Beginning , Section II
Chapter 6 ~ continued
“Yes, I must – you’ll be married soon and I do not want to intrude. Besides which, I must prepare for my own nuptials.”
“But you must stay with us. I am sure Anne would agree with me. Although we are not brothers, nor will ever be so, I have always considered you in that light.”
“You’re not still in love with Miss Kitty Bennet are you?” Patrick asked with some concern.
“No, I soon saw that was pointless. Anne has many fine qualities.”
Patrick laughed. “The chief among them that she really is devoted to you?”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You’re going to be a law clerk?”
“Yes. I must make my living in some way.”
“But why content yourself with that? You know I would assist you in any way I could.”
“Yes, I know. But a man needs his independence. And a fine thing it would be if I declined staying with my brother only to sponge off you!”
“You do realize that I was joking when you arrived – about Mr Bennet I mean?”
“What? Is it so odd that I am to marry Miss Bennet?” Patrick asked incredulously. “Why do you think I’m marrying Mary? For material gain? I am marrying Mary… because… I…” he slowly trailed off after hearing a twig snap and looking up. He was ashen.
Horace looked over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of Mary’s retreating form. He suddenly gasped. “She’s heading in the direction of the man-traps!”
“Man-traps?” Patrick asked in horror.
“Yes! I’m afraid I’ve had some bother with poachers in the past few months…”
“Then what are we waiting for?” He took a few steps forward. “Mary! Wait!”
Womble restrained him. “What do you hope to achieve? You’ll only distress her more!”
“We can’t just stay here – she might harm herself! We must go after her!” Patrick implored.
“No, we can’t stay here. But you will be no help to her if you get caught. Allow me to go. And you never know, she may have turned aside and reached the path.”
As if to give lie to his words they heard the sickening sound of a steel trap closing. “My God!” cried Patrick with horror. “Mary!” He struggled with Mr Womble. “Let go of me!” And with that he raced off.
“I insist upon seeing her!”
Mary woke up. She was in her bedchamber and the door was ajar. The voices were echoing down the hall.
“Be reasonable, Catherine,” chided Lord Ilam.
“How am I to give my opinion if I cannot see her?”
“You need not trouble yourself, Lady Catherine.”
“Unfeeling girl! Your sister is injured!”
“We have already had Quirk in to see her,” Darcy responded.
“I trust nobody but…”
“No doubt your physician is very capable, but a broken leg was the only injury she suffered, and that has been reset.”
“Very well.” She sighed. “Where is Mrs Bennet? She is not attending to her daughter?”
“No, I am afraid the shock of it sent her into hysterics. My other sisters are with her.”
“And Mr Bennet?”
“In the library… in his night cap and powdering gown. He said it lends an air of elegance to misfortune…”
“How extremely odd! But daughters are never of any consequence to their fathers.”
There was the sound of more footsteps and Mr Womble was announced. A gasp.
“Good lord! Have you been fighting?”
“Oh, my black eye? Shrewsbury accidentally hit me in the confusion of this morning… Anxiety about Miss Bennet, no doubt.”
“I am surprised he has not come with you.”
Mary was thinking the same thing. She did not know whether she was glad or disappointed.
“If the truth be told, he has been gone this hour since.”
“Gone? Whatever for?”
“Oh, a lover’s quarrel – he blames himself.” Mary was a little astonished at how blasé he sounded.
“But where has he gone?”
“I believe he has gone to stay with his sister in Shropshire.”
“Have you any idea when he intends to return?”
“It may be many months hence.”
“Perhaps that is for the best,” interjected Lady Catherine. “A young lady has no business bringing bad connections to her family.”
“Bad connections? My dear ma’am, I must protest. If you only knew the truth of the matter!”
“Is he now implying I am too far below him, I wonder?” thought Mary.
“But is a clerk a gentleman?” asked Lady Catherine.
“He will not always be a clerk,” replied Mr Womble, “one day he will be an attorney. He was born in much better circumstances than you see him now. His family owns a pretty property in Leicestershire. It came as a shock to them, on the recent death of their father, to discover that they were in debt. The late Mr Shrewsbury, who was known for his generosity, had been convinced to invest in an overseas scheme by his younger brother, unaware, I imagine, that it was doomed to failure. The brother went abroad several years ago to avert the danger, but unfortunately passed away of a fever before this could be done. It took some time for Mr Shrewsbury to consult with his widow and extricate the family from the affair, but the damage had already been done. As for Mr Patrick Shrewsbury, he would have taken orders had none of this happened, but the living has now been sold and he has sacrificed his inheritance. His expectations in life have been, of necessity, lowered…”
“It is no more than is proper. Retaining a family estate is of extreme importance! This puts him in a more honourable light…”
Mary had heard enough. She did not wish to hear what part, if any, she was playing in his degradation. “Lizzy!” she bellowed.
