Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Nineteen




The time fixed for the beginning of Elizabeth's Northern tour with the Gardiners was fast approaching. In midst of all her turmoil, she clung to the expectation of traveling, even when Alison said she was not to go to the Lakes. Try as she might, Elizabeth could not extract any further information from the lady who only resembled her mother in appearance. Alison might be struggling to remember her true life, but her behavior remained what it had always been: sensible, efficient, thoughtful, and not at all akin to the real Mrs. Bennet's.

Elizabeth found she couldn't enjoy Alison's company as much as she did. She saw her family continue to flourish under her influence with mixed emotions, particularly in regards to her father. When the two ladies were alone, Elizabeth was incapable of speaking of anything but the progressing narrative that was her life, no matter how fictional it might appear to any other. She hounded Alison with questions and received only partial answers. The one thing she was fairly certain of was that her travel plans, though changed and curtailed, were not to be cancelled. In a vain struggle to alleviate her disappointment, Elizabeth abandoned the Lyrical Ballads, which she was in midst of reading, but no pragmatic resolution could ease the uncomfortable fluttering in her abdomen. Her circumstances were far too exceptional.

Finally Mrs. Gardiner's fateful letter arrived, at once delaying the planned holiday's commencement, curtailing its extent, confirming Alison's predictions, and dispersing any lingering doubts Elizabeth had regarding that lady's sanity. Mr. Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month; and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed. According to the present plan, they were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire. 

With the mention of Derbyshire, there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for Elizabeth to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. "But surely," said she, "I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me." Such reasoning seemed very well but for Alison's strange interest in and knowledge of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth could only wonder if she had no choice but to see him and scanned through her letter once more for any mention of the place and locale.

The country afforded enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks, and to Mrs. Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak. Elizabeth retreated to her father's library to procure a travel atlas and looked about until she located Lambton, With a sinking heart, though she could not claim surprise, she noted her aunt's hometown's proximity to Mr. Darcy's estate.

Carrying the book with her as evidence, she found Alison strolling through the wilderness alone, having just parted from Jane, Kitty, and Lydia at the palings, those two ladies bound for Meryton.

"Mama!' Elizabeth heralded her, for no matter how odd it often seemed, she could not help but call Alison by the title. "I received the letter from Aunt Gardiner changing our travel plans."

Though Alison now sometimes had to be reminded she had another life, her knowledge of Pride & Prejudice never seemed to diminish. She nodded knowingly, "Yes. I told you it would." 

"But you did not tell me we would be bound for Derbyshire, and to a town not five miles distant from Pemberley!"

"No. I did not think it worth while to alarm you sooner than necessary. You are alarmed, are you not?"

"Of course I am! Only imagine how it must look to him - as if I were putting myself in his way on purpose."

"I assure you he would be thrilled were that the case."

"After insulting him so mercilessly? There cannot be a person in the world he is less inclined to encounter." Alison didn't reply, and Elizabeth was left to pursue her thoughts. "Perhaps the family is not in residence."

"They are not, yet."

"You mean they will return?"

"Yes, and just in time, too."

"Please, ma'am! Stop speaking in riddles and hints. It is torturous. I want to know what I might expect on this holiday."

"I fear if I tell you, you will intentionally thwart what ought to happen."

"And what is that?"

"To be honestly, I am not entire positive, but now that Lydia is safe I strongly suspect that Mr. Darcy will renew his proposal to you."

Elizabeth was flabbergasted. "What man in his right mind would possibly do so after such an emphatic rejection?"

"One who is deeply in love and receives encouragement to hope."

"Surely, not from me!"

"Yes, from you Elizabeth. Has not your opinion of him changed already? When you see him again, at ease in his own home, and obviously heeding your criticism of his previous hauteur, do you not think you might be swayed in his direction?"

Elizabeth looked extremely skeptical. "I do not see how such a revolution in my feelings could occur. My opinion might improve, but I could not love him. To accept such an offer would be entirely mercenary."

Alison smiled despite herself. "Perhaps you do not properly account for the influence of a fine estate?"

"Is that what you think of me? Does Miss Austen portray me as a person who would place financial considerations above harmony and happiness?"

