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COD, 8

September 25, 2017 10:37PM
“But what if she wants to be a governess?”

And have I mentioned that I love to hate Augusta Elton?

The Churchills of Donwell

Chapter 8: The Dark Horse

"You must speak to your uncle immediately," Miss Woodhouse commanded.

Frank demurred. "I've been working up to it, but I'm not ready yet."

"Not ready?" scoffed his fair friend. "Frank Churchill, you cowardly, undeserving laggard! Speak to your uncle today or I shall. Mrs. Elton has already begun to poison your aunt against Miss Fairfax with talk of desperate, grasping girls, no doubt the kind she knew in Bath. By the time you find your resolve, it will be too late. Miss Fairfax will be promised as governess to some snobbish family with wretched children in the far North. And then all your hopes will be for naught, because your aunt would never accept her after that."

"Please, Emma," pleaded Frank, "you know what she is like." He thought not of dear Jane’s perfections but of his aunt's flaws.

"I have a far more real grasp of her abilities if I can see the danger you do not," snapped Miss Woodhouse. "Unless you have been toying with Miss Fairfax's affections without a sincere interest in her. I begin to understand why she refused to announce anything in Weymouth! "

The barb struck deep. "That is unfair!"

"How unfair are you being to Jane Fairfax?" Emma asked, pressing her advantage. "Asking her to prepare for a day that may never come? Asking her to refuse opportunities far superior to what you will be, in the end, unable to provide her? Frank, have some knowledge of the consequence of your delay! It is not just your happiness you jeopardize, but hers as well. If you are ever to be worthy of Donwell, you must first be worthy of her. Speak to your uncle, without delay."

Thus roused, Frank had no choice but to seek an audience with his uncle, for Miss Woodhouse showed no sign of departing without seeing him ensconced in the master's office.

Mr. Churchill was surprised to see his nephew, and after sending Mr. Endicott away on some errand, they shared an awkward pas de deux as Frank pursued a circuitous path to his announcement.

Mr. Churchill had begun to suspect the nature of Frank's speech a month ago but, knowing his wife was unready to receive the news, had not pressed the young man. There was no point forcing a declaration that would be so distressing to those who loved him if he did not feel the need to make it known. Indeed, it could all be some passing fancy before Frank settled into the serious business of life.

Frank mentioned his trips to London, which of course his uncle remembered, for what else could explain Frank's hair? Frank then veered back to Weymouth and the good people he had met there; his uncle too remembered that trip. Frank mentioned that some people he had met in Weymouth were currently living in London, and had invited him to dine with them while he was in town; Mr. Churchill had believed that to be the case, and nothing could be more natural.

Frank then mentioned that the Campbells had a daughter, and Mr. Churchill thought they were approaching the heart of the matter. A quick prompt, however, only increased his confusion. Frank carelessly admitted that Miss Campbell was a nice-enough sort of girl, but she had married and moved to Ireland months and months ago, long before Frank had begun skulking off to London.

But, he continued, the Campbells had another young lady living with them, their ward whom they had raised as another daughter. Mr. Churchill wondered what kind of a girl she was and the glowing, meandering answer told him all he needed to know of the strength of Frank's affections. However, it told him nothing of practical matters.

"And so you say the Campbells raised her as a daughter?" he asked. "And what settlement did they make on Miss Campbell when she married?" It would not be so bad if the family truly viewed her as one of their own.

Frank could not satisfy him on that account, for he had no notion of the wedding articles, or how it might translate to his dear Jane. And it did not matter, because he loved her. And so would his uncle, as soon as he could meet her. But for that, they must wait until Jane visited her family.

"She has family in the area?" asked Mr. Churchill, wondering who it was. The Coles were a relatively good sort, originating from trade and grasping to better themselves, but there was no material harm in that so long as they could afford it. And the new Mrs. Elton rubbed elbows with the rich if her anecdotes about Mr. and Mrs. Suckling were to be believed.

"Yes," said Frank. "Mrs. Bates is her grandmother."

"Bates!" repeated the beleaguered Mr. Churchill, raising a hand to his forehead for support. "She is a pauper!" Mr. Bates had been the previous vicar of Highbury, and he had been a highly esteemed man, but no one would ever accuse him of being wealthy. "Oh, this is a tragedy!" Mr. Churchill had slowly accustomed himself to the idea that Frank might not marry Emma Woodhouse. He had even had the thought that Frank might not alloy himself to an ancient and noble house, choosing instead a pretty miss with newly acquired funds. The thought had never crossed his mind that his future niece would be poor as the proverbial church mouse. Donwell would survive an infusion of money acquired from trade, but there wouldn't be one stone atop another if Frank married Mr. Bates' granddaughter.

"Frank, you cannot be serious!" he exclaimed.

