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Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 2

May 24, 2017 10:29PM
Chapter Two

Powell Townhouse
______ Street
London, England

So it was to be. In October of 1809, Elizabeth returned to London to stay with Mrs. Powell, her mother none the wiser of Mrs. Powell’s plans, for as Elizabeth admitted to her friend, “Had I informed my mother that you were intending to be more active in society, she would insist that I be engaged when I return. If not, I fear she would be most unhappy with me.”

Mrs. Powell laughed. “You may well meet someone who sparks your interest. If such happens, perhaps we might consider having you remain in town to allow him to call on you. It would seem rather senseless to separate you from a prospective suitor, would it not?”

Elizabeth looked at her severely, “You are not, I hope, becoming a match-maker?”

Mrs. Powell smiled at her. “If the gown fits, I shall wear it.”

It is, of course, impossible to consider entering the London season, even if not at the highest level, without being appropriately armoured for the trials to come. Gowns and their accessories must be acquired and the tribulations associated with a modiste endured. It is also a maxim not to be despised that a burden shared is a burden lessened; hence, an application was made to Mrs. Gardiner - and eagerly accepted - to make a third in the company. Not to Bond Street or its environs did they trek. Instead, to Elizabeth’s surprise, Mrs. Powell was quite content to take her direction from Mrs. Gardiner, for, as she noted, a modiste that could produce the elegance of Mrs. Gardiner’s gowns would do quite well for them and more economically.

“I am not,” she said, “so enamoured of Bond Street as to presume it the only source of quality materials, designs and workmanship.”


As a consequence of Elizabeth’s involvement in the London season, she made the introduction of a wide variety of people. One of the most memorable was a gentleman she met at a dinner hosted by a friend of Mrs. Powell.

“Miss Bennet,” said the gentleman to her right, “I am delighted that we shall have the opportunity to converse.”

Elizabeth voiced her agreement with the sentiment and could hardly be anything but pleased at her dinner companion. Mr. Townsend was his name and he was a handsome man of some five and twenty years, and while her introduction to him when she arrived had been brief, he had impressed her, as they waited for the call to dine, with his smiling, agreeable manner as he talked with others in the party. To be seated beside him and the object of his attentions promised that dinner would be a most enjoyable experience.

“I understand, Miss Bennet, that you are visiting Mrs. Powell. Have you enjoyed your visit so far? And how long do you expect to visit?”

Elizabeth explained that she would stay for another month complete, that she and Mrs. Powell had already attended the theatre, visited a museum and had dined several times with friends of Mrs. Powell. Mr. Townsend had also seen the same play as Elizabeth, and the remainder of the first course was spent in an agreeable discussion of the merits of the performance. If they did not agree on all points, their differences were of little significance and served to enhance the discussion. With the remove, Elizabeth was required to attend to the lady to her left. Unfortunately, that conversation provided little that was interesting, since the lady could find no subject more stimulating than the state of her health – poor – and the inability of her physicians to determine the cause. As the lady gave every appearance of robust health and ate with enthusiasm, Elizabeth rapidly arrived at the conclusion that her ill-health was the greatest pleasure of her existence. The lady required little more from her conversational partner than to nod and murmur in agreement and this office Elizabeth felt herself quite capable of performing. The remove thus passed in an agonizingly slow manner and it was with considerable relief that she returned to conversing with Mr. Townsend on the next.

Perhaps the gentleman was similarly pleased at the change, for he quickly turned the conversation to discovering as much about Miss Bennet as possible under such circumstances. She was pleased to speak of Hertfordshire and extolled its beauties. Such a discussion could lead only naturally to questions of where he was raised – Devonshire – and an attempt to compare the merits of both counties. Since neither party had visited the other’s county, that debate ended rather more quickly than either desired. There was, moreover, a slight air of sadness to Mr. Townsend’s countenance when speaking of his home county which piqued Elizabeth’s curiosity.

“You appear to miss Devonshire greatly, Mr. Townsend.” she observed.

He sighed and agreed that he did. “My family’s estate is quite beautiful.”

“I hope then, that you are able to visit it soon. I know that while I enjoy the pleasures of London, I also look forward to returning to my father’s estate.”

He smiled sadly, “I am sure you do, Miss Bennet. You are to be envied. Not all of us can be so fortunate. However,” he said in more cheerful tones, “if I must reside in London, I shall enjoy the benefits only it can provide. Have you visited Hatchard’s, Miss Bennet? You have? Excellent! I must say I was quite impressed with their collection of novels and came across one that I think you might enjoy.”

