Posted on Thursday, 15 March 2007
This was written for a challenge on another board, with the premise that a prior connection existed between the Darcy family and the Bertrams, thus producing an invitation for Darcy to visit at Mansfield Park after Hunsford, but before the meeting with Elizabeth at Pemberley.
I take some liberties with the timing in accordance with the story challenge: here, the events of P&P coincide in year with events in MP, and this tale covers approximately the events between the arrival of the Crawfords and the theatricals. The story is told mostly from Darcy’s viewpoint, thus the formality of the names. He has had a couple of months to contemplate the events of Kent, and already he is well on the way to reconstruction.
With heartfelt thanks to Sue, for beta-reading and helping me bend this one into the shape you see before you now.
“Come to Mansfield Park for a month, Darcy,” Edmund Bertram suggested. “The countryside will shake off your gloom, and your advice will serve me well. My brother –”
Darcy nodded; while he had no close acquaintance with the elder Bertram son, he was aware of his habits. He knew Sir Thomas to be in Antigua, and understood that Tom was not the best of substitutes for his father at the head of the family.
“He does not heed my advice, and perhaps with your support – do say you will come.”
Darcy was glad of an excuse to leave London. It was vile in the summertime. His family members had lectured him too often about his miserable moods since returning from Kent. Richard had been annoying him with suggestions that he forget his sorrows by means of a night at a certain exclusive establishment. The Earl had dropped dark hints that it was time that Darcy looked to his duties to his family in securing a wife and an heir.
“I tried,” Darcy had told his cousin bitterly, “while I was at Rosings. And I was soundly refused.”
That revelation had led to the prying loose of a fuller account of what had happened, and too frequently thereafter, barrages of sermons about his ungentlemanly behaviour. For Darcy, Edmund’s invitation could not have come at a better time.
“My sisters,” Edmund began, “will be glad of –”
Unconsciously, Darcy grimaced. He had met Miss Bertram and Miss Julia only a few times, knew them to be fully aware of his income and station in society, and he had been no more favourably impressed by them than by any other ambitious beauty of the ton.
Edmund sensed that his success at persuasion had suffered a setback. “They can remain under the assumption that your family has matrimonial plans for you.”
Darcy nodded again, uncomfortably.
“And the elder is recently engaged, thus she should cause you no unease.”
“Might I recognize the name?”
“Rushworth of Sotherton Court.” Edmund was about to say more, but suddenly thought better of it, and silenced himself.
Darcy merely acknowledged that Lady Matlock, his aunt, knew the recently widowed Mrs Rushworth, but he had never met the new master.
When Mr Darcy arrived at Mansfield Park a few weeks later, Tom was gone, off to pursue his fortunes at the racetrack. It was a matter of some relief; the excesses of idle heir-apparents such as Edmund’s older brother did not meet with his approval and he would be spared having to carry on polite conversation with the man.
The Misses Bertram were also absent, gone for the day to the parsonage. Mrs Norris – probably attempting to seize an opportunity of promoting her unengaged younger niece, Darcy told himself with distaste – appeared to be performing all the courtship by proxy that the absent Miss Julia was unable to do in person.
“Such accomplished girls, my two nieces! Such fine deportment, such elegant manners – they are an ornament to every ball they attend. And you will never see two girls so pretty in one family! They play and sing so beautifully, and their drawing master says he has seldom seen such ability. That screen, there by the fireplace; that was worked by my dear Julia only last February. Is it not fine?”
Darcy looked, could see nothing in the embroidery that was not bettered by his sister, but kept his features under careful control.
I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any, a voice murmured in his head, accompanied by a vision of fine eyes meeting his in challenge. Elizabeth! he whispered to himself in anguish. It had become clear to him now that she was more than worthy of being included in such a list. But she could never be his now, and he resolutely forced himself to direct his musing elsewhere.
Mrs Norris had not ceased to speak, and she was boasting of her nieces’ prowess at dancing and how quickly they had memorized the names and reigns of all the kings and queens of England.
Darcy only half-listened, and it was an unexpected silence, a lull in the officious woman’s prattle, that broke his reverie. Politely, he asked, “And are your nieces great readers?”
“Oh, no, my dear girls do not have time for such tedious nonsense,” Mrs Norris replied. “We do not encourage such unladylike pastimes. Fanny, now, her nose would be always in a book if I did not keep her occupied usefully. And I have told her, and told her – yes, Fanny, I tell you again.” The busy lady paused and, with a sour look, wagged her forefinger. “It is little wonder that you remain so deficient, compared with your cousins, for you fritter away too many of your hours as it is, in such pursuits. Not that, everything considered, there is much likelihood of –”
Darcy had initially paid the timorous young Miss Price little notice. He had been surprised, at her introduction, to hear that she was not Lady Bertram’s paid companion, but her niece, a poor relation of the family. From the way Mrs Norris barked orders at her, it was clear that this redoubtable lady regarded her as no more than a servant. And yet, was it not his own tendency to undervalue such people, to dismiss them as less than himself before he was even acquainted with them, about which Elizabeth had censured him so severely?
He had begun to notice similarities between Miss Price and his cousin Anne de Bourgh, both quiet, unassuming young ladies, both enduring the daily intimidation of formidable older female relatives. Like Anne, Miss Price had worthy qualities, but concealed them under a layer of diffidence. And in the same way that he sometimes spoke up on Anne’s behalf at Rosings when he noticed that she was uncomfortable or being left out, he was now roused to sudden anger on behalf of Miss Price.
“What do you like to read most, Miss Price?” he asked gently.
Miss Price seemed almost afraid to raise her eyes to his – like Georgiana after we returned to town from Ramsgate, Darcy thought uncomfortably but with a sudden rush of sympathy – and whispered that at the present time, she was enjoying a volume of Cowper.
“Cowper! Poets!” Mrs Norris scolded scornfully. “You might at least read something for your improvement – why, only last week, I put a copy of Fordyce’s Sermons into your hands, and I have yet to see you with it.”
Darcy was tempted to comment that Cowper was among the more devout of the poets, as appropriate for a young lady as Fordyce. But he kept silent. His thoughts once again careered off into uncomfortable paths. Elizabeth’s sister, Miss Mary, he recollected, had a penchant for quoting from her dreary extracts. He could not fault the notion of writing down thoughts on one’s reading; it was a habit he encouraged in Georgiana – but his sister made studies of a more appealing range of subjects.
Darcy checked himself, and then checked himself again. He had been trying so determinedly not to think about Elizabeth – and yet her kindness and consideration was exactly what was needed here. It was unfortunate that Miss Price did not have an Elizabeth, or a Georgiana, or even a Miss Mary, to befriend her, to share the joys of reading, and to be a sort of bulwark between her and that overbearing harridan.
And yet, he reminded himself, he ought not to be condemning so harshly, so soon after his arrival, one who had claim to the privileges and honours of the house, the sister of Lady Bertram herself, and who – reflecting again on Miss Price and his cousin Anne – reminded him in some ways of his Aunt Catherine.