Posted on Thursday, 1 July 2004
After a couple of days of being prevented of being of use, Lady Catherine took her daughter and herself off to London in order to purchase wedding clothes. Mrs Bennet’s thoughts also ran along the same bent.
“Why should we not go to London?”
“Mary is not well enough to travel.”
“I do not see why that should stop us. She can stay here. I dare say we can manage without.”
“It would not be kind to leave her here alone.”
“If you put it that way… But it would be a disgrace if Mary and Kitty did not have new clothes. Somebody must go!”
Darcy had an awful sense of foreboding as his wife picked up a letter the moment they arrived in their townhouse. “What is it my dear? Is something the matter?” he asked with some concern.
“No, it is merely a letter from my aunt.” She offered him the piece of paper. “Would you like to read it for yourself?”
My dear niece,
I hope you have had a pleasant journey. I regret we have some bad news about this evening, although not too serious, I hope. Unfortunately Mr Gardiner and myself will be unable to keep our engagement with you.
This morning we had a visit from an old acquaintance who insisted we dine with her. We had not seen her in some time as it always chanced that we were absent when she was in town. Mr Gardiner had a great deal to do with her late husband, so we did not wish to offend her for his sake.
We did give her to understand that we were expecting you in town today and she extended the invitation to you. If you wish to come with us, we will take you in our carriage. Or we will make your apologies – I understand that the journey may have been tiring and you may prefer to dine alone.
Give our love to Mr Darcy and Georgiana.
And so it was that Darcy found himself one evening dining in Berkeley Street. Mrs Jennings was at one end of the table, talking gaily to her old friends the Gardiners. Sir John was at the other, where Mr Darcy was sitting across from Lady Middleton and next to Mrs Palmer. This arrangement made Darcy very pleased to see Mr Palmer again. They had met a number of years earlier and had got along rather well, but this was the first time they had seen each other since their respective marriages. Further along the table Georgiana, in her shyness, had asked to be seated between Lizzy and Mrs Gardiner. After some time their mutual love of music induced her to begin the course of friendship with Marianne Dashwood. The only other person in attendance was a Colonel Brandon, whom Darcy knew nothing about. Darcy was slightly envious of Colonel Brandon, since he was able to talk to Lizzy.
“I am so glad to finally meet you and your wife! What do you think Mr Palmer said when he read of it in the paper? I forget what it was now, but it was something so droll! What was it my dear?”
Mr Palmer ignored her.
Mrs Palmer started laughing. “He does not hear me…”
Darcy stopped listening to Mrs Palmer and looked with surprise at her husband. With similarities in their temperaments, Darcy was shocked that he had found himself with a silly wife. Darcy was stunned when Mr Palmer replied.
“That is absurd! I never said anything of the kind.”
From further down the table, snatches of conversation began to reach Darcy’s ear.
“…an excellent match, for he is rich and she is handsome…”
He tried blocking out what they were saying, but gave up after a few minutes.
“Can you not find Miss Darcy a husband? A pretty girl like her should not be wanting for admirers. Why don’t you leave her in London with me? If she is not married by Easter, it shall not be my fault.”
“You need not trouble yourself…”
“Although she has left her heart in Derbyshire no doubt?”
Georgiana blushed and met her brother’s concerned look with one that was fearful and confused. Mrs Jennings noticed all this and continued her raillery.
“What kind of man is he? An attorney? Or curate of the parish? No! He is a young colonel, I dare say…”
This made Georgiana more and more distressed, but she surprised herself by speaking. “No, indeed. There is no such man.” Marianne touched her hand comfortingly.
“Come, there can be no secrets here. Miss Dashwood, you must help me out. If she mentions him…”
Marianne remained quiet, thinking that Elinor would be proud of her forbearance.
“What a pity Margaret isn’t here! She is good at discovering such secrets.”
Colonel Brandon looked with pity at Georgiana and decided to steer the conversation away from danger. “How is your sister, Miss Dashwood?”
“I believe she has been quite happily roaming the woods of Norland again. The invitation was a surprise – Mrs John Dashwood finds her a little wild – but my brother has treated her kindly.”
“Your other sister and your mother? How are they?”
“My mother is much recovered and in retrospect our alarm was unfounded. I hope to return home at the end of the week.”
