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A Pillar I Am Of Pride

Chapter Text

 

There was little improvement to be had in the weather in the days following that first dinner at number thirteen — street, as winter had settled in to stay, but, as promised, the major furnishings were for the most part delivered at last. Mrs Darcy, who had been almost as impatient to be able to be out of doors again as her husband, at once took the opportunity of having the freedom of her own front door to pay what must have been the most pressing of her dues, in the form of a visit to the Countess of Matlock.

She was accompanied only a little reluctantly by Miss Darcy, who had found that maturity and good female company could give her ease in the crush of the Ton in a way that money and a good name had not, and as such had at last begun to enjoy the season in a way she had not in the first years after her trembling debut. The society of the matrons of her family, however pleasant and intelligent, could not compare to the enjoyment that might be had in the action or anticipation of time spent with companions her own age, and she found it necessary besides to have some time to rest and meditate alone, in order not to feel herself exhausted when next she met with company.

The visit was insisted upon, however. A mix of company and conversation was considered necessary by her guardians, and besides, Mrs Darcy felt that the sight of Miss Darcy might help to assuage such feelings of the Countess as she thought were likely to be expressed upon her arrival.

Her suspicions were confirmed almost at once upon arriving at Matlock House, for no sooner had the ladies divested themselves of their warmest outer layers than Lady Risingham had scurried anxiously down the stairs to greet them, transforming her salute into an crouching embrace by clasping Mrs Darcy at the elbows to whisper, under the pretext of kissing the air above her cheek in the french fashion, ‘I am afraid you are in for it, Lizzy. Mother is vexed about Richard,’ before stepping back to greet Miss Darcy, who had overheard her whisper and looked unhappy.

Mrs Darcy merely straightened her shoulders at this news. ‘I suppose,’ she said, ‘I haven’t had the good luck to be early enough to hear a rebuke in person? I should hate to have to sit at my work in company and feel myself heated by a glare, no matter how cold the day.’

Her luck held, for no sooner than had they been announced into the countess’s large drawing room than the firm tones of that lady began to toll. ‘Mrs Darcy,’ declared Lady Matlock, laying down her teacup with the force of a judge laying down his gavel, ‘I am most grievously vexed with you.’

Mrs Darcy folded her hands in contrition, fighting a smile. ‘I am sorry to hear it, madam. May I know my sins?’

Lady Matlock harrumphed a little at this. ‘I think you know them very well. I have been waiting almost a year to see my son, and now he returns to London in triumph and I find that you and my nephew have conspired to spirit him away to wait upon you, and so put all my plans into disarray.’

Mrs Darcy curtsied at this, though she had already given her salute, and the Countess gave an irritated gesture which encompassed the waiting chairs and lounges. Mrs Darcy selected one close to her hostess, and pulled her sister-in-law down beside her. Lady Risingham sank down upon the chaise longue which was considered to be her special property, as she had long ago found that the fashion for reclining was one of the few postures in which she might appear graceful, her long figure furled slantwise rather than cramped to fit a chair set too low for her height. It was her happy lot in life to have married a man as tall as she was, and her equally unhappy lot that her mother-in-law had been already a matron of set tastes when the fascination with the ancients had taken hold of the fashionable world, and so held herself as rigid and unbending as if she spent every day in court dress. Lady Matlock, for all her famed charity and hospitality, was nonetheless pleased to be the unquestioned mistress of her own sphere, and her admiration for spirit and intelligence in women did not admit preference for those qualities in those ladies who fell under her direct domestic influence.

‘I am vexed,’ repeated that lady, ‘for I have spent near a decade trying to find some appropriate match for my son, and no sooner do I think that I have fixed upon the lady who would suit him best, than he trips off to the peninsula with no promises made, and by the time he is ready to be in town again I am forced to tell him that his lady has married another. I do not begrudge you, my dear,’ she said, reaching out to pat Miss Darcy’s hand, ‘for the duty he has had to you, but your brother has not been a bachelor in years and ought to be more mindful of his cousin’s needs, now that you are a little more grown. I suppose Richard must meet some ladies escorting you about town, but he would seem positively ancient to any he so meets if he acts as your chaperone, and that will never do.’

Miss Darcy smiled in a quite impenetrable manner at this statement.

