CHAPTER ONE: MR. DARCY
Posted on 2014-05-24
Mr. Darcy rose from his prayers with a sigh of sincere gratitude. He had not known he could ever be so frightened as he had been that night. Not even that day at Longbourn two years ago, when his future had been in the balance, had he known any emotion like this. His wife, and his child, had been in God's hands last night. God's, he thought, and Miss Lucas's.
If it had not been for Charlotte Lucas's competent nursing, things might have turned out very differently. There was too much to do now for further thought upon that subject, but he resolved that he would not forget it.
"Good morning, darling," he murmured, pressing a kiss to Elizabeth's lips.
She smiled up at him from the white pillow, her face not much darker than the linens, though her eyes had lost their hollow look. "Good morning, Fitzwilliam. He is beautiful, is he not?"
Her husband nodded mutely as he gazed at the tiny bundle wrapped up in the bed next to his wife. It was hard to believe so tiny a thing could be so fully a person.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy," said Miss Lucas cheerfully, bustling in behind him. "Mr. Davis is just come."
"Very good," he replied, and withdrew from the bedside to allow the physician access.
That gentleman arrived, noted Mrs. Darcy's color, felt her pulse, and pronounced her to be mending well. The little one had woken up with the medical man's arrival and squalled so lustily that there could be little fear for upon his account.
"There now--out with you both," said Charlotte firmly. "Your son and heir is hungry, Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy doesn't need men about while she masters this."
The gentlemen allowed themselves to be bustled out, and went down to the morning room together.
"Is she really well, Mr. Davis?"
"She is mending remarkably well, after so difficult a delivery. You ought to have sent for me."
"We did not realize until--" Mr. Darcy's voice broke, and he walked away to the window. Mr. Davis allowed him a moment to compose himself in respectful silence.
"You owe Miss Lucas a great deal. I confess I should not have thought of taking all the actions that she took, but then she has attended a great many lyings-in. Such women are better than doctors sometimes when it comes to women's difficulties--though of course we must be consulted after, to monitor the patient's recovery," he added seriously. "Your wife is mending so well that I shall not call again until tonight, unless there is any change in her condition--in which case you must send for me at once."
"Very good; I shall certainly do so," replied the master of the house, and saw the doctor out.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy," said Mr. Edwards, lumbering from his chair as that gentleman entered his office. "How may I assist you?"
"Good morning, Mr. Edwards. I wish to give an annuity."
"Indeed?" Mr. Edwards was too well-versed in his trade to show more than the mildest curiosity, though he was rapidly tallying the members of the family in an effort to guess the recipient.
"Yes. A Miss Charlotte Lucas. She did Mrs. Darcy and myself an inestimable service when my wife was delivered of my heir. I can never repay her, of course, but she is not well provided for by her father's fortune, and it seems to me that the least I could in conscience do is to provide her with security for life."
"Very generous of you, Mr. Darcy," replied the solicitor, summoning a clerk with the touch of a bell, and giving him instructions as to which forms to bring.
"Not at all," replied Mr. Darcy inscrutably. He always was inscrutable. Mr. Edwards allowed himself a small sigh. He was a large man of almost fifty years, respectable and heavy in his appearance and demeanor, and cultivated the air of a man who had no more curiosity, and no more likelihood of telling secrets, than a grave, but he harbored an insatiable inquisitiveness, which Mr. Darcy would never satisfy.
The terms of the annuity were quickly arranged, and if Mr. Darcy would return later that day, or tomorrow, the documents would be prepared for his signature. Two hundred and fifty pounds per annum to Miss Charlotte Lucas, for life.
CHAPTER TWO: LUCAS LODGE
Sir William Lucas opened his letter with some curiosity. He had no dealings with the firm of Edwards and Morrison, and could not guess what it might contain.
"But how extremely handsome!" he cried, and the eyes of his whole family turned upon him. "My dear Charlotte! I congratulate you, I do indeed."
"What can you mean, Papa?" inquired Charlotte, calmly.
"This letter, my dear--did Mr. Darcy say nothing of it to you?"
"Mr. Darcy said nothing of any particular importance to me, when I was staying at Pemberley," she replied, attempting to recollect something that might produce this reaction in her parent.
"Well, my dear, all I can say is that it's terribly handsome of him. Here you are, my dear, you may read it for yourself. Two hundred and fifty pounds, for life! Yes, very handsome indeed, I say."
Charlotte, mystified by her father's manner, and not enlightened by his speech, took up the letter and perused it. When she looked up, her whole family were watching her. Two hundred and fifty pounds, for life! It came to her suddenly that she would be entirely independent. She need not fear being an old maid, nor grasp at any offer of marriage that might come to her. She need not depend upon the kindness of her mother or her siblings. She could contribute to the household coffers, or even live on her own--quietly, to be sure, but in comfort, in some cottage near one of her siblings, or in comfortable lodgings in Bath or some seaside town. It was very handsome of Mr. Darcy, indeed.
"I am very surprised, Papa. I have always known Mr. Darcy to be quite generous, but I never suspected that he meant to do anything for me. I can only suppose it is in consequence of my aid, when Mrs. Darcy was lying in."
"I have been at a good many lyings-in in my time, my dear, and nobody ever gave me an annuity in consequence," remarked Lady Lucas shrewdly.
"Mrs. Darcy was in some danger at one time," said Charlotte quietly.
"You did not say so before."
"I beg your pardon; I thought it was a family matter, and need not be noised abroad, but now as there is some need for explanation, you see I have brought it forward."
Lady Lucas nodded agreeably. "I see; yes, that explains it."
"It is very handsome of him all the same, say I," replied Sir William genially. "Very handsome and very generous."
"To be sure it is, Papa, and I shall thank him at once," answered Charlotte, and, suddenly eager to get away from the gaze of so many eyes, she went at once to write her letter.
CHAPTER THREE: THE ARRIVAL OF MR. COLLINS
Lady Lucas looked approvingly at her daughter. It had not been long since the annuity had come to her, but the income had certainly altered her for the better. Charlotte had never had that girlish beauty which was so much in fashion these days, but she had always been composed and sometimes even dignified, and age had brought her a certain matronly becomingness. Now, with her own income to dress upon, she looked very well. She was too sensible to indulge in those fribbles which would make a single woman approaching thirty years of age appear ridiculous, but she had laid out a good portion of her new income in clothes of a superior quality, and particularly in those fashionable garments whose style derived from riding habits. She was trimly and neatly dressed, and it suited her.
