Posted on Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Mama had taken Jane shopping into Lambton. She needed some new gowns, for none of hers were particularly fine. "Mourning or not, there are still men in this world." Mama had said when I reminded her that Jane would have no need for finery. "I do not know what your father was thinking going and dying on us all like that; really I do not. Jane is already eighteen. Next year she'll be nineteen, and then where shall we all be? Huh? Only girls like Charlotte Lucas are not married at nineteen. Your sister is far too beautiful to end her days as an old maid. Why, I was married to your wretched father when I was just seventeen. Of course, why would you care, you are just like your father, only ever thinking of yourself. I suppose it does not matter if your sisters are married or not."
"Mama, you can hardly afford to be spending money of frivolities." I argued.
"I haven't any idea of what you speak. Frivolities indeed. A new dress is for your sister's own good."
"She has no need for a good evening gown though, she shall hardly be going into society. It would be most scandalous."
"What do I care for that?"
"Last time I checked, you cared a great deal." I spoke with immense bitterness.
"Besides," she completely ignored my comment, "there's that fine son of yours. He would be just perfect for my Jane, so tall and handsome; and only think, heir to all this. What a fine thing it would be. And you too, Lizzy, could do with some new gowns. Those are too small, you must have grown two inches since we arrived, not to mention it is about time you had some corsets made; why we could have used you for a table before you married. But really, I cannot see why Jane should not have some pretty gowns for the evening, you are most unfair on us all."
"Mama, I really do not think..."
"You are just jealous of your sister taking over from you after your husband dies. Really Lizzy, you are the most selfish and unfeeling of daughters; not buying a new gown for your sister. He has already seen her at least twice over in what little she does own. How could you be so selfish when you have all of this, not to share your wealth with us."
"Come along, Jane. Lizzy, I shall be adding to your account." With that parting comment she grabbed Jane's hand and tugged her out of the room. Twittering something about lace or a new bonnet, or maybe it was lace on a new bonnet. I sighed. Honestly, I had never met a woman more determined and stubborn than my mother. From the moment Jane had turned fifteen, she had practically nothing but thoughts of marriage in her head; only occasionally interrupted by the distraction of lace and gowns and some new ailment or another.
Jane turned as she left the room, giving me a pleading glance. Whether in apology or desperation, I could not decide. She would not say anything, for she hated to displease anybody, and was well aware that while I tried to curb Mama and her spending, I did not mind sharing my wealth with my family. Whereas, were Jane to deny Mama, she would never hear the end of it.
I took up a letter that had arrived for me that day from Charlotte Lucas and began perusing it. She retold all the gossip from Meryton, none of which was particularly interesting, and would have been even less so to a person who was unacquainted with the residents of the area who she told me of. Beyond one interesting scrap of information regarding the son of the new Master of Longbourn, William Collins, a young man of twenty, recently returned from Oxford for the summer. She told me of his pretensions of grandeur and how he loved nothing better than to talk of how he ran the estate for his illiterate and idle father.
"...My Dearest Eliza, were you to search all the world over twice, you should certainly find no man like Mr William Collins, so absorbed in his own self worth, so utterly enchanted by himself, and yet with so little so offer the world. He pays me no attention at all. I am, after all, nothing to him, and cannot be worthy of his notice, for he has a certain fondness for pretty girls. We had all expected there to be an announcement before your family left, yet none was forthcoming, and now he has eyes for nobody but the eldest of the Watson girls..."
I put the paper down, bemused. From what she implied, young Mr Collins had taken a fancy to Jane, but nothing had been announced. Perhaps it had been Mary though; what had Mama been playing at? I could only imagine that she had refused to leave her room, and as such, had failed to notice such an apparently eligible suitor was right on her doorstep. He was, after all, the heir to Longbourn. Pemberley was undoubtedly the greatest of consolations to her, for I had seen nothing of despair since her arrival. No indeed, just that morning she had spoken of writing to her sister Philips to invite her for a visit. My husband had glanced up from his newspaper, but said nothing in response to that announcement. I was still wondering if he had expected me to gainsay her.
With a shrug, I turned back to Charlotte's letter. "Lizzy, Lizzy!" Lydia and Georgiana burst into the sitting room both holding firmly onto a doll, Emma Annamaria Fitzwilliam Darcy to be exact. "Lizzy!" Lydia pronounced stoutly, "Tell Georgiana that she has to share her doll with me."
"She is my doll." Georgiana protested loudly. I thought it rather unfair of Georgiana, for truthfully she had little interest in the doll, certainly she had asked for it for her birthday, but eleven was really a little too old for a doll, and mostly she just sat in a chair in the nursery. As to Lydia, well she wanted anything and everything.
"Girls, where is Mrs Robinson? You ought to be at your lessons with her." Lydia stuck out her tongue.
"It is her day off today."
"Then where is your nurse?"
"Anna is so stupid!" Lydia said, "She says that the doll is Georgiana's. I don't see why! Mama says that you have to share everything with us now because we are so poor and you are all so rich. That means that Georgiana should let me play with the doll."
"She is mine." Georgiana protested with a scowl crossing her brow. She was as good as an only child and had never had to share anything in her life before the arrival of my sisters, who knew nothing of the luxuries of her life.
I sighed. "Georgiana, it is very selfish of you not to share your toys with Lydia; she has not as many as you. Why not swap your dolls for a while?"
"Her toys are so boring." Georgiana protested. I thought of the old rag doll with the wooden head that had been mine until I turned ten and it was handed down to Lydia. Polly had lost an eye, only had one other dress, and her stomach was all stitched up after Lydia had hit Kitty with her one evening because Kitty had not wanted to swap dolls with her. I could not help but feel a stirring of resentment that Georgiana thought so little of Polly, who had been my favourite companion for many years.
"Lydia," I turned to my sister. "You should not demand toys, it is not polite, you should wait to be offered."
"See," Georgiana gloated, "I told you Anna was right." I opened my mouth to protest the statement, but Lydia, tired of hearing what she did not like, took matters into her own hands.
"Give her to me!" she insisted with an mighty tug. Georgiana very nearly lost her grip, but was quick to regain her footing, as she was the larger of the two girls.
"No, I will not!"
"Give her!" I watched as Emma was tugged between the pair of them.
"Girls, stop it now." Both of them, as ever, failed to pay any mind to my authority. My sister never listened to anybody if it did not suit her, and my daughter-in-law had no time for anything that I had to say. "If you do not stop, you will go to bed with nothing but bread and water to eat." They continued to ignore me. "Lydia, Georgiana, stop." I cried futilely. I had utterly no experience with childrearing and teaching them obedience.
With one gigantic tug and the horrifying sound of tearing cloth, Georgiana fell backwards, hitting her head against the edge of a small table, the leg of her doll still held tightly between her fingers. Lydia looked on without remorse, and only seemed disappointed on finding that her hard won prize was no longer intact, a few moments later, she dropped it disinterestedly to the floor. Georgiana did not move from her spot or utter a word. I watched as the blood drained from her face. As I stood to pick her up, she lifted her hand to the back of her head, and upon finding a little blood on her hand, promptly burst into tears. Lydia rolled her eyes at the sight; she and Kitty often fought boisterously, and both had received worse injuries than Georgiana's tiny cut, or at least so she thought.
I knelt down next to the injured child, placing my hand on the back of her head and pressing her hot face into my shoulder, "Sshh Georgiana, it is not so very bad." I tried to tell her, she only cried harder, I was not surprised that she did not believe me, for I sounded none to certain.
"I... wa...want Anna." She sobbed between short breathes.
"Lydia," I called to my sister, who was slinking out of the door quietly. She stopped dead and turned to me, looking like a startled deer. It was not the time to reprimand her for her behaviour however. "run and fetch Anna, please." Lydia scuffed her foot along the carpet, "Now, Lydia."
She certainly took long enough finding Anna, a task that was hardly difficult, given she would only be in the nursery with Mary and Kitty. When I asked her later about it, she simply shrugged and said she forgot because Mary and Kitty had been arguing over some thread and distracted her. It was hardly a very good excuse, but Lydia was so self-centred, it was hardly surprising that she showed no concern for Georgiana.
Anna, when she did arrive, took Georgiana into her capable hands and sat the little girl down on one of the sofas, whispering soothing words to her despite her continuing to bawl. She sent me to retrieve some lotions and bandages from the housekeeper, who upon hearing what had happened, decided that her presence was required too. As she was more experienced than young Anna, who had only been taken on as a result of the sudden influx of little girls in the house. Old Mrs Bird spent too much time dozing in her chair by the fire to manage four rambunctious children. She was only kept on out of loyalty, she had served the family since Miss Eveline (my husband's sister) had been a small child, and she had been elderly when she arrived.
Naturally, the patter of feet, and voices along the corridors, along with Georgiana's heaving sobs were never destined to remain undetected. "What is all the clatter?" boomed my husband as he came out of the study door. I stopped breathing and quickly surveyed the scene of disarray before me, but there was nothing to be done about it. We all stopped, except for Georgiana, who did not appear to notice anything but her current situation. At the threshold of the sitting room, he paused, "What in God's name is going on in here?" He looked to me for an explanation.
Georgiana was quicker though, she struggled out of Anna's lap and shrugged her head away from Mrs Reynolds deft fingers. "Lydia broke my doll, Papa." she laced her hands around his middle and looked up at him with watery eyes, "And Mrs Darcy was mean to me and made me hurt my head."
To parents, their child is the lieutenant of heaven.
Therein lies one of the greatest problems. For if every parent believes this, then every child ought to be beyond reproach.
You can, I imagine, perfectly predict Mama's reaction when she returned from Lambton with Jane to hear that her favourite child had been locked in the nursery bedroom alone for breaking Georgiana's doll. Especially on hearing that Georgiana, who was in some ways at fault too, had escaped with no punishment at all. She did not even receive a sharp word of caution from her father. "And you, Lizzy?" she suddenly turned upon me too, "Why have you not said anything to that spoilt little madam? Oh, I knew from the moment we arrived that she would be trouble. All that clinging to her father and acting like the cat had her tongue. I knew it was all an act. She'll have us thrown out of the house in no time at all, you mark my word."
"Mama," Jane placed a soothing hand on her arm, "I am sure that is not Georgiana's intention. She is just not so used to sharing as Lydia and Kitty. You must admit it would be very new and overwhelming to her."
"No," I agreed despite myself, "she is not at all inclined to it." I thought of her resentment towards me, and I knew that it stemmed from nothing more than her dislike that I had somehow or another stolen away her father's affections from her. I knew for certain that after today's fiasco, she wanted nothing more than to turn him against me. Her every little manipulation in the past had without fail provoked an argument between her father and me, which was undoubtedly followed by days of resentment on my part and disinterestedness on his. Today would no doubt be just such another occasion.
But Mama, she took it to entirely new levels. While I silently stewed, revealing no outward signs of real displeasure, Mama sat sulkily toying with her soup spoon at dinner, letting the liquid trickle off the spoon and into the bowl repeatedly. I could only be grateful that she had thus far chosen to hold her tongue, for I did not know if I could bear another argument that day.
My husband sat in silence, still wearing his gloves. As though he were dining with strangers.
My head ached after the confrontation that had occurred between my husband and me earlier that afternoon. Shakily, I took up my glass of water and sipped at it.
Two pairs of eyes watched me across the table. Jane was the first to break the uncomfortable silence between the five of us. "Lizzy, I was wondering if we might begin the rose water tomorrow?"
"I would imagine so, Jane. I am wanted about some linens first, but I shall come and find you afterwards." Poor Jane found herself aiding me in carrying out a conversation with three completely silent dining companions. Only occasionally did Mama interrupt us, still on her soup with the rest of us almost finished, as she made what she believed to be a subtle dig at my husband. He ignored her, though I could tell from his face that he was becoming angrier and angrier as the meal continued. I have never been so glad to withdraw from the gentlemen as that day; there had never been a meal more intolerably uncomfortable.
This was not how I had imagined it, I thought for the umpteenth time that day as I picked up a book. I flipped it open at the marker I had left the day before, but found it impossible to concentrate even a fraction of my attention on the words before my eyes. When Mama wrote, announcing her intentions of living with us, I could not deny feeling concern at her presumption that my husband would happily provide for her. Along with that though, was a sense of relief to have her and my sisters come to Pemberley for good; five friendly faces, as opposed to two frosty companions and a husband so whimsical in his pleasantries.
I put the book to the side and picked up some embroidery instead.
Today's events proved that it was not a comfort though. The arguments were just a handful of a thousand such disagreements of a similar bent: petty disputes, the sorts that occurred between my sisters and I had frequently occurred at Longbourn, but the frequency was wearing. It was almost as if along with my dresses, I had out grown my family.
The needle pricked sharply into my forefinger.
I looked up guiltily, suddenly struck by the horrendous thought that somebody would be able to read my thoughts. Mama was muttering to herself, likely about my husband or Georgiana. Jane sat quietly at the table, playing with a pack of cards. She yawned absentmindedly. My husband and his son were nowhere to be found.
"That Georgiana is a piece of work." Mama looked up and spoke finally, "Her father spoils her, you know. It is all his fault. Your Father and I never treated you girls in such a useless manner, you know. Just look at how well you have all turned out, such dear sweet creatures, even you, Lizzy."
