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Posted on 2011-10-30
Consider the enormous part that chance plays in our lives. A minute difference in circumstances, or some seemingly innocuous event, might well cause our life to unfold in an entirely different way.
Take for example the wholly unexpected meeting of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy at Pemberley - consider how very different their lives would have been, had it not taken place. What if Elizabeth had not spent quite so long contemplating Darcy's portrait in the picture-gallery, and had set out with the Gardiners on their tour of the grounds just a little sooner... or if Darcy had arrived home just a few minutes later...?
This tale departs from the original story at a much later point - very close to the end. The point of departure is on account of another chance meeting of two persons. One of them is a young lady by the name of Mary King, whose uncle, with whom she resides in Liverpool, has brought her to London with him, where he has business. The other is George Wickham, who, upon recognising Miss King in the street, surreptitiously passes her a message, resulting in a clandestine meeting, a renewal of the fondest affections, and a speedy departure for Gretna Green - all of this before Darcy has been able to discover where Wickham and Lydia are lodging.
Consequently, Darcy has nothing to report to Mr Gardiner, and hence no reason to meet with that gentleman, who in turn sends no express to Mr Bennet in Longbourn, where the mood remains low, and Mrs Bennet remains above stairs in her apartments - blaming all the world, except herself, for the great misfortune which has befallen her favourite, who now seems lost to them forever.
Mr Bennet found himself able to endure his lady's self-imposed seclusion with remarkable good grace, and might have happily habituated himself to a quieter and more sensible table and sitting room had not his wife been stirred from her invalid's bed by news from her sister, Mrs Phillips, that the housekeeper at Netherfield was preparing for the arrival of her master, who was coming down to shoot.
Lydia was forgotten, as Mrs Bennet occupied herself with hopes and schemes for her eldest daughter - in which she was not disappointed. Mr Bingley came - with that unpleasant Mr Darcy - to wait upon the ladies; and a few days later, the same two gentlemen dined at Longbourn; and not many days afterwards, to her mother's maternal ecstasy, Jane was betrothed to Mr Bingley.
Due to the persistent whispers in the neighbourhood concerning Lydia's failed elopement and her subsequent abandonment in London by Mr Wickham, Jane was considered fortunate, indeed, to be engaged to so fine, and wealthy, a gentleman as Mr Bingley; however, the suggestion that the arrogant Mr Darcy might equally overlook such a blemish upon the name of Bennet, seemed improbable, indeed. Thus, there were no rumours in circulation linking the name of the second Miss Bennet with that of Mr Bingley's friend, and consequently, no alarming report to that effect reached Lady Catherine concerning her nephew; and Elizabeth was thus spared the unpleasant visit and acrimonious words of the great lady.
It would seem that, in spite of the chance meeting in London between Miss King and Mr Wickham, everything is proceeding very much as anticipated... but, will it continue to do so? Read on…
While the happy news of the engagement of her eldest daughter had driven all care and concern of the fate of her youngest from Mrs Bennet's mind, it was not so for her two eldest daughters, who, in the absence of the least bit of news concerning Lydia, could not help but fear the worst for what she must presently be suffering, and feel all the shame of a sister thus degraded.
Charles Bingley was pained to see his beloved Jane suffering on account of her sister, and most especially at this auspicious time in her life when she should be full of carefree joy and felicity; in consequence of which he was provoked to break a confidence.
"Dearest Jane, it grieves me to see you suffer so - most especially because I know that the belief which causes your suffering is wholly incorrect," he said to her while they were strolling alone in the garden at Longbourn.
"What are you speaking of, Charles? Am I mistaken in believing that my sister, Lydia, is... lost? Do you have some intelligence concerning her?"
Bingley sighed and nodded. "I do; but it is something that I am not authorised to repeat."
"I would prefer that you keep silent, rather than behave dishonourably."
"Ever since I learned of it, my mind has been torn between speech and silence. On the whole, I believe it would be more dishonourable to allow you and your family to continue to suffer unnecessarily. Yes - I am determined to set your mind at rest on the matter! My dear Jane, your sister is alive and well. She is secluded in the country in comfortable circumstances, and is in the care of respectable people."
Jane gasped; after some moments of silence she asked, "Are you quite certain, Charles?"
"Though I know none of the particulars; nothing more than what I have just spoken - neither her location, nor the identity of her present companions - I have the utmost confidence in my source, whose name I cannot reveal."
"Nor shall I ask it, or anything else related to the matter, for I suppose that it was told to you in confidence," said Jane, distressed that Bingley had broken a confidence for her sake, and yet enormously relieved to hear the comforting news. "I know it is very wrong of me to make such a request, but would you mind very much if I was to tell it to my dear parents and sisters, for I know it would lift an enormous burden of worry and shame from them all."
"Of course, my dear, it would be cruel to do otherwise, but it must go no further; and I request that you do not reveal from whom you heard the news - only that it may be entirely relied upon."
"Thank you, Charles, you are kindness and consideration itself," said Jane, rewarding him with a joyous smile, the likes of which he had not very often seen play upon her beautiful face in recent days.
Jane was more than happy to conceal the identity of her source when she gave the comforting news of Lydia to her parents and sisters, for it would spare Bingley a great deal of awkwardness, and very likely the embarrassment of being applied to for further details by her mother.
Her sister, Elizabeth, however, had very little difficulty in guessing from whom the intelligence originated. On a sunny afternoon while the two eldest Miss Bennets were strolling in the flower garden, Elizabeth said, "I believe I have guessed the person under whose protection our sister, Lydia, is now sheltered."
"Who do you think it can be, Lizzy, for I have not the least idea?"
"Oh, it is mere speculation - and yet I believe it is very probably correct. To begin with, I strongly suspect that your information came from Mr Bingley."
Jane let out a gasp, and turned away to deny her perceptive sister the opportunity of observing her reddened cheeks.
"Unless you secretly received a letter in the past few days, of which the whole family is entirely ignorant, there is no other plausible source from which it might have come."
Were Elizabeth in need of confirmation of her surmise, her sister's embarrassed silence and refusal to meet her gaze were evidence enough.
"Fear not, Jane, I shall breathe not a word of my suspicions to a single soul - nor shall I press you for confirmation. I imagine that Mr Bingley has begged you not to reveal him as being the source - and I perfectly comprehend his desire. However, for the sake of argument, let us assume that I am correct in my conjecture, as to the source of your information. From there proceeds the question of who, in turn, is Mr Bingley's source?"
"Of that I have not the least idea - assuming your original conjecture is correct," added Jane quickly.
"But I do. I believe it is Mr Darcy."
"Mr Darcy?" exclaimed Jane, "What leads you to suspect it could be him?"
"Who else might Mr Bingley have heard it from? He has been in Hertfordshire for the past fortnight. Had he heard it in town and known it all this time, he would very likely have told you sooner. If the information concerning Lydia came from the neighbourhood, we would have heard rumours of it long ago."
"Bingley might have received it in a letter."
"Yes, it is possible, but why would anyone think to write to Mr Bingley with intelligence concerning Lydia?" asked Elizabeth. "What business could it possibly be of his?"
Jane shook her head. "Lizzy, I have the strongest impression that Bingley's source had reason to wish to keep the information secret. Bingley knows no more of the matter than he recounted to me, and which I, in turn, told my parents and sisters. Though he was given the information in confidence, comprehending my anxiety concerning Lydia, he was unable to withhold it from me."
"He is compassion and kindness itself; and I shall think more rather than less of him in consequence. It shows his love for you is greater than his fear of the disapprobation of his friend."
"I wonder that Mr Darcy told him at all," continued Elizabeth, "for he knows his friend's character well enough to suspect that the temptation to divulge it might be too great. I wonder...?"
"Could it be that Mr Darcy secretly wished that Mr Bingley should pass on the information?" pondered Elizabeth.
"Perhaps - it is impossible to know," said Jane, shaking her head. "What I cannot understand is the need for secrecy. Surely, if Mr Darcy is in possession of good news concerning Lydia, he would wish for her whole family to know of it. He must be well aware of how troubled and perturbed we are on Lydia's account."
"That is precisely the question that perplexes me," said Elizabeth. "And why would he provide so little information? There is nothing about where she is now living, with whom, or of what were the circumstances that preceded her present situation; nor any explanation of how she arrived in her current secure state after being abandoned, presumably penniless, by George Wickham."
"Perhaps Mr Darcy is not privy to further information? Perhaps he, himself, had no direct knowledge of our sister's affairs, and the intelligence he provided to Bingley came from another - perhaps the very person who was responsible for it all?"
"Or perhaps that person is Mr Darcy, himself?" conjectured Elizabeth. "I have a strong suspicion that it is. He behaved most awkwardly on the two occasions he was lately in Longbourn; I was quite at a loss to understand his exceedingly reserved behaviour."
"But, Lizzy, if it was Mr Darcy, then he must know everything! Why ever would he wish to conceal the information from our family, whom, he must be aware, are deeply anxious to know the all of what has befallen Lydia since she left Brighton?"
"I have not the least idea," replied Elizabeth, shaking her head.
"Well I do!" said their mother, emerging from behind the hedge.
"Mamma!" exclaimed the two sisters in surprise and embarrassment, suspecting that their mother had been listening to their conversation for a good while.
Heedless of her blatant breach of propriety, Mrs Bennet continued, "It does you both credit, I suppose, to be so innocent in the ways of the world."
"Whatever do you mean, Mamma?" asked Jane.
"Only, that if Mr Darcy has something to hide from the world concerning his behaviour towards my poor Lydia, then you may be certain that it is to conceal his own guilt in the matter! No gentleman would take a pretty young girl, to whom he was wholly unconnected, under his protection unless his motives were of the most disreputable kind."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Jane, "I cannot believe it of him."
"Nor I!" agreed Elizabeth.
"Rich men like Mr Darcy behave as they please - without a thought for the harm they do to a poor girl like my dear Lydia. That disgraceful man - he had better not dare to show his face at Longbourn again, or I shall not be responsible for what I say to him!"
"Mamma," pleaded Jane, "we know nothing for certain."
"Jane is correct, Mamma, our conversation was all idle fancy and conjecture - there is absolutely no evidence of Mr Darcy being involved in any way with Lydia."
"Oh, yes there is! I knew from the start what sort of man he was! From the very moment that I first set eyes on him, at the Meryton assembly, I knew he was a man not to be trusted! But would anyone listen to me? Well now you see what it has come to - and how right I was all along!"
Elizabeth was most uneasy following her conversation with her mother, whom she feared was bent upon spreading wild stories about Mr Darcy throughout the neighbourhood. Seeking out her father in his library, she related to him the pertinent points of what had transpired, and begged him to prevent her mother from blackening Mr Darcy's name.
"I have never had any great success in prevailing upon your mother to behave sensibly in such circumstances - or in any other circumstances, for that matter - and I doubt very much that my cautions would have the least effect upon her in this instance."
"But Father, how shocking it will be if my mother should tarnish Mr Darcy's name in the district - consider how uncomfortable it would be for him to spend any great length of time with his friend, Mr Bingley, at Netherfield, or to show his face in the neighbourhood."
Mr Bennet laughed. "I doubt very much that so proud a man as Mr Darcy would entertain the smallest concern for the opinion of those whom he doubtless deems to be so very far beneath himself. In any case, the regard in which he is held hereabouts is already so low that it could hardly sink very much further."
Elizabeth was greatly pained by her father's comments, and the injustice of the general view of Mr Darcy's character, which she knew to be entirely false.
"Do not trouble yourself, my dear, about your mother spreading malicious gossip; for its very source must necessarily devalue any reliance upon its veracity."
"Then you give no credence to my mother's abominable assertions concerning Mr Darcy?"
Mr Bennet stroked his chin and considered the matter for some time before replying. "I must say that upon learning that Lydia had been abandoned by that rogue, Wickham, I could comprehend no more favourable an outcome for my foolish daughter than a short life of the greatest ill-repute and misery in London. Her shame must be so great as to prevent her from wishing to return to her family, or to contact any of her former acquaintances. If Mr Bingley is correct in his belief that your sister has been rescued from such a fate, and is now safely secluded in the country, then the only possible explanation is that she has been taken under the protection of a gentleman of some means - and one can hardly doubt as to what purpose. I believe your reasoning as to the identity of the gentleman is very likely correct."
"In Lydia's fallen circumstances, it is the very best that could have been hoped for. I think we must be thankful for small mercies."
"But... I cannot believe it of him... I would have expected far better of Mr Darcy!"
"I fear you are innocent in the ways of the world, my dear. It is not at all uncommon for a gentleman of means to keep a pretty young mistress. Mr Darcy did not seduce Lydia; and it would appear that he has saved her from a terrible fate. Your sister would be fortunate, indeed, to be taken under his protection."
Charles Bingley, who was now a daily visitor to Longbourn, confided in Jane, who very soon told it to Elizabeth, that Mr Darcy was returned to Netherfield, having concluded his business in town. His failure to call upon them at Longbourn, Bingley hinted, was not intended as a slight to the Bennets, but arose rather from his desire to avoid embarrassment, in light of a certain rumour presently circulating in the neighbourhood.
Elizabeth was well aware of the liberally embellished story concerning Mr Darcy's lecherous behaviour to which his friend had alluded, and from whence it had originated. She hoped, rather than believed, that its subject was at least ignorant of the source. Elizabeth did not know whether she was more disappointed or relieved that Mr Darcy would not come again to Longbourn.
She had relived her meetings with him in Derbyshire many times over, as she lay awake at night, and could arrive at no other conclusion than that he had forgiven her the angry and unjust rejection of his addresses in Kent, and, against all expectations, he still loved her. All his actions in Derbyshire had spoken of it: his eagerness to introduce her to his sister and the warmth and passion of all his looks. What other explanation could there be for him riding to Lambton on the very morning that Jane's alarming letters concerning Lydia had arrived, other than to renew his addresses?
