Author's Note: I started this story a couple of years ago (it is posted in the archives as "Captain Tilney" and then real life intervened and I forgot all about it. However, I do want to finish it, so I resumed writing it. I am reposting the first three parts, since it is archived all the way on the bottom, and plus I modified it a bit. Hopefully the dot police will be lenient with me.
On the story itself: I dearly love a rake and always had a soft spot for Frederick Tilney in NA, so he is the hero of this story.
Once again, I want to thank Ann for the wonderful place to post all my nonsense! My eternal gratitude
Captain Frederick Tilney looked around Northanger Abbey. He was home for a couple of days, since receiving an invitation (read 'a command' thought Tilney wryly) from his father.
He was his father's favorite child. As the eldest-born, with all the property to come to him on the death of his father, he was always important in his father's eyes. Henry, the only possible rival for general's esteem (for daughters did not matter much to a man like the general), was only a second son, who forfeited all claims to general's affection, such as it was, by marrying a Miss Morland, a girl with no connections, family or fortune.
Frederick Tilney was a handsome, charming man. He was one of those who made a red coat an attraction for ladies. An amusing conversationalist, intelligent, polished, witty and sarcastic, he was popular with both men and women. Especially women. However, he did not return their affections. He might flirt, and flirt charmingly, but only an extremely obtuse or greedy damsel could take his attentions seriously. Since a youthful disappointment he had been bitter about women and their capacity to love.
Most of them are like Isabella Thorpe thought he. Amusing and beautiful. And heartless. He remembered Henry reproaching him for that affair. But even Henry understood that if Isabella had been different, he would have treated her differently. He would have never behaved like that to Miss Morland for example. He did not deny good women existed (witness his sister), but the "good" ones he met so far in society were a set of extremely excruciating bores.
-"Your father will see you directly"- announced a stately footman, and Frederick walked into the library. Even though a favorite son, he did not want to be home. It had lost all its warmth with the marriage of his sister, and all its vivacity with the marriage of his brother. He had been at both weddings. Miss Morland was a pretty, unaffected girl (even though Frederick could not see what in her made Henry to so adamantly oppose his father). And she evidently doted on him. He liked his sister's husband as well, though Lord Robert Broughton was a quieter, more serious type of man than his usual associates. But after the weddings, the small lure of Northanger Abbey diminished even further. He came to pay duty calls to his father, but his calls of pleasure were to his brother and sister.
After an interval, suited to the importance to the head of the household, General Tilney walked in.
"How are you, Frederick?" exclaimed he, on seeing his son.
"Very well, Sir." was the received (and expected) reply.
Without much ado, the general commenced with the reason for his summons.
"Frederick, your sister is married very advantageously. A prodigiously good man, worth I don't know how many thousands a year, and a viscount to boot..."
Frederick wondered where this would lead but he knew better than to interrupt.
" And your brother. Hmmm... He is not married so well, but all is forgiven. And so, Frederick..."
Suddenly Tilney knew, with a sickening jolt, why his father called him.
"You, my eldest, are the only unmarried one. Any girl would take you!" exclaimed the general heartily." A captain, good-looking, and heir to great property. However," he held up his finger to emphasize his point "however, you are not for every girl. Henry is after all a second son. You are the one who is going to inherit all this." and he indicated the vast room with a grandiose sweep of his hand.
Meanwhile, during his long monologue, Frederick's mind was racing. Thank God, his father could not have arranged his betrothal (though he would have if this was thirty years ago). But how to get out of this. He could not say no if it was just seeing someone, but it might lead to complications and expectations if he did see the girl.
His father interrupted his train of thought by raising his voice and announcing: "I have found the very girl for you. Lady Helen Marcher. Her father and I are old friends. You are not to worry your head too much. Just ride over and visit them. Their estate, "Marchers" is (conveniently) only a few hours from where you are stationed, and only half a day's trip from here....that is all, Sir. You are dismissed."
Captain Tilney could say nothing but "Yes, sir" to that.
"Tilney! Upon my soul!" Cried a man in a red officer's uniform, his face somewhat the worse for the last night's potations.
"We weren't expecting you for another week" continued he glumly.
"Do try and control your joy, James" grinned Tilney.
"Oh, here you go again, cutting up stiff, Frederic! Glad to see ya, of course" and he extended his hand. "But then..." he broke off and after a few minutes' hesitation continued: "Well, you'll know anyhow, so I might as well tell you. There's a new beauty in town. Just arrived yesterday. I thought I might have a chance, with a week's start ahead of you. But no, Frederic, you had to come back a week early!"
