In A Different Style
Part One: Post-Engagement Letters
My dear Caroline and Louisa,
Your brother is the happiest man in the world. The loveliest angel on earth has consented to be my wife. Miss Jane Bennet and I shall be married in several weeks' time. I know that you will be delighted to have her as a sister; she is sweet, amiable, unpretending, and incapable of malice -- everything that a gentleman wishes to find in a lady. And w +ere you to witness the maternal delight and ease with which she guides and loves the children in the neighborhood, I know you would share my joyful anticipation for our family's happiness.
Incidentally, I was shocked to discover that Miss Bennet had been in Town throughout last season and had attempted to communicate with us, but that Darcy had obstructed her! He has explained his reasons, however, and although I was very angry at first, I have heartily forgiven him now. His motives were entirely with a view to my best interest, rather than any personal conceit, and since he has freely confessed all to me and admitted his mistake, I see no reason to begrudge him his temporary lack of judgement. It is concealment of any sort of vicious motives which I abhor, as I am sure you are aware.
There will be no need for you to assist in the wedding preparations -- believe me most fervently in this matter -- but I look forward to your attendance on my day of joy. Believe me to be,
Your most sincere brother,
This letter is woefully brief as I have many pressing matters to attend to, but I must inform you that Charles Bingley has become engaged to Miss Jane Bennet of Meryton, the elder sister of that same Miss Elizabeth who visited us during the summer. You are, of course, invited to the wedding.
Dearest Georgiana, I hope this news does not take you aback. I will confess that I had hoped one day to see an understanding between the two of you, and did not scruple to manipulate matters -- I freely admit it -- in hopes of bringing about such an end. But what must be must be, and if you could but meet the charming Miss Jane and observe Bingley's joy in anticipation of a life of mutual respect and love, I know your heart would be as full as mine.
I hope you can forgive me for my past attempts to bring you forward to him. It was very wrong of me and I shall never allow my selfish feelings to cloud my judgement again. You are the loveliest of girls and the very best of sisters, and your future husband will have no choice but to regard you as highly as does
Your devoted brother,
Dear Mr. Bingley,
I hope you will not think me presumptuous in writing you, but my relations tell me that on this occasion a private letter is entirely suitable. My dear brother has informed me of your engagement to Miss Jane Bennet. My felicitations; I am perfectly delighted! If she is only half as charming as her sister Elizabeth, you will be exceptionally happy. Please tell me the color of her eyes and hair so that I may present her with a suitable gift.
Yours most sincerely,
P.S. You need not carry on for pages about it unless you absolutely insist, but if you so wish, I would be eager to hear more about the lady.
My dear brother,
Louisa joins me in wishing you all the joy in the world. We have always spoken of the lovely Jane Bennet with great fondness. How we do miss our dear friend! She is a sweet, simple creature and does indeed suit you perfectly.
But how shocking to hear that Mr. Darcy concealed her presence in London from you! Had I but known, she would have been invited to our home in an instant! Interference of any sort is my abhorrence, as you know -- but then, perhaps such a man can be forgiven since he was taking your welfare into consideration, her relatives being what they are (but we are sure this makes no difference to US, if it is nothing to YOU).
I shall see you at the wedding. You might drop a hint to Mr. Darcy that I plan to wear my green silk brocade which he complimented last year. With my best wishes for your health and happiness,
Dearest Miss Bennet,
My brother writes to inform me that you are to be his wife. I cannot begin to find words to express my feelings. How happy you must be! I am certain that your family's rejoicing can scarcely be believed. I myself am all astonishment at the remarkable turn of events that has led to my calling you my sister.
By the bye, I deeply regret being unable to extend greater hospitality to you when I saw you briefly in London last winter. You are probably not aware that I was suffering from a recurrent attack of -- the name escapes me, that terrible lung malady -- and I scarcely knew what I was about! Throughout the season it took every bit of my strength to conceal my true condition from my relations and carry on my social duties.
There is no need to mention this upsetting fact to Charles as he would fret excessively over my health and his brotherly concern might be distracted from your lovely presence. So please do not mention it at all, if you would be so kind. I know you may be trusted implicitly in this matter as you are a lady of the very highest principles.
Please do not hesitate to let me know if I may assist you in preparing your trousseau. My brother tells me you have everything well in hand but he knows naught about the joys we ladies share in assisting each other with matters of fashion. I remain with affection, your sister-to-be,
My dear Mr. Collins,
I must trouble you for congratulations. My lovely eldest daughter Jane has become engaged to a gentleman of highest repute, Charles Bingley of Netherfield Hall. You may remember him as the young man who is the closest friend of Lady Catherine's nephew, Mr. Darcy.
As Jane's relation, you are of course invited to the wedding, but several weeks ago you made clear to us your deep abhorrence of being associated with anyone related to Mrs. Wickham, so please do not attend at all if you would rather not. Although certain persons of fortune and title will be present, there will be no one of Lady Catherine's unique social reputation. With deepest respects to your wife,
Dearest, sweetest sister,
Words fail me, so I shall be succinct: I am engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She has accepted the renewal of my proposals and we are to be married on the same day as Bingley and Jane.
I do not deserve such good fortune. She is the loveliest, liveliest lady in the world, and I can scarcely catch my breath long enough to write.
Dearest Georgiana, do you realize that you are responsible for this happy outcome? Had it not been for your presence at Pemberley I would never have found the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Miss Bennet, for following my miserable attempt at a first proposal (which memory even now gives me the shaking horrors), she would certainly never have visited Pemberley only to dine with me. Your gracious manners encouraged her and gave her a far better impression of our family than I could have dared hope to accomplish on my own.
And may I express again what mature and ladylike presence of mind you showed in failing to respond to Caroline Bingley's repeated improprieties during her last visit. I can still see you enduring her insinuations, despite the fact that they were not meant for you, and then composedly playing Mozart. I have never had a prouder moment as your brother.
I shall float back home for a fortnight before the wedding to arrange various matters, and then return with you to Meryton for the ceremony. Would you do me the honor of wearing the jewelry that our mother gave you? The sapphires illuminate the sparkle in your eyes.
Before you ask, no, I have not yet informed Aunt Catherine, and please do not mention a word of the engagement should she write. I prefer to handle the matter in my own way. Sharing the news with the immediate household is quite acceptable, however; in fact, the sooner they know, the better.
I shall write more as our plans develop, but count on my return within a few weeks. My darling Elizabeth, who will soon be your sister, joins me in sending you love. Your most devoted brother,
Dear Mrs. Reynolds,
I am delighted to report that Pemberley will soon have a new mistress. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who impressed you so much on her visit last summer, has accepted my proposals and will soon become my wife.
I must thank you again for all that you have done for me, especially in tolerating my unfortunate mooods over the last year. I must certainly not have been an easy master. Yet Elizabeth gives me to understand that it was your high recommendation of me which first served to turn her opinion after that unfortunate incident at Hunsford (someday you must tell me how you learned of it). What I may have done to deserve such praise I cannot imagine, but kindly refrain from carrying on in such a manner to future guests; they will suspect me of being overliberal with the staff.
There is so much preparation that must be done to receive my lady at Pemberley that I scarcely know where to start, so I shall leave matters in your competent hands for several weeks and communicate by post. I will be returning for a fortnight before the wedding to see to things personally; until then I prefer to remain near my fiancee.
We will, of course, be residing in the same master suite that I currently use as my bedroom. Anything you can do to make it look less as though a bachelor has been living there for several years would be greatly appreciated. Tell Marcus to reorganize the closets to accomodate a lady's belongings -- and in the state I left them in, he would be well advised to begin immediately. Among other things, it would be wise to move the fishing tackle somewhere else.
Bingley has kindly offered us the use of Netherfield for our wedding night, but as it will be rather crowded, Elizabeth and I would prefer to stay at a small inn somewhere along the road between Meryton and Derbyshire. Have you any suggestions? The Crescent and Thistle comes highly recommended.
Elizabeth sends you her warmest regards, and as she has made me the happiest man alive, I am certain you will find me a much less difficult master upon my return. Although I am embarking upon the journey of adult life, the part of me that has known you since I was four years old will always remain
I do not know an indirect way of phrasing this missive, so I shall come straight to the point. You have told me that you celebrate frankness.
I am engaged to be married in several weeks' time. I am not engaged to your daughter Anne. I am engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I am perfectly aware of your feelings for this young lady, so be advised before you do anything rash that I am determined that she shall be my wife. It was a long and difficult task for me to persuade her to accept the sincerity of my proposals, and I scarcely feel that I merit such a prize. She is a beautiful and intelligent lady of rare spirit, as well as a gentleman's daughter. She has already made me happier than I deserve, and she will be a superb mother to our children.
My beloved sister Georgiana has met Miss Bennet on more than one occasion and finds her to be generous and warm-hearted. She has expressed, with her usual shyness, that she would not mind in the slightest if Elizabeth were to become her sister. I was happy to inform her that her dearest wish has finally come true.
You are my mother's sister and are therefore due all the respect that a nephew may owe to his aunt. However, this respect does not extend to tolerating any improper language or behavior directed at my intended wife. Therefore, if you will kindly reconsider what you said about her at our last meeting, I would be honored to have you present at our wedding ceremony. In fact, should you wish to make her acquaintance on friendlier terms, you would be graciously welcomed. If these conditions are not acceptable to you, then it would be better for all concerned if you remained at Rosings rather than distress yourself further with Miss Bennet's presence.
I still retain the deepest fraternal love and respect for Anne and hope to see her during the London season after Christmas. I also beg to remain,
Dear Cousin William,
I hope you are not steeped in strenuous military preparations about six weeks hence because I dearly wish for your presence as best man at my wedding. I am happily engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
How this happened is rather a long story. Suffice it to say that it was a hard road to victory. At times I began to think General Wellesley has an easier life.
I would write more but my hand is cramping up for some reason. Best wishes and I hope to hear from you soon. Your cousin,
To be perfectly honest, I not only congratulate you, I am near green with envy. Miss Bennet is a true prize. You shall never be bored or unhappy in a marriage to such a lady, and I only pray that if by some miracle you ever come across her double, you will send her speedily on to me.
I would be honored to serve as best man at your wedding. I understand this honor also gives me the responsibility of throwing a small celebration for you and your male friends. Shall we do it military style or would you prefer something more tame? (Do not trouble yourself with a reply, I am merely being facetious.)
Owing to your absence, I am concerned for Georgiana's loneliness (as are my parents) and I would like to visit her at Pemberley until you return. Fortunately my current militia duties may be carried out by post. We may repair to my parents' house for a few weeks. I will let you know of our plans.
Once again, heartiest and warmest congratulations from your somewhat green cousin,
I hope this letter finds you and Louisa well. Events are proceeding at such a pace that I scarcely have time to inform you that Darcy will soon be the husband of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. They shall join Jane and myself for a double wedding ceremony in six weeks' time. Owing to this turn of events, I would like to ask you to serve as my best man; Darcy's best man will be his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
I am aware that Caroline still has her cap set for Darcy. While I have the greatest love for my sisters, in this one case I feel exhausted from repeated attempts to convince Caroline that she would be better off looking elsewhere. As recently as a few days ago, she wrote and asked me to tell him what she would be wearing to my wedding!
I haven't the faintest idea how to break the news to her. You do it. Many thanks. Your grateful brother,
Dear Master Darcy,
I received your missive with the greatest of happiness on the same day that Miss Darcy received hers. It was unnecessary for me to inform the remainder of the house, per your request. First I heard your sister shriek with joy; the next moment she came dashing out of the parlor and hugged me with glee, then rushed around informing everyone in the house.
If you will forgive me, sir, I asked Miss Georgiana's permission for a toast. She readily consented and the household staff opened a bottle of port and toasted the future mistress of Pemberley (one swallow only, I was very cautious). Thus fortified, we began making preparations.
Do not fear for the appearance of the master suite, all will be readied in time. Diggens informs me that the small white winter roses should be blooming just in time for the arrival of your bride, so we shall be using them throughout the house. A few small alterations to the general decor shall be all that is necessary to make the room more suitable to a gentlewoman's taste.
Oh yes, the closets. Marcus began attending to them readily. You were quite correct, it was wise to start at once. In addition to the fishing tackle, which was speedily removed and cleaned, what do you suggest we do with your Cambridge cricket bat, worn-out riding boots, a broken fencing foil, and eight boxes of souvenirs from your Grand Tour? (I must say I laughed heartily when Marcus presented me with the inventory. It was good to know that in some ways adulthood has not changed you.)
The Crescent and Thistle is an inn of the very highest repute. I have also heard nothing but exceptional praise for the Corinthian Rose some fifteen miles further north.
We were all delighted to receive the news and look forward to your speedy return. And fear not, I have always refrained -- rather against my will -- from singing your well-deserved praises to visitors, except in one critical and special instance. I beg to remain, sir, your most humble and obedient servant,
I am delighted to hear of your engagement and rejoice in your happiness. We all heard the news yesterday evening. Mr. Collins would join me in sending his regards; however, presently he is at Rosings
coping withspeaking to Lady Catherine.
I would write more except that I would rather discuss the latest news in person. As I scribble this missive, Emily is packing our trunks for our immediate return to Lucas Lodge. I do not yet know the duration of our stay; perhaps two or three months. A carriage is being readied at this very moment and we shall see which arrives first, ourselves or this letter. More upon my arrival.
Forgive my using the back of a household list, it was all I could grab on short notice. Yours in haste,
This is a moral OUTRAGE! I made my wishes perfectly clear to you regarding your marriage, yet immediately afterwards you deliberately chose to snub me and become engaged to a pretentious nobody of demonstrable social inferiority! At the time you visited last Easter I was aware of your foolish favoritism from the very first, especially when that wily, selfish girl used her pathetic attempts at musical arts to draw you in, but I expected you to have the grace to grow out of such adolescent infatuation. I have always known the character of Pemberley to be less dignified than that of Rosings, but I hardly expected this deficiency to extend to its inhabitants.
I warned you that this sort of thing must inevitably happen when one makes friends whose family fortune arises from trade only one generation removed. Had your upstart acquaintances, the Bingleys, stayed in their place, you would never have been tempted to quit your proper sphere. It is fitting that HE should marry a pretty face with no breeding or character, but for YOU, one of the Derbyshire Darcys, to fall into the same trap...I can only attribute it to a lack of proper moral upbringing in your youth.
I send NO regards. You shall suffer the social repercussions of my scorn until you break off your engagement and come to Rosings personally to beg my forgiveness!
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
My congratulations. You have managed to insult me, my fiancee, my fiancee's relations, my sister, my best friend, my best friend's fiancee, my home, and even my parents in the space of only two short paragraphs. My admiration for your efficiency knows no bounds.
Unfortunately, your actions effectively put an end to all communication between us until such time as you are willing to provide written apologies to every one of us.
To put it mildly, I am seriously displeased.
My Dearest Brother,
I hope you and Miss Bennet have received the long letters which I recently sent to both of you. I pray I did not bore you too greatly, but several pages were insufficient to contain all my delight at your upcoming marriage.
I am writing again in slight distress to inform you that Aunt Catherine has written me an abominably rude letter which, in essence, accuses me of having engaged with you in a conspiracy against both her and Anne. How she ever arrived at this fantastic conclusion I know not. Initially I was mortified, but cousin Fitzwilliam (he is visiting, as I believe he wrote to you) reassured me that this problem was in no way due to any fault of mine, that this storm would eventually pass, and that Aunt Catherine was merely "blowing the lid off the kettle," as he put it.
He insisted that I write to inform you of this unhappy event so that you might be fully apprised of the situation. I do not know what to make of it and hope that you will know what to do. Incidentally, Anne does not seem to have been a party to this sudden turn of events. Perhaps we should ask her to London?
My special love to Elizabeth (who will soon be my sister!),
Dear Cousin Anne,
Destroy this letter after you have read it and reply at once. Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam, my fiancee Elizabeth Bennet, and I are all deeply concerned for your health and happiness. Your mother seems to be having a terrible spell of anger and we would rather you were removed into more pleasant surroundings.
The four of us have discussed the situation by post and arrived at the following plan. Our good cousin the Colonel has some friends in London -- very respectful and titled people -- who would like to send you a letter inviting you to spend Christmas with them. Once you arrive, he can meet you there; Georgiana, Elizabeth and I will join you after the first of the year.
Do whatever you can to smuggle a reply out with the next post. I remain your devoted cousin,
THANK YOU! I have been in a terrible state and am relieved to the point of tears to know that my relations care so deeply for my welfare. Please have your friends send the letter at once. Your most grateful cousin,
Anne de Bourgh
Forgive me for taking so long to write but I have been rather preoccupied. Brother Hurst informed me of Darcy's engagement to Miss Eliza Bennet. I wish them both joy.
Both he and you seemed to be under the mistaken impression that I had taken a fancy to Mr. Darcy. I assure you nothing could have been further from my thoughts! I hope I have been better raised than to throw myself at a gentleman, especially one so clearly interested in another lady.
On another note, as a matter of purely academic interest, do you happen to know if Mr. Darcy's cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam will be attending the wedding? I only ask because I wish to ask him some questions about the current Napoleonic troubles, since a woman of true accomplishment must keep herself well-informed about current affairs.
My most delighted good wishes to your friend, and pray send love to Jane from her future sister,
Dear Cousin Fitzwilliam,
I scribble this missive in great haste amid my other duties to forewarn you that there may be a certain complication involved in your attendance as best man at my wedding. I still wish for your presence, but Bingley has just received a letter from his sister Caroline, the one who set her cap at me so flagrantly for more than a year, and he advises me to warn you that...
Dearest daughter Lydia,
How do you do, Mrs. Wickham? And how is your husband, Mr. Wickham?
I can barely contain the news. Lizzy will be the wife of Mr. Darcy! I will be mother to Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire! I will be the matron of the great estate of Pemberley and a house in Town! I can scarcely write for shrieking!
The double wedding will be in a few weeks' time and do forgive me for not having written earlier, but there is so much sewing to do, so much lace and silk to be bought and assembled, that I have been quite distracted. I knew anyway that you would not be able to attend because of your husband's military obligations. By the bye, how is winter coming along in the North Country? Do you burn much coal?
Yesterday a carriage arrived bringing a bolt of cream silk from one of the finest warehouses in London, and do you know that Mrs. Long turned positively purple? It serves her right for the flagrant way she attempted to push her daughter at dear Bingley, who was so obviously intended for my beautiful Jane.
When you are expecting your first, do not hesitate to inform me at once. After five daughters I know all there is to know about raising children. And do not believe that old wives' tale about rubbing butter into your belly before comitting your conjugal duties in order to conceive a son -- it turns out to be the grossest falsehood.
The shipment of satin trim has arrived! I must be off! Ta ta for now, write back very soon to
Your Loving Mother
Dear Brother Gardiner,
I thank you for thinking of my health during our current confusion. Ordinarily I would accept your offer to repair to London for a few weeks while the ladies of Longbourn prepare for the double wedding, but this will be my last opportunity to be with my little Lizzy before giving her away to the lifelong care of a better man than I.
In response to your questions, the wedding will be dull. Freed of the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Wickham and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, which promised quite a bit of amusement, I expect nothing but peace and joy from the participants and guests. Mr. Collins will be present but I confess I begin to find his value as an object of mirth to be somewhat repetitious.
Mrs. Bennet is safely amusing herself with fashion advice for her daughters' trousseaus, thus enabling me to read in peace. Mary and Kitty are assisting in the sewing.
I must scold you for failing to inform me earlier of the true facts of Lydia's marriage. I spent several days in a panic over how I was ever to repay you. Had a sudden attack of apoplexy carried me off, I would have been forced to hold you responsible for the care of my wife and daughters after the Collinses take hold of Longbourn. As it happened, though, I quietly informed Lizzy's intended of my desire to repay him; he ranted and stormed about his love for her and the matter was closed.
Yesterday morning brought a gorgeous blue sky and light breezes, and I happened to glance out my library window. There on the front lawn stood my two eldest daughters, beautiful and radiant grown women, talking with their handsome, fine young men. I must confess the sight quite brought a tear to my eye. Soon they shall be married in mutual respect and love and embark on a journey which I may observe, but not follow.
It is difficult to understand how God has seen fit to give me such joy despite my life's failings. Perhaps His ways are more mysterious and merciful than I had dared to hope.
But I shall close before I become sentimental in my old age. We all look forward to your family's arrival. I remain your devoted brother,
Part Two: Post-Marriage Letters
Author's prologue: Originally I had no plans to continue after "A Different Style: Post-Engagement Letters," but the response was so overwhelmingly positive that I dug into my attic trunks and came up with some more.
To Colonel Fitzwilliam, c/o Pemberley House, Derbyshire
I have completed the letter and, as requested, am sending it to you for editorial advice before posting it to Rosings. Since you informed me that your Aunt stands on ceremony beyond all belief, it seemed expedient to invent a bit. Will this do?
"Your Most Estimable Ladyship,
Lady Sheffield and I send our respectful greetings to you from Hayward House, our family residence in Town. Although we have not had the pleasure of meeting your Ladyship, your brother, the Earl of Matlock, was introduced to us two seasons ago when we were at the Opera for "Orfeo ed Euridice" (I am certain a lady of your highly reputed musical taste is passionately fond of Gluck). Since then we have been graced with the pleasant society of your distinguished relations several times per year.
When my wife and I were in company at St. James yet again last week, I commented to the Marchioness Eastbrook that these endless court functions were becoming tedious without any new and youthful faces. Directly she replied, "But where is Miss de Bourgh, the daughter of Lady Catherine? I have heard so much of her breeding and manners. The court should not be deprived of such an exceptional ornament. You must invite her at once."
Of course I was deeply concerned for your daughter's health and responded, "Madam, her uncle the Earl of Matlock has told us that she suffers from a poor constitution and is incapable of travel."
"Oh, a poor constitution, that is nothing to Doctor Robertson," the Marchioness answered. "You need only mention my name and he shall be speedily at your service. Miss de Bourgh shall benefit from his care while in London."
At that moment I dared to venture, "With all due respect, Madam, I have it on good authority that Miss de Bourgh has never travelled without the company of either her mother or her governess, and I fear..." But the dear lady would hear no such objections. I repeat her exact words: "There comes a time when every lady of breeding must spend a period independent of her immediate family, provided she is under the protection of proper guardianship. Indeed, to venture forth and stand in society on one's own charms is one of the hallmarks of true pedigree. Bring her at once to your home, Lord Sheffield, and let her be presented. I shall brook no dissent."
Naturally I could hardly refuse such a request, which has the added advantage of being consistent with my long-held wishes. Our social circle in London comprises numerous families of rank, including several young and titled gentlemen who wish to be properly introduced to Anne owing to her exemplary reputation. Would it be at all possible, or do we ask too much, to be honored with the company of your daughter at Hayward House for Christmas and the season to follow?