But rather than her hearing his addresses, he had heard of the shame and disgrace of Lydia's elopement with Wickham. After the news of her sister's abandonment, Elizabeth had given up all hope of ever seeing Mr Darcy again, and had been astonished when he had returned into Hertfordshire with his friend. Had he come despite her - or because of her? She had dared not hope. But when he had come to Longbourn with Mr Bingley to call on them, she had allowed herself to believe it must be the latter.
In what other way was it possible to comprehend his return into Hertfordshire with Mr Bingley, if it was not with the resolve of renewing his addresses? But then he had behaved so very awkwardly, and without any of that openness and warmth he had shown in Derbyshire - both during the morning visit to Longbourn, and when he had come with his friend to dine with them. In consequence, Elizabeth had reconciled herself to the loss of Mr Darcy's regard - all hope seemed finally gone.
Then came the news from Mr Bingley that Lydia was safely secluded in the country - and the suspicion that it was Mr Darcy's doing; and furthermore, that his reason for furnishing his friend with the intelligence concerning Lydia was in order to allay his concerns over the propriety of a connection with the Bennets. And if, indeed, it had been Mr Darcy's desire to undo his previous mischief in separating his friend from Jane, by now forwarding a match between them, Elizabeth wondered if, in concert with his rescue of Lydia, it was done, in some measure, to please herself. Thus did Elizabeth allow herself to once again believe that Mr Darcy might yet care for her, and that a second proposal was not beyond the realm of possibility. Of her own feelings, and the joy with which she would receive it, she was no longer in any doubt.
But then came the shocking accusations of her mother, which cast Mr Darcy's actions in an entirely different light. Elizabeth had refused to believe him capable of such disgraceful, libertine behaviour; which if true, must cast doubt upon the likelihood of him paying her his addresses - and ensure the certainty of them being rejected.
And her father, whose opinions she had always respected, and whose knowledge of the world was far greater than her own, appeared to concur with her mother in the matter. Elizabeth very much hoped that he was wrong, and consoled herself with the recollection that her father was entirely ignorant of Mr Darcy's feelings for her. He knew nothing of events in Kent and Derbyshire, which suggested the possibility of an entirely different motive from the one he had attributed to Mr Darcy for wishing to save Lydia. Should she trust her father's greater wisdom - or her own feelings? Elizabeth found it impossible to decide, and with Mr Darcy avoiding Longbourn, on account of her mother's rumours, there seemed little chance of an opportunity to converse with him, or any hope of uncovering the truth concerning Lydia.
Chapter Two - An Unexpected Cousin
Posted on 2011-10-30
Elizabeth was fortunate in that an opportunity of speaking with Mr Darcy very soon presented itself, for Jane was invited to take tea at Netherfield, and Bingley had requested that Elizabeth should come as her companion.
"I do not see why the invitation could not have included myself, and all of your sisters," exclaimed Mrs Bennet. "I am most eager to make a thorough inspection of Netherfield House and examine all the rooms over which you shall very soon preside, my dear, fortunate, Jane."
"I am certain that Bingley meant no offence, Mamma, and must greatly regret his present inability to invite us all," explained Jane, "but without ladies in the house, it would be exceedingly difficult for him to entertain a large party. At present, there is only Bingley and his friend, Mr Darcy, at Netherfield."
"Good heavens! Mr Darcy! I had quite forgotten that the blackguard would there! I would not wish, for all the world, to be in the same house as that disreputable man, who has been the means of ruining my poor Lydia! Lizzy, I think it most unwise of you to go - as an unmarried lady you must consider your reputation - I fear that you risk compromising it, simply by being in the company of such a scoundrel. He is the worst kind of rake! I shall not trust him with any of my daughters - Lizzy, you may not go!"
"Mamma," exclaimed Elizabeth, struggling to suppress her laughter, "I believe I am quite capable of taking tea at Netherfield without succumbing to Mr Darcy's seductions; and since Mr Bingley and Jane shall be there, also, there can be no cause for suspicion regarding my good character."
"Lizzy shall be in no danger, I am quite certain of it, Mamma," entreated Jane. "And it might be seen as improper for me to go alone - and indeed I should not like to do so. I am certain it must be the very reason why Bingley thought to invite my sister to accompany me."
Elizabeth suspected - or at least hoped - that it was Mr Darcy who was responsible for her being invited - and possibly for the entire scheme. For without ladies in the house, Mr Bingley would have some difficulty with the arrangements.
Mr Bingley sent his carriage to bring the sisters to Netherfield; and as they were travelling, Elizabeth asked Jane if she had received any letter of congratulations from Caroline Bingley.
Jane shook her head. "No, and neither has Bingley. I fear that she does not look favourably upon the match."
"And very likely counselled her brother, in the most forthright terms, on the great evil he was doing to their family's reputation by marrying you," replied Elizabeth wryly.
"Yes, although Bingley has not been explicit, I have gained that impression. I do so dislike being the means of causing estrangement between brother and sister."
"Do not blame yourself, Jane! And I am quite certain that the breach will soon be healed - for I had the impression, from something Miss Bingley said while I was staying at Netherfield last year, during your illness, that she very often exceeds her allowance and is obliged to apply to her brother for assistance. Caroline is far too shrewd to do anything that might cause her to forfeit so valuable a resource. I am certain that she will very soon arrive at Netherfield - if she is not already there - and will declare herself delighted to have you as a sister, and shower you with as much insincere affection as ever she did."
Jane smiled, but made no reply, for they had entered the grounds of Netherfield Park and were approaching the front of the house, where stood its master, eagerly awaiting their arrival.
After greeting them both with warmth and sincerity, he said, "I must apologise for the absence of ladies. I had hoped my sister, Caroline, would have arrived by now. I expect her any day, for she has agreed to keep house for me, and preside over my table... until I am married, of course," he added, smiling affectionately at Jane. Then, offering an arm to each lady, he led them inside and conducted them to an elegant sitting room where a table was laid out for tea.
Mr Darcy closed the book he had been reading, and rising from the sofa, bowed to the ladies, and greeted them with some warmth. Elizabeth observed a measure of embarrassment in his manner, which, though he struggled, he did not entirely succeed in overcoming. Elizabeth asked after his sister, and he spoke fondly of her, recounting some part of a letter of hers that he had but recently received.
When the tea was finished, Mr Bingley expressed a desire to take a turn in the park, and they were soon strolling in the muted sunshine of a lovely autumn afternoon. Mr Bingley and Jane walked arm in arm, followed by Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Upon entering the woods, which were colourfully dressed in their autumn livery, the narrowness of the leaf-strewn path obliged the latter couple to walk more closely together, one beside the other. After some minutes, Mr Darcy asked Mr Bingley a question concerning one of his dogs, and when he turned to reply, Elizabeth observed Mr Darcy giving his friend a significant glance, after which Mr Bingley increased his pace, and very soon he and Jane were some distance ahead of them, eventually turning into a side path, and disappearing from view entirely.
Elizabeth was now certain that the invitation for tea was all Mr Darcy's doing; and the walk in the park, with the two couples very soon separating, a device designed to provide the opportunity of a private conversation with herself. "Is he planning to renew his addresses?" wondered Elizabeth, attempting to conceal her high state of excitement as they walked on in silence for some time. It was evident that her companion was composing himself to address her.
"I am aware, Miss Bennet, of a rather fanciful story circulating hereabouts, which portrays me in a less than favourable light," he eventually said, his eyes fixed firmly on the path before them.
"I imagine that a person of some importance, such as yourself, whose elevated rank must inevitably attract to his daily doings the curiosity and scrutiny of those less blessed, may very often be the subject of gossip and speculation. I dare say it is a commonplace enough occurrence, to which you must be quite inured," replied Elizabeth with a wry smile.
"Indeed I am; I endeavour to attend only to the correctness of my own behaviour. As to what others will think and say of me, is for them to determine. However, I hope that those who know me well, will not judge me falsely," he said, looking entreatingly at Elizabeth, who looked away. "I hope that you, Miss Bennet, do not give credence to these mischievous reports."
"I most sincerely wish not to, Mr Darcy. But I find myself in want of assistance. Perhaps you can oblige me?"
"By revealing what you know of my sister, Lydia - which, I suspect, is a great deal. Do you deny it?"
Mr Darcy was silent for some time as they walked on. Then, with a sigh, he said, "Regrettably, I am not at liberty to make any disclosure regarding your younger sister."
Elizabeth was surprised at his answer - and more than a little displeased. She had comprehended that he wished to make himself agreeable and pleasing to her. Why was he suddenly so secretive?
"There is, however, something that I am able to say on the subject of your younger sister; and, indeed, I have wished to say it for some time. Miss Bennet, I believe myself to be in some way responsible for the unhappy fate that has befallen her."
"You will, perhaps, recall the details in the letter I handed you in Kent concerning my sister, Georgiana, and Mr Wickham. Had I chosen to make Wickham's character known to the world, no young lady could ever again have been deceived by him."
"I imagine that your concern for your sister's reputation, and the possibility that Mr Wickham might attempt to damage it - either in fabricating his own defence, or simply out of revenge - must have acted as a strong deterrent. Do not blame yourself, Mr Darcy, I am equally guilty; for I knew what he was when I returned from Kent, and yet it never occurred to me that my sister might be in any danger, and should be warned."
Mr Darcy bowed his head. "You are kinder to me, than I am to myself, in this matter."
"Yes, in that matter of the past, perhaps I am; but regrettably for you, it makes me no less curious concerning the present," said Elizabeth with a smile, returning the conversation to the subject of Lydia's current circumstances. "It was you, was it not, who informed Mr Bingley that my sister had left London and is presently secluded in the country?"
Mr Darcy sighed and shook his head. "Yes, yes, I admit to telling him as much - though I knew I should not, for it was a clear breach of trust - however the circumstances demanded it."
"The circumstances? What circumstances?" asked Elizabeth, bewildered. She had stopped walking and they now stood facing each other.
"Mr Bingley's happiness?"
"Yes! Before he paid his addresses to your sister, my friend wrote to his own sister, Miss Bingley, informing her of his intention. He very soon afterwards received an express from her importuning him, in the very strongest terms, not to proceed. She depicted the shameful actions of your younger sister in the most damning language, and prognosticated darkly on her certain descent into a life of the utmost degradation and disgrace - an odious fate, the shame of which must inevitably attach itself to all her near relations.
"Aware that her brother's regard for your sister was, in all likelihood, greater than his concern for social propriety, Miss Bingley begged him to consider her honour, and the material damage to her own marriage prospects which must follow, should he pursue his suit, and the prophesied evil consequences regarding your sister should come to pass, and become known to the world.
"Bingley begged me to advise him on how he must proceed, torn as he was between love for your sister and a sense of duty to his own. Knowing as I did, that the great catastrophe presaged by Miss Bingley had been averted, and that her own marriage prospects were in no great material danger, I concluded that to withhold the information from my friend would be a greater wrong than breaching, in a small way, an undertaking that I had given to another."
Elizabeth smiled as she considered that a twelvemonth ago, Mr Darcy would very likely have acted quite differently. It was pleasing to see him behave in a less rigid and more compassionate manner. She wondered if also, he was moved by a desire to make amends for his former actions in separating Mr Bingley and Jane. "I can find no fault, sir, in your judgement or your behaviour. On the contrary, I believe you acted honourably."
Mr Darcy bowed his head in appreciation of her warm approbation and smiled. "Unfortunately, honour demands that I say nothing further on the subject of your younger sister. Only that I hope, most sincerely, that all your concerns and questions on that head may soon be satisfied."
"Oh!" said Elizabeth, unable to conceal her disappointment.
"Miss Bennet," he said, looking at her earnestly, "I think it best that until then I postpone..."
But he paused in what he was about to say. Elizabeth blushed; for it seemed that his very next words might very well have been my suit. But were they - or was it all just her own hopes and imagination?
"What I mean to say is that whilst this story concerning myself, which is presently in circulation hereabouts, carries favour, it may be best - for everyone - if I absent myself from the neighbourhood."
"Oh, do you intend to leave?" Then attempting to hide her disappointment, Elizabeth quickly added, "But will you leave Mr Bingley all alone to face the demands of the pre-nuptial social round without your support?"
"When he is in the company of your sister, which I anticipate he will very often be, in the coming weeks - he hardly notices me," said Mr Darcy smiling. "I will, of course, return for the wedding week, and it will be my great pleasure to stand up with Bingley in church."
Although she had not succeeded in learning anything further concerning Lydia, Elizabeth was more convinced than ever that, whatever was the nature of Mr Darcy's involvement with her sister, that it was honourable. As they returned to Longbourn, she was lost in conjecture as to what were his feelings for herself.
"Lizzy," said Jane, interrupting her contemplation, "you have been very sly and reserved with me."
"Why ever do you say so?"
"Bingley has just now been telling me of his visiting you in Lambton - and the great pleasure it gave him."
"You told me almost nothing of what passed at Lambton and Pemberley."
"I am sorry I kept it secret from you, but I believed it to be for the best. I did not wish to mention Mr Bingley's name at that time - for despite your denials, I felt certain that you continued to lament the apparent withdrawal of his affections; and there was no suggestion at the time that a renewal might be in the offing."
"Yes, I understand; you acted from kindness and compassion. However, sisterly love and consideration can have in no way prevented you from mentioning Mr Darcy wishing to introduce his sister to you," she said teasingly.
Elizabeth blushed. "But I could hardly mention Mr Darcy's visit with his sister to Lambton without also making mention of Mr Bingley, who accompanied them. And had I spoken of my aunt and myself calling the following day upon Miss Darcy at Pemberley, you would certainly have questioned me as to the company, and upon learning of the presence of Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst, would most certainly have asked about their brother."
"Again, you are quite correct." Jane smiled shrewdly at her sister, then added, "Lizzy, if you do not wish to confide in me on so marked an attention from Mr Darcy - which is all the more surprising and unexpected, after the forthright manner in which you refused his suit in Kent - then I shall not attempt to force your confidences in the matter."