Charlotte had been generous with her new stipend. She had quite insisted that Sir William accept a hundred a year for her room and board. It had given her a new place in the household. Not that she had grown too fine to assist her mother; she was still a great help about the house. But it seemed to give her a little more dignity, a little independence. The servants treated her with more deference, and her brothers chaffed her less. Lady Lucas sighed. It was not quite so much as she would wish--not quite so much of comfort and consequence as a husband might bestow. But, as she looked at her daughter appraisingly, she thought that might come in time. Charlotte had a new bloom, a quiet appeal, which might do very well. And then that Mrs. Darcy would doubtless introduce her to many charming gentlemen.
It had already been settled that Charlotte was to go to the Darcys in London the next winter. The Darcy carriage was to be sent for her some time in March, and she was to make them a long visit. She would return to Pemberley with the family, and stay with them there for a few months. She would be missed at home, but Lady Lucas resigned herself to it philosophically. She was too clever a woman not to see that it would be a good opportunity for her daughter to meet men that might suit her.
"Mama, I am just going," said Charlotte, adjusting her handsome new tippet. "You are certain you will not come with me?"
"No, my dear; I have too much to do about the house this morning."
"Very well. I will give the Bennets your regards."
"Do, my dear. There you are, Maria. Have you the new music? Good. Hurry now, don't keep your sister waiting."
The two girls went out into the cold, crisp air. It was perfect weather for walking, provided one was warmly dressed. It was to be an interesting day. The Bennets had a visitor, and Charlotte had been invited to make a long morning visit to Longbourn for the purpose of meeting him. A Mr. Collins, a recently reconciled cousin of Mr. Bennet's. Charlotte wondered what he would be like. Mrs. Bennet's note had hinted all too plainly that she was looking for a suitable husband for him. Charlotte wondered, with a grim smile, how many of the unmarried ladies of the neighborhood would receive a similar summons. She meant to be in no hurry, but she was not averse to meeting single gentlemen, and she was not fashionable enough to scorn a country parson.
The butler admitted the young ladies at once, and they were shown into the drawing room, where introductions were made to Mr. Collins, a portly and pompous man, who took the opportunity at once of complimenting the Lucases.
"Such lovely young women! Mrs. Bennet, you have said nothing of them but praise, but I am sure you are not kind enough. Very handsome young ladies indeed."
Charlotte smiled under his appraising eye. He did not have much to recommend him, but she had so long been regarded as an old maid by the young men of the village that it was pleasant to be called a handsome young lady by almost anybody.
"It must be very agreeable to you to have such a pleasant holiday, Mr. Collins," she began as she took her seat. "I understand your patroness is very lenient in the matter of holidays."
"Indeed! Lady Catherine deBourgh is so condescending as to take into consideration the needs of a mere country parson, and was very willing that I should journey into Hertfordshire in so suitable a cause as the reconciliation of a family long sundered," replied he sententiously.
Charlotte bit her lip to keep from smiling. What fun Lizzy would have had with this one! Lydia, Kitty and Maria were giggling their way out of the room as it was.
"That is very kind of her," she answered with a gracious smile. "I am sure she is very considerate always."
"I adjudge," replied he solemnly, "that the gracious concern of my patroness is by no means the least of the many advantages of my situation. She is so extremely condescending as to have invited me already to dine at Rosings--her elegant and extremely handsome residence--several times, and even to call occasionally at my humble parsonage. Indeed, she has even condescended to advise me to marry, and to promise to visit my wife!"
"Indeed?" remarked Charlotte placidly. "I am sure that the ability to count Lady Catherine deBourgh among one's visitors would be a great advantage to any lady, and to any parson's wife."
"Very sensibly said, Miss Lucas, very sensible indeed," replied Mr. Collins warmly, beaming upon her, and promptly began a panegyric upon the merits of his patroness, his house, and his garden. Charlotte understood it all. Mr. Collins had come to Longbourn with the intention of finding a suitable wife, and seemed determined to discover if Miss Lucas met his requirements. As he spoke of his small house, comfortable and convenient, the large neighborhood in which he did not visit, and the needs of the poor of the parish, she considered the possibility. He was very willing to be attached, and she believed, without any personal vanity, that she might attach him. She was sensible and domestic, and her little income must be very convenient. Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune and, however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.
Now, however, as she listened to the prosings of the pompous clergyman, she began to reconsider. Marriage must still be looked to for a comfortable establishment in the world, and with a gift for domesticity that had long been an assistance to her mother, Charlotte was eager for her own house to keep. Yet there was no need for haste.
Charlotte was not a romantic, and it was without cynicism or disappointment that she reflected upon the fact that Miss Lucas with two hundred and fifty pounds a year would be substantially more attractive to the masculine sex than Miss Lucas without it. Most of the acquaintance Mrs. Darcy kept were likely to be too wealthy to regard so small a sum at all, but there were a few exceptions to every rule. And there was no hurry, as the hundred pounds a year she gave her father prevented her being a burden at Longbourn until such time as she should marry.
Mr. Collins concluded his remarks on the view of Rosings which could be obtained by stepping into the lane before his house, and looked at her expectantly.
"It seems a very convenient house, and blessed with a number of advantages," she said placidly. "I am sure you will be very happy there."
After about half an hour, Mrs. Bennet came to sit by them and give Charlotte inquisitive looks, but the younger lady would only reply with polite smiles. After another quarter of an hour's conversation, however, Charlotte expressed a desire to see how the girls were getting on with their music lesson, and went to join Maria in the schoolroom. Mrs. Bennet soon made some excuse to follow her, and the two stepped to a window.
"Well, my dear, and what do you think of him?" inquired Mrs. Bennet eagerly.
"He seems a very pleasant sort of man," replied Charlotte disingenuously, "but I do not think that we would suit."
