Monday, July 21, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter Thirteen

That evening, once most of the family had already retired, Elizabeth sought Mrs. Hill in her office.

"My dear Miss Lizzy! Come in, come in! How nice to have you home again."

Elizabeth accepted a proffered seat. "It is nice to be home, Mrs. Hill." She glanced around at at the small room's familiar walls, in which most of her childhood scrapes and falls had been tended.

"What can I do for you?"

 "I was hoping you might tell me more about my mother's health since the carriage accident."

A thoughtful look overspread the good woman's brow. "What is it you want to know?"

"Her behavior is markedly ... different."

"That it is," Mrs. Hill agreed.

Elizabeth sighed. "Do you know what might have happened to cause such a change in personality?"

"No more than anyone. The mistress has been as she is ever since the day of the accident."

"What was she like when she first came home that day?"

Mrs. Hill pondered her words before proceeding. "She was confused, not knowing where things were and the like."

"For example?" Elizabeth pressed, sitting forward attentively in her chair.

"Well she couldn't remember how to work the bell, for one thing."

"That could just be disorientation due to the accident."

"That's just what Mr. Jones said," Mrs. Hill confirmed.

Elizabeth felt she was probing in the wrong direction. "Today my mother declared her intention to buy a riding habit. I thought the one thing my mother and I shared in common was a fear of horses, and now she wants to ride my father's stallion!"

Mrs. Hill shook her head worriedly. "Many of her tastes seemed changed. She wont take any laudanum any more, not since that first night, and bathes at every opportunity."

"Long walks, coffee, reading aloud, dropping stitches," Elizabeth checked each item off on her fingers. "She shares amusements and intimacies with my father, and rebukes Lydia for too high spirits. Can this be the same woman?"

Mrs. Hill looked startled. "Who else can it be, miss?'

"I don't know," Elizabeth confessed guiltily, "nor do I wish to alarm you, but it boggles the mind. Can a bump on the head do so much?"

"If it makes you feel better, Miss Lizzy, she has been ever so pleasant these weeks! Always thanking me, and hesitating most charmingly whenever she requests a service. That last dose of laudanum she took made her mighty sick, and my heart nearly broke when she apologized for all the trouble she was causing."

Elizabeth felt as if she could never cease to wonder at her mother's recent marvels. "You sound like my father and Jane, content with what they see as an improvement and unwilling to ask how it came about, lest it prove a fantasy."

"It's not my place to question the behavior of the family, Miss Lizzy, but if you are worried for Mrs. Bennet, maybe you should talk to her about it. She's the best one to answer your questions, I should think."

Elizabeth pondered this a moment then smiled. "You are right. I do not know why I did not consider it an option myself. Thank you, Mrs. Hill."

"It's my pleasure, Miss Lizzy. Reminds me of the days you used to run to me with all your little troubles, and we'd sit over a cup of tea and work out why Mary tore your book or some such thing."

"I always felt better for your counsel."

On the other side of the house, Alison was lying in her bed watching a candle flicker on the nightstand. If she squinted her eyes, it almost had the same pulsing look as the off-air snow the television channels of her youth would default to late in the night. She forced herself to recall familiar themes songs - The Brady Bunch, The Jeffersons, and Scooby-Doo. These memories were vital tethers to her real world, and it felt vital to hold on to them.

These meditations were interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by Mr. Bennet's head in a night cap sticking through the door. Alison bolted upright in alarm. "Mr. Bennet!" she exclaimed.

"Good evening, my dear." He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. Alison dug herself deeper beneath the covers. "I though we might ... talk," he said cautiously.

"Can it not wait until morning?"

He looked hurt. "I suppose it could, but I'd like to speak now." He picked up the chair from the vanity and placed it beside the bed. "You need not fear me pressing my affections upon you, if that's what has you worried."

Alison hoped she didn't look as relieved as she felt. "I did not mean to offend you ..."

"No matter," he interrupted. "We have more important matters to discuss, Alison."

See started and blurted, "How do you know my name?"

He looked truly flabbergasted, "And why should I not know my own wife's name? As I recall, I did have to speak it in church at least the once!"

All the color drained from her face. "And is your name is Thomas?" she asked desperately.

"Are you in earnest?" he asked in astonishment. "I'd like to know what else you think it ought to be! Perhaps Lizzy was right to be so concerned."

"Lizzy was concerned about me?"

"We all are, my dear," he sighed and stood from his chair. "I do not know what happened to addled that brain of yours in the carriage accident, but ever since I've seen the first glimmer of the woman I married that I've had in years!" He bent down and grasped her hand in both of his. "I know the years have not been what we once imagined them, but that does not mean the future must be the same as the past."

"You are in earnest?" She was floored.

"Completely. Think of what' I've said, Alison. I will see you in the morning," and he leaned over the bed and kissed her forehead, just as Tom used to do when he tucked her and one of their infant daughters in for a nap together. "Good night, my dear," and he left.

Mrs. Bennet's name is Alison! she wanted to scream at the closed door in alarm, shock, and confusion. Instead, tears overwhelmed her, making the world look like an Impressionist painting. Alison and Thomas, but Austen never gave either character a first name! She didn't think her name sounded remotely Regency. Was this just some wild turn in her fantasy? Or was her modern world the fantasy, and she was just batty old Mrs. Bennet? She couldn't tell what was real anymore, and that terrifying thought kept her awake all through the night.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Etiquette: The Mourning Period

My husband and I find ourselves often consulting the copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan that his mother gave him upon graduation from high school. It is a bit dated, the 1995 edition we own having last been updated in 1978, but we find it an extremely useful guide when we have questions about how to appropriately proceed. I know we are discussing modern manners, not those of Jane Austen's era, but I have decided to start posting when we consult the book, as I just find it so fascinating. Miss Austen, after all, would want us all to be well-mannered, wouldn't she?

My grandfather has been dead for a week, and I find myself drawn back to Ms. Vanderbilt and what she has to say about wearing black.

Some people take much longer than others to recover from the death of a loved one The healing time should never be rushed; in fact, expressing grief is an important part of the recovery process. There is no longer such a thing as a prescribed mourning period for those close to the deceased. In the past, a widow or widower was expected to mourn (and wear black) for a year or, in some religions, for the rest of his or her life. Fortunately this has changed. Sensible people would want their surviving loved ones to continue on with life. 

I can't argue with the part about not mourning forever, but I think we have lost something in the relaxation of mourning expectations. Some people might be able to turn around and resume their normal lives, but I think most of us find it rather difficult. In the days when we donned arm bands and bombazine, everyone could see a mile away we that we grieved. There was no need to explain, and all knew delicacy might be required when interacting with a mourner. I wish I had that barrier of protection now. I think I'd prefer to be anxious for a period of mourning to end than feel it was inadequate.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Thirteen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve

Alison rose that morning happy and refreshed. She had gotten used to the bed, and even more used to not waking too early to either an alarm clock or screaming. At Longbourn she heard the cock crow and slept through it. The first time it woke her, it took a while to identity what she was hearing. She had never heard a rooster in the morning before.