"Whatever were his feelings and intentions when I encountered Mr Darcy in Derbyshire, the subsequent news of Lydia's shame and disgrace - concerning which, I suspect he knows far more than ourselves - must have given him serious cause to question the desirability of connecting the name of Darcy with that of Bennet."
"Do you really believe it? Are you quite certain? The unfortunate events attached to our younger sister have had no such effect upon Bingley; and I have detected not the least disapprobation of our betrothal from his friend - in fact, quite the opposite."
"I suspect that Mr Darcy's sense of propriety and family honour is far more exacting than that of his friend. And then there is the pride of his relations to consider, such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whom he would not wish to offend."
"Lizzy, I have been considering it, and I have concluded that Bingley's invitation for you to join me today, may well have originated with Mr Darcy; for it struck me when we set out to walk in the park after tea, that Bingley separated us from yourself and Mr Darcy quite deliberately, and that it was all contrived by Mr Darcy, whose object can only have been the opportunity of a private conversation with you."
"Yes, I agree, it did indeed seem deliberate; and I believe you are quite correct in guessing that Mr Darcy's intention was to speak with me privately."
"But to what purpose? Surely he cannot have wished to pay you his addresses a second time - and if he did, I earnestly hope that you were far kinder in your manner of refusal than was the case in Kent."
It amused Elizabeth to think how certain her sister was that she would refuse another offer of marriage from Mr Darcy. "I can set your mind to rest, dear Jane. Mr Darcy made no renewal of his offers."
"Then what can have been his object in wishing for a private conversation?"
"To speak of the stories in circulation concerning himself and Lydia."
"Good God! I should have thought that he would wish to avoid any mention of such a subject. What could he mean by introducing it? Were you able to learn anything further of our sister's fate?"
"His intention was to convince me that the stories are false."
"What had he to say in his defence? Did he deny all connection with our sister?"
Elizabeth sighed. "He said very little; and nothing in the least way explicit - neither in his defence, nor with regard to Lydia. Yet he would have me believe that the stories are entirely without truth."
"But why was he not explicit - why did he not defend himself energetically?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "He claims not to be at liberty to provide any further information regarding Lydia."
"Perhaps it is just as I conjectured some days ago - that he had no personal involvement in our sister's affairs. We do not know for certain that your surmise, that the intelligence provided to Bingley came from Mr Darcy, is even correct; for Bingley wished not to speak further on the subject."
"That much, at least, we now know; for Mr Darcy admitted to being his friend's source."
Jane considered this new information before speaking again. "However, even if the intelligence did come from Mr Darcy, it does not necessarily follow that he was the person responsible for removing Lydia from London and installing her in the countryside."
"True - although I suspect that it was Mr Darcy. He told me that he blames himself for not making Wickham's character known to the world, so that no young lady could again be deceived by him. However, assuming that Mr Darcy was that person, it is nothing more than speculation and gossip that convicts him of improper behaviour in the matter. Oh! It is all so perplexing! I no longer know what to think. And now he departs from Hertfordshire, so there will be no immediate opportunity of learning any more of the matter."
"Is Mr Darcy to leave Netherfield? He cannot yet have informed Bingley, for he has not the least suspicion of his friend's intentions. Bingley will be hurt, I think, that Mr Darcy would leave him just at this moment, when he would wish for his support with the multitude of invitations about the neighbourhood, and the many social engagements which will very likely continue until the wedding day."
"Mr Darcy assured me that when he is in Mr Bingley's company, together with yourself, that his friend hardly notices him."
Jane smiled at the compliment. "Nevertheless, he will most certainly be missed."
"Do you not see, Jane, that given the stories in circulation in the neighbourhood, it would be most difficult for Mr Darcy to engage in local society? It would be most awkward - not only for himself, but for Mr Bingley also. Good heavens, imagine how it would be with Mamma if Mr Darcy were to accompany his friend to Longbourn? Or even if she were to encounter him at Netherfield, or elsewhere? I cannot contemplate it without being greatly relieved that he takes himself out of the way."
"Yes, I see what you mean. But surely Mr Darcy intends to return for the wedding and to stand up with Bingley."
"He assured me that he would."
"At least Bingley will not be entirely without the company of another gentleman."
"How so?" asked Elizabeth with surprise.
"A cousin of his, a Captain Robert Radford, is soon to join him at Netherfield. I am most eager to meet him and make his acquaintance - as is Bingley."
"Whatever can you mean?"
"Bingley and his cousin do not know each other; they have never met."
"How extraordinary; how came it to be?"
"It is indeed extraordinary, for Captain Radford is Bingley's only cousin."
"Do you know anything of the cousin's history?" enquired Elizabeth.
"Yes, and it is a most peculiar one. Bingley's mother had a younger sister, who fell in love with a young midshipman by the name of Graham Radford. Her family were no better than his - and likewise in trade; however, they had become wealthy and were determined that their youngest daughter, like her sister before her, should marry well, and a lowly midshipman was entirely beyond consideration. Apprehending that her father would never give his consent, of which she was in need, for she was not yet one and twenty, the sister eloped with her sailor and was consequently cut off without a penny.
"All contact with their daughter was lost. However, some years later, they heard a report from a traveller that their daughter had borne a son, and then died in childbirth some years afterwards. Though they sincerely regretted having broken with their daughter, the parents attributed her untimely death to the neglect of her husband, and determined to have nothing to do with either him or his son."
"How very sad! Did Mr Bingley's mother never attempt to make contact with her sister's son?"
Jane shook her head. "Bingley's parents were both from families which had made a great deal of money in trade. They wished to establish themselves in society and raise their children accordingly, and therefore determined to avoid all those connections whose situation in life was beneath their own, and might thereby drag them down. Bingley's mother never told her children that her dead sister had borne a child and that they had a cousin in the world."
"So then, how came Mr Bingley to be in contact with the cousin?"
"The cousin, it seems, had followed his father into the navy at an early age, and whether by great ability, or good fortune, or both, eventually rose through the ranks to attain a captaincy. Having returned to England some weeks ago, he saw in the Times our wedding announcement and recognised the name Charles Bingley, as being that of his cousin; for although they would have nothing to do with him, his father had followed the fortunes of his deceased wife's family. Captain Radford wrote to Bingley to seek confirmation that he was indeed his cousin and offered his congratulations on his engagement. Having no other living relatives, but his sisters, Bingley was delighted, and immediately replied, confirming their relationship, and inviting his cousin to Netherfield."
"I sincerely hope that this Captain Radford is an amiable man and that Mr Bingley will enjoy his company," said Elizabeth.
"Yes, I too; although I can think of no reason why we should find him otherwise. I am sure he will be a charming addition to our society."
"Oh, Jane, you always think the best of everyone - even before you have made their acquaintance."
"But not without reason - for surely his wish to know his cousin, and writing to him when his own family had been cut by Bingley's, shows him in a good light."
"Yes, I concede you have reason."
"Caroline, however, is not at all pleased at the prospect of a family reunion with a cousin whom she deems to be far beneath them. When Bingley informed her of their newly discovered relative, and of his invitation to Captain Radford to visit Netherfield, she wrote him an angry letter, which greatly discomposed him.
"Following the announcement of our engagement, Caroline had reluctantly agreed to return to Netherfield to keep house for Bingley until the wedding; for, as you might imagine, without a lady to preside over the house, he would have had great difficulty managing the dinners and all the other hospitalities required of him. Even before the news of Captain Radford, she seemed greatly put out at her brother's request of assistance. Although Bingley has not spoken on the subject, I am more convinced than ever that his sisters are most unhappy with his choice of wife."
Elizabeth sighed. She did not wish to reveal all of what Mr Darcy had said on the manner in which Caroline Bingley had reacted to her brother's news of his matrimonial intentions. Poor Jane was certain to encounter difficulty enough with her new sisters. "I think it very likely that any opposition on their part is in no way on account of yourself, but rather due to a wish of avoiding the connection with our family - particularly given the circumstances surrounding Lydia. They are almost certainly unaware of Lydia's removal from a situation in which she might very likely have created a far greater scandal than heretofore. You must agree that their desire to avoid the connection is not entirely unreasonable."
"Yes, I agree it is not; and I hope that you are correct in attributing their apparent disfavour of our betrothal to ignorance concerning Lydia - and that they have now been made aware of the change in our sister's circumstances - for I do so wish to be on good terms with Caroline and Louisa."
"I feel sure that Mr Bingley will have informed his sisters of the alteration of Lydia's situation at the earliest occasion. Caroline, however, is unlikely to ever forgive you for taking the place of Georgiana Darcy in her grand matrimonial scheme."
"You are referring to Caroline's hopes of marrying Mr Darcy - and her belief that if her brother were to marry Miss Darcy, it would improve the chances of her realising her own ambitions?"
"Precisely. Her brother's choice of you, rather than Miss Darcy, is a setback to her ambitions, certainly; but it will in no way, I believe, put an end to them. Miss Bingley is most determined to have him; which is another reason why I am confident that she will accord you every civility that is your due, and strive diligently to undo the harm of the haughty manner in which she cut you in London, and hid from her brother your being in town."
"I imagine she did it all to further her plans to have Bingley marry Miss Darcy; rather than out of any disapprobation of myself. Perhaps I should not blame her for wishing to advance her own ambitions."
Elizabeth smiled. "How fortunate Miss Bingley is - you are making excuses for her already! Her task of ingratiating herself to you, after her abominable behaviour, will be easy, indeed."
"I am not as certain as you, Lizzy, that Miss Bingley will wish to be my friend - or very easily forgive her brother for choosing me. Nevertheless, I am determined to treat both his sisters with the utmost civility and kindness; although we can never again be intimates, as once we were."
"I am quite certain that Miss Bingley will do everything in her power to make herself agreeable to you, and to her brother, also," Elizabeth assured her. "For it is on account of her brother that she is very often in Mr Darcy's company - whether it be dinners and other social occasions in London, or invitations to Pemberley. I think you will find that she will do everything in her power to retain her place in her brother's society."
"And do you think she will likewise feign affection for her new-found cousin, Captain Radford?"
Elizabeth laughed. "On the contrary, I suspect she will do her very best to set her brother against him, and have him depart from Netherfield - and their lives - as soon as may be."
Chapter Three - A Husband for Elizabeth
Posted on 2011-10-30
Not many days after the visit of Jane and Elizabeth to Netherfield, Mr Bingley was able to bring news to the ladies at Longbourn of the arrival of his sister, Caroline; and he had the greatest pleasure in issuing an invitation to the Bennets to dine with them a few days hence. And if that was not cause enough for happiness, he also informed them that his cousin, a young naval captain by the name of Robert Radford, was also arrived at Netherfield.
Mrs Bennet immediately inquired as to whether Captain Radford came alone, or with his wife; and was exceedingly pleased to learn that the gentleman was not married. As soon as Mr Bingley had departed, Mrs Bennet gave vent to her excitement. "There, girls, did not I tell you that with Jane marrying Mr Bingley, her sisters would be thrown into the way of other rich men? And was I not right?"
"We know nothing of Captain Radford, Mamma," cautioned Elizabeth, "and he may not be so very rich."
"Of course he must! Everyone knows that a naval captain has far better prospects than an army officer - think of all the prize money he must have taken! Why, he is very likely even richer than his cousin! Lizzy, now that Jane is engaged, you are next in line. Though I have never considered you nearly as beautiful as your older sister, there are many who speak of you as her equal. Why, only the other day, Sir William Lucas was assuring me that you must very soon be married, for you were, he affirmed, the brightest jewel in the neighbourhood!"
"Mamma," advised Elizabeth, "we know nothing of his character - whether he is amiable, well-mannered, honourable, educated - or even handsome - let alone rich!"
"Nonsense - of course he must be rich! And a wealthy gentleman may pick and choose amongst all the eligible young ladies - and you may be sure that he will always prefer the most beautiful! And with Jane engaged, you are unquestionably the most beautiful, eligible young lady in the district. If only we can keep him here in Hertfordshire for long enough, he shall be yours! I am quite determined!"
Elizabeth shook her head and sighed, but said nothing further, for she well knew that when her mother was in such a mood, she was utterly beyond the appeal of reason. She had already determined Captain Radford's character, qualities, and wealth in her own imagination; and was doubtless deciding upon which of the local properties would be grand enough for him to purchase; and once that was determined, her mind would be occupied with wedding clothes, and in contemplating all the pin-money, jewels, and carriages her daughter must very soon possess.
Luckily, the Longbourn ladies did not have to speculate for very long concerning the mysterious Captain Radford, for he rode over with his cousin to wait on them the very next day. Their initial impression of him was favourable. He looked to be a year or two younger, and was taller than his cousin, but equally handsome, cutting a rather dashing figure in his naval uniform, with locks of blonde hair framing a sun-browned face and falling in curls over his collar. His manners, if not quite as genteel and polished as Mr Bingley's, were open and engaging. He was gallant, but not in an exaggerated way, and made little pretence of being fashionable.
Mrs Bennet endeavoured doggedly to ascertain his degree of wealth. She asked him where his residence was situated - having been at sea, he had none; if he came from town in his own carriage - no, he came on horseback; she asked about his battles at sea: had he sunk many French ships - but he preferred to talk of the many strange and beautiful places it had been his good fortune to visit. When one avenue of attack failed, Mrs Bennet tenaciously tried another - but to no avail; he politely, but deftly, deflected her every attempt.
Elizabeth would have felt embarrassed at her mother's transparent persistence, had she not perceived that the Captain had seen very early on what she was about, and was enjoying the sport of delicately denying her the smallest hint of his wealth. He was possessed of an exceedingly sharp mind, and her poor mother was completely outclassed.
Mrs Bennet invited the gentlemen to stay and dine with them, and was most happy that her invitation was accepted. She suggested that prior to the meal, Captain Radford might like to walk out and see something of the neighbourhood.
"An excellent scheme," said Mr Bingley, eagerly jumping to his feet and offering his arm to Jane, eager as always of any opportunity for a private tête-à-tête with his betrothed.
