Dread filled Eleanor Windsor’s heart and shone through her deep brown eyes when she saw the house so near at hand. She didn’t want to go home. She wanted to stay outside and enjoy the fresh air, and the way the breeze blew through her wheat-colored hair. She wanted to remain free and unfettered, away from all the frustrations and exhaustions of the world which bound her. She had very little desire to have to be inside again, not when there was so much to enjoy out here. But her aunt and uncle were always getting angry at her for spending so much time outside and for drawing attention to herself. Even as she walked past them, the neighbors stared at her as if she were a ghost of a girl, something to be wary of. They behaved as though she was a monster or a witch because she was not frightened by them or their gossip. She did not care for the things society demanded of a young woman, but rather rejected any notion that she had to be different from being exactly who she was. Indeed, Ellie was unbothered. She was just eager to enjoy being outside and indulging in her need for the freedom it offered. It was easier to focus on what made her happy then on the things which she had to ignore. Despite everything, despite her life as an orphan, being raised by her rather unwilling aunt and uncle had offered both a freedom and a prison for her. They hated that she was always going outside and the fact that she didn’t mind being a little bit strange. But they also did not monitor her the way they monitored their own daughter, Katherine.
Ellie had freedoms which Katherine might never know, just as much as she was disregarded by her aunt and uncle. She reached the house, larger than most others in the area, and took a deep breath. She had to go in and there was no escaping that reality. Still, Ellie had to work her way up to entering the home. First, she took a few deep breaths and then she reminded herself that this was not the end. She would be able to go back outside another time. Soon enough, she would return, and she did not have to fear or fret otherwise. At last, her feet entered through the doorway and it took only a moment before her Aunt Glenda grasped her wrist and ushered her quickly inside. “What are you doing, Ellie? My goodness, have you no sense of propriety?” she asked. “What did I do now?” Ellie asked, trying not to be as whiny as she felt.
There was always something her aunt was angry about, always something worthy of her complaints. No matter how much Ellie tried to appease her, there was always a reason for her to grumble against Ellie’s very nature and ways. “You are not even wearing shoes,” her aunt said, gesturing to her feet. Ellie looked down and had to use self-control not to shrug in nonchalance. She hated shoes, but she saw that her feet were quite dirty. She always washed them, so what did it matter? Why should she worry about it when there really wasn’t a problem? All it took was a few minutes to get them clean again. “I will go out and rinse them off if you would like,” she said. “Outside? Goodness, no! You have already been seen outside, looking like a ragamuffin. You think I want the neighbors to see you again? And for them to see you washing your feet? Ellie, you are supposed to be a young woman, not an animal,” her aunt said. Ellie bit the inside of her cheek, trying to push past the insult.
“Now, I want you to tiptoe out to the back garden and wash your feet there. And next time, wear shoes. I care not if you dislike them. You look like an utter fool walking around barefoot. Do you know how dirty the ground is?” her aunt asked, launching into another tirade before Ellie could actually go and clean her feet. After a few more minutes of listening to her aunt’s frustrations, Ellie tiptoed out back as instructed, leaving as little mess as possible on the floor of the house, and went to the back garden. She preferred it out here anyway and was relieved to get to come back outside for a few minutes. But upon sitting down to clean her feet, the back door opened again in a swift motion. “What are you doing?” her aunt insisted, angry once more. “You told me to wash my feet,” Ellie reminded her.
She could not comprehend what else she was meant to do or how she could best change to please her aunt when she was doing precisely as she had been told and it was still not enough. The frustration was thick within her chest. “Not while sitting down! You are getting your dress dirty. Good heavens, child, have you no gratitude at all for everything we have sacrificed to provide for you? Truly, sometimes I wonder if you are deeply ungrateful or just deeply foolish,” her aunt said. Ellie stood up and her aunt left before she was able to say another word to try and convince Aunt Glenda that she very much appreciated them for raising her. True, they tended to suffocate her from her interests, but they had been willing to take her in when she had no one else and she truly tried to be thankful for that. Once she had finished washing her feet, Ellie went back inside. Now, her aunt was in a completely new flurry of frustration. “Eleanor, sit down,” she ordered. “What is it? Has something new happened?” Ellie asked.
“Yes, indeed. Mrs. Carruthers just came by,” she said. Ellie tried not to grimace. Mrs. Carruthers was the worst gossip of the whole village they lived in, just outside of London. If Mrs. Carruthers had been bothered by something, everyone would hear of it. “What did she have to say?” Ellie asked. “Her son saw you outside, Ellie.
You ought to be ashamed. The last thing we need is for Wendell Carruthers to think poorly of you,” she said. “I cannot see why that would matter. What does Wendell Carruthers have to do with anything?” she asked. Aunt Glenda looked at Ellie as if she was a madwoman, someone who had absolutely no understanding of the world around her. “You cannot be serious,” her aunt said. Ellie stared at her, trying to figure out what she had done wrong. But her aunt simply shook her head and turned away from her. “There is nothing I can do with this child! Goodness, someone please come and handle her for me,” she called out as she left the room. Ellie sighed, aware that she had done something improper, although she could not figure out what it was.
