Marry In Haste, Repent At;
"Marry in haste, repent at leisure."
Proverb 16th Century.
"SHARPER: 'thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure.
Marry in haste, we may repent at leisure.
SETTER: Some by experience find those words misplaced: At leisure
married, they repent in haste.'"
Old Bachelor, 1693, Act 5, Scene 1.
William Congreve, 1670-1729, English Dramatist.
hatred is by far the longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but
they detest at leisure."
Lord Byron, 1788-1824.
The journey from London to Rosings had never seemed so long before, but then to a man under the spell of a desperate resolution, even a short walk can last a lifetime. Fitzwilliam Darcy glanced at his pocket watch once more, observing the lack of time which had passed since his last marking of the hour. With a sigh he contemplated the triumph he was about to face from his Aunt, and only the near disaster which he had encountered recently kept him from ordering the carriage to turn round.
Closing his eyes, he confronted himself with the full horror of the memory once again. Of waves crashing against rocks in time to the pounding of his heart. Of a young girl in a scoundrel's embrace, upon the shore of a seaside town. Innocence pitted against the foulest mind in existence. If he had been but a day later, what disaster would have unfurled. No sister to seek comfort in his arms at the unexpected visit, only a letter scribbled by her captor announcing their elopement, and that only if he were lucky.
His recollection of the alternative still haunted him, the ugly confrontation which his sister bore witness to, as the scoundrel took his leave from the place and from her. Granted there had been a solid mahogany door between her and them, but the words still reached her ears, their meaning unavoidably audible. Not until that barrier was thrown open did he see the effect they had on her, the tears barely held in check by the Darcy demeanour. Out of all the events during that dreadful day, her desolate expression carried the most weight.
For five years he had been given charge of her and the estates their family had left him. He had strived to become all that his mother and father wished for him to be, but his failure with Georgiana rendered the rest of his achievements moot. By remaining thus he had neglected her in favour of the rest of the bounty which he had been left. Well, no more. It was time for him to do his duty and fulfil a long outstanding wish.
At that moment the view outside changed, the long avenue of trees parting to reveal a grand imposing residence, its shape and style belonging to a time far more ancient than the one in which he currently resided, yet nowhere near as old as the stones in which Pemberley was enshrined. Darcy gazed at the house with unseeing eyes, taking in none of the windows or the chimney pieces. It was useless. He could not attempt to love this place as much as he loved the one which had heralded his birth, witnessed his childhood and nurtured his early stewardship.
Rosings was nothing to Pemberley. Where one estate seemed to emerge from a land where nature had done more, where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste, the other imposed its will upon the land in which it reigned, commanding order and symmetry, opulence and wealth. The woods which surrounded the environs were lucky to escape a similar fate, their unchecked wildness a stark contrast as well as an example of imperious mismanagement. It would take him years to work a transformation and he had not the will with which to begin.
The carriage turned into the long drive, his well trained horses thundering their way down past the topiary trees all too soon for his liking. Soon the equipage came to a halt before the grand imposing entrance, forcing him to quit the peaceful luxury of one for the ornate loudness of the other. As his booted feet touched the ground, no flood of servants appeared as if from nowhere to attend to him, his carriage, or his horses, another sign of his Aunt's efficient mismanagement. Sparing only a glance at the quality of the other vehicle stationed in the drive, he slowly mounted the steps and opened the door before going inside.
"Mr Darcy, sir.” The butler rushed into the marble cased hallway, fresh from his mad dash from the servants' quarters. "I apologise for my tardiness."
"No need, Simmons, my arrival was unexpected." Darcy divested himself of his coat, hat and gloves. "You and your family are well, I hope?"
"Yes, sir, blooming apace, thank you," Simmons beamed at the inquiry, one he never received from his mistress. "Her Ladyship is away at Lady Metcalfe's, sir. And Miss Anne is with the physician from town."
Darcy stilled in quiet shock at this piece of information. "The physician from town? Which one?"
Simmons mentioned the name, and further surprise stole across his features, along with a sufficient surplus of dread. He had heard enough of the man's reputation to be imagining the worst. "Take me to her."
Anne's suite of rooms lay on the ground floor of the house, occupying the left wing of Rosings while the ones usually assigned to him during his yearly visits occupied the right. At her mother's design and instruction, Anne's suite of rooms lay on the ground floor of the house, occupying the left wing, as Lady Catherine could not bear the thought of her daughter being troubled with staircases, even though Rosings had several. Darcy turned to his cousin's apartment, waiting for her to learn of his arrival as he paced the confines of her sitting room.
To his surprise, Simmons returned almost immediately to let him know that he was granted admittance. Leaving the man behind, Darcy entered the room to find another just finishing the examination of his cousin. A blush rose to his features as he observed Anne in her simplest of garments sitting up in the bed under the covers; and any further embarrassment faded away, as he caught sight of the decline in health of which his Aunt always vehemently assured him and his family of the reverse.
"Hello, cousin," Anne greeted him softly. "Your arrival is as always propitious." With a frail hand she indicated the doctor. "I trust you have heard of..."
Darcy kissed her cheek, his gentle sign of affection rendering her speechless, then rose to shake hands with the physician. "I am honoured to make your acquaintance, sir."
"And I yours, Mr Darcy." He paused to take in the glance which passed between cousins, then looked back at his patient. "I take it, Miss de Bourgh, that you wish for your cousin to hear my prognosis?"
Anne nodded whilst Darcy took a seat. Within moments, the physician's words rendered his visit a pointless expenditure. While Anne's intellect and humour were sound, her physical anatomy was not. Procreation was considered too dangerous an endeavour to be attempted, for it was declared doubtful that she could conceive, let alone bring an heir to term. As long as such a possibility was never entertained, her longevity was certain.
