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For Want of a Nail - Chapter 4

July 20, 2015 04:00PM
Chapter 4


August – Sloane Street, London, 1813

Jane had ventured out into their small garden and there her husband found her. The breeze had cooled the day and dispersed much of the miasma of the London air. The garden, in the cool of the evening, was an attractive spot and, he thought, greatly enhanced by the presence of his wife. His business had made him late to supper, not an unusual event, and the prospect of an evening ensconced with his wife in their bed, was most…enticing. He rather thought his chances of persuading her to be of a like opinion rather good until, that is, he noticed the many pages of the letter she was reading. He had little doubt as the writer.

“I see you have finally received a letter from Lizzy.”

His wife looked up at him with her happiest smile – the one that turned his heart over – and said, “Indeed, four full pages. Let me read you some portions.”

“…We arrived late this evening in Falmouth after leaving the town of Chacewater in the morning. We had expected to arrive here much earlier but chose to visit, Knowles Park, home of the Knowles family and an estate recommended to us by the innkeeper. My suspicions that he was prejudiced to favour the family by its importance to the town proved erroneous and served once more as a rebuke to my habit of thinking the worst of people. The estate is quite attractive, with grounds where human artifice has not been allowed to supplant nature’s own beauty. The house was quite grand, old but well-kept and finely, although not extravagantly, furnished. We encountered the family - Mr. Fellowes, his wife and his eldest son – while touring the grounds, an activity which they also had enjoyed, the day being sunny and quite warm. To our surprise they were most gracious towards us, invited us to tea – which we accepted – and conversed most readily with us on our travels. Unfortunately, we could not accept their invitation to dine– I hardly expected such a courtesy – as we were expected in Falmouth that evening.”

"They stayed in Falmouth for several days and then left for St. Ives.“ said Jane reading on. "She speaks of their activities in Falmouth but nothing of great significance."

“…We departed early this morning from Falmouth, arriving in St. Ives rather late as we made several stops along the way. Our plan is to spend several days exploring the area. The view of the beaches at Carbis Bay which presented itself as we drove past makes them an object for tomorrow if my aunt and uncle will humour me. I had become so habituated with the rugged cliffs of the coastline of Cornwall that to see such a stretch of sandy beach quite overset me altogether. It is called Porthminster Beach and I cannot wait to walk from one end to the other. I regret that I must, as a proper young lady, wear my shoes. I could wish to be a child again and enjoy the feel of the sand on my bare feet. It will not do! I wonder if I can persuade my aunt to go bathing with me? I suspect not and I cannot venture to do it alone.”

“Lizzy must have talked my aunt into sailing – I wonder at it as Aunt Gardiner does not like sailing at all, she always complains of being ill. In any event they appeared to have had a fine day and no word of our aunt being sick.”

“…and we sailed for several hours and ventured out along the coast as far as ______ before turning back. There was a fair breeze during our trip and Mr. Hillier, the captain and crew of the boat – called a pinnace – opined that it was perfect sailing weather. It was a very warm day but the breeze and the spray thrown up as we moved through the water made it delightfully comfortable. Oddly, Uncle Gardiner found his stomach was … unsettled by the waves although aunt and I were quite at our ease. Our aunt quite enjoyed repaying past grievances on the matter, I believe. Mr. Harris sailed us along Hayles Beach which is a few miles removed from St. Ives and must be all of three miles in length. It quite makes Portminster Beach look insignificant.”

“Oh dear!”

“What is the matter, dearest?” Simmons was stroking his wife’s arm, hoping to distract her from the letter.

“Lizzy received a letter from Mama!”

“Why would your mother write to your sister while she is travelling?”

“Jane shook her head, “Listen and learn, my love….and do not stop your particular…distracting attentions.”

“Are they working?”

“Yes, but not enough to distract me from this letter.” She teased. “I will not bore you with all the details but listen to what Lizzy writes.”