"Please excuse me," said Mary, "if I do not join you, for I would much rather use the time for the improvement of my mind; I have a demanding reading schedule, which leaves little time for such recreational pursuits."
Mrs Bennet was more than happy to see Mary remove herself from the planned outing, and remonstrated not in the least with her. She was less than pleased, however, to observe Kitty rising to join the party. "Kitty, dear, wherever are you going?" she demanded. Then giving her daughter a significant look, she added, "You well know that I am in need of you above stairs."
Kitty failed to apprehend the meaning of her mother's glance, and eager to walk out, and be seen about the neighbourhood in the company of a dashing young naval captain, she complained, "Mamma, I have not the least idea of your meaning. For what am I wanted?"
Her mother was quite determined that only Elizabeth should join Jane and the gentlemen, for she was well aware that the lovers would very soon separate themselves, and thus leave the way clear for Elizabeth and the Captain to improve their acquaintance. She could not readily think of a reason for which Kitty was needed; so taking her daughter by the arm, she briefly bade the others farewell, and escorted Kitty from the room, saying, "Come, child, I shall show you."
Elizabeth was exceedingly embarrassed at her mother's all too apparent ploy of throwing Captain Radford and herself together, and had not the least doubt that it could not have escaped his notice. She remained silent, struggling to regain her composure, as they walked along the country lane following Jane and Mr Bingley - who were already well ahead of them.
"Miss Bennet, I know that good manners require that we ignore awkward little scenes, such as that recently experienced, and pretend that they never happened, and perhaps speak instead upon the weather. I beg you, do not feel embarrassed on my account, for I am not in the least way discomposed - I very much enjoyed the entire performance."
Elizabeth blushed, but remained silent. She was surprised at his artlessness, and that he should even speak on the subject.
"And I hope you do not believe that I amuse myself at the expense of your good mother. I imagine that with five daughters, she must endeavour to make the most of every ship that sails into port. It speaks of her maternal concern for the happiness of her daughters, which is most admirable."
Elizabeth smiled. "You are most kind, sir, and generous. My mother is of the opinion that every young man who is not yet married - or engaged to be so - must necessarily be in want of a wife."
The Captain smiled. "I understand entirely - and I am not insensible of the compliment she pays me," he added, bowing his head towards Elizabeth, who blushed.
To hide her embarrassment, she quickly said, "Few men could have withstood her persistent enquiries regarding their wealth with such equanimity and good humour. You must forgive my mother for appearing to be so mercenary."
"On the contrary, it is perfectly natural - and something that a naval officer very soon becomes accustomed to. Unlike a gentleman, such as my cousin, Bingley, whose fortune is as good as published record, that of a naval officer - particularly one, such as myself, without an inheritance - is entirely dependent upon prize money, which is not so always easily ascertained."
"I imagine," said Elizabeth, "that those fortunate enough to have enriched themselves would be more than happy to have the whole world know of it."
Her companion smiled. "And that their less fortunate brothers might have reason to hide their lack thereof?"
Elizabeth looked away, and endeavoured to think of some other topic of conversation. "You must be very happy to meet your cousins, having never made their acquaintance before."
"Indeed so. Considering our family history, when I first wrote to Bingley, I was not at all confident of receiving a reply, or even of being recognised by him. I am happy to say that he is the most amiable of gentlemen, and not at all what I expected. Do you, by chance, know his sisters?"
"I am somewhat acquainted with them," replied Elizabeth.
"I have not yet made the acquaintance of Mrs Hurst - only Miss Bingley; and her behaviour towards me more resembled that of her grandmother, than her brother."
Elizabeth could well imagine the supercilious arrogance, with which Caroline Bingley would treat her new-found relative. "Still, you have at least one amiable relative, when formerly you had none at all."
"Yes, and I may well have another relative in this world; although I shall almost certainly never know whether they be amiable or not - or, for that matter, anything else about them," he said.
Elizabeth looked up at him with interest.
"My father was a sailor, and very often at sea; he would visit my mother and myself in our small house in Portsmouth, whenever he had shore leave - which, sadly, was not very often. After one such visit, when I was six years of age, my mother was overjoyed to discover that she was with child. But her happiness was short-lived, for several months later we learned that the ship, on which my father served as second lieutenant, had gone down, and that all her crew were lost."
"How very sad," said Elizabeth, moved by the pain in his voice.
"Yes," he said with a sigh, lowering his head. They walked on in silence for a while before he continued his narrative. "As the birth drew near, my mother sent me to stay with my father's only relative, a maiden aunt, who lived in Chichester. I soon afterwards learned that my mother had died in childbirth, along with her baby, and that I was now an orphan."
"You suffered a great deal of misfortune as a child," observed Elizabeth, sympathetically.
"Indeed so; but my fortunes soon began to change. Aunt Angela, whom I greatly respected and loved, decided that I must remain with her. She was a schoolteacher - and was educated well beyond her calling, by her father, who had been a vicar. She undertook my education with great energy and dedication; and I am happy to say that she was rewarded in finding me a diligent pupil. She taught me a great deal more than she taught the children in her school, where she was paid a pittance.
"My aunt was very poor, and could barely afford to keep a servant, so I determined to go to sea as soon as I was old enough, for I knew I was a burden on her. But she begged me to remain longer, for she loved me, and she had not yet taught me all she knew, which was her cherished ambition. So I remained in Chichester two years more, until her goal was achieved, and though it was very difficult to leave my beloved great-aunt, I felt it was time for me to make my way in the world."
"You have certainly done that," observed Elizabeth. "Your aunt must have been very proud of you."
"Indeed she was; and it was all on account of the excellent education that she gave me. I visited my dear old aunt whenever I had shore leave, and we corresponded frequently - although letters were often long delayed - and every advance of position I received brought her greater joy. I believe it was my desire to give her pleasure, rather than mere ambition, that spurred me on to rise through the ranks. I was a second lieutenant when she passed away; by which time I was but eighteen years old."
Elizabeth could not but admire this courageous young man who, despite beginning life at a lowly station, and great early misfortune, had advanced in the world by his own efforts and abilities. "How proud your aunt would be to see you now, wearing a captain's uniform."
"I do so wish that she had lived long enough to see it," he said with a sigh. "But my story is not yet finished. Two years ago, whilst I was on shore leave in Plymouth, I visited an old friend of my mother, whom I had learned was close to death. She was a midwife and had assisted my mother at both my own birth and the later one which had ended her life. Though she was now on her deathbed, she was overjoyed to see me, for she wished to make a confession before she passed away. She wanted me to know that though my mother had died, contrary to what my aunt and I had been told at the time, the baby had survived. I have a sister in the world."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Was she able to tell you what happened to your sister, and to whom she was entrusted?"
He shook his head sadly. "Unfortunately not. My mother's friend had at first determined to keep the little girl, and to raise her as her own, for she knew that my aunt was too old, and also too poor; and there were no other relatives. But she and her husband were poor themselves, and had more than enough children of their own to provide for.
"As a midwife, she was aware that sometimes a woman without a child would gladly take an orphaned baby to raise as her own. She learned of such a person making enquiries around Portsmouth, and went with the baby to visit the lady, who was delighted with the little girl and paid handsomely for her."
"How extraordinary," said Elizabeth. "Do you know the name of the lady who took your sister?"
Captain Radford shook his head hopelessly. "No, I do not. I have thought over the matter a great deal, and, regretfully, I have concluded that I shall never know my sister."
Elizabeth realised, when she and Captain Radford returned from their walk, that they had been gone a long time, lost in conversation, and that Jane and Mr Bingley had long since returned, and that it was almost time to sit down to dinner. Mrs Bennet smiled secretly at Elizabeth, well satisfied that she had made a good impression upon the Captain, beside whom she seated her for the meal.
Mr Bennet, who was his other neighbour, was eager to engage Captain Radford in conversation. But unfortunately for Mrs Bennet, rather than question their guest on naval battles and prize money, her husband was more interested in hearing first-hand accounts of exotic places that he had only encountered in his library. The Captain had, at one time, sailed around the Cape of Horn and visited some of the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and he gave a fascinating account of their exotic beauty, and the manners and way of life of the natives, which were so vastly different from their own.
"One imagines, sir," said Elizabeth, "that you were loath to leave, and would gladly have jumped ship and spent your whole life on one of those tropical island paradises."
"It was exceedingly tempting; but I was by that time a first lieutenant, and my sense of duty and loyalty to my captain, who was an excellent man, forbade it. Captain - now Admiral - Barclay, is his name, and I shall be forever in his debt - for without his assistance, I should never have got a commission."
"You are too modest, sir," said Elizabeth, "I am certain you earned it on merit alone."
"Unfortunately, merit alone is insufficient. Gaining a commission requires connections and patronage. My origins are humble, and I am without relations who might put my name forward at the admiralty. I despaired of ever going beyond midshipman, until I served under Captain Barclay. He took an interest in me, and through his extensive connections, got me an early commission."
"But surely, Captain," protested Elizabeth, "it was your ability and merit that moved Captain Barclay to take up your cause."
After their visitors had departed, Mrs Bennet congratulated herself on how well her scheme to have Captain Radford for Elizabeth was progressing. "Why, I think the Captain is already a fair way to falling in love with you, Lizzy."
"Mamma!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "He is nothing of the kind - nor do I wish it!"
"Nonsense, I am quite certain that it is so; for I observed him closely, and it was very obvious that he preferred your company to that of any other young lady present."
Elizabeth shook her head, but kept her counsel. Her mother would always believe exactly as she wished. Nothing was to be gained by pointing out that Jane was already engaged and had been entirely monopolised by Mr Bingley; and that an educated gentleman, such as the Captain, was hardly likely to show an interest in Mary or Kitty, with whom intelligent conversation was barely possible; or that the Captain spoke as much with her father as with herself; or indeed that it did not necessarily follow that a gentleman must be desperate to marry whichever lady he found the most tolerable at the dinner table. But her mother was in a high state of excitement, and Elizabeth decided that she must do something to counter her matrimonial campaigning, before she began speaking of wedding clothes.
"I suspect, Mamma, that the Captain may be without the means to marry," she cautioned.
"Nonsense! How is it possible that a naval captain could be so poor?"
"You heard him say that his origins are humble."
"Don't be silly, child, it is only that he himself may be humble! I am certain that his family cannot be so very poor."
"Mamma, his parents were poor; and they died when he was but young - leaving him nothing. He was raised by his father's aunt - a school teacher, who was herself poor."
"That all seems most unlikely," replied her mother. "How is it possible that his family can be so very poor when his cousin's family is wealthy?"
"Captain Radford's mother was the sister of Bingley's mother," explained Jane. "She eloped with a midshipman from a modest background, and was consequently cut off by her family."
"Even if what you say about him is true, he must have very likely earned a great fortune in prize money - do you not agree, Mr Bennet?" she demanded of her husband who had retreated behind his newspaper, which he was now obliged to lower.
"With what would you have me agree, my dear?"
"That Captain Radford must be very wealthy on account of all the prize money he will have won from all the French ships that he must have captured!"
"From what I can recall of our conversation, Mrs Bennet, he made no mention of capturing a ship of any kind. I do not even know if he was ever involved in fighting - he certainly did not speak of it."
"But there is yet time, is there not, Mr Bennet, for him to engage himself in fighting the French, and winning prize money?"
Mr Bennet shook his head. "I think not, my dear. Most regrettably, for your purposes, Napoleon's navy is all but destroyed - and there are very few prizes left; but in any case, I think that Captain Radford indicated that he does not intend to return to sea."
"Then he may indeed be lacking in wealth," conceded Mrs Bennet unhappily.
"Yes, I very much suspect that it might be the case," agreed her husband.
"But why do you not know?" demanded Mrs Bennet. "Did you not attempt to find out?"
"What business is it of mine, how much money the man has?"
"Mr Bennet! Surely you must know that I am thinking of his marrying Lizzy."
"Oh, I am quite certain that he could not be that deserving," said Mr Bennet, smiling fondly at his favourite daughter, well aware that his wife would mistake the meaning of his compliment.
"But then you must not allow it, Mr Bennet!"
"Allow what, my dear? I do not have the pleasure of understanding you."
"You must not allow that lowly seaman to marry our Lizzy! I am certain she can do much better than that!"
Mr Bennet shook his head and laughed, and wondered (not for the first time in his life) how he had chosen such a silly wife. Unable to endure her nonsensical conversation any longer, he assured her solemnly, "I shall most certainly forbid it - you may count upon it, my dear." Then rising from his chair, he added, "If he - or any other young men - should arrive at our door to beg for Lizzy's hand, please send them to me in my library, where I shall be diligently composing appropriate speeches with which to refuse them all."
After her husband had exited the room, Mrs Bennet angrily declared, "The presumption of that Captain Radford, Lizzy! How dare he trifle with your affections, when he very probably has hardly a penny to his name! I imagine that is why he has imposed himself upon our poor Bingley, and taken up residence at Netherfield - so he may live off his generous cousin's table."
"Mamma," beseeched Jane, "he does nothing of the kind. Bingley invited him to stay - and I have not heard that he is so very poor."
"Just the same, Jane, once you are married, you must caution Bingley not to allow his cousin to impose upon him for money; it is not right! The Captain is yet a young man; he should be making his own way in the world, rather than living upon the generosity of others."
"Mamma," said Elizabeth, "Captain Radford is not a man who would wish to be dependent upon others. I am certain that he intends to make his own way in the world. He is clever and well-educated; he could study at the law and find an occupation therein."
"Yes, perhaps," agreed Mrs Bennet.
"Or he might prefer to take vows and become a clergyman," offered Mary.
Elizabeth was surprised at Mary's suggestion, for there was nothing in Captain Radford's conversation, or character, which indicated the slightest interest in the church. Mrs Bennet, however, eagerly took up Mary's cause.
"Why yes, indeed, Mary, what you say makes a great deal of sense. The church would be an excellent choice for the Captain - and far more gentlemanly a profession than the law. It may not bring him a great deal of wealth, but it is respectable; and a well-appointed parsonage might make a very pretty establishment for his wife," she said, bestowing a calculating smile upon her middle daughter.
