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Whatever Happened to Mr. Bates (JaOctGoHoNo)

October 31, 2023 03:02PM
Blurb: Emma Woodhouse gets hold of something to answer her prayers about Harriet and Mr. Knightly. Mrs. Bates reveals what happened to her husband before Miss Woodhouse can use it.

Whatever Happened to Mr. Bates

Emma Woodhouse was shown into the sitting room even though it was not her day to call.

Miss Emma had already visited the Bates family twice this week: once on her usual day, and once again with Mrs. Weston to shower Jane with every good wish for marital bliss at the news of her secretly long-standing engagement to Frank Churchill. And the week was not half over.

Truth be told, Mrs. Bates almost did not know what to do with her unexpected guest. The initial wave of well-wishers had nearly depleted their stores of tea and cake, and Mrs. Bates did not know what she should say to a young woman like Miss Emma. Her eyesight was weak and she was a trifle deaf which meant that she normally relied upon her daughter to communicate with everyone but Hetty was not at home. Just that morning, Hetty and Jane had gone to London to begin preparing Jane's trousseau with Mrs. Campbell, leaving Mrs. Bates to entertain alone.

“Oh!” Miss Emma exclaimed at seeing the nearly empty room. “And where is dear Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax?”

"They are in London," she said, offering up the letter from Mrs. Campbell which contained the invitation, figuring the written word could summarize matters far better than she could herself.

Miss Emma read it and then showered Jane’s foster family with numerous compliments on their generosity as she returned the letter. She touched the small reticule hanging from her wrist and asked if Mrs. Bates was up for company.

Rather than send her guest away too quickly, Mrs. Bates opted for a common topic. "How is your father, Miss Woodhouse?" she began.

"My father?" The question caught her off guard but she was able to answer with ease. "He is the picture of health, but do not tell him that I think so. He is a little distressed that we shall lose Jane Fairfax to Enscombe, but he is not fond of anything that disrupts our cosy community, as well you know, so do not let it alarm you." Despite her assurances, Miss Emma continued to clutch nervously at the netted bag in her lap.

"And what does Mr. Knightly think of it?" Mrs. Bates asked.

"Oh, he… he isn't at Donwell at present," Emma said. Her tone faltered as the topic shifted. "He went to London shortly before the news broke. I am sure he will call upon you as soon as he is home again." As she spoke, she continued worrying whatever object was hidden inside her reticule.

"London?" Mrs. Bates repeated. Had she heard that correctly? "What is he doing in London?"

"I am sure I do not know," Emma said with an irritation directed inward. "Perhaps he wished to speak to his brother on a matter of business." Then she added in a meek voice, "Or the heart." She tightened her grip on the small bag.

"Forgive me, Miss Woodhouse, but can you repeat that?" Mrs. Bates asked. She leaned forward and touched her ear to remind her guest of her growing deafness. With Hetty at home, there would not have been a problem.

"Oh!" said Miss Emma. She fidgeted uncharacteristically in her seat. When she spoke again, the words were forced and clear, as if they pained her: "I just, I do not know why Mr. Knightly went to London. I do not know how long he will be there." Unsure of what else to say, she offered nothing more but picked at the strings of her bag.

There was clearly something important in that reticule, even Mrs. Bates could see it. But what Mrs. Bates didn't know was whether she should press her guest for an explanation. At the height of her influence on Highbury, Mrs. Bates would have assumed that any guest coming to her so obviously burdened was seeking help with some problem. Doubtless had Hetty been in attendance Mrs. Bates would not have noticed her guest's odd behavior but it was just the two of them. Perhaps she should try.

"What do you have, Miss Woodhouse?" she prompted gently.

Emma denied with her words that it was anything at all but her actions betrayed her.

"May I see it?" asked Mrs. Bates tentatively.

"I dare say you won't understand it," Emma muttered lowly. "I do not."

The words were too quiet for Mrs. Bates to hear. She merely reached out and, after some hesitation, Emma slipped the bag from her wrist and handed it over.

