Getting to know the town. The Commissary would have been there in 1881: There are three general stores and a drug store in the
colony. The oldest, known as the “ Commissary,” a name
which clings to it from the days when the Board sought to
provide the early comers with all requirements, is on Central
Avenue. It is a very commodious building, and full
of a most varied and extensive stock. It is now the property of a joint stock company, and does a large ‘ trade.’
being well known for many miles around—Manager, Mr.
N. H. Tucker. A picture of the old Commissary and post
office from which the present handsome premises sprung is
found on the front cover.
Date is a guess, but Mrs. Hughes facilitated having playground equipment put up for the schoolchildren.
The month is a guess. Emmy’s first self-portrait by camera — in her garden hat on the front porch at Uffington.
June 5. Mrs. Hughes “Laid the groundwork” for the opening of the library. Perhaps hosting, writing a letter, or traveling to Boston to meet with Mr. Dana Estes of Boston.
October 5, Public Library Opened. Mrs. Hughes worked to make the library happen.
Reveal of Jeanie’s story
First Frost, November 1
Gas lighting in the Victorian period: http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/lighting/lighting.htm
Family gets off the train in Sedgemoor and onto a wagon bound for Rugby.
Road from Sedgemoor to Rugby
Stayed at the Tabard Inn for the first several months of their stay. This is where Emmy contracted Typhoid.
“Rugby has an excellent hotel. The Tabard, named
from the old Tabard Inn in Southwark, London, from
whence Chaucer’s imagination conducted a party of pilgrims
to the shrine of St. Thomas a’Becket, at Canterbury, stands
in a commanding position overlooking the woods upon both
sides of the Clear Fork river. It is a large and attractive
building, with double verandas running around three sides
of the house. Standing within four or five acres of grass,
cropped by pet deer, making what is called, somewhat euphuistically,
perhaps, a “deer park,” the hotel, the scenery,
and the general and genial surroundings strike the observer
as being very far above the average of pleasant country
resorts. It is almost unnecessary to say that the Tabard
is a first-class and most comfortable hotel. The proprietor
is Mr. C. W. Jefferson.
An interesting relic of the elder Tabard Inn, over in
Southwark, is carefully preserved at the Board office on
Central Avenue. It is one of the original banisters of the
staircase of that “ gentil hostelrye, that highte the Tabard.”
This chip from the Middle Ages might well form the beginning
of a local museum. It was presented to the colony
by Dr. C. R. Agnew, of New York.
Wandering in the Commissary and on Central Avenue, taking a breath to be with herself. Meeting someone for the first time… who?
Emily contracts typhoid fever in the outbreak due to faulty well water at the Tabard Inn.
The public school recreation ground, on Jackson street,
neatly fenced, and fitted with swings, vaulting bars, strides,
&c., all presented by the kind thoughtfulness of Mrs.
Hughes, to the children attending the school, is a safe and
a happy resort of the younger Rugbeians.
In the woods around Rugby are opportunities for studying
geology, botany, entomology, zoology, and, in fact, all
the ologies few other places can more abundantly give
and a student of specimens can, during a summer’s visit,
collect a very rich cabinet.
Finally, the walks and drives around Rugby, with the
quiet and, to most people, the novel scenes of primeval
The process of taking a self-portrait without help is a turning point in Emmy’s self-confidence outside the household, the moment when she realizes she really has a “hobby.”
acquisition of 6,000 volumes was presented to the town by
the publishers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia,
“ as a token of respect for Thomas Hughes.” It is only
just to say that the originator and promoter of the noble
work was Mr. Dana Estes, of Boston. The foundation
stone was laid by Mrs. Hughes, the venerable mother of
Mr. Thomas Hughes, on June 5th, 1882, and on Oct. 5th,
of the same year, the library was declared open to the
Library opening ceremony, where Emmy helps make Granny’s and Uncle Tom’s dream happen. Library to be open on Tuesday and Saturday Afternoons and Thursday evenings. Librarian, Mrs. Percival.
Winter down moment that helps her find strength to love Rugby
If the “Irish Halloween” mentioned in Esther’s book took place on October 31 and the men were recovering on Nov. 1, it’s likely that many gardens were left to frost. Food is put up all summer, but that could still hurt many families.
Emily falls from her horse, alone after dark in the woods
Encounters an animal in the woods, falls off a (small) cliff
“Great Conflagration! Tabard in Flames!” October 17 Rugbeian and District Reporter. Fire was apparently caused by a chimney fire; residents rushed to the hotel to save furnishings as the building burned.
A longstanding friendship/love affair becomes official while Wilson is away in British Honduras on a geological expedition. Wilson will die before she sees him again.
Massive group photo taken at her party includes Harry Hughes, Hastings and his new wife, and a range of guests that include Ainslee Marshall.
Wonderful group photo on a porch of Margaret Hughes in her bath chair beside Thomas Hughes looking at him with a mother’s happiest look.
Emmy gets a letter from Lucy in a pastel envelope. Lucy knows she hates pastel envelopes, since she received notice of Jeanie’s death in a scented pastel envelope.
#References for Events
Dissipations pg. 3
Dissipations, Jessie Gullie (? last name isn’t right… Commissary owner, talked to her about this trip.
Dissipations pg. 3
http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/exhibits/utopia/images/20TabardInn.jpg - Photo of the Tabard Inn
The Rugby Handbook, p. 30?
Dissipations pg. 5, reference to being ill and to riding after getting better.
