Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2012-01-31
Mrs. Gardiner watched Devon Raddeley closely as he partnered Elizabeth in the lively steps of a country dance. In contrast to the amiable picture presented when he had taken to the floor earlier with Jane, Devon looked uncomfortable and Elizabeth seemed nervous. Mrs. Gardiner could not believe her eyes when it appeared that Elizabeth stumped on Raddeley's toe. Could her niece, usually an excellent dancer, have been that clumsy by accident?
The Gardiners' dinner party for his business associates had evolved into an accidental ball because of a tongue-in-cheek request from one of the wives. That lady had asked Elizabeth, who had just entertained the gathering with a decorous but rather somber composition, to play a reel. It was meant as a jest by the woman who smilingly added it had been an age since she and her husband had danced. She never expected the pianist to take her up on it, but Elizabeth mischievously complied. The poor husband rose stiffly with poor grace and took his wife onto the floor.
Other couples laughingly joined them for the impromptu merriment, and soon Devon walked to Jane. The two were quickly at ease and he seemed particularly eager to win her good graces. After the dance, they did not part immediately. As Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth watched from opposite sides of the room, they each had to stifle their gasps when the usually reserved Jane allowed him to whisper into her ear.
Mrs. Gardiner knew that Raddeley had been in mourning two years for his late wife and admired the devotion he showed. But, truthfully, she had never cared much for Fanny Raddeley, who she found emotional and none too bright. Although capable of moments of sweetness, Fanny was also very prone to being vain and thin-skinned. Had she lived, the Raddeleys' children would probably have become in time the only connection between husband and wife. Devon Raddeley would have in all likelihood outgrown the respectable but limited girl he fell in love with at first sight.
Mrs. Gardiner had seen it happen with other couples. Although she and her husband enjoyed a fulfilling partnership, she knew that their marriage was unusual in its strength. More than just continuing attraction-- and that was good -- their growth over time as individuals had also sparked each other. They had done well in selecting each other. She had seen many instances in which a husband sought his wife's society less with each year of marriage, withdrawing from the life of the home even if he went no greater distance than his study.
She also thought that, given the right woman, Devon Raddeley might be capable of being an excellent husband. She knew him to be intelligent, sensitive and more respectful of a woman's opinions than some men tended to be. Finding the right match for marriage could be a tricky business and even if one followed all the prevailing conventional wisdom, it could easily end in failure. Mrs. Gardiner believed in following one's heart and trusting one's own wisdom, no matter the general opinion. But she would never have said it in so many words because she understood it was a rather sentimental view of things. Still, she thought as she looked to Mr. Gardiner at her side, this private view had served her well in life.
Once Elizabeth had played a second tune suitable for dancing, one of the married ladies offered to take over the piano in order to give her a chance to dance. Elizabeth protested, but she was startled when Raddeley insisted that she dance with him. Both Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner looked toward Jane, busily chatting in the midst of a group of women. It seemed that she was not noticing Raddeley at the moment. Elizabeth frowned but let herself be led away.
With the first strains of music wafting through the air, Mr. Gardiner gallantly asked his wife to dance. She demurred in order watch Raddeley and Elizabeth. Her husband snorted as he followed the direction of her glance. "Match making, are you?" he teased.
She replied with a shake of her hand. "I don't think the young man wants my help. I know him to have a strong mind and he would probably resent any hints from me."
Others in the room may have missed it, but Mrs. Gardiner saw with a mixture of amusement and dismay the moment her second niece seemed to step with some purpose on her partner's toe as the two spun in a turn that brought them face to face again. Mrs. Gardiner, knowing Elizabeth, suspected the reason, if indeed the action was intentional.
Raddeley smiled but seemed to limp a bit after that. The couple soon left the floor before the close of the set. Elizabeth headed toward her aunt and uncle, followed by Raddeley, who trailed after her without being asked.
Mr. Gardiner teased Raddeley, who was younger by about a decade younger, "Knocked up so quickly? In my day, I could go longer on a dance floor."
"It is my fault," Elizabeth spoke up quickly. "I'm afraid I was not so graceful a partner as my lovely sister."
