Beginning, Next Section
Posted on 2008-07-04
Not many days after Mr Collins' most welcome departure from Longbourn, Elizabeth was reflecting upon the capriciousness of life as she walked towards Meryton one morning with Jane, Kitty, and Lydia. Jane was earnestly engaged in the office of cautioning her two youngest sisters on the need to show greater restraint in the company of the officers, leaving Elizabeth free to pursue her thoughts regarding chance, and how so much in life appeared to depend upon it. These thoughts began with her considering, as she had done often in recent days, the astonishing acceptance of Mr Collins' offer of marriage by her friend Charlotte. How could a thoughtful, intelligent girl such as Charlotte, agree to spend her life with so absurd a partner?
Perhaps it was because she could find no satisfactory answer to this perplexing question that her thoughts wandered to the perverse sequence of events which were responsible for her friend's most unfortunate betrothal. To begin with, there was the entail on Mr Bennet's estate, which ensured that it would pass to Mr Collins upon her father's death. It was this which almost certainly had prompted Mr Collins' visit. He was doubtless motivated as much by the surreptitious desire to inspect his future property, as he was by his avowed intention of choosing a wife from among Mr Bennet's daughters. He appeared to believe they were his by right to select from, according to his whim -- and to be accepted -- as if they too were part of the entail; the presumptuous buffoon! Had it not been for Mr Bingley and her mother's hopes for Jane in that regard, her elder sister would have unquestionably been the object of Mr Collins' attentions. But Elizabeth knew her sister well enough to know that though it would have grieved her excessively to go against her mother's wishes, she would never have accepted Mr Collins. Jane would marry for love -- and no woman could love Mr Collins. Thus, she herself became the object of Mr Collins' hopes and illusions.
On the very day Mr Collins had finally come to the point -- and been so vigorously rebuffed -- Charlotte came to spend the day at Longbourn, and as an act of kindness to her friend, sought to engage Mr Collins' attentions. Was it he, out of wounded pride, who first had the notion of Lord William Lucas' daughter as a suitable wife -- one of whom Lady Catherine de Bourgh must surely approve -- or did Charlotte deliberately set about encouraging his addresses? Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing was certain: chance had played an extraordinary part in the chain of events that would end with one of the most significant events in her friend Charlotte's life: her marriage to Mr Collins.
Continuing with her theme of chance, Elizabeth directed her thoughts towards a more agreeable subject: her acquaintance with Mr Wickham. It was strange to think that had he not been treated so abominably by Mr Darcy and denied the promised family living, Mr Wickham would now be a clergyman in some distant northern place, and she would never have experienced the pleasure of his delightful manners and company. Elizabeth smiled to herself. I shall certainly thank chance for that piece of good fortune -- and not Mr Darcy! Little did Elizabeth know, as she engaged in her musings, but the recent death of a person wholly unknown to her had already set in motion a chain of events which would soon touch her life, and perhaps alter its course irrevocably.
Chapter 1 ~ An Unexpected Lady
Posted on 2008-07-04
When the Miss Bennets returned from Meryton, they were surprised to learn that their father had been unexpectedly called away. All their agitated mother could tell them was that an express had arrived, and soon afterwards he had hurriedly departed without any explanation. All he had said was that he was unlikely to return before several days. As he was enigmatic by nature, and not disposed to confide much in their mother, Jane and Elizabeth, while surprised at his unexpected journey, and curious to know what it could mean, were not overly anxious. Kitty and Lydia were too much occupied with gossip concerning one of the officers of the militia to be troubled, and Mary was upstairs, engaged in the improvement of her mind, altogether oblivious of her father's sudden departure.
Mrs Bennet passed the absence of her husband speculating to whence he might have gone, fretting over when he should return, and fearing that he would be set upon by highwaymen and murdered. What would become of them all then? The elder Miss Bennets could not help but feel that it was a welcome distraction of their mother's attentions, which had lately been much directed at themselves. For Jane, it was an agreeable respite from her mother's endless speculations as to why Mr Bingley was not yet returned to Netherfield; and Elizabeth was happy to spend a few days free from her mother's angry recriminations regarding her refusal of Mr Collins.
When Mr Bennet eventually returned in the fading evening light four days later, he looked tired and careworn, and was not inclined to answer any of their questions. He asked for his supper to be sent to the library, where he shut himself away, safe from the curiosity of his wife and daughters.
The following morning, when all were seated at the breakfast table, he lowered his newspaper and addressed his wife thus: "Mrs Bennet, we are to receive two visitors within the week, please have the guest rooms ready for their arrival." He immediately disappeared behind his newspaper once more, as if no further explanation were required.
"My dear Mr Bennet, who are these visitors?" demanded his wife. "This must have something to do with your mysterious journey. Pray tell us what this is all about, sir."
Mr Bennet laid down his paper with a sigh. It was clear that he would have no peace until his good lady's curiosity was satisfied. "You may recall my mentioning on occasion, an intimate acquaintance from my Oxford days, by the name of Lord Darlington."
"I am quite certain I would recall anyone of so elevated a rank had you mentioned him, Mr Bennet; but indeed you did not," said his wife, shaking her head before continuing excitedly. "Are we to receive a visit from Lord Darlington? You said two persons -- Lady Darlington must be accompanying him! Oh, what a great honour for us! I shall call Hill immediately and instruct her to use the finest linen in making up the guest rooms."
However, before she could ring for the housekeeper, Mr Bennet said, "Lord Darlington will not be visiting us; he died some weeks ago." This had the immediate effect of quieting his wife and daughters, who looked towards him in silent anticipation. "The purpose of my recent absence was to pay a visit to Lord Darlington's widow, and his son who succeeds his father to the title."
"Then you must have invited Lady Darlington and her son to visit us! Oh, how wonderful for our girls! But pray tell what kind of gentleman is this young Lord Darlington? Is he married?"
"He is not; but if you will allow me---"
"How exciting," cried Mrs Bennet. "How old is he? He must be rich! Is he handsome? Jane, my dear, how fortunate that Mr Bingley remains out of the way in London; the young Lord Darlington may very likely fall in love with you. Imagine what a match that will be! Lady Jane, does it not sound delightful? Oh I can hardly wait---"
"The young Lord Darlington is not coming!" interjected an exasperated Mr Bennet. "Perhaps you can spare us the details of the nuptials until I have finished my communication and departed from the room, madam."
"Not coming? Why ever not? Why have you not invited him, Mr Bennet? How could you be so cruel and heartless a father, to pass up so exceptional an opportunity for your daughters?"
"Perhaps, if you would allow me to finish what I have to say, you may decide that you would rather not have the young Lord Darlington for a son."
"Good gracious, why ever not?"
"My friend, the late Lord Darlington, married a few years earlier than myself, and his lady soon afterwards bore him a son and heir; but most unfortunately she did not recover from her confinement. Lord Darlington, not long afterwards, took a second wife, being anxious that his son should not grow up motherless. His new wife was from a noble family, and was herself a widow with a baby daughter. The unexpected and premature death of her first husband occurred before suitable provision for such an eventuality had been made, and she was left with very little to live on---"
"In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that she would accept any offer. But of course you know what they say about second marriages being for comfort, not love, my dear," said Mrs Bennet.
"Indeed I do not, Mrs Bennet -- and I would very much appreciate it if you would be so good as to spare me the information." Rising from his chair, he added, "If you will excuse me, I must arrange for the carriage to be despatched immediately to collect Lady Darlington and her daughter. I leave the arrangements for the ladies' accommodation in your care, Mrs Bennet."
"Daughter? But, how many days are they to stay with us, Mr Bennet?"
"I have not the slightest idea."
"But, why ever not, Mr Bennet? And why do you send our drab old carriage for them -- it will never do for a great lady and her daughter -- she must have several carriages far superior to our poor vehicle at her disposal. Certainly, the young Lord Darlington would not allow his mother and sister to travel abroad without proper conveyance and attendants. It is unthinkable that he would not make a suitable carriage available to bring them to us and to collect them when it is time for their return."
"They will not be returning to Darlington Hall."
"Not return? Whatever do you mean, Mr Bennet?"