Rugby Handbook, p. 25
Stagg’s Historic Rugby p. 30
Rugby Handbook p. 16
Rugby Handbook p. 16.
Fiction, but based on Jeanie’s death and the portrait of her that still hangs at Uffington.
The Hermit, the Donkey, and Uncle Dempsey, Esther Walton, Irish Halloween. Rugby Handbook gives frost dates in early pages.
Fiction, but she rode home solo after seeing her father to the station in fall 1884. Dissipations p. 56
Stagg’s Historic Rugby p. 50
Stagg’s Historic Rugby
Jessie said Madam Hughes’ attack of gout started on the trip, probably from wearing her shoes for too long. Maybe sitting and circulation were an issue? Talked about the big ruts and the long road up to Rugby.
Description of the road to Rugby? Seems like a nice place for a conversation about the reasons for the colony and for Granny’s “harebrained” move.
Arrival at the Tabard Inn
Description of Quarters
Meeting of Neighbors (Will need to know more of main characters to write this well).
typhoid recovery, first ride after. reveling in rides with her father, in unpacking at Uffington, in meeting Rugbeians
Taught the chemicals and techniques to take photographs by Charles Wilson, so they were already friendly by 1882. Her clothes, hat and demeanor say “spring” to me.
Start of a vignette written in 2013…
This needs to be caught in a vignette… This isn’t necessarily one of Emmy’s pictures but it would be a really nice spot to insert her as the one capturing the moment.
This means something’s wrong or important… haven’t decided where to put this yet.
Discussion about Rugby on the road — why it’s there, who’s staying, etc.
Did the Dyers stay at the Inn or elsewhere? How about the pets? And what kind of pet is WeeWee? (from her letters).
I despised pastel envelopes. As a moody schoolgirl, I went through two semesters refusing to open anything that wasn’t plain white or a decidedly self-determined brilliant color.
The painfully uncertain lavender envelope stared up from old Dyer’s hand. Lucy knew better! She was the one girl who most certainly knew better.
This was not a chatty school-days letter to be opened lightly among the smiling members of my little household. I took the innocuous-looking letter from Mr. Dyer gingerly, its feeble hue filling me with a sense of foreboding. “Thank you, Dyer. I will read it indoors.” I handed Kitty’s reins to him and hooked my riding train up behind my bustle, making for the house with quick steps.
#Stream of Consciousness
My grandmother and I stepped off a train and into the wild. I held my arm stiff, Granny’s hand in mine, a living crutch as her boot touched down for the first time on the soil of our new home. My boot sank unceremoniously into the fine dust despite the symbolic enormity of the moment.
My breath shuddered slightly in my throat. No going back now. A short lifetime in a little London townhouse was long enough to entrench me in Granny’s blessed Victorian values, the high society of a different world. Now, here among the trees of an endless forest, it all seemed so very silly.
Smells of coal and iron intermingled with the fresh new scent of rhododendron. The train’s metal odor was perhaps the last industrial smell to irk my nose. Out here, the smells are more earthy—forest and water, dust and dung, rock and leather and eau-du-horse.
Granny’s clear eyes scanned the area: clapboard construction, dust, and woods, not unlike a hundred other stations we’d passed in our three-day journey from a New York landing. I heard my father’s voice behind me, “a pleasant station for such an out-of-the-way place. Wait ‘til you see the Tabard Inn, Mother. You’ll be quite pleased.”
Her arm stiffened under mine and I didn’t need to look to know the snap in her eyes. “My plans were not to enter paid lodging, Hastings, but to begin unpacking in my own home. I have dedicated the end of my days to this beautiful folly of your brother’s. The least I should be able to ask is comfort and a settled existence.”
I couldn’t help but cock an eyebrow, for glancing up I saw my father with his hat in his hand. William Hastings Hughes was not a man to apologize—he wore his careless goodwill like unbendable armor. Yet this time he was obviously uncomfortable.
“Mother, we’ve done our best. Many men are still sleeping in tents, and the Asylum for new lodgers is full. We’re making you comfortable in one of the best rooms in Rugby, and we are working on your house day and night. I’m sorry the cottage isn’t ready. I truly am”—here he stopped and looked her full in the eye, a rare gift from Hastings Hughes—“but the whole town is working apace to make a new life. Sometimes it chooses its own schedule.”
The engines huffed steam, and Granny collected herself. “Well”…
(The British-ness of the single syllable hung like syrup in the American air…)
“I suppose we must make the best of it.”
With a small smile Hastings offered his arm to his diminutive mother and they sallied forth together. As the May sun approached noon, my steps trailed off behind them. I turned, shielding my eyes from the sun, searching for the Dyers.
Mr. and Mrs. Dyer were my grandmother’s trusted servants, a pair who had built a life with her in the little house at Lavender Hill. Mrs. Dyer helped to raise me just as much as my grandmother and my beloved aunt… and acted with grace and friendship as I grew into my position as unofficial orchestrator of all the household’s daily affairs.
Old Dyer was Granny’s favorite, a gruff but loving man with a craftsman’s hands and two green thumbs. Dyer and Granny got on famously, as neither had a habit of saying five words where two would do.
The Dyers materialized eerily out of the steam. I grabbed Mrs. Dyer’s hand surreptitiously for a moment. She squeezed tight, then released me, reminding me of my place as the authority in our little group.
Old Dyer’s eyes sparked. “Ready?”
“Yes, Mr. Dyer. Please see that our trunks are unloaded carefully and without damage. And please, be careful of the canaries! It would be a shame to lose them so close to their new home. Mrs. Dyer, will you see to our transportation?”