Had the Darcy Pride, which had revolted me so much, oozed into my own character? How could I be so heartless towards my family, my real family, as to wish them gone, as to wish them to be different to what they were? Why could I not be more welcoming to them all?
Mama did not use me entirely for her own benefits. She had always done what was best for me, or what she thought was best, and for the other girls too. It was only there that our opinions differed. I knew that one of us would have to marry well. I had always selfishly hoped that such a fate would not befall me, but what of my other sisters? When I once told Jane to, ‘take care to fall in love with a man of good fortune,' I had in fact been half-serious, despite the jest in my tone. One of us needed to marry well, for the likelihood of five sisters of neither connections nor fortunes all being settled even moderately comfortably was about as possible as the sun rising in the west.
Her fearsome endorsement of marriage between Mr Darcy and me had secured the future of six otherwise destitute women. Should I not have made that sacrifice willingly? I thought of Alice, who had worked like a slave to care for her younger sisters -- what a humiliation and downfall it must have been for her as a scullery maid, though she had borne it with grace and fortitude... for her sisters.
"Lizzy, are you well?" Jane interrupted my reverie.
"Yes, quite well." It was, after all, only a mere trifle of a headache.
Yet here I was, wishing my family away. Embarrassed by them. Angered by them. Annoyed by them. All when they needed me most of all.
It was impossible to know where I stood amongst all this tension. My new family clearly wanted as little to do with my connections as possible. My husband struggled to maintain his resolution of fortitude. Every day, I could perceive his growing impatience with my mother. He was pleasant to Jane, but paid little attention to the other girls. Georgiana constantly bickered with my sisters and told tales to her father, governess and nursemaid, of them as she did with me. And to the son, well he had observed my mother for a whole half an hour, and now avoided us as assiduously as was possible, and spoke even less frequently than civility allowed.
Because of this, I seemed to feel ashamed of them all in a manner I never had before now. Truthfully, Mama and her exuberance had never sat well with me, but the utter mortification that I felt now was unjust. She behaved no worse than at any other occasion. She was at least politer than their relatives had been when they visited in January. Her excitability had served her well in the past; her liveliness had captured my father's attention once upon a time. Why should it fail her in her quest to see her daughters well settled?
I could not protect one without offending another. The Darcys were ungracious, to be sure, but it terrified me that if I reprimanded them for it, then I would return to being treated as I had in the early days of marriage, viewed as an outsider, an inferior. But Mama and my sisters needed me. They needed me to take care of them. Without me, they would all be in the hedgerows. Could I not be a little more understanding of their plight? Why was I angered at them? It was not their fault, after all. It was nobody's fault that we were all in such disarray. Nobody would have imagined that Papa would catch a chill and die. Nobody could have foreseen twenty years ago that the Master of Longbourn would not father a son.
Why had I not written to him? All those months, and not one word to him? Not one word had passed between us since the eve of my wedding, and they had been the bitterest and most resentful of words.
"Lizzy?" Mama sounded panicked. "Lizzy? Whatever is the matter, girl?" Jane rushed over to my side, followed closely by Mama, "Oh, I'll have somebody fetch my salts. Come now, Lizzy, what is all this about? Do you feel faint?"
Dazedly, I shook my head, lip trembling as I tried to hold in the sobs that had suddenly overcome me.
"There now, Lizzy, do calm yourself down," she flapped her handkerchief in my general direction as Jane pressed my hand, "The servants will hear you carrying on like that. Whatever will they think of you?
"Jane, fetch some wine." Mama took command with a fervour that surprised me into a few moments of silent shock, she held the wine to my lips until the glass was empty. I hiccupped.
"There now, what are you playing at, Elizabeth? You mustn't let Mr Darcy see you like that; your father never came to my room when I was nervous and trembling." She clucked about me in her usual abrasive manner.
She and Jane accompanied me upstairs and dressed me for bed, Jane brushing out my hair as she used to. Mama would not have Sarah called. Before they put me to bed, tucking the covers tightly around me as if I were a swaddled baby, she kissed my forehead and smoothed my curls across my forehead as she had on her infrequent visits to the nursery when I was a child. Jane remained, a concerned look creasing her usually serene brow. She said very little, and only left when I assured her I was well and just wanted to sleep.
"Elizabeth?" I heard his voice tentatively on the other side of my bedroom door. He tapped lightly and then opened the door without being bid entrance. I lay still, carefully regulating my breathing. A more difficult task you cannot imagine, he had never been in my room before. He had once said that he would never enter them; yet here he was. The bed dipped slightly as he sat on the edge. It took all my effort not to shrink back. "Elizabeth?" I was too exhausted to speak to him. After our explosive argument that afternoon I did not want to. "Your mother says you are unwell. I... I just ..." he paused and let out an exasperated sigh, "Are you asleep?" I did not answer, "Elizabeth?"
His hand reached out and rested for just a second on my shoulder before removing it. He was still wearing his gloves. He struggled to stand again; his leg must have been bothering him. I could hear his soft tread retreating along the carpet before the door to my chamber clicked shut as he left.
Posted on Monday, 12 May 2008
"May I speak with you when you have finished?" My husband asked as he rose from the breakfast table the next morning. His voice was unreadable. Georgiana eyed him carefully, half focusing on her plate, trying to assess his tone. The others paid him little mind at all. Mama was too engrossed in a piece of cervelas to pay any mind, and Jane was never of a suspicious nature. My other sisters were amusing themselves and paid no mind to the adults at all. My son-in-law was gone already. I swallowed some poached egg.
"Very well." I knew I would be unable to avoid him any longer; though it did not stop me from dawdling over my breakfast for as long as possible and taking the girls back to the schoolroom myself, rather than having Anna take them.
My husband was the most impossible of men to judge. When I thought he would do one thing, he would do quite the opposite. When I thought he would never do something, then he would most certainly go and do it. He was more unpredictable than snow in July. So just when I expected him to speak to me of my behaviour yesterday, he turned around and said quite another thing, "Tell me what it is you want."
"I...I," what exactly did I want?
"You are unhappy again, Elizabeth. You had seemed much improved in spirits these past months, and now you are miserable again."
"No," I could not bring myself to look him straight in the face. Nor could I bring myself to speak the truth. That was practically akin to blasphemy.
"My father has just died. What do you expect of me?" Once again I found myself snapping back at him.
"There is no call for intemperance." His tone remained so calm, so unmoved, that it rankled even further. Why did he call me here, just because he felt it was his duty? "I was concerned, that is all."
"Well, now you know. May I go please?" I stood up. He shrugged his consent, clearly as baffled as ever by me, and went back to the papers he had been reading when I came in.
I rushed outside, stomping angrily through the gardens and into a wooded area, startling a group of gardeners who barely had time to remove their hats or tug on their forelocks before I had whistled by them like an angry north wind. The youngest of them, just a lad, seemed surprised and opened his mouth before receiving a swift clip around the ear from the senior gardener who was in charge of them all. "It ain't your place to talk of ‘em." He muttered in a wheezy voice, pulling out his pipe and stuffing it with tobacco.
I carried on, not caring that as soon as they were gone they would be talking amongst themselves as though the King had just gone by. It would be in the kitchens within the hour, another sign of discord amongst the master and mistress. Servants' halls thrived on discord. I supposed I ought to be pleased that the argument between Mr Darcy and me would give them something to talk of for days. The maids all found a certain thrill at whispering about such goings on behind Mrs Reynolds' back. It was something like sneaking a forbidden treat to your room and eating it in the dead of night. You found twice the pleasure in it.
I continued to mutter to myself of him as I walked. Well, of them all really. But eventually my conscience intervened, berating me firmly for my behaviour. Once again, I had caused an unnecessary argument. He was only trying to keep the peace and keep my happy -- though he ought to have realised by now that it was an impossible feat. I was not intended for such joy.
Again I had childishly walked away because fate was not destined to be on my side. They would never learn to either accept or respect me if I continued on in such a manner. I could only be grateful that this time, at least, I had not slammed the door shut behind me.
Acting as a married woman when I was all but a child was an incomparably difficult task. Women married all the time without love, but I had always imagined that it was of their choosing and with some degree of affection or awe for their chosen partner. A more unwilling couple than Mr Darcy and me could not be found. That was not an excuse now; not after six months of marriage. We had plenty of practice behind us; we ought to be capable of portraying our roles with more acumen.
I ought to be slower to defend myself. It irked me though, that he might think badly of me. A confession of uncharitably towards my mother and sisters would be just the thing to do that. I hated that he might think badly of me. I had to live with him after all, there was no escaping that. Whatever he may think of my mother, and it was becoming clearer and clearer that he had no particular regard for her, I could not outright say that I wanted her gone. He would never make the proposal either, for he was too generous a man. Anxiously, I twisted my wedding ring around my finger.
If they had to go then, perhaps I could propose I go with them. No, that would never work, the scandal... He would never allow it. Yet I thought it would make no difference if I were here with him and his children or elsewhere with my mother and sisters. The material point was we could not all live, even in contentment, under the same roof.
Exhausted, and some miles from the house now, I sat down on a wall and took my slippers off; it was a warm day. I rolled my quandary over in my mind, desperately seeking a solution. But no matter how long I sat there pondering it; I could not seem to reach a solution. There were locked doors at every turn. If I admitted to wanting them gone, then I would anger Mr Darcy, not to mention Mama would be devastated; it would be nothing short of cold and unfeeling. I could not leave with them for fear of scandal, besides he would never allow it. But we could not all stay under one roof together. What was to be done?
"Mrs Darcy!" a man, some distance away on a horse, called to me. It was my son-in-law. He drew closer and dismounted, "You know you really do need to stop running off like that." Once again he was berating me for my behaviour. I said nothing. He pushed himself up onto the wall next to me with agility and handed me my bonnet and a peach, he pulled out of his pocket. "My father asked me to find you. He was worried."
I lifted my head slightly in recognition, but said nothing. "Eat it, and then you have to come back to the house." Obediently I took a bite of the peach he had handed me. It was not quite ripe, and the crunch echoed loudly through the still air. The sound of me chewing made the impenetrable silence more uncomfortable than ever.
"Do you miss your father?" he suddenly asked.
The gall of him! We had hardly exchanged ten words since his return from town; I had been too angered by his rudeness to Mama and Jane when he arrived. Nor had we ever been on intimate terms. "Did you not miss your mother?" I responded, my tone sweet, with no implication of criticism. He did not seem offended by the question, nor did he answer for some minutes.
"In some ways it was a relief." he answered carefully.
"Had she been ill for long then?" I asked curiously; nobody had even told me much of Lady Anne Darcy.
"No," he let out a little laugh of shock, "no, she was the picture of health. It was a chest cold." he smirked a little, "Though she had the finest pair of lungs of anybody I know."
"Then did you not love her?" It slipped from my mouth before I even thought of the impropriety of it.
"Of course I did," he looked at me sharply, "she was my mother. You love your family because they are your family, it does not matter who or what they are." Funny, this did not seem to extend as far as my mother and sisters.
"So..." I pressed on, trying to make sense of his riddle.
"Has my father ever spoken to you of our mother?" he asked.
"No," I felt a sinking feeling, "it would hardly be proper." Now he would not tell me either. I swung my legs back and forth against the wall. He remained silent for a few moments. Pensive. I suppose he was trying to decide how to start.
"They were... no." He stopped again. He was struggling to explain delicately, yet I appreciated his honesty.
"You need not tell me." I said gently, feeling disappointed that I would not receive the insight that I had hoped for. "I know that Georgiana was very fond of her." I thought of how the little girl had hated me for trying to take her mother's place.
"No. No she never met our mother. Georgiana was all but three when our Mother passed on, and she was still away with her nurse."
"I was fifteen, away at Eton."
"You were not called home to see her then?" I could not help but pry, for he had aroused my curiosity.
"It was, as I said before, most unexpected, there was no time for father to send for me."
"Do you wish you had been able to see her before she died?" I thought, thinking of my own deepest regret.
"She and I were not close; she was not an affectionate mother. I saw her but infrequently as a child." He stopped for a second, "You would have liked to have seen your father, yes?"
For a second I did not answer, my throat was constricted and my eyes blurred with tears, "We parted badly; I had not spoken with him since January. The last thing I said was... was that I hated him." I barely whispered the last part.
"You would be surprised how similar love and hate truly are. They are both extreme opposites of one another, and yet to hate, you must love, otherwise it is nothing more than dislike or even indifference."
I looked away, embarrassed at just how deeply personal the conversation between us had managed to become. I threw away the peach stone and watched it carefully as it arched into the air before dipping and falling aimlessly behind a bush. I cleared my throat in discomfort. "I am glad your mother's illness was of short duration." I reverted back to the previous topic, just to fill the air with something.
"Yes, it was a relief to us all."
"But you said you were not there. That you knew nothing of it." I persisted. "Whatever can you mean by it all?"
"I mean, Mrs Darcy, that my mother and my father had an intense dislike of one another, not a hatred; and their constant arguing made for difficult lives for the rest of us."
I sprung down off the wall and turned to in the direction of Pemberley again, "Where are you going?" He sounded puzzled by my sudden action.