Mr Bennet stopped at the door, the astonished faces of his wife and all five daughters turned towards him. He paused for a moment to consider his words. "My recent journey was prompted by an express from the late Lord Darlington's solicitor, entreating me to intercede with the son. As an old acquaintance of his father, and being somewhat known to the son, the solicitor had hoped that I might prevail upon him to reconsider his decision to cast out his stepmother, Lady Darlington, without a penny. Most regrettably, I failed to soften his resolve in the least."
"How shocking!" exclaimed Mrs Bennet. "How could he treat the person who has stood in the place of a mother to him almost all his life so abominably? But why is she penniless? Surely her late husband, Lord Darlington, must have made a will providing for his wife and daughter."
"Indeed he did. According to the solicitor, the late Lord Darlington made a second will soon after remarrying, making ample provision for his new wife, her daughter, and any subsequent children she might bear him. About a year ago, he made a third will, which was even more generous in its provisions for his wife and her children, all of whom were most dear to him; although the son from his first marriage remained the heir and would naturally inherit the title and the estate."
Before Mrs Bennet could interrupt again, he quickly continued. "When Lord Darlington passed away, about a month ago, and his strongbox was opened, the solicitor found only the first will, which, being made prior to the second marriage, left everything to his son. There was no trace of the subsequent wills which had superseded it."
The ladies gasped. "But surely the solicitor is able to testify to the existence of the later wills?" demanded Mrs Bennet.
"Indeed he is. In fact, he retains draft copies of all three wills, but they have no legal standing. It is not unheard of for a man to have more than one will. The latest one takes precedence, but he may, for whatever reason, decide to revert to an earlier plan for the division of his estate, and so destroy a later will."
"But it is unthinkable that Lord Darlington could have done such a thing; to leave his wife and her daughter penniless!" exclaimed Jane.
"It is far more likely," said Elizabeth darkly, "that the son had access to his father's keys, and that he opened the strongbox, inspected the wills, and destroyed the two later ones. Whatever his stepmother and anyone else were to receive would be at his expense."
"Quite so; I am sure you are right, my dear," replied her father. "Although Lord Darlington's death was sudden and unexpected, he lay incapacitated in his bed chamber for several days. The son would have had access to both his father's keys and the strongbox containing the wills during that period. Privately, the solicitor seemed in little doubt as to what had transpired, but there is no legal remedy -- nothing can be done."
"I imagine that Lady Darlington must have justly accused him of his crime," said Elizabeth, "and consequently he has cast her out, along with her daughter."
"Indeed not," replied Mr Bennet. "The solicitor made her immediately aware that she had no legal recourse at her disposal; and she knows too well the disposition of her stepson to expect any admission of guilt or concession on his part. No such accusation has been made."
"But then why has he cast them out, papa?" asked Jane.
"That is a question you may wish to ask the ladies yourself. Please excuse me," said Mr Bennet, quickly exiting the room.
There followed a most animated conversation amongst the ladies, conjecturing as to the cause of the young Lord Darlington's actions. What a terrible blackguard he must be, to destroy his father's wills and drive out his stepmother and stepsister, leaving them homeless and destitute. It seemed unthinkable. Or was it perhaps revenge for a lifetime of cruelty at the hands of a wicked stepmother? Such things were not unheard of.
"We should never be hasty in judging others," cautioned Mary. "The scriptures counsel us to judge not our fellow man, lest we ourselves be judged."
"Nonsense!" said her mother. "I shall most certainly get to the bottom of it as soon as they arrive!"
"Mama," entreated Jane, "please consider the state Lady Darlington must be in. She is in mourning, having lost her husband only very recently."
"And she is very likely blameless for the actions of her stepson," added Elizabeth. "I think we must give her the benefit of the doubt until we know the circumstances. Imagine how it must be for her; having just lost her husband, finding herself and her daughter cheated of their inheritance and then thrown upon the charity of strangers. She must be completely without relations if she is forced to come to a strange house. Mother, we must not question them. All we can do is strive to make them comfortable. Once they are at their ease, they may choose to confide in us something of the extraordinary circumstances that have led to this sad state of affairs."
"Yes, mother, Elizabeth is correct," pleaded Jane. "They are both of them in mourning and have suffered grievously. We must not pry into their affairs; it would be very wrong."
When the two ladies arrived some days later, they were visibly tired and distraught; although they were at pains to express their sincere gratitude for the great kindness of the Bennets in taking them in. Lady Darlington seemed reserved and kept to her room much of the time. On the few occasions that she sat with them in the drawing-room, she seemed intent on absorbing herself in a book; although Elizabeth observed her occasionally staring fixedly at nothing in particular, her mind turned inwards on itself. She must have been a great beauty in her youth; and even in her present state of distress and sorrow there was a calm dignity about her. Whether it was the result of her daughters' counsel, her awe for the lady's title, or simply the respect that their visitor's poised demeanour commanded, Mrs Bennet kept her curiosity in rein.
The daughter, Julia, unlike her mother, sought comfort and distraction in the company of others, particularly Jane and Elizabeth, in whom she found sympathy and goodwill. At first she said very little except to repeatedly thank them and their family for their kindness and generosity. But one morning, a few days after their arrival, she was walking with the two elder Miss Bennets in a small wood not far from the house, when she confided in them that her mother was anxious to find a small cottage.
"You must not think of leaving us so soon," said Elizabeth earnestly. "We are all of us delighted to have you remain with us for as long as you please."
"Yes," agreed Jane. "Both you and your mother are such charming companions, we would miss you terribly."
"You have all been so kind to us -- more than we could have imagined or hoped for -- and we will be forever grateful to you for taking us in at this most difficult time," replied Julia. "But my mother wishes very much to have her own establishment again, no matter how low it may be. Do either of you perchance know of any suitable small place in the neighbourhood that might be available for rent?"
"But would you not prefer to be situated closer to your own country, amongst your friends and acquaintances?" asked Jane.
"No, that would be most awkward and painful. We were in the first circle of our neighbourhood. How could we bear the ignominy of poverty before those with whom we were once intimate? We have no money, nothing, only a few small items of jewellery from my mother's first marriage, which my stepbrother was unable to claim as his own lawful property."
Jane and Elizabeth were shocked.
"How could any person act so cruelly to another?" asked Elizabeth. "It is beyond imagination; even had you not been members of the same family. I know you were not related by blood, but you and he must have grown up together, your mother was also a mother to him. How could he turn his back so viciously upon his nearest friends? It defies comprehension."
"Because he wished to be even nearer," said Julia with a deep sigh. "Nearer than stepbrother and stepsister."
"You mean he wished to marry you?" asked Jane.
"How could you possibly marry so odious a man? How could any woman love -- nay, not love: merely endure -- such a hateful person?" demanded Elizabeth
"He was not always so," replied Julia, with a sigh. "There was a time when I did love him -- as a brother. I was but a year in age, and Edwin two, when my mother became Lady Darlington. He loved the outdoors; and as children we shared many adventures in the woods around Darlington Hall, and games about the hall when the weather kept us indoors. Edwin was a brave and adventurous child, and so long as he was the author and leader of our little exploits, he was happy to share them with me, and treated me with kindness. In those early years, Edwin and I were quite inseparable.
"When he was ten years old, he was sent off to school, which changed him and brought out an unpleasant side to his nature. When he came home for the holidays, he was no longer interested in our innocent adventures of old. He began to hunt, and delighted in indiscriminate killing: not just game, but robins, thrush, blackbirds, badgers, baby rabbits too small for the pot. He wanted to prove his manliness, I believe, and expected me to admire him for it -- but I could not. I could neither share nor condone his cruelty."
"Of course," agreed Jane. "But I have observed that boys sometimes pass through such a phase, and then later they regain their sense of humanity."
"Sadly, that was not the case with my brother, Edwin," said Julia with a sigh. "But that was not the only thing which came between us. With Edwin away at school, I began to spend more time with my younger brother, James."
"Oh, we were not aware that there were other brothers or sisters," said Elizabeth.
"Only James. He was born a year after my mother's marriage to Lord Darlington. Being two years younger than myself, and three years younger than Edwin, we were loath to include him in our little adventures. He was the baby, and Edwin, particularly, seemed bent on excluding him; not that it seemed to bother James in the least. From the earliest age, he was quite self-sufficient, always happy wandering about alone, absorbed in the meadow flowers, or engrossed in some insect he had found by the pond. He drew beautiful pictures which were quite unintelligible to others, and wrote fantastic stories of make-believe people and animals and places. My mother used to say fondly that his head was in the clouds. She sometimes jested that James behaved more like a little girl and I like a boy, always running about, thick as thieves with Edwin.