Frederic's eyebrows went up: "You flatter me, James" he murmured.
"Not at all, dear fella, not at all. Devilish popular with the ladies. 'Pon my soul! But this beauty..." he sighed dreamily "She's got the biggest blue eyes you've ever seen...like, like, ummm...like spoons" finished he somewhat lamely. "And the most enchanting dark ringlets and a trim figure, with a neat ankle and with the whitest skin and..."
But here Tilney interrupted this somewhat incoherent, but ecstatic description:
"James" remarked he dryly "James, do get some breath. You'll suffocate, man, if you continue at such a rate!"
"But Frederic, you don't understand!" continued James undaunted "She's got a beautiful classical straight nose-perfect and absolutely the smallest rosebud mouth...and...you needn't look so sarcastic, Tilney. She is the most glorious creature I've ever seen!"
Up went Tilney's eyebrows once more:
"Not again, James" he drawled wearily "Remember Uxbridge? Remember Rosaline?"
"Rosaline?" echoed James
"Yes, Rosaline," continued Tilney acidly: "The last 'most glorious creature you've ever seen'"
"Ah," responded James reminiscently "She was devilish pretty, wasn't she, Frederic? And had such a lovely smile..."
"She also had a slatternly mother and a father with a hunting gun, remember?" interrupted Frederic ruthlessly. "Yes, I see you do. Well, so do I. How I got you out of that one still keeps me awake nights. I really have no desire to go through that yet again."
"Oh" James dismissed this airily. "Why all this worry, Frederic? After all, you know me."
"That's precisely the reason" responded Tilney, smiling wryly.
"Really, Frederic! Why I put up with your acid tongue and your nasty remarks, I have no idea!" complained James, a picture of injured innocence. "Once, I made a mistake. Once."
"All right, once" nodded Tilney. "And what about Elizabeth, or Sarah Jane Miles, or Ann Weston or that, what's her name-that blonde woman with consumption in Masontown...I wish I kept a list" complained he: "My memory is not good enough for all of your one and only's." here he had to break off, laughing, for James was making the most frightful grimaces.
"James, you madman! What now? Are you practicing for your bow to your Goddess? Or is it all for my benefit?"
James just pointed his finger at a closed carriage driving by, still contorting his face to the utmost extremes that the limitations of human physique allowed. Since he also managed to put his finger to his lips, Tilney had stopped talking and instead curiously observed the carriage till it passed.
When it disappeared, so did James' grimaces.
"Now James, what was that?" demanded Tilney grinning. But his friend continued to be entranced by some inner vision.
"I am entitled to an explanation, James, you know. After all, my reputation might be irreparably damaged if I am seen to be publicly consorting with a contortionist. Out with it, man!"
James smiled at him soulfully. "It was SHE, in her carriage."
"I see." was Tilney's noncommittal reply.
"And you needn't look so smug, Frederic. It's not at all like all like last time!"
"Oh?" drawled Tilney
"After all, Rosaline was a blonde"
What Tilney would have replied to that deliberate provocation remained unknown, for at that moment the two officers were hailed by a third voice:
"Vernon! And Tilney!" and a third officer joined them. He was somewhat younger that Tilney and James Vernon, with light hair and an engaging pair of blue eyes in an open face. His smile was friendly as he held out his hand.
"Talking in the middle of the street. What about? The new beauty, I'll be bound!" And not waiting for a reply he continued "She's exquisite, Tilney. She has velvet..."
"Spare me, Layne" sighed Tilney. "James had been singing her praises for the last half-hour till I am half-deaf of it."
"You've got no sense of gratitude, Frederic" grinned James. "Here I've been describing an angel and you'd rather stay on this dusty earth!"
"Enough, enough!" Tilney covered his ears.
"Well, you shall see her for yourself soon-We are giving a ball next Wednesday" added Layne. "Going to your quarters, gentlemen?"
And the beauty was abandoned for the moment. It was Tilney who briefly revived the subject when they approached the Hotel. "What's her name?" asked he idly.
And received a leveler: "Lady Helen Marcher" replied James.