The two bent their heads slightly with a proper show of respect, winked, and hurried off together to make arrangements—two spare, strong backs somehow unmarred by steam and dust.
I found my grandmother and father sitting together on a bench at the base of the “road” to Rugby. After the cobblestones of London, this was no road at all—barely a track led away uphill from Sedgemoor into the wilderness. Hastings looked up with a famous smile. “How goes the day?”
“Fair to middling.” I cocked a half-smile back at my father, a look I knew he knew. “The Dyers are moving our luggage and collecting our transport.” I fidgeted a bit in my tight, high-necked day dress, hitching a hip unnaturally as I attempted to adjust my new bustle without the use of my hands. Who traveled 300 miles in a bustle? Margaret Hughes’ granddaughter, that’s who. Propriety must always win out over the American backcountry.
Granny looked up with grateful eyes. “What would I do without you, Emmy? If we make it with all our belongings—or even all our appendages—to Rugby, it will be thanks to your work.”
I felt my cheeks color. Words of praise were implied from Granny—rarely spoken aloud. In my flustered confusion I actually gave an awkward little curtsy… and the color in my cheeks exploded. I knew I must be cherry-red. “Thank you, Granny. It’s been an exciting venture.”
Hastings rescued me with a pat on the back, slipping between the two of us. “That’s my girl, Emmy. You’ve been a real treasure.” His body shielded me from Granny’s gaze for just a second, giving my color a chance to recede slightly. A breath was enough.
A Hughes must always retain her composure. As my father continued his path out of her line of sight, I took a deep breath and straightened. Granny’s eyes fell on a collected young woman capable of handling this insane journey.
My father had his moments.
The click-clack of horses’ hooves and the rattle of a cart overwhelmed the senses, cutting my father’s moment short. Mr. Dyer hopped from our hired wagon with a nimble gait that shaved twenty years from his age, and offered my grandmother his hand with an understated flourish born of long (but quite proper) familiarity. Her face shone with the excitement of a young woman as she accepted his grasp and flipped her long traveling coat clear of her shining boots. “The last stage of the journey begins, eh, Dyer? Perhaps we’ll live to see this new paradise yet.”
Mrs. Dyer chuckled from the back seat as she took Granny’s elbow. “You know we’ll make it, Madam. It will take more than miles to take down the House of Hughes. Your children have proven that time and again.”
“My children…” Granny’s gaze grew distant for a moment. “Yes, they have, haven’t they? Every one of them has been something extraordinary.” The corners of her mouth twitched upward. For a women bent on propriety and English manners, she could never quite hide the pride in her game-changing progeny. It made me tingle a little every time I watched the perfectly coiffed mask, cultured for 83 years, slip askew.
As the wagon jolted away from Sedgemoor, that tingle slipped up my spine with a little shiver of anticipation. Before nightfall, we would see our new home for the first time.
The road climbed in twists and hooks above the dusty station, out into the wild. There was no familiar flora in the woodland around me, nothing to point to and recognize, that sense of spotting an old friend in a party of strangers. Only lush unnamable greenery reached from the side of the trail, catching unfamiliarly against us, rough branches and briers waiting to catch at our copious clothing.
This is the big spot for a conversation on Rugby, before the cloudburst and getting stuck
The cloudburst took us by surprise. The rough road was more than rough. With dismay I could not mask I looked up, big drops of rain splattering my face through the overhanging branches. The sound of rain pounding the leaves quickly became deafening.
Beside me, Granny stifled a groan as the wagon tipped precariously. I could tell her pain was getting worse.
“Granny, please let me remove your shoes.”
But she straightened in her seat. “I have come this far without leaving behind what is important to me.” She was firm, even though discomfort made her sound short of breath. “I will not do so now.”
Out little party was silent and increasingly humid.
Perhaps to take our minds off our predicament, my Father spoke up. “Still glad you came, Granny?”
As our skin soaked through with our first of many Appalachian downpours, I stifled my own sigh.
“You know I do not agree with Thomas’s ways,” Granny said. She may have meant it as a soft admonishment, but in her need to be heard over the rain it came out as something of a roar.
“Christian Socialism may be all the rage, but its underpinnings are weaker than your brother knows. Still, family is family, and your brother needs our support. I will give it to him. And you all must follow that example.”
Old Dyer’s voice broke the uncomfortable silence, louder than the rain on leaves and creaking wheels. “I may not have a head for Utopia,” he said, “but I know a good cause when I see one.
“I have known more good men than not who could do with a place like Rugby… And maybe ladies, too.” He winked in my direction, though I did not think anyone else saw.
I looked around as best I could under my crumpled hat brim. The woods exhaled around me, closing in like crushed velvet, damp and warm and alien.
This place… this place was so different. No cobblestones, no streets, no crush of people thronging past. No eyes watching. No rules.
An internal voice whispered. Something sparked inside me in the rain and the damp and the new mountain wind. This place was different.
Maybe here I could be different, too.
The wagon suddenly tipped steeply, unexpectedly. Propriety or no, gasps escaped all our lips unbidden. We stopped, hung in the muck. I lifted my face, washed by the rain. What now?
An exasperated, unidentifiable sound escaped our driver’s lips. I imagined his thoughts — The hotel doesn’t pay me enough for this… — and almost giggled.
He addressed himself squarely to Madame Hughes, which I found amusing as my Father should have been the group’s proper leader. “We’re stuck, Madam. The wheel directly beneath your seat is up to its axle in mud. This will take some time, and I do apologize.”