“…letter from my mother arrived this morning. I wondered that she would bother to write. She has not done so for some months and rarely when I travel; however, it all became clear when I read it. Kitty must have spoken to her about our visit to the Fellowes’ estate and the presence of the young Mr. Fellowes who was accompanying his parents that day. I do not remember if I mentioned his wife, who was visiting her parents who lived at a neighbouring estate, but I suspect my mother believed him to be unmarried as she was quite like her old self in pressing me to engage his interest. She was quite unhappy with me and my aunt and uncle that we did not accept the dinner invitation during which, to quote Mama “I could secure his interest!” She will, I am sure, be desolate to learn that the gentleman is happily married with a young family. At least it will discourage her reproaches of me in this regard, although if she is fixed on the matter of my marrying, I anticipate further intrusions into my peace of mind. It is, however, a sad fact that while my mother once could boast of dining with four and twenty families, that is a pitifully small number of families from which to secure a husband even should any of their sons wish to establish such a connection. That none are so inclined at the moment must depress any efforts by my mother. Should she learn that the only interest of a marital nature that I have drawn in recent months is from one or two shopkeepers in Meryton looking to acquire a gentleman’s daughter as a spouse, my mother’s nerves might never recover. I would not despise a shopkeeper if he were a man I could admire, but such is not the case in these instances. I could not encourage the interest of such men and my mother is happier not knowing. I have spoken to Kitty and Mary on the matter and urged caution to them both; however, neither has yet been so approached to my knowledge. I hope that the Assembly we attended last winter made our circumstances clear to them both. Nary a one of the sons of the leading families asked us to dance; if it were not for the few tradesmen who condescended to do so, we would have sat out all the dances. Neither of my sisters complained when I insisted we leave early.”

Simmons shook his head, “I hope that you can convince your sister to join us for a month or more when she returns. I believe we can put her in the path of more worthy prospects than a shopkeeper in Meryton.”

“We can try but Lizzy is much needed to help manage Longbourn. I suspect she received several letters from Mr. Carton while travelling.”

“Nonetheless, it would be to her advantage to spend more time with us; and I know you would not repine her company.”

Jane folded her letter and rose, offering her hand to her husband, “I would also not repine your company in our chambers.”

The Simmonses were not seen by the household staff till the next morning at breakfast.


September 1813 – Sloane Street, London

“Lizzy, what am I to do with you?”

Elizabeth could hear the touch of exasperation in her elder sister’s laughing tones.

“What shall you want to do with me?” her rejoinder was light-hearted. “I believe your best course is to give me up as a lost cause.”

Jane just shook her head as she settled at the dining table after filling her plate with breakfast edibles. She forbore to shake an admonishing finger at her sister, contenting herself by saying, “I hate to sound like our Mama but you are not co-operating with my efforts to find you a husband.”

Elizabeth snorted into her tea, “I had begun to suspect that some such plot was behind all these dinners you have been hosting, and having me attend, lately. I had not thought you so social as this.”

Jane looked slightly embarrassed, “Has it been so obvious, then?”

“Mama would be proud of you, Jane. Very proud!”

“Oh dear!”

Elizabeth laughed, “Do not be too vexed, my dear sister. I can honestly say that your endeavours are much less embarrassing than Mama’s ever were.”

“Thank you….I think?”

”Truly, Jane, there is naught to worry about. Your Mr. James is…not uninteresting.”

“He is not my Mr. James.” Jane paused for a moment, “I was rather hoping he might become yours. Do you expect him to call on you?”

“I hardly know. He did seem to have some interest.”

“He did appear to pay you some particular attention last night.”

“Yeeeesss….”

“You appear uncertain, Lizzy.”

“It was difficult to gauge his interest. He was a little….taken aback when I offered opposing opinions.”

“Hmmm. What did you think of him otherwise? He is relatively prosperous and James thinks highly of him.”

“I have nothing but respect for James’ opinion, particularly in regards to his friend’s worthiness in business.”

"I hear a 'but' there, I believe."

Elizabeth gave her sister a slight smile and thought for some moments before responding.

“I will not deny that Mr. James is not unattractive and well able to support a wife. From the little that James has imparted, he is also a respectable man and honourable in his business dealings. I can hardly believe he would be otherwise in the remainder of his dealings.”

She paused. “He…appears to be sensible and reasonably intelligent. I doubt he could be successful in business if he were otherwise.”

“But?”

“But I do not find myself attracted to him particularly and, several times in our conversations, I found myself displeased with his reactions to something I said.”

Jane looked a little puzzled, “Can you be a little more explicit?”

Elizabeth looked reluctant, “It is quite trivial and I would not presume to judge the gentleman unfairly as a result.”

“Nevertheless, I would like to know.”

“One incident arose when we somehow began discussing, of all things, slavery.”

“Slavery? How…?”

“He mentioned that much of his business involved the produce of the West Indies.”

Jane’s eyebrows rose, “Really? I had not known that.”

