begun the previous Christmas – the chance of happiness she had glimpsed with him – must now be put to one side and forgotten; it could never be. This was the dreary truth which haunted her as she lay wakeful in the night and the shock which assaulted her as she blinked at each new lacklustre day. Louisa Churchill had gambled, risking everything, but had won the prize. In some ways Jane had to admire Miss Churchill – there was no denying the great depth of her love for Mr Weston. That he would be married to someone who loved him so completely, so desperately, ameliorated to some degree her own unfathomable sense of loss. His losses, though, she could not forgive. For Louisa he had given up everything; his duty to his superiors and to his men; his own quest for adventure – his yen to travel – the wanderlust that he and Jane had shared; and last of all, his independence, the thing he had fought for, resisting his father’s efforts to involve him in the family trade. Now he would be an awkward scion of the Churchill household, dependent on their wealth, branded a social-climber, out of his depths, perhaps in their elevated, patrician sphere.
The days passed in East Street. Rain beaded the windows, wind howled over the roofs causing soot to fall in the grates and gaps in the windows to moan and complain. Jane read aloud, page after page, chapter after chapter, absorbing nothing of what transpired in the book and often finding, on looking up, that Lady Cecily dozed. Then she would place the book aside and wander, quiet and drooping, from room to room, trying to find a place where Mrs Brigham would not come across her, where Lucy would not find the need to dust or tidy, a place where she could sit alone and mope and allow the tears to fall. It was in these places – behind the curtain in the window at the turning of the stair, before the cold grate of a room rarely used, on the chill iron of the seat beneath the naked sycamore in the stunted, bare garden – that Dr Fairfax often found her.
‘How do you, today?’ he would ask her, his voice very gentle, and she would pour out, without any words at all, her utter, overwhelming, immeasurable misery.
‘Yes, yes,’ he would say when all that day’s tears were spent and she leaned against his shoulder exhausted by the fullness of all she could not even begin to articulate, ‘I think I understand.’
When the weather was clement he would lead her – she all unresisting and barely conscious of where they went – to places in the vicinity which would have no association for her with Mr Weston or Miss Churchill. He took her to the fishermen’s cottages, to the tenements where the waiters and grooms and kitchen maids lived. He was very popular there, flocked around and made much of, and little gifts pressed into his hands by grateful patients who could afford no money for the treatments he offered them. Sometimes he tended the sick and wounded while she watched, mildly curious as his hands gently pressed and probed, half listening to his questions; does the cold make it worse? Does it suppurate? Are you eating green vegetables? They explored the countryside far from the sea and from the sight of the encampments where officers in red jackets would remind her of the man she had lost. One day they found themselves in a sunken lane, between hawthorn hedges and – beyond the hedges – neatly ploughed fields. Early daffodils danced along the hedgerow. The slightest possible haze of green heralded the slow awakening of new leaf.
‘Does this not remind you a little of the country around Highbury?’ Dr Fairfax asked her.
She looked around her. ‘Yes,’ she said at last, ‘it does a little. But our soil is much darker – Sussex has a sandy loam, I think. Surrey soil is black. Mama had no end of trouble scrubbing it off my hands when I was little.’ The memory brought a smile.
Dr Fairfax nodded. ‘I am glad you mention your mama,’ he said. ‘Do you recall the conversation we had when Mr Knightley died?’
Jane bethought herself. At last she said, ‘Yes, you said that people do not die of broken hearts. Your prognosis was that she would recover.’
‘And has she?’
Jane put her head on one side. ‘She is recovering. Hetty was more sanguine in her last letter.’
‘I am glad to hear it. Let us walk on a little further.’
On another day he said to her, ‘Come with me, Miss Bates. I am summoned to the lying in of Mrs Mason, the harbour-master’s wife. If you are to assist Lady Cecily when the time comes you had better know what to expect.’
For those hours, in the cramped gloom of the harbour-master’s cottage, Jane forgot Mr Weston, Miss Churchill and her own unhappiness in the woman’s travails, Dr Fairfax’s patience and gentleness and at last in the squalling, squirming infant she could place in the exhausted woman’s arms.
You can purchase The Other Miss Bates from Amazon
About the author
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters, two grandsons and two cockapoos but just one husband – Tim. They live in Cumbria, NW England.
The Other Miss Bates is her eighth novel and the second in the Highbury series