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Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

March 06, 2023 10:13PM
[iSome twenty years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, some of its most significant characters meet for a celebration. The current fortunes of some of them correspond to their (and our) picture of how their lives would proceed – but the paths others have trod now reveal themselves to have been much less predictable ...

IT is a truth rarely refuted that great good fortune can transmute an unexceptional visage into, if not perhaps radiant beauty, certainly a most attractive and engaging countenance.

Such, in latter years, and although she was herself quite unaware of the fact, had undoubtably been the case for Lady Lushford, of Pomeroy House, East Cheshire who, shortly after six o’clock on that particular May morning, had slipped quietly out into the rose garden to sit for a few minutes on her preferred bench. She wanted a little time by herself to breathe the warming air, as it slowly took on the scent of the flowers, and to contemplate the day to come, and all the promise it held for the future of her only daughter, her dearest Olivia.

Never, even as a young child unburdened with experience of the ways of the world, had Lady Lushford so much as dared to dream that she might herself one day live in so beautiful a home, privileged to be the wife of such an attentive, distinguished, and wealthy man! Her own father was of course a gentleman, but one with a considerably more modest income – and substantially more offspring – than his distinguished son-in-law. And while it would be unjust to suggest that Lady Lushford’s journey to this, her present and more than satisfactory setting, had been characterised by trial and affliction, she had not been a complete stranger to despondency or disappointment. Now, however, as a light breeze riffled through the pale pink Eglantyne roses, their perfume reaching her in delicious gusts, she reflected that any sacrifices she had been required to make on her way to this place, to this time, had repaid themselves a hundredfold. Looking at, though hardly seeing, the dizzy fluttering of a trio of painted lady butterflies above a topiary sphere, she recalled to mind the series of events that had brought her, all unexpected, to the current moment of such felicity …

Seventeen years previously, the sudden and unexpected death, scarcely three years into their marriage, of Lady Lushford’s first husband, the father of her twins, had shocked and saddened his bewildered family, and transformed a quiet and uneventful existence into one of confusion and apprehension. The widow of the incumbent of a rural living has no claim upon the tied house her good taste may have – and in this case, undeniably had – fashioned into a pleasant and welcoming home. And while the vagaries of the laws of succession meant that her son William, at least, could aspire to a comfortable future, there was no such assurance for Olivia. Facing an uncertain future, the bereaved family had moved in with the children’s maternal grand-parents.

Then, one overcast November morning some two years later, Olivia (William, having a slight cold, had remained at home) had been delighting in the bustle of the small town’s main thoroughfare while her mother, with an eye to the threatening rain, shepherded her towards the draper’s that was to be their last call. As they approached the entrance of that popular establishment, they were hailed by a neighbour newly returned to the area; his kind enquiries regarding the health of the family were both detailed and prolonged. Five and a half year-old Olivia began to fidget, turning this way and that, looking up and down the street. Thus engaged, she was the first to behold an ill-trained mount, possibly startled by a passing carriage, wrench itself free from a tethering post.

The adult persons around her became aware of the commotion seconds later, but only Olivia had noticed a nanny and her diminutive charge crossing the street, oblivious to the fast-approaching danger. To tug her hand out of her mother’s was the work of a second. With the swiftness of mind and speedy reactions that were, then and now, characteristic of her, she sped forward, seizing the child’s tiny hand and simultaneously pushing the woman out of the way of the advancing horse. The animal, its eyes rolling, thundered past inches away, and only then did Olivia become aware of cries, shouting, her mother bending white and trembling over her, and a tall gentleman in a top hat gently assisting her to stand.

“That, little mistress, was one of the bravest things I have ever witnessed,” he said solemnly to Olivia, squatting down to address her whilst holding the rescued, unscathed infant tight to his chest, and then urging “Look to the lady, Sir!” as her mother swayed in shock and relief. The draper hastily produced a chair; his wife hurried out to proffer some smelling salts. The nanny was dusted down and assisted back across the street to re-join her distressed charge, whose initial tears had slowed to a trickle and who was now, if truth be told, not at all unwilling to remain the focus of attention.

“There, now, Edward,” said his father – for it was he – as he carefully lowered his son into the arms of his nanny, “Miss Jackson has my permission to go to the confectioner’s to purchase three peppermint sticks. One will be for her, because of the upset she has had. One will be for you, for the same reason. But tell me, Edward – to whom should the third one go?”

The child had extended a plump arm, pointing at Olivia, and lisped: “S’for she, papa!” Upon which Olivia had introduced herself and her mamma, into whose cheeks colour was slowly returning, and the gentleman had bowed low and introduced himself: “Francis Lushford, ma’am.”