In our sudden stillness the roaring rain filled my senses, cold on the backs of my hands and loud in my ears. The smell of wet in the spring woods is indescribable, earthy and many-layered. Now that no branches threatened from the roadside to knock us from the cart, Mrs. Dyer reached for the umbrellas as if for a security blanket. I heard Granny snort.
“No use, Mrs. Dyer. Might as well try to —-some snappy sentence about how wet they are and how fruitless the umprellas will be.—-“
I sighed inwardly, wishing belatedly for the dusk that had coated my skirts not an hour before. I would never begrudge the bumpy ride over dry rutted roads again.
Our driver dismounted, pulling two boards and a shovel ably from behind his seat, and went to work before the front wheels. Father tossed me his hat and plopped down into the much to help, his leather boots disappearing up to the ankle. With a grunt, Dyer followed him over the edge. The minutes dragged, exxposed as we were to the elements in the still wood.
In a moment the job was done. “Emmy, we need a fourth!” My father beckoned, and I did not know whether to grin or wince. My grandmother actually squeaked. “Hastings, she may not go down into that… morass!” Her nose pointed ever so slightly toward the bedraggled boughs above us.
“Mother, do you want to get out of this hole or don’t you? We both know Emmy is stronger than Mrs. Dyer — no disrespect, dear lady.” He touched his hat toward my aging Nana.
“None taken, m’dear.” She said amiably from under her misshapen garments.
My grandmother sagged visibly. “Very well.”
Hiking my skirts above my ankles and ignoring the disarticulated sounds emanating from my grandmother, I flopped over the edge into the great unknown.
Yes, this place was different.
One board tipped at an angle under the stuck wheel, where the men had dug into the muck to position it. The other before the front wheel, to help it gain traction and strength to pull its sister from the sucking mud. The driver used the handle of the shovel to hold the boards in place, to guide them under the wheel. Old Dyer and my father pushed from the rear.
I took the head of the dark, shapely horse—strong and powerful, out of place with the mud staining the long hair feathering around his fetlocks. My hands cupped his nose for a moment to calm him as he shivered under the weather—the thunder and the lightning and the dampness seeping into all our bones.
“Here we go dearie,” I told him, “This time for sure. I positioned myself squarely beside his head and together we stepped forward.
This time it worked. I heard the wagon groan onto the board behind us. I did not dare to look back, but in step with the horse we moved together, an inch at a time, along the slick path.
I felt the rain run in rivulets around my feet. I could feel the horse’s muscles taut beside me. We heaved again. “Stop there, Emmy!”
The men repositioned the boards under the wheels. “Shall I help?” I called to my father.
“No dear, keep the horse calm. You have a knack.”
And so I waited. One more pull and we were clear of the hole, which gaped behind us in the goop—one more rut to add to the road from Sedgemoor.
The wagon rounded the final curve and there she was — the stunning Tabard Inn, a truly grand and Victorian bastion in this strangely beautiful wilderness. Her gracious mansard roof crowned two ranks of broad columned verandahs, two stories of rooms outfitted with all the luxury the wilds could offer in preparation for the eager guests that would visit the thriving future town of Rugby.
The patterned railings had been painstakingly joined by someone skilled, with a love of his work and a sense of the power this place holds for the future of Rugby. The whole place exuded a vibrant but understated energy, an inviting appearance that reminded me of home without letting me forget that I was in a new and curious setting. I was ready to meet her.
The steps to the verandah were easy and open, inviting us to make ourselves at home. The capable footmen pulled wide the heavy, sheltering wooden doors to reveal a stunning entryway with high ceilings in dark oak and rich rockwork accents. I tried not to let my mouth gape like a little girl as I pivoted to take it all in. I felt Hastings’ hand catch my shoulder, stopping my circle short just before Granny turned to us.
“And what’s that, Hastings?” Her cane tip pointed sharply to the top of the mantle over a large and imposing fireplace, which two maids were just beginning to set against the spring’s evening chill in the high country. A dark and heavy-looking beam encased in glass sat in stately pomp, looking slightly discomfited by its place of honor. It was ornately carved but deeply worn — perhaps a baluster from an old staircase?
“That was one of the original beams in the old Tabard Inn in London, Mother — the one in the Canterbury Tales. The old hotel was demolished and one of our first visitors brought that piece all the way from London. It’s a nice little piece of British authenticity, don’t you think?”
I shook my shoulders slightly… it was almost an involuntary shudder. Even here, lineage and “British authenticity” were going to hound me. Would we be able to start anew, still bound to the Old Country’s apron strings?
Hastings took my hand. “Come, Emmy, I have something to show you.” He gestured to Granny and the Dyers and we all fell into step with him as we were so wont to do. We mounted the carpeted stairs with hardly a sound — even Granny’s cane was muffled by the thick pile. When we reached the second floor, he pulled me onward into a side hall. He flung open a thick side door with a ceremonial flourish and allowed me to be the first outside.
We emerged onto one of the verandahs that encircled the building’s vast exterior, but it wasn’t the size of the beautiful outdoor design that caused me to audibly catch my breath — it was the view. Beyond the railing the landscape fell away sharply to a cackling river below, and we could look across the river into the valleys beyond. The air smelled of unfamiliar flowers and a rich woody scent I couldn’t quite grasp. I breathed in deeply in the evening air. The place wrapped me in a sense of peace and I dropped instinctively into one of the rocking chairs strewn informally across the porch.
