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.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a well-known person marries, all those who know him- and the ones who do not -produce an almost insatiable curiosity about their new partner in life. How ever little is known of the newlyweds' feelings upon the subject, it is fixed in the minds of people in general that this bride will instantly be introduced to them after the announcement of the event.
This was the case with the Earl of Saffron Walden. Having inherited his title at the unexpected age of nine and twenty, along with several nice country estates, at least two houses in town, and no disadvantaged dependant relatives, all of Society in general had held high hopes concerning his marital prospects- that is to say that they wished for him to set an eye upon their daughters. All wanted him to marry soon and well, and when he did neither of those things, all were naturally disgusted with him.
His choice instead was a young lady who was the second daughter of a gentleman who resided at Longbourn in Hertfordshire, close to one of his own estates, Stoke House. They met just by chance when he condescended to attend the Meryton Winter Assembly, a month before he inherited his title. Naturally the entire village and its occupants were all a chatter at a Viscount attending their assembly and when he chose to honour the second daughter of one of the richest gentlemen in the neighbourhood with his hand, this gossip increased.
The future Earl himself spent but three weeks in Meryton, before returning to town upon the death of his father. Everyone but the lady in question expected his return, but all were surprised when it was announced that he had offered his hand to the lady and she had accepted him.
This was two years ago. Such a passage of time alone might not be considered astonishing, if it were not for the fact that after the couple had returned to town, the new Countess of Saffron Walden was only seen in Society once; when she was presented at Court. Society was in astonishment. Many stared, some coloured, a few doubted and most were silent. All wondered why she was never seen again.
They wondered even more when, again quite unexpectedly, the Earl was found dead in the spring of 1811. The nature of his death proved to be a delicious scandal; he had been thrown from a carriage while riding down a very poor road, as was a tradition of his club, the Four-Horse.1
Society now awaited impatiently for the Countess to make an appearance. Since the Earldom of Saffron Walden was a title that passed through both male and female lines, it was presumed by all that she would enter Society as soon as possible. All anxiously hoped that she would grace one of their beloved single sons with her hand.
However, this was not the case. Instead the Countess disappeared from town and was never heard of, nor seen again.
Must that woman be quite so loud? was the first thought that entered Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy's head when he reluctantly arrived in the assembly of Meryton, Hertfordshire, that fateful night.
The woman in question was still commenting, or rather complaining, when Sir William Lucas, after having accosted both Darcy and his friend the moment they arrived, dragged him- not Bingley, for he was quite willing -over to her and the two younger ladies standing beside her.
"I really must protest as to you living there comfortably, Lizzy. The Great House at Stoke it may be, but the Drawing Rooms should really be larger."
Fortunately, it was at this moment that Sir William chose to interrupt. "Mrs Bennet, may I introduce you to Mr Bingley? He has expressed a wish of becoming acquainted with you and your daughters."
Whether Bingley had actually avowed aloud this intention or not, Darcy- nor indeed his friend- knew not. All Darcy could remember was that Bingley had fixed his gaze upon the woman who, in his opinion, smiled too much, and then lost the ability to be aware of anyone else.
Mrs Bennet, now presented with the new and eligible tenant of Netherfield, forgot the unsuitability in size of the Drawing Rooms of Stoke's Great House and began to fawn. "Mr Bingley. How lovely to see you. This is Jane, my eldest. And Mary sits over there. And Kitty and Lydia my two youngest you see there dancing. And of course, my second daughter, the Countess of Saffron Walden."
While Mr Bingley had gone past the stage of listening to Mrs Bennet and back to gazing at the woman he now knew to be Jane, his friend's interest had suddenly renewed itself.
Mr Darcy's reputation as the richest man in Derbyshire had granted him the acquaintance of the late Earl, and he, like everyone else of Society, had wondered over the identity of the Countess. Now he was the first of them to set eyes on her.
And to be struck. The Countess was a beauty. Darcy found himself mesmerised by her enchanting eyes which complemented her hair perfectly. However, there was one element more that when combined with the other two induced his attraction; that she was hiding her true self from the intrusion of her present society, donning a facade that presented all the emotions of enjoyment in the evening, but in reality concealing her real feelings upon the subject.