Mrs Darcy and Lady Risingham were saved from giving an answer to this remark by a fortuitous chiming of the clock on the mantelpiece, which served the Countess as a reminder of the preparations still to be made for the arrival of the party who had been invited to attend her that day, and shortly thereafter, by the arrival of those same persons, who together constituted a significant portion of the of the wives and female relations of the body of lords and honourable ministers presently busying themselves at Westminster.

The party assembled, they were soon set to work. The countess had determined upon becoming a keystone of society shortly after her marriage, and had succeeded admirably, crafting a reputation for herself as a hostess supporting her husband’s political work that was maintained through a careful balance of generosity, accomplished discussion, worthy tasks, and entertaining events. Her dinner tables were laid with great quantities of portuguese wine, and routinely hosted those lords and members her husband hoped to make or keep as allies, judiciously supplementing these honourable worthies with such gentlemen as might be able to lend their advice or pocketbook to the causes of the moment.

Her afternoon charity parties were perhaps a truer measure of her influence, however, though their attendants, often greater in number, were as not marked by partisanship as were her dinners. That this cross-pollination of familial views might have occurred  by design was rarely considered by the attendant ladies’ husbands, who were often as not merely relieved to think that the scourge of political activism had not spread into their own domestic spheres. At charity parties such as these she made work such a pleasure to the ladies involved it was difficult to discern whether the ladies themselves or the objects of their charity received more benefit, and the conversation, leavened with the generosity of those who already believe themselves to be doing good at no expense to themselves, was frequently turned to how even further good might be done by working upon one’s husband to support those bills laid out by the Earl and his allies.

Lady Matlock had laid out packets of pins and needles, a dozen ells of slubby linen,  spools of thread, and a half-dozen shirts cut out and ready to be pinned and tacked together, depending on the preference of her guests. Miss Darcy, being a little awkward with a needle but a neat hand with a pencil, was pressed into service with ruler, pounce bag and pierced papers to mark guidelines for smocking on the smallest shirts. Lady Risingham was put to work overseeing the smoothing out of lengths of linen on the appropriated dining table and was given the sole honour of wielding the shears, lady Matlock being unwilling to risk anyone else marking her highly-polished mahogany. Mrs Darcy, whom lady Matlock considered a protégé  and tolerated with good humour all the better for her being not a member of her household, was stationed at the coffee pot, while Lady Matlock sat enthroned before the tea to greet her guests. As her guests arrived, she whispered her approval to Mrs Darcy of the selected misses and ladies whose mothers had received that day’s invitation prepared with particular care, and Mrs Darcy looked on them with a skeptical eye. They were, to a one, young, sweet, and inoffensively accomplished, distinguishable from one another only by the colours of their hair and ribbons.

A fine selection of work bags and boxes were soon on display, each lady taking the opportunity to show off her matching scissors, stiletto and delicate needle case, which the those items provided by Lady Matlock soon disappeared into. The two apprentice artists from the Royal Academy who had been invited by the countess to draw the ladies at work moved about the room to catch the finest attitudes on display, watched with gimlet eye by the chaperones present. This was among the most popular of the entertainments the countess provided, and the one which had made her a success early in her career. The young artists she selected would draw the parties at work, making a day’s stealthy meal of the biscuits and cakes on offer, and would have the opportunity to sell those sketches or other such samples of their work they could carry in a folio to the assembled guests. For the part of the guests, they might have a candid sketch of themselves nobly employed in a manner that showed to best advantage the fine turn of their hands and arms.

The quantity of new arrivals requiring introduction and refreshment began to trail off, although since not everyone had yet appeared their hostess and her family were not free to walk about the room to make conversation, not yet could they be assured sufficient privacy to address the topic Lady Matlock had raised so keenly earlier. It was in one of these uncomfortable lulls when Mrs Darcy was not engaged in work or conversation that Lady Matlock stood even more upright than usual to greet her newest guest, Lady Stornaway, who had received a card, her sister Mrs Fraser, who had not, and Mrs Fraser’s own guest. Lady Stornaway, who was young and expensively dressed, in turn introduced her friend, whom she had taken the liberty to bring along as she was staying with Mrs Fraser and her husband. This friend, it so happened, turned out to be none other than the Miss Crawford whom Mrs Darcy had met when she had dined at the Rushworths'.

Mrs Darcy’s smile was very genuine as she renewed the introduction, and returned with what seemed real pleasure on Miss Crawford’s part, so that some friendly words passed between them while Miss Crawford’s coffee was poured, before she was borne away by Lady Stornaway and Mrs Fraser.

