Section I, Next Section
As a preface to this peculiar narrative of mine, let me enlighten you on one point: I am never as drunk as I seem.
When faced with an uncomfortable social situation - or one in which it is far better to play the part of an observer than that of a participant - each man has his own way of retreating from the action. Mr. Bennet (or so I came to learn after I'd gotten to know him better) hides behind a book or, barring that, tinkers with his eyebrows until his entire face projects an air of bemused sarcasm (an expression that invites inquiry only from his second eldest). Mr. Bingley slaps a stupid smile on his face and goes blank in the eyes (though he often does this when in the thick of a conversation, as well). And Mr. Darcy - intelligent a gentleman as he is - begins to act like he's got a riding crop up his breeches.
Me, I resort to food and drink. The food, I grant you, is one of the perks of being a well-monied gentleman of the town (though I'm not as well-monied as my wife would like me to be). But I'm not so fond of liquor as people think. It is very easy for me to pretend that I'm drunk and drowsy; all I have to do is throw back two glasses, slump on the sofa, and stick my belly out into the air. Why do I never become inebriated? What helps is that - given my physical stature and my rowdier days as a carefree London youth - I have a very high tolerance for drink. And if I happen to be imbibing spirits in Bingley's company, I can be assured that Darcy has had them heavily watered down (because a drunken Bingley is not a pretty Bingley... as illustrated by an anecdote that you shall hear in due time). Besides, waking up next to dear Louisa every morning is about as close to a real hangover as one can get.
That said, I begin my narrative on a Saturday evening at Netherfield, Bingley's newest estate in the county of -------shire (the -------- standing for Hertford).
"Because my feathers are falling off!"
"Then maybe you should glue them on!!!"
"They are glued on!"
"Then what do you want from me?"
"I want you to make them stand straight! They're drooping over my forehead!"
"Isn't that supposed to fashionable?"
"It was, a year ago, but trends have changed!"
"Oh, bother, Caroline. Why don't you come here?"
"I can't. If I move even one jot, all my hair's bound to come undone, and my stupid maid can do nothing about it!"
It used to be better. When they wanted to talk from different rooms, they would send their maids back and forth between them. But then they caught on to how time-consuming it was to rely on messengers and so resorted to screeching instead.
I don't understand why they care so much about their appearances. The society that we are to appear before today is little more than what they've dubbed "country rabble." Perhaps they see themselves as emissaries, dignitaries of a sort, from the fashionable, forward London society. I know not. All I hope is that the assembly hall has a good bench and a stool to prop up my feet.
"Will that be all, sir?" asks Rupert Edward Arthur Andrews III, my valet. Rupert's a jolly good fellow. Aside from being a little too hands-on with Caroline's maid, there's not a bit of vice about him. Excepting - truth be told - a fondness for cards. And fighting roosters.
"Rupert, since when have you been so formal with me?"
"Sorry, Gil ... but the Dignified Darcy just walked by your door and I wouldn't want him to think any less of you."
"Ah, well, I don't think that's possible."
In case you're wondering, Gil is short for Gilroy, which means either "son of a red-headed servant" or "son of the king's servant." One reason that Darcy treats me with so much indifference.
Though the name does accurately reflect, in some part, my heritage. One of my distant ancestors was the slop-boy of William "Rufus" II. His sole job would be to dispose of the king's wastes on royal hunting tours and military campaigns. Family legend goes that, when William II was felled by an arrow that fateful day in the woods, it was my ancestor who was behind it all. Apparently some dispute about which man had the better aim.
Darcy, Bingley, and I stand at the foot of the stairs, awaiting the ladies (a word I use in the most general sense).
"Isn't this great, Darce?" Bingley effuses, slapping his stick-straight friend on the back. "Imagine all the good cheer, the excellent company! I wager there'll be some pretty girls, too..." (this last part with an elbow to the richer man's ribs).
Darcy shrugs. "None handsome enough to tempt me, I'm sure."
"Oh, come now! I'm determined that you shall have some fun, too!"
"Your energy is better spent in other quarters, Bingley."
"I dare say you're right. I should best save my breath for dancing."
Oh, dear Lord, no. Not dancing. My wife's will make me stand up with her for at least one set.
Bingley seems to sense some of my unease, because he looks me straight in the eye and, with a suggestive waggle of his brows, says, "I bet there'll be some strong country wine, too."
"Oh, no!" Louisa interjects, descending the stair at that very moment. "Not until he's danced at least one set with me!"
I sigh. This is going to be one damn, tedious waste of an evening.
We arrive outside of the assembly hall. Louisa and Caroline immediately pronounce it "shabby-looking" and "common" and Darcy looks as if he's fighting the urge to pinch his nose shut and hold his breath. Bingley surges ahead of us all, nodding and smiling at all the carriage boys he passes by. I give the place an appraising look and decide that it's comfortable enough for a misspent night.
When we enter the room, the activity seems to die down a bit. Fortunately, all eyes are on Bingley and Darcy, and, for once, I am thankful that I'm a married man. As the dancing resumes, various locals flock around us, eager for introductions.
I have a shrewd eye, that I much I can boast. Though I am not quick on my feet, though I lack eloquence and wit and elegant deportment, a shrewd eye is something I can claim to possess. I am not a stupid man - not brilliant, but certainly not a cowherd either - and I have an eye for faces.
The first one to strike me is a Francine Bennet of Longbourn. I know immediately that Louisa will be just like her when she is older, especially if we have daughters of our own (chances of that happening are slim, though, as I shall explain in due course). Louisa likes to imagine herself clever, but so does this Francine, and they are equally as far from the truth in their self-assessment. The two of them are also more obvious than is necessary. For instant, Francine believes that none of us can see her when she winks at her daughters, or mouths the words 'GENTLEMEN' and 'FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS' and 'TEN THOUSAND POUNDS' and 'FAT AND MARRIED, SO PAY HIM NO MIND.'
Darcy, riding crop securely in place, strides away from the group. Bingley slaps on the silly grin. Though I cannot say that his eyes are blank this time, because they're resting rather comfortably on Madam Francine's eldest daughter, Jane.
Jane Bennet is a beautiful young lady, by any standard. Fair and doe-eyed, quiet and sweet, she has Bingley eager to grovel at her feet within seconds. But, unlike her mother, she's not forward at all, and doesn't press the advantage. Conscious of propriety and modesty, she conducts herself with a natural grace that seems very unaffected and very real. Lovely as she is, though, she's not to my taste - she smacks too much of milk and honey, porridge and cream. Thus making her perfect for Bingley. That particular gentleman - who's usually not so discerning - seems to sense this and immediately secures her hand for the next dance. Her sister, Elizabeth, watches the two of them with some amusement.
