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Cost of Wishes, 1

October 23, 2022 07:13PM

The Cost of Wishes

Marianne had locked herself in her room to cry alone and bitterly. Willoughby, who loved her, had committed himself to someone else. The Dashwood girls, it seemed, were too poor to marry. Willoughby was blameless in this, she knew. It was all John Dashwood's fault; his and his son's. Had her great-uncle not settled everything on her nephew Harry -- had he only spared a few thousand pounds for her dowry -- she might by now be the one engaged to dear Willoughby rather than the cold, snobbish Miss Gray.

There was a soft knock and then someone entered. Had she not locked the door? She looked up, ready to cry into her sister's arms, for she could imagine no one else come to see her right now. Even Mrs. Jennings was not so stupid.

It was not her sister or her hostess but a house maid.

"Excuse me, Miss," the girl began. She smiled sweetly with teeth like even, little pearls. Her hands were folded demurely over her apron. Her hair -- a blonde, sunny color -- was pulled back neatly under her cap with a delicate wisp of curl over her forehead.

"Go away," said Marianne, unwilling to face her.

"Of course, Miss, right away. It's only I thought I could help you." She did not move.

"I do not want tea," said Marianne. "I want to be left alone."

"I suspect what you truly want isn't either, Miss. And I can help you, I swear. Begging your pardon for the presumption." She bobbed a curtsy for apology but otherwise held her ground.

Marianne gave her another look before she sent her away again and more forcefully. "How can you possibly help?"

The girl looked around as if to check that no one else had joined them. "I can grant wishes," she said at last in a loud whisper.

"You can do what?" asked Marianne. Was this some sort of joke?

The maid took a step closer and repeated herself in the same whisper. "I can grant wishes." She smiled again. "Give it a try," she coaxed. "Go on and wish for something, anything. I promise this one won't even count."

Marianne just stared at her, speechless.

"Go on, Miss. Ask for anything: tea and biscuits, or a rainbow outside your window, or a fire in the grate, or to go home to Barton. Just ask, Miss, and it's yours."

The girl was just trying to make her feel better and the sooner Marianne acquiesced the sooner the maid would be on her way.

"A fire in the grate," Marianne said at last.

"Done," said the maid with a snap of her fingers. Without moving from her spot by the bed, a blazing fire leapt up in the fireplace.

Marianne gasped and nearly fell over, so startled she was. "What did you do?" she asked when she recovered her speech.

The maid grinned and snapped her fingers again. The flame went out as suddenly as it had sprung to life, with only the scent of smoke to lead Marianne to believe she hadn't imagined it. "I'm magic," the girl explained. "I can grant wishes, and you look like someone in sore need of my aid."

"Why are you working as a maid if you can grant wishes?" wondered Marianne.

The girl laughed at that. "It doesn't work like that," she said. "Not for me, at least. I can only grant the wishes of other people. Every time I try to do what I want, it doesn't turn out like I had hoped. No, but I can grant you a wish. I can grant you ten wishes, if you like."

"Ten!" Marianne exclaimed.

"Would you like it?"

"Oh, but ten is too many," reasoned Marianne. That was nine too many. She only needed one wish to achieve her heart's desire. Willoughby had chosen Miss Gray for her ten thousand, and had Marianne been her equal in fortune there would have been no contest between them.

"Ten is standard," said the maid, who had apparently made a habit of helping people. "Besides, as I said, it doesn't always work out the way you want, so you might need extra wishes to get it perfect."

It still felt unreal. "So I can wish for anything?"

"Anything at all!" The maid bounced on her heels. "Give it a try!"

"I wish I was home again," said Marianne, not knowing what to expect.

The girl snapped her fingers and in that instant they were both transported to Barton Cottage. Marianne gave a shriek of surprise and looked about her for some sign of how this trick was done, but there was no reasonable explanation.

"I told you," said the maid, "I'm magic. So do we have a deal? Ten wishes to bring you your heart's desire?"

Marianne had sat gaping, trying to understand the inexplicable. "What is your name?" she said at last. "And what do you get from this? Do you want money?"

"Call me Nelly," said the sunny girl. "I like to give people what they want; it's what I'm good at. If you can get your true love before you run out of wishes, then you don't owe me anything. The pleasure of seeing you happy again shall be my payment."

"And if I don't?" frowned Marianne.

Nelly almost rolled her eyes. "Is it even possible that you'll need more than half?"

Marianne considered this. On a level playing field, it really was no contest between herself and Miss Gray. This would be easy. She could do it in one wish.

She smiled at Nelly, a grin that lit her whole face.

"Nelly, I wish to be rich."