Lady Matlock declared in an undertone that Lady Stornaway was exactly what she had expected when she heard Lord Stornaway had married, and was glad she was not some poor creature who would quake to be looked at. All was not lost, perhaps. He was quite worthless, but she might be worked upon.

At length the rhythm of the gathering allowed Mrs Darcy to venture some way from the coffee pot without fear of neglect, and, after making some cheerful remarks to her more regular companions, she found Miss Crawford sitting beside the chiffonier that their hostess kept stocked with her embroidery books and pattern magazines, reading one of the newest subscriptions. She blushed when Mrs Darcy sat beside her, commenting on the pretty pattern she was studying, and hastily closed the article with an exclamation. ‘You will think me very silly, but while I am a most accomplished fashion-plate, I am very bad at sewing shirts. I rarely did it growing up, you know, and now that I am out, I confess I do not care for sewing except that I may show myself off to advantage. But I hope you do not think me lazy. I should hate to make a poor impression on you.’

Mrs Darcy replied that she did not think so at all, and, laughing, said that she herself had come late to the frequent production of shirts — ‘for my father was not such a profligate or sporting man as to make much work for a wife and five daughters, but now I am saddled with two boys who sprout an inch every time I turn my back, and a husband who is most particular about his dress.’

Miss Crawford smiled at this. ‘You should do as my aunt did, then, and make him take up needle and thread himself. You can have no fear of him surpassing you in skill, as she did, since my uncle is a naval man and could work up a shirt as quick as a sail. I think his resentment of the task was nearly as great as hers was at his ability.’

‘Oh,’ laughed Mrs Darcy. ‘I do not mind it, really. I should be happy to start you off, if you like.’

Miss Crawford assented to this, as, said she, the work was only for the poor, after all, who could not be so particular as to reject her work. As the work progressed, they fell quite naturally into a discussion which, encompassing the domestic tasks, turned rapidly to the unsettled state of Miss Crawford’s own private sphere. She had been raised with a most-beloved brother by the aunt and uncle of whom she spoken, her own parents having died when she was young, but on the death of that aunt had removed to the home of her half-sister, whose husband had been granted a living by Mrs Rushworth’s father, and her time visiting at that family’s estate had been the closest she had come to being settled in her life.

‘We were always moving about to follow the Admiral’s business, and I really believe that I  have lived out of a travelling trunk every year of my life. The closest I came to a regular address was at school in town and now I move from guest-bedroom to guest-bedroom — always welcome, I hope — between the houses of one friend or other as they find themselves some rich husband and then find themselves in need of distraction from him.’

‘Have you no home of your own, then?’

‘None at all! Oh but do not think me a charity case, I beg you. It is settling I want, not security. My brother inherited our father’s estate of Everingham, where we were both born, but we left it so young I hardly feel any connection to it except as his, and I have no intention of keeping house where I may soon be justly turned out in favour of a wife. I am too fond a sister to want to put myself in the way of being jealous of any attachment of his, since I really could not bear to be at odds with him. For myself I have a very comfortable fortune of my own for when I do marry, but I don’t know at all when that is likely to be. I am determined to make a very good match, and will not be hurried into a mistake.’

Mrs Darcy was most thoughtful at this. 

 

 

One afternoon, a few weeks after the dinner at the Rushworths’, the Darcys at last received their long-desired guest. There was a sudden flurry of activity in the hallway and Colonel the Honourable Richard Fitzwilliam burst into the rear sitting room with nearly as great a tail of noise as if he had preceded his whole regiment, rather than merely a butler, footman, batman, and collection of trunks.

Mrs Darcy’s hand flew to her mouth in a gesture for silence that did not disguise her smile. Colonel Fitzwilliam spread his hands expressively, giving an affectionate, if whispered, salute, bowing over her offered hand and asking after her health.  Drawing up a chair, which he took care to lift entirely from the carpet before setting it down again, he seated himself beside her and then addressed himself to the baby flopped bonelessly against her shoulder, nearly invisible under layers of wool and linen.

‘You look a picture from a nursery book, Lizzy. Can this be my little namesake then? I swear he’s doubled in size since his christening.’

‘Of course. You may test his weight to exhaustion yourself once he’s woken up, so long as you promise not to speed him along to it. He is very nearly as demanding as Aunt Catherine at the moment, and will hardly suffer to be put down. I had to spirit him out of the nursery before Ned went quite to pieces in sympathy.’