If your Ladyship finds this plan to be agreeable, please inform us by post at once, as we must make plans for Anne to be presented at St. James shortly after the New Year.
Yours most sincerely,
Richard, Lord Sheffield
P.S. The bit about the Marchioness should trump her. I pulled a likely name from Debrett's. -- Edgar
You, sir, are a genius. I am returning the letter to you. Post it immediately.
Be assured that I understand completely if you and Christina have changed your minds, but if you wish to continue with this plan, your assistance is greatly appreciated. There are no people in London I trust more than you. It is impossible for any of Anne's relations to invite her to Town, for communications between her Ladyship and the rest of our family have been rather strained of late. The situation is somewhat similar to the difficulties across the Channel, only without the advantage of gunpowder.
Darcy's wedding takes place in three weeks. As soon as my duties as best man are finished, I shall escort Georgiana back to Pemberley and wait for Darcy and Elizabeth, who will be spending their first two nights at an inn. Once they arrive home and have settled in, I can leave directly for your home.
It would be best if I hold the fort at Hayward House while you and Christina fetch Anne from Rosings. You will need to tell Lady Catherine that your parents are indisposed and sent you in their stead. To allay my aunt's vexed feelings, I can provide you with a letter of introduction from my "father" -- my imitation of his handwriting is quite good -- or you can provide one from your "parents". Is it not astonishing, the informal lessons we learn in school that prove to be of use later in life?
On behalf of Anne's conspiring cousins, I thank you and remain your loyal friend,
Dear Cousin Anne,
If your mother asks why I have written you, hand her the second letter that accompanies this one. We -- Darcy, Georgiana, Elizabeth, and I -- finally have the plan underway. We enlisted the aid of my old friend Edgar, the younger son of Lord Sheffield.
Very soon your mother should receive a letter signed "Richard, Lord Sheffield," inviting you to spend Christmas and the season in London. The letter is actually from Edgar. Lord and Lady Sheffield are in Lancashire, where their eldest son's wife has just given birth to their first grandchild, and they expect to be there some time. However, we felt it was necessary to be creative in these diplomatic matters.
Given the phrasing of the letter, we expect your mother to reply speedily and permit you to travel. Edgar and his wife, Christina, shall travel to Rosings to fetch you shortly after Darcy's wedding. I shall be waiting for the three of you at Hayward House, their family's home in Town, where we will have a splendid Christmas. Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana shall all meet us after the New Year.
One little detail regarding your health. If I may be so bold, I would very much like you to see a specialist, Doctor Robertson, to see if he can offer any advice on your condition. His suggestions may prove fruitful.
Do not bring the poodle. Your cousin in stealth,
Dearest cousin Anne,
Greetings from Derbyshire. I simply must inform you that my favorite hunting hound's bitch has finally given birth to her litter. Six fine, healthy puppies. As promised, you are welcome to your pick of the litter when they are old enough.
We are all somewhat taken aback by Darcy's marriage but I feel I must show up as a matter of form. I hope your mother will forgive me. Please convey my humblest respects. I beg to remain your devoted cousin,
Your Esteemed Lordship,
I send you my most respectful greetings from the time-honored estate of Rosings. Your attentions to my daughter Anne are indeed gratifying. Ordinarily I would insist on accompanying her to Town, but if the Marchioness Eastbrook wishes Anne to stand on her own merits at St. James, then I can brook no objections.
Your concerns for her health are most sensible and appropriate. It is true that Anne's poor constitution has, in the past, prevented her from assuming her proper rank in society, but I am certain that any doctor acquainted with the Marchioness shall be quite acceptable for attending to Anne's delicate condition while she is in London, provided he is of good family, of course. Not that I am implying that the Marchioness would employ the services of a doctor of low family; quite the contrary. But you take my meaning.
I must condescend to make a request, however. Since you are acquainted with my brother the Earl, you have no doubt heard that my nephew, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, is marrying in a few weeks to a wily upstart from a family of no pedigree in Hertfordshire. This abominable alliance has resulted in my justifiable severing of all communications between us. He shall richly deserve the misery he has brought upon himself, but in the meantime my daughter must be shielded from the pollution of all contact with that disgraceful family. I am certain that you understand.
How delightful that you should have met my brother at the Opera. Gluck is indeed one of the most eminent of composers, is he not? I have always spoken of the treasure he has given us with "Don Giovanni."
If you would be so good as to fix a date when you shall call, Anne shall be prepared. I await your reply. Yours most sincerely,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Although you may perceive this letter as a gesture of magnanimous intent, do not hope that I condescend to offer you any sort of reconciliation. I shall never forgive your reprehensible behavior towards my daughter Anne. I only write to have you know that although she may not have been good enough for YOU, her reputation alone was enough to attract the attention of the Marchioness Eastbrook and several titled gentlemen in Town. In consequence, I have decided that her health will permit her to be presented at St. James in the company of the highest of London society. I hope this development makes you realize what advantages you have thrown away in choosing a country girl of no breeding for your wife.
I await your apology.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
I must write to tell you that the famous letter arrived two days ago. Your plans have worked a treat! You should have seen Mama's reaction. She cried, "Ha, ha! Let him take THAT!" and fairly leapt from her chair (in a manner of speaking).
I have never seen her so excited. She and Mrs. Jenkinson are in a perfect flurry, fretting over my gowns and hair styles, and advising me on this and that method of improving my complexion. You should see the gown Mama has chosen for me to be "presented"; it is a horrible shade of orange. I shall pack it away and forget it as soon as I arrive, and throw away all the apothecary's face creams. This fuss is all so strange to me, since Mama never wished me to travel to Town before. We have indeed caught her at a fortuitous moment.
She is increasingly in a terrible state as Cousin Darcy's wedding date approaches. I believe she is still waiting for him to change his plans and become engaged to me! When she is not lecturing the maids about the only right way to pack my things, she rages and storms, and insists that I sit with her for several hours every day, now that the Collinses have fled for Hertfordshire. I have been pleading weakness and taking to my room merely to get away from her.
To answer your question, I should be willing to see your Dr. Robertson, although I doubt anything can be done. I seem to have been cursed with sickliness and see no hope of improvement. But since you have been so good as to arrange my visit, I shall oblige you by consulting his opinion.
This must be the longest letter I have ever written! My hand begins to hurt so I will close. Forgive the muddy fingerprints, I have been smuggling out my replies via the head gardener. The poodle shall remain behind. And I remain your immensely grateful cousin,
Anne de Bourgh
Express Post: To Col. Fitzwilliam, c/o Pemberley House, Derbyshire
What would you say if I told you that Gluck, not Mozart, composed "Don Giovanni"?
I'd say you've had a letter from Lady Catherine. Congratulations! There are very few messages I would enjoy receiving at two in the morning, but this was one of them. I knew you would succeed.
You shall never believe it, but Darcy returned home for his wedding preparations to find a letter from our Aunt awaiting his attention. Do remember Mrs. Ashton's infamous dinner soiree, when our hostess attempted one of her dramatic exits, caught her gown on a door hinge, and ripped the fabric straight down the back? You may recall that peculiar grin Darcy had on his face. Well, I have just seen it again.
Has the Foreign Office promoted you to ambassador yet? And if not, whatever are they waiting for?
Many thanks for your kind efforts. I shall see you in fewer than three weeks. Best wishes to Christina, and I remain your friend,
Greetings from Pemberley. We arrived yesterday evening. I send you and your husband all the love I can spare from Fitzwilliam and trust you are settling down well at Netherfield.
We cannot delay further in thanking you both for your calm and composed presence during the six weeks of wedding preparations. The sudden descent of all ones' relations, however loving, is far more than two spirits such as ours can bear with equanimity. How I should have gotten through this period without your gracefulness in coping with Mother is more than I care to think. Where you obtain your reserve of goodness and patience I know not, but you must reach into that fathomless depth and send some on to me when it comes time to raise children.
Fitzwilliam was right, a two days' stay at the Crescent and Thistle Inn was an excellent plan, but your generous offer of Netherfield was much appreciated. Our room was somewhat small but very pretty, and the inn was blissfully peaceful. The brief delay also gave Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam an opportunity to travel ahead of us back to Pemberley.
As for our first night as man and wife...oh, Jane! I never imagined it was possible! He is ardent and warm and tender beyond compare. Before our wedding I only loved him with my heart; now he is the keeper of my whole soul.
But I know that you have your own honeymoon fresh in memory, and so I shall proceed to my first impression of Pemberley as its mistress.
We arrived towards dusk. With what effusions can I adequately describe my first sight of Pemberley in winter? The red winter sun settling over the western hills, the oaks dusted with fine new snow, the lake covered with a delicate sheet of gray ice, smoke billowing from the stone chimneys. A thousand shades of orange and blue light reflecting off every surface: windows, icicles, snow-covered branches. Fitzwilliam called for the carriage to stop and we disembarked briefly, standing in each others' arms and gazing at the sight for several minutes.
At length we proceeded to the main entrance, where the whole staff stood to welcome us! I was tired from the long drive and lacked somewhat for liveliness. Fortunately Georgiana and the Colonel were there to greet us. My husband helped me alight and then announced me to the household. The sincerity of true welcome evident on every face was a great relief. Fitzwilliam must have given everyone quite a mistaken impression of my character, a flattering deception I hope to prolong as much as possible.
We went at once to our suite so that I could refresh myself. I will try to avoid praising it in the style of Mr. Collins, but it is a beautiful set of rooms. The windows face full south with a prospect over the lake, the furnishings are elegant but not showy, and there is a lovely scrolled mantelpiece on which Fitzwilliam has placed some charming souvenirs from his Grand Tour.
We postponed staff introductions for the morrow, for I was too tired to remember everyone's names, but Fitzwilliam asked if I would like a fresh tour of the house, that I might be comfortable with it immediately. You may imagine how readily I agreed, for my sterling reputation will indeed sink quickly if I am forced to ask the footmen for directions.
The house is even more beautiful than I recall seeing it last, elegantly decorated with pine boughs and tiny white winter roses at every turn. There are several areas whose existence I had not guessed. One of the more interesting is a splendid sporting room with a billiard table like that of Netherfield, as well as a large assortment of fishing tackle, riding crops, cricket bats, and fencing weapons, all neatly arranged in racks along the walls. I did not know Fitzwilliam was in the habit of hosting large sporting parties, and could not help teasing him for keeping it a secret from me. He blushed charmingly.
I could effuse about the home's other delights for pages, but I shall refrain before I sound like Mama. To think that had it not been for the Gardiners, I would never have seen this exceptional place or been united with its exceptional master! Fitzwilliam has never stopped praising them, and the whole family shall arrive shortly before Christmas. We shall miss you but quite understand if you and Bingley wish to remain at Netherfield. Should you change your mind, there is no need for foresight; set out at once. Our home is always open to you.
Georgiana is even more sweet than I remember her last, and shall be residing with us rather than returning to the tutelage of Mrs. Annesley. She shall not be "out" for another year, but will be traveling with us to Town after New Year's. The plan is still to meet Colonel Fitzwilliam and (keep this a secret still!) Anne de Bourgh. We have no idea how this matter will turn out, and it will not be easy to counteract years of Lady Catherine's tutelage, but something had to be done. Wedded bliss has softened my archness towards Anne and she now has my sympathy.
Pray write to me very soon. I must close now as I have much household business to attend to, but your loving sister wished you to be the first recipient of a letter in which she signs her name
Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy
By now you and Mrs. Darcy will have arrived at Pemberley, and I finally have leisure to write. I hope you enjoyed well-earned quiet and privacy on your honeymoon.
I must ask, do you remember anything at all of the ceremony? All I could think of was the angel standing next to me and I scarcely heard a word the minister said. I simply agreed to everything.
Please do thank your uncle the Earl of Matlock for me. His experienced advice was most sound. We eschewed a formal dinner in favor of a quiet meal for two in front of the fireplace in the first drawing room, the one with the beautiful view of the park. Carter fixed up a table with flower garlands and ordered a soothing supper of game and white soup. However, as your uncle predicted, Jane was nervous about our wedding night and could scarcely eat a bite. Advising me to humor her was a splendid suggestion. If I tell you how I went about it you may find me silly, but I shall dare your disapproval.
During our meal I told Jane the Persian cat story. Do not scold me for giving us away; it was a great success. You should have seen her expression. Then, several minutes later, after the dishes had been cleared, I told her that I had prepared a serenade for my lovely bride. With a slight flourish, I sat down at the piano forte and favored her with my rendition of "Fair Flaxen-Haired Maid." You cannot doubt the results, knowing what you do of my musicianship (a word I use only in the most general sense).
Darcy, would you believe it -- she laughed out loud, crossed the room, and kissed me as warmly as I could ever hope. I carried her to our room and will discreetly add that matters from that point exceeded my wildest dreams. I am extraordinarily happy.
My thanks for extending Pemberley to us for the holidays. For a brief period I thought of accepting, as it looked as though we were in danger of having both my sisters and the Bennets here at the same time. I love them all dearly but was anticipating some difficulties. Fortunately, Caroline and the Hursts have decided to return to Town for Christmas, so we shall only be seeing Jane's family, whom I find I can bear very cheerfully indeed.
On another matter, is your rescue plan for Anne de Bourgh still in effect? Let me know if I may assist in any way. And tell your cousin the Colonel that I apologize once again for Caroline's attentions at the wedding breakfast. I must say he took it in very good humor.
I miss your company and shall count on hearing from you very soon. My beautiful Jane joins me in sending love to her sister and yours. I remain your most grateful friend,
Ceremony? Were we involved in a ceremony? Be so good as to describe it for me; I remember nothing but the dark-haired goddess to my left.
William says to tell you there is no need to apologize for Caroline; we had warned him well in advance. If you ever tire of running an estate, he suggests a career in military reconnaissance.
Our honeymoon at the Crescent and Thistle was perfect. We both enjoyed our privacy immensely. It was not necessary to for me to tell stories to Elizabeth, thank goodness; I have not your talent for talking. Besides, I learned during our courtship that it is rather too easy for me to make her laugh at me in any case.
I was wondering how long it would take for your wife to hear the cat story. I hope she does not think she has married into a family of lunatics. As for your serenade, I knew something was up when we all heard you practicing a few days before the wedding. Good God, man, you might have warned us. My nerves were already on edge and I was on the verge of criticizing your servants for torturing sheep in the drawing room. Georgiana heard it differently; she thought someone was yodeling. May I suggest that you take a cue from the operatic stage and retire your musical career while you are still at the height of your powers? (Delighted to hear the outcome, however.)
Pemberley looked even more fine than usual upon our arrival; Mrs. Reynolds and the staff outdid themselves. Elizabeth is settling in beautifully. She learned everyone's names faster than even I anticipated, and they admire and respect her. You may have heard that when a new wife arrives through the front door, the servants depart through the back. They have all heard terrible stories from their relations at other estates, and were naturally afraid of a hard or selfish mistress.
It was with great delight that I could prove they had nothing to fear. In fact, two days after we arrived I overheard one of the grooms say to another, "My God, isn't she something? I always knew he would do better on his own than his family was doing for him." I was proud fit to burst.
Astoundingly, Anne de Bourgh is definitely coming to London, without Lady Catherine, for the season. Her cousins jointly conspired in this matter, but it was William and his friend Edgar Sheffield who brought the plan to fruition. As with all successful battle campaigns, we ask that you do not breathe a word of this affair; it will work its way through Meryton's communication lines and fly straight back to my Aunt. The local intelligence leaks could prove fatal, although I smile to think that they did prove useful in one critical instance about two months ago.
Our invitation for Christmas still stands, but after all the recent excitement we quite understand if you wish to remain at Netherfield. We shall miss your presence in Town, but should you and Mrs. Bingley wish to -- apologies, but I hear Bach; Elizabeth and Georgiana must be playing. I am off. Your friend,
My dearest Lizzy,
Thank you for writing me so quickly. Delighted as I am with my husband, I miss you and shall count on hearing from you very often. And you need not thank me for what you call my composure during the wedding preparations. I was simply in heaven the entire time. Such a joy to see so many loving family members come to wish us well!
I must thank you, as well as our Aunt Gardiner, for reassuring me about the wedding night. I was still somewhat nervous, although there was no need. Caroline and the Hursts most kindly repaired to dine by themselves, while Charles and I enjoyed supper at a sweet table for two in front of the fireplace in the drawing room. He told me such charming stories that I was laughing out loud.
I must confess things took an unexpected turn. After supper, my dear Charles sat at the piano forte and announced that he had prepared a song in my honor, which he proceeded to perform. I am struggling, without the slightest degree of success, for words that accurately describe his singing. He sounds vaguely like an owl losing a fight with a Great Dane. It took me some minutes to regain my composure, and then, I blush to inform you, I crossed the room and kissed him. You know that I am unaccustomed to forward displays of affection, even with my own husband, but it seemed the only way to prevent an encore.
Lizzy, how he embraced me in return! He carried me upstairs and our wedding night was perfectly delightful. I cannot imagine why I was so anxious; he is the dearest man in the world. If only everyone could be so happy!
But I simply must share with you a priceless story he told me over supper, for it is too good to keep to myself.
It seems that two years ago, Caroline Bingley kept a female Persian cat in their London home and was adamant that it should not come into contact with other cats for fear of sullying its pedigree line. One spring day it was the height of the season for animals to...engage in activity that produces baby animals. Caroline and Louisa had gone to dine with friends, and the staff were under strict orders not to permit the cat to meander outside. But it was a warm evening and the servants opened the second floor windows. Apparently the Persian sat in a window and yowled, attracting the attention of a scruffy stray tomcat! A parlormaid heard noises and discovered them together on the window sill. She tried to shoo the tomcat but they only moved out to the narrow balcony.
The maid hurried downstairs for a broom, nearly knocking over Charles and Mr. Darcy, who had just returned from their sporting club. She related the problem and they ran upstairs. They were carrying fencing foils; Charles impulsively lunged at the tomcat, but it fled for the roof with the Persian hot on its heels! Charles was absolutely horrified, but I now have it on firsthand authority that it is possible for your taciturn husband to laugh out loud for some duration. The way Charles describes it, Mr. Darcy spent quite a bit of time leaning out the window, looking upwards towards the roof "with a satisfied smile on his face."
After Charles reassured the parlormaid that she would not be dismissed, he set about recovering the Persian, which could not find its way down. He says he appealed for help to Mr. Darcy with the words, "Good God, what shall we do before Caroline comes home?" to which your husband merely replied, "Turn the broom closet into a nursery."
The only way to reach the roof was by extending a ladder up from the back balcony next to Mr. Hurst's suite. Charles was unwilling to risk the lives of the servants, for it was quite far above the ground, and was going to climb up himself, but fortunately Mr. Darcy prevailed upon him to stay put. They agreed that if they left the ladder in place, the cat would eventually climb down when it was hungry. Thus resigned, they repaired to their rooms to wash and dress for dinner.
While they were so occupied, Mr. Hurst returned home from his club. You may imagine the state that Mr. Hurst is normally in when he returns from his club. Consequently, not one of the servants thought to tell him about the ladder outside his suite. When he saw it, he thought a burglar was on the roof and, rather than simply removing the ladder or calling for assistance, he decided to climb up himself.
Charles was in his bath when he heard someone yelling for help. He and Mr. Darcy, still wet and in their dressing gowns, no less, raced from their respective rooms to the back balcony to discover Mr. Hurst on the roof. By some miracle he had managed to ascend without falling, but climbing down was quite another matter, since he had to look at the street several stories below. The Persian raced down the ladder and into the house, but when Mr. Hurst made to follow it he nearly fell. To save his neck, Charles and your husband removed the ladder and placed it inside. They shouted that they would let him down around midnight, when they calculated he would have come to his senses. Mr. Hurst bellowed in confusion for some minutes, but eventually resigned himself to his fate and settled in for a nap next to the chimney pot.
When Mrs. Hurst and Caroline returned home several hours later, they discovered our husbands reading in front of the fireplace with the Persian sleeping nearby, all three a picture of innocence. They inquired after Mr. Hurst and Mr. Darcy calmly replied, "He's out for the evening." After the ladies had retired, the men quietly extended the ladder back up to the roof, threw paperweights to wake up Mr. Hurst, and allowed the mortified gentleman to sneak back into the house. Caroline's cat was discovered to be expecting several weeks later, which resulted in one of the housemaids now owning a rather sullied feline.
I am most curious to hear Mr. Darcy's version of this tale. But now I must close and attend to the household; there is so much to learn. Charles joins me in sending you both love, and you are the first recipient of a letter signed by
Mrs. Charles Bingley
My dear brother,
The Hursts and I send you greetings from Town. This year's Season promises to be an exciting and colorful one indeed, and we are so very regretful that you and dear Jane feel you must spend the entire winter at Netherfield. But Hertfordshire seems very suitable to two persons of your particular dispositions. I shall be keeping you and your in-laws in my thoughts.
It was so charming to see Colonel Fitzwilliam at the wedding! What a delightful gentleman he is, and so knowledgeable about foreign affairs. Indeed, he so piqued my interest (about warfare, that is) that I felt obliged to learn more about the subject by visiting Mr. Delancey's bookstore near Mayfair. Fancy my surprise when I saw the Colonel there, perusing a volume of Gibbon. We had such a lovely chat that it was a pity he had to depart so quickly for his dinner with the General before I could ascertain his current location in Town.
Would you be so good as to contact your friend Mr. Darcy and ask him to write to the Colonel, advising him that we should be happy to receive him at our home at his nearest convenience? My thanks. Most affectionate wishes from your sister,
I simply must write at once. You will never guess what has happened.
Edgar and Christina departed very early yesterday morning to fetch Anne. They report that Lady Catherine was disappointed not to meet Lord Sheffield, but our forged letters of introduction, as well as Christina's elegant appearance, smoothed over her resentment and she permitted Anne to depart with them.
The party arrived at Hayward House last night after a quiet trip back to London; the Sheffields did not wish to make Anne anxious by asking too many questions. Upon her arrival, Anne was subdued as always, but did not seem unduly ill. This morning I arranged for Dr. Robertson to come and see her, as I wished to ascertain immediately that her health would not be endangered by the visit.
He interviewed her for over two hours and emerged looking very serious indeed. I was certain the diagnosis was rampaging consumption and was frankly horrified.
Darcy, I hardly know how to say this, but Dr. Robertson says that Anne's weak constitution must be a mistake. She is indeed sickly but he can find none of the usual physical causes for such a condition. She coughs and sniffles, but her lungs are normal and she does not have a cold. He has little idea what to make of the situation, and is in high hopes that her health can be remedied with proper diet and activity.
