Every Rose Has a Thorn
by Rosey Collins
Elizabeth Fortenoy possessed all the beauty and charm of the great granddaughter we all know and love and, in her youth, even that same childish innocence. She had once belonged to a wealthy family, and her story begins at their point of downfall. Her mother Margaret, ever the proper lady, was hosting one of her frequent parties when Elizabeth, in an attempt to hide from the many gentlemen she had been charged with entertaining, found her despairing over a cluster of papers.
"What are those?" the young Elizabeth asked, though she felt sure she knew.
"Gambling debts," Margaret replied, tears welling in her eyes. "I just found them. Oh, Bethy, your father will be the ruin of us."
"It looks to me like he already has been," Elizabeth replied solemnly, glancing over her mother's shoulder at the figures she held.
"Oh, Beth... Beth, it isn't too late," Margaret croaked through her sobs. "You know how this disaster may be avoided."
Elizabeth sighed and raised despairing eyes to the ceiling. She knew exactly what was coming, for she had heard it many times before.
"Mother..." she sighed.
"Bethy, you know it makes sense," her mother said pleadingly. She dried her eyes and led her daughter to the door, through which could be seen many dignified ladies and gentlemen, all guests at the party.
"Look, Bethy," Margaret continued. "There must be a hundred gentlemen out there, all wanting your hand."
"Indeed," Elizabeth replied, as patiently as she could. "Almost half must have proposed already."
"And you have refused them?"
"Why, no, I accepted three, and told a blundering count I would think about it."
"Elizabeth, do not joke at a time like this."
"Mother, please!" Elizabeth ejaculated, now finding it difficult to keep her temper. "I feel quite sure that father would have less trouble paying off these debts if you did not waste quite so much money on these... these... frivolities!"
"This party is not a frivolity," was the cold reply. "We have only our name to keep us off the streets, as well as our dignity, and that is something we cannot afford to lose."
"Oh, mother," Elizabeth sighed, after taking a few moments to compose herself. "We have no money, so why pretend that we have?"
"We would have if you would do what is expected of you."
"You mean marry. Well, believe it or not, mother, I am not prepared to marry whichever man out there possesses the nicest pair of shoes so that you may live off him, as you did with father, for what will happen when his business goes bust and he is up to his elbows in debt? Will you then force Christina into marriage and live off her husband?"
Elizabeth watched her young sister flirting with an even younger gentleman, then turned back to her mother in disgust.
"If she were a man she would be just like father. Tell me, mother, why did you not go straight to her? She would marry any one of those gentlemen in there; she would be an easy target."
"Elizabeth, listen to reason," Margaret pleaded. "Our only hope is for you to marry well."
"Marry, marry!" Elizabeth fairly shouted. "Must we talk about nothing but marriage? You would think that my feelings did not matter to you at all. Well, mother, it is high time you knew. I shall take a husband. In fact I wish to be married as soon as possible. He proposed to me two days ago. We are in love."
"Oh, Beth!" Margaret cried. "Who is he?"
Elizabeth took a deep breath and wandered to the opposite side of the room. She felt her mother's expectant eyes watching her back. She knew what was to come the moment the name was uttered, and so she braced herself as best she could.
"Galahad Fairmont," she said at last.
There was silence. Elizabeth sucked her cheeks, relieved at the great weight lifted from her mind but dreading what was surely to follow. She turned to look at her mother, who looked quite faint.
"Beth, tell me you are not serious," she whispered.
"Mother, I am quite serious," Elizabeth assured her. "Now, before you say anything, let me explain myself. I love Galahad, and he has told me many times that he loves me."
"Love?" Margaret repeated. "Elizabeth, love is all very well, but the man has scarcely no land, and not enough money for a well bred lady like you."
"He has sufficient funds to keep me happy."
"And your father's debts?"
"He has offered to put something aside, but I would not let him."
"Oh, mother, let father pay his own debts, or better still, go to Christina! Tell her she is now your favourite daughter, and persuade her to marry the young idiot by the window!"