Miss Elizabeth is dark and striking, with a crackle of wit in her eyes. A fiery girl, but not exactly to my taste, either. For one thing, I prefer breadboxes to hourglasses, and so find her figure not especially attractive. From observing her further, I also discover that she's far too lively. One can be intelligent, I believe, without having to project it so much - a sedate intellect, a quiet sensibility is more to my liking than the brainy whips and daggers of Elizabeth's kind. Which is why I find her friend, Miss Charlotte Lucas, more appealing.
When I lay eyes on Miss Lucas, I begin to regret again that I'm chained to my dear Louisa, because here is a lady who's neither too pretty nor too plain, who's moderate, sensible, and mildly droll - a keen and quiet creature, practical and grounded. I plunk down on a seat behind Miss Elizabeth and Miss Charlotte, where they stand to the side, conversing.
"Hmmm..." Charlotte is musing, "what do you think, Lizzy, of this Mr. Darcy?"
The gentleman in question is standing at the opposite side of the room, studying a skewed plank of wood on the wall panel.
Says Elizabeth, "I'm beginning to wonder if he's made his money in a lumberyard."
"Perhaps his estate in Derbyshire has many trees."
"Derbyshire, do you say? My aunt grew up in Derbyshire, in the village of Lambton. There's this fine chestnut tree, on the green by the smithy, that she told me of once ... perhaps Mr. Darcy has since chopped it down for firewood."
"Do you think the tree is fine enough," asks Charlotte, "to burn in the hearth of the great Fitzwilliam Darcy?"
"Indeed, I do. Though it grows from common enough ground, it is - or was - a magnificent specimen. It must have been very honored to have serviced the stocking-clad, Darcy feet on many a bitter winter night."
"Oh, look, there he goes to the window to take in a bit of fresh air."
"Ah, well, considering how gentleman dress these days, I'm not surprised they need a little fresh air once in a while."
"Do you mean their layers of coats and vests and shirts render them uncomfortably warm?"
"Yes, and their cravats, as well ... they're practically throttled by their cravats."
Charlotte emits a low, melodious laugh, and I begin to wish this conversation could carry on forever, when my wife accosts me and claims my hand for the next set.
"Mr. Hurst," she declares, "I will not have you slouching like that from the very start of the evening. Be a good sport, get on your feet, and do a turn with me about the floor."
"Yes, ma'am," says I and trail after her to the middle of the room.
The dancing goes by in a blur. Literally. Dancing makes me quite dizzy, even when it's done slowly. Rupert has advised me to take deep breaths every few moments, but on account of how gentlemen dress these days, it's very hard to fill one's lungs. Though I suspect my gulping and gasping have something more to do with my weight than my waistcoat.
Bingley, engaged for this set to Miss Elizabeth, hops by me a few times. I catch snippets of their conversation... Elizabeth is asking him about a book. I want to tell her that she's wasting her breath - Bingley hasn't opened a book since his Cambridge days, and even then, Darcy did all the reading for him. But I find it very amusing to watch my brother-in-law scrounge through his brain for reasonably intelligent answers while staying in step with the music.
Darcy also glides past me a few times, his hand secured to Caroline (who managed to drag him way from the window). His mouth is pursed, his eyes boring straight ahead to... yes, you guessed it, that offending wall plank. "A place like this cannot afford better craftsmanship," he mutters, to which Caroline utters a delighted laugh (though I'll wager you that she has not the foggiest notion of what he's referring to).
When Darcy is in a mood like this, I almost wish for him to marry Caroline and secure his misery. Not that he's ever been jovial around me, but at least I've seen him in a better light. Shrewdly conquering the billiard table, besting Bingley at chess, poring over philosophic texts, his mind engaged in far worthier pursuits than minute faults and superficial flaws. I think this sort of gathering brings out the worst in him.
And we shall soon see how right I am.
Posted On: Monday, 21 October 2002, at 12:49 p.m.
The set thankfully comes to a close and the room, borne on my bout of dancing-induced dizziness, flies about in circles. Eight Louisas, hydra-like, rear before my vision and three baffled Bingleys attach themselves to my arm and lead me to a swaying bench. Air finds its way into my lungs again, and the room comes to a rest. I sigh, clapping a hand to my sweaty cheek.
"Sir, have you been drinking?" comes a stern voice from my right.
I turn and find myself staring into the spectacles of Miss Mary Bennet. Her sober gray eyes are fixed squarely on my flushed face.
Lord, I think, she reminds me a bit of my great-grandmother.
No sir, I wish to say, but instead answer her with a brisk shake of my head. My vision's still a little blurred, and I search in a panic for somewhere to settle my gaze. Miss Mary's glasses are out of the question - on their surface I can catch a reflection of myself, and it's enough to turn me to stone - so I settle instead on a long, pepper-black tendril that's curling up out of her nose.
"Keep in mind sir, that while a little drink might fortify a body against the ravaging illnesses of the world, too much makes a man muddle-headed and soft." This, with an emphatic glance at my stomach. "So writes Miss Anne Winchester, author of Turpitude and Lassitude: Why Sin Prevails. Available at our local bookshop for merely-"
"I thank you for your concern. Heaven knows, Miss, that at one time in my life, my nostrils were often clamped over the rim of an ale-mug, but I assure you, as everybody hair, er, here, can tell you, I am quite recovered from that period of youthful debauchery."
My speech sounds lucid enough, I suppose, for she nods in seeming satisfaction and turns away to converse with a mousy-looking girl to her right. Mariah Lucas, as I soon find out.
"Mary, do you think any gentlemen will ask me to dance?"
"If you conduct yourself properly and put an end to your childish whining, all the eligible gentlemen shall see the moral gem that you are and petition your hand for the next set."
"Mmmm... I wish that Mr. Darcy would ask for my hand. He's a frightening one, but ever so handsome."
"Mariah, it is highly improper to speak of a gentleman in that fashion!"
"Oh, but really, Mary! Don't you like the cut of his evening-coat?"
"I never had a single such thought."
"And his calves, Mary! I've never seen a stronger set of calves in my life. Look at them, ivory-white in those elegant stockings he's got..."
"I beg you, Mariah, desist!"
"And that tousled hair! Just as if he's returned from some moonlit romp in the-"
"YEA, I SAW A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, FOR THE FIRST HEAVEN AND THE FIRST EARTH HAD PASSED AWAY, AND THE SEA WAS NO MORE...!"
