Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stillwater - 19


Malcolm presented Dick with his decision the next morning, prepared to face some ridicule, but Dick could afford to be gracious. Malcolm made his acceptance conditional on all plans of posting the video on YouTube being abandoned, and Dick, and Sophia when she came in, were prepared (for the moment) to concede the subject of putting the video on the internet; the real fun was in making it, right? As long as they had a good time, nothing else mattered. Malcolm was at pains to make it clear that he had real reservations otherwise, and they nodded politely, but when he was gone Dick and Sophia grinned at each other.

“How the mighty have fallen,” said Dick. “Love conquers all, huh?”

“Score one for Alys,” Sophia agreed. “Though I wouldn’t have taken her for the type who likes the noble boy scout type. To each her own, I guess.”


Alys was very pleased indeed at Malcolm’s change of heart, and the way her blue eyes crinkled warmly at Malcolm when she heard the news seemed to assuage his doubts about participating in the movie. For right now he was the golden boy. He had saved everything; everyone had something complimentary to say about him. Melly, seeing him welcomed into the group again, felt isolated and deserted as she sat in her rocking chair in the family room, the ever-present wedding dress in her lap. 

Filming a movie, even one as short as they were contemplating, was not something that could be rushed, even on a spring break schedule. Olivia and Joâo had been up all night with Cheryl’s 70th Anniversary Edition of Gone With The Wind, accumulating a scene list and noting ideas for comic improvements. She’d found a bootleg screenplay on the internet and was cutting and pasting dialogue to make basic scripts; he was considering camera angles and making a list of issues on which to consult Ian’s expertise.

Sophia and Ian had headed up to the attic and spent a long time selecting costumes. When they came down, Sophia dumped her armload on the table with last night’s costumes, and dragged everything over to where Melly sat by the windows.

“Melly, we need you now,” Sophia announced, sorting the dresses and suits into piles. “You’ve got to alter things to fit everyone.”

“But I’m working on your wedding dress.”

“Never mind the wedding dress,” said Sophia impatiently. “You’ll be done in plenty of time. I’ll postpone the wedding if necessary.” 

“You’re the only one I’d trust to get the costumes ready in anything resembling good time,” said Ian to Melly. “I’ve seen professional seamstresses who don’t work half as well or as fast as you do.”

Melly wasn’t sorry to have the opportunity to set aside the finicky beading work for a time. She turned what she hoped was a professional eye over the assembled garments.

“It’s going to take more time than you have to completely alter every costume,” she told them.

“We don’t need to remake them,” said Ian. “Fortunately, this isn’t a stage show. We’re going for quick and dirty. We’ll pick costumes in the right style that basically fit each character, and then we can play with the camera angle or the positioning so that you might only need pull the extra fabric tight across the back for a quick shot. You might not even have to fully hem dresses that are too long, because we can plan on avoiding full-body shots.”

Melly was fascinated in spite of herself, and found herself caught up in costuming and design discussion with Ian in spite of herself. Sophia, losing interest, wandered off to check out how her lines in the script were shaping up.

“Better pick a dress for yourself,” she called over her shoulder to Melly. “Next thing you know, you’ll be on camera.”

“No,” said Melly, quietly but firmly. “I don’t want to act.”


As cinematic insanity descended upon the house, Melly remained quiet and competent. As a result, she was sought out as confidant of all wherever she happened to be sitting with her needle and thread. The process of filmmaking seemed to be very unsatisfying, and everyone had complaints to level. There could be no filming in the grand front rooms until after the 11 AM tour had gone through each day, so keeping schedule was important, and Joâo, now a self-styled expert on Gone With The Wind, turned out to be a perfectionist of a director, demanding take after take to capture his “vision”. Olivia was particular about the comedy, and many an actor felt that she was throwing off his own natural timing. Malcolm was a rather wooden actor. Alys laughed through every comic scene, and nothing could make her speak louder, which was maybe a boon because her southern accent was denounced by all as atrocious. Dick was out of control and kept pushing to make his scenes increasingly outrageous, and if one disapproved he got sulky and accused the critic of having no sense of humor. Alys could never get Sophia to practice any of their scenes together, so she had to spend all her time working with Malcolm. One stumbled across Ian and Sophia working on their “body language” in all corners of the house, and he was always carrying her around so as to be ready for the filming of the great staircase episode. 

