Youngest Miss Ward

Youngest Miss Ward

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Overview

Youngest Miss Ward by Joan Aiken, Jane Austen

A charming companion book to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, written by one of her most sparkling successors. After the death of her mother, Hatty, the most accomplished and kindest of the Ward sisters, finds herself back in the life of the haughty Lady Ursula.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312193751
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/28/1998
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.08(d)

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Chapter One

To Mr Henry Ward, a gentleman of very moderate means residing at Bythorn Lodge in the county of Huntingdon, it was a matter of some mortification that he had only seven thousand pounds to give his daughter Maria when she was so fortunate as to capture the affections of a baronet, Sir Thomas Bertram, possessor of a handsome estate not far off in the neighbouring county of Northamptonshire. Mr Ward's other daughters were, subsequently, to fare even worse: due to a diminution of her father's fortune, the eldest Miss Ward, Agnes, could take only two thousand with her when, six years after her sister's wedding, she was able to contract a respectable, if undistinguished, alliance with Mr Norris, a middle-aged clerical protege, of her brother-in-law. More grievous still, at a time when the family was in some distraction, the third sister, Miss Frances, made a runaway match with a lieutenant of marines in Portsmouth. For the rest of her life this daughter would therefore be referred to as 'poor Fanny' with a mixture of distaste and condemnation by her elder sisters — particularly by Mrs Norris. And, to cap it all, the youngest Miss Ward, Harriet, allowed her life to take such an un-looked-for and outrageous turn that she, among the family, was never referred to at any time (except of course by Mrs Norris).

    It is an account of her history and misfortunes, with a rebuttal of all false assertions and calumnies that the present narrative sets out to provide.

    The youngest Miss Ward, Harriet, or Hatty as she was most frequently referred to did not, at the age of twelve when this journal commences, seem destined for a career of infamy.

    From the first, she had been her mother's favourite, and spent much time in Mrs Ward's boudoir with that lady (who became bed-ridden three years after Hatty's birth) reading her lessons, books, and poetry or singing in a soft but true little voice with a small compass.

    Good looks had been very unevenly distributed by Providence among the Ward sisters. Two of them, Maria and Frances, resembled their handsome father: they were the fortunate possessors of dazzlingly fair complexions, large blue eyes, and fine, tall, well-formed figures; they were generally acknowledged to be among the finest young women in the county.

    The other two sisters, Agnes and Hatty, took after their mother, who had brought breeding to the family, but neither money nor beauty; she had been a Miss Isabel Wisbech, a distant connection of the Duke of Dungeness, and although clever, kind-hearted and elegant, she was unimposing, short and slight in stature, dark-eyed and pale-skinned, with very little countenance; this, as well as her gentle manner and complete lack of animation, caused neighbourhood gossip to assert that she had not been happy in her marriage.

    Agnes and Hatty had both inherited their mother's small stature and dark colouring, but not her lack of animation; Hatty in particular had inherited her mother's elegance, and a sweetness in her countenance that would always recommend her to the notice of discerning strangers. For Agnes, the eldest Miss Ward, had a sharp, bustling and overbearing nature, while Hatty, quick-witted, playful and original in her cast of mind, had always been obliged to provide her own amusements, since two of her elder sisters were too phlegmatic to comprehend her jokes and imaginings, while the third was too short-tempered.

    Mr Ward, amid this household of women, had become a disappointed man. His chief and lifelong ambition was to be appointed Master of Foxhounds, for he was greatly addicted to the chase, and would have hunted every day of his life had such a pursuit been possible, and had dissipated the larger part of his fortune on high-bred hunters. At the time of his marriage he had hoped that a connection with Colonel Frederick Wisbech, his wife's second cousin, who was the younger son of the Duke of Dungeness, and reputed, furthermore, to be a very shrewd investor in the City, would bring him both social and pecuniary advantage. But neither of these blessings had come about. Colonel Wisbech thought Mr Ward a dead bore, and kept his distance, while the foxhounds remained under the negligent care of the Duke's brother-in-law.