When my father reached out a hand to pull me from my reverie and back to the business of moving in, I very nearly resisted. But I learned long ago that Hastings Hughes was an irresistible force… not often the roaring tornado, but more the fluid unstoppable motion of the water in the river below. It was time to go.
Room/Lodging Descriptions and Settling In
Granny carried her propriety like a shield, armor against the great Eastern unknown, solace against a world turned upside down. I carried it like a prison, strapped to my back at all times.
The First Night
The new mattress pricked straw into my back as I tried to settle in. The darkness was absolute, breathing an awareness of the vast mountain woods into my little room.
The world was dark but not quiet, and I did not have names for many of the sounds I heard. The crickets I could identify, a creaky chorus of loud unmusical night wings. But other peeps and chirps went nameless, and I was oddly disconcerted by my inability to identify what I heard on the crisp night air. Even the occasional bird call was alien.
After the neverending rattle of the train the wood seemed blanketed in a quiet hush, so different from the London streets where it was rarely completely still, even at night. Horses’ hooves and carriage wheels would rattle on cobblestoned streets at all hours, or boys hobbling home after a late evening would sing on each others’ shoulders as they wound their way up the gas-lit walkways. All that was so far away as I stared up toward the invisible ceiling in the rich darkness. Out of necessity I closed my eyes — the dark was too big to watch alone.
I knew my mother through her photographs. Her kind eyes, her soft expressions… from the time I was old enough to crawl I looked at these images, and wondered.
How would things have been, if she had lived and I had known her? Would I have been different? Would I have listened? Would I have fallen easily into the ways of our former world?
Would a “mama Hughes” have made things easier or harder? Would we have been close? Would we have struggled?”
I closed the photo album, tracing my toes in the dust on the floor. There would be no way to know, no easy answers now as ever.
My mother would never have wanted me brought here—but I wanted to come. I looked around at my little walls, my cheery woodstove… I was still glad I had come.
In two days Landscape would be mine, my little plot beside uffington, ready to become whatever I chose. Rugby meant freedom. Rugby meant hope. Not just for the boys my Uncle Thomas championed, but for the women that came with them—terrified and timorous in some moments, lioness-brave in others, we were creating a new world for ourselves.
Mostly, life was day-to-day. Scrimping and scraping, eking a new life in a strange place.
But every once in awhile, in one shining moment, we would remember why we had come. Some moments, alone in the garden above the pond I would pause. My hands would stop their busy doing in the enormity of that knowing.
Other times I would see it in the faces around me, when we grouped in the parlor at the TAbard, or sitting side by side on the steps of some new-old house. Sometimes we felt the weight of what we were doing… and it was powerful.
It united us, and it drove us, thanks to the will and work of my Uncle.
I would never have come into this world without my mother. Rugby would never have come into this world without Thomas Hughes.
Neither of us knew yet precisely how to be on this planet, but we were learning. We were finding our strengths in this wet woodland wild. We were new and proud.
I tucked the photo album under my bed and turned again to my battered trunk. Unpacking at last.
We were home.
I very nearly made it.
My fingers were on the doorknob when Granny’s soft, crisp voice issued from the drawing room.
Pointing my reluctant toes toward the drawing room, I pressed my shoulders back, took a deep breath, and went to stand in the doorway. “Yes, Granny?”
The expression on her face was both horrible and satisfying. Color drained from her cheeks and—for only just a second—her mouth flopped about like a fish.
Then it became a taut, thin line.
“My child, what are you wearing?”
“This is my new outfit for riding … and exploring … and maybe fishing…”
I trailed off lamely as her eyes snapped.
“I have given you plenty of freedom in this new place, Emmy. Perhaps too much. They don’t make Rules of Etiquette for places like this, and I have done the best I can.
“But you will not leave this house in that.”
I looked down at myself. The bodice of a proper riding habit shifted at the waist into trousers modeled on my favorite roomy bloomers. Turkish trousers, the pattern had called them. I had adapted a bit… I usually do.
“Granny, I’ve covered myself completely. Look!” I spun for her, to show the volume around my waist and hips.
“I’ve even made buttons to attach to my riding boots so everything stays properly in place. I think I may have invented the next fashion for young Rugby ladies.”
Granny’s mouth did the satisfying fish impersonation again.
Before she could speak, I continued.
“We wear trousers under our riding skirts anyway, and it can be absolutely smothering in the humidity here. All I’ve done is cut away some extra fabric. They’re perfectly modest, and right in style with the full bustles all the catalogues show.”
“I will not have it. You are still a Hughes, and you will behave as one. Now go change. If you leave the house in those… things…
“Well, next thing I know you’ll be riding astride.”
My temper was beginning to get the best of me.
“And what if I did? It’s been done before. Catherine the Great rode astride. So did Marie Antoinette! And that was a century ago.”
Granny’s nostrils flared slightly. “Yes. And we all know how they ended up.”
I put my heels together, stood up straight, and attempted my best grown-up authority.
“I spent three weeks working on this. It’s designed for riding and walking. It’s cool enough for these horrid damp summers but still modest. I want you to be proud of my work. This habit took real skill to piece together! And I’m going to wear it.”
It was a dim ghost of the eloquent speech I had rehearsed in my mind for three weeks at my sewing machine. But I still couldn’t believe I’d actually said it.
Granny hardly ever raised her voice. She didn’t need to. The undertone of steel was unmistakable.
I was old enough to run a household, to take responsibility for the animals every day. I was old enough to go alone on the town with the other girls, even to travel overnight to visit friends. I was old enough to be married. But not, in her eyes, old enough to choose my own fashion.