Mrs. Bates treated it with care and pulled out a small, embroidered sachet. She cradled it in her hand as she looked at it, her weak eyes barely picking out the pattern in the thread.

"Where did you get this, child?" she asked with a shaky voice.

Miss Emma said something but it was too quiet to be understood.

"Speak up, please!" Mrs. Bates commanded her guest.

"Gypsies," Emma said more forcefully. "I bought it from the gypsy camp this morning, on my way here."

"And have you used it?" was the pertinent question. Mrs. Bates felt her heart flutter at the possibility.

"I --" Emma Woodhouse frowned in confusion. "Do you know what this is? Do you know how it works?"

"This is a wish, my child. This is a wish fulfilled darkly," warned Mrs. Bates.

"How do I make it work?" Emma Woodhouse began to reach for it but Mrs. Bates clutched it tightly to herself.

"No! You must not attempt to use it," said Mrs. Bates, refusing to return the sachet. "It is too dangerous for a young person such as yourself. You will wish for the wrong thing and regret it for the rest of your life."

Emma was momentarily indignant at being denied. Her eyes flashed with temper and her mouth pressed into a thin, unforgiving line. "That is mine," she said.

"It will harm you if you try to use it," Mrs. Bates tried to reason with her. "I should know because the same thing happened to me."

Mrs. Bates watched as her guest's anger transformed into curiosity.

"What happened?" Emma asked at last.

Mrs. Bates squeezed her eyes shut. This was a secret burden she had kept for years. Perhaps it was time to share it, almost.

"First, you must tell me what you hoped to use the wish for," she insisted.

Emma's bald curiosity was replaced with a blotchy embarrassment. "I don't --" she began then caught herself. "I do not have an exact wish," she said more clearly but no more honestly.

"Then I cannot return this to you in good conscience. And I will not tell you what I tried to use it for," Mrs. Bates held firm. "Come now, you can trust me.”

Miss Woodhouse struggled internally but in the end she relented. "It is for Harriet Smith and," she said with her eyes downcast, "and Mr. Knightly."

Why would Emma oppose Miss Smith and Mr. Knightly? Mrs. Bates sat in silence as she fit the pieces together.

"Oh, my dear Miss Woodhouse, no. That would have been a terrible mistake. You would never have forgiven yourself," said Mrs. Bates in a rush of agitation.

Whatever else might happen, she could not let Miss Emma use the sachet. Thus resolved, she decided to share her story. She reached for her tea to fortify and compose herself but it had grown cold. With a sigh, she set the cup aside and did not ring for a fresh pot.

"Your mother died when a great sickness came to Highbury," she began without further preamble.

Mr. Bates had been the vicar of Highbury back then, and it was part of his responsibilities to tend to the sick and injured in their community. In fact, this act of nursing typically fell to Mrs. Bates but she was with Hetty in Brighton to help look after Jane as Captain and Mrs. Fairfax settled into their new home.

When they returned to Highbury, a number of people had already died and many others were sick. It was a grim time.

"I remember it," said Emma, eyes hollow. She, like Jane, had been too young to have many memories of that time but these events had left a mark.

"Old Mr. Knightly died too," added Mrs. Bates. She had returned home too late to visit Donwell before the patriarch's passing but Mr. Bates had gone to the Abbey daily to pray and soothe, not that it mattered. "Mrs. Knightly did not grieve well. I tried to console her but she was so angry."

Oh, Mrs. Knightly had been burning with rage against God and the apothecary and Mr. Bates and anyone else she could blame. She lashed out cruelly at Mrs. Bates, accusing her of random impossible things. Realizing that it would take longer than an afternoon for Mrs. Knightly to be reasonable again, Mrs. Bates declared that she would return again on the morrow.

"As I walked home from the Abbey, I passed by the gypsy encampment."