Mr. Townsend mentioned the title and, as it was one that Elizabeth recalled reading some months past, the remainder of the dinner course was spent discussing the merits of the plot and their respective interpretations of the novel’s characters and their behaviours. Elizabeth managed to conceal her exasperation as she turned her attention and conversation towards her other dinner companion for the final remove. Fortunately, the lady had exhausted her desire to speak of her ailments and was now more interested in informing Elizabeth of the latest news of which she was familiar about persons with whom she had an acquaintance, no matter how slight. Since she still required nothing more from Elizabeth than a pleasant countenance, and an appearance of attentiveness, accompanied by the occasional nod or murmur of agreement, both of which Elizabeth was still able to provide, their conversation proceeded to the satisfaction of Elizabeth’s dinner companion.

It was with no small sense of relief, when the ladies withdrew after the meal, that Elizabeth could seat herself with Mrs. Powell. That lady had been seated at the table several places removed and across from Elizabeth, well able to observe her but too distant to be able to easily join her conversation with Mr. Townsend.

“I believe,” she said with a wry smile, “that you enjoyed the conversation of at least one of your dinner partners.”

“Indeed, Mr. Townsend was most agreeable.”

“And quite handsome as well, which you must admit, makes his company more pleasant, and he appeared to quite enjoy your company.”

“To be sure.” replied Elizabeth with the faintest of flushes. She had not missed the admiration in Mr. Townsend’s eyes when he looked at her.

"Do you think he will call on you?” asked Mrs. Powell.

Elizabeth admitted she did not know and to Mrs. Powell’s inquiry into his circumstances, could only inform her that his family apparently had property in Devonshire.

“I shall, if he should call, speak with Mrs. Holley” – their hostess this evening – “to learn what I can about him.”

At Elizabeth’s quizzical expression, Mrs. Powell murmured, “One cannot ignore prudence regarding a gentleman’s situation, Elizabeth.”

“True, for even handsome young men, as well as plain ones, require something to live on.”

Mrs. Powell laughed at Elizabeth but her rejoinder was prevented by the hostess requesting Elizabeth and several other young ladies to entertain them with music. Some time later, the gentlemen rejoined the ladies and Mr. Townsend wasted little time acquiring a cup of tea and taking advantage of an empty chair beside Elizabeth. While he made no attempt, over the remainder of the evening, to monopolize her attention, he could claim a dance - when the carpet had been rolled back to allow for such a purpose - and to enjoy such of her conversation that was unclaimed by others.

His attentions were not so particular as to excite general notice; however, Mrs. Powell had forewarning and, wishing to learn a little more about Mr. Townsend, spoke briefly about him with her hostess. She shared the findings with Elizabeth later that evening.

“Mrs. Holley does not know him well. He is a cousin of Mrs. Throckmorton with whom I am quite intimate. I shall speak with her, perhaps, should matters progress further. Oh, I have forgotten. She is visiting relatives at the moment, but I shall write her and, now that I think on it, I shall do so directly. As for Mrs. Holley, she could only assure me that he is from a respectable family in Devonshire, has an independent income which Mrs. Holley believes sufficient to support a wife, although she does not know the particulars.”

“Does he have a profession? He did not speak of one.”

“Mrs. Holley did not say. Should I inquire of Mrs. Throckmorton?”

”Would that not be rather presumptuous? He has not yet declared any interest.”

Mrs. Powell agreed, although she noted that Mrs. Throckmorton might well disclose the information without prompting should she learn her cousin had called. Elizabeth rather wondered that the lady would be so forthcoming, for they had become acquainted during Elizabeth’s first visit with Mrs. Powell and Elizabeth had formed an immediate impression that she was viewed with suspicion by the lady. Mrs. Throckmorton was extremely reserved and exuded a faint air of disapproval whenever she regarded Elizabeth. Although they had been in company together a half dozen times during Elizabeth’s visit, the lady’s air of disapproval had abated only slightly. Elizabeth expressed her reservations.

“I doubt that Mrs. Throckmorton will be pleased at such a circumstance.” she said.

Mrs. Powell was sorely perplexed at such a statement. “Why ever would you think so, Elizabeth? Mrs. Throckmorton holds you in considerable esteem.” The expression of disbelief on Elizabeth’s face prompted her to continue.

“I speak nothing but the simple truth. I admit she was, at first, concerned that I was being taken advantage of, but once I informed her of how you had rescued me and the care and attention you had afforded me, she was quite firmly convinced of your merits.”

“She has never seemed so to me.”

Mrs. Powell shook her head, “That dinner she gave just before you left to return home, that was given as a token of her respect. Did you not realize?”