“Yes. I made an observation about the use of slaves. I suppose my expression, my tone of voice, expressed some disapproval, which I undoubtedly feel. Mr. James seemed to infer a criticism on my part which I certainly had not intended. He spoke quite forcefully on the need to be practical in such matters and seemed to imply that Mr. Wilberforce and his supporters are – how did he express it – ah yes, ‘impractical dreamers’ was his term.” She laughed, “I suppose that is mild compared to what others have called them. To be ‘impractical’ appears to Mr. James to be the worst kind of insult.”

“To be sure.” Jane was thoughtful, “Is that the worst you accuse him of?”

“Jane, I would not have you think me ungenerous. Should Mr. James call, I will receive him with all civility. You may be assured that I am very much aware of my circumstances and am quite determined to take the time to discover the character of a gentleman.” A touch of bitterness entered her voice, “I am, I assure you, quite aware of my past mistakes and will endeavour not to repeat them.”

“Oh Lizzy, I did not mean to…”

“'Tis only the truth, Jane. You should not vex yourself on my account. I will treat Mr. James kindly; and, should he persuade me that I could be content with him, I shall allow him to know as much.”

“And if he does not persuade you?”

“He shall know that also.” Jane did not mistake the determination in her sister’s tones. “However, Jane, I shall, I promise you, be kinder than the last time I discouraged a suitor.” Knowing how her sister had rejected Mr. Darcy’s proposal, Jane could only smile in acknowledgement. Her sister had not changed in essentials but was slower to judge and less harsh in those judgements.

As it turned out, Mr. James did indeed call on Elizabeth two days later and spent a full half hour in conversation with Jane and her sister. Invitations to dinner followed and, if the Simmonses were exceedingly pleased with the seeming progress in the relationship, that satisfaction was not shared by Elizabeth – a fact which she took care to hide from them until sure in her conclusions.

Mr. James, she soon found, was indeed an intelligent man, well-informed on all matters of business and seemingly related to any matter that bore on such matters directly. He was pleased to talk of his business and aspects and people related to it and could do so with ease and intelligence. Elizabeth could find no fault with his understanding in that regard. However, he was little pleased to listen to her opinions on such matters and all too quick to dismiss them should they be in opposition to his own. Books were of little interest unless they had to do, in one way or another, with business and trade; if they were of a more frivolous nature, such as novels or poetry or plays, they could, in his estimation, be ignored altogether – and were; if they were of a philosophical or historical bent, they were the province of the impractical. Mr. James could be enticed to attend a theatre play or an art exhibit, but was rather unsuccessful in hiding his boredom with either entertainment and to discuss either intelligibly, beyond his capability. Any of this, Elizabeth might well have been prepared to overlook, if convinced that the man was prepared to listen and expand his horizons; but this seemed increasingly improbable, the more she came to understand him. It was not, she found, that he lacked the intelligence to grow and develop but rather he saw no purpose to doing so and, from his various reactions, she could not see that he respected her enough to be instructed or guided by her. In the absence of such basic respect, she could see no future in their relationship.

Communicating as much to her sister was difficult, for she knew Jane wished most strongly to see her favourite sister situated as well and as happily as herself. It took no little talking for Elizabeth to convince her sister of her feelings. Invitations to Mr. James ceased and, if that gentleman was unhappy about the loss of Elizabeth’s company, it was of a short duration as, Jane was later to inform Elizabeth, he married but several months after his last visit. Shortly after the visits of Mr. James terminated, Elizabeth’s visit to her sister came to an end and she returned to Longbourn. It was her sister Mary’s opportunity to escape Longbourn for a month or so.


December – Pemberley, Derbyshire, 1813

Christmas had come and gone, the family celebrations and gatherings had largely been completed. Georgiana, who had gone to stay with a friend for several days, would return tomorrow. That was a happy prospect. His house was much too lonely without her presence and comfort. He had been invited to a dinner tonight but had chosen to remain at home. The prospect of having one or more eligible young women of the ton paraded for his inspection and, hopefully, approval was more than he could tolerate tonight. For whatever reason, and he could not discern it himself, he was inclined to peruse his journal for the last few months. As seemed to be inevitable his thoughts revolved around Elizabeth Bennet and her situation.