"Not above, no, but I know you are not insensible to the implications of a good income. Did you not first check you inclination towards Wickham upon Mrs. Gardiner's warning he could not support you as a wife?"

"Yes," she replied, shaking off her continued surprise at the extent of Alison's knowledge, "but the man's perfidy surely negates his value as an example."

"Not at all. It merely illustrates that you are not all romantic: practical considerations, like how to eat and shelter, will override your emotional inclinations."

"I might secure myself a respectable union without aspiring to Pemberley."

"But this has nothing to do with respectable union!" Alison cried, revealing some of her own exasperation. "Yours is one of the world's great love stories. Fitzwilliam Darcy is the only man with whom you will ever be happy."

Elizabeth listened to these words in shock. Alison had hinted often enough that Mr. Darcy played an important role in her future, but to consider the man in the light of a lover was almost horrifying, how else to explain the twisted feeling descended on her chest, which fluttered almost painfully? "It is impossible," was her soft reply.

"No. It is not impossible. Go to Derbyshire. When your aunt and uncle choose to visit Pemberley, assure yourself the family is away and go with confidence. The rest will take care of itself. Just have some faith and write to me everyday, for I will be on edge to learn all your doings."

"I doubt they will be what you wish to hear. My first effusions might less insupportable than those of the generality of travelers, but they will not be to your purpose. Nothing but where we have gone - which lakes, mountains, and rivers we have seen. I can promise no more."
 
"You can promise not to thwart what I have predicted," Alison retorted.

Elizabeth allowed a small smile to curve her lips. "Yes. I suppose I can promise that." She felt a small sensation of excitement infuse her being. "If to Pemberley we are to go, I will not protest."

"Good!" Mrs. Bennet sighed with some relief. "Now we had best procure you a few day gowns for your trip, and I think one for the evenings."

Elizabeth laughed. "If my humble attire did not frighten Mr. Darcy away before, he cannot be overly sensitive to it now."

"It is not Mr. Darcy who concerns me. One never knows where one might be confronted with the pettiness of our sex, and while a fine gown will not quiet a tongue bent on maliciousness, it will gall a jealous heart, and I think that can be rather satisfying, don't you?"

"Who do you have in mind, ma'am?"

"We shall see."

Monday, September 15, 2014

T. Tembaron by Francis Hodgson Burnett

T. Tembaron is one of my favorite books by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Like the bulk of her work (see a complete list if her works by category here), it was new to me a few months ago, but it is amongst her novels that should still be well-known and celebrated. The book begins with an explanation of the main character's name:
The boys at the Brooklyn public school which he attended did not know what the "T." stood for. He would never tell them. All he said in reply to questions was: "It don't stand for nothin'. You've gotter have a' 'nitial, ain't you?" His name was, in fact, an almost inevitable school-boy modification of one felt to be absurd and pretentious. His Christian name was Temple, which became "Temp." His surname was Barom, so he was at once "Temp Barom." In the natural tendency to avoid waste of time it was pronounced as one word, and the letter p being superfluous and cumbersome, it easily settled itself into "Tembarom," and there remained. By much less inevitable processes have surnames evolved themselves as centuries rolled by. Tembarom liked it, and soon almost forgot he had ever been called anything else.
The name is of utmost importance to the plot, but Tembaron doesn't know it as slugs through life on the streets of New York on "twenty per," as he describes his salary, He's content with a dreary third-floor room in a boarding house, and ecstatic to be given an opportunity to write the gossip column  newspaper that employs him. Raised to "twenty-five per," he now feels confident speaking of his future intentions to Ann Hutchinson, another resident of the boarding house, who is in New York with her father while he tries to sell his invention. The honor of trudging through the snow in worn shoes so that he can someday marry Ann is all he ever wanted in life, when his real name, Temple Temple Barholm, suddenly interferes.

For this fully American young man proves to be the only heir to a great and established fortune in England. Ann, understanding the implications of his inheritance better than Tembaron, tells him she will not consent to marry until he has spent a year in his new life, and he, dutiful, honest, and loyal, heads of to England to try his hand at being lord of the manor. The effect is entirely comic (his first interactions with his valet are hysterical). He makes horrendous social mistakes and a slew of shady relatives attempt to take advantage of his simplicity, but he begins to make real and powerful friends as well, like his neighbor the Duke of Stone. Tembarom might be uneducated and hopelessly informal, but as he himself says of those who would take advantage of him, "I'm on to them," and to his one new relation not looking for anything of him, having been treated as a drudge all her life, he is an absolute hero.