Darcy turned to his cousin in order to witness her reaction to the news, and found her better resigned to the matter of her health than he felt at present. Anne seemed to nod in agreement to each part of the physician's prognosis, as though she had noted the deficiencies herself and simply required confirmation. However when she offered him provision and the prospect of accommodation for the night, she was relieved when he declined, however carefully such emotion was concealed. But then her cousin realised that it was very likely his Aunt had yet to be informed and suddenly he was aware of how carefully Anne had chosen to arrange this appointment.
After seeing the physician to the door, Darcy returned to his cousin, finding her still abed, with seemingly little inclination or strength to alter such a state before him. "You do know what your mother would do if she saw us thus?"
"Harry us both to the nearest altar," Anne replied. "Do not worry, Darcy, I shall be dressed and you shall be gone before she returns from Lady Metcalfe's."
"I take it then that it is your desire she never learns of this?" Darcy asked her softly.
"For now at least," Anne sighed, her features partly pressed against the pillows. "I know she will have to learn one day, but I prefer it to be when your banns are published, not before." she frowned at his sudden look of consciousness. "Now, what was it brought you here today? Last I heard you were away to Ramsgate to surprise your sister."
The self-conscious expression changed into a frown and before he was aware of it, the entire event was laid out to her in every detail. Another cousin to receive his confession and administer proper penance, though she would doubtless frown at the choice of words as much as Richard had when he received the sorry mess at the Darcy townhouse the day before. Like the soldier he was, the good Colonel had been ready to hunt the scoundrel down and put him before a firing squad, or worse, a trip to Portugal to face a castrator he knew. He was incensed by Darcy's mild remonstrance and exile, the more so because there was so little he could remedy about it.
Anne took the news in much the same way, although her reproofs of the scoundrel were equally different to her soldiering and gentleman farmer cousins. All her compassion was saved for her younger relation, who, it must be argued, would be feeling the most wretched from this ruined endeavour. She wondered aloud why her brother would be so soon parted from her, unless he blamed her for allowing herself to be so deceived, until she caught a full look at his features and finally reasoned his intentions.
"You meant to fulfil my mother's favourite wish?" she cried, incredulous. "To banish yourself, ourselves, to a marriage of little affection, devoid of every proper feeling for the sake of preventing the repetition of an event which only by hindsight and luck you have already avoided? You, who swore to me upon first occasion of receiving my mother's hints that you would marry for nothing but the deepest love? Fitzwilliam," she sighed his first name aloud, and could not escape noticing his flinch at such an intimacy from her. "That response alone tells me that you are not reconciled to such a match. Let not Wickham win this noble goal from you! Go back to your sister and your estates and find your lady!"
"How, Anne?" he queried. "How shall I find her? Have I not already tried for seven years to find the one woman in society who would see beyond my wealth and connections? There is none!"
"Then go out of society!" she countered. "Surely there are gentlemen and gentlemen's daughters who abhor it as much as we do? Or have you acquired other tastes so continuously expounded at this house? Do not sink to my mother's level of arrogance, Fitzwilliam, it is a bitter living."
Darcy sighed, reluctantly conceding to the strength of her arguments. It was true that he had yet to fully reconcile himself to the desperate resolution so recently formed. His response to her unusual token of intimacy had proven that much. And her words were not without merit, for if he did indeed sink to this level, Wickham would have won a far sweeter victory than he could have wished for had his previous attempt succeeded. His wealth allowed him the luxury of choice, the loss of his sister's thirty thousand from their inheritance would not demand his wife to supply the deficit. And marriage of convenience or no, he would need an heir, else place a burden which no brother would wish to bestow upon a most beloved sister.
"Then I shall take my leave," he replied, rising from his chair to lean over her and pay his farewells. "Unless you wish me to linger until your mother returns?"
Anne laughed as she raised herself up to meet his embracing kiss. "I think not. After all if mother finds us thus, all my arguments shall prove a pointless endeavour." She cupped his cheek, her frail fingers tracing the handsome sculpture above and beneath. "Go and find her, cousin. Go find the woman from whom you can stand to hear your name spoken. Grant not Wickham this sweet revenge."
Upon his return to London, Darcy discovered that his next actions had been anticipated and preempted. Arriving at his townhouse, he met with his soldiering cousin, the other guardian of his sister's care, who had managed to procure in his absence a companion of the most honest and trustworthy references. After reading through these documents and spending two hours with the woman himself, Darcy could do naught but agree with the appointment.
He was then seized upon by his friend Bingley, who ignorant of the events which had followed the intuitive impulse to surprise his sister, had also continued in his quest and found the next part of their experiment, causing him to visit thus, with the desire that they go and view the place as soon as may be. Reluctant to leave his sister so soon to the care of another companion, Darcy hesitated to accede to his friend's boundless enthusiasm. However, he had reckoned without his friend's astute observation of the reasoning behind the hesitancy, and immediately a solution was offered; if the experiment proved viable, he would happily accommodate both Darcys and the companion during the seasons required.
Unbeknownst to his Kentish cousin, her words would soon prove prophesy, for out of society he was to go, to the county of Hertfordshire, where his friend was to lease an estate in the midst of a savage neighbourhood which consisted of villagers, tenants, shopkeepers and impoverished gentlemen farmers. However only one gentleman was to succeed in his endeavours, for her cousin would be prevented by events of but two summers before, and by a man to whose depravities Wickham had yet to sink.
81, Piccadilly, on the corner of Bolton Street, London, 1812.
"This is the dullest place in existence!"
Fitzwilliam Darcy looked up from his brandy at the declaration, finding himself for once in complete agreement with the speaker. Even if the quote was misplaced. It referred in fact to the other establishment of this nature that he more frequently attended; Alfred's.1
In comparison, Watier's2 was.... well, Darcy could not actually find the words to describe the club that he attended out of familial tradition. Founded in 1807 by the Prince of Wales who detested dinners at White's so much that he hired his chef for meals here, the club was very much regarded as a Dandy haunt with the likes of Brummell, Mildmay, Alvanely and Pierrepont for members. It played host to all the usual revels, including Maco, by which fortunes were lost and won. Fortunately while the Fitzwilliam family and his late father had patronised the place with their membership, they chose to deny the club the privilege of gaining any particle of their fortunes. Personally, Darcy hated the place, yet he felt duty bound to honour it with his occasional presence, if only by obligation of attendance in company of another member, in this case, his Uncle.