"Elizabeth, I beg you, think about what you are doing!" Margaret pleaded as her daughter made for the door.
"I do not need to think, I am in love," Elizabeth replied curtly. "Now, if you will excuse me, there are at least five people among that rabble to whom I have not boasted about the money we do not have."
Elizabeth flounced back into the ballroom full of guests and went to her friend Katherine, a red squirrel. Katherine already knew about the engagement, and Margaretís expression as she emerged suggested that she knew as well.
"I feel fantastic," Elizabeth said. "I just told the old battle-axe that I love Galahad."
"She looks like a carriage hit her," Katherine giggled.
Margaret had now approached Christina and was introducing her to a dignified looking gentleman of at least twice the girl's years.
"Unbelievable," Elizabeth marvelled. "She is already trying to marry Christina off to that poor fellow. Ah, but doubtless my dutiful little sister will accept one of these idiots and put the queen back on the throne."
"Beth, I do think it wonderful of you to marry for love," Katherine said. "How like you to be so different."
"Of course, you realise, not one of the married gentlemen in this room loves his wife," Elizabeth reasoned, "or indeed the other way around. See how old Mr. Hunter flirts with the duchess' youngest daughter, and how his wife pretends not to notice."
"If I were your mother, I would choose that one for Christina," Katherine said, pointing to a young mouse who was wearing a small fortune on his wrist and clearly trying to persuade his fellow gentlemen that he owned the largest fortune. Elizabeth frowned.
"I do not know him," she said. "Kathy, how many people here actually know each other? Eight people have proposed to me. I know two."
"Your mother cannot know all of these people."
"Believe me, she does not. She knows their names, their positions and how much land and money they own or will own."
"Now look, your mother is dismissing Charles Henrickson."
"Of course, he has a brother. He will not inherit his father's fortune. It is my hope, Kathy, that I shall never attend another party such as this. I wish to get away from such a life; that is why I am glad to be marrying Galahad."
This statement was not entirely true. Elizabeth lay awake that night and thought about it. All her life she had had everything done for her, and marrying Galahad Fairmont would mean an end to that. She was not sure how she would cope. Galahad had one servant; a maid who cooked and cleaned and answered the door if she was not too busy, which she nearly always was. Elizabeth would have to dress and bathe herself, and there would be no carriage to take her to church or any other luxuries families like hers took for granted.
"Oh, second thoughts," she muttered to herself, clutching her pillow to her chest. "Stop that. Come on, Elizabeth. Think how you have admired people who work their way through life instead of living off their rich relatives. Now you are to do that too. The people who surround you now are shallow. At last you will be worth something."
Margaret refused to pay for Elizabeth's wedding, but still insisted upon attending the simple occasion; simple because Galahad's family had had to pay for it. Margaret had wanted to pack her daughter into a tight corset and try and squeeze her into what should have been a baby's christening dress, but Elizabeth assured her that she was quite thin enough and had Katherine dress her.
The wedding reception was as extravagant as Galahad could make it. Unfortunately Margaretís hat was even more so, and she was now making a speech to the guests about how much better her daughter could have done.
"Oh, listen to her," Elizabeth hissed to Katherine and her new husband. "Can't you hear that she's inviting all of these gentlemen to marry Christina?"
"At your wedding, darling? Surely not," Galahad whispered back.
"Oh, she'll do it anywhere," Katherine murmured to him across Elizabeth. "Beth, you should not have let her come."
"I know, but she is my mother. How could I refuse?"
"You are sweet like that," Galahad whispered to her, "and so passively silent. Do you know what you remind me of, Beth? The rose in my garden."
Elizabeth managed to smile her way through the wedding ceremony. When the end finally came, and she tossed the bouquet, Margaret practically pushed Christina into its path, but it was caught by Katherine. Katherine was indeed the next one to marry. In the following month she was wed to a count named Cookson, whom she claimed to have loved.
