The Other Miss Bates
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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 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 the 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.
Miss Louisa Churchill was a vivacious and confident young woman, as blessed in physical beauty and perfect openness of manner as she was fortunate in birth and wealth. She had been the darling of her parents until their demise quite early in her life, and thereafter the apple of her elder brother’s eye. To him had devolved duty of his sister’s regulation and education. He had diligently attempted both, but her happiness had been his chief concern and it may be said that his desire to ensure that had often taken precedence over the rest. Louisa had become used to getting what she wanted, whether it was beneficial or not. She learned how to cajole her brother into acquiescence, finding a pouted lip, a lustrous tear or—in extreme cases—a tantrum could generally bring him round to her way of thinking. Mr Churchill was a young man to shoulder the heavy burden of a vast estate, let alone the care of a small child. As a consequence Louisa had been extraordinarily happy in her nineteen years but not excessively well-educated and scarcely ever disciplined to any degree.
She had taken it into her head to visit Brighton. She had proposed the idea with her usual enthusiasm and forcefulness to her brother and sister-in-law, had smoothed away their objections, countered every doubt and waved away their scruples so that the family had embarked upon the nigh on three-hundred-mile journey borne along almost solely by her energy and determination.
‘I thank you most sincerely,’ she began, when she and the Bateses were only just out of earshot of the inn, ‘for offering me the opportunity of some respite from my sister-in-law. You cannot imagine what torture the last four days have been, cooped up in the carriage with her and listening to her carp and complain at every jolt and shudder.’
‘She has delicate health perhaps?’ Marie suggested. ‘Have they been long married, your brother and Mrs Churchill?’
‘Ah, I see the import of your question,’ Miss Churchill said, with more directness than Mrs Bates quite liked in a girl so young. ‘They have been married two years this coming October. No ‘delicacy’ has yet been conceived. No,’ she concluded cheerfully, ‘she is just naturally evil-tempered and constitutionally out of sorts.’
‘They say sea bathing cures all manner of ills,’ Jane replied.
‘I believe, in Eustacia’s case, only drowning would cure her completely!’ Miss Churchill quipped lightly, ‘I don’t suppose that has ever been heard of, has it?’
‘Miss Churchill,’ Marie said with knitted brows, ‘I forgive your jest because you are young and I see your patience has been sorely tried; I understand how a young lady’s tongue may sometimes run away. You need have no fear that we will misrepresent you, but not everyone would be so forbearing. Really, such a thing is no subject for humour.’
Miss Churchill sighed. ‘You are right to chastise me, Mrs Bates. Of course I wish no ill to befall Eustacia. In truth I feel rather sorry for her. It must be so tiresome to be always ill-humoured. It is my sincere wish that Brighton will enliven her spirits. I am sure I have no doubt that it will enliven mine.’