The Earl of Matlock had granted the place the privilege of his company for but an hour or so before quitting the establishment, pressing his nephew to linger rather than following in his wake, for he believed that it would not do to snub the club by the rapid exit of two of the most illustrious personages it had the honour to call members.
Now one of the richest men in Derbyshire glanced up, and with practised eye sought out through the haze of cigars and the dark opulent masculine panelled walls, the figure of the speaker, and witnessed the richest man in Essex being frog-marched out of the club. Darcy sighed before finishing the rest of his brandy. Rising with extreme reluctance, he reminded himself of the many duties he owed to his well connected and sorely lamented late father, and strode out of the gaming room into the capital's night.
With disdain did he glance down at the Earl of Saffron Walden, whose tall figure lay rather ignominiously upon the tiled stones of Piccadilly. If their fathers had not been school fellows, he would not have given the man five minutes notice, let alone the privilege of his consideration for the safety of his life. Snapping his fingers, Darcy called his carriage, and with the help of his footmen, lifted the prostrate gentleman into the pale blue damask upholstery. Tapping his cane upon the ceiling, he sat back and relished the quiet, hoping the Earl would not disgrace himself or the material by voiding most of his consumed liquor during the journey.
A while later the imposing equipage that was Darcy's carriage came to a halt before his passenger's lavish townhouse in Hanover Square. Discerning that the owner was in no fit state to perform the necessary civilities, Darcy dismounted from his vehicle and rapped upon the door.
A relieved Butler met him, flanked by a corps of footmen, who calmly and stoically went about the business of getting their master from the carriage and into the grand Entrance Hall. While this evidently well practised and frequently repeated expedition was being undertaken, Darcy prepared to leave. Indeed, he was almost out the door when a beautiful voice assailed him.
"Robertson, have his Lordship's chamber prepared for his arrival," uttered she, a young woman elegantly attired, whose fine eyes rendered a certain expression within them that he could not fail to understand nor feel the utmost compassion for. He recollected a similar facade, displayed by his sister only last summer, when he had encountered her in Ramsgate, in the arms of another reprobate. Fortunately for Georgiana he had been in a position to deal with the son of his father's steward, and send him packing. Unfortunately for the lady before him, he could not provide the same service, his hands having been constrained by rank and insufficient evidence of provocation.
Somehow, he recollected his manners and bowed, displaying an elegance which his travelling companion still lacked as he continued to be hoisted upstairs.
"My Lady, forgive us for disturbing your privacy," Robertson addressed her with a equally elegant bow.
"It is of no matter, Henry," she assured him with a smile, before coming to stand in front of the other gentleman. "I thank you, sir for bringing my Lord home. I trust he was no trouble?"
"No trouble at all, Milady," Darcy replied, his sense of propriety overriding his general shock. This woman was his wife? He had hoped her to be a close relation, but not so near a connection as this. "Shall I call tomorrow to see the Earl?"
Her smile disappeared and her features paled. Darcy fought the urge to kneel before her and humbly beg her forgiveness in bringing on such a troubled expression. "I would rather you did not, sir. He will remember little of this in the morning, and it is best to keep it that way."
Darcy bowed silently in reply, before quitting the establishment. Once outside he stood for some moments on the pavement before his coach, breathing heavily as he strove for composure. So that was the Countess of Saffron Walden. No wonder the Earl keeps her at home. Where on earth did he find such a beauty?
The wife of the Earl of Saffron Walden had been a mysterious creature to all of the Ton from the moment the man had first arrived back from wherever it was he had been to be married to her. After one display, when she was presented at Court, the Earl had shut her up at his townhouse and she had never been seen again.
All of Society had wondered about her since. Speculations on her wealth, identity, looks, intelligence, form, figure and more had cast themselves rampantly over all of London and beyond. For weeks many had presented themselves at the imposing house in Hanover Square in the vain hope that they would allowed admittance so they could set their sights on the mistress of the house. After the continuous repetition of being admitted into the grand marbled hall, allowed to present their cards to the butler, only for that same personage to return with a swift denial of their request for further intimacy, Society began to believe that the Earl had put the knocker upon his door solely for the purpose of exposing them to such an amusement.
As for the Earl himself, he remained the man he had been before gaining his late father's fortune at the young age of nine and twenty. The reputation of a rake and a gambler, with unpaid debts that he could well afford but hated to kill off, his standing in Society had made him the prey of many a matchmaking Mama and their daughters despite his scandalous reputation which caused their husbands and fathers to further the previous restrictions on their dowries, lest they be forced to sign away a compromised child.
However, he had kept them running at his heels for eight years before inheriting his title until suddenly disappearing into the wilds of his country estate in Essex. Six months later he was back in London for his father's funeral, and engaged, much to the surprise of all who knew him. Barely two months after that he disappeared once more to marry and a month after that, returned to Society without paying either his wife or their acquaintance what was deemed due consideration.
For the rest of the journey to his own house in Grosvenor Square, that sighting of the Countess remained fixed in Darcy's mind. He knew that the chances of ever seeing her again were unlikely, but he could not prevent himself from hoping that was not the case. He wanted to see her again, he needed to see her again, for reasons he could scarce yet understand, other than a desire to render her the service he had rendered his sister during the summer. How deeply these feelings went remained yet to be understood, for he had yet to comprehend what steps they would command him to undertake.
1. Alfred Club: Established in 1808, and described by the Earl of Dudley as "the dullest place in existence," as it attracted mostly gentlemen scholars. Lord Byron was a member, and he found it literary, pleasant and sober. Despite all this it achieved so much success that by 1811 it had three hundred and fifty-four on its waiting list to join. In 1855 it joined with the Oriental, established in 1824.