Half an hour and many drinks later, the conversation was boisterous and loud. Tilney had been pounded on the back, his hand shaken and his name hallooed in greeting at least a dozen times. The most sober of the company, he heard raptures about Lady Helen, tales of an entertaining new play put on by the strolling players in his absence and the neatest little bet "t-t-t-truly amazing, T-t-tilney" confirmed a flushed young Lieutenant, over a path of a runaway turnkey. "Lost" added the young Lieutenant disconsolately (and somewhat slurring the words). "The damn bird did cross the Charing road." Now the conversation in a momentary lull, someone mentioned that he heard the Markhams were back in town. "Came in with Lady Helen and her family. Lady Julia, her mother and Mrs. Markham were at a boarding school together. I think Mrs. Markham brought her eldest daughter as well."
"Is Charles Markham with them?" asked Tilney
"Who?" The speaker seemed to think for a second.
"Charles. Mrs. Markham's son" joined in Laine. "You remember" added he impatiently. "He got drunk at Molly's last year and Peterson had to dunk him into a pail of water to persuade him to leave Molly's daughter alone."
"Oh, that young cub! He's with them."
"And a damn nuisance" added a he dispassionately. "Brawling and drinking. I remember now. Started a brawl at the Pelican as well. Some disagreement with a trollop, what else. Yes, he's back all right."
There were several grimaces and Vernon demanded: "Since when did he show any pleasure in his mother and sister's company?"
"He says it's for their comfort" joined in the young Lieutenant.
"He's never been interested in anyone's comfort but his own." replied Tilney curtly. His eyes were cold.
"Actually" interjected Captain Mills, a serious man in his mid-thirties, "He came to dance attendance on Lady Helen. The Markhams are as poor as church mice, you know. And she's an heiress."
"Hopeless," put in Laine positively "Her parents won't want the match, and there's little in Charles Markham to recommend him to a Lady of Quality."
"Or a bear-trainer's daughter. And she's used to associating with his species." remarked Tilney emotionlessly.
"I never understood why you dislike Markham so, Tilney" Captain May, a sharp little man with angular bony face and a birdlike nose entered the conversation. "He's nice enough if a bit wild. I have tried to find out. Why?"
"I wouldn't dream of telling and so depriving you of your customary occupation." Tilney smiled softly. "What else would you do with your time?"
The room grew still and Vernon and Laine imperceptibly moved to Tilney's side. It was known, but only whispered, that May was a highly-placed, highly-connected snoop, who had ruined more than his share of men. Why he was in the regiment was a mystery, and not one many wanted to probe.
The smile seemed glued to May's face. He stared at Tilney, who stood before him negligently, in a relaxed attitude, as if unaware of what he had just said.
"You shouldn't be so affected by my concern, May" remarked he sweetly. "I just think it's good to keep in practice." He removed his cool eyes from May's flushing countenance and motioned to Vernon and Laine. "I want to talk to you gentlemen , enunciated he loudly and clearly and deliberately turned his back. The three left the room.
"You shouldn't have done it, Frederic" expostulated James. "He's a dangerous enemy. Your tongue is going to get you in trouble."
Laine looked grave as well, but Frederic's mouth was set hard.
"But, damme!" added James with a dawning grin "I'd loved to have said it to him myself!"
"James," chuckled Frederic, grimness leaving his face. "You never change a bit, do you?"
That night, before falling asleep, Frederic thought with dismay of his now unavoidable visit to the Marchers. "No escaping it now" thought he irritably, never dreaming that in another quarter, his thoughts were echoed by Lady Helen.
In the spacious, warm sitting room of the Marchers, two girls: Lady Helen and her friend Miss Selina Markham were seated in front of the fire.
"It passes everything!" the raven-haired beauty got up and angrily paced the floor. "Oh Selina, I am so vexed with Mama! Taking me to town so now I cannot avoid a meeting with Captain Tilney! I vow if I knew what they had in mind, I'd have pleaded smallpox. Arranging everything with General Tilney behind my back! Only telling me when we came to town. ooh!" and the beauty stamped her foot.
"But I do not see why you are so cross, Helen" calmly replied Miss Markham. "Surely your parents won't force you into a distasteful marriage, and I've heard that the Captain is charming and handsome"
"But, Selina, he is so clever! And I abhor dark haired men. There is something so sinister about them. I would much rather he was fair."
Selina burst out laughing. "Helen, you are just saying this to be contrary. I am sure, that if he were blond, you'd say that fair hair is insipid and you prefer dark haired men."
Never serious or despairing for long, Helen joined in the laughter.
