Blurb: Mrs. Churchill discovers that death becomes her, all too well.
Posted on 2010-10-31
Unbeknownst to her friends and confidantes, Mrs. Churchill's constitution wasn't prone to failing even during mid-winter. In fact, she was a healthy woman who only suffered from chronic bouts of coughing during the warmer seasons.
However, Mrs. Churchill was no fool, for she'd seen how others react to her discomfort and decided that she deserved a bit of attention in her waning years.
And she was by no means being selfish for thinking this. Had she not brought up a boy who was not even her own, through tumultuous years of youth and into manhood? And had not her neighbors all agreed that Frank Churchill was the epitome of what a young gentleman should endeavor to be? Blessed with wit but not with the cavalier attitude so popular with those his age, and possessing good looks which earned him admiration but not envy from his peers?
And thus, Mrs. Churchill firmly believed that no one would find her at fault if she often desired her nephew's presence in her life. For his wit and humor had kept her entertained in the dullest of day and she deserved a bit of happiness that life afforded to her, especially when she'd earned it.
So, Mrs. Churchill would fret and wonder whenever Frank left her side and visited his father. Not that she'd harbored any hostilities towards Mr. Weston. But the man did relinquish all rights to his son after his wife died, and did not lift a voice of protest when Frank had taken the name of Churchill after abandoning his father's in the hopes of being adopted by his uncle.
Mrs. Churchill pulled the lap blanket over her legs as she sat on the settee, shivering as she felt a slight chill embrace her thin form. And to further aggravate her pitiful condition, Mrs. Churchill remembered a conversation she had with Frank just yesterday.
He'd spoken of Emma Woodhouse from Highbury. A lady of breeding and the sole heir to a good fortune, and from the tone he had used, Mrs. Churchill felt a trickle of worry as to whether she should consider this Woodhouse to be a rival for Frank's affections. And she had every right to be concerned. Frank was still a young man, accomplished of course, but young. It was too early for Frank to consider taking a bride, especially one such as this Woodhouse who seemed to be very determined to take reins away from her.
Mrs. Churchill wrinkled her nose in distaste. She was Frank's mother and thus it was her duty to ensure that nobody exploited Frank. She firmed her resolve to prevent Frank from visiting Highbury for as long as possible. Hopefully, that would discourage this Emma Woodhouse from believing Frank could be so easily spirited away.
She greeted the maid with a smile but made an impatient noise as Catherine took too long to place the tray in the appropriate manner on the table. The child blushed prettily but dared not raise her eyes. Mrs. Churchill felt satisfaction and noted that next time she found the need to hire a maid, to get them as young as possible. That way, the training would be brief but the child would remember the lessons for much longer.
Mrs. Churchill took a sip of tea and sighed in genuine pleasure before grimacing as an unpleasant thought reared its head. The kitchen had no need to use that many leaves to make a single pot. She would have to speak with Mrs. Childes to ensure there would not be so much waste in the future. She then took a peek at the sugar bowl and once more wordlessly chided Mrs. Childes for such wasteful practices.
Mr. Churchill was a good man, and he provided well. However, that did not mean their servants could be so free in the kitchen and heaven knows where else!
However, she wasn't going to let the staff take away her enjoyment of the tea. And there was the fact that she was still suffering from a chill. Bracing herself, Mrs. Churchill poured herself another cup and emptied it in one draw. She then took a chocolate-drenched chestnut and took a bite. The sweet taste did much to wash away the unpleasant thoughts plaguing her.
After three such treats, Mrs. Churchill's mood had greatly improved. She even dared to take off the lap blanket in order to pull the bell cord.
When Mary, an older maid, entered, Mrs. Churchill said, "Please start a fire."
Mary looked startled and then dared to take a glance out the window onto a sunny spring day.
"I can sympathize with your desire to be outside with your new admirer, but I must insist you start the fire, immediately."