Raddeley, first at a loss for comment, said after a moment, "Your older sister is a beautiful woman. But you also dance well."
Elizabeth laughed gaily, not the least offended. "I am glad you give my sister her due--but her virtues extend beyond her beauty." Less lightly, she said, "I suppose that sisters sometimes compete with each other, and some men might even find an advantage in their rivalry. Flirt with one and then the other."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner listened with some alarm. Raddeley's raised eyebrows suggested he had quickly grasped Elizabeth's point. He said, "Such a man would hardly be worthy of either sister. But it takes a worthy woman to use any weapon at her disposal to protect her sister against such a danger--even stepping on a cad's toe."
Elizabeth blushed. "That was an accident. I assure you, I do not usually destroy my dance partner's toes." She added in an afterthought, "I certainly did not mean to suggest that you are a cad."
For a few moments the air was charged with tension as they awaited his reply. Then, he smiled and shrugged. "Such a slight weight as you present could hardly hurt my toe. It is no matter."
Glancing at her aunt and uncle to include them in the conversation, she said, "And, yet, I left you limping. I do apologize for hurting you. I did not intend it."
He admitted, "In truth, I had injured that particular foot a few days ago, and it hurt more than it normally would when you--ah, that is, when you lightly grazed it." He grinned, adding, "It'll teach me to move faster to keep up with the music."
Elizabeth found his smile hard to resist. Perhaps she had jumped too quickly to the conclusion that he was coldly flirting with both of them. She thought Raddeley's slightly off-kilter wit would be just the thing to make Jane forget the smoother amiability of Charles Bingley. Raddeley's direct way of speaking reminded Elizabeth of Fitzwilliam Darcy, but his manner was rougher and more outgoing. She liked Raddeley better, but, of course, liking him better than Darcy would not be hard. In a decision that was a greater compliment to Raddeley, she decided she liked him better than Bingley for her sister.
Raddeley declared cheekily, "Perhaps you should seek a few dancing lessons from your sister. She moves very well, just as you say, and probably would not have stepped on me even if I was slow." He added more hesitantly, "But, I am sure I will be fine by tomorrow, and I have hopes of calling for a walk in the park nearby? If that meets with your approval?"
"I will be happy to chaperone you and Jane," Elizabeth said. "That will be fine, will it not, Uncle?" Mr. Gardiner raised a quizzical brow and did not immediately reply.
Mrs. Gardiner bit her lip to keep from scolding her niece for not listening carefully to the young man. Raddeley, his head tilting thoughtfully to the side, said, "Your sister has already kindly offered to chaperone us, Miss Elizabeth. She and I talked about when we danced."
Elizabeth's mouth dropped opened. She glanced across the room to Jane, still standing with the same group of women but her attention was now on her sister. Jane smiled and nodded encouragingly as if she had heard Raddeley's request for Elizabeth's company. She could not have heard that far away but seemed to know what their conversation was about.
Hesitant now, Elizabeth replied, "Well, I suppose. If Jane says she finds no problem with it."
"It was her idea," Raddeley assured her.
Posted on 2012-02-06
A mass illness infected the neighborhood around Longbourn and forced Mr. Bennet to do something he would very much have rather not. He ordered Elizabeth and Jane to stay on longer in London to avoid sickness.
"Poor Papa." Elizabeth sighed as she finished his note. "He is the only one in the house not affected and it falls to him to do much of the nursing of the ill with his own hand. Can you imagine? Even Mr. and Mrs. Hill are ailing so they are not much help."
"I fear it must be very grave indeed? Do you think it is worst than he is saying?"
"Several people have died, but they were all either very young or very aged. The illness is much like a bad cold, and once it runs its course, the patients recover. But they are helpless while in its grip."
Jane was silent but Elizabeth knew what she was thinking. They should go home to help him, although he had told them to stay away. Perhaps he had even been hoping they would disobey. He explained that little cause for concern existed. Their mother and three younger sisters were all unpleasant patients but they should be fine once the illness ran its course. Clearly, it was Mr. Bennet who was suffering most.