Elizabeth had to exercise the greatest degree of self-control not to laugh; and avoided looking at her sister, Jane, whom, she felt certain, was equally aware of the absurd alteration in their mother's matrimonial schemes. The Captain, she had evidently concluded, was never likely to be rich enough to marry herself - or very probably Kitty either, for whom also she entertained hopes of a good match. But Mary was another matter altogether. She was the only one of her five without beauty or charm; and being without money, her mother had long ago concluded that it was most unlikely that she would ever receive an offer of marriage. However, if the Captain was poor, he might very well consider her acceptable. For though she had no money, she was a gentleman's daughter, whose family were superior to his own. Furthermore, Mary would make as respectable and religious a wife as any clergyman could possibly wish for.
How her mother could imagine that the Captain would wish to become a clergyman - let alone marry Mary - for whom he had shown not the slightest interest, Elizabeth could not fathom; however, she was so inured to her mother's whimsical imagination, that she was hardly astonished. What did, however, surprise her, was that Mary appeared to share their mother's delusions. Her silly suggestion that Captain Radford might choose the church as his vocation, seemed at first to be nothing more than her sister's customary lack of penetration into the character and preferences of others, conjoined with an excessive respect for the clergy and matters of religion.
Elizabeth recalled that she had sometimes observed her sister stealing glances at the absurd Mr Collins, and had suspected that Mary had hopes that she would be the daughter of her father to whom he would choose to pay his addresses - and she was inclined to believe that her sister would have gladly accepted him. It had surprised her at the time, because the manifold peculiarities of that gentleman aside, she had always believed Mary to be disinterested in marriage, and the most likely of her sisters to end an old maid. Perhaps it was more the attraction of being a clergyman's wife, than a wife per se, she reflected.
Her sister's greatest pleasure in life appeared to be in moralising over the behaviour of all her acquaintance; and while her younger sisters provided her with ample opportunity, as a clergyman's wife she would have the pleasure of casting righteous judgement over the conduct of an entire parish.
Chapter Four - A Husband for Mary
Posted on 2011-11-02
It was difficult to tell who was the most excited as the ladies dressed themselves to dine at Netherfield - Mrs Bennet or Mary, who was full of the fanciful hopes and expectations to which her mother had given rise.
When the Bennets arrived at Netherfield, they were greeted with charm and warmth by Mr Bingley - and cold civility by Miss Bingley. Several local families beside themselves were also invited, for Mr Bingley found himself in the debt of many, due to his inability to return the generous hospitality he had enjoyed in the neighbourhood, prior the arrival of his sister.
Elizabeth observed that Caroline Bingley was equally cold and reserved with all her guests - nevertheless, she discharged her duties as hostess with requisite decorum. There was, however, one person for whom she reserved undisguised disdain - her cousin, Captain Radford. She declined to introduce him to her guests, who, except for the Bennets, had yet to make his acquaintance; and thus the office fell upon her brother, whose embarrassment, and consciousness of the slight, was evident to the entire company.
When the time came to enter the dining room, Miss Bingley protested that she was so little acquainted with the company that she would rather not accept responsibility for assigning them places at the table and begged them to decide the seating arrangements amongst themselves. Mrs Bennet immediately stepped forward to assist, for she was determined to seat Mary beside Captain Radford; and upon observing that gentleman move towards a place near the head of the table, she instructed Mary to take the seat beside his. The Captain held Mary's chair for her, as she seated herself; however Mrs Bennet's satisfaction at this gallantry was short-lived, for he then walked down the table to similarly assist Elizabeth in seating herself, before proceeding to take the empty seat between Elizabeth and her mother.
Though displeased at this setback, Mrs Bennet nevertheless took advantage of having the Captain as her neighbour, to advance her cause. "I have heard, Captain Radford, that you are not planning to return to sea?"
He nodded. "That is correct, Madam. I have given quite enough of my life to the service of King Neptune and country, and now find myself ready for other adventures."
"Adventures? Surely not, sir! A gentleman, at your time of life, should be thinking of settling himself somewhere."
"Oh! But I am far too young for that! No, I was thinking, perhaps, of joining an expeditionary party of some kind. If you will excuse my lack of modesty, I may tell you that my expertise in map-making and navigation is well known and respected in naval circles."
Mrs Bennet was impressed neither with his professed abilities, nor his wish to be an explorer - for she had never heard of one who had become rich. "I am pleased to hear, sir, that you are seeking some kind of occupation; but would it not be safer, and vastly more comfortable, to choose something more in the common way?"
"What would you recommend, Madam?"
"Mr Bennet informs me that you are an educated man. Have you considered taking vows and becoming a clergyman? With the right kind of patronage, you might receive a very handsome living - and if you were to take for yourself a diligent and sensible wife to oversee your establishment, you might enjoy a very comfortable life," she added, looking pointedly up the table towards where sat her daughter, Mary.
The Captain, who was immediately alive to Mrs Bennet's scheme, decided it would be best to disabuse her of the possibility of its fruition at the earliest moment - before she began speculating on possible professions for her future grandchildren. "I have the greatest respect for the church, Madam; but I believe that to serve it is a calling from God, Himself - and I must tell you that He has not called upon me."
Elizabeth struggled not to laugh, and quickly looked away from her father, sitting opposite, who was highly diverted at his wife's clumsy attempts at forwarding her silly scheme, and the Captain's adroit deflection, in so polite and subtle a manner that her mother did not comprehend, in the least, what he was about.
Mrs Bennet was not to be so easily denied. "Oh, I do not believe that anyone takes that sort of thing very seriously these days - why, my husband has a cousin, a Mr Collins, who has done prodigiously well for himself as a clergyman; and I am sure that he has received no such calling. His patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, treats him with the greatest affability and condescension imaginable, and is constantly inviting him and his wife to dine with her at Rosings Park, a most splendid residence, or to make up her pool of quadrille of an evening. Why, Lizzy, you stayed with the Collinses above two months, not so very long ago - pray tell the Captain how it is with them, and of their charming and comfortable rectory at Hunsford."
Unlike her father, Elizabeth was embarrassed, rather than amused, at her mother's absurd performance, and was happy to have the attention of the Captain diverted in her direction. After saying something on the beauty of the park at Rosings, she took the opportunity of turning the subject. Fortunately, Lady Lucas had engaged her mother with some news from a recent letter of her daughter, Mrs Collins.
"I dare say that life on the high seas is not all adventure and excitement, and that a sailor must sometimes encounter hours of boredom, also," ventured Elizabeth.
"Volunteer seaman and midshipmen are always kept busy; even when a ship is becalmed or in the doldrums - for inactivity induces mischief, and is not at all conducive to good morale. Fortunately, there are an endless number of tasks to be performed to keep a vessel shipshape. Officers, however, often find them themselves with time on their hands, and, you may be surprised to learn, that many are content to happily pass an idle hour with a book. I must confess that I always had one at hand for any opportunity afforded me."
"And what is your taste, sir?"
"My great-aunt taught me to love Shakespeare and Donne, and I am also very fond of Marvel, Milton, and Pope, amongst others."
"You are a lover of poetry, then?"
"Indeed so; both of reading it, and, upon occasion, of composing verse my own - or at least attempting it."
"I too, enjoy poetry," said Elizabeth, "although only as a reader. Should you care to show me something of your own, I would be most happy to see it."
Bowing his head deferentially, the Captain replied, "Thank you, Miss Bennet, you are most kind. However I would prefer to wait until one of the quarterlies has deemed my work of a sufficiently high quality to publish it. I intend to send something off for consideration in the near future - as soon as I am completely satisfied with it."
Mrs Bennet, who had turned her attention back to Captain Radford and heard this last speech, exclaimed, "Good heavens, sir, writing poetry is all very well and good, but I have never heard of anyone ever becoming rich from it - or even obtaining a comfortable living!"
"Yes, I fear you are quite right, Madam, most especially in my own case; and I do not for one moment entertain the conceit that I have the skill to live by my pen."
"Then you had far better become a clergyman! Once you are well-settled with a good living - why, you will have all the time in the world to write poetry, as well as sermons. I warrant you, sir, there is no better occupation you could choose, that would afford you such luxury of time." Mrs Bennet was most pleased with herself, and felt that the Captain must see the good sense of which she spoke. Perhaps she might have him for a son, after all.
"But I can think of an endeavour, superior even to the church, which would satisfy the purpose of affording me all the time that I could wish for, in pursuing my love of poetry."
"I cannot think to what you can be alluding, sir," said Mrs Bennet, perplexed.
The Captain did not immediately oblige her by providing an answer to his riddle.
"I think, sir," said Elizabeth, "that you must be contemplating marrying a young lady of fortune, for nothing else answers."
The Captain remained silent, as did Mrs Bennet, who turned away, most displeased at this revelation, which, if true, must deal a fatal blow to her schemes, and any likelihood that she might succeed in prevailing upon the gentleman to play his part in them.
However, the most surprising response came from Caroline Bingley, who was sitting close by, and had, apparently, been following the conversation. She did not address her cousin, but turned rather towards her brother, and in a harsh voice, loud enough for others to hear, she said, "There, Charles, is it not just as I said? I believe I can recognise a fortune-hunter when I meet one."
Mr Bingley was at a loss for words; and observing her sister, Jane, in evident confusion, Elizabeth felt obliged to speak. "You are, I think, unreasonably hard on your cousin, Miss Bingley. I was unaware that society deemed it reprehensible or immoral, for a gentleman to wish to marry for money. Indeed, I have heard of many a gentleman who has done so without attracting the least censure."
"You must be thinking, Miss Bennet, of gentlemen of good family and fine connections; such as a younger son of a noble family, perhaps. In such a case there can be no disapprobation at him wishing to marry a wealthy woman of a lesser rank. But that is hardly the case here," she added contemptuously.
"I suspect, Miss Bingley, that you confuse money for rank," replied Elizabeth cryptically. She was certain that Caroline, who consequently determined to drop the subject altogether, comprehended her meaning; and the faint smile upon the Captain's face convinced her that he, likewise, understood. Caroline behaved as if her own rank was vastly superior to that of Captain Radford, yet their mothers were sisters, and her father's rank was the same as theirs - and very likely little, if at all, higher than that of the Captain's father. The only significant difference between their parents was wealth.
Elizabeth was pleased to have silenced the supercilious Miss Bingley, but could neither forgive, nor comprehend, her cruel and ill-mannered attack upon her cousin, who was a guest in her brother's house. While it was evident that Caroline was most displeased with her brother's choice of bride, and severely put-out at having to entertain the Bennets and his other unrefined country acquaintances, she managed to carry it off in a manner which she, at least, believed attested to her fine breeding. However, when it came to her cousin, Captain Radford, Elizabeth perceived an implacable resentment, for which she was unable to account. Had he been a rude, ill-mannered, and uneducated man, whose relationship advertised the common lowly origins of their families in trade - a circumstance which Caroline assiduously dissembled - it might have been comprehensible. But he was polite and well-mannered, and his mind considerably better informed than those of his cousins. Furthermore, a naval captain, if not quite the social equal of a gentleman of rank, whose noble family went back generations, such as Mr Darcy, was nevertheless, unquestioningly accepted in society as a gentleman. His only failing, that Elizabeth could comprehend, was a lack of wealth - which was a common enough circumstance.
Although she felt embarrassed on his behalf, Elizabeth perceived that Captain Radford was little troubled on that head. She had previously noticed that he was an acute observer of human nature, and she admired the manner in which he treated Miss Bingley's self-interested conceit and pettiness with the indifference they deserved.
When the ladies later withdrew, Elizabeth was surprised to be approached by Caroline Bingley, who guided her to a part of the drawing room away from the other ladies, evidently intent upon sharing some confidence or other. "You may wonder, Miss Bennet, at my reservations regarding Captain Radford, and the strength of my reaction to the mention of his wishing to make his fortune by marriage."
Elizabeth said nothing, but her expression indicated her genuine lack of comprehension in the matter.
"When my brother first wrote to me, informing me that he had received a letter from a gentleman claiming to be our relative, I was immediately on my guard. Charles is the most naïve and trusting of young men, who takes everyone and everything at face value, and is consequently very easily imposed upon by those who are unworthy of his trust; but I am not so! None of us had ever heard of this cousin prior to his writing to Charles. Our mother had once mentioned a younger sister, who had died not many years after marrying; but no mention was ever made of children.
"You can hardly wonder at my deep suspicion of the man's assertion that he is our cousin. And just supposing, for a moment, that he truly is whom he claims to be - why, I ask myself, would he wish to make contact with that part of his family who, by his own account, made it clear a generation ago - and, by their sustained avoidance, continue to declare - that they do not wish to know him?"
"You must ask your cousin that question," said Elizabeth, satirically, well aware that Caroline did not wish to hear any explanation of hers, and had, indeed, already decided the answer for herself.
"I refuse to speak to that man!" she exclaimed angrily. "I immediately wrote to my brother, advising him, in the strongest language, not to reply; an opinion in which I was joined by my sister, Mrs Hurst. But by the time my letter had arrived, Charles, impetuous as always, had written to acknowledge the relationship, and invited the man to Netherfield as his guest! It had never even crossed his mind that this Captain Radford might well be an imposter! How do we know that he is, indeed, related to us?"
"The only person capable of satisfying you is Captain Radford, himself; and if you refuse to speak with him, then you can neither prove nor disprove your suspicions regarding the gentleman," said Elizabeth with a wry smile. From her own conversations with him, she was quite certain that he was who he claimed to be, and found it entirely comprehensible that a man, alone in the world, without any other relations, should wish to know the few that he had.
"I shall certainly not speak with him on that, or any other matter!" exclaimed Caroline. "Regardless of his bona fides, his intent is perfectly obvious."
Elizabeth said nothing, but raised a questioning eyebrow.
