Pride And Peg Legs

 

This one is dedicated to Karen Prentice from Warren Prentice.

Name Of Main Character You Want And Gender: Emma Austen - Female

Genre: Parody of Jane Austen/ Bronte sisters classic Regency/ Early Victorian romantic novels

Character Description: Miss Austen is a rich and eligible heiress due to her father's successful wooden leg business post the Napoleonic Wars.

Special Info: Two rivals vie for her affections - Mr Charles Pickwick-Chuzzlewit and Lord George Elliot.

 

Below is the story. I had to read Mansfield Park at school and have since disliked all of these kinds of stories. Thank you for bringing the pain back :)

...

Emma Austen listened to the echo of her slippers tip tapping off the wooden floor as she walked gracefully along the corridor to her father's study. He would spend most days there working, but Emma knew he was just smoking cigars, quaffing whisky, and drawing nude ladies on a piece of paper using his feather quill.

“Morning, Ms Austen,” said Housemaid number Three as she opened the door.

“Morning Housemaid Three.” She wasn’t sure why her father, Edward, had summoned her to his study, but she obviously had to go there, because this was a time in the world where old white men always got what they wanted.

 

As she entered, Edward, startled, covered a piece of paper. “Just… writing a letter to a dear friend.” He pulled it off the wooden desk and smiled through his fat mouth. His lips still wet from his latest sip of whisky. “Sit my dear.” He coughed. He held a hollowed wooden leg in his left hand.

Emma touched her brown hair, tied in a chignon, and a smile stretched over her smooth face as she sat, not really sure what to expect.

“Do you know why I’ve called you in here?”

“You didn’t tell me, father. So I dare say no I do not.”

Edward coughed into a handkerchief.

“You are nineteen now, and I have chosen two potential suitors for you.”

“Father?” The happy glow in her brown eyes was buried beneath worry.

“Mr. Charles Pickwick-Chuzzlewit is one.”

“Bit of a mouthful,” Emma said.

“Rumours have it he is,” Edward winked, then realised he was talking to his daughter. He turned red. He coughed to distract from the moment.

“He lives close in Amberley, as does your second suitor Lord George Elliot. Both fine men who I would be happy to leave the business to.” Edward took another sip of whisky out of the  wooden leg. “They shall both be coming to Stirrington manor in five days, on Monday.” He coughed.

“Can I not marry someone I love?”

Edward laughed. “Come on… Who does that? It’s about who is the tallest, who is the most hygienic, who is the richest, and who is less likely to give you scum children.”

Emma shuffled in her bodice and skirt. She furrowed her brow. “No.”

Edward huffed. “Listen. It is your duty to do this. We must keep the rich together, so we push the poor further into the mud. Be happy I’m giving you a choice here.”

“But I love Harry Wallop.”

“This bloody Harry Wallop business again. The man is a peasant.” He coughed. He beat at his chest to control it. “You’d do well to stay away from Harry and his dirty nails.”

“But…”

“The matter is closed.” He gestured to the wooden legs on the walls. “Do you think I worked so hard building this empire so you could go and hand the rewards to a peasant? No. That is the answer. I did not.”

Emma tried to think of something to say. Instead she cried and ran out of the room before Edward could ask her to get him another cigar.

 

That night Emma lay on her creaky bed watching the candle light flicker. The candleholder was a wooden leg with a giant candle wedged in it. She realised it could easily catch fire but at this moment didn’t care.

She wanted to remember the day she fell in love with Harry Wallop, but she was tired.

“Housemaid Five. Could you please recount the tale of the day I fell in love with Harry Wallop?” she said.

Housemaid Five nodded and cleared her throat.

“You were twelve years old, and playing in the fields," she said in her gruff tones. "It was nearing the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the adults were pre-occupied with drinking tea and gossiping about it so you and Harry snuck off to annoy the horses. Once you got bored of that you ventured further afield.”

Emma smiled. “Go on.”

“Harry wanted to show you he could climb trees. You told him not to bother, that you believed him, but he was determined. All he wanted was to impress you.

‘I’m the greatest climber in all of Sussex,’ he claimed, dangling from a branch, twelve feet high.”

“Oh yes, he did. I remember.”