Marianne sat in the parlor in Barton Cottage, trying unobtrusively to determine what had just happened. She had wished for money, but instead of finding herself immediately surrounded by heaps of bank notes, she was sitting with her mother and sisters, in the same diminished circumstances she had come to expect.

Then she heard a fragment of conversation she remembered, then another. Strung together like beads on a necklace, she realized that she was returned to the day she had first met Willoughby. She felt a thrill to think she was reliving this day.

Their man brought in the mail and Mrs. Dashwood gasped. She held up an envelope edged in black: someone had died. This was not how Marianne remembered events.

"What happened, Mama?" asked Margaret quietly.

Mrs. Dashwood said nothing but broke the seal and read. Tears welled up in her eyes. Despite her daughters' gentle promptings, she dropped the letter and fled from the room as her tears overwhelmed.

Elinor picked up the letter and read it.

"What is it?" asked Marianne, disturbed by her mother's reaction.

Elinor was silent for a long time, reading and rereading the letter as her features curdled in horror.

"Elinor, what happened?" Marianne asked with greater force, snatching the letter from her sister.

"It's our brother, John," Elinor spoke hoarsely. "He, and Fanny, and our nephew are all dead." With that, she too ran off.

Margaret and Marianne both tried to read the fateful letter. Margaret was quicker but Marianne was older. She read through it twice herself and could only feel horror at the story therein: their half brother John had taken his wife and son on an open carriage ride in the park. The carriage had overturned, crushing Fanny and Harry instantly. John lived long enough to call for help but he too could not be saved. The note ended with the declaration that if his will declared no heir beyond his wife and child, then, as his next nearest relations, his half sisters stood to inherit his wealth.

Marianne clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. She disliked her brother for being weak and for marrying such an unamiable woman; her feelings toward Fanny were stronger and less pleasant, blaming her as she did for the total absence of support they had received from John upon their father's death. But Harry, though the instigator of their being written out of the will, was yet an innocent.

Marianne retired to her room, awestruck. Was this her wish? What had Nelly done? Marianne had certainly wanted to be rich, but not like this, not at the expense of a child whose greatest crime was being too adorable.

As in London, she locked herself in her room. Now, however, she called for Nelly. Surely someone as magical as the maid would have no problem being summoned.

It worked. Marianne had just started to pace the small chamber when the maid appeared behind her.

"Yes, Miss?" she asked cheerfully.

"Did you kill John and Fanny?" she asked without preamble.

Nelly nodded. "And their son, too. I took special care with the order of their deaths so that the Ferrars wouldn't get it all. That Mrs. Ferrars is a greedy, grasping woman."

"You killed them?" Marianne said, mindless of her volume. "Nelly, how could you?"

The girl shrugged as if it were no great loss. "That's how magic works, Miss. I can't create money from nothing, not the sum you need to win your Mr. Willoughby. It has to come from somewhere; family's the best place for it. It looks natural that way." She paused thoughtfully. "Of course, you'll miss meeting him today, but what is a day compared with your whole future?"

Nelly smiled again. For the first time, Marianne noticed a flaw in her appearance: a crooked tooth and a lazy eye. It marred the maid's otherwise angelic air.

"Well, I don't wish for them to die," proclaimed Marianne.

"But they're going to die anyways, Miss," answered Nelly is a gentle voice. "We all do. This way was quicker but the result was the same, believe me. However, if you'd rather, you can spend another wish to give them a longer time of it, let them make their goodbyes in proper form, and you can still get the money after."

She didn't want to waste her wishes on John and Fanny, but she saw no other way about it. Besides, it wasn't as if she needed nine more wishes to get her Willoughby. The first one was certainly enough.

"Very well," Marianne said solemnly with a nod. "I wish it."

Nelly snapped her fingers.

Marianne was sitting in the morning room at Norland Park. It gave her a jolt and she wondered how Nelly had interpreted this wish. Was her father still alive? Had Nelly killed the John Dashwoods and yet kept her own father alive?

The housekeeper entered and her words seemed to confirm the hypothesis. "Miss Dashwood, Mr. Dashwood is asking to see you."

"My father?" said Marianne with a lump in her throat.

At that, the housekeeper looked startled then ashamed. "I'm sorry, Miss, but I refer to your brother, Mr. John Dashwood. Bless me, Miss Marianne, but I was sorry to have lost your father, and I will be sorry again to lose his son." The older woman continued on in this vein as they walked, explaining that while she was always grateful to see Miss Marianne, she would have preferred it was under different circumstances.

By the time Marianne stood in front of her brother's door, she knew that Harry and Fanny were already dead, and that John was expected to join them soon. As soon as the family was injured, Marianne had been sent for to nurse them. It was no secret that Elinor was better as such acts of charity, but even in her weakened state, Fanny Dashwood didn't want to worry about Elinor returning to Norland Park and finding solace in the company of Edward Ferrars.