Darcy had seen that look before, and in his own opinion, far too recently. It had been the same look his sister had produced the first time she had been in company with anyone but him after Ramsgate. Darcy had sworn to himself upon being witness to this look that he would do everything within his power to restore Georgiana to the happiness she had previously always felt and displayed, and now, as he gazed at the Countess of Saffron Walden, a woman he had never met until this moment, he found himself making the same vow.
"And you, sir. Are you as fond of dancing as your friend is?"
Darcy glanced reluctantly at Mrs Bennet, her question bringing him out of his enchantment. A single look at his friend was all he needed to conclude that Bingley had just achieved his first wish of tonight, to dance with the angel named Jane. Usually he would not be inclined to acquiesce to this less than subtle hint from a matchmaking mama, but this was different. "Not quite as fond, Mrs Bennet, but I usually indulge in the custom. Countess, if you are not engaged, may I request the honour of your hand for the next?"
She looked surprised, Darcy thought, upon receiving the request, and her acceptance, he was sure, bordered on a wish more to be away from her mother for a brief time, rather than a real desire to dance. Taking her proffered hand, Darcy gently led her to the floor behind his friend and her sister. Then, at the last moment, he turned to her and remarked, "Would you mind if we took advantage of the balcony over there for some fresh air? This room is a bit stifling."
After escorting her outside, Darcy stepped away and leaned on the railing. Seeing her shoulders relax in relief, he waited silently until she found the courage to join him. "Thank you, sir," she began once she had.
"It was nothing, I assure you," Darcy replied. "You looked as though you might need it."
"I confess that I did," the Countess remarked. "You are very astute."
"Not terribly," Darcy admitted. "My sister often displays that look when in large groups. She is rather shy, and I, being her only constant companion, always try to bring her comfort. Indeed I am often prone to the same defence myself." He paused briefly to turn and face her. "My expression, however, my sister is convinced, presents quite the opposite, often offensive attitude." He displayed it.
She chuckled. "Indeed, you do look fearful."
"Well, one has to frighten away the matchmakers."
"Surely not all the time?"
He smiled. "You'd be surprised." He turned to resume his previous stance. "We can stay out here as long as you wish."
"Unfortunately not," she replied. "My mother will notice that I have disappeared, as much as I would have liked Jane to have been the centre of attention this evening." She sighed. "I wish I had never come."
"Only a part of you wishes that, I hope?"
"Only a part." She smiled at him. It was a real smile and Darcy felt all the honour she had accorded him.
"I must confess," he began honestly, "to possessing the same feeling, until I met you."
She blushed. Through the curtains the orchestra struck up a series of notes and she offered him her hand. "I believe I promised you this dance, sir."
Darcy took her hand, and was lost.
It was a mixed and indifferent party that returned to Netherfield later that night.
"Dear God, what a ghastly evening," Miss Caroline Bingley was heard to voice as soon as they had entered the hall.
Darcy merely rolled his eyes and then returned the eager hug his sister gave him upon the moment of his arrival.
"Was it really so very awful?" She asked him.
"No, Georgie, at least as far as Bingley and I are concerned. Although, I doubt he even noticed it was a ball."
"She is an angel!" declared Bingley at that moment, confirming his friend's opinion. "Was she not an angel, Darcy?"
"By she I presume you mean Miss Bennet?" his friend calmly queried.
"Miss Jane Bennet?" Bingley mused. "Is that not the most perfect name?"
He waltzed into the Drawing Room, followed by Georgiana and Darcy, who commented, much to her amusement; "You may be surprised to learn that he drank nothing tonight."
"So, Mr Darcy," Caroline rudely interrupted as soon as they had seated themselves in the Drawing Room, "who was that woman whom you graced with your company all evening?"
"The Countess of Saffron Walden," Darcy replied, before returning to his sister. "Who would like very much to meet you."
"Will she like me?" Georgiana asked shyly.
"Of course she will, dearest."
"I do not see why people hovered around her," Caroline continued to the whole room. "She should be at home mourning her late husband."
"Caroline, mourning is hardly fashionable," her sister Mrs Hurst reminded her, knowing that Caroline was only complaining because Darcy had danced three dances with the Countess and no one else.
Darcy merely rolled his eyes, while his sister smiled at the thought of a future sibling.
1. The Four-Horse Club was a very popular club in Regency times and its members indulged frequently in the tradition of riding carriages down very poor roads. Source is the Regency Collection which can be accessed on Austen.com's online Regency links page.