Mrs Jennings tried to convince Marianne otherwise. She thought there would be a return of symptoms and therefore it would be safer for her to stay another week until the recovery was complete. It could not be too much of a sacrifice, if she could get Miss Darcy to stay likewise.
Mrs Jennings then attacked Colonel Brandon “Where have you hidden them?”
Colonel Brandon coloured a little. “I do not know what you mean.”
“Miss Williams and the child.”
“I have not hidden them. They are still in the country, where they have been for the last year.”
Darcy was a little shocked by this and he was not the only one, for Lady Middleton exclaimed, with a significant look at Georgiana, “My dear Madam, recollect yourself!” and Mr Palmer made a remark about her vulgarity, which his wife laughed about.
Mrs Jennings contented herself with another audible whisper to Mrs Gardiner. “Miss Williams is a very near relation of the Colonel’s. If I was to say how near, it would shock the ladies…”
Soon after this, the ladies withdrew. Darcy was relieved that he would be free from hearing something distressing, at least for the next half hour. Sir John, Mr Palmer and Colonel Brandon talked a great deal, as the latter had only returned that day from Avignon, where he’d been staying for several weeks with his sister. Darcy was amused to see that Colonel Brandon and Sir John were a little like an older version of Bingley and himself in some regards.
After some time the gentlemen followed the ladies to the drawing room. The ladies were listening to Marianne playing the pianoforte. Georgiana was sitting next to her engrossed in a conversation, which was protected from other ears by the music. Darcy was pleased with the music – Miss Dashwood was playing almost as well as his sister. He walked to where his wife was sitting close to the pianoforte, smiling radiantly. His smile faltered when he noticed that she was watching Colonel Brandon thoughtfully. He kissed her hand, then sat silently for the rest of the evening. Every time he chanced to glance at his wife it appeared that her attention was divided between the musicians and the Colonel. “Why did we bother coming?” he asked himself.
One afternoon, a week or so after the dinner at Berkeley Street, Elizabeth discovered her husband sound asleep under one of the trees that clustered the banks of the stream at Pemberley. The serenity of his countenance greatly pleased her, having seen him out of spirits for most of the intervening week. She would have continued her walk, his slumber undisturbed, had his waking not prevented her.
Darcy looked very surprised to see her and asked what she was doing there.
“Admiring the picturesque.”
“You have no employment elsewhere?”
“Are you accusing me of idleness?” she asked with some amusement. “I have been doing a great many things this morning. At this moment I am on an errand – I was sent by Georgiana to seek you out. We missed you at luncheon and…”
“I’ve had some business with my steward.”
“This is a strange way of doing business – with one’s eyes closed.”
He remained silent.
“If one did not know better, one would say you were avoiding us.”
“If one has been away for any length of time, there will always be matters that require one’s attention on one’s return.”
Elizabeth decided not to press the matter, but returned to the subject that had been interrupted. “Won’t you come back to the house? Georgiana wishes to speak to you.”
“Can it not wait until this evening?”
“It might, but she cannot. She received a letter from Miss Dashwood today and as it concerns that lady…”
“Miss Dashwood? Perhaps I can guess what she wishes…”
“You wish to invite Miss Dashwood to Pemberley?”
“When our other guests are gone.”
“What is your difficulty? You are mistress of Pemberley, are you not?”
“If it would be disagreeable to you, I could not be happy. Would you allow me to extend an invitation to whomever I choose without one word of complaint?”
“With the exception of Mr Wickham, I would.”
“I could never wish him here. Since you have given me leave, I believe we could also have Colonel Brandon at the same time as Miss Dashwood.”
“Colonel Brandon?” Darcy went pale.
“You do not dislike the colonel?”
“He seems a sensible, well-bred gentleman, but having him under my roof would be entirely inappropriate.”
“I am curious to know why. What have you heard against him?”
“His character may be irreproachable, except in one particular…”
“Can you have failed to hear talk of his natural daughter, Miss Williams?”
Elizabeth scoffed at this. “The veracity of those rumours is beyond all doubt.”
“Whether it is or is not the case, I would not have Georgiana exposed to such a girl.”
“Was there a plan to bring her here as well? I was not aware of it.”
“Why should you so strongly promote his visit?”
“As perceptive as you are, it is a surprise to me if you have not guessed. Like his other friends I desire to see him a good deal happier than he is now, as much as I believe he deserves. He has suffered greatly, you know.”
“You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concerns.”
“Colonel Brandon is not Mr Wickham.”
“Wickham I could understand. But Colonel Brandon?!” Darcy thundered, looking quite alarming.
Elizabeth struggled to maintain her composure. “What do you mean?”