Mary blushed and not so prettily as Catherine. She even dared to curve her lips upwards in a small sign of disrespect before busying herself.
While Mary struggled to light a fire, Mrs. Churchill opened the window to enjoy fresh air. A cough rose and it was a violent one. She leaned against the window and waited for the attack to pass. After taking deep breaths, Mrs. Churchill turned to see the fire blazing merrily and Mary nowhere to be found.
"Well," she declared with some asperity. "That just cannot be tolerated!"
However, she did not summon the maid again. Now that the window was open, she could smell the roses and they were so very fragrant that her soured mood was once again lightened. And after another bite of the confectionary, Mrs. Churchill was glad to take her place in front of the fire and forget about Mary's sullen behavior.
After all, the girl was raised by her poor uncle and in circumstances similar to Frank's. However, there was a marked difference in that she did not have advantages like Frank did with the Churchill family.
Mrs. Churchill felt pity for Mary, actually, and felt certain pride that she could be so magnanimous in spite of the treatment she'd received from the maid.
The cough returned but was banished by another cup. She took a deep breath and changed her mind. The kitchen should definitely use as many of the leaves as possible.
A glimpse of her husband caught Mrs. Churchill's attention.
She waved enthusiastically but Mr. Churchill did not pay attention and kept his pace towards the stables.
Mrs. Churchill felt a prick of irritation but kept her temper in check. As she watched her husband disappear into the stables, she began wondering when did Mr. Churchill's attentions shy away from her.
Only when she answered her own question, did Mrs. Churchill truly feel her temper flare.
Mr. Churchill's attention had begun to wander when he'd started building his stables. He began purchasing foals from their neighbors, those Mrs. Churchill thought beneath their regard as their income was still derived from the land. Unlike the Churchills, who had wisely invested the income from their tenants to the city, and had reaped generous rewards for their astute choices.
She sniffed, remembering the barnyard smell that drifted freely over Henley's estate.
It didn't matter if Mrs. Henley had thrown the finest mid-summer ball in recent memory; one could not simply enjoy the gateaux when you could smell the fields over them!
She eyed the stables with harder resolve. Mrs. Churchill would just have to convince her husband to sell off his new hobby. That way they could disassociate themselves from their less savory acquaintances. Not to mention save income which could be used to further improve their property.
Mrs. Churchill always thought their gardens could be groomed further. Even Mrs. Henley had the foresight to hire a specialist from London, of all places, and the gentleman had done expert work to improve their property.
That would work perfectly, thought Mrs. Churchill. She would point out the fact that the Henleys had hired the expert, and that should be enough to convince Mr. Churchill to follow suit.
After all, they could hardly allow themselves to be outclassed by their lesser neighbors, especially when gardens were where everyone entertained their guests during the warmer months.
Mrs. Churchill took another glance at the new stables and decided that she had to move cautiously. After all, Mr. Churchill was very fond of his new horses even though they seemed to have soured his marriage a little.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Churchill wasn't the type to hold a grudge for that. After all, Mr. Churchill had always treated Frank as his son even though the boy was only a nephew. So, it made perfect sense for him to replace the absence of one with something else. But she couldn't allow it to continue forever. What kind of a wife would she be if she indulged in all her husband's fancies? Especially one that cost them both financially and the good opinion of those whose favors the Churchills needed?
Why, the widow, Mrs. Fuller, just spoke of her third son who was already a step away from the exalted position of Captain in the Navy even though he was a year younger than Frank. From all Mrs. Churchill had heard of the Lieutenant, he would go far, very far indeed. She believed that he might become the youngest admiral in recent history of the Navy. So, Frank could benefit greatly if he formed a friendship with Mrs. Fuller's youngest son.
And the Lieutenant was very wise for his years, too, if the stories she'd heard were true.
Mrs. Fuller had confided in her that a young girl from the village had formed an attachment of sorts with her son. When she confronted Adam with this, he laughed and explained that the girl had mistaken sparse acts of kindness for something much deeper. And though she was pretty and more than a good match for certain young men in the village, he had his sights set on someone with more poise and greater social value, as he planned to rise in the ranks and wanted a wife who could match his ambition.