"When I first learned of his existence, and his desire to make our acquaintance, it was apparent to me that he must be some poor relative - if, indeed he is our relative at all - who means to impose himself upon my brother's generous nature, and to live at his expense. However, when I eventually arrived in Hertfordshire, and suffered the odious obligation of being introduced to the man, I realised straight away that his plans were far more ambitious than I had hitherto given him credit for. Having learned of my twenty thousand pounds, he had decided to woo me for my fortune - hoping to live a life of ease at my expense; which was the reason for my cutting comment to my brother at the dinner table, when the Captain all but admitted his scheme - for I had warned my brother, several times, of what his new-found friend was about."
Elizabeth had to struggle hard not to laugh at such an improbable surmise. "I must tell you, Miss Bingley, that I have not noticed the slightest indication of any preference for you, or indeed, of any such scheme, in the Captain's behaviour." It amused her to consider that the Captain showed no greater interest in Caroline than did Mr Darcy; an opinion which she strongly suspected Miss Bingley would not care to hear. "And if you recall, it was I, and not Captain Radford, who suggested that he must be thinking of marrying a lady of fortune. It was said light-heartedly, for amusement. But you, at least, appear not to be amused," said Elizabeth teasingly.
Miss Bingley glared at her, evidently angry that she would not take her seriously. "You were not there, Miss Bennet, when first he arrived. He treated me with all the gallantry and charm of a suitor. If he now treats me otherwise, it is only because I have so assiduously rebuffed all his advances, and made it plain that I do not enjoy his society."
"You perhaps mistook his genuine happiness at making the acquaintance of a near relative for something else?" Though she did not say it, Elizabeth was certain that this was all an absurd fantasy of Miss Bingley's. "In any case, I have observed that Captain Radford treats every lady with gallantry and charm; do you imagine that he wishes to marry them all?"
"Certainly not yourself, or your sister, Mary," sneered Caroline. "Neither one of you could be of interest to a fortune-hunter, such as Captain Radford."
"Then you will be pleased to hear, that while I find him a most amiable and well-informed young man, I have not the slightest wish to receive his addresses; and since, by your own argument, he can hardly have any intention of paying them, his polite attentions must spring from disinterest, and thus show him in an entirely favourable light."
Elizabeth was keenly aware that though they were speaking of Captain Radford, they were both of them very conscious of another gentleman, whose name neither of them chose to utter. She well-remembered Caroline's suspicions and jealousy when they had last been in the same room as Mr Darcy, on the morning she and her Aunt Gardiner had come to wait upon Georgiana at Pemberley. Caroline's present demeanour betrayed an awareness that she continued to consider her a rival; and she would doubtless have understood that the marriage of her brother to Jane, must, to Elizabeth's advantage, necessarily throw her into Mr Darcy's company a great deal - and perhaps offset, to some degree, the harm done to her chances by her younger sister's disgrace.
When she had just now said that she had not the slightest wish to receive Captain Radford's addresses, Elizabeth might well have added, "For there is another whose addresses I have not yet learned to despair of receiving." But Miss Bingley was the last person in all the world to whom she would confess such a desire.
"Show him in a favourable light, do you call it?" exclaimed Miss Bingley incredulously. "If you cannot imagine why the rogue should favour you with his attentions, and truly believe that he acts from disinterest, then you are as naïve as your younger sister," said Caroline, with a malicious smirk.
Elizabeth turned away angrily, and walked over to where her mother was conversing with Lady Lucas. She was quite certain that Captain Radford had no such purpose in mind, and it discomposed her greatly that Caroline should attribute such a motive, and use such an insulting appellation in describing her cousin, whom doubtless, she was well aware, harboured no such intent. If, in fact, his object was to marry his wealthy cousin, of which Caroline appeared convinced, then a dalliance with herself, or any other lady, would sink his chances. This was obviously all about the unspoken gentleman in their conversation: Mr Darcy. Caroline believed - and perhaps not without reason - that Lydia's disgrace must materially damage her rival's prospects, and sought the pleasure of gloating over it before her. It discomposed her greatly, for it was the very question which she had, herself, pondered many an hour, without any conclusion as to how great that damage was, and if it had really put an end to her hopes.
When the gentlemen joined them, Captain Radford sat beside Elizabeth, and began relating an amusing anecdote from his seafaring days, which her father had found most diverting. Looking up, she was unable to avoid a smile of smug satisfaction on the face of Miss Bingley. Her mother, meanwhile, was loudly exhorting Mary to play for them, clearly hoping that her daughter might conquer the Captain's heart with what she imagined to be her prodigious musical talent. Elizabeth exchanged a look of resignation with Jane, as Mary self-consciously made her way to the pianoforte. She had chosen a Haydn composition, which Elizabeth recalled hearing her sister practising continuously for the past several days. Regrettably, the complexity of the piece required a virtuosity several notches above that which her sister had attained. Yet at the end of it, she blithely smiled with satisfaction at her audience, singling out Captain Radford for her warmest regard.
Elizabeth felt certain that Caroline Bingley would take Mary's place at the instrument as soon as her torturous performance was finished; but to her dismay, Caroline smiled encouragingly towards her sister, eager for her to continue the embarrassing spectacle, to which only Mary and her mother appeared oblivious. Mary, eager as always to impress the company - and one listener in particular - with the fruit of her many hours of diligent practice, commenced another equally difficult piece, with even less success than the first. Both Jane and her father looked entreatingly at Elizabeth, and when Mary had fumbled her way to the end, and Caroline Bingley again made no attempt to displace her from the pianoforte, but instead, silently entreated her to continue, Elizabeth felt obliged to offer herself, for Mary was already triumphantly thumbing her way through her music sheets, in search of a third piece with which to impress her imagined admirers.
Elizabeth sang an old English air with more than her usual application, for she was determined to redeem some family honour; and so well did she succeed, and so greatly was her performance appreciated - most especially after that which had preceded it - that the company enthusiastically requested another song. But sadly, they were denied; for Caroline Bingley, though happy to see Mary Bennet make a spectacle of herself, was entirely unwilling to witness her sister being so warmly received; and thus was Elizabeth obliged to give way to her at the instrument.
As they returned home in their carriage, Mrs Bennet talked incessantly about what Jane should do with this room or that piece of furniture when she became mistress of Netherfield Park. Mr Bennet escaped to his library the moment they arrived home, having listened to the conversation of his wife for far longer than gave him pleasure.
The ladies took tea in the parlour, and Mrs Bennet was in high spirits, and was not to be denied. "Mary played very well, I thought; I am certain that Captain Radford cannot but have been impressed. Do you not agree, Lizzy?" she demanded, forcing her daughter to look up from her book. But fortunately, before she could think of a reply that might satisfy both her mother and the truth, her mother resumed speaking. "It is only unfortunate, Lizzy, that you should have forced Mary to quit the instrument after only two pieces, when her performance was so very much admired by all the company. Although I am, I concede, no great judge of music, I could not but help observe Miss Bingley, herself a great musical proficient, encouraging Mary to continue. And your own performance was clearly wanting, for it was evident to the entire company that Miss Bingley was eager to remove you from the pianoforte as soon as may be.
"Do not think me unhappy, child, that your performance was wanting - on the contrary, nothing could have pleased me more; for it will have made a very poor impression on Captain Radford, and I was becoming concerned that he might favour you over Mary, after he sat beside you at the table. But on consideration, I am now of the opinion that he favours Mary."
"Do you really think so, Mamma?" asked Mary hopefully. Her vanity was flattered to think that any man might prefer her over any of her sisters.
Elizabeth thought it most unwise of her mother to encourage Mary in such a hopeless fantasy. "I think, Mamma, that my sister would not be so eager if she had heard the conversation at our end of the table."
"Of what are you speaking, child?"
"Only that Captain Radford made it plain that he has no intention of taking vows."
"Did he say he does not intend to take vows?" asked Mary, uncomprehendingly; for she could not imagine why any moral and upstanding gentleman should not be eager to serve the Lord, and find joy each week in delivering a sermon, and chastising his congregation for their wrongdoings. Mary was not in the least way in love with the Captain - she was in love with the picture she had fashioned of herself, as a clergyman's wife.
"Oh, I don't know," answered her mother. "He said some nonsense about not having been called by God, but I cannot imagine that he was serious, for he wishes to write poetry; and nothing would suit him better, to that end, than the comfortable life of clergyman, which would afford him all the time in the world to indulge in his poetry writing - and I told him so, most forcefully."
"If he does not wish to serve God, and would only become a clergyman to have an easy life, and to write poetry - and I have read that some of the modern poets are entirely dissolute and immoral - then I would not wish to marry him."
"Don't be silly, girl, you will very probably never get another chance; you should set your cap at Captain Radford!"
"I should rather not marry at all," said Mary, self-righteously, "than marry a man who was not moral and religious."
"In any case, Mamma," said Jane, "I have seen not the slightest indication, nor heard any suggestion from Bingley, that his cousin has the least preference for Mary. I do not think it wise to encourage her hopes."
Mrs Bennet sighed, but said nothing, for upon reviewing the visit, she could find not a single moment she could point to, that in any way supported her presumption; so she turned instead on Elizabeth. "And don't you start imagining that he might do for you, Lizzy, for though he sat beside you at the table, and then again in the drawing room, he has no money to marry on; and if he does not take vows, then he very likely never will; and in any case, did you not hear him say that he was intending to marry a young lady of fortune?"
Elizabeth considered pointing out that this last remark had been her own supposition, made in jest, and that the Captain had neither affirmed it nor made any such statement himself; but rather than give her mother reason to continue belabouring the subject, she wisely chose to return to her book.
In the weeks leading up to Jane's wedding, there was much excitement at Longbourn and a succession of engagements around the neighbourhood. Elizabeth found herself often in the company of Captain Radford, and had her heart not already been full of another, she might well have developed a preference for him. She always found him charming, his conversation well informed, and all of his opinions pleasing. How any young lady could find him disagreeable, she could not imagine; but Miss Bingley scrupulously maintained her haughty disdain.
Unlike her sister, Elizabeth was not obliged to feign friendship with Caroline; and on those occasions that she and Miss Bingley found themselves together in the same room, they were equally satisfied to eschew the company of the other, in so far as good manners permitted. In contrast to his sister, Charles Bingley evinced a genuine affection for his new-found cousin, whom he clearly looked up to as his superior in knowledge of the world. In the absence of his friend, Darcy, he came to rely greatly upon his cousin's opinions and support.
Elizabeth sometimes wondered what were Captain Radford's feelings for herself, for he almost always singled her out for attention. Whenever there was dancing - of which he was fond - he would always offer himself as her partner, and he often sought her out in the drawing room for conversation, which she invariably found pleasing. She hoped that he was not falling in love with her; and on the whole, she thought it improbable. Her mother, however, thought otherwise, and was constantly reminding her that he had no money; which was a happy recollection - for if he had no money, and knowing that neither did she, he must be on his guard.
Not every single man - whether he be in possession of a good fortune or not - must necessarily be in want of a wife, as her mother steadfastly believed; and Elizabeth suspected that the Captain, presently, had not the least idea of settling himself - despite her mother's exhortations.
As the day of the wedding drew nearer, Elizabeth was impatient for news of Mr Darcy's return into Hertfordshire. She sometimes reflected on the uncertainty of what the future might hold with regard to that gentleman. Would he acquit himself of blame with regard to Lydia, and silence the rumours concerning himself and her sister? And if he did, had Lydia's disgrace materially damaged her own chances; and were his affections for her much altered since Derbyshire?
Mrs Bennet's dislike of Mr Darcy was as resolute as Caroline Bingley's of her cousin. "That disgraceful man, who has ruined my poor Lydia; I care not how much money he has - he shall never enter this house - not even for the wedding breakfast - though he be Bingley's groomsman!"
Jane managed to avert the consequent embarrassment that this must necessarily cause her future husband, by arranging for the wedding breakfast to be held at Netherfield. When her mother learned of the alteration, she was furious. "It is not proper, Jane! The wedding breakfast must be in the bride's house!"
"No, Mamma," reasoned Elizabeth, "I have heard that in London, it may be held anywhere, and very often it takes place in public rooms."
"What do I care for what they do in London? This is not London!" snapped her mother. "That is not the way we do it here! And remember, Bingley is to give a ball before the wedding, so the breakfast must be here!"
"But Mamma," remonstrated Jane, "There will be a great many guests, and Netherfield Park has far larger rooms for the purpose, and many servants, also. Think of all the trouble it must mean for you, hiring additional servants, and making all the arrangements."
"Well, if you insist," replied her mother, thinking perhaps she might prefer to leave all the trouble to Miss Bingley. "Then we must have all the Netherfield ladies and gentlemen for a dinner party, a day or two before the wedding. I imagine that Mr and Mrs Hurst will be down by then. They must all come - everyone - except for that abominable Mr Darcy!"
Chapter Five - The Wedding Ball
Posted on 2011-11-02
On the day of the wedding ball, which was but five days before the wedding, there was still no news of Mr Darcy. The Longbourn party were the first to arrive at Netherfield, for Jane was to take her place with Mr Bingley in welcoming all the guests. The Hursts were now arrived at Netherfield, and Mrs Hurst made a tolerably convincing display of greeting Jane with all the warmth and joy of a sister. Leaving Jane with Mr Bingley in the foyer, Mr Bennet escorted his wife and his other three daughters towards the ballroom.
To their great surprise, Mr Darcy appeared, not ten paces before them, having entered the foyer from the opposite end. His eyes were immediately drawn to Elizabeth. "Come, girls!" exclaimed Mrs Bennet, shrilly, taking Mary and Kitty, each by an arm, and leading them in a very wide arc around Mr Darcy, as if he were some very dangerous creature. Ignoring the slight, Mr Darcy approached Elizabeth and her father, who, after greeting him with all due decorum, as if nothing in the least way untoward had occurred, excused himself, and followed in the direction of the ladies.
Mr Darcy smiled warmly. "I am delighted to see you again, Miss Bennet. If I may say so, you are looking exceedingly well."