    But Mr Ward's worst and grinding disappointment lay in regard to his estate, which was entailed in the male line and would, in default of an heir, pass to one of his brother Philip's sons. Mr Philip Ward was an attorney in Portsmouth, of no social consequence whatsoever in his brother's estimate; the two brothers rarely communicated and had met but once in the course of eighteen years. It was a continual vexation to Mr Ward that this unimportant family should have the right to inherit his property simply on account of some piece of legal barratry. And life for a man of small fortune, such as himself, who lived on the fringe, but never in the company of titled connections, could never be easy.

    Four daughters had the unfortunate Mrs Ward brought into the world by the age of thirty-one, and after the fourth her medical attendant pronounced without the slightest hesitation that a fifth child would indubitably kill her. Mr Ward was outraged at this news. He had taken little notice of the first three daughters; the fourth one he utterly ignored. From the delivery of Hatty, after which she was stricken by a severe birth fever, Mrs Ward's health steadily declined, and by the time of Miss Maria's wedding she had been bed-ridden for eight or nine years.

    Preparations for a sufficiently handsome nuptial celebration due to the future Lady Bertram were plainly going to be beyond her power to set in train.

    'Why should we not invite my cousin Ursula Fowldes to help us?' she therefore hesitantly suggested to her husband. 'Ursula might, I believe, be prepared to come and stay here, for a few days before the wedding, and take care of all the details; I fancy there is no one so knowledgeable, so capable as she, when it comes to matters of that kind. She has had ample experience, as you may recall, with the weddings of two of her sisters. And, for the marriage of our dear Maria to Sir Thomas Bertram, we would not wish anything to be done improperly or negligently.'

    Mr Ward thought very well of this suggestion. Lady Ursula Fowldes, eldest daughter of the Duke's brother-in-law, the fox-hunting Earl of Elstow, had seen two of her younger sisters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Anne, suitably married off; she must by now be thoroughly acquainted with all the correct minutiae of etiquette and procedure. (Why Lady Ursula had never married was a subject of conjecture and rumour in the neighbourhood; there had been talk of a broken romance some years before.) At this time she was twenty-seven years of age, and, by now, hopes of her contracting a matrimonial alliance had, for numerous reasons, long been relinquished.

    'I believe Cousin Ursula might be willing to come and advise us,' repeated Mrs Ward, 'although it is a long time since I have seen her. She and I had a great kindness for one another, when we were younger. If you will supply me with pen and paper, Hatty dear, I will write to her directly.'

    Hatty obeyed, but she did so with a sigh as she brought the writing materials. Among the Ward girls, Cousin Ursula was by no means a favourite, for she cherished very high notions as to her own position in society and (perhaps as a legacy of that legendary romantic attachment) bore herself in a stiff, acidic, superior manner and maintained a ramrod-straight deportment which tended to cast a gloom over any social gathering in which she took part. Her nose, her chin, her eyebrows were perpetually elevated in astonished condemnation; no one was ever so speedy to depress vulgar pretensions or to snub upstart impertinence as Lady Ursula.

    'Ay, ay, your cousin Lady Ursula will certainly be the properest person to oversea Maria's affair,' agreed Mr Ward, quite satisfied for once.

    At this period of the family's fortunes, since Maria had been able to contract such a gratifyingly eligible alliance with Sir Thomas Bertram, Mr Ward's frame of mind concerning his future prospects still remained reasonably sanguine. It was to be supposed that Maria's future connections might well achieve satisfactory matches for the younger girls as well. And he was entirely pleased with the notion of persuading Lady Ursula to visit his modest residence, Bythorn Lodge. For up to now, despite the family connection, there had been but few dealings between the Ward family and that of Lord Elstow at Underwood Priors. 'Our cousins, the Fowldes', 'Our cousin, Lady Ursula' echoed pleasantly through the mind of Mr Ward; during the forthcoming wedding festivities, this, he felt, would make a most satisfactory counterbalance to the titled connections of the bridegroom, Sir Thomas.

    Abandoning his customary disparaging, not to say surly, manner towards the generality of the female sex, Mr Ward, for the duration of the nuptial celebrations, was prepared to treat Lady Ursula with distinction, cordiality and even with an approach to gallantry which would amaze his daughters.

