Treasured– Chapter Nine

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Chapter Nine

 

Will and Charles consumed their supper the following evening in silence. Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana had already retired to their rooms. An ungentlemanly case of nerves caused their disquiet. This evening, Charles’s footman would attempt to get Wickham drunk in the Meryton Tavern. Will had spoken to the young man, and he needed minimal coaching the play the sort of person Wickham would feel most comfortable around: an easy mark in cards and a drunken lightweight with just enough money for Wickham to win a few pounds. Will had once heard Wickham tell Sam to be careful of playing with the wealthy or titled. At the time, Will the thought that showed unusual insight on Wickham’s behalf before determining it only meant Wickham had learned those gentlemen did not always honor their debts and men such as he were powerless to call their honor into question.

It had rained all day making a visit to Longbourn impossible. Will and Charles consoled their troubled minds and lonely hearts with dull rounds of billiards. At last, the evening came, and Evans was sent on his way. It was after midnight before he returned. The servant was brought to Charles’s library.

“Well, man?” Charles asked after Evans had consumed a liberal amount of coffee to sober himself.

Will held his breath. Until this moment, he had not realized that he had begun to hope. He had not thought the plan would work. He told himself it could not so he ought not to expect it. Will wryly mused to himself that by now he ought to be used to his heart deciding whatever it wished regardless of his determination.

“He barely tasted a drop all night,” Evans said.

“What?” Charles cried.

“I suspected he could hold his liquor well,” Will said with an annoyed sigh. “I had not thought he would resist entirely.”

“It was not until the other men accused him of being a Methodist or a teetotaler that he drank more than a sip or two of his pint. At that point, I was at such a disadvantage that although he paid for several rounds, there was no getting him drunk.”

Will stroked his jaw in thought. Growing up, his father had told him never to overindulge, especially in a business meeting. Wickham had often heard same advice. Did he feel he had a reason to be on guard and keep his head clear at the Tavern? Had he suspected their plan? No one knew of it—even Georgiana. She was upstairs during the conversation and Evans was not asked until just before he left to perform the duty. Will sighed. The truth was the tactic was probably too obvious. They might have had better luck hoping to bribe one of Wickham’s usual drinking fellows. Of course, they then ran the risk of the men being loyal to Wickham and not keeping the secret. “Did you speak with any other people present? Did anyone remark on his usual habits?”

“Aye,” said Evans. “One or two of them said they never saw him drink. A few others acknowledged that he never drank to excess. Although, he would sometimes buy rounds for others when in a particularly good mood and spent much of his free time in the establishment.”

“It seemed like he was a fixture there?” Charles asked.

“More so than other officers, the footman answered.

“How curious,” Charles observed.

“Someone told me he was regarded as the most alert officer Colonel Forster had.”

“Very interesting,” Will answered. “Thank you, that will be all.”

Charles pressed a coin or two into the young man’s hand before he left the room. Charles shut the door then turned to his companion. “Well? “Do you want to try again? Perhaps we could bribe one of his cronies—”

Will interrupted, “I do not think that will work. I had considered it as well. Considering Wickham’s mission, he must think it best not to dull his senses. Unlike his colleagues, he cannot afford to relax when his shift is over. I wonder at his diligence, however. If his intention really is to wound or kill me then why must he worry about relaxing in the Tavern? I would never frequent the place. Surely he would want stealth and an alibi on his side when he perpetrates the act.”

“I do not doubt that,” Charles said. “If he were here with the intention to blackmail you, again, he would not need to be alert in the Tavern. If he were merely here on duty, he would behave as his other officers.”

Will shook his head. “I cannot make sense of it. If he wished to wound me by hurting Georgiana or Elizabeth, there would be no reason to be concerned at a tavern. In fact, he would be spending less time there and would surely attempt to meet the ladies while they were in a shop or out walking. Forster says that he is a model officer and is always present at duty. He would only have free time in the evening when they are not shopping. On the other hand, he does not go to the events other officers are invited to. It is unlike Wickham not to crave superior company.”

The gentleman sat in silence for another moment. Will continued to mull over the report, and he suspected Charles did as well. When the clock struck half past, they decided to get some sleep. Perhaps things would be more evident in the morning.

Unfortunately, the morning did not bring clarity to matters. It continued to rain, separating Will and Elizabeth. As he could not speak to her in person, he wrote a letter, knowing she would not be pleased to read his words.

 

Dear Elizabeth,

 

I wish, my darling, that I could convey better news. Not only did we not learn any crucial information from Wickham last night, but our informant also claims that he barely touched any alcohol. Further reports from his colleagues and locals make it clear that Wickham will over-indulge for no one while here. I am afraid this way of thinking is at an end. Your plan was well-thought out, and I am pleased you suggested it. I wish it had succeeded and take no enjoyment from its failure.

How I hate this rain which keeps us apart! What was I thinking of purchasing a common license? If I had spent the money on a special license we could call the minister to your house whenever we pleased—and I would be well-pleased to marry you this instant—and then we would never be separated again. However, I do not doubt that in a fortnight we will wed and a more beautiful bride there will never be on this earth. Regardless of matters with Wickham, I will meet you at that church and promise to love, honour, and cherish you. I have in thought for many years and soon will show you every day. Do you long for the day we are husband and wife as I do?

I know you must be afraid for the next plan we have considered. I see no other way. There is naught to be done but to be brave and have faith. As soon as I can, I will be acting upon it, and I trust when we next meet that all shall be over and we will triumph in victory.

Until then, remember my love for you. My memory is dotted with the exquisite torture of your gentle caresses and passionate kisses. I pray you have the same. May the remembrance of them steal your breath as you feel as though my arms are wrapped around you, and our hearts beat in unison. In the quiet moments of your day, hear the whisper of my heart: I love you until the end of my days. Always and forever, you are my only love.

-Will

 

Will looked over his letter as a nervous flutter filled his heart. He was full of bravado in his message, but he could not ignore the possibility that he might never see Elizabeth again. The acknowledgment that he might never taste her lips again nearly had him calling for his horse. Perhaps he could visit Longbourn before the carriage ride which would determine his fate.

No, he shook his head. The plan was for him to suddenly leave Netherfield in the direction of London. He and Richard had arranged for there to be scouts every few miles, hidden well off the road. They would await his arrival at a set time, and if he did not come, they would investigate. The hope was that if Wickham did attack, Will would not be without help for too long and if he were wounded there would be hope of help arriving in time.. He had not explained this portion to Elizabeth, and she had not asked. They silently agreed to not go into the details so she might worry less.

Looking at the rain falling, Will sighed to himself. There was another matter he had to deal with before he could hope to lure Wickham out. He had not spoken with Georgiana beyond the merest civilities since his visit to Longbourn the other day. If anything should happen to him, he did not want her living the rest of her life thinking he hated her and the last words they spoke were in a quarrel. He rang the bell and awaited the arrival of a servant. Then, he asked for his note to be taken to Longbourn and if his sister would like to play for him in the drawing room. Again, the fragile hope beat in his heart. He hoped she would. Perhaps not all would be lost between them.

 

*****

 

Elizabeth smiled as she took Will’s missive from the platter the servant held toward her. She knew the previous evening her plan would be enacted. It must contain good news! It simply must!

Until she began reading, the thought that scheme might fail had not entered her mind. For the alternative meant… It did not bear thinking of it! Before Elizabeth read more than the second line, tears shrouded her vision, and her grip tightened on the paper. Conscious of the watchful eyes of her family, she fled the drawing room for the privacy and solitude of her chamber.