I lurch to my feet, the Book of Revelations fast fading behind me as I weave my way through the faceless crowd - and run smack into the ravishing idol himself.
He spins around, betraying his surprise via a raised eyebrow. "Ah, Hurst, it's you," he drones, not even attempting to mask his boredom.
"Yes, well, please be so kind sir as to step aside, for I see that they're laying the wine out behind you."
"Of course." He swats a particle of dust from his right coat sleeve. "That would explain your great impatience, I suppose."
I reply with a savage grunt and make for the drinks, hoping to shield myself from further conversation. It's a trick of mine to carry one glass around the whole evening. Taking in my general appearance and manners, everyone surmises that I've downed at least eight, but... you and I know better, don't we, dear reader?
Glass in hand, I slump into a seat, careful to note that Mary Bennet hasn't followed me, only to find myself next to her two younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia.
"Did you not hear?" says Kitty.
"Did you not hear?"
"Did I not hear what?"
"Officers are coming!"
"La! What fun!" Lydia claps her hands together. "When?"
"Two days hence."
"I can't wait!"
(A dramatic pause.)
"What's wrong, Kitty? You look like you've swallowed a toad."
"Don't take them all to yourself."
"You heard me."
(Another pause. Not as dramatic as the first one.)
"Do you promise?"
"Do I promise what?"
"Not to take them all to yourself."
"Oh, very well. Yes, I promise."
"Oh, what fun we shall have, Lydia!"
"But... do you think Papa shall approve?"
"Does it matter?"
"Well, if you put it that way... no, not really."
And that settles it. The two girls, propelled to their feet by the sheer volume of air in their heads, float off in the direction of Mary and Mariah.
A curious ringing remains in my ears at their departure. What a pair of sisters! Why I've never seen such... oh wait, yes I have.
There's a break in the dancing. Darcy has repositioned himself so that his bottom is a mere meter from my face, his hands clenched behind his back. The Darcy pinky-ring winks at me and I have the sudden urge to rip it off and pop it in my mouth. It would be a funny scene - would it not? - me bearing the ring under my tongue, Darcy giving undignified chase around the room, begging me for its return, ranting about how it's a family heirloom, passed down from the first D'Arcy who crossed the English Channel with William I, to the next D'Arcy, who discovered the body of William II out in the woods on that fateful day...
And that would make me think of my ancestor, the beleaguered slop-boy, and I'd give the ring a mighty swallow, and then Darcy would holler 'bloody infamy!' and sink his fists into my belly in a vain attempt to send the jewel back up again...
How shocking that would be.
Before I can catch myself I'm laughing out loud, and Darcy turns around, a frown further enhancing the overall moroseness of his countenance. This makes me laugh all the harder, and the picture I present - jolly red face, wine glass in hand - quite convinces him of the state of my mind. He huffs, presenting his backside to me again.
Not so far off sits Miss Elizabeth, tapping her feet as an interlude of music calls the dancers back onto the floor. It is then that Bingley, tearing himself away from Jane Bennet, approaches Darcy and says:
"Come Darcy, I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner."
Bingley? Sounding like a schoolmaster? I am all astonishment!
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner."
Ah, so a brief turn with Caroline is well and truly painless?
"At such an assembly as this," he continues, "it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment for me to stand up with."
And then, to my surprise, he begins to twist his ring around his pinky finger. Good Lord, I think, the only time he ever does that is when he's nervous! I survey the formidable backside, the elegant dark evening-coat, the finely shaped calves (damn that Mariah Lucas and her empty chatter), and think to myself, this man is nervous?
"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cries Bingley, "for a kingdom! (Unless Jane Bennet were its queen) Upon my honor I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening. And there are several of them, you see, that are uncommonly pretty."
Down, boy, down!
"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," says Darcy, nodding towards Miss Jane.
"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I've ever beheld!"
A pause. An earth-shattering sigh. Then...
"But there is one of her sisters sitting farther down from you, who is very pretty, too, and I daresay very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."
Yes, please do, so that Darcy may depart from this spot and remove his bottom from my face!
But of course, the stubborn man must frustrate my wishes. "Which do you mean?" he says, until his head finally turns to Miss Elizabeth. "Oh, her? She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time here!"
The fingers clench, the pinky-ring undergoes another violent rotation, and Bingley departs, shaking his head. My eyes come to rest on Miss Elizabeth (there's little else I can see, given that Darcy is obstructing my view) and she looks quite sour. Her mouth is clenched in a little, down-turned pout.
Oh, I think, what a neat turn of events. She's heard him!
Darcy again picks up on my half-suppressed chuckles and turns around to glare me into silence. My eyes remain on Miss Elizabeth's face, though, and I begin to fancy that my laughter is contagious, for the down-turned pout turns into a wry little smile. Darcy, following my gaze, comes to stare at the very object of his derision, and she, with a mischievous flounce of her skirt, gets up, strides past him, and carries herself to the ready ears of the adorable Miss Lucas.
Oh, how they laugh! Oh, how the pinky-ring whirls about with ever-increasing speed! Off Darcy stalks, muttering something under his breath, and, on pretense of getting another drink, I hoist myself over to the refreshment table so as better to hear the two ladies.
Charlotte is talking through laughter. "How silly of him indeed."
"Yes, what a ridiculous, arrogant man. Look at him! He's examining the wall again..."
"The wealthy act as they please, Lizzy, and can give offense where they will."
"How right you are, Charlotte. At least he had the good sense to admire Jane's beauty. Else I should have thought him completely stupid."
Charlotte pauses for a moment, fingering her wineglass. "I do wonder, though, Lizzy, if you consider matters from his perspective..."
"Oh, that shouldn't be too hard. All I'd have to do is tighten my corset a few notches more and incline my nose to the clouds.'
"Indeed, he is very conceited. Not surprising given his upbringing and social class, but I must say, I wonder if there's also more to it."
"More to what?"
"Well think of it, Lizzy, the moment he stepped into the room, everyone started whispering about his fortune, his ten thousand pounds a year-"
"Yes, and they all began looking him up and down as if he were a prized gelding at a county fair. What of it?"
Again, Charlotte is laughing, and I quite like the sound of it.
"But seriously, Lizzy, don't you think it might... make him uncomfortable?"
Elizabeth rolls her eyes and puffs out her cheeks, dismissing her friend's sensible observation. "Please. Mr. Bingley is the object of similar speculation, yet he's bearing it up with remarkable cheer and good humor. No, Charlotte, I pronounce that man supercilious and rude, and I can safely promise you that if an opportunity ever arises again, I will never dance with Mr. Darcy!"