Marianne at last entered the chamber. There was a foul odor inside, but John motioned her to him. What followed was probably his deathbed confession: how disreputable he felt in not honoring his father's final wishes regarding his family; how unworthy he felt in receiving his dear sister's kind attentions; how despicable he felt in rejoicing that his elder sister had managed to put herself out of harm's way. He was, in a word, undeserving, and this speech cut through to Marianne's heart to think that she had ever thought ill of him. Perhaps she might speak with Nelly about what could be done to ease his suffering.

But John Dashwood was not done. There was one more thing he wanted her to know. For traveling back to Norland so soon after leaving it, for being his constant comfort during his final trial, he was naming her his primary heir.

The interview left Marianne drained. She was now going to be rich enough that had Willoughby not loved her at all, he still might choose her over Miss Gray. She was attractive enough in a mercenary way to have any man she wanted, but the only man she wanted was Willoughby.

Eventually, she returned to the morning room where the housekeeper had first found her. A letter was sitting, opened but unread by the chair in which she had been sitting. A quick glance confirmed the address was to her, the handwriting was her mother’s. Marianne picked it up and read it.

Following her mother’s desperate hopes for her stepson the letter turned to some new joy in Barton. Elinor had a suitor. It was not the shy Edward Ferrars, nor the old Colonel Brandon. No, it was a young man come to visit his aunt who had fallen completely under her spell, making his declarations before the fortnight was out.

Marianne put down the letter, unable to read another word. Had Willoughby truly proposed to her sister? Why did he not wait for her? How could he not know she was coming for him, just as soon as she could?

“Is everything all right, Miss?” came a quiet voice behind her.

Marianne closed her eyes and tears dropped down her cheeks. “He is marrying Elinor instead,” she said softly. “I spent too much time in Norland, and he fell in love with my sister.”

“Oh, Miss!” breathed Nelly, taking the letter to confirm the truth with her own eyes. “I am so sorry. This is not what I wanted, you know that. It’s just that you wanted to give your brother more time, and now I’ve made you his heiress. I thought that would make you happy.”

If John was to die, then perhaps it was best for him to go quickly, thought Marianne. In the next instant, she chastened herself for thinking so. This wish had failed worse than the first. She needed to reconsider.

“Can I wish that my father never died?” asked Marianne. From the moment she realized she was back at Norland Park, the thought of seeing her father again was tempting.

Nelly frowned. “Begging your pardon but I do not think that is a good idea, Miss.”

“And why not?”

“Because he already died, Miss,” Nelly tried to speak kindly. “He’s just going to die again. That’s what Fate is. You cannot avoid it, no matter how many wishes you have. And having him alive still will keep you here at Norland instead of sending you to Barton where you’ll meet Mr. Willoughby. He’s at the time of life when a man looks for a wife. Believe me, Miss, if it isn’t you or Miss Gray, it will be someone else. Did not you just say he fell in love with your sister? I wouldn’t trust him with a very long leash. I suppose you could spend a few more wishes to get yourself invited to see Sir John Middleton just as Mr. Willoughby is visiting his aunt? Something unfortunate could befall Lady Middleton, thus requiring him to seek aid from his family,” she mused

Nelly looked hopefully at Marianne for approval, but Miss Dashwood found the idea distasteful. Lady Middleton was not an ideal but she was far more deserving of happiness than Fanny Dashwood.

Lacking encouragement, the maid sighed and spoke again. “Well then. I recommend we go back to the original plan. Kill off your brother quickly and painlessly with you already established in Barton Cottage, then put yourself in Mr. Willoughby’s path and let the cards fall where they may. Besides, we don’t have time for long courtship, I’m afraid. We need to get you back to Barton.”

Here Marianne became puzzled. “What do you mean? Why don’t we have time?”

Nelly looked embarrassed and covered her mouth with her hand. “Begging your pardon, Miss, but the wishes only last so long, then they go rancid. You have to work quickly now that you’ve begun.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” asked Marianne irritably.

“I had no idea you would need so much time,” the maid countered tartly. Marianne was struck by the creases in her forehead that had not been there when they had first met. Perhaps not just the unused wishes spoiled with time.

“Very well,” said Marianne. “We shall try it your way again. I wish you would take me back to Barton Cottage to meet Willoughby.”

Nelly snapped her fingers but she did not look happy.

Cost of Wishes, 1

NN SOctober 23, 2022 07:13PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 1

Shannon KOctober 24, 2022 02:23AM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 1

NN SOctober 26, 2022 12:28PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 1

Lucy J.October 23, 2022 08:10PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 1

NN SOctober 26, 2022 12:22PM


NN SOctober 23, 2022 07:19PM


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