Frustrated tears threatened the edges of my eyes. Determined not to run, or to fling myself about like a spoiled child, I turned on a heel and walked stiffly from the room. Despite my effort at self-control, my boots clicked more sharply on the stairs than I intended. I nearly slammed the door to my bedroom—but caught it before it could crash in the frame. I would not give her the satisfaction of appearing as young as she seemed to think.
The new riding skirt lay untouched on my bed. I regarded it with disdain, despite the week of my life it had taken in the making. My breath snuffed impatiently through my nose. Then my shoulders slumped.
I collected it from the bed and slipped it around my waist, buttoning it in under the jacket hem of my new riding habit. I gathered the extra fabric properly and tucked the button loop up at my back. Granny would be pleased with my propriety. The corner of my mouth twitched.
Mrs. Dyer’s head appeared around the half-open doorframe, eyes mixing concern with twinkling impudence. She saw my skirts and looked up knowingly, a small smile playing around her mouth. “Didn’t go so well, did it dearie?”
“You knew how it would go, Nana. But a girl can hope.”
“You just think long and hard about it before you go taking that skirt off in mixed company, Missy. Cross that line and there’s no going back for a lady of your station, whether your Granny knows or not. I can’t stop you, but you must be certain it’s what you want, my dear.”
I put a hand on her shoulder. “You worry too much, Nana.” My words belied the butterflies hovering behind my ribcage. “But thank you. You know your opinion has always meant the world to me.”
I collected my skirts and stepped ladylike down the stairs, pausing in the drawing room door. Granny looked up from penning one of her neverending stream of epistles to neverending loved ones. A tight-lipped nod meant approval.
I bobbed my head in response and stepped from the house into the cool morning air. Mr. Dyer was waiting at the end of the arbored front walk with Kitty, saddled and ready to ride. He eyed my skirts skeptically. “You look lovely, Miss Hughes.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dyer.” I took his assistance settling myself in the cumbersome side saddle, loosening the full skirt like a curtain to conceal my legs and feet. I could feel Granny’s eyes boring through the drawing room window. I nodded to old Dyer and turned to ride down the lane into Rugby.
“You be careful, Missy.” His voice was hushed, pitched to be soundless through the walls of Uffington. “Not all men are as kind as you think, and not all women as sound of judgment. Watch yourself in that new get-up of yours.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dyer,” I said again, without changing my tone. But my nod said to him—I hoped—“Your concern matters, and I promise I will.” I turned Kitty on a dime and urged her to a quick trot, away from the oppressive air around the Bellows House.
[Helen] was waiting for me on the high road through town, along with Mr. Charles Wilson and a few other friends. Our scheduled path that day lay down to the river and across into the woods beyond—a long, challenging ride that got my blood pumping just to envision the adventure ahead. Kitty seemed to sense my excitement.
As we left the outskirts of town and crossed the first ford I called a halt. “Just a moment, sirs and ladies, if you don’t mind.” Leaving Kitty with Helen I disappeared behind an ancient linden tree hung thick with the faint smell of flowers.
My heart in my throat, I emerged a moment later with the weight of my riding skirt heavy in my hand. “What do you think? Rugby’s new fashion for lady riders!” Attempting a lighthearted air, I spun on my heel.
There was a moment of silence, and then two of the girls broke into spontaneous applause. The gentlemen nodded appreciatively, apparently unsure how to speak. Overall, I took the first responses as a successful endeavor.
Draping my skirts over a low-hanging branch, I vowed to come back for them on my way into town. “Not a word of this around Uffington!” I admonished my friends—and received appreciative chuckles all around.
For the first time in my life, I lifted into my saddle of my own accord—no assistance, no fumbling, sliding easily into position atop Kitty’s withers. “See?” I thought in some deep half-conscious recess of myself, “still properly sidesaddle and fully clothed. Trousers do not automatically make a harlot.”
I heard the thunder of hooves and turned Kitty as the group moved at a quick clip away from my thicket. [Helen] was the last to go. “Emmy—are you sure?” Her eyes caught mine.
“Never more, my dear.”
She seemed to set herself, make up her mind. I knew she was with me. A brief nod, and we nudged our horses to a gallop behind the receding flanks of our riding mates.
The freedom was heady. My legs gripped the saddle more firmly. I could feel the touch of air slipping around my waist, my hips—comfort instead of stifling heat, control instead of the constant almost-unbalance of extraneous padding between myself and my steed. The rush of air around my being felt more like flying than any ride I’d ever taken. Kitty seemed to sense my exhilaration and stretched out in an easy run along the riverbank, keeping pace with the men. The ladies fell back slowly and Mr. Wilson caught my presence in the corner of his eye. His face took on something suspiciously like mischief as he turned his head to look me square in the face. Then he dug his heels into his mount and took off.
I know a challenge when I see one, and the ladies in my life didn’t raise me to back away from it. Kitty knows my every thought. All I had to do was lean forward, and her easy gallop became an all-out run in pursuit of Mr. Wilson’s bay. Her hooves skimmed the ground, almost silent in the mosses and fallen leaves.
We left our party behind in an instant. As the trail widened into a clearing the two horses thundered side by side. I had never ridden like this with any man besides my father.
I leaned low to Kitty’s back, giving her her head, my muscles taught with the twist demanded by the sidesaddle. The wind whipped tears to my eyes as our mounts leapt, almost in unison, clearing a fallen log as if it were no more than a broken twig. Our companions were out of sight behind us.