Not a thought to her real life disturbed her as she dressed. The clothing no longer foreign and incomprehensible, she was able to make natural choices about her borrowed appearance. Even the strange visage in the mirror no longer startled her: the too light hair and almond eyes felt not only familiar but almost right. She presented herself downstairs with excitement and anticipation. Elizabeth was home! She would east breakfast with Elizabeth Bennet!

Alison tried not to stare at her when she entered the dinning-room, moving through the process of getting her plate, food, and coffee without thought, just as if she had been eating from a buffet every morning of her life. Indulging the normal pleasantries and inquiring into everyone's intentions for the day absorbed some few minutes, as she gathered the details of Mary's piano practice, Jane's gardening, and Lizzy's letter writing. Having thus spread her interest around the table, Alison felt entitled to focus entirely on Elizabeth, with no small degree of pride in the self-control she had displayed in waiting so long. "To whom do you correspond this morning, Lizzy?"

"Mrs. Collins and my Aunt Gardiner, to thank them for their kindness."

"Does not Lady Catherine warrant a faint scratch in token of her nine dinners?" her father inquired.

"Mr. Collins was so good as to suggest I send her a note prior to my departure."

"Did he? What a valuable relation he has proven!"

"I'm surprised he didn't suggest writing again upon your homecoming," Alison remarked.

Elizabeth looked startled. "Actually, he recommend just such a course, but a reminder that she had not requested a correspondence weakened his insistence."

Everyone thought this rather amusing, and they were still laughing when Lydia and Kitty entered a few minutes later. The latter smiled on the sight. "Good morning! Everyone seems in fine spirit today."

"And what do you girls have planned this morning?" Alison inquired with a smile.

"We could walk to Meryton and visit my Aunt Phillips. We can tell her all about Jane and Lizzy's travels and our morning collecting them from the inn," Lydia eagerly suggested.

"But they plan to call on her tomorrow," Kitty protested.

"What does that matter?"

Kitty flushed. "Well we must leave them something to say."

Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth both burst into laughter, but Alison only looked on Kitty encouragingly and said, "That's very considerate of you, my dear," words which checked Elizabeth's humor.

"But what shall we do otherwise?" Lydia sulked, discontent to spend a day at home after the adventure of the day before.

"Poor Lydia! To confront the torments of a quiet day in her own comfortable home!" Mr. Bennet declared. "This cannot be allowed. Mrs. Bennet, you have inquired into everyone's intentions for this day but my own, and if you will only hurry up and do so, I might propose a solutions to Lydia's predicament, if Lizzy might put of her correspondence for one day more, of course."

Alison smirked and replied, "My dear Mr. Bennet: how do you intend to spend this delightful morning?"

He returned her smile. "I propose we take ride. The horses are free, the bluebells ought to be starting to bloom, and I know a lovely birch wood just about seven miles away. Shall we make it a picnic?"

This suggestion was greeted with squeals of delight from the youngest girls, smiling consent from Jane and Mary, and perplexity from Elizabeth, which her father acknowledged with a wink in her direction. Alison beamed on him, looking about and feeling responsible for the happy family scene, until her eyes met Elizabeth's and she saw the questions in her eyes. Her true identity and place came bursting back upon her consciousness: she was an impostor, and Elizabeth could see right through her.

Two hours later the family was on its way, Jane and Mr. Bennet riding beside the carriage into which everyone else was stuffed. Alison, to the wonder of all, had asked if she might rise as well. The objections to this were three-fold: she had not a habit, there was not another mount, and she didn't know how. Mrs. Bennet may not know, thought Alison, but I have been riding since I was seven! It was a stark reminder of her bizarre predicament. Under Elizabeth's assessing gaze, there was nothing to do but submit to the closed carriage, yet she was gratified to have Mr. Bennet say to her aside, "You may order a habit in Meryton tomorrow, if you have no aversion to shopping."

"Certainly not!" she assured him.

"Good! I'm glad to know not everything has changed about you, my dear!"

Now she sat dwelling on this statement with Elizabeth's penetrating eyes watching her every move. The combined effect was perfectly unnerving. How could she have gone through so much of the day without even thinking of her own family and concerns? Was she losing herself in this fantasy and if she did, would that be, in essence, death?

She wished it were just she and Mary, that she might probe the girl into metaphysical exploration. To attempt it before Elizabeth at the moment seemed suicidal. She might as well just tell them she was born in 1965.

Such morbid thoughts dominated the drive but dissipated as soon as they approach their destination. Carpets of blue and green spread in all directions, punctuated by trees in stark contrast. It was one of the loveliest sights she had ever beheld, but it was not the first time she beheld it. She took it in with a gasp, memories of her honeymoon flooding back. She had forgotten it entirely, but she was certain, looking on now, that she had two small buds pressed in a tattered version of Pride & Prejudice that she read while they traveled. For some reason, the memory jarred with a recollection that it was illegal to pick them.

Not in the Regency Era. Lydia and Kitty were soon engaged in making wreaths for their hair, Mr. Bennet went with Elizabeth and Mary to collect stalks to bring home, while Jane assisted Alison, Mrs. Hill, and the footman accompanying them to lay out a formidable picnic. They had just arranged things satisfactorily and sat upon the spread blankets when Mr. Bennet returned alone. "I find my stamina for flower picking does not equate that of the fairer sex," he explained, sitting himself beside Alison. "Still beautiful, is it not?"

"Incredible," she replied.

"I wondered if you would remember that day we spent here, just shortly after our marriage."
She looked at him in confusion. "I see you do not," he shook his head a bit sadly. "I stole your bonnet and filled your hair with bluebells." He smiled at her fondly. "You looked just like Titania."

Alison had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "I pressed some to remember the day by."

His smile broadened! "You do remember!"

Indeed she did, but she thought it was a memory from her real life, shared with Tom. The thought sent chills through to her core: Is my life dissolving into fiction?

Read Chapter Fourteen

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Lady of Quality and His Grace of Osmonde by Francis Hodgson Burnett

I've now been reading Francis Hodgson Burnett for four months, I think, and I've plowed through the bulk of her available writings. I'm reserving the rereads of Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Secret Garden, and The Little Princess until I've gotten through her works I haven't read. As mentioned before, I didn't have a clue that the author of my lifelong favorite book (TLP) had ever written anything else. Just see what could happen in the world before the internet! Had I been a child today, I probably would have devoured all her books, both those directed towards children and those clearly not, as a youth. I feel for the child within who laments the loss, but I'm having a wonderful time discovering her books now.

Even those stories written for adults have an aspect of fairytale to them. Her characters are more archetypes rather than fully developed beings. She was a Christian Scientist, and her firm belief in existence beyond what the mortal eye can see definitely enhances the mystic feel of her writing. Anything is possible if one only believes.

I have to take exception with The Collected Works of Francis Hodgson Burnett for putting the historical novel His Grace of Osmonde before A Lady of Quality in the book. The latter was published a year before the former, and they are two sides of the same tale. I'm going to go ahead and review them together, to try avoid any biases I might have picked up reading the gentleman's story before the lady's.