Flinging herself on her bed, she sobbed as though she had already heard the news of Will’s demise. Her tears now envied the ones she shed upon Sam’s death. Was Will even now foolishly calling for his carriage and hurtling himself toward Wickham’s clutches?

A gentle knock interrupted Elizabeth’s anxious thoughts. Jane slipped into the room and softly rubbed Elizabeth’s back until her tears slowed.

“What does he say?” Jane asked quietly.

“Can you not guess?” Elizabeth asked as she pushed herself up on elbows before moving to a sitting position.

Jane only nodded, entirely at a loss of what to say to soothe her sister. “When?”

Elizabeth blinked at her sister’s question. She had not finished reading Will’s letter. She had leapt to the conclusion that he was now hoping to ensnare Wickham at his own game. Perhaps he had changed his mind! Maybe he saw the sense in being less courageous. After all, they had not determined what Wickham’s motive was. There were times when Elizabeth could almost convince herself this was naught but a nightmare and Will was in no danger.

Taking a deep breath and wiping at her eyes, Elizabeth readied herself to read the rest of Will’s note. She smoothed the crinkled paper, and he eyes devoured the words.

His loving words consoled but could not relieve. His ending was too much like a farewell—a final farewell! “I must go to him!” she exclaimed.

“You cannot!” Jane said and tugged on Elizabeth’s hand. She had immediately stood upon her pronouncement and was ready to fly from the house that instant.

Jane lead Elizabeth to the window where she surveyed the outside. The rain had ceased to be a constant flow and now came in drips and dribbles, but the ground was too wet for walking. She would be caked in mud. “The carriage or—or—” Elizabeth gulped, “a horse?”

“There is too much mud,” Jane said.

Slowly, Elizabeth nodded. Indeed, today it would be too dangerous for horses to brave the roads but soon—in a day or two at most—they would be driveable and then Will would hope to catch Wickham.

“How will it be done?” Jane asked as she looked over Elizabeth’s shoulder at the letter she still held.

“I do not know,” Elizabeth sighed. Wrapping her arms around herself, she walked back to the bed and sat upon it. “I did not ask for any particulars. I would rather not know the exact scenario so my mind can picture it with perfect detail.”

“You are so fatalist! It is not like you to be so defeated!”

“And you are too optimistic! Our brother died—died!—at the lunatic’s actions. How can I hope that Will is any different?”

“Do you think Wickham has some supernatural ability? Will knows his enemy’s intentions and his probable method. Indeed, he knows he has an enemy. Sam never did. Do you not see how Will’s knowledge is an asset? Do you not trust his ability to plan?”

Elizabeth’s lips quirked but she could not entirely give in to the desire to smile. “I am certain he is a brilliant landlord and master. He is a loyal friend and a devoted lover. However, what does he know about subverting the tactics of a madman? Oh! I wish we could have involved the police or Will could have hired a guard.”

“I would think that would be quite expensive. I do not think even the Prince Regent has a standing guard at all times.”

“Who would want to kill him? A brother? Who would want to be heir to the crown if they could? Is it not more trouble than it is worth? If history has taught us nothing, you are in dire jeopardy of losing your head either by the ax or from madness. No, no one can envy Prinny the way Wickham envies Will.”

Jane let out a sad sigh and squeezed her sister’s hand. “What will you do then?”

“Wait,” Elizabeth said with a determined tone as she straightened her back. “I have waited for him once, and I can wait again. I shall also pray for sunshine.”

“Do you not wish to delay his actions?”

“No!” Elizabeth said as she walked to the window and willed the clouds to break. “No, I would rather get it over with.”

“There is the fierce Lizzy that I know,” Jane wrapped her arms around her sister. “Now that you are in better humour, you should reply to his note. The servant waits for your answer.”

Elizabeth nodded and settled at the small writing desk in their chamber as Jane left her alone. Pouring all of her love into words, Elizabeth filled three sheets front and back with expressions of tenderness and affection. Will should never doubt her devotion. She added that he should carry it in his coat pocket. If she were to imagine his arms around her, then he should allow her words to surround him. They would provide protection and shelter more than any armed guard ever could. Love would prevail, she was sure of it.

The rest of the day continued in listless activities. Mary was put out with the weather and scowled every time she crossed a window. At dinner, Mrs. Bennet reported that the “little girls” were quite wild with being cooped up due to the rain. Then, she recalled that they could not have been any worse than a young Elizabeth and Sam after being ill in bed for days. The evening closed with fond memories. It was the first time Mrs. Bennet had mentioned Sam in many years, and she even mentioned Will a time or two. Elizabeth hoped that meant her step-mother was softening toward her betrothed.

Elizabeth awoke to sunny skies the next day. She nearly faced the residual mud to walk to Netherfield and Mary had offered to go as far as Meryton with her, but their father refused. Elizabeth sighed. It was true, they should not be walking about when Wickham might be on the loose. Will sent another loving note but was too busy with his plans to spare time for a visit.

During her nighttime prayers, Elizabeth fervently beseeched the Almighty for protection of her beloved. She felt akin to Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his longed-for son as a test of his faith. At every instant, Elizabeth half expected an archangel to appear and tell her she had prevailed and Will would be spared. That it did not happen made Elizabeth wonder if she should become a shepherdess. Against her will, she fell asleep that night dreaming of flocks of sheep.

She dressed the following day with trembling hands. There was no more delaying it. In the pit of her stomach, she knew this would be the day that Will would face Wickham. She could not bear to eat at breakfast. She consumed tea and watched fretfully at the window. Mary chided her lack of faith, and Jane worried about her constitution between refusing food and pacing the rooms. Mrs. Bennet, shockingly, sensibly suggested occupation instead and had spent much of her time in the drawing room rather than in the nursery giving Kitty and Lydia their lessons.

By the afternoon, exhaustion crept in. Elizabeth had been convinced to sit in a chair and sip on more tea as tempting, and flavourful biscuits were waved before her. If anyone would leave her alone for more than half a moment, she was sure she would fall asleep from the exertion of it all.

At first, she did not hear the sound of hooves on the drive. Soon, the panicked rate at which they ran drew the notice of Mary as she sat near a window and read. Within seconds there was a flurry of activity. Mary’s gasp almost muffled the sound of boots on the drive and banging on the door. Jane ran to it before a servant could answer, and Mr. Bingley’s voice was heard in the hall. Time felt as though it slowed as Elizabeth’s head turned in the direction of the door frame where he now stood with a hat in his hand, pale face, and unable to speak. Elizabeth’s cup fell from her hand and shattered on the floor in a thousand pieces.

Treasured– Chapter Eight

treasured finalI’ve got a completed manuscript off to the editor so it’s time to post faster! Trust me, you’ll be glad you don’t have to wait…

Previous Chapters: Previous Chapters:  One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven

Chapter Eight

 

The following morning, Elizabeth sat in the drawing room with Jane and Mary when Will arrived.

“Will,” Elizabeth said in astonishment. “I did not expect you until later.” She took in the severe frown he wore. “Is anything wrong?”

“Forgive me,” he said. “I thought this matter could not wait until later.”

He said nothing else and Elizabeth looked at her sisters. “Would you like me to ask for them to leave?”

“No, for it is your sister with whom I need to speak.”

“Me?” Jane asked. “Oh, no! Is something wrong with Charles? Is he ill?”

“Charles is very well. It is your sister Mary with whom I wish to talk.”

Elizabeth looked at her younger sister. She noted Mary did not seem surprised.

“Yes, sir? How may help you?” Mary continued her sewing, without looking up.

“Did you meet with my sister yesterday?”

“Indeed, yes.”

“Did she not mention to you that she was not to leave the house?”