I had never ridden like this with anyone.
Stiff, the night rattling leaves outside my window, it was the wrong kind of quiet in my little bedroom. I always find solace here, but on this night it was nowhere to be found.
I tossed on my too-thin mattress, wishing the mountain winter were kinder or I were home on the streets of London—where though it’s cold, there are gas lights and bright winter fires and the warm smiles of family to soften the chill.
Giving in to the night I slipped down the stairs to the kitchen, craving warmth. Mrs. Dyer was still working on preparations for the next big evening meal. I pulled in the rickety wooden chair until my waist pressed against the table. It felt solid, and I wanted something to hold me up. Mrs. Dyer planted a steaming mug in front of me. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, dear.”
“No, no ghosts. Just quiet. I think I’d rather have the ghosts.”
As if on cue, the wind picked up and wailed around the eaves of the new old house. Too warm for snow, too cold for anything to grow, the world outside the window looked empty—bones without flesh.
Mrs. Dyer’s plump hand squeezed my shoulder, wordless. I knew she felt it too, the desolation of vast spaces pressing in around our little wooden walls. She found her solace in baking and making, a warm fire in the cookstove and knitting needles on the corner of the kitchen table. She bustled more when the weather was cold and the world was quiet.
Nanny turned to her letters, reaching out into the wide world beyond the tall trees and steep paths of Rugby. She wrote to friends on wide London streets and in well-lit American towns, and to a few expats passing the winter in the warmer climes of African lands. I knew if I were to peek around her bedroom doorjamb I’d find her at her little desk in a pool of lamplight, a blanket on her lap and a small smile twitching the corners of her lips, writing the details of the day to some far-away acquaintance passing the time in another far-off pool of lamplight. Natural letter writers are a special breed, and Nanny could be their queen.
I considered visiting Kitty in the barn but I couldn’t bring myself to bundle up for the trip. “I need a cat,” I told Mrs. Dyer glumly. She smiled. “Drink up. That mug will warm your hands just as well as a kitten and you don’t have to feed it or clean up after it.”
I pushed my chair back, kissed her broad cheek, and wandered into the parlor with my steaming cup. In the gloom my aunt’s beautiful face looked out at me from the darkened wall, large as life. I had trouble seeing her there even in the bright days of summer. Tonight, standing in the doorway, I knew I was facing the woman who haunted me. Her grave was half a world away, but her beautiful eyes still shone, here in the dark. Unfinished, my cousin said, but deep and full of troubled responsibility all the same. She was a beauty and a wise, brave woman. She could have been a saint. Instead, she died.
It should have been me.
It was her face presiding over the formal spaces of Uffington, not mine. The oaf, the awkward girl, the outcast in divided skirts with barely a head to run a household—Nanny knew that place of honor was not mine. Jeanie was the one our family artist chose to paint, the rare beauty with a heart of gold, not the plain girl no fine dress could fully disguise. My place is in gardens and on horseback, under the sun in my favorite floppy hat, not bound into satin and preserved on a wall in ringlets for all eternity. My grandmother and my cousin chose wisely. But it still stung a bit. I could have been the living, breathing face of Uffington. Instead, death keeps the parlor walls at Uffington house—and I can never, not for a moment or a day, forget her.
Jeanie was my knight in shining armor. They’ve never yet made a metaphor that could contain her. Bold, gentle, infinitely troubled at the darker parts of life, Jeanie wasn’t made for this world—but she changed it.
She changed everyone she touched.
Caught in a tableau outside of time, her soft skirts and shining hair forever arrested in space, Jeanie was an unfinished masterpiece—her image, like her life, somehow indefinably incomplete. The water she poured from a pitcher into one of her beloved houseplants held her full attention, a simple tribute to her caring nature and the entirety of spirit she gave to every small thing she did.
When Jeanie looked at you, she saw you—because in that moment she did nothing else. She looked below false cheerfulness and thin smiles, below skin. You couldn’t hide from her gentle discernment. She didn’t pierce to the heart of you—she touched a hand, gave an embrace, and somehow you opened willingly to her.
Here, I never open like that. No one sees beyond my brave faces. The silence behind my eyes is deafening.
I set my mug carefully on the side table, on one of Nanny’s perfectly placed doilies. I shut the door, closing myself in with my ghost. Impulsive, I reach a hand out to touch her painted fingers. “I miss you, Jeanie.”
“It’s so quiet here. When Father’s gone and Nanny’s shut herself away, there’s no one. The women I can stand to spend time with are so scattered—and those I despise are so close!
“How did you do it, Jeanie? How did you spend every day seeing so many sorrows without breaking? How did you carry all the worry and all the responsibility? How did you do all that and still care for me? No one could do that! It’s not fair to think anyone can do this!”
I felt myself shudder, and slipped down to sit at her slippered feet. My cheeks were wet. “These mountains aren’t a place for people, Jeanie. You fight just to survive. Nothing I do goes just right, and those that are close to right take three times the labor I thought for a quarter of the gain. The nights feel like something out of the old fairy tales you used to frighten us with, and this time of year the days stretch on forever. Thank God you never saw me brought to this place!”
I was whispering now, telling my old confidant the things no one here could hear. “I hate Rugby in winter!” I muttered conspiratorially. And with a deep breath, the tears ceased—of their own accord. Something in me lightened. I looked up sharply at Jeanie’s gentle eyes.
It wasn’t a supernatural experience, exactly—just my own tired spirit finding a moment of solace with the echo of a woman I once adored. But in that second something in me lightened. There was the key.
