Posted on: 2014-04-19
Caption: The only unmarried man in P&P hides behind the heroine.
Colonel Fitzwilliam longed for the burst of gunfire lighting the skies and the roar of cannons. He longed for the mud, the sweat, the dirt. A man could rise and breathe on a battlefield where there was a chance to fight for one's life.
There was definitely no chance of air here in this ballroom filled with the sound of a musical ensemble playing a cotillion. The colonel managed to escape notice as the row of couples attended their steps and kept to the rhythm. With furtiveness that would have done proud a combatant trying to slip behind enemy lines, he edged his way to the elegant French doors that opened upon the garden. If only he could slip away into the night. . .
But the music ended just as he reached the door and was extending his hand. An imperious voice demanded to know, "Cousin, where are you going?"
"I thought I might step out for just a moment." When he was met with a slightly raised eyebrow, he added, "Please, Darcy."
"There are several women here your mother has specifically asked me to introduce you to."
The colonel groaned irritably. "So it has come to this. She has made you her errand boy?"
Refusing to take offense, Darcy laughed heartily. "Your mother loves you and wishes you to share to the joy I have found in marriage."
"Before you became a married man you used to be my friend. Can you not remember? Try to remember!"
"Cousin, you always had a penchant for the dramatic."
"Barely a few months ago when we were both single, you hated these scenes as much as I -- and you avoided my mother even more assiduously. Do you remember the Christmas Eve we hid in the orangery and drank Scotch and fell asleep there? We missed the church service the next day. So, we hied ourselves off to Bath and when we returned a week later, you told my mother that business had taken you to Pemberley. How sweetly you apologized for not leaving a note before we left. She believed you and forgave you--forgave us both!"
"Well, it did seem the only thing to do since we were hiding from Bertilia Goodly, whom your mother wished to marry one of us off to," Darcy recalled sheepishly. "But we were young and foolish. We should not have perpetrated such disguise. ."
"The woman was twenty stone."
"She was not that large then," Darcy objected with a shake of his head. He added ruefully, "Now, she might be close to it--but she is tall and carries it well." As if on cue, the tingling laughter of one Miss Bertilia Goodly floated across the room to them at just that moment.
Both men looked to the marble fireplace where Miss Goodly stood chatting. Her impressive figure obscured her petite companion, who was none other than Darcy's new wife.
Darcy said, "Elizabeth likes Miss Goodly more than any of the other women of our circle and that is high recommendation indeed. The orchestra will next play a quadrille and you have time to ask her to dance -- get to know her better."
"You mean I should dance with your wife?"
"You know what I mean," Darcy replied. "Give Miss Goodly a chance. She has a handsome personality, Elizabeth assures me."
The colonel rolled his eyes. "I expect it of my mother and my father to constantly push me toward her and other women, but et tu, Darcy? True, she also has a great fortune, that is only slightly less weighty than herself." He sighed. "Her fortune must be what my parents have in mind when they talk about her charms. But you are supposed to be on my side. You know you would never have considered her. Do you think I am desperate because I am poor?"
"I have heard you say any number of times, you plan to pay some attention to money when you marry. And, I think that is sensible given your position in life."
"Yes, we must all consider our position in life," the colonel agreed with more than a hint of resentfulness. His glance strayed to the new Mrs. Darcy, a very pretty woman and agreeable companion. Had situations been different, the colonel thought he might have easily won her from Darcy, but given that the woman had no dowry there was no point in trying. How happy Darcy and Elizabeth looked now and how he would like to have the same joy for himself. But with Bertilia? He could not imagine it.
"You are not growing any younger, my good man," his cousin drew him from his thoughts. "The possibilities available to you grow less with time."
"Why, thank you, Darcy. You always know just the right thing to say."
"I have your best interests in mind. Dance with Miss Goodly. You may find her more to your liking than you believe. And, if not Miss Goodly, there are other women here."
Darcy would have walked the colonel over to Miss Goodly and saw to it that his cousin danced, but he was at that moment interrupted by Mr. Collins. His aunt's rector was overcome with gratitude for having been invited to this august gathering, and consequently, words poured forth voluminously.
The colonel thought that it must be the fact that the rector was also married to a good friend of Darcy's wife that Darcy listened patiently, distant but polite. For Elizabeth's sake. By the time Elizabeth saw her husband waylaid and came to rescue him, it gave Colonel Fitzwilliam time to hide behind a tall, leafy plant from where he could view the entire room in peace. He did not plan to dance.