"To speak with your father. I shall see you at dinner, I imagine." And off I ran. Leaving him, I could only imagine looking utterly astonished, watching my retreat, still sitting on the old stone wall.
Clarity was quick to come after that, and by the time I had reached the house, a plan had been formulated in my mind. Suddenly it did not appear anywhere near as terrible to admit that I thought my mother ought not live at Pemberley. We would likely all be a lot happier. Well, Mama may not be initially, but the prospect of her own home would likely become an inducement that she would relish above all the temptations of Pemberley.
With a light step, I sprung up the stairs to the entrance of the house. I did not linger, quickly rushing to my husband's study, not even pausing to knock or contemplate the consequences of our earlier conversation. He and old Mr Wickham were deep in discussion over some boundary disputes between a pair of tenants. "Can it wait until Mr Wickham and I are done, Elizabeth." It was not a question, or even a request. It was an order. I felt my cheeks flush with colour, but what ought I expect other than a reprimand? I nodded slowly and went to wait in my sitting room until my presence was acceptable to him.
I was left in my sitting room for hours waiting for him. I supposed he had his day planned and was unlikely to drop everything now just because I was suddenly willing to speak with him. Doubt once again began to seep into my mind. For all my son-in-law had said to me, he had not been talking about our current situation. To distract myself, I walked over to my desk and unlocked it. Taking out my account book and some paper, I began looking over my accounts, wondering where I would be able to institute what could perhaps be called economy within my own spending. Mama's extravagances would far exceed my own few frivolities.
So engrossed was I in my figures, that I failed to hear either my husband knock or enter the room. Not until he spoke from behind me, did I notice his presence, "My, it seems you have been busy." He spoke as an indulgent father would his child, praise for a simple task. He picked up one of the papers that were now strewn across my little desk. "Now then, what is all this, may I ask?"
I took a breath, "Well sir, may I first apologise for my behaviour this morning, it was inexcusably rude of me, and you were only making a pleasant gesture, I ought not have reacted as I did." I paused, but he said absolutely nothing; he was going to make this harder for me than I would have thought of him. It was a shame he was not so skilled at disciplining his own daughter. "You were quite right, I have been out of spirits of late. I am sure it has not made for pleasant living. You have been very good to put up with us all these last few weeks, and I am certain that Mama is grateful for your hospitality too. I can see though, that it has done nothing but try your patience, and if I am entirely truthful, although I do not like to confess to being such a terrible daughter, I am exhausted by the chaos that has resulted in them coming." I looked up at him, attempting to gauge his reaction. Once again he said nothing, his expression remaining blank.
"You must not think that I am not thankful to you for allowing them to visit, nor that I have not enjoyed having them all here." Again I felt nervous. "But I think that it is time that we were separated."
"What do you mean? You cannot just leave, Elizabeth." he sounded stern.
"You misunderstand, our party here at Pemberley, we are not the most compatible of companions. I just think that it would be best if Mama and my sisters were given a home of their own. I have looked at my accounts, and I think that I can set aside an annuity, or whatever it is called, for them. Mama has her five thousand pounds too, which will give her about two hundred pounds a year. But that is hardly enough for five to live off, you must agree, sir." He looked surprised.
I continued to lay out my plans. I would establish Mama in a cottage, not so far from Pemberley, that would be suitable to all their needs, or at least as many as a cottage could provide. Along with that, they would be provided with the use of carriages and horses from Pemberley, a footman and two maids. I would not allow them to live in abject poverty, which they would, were I to provide no assistance at all. I would pay for their accommodation and servants. He remained silent throughout. I handed him the figures to look over. His brow knitted in intense concentration.
He paused and cleared his throat. "You have been most thorough, I see." He sounded neither pleased nor annoyed, "I only wish, Elizabeth, that you had seen fit to tell me all this when I inquired this morning. I have no time to be chasing you all over the country just because your mother and I have displeased you. Why must you always make things so difficult?"
"I have apologised for my behaviour already, sir. What more do you want of me?"
"I want for you to behave with a degree more maturity than you currently exhibit. I want for you to tell me when there is a difficulty, and not to mope about sulking for days on end and then insist that there is nothing the matter. It is not right; the servants all talk of it, as though it is their business, because you make it so. They should not be made aware of any discord between you and me." Within me, I battled with the urge to point out his hypocrisy. He did not mind playing out discord with his first wife; what made our marriage so different? But I knew better, at least, than to bring that up. Why add yet further fodder for the fire. I would take his advice, and not cause more debate between the pair of us.
"I understand that perfectly, sir." I replied between gritted teeth. I had, after all, been told repeatedly enough about my appearance towards the servants and my duty as a member of the Darcy family. I would always have to adhere to it if I were to ever be accepted, if not welcomed, into the folds of the family.
"Then why do you insist on acting like a child? Had you only spoken to me this morning, then you would have known that Fitzwilliam came to speak with me last night offering the very same proposal of using your jointure for your mother. I only wished to be assured that this was what you truly desired before I broached the subject with you."
"He what?" My surprise came not merely from being made aware of my settlement, to which I had previously paid no mind. How dare my son-in-law meddle and scheme in such a heartless manner. How dare he be so rude as to suggest, no, to tell his father, that my family was not welcome in the house. He was not master yet. It was worse to hear that it was what my son-in-law had planned than what my husband had planned; for it was really none of his business.
He had all the cunning of a wild cat! To think I had thought that he had been concerned when he came to find me, asking about my father and telling me all about his mother. That was no more concern than my current mood was joy. Telling me it was better that people who did not get on with one another did not live together. I supposed he only told me that so that he did not look proud and arrogant. He did not want to discredit the precious Darcy name most likely.
It was just as Mr Wickham had told me. He was meddlesome and manipulative; removing from his circles anybody who threatened him or he considered beneath his notice. All that scheming, and the discreetly clever whispering, to achieve his means, without appearing to do anything wrong at all. It was akin to suggesting the prime minister looked tired to end his term in office. Truly, he ought to have been a woman!
I barely heard anything that he said to me after that. I somehow managed to nod and murmur my assent in the appropriate places; but he may as well have been talking to himself. I do not think he even noticed I was not paying any attention. By the time he had left, I realised that I had no idea what was happening anymore. All I managed to hear was the statement: "I trust I can leave it to you to inform your mother." As though I were nothing more than a messenger!
Of course, breaking the news would naturally be the most difficult part of it all. Just how was I going to broach the subject with her? She would be absolutely hysterical. She would not give up Pemberley lightly; she viewed herself quite the equal of Queen Charlotte. I think Pemberley suited her better than it did me. Nor would she have been at fault if she were to say that I was throwing her out of the house; after all, that was basically what I was doing. Again feelings of guilt tugged at my conscience.
After dinner, in the drawing room, as I handed him a cup of coffee, my son-in-law turned and commented innocently, "I hope your conversation with my father went well."
"Yes," I could not help but hiss, "I do hope you are happy now."
He looked so taken aback, that for a minute or two, he could not move. Did he honestly think I lacked any sort of intelligence? After a moment, he turned away and moved to a seat on the opposite side of the room.
At breakfast the following morning, I was still contemplating my predicament, when a servant delivered a letter to me. It was from Lady St Vincent, inquiring after my health and news. A firm friendship had developed between the pair of us. Our characters had little in common; and I did not doubt that were it not for our circumstances, the pair of us would not likely have been friends were we acquainted. It would have been hard to get through her apparently vapid surface. But as it was, she was the person I now had the firmest reliance on, as I was to her. Though we could not see one another due to my mourning, we could write, and so we did, every few days.
She inquired after my mother and sisters and how we were all getting along together. I wasted little time in relaying everything that had occurred over the past few days, knowing that she would keep my confidence just as I kept hers.
Not three hours later, another servant handed a note to me. Inside it simply read, "You must tell her this evening. I shall call on you tomorrow. Sophie."
Sophie had therefore left it entirely up to me to initially broach the conversation. That evening after dinner seemed the perfect opportunity. I knew that my husband would not join us, and Jane, at the request of the younger girls, was in the nursery. I shall only say that my proposal was greeted as anticipated. Just the smallest suggestion of a house of her own, and I was an unfeeling, selfish girl, just like those Collinses. Her nerves, how could I think of such a thing! Oh, but she could not live alone. And how could I think to remove Jane from my son-in-law when they were getting along so well? (Only Mama could possibly believe this!) She went to her room in high dudgeon, calling for a maid to attend her.
I congratulated myself for handling the situation with such a degree of éclat. Perhaps if I left her long enough, she would at least become resigned to it. That was, after all, how Papa would have handled her. Perhaps there was a more effective way, but I had yet to see another succeed.
On Friday morning, Sophie arrived, dressed in her finest morning gown and looking every part the respectable wife of a rich man. I could hear her in the corridors as she battled with the servants to allow her entry. "Mrs Darcy is not accepting callers." He repeated for what must have been the hundredth time.
"Yes, yes," I could imagine her waving her hands around nonchalantly, "just think what people would say." It was a favourite phrase of hers. "I am sure they would be delighted to actually have something to talk of. Now, she is expecting me, so let me past." The next thing I knew, she had arrived in my sitting room, the outraged servant trailing behind her, looking as though he were headed for the gallows.
She was introduced to Mama and Jane before turning to me with a smile, "Elizabeth, my dear, goodness you do look tired."
"Why thank you, Sophie," I rolled my eyes; I had long since learnt that she was bluntest when concerned, and never intended insult. She then changed her attention to Mama. "Mrs Bennet, how do you find Pemberley?" Mama responded with an inventory of its perfections and wealth spoken in the most glowing terms, stating that she would be more than content to live here forever. I sent Lady St Vincent a concerned glance, but she took it all in her stride. "But you must miss having your own house?"
"Oh goodness no, not with my nerves. I suffer something terrible with them, you know, Lady St Vincent. Such trembling and fluttering in my heart! And since my late husband Mr Bennet was so thoughtless as to go and die on us without leaving us a penny, it has been all the worse. Oh, like you would never imagine! What a worry it was when Mr Collins and his son arrived and turned us out the house. But how thankful we were to have our Lizzy. It was such a good thing that she married Mr Darcy. Eh Lizzy? I bet you are glad you listened to me now?" I could see poor Sophie's eyes begin to glaze over as Mama twittered away like an excitable canary bird.
"Then you will not be moving to your cottage?"
"Oh goodness, no! Whatever can you all be thinking? No, a cottage would be just the very worst thing for somebody in my condition; all cramped and so much work."
"Elizabeth, this cannot be correct?" She turned to me with assumed criticism. She was nothing short of destined for the stage; sounding inflection for inflection as she had the day she blew in and told me my gowns were just appalling. Only then, I am sure she half meant what she was saying.
"Certainly it is so, Lady St Vincent," Mama answered for me, "send me to a cottage indeed; what can you all be thinking? Just imagine what people would say. A cottage! No indeed!"
"Oh, but Mrs Bennet," she continued, "do you not know that it is quite the done thing amongst those in the first circles of society? My own husband established a little house for my mother and sisters, Mrs Bennet; and Mama says that there is nothing in the world like it."
"No dear, I am quite content to remain here at my leisure, let me assure you."
"You know, Mrs Bennet, that is precisely what my Mama said to me. She had run a house and raised three daughters, and now she deserved nothing more than a good rest. But you know the pressures of society; you simply do not live with your married daughter. It makes people talk. Mama was saying to me just the other day in a letter that she was so glad to have a house of her own; it gave her something to do. Not that it requires a lot of effort, mind you, just a couple of servants."
"Everybody does it, you say?"
"Oh yes, Mrs Bennet. Lady Cecilia Bertrand's mother lived in a little cottage on their estate for nearly twenty years. Have you met Lady Cecilia and her husband Mr Bertrand yet? She is quite the finest lady."
"Lizzy, I do believe I want a house of my own!" Mama turned on me, having been reeled in like a fish by Sophie, who frankly scared me a little with her inventiveness.
"I thought," I said with a smile, "that you were set against such a notion?"
"Nonsense, we can't let people think that you and Mr Darcy are penniless now, can we? Oh, but I will not have you putting me just anywhere. Oh! I could go back to Hertfordshire, or perhaps to London. Oh, how splendid. Lizzy you are too kind; a house of my own. How charming!"
It took a further two months before the cottage was ready to a standard Mama found acceptable for her to live in. She was, as she reminded me frequently, the mother of the Mistress of Pemberley. Thus only the very best of everything was suitable for her; new furniture and every room redecorated to the exacting standards of her taste. I did, however, manage to persuade her to take the bed from the room she had been staying in, since she claimed that it gave her the best night's sleep she had ever had. The state of my own accounts once the venture was completed was pitiful, but it made her happy along with the rest of us. As she said, "There is nothing quite like having a home to yourself."
I had the added pleasure of seeing them settled but a few miles from Pemberley, it was an easy journey for frequent visits. The younger girls came every day to have their lessons from Mrs Robinson, and they were invited to dine with us at least twice a week. I wish I could say that in settling in an establishment of her own, she became less exuberant and silly. However, that was not to be the case. My husband still found it trying at times to maintain his patience with her, but on the whole, all were less irritable, and I found that my family coming to Derbyshire could indeed be the greatest of comforts.