"I am sorry to hear you say so, my dear! Whatever can be the matter with him? He is not so well-looking as some young men, to be sure, but you cannot expect everything at your age. And you would make him an excellent wife; you are a very good housekeeper, and would doubtless satisfy Lady Catherine on all points."
"I believe I might," replied Charlotte calmly, "but I am in no hurry to be married."
Mrs. Bennet looked a little affronted. "Perhaps you had better be, my dear, for there are the Miss Longs quite ready to have anybody, and though they are not handsome they are good, pleasant enough girls in their way."
"I am sure Mr. Collins will have no difficulty in finding a suitable young lady in the neighborhood."
"That he will not! I believe he meant at first to offer for one of my girls, but of course Kitty and Lydia are too young to be married. And then he had not realized that my girls are Mr. Darcy's sisters."
"Is he acquainted with Mr. Darcy then?"
"They have never met, but Lady Catherine is Mr. Darcy's aunt. Mr. Collins told us all about it at dinner last night. Before he came, he had heard very little of our family from his father--you know he and Mr. Bennet were estranged--and knew only that there were five girls, that their mother's fortune was not very large, and that the estate was entailed. I believe he thought they might have been destitute, but I soon set him straight upon that account. Once he heard that Mrs. Darcy was my daughter, he felt it would be presumptuous of him to marry any of her sisters, even if they were out of the schoolroom, which they are not; for he said Lady Catherine could not like it if her clergyman were to be brother to her nephew, and I think very likely he is right. She is a very amiable, condescending woman, from all we hear, but great ladies often have some few scruples of that nature."
"Very often," murmured Charlotte, considering without rancor that it was no very great compliment to herself to be fit for the gentleman who was not fit for one of Mrs. Bennet's own daughters.
"And then of course a country parson would have a great deal to do, to aspire to the hand of a young lady with a thousand a year! But Mr. Collins is not an ambitious, scheming fellow, and has no intention of rising above his sphere. Once he was in full possession of the facts, he apologized handsomely for his initial intention, and said he must look about the neighborhood for a suitable wife--not brought up high, he said, but able to make a small income go a long way. Not that he believes his income to be very small, but it must seem so to Lady Catherine, and those were her ladyship's words. I am only too pleased, you know, to do my little best to assist him--you are quite sure you will not have him?--Oh, well, you know your own mind best--Now we must have the Longs to tea tomorrow; perhaps you will come then?"
Charlotte murmured some polite assent, and sat listening to Mrs. Bennet's plans for the ensuing fortnight with polite indifference until the music lesson was over, and she might with propriety collect Maria and return home.
CHAPTER FOUR: MRS. COLLINS
Mr. Collins, however, was not so easily avoided. He was pleased by the mild temper and sensible character of Miss Lucas, and believed that her income would be very convenient. She was so exactly of the description which his esteemed patroness had sent him forth to seek, that he was deaf to Mrs. Bennet's suggestions regarding any other lady in the neighborhood. He called at Lucas Lodge the next day, to the surprised pleasure of Lady Lucas and Sir William.
"He is a very amiable man," observed Lady Lucas, when their caller had departed, after staying three-quarters of an hour, and paying Charlotte very particular attentions.
"There is a great deal of solid worth in his reflections," agreed Sir William, looking discreetly towards his daughter.
"They are very accurate," she agreed politely, and succeeded in avoiding either any warmth or any change of countenance to such a degree as they discussed their guest over the ensuing quarter of an hour, that both parents were entirely puzzled. That Mr. Collins had meant something by his pointed manner was undoubted, and that their daughter seemed disposed to disregard him, almost equally plain.
"I suppose she thinks that she can find a finer fellow," said Lady Lucas, with a worried frown.
"If she doesn't like the man, I don't see why she ought to marry him," remarked Sir William, with good-humored belligerence. "She will always have a home with us here, and between her little income and her great acquaintance, I imagine she will find somebody she likes better."
"I am sure you are right, my dear," said Lady Lucas, sounding not at all reassured, "but I must hope that she does so very soon. She is not so young as she used to be. She has an affectionate heart, and I should be very sorry to see her without that domestic circle of her own, in which she must excel."
"Never mind, my dear," he replied with a kind smile. "She's a good, affectionate girl, and that will catch some fellow's eye, and her little fortune will keep it. I make no doubt of it."
All Charlotte's indifference could not serve to deter her suitor. He called daily for the remainder of the first week, and upon the Saturday made his declaration in form. Having resolved to do it without loss of time, as his leave of absence extended only to the following Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to make it distressing to himself even at the moment, he set about it in a very orderly manner, with all the observances which he supposed a regular part of the business.
On finding Lady Lucas with Charlotte after breakfast, he addressed the mother in these words,
``May I hope, Madam, for your interest with your fair daughter Charlotte, when I solicit for the honor of a private audience with her in the course of this morning?''
Lady Lucas was surprised, and being quite unequal to the situation, stammered out a hesitating acquiescence.
Charlotte was upon the point of making some refusal, but a moment's consideration making her sensible that it would be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible, she sat down again, and calmly taking up her work prepared herself to listen to his speech. Lady Lucas left the drawing room, and as soon as she was gone Mr. Collins began.
"You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. As soon as I had met you I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying -- and moreover for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did."
Charlotte was too patient to refuse him a quarter of an hour's indulgence, and listened without objection to the little speech which followed. It did not occur to her delicacy to abbreviate an interview which she had already determined must terminate in a polite but earnest negative. Marriage was to her as much as to him a genteel proposition of mutual aid, and it did not particularly occur to either that fervid emotions, though they must be invoked, need actually enter into the matter. Whatever her fears for this interview, that of paining or grieving her suitor was entirely absent.
She listened with remarkable calm to his gracious and condescending patroness's instructions as to selecting a wife, to the assurance of Lady Catherine's frequent and undoubtedly domineering company, and his high praises of the small house and garden, which seemed to her to form the real advantages of his situation. She need not accept him, and therefore was inclined to be generous in allowing him his moment of glory, and entertained herself during the duller parts of his speech by considering how irksome his volubility and pompousness must have been in a husband, had she been obliged to have him.
