Monday, February 20, 2017

A Brighter Green

I heard people like stories like mine. Do you think you’ll be able to sell it? Remember what we agreed on. I get half because I’m giving you the words. You are my amanuensis; I am your muse. Sure, you’ll stretch it out. You’ll add colour. After all, you get paid by the word.

My story has an ordinary enough beginning. Once there was a little girl who was very happy. She had everything her heart desired. It is true. I only had to say, “I want that” and my doting mother and father would be sure to get it for me. My mother was a great beauty. My father was a great industrialist. They had conflicting ideas about what my fate would be. My mother wanted me to grow up to purchase them nearness to the aristocracy through a titled marriage. My father, realizing he wasn’t destined to have sons, wanted me to be equipped to take over the family business.

My father died when I was twelve years old. My mother remarried quickly, although not so quickly that it was unseemly. She was young enough and very beautiful. My father’s will had left his factories and works to me with an uncle acting in my stead until I was of age. So my mother had no access to our family’s former fortune. Did my father suspect she’d shut down his beloved industries? Very likely.

At any rate, my mother married a man who seemed to make money from air. My stepfather was not titled, but was a gentleman. He had properties from which he drew an income. He had nothing to do but go back and forth from country to city as the season required with intervals of travelling. He was not unkind to me, but he was very often not there.

He too had a daughter and no sons. My stepsister, Charlotte, was very beautiful. She was two years older than me and was well schooled in all the necessary talents for a woman of her station. She had a quick mind that had not been developed with any sort of learning, but she had not wasted it. Rather, she put her considerable intelligence into making use of the people around her. I was of no use to her, so she ignored me.

My mother saw Charlotte and realized right away that in the marriage game, she’d be better to back Charlotte than me.They shared a common view of the world.

It’s not that I am ill-looking. I know that I am not. After all, if I were ugly, your readers would have no interest in my story, would they?

My mother transferred all of her attentions, all of her affections to my stepsister. My stepfather drifted the periphery of our lives, supplying money, but little else. I was very lonely. My mother refused to send me to school. After all, why waste any resources on the ill-favoured child? If she had any plans for me, I believe it was to care for her and my stepfather once my stepsister had made her glorious match.

Yet, I kept up my studies as best I could. I corresponded with my uncle to keep informed about my business interests. I fully intended to take them over the moment I turned twenty-one.

I built a laboratory in one of the outbuildings on the property. My father’s main business had been in creating synthetic dyes. I wanted to keep up his work and see if I could develop a greater variety of colours. Only, I wanted to make ones that were not poisonous to both the wearer and the worker. One of the virtues of being unwanted and ignored is freedom.

To occupy my hands during the times I was forced to sit with my mother and stepsister, I learned to sew. After all, constructing a garment is no different than engineering. It is all about fitting pieces together.

My stepsister was enormously proud of her green eyes. She despaired of ever finding a dress that would exactly match her eyes. I saw my opportunity to reach out to my stepsister, to do something for her.

One day, while she was complaining of this, I happened to mention that I had developed a green dye that might suit her. I showed her a silk handkerchief I had dyed with it. She clapped her hands and said that was exactly what she wanted for her ball gown. For once, she was interested in my work. She followed me out to my shed to see what other colours I could create for her.

I dressed her in bright greens, vivid blues, blood reds. I designed dresses for my stepsister that put Parisian dressmakers to shame. I hired children from the village to stir my dye pots and girls to sew my creations. I wouldn’t let anyone enter our workplace. My mother, seeing how my work would set her favoured child off to advantage, permitted this work.

Everything Charlotte wore, from her stockings to her gowns to the artificial flowers in her hair and the gloves on her hands passed through my little factory.

She had so many proposals. That season, she shone like a butterfly, a tropical bird, a rare flower.

All those men who didn’t see that her beauty was only on her surface. She had no heart. She thought only of herself. And my mother thought only of her and they both thought only of the status of the sir or lord or duke they’d catch in their web.

She landed a duke. But you know this. Your paper covered the preparations for her wedding quite extensively if I recall.

Of course I made her wedding dress and her trousseau. I laced her into her corset with my own hands, pulling the laces so tightly that Charlotte could span her waist with her tiny hands. I helped her shove her feet into her tiny silk shoes. I hung the veil over her face.

The vows were read. The groom kissed his bride, the bishop announced them as man and wife, the bells rang.

We all retired to the wedding breakfast where the guests, were shocked to see the bride, the beautiful new duchess, collapse. She was dead before she hit the ground. The bride’s lovely stepmother who treated the bride as her own daughter also collapsed and died. Her beautiful purple dress ruined when she spilled her wine down her front.

It would’ve been a medical mystery except for one particularly sharp young doctor who read the paper, saw our names and remembered treating a child who worked on our property for a nasty chemical burn. The child had made me out as some kind of witch, with boiling cauldrons of terrible poisons.

She wanted colours that didn’t exist in nature. I gave them to her. They wanted her to catch a title. She did. It’s too bad the experimental dyes I created were poisonous.

I hear your readers are angry that I’m being transported rather than hanged. But after all, I was found guilty of manslaughter.

What the papers did not report is that I married several weeks before my stepsister. I married one of my father’s former employees. My uncle transferred the company to him. He’s coming with me to Australia. A new world is full of new possibilities.

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