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.