“I am convinced you comprehend my meaning perfectly.”
“Are you insinuating…”
“Preposterous!” she laughed.
“I am perfectly serious.”
“What inebriation is this? Somnolence and now this!” She turned away, about to leave. “If you wish to apologise later, you know where to find me.”
“Can you take it so lightly?”
“No. It is truly shocking to see you in this state.”
“How dare you question my sobriety?”
“How dare you question the virtue of your own wife?”
“Now there’s an affair that I walked into with my eyes shut!”
“Was it?” she asked coldly.
“How could I have supposed that you, as well as your elder sister, were better creatures than your mother and younger sisters? Was I so unreasonable in expecting it?”
“I am disappointed you think so. When have I done anything to warrant such censure?”
“Even now. It is a pity Georgiana loves you so much, for when I further consider everything, I’m of the opinion that you are unsuitable for her charge.”
Posted on Friday, 9 July 2004
On Elizabeth’s return to the house, she found Georgiana employed in writing a long letter. “Are you writing to Miss Dashwood? You may invite her to Pemberley, if you have not already done so.”
“Do you wish to hear the news she sends?” Georgiana stopped short as she noticed Lizzy’s distraction. “Are you unwell?”
Elizabeth was startled. “Why would you ask that?”
“You look pale.”
“I will confess I have a slight headache. Will you excuse me?”
Some time later, Darcy made his appearance, looking as though he was searching for somebody. When it was apparent that he was alone with Georgiana he spoke softly. “I wish to talk about Elizabeth.”
“You noticed she was ill?”
He gave her a strange look.
“No? From your manner I thought you must have. I did not mean to alarm you – it is merely a headache.”
Darcy did not immediately leave the room, as Georgiana half expected him to do once she’d told him this. Instead he began to ask her all manner of strange questions about Elizabeth, which she found excessively bewildering. The behaviour of both brother and sister was such that left her puzzling as to the meaning of it all. Was it any wonder then that all thoughts of her letters were forced out of her mind?
If Georgiana thought their behaviour was peculiar, her puzzlement only increased over the following days. Generally, when alone with her, they would call each other by their Christian names, but now all she heard was Mr or Mrs Darcy, if they spoke to each other at all. Indeed, it was becoming unusual for them to sit together at all. Several times, as she was moving from one room to another, she chanced to overhear Darcy referring to officers and redcoats and felt very confused. Georgiana might have dismissed it as her imagination if it had only been for one day, but when it continued for three, worsening, she sought Mrs Reynolds for advice.
Mrs Reynolds reassured the young Miss Darcy that there was nothing to worry about. It sounded to her as though they were having a quarrel, something virtually every married couple would experience at one time or another. They might be annoyed if she tried to interfere.
And so Georgiana waited several more days. By this time, she was getting quite distressed. A person who can enjoy the disruption of family harmony is very odd. She decided to speak to her brother.
Georgiana found him, as she expected, hiding in his study (not that Elizabeth was looking for him). Being in awe of Darcy she had looked through conduct books (unsuccessfully) and debated through the night the best manner to perform the interview. In the end she decided that a direct, but gentle approach was best.
“If you apologise to Elizabeth, I am sure she will forgive you. Can you not see how unhappy you’ve been making her?”
But Darcy didn’t hear. He hadn’t even realized anybody had entered the room. She walked closer to the desk and repeated what she’d said. He looked up enquiringly.
“Sorry, what’s that?”
Georgiana’s courage was beginning to fail, but she managed to utter “the quarrel” and repeat herself for a third time. She hoped she could escape soon without any stern looks or disagreeable words.
“She brought it on herself.”
“She brought it on herself?” was the amazed reply he received. “How?”
“I do not wish to talk about it.” His pained look made Georgiana pity him, but she loved both parties so well that she did not want to blame either. “Why don’t you ask her?”
Talking to Elizabeth was much easier than talking to a brother more than ten years older than oneself, but still felt awkward.
“What happened between you and my brother? Do you know? He claims the fault is with you, but I cannot believe you would intentionally do anything to injure my brother.”
“Do not embroil yourself, Georgiana. If things were what your brother thinks they are I deserve censure, but as it is not so… Well! Only time will untangle this mistake.”
“What does my brother think?”
Elizabeth laughed bitterly. “Would you believe he accused me of having an affair…”
“… with Colonel Brandon?”
“But… but…” Something struck Georgiana and she ran to retrieve her letters from the desk. “I never told you that he proposed to and was accepted by Miss Dashwood, did I?”
“No, but I suspected it may happen. In fact the brouhaha began when I suggested that we may need to invite the Colonel with Miss Dashwood.”