Part of Tembaron's character, like most of Burnett's heroes and heroines, is that he is almost supernaturally good, and there is no better illustration of this than his treatment of Miss Alicia Temple Barholm. About to leave the place where she had been suffered to dwell for an alms house, Tembaron intervenes like an angel of justice and mercy:

"I beg pardon, sir, but Higgins's cart has come for Miss Temple Barholm's box; he is asking when she wants the trap." 
"She doesn't want it at all," answered Tembarom. "Carry her trunk up- stairs again. She's not going away." 
The lack of proper knowledge contained in the suggestion that Burrill should carry trunks upstairs caused Miss Alicia to quail in secret, but she spoke with outward calm. 
"No, Burrill," she said. "I am not going away." 
"Very good, Miss," Burrill replied, and with impressive civility he prepared to leave the room. Tembarom glanced at the tea-things. 
"There's only one cup here," he said. "Bring one for me." 
Burrill's expression might perhaps have been said to start slightly. 
"Very good, sir," he said, and made his exit. Miss Alicia was fluttering again. 
"That cup was really for you, Mr. Temple Barholm," she ventured. 
"Well, now it's for you, and I've let him know it," replied Tembarom. 
"Oh, please," she said in an outburst of feeling--"please let me tell you how grateful--how grateful I am!" 
But he would not let her. 
"If you do," he said, "I'll tell you how grateful I am, and that'll be worse. No, that's all fixed up between us. It goes. We won't say any more about it." 
He took the whole situation in that way, as though he was assuming no responsibility which was not the simple, inevitable result of their drifting across each other--as though it was only what any man would have done, even as though she was a sort of delightful, unexpected happening. He turned to the tray.
"Say, that looks all right, doesn't it?" he said. "Now you are here, I like the way it looks. I didn't yesterday." 
Burrill himself brought the extra cup and saucer and plate. He wished to make sure that his senses had not deceived him. But there she sat who through years had existed discreetly in the most unconsidered rooms in an uninhabited wing, knowing better than to presume upon her privileges--there she sat with an awed and rapt face gazing up at this new outbreak into Temple Barholm's and "him joking and grinning as though he was as pleased as Punch." 

Behind all the wonderful cultural clashes and misunderstanding lies a mystery. Before learning of his new identity, Tembaron finds a man suffering from amnesia in a frozen alley and takes him home. When he goes to England, the man dubbed "Mr. Strangeways" goes with him.  The name, though apt enough in a New York boarding house, seems much more questionable on someone who obviously feels so much more at home in the genteel atmosphere at Temple Barholm (oh yeah, he's Temple Temple Barholm of Temple Barholm) than its new owner. 

The book is absolutely delightful. The character of Tembaron closely resembles that of a more minor character called G. Seldon from The Shuttle, another of my favorite, written a decade earlier. I think Burnett found the young entrepreneurial New Yorker to delightful and irresistible to not give him a book all his own. T. Tembaron is a must-read story and you can start it right now for free: http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/tembarom/.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The home stretch, Mrs. Darcy's Diamonds, and more ...

Sorry to have gone silent again. I just finished the sixth and final draft of The Madness of Mr. Darcy. Enormous thanks and gratitude to Anna over at Diary of an Eccentric, who did a marvelous job editing the text. Paperbacks won't be available until early next month, I'm guessing, but the ebook might be out as soon as next week! It's time to switch gears and start marketing. Plus I need to finish writing Becoming Mrs. Norris for this years Twisted Austen offering. Right now it stands at 3,000 words ... there is much to be done, and moving into November I plan on conquering NaNoWriMo once more with my first regency romance, The Prodigal Husband.

For these reasons and more, there looks to be no Being Mrs. Bennet chapter this week. Maybe early next. Gotta get my bearings. She's probably going to have to go on hiatus again in November, but I hope to wrap this first draft of the story up in the first quarter of 2015.

There is also a children's book I'm toying with. More to come. Busy, busy, busy!