Posted on July 15, 2008
There were to be neither balls nor parties. No merry making. No company. I was sixteen, and already my life was that of an ancient matron. Never again would I dance the night away with a dozen young men. A girl of my age, I have heard said, is ready for her first love. Instead, I was destined to live with an elderly man and his children -- when the mood took them at least; deserted half the time and treated as a part of the furniture the rest.
It was the end of August when Mama retired to Primrose Lodge; and once again an unnatural quiet descended upon Pemberley. It was fortunate that Mama and Jane were now just a short walk away, for once they were gone from the house, I missed their presence dearly. I was more perverse, it seemed, than a cat; first, wishing them gone and then, wishing them back. As if that were not bad enough, my husband was soon to desert me.
In amongst all the furor Mama had created over furnishing her house, my husband decided to impart his own news. He was to be going away for all of September, and perhaps some of October too, for a shooting party. It was something of a tradition, which had been instated the year after Lady Anne's death. The other men were unwed, two widowers and two confirmed bachelors, plus my husband. "How odd, sir that you should think to go then." I had commented lightly, attempting desperately to seem unhurt by his desertion.
"Yes, Papa," Georgiana piped up. For a second, I considered it strange that she was agreeing with me, "why should you go? You always have the shooting party here."
"Well I can hardly host anything given Elizabeth's circumstances." I looked at him across the table, Georgiana screwed up her face at me. Clearly, she felt, this disaster was entirely my fault. Her father would be further away from her than ever now.
"What of Mr Wickham? I thought he was to return here?" I could not help but ask after the young man.
My son-in-law, I noticed, shot me a very sharp look before turning his attention, with greater interest to his father's reply. "I received a letter from him last week, it quite slipped my mind. His friend is still rather unwell, and George thought to take him to Bath, to take the waters. He is such a thoughtful young man. I have secured lodgings for them."
"That was generous of you." I commented.
"Yes, very." added the younger Darcy. I could not tell if he was agreeing with me or not. Ignoring him, I opened a letter from Charlotte and directed all my attention to that instead.
With my husband gone to the Earl of Harrington's estate to shoot at coveys, there was very little left to occupy me.
I would take a hostile breakfast with my daughter and son-in-law, before Georgiana was joined by my sisters for her lessons and my son-in-law busied himself in the study. I was then left to see to my usual duties, of which there was once again little to do. I could not go out to make calls, nor was I receiving visitors. Once my duties were completed for the day, I often made my way over to Primrose Lodge to help Jane.
It was the strangest thing; Mama, once settled in her cottage, suddenly decided that she had no desire for society at all. In fact, she was quite content to sit bundled in her nightgown and thousands of shawls every day, having their poor maids running about after her as though she was an invalid. It lent such elegance and distinction to her recent widowhood. Puzzled, though I was, by what may be called a sudden timidity, I doubted that it was anything more than a temporary whim of hers and soon enough it would all be forgot.
Once Mama was settled in her bed for the evening, Jane would accompany me back over to Pemberley to dine. It saved both her and I from an otherwise lonely vigil in the drawing room. Most nights we would have the girls and Mrs Robinson down with us to play parlour games. Lydia even persuaded us to put on a play, having tired of the toy theatre; it ended quite disastrously. Other nights, we would sit more quietly with filigree work or embroidery. We even taught them all how to serve tea properly. My son-in-law, though present, joined us but rarely, deciding to keep to his own company in the library.
With my husband absent for six weeks, my time passed fairly pleasantly, though I had predicted otherwise. It was, not the life most girls of sixteen would have wished for. To be sure, I am certain that I would much rather have attended balls and parties, but here I was. Those other things would never be.
Under tragic circumstances, I had begun visiting tenants. It had occurred one day, while I had wandered away from the gardens, walking out. Not for the first time, I had ended up by some of the tenants' homes. There was something quaint and charming about that little road, and I had often found myself drawn back there. But there was nothing of any of this on that day. The birds singing up in the trees were interrupted by a scream from a woman who had just walked into her cottage door. Instantly, the other neighbours stopped. Heads poked out of windows, women rushed out their doors, wiping their hands on their aprons, and one lady dropped her clean washing into a muddy puddle. I joined them as they all hurried towards the house the woman had entered.
They were huddled around the doorway. Nobody had gone inside to attend the wailing woman. At the back, behind a cluster of women, I could not see what was going on. A few of the women muttered to one another. One eventually stepped inside, and the others began to move away, sadly shaking their heads, though none of them seemed to be overly surprised or shocked. "Excuse me?" I asked two of the women as they moved past me.
"Yes?" They stopped.
"Could you tell me what is going on?"
"And who may you be?" The plumper of the two women asked me, hands on her hips. She looked me up and down. She had flour across her front of her dress.
"Well I'll be." said the shorter one to the first woman. She made a little bob at me.
"Can you be the master's wife?" the other one asked. Clearly she was bolder than most would have been.
"Never." She replied.
I raised my eyebrow at her and drew myself up a little taller. Her companion nudged her in the side. "Nellie." was all she said, half outraged half affectionate.
"Oh Jessie, you're too serious. Now go on who are you really? One of Mr Darcy's nieces, perhaps?"
"I think she is telling the truth, Nell." her friend Jessie intercepted mildly.
Nellie looked me up and down as if I were a horse at the market. "She is but a scrap of a girl, Jess. It cannot be true."
"We heard she was not that old though."
"She's not fourteen, if she's a day." I thought this was a bit of an exaggeration.
"Excuse me, but if you find it so unbelievable, do you think that I would be foolish enough as to even attempt to claim it was so?" I interrupted their good natured dispute with a smile.
"Next you will be telling us all you're the Empress Josephine." she watched me closely.
I giggled, "Goodness no. My French is appalling." Despite their scepticism, I found myself liking these two women for all their frankness. "Now, since we have established that, shall you tell me what happened in the cottage?"
The two women looked at one another, still slightly distrustful of me. "Tell her, it can do no harm." Jessie said after a few seconds of silent communication between them.
Nellie inclined her head slightly. "That's the Chandlers' cottage, miss. Mary Chandler's baby boy... well he fell in the fire."1
I blinked. Suddenly remembering the smell I had thought was roasting meat, I felt sick. "And the baby?" I asked almost breathless.
"Alive." She stated. I felt a degree of relief, but only for a second.
"Let me see." I walked past them back towards the cottage. They trailed behind after me.
"You must not, miss." They both protested, but I had already stepped through the door to the cottage. A woman looked up, while the other continued to sob huddled over her child. It was not until I touched her shoulder that she even noticed I was there. "She says that she is Mrs Darcy." Nellie explained, attempting to sound as if she believed her statement herself.
"Has the doctor been sent for?" I asked, over the child's whimpers. Nobody replied; their gazes slipped away from me. Turning to Jessie, I asked her to send for one.
The baby had fallen, just as his mother walked through the door. Fortunately, he had only been there for a few seconds before his mother pulled him from the flames. It was long enough though, and his leg was badly burnt. The doctor wrapped the baby's leg in wax paper, along with a dose of laudanum for the pain. He had settled within the first half an hour. The doctor gave his mother and her friend further instructions before leaving them. He only said that he might survive, but it was evident that he did not hold out much hope.
I left, promising a visit the following day. On my return to Pemberley, I went in search of Mrs Reynolds and asked her to send food over to the Chandler household. I think she may have objected but for my son-in-law knocking on her door at just that second. He gave me a curious glance, taking in my sooty dress, saying that he would come back later. On my objection, he stayed and I left, since the housekeeper and I had finished our business.
I visited the Chandler family regularly over the following weeks. It was not long though before I began to visit the other tenant houses. They were not the only ones who had a sick child or relative. In amongst all my other duties, I now found myself visiting the tenants of Pemberley as well.
The little boy, David, survived, but his leg was left lame. I saw to it that he received a good education, for he would never be fit for manual labour. Instead, he took up the job of schoolmaster at the little Dame school that the Darcy family had established in the area some centuries before.
It was that very same night that I had first met the Chandlers, as I was lying in my bed unable to sleep, that I heard a tapping outside in the hallway. At first I thought it was my imagination. Then, after a pause of several minutes, I heard it again. And again, this time accompanied by a small voice calling out, "Fitzwilliam." timidly. It was Georgiana. She called out twice more, then I heard a door open. After a few more moments, the door shut again; Georgiana still, clearly, in the hallway. She let out a wet sounding sniff.
Throwing off my covers, I walked over to the door and peeked out. The dim light of her candle illuminated the corridor just enough for me to see her, "Georgiana," I called out softly to her. She jumped and looked in my direction, only I could see her, bathed in candlelight, far better than she could see me. "It's me, Elizabeth." I stepped out of the door and towards her, she quivered, "What ever is the matter?" I asked. It was only as I came much nearer to her that her shoulders slumped a little.
"Oh, you." she replied glumly. I should have been more offended by her tone.
"Where is Fitzwilliam?"
"I do not know, why?"
She looked at me, eyebrows in a half scowl, suspicion evident, "I want Fitzwilliam."
"Well, I have no idea where he is. So why do you not tell me what the matter is?" I did not have the patience to play at favourites with her.
"I want Fitzwilliam."
"Well then, I shall return to my own room." I turned back and began retracing my steps.
"You cannot leave me," she sounded half panicked.
"I thought you wanted your brother." I sounded detached, unperturbed; but actually I was thrilled that in that moment, at least, she wanted me to be there.
"You must help me find him." She sounded just like her father; autocratic, assured that I was her inferior to be controlled.
"Must I indeed?" I felt too angry. Any sympathy I had felt for her dissipated. I stepped inside my chamber door.
"Wait," She was following after me and reached my door before I had even shut it. "you must not leave me." Once again, her fear returned to her face. She stepped inside my rooms.
"Why ever not?"
"Lydia said so."
"Did she now? Well, you should not trust everything my sister says." In fact, you probably should not trust anything Lydia said.
"She said they would take me over and live inside me and I would do horrible things. She says she heard about a girl back at your old home that had them in her."
"I thought you two were still fighting." The day before, they had not been speaking with each other, after both blamed the other for a broken vase, the result of a particular energetic game of Deerstalker.
"We are. But, I heard her talking to Kitty about it."
"So Kitty did not know about this girl. Do you not think that odd?"
"No. Kitty is stupid." The words I had heard so often spoken by Lydia popped out of Georgiana's mouth instead; like she was a parrot.
"Georgiana, that is not nice. Kitty is not stupid."
"Lydia says she is."
"You do not even like Lydia." Little girls, I thought with a sigh, they were a most baffling breed. Not friends, then friends, then fallen out again. They changed their minds more often than they changed their stockings.
"I want to stay with Fitzwilliam tonight, he will look after me." She suddenly changed the subject. "Where is he?"
"I am not sure." It was past two in the morning. "Why do you not stay with me instead?" It was just a suggestion, I remember once feeling a similar dread of being snatched by child-catchers in the middle of the night; but I had not slept alone in an empty nursery, there had been four sisters.
"No." She replied staunchly.
"Because I want Fitzwilliam." She looked at me as if I were a dribbling baby.
"I do not know where you brother has gone. Or when he shall be back." My temper was starting to fray like an old rope, "Why not read a book, to distract yourself?"
"All mine are boring."
"Only boring people get bored." I replied with that oft-repeated phrase. "What about one of mine?" She closely examined the selection I had to offer, an action that frankly shocked me; she never paid me much reverence. Unsurprisingly, she declared them to be "boring," except a gothic novel, which would have done her no good at all. The genre could only spawn ridiculous over imagination, and that was not what Georgiana needed. She demanded that I accompany her downstairs, to the library, to find some suitable reading fodder, only allowing me time to pull a dress on, over my nightgown, before she dragged me off.
In the library, we found her brother, huddled over some papers, still at work. He looked up questioningly, and Georgiana ran to him. To his credit, he was always the best of brothers to her, and not only did he swiftly attempt to allay her fears, not once appearing as if he would laugh at her, then he put aside his work entirely and suggested that he read to her. She was much more content to be left to his care; though she still offered a little objection to his choice of book. There is no eleven year-old that really wants to hear poetry read to them. She far preferred a novel.
To me at least, there had seemed very little reason to remain. The picture the sister and brother made of loving devotion was enough for me to feel displaced. Opposition was raised when I bid the pair of them goodnight. They paused long enough in their affectionate bickering over the choice of book for the brother to turn to me and request that I stay. Under normal circumstances, I would have declined. I felt awkward enough, but when Georgiana added her own petition, I could do nothing but agree. Often I had found myself annoyed by my husband's inability to refuse her anything, but there I was, doing exactly the same thing. It felt rather good to be wanted, despite being fully conscious that she only wanted me to act as jury to their tastes.
Finally, it was settled and the book was opened, "You have read this?" he asked me cautiously. To which I assured him that I had, and there was nothing particularly objectionable of The Heirs of Villeroy2. Our little group settled down to the story, passing the book between us in turns. Not fifteen minutes later, as Darcy had finished his section, Georgiana was found to be asleep; the hour was certainly late. Georgiana's night terrors became something of a habit. Nightly, the three of us would be seated in the library, reading aloud until she finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.
I was certain that he would return his sister to the nursery then, but instead he turned to me, "Where were you this afternoon?" he asked demandingly. "I needed to speak with you."