The books begin in the last quarter of the 17th century, when Gerald Mertoun and Clorinda Wildairs come into the world. Their respective births could not be more different. The heir to Camylott (seriously) is born to ringing bells, wrapped in his parents well-deserved adoration all his youth, and carefully prepared to take a leading role in society. Mistress Clo must fight from the first moment when her abandoned and battered mother dies in after childbirth, nearly suffocating the new born. She lives to inhabit an ill-furnished nursery with her equally neglected sisters, while her decadent father, Sir Jeffrey, carouses with men of similar ilk, until he stumbles upon her one day, threatening her with his riding crop only to have it seized by a toddler and wielded against himself. So impressed is he by the fiery temper of his offspring that he makes her a pet. She grows up hunting and drinking with his cronies.

From starkly different beginnings these larger than life figures are destined to come together. And they are literally larger than life: bigger, stronger, and more beautiful than all their fellow humans. When Clo decided to shed her boyishness she does so with eclat, becoming the perfect maiden overnight. Sought by all men, she finally accepts an offer of marriage from Lord Dunstanwolde, kinsman and friend to his Grace, to whom she is first presented almost immediately following her engagement. Immediately, she perceives her mistake. What she does not know is that his Grace has loved her nearly all his life, going so far as to leaving England to see if time will mend her wild ways and make her a proper lady. He returned to claim her too late.

It is the stuff of legends through and through, and fate will not allow two soul mates to remain asunder. Their path to union is barred with a variety of impediments, and even when they are finally together, the means employed to overcome them take their toll, marring paradise.

I suppose it's fitting to have each character dominate their own book, as each is an epic scale hero. His Grace is all that is right and noble, and his lady is like a goddess, right down to the vengefulness, but Clorinda is by far the more complex character, My gut tell me her story could stand on its own without assistance from his Grace, but as his story is more saturated in the politics of the day, it does provide a better history. When you read the books side by side, there are a lot of redundancies, but the story and setting cast such an aura of chivalry and romance that I just wanted to keep reading anyway. Ms. Burnett's writing spins magic in that way, transporting the reader completely to some new world. These stories are not my favorite she wrote, but they represent so many of the themes I see repeated in her work that I thought they were a good place to start. Seeped in mysticism and romance, her almost mythological characters resemble no one I have ever known but fascinate all the same. Far more irresistibles to come!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Etiquette: Funerals and Mourning

My husband and I find ourselves often consulting the copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan that his mother gave him upon graduation from high school. It is a bit dated, the 1995 edition we own having last been updated in 1978, but we find it an extremely useful guide when we have questions about how to appropriately proceed. I know we are discussing modern manners, not those of Jane Austen's era, but I have decided to start posting when we consult the book, as I just find it so fascinating. Miss Austen, after all, would want us all to be well-mannered, wouldn't she?

It has been years since I did one of these posts. Truly, I'm surprised it didn't occur to me to consult Amy Vanderbilt in May when my grandmother died, or even better, a few months earlier when a cousin died. If I had, I wouldn't now be reading in agony as I count the faux pas committed at her memorial service. Now my grandfather is dying. The one who raised me. Finally I seek Ms. Vanderbilt's advice and find it profuse.

Of course, funerals were very different affairs now than in Jane Austen's day, when they were all male, processional affairs (for an elaborate discussion of period funerary customs, check out this post at The Regency Redingote). Yet for all the obvious differences, probably the most significant is the length and importance of the mourning period, to which Ms. Vanderbilt gives a nod:

Some people take much longer than others to recover from the death of a loved one. The healing time should never be rushed; in fact, expressing grief is an important part of the recovery process. There is no longer such a thing as a prescribed mourning period for those close to the deceased. In the past, a widow or widower was expected to mourn (and wear black) for a year or, in some religions, for the rest of his or her life. Fortunately this has changed. Sensible people would want their surviving loved ones to continue on with life.

Today, as soon as one feels up to it, social and business activities may be resumed. Well-meaning friends should be sensitive and not push social engagements on someone who has lost a spouse until that person indicates interest. On the other hand, one would obviously not give or attend wild parties or go dancing immediately after the funeral of a loved one.

I cannot even begin to replicate the twenty plus pages she dedicates to funerary matters, so beyond this noted difference from the 19th century, I'm just going to focus on her list of Do's and Don't for the modern mourner, as I think it gives a good overview:

  • Whether or not you attend a funeral is a decision only you can make, depending on your relationship to the deceased. Never criticize someone for not attending a funeral.
  • When talking about death, stay clear of euphemisms like "he passed away," or "She's found her resting place." Death is what it is. Pretending otherwise is unrealistic.
  • Unless you are an intimate friend of the deceased's family, don't drop by their house to offer your condolences. Call first. When you do call, ask if there is anything you can do to be of help to the family. Or make your offer very specific, such as putting up relatives of friends from out of town.
  • In you cannot go to the funeral home during calling hours, you can stop in at another time. Be sure to sign the guest book, so the family knows you were there (even though you sin your name in the guest book, you should still write a condolence letter).
  • If the obituary notice states that the funeral is private, do not ask to attend.
  • If you attend a funeral and the internment is private, do not go to the internment unless specifically asked to.
  • When you arrive at the church or funeral home, you will be shown to a seat by an usher. A woman does not take the usher's arm at a funeral, unless she is frail or unsteady on her feet.
  • If the clergy person announces at the end of the funeral that you are invited to the deceased's family's house for lunch and you already have a lunch date, drop by anyway for a few minutes. The family will be grateful you did.
  • When a Jewish family is sitting shivah, it means they are available for condolence calls, especially during morning or evening prayers. It's best not to come at mealtimes, and calls are never made on the Sabbath -- from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. If you are uncertain about when to make a visit, you may call the family and ask.
  • Try to remember a friend who has had a recent death in the family when Christmas or some other holiday comes around. This is a time when she will most need your love and support. Instead of a Christmas card, write a note saying, "I know this Christmas will a sad one for you, but I cannot let it go by without your knowing you are in my thoughts and that I send you a great deal of love." You can be certain this thoughtful gesture will be important to your friend.
  • Mark the date of the deceased's death on your calendar so you can write a note to your friend, the survivor, on the anniversary. Just a short note saying you're thinking of her will be a source of comfort. Flowers are also appropriate at this time. 
As the anniversary of my friend's father's death next month, I will be acting on the last one.

The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette was definitely written for a largely protestant audience, but her slant and the mentioning of shivah made me consider how different all the funerals I have attended over the past eleven months have been. One was Episcopalian. The turnout was enormous for an important man struck down in his prime. I imagine this was the kind of funeral Ms. Vanderbilt largely had in mind. Next I attended a small, intimate Baptist funeral. Far less formal, with hours spent back at the family home afterwards. Attendees were asked to stand and share any thoughts they wanted to share. This was also the predominate feature of the most recent funeral, my grandmother's, which was a Quaker ceremony. Almost the entire family stood and shared recollections, as did her many friends in attendance. It was simple, short, but beautiful. When my grandfather dies we will sit shivah. Having grown up in his house, it is the jewish mourning ritual with which I am most familiar. I presume it will be at my aunt and uncle's house, and we will spend the better part of the week burying, praying, telling stories, and perhaps most importantly eating. Food will play a much bigger and more formal role in in this mourning process. I wish Ms. Vanderbilt had advice on how not to overeat.