Based upon something Anne wrote in a letter to me shortly before she arrived, I believe I may have an idea of the problem. It seems utterly incredible, but is it possible that Anne has somehow invented her sickliness in order to cope with Lady Catherine? I am not suggesting that she has done so deceitfully or intentionally, but Mrs. Darcy once told me that her mother fancies herself ill when she is discontented; could Anne be another such case? I am struggling with this vaguely formed idea, although I feel as though I am clutching at smoke.
In any case, the remedy is apparent. Dr. Robertson advises us that activity and fresh society are precisely in order, so we shall celebrate Christmas in merry style and gradually go about introducing Anne to our friends in Town. She is very quiet and we do not yet know whether her social manners are as condescending as her mother's, but with Christina to advise her gently, there is always hope of improvement.
One more thing. Completely unexpectedly, I have run into Caroline Bingley. Since we sometimes move in similar social circles I would ordinarily not be surprised, but my suspicions were aroused by the location: a bookstore owned by a military historian. Is there any possible way you could mention to Bingley that he might tell his sister that I have no interest in her attentions? Please reply as soon as feasible. I remain your cousin in domestic strategy,
c/o Hayward House, Mayfair
My dearest daughter Elizabeth,
I send my love and blessings to you, Mrs. Darcy, and trust that you and your husband are well. In these good wishes I am joined by our somewhat smaller family party at Longbourn: your mother, Kitty, and Mary. I am certain that Jane would also send love if she could spare some from Bingley. In fact, these days I find that I am frequently drawn towards that happy couple at Netherfield, so that I might hear a few words of sense spoken together.
But do not pity me. I may yet relieve my feelings of being a neglectful father by coming to visit you at Pemberley, or perhaps assuage your boredom by sending Kitty to you for some tutoring in social graces. (In this last matter, by the by, I am perfectly serious; how soon would be convenient?)
Now to the main point of my letter. In her latest missive to your mother, Mrs. Wickham writes that she is eager to visit your great estate and may descend upon you at any moment without advance warning, another one of her "good jokes." Since none of us shall ever forget the results of her last "good joke," I felt obliged to warn you. Although I am certain that you are sensible enough to handle the situation, I am equally certain that, much like a barrel of water during a rainstorm, there is a certain limit at which Lydia's relations have their tolerance of foolishness filled to the brim, and beyond which her presence causes disaster. I believe your husband's attendance to her in London fulfilled his limit for the rest of his life.
There is, I will confess, one more point to this letter. Your wedding, my daughter, was the proudest and happiest moment of my entire life. Please convey my respects to your husband, and I remain,
Your Devoted Father
I am sending this letter by express as it is a matter of some urgency. I have received a letter from Lydia requesting financial assistance. No doubt you have received one as well. As we discussed before the wedding, this situation was entirely to be expected, and we must resolve at once how best to handle the problem as she sounds rather desperate.
Lydia is full young to be married but I believe that as she grows older, she shall grow more sensible. Wickham must realize his errors and make amends of character, now that a wife is dependent upon him for support. But perhaps I should send them some money immediately as a temporary measure. What is your advice? Your loving sister,
Mrs. Jane Bingley
I am scribbling a hurried reply on the back of your missive and returning it by the same express. Do NOT send money to Lydia. Allow me to make her an answer on both our behalfs. I shall give you my views on this matter at greater length tomorrow. In the mean time, send her love, joy, and news of Netherfield, but absolutely no financial assistance.
Yours in urgent sincerity,
My dearest Jane,
Now that I have caught my breath and have leisure to write more on the matter of Lydia, let me reply in greater detail to your express letter of yesterday.
Sweetest sister, your judgment reflects more credit to your character than to those of Mr. and Mrs. Wickham, for I see no evidence that they shall ever become sensible in matters of money. If depriving them of assistance would teach them prudence by forcing them to live within their means, I would refuse aid of any kind. But in such a case I see no hope. SHE will always be reckless and HE will always be extravagant -- but for all that, Lydia is our sister and must not be permitted to starve.
However, it would be the utmost folly to send them money whenever requested, no matter how desperate they may sound. It can hardly be mere chance that Lydia's letter to me sounded less urgent; she knows full well that you have a more trusting heart than I.
I have written to inform her that she may not expect my husband to make Wickham's fortune. I have also asked her to send me an accounting of their monthly living expenses, so that I may ascertain the real cost of an elopement with one of the most worthless young men in England. I phrased it more politely, if less accurately.
This measure at least will force her to put pen to paper and do a reckoning of figures, no doubt for the first time in their marriage. With her accounting in hand, I shall reply with some suggestions as to reducing her expenditures, and later may send relief from my own purse if I deem it suitable. Permit me the dubious honor of the initial gift; I want to see how they spend it before they apply to you.
On a more refreshing note, thank you for the tale of the Persian cat. I am exceedingly well pleased with it. In fact, last night I surprised Fitzwilliam by asking him to describe exactly what Mr. Hurst looks like descending a ladder. He was reluctant, but I insisted that I would refuse to retire with him until he satisfied my curiosity. I shall leave his response to your imagination (although I must say, I never knew how quickly he could carry a load from the dining room to the first floor). I remain your loving sister,
Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy
P.S. Were you able to determine whether your husband is a baritone or tenor?
Dear Mr. Darcy,
I thank you for your exceedingly generous offer to leave my current establishment and travel to Pemberley to become Miss Georgiana's private tutor. However, despite the fact that she is the most delightful young lady of my acquaintance and the wages you offer are quite extraordinary, I prefer not to leave my present situation, which has the advantage of being located within walking distance of my elderly parents. I am certain you can understand my decision.
Be assured that I am gratified by your confidence in my abilities, and by Miss Georgiana's high praise of me, which I know that I scarcely deserve. If you so wish, I would be happy to recommend for you at least three other ladies who are most eminently well qualified to give guidance to your sister in the last year before she comes out. Perhaps if you were to interview them, you might find a tutor who meets your high standards.
Please contact me if you would like me to provide you with proper introductions. I beg to remain sir, your most humble and obedient servant,
My dear Darcy,
Forgive my writing you again so soon, but there is a small crisis at Netherfield and I request your advice. It seems that some of the crops have withered from the early frost and a few of my tenants are in danger of starving. It would be easy to offer them immediate assistance, but I am having difficulties calculating the correct method given the current tax laws. Also, I just discovered that another tenant will probably fail to pay his rents this quarter owing to a premature birth in the family, and there is a little problem with Caroline which I must also mention...
Dear Cousin William,
I apologize for not replying to your missive earlier. It was quite a shock to receive the news of Anne, as I am sure you are aware. What is more, at about the same time we received a few other interesting pieces of news, so that I have been somewhat pressed for time. I shall address the issue of Anne's health directly after the New Year, but for now let me sum up the present situation to see if I have put my thoughts together correctly.
Anne's welfare depends upon her being kept away from her mother, but her mother will take her back to Rosings if she is in contact with our branch of the family, so we cannot permit Lady Catherine to hear rumors that we are seeing Anne in Town, nor can we permit your father to discover that you forged a letter of introduction in his handwriting.
Mrs. Wickham requires financial aid of some kind (Elizabeth is coping with her), and either she or Catherine Bennet could arrive on a moment's notice, possibly accompanied by my father-in-law. Bingley needs estate management advice, Georgiana requires a new tutor, and you have to be saved from Caroline. What is more, the Gardiners and their four small children arrive for the holidays at the beginning of next week.
Thank goodness for dearest Elizabeth, whose lively humor is a constant source of joy in my life. For I was married only a few weeks ago, Christmas has not even arrived yet, and already I am considering signing my name
Director, Pemberley Rescue Mission
Author's note: To be continued when I have the time, but don't hold your breath, as I like to post lengthy sections and am about to be almost as busy as the Darcys.
Part 3: More Letters
My Dear Colonel Fitzwilliam -- I do hope you will grace us with your presence. I do not know whether the Darcys plan to be in Town, but please do extend my invitation to them, as well as to your other relations. -- Caroline
...no idea how she found my address. I know Miss Bingley has visited YOUR house in Town, but to the best of my knowledge she has never been to my father's. I found the invitation waiting for me yesterday, when I dropped by to check on the staff and pick up my post. After your wedding my parents returned to Nottinghamshire, so the Town house is empty for several weeks.
As of last week the London social calendar had very few events on the sixth of January, so I must at least give Miss Bingley credit for cleverness and efficiency. However, I have no intention of attending her ball unless guarded by a battalion of relations and friends. Alternately, I could arrange to be posted to Ireland. Please let me know your decision. "No" would be best.
Shaking my head in amazement,
The Twelfth Night Ball! Miss Bingley's tactical mind certainly improves. I warned you that she is not a woman to give up easily. If our generals were so tenacious, the war with France would be over by now.
I am sorry to inform you, however, that aside from your little difficulties discouraging her, I think attending the ball is a superb idea. Elizabeth, Georgiana, and Anne de Bourgh all need to be introduced to London society in a proper way, and an event held by Bingley's sisters would be ideal for this purpose.
I have not yet succeeded in finding a tutor for Georgiana -- I will be conducting interviews in Town -- so although she will not formally be out for another year, I have decided that she may attend certain evening functions if they are respectable, and if she is escorted by her relations. Anne de Bourgh needs to be brought out gradually, and what better way than an event where her cousins already know everyone in attendance? As for Elizabeth, I am certain that Caroline Bingley wishes to retain the right of visiting Pemberley, so she will most definitely refrain from incivility towards my wife.
I have no fear of Miss Bingley's parties ever reaching the scandalsheets; her best events have been quite enjoyable, and her worst have merely been dull. What is more, neither she nor her circle have ever met Lady Catherine, so there is no danger of our Aunt discovering that the disgraceful Darcys have seen her daughter in Town. Finally, my connection to the Bingleys is so well established that refusing to attend when I am already in Town would be seen as a highly reprehensible snub. Hide under the sofa if you must; the rest of us will be there.
As to how Miss Bingley obtained your address, I believe, unfortunately, that my sister may have some idea. She is writing to you at this very moment. Merry Christmas, love to Anne, best wishes to the Sheffields, and we look forward to seeing you in January.
Dear Cousin William,
I must apologize to you profusely. I am the culprit who betrayed your father's address to Miss Bingley. She wrote to me last week and said that she had misplaced it, and would I be so good as to provide it to her, that she might invite the Earl and Countess of Matlock to her winter ball. She added that she feared to write to my brother or his wife as it would seem improper for a single woman to be writing them so soon after their wedding. It sounded quite reasonable to me.
I can see I have a lot to learn. I hope you are not too angry with me. Regretfully,
Dear Miss Bingley,
What a pleasant surprise to receive your invitation. My husband Edgar and I have no fixed engagements for the sixth of January and should be delighted to attend your Twelfth Night Ball. We look forward to the pleasure of your company. Yours etc.,
Mrs. Christina Sheffield
Dear Miss Bingley,
Colonel Fitzwilliam has forwarded us your invitation to the Twelfth Night Ball. It sounds like a delightful evening. As it happens, Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, and I shall indeed be in London at that time, so we shall be very happy to attend. Thank you for thinking of us. Yours ever,
Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Dear Miss Bingley,
Thank you for your unexpected invitation, and for generously extending it to my relatives. My parents are unavailable on the sixth, but the Darcys shall reply directly. I should be delighted to attend your Twelfth Night Ball. I anticipate a lively evening. Yours most sincerely,
Mrs. Lydia Wickham, Newcastle Upon Tyne
I will keep this missive brief. The answer to your question is that I will not be able to provide any financial assistance whatever until you provide a detailed report of your living expenses. That is why.
The easiest method would be to keep track of your daily expenditures in the household accounting book that Uncle Gardiner gave you for a wedding present (I know more than you suspect). He says he suggested this course to you already. However, since you seem not to have availed yourself of his gift as yet, I recommend you start at once. As for last month's expenses, make a good guess and send them on to me.
I enclose a small gift to keep you warm in the winter. Open it before the 25th as you usually do; for once, impatience shall serve you in good stead. Love from your sister,
Thank you for the wool cloak. Green is not quite my color but my dear Wickham says it suits me very well. Perhaps I could wear it to your house in Town, for I long to visit London this winter. Aunt and Uncle Gardiner were perfectly horrid to me the whole time I was visiting in August; they would not permit me to leave the house, and I so wanted to go to the theater. We are simply freezing in Newcastle and burning such coal, I can barely write for shivering. Also the society is smaller than I expected, and Wickham's job in the regulars keeps him away from home very often, so you can see how much I long for a change of scene and a warmer clime.
If you really wish me to use that dreadful accounting book I shall do so, but it is so dull to work with numbers. What a vexing wedding present, when they really ought to have bought me some good dishes or curtains. As for my best guess, my head is simply reeling, but I believe every month we spend:
£15 for coal, rent, and household expenses
£10 for food and drink
£15 £25 for various other items
Since Uncle Gardiner only allots me the £150 per annum from my dowry, you can see that we shall be quite in straits until Wickham's promotion arrives. He has promised me most faithfully that he expects to rise, but that political difficulties within the ranks have prevented his advancement. It is so very unfair!
The Colonel's sister has invited me to tea so I must dash. Please do get back to me at once.
Mrs. Lydia Wickham
Dear Mrs. Wickham,
Even you must admit that £25 for "various other items" is not only costly, but vague. And exactly what, pray tell, are you partaking for your dinners, roast goose? However, I do accept that a Newcastle winter requires a great deal of fuel, and therefore, in accordance with your caculations, I enclose a banker's draft for £45, which you may use for your household expenses for three months.
Regarding an invitation to our house in Town: we have been married little more than a month. The answer is no. Merry Christmas to you and your husband. Your sister,
Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Sweetheart, you must calm yourself. Our husbands knew Lydia's character before they became engaged to us, but chose to marry us anyway. Unless we permit her to make us irritable, she cannot possibly interfere in our marriages. If she really does need a respite from Newcastle, perhaps a short stay at Netherfield after the New Year would do the trick. My husband is amenable to this plan, of course; the dear man is too good.
I shall let you know of our decision as soon as may be, but for right now must attend to our Christmas preparations. Do you hand the Christmas monies to the servants individually, or do you give a lump sum to the steward for distribution to the staff? Charles and I cannot decide. Your loving sister,
Mrs. Jane Bingley
You requested that we write if our plans have changed, so I am doing so at once. Owing to a last minute request from the Royal Navy for a vast order of sailcloth, we shall be three days delayed while my husband completes his work in Town. We plan to arrive at Pemberley on the twenty-first. We apologize and hope this delay does not send your plans into a tumult.
Edward was uncertain what gift to select for your husband since he seems to lack for nothing. After some thought, however, he did manage to find a small item which reminded him of our fateful trip to Derbyshire over the summer.
Our children are so excited about their first visit to Pemberley that they can scarcely sleep at night. Their first hours at your home may find them jumping on the furniture and sliding down bannisters. Please tell your staff not to fear to be strict with them if they cause trouble; we shall give any adults our full support. The children are eager to hear Mr. Darcy read another story. We all look forward to our holiday visit. Love from your aunt,
Mrs. E. Gardiner
My Dear Aunt,
I have received your missive. Do not make yourselves uneasy; a few days' delay is of no importance. We trust my uncle's business will be successful.
Pray write and tell me what story my husband told your children, for I had no idea he had ever met them, much less entertained them. He mentioned nothing to me about it and I do not dare ask for fear of embarrassing him. I promise I shall keep your reply to myself. I burn with curiosity to hear this tale, and remain your loving niece,
Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy
Once again you catch me by surprise. If your husband does not see fit to tell you such things then I should probably not give them away, but as long as you keep your promise of silence I shall relate the tale. Undoubtedly our children will reveal it anyway once they arrive.
The night Mr. Darcy dined with us, you may recall, was the day after Lydia's wedding. Your uncle and I felt as though we had attended a funeral, and were still rather out of spirits. We had already been quite somber for some time, along with your father who was staying with us while he searched unsuccessfully for Lydia, and children always know when something is the matter. We sat them down for a talk and simply stated that there was a serious family problem to resolve, but that it did not involve them and no one was going to die. You may imagine their surprise when Cousin Lydia later came to stay with us for a fortnight and then abruptly married, with none of the children in attendance.
Shortly after her wedding, I must confess, the cumulative agitation took its toll, and I actually lay down and cried for about half an hour. My dear husband consoled me and reminded me that everything had turned out well, but all I could think was how very close my own niece had come to ruin, and how her married life looked grim indeed. It was then that I realized Robert was hovering outside the bedchamber door.
You know that Robert is the shyest, but most perceptive of our four children. He will stand at the edges of a room in silence for an hour, observing the adults carefully, and then unerringly choose to stand alongside the one who most loves children. Well, the dear boy approached my bed and asked quietly, "Mama, did Cousin Lydia have to get married because she is going to have a baby?"
We were rather shocked, but should have expected such forthrightness. Of course we had no choice but to tell him the truth, or at least most of it. We told him that Lydia was not with child, but that she had eloped, and it was necessary to spend a great deal of money to bring about her marriage. Robert asked if we were going to be poor as a result, but we assured him we would not, because another man had paid the money.
You will never guess what he said next. "Oh, you mean the tall dark one who was visiting Father? I want to meet him. He's nice."
Now, Mr. Darcy and Edward had met for two days to negotiate, but the children were never formally introduced; we merely said a man was engaged with their Father on urgent business. Somehow, from a few brief snatches of conversation and glimpses of a tall stranger, Robert realized that he was a good man. I have no idea how he does it.
The night your future husband came to dine, we fed the children early with the plan of sending them up to bed so that we might become better acquainted with the gentleman. When he arrived, we introduced them; he bowed with friendly ease and inquired their ages, and I took them upstairs and returned for dinner. It was a long evening of discussion. Among other topics, the subject of marriage and family arose (fancy that), and Mr. Darcy mentioned that he admired our patience and fortitude, for he had no talent for children. He said that it was a skill which his wife would have to teach him.
We rose around eleven, and as we approached the hall to bid him goodnight, we heard the scampering of heavy mice upon the landing. Mr. Darcy looked upwards and spotted four pairs of eyes peering through the bannister rails at him. I tried to shoo the children to bed, but he asked that we bring them down.
So we complied and introduced them again, although they were in their nightdresses. He had remembered all their names and smiled at them. That opened the floodgates, as Alice and William and Kate were all over him with questions: where do you live, how old are you, how tall are you, do you have horses, do you like guns, how do you know Father (he avoided that one with great panache). Robert was silent all this while. Finally Mr. Darcy looked at him and said slowly, "And you? Do you have a question?"
Robert asked, "Can you tell stories?"
Your Mr. Darcy started, then replied gravely, "I am afraid I am not very skilled at storytelling, although I can read them."
"Will you read me one?" And he shyly produced a copy of "Robin Hood."
We were horribly embarrassed, of course, and made to intervene, but should have trusted our boy's judgment. Would you believe it: your reserved, serious Darcy, who has no talent for children, put away his cloak and hat, sat down on the drawing room sofa surrounded by four young people in their nightdresses, and read aloud for some twenty minutes. He even spoke in falsetto for Maid Marian after Alice reminded him, "Marian's a girl." We were absolutely charmed.
I trust this tale meets with your approval. I shall look forward to seeing you both on the twenty-first. Your devoted aunt,
Mrs. E. Gardiner
Respectful greetings from Hayward House. I miss you and wish you were here, but
Greetings from Hayward House. London is a remarkable place. Colonel Fitzwilliam says that
Merry Christmas! I trust you are enjoying the holiday season. My stay in London is progressing very well. I have only met with the Marchioness Eastbrook briefly but she was most pleased with my breeding. She referred me to Dr. Robertson, the most eminent specialist in Town. He was, of course, honored to see the daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I am pleased to report that he advises me that my health shall improve slowly with careful diet and wholesome activity.
My presentation at St. James shall probably be delayed until February as I need time to prepare, but since I am staying at Hayward House all winter, the delay hardly matters. The Marchioness decided that it was important for me to become accustomed to London society and to look my very best. During the interim I am dining in proper company, and have graced some very fashionable shops with my presence. I mentioned your name at Mrs. Shelby, the dressmaker. You were quite correct, she was exceptionally attentive.
I happened to encounter Colonel Fitzwilliam in Town. He was delighted to see me and once again begs forgiveness for his presence at Darcy's wedding, but it was unavoidable. We are attending a small reception this evening so I must close now. I remain your loving daughter,
My Dear Brother,
It has been some weeks since I had your last letter but I have been far too occupied to reply. Do not prostrate yourself too greatly. I do forgive you for attending our nephew's wedding since I am aware that you and your sons had to attend for form's sake. Still, the less said about such a dreadful disaster, the better. When last I checked the London papers, there was little mention of it, which is certainly a proper punishment.
A few weeks after The Disgraceful Event, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy received his comeuppance. The Marchioness Eastbrook and Lord and Lady Sheffield, who had heard of my darling Anne by reputation, invited her to Town to be presented at St. James under their protection. I have just had a letter from Anne at Hayward House to inform me that she has made a sterling impression and is surrounded by excellent company. What a perfect way for my dear daughter to exact revenge for Darcy's unforgiveable rejection!
The only reason such a trip was made possible is that after all these years of struggle, Anne's health finally begins to improve. It is such a joy to know that our local apothecary and the ministrations of Miss Jenkinson have had such beneficial effect. You see, I was quite right to place my faith in them after all.
Alas, Lord and Lady Sheffield were not able to call for Anne personally owing to urgent family matters, but their younger son Edgar and his charming wife Christina arrived in their stead. They were suitably apologetic and humble, and properly impressed by Rosings, of course. I was most vexed that they were unable to stay, but duty had called them back to Town.
Since I am now alone at Rosings and even my parish priest and his wife are visiting her parents (her mother was taken terribly ill about six weeks before The Disgraceful Event), I beg of you, please do consider my home as yours and accept my invitation for Christmas. And do invite your dear sons as well. Write very soon to tell me when you shall arrive. Respects from your sister,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
My dear sister,
What a surprise to hear that Lord Sheffield invited Anne to London. I saw him only two months ago and he mentioned nothing about it. It must have occurred to him recently. I did not realize my niece's health had improved so greatly that she is finally able to travel. We are all of us simply delighted to hear the news.
My wife and I had planned to stay in Nottinghamshire for Christmas, for as we grow older it becomes less comfortable to be away from home, but since we know this is your first holiday season without your daughter, we would not wish you to be alone. Henry and Eleanor are staying at home with their children, who are still too small to travel, and Fitzwilliam is committed to military duties, but Abigail and I would be pleased to spend Christmas at Rosings. Would the 22nd be a convenient date for our arrival? I remain your devoted brother,
Henry, Earl of Matlock
My Dear William,
I write to inform you that our Christmas plans have abruptly changed. Your mother and I shall be spending the holidays at Rosings with your Aunt Catherine. You are welcome to join us, although I suspect you would prefer to stay in Town. Do not think I blame you; your annual duty visit at Easter most definitely fulfills your responsibilities in that quarter. Henry and Eleanor shall not be visiting either, since their children are too young.