“No, sir, she did not. I went for a walk and happened upon her between here and Netherfield. It hardly would have occurred to me that she had been out walking without permission.” She stabbed her needle into the fabric and drew the thread through it before continuing. “Just as it hardly would have occurred to me that she needed such.”

Elizabeth gasped. “Mary! You will keep your opinions about Will and Miss Darcy to yourself.”

“She may as well tell me what Georgiana has poisoned her mind with, my love. Then I will know some of the imaginary complaints my sister has against me.”

They all stared at Mary in expectation who blinked with uncertainty at the scrutiny.

“Upon my word, Miss Darcy has said nothing against you, sir. She did not claim that it was harsh of you to demand she stay home. She did not tell me that had been your demand at all.” She blew out a breath. “Either you mistake her sentiments, or she did not understand your request. If she had wanted to make me think ill of you, she could have told me about your imperious rules. However, she did not. I think ill of you by my own observation.”

“I see,” Will said. “What else have you observed?”

“I have not known Georgiana for long. However, she seems the type of girl who is eager to please. She wants to be well-liked, and she craves independence. Surely a girl of her age, maturity, and experience in the world would understand the only way to gain independence is by earning your trust. Therefore she should be endeavoring to earn yours. That you have not given it says far more about you than her.”

Elizabeth scoffed and exchanged a look of confused amazement with her betrothed. What ridiculous reasoning her sister had.

“When I return to Netherfield, I will continue to make even clearer to Georgiana what my expectations are. She is not allowed to leave the house without an escort. As you have determined to become her friend, I have now made you aware of my expectation as well. In a few weeks, Miss Mary, I will be marrying your sister. That will make Elizabeth a sister to my own. However, you do not receive such rights by blood or law upon the marriage. You have proved to me, her guardian, that you are not a worthwhile friend and someone I can trust to influence my sister appropriately.”

Mary’s mouth fell open and her eyes watered. “Do you see, Lizzy? Do you see? I wonder how you can marry such a brute!”

Mary ran out of the room, dropping her sewing along the way and stifled a sob with a hand to her mouth. At a more sedate pace, Jane followed after her. Next, Will finally sat down in the chair next to Elizabeth. She frowned at him. While he had every right to say what he did and she did not blame him for the sentiment, it was not well executed. Chastising Mary was not his responsibility. Nor had she done anything to earn his ire. It is not as though she insisted Georgiana leave the house or lied when questioned about it.

Additionally sometimes being too harsh had the opposite effect of what one intended. Mary had always been an obedient child, no one had ever raised a voice to her. Will leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He sighed so heavily it sounded as though the weariness came from his bones. Elizabeth watched as Will first rubbed at his temples and then squeezed the bridge of his nose. This ordeal was giving him a headache and must have weighed heavily on him. The last thing he needed was a rebuke from Elizabeth.

“Would you like me a call for some powders?” Elizabeth whispered.

“Thank you, no, my love. I shall be well in a moment.”

Elizabeth sat in silence as Will attempted to rid himself of his pain. She wished she could see to his needs the way a wife would. If they were already married, she would have overruled him. He would be consuming powders and tea while laying in a cool, dark room as she massaged his temples. However, such things were far too intimate for her to do right now. She had never before considered the difficulty in seeing a loved one in such pain and unable to assist them. Tea soon arrived, and Elizabeth smiled as she poured Will’s cup. Jane must have sent it. Will drank his cup and soon returned to good humor.

“What happened after you left Longhorn yesterday?” Elizabeth asked.

Will shook his head. “As Charles and I were returning to the stables, we saw Georgiana ascending the stairs to the house. I questioned her, and for quite some time she refused to say anything. Finally, she spoke, but the most I got out of her was that she had seen your sister Mary.”

“I see,” she said. “Why did you not send a note last night.”

“By the time Georgiana spoke at all it was nearing suppertime. I was exhausted from the experience and thought it would be better to question Mary in person today.”

“And yet just now it did not seem like you were calm when you entered the room.”

“No.” Will shook his head. “No, I was not. I slept ill, thinking of all the danger that might have befallen her. I cannot get it out of my head that Wickham has twisted her mind somehow and is using her against me.”

“Do you think she would be willing to do that? Does she hate you so much?”

“I hope not.” Will sighed and ran a hand over his face. “I cannot think of what I have done to make her so angry with me; so willing to believe Wickham’s words. However, he did visit her when I was not around. Who knows how he poisoned her for years.”

“However she did not act out until recently, correct?” Elizabeth asked.

“That is correct. She seemed as loving and devoted as ever until Ramsgate.”

Elizabeth had no answers for Will. She did not understand her soon-to-be sister-in-law’s mind any better than he did. Additionally, she had not been around for the years in between. She also could not understand Mary’s resentment toward Will. But then her mother’s and Charlotte’s hatred of him did not make sense to Elizabeth either. Perhaps grief affected everyone strangely. It is not as though she had only kind thoughts of Will during the years they had been separated. They sat in silence for several minutes with Elizabeth only holding his hand. At last, an idea struck her. “What if Wickham is using Georgiana, although not in the way you suppose?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if he intends to merely distract you with all these issues with Georgiana so you cannot focus on him?”

“That is a possibility, I suppose. What do you suggest?”

“When you return to Netherfield, list very firm and clear rules for Georgiana. She cannot leave without an escort, as an example. Explain what the consequences to such misbehavior would be. Being sent to Pemberley or London might not be much of a deterrent,” Elizabeth observed. “What would she wish to avoid?

“This reminds me so very much of a conversation I have had with Charles recently. However, Georgiana is not spoiled as Caroline is. Loss of funds would not be a strong deterrent. Other than shopping with you and your sisters the other day, she had not gone in months. I could send her away.” Will stroked his jaw. “She is fond of our aunt, the Countess. However, Georgiana does not like staying in their home. They have far too many engagements during the Season for her liking. I can always send her to Lady Catherine, but given how she sent Collins to you in an attempt for me to marry her daughter, I do not wish to speak to her.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Those give us a direction in which to start. We may think of others later. Lay down these rules and then do not give her any more attention, except to praise her obedience.”

“I am not to correct her when she does wrong again?”

“That is up to you. I suppose you could give her one chance. However, do not make a game of it where she feels she holds your attention or consumes your thoughts.” Elizabeth refilled her tea and looked over her shoulder. Jane had not reentered, but the door was open. “Now, have you considered how to approach the scheme of getting Wickham drunk?”

“I have had little time to consider it. Have you?”

“I did entertain some thoughts last night. I will tell them to you, and you may improve them as needed.”

*****

As it happened, Elizabeth’s plan did not need improvement. Will returned to Netherfield ready to make his sister see reason. Later, he would have to apologize for losing his temper with Miss Mary. He called for a servant to send for Georgiana, Mrs. Annesley, and Charles to be brought the drawing room.

“Fitzwilliam,” Georgiana said with a scowl. “Why have you requested me? I am sure whatever you have to say cannot apply to both Mr. Bingley and me.”

Will scowled again at his sister’s words. It should no longer surprise, and yet it continued to do so. “I have asked Charles here so he could also witness this and avoid any possibility of confusion with any person staying in this house.”

“What? And is Mr. Bingley to be my master now?” Georgiana said.

“I have conferred with Miss Mary Bennet, and she says she stumbled upon you while out walking. She says you never told her you were not to leave the house. She thinks my instructions were not clear enough. Allow me to rectify that now. Georgiana, you are confined to the house—not the grounds—the house, unless you have an escort. Nor does this mean bullying Mrs. Annesley into anything. Do you understand?”

