Some country people say that opposites attract, but this piece of worldly wisdom has never held true for me. A sinner such as I could never hope to hold a pure and innocent soul. That is why I knew that John Larpent, Lord Orville must win the sweet young person who appeared like an angel fallen from the heavens at a public ball.
He must win her, and she him, as the world must turn on its axis, the sun rise, the dew fall. She must win him, and he her, though at first he tried to reassure me by attempting to seem unimpressed. I knew better.
I was not fooled by my own words in his mouth. I had said he would fall for some poor, weak girl, someone who needed his protection. I knew before he did that he would find someone to love who was not his equal--someone to care for, like a pet. A pure soul like his wants only to give. I have never been that way.
From the time he was at Eton with me, his eyes would light in such a fashion when he saw anything he desired. Natural reserve or the habits of discipline he'd acquired from an over-strict governess prevented him from expressing enthusiasm for what he wanted. If the other boys had currant buns or any thing nice, Larpent would never put himself forward.
Was it his shy smile or his sincere thanks that made the other lads offer him cakes and ale? Was it his rosy cheek and downcast, long-lashed eye? Or was I the only one who noticed these things about him? At school, where one sees one's fellows in the morning, tousled with sleep and disarrayed, at their best and at their worst, John Larpent was ever well-bred and gentle mannered.
This time, however, he expressed some desire when he asked the girl to dance, and a fine pair they made; she all blushing confusion, he all easy elegance. She was a beauty, and clearly no fool--inexperienced, certainly, but her face betrayed her sensibility. She could see his value: his good manners, his graceful leg, his handsome face, his title. He was obviously, to one who watched him as many years as I, in love.
I vowed I should make him regret the day he declared he would be the David to my Jonathan. I took it as a promise, though I was hurt he took me for Jonathan. True he had been in his cups when he said it, and truer still, that I had been the one to pour his wine. But people say, in vino veritas.
I suspect that one is untrue as well.
How well does Lord Orville know his scriptures? Could he recall that David eulogized Jonathan, "how are the mighty fallen," and called his love better than the love of women? Or did he merely mean to bury me? The young John Larpent could not hold his drink. But what is a man to do, surrounded by naval officers at the home of an old school friend? I am certain he did not recall the occasion when he confronted me in the arbor at Lady Beaumont's--but perhaps he did.
This Miss Anville was just like him, when I first met him, back at school. He too was innocent and determined to be good, determined not to laugh at my raillery. She too allows smiles to escape her, as he did, when people are ridiculous.
When I am ridiculous, I admit it.
The truth is, yes, I pursued her first to keep them apart, and for no other reason. At the ridotto last April, I plagued her with gallantry, even seeing how she wished to curse me. Her sparkling clear eyes reminded me so much of him that I wanted to tease her. "What, come now, Jack, are you a girl, a blushing virgin!" as we all did at school. His shrinking from the ladies of the town, his sobriety, his placid temper--of course, she is exactly that.
But as I teased the poor creature, enjoying the angry flush of her cheek, I began to think, "What if I could win her for myself?" For she was a beauty, well and fashionably dressed, and she held her head high, though I doubt she'd had to hold up such a coiffure in the schoolroom she'd surely left only weeks before. Her slender neck was swanlike and boyish, though I could see the tops of her little bubbies at her decolletage.
Only a schoolgirl would think to lie to a man nearly a dozen years her senior and say she was engaged to dance already. But of course, it was her second ball, and she, sent to make her fortune in the big city had nothing to recommend her but her beautiful face, light step and oddly heavy name. (Her name! Ah that--even in my final letter to her, I never admitted that I knew the story of her name. A heavy thing indeed.) Her good manners were innate, but she was sadly countrified--in short, a slightly older, female version of the schoolboy I loved hopelessly at Eton.
But even then I saw I had played it wrong. How like him to step forward and offer himself a sacrifice to woman's tears. "What have I done," I thought, "I've given him into her hands, for this is just the sort of weakness that will melt his heart." Like a thoroughbred colt who bravely resists breaking until she becomes utterly besotted of her rider, like a beagle bitch, orphaned and pathetic, a woman lifts her large and brimming eyes to a man to ensnare him there, all unconscious. The trappings of dress and manners do not hide her wild animal nature; she is a thing to be tamed and owned.
She was like him in other ways, as well, in her ignorance of the world. If Captain Mirvan hadn't told me of the strange circumstances of her birth, I never would have thought to find her amongst her vulgar relations. How comic they all seemed in comparison to her, and she a character from a higher tragic drama, all pathos.
But I get ahead of myself in my explanations, my self-justifications, for I pursued her assiduously and indeed nearly told her why. I saw her distress at being left with the boorish Frenchwoman, apparently some long-lost relative. I took her home in my carriage, and confessed my feelings, or some of them. I am not like Lord Orville--I cannot expect to win what I desire if I do not ask for it, and desires rule me.
That she reacted like a virgin whose virtue was threatened--of course I understand it. Her mother, after all, was tricked into a secret marriage with a nobleman. Was such an unfortunate orphan, raised by a vicar in seclusion, not to fear a man who held her hand? I nearly betrayed my impatience with her, nearly told her to stop shrieking like a girl. Instead I teased her, teased her, "Surely you have no doubts of my honour?" How I laughed when I was at home again at her ludicrous terror.
Someday I must father an heir to my house at Combe Magna, or my estate will be entailed to some relation or other. Heaven knows my sister will never have children, that dried up old maid.
When I found the poor girl at Vauxhall, abandoned by her idiotic cousins, her eyes were rolling like a frightened horse. I love a good jaunt with a crowd, and better, to find a filly in a fine fettle with a crowd of sailors who don't know horseflesh--an actress, indeed.
In the end, though, it was not for me to choose, Lord Orville or Miss Anville--I could not have one or the other, nor one and the other--I could not possess either. I could not thwart the natural mating habits of two such fine creatures with my unnatural passions--with my perseverance.
When Lord Orville confronted me in the arbor, I thought, "Oh Jack, what are you, a girl, a blushing virgin," for his face was flushed and it was quite becoming. I remembered every occasion over years when my pranks had brought the colour to his cheek. Good God, how beautiful he can be still.
I said, "You know, my Lord, I am not given to despair," but was it so? For years I'd tried to make him mine, that cold, inanimate, phlegmatic man, who should have been my warm, my bosom friend. Why am I not a comic character? Why do I not win the beloved? Why do I not marry the girl at the end of the story, the girl who was a true-hearted orphan, claimed by a wealthy and noble father?
Must I be the clownish villain, who tears up a letter and stomps on my hat? Must the high-bred filly win the race, must the bland, insipid, undesiring pair live together in unimpeachable virtue? How very pretty they must look together.
I lied in my last letter to Lady Orville. I said I was extremely indifferent to Lord Orville's opinion. It was not so--I hoped he would write to me to demand satisfaction.
I know that I could satisfy him, better than any girl.
How are the mighty fallen.