Melly had run into Ian and Sophia several times over the course of the days, and each encounter left her more deeply troubled. She had been sitting in the alcove of the drawing room on a rare afternoon when it was not wanted for scenes, hoping for an undisturbed amount of time to hem a black dress in which Sophia was to dance with Ian. Her room was quiet and restful, but the beauty of the drawing room always refreshed her, and she was glad to find it silent.

She had fallen into the flow of the work — hemming wasn’t difficult, but it was monotonous, and there were yards of hem to take up — when a sound from behind the closed pocket doors to the parlor disturbed her. Someone — a pair of someones — had rustled in and pushed up against the doors. There was low laughter, and more rustling, and finally, lines.

Rhett, I really can’t go on accepting these gifts,” came Sophia’s voice, not at all bright and brisk as Scarlett’s should have been. “Though you are awfully kind.” The word “awfully” was drawn out in a way that froze Melly’s blood. 

I’m not kind,” Ian replied, softly. “I’m just tempting you.” His voice was wrong too. Rhett and Scarlett had been bantering lightly in the movie. Whatever was going on behind the parlor door was not light bantering. “I never give anything without expecting something in return. I always. Get. Paid.” The last words were punctuated by the sound of kisses, though when Sophia spoke, her voice was breathy but unobscured. Wherever Ian’s lips were, they weren’t on Sophia’s mouth.

If you think I’ll marry you just pay for the bonnet, I won’t,” she gasped. 

Don’t flatter yourself, I’m not a marrying man,” came the muffled reply.

Well, I won’t kiss you for it either.”

Melly was petrified in her seat, horrified at the thought that they might choose at any moment to open the pocket door and discover her tucked away in the alcove. But she also knew this scene, and the next line Ian spoke was not the one she expected.

And another thing. Those pantalets.” That wasn’t right. Ian was skipping back to earlier in the scene, and there was something definitely off now about the sound of his voice. It was… it was coming from too low a spot behind the door, and was almost drowned out by the whisper of fabric sussurating and shifting. “I don’t know a woman in Paris who wears pantalets anymore.” 

Suddenly Melly was certain that whatever was going on in the parlor, it needed to be stopped immediately. Without hesitation, she knocked her sewing box on the floor. It clattered noisily on the floor with an explosion of pins, needles, spools and thimbles. There were a pair of hushed but profane exclamations from the other room, and the sound of quiet steps hurrying out and down the hall.

With a sigh, she searched for a safe place to set her foot on the floor so she could start reassembling her box, and once again, she wished Ian Winter out of the house for good.


Knowing that something must be done, and knowing what must be done are very different things. Melly yearned for advice, or even just a sympathetic listener, but wisdom seemed to be in short supply in the house. She wanted the chance to speak to Malcolm privately, where no one else could see her blush and stumble through a recital of her suspicions, but he was a man of many obligations, between school meetings (for, unlike the others, these were not lazy vacation days for him), various commissions in his father’s absence, and reading lines with Alys (and occasionally Sophia). Melly could not get him entirely alone. One evening she managed to get him in a corner of the family room while the others were watching that day’s rushes, but in her embarrassment that she might be overheard she could barely form a coherent sentence.

“I was sewing in the parlor… Well, I was hemming that dress, anyway, and I heard someone in the drawing room rehearsing, but the doors were closed so I couldn’t really see, but anyway, it was Ian and Sophia, only they were so quiet that I could barely hear them, but they were rehearsing that scene with Scarlett and the bonnet, only… only the lines were in the wrong order.” She looked at him desperately, willing him to read her mind so she didn’t have to try and articulate why this was significant. “Ian skipped back and said that line about the… the pantalets, and his voice was… in the wrong place. And Sophia was…” Melly fidgeted and worried at her fingernails and cuticles, then, with an effort, looked at him. “It wasn’t right. They were… I don’t know what they were doing, but they wouldn’t have wanted to be caught.”