"But seriously, Selina" continued she gravely after a pause. "I wish I were "bookish" like you. You see, I could never be witty, or clever, or hold a fascinating conversation with half a dozen people. And I know he is polished and witty, and everything I am not."
"Nonsense" retorted Selina fondly, even though privately she had her doubts. Less sheltered than Helen, with a hypochondriac mother and a ramshackle brother, she had heard something of Captain Tilney's reputation with women. "Nonsense" repeated she firmly. "You may not be clever, but you are sweet and kind." And so beautiful, most men won't care WHAT you have in your head , added she silently.
"Yes, but you remember Margaret Tollivane. Who was Maggie Prestane. She married that odious Peter Tollivane and now he is forever sneering at her for not following the conversation. She can't do anything right."
"I am sure Captain Tilney is not like that. No well-bred man is." quietly replied Selina.
Lady Helen sniffed elegantly. "You always contrive to cheer me up, Selina... But it's not to be borne!" she fumed again. "I wish I were you, Selina"
"My goodness, why?" asked Miss Markham in open astonishment.
"I wish I were poor like you. Then no one will want to marry me for my odious fortune."
Selina smiled at that. "That's what you think, Helen. How would you like to have to scrimp and save and not be able to buy a new gown but have to remake and remake old ones? And never be the belle of the ball. Have your mother telling you to accept the first offer that comes along "because you cannot be picky, my girl"" she mimicked Mrs. Markhams reedy tones. "And have to rely on your beauty to snare you a husband, sadly lacking in this all-important quality..."
Lady Helen was looking thoughtful, but at this she interrupted loyally. "Indeed, Selina, you wrong yourself. I think you are beautiful."
"Thank you" smiled Selina.
"And if all this is not enough to make my place more odious to you than a dozen suitors, just think:" she added mischievously "you won't want to have Charles as your brother, would you?"
The expression on Lady Helen's face became so ludicrous that she chuckled and Lady Helen's silvery bell-like laugh followed it.
The next morning, Tilney would have loved to plead his duties as an excuse for not visiting the Marchers, but regrettably, by a very disagreeable miracle, no one in the garrison wanted him to do something for once. And after all, he knew, he could not avoid the disagreeable meeting for long.
"This morning it is" sighed he to himself, and cringing, got out of bed. After one too many "celebratory" drinks last night, the sun hurt his eyes, his head felt leaden and there were small men dancing in the pit his stomach. He did not feel like going out, and certainly not on an affair of gallantry, especially arranged gallantry! How would Lady Marcher like it is I pleaded hangover as an excuse? grinned he to himself, imagining the reaction of that extremely proper lady. I suppose it would go like this: "Ma'am, I sincerely regret that I cannot attend you and your charming daughter, but I am severely indisposed, because I tried to drink myself into oblivion at the prospect of alliance with Lady Helen"
No, not even with my manners! What with muttering to himself, cocentrating on the little hammers in his head, and trying to pull his Hessians on, he managed to overturn a nearby pitcher of water (what is WATER doing in my room anyway) and rather heatedly informed the ceiling of the shortcomings of Fossett his man, the army life, and the universe in general.
A rather uncertain knock at the door interrupted this harangue and looking even worse for wear than he did, James Vernon walked through the door.
"Heard the racket m'boy," exclaimed he amiably, "and guessed you were up" he paused and noticed Frederick's formal morning outfit. "And devilish dressed too. Going someplace?"
This intrusion did nothing to improve Tilney's mood.
"Yes. To visit the new Goddess" he snapped irritably.
Were he not so completely at outs with the world, he could have laughed at the look of open-mouthed consternation on James' face. For a second he considered telling him about his father's ludicrous betrothal idea, but decided against it. Telling someone else would not serve any purpose, make him the joke of the garrison and upset James.
"Decided to see her for myself. Wanted to know why half the men lost their remaining wits over her," was all the explanation he gave.
To his surprise, James squared his shoulders determinedly, and said "I am coming with you".
Tilney bowed over the lady's hand. He was surprised and thought cynically that poor James must be more desperate than usual. The woman in front of him was soberly proper. Despite a pair of frank grey eyes in a pleasing countenance, she was no beauty, and totally undeserving of James' frantic ravings.
The girl noticed him staring at her in surprise. Her eyebrows rose slightly and Tilney had the grace to blush.
"Lady Helen," began he, "I am most pleased..." when he was cut off.