"I am terribly serious," countered Frank with equal zest. "Why do you think I have taken such a strong interest in running Donwell if not to make up for what I assume to be her small portion? And I have made some progress, you have said so yourself. But Aunt has heard that Miss Fairfax is coming to Highbury and does not know my interest in her. Aunt is trying to find her a position as a governess. You must stop it!"

Mr. Churchill was not convinced. "But what if she wants to be a governess?" It would be a disappointment to Frank, but he would overcome it in time.

"I have asked her to marry me," Frank blurted out.

The two men were silent so long that Mr. Endicott walked back into the room, believing it to be empty. The steward apologized for interrupting them, but bustled about the room, signaling that it was time for business.

Mr. Churchill, too, was uncharacteristically eager to go through the normal tedium. He attempted to shoo Frank out.

"Uncle, we are not done here," pleaded Frank.

"I am sorry, Frank, but I'm afraid Mr. Endicott needs me right now. We can talk about this later." The revelations of the afternoon were too much and he needed time to think about them.

At least Miss Woodhouse was sympathetic now that Frank had spoken to his uncle and tried to think of new ways to advance his suit. The next step, she realized, was financial: Mr. Churchill must name his price. The Churchills thought Jane too poor, but how rich would a girl need to be to satisfy them? From there, it was a matter of negotiating them down into sense.

Perhaps Mrs. Elton's cousin with her £7,000 could be of use in that regard. Emma had no doubt she was as self-important as Mr. Elton's choice. Her dowry might refurbish a few rooms in the Abbey, but such a girl could not bring class to it. There were some things money couldn't buy.

Emma and Frank both realized it was risky. The Churchills might not be able to appreciate the difference between style and fashion; Mrs. Churchill was still "taken in" by Mrs. Elton, whose flattery and deference hid a lot of shortcomings. It would be up to Emma to expose the problem with Mrs. Elton or at least with Miss Arabelle Platt.

Frank had to work on his uncle, pestering him about the bottom line until they found a way to shift it. Emma also gave him the assignment of finding out just what the Campbells intended to do for Jane. It was probably not a real fortune, but it was surely more than Mr. Churchill expected. It would also, along with Mr. Churchill's price, give them a range to work within.

For his part, Mr. Churchill grew weakly resigned over the se’enight. He lamented in private. He forced Mr. Endicott to commiserate with each expense. He mumbled unintelligibly in front of his wife. He made discreet inquiries whenever his tenants asked for advice. He glared forebodingly at Frank. He flinched every time someone mentioned the name Bates. But through it all he grew resigned, and he had yet to meet the agent of his destruction.

Everything he heard confirmed his original supposition that the Bateses were respectable but dependent upon the charity of their neighbors. An older farmer, Mr. Lasseter, remembered Mrs. Fairfax, née Bates, and called her the jewel of the country. He was pleased that she escaped the fate of spinsterhood, but sad when her new husband took her away, sadder still to hear of her death. Reliable details of Miss Fairfax were harder to come by; people remembered her as a little mouse, but that proved nothing as her mother had been a late bloomer.

Frank disappeared to London for an emergency trip to his barber with the strict injunction from his aunt to be back in time for her dinner party and to bring sweets enough to share with the guests.

Mr. Churchill was now in a pickle. Frank's continued trips to London along with his efforts around Donwell spoke of his resolve. Divulging his secret to Mr. Churchill clearly meant that Frank expected help in breaking the news to Mrs. Churchill. Mr. Churchill had no desire to be the bearer of bad news, but he knew it would go so much worse for him if she found out without forewarning from him.

In the end, he said nothing. Discretion was the better part of valour.

Frank's first aim in London had been to speak with Col. Campbell. It was an awkward tête à tête -- in some ways worse than his talk with his uncle -- but he managed at last to declare his romantic intentions as well as his uncle's pecuniary bounds.

While the colonel had not discussed the young man from Surrey with his ward, he and his wife had had many private conversations about Frank Churchill and whether he would be the one to steal their Jane from them. With each successive visit, it became more likely, and Frank’s confession was in general what the colonel had been expecting, although the exact sum had been a slight surprise. Jane's parents had died young and so had set little aside for her, but the Campbells had invested it on her behalf, tossing in a pound or two of their own when they could. The result was under £600 but the colonel was willing to round up for the right suitor. Frank Churchill had previously struck him as just the right sort: besotted with Jane, devoid of mercenary intent, and close enough to London should Mrs. Campbell need to mother someone.

The expectations of Frank's family, however, put a bad spin on things, which was made even worse by other news. Jane would never be an heiress, but the Churchills practically insisted on it. Frank was undeterred, or at least he said he was undeterred. He spoke of this being just an opening negotiation, that he had already spent time bringing Donwell’s accounts forward, that his uncle could be talked down quite a bit, and that meeting Miss Fairfax would surely resign him to what little difference remained.