“May I show my letter to Fitzwilliam?”
“By all means.”
Darcy gave an exasperated sigh when he saw whom it was who was rapping at his door.
“Georgiana, what did I say? I don’t wish to talk about Elizabeth.”
“What makes you think I was about to…”
“You mean you weren’t?”
“No, well not entirely. Elizabeth and I would like to use the carriage in several weeks.”
“One day can do no harm, I suppose.”
“Ah! But we might need it for a week.”
“For a week? No, I don’t think that is such a good idea…”
“I can’t travel so far alone. What would Lady Catherine say?”
“Far? Why, where do you think you’re going?”
“Devonshire?” he sounded alarmed. “Was this your idea or Elizabeth’s?”
“Mine. Elizabeth doesn’t know.”
“Georgiana, what are you doing?”
“Paying a visit to Miss Dashwood.”
“I thought she was coming here?”
“I forgot to send the invitation.”
“You forgot? And she sent you an invitation?”
“Of a kind.”
“Won’t she be surprised to see you? I don’t want to hear people saying that a Darcy rudely forced themselves on a family for a week.”
“Nor do I. But Elizabeth and I may stay at an inn. And it might be seen as more impolite that I did not pay my respects when she is married.”
“Married? You never told me of an engagement.”
“Didn’t I?” asked Georgiana innocently. “That must have slipped my mind as well.”
“Georgiana…” he said in a stern voice.
“If you want to know about it you may read between here and here.” She pointed at her letter.
Darcy absorbed all that was written. “What a fool I’ve been!”
“And this really happened?” asked Mary, looking with surprised disbelief at her brother and sister. “When?”
“About a month or two before your arrival. Even a man without fault can make mistakes.” Elizabeth smiled at her husband, who was looking sheepish.
“You’ve forgiven him?!”
“You feel that his error was such that he did not deserve it?”
“I only meant that I do not think I would have been capable…”
“I can see no point in a permanent estrangement from someone you love.”
“But surely it’s not as simple as that?”
“No, it does take time, patience, an understanding…” spoke Darcy, exchanging a look with Elizabeth. The process that they had gone through would remain their secret.
“We cannot teach you how to forgive, Mary – that is something that you need to decide for yourself.” Elizabeth silently added to herself, “If the situation arises where it is required.”
Posted on Friday, 16 July 2004
Jane sighed as she read the letter she had received from her mother.
My dearest Jane,
How cruel it was for you and dear Mr Bingley to tear yourselves from my side! I am quite lonely and desolate without you, particularly at this moment. To be sure Kitty is here with me, but it gives me little pleasure to talk with undutiful children.
You will never guess what foolish thing she has done now. Not content in insisting we leave London before I had planned, Kitty wrote to Mr Lucardie to postpone their wedding! I do not know what you and Lizzy can have been teaching her, for I am sure that such a notion would never have occurred to her while dear Lydia was at home. Well, some people’s feelings are incomprehensible, is all I can say. If she is not careful, he will change his mind and not have her.
If only you were here, you could convince her to be more sensible, to know her own interest. Perhaps it would do as well if you should invite her to stay with you there? For though she may be obstinate, there is a greater chance of their meeting every day and she will not be so easily forgotten.
What is your opinion now of this sad business of Mary's? For my part, I am determined never to speak of it again to anybody. I told my sister Philips so the other day. Though I shall always say that he used my daughter extremely ill; and if I was her, I would not have put up with it. Oh, well! it is just as he chooses. Nobody wants him to come and I am only ashamed to think how long I bore with him. He is the greatest coxcomb I ever saw, and amazingly disagreeable. Such an undeserving young man is unworthy of poor Mary.
The letter continued for another page with complaints about how ill she was used by both her family and neighbours.
Allow me to congratulate you, both on your preferment and on finding a suitable wife. Ever since my sister introduced us several years ago, I have taken the keenest interest in your welfare, as it struck me that we were alike in temper and disposition.
Do not be cast down about the sudden turn events have taken - it shows an affection for her sister that is highly pleasing - and you never know how beneficial it may be to your relationship. My dear Catherine and myself shared a clandestine correspondence, in the period before Eleanor's marriage softened my father's resolve, which added greatly to our knowledge of the other's character and thus our felicity.
It is amazing that both you and I should find our happiness in the same quarter, that is, with women of the same name. Had I been as presumptuous as to give advice on the matter (we none of us like interference), it may have been what I would have suggested. I look forward to the time when we meet again, where we might debate which of us has the prettiest Kate in Christendom.