“You said ‘well done’ and told him to come down. But he said ‘Only if you give me a kiss.’ You refused, even though you wanted to kiss him. You knew it was unladylike and you’d be deemed a wench from slut town. He compromised and asked if you’d hold his hand, and you met in the middle, saying you’d do it for three seconds. Him being a little lad was thrilled with any kind of touching so agreed.”

Emma beamed, cheered up by the memory.

“Sadly though, as he tried to get down, the branch gave way and he landed on his ankle, shattering it. You screamed, because, well, there wasn’t much else you could do, and he also screamed, because his leg was destroyed. You took his hand to comfort him, and after a moment he pointed out you’d been holding it longer than three seconds. That’s when you knew you loved him, because he thought about you even when he had pain in his legs like someone had taken a hammer to it.”

“Yes. Yes! That was the moment.”

“The poor little bugger had to have his leg hacked off. Then one night when your dad was drunk he was hacking away at some wood and accidentally fashioned a leg. He showed Harry's parents and his doctor friends. Harry got a new leg fitted and was as good as new. You and him even started holding hands on a more regular basis. Your father meanwhile, became very popular. In the latter years of the war, soldiers would come to Edward for new legs to replace those lost in battle, and soon your family was the wealthiest in Sussex.”

“But that came at a cost…” Emma added.

Housemaid Five nodded. 

“I planned to kiss Harry one night, but before we could meet father surprised us all by moving us to Stirrington. I could no longer see Harry. For now, in father’s eyes, he was but a peasant. Even though he had an eight bedroom house, comparably, he was a street dweller.”

Emma looked at Housemaid Five. “Thank you.”

Housemaid Five nodded.

“You can blow the candle out and sleep now.”

“That’s very kind.” Housemaid Five blew the candle out and left.

 

Emma thought of her father, his will of stone, and decided she would disobey him this weekend. Old shit, she thought.

 

On Saturday, Emma convinced Housemaid Six to accompany her to Pulborough where Harry lived. Her tactic to convince was to simply point at her and say, “You’re taking me to Pulborough.”

When the horse and cart pulled up, Housemaids Six to Thirteen laid coats down for Emma to walk on to avoid getting her skirt and slippers muddy.

She stood in front of Harry’s door, her heart pounding, I love you on the tip of her tongue. She waited for a Housemaid to knock on the door for her and step away so it looked like she'd done it. Harry answered. His face instantly made her happy.

“Emma. What a pleasant surprise.”

Emma smiled. She was about to speak when a voice cut in.

“Harry, who is it?” Lady Flimmaridge grumbled. She popped her weasel-like head out. “Oh, Ms. Austen, what a pleasure,” she said falsely. She straightened her hat which was a dead squirrel. The open mouth was pointed directly at Emma.

“It's an old friend." He turned back to Emma. "Come in,” Harry said.

Emma noticed a cart full of hats. Lady Flimmaridge changed her hat for a more feathery one. She didn’t like it and tried another. “Put on your hat, darling,” she said to Harry.

Harry put on a big yellow hat, twice the size of his head. “Funny isn’t it?”

“Darling?” Emma asked.

“We recently got engaged. Great, huh?”

Great? A bottomless teacup, that’s great. Having so many pugs that you can push them all together and lay on them like a bed is great, but this, this is far from great. This is horse poo mixed with mud, she thought. Her heart sank so far she could hear it splat off the floor.

Harry leaned in to whisper. “After I lost my leg and you moved, I thought nobody would have me, but I’ve truly been blessed.”

Emma forced a smile, and tried to suck in her tears.

“I can’t do most things normal men can. I can’t run. I can’t dance. And I certainly can’t ride a horse. But she doesn’t seem to care.”

Lady Flimmaridge handed the Housemaid two hats. One blue, one green. “Which is best for a smile?” she asked.

“She’s lovely,” Harry said.

The Housemaid handed Lady Flimmaridge the blue hat. She took it and beat the Housemaid around the head with it. “Idiot. Blue is a sad colour. Green is happy. It represents growth. Get an education!”

“I think I can truly love her,” Harry said, more hopeful than anything. “You must thank…”

Emma fled from the house, crying.

 

Emma lay in bed weeping again. Housemaids Forty and Twenty One wiped an eye each at regular intervals.

Emma heard Edward’s heavy steps approaching so she pretended to be asleep.

He entered, drinking whisky out of a wooden leg.

“Darling. Housemaid Three told me what happened today.”