I want to make sure I mention, before things get even more out of hand, that I received a copy of Mrs. Darcy's Diamonds from one of my favorite Janeites, Jane Odiwe. I love the way she paints a scene with words, and her powers are nicely displayed in this sweet novella. Reading it helped keep me sane while waiting to get my book back from Anna. This is the first in a series of short tales Ms. Odiwe will be regaling us with over the next year. Look for Mr. Darcy's Christmas Calendar in November, and Mrs. Darcy's Parisian Pin next spring! Can't wait!




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Eighteen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter Sixteen, Chapter Seventeen

Elizabeth stared at Alison in shock. "So these are my options! I am either a figment of someone's imagination, or the daughter of a lunatic?"

"I am afraid those seem to be the only options," Alison replied.

"You will forgive me then for concluding in the favor of the more probable option!"

"You think I'm mad?"

"I do not think I am a fictional being."

"But I know all about you," Alison persisted. "I know just what happened in Hunsford with Mr. Darcy."

Elizabeth's flushed skin flamed red. "What do you know?"

"'In vain have I struggled,'" she quoted from memory.  "'It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.'" 

"But," Elizabeth hesitated, "how can you ..."

"I have read that scene a thousand times, maybe more. I have watched it performed by half a dozen actors in as many movies and twice in the theater. Your story is one of the most beloved in the English language."

Elizabeth was floored. She knew not what to believe. How could Alison be able to recite Mr. Darcy's words, which sounded painfully romantic when heard a second time, if it were not true? She resorted to her usual defense when at a loss: laughter. "Well, I suppose if I must be a work of fiction, it is preferable to be a famous one. What is the name of the book?"

"Pride and Prejudice."

"Hmm," she smirked. "How fitting. This Jane Austen must have a way with words. We must be long expected below. Shall we make our way down?"

Alison smiled at Elizabeth but her gaze was evaded. She was fairly certain that Elizabeth was still of the belief she was crazy, but she also reasoned that she would accept the truth as the shock wore off. Alison could, if needed, produce ample evidence in her favor, but she hoped it would not prove necessary. As much as she discounted any concerns about changing the future in reality, she did have lingering concerns about changing the future of the book, and now that Lydia was safe, it was best to meddle as little as possible, allowing Elizabeth's journey to Pemberley proceed as it always had, excepting the precipitous departure.

Dinner was a stilted affair, marked only by the diversion of a discourse on Mary's new book and Lydia's continued sulkiness. Jane, who perceived Elizabeth's unease with concern, strove to maintain a conversation with her regarding the needs of a tenant, but it was entirely one-sided.

 When the ladies withdrew, Mr. Bennet held Elizabeth back in order to determined what ailed her. "You are not at all yourself," he protested. "Nothing could divert you at dinner, with Mary and Lydia both providing ample provocation. What has unsettled you, girl?"

Elizabeth, who had been pacing the room, stopped and confronted him. "I think my mother might be mad."

"I am certain of it," he readily agreed.

"This is no time for levity, Papa," she said, resuming her walk with frustration.

"It is always time for levity! How else is one to live? You have been taking yourself inordinately seriously since your return, and I cannot like it. Where is my Lizzy beneath all this seriousness?"

"She is here," her voice pleaded, "she is just concerned for her mother. I cannot except that you do not see anything the matter with her."

"I already agreed she was mad. That was no ordinary bump on the head she suffered."

"Indeed, it was not!"

"But as any change in her person can only be hailed as a blessing to us all, why do you persist in upsetting our new found peace? I have not been so pleased with my life's companion in more than two decades!" He firmly declared.

"Oh, Papa!" Elizabeth sank into a chair, wondering if he was or was not in danger of committing infidelity. The thought made her head ache, and she pressed her temples with her palms. "She tried to convince me I am a character in a book today."

"Well, she is much mistaken there. I never knew a heroine who enjoyed good health, cheer, and wasn't prone to swoon. You are not at all a good candidate for the position."

"Nevertheless, she truly believes that is what we all are - players in a work of fiction!"

"It might possibly prove more diverting than ordinary life, but one shudders at the inconvenience of having daughters eloping left and right."