Malcolm listened patiently, but he was unable to make much of her vague hints and hunches.

“Melly, I can see that this bothers you, and I agree that Sophia and Ian rehearse with more enthusiasm than sense. I’ll keep an eye on them, and I promise you that if I catch them being inappropriate, I’ll put a stop to it. Okay?”

“Okay.” She had done badly; she had not made him understand; she had only made herself look hysterical. He went back over to the raucous crew on the couch, and she retreated upstairs. In the stairs hall, as she headed toward her own back corridor, she heard a voice call her name sharply, Turning, she saw Esther Davis striding down the fifty-foot length of the main hall.

“Melly! I need to talk to you for a moment! Do you know what I found in the drawing room today during the tour?”

In her hand she held something small and gleaming. Melly’s heart sank as she recognized one of her needles.

“I know you’ve been sewing in there for this video-play-whatever that the kids are doing, but you have to be more careful. One of the tourists could have stepped on this.”

“I’m sorry. I won’t let it happen again.”

“Well, I hope not, or I’ll have to speak to Cheryl about your being allowed to sew in those rooms.”

Esther turned away and headed toward the first door on the left in the main hall, the old estate owner’s office which was now where she managed the public aspects of Stillwater. Melly, seizing an opportunity she knew she would never have the courage to pursue again, followed her.

“May I talk to you in your office?” Her words tumbled out so quickly that she was afraid that Esther would ask her to repeat herself, but after her initial surprise at the request, Esther ushered her in. Melly had seldom been in this room. The imposing masculine atmosphere of old John Spencer’s former digs did little to boost her confidence. 

“Is there something I can help you with?” Esther asked briskly, seating herself behind the desk and giving Melly a look that was doubtless meant to suggest administrative cheer.

Melly stood straight and willed herself to speak more effectively than she had to Malcolm.
“It’s the Gone With The Wind video that they’re shooting. I… I don’t think it’s right. It’s not appropriate to use the house this way.” 

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think that the video should go on YouTube. It will be bad for Stillwater’s reputation.”

Esther raised her eyebrows. “Stillwater has stood for 160 years and you worry that an internet video will harm it?”

“It doesn’t take much to damage a reputation.”

“Anyway, I understood that the boys didn’t think they were going to make it public right now. Dick told me that Jo… Olivia’s friend was going to finish editing it at Tulane.”

“Is he going to show it at Tulane?” In her anxiety, Melly had almost yelled. 

“I don’t know. Why does it matter?”

“Because… because if it’s funny people will think they ought to share it, even if they shouldn’t.”

Esther was regarding her with impatient confusion.

“I’m sure that the young man will respect the fact that he’s a guest here.” She turned dismissively to her computer, but Melly stood her ground, trembling. She had not gotten this far with Esther to back down now from voicing her concerns, however appealing that may be.

“I… I think the whole thing is wrong, even if no one ever sees the video. It’s inappropriate for Dick to play Mammy in blackface. And I think that Sophia and Ian are… are flirting more than they should. It’s… not right.”

Even as Melly spoke, she knew she sounded ridiculous. Esther was sitting back in her chair, hands clasped in front of her, appraising her with a even stare that made her cheeks and ears hot.

“You think that the Spencers are behaving inappropriately in their own house.”

“Yes,” Melly answered faintly.

“Melly, I only deal with the historical aspects of the house. I don’t run the Spencer family. I don’t have the authority to come in, even if I wanted to, and order Sophia and Dick to behave as suits me. My nieces and nephews are adults and able to make their own decisions. Their video is no concern of mine, except as it involves the state of the front rooms, and the only problem I’ve had from it has been your leaving needles there.”

Esther leaned forward, elbows on the desk, and let her irritation show a bit.