Elizabeth lowered her head at the compliment, keenly feeling all the embarrassment of her mother's rude behaviour. "Please excuse my mother, sir."
He held up a hand. "I imagine she has heard the story in circulation concerning my wickedness," he said with a smile, which betrayed a consciousness that her mother was in fact the probable source of the story. "And since it pertains to her own daughter, it is hardly extraordinary that she should feel some great resentment towards myself. You may recall that, when last we met, I expressed the hope that the truth of the matter would soon be revealed; thus putting an end to this unfortunate rumour."
"Yes, my recollection of that conversation is indeed quite lucid; and I am exceedingly eager that my concerns and questions regarding the fate of my youngest sister - and your part in the intrigue - should be satisfied."
"And it remains my fervent hope that you shall. Most regrettably, I must entreat you to be patient a little longer; for when it is to occur is not within my power to command, but belongs entirely to another."
Although she was unhappy at the news, and could not comprehend why it must all be such a great mystery, Elizabeth had faith in his honesty and all his words. Many guests were now arriving and Mr Darcy offered her his arm, to escort her into the ballroom.
"I hope you come eager to dance this evening," said Elizabeth playfully, "for I recall that you are not at all fond of the amusement. And since this is a wedding ball, it would be most discourteous of the groomsman not to dance with the bride - and all of her sisters." Her smile clearly betrayed a consciousness that she had all but demanded that the gentleman ask her to dance. "I regret to inform you that my mother's dancing days are long past, so you shall not have that pleasure; however, you will also be expected to dance with the sisters of the groom; you have a demanding night before you, sir."
Mr Darcy laughed. "I may forgo the pleasure of dancing with your younger sisters; for I fear your mother would most certainly not permit it - wishing to protect them from so infamous a rogue as myself. I dare say they might very likely refuse to stand up with me - which would be most embarrassing. But I have hopes of a better reception from the two elder Miss Bennets. I feel certain that my friend, Bingley, has engaged his betrothed for the first two, for indeed, they must open the ball together; and in any case, even before you made me aware of my heavy responsibilities as groomsman, I had already entertained the hope that a particular sister of the bride might oblige me for the first two dances. Miss Bennet," he said warmly, "would you do me that honour?"
"Alas, sir, I regret that I am already engaged for the first set."
"Indeed. To whom?" he asked, with evident disappointment.
"To Captain Radford."
"Radford?" muttered Mr Darcy, with an expression of confused surprise upon his face. He remained silent; and whatever were his meditations on that gentleman, Elizabeth had not the least idea.
Eventually she spoke. "Yes, Captain Radford, Mr Bingley's cousin."
"Bingley's cousin?" demanded Mr Darcy, snapping out of his reverie. "But Bingley has no cousin!"
"Then you have not yet met Captain Radford? He has been staying here at Netherfield as Mr Bingley's guest these past several weeks."
"No, I have not had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman. I am just myself arrived an hour ago from town, and went straight away to dress for the ball. I have not yet had the chance to speak with anyone from the house. Yet I am quite certain that Bingley told me that, apart from his two sisters, he had not another living relative in the world; so you may understand my surprise, upon hearing that he has somehow acquired a cousin. Obviously, if he has engaged you to dance with him, you must be acquainted, to some degree, with the gentleman. Pray tell me how this has all come about?"
Elizabeth recounted all that Jane had originally told her regarding Captain Radford, and how he had discovered his cousin, Mr Bingley, through the wedding announcement in the newspaper. She had, of course, since learned a great deal more about him, but did not feel authorised to recount the substance of their many private conversations.
"How very interesting, and fortunate for Bingley and his sisters to discover that they have a cousin."
"Mr Bingley appears most happy with his new-found relation; his sisters, however, are somewhat less enthusiastic," said Elizabeth cryptically.
"Oh? How so?"
"That, you shall have to discover for yourself; but I may assure you that it will be in no way difficult," said Elizabeth with an ironic smile.
"I see. And what sort of man is he, this Captain Radford?"
"That, too, you may discover for yourself, for he approaches us now," said Elizabeth, turning to smile at the Captain, who looked most dashing in his dress uniform.
Captain Radford greeted Elizabeth warmly, and complimented her on how beautiful she looked. Elizabeth then introduced the gentlemen. Though he was entirely polite, Elizabeth observed something curious in Mr Darcy's expression as he stared into the Captain's face. Was he searching for some family resemblance to Bingley and his sisters? Or was it perhaps jealousy, at their evident intimacy, and his having engaged her for the first set? Or was it something else, wondered Elizabeth, recalling Mr Darcy's peculiar reaction when she had first mentioned the name, Captain Radford. Since they had apparently never met before, she conjectured that Mr Darcy must have previously heard his name mentioned in some connection - but to what?
Since her time in Derbyshire, Elizabeth had flattered herself that she understood Mr Darcy; and that his character was forthright and predictable - without mystery or intrigue. But then came the surprising hint of a connection with Lydia, and his inexplicable secrecy in that regard; and now his peculiar reaction to Captain Radford. "Is this another mystery, or is it, perhaps, part of the same one?" conjectured Elizabeth.
The Captain was all affability, and evidently pleased to meet his cousin's friend, regarding whom he had heard nothing but praise. But before the gentlemen could further engage with each other, they were interrupted by Miss Bingley, who rudely pushed her way between them - her great joy at seeing Mr Darcy, apparently causing her to momentarily forget her good manners. Then without so much as an excuse me, to either Elizabeth or Captain Radford, she began leading Mr Darcy away from them, towards her sister Louisa, who was, she said, utterly desperate to greet him.
But Mr Darcy was not so rude. "Excuse me a moment, Miss Bingley," he said, disengaging himself from her and walking back to Elizabeth and the Captain. "It is a very great pleasure to meet you, sir," he said to the gentleman, bowing. "I look forward to continuing our conversation at some other time." Then turning to Elizabeth, he said, "I would be most happy to engage you for the earliest set for which you are not already spoken, Miss Bennet."
"I am not engaged for the second two, sir."
Mr Darcy bowed. "Then it will be my great pleasure to engage you for those dances."
As he walked back towards Caroline Bingley, he could not have failed to observe the indignant expression upon that lady's face, which in no way complimented it. Elizabeth felt certain that Caroline would waste no time in disabusing him of his apparently favourable impression of Captain Radford, and then extend the censure to herself by observing how well pleased she and the Captain seemed to be with each other; and, doubtless, hinting at her suspicions that something highly improper might be going forth between them. Elizabeth was in no way concerned. She strongly suspected that Mr Darcy had Caroline Bingley's measure, and would give her false and scornful words all the credence they deserved.
The orchestra struck up the opening flourish, and Captain Radford led Elizabeth to stand beside Jane and Mr Bingley at the top of the set. Mrs Bennet, upon seeing to whom Elizabeth was engaged for the first two dances, looked pointedly at her daughter with undisguised displeasure. Caroline Bingley was the next lady in the set, standing smugly across from her partner, Mr Darcy, followed by Mr and Mrs Hurst and then Kitty, with some young man. Only Mary, seated beside her father, was not dancing. She looked at her sisters with a disapproving air, which suggested that there were more serious things in life than mere dancing and frivolity.
At one point in the dance, Elizabeth found herself standing beside Caroline Bingley while the gentlemen were engaged in circling the ladies. She said sneeringly, "I should be ashamed to be engaged to such a partner as yours for the first two, Miss Bennet. I was fortunate to be asked by a true gentleman, whom I would rank above all others in this assembly."
Elizabeth could not resist replying, "You are fortunate, indeed, Miss Bingley; but you owe your good fortune to my partner." Caroline looked at her uncomprehendingly. "For had he not previously engaged me for these two dances, it would be I, who was dancing them with that true gentleman, who, regrettably, I was obliged to disappoint."
Mrs Bennet's displeasure at Elizabeth's first partner was nothing compared to that which she exhibited for her second. When she saw her daughter stand up with Mr Darcy, she was livid, and it took a good deal of exertion, on the part of her husband, to prevent her from making a spectacle of herself. Still, she would tell Lady Lucas, and any other acquaintance who would listen, what a disgrace it was that her own daughter should dance with the very man who had ruined her youngest sister.
Almost all of the company were aware of the story concerning Mr Darcy and Miss Lydia Bennet; and if some of them thought it shocking that Miss Elizabeth should dance with the arrogant, wealthy scoundrel, others - most especially those who knew of her reputation for intelligence and the possession of a well-informed mind - rather concluded that she evidently gave little credence to the story; and that it might therefore, very likely be false; an opinion which gained further ground when the eldest Miss Bennet danced with Mr Darcy, and then - almost unbelievably - he was later favoured by Miss Elizabeth for a further set.
Those who were wondering if this might perhaps presage the marriage of a second Miss Bennet, were very soon asking themselves - but to whom? For she was next observed dancing a second set with Mr Bingley's cousin, Captain Radford. Such speculation and gossip added much liveliness to the supper conversation, at which the young lady concerned, was seated between her two prospective suitors. Mrs Bennet's displeasure at this arrangement was matched only by that of Miss Bingley, who found herself seated opposite them, but at a sufficient distance from the object of her matrimonial ambitions as to make conversation exceedingly difficult.
She was obliged to speak loud enough for half the table to hear, when she remarked to Elizabeth, "Your dear mother must be most gratified to see her eldest daughter so well-married. But she still has quite a few yet to dispose of... I find myself unable to recall the exact number. Pray tell, Miss Bennet, precisely how many unmarried daughters does your mother have?"
Elizabeth blushed at this vicious attack, which was clearly designed to engender a recollection of Lydia's disgrace in the consciousness of all within hearing - and in that of one gentleman in particular, whose face paled. Unfortunately for Miss Bingley, the recollection which she had so ably aroused, had attached to it, in the minds of many in the district, the name of that same gentleman, and in no flattering way; and to him the eyes of many at the table now turned, and much whispering ensued.
"I am surprised at your question, Miss Bingley," replied Elizabeth in a clear voice, strong enough for Miss Bingley - and unavoidably many others besides - to hear. "I must say that if I found myself in the embarrassing situation of not knowing the number of sisters-in-law my own brother was to acquire in a few days' time; or which, if any of them, were married, I think I would choose hide my ignorance rather than advertise it to the world."
Mr Darcy was among the many who smiled at the witty and well-deserved put-down; and Miss Bingley, daring not to reply, instead sought to divert his attention from the lady beside him, and gain his admiration, by her virtuosity at the pianoforte. Thus did she immediately rise and open the instrument, where she performed creditably - although not well enough to gain the attention of the one from whom she most desired it; which, to her great displeasure, she observed remained devoted to his neighbour.
"My sister, Georgiana, most especially requested, in a recent letter, that upon my return into Hertfordshire, I give you her fondest regards, and communicate to you the delight it gave her to make your acquaintance when you were in Derbyshire, and of her disappointment at its sudden interruption."
"Please thank Miss Darcy for her warm regards, and return them if you will. Pray tell her that I, too, was exceedingly happy to make her acquaintance. Does your sister remain at Pemberley?"
"Yes, at the present time; however, she will soon be joining me in town, at Grosvenor Square."
"Then you must tell Miss Darcy that I, too, shall soon be in town, and that it shall be my pleasure to call upon her at the very earliest time."
"Oh, I was entirely unaware that you were for London, Miss Bennet. It will be my great pleasure to give the good news to my sister; who will, I am certain, be delighted," he said, with a smile that spoke, rather, of his own delight.
"I am invited to join Mr Bingley and my sister on their wedding tour. However, as they have determined to defer it until the spring, when the weather shall be warmer, they will go up to town after the wedding, to enjoy the season; and Jane has invited me to stay with them, at Fairfield Gardens."
"A very happy arrangement - for everyone," said Mr Darcy, meaningfully.
"Oh, I can think of at least one person who may not be greatly overjoyed at the news," said Elizabeth wryly, looking in the direction of the pianoforte.
Mr Darcy chuckled, together with Captain Radford, on her other side, who, though silent, had been listening to their conversation, and now spoke. "And there is yet another person who is exceedingly pleased to learn that you go to Fairfield Gardens, Miss Bennet - myself."
"Are you also to stay at Fairfield Gardens, sir?" asked Elizabeth. Mr Darcy, too, appeared interested in how he would answer the question.
"No, not at Fairfield Gardens; but not so very far away. Since my return to England, I have had the great fortune to enjoy the generous hospitality of my dear friend and mentor, Admiral Barclay - now retired. Are you acquainted with him at all, sir?" he asked Mr Darcy.
"A little; but more by reputation. He is well-known in London society."
"Perhaps you are better acquainted with his daughter, Miss Victoria Barclay?" asked the Captain, with a smile.
"Yes, perhaps," said Mr Darcy, giving the Captain a calculating glance.
"She is the most beautiful of young ladies, is she not?" asked the Captain.
"Yes, she is very handsome indeed. Her beauty, I have heard it said, is exceeded only by her wealth."
"She is the Admiral's only child, and is heir to his considerable fortune," replied Captain Radford. "And yet I, for one, would not agree that its splendour exceeds her beauty."
"She would seem to be the most fortunate of young ladies; but what of her character? Does it equal her other, more tangible attractions?" asked Elizabeth, looking towards Mr Darcy; for her interest was piqued - not only in the young lady, but in what she might signify to him. For it now appeared to her that an air of rivalry existed between the two gentlemen concerning the young lady in question, and that Mr Darcy's initial reaction at hearing the Captain's name, and his curious manner upon meeting him, was not on account of Lydia, as she had begun to suspect, but on account of an entirely different young lady - Miss Victoria Barclay.
As the favoured protégé of her father, and a guest in his house, Captain Radford, who possessed every charm of pleasing a lady, must stand an excellent chance of prevailing with his suit if he so chose; and her fortune, along with his affection for her father, must be very strong inducements for him to do so. Elizabeth believed that she now understood why, though evidently he enjoyed the pleasure of her company, the heart of the Captain appeared little touched; for he was already in love with another.