He turned his attentions to Lady Bertram, who was languishing on her sofa, one hand holding a teacup at a precarious angle, the other stroking her pug. Only briefly, upon his arrival at the house, had he seen Lady Bertram stand up and walk. Was she an invalid? Darcy was unsure. As he spoke a few polite words to the mistress of the house, he saw Miss Price sit down by her aunt, where she whispered something soothing, gently removed Lady Bertram’s needlework from her lap, and without any fuss, began picking apart the tangled stitches, in order to set them right.
He was reminded by these kind services that it was while Elizabeth was tenderly attending to her sick sister at Netherfield that his fondness for her had truly taken root. Who could not be moved by such loving attention? He had, later, indulged in guilty fantasies of being himself bedridden and the recipient of her care. And even so, Elizabeth had shown admirable firmness of purpose when it was required – had she not skilfully and gracefully rebuffed the sneering innuendoes of Miss Bingley? Had she not resolutely stood her ground after his own disastrous proposal?
He forced himself to a penance of entertaining this uncomfortable thought for a few moments. Already understanding the justice of Elizabeth’s remarks, hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past, he was now endeavouring to correct that in his behaviour which required adjusting, and it was not the easiest of tasks to unlearn the habits of a lifetime.
The Bertram family – Lady Bertram, Mrs Norris, Miss Price, and from his recollections of them, the absent Miss Bertrams – all of them had their failings of behaviour or station. As had the Bennets. It was up to him to rise above what he might have excused, or what he might have dismissed as beneath him, in the past. As he ought to have done in Meryton. He might not see Elizabeth again, but she would, if she were to see him, have the satisfaction of knowing that her reproofs had found fertile ground.
Disciplining his thoughts, Darcy began to converse more easily with the others, and with every show of affability, answered their queries about his estate and his sister.
Darcy reacquainted himself with Miss Bertram and Miss Julia at dinner that evening. To his relief, he found that they were quite deeply in thrall to a dashing newcomer at the parsonage – even the engaged Miss Bertram. They were not yet so committed that they did not fawn over and question this other wealthy, and very handsome, visitor with considerable interest, aided, in Miss Julia’s case particularly, by the officious Mrs Norris. However, a fortuitous combination of Edmund’s hints about Darcy’s family commitments, dropped prior to his arrival, and Darcy’s own habitual reserve and quiet civility, soon deflected the worst of it.
Brief queries about Pemberley and attempts to flatter and receive flattery in return, there were, but Mr Darcy was a man of few words and his manner was not encouraging. Mrs Norris’s strident fussing over the placements and the serving of the dinner precluded much general conversation, and soon enough, the Misses Bertram turned the conversation on their side of the table to the parsonage and the charming company to be met there.
Darcy continued to follow their exchanges, hoping in vain for evidence that their expensive education had borne more fruit than Mrs Norris’s effusions had earlier suggested, than similar endeavours had wrought in the Bingley sisters. He was doing no less for Georgiana, trusting that the efforts of her governesses and masters might produce a sister who would rightfully join the thin ranks of the truly accomplished ladies of his acquaintance. Elizabeth could have, a small voice insisted, leaving him pondering that a girl of no fortune and with the advantage of no governess could have turned out so well only for having prodigious innate talents.
The dinner conversation held scant appeal to Darcy’s intellect, but he allowed that it was probably not reasonable to have expected it to. Mrs Norris’s remarks were, predictably, a mixture of praise for her favoured nieces and criticisms of Miss Price. The Miss Bertrams appeared to allow little to reside in their heads apart from ambition and fashion, and there was scant information there that had not been acquired by rote. They reminded him a little of Miss Bingley, superior only in that their opinions were less ingratiating, and that because they possessed in actuality the consequence that Miss Bingley only aspired to, they were likely to behave with more civility to such a one as Elizabeth. Neither Miss Price nor Lady Bertram said a great deal, and Edmund seemed unusually curious as to what had transpired at the parsonage that day.
Darcy thought that the addition of Elizabeth to the company would have raised the tenor of the discourse a great deal, but managed to participate in the discussions with civility, if not a great superfluity of words.
After the dinner, because he and Edmund were the only gentlemen present, they did not linger long in the dining room before rejoining the ladies.
Proceeding through the drawing room to receive a cup of tea from Mrs Norris, Darcy passed near enough to the Misses Bertram to hear Miss Julia whisper to her sister, “Mr Crawford is not so plain now, is he, Maria, as we had considered him at first?”
“Plain? No, indeed, Julia. Let him never again be called plain. Such countenance, such manners! We do not often meet with such a pleasant young man.”
“Then it is decided between us – Mr Henry Crawford is the most agreeable man in the world.”
Darcy knew the name, although not the man himself. A fashionable man about town, a reputed womanizer; Crawford had only last year been carried on a dalliance of some months with the wife of Lord Tottenham of Wiltshire. It had been the talk of the clubs and the subject of many bets. That it was probably by mutual agreement, that Lady Tottenham had already borne her lord sons, that Lord Tottenham had a mistress he adored, carried no weight with Darcy. He disapproved of such things and Crawford was not the type of man he counted as a friend.
And this was the man who had the Misses Bertram spellbound? A known rake, a notorious flirt, reputed to leave broken hearts wherever he went! And Miss Bertram engaged, and even so, enamoured of the fellow? Suddenly Darcy felt less complaisant over his escape from the sisters’ attentions.
Mr Rushworth arrived shortly after noon on the following day, newly returned from a stay at a friend’s estate – Darcy could hear him declaiming the comparative deficiencies of his own place to Miss Bertram and Mrs Norris even before he had divested himself of his hat and cloak.
“My dear Mr Rushworth,” Mrs Norris exclaimed, ignoring Mr Rushworth’s litany of grievances, “you are back! Your Maria has been greatly missing you this past fortnight.”
Miss Maria, her face turned away from the two, appeared to feel nothing of the sort, and Miss Julia looked upon her with what could only be described as a knowing smirk. Darcy noticed, however, and, recalling the previous night’s fulsome praise of Mr Crawford, needed no further exposition as to how things stood between the engaged pair.
“Greet your intended, Maria,” Mrs Norris hissed softly, nudging Miss Bertram’s arm.
“Good morning, Mr Rushworth.” The voice was dull, disinterested.
“Such a fine match, I have made for you two. Sir Thomas will be so delighted, so happily surprised on his return, that the future prospects of his first daughter are all arranged, and so well, too. Such a splendid idea of mine, to escort you and Julia to the ball at the Wardens’, to seek out Mrs Rushworth and see the two of you introduced. You have me to thank, Mr Rushworth, Maria, for this most eligible match.”
Darcy forced himself to ignore Mrs Norris’s self-serving chatter, and as soon as he saw his chance, proceeded to take the measure of Mr Rushworth for himself.
“Your holdings at Sotherton are extensive, I am told.”
