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In a Prudential Light, Part II, Chapter 1

Roslyn
February 08, 2018 05:24PM
Part II

Chapter One

May

The Easter season came and went, and along with it all the visitors to Hunsford. After returning to Meryton for a fortnight, Jane had gone to London to spend the early summer with the Gardiners, whose children were very fond of their cousin and more than happy to be under her care. Elizabeth missed her sister, and felt her absence keenly when she went, but she was happy to see that Jane would get a much needed change of scene and society in town, and be spared for a time the trials and tribulations which would be at home.

The new curate arrived not long after the Easter visitors had gone. Mr. Tilney was a tall and thin young man with a kind face and subtle but quick sense of humor. Lady Catherine immediately disliked him. Elizabeth enjoyed the young clergyman’s conversation and thought her husband would benefit much from the society of a colleague who was both considerate and willing to think critically of his situation, but she was under no illusions that such a young man would stay long at Hunsford. Time would tell.

Life for Elizabeth had settled into a palatable enough routine. She had begun to take more of an interest in the Hunsford parishioners, and conducted regular visits to the sick, poor, and elderly. Much of the rest of her time was filled with long walks through the Kentish countryside, sometimes for several hours at a time, and re-reading all her father’s favorite books.

Her relations with her husband these days were pleasant enough, but Mr. Collins kept so busy with the new curate and his constant attendance upon Lady Catherine, that most days Elizabeth did not see him until they sat down to dinner together in the evening. Mr. Collins had learned that life with his clever, bereaved young wife was much easier if he avoided at present those subjects which tended to upset her, and on which her arguments, more forcefully and skillfully delivered, always won the day. These topics included Longbourn, the allowance for her mother and sisters, and their marital bed. But Mr. Bennet had been dead less than six months—his posthumous son-in-law, who still considered his marriage to have been a great success, was fully prepared to bide his time.

Of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth tried to think very little. After everything that had transpired between them, however, this was no small task, and Elizabeth often found herself giving up entirely. The pages of his letter were now ragged from repeated study. While at first the account of his separation of Bingley from Jane had angered her, upon further reflection she could not deny that Jane’s reserved manners, to one unfamiliar with them, who was also eager to protect the best interests of a close friend, might have easily given the impression she felt much less than she truly did. Darcy’s mistake had been a very unfortunately one, but it had been an honest mistake, and had not been made with cruelty.

His history of Mr. Wickham’s connection to the Darcy family had been astonishing to say the very least, and Elizabeth was surprised at how readily she could accept the truth her former favorite’s guilt. She felt genuinely sorry for Miss Georgiana Darcy, young and inexperienced enough to misplace her trust, but too devoted to her brother to keep a secret which would truly wound him (and which she very well might have suspected would cause great damage to her family). Elizabeth remembered all too well how easy it had been to like the charming Wickham and to believe the tales of his misfortunes. In the wake of much graver matters, principally her father’s death, Elizabeth felt ashamed that so accomplished a flatterer had persuaded her to credit a version of events so loosely tied to the truth. She could not fault young Miss Darcy for having made the same error herself.

As for Elizabeth’s feelings toward the letter’s writer himself, she was constantly bandied about by conflicting desires and obligations. In one moment, she was furious with him for having upset the delicate stability of the quiet, albeit melancholy contentment she might have had in Hunsford. Who did he fancy himself to be, that he could lay siege so easily to her tranquility and inspire feelings in her she wished to stifle and dismiss? Elizabeth could not help but remember her sister’s words that evening when Jane came to warn her about Darcy’s obvious regard: “He must feel very deeply if he does so poor a job of hiding it.” Elizabeth sensed that under his guarded exterior, Darcy was a man of great feeling. This inference did nothing to comfort her.