They approached her and begged for money. She was quite adept at ignoring them on most days, and they were harmless unless threatened, but Mrs. Knightly's tirades were still ringing in her ears. She scolded a tenacious little girl who promptly burst into tears. Mrs. Bates felt instant remorse and opened her purse. The camp was on her in a second, crowding and grasping at her until all her coins were gone. She shouted at them, eyes blazing, but no one moved to return her money. Instead, an older woman offered an exchange.

"I bought a sachet from them. It looked just like yours. They said it would help God to answer my prayers," she told her guest.

"They told me the same thing!" said Emma.

"I took it home and held it to my heart as I prayed that Captain and Mrs. Fairfax might travel less, that Mrs. Knightly might be at peace, and that I would have a better understanding and sympathy with the suffering of others," she continued. She did not tell Miss Emma how selfish her prayers had been in retrospect.

She had wanted Captain Fairfax to settle his family in Highbury where she could dote on Jane regularly. She wanted Mrs. Knightly to take back her unkind words and apologize. She wanted to feel less guilty for the fact that her family had endured less misery than others. She had said all the right words but her motivations were corrupted.

"The next morning, I again called on Mrs. Knightly. She was as angry as before; it was as if nothing had changed. So that night I prayed again, just as fervently as before."

She prayed every day for a week. Each time, the Christian facade grew weaker until she was praying for the captain to lose his commission, for some harm to befall Mrs. Knightly, for a distant relative to pass so she too could mourn for her own loss.

Then a letter arrived, trimmed in black. It was not some barely remembered ancient aunt who had died, but Captain and Mrs. Fairfax! Mrs. Bates fell into a stupor of grief and Mr. Bates threw himself into his parish. He worked tirelessly to run from his sadness, but it was illness that finally caught him. He pressed on to the end of his strength but that only meant that he carried the illness with him to places like Donwell Abbey.

“They all died, of course -- Captain and Mrs. Fairfax, Mrs. Knightly, and my own Mr. Bates,” she said as a tear slipped down her cheek. “I prayed, and they died."

Emma rushed forward to kneel in front of Mrs. Bates and to clasp her hands. "Oh, Mrs. Bates! You must not think that! Prayers do not work like that."

Mrs. Bates looked at the young woman in front of her. Emma's eyes were filling with tears of sympathy and she looked so young and earnest.

"Of course I cannot prove that it is all related," Mrs. Bates nodded. "We are Christians, we shouldn't believe in magic and nonsense. But part of me will always think of my prayers and question how selfish I truly was. Part of me will always wonder if the sachet was magic, if it corrupted my wish, and what would have happened if I hadn't used it. I would not have you live with the same regret, Miss Woodhouse,” she averred. “If you use it, and something dreadful happens to Miss Smith or Mr. Knightly, what will you do with yourself?”

Emma sat silently at her feet, gathering her composure and wiping away any tears that fell. “I am so sorry, Mrs. Bates,” she said at last.

“Let us speak no more of it.” It was a wearying tale to tell.

Emma nodded in acquiescence and then stood up to end her visit. She awkwardly bent to hug the old woman. "Thank you, ma'am," Emma whispered into her ear. Mrs. Bates patted her back and gave her a squeeze in response.

Wiping her eyes one last time, Miss Woodhouse showed herself out.

Alone at last, Mrs. Bates weighed the sachet in her palm. The error of her past had been rashness and folly, and she had thought often of how she would have done it differently if she ever got another chance. This time she knew better. This time she would truly get what she wanted.

With a small smile she pressed the sachet to her chest and prayed.


Whatever Happened to Mr. Bates (JaOctGoHoNo)

NN SOctober 31, 2023 03:02PM

Re: Whatever Happened to Mr. Bates (JaOctGoHoNo)

JenNovember 01, 2023 02:00PM

Re: Whatever Happened to Mr. Bates (JaOctGoHoNo)

Maria VNovember 01, 2023 06:19PM

Re: Whatever Happened to Mr. Bates (JaOctGoHoNo)

NN SNovember 02, 2023 11:55PM


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