It was clear to me that he was angered that I had not been there exactly when he desired it, it irked me; I was not his slave. Neither was I inclined to be particularly forgiving; we had not had a civil conversation since he had tried to manipulate me into removing my mother from Pemberley. "I went out. I was not aware I should have told you."
"Fergus told me you had gone walking, but I could not find you in the gardens."
"I walked down to Green Lane."
"By the tenants' houses? I was not aware that you walked that far."
"Not often. What did you wish to speak with me about?" I changed the subject.
"It is no matter; I settled it with Mrs Reynolds before you got back." Having established that, I stood up to leave, not desiring to linger for a pleasant chat with him. I was thwarted as he spoke again, "Did you speak with any of the tenants?"
"Yes, in fact, I did." I stood still again. "I take it you heard about the Chandlers?" News travelled quickly around the estate; perhaps Dr Lambert had already sent him the bill for his services.
"No, should I have?" I was surprised.
"Their little boy, the youngest, David, was burnt badly this afternoon. I had the doctor called to take care of him."
"You did?" He seemed, I could not help but notice smugly, rather impressed. "How is Mrs Chandler? You ought to have some food and linens sent to her. She shall need help over these next few days."
"I have already, and her friend is to say with her as well." I could not read his expression, and he said nothing further on the matter. He just stood and picked up Georgiana's sleeping form and left the room.
The Living at Kympton was destined to one-day secure Mr George Wickham's future. My husband had decided this on the occasion of his birth, when it was revealed that his Godchild was a boy. Mr Wickham had, more than once, told me this himself, when he had visited us. Thus, when the news came to us one morning that Mr Denley had passed away in the night, I knew that it was time for Mr Wickham to finally return to Pemberley. After an absence of several months, an absence, which Georgiana had led me to understand, was of greater duration than was his want. And that her brother dryly informed me was, "probably because of the lack of merry-making to be had here."
During breakfast one morning, a missive was delivered by a footman, separately from the post. My husband took it up, giving it a puzzled glance, for he did not know its sender, and broke the seal. His two children and I watched him closely as his eyes flitted across the page and he muttered a surprised exclamation. "What is it, Father?" his son inquired.
"It is Mr Denley, he passed on in the night."
"But you dined with him last week." I said, realising that it was a comment befitting my mother. "What of Mrs Denley?" I asked with a degree more sense.
"I appreciate your concern, Elizabeth. You must send her a note offering her our condolences." He stood up and left the room, his son closely following on his heel.
It was then that Georgiana turned to me, chewed her food quickly and said, "Now George shall come." The foundations were laid in my head.
For the rest of the day I did not see either of them. They remained shut in my husband's study.
As I took out my black edged paper from my desk, I reflected miserably on the suitability of the colour, but wondered what it was that I ought to write. It was not something to be put off. I understood that it was my duty as the wife of the new widow's patron to offer my condolences to her; but I could picture her sitting there, as she always was, in perfect composure, behaving just as she had throughout our acquaintance, calmly, modestly and coolly. Putting pen to paper, I acknowledged what a fine man her husband was.
She had many children, all of whom were grown up now, for her husband and she were both elderly. One of her many children would undoubtedly send for her as soon as may be. For certain, I knew that she would never be able to remain in her home, and that made me sorry; but the new rector would live there now.
With my daily responsibilities seen to, I prepared to call at Primrose Lodge. Briefly, before I left, I considered informing my husband I was leaving to visit my mother, only to be put off when I heard my husband's exasperated tone, "For goodness sake, Fitzwilliam." I did not stay long enough to hear the rest. Experience had taught me well to keep from my husband's presence when he was in such a mood.
Mama would undoubtedly want to learn of this news; it was a pity that she had nobody to impart it to, for her sake, at least. Still, it seemed unkind to leave her so completely withdrawn from society. While gossip was nobody's true friend, Mama had little left but to hear of the busy goings on and misfortunes of other folk. On hearing of Mr Denley, a man she had never met, and who had always been of so little interest for her, she said she was sorry for his sake, but then quickly turned her attention to news of his widow.
Naturally I reported that she undoubtedly bore under it all with a degree of elegance few women could boast of, a degree of elegance, which had, in fact, chilled me to the bone to observe. Mama's hysterics at least showed feeling, even if some may say they had a lack of breeding. "I suppose he has seen her secure." Mama had sniffed. A comment to which I quickly told her that, no, he had not left her anything, and from what I understood, she had a daughter who would see her right; thus preventing yet another of her tirades against my father.
Mama's attention was not likely to settle for any great length of time on the widow's plight when there was a far more important issue to be addressed, in her mind at least. "So, the parish sits empty, does it? Does your husband have a new candidate in mind for the living?"
"I believe so."
"And his name?" A name, you must understand, is vastly important. It tells more of a man's prospects as a suitor than anything else. Were it something as common as "Smith," Mama need know nothing further of him.
"Mr George Wickham."
"You wrote of him in your letters, did you not, Lizzy?" Jane asked so serenely, one might have assumed we were only discussing the weather. She knew exactly who he was.
"Wickham," Mama rolled the name on her tongue as though she were tasting it, "my, what a fine sounding name that is." I suppressed a grin, knowing it would be so, "And what of the man? Is he single?"
"He is my husband's Godson." I did not plan on revealing any more information just yet.
"Oh, then he must be very grand." Mama said with authority. "What a fine thing, Janey."
"He is a most pleasant man."
"It is a pity he is only to be a clergyman. But it is a tidy living, I suppose?"
"I imagine Mr Wickham would think so; but I have no idea of its value. The Denley's lived quite comfortably."
"And what of his father?"
"Yes, his father, what is his estate? I assume Mr Wickham is a younger son."
"No, an only child, actually."
Mama's face dropped a little as she began to understand, "Why Lizzy, I believe you are teasing me! Oh you are just like your father was! Oh, then I suppose he is no good for Jane. She is too beautiful to be married to a man of no estate, too beautiful by half. Perhaps he shall do for Mary, she'll not likely do better, and she will be out soon."
"Mama," Jane put in gently.
"Well never mind, I am sure you have somebody more suitable in mind for Jane. But I must hear more of this Mr Wickham."
"He is charming, intelligent, kind, handsome (I believe he is the most handsome man I have ever seen), well mannered, good humoured; in short, he is everything that a young man ought to be. As I said, he is the Godson of Mr Darcy. You have met his father, Mama, Mr Wickham, the steward at Pemberley."
"Steward? Oh Good Lord. A steward's son. Lizzy what can you be thinking. Aye it's a good thing I am here, or I don't know where you would be, really I don't. Married to a steward's son, I dare say. Jane, pay your sister not the slightest bit of mind. Teasing us all so; making us think him a fair prospect."
Once I may have cringed at such an outburst from my mother; now I laughed with relief. It had been too many months; she had been a mere shadow of herself. To hear her interested, truly curious and up to her old habits again was nothing short of a relief to Jane and me. Let her match-make, I thought, until her heart is content again. And I would have thought that even were I still single.
I held my tongue from asking after Mr Wickham, well aware that it would be viewed suspiciously by my son-in-law. Thus I was required to keep my patience. But I had not long to wait. Georgiana, who greatly favoured Mr Wickham, asked her father as soon as he entered the breakfast room the next morning. "Is George coming?"
"Yes Georgiana, his father wrote to him of the news, and I wrote to call him home immediately." His son, I thought, looked slightly sour. "Elizabeth, I have settled it that he shall be staying with his father rather than us, given the circumstance.
"That is kind of you, sir." I thanked him. Mr Wickham would likely be in near constant attendance at Pemberley anyway.
"Very good then." He sat down and picked up his morning newspaper.
"He shall bring me a present." Georgiana turned to me with a cutting glance. It was my fault, of course, that this year she would be having no grand party for her birthday as she had last year. Instead, it would be observed only with gifts and a meal of her choosing. Once again, her birthday was destined to be a bone of contention between the pair of us, just as it was the previous year. I could only be grateful that I had been sensible enough to simply have a dress made for her as a gift; hopefully I could not get that wrong!
Mr Wickham arrived the following week, late one evening, after dinner. I had not heard his horse on the drive, but after he had been to see my husband and his father, he came to find me in my sitting room. I had been completing some white-work for Alice's little girl, Lizzy, my own Godchild. When he entered, I quickly stashed the items under a cushion, and he pretended not to notice what I had done. "Mrs Darcy," he said jovially, "how well you are looking."
I blushed, I could not help it, "Mr Wickham what a pleasure to see you again." I rose and curtsied, "Might you allow me to introduce my sister Jane. Jane, this is Mr Wickham." They bowed, curtsied, and took their seats as I called for some refreshments.
"I was sorry to hear of your father."
"Thank you, sir."
"I remember how it was when my own dear mother passed. I still miss her every day." He looked wistfully out of the window. Jane looked at him and smiled softly, his sensitivity evidently pleased her.
"I am sorry, sir. How long has she been dead now?" Jane asked him gently.
"About seven years ago. She was the dearest of women. As her son, I am biased, but ask your husband, Mrs Darcy, he had the best of opinions of her."
"I shall do." The tea was brought in, and Jane served. He watched her closely as she elegantly poured him a cup and handed it to him.
"Miss Bennet, you make a marvellous cup of tea." he commented after taking a sip. She bowed her head in acknowledgement of the compliment, but said nothing. He then turned his attentions back to me. "Mrs Darcy, now you have been married a year. How do you find that it suits you?"
"Very well, sir. I find myself most busy with tasks about the house, and my mother and sisters are not so very far away. I find that I am most content."
"Yes, I can tell it agrees with you. You have other sisters?"
"Indeed I do, three younger than me, they are upstairs with Georgiana."
"My, four sisters, and all of them beauties I should not imagine. Your mother shall have her hands full soon enough."
"There is nothing she shall enjoy more, let me assure you, sir." I laughed.
"As with the best of mothers. It does her credit that she wishes to see you all well settled. There is nothing worse than a neglectful mother I have always thought. Absolutely shocking!" He said with a smile.
Was he displeased by nothing? Did the thought of such a mother not send him cowering into a corner? Jane was smiling at him; I knew his amiability would be to her liking.
"I understand you have been in Bath, Mr Wickham." Jane redirected the conversation.
"Yes, how does your sick friend, sir?"
He took a sip of his tea before replying. "Oh! Bunbury! Yes. Well, he is improved, but I do not think I can ever say that he shall be well. He is of a rather sickly nature. Poor fellow. I was sorry to have to leave him, but he was most understanding; duty and honour called me home, and here I am."
"You should have brought him to Pemberley with you." I commented politely.
"Bunbury does not like to be a burden to anybody. He is already most thankful for everything that my Godfather has done for him. He would never contemplate imposing himself thusly."
"Tell us of Bath."
"What would you have me tell you? The streets are crowed with people, there are more shops overflowing with more trinkets than I have ever laid eyes on before. There is gossip to be had at every street corner. London has nothing on Bath. There are pleasures of every sort; plays, opera, balls and assemblies; women promenading about in all their finery like painted peacocks. Mrs Darcy, with your interest in studying character, you could find no place more entertaining than Bath. And then there is the pump room; Bunbury and I went there every day. If I am honest, I do not understand the fuss about the water, it is rather disgusting, if the truth be told."
"It sounds like you had a wonderful time, Mr Wickham." Jane commented.
"Ah pity me, Miss Bennet, for I was not at liberty to enjoy the pleasures Bath has to offer. I was too occupied with my friend's illness to pay them any attention."
"It is to your credit though, sir, to show such care and concern for your friend." she said.
"I thank you, Miss Bennet. I can only hope that some day I may have the opportunity to return there and absorb its entertainments. And how about you, Miss Bennet, should you like to go there some day?"
Jane assured him that she certainly would. The three of us spoke of travelling for some time more before the subject was exhausted. We spoke of the continent and of the varying spas of England, of Town and of Hertfordshire. Until such a time as Mr. Wickham began to feel that it was only polite that he should depart our company, saying he was sure he had troubled us enough. Though we did protest, he rose, bowed very properly, and said, "Ladies, you have been most kind to indulge a gentleman about to embark upon the dullest of professions."
And though we shook our heads and disclaimed against his statement, he quite cheerfully refused to hear it any other way, and soon departed from our company.
Posted on July 25, 2008
Mr Wickham's visit lasted a little over a week. One might have been mistaken in believing that he stayed for several months, for all the devastation he left in his wake. My husband's temper was foul, and nothing could soothe him. He and his son barely tolerated one another's company, let alone conversed. That year I was gladder than ever for my son-in-law's departure to Town for the season. Isolated from the intimate circles of family business, I could but guess what exactly had occurred during his visit, and to where George Wickham vanished so abruptly.
Mr. Wickham seemed as easy and content on the day of his arrival as he did just hours before his unexpected departure. My husband though, I did notice, was not as jovial as he had been during his godson's visit the previous year. I attributed that to Mr Denley, Kympton's late priest, being a very dear old friend of his, rather than to any difficulty between him and Mr Wickham. After his godson's departure, I concluded from the gruff and evasive answers both Georgiana and I received regarding his disappearance, that some difficulty had arisen and remained unresolved between the pair. Yet, I was to remain ignorant as to the precise details for some period.