She would, she thought, have made him a good wife; her own good manners would have curbed his little indelicacies, and must have recommended her to his patroness. He would not have made her a very good husband, however, for she found his society irksome after a mere few days' acquaintance, and thought it unlikely to improve. When he had ended his little speech as to the advantages of the match, and assured her that "nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection," however, she judged it time to interrupt him.
"Words fail me, Mr. Collins, to express my gratitude for your regard. I must always be sensible of the considerable compliment you have paid me, in asking me to be your wife, and I have no doubt that I shall think of it with satisfaction in future years. I regret that I cannot believe myself capable of making you happy, and hope that we will always regard each other with perfect amity and sincere friendship."
``I am not now to learn,'' replied Mr. Collins with a formal wave of the hand, ``that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.''
Charlotte stared at him in surprise, and was briefly silent. A moment must suffice for her reflections, however, for he gave signs of embarking again upon a disquisition, the theme of which must be the merits either of herself or of his house, and she was anxious to listen to neither.
"May I inquire," she asked calmly, "to what you owe such assurance?"
It was now Mr. Collins's turn to be taken aback.
"I should hardly describe myself as assured, my dear madam," he said hastily. "But I must hope that the ardor of my attachment will sway you ere long. Far be it from me to reproach the charming caprice of the feminine mind; I shall never deny you such indulgences as are common to your sex."
"I do not doubt that you will be a clement and kindly husband in due time, sir. You will doubtless form the happiness of some fortunate woman. But my refusal is quite sincere. I should advise you to try Mrs. Long. She has several charming nieces, younger than myself, who would doubtless suit you very well. In fact I believe that Miss Long was speaking of you when I heard her admiring the ready amiability of a certain gentleman at Mrs. Phillips's house on the Monday. I am sure you will do better there."
"My dear Miss Lucas! You are amiability itself. But I assure you that my constancy is quite determined. I shall appeal to your excellent parents, and I am certain that they will give me their aid, in endeavoring to persuade you."
"You may certainly appeal to them," she said, rising with an air of finality, "but I do not think you will find them favorable to your cause. Good morning, Mr. Collins." She walked out of the room with a calmness of manner which the gentleman found more disconcerting than a tempestuous refusal could have been, and went at once to the kitchen. Her mother found her there an hour later, assisting with the pies, and drew her into her own dressing room.
"Well, my dear, Mr. Collins has been to see your father and myself."
"Indeed?" inquired Charlotte calmly.
Lady Lucas was doubtless the source of her daughter's practical nature. She came immediately to the point. "He sought our interest in persuading you to marry him. Your father told him at once that he would not interfere if you were not attached to the gentleman, and the result of the matter was, that I promised to speak with you, and determine to everybody's satisfaction that your refusal was sincere, and not attributable to coyness, or to the suddenness of his proposal."
"It was quite sincere, Mamma. I cannot find that I like Mr. Collins, and as I need not marry, I shall not."
"That is very sensible of you, my dear," said Lady Lucas with a little sigh. "I would so like to see you established in a home of your own, however. You may not have other offers, you know."
"It has not escaped my notice, Mamma, that I have surpassed the age at which young ladies are ordinarily married, nor that I have not a beauty of face or figure to draw the masculine eye. But as my little fortune leaves me independent, and I have nobody depending upon me, I have considered the matter, and determined that I shall not marry without some substantial inducement."
"Do you mean, Charlotte, that you wish to marry for love? I should never have thought it of you--you were never a romantic."
"Not quite that," replied the young lady thoughtfully, "but that I must have some more substantial inducement than the offer of a respectable home and a reasonable income, as I can supply those myself."
Lady Lucas smiled at her daughter. "Mr. Collins is not very agreeable to a young lady's taste, eh? Well, I shall not blame you. You have always had a good head upon your shoulders, Charlotte, and I am sure you will come to a good end. I am sorry for poor Mr. Collins, however."
"He will console himself, Mamma," replied Charlotte philosophically. "I am sure Miss Long was very pleased with him."
The neighborhood of Meryton was very pleased to hear, a week later, the announced engagement of Mr. Collins to Miss Long. The young lady was to have a comfortable home, the notice of a distinguished patroness, and the adoration of the effusive Mr. Collins. Miss Lucas, however, did not sink in the general estimation of the neighborhood, for it was plain to the knowing ladies of the country that she rated herself a little higher than her suitor. It is difficult for silly people not to take everybody at their own estimation, and then Miss Lucas with two hundred and fifty pounds a year might reasonably hope for more than Miss Lucas without it.
CHAPTER FIVE: PEMBERLEY
Posted on 2014-05-30
(EARLY SUMMER OF THE FOLLOWING YEAR)
Charlotte settled down in a chair by the window and opened her workbasket, casting an indulgent eye upon the little fellow crawling about on the rug as he smashed a tower of bricks.
"What a handsome little man he is! It seems he has grown an inch since breakfast."
Elizabeth laughed and stacked the wooden toys up again. "He grows stronger every day. I shall have to fasten a string through these; in a fortnight he will be knocking them down faster than I can put them back up again."
Charlotte thought it might not be a fortnight, but she did not say so. Elizabeth took a firm hand with the boy, but she was as fond as a mother might be expected to be of her son and heir, and if she indulged him from time to time, the child seemed to take no harm. Mr. Darcy joined them a few moments later, and with a little greeting to Charlotte, seized the child and began to bounce him upon his knee. They were a cozy family party.
As delighted as the Darcys were with their son, Charlotte was an invaluable companion. She was, in truth, valued at Pemberley more even than at Lucas Lodge, where her assistance was more necessary. It did not surprise her, then, to hear Elizabeth turn to her and say penitently,
"Poor Charlotte! It has been very dull for you this last month. Fitzwilliam, we really ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We have not given more than one dinner party since we came from London."
Mr. Darcy gave a guilty start. "Very true, my dear. I hope you will forgive us, Miss Lucas. We had no intention of burying you in the country."
"Pray do not distress yourselves," said Charlotte kindly. "You have an object which must compel interest, and I would be very insensible indeed if I did not find him nearly as fascinating as you do."
"Yes, very nearly. But I imagine you might prefer conversation with a person able to construct sentences of more than one word. We must give another dinner."