Colonel Fitzwilliam made a little moue of sympathetic amusement, very lightly touching the little jacket. ‘Have you tried giving him a set of redcoat dollies? He could practise yelling them into line, and perhaps by the time he’s old enough for a set of colours there’ll be another war to win. Is your husband home, by the by? Your man was so busy making sure Wyatt didn’t get any muck from my trunks on the aubusson that I didn’t like to interrupt him for an answer.’

Mrs Darcy gave him a dry look that suggested that at less than a year old, she might yet be too sensitive on the topic of her second son’s safety to wish him into a glorious military career. ‘He is not, but he will be sorry to have missed your arrival. We have been penned in by one misfortune after another so far this season, and he has gone on a flying visit to his lawyer to sign some document or other, and thence to the wine-merchant, in preparation for your visit. Georgiana is in her apartment, making some adjustments to her wardrobe, or I am sure she would already be here to greet you. I,’ she said grandly, ‘being one-armed at present, am putting together a dinner for you to meet our new neighbours, but as I am short of at least one gentleman to make up the numbers at present, and Fussy has threatened to discuss only the breeding of new potato varieties all evening if I do not include some more known whig sympathisers among our guests, I am a little at a loss as to whom I should pick. I am attempting stealth, you see, lest I permit a young friendship to be exposed to a torrent of unvarnished political debate. Have you anyone you would like to suggest?’

Colonel Fitzwilliam gave a doubtful look to the cards arranged on Mrs Darcy's work table. ‘Have you some sort of school next door? I was under the impression it was a pair of newlyweds. I recall receiving rather a detailed account.’

Mrs Darcy sighed. ‘They appear to move about in a sort of swarm, I am afraid. The Rushworths and her sister are the only ones actually living there, but Miss Bertram seems capable of the most fearful sulks unless she has their intimate friends to cling to —’ she hastened to amend this, belatedly admitting to herself that she ought not wish to bias him towards a poor first impression of an unknown feminine quantity, ‘which I will excuse in a country-reared lady of tender years, and as they are all together in the house so constantly I cannot see how to invite only some of them without giving offence. I have some idea of inviting the Fitzwilliam’s cousin Anne and her new husband, since they will quit Bath and come here soon. Have you met him yet?’

Colonel Fitzwilliam had not, since the Elliots were but distantly connected to Mr Darcy through a late cousin of his father, who had been unwise in her choice of husband. They were thus very rarely in society with her relatives, and the acquaintance reached no further, since they could boast of no relation at all to the Fitzwilliams. Although, on hearing of the marriage the colonel had thought he might recognise her husband’s name from the naval lists that were forever floating about in the reports at the bottom of his writing desk.

‘Well, you will like him. Anne would bear with Mr Rushworth as patiently as she bears with her father, I am sure, though I fear I shall have to send her half the greenhouse to absolve myself for putting her through such an event. Her husband seems another matter, however, not the sort who suffers fools gladly.  I am a little suspicious that if I put my husband and Captain Wentworth at table together in this particular company without some dampening we may not survive the resultant sarcasm, even with your excellent manners to help the conversation along.’

‘Disloyal of you to think I would not assist my own cousin in whatever endeavour he chose, anyway. What about Mr and Mrs Bingley? You may abuse their kindness to any extent, I am sure.’

This was impossible, since Mr Bingley had stayed too long over business in York and had by consequence elected to wait for better roads rather than trap his whole family in a succession of coaching inns while they crept towards London. They were not to be looked for within the required time for a welcome dinner.

‘Well, then, what about Vivian? He and Georgiana can keep each other entertained.’

Mrs Darcy countered that inviting the Colonel’s younger brother was rather more in the spirit of a family gathering than a dinner party designed to expand his circle of new acquaintance, and that Colonel Fitzwilliam would no doubt see Vivian just as soon as he had made his courtesies to his parents and been able to escape to Darcy House. ‘But if you are able to drag him out of whatever swamp or fen he is presently residing in I will of course invite him. Although in that case I must first extract a promise from both of you to mind his conversation and not permit him to yammer about frogs as if he were at billiards in Cambridge.’