During the first few weeks of marriage Elizabeth coped very well with just one maid to serve her. Galahad noticed this, and told her many times how her gentle, passive nature reminded him again of the rose.
"The rose is dying," she observed one day.
"Then we must deadhead it," her husband replied. "Roses are amazing. No matter how many times you cut off a head, it always grows back ten times better."
"Then there is another way in which I resemble that flower," Elizabeth said, absently.
"Indeed it is, my little Rose. No matter how many times you must help to clear the table, you always do it with relish."
Elizabeth pretended not to mind being teased in this way, but in reality this new lifestyle was slowly wearing her down. She had hoped that she would grow accustomed to the ways of everyday life, but it only grew more tedious by the day. For this reason she was glad to receive an invitation from Katherine to attend a party reminiscent of those her mother used to host, and she used to hate.
Katherine's husband's ballroom was full of unfamiliar faces, but still Elizabeth felt at home here. She felt once again like a noble; she belonged here, and she momentarily forgot her state of affairs and mingled among the ladies and gentlemen as if she were one of them. Her sister Christina was present, and she approached Elizabeth with a smug smile on her face.
"How nice of Katherine to invite you out of pity," she said.
"Christina," Elizabeth replied, forcing a smile. "Still unmarried, are you?"
"Yes, but I plan to marry as soon as I can. After all, it is never too early for such things. Have you heard about father?"
"No. Mother never writes. What about father?"
"He is ill. The doctor says there is not much hope." Elizabeth felt suddenly sick.
"And his debts?" she asked, dryly.
"Ah, his debts," her sister cooed, smiling wickedly. "Not only are they unpaid, they are increasing. Indeed, Elizabeth, you will soon have quite a burden to bare. Being his youngest, I am fortunate to be inheriting nothing."
"Oh, Christina, do not look so self-satisfied, for I see you have your own little problem. I suppose it would explain your hurry to wed."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Then I shall spell it out for you: the pregnancy, Christina. You may be able to hide your condition from these people, for they have never been able to see beyond the turned up noses, but I can tell, and soon you will become too bloated for any amount of tight-lacing to hide."
Christina glanced down at the slight bump beneath her bodice, then looked venomously at her sister.
"What was wrong with him, Christina? Was he already married, or simply not about to inherit millions?"
"It is the former," Christina murmured.
"Married. Oh, Christina, what will mother think?"
"Mother will never know," Christina hissed. "I expect at least one proposal this evening, and I shall accept any man who offers himself."
Christina left her sister and went to Count Cookson, who had just entered the room with his wife. Elizabeth had seen them both in the orchard through a small window, whilst she had been conversing with Christina. The latter now was absorbed in conversation with the count, so Elizabeth approached Katherine.
"Beth!" Katherine cried, flinging her arms around her friend's neck. "I am so glad you could come. How are you?"
"I am well," Elizabeth replied, "though I thank you for inviting me here. It is good to get away from that meagre life."
"Indeed. Oh dear, where is my husband?"
"And where is my sister? Kathy, do you know of Christina's condition?"
"Ah, then it is true," Katherine replied. "I had guessed. I wonder how many others in here have also? Come, Bethy, let us find them."
She put her arm around Elizabeth's shoulder and together they wandered out into the orchard. Elizabeth noticed two figures in the distance. Presently they came closer. They were indeed Christina and the count, and they seemed not to notice Katherine and Elizabeth.
"This is where you kissed that woman," Christina said as she approached a young sapling and circled it playfully in flight.
"She is my wife, Christina. What will people think if I do not kiss her occasionally?"
"That you are the cad that you are," was the suddenly solemn reply. "What will people think of us both if they find out about my condition? My sister has already guessed."
"I knew it was a mistake inviting her here, but Katherine insisted. Come, my dear, one of those idiots in there may ask for your hand, and save you. Your sister would not say anything, would she?"
"I think not, but even if she would, you are quite safe."