Jane and Elizabeth wished they could be there with him, helping to ease the recovery of the ailing. Even if they themselves succumbed, they would undoubtedly come through it as unscathed as other young and able-bodied adults. If it had been Jane alone, she would have risked herself and similarly Elizabeth would have gone if it had been just her. But neither of the sisters was willing to endanger the health of the other. They both stayed in London.
Devon Raddeley had intended to pursue Elizabeth Bennet to Hertfordshire in order to further his relationship with her. While he did not wish the inhabitants of her neighborhood ill, her presence in town was all the better for him. The Gardiners were indulgent and allowed Jane to chaperone, although strictly speaking, she was hardly old enough or disinterested enough to provide a proper chaperone. She cheered Raddeley's interest and often told Elizabeth "what a fine man he seemed."
Elizabeth, listening more shrewdly than Jane was inclined to suspect, purposely demurred: "He is a man with three rambunctious children--I think that is hardly an inducement!"
"Oh, no, they're darling children!" Jane objected. Elizabeth harrumphed, again with a secret purpose. Jane went on innocently to describe the virtues of Robert, Charles and Juliet. The two older were miniature versions of their father. They were bright, talkative and fearless but essentially well-behaved. The youngest was a beauty in the making --"Probably the image of her mother. It's too bad Mr. Raddeley does not have any drawing or painting. Her father adores her and who can help it?"
"Juliet is brash, probably brasher than any little girl should be. You must see that. She is more of a handful than her brothers and for all that they are older, she leads them around," Elizabeth said.
Jane smiled and rolled her eyes merrily. "I must admit that I am partial to Juliet, too, perhaps because she reminds me of another little girl who was every bit that brash and quite the ringleader at her age, too." Elizabeth pretended not to know what she meant.
But even while encouraging her sister's interest, Jane also cautioned her sister against moving too quickly to think too well of a man she had just met. "It is very soon after your disappointment with Mr. Darcy. I would not want you to let your gratitude make you think you feel more than you do."
"Jane, are you suggesting I would accept Raddeley because I was insulted by Mr. Darcy? That would mean I am letting Mr. Darcy choose my husband. What a ninny you must take me for!"
"You are teasing, I know. I could never think such a thing of you." Her jesting tone softened, she added, "But you did not see your face when you told me what had happened with Mr. Darcy. Mr. Raddeley's admiration has to be a balm coming so soon after such an awful experience."
"I have already put Mr. Darcy almost completely out of mind. I am too busy being in love with Mr. Raddeley's dear children."
Jane frowned. "Are you now saying you love him for his children? That contradicts what you just said."
"I did not say I love him. I don't. But in truth I am fond of his lively children--as you are. It's good that neither of us mind they present the challenges that many children do. When a man is a widower with young children, thinking about whether you want to be their mother is as important as whether you want the man."
Jane's smooth brow furrowed delicately. She looked closely at her sister and asked, "But what are your feelings for Mr. Raddeley at this point? His intentions toward you seem clear."
Elizabeth described Devon in admiring terms. She concluded, "He listens closely to everything I say and I think he would do that with any woman of sense. He reads broadly and real learning is important to him, not the silly accomplishments to be had in a fancy London school." Elizabeth stopped herself with a sharp inhale of breath because she had been on the verge of mentioning Charles Bingley's sisters. It was one of those subjects she refrained from bringing up with Jane. But her sister looked conscious, as if she knew what it was Elizabeth avoided saying.
The two women momentarily looked away from each other. Elizabeth said, "I think Raddeley is a very good man for the right woman. I don't think I am that woman. I am happy he has pursued only friendship thus far. We have not flirted as lovers do."
"But he wants to marry you. I think that is clear. I know it is early but he certainly seems willing to show he is taken with you and I like him for that."
"Perhaps you should not like him for that. Perhaps you should forgive him."
"I do not take your meaning?"
"Perhaps I am not the woman he should be pursuing."
"But who could be better than you? Any man would be fortunate to have you at his side. But, Elizabeth, I must say--he deserves to be loved for more than his children."
"Jane, the way you plead his case--are you sure you do not have feelings for him yourself?"
"Do not try to change the subject, Lizzy. Mr. Raddeley wishes to pursue you. He said it to me that first evening when we danced."