"Regrettably, her Ladyship was unavoidably detained on urgent business," said the girl in a cool voice, "she asked me to make her apologies. I am Miss Markham"
Very proper congratulated she herself, resolutely shutting away the memory of Helen's stormy exit this morning, followed by her weeping mother, imploring governess and a stoic manservant.
Frederic almost gave a start as the girl said her name. It is impossible that any sister of Markham's could be so well-bred.
Behind him, James was making tentative little nudges, and Tilney noticed that Miss Markham looked at him inspecting an introduction. Once that necessary office was performed, Selina invited the gentlemen to sit down.
The conversation lagged. Tilney was busy stifling his surprise on the strangely genteel appearance of any member of Gregory Markham's family, trying to fit in a chair obviously designed for a very delicate lady, and not a healthy and well-proportioned Captain of the Hussars, and nursing his hangover, and Jameswas reverently gazing at the room that until recently held his Goddess.
After about 10 minutes of monosyllabic and very random replies, Selina decided that this must stop.
"I believe we must have some conversation, gentlemen," said she. "A very little will suffice."
There was polite but monosyllabic agreement, and sighing, she tried again.
"I am sure Lady Helen would be very sorry, when she finds out that she missed such an entertaining visit from such lively, talkative gentlemen," she commented teasingly and THAT she saw with satisfaction, gotten through: both gentlemen were staring at her.
Tilney was incredulous. Is it possible that this prim, proper Miss was laughing at them? He looked up somewhat gingerly and suddenly noticed the twinkle in her eyes. He rapidly revised his previous impression. She was certainly not dull.
"I have always found it to be the case that ladies appreciate a man who lets them talk unrestrainedly. And we have most gallantly let you contribute more than your share of the conversation. Was it all in vain?" asked he, sighing sadly, shaking his head, and laughing at the stare James gave him.
"True, ladies love to talk, but even more, they love to be listened to. I know it's unreasonable, but there it is. And even though you were most kind in providing me with the first, I am afraid I felt a lack of the second." Replied she with an answering smile.
"I apologize but I was busy meditating on a pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in a face of a pretty woman can bestow" replied he, pulling out a tried and true gallantry line, trying to make her blush.
To his shock, Miss Markham blushed, but it was not with pleasure or embarrassment but suppressed laughter.
"Now I know why you were so preoccupied. You were trying to think up a compliment suitable for the occasion."
She grinned unrepentantly and Tilney had to make a second (indignant) revision of the morning. She was certainly NOT Ladylike and well-bred!!
At this moment, both combatants noticed that James Vernon was staring at both of them, slightly open-mouthed. Selina took pity on him and suggested that they walk to meet Lady Helen who should be returning at the time. She knew Helen would be mad at her, for her leaving was expressly to escape meeting Mr. Tilney, but Selina prosaically thought that Helen after all, could not hide out the whole day, and the sooner the meeting was got over, the better.
The gentlemen offered an arm each, and the three walked down the street. Face it, Selina, my girl admonished herself Miss Markham. This is probably your only time to be escorted by two handsome officers, so make the most of it! .
After the three walked a short way, they encountered Captain May and a few of the other officers. May motioned to Tilney, and excusing himself to James and Selina, Frederic joined the group a little way off.
"You truly are a resourceful man, Frederic." Commented May snidely "Getting to Lady Helen by trying to be nice to her rather plain friend. Always works! And you must be so sure of success for such attention seems to be pretty rare for her."
"I find Miss Markham's conversation delightful" rapped out Frederick.
"Her wits are sharp," agreed May smoothly. "And they should be. After all, 'tis the only grace she possesses. No man would be such a fool as to go for the looks or the money."
Slow anger began to spread though Tilney for such a cavalier treatment of the girl. She might have been impertinent, presumptious and vexing, but she surely did not deserve such a cruel summation.
"Even with your gallantry you'd have to admit dancing attendance on her would be rather a chore," continued May.
"True, "put in another officer. "You must admit it, Tilney. A connoisseur such as you. After all you don't see anyone asking to escort HER to the assembly ball on Friday."
Repulsed by such bad breeding, Tilney turned on his heel to walk off, when he caught Selina's face out of the corner of his eye. She was blushing painfully, and the expression on her face told him she had overheard the conversation.
"I had been hoping that Miss Markham would honor me with her acceptance of my humble escort to the ball," he heard his own voice,
There was a stunned silence. Joining Miss Markham he repeated the request and she curtsied politely in acceptance.
"Oh My God" thought Frederic. Why can't I learn to keep my mouth shut? What have I gotten myself into?