“The finest in the country,” Mr Rushworth replied, preening. “But … ” – deflating unexpectedly – “Compton, the place where I had been staying, is so much improved, I now find my house a prison, a dark, dismal prison.”
“What is the extent of your property?”
“I am certain I do not know. It is much larger than Compton, that much I can tell you. But my house –”
“Surely you must know how many tenant families work your land.”
“I do not concern myself with the tenants – that is for my steward to do. Now that I am returned from Compton, there is more important work that I must see to, in improving my house and grounds.”
Darcy sighed, discreetly. “Have you been long in possession of your estate?”
“Not long, not yet a year. And it is time that I –”
Darcy allowed the man to speak of the various pointless improvements he intended to make, but listened with only half a mind. So blessed with fortune and name, Mr Rushworth was, and so denied the cleverness and address that might have bestowed upon these gifts their full fruition. For such a man to succeed to such a large estate, with so little ability to make anything of it! Darcy’s father had been schooling him since he was but a youth, to one day take over the reigns of Pemberley. His death had been earlier than either father or son had expected, but, even at two-and-twenty years of age, Darcy had been well prepared. His missteps, he often told himself proudly, had been very few.
He dwelled briefly on the idle men about town – not friends of his, but known to him through his club or by acquaintance once or twice removed – and how ill-prepared many of them were to inherit their great places. If the estate even survived their gambling, he added disdainfully, smug in the knowledge that he was not tempted by such high-stake weaknesses – and found himself contemplating the absent Tom Bertram, Sir Thomas’s heir – an exemplar of just such a young wastrel. Quite a pair, those future brothers-in-law; neither of them truly deserving of their estates.
Those notions served only to exhaust Darcy’s patience. As soon as he could, he found a polite way to make his excuses and join Edmund, at the other side of the room.
Edmund shook his head in sympathy and, assuring himself that he was too far away from the others to be overheard, said quietly, “If he had not twelve thousand pounds per year … ”
He would be considered a very stupid fellow, Darcy finished silently.
The Crawfords and the Grants came to Mansfield Park for dinner, and Mr Rushworth felt all the unhappy novelty of having his favourite topic – the improvements to his estate – set aside for other matters. But there was nothing to be done for it: both he and Mr Darcy must be introduced to the new arrivals, and a certain amount of polite general empty chatter to be got through. As well, there was much fawning over Henry to be done by the Misses Bertram, and seating schemes to be encouraged by Mrs Norris for the advancement of the prospects of her favourites.
Darcy stoically accepted an introduction to Mr Crawford, who, although impeccably dressed at the height of fashion, appeared to be too plain of face and short of stature to possess such a reputation as a ladies’ man. But, after exchanging a few brief sentences, he decided that the man’s resonant voice, elegant deportment, and extremely polished manners probably accounted for it.
Nevertheless, there was a falseness to him that Darcy did not like, and he was happy to remove himself from the immediate company of this person. Mr Crawford was far more interested in attaching himself to the Misses Bertram, and so, Darcy was mostly successful in avoiding him.
Soon they all went in to dinner. By some careful manoeuvring, and against the wishes of the officious aunt, Darcy took a seat at Edmund’s end of the table, where he found himself greeted with the sight, across the table, of an animated, intelligent face with a pair of fine, dark eyes.
Elizabeth’s eyes! Darcy had already looked upon Miss Crawford’s pretty face and pleasing light figure with approval in the drawing room; had already heard her well-spoken and sensible replies to his queries. This newcomer had duly impressed him in the displaying of a mind superior to that of the Misses Bertram. He could not stop himself from staring, and while nobody would ever mistake one for the other, further unsettling similarities to Elizabeth also revealed themselves to him. She had the same merry smile when she was about to say something clever, the same way of tilting her head slightly to one side when puzzled, a similar laugh when delighted over something – so many of those endearing little traits that he had so come to adore in Elizabeth. It was almost as though she had been restored to him, under a sufficiently different guise – one with a respectable dowry, even, and despite the brother, more acceptable family connections – as to wipe out the uncomfortable recollections of his first attempts at courtship!
As at the other end of the table, Mr Rushworth was garrulously reiterating his plans for improvements, while Miss Bertram condescended to bask coldly in the consequence of her future home, and Mr Crawford replied civilly when applied to for opinions. At such times when the torrent of words about Smith and Compton and Mr Repton abated, Mrs Norris engaged in quarrels with the Grants about their style of living and alterations to the parsonage. It was none of it very interesting, and Darcy was glad to bestow his attention on the more congenial of the party.
Miss Crawford, intrigued by the information about Mr Darcy’s holdings and income that had already come her way through her step-sister, regarded this latest, most interesting new visitor with considerable interest.
“Pemberley, I gather, wants no such improvements as our verbose friend is contemplating.” Miss Crawford gestured slightly towards the top of the table. “It is already a complete place, I would think.”
“It would depend on what you regard as complete, Miss Crawford.”
“Oh, what most lords and baronets must appreciate! A beautiful approach, with several tantalizing glimpses of the house from a distance so as to inspire early envy in the visitors. A handsome bridge of some substance over a stream that divides the house itself from the park, demonstrating to the world its owner’s special place apart from the realm of ordinary men. A symmetrical house, solidly built of stone, with windows in orderly ranks, and atop wide steps, a grand doorway that must in the past have welcomed royal entourages. Inside, a lofty hall presided over by stern portraits of the third Earl of this county or the second Duke of that, leading to four fine parlours, one for each season of the year, and dining rooms sufficient to complement every mood or catch of the day –”
“You jest, Miss Crawford,” Darcy said mildly. It was unsettlingly similar in manner to the way Elizabeth sometimes had made sport of the pretentious and mighty, and more than once, he had been the recipient of her sportive wit. Memories intruded, regret and bitterness warred within him briefly; he pushed them aside and made himself fix his attention on his dinner companions.
Miss Price, who was seated near them, spoke up. “I would hope that even a place as grand as you are describing contained a few rooms that are not so frightening, comfortable places where the family can feel as though the house is a home.”
“Oh, in my experience,” Miss Crawford said carelessly, “the family are never in residence at such great places – the children have been duly placed with the nurse until they are old enough to behave, the older sons to Eton or to Cambridge and the daughters to a fine ladies’ seminary in town. Mrs Grand-and-mighty spends most of the year in London; the master goes there only to hunt. Am I not painting an apt picture, Mr Darcy?”
“Of some, perhaps. But your portrait describes accurately, neither me, nor Pemberley. I am at my estate for at least half of each year.”
“Then,” said Miss Crawford, smiling, “you are a most devoted landlord. But, so far from town, Derbyshire is. Tell me, when you are snowbound and vexed by the tedium of winter days, do you not miss the theatre, the ballrooms, the soirees?”
“Not at all,” Darcy replied.
“I think it is to be admired,” Miss Price put in, “for a landowner to pay such careful attention to his estate. One reads so often of ill effects of the contrary.”