I am afraid our boys have been especially mischievous this morning, or else my wife would have added some lines about her own satisfaction. I must rescue her from them.
I remain your well-wisher and friend,
Several weeks had passed since Mrs Bennet and Kitty returned to Longbourn and Mary remained quiet at Pemberley, nursed by Lizzy and Jane, who traveled over almost every day. There were reports coming from London that a Mr Shrewsbury was in town. On all accounts he was a charming, agreeable gentleman and quite a favourite with the ladies. All she heard astonished Mary, and she longed to know the truth of the matter.
She was confident that Miss de Bourgh would tell her everything she should know, when she returned to London from Bath, where she had traveled to meet her future father-in-law. The day that had been set was Tuesday and it was a slight shock to Mary that an entire week passed before she had any letter from her friend.
That letter was not as enlightening as Mary may have wished.
My dear Mary,
What a surprise this letter will be for you – perhaps not the letter, but what it contains.
By the time you read this, I will probably be Mrs Horace Womble.
The fact is, that we are traveling to Gretna Green. My mother has made us desperate – her views on our wedding being contrary to our own. You may ask why we did not marry privately in town, the two of us being of age? We had thought of it, but the rector of this parish has developed a fear of my mother, or a fear or being held back in his profession by her, I’m not sure which. I am aware that such a marriage may be looked down on and could hardly be as elegant that which befits the daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, at least in her eyes, but at least it will be by my choice.
If I know my mother, she may go to Derbyshire in search of me. Could you please ask my cousin or my uncle to speak with her if she does? I believe they might do much to pacify her.
I hope that you might drink a glass of wine to us.
Your affectionate friend,
Anne de Bourgh
Mary showed the letter to Darcy, but he refused to do anything to make Lady Catherine angry again, being so recently reconciled with her. Instead, he brought it to his uncle’s attention, when he came to see how the clever Miss Bennet was doing – his uncle was much better at managing his aunt.
“Who would have thought that Catherine’s little Anne had any romanticism in her? I suppose I had better speak to her mother, otherwise she might blame us.”
“Yes, one mustn’t forget where Anne met that fellow, nor that the Yates were with us. She might think they put ideas into her head.”
Lord Ilam looked at Mary, eagerly following their conversation.
“I must say, my dear, that you have reacted quite well. Your development at Pemberley is extraordinary.”
“Development?” asked Darcy, trying to discern what his uncle was referring to.
“At the beginning of our acquaintance I was concerned that Miss Bennet may have been turning into my sister, the resemblance between them (at the same age) was remarkable. I am pleased to see it is not the case. If it were she would have condemned Anne without giving the matter any further thought.”
My dear sir,
I have written to enquire after my fair cousin, Mary, of whose condition we were informed yesterday in a letter from London. I sincerely hope that this accident will not prove injurious to her fortunes. To lose a lover must be grievous to any young woman, especially such a one as my cousin, who may never receive another offer of marriage. Despite my cousin’s connection with one the most illustrious personages in the land, and her intellect and accomplishments, I fear that her portion is so small that it would not tempt a sensible gentleman to overlook her lack of personal charms. Who could blame Mr Shrewsbury then, if he should discover that he would prefer to marry Miss Rich, the daughter of the late Lord Coalville, who has, I am told, thirty thousand pounds?
My young cousins should not be too alarmed if they chance to hear that Miss de Bourgh and Mr Womble have gone to Scotland. As I said to my dear Charlotte when the rumour reached Kent, Miss de Bourgh is not of the disposition to do such a thing, nor has there been anything faulty in her upbringing, that the story she escaped the watchful eye of her mother must be condemned as an improbable, scandalous falsehood.
Allow me to put their minds at ease. They had a small, but fashionable wedding in London and set off to holiday with some distant relations. Lady Catherine condescended to send her account of it. Lord Ilam, whom I believe came to town several days ago especially for the wedding, placed the notice in all the papers.
Although I am naturally disappointed not to have performed the ceremony myself, I understand that preservation of distinction of rank requires Lady Catherine and her daughter to maintain a degree of elegance that is not required in us.
I remain, dear sir, your well-wisher and friend,
Posted on Friday, 6 August 2004
My dearest Mary – here there was an ink spot, as though the writer had paused for a moment – no, I am afraid I have given up all right to call you by name.
My dear Miss Bennet,
Have the past few weeks been as interminable to you as they have been to me? To not see you, to not even have news of you – ‘tis cruel torture! Daily, hourly, my imaginings have filled me with horror. What injuries did I (most unwittingly) inflict upon you?