Despite differences in religion, time, and culture, I think the fundamentals of funerals and mourning are pretty universal. Death is a fissure that changes forever those closest to the departed. When it is a parent or grandparent, the roots that have always supported you are suddenly chopped away, the slightest breeze makes you waver, and the future seem terrifyingly insecure and lonely. With time, we recover, but the wound remains. The care and companionship inherent in mourning provides much needed TLC as mourners struggle to figure out what the world is without this dead person in it to turn to, talk to, and love.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Twelve




The carriage was greeted at Longbourn in state, almost all the many Lucases having earlier arrived to welcome Maria. Elizabeth was the last to leave the carriage and enter upon the clamor, where her mother's beaming face met her.

"Elizabeth Bennet! Don't you look well! I am so very pleased to see you!"

"Thank you, Mama. It is good to be home."

"Let me get a good look at you girls," Mrs. Bennet placed her two eldest daughters side by side. "Yes! You are just what you ought to be. Come along inside! Mrs. Hill has prepared an enormous dinner for us all, though it might more properly be called a feast! Such enormous quantities of food would be more fit for forty than ten, but I understand the leftovers are subject to the greatest economy."

Throughout the dinner Elizabeth noted a thousand little oddities in her mother. She was inordinately gracious towards all: her behavior free from all the little pettinesses and indiscretions that usually so marked it. More than once she maneuvered Lydia into speaking less boisterously about nothing at all, even managing to extract a few reasonable words from her youngest on the subject of the carriage ride. Mary she engaged in conversation, rather than waiting for her to sermonize. She even shared a few laughs with Mr. Bennet! Elizabeth tried to catch his eye several times, but he seemed to deliberately avoid her. Other than, "I am glad you are come back, Lizzy," upon greeting, she had not a word from him the entire meal.

When the Lucases departed, Lydia suggested a walk to Meryton. Elizabeth was on the verge of objecting when her mother stepped in, claiming they were just reunited and needn't be splintering off so very quickly. "I want to have all of you together!" she proclaimed. "The dynamics are so different when Jane and Lizzy are away."

The next hour was spent in each sister taking her turn in relating the activities, observations, and other tidbits of interest that occurred over the course of their travels, much to Mrs. Bennet's rapt attention. Jane spoke of fashion, the theater, and museums. Elizabeth spoke of Hunsford and Rosings.

"Does Mrs. Collins seem content in her marriage?" Mrs. Bennet asked.

"Very. She has her poultry and larder, each of which she manages nearly as well as her husband."

Mrs. Bennet shook her head slightly. "She finds it well enough for now, but how will she like it ten years on? To be lectured by Lady Catherine and have her meddling in private affairs! I'm glad no daughter of mine shall have to bear it."

"You are?" Elizabeth was shocked.

 "Yes. Please forgive me for treating you so poorly when you rejected Mr. Collins, Lizzy. It was the right thing to do. I'm sorry."

"Of course, Mama," replied her befuddled daughter. Elizabeth looked to Jane in perplexity but was met only by a beaming smile.

As soon as the eldest daughters were allowed to part for the night. Elizabeth began to share her observations of her mother. She had been anxious to tell Jane of Mr. Darcy's proposal and Wickham's villainy, but now that would have to wait a few more minutes. "Kitty and Lydia did not exaggerate: she is a changed woman! I am very concerned."

"I was too upon first hearing of it, but now I can only be grateful to witness such sensibility and affection from my mother."

"You do not think something might be seriously wrong?"

"She is clearly healthy. The carriage accident was weeks ago. What could be the matter?"

"I don't know," Elizabeth chewed her lip pensively. "She greeted me as if I were someone she had often heard of but never met."

"I don't see anything that warrants concern, Lizzy, unless it is her new dislike for Mr. Wickham that upsets you."

"No! Not at all. In fact, I am thankful my mother has separated him from our company." Elizabeth began to unfold her tale of Mr. Darcy's disastrous proposal and the letter that followed, much to the astonishment of Jane.

"I do not know when I have been more shocked," said she. "Wickham so very bad! It is almost past belief. And poor Mr. Darcy! dear Lizzy, only consider what he must have suffered. Such a disappointment! and with the knowledge of your ill opinion too! and having to relate such a thing of his sister! It is really too distressing. I am sure you must feel it so."

"I do. It has been the overthrow of all my fondly held prejudices, which I thought so witty and clever! I had to read that letter several times to overcome them, Jane, and our mother was even more disdainful of Mr. Darcy than I was: how did she come to know better?"

Jane considered a moment. "She must have reflected on the matter quite deeply ..."

"Jane! Since when is our mother reflective?"

She smiled. "You cannot convince me to think on this change in behavior poorly, not until some negative outcome or consequence can be named! It would not be the first time a person in midlife has turned over a new leaf."

"It's not like she had a spiritual awakening. Something is different about her - fundamentally! She looks the same and sounds the same but she cannot be ..." her voice trailed off, not ready to speak the thought aloud.

"Lizzy! Do be reasonable! Of course she is the same person she always was. Who else could she be?"

"I don't know," Elizabeth replied, all seriousness. "But I think we ought to try and find out."

Before breakfast the next morning, Elizabeth was able to corner her father in his library. "Scurried me out, did you, Lizzy? I'm surprised I managed to keep away so long."

"I thought you were avoiding me. Tell me, Papa: are you quite certain my mother is well?"

"No, but Mr. Jones swears she is, and her appearance supports his claim. She hasn't professed to be this healthy in twenty years."

"But she is so clearly not herself!"

"Indeed! She is a great deal improved!"

"Nevertheless ..."

"Lizzy!" he interrupted. "I understand your feelings on the matter and struggled with similar myself, but do not look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say!"

"But what if she is sick, somewhere in her mind where we can't see." Elizabeth's face grew pale. "What is she is mad?"

"If this is madness, there is a great many to whom I'd recommend it! Most of mankind could do with a good carriage joggle, I think."

"Do be serious, Papa!" she pled.

"Speak with Mr. Jones yourself if it will make you feel better, Lizzy. You'll find him perfectly sanguine on the subject. All the neighborhood has noticed the change, and while it raised a few eyebrows at first, the only person to complain of it is Lydia."

"It just doesn't feel right," Elizabeth said helplessly.

"Give it a few days. You'll find your mother a pleasurable companion except when her head aches. Then watch for fire and brimstone!"

Read Chapter Thirteen

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy: Chapter Thirteen

My deepest apologies, but I need to forgo Being Mrs. Bennet again this week. Last week's omission was due to a minor surgery; this week's is due to the fact I need to finish the third draft of The Madness of Mr. Darcy. Please accept this excerpt from my next novel in abeyance. It's a little strange that the last excerpt I posted was chapter 19, I know, but it was during the last draft and had been much altered since. This is from Mr. Darcy's first day at Ramsey House, a private mental asylum. Enjoy.