I hated Rugby in the winter. But nowhere in the world was winter fully loveable. In the spring I loved this place—when the new seed sprouted and our lambs dropped, when the trees first budded. In the summer I adored the Southern warmth and the unexpected magic of linden flowers in the forest. And fall—fall in the Appalachians is divinity on earth, when the leaves are alight with otherworldly colors, translucent and vibrant in the rich autumn sunlight.
My fingers dropped from Jeanie’s and I went to hold my cooling mug in the gloaming light. I felt my shoulders set against the cold, broad instead of hunched.
I felt my way back up to my room in dark, hearing the creak of Nanny’s rocker and the scratch of her pen as she sought her own winter peace. In the corner, tucked behind the books on the shelf, I found a small wooden box and pulled it clear. When I clicked open the lid, a pale pink envelope looked out at me, the very personification of innocuous uncertainty.
I pulled out the card and opened it.
——text of notification of Jeanie’s death——
If I could endure winter by thinking of spring, maybe I could endure life without Jeanie by remembering that I might see her again someday—and if not, as Jeanie herself thought, then she was in every fall leaf I treasured and every linden flower that bloomed in the hot wide summer. When I swung up on Kitty’s back for a ride in the woods, Jeanie was there. When my silkworms spun where they shouldn’t, Jeanie was there—and maybe laughing.
I slept the sleep of the dead that night and woke rested on my spare mattress.
Dry leaves on old trees are laughing at me. As my horse’s hooves pound ever more softly into the distance my breath comes ragged in my ears. The dark forest is vast and otherworldly under the moon. From Kitty’s broad back I was mistress of a midnight fairyland on the narrow path home.
From the ground, as my heart pounds, I’m realizing this fairyland has fangs.
I told my father I could find the road home—and he has always been one to encourage me closer to the edge of propriety. I’m already carrying the sadness of leaving him, that familiar whirlpool of unnamable thoughts that springs up when he goes. Now, by a little trickling creek that I should never have tried to jump, the blackness of the woods gives those feelings form.
I no longer care about my shoes or my skirts. I splash into the water and plunk down on a rock, feeling more nine than nineteen. At least here the trees break and I can see the world more clearly in the moon’s glow.
A tear drips from the end of my nose to join its sisters in the clear water sliding downstream. Just one, for I do not enjoy the sensation of crying—all that mucous and liquid! But in the dark, who would know if one or two more slipped out unbidden?
The creek’s banks are lined with soft green mosses and smells of wet earth—I suppose that’s what saved me. There is no sound but the wind in the trees. The forest at night has a presence, a force that borders on personality. It watches me from the blackness, deep under the trees.
An owl hoots. I jump.
I have never been one to fear the night. My back straightens automatically as I come back to myself. The rock beneath me pokes unceremoniously through my riding skirt. Time to go.
A mix of sand, black muck, and cold mountain water has adhered itself to some very unpleasant parts of me. I shake like Kitty would, lift my chin, and step out into the blackness. The bare brown silt of the path guides me where moonlight won’t penetrate—when I stray, leaves crunch under my boots or tangle my hair. Darkness is palpable in these American woods.
The trickling creek where I fell is a dim memory, out of hearing in the night wood. I am feeling my way toward home with a new respect for just how dark dark can be, where leaves cover the moon and no light penetrates. One loses all sense of proportion and trees loom over a person as over a chipmunk, a spider, a mite…
As I find my way further, trees open out until I can see again, but dimly. Looking down, I realize my hands have been stretched out before me in the darkness. I drop them, straighten my skirts, recover my composure. As if someone could see me, stumbling under the stars. My only company is that sense of a watcher under the eaves of the woods… though I know these forests breathe with the small lives of countless beings.
Ahead, bushes rustle, breaking me from my reverie. The world stops. I hear a snort, a growl—disembodied animal sounds that freeze me to the ground. I am not the only one using this trail tonight.
Letting out a slow breath I slip into a rhododendron thicket to my left. I hear no feet, no paws, no hooves, only an occasional chuff or absent snort. This is not an animal ready for aggression—just another being going about her nightly routine.
Hoping to keep it that way, I take a step back. And another.
A branch cracks beneath my boot and instinctively I move faster, away from the growly sounds blocking my way home. A dozen steps into uncharted woods slip by in a liquid second.
On my next step, my foot never touches earth. I teeter for a second, and as my skirt catches in the rhododendron I have time to pray that it will snag and save me.
Then I’m falling into space.
On Granny’s 90th birthday, and the whole town turned out to celebrate…
[Hastings’ visit with his new wife]
…I stood behind the camera, efficiently ordering people into pretty positions, playing the part of the experienced photographer on the big day. As my brain absentmindedly composed the shot, I had eyes only for her. Who was this woman who had stolen my father’s heart?
I worried for her, this young and gentle lady who seemed certain the never-slowing Hastings Hughes would stay with her, would settle down with her into a staid and stable life. I felt a pang of solidarity for a woman I knew he would somehow hurt, for a woman who might just love him anyway.
Worse, I worried that maybe he would stay, that I would begin receiving postcards from the new Family Hughes showing scenes of marital bliss—new babies, posed for portraits, in a caricature of the life I was never raised to expect. What would it say if he stayed for her, when he never could stay for me?
Just take the picture, Emmy. With a quick smile to the assembled crowd I uttered “Happy Birthday, Granny!”
And pressed the button, freezing into place this ever-changing family, capturing only surfaces when I felt so acutely aware that life only ever happens under the skin.