Elizabeth began to tell him that it was precisely such a scenario Alison had envisioned for Lydia, but then she recalled what was said about Mr. Bennet consenting to Lydia following the militia to Brighton. Though she first balked at the notion of such imprudence, her current frustration made her wonder if her father weren't capable of it. Other things Alison said also rang true. How did she know about Mr. Darcy's proposal? she wondered once again. Perhaps it was too soon to press the issue on her father, especially as he was proving far from receptive. "It does sound exceedingly tiresome," she said with a forced smile, which her father accepted as a sufficient enough improvement to dismiss her.

Alison heard a knock on her door that evening, and though the now familiar swell of nerves attacked her as usual, she felt a corresponding surge of disappointment when Elizabeth, not Mr. Bennet, came through the door. "Lizzy! I thought you would continue to avoid me at least until tomorrow."

"I am sorry if my response caused offense, but you must acknowledge how very disturbing it is to be told your existence is meaningless."

"Not meaningless, Elizabeth. You have no notion the countless millions of people you have inspired, and of course it is disturbing. It is why I did not want to tell you the truth."

"It is the truth, though. I realize now there is no other explanation. To persist in resisting the truth because it is disagreeable is the real madness."

Alison reached out and clasped her hand, drawing the girl to sit on the edge of the bed. A flash a deja vue struck her, as she recalled how often her own Elizabeth had sat just so, confessing her concerns and fears. In her mind's eye, she could no longer clearly recall the difference in the appearance of the two Lizzys, and her heart throbbed at the realization, but in typical motherly fashion she suppressed her own cares to comfort those of the child before her. "I was concerned you might try to persuade your father to lock me away."

"I nearly did, but he would not heed my concerns. It was his unresponsiveness which brought home the truth. I can all too easily imagine having a similar conversation with him regarding Lydia and Brighton, to equal avail." She forced a smile, "Are you not concerned about what might happen now you have altered the plot?"

"I have wondered if it were wise, but I cannot see any purpose to my being here if it is not to remedy those imperfections, so well detailed by Mr. Darcy in his letter, that I am so particularly capable of addressing. As long as my actions do not have any contrary effects on the remainder of the tale, all should be well, I think."

"It is so strange to think you know it all, as if you were there!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Do you think I was wrong to conceal the truth of Wickham's evil propensities? Had I not, Lydia could never have been imposed upon."

"I think your desire to protect Miss Darcy's reputation is ample justification for the decision. You could not know what was to come and must not blame yourself for it."

"And what is to happen next?"

Alison held Elizabeth's eyes in a steady gaze. "You are not to go to the Lakes."

Read Chapter Nineteen

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mr. Darcy's House Party by Elizabeth Aston

Just a short review of a quick and fun read: Mr. Darcy's House Party: A Darcy Novella by Elizabeth Aston. I have not reviewed her Darcy Series. I read it long before I began this blog, very early into a burgeoning JAFF addiction (I was still 20th century enough to be limited to the books I could find in a Barnes & Noble). I zoomed through the first four or five books in the series, both fascinated and irritated, having no idea I was reading my first Regency romance novel. I did not yet know such a genre existed! Page after page (and I couldn't stop turning) I kept looking for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, who are almost entirely non-existent in these stories. Instead, the focus is on distant cousins and the Darcys' five daughters (our dear couple are portrayed as having the supervisory skills of the man with the yellow hat). It was Ms. Aston who first introduced the word Almacks into my vocabulary, opening a whole new world for me to devour, but I had pretty much resigned myself to looking elsewhere for fine Austenesque, until last December when she released her first Darcy Novella: Mr. Darcy's Christmas (look for my review this holiday season).

With the Darcy Novellas, Ms. Aston has take her entire Darcy Series and anchored it to Pride & Prejudice in a far more satisfying manner. The best part, because these books are both prequels to the Darcy Series and sequels to Pride & Prejudice, is that you needn't have read the Darcy Series to find them perfectly satisfying (though a few names might seem odd). As ebooks, they are also inexpensive, but be warned: Ms. Aston's compelling storytelling might very well get you hooked, and the entire Darcy Series is not a cheap read. The Kindle editions start over $9, and there are six books in all. Just in case you were wondering, The Second Mrs. Darcy is my personal favorite, and it can definitely be read independent fromt he others.