Emma’s eyes widened.

“I’m not angry with you.”

Too right you overweight ponce. She thought.

He put a comforting hand on her face, but it was really hot and sweaty. Emma grimaced.

“I know you’re obsessed with this whole love thing.”

“No. I just don’t want to marry a cretin I don’t love?”

“Do you think me and your mother loved each other?”

“No.”

“And you’re right. My true love was a woman named Penelope.” He drifted into a daydream. “She had bright golden hair, eyes like hazelnuts, and cleavage you could lose your pocket watch in.”

“Father!”

“Sorry.”

“Why didn’t you marry her?”

“She was the Housemaid. It would have been frowned upon.”

“This saddens me, father.”

“Don’t be sad. I still had a cheeky fumble before I married your mum.”

“Father!”

“Apologies my dear. But me and your mother, while not the first choice for each other, learned how to be married.”

Emma looked confused.

“Before she died of the illness, she said to me, ‘Edward, you are the best husband I could’ve asked for,’ and while I never truly loved you, I loved being your wife.”

Emma sighed. “I’ll meet them.”

Edward smiled.

 

Emma, nervous, entered the room in her dress gown to be greeted by Edward as he laughed heartily with two wealthy looking men, in their matching pantaloons and coats. They smiled at Emma.

 

Edward took Emma’s hand. “This is Mr Charles Pickwick-Chuzzlewit.”

“Hello Charles,” she said.

He kissed her hand.

Emma made a mental note of his chiselled jawline, blue eyes, and thick hair. His grip was firm and his hands did not have excess hair on them. Seven out of ten, she thought.

“And this is Lord George Elliot,” Edward pointed out.

“Hello,” she said, noticing the white crustiness formed around his mouth.

He kissed her hand. As he pulled away a spittle string kept them attached.

Emma grimaced, and George ran his hand through the spittle to cut the germy chord.

“Got you! Blasted fluid trails,” he said.

Emma made a mental note of his bald patch, his hairy ears, and how sweaty his palms were. He also had a mole in the middle of his chin.

“I’ll leave you all to chat,” Edward said.

 

They drank tea from wooden legs. It was fairly boring. Emma found herself listening to the sound of the tea slurping more than the words coming from their boring mouths.

“Your father is most agreeable,” Charles said.

“Yes he is agreeable, and I find you agreeable too,” Lord George said.

“Yes, he is agreeable, and you are agreeable, and the Housemaids too are agreeable,” Charles raised.

“Yes, your father is agreeable, and you are truly agreeable, and the Housemaids are too agreeable, and I also found the agreeable agreeability even extends to your horses, who are also agreeably agreeable,” Lord George battled back.

Emma was dizzy with boredom.

“Thank you both." She put her wooden leg of tea down. "Now I must ask you some questions. Lord George, what are you lord of?”

“What?”

“You’re a lord. What are you lord of?”

“I am a lord.”

“Yes. But what of?”

“Of lording,” he said, as though it was obvious.

Emma sighed. “And you George. What is your story?”

“My family make crumble. Chuzzlewit Crumble.”

“Not heard of it, I’m afraid,” she said.

“We’re big among the Hungarians,” he replied. “Goes well with goulash. I can make you some. It will make you happy.”

“I can make you happy too,” Lord George said.

“How?”

“Erm… because I’m a lord. What don’t you get?”

 

Edward took Lord George into his study. “I’m sorry Lord George, but you have been unsuccessful this time.”

“But I thought that went so well.” He backhand slapped his own hand.

“Sorry chap.”

“Could you please ask Emma to give me feedback? I’ve been on four of these and never secured the lady. It would help me in future courting sessions.”

Edward gave a look to the Housemaid that indicated he wanted rid of Lord George.

“Of course,” he said.

 

Edward thought it important that Emma spend time with Charles, so the next day they rode horses around a field, going nowhere in particular. Emma was trying. She’d asked him several questions about his family, his upbringing, his hobbies. Sadly, if it wasn’t about crumble, or a fact about Hungary and goulash, then the man’s conversation was very limited.

Charles looked at a tree in the distance. “Do you like trees, Emma?” he asked.

She wondered if a question so boring was a trick. “Yes?” she said, thinking maybe he was so enthusiastic about trees that he would have some facts about them.