 

 

Colonel Fitzwilliam was not successful in persuading his brother to make good enough time to attend his welcome dinner at Darcy House, for that young gentleman’s studies had turned to a fascination with the properties of hibernation, and he was busy alarming his parents with an insistence on clambering about in his shirtsleeves in the cold and wet to further his enquiries. Of these escapades little was heard from Vivian himself, who was an indifferent, tardy correspondent, but much had been made of them in the reports of the housekeeper at the Earl’s estate.

This was not a cause to repine for Mrs Darcy, however, for she had long since invited Miss Crawford to visit with her on any occasion she might find herself at — street. This had proved to be often, and, as both women tended to activity, they often took their meetings to the parks or gardens that must stand in for a shrubbery in town. Shortly before the date set, Miss Crawford, fairly bubbling with excitement, had told Mrs Darcy that her brother  was unexpectedly returned to town. This neatly solved Mrs Darcy’s dual wishes, the first of which was to meet such a one as whom Miss Crawford really thought well of, for while she seemed unsettled in her opinion of most of her present companions and family she was effusive in her praise of Mr Crawford, and the second of which was an ever more pressing requirement for another gentleman to provide balance for her table. An invitation was extended for Mr Crawford to join them at dinner, and his sister made assurances for his ready acceptance and his excellent manners.

The evening was, for the most part, about as much of a success as Mrs Darcy had expected it to be. Near half the table were well-enough acquainted with the army and navy to provide an unceasing cheerful flow of detailed anecdotes and explanations as to the recent defeat of Napoleon, and the conversation was steady and amiable. Conversation could not be expected to sparkle undimmed in the present company, but it was regular and had enough moments of amusement that she did not feel herself remiss as a hostess in her choice of guests. The table was excellent, for she had learned early in life the tremendous assistance that a finely prepared dish might present in aiding stumbling conversations or extinguishing unpleasant ones, and her marriage had given her the opportunity to refine her menus to heights undreamed of by her mother.

Mrs Darcy had returned the honours paid them on their visit to number thirteen, and had seated Mr Rushworth besides herself, and Mrs Rushworth at the place of honour beside her host. In deference to her husband’s feelings and to Lady Matlock’s seasonal objectives, Mrs Darcy had placed Miss Crawford at her husband’s elbow, opposite Colonel Fitzwilliam, so that much of the conversation might be naturally turned to the opinions and accomplishments of the latter two. The conversation between Mr Darcy and Mrs Rushworth was slight, for though Mrs Rushworth was as keen to be thought pleasing by her hosts as she had hoped to be found on their previous meeting, his chilly courtesy towards her charms and perfect indifference to each avenue she sought to lead the discussion down made her hesitate more than once. She fixed her attention determinedly upon him, however, and each time Mr Darcy glanced at his sister or cousin or wife, talking complacently with their dining partners, Mrs Rushworth found herself mirroring his gaze.

Mr Crawford, whose manners were as gentlemanlike and charming as his sister had promised, was seated halfway down the table, paired with Miss Darcy, and spoke quietly and pleasantly of his own country pursuits — of riding and hawking and shooting, and the improvements he had made at his own estate, until at length the meal drew near to its end, and it seemed he wished for some greater response than he had received.

He could not stand these long hours indoors in winter, they quite sapped the spirit, did not Miss Darcy agree?

Miss Darcy demurred that pleasant employments might be found in or out of doors, should one care to seek them out, although the air was better out of doors in the country.

Mr Crawford assented readily to this, and asked if Miss Darcy rode.

She did, with her sister-in-law.

There was a pretty path he had recently had cleared on his estate, for his sister had developed a great fondness for riding during their long summer in the Midlands, and he meant to add some ladies' horses to his stable, though he could not of course purchase a worthwhile animal at this time of year for any amount of money. He confessed himself quite ignorant of what might please a lady in a mount, and asked if Miss Darcy had any notions on that score.

Miss Darcy said that she was very fond of her own horses, and that the present issue of the family lines had acquitted themselves very well in Surrey the previous June . As far as the choice of mount went, she understood the management of breeding lines was a complicated task, and that it was sensible for someone who was rarely at their estate to choose to purchase their horses instead. Perhaps he might ask her brother’s advice  over the port.

Mr Crawford changed paths at this, saying he had been meaning to take in some shows while he was in town and did not trust the judgement of Mr Yates, who had the bad taste to enjoy everything. Had she any recommendations to make? He would like to secure a box.