I look over at the gentleman and, quite curiously, he is gazing in our direction. I wonder, has Miss Lucas caught his fancy? I look over at him again and still, his gaze is upon the two ladies, a pained expression etched into his face. Granted, she didn't fall into his category of "handsomest girl in the room" before, but a young man's tastes may be quite changeable.
Wineglass in hand, I amble over to Darcy and take a place at his shoulder.
"Enjoying the evening?" I inquire, raising the glass to him in a kind of toast.
"It's plain that you are," he mutters, nodding towards my refreshment.
"Indeed, it's rare, Darcy, to feast one's eyes on so many lovely girls."
He does a double take and clears his throat. "Well, Hurst, I..."
"Oh, I'm a married man, of course... yes, a married man..." Pause. Long pause. "So it wouldn't be very proper of me to take too lively an interest in her."
"In who, Hurst?"
"Why, the very girl that's just caught your fancy."
Now he looks horrified. "And who would that be?"
"Why, Miss Charlotte Lucas of course."
"Miss Charlotte Lucas."
"Yes, I heard you perfectly well the first time. Good Lord, Hurst, go back to your drink and leave me be!"
And off he stalks again.
By my word, thinks I, what abominable manners! And what poor taste, too!
Then - unexpectedly - as I watch him retreat to the wall-clock and ponder his reflection on the polished brass, I am suddenly reminded of something my grandfather, Hubert Herbert Humphrey Hurst, once told me.
[First, though, I shall digress a little and relate to you the origins of that man's ridiculous name. I don't believe I could arrive at such a point in the narrative and entirely skip the tale. And, given the fact that Miss Mary Bennet has reminded me somewhat of my great-grandmother (or the stories I've heard of her, since I never knew the formidable woman personally), I shall speak of her as well (for she and my grandfather were very close).]
My great-grandmother, who dictated all matters concerning her children (and most everything else in her husband's life), was in a droll mood the day she named my grandpapa. No, that wouldn't be an honest account on my part - she was in a horrid mood. Delivering him had been what she had called, 'the worst wear and tear I was ever wont to suffer,' this on account of my grandfather's enormous head. My father was often disposed to tell me that I had the head of a chestnut (and one just as meaty), but your grandfather, he'd say with a broad grin, was a veritable watermelon. It was nearly a day's worth of labor for my great-grandmother to finally expel him from her womb, and, hardy woman as she was, she had enough energy left afterwards to hoist his screaming, large-headed self up into the air and declare, "Because of the agonies you have made me suffer today, I shall pin on you a name that will bring naught but ridicule upon that gigantic pate!"
Hence Hubert Herbert Humphrey Hurst.
Indeed, the name always did inspire laughter when mentioned in an exchange of introductions (and afterwards, too, truth be told), so it's a wonder why my grandfather never changed it to something else.
"Because," he told me on his death-bed - no wait, not on his death-bed, but on his shaving stool - "I had the greatest respect for YOW!!!! OWEEEE!!!!... Mind the razor, you base-born cur!"
"Sorry, sir..." said his valet.
"I'm bleeding, damn you!"
"Right, I'm sure you are, you ham-fisted, mongrelized... Now, where the bloody hell was I?"
In short, he eventually informed me that he had chosen never to change his name because he bore too much respect for his mother.
"She was a veritable tyrant," he'd fondly say. "Never did Khan or Sun King rule a realm with mightier hand." He smiled. "I absolutely adored her!"
This, I gathered, was because after the initial encounter between mother and son, in which the infant could do nothing else but lament his ludicrous name, they came to grow quite fond of one another. True, she'd box his ears and paddle his rear and pinch his cheeks 'til he was in tears, but that was only on rare occasions when, on account of her teasing him about his head, he'd talk back and call her "Bristol's Baba Yaga" (grandfather did do a lot of reading on witches, both British and Russian). Most other times, though, he was her pet, and she marveled at how quickly and capably he learned at school. Fearing that he'd give up his studies in pursuit of young women - as many other young men did at the time - she pulled him aside one day, shortly after my great-grandfather's death and asked him:
"Hubert, what do you know of women?"
"Don't worry, Mama. Father - Lord keep him - told me all about them."
"Oh, and what did he say?"
"He said that once you marry them, they're no longer women anymore."
She smiled then, raising her eyes up to Heaven. "Bless you, Archibald," she murmured (for Archibald was her late husband's name). Turning back to her son, tears brimming in her eyes, she informed young Hubert that indeed his father was perfectly right, and that he should postpone paying attention to women until he was older and too sensible to imagine that there could be any romance in marital relations.
Indeed, my grandfather did marry old - when he was sixty, in fact - and came to truly care for his wife. His affection for her, he said, stemmed from a greater understanding of married women in general.
"Wives, you see," he told me once (and this time he really was on his deathbed), "are strange things. Soft, secretive, shrewd, and subtle. It really doesn't matter who you marry, lad, they'll all turn out the same. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
Upon concluding this sagely pronouncement, he broke wind once like a trumpeter of the Apocalypse and keeled forward, broad forehead striking bony knees in a veritable drumbeat of death.
Never again shall there be a man like my grandfather on this green Earth. May his fellow angels up in Heaven fashion him a halo befitting the stature of his head.
Singular and beloved as he was, though, I most certainly should not have taken his words to heart as I did. Because, thinking that it mattered little whom I chose (as they'd all turn out alike anyway), I settled on the first woman who caught my eye (nay, hooked my eye would be a truer description of it). And so I live with the consequences. Darcy, on the other hand, seems to be treading the cautious path. He wants to weave around the snares and potential pitfalls of the romantic landscape.
I just wish he'd be less of a boor about it.
In fact, I want to go up to him and promise him that, if he should ever condescend to further an acquaintance with a young lady, I shall perpetually hover before him as an example of rashness and impetuous haste, and so serve as a constant reminder to show restraint and test each lady's character before he commits himself bodily and soully to her. With me as his guide, I believe he would do well to get rid of his squeamishness and extend a little courtesy to the fairer sex.
And if, despite it all, he never finds a single deserving lady to grace with his... pleasant manners? No, not pleasant manners, uh... lively disposition? Come now, Hurst, what nonsense is that! Uh, oh yes, with his estate and wealth and intellect and chiseled legs (Michelangelo himself could not have done better), I can always nod my head towards darling Louisa and say, "Cheer up, Darcy old chap, it could have been far worst!"