Back to the house party - Mr. Darcy did not want one. He intended a quiet family weekend at Pemberley, just the Bingley's and themselves, but then the dashing Lady Sarah Fitzwilliam arrived and multitudes followed in her wake. The result is an uproarious romance much in the tradition of Georgette Heyer. Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins show up, too, which can only result in high entertainment. I love this interaction between Mr. Collins and the two eldest of the Darcy daughters, and I don't think it gives too much of the story away:
"A paradise," Octavius said admiringly, then stopped and looked down at Sarah.
They stood, gazing at each other for a long, long moment; hearts, eyes, feelings joined as one. Octavius took a step forward, and Sarah was about to fall into his embrace, when they heard the door of the hot house open and close and Letty's clear voice saying, "I saw them come in here, Mr. Collins."
They sprang apart and Sarah said, "That wretched child. She is one of those girls who cannot tell a lie, and she does not even have the sense to see that it is better never to say anything at all to Mr. Collins. Oh, lord, what a fix we are in!"
Octavius looked around and his eyes fell on a group of three large plants with broad leaves which were planted in huge pots. Seizing Sarah's hand, he pulled her behind them, and they knelt on the wooden slats of the walk-way.
They could hear Mr. Collins's heavy breathing - had he come here at a run? - and his even heavier footsteps.
Then another girl's voice said, "Good morning, Mr. Collins."
Letty said, "What are you doing here, Camilla? You should be practicing the piano."
"I had ;earned my piece so well I was let off the rest of the practice."
Letty said, in disbelieving tones, "You little liar."
"What are you doing in here, Mr. Collins?" Camilla asked. "Are you looking for something?"
"I'm looking for your cousin, Lady Sarah."
Camilla said, "Oh, Cousin Sarah isn't in here. I came through the other hot house, and she was in there a moment ago."
"Alone?" said Mr. Collins.
Camilla said in tones of perfect innocence that Sarah knew concealed inner laughter, "Quite alone, Mr. Collins. She was admiring the jasmine. Its Latin name is Gardenia jasminoides, are you familiar with it?"
"You made that up," said Letty.
"I did not, Papa told me."
Sarah could see that Octavius was about to say something, but she laid a finger on his lips to prevent him. He caught her hand and pressed her palm to his own lips. They sat with bated breath while the footsteps dies away, Mr. Collins saying, "If she is alone, then there still may be time for me to prevent what would be a wholly inappropriate meeting."
Camilla's voice piped up, "My governess always used the word inappropriate, Mr. Collins. Pray tell me what it means."
Isn't that lovely? Guess which little Lizzy in the making is the focus of Mr. Darcy's Daughters, the first book in the Darcy Series.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Theo by Francis Hodgson Burnett

Most of Burnett's romances involve some impediment, usually moral, that prevents the couple from marrying. The stories rarely focus on falling in love, which happens easily, but on love triumphing against all odds. The novella Theo: A Sprightly Love Story is a perfect example of this. Theodora North at first  reminds me of Catherine Morland, whom no one would ever suppose to be a heroine. Here is how Theo's story begins:
A heavy curtain of yellow fog rolled and drifted over the waste of beach, and rolled and drifted over the sea, and beneath the curtain the tide was coming in at Downport, and two pair of eyes were watching it. Both pair of eyes watched it from the same place, namely, from the shabby sitting-room of the shabby residence of David North, Esq., lawyer, and both watched it without any motive, it seemed, unless that the dull gray waves and their dull moaning were not out of accord with the watchers' feelings. One pair of eyes—a youthful, discontented black pair—watched it steadily, never turning away, as their owner stood in the deep, old-fashioned window, with both elbows resting upon the broad sill; but the other pair only glanced up now and then, almost furtively, from the piece of work Miss Pamela North, spinster, held in her slender, needle-worn fingers. 
There had been a long silence in the shabby sitting-room for some time—and there was not often silence there. Three rampant, strong-lunged boys, and as many talkative school-girls, made the house of David North, Esq., rather a questionable paradise. But to-day, being half-holiday, the boys were out on the beach digging miraculous sand-caves, and getting up miraculous piratical battles and excursions with the bare-legged urchins so numerous in the fishermen's huts; and Joanna and Elinor had been absent all day, so the room left to Theo and her elder sister was quiet for once. 
It was Miss Pamela herself who broke the stillness. "Theo," she said, with some elder-sister-like asperity, "it appears to me that you might find something better to do than to stand with your arms folded, as you have been doing for the last half hour. There is a while basketfull of the boys' socks that need mending and —" 
"Pam!" interrupted Theo, desperately, turning over her shoulder a face more like the face of some young Spanish gipsy than that of a poor English solicitor's daughter. "Pam, I should really like to know if life is ever worth having, if eveybody's life is like ours, or if there are really such people as we read of in books." 
"You have been reading some ridiculous novel again," said Pamela, sententiously. "If you would be a little more sensible, and less romantic, Theodora, it would be a great deal better for all of us." 