As the two of them walked past, Elizabeth pulled Katherine behind the nearest tree. Christina and the count gone, they stood in silence for a long time, Elizabeth still clutching Katherine's shoulders. She then spun her friend around, expecting to find her face sodden with tears, but her expression was blank.
"Kathy..." the former began.
"Oh, Beth, you don't have to say anything. I have suspected for a time now that he no longer loves me. I had hoped, when he kissed me in the orchard, that I was wrong, but..."
Unable to continue, Katherine shook her head and left. She was not seen again that evening, but Elizabeth knew she would be there one night only and took it upon herself to avenge her friend. By the end of the evening everybody present knew what Christina and the count had done, and Elizabeth left just in time to catch a brief look from Christina of pure hatred.
For the time being Elizabeth had no contact with her sister. She endured life as best she could, until she gave birth to a baby boy. They named him Lancelot, and for a while the child made Elizabeth more or less content, but she very soon tired of him.
"I had a nurse to feed me," she said to her husband one day, as she was suckling the small, pink baby. "Mother only ever saw me twice a day. She would spend her time at parties, talking to important people. It was the same with my sister. I am beginning to see why, for I do not find this child hooked on to my breast at all pleasant."
"But darling," her husband began, somewhat taken aback, "the nurses who suckled you were whores, taken in from the streets. Surely it is better for a child to be suckled by its own mother."
Elizabeth wrenched the child from her nipple and held him up before her own lovely face, made sour as she regarded her son's countenance.
"For the child, maybe. I am sure that babies find mothers splendid things, but what of the mother? Babies are ugly, which is why all of the sensible mothers have nothing to do with their children until they are grown."
"You ought not to talk like that, Rose."
"Oh, do not call me by that vulgar name," Elizabeth snapped, fairly throwing her crying child into his cradle. "I am no rose. Roses are beautiful, admired things. I am no longer admired. I have become a weed."
"But Beth, you are as beautiful as ever."
"Am I? And what good is beauty without riches?"
"Galahad, my father is very ill," Elizabeth said, taking a gentler tone. "It is not believed that he will last another night."
"I am sorry to hear that, Beth."
"Sorry? You are not as sorry as I. He is sure to have left every one of his debts to me. My mother was right. How am I to pay for them without a rich husband?"
Lancelot was still grizzling in his cradle. Galahad looked despairingly at his wife, and then at his young son.
"Your child is crying," was all that he said.
"Tend to it, then, for I'll none of it."
With that Elizabeth left her husband and baby, and that was the last time she saw either of them.
"This is my one good dress," Elizabeth said to Katherine, as she caressed the beautiful silk garment. "I hope that it will prove useful to me."
"Beth, must you leave?" Katherine asked, pleadingly.
"I have to get away, Kathy."
"Promise you'll return."
Her companion looked solemnly at the ground for a few moments, lips pursed, and then looked her friend in the eye.
"Of course, but I must find some means of paying off my father's debts. I have always said people should work for a living, and here am I about to do just that."
"Do you think that your child will forget you?"
"By and by, I suppose he may."
"I wish I were coming with you, Beth."
"Then come with me. Your vulgar husband cannot force you to stay."
"It is his will that I remain with him. I cannot disobey."
Elizabeth snapped shut her case and turned her back on Katherine, ready to make for the door.
"Be like that, then. After all, why would you wish to leave? Yes, your husband has been unfaithful, but what of that? He still has his money, and his land, and you still have your dignity. I wish you well, Katherine."
That was the last Katherine, or indeed anyone else saw of Elizabeth Fairmont. She had taken sufficient funds from her husband to take her to London, and to give her a bed - or indeed a ceiling rafter - for the night in a small inn. She did precisely so, and after that was on her own.
"Was your room to your satisfaction, mum?" the serving girl asked the following morning.
"Indeed," Elizabeth replied. She had been about to say more when a mass of dark curls which seemed familiar to her caught her eye.