"But when Edwin commenced school, my mother engaged a governess to teach me. James begged to join my lessons, and embarrassingly, he soon outshone me in every discipline. When my mother later engaged masters to teach us music and art, he completely eclipsed me."
"How could that be?" asked Jane in astonishment. "Your performance yesterday evening on the pianoforte was superb; I have never heard anything so beautiful."
"Yes indeed," agreed Elizabeth, "I felt quite ashamed for my own meagre performance when I heard you play."
"It is very kind of you to say so, but that is very much the way I myself feel before my brother's virtuosity; and not just upon the pianoforte -- but at anything he turns his hand to. The regrettable changes in Edwin, which my mother attributed to his school, prompted her to keep James at home, and so we two were educated together; and though I was a diligent student and received much praise from our tutors, I could never equal my brother's accomplishments."
"I think I should have hated such a brother," laughed Elizabeth.
"But I did not. I soon came to treasure him and love him dearly; and it was principally this, I believe, that turned Edwin against me. He is, I am sorry to say, a selfish person, and possesses a very jealous nature. He became so jealous of my affection for our younger brother, that he developed a dislike bordering upon hatred towards him."
"Perhaps his jealousy was on account of your younger brother's abilities?" suggested Jane.
"No, indeed not," replied Julia, shaking her head with a smile. "Edwin deems art, literature, and music unfit pursuits for a gentleman. At that time, he himself was interested only in hunting, blood-sports, and games of chance. Later, after school, he spent his days -- or more accurately, his nights -- gambling, drinking, and in all manner of dissipation. But while he sneered at his younger brother for his unmanliness, he was nevertheless jealous of how well-loved he was by our mother, myself, and most especially, his father, whose affection was too great to be concealed. It was apparent to all that James was his father's favourite. Over the years, Edwin's jealousy led him to hate his father almost as much as he hated James."
"And your mother and yourself, also?" suggested Elizabeth.
"No, in our case there was jealousy, certainly; and anger at our undisguised affection for his younger brother, but not outright hatred. My mother loved Edwin as her own child; and despite everything that has happened, she loves him still. Sometimes I think she blames herself for not preventing him from turning out as he has; but I cannot see what more she could have done. She wished to remove him from school in order to better supervise him, but he would not hear of it. It is my opinion that the school is not to blame; it is well-respected, and I am acquainted with many fine gentlemen -- including my father, Lord Darlington -- who have attended there. No, it is his character, I fear, that is to blame: his predisposition to jealousy, hatred, and rage are so marked," she said, shaking her head sadly.
"But then why did he cast you out so cruelly if he does not hate you?" asked Elizabeth.
"Because I would not marry him."
"But you were raised as brother and sister, it is not natural," objected Jane.
"I do not know if it is natural or not. We are not related by blood. I only know that my affection for him, so strong at first when we were children, and in later years strained on account of his behaviour, though still surviving in some measure, was the affection of a sister for a brother. I could never have married him, any more than I could marry my brother, James, whom I love so very dearly. But for Edwin, who can say? It seems his love was of different nature. When it became such, I cannot say, I did not realise it until about a year ago, when he first told me of his wish to make me his wife."
"And you refused him?" asked Jane.
"Yes, of course -- repeatedly. Eventually his addresses became so fervent that I confided in my mother, who spoke of it to my father. They both believed that such a marriage was unnatural and wrong, even had it been our mutual wish and had our characters been such that there might have been some hope of happiness. They were aware of the strength of my feelings against the match, and quite certain that it could not lead to happiness for either of us. Lord Darlington categorically forbade Edwin to address me further on the subject, and as long as his father was alive, he acceded to his injunction."
"But he renewed his addresses after his father's passing?" surmised Elizabeth.
"Most forcefully and alarmingly," replied Julia, shaking her head. "I imagine you have heard that my father's will, which contained the most generous provisions for my mother, my brother James, and myself, disappeared along with a previous one, leaving his estate entirely in the hands of Edwin?"
Jane and Elizabeth nodded.
"Shortly after my father's funeral, Edwin presented me with a simple choice: marry him and make my home at Darlington Hall, where my mother might remain to live out her days. James would never again be welcome there, but he would continue to receive the same generous allowance that my father had provided for him to continue his studies for as long as he wished. If I refused, however, we would all three be thrown out and cut off without a penny. Edwin was well aware that we had neither private fortune nor relations to whom we might turn."
"How dreadful," said Elizabeth, "to be presented with such a choice; what a cruel and heartless man he must be."
"And yet, he was moved by love to behave so terribly," mused Jane.
"I do not call that love," said her sister. "Passion, infatuation, the desire to own and possess another, perhaps -- but love? Never!"
"Yes, I agree," said Julia. "There was a time, long ago, when he did love me, rightly, as one loves a best friend, as a brother loves a sister; but what it became was not love. As much as I dreaded the consequences of refusing him, I could not accept such an offer."
"Of course you could not!" affirmed Jane, "And surely your mother and brother do not blame you!"
"Indeed, they do not. They were both adamant that I must refuse him. My mother ventured on more than one occasion to make Edwin see how improper it was to use such means to gain my hand. She begged him in the name of his late father; for the sake of what he owed to a mother who loved him and a sister who had been the devoted friend of his childhood, but he was utterly obdurate."
"And my father fared no better," added Elizabeth. "He spoke of his vexation in endeavouring to make Edwin see reason; to properly understand his responsibilities as the head of the house. He addressed him in the most forthright terms, saying that his actions were not those of a gentleman, and warned Edwin that if he made good on his threat, he would be shunned by all decent society and would forever be cast as a villain or a madman. But Edwin refused to listen."
"Yes, I recall how displeased Mr Bennet appeared after his interview with Edwin. In contrast, his manner towards my mother and myself was all compassion and consideration. He insisted on our coming to Longbourn without delay, and staying as long as need be. Your father is the most kind-hearted of men, and we are quite overcome by his kindness.
Posted on 2008-07-07
Julia and Elizabeth shared a sharpness of mind and an independence of thought that made their frequent conversations mutually delightful. Not many weeks after her arrival at Longbourn, Julia informed Elizabeth that she expected soon to be removed from Longbourn to a small cottage her mother had found not far from Meryton. "I shall be very sad to leave you all -- yourself and Jane most especially. I have always wondered how it might be to have a sister; and my short stay amongst you convinces me that I should have liked it very much.
"My dear mama is anxious to be settled in her own place, where she may live the independent life to which she is accustomed; albeit in a far smaller way. She is fully aware of how steep a descent in the world it must represent. My mother is a highly intelligent woman, with an extensive knowledge and wisdom of the world. She has the warmest, most engaging disposition, which I am afraid, has perhaps, of late, been hidden beneath her immediate cares and concerns."
"It must be quite terrible for a lady at her time of life, accustomed as she is to all the privileges and comforts of rank, to suddenly arrive in such circumstances."
"Indeed it is," said Julia with a sigh. "Yet I have not the slightest doubt that she shall endure these hardships with dignity and complaisance. She has a great joie de vivre which cannot long be suppressed, and a deep interest in people and the life around her, even if it is less exalted than that with which she is familiar. Her main source of unhappiness and concern is not for herself, but for my brother, James, and myself."
"Yes, of course, that is understandable. But for your brother, it is perhaps not so serious. A well-educated young man of talent, as you describe him, has many possibilities of making his way in the world; but for a young woman, the loss of fortune must materially damage her prospects in life."
"Yes, indeed it must," reflected Julia, sadly.
There was something in her voice and manner, which led Elizabeth to enquire gently, "Perhaps it has done so already, dear Julia?"
"Unhappily, it has," replied Julia, sighing sadly, as she withdrew into a long silence. Despite her curiosity, Elizabeth was too considerate of her friend to talk further on the matter; but to her surprise, Julia continued speaking on the subject. "I was very much in love -- as for the gentleman, I cannot say, but he certainly claimed it. Please do not ask me to reveal his identity; I cannot, for we were never formally engaged." A wistful expression played upon her face as she said, "We would have been married by this time, had it not been for his aunt -- then much of our present hardships would have been avoided."