While Mr. Darcy contemplated the ironies of fate, his fellow guests of Ramsey House loitered on the main stairwell’s enormous landing – the area referred to as the lounge – busily remarking on the new arrival. It was thought very odd of Dr. Wilson to have ushered a new guest away so quickly, without introducing him round or imparting some words of announcement. The few things learned by the first sighting of Mr. Darcy cast more interest on the matron than him. Many at Ramsey House, particularly a few of the ladies, had long been curious of Mrs. Bennet’s origins. Clearly, despite her title, she had never been married, for why else wear no ring? Both she and the doctor’s allusiveness on the subject was suspect, and further provoked by questions posed by the housekeeper, theories abounded on her possible story. The most far-fetched saw her as a Jewess or the daughter of a traitor to the crown, but the generally agreed upon explanation was that her father drank the family fortune away. Her beleaguered mother went mad, taking her daughter with her into some lesser private asylum than Ramsey House, where she eventually found employment and was rescued from total obscurity by Dr. Wilson. The one thing everyone absolutely agreed upon was that Dr. Wilson was the hero of her story. Mr. Darcy, already of great interest to the small society of Ransey House, now possessed a further intriguing attribute.

“He must have know her when she was more comfortably situated,” Lady Elliot speculated loud enough for all to hear, though her words were addressed to Miss Crawford.

“If not, their prior association will be much more difficult to explain,” Miss Crawford replied, in more refined tones. “We’ll see how reluctant he is to discuss it. That shall reveal a great deal.”

“Was there not some trouble surrounding a Darcy?” Lady Saunders mused, racking her mind for the answer. “The name is so very familiar to me, but I cannot place it!.”

“Mr. Darcy was rather well-known, once upon a time,” Lord Dunfield contributed. “Used to be a rather rigidly correct fellow, if I recall. It must gall him to be here. I’m rather surprised Lady Anne allowed it.”

“Why not?” Mr. Knightley replied, sneeringly. “Who is to tell anyone he is here? Certainly not them, nor any of us, should we ever get out of this place.”

“I’d think you’d be glad for the change of pace,” Mr. Smothers replied. “You’re always complaining of the regiment!”

“You’d complain too, if you weren’t too bewitched by the great doctor to see anything else,” he grumbled in reply.
                                             
“Oh yes! Bewitched body and soul, are not we all, Mr. Knightley?” Mrs. Bennet’s voice rang out across the room. She still stood where the doctor had left her, Miss Higgins standing beside and looking excitedly around at her companions.

“Surely not you, Mrs. Bennet,” Mr. Knightley replied with the smallest glimmer of a smile.

“I’m glad you think so, sir. Since you all take such an interest in our new companion, I do hope you all will take it upon yourselves to ease his transition into life at Ramsey House.”
    
The guests might have heard such words with the best intentions, but their excitement got the better of them. When Mr. Johnson escorted Mr. Darcy to the dining room, he led him straight into a swarm of new acquaintance. Mr. Darcy had rarely felt so uncomfortable in all his life. Several guests crowded around, all seemingly talking at once, reminding him of distant connections they might or might not share, and attempting to establish whatever similarities they might between one another.

Mr. Darcy struggled to respond to the onslaught of inquiries, until his eyes found Mrs. Bennet, standing not ten feet from him, her eyes laughing at his predicament. The whole cacophony seemed to melt away. How could he think of anything else with such a vision before him! She had haunted him for so long; could this be an illusion? He was in an asylum, after all: who was he to know real from fantasy? But then she drew near, and the scent of lavender, just as it always had in the past, wafted from her. Phantoms have no aroma, he told himself firmly. She must be real, and I must get a grip upon myself or lose this second chance.

He laughed aloud, and Elizabeth cocked her head inquisitively, not unlike a spaniel he had as a boy: her smile never faltering, her eyes sparkling like jewels! He did not note the looks attending him from the rest of the room, but when she turned to address another, he felt the connection between them sever.

What second chance? The voice of reason reprimanded as his spirits plummeted. He was a lunatic, or as good as: a man of uncontrolled violence, capable of inflicting irreparable harm n his fellow humans. What woman would ever be interested in such a man? If Elizabeth Bennet had ever harbored any regrets for refusing his marriage proposal, they must all be wiped away upon meeting him again here. Yet her smile seemed so pure, loving, and inviting! But why would she not now meet his eyes. I‘ve misread her before

The guests sat themselves at random about the long table. Darcy sat beside Mr. Smothers, whose age and bearing suggested a dignity innately attracted him. Miss Crawford claimed the seat on his other side, causing him to inch his chair to the left, much to her annoyance..

It was not surprising to anyone to see the reluctance with which Mr. Darcy approached his food, as each resident had experienced something similar in his or her time. The increased frequency of food consumption took adjustment on everyone's part. The fare, on the other hand, required endurance.

“Do not worry yourself too much with eating today,” Mr. Smother said confidentially. “You will allowed some leniency at first. In case you missed it amidst the bustle, I am Gerald Smothers. Forgive the informality in introductions. I’m sure the doctor will say something properly in time.”

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Smothers,” he looked at his plate with misgiving. “I understood I would be required to eat a substantial meal everyday at this time, but I am not accustomed to it, nor such fare as this. Is it rhubarb?”

“Yes! Boiled rhubarb[1] in salad, dressed with cucumber, parsnip, and raspberry puree.”

“Perhaps I’ll just eat some bread,” Mr. Darcy said meekly, reaching for a wine glass and finding dissatisfaction in the water that filled it.

“Soon you’ll be eating as voraciously as the rest of us, but it is not of great importance today. Dr. Wilson is lenient as you make the adjustment.”

“Why will not it matter today?”

“You have not had your examination yet, and perhaps you will be spared, but I will warn you most patients upon admission are subject to a thorough internal cleansing, if you understand my meaning.”

Mr. Darcy was not sure he did, but at that moment Dr. Wilson rose from his seat at the end of the formal table, and the room suddenly grew quiet with attention.

“I hope you have all enjoyed a profitable morning. I just wanted to take a moment to formally introduce you all to our newest guest, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. You will surely learn on your own, if you do not already know, all the salient details regarding family and income, so I’ll say no more on the subject. I know you will all want to do your part to help him settle comfortably,” he looked at Mrs. Bennet meaningfully. “I will not take anymore time away from your meal. Do continue.” He sat down, and the din of resumed conversations filled the room.

“The doctor is usually more effusive in his welcome,” Mr. Smothers commented, looking at Mr. Darcy with a hint of suspicion.

“I’m afraid I did not quite catch your meaning before,” Mr. Darcy replied. “What, prey tell, is an internal cleansing?”

“Usually Dr. Wilson uses a combination of emetics and enemas.” Mr. Smothers said tartly.

“You’re not serious?” Darcy’s face went white.

“Perfectly.”

“Pay Mr. Saunders little heed, Darcy,” said the wiry man sitting across the table from him. He appeared about Darcy’s own age, though with far grayer hair and a world-weary look. Darcy was certain he was not amongst the crowd at the door, which spoke well for his character. “Your neighbor is Dr. Wilson’s most ardent follower and promoter. Any extreme experiment conducted once must be the totem forever more.”

“It is precisely the procedure prescribed me, upon my arrival here, Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Smothers insisted indignantly.

“But it was not my experience,” retorted the man, “nor that of anyone else admitted without a great deal of poison in their gut.” This seemed enough to silence Mr. Smothers, who omitted a huffing sound in protest, but then chose to turn his attention entirely towards his plate.