“What counts as an escort? May I ride if the groom attends me? May I shop if a manservant or maid is present?”

Will thought for a moment. “Most of the time, I will prefer that you leave in the company of me, Charles, or Mrs. Annesley. There may be times, however, where I will allow you to leave or go with another. However, you must earn it and prove that you will not abuse the situation. As such, I would suggest you not attempt or hope for it for several weeks.”

Georgiana rolled her eyes in disgust.

“Is that clear enough for you, Georgiana?” Will stared at his sister.

“Why should I bother at all? Lock me in a tower. We both know that is what you would prefer. I am far too much in the way of your plans to woo Miss Elizabeth. I suppose this takes immediate effect?”

“Certainly. Can you comply? No. That is the wrong question I should ask. I know you are perfectly capable.”

“You know nothing about what I am capable of,” Georgiana glared at her brother. “You know nothing about me. You never have and you never will.”

“I see. I have forgotten a crucial element of this meeting,” Will said.

“What is that?”

“Should you not comply, you will be sent away.”

“That does not surprise me. After all, you convinced Mr. Bingley to do so to Caroline.”

“Miss Darcy,” Charles said in a shockingly angry voice. “You are a guest in my house, and as such you must display certain manners towards your brother and me. Your brother did not convince me of anything. Caroline’s actions warranted the decision.”

“Thank you, Charles,” Will said. “Georgiana, if you do not comply with these requests I will be forced to send you to one of our aunts. If that does not work, then I will send you to a reformatory school.”

“A reformatory school!” Georgiana looked at her brother as though he had three heads. “That is where girls of ill repute go! You cannot do that to me. I am a Darcy, and I have noble blood just as much as you do. The Earl and the Countess would not care for that and neither would Lady Catherine, you know.”

“It would not matter whether they like it or not. As your guardian, I make the decision. It would pain me to do so. However, I would do plenty worse rather than continue to make excuses for your behavior and not correct them. You are influenced by a man with no credibility. He has made more errors than you can conceive. It began, I am sorry to say, when our father did not accept the truth of him. Indeed, it would be more comfortable for me to pretend such things never occurred. But they did, and I have spent far too long acting as though they had no influence over the present. You made a mistake to trust Mr. Wickham. It is not too late to change your course. I also made the mistake of listening to him. Unlike you, I did not like or even respect him. I did so, and it had lasting and devastating consequences. It separated me from the woman I love. She needed me and my support for years.”

Tears shimmered in Georgiana’s eyes when Will had finished, but they did not appear to be tears of sadness or remorse. Will had a sinking feeling everything he just said meant nothing to her, as though she never heard him all. Later, he told himself, he would take the time to worry about his sister’s path and question how they could correct it. For now, his concern had to be seeing to her safety and also the protection of Elizabeth. “Now, if you agree to these terms, you may return to your room. I must speak to Charles privately.”

As expected, Georgiana said nothing. She stood and held her head high as she left the room. She did not stomp her feet, but her feelings were clear all the same. Mrs. Annesley followed after her. Will motioned for Charles to follow him and they retreated to the study. After closing the door, Will let out a long sigh.

“And this is why I never took the trouble to check Caroline all these years. As terribly difficult as it must be for you now, I wish I had done so with my sister long ago. I do not know if I can ever have her in my homes again. I will not abide by mistreatment of Jane or the Bennets. However, Hurst tells me she is of a mind to marry. As such, I do not know that she will ever learn the intended lesson.”

“Our tactics may be similar, Charles, but our motivations are different. Miss Bingley may never learn to be kind to Jane and the Bennets. However, she will learn where your boundaries are and what lines she can and cannot cross with you.

“This is true. So, if we have different motivations regarding our sisters, what then is yours?”

“I hardly know. I would wish for the return of the sweet girl she was not so long ago. In my heart, I do not know if that is possible.”

“No, indeed. We all have experiences in life which change us, and we cannot go back to who we were before. But do not give up on her Darcy. Now, what did you wish to talk to me about?”

Will gave his friend a small smile. “Thank you for your support, Charles. You have always been a good friend. You put up with me when most others would tell me to sot my arrogant self off.”

Charles laughed. “I have been sorely tempted at times.”

Will laughed as well. Charles then listened attentively as Will explain Elizabeth’s proposal. “Do you have such a man we could use?”

“There is one I would consider.  I think Evans might do. His aunt heard of this position and sent for him. I understand he spent many years in Manchester and wished for a new lease on life. Caroline wanted me to let him go because he did not seem to have the proper look and mannerisms for a footman in her opinion. However, he gets his work done, and my housekeeper has no complaints.”

“Excellent,” Will nodded. “Send him tomorrow. Now, I must write a note of apology to Miss Mary for my sharp questioning of her. She gave me a set down, as was needed.”

“Did she really? I might have gotten the only docile sister of the bunch!” Charles laughed. He stood and walked to the door, but spoke before opening. “I do hope Elizabeth’s scheme works.  There can be only so many dour men in the world,  I should hate to have to find a new one to make friends with.”

Will laughed as Charles left him to his devices. Charles had been a good friend and if the positions were reversed Will probably would call him stupid for attempting such a thing and volunteered in his place. With any luck, Wickham would get drunk tomorrow and fill in all the details. Then Will would put this matter behind him and carry on with his engagement.

Mansfield Monday– Frozen Fanny

mansfield monday.jpg

I type this up as I am bundled in my thick fleece robe and socks to warm my feet. I consider the investment of fingerless gloves for writing. Are we experiencing a cold snap in Tidewater, Virginia? No. My husband has cranked up the air conditioning. Sigh. Women’s winter, am I right?

 

Would it surprise you to learn that Fanny Price would sit in a room with no fire and only added a shawl to her clothing?

Many readers have this image of Fanny freezing her bum off. I’ve been told more than once that Fanny’s lack of fire in her bedroom is proof of the abuse they believe she suffered. I believe this image is owed to the 1999 film production, which I generally like but all film productions have their problems. Sir Thomas comes into Fanny’s room to tell her about Henry’s proposal and is astonished to find she has no fire.

I suppose, sister, you will put the child in the little white attic, near the old nurseries. It will be much the best place for her, so near Miss Lee, and not far from the girls, and close by the housemaids, who could either of them help to dress her, you know, and take care of her clothes, for I suppose you would not think it fair to expect Ellis to wait on her as well as the others.


The little white attic, which had continued her sleeping-room ever since her first entering the family, proving incompetent to suggest any reply, she had recourse, as soon as she was dressed, to another apartment more spacious and more meet for walking about in and thinking, and of which she had now for some time been almost equally mistress. It had been their school-room.

Fanny’s bedchamber was in the attic, near where the female servants stayed. It’s also mentioned as not being too far from “the girls,” meaning Maria and Julia. Later, she is given what is essentially a private sitting room in what was the old school room for the girls. It’s not explicitly stated but it sounds like Maria and Julia have their own sitting areas. However, nothing is mentioned of them spending much time in them, and it was generally only a habit in the morning. We are told Fanny leaves her chamber and goes to this other room in the morning. However, no fire is allowed to be lit. Yet, Fanny sits in it most days.

How dare they?!

Hold your horses. There is much to consider.

The East room, as it had been called ever since Maria Bertram was sixteen, was now considered Fanny’s, almost as decidedly as the white attic: the smallness of the one making the use of the other so evidently reasonable that the Miss Bertrams, with every superiority in their own apartments which their own sense of superiority could demand, were entirely approving it; and Mrs. Norris, having stipulated for there never being a fire in it on Fanny’s account, was tolerably resigned to her having the use of what nobody else wanted, though the terms in which she sometimes spoke of the indulgence seemed to imply that it was the best room in the house.