Mr Wickham was a favourite companion of Georgiana's. There had, before my sisters' arrival, been very few children with whom she could regularly play, and she was as good as an only child. No matter how doting her brother was, the disparity in their age, not to mention his serious character, meant she had little liveliness in her life. Mr Wickham though, despite being of much the same age as Georgiana's brother, had a lively temperament that could not but recommend him to the child. During his visits, he dedicated many hours to her amusement. His presence, however, was quite unexpected in the schoolroom.
I opened the door to hear Lydia stoutly proclaim, "A clergyman, how dull!" Nevertheless, my sister appeared thankful for the interruption to her lessons, from a future clergyman or otherwise, for if she found anything duller and less profitable to her time, it was her books. With a toss of her curls, she flounced away to another part of the room, not bothering to wait for his reply, dragging Kitty behind her.
"My, my Mr Wickham. Encouraging slothfulness?" I smiled at him from the doorway.
"No indeed, Mrs Robinson and I have an agreement," he winked at the middle-aged lady, who in turn shook her head affectionately. "Just ten minutes, and then the girls must be about their lessons again."
I thought it best to leave them all for a time, as I had come to observe their lessons, not their play. Upon my return some ten minutes later, they had failed to return to their studies. Instead, all the girls, except Mary, had settled around Mr Wickham and were all talking at once in excited tones. "I bet there were balls and parties every night." Lydia said with dreamy authority.
"Who did you dance with?" Kitty asked.
"Did you go to the opera?" Georgiana wanted to know.
He laughed, "Girls, girls, so many questions! Alas, here is Mrs Darcy, and you must be about your lessons again. Mrs Robinson has indulged us all for far too long."
"Just five more minutes." They pleased in unison.
"Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger."1 Mary looked up from a page of verb conjugations, to direct this latest piece of wisdom, reproachfully, at the three younger girls. She also threw a quick glance in Wickham's direction, as if she sought his praise.
"Lord Mary!" Lydia snorted.
Later that morning, as Jane and I took a walk in the gardens, Mr Wickham came upon us. Immediately he offered us his company, and an arm for each of us to lean on. "How long do you think you shall be here?" I asked him.
"Not long." His answer was brief.
"Oh, what a pity. Jane and I had hopes that you might consider taking us to see some of the area, as you did last year. I am sure Georgiana would enjoy it too." It would be a relief to us all to have something to do.
"Well then, we shall have to see what we can do, shall we not, Mrs Darcy?" There was a brief pause in the conversation before he began anew. "Now, Miss Bennet, I am mightily glad to hear that you and your mother and sisters have taken residence in Primrose Lodge."
"Yes indeed, sir, my brother has been good enough to provide us with a lovely home." Jane demurred, "We are most grateful to my sister and him."
"Ah, such is the way with him. He is the best of men. He has always been most generous towards myself."
"It certainly seems he would do anything for anyone." Jane's reply was so characteristic of her, I thought.
"And how do you find Primrose Lodge?" He pressed on. He appeared eager to return to the subject of my family's new home. I never had any idea it was of so much interest to him. His question seemed to speak of something more than common politeness.
"It is very pleasant." Jane had little more to say. Her new home was indeed nothing extraordinary.
"I am glad you find it so, it has been empty far too many years now. I have often thought that it needed a family to liven the place up. I believe its previous resident was my Godfather's mother. That was before even I was born."
"Lizzy and Mama did much to the place before we moved there." Jane calmly attempted to turn his attention to me as well.
"Jane helped." I added; my sister was too modest for my own good.
"That was good of them." He addressed her, barely saving me a glance. I was beginning to get the feeling that he was speaking around me. "And you, Miss Bennet, did you have any say in the refurnishing of the place?" This question was evidence enough of that suspicion.
"I helped choose some of the wall coverings." She admitted gently.
"I should very much like to see the improvements that you have made. Perhaps there shall be opportunity during my visit to pay my respects to your mother. I have met all your charming sisters, Miss Bennet, but I should like to meet her and judge for myself the enhancements to Primrose Lodge."
Silently I waited for Jane to reply, since this was so clearly meant all for her. "I am sorry to say, sir, she is not accepting callers." Jane eventually replied. Having fallen a step or two behind, I smirked. Surely he did not know what he was attempting to get himself into.
"She would be glad of the company I am sure though." He apparently did not take Jane's hint.
"But sir," I sought to discourage him, "it is hardly proper."
"No less proper," he argued, "than my presence here with you and your sister. You do not appear to have any objection." He soldiered on with his argument in apparent ignorance of our discouragement.
"But to seek out the meeting..." After all, Jane and I had not sought out his company purposefully.
"Our mother," Jane added, almost beginning to sound as if she, of all people, was frustrated with him, "suffers from her nerves. Callers only make her uneasy, I am sorry to say, Mr Wickham."
"Then I suppose, that for now, I shall have to content myself with your charming company. But be assured that one day she and I shall meet. No matter, I am sure that you have done a charming job on the place. And I might also hope, Miss Bennet, that when I am settled at the parsonage, you would be willing to advise on its improvements too? I would be incredibly grateful to you; a house cannot be a home without the touch of a gentlewoman." Jane blushed, with a sweet smile, refraining from making any further conversation, while I silently fumed at my dismissal.
The following day found me making my usual calls to the tenants. Rapping my gloved knuckle against the butter yellow door of the Wainwright's cottage, I waited patiently for Alice to answer the door. She greeted me almost a minute later with baby Lizzy in her arms, looking greatly distressed. "Alice, what is the matter?" She simply shook her head in reply. "Is this a bad time? If you are busy, I can come back." Once more she made no response to my question. I was utterly surprised when another voice -- belonging to a wholly unexpected person - answered instead.
"No, I was just leaving." said my son-in-law. He put his beaver on and stepped out of the door into the garden. My mouth dropped open. "Alice, thank you for your time today." He turned to say before walking swiftly up the lane.
Alice motioned me through the door, and I encouraged her to sit down. "Here, I have made these for Lizzy." I passed her a package wrapped in paper containing some embroidered bedding for the baby and an old dress of mine for herself. I moved over to the hearth and rekindled the fire and swept the slightly sooty floor. Out of habit, I pushed Lizzy's crib away from the fire, though Alice would likely move it back when I had gone. We were both quiet as we worked. Sitting back down again, she handed me Lizzy. I sat pensively for a second before calling on all my courage to ask, "What was Mr Fitzwilliam doing here?" When she did not answer, my concern really set in. "Does he come here often?"
"No, he has never come before." She finally answered.
It was something of a relief to hear. Still the feeling niggled. Once again I attempted to quash it with reason. For everything I could say of him, my son-in-law was honourable and took his duty towards all of Pemberley very seriously. Surely he would never... No. I simply could not begin to justify such behaviour in him. I thought back to the day in his study, when he had pressed Alice for an answer to the baby's father. If he had already known, he would not have been so adamant in her answering the question. No, certainly not. My mind was just over active.
Yet still, his presence was puzzling. Why would he be there otherwise? I wondered briefly if he had come to call on her husband. Surely that would not have distressed my old maid so much. "What did he do?"
"He did nothing; he wanted to speak to me is all."
"About what though, Alice? Please tell me."
"Just some business he had with my William."
Why would she be so upset about that? I glanced down at Lizzy, who was contentedly chewing on my bonnet ribbon. "I think she takes after you in her love of fashion." I laughed, and for the rest of my visit, we kept as normal a tone as possible, though she was undoubtedly troubled and I was disturbed.
At dinner that evening, my husband turned to his son, "Where were you all day Fitzwilliam?" he asked, "I wanted to go over those figures with you."
Usually when the pair of them spoke of business, I paid but little attention; yet I wondered just how the son would respond. Would he make a mention of his visit to the Wainwrights' Cottage? He did not. "I had some calls to make."
"I hope you called on the Grimstones." commented my husband. He did not wait for the answer I desired to hear, quickly turning his attention to other matters.
For all Jane's beauty, there was something more attractive in her character: a natural modesty, more attractive than all the blonde hair and green eyes in the world. Her lack of conceit and ignorance of her suitor's intentions was, perhaps, a little naïve; particularly, when Mama crowed from the rooftops of her many successes, which was undoubtedly the reason for the death of many of those seedling courtships. But, for all those many men, Jane had never felt more than a passing attraction, if any at all, to them. Likewise, I think none of them were left truly heartbroken.
Our cousin, William Collins, was as good an example of this as any. Charlotte's letters informed me that he had apparently presented a prospect to my sister during their brief sojourn as guests at the newly inherited Longbourn. Charlotte was surprised that his attraction to Jane had ended in nought, and that no announcement was made before Jane came to Pemberley. A conversation with my sister revealed that our Cousin William had every intention of such an announcement being made; but that Jane, with an atypical contrariness, had failed to react favourably to this proposal. With typical concern, she had subsequently fretted over his disappointed hopes, especially when his proposal had been "so kindly meant." I was merely gratefully surprised to find that it was within Jane's capacity to say "no," and pointed out to her that a woman only really had the right of refusal. It was not her fault that our cousin had proposed on so short an acquaintance, when neither he nor she could have any proper feelings towards one another. My point was proved by the latest of Charlotte's letters, which announced our cousin's engagement to the eldest Miss Watson.
Mama, naturally, had a thing or two to say of the Watson family when she heard the news from her half-hearted correspondence with Lady Lucas. Not because she had considered the younger Collins a prospect for Jane, but because it was the final blow to her deposition from Longbourn.
This piece of gossip is really of little consequence, and our acquaintance from Longbourn were to be of hardly any matter or interest to us in the coming years, except on the occasion when Mrs Collins bore her first son. My point was that for the many men initially attracted to Jane over the years, there were few encouraged enough to make a lasting commitment. To my knowledge, Cousin William was the only one self-important enough to make that venture.
Then though, there was the curious case of Mr Wickham. From only their second meeting, his intentions seemed clear enough, that even I, a novice in matters of the heart, knew of them. His announcement of having Jane help him at the parsonage could not be clear enough; nobody but its mistress would have the right to re-decorate. Moreover, single young men, especially clergymen, did not trouble themselves with fashionable furnishings.
Jane, for her part, had discouraged the conversation from straying any further into such realms, not solely for reasons of propriety. Yet, at every turn, he seemed to be with her - talking, flattering, flirting - dedicated to her amusements. He was a man not to be dissuaded, despite her quiet demurrals, attempts to insinuate others into the conversation, and nonplussed reactions to his charms.
In many ways, I could not account for the attraction. Certainly, Jane was greatly admired by many; no one could fault his taste in beauty. But in disposition, the two were so different that attraction seemed in many ways impossible. Their contradictory characters seemed insurmountable. I had thought he would be the type of man attracted to lively, bold, women. Jane, so serene, possessed none of that, though her generosity of spirit and pleasant manner would make her a perfect parson's wife.
An attraction, based purely on the physical, as it had first appeared, would have been quickly laid to rest on further acquaintance; particularly when paired with Jane's neutral reaction towards him. Yet it was not. He seemed more insistent on wooing her, than he had at first.
When I went to visit her at Primrose Lodge a few days later, I found a nosegay sitting in the porch; Wintersweets, Snowdrops, Christmas Roses and Glory-of-the-Snow, all prettily arranged. I picked them up. "These were on the doorstep." I handed them to Jane, the only person present.
"Who do you think they are for?" Jane asked, rather stupidly I thought.
"Well, unless Lydia has been flirting with a stable boy again, which is... not impossible, I would imagine they are for you." She turned, but not quickly enough for me to fail to notice the blush rising in her checks, and walked out of the room to find some water and a vase. I followed her into the kitchen, which was also empty. "Where is everybody?" Mama, it transpired, was upstairs in her rooms, nursing a headache and a bottle of smelling salts. Predictably, she required both maids.
Once we had sat down with cups of tea, I once again broached the subject with her. "So... Mr Wickham?" I began, motioning to the flowers. They had been placed on the marble base of the fireplace, neither obvious nor hidden.
"What about him, Lizzy?" She plucked at a loose thread on her sleeve.
"What do you think of him?" I went for the blunter approach.
"He seems a very affable gentleman. You are obviously all very fond of him up at Pemberley."
"Is that all?" I was relieved by her reply.
"Yes. Should there be more?"
"I do not know, but I think he likes you very much."
"Lizzy you tease me." She blushed bright red, although she attempted to laugh off my suggestion.
"Oh no, my dear Jane, I am quite serious. Mr Wickham fancies himself in love with you." I smiled to myself that Jane had once again missed what was almost un-missable. Only she could do that. Only she could be believed of her ignorance and not have it mistaken for false modesty.
"What have I done?" She looked mortified at the prospect of it.
"Oh Jane," I laughed, "you have done nothing at all; nothing but be yourself. It is only right that he should think himself in love with you. It shows he has excellent sense and taste."
"But... Oh, but Lizzy, I do not love him."
"Then if he should ask you to marry him, you must tell him so, that you do not love him."
"Oh, but poor Mr Wickham, I could not bear to hurt him."
"No doubt it will cause him less pain to find out now, than to be tied to you for all eternity, only to find that you cannot return his feelings." I gently suggested. "Surely that is worse."