My only pleasure has been to witness my sister’s domestic bliss. At present I deserve no other. If only you would take pity on me, forgive me; you should make me happy beyond all measure.
Men are, at times, like my brothers’ ships, in need of a navigator to gently steer them and prevent them grounding. So am I now – uncertain of my fate, unresolved to act. Only you can decide whether I enter your neighbourhood as planned, or never.
I remain your most loving, humble and obedient Servant,
Mary eagerly read this letter, a barrage of thoughts rushing through her mind. Although the tone was warm and friendly, it had hardly satisfied her unanswered questions. What of London? Mr Shrewsbury never mentioned being in town, but how else could the rumours be spreading? If he cared for her at all, he should have stayed with his sister, or come back to Pemberley. Mary was uncertain which she would have preferred. Furthermore there was the matter of Miss Rich… Surely there must have been a something or a nothing to warrant such speculation! How could he persist in saying he wished to marry her [Mary], if that were the case? Could Mr Collins have been correct in ascribing a mercenary motive to it all? If the match with Miss Rich had been broken off, perhaps she was a consolation prize, as it would be better for him to be a clerk than to have nothing.
Mary prepared to throw the letter into the fire. If he would not tell her that which was most interesting to her, he could do without any news from her. At the last moment she sighed and took it back again. If this was the only letter that she should receive from him, she might later regret destroying it. It then struck her that she had never before seen an example of his handwriting, so she began examining it. After admiring its character for several minutes, Mary decided she had better place the letter out of sight of curious eyes. There were a number of books close to the chaise-lounge and thinking it may be a good hiding place, she reached for them. The title of the uppermost book made her start – it was Alexander Pope’s Essay on criticism!
She leaned back, biting her lip, as she recalled reading it with Mr Shrewsbury. Was she being too proud? Should she not give him the benefit of the doubt? After all, was it fair to condemn him when he did not have the chance to defend himself and she did not know the full story? Mary felt uncertain about the proper course of action.
She considered writing to him to demand an explanation, but just as rapidly dismissed that notion. If he was innocent, he might resent her for it. If he wasn’t, it didn’t bear thinking about, as her reply would be a confirmation of their engagement that she did not wish to give. She would not be happy if he had paid his addresses to another woman whilst their engagement was still in effect and did not know whether she would be able to forgive him.
Of course, if he really wanted to marry her because of love, would he not write again? On the other hand, would it not be an indignity for him to do so, since her silence might be construed as a refusal. Could she risk it?
What she really wanted was a confidante! But Mr and Mrs Womble had not yet returned from Scotland. Mr Womble… hmmm… If he and Mr Shrewsbury had been corresponding, perhaps he would know his friend’s plans. At the very least he would know Mr Shrewsbury’s thoughts at the time of the accident. The only problem was that it would be a very awkward subject to discuss and Mary didn’t want to ruin her friend’s happiness by asking her to make the enquiry.
At that moment Jane entered the room. Out of the two sisters that were currently close by, Jane would generally be deemed the most sympathetic and forgiving. Mary decided that she would open her heart to her eldest sister.
“Good morning Mary. How are you feeling today?” asked Jane cheerfully, rearranging the cushions for Mary at the same time.
“I do not know.”
Jane stopped tidying the pile of books and looked at her sister. “Is there something wrong?”
“Not wrong, but…”
“But there is something worrying you?”
“Not something, someone.”
Mary nodded, her eyes filling with tears.
“Have you not heard from him at all?”
“I received a letter this morning.”
“I do not understand. Did it contain bad news?”
Mary produced the letter and allowed her sister to read it in silence.
“Is it not good that he still wishes to marry you? He must really love you.”
“What of Miss Rich?”
“Who?” asked Jane, slightly confused.
“Lord Coalville’s daughter. Mr Collins wrote of an engagement.”
“You cannot suppose it to be true? Do but consider in what a disgraceful light it places him to be behaving in such a manner.”
“Mr Collins could have no reason to invent such a story.”
“No,” agreed Jane. “Perhaps our cousin has been deceived in some way.”
“Why does Mr Shrewsbury not deny it then?”
“A lack of denial may be as much proof that there is no basis to the rumour. It may be that he has not heard it, or that he thinks that it will make the same sense to you as it does to him.”
“Do you really think that, Jane?”
“I cannot think so ill of him. Nor, I am sure, can you. If you knew him to be capable of licentiousness, I doubt you could have accepted him.”
“Why do you not trust him? No doubt he will give an account of himself, and you may be glad you gave him a chance. It may be surprising and wonderful.”
Mary raised her eyebrows. “How?”