As a distraction from these reflections, Elizabeth devised for herself a challenging project—she would befriend Anne de Bourgh. Born initially from pity for the young woman so bound up by an overbearing mother’s interference, Elizabeth soon learned that Miss de Bourgh was in fact rather bright, that she loved all novels (most especially the ones Lady Catherine disapproved of), and that she had great hopes of becoming a more experienced walker once her health was strong enough to accommodate more frequent excursions.

These modest tastes and desires suited Elizabeth’s weary heart and mind perfectly, and by the end of May, she was spending at least three afternoons a week sitting with Miss de Bourgh in the little parlor where she kept her own small library and a pianoforte. The two young women, who were in fact only a few years apart in age, would read and discuss there together, and occasionally Elizabeth would give Miss de Bourgh little lessons upon the pianoforte. She would also recount the details of her favorite walks near Rosings Park, and the two eagerly made plans for when Miss de Bourgh could join her.

As an unintended, though perhaps not improbable consequence of this special, genuine notice of her daughter, Elizabeth became a great favorite with Lady Catherine. Already disposed to favor the newly married vicar’s wife nearly constantly with the benefit of her wisdom and experience, Elizabeth now could do practically no wrong in her ladyship’s eyes. The Collinses were invited to dinner at Rosings with a frequency even more marked than when visitors at both the parsonage and the manor house made a diverse table of dinner guests particularly desirable. Lady Catherine had even learned to find the rare pert remark from Mrs. Collins rather amusing.




Darcy had returned to London with little expectation of any pleasure beyond seeing his sister. His business there was taxing, and the intensity of the last month in Kent, together with the uncertainty regarding where exactly he now stood with Elizabeth, had worn him down and made him even less disposed to be in company than he was in general. The thought of a single evening with Caroline Bingley was particularly irksome, and yet he was destined for several.

His remaining thoughts, both wakeful and sleeping, were for Elizabeth. Had his letter softened her heart towards him? Had she believed what he had shared regarding Wickham’s history? What was the point of all this effort and apprehension if she remained a married woman? What did he hope to gain by it? Apart from uncharitably (but nevertheless regularly) wishing Mr. Collins would meet his swift and untimely end, Darcy could think of no scenario in which he and Elizabeth might eventually be properly and respectably wed.

This knowledge was deeply depressing to him, and he much preferred to think of her warm, soft skin under his fingertips, her earnest and eager kisses, her lively mind, and her fine dark eyes.

One thing he knew he could and ought to do was speak to Bingley about Jane Bennet. He had been genuinely sorry to learn that he’d so misjudged her regard for his friend, not just because it had given Elizabeth pain to see her sister cast off, but because Darcy also hoped to see his friend happily settled with a young woman who valued and loved him. If this could be put right, he would do it.

As soon as the demands of his business dealings would allow it, Darcy called upon his friend at the Bingley townhouse one afternoon shortly after arriving in London.

“Darcy!” exclaimed the young man warmly, shaking his friend by the hand. “I had not expected to see you until our dinner this evening. Your journey into Kent was satisfactory, I trust?”

Not wishing to divulge the whole of the story at this particular moment, nor to say anything that could damage Elizabeth’s reputation, even to Bingley, Darcy replied instead, “I have discharged my yearly duty to my aunt. And the weather was quite fine.”

Bingley chuckled as, unbidden, he poured his friend a brandy and another for himself. “Your economy of speech does you credit as always, my good man.” He handed Darcy a glass, then raised his own before drinking from it. “To your very good health, sir.”

Darcy raised his glass in acknowledgement, then took his time tasting his first sip of the wine. Presently, he began, “I saw much of Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet—eh, now Mrs. Collins, of course—while I was at Rosings. Their cousin Collins is rector of the parish at Hunsford, of which my aunt is the chief patron.”

Bingley halted in the midst of bring his glass to his lips, then regarded his friend warily. “Ah.” He paused another moment, as if not wishing to appear too eager for news of Miss Bennet. “I expect both ladies are still very much in mourning for their father.”

“Yes, indeed. They were both quite dispirited—it was regrettable to see.”