He watched admiringly as Mrs. Darcy led the still babbling Mr. Collins to his wife, who in turn took her husband firmly in hand with a solicitous smile but determined glint. The colonel liked Mrs. Darcy's friend, too. He could see himself courting a woman such as she, sensible, practical, easy to live with--as long as she had money. Mrs. Collins was plain but during the colonel's most recent stay at Rosings, he had found her face one of those that become more pleasant with time. The colonel felt all the unfairness of it that he was still struggling to find someone while even an addle pate like Collins had a good wife.
The next dance started and all the Bennet sisters were there except Jane. The beauty of the family, she was already too far along in a delicate state to travel by coach. Colonel Fitzwilliam had never had a chance at Jane, but had he met her before Bingley, he thought he might have been tempted by her face to forget all his plans. He considered whether, if he could have, would he have chosen Elizabeth or Jane? Useless now to ask. And the younger sisters were as lost to him as the two elder.
The least pretty of them, Mary, was being courted by someone from her Uncle Philips's law office. Although Mrs. Bennet had hinted broadly to the colonel that Mary might still be available to a man of his rank, he saw how discreetly Mary rolled her eyes at her mother's vulgarity. With her fondness for rules and order, Mary would not have been a bad wife for a military man, but it was best forgotten. Also best forgotten was Catherine, more petite and almost as pretty as Elizabeth, but she seemed rather well on her way to becoming betrothed to Darcy's vicar at Kymptom.
Finally, there was Lydia, married to the odious Wickham and already suspiciously plump around the middle. Darcy had not allowed his old childhood friend to attend this gathering, or to step foot ever at Pemberley. It did not stop Lydia from coming on her own and flirting with anyone and everyone who would entertain it. She hinted to the colonel that one of the things she had learned in marriage was that married women sometimes have affairs. It was one of those few times when he was too shocked to have a reply. He made a point of avoiding Lydia.
Leaning against the wall, lost in his own thoughts, the colonel did not notice that two servants had drifted rather close to him as they moved furniture and prepared the dining room for supper. He crouched down a bit to avoid being discovered but they were intent upon their own conversation and were oblivious to him.
"So, what has she given you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, money, presents. A woman like that has a lot to give--specially to a man who is giving the right service. I saw the two of you."
"It's not like that. We talk. I hold her hand sometimes. She is lonely. So am I sometimes."
"You are a fool, ain't you? Here you are with the opportunity of the lifetime and what do you do? I wager she wants more than a pat on the hand and mark my words, there's them that will give it to her if youse too afeared."
"It ain't like that, I tell you. Don't you go telling anyone what you saw. I'll hurt you if you do."
The other man harrumphed. "John, you have a blow-maunger asking for it and you are too much the fool, to give it to her. What do you think she wants from the likes of you? Why did she let you into her bedroom in the first place? She wants it, I tell ya!"
"Shut up, now. It ain't like that."
When the vulgarity blow-maunger was uttered, the mystery was solved for the colonel. They were discussing Bertilia, whose big-boned appearance might lead the unkind to refer to her as fat or puffy. The colonel felt shame for the gentlewoman, who apparently had put herself at the mercy of one of her servants. He looked at the man who had admitted holding Bertilia's hand and kissing her; he was tall, perhaps a footman in training although he was not yet wearing the uniform of a footman. He was also what the colonel thought women might find a handsome man.
But a gentlewoman allowing herself to be handled intimately by a servant? All the money in the world would not save her reputation should any hint of it escape.
Elizabeth Darcy looked surprised and pleased when the Colonel approached her and her friend and requested the honor of a dance. Bertilia Goodly, who had spent much of this ball engaged in conversation with Mrs. Darcy, looked almost disbelieving that someone was finally asking her to dance.
She smiled, and the colonel noticed how her plump cheeks had identical dimples. It gave her smile a certain sweetness. She was almost exactly his height, and he thought, she probably outweighed him. Her thick, flaxen hair was her best asset and the long lashes that fringed her deep-set eyes were probably her second-best asset.
When they danced, he found she moved very well. Even for a woman a third her side, she was graceful and light on her feet. When he complimented, she blushed in a most endearing fashion.
"I practiced for this ball. I love to dance," she said.
"You do it beautifully. It is a pleasure to be with you," he replied.
After that, she said little, but he could see from the rather glazed look in her eyes that it was not because she was displeased with the company. There was only one more dance before supper.
He asked if he could have the pleasure of her company again and then escort her to the table to be her companion for the meal. Seeing the way she caught her breath and widened her eyes, he hoped the shock of his application would not be too much for her. She actually swayed a little as if she might faint but managed to whisper, "I would be honored, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"I assure you, my dear, the honor would be all mine."