Elizabeth could only admit she had not. To confess that she had thought Mrs. Throckmorton only pleased to see her leave was more than she dared.

“So that,” added Mrs. Powell, “is why you converse with her so rarely. I wondered at the absence of your usual liveliness in her company. I shall expect a return to the impertinent Miss Elizabeth Bennet when next in my friend’s society.”

As it happened, Mr. Townsend did not call the very next day but that following saw him in Mrs. Powell’s parlour. He spent an agreeable half-hour speaking with both ladies and, if Elizabeth received most his attention, he did not slight Mrs. Powell in any fashion. His conversation was light, his manner agreeable and his familiarity with a broad range of subjects, obvious. He did not remain long after the arrival of other visitors but, before departing, invited the two ladies to walk in Hyde Park in two days, should the weather permit. This was deemed agreeable and a time fixed.

Mr. Townsend was true to his commitment, the weather proved amenable to the exercise and the threesome traveled to the park in the comfort of Mr. Townsend’s carriage which he had arranged for the occasion. It was an agreeable outing. If conversation was not plentiful and of little substance when provided – for the circumstances did not admit of serious topics – neither Mrs. Powell nor Elizabeth could find fault with their companion. His appearance was greatly in his favour: he had all the best parts of the comeliness of his gender – a fine countenance, a good figure, for he was tall and strongly built, and a very pleasing address. As well, he possessed a pleasing readiness for conversation which was, at the same time, perfectly correct and unassuming. Mrs. Powell and Elizabeth were both charmed.

Mrs. Powell did not feel herself capable of walking for more than an hour, and when her fatigue became apparent, her companions were easily persuaded to return to her house where refreshments could be had, before Mr. Townsend was compelled by a prior engagement to take his leave.

Elizabeth encountered Mr. Townsend several days later at an assembly. She had mentioned during their walk that she and Mrs. Powell were to attend and he had left her in no doubt of his intentions by soliciting the first set that evening. She had dressed with particular care - selecting her very best gown for the occasion. Her maid was making the final touches to her hair when Mrs. Powell knocked and entered. Elizabeth stood and slowly turned.

“Will I do, do you think?” she asked.

“I believe Mr. Townsend will be thoroughly delighted, my dear. And I have a little addition for you to wear tonight.” Mrs. Powell opened a blue velvet bag and withdrew a double strand pearl necklace. It was much finer than anything Elizabeth had ever worn. Mrs. Powell stepped behind Elizabeth and unfastened the simple gold necklace that she had chosen to wear.

“This necklace,” said Mrs. Powell as she fastened it around Elizabeth’s neck, “was a present from my husband on the tenth anniversary of our marriage. I wore it to a ball that evening. It would please me greatly to see you wear it tonight.”

Elizabeth was about to protest that she could not wear something so intrinsically important to Mrs. Powell when the latter continued.

“This necklace is meant to be worn by a beautiful young woman in the bloom of her youth, not an old woman like myself. Now, do not protest. I will not be gainsaid on the matter.”

Elizabeth could only embrace her friend who, when they separated, began to scold her for crying. Once the necessary repairs were completed to Elizabeth’s appearance, they made their way to the hired carriage that would carry them to the assembly hall. Elizabeth sat with poorly concealed impatience as they travelled - drawing an amused glance from Mrs. Powell in the process.

Mr. Townsend greeted them only minutes after they had made their way into the hall.

“Mrs. Powell, Miss Bennet, I am excessively pleased to see you tonight and I suspect that I should be congratulated on my foresight in obtaining Miss Bennet’s hand for the first set.” He gazed at Elizabeth admiringly, “You are superbly beautiful tonight, Miss Bennet. I shall be the envy of every gentleman in the room.”

“I thank you, Mr. Townsend, although I also think you must have been visiting Ireland’s Blarney Stone.”

“I assure you, I speak nothing but the simple truth, Miss Bennet. On most women, such a gown and necklace would compliment the lady; however, tonight each is made more attractive by the lady they adorn.”

Elizabeth could think of no reply to such a compliment and her blush was clear evidence of the pleasure she felt. It was not that she had not been complimented in the past, but living with a mother who had never viewed her as particularly attractive had made her more appreciative of such praise. Fortunately for her composure, distraction came in the approach of several acquaintances of Mrs. Powell, most of whom were accompanied by a gentleman seeking to obtain a set with Elizabeth.