Catherine is still upset over Darcy's marriage. However, her spirits have improved somewhat due to a completely unexpected turn of events. It seems that the Marchioness Eastbrook heard of Anne de Bourgh by reputation and wished her to be presented at Court independent of her immediate family. She even asked Lord Sheffield to invite Anne to Town. I find this situation a bit perplexing. The Marchioness Eastbrook, who is nearly 80, is reputedly in poor health and has not been seen at St. James for some time. I have never met the lady except in a few receiving lines, and I was certain that Lord Sheffield did not know her either.
My sister has lately had a letter from Anne, so at least she has not disappeared. I know that Lord Sheffield's son Edgar is one of your best friends. Do you by any chance understand any more of this matter? There seems something a bit odd about the situation but I cannot quite put my finger on it. I remain your loving father,
Henry, Earl of Matlock
Express Post: to Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pemberley House, Derbyshire
We have an urgent problem. My parents have unexpectedly decided to visit Rosings for Christmas and are on the road even as I write. They do not know that we smuggled Anne out from under Aunt Catherine's nose. They certainly do not know that I forged a letter of introduction in my father's handwriting. The whole business is bound to come out sooner or later. What ever do you suggest I do?
Express Post: to Colonel Fitzwilliam, c/o Hayward House, Mayfair
The next time you wake me up with an express post at four in the morning, it had d--- well better be signed in blood. Poor Mrs. Reynolds was pounding on my door to wake the dead. I bruised my shins while stumbling around in the dark for my dressing gown, and I am scribbling at Elizabeth's desk after knocking over the inkwell on mine.
I did not forge any letters so this is hardly my problem. You deal with it. And the next time you send such a missive, kindly write "no undertaker needed" next to the address.
May this reply pull YOU away from a beautiful woman in the middle of the night and see how you like it. Never mind. I'm groggy. Going back to bed,
Wait, Elizabeth wants to add something...
Colonel Fitzwilliam -- Could you not write a letter to your parents at Rosings and explain the entire matter? I am certain your father will understand; he seems like a reasonable gentleman. If you send the letter express it should be waiting when they arrive. -- Elizabeth
There. You can see...now we've woken Georgiana. She just appeared at the door. She wants to add something as well.
Cousin William -- When you write to your parents, do not forget to tell them you invented the letter about the dogs which Anne gave to her mother. It would not be a good thing if your father were to let it slip that you have no puppies. -- Georgiana
Ladies think better than I do at this hour. I need my sleep; the Gardiners arrive tomorrow. Good luck.
Part 4: Still More Letters
Your mother and I have arrived safely at Rosings Park, and we send you our warmest wishes for a happy holiday season. We shall miss you greatly, but trust that you will have a pleasant stay in London. Although I am interested in your activities there, I shall respect your privacy, as I know that you are too wise and intelligent a gentleman to compromise yourself in any way.
Incidentally, shortly after our arrival, your Aunt Catherine spent some time informing us in great and joyous detail of Anne's invitation to Town. Among other matters, she mentioned how very pleased she was by the elegance and good breeding of Edgar and Christina Sheffield when they called for our niece at Rosings.
That my sister should admire the younger Sheffields is no great mystery, but imagine my surprise when she informed me that one of their letters of introduction was from me. I am certain that there is some sensible explanation for this little development, which you are about to write down and post to me at once. Regards from your father,
Henry, Earl of Matlock
Express Post: to Henry, Earl of Matlock, c/o Rosings Park, Kent
Most Honorable Father,
I need to send this missive off to you immediately so pray forgive my writing. We -- that is, Anne de Bourgh's cousins -- decided to bring her to London without her mother because Lady Catherine was throwing raging fits over Darcy's marriage to Elizabeth and we realized we should take Anne away from Rosings, so I asked Lord Sheffield's son Edgar to send her a letter inviting her -- Anne, that is -- to Town, except he had never met Lady Catherine so I had to forge a letter of introduction in your handwriting because you were in Nottinghamshire and I was afraid you would not approve in any case, and now it seems Anne may not be ill at all and her health will be endangered if we send her back to her mother so we need to keep her here in Town, only Lady Catherine cannot find out about it so please do not tell her. Oh, and I had to give Anne a fictitious letter saying my dog had puppies as an excuse for our correspondence and if you could refrain from mentioning the truth that would be of great assistance. Sorry. I am, sir, with great respect, your son,
c/o Hayward House, Mayfair
Impressive efficiency, dear boy. Your express arrived two hours after I posted my first letter. Permission granted to breathe now.
Fear not, I managed to check my astonishment in the presence of my sister. Lady Catherine, so far, has no knowledge of her young relations' conspiratorial talents, and although your mother and I are not entirely pleased with your failure to inform us of the idea, for Anne's sake we shall not betray your secret.
I only ask that you take particular care not to involve my niece in any events which could potentially turn up in the scandalsheets, for not only should she be well protected from dubious company, but her reputation might be materially damaged and her mother would undoubtedly hear of it. Also, when you have time, pray write to inform me how you discovered that Anne's health will improve if she is separated from her mother.
I am not altogether certain that I want to know the rest. May you enjoy the season. Your mother, who should stop laughing any minute now, sends her love. Your devoted father,
Henry, Earl of Matlock
I hope you are having a happy Christmas season, though how you are managing to keep yourself occupied in so small a place as Meryton I cannot imagine, especially now that I am out in the wide world as a married woman (by the bye, I hope you are not too angry with me for stealing a march on you in this regard, but we must all make the most of our talents, you know).
My dearest Wickham is most horribly ill-used by the regiment's Colonel, who occupies his time far too often for paltry tasks, as though the French would ever come anywhere Newcastle, I ask you. So I find very often that I must seek my own consolation in female society, and you may guess what a success I have been, for the Colonel's sister Martha has taken me for her particular friend already.
Oh, and I have received a very irksome letter from Lizzy, putting on such great airs merely because she married a richer man than I, even though we all know how very well my husband would fare if other gentlemen in this world were not so jealous of him. But to my point: Martha asked for all the details of our wedding and wanted to know if there were people of any note in attendance, so of course I had to mention Mr. Darcy or it would have sounded like such a dreary insignificant affair. And you will never think what story she told me next!
It seems Martha has a Cousin Agatha who married someone or other very great and lives in Town, and who knows all the goings-on in society, so of course Martha stays very well informed. And she has heard of Mr. Darcy because a few years ago he and Agatha attended the same party, a very great affair with scores of guests.
Kitty, that party was such a to-do! It was in all the papers; there were women of ill repute and drunkenness and fighting and every scandalous thing! But this is the best tidbit of all -- Mr. Darcy was seen in the presence of an unclothed woman, right there in front of everybody!
I'll wager I have surprised you, haven't I, Kitty? Remember all the time we knew Mr Darcy at Longbourn, how he acted so very proud as though he fancied himself so grand and proper, and to think what he was hiding all the time! Well, if Lizzy can stand to be married to such a man than I daresay she shall simply have to make the most of it, and I might be able to stand it myself since he is so very rich, if only he were not the dreariest company in the world.
There is no other very interesting news so I will stop now, and I am sorry not to have a Christmas present for you, but you will have to be content with the bonnet I sent a few weeks ago since I never seem to have quite enough pocket money just yet. It is so very cold up here that I do not know how I shall ever make it to Spring, but dear Wickham is so thoughtful of my health, he has urged me to take myself away and travel a bit if I wish, even though his duties force him to stay in Newcastle. I would miss him very much but "carpe diem," you know. Ta! Your sister,
Mrs. Lydia Wickham
Dear Mr. Darcy,
Sir, allow me to begin by stating that I shall never forget how you saved my daughter Lydia's reputation, and for your trouble and expense I am forever grateful. However, I must be blunt, no matter how painful it may be. I write you because a report of a most disturbing nature has reached my ears.
I know that you keep a house in Town, and that you and my dear Elizabeth plan to spend several weeks there this winter, although why you would inflict such punishment upon yourselves I cannot guess. It is not my place to interfere with such a decision, but I am concerned about a rumor that your London social activities in years past drew quite a bit of attention. Specifically, I have heard that you attended a party filled with every sort of vice, and that you were seen in close proximity to a woman who was somewhat underdressed, if you take my meaning.
I am a realistic man, sir, and understand well the follies of youth. But I do request that you send me your explanation of this report, and assure me that you would never involve my dear Lizzy in any scandalous activity. I look forward to a prompt reply. I beg to remain, sir, your father-in-law,
Good God, sir, what do you take me for? And who has been telling you such things? Do you seriously believe that I would engage in such despicable behavior, or that I would ever risk endangering Elizabeth's reputation and safety? I am deeply offended that you would give credence to such appalling
My Dear Sir,
I was quite taken aback to learn that you have heard reports which call my conduct as a gentleman into question. I know not who has been spreading such wicked gossip and shall refrain from inquiring. However, I do believe I can guess how such a story originated, and because I respect and admire your protective concern for Elizabeth, I shall lay before you the entire sordid tale. If you read the London papers a few years ago you will no doubt recall some version of this event. But I beg of you, please burn this letter after you read it.
To begin, do keep in mind that despite London's decadent reputation, there are always a certain number of gentlemen in society -- possibly a minority, but still a good number -- who are not stimulated by dissolute behavior. I count myself among these, along with Bingley and a few close friends of ours. Many activities which others consider to be exciting, we regard as crass and vulgar. Therefore, we have learned to choose our friends and our engagements with care.
A few years ago I was invited to attend a London dinner soiree hosted by an old acquaintance from Cambridge, Mr. Geoffrey Ashton. Ashton had been wed some three months previously to the former Miss Rachel Talbot, the heiress of a prominent merchant family. I am sorry to report that his friends were not pleased with his choice. Mrs. Ashton is a great beauty and by no means deficient in understanding, but is of flighty and difficult temper. What is a great deal worse, the conduct of her relations is widely reputed to be dishonorable, and I personally would not wish to be connected to such a family. But Ashton was madly in love with her and would hear no objections to their marriage, even though his friends united in an unprecedented effort to change his mind.
The dinner was a very large affair that was to be Mrs. Ashton's first major event as a London hostess. Among the gentlemen present were Bingley, my cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam (he was a Major at that time), Fitzwilliam's good friend Edgar Sheffield, and myself. We all arrived together, and our attendance was meant as a peace offering, since we had none of us attended the wedding. Bingley's sisters were not present, a most fortunate decision, as the evening turned out.
I had not been there ten minutes before it was obvious -- from the incense fumes, turbaned servants, and live leopard -- that this was precisely the sort of occasion which I strive to avoid. Mrs. Ashton's decolletage was shocking even by high fashion standards, and most of her guests were not part of my usual circle. After going through the receiving line and assessing the situation, the reasons for our invitation became clear. Ashton, poor fellow, was eager to impress us with his bride, and his wife regarded our eligible selves as a true "catch" by which she would establish her reputation as a society hostess. Women peered at us from every corner, forcing the four of us to stick together for safety like the walls of a house. Fitzwilliam was bemused, I was irritated, Bingley was cheerfully oblivious, but Edgar saved the evening by spotting another person who was also out of place: a remarkable young lady named Christina Leeds.
Miss Leeds was, at that time, one of the most sought-after young ladies in London. She is almost as beautiful as your daughter Jane, with blonde hair and green eyes, and an expression of striking character. Her grandparents on both sides were lesser nobility, and she has a modest fortune, but her real virtue is her wit. She is unusually well read, clever without giving offense, and of self-possessed manner far beyond her years. She was attending the soiree escorted by her mother, who was a close friend of Ashton's mother and an acquaintance of my parents.
Miss Leeds had crossed my path on only one prior occasion, where she displayed the good taste for which she is famous by electing to speak with Edgar Sheffield from among her many admirers. Edgar, the younger son of Lord Sheffield, is neither handsome nor rich, but extraordinarily intelligent. He and then-Major Fitzwilliam had been in school together from their earliest days, and Edgar consistently took every prize almost without effort. Upon taking his degree from Cambridge he entered the Foreign Office, where it is generally expected that he shall rise very high. Like most gentlemen in Town, he was utterly smitten with Miss Leeds.
Mrs. Leeds and her daughter were surprised and pleased to see us. After the proper introductions, the matron turned to Edgar and said, "And why are you here, young sir? I thought you would be burning the candles until dawn in contribution to our war effort."
Edgar replied in mock seriousness, "I beg your pardon, Madam, I make one of the most vital contributions to our war effort. I raise morale during meetings by frowning and nodding my head earnestly at half-witted statesmen." The ladies laughed charmingly at him and were included in our little fish-out-of-water group for the remainder of the evening.
I will avoid retelling every sordid detail of that dinner party, but suffice it to say that matters deteriorated. Mrs. Ashton and some female friends of hers continued to approach us in the most direct and unabashed possible way. Fitzwilliam was polite but discouraging, and my notoriously boorish manners served me in good stead, but poor Bingley paid for his unprepossessing amiability when a couple of women took his arms and attempted to draw him into a nearby room. Before I had to intervene, he guessed that they were attempting to compromise him and disengaged himself. He was my second shadow for the rest of the night. At the same time, Mrs. Ashton's male relations, most particularly her brother Roger, made numerous attempts to draw the attention of Christina Leeds, but Edgar's biting wit and Miss Leeds' cold courtesy kept them at bay.
The four of us would have departed quite early except that it seemed unpardonably rude to Geoffrey Ashton, and we certainly could not abandon the two ladies, whose coach was not scheduled to return until nearly midnight. It was also a golden opportunity for Edgar Sheffield to shine in the eyes of both Miss Leeds and her mother. In hindsight, Mrs. Ashton could not have failed to notice that Christina Leeds was the only young lady who had earned our attention, which may account for what happened next.
We had been warned that Mrs. Ashton had arranged for a "surprise" entertainment following dinner. The surprise turned out to be exotic dancers. When they began shedding certain strategically placed veils, it was clearly past time to depart. Even Bingley looked pale. Escorting the Leeds ladies home, although we were only casual acquaintances, now seemed the less scandalous of our rapidly dwindling options.
Just then we heard shouting and screeching. Geoffrey Ashton came storming into the dining room pursued by his wife, who was in a state most disgraceful to any lady. To this day I do not quite understand the nature of the dispute -- something about the Viscount Fairchilde, who had been heard arguing with Ashton and then disappeared about half an hour previously. In any case, Mrs. Ashton managed to trip and land directly in the lap of Major Fitzwilliam, hanging her arms about his neck and begging him for protection. He was forced to extricate himself in the most humiliating way, by rising and shoving her away from him.
She responded by weeping. He replied with perfect calmness, "Mrs. Ashton, I must beg leave to depart. I thank you for an interesting evening." At that she picked up a glass of wine and hurled the contents at him. He dodged. The wine splattered all over Christina Leeds. Edgar ripped off his coat and used it to cover her.
Mrs. Ashton then announced that she would not permit any member of her company to insult her. I have no idea what she was thinking, but it was delivered through breath that could have felled a flock of birds in mid-flight. She announced that we might think ourselves too good for her, but she could still maintain her dignity. With dramatic gestures she strode for the door, caught her gown on a hinge, and ripped the fabric straight down the back.
Suddenly the room was completely silent. I am told that I had a strange grin upon my face, although I certainly do not recall it. In any case, Mrs. Ashton ran shrieking from the room, followed by her husband, who shot me an apologetic and quite pathetic glance as he passed. Somewhere near the entryway a fight was breaking out and it seemed expedient to depart by another exit.
While the rest of our party gathered our cloaks and hats, I strode for what I thought was a door leading outside, that I might retrieve our carriage myself. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. The room proved to be the library, full of suspicious smoke and bodies in various states of deshabille. Aghast, I turned to depart only to find Roger Talbot blocking the door. In the foulest possible terms, he said he would not allow me to take my leave until I apologized to his sister. He claimed that my entire group of friends had insulted her throughout the evening by refusing to engage ourselves with her guests. I am ashamed to confess that I lost my temper, threatened his manhood in a particularly vulgar way, and shoved him to one side. He swung and connected with my right eye; I got up, swung back twice, and felled him. At that moment Fitzwilliam intervened and pulled me out of the room.
Had I not taken that wrong turn, we all might have gotten safely out of the house before the serious trouble ensued. As it happened, unfortunately, the Viscount Fairchilde reappeared at the front door at that very moment. He had gone for the local police. Dozens of officers and soldiers began swarming into the house, rounding up everyone in sight and taking them to jail. Between the various types of contraband (including French champagne), the underdressed company, and the fisticuffs, I must admit they had a pretty strong case. We were all facing certain disaster, or at least thirty days.
We four gentlemen formed a protective circle around the two ladies. We looked around for another exit and Edgar thought of the servants' entrance. In spite of the chaos, we managed to maneuver our way there, but discovered it was locked. The servants, at least, were no fools. Instead, we ducked under a rope blocking off the residential floors and dashed upstairs, eventually making our way to the far opposite wing, where it was much quieter. Bingley and I opened a couple of doors which, as it turned out, led to bedrooms (of which the less said, the better). Finally, at the end of the hall, we chanced upon a dark drawing room, hurried our group inside, and locked the door behind us.
After catching our breath and ascertaining that the ladies were unharmed, Bingley and I opened a window to assess possible escape routes. The drawing room overlooked a large side alley, but further down we could glimpse that the street was swarming with guests, unclothed dancers, carriages, soldiers, and hundreds of common people who had come running to gawk at the spectacle. It was obvious that we would not be able to depart without being noticed.
We were trying to think of our next brilliant move when suddenly we heard footsteps storming down the hall and cries of, "Open the doors! Everybody out!" It was the constabulary, searching the house for further contraband. We looked at each other in horror, but Mrs. Leeds is a resourceful lady. She took Edgar's arm and told the rest of us to hide behind the curtains. When the police pounded on the door, she calmly opened it and stood there in the dark room next to Edgar, who was without his jacket, you will recall. She proclaimed that she was Viscount Fairchilde's mother Lady Frances, and imperiously demanded to know why they were disturbing her privacy. Edgar did his best to look guilty. The police apologized meekly and left, and Mrs. Leeds closed and relocked the door.
Finding ourselves safe for the moment, the rest of us emerged from behind the curtains with a collective exhalation of breath. It was clear that our chances of escaping undetected would improve if we waited for matters to calm down. Bingley helped the ladies to comfortable seats, Fitzwilliam and Edgar started up the fireplace, and I managed to locate the wine, decided it was the least that Ashton owed us, and poured six glasses.
After a quick toast to Mrs. Leeds, we discussed our options and decided that we should wait for at least two hours. The good matron was fortunately not offended by this plan and thanked us most sincerely for our assistance. She was concerned for my right eye, which was swelling up, and kindly attended to it with a handkerchief soaked in water. The drawing room contained a small piano forte, and after a few minutes her daughter offered to play, as there was no longer anyone else about in that part of the house. She asked Edgar his favorite composer, and when he replied "Mozart," she commenced, from memory, Mozart's variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." The results were extraordinary. She is one of the best musicians I have ever heard in my life.
I know this will sound very odd to you, sir, but until I met your daughter Elizabeth, those short hours in the drawing room were among the pleasantest moments of my existence. There are few things more exhilarating than finishing off a narrow escape by sitting with close friends and two clever ladies in the half darkness, healing your swollen eye, sipping a glass of good wine, and listening to the beautiful sounds of Mozart, while downstairs the local police take away people you dislike and place them under arrest.
Eventually the external confusion diminished and we decided to make our escape. Edgar, always ready with a flourish under pressure, crossed to the desk, wrote our names on four scraps of paper, placed them in his hat, and presented the hat to Miss Leeds, who drew out the scrap marked "Major Fitzwilliam." My cousin grimaced but bravely complied. He opened the window, checked to see if the coast was clear, climbed down to the back alley, and ran. Five minutes later he returned and hissed, "I've found our carriage. It's waiting down the street." Miss Leeds surreptiously played four bars of the "Hallelujah Chorus."
I descended next, Bingley and Edgar lowered the ladies to us (as modestly as might be expected under the circumstances), and then followed. The six of us engaged in a less than dignified sprint for safety. It transpired that when the evening had taken a turn for the worse, our quick-thinking driver had left the kitchen, readied the carriage, and moved it a few blocks away before the police cordoned off the street. We rewarded him with five pounds and ordered, "If anyone asks, we were never here."
We escorted the ladies home to the rather worried Mr. Thomas Leeds, whose hired-carriage driver had returned without his wife and daughter, and reported that they were probably in jail. He blinked a little to see them arrive with four single gentlemen, but was relieved that we were all respectable and sober. After his wife introduced us, he most kindly offered brandy and coffee, which we all needed, and some ice for my eye, which I needed. We chatted for a while before slipping back to our respective homes shortly before sunrise. I slept until two.
That, sir, is the entire tale. The Ashtons' infamous dinner party was the talk of the Town for weeks, as you can imagine, but although I kept a careful eye on the papers, our names were never mentioned. I can only account for this oversight by guessing that the attendance of our small group was the least interesting element of the evening. Some guests were quickly released, but Mrs. Ashton's brothers and uncle were held in jail a good deal longer. Ironically, I do not recall what happend to Geoffrey and Rachel Ashton; a good deal of money must have been laid out as they seem to have been spared a most embarrassing prosecution.
Edgar Sheffield and Christina Leeds were married the following year. At the wedding breakfast Edgar reached into his pocket and pulled out the four scraps of paper. They had all been marked with the same name. I hope he becomes Foreign Secretary some day.
I think I may safely assure you that I shall never involve your daughter Elizabeth in such a disgraceful event, and I beg to remain, sir, most respectfully your son-in-law,
My dear son-in-law,
Goodness. I had no idea it was possible to fit the words "contraband," "leopard," and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" into the same letter, much less the same party. I had to read it several times to make sense of it all. Sir, you rise every day in my esteem.
I regret to inform you that there is no chance of my ever burning such a missive, although I will find a sound hiding place for it. I do hope that you will give me permission to publish it in hardbound some day, as I have every belief that it will secure my family's income forever. Perhaps I could change some of the names?
Mr. and Mrs. Sheffield sound like an interesting couple. I hope I may meet them some day. I also grant leave to you and my clever Lizzy to advance on safe, respectable London society and conquer it, or not, as you will. But before you consider the potential repetition of such a stimulating evening, do bear in mind one difficulty: Lizzy claims to play Mozart worse than any other composer on earth.