"Yes, but if we could change his mind…?"
"Elizabeth! Mr. Raddeley is not some cipher to be directed at someone else's will--certainly not like some other young men we know."
That one word, cipher, falling suddenly and harshly from the lips of her gentle and ever patient sister, made Elizabeth wince. It was fresh evidence that Jane, for all her demurrals and placid expressions, was not happy. She had cherished a very tender affection for Bingley. Having never even fancied herself in love before, her regard had all the warmth of first attachment, and, from her age and disposition, greater steadiness than first attachments often boast. Elizabeth again wished she had never ripped the illusions from her sister. Blissful ignorance would have been better than bitter knowledge. Elizabeth wished she could replace what she had unwittingly taken.
"Jane, you could be everything that I am and more to Mr. Raddeley. If he thought for a moment he would see that and perhaps then, you and he …"
"I grant that Devon Raddeley is no fool of a William Collins. Raddeley is a man to be respected and admired. Would it be so wrong to help him see that perhaps he chose the wrong woman? Perhaps all he needs is some redirecting. It would be a kindness for his sake."
Jane was silent and disapproving, but Elizabeth continued anyway. "We can hardly hold it against him that he made a wrong choice. He does not act like the hero of a novel, violently in love and willing to do all for love. While it would make a pretty picture if he did, the men who live in the real world with you and me often make rational decisions. I think that is why Raddeley did not choose you first. It would have been more romantic had he done so but do not hold that against him."
Addressing Jane's doubtful look, Elizabeth explained, "He wants to marry a lady of some education, a gentleman's daughter. That could be you as well as me."
"Do you suggest that we pretend to be Mr. Darcy and tell Mr. Raddeley who to marry?"
"I can see that it was not just I who has been left with some bitterness by Mr. Darcy's behavior." Elizabeth went to her sister and took both her hands in her own. "I am sorry, Jane. I should never have told you."
"I prefer knowing the truth, and I thank you for telling me."
"Then listen to me, because I believe this is the truth of this situation: Sometimes men may be too taken with youth and beauty and only find out later it not the best basis on which to marry. What happens if a man's affection dies once a woman's beauty fades and all he can think of her is that she is an exceedingly silly woman?"
"Elizabeth, you should not say such things about our parents."
"I was not thinking of our parents. Aunt hinted this was the kind of marriage Raddeley had with his first wife. Fanny Raddeley was quite a beauty. She loved him in return and was a good sort of woman, but he now seems intent on marrying a woman who will be more helpful in aiding his rise in the world. Now that he has a second chance, perhaps he places less weight upon beauty and even avoids too beautiful a woman.
"Also, instead of a shopkeeper's daughter, he seeks a gentleman's daughter. That is not romantic but, I contend, admirably realistic, especially in light of his wanting to do the best he can for his children. He plans someday to buy an estate, ambitious as that sounds, and I think he is a man who can do it. If it is a rational marriage decision he wishes to make, you are a good choice. But he may have been frightened by your exceptional beauty and thought it would be easier to win the less attractive sister."
"You are not less attractive."
"You are the classic beauty, Jane dear," Elizabeth said. "We both know that. When he chose me, I doubt he was moved by any great emotion. Certainly, I have seen no symptom of it in the way he treats me. I am pretty, I know, but not like you."
Jane was flushing furiously and looked very uncomfortable. Elizabeth asked, "Please tell me honestly, do you like him? Do you not think that he is sensible and all that a young man should be?" Elizabeth faltered on the phrase, recalling too late for whom it had first been used.
"I do think that of Mr. Raddeley," Jane replied. "I liked him right away, but it will go no further than that. He wants you."
"He has made a little mistake. But if he courts you instead, then perhaps you two could fall in love--really in love, based on respect and admiration. That is the only love that counts, certainly not, I think, love at first sight. You are both fine people and if you give each other a chance, I think you could love each other. At least, let him court you so that you can find out, slowly as you wish, whether you can feel all you ought for him."
"Are you telling me this because you are still--is it Mr. Wickham? Is that why you will not open your heart to Mr. Raddeley?"