"Perhaps for the clergymen," suggested Mr. Darcy suddenly.
Elizabeth frowned in perplexity.
"It was an old custom of my mother's," he explained. "Every summer she would give a dinner to all the clergymen who were near enough to come, and their wives of course. I believe they were generally considered very pleasant dinners, and excellent company."
"What a charming idea," cried Elizabeth. "I shall write the invitations directly. Now, Fitz, go and see Papa. Mamma has to write letters." She paused just long enough to watch adoringly as her son tottered off on unsteady legs, clutching his father's fingers in fat fasts, and then settled herself at her writing desk.
Two weeks later, the results of her labor filled the drawing room at Pemberley, and proceeded in to dine in orderly fashion. Elizabeth had no difficulty in perceiving the merits of the scheme. The country round about Pemberley was principally composed of large estates, whose wealthy owners generally lived in a style which was inaccessible to their vicars and rectors. These gentlemen were therefore compelled either to limit their society to such of the neighboring townspeople as were sufficiently genteel, or to engage in an awkward and unequal intercourse with their patrons. Though some few chose the latter course, the greater part of them were men of too much intelligence, or delicacy, to permit them to do so, and therefore lived somewhat solitary lives, associating themselves principally with such of the other clergymen as lived within easy distance.
Tonight, however, they had come from as far away as ten or twenty miles, all having been offered rooms if they preferred to remain for the night. Their mutual associations, some with close neighbors, some with university friends, quickly yielded to a general air of bonhomie and conviviality, and it was readily apparent that Elizabeth's skills as a hostess would not be required to render the evening a success. Her only necessary effort must be to make for herself and for Charlotte a place within the gathering of wives and daughters. There were certainly too few ladies, for there were a number of clergymen yet unmarried, and only a few clergymen with grown, unmarried daughters. The gentlemen had come expecting the imbalance, however, and were well satisfied with the opportunity of discussing their glebes and their sermons, their curates and their hunting, as their taste dictated.
There was only one unhappy face among the lot, and Elizabeth was very little distressed by it, having been well prepared for its appearance. Mr. Charles Phipps was, it seemed, rarely pleased with his company, and Mr. Darcy had been very surprised that he was to attend at all.
"He is a very good sort of man, an excellent country parson, but quite unsociable. He came to Kympton some years ago, and was cheerful enough until his wife died. She left to his care a young daughter, and I believe the weight of her grows heavier upon his mind with each passing year. I can well comprehend it! The child is all that he has left of her mother, and he loves her almost beyond reason. The lack of a suitable female guardian for her has worried him greatly, and I really believe that in another year he will throw it up and go to live with his sister in London. It will constrict his income sorely, but it will be better for his Fanny."
"Poor man," she had said. "Well, perhaps we can cheer him with one of the local daughters."
"I doubt it very much," Fitzwilliam had said, shaking his head with a smile. "He has been adamant against every suggestion of remarriage. But it will do him good to spend an evening in company nonetheless."
Watching him now, she could well believe it. Mr. Phipps attempted valiantly to smile and to converse, but his attention wandered frequently. He gave every appearance of being a man with some grave care weighing upon him. As they took their seats, Elizabeth saw with some distress that he took the place beside Miss Lucas. She pitied Mr. Phipps and had spent some time in attempting to cheer him herself, but she did not wish to sacrifice her friend to his careworn mind. Fortunately, their own rector, Mr. Edgerton, a cheerful and pleasant gentleman, was upon Charlotte's other side, and Elizabeth was satisfied that her friend would not be entirely neglected in the course of their meal.
She soon saw, however, that Charlotte had other ideas upon the point, for with her usual mild dutifulness, she turned to Mr. Phipps soon after the meal started, and attempted to converse. Elizabeth would not worry herself on that head, however; Charlotte was too sensible to make herself miserable in a vain application, and would desist when she found it sufficiently useless or disagreeable.
"Well, Charlotte, and what did you think of your dinner companions?" inquired Elizabeth of her friend, with a teasing laugh, as they proceeded to the drawing room after dinner.
"They were both very pleasant, genteel men," replied the other calmly.
"Indeed?" asked Elizabeth skeptically. She had accepted her husband's respect for Mr. Phipps as a man and a vicar, but the attempt at conversation she had herself conducted with her guest had not convinced her that the description of "pleasant" was quite deserved.
Charlotte smiled. "Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley ought to know better than to assume any evil of a fellow, merely because he does not converse well."
"A hit, a very palpable hit," cried Elizabeth, laughing. "But I shall be serious, Charlotte; I have the highest respect for Mr. Phipps. My husband does not describe men as 'good' or 'excellent parsons' without reason. But I would not call him a wit."
"No. But he is very fond of his daughter."
"Ah! You talked of her, then. There is some explanation for how you were able to hold his attention."
"He is a man in some distress, Lizzie," said Charlotte reproachfully.
"I do not doubt it! But he was reluctant to speak of it to me, and I equally reluctant to press him," said Elizabeth with kind sincerity. "I am glad he has found a listening ear."
When the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing room that night, Elizabeth was not in the least surprised to find that Mr. Phipps was quick to take a seat by Miss Lucas, nor could she pretend to any shock that the kind-hearted Charlotte was a ready listener, though she was a little surprised at how long they talked together. Their conversation took very little account of any other person in the room for nearly the space of an hour. There was too much movement, too much making and breaking up of little parties in too large a room, for their tete-a-tete to be much observed by anybody but Elizabeth, but she did notice, and could not help but wonder if Mr. Phipps might be persuaded to change his long determination against a remarriage.
The village of Kympton was some three miles from Pemberley, a very reasonable drive on a moonlit night, and thus Mr. Phipps, with many expressions of gratitude for a pleasant evening, took his leave well after midnight. He was not long, however, in returning the next day, for it was scarcely past noon when he called. Elizabeth's eyes turned to Charlotte's face when his name was announced, and she thought that her friend appeared pleased, though not unduly so.