"His aunt did not approve the match?" asked Elizabeth.
"She had hopes of her nephew making a better match."
"He must be from a very exalted family if his aunt found anything wanting in your people."
"My family were in no way an obstacle. He was a younger son, you see, without money, and so obliged to seek a woman of some fortune for a wife."
"But surely Lord Darlington was prepared to settle a generous sum on you?"
"Yes, a very generous sum indeed; and one which was more than sufficient for my suitor -- but alas, not his aunt. She threatened him with all manner of consequences if he went against her. He is kind-hearted and considerate, and possessed of a patient disposition. He hoped in time to persuade his aunt to bless our union, but all the while she was engaged in scheming to find a richer prize. What is most strange is that she is exceedingly wealthy herself -- his choice of wife was immaterial to her own circumstances. I think it was chiefly a matter of family honour and pride with her; it was almost as if she considered that her nephew's worth, and thus her own as a near relation, was measured by the size of the purse his bride should bring."
"How absurd!" exclaimed Elizabeth, shaking her head.
"In the end, my father agreed to meet her demands -- unreasonable though they were; he was the kindest of men. But very soon afterwards, and before the arrangements had been finalised, came his most unexpected death."
"And Edwin, no doubt, refused to honour his father's promise."
"Yes, he immediately wrote to the aunt, stating that if her nephew were to marry me, it would be without a single penny from him. I had hoped there might be provision in my father's will of a sufficient fortune to satisfy the aunt -- and there would have been -- but you know the whole of the dreadful business of the wills. My suitor, who is almost entirely dependent upon the aunt, had no choice, but to most reluctantly withdraw his addresses. I feel so sad for him."
"And I for you," said Elizabeth, tenderly. "You must be heartbroken."
"I am, of course, very sad, but coming as it has at a time of such tragedy and upheaval: my beloved father's death, followed by the dreadful deeds of my brother, Edwin, and all the consequent hardships, especially for my dear mother, there has been little occasion for me to think about myself, and consider what might have been."
Julia, seeing the look of sadness on her friend's face, continued. "Please do not make yourself unhappy on my account, dear Elizabeth. Perhaps I would not have been as happy as I imagined I might -- how can one know how married life will suit one? And now it seems that I shall never know what it is to be a wife."
"That is nonsense, Julia. How can you speak so? You may no longer be possessed of a fortune, but you are an exceedingly handsome young woman -- and enormously accomplished. Both your mother and your natural father are descended from the most elevated and respected of families -- your marriage prospects may now be limited to men of good fortune -- as those of myself and my sisters have always been -- but they are surely excellent, none-the-less."
"I sometimes used to think that it might be preferable to have no fortune. One hears so often of young men professing love to naïve young ladies, when really what they seek is their money. At least I shall now be spared that particular fate."
"Do you believe it to have been the case with your erstwhile suitor?" asked Elizabeth.
"Well, I imagine that as a younger son, money must always be a consideration, but I do not believe it was his principal inducement. This is also my mother's opinion, and she is far wiser in the ways of the world than I. No, it was his aunt who insisted that a large fortune be brought into the marriage by the bride, not he. I cannot believe him to be a fortune hunter."
"Well, I shall never have to worry about fortune hunters," said Elizabeth, smiling wryly. "Nor Jane, nor any of my sisters; yet I can assure you that our dear mama cherishes great hopes of marrying us all advantageously; and she is, if I may say, most knowledgeable in such matters -- so you must not despair of your chances, dear Julia, I refuse to allow it."
Elizabeth was eager to visit Julia and her mother at the earliest occasion after their departure to the cottage, but Jane suggested they wait a little before paying their first visit. "We must give them time to complete setting up their cottage and making it as comfortable as possible. I imagine they might find some discomfiture at being visited in so humble a situation; perhaps we should allow time for them to become more accustomed to their new life."
"My dear Jane, you are thoughtfulness and consideration itself, and doubtless, quite correct," replied Elizabeth. "In my eagerness to see how they were settled and to be again in their delightful company, I quite overlooked their feelings in the matter."
But Elizabeth's plans of visiting the cottage were soon forestalled by the arrival of their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner for Christmas, and all the festivities and excitement of the season -- and perhaps, just a little, by the frequent and charming company and attentions of George Wickham, which Elizabeth continued to enjoy, notwithstanding her Aunt Gardiner's caution regarding that gentleman, and his regrettable lack of fortune -- a circumstance that Elizabeth could not contemplate without thinking of the villain, Mr Darcy, who was wholly to blame for Mr Wickham's sad misfortunes.
By the time her aunt and uncle had departed Longbourn, taking her sister Jane with them to London, Lady Darlington and Julia had been removed to their cottage several weeks already, and Elizabeth was impatient to see them. It was but a three mile walk from Longbourn, and the ground was lightly covered with snow on the cold winter's morning when Elizabeth set out to visit her friends.
Her first impression, on seeing the cottage, was to wonder how it could be spacious enough to afford comfort for two ladies. She had been prepared for something modest, but not something quite so small and insignificant -- although there was a quaint charm to it, and she imagined that in the spring, when the garden was full with flowers, and the wisteria in bloom, it would look a pretty picture.
A young maidservant, whom Elizabeth later discovered to be the sole servant, showed her into the kitchen. Lady Darlington lowered her book, and rose from her chair beside the fire to receive Elizabeth graciously. Her dignified manner seemed utterly incongruous in that plain little cottage kitchen.
"Welcome to my kitchen, breakfast-parlour, dining-parlour, drawing-room, and sitting-room," she said with a smile. "At least it is warm," she added lightly, drawing a chair from the table towards the fire for her guest. "You must be freezing, my dear Elizabeth, after so long a walk on a frosty morning such as this. Pray seat yourself, and make yourself warm by the fire. May I offer you tea?"
Lady Darlington sensed Elizabeth's discomfort and embarrassment in witnessing her living in such lowly circumstances. Having served the tea and resumed her own seat, she attempted to put her guest at her ease. "I am very well, as you can see, and I find myself quite reconciled to my new circumstances, which are not without their compensations. It is most pleasant to be unencumbered and free from the responsibilities attendant upon the mistress of a large establishment, as I have been all my adult life. I no longer need to spend half the morning at my writing desk; or be bothered with the sending out and replying to invitations -- why you are my very first visitor, dear Elizabeth."
Elizabeth tried to smile, but she could not immediately feel easy at witnessing this fine lady fallen so low, and endeavoured to turn the conversation by enquiring at the whereabouts of her friend, Julia, whom she had expected to find sitting with her mother.
"Did she not write to you of her plans?" asked Lady Darlington with surprise.
"No," replied Elizabeth. "What plans?"
Lady Darlington sighed, as she reached out and took Elizabeth's hand. "I imagine she wished to hide it from you as long as possible, for she knew that you would be most unhappy when you learned of it."
"Learned what?" asked Elizabeth, becoming uneasy.
"Julia has gone to London, to search for employment."
"Employment? But, how shocking!"
"I did not wish her to go, but... well... as you are well aware, we have almost nothing. The little I realised from the few pieces of jewellery I was able to retain is insufficient to keep us all for very long. Julia is determined to support herself, and to help me in what little way she is able."
"How appalling... a young lady such as Julia, the daughter of a Lord and Lady, seeking employment! What will she do? What occupation can she find, other than as a governess? What a shocking degradation that will be!"
Lady Darlington shook her head sadly and sighed. "Julia hopes to find a position a little more elevated than that of governess. She is, as you know, a most accomplished musician, both on the pianoforte, and with the violin. She is also highly trained and gifted in song. I believe there will be any number of good families who will be happy to have her tutor their daughters in music."
Oh yes, and to boast to all their acquaintance that they employ the daughter of Lord and Lady Darlington as a music tutor, thought Elizabeth, imagining how her friend would be eagerly sought by those recently elevated by new money, though she refrained from voicing such disagreeable ideas.
"But your ladyship, is there no alternative? Julia can be in no doubt as to the consequences of such a step. It will very soon be known to all the world; and her marriage prospects will be blighted forever!"