I knew I should never have trusted a report originating with someone named "Cousin Agatha." I hope I have not offended you. I make it a point never to offend anyone without willful malice aforethought. May you enjoy a quiet holiday. Yours etc.,
Theresa, the children, and I are thinking of you this Christmas. We know that your first holiday so far from Elizabeth must be difficult, but at least Jane is still nearby. I am glad to hear that you find Mr. Bingley such excellent company.
In consolation, you shall be delighted to hear that Elizabeth is looking perfectly radiant. We have never seen her so happy. Her husband simply adores her, as she well deserves, and I am every day discovering that he is truly her equal in every important respect. We were surprised to be invited to Pemberley so soon after their marriage, but Mr. Darcy told us that he was eager to know more of us and especially looked forward to the sounds of our children running around the house. I was as surprised as you undoubtedly are, but I am reporting his exact words.
Christmas was most enjoyable. I had a terrible time finding a present for my new nephew but finally settled on a cedar box to hold his fishing lures. Lovely object, nicely engraved scrollwork. He seemed pleased. Your volume of Cicero's orations went over extremely well; Elizabeth laughed and he looked startled, but he was just reading it last night, claiming he might learn something.
Following the Christmas service and an excellent dinner, we all bundled up and headed for a walk around the grounds, which were covered in freshly fallen powder. Elizabeth had taken charge of the children and, knowing what you do of her proclivities, you have already guessed what happened next. Snowballs flew. Even Miss Darcy joined in. I watched her brother most anxiously but he had a faint smile at the corner of his lips.
I managed to maintain neutrality until Kate pelted me with a good one, whereupon I had no choice but to retaliate. It was a splendid battle for quite some time until Elizabeth hit me with a well-aimed shot right in the nose and I immediately fired back. Unfortunately my arm is not what it used to be, and even if she hadn't run like a coward to hide directly behind her husband, he is the larger target. My snowball took off his hat. He stooped to retrieve it, but at that unfortunate moment the day's heaviest gust of wind arose, carrying his father's handsome beaver stovepipe directly over the lake. There was a large hole in the ice near the center. Naturally, the hat had perfect aim. We all watched in silence as it sank into the frozen depths.
Mr. Darcy looked at us. He looked at the children. He looked forlornly at the spot where his hat had been. Then he asked me for my stovepipe. With profuse apologies, I handed it to him. My face must have been scarlet. He replied, "Thank you," in a tone of most offended dignity and strode back to the house. Elizabeth hurried after her husband and I followed with the remainder of our party. When we arrived inside, the couple had disappeared. Miss Darcy suggested we repair to the music room to wait, and I tell you, I was as frightened as a child caught stealing sweets.
A few minutes later Mr. Darcy reappeared holding my hat. He approached me and said, "Mr. Gardiner, my wife informs me that my manners have been reprehensible. I realize the snowball was merely an accident and beg leave to apologize." With that he returned my hat to me. I nervously took it without thinking, placed it upon my head, and was immediately covered from head to toe in flour.
You cannot possibly guess at the deafening noise that erupted. Everyone's faces were priceless, and Mr. Darcy's eyes twinkled, but I think his sister's expression of complete and utter shock was the best of all.
Later that evening after I had dusted off and made as dignified a return as possible, my wife announced, "It's past ten o'clock. The girls have already gone upstairs, and I think it's time we put the boys to bed."
"Too true," replied Elizabeth smilingly, "but what shall we do with your children?"
Splendid outing, dear brother. Hope your Christmas has gone half so well. Yours etc.,
Mr. Edward Gardiner
A happy holiday season to you, as well. Thank you for the books, including the one from the music distributor. "Hadley's Vocal Exercises," indeed. Where do you suggest I practice, the barn?
We enjoyed a lively, busy Christmas. After the service, a large group gathered at Netherfield for dinner and festivities. The main drawing room got to be a bit noisy, what with the Bennets, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, the Lucases (all of them), and Mr. and Mrs. Collins, as well as several other neighbors. But Jane is a masterful hostess. Through her good judgment and manners, Mary played Christmas songs and dancing airs but did not sing, Mrs. Phillips paired off with Mrs. Bennet for cards, and Mr. Collins and Sir William spent the entire day speaking to each other. It was a pleasant holiday.
The best moment was our gift exchange. I presented Jane with a blue riding habit and insisted that she try it on at once. She looked gorgeous, of course. Then I told her to close her eyes and led her outside to place her hand on the bridle of her new horse, a beautiful filly named Dinah. Three years old, sleek black thoroughbred, but just as gentle as an old farm horse. Took some doing to find an animal of just the right size and temperament, let me tell you. Everyone applauded and cheered in the most charming way.
That led to an odd moment -- at least, odder than most. Mrs. Bennet was all in raptures and began alluding to something about Dinah being a much lovelier animal than the one used for her "successful plan," but Mr. Bennet seemed to have a sudden coughing fit and begged her to accompany him inside as the cold air was bad for his health. A bit contrived, I must say, but when I asked Jane about it she kissed me so delightfully that I soon forgot the entire matter.
Caroline has been writing me every day with bits of information about her Twelfth Night Ball, and I must say it promises to be quite spectacular. The guest list alone would do credit to the Duke of Norfolk. Colonel Fitzwilliam may be in luck. Perhaps she is planning to expand her social horizons, so to speak. I wish you all a pleasant visit to Town, and remain your friend in the brotherhood of matrimony,
My Most Eminent Mr. Darcy,
Charlotte joins me in sending the most reverent thanks for your generously bestowed solicitudes. I had not the slightest hope of such unexpected condescension from your noble person. Such a superior gardening tool is rarely to be found. What skill, what materials, what craftsmanship must have been poured into this implement, and yet it is also the very epitome of practicality. My roses cannot fail to flourish with the aid of such an impeccable and magnanimously proferred gift, with the added blessings of our Almighty Father and a good dose of sunlight, of course.
May I be so courteous as to add, sir, that I most deeply regret the bitter divide which has occurred between you and my most noble patroness, your Aunt, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I pray twice daily for a speedy solution, for as my dear Charlotte reminds me, I can scarcely conceal our presence at your nuptials, nor even utilize your splendid gift, without appearing hypocritical in the eyes of God. But I shall maintain my proper station and refrain from advising that any steps be taken in this matter, and most sincerely beg to remain, sir, ever your most humble, grateful, and obedient servant,
The Reverend William Collins
Thank you for the pruning shears. It was too thoughtful of you and your husband to send them. Mr. Collins praised their virtues over and over again, and is certain to spend many more hours outdoors come Spring, now that he can tend his flowers with a tool from the great estate of Pemberley. My special thanks as well for the beautiful lacquered combs. They are the loveliest hair ornaments I have ever seen.
My husband and I have stayed overlong at Lucas Lodge, and we return to Hunsford tomorrow. Our baby should arrive in April, and although a son would be most pleasing to both Mr. Collins and his patroness, I am in high hopes that our first shall be a girl. But of course, as long as the baby is healthy I shall be perfectly content.
Lizzy, I do not mind telling you that I am somewhat afraid for my safety and would welcome any suggestions you may have as to midwives. I do not trust the midwife recommended by Lady Catherine, especially as her Ladyship lost two children at birth. The current midwife she has recommended seems young and ill-experienced. If your husband knows of anyone who would be better suited, please do advise me at once.
My parents shall arrive shortly before Easter and stay for several weeks, but dearest friend, would I be terribly selfish if I requested your presence as well? You know that you would be of greater comfort to me than anyone else. I am aware that I ask a great deal, for I know that communications have broken off between Mr. Darcy and his Aunt, but if there is any way you could manage a reconciliation so that you could be at my side for my firstborn, I would be forever in your debt. I remain your most devoted
Dear Mrs. Annesley,
Thank you for your excellent recommendations. We shall be interviewing the ladies you suggested very shortly. I am sorry that you are unable to continue as my tutor and miss you very dearly, but I do understand your decision. Since I am staying in Town for some weeks, I would very much like the opportunity of calling upon you at your nearest convenience, making allowances for your obligations to your parents, of course.
On the sixth of January I shall be attending my first large ball. I am not yet out, but my brother is permitting me to attend this event for a few hours under his protection. It promises to be a very respectable event, held by some old friends of his, but I am still somewhat anxious. I shall keep in mind your helpful advice that it is not necessary to be witty, merely polite and gracious. I have passed this advice on to my cousin, as it is her first event as well.
I hope to have a reply from you soon regarding a visit. With sincere gratitude,
Miss Georgiana Darcy
It seems ages since I last heard from you. Word has gotten around that you were obligated to travel to Hertfordshire for your brother's wedding. Delighted to hear that you and Louisa survived the savages. Is her hair still that pretty red shade? Auburn is simply the thing this year.
Only think how pleased I was hear about your special event. The Twelfth Night Ball, indeed; such a charming idea. Simply everyone is talking about it, my dear. You may well outdo Holland House if you are not careful.
As it happens, despite the whirlwind of activity this season, I have managed to arrange things so that I am not engaged on the sixth of January, though you may have to forgive me if I am fashionably late. You were not thinking of holding your event without me, were you, darling?
I shall not give you even a hint of my new embroidered gown, except that I do hope you were not planning to wear ivory cream silk (although your taste is so famous, dear Caroline, that I shall never be put out to be mistaken for you). Oh, and I am privy to the most delicious sinful tidbit about Lady Hamilton, which I shall whisper discreetly in your ear. Looking ahead with felicitous anticipation to your revels, I remain yours etc.,
Mrs. Rachel Ashton
Part 5: Twelfth Night Ball Letters
Sorry for the delay, but this installment turned out to be rather long. You may want to go easy on your modem bill and save this chapter to your hard drive. Thanks again for all your wonderful comments, which inspire me to keep going. -- Leonore
January 3, 18--
I wish you the most joyous of New Year's. Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, and I arrived in Town on the evening of the first. We shall be here at least another two months, so please direct correspondence to our Mayfair address. You will have to see our house at the nearest opportunity; I cannot begin to describe how stunned I was to discover its size. However, it is most elegantly furnished, and Fitzwilliam acts as though my being mistress of it were the most natural thing in the world, so I am every day becoming more at home.
In answer to your question: yes, our rescue mission for Anne de Bourgh worked splendidly, although I should really say Colonel Fitzwilliam's rescue mission, since the effort was mostly his. His friends Edgar and Christina Sheffield are hosting Anne de Bourgh at the home of Edgar's father, Lord Sheffield. We were going to bring her to our home, but she is not supposed to be in contact with us yet (you and Bingley ARE still keeping this matter a secret, are you not?), and she seems to have grown so comfortable at Hayward House that it was decided she should remain there for the present.
I must say that though I have a distrust of London, I like Colonel Fitzwilliam's friends a good deal. Their manners are clearly of the Town, for they have a grasp of society and politics that is beyond my reach as yet, but their understanding and friendliness put me quite at ease. Mrs. Sheffield is a young lady of unreserved, lively manner and open heart, as you might expect from someone who agreed to go and retrieve Lady Catherine's daughter sight unseen. She is strikingly beautiful and most elegantly dressed, with less of showiness and more of taste than many ladies of fashion. Her performance on the piano forte is astonishing; she could play on the concert stage. Mr. Sheffield is not a bit handsome, except for the sparkling expression of his grey eyes, and he began life in the most unintelligent way possible by being born the younger son. Yet he converses in a most dazzling manner and diverts me exceedingly.
As for Anne, she is still Anne, and a greater contrast to Christina Sheffield you shall never find. She is less sickly than when I saw her last, but still dreadfully thin and a bit yellow in complexion. Her features are neither handsome nor plain, though she has pretty brown eyes; I think she could be quite nice looking if she would make an effort to smile a bit. Her style of dress, like that of her mother's, is perfectly horrid; black and brown with no end in sight, and one bonnet that is a riot of dead animals.
Anne does not play piano, sing, draw, dance, or read very much. She dislikes sewing and plays cards indifferently. She does seem to enjoy listening to other people perform music. I have yet to hear her express an opinion on any subject, so I cannot say whether she has any serious education. The longest sentences I have heard her complete are, "It is nice to see you again," and "Please pass the carrots." Mrs. Sheffield, who along with Colonel Fitzwilliam has been shepherding Anne about Town for a few weeks, says that she has displayed exactly two talents: their crotchety spaniel adores her, and she knows the name of every flower in the house. I must say the second talent took me by surprise, though what she is to make of it I cannot guess.
In Anne's favor, I will say that she is unfailingly polite, she apparently writes good letters, and she is incapable of harm, for she does not seem to know what malice is. At every small gathering she has attended thus far, she has been quiet and agreeable. There are worse places to begin afresh. Mrs. Sheffield and I are attempting to give her some gentle instruction to make up for the social education which Lady Catherine has failed to impart, and if she could but feel comfortable in a larger sphere of society I shall be very well pleased.
The good Colonel certainly possesses quite the sense of family obligation, but he seems to be enjoying it immensely. He has a mischievous smile about him like a naughty schoolboy delighted to play a trick on his stuffy Aunt Catherine. I wondered how he finds time for his military duties, but apparently he has an efficient and long-suffering secretary upon whom he has foisted most of his administrative work. The Colonel has been laughing and chatting ever since we arrived, and even spent a few hours showing the ladies his military rapier and trying to give us fencing lessons. He claims to have no talent for swordsmanship -- he says he swings his arm like a baboon -- but my husband says he is just being modest.
Caroline Bingley's Twelfth Night Ball takes place in three days. It will be the first London ball for myself, Georgiana, and Anne, so the ladies of our party are meeting a dressmaker this afternoon at Hayward House for the rapid preparation of gowns. We also must teach Anne a few simple dances. I shall write very soon to let you know how matters progress. I must go now, pray write speedily to your loving sister
My dear Charles,
Stop fretting. I know exactly what I am doing. The Twelfth Night Ball may be somewhat more elaborate than my previous entertainments, but it should be all to my credit. The presence of a few new faces can only be of benefit to our social standing. In fact, I have just received an RSVP from the Prince Regent's cousin Lord Dawes; aren't I clever? Surely relations of the Earl of Matlock can hardly object.
I daresay Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and the dear Colonel shall be quite pleased with the evening: the Beaux Arts Orchestra, Mr. Jeremy Conrad's decor -- costs a pretty penny, but he is so very au fait -- and, of course, Master Chef Diderot preparing the dinner. I am simply trying to provide my guests with a memorable evening, and why you should think I am attempting to prove anything is utterly beyond reason.
But fear not, dear brother, you are safe in Hertfordshire and therefore free of the corruptions of decadent London. And how are your dear in-laws? Did you have a nice Christmas together? I shall miss you and lovely Jane and be thinking of you as our glittering company dances into the wee hours. And if anything scandalous should occur -- ha ha! -- I shall take Lady Gavelton's advice: if your party makes the Times, take all the credit; if it makes the Post, shed all the blame. Your sister,
I promised to write and let you know how our ball preparations were coming along, even though I shall simply have to write again once it is over and pass you all the good gossip. Good heavens, is this how matrimony sinks one's character? I am beginning to sound like (horrors!) Aunt Phillips.
Immediately after I posted my last letter, our party traveled to Hayward House, where the ladies banished the men from the main parlor and told them we were engaged in secret matters of fashion. Mr. Sheffield and Colonel Fitzwilliam groaned and nearly tripped over each other in their haste to reach the billiard table, but my husand's eyes twinkled at me. He drew me into the hall and asked if I was certain I must have a new gown for the Twelfth Night Ball. I owned that I was not, whereupon he put his arms around my waist and whispered in my ear, "Wear the dress you wore at the Netherfield Ball, when we first danced together." I asked if it were too simple a style for such an evening, but he replied, "Not at all; the neckline was particularly becoming," and began to trace it with his fingertips.
Following an unanticipated delay, I returned to the main parlor where the other ladies waited. The dressmaker, Mrs. Shelby, had arrived with her assistants and they were laying out swaths of material. Georgiana shall have a new white satin gown for the occasion, Mrs. Sheffield shall wear palest pink, and I ordered a dress in light blue for future use. Anne was a puzzle, for her skin is so sallow that all the light shades made her disappear, but she could hardly make an appearance in those dreadful mourning colors.
It was then that Christina glanced at the Christmas boughs and suggested, "Why not green? A rich, deep green, like the leaves of a forest." And she found a small sample near the bottom of the fabric pile. A very unusual choice, but it set off Anne's pale skin and brown eyes superbly, so instantly the decision was made. Her hair is a rather nondescript mousy brown, but Christina's maid will brush it out and redo it completely. She seems to have quite a talent.
After the dressmaker departed, we began to instruct Anne in dancing. Difficult as I find Lady Catherine, I was willing to forgive her overbearing manner until I discovered that Anne had never learned to dance, whereupon all of my old disgust returned. Christina and I went after our husbands, who were engaged in useless political talk, and threatened them with billiard cues until they graciously volunteered to help. The Colonel had no choice but to join in.
It made for an entertaining evening, what with Mrs. Sheffield on the piano and five other people all calling different instructions at once. "That way," "No, circle left," "Cast around," "I say, Fitzwilliam, isn't there another turn there?" "No, Anne, your corner is Darcy, Georgiana is your opposite lady." Edgar and Colonel Fitzwilliam managed to hit each other straight on during one moment of confusion, and Anne stepped on everyone's feet. I hate to think what would have happened had we tried the hard ones.
She is not accustomed to moving around, so she dances in an unadorned, almost matronly manner, with no gestures of hands or tilts of her head. For a long time she kept staring down at the floor; the only way we could get her to look up was to tell her to look her partner square in the eye at all times. A bit forward, but it works. She still doesn't smile, exactly, but we managed to get her to lift the corners of her mouth a little so at least she doesn't look as though her favorite pet just died.
Conversation presents yet another problem. Anne makes Georgiana look like a chatterbox. Of course, Mrs. Sheffield and I are hardly the ladies to advise her in conversational skills -- Christina is brilliant and I verge on uncivil -- but Georgiana passed on an excellent bit of advice from her former tutor. She said not to worry about saying anything remarkable because it is only necessary to be polite. Let us hope it works.
Georgiana has just rushed all excitement into my room to tell me that the dressmaker has arrived. I must go, for we have little time to do alterations before tomorrow evening. I will write you immediately after the ball to let you know the results of our preparations. Much love from your devoted
MORNING POST, the seventh of january
Uproar At a Fashionable Ball, by Our Society Correspondents
As the battle against foreign tyranny mercifully appears to be drawing to a close, we must not forget to raise a toast to our nation's social hostesses. For not only do our brave Generals and Admirals outmatch the enemy in firepower, but even our ladies refuse to be outdone by their Continental counterparts. The fireworks at last night's Twelfth Night Ball were ample proof.
The much-anticipated Ball, held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Hurst but hosted in the main by their sister, Miss Caroline Bingley, drew the wealthy and fashionable from every corner of Town, and with what spectacular results! Let us all hope that the Earl of Matlock, whose young relations were at the center of the uproar, lives up to his generous and good-spirited reputation, for no one who attended shall ever forget the sight of his nephew Mr. Darcy being shielded from certain death by his lovely and protective bride, nor his younger son, Colonel Fitzwilliam, nobly doing battle to defend the honor of the oustanding lady of the evening, his fascinating cousin Miss Anne de Bourgh.
Miss de Bourgh, who is new to society, has been dubbed "The Mona Lisa" due to her dark eyes and close-lipped, enigmatic smile...the leader of fashion for the evening, daringly dressed in dark green silk cut in the latest style...hair elaborately adorned with slender ribbons...terse repartee of stunning sophistication...rises above every possible innuendo...dances in slow and stately manner...gives away nothing with her expressions...head high like a princess...courageous, unique, and mysterious...the most stellar debut of the season....
Express Post: to the Earl of Matlock, Rosings Park, Kent
Most Honorable Father,
Throw away all the papers from Town. Trust me. Before you get your account from the scandalsheets, I simply must tell you the truth of what happened at the Twelfth Night Ball...
Express Post: to Mr. Charles Bingley, Netherfield Hall, Hertfordshire
Ask Carter to prepare my suite; I am coming to Netherfield immediately. My dear brother, I could absolutely DIE!! My ball has made the front pages of all the wrong papers in Town. What is even worse, Colonel Fitzwilliam appears to be more interested in...
Express Post:: to Mrs. Charles Bingley, Netherfield Hall, Hertfordshire
You shall never believe this. I cannot believe it myself, and am posting the news express so you hear the real version before it runs through Meryton like wildfire. Caroline Bingley's Twelfth Night Ball proved to be an astonishing introduction to London Society...
Express Post: to Mr. Bennet, Longbourn House, near Meryton, Hertfordshire
My Dear Sir,
Before you give credence to any other accounts of our activities in London, read this one first. I realize that I promised most faithfully that I would avoid involving your daughter Elizabeth in any scandalous activity while in London, but unfortunately...
...keep in mind that I never wanted to attend at all, but Darcy insisted that it would be a perfectly safe occasion where he would know all the other guests, and he practically dragged me along feet first. From the very outset I kept saying that it would be better to stay home, with primary consideration for our ladies' reputations, of course.
It started out decently enough. Our ladies certainly did themselves up for the occasion. Christina Sheffield looked like a goddess as usual, and Elizabeth Darcy was stunning; Darcy could barely contain his pride. Georgiana looked sweet and pretty in her white gown, like a shy angel, but I must say Anne quite surprised me. Her appearance was rather astonishingly better. Not pretty, exactly, but interesting. She wore a new dark green gown -- unusual color but looks remarkably well on her -- and her hair was elaborately braided in gold and green ribbons. Brought out her eyes quite nicely, I thought.
When we arrived we all went through the receiving line, and after some brief pleasantries with the hostess, Caroline Bingley, we moved on to the main ballroom...
...I was simply delighted to see them all, of course. The Colonel looked so becoming in his regimental formals, and how his eyes sparkled! Although I could not spend much time conversing in the receiving line, he took me by surprise by most kindly asking the honor of my hand for the first dance...
...Caroline Bingley was wearing the most astoundingly sheer gown and was all attention to poor Colonel Fitzwilliam at once, holding his hand a little too long in the receiving line and then, "What a pleasure to see you, dear Colonel. I do hope my little party won't bore you too greatly, so I selected 'The General's Lass' as our opening dance with you in mind." Of course he was forced to express gratitude and offer to dance it with her, and you know the significance of opening the ball as the partner of the hostess.
But after professing all agreement to this plan, the Colonel managed to place Anne de Bourgh and Georgiana on either side of him, clearly to prevent Miss Bingley from stationing herself on his arm for the ballroom introductions, and I must say I could barely keep my countenance. A thirty-year-old colonel using two young ladies for protection! We should have given them muskets.