“You must learn take what some of the guests say with a grain of salt, Mr. Darcy. I, by the way, and John Knightley, sir.” He bowed his head slightly in salutation.

Mr. Darcy returned the gesture, while Miss Crawford, who had henceforth been entirely preoccupied with the lady on the right, inserted herself. “The right honorable John Knightley, if you will, sir. We have a high court official in our midst.”

“Miss Crawford is inclined to disguise flattery beneath an intention to cause discomfort, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley informed him. “In this case, she knows I have no right to the title and so refuse to use it, though it legally belongs to me still, and thus she amuses herself at my expense.”

“What nonsense Mr. Knightley speaks!” the lady retorted. “As if my attempt to bolster his standing can be construed as malicious. Mr. Knightley has the blackest of humor, Mr. Darcy. He would be vastly amusing, were he not so ridiculous.”

“And Miss Crawford,” came the retort, “is possessed of a lively mind, so lively, indeed, that she finds life at Ramsey House far too limited in its entertainments, a point on which she has my concurrence, and therefore she amuses herself with whomever places themselves at her disposal.”

Miss Crawford turned her head deliberately from Mr. Knightley’s direction, casting a winning smile on the newcomer. “You must know, Mr. Darcy, that your arrival here has caused no ordinary stir. We thought ourselves quite fortunate to now have even numbers of men and women, but the value of finding you a much younger man than had been supposed is not to be underestimated.”

“Show no weakness now, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley warned. “Miss Crawford will think she has the upper hand of you.” The lady in question laughed as if this were amazingly humorous and turned to her other neighbor, Lady Elliot, and Mr. Darcy was left to inspect the unusual food in peace. He had ventured on a tentative bite of greens when Dr. Wilson was inviting everyone to repair to the lounge. Darcy noticed that every plate but his own was clean. With abrupt efficiency the table was cleared and the guests ushered up the steps. Some headed back to their rooms to gather supplies, and all settled in to pursue their regular hobbies.

Darcy looked about him. The place referred to as the lounge was really not a proper room, but an unusually large landing at the top of the grand stairwell. The space was semi-circular, with a huge arc of windows confronting the stairwell, only interrupted by a grand fireplace in the middle. The ceiling was domed, and a well-selected collection of books lined the walls. Several worn but serviceable sofas were comfortably arranged, along with occasional chairs placed to accommodate both conversation or solitary reflection, with the common smattering of tables amongst them.

The room was handsome, but its attractions did little to ease Darcy’s way forward, yet before he could even begin to curse his old social awkwardness, a well-loved voice sang to his ears. “I recall you claiming to be ill-qualified to address yourself to strangers.”

He closed his eyes, and the years and Ramsey House seemed to slip away. Visions of Rosings Hall danced through his mind. Elizabeth sat at the pianoforte, with Fitzwilliam by her side, and Darcy left Lady Catherine to stand by the instrument and watch. His aunt had been lecturing him on the importance of Georgiana practicing her instrument regularly, that she might perform better than the unfortunate Miss Bennet, raised without a governess, and unmarried while her younger sisters were out. You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? She taunted him. But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me. He remembered the spark in her eyes as she said it, and turning to face her, he was overwhelmed by the pleasure of seeing that very same spark, undiminished by time and suffering.

“Mrs. Bennet,” he bowed with more formality than he wished. Forcing an unpracticed and surely awkward smile, he continued, “You have as much penetration as the good doctor and read my thoughts precisely.”

She smiled back at him, and his heart began to pound with a vehemence he was sure she must hear. “I do not have the doctor’s training in physiological analysis, but I have made human nature a lifelong study, and I am assisted in this instance by having sketched your character many years ago.” She looked at him intently, and Mr. Darcy’s arms tingled with the desire to hold her. The connection between blossomed once more, and his heart swelled with relief and joy, but again the moment broke. She looked at her watch and assumed an entirely business-like demeanor. Here was the matron, not his long lost love. “The afternoons at Ramsey House, as I am sure Dr. Wilson informed you, are spent in quiet recreation. Everyone must have an occupation. Idleness is what will not be tolerated. I believe you made the acquaintance of Mr. Knightley already,” she gestured to one rounded corner of the room, where both he and Lord Dunleigh were seated before a chessboard. “Have you met his lordship?”

“Not today, but I know him of old.”

“I think you will find both gentlemen comfortable companions.”

“Chess is not a three person game, Mrs. Bennet,” he replied.

“Indeed,” she studied him quizzically for a moment, and again his heart sored. “Perhaps you prefer a book to cards … or other games?”

He smiled more naturally than before. “There is no enjoyment like reading.”

“Very good!” she said, gesturing with a sweeping arm around the room. “As you see we have plenty from which to chose.” An attendant came up and commanded her attention, and when Mrs. Bennet again turned round, she addressed the entire room. “Excuse me, ladies, but Mrs. Simpson tells me all the materials are gathered for our little experiment, if you would care to join me in the front drawing room.” All the ladies responded eagerly to the summons, and soon the sound of swishing skirts filled the air as they abandoned their various pursuits and trampled down the stairs.

Again on his own, Mr. Darcy walked to the nearest bookcase, hastily making a selection. A young man seated on the closest sofa looked at him, and Darcy’s lips twitched in greeting as he chose the seat opposite. With some relief did he think he might lose himself in the pages, his companion seeming disinclined to interrupt, but he was soon to find that the other guests, though the matron herself recommended it, would not tolerate such a peaceful pastime.

“Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Smothers came towards him jovially, in response to which he buried his nose further into the book. “You cannot be heavily invested in even the most intriguing novel, not so quickly! You must socialize! Let us get to know you! It is part of Dr. Wilson’s treatment, you know!”

“And a bigger waste of money I’ve never countenanced before in my life!” An old man ejaculated, shaking the dice box with apparent delight in the noise, never casting them, and barking: “Spendthrift!” Traitor!” Darcy was unnerved to then see him methodically clear the board, never having made a move.

“Pay no attention to Mr. Winters,” Mr. Smothers urged, “nor should you bury yourself with Mr. Lotts amongst the books. We shall find some activity to engage your mind! Do you care for billiards, Mr. Darcy? I’m sorry if you do, for we do not have a table at Ramsey House,” he shook his head sadly. “As you see, Mr. Knightley and Lord Dunfield are busy with the chessboard, per their want, but perhaps Mr. Winters would consent to actually play a hand of backgammon?” Though the man was now setting back up the board, the look he cast on his inquisitor was decidedly negative. “Well then! Perhaps you would be interested in listening to the sermon I’ve been composing, on the subject of the bible’s advocacy for strenuous exercise and industry, just as Dr. Wilson prescribes?”

“Do not trouble yourself with Mr. Darcy’s entertainment, Gerald!” Lord Dunfield called across the room. “Go back to your sermons, as you know you wish to! Come over here, Darcy,” he commanded. “Bring your book if you must.”

Mr. Darcy pulled up an indicated chair, stationing himself so that he might watch the game. The men didn’t say much, but what they did say was sensible, and Darcy was thankful for it.

A stir on the stairs announced the return of Mrs. Prescott to the lounge. Darcy was to learn she was the only guest permitted to wander the house unescorted. She quickly scanned the room before deliberately headed towards the chess game. The gentlemen stood at her approach, and she began speaking to Mr. Darcy.