Posted On: Thursday, 24 October 2002, at 11:30 p.m.
At the evening's close, I realize that I've slid a notch beyond polite admiration when I begin to think of a certain acquaintance of mine as "Lottie."
No, acquaintance is too strong a word. I must be as precise and rational about this as possible. She, Hurst, was never introduced to you, and, given that the first impressions you make are consistently less than stellar, she is probably not very inclined to exchange greetings, anyway.
And then, of course, there's the fact that you're married.
No, you're probably far from her thoughts at the moment (if in her thoughts at all). And she should be far from yours, too. Miles from yours. How many miles, say you? I don't know... at least fifty. Of bad road. Sodden, soppy, tried and true English thoroughfares soaked through with rain, choking on hail, roiling with the flesh of a thousand bloated earthworms...
Ah, to hell with it. It's no use.
I won't call it love. That I can assure you it's not. But it's certainly more than the mere detached respect I professed earlier.
Not that I really know how true love feels. I imagine it would be comparable to that soothing rumble in your stomach when you've managed to digest an excellent ragout. But I cannot be sure. My present sentiments are certainly nothing like Bingley's moony eyes and wagging tongue. The way he looked when he bade farewell to his Jane Bennet at the evening's close.
And I certainly don't think of Lottie (damn it, man, call her Charlotte, at least!) using the same terms and phrases as he does his Bennet girl. The entire carriage ride was a litany of 'angel' and 'goddess' and 'goddess' and 'angel'... making me wish all the more that he'd leafed through a greater number of books in his life and so acquired a somewhat less limited vocabulary.
No, I eye this Charlotte Lucas with a... bemused warmth. A bewildered sort of fondness - bewildered because the feeling is quite unexpected.
It could be brotherly affection, too, you know. Yes, that's exactly it. Lottie could very well be the nickname an older brother bestows upon a favorite sister. She (as I find out later) is 27, while I am (as far as I know) 34. Excellent. An elder brother indeed!
Now, being the good, responsible elder brother that I am, I decide that it would be appropriate of me to take a healthier interest in her activities and daily goings-about.
"Rupert," says I, when the good valet is sponging off my head that night, "you're good at reconnaissance, right?"
"You mean, eavesdropping?"
"Not just eavesdropping, but lurking, stalking, tracking, peeping..."
"Peeping, hmmm, now that sounds interesting!"
"No! Nothing lewd. Just, you know, if you happen to see a nice clump of shrubs along a road where a certain person might be walking, you wouldn't hesitate to use it as cover, am I correct?"
"Who shall I have to cover myself from? My conscience's clear and so's my credit. I haven't run up any debts in town, yet."
"That's because out here, in the countryside, people employ roosters for other things beside-"
"Oh, stuff it, Gil. Now what do you want me to do?"
I sigh. This is the hard part. The awkward part. The mortifying, shameful, humiliating, scandalous part.
"You see, Rupert..." I begin, and trail off.
"No, not really."
"There's this lady..."
The sponge stops mid-squeak against my scalp.
"...whom I'd like to know more about, and, well..."
"Well what, Gil?"
I can just hear the scoundrel grinning.
"I need your help."
"Why can't you just go up to her yourself?" he asks with a devilish disingenuousness.
"You know very well why."
"Yes, but I'd like to hear you say it all the same."
"The reason is sitting on her fanny, applying facial cream one dressing room down from us."
"Right she is."
"And besides, it's not like we've been introduced."
He walks around and comes to face me. "Gil, don't tell me you're all fluttery inside!"
"All mushy and drippy, oatmeal-like..."
"Shut it, Rupert."
He appraises me with a cocked brow. Then his expression lapses into confusion. "No," says he, in quiet surprise, "you're really not."
"Rupert, I'm a man of thirty-four. Do you really think it's in me to be seized by violent passions anymore?"
"If you put it that way..."
"Good, then we see eye-to-eye on things."
He smiles. "But I can tell you certainly like this lady."
"I won't lie to you. That I do."
He sighs prettily and claps his dripping hands to his chest. "Is she pretty, Gilroy? The fairest maiden there ever was?"
"This is not about beauty."
"Ah, then she's a cave troll."
"Rupert, you say that again, and I'll have you horsewhipped."
"Oh, defending her honor I see!"
"Well, why not? There's much honor to defend in that quarter."
"What's her name?"
"Miss Charlotte Lucas."
"So very formal, my portly Don Juan."
"Oh, all right, she's Lottie to me."
I hang my head like a shamed schoolboy. Rupert pats it with not a little sympathy and affection.
"Tell me, Gil, what shall you do with this information I give you?"
I hadn't thought of that. "Well... I suppose..."
"Just, have it, I guess."
"And do what with it?"
"Bring a smile to my face. Create a pleasant thought here and there. To do that, I must have some concrete facts about her."
"All right, I get you. You want to know what she does, who she talks to, how she fritters away her time on Earth."
"And how should I go about procuring that information for you?"
"You know very well how," I mutter.
"Yes, quite right I do, but I'd like to hear you say it all the-"
"Why don't you start by befriending a few of the maids in the Lucas household. I gather that'll get you some information."
"What you choose to do with your own time and lascivious tendencies are none of my concern, Rupert."
"And thankfully so, else you should think me the most lecherous lad in England."
"I already do."
"Damn! And here I was, firmly under the impression that I commanded your respect!"
"I didn't know you were capable of entertaining such far-fetched notions."
He laughs and mops at my skull with a towel.
"And Rupert," I continue, "what was just spoken in this room must never, NEVER-"
"Do you have to warn me, Master Gil? Have I not been your sole confidant these past eleven years?"
"But tell me, since I'm already slated to pay call to this Lucas girl's house, are there any other estates you'd like me to visit?"
"Well, come to think of it, there's the Bennet household. Miss Lucas is great friends with one of the young ladies there, and surely visits her quite often."
"Bennet, eh? And where are they?"
"Longbourne." I smirk. "There are five daughters in all, there, Rupert."
The man fairly reels. "Five daughters... five daughters, that means... five upstairs maids! Wait, no! Six, if you count the mother!"
"A fine display of mathematical talent, Rupert, I commend you."
"I'm right grateful to have you as a master, Gil. I can't imagine who else would send me on such delightful errands."
"Nor can I."
"Not that I can think of now. Though I'd also like you to chum it up with Darcy's valet, if possible."
"Darcy's valet? You mean Haverford?"
"I suppose, if that's his name."