For a moment, Elizabeth was at a loss. She had not thought of Mr. Wickham in days. The last time she had thought of him in London was when she had disclosed to Jane the shocking proposal of Mr. Darcy.
"There--it is Mr. Wickham, is it not?" Jane asked with a note of triumph at having figured out--she thought--her sister's behavior. "Elizabeth, in the same way you suggest Mr. Raddeley and I might fall in love if given the chance, you and Mr. Raddeley could do the same! But you have a better chance than I because he wants you. I agree that love is a matter of respect and admiration. One should avoid giving too much credit to the semblance of affability and goodness. Give Mr. Raddeley the chance to win you! I must say, although I feel sorry for the way Mr. Wickham was treated by Mr. Darcy, that I think Mr. Raddeley would be the better man for you."
"I must disagree. I think he is the better man for you."
Who knows what Jane might have said next, pushed as she was to an unusual level of aggravation by her sister? Who knows how Elizabeth might have responded, so certain she was that she was right? But on one of those rare occasions when it might truthfully have been said Lady Catherine provided a fortunate interruption, she arrived at the Gardiners' door. An out-of-breath maid, struggling to maintain a little decorum, came into the girls' bedroom to announce the grande dame. In their surprize, Elizabeth and Jane forgot their discussion. The latter felt she almost knew Lady Catherine as well as if she had already met her, given Elizabeth's aptly amusing and detailed descriptions. (Of course, Jane did not know everything.) The sisters went downstairs immediately.
Posted on 2012-02-13
Lady Catherine seated herself in the most prominent position in Mrs. Gardiner's parlor to await Elizabeth's arrival. The grande dame would have been inclined to stand impatiently and pace. But she saw the value in paying a compliment to Elizabeth and her connections. So, she sat politely. Concessions must be made, after all, to a young woman whom she hoped would help her accomplish her most desired goal.
Mrs. Gardiner noted the lady's overbearing manner but also saw that the lady was trying to show condescension in a kindly way. Forbearing to take offense, the merchant's wife felt sympathy for the noblewoman dressed in mourning.
Elizabeth had spoken of how affected Lady Catherine had been by the sudden loss of her only child. "The poor girl was sick all her life but still so young--no one expected she would die then. I think it was assumed she would die young--but still, it was a shock. Lady Catherine is probably difficult in the best of circumstances, but her daughter's death has probably made her do things she would not do otherwise. And yet, given the provocation, it is hard to blame her." Mrs. Gardiner had asked Elizabeth what she meant by "things Lady Catherine had done," but Elizabeth demurred from specifics. She said only that the "woman was more insistent than ever on having her own way about everything."
That conversation ran through Mrs. Gardiner's mind as she sat now with the grande dame. Mrs. Gardiner did not hesitate to give Lady Catherine entree when she turned up at the door, asking to speak with Elizabeth Bennet. The necessary interaction between the Lady Catherine and Mrs. Gardiner strained them both and it would be hard to say which was more relieved to see Jane and Elizabeth join them.
Elizabeth's voice squeaked slightly as she presented her aunt and sister to the grande dame. The others all saw Elizabeth's unusual discomposure but none could guess why; it was assumed that the abrupt appearance of Lady Catherine was reason enough. But the truth was, Elizabeth wished to avoid unfortunate scenes or disclosures in front of her relatives.
Not wanting to stir their suspicions by blatantly asking to be alone with Lady Catherine, Elizabeth hinted at how lovely a day it was. She looked directly at the dowager. "What a fine day to take a turn outside."
The hint went over Lady Catherine's head. "Elizabeth, I hope you have thought about my offer? It has been nearly three weeks now. Perhaps you are now ready to say yes?"
While Mrs. Gardiner and Jane were too polite question their guest's meaning, they did eagerly await clarification. But Elizabeth avoided their eyes and replied, "My apologies, Lady Catherine. I have been occupied with my family since I came to town and have had little time to think of much else. Let me again offer my gratitude for your notice when I visited in Kent. What now brings you to London--perhaps you are looking into the welfare of your daughter's former companion?"