"I would not want Mr Wickham to think that I had led him on." she said earnestly. "I have only ever been polite to him. I had no idea that he felt... that he wished me to... Whatever am I to do about it? How can I stop Mr Wickham from being in love with me?" My calm Jane appeared so truly distressed. The thought of injuring somebody, however unintentional, went against her very nature. She was constitutionally unable to offend.
Even my husband, disinterested in romance, noted evidence of the young man's burgeoning attraction to Jane. He even went so far as to ask for my opinion on the matter. "George seems very fond of your sister." He took a seat next to mine after dinner. "I saw the pair of them out walking earlier today." His voice was low; he did not wish for anybody else to overhear our words.
"Yes, he does seem to be."
"And what of Jane? Does she return his feelings? Elizabeth, do not think I mean to pry into your sister's private business, but I should not like to see her injured." He bumbled through this justification, apparently fearful of angering me. "I cannot make her out; she seems just as she always does. I never thought one could be too tranquil."
Softened by his concern for my sister, I relented. "May I be honest? I think... in fact I know that she does not return his feelings."
"I am glad to hear it. They can neither of them afford to be in love with one another."
"You Darcys are far too prudent." I teased. It was, at that time, a matter of little consequence. Under normal circumstances, his comment would have annoyed me. The Darcy sense of duty, so firmly impressed upon in their daily lives, was a ridiculous notion. All that it had encouraged was a serious, pompous mien in the son, and scornfulness and superiority in the daughter. Not to mention deep unhappiness for my husband in both his marriages, and both his wives; though I could not account for Lady Anne. I thought of his poor sister, married to a man the Darcys did not approve of, and banished from her own relations' circles. Who could do that to a family member? If they loved her, they should have been happy for her. They loved doing their duty more. Jane deserved to marry for nothing but love. I would make sure of that.
"And you Bennet girls are far too romantic by half." He returned with good humour.
"Do you think Mr Wickham's hopes shall be greatly disappointed? If he proposes to her?" I echoed Jane's fears from the day before, almost not wanting to hear the answer. I liked Mr Wickham, despite his somewhat annoying propensity to speak only with Jane. I was grateful to him for the friendship he had offered me the previous winter, when I had nobody. I did not want to see him disappointed.
"I doubt the affair shall ever come to that, Elizabeth."
"You think he is trifling with her?" There was only the tiniest hint of alarm in my voice. Thankfully, I knew that my sister's heart remained untouched by Mr Wickham, and she was not in any danger.
"He is no fool. He knows the importance of money. If Jane knew herself to be in love, then I would do something for her. She is a sweet girl, and I would not like to see her troubled." He walked to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of brandy. "As to George's hopes, well, he is too young to know what it is he wants." There was an element of aggravation in his words as he spoke of Mr Wickham. Yet, I knew better than to pry into my husband's worries. He would never reveal them to me.
My husband's attention to Mr Wickham's doomed courtship of my sister was touching; his son's was simply annoying. I knew the younger Darcy to be no great admirer of Wickham; I had heard from Wickham's own account that throughout their lives, Darcy had been nothing but jealous, meddlesome and controlling of Wickham's life. Now, it seemed that he had progressed to interfering in Jane's life too; where previously he had treated her as nothing but a common and indifferent acquaintance.
I was not made aware of young Darcy's feelings until we were alone together. The house was always full, and both he and I always much engaged with various businesses. Of course, neither of us was eager to seek out the other's company either. I thought it natural that he and I should see each other rarely, except at meal times. When I did encounter my son-in-law, I frequently felt frustrated in his company. As a general rule, we sought to avoid one another and spare ourselves the awkwardness of such meetings. Or at least I thought we did.
When he sat down beside me on a sofa in the library, I was surprised, but relieved, for he offered me only a nod before turning all his attention to his book. For once, I was grateful to be alone with him, for it presented me with the perfect opportunity to ask him of his curious presence at the Wainwright cottage. I studied him for a few moments, turning my pages at strategic moments. He, though, was the first to break our silence. "Are you aware that your sisters are in your sitting room?" At first, I thought that it was nothing more than a hint for me to leave, which I would not, for I was there first. Only then he added, "Mr Wickham is with them." with such a tone of accusation, my head shot up from my book.
"Then they are well entertained." I replied tartly and with an air of finality. I returned all my attention to my book hoping we would not have any further conversation.
"The girls should be at their lessons." He sounded disapproving.
"Georgiana and Mary are about their music lessons with Mrs Robinson, Jane is helping Lydia and Kitty with their embroidery." I justified puffing myself up to meet his eye, proud that I could refute his claim.
"Yet not a needle or thread is in sight. Lydia and Catherine are run wild, while Miss Bennet's attention is captured by Mr Wickham." he reported with equal frankness.
Seeing that I was caught, I simply said, "Then I shall caution Lydia and Kitty to behave." I knew that it would not go down so well. He did not need to be aware that Lydia would refuse, and accuse me of being all high and mighty, just because I was married.
"Perhaps, while you are about it, Mrs Darcy, you shall caution Miss Bennet too."
"For what? She is not obliged to sit with them over their lessons like a mother or a governess." I was not prepared to scold Jane. Lydia, especially, was too strong willed and defiant for nicely natured Jane to control. She would never listen to a sister only seven years her senior.
He sighed ever so slightly. "You misconstrue my meaning." He paused for a minute; I waited for him to continue. "She spends too much time with Mr Wickham, people will remark upon it. They will not marry, you know."
I knew they would not, of course, I knew. I had heard confirmation of that from Jane's own mouth... And yet, his words riled me so much I could not help but argue with him. "Whether they shall or not, it is no business of yours."
"It is every business of mine if she is the centre of the latest scandal. She is a Darcy by default."
"Mr Wickham is gentleman, and shall be a clergyman to boot." I reclaimed my ground with fierceness. "Your lack of faith in him is most unfair." I cried. This was not, after all, about Jane's feelings. Still, his interference was unwelcome. It was Mr Wickham he was attempting to slander, just as Wickham had once told me he did.
"While you have too much faith in him." he rejoined with feeling.
"What proof have you?"
"There will be all the proof in the world if your sister does not care to check the acquaintance." Until this point, he had remained seemingly calm, but as he looked up at the ceiling, I could tell that he was willing himself patience. He took a breath before proceeding, "He only wishes to use her to his advantage."
"You have too low an opinion of my sister."
"I speak not of mere seduction."
"Seduction? They are both too good for that." I laughed.
"You cannot think he shall marry her." He laughed in return. "Neither of them have a penny. Connections alone will not secure her, and there are only so many tenant cottages available... Even if they could, my father would never have it. He is a Darcy, he would never be happy to see his good name blemished by your sister's marriage to his steward's son." He stood up and paced across the room to the window. Then I knew that he was more annoyed than he appeared. There, he was trying to regain control of his emotions, to appear as a perfectly emotionless Darcy to the rest of the world.
I knew he was right. Once again I thought about my husband's poor sister, Mrs Harris, of whom they never spoke following her shameful marriage. I knew that he was right, and I had to admit that my husband, so slow to accept me and my unfortunate birth, would never change, despite what he had said a few days earlier. Chilled, I suddenly found myself admitting into the uncomfortable moments of silence. "Jane... does not love him."
"And yet she tolerates behaviour like his anyway. Only a woman in love or fool enough to desire such a marriage would even consider allowing him the liberties she does. Whether she loves him or not, it shall be remarked upon."
"Is that all you care about? Jane allows it, because it is not in her nature to see any malice in his manners, and indeed I do not see that he means any harm in it either. I truly think he is in love with her. Is that so very inconceivable?"
"In him, yes. Yes it is." I looked at him with a sad shake of my head. It was not Mr Wickham, I was sure, who was incapable, but my son-in-law. His every word to me confirmed it: his strident and unswerving belief that money and connections remained the key to everything; the arrogant assumption that Jane and Wickham's lack of fortune made them an impossible, inconsiderable match. This, this was what the pride that had been instilled in him had brought about. An emotionless man.
"He was your friend." I whispered horrified.
"Until I saw the truth of him, yes he was." Once again he was disclaiming Mr Wickham's honour. As he said it, my mind returned to his curious visit to the Wainwrights' cottage.
"What were you doing at the Wainwrights' on Monday?" He looked thunderstruck by the sudden turn the conversation had taken.
"Alice has, no doubt, already answered that." He regained some of his aplomb and succinctly avoided the question.
"Perhaps I would just like your account." I sighed, with disinterest, determined not to make him aware of my frustration. Sometimes I had the strangest feeling that he liked to wind me up.
"As I told my father, I had some calls to make." He looked me straight in the eye as he said it. Clearly, it was the truth. For a second I held his gaze before looking away.
"I cannot imagine how Alice would come to be involved in these calls." The implication, despite attempts to restrain it, was heavy in my voice. He knew precisely where my thoughts had led me.
"She was not," he stated clearly, "I had some business with Wainwright." His tone was chilly, undoubtedly offended by my accusations. That his response so neatly coincided with Alice's own somehow only managed to increase my suspicion, rather than relieve it.
"Yet you went inside, even though he was not there?"
"I am not in the habit of bandying about my business in the middle of the lane." He proudly drew himself up in his seat. I glared back with icy eyes. He must have seen my disbelief, for he changed tact. "Very well, she offered me refreshments and I accepted. I was curious to see how she and the baby faired."
While I still had the sense that he was not speaking the absolute truth, in essence I was convinced enough that there was nothing underhanded or suspicious about his visit to the Wainwrights, even if he would not tell me. Feeling embarrassed that he was now aware of my groundless fancies, I stood up from the sofa. "Excuse me, I must go and see to Jane and Mr Wickham."
"Yes," he agreed, "you should keep an eye on him." I could not be bothered to even ask him what he meant by that.
Posted on September 1, 2008
"Why Alice! What do you do here?" I called out, surprised to see my old maid standing outside my husband's study, dressed in her best. She had not entered the house since the day of her wedding; there was no reason for her to ever be here again. If I had thought my son-in-law's call on her odd, it was suddenly nothing to this intriguing occurrence. What would she have to say? I may have asked but for her timid little bob and murmur of my name. It was as if we were not acquainted; that she was nothing more than a humble tenant's wife, and I the lofty mistress of an estate, not the keeper of some of my more intimate secrets.
The door to the study opened, and both Mr Wickham and my-son-in-law stepped out. "Ah Mrs Darcy!" Wickham cried jovially. His eye then turned to Alice, who was engrossed in the study of a painting, "And your maid, charming."
"Alice is not my maid anymore, Mr Wickham. She is married." I offered innocently.
"Is she indeed?" he asked, though he did not sound earnestly interested in the knowledge.
"Yes, and she has a child, my goddaughter." I informed him cheerfully. Wickham blinked at the information, but said nothing more on the matter.
"Alice," my son-in-law interrupted, with a cutting glare in my direction, "my father shall see you now." Alice jumped at the address and scurried past without so much as a glance at either Wickham or myself. She appeared so grateful to be gone that again I puzzled over her. Why so nervous in a place that had been her only home for so many years? How I longed to listen at the door.
I saw nothing more of the study's two guests that day, or its usual inhabitant. I did not question it. Alice could hardly have dropped in and made a social call. My husband, much occupied with business and greatly out of sorts, often failed to appear at meal times. And to his son, well, it was difficult to either regret or notice his stoic company. I was happier alone, or in company with my sisters than the two men.
What did shock me, was that I never saw Mr Wickham, either that day or any other that followed. This is not to say that I never encountered him again; but he just vanished, without taking any leave of either Jane or myself. It was this snubbing of Jane that confused me the most. For a man who had appeared to be so much in love with her, a man of honour and decorum no less, to depart with no promise to return or expression of regret over his departure was odd indeed.
In her own way, Jane too, was sorry to see him go. She confessed to me with mortification that she was glad to be spared the discomfort of any serious discussion with him, especially when she would be obliged to disoblige his wishes, but she could regret his company. It must have been dull for her to be at Pemberley, her mother always sick and withdrawn, her youngest sisters at lessons and me much occupied with running an estate. Pemberley had little liveliness to offer. Mr Wickham though, whether infatuated with her or not, would have always had some amusement at hand.
My husband's mood, which had been grave for some time, became darker still. He shunned us at meals and in the evenings, locking himself away in the study. When Georgiana did receive a reply to her questioning, he simply said that there was much business. Briefly, I wondered if there was some financial trouble. In the year that had passed since my arrival, money had been thrown around lavishly, and I had little concept of how far ten thousand a year could truly stretch.
On the infrequent occasions he did appear in my company, my husband was silent and brooding. I knew that it could not be me that was the cause of this anger. I had troubled him plenty in the course of our marriage, and I had never seen him in such a black humour. Besides, I could not think of anything I had done that was at fault. No, though he avoided my company, I was certain that it was not that he wished to avoid me particularly.
The whole affair was quite bizarre. His withdrawal made me realise just how much I had come to depend upon his company. Of his family, he was the only member I found to be tolerable. He was, to be sure, not a lively man now, nor an especially witty man; and were circumstances different, I would not seek out his company. But he was clever, and more accepting than either of his children.