“…I have thought much on the matter of Lydia Bennet and whether her ruination would materially attach itself to her elder sister and thus damaging my own sister’s prospects should I marry Elizabeth. If I were to believe the popular romantic novels, such considerations should be discarded altogether. Unfortunately, I am too familiar with the dictates of English society at its highest levels to be so naive. Perhaps it is a reaction to the profligate and dissolute habits of the Prince Regent but those without the protection of a title – which seemed to endow those so favoured with social acceptance regardless of their actions – must adhere to a strict standard of behaviour. The most privileged members of our society can pursue an opulent, extravagant life of indulgence and dissipation not allowed the rest of us. Royalty are forgiven for almost any transgression. Scandalous activities such as having illegitimate children or conducting extra-marital affairs will incite gossip, but are often overlooked for members of the aristocracy. However, such conduct among my peers can destroy an entire family's social aspirations. The scandal sheets are cruel to anyone who departs from the accepted behaviour, not averse to attributing the most nefarious purposes to the most innocent activity. A Lord Byron will still receive invitations whereas should I behave so, my sister and I would be mostly shunned, much as the Bennets have been.” (September 11, 1813)

He snorted. The scandal sheets would, he knew, never be specific as to his name. He would be a single, rich eligible bachelor from Derbyshire and the reputation of Elizabeth would be tarnished to the degree that it might appear as though she herself was the source and cause of the ruination. Whatever was said would sound twice as bad once into print and then twice as bad again when fed into the gossip circle.

“…I am concerned about Georgiana’s entrance into society, a concern which Richard, as her other guardian, shares. This was an event for which we had already begun to make serious plans, the first step of which had been to consult my other aunt, Eileen, Countess Matlock, and her daughter, Lady Janet Harrison, who was some two years my junior. I believe at one time my uncle, the Earl, rather hoped that I might take an interest in Janet but neither of us was inclined to the other and have been quite content to co-exist as good friends. My aunt has agreed to sponsor Georgiana and I have given over to her the responsibility for introducing her into society next year. They are beginning their preparations even as we speak and, if I understand my aunt correctly, my sister will be allowed to attend a few balls and other events this fall although dancing will not be allowed. My aunt explains, and I must accede to her experience, that Georgiana must become more familiar and comfortable with such settings.” (September 23, 1813)

At least his Aunt Catherine would be dissuaded from attempting to control Georgiana’s coming out; as she had not even performed the feat for his cousin Ann, he had wondered at her initial attempts to inject herself into the process but, fortunately, his Aunt Eileen had brusquely dismissed her ladyship’s pretensions, and more effectively than he could.

“…I wonder if Richard has spoken to his mother about Elizabeth’s family. I cannot imagine why he would so but I am at a loss for any other explanation as to why she would, this afternoon, quite take me to task about the necessity for avoiding any tinge of scandal. My protestations that I have never done anything to warrant such concern fell on deaf ears. I cannot account for it although I quite understand her concerns, she does, to me at least, appear to attach an unwarranted amount of importance to the subject.” (October 1, 1813)

He had learned the cause of his aunt’s tirade about scandal. His cousin, Janet Harrison, wrote him that the Viscount had taken another mistress and has been most blatant in parading her around town. Both of his aunts were seriously displeased although he failed to understand why Lady Catherine would ring a peal over him about it. When had he ever behaved so? He felt no small degree of annoyance with his cousin, the Viscount. The man was married, with several children. While Darcy might concede that his cousin’s wife was cast in much the same mold as his Aunt Catherine, and he could hardly blame his cousin for avoiding her company when he could, to publicly paraded a mistress in society at events where his wife might be expected to be present, did no credit to the Fitzwilliam name and, by association, the Darcy name.

"...Georgiana is not altogether happy with having to be introduced into society by my aunt. I thought at first her objections were to having to ‘come out’ but such is not the case. She finds my aunt quite officious, rigid and demanding. I understand her concerns but when I suggested that the alternative was our Aunt Catherine, she almost fainted. I assured her I was but teasing and, after some persuasion on her part, agreed to speak to our cousin Janet on the matter. I did so later that evening and she is quite agreeable to assisting Georgiana. I am sure her steady and amiable manner will provide the support and encouragement that Georgiana will require.” (October 16, 1813)

Georgiana had been subsequently interviewed by the high priestesses of Almack’s and been deemed suitable to enter their hallowed domain. According to Aunt Eileen, they were extremely impressed by her manners and delighted with her musical ability. That she would impress, if not overcome with shyness, he had never doubted. That portended well for her first season.