He was no na•f when it came to women but never had anyone so avidly taken in his every word as she did. She was totally lacking in art or coyness. To be looked at in such a worshipful way was a heady experience. His only purpose had been to discuss the servant with her, and to warn her to be careful. But he said nothing about that as they talked through the dance set and then the meal. She listened so intently to all of his stories, and she even had a few amusing tales of her own. The frank admiration that she showered upon him unstintingly was more intoxicating than the wine they sipped at supper.
Miss Goodly was to spend several weeks with the Darcys, and Colonel Fitzwilliam decided he would also stay. He was always welcome at Pemberley. Searching out more about the servant who had spoken of holding Bertilia's hand, he was surprised to learn the man was a new employee at Pemberley, rather than a servant who had come as part of Miss Goodly's party. The colonel watched to see if the servant approached her inappropriately and never saw anything. He supposed they might be too discreet for him to catch them.
But, he soon forgot all about the servant because he and Miss Goodly got on very well together. She was sweet, sensible, intelligent, and more. When he gave himself a chance to look at her, he found nothing that he did not like. He accustomed himself to her size and started to find her fullness rather sensual. When she asked him if he would be houseguest at her parents' estate, he agreed more readily than he might once have expected of himself, but he did not regret his quick affirmation.
It is never a good idea to listen in on others' conversations but it is sometimes impossible to avoid in a country house like Pemberley. With a plethora of houseguests almost always in residence and an army of servants, it's hard to anticipate when one might turn a corner and hear something not meant for your ears.
From his window, Colonel Fitzwilliam saw Bertilia enter the garden. He thought it would be excellent to go down and surprise her. But as he neared the spot where he had seen her, he heard her voice before he saw her, "He is the most beautiful man. I cannot help it. I am in love, Elizabeth."
"My dear Bertie, I caution you, have a care with all this talk of love. There has been so little time. You must guard your heart a little."
"I cannot help it, I tell you. Oh, I wish I could be more like you. So controlled, so rational."
Elizabeth laughed. "No, that's my sister Jane. But I do implore you to think about what you are doing. Do not be rash or hasty. You speak of love but you need to think about what you are saying."
"I have spent my entire life being sensible. I want this man. Dare I say it? I wish to take him to my bed."
"Oh, Elizabeth, you are a married woman. You know what I mean. "
"Yes. I am a married woman. I can say such things--and then only about my husband."
"Men talk about this and do this sort of them all the time.I am thirty years old, and I have a very good idea--of what men and women do. How I have longed to do it. He makes me want it."
"Bertilia!" Elizabeth Darcy sounded angry and disapproving. "I insist you stop talking like this immediately. Not even Lydia would say such things."
"Pardon. I am being vulgar. But I can hardly help it. I feel as if I am burning --"
"Would you want the colonel to hear you speak like this?" Elizabeth had spoken sharply. She continued, "You have told me you wish to marry him. Would he marry a woman who would say such things?"
After a lull in the conversation during which the women said nothing, Elizabeth spoke. "Do you still plan to take John with you?"
Bertilia's voice was cold as she replied and the colonel thought she might still be angry at Elizabeth's rebuke. "I think he will do very well with me. He will travel with my party when I leave. It will be good to have an extra guard on the coach. There is a position as a footman awaiting him at my parents' home."
The colonel did not hear what Elizabeth answered because he walked away as quietly as he could. He knew that among his circle, it happened that marriages were sometimes little more than business arrangements, while each partner found companionship outside the marriage. The colonel always knew in his heart of hearts that he was not the most handsome man or the most clever man or the most charming man. He was handsome enough, clever enough, charming enough.
But, looking into Bertilia's eyes, he had felt he was more. Now he found she wanted in him a suitable husband so that she could conduct her real love affair safely away from gossip. No one would ever suspect she was in love with her footman as long as she was respectably married. How passionately in love she sounded. And though he should have despised her for loving a mere servant, he felt only jealousy.
Blow-maunger. The ugly word came back to the colonel as he stood just off the kitchen. Probably the servants would wonder why Mr. Darcy's cousin was hanging about the kitchen, a place hardly ever visited by the Darcys and much less their guests. Mrs. Darcy would meet with her housekeeper and cook in a small office near the kitchen but she left the details of meals to her staff.