"Who is that girl?" she asked of the owner of that hair, who was sitting at a table in the far corner.
"Christina Fairmont, mum."
"Aye, mum, that's the name she uses, though we all doubt if it's genuine. She came here that much pregnant without a crumb to call her own. We don't object to 'er looking for business in 'ere every once in a while."
"Business. I see. Poor Christina. What became of her baby?"
"Died, poor little mite. After that she tried to attach 'erself to any man walked in 'er direction, but by then everyone knew who she was and no respectable folk wanted nothing to do with 'er. Aye, 'tis a sorry state some of these young girls get themselves into."
The serving girl left Elizabeth and attended to her chores. The latter looked briefly at her sister, wondering whether or not to approach her. She decided against it and made for the door, but before she could leave she heard a familiar voice behind her.
"Elizabeth!" She turned, and there was Christina, standing behind her. "Oh, Elizabeth, how can I forgive you for what you have done to me?"
"You did it unto yourself, Christina. Mother was always going to throw you on to the streets when she knew."
"No. I could have found a husband that night. You have ruined my life."
"I do not wonder, for I first managed to ruin my own."
"And you thought that coming here would make amends? I do not understand you, Elizabeth."
"There are many rich gentlemen in London."
"Then you plan to marry."
"Is your husband dead?"
"Not the last I heard of him, but perhaps dead with worry by now. I wish you luck, my sister."
"Keep your luck. I am out of it and you will need it, and you will certainly take none of mine with you."
Christina returned to her seat where an old man was now waiting for her. Elizabeth did not wait to see what her little sister's "business" entailed. She wandered out onto the filthy street, and began walking in whichever direction took her fancy.
"I am in the wrong end of London," she muttered to herself. "There are no gentlemen here. I must find a gentlemen to marry."
She wandered until her legs began to buckle, and then began to fly. Soon, however, the strain became too much for her wings also, and she plummeted to the ground.
Elizabeth was found the following morning by two voles lugging straw. As they roused her she noticed that her case was missing, and reasoned that a thief must have taken it in the night.
"No, no!" she screeched at the workman on her right. "Gone!"
"What's gone, love?"
"Everything. I have come to London to marry a gentleman."
" 'Ave you now?" the other worker said, politely.
"Yes. Are you a gentleman?"
"Easy love," the first man said. " 'Ave you got a name?"
"I think so," Elizabeth replied, dreamily. "It's rose, because I am like a rose."
She felt suddenly faint, but as she blacked out she caught a few words from the voles; phrases such as, "Mad as a March 'are" and "best get 'er tot' doctor, quick."
Elizabeth "Rose" Fortenoy woke up in a dark, dank room, lying on a pile of wet hay. She sat up, shook her head and looked about her. Being a bat, she could see the mould-soaked walls perfectly in the darkness.
"Everywhere the same," she murmured as she looked around for a third time. "The floor is wet. Ladies like me do not like wet floors." Then she suddenly screeched, "Take it away at once!"
She lay back down on the sodden hay at stared dreamily at the ceiling.
"Nice ceiling," she cooed softly to herself. "There cannot possibly be a wet floor on the ceiling. I will go to the ceiling."
She flew to the ceiling of her meagre cell and perched on a rafter. She hummed softly to herself most of the day, and once or twice muttered the names of people she had known.
"Katherine, Christine, Mother, Galahad. And who on earth was Lancelot? Oh, it matters not. All dead now, of course, but what is that to me? I have come to London to marry a noble, and that I shall. Nice ceiling. If I marry every man in the country, I will not be detached from this ceiling. Nice, nice ceiling. I am never coming down."
She never did come down, for she was never cured. Countless doctors called upon her, but none could coax her from the rotting rafter. Soon her feet began to rot also, and by rights she should have fallen to the ground, but still she hung there, occasionally muttering, "My feet are sore. Bring me something for my feet". On that rafter she died, and no one who knew her ever heard what became of Elizabeth Fairmont.
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