Theo's lament is answered in the form of a letter from her father's wealthy half-sister, Lady Throckmorton, offering Theo a season in London, as she did Pamela before her. The eldest Miss North shares Cassandra Austen's history: her intended died before they could marry, and she determined on living as a maiden widow. That was several years ago, when the family was better off. Now Mrs. North tell Theo they cannot afford to send her to London, as she has no appropriate attire. It is late that night that the disappointed girl has her dreams granted by dour Pamela, who reveals that she has preserved her entire trousseau from her engagement. A bit of industrious sewing, and Theo is leaving her sad existence behind for life in London.

Two significant things happen immediately upon Theo's arrival. First, it becomes perfectly clear that the girl is a classic Burnett heroine, of regal bearing and exotic flavor:
She stepped before the full-length mirror to look at herself before going down, and as she did so, she was conscious that her waiting-woman was looking at her too in sedate approval. The gray satin was very becoming. Its elaborate richness and length of train changed the undeveloped girl, to whom she had given a farewell glance in the small mirror at Downport, to the stateliest of tall young creatures. Her bare arms and neck were as soft and firm as a baby's; her riant, un-English face seemed all aglow of color and mellow eyes. But for the presence of the maid, she would have uttered a little cry of pleasure, she was so new to herself.
Second, our hero arrives. Mr. Denis Oglethorpe is a talented young writer who has long been engaged to Priscilla Gower, their marriage delayed until he has established himself. Lady Throckmorton, who describes Miss Gower as "a modern Sappho," does not approve of the match, but as Mr. Oglethorpe is now established, a marriage seems imminent. 