Lady Darlington lowered her head sadly, but remained silent. Elizabeth felt ashamed at not keeping her counsel, and turned the conversation in a different direction. "What of your son, James? Why is he not endeavouring to support you and his sister? For a gentleman there are occupations which not only might provide a good income, but to which no shame would be attached."
Lady Darlington sighed and shook her head. "It is not quite that straightforward, my dear. You do not know James. He tried very hard to dissuade Julia from her intended course. Indeed, he offered to go as a music tutor or an art master himself, but Julia would not have it."
"But why need he go as a tutor or a master? That would be equally demeaning for a gentleman as it would for a lady."
"I suppose you are thinking of a profession such as the church; or an officer in the militia or the navy; or perhaps a career at the law?"
"Yes, exactly," replied Elizabeth. "These are all respectable professions suitable for a gentleman without fortune."
"But not my son," answered Lady Darlington, smiling fondly. "In any case, all of these professions require either a lengthy period of preparation or a substantial sum of money -- or both."
Elizabeth was finding the subject of how the Darlingtons were to live, increasingly distressing and embarrassing; and she very soon afterwards took her leave. In the afternoon, she wrote to her sister, Jane, telling her of the unhappy circumstances surrounding their friend Julia.
Jane's reply was all concern and thoughtfulness. She, herself, had heard nothing from Julia, and had received neither card, nor letter, nor visit -- although Julia well knew that Jane was in London, staying with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Jane was inclined to believe that Julia wished to avoid contact with her former friends, whom she must now feel she could no longer meet as equals. She wrote: The circumstances in which Julia finds herself domiciled are probably such that she would be acutely embarrassed to receive a visit from me, and she will therefore feel herself unable to wait upon me in Gracechurch Street. Not for the first time in her life, Elizabeth found herself questioning the rigid forms that governed society -- and found them wanting; and more than that, unjust. Respectability seemed to come down to money, she reflected unhappily. Just a few months ago, Julia was the daughter of a wealthy lord, and far more elevated in society than herself. But because of the actions of a cruel and dishonest brother, she now found herself impoverished, and having to earn her bread like some common person. Elizabeth had not the least intention of cutting her friend, and despite Jane's opinion that they should leave it to Julia to take the initiative in making contact, she wrote to her at the London address her mother had provided.
At length Julia replied; and although she attempted to make light of her situation, and put a cheerful glow on her new life in London, Elizabeth was not persuaded. It was many weeks before she felt herself equal to another visit to Lady Darlington. Elizabeth was so distressed at the Darlingtons' situation, that she felt quite unequal to bringing any cheer by a visit. Were it not for the frequent visits of George Wickham, and that gentleman's charming attentions, February would have been a very dreary month indeed
Posted on 2008-07-10
On a sunny morning, early in March, Elizabeth finally resolved to pay a second visit to Lady Darlington. One could feel the faintest hint of spring in the air, with early crocuses and marguerites bringing a small but welcome dash of colour to the fields. As she neared the cottage, Elizabeth was surprised to find a young man seated on the side of the lane, upon a three legged stool, engrossed in painting the country scene. Upon hearing her step, he turned his head briefly to glance at Elizabeth, but immediately returned to his task without uttering a single word.
Elizabeth was shocked at this gross lack of civility; and fixing her eyes on the road ahead, determined to pass behind the rude stranger -- certainly he was no gentleman -- ignoring both him and his painting. However, her curiosity got the better of her, and she could not help but peek over his shoulder; and even worse, find herself admiring what she saw. Though she involuntarily slowed her step, to greater appreciate his work, she resolved to continue walking.
She had barely passed him when, without looking up or pausing from his labours, he addressed her, "Miss Bennet, pray tarry a moment; indulge me please for just a minute or two, while I give this fine old oak tree its due. I shall then be delighted to observe all the required formalities, and to introduce myself in the approved manner."
Elizabeth was quite taken aback to be thus addressed by a stranger... if indeed he was a stranger: for he knew her name. Yet, from the momentary glimpse of his face she had been afforded, he looked like no one to whom she could recall having been introduced; and his voice, too, was unfamiliar. Elizabeth was greatly confused. Had her curiosity about him not been so greatly aroused, she would have ignored his offhand request and carried on upon her way. But inquisitiveness got the better of her, so she stopped; and much as she sought to find fault with his painting, she could not help but greatly admire it.
Eventually the artist laid down his brush, wiped his hands on a cloth before rising to his feet. He removed his oversized floppy artist's hat with an extravagant gesture, and bowing low with a broad smile, addressed her, "James Darlington at your service, Miss Bennet. I am very happy to make your acquaintance."
Elizabeth curtseyed politely and smiled; unsure whether he was being sincere or mocking her. While she struggled to decide how to reply, he spoke with sudden enthusiasm, "Ah, what extraordinary providence it is that you should arrive at this very moment, Miss Bennet, just as I was lamenting the inauspicious time of year I had chosen for painting a country landscape. Look how dull and colourless my painting is," he said, waving dismissively at his work.
"On the contrary, sir. Though I am no great critic of art, I think it quite excellent. You have captured the peaceful nascent spirit of the season most admirably."
"You are too kind, Miss Bennet, but I had wished to create something of beauty and vibrancy; a painting which might lift the spirits and quicken the pulse of the viewer... and most especially, entice a prospective purchaser. What a stroke of luck that you should happen upon me at this very moment," he said eagerly. "For now I see standing before me the very thing that my dreary scene lacks."
"I am sorry, but I do not comprehend your meaning, sir."
"I mean you, Miss Bennet! Your radiant beauty is the very spice to give piquancy to my art, and animate this lifeless picture! If you would but stand over there, beneath the splendid oak, I shall have all the delicate colour and warmth; all the vibrant beauty that any artist could desire."
Elizabeth blushed at his compliment. She could not decide whether he was a rake attempting to flatter her, or whether he was simply carried away with enthusiasm for his art. He entreated her with such winning charm that she felt herself unable to refuse his request and placed herself beneath the tree, unsure of what was expected of her.
"Please excuse the liberty," he said, taking her hand and placing it upon the trunk. "And pray turn your head just a little to the right -- yes, like that -- and fix your gaze upon the church spire yonder. Wonderful, excellent," he said stepping back a few paces, before suddenly stepping forward and gently placing his hand beneath her chin and turning her head a little until he had the desired aspect.
Elizabeth blushed fiercely; she was quite unused to having a gentleman take such liberties. Was he some kind of libertine, taking advantage of her, she wondered; or simply naïve? Perhaps he was amusing himself at her expense, pretending to be unaware of the inappropriateness of his behaviour. Elizabeth experienced such a mixture of emotions concerning the young man who had now resumed his seat in front of the easel, seemingly quite unconscious of his breach of propriety and her consequent confusion.
"How did you know my name, sir?" she asked, forcing herself to get the better of her embarrassment and seize the initiative.
"My mother has been expecting you for some days now, and I can think of no other young lady who might pay her a visit in her present circumstances. And of course, there is your appearance."
"I beg your pardon? My appearance? What do you mean, sir?" asked Elizabeth, filled with curiosity at this strange remark.
"Only that my mother was glowing in her praise of your beauty, Miss Bennet. The moment I set eyes upon you I had not the least doubt of your identity. No neighbourhood could boast two such lovely creatures."
"Are you flattering me, sir for the purpose of having me blush for your painting?" asked Elizabeth archly.
The gentleman smiled. "Certainly, the glow of your cheeks gives a breathtaking lustre to your features, but my compliment was entirely sincere -- I am no flatterer, Miss Bennet. An artist rarely comes upon a pair of eyes that sparkle and light up the soul, as do yours... but alas, I fear my talent is not equal to capturing such enchantment on canvas."
Elizabeth was becoming more and more discomforted at his words, and sought to turn the conversation from herself. "Then you are an artist, sir? But if you intend it as a livelihood, I fear it will not be considered suitable for a gentleman."
The young man laughed. "You are an acute observer of respectability, I surmise, Miss Bennet; and of course you are perfectly correct. Until my recent impoverishment, painting was an entirely acceptable pastime; and if on occasion, I chose to sell my work, there was nothing un-gentlemanly in that -- because I had no need of the money. But now that I am in need of money, to sell my paintings is considered low and mean, and not at all gentlemanly behaviour. Is it not ironical, Miss Bennet?" he asked with a wry grin.
