Becca

"If you scorn me first, sir, you can bet on your life that I'll scorn you second and the final word of our petty little argument will be mine to keep."

Talented, rich and playful, Rebecca Crox swears that she will never marry, despite what her friends want her to do. Thomas Prewett, an old family friend, luckily feels the same way and the two are perfectly happy being nothing but friends, both being of archful, intelligent dispositions. When Becca finally falls in love with him, therefore, she is not expecting it any more than he and it turns out that possibly marriage is a very bad idea, after all.

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2. Two

 

Rebecca appeared in the door of the dining hall that evening to find that Thomas Prewett had stayed for dinner. Her father, always a benevolent man, was often inviting various people to stay, often without any previous notice at all, and Prewett was one of their most frequent visitors. It wasn't that Becca minded his presence, it was more that she had not been expecting company today, least of all from him; after hearing that his best friend was to be a bachelor no longer, Becca had been expecting him to have gone home and sulked. Seeing him sitting at her dining room table, therefore, in earnest and eager conversation with her father, over a bowl of meaty soup, was quite a sudden surprise and Becca quietly hesitated in the doorway. Mr Prewett glanced up.

"My dear Miss Crox! I should have thought you would have been down ten minutes ago! Have you been combing your hair all this time?" He knew she had not been - Rebecca did not need to comb her hair vigorously to look pretty - but he liked the satisfaction of teasing her and had done, seemingly, since the beginning of time.

Rebecca shook her hair back from her face and looked Thomas calmly in the eye. "It has long been your wish to have the ability to turn compliments into insults. May I politely inform you that you have not yet managed it; you have a lot to learn."

Prewett then swallowed a large quantity of hot soup to mask his laugh and winced instead. "Lord, Becca! You have grown quite the little malapert! Is that a hornet's sting I see on my arm? ...Nay, I must sigh for you. It is only the scratch of some petty kitten. Are you not at your best today?"

Her bottom lip jutting out slightly, Becca appealed to her father, who had been sitting at the table in silence, looking confusedly to his daughter then at Prewett and back again. "Father, you must allow me to excuse Mr Prewett." she said loudly. "You see, he has not yet learnt to master his jester's tricks."

 Henry Crox continued to look confused.

"May I be given lease to recommend the seeded loaf, my good sir?" came Prewett's good-natured attempt to distract his host and give him something easier to focus on. "It is rather excellent. I give my compliments to the cook."

"Mrs Winters is a very good sort of woman," remarked Becca warmly. "And her cooking is the best in the country, no one being able to beat it. No coq au vin is worth tuppence of one of Mrs Winters' dishes."

But here Thomas Prewett shook his head. "Ah." he said, politely holding up a finger. "It is there that I must, for the sake of a dear friend of mine, contradict you, Miss Crox. Coq au vin is, frankly, not worth tuppence, of Mrs Winters' dishes ...With no bad feeling towards your cook, of course."

Rebecca, who had by then sat down at the table, then lent over it, smiling gently. "And which dear friend is this? It is Arthur Wilkins, is it not? The dear friend who is partial to coq au vin?"

"You guess correctly, Rebecca. I do indeed think of Arthur Wilkins."

Becca smiled knowingly. "You have brought up the subject of Mr. Wilkins on purpose, have you not? You wish to use this as a useful introduction to your news."

Mildly, Prewett protested. "I would not be so calculating, Rebecca! I would do no such thing!"

But then she gave him a stern but playful look and he relented, meekly confessing that opening up the subject of his friend's recent marriage had been his design.

Mr Henry Crox glanced up sharply. "Marriage? Who is getting married? Who is leaving us all to wallow and be solitary?"

"No one shall leave us, my good sir." said Thomas reassuringly as the soup bowls were removed and they began a second course. "Mr Wilkins would never think of leaving the area even if his new wife lived in the most Northern point of France. Of course," he added when Mr Crox looked fretful again "his wife does not live in France, for his wife will be Miss Arabella Slohford. She, I believe, has no intentions of leaving either."

"Indeed, Delton would seem very small without her." added Becca.

Her father relaxed. "No one, then, shall be leaving? Well, that makes the situation so much the better. I do sometimes find myself repenting marriage, if it is the source of change."

"Not much shall change, papa, I can assure you." Miss Crox said, swallowing a mouthful of the freshly-prepared suet pastry. "And Arthur Wilkins is a very good sort of gentleman. I am happy that Arabella has found such a delightful match in him."

Prewett agreed. "I do not pretend to be an approver of matchmaking, but I can almost bring myself to say that had I enjoyed such a sport, I would have matched Miss Slohford with Wilkins in the blink of an eye. But, still," he added, slightly bitterly. "I cannot believe that Wilkins has been such a fool as to fling himself at the feet of the deluded Cupid, who never shoots straight and who's arrows cause nothing but trouble. They are vicious, those barbs on those arrows, and if they go in the wrong way they can poison your body and leave you collapsed upon the floor, bleeding and swearing in agony."

Rebecca politely his her smile behind her napkin. "Good gracious, Thomas!" she said. "Anyone would think that you were the miserable rump of rejected love, yourself, and not merely some sour bachelor who does not know the sweet and blissful innocence of love!"

"Nay, do not tell me that you, too, have blindly cast away all your sense and wisdom!" cried Mr Prewett, lightly slapping the table with his own napkin. "Do not tell me that I am now the only person left who is free from love's defaming poisons! What has become of you, lady?"

Becca still remained calm. "Do not be ridiculous, sir." she told him. "I am still perfectly adamant that I will never marry. I am not a fool, Thomas. You know perfectly well that I am not a fool. But I may still be happy for my friends' marriages, even if I will not enter into such schemes myself, can I not? Is it not so? Is that a crime, Thomas, to smile when my dear friend is in raptures?"

Prewett pursed his lips in an expression that almost seemed like one of disapproval. "On the country." he finally allowed. "I suppose that it is not. And you are far from being a fool, Rebecca. Very far from being a fool. And yet, you still have your defects, Rebecca, just like any woman. Perhaps yours are ever more prominent, as you do not seem to embrace them like I have seen many others do."

There was a sudden, stretching silence.

"And so this is what you think of me." said Becca quietly, after a great length. "This is what your mind utters whenever I enter your presence. You think that I am supercilious, that I am fickle, vain, weak enough to go back on my word."

Mr Prewett silently bowed his head. No word of apology, of any form of contradiction passed his lips.

Rebecca's eyes filled with hot, angry tears. "This is why I refuse to bow down to a monarchy of men!" she said, her voice slightly hoarse, almost a shout. "This is why I remain a bacheloress! And what is your reasoning to shut your heart up from the world, to call yourself a bachelor and never allow anyone to intrude upon your affections?"

Henry Crox sighed. "Daughter... Dearest... Becca, please. Do not shout. Mr Prewett has done nothing-"

"No, father, he has insulted me! He has announced his true views on me to my own face! Very well, I shall not be offended. I refuse to be offended. My dignity does not allow me to be hurt by a gentleman of an unrounded disposition to be unfairly severe upon the femininity of the female sex!"

Prewett finally glanced up. "Rebecca." he said sharply. "Rebecca, you are being ridiculous. Sit back down-" for Miss Crox had, in her anger, risen subconsciously from her seat "-and cease your pathetic tantrum. I have said a few words of truth and then you overreact as though I have knowingly cut you with a knife." then he made to continue to reason, but Becca had, without another word, flead from the dining hall. Thomas Prewett placed down his knife and fork, made hasty apologies to Becca's father and heatedly left the room in the opposite direction.

Henry Crox was therefore left to his own unfathomable confusion.

 

 

 

 

 
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