Then, to confirm her son's words, Mrs. Fuller later discovered the girl had married someone else, and that she was already with child when she exchanged vows with the hapless fool who decided to defend what little honor she'd had left.
Mrs. Churchill winced in disgust as her face further creased in worry. She genuinely hoped this Emma Woodhouse person wasn't such a destructive creature and that she kept in mind her social position in Highbury even as she tried to seduce Frank into the bond of marriage.
As Frank's de facto mother, she had faith in her son, but she also knew he was rather innocent in the ways of the fairer sex. And that wasn't his fault, but hers. She had been rather protective of Frank and had sheltered him too much in his childhood. But how could she teach him such things when she herself knew so little?
She had met Mr. Churchill through a mutual friend, and though she was forewarned that he had fancied someone else and that the lady had returned his feelings, she couldn't help but be curious as to the identity of the young woman who'd ensnared his regard.
When she discovered who it was, Mrs. Churchill had to act for she knew the lady in question was no way an appropriate choice for the amiable newcomer to the village.
After many discussions with her circle of friends, they decided to disabuse Mr. Churchill of his romantic notions.
It took some work but the relationship between the young lovers soured, and Mrs. Churchill was proud to note that his attention drifted away from Miss Davies and towards herself. She was in no way ashamed of what she'd done, since Miss Davies barely noticed she'd lost Mr. Churchill's favor to another.
Mrs. Churchill fell into aggravation when she remembered Miss Davies had married and married well. And was now residing in London. She was rumored to still be a beauty and had kept the admiration of her husband through the years.
She forced her attention back to the stables when Mr. Churchill ambled into view, holding the reins of a foal. Its gait was awkward and Mrs. Churchill shuddered to think her husband riding such a clumsy creature. As a child she'd seen the damage wrought by a horse's kick and had no desire to see Mr. Churchill similarly scarred.
Thinking of how many horses were currently housed in their stables, Mrs. Churchill calculated they would be able to recuperate what her husband had already spent and perhaps earn a modest profit alongside.
The sun had warmed up the room enough for the fireplace to be redundant, but since Mrs. Churchill still felt a chill, she decided not ruin her good mood any further by calling Mary in. Instead, she took her place in the settee and finished the tea. Mrs. Churchill was glad to note that its flavor remained pleasant as it cooled. Some other teas she'd had, for example ones served by Mrs. Henley, became acrid and disagreeable.
Mrs. Churchill shuddered and once again congratulated herself in the choice of tea her kitchen served.
She decided to treat herself to one more sweet and took a bite from a particularly luscious piece when another bout of coughing rose from her chest. She spewed out crumbled bits of chestnut and chocolate, while trying to take in a deep breath.
The result was disastrous.
The crumbles inside her mouth went down her throat and Mrs. Churchill began coughing even more violently. She quickly became overwhelmed with panic as she could no longer breathe.
The table in front of her crashed forwards as she fell against it. By now, Mrs. Churchill was desperately struggling for air.
Then, salvation came.
The door to the room opened, and from her place on the floor, Mrs. Churchill saw two sets of legs. Tears formed as she recognized her husband and Frank.
Both men stopped at the doorway and watched as she struggled to raise a pleading hand towards them.
The corners of her vision began to fade and Mrs. Churchill watched the men stand and do nothing.
A thin noise escaped from her lips as she struggled to right herself. Her eyes widened in animalistic panic as she stared at her husband and Frank. She knew they were aware of her condition so she couldn't understand why they did not rush to her aid.
Another strangled noise escaped from her, and that was all Mrs. Churchill was able to summon. As her sight dimmed she heard the men walk away and close the door behind them.
Mrs. Churchill wanted to weep, but the rushing blackness had frozen her tears, for it was so very, very cold and unending.The End