    There were, however, various domestic problems to be overcome before the arrival of the wedding guests. An elderly aunt of Mr Ward, Mrs Winchilsea from Somerset, had been invited for the occasion, and Bythorn Lodge possessed only a single guest chamber. One of the four girls must, therefore, move out of her bedroom to accommodate Lady Ursula. Plainly Maria, the bride, could not be thus displaced; the obvious choice would be one of the two younger girls, Hatty or Frances; but their quarters were inferior.

    'Agnes must give up her room,' decreed Mr Ward, when the matter came to his adjudication. 'Agnes has the largest room of the three, with a view over the meadow; it is by far the most suitable, the only chamber proper for Lady Ursula who is, after all, devoting time and solicitude to our affairs; we should neglect no attention that can contribute to her comfort. Agnes must move in with Frances.'

    Agnes was by no means pleased with this decision. Further to inflame her sense of injury, Maria had selected her younger, not her elder sister as an escort on the forthcoming bridal tour to Bath and Wells. Frances, not Agnes, had been preferred for a travelling companion. This choice was not particularly surprising to anyone in the family, for Frances and Maria, resembling one another in nature as in looks, had always been each other's best friend, leaving Agnes, the eldest, and Hatty, the youngest — separated in age by thirteen years and in disposition by every possible incompatibility — to get along as best they could during the lack of any other companionship.

    But Agnes now felt this exclusion most severely. It was in her nature to resent all such slights, whether real or fancied, and the present instance was in no way mitigated by Maria — soon to be Lady Bertram — remarking in her usual calm, languid tone, 'After all, sister, it is your plain duty to remain in the house and look after Mama, when Frances and I are gone off on my wedding journey with Sir Thomas. I have heard you say, I do not know how many times, that you are the only person in the family who is fit to take proper care of our mother, that Fanny is by far too feather-pated to be entrusted with the housekeeping, and Hatty, of course, too young. So everybody will be suited; and I think you had best move yourself into Hatty's bedroom, for there will be a great deal of confusion in Fanny's chamber while she packs up her things to come away with me. Fanny is so scatter-brained. When we are gone off, you know, you may take your pick between my room and Fanny's — if Lady Ursula remains — since I daresay Fanny may stop with me and Sir Thomas for a number of months, once we are settled at his house in Mansfield Park.'

    All this was bitter as gall to the irritable spirit of Agnes, the more so since it was based on completely reasonable arguments and thoroughly incontrovertible facts. In the end Agnes did choose to move in with Hatty (much to the latter's dismay) for two reasons: first, because the room was closer to her own; and second, because Hatty, being the youngest, was most subject to her elder's jurisdiction and could be ordered to carry armfuls of garments and other articles from one chamber to the other.

    From this minor household displacement followed a mishap which would have repercussions that continued for many years to come.

    Maria's wedding was to take place in the month of June. That year the early weeks of summer had been peculiarly close and oppressive, with heavy grey skies and a continual threat of thunder. The invalid Mrs Ward had found the warm and airless atmosphere especially trying, and had begged for as many doors and windows as possible to be kept open at all times. It so happened, therefore, that the front door of Bythorn Lodge was standing wide open when the chaise-and-four arrived that brought Lady Ursula from Underwood Priors. This was several hours earlier than expected. Lady Ursula had never been known to consult the convenience of others in her comings and goings, and since she considered that she was conferring a signal favour by this visit, she felt not the least scruple in advancing the suggested arrival time by half a day.

    The household was already in some confusion, with preparations for the other visitor and the nuptial festivities, and no footman chanced to be stationed in the hall at the moment when Lady Ursula, tall, grim and disapproving, stepped through the open front doorway. She rapped smartly with her cane on the flagged floor, looked around her, and called out loudly in her high, commanding voice: 'Hollo, there! Where is everybody? Let me be attended to, if you please!'

    Fanny Ward, running down the steep stair with a bundle of household linen in her arms was almost petrified with alarm at the sight of this daunting apparition.

    'Oh, my gracious! Cousin Ursula! I — I h-had no notion that you was expected quite so soon! I — I am afraid Papa is down at the s-stables —'

    Down at the stables was where Mr Ward invariably spent the hours of daylight when there was no hunting to occupy him.

    'That is not of the least consequence,' said Lady Ursula coldly. 'You will escort me to your mother, if you please. Frances, is it not?'