Elizabeth herself found Mr. Phipps more agreeable than on the previous evening. That his daughter was still much upon his mind was very plain, for he sat with them for nearly an hour, and half that time at least was devoted to a plan of education for her, upon which Charlotte had many sensible and well-reasoned things to say. Yet he seemed less distracted than formerly when talking upon points not connected with his daughter, and was able to talk of his garden for five minutes together, with scarcely any allusion to Miss Fanny, and to listen to Miss Lucas upon almost any subject without interruption or apparent abstraction. When he went away again, it was with an invitation to come and dine with them two nights hence, when Mr. Edgerton and his wife were to meet them.
CHAPTER SIX: CHARLOTTE'S WALK
When Mr. Phipps had gone, Charlotte expressed an intention of taking some exercise in the shrubbery, and Elizabeth proposing to join her, both ladies went upstairs to fetch their hats. Charlotte closed the door of her chamber and leant against it for a moment. She would keep Lizzie waiting, she feared, but she must have a moment to breathe.
She had never been romantic. She had always laughed at romantic novels, with their fanciful descriptions of sudden passions conceived in a moment, and upon no grounds. And now she felt something which she must acknowledge was akin to those fancifully described romances!
It had begun as pity, no doubt. She had seen him standing, silent and apparently morose, in the drawing room, and had contrived to get near him. She had found herself swept along in the general movement and seated next to him at dinner; she had taken pains to draw him out, and to discover the cause of his sorrow. Mr. Phipps, at the age of forty, had no desire for the fleeting pity of the local belles, but he had found Miss Lucas an entirely different proposition. Her quiet, sympathetic manner had produced its good effect, and she was soon in possession of the whole tale. He was not a man of profoundly deep feelings, but he loved his little daughter almost more than he had loved his wife, and as she was eight years old this summer, found himself in increasing distress. She must have a feminine companion and guardian, but to whom could he entrust so precious a burden? So difficult was it to discern the true character of a governess, and he could not bear to have her parted from him and sent to a school. He was in deep distress, indeed.
His reservations were less rational than his attachment was commendable. The character of a governess living in his own home and dining at his own table was not likely to be long a mystery to a man of average perceptiveness, but she forbore to tell him so on that evening, and listened with patient kindness to all his paternal fears and affections. When he departed that night, she found herself a little sorry to see him ago. Today he had returned, and she had been glad to see him. She had been happier yet to see his manner, for it was undoubtedly altered towards her. She had been the confidante of yester eve, but the companion of this morning. He had listened not only to her counsel, but to her conversation; had talked of subjects other than his daughter, and seemed eager to engage her upon them as well.
She came to herself with a start and realized she must be keeping Lizzy by now. She hurried her things on and the two ladies were soon in a cool avenue of oaks, the majestic boles rising on either side of a well-maintained gravel path. They walked in silence for some five or ten minutes before Elizabeth began.
"I hope," she said playfully, "that I have not taken advantage of your good nature in inviting Mr. Phipps to dine here. If he bores you, I promise to take him off your hands."
Charlotte colored prettily. "I do not find him dull, Lizzie."
"I am glad to hear you say it. In truth, I think you bring out the best in him. I have not known him before, but he was a good deal more cheerful and more pleasant this morning than last night. I think you have relieved some of his fears. I am not now to learn that a gentleman under a grave apprehension is not at his amiable best."
Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief. "I am sure you are right. He seems to me a very pleasant man, but under so grave an apprehension it would be difficult to be cheerful."
"Very difficult. I am sure that is why he stays so much at home. Perhaps he felt that the Darcys of Pemberley were not to be refused, however," Elizabeth added with a teasing smile.
"It is a position of importance in the neighborhood, Lizzie, however you may laugh. I am glad you are reviving the late Mrs. Darcy's charitable habits."
"Charity! I can think of no charities I have revived," remarked Elizabeth, in puzzled surprise. "They were all carried on very efficiently by Mr. Darcy in the absence of a lady of the estate."
"I was speaking of your dinner. It must be viewed very nearly as a charitable effort, to extend a pleasant and equal society to the clergymen of the area. So many patrons are very superior in their manners. I cannot think it would be at all a pleasant life," she finished seriously.
"Ah! You are thinking of poor Mrs. Collins. No, I cannot think hers would be a pleasant life. I have met Aunt Catherine only twice. She does not approve very much of me, you know; my connections are not equal to her expectations, though my fortune is 'adequate--very adequate,'" she mimicked. "In consequence of which we were very grieved not to receive an invitation to Rosings at Easter this year or last, and were only asked to dine with her ladyship once each season in London. Ugh!" she cried, with a return to seriousness. "To spend one's life being condescended to and ordered about by such a woman would be a miserable fate indeed."
"Come, Lizzy, there must be much worse ones," laughed Charlotte, "and it is a comfortable home for poor Susan. Still, it could not be very pleasant."
The ladies had reached the end of the avenue and followed a side path, but they now heard a step behind them, and turning perceived Mr. Darcy.
"Good morning my dear, Miss Lucas," he greeted them, falling into step. "I hoped I might find you here. Reynolds said you had gone to walk in the shrubbery."
"Yes, we have had a very pleasant morning call from Mr. Phipps, and now come out for our exercise," said Elizabeth with a mischievous smile.
"From Mr. Phipps! Of Kympton?" inquired he, surprised.
"Indeed. He has been asking advice from Miss Lucas on the education of his daughter."
Charlotte blushed a little, but her countenance remained steady. "His concerns are very natural, if a little exaggerated by his affection. I fancy I was able to persuade him that the governess of a little girl of only eight years was unlikely to lead the child into any very serious faults without her father noticing them and correcting them in time. It is a great advantage, after all, that both child and governess would be residing with him. He has assured us that he will write to a reputable agency within the week."
Mr. Darcy forgot himself so far as to stare. "I am all astonishment, Miss Lucas. Half the neighborhood has been telling him so these three years, but he has not taken our counsel."
"Indeed?" she asked, her cheeks pinkening a little further. "I can offer no explanation for that. Perhaps he feels that there is no alternative, as Miss Fanny is growing older."
"Very likely that is it," agreed Elizabeth, and Charlotte just saw the warning glance she gave Mr. Darcy, and the start with which he perceived it. "I have asked him to dinner with the Edgertons, Fitzwilliam. I hope you have no objections?"