“We have a duty to pass our holdings to our heirs in the condition in which we received them, or better,” Darcy said to her. Turning to Miss Crawford, he added, “It is always a pleasure for me to be at Pemberley, even in the winter months.”
“Oh! Then perhaps you are a devotee of the printed word. All alone in the country, confined to your house, you would not be greatly troubled that there is nothing else with which to fill your time.”
Darcy hoped that Miss Crawford’s dismissal of a love of books was merely in jest, as had been some of Elizabeth’s remarks at Netherfield so many months ago. So seldom did he encounter a lady who truly liked to read; unaccountably, he found himself feeling disappointed that Miss Crawford, so unsettlingly like Elizabeth in some ways, did not share this particular enthusiasm.
Mr Rushworth was still speaking of improvements; evidently there was an avenue at Sotherton that offended him, and must be taken down.
“Cut down an avenue! What a pity,” said Miss Price, adding, for Edmund’s benefit, a few whispered lines from a favourite poem.
This drew the attention of the others to the top of the table, and for a time, everybody was engaged in the same conversation.
Edmund was not so aflame about improvements as many of the others, and he declared that he preferred his own place arranged perhaps with less beauty but after his own preference.
Darcy approved silently, heartily. In his five years of being master of Pemberley, he had installed only such new fittings as benefited the comfort and convenience of the family he hoped someday to preside over – dumb waiters, water closets, heated waterfall baths, Rumford fireplaces – items unlikely to be noticed by those interested only in prestige and consequence.
Thoughts of his future family drew Darcy’s thoughts again to Elizabeth. Overcoming his sombre reflections, with a little less effort this time, for he was staring at Miss Crawford and she chose that moment to smile, he returned his attentions to the talk among the party.
Miss Crawford continued to discuss the inconvenience of the work of improvements to the inhabitants of the house. She described her annoyance with her honoured uncle ’s – a slight derisive undertone crept into her voice at those words – alterations to his cottage at Twickenham.
Edmund, who had been participating in the exchange with Miss Crawford and Miss Price, became silent. There was something about the way Miss Crawford spoke of her uncle that did not please him. Darcy, too, detected it, and a crease appeared between his brows.
But it was quickly forgotten by both, when Miss Crawford, with smiles and liveliness, turned to the subject of her missing harp, and related how it had been located and her difficulties in having it transported to the parsonage.
“Not by a wagon or cart,” said she. “Nothing of the kind could be hired in the village. Always, there was a pig to be taken to market, a load of fenceposts to be delivered, or some other such imperative errand, that must be executed without delay.”
“With the farmers so occupied, you should not be surprised to find it difficult to hire a horse and cart,” said Edmund.
“But I was astonished to find what a piece of work was made of it! I had thought I only need ask, and have, but I appear to have offended all the farmers, all the labourers, all the pigs, all the fenceposts in the parish! As if I had been asking for the most unreasonable, most impossible thing in the world. And now Dr Grant’s bailiff – and Dr Grant himself – look rather black upon me.”
Darcy was silent; at Pemberley, appropriating the tenants’ carts and horses merely for a lady’s frippery would not be tolerated. There were carters who could be hired in town especially for such errands, and he would prefer the future mistress of Pemberley to have more sense. He stopped short at that thought – future mistress? Was he beginning to ponder the possibility of Miss Crawford in that role? She was no Elizabeth … or could she be? Elizabeth was lost to him. He had despaired at ever meeting another like her, one with whom he might make a better start … and yet, here was Miss Crawford, so tantalizingly like!
“Our farmers are not in the habit of letting out their carts, and cannot spare their horses,” Edmund said.
“I shall understand your ways in time, but, in the true London maxim, everything is to be got with money. I was a little embarrassed at first by the sturdy independence of your country customs.”
The harp was to be delivered on the following day; Henry was to fetch it. Edmund stated that it was his favourite instrument and hoped for a small concert soon, Darcy mentioned that his young sister played the harp, and Miss Price, silently, wished to hear it very much.
“I would be happy to play to all of you, as long as you care to listen,” Miss Crawford said. “I dearly love music, and where the natural taste is equal the player must always be best off, for she is gratified in more ways than one.”
Darcy was reminded of his Aunt Catherine’s boasting of her natural taste – which had never been demonstrated to his knowledge – during her berating of Elizabeth’s imagined deficiencies at the pianoforte at Rosings. Elizabeth again! With renewed regret, he recalled that he had enjoyed her performance very much, and again he wrenched himself to the present. Miss Crawford was undoubtedly a delightful performer.
When Darcy came out of his musings and was once again aware of the direction of the conversation at the table, he found that talk had now turned to letters, and Miss Crawford was lightly mocking her brother’s brevity as a correspondent.
“‘Dear Mary, I am just arrived. Bath seems full, and everything is as usual. Yours sincerely.’ That is the true manly style; that is a complete brother’s letter.”
It put Darcy in mind of Bingley, and his careless manner of writing – his missives were longer than that, but sometimes so blotted, with such omissions, that the count of legible words was no better. Miss Bingley had belittled it in a fashion not so very different. But, Darcy told himself, there was some truth to these criticisms – for too many men of his acquaintance were no better.
“When they are at a distance from all their family,” Miss Price said, “they can write long letters.”
“Indeed so,” Mr Darcy agreed. “My sister is a diligent correspondent when we are apart, and I cannot risk disappointing her by writing to her fewer pages than she sends to me.”
Edmund turned to Miss Crawford. “Miss Price has a brother at sea, whose excellence as a correspondent makes her think you too severe upon us.”
“I trust you write as often to your brother as he does to you,” Darcy said to Miss Price. He had marked Edmund’s noticeable preference for addressing all his remarks to Miss Crawford, even those in response to the comments of others, and because Miss Price reminded him a little of his cousin Anne, he fell almost naturally into his habits of carefully addressing perceived neglects.
Miss Crawford broke in, to ask whether Miss Price’s brother was in the king’s service. It obliged Miss Price to relate the particulars of her brother’s situation to the company.
“Do you know anything of my cousin’s captain?” Edmund asked Miss Crawford, afterwards. “Captain Marshall. You have a large acquaintance in the navy, I conclude.”
“Among admirals, large enough, but,” with an air of grandeur, “we know little of the inferior ranks. Post-captains may be very good sort of men, but they do not belong to us. Of various admirals, their bickerings and jealousies, I could tell you prodigious amounts – my home at my uncle’s made me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough –”
Darcy was appalled. He would have been disgusted enough to hear something like that from a gentleman in mixed company; in fact his sensibilities could even sometimes be offended by similar raucous comments from the young men at his club. For a lady to say something of that sort, a lady whom he was becoming predisposed to admire, for a lady to even admit, indirectly, knowledge of the sin of sodomy – it was a disappointment, a grievous disappointment. And so like Elizabeth, Miss Crawford had seemed. He dearly hoped it was an aberration.