Bingley’s expression was grave, concerned. “Of course. I am very sorry to hear it, although not surprised…… but, all other things being equal— they are well?” He could not disguise the slight hopeful note which crept into his voice and the end this question.

Darcy saw no point in being anything but direct with his friend. “There’s no subtle way about this Bingley, so I may as well just say it. I believe I was wrong in November when I advised you that Miss Bennet did not care for you in the same way you regarded her. After seeing her in Kent, it became clear to me that it was not only the loss of a beloved father that dampened her spirits, but also your departure to London. And I have since heard, from one with much deeper knowledge of Miss Bennet’s heart than myself, that her outward reserve masked a complete and genuine return of your affections and wishes. If you are still inclined toward making her an offer of marriage, I believe she would make you a very fine wife.”

This was much to take in for Bingley, who sat staring at his friend incredulously for several moments before regaining the power of reply. For his part, Darcy unceremoniously downed the remainder of his brandy and set his glass aside with a firm rap on the surface of the side table.

“How did you come to discover all this?” said Bingley at last, his voice taking on serious quality it rarely held.

“I am not really at liberty to say. But I can assure you that this information is borne out by my own observations of Miss Bennet in Kent. Her countenance lightens when your name is mentioned. She asked most especially after your health and the health of your sisters every time we were in company together. Bingley, I think she must love you.”

The truth of his friend’s words seeming to gradually dawn on him, Bingley sprang up from his chair and began pacing around the room. “Good god, Darcy, what a development! I had no notion of receiving such news! You’re sure?”

“As sure as a man can be as an observer of women’s hearts.”

“Good God!” Bingley’s pacing increased in tempo. “Well, I should go to her immediately, then. Is she still at Hunsford? Or perhaps back at Longbourn. But then, I do remember something about her having an aunt and uncle in town—by God, Darcy, she could be in London at this very moment!”

Seeing the younger man’s enthusiasm beginning to put him ahead of himself, Darcy rose his hand to stem the tide. “Now, my friend, before you alarm her with the renewed force of your affections, remember that Miss Bennet is still in mourning. While she may welcome the return of your addresses, she may also feel herself not yet ready to enter into an engagement, even one she should wish to, so soon after her father’s death. Place a few discrete inquiries to determine whether she is at Longbourn or elsewhere.” Darcy rose to go. “When you have found out where she is, call on her. Let her manners be your guide.”

Bingley seemed both encouraged and mollified by this plan. “Yes, thank you, Darcy. You speak sense and I will do as you say. Thank you, my friend. I am in your debt.”

“Nonsense. I merely corrected an error. The rest is up to you and Miss Bennet.”

Darcy made his way toward the door. “Oh, and uh, Bingley?”

“Yes?”

“Best not mention all this to your sisters. Not just yet.”

The sight of his friend’s wide grin saw Darcy on his way.




June

One fine evening in early June, Mr. and Mrs. Collins were summoned as usual to sit down to dinner with her ladyship and Miss de Bourgh. Conversation that evening centered chiefly around the degree to which Anne’s coloring had improved over the course of the spring. For this achievement, Lady Catherine eagerly praised Mrs. Collins, who she went on to encourage to pay some increased attention to her own health, astutely pointing out that, now the lady’s father had been dead nearly six months, it was high time for a pretty young wife to be looking “rather less pale and distracted.”

“In fact, I have just the thing to suit us all,” decreed her ladyship as the first course was being cleared away, flatly ignoring Elizabeth’s protestations that she was in fact in excellent health. “I told you, I think, Mr. Collins, that Anne and I are off on Saturday for Pemberley?”