"No, it is entirely rational and understandable," replied Elizabeth. "A gentleman, by definition, does not need to earn his living. Therefore no significance is attached to his selling anything: be it a painting, a horse, or any other possession. But a man who labours for his living cannot be a gentleman."
"And is to be despised?"
"I said no such thing, sir. I am not the author of the rules of social propriety and what constitutes respectability. I am merely making an observation about those rules. You must know that if you earn your living as an artist, no matter how great your talent, you will cease to be considered a gentleman."
"Then you will be greatly relieved, Miss Bennet, to learn that while my present artistic endeavour is undertaken with the intention of relieving some immediate financial distress, I have not the least idea of making a career of it. For one thing, I lack the necessary talent."
"With that I cannot agree, sir," replied Elizabeth.
"You are either too kind or too unlearned in art to see that my work lacks the excellence of a true master."
"I am no expert on the subject, it is true," replied Elizabeth, "but are there not many skilled artists, who, whilst not arriving at the pinnacle of achievement, may yet produce the kind of pleasing work that one finds gracing many a fine drawing room? I imagine that by far the greater portion of paintings fall into such a category; and that those who produce them, if they do so as a profession, are amply rewarded."
"You are quite correct, Miss Bennet. I am quite resigned to the necessity of earning a living by my abilities and labours; even though, as you rightly point out, I must thereby relinquish all claim to being considered a gentleman. But what I shall never accept, is to waste my life in the pursuit of mediocrity." Despite the passion of his speech, the young man continued diligently at his task.
"But, sir, surely there is no need for you to relinquish your position as a gentleman. There are a number of vocations open to one, such as yourself, which are highly respectable, and would require no such demotion in social rank."
"Such as?" asked, the young man, tersely.
"Certainly, you are as aware as I am of the possibilities," replied Elizabeth softly, sensing the sadness that had come over him as he continued to work silently at his canvas. This should have been enough to silence Elizabeth on the subject, but she was deeply concerned for the wellbeing of her friend Julia, and for Lady Darlington, whose welfare and future prospects must now be wholly dependent upon the young man sitting before her. Julia's hopes of making a good marriage had almost certainly been materially damaged by her employment in London -- and the longer she continued with it, the greater would be the damage. In Elizabeth's mind, the blame for that damage lay entirely at the feet of her brother, James. How shocking, she thought, first to be treated so abominably by one brother, and then with such callous indifference by the other. It was all she could do to stop herself from demanding that he explain how he could allow his own sister to demean herself in such a manner, to wreck all her prospects of happiness.
Though she succeeded in keeping her counsel and resisting the impulse to storm off, she could not leave the subject of his responsibilities alone. Approaching the topic from another avenue, she enquired, "I understand that you have spent the past several years at Cambridge?"
He brightened immediately. "Yes, I was there for seven years -- and hoped to remain for at least another seven, if not my whole life. But alas, the recent misfortunes of our family have put an end to all of that."
"You are a scholar then, I take it, and were not merely gone up for the social round?"
"Indeed I am... or at least I was," he said with a sigh. "Ironic, is it not, that while many young men idle away their time at our great universities, a keen scholar, such as myself, is forced to leave before encompassing all the fields of knowledge he hungers to master."
"And what fields are they?" enquired Elizabeth.
"Everything interests me; apart from the law and divinity, but they can hardly be termed knowledge," he said with an impish smile.
Elizabeth was shocked at such irreverence; but recovering herself, asked him what he had studied.
"Mathematics, music, natural science, and literature are all I managed before my studies came to so abrupt a halt," he replied ruefully.
"All?" exclaimed Elizabeth. "That seems a very great deal. And, if I may observe, an unusual combination. Yet none of it, I fear, would offer an acceptable vocation for gentleman. For that you had needed to study divinity or the law," she said with a smile.
"But to engage as a clergyman, or at the law, would require qualities that I do not possess," said he, looking up from his work, and returning her smile.
"Of which qualities do you speak, sir?"
"Hypocrisy for both, conjoined with obsequiousness for the former and callous cynicism and dishonesty for the latter," he replied.
"I am certain that not all clergymen are obsequious hypocrites," she said, suppressing her laughter at the thought of Mr Collins and how well the epithet fitted him.
"No," replied he, "not those amongst them that are simpleminded enough to believe in the fairytales of the church; but alas, I am not such a one."
Elizabeth had never heard such heretical opinions; she hardly believed it possible. "Then you must either seek a commission in the military -- or matrimony with a wealthy lady."
"Alas, I was not made to kill my fellow man, either for profit or patriotism; and to marry for money, to profess love, where there is none, save for wealth and possessions, would require almost an equal degree of hypocrisy as would be wanted for the church."
"It would appear, sir, that your disposition denies you every occupation that might be considered suitable for a gentleman. How very unfortunate for you," said Elizabeth with a note of scorn in her voice. For indeed, she had little sympathy with this spoilt young man, who was evidently used to the freedom of pursuing his manifold interests without the least consideration of others. Not that there was any great evil in it, so long as no one depended upon him. But recent events had changed all of that, and yet he seemed unwilling to sacrifice his precious prejudices and preferences in order to shoulder his responsibilities to his mother and sister.
It was fortunate indeed that he had finished his work, for Elizabeth was beginning to feel such strong disapprobation, that she feared she might end up with a scowl on her face in his painting. Walking behind him to see how it had progressed, she was stunned to see a portrait of herself upon his easel.
"You have deceived me, sir! You said that you wished to add me to your landscape, standing beneath the oak; but instead you have made me the subject of an entirely different work."
Carefully, he turned back the previous canvas affixed to his easel, holding it away from the portrait that was still drying. "I am rather quick, and perhaps careless at my art -- another reason why I shall never be a great master. As you can see, the landscape is complete, including yourself, giving it that wanted dash of vivacity. I am quite satisfied with it." Then turning it back over, he smiled with pleasure as he regarded the portrait. "Please forgive me, Miss Bennet, but I was unable to pass up the opportunity of painting your beautiful face, so I quickly turned to a new sheet and attempted to commit your enchanting loveliness to canvas. Though I am not a good artist, I must say that the result is most pleasing. You have somehow inspired me to a greater art than I have heretofore attained."
"Nonsense," scoffed Elizabeth at what she took to be idle flattery. "I doubt that the portrait will fetch nearly as much as the landscape."
"Certainly it will not, for I have not the least intention of selling it."
Elizabeth looked at the portrait critically. She could not help but acknowledge to herself that it was a very fine painting, and there was something in the expression, particularly the eyes, which seemed to reflect her heart -- her innermost being. She was shocked that this stranger had seemingly penetrated to her very soul, and succeeded in representing it so faithfully. Confusion overcame her, she knew not what to think of him, and abruptly bid him adieu, continuing briskly on her way to the cottage.
Lady Darlington was very happy to see Elizabeth, and after making her visitor comfortable and offering her refreshments, told her how happy she was that her son James was come to stay with her for a time.
Elizabeth, who had been too embarrassed to speak of him before, was now obliged to mention their meeting a little way along the lane, and how he had entreated her to allow him to paint her.
"Oh, so you have met James already," exclaimed his mother, who was anxious to know how Elizabeth liked him. There could be no mistaking Lady Darlington's extreme fondness for her youngest child, whom clearly, she perceived with all the partiality of a loving and devoted mother. Elizabeth felt extremely awkward as she sorted through all the varied and contradictory reactions and emotions to which her recent encounter with the son had given rise, while endeavouring not to displease her hostess.
"I have never met anyone quite so candid. Some of his ideas border on the heretical," she said uncomfortably. "Perhaps it is the result of being so long at a university. I suspect that such freethinking is more acceptable at such institutions than it is in society at large."
"Perhaps," replied Lady Darlington, "although James has been a freethinker, as you call it, from an early age. He has a prodigious love of knowledge and truth; and has always refused to accept anything, simply on the grounds of convention."
"Is he a follower of Bonaparte?" asked Elizabeth with alarm.