The aspect was so favourable that even without a fire it was habitable in many an early spring and late autumn morning to such a willing mind as Fanny’s; and while there was a gleam of sunshine she hoped not to be driven from it entirely, even when winter came.

The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furniture for the handsomest in the house,

One, when Sir Thomas talks with Fanny, she is content with only a shawl. I’m wearing more and thicker layers at this point than it sounds like Fanny is. Granted, I think this was probably a warm wool shawl. They were actually quite expensive. Perhaps, it was a hand me down from Maria or Julia although nothing else is said of her having to wear their cast offs. If it were so cold, she would need more layers, might wear a spencer, pelisse, or coat as well. I surely have in my house. In the passage below, Sir Thomas acknowledges that a fire in her bedchamber would be impossible.

stopping short as he entered, said, with much surprise, “Why have you no fire to-day?” There was snow on the ground, and she was sitting in a shawl. She hesitated.

“I am not cold, sir: I never sit here long at this time of year.”

“But you have a fire in general?”

“No, sir.”

“How comes this about? Here must be some mistake. I understood that you had the use of this room by way of making you perfectly comfortable. In your bedchamber I know you cannot have a fire. Here is some great misapprehension which must be rectified. It is highly unfit for you to sit, be it only half an hour a day, without a fire. You are not strong. You are chilly. Your aunt cannot be aware of this.”

“I understand,” cried her uncle, recollecting himself, and not wanting to hear more: “I understand. Your aunt Norris has always been an advocate, and very judiciously, for young people’s being brought up without unnecessary indulgences; but there should be moderation in everything. She is also very hardy herself, which of course will influence her in her opinion of the wants of others. And on another account, too, I can perfectly comprehend. I know what her sentiments have always been. The principle was good in itself, but it may have been, and I believe has been, carried too far in your case.

 

Next, Sir Thomas is shocked only because of Fanny’s general health. He even acknowledges that Mrs. Norris had good intentions and that it’s regular for young people to not have fires, but that Fanny needs one. It’s conceivable, then, that even his daughters didn’t have fires all the time. They probably would have if they mentioned they were cold, though, and Fanny is too grateful to ask for more. Maria and Julia, in contrast, are selfish. Additionally, if Sir Thomas is so concerned about her having a fire, why not offer her a new bedchamber? Clearly whatever she deals with at night (no fire) is not so unusual. What’s strange to him is that she sits without one for any time during the day.

Why would Mrs. Norris not want an extra room in the house to be heated? In the book, it’s very plain that she’s miserly. She congratulates herself constantly on “economy.” Simply put, heating was costly and Fanny could sit somewhere else. The very poor could not even afford coal or wood. They used leftover (and probably rotten) vegetables. Chances are Fanny’s family home in Portsmouth was considerably colder than her experience at Mansfield.

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Let us also consider heating in the era. Fires do not last forever. One must tend them. Jane Austen stories are littered with examples of the fire being relit by a maid in the morning. This is a well-known fact of the era. At some point in the night, the fire would die, and in the morning, they would be re-lit. That means for much of the night, people are sleeping in an unheated room.

It is important to note that many bedrooms may not have had a fireplace at all, and those that did were often only lit when someone was ill. —Georgian & Regency Houses Explained by Trevor Yorke

The pay and duties of a housemaid, with its relatively lighter tasks of cleaning the house and maintaining bedroom fires, implicitly contrasted to those of a girl of all works, a lower position with less pay and more onerous duties of cooking, scouring, sweeping, laundry, fires, lamps, heavy lifting and if necessary, child-minding. —The Cambridge Edition of Sense & Sensibility, edited by Edward Copeland

In winter, the housemaid’s first task was to clean the hearths and light the fires, while in summer the stove had to be attended to. Shutters were opened in the sitting rooms, hearth rugs shaken and carpets swept. Chairs and other furniture had to be dusted, looking glasses had to be cleaned and kettles filled for hot water, both for use in the kitchen and for washing purposes. These tasks had to be completed before the master and mistress came down for breakfast. —Flunkeys and Scullions, Life Below Stairs in Georgian England by Pamela Horn

Chambermaids ranked highest among the lower female servants. Their sphere was properly in the bedrooms: dusting, straightening, cleaning, swatting insects in summer, laying fires and warming beds in winter, sweeping, closing windows and turning down bedclothes the last thing at night. —The Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk & Teresa Hamlin

Long before the family was awake, the housemaids would be up and about, opening the shutters, dusting, sweeping and polishing, cleaning the grates and laying and lighting fires. —Wives and Daughters by Joanna Martin

Catherine Morland is surprised to find a fire in her chamber at Northanger Abbey and even allows it to die before going to bed. She awakens to a maid having already lit the fire but at eight in the morning and many people arose earlier.

Thus wisely fortifying her mind, as she proceeded upstairs, she was enabled, especially on perceiving that Miss Tilney slept only two doors from her, to enter her room with a tolerably stout heart; and her spirits were immediately assisted by the cheerful blaze of a wood fire.

“How much better is this,” said she, as she walked to the fender—”how much better to find a fire ready lit, than to have to wait shivering in the cold till all the family are in bed, as so many poor girls have been obliged to do, and then to have a faithful old servant frightening one by coming in with a faggot! How glad I am that Northanger is what it is! If it had been like some other places, I do not know that, in such a night as this, I could have answered for my courage: but now, to be sure, there is nothing to alarm one.”

A glance at the old chest, as she turned away from this examination, was not without its use; she scorned the causeless fears of an idle fancy, and began with a most happy indifference to prepare herself for bed. “She should take her time; she should not hurry herself; she did not care if she were the last person up in the house. But she would not make up her fire; that would seem cowardly, as if she wished for the protection of light after she were in bed.” The fire therefore died away, and Catherine, having spent the best part of an hour in her arrangements, was beginning to think of stepping into bed,

The housemaid’s folding back her window-shutters at eight o’clock the next day was the sound which first roused Catherine; and she opened her eyes, wondering that they could ever have been closed, on objects of cheerfulness; her fire was already burning, and a bright morning had succeeded the tempest of the night.

Marianne Dashwood has also awoken before the fire re-lit on occasion:

Before the housemaid had lit their fire the next day, or the sun gained any power over a cold, gloomy morning in January, Marianne, only half dressed, was kneeling against one of the window-seats for the sake of all the little light she could command from it, and writing as fast as a continual flow of tears would permit her.

The drawing rooms of Mansfield would have had fires. Fanny was more than welcome to sit in them. She is far more reserved and introverted than anyone in the family can understand and she’s been that way since the moment of her arrival–long before anyone had a chance to abuse her. They can hardly conceive of why she needs time by herself. It is not that Fanny is forced to sit in a cold room. Nor is she deprived warm clothing. She chooses it.

Fireplaces of the era also left much to be desired. They did not really heat the entire room. It could be unbearably hot near the fire but then very cool away from it. Indeed, people often had to rearrange themselves throughout the day. Honestly, anyone who has spent time near a fire should understand this. There are also countless examples in Jane Austen’s works of seating someone ill near a fire or someone finding the fire too hot and needing to relocate.

Now, I’m going to divulge some personal information. I once lived in a house with no heat. There even came a time in the early spring in which it was cooler in the house than outside. Oh, we had means to heat the place. We had a woodstove–which generally provide excellent heat. However, my husband and I were full-time college students and also worked 32 hours a week. Our cabin was about a half hour drive from the town in which we worked and attended school. Essentially, I left for the day at 7 am and did not get home until almost midnight. We lived in the mountains. How did we deal with that? Well, we did have a very small space heater that we would turn on for a bit in our room. In Jane Austen’s time, they had bed warmers which were long-handled copper skillets filled with warmed stones. They would be placed on the sheet to warm the bed. I’m not going to lie, I would still like this. We also layered our bed with several blankets and I wore good, warm pajamas.