2. Watier's: Established on the corner of Bolton Street, at number 81 Piccadilly in 1807. The Prince Regent had suggested the club using his new chef, Jean-Baptiste Watier, for the food of White's and Brook's was not to his satisfaction. The club's main entertainment was gambling, its usual game being Macao, a form of twenty-one. It was nicknamed the Dandies Club by Byron, as Brummell was a member. Having become a haven for blackguards and acquiring a reputation of fortunes being lost and won in the gambling, it died out in 1819.
Source for both of these notes was the Regency Collection website, which can be accessed by the following link; http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/regency/club.html Locations of town houses were sourced from The Annals of London by John Richardson.
Any minute now, Darcy thought, and the word destiny would be used.
"It was destiny." With dramatic intensity, his friend paused, waiting. One minute passed, blissfully silent. Then another. Upon the third, his friend looked at the clock then back at him. With the fourth he let out a sigh and cried, "Well, what did you think? Is it enough?"
Darcy leaned back into the armchair, steepled his fingers together underneath his chin and considered the words. "Well, the emotions were properly expressed, you displayed an eloquence that befits you as a graduate of Cambridge- a rarity coming from you, by the by -I believe the intended recipient will comprehend from what you have expressed, providing you remember to do so before her, that they are of a long standing nature, and not formed on the spur of the moment.
"I also congratulate you on remembering her proper name, instead of referring to her as angel - to address her by such has been your wont frequently of late. Your sentences and pauses are astutely timed, and perfectly in keeping with your character. Propriety, duty, honour; all these things you have mentioned and at the right moments. There is however one thing you missed."
"What? I missed something? I cannot believe it... are you sure?"
"Having never delivered one of these addresses myself, I cannot be completely sure, yet I think it would be prudent if you chose to mention at some point the following: Will you marry me?"
His friend stared back at him incredulously. "I forgot those words?"
Darcy stared at his friend with a mixture of wry amusement and puzzlement. "Yes, you did. Absolutely vital words as well."
Charles Bingley collapsed into a chair. "But everything else was correct?"
"Yes, although you could do better if you added the words 'do me the honour' or 'consent' on to marry me."
"Right of course." His friend paused. "Shall I do it again?"
Darcy chuckled. "I think not. One footman thinking that you are in love with me is a misfortune, but two might seem like carelessness,1 thank you."
Bingley laughed as he remembered the rather untimely entrance of the servant, just as he had cried aloud 'I love you' while upon one knee. Rapidly his thoughts then drifted to imagining what the young lady he intended to say all of these things to would think. Foremost was his concern that she might refuse him, for though he held little doubt of her affection, his doubt that he was worthy to be graced with the honour of her hand was a natural and prominent concern.
Darcy saw his friend's features turn despondent and sought to give relief. "Charles, calm yourself. It is useless to worry about something that is beyond your control. No amount of practising will change how she feels about you. You will know what to say the moment you are kneeling before her."
Charles nodded and brightened at this. Darcy merely relaxed into his chair and observed his friend Bingley with no small amount of envy. Despite being disillusioned that he would ever find a woman who would marry him without a thought to his wealth and looks, he still harboured a hope that he would eventually reach the same state his friend was now in. For a moment his creative eye brought to mind the woman he had encountered the evening before, then his reason brushed the image away in incomprehension of such a happenstance.
"Do you think it wise of me asking her while she is in town?" Bingley now asked him.
"Although the delay precludes you from asking her father's consent immediately, I think you will do better in managing to see her alone. It was a rare occasion in Hertfordshire that you did not see her without other company being in attendance. I understand she is staying with her sister?"
"Yes, she is."
"Then why don't I accompany you and engage her attention, giving you time to ask Miss Bennet for her hand?"
Bingley, who had been hoping his friend might suggest this, instantly and heartily agreed. A part of him still appeared nervous however. "Caroline and Louisa still do not approve of what I'm about to do."
"With due respect, Bingley, your sisters will not approve of any woman unless she were born with a title, and has a large fortune behind her. But it is not Mrs Hurst or Miss Bingley that are marrying Miss Bennet."
Morning faded into afternoon. The comforts of the Darcy carriage were sacrificed in view of the fine weather and soon its owner found himself treading the familiar streets of London's salubrious quarter with Mr Bingley. To the impartial observer the two friends could not look more dissimilar. Where Mr Darcy was dark, Mr Bingley was fair. Bingley was intelligent, but Darcy was clever.
Bingley was endeared to the gentleman by his easiness, openness, ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. Where Darcy saw the world with cynical and often distrustful, sometimes humoured eyes, Bingley saw all that was to be enjoyed in it, and took immense satisfaction in doing so.
Of the strength of Mr Darcy's regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgement the highest opinion, as just previously displayed. While he was inviting and sociable, Darcy was reserved, almost to the point of haughtiness. This perhaps, though, was due more to the difference in their fortunes rather than the difference in their dispositions in general. While Darcy had the luxury of ten thousand pounds, which was rising steadily, per annum, Bingley had but half that amount. His father had made his fortune, but was unable to settle upon an estate before his death.
And, until last Michaelmas, neither had his son. That Autumn, when he had not been of age for more than two years, had led he and his friend to take a look at Netherfield, a property bordering the town of Meryton in Hertfordshire. Bingley did look into it for half an hour, was pleased the situation and the principal rooms, satisfied with what the owner said in its praise and took it immediately. Now that he was provided with such a good house and the liberty of the manor, it was doubtful to those who best knew his easiness of temper, whether he might not spend the remainder of his days at Netherfield, and leave the next generation to purchase.
His sisters were anxious for him to have an estate of his own, for they were eager to forget that while they were from a respectable family in the north of England, their brother's fortune and their own had been acquired by trade. This was not to the deficiency of their characters, for they were in fact very fine ladies, not lacking in good humour when they were pleased, not incapable of being agreeable where they chose it; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought and of associating with people of rank; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves and meanly of others.