    'Yes — yes, of course —' Desperately, Fanny tugged at a bell rope, and when the flustered housekeeper appeared, gave equally flustered directions. 'Direct Jenny and my sister Harriet to prepare Lady Ursula's room immediately!'

    'Escort me, pray, to your mother,' repeated Lady Ursula, a lifting note in her voice suggesting that she was not in the habit of being obliged to repeat her requests.

    'Of course, certainly, Cousin Ursula — if you will step this way — I am just not sure that Mama is — but if you will follow me — and if you will just —'

    Lady Ursula's expression conveyed that she was not used to being left waiting in passage-ways. A small upstairs hall had an armchair beside a french window leading on to a balcony, but Fanny's hopeful gesture towards the armchair failed to have any effect on the visitor, who continued to follow close behind her nervous guide.

    Mrs Ward's bedroom door, like the front entrance, stood wide and thus revealed the scene within, which, to most observers, would have been a pleasing and touching one.

    To afford her as much relief as possible from the sultry and oppressive closeness of the atmosphere, the invalid lady was half-lying, half-seated in bed, reclined against a mass of pillows and swathed in layers of the lightest possible gauze and cambric. Slight and thin even in the best of health, Mrs Ward now looked frail as a cobweb. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head, for ease in the heat, and covered with a wisp of lace. To the startled eyes of Lady Ursula her face, small and pointed, and at this moment somewhat smoothed from its habitual lines of pain, looked exactly as it had twelve years before. And the face of the child, holding a book, curled beside the bed in a slipper-chair, was its precise replica. But the expressions of each were at wide variance. That of the child held nothing but dismay; that of the sick woman brightened into joy and recognition.

    'Ursie! My dear, dear Ursie! This is such a pleasure! We had not expected you until dinner-time!'

    'So I had apprehended from the lack of preparation,' glacially replied the visitor, but mitigated her reproof by approaching and momentarily resting her cheek alongside that of the sick woman. The child, meanwhile, had nervously, like some small wild creature, started away from the bedside.

    Lady Ursula hardly glanced at her, but Mrs Ward said softly, stretching out an attenuated hand, 'Dearie, we will continue with our Shakespeare reading at a later time. Soon, I promise. For we had reached such an exciting point! Mind you do not cheat and read on by yourself — I put you on your honour! I trust you! Now, as you may guess, Cousin Ursula and I have many years of conversation to catch up — and you, I know, will help Fanny prepare Ursula and Aunt Winchilsea's chambers — and pick each of them a sweet-scented posy from the garden. Hatty's posies are always the best,' Mrs Ward told her visitor, indicating the lavender, Southernwood and geranium nosegay on her bed-table with a quick, hopeful smile as the child came closer and brushed her cheek against the outstretched hand.

    But Lady Ursula, with hardly a glance at her young cousin, gave brusque orders: 'Run along, child, do; you are not wanted here. Your mother and I have private matters to discuss — run away, make haste, go along with you. And shut the door behind you as you go.'

    Mrs Ward opened her mouth to protest against this, but then closed it again. She said gently, 'Sit down, my dear Ursie. Find yourself a comfortable chair. It is so good to see you, after all this time. You must tell me all about your sisters' weddings. And your Mama. And your Papa — Uncle Owen — how is he?'

    'Very ill,' replied Lady Ursula shortly. 'He is drunk more often than sober, when at home. And when in London — which is where he spends the greater part of his time — my mother prefers not to inquire too closely into his doings. And she — she is hardly in this world at all. We will not waste time talking about them, if you please.'

    With an air of disgust she pushed away the slipper-chair from the bedside and, looking around, chose an upright one more suited to her habitual posture. Seating herself upon it, she glanced frowningly at her hostess and said, 'You should not allow that child to tire you so. One of her sisters could surely oversee her studies.'

    'Oh, but my dear Ursie, we enjoy such happy hours together. She is now my only — one of my chief pleasures. Pray do not scold me, Ursie! I hope you have not come here to do that! I have hoped to see you for so long! Why did you stay away?'

    Mrs Ward stretched out a caressing hand and took that of her visitor.