My husband and I entered the ballroom first, followed by the rest of our party. The room was rather grander than I expected, but beautifully arranged. I immediately began looking around to assess the company. It seemed a bit loud but...
...instant sounds of commentary as soon as "Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy" were announced, and every face turned towards us. Several people told me later that I was positively beaming with pride, and I warrant it could scarcely be better placed. All those who had not attended our nuptials were eager to see my lady, and you will be as happy as I was, sir, to hear that there was not a disapproving face in the room.
I was surprised to see many people I did not recognize, for I usually know everyone at a Bingley party. Evidently Caroline had truly outdone herself with the invitation list. But this was scarcely a concern to me since her behavior is
always usually so proper and social position so well established that I knew she would never invite guests of dubious repute.
Many people were eager to greet Elizabeth and myself with congratulations, which we warmly received. However, I was aware that the numbers of guests might be overwhelming to the ladies who were making their first appearance, so I had planned to introduce them to those with whom they would be most comfortable. The obvious first choice was John and Fiona Markham, a most pleasant and respectable couple who have a daughter about Georgiana's age. From there I had decided upon the Hardwicks, Lord Channing, Mr. Louis Davidson and his sister Patricia, and so on; I had the whole thing planned out.
You may recall what they say about the best laid plans...
....so while Darcy introduced the ladies to the Markhams, I took my place opposite Caroline Bingley for "The General's Lass," one of my least favorite pieces, although I smiled and carried on politely, of course. When we were finished I led Miss Bingley back towards my party. She seemed quite interested in Anne and, evidently with a design towards impressing me, offered to...
...he was so happy to have gained my hands for the first one, and danced charmingly. So vigorous, so tall, and the warm touch of his fingers upon mine! Other ladies had quite the expression of envy upon their faces, if I dare say so. Unfortunately he was recovering from a bad cold and could not dance the next one with me due to his excessive fatigue, so he escorted me back to where his relations were standing. One of them, his cousin Anne de Bourgh, is making her debut in society this season. Naturally it was incumbent upon me to assist in introducing her to a few friends of mine and choose some dance pieces that she would like so that she might feel at ease...
...she was practically clinging to Colonel Fitzwilliam, but remarkably civil to me. She introduced us all to several friends of hers, who were overdressed but at least tolerably polite. Georgiana, Anne, and I spent a good hour getting acquainted with everyone. Then Miss Bingley asked, in the most gracious possible voice, what piece we would like to hear for our first dance! I can only assume it was an effort to make amends and impress the Colonel, but it would have been rude to pass up such an opportunity. Of course, my husband and I glanced at each other thinking exactly the same thing...
...could have done without Miss Bingley's insistence on introducing all her friends, which slightly threw off my plans, but at least they were all people I knew. Elizabeth was witty and delightful as always, and everyone was most favorably inclined towards her. Miss Bingley did us the honor of a dance request, so we asked for "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot," the only dance I enjoyed with your daughter before our marriage (well, perhaps "enjoyed" is not the correct word, but it was certainly memorable). My cousins William and Anne lined up next to us. I only tell you this to begin explaining why they were at the center of the confusion which followed.
As I mentioned earlier, my cousin Anne was making her first appearance in London society, and this was her first dance ever; she has suffered from health problems and, well, various personal difficulties. But I rarely looked at her while we danced, for I could scarcely keep my eyes off my wife, especially when her beautiful eyes twinkled at me and she said, "I believe we must have some conversation, Mr. Darcy. A very little will suffice..."
...I have NEVER seen Darcy laugh like that while he dances -- in fact, I have never seen him laugh like that at all -- so it was only near the end of the set that I realized what a splendid impression Anne was making opposite me. She really did look quite unusual, beribboned head held high, marching in that stately manner, her dark green gown swirling around her. I noticed several people staring at her, and I could see their expressions were not at all disapproving. I believe Miss Bingley even looked jealous! Then we returned to our friends and Georgiana, who all congratulated her most sincerely on the success of her first dance, and she blushed. She looks lovely with some color in her face.
At that moment the band struck up "The Touchstone," that energetic one that is everyone's favorite. Anne hadn't learned this one yet, so we left her safely with the Markhams while the rest of us paired off: the Darcys, the Sheffields, and Georgiana opposite me. The evening was going splendidly so far, so I had no reason to suspect that we would be invaded by...
...of course it did not bother me in the slightest that the Colonel was dancing with his cousin, but I was concerned that he would become bored. Imagine spending an entire evening in such brilliant company having to employ yourself with escort duties to your -- I must be blunt, Charles -- rather plain cousin. And her style! Unusual, even daring in a sort of gauche way, but it did nothing for her features, which are positively dreary.
I was certain the dear Colonel was going to invite me to dance the next one since his energy seemed to have returned, but at that critical moment Louisa called me away to greet my most important guest: Lord Dawes, the first cousin of the Prince Regent. I was surprised to see that he was escorting Mrs. Rachel Ashton; she and her husband suffered the most terrible separation, you nkow, and he is living in Naples. Alas, they had brought along her brother, Mr. Roger Talbot. I know his reputation as well as you do, but I could hardly throw him out without causing a scene, could I? It was, after all, MY ball, so I had no reason to believe that he would behave badly, especially as he is known to be striving for a reintroduction to London society. (Social climbers; I ask you.)
Unfortunately we could not announce them since a dance was in progress, but Mrs. Ashton spied Colonel Fitzwilliam and commented to me that she had not seen him for a few years, although she declined to say how they had met. It suddenly occurred to me that I should point out that Anne de Bourgh is his cousin. Naturally I was thinking of Mrs. Ashton's gift for repartee, and realized that she would make an excellent conversational partner for the young lady. After all, this is London, and it would not do to shelter Miss de Bourgh under the wings of her relations all evening, would it?
So I brought Lord Dawes and his party over to where Anne was standing with the Markhams and some friends of theirs, then glanced over at the Colonel to see how his dance with dear Georgiana was progressing. Oddly, at every turn he seemed to be gaping at us...
...the most amazing expression on his face, it looked as though he had been struck by lightning. On the next pass he hissed to my husband, "Darcy! Over there talking to Anne! It's RACHEL ASHTON!" As soon as Fitzwilliam looked over, he wore the same expression. They could barely keep from bolting the dance, and even the self-possessed Sheffields seemed upset...
...absolutely horror-struck to see he was right. There was Mrs. Ashton on the arm of Lord Dawes, that conceited popinjay, and they were brazenly talking to Anne! Not only that, but they were even introducing Mrs. Ashton's brother Roger Talbot, the one who blacked my eye at our last meeting. Of course we could not possibly break out of the set without calling attention to the problem -- what were we supposed to do, feign sprained ankles simultaneously? -- so we had to continue, and there were still several rounds to go. Not since my second proposal to your daughter have I been in such a sweat ...
...my mind was reeling. Obviously they had learned that Anne was our inexperienced cousin and decided to make her ridiculous in revenge for our last meeting. Anne does not understand malice; she could not possibly be a match for the viciousness of Rachel Ashton. I almost trod on poor Georgiana's dress, I was so desperate to finish up the set. She looked at me a bit strangely but I forswore to tell her anything about those corrupt people.
Father, the most extraordinary thing happened. Since none of us were standing nearby, we have our accounts secondhand, but I went over and over it with Lord Channing and the Markhams afterwards, as well as with Anne this morning, and they all swear to me that the following conversation took place:
After the initial introductions, Mrs. Ashton looked down at Anne and said, "So Miss de Bourgh, I understand that you are first cousin to Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Why have I not seen you in Town before?"
"I have been ill, madam."
"Yes, I can see your complexion is sallow."
The Markhams flinched, but Anne replied with perfect calm, "That is an unfortunate consequence of being ill."
Mrs. Ashton tried again with, "Is this your debut? A green gown. What an intriguing idea."
Anne smiled as though she thought it were a compliment and answered, "Thank you. Your gown is very nice. Many ladies are wearing that color tonight." (John swears he did not prompt her.)
Mrs. Ashton glanced at her cream silk, then looked smugly at Anne's green dress and replied, "I always say that ladies should never be mistaken for mantelpiece decorations."
Without removing her eyes, Anne replied in a puzzled voice, "But the mantelpiece decorations are white: winter rose, gardenia, and baby's breath." Fiona's eyes instantly strayed towards the mantel. Anne was correct. Lord Channing, who had overheard the entire exchange, excused himself from his conversation and drew closer.
Mrs. Ashton looked vexed and, turning her eyes towards the dancers, pointed with her fan at Elizabeth Darcy. "That would be Mr. Darcy's bride, I suppose. I have heard of her. She is that brilliantly scheming minx from Hertfordshire, is she not?"
"She is from Hertfordshire, yes." At this point the onlookers had to restrain their mouths from dropping. Fiona decided not to interfere.
"My dear," Mrs. Ashton smiled, in her most insinuating tone, "you need conceal no family secrets from me. We all have our little peccadilloes. Now tell me, how did she ever manage to catch Mr. Darcy?"
Directly Anne replied, "He proposed to her and she accepted."
Everyone standing nearby suddenly drew in their breath. Mrs. Ashton looked affronted, drew herself up, and said, "Miss de Bourgh, I know the truth of his engagement. There was more to it than that. Was it not something involving a disreputable younger sister of hers? What do you say?"
Anne looked confused and responded, "I do not know what to say, ma'am. No one has ever called me a liar before." In the most innocent possible tone!
Mrs. Ashton was struck dumb. But Lord Dawes jumped in, smiled at Anne in that unbearably condescending manner of his, and said, "I hear you are from the country, Miss de Bourgh. How ever do you entertain yourself in such closed society? You must play games very well."
"Indifferently, your Lordship. I am certain you are my superior at every kind of game." There were several low whistles. Lord Channing says he and the other onlookers were ready to burst at any moment.
Lord Dawes started, but recovered quickly and sneered, "Then you must be fond of music. Tell me, what is your favorite piece? The Wild Boar's Maggot, perhaps? Or The Dying Swan?" He and Mrs. Ashton tittered.
Fiona began to say something. But she needn't have worried. Anne replied in complete seriousness, "I love to hear 'The Royal Fireworks.' Except at the end, when they make all that irksome noise." It was Lord Dawes' turn to be dumbstruck.
The spectators were a thick, wide-eyed crowd by now, and murmuring to one another as though they were watching a tennis match. Anne never noticed, but Fiona heard the exclamations, "Stunning!" and "Touche!" Things were getting to be a bit much. She took Anne's arm and suggested, "My dear, let us go outside for a moment; the night air on the balcony is deliciously cool."
But before they had a chance to depart, Mrs. Ashton arched her brows and said coldly, "I am certain I shall cross your path again, Miss de Bourgh."
Anne remained friendly and polite as ever. "I would be happy to make your acquaintance further, Mrs. Ashton. Thank you for your conversation. You remind me of my mother." Even more gasps. Mrs. Ashton looked absolutely horrified. Fanning her face affectedly, she and her small entourage turned for the drawing room and fled with what little dignity they could muster, but not before Roger Talbot looked at her strangely and bowed with what appeared to be respect.
With all the surrounding guests suddenly abuzz about Anne, she turned to Fiona and asked with a frown, "Mrs. Markham, I must ask -- they seem like rather odd people. Did I behave badly? Was I not polite? I hope I did not say anything wrong." Fiona could scarcely think of a reply, but at that moment our set mercifully came to an end. We bowed much too quickly and raced over to Anne (with decorum, Father, with decorum).
Lord Channing came up to us, grinning. It was clear that Anne had been in the center of some commotion. Darcy asked, "Channing, what the devil happened? What are those people doing here?"
His Lordship exclaimed, "My God, Darcy, your cousin; why have you been hiding her from us all this time? She's brilliant, absolutely brilliant! Lord Dawes and Mrs. Ashton tried to embarrass her in front of everyone, but she simply rose above everything -- sent them running in full retreat! You should have seen it, the way she slyly pretended not to understand them, just stared back blankly, and then BANG! Destroyed them with perfect ripostes! Genius, man! What a tactician!"
Darcy and I were speechless. But you can hardly blame us. What was there to say?
...had I known that she would attempt to insult Miss de Bourgh, and on her first evening in society no less, I would never have introduced them, but there was no turning back. I could not cause a scandal by putting anyone out the door, even when Mr. Darcy quietly requested it. I know that the best way to deal with poor behavior is to rise above it and not pay a jot of attention, of course, so I turned away to attend to my other guests...
...apparently this Mrs. Ashton has caused trouble for my husband and the Colonel in years past, for she approached intending some sort of revenge, but Anne actually bested her. The fact that it was completely unintentional made no difference. I still cannot believe it. The winner of a repartee contest, and with the Prince Regent's cousin and his mistress, no less -- ANNE DE BOURGH?
You can imagine what happened next. Fitzwilliam and the Colonel were immediately surrounded by young gentlemen begging for the honor of Anne's hand. Cards flew into their hands, friends they hadn't seen since University came out of the woodwork; it was overwhelming. Fortunately Fitzwilliam's respectable friend Lord Channing had been there during the actual conversation and Anne kept glancing at him.
So Lord Channing led her to the floor for "Belles of the Town" and they were at the head of the line. We were a little unnerved, but she handled it beautifully. She danced exactly as we had practiced at Hayward House, except she did not step on anyone's feet. Absolutely everyone in the room was staring at her with respectful smiles and great attentiveness, and only then did I realized that something else was happening. The other ladies in the set were making lively, flirtatious gestures, batting their eyes coquettishly. Anne stood straight, held her head high, looked her partner in the eye, and never removed her gaze the entire time, just as we had instructed her. It gave an impression of regal confidence. Unlike all the other dancers, she never made any flirtatious movements because she doesn't know how!
Open-mouthed shock is hardly a polite facial expression, and yet someone mentioned that our entire party, including Georgiana and the Sheffields, did precisely that as we watched her...
...you cannot imagine my astonishment when it finally dawned on me. Scores of sophisticated guests, and here was my cousin Anne, the mouse, decidedly brilliant! The belle of the ball! And all due to everyone making exactly the same extraordinary mistake. Anne's innocent conversation was taken for genius, her unsophisticated dancing taken for majestic dignity, her timid smile taken for mysterious.
While everyone watched her dance with Lord Channing, and I watched everyone watching her dance with Lord Channing, the Marquis Newbury approached me. He is the eldest son of the Duke of Hampshire. "Mr. Darcy, I must have a dance with your bewitching cousin. I must. I beg you for an introduction. A refusal would crush me."
A Duke's eldest son! I hope I did not stammer too much. "Well, Anne is not, I mean she is..."
"Her manners! Her hair! Her style of dress, so bold and stunning! Surpasses every other lady in the room. She looks simply ravishing. And her smile, that enigmatic Mona Lisa smile! That is what everyone is calling her, you know; the Mona Lisa!"
I was completely tongue-tied and hoping Elizabeth would rescue me. She managed to come up with, "Yes, Miss de Bourgh certainly does appear to have a few secrets."
"Look at her regal presence, she is a Da Vinci portrait come to life! Or a Botticelli! A Venus!"
"What an interesting comparison," I remarked. The Marquis Newbury always does imbibe overmuch, and too early in the evening. Elizabeth covered her face with her handkerchief in a brave attempt not to laugh. I glanced over at William hoping he had taken Georgiana somewhere else, but he was surrounded by gentlemen proferring cards...
...I can hardly blame you if you have passed out from shock while reading this missive, Father, because I thought I would drop dead right there on the spot. But there was still more to come.
We decided that despite the degrading presence of Mrs. Ashton and Roger Talbot, we should maintain our dignity and stay at the ball. After all, Anne was a tremendous success, the troublemakers had been put in their place, and there were at least two hundred other guests, so we could hardly think that there would be any further problems.
'Belles of the Town' finished and there was polite applause for Anne and Lord Channing (yes, applause; you read correctly). Elizabeth, aiding in our joint conspiracy, took the lead in retiring with the ladies to refresh themselves, while Darcy and I seized Edgar's arms, hurried him into a corner, and ordered, "Sir, we realize you prefer to leave strategy sessions at the Foreign Office, but this is an emergency. Apply your social genius to sorting out these." And we thrust into his hands the two dozen or so calling cards that had been foisted upon us by gentlemen pleading for the honor of an introduction to "The Mona Lisa."
Edgar, who could barely restrain his glee, made short work of the cards. He asked, "Shall I sort them by title, reputation, fortune, or..." Darcy answered, "Reputation;" I said, "Prefers easy dances." He tore up two cards and threw them in a waste-basket, pulled out six others, arranged them in some mysterious order known only to him, and said, "Here. The one on top first; his father is Chair of the Royal Botanical Society."
So with our completely altered game plan in place, we waited for Anne to reappear and then introduced her to The Honorable Godfrey Bledsoe...
...cousins introduced her to several young gentlemen so that they could enjoy the remainder of the evening unencumbered by escort duties. The Colonel would have asked me for another dance except that he was fatigued from the vigors of "The Touchstone" and preferred to spend the next hour in conversation with the numerous wealthy and titled faces gathered about. He looked quite stunned, obviously because he had no idea that I could attract such quality to my ball, and I was so pleased to see that he approved of my small social talents.
Lord Dawes and his party gathered a few friends and formed a dance set of their own, so with that little problem smoothed over, I spent the next hour chatting amiably with my guests and tastefully rearranging the place cards for dinner. Originally I had planned for the Darcys and the Colonel to sit at the head table with the Prince's cousin and myself, but now one of those parties had to go, so after an agony of indecision I moved Lord Dawes to another table.
Master Chef Diderot's preparations were flawless...*
...never had oysters before. They are not quite my thing, but my husband seems to like them. There was also an excellent leg of lamb and new veal -- in winter, Jane, and what it may have cost her I cringe to think. As if all that were not enough, the meal finally ended with petit fours, chocolate torte, cheese, fruit, and ice cream. I had to be careful lest I overindulge and fall asleep shortly after dinner; I would not wish to usurp Mr. Hurst's job.
During dinner we drank a toast to the poor King's health, and a toast to the Prince Regent, and a toast to the defeat of the French, and a toast to the Twelfth Night of Christmas, and then -- this took me by surprise -- a toast to the newlywed Darcys! I was rather grateful to be able to skip one, for you know I cannot take more than one glass of wine in an evening and was forced to take very small sips so that I would not disgrace myself.
It seems that the after-dinner custom in Town is that the ladies gather for music and coffee, while the gentlemen gather for billiards and an adjacent room set aside for political talk and cigars. If they wish to converse with each other, they meet in the ballroom. The gentlemen may also go to hear music, but the ladies may not play billiards, which vexes me as my husband was just beginning to teach me the game. However, I cannot say that I am anything but relieved to skip the politics and tobacco.
Miss Bingley insisted that Georgiana and I open the musical entertainment -- "it is your first evening, my dears, my guests long to hear you play" -- so we had no choice but to comply. Fortunately Georgiana and I have developed a partnership whereby she plays and I sing, so we performed a brief rendition of "Batti, Batti, O Bel Masetto"** which is one of our favorites at home. (Pemberley is HOME, Jane!) My husband looked on smiling all this time, gazing at me with those indescribably deep brown eyes while I sang. I should have liked him to remain by my side all evening, but after we completed our piece, he was drawn away by some gentleman friend of his to the billiard table...
...would rather have heard more music, especially since Christina Sheffield was present, but some gentlemen from my club wished to speak to me about an urgent problem. This was rather the last thing I needed, as it has been something of a busy winter, but I racked up a billiard game and listened while they explained.
It seems that Mr. Roger Talbot, who served a brief jail term for contraband possession after that infamous party, spent the intervening years on the Continent and is now attempting to work his way back into society via my London club. Several other members pressed me to add my voice to theirs in pushing for his acceptance. Of course I declined without hesitation. Indeed, I could not understand what they were thinking until I perceived the panic underlying their features. Then I recalled his family's fortune, and the cards-and-horses habits of numerous members. When I hinted at this connection in an undertone, my suspicions proved correct. Many of the club members were greatly indebted to him and he was exerting this leverage to push his acceptance.
I could hardly think which was more disgusting to me: Talbot's blackmail, or the folly of wealthy gentlemen unable to hold onto the gifts God had given them at birth. But I held back the temptation for a fruitless moral lecture, stood fast in my refusal, and excused myself from the billiards table as soon as my game was done. I found the Colonel in the men's drawing room and quietly apprised him of the situation, then departed for a much more agreeable atmosphere near the piano forte, where Mrs. Sheffield was favoring the guests with a beautiful rendition of Beethoven's Third Piano Sonata...
...Edgar was in his element, leading the political conversation with his usual combination of wit and insight, which is one of the reasons I enjoy attending events with him; it spares me the necessity of saying anything memorable.
I was listening to him hold forth on the reasons that Napoleon still poses a serious threat despite the Russia fiasco***, when suddenly I smelled breath which stood out even in that crowd, and looked to my left to see Roger Talbot clutching my sleeve. His family has a habit of grabbing me in the most detestable manner. Through slurred speech, he said, "So, Colonel, I understand you are the guardian of the lovely Mona Lisa."
"Her name is Miss de Bourgh, and I am not her real guardian," I replied stiffly, detaching my arm, "only her cousin, and escort while she visits Town."
"Suppose I desire an introduction to the lady who has made so formidable an impression upon London society? It would do a power of good for my morale, and might incline me towards generosity in my dealings with your club friends. I might even be persuaded to forgive some of them. What do you say?"
I could not conceal my disgust. Like every other man in the room, Talbot had figured out that Anne was the shining star of the evening, and he was determined to exploit her success. So I told him firmly that a delicate lady like Anne de Bourgh was only just beginning to come out, that she was certainly not to be trusted to the likes of him, and that her only suitors would have to be respectable gentlemen who had never been held in jail for possession of contraband.
Talbot's face turned black as thunder. I forget every loathsome word he used, but he roared that he was sick of the d--- way that I constantly insult his family, added something about teaching me a lesson, and suddenly turned to the corner of the room, where he grabbed a rapier. My rapier, I was shocked to see. It is part of my formal dress uniform, and for ease of movement I had entrusted it upon arrival to Miss Bingley's steward, who assured me it would be kept safely on a nearby weapons rack. Somehow Talbot had got hold of it, whether by design or chance theft I know not.
In desperate self-defense, I picked up a chair. Talbot lunged; I was lucky to parry in time. He was cursing at me and I was, well, not too pleased myself. Other men were scurrying out of the way and yelling for him to stop. In that closed room I did not have enough space to defend myself effectively, so holding the chair in front of me, I retreated into the ball room.