“Now, do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”
To Darcy, that last remark only made it worse. Edmund grew silent, hesitated a little, and at length merely said, “It is a noble profession.”
“It is not a favourite profession of mine. It has never worn an amiable form to me.”
Edmund changed the subject back to the harp, the possibility of a concert was raised, and Darcy was left with a number of conflicting feelings.
That night, in his chambers, unable to sleep, Darcy paced before the window, afflicted with a maelstrom of troubling thoughts.
So like Elizabeth! So promising a new acquaintance, Miss Crawford was, so auspicious their meeting – one who just might, possibly, enable him to forget the fine eyes and impertinent wit of that young lady he had wanted, and would never have.
The brother was troubling. To become family to such a rake – it was bad enough to have Wickham connected to Pemberley as merely the son of the steward! How much worse to have a libertine like that for a brother! Darcy had noticed Crawford’s behaviour to the Misses Bertram, had seen him court Miss Bertram right in front of Rushworth, as though the latter were not even there, had observed him calculatingly doling out his flatteries and attentions to both sisters, deliberately playing one against the other. He could not approve of this.
Miss Crawford was witty, spirited, and clever, as much so as Elizabeth. He had been willing to set aside his objections to Elizabeth’s vulgar family and propose marriage to her – could he not learn to overlook that brother of Miss Crawford’s in time?
But the Bennets were only that – vulgar, loud, uncultured – minor improprieties when weighed against immoral behaviour. True, Darcy reminded himself, the younger daughters were rather forward in their behaviour about the militia officers, whereas Mr Crawford represented all the moral failings and weaknesses he decried in so many young men in town, in the lack of which in himself he took so much pride. Which was worse? Society forgave young men a great deal of the behaviour that it reviled in women; Darcy considered this hypocritical. He could not easily make up his mind whether to more severely condemn the flirting Miss Lydia Bennet, or the scapegrace Mr Crawford.
That remark about the Rears and Vices! – Darcy could not easily overlook that. Miss Crawford had treated it as a joke, and he saw nothing remotely humorous in it.
Elizabeth would never have said something like that. Again, memories of lively discourses at Netherfield arose, demanded to be noticed. Elizabeth had once told him she dearly loved a joke, but that she would never stoop to laugh at something inappropriately – what was it she had said? - at what was wise and good. It was beginning to appear to Darcy that on numerous occasions, Miss Crawford would, and that she availed herself of these opportunities whenever she could.
More dispassionate now, Darcy reviewed some of the other conversations of the day. Miss Crawford had expounded decided opinions over everything. Edmund, clearly quite taken by the lady, had hung on every word, to the dismay of Miss Price, who adored her cousin and seemed to deplore every instance of a lapse in propriety, lapses that Edmund appeared to be choosing not to see.
Miss Crawford’s attitude to her own frivolous desires over the real needs of the farmers, was something Darcy now began to find difficult to overlook. Ideas that had seemed exaggerated over dinner in the interests of being witty, now indicated a superficiality that he could easily make himself think disagreeable. A great estate needed the firm hand of a rational master, one who understood how the labour and wellbeing of the farmers related to the prosperity of the place, and who discouraged any activities or caprices that interfered with the business of the estate. Dismissing these matters as inconsequential portended, he feared, equal shallowness elsewhere.
There had been noticeable disrespect shown by Miss Crawford for her uncle, the Admiral. She made no scruples of her disdain for his profession. Perhaps Admiral Crawford was a venal man, not one worthy of a great deal of admiration – Darcy had heard from Edmund earlier that Miss Crawford had come to live with Mrs Grant because certain company taken up by the Admiral made his home unsuitable for a proper young lady. Still, it was not her place to speak so – the appearances must be maintained.
Darcy resolved to act cautiously. However like Elizabeth Miss Crawford might seem, there could be important differences. He retained a hope that what he had heard that night might still turn out to be unusual occurrences, perhaps the sort of things blurted out accidentally in an attempt to cover up unease over new faces at dinner. But he would keep himself on the alert for any other such lapses of propriety.
But, he asked himself, was his Aunt Catherine always as cautious as she should be about these appearances, these requirements of society to maintain a polite face on one’s conversations about others? She spoke her mind frankly, and her thoughts were often disdainful and insulting.
And was he, Darcy, himself, as heedful of these proprieties as he ought to be as a gentleman? Uncomfortably, he turned his memories to an assembly in Meryton, and a remark that he should never have made about a harmless young lady of that neighbourhood, a remark made in pique over Bingley’s persistence, still bearing a burden of anger at the world over the near-disaster at Ramsgate.
If only that single, simple remark could be unmade, he thought miserably, he might this very day have been happily established at Pemberley, Elizabeth beside him as his adoring and adored wife, and all of these present conundrums wiped out of existence.
Miss Crawford wanted to learn to ride, and Edmund owned a gentle mare suitable to a lady, the very one customarily used by Miss Price for her morning exercise. The matter was discussed over breakfast; surely Fanny would be agreeable to postponing her ride for an hour or two while Edmund provided lessons?
Miss Price agreed, of course, so deferential she was, so aware that the horse was Edmund’s, to dispose of as he wished. And on that first morning, Edmund returned from the parsonage with the mare in good time for Miss Price’s ride.
On the second morning, the earlier lesson having gone so well that Miss Crawford now found herself with no desire to dismount, Edmund’s return was greatly delayed. Mrs Norris began to scold Miss Price for watching and waiting by the window.
It struck Darcy as terribly unfair, for even he had become aware of the usual routines of the family, and surely Mrs Norris ought to know what it was that Miss Price had readied herself for.
“Let me walk out with you; we shall meet your cousin and Miss Crawford when they return,” he suggested. Miss Price, with a grateful look, took up his suggestion eagerly.
Darcy was not entirely motivated by sympathy for Miss Price. He harboured just enough interest in Miss Crawford to be curious about how she and Edmund behaved together when not in other company, whether Edmund’s interest was reciprocated at all, whether he, Darcy, might find himself with a rival were he to decide that Miss Crawford was worth courting in earnest.
Not fifty yards from the door of Mansfield Park, there was a clear view to the parsonage, and they could easily discern Edmund and Miss Crawford riding side by side, watched over by the Grants, Mr Crawford, and several grooms.
Cheerful voices could be heard, while Miss Crawford made the circuit of the field at a slow trot, then again at a canter. Miss Price looked rather sad, and felt envious – although whether of the lady’s skill at riding or over the attentions of the gentleman, she preferred not to dwell upon. “She rides well,” was all she said, softly.
Darcy was thoughtful, and replied, “You ride for your health, I believe.”
“Yes, sir, but not at as fast a pace as you see there.”
“I hope the horse is not tired, for your sake.”
Miss Price hoped so too, but could not bring herself to say it.