The colonel listened silently to the younger man's verbal ramblings until his guest had reached his end and awaited a response.

"I have been inclined to like you, Mr. Churchill," the colonel sighed regretfully, "and I believe Jane does too. Had you called on me a week ago, I would have given my blessing gladly. However, Jane has received what I can only call a distressing letter from her grandmother recently and now I am loath to receive your petition."

Frank’s eyes widened in surprise. He tried to recall anything from his last visit to Mrs. and Miss Bates that implied trouble of some kind, but all he could remember was the innocuous gossip of Miss Bates.

"Has something happened to her family?" was all he could say.

The colonel shook his head. "I do not have the letter and I will not call upon Jane to produce it, but it was not what happened to the Bates family that was the source of Jane's distress."

The colonel’s exposition was maddening. "Please sir," said Frank, "speak plainly and tell me what is wrong."

"What is wrong, son, is that you have come before me requesting permission for you to marry Jane when you yourself lack the approval or means to marry her."

Frank blinked rapidly as this news sank in. "What makes you say that?"

"Much is based on what you have already told us: that you are your uncle's heir and are dependent upon him; that you lack your own establishment and control over your own funds," the colonel pointed out. "The latest letter from Surrey, however, told of how your aunt had disapproved of a farmer's choice of wife and as a result was forcing the family to leave their farm, and that you will never give your family such trouble because you are practically engaged to a local girl. Tell me, has Mrs. Bates misunderstood the situation with respect to this farmer?"

The news momentarily stunned him. How could Mrs. Bates write such a letter to Jane, he wondered, before realizing that Jane's family in Highbury knew nothing of his interest. If the ladies imagined anything, it would be that Jane had a natural curiosity to hear about someone she had recently met rather than stories of people she had forgotten.

Now, unfortunately, the damage was done and he would have to think quickly to extricate himself from this predicament.

Frank wanted to deny the farmer's tale but he could not. "Had the man in question not sought my uncle's and aunt's advice, they would have been much less offended by his decision to follow his heart,” he said instead. It was a weak and unworthy deflection, and the other man was not assuaged.

"But you must see the concerns that raises with respect to the home you are able to offer for my ward," the colonel appraised him. "If you were to go to your family this evening and announce that you were engaged to Miss Jane Fairfax of -- Street, London, would you be permitted to keep that engagement? Would your family make her feel welcome into their home, or would she be made to feel inferior? And if, expecting difficulties, you were to elope or otherwise thwart your family’s expectations, would Jane be made to bear the brunt of the punishment? How would society judge her for marrying into a family that was so hostile to her? She would be seen as a grasping fortune hunter and if, having fallen out with your uncle, you might lack the resources to keep her out of penury. As her guardian, I must protect her from such a fate."

Frank wanted to counter the older man's arguments, but it was clear that the colonel had been prepared for this scene while Frank had expected an entirely different reception. Before he could articulate a word in response, Jane's guardian continued:

“And what of this other girl you have in Surrey?” he questioned. “The one that Mrs. Bates believes you will marry? Have you been courting two girls at once? I cannot condone that sort of behavior, Mr. Churchill. It sounds of a thoughtless entitlement that can only bring misery to those around you. Had Jane everything else in her favor, how could your family and community accept her as your wife when they have expected you to offer to someone they already know and admire?”

Frank was very close to fleeing in a panic. He had been so hopeful in the last few miles of his journey. “You do not understand. This young woman, Emma Woodhouse, has been my companion since childhood. She is like a sister to me. We neither of us have any intention of marrying each other; I want to marry Miss Fairfax.” He stopped short of giving Emma all the credit for his coming to London and renewing his acquaintance with the Campbells. “Emma knows of my feelings for your ward, and she had been helpful and encouraging in coming up with strategies to deal with my family.”

This was not an admission that improved the colonel’s opinion. “Mr. Churchill, I am afraid that, despite your attachment to my ward, I cannot permit the relationship to go further. It is clear to me that your family will not sanction or support the match, and that you lack the resources to marry otherwise. Nor would I subject Jane to the censure of your neighbors should you be able to marry her.”

“May I at least speak to Miss Fairfax?” he asked desperately.

The colonel shook his head. “No, I will not permit it. I am very sorry, sir, but this interview is over.”

After a short period of shock, Frank Churchill quitted the house with no knowledge that he should ever return.

Frank was uncharacteristically jolly at the dinner party, going so far as to show particular attention to Miss Platt, who blushed and laughed as Jane never would.

Emma noticed. Mrs. Elton noticed. Mrs. Churchill noticed. Everyone noticed. Frank was not discrete and Miss Platt was not subtle.