Mr. Townsend appeared to be slightly unhappy at the attention she was drawing but he was not required to suffer long before leading Elizabeth out onto the floor. Their dance had been very pleasurable, for he was an excellent dancer and possessed such easy conversation as to make the half hour pass too quickly In Elizabeth’s opinion. At its conclusion, he requested the supper set as well, which she was pleased to grant.

Elizabeth suffered no shortage of partners for her lively manner and attractiveness drew the attention of many gentlemen. By the time the supper dance had ended, she was more than eager for the opportunity to rest. She and Mr. Townsend settled themselves with their plates of food at a table which, by chance, contained only two other couples both of whom were engaged in their own discussions to the exclusion of everyone else. Mrs. Powell had chosen to sit with several of her acquaintances, allowing Elizabeth to speak with Mr. Townsend with some degree of privacy.

Elizabeth had been regaling him with stories of her own sisters’ behaviours, “I am fortunate that Lydia and Kitty are not yet out. They are far from ready for society”

“You are blessed to have such an aunt to sponsor you in society. Mrs. Powell seems an excellent woman.”

“I am indeed, quite fortunate; however, although I call her Aunt Susan, we are not related at all, but simply, odd as it might seem given the disparity in our ages, good friends.”

“That is very kind of her, indeed.”

“Yes, for my father - even were he of a disposition to enjoy society which, I assure you, he is not – could not afford to allow my older sister and myself to enjoy a London season. Our estate is too small to support such an endeavour.”

"I see." said Mr. Townsend, “You and she are very close. I had, as I said, thought you related. Does Mrs. Powell have other relations?”

Elizabeth that a rather odd question but could see no reason to dissemble. “She does. A cousin who lives in Kent. I have not met the young lady but I gather she is about my age and from a rather grand family.”

Mr. Townsend smiled cheerfully and began to talk gaily about a house party to which he had been invited the summer past. All too soon for Elizabeth’s liking, the music signaling the beginning of the next round of dances could be heard and her partner for the next set approached to claim her. She spoke only briefly, between sets, with Mr. Townsend before the evening was over. While they were travelling back to ______ Street, Mrs. Powell, observed that Elizabeth and her dinner partner appeared to be getting along famously.

“Indeed, we were.” replied Elizabeth, “Mr. Townsend is a most agreeable gentleman and one I hope to know better.”

“Well, he is certainly one of the most handsome men that you have met.”


Mr. Townsend, however, did not call on Elizabeth the next day, nor the day after. She did not, in fact, encounter him again until over a se’nnight later at a dinner hosted by another of Mrs. Powell’s acquaintances. He greeted her politely some minutes after she entered the drawing room, bowed to Mrs. Powell and then, after a few brief civilities, moved away to speak to another guest. When it came time to be seated at the dining table, he chose to sit apart from Elizabeth, although a chair was empty beside her. She could have no doubt. Mr. Townsend’s attentions, short as they had been, were over. Had she required further proof, it was given when, later in the evening, he did not request her to dance. She canvassed her feelings on the matter and while she regretted the loss of those attentions he had provided, she did not mean to be unhappy about him. She had enjoyed conversing and even flirting with him, for he had been a most agreeable companion. She had no doubt that had his intentions been serious, she could have formed an attachment with him; but now all she felt was a small disappointment. As she did not feel any overwhelming sorrow, she knew her heart had not been damaged. Her pride and, perhaps, her vanity, but not her heart. He had been attracted primarily by her supposed fortune; her charms and character were not sufficient in the absence of a fortune.

"So," declared Mrs. Powell later that evening when they had returned home, “Mr. Townsend has shown his colours.”

Elizabeth greeted this sally with a wry smile. “I fear so, Aunt Susan. It seems that I lack the fortune he requires. I had wondered at his absence but his behaviour tonight can leave no doubt as to his lack of interest.”

“He has used you ill, Elizabeth.”

“I believe that he thought us related. That my family was of more consequence. I am only glad to learn his disposition now, rather than later when my heart might have been more fully engaged.”

Mrs. Powell nodded thoughtfully. Elizabeth had worn gowns that were of excellent quality and design and, as well, had worn a necklace loaned to her for the occasion. Mr. Townsend had read those signs and come to the obvious, but wrong, conclusion. She spoke of her suppositions to Elizabeth who, after a little consideration, agreed with them.

“I have no cause to repine my behaviour.” she said, “and the absence of a significant portion at least affords me the certainty that a man who does court me is doing so because of my merits and not my dowry.”

Mrs. Powell smiled and nodded.

The following week the two ladies were enjoying a quiet morning with nothing more strenuous than reading the letters that each had received that day. Elizabeth’s attention was interrupted by an exclamation from her companion, the cause of which was shortly revealed, as Mrs. Powell waved a letter before her.