What I could not fail to notice, when in his company, that he and his son seemed cautious of the other. Before, while naturally there were little causes for exasperation, there had been a cordial and trusting relationship, with my husband evidently proud of his son, and a son who greatly admired his father. They were neither of them great talkers, but the resentful silence that now tensely emanated from the pair made them appear as enemies, not relatives. Something, I knew, had occurred between them.
Mr Wickham, I assumed, had left to be about his studies1. When I asked my husband if it was the case, he had replied with a grunt... I took this to be an affirmation.
Thus, once again, Pemberley passed into quiet, with little to occupy our minds or lives. The only gossip of any note was the arrival of a newly ordained curate named Thursfield, who had taken up lodgings in Kympton; and the scandalous affair of a maid at Pemberley, who had found herself with child. As we had the year before, it was arranged that she would be married to a tenant.
Not long after Mr Wickham's precipitated departure, the younger Darcy followed suit. His father, speaking to him for the first time in many days, informed him that he would be expected in Town for the season. My son-in-law, who was never fond of society, and the previous year had delayed his departure for as long as possible, looked about to object. It was only early February, and London would not be busy for many weeks. But his father spoke before him. "I shall brook no argument, Fitzwilliam; the Grimstons left last week." He looked hard at his son, eyes full of reproach.
In a matter of days, my son-in-law had been shipped off to London and the company of the ever so charming Miss Grimston. Mama was naturally distressed by the news, for in her heart, she still dearly cherished the idea that one day Jane and the younger Darcy would be united, and thus secure her at Pemberley to the end of her days. How she moped and fretted to hear that my husband had sent his son in pursuit of the universally acknowledged, 'charming Grimston Girl.' "Oh Lizzy, you and Mr Darcy must take Jane to Town for the season!" she cried. Knowing that Jane's most fearsome competition would gain months worth of ground there, and without a care for our position. Jane dutifully and patiently reminded her of it. "Oh, your father, how he loved to vex me!" She had wailed in response to this piece of sage wisdom.
Although we had decried her demand to journey to town, Mama's memory of society would not be laid to rest. With so little going on at the house and its district, she had little gossip to occupy her mind. This left her with a great deal of time to contemplate another favourite topic: the marriage of her unattached daughters; albeit that three were too young for such schemes. "It is never too soon to begin planning." she told me once. The warning to plan for the future may have been her only wisdom.
She reminded me in March, as my sisters and I made the transition from full to half mourning, that in only three months, we would be free to do as we would again. More importantly, I ought to remember my duty to her and my sisters and find them all suitable husbands. "No more of your wild ideas either, Miss Lizzy!" she scolded, "No stewards sons and no curates, though Mr Thursfield may be so particularly handsome."
Mama, though, was not the only one to being to think of such things once more. My husband, too, was determined to see me re-enter local society. His resolve was strengthened when at the end of the Season, his son returned home, once more unwed. His only relief stemmed from the knowledge that there was no mention of the Grimston Girl's being engaged either, though she had been the toast of the Season, and courted by many. "Hogging all those men to herself, that is really very selfish." cried Lydia, when Georgiana imparted tales from the society columns in the papers to her and Kitty.
Diana Grimston, my husband had decreed, was the woman upon whom all the future happiness of his son, would rest. A girl, the granddaughter of an knight, and only child of a recently widowed neighbour, was eminently qualified for the position of the future Mistress of Pemberley. More importantly still, I was instructed to welcome her with open arms into my own intimate circles when the time came for our acquaintance to be made. I was supposed to feel flattered to be entrusted with such a pivotal role in the delicate operation of uniting the pair.
My husband and Mama had their own rather similar motives for wanting to see me out and about again. Sophie, Lady St Vincent, surprised me by being of a like mind. "Oh," she had giggled, "you had best make an appearance, or they shall all start rattling away about how your husband is ashamed of your provincial ways. We must show them you are not some little milk-in-first miss. Besides, company is utterly intolerable without you." She sat up a little straighter, "We must go shopping."
My own shoulders slumped; more dresses! "Goodness, yes my dear! You are all outdated again, and you are grown taller. Your Jane shall need some too, I would imagine. Oh, but we should find her a husband. Have you met Henry Parkin yet? So dashing!" She continued to giggle.
Somehow, she persuaded my husband to allow her to take me to Lichfield, where the shops were the finest in the region, and served the gentry of Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. "Wait until you see Trings, Lizzy. I buy all my bonnets from there." I had never known anybody as enthusiastic about the mere prospect of shopping as Sophie. "Pretty girls do not cry, they shop." she told me seriously one afternoon when I teased her of it.
There was nearly fifty miles between Lichfield and Pemberley, so we were obliged to set out very early, dozing in the carriage until we stopped at The George2 for lunch. Sophie, I noticed, was welcomed warmly by the landlord, for she was a regular customer at the place. As we ate a meal of cold meats and salad, I asked, "What do you know of Miss Grimston?" Sophie had been permitted to spend the season in Town by her husband that year.
"What do I not know of Miss Grimston, is perhaps the question you mean to ask." She laughed. "I have never in my life heard anybody so without scandal, talked of so much."
"Are you jealous of her, Sophie?" I teased.
"Oh, naturally, my dear! Now that she is come to Derbyshire, she shall be more eponymous than I, all because she is so pretty. What a relief that shall be to me. Goodness, I almost hope she does marry your Fitzwilliam, for otherwise she might move out of the area, and then where will we all be?"
"Mr Darcy has requested that I be nice to her." I went from laughing to glum in a heartbeat.
She laughed again, "Are you courting her for him? Well, I suppose he needs all the help he can get. He is a little... reticent, shall we say? But no matter, the whole world knows that it is he she wants to marry."
"What can you mean, Sophie? I thought she was without scandal?"
"She could have married a duke or a marquis is all I shall say. Yet she did not."
‘Fashionably late,' was how Sophie termed the arrival of our honoured guests, the Grimstons. Downright rude, I called it. I had been obliged to speak with cook once already and ask her to delay dinner; yet they breezed through the doorway, pausing long enough to be announced. The other young ladies instantly turned to remark upon Miss Grimston's dress. The eyes of the lady in question flickered briefly in our direction; except for a slight twitch about the corners of her mouth, she gave no indication of having noticed their actions.
My husband, having dragged Mr Grimston away on the pretext of business, left it up to his son to introduce me to his future bride and her frail old grandmother. "Lady Grimston," he turned to the most senior of the party, "Miss Grimston, allow me to introduce Mrs Darcy and her sister, Miss Bennet. Ladies," he then looked at me and Jane, "Lady Grimston and her granddaughter, Miss Grimston."
"Charmed." Lady Grimston murmured, making little attempt to bow. I could only hope she suffered rheumatics. She took a seat next to Lady Conrad, saying nothing. Lady Grimston was too old for Society, I once heard her say, but for Diana, she would have saved herself the irksome bother of it all.
"Mrs Darcy, a pleasure to meet you. Your son has told me so much about you." She languidly lowered herself into the seat next to plain Cynthia Neville. "Ah Miss Neville, you are back from town at last. You must tell me, since it was only my first, how it compared with other seasons." She smiled. Then turned to address me, "Miss Neville is something of a connoisseur, you see, Mrs Darcy, she has had five already."
"Why spoil the anticipation, Miss Grimston?" Sophie asked, "Next year shall be your second, making you just as experienced amongst the young ladies."
"That is precisely what I was thinking, Lady St Vincent. I should like to be prepared to answer when they should ask." She returned gravely. "Mr Darcy, would you be so good as to fetch me some refreshments?" she asked my son-in-law. Turning to the other ladies, she added, "I am absolutely parched, our carriage took forever getting here, did it not, Grandmamma?"
"No, my dear, I think you were just impatient to be here." Her grandmother replied with a smile.
"Oh, but I was. I have been talking about this since we received your invitation, Mrs Darcy. I have been so eager to meet you. Have I not, Grandmamma?"
Lady Grimston replied in a short affirmative, "And I do think Pemberley is the dearest of places, such a pretty little house." she added. Seeing that her drink had arrived, she smiled wistfully, "It must be so lovely living here."
There was the briefest lull in conversation before one of the younger girls spoke up, "Miss Grimston, your dress is beautiful. You must tell us who made it." The dress was certainly beautiful, it would not have looked out of place in a ballroom.
"I commissioned Madame Lanchester just before leaving town. You know, I had a gown very similar to yours two or three years ago, it was quite a favourite." The young lady who had addressed Miss Grimston flushed, and beamed with evident pleasure at owning a gown like one the famous Grimston Girl once possessed.
Dinner was soon announced, and Miss Grimston sought the arm of her future intended. "Grandmamma, Grandmamma, dinner is ready at last. Come, here is Mr Darcy to escort you and I. Grandmamma is a little hard of hearing, Mrs Darcy." she added, addressing me in a hushed tone.
Miss Grimston was a great talker, I observed at dinner. It was most fortunate, since her dinner partner was so taciturn in disposition. She spoke enough for two of them. The perfect match, they complimented one another perfectly. She talked of the theatre and the museum, and even one of Mr Davy's public demonstrations she had attended. She made very little mention of balls. When the young lady seated opposite her raised the subject, she stated that she found little interest in balls; though she had naturally attended many.
Perhaps it was refreshing to meet such a very cultured young lady? For cultured Miss Grimston certainly was; not to mention well educated. She had attended a good school where she had been most successfully screwed out of health and into vanity. In short, she was an exemplary pupil, having mastered all the usual accomplishments and more. Among other things, her vast knowledge was widely remarked upon by many. Nobody, though, would ever have contemplated calling her a bluestocking.
She was the last of the ladies to withdraw after dinner. She delayed a few seconds to remark upon something or another to Fitzwilliam Darcy. Thus, she was forced to take the empty seat next to Jane. As I looked between the pair of them, it was hard to decide who was the more beautiful. Miss Grimston was a little taller, a little slimmer and she exuded a confident air that Jane did not, there was a surety in her every movement, every word. Even as she sat there completely still, she looked more like she belonged than Jane did. But Jane's lack of conceit was endearing. "Have you ever been to Town, Miss Bennet?" she demanded to know.
"No, my father was not fond of Town." Jane responded quietly.
"Then how did you ever meet your husband, Mrs Darcy? You are not a local of Derbyshire."
"He was passing through Hertfordshire." I replied evasively.
"Oh! You are from Hertfordshire. We have some relatives in Hertfordshire, do you know the Viscount?" I could only answer the inquiry in a way that dissatisfied her. She fell silent again.
It was not long before the gentleman joined us again. No doubt, my husband was eager to have his son returned to the company of a particular lady. Jane and I dutifully poured tea and coffee for our guests, while they amused themselves with conversation. We had barely sat down to enjoy our own when Miss Grimston turned to Jane, again seated next to her, and asked, "Do you play, Miss Bennet?" Jane owned that she did not.
"Diana plays remarkably well." Lady Grimston, who remained silent unless otherwise addressed, offered unexpectedly. "One ought not boast, but everybody says how beautifully she plays and sings."
"Perhaps you would be so good as to play for us, Miss Grimston." I recited, knowing that it was expected.
"How kind of you, Mrs Darcy. I would be delighted. Mr Darcy, you must turn pages for me. I have been practicing a new piece all week. I hope you shall like it." Standing up, she took his arm and swept him across the room. Rifling through the music that had been left out, she sighed, "Bother, I cannot find the piece here. Never mind, I shall attempt to play it from memory." she trilled gaily. Sitting down at the instrument, she played a few notes, whether to examine the tuning or to attract the room's attention, I was unsure. Then, after this little performance, she began the true one.
That your greeting in return
Met my greeting halfway even
And your lips did likewise yearn
To return my kisses given,
Then, o heavens, without thought
Would my heart be brightly flaming!
Life and limb be not for nought
At disposal of your claiming!
Favour shown is favour found,
Given love will be returning
And inflames a fire unbound
Where just cinders would be burning.3
As she was playing, Sophie turned to me with a whisper, "So, now you have met the famous Miss Grimston, what do you think of her?"
"She seems very sure of herself."
"Hmm, yes. Brassy, I should say. Goodness, look at her dress, Zonas Bands, at dinner!" She was utterly outraged by the much admired dress.
Miss Grimston delighted the room with another two songs after the first one before being accompanied over to her father, who was speaking with my husband. The three were only stood in conversation for very few seconds before my husband approached, "Elizabeth, do you have cards planned for this evening? I think our guests would enjoy a game."
It seemed that most of our guests were indeed eager for cards. All their attention was quickly engrossed in the games that were laid out. Even the young ladies, who had been eager to exhibit on the pianoforte, soon joined various tables. The older gentlemen had a table to themselves. The younger, unmarried men spread out amongst the ladies, some helping their mothers, others had fairer partners. My son-in-law was partnering Miss Grimston at Whist.
Their game, I found to be far more interesting that my own. For a woman noted for her accomplishments and intelligence, she appeared to need a great deal of help with the game, continually deferring to Darcy's wishes and asking his opinions. Her meekness in dealing with Darcy would no doubt suit him very well in the future. I knew how high handed he could be, but, I also wondered how long she would bear under it. Everything I had heard and seen of her contradicted her submission to Darcy. She was the darling of the ton, the girl who every other looked to follow. She seemed perfectly content in it for now, though. That much I could state with absolute certainty, for my eyes were so often drawn to their side of the room, as to make my play quite unsuccessful.