Miss Darcy was full of regret, but she found the theatre too loud to attend more than occasionally, although she had sent her cousin clipped reviews of all most promising performances and had promised to accompany him to whichever one he preferred.  This remark garnered an indulgent look from Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was engaged in the relation of a lively anecdote to Miss Crawford. Mr Crawford matched the Colonel’s expression, and redoubled his efforts to please, determined to garner some smiles from his solemn companion.

He had recently conceived a passion for reciting in home theatricals — Mr Yates had introduced them all to the pastime, and he had found it delightful. They had played at Lovers Vows — he would be happy to speak a piece of it to her, if she liked. How wonderful it was to have such gifts of great men’s eloquence to assist one in the expression of feeling. He had always enjoyed reading Shakespeare and had found it remarkable he had not earlier realised that, the former pleasure encompassing the latter, he should not have gained an appreciation for performance earlier in life. Though of course one must bow, and gladly, to the superiority of England’s greatest pen. Had Miss Darcy a favourite play?

Miss Darcy at first looked uncertain at this, almost upset, and then said in only slightly quavering tones that she was fond of Much Ado About Nothing, since her family would sometimes recite it to one another — although her dog, loyal thing that he was, tended to bark at the more lively speeches.

Mrs Darcy did not quite choke at this, but it was a near thing, and Mr Darcy looked better pleased than he had all evening. Colonel Fitzwilliam aimed a conspiratorial smile at Miss Crawford, who had turned a wary eye upon her host and and did not see it.

Mrs Rushworth spoke, her tones gay and brittle as an old mirror. ‘Mr Crawford, are we not to wish you joy this evening? Surely my cousin cannot have failed to accept you by now. She was always a very stupid creature, but even a Fanny must have some sense occasionally.’

Silence fell upon the table like a holland cover. Mrs Wentworth fixed her eyes upon her plate, and Captain Wentworth looked as if he had been stung. Mrs Darcy, too shocked for words, thought she must resolve upon losing the whole greenhouse in penance, rather than half, and could not bring herself to look away from Mrs Rushworth long enough to decide if the startled anger on her husband’s face was directed at anyone in particular. Colonel Fitzwilliam laid down his knife with exquisite precision, making a tiny chink that echoed in the silence.

Mr Crawford had never lost his smile, though for a moment it had become as fixed as a grecian mask. ‘Your cousin is so modest a creature, my dear Mrs Rushworth, that she does not know her own qualities. I have not lost hope that she might be brought to an understanding of them by the recognition of others, and then I will be the happiest of men.’

Miss Crawford took up the second part of the round. ‘Indeed, Miss Price is such a fine little creature, I have never seen the like. You know, I really think it is only her own too-modest appraisal of her own value that holds her back from being properly engaged as we all wish. Such a wonderful delicacy in a girl so young! I should really love to have her for my sister, and then we might all be relatives as well as friends. Would that not be nice?’

Affirmation then came from a most unexpected quarter. Mr Rushworth spoke ponderously, with the air of a man only presently catching the thread of the conversation.  ‘Are you to marry Miss Price, then, Mr Crawford? I am very happy for you, she is a good creature. Not very pretty, and short, not a good figure, certainly not so fine as Mrs Rushworth, but then, she is not from such a good family, on her father’s side. I never heard of them until I married Maria. But she is helpful, you know, very patient. Do you know,’ he said, turning to Mrs Darcy, ‘that we put on Lovers Vows at Mansfield Park. Or, rather, we would have, but in the end Sir Thomas came home and everyone was too busy to go on with rehearsals. It was such a shame, for I was to play Count Cassel, and I had nearly got all my speeches memorised — nearly two and forty of them! I know them still, and I think we should attempt it again, since otherwise it will have been quite a waste to remember such a piece. And there was a great deal of finery ordered that could not otherwise be worn, although I do not think much of such things. There was a speech I had to make, that I thought very funny, for I was courting at the time. It went, let me see ‘for a frivolous coxcomb, such as I am,’ he smiled broadly, ‘to keep my word to a woman, would be deceit not expected in me. It is in my character to break oaths in love' — all this, you see, I was to say to Mr Yates, who was playing the father of my dear Maria, as Emilia! Is that not droll, in a man engaged?’

Mrs Darcy was almost speechless. ‘Quite,’ she managed. ‘Shall we retire? You must forgive me, I feel myself in need of a restorative.’