"You can't be serious. Haverford is the greatest, stuck-up prig the world's ever seen."
"You wouldn't say that if you were as well-acquainted with his master."
"I don't know, Gil, I'll try but... that man, that Haverford, he has the airs of a young lord himself. He changes his cravat every day, did you know that? And polishes his boots every night before bed. Bathes far more often than you do! Can you believe it?"
"Yes I can. He was hand-picked by Darcy, after all."
"To be sure. But why do you want me to get friendly with him?"
"Personal curiosity is all. Darcy and Bingley are two eligible bachelors and have tonight met with several eligible young ladies. I'd like to know where their inclinations lie."
"Oh, I see. 'Tis a good thing I'm friends with Mortimer, then."
"Why, Mr. Bingley's valet... an overworked man, to be sure, but uncomplaining to the last... and chock-full of the funniest stories. He happened to tell me, just yesterday, about that time his master got his boot laces tangled in a harness strap once and rode his horse backwards into a river. Divine Providence - and a well-placed beaver dam - were the only two things that saved him from drowning."
Not to mention, I think, Darcy's well-timed intervention.
"I'm quite aware of Bingley's folly, Rupert, and you should be, too. You were there that day!"
"True, but you can never hear it enough times."
I sigh. "Bingley's a good man. You'll never find, Rupert, a more amiable and honest heart anywhere."
"That I know. He's kind to all us servants, and tends to look the other way when there's mischief about."
"Which is well and good for you." I rise. "Well, Rupert, you know what I ask of you. See that you carry on as discreetly as possible."
"I am the very soul of discretion, sir."
"Hogwash," says I, and we part for bed with a companionable handshake.
But I can't go to bed so quickly it seems because, looking back over my narrative thus far, I see that I've ridiculed brother-in-law Bingley a bit too much and, since I just called him an amiable and honest heart (and I quoth: "You'll never find, Rupert, a more amiable and honest heart"), it would weigh heavy upon my conscience if I didn't visit my younger relation and keep him company for a bit before bedtime. You know, just to make amends.
I find the loveable scamp sprawled out in bed, hands folded behind his head, a brilliant smile on his face.
"Hurst!" he cries delightedly, as if he hasn't seen me in ages, "what brings you here, good man?"
"Well, it's not very late, and, seeing as I'm not so tired..."
"But you fell asleep in the parlor before."
"True, but now I'm refreshed."
He gestures grandly to a chair by his bed. "Then take a seat, old friend, for the night is ours to seize!"
I settle into my seat and, anticipating little more than some light discourse on the topic of angels and flaxen-haired goddesses, am practically bowled over when my young brother-in-law says:
"Hurst, do you think I'd make a good husband?"
I remember the last time we talked about the qualities of a fine husband. He was all of twenty-one at the time, and stewed as a skunk. Or drunk as a prune. Whichever.
It was on my third wedding anniversary. Caroline and Louisa went about town with my butler, Simonson, in tow to carry their purchases, and Bingley - ever eager for sport and fresh air - decided to take me on a hunting excursion just south of London.
We agreed to meet at the Cloven Hoof - a popular hunting lodge for gentlemen - at noon. When I arrived at the prearranged time, I had Rupert deposit my trunk and firearms in my room and ambled over to the main hall, not at all surprised to see that Bingley hadn't arrived yet. Instead, the sole occupant of the room was a tall, dark, striking young gentleman, his nose buried in a tome that was about as thick as my grandfather's skull. The moment I entered, his eyes shot up from the page and began boring a hole in my face. Honestly, I felt the skin start to peel right off my nose.
I tried to ignore this discomforting individual, but he wouldn't let up his gaze. I touched my fingers to my nose, my chin, thinking there was some offensive glob of duck fat jiggling from my face (for duck is what I'd eaten on the carriage ride to the lodge - it's the best sort of breakfast, you know, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!)
At last, piqued beyond all reason, I strode up to him and demanded, "Why is it, sir, that you stare at me so much?"
He clapped his book shut, looked up at me with those piercing cold peepholes, and said, "You don't look like a gentleman."
I cast my eyes down on my clothing and uttered a soft curse. You see - and don't let anyone know of this! - when I embark on carriage rides that last for a duration of more than one hour, I aim for a more comfortable ensemble than tight breeches, scratchy stockings, and suffocating waistcoat. I don, instead, a pair of baggy peasant pants and an over-sized nightshirt. Usually I'm quite good about remembering to change into proper attire as I near a given destination - Rupert assisting while keeping his eyes politely fixed on the passing scenery - but I suppose that this time, caught up as I was in the magical transport that is cooked duck, it simply escaped my notice.
So here I was in the main hall of the hunting lodge, looking like a farmer who's just tumbled out of bed. No wonder, I thought, Rupert was snickering as we were welcomed by the very embarrassed-looking lodge-keeper. I made a mental note to murder him.
But we'll get to that later.
For the moment, I was pinned in place by the ruthless glare of this swarthy bookworm.
"Well, shall you speak for yourself, or not?" he continued, making no effort to conceal his disgust. "What's your name? Who's your father? Is he rich like me?"
"Gilroy Hurst. Sylvester Hurst. Probably not."
"You're Bingley's brother-in-law?!"
I blinked, completely astonished. "By King George's gout-ridden toe," I cried, "how do you know who I am?"
He rose and stared down at me. I imagine I should have been intimidated right then, but, as it was, I began to find the flare of his nostrils quite comical.
Without so much as another word, he caught up his book and strode past me out of the hall. Tugging at my pants, I glared after him with as much dignity I could muster - lest he chose to turn around again and give me a second glance, which he didn't - and then scurried up to my room, fresh clothing and murdered valets on my mind.
It seemed though, that someone else was well in the process of injuring Rupert by the time I reached my chamber. As I neared the door, I heard a series of "Ows!" and "Uncle, Uncle!" carrying out into the hall. Without a second thought (oh, hang it, after a few rather cowardly second thoughts), I inched the door open and peeped into the room.
Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I saw that Rupert, disheveled and purpling around one eye, was being held in a tight headlock by a young gentleman!
Now, this gentleman was the essence of impeccability. Not a hair was disordered on his head; not an article of clothing was shifted out of place. Seeing that he had no firearms, I barged in and, pulling up my trousers, shouted, "Unhand the fiend! He's my property and you can't touch him!"
Rupert paused from his plaintive cries to narrow his gaze at me, and I smirked, patting down my nightshirt as, to my satisfaction, the young lord loosened his grip on the impertinent servant's neck.