The pleasure he experienced when he finally stepped through the doors at Pemberley after several months in London was incalculable. The past few months had tried his soul and exhausted his patience to a degree that he had not believed possible. Georgiana was almost as relieved as himself. It was no small blessing that they would not have to return to London until March. They both felt the need for those three months to restore their equanimity.

He had not thought it possible to endure another season even if it only lasted a scant six weeks and could not recollect its being such a trial. He had had a surfeit of teas, dinners, balls, at-homes, breakfasts to last a lifetime and yet he knew that he and Georgiana must endure it once more in the coming spring. He could scarce remember a single evening spent in the seclusion of his library. Georgiana appeared to have suffered less than himself which, he thought, might be due to the presence of Janet at her side which allowed her to find some pleasure in the doings. He could not. It was unfortunate that his Cousin Janet’s condition could forestall her active assistance next spring but Georgiana appeared to believe that she could manage it well enough with their aunt’s guidance. He knew that they owed their Aunt and Janet a great deal for their help and was gratified that his Aunt Eileen had been much less unbending than either Georgiana or he had expected.

His exposure to London’s first circle was no happier this year than last. He continued to be dismayed at the insipidness, conceit and unkindness so prevalent amongst young women. And, while he admitted that there were some who showed signs of intelligence and kindness, they, for one reason or another, failed to incite any interest on his part to know them better. His aunt had paraded such a flock of young ladies before him as to quite make them indistinguishable one from the other. He feared a certain young woman had quite spoiled him for others of her sex. He compared them all to her and found them wanting.

Darcy’s social reticence, displayed in a tendency to withdraw to the sidelines in social occasions where he was amongst company with whom he was unfamiliar, had provided him many opportunities to observe and assess his peers in their social play. He was too intelligent to fail to understand and appreciate that the society in which he moved was intensely conscious of rank with that incredible double standard of morality. Birth, wealth and titles were the main determinants of social standing and though some wealthier members of the middle class might possibly marry into the lower ranks of the gentry, such unions would not be completely accepted by the higher levels until several generations passed. While social positions could be altered by income, houses, speech, clothing, or even manners, climbing the social ranks could take generations, particularly into the aristocracy who did not readily accept into their ranks those they perceived to be of inferior birth.

He could attest to this from within his own family. His uncle, the Earl of Matlock, was all that was genial and amiable and, while quite concerned with proper behaviour, not particularly predisposed to disfavour those engaged in trade; his aunt, the Countess, and her eldest son– the Viscount – were much different and adhered to a strong desire to see the distinction of rank preserved. They were, perhaps, more polite about this belief than Lady Catherine, but no less decided on it. The Viscount’s dissipative lifestyle did not recommend him to Darcy and their acquaintance had never been close. The Earl’s other children, Lady Janet and the Colonel, were more of a mind with him.

Darcy could well remember his aunt’s unhappiness at having to have her daughter interviewed by the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s in order to earn the voucher that would gain her entry into that hallowed spot – exclusion from which would greatly dim his cousin’s marriage prospects. (Having been there on numerous occasions he could attest to the insipidness of the conversation, the inedible quality of food served and the lamentable lack of those beverages which would otherwise make being there more tolerable.) He knew it grated on his aunt’s sensibilities that the Fitzwilliams were relative newcomers to the titled ranks, his uncle being only the third Earl of Matlock. The family had earned a certain status, of course, but the Countess was not amongst the social leaders. In any event, she had to present herself and his cousin to an interview by those Lady Patronesses who at that time included Lady Jersey and Lady Castlereagh amongst their number. It was an uncomfortable process and while Darcy doubted that there was any intention to deny a voucher, the need for an interview at all was…unsettling to both his relations.

Georgiana would, of necessity, have to go through the same process; although, in some respects, he considered that it might be easier for her. The Darcy family, untitled though it may be, was of such distinction as to stand on a level with the Fitzwilliams in their station in society; however, even a brush of scandal, a suggestion that Georgiana had planned to elope, could bar her from Almack’s and damage her marriage prospects immeasurably. Darcy’s thoughts were now – due to the departure of Wickham - more directed to the impact that a connection with Miss Elizabeth Bennet might have on those prospects. He could not but fear that such a connection could not be considered until such time as Georgie was safely married. An Almack’s voucher, you see, could be rescinded, should its holder be deemed to be unworthy.

Let us leave our hero to such dismal thoughts as preoccupied his mind and continue our journey through the past to the next eventful stage.
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For Want of a Nail - Chapter 4

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