Heyeroines in need of a slap
24. Kate Malvern (Cousin Kate)
Miss Malvern, if we are to believe her own account of her upbringing, is a resourceful woman. Years spent in the Peninsula, following her father, has inured her to physical hardship and social deprivation. No English home can be so cold, or draughty, no bed so hard or ill-made that she has not experienced far worse in Spain or Portugal. No English company can be so rude, so strange, so unnatural, that she has not already met its equal among the men of Wellington's army, or the local peasantry. To Miss Malvern nothing can crop up that cannot be dealt with by the correct application of wit and aplomb.
So, having lost her position as a governess as a result of some or other misunderstanding (and, out of the common courtesy for which these essays are so renowned, we will not go there) it is only to be expected that Miss Malvern will not merely settle down comfortably, but find plenty to occupy and amuse her mind, whether she were to find herself in a converted coach-house now being used to house her old nurse's new family, or in an elaborately landscaped estate situated in the very vague vicinity of, say, Market Harborough.
But, when she finds herself at Staplewood, the very epitome of a landscaped estate in the very vague vicinity of Market Harborough, what does she do? Nothing.
When she discovers that her apparently loving aunt is in fact a swivel-eyed harridan who is intercepting her letters, does she come up with a brilliant stratagem for thwarting her evil plans, or does she just mope around doing nothing?
When she discovers that her impossibly beautiful cousin is a couple of tassels short of a pair of Hessians, and prefers biting the heads off dead rabbits than playing billiards does she come up with a scheme to have him removed to a place of safety, or does she just sit and fret and do nothing?
When she discovers that the household servants are embroiled in a dispute among themselves more complex than the War of the Austrian Succession, and that the housekeeper is given to prophecy while the cook is a totally unclichéd histrionic Frenchman and her cousin's manservant is apparently a badger, does she come up with a way of escaping to Market Harborough and taking the stage coach to London, or does she potter around the garden cutting flowers and achieving nothing?
When her other cousin, the not-quite-so-beautiful but somewhat-more-sane one, makes a rather implausible offer of marriage does she decide that enough is more than enough, or does she put off responding and instead choose to do nothing?
When the frankly scary aunt insists that Miss Malvern must marry her mad-as-a-fruitbat cousin to maintain a family tradition that nobody else is even aware of, or else face a lifetime of drudgery despite her somewhat underplayed skill as a modiste, does she stand up to her with vigour, or does she duck the whole subject and instead do nothing?
When the quite-a-long-way-to-the-east-of-Barking cousin finally goes over the top and strangles the dangerously-obsessed aunt with his bare hands before drowning himself rather beautifully in the lake, does Miss Malvern consider that there is nothing in the world that would make her marry anyone remotely connected to that side of the family, or does she decide to go ahead and accept an offer from a close relative of the deranged and departed whom she has known, when you count it up, barely more than a week?
Would a slap actually do any good, or should somebody wheel out the cluestick?
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