    'Come! Let us pretend that we are back in the schoolroom at Underwood. How are Barbara and Drusilla? How is my cousin Fred Wisbech? And my uncle the Duke, is he well? And — and my cousin Harry?'

    'I have not the least idea,' replied Lady Ursula in a cold, remote tone. 'Our paths do not cross. Nor is it at all desirable that they should.'

    'Oh, Ursie!' Mrs Ward's tone was hardly above a sigh, but it held all the sorrow and sympathy in the world. Now she held the visitor's hand in both of hers and softly, condolingly, stroked it. 'Oh, my dear, dear Ursie! Why, why have you never come to see me before this?'

    'What occasion was there to do so?'

    Lady Ursula's tone was cold, and her expression forbidding, but she let her hand remain where it lay. She sat immobile, like a large armoured vessel, held at the dockside only by the very slightest of mooring cables.


Darkness fell early on that hot, oppressive day. The provision of a more elaborate dinner than usual, in honour of the arrival of Lady Ursula and Mrs Winchilsea, had overtaxed the resources of the inefficient household, and, at the fall of dark, Hatty and one of the servant-maids were still running to and fro upstairs with bundles of gowns, cloaks, petticoats and toilet utensils which were being transferred from one bedroom to another. The most direct route for them lay across the head of the main stairway which led down to the entrance hall.

    As sometimes occurs at the commencement of a storm, a sudden terrific gust of wind swept across the garden to break the sultry calm of the evening. The front door, which still stood open, blew shut with a reverberating crash, and all the hall candles were extinguished in the draught. Hatty, who at that moment had been crossing the upstairs landing with a heavy trayload of pieces from her eldest sister's bureau, was so startled that she missed her footing in the unexpected dark and tumbled headlong down the stair, accompanied by a clatter of breaking chinaware and a strong waft of spilled lavender-water.

    'Oh, mercy on us, Miss Hatty!' cried out Jenny the maid, who had been but a few paces behind her. 'Oh, my laws, are ye killed? Whatever's come to ye?'

    Mr Ward heard the crash of the front door slamming, Hatty's downfall, and Jenny's subsequent outcry.

    'What in the world is going on here?' he demanded irascibly, issuing from his study, candle in hand. 'Not so much noise, if you please! Remember your poor mistress, lying ill in her chamber.'

    Indeed, faint requests for information could be heard emanating from Mrs Ward's chamber, while Agnes, Maria and Frances all made their way, bearing candles, to the scene of the accident, Agnes at a hasty pace, the others more leisurely.

    'Careless, abominable girl!' exclaimed Agnes in a tone of strong reprobation. 'Look what she has done to my things!'

    Fragments of broken pottery, glass, ivory and lacquer lay widely strewn over the flagged hall floor.

    'But Miss Hatty, Miss Hatty!' wailed Jenny. 'She's surely dead — she's killed!'

    'Do not create such a foolish commotion, girl,' pronounced Mr Ward, in a voice of severe displeasure. 'You will unnecessarily alarm Mrs Ward. Of course the girl is not dead, she has merely knocked herself senseless.'

    'But may she not have broken some bones, sir?' suggested the housekeeper, Mrs Ayling, a calm, sensible woman who now arrived upon the scene. 'Should not Mr Jones have a look at her?'

    Mr Jones, Mrs Ward's physician, lived not far away and paid frequent visits to the house. Hastily summoned, he pronounced that Miss Hatty had no bones broke, but was suffering from a severe concussion and must remain in her bed for several days.

    Due to these circumstances, Hatty was obliged to miss the wedding ceremony and attendance on her sister at the church, besides the various festivities. She also missed meeting most of the guests. Her state of mind for the first few days after the accident remained somewhat confused, so she felt no particular regret at her exclusion from the service.

    Afterwards her chief memory of the occasion was to be a visit to her bedside paid by Lady Ursula. The immensely tall, thin figure glided into her chamber and stood looking down at the invalid, it seemed, from a terrifying height. Lady Ursula's face seemed to poor Hatty like that of some bird of prey, the nose aquiline, the mouth drooping in a disdainful curve, the eyes deeply hooded. The visitor's hair, pulled straight back beneath a black lace cap, already showed strands of grey. Her hands were long, bony and emphatic, as she shook an admonishing finger at Hatty.

