Marriage and Missteps
I.It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a bucket must be in want of a hill to climb. That he may climb this hill in the company of a young woman is often preferable sometimes even inevitable. This truth is so widely believed that when a young man climbs such a hill with a young lady, her friends and family imagine them engaged.
“My dear Mr. Jarrett,” his wife said to him one morning after breakfast, “do you realize what a sum we should get if we sold that old well? We could get upwards of five hundred pounds.”
Mr. Jarrett raised his eyes from his morning reading, coughed twice, then returned his gaze to his paper companion. “I do not think we should be selling that well any time soon,” he replied.
“But Mr. Jarrett,” his wife continued, for she knew she must convince him ere long, “Mr. Jingly, the young man who has let the Holloway estate, he wishes to buy the well. And as it hasn’t given much water these last twenty years, we would do well to oblige him.
“My dear lady,” her husband replied, “we have done quite well by that well, if I may speak honestly, and it would be imprudent to sell before inspecting it first ourselves. Pray, will you join me in a walk up the hill?”
Mrs. Jarrett clutched her hands over her heart. “You know what walking does to my fragile constitution,” she said. “You have no respect for my poor nerves.”
“On the contrary, dear lady,” replied her husband, “I have great respect for your nerves, as they have been my constant companions these many years.
Mrs. Jarrett opened her mouth to protest, but just at that moment a servant entered the drawing room: “A Mr. Jingly is here to see you, sir.”
There was much rustling of needlework and skirts as Mrs. Jarrett and her five daughters arranged themselves so as to appear industrious, though not rudely interrupted by this visit.
“Mr. Jingly!” cried Mrs. Jarrett, when the young man entered the room. “How good of you to come to visit.”
“Thank you, M’am,” Mr. Jingly replied, “but I came to see the well, as I have heard much about it.”
“Why, Mr. Jarrett and I were just about to journey up the hill ourselves,” Mrs. Jarrett exclaimed. “But perhaps you would rather visit at your leisure. Jillian can accompany you. Surely, you’ve met Jillian, our oldest daughter.”
Miss Jillian stood up and offered her hand. Mr. Jingly bowed.
“I daresay, she is not only our oldest, but our loveliest daughter,” Mrs. Jarrett added.
“Mama!” said Jasmina—also called Jassy—in a hushed tone. Mrs. Jarrett waved her second daughter to silence.
“Now you two run along and visit the old well, while the rest of us take care of our daily business.” Mrs. Jarrett ushered Mr. Jingly and Miss Jillian toward the door. Before stepping outside, Jillian gave her sister a pleading look.
II.It was a lovely hill, green and grassy, taller than any other hill in the district so it afforded an expansive view of the surrounding farms and estates. From the top of the hill sprung a natural stream, which had been trapped into a well years before Jillian had been born. She suspected that the well was even older than her parents. The ground around the well was slick from the recent rainfall and the walk up the hill demanded a certain attention that prevented the young couple from making even the most innocuous of pleasantries.
When then reached the top, Mr. Jingly lowered the bucket into the hole and let it splash down in the water below. It was a wrought iron bucket, heavy to lift even when empty and now that it brimmed with water, it took all of Mr. Jingly’s strength to pull it back up from the well. As he tugged the rope and hauled the bucket, the ground loosened and he lost his footing. With one last pull, up came the bucket, the water and the rope, but down tumbled Mr. Jingly toward the bottom of the hill. Miss Jillian extended her hand to steady him, but he pulled her down with him instead. The two rolled and tumbled down the muddy hill until they lay unconscious at the bottom.
III.When news of the fall reached the drawing room, Mrs. Jarrett let out a wail. “Oh, Mr. Jingly. Oh, oh, oh,” she cried, unable to form any words beyond these.
“I do believe he’s broken his crown, m’am,” said one of the servants. “And Miss Jillian has twisted her ankle.” The servants dashed to tend to the injured pair, leaving the Jarretts and their remaining daughters in the drawing room to await news.
“Oh, what are we to do? What are we to do?” Mrs. Jarrett cried. “He will die of this broken crown and he will not marry Jillian and then where will we be?”
“Mama, I do believe that the broken crown is of greater concern than whether or not he and Jillian will marry,” Jassy said.
“What are we to do? If Mr. Jingly should die, his friends will duel with your father,” Mrs. Jarrett replied. “Surely they will kill your father and then we will all be evicted from our home and forced to live a life of misery.” She wrung her hands in desperation. “At least, we will still earn some income from the well,” she added. “It may not be much but it will sustain me and the girls within modest means.”
“If modest means are your preference,” Mr. Jarrett replied, “ I wish you might have told me before I sold the well and its plot to Mr. Jingly last week. It would have saved me from that insufferable negotiation. I did sell it for five thousand pounds.”
“Five thousand pounds!” she stood and clutched her husband’s hands. “Why that’s a modest fortune. Oh, Mr. Jarrett, I knew you could not be unreasonable and that you would do what was right for our daughters and family. Just think, when she recovers, we can marry Jillian to a proper gentleman.”
“Yes, I am sure Jillian will find the twisted ankle a modest price to pay for the hand of a proper gentleman,” Mr. Jarrett replied.
“Whatever would you do if I should fall down the hill?” said his wife, linking her arm through his.
“That would depend, my dear lady,” he replied.
She frowned. “Depend on what?” she asked, pronouncing the words carefully.
“On whether you should happen to survive the fall,” he said. Before she could protest, he continued: “Should you survive, I would carry you home and summon the doctor, but if you should perish, I believe an undertaker would be more appropriate.”
At that, Mr. Jarrett resumed his reading.
“Mr. Jarrett, you are too cruel,” his wife said.
But he would not meet her gaze.