People shouted and made way. Talbot lunged too short and I parried; he lunged at me again in closer distance and I kicked the blade with my boot, then hit him square in the face with the chair. I thought I had broken his nose, but he got up a few seconds later. At that moment I heard Darcy yell, "Watch your back, Colonel!" Lord Dawes, the dishonorable villain, had been sneaking up on me, sword in hand, if you please; he was very drunk. But my cousin had already rushed to block him. I yelled, "Back to me, Darcy!" and there the two of us stood in the center of the room, back to back, armed with a chair and fists against two swords...
...I have never heard the Colonel swearing like that, so I hurried over, and there in the middle of the commotion were the two handsomest gentlemen in Town, covering each other's tall, strong backs, glaring with manly fortitude and standing in brave solidarity against their attackers. The sight nearly made me faint (from horror, mind you, at the thought they might have been injured) and instantly recognizing my duty, I risked my own safety to rush forward and put a stop to the fight at once...
...followed my husband when he raced out of the music room. When I saw the fight, I started crying, "Stop, stop!" Georgiana and I ran and stood between my husband and Lord Dawes, and Anne rushed in to cover the Colonel. Not to be outdone, Miss Bingley followed her a few moments later. Lord Dawes was staring in drunken disbelief at our interference when Edgar Sheffield calmly walked up from his blind side and hit him over the head with a potted plant, which dropped him on the spot. "Just like old schooldays, eh, Colonel?" he quipped, receiving, "Shut up, Edgar," for his pains.
Upon seeing Lord Dawes lying stunned on the floor, Mrs. Ashton began screaming hysterically, and to bring her to her senses Mrs. Sheffield grabbed a punch bowl and dumped the contents over her head. (It seemed to me water would have done just as well, but she said she would explain later.)
Just then we were all silenced by a furiously loud voice: "Mr. Talbot, this is NOT POLITE!" Jane, it was Anne! I would never have expected it from that meek little thing. She sounded as imperious as her mother! "Mr. Talbot," she repeated, "you are not being polite. Stop attacking my cousin. Isn't that Fitzwilliam's sword? Give it to me at once." And she stepped forward and stretched out her hand.
Mr. Talbot looked astonished. Slowly he straightened up, stared at her for several seconds, and then handed her the weapon without a word. She picked it up very stiffly with both hands on the grip, said, "Thank you," turned carefully, and held it out to the Colonel point down.
While all the guests stood watching in amazement, she whirled back around and cried, "Mr. Talbot! I thought you were a gentleman. I was having a nice evening and now you've ruined everything!" She started to rush out, turned back and added, "And you don't know how to lunge! You swing like a baboon!" Then she burst into a flood of tears and fled for the door, leaving a shocked room behind her. A minute later Colonel Fitzwilliam composed himself and went after her, while Georgiana and I hugged my husband in relief...
...I did NOT ask Elizabeth to cover me, sir; on my honor, I swear I did not. You know your daughter's fearless nature. She and Georgiana only intervened to prevent me from being run through, and the drunken Lord Dawes obviously meant them no harm, for he stopped as soon as he saw them. I would have moved them out of the way had Edgar Sheffield not appeared with the philodendron. (He tore off a leaf and asked Anne about it later, and she identified it as...oh, never mind. My thoughts are still a bit rattled.)
At that point we were all unnerved and done in for the evening, so I gathered my family and the Sheffields...
...Darcy spent a few minutes holding Elizabeth and Georgiana and reassuring them that he was unharmed, while I went after Anne. She was sobbing out in the front hall, so I took her in my arms and comforted her. No one had been harmed, she had been magnificent, everyone said so, she was the belle of the evening. But of course she needed to return home at once, so we all pulled ourselves together and departed.
I wish to make several things clear, Father. First, Anne seemed to be just fine this morning. Very cheerful, in fact. Secondly, the newspaper coverage has showered her with praise, and London society is nearly prostrate at her feet. Third, when Lady Catherine hears about this entire affair, especially Anne's contact with the Disgraceful Darcys, please do anything in your power to prevent her from coming to Town to retrieve her daughter. If you can manage this trick I will be forever in your debt. Actually, I am already forever in your debt, but you understand my meaning.
And finally, I have never known a situation in which so many carefully laid plans have gone every which way and backwards. Well, possibly the Frog's invasion of Moscow, but definitely nothing else. I beg and grovel to remain, sir, your most respectful and mortified son,
...I apologized over and over most profusely, but how could I possibly have foreseen such a disaster? I ordered brandy for the entire party and offered to let them stay the night, for they seemed terribly shaken and I thought perhaps a decent night's sleep and a good hot breakfast would help, but it was to no avail; they would go. And shortly after they left, all the rest of my guests departed as well. Louisa is no help; she says I should consider myself fortunate that there were no police required!
Dearest brother, I simply MUST get away. Hudson has just brought me yet another morning paper with...oh, it is too much. Why cannot my life go as I plan it for just ONE NIGHT? I shall see you at Netherfield at once. Your sister,
...invited us to stay the night, despite the fact that we live less than a mile away. She is single-minded and persistent, I will give her credit. And knowing how handsome my husband looks at breakfast, I can't say I blame her for trying to get a similar glimpse of his cousin.
Georgiana, who is only 16, still seemed a bit distressed this morning, so we shall probably take her riding in the park today, but Anne is perfectly calm. She has been receiving floral arrangements since ten o'clock. As for the scandalsheet coverage, it is both irksome, since it exists at all, and entertaining, since it is largely in our favor. I enclose a clipping to illustrate my meaning.
You have permission to share this news with our parents; my husband is writing to Father even as I write to you. I was not expecting Lady Catherine to hear the news of our subterfuge in such a spectacular manner, but I own that it had to happen some time, and I would like to attempt a reconciliation so that I may honor Charlotte Collins' request to be at her side for her firstborn in March.
But I am learning not to make plans too carefully, as Fate seems to have its own unique course for my life. When I think of where I stood a year ago, and where I stand now, so much has happened that I can scarcely believe it. Upon reflection, and if our parish priest will forgive a hint of blasphemy, I think God must have quite a sense of humor. I remain your "lovely and protective" sister,
...the Colonel and I downed a couple of quick shots of brandy (somehow our social events keep ending that way) and we all returned home.
I enclose a couple of newspaper clippings so you can see the worst for yourself. The coverage has been oddly in our favor, but of course we would all prefer to stay as far out of the public eye as possible. I have told Elizabeth that if she wishes to return to Pemberley we can leave at any time, but she seems to be taking the whole thing with more grace than I.
I cannot begin to tell you how terribly sorry I am to have involved your daughter in such an outrageous ruckus, and beg to remain, sir, your most apologetic son-in-law,
My visit to Town proceeds splendidly. It is a very interesting place. I have met a large number of wealthy, titled, and reputable gentlemen. Lord Sheffield is conducting proper introductions on my behalf, and we shall meet some of them again at the Opera next week.
I am cultivating a sudden interest in Continental painting, and Mrs. Sheffield will accompany me to the British Museum to see the Da Vinci drawings. I especially want to view reproductions of his most famous works to see if I resemble...that is, I have an interest in the subject in a general way. The Marchioness Eastbrook sends her regards. Love from your daughter,
My Dear Parents,
Christina and I have received your missive. By all means take your time returning from Lancashire. We would not wish to tear you away from your first grandchild. So sorry to hear that Penny is still unwell. We hope that Richard is holding up.
Town is indescribably dull this season. Nothing interesting is happening and we are all simply falling asleep with boredom. Even the London scandalsheets are as empty as a dry well. Thanks to your head of staff, Hayward House practically runs itself, so there is no need for you to hurry back. In fact, why not stay a few months and have the baby christened at Easter? You may not get a chance to see him again for a while, and it would be such an auspicious start to his life. We are both in good health and send our love to everyone. Your devoted son,
To the McGann Bros. Millinery:
Immediately and at any cost, I must have eight bolts of dark green silk, four bolts of dark green muslin, and two bolts of dark green satin. I do not care how you obtain them, it must be done, and quickly!
Mrs. Shelby, Dressmaker
Tottenham Court Road
Dear Miss De Bourgh,
I hope your guardians will forgive the impropriety of sending you a bouquet without their permission, but I feared they might be too angry at me to accept my apologies. I watched with fascination your triumph throughout the evening of the Twelfth Night Ball and do apologize if you took offense at the comments of my sister, Mrs. Ashton. I remember how you noticed the white mantelpiece flowers but was unable to obtain anything similar. I hope you like baby violets.
I am terribly sorry that my overindulgence led me to attack your cousin. I meant him no harm, in truth, but you were quite right to disarm me. I shall never forget the sight of you standing there in your beautiful gown, all a-quiver in indignation. You will be happy to hear that I paid for my crimes with a swollen nose, an upset stomach, and an atrocious headache which forced me to remain in bed with cold cloths on my forehead all the next day.
And my fencing master, sadly, says you were quite correct. I do swing my arm like a baboon.
Sincerest regrets from the repentant
Mr. Roger Talbot
* An upper class meal in Regency England consisted of soup, several animal dishes, wines, and desserts, and could run three hours or more. It was typical afterwards for men and women to separate into different drawing rooms for conversation.
** "Batti, Batti, O Bel Masetto": Zerlina's gorgeous, seductive aria from Mozart's "Don Giovanni"
*** Napoleon entered Russia from the Niemen River on June 26, 1812, with an army of 400,000 soldiers, and returned to the same spot on December 13 with a mere 30,000 survivors.
My apologies to everyone for dropping this story for a while, but I was rather busy: I worked, played, traveled, fell in love, bought a house, and got married. So thank you all for your kind words and patience.
Friday, January 8, 18--
To Colonel Fitzwilliam, c/o Hayward House, Mayfair
For a military man, you evidently have problems understanding direct orders, so I shall write in simple terms.
What did I ask you to do? One thing. Keep Anne out of trouble.
Did you do it? You did not.
And how long did it take you to disobey this single, eminently reasonable request? Two weeks.
I am glad I overruled your mother when she suggested you were suited to the diplomatic corps.
Lady Catherine is apoplectic. She has been raving like -- I don't know, like a mad raving thing, even the poodle was ducking -- and she is determined to journey to Town to retrieve her daughter from the clutches of "grossly inadequate supervision." She is also determined to meet with the Marchioness Eastbrook and with Lord Sheffield, who were supposed to prevent this sort of thing. Obviously she has not yet discerned that it was really Anne's cousins who invited her to Town. However, if she does not meet with the Marchioness and the Earl, even my sister will gradually perceive that a trick that has been practiced upon her and poor Anne will bear the brunt of her wrath.
I know full well that Anne will feel honour-bound to comply with her mother's wishes. Therefore you, son, bear full responsibility for working out a solution and saving my niece's health and happiness. How you will ever manage it I cannot begin to speculate, but you have until Tuesday evening to figure out your next move. Our little party here at Rosings has managed to delay Lady Catherine's arrival until then. You owe your life to Mrs. Collins.
I do not want to hear that you have ducked out of town for the relative safety of the artillery corps. Be a man and face your Aunt Catherine with hat in hand. And for God's sake, can't you stick to harmless afternoon teas?
Henry, Earl of Matlock
Do not ever, ever leave your rapier where drunken louts can get at it again! Whatever were you thinking? You could have been killed and broken my poor heart! Why not write the words "I am determined to worry my mother to an early grave" on your uniform? And what about Anne? If she had been run through, however would we have explained things to Lady Catherine? Her only surviving child, murdered in a drunken brawl! I am all aghast!
There, that feels better. Now on to the real substance of my correspondence.
Your father is writing you a separate letter from mine, and I fear he may sound a bit more put out than is normally his wont. Forgive him, please; he is distressed at the condition of his hearing after spending the morning in his sister's company. The news left us rather startled. Not about the mayhem, of course, since that is only to be expected in the life of a still-single gentleman, even if he is no longer in the first flush of youth. But our niece Anne, gorgeous and brilliant? How extraordinary! We are delighted she has been such a success, despite the unfortunate attendant circumstances.
Lady Catherine seemed more upset about the contact with the Darcys than about the scandalsheet coverage, for I have spied her in the sitting room going over the paragraphs about the sparkling debut of the "Mona Lisa." She is, of course, planning to come to London to supervise Anne, but shall not be departing until Tuesday next. Your father happened to be grumbling about the situation to dear Mrs. Collins (her husband is a very fortunate man), who instantly thought of a suitable sermon topic and passed it along to Mr. Collins, who presented the idea to your Aunt at tea, which is why Sunday's sermon will be on the parable of the prodigal son, dedicated to fortifying Catherine for her journey.
Mrs. Collins further requested her company for a visit to the village on Monday, as she required Lady Catherine's advice on suitable patterns and materials for baby clothes. I shall reiterate. An entire day in the village with Lady Catherine taking advice on baby clothes. Either Topper's or Beauchamp's in Oxford Street would be suitable for purchasing the Reverend's wife a nice, expensive present.
On that subject, what did Henry and Eleanor send you for Christmas? They had made for us the most darling engravings of our two sweet grandchildren. You should have seen the letter which accompanied the gifts; simply filled with their joy in watching little Harry learn to read and Abby speaking her first words! It is such a comfort to have one son so well settled, and to know that his dear, lovely wife has made him the happiest of men. And while you are in Town, do take the time to call upon Mrs. Fields in Clifford Street and convey your parents' respects, for we neglected to send her our best wishes upon the recent birthday of her beautiful and witty daughter, Teresa.
But I digress. Go back to tearing up the Town, and rest assured that I have every confidence in your ability to resolve this little problem. I am certain that a young gentleman of your resourcefulness will manage the situation in a dignified and prudent manner. Fondest wishes from your devoted mother,
Abigail, Countess of Matlock
How DARE you! You may think I live in ignorance here in Kent, but all the news reaches me from Town within two days. I know all about the infamous ball you attended with my darling daughter Anne. You know perfectly well that she is not to be in contact with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and his upstart wife, yet when you saw them you failed to depart immediately! How must she have felt standing in the same room all evening with the man who snubbed her hand and ruined all her mother's hopes? Is such an insult to be borne?
But just one disaster was not enough for you, was it, nephew? You had to involve her in a fight! Heavens above, have you no sense of dignity or honor? Using my fragile, delicate flower as a human shield! She could have been stabbed, or fainted, or shown her calves, or...any number of things! And the scandalsheet coverage! I am at a loss for words! I am flabbergasted, disgusted, shocked, and appalled! Now what will happen to her St. James presentation?
I was aware that you have been in contact with Anne while she is under the protection of Lord Sheffield and the Marchioness Eastbrook, but I had no idea that their supervision of her has been so lax! I am certain there has been some terrible misunderstanding and am coming directly to Matlock House on Tuesday evening to take Anne's social supervision into my own competent hands, and to interview her potential husbands personally so that I may select the most appropriate choice for my son-in-law.
And I am not surprised that a De Bourgh is the most ravishing debutante of the season, but did you have to allow her to be given a nickname -- and after one of those immoral Italians, too!
My dear Anne,
Have no fear, my darling, I am coming to rescue you. I have read all about the traumas and horrors you have suffered in London and am coming to protect you from any further contact with your shameful cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy and his upstart country wife. How Marchioness Eastbrook and Lord Sheffield can have been so inattentive to your supervision I know not, for people of proper breeding are usually much more cautious about these things. After I ascertain how such a dreadful mistake occurred, I will take your London season in hand myself, be at your side for your court presentation, and decide which of your suitors is appropriate to be your husband.
Take naps several times daily to preserve your strength, and use your face creams. Avoid any fatiguing activities that would endanger your constitution, such as dancing, music, walking, riding, or conversing on national affairs. Do remember to dress in a way which preserves your distinction of rank, and eschew these lurid modern styles which display allurements that God meant to be properly hidden. And if for reasons heaven only knows, you are still fascinated by plant life, do be certain not to discuss this topic with anyone. For a young lady to appear excessively knowledgeable is highly improper and forward. It makes one seem domineering, which will never do until after you are married.
I will be at Matlock House on Tuesday evening and expect to see you and Colonel Fitzwilliam awaiting my arrival. Yours affectionately,
Dear Mr. Darcy,
I am delighted that we are beginning to strike up such a regular correspondence, sir. It seems that every time you attend a social event, I receive a fascinating letter of apology. Mrs. Bennet enjoyed a brief half-hour of fainting and hysterics before running out to share the news with the rest of the village, providing me with the additional benefit of a nice quiet day at home.
Your apology is accepted. I am delighted for you to continue escorting my little Lizzy to all the events you please, as long as you understand that if any harm comes to her, I will be forced to kill you.
Congratulations on the spectacular debut of your cousin Anne. When can I send Kitty to you? She is doing nothing interesting at present, as she informs me several times daily. But as you all seem rather preoccupied, you do not by any chance need someone to look after the Pemberley library while you are in Town? Yours etc.,
Saturday, January 9
Thank you for your explanation of the ball, which arrived, alas, a bit belatedly. Shortly after waking today we received an express from Caroline announcing her imminent arrival. Scarcely an hour later she appeared at the front door, furious and dripping wet. The coach's rear wheels had become stuck in the mire within sight of the house, and she insisted on slogging through the snowfall to reach our door rather than permit the coachman to find a cart for her. Before we even had time to show her to a warm bath, Mama arrived, shrieking that you had been run through. Papa had received a letter from Mr. Darcy about the ball and she took the news with her usual restraint.
Caroline then turned on Mama in a fury, calling her a silly woman without an ounce of sense, and Mama retaliated by charging her with being a negligent hostess who had placed you in harm's way on purpose, and Caroline said that her energies would have been wasted on you and it would have been better to place Mama in harm's way, and Mama accused her of being a proud overdressed parakeet, and Caroline accused Mama of being a fat vulgar social schemer, and just when it looked as though they would lay hands on each other, I heard an outraged voice bellow, "LADIES! DESIST!" and had to look around the room before realizing it came from my husband.
Eventually, however, they saw reason -- pursuant to a good breakfast and a few hot toddies in separate dining rooms. They offered mutual apologies, not in especially good grace, but with some gentle persuasion that they had both been under too much strain of late and ought not to give relief to their feelings by abusing one another.
A few hours later we received your letter about the ball, which explained a good deal. Poor Caroline. Charles attempted to sooth her wounded feelings by pointing out that HER name was never mentioned in the papers except briefly, but for some reason that seemed to make her more upset.
On another subject, Lydia has decided not to visit us at Netherfield after all because she and Wickham are going to London. It seems that Wickham has risen to become personal assistant to the Colonel of his Newcastle regiment, and Lydia is a great friend of the Colonel's wife, so they are accompanying them while the Colonel is on military business in Town. It is an excellent excuse for the change of scene they wanted. I am very happy for both of them and would have sent the money they requested to cover their travel expenses except that you wished me to do nothing of the kind. I know this news may concern you, but have no fear of encountering them by chance. They are staying in the Westminster quarters for military officers and wives, and move in quite different circles from you.
Dearest Charles has just kissed the back of my neck and asked me to rub his aching head, so I must close. I remain your loving sister,
Charles wishes to add a note for your husband...
Darcy -- Please consider assisting me by scouting out estates near Pemberley when you are next in Derbyshire, as I begin to have a nostalgic longing for that beautiful part of the country and Jane would be delighted to live near her favourite sister. -- Bingley
I apologize for the return address on this notice as being from Henry and Eleanor, but Lady Catherine would open it if I signed my name.
You are correct that Anne is ill-prepared to face her mother's wrath. When informed that Lady Catherine intended to take control of her London season, she was immediately seized with a fit of coughing and sniffling, and Mrs. Sheffield says she is beginning to be feverish.
However, I believe I have figured out a solution. Suppose Lady Catherine were to meet the Marchioness Eastbrook, who presented a plausible excuse for the scandal and persuaded her to let Anne stay with the Sheffields? Lady Catherine has been overruled by a Marchioness's title in a letter, so surely she can be subdued in person.
The Marchioness Eastbrook is, of course, a stranger to our family, but there is no law saying her place may not be taken by an impostor under such extraordinary circumstances - someone of generous and kind spirit, someone who has a way with imperious and demanding sorts; someone whose manners and breeding could easily be mistaken for those of a Marchioness. Darcy and I have put our heads together, and we think we know of someone who will do.
Think proudly on the family gift of resourcefulness which appears so abundantly in
Dear Aunt Gardiner,
My Dear Mrs. Annesley,
You can have no idea how pleased I was to receive your missive. We are all very well, thank you, although still recovering from the events you read about. Please rest assured that I do not take any offense at your contacting me. You were correct in assuming that our current arrangement for Georgiana's supervision could stand some improvement.
I am sorry, for your sake, to hear that your present position is not amenable to you, but for my sake I am delighted. I only regret not contacting you earlier to inform you how long we planned to remain in Town. It would be my pleasure to employ you as Miss Darcy's tutor for the remainder of the London season. I am certain that we can work out an arrangement which will allow you ample time to care for your ailing father.
My sister misses you greatly and has often spoken of you to her cousin, Anne de Bourgh, the one you read about. If anything, Miss Darcy is better prepared for London than Miss de Bourgh, so we have you to thank for the excellent training my sister received in one short year.
My wife and I, together with Miss Darcy, would not wish to inconvenience you while you are occupied with filial duties, and would be happy to call upon you at your home. Would Wednesday afternoon at four be acceptable? If not, please do notify us; otherwise, we shall see you then.
Yours most gratefully,
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy
I am aware of your fine work carrying out your duties via post. Your secretary Lieutenant Hawkinson has been efficient and hard working, but he says he owes a great deal to the clarity of your instructions. Let me tell you what a pleasant surprise it is to have a Colonel who can actually design and carry out plans without a hitch. Therefore, since you already happen to be in Town, I have an assignment for you.
As you are aware, it looks as though the Continental troubles are coming to a head. Since the Frog's troops have been decimated by the Moscow disaster, we must seize the chance to reinforce our numbers. A few weeks ago General Wellesley put in an order that all Northern regiments, even the militia, be completely reorganized to accomodate what we hope shall be a final push to crush the d--- Frogs once and for all.
The Northern regiments' Commanding Officers have been meeting in Town for the last week to organize this effort, and you are ordered to present yourself at our staff meeting at the War Rooms tomorrow at nine in the morning. I know I gave my officers leave to have a restful holiday for a change, but our plans are suffering from the usual glitch -- Colonel Baxter of the Newcastle Regulars -- and we need you to talk some sense into him. I give up.
By the by, my wife has shown me some scandalsheet stories -- don't know what she sees in such nonsense, but women, you know -- and they claim you were involved in a fight at some frivolous society ball and needed a lady to protect you. I realize the papers are full of balderdash and not to be trusted, but do try to keep a lower profile; the regiment has its reputation to consider.