Even though their brother had established himself only as tenant, Miss Bingley was by no means unwilling to preside at his table, nor was Mrs Hurst or her husband, a man of more fashion than fortune, disinclined to take residence in that estate. Together with Mr Darcy, they had spent the early part of the winter season enjoying all the privileges of landed country society, attending the local assemblies, and calling upon those whom they considered worth their notice.
In any event Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst soon tired of the neighbourhood, discomforted that their fortunes, fashions, and manner were superior to those of everyone else. They made few overtures of friendship to the ladies who lived in the surrounding environs, for only one was considered a suitable acquaintance, and only because their brother happened to attach himself to that lady almost from the moment of being introduced to her.
Miss Bennet was the lady, the eldest daughter of five, whose mother was found to be intolerable and her sisters not worth speaking to, but her pleasing manners, elegant behaviour and beauty, commended her enough to Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst to be worthy of forming a closer acquaintance. Her connections however were to be deplored. Her father held an estate worth only two thousand a year, entailed in default of heirs male, on a distant relation, and her mother's fortune, though ample for her station in life, could ill supply the deficiency of his. Mrs Bennet's father had been an attorney in Meryton and had left her four thousand pounds. She had a sister who was married to Mr Philips, a former clerk to their father who had succeeded him in the business, and a brother settled in London with a respectable line of trade. One of Miss Bennet's sisters was also married and settled in town, but though the connection was boasted of as being one of the highest favour, her absence counted against such fanfaronade in the minds of Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst.
Though these considerations rendered her an unworthy match for their brother, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were unable to press upon him the necessity of considering these disadvantages. He considered Miss Bennet to be the most beautiful creature he had ever beheld, and over the course of four dances with her in Meryton, a call to his own house one morning, dining in company with him four times, and a ball which he held at Netherfield, declared a preference of her that was regarded by the rest of the society in Meryton and Longbourn, as a certain expectation of marriage.
Mr Bingley left Netherfield for town the day after the ball, to where his sisters followed him, determined to press upon their brother the advantages of other ladies against his decided preference for Miss Bennet and the certain evils which were to be had in making such a choice. In this they were confident of success, for their brother had been in love before, possessed a great natural modesty, and a stronger dependence on the judgement of his friends and relations than on his own.
However, they reckoned without the consideration of Mr Darcy, who was far from willing to discourage his friend, having determined that his partiality for Miss Bennet was beyond what he had ever witnessed in him, and Miss Bennet, with manners open, cheerful and engaging, received his attentions with all the pleasure which proceeded from a peculiar regard, for her disposition was not unlike his own. Though the behaviour of her mother, sisters and father were objectionable, the want of connection could not be so great an evil to Mr Bingley as it would be to another gentleman with twice his fortune and landed circumstance.
So much time was spent during the short walk from Grosvenor in fortifying his friend's courage by conversation, that Darcy remained insensible to their surroundings and therefore was most surprised to see them arrive at the same house in Hanover Square that he had visited last night. Having not mentioned the event to his friend during the course of the morning though, Darcy refrained from commenting upon it, instead passing only a look at Robertson that was to say that he was as much surprised as the butler appeared to be.
Their cards were presented and their admittance granted. If the Countess was surprised when Darcy bowed in greeting once more, it was never visible upon her features. She greeted the gentlemen with the same manners as the night before, and indicated a blushing Miss Jane Bennet to the inanely grinning Mr Bingley.
The couple sat down, and then, after inquiring into the general state of the weather and respective families health in a way that conveyed her real interest and curiosity, the Countess rose to arrange matters for the tea. Darcy offered to assist, and so Mr Bingley's wish to be left alone with his lady love was thus accomplished.
It was only in the walk from the Drawing Room to the household quarter that the Countess chose to mention any memory of their prior acquaintance.
"Forgive me, sir, for not having recollected your name from last evening."
"There is no need, Milady," Darcy replied, "in fact I believe that I never mentioned it. Most remiss of me."
"Most remiss indeed." She smiled. "May I say that you seemed as surprised to be here again as myself?"
"I must confess that I am. Mr Bingley and I have been friends since university. I travelled with him to Hertfordshire and was in frequent company with him and your family, but I never heard of your connections other than as a general boast."
"Well, there I am more known as Elizabeth than by my title, though my mother takes frequent delight in it, my family have not seen my husband and me often enough since our marriage to refer to many events spent in our company."
Darcy responded in kind and they walked on. At length after she had arranged tea, they began a return to the Drawing Room. Before they had reached the doors, the Countess turned to her companion with a serious look and tone. "Mr Darcy, excuse my bluntness, but I must ask. I know by my sister's and my father's account that your friend is all that is good, honourable and true. Indeed, he could hardly be anything else for my sister to love him as deeply as she does. Jane sees all that is amiable and good in the world, the existence of evil quite shocks her."
He prompted her. "You want to make sure of his intentions?"
"Surely, as I am his friend, any judgement that I cast would be partial?"
"If a man dislikes anything of his friend, he is a friend no longer."
"You have a point." They halted outside the doors. Darcy turned his back to them and faced her, speaking low so as not to be overheard by the couple beyond the threshold. "Milady, I can safely assure you that Charles Bingley is the best of friends and the best of men. I have never seen him care more deeply than he does for your sister. His intentions concerning her have long been known to me. You could not find a better brother."
"Thank you, sir." The Countess opened a door and stepped into the room, Darcy following. Across from them in front of the large, ornate fireplace, stood Mr Bingley, who with an earnestly happy countenance, was bent towards an equally happy Miss Bennet, their lips touching in the sincerest and gentlest of kisses. The sight was enough to make anyone smile, and smile the two witnesses did.
"Oh Lizzy, I am so happy." The couple had broken apart at their entrance, and Jane was now in her sister's arms, joyous and oblivious to any other presence but her most loved sister. "It is too much, it is too much. Oh why can't everybody be as happy I am? He loves me, Lizzy. He loves me!"