“Good,” he said. “I’m glad you do.”

Silence.

Five minutes of silence later they reached a fence and had to turn back. Charles studied it for a moment.

Please don’t talk about fences, please don’t talk about fences Emma thought.

“So what is your opinion on fences?” he asked.

Emma wished the horse would somehow learn to spin its head right around and eat her head off to spare her any more boredom.

"Do you like goulash?" Charles asked.

"I've never tasted it. Just like I hadn't one hour ago."

"Ah, yes. We must fix that."

Emma cried dry tears.

 

The next day, Emma drank tea from a wooden leg and stared at the fire. Replaying the boring conversation in her mind she got angry. "Housemaid Sixteen, express my anger please." She held the wooden leg out and Housemaid Sixteen threw it on the fire.

"Thank you."

She noticed the post boy leaving and finally felt hope.

She ran into her father’s study. Edward, red in the face, quickly pulled a piece of paper off the desk.

“I was just… cleaning a whisky stain with the paper.” Edward realised Emma had been rude. “Hold on. Why are you barging in like a gentleman with issues on his mind?”

“Did I get any letters?”

“Yes, actually.”

Emma was hopeful.

“It’s from Charles, saying he’d like to bring the wedding forward, in ten days. He said he has found you to be a great delight and of upmost interest. He says you’ve hit it off in a better way than he could have imagined. So I’ve said yes.”

Her shoulders sunk.

“Was there nothing else?”

“No. Are you expecting something?”

“Just… Harry…” She corrected herself. “I sent him a letter to wish him well in his marriage, and to inform him I was getting married too. I’d expected a reply.”

Edward stood up and approached her. On realising his belt was loose and trousers undone, he quickly tidied himself up. He put an arm around her. “This is gentlemen my darling. When they have women in their lives they do not respond to other women.”

Emma felt a lump in her throat.

“Just leave him be. He’s happily married now.”

 

Emma lay wide-awake. She knew Harry, and Harry wasn’t the type to just ignore her. He’d chased her so desperately for years. He wouldn’t just cut her off like she didn’t exist. Even if the witch with multiple hats ordered him to.

 

Housemaid Eight’s boots splashed through the mud as she piggybacked Emma towards Harry’s house. The moonlight danced on the pond to the left of the house where they snuck. Housemaid Eight laid a rug down for Emma to stand on.

“Throw something up at that window,” Emma said.

Housemaid Eight nodded. She threw some mud, but the splat didn’t do anything.

Emma looked at her. She picked up a pebble and threw it. It bounced off the glass. Still nothing.

Emma nodded at her boots.

Reluctantly, Housemaid Eight removed one of her boots and threw it at the window. A slap.  

Harry looked out of the window. An angry, tired face. He saw Emma and his expression changed to joy.

He joined them outside.

“We didn’t wake Lady Flimmaridge did we?” Emma asked.

“No. No. She’s wearing a hat that covers her entire face and ears when she sleeps.”

Emma smiled. Her and Harry both looked at Housemaid Eight, who finally taking the hint went for a walk.

“I sent you a letter,” Emma said.

“And I you,” Harry replied.

“No you did not. I received nothing.”

“I assure you I did. I was most saddened when you did not respond. I threw my wooden leg across the room at one of the many hat stands, but my aim was wayward and it landed on a cupboard. I lacked the means to retrieve it and spent one day on the floor on account of Lady Flimmaridge taking my four housemaids away to purchase new hats.”

She believed him. “I thought you ignored me.”

“I would never do such a thing.” He took her hands, then realising what he was doing, let them go. “I was informing you of my marriage. How every day when I wake up I have to put a hat on before I can even take first breath. And whenever I move from one room to the next I have to change hat. And that whenever I do anything she calls me an imbecile, because I’m wearing the wrong hat to accompany the deed or statement. I want to pull the damned hat so tight over my head that my face turns blue and I expire.”

Emma chuckled.

“It’s not funny,” Harry said. “I’m married to that woman.”

“And I am sad you are married.”

“I wish I’d never let your father pair me up with the twit.”

Rage flushed over Emma’s face. “What?”

“He turned up with a chest full of money, a new wooden leg made of mahogany, and said they were mine if I married her. I wasn’t going to, but when I asked how you were and he said you were choosing a suitor, I thought why not? If you were taken my hopes of us ever being together extinguished. She seemed attractive and not as much of a poo as she is now.”