Lady Catherine looked confused at Elizabeth's statement. Its reference to Anne's former companion happened to be a particular sore point. "Oh, do not mention that woman. What a disappointment Mrs. Jenkinson has been to Mrs. Rand-Hayes--most distressing. But that is not what I have come to see you about, of course."
"You did not mention when we parted at Rosings that you had any plans to travel. But I suppose you usually come to London during the Season? But this year, given other events, I would not have expected --"
"I had no plans to come to town but then I learned you were still here. I usually do come for a part of the Season--"
While the lady rattled on about staying with her brother, the Earl of Moredon, and his family, Elizabeth cast about for some way to distract her from bringing up the offer to make Elizabeth her heir. Elizabeth had shared this with neither Jane nor her aunt and nor wished to. It might lead to other disclosures she preferred not to discuss. She had told only Jane and not her aunt about Darcy's infamous proposal.
In something of a non sequitur and with the purpose of distracting the lady from more personal topics, Elizabeth said suddenly, "I am sorry to hear that Mrs. Jenkinson is not happy."
That she was slightly jarred by Elizabeth's interruption showed in a flash of irritation across the lady's face. She said, "Well, it's hardly Mrs. Jenkinson's happiness that is the issue. She has every reason to be happy with the excellent position I found her as a companion to the mother-in-law of Mrs. Rand-Hayes."
"But you said she had been a disappointment?" Elizabeth.
"Well, yes. I called on my friend Mrs. Rand-Hayes also as soon as I arrived in town. Next to seeing you, it was a main thing I wanted to do. She was very unhappy."
"No, Mrs. Rand-Hayes. What is this obsession you have with Mrs. Jenkinson, Elizabeth? I can only hope she improves her performance her new position. Fortunately, I was able to change Mrs. Rand-Hayes's mind about letting her go."
Mrs. Gardiner listened to this with displeasure. Mrs. Jenkinson had called at the Gardiner home twice since the introduction by Elizabeth, and Mrs. Gardiner's sympathies were with the elderly companion. Elizabeth, seeing her aunt's face, anticipated she might offer some word in support of Mrs. Jenkinson. Elizabeth and her sister and aunt had heard from Mrs. Jenkinson that the elderly woman who was now her charge was approaching senility if not already senile. Mrs. Jenkinson had not actually complained and described her lot with acceptance as her only option. But it was obvious that watching over such an individual for a family who wished to be as little bothered as possible was not pleasant.
Thinking it would be unwise to share any of this with Lady Catherine, Elizabeth said instead, "Yes, I can see why you would be upset. You know I had not thought of it before but perhaps I have a solution for you."
"Oh, it is not necessary for you to concern yourself. It is not what I came to see to you about, of course, and we need not waste more time on it."
For Lady Catherine, thinking about Mrs. Jenkinson brought up painful memories of her daughter, and especially her daughter's illness. She had thought Mrs. Jenkinson's skill in shielding Anne's illness would have made her perfect for this new situation and she thought it was a good place for the companion. The elderly woman who was Mrs. Jenkinson's charge displayed, among other things, an unfortunate tendency to relieve herself in front of others. Mrs. Jenkinson, despite her success in making Anne presentable in company, was totally ineffective in making her new elderly charge behave well. Consequently, it was now deemed safer to shut the aged lady away most of the time alone with the companion.
"It is a shame Mrs. Jenkinson has done so poorly in the position," Elizabeth commented. Lady Catherine nodded and seemed about to speak, but Elizabeth spoke again quickly. "And, yet, I know you must always feel grateful to her for service to Miss de Bourgh?"
Lady Catherine admitted with a sad sigh that was so. Elizabeth asked, "Have you considered inviting her back to Rosings? Perhaps you yourself might be in need of companionship and who better than Mrs. Jenkinson?"
Lady Catherine's eyes lit up. "I am glad you bring up the subject of a companion for me. But surely you can see Mrs. Jenkinson would be useless in the capacity. Do you not see how it would be perfect, my dear, while we wait for the marriage, and even after it, I could come to Pemberley--"
Elizabeth exhaled sharply in surprise, making a sound that sounded like strangled cough. Mrs. Gardiner was at her side in moment patting her on the back. After she assured everyone she was well, Mrs. Gardiner returned to her seat.
