[W.I.P. - Regency]
Mrs Bennet had known no happier times at Longbourn. Four out of her five daughters were on the brink of marriage and all in the amazingly short period of a summer season. To her immense pleasure, such an unusual, fortunate strike was not to pass unnoticed by the neighbours, since eligible bachelors were quite scarce in Meryton, and the poor mamas of unmarried girls usually had to go to extremes in order to alter that sad description of their plain female off-spring. Mrs Bennet prided herself as being most fortunate on that score, since none of her young girls could be considered unworthy of a man's notice, hence the landslide of suitors with the arrival of an army in town.
The first daughter to deserve one such suitor was the youngest of them (and also the stoutest), Miss Lydia, only fifteen years of age. The occasion made her mother exceedingly proud, even when the handsome officer ---by the name of Mr Denny--- had courted her without seeking proper permission from her parents. The whole secret courtship, I am sad to say, received no proper serious guidance which, predictably, brought up a not less sad outcome in the form of a seduction. Quite expected from young Miss Lydia, I daresay, since the maiden combined utter thoughtlessness with a sharp tongue and a forwardness of character as to defy all propriety. Add to all that the temptation which was afforded by the considerably low-cut dresses worn at all hours by this astonishingly grown up yet strikingly beautiful girl, and we have quite a volatile formula to drive any young officer absolutely mad.
Unorthodox method notwithstanding, Miss Lydia got engaged. Next in line came Catherine who, with the feeble excuse to chaperone the new couple, threw herself into a similar path, flirting and what-not with another penniless young officer, as to force poor Mr Bennet to arrange a quick understanding ---for which he had to seek economic help from Mr Gardiner. With brotherly help, however, Mr Bennet managed to persuade the two scoundrels to marry Mr Bennet's youngest daughters.
To Mrs Bennet's delight and the girls' felicity, all was resolved in a matter of days. Of the scandalous patched-up techniques, Mrs Bennet remained conveniently ignorant. She was too happy to mind the means by which her two youngest finally got hinged. The only thing that mattered was that her two youngest were engaged to be married to very handsome redcoats (her favourite kind), and with quite acceptable dowries. End of story. Mrs Bennet merrily disposed herself to plan the weddings, and in order to show her alacrity to all who would be willing to join her in her joy, she ordered punch for the servants and sent cards to all her friends and relatives to allow them to participate in the celebration of the occasion.
Hardly had the two youngest been settled, when another Bennet girl was sought in marriage. The happy event took place after a Mr Collins, Mr Bennet's cousin, announced his visit with the agreeable purpose of selecting a wife from the remaining uncompromised daughters. The nature of Mr Bennet's necessity to come to a marriage agreement with this personage is universally acknowledged. The gentleman was Mr Bennet's sole heir.
What followed was a thorough inspection of the young bachelorettes. With the two youngest already settled, Mr Collins had to choose between Jane (the fairest), Lizzie (the smartest), and Mary (the plainest).
To Mr Bennet's surprise he chose Mary. Of course, Mrs Bennet knew perfectly well Mary's beau had previously sought both her senior daughters first, and chose Miss Mary only when he had been rejected by both beauties. But Mr Collins did not seem to take the elder daughters' rejections to heart. It seemed Mr Collins persuaded himself that he could love no other than Mary just as quickly as he changed his coat. True, Miss Bennet was too charmingly beautiful in his estimation and Miss Elizabeth too outspoken to meet his expectations. Mary on the other hand, soon proved herself quite agreeable. She all but worshipped the land her fiancé trod upon.
Just when Mrs Bennet had decided that things could not go better, Mr Bingley stepped into this bridal scenario. He was young, handsome, amiable and, above all, rich. He was also extremely romantic and a great admirer of beautiful women. The minute he saw Miss Bennet, he fell in love with her and despite great opposition from both Mr Darcy, his good friend, and his family, he made up his mind to marry her.