"No, not at all," laughed Lady Darlington. "He detests him for the bloodshed he has caused. My son is an original thinker, Elizabeth, and I greatly respect him, and am in awe of his prodigious talents. His late father loved him and was enormously proud of him. He had intended to settle a large sum upon James to make him independent and free to continue his studies, and to devote his life to the pursuit of knowledge. But, alas," she said with a sad sigh, "he was taken from us before it was all settled."
After a long, sad silence, Elizabeth gave way to the thoughts which were uppermost in her mind. "It is a great misfortune indeed, your ladyship, that Mr Darlington is unable to devote his life to study and the pursuit of knowledge; but we are all of us victims of fate and the limitations of our lives in some way or other. Luckily, for a young man of good birth and education, such as your son, those limitations are not so severe. There are possibilities for making one's way in the world -- and respectably so."
Lady Darlington smiled indulgently. "Yes, I recall you mentioning it on your previous visit. But now that you have met James, can you not see how unsuited he is to the professions to which you allude? He could never be happy as a clergyman, or an officer of the militia or navy, or at the law."
"But surely, your ladyship, you will concur that we cannot always do that which makes us happy. I cannot believe that Julia can be happy in her present circumstances. Sometimes we must act from necessity. If James is as intelligent and well-informed as you give him credit for, then surely he must see this."
Lady Darlington made no reply, and Elizabeth felt she had said too much, and spoken too heatedly. "Pray, pardon me for speaking out of turn, your ladyship, it was most ill-mannered of me. It is on account of my sadness and concern at Julia's situation; but I should not have spoken so."
"Elizabeth, my dear, no apology is due; there is nothing to forgive. I understand your affection and feelings for my darling Julia, but you must not blame James for her present situation; he is in no way responsible. He did not wish for Julia to go up to London, and argued vigorously against it; offering to go in her stead. But Julia would not have it -- she is every bit as independent and determined as her brother, James, and though he is now the effective head of the family, Julia would never give way to him over a matter in which she feels so strongly."
"Why does she feel so strongly that she should be the one to demean herself by employment while James does nothing?"
"James do nothing? Did he not tell you? No I suppose not, for it is all supposed to be a great secret."
Elizabeth looked surprised. "He said nothing on the subject of earning an income other than that he intended to sell the landscape he was painting -- and that he has no intention of making a career as an artist; although I must say, I was most impressed with his work, and am convinced that his prospects are excellent if he persists with it."
"I agree, my dear, he might do very well as an artist. He is certainly gifted, but he only paints sporadically, when there are bills to be paid. His true love is literature. A number of his sonnets have been published in the quarterlies, and he has also had several prose pieces appear in various periodicals."
"Goodness, I had not the slightest idea," said Elizabeth. "These are splendid pastimes for a gentleman with literary talents; but I do not imagine they would ever provide much in the way of an income."
"Indeed not, my dear. However, James has a particular project upon which he has been working very hard for the past several months; ever since Edwin made his reprehensible intentions known. I am sworn to secrecy and can tell you no more than that; only that it occupies almost all of his waking hours, and that if he is successful, it should provide a substantial income -- more than enough to support us all."
"Whatever can it be?" asked Elizabeth, filled with curiosity.
Lady Darlington deliberately looked away, and Elizabeth was too polite to press her on the subject.
"You will appreciate that I am unable to respond," she said, after a brief silence. "All I can tell you is that it will require several months of intensive work before James can hope to realise anything from it. That is the reason Julia insisted upon going to London and shouldering the burden of providing for our immediate needs. If James had sought employment, it would have greatly impeded his work on the project."
Before ending her visit, Elizabeth gave Lady Darlington a dinner invitation from her mother, taking the liberty of extending it to include her son, whom she felt certain, her mother would wish her to invite, also. Elizabeth's expectation, when her mother had proposed the scheme, was that Lady Darlington would almost certainly decline such an invitation, since it was in no way possible for her to return the hospitality. But to her surprise, Lady Darlington accepted the invitation with pleasure. Elizabeth felt sure that her ready assent was entirely on account of the son -- be it maternal pride and the wish to show him off, or simply the desire to afford James a pleasant meal and good company, which most likely had become rare pleasures for them in recent months.
Elizabeth was relieved to find that Lady Darlington's son had packed up his artist's paraphernalia and departed when she stepped out into the lane. As he had not joined them indoors, she had feared another encounter, and felt herself quite unequal to a further tête-à-tête with that gentleman, who had excited such confusion in her. Elizabeth, who prided herself on her ready capacity to judge character, found James Darlington a perplexing enigma. Though he was well-favoured in looks and figure, he made little attempt at pleasing, and seemed almost contemptuous of the accepted social conventions and behaviour. That his mother spoke so warmly of him was natural, and to the credit of her maternal heart, but Elizabeth clearly saw the blind partiality of a mother's love in her generous words. She wondered how he would behave in company when he came to dine, and was most curious to know what her father would make of the enigmatic young man. She could not help finding him fascinating, and struggled to put him out of her mind as she made her way home
Posted on 2008-07-13
Much to Elizabeth's surprise, Mr Bennet very quickly warmed to James Darlington, who made no attempt to disguise his lack of interest in sport; and politely, but firmly, refused Mr Bennet's offer to come and shoot with him at any time. Mr Bennet seemed not the least bit offended at this refusal, nor indeed, at any of the young man's unorthodox views and opinions. On the contrary, he found them fascinating, and clearly admired his visitor's well-informed mind.
Mrs Bennet, having dismissed Lady Darlington's son as a suitable marriage prospect, on account of his regrettable lack of fortune, nevertheless found fault in his lack of gallantry towards her daughters. While she would doubtless have felt great anxiety had such a noble and handsome young man made efforts to charm them; that he should show such little interest in them was, to her mind, insulting. He seemed to care for nothing except talking nonsense with Mr Bennet on subjects that no one could possibly understand, or find the least interest in.
But in this, Mrs Bennet was mistaken; Elizabeth was listening attentively to the gentlemen. Although she lacked sufficient information to completely follow their discussions on some subjects, on others she was almost as well-informed as her father, having read many of the books in his library. "I am surprised to hear you reject the claims of phrenology, sir," she said at one point, when he was lambasting the discipline. "I wonder how you are able to so confidently reject the science."
"Because it is not a science," replied he. "I have seen not the slightest shred of scientific evidence that character or personality traits can be deduced from the shape of the head."
"Do you likewise dismiss the study of physiognomy, sir?" questioned Elizabeth.
"No, not entirely," replied he, "although it is, perhaps, better described as an art than a science."
Lady Darlington appeared well satisfied with her son's reception, particularly by Mr Bennet; and while she declined further invitations to dine at Longbourn, her son scrupled not in accepting such invitations, and seemed not the least bit concerned at his inability to return the Bennets' hospitality. Although in truth, Mr Bennet, who was the instigator of these frequent invitations, felt himself abundantly rewarded by the excellent information he obtained from his young and learned guest. Elizabeth too, found the young man's conversation fascinating; although in her case, there were other feelings also, which gave rise to confusion and a consequent unease. While she felt certain that neither her parents nor her sisters had the least idea concerning such feelings, as to the young man who was their object, she was by no means certain.
One day, while walking alone in the garden, Elizabeth encountered Mr Darlington, who was just at that moment arriving to dine at Longbourn. Taking advantage of the privacy afforded by the situation, Elizabeth asked him if he considered himself a proficient in the art of physiognomy.
"Indeed I do -- but fear not, your secrets are safe with me, Miss Bennet," he replied with a mischievous smile.
Elizabeth felt herself blush, and to disguise her discomfort, she retorted sharply. "Of course, it is one thing to believe that one knows what another is thinking, and quite another to actually know it. Would you not agree, sir?"
"Quite so, Miss Bennet, but luckily I am in possession of scientific confirmation of my abilities at penetrating the thoughts of others -- particularly those who would most wish to hide them."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, archly.
"Your expression, madam, I believe demands that I lay such evidence before you."
Elizabeth laughed. "Indeed it does, sir, but I was not attempting to conceal my wishes -- on the contrary, I was very much hoping to convey my desire that you produce the proof of which you speak."
"Very well then, although it obliges me to reveal certain activities which I fear may invite your disapprobation. I have lately had recourse to resort to engaging in games of chance, which are a favourite pastime with many of the officers of the militia presently quartered in Meryton."