“Hello, Mr. Darcy. I am Mrs. Prescott,” she said matter-of-factly, making use of an accommodating chair.

“How do you do, ma’am?” he bowed

“I’m to ask if your room is comfortable, Mr. Darcy.”

“You are to ask me, Mrs. Prescott?” he questioned.

Laughing, “I am not only performing a duty, Mr. Darcy. I’m genuinely interested in you,” she said with an analyzing glance.

“My room is well-appointed, thank you, but for any sofa or lounge of any kind.”

“We don’t spend a great deal of time in our rooms, Mr. Darcy.”

“I am exceedingly grateful to Mrs. Bennet.”

She smiled. “I will be sure to tell her you said so.”

“Was it Mrs. Bennet who sent you?” he asked eagerly.

“In a way,” she said cryptically. “The doctor and Mrs. Bennet often ask me to bridge the divide between themselves and the guests. I’m one of the permanent ones, you see.” His apparent confusion prompted her elucidation. “We all come to Ramsey House for different reasons, Mr. Darcy. Most of us come to Dr. Wilson ill, but not all of us depart when cured. Some of us have nowhere else to go, and so we stay on, making a place in this little world where we can serve some purpose.”

“You have no home to return to?” he asked with concern. Homelessness was almost incomprehensible to him, so grounded in the stability of land ownership as he was, yet he knew it was exactly the predicament Elizabeth must have faced and had often dwelled on its many ills.

“I have a sister who would take me in, but she is just as content for me to remain here as I am.”

“But you must want to return to the outside world.”

“No. I don’t think so,” she replied.

“I, on the other hand,” Mr. Knightley spoke up, “cannot wait until I escape this godforsaken place. Do you have a family, Mr. Darcy?”

“None at all,” he replied.

“Then perhaps your tenure here, however long it might last, will not be so unbearable to you as it has been to me. I – thank god! – will be departing soon.”

“Has your sister finally come around?” Mrs. Prescott asked.

Mr. Knightley smiled for the first time since Mr. Darcy had met him. “Almost. I received news from my brother today, and he is of the belief that I have ridden out the chief of my disgrace, and a quiet life in Surrey is now perfectly unobjectionable. As soon as Emma consents,” he smirked grimly, “George and Isabella will come to collect me.”

“And I will be out a chess partner,” Lord Dunfield complained. “Do you play, Darcy?”

Before he could respond, Mrs. Prescott rose from her seat and put a tender hand on Mr. Knightley’s arm, the intimacy of which gesture surprised Mr. Darcy, and said, “I am so pleased for you, John! You are resigned to remaining at home?”

“After the tedium of this place,” he said, “Hartfield sounds like heaven to me. I always was a homebody, you know, until my father-in-law died and we moved to the country. I couldn’t shake the old man’s influence out of the place. Eventually Serle, the old cook, served me so much gruel as to send me scurrying back to London, there to spend all the time I could.” He looked suddenly downtrodden as he said, “I missed some of the best years of my children’s lives, and I’ll never have them back, but I’m not going to waste any more of the time I do have.”

“Bravo! Mr. Knightley!” Mrs. Prescott applauded. “Now if you’ll excuse me gentlemen,” she rose, “I shall return to the ladies.” She dipped into a graceful courtesy, nodding to each man at the chess table, and turned to cross the room and descend the stairs.

“To your question, Darcy,” Lord Dunfield said,“Mrs. Bennet sent her to talk with you, as sure a day, and kept everyone away longer than needed that her spy might have plenty of time to interrogate you!” He shook his head knowingly. “You’ll learn that Priscilla Prescott is almost an extension of Mrs. Bennet in this place. The two are as close as two ladies in their situations can be.”

“Their situations?” Mr. Darcy asked hesitantly.

“Oh, all the ladies are always in turmoil over how to behave towards Mrs. Bennet. Is she a servant? Is she a lady? There has been a great deal of speculation on the point.”

“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley said authoritatively, “if he plays chess, might like to play the winner. What say you?”

“It’s been many years since I last played, but I was once considered tolerably skilled at the game.”

“Oh ! I see how it is to be. You and Mr. Darcy will be better matched, and I shall no longer be wanted for my measly skills,” Lord Dunfield predicted. “Good thing you’re off, John.”

Mr. Knightley smiled. “Perhaps Mr. Darcy will prove my superior, and you know I can’t bear to lose very often, Tom. Check mate.”

“Drat! Do go on and try your hand at the game, Darcy, and for my sake as well as his own, beat the living daylights out of Knightley, will you?” He stood and ceded his chair with a gracious gesture to Mr. Darcy. Mr. Knightley was already resetting the board.

Mr. Darcy truly couldn’t remember the last time he played chess, for he did not have the kind of companionship about him that lent itself to such games, and he took the proffered seat with hesitation. He was equally out of practice at cards and backgammon, but he hoped his neglected former skills would hold up. How could he not have realized that such pastimes would be cherished in a place like Ramsey House? At least regarding backgammon I ought to be reprieved, he thought with a glance towards Mr. Winters, again clearing an unused board.

I will do my best, your lordship.” He said stalwartly and made his opening move.

Mr. Knightley was quick to make his play, and then he asked, “So through what means do we enjoy your society, Mr. Darcy?”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t be too taken aback, for what have we to talk of if not our individual maladies? Such topics might be taboo elsewhere, but here they are indispensible conversation points. Here is my brief history, that you don’t feel put on the spot.” He smiled slightly at Mr. Darcy’s next move and began to ponder his own. “I am overworked and exhausted, or at least I was before finding myself here these past ten months. Now I suffer acute boredom. If I get any more rest, I shall truly go mad.” He moved a pawn, and continued, “My good wife sought the assistance of my good brother, who happens to be married to her equally good but far more meddling sister, and between the three of them they locked me up here for the best part of a year. It’s time I be gone.”

“Not me,” declared Lord Dunleigh, who sat in Darcy’s abandoned seat. “I have been here far longer than you John, and I am in no rush to leave. If I were left to my own devices again, I would just get in the way of Roger, my brother, and soon all the effort he has put into recovering my fortune will be just as wasted as Knightley labor.” He looked slightly ashamed, but also cavalier. “I’m better off remaining right where I am.”

“You have extensive lands, Mr. Darcy, I think.” Mr. Knightley said, continuing his offensive maneuvers.

“Yes. Pemberley is a large estate.”

“I have heard of it before. In whose hands to you trust it while here?”

“My cousin, Lord Matlock’s.”

“Then you have nothing to fear. Fitzwilliam already has too much to possibly require any more. Besides, is not his son your heir?” Darcy nodded to the Earl in affirmation. “I think your assets are in rather safe hands.”

“Is it common for relations to seize estates while their owners are ... indisposed? One hears of such things, of course, but I admit to thinking such accounts more sensational than common.”