Little by little, Mr Bennet's house became an abandoned nest. The first pigeon to fly away was Mary. Her fiancé returned to Longbourn with scarce fifteen days to marry her and be back at his post at the parsonage of Hunsford. The second and third, of course, were Lydia and Catherine, whose weddings were celebrated only a day ere the unexpected departure of Colonel Foster's army to Brighton. And finally, Jane, in a cosy wedding, was given away to a loving and extremely handsome husband.
The succession of weddings was over and the brides were all gone. Mrs Bennet, with no bridal prospects for Lizzie, and her usual hunger for eligible gentlemen momentarily satisfied, composed herself to sleep and repose more than her usual portion, while Mr Bennet, freed from the mad surroundings which his house usually afforded, was now left to spend his time at leisure without the annoying interference of his former large family.
But what would bring peace and tranquillity for some would be the source of vexation for others. A strange sort of nostalgia came over Miss Elizabeth; a gentle, silent sorrow she knew not to have suffered before. It was mainly the loss of her dear Jane's company, and not the prospect of an unhappy life in solitude, which brought about this grief to her heart. Her only consolation was that the event had every promise of happiness for Jane. Mr Bingley was a man of an excellent character, great fortune and pleasant manners, not to mention outstanding looks. Yet none of these could charm away Lizzie's wretchedness which the want of her beloved sister brought about. Jane's absence was felt every hour of every day. Neither her mother, nor her father could do for the agreeable company of Jane. Had it not been for her natural inclination to reading serious books, Elizabeth would have been in great danger of suffering from irremediable solitude.
With such superior appreciation for studying, Elizabeth had grown into an unseemly intelligent young lady; much more intelligent than any gentleman in the area (these young fellows were more inclined to shooting and cards than library's silence). Naturally, she became outstandingly well-informed and opinionated as well. Her father could not be prouder of her. Yet what would be a clear asset for her progenitor, it was a disadvantage in her mama's eyes.
According to Mrs Bennet's book of the perfect daughter, Lizzie's rather manly talents played against her because they could not recommend her with any prospective husband. And she was absolutely certain. You see, gentlemen in those days seemed to like their women stupid and quiet, not witty and outspoken. It was of no use for her to attend every single ball that was held in the area. No gentleman ever felt inclined to court Lizzie. They danced with her, talked with her, even laughed at her witty remarks. However, her intelligence froze every tender feeling her beauty would have awoken in those empty-headed young bachelors.
With such universal prejudices against her, Elizabeth earned her father's unreserved favour. Whatever her mother, or anyone for that matter, would say conducive to enter Elizabeth in the lines of the marriageable girls, Mr Bennet would oppose with a simple protest from Elizabeth. Accordingly, she grew into scorning her mother's point of view and having her own way in everything, ever pampered by her over-protective father.
"When will it be your time to fall in love, my dear?" asked her father as he leant against the doorframe of Jane's bachelorette room.
"You want to rid yourself of me already?" Elizabeth retorted playfully.
"My dear child, you know very well it is the last thing I should wish to do."
"Well, then, you need not be under any alarm. I will take care of myself and shall never fall in love, if I can prevent it."
"Never!" he chuckled. "That is too long a time to go about this house with two old people. Now seriously. When will be your time, my dear?"
Lizzie smiled. "Love is not for me, papa," she answered with a melancholy smile.
"Why not? Are you not romantic?"
"I am. But I pride myself not to be blindly romantic," she said with a measure of mirth in her voice. She began to pick Jane's things from a shelf and to put them carelessly away into a bag. "Such romantic views are for idle people who take delight in day dreaming. I would rather read the history of Ancient England a thousand times before turning the first leaf of Ivanhoe." Mr Bennet waggled his brows. "Really, Papa. Romanticism is not for me, (reading the back of a book that was on Jane's shelf) but for the irremediably thoughtless people who still believe in prince charmings and happily-ever-afters."