They now watched Edmund draw close to Miss Crawford, taking hold of her hand in some adjustment or other to the management of her bridle. Miss Price felt a pang, but Darcy was more complaisant. He had not yet made a firm decision to pursue Miss Crawford as the future Mrs Darcy, and a few recollections of possible improprieties readily put his mind at ease; he worried only that his friend might be drawn into something unequal.
As he had once worried about Bingley, and Miss Bennet, Darcy thought unhappily. Elizabeth – Elizabeth again ! – had set him right about his misguided judgment there. Bingley had been miserable ever since leaving Netherfield, and even if there was no clear way in which he could set those matters right, he did not wish to make the same error again. He could be equally mistaken about Miss Crawford’s regard.
And perhaps, given the doubts that had been sowed in his mind at that first dinner in Miss Crawford’s company, perhaps he was just relieved that none of these decisions had yet to be made.
“Mr Crawford might have performed this service for his sister,” Miss Price suddenly remarked, in a voice that was almost petulant.
Darcy was surprised by this observation, so similar it was in tone to other utterances in his hearing by other competitive ladies, and he wondered if it portended more than just cousinly jealousy. “He could indeed, Miss Price.”
The group in the meadow broke up, and the two walked down to meet them. Miss Crawford apologized profusely to Miss Price for taking so much time; her reply was civil and aided by Edmund’s assurances that everything was well.
Darcy was not so certain. He accepted an invitation to walk to the village with the others, and when he looked back to watch Miss Price, now mounted, ride off with the old coachman, he thought he saw an unhappy expression on her face.
He could determine little about Miss Crawford’s inclinations or opinions that day, affected as their expression was by the presence of Mr Crawford and by Edmund’s attentiveness and eagerness to agree with everything. Nothing quite so unsettling as at the dinner was said, memories of and comparisons to Elizabeth persisted in intruding, and it was very clear to him that Edmund was a lost man.
Later in the morning, at Mansfield Park again, Darcy heard Miss Crawford’s abilities on horseback praised so much by the Misses Bertram, that – having seen for himself that they were good, but nothing out of the common way – the situation began to seem ludicrous. Were all of the Bertram family under the Crawfords’ spell?
That night, Edmund asked Miss Price if she meant to ride the next day, as a scheme for everybody’s riding to Mansfield Common had been raised, and Miss Crawford, he declared, had so quickly improved, that he was in no doubt of her being equal to it.
Bravely, Miss Price replied that she was perfectly happy to stay home.
But Darcy had always been able to detect similar undercurrents in his sister’s voice when she was disappointed, and he wondered that some means of allowing Miss Price to participate in the intended excursion had not been devised. He had been asked himself, but had demurred – he had letters to attend to and did not enjoy Mr Crawford’s company.
After two mornings passed in the same way, with the entire party of young people off exploring other beauties of the neighbourhood, and Miss Price watching their departure forlornly from a window, Darcy spoke up.
“You have not been riding for three days, Miss Price. Sir Thomas’s steward keeps a mare, for his wife. Perhaps I might speak to him, and see if we cannot borrow it, for your sake, today.”
“Please, sir, do not trouble yourself,” Miss Price replied. “I am content, and I can exercise myself perfectly well walking. There is much for me to do.”
Yes, much for your officious aunt to order you to do. Aloud, Darcy commented, “I wonder that Mr Crawford could not arrange for a suitable riding horse for his sister. They have the means, and it would then not deprive you of yours.”
“It is Edmund’s horse, not mine, and it is his office to determine how it is to be used.”
And it was not until the culmination of an unpleasantly hot day, fraught with tattered tempers – for Miss Bertram had been excluded from an invitation to dine at the parsonage on Mr Rushworth’s account; Mr Rushworth had not come to the Park as expected; and Edmund and Miss Julia had come home from the parsonage full of Mr Crawford this and Miss Crawford that, in spirits too high for Miss Bertram to greet with anything resembling good humour – that Miss Price’s decline was even noticed.
With no benefit of exercise for nearly a week, a hot day, and several unreasonable and useless errands imposed by both her aunts, Miss Price was discovered wan and lying on a sofa, and she received a scolding from Mrs Norris before Edmund finally stepped in, with the realization of what his indulgence of Miss Crawford had cost his cousin.
Darcy had been hoping for a suitable opportunity to speak of it to Edmund for the past two days, and had found none, as the latter was either away or Mrs Norris had been present. That it had taken him so long to notice the plight of his fragile cousin was no recommendation. Miss Crawford should also have been aware of it. It was not a point greatly in her favour. Elizabeth would have been, he told himself; Elizabeth also would have endeavoured to see Miss Price included in more of the activities.
A visit to Sotherton was planned soon afterwards. Mrs Rushworth had issued an invitation to all at Mansfield Park to spend the day touring the estate, as guests of herself and her son. Mrs Norris energetically manipulated Lady Bertram out of the engagement, so as to make way for herself, and with equal vigour, eased Miss Price out of the arrangements, despite her having been expressly included by Mrs Rushworth.
Mr Darcy was angered by the officious old woman’s interference. “Surely, if you do not wish to inconvenience Sir Thomas’s coachman, we could use my carriage in addition to Mr Crawford’s,” he said. “There would be room for everybody, including Miss Price.”
“Fanny is needed by her aunt, Lady Bertram,” said Mrs Norris.
“Yes, I cannot do without Fanny.”
Edmund, perhaps to make up for earlier lapses, determined that Mr Crawford’s barouche would have room enough for five ladies, with one on the box – he and Darcy could ride behind, Darcy on Sir Thomas’s stallion. “So thus, there will be room for Fanny and –”
“My dear Edmund, Fanny must stay with her aunt. I told Mrs Rushworth so.”
“– to make up for her absence, Mrs Grant has agreed to spend the day with you, madam,” Edmund said to his mother.
It was agreeable to Lady Bertram, if not to Mrs Norris. Darcy was amazed that, even contrived as neatly as Edmund had done, with no inconvenience to anybody, Mrs Norris still objected to Miss Price being of the party. If his cousin Anne, similarly unwilling to speak for herself, had been slighted at Rosings to even half that extent, he would certainly have voiced harsh opinions about it.
But he had to give Edmund the credit for having arranged it. It made him think better of Miss Crawford too, for surely Edmund was much under her influence now. Perhaps, he hoped – still trusting that there were things to admire in Miss Crawford, that the similarities to Elizabeth were not products of his imagination – she had put the idea into his head.
On the appointed day, a certain amount of jostling for position took place between Miss Bertram and Miss Julia, over who should have the coveted seat on the box, next to Mr Crawford. It was settled by Mrs Grant, upon whose suggestion Miss Julia climbed up to join Mr Crawford with cheerful alacrity, leaving Miss Bertram to seat herself in the barouche, next to her aunt, with a sour look.
Darcy saw it, felt a momentary concern for Mr Rushworth, and hoped that Miss Bertram would behave with sufficient propriety to satisfy Mr Rushworth and his mother, that Mr Crawford might reign in his tendencies, and that Edmund would overcome his distractions for long enough to prevent anything really bad from happening.