"None at all," he replied calmly, though Charlotte felt his shrewd gaze upon her. "In fact, I think you might perhaps ask him to call or to dine a little more often. I do not like to think of him being so lonely. He has been in mourning for his wife a long time, but perhaps he is ready to mix with society again now. We must encourage him if we can. He is a good man."
Charlotte was pleased, though not deceived, and the little party rambled through the shrubbery for another hour before returning to the house.
CHAPTER SEVEN: HOW THEY WENT ON
Mr. Phipps came to dinner on the appointed evening, and conducted himself admirably. He had written, he confessed, to the agency for a governess, and was looking forward with eagerness as well as trepidation to hearing from them. Little Fanny was delighted with the idea, for "I shall always love you best, Papa, but it is tiresome to be often alone, and Nurse does not read the picture-books so very well." Mr. Phipps succeeded even in being agreeable to the rest of the party, so that when Charlotte came upon Lizzy and Mrs. Edgerton talking together, she was fairly certain of their subject. Even Georgiana had observed it.
"Mr. Phipps is a great deal more cheerful than I had heard my brother say he was formerly," the young lady observed to the other women in the drawing room that night.
"He is like a man with a weight removed from his mind," agreed Mrs. Edgerton thoughtfully. "I am glad he took your advice, Miss Lucas, and determined upon a governess."
"I am sure it is the best thing for himself and for his daughter," replied Charlotte calmly. "A governess is not always necessary, but in such a case it must be a very material advantage."
"I am glad he has had such a reasonable friend, to assist him into his resolution."
"It is very natural that he should be reluctant to entrust so precious an object to the care of another," remarked Charlotte inconsequently.
"Indeed," replied Mrs. Edgerton. "But his income is certainly equal to keeping a governess, and therefore I am glad he has overcome his hesitancy. Indeed, the house is admirably suited for it. Have you ever seen the parish house at Kympton, Miss Lucas?"
"I have not."
"It is a very pretty place, and has a handsome little wing built on to one side, with a parlor, bedroom and dressing room. I believe it was originally built for the rector's mother, and it would answer that purpose very well, but it will be a very comfortable accommodation for the governess, if he will turn it over to her. I am convinced that every rectory ought to have some such addition, for not every clergyman is a younger son, with a brother who can give a dower house to his mother! It is a very clever arrangement indeed; I wish that you could see it."
The conversation turned easily to other topics, but Mrs. Edgerton had not done, and when the gentlemen joined them, she soon returned to her project, praising the cleverness of the architecture, and soon procured for them all a somewhat surprised invitation to call the next week, and see the house. Charlotte was too practical for much embarrassment, but she found she had much better keep out of the discussion, and only assented to the general plan when particularly applied to. The consequence was that to Kympton they were to go in four days' time.
Charlotte was all eagerness, and all anxiety, to see the house which Mr. Phipps called home, and the daughter who formed so material a part of his happiness. Nor was that all that she saw of the gentleman before then. He called round the next day with a letter, for he had heard from the agency, who had presented him with several prospects. He wished to consult Mrs. Darcy and Miss Lucas as to their opinion on the best choice. Mrs. Darcy said only enough not to say very little, and Charlotte very sensibly talked him into the lady who was patently the superior choice. When it had all been comfortably settled, they took their exercise in the shrubbery all three together, and the ladies succeeded in prevailing upon him to stay to dinner, Lizzy by a warm invitation, and Charlotte by a warmer smile.
"Lizzy," said Charlotte later that evening, when they were sitting with Georgiana in the drawing room, "what do you know of Mr. Phipps?"
Elizabeth suppressed a smile. "This is only my third summer at Pemberley, and I know nothing of him personally. But it seems that he came here about the time of his marriage, which is to say about ten years ago, and that his wife died some five years ago, leaving him with a little girl of about three years of age, named Fanny. He has an excellent character in the neighborhood as a good man and a conscientious clergyman, though he has been increasingly preoccupied with his daughter of late."
"And the daughter, what is she like?"
"I can answer for that," replied Georgiana, "for we have been sometimes thrown together. She is a sweet girl, good-natured and kind-hearted, though her shy temper and her delicate constitution are a source of constant distress to her father. I believe if she had a more active disposition he would not feel the contrast to a son so strongly, or not for some years."
"Is she sickly then? Poor man," murmured Charlotte, suddenly pitying him more than ever.
"No, she is healthy enough, but she is not strong. She is easily fatigued, and rather shy." Having delivered herself of two such speeches, Georgiana felt that her role in this conversation was ended, and retired to the pianoforte at the end of the room.
"Just such a combination of circumstances as must make a widower father very attached to her," mused Charlotte, feeling that Georgiana's departure was in deference to her, and attempting to take no notice of it. "I am sorry he is so troubled regarding her. Why has he not engaged a governess in the past? Mrs. Edgerton did not believe his income to be constricted."
"I am sure his trouble is nothing of that kind," replied Elizabeth easily. "I know the living of Kympton is a valuable one, and I believe that he has some small income of his own, so that he has about a thousand a year to dispose of. I think his trouble has been his friendlessness. He has no female relative but his sister, and she is in London. He has felt himself all at sea, and in sore want of advice. You have a very steady temper, Charlotte, and I am glad he has come to you for it."
"He has been very civil," answered Charlotte noncommittally.
"Civil! my dear Charlotte, Mr. Darcy's steward hardly defers to his judgment more than Mr. Phipps to yours. It will not do. It is very plain that his interest in you is more than friendly."
"Perhaps it is. He certainly ought to hire a governess, but he would do better to marry a new wife, if he could find somebody to suit his taste and temper."
"You talk as though he were buying a new coat," laughed Elizabeth.
"There are a sufficiency of men who choose their wives with less care," replied Charlotte calmly. "Why should one not have a list of requirements in a wife or husband?"
"And what is yours?"
"An agreeable man of good principles and good temper, who can give me a comfortable home. Perhaps I would have asked less once, but your husband's generosity has enabled me to be a little more demanding."
"But surely you would require some similarity of taste, and some degree of affection?" cried Elizabeth, amused.
"A husband and wife spend so much of their time dissimilarly that I cannot think a great similarity of taste to be a necessity. Affection is always pleasant, but that may come in time."