Much as the colonel hated Bertilia's attachment to a servant, he also felt she needed to be protected against herself. The handsome John was unloading a wagon and carrying packages inside. The colonel stepped forward with all the power of his rank and said, "John, come with me. I wish to have a word with you." The servant followed without objection or question.
The colonel took him into the office near the kitchen and closed the door. Almost immediately, there was a rap upon it, and the colonel opened the door to find the cook standing there, scowling angrily at him.
"Sir, have you business with John?" she asked rather impertinently. She looked old enough to be his mother, but the colonel saw no familial similarity. The cook was a short, squat woman.
"I do," the colonel said.
"Well, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Darcy told me," the cook fired back.
"I am telling you. Now please leave us."
The colonel slammed the door. John looked downward timidly.
"Are you her son?" the colonel asked.
"Oh, no, sir. She just likes to take care of me. Have I done something wrong, sir?"
"I want to talk to you about Miss Goodly."
John squinted as if the words meant nothing to him. The colonel wondered in horror if the handsome man was what the more delicate would have called slow. Could Bertilia have fallen in love with such a man? Expressed the heights of passion for being with him?
The colonel said with more emphasis, "Miss Bertilia Goodly."
John, perhaps sensing that he was expected to say something, mumbled something wordless that expressed knowing nothing at all. Certainly he had seemed to have good enough understanding in the conversation the colonel had overheard during the ball. Perhaps now it was that he was frightened, although he was taller and heavier than the colonel.
Exasperated, the colonel nodded curtly and ended the meeting. He would get nothing from this man.
"How can you?" he roared.
Bertilia, sitting with Elizabeth Darcy looked up puzzled. Both women had knitting in their hands and they had been laughing amiably as the colonel entered. He could only imagine what they must have been talking about.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, is something amiss?" asked Elizabeth.
"How can I what?" asked Bertilia.
"How can you love that man?" demanded the colonel. "Does beauty mean so much to you?"
"Beauty," Bertilia intoned, as if trying to make sense of the word.
But the colonel was having none of her innocence. "Do not deny it," he ordered. "I heard you saying you loved him, that you want him!"
"Colonel, I ask you to remember yourself," Elizabeth advised. "Please."
"And you," the colonel turned on Elizabeth. "You encouraged her to take him away with her. How could you do that to me?"
At the same time, Bertilia was saying, "Take him away? Do you mean John, who goes to be a footman on my father's estate?"
"Footman, indeed. What other services will he perform for you?"
Bertilia gasped, and being a woman of passion, rose with the knitting needles in hand. She aimed them like a sword, or a dagger, at the colonel. She said, "How dare you!"
"I heard you talk about how you wanted him--in your bed, you brazen --" He stopped. Even in anger, he could go no further in his insult of her.
"What?!" Bertilia shrieked. "You think I would -- with John -- you think this of me?"
Her outrage made the colonel begin to suspect that perhaps he had made a mistake. Bertilia, he was realizing anew, was really quite a large woman, and she looked rather angry as she stalked toward him. The relatively tiny Elizabeth Darcy again proved how her courage always rises as she threw herself between the two lovers and pleaded for calm.
It was she and Darcy, she explained to the colonel, who wished to remove John from Pemberley and the influence of their cook. The somewhat older woman was rather too fond of the younger man. It was already the talk of the downstairs how she would spend time with him and give him the best food in the kitchen. She had also had several arguments with younger maids who she thought took too much of an interest in him. The cook was too good at her job to be let go, and the Darcys wanted to avoid any more discord downstairs. So, it was young John who would be sent off elsewhere to have a career in service.
Hiding behind Elizabeth, the colonel put the information in order and arrived upon the material point. He asked, "Does this mean you think I'm beautiful, Bertilia?"
"I think you are a stupid, stupid man," she replied. "And I never want to see you again. How dare you listen to my conversations. How dare you think such stupid things of me. I would never --" And here her voice broke and ended in a sob that broke his heart all over again. "I would never think such things of you!"
"Because you love me," he said. "Perhaps better than I deserve to be loved. But, please, never stop."
Bertilia raised her chin and gave him a quiet, controlled look that would have looked entirely in place on Jane Bennet's face. And, with the calmness and rationality that Elizabeth had earlier advised a gentlewoman should show, Bertilia said, "I will think about it." Then she grinned, double-dimpled, and the colonel had never felt so loved. It was a feeling to which he could become accustomed.
Of course, we already knew the Darcys were living happily ever after, but in this universe, the colonel (still unnamed) also lives happily ever after with a wealthy woman named Bertilia. It is important to note he did not fall in love or stay in love with her for her money.