Catching her breath, Elizabeth said, "Where were we? Oh, yes. Milady, I can understand your reasoning. However, I still would hope something could be done for Mrs. Jenkinson--and your friend at the same time, madam. It would seem the situation is unhappy for both of them. Would I be too bold to suggest that while you await other companionship , you could bring Mrs. Jenkinson back to Rosings?"
Elizabeth's relatives felt lost in the conversation. They also waited with trepidation given all they had been told of Lady Catherine that she would react angrily to Elizabeth's rather familiar tone. It seemed to them Elizabeth was unaccountably pursuing a point the lady had already rejected.
But instead of reacting with anger, the grande dame looked discouraged. "I believe I have done all I need to do for Mrs. Jenkinson. I have found her an excellent position, and I expect her to live up to her obligations. She is not the companion I would want, Elizabeth. I see no reason to invite her back to Rosings. For myself, I hope to find--"
"Of course," Elizabeth responded immediately.
The fire in her eyes told her relatives that she was not pleased, but Lady Catherine saw only the sweetness of her expression as Elizabeth made an effort to compose herself. She had previously told the lady again that she would never marry Darcy or be the kind of wife Lady Catherine hoped, and she would have to repeat that message now. But she recognized the value of holding her tongue in the interest of freeing Mrs. Jenkinson.
Looking at Lady Catherine, Elizabeth mentally noted the strong physical resemblance between her and her nephew. They both were large, handsome and of haughty mien, and Elizabeth resentfully thought they were also so alike in their assumptions that inferiors should appreciate their largesse. It would never occur to either that such inferiors might see certain acts as insulting and certain attitudes as demeaning. There had to be a way to work on such people.
"Suppose another position could be found for Mrs. Jenkinson? Obviously, she is not suited for the excellent place you found her. Actually, I have something in mind."
Surprised sounds of inquiry--"Oh?" "Ah?" escaped involuntarily from Mrs. Gardiner and Jane, who also looked at each other in dismay, expecting Lady Catherine to react with a show of displeasure.
"Indeed, my aunt and sister and I are acquainted with a young widower with three young children. He needs a governess and while this would be a position of less prestige for Mrs. Jenkinson, it is perhaps all she deserves. It would be difficult--after all, children that age--they are all under nine years--can be such struggle. And the family is hardly prominent. But it would be good for Mrs. Rand-Hayes and allow her to dispense with Mrs. Jenkinson. In that light, do you not think it is a good idea?"
Lady Catherine hesitated. "I take it this man is trade? The Rand-Hayes family is--" the lady cleared her throat--"excellently connected. I believe Mrs. Jenkinson has had little experience with people in trade." She frowned before continuing, "Perhaps she should have more time to prove herself to the Rand-Hayes. I do not wish to be unkind to her."
"Of course. You did well by her to find her such a good position."
Jane and Mrs. Gardiner gave up all effort now to hide their expressions of surprise. Elizabeth had described Lady Catherine as fearsome. Fortunately, Lady Catherine was not noticing either Jane or Mrs. Gardiner. She reacted meekly, asking, "You think this is a good idea, my dear?"
"Very much so. While the work would be hard, it is better than leaving her in a position where she does you no credit. I heartily recommend this and hope to see you respect my judgment."
"I do, but--why does this would matter to you? Mrs. Jenkinson will probably learn to be better in the position at the Rand-Hayes."
"But, you said she has not shown herself deserving of your recommendation. I am thinking of you, of course. And, I would feel happier knowing that you trust my judgment as I consider other decisions."
The dangled not-quite-promise served its purpose. Lady Catherine narrowed her eyes slightly in consideration. "Other decisions? Very well, then, yes, Elizabeth, I will take your counsel on this. I hope that my trusting you on this will encourage you to trust me on more important matters. Who is this family?"
Mrs. Gardiner spoke up. "Raddeley--Mr. Devon Raddeley. He came from Yorkshire and has been in business with my husband for ten years. He has done well in London. His three children are really quite lovely and well-behaved. The oldest is nine, the others seven and five. I must say, I agree with my niece that this is an excellent idea."