"Upon my word! That sounded very much like scorn!" Mr Bennet picked up the book that Elizabeth had abandoned amidst a number of random articles belonging to her sister. "Is it that you consider Jane's husband irremediably thoughtless?"
"I have not said such a thing!" she protested vehemently. That was not my meaning in the least. You know perfectly well I adore Charles. He is everything a young woman deserves."
"Well, what do you think..." he said showing her Jane's book. "Charles used to sit at Jane's elbow reading love poems aloud almost every day."
"Scott and Byron...I know," she assented.
"With very good results, I should say. I daresay poetry did help them to get closer, do you not agree?"
"It is because they truly love each other. Only a healthy, stout love can be nurtured by poetry. I sincerely doubt Charles will ever pick a poetry piece again in his entire life!" she laughed.
"You surprise me, my love. I thought you had a taste for poetry."
"Humph. I wonder what it is that you spend your time reading in the library."
"Oh, my reading material comes from all sorts, Papa. I certainly include poetry. William Blake, for example."
"No William Shakespeare?"
Lizzie giggled. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It's the east and Juliet is the sun! Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon!" Laughing out loud she flopped herself on Jane's bed.
"That is no sonnet," Mr Bennet retorted with scholarly airs, still eyeing her from his spot by the door.
"Same nonsense. It would never touch my heart. Waxing poetical! Not such a thing could awake in me anything but derision. Anyway, what is the use of such waste of words in me? They were thought for angelic women; obedient, submissive and naÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â²ve women who are destined to be loved and cherished by men who fall helplessly on their knees at their altar of beauty."
"Is that what you think?" Mr Bennet shook his head. "I fear resentment for your sisters might be blinding your thinking, my love."
"Resentment? Nay, Papa. You are mistaken. I could never I resent my sisters."
"You could not?"
"I do not. I am very happy for all of them, Jane in particular. I pray every day to God that all my sisters have happy lives beside their husbands. But I own I do not think a married life is for me. I am not the kind of woman who could inspire that kind of love in an honest man. Who would want a wife like myself?"
"Like yourself? I am sorry, I do not understand. What is wrong with you?"
"Nothing. It is just that I am not the kind of woman who inspires romantic affection. Why! What man in his wits would ever write a sonnet for a rebellious and bossy woman like myself when there are angels like Jane walking the earth?"
"Come here, you, you," laughed his father and went over to her and sitting by her side, hugged her in a fatherly embrace. "I am very proud of you, my girl. I know you are no Jane, and that your head is full of very different things from what lies in your sister's. You know? I am very happy that you are not ready to marry the first fool that knocks at the door."
"Jane did not marry a fool," Elizabeth said with a little pout.
"Is that what you are waiting for? A Charles of your own?"
Lizzie smiled weakly. "Come, come, my child. You will soon find a young man that will make you just as happy, you'll see."
To see his favourite child so wretchedly sad over love broke Mr Bennet's heart. He cherished that girl like no one else. He had no idea that she would be suffering for the lack of manly affection and made up his mind to charm away her sadness. But what could a father do to restore happiness to a daughter's heart? He could not find a husband for Lizzie, could he? That was a mother's job. Yet, knowing Mrs Bennet, he was certain she would not be able to understand Lizzie's real needs. No, he would have to intervene if he wished Lizzie's humour to be restored. But what to do?
As he sat alone at his desk, he meditated on Lizzie's words. So she thought romanticism would not do?
There is nothing more invigorating for a young lady than to be crossed in love from time to time. I think it is time Elizabeth experiences it, he thought to himself. But who would fall in love with his precious child? And more importantly...who would she fall for? Unless... Perhapsthat was the clue to finding a convenient solution.
At first the idea struck him as impossible. But later, he began to toy with the possibility, and he finally made up his mind to carry it through. He would send her a sonnet, a love sonnet in the form of a letter and would sign up as a secret admirer. In that way Lizzie's spirits would certainly rise, and at the same time, Mr Bennet would prove to his daughter that sonnets do light the spark of affection in a tender woman's heart, which Lizzie must possess. Yes, that was the best idea he could have ever thought of. A secret admirer...so secret that no one would ever know who he was.