Though Mr Darcy and Captain Radford had not previously met - for the Captain was but recently returned to England - it appeared that they were each of them aware of the name of the other, and very likely, it seemed, in connection with this most desirable of young ladies.
"I believe your acquaintance with Miss Barclay must be greater than my own, perhaps you would care to oblige Miss Bennet's curiosity," said Mr Darcy.
"It shall be my pleasure, for I have known Miss Barclay since she was young. After my aunt died, Admiral Barclay insisted upon my staying at his London residence whenever I had shore leave. Although it was infrequent, I have had the pleasure of observing his daughter grow and blossom into the most charming young lady. Not only is she beautiful and greatly accomplished in music, but she is also possessed of a keen intellect and a well-informed mind. She is kind and affable to all. It is truly a joy to be in her company."
Although Elizabeth had never before considered that she might have a rival for Mr Darcy's heart - neither Anne de Bourgh nor Caroline Bingley signified - she now feared that she had one, and a most formidable one at that. She longed to know the degree of acquaintance between him and Miss Barclay, but she would not be so impertinent as to enquire. Her thoughts on the matter, however, were interrupted by Jane, who handed her some sheets of music, which caused her to recollect the plan they had devised, in conjunction with their father, to prevent Mary from repeating the embarrassing spectacle that had ensued on the two previous occasions that the Netherfield instrument had been opened in her presence.
Captain Radford, looking over her shoulder at the musical sheets, said, "If you mean to entertain us with your lovely voice, Miss Bennet, please permit me to turn the pages for you."
Elizabeth readily acceded; and observing that Miss Bingley had basked long enough in the warm applause, and was about to relinquish the instrument - and furthermore was looking entreatingly towards her sister, Mary, who had gathered her music and was rising to her feet - Elizabeth quickly rose and claimed the instrument, to which she was situated somewhat closer than her sister.
Elizabeth excelled herself, and after a charming performance of two beautiful songs, she was begged by her listeners for another. As she searched through her music sheets, Captain Radford surprised her by pointing out a lovely pastoral duet and proposing that he join her in it. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and together with Elizabeth, produced such an enchanting performance, that the company begged them for another.
When her sister finally gave up the instrument, Mary, once more, gathered her music, eager to take her turn; but her father, who sat beside her, placed a hand on her arm, saying, "No, child, it would be unseemly if it appeared that the Miss Bennets were monopolising the instrument; I think we must allow the daughters of other families the opportunity to display."
When Elizabeth returned to the table, she was hardly surprised to discover that Caroline Bingley had taken her seat. However, rather than looking smug and pleased with herself, she appeared most put-out; for though she had tried engaging Mr Darcy - and very prettily too - concerning his sister, Georgiana, of whom she was prodigiously fond; regarding Pemberley, and what a peerless estate it was; and of the anticipated delights of the coming season - his rapturous attention would not be diverted from Elizabeth's performance; and upon her return, he rose to his feet to congratulate her warmly.
With just the hint of a smile, Captain Radford resumed his own seat, beside his cousin Caroline, who immediately rose, outraged at his effrontery, and fled, seeking solace, from her sister, Louisa; thus allowing Elizabeth to resume her former seat with Mr Darcy's courteous assistance.
"It is fortunate, indeed, Miss Bennet, that you shall soon be in town, for I am intending to hold a ball next month in honour of my sister's coming out into society. I shall ask my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who has kindly offered to preside over the arrangements, to ensure that you receive an invitation."
"I shall receive it with the greatest pleasure," replied Elizabeth, secretly wondering how pleased his aunt would be to issue it.
"Then may I take this exceptionally early opportunity of requesting the honour of the first two dances?"
"Are you quite certain, Mr Darcy, that your aunt would not wish for you stand up with her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh, for those two dances?" enquired Elizabeth, with a mischievous smile.
"My cousin, Anne, rarely comes to town, on account of her poor health; and thus, unfortunately, it is most unlikely that she shall be able to attend the ball. However, even were she present, I would not wish to dance the first set with her - or with any other lady."
Elizabeth smiled at the very clear preference intended. "In that case, it shall be my pleasure to accede to your request - although I fear, that if your cousin does, in fact, attend the ball, and you do not dance the first two with her, your aunt will be most seriously displeased."
Mr Darcy smiled. The orchestra struck up a tune to announce that dancing was about to recommence, and rising to his feet, he enquired, "Would it be considered very bad form, do you think, Miss Bennet, if I were to request the pleasure of dancing a third set with you?"
Elizabeth rose to her feet, also. "Very probably, sir, but I regret to inform you that another is destined to earn that disapprobation before yourself."
Captain Radford and Mr Darcy exchanged an appraising glance, before the former led Elizabeth to the dance floor.
"It would seem, Captain Radford, that although you and Mr Darcy had not met until this evening, that you were already rivals," commented Elizabeth coyly.
"If your meaning is that we both find you the most charming of young ladies with whom to stand up with at a ball, then I suspect you are very likely correct."
"You mistake my meaning, sir, it was not so immodest as you suppose; for while it does concern a young lady - I am not that lady."
"You must refer then, to Miss Victoria Barclay?"
Elizabeth nodded, eager to hear him speak on the subject, and most particularly with regard to Mr Darcy; but in the latter, she was disappointed, for he was far too well-mannered to oblige her on that score - but as to himself, he was not. "If you imagine anything of a romantic nature between myself and Miss Barclay, then you are mistaken. It is certainly true that I love the Admiral's daughter - but it is as a brother loves a sister. Admiral Barclay has treated me as he would a son, and having known Miss Barclay since she was young, I have come to think of her as a sister - the one that I never knew."
Elizabeth reflected that if this were the case - and she had not the least reason to doubt him - then his reaction to Mr Darcy with regard to Miss Barclay must be more in the nature of that of a protective older brother, which increased, rather than decreased, her suspicion that Mr Darcy may have designs upon the young lady - which Captain Radford, perhaps, did not look upon with favour. It also explained why he appeared not to resent Mr Darcy's attentions to herself, for it would mean that Miss Barclay was safe - but safe from what? Did he perhaps give credence to the talk about Mr Darcy and Lydia - or, more worryingly, did he perhaps possess that information which Mr Darcy found himself unable to reveal. Elizabeth was well aware that she might be drawing a long bow, but finding herself lost in the swirl of what seemed to be an ever-growing number of mysteries concerning Mr Darcy, she found herself unable to be patient, and her active mind would incessantly seek after explanations, which seemed to collapse almost as soon as they were formed.
When the set was over, Mr Darcy approached, and upon learning that Elizabeth was not engaged for the next, he took her hand, and said to Captain Radford, "I shall not allow you to suffer alone the disapprobation of the company for bad behaviour, sir - you must share it with me."
The first dance was a vigorous one and allowed little opportunity for Elizabeth to converse with her partner, but the second was better suited to the purpose. "It is curious, is it not, sir, that although you and Captain Radford had never met before this evening, you were each of you well aware of the other; and, although neither of you knew it, your good friend, Mr Bingley was his cousin," observed Elizabeth, hoping to hear him say something of the young lady with whom they were both acquainted.
"You are only partly correct, Miss Bennet. For while it appears that Captain Radford had previously heard my name, apparently in connection with Miss Barclay, I had never heard mention of a Captain Radford before this evening."
"You surprise me, for your reaction upon meeting him, betrayed a consciousness that suggested otherwise."
"It was most likely on account of his being introduced to me as Bingley's cousin; for I had always believed my friend to have none. And while I find nothing in the least bit untoward in Captain Radford's behaviour, I intend to commission an investigation into his background, to ascertain that the relationship he claims to Mr Bingley, is indeed, as he asserts."
"You have been speaking to Caroline Bingley, I suspect?" teased Elizabeth.
Darcy smiled. "My resolve has nothing at all to do with Miss Bingley's strong opinions, I can assure you. It is a matter of prudence. In truth, it is something that Bingley, himself, should have undertaken; but he is so trusting that he would never contemplate it."
"You take prodigious care of your friend."
"I am prompted in my resolution by additional considerations. When a gentleman, whose background is wholly unknown, is introduced into one's society, most especially when it includes young ladies, it is well to be certain of his bona fides."
"You are thinking perhaps of Miss Barclay?" asked Elizabeth, raising an enquiring eyebrow.
"Not for a moment. If the Captain's relationship to Admiral Barclay is all that he asserts, then the Admiral will know more than enough in so far as his own daughter's protection is concerned. I was thinking rather of my own sister... and other young ladies," he said looking at her pointedly. "I trust, Miss Bennet, that you will keep this matter confidential."
"Certainly, I shall. And I hope that you will be kind enough to share the fruits of your investigation."
"You may be certain, that if I learn of anything, in the least bit amiss, you shall be the very first to know of it."
"It's a scandal!" exclaimed Mrs Bennet at the breakfast table on the morning following the ball. "You stood up three times with that disgraceful Mr Darcy, who the whole neighbourhood knows has been the means of ruining the life of your poor sister. And besides, it is not right, Lizzy, for a young lady to dance so many times with the same gentleman, unless she be engaged to him - or the company will believe that she very soon will be! And if you think that your father would ever allow it - no matter how wealthy he may be, that disreputable rogue - then you are very much mistaken! Is that not so, Mr Bennet?" she demanded of her husband. "Tell Lizzy she may not marry the scoundrel!"
"Of which scoundrel are you speaking, Mrs Bennet?" asked her husband innocently.
"Mr Darcy, of course! Who, as you well know, is the greatest scoundrel that ever breathed! You must tell your daughter that you shall never allow her to marry him!"
"I was not aware of any such proposal," said Mr Bennet, smiling at his daughter. "Indeed, I understood that you and Mr Darcy did not much like each other, Lizzy; so I may tell you that I was somewhat surprised that he should have wished to dance with you so many times. Although, if my arithmetic serves me right, you danced an equal number of times with Captain Radford. How many proposals of marriage did you receive last night, my dear? And more to the point, how many did you accept? It seems I have a busy day before me, denying your many suitors."
Mrs Bennet, who seldom understood her husband's jests, took it all most seriously. "Quite so, Mr Bennet, you must refuse them both! Mr Darcy shall not ruin the life of another of my daughters - though he be rich! And Captain Radford, regrettably, is poor."
When finally she got the chance to speak, Elizabeth assured her father that he would have no suitors of hers to deny, for she had neither received, nor accepted, a single offer of marriage at the ball.
"Just the same, Lizzy, I have decided that I do not want you to go to London with Jane."
"Why ever not, Mamma?" demanded Elizabeth.
"I do not trust you to be all alone in London with that scoundrel, Darcy! And Captain Radford is wishing to marry you also - and he has no money; do you not see the danger you will be in, girl?"
Elizabeth made the mistake of looking up at her father, and the expression of amusement on his face at his wife's patent absurdity, made it impossible for her to hold back the laugh she had been so assiduously suppressing; which she was now obliged to disguise as a cough.
"Mamma," said Jane. "Lizzy will be perfectly safe in town, I am certain; and she will not be alone, she will be with me, and under the protection of my husband."
"No, your father will never allow it - will you, Mr Bennet? You know perfectly well that I wanted to go to Brighton with all the girls - but you denied me; and instead, poor Lydia had to go without me, all alone, in the company of that silly Mrs Forster, who had not the least idea of how to look after my poor girl; and you see how it has all ended in her ruin and disgrace - and now she is in the power of that villain Darcy! You must not allow a second daughter fall into his evil clutches, Mr Bennet!"
"I fear that you are sometimes given to exaggeration, my dear," replied her husband wryly. "Your condemnations of Mr Darcy all rest upon the weakest of suppositions, which I fear you mistake for fact. While I am loath to lose my Lizzy to London, I refuse to deny her that pleasure, nor Jane the company of her sister, simply because they have a very silly younger sister, who has disgraced herself. I have complete confidence in my two eldest daughters to behave sensibly and with the utmost propriety, in a manner that does me credit."
In the few days remaining, Elizabeth was kept busy preparing her clothes for London - and despairing at how few she had for the many balls and other formal occasions. Though she did not like to do it, she felt obliged to apply to her father for an advance on her next year's allowance, which he not only granted her, but also augmented with a generous gift of his own (advising her to keep it secret from her mother and younger sisters).
Elizabeth did not see Mr Darcy again until they were in church together for the wedding; he as groomsman, and she as bridesmaid; for her mother had excluded him from her dinner party with malicious pleasure. Mrs Bennet was less than pleased, however, when Miss Bingley chose to absent herself. She gave as her excuse, clearly calculated to offend, her sense of obligation to Mr Darcy, who, as a guest in the house over which she presided, she could not, in all conscience, leave alone to dine by himself. Elizabeth found herself entirely happy at this arrangement, and although her thoughts were often at Netherfield, she enjoyed the day, and in particular the pleasing attentions of Captain Radford. She was confident that Mr Darcy's investigation would corroborate his story in every detail; for he was as honest and artless a man, as ever she had met.
Though Mr Darcy's behaviour at the ball had increased her confidence in the strength of his feelings for her, she was eager to discover how he would behave in town - and most especially in the company of Miss Barclay - was it possible that he might prefer this remarkable young lady, who appeared to possess every possible gift? And then there were the unanswered questions concerning Lydia. What if he did not acquit himself there?
If Captain Radford was not, as he asserted, in love with Miss Barclay, then what did his attentions to herself signify? Was it perhaps a genuine preference that he chose to conceal - which would be hardly surprising given his lack of money. Perhaps the Admiral, with his wealth and extensive connections, might set up his young protégé in some position or other, than would provide a sufficient income on which to marry? The warmth of the Captain's behaviour to her at the dinner party, and his frequently expressed hopes of seeing much of her in town, inclined Elizabeth to fear that he might, indeed, be falling in love with her.
The wedding and the wedding breakfast at Netherfield were soon over, and when Mr and Mrs Bingley straight afterwards departed for London, Elizabeth shared their carriage. "When will it be my turn?" she wondered, as they drove along, her head full of thoughts and images of Mr Darcy... and a great many questions, also.Continued In Next Section