"Of course he does," the Countess replied, equally happy. She glanced to the gentlemen, who were likewise engaged, Bingley exclaiming and Darcy congratulating. The latter turned to Miss Bennet, taking her hand. "My congratulations, Miss Bennet. I could not be more pleased."
"Nor I, sir."
The gentlemen stayed for tea, and then reluctantly departed, Mr Bingley promising to ask her father as soon as he returned to Netherfield, which would not be until Jane had also returned from town.
During the journey home Darcy was again thinking of the Countess of Saffron Walden. This second time in her company had only increased his want to be in it once more. He confessed to himself to be much intrigued by her. Aside from her fine eyes and wondrous dark hair, she seemed to possess a talent for observation not unlike his own.
Her conversation was intelligent and sophisticated; she seemed to have spent all her life in the upper circles, a contrast to the Society he had met with in Hertfordshire, but then he was convinced that she and her sister were two of the most well-bred ladies from Meryton.
Above all though, there was something missing, something in her manner that must have previously existed in full, but now seemed rarely used. A certain sadness and vulnerability hung about her, the same emotions he had observed within his sister, emotions that could not fail to enlist his desire to help and remedy.
1. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest.
Author's note: I would like to point out that I do not condone the actions Lord Lucius is about to take in this chapter. Any who do not wish to read it, must stop at the first horizontal line in this chapter. Be assured that it will not affect your knowledge of the main plot in any way, except to give an hint of what is to come. Enjoy.
Now that the gentlemen departed, Jane turned to observe her sister. Since her marriage two years ago, Jane had only communicated with Elizabeth by correspondence. This was a continuation of their first meeting which began the afternoon before when Jane had arrived at the house from their Aunt and Uncle Gardiner's place in Gracechurch Street, with whom she had spent a few days after arriving in town from Longbourn - and Jane felt all the awkwardness that accompanied such an occasion.
She had not expected such a separation to serve as a barrier between their normal intimacy, but such was the case. Despite this, all else between them seemed to be fine. All save one thing. Her sister did not seem happy. In fact she was going to great lengths to convince Jane that she was, but Jane, knowing her sister as she did, could not avoid detecting the signs of sadness. The liveliness that she had seen so much of when they were growing up at Longbourn, had disappeared. She still smiled, still laughed, but was no longer happy.
Jane could not point yet a finger at the cause, for she had determined the notion only this afternoon, having found no hint of it whatsoever in their weekly letters. Now, as she wondered what it could possibly be, she also quietly sighed, for, judging by the performance she was receiving, Jane knew that she would not get the truth from her sister.
She who had once been her only confidante, was now barred. Jane was not hurt by the barrier, for she trusted that her sister had just reasons; such as a wish not to give her sadness on the day of her engagement, or not to force a secret upon her that could cause distress to keep it from the rest of their family. Thus she would have to discover it by observation.
When evening came upon the house but an hour after the visitors had departed, it marked the return of the Earl. Jane was thus a witness to what she perceived as a restrained reunion between him and her sister before dinner was announced. She had only met the Earl twice before this night; the first two years ago at the Meryton Assembly and the second at her sister's wedding, as Jane had spent much of her time with Mr and Mrs Gardiner in London during her sister's courtship. Nor had he been present when she and her sister had partaken of their morning repast.
Jane had arrived the night before but had retired early, and thus was not present when his Lordship had been carried up the stairs after returning home from his club. Elizabeth herself had mentioned nothing of it. He greeted her cordially enough, escorted her to her chair, and inquired after his sisters and parents in law in the usual manner of a brother by marriage, causing Jane to put the restrain of his reunion with his wife down to a limited acquaintance with herself and consideration of what was proper behaviour, which he had been brought up to observe, whoever his guests and or company happened to be.
Conversation during the long, rich and varied meal revealed nothing either to Jane, as to what was the cause of her sister's sorrow. The Earl listened to the discourse between his wife and his sister in law, offering no more than the occasional- but always well informed and founded -comment or two.
It was limited to the typical topics which constituted as the norm for such a gathering at dinner; weather, Society in London and Meryton, news of family events, and Jane's engagement, to which the Earl, upon hearing of it, immediately offered in a mild mannered tone his most heartiest congratulations. In reply Jane politely inquired if he knew Mr Bingley, to which the Earl answered in a negative, before turning the conservation toward other concerns.
Being such a small party there was no separation of the ladies and gentleman after the meal, instead the trio returned to the Drawing Room. A game of whist was proposed by the gentleman, and then quietly accepted by the ladies, which served to occupy their time pleasantly enough until Jane felt she ought to retire and give her sister a chance of privacy with her husband, whom Jane presumed, she had not seen since the morning before.
As Jane prepared herself for bed, only one cause had occurred to her concerning her sister's state of happiness. In the two years of their marriage, Jane could not remember one occasion, where the subject of children had been discussed. A quick but thorough examination of all her sister's letters confirmed it. The matter had not even been aired.
Jane had not asked herself, assuming that Elizabeth would tell her if at any point she ever had entertained hopes of a child. Such an event was not unusual, but at the same time it was still puzzling. The Earl was the only member of his family left, and so must feel the need for an heir, and it did not matter which, as the title was a peculiar one, for both male and female descendants could claim it and the fortune which came with it.
Jane also knew by experience how much Elizabeth loved children, for they were the acknowledged favourites of their young Gardiner cousins, having spent frequent vacations in their company. Before her marriage it had been a frequent joke between them, that she would spend her years teaching her sister's children to embroider their cushions and play their instruments very ill. Neither were ignorant of the ways of their world, their education though ill provided for had never been censored and their father's widely encompassing library was always at their disposal. In short, if her sister was not with child now, she doubted that it was through lack of commitment.
However, after debating silently upon the matter in her mind, offering both pros and cons towards it, Jane felt forced to discount it from being a cause that Elizabeth was was not confiding in her. Whatever the length of separation between them, Jane would know if her sister was having problems in that area, it would be something that Elizabeth could talk of. Yet, as she settled herself in bed, Jane could not think of another cause that would satisfy this despondency which she could not fail to observe.