Without further ceremony, he put himself to the task of finding an appropriate sonnet to send his daughter, the most romantic piece that had ever been written...but where to find it?
On his first visit to Hertfordshire Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Charles Bingley's best friend had found the society somewhat savage, the society of Miss Elizabeth Bennet in particular. Thus at Mr. Bingley's insistence that he should dance with her, Mr. Darcy answered with a rude remark about Elizabeth's beauty, which instantly gained the lady's unreserved scorn. Outspoken as she was, she had no scruples to call him vain and proud at his face amidst other abusive language. Mr. Darcy, whose pride could have never allowed him to admit his gross impoliteness, found her rudeness impossible to forgo and instantly made up his mind to avoid the impertinent girl forever.
However, as Mr. Bingley's reluctance to part from the eldest Miss Bennet inevitably prolongued Mr Darcy's stay, so did his acquaintance with the unworthy Miss Bennet, who along with her sister, were favourite guests with Louisa and Caroline Bingley. The more Mr. Darcy got to know Miss Elizabeth, the more he despised her. On the other hand, Miss Jane Bennet was undoubtly the most beautiful girl in the area, and despite the failure of connections and money, she could not be considered unworthy of his friend's attention.
Beauty nonwithstanding, the complete lack of propriety in Miss Bennet's family rendered a prospective alliance with her decidedly reprehensible even for Mr Bingley. When Mr Darcy saw that Mr Bingley had serious intentions towards her, he immediatley let his sentiments on the subject known. But alas! Mr Bingley acted quite out of character and did not hear his well-intentioned counsil. Indeed, Mr Bingley's affection for Miss Bennet was very strong. Mr Darcy found it impossible to persuade him against marrying the lady. Every try proved obsolete. At length, Mr. Darcy made up his mind to leave Hertfordshire and because of his efforts to separate the couple, the whole party quit Netherfield before Saint Nicholas. However, Mr. Bingley's sisters and Charles Bingley were soon back in Hertfordshire for Mr. Bingley's engagement and ensuing wedding.
Thereafter, Mr. Darcy almost quit Mr. Bingley's acquaintance entirely. He heard of him often enough through the correspondence which his sister kept with Caroline Bingley, yet it was through another unsuspected source that he learnt of Mr. Bingley's impending moving to his neighbourhood.
"Have you heard?" said Colonel Fitzwilliam to Mr. Darcy as this latter unfolded a large issue of a popular newspaper thus hiding his face behind it. "Chatsworth Park is sold at last."
Mr. Darcy did hear but he was not caught by the topic.
"Do you not wish to know who has bought it?" asked the colonel with a tint of insistence in his voice. He was a determined gossip.
Mr. Darcy knew by experience that regardless of his desire, the colonel would tell him the details of the purchase these absolute strangers had made. Without bothering to lower his newspaper he answered with a sigh. "You wish to tell me, and I have no objections to hear it."
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled. " 'Tis a young man of your acquaintance," he said. "A young man who has earned your esteem and confidence in the past but has lost your good opinion ever since he made an unfortunate connection."
"Bingley?" asked Mr. Darcy with a high pitch tone.
"The very one."
"As you hear."
Mr. Darcy was momentarily caught up by a sentiment of joy. "Well, I will be blown! I say that is just the house I would have picked had I counseled him to buy one. How did you hear of it?"
"From the man himself. I saw him this morning. He was but five miles from Pemberley. And very well escorted too. Mrs. Bingley is a delightful creature."
"Where did you see them?"
"By the smithy. Bingley was acquainting his wife with the neighborhood."
"And is it certain? Has he made the purchase already?"
"He had just signed the papers with the attorney. I expect he will have taken possession by noon."