Monday morning at the War Rooms, Westminster, nine sharp. Cancel your schedule and confirm by local mail runner. Your Commander and His Majesty's Loyal And Obedient Servant,
Message received. I shall appear as ordered Monday morning, nine sharp. Fortunately, I don't have much else to do right about now.
Yours and His Majesty's Loyal and Obedient Servant,
My dear Darcy,
I was very glad to see you again at the Twelfth Night Ball. It had indeed been too long since we last met. You have my sympathies for the newspaper attention, since I have always known how carefully you guard your privacy. However, rest assured that it will die down eventually. And may I reiterate my congratulations upon your choice of wife; Mrs. Darcy is perfectly delightful.
By now a man of your astuteness has perceived that I write in order to beg further acquaintance with your bewitching cousin, Miss de Bourgh. I hope you will not think me presumptuous in wishing for more association with that charming lady, but she is so very different from other young ladies in Town -- indeed, all that is kind, gentle, and sincere -- that my one too-brief dance with her was a true joy.
Before too many other gentlemen jump in ahead of me, may I beg for the honor of inviting you and your relations to dinner? If you have no fixed engagements on Monday and do not disapprove of my seeking to know her better, I would be delighted to see you all at seven o'clock. Yours most sincerely,
Albert, Lord Channing
...my private box at the Opera, the perfect place to see and be seen, where we may enjoy the enchanting music of "The Magic Flute" on Tuesday evening...
James, Marquis Newbury
...to my father's home on Thursday to see our family's collection of rare tropical flowers, with utmost propriety, of course...
The Honorable Godfrey Bledsoe
...my beagles would love to be introduced to her, and so would my mother...
Sir Ralph Wittleman
For darling Miss de Bourgh, the true "Mona Lisa" --
When I hear women's laughter, see the color green, or smell gardenias, I am consumed with thoughts of you. To have you so near, yet so far away, is torture. I cannot eat. I get no rest. My heart is aflame, my soul quakes. I must see you again.
I am aware that your relations disapprove of me, but how can I resist you? Your soul calls to me as a kindred spirit from afar. I must, I will find some way of placing this letter in your hands, for what are obstacles to a desperate man? To gaze upon your beautiful eyes, to hear your dulcet voice, to hold your graceful figure in my arms, I would brave all the devils of hell. Please have mercy upon my suffering and agree to a clandestine meeting. In your tiny hands you hold the only hope of happiness for your most ardent and faithful admirer,
Mr. Roger Talbot
Monday, January 11
Dear Colonel Fitzwilliam,
My wife and I joined Mr. Darcy and Lizzy today for luncheon to discuss the problem of Miss de Bourgh and her overbearing mother. I regret that you were, at the last moment, unable to join us, but realize that duty often calls at inconvenient moments. However, I feel it necessary to make our position clear.
As I understand the situation, you and Mr. Sheffield removed Miss de Bourgh from her mother's dominance by falsifying an invitation from a Marchioness that you do not know. Anne was then involved in a fight, her social life has been exposed in all the papers, and you need someone to impersonate a Marchioness to overrule Lady Catherine before she ruins Anne's London season or takes her back to Kent.
Well. And I thought Lizzy's engagement was complicated.
My wife and I have a difference of opinion on this subject. It seems to me that an impersonation would be unlikely to succeed, and that the best solution is for Miss de Bourgh simply to say "no" to her mother and ask to remain in London with her new friends. Though this viewpoint may be legally dubious, I truly believe that where a parent's taste and judgment are wanting, a judicious application of tactful assertion is called for. Lizzy, for example, has never had any difficulty in standing up to her mother, and it has been all to the good, or she would have been the wife of Mr. Collins by now.
Theresa, on the other hand, points out that whereas Lizzy has always enjoyed the support and encouragement of her father, Miss de Bourgh is obligated to obey her one surviving parent. She notes that Miss de Bourgh has been away from her mother scarcely five weeks, hardly enough time to develop a newfound sense of courage. And Theresa is very well accustomed to dealing with short and demanding temperaments - our children, I mean, not me.
After taking into consideration Lady Catherine's behavior towards the Darcys, I will consent to loan you my wife on Wednesday evening as long as everyone understands that, if anything goes wrong, you have never heard of me. Yours in stealth,
Mr. E. Gardiner
Per your orders, here is my report of the incident at today's staff meeting at the War Rooms and some suggestions to prevent such incidents in the future.
As ordered, I presented myself at Westminster this morning to spend the day translating the Northern Generals' orders in terms understandable to Colonel Baxter of the Newcastle Regulars. Upon arrival I received your briefing and was glad to find that you had set aside a separate room for us to hold our meeting. However, I was shocked to discover that Baxter was accompanied by his personal assistant, Lieutenant George Wickham.
In confidence, General, and I trust this matter will not carry beyond your eyes, Lieutenant Wickham is my family's evil genius. He grew up on my uncle's estate in Derbyshire, and since attaining his majority has caused us no end of trouble. He is grossly unprincipled and financially extravagant, and we have bailed him out of trouble several times.
Wickham's face showed that he was as shocked as I by this unexpected meeting, but there was nothing for it but to greet each other with cold civility and carry on the conference as best we could. Unfortunately, his mental capacities are a perfect match for Colonel Baxter's, so you can imagine what a morning I suffered. After three hours, they still could not fathom the answer to the question, "If you have two hundred troops and the War Office transfers forty of them, how many do you have left for regular duty?" My sympathies on spending an entire week dealing with them.
At twelve o'clock we mercifully broke for luncheon and you requested that I spend the hour with them, chatting on non-military subjects to clear the air. There was no possible way you could have realized, General, that Wickham is the last man on earth I ever want to see again, much less sit next to at luncheon, but that was hardly the time and place to bring up the issue. We were all supposed to share a table with General Crane, General Chesterton, and Colonel West.
So I took my seat, and what did Wickham do first but brazenly drop my name and that of my family as though we were old friends. He then carried on telling the most outrageous lies about his close friendship with the Earl of Matlock's family and how he hopes to see us again often while he is in Town. He knew full well that I would not call him a liar to his face in front of the Commanding Officers, so I was forced to suffer in silence. After our table had consumed two bottles of wine and was well into its third, Wickham asked me where I was staying.
I was about to prevaricate when General Crane broke in, "Hayward House, Mayfair, isn't it, Fitzwilliam? I seem to recall my wife telling me something of the sort, from some gossip column or another. Why aren't you at Matlock House?"
"With all my relations out of Town this season, I find the society of Hayward House more pleasing than an empty set of rooms, sir," I mumbled.
"All your relations? Did I not just read that you attended a ball with your cousins? What were their names...Darcy, wasn't it?"
"Mr. Darcy!" said Wickham. "Is he here? What a pleasant surprise! Do you know, General, that Darcy is my brother-in-law?" (This happens to be true, owing to an unfortunate twist of fate which would take too long to relate here.)
"Indeed, I did not. Well, Fitzwilliam, with such a family connection, perhaps you can get Mrs. Wickham to protect you at your next function."
Wickham looked surprised. "Protect him? How so, sir?"
"Why, didn't you know, man? I thought with your close acquaintance you'd have picked up everything. All over the ėMorning Post.' The Colonel here attended a ball last week and allowed some sottish puppy to get hold of his rapier and lunge at him, if you please. He was saved by a few ladies who clung to him like cheap trousers!"
There was uproarious laughter, and I must have turned as red as my jacket. "The papers are full of balderdash and not to be trusted," I muttered.
At that General Chesterton broke in, "Ah, Fitzwilliam, you're not getting off that easily. My sister Camilla was there. She came to tea the next day and divulged the whole story."
"Really!" Wickham's face lit up like St. Paul's at Christmas. He grinned at me. "Well, well, Fitzwilliam, just can't stay out of trouble, can you? Who were the ladies? Anyone I know, or just a bit of show for the evening?"
"Some female relations," I hedged.
A sensible man would have noticed that I wished to change the subject. Colonel Baxter is not a sensible man. "Which ones?" he asked.
Forced to reply, I answered, "My cousins, Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh. Although the hostess, Miss Bingley, was also involved."
Here again, General, I must beg your indulgence for complete discretion. Wickham attempted to elope with Miss Darcy eighteen months ago in order to secure her inheritance. Fortunately, her brother discovered the plan and put a stop to it at once. He and I share guardianship of Miss Darcy, and if only I had been present when the plan was discovered, the undertakers would have had to comb several counties to find Wickham's remains. Miss Darcy was crushed by Wickham's perfidy and is only just now beginning to come to herself.
Now Wickham is married, and his wife and Darcy's wife are sisters. Throughout the conversation at table, it became obvious to me that Wickham is still scheming for Darcy or myself to assist him in society and in making his fortune. Apparently he hopes that we shall forgive and forget the incident with Miss Darcy and support him in the name of "family connections."
At all odds, the discourse became more and more unbearable, with the senior officers plotting ways to place a female guard of honor around me and pay Wickham to escort me everywhere in case of further swordfights. They even suggested that I invite the Wickhams to the next ball! I would sooner kiss a pig.
After lunch we broke away from our tables and Wickham retired to the men's room. I followed just in time to see him primping in the mirror. But then he saw me in the reflection and said, "You see, Fitzwilliam, things have turned out for the best all around. Your London circle sounds like perfectly charming company. You've heard the other officers; let us put the past behind us. In the interests of my wife's connection to your cousin Darcy, I see no reason why our circles should not meet."
That was the last straw. I grabbed Wickham by his jacket collar, backed him up against the wall, and made him understand, in no uncertain terms, that his interference in my affairs was unwelcome. You demanded to know exactly what I said that started the scuffle. Expletives removed, it was:
"By God, Wickham, you filthy b------, stay away from my family. And I don't care if your wife is a b----- duchess; if you so much as glance at any of my cousins again, she'll have to sew you trousers with the hole in back so you can take a p---."
And that, General, is how Wickham got a few minor bruises, I lost a button off my sleeve, and six-sergeants-at-arms were called to intervene - and, I would add, there would have been no need for such intervention if General Crane hadn't happened to step in at precisely that moment and assume the worst.
Yes, I realize that I embarrassed you and behaved in a manner unbecoming to an officer and gentleman, but please understand that I have ladies to protect. Demote me if you must.
Suggestions for avoiding such incidents in the future:
1) Execute Lieutenant Wickham. If unfeasible, post him to the artillery front.
2) Send troops to shut down the "Morning Post."
3) Never make me sit with Colonel Baxter or General Crane again.
4) Do not serve spirits at luncheon.
Yours and His Majesty's Loyal and Obedient Servant,
Tuesday, January 12
Dear Mr. Darcy,
I have received your kind offer, and would be delighted to receive you, Mrs. Darcy, and Miss Darcy at my home on Wednesday at four for tea. I am most grateful that you understand my situation.
I was very flattered to hear that Miss Darcy speaks so highly of me. I assure you that I have performed no miracles, but simple advised her to behave as though her mother is always looking over her shoulder. Might I be so bold as to suggest that, if Miss de Bourgh suffers any social awkwardness, you might tell her the same thing. Please do bring her along as well, if you like. I remain your humble and obedient servant,
You will laugh when you hear the news: I have succeeded in returning to Town to disport myself! Is it not a fine joke, when all my relations think me to be freezing in Newcastle all winter? And here I find myself in time for a Season. It is too droll!
As I wrote before, my dear Wickham has been named assistant to Colonel Baxter, and must accompany him to Town on all matters of business. We are now staying in the Westminster Officers' Quarters; our space is rather small and lacks somewhat for style, but I daresay I shall add some pink lace curtains and make something of it.
While Wickham is on business, Martha, the Colonel's wife, has been taking me about to visit all her friends, and we have such a splendid time chatting that I learn all the good gossip in Town. Yesterday we went to take tea with her cousin Agatha Plimpton, the one who told us all about how Mr. Darcy had really conducted himself before marrying Lizzy. Mrs. Plimpton goes everywhere and hears everything, so already I am very well connected, and before long I should know all the best tidbits about everyone!
The latest is that Mr. Darcy's unwed cousin Anne de Bourgh is all the talk of Town, even though she must be over 20, and has been dubbed some silly French name. All the gentlemen treat her like she's made of gold, and the press have written her up as though she is quite the beauty, which is very silly, for Mrs. Plimpton says she's horribly plain. Mrs. Plimpton met her at a party in Mayfair not three days ago and says there is nothing in her, and she grants that Miss de Bourgh may be dressed like royalty, but that's no reason to treat her as such, even though she is of so much property, for anyone with money can dress well, and that's very far from being beautiful.
Anyway, she's drawing the attention of everyone else's beaus, which is so dreadfully unfair, for Mrs. Plimpton's sister Margaret, who is also unwed, had been introduced to some rich man of whom they had very high hopes, and he spent the whole afternoon talking to Miss de Bourgh instead! So Margaret told Mrs. Plimpton that it's a case of Emperor's New Clothes, and just as they were saying this, Miss de Bourgh passed by and looked at them oddly, and they both giggled and laughed like anything, which ought to put her in her place. Fancy her thinking herself so very above all the other ladies just because she has an inheritance!
So I write to tell you, Kitty, that you must join us soon, for whatever Miss de Bourgh can do, you can certainly do better. Tell father to give you a good sum of pocket money, for you must have new clothes, and I know just what would suit you best - or even better, you could wear some of my old things which I used when I caught Wickham (as they've been proven to work), and I will get new ones. There will be parties and balls every night, and if I have not got you a husband by the end of the Season, think me no longer your affectionate sister,
I have read your report. While I understand your aggravation with Lieutenant Wickham and sympathize with your dilemma, I cannot tolerate infighting between officers, even those of different regiments. The military cannot survive its present challenges if it suffers breakdowns in internal discipline. I am aware that Wickham is not one of the brightest lights in the service and that he has taken advantage of your family and your patience, but I must insist that you rise above his disagreeable presence and learn to withstand his taunts.
In recompense for this incident, Wickham's Commanding General Ffolkes and I have decided that you and Wickham must spend tomorrow in each other's company from 9 o'clock in the morning until 5 o'clock in the evening. Do as you wish - hear a concert, go riding, what you will - but absolutely no fighting. You will either learn to tolerate Wickham's existence, or punish yourself far better than ever I could.
You will jointly write and sign a report on how you spent the day, to be placed on my desk Thursday morning.
Your Commander and His Majesty's Loyal and Obedient Servant,
Here's a little something extra to help out with the rent. I hope you and Pa and Sally and Hugh and Davey are well. I also hope you notice how my writing is improving. Mrs. Tylsdale says my grammar needs work but that I already spell quite nicely, so I have you to thank for all those sacrifices you made so I could learn to read.
I've only been here four months, but Mrs. Tylsdale was right about the Earl and Countess of Matlock being good folk to work for. I know you were worried about me going the way of poor Lucy Smith or Hetty Barrows, so I'll tell you again that you needn't worry about His Lordship or his sons taking an undue interest in me; it is not that kind of house. A couple of young footmen, Peter and Jamie, have been flirting, but Mr. Tylsdale has warned them off and his word is law downstairs. I'll be certain to keep my nose clean and out of trouble so I don't lose this position, as there's plenty of others who would want it.
It was sweet of you to knit me a warm scarf for Christmas. I think of you whenever I wear it. Matlock House was empty as it has been for most of the season, what with the family mostly in the North this year, but their younger son the Colonel is in Town staying with friends and drops by most days to pick up the post and check on things.
Well, just yesterday afternoon we got word that the Earl's sister is coming for a stay, and we were all aflutter since most of the maids are away visiting their parents on account of the slow season. Such short notice, too! If it were the Earl I daresay he would have been more considerate, and I know it's not my place to comment, but still...anyway, we're at half staff and had to take our hands to every possible thing to get ready in time. Mrs. Tylsdale assigned me to mend the curtains in the small drawing room due to my delicate touch with a needle, but I couldn't get around to it until today since I had to attend to the main parlor and two washrooms first.
So at five o'clock this evening I was measuring the curtains and sewing and rehanging to see if I'd got it right (and quite a job it was by myself, let me tell you), when what do I hear but the Colonel's voice telling Mr. Tylsdale he doesn't want supper yet, he's going to spend a little time in the main drawing room before his Aunt arrives. And I hear him shut himself up in the room next door. He is a rather nice looking young man so I could not help but take a quick peek through the door crack, and by heaven, Mum, I thought he had taken leave of his senses.
First he pours a large glass of whiskey and drains it, and he's not supposed to be a drinking sort. Then he paces up and down the drawing room, rubbing his hands over his face and taking deep breaths like he's going to declare war or propose marriage or something. Then he starts talking to himself! Either he stares at the floor, then suddenly looks up with a strange smile and says, "How lovely to see you!" or he shakes his head somberly with, "I can quite understand your feelings, so let me explain..." Then he throws up his hands and kicks his feet and mutters something I can't hear. And then he starts again. I thought perhaps he was rehearsing amateur theatricals because he pulled out a sword from over the fireplace and pretended to fight someone, right there in the drawing room.
This goes on for half an hour and it was all I could do to keep sewing, I tell you, when Mr. Tylsdale enters the drawing room and announces, "Lady Catherine's carriage has arrived, sir," at which the Colonel straightens up, takes a breath, brushes his coattails, and marches out like he's making an Entrance, if you understand my meaning. So I go back to my curtains. Not five minutes later I hear footsteps and "Thank you, that will be all," in the haughtiest woman's voice you can imagine, and a moment later, "So, nephew, what have you to say for yourself? And where is Anne? I insist on seeing her this instant! I shall brook no opposition!"
Of course I couldn't resist taking just a quick peek. Oh, Mum! She's like an overweight mongoose! Those squinty eyes and sharp ears, looking at her nephew like she was ready to eat him to the bone, and clutching that brown fur muff like it was fresh kill...sorry, I suppose I've been listening overmuch to Mr. McAfee's tales of India. Anyway, the poor Colonel was hard put to keep looking her in the eye, you could see as much, and when she finally stopped squawking about showing no respect for his elders (and he a man of nearly thirty-one!), he had to stammer something about seeing her daughter tomorrow evening because she is attending the Opera with a Duke's eldest son tonight, and has engagements throughout the next day.
Well, then she goes off something dreadful about how he's been using her daughter to shield himself from a fight, which was terribly unfair, for the Colonel was set upon by some drunken fop at a ball, Mum, and it wasn't his fault, either; it was all the talk of the house. So the Colonel begs to differ, but Lady Mongoose jumps in with something I don't understand about "contact with that disgraceful couple," and "our good family name" and I don't know what until I wonder he can keep his countenance straight.
And she says, "Very well, I shall meet with her and the Marchioness tomorrow evening, though I am appalled at your lack of planning. Now I shall go and change for dinner." But she makes a mistake and walks towards the small drawing room door instead of the hallway! Understand, there's no place to hide and no other door, and I was certain I was about to get the sack. Sure enough, she opens the door and shrieks, "Good HEAVENS! How long have you been here? Nephew! Who is this girl? She has been spying on us! Dismiss her immediately! Insolent girl, how DARE you!"
I was so terrified I was about to cry and I couldn't think of a word to say, but just then the Colonel walks in and sees me. And you'll never guess what he says next! "Oh, never fear, Aunt Catherine, that's poor Maggie, the new housemaid. We took her in out of Christian charity, you know. She's quite deaf." Then he stares at me with a look of such desperation that I don't know how I managed not to burst out laughing, must have been the shock, I suppose. Deaf ! But I play along and say nothing, just curtsy my best. Lady Mongoose looks suspicious and who can blame her, but finally she says, "Oh, very well, but do not let such a thing happen again. Servants next door to a private family conversation. It is quite irregular!" Private conversation? If it had happened at three in the morning she'd have woken the whole block!
So all is well, but I hope she heads back to Kent soon, as she tends to stare me in the face and shout at the top of her lungs as though that would make me understand her better, and if I wasn't deaf before, Mum, I may very well be by the time her stay is over. It was quite the scare but it looks as though I still have my job, and a good thing too, for Mrs. Tylsdale says if my maths improve I may make a good head of house some day. I love you all and miss you dreadfully, and you will always have the gratitude of your loving daughter,
Wednesday, January 13
MORNING POST, the thirteenth of January
Seen at the Opera House on Tuesday evening: Miss Anne de Bourgh - the "Mona Lisa," whose gentle, yet mysterious, manner has already captured the hearts of many admirers. Accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Sheffield, she glided gracefully through the crowd in a remarkable royal blue gown. Her regal presence upon the arm of James, Marquis Newbury, sent tongues wagging. Could it be that an attachment is developing, and the Marquis, who has heretofore proven impervious to Cupid's arrows, may be struck to the heart at last?
Excitement surrounds the lady wherever she goes, for an unknown gentleman was seen throwing a note to her outside the Opera House before exiting, pursued by a bear (actually the Marquis). No word yet on how Lady de Bourgh of Kent views these developments, though they have no effect upon the pale, serene countenance of her daughter.
Expect royal blue and dark green to be the colors of choice for ladies of fashion this season...
Emilia, Marchioness Eastbrook, subsequent to a prolonged illness, on Monday evening at her home in Belgrave Square. The Marchioness, known to her friends as "Emmy," was a longtime patroness of the Council for the Improvement of Fallen Women, the Anglican Ladies' League Benevolent Fund, and the English Porcelain Appreciation Society. She is survived by....
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Sheffield,
Thank you so very much for your hospitality. You were exceedingly kind to take me into your home at a moment's notice, and to aid me in obtaining a holiday from my mother. However, I have decided to gather my courage and take a bold step forward alone.
I have always known that I am not very pretty, nor as clever or witty as Mrs. Sheffield and Mrs. Darcy, but while surrounded by such welcoming and generous company, these disadvantages did not seem to matter overmuch. On Sunday at tea, however, I could not help but overhear the conversation of some ladies who seemed to see through me. That event made me worry that I cannot possibly hope to sustain this deception - that I am not the beautiful and brilliant figure everyone thinks I am. I have decided that I would rather be seen for myself, even plain and untalented, than risk further humiliation.
I know that, with Mama coming to Town to take control of my Season, my cousins have undertaken an elaborate plan to send her back to Kent alone. I cannot believe that this plan will succeed, yet I have not quite the courage to face her out, either. Yesterday, though, I saw a glimmer of hope, and realized that I know someone who holds the key to my future.
I know that I am departing quite early in the day, but I must have some time to reflect before I go to meet the person upon whom all my hopes of future happiness depend. Thank you again for everything you have done and for all your attempts to assist me.
Yours in grateful sincerity,
Miss Anne de Bourgh
You and your husband need to come to our home at once. There is not a second to lose. I am very sorry to tell you this, but Anne de Bourgh has disappeared, and there is too much reason to fear she has eloped. We have no idea where she may be. I have discovered a shaky two-page note which says - never mind. Get in a coach and speed here immediately. Yours,
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