Little did she know that the blame was all upon the Earl's side, that it was not through any want of commitment, but from technique and concupiscence that the miracle of children had yet to be bestowed upon her most beloved sister, who was secretly grateful that none of his cruel endeavours had succeeded, for her nescience remained regarding this particular biblical rite.
Downstairs, silence ruled the Drawing Room. A cold, forbidding silence, familiar to all its occupants, served to cast a spell of tension. It hung over the room like the blade of the guillotine over the neck of any doomed French aristocrat or over-ambitious politician, waiting to strike the moment someone cut the holding rope.
Elizabeth was at the whist table, playing patience with herself, while the Earl had crossed the room to partake of a brandy. With his back to the decanter, he stood watching hers. "Who visited today?" His tone was calm, but laced with a deadly undercurrent.
She noticed the depth of tone in his query with much trepidation, but forced herself not to let any inclination given to fear being betrayed in her voice as she replied. "Mr Bingley, our future brother in law."
"No one else." Elizabeth knew he would not take kindly to her receiving a gentleman who was entirely unconnected to their family, so she refrained from mentioning that Mr Bingley had been accompanied by his friend. Barely a moment later did she feel the cold pressure of his hand upon her shoulder, causing her to breathe in to better manage the pain which his grip was causing. His mouth was close by her ear. "I shall know," he remarked, " if you are lying."
"I am not." she replied, and though there was nothing to betray the falsity in her words, her mere words provoked a response from him. Immediately, the pressure increased. Ignoring the stab of pain it had created, Elizabeth calmly laid down another card.
Upon the mantle, a clock chimed out the hour, breaking the silence with its eleven strokes. The Earl pressed his other hand on her other shoulder, his feverish mind desiring strokes of another kind. "Shall we retire, my dear?"
Elizabeth was careful to lay her last card down without allowing her hand to succumb to the nervous sensation which such a request always created within her. "You go," she answered, her tone quiet and studiously calm, "I should like to remain here awhile."
The pressure again increased, causing more pain. "We shall retire now." Lucius let go of her shoulders abruptly, his hands leaving red marks upon her pale skin. He gripped her wrist, and dragged her up from her seat, his strength making it impossible for her to resist his manoeuvres. A look passed between them, hers a struggle between resistance and submission, his a threat and a warning as to what he desired from her this night. Neither had time to claim a victory as he led her out of the Drawing Room and up the stairs to his bedchamber.
Once inside, Elizabeth suddenly acted, wrenching her wrist from his grip and dashing to the door that led to his dressing room and then to her own bedchamber, situated at the other end of the room, and enclosed in the wall.
Reaching it, she clasped the handle, began to turn, and then all hope of escape was gone, as he grabbed her from behind. Turning her around, he grabbed her wrists. She could not fight, unless she wished to break them, for this time his grip was unrelenting.
"No," she uttered quietly, her fine eyes pleading to his own for a compassion towards her feelings which he had never yet shown.
His voice was firm and dangerous. "Yes."
"NO!" she screamed, hoping that a servant might hear, for the household had yet to retire and her maid would doubtless be preparing her chamber.
"Screaming will only make it worse," was all the reply she received. The Earl dragged her to the bed, threw her down amongst the furnishings, taking care to secure her hands to one of the bedposts with the ties which adorned the curtains that decorated that piece of furniture. He then removed himself briefly from her sight to lock the doors which would prevent her escape, and the intrusion of the household staff for whose help she had screamed in hope of receiving.
Elizabeth, her face against the pillows, her wrists and shoulders sore, knew that further resistance would only incur greater suffering. Yet she also knew what else she would have to endure this night, having encountered similar abuses from her husband since the first night of their marriage. She knew that what was to come would make the injuries which she had suffered so far this evening pale in comparison, making her instinctively struggle against the binding rope which held her wrists.
Though she could not see what he was doing, she could hear his return to the bed, marked by the rustling noise made as he shed his elaborate evening attire in favour of a shirt and breeches. She could feel the moment in which he resumed his attentions to her, as he climbed upon the bed and pulled at her fastenings of her dress. His handling was rough, caring little for the cost of the material or the damage to her as he forced his way past the garments to grip the flesh concealed beneath them.
She screamed again as he found her breasts, her resistance incurring a harsh slap by way of retribution. His hands applied pressure in little consideration as to her pleasure, using them as a means of support for his other ministrations, which he soon administered, as he compelled her legs to part beneath his own before he penetrated her more deeply.
Such a harsh intrusion served to wrench all further resistance from Elizabeth, whose cries of suffering were masked by the furnishings which her body was pressed into, until her strength was depleted, whereupon darkness came to her aid.
The red marks upon her shoulders and breasts had disappeared by the morning. No evidence of the cruelty she had received remained, except for those bruises which could be concealed by her garments. Elizabeth, seated at her dressing table, tried to compose herself for seeing her sister with the appearance of happiness. Truth be known, the emotion was far from her mind. The night before, its events the same as countless others since her wedding night, continued to prey on her.
She had thought herself prepared for what marriage would entail. No one had informed her that it would be like this. Two years ago, she would have thought it to be unnatural, now she just accepted it. Accepted that there was no escape, accepted that she would just have to endure, in hope of better things. Charlotte Lucas had told her once that happiness in marriage was entirely a matter of chance. How perfectly right she was.
Lucius had gone to his club once more, leaving Elizabeth to enjoy a breakfast alone with her sister. Carefully she kept up her mask, trying to be the person that she had always presented to Jane, throughout the morning meal. She had no desire to impart to her sister the full horrors of her marriage, for there was little which Jane could do to remedy the affair, other than provide compassion, which was little comfort. As she had said to Mr Darcy only the day before, her sister had little conception of the evil which existed within the world, and Elizabeth had little desire to attempt to awaken her to the idea of such existences now.