When the party approached Sotherton, Darcy saw not the splendours of the estate that he had been left to anticipate by Miss Bertram’s boasting over recent dinners of her future comforts, but evidence of neglect and misplaced priorities by the master. The roads, which Mr Rushworth himself had cause to use, were well-kept, but much of the village was in disrepair, some of the cottages had the roofs fallen in, and the almshouse was in a disgraceful state. The hoped-for improvements, over which so many words had recently been wasted, were entirely of a superficial sort. Was it improper pride that he felt, he asked himself, in being a responsible steward of his holdings, in maintaining them properly, in seeing that his tenants and the village itself were as prosperous as it was in his power to make them? He did not think so.
But Miss Bertram, already out of the carriage by the time the riders caught up with the others at the doors of Sotherton Court, was expounding haughtily over the magnificence of the house, the park, everything about the estate – for the moment, Mr Rushworth, not Mr Crawford, was uppermost in her mind – and her intended, himself, appeared more cheerful than had been his recent habit when also in Mr Crawford’s company.
Mrs Rushworth greeted everyone with affability. She was well acquainted with Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Matlock, and welcomed the nephew of her noble friend most effusively. A pleasant repast awaited them in one of the dining parlours, and for the first hour or so of the visit, all went very well.
Next came a tour of the house, all arrangements of touring the grounds by curricle or chaise having been negated by the wishes of one or other of the young people. It was a most acceptable thing to Miss Bertram, who basked comfortably in the reflected Rushworth family glory. In some of the remarks that lady made, Mr Darcy was uncomfortably reminded of Miss Bingley.
It was quite plain which of the guests had often seen great houses before, which of them were bored and unimpressed with the surfeit of lofty rooms, rich damask hangings, and old paintings. Darcy counted himself among them, but concealed his feelings well. He felt he owed a duty to the friend of Lady Matlock, who was being ignored by too many of the others, and he gratified his hostess with questions and expressions of interest. Only Miss Price really paid attention to Mrs Rushworth’s commentary; even Edmund was more concerned in looking at Miss Crawford than examining the treasures of the house.
They came at last to the old family chapel. “Prayers were always read here by the domestic chaplain, but the late Mr Rushworth left it off,” the dowager commented.
Regrettable, Mr Darcy thought; the chapel at Pemberley was still graced with services on special occasions even though the family had no chaplain. He and his sister customarily attended at the church on the estate, deeming it a more useful deployment of the parson’s time.
“Every generation has its improvements,” Miss Crawford said, smiling, to Edmund.
Could it be that Miss Crawford did not know of Edmund’s vocation? Mr Darcy was astonished, as much over that as over the rudeness of the sentiment. Edmund had spoken to him of it often, so how could he never have mentioned it in Miss Crawford’s presence?
Miss Price tried, briefly, to cover the awkwardness of the moment by praising the custom of a domestic chapel, but Miss Crawford, in her usual merry manner, dismissed that thought also, and even went on to laugh about the poor starched belles of the family, forced into piety and made to sit through a dull service with a chaplain probably not even worth looking upon.
There was a silence, and the thoughts of several were greatly perturbed. Miss Price, as well as Mr Darcy, contemplated the full force of the impropriety of what had been said; Edmund tried to recover a little, chiding Miss Crawford for displaying too little seriousness at times, and defending his future occupation.
It was, and it was not, like the lively conversations Darcy had sometimes enjoyed with Elizabeth; and this time he could not keep his mind away from what could never be. Elizabeth had sometimes come close to taxing his composure with her impertinence, but never, never, had she spoken so disrespectfully about a calling which he, Darcy, held in the highest esteem. Not even after making the acquaintance of the ridiculous Mr Collins – about whom some of Miss Crawford’s sentiments could undoubtedly be considered to hit their mark; what had his Aunt Catherine been thinking, giving her best living to such a sycophant? Even in the face of such ludicrous folly as had been exhibited by Mr Collins, Elizabeth had remained outwardly polite.
And with Edmund standing right there, hearing every word! Even if he had not been destined for the church, there was no call for Miss Crawford to have said the things she had. These were not sentiments that any lady with ambitions to become mistress of Pemberley ought to harbour. Mr Darcy’s notions in that direction faded further, and he was relieved that he had not succumbed to the lady’s charms beyond a brief flicker of interest. Elizabeth’s relations, vulgar as many of them could be, and save perhaps for the silly Miss Lydia who might be excused for her youth, had never spoken out quite so unfeelingly as this!
But he had, Darcy reminded himself uncomfortably. A lady whom he termed only tolerable … if only he could undo the past!
“I do not like to see Miss Bertram so near the altar,” they heard Mr Crawford say.
They turned their gazes in the direction of the others, and overheard a little more banter about the forthcoming nuptials.
“If Edmund were but in orders,” Miss Julia said, running to her brother, “he might perform the ceremony directly.”
“Ordained!” Miss Crawford said, aghast. “What, are you to be a clergyman?”
Darcy entertained only a few mild sensations of guilt upon deriving so much amusement from Miss Crawford’s discomposure, for she had brought it upon herself, and her saucy words must now be punished. And with that, he knew he was very much cured of his recent heart’s peril.
“If I had known, I would have spoken of the cloth with more respect,” Miss Crawford said, and she quickly turned the subject to something else.
Edmund said little, needing some time to collect himself, and soon afterwards the entire party found themselves away from the chapel, away from the house, and on the broad lawns outside.
Darcy was perfectly content to walk around the grounds with old Mrs Rushworth, who seemed relieved to detach herself from the persistently ingratiating Mrs Norris. The dowager asked for his opinions about all these improvements her son was always nattering on about. This, Darcy was happy to provide – the estate was quite beautiful in its current state, and his ideas, rather than requiring wholesale demolition of avenues or other instalments, involved small improvements to efficiencies: alterations of the way a door or gate opened, the placement of walls or stepping stones, the layouts of parts of the gardens in respect to the direction of greatest sunlight. Not insulted in the slightest, Mrs Rushworth took these ideas to heart and owned that she saw merit in them.
The other young people, save for Miss Julia, had gone down the terrace steps into the little wilderness below after some desultory speculations by Mr Crawford on the house and the lawns close to it. Miss Julia was chafing under the conversations of her aunt and the slowness of their progress, and when Mrs Norris drew close to Mrs Rushworth to draw her into rhapsodies about how much finer the estate would soon become after a certain happy event took place, Mr Darcy took pity on her. He offered to escort her down into the wilderness himself, where he could hand her over to the others. Miss Julia accepted eagerly.
Near the top of the steps, they passed Mr Rushworth, red in the cheek, huffing and puffing his way to the house in a tremendous hurry, and heard him mutter something about forgetting a key to the park gate.
Below, at the end of the path, they found only Miss Price, in some agitation, for against all propriety, Miss Bertram and Mr Crawford had slipped past a gap at the edge of the gate and gone into the park.