Additionally, consider that many people sleep outside without heat for fun. My husband is an Eagle Scout and told me they would regularly camp in below freezing weather without a fire. They did have good sleeping bags. However, the average winter low for Northamptonshire is above freezing.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the time I lived in Alaska and people worked outside in negative forty all day long. Actually, that was a warm winter for the area. It usually got to negative sixty, and other areas got much colder.

Was Fanny freezing and turning to ice? It doesn’t seem like it. Was she abused? I don’t think so. She was the poor relation and there was a definite difference made between her and her cousins. Let’s remember we’re far more egalitarian these days. However, either way, I don’t think this fire reference can be proof of abuse. If Jane Austen didn’t include those points to illustrate abuse, then what is their purpose? Sir Thomas says it perfectly:

The principle was good in itself, but it may have been, and I believe has been, carried too far in your case. I am aware that there has been sometimes, in some points, a misplaced distinction; but I think too well of you, Fanny, to suppose you will ever harbour resentment on that account. You have an understanding which will prevent you from receiving things only in part, and judging partially by the event. You will take in the whole of the past, you will consider times, persons, and probabilities, and you will feel that they were not least your friends who were educating and preparing you for that mediocrity of condition which seemed to be your lot. Though their caution may prove eventually unnecessary, it was kindly meant;

In a book where so much is about doing what looks right without considering what truly is right, Fanny’s lack of a fire illustrates the dysfunction perfectly. There’s lots of reasons why Fanny shouldn’t have a fire and one obvious reason why she should. That reason has nothing to do with economy or habits but about knowing a person and building an inter-personal relationship with them.

Sunday Digest– Catch up on the blog

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Lately, I’ve not done a very good job of sharing my blog posts. I still get views and comments from my lovely subscribers but I’m failing at the whole promo thing. So, I thought I’d do a catch-up post sort of like a weekly digest. I’ll share links to all the posts in this thread so you don’t have to jump all over the blog or if you miss the link to the previous post button.

Saturday: Sense & Sensibility–Leaving Norland

Friday Feature: Undone Business

Thornton Thursday: The Riot

Wacky Wednesday: Regency men attire

Trivia Tuesday: Northanger Abbey

Treasured Chapter Seven

New Release: The Maid of Inverness

Music Monday: Hurricane

S&S Saturday– Leaving Norland

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It’s not until Chapter Six that the Dashwood ladies leave Norland, their home of about ten years, and make their way in the world without the benefit of a husband and father. In terms of story structuring, this is the inciting moment. The women leave and nothing will ever be the same again. Every story needs such a moment.

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This is a little later than most modern-day writers structure their stories. In the first five chapters of Sense and Sensibility, we meet the two protagonists, their mother, younger sister, half-brother, and sister-in-law. Oh, and Elinor falls in love. That’s not a small thing or anything.

However, it is not the loss of their father that makes the girls lose their innocence. Neither is it Elinor falling in love. No, it is this permanent estrangement from the home which symbolizes the last time they were happy, content, and care-free. Every thought must be different now and not because their father is dead or they’re in love. I don’t mean to say these things didn’t affect them–how could they not? I only mean to point out that it is the severing from this relationship to a house that is the turning point.

It’s worth noting that the move to Barton Park comes through Mrs. Dashwood’s family. They are now to be like sojourners in a land where Dashwood means nothing. For the very first sentence we read is that the Dashwoods had long been settled in Sussex and they are now to live in Essex. In a world where having the right name could open doors for you, it means something that these women have no protector in truth and their name offers none in his stead. This should shame John Dashwood more than anything.

While all the departing women felt the loss of Norland, it is Marianne who displays her emotions the most clearly.

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“Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you!—when learn to feel a home elsewhere!—Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence, perhaps, I may view you no more!—And you, ye well-known trees!—but you will continue the same. No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!—No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!—But who will remain to enjoy you?”

In addition to being the inciting moment, this passage shows very clearly Marianne’s issue. She is not crying that she will miss memories of family. She is not saying she will miss the comforts of a large house and all the securities and luxuries that went with it. She is not complaining about the difficulty in going so far or expressing anxiety or fear of the unknown. No, she will miss trees! She knows she ought to miss Norland and its grounds are worthy of praise but somewhere along the way has gotten it in her head that it is merely the leaves and branches she will miss. All the while she congratulates herself on openly displaying her emotions and ardently feeling them at some spiritual plane in which Elinor cannot comprehend.

Let me translate that for you. She is faking it. The sorts of things she is trying to espouse were popular in the era. Jane Austen wrote on the cusp of the Romantic Era (characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.) William Wordsworth might have written about wandering as lonely as a cloud or rejoicing at a field of daffodils but I do not think he missed all genuine human emotion at the loss of connection with people in preference to nature.

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Trust me, I’ve moved a lot. I’ve hardly ever missed a house or a tree as much as I missed the people or memories in the house. Now, I’m aware as anybody that some people just feel different than others. The irony, however, is that Marianne holds herself as an authority on feelings. If others don’t feel as she does they must be heartless. Keep telling yourself that, Mar. Does it make sense to ask others to feel about trees the way you do? Does it not make more sense that they would miss their father, their home for ten years, good memories? Something tangible about human interaction?

Now, I don’t hate Marianne. I am merely pointing out what her fatal flaw is. It is as though she takes a page from Mr. Darcy’s book. She was given good principles–the Romantic works are not wrong in and of themselves. She borrows from Emma–better to be without wits than to misapply them! Like Catherine Morland, she has allowed literature to over-influence her. It gets even worse under the direction of Willoughby much like Catherine’s understand suffers at the hand of Isabella.

Why all this focus on Marianne at the story’s inciting moment? Well, Elinor doesn’t really evolve as a character. She moves just an inch or two but it is Marianne that has the real transformation. Elinor’s romantic conflict is presented earlier in the story and seems to resolve last but it is Marianne who is in real danger of become a victim to sensationalism. In future posts, I will delve more into the story structure but if you know the story, I bet you can guess what each highlight from the three-act structure above is.

Friday Feature– Undone Business

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Undone Business was like a revelation for me. It started as a novella destined for a multi-author JAFF anthology that didn’t end up being produced. It was going to be named When Love Blooms, a title I later re-used. At the time, I really liked using phrases from Pride and Prejudice for my JAFF stories and so I changed it to Undone Business from this quote:

and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?”

The “what if” question in my head when I began was “What if Sir William Lucas never interrupted Darcy and Elizabeth’s dance?” Would they talk about more things? Would Darcy be as determined that Jane was indifferent to Bingley? Without Sir William’s words which made it sound like Bingley’s honor was nearly engaged, would Jane and Bingley have found their happily ever after? Would Darcy and Elizabeth avoid all the heartache and drama of the Hunsford refusal?

“Thank you for telling me,” she said softly. “I…I think I know you better now.”

“And I know you better now.”

“Oh yes, vain and simple-minded creature that I am.”

He extended his hand and nearly touched her face before dropping it limply to his side. “No, never that. Forgive me. I was angry at myself more than you. Your complaints are just. I have appeared haughty and arrogant, and I would never wish for you to accept me for anything less than love.”

Her heart actually ached as though it was pierced and in its pain it cried out to her that she should accept him now. Not today, her mind replied, everything is too new.

