Plain Bad Heroines - Emily M. Danforth

Though I am young and feminine—very feminine—I am not that quaint conceit, a girl: the sort of person that Laura E. Richards writes about, and Nora Perry, and Louisa M. Alcott,—girls with bright eyes, and with charming faces (they always have charming faces), standing with reluctant feet where the brook and river meet,—and all that sort of thing.

I missed all that.

* * *

And then, usually, if one is not a girl, one is a heroine—of the kind you read about. But I am not a heroine, either. A heroine is beautiful—eyes like the sea shoot opaque glances from under drooping lids—walks with undulating movements, her bright smile haunts one still, falls methodically in love with a man—always with a man—eats things (they are always called “viands”) with a delicate appetite, and on special occasions her voice is full of tears. I do none of these things. I am not beautiful. I do not walk with undulating movements—indeed, I have never seen any one walk so, except, perhaps, a cow that has been overfed. My bright smile haunts no one. I shoot no opaque glances from my eyes, which are not like the sea by any means. I have never eaten any viands, and my appetite for what I do eat is most excellent. And my voice has never yet, to my knowledge, been full of tears.

No, I am not a heroine.

There never seem to be any plain heroines except Jane Eyre, and she was very unsatisfactory. She should have entered into marriage with her beloved Rochester in the first place. I should have, let there be a dozen mad wives upstairs. But I suppose the author thought she must give her heroine some desirable thing—high moral principles, since she was not beautiful. Some people say beauty is a curse. It may be true, but I’m sure I should not have at all minded being cursed a little. And I know several persons who might well say the same. But, anyway, I wish some one would write a book about a plain, bad heroine so that I might feel in real sympathy with her.

One Macabre Afternoon to Begin

It’s a terrible story and one way to tell it is this: two girls in love and a fog of wasps cursed the place forever after.

Maybe you think you already know this story because of the movie made of it. Not so, but you’ll discover that soon enough. For now, let me acquaint you with Vespula maculifrons: the eastern yellow jacket. If you’re imagining some do-gooder honeybee humming about the pastel pages of a children’s book, don’t.

Eastern yellow jackets are aggressive when provoked, relentless when defending their underground home. They don’t make honey, but might I offer you instead the desiccated insect paste they use to grow their masses? A given colony’s workers are all stinging, sterile females who, in autumn—when they’ve been laid off from their busywork and can sense that the coming freeze will bring their deaths—just want to fly around, bored and gorging on carbs. (But then, don’t we all?) Because they also feed on carrion, some people refer to them as meat bees. That’s technically incorrect, but it sounds good.

Most crucially for our purposes here, you should know that when they’re in distress, yellow jackets release a pheromone to call on potentially thousands of their angry friends to help them come get you.

In this case the you was Clara Broward and my God was she ever in love with Florence “Flo” Hartshorn. And my God did that fact ever upset Clara’s wretched cousin Charles, who was just now chasing Clara through the thick woods surrounding the Brookhants School for Girls. The air in those woods was weighted with the scent of fern rot and ocean tide, apple mash and wet earth. And more than that, it was humming with the trill of yellow jackets. A few were probably already swirling around Clara like dust motes sprung from the beating of a rug, their buzzing pitch threaded to her pulse as her messy steps propelled her toward a clearing, and the Black Oxford orchard, where apples felled in a recent storm now spoiled in the heat.

And it was hot, the day humid and gray—one of those overripe summer days that sometimes linger into fall. And waiting there in the orchard with those spoiling black apples, lolled beneath a tree with juice dripping from her chin, was Flo—the love of Clara’s young life. A life about to end.

Two lives about to end, careful