Elizabeth laughed incredulously. "Come, come, Charlotte, that will not do. I cannot think you regard Mr. Phipps so coldly. It is very nearly the warmest romance I have ever seen!"
"I will not attempt to deny," replied Charlotte with a modest smile, "that I feel some affection for him, though our acquaintance has been very brief."
"That is better. And I shall not insult your intelligence by inquiring as to whether you have some hope of a return. In fact, my dear, all that is wanting is for you to meet the daughter and inspect the house, and if there is no fault with either, I see no reason you should not be married by Christmas at the very latest."
"Elizabeth!" Charlotte flushed.
"Come, my dear, I am only teasing, though you are making me suspect that you are quite serious. Well, he has a reputation as a good man on all counts. If you do not absolutely forbid it, I shall encourage his calling here." Elizabeth rose with an inquiring expression.
Charlotte making no answer, her friend concluded, with a playful smile, "Very well. I shall go assist Georgiana with her music--and leave you to your thoughts."
Charlotte was too practical, and too well aware of her own feelings, to attempt to deny that she was forming a strong, though a sudden, attachment to the gentleman in question. A rational evaluation of his prospects as a husband, though the brevity of their acquaintance could not make it very thorough, was very encouraging. A good income, a good character, and a good-tempered daughter. He was not a handsome man, but he had a good countenance and a gentlemanly air. She believed that she wished to marry him. She found his company very pleasant and could scarcely stop thinking of him in his absence. She was certainly more attentive to him than she meant to be, when they were together, and she meant to secure his attentions to herself. Provided neither the house nor the daughter were very bad, she meant to have him if she could.
And then there was Lizzie's suggestion that he had not meant to marry, but that he might change his mind. It was very flattering, very complimentary indeed, to suppose oneself the object of desire to another person, and particularly to a man who might have chosen otherwise.
Charlotte Lucas was quite as much as in love as a nature like hers could ever be.
CHAPTER EIGHT: KYMPTON
Mr. Phipps watched anxiously out the window of the front room for the carriages to arrive. One backward glance at his little girl brought a smile to his face. Fanny was playing quietly with her doll, crooning to it softly as she walked the floor. She would make a loving mother some day. A sound drew his attention to the gravel drive and he hurried out as two carriages drove into view.
"Good morning, Mrs. Edgerton, Mrs. Darcy, Miss Lucas. How were the roads? Do come inside. Mind the step. This--" with just a little catch in his voice--"this is my little Fanny."
Fanny, with a quick, shy glance at her father, came forward a few steps and made a pretty curtsy. The father glanced anxiously at Miss Lucas, but she was smiling.
"Good morning, Miss Phipps," she said solemnly. "And who is this?"
"This is Sarah," replied the little girl, with a quick smile. She glanced once at her father and then, summoning her courage, announced, "She has a new dress."
"And very handsome it is, too. What a nice bit of muslin!"
"Papa gave it me, from his neckcloth."
"And very fashionable too, in such fine white."
During this little exchange Mrs. Edgerton and Mrs. Darcy had occupied themselves in observing a view of the front lawn from the drawing room window. Mr. Phipps hardly knew whether to be more pleased or distressed at their evident complicity in his wooing. In the end he disregarded them and observed Miss Lucas's interaction with his daughter with pleasure. It was evident, though not surprising, that his shy little girl had taken instantly to the calm and pleasant lady before her.
Mr. Phipps could scarcely blame Fanny. He himself had warmed immediately to Miss Lucas's quiet and kind nature, her affections warm but tempered by the reason that came with maturity. He had considered remarriage once or twice, but the flightiness of so many of the young ladies of the neighborhood had not been so discouraging as the naïve, untempered enthusiasms of those few who were more reasonable and intelligent. How could a man respect such a woman, or entrust to her his household, let alone his child? A daughter he had already; he wanted a wife. He had therefore brusquely rejected the idea of a second matrimony.
Miss Lucas was another matter altogether. She had none of that girlish playfulness which exasperated him even in the otherwise intelligent and lively Mrs. Darcy, but a calm and competent manner which he found restful and endearing. He had found himself drawn to her at once, and had found not long after that he wished her to be drawn to him. He was determined to present himself and his habitation in the best possible light today.
With that determination in mind, he would not interfere while Miss Lucas conferred with Fanny, but when their conversation was at an end, he summoned refreshments, and was as convivial a host as he could manage to be. He would not speak too much praise of his own home, but he need not have worried on that head, as Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Edgerton were prepared to do all that was required upon the point. When tea had been drunk, Mrs. Edgerton reminded him of the promised tour, and Mr. Phipps was very happy to take them over the house, noting with pleasure that Fanny slipped her small hand into Miss Lucas's, and accompanied them.
Miss Lucas would ask no unseemly questions, but she smiled, nodded knowingly, and seemed pleased with what she saw. When she took her leave with Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Phipps returned to his book room in a happy frame of mind, to calculate the period of time which must pass before he could with propriety ask her to be his wife.
CHAPTER NINE: CONCLUSION
In the end, Mr. Phipps anticipated that period by, according to some persons, several weeks, and according to others, merely a few days. Elizabeth was determined to make all easy for Charlotte; and Mr. Darcy to please his wife, her friend, and his own; Charlotte was quite in love with him, and their stations in life sufficiently similar to please both families. Mr. Phipps was too methodical a man to propose the next day, or the day after, but Charlotte had not known him a month before Mr. Phipps had asked her to be his wife, and she had accepted gladly.
The Lucases were delighted to find Charlotte so well settled, and Elizabeth and Jane equally well pleased to have their friend settled so near them. Charlotte remained with the Darcys several months and carried on a very active correspondence with Mr. Phipps when she returned home, so that by the time of their marriage early that fall the two were as well known as well loved by each other. Fanny continued as fond of Charlotte as she had been the day they first met, and was a watchful and attentive little mother when infants once again graced the parsonage at Kympton. Charlotte found a great happiness and satisfaction in her husband, her home, and her little domestic circle, and as for Mr. Phipps, he found in the comfort and assistance of his wife all that he could have hoped for.The End