Saunmour Manor

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Write about someone finally making their own choices.... view prompt

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Fiction

Francis Males rose from his study at eight o’clock every evening to eat dinner with his two daughters, the eldest called Celia, and the other Victoria. And every evening, Celia and Victoria cooked the dinner and set out the silverware before their fathers arrival. 

Francis was a truly wealthy man. He came from an important family from which he inherited a very large estate called the Saunmour Manor, and more importantly a substantial sum of money. He was good looking, too, at least in his youth. He had fair colored hair and green eyes that had a sort of enchanting quality about them, and it was for those reasons that, despite having a short temper and showing very little affection towards anyone, he managed to marry a woman who was both kind and beautiful, but unfortunately quite poor. 

His wife, called Victoria, had passed away shortly after giving birth to her second child, the one that shared her name. 

While the young Victoria had her father’s looks, she had none of his good qualities, such as being hard-working or independent. Instead, she was frivolous and flighty, relying heavily on her fortune and hopes of marrying a rich and handsome man. 

Celia, on the other hand, looked strikingly similar to her late mother. She had dark hair and dark eyes, which both sometimes looked so black as to make her father look at her and wonder how they were related. Being the older of two daughters, Celia should have been raised to inherit the family business, but Francis had a different idea for his daughter. 

“Good evening, Father,” Victoria said as Francis took his seat at the head of the table. 

“Quite,” he agreed shortly, before beginning his dinner. 

“Is there something the matter? Oh, don’t say there is, I don’t think I could bear it after the day I’ve had,” she sighed dramatically. Francis didn’t take the bait she had so carefully planned out. She had been hoping he would ask her about her day, for once, but he was not that sort of man. 

“Nothing is the matter, not yet, anyway. Celia, have you gone to the seamstress yet? I would have you a new dress made before you see Mr. Etheridge.” 

Victoria slumped in her chair, visibly upset after being brushed off so quickly. Celia took her eyes off the table for a moment to offer her sister a sympathetic look. 

“Not yet,” she told her father, “but I’m sure Victoria would greatly appreciate a new dress, more so then I ever could.” 

Victoria nodded quickly, but Francis shook his head. “Nonsense. Victoria doesn’t need a new dress, you do. Mr. Etheridge does not want to marry her.” 

“Of course,” Celia returned her gaze to the table, feeling rather stupid for attempting to change his mind in the first place. 

Francis was many things, but he wasn’t dumb. He sensed the hesitation and concern in his daughters voice. “I must have you understand,” he said, “that Mr. Etheridge is a good man. He is rich enough to take care of you for all of your days, and Victoria, too.” He chose his words carefully, knowing that whatever Celia would not do for herself, she would do for her younger sister. “Promise me that you will marry him?” 

He said it as if it were something Celia could refuse, but she understood that she could not. 

“I promise.” 

Francis nodded slowly, his eyes flicking between Celia’s face and his food. He tried to be a good parent the way he understood how, but he had never had enough love to share to others. It was his daughters, and it had been his wife, who had suffered. 

The next day, Celia and Victoria set off into town. “I’m very sorry that Father would not allow you a new dress. I would give up mine a thousand times, I hope you know.” 

“I do,” Victoria assured her, “of course I would appreciate a new dress, but I don’t fault you. It’s just marvelous that you’re to be married so soon. I hope to be married at just the same age, or even earlier. If I could marry a man richer than Mr. Etheridge, do you think Father would buy me a new dress?” 

Celia felt a feeling of deep sorrow at the question. Why was it that Victoria should have to marry a wealthy man, no matter her true feelings towards him, for their Father to pay her any mind? She wished that she could tell Victoria that she didn’t need to impress their Father.

“I think he would,” she said instead, because she was nothing if not a faithful daughter, and girls who were nothing in the world would never be anything. 

Victoria looked wistfully into the distance, saying nothing more. 