    'Tiresome child! You have caused great trouble, inconvenience and loss to your poor sister Agnes. What a ridiculous, unnecessary mishap! It was a thoroughly childish thing to do, and most unladylike, besides!'

    'Indeed, Cousin Ursula, I could not help it. I missed my footing in the sudden dark,' pleaded Hatty faintly, staring up at the long, severe face. To her still feverish fancy it was like some piece of marble statuary that had come stalking in from the garden.

    'Tush. Fiddle, child! A lady should always have complete control of her limbs. If you had learned such essential control, you would have stood still when the light blew out — not tumbled down in that clumsy maladroit hoydenish manner. Your poor sister Agnes has lost some of her most cherished possessions.'

    'I know, I know it,' whispered Hatty forlornly. 'How can I possibly replace them? Her ivory mirror — her silver brooch —'

    The catalogue of losses sustained by Agnes had been the first information fed into Hatty's unhappy mind as soon as she began to recover consciousness. Agnes, eldest of the Ward sisters, had been particularly proud of the treasures accumulated on her toilet table, the chief of these being an ivory brush, comb and hand-mirror bequeathed to her by old Mrs Wisbech, her maternal grandmother, when that lady died. They had the initial W engraved on the back which, of course, served for Ward as well as for Wisbech. And now the glass in the mirror was shattered, the comb broken in two, the hairbrush badly bent. Besides this, a cherished little lacquer box was irretrievably smashed, a Venetian vial cracked, so that it would no longer hold aromatic vinegar, and several other articles dented or bent beyond repair. Since her life had hitherto been barren of friends or lovers, Agnes set immense store by such possessions as she had contrived to acquire, and the loss of them was a bitter grievance, which she made no attempt to make light of or pass over. Hatty was obliged to hear the detailed tally of her bereavement several times a day.

    Indeed this episode permanently impaired the relations between Hatty and her eldest sister, which had never, at best, been particularly warm or cordial; and it soon led on to the formation of a scheme that was to affect the whole of Hatty's subsequent career. Up to this juncture Mrs Ward, though bed-ridden, had given Hatty all her lessons, since Mr Ward latterly begrudged the salary of Miss Tomkyns, the governess who had instructed Agnes, Maria and Fanny. Mother and daughter had both taken pleasure in the quiet reading of history, French, Latin, Greek and Italian, besides plays, essays and poetry; music continued to be taught by a master who came once a week and instructed the younger girls, since Mr Ward considered music a necessary female accomplishment if they were to catch husbands.

    But it was becoming evident that, as Mrs Ward daily grew feebler, this regime could not long be continued; and Lady Ursula, with whom Mr Ward discussed the matter, was strongly of the opinion that Hatty should now be sent away from home to live with another family. This plan was also eagerly promoted by Agnes, who had never liked her youngest sister, and could think of a thousand good reasons why her departure was desirable.

    'She makes too much noise about the house for my poor mother; she is not receiving the requisite education — for her fortune and expectations in life, coming as she does at the end of the family, cannot be high, she must look to be obliged to support herself, most probably as a governess; I have not the time to see after her, so occupied as I am with the housekeeping and care of Mama; as we have just seen, she is becoming most regrettably careless and uncontrollable; by residing with another family she will learn better deportment and greater respect for her elders.'

    The other family in question was that of Mr Philip Ward, their uncle the attorney in Portsmouth.

    Mr Ward favoured the plan for two additional reasons, neither of which did he divulge to his family; the first being that some fifteen years previously, when his own fortunes were in better trim and his brother was still a struggling attorney in the early stages of his profession, Mr Ward had lent Mr Philip Ward five hundred pounds. Their situations were now reversed and Mr Ward had reason to believe that his brother might without any great difficulty have returned the sum, but for one reason or another, it was never forthcoming. 'Obliged to wait until some rents were come in ... clients were very tardy in paying their fees ... shocking outgoings about the house — and Mrs Pauline Ward had many medical expenses connected with the birth of the twins.' At least, reflected Mr Ward to himself, if Hatty were sent to live with the Portsmouth family, taking into account the subtraction of her board and pin money from his own budget, in the course of five years or so an equal sum might be saved. Moreover, set down among her cousins, was it not at least possible that the girl — though at present she had no particular attractions that her unloving father could discern — might, after the lapse of time and through sheer proximity, capture the affections of one of the boys and so be the means of retrieving the lost estate? At the present time this seemed wholly unlikely, but such improbable things did occur; certainly no harm could ensue from sending her to live with her uncle's family.