“You recall my visit to Aunt and Uncle Gardiner two winters ago?”
“When the Bingleys were in London?”
“Yes, exactly. Miss Bingley implied her brother knew I was in town, but did not care for me. You can imagine my happiness when I discovered exactly the opposite. He told me that he was ignorant of my being in town and that nothing except a persuasion of my indifference could have prevented his return.”
Mary lapsed into a silent reverie for a moment. “Do you think that Mr Shrewsbury would feel the same, if I did not answer his letter?”
Jane gave Mary a mysterious half-smile. “I do not think so.”
“What makes you so confident?”
“I could not tell you anything further that would not be explained more charmingly by Mr Shrewsbury himself.”
“What!” Mary exclaimed, peering into the next room. “Is he here?” She blushed at the thought he might have overheard the conversation.
“He is downstairs, in the hall. Are you prepared to see him?”
Mary hesitated for a moment, before replying. “Oh, why not?”
“Then, sister, dry your tears and I will bring him up.”
Several minutes later, Mr Shrewsbury entered the room alone. He slowly approached Mary, giving her a searching look. The only utterance he made was a simple “how do you do,” but his eyes seemed to be asking another question.
“As you see, the surgeon has instructed me to rest my legs for some time.” Shrewsbury flinched at hearing these words. “Apart from this, I am in perfect health. Only my sisters could have bestowed the care they have done.”
Shrewsbury sat glumly down. Noticing this, Mary held out her hand to him. “Come, Mr Shrewsbury, you mustn’t be so cross.”
Just as he took it, she spoke again. “How is Miss Rich?”
“I do not recall the last time I saw her.” Mr Shrewsbury appeared confused. “I did not know you knew Miss Rich?”
“I was given to understand that you saw something of her while you were in London?”
“London? I wonder why anybody should tell you that. What would I be doing in London?”
“If you were not, why did my cousin write that you were engaged?”
Shrewsbury laughed bitterly. “Your cousin is an idiot.”
Mary glanced at him with surprise and concern.
“There was a Mr Shrewsbury in London, but it was not me.”
“What?” Mary thought for a moment. “Your older brother?”
“I did not think he could afford…” she began, then thinking of his comparative poverty, she blushed and was silent.
“If he cannot, I wonder that you thought I was able to.”
Mary started crying again.
Shrewsbury moved closer and tried to comfort her. “Please forgive me if I was rude, in so saying. Your observation was reasonable under the circumstances and I was not offended. My brother had business with my father’s lawyers, otherwise he would have stayed at home.”
“No doubt your brother will find thirty thousand pounds very helpful.”
“No doubt he will, but we have been acquainted with Miss Rich a number of years. We grew up in the same county and naturally met now and then, at balls and parties.”
“If you have not been in London, where have you been? Have you been with your sister the entire time?”
“Not the entire time.” Shrewsbury’s eyes sparkled. “My family is not so poor that they must live in a house with only one room.”
Mary gave him a weak smile and shook her head. “Why have you only now come to visit me?”
“I was afraid you were angry with me. Reasoning thus, I assumed that I was the last person on earth that you wished to see.”
“At first, I was,” she admitted.
“To tell you the truth, I have only come now to escape my brother and sister. They are quite cross with me…”
“…for being selfish and wearing out their horse. There have been several occasions when I have ridden this far, but then thought the better of it and turned around….”
“Did you, by any chance, pass the Bingleys’ carriage on any of these occasions?”
“I may have, but today is the first morning that your sister stopped to speak to me.”
Can there be any doubt of what followed? Having been reassured of the strength of their attachment, Mary felt much happier than she had been in the previous six weeks, perhaps since their engagement began. Both of her sisters had been proven correct – Mr Shrewsbury did have something to tell that was pleasing to herself, and the prospect of living without him was something Mary wished to avoid. Who else would suit her so well?
Her only concern now was her mother, or rather the freeness of her mother’s tongue. If Mrs Bennet had been as open with her brother-in-law as she was with her sister, Mary fretted that she may have done harm to her fiancé’s prospects. Fortunately, this did not seem to be the case, and even had Mr Philips heard one of Mrs Bennet’s epithets, he must have had the sense not to heed it until he had heard farther from his niece.
Mrs Bennet was ecstatic when her daughter sent her the joyful news of the reconciliation. Kitty felt authorized to write again to Mr Lucardie and a short time later she found herself satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley. Mary and Shrewsbury’s nuptials soon followed. Although Mary obtained nothing higher than one of her Uncle Philip’s clerks in marriage, with such an agreeable husband she was content to be considered a star in the society of Meryton.