One week later, Celia sat in her bedroom wearing her new dress. It was a lovely shade of purple, fitted just right around her corseted waist. She could not be unhappy with such a thing, especially when she was sure her father had spent a great deal of money on having it made just for her. 

She watched out the window as the carriage approached. Out of it stepped a short man, likely in his late thirties. He was not handsome, but he wasn’t bad looking either.  

“Celia, Mr. Etheridge has arrived,” Victoria called. She had quickly gotten over her upset at their Father, too overcome with the excitement of meeting a new person. She had not been at the dinner party where Celia had first met Mr. Etheridge and deemed him an unpleasant man, too similar to her own father for her to ever grow to like him. 

“Come greet him, Celia,” added her father. 

Celia sighed, then descended down the stairs to open the door. “Good morning,” she said with a small, polite smile. 

“And to you as well, my dear,” Mr. Etheridge took her gloved hand, kissing her knuckles. She resisted the urge to pull away. 

 He dipped his head in greeting to Victoria, and shook hands with Francis. 

“Would you like some tea?” asked Victoria eagerly. 

“Oh, yes,” he replied, but not quite with as much enthusiasm as Victoria could have hoped for. 

After Victoria had brought out the tea, Celia decided to please her father and invite Mr. Etheridge to walk in the gardens with her. 

She couldn’t help but feel a little pride when he nodded his approval. Mr. Etheridge agreed, and they set off down a path that led them on a wide loop that showed off the well taken care of gardens of Saunmour.

“It is my understanding that you are well aware of the incentives that have brought me to your estate today,” he said once they had started. 

“Pardon me if I’m not sure what you mean.” 

Mr. Etheridge raised his eyebrows. “Oh? I thought that you had been expecting my proposal for some time now, since we were first introduced.”

“Oh, yes,” Celia said, trying to mask the disappointment in her tone. She had held out hope that those were not his intentions at all, but he had doused that flame. “Of course, I wasn’t certain.” 

“Then allow me to confirm those beliefs,” he said it as if it were the best thing that could happen to a girl, “would you do me the honor of wedding me?” 

Celia had been dreading- expecting them, sure, but still dreading- those words ever since her father had first brought up the prospect. She knew what she had to say. She knew the answer that would please her father, earning at least a small sliver of his heart forever. But she could not speak. For her entire life, Celia had always done what her father expected of her, but now, as the words floated in the air between them, she could not say anything. 

Color rose to her cheeks, which Mr. Etheridge interpreted as her being shy, or flustered. He was the sort of man who could not even imagine someone rejecting his proposal. 

“I’m sorry,” Celia said. 

“Whatever for?” 

She met his eyes. “I don’t wish to marry you. It’s not only that, I can’t marry you. I could never love you and I would be unhappy for the rest of my life.” Once she started, she could not seem to stop. “My father wants me to marry you, I promised him I would marry you, but I’ve just realized that I simply can’t. You wouldn’t be happy either,” she added, “having a wife who didn’t want you.” 

Now it was Mr. Etheridge who was turning red, but instead because she had wounded his pride. “How could you say such a thing? Of course you would love me, after we were married. We’ve only known each other for a month, how can you assume for the rest of your life?” 

“That’s just it, I’ve only known you for a month. Hardly long enough to marry you, but far too long to consider the idea of it at all.”

This was much to great of an insult for Mr. Etheridge’s pride to bear. He started walking away, towards his carriage. Celia only stood and watched him leave. 

She dreaded to think about what her father would say, but she was too full of happiness to allow that feeling to overwhelm her. 

It was a strange sensation, she thought, making her own decisions. Thrilling, sickening, and content, all at once. But it was a welcome feeling, and perhaps one that she would soon like to feel again. 

May 23, 2021 19:24

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1 comment

Graham Kinross
13:01 Nov 20, 2021

Celia is wise. Too many people think love at first sight is a real thing, not infatuation which is basically lust. Love is still feeling that when you know someone well. Making a lifelong commitment to someone you barely know is mad. Celia might be the only one with her head on right in that family, good for her.

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