    Accordingly, letters were exchanged about the matter, an agreement was reached, and, half a year later, Mr Ward walked into his wife's boudoir one morning, where she and Hatty were peaceably reading Twelfth Night together, to announce: 'So, it is all arranged. Harriet leaves this house on Thursday next to make her home with my brother Philip and his family in Portsmouth. By great good fortune Mr and Mrs Laxton, the vicar's cousins, are to make the journey to Portsmouth by stage that day, and will be pleased to escort our daughter.'

    Two paper-white faces, two open mouths, received this news. Mrs Ward, indeed, fainted dead away, but since she had suffered from a number of fainting-fits during recent weeks, this was considered nothing out of the common.

    'When — when shall I come back from visiting my uncle Philip?' whispered Hatty, through trembling lips, after her mother had been revived with aromatic vinegar and smelling salts.

    'Why, not until you are grown up, child. If then. But it can make no difference to you. You are sure of a comfortable home in either place. And you will have your cousins for company.'

    Mr Philip Ward's family, at this time, consisted of three sons — Sydney, Thomas and Edward — and a pair of twin girls, Eliza and Sophy, who were considerably younger.

    Hatty absolutely dared not ask her mother if she approved of the plan; she could see that even discussing it would be too taxing for Mrs Ward's enfeebled state. And, in any case, discussion would be useless: Mr Ward, Lady Ursula and Agnes had firm hold of the matter. Opposition would be vain.

    By means of a mental and moral struggle far beyond what might have been expected of her years, Hatty managed to accept the dictum without argument or protest.

    'If — if Mama were to grow w-worse — if she should express a wish to see me — you would send for me, you would allow me to come home then, Papa?' she ventured, with imploring, tear-filled eyes.

    Agnes broke out indignantly, 'Why, what use in the world would you be, if my mother should take a turn for the worse? All these years she has taken such pains with you — it will be a great relief to her, and a great rest, let me tell you, when she no longer has the burden of your instruction. Most likely she will improve in health when you are gone from here. And you must not be thinking that Papa can afford to pay your fare on the stage in order that you may come home for any trifling pretext — no, indeed! Is it not so, sir?'

    'No, of course not,' he said impatiently. 'Do not ask foolish questions, child.'

    'Can I take Simcox — can I take my cat with me?' Hatty asked forlornly.

    But that evidently went under the heading of foolish questions; her father left the room without making any reply. And Agnes said sharply, 'Certainly not! Your cousins will for sure not want another animal in the house. Besides, cats cannot be transferred from one house to another — they always make their way back to where they have come from. Now you had better go and begin packing up your things. You can take a pot of my damson preserve to our Aunt Polly; it kept so well that we have several pots left from last year which are hardly mouldy at all. I daresay she has nothing [Illegible] so good. And you may as well write farewell notes to Fanny and Maria, since you will not be seeing them until who knows when; Mr Challis is going to Bath soon and has promised to take messages from us to Sir Thomas and your sisters.'

    Hatty crept away to her chamber — Agnes had moved back into her own room as soon as Lady Ursula returned to Underwood Priors — but she made no immediate attempt to begin packing. She sat motionless on the floor, with her head resting against the bed.

    Grieving words filled her mind, but she brushed them away.

    Not now. Another time.

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The Youngest Miss Ward 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the first 300 or so pages most enjoyable. If you don't read the book as a Jane Austen sequel but rather a stand alone it is most entertaining. UNFORTUNATELY where you wanted this book to go or at the least thought this book would go it didn't. It was almost like Ms. Aiken was cautioned nearing the end of the book she only had 1/2 hour left to finish. So she did giving it no thought. She didn't care that the reader would feel robbed. So sad - I really enjoyed her writing. HOWEVER I will give Ms. Aiken a second chance. Hopefully she will not disapoint as I really want to like her books, her writing intrigues me