This piece of information seemed to be news to the clergyman. “Indeed, ma’am? Much as I hate to contradict your ladyship—"

“It has been a good many years since Anne was well enough to make the journey into Derbyshire, but it promises to be a fine summer and the travel will be much easier. It would be remiss to deprive Mr. Darcy the benefit of seeing his future bride so blooming. Now, I have already written to my nephew and niece to inform them of our coming, but I will write again tomorrow to say that Mrs. Collins will join our party. The Derbyshire air cannot fail to liven her spirits and do her much good. Pemberley’s grounds are incredibly extensive—I daresay even a zealous walker such as you are, Mrs. Collins, will have plenty of opportunity to wander to her heart’s content there.”

Mr. Collins immediately and effusively voiced his enthusiasm for the idea, to which Lady Catherine quickly rejoined, “You, of course, Mr. Collins, will remain here at Hunsford. Mr. Tilney requires a firm hand, and I’m not at all convinced he will be ready to mind the parish himself for some considerable time. I quite depend upon you for this task, Mr. Collins.”

“Yes, of course your ladyship. It would be my honor to impress upon Mr. Tilney the importance of—”

“But of course, Mrs. Collins must join us. You can spare your wife for a month or two, can you not, Mr. Collins?”

“Indeed I can, your ladyship! I can think of nothing more beneficial for my dear Elizabeth than to join you and Miss de Bourgh in Derbyshire.” Mr. Collins quickly turned his attention to his wife, anxious for her to voice her gratitude to Lady Catherine for such a magnanimous offer. “Do you not think so, my dear?”

After the first mention of Pemberley, Elizbeth’s thoughts and pulse had begun to race so quickly that she had been largely unable to follow the direction of the subsequent conversation. Derbyshire? Pemberley? Darcy? It was like being thrown into the fire by the very person who ought to have been her preserver.

At last, she was able to choke out a kind of reply. “Your ladyship is— very generous. But I’m afraid I could not possibly accept your kind offer.”

“My dear!”

“Much as I rejoice in Miss de Bourgh’s well-being and should like to accompany you, it would be quite impossible to leave my duties here in Hunsford for so long. Some of the less-fortunate parishioners quite depend upon me to—”

“Nonsense!” said her ladyship, not even allowing Elizabeth to finish her sentence before dismissing this response out of hand. “The parish of course may spare you if your husband can, and, if you will make the journey with us to Derbyshire, it will be in my power to take you to London to join your elder sister at the home of your aunt and uncle on our way back to Rosings.”

This additional benevolence was enough to send Elizabeth’s husband into spasms of gratitude. Indeed, even to Elizabeth, the thought of another opportunity to see Jane again so soon began to make an offer which initially seemed like the worst notion imaginable become ever so slightly more palatable. If she could only make it through the time in Derbyshire, her fortitude would be rewarded with a visit to her beloved sister in the home of the dear Gardiners. And all this summer traveling would also mean at least two months from Hunsford and from domestic life. . .

“Please, Mrs. Collins,” said Miss de Bourgh, speaking for nearly the first time all evening. “I would so love your company in Derbyshire.”

Elizabeth was not unsympathetic to the appeal of her new friend. Perhaps Darcy by now, man of the world that he was, had forgotten all about the affair between them at Easter, and had moved on to other conquests—perhaps he would even use the occasion of his cousin’s visit to finally make her that offer of marriage his aunt so eagerly anticipated.

While Elizabeth inwardly entertained these questions, Lady Catherine had already moved on to discussing their itinerary. They would break their journey at Mansfield Park in Northamptonshire, and stay for a week at the home of her ladyship’s friend from school, Miss Maria Ward that was, now Lady Bertram. From there, on to Derbyshire.

To Pemberley, therefore, they were to go.
SubjectAuthorPosted

In a Prudential Light, Part II, Chapter 1

RoslynFebruary 08, 2018 05:24PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part II, Chapter 1

JeannineFebruary 09, 2018 08:00PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part II, Chapter 1

GretchenFebruary 09, 2018 06:44PM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part II, Chapter 1

EvelynJeanFebruary 09, 2018 06:25AM

Re: In a Prudential Light, Part II, Chapter 1

LucieFebruary 09, 2018 02:43AM



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