Emma knew something must have happened between Frank and Miss Fairfax. She dearly would have loved a private word with him, but she had been too busy earlier that day introducing Mr. Knightley to the Martin family to learn the particulars. She could only observe and fret that he would provoke the wrath of his aunt over a pointless lovers' spat. The only bright note was that Mrs. Churchill would probably lump Miss Platt and Mrs. Elton in with the wrong that Frank was doing.

Mrs. Elton could not help but observe the excessive attention Mr. Frank lavished on her cousin, and right under Miss Woodhouse's nose. It was deplorable yet it filled her with glee. Cousin Arabelle was putting Emma Woodhouse in her place in a way Mrs. Elton could never imagine. Her caro sposo caught her eye and smiled back. Perhaps she should write to her Aunt Platt tomorrow about extending Arabelle's stay.

Mr. Weston observed his son's behavior with wonder. Since purchasing Randalls and getting to know his son as a man, he had initially assumed Frank would marry Emma Woodhouse. It had taken many hours at Hartfield, watching them interact in the company of the delightful Miss Taylor, for him to realize that Frank's interest in Miss Woodhouse was fraternal, and that she treated him with a matching sisterly concern. This led Mr. Weston to wonder what kind of woman would eventually win Frank's heart: would she be like Grace, his first wife, or Anne, his second wife? Miss Platt was so unlike either Mrs. Weston, but Frank's attention was so marked, that his father wondered if Frank had chosen something completely different.

Mr. Knightley divided his attention between Frank's behavior and Emma's reaction. The gentleman from Enscombe was certain there had been something to the couple, and Miss Woodhouse's worried looks only confirmed his suspicions.

Mr. Churchill watched his nephew flirt with the newcomer with a feeling akin to horror. Was Frank attempting to punish him for not being more open to Mr. Bates' granddaughter? Was he trying to proclaim unequivocally to his uncle and aunt that he had no intention of marrying Emma Woodhouse, now or ever? Was he trying to doom them all? Would it be seen as rude for Mr. Churchill to feign a headache and retire for the evening?

Mrs. Churchill couldn't help but notice her nephew's regard for Miss Platt, much though her husband and Emma tried to distract her. She saw it with growing indignation. That Frank should behave with such disrespect and disregard! That Miss Platt should encourage him with her brazen wiles! That Mrs. Elton should have brought such a temptress into their midst! It was all too much and she nearly asked the Eltons to leave, but poor Emma bore it with a fortitude that inspired her to save the expression of her anger for a more private moment, when the Coles and the Montgomerys weren't watching. Frank might play a fool now, but he really was without sense if he thought his actions tonight were without consequence.

It was unclear who was in greater disgrace after the dinner party at Donwell Abbey: Frank for flirting with that hussy, or Mrs. Elton for bringing her. Word of the evening spread through Donwell and Highbury. Mrs. Elton was not received at the Abbey again while her cousin was with her; Mrs. Churchill had a convenient indisposition that lasted the rest of Miss Platt’s visit.

Cousin Arabelle was convinced she was the victim in all this. Her introduction into Surrey’s society had started so well. Everyone had been so friendly, and Frank Churchill had gone far beyond that. She was convinced she wasn’t going to head back to town without receiving and possibly accepting a marriage proposal.

Her cousin Augusta had been even more pleased after the dinner, smirking about Miss Woodhouse and dashed hopes. Even Mr. Elton had found it diverting. But that ended the next afternoon when Mrs. Elton took her to the Abbey for tea, and they had been turned away. The butler had made a show of declaring his mistress was indisposed, however he gave them such a disapproving eye as he said it that tipped them off immediately.

Mrs. Elton had then insisted on a round of other calls to investigate the matter. What they learned did not soothe. Word had gotten out that Miss Platt had thrown herself at Frank Churchill in a shocking display under Mrs. Churchill's very nose.

Miss Platt was indignant but Mrs. Elton was shocked into silence. The parallels between Cousin Arabelle and Mrs. Robert Martin were not hard to see for someone like her. Intentionally or not, Arabelle had set her sights on someone that Mrs. Churchill deemed improper for her. The only thing remaining was to surrender the field and beg forgiveness.

There would be concessions, of course. The first being the expedited departure of her cousin, which is how a visit of six weeks lasted less that six days.

Mrs. Elton lost standing due to the debacle, but she was able to recover, demonstrating to the neighborhood her unique brand of charity.

COD, 8

NN SSeptember 25, 2017 10:37PM

Re: COD, 8

AiOctober 05, 2017 04:34AM

Re: COD, 8

TinaSeptember 27, 2017 01:09AM

Re: COD, 8

TobeSeptember 26, 2017 03:17AM

Re: COD, 8

TobeSeptember 26, 2017 03:17AM


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