After breakfast the two sisters departed the house, walking in the direction of Gracechurch Street. This visit to her Aunt and Uncle was another matter that Elizabeth hoped she would be able to keep a secret from her husband. He disapproved of anyone visiting her and of her going into Cheapside, although her sister was not denied such excursions. Once she had attempted to prevail upon him for openness in such visits, submitting to all his abuses upon her flesh, but to no avail, except to incur further injury and misery to herself. She had been grateful when her sister did not mention Mr Darcy accompanying 'dear Charles'. Had his presence been revealed to the Earl she would have endured a far worse degree of suffering last night than what had been meted out for her pains.
During the walk Elizabeth found herself reflecting greatly on the gentleman she had now received two visits from. She knew little of Mr Darcy's reputation, Jane having described just his wealth and residence in her correspondence. Beyond that he had ten thousand a year and a great estate in Derbyshire, she knew nothing about him.
During their first meeting, late at night after he had escorted her drunken husband home, she had not really dwelt upon him, for they had scarcely spoke ten words to each other. He had been all that befitted a gentleman of his standing in Society and nothing more.
Only yesterday had she observed something different in him. She knew him now to be a good friend, a good judge of character, and an astute observer. He must, by default, possess excellent intellect, indeed he had displayed a propensity to sardonic wit during their discourse over tea.
She felt an interest in him for mere the fact of his being so different from her husband. Yet she could not allow herself to dwell upon that attraction, not just for fear of discovery, but from the vulnerability which any such indulgence would lay her open to, her society so confined and unvarying as to render anything new a tender novelty. No, she must guard what few thoughts and emotions which she could still call her own, and think of him less, lest she open herself to a danger which no cruelty visited upon her thus far gave her any idea of.
They reached Gracechurch street in due course. Mr and Mrs Gardiner were delighted to see them both; their dispositions instantly placing in Elizabeth the feeling that she had travelled back in time to happier days, when she had spent many a vacation in their company touring the theatre and balls in town, and the delights of the countryside when their children and business could not prevent them from enjoying such travelling. Here she felt able to be herself for the first time in two years, without restraint upon her character or her education, which the Earl had endeavoured to not only to expand but to suppress as well.
For a while there was nothing but laughter and music in the drawing room of the Gardiner household, as Jane and Elizabeth involved themselves in amusing their many little cousins, who, as their Aunt was close to their age, were still in their youth and likely to be increased in number soon.
Madeline Gardiner watched as they did so, out of the concern of a close Aunt who cared deeply for her eldest nieces. She found Jane to be all that was happy and contented, the prospect of future marriage to Mr Bingley clearly a joy. But Elizabeth drew from her further consideration. She knew her niece well enough to know when she was putting on all the contentment in her expression in an effort to not give her relatives worry. Two years of absence from their company could not change that.
Madeline was not angry at her niece for the disguise, but she was concerned as to why she felt the need for it. She could only remember meeting her nephew in law once; at the occasion of the wedding, and very brief it had been too. Much too brief to form a judgement on his character and suitability for her niece.
Now she tried to remember how Elizabeth had behaved on that day. Had she been as happy as was to be expected for a love match? Madeline could not answer in the negative. The stark contrast between then and now was all too clear for her to observe.
Mrs Gardiner wondered if any of the Bennets knew about it, and as soon as this thought had crossed her mind, she realised that they could not. For indeed if they did, Mr Bennet would have certainly demanded a visit to Hanover Square, Elizabeth being his favourite daughter. However Mrs Gardiner doubted that there would be much which her brother in law could accomplish, for now that she was married, Elizabeth was required to submit to the will of her husband.
Morning faded into afternoon. The children departed to their rooms to rest, leaving the adults to talk. Elizabeth ceased feeling calm and content, knowing now that there was more chance for her Aunt to ask her about her marriage, not to mention that the visit would soon come to an end. She knew full well that she could not tell the truth, lest she reconcile herself to bringing down upon her family a scandal which not even her wild sisters could surpass.
Not only were the events of her marriage a suffering which few of her family could contemplate, let alone endure to see her living through without the desire to prevent them, she also wished no one to assign blame to anyone but herself. It was she after all who had encouraged the match, and agreed to the proposal, now she must do the best that she could. She had made her bed, and now she must lie in it, however painful that task became to be.
The afternoon was almost over when Elizabeth and Jane returned to Hanover Square. To the former's relief, Lucius had not yet returned from his clubs, leaving her to enjoy an evening alone with Jane.
Her sister noticed the visible if slight movement of Elizabeth's shoulders in relief when they were told that the Earl had yet to return, and her concern for Elizabeth grew to such an extent that she had to ask, "Lizzy, are you happy?"
"Of course I am, Jane," Elizabeth replied, and with that, Jane had to be satisfied. She excused herself to get a book from her room.
When she had gone Elizabeth laid her head in her hands, breathing deeply to prevent herself from crying. She hated lying to her sister. However it was necessary. Jane did not need the distress which the truth of her marriage would undoubtedly cause. Elizabeth had kept this to herself for two years, she could survive the next weeks spent with her sister.
Afternoon drifted into evening, and still the Earl did not return. Elizabeth spent a good dinner with her sister, and then they both amused themselves with volumes of literature until tiredness stole upon them. Jane retired, and Elizabeth followed to her room, although she remained awake awhile longer, until her tiredness was such that she would fall straight asleep.
She placed herself by the bedroom room window, casting discreet looks upon the street, expecting every moment to see the arrival of his carriage, or hear the sound of his stick and foot upon the marbled entrance hall floor. The events of the novel in her hand rarely entered her head, so frequent was her lapse of concentration upon it. But each hour passed and still there was no sign.
At last she felt herself tired enough and closed her book. Rapidly she locked all the doors that accessed the room. Only then did she feel safe enough to undress, changing into her night gown. Checking the doors were secure one last time, she got into bed.
She was sound asleep when he returned hours later, sober despite reeking of alcohol from every orifice. He tried the main door to her suite, then the one that led from his dressing room to her own. Both were locked. For once he did not try to force his way through. Instead he returned to his own suite, and went to bed.