Lady Catherine said reflectively, "As I recall, my Anne was about nine when Mrs. Jenkinson came to Rosings. Perhaps ten. We had such hopes." In a brisker voice, she said, "Elizabeth, if you think it wise then, speak to this Mr. Raddeley. Or, perhaps Mrs. Gardiner--" Lady Catherine redirected her glance--"probably you know him better than your niece?"
Elizabeth sprang up. "That is the better idea. Perhaps I might now walk you out to your carriage?" Her question, perilously close being rude, made them all blink. Lady Catherine had barely spent fifteen minutes for the visit. It was obvious she had not had the chance yet to address the reason she came to see Elizabeth. Mrs. Jenkinson was a tangential concern at best.
After a moment of surprise at what could be seen as dismissal, the grande dame rose. Jane and Mrs. Gardiner knew without being told that Elizabeth did not wish them to join her as she went with Lady Catherine.
After watching Lady Catherine's carriage leave, Elizabeth re-entered the Gardiner home. She was not surprised to find both her aunt and sister waiting for her, their faces filled with questions.
Her aunt said, "How surprising to be visited by Lady Catherine. It was very civil of her given that you are barely more than indifferent acquaintances."
Only one side of Elizabeth's mouth turned upward. "My dear aunt, am I wrong to think that you are not being completely serious?"
"It does seem to me that Lady Catherine was friendlier than--"
"Than you might have believed based on what I told you about her?"
"Well, yes. I do not mean to suggest that you were untruthful but Lady Catherine seems to think of you as friend, someone whose advice she takes. You did not tell us the two of you are so close."
Elizabeth sighed and followed her aunt and sister back into the parlor. She noticed that Jane although silent seemed troubled, too.
"I agree, Lady Catherine does seem to believe she and I are closer than I do," Elizabeth explained once they were all seated.
"And how did she arrive at the point of believing that? It's rather extraordinary."
"Not really," Elizabeth said with a shake of her head. "The tendency to assume a sense of obligation for regard that was never requested is a characteristic of the family, judging by the aunt and nephew--actually, both nephews."
"Lady Catherine fancies herself close to me and assumes I will put myself into her service. Telling her I will not has proven futile. She believes I will be persuaded. In such a situation, what is the point of argument? Eventually, she will have to see that I will not do as she wishes."
"Elizabeth, that sounds cruel."
"I assure you, Aunt, I have said clearly to Lady Catherine I will not perform the service she requested and she insists on not believing me. She believes eventually she will carry her point."
"But in the meantime you take advantage of her regard to have your own way?"
"Aunt, I saw a way to help Mrs. Jenkinson and I took it. Can that be so wrong?"
Jane cleared her throat delicately. "You seemed quite certain that you would be able to persuade Mr. Raddeley to be part of your plan." Her gentle statement could hardly have been called accusatory, but Elizabeth felt rebuked. She bowed her head.
Jane added, still in that mild way of hers, "I suppose Lady Catherine is not the only person who fails to see what is best for her and has to be told. It is good for her and others who may not know their own minds that they have you to guide them, to tell them what to believe."
Mrs. Gardiner frowned at seemed unaccustomed harshness from Jane, but she was silent as Elizabeth raised her head and looked at her sister. "To oblige you, I would try to believe almost any thing. You are the last person in the world to whom I would want to give pain."
"Then allow me to liberty to believe I will be fine, without your offering me to Mr. Raddeley in the same way you offer Mrs. Jenkinson--"
"Oh, Jane, it is not the same thing. How can you say that?"
Mrs. Gardiner interrupted, "I don't understand--offer Jane to Mr. Raddeley? For what purpose? Surely, Jane does not wish to be his governess?"
With a wry smile and more ease than she perhaps felt, Jane explained, "Elizabeth has taken it into her head that I would be a better wife for Mr. Raddeley than she. That may be inconvenient if the gentleman has different ideas and I believe he does. While offering him Mrs. Jenkinson may benefit them both if they both agree, I do not wish to be pressed upon Mr. Raddeley. Persuasive as you may be, my dear sister, the man has a right to know what he wants."To Be Continued . . .