“This,” said she, “is from Mrs. Throckmorton. You may recall that I mentioned she is related to Mr. Townsend - a cousin, I believe. Well, in my most recent letter to her, which I sent a fortnight past, I imparted the news that Mr. Townsend was calling on you and that his attentions were most particular. She is very concerned and has written to urge you to be on your guard.”

“On my guard?”

“Allow me to read what Mrs. Throckmorton has written.”

…“Mr. Townsend is the youngest son of a most respectable family. His father died about five years ago, and left Mr. Townsend a bequest of fifteen thousand pounds when he reached his majority which he did four years past. I am ashamed to confess that Mr. Townsend’s character was sadly misrepresented to me, although it appears that his brothers were not at all surprised. I have only recently learned that he has a dissipative character and, since gaining his inheritance, indulged in the most licentious behaviour. Gaming is not the worst of those evils I must lay to his account, for his behaviour with women is to be deplored. There is scarce a young woman around his family’s estate that has not been trifled with. He removed to London several years ago, and has apparently almost exhausted his inheritance. His brother, who is now head of the family, has disowned him and refused to have him in his home. If Mr. Townsend is paying his attentions to Miss Bennet, it is, I am sure, to secure her fortune. I have no knowledge of her circumstances but had not thought them so great as to induce my cousin to pay his addresses. Regardless, Miss Bennet must be warned!”

“Fifteen thousand pounds! Such a sum! And he has wasted it all.”

“Perhaps not all,” responded Mrs. Powell, “for he has given the appearance of prosperity, but I have no doubt he is seeking another fortune.”

“Such a man!” exclaimed Elizabeth, “I had thought him no worse than mercenary; such a report, and from his own cousin no less, can hardly be disputed.”

“Mrs. Throckmorton is not inclined to idle gossip and certainly not about her own family. I think, Elizabeth, you can have no doubt of her regard for you given her willingness to share such private information.”

“I must indeed thank her when next we meet.”

Elizabeth paused for several moments, lost in thought, before continuing, “It is, I suppose, an excellent illustration that goodness of countenance and manners may not reveal the truth of a man’s character. I had absolutely no suspicion that Mr. Townsend was anything but the gentleman he portrayed.”

“A useful lesson, indeed, and one that you should remember. Caution is required in determining the character of a new acquaintance and a first impression may be misleading. A handsome face and agreeable manner may conceal a very poor character.”

The visit proved a precursor for those that followed. Elizabeth returned, with her elder sister, Jane, in the spring of 1810, and again with Jane for the little season in the autumn of that year. She visited once more the following spring, spending the months of May and June with Mrs. Powell and planned to spend the little season with her in company with her sister. Those plans were placed in abeyance when Mrs. Bennet learned that Netherfield had been let to a single man of great fortune and, as he must be in want of a wife, it would not do for either of her eldest daughters to be absent. They had already been exposed to London society, had returned without husbands and Mrs. Bennet could not but believe their prospects to be superior in Hertfordshire under her guidance and assistance.

Elizabeth could not agree; however, Mrs. Bennet would not be gainsaid and at Longbourn Jane and Elizabeth would remain. If she had not encountered a gentleman with whom she wished to spend the rest of her life, her experience under Mrs. Powell’s tutelage had revealed the great difference between London society and that which was to be found around Longbourn. While the dinners were more sumptuous and the balls were more elegant, it was the people in which the greatest difference was marked. If there was the usual number of the boring and the witless, it was also possible to encounter those possessed of sufficient intelligence and wit to make enjoyable any encounter whether during a dance or conversing in a sitting room.

It was, however, the disparity of characters which most astounded her. In Hertfordshire, perhaps because of familiarity, the society in which she moved had become very predictable, her neighbour’s foibles rarely surprised any longer. In London, she had been exposed to such a variety of people as to make her extremely cautious when encountering a new acquaintance, for she had, on more than one occasion, misjudged the character of someone she had met only recently. Her encounter with Mr. Townsend had been a salutary experience; moreover, an appearance of cold, haughty unfriendliness had, on several occasions, turned out to be nothing more than a reserve which only time and familiarity had removed and an interesting acquaintance formed.

It was with no anticipation of pleasure that she remained in Hertfordshire to welcome the arrival of Mr. Bingley, for that was the name of the gentleman who had leased Netherfield. It is perhaps fortunate that one rarely is afforded warning of events which will overset one’s comfortable existence completely.  

Beyond Longbourn - Chapter 2

PeterMay 24, 2017 10:29PM

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