"You are a gambler, sir? I am shocked to hear it! How can you, in all good conscience, indulge in so expensive an amusement, when you are dependent upon your poor sister Julia, who is forced to degrade herself for you comfort?" demanded Elizabeth, unable to conceal her severe displeasure.
"On the contrary, I am no gambler, and have never been interested in that particular diversion. However, finding myself in want of immediate funds -- and more particularly to avoid dependence upon my sister -- I have lately engaged in a game of cards, upon occasion, with the officers."
"But sir, games of chance are just that -- chance! You might lose money, just as easily as win it."
"Indeed so, Miss Bennet; and once or twice I have lost. But generally, I win most handsomely; quite enough in fact, to meet the immediate needs of both my mother and myself."
"But this is disgraceful, sir! For a gentleman of wealth to gamble is not generally thought of as improper -- unless of course it becomes obsessive, in which case it must be considered a vice. But to gamble to earn one's livelihood is low and mean, indeed. You had done better to work at your art, sir!" she angrily disparaged him.
"Oh, we are back onto that subject; are we, Miss Bennet? My gambling is low and mean -- but only because I am poor! But I prefer not to think of it as gambling."
"And what then would you call it, sir?" she demanded frostily
"I like to think of it as the scientific application of mathematics -- and physiognomy."
Elizabeth gave a derisive laugh. "I am aware that we live in an age where science flourishes, and seems to encompass ever-expanding areas of knowledge; but I think you grossly overstate the case, sir, to include gambling and games of chance in the compass of science. Where exactly, pray tell, is the science in a game of cards?"
"My success at cards is based purely upon science, madam, conjoined with the gift of an exceptional memory. I am able to recall every card that has been played in a game, and hence deduce those remaining. By applying the principles of mathematical probability, I am thus able to reckon the precise likelihood of any particular outcome at a given moment. Moreover, my extensive study of physiognomy, combined with the ability to remember each player's previous expressions and the hand they then held, assists me in judging, from their present expressions and behaviour, the cards in their hands. Consequently, I win far more often than I lose."
"How shameful; why that is almost like cheating! You are not a respectable young man, sir!"
James Darlington laughed, apparently not the least bit concerned at the accusation. "I shall leave it to you to determine degrees of respectability, Miss Bennet, but I strongly deny the charge of cheating. All who engage in games of chance apply their memory, their ability to discern the hidden intentions of others, and what they surmise to be the likelihood of various outcomes. I simply do it in a more rigorous and scientific manner than most. I am careful not to win too much from those who can ill afford it, although sometimes one comes across an inveterate gambler who insists upon betting beyond his means. There is one officer in particular who is greatly in my debt, and yet insists upon continuing to gamble with me. He becomes angered if I attempt to refuse him. George Wickham is the gentleman's name."
"George Wickham?" asked Elizabeth in surprise.
"Yes, are you acquainted with the gentleman?"
"Indeed I am; and I am very surprised to hear you call him a gambler -- in fact I can hardly believe it to be true. I have had the pleasure of being a good deal in that gentleman's company since he joined the militia; and know him to be an honest, upright, and principled gentleman."
James Darlington laughed, shaking his head disbelievingly. "Then there must be two gentlemen of that name in the militia. The one with whom I have the misfortune to be acquainted is a liar and a scoundrel. Nevertheless, I must not be unfair and find him totally lacking. He is a creditable actor, I will grant you; and greatly gifted in the art of deception."
"How dare you speak of him so and tarnish his good name, sir?" exclaimed Elizabeth heatedly, struggling to control her temper. "I do not believe a word you say about him! I have had ample opportunity of conversing with him and of observing his behaviour in a variety of situations; and have found it all to be entirely respectable and honourable. Furthermore, I can speak for all of my acquaintance who have had the pleasure of meeting that gentleman, in stating unequivocally, that they concur with my opinion."
"No doubt they are mostly females -- easy prey to his flattering ways and insincere gallantries; so it is perhaps not all that surprising. But I must confess: I believed you, Miss Bennet, to be a more acute judge of character than is common. I am exceedingly surprised to discover you so completely taken in and deceived by George Wickham."
"It is you, sir, who are deceived! Your unjust and unchristian comments about that gentleman convince me that you are entirely lacking the least ability to fathom the character of others. All your boasts of skill in the art of physiognomy are contradicted by your abject failure to correctly understand Mr Wickham. But perhaps I am unfair to you, Mr Darlington. Perhaps your performance is not always quite this bad? Perhaps there is a reason for your errors in the present case?"
"Such as?" asked the gentleman, sounding more amused than annoyed.
"Jealousy!" replied Elizabeth. "You are clearly envious of Mr Wickham's considerable charm; his great powers of pleasing; and the unanimous popularity he enjoys; all qualities, which I am sorry to say, are entirely lacking in your own person. Please excuse my frankness, sir, but one cannot help but feel provoked at hearing such a fine gentleman maligned, especially one who has suffered such grievous misfortunes."
"Grievous misfortunes? Oh... you are no doubt referring to the stories in circulation of the great iniquities visited upon poor George Wickham by that dastardly rogue, Darcy?"
"Indeed I am, sir! And I beg you not to speak of it in so sarcastic a vein. I do not know what you have heard, but it has been my sad office to hear Mr Wickham confide in great detail, concerning the terrible misfortunes which have been inflicted upon him by Mr Darcy; and I cannot understand how you can speak of it in so flippant and unfeeling a way -- you of all people, Mr Darlington, who have similarly suffered from the evil deeds of another."
"Darcy, evil?" laughed James Darlington, "I do not believe it for a moment!"
"Are you acquainted with that gentleman?"
"Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley? Certainly. Our families moved in the same circles in London each year, and he was yet at Cambridge when I commenced my studies there."
"Were you friends with him at Cambridge?" asked Elizabeth, her anger temporarily forgotten. Despite her doubts about James Darlington's abilities at judging character, she was most eager to hear his opinion of Mr Darcy.
"No, not friends exactly; I always found him a bit too stately and pompous for my taste. And he, no doubt, found me lacking in those qualities of gentlemanly breeding, which he, himself, strives so hard to evince. However, he is a sensible, cultured, intelligent, well-read fellow -- in the classics at least. I always found him a ready foil when I was in need of someone with whom to argue my more unorthodox views."
"Whereas I found him arrogant, conceited, proud, and despising of those he considers beneath him -- which is, of course, almost everybody. He is the most disagreeable man I have ever met."
"There may be some truth in what you say, Miss Bennet, although I fear you overstate your case. What I will say of Darcy is that he is as honourable, honest, and trustworthy a man as ever I have known -- the very opposite of George Wickham. Now there, madam, is your villain!"
"Mr Darlington, you have things entirely around the wrong way! You call black white and white black. You have lost all credit in my estimation, sir. Not only do I find you totally wanting as a judge of character; but sadly, I must question your mental faculties, your clarity of mind, and most particularly your provoking prejudice."
James Darlington laughed, seemingly amused at Elizabeth's tirade. "Whereas I, Miss Bennet, put your errors down to a blind partiality for George Wickham. Having been taken in by that duplicitous gentleman and his deceitful wiles, you have been persuaded by his plausible lies and fine acting, that Darcy is some kind of villain. Please allow me to give you one piece of advice, Miss Bennet, which will greatly assist your future endeavours in judging character: never allow your personal preferences and prejudices to affect your judgement. And if you become aware of a strong affection -- or equally, an aversion -- towards some person, always be very careful to allow for it when forming a judgement concerning them."
"How dare you, sir!" said Elizabeth, blushing furiously. "How dare you take the liberty of speaking of my affections? These are not the words of a gentleman!"
James Darlington struggled to contain his laughter. "You seem to be an expert on the subject of gentlemanly behaviour, Miss Bennet; and sadly, I must resign myself to the fact that I fall short in your estimation."
That the gentleman was clearly amused, and felt not the least bit chastised, further infuriated Elizabeth, who made a very slight curtsey, before turning her back on the exasperating James Darlington, and walking briskly towards the house. Fortunately for Elizabeth, this was the last she would see of that provoking gentleman for some time. In a few days, she would be joining Lord William Lucas and Maria in visiting her newly-married friend, Charlotte, in Kent.Continued In Next Section