“I’ll kill father.”

“Can you kill Lady Flimmaridge instead? She orders me around like I’m one of her pugs. I dare say I will kick one of those yapping nuisances soon.”

Emma studied Harry.

“Let’s run away together.”

Harry looked down at his wooden leg.

“You know what I mean,” Emma said.

“I’m married.” Harry pointed out. “Yes, I made a terrible decision, but I have to live with it.”

“So that’s it?”

“I wish it was not. But I am bound to this hell.”

“And there’s nothing we can do?”

“Unless she meets a deservedly horrific end, then no.”

Emma stared. She’d expected more from him.

Harry walked back to the door. “I’m sorry Emma. Know that I will always love you and I wish things could have been different”

He closed the door.

 

Emma entered her father’s bedroom when Housemaid Nine opened the door. His shirt was unbuttoned, his fat belly relishing the air. He picked fluff out of his belly button.

“You miserable old toad! How could you destroy my one chance at happiness?”

He coughed up into a wooden leg. “I have given you happiness. Charles is a lovely man.”

“He bores me to the point where I’d even marry you.”

“Enough of your bold faced insolence,” he coughed. “I’m sick and your moaning is giving me a headache. Now you will marry Charles and you will shut up.”

“You’ve destroyed my life. Unless by some miracle his wife dies, we can never be together, and for your part, I hope you cough until your heart explodes.”

She left the room. "Housemaid Nine, slam!"

Housemaid Nine slammed the door. 

 

That night Edward lay in bed thinking of his marriage. His wife had been dead ten years, and he’d convinced himself that things were good, but when he dug deep, he remembered he hated her guts, and that when she died he danced a merry jig. A dance so expressive he ripped his pantaloons.

 

The next morning, Housemaid Twelve fetched Emma in her wedding gown. If ever a bride looked like she’d rather be dead, it was Emma. Housemaid’s number Twelve and Thirty Two carried her under an arm each, like an angel floating towards the chapel door. She was resigned to it now. She needed a husband, and the one she wanted was taken.

 

All eyes were on her. Edward hadn’t even bothered to show up. Charles turned to the room.

“Hello everyone. Before we get married, I just want to say thank you for coming, and ask if anyone has ever been to this chapel before?”

One hand raised.

“Good,” Charles nodded. He noticed the benches. “Who enjoys these agreeable benches?”

Emma held in her disappointment.

“Shall we get on with the ceremony,” the Minister asked.

“Indeed,” Charles said.

“Stop!” Edward stood in the doorway, drunk, with what looked like charcoal stained his face. “Emma will not be marrying you, Charles.”

She smiled.

“What? Why?” Charles' mother asked.

“I need no reason. As the oldest, whitest gentleman here, my demands are met.”

Charles nodded and stepped aside.

“Housemaids, bring me my daughter.”

Housemaids One and Two lifted Emma under the arms and carried her, angel-like, out of the chapel.

Everyone sat in silence, looking at Charles.

"Does anyone here like goulash?" Charles asked. 

No takers. 

 

The Housemaids' arms shook as they dropped Emma in front of Harry’s house. Black smoke rose out of the side of the house.

One of the Housemaids feebly knocked on the front door, waiting for an answer. Harry greeted Emma. He had the biggest smile on his face.

“Why are you so happy?” Emma asked.

“She’s dead, Emma. She’s actually dead.”

“What?”

“Her hats. She was in the room she turned into hat land, and it set on fire, burning her with it.” He punched the air.

Emma looked at Edward’s stained cheeks, suspicious. He smiled.

“So, does that mean?”

Harry smiled.

“Father, what changed your mind?”

“I’m dying of the illness my dear. So what do I care if you marry a peasant?”

“I’m not actually a…”

“Silence, peasant.” Edward turned back to Emma. “I don’t have to deal with any of the fall out so do whatever you want. Plus I spoke to Charles for five minutes and he bored me to the point of wanting to jam a peg leg in my eye.”

She hugged him.

“My way of saying sorry was to burn that hat hag.”

Emma hugged him again.

“Now, give a dying man one wish Harry and fetch me your bustiest Housemaid.”

Harry and Emma lived happily ever after… until Edward died three days later. Then they were obviously very sad for a limited time.

THE END