“Such things do happen, though you are right – it is not common. Nevertheless, certain persons of influence have been pushing to codify into law the right of those, like us, find themselves incapable of handling their own affairs,” Mr. Knightley said, with a hint of bitterness in his voice. “It is a cause I should have liked to take up.”[2]

“You see Mr. Darcy,” said Lord Dunleigh, “we are all at cross purposes. Some wish to never leave, some cannot wait to break free. And others,” he inclined his head towards a young man, of dower countenance, reading a book in a nearby chair, “cannot make up their minds.”

“I know you speak of me, my lordship,” the man replied without looking up from his book, even turning a page as he spoke. “Do recall that you had the privilege to admit yourself into this august institution. Those of us who had no choice in the matter are entitled to more complex feelings on the subject.”

“Young Lotts over there is a sad case,” Lord Dunleigh said to Mr. Darcy, as if the young man had nothing to say for himself. “Disgraced at school, he returned home only to imbibe such astronomical quantities of liquor that his poor mother found him in a pool of his own sick, completely unconscious. It took three days to rouse him, and then he was sent to keep us company. You see how well he fulfills his obligations!” Mr. Lotts pushed his nose deeper into his volume, which Darcy noted with interest was a translation of Aeschylus.

“Over there,” Lord Dunleigh pointed towards another gentleman, “you have our most recognizable lunatic, quite what you’d expect. Parsimony drove Mr. Winters to Ramsey House, while I got here rather the opposite way. Ironic, is it not?

“What is he doing?” Darcy asked in an undertone.

“Dr. Wilson won’t allow him to count coins. It makes his mind too feverish, so he obsesses over the backgammon board instead. He used to have a tin of buttons he’d pour over, when the buttons of the other guests started disappearing, Dr. Wilson was forced to take it away.”

Mr. Winters looked up from his board with a startled look, and Darcy could see the pain still in his heart for the loss of his treasure. He had to look away, it affected him so.

“You shouldn’t mention it, Tom,” Mr. Knightley admonished.

“He’ll get over it,” was the cavalier reply, but when Mr. Darcy raised his eyes to the backgammon table once more, he saw the old man diligently setting it up once more.

The ladies returned, all chatting loudly. They gathered near the railing the looked down upon the floor below, and Darcy inquired what they were about.

“Mrs. Bennet has set them to some experiment or another, right out of a school room,” Lord Dunleigh said indulgently. “It keeps them busy.”

“The ladies have a difficult time of it,” Mr. Knightley continued, “not being allowed their needlework, though I think Mrs. Bennet is trying to convince the doctor to be more indulgent on that point.”

“They are denied their work?” Mr. Darcy asked with some surprise.

“Are not you?” Knightley returned. “Nothing that might be fashioned into any sort of weapon, even an ineffectual one, is indulged at Ramsey House. Check mate.”

“Well done, Mr. Knightley!” Mr. Darcy declared.

“You are a skilled opponent. Let us play again,” Mr. Knightley began resetting the board, and with an urgency that allowed Mr. Darcy, for the first time, to observe any sign of disorder in him.

“Damn it, Darcy,” said Lord Dunleigh. “I thought you were to be my ally? Now I shall never get to play John again.”

“I will readily restore you to your seat, my lordship. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go see what it is the ladies are working on,” he stole a quick glance at Elizabeth, who was helping Miss Whitten tie a thin strand of thread to a waxed square of fabric. “I used to have quite an interest in such things, as a lad.”

“But we have yet to hear your history, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley looked up at him from the renewed chest board. “Surely you might indulge us after hearing so many of ours, though I did notice my friend here told you about half the room without leave, but never himself.”

“Pshaw, John! As if I care a lick who knows!” His lordship stared Darcy steadily in the eye. “I am a gamester and drunk, Mr. Darcy. My recklessness has brought shame and hardship upon all my associates. The best thing I ever did for anyone was go mad. I feel no shame in it, but rather pride.” He bowed to emphasize his point, and the sudden conviction that he really was amongst mad people chilled Darcy's blood to his core.

“And you, Mr. Darcy?” Mr. Knightley prompted, making an opening move in the new game.

He felt put upon the spot, but having heard such recitations from his two companions, he thought it chicken-hearted to not reciprocate.  “I am a recluse and eccentric. My family, finally sick of me,” he laughed grimly, “urged me to seek help from Dr. Wilson.” He looked at his new companions – his fellow guests – and saw they expected more. Somewhat ashamed that he held so much back, Mr. Darcy continued. “Dr. Wilson, thrust into my path though he was, made me hope for the first time that I might find some real that my ... abnormalities … might be resolved. Knowing that you, Mr. Knightly, prepare to depart encourages that hope.” He caught Lord Dunfield’s eye. “I do not intend to be a permanent guest,” he said meaningfully, but he questioned the veracity of his words when Elizabeth’s laughter caught his ear, its magnificence echoing across the lounge. He could not help but turn in its direction.

“You’d be surprised how well one can adapt to the life,” Lord Dunfield replied, following Darcy’s gaze towards the matron. “Ramsey House affords excellent company,” he tilted his head in Mrs. Bennet’s direction.

Darcy snapped his eyes back towards his lordship’s, searching for the meaning behind such words, but instead he found laughter.

“Whatever happened to the unreadable Darcy countenance of old? You are an entire riot of emotions now and have been since your arrival! Most are, but you surely are a changed man from when we last met. I’d lay odds you thinking about doing something dreadful to my pour countenance,” he preened.

It was true, much to Darcy’s increasing irritation. What did the man mean by making such insinuations about Elizabeth? And were they even insinuations? His head began to swim wit familiar turmoil: the sensation of his ancestry clawing with their decaying fingernails at his skull, as if they could rake the failure and ineptitude away. He clutched his temples and stumbled forward, nearly oversetting the chess table.

“Steady, Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Knightley called, rising to stabilize both table and opponent.

Mr. Darcy looked towards this man he just met with the eyes of a repentant school boy  and said, “Last year on my estate there was a fire. Several cottages burned down, and three of my tenants died. A man against whom I have long bourn a grudge was accused of arson, and in a fit of madness I threw him screaming into the flames.” He pushed away and stood on his own, turning to face the room, all its inhabitants watching him, and addressed them all. “Had my family not intervened, or had the man perished, I would have probably have hung as a murderer.” He hung his head dejectedly until he felt a hand grasp his. Looing up, he was Elizabeth before him, her lips, slightly agape, seeming to reach towards him in comfort as tears welling in her compassionate eyes. Their sparkle in the sunlight was almost blinding, but Mr. Darcy would have gladly given his eyes for such a glorious vision. His hand tightened around hers and current shot through his arm, electrifying his soul.

“We will help you, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “The past is behind you, and we have only the future to address. Let it go.” With her other hand, she covered the one he already grasped, and it took every ounce of his willpower to not raise the small mountain of fingers to his lips.




[1] Rhubarb, valued for its purgative properties was, consumed in massive quantities in 19th century mental asylums.
[2] This was a time of rapid legislation effecting the insane, much of it an attempt to reform the Madhouses Act of 1774, until the Madhouse Act of 1828 instituted more difficult requirements for inmate admission and subjected private asylums to inspection. It was repealed and replaced by the similar Care and Treatment of Insane Persons Act of 1832, ushering in an era of reform and philanthropic interest, culminating in the Lunacy Act of 1845, which ruled mental health law throughout the Victorian era.