Denis doesn't pay particular attention to Theo that first evening (though she plays plenty to him), but he is a good friend of her Ladyship's and regularly visits the house, becoming enamored of Theo so casually that he doesn't realize his danger until it is too late:
He had, perhaps, never given the girl a thought before, unless when chance had thrown them together, and even then his thoughts had been common admiring ones. She had pleased him, and he had tried to amuse her in a careless, well-meant fashion, though he had never made fine speeches to her, as nine men out of ten would have done. He had been so used to Priscilla, that it never occurred to him that a girl so young as this one could be a woman. And, after all, his blindness had not been the result of any frivolous lack of thought. A sharp experience had made him as thoroughly a man of the world as a man may be; but it had not made him callous or indifferent to the beauties of life. No one would ever have called him emotional, or prone to enthusiasms of a weak kind, and yet he was by no means hard of heart. He had quiet fancies of his own about people and things, and many of these reticent, rarely-expressed ideas were reverent, chivalrous ones of women. The opposing force of a whole world could never have shaken his faith in Priscilla Gower, or touched his respect for her; but though, perhaps, he had never understood it so, he had never felt very enthusiastically concerning her. Truly, Priscilla Gower and enthusiasm were not in accordance with each other. Chance had thrown them together when both were very young, and propinquity did the rest. Propinquity is the strongest of agents in a love affair, and in Denis Oglethorpe's love affair, propinquity had accomplished what nothing else would have been likely to have done. The desperate young scribbler of twenty years had been the lodger of the elder Miss Gower, and Priscilla, aged seventeen, had brought in his frugal dinners to him, and receipted his modest bills on their weekly payment.
Priscilla at seventeen, silent, practical, grave and handsome, had, perhaps, softened unconsciously at the sight of his often pale face—he worked so hard and so far into the night; when at length they became friends, Priscilla gravely, and without any hesitation, volunteered to help him. She could copy well and clearly, and he could come into her aunt's room—it would save fires. So she helped him calmly and decorously, bending her almost austerely-handsome young head over his papers for hours on the long winter nights. It is easy to guess how the matter terminated. If ever he won success he determined to give it to Priscilla—and so he told her. He had never wavered in his faith for a second since, though he had encountered many beautiful and womanly women. He had worked steadily for her sake, and shielded her from every care that it lay within his power to lighten. He was not old Miss Elizabeth Gower's lodger now—he was her niece's husband in perspective. He was to marry Priscilla Gower in eight months. This was why Theodora North, in glistening rose-pink satin, sent him home confronting a suddenly-raised spirit of pain. Twice, in one night, he had found himself feeling toward Theodora North as he had never felt toward Priscilla Gower in his life. Twice, in one night, he had turned his eyes upon this girl of sixteen, and suffered a sudden shock of enthusiasm, or something like it. He was startled and discomfited. She had no right to win such admiration from him—he had no right to give it.
So you see our dilemma. Denis, being a worthy hero, determines to forget Theo and flees to the continent until the time of his marriage. Theo, beholden to the whims of Lady Throckmorton, is brought to the continent as well. Again they are thrown together, their love is acknowledged, but they are determined to do what is right:
"Listen to me, Theo," he said. "Let me confess to you; let me tell you the truth for once. I am a coward and a villain. I was a villain to ask a woman I did not truly love to be my wife. I am a coward to shrink from the result of my vanity and madness. She is better than I am—this woman who has promised herself to me; she is stronger, truer, purer; she has loved me, she has been faithful to me; and God knows I honor and revere her. I am not worthy to kiss the ground her feet have trodden upon. I was vain fool enough to think I could make her happy by giving to her all she did not ask for—my life, my work, my strength—not remembering that Heaven had given her the sacred right to more. She has held to our bond for years, and now see how it has ended! I stand here before you to-night, loving you, adoring you, worshipping you, and knowing myself a dishonored man, a weak, proved coward, whose truth is lost forever. 
"I do not ask you for a word. I do not say a word further. I will not perjure myself more deeply. I only say this as a farewell confession. It will be farewell; we shall never see each other again on earth perhaps; and if we do, an impassable gulf will lie between us. I shall go back to England and hasten the marriage if I can; and then, if a whole life's strenuous exertions and constant care and tenderness will wipe out the dishonor my weakness has betrayed me into, it shall be wiped out. I do not say one word of love to you, because I dare not. I only say, forgive me, forget me, and good-by." 
She had listened to him with a terrified light growing in her eyes; but when he finished she got up from her seat, shivering from head to foot. 
"Good-by," she said, and let him take her cold, lithe, trembling hands. But the moment he touched them, his suppressed excitement and her own half-comprehended pain seemed to frighten her, and she began to try to draw them from his grasp. 
"Go away, please," she said, with a wild little sob. "I can't bear it. I don't want to be wicked, and perhaps I have been wicked, too. Miss Gower is better than I am—more worth loving. Oh, try to love her, and—and—only go away now, and let me be alone."
Is that not wonderful? Tragic, I know, but marvelously romantic. I wont reveal the rest of the story, but as indicated at the beginning of this post, love is triumphant.

What I find most interesting about this story is not the heroine. She is beautiful and admirable, but like many of Burnett's creations, she's kind of two dimensional. Denis, because of his more mature reflections on their conflict is more dynamic, but the real stars of this tale are not at all who you would imagine: Pamela and Priscilla. The two ladies are rarely the focus of the story, but their presences so dominate the discourse and both are proven such superior creatures in the end that they commend the reader's devotion. I prefer Burnett's strong, capable heroines (and boy does she have some intense ones), and Pamela and Priscilla are beautiful examples, cut from the same molds as Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood. I think Austen would have liked both ladies immensely.

Theo is available to read online at http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/theo/

My introductory post on Burnett is available here: http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2014/05/frances-hodgson-burnett.html

Read my other Burnett reviews here: http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2014/08/francis-hodgson-burnett-plan-of-attack.html