If Olivia and her brave gesture had made such a positive an impression on the grateful parent, who had never felt the weight of his widowerhood as acutely as when sweeping his trembling boy into his arms, the sight of the gentle mother of the young heroine – those fine grey eyes, that sweet smile – awoke in him sentiments he had never thought to feel again. By evening he had decided that he might very well prolong this visit to his old school friend in a neighbouring village, and delay his return home to Cheshire …

His courtship had been everything that was most proper, considerate and sincere. It had been much facilitated by his and his son’s unfeigned affection for the young widow’s children, and their reciprocal fondness for him and for Edward. For his part, this latter, having no recollection of the mother who had died giving him birth, was elated at the thought of having a mamma, as well as two permanent playmates.

Thus, a twelve-month almost to the day had seen Sir Francis and the new Lady Lushford step out of her parents’ local parish church as man and wife, share a wedding breakfast with their children and the bride’s family, and then set out in the early afternoon for Pomeroy House, the groom’s Cheshire estate.

Fortune seemed determined to smile on the newly-weds, who each brought to this second union, of which neither had neither had dared dream, the wisdom of maturity and a generosity of spirit, complementary qualities which ensured their life together was a gratifying source of pleasure and satisfaction to them both. Furthermore, they had not long been established in Pomeroy House when a letter from Lady Lushford’s oldest and best-loved friend reminded them that she and her husband and family – (young Thomas and Isabella were of an age with William, Olivia and Edward) – were now “spending most of the year” on their estate in the neighbouring county. Thanks to the financial backing of “several local interested parties.” she wrote, the relevant roads were now increasingly built from stones, and “well-maintained to facilitate drainage;” the distance between the two friends could thus “quite easily” be covered “in some seven hours”. It was indeed a joyous day when Sir Francis, Lady Lushford and their children made their first trip through the pretty countryside separating the two households.

And to think, Lady Lushford recalled, that as a result of that first delightful visit, and the following countless times that one family had travelled to the home of the other, today would see Olivia wed Thomas at the local parish church! It would be almost four years before her brother William could be ordained, hold a living and administer sacraments, so the local vicar would be officiating. But Isabella, Thomas’s sister, was Olivia’s natural choice as attendant to the bride, and Edward was Thomas’s best man, and extremely proud to be so…
Lady Lushford’s moment of reverie had perhaps lasted somewhat longer than intended; she became all at once aware of the sound of voices and general bustling. She gathered her skirts about her preparatory to rising, but the space next to her was suddenly filled by a swirl of fine linen and a modest froth of exquisite lace as the mother of the groom plumped herself down next to her, kissing her cheek and grasping her hands, in a display of the affection each woman had always felt for the other.

“So, wicked one!” exclaimed the new arrival in the garden, in mock indignation, “ you are hiding down here to let your beleaguered husband and that poor housekeeper cope with my future daughter-in-law’s last whims and caprices as a single woman! Shame on you!”

“Olivia,” responded the fond mother, smiling, “has displayed no identifiable caprice worth mentioning in all her twenty years. Whims are equally foreign to her. As you, and as Thomas, more to the point, both know very well. Indeed,” she continued, “I have never met a bride and groom who knew each other as thoroughly before their marriage as Olivia and Thomas do, and who complement each other so well. They might as well have been engaged at age seven.”

Her teasing friend laughed, and stood up again. “And this,” she protested, pulling Lady Lushford to her feet, “ from one who declared to me, some twenty years ago, that Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance!” (this last said in a very fair imitation of the original commentator).

Lady Lushford acknowledged the observation with a slight nod. “Twenty years ago, Eliza, I was a Miss Lucas, you were a Miss Bennett, and we neither of us had the slightest understanding of the married state.” She straightened her skirt, thereby both ascertaining it was presentable and simultaneously hiding a certain confusion and her pinkening cheeks.

“Ah, she has the grace to blush!” her companion informed the circling butterflies, blithely.
“I should imagine most of our pronouncements were naïve in the extreme,” continued Lady Lushford, aplomb recovered. “I seem to recall you reproaching with – let me see: arrogance, conceit, oh, and selfish disdain – the very gentleman I behold over yonder consulting his watch, and who is, unless my sight is playing tricks on me, your charming husband, and my daughter’s future father-in-law? We are just coming, Fitzwilliam, ” she called out, to reassure the object of their discussion.

It was Elizabeth’s turn to colour up. She did so, fleetingly, before reaching out for her friend’s arm. “You are right, as so often, Charlotte. But enough of this reminiscing. The future is our concern at present. ” She drew the arm through her own. “Come, Lady Lushford: let us go and get our precious children married!”

“Indeed, let us, Mrs Darcy!” agreed her old friend happily, and arm in arm, they made their way back up to the house.

Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

Sara KnappMarch 06, 2023 10:13PM

Re: Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

Xena AnneJuly 01, 2023 05:24AM

Re: Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

LiseApril 17, 2023 11:16AM

Re: Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

Anita NApril 02, 2023 07:09AM

Re: Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

AlidaJanuary 03, 2024 10:22AM

Re: Story: "Of Fortune and Female Friendship"

BTroisiFebruary 12, 2024 11:35PM


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