"Excuse me, sir," said he, "but this ruffian spat on my boots."
"I did not, you-"
"He came upon me," continued the nobleman, his voice clipped and steely, "as I was polishing them, and, remarking that he'd never seen a servant so richly dressed and possessed of so many 'upper class airs,' he offered to help clean my footwear for me."
It took me a few moments to register what he'd said. "You're a... a servant?"
"Yes, sir," came the coldly civil reply. "I serve the illustrious Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire."
"Never heard of him."
The servant ran his eyes up and down my less-than-formal attire. "I simply can't imagine why..." he intoned.
"Nor can I! Your master's probably a hermit of some sort."
The servant replied to my conjecture by dropping Rupert to the floor, bowing stiffly, and striding out of the room.
"Damn, I wish Bingley were here already," I mused. "There are too many wooden planks about the place! Why, just downstairs, I-"
"Gil, please, not now... help me get into bed. Have a maid bring up some ice... please..."
Sighing, I hauled Rupert off the floor, hoisted him into my bed, and informed him that, before I could call up any maids for ice, I'd have to change into suitable attire, and, since I had no valet to help me now, the process might take a bit longer than usual...
An hour later, leaving my groaning friend to his rest, I made my way downstairs clad in my frayed wool sports jacket and dark-green breeches, looking for all the world like an unwashed rustic eking an existence off his second cousin's dilapidated estate.
And who should I chance to encounter at the foot of the stairs but Bingley himself, accompanied by -
"You again!" I cried.
"You know each other?" Bingley asked, far more delighted than either of us was.
"Why yes, but he thinks I'm a peasant!" I muttered. "Now, who is he, Bingley? You never told me we'd have a third person in our party."
"Really?" Bingley rolled his eyes up into his head, as if searching for the stray, scattered thoughts within, "I thought I mentioned him in my letter."
"Your letter? You mean that abysmal scrap of blotting paper?"
And then, the absolutely unexpected occurred. That tall, severe gentleman - the grand interrogator from the main hall - actually smiled.
Well, if you had seen the same expression on another person's face, you would not have called it a smile. More like a relaxation of a frown. But, on this gentleman's countenance, that relaxation was a veritable sunbeam of mirth.
It was gone, though, as soon as it appeared, and, with a ceremonious bow - and stony visage - he introduced himself as:
"Fitzwilliam Darcy of Derbyshire."
Oh dear, I thought, this was going to be a very long day.
Actually, the day was rather short, it being late fall. We ate, we hunted; Bingley talked much, this Darcy fellow and I talked little.
It was the late hours of the night that proved to be most... eventful... for that's when, as we were gathered around the fireplace in Darcy's first-floor sitting room, Bingley produced a case of French wine.
"From Burgundy!" he declared, smacking it with his lips.
"Actually, Bingley," his friend cut in almost immediately, "it's from Hertfordshire, England."
Frowning, Bingley peered at the case in the firelight and replied, in a weak rejoinder, "But the merchant who sold it to me said it was... from across the Channel..."
Darcy sighed, nearly rolling his eyes. "Bingley, what name appears on the case?"
Upon passing the literacy test with flying colors, young Bingley scratched his head and inquired of us all, "Why would a merchant lie to me?"
"The vast majority of tradesmen are dishonest," Darcy was quick to answer, warming up to this topic as he had to no other during the day. "Because they are not nobly born and endowed with the principles innate to the upper classes, they are condemned to eke out their existence through swindling, cheating, extortion, and usury - all the dishonest activities a landed gentleman would not condescend or scruple to engage in."
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. "Right..." I said, "there's not a single dishonest gentleman in England. And I thought BINGLEY was na´ve!"
Darcy's eyes narrowed. "Those are usually the ones who spend most of their time in town, and thus interact quite regularly with the lower classes."
"Oh, so I suppose that a country rustic like YOU would have no faults at all."
"I never said that. Every disposition is inclined to some particular evil."
"Yours is a propensity to hate everyone! And everything!"
"And yours is to conduct yourself like a common peasant."
"I thought you liked farmers. They're the ones, after all, who give you your income!"
"And I give them their land, what of it?"
"How magnanimous of you..." I muttered. "As if they wouldn't be able to survive without you peering down at them from your high and mighty-"
"I was the dearest friend of my father's steward's son, a boy who was raised and educated like a gentleman. His current state of moral decline has proven to me that there is an innate tendency for servants and other subordinates to fall faster and far more easily into the ills of a depraved life, regardless of their upbringing. Now-"
"Guysh, [hic] did I ever [hic] tell you that you're the greatesht?"
Oh, my. Turned out that while Darcy and I were debating class politics, Bingley had chugged down half a bottle of wine.
At least, I imagined it was wine. It had a peculiar smell to it - a bit overly fermented - and I wouldn't have been surprised if it had actually been really old ale, or Heaven knows what else. Come to think of it, I never even heard of Hertfordshire as a wine-producing region at all, as if there were any famous vineyards in England to begin with.
Whatever the liquid was, Bingley was loving it immensely and generously. As he did most other things in life.
"I knew I should have kept an eye on him," Darcy groaned, snatching the bottle from my inebriated brother-in-law and casting it into the flames. "Now what are we to do?"
Listen to bad jokes, I suppose. For that's what Bingley started on - the awful jokes.
"What doesh a filly do right before she mates with a shtallion?" he began, swaying in his seat. "She throws a BRIDLE shower! Ha ha ha..."
"Bingley, stop!" his friend commanded.
"Now, lishen to thish one... 'cause thish one's the best!" Pause. Clearing his throat. "Why did the bear never crossh the road? Because the traffic gave him PAWS! Hee hee, ha ha..."
"Bingley, for the love of all that's pure and holy in this world!" I cried.
But then it only got worst. Because that's when he switched to the Caroline impersonations.
"Fitzy," he crooned, leaning on his friend's shoulder in an overly familiar manner, "you've got the greatesht hand-writing [hic] in the world!"
"Bingley..." Darcy's tone was dangerous.
"The way you loop your L's, crossh your T's, wag your Z's... I'll mend your pen any day, handsome!"
That did it for Darcy. With a low, throaty growl, he stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him, leaving Bingley half-sprawled on the floor.
"He'd make a good marriageable thing..." Bingley slurred, his head an inch from the ground.
"You mean, husband?"
"Right. 'Cause Darshy's got a heart. A heart right here." And, meaning to clap his hand to his chest, he missed and made it land quite a bit lower...