“A pretty trick,” said Miss Julia, angry. “I cannot see them anywhere. But they cannot be far, and I am equal to as much as Maria.”
“But, Julia,” Miss Price protested, “Mr Rushworth will be here in a moment with the key. Do wait.”
“Must I? I have had enough of the family for one morning, and have only this moment escaped from his horrible mother.”
Darcy raised his eyebrows, and waited a few moments before saying, “It would be better if you await our host, Miss Bertram.”
Miss Julia acquiesced, but with a dissatisfaction that she controlled as well as she did solely because Mr Darcy had suggested it.
They spoke together a while, Miss Price revealing in her carefully diffident way an account of how it had come to pass that Edmund and Miss Crawford had left her by herself. Miss Julia, with grievous vexations and simmering jealousies of her own, contrived to restrain herself from voicing them more than a few times.
Darcy was more sympathetic to Miss Price’s plight than Miss Julia’s. Although Mr Crawford and Miss Bertram behaved most improperly in going off alone, in not awaiting Mr Rushworth’s return, it had little to do with Miss Julia. But Edmund had been extremely thoughtless, leaving Miss Price by herself to go off with Miss Crawford for what he had stated would be only a moment, yet not returning even though nearly an hour had passed. So inconsiderate, yet so indicative of his friend’s besotted state.
And Miss Crawford had behaved no better, for leaving another lady alone. It was the sort of thoughtless act Darcy expected more from someone like Miss Bingley – whom he had witnessed doing something similar once to Elizabeth at Netherfield, against his own objections – than the Miss Crawford whom he had originally thought so like his … beloved. No Elizabeth, Miss Crawford was, no Elizabeth at all! It was as though a load was lifted from his mind. Elizabeth was no more restored to him than she had ever been during that unhappy summer, but at least here, Darcy’s path appeared clear.
Mr Rushworth appeared next, even more red and out of breath than he had been going towards the house. Upon hearing where Miss Bertram and Mr Crawford had disappeared to, he was extremely mortified at having undertaken an inconvenient errand for nothing.
“They could have waited,” said he, “for it was not as though I had made any difficulty over fetching the key.”
Miss Julia, anxious still over Mr Crawford off alone with her sister, reopened her original intention, now that Mr Rushworth was present to facilitate it. “We must set out immediately, for if we do not, they will soon be too far ahead for us to locate.”
Mr Rushworth vacillated sullenly for a time between following the others to the knoll in the park, and remaining where he was – he was unaccustomed to such exertions and claimed he could walk no further.
Miss Price attempted to placate Miss Julia, and Darcy, Mr Rushworth, but neither could make great incursions into the unhappy pair’s piques. Mr Rushworth sulked, spoke demeaningly of Mr Crawford’s height and plainness, wished the Crawfords had never come to Mansfield Park, and declared again that the others ought to have waited for him. Miss Julia spoke disparagingly of her sister’s headstrong actions.
But after a time, the exhortations had their effect, and with a final bit of encouragement from Mr Darcy, Mr Rushworth decided it was foolish to have gone all the way for the key for nothing, especially as Miss Julia wished to venture out. He unlocked the gate, and, gesturing to Miss Julia to join him, walked away with her.
Miss Price attempted a few apologies on behalf of her cousin and the unhappy Mr Rushworth. A silence followed, and she wondered again what could be keeping her original companions so long.
The two were on the point of setting out to find the missing pair when they heard voices. Soon, Miss Crawford and Edmund reappeared, animated and laughing. They had been to that very avenue that Miss Price had wished particularly to see, and so caught in their explorations had they been, that they had lost track of the time.
Miss Price was hurt by having been so forsaken – the same kind of injury he sometimes saw on his cousin Anne’s face when she was being ignored among the company at Rosings. She made a few remarks attempting to excuse Edmund, but Mr Darcy, now no longer deluded in any fashion about Miss Crawford, knew where to fix the blame for this latest piece of rudeness.
They set about returning to the house, and without any further idea of affections he might ever have thought to entertain for Miss Crawford, Mr Darcy offered his arm to Miss Price for the walk back.
Mr Darcy was torn between warning Edmund of the unsuitability of Miss Crawford to the life of a clergyman, and leaving matters alone. Elizabeth once again intruded on his thoughts; he could still evoke her image clearly, at Hunsford, accusing him of ruining the happiness of her beloved sister.
How, Darcy wondered over the next week, could Miss Crawford, who had in most of her speeches revealed herself to be thoroughly a creature of town society, who did not even harbour the most basic of respect for the profession, reconcile herself to life in a country parsonage? How could one such as she, who was doubtless hoping to marry fortune, accept the relatively meagre income of a country living?
He had no answers, and the situation troubled him, for he did not want to repeat the mistake he had made by interfering with Bingley.
It was high time he departed from Mansfield Park, for Tom had returned, bringing with him his good friend Mr Yates and a headful of schemes for private theatricals. Darcy wanted no part of it, and sympathized entirely with Edmund, who felt it to be disrespectful to his absent father to allow the house to be used in such a manner.
And Lovers’ Vows ! Darcy could not imagine a more unsuitable play for a respectable family to be performing. Had it been a scene from King Lear, informally read in the drawing room, he might have taken part gladly, but this … it determined him even more resolutely to have nothing to do with it.
By the time the morning set for Darcy’s departure came around, Miss Julia had been eased out of the play through some manoeuvrings of Mr Crawford’s, undoubtedly to advance his flirtation with the engaged Miss Bertram, and there was talk of extending the festivities to some other young people in the neighbourhood to fill out the parts. And Miss Crawford to take the role of Amelia, and such brazen talk of who was to teach her to love!
Elizabeth would never have agreed to such a thing.
He would leave the matter of the infatuated Edmund undetermined, but there was nothing to be done for it. Edmund was unlikely to listen to reason. Whether Darcy spoke up or not, he would leave an unhappy man in his wake.
Relieved he would be to leave. He had always enjoyed Edmund’s company, but there was no reaching him now. And the intrigues of the rest, he was happy to leave behind. A baronet’s family was in no way immune to unsuitable behaviour, and the Bennets were beginning to appear far less dire to him these days.
But it made Darcy think again of Bingley, and perhaps there might yet be something to be done. It was possible – he hoped – that Elizabeth thought better of him upon reading his letter, and while any meeting between them would be necessarily fraught with embarrassment, it might afterwards yet be possible to start afresh.
He was expected in London, there to stay for a few days, to collect his party – Georgiana, Bingley, Bingley’s sisters – unfortunately – and several others – and proceed to Pemberley for the remainder of the summer.
And then, soon enough, it would be the hunting season. Perhaps Bingley might be persuaded to return to Netherfield – without the sisters, ideally – where they would both be able to visit at Longbourn. It was an opportunity he would welcome: to court his beloved Elizabeth again, and properly this time, with all the respect and heartfelt affection that she deserved. A second chance.