“Then…then do we say goodbye now?”

He visibly swallowed, but his eyes never left hers. “How am I supposed to give up trying? I know not how to go on. Loving you has become a part of who I am.”

She trembled, longing to give in to the love he still offered. “Nothing has changed, you know. My mother’s family still comes from trade. My nearest relations still behave poorly. Society may still shun me.”

“Nothing has changed,” he said with disaffected calmness. “Good day, Miss Bennet.”

He turned and walked away, leaving her alone and astonished. She had not meant to discourage him entirely, to make him think nothing had changed in her regard for him. She watched his back for a moment knowing she had lost her chance forever. Gently-bred ladies do not race after men and declare newly-born sentiments and demand they propose; nor do men of such pride and sense propose to a lady who so callously spurned their first attempt.

She looked down to the letter still in her hand and traced her name on the envelope. There was no reason to keep it now, she had heard all his confessions and believed him among the best of men. Refusing to weep she simply sat on the ground, not caring it was slightly wet from the dew still. She tore open Darcy’s letter. It simply said:

Forgive me. I love you.

She could contain the tears no longer.

For each story, I try to do something that challenges me. It wasn’t immediately clear what that would be in Undone Business. As the story progressed, however, I wondered what it would be like if I gave Jane Bennet someone else to marry. I went into the situation with quite a bit of prejudice. Did she really love Bingley? Can you truly only love one person in life? So often in literature and films, the person realizes it was never really love they felt for the other. Thus far, every non-Bingley pairing I had read was like that. Jane ultimately realized she had only loved the idea of Bingley. She recognized the flaws she had previously ignored and then the love goggles came off and she was free from regret of losing him and found someone better. Full disclosure: I’ve known a shocking number of women who fall in love with every man who passes their way. I’ve always internally scoffed that what they felt was not love. And, it might not be–but it might have been. The heart CAN love more than one person in a lifetime (although not at the same time–I do draw the line there!)

What sort of character growth does Jane have to go through to recover from genuine heartache over Mr. Bingley? Who could be her perfect match?

“Eyes the blue of forget-me-nots under a midsummer sky,” he said.

She furrowed her brow. The words seemed familiar. She must have read them in one of Elizabeth’s poetry or botany books.

“Jane Bennet, all grown up,” he remarked in something like awe.

“I do not believe we are acquainted, sir.”

He shook his head. “Yes, I would assume the passage of eight years would erase all memory of me. I am Isaiah Burton.”

Growing embarrassed as she could not recall him, she spoke hastily. “Mr. Burton, I am obliged to you. I apologise for delaying you. Good day.” She turned to leave.

“You still do not recall me, do you?” He followed after her.

Bristling that this stranger would think she should recall him, she stuck her chin out. “As you say, if we have met, you acknowledge it has been many, many years. I simply cannot recall every gentleman of questionable breeding I meet with.”

“With as many admirers you must have had, I am unsurprised. There was a time, however, when you visited your uncle in town when you did not find my breeding and manners so repulsive. Tell me, is that why you are still unwed? You did not correct me on your name, so I can only assume you are still single.” His voice sounded a mixture of offence and humour.

She turned to face him and in her seldom-felt anger felt more like Elizabeth than herself. “Because I am three and twenty I must be foolish to not have flung myself on any of the stupid ninnies I have met with? Oh yes, marriage to any of them would have been a delight over my present state. For certainly being in the care of healthy and doting parents and living with my three younger sisters, must be very pitiable. Or do you presume marriage is the only tolerable position for a young lady? As you are so interested in my own state, I assume you are also unwed yourself. Now, why has not a lucky lady ensnared you, Mr. Burton? For surely your manner recommends yourself to all.”

Having said her piece she turned to leave again. Her heart beat fast. She had never said something so unforgiving in her life. And she desired to flee before he had a moment to react. But was that…laughter? He was laughing at her!

“You have changed quite a bit, I see. The girl I knew was much too docile to have even a shred of the spunk for such a speech, even if you looked about as fearsome as a kitten. I shall have to amend my poem. You are no longer as mild as a lamb.”

Her steps ceased as she recalled his words. Isaiah Burton was the man who wrote her very bad poetry when she was but fifteen. Her aunt and mother were certain he would offer for her, but he never declared himself before leaving for a business trip and before he returned she departed again for Longbourn. When she returned to London the following year she had not seen him, but was not so affected by him to even ask her uncle what happened to his business friend.

I also usually have a research topic for each story. In Undone Business, it became the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom. Shockingly, Bingley inserted himself in that.

She showed him he could make decisions for himself, that he ought not to shy away from a confrontation and that he should not leave matters undone, for in the course of six and twenty years it was exceedingly tempting to cast off his lofty visions and allow younger and seemingly abler men finish this all-important task.

“Speech! Speech!” the crowd cried, and the gentlemen deferred to him.

He stood, with not a wine glass in hand, but a tea cup. “I thank you all, the friends young and old who helped in this worthy endeavour. You saw beyond the shallow fickleness of our lives of luxury. You looked beyond selfishness and saw suffering. And while even I was tempted to paint everything in the best light, there comes a time when all mankind must stand for truth and righteousness. And now…” he took a sip, “I very much look forward to enjoying my first taste of sugar in over twenty years, and it harvested from entirely paid labour. My solicitor will bemoan my pocketbook and my wife will bemoan my health, but I will drink it in delight and know the dignity our friends and equals in the Indies now have in earning wages for their work.”

He sipped again, and an applause broke out. He held up his hand. “But there is more work to do yet, my friends. Let us not leave our business undone. Tonight we celebrate and tomorrow we work.”

The group murmured their agreement and smiled in return. As he sat, he wondered what next would become the business of his life.

If you have never read Undone Business, I hope you’ll try it. It is a very different sort of story but one that is as close to my heart all these years later as it was while I wrote on it. You can see shades of the writer I continued to grow into. I would go on to write more about 19th-century politics. I have played with the Jane and Bingley pairing other times. I have grappled again with the question of eternal love.

Undone Business was like a line in the sand for me. I think of it as the book where I became my own writer. Personally, I nearly quit publishing after Letters from the Heart. It was before working on Undone Business that I determined I would make writing my career. I made that decision knowing I had several other stories. No Cause to Repine and A Sense of Obligation were already completed and only awaited professional editing. I had dozens of short stories. I had already started on Sufficient Encouragement, what has become the Loving Elizabeth Series, Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride, and many others that continue to wait their turn. Undone Business was the first story where I wrote it with the entire intent on publishing it and it amped up the pressure. Still, I am proud to say that I had the integrity to stay true to myself rather than worry about what would sell. As I said at the beginning of this post, Undone Business was a revelation.

Buy Links

Amazon

Desperately Mr. Darcy Anthology–includes Letters from the Heart, Undone Business, Sufficient Encouragement & The Secrets of Pemberley

 

Thornton Thursday– The Riot

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I’ve recently fell down the North and South fan fiction rabbit hole. I lost many hours of sleep due to Trudy Brasure’s A Heart for Milton and In Consequence last weekend. This week, I started Nicole Clarkston’s Nowhere but North, but am pacing myself more. I’ve also reread North and South this week. This time, the riot scene struck me.

There is much to talk about in this scene but I’d like to consider Mr. Thornton’s actions under this pressure.

‘Who is Boucher?’ asked Mr. Thornton, coolly, and coming close to the window to discover the man in whom Margaret took such an interest. As soon as they saw Mr. Thornton, they set up a yell,—to call it not human is nothing,—it was as the demoniac desire of some terrible wild beast for the food that is withheld from his ravening. Even he drew back for a moment, dismayed at the intensity of hatred he had provoked.