And that did it for me, too. I knew that if I stayed sober a moment longer, I'd be driven insane by the appalling comedic routine. So I broke open a bottle myself, took one swig and -
"YAARGGH!" I screamed. "It burns! It burns!"
I fled from the room, Bingley's debauched laughter nipping at my heels, and burst into my chamber.
Thus interrupting Rupert and a very mortified serving-girl.
"I can explain!" he began, as the maid rushed past me out into the hall. "She was putting ice on my eye, when some of it slipped into my shirt and-"
"Water, water," I choked. "I'm dying!"
Rupert's eyes went wide in alarm. As there was no water around, and apparently no time to spare, he ran to me, pushed me onto my knees, unhinged my jaw, and wrung out all the water he could from his undershirt.
"Master Gil, shall you be all right? You're not dying, are you?"
"No, no," I spluttered. "How can Bingley like the stuff so much?"
"Oh, no! I left him all alone in the room with an entire case!"
I scrambled onto my feet and ran back across the corridor.
Only to find that my in-law was nowhere in sight.
At that moment, Darcy himself appeared from his bedroom, clothed in a fresh waistcoat and free of Bingley's drool.
"Where did he go?" he asked me, freezing.
The case of wine was still there. So was the young man's evening-coat.
But not his boots.
"He's outside somewhere," I suggested. "Look, his boots are-"
And that's when, looking out the window, we glimpsed Bingley himself riding backwards on his horse.
Before I could blink, Darcy had yanked open the window and scrambled over the sill. "Bingley!" I could hear him cry into the night. "Bingley, come back!"
I followed a moment after but, being somewhat less lean and flexible than the good Fitzwilliam of Derbyshire, it took me somewhat longer to struggle through the aperture. Halfway over the edge, I heard the resigned rip of an overly strained pair of breeches.
"Damn!" I hissed, tumbling headlong into a clump of bushes, "I knew I should have worn the peasant pants!"
But there was naught to be done, so, struggling to my feet and clapping my hands over my indecent bottom, I trotted off in the direction that Bingley - and then Darcy - had taken.
There's a river not far from the lodge. Not a vigorous, Darcy-style river, but more a deep, turbid, mucky sort of channel, resembling me in some sense. As I neared it, I spotted Darcy standing on its shore, peering through the dark at what looked to be a low, wooden wall.
"Darcy," I huffed, coming to a rest beside him, "what... is that... thing... that..."
"A beaver dam," he snarled. "And Bingley's snagged on it!"
Indeed, the getaway horse was halfway down river and Bingley, wrapped up in a knot of reins and leather equipage, was tangled to the top of the dam, his head hanging dangerously over the water. Trapped a little lower and his nose would have been under.
"Good Lord!" said I. "If he falls then..."
"Yes, too drunk to swim," Darcy whispered. "And it can't be long before his weight bears him down. Hurst, hold my waistcoat, will you?"
And without further ado, he tore it off, thrust it into my hands, and dove right into the river!
From that moment on, I found it very hard to truly despise Darcy. No matter all the slights I've suffered at the whim of his sharp tongue, if I ever come close to truly disliking him, all I have to do is think of the way he dove into the river after his friend that night. He didn't waste time by waking up the servants to do the job for him, but plunged right into the water himself, forsaking his dignity and - to some extent - risking injury for that poor, foolish companion of his. I can close my eyes and see it now... Darcy fiddling with the reins, setting Bingley free, towing him to shore and then scooping the drunk up in his arms to carry back to the lodge.
This was, of course, on Bingley's part, the most perfect impersonation of Caroline (or Caroline's fondest dreams), but I found no amusement in it then (though, thinking on it later, with Bingley already safe in bed, I fell to the floor laughing at the way he'd rested his head on Darcy's shoulder...).
But that aside, Darcy showed a side of him that strangers rarely see, a thick, fierce loyalty towards the people he comes to cherish and esteem.
Later on, as they both sat shivering under blankets by the fire, Bingley - still slightly intoxicated - declared that this was the best fun he'd had in a long time, and that he was determined - one day - to pay a visit himself to the delightful county of Hertfordshire.
"If you do," Darcy muttered, "there's not a bloody chance that I'm coming with you!"
------- use this ---- opportunity ---- to bring yourself --- back to ---- the ----- present
I open my eyes to find Bingley staring down at me, wearing a gentle smile on his face.
"I didn't mean to bore you, you know..." he begins.
"No, not at all," I say, "I was just reminiscing. And to answer your question - yes, because you're kind and loyal."
"The one about you making a good husband."
"Oh. Thank you. But I asked you that ten minutes ago."
Which in Bingley time means half an hour.
"Really? Well, what were you talking about until now?"
Surprise! "Oh, well, of course. You're quite smitten. That much is obvious."
He settles back onto the bed, grinning. "She'd make a good wife, would she not?"
I come fully awake. "Bingley, my boy," I say, adopting a paternalistic tone of voice. "Perhaps she would. But you must get to know her much better before you make that assessment. My belief is that, while it's always good and well to be in love from the start, it's more important to make sure your intended has a good character, so that the love will remain."
He stares at me goggle-eyed. "By G-d, Hurst!" he exclaims at last. "Sometimes you really come out with the most wonderful things!"
And so, after a few warm good nights, I leave him - shocked and delighted and a tad more thoughtful - and repair to my own bedchamber.
Louisa awaits me there, wide-awake and ready to regale me with all of Caroline's impressions of the assembly. Mrs. Lucas's resemblance to a heifer. Mr. Lucas's resemblance to Cyrano de Bergerac. Jane Bennet's gullibility, Elizabeth Bennet's impertinence, Mary Bennet's sallowness, etc... etc...
If she could, I bet she'd share a bed with Caroline so they could talk to the ends of all hours. But that wouldn't be proper and besides, Caroline is a great proponent of beauty sleep.
I used to remind Louisa, when we were first married, that a bed is built for more than just talking, but she has rarely suffered me to come near her. You see, she's terrified that - if she comes to bear a child - she'll lose her trim figure forever. I tried to reassure her on many accounts (and in all honesty) that she would not please me any less were she apple, pear, banana or pumpkin... but she hardly listened, declaring that, because I mind my own weight so little, I have no notion of how important a good figure is in the eyes of society.
In fact - as she informed me after our wedding - the principle reason she chose to marry me was not any fondness for my person or character, but chiefly this - she surmised that I was a man of little passion (and possessed little energy for passion) and so wouldn't trouble her much on any amorous account.
And indeed, when she talks my ear off in this fashion, I have little passion to do anything but doze. This I do, with not a small amount of sadness in my heart.