She chose to retreat to her room as an escape from her angry aunt, deciding that her small closet of a room was a better alternative than staying out in the open to be berated for some unknown offense. Katherine stuck her head out into the hall and hissed for Ellie’s attention as she passed by. Ellie turned to her, wishing that Katherine hadn’t been aware of her presence. As much as she loved her cousin, Ellie just wanted to be alone. “Come here,” Katherine urged. Ellie obeyed and followed Katherine to her grand bedroom, with a four-poster bed and lavish silk blankets. The room was warm and it smelled like a meadow, so different from the humid air of Ellie’s closet. “I heard Mother yelling at you,” Katherine said, moving to the bed and laying on her side, facing Ellie. Ellie sat next to her, leaning against the headboard and sighing. “I never seem to be able to do what she wants,” Ellie said.
“I know. She is frustrating. You just have to understand that she is not the kind of person who understands depth of any sort. I mean, do not get me wrong, I do not understand you either, Ellie, but at least I know you well enough to know that you are a good woman, even if you do have some peculiar habits,” Katherine said. “Am I really so peculiar? What is wrong with the fact that I like to be outside and to have a bit of freedom? How does that make me so strange that I can bring shame to your family?” she asked. “First of all, they are not my family alone. Remember that they are yours as well. I know that it may not always seem that way, but Mother does love you and she knows that you are her niece. She is just…she is very much a believer in the rules of society,” Katherine said. She tried to justify her mother, but Ellie could see that it was hard for her.
Katherine and Ellie were quite close, and Katherine had made it clear that she did not approve of how her mother treated Ellie. “I know,” Ellie replied, glumly. “And those rules do not allow me to leave the home.” “That is hardly true, but those rules do restrict you on things such as getting dirty and being wild. You are too free when you go out and about. You must have some sort of need for people to see the best of you,” Katherine said. “What is the best of me?” Ellie asked. “For instance, when they see you running around barefoot, they believe that you are too poor for shoes. This is embarrassing for Mother and Father, who have provided you with those comforts,” Katherine said. Even though it made sense and Ellie understood what Katherine was saying, she didn’t like it.
She wished that they would just leave her alone and let her be herself. “All right, I can understand that. But why is Aunt Glenda so upset about me being seen by Wendell Carruthers? I know that his mother is a terrible gossip, but everyone already knows what I am like. Is it really such a shock to them?” she asked. “Oh, Ellie, do not be so foolish. Mother is angry because she wants you to marry Mr. Carruthers,” Katherine said. Ellie’s eyes widened in surprise. She had never expected that. Marry Mr.
Carruthers? Why? What reason had caused her aunt to choose him of all the men in the world? There was nothing special about him. “You cannot be serious,” she said. “I am. Frightfully so. She has heard that his mother wants him to marry quickly and that they would likely be willing to let him marry you. I suspect that when Mrs. Carruthers came to share her concerns about him seeing you barefoot, Mother was nervous that they might be less receptive to the arrangement than they had previously shared,” Katherine said. “But I was never told about this arrangement or asked if I have any interest in Mr. Carruthers. This is positively uncomfortable for me,” she said.
“Yes, well, if you think my mother cares about your comfort, you are not so understanding of her as you may think,” Katherine said. Ellie knew very well what sort of woman her aunt was, but the fact that she had decided to marry Ellie off to this man who meant nothing at all to her was something else entirely. Since when was this an acceptable thing to do? Why would her aunt try to force her into this union when she thought Ellie was so ill-equipped for proper society anyway? Perhaps, that was going to be her rescue in the midst of it all. Maybe the fact that she was so strange would cause Wendell to lose interest in her and she would have the freedom to escape this nonsensical arrangement. “Is it formal?” she asked Katherine, wondering whether or not the arrangement was finalized. “No, certainly not. Mother would have told you if it had been. That is why she is so worried. There is still a chance that Mrs. Carruthers may refuse to allow it to pass.
You need to be ready, however. It is certainly possible that she is going to spring it upon you soon and you shall have no choice but to marry Mr. Carruthers at that point,” Katherine said. Ellie winced. What did Mr. Carruthers think about that? Certainly, he had very little interest in her, as the strange young woman whom everyone believed her to be. No matter what people were trying to push upon her, Ellie didn’t want to have to spend her days stuck inside as a kept woman the way so many were. She could not believe that her life was meant for that. Her own mother and father had enjoyed adventures with one another, going outside and seeing the world around them. They had breathed in the fresh air and indulged in days of walking and riding and hiking.
Ellie wanted these same things for her life. She wanted to feed the animals which came her way, something her aunt utterly detested to see her do. She wanted to dream of a larger life outside of her closet bedroom. That day would come, she believed. It had to. There was no chance that she would be content to wile away her days indoors like every other young woman who lived and breathed courtship and dresses. If Mr. Carruthers couldn’t see who Ellie truly was, he was not the man for her. She only needed to make her aunt understand that.