At first, he approaches without fear–and this is after apologizing to Margaret for the timing of her visit. Then, he does draw away for a moment, but not out of fear. He can hardly fathom the anger his image provokes.

‘Let them yell!’ said he. ‘In five minutes more—. I only hope my poor Irishmen are not terrified out of their wits by such a fiendlike noise. Keep up your courage for five minutes, Miss Hale.’

His first thought is for his Irishmen–even before he thinks of Margaret. However, he does not worry about the safety of the Irish. Why?

‘Don’t be afraid for me,’ she said hastily. ‘But what in five minutes? Can you do nothing to soothe these poor creatures? It is awful to see them.’

‘The soldiers will be here directly, and that will bring them to reason.’

‘To reason!’ said Margaret, quickly. ‘What kind of reason?’

‘The only reason that does with men that make themselves into wild beasts. By heaven! they’ve turned to the mill door!’

His first words seem to denote security in thought because of the soldiers and yet he’s surprised and alarmed when they turn on the mill.

‘Mr. Thornton,’ said Margaret, shaking all over with her passion, ‘go down this instant, if you are not a coward. Go down and face them like a man. Save these poor strangers, whom you have decoyed here. Speak to your workmen as if they were human beings. Speak to them kindly. Don’t let the soldiers come in and cut down poor creatures who are driven mad. I see one there who is. If you have any courage or noble quality in you, go out and speak to them, man to man.’

He turned and looked at her while she spoke. A dark cloud came over his face while he listened. He set his teeth as he heard her words. ‘I will go. Perhaps I may ask you to accompany me downstairs, and bar the door behind me; my mother and sister will need that protection.’

‘Oh! Mr. Thornton! I do not know—I may be wrong—only—’ But he was gone; he was downstairs in the hall; he had unbarred the front door; all she could do, was to follow him quickly, and fasten it behind him, and clamber up the stairs again with a sick heart and a dizzy head.

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Would he be willing to go and potentially face death simply because he wanted to impress Margaret? No! He went because he saw the justice of her words. Granted, she’s rather naive, but she has a point about talking to them like human equals.

During his proposal the following day, Thornton says so.

I ought rather,’ said she, hastily, ‘to apologize to you, for having said thoughtless words which sent you down into the danger.’

‘It was not your words; it was the truth they conveyed, pungently as it was expressed.’

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Thornton is downstairs, willing to sacrifice himself to try and convince his workers to go home lest they do something stupid and deserve the wrath of soldiers. Margaret is also downstairs and has urged them to leave as Thornton has yet to speak. I don’t think the book ever says it, but I assume he was trying to find the right words. Margaret rushed down the stairs when she saw people take up their heavy wood clogs to use as projectiles. Rather than listen to Margaret’s well-said reason, the workers remain rooted and implacable in their hatred. One speaks up.

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‘Shall them Irish blackguards be packed back again?’ asked one from out the crowd, with fierce threatening in his voice.

‘Never, for your bidding!’ exclaimed Mr. Thornton. And instantly the storm broke. The hootings rose and filled the air,—

How reasonable was this of Thornton? Could he have foreseen it would infuriate them so? Even if he could have guessed it, should he have lied to placate them? Dishonesty in business tactics and worker relations is a consistent issue Thornton faces. His desire for honesty contrasts him with the other masters of the area.

Despite Margaret’s best efforts, the crowd does intend to assault Thornton. However, she tries to shield him and they miss their target, hurting her instead.

‘You do well!’ said he. ‘You come to oust the innocent stranger. You fall—you hundreds—on one man; and when a woman comes before you, to ask you for your own sakes to be reasonable creatures, your cowardly wrath falls upon her! You do well!’ They were silent while he spoke. They were watching, open-eyed and open-mouthed, the thread of dark-red blood which wakened them up from their trance of passion. Those nearest the gate stole out ashamed; there was a movement through all the crowd—a retreating movement.

Only one voice cried out: ‘Th’ stone were meant for thee; but thou wert sheltered behind a woman!’

Mr. Thornton quivered with rage. The blood flowing had made Margaret conscious—dimly, vaguely conscious. He placed her gently on the doorstep, her head leaning against the frame.

‘Can you rest there?’ he asked. But without waiting for her answer, he went slowly down the steps right into the middle of the crowd. ‘Now kill me, if it is your brutal will. There is no woman to shield me here. You may beat me to death—you will never move me from what I have determined upon—not you!’ He stood amongst them, with his arms folded, in precisely the same attitude as he had been in on the steps.

Now, Thornton acts the hero. Yet, he doesn’t charge senselessly into the crowd. He stands his ground and is ready to face the consequences of his actions–right or wrong. At this moment, he’s the most mature person in the story. The workers certainly aren’t ready for the consequences of a strike or violence. Margaret immediately regretted the consequences of sending Thornton down to the workers and later will regret her shielding him. Mrs. Hale has period of regret over her marriage, Mr. Hale regrets leaving the church and moving to Milton. Soon in the book we meet Margaret’s brother, Frederick, who certainly has his own regrets in the mutiny he caused. This a theme I could talk on for a long time. However, it is Thornton who Margaret has always viewed as oppressive and honorless who proves his integrity in this scene, even if she is slow to recognize it.

The moment that retreat had changed into a flight (as it was sure from its very character to do), he darted up the steps to Margaret. She tried to rise without his help.

‘It is nothing,’ she said, with a sickly smile. ‘The skin is grazed, and I was stunned at the moment. Oh, I am so thankful they are gone!’ And she cried without restraint.

He could not sympathize with her. His anger had not abated; it was rather rising the more as his sense of immediate danger was passing away. The distant clank of the soldiers was heard just five minutes too late to make this vanished mob feel the power of authority and order. He hoped they would see the troops, and be quelled by the thought of their narrow escape.

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Even after their assault of Margaret, he does not wish true violence upon the people. He simply wants them to realize it could have been much worse.

He bore her into the dining room, and laid her on the sofa there; laid her down softly, and looking on her pure white face, the sense of what she was to him came upon him so keenly that he spoke it out in his pain:

‘Oh, my Margaret—my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me! Dead—cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret—Margaret!’ Inarticulately as he spoke, kneeling by her, and rather moaning than saying the words, he started up, ashamed of himself, as his mother came in.

When Margaret collapses again, he brings her into his house to tend to her. Suddenly, he realizes his love for her–something he had resisted for so long. I honor him all the more for not being consumed with it when he had to focus instead on the riot.

He went away as if weights were tied to every limb that bore him from her. He called Jane; he called his sister. She should have all womanly care, all gentle tendance. But every pulse beat in him as he remembered how she had come down and placed herself in foremost danger,—could it be to save him? At the time, he had pushed her aside, and spoken gruffly; he had seen nothing but the unnecessary danger she had placed herself in. He went to his Irish people, with every nerve in his body thrilling at the thought of her, and found it difficult to understand enough of what they were saying to soothe and comfort away their fears. There, they declared, they would not stop; they claimed to be sent back. And so he had to think, and talk, and reason.

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Once more, Thornton must make hard choices and deal with the repurcussions. He would rather stay with Margaret but he has other responsibilities. What will Margaret think of him leaving? As much as he loves her, there is a great pull on him–that of duty. He owes the Irishmen his attention. He meets them They are innocent in all of this, and he knows it. If only Margaret could see that while he might need to learn to communicate with his workers better, to try and understand their grievances more, he’s not brutish to those he can see are victims of circumstance. The riot at Marlborough Mills proves Mr. Thornton’s true worth and his real integrity.