"Well, I am glad for him," Mr. Darcy said with the definite tone he used when he wanted to end a conversation and he resumed his reading without adding a word to it.
"Are you not going to congratulate them?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked with perplexity written on his face.
"I am. When I get to see them at church."
"So you do not intend to call on your old friend?"
"I do not."
"For God's sake Darcy. What did the poor fellow do to you?"
"Well, if you ask me, he made the wrong alliances."
"Darcy, you are the most fastidious person I know. What does it matter who he has married? Does he not remain the same delightful fellow?
"Yes. Very much. And so remain his exceedingly eccentric in-laws."
"Well, I think you must at least endeavour to forgo the family's eccentricities and concentrate on your friend's many assets. After all, eccentricity abounds in our family as well."
"I could very well tolerate eccentricity. What I cannot tolerate is his mercenary mother-in-law's whimsicalities, not to mention her shrieks."
"You feel threatened by a matron?"
(losing his patience)"And the father! Just before Bingley married his eldest daughter, he arranged patched-up marriages for the two youngest, two of the most determined flirts of my knowledge. They were speedily married to two common soldiers from the militia. Another daughter is married to my aunt's parson, no less, an inveterate ass, if the ass pardons me. But that will not be the end of it. They have relatives in Cheapside, for God's sake!"
"Cheapside? Where is that?"
"Precisely. Fitzwilliam, do you seriously expect me to rejoice in his connections? To congratulate myself in a friend whose new alliances has rendered him so decidedly beneath my own?"
(Completely losing his patience now) "Have you any idea of what I am talking? No, of course you have not."
Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head. "You are mistaken, Darcy. I perfectly comprehend your feelings. But, I assure you that not all is lost. I am certain that now Bingley intends to renew his old connections. That is why he has moved so far away from Hertfordshire and from his unworthy relatives."
"Come on. I am sure his undesirable family will not follow him to Derbyshire. You must see what he has in mind. After all he has not procured the nearest house to Pemberley for nothing. You must offer him an olive branch."
"I am not sure Fitzwilliam. Bingley is a very soft-hearted sort of person. I fear his house will be flooded by all his sisters in-law the instant he moves in."
"All his sisters-in-law?"
"All married, but one."
"Ah, is she a beauty like Mrs. Bingley?"
"Miss Bennet? I would sooner call her mother a wit."
"Darcy, that is unkind!"
"Believe me. From the beginning, her manners convinced me she was the most unsuitable lady of my acquaintance."
"You wanted to marry her?"
"No, for God's sake! Are you out of your wits? Miss Bennet is the most intolerable young woman I have ever met."
"But you have not answered my question. Is she a beauty like her sister?"
"I never saw any beauty in her face. Her features are not at all handsome. Her complexion has no brilliancy. Her teeth are tolerable, I suppose, but nothing out of the common way. Her eyes, perhaps, could be considered fine. But in her air there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which I find intolerable."
Fitzwilliam chuckled. "You took quite a look, however."
"You know me. I have always had a critical eye."
"Critical, huh? You sounded like a wounded lover. Tell, Darcy. What did this lady do to deserve your censure?"
From under his breath he said, "Prepare yourself for something shameful. (pause) She called me conceited arrogant to my face."
"She did what?"
"She called me..."
"I heard you. But, is it certain? Did you hear her actual words?"
"Indeed. She called me conceited, arrogant, selfish and disdainful of the feelings of others. All in front of a whole assembly."
"My, my. I see now she knows you quite well." Darcy sent him a murderous look. "Come on. Such a speech can only be in retaliation. What had you done to her? No, no, no. Let me guess. You refused to dance with her in front of all the assembly."
Darcy raised one haughty eyebrow. "Precisely."
Fitzwilliam laughed out loud. "Darcy! When will you learn your manners? At this pace you will never marry."
"My dear Fitzwilliam. Marriage has never been on my mind."
To be continued
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