“This is not my house, and it’s not your house either, Melly. It’s nice of them to let you help a bit with the costumes, but you shouldn’t take that as license to start policing everyone’s behavior. That’s inappropriate if anything is.”

Melly did not trust herself to speak as Esther rose and opened the door for her. 

“You’ve been with us a long time, Melly, but you’re old enough and well enough now that you’re here now mainly on sufferance. Of course we all like you, but you need to remember that Stillwater belongs to the Spencers. If you disapprove of their behavior, I can’t think that the solution is that they need to make a change.”

The very force of her humiliation allowed Melly to walk calmly past the stairs and into her own service hall, past the library door to the blessed solitude of her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and simply stood, too miserable to even cry. Malcolm was overwhelmed and Mrs. Spencer was unaware and Esther Davis was unconcerned. She had no ally in the house. 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since she's strong enough now, Melly should throw the wedding gown in Sophia's face and go back home to her family. Malcolm would realize how much he misses her and what he is losing and go in pursuit. My 2 cents.

theladyisugly said...

Okay, the conversation with Esther made me actually feel sick. Poor Melly. :(

entropy said...

Love the way this is playing out. You're doing good, Mrs.D!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The conversation with Esther is really powerful. Melly's humiliation jumps off the page/screen. But even as I sympathise, I want to kick Melly a little for her methods. Granted, it's not as if she has a wealth of options, but I understand exactly why Esther is disgusted with her in that scene.

Finicky Cat said...

Yeah...I kind of agree with Enbrethiliel.

I'm enjoying the story - but going to jump in with some questions and quibbles anyway.

Melly's concern for Sophia's virtue (or Chris's cuckoldry) is striking me as a little too busy-body and interfereing. I understand why she should be distressed and disgusted, but why should she feel such a personal responsibility to prevent the infidelity? Sophia has not come across in the story as any kind of innocent in need of protection...and she patently has no regard for Chris, so as readers we will be *glad* more than anything when their engagement breaks up. I'm afraid I also find Melly's desperate concern for Stillwater's "reputation" over a YouTube video a little hard to fathom. (But maybe I just don't myself understand the power of YouTube!)

Also, since she's out of highschool now and *is* as Esther and Alys have pointed out in differing ways, just kind of hanging around as unpaid help -- what does Melly herself see for her future? What does she honestly think she's doing there? I've been wondering that myself, and today's episode brings it up again.

Anyhow - sorry for the verbosity and fussiness! If I didn't care about the characters, I wouldn't be mentioning it...

MrsDarwin said...

Finicky Cat, I feel like you're asking all the right questions. Melly is an interesting character -- she has a strong moral compass, but is so introverted and has such a strong sense of place that it's hard for her to see outside of Stillwater. And that makes it hard for her to be a good influence on others -- it's almost painful for her to come out of herself enough to make a point because she hates confrontation so much.

As to what she's doing at Stillwater right now, I think that Melly is one of those people who hopes that things can just always continue as safe and comfortable as they are now. She would be glad to just be useful at Stillwater for the rest of her life.

In regard to people's virtue, it's not so much that Melly is trying to protect Sophia as that she sees that her behavior is wrong, even without reference to Chris.

Anonymous said...

Melly has also put A LOT of time and effort into making a wedding dress that is supposed to be a sign of purity. I can see totally why she is so consumed and upset with Sophia's behavior. If the engagement is broken off is the wedding dress going to be just tossed aside. How heart wrenching that would be for Melly.

Rosebud said...

For someone who is so vehemently opposed to the production, Melly is so involved in it - making the costumes, (as in part 20) helping with scenes, always present for rehearsals. If she is so upset by it, why does she stay and help? (aside from the obvious "there wouldn't be a story if she stayed in her room all day") I've been trying see see her motivation? A desire to be close to Malcom? Hoping her presence will keep Ian and Sophia slightly better behaved? Neither of those seem enough reason for someone like Melly - I wonder, is she just so used to sitting on the outskirts of life at Stillwater that she falls into that role without thinking about it?