Thursday, July 4, 2013

Jane Austen, Independence Day, and Holidays at Pemberley: Part One (B)

Happy 4th of July, my fellow Americans! My family is getting ready to be off to the inevitable BBQ, but I just wanted to share some thoughts and more story on this most relaxing of holidays.

Jane Austen was not a year old when the Declaration of Independence was signed 237 years ago today, and while she could have little opinion of it at the time, she grew up in a world coping with the upheaval then begun. Her books provide escape from a world in chaos. Politics and revolutions do not soil their blissful pages. In my own writing, I struggle to find a place of retreat from the concerns of the modern world, and that's why I'm usually loath to introduce sadness and suffering into it. We all get enough of that already. Though I am willing to plunge on occasion into misery, as I did in the spirit of the Halloween season with Emma & Elton (and I have another story of the same sort in mind for this October), usually I like to avoid the pain.

In First Impressions I removed all of Elizabeth and Darcy's initial pride and prejudice, but I did not in any way fix those character flaws. In Second Glances and now Holidays at Pemberley, I have tried to imagine how everyone would evolve without the benefit of the cures Austen so effectively applies to her characters, necessarily rendering these continuations a bit more negative than their predecessor. My hope for these books is that they are as uplifting as possible despite the intrusion of inconvenient relations, sycophants, and even loss.

This is the third excerpt from a DRAFT copy of Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes that I am sharing with you, Part One (A) and a Prologue having preceded it. As this is still a work in progress, please share any thoughts you have on it. Being self-edited, I can always use the help of an extra set of eyes.

Happy 4th of July!

Spoiler Alert - The following assumes a knowledge of the concluding event of First Impressions. If you have not read that book, this will probably both confuse you and reveal the plot, so you may wish to proceed no further.

Read the prologue: Somewhere in Hertfordshire, July 1790
Read Part One (A)

“Oh, Mr. Bennet! Do look up! I believe I have spotted a chimney!”

“For the last time, my dear, I am attempting to read,” he replied, his eyes stubbornly affixed upon the pages of an impressive tomb.

“How can you be so uncaring about the estate which will be our dearest Lizzy’s home?”

“You do me an injustice! I care a great deal for Lizzy’s comfort, and as Mr. Darcy assures me Pemberley is equipped with at least four walls and a roof that does not leak, I feel quite easy on the subject.”

“Now I see smoke. It most certainly is a chimney! How grand the house must be!”

“My dear, do use your head,” he succumbed to the temptation to witness his wife bouncing in her seat with all the excitement of a schoolgirl and lifted his gaze. “We have not even entered the gate, and the park is ten miles round, a fact you cannot have forgotten, having mentioned it to everyone within hearing distance these many weeks. You cannot possible see the house yet.”

“I could if it were situated on very high ground and was many miles long itself!” she defended.

 “We do not typically measure homes in miles.”

“Oh no? What do we use then?”

“Whatever would most suit you, my dear,” he replied with humor. “In lieu of miles, what think you of acres?”

“Acres then! It matters little, for I know a chimney when I see one, and all your reckoning of the distance serves to prove is how truly impressive it must be.  Lady Catherine spent 500 pounds on a fireplace alone; just think of what such a chimney as this might cost!”

Charlotte Lucas stifled a threatening giggle, focusing more intently than ever on her work. She did not believe Mrs. Bennet to have spotted Pemberley anymore than Mr. Bennet, and despite having spent the last three days in a closed carriage and being just as keen for liberation as her chaperone, she could not dispel reason for fantasy. Endeavoring to dull her eagerness with the lady’s chatter, Charlotte considered what a welcome addition such a steady supply of hot air as that provided proved to the comfort of the journey.

“It is a chimney!” Mrs. Bennet squealed with delight.  “Oh do look, Mr. Bennet! Miss Lucas! I insist you look out the window!”

She was right. It was a chimney, but that belonging to the lodge. Mr. Bennet teased her quite mercilessly regarding the epic grandeur of the accommodation, while Mrs. Bennet insisted it was a very fine dwelling indeed, worthy of a magnificent estate. She almost determined to demand a tour of the premises, in proof of her point, but a gentle reminder of what lay ahead cured her desire for such delay and freed the gatekeepers wife, who watched the scene from the window with no small sense of alarm, from the burden of her inquiries.

 The entrance to the park was in one of its lowest points, and as they drove through a beautiful wood, gradually ascending for a half mile, both Charlotte and Mr. Bennet were just as attentive to the scenery as Mrs. Bennet could desire. Perhaps a most extraordinary soul might be unimpressed by Pemberley’s lower grounds, but upon reaching the eminence where the woods ceased and the house came into view, few breathing humans could be so insensible as to not pause in admiration.

“Oh my! Have you ever seen anything so grand? I knew Lizzy was to be terribly rich, but never did I imagine this! Netherfield is nothing to it! Nothing! Oh my! But it is so very big!”

Indeed it was. The three travelers climbed out of the carriage, ignoring frigid climes for the glory of the outlook. The house was situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills. In front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. They were all of them warm in their admiration, but Charlotte was possibly the most delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. Of all this Lizzy would be mistress! She had often congratulated her friend on her good fortune, and before her lay the evidence of precisely how good that fortune was. To be Mrs. Darcy was certainly something extraordinary.

Returning to the carriage, the trio continued towards the house, necessarily alive to all Mrs. Bennet’s enthusiasm the entire way. Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Jane and Elizabeth were all gathered on the portico, waiting to greet them. It was as delightful a reunion as mutual affection can assure. Mr. Darcy was at his best in his own domain. Behind the formal wording of his welcome, his future relations easily perceived warmth, yet his manners remained grand enough to stifle Mrs. Bennet’s most blatantly silly impulses, rendering the entire scene perfect to both himself and his future wife. Georgiana enjoyed a different satisfaction in the family atmosphere created by the arrival of the Bennets and Miss Lucas. She had relished the time spent in Hertfordshire at Longbourn. To her, Mrs. Bennet quickly became something of a surrogate mother, a feat assisted by being spared, along with her brother, from that lady’s most voluble behavior. All that could improve upon the moment would be if the youngest Bennet sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were also in attendance. Unfortunately, and in spite of Lydia’s rather violent protests, they were not permitted to delay their entrance into Mrs. Rivers’ establishment in Bath, to which they were referred by Mr. Darcy, for the acquirement of greater composure before being introduced to society. Georgiana was charged with sending a detailed account of all the festivities to Kitty, whom she rather preferred to Lydia.

Mrs. Bennet declaring herself fatigued, Georgiana escorted her to her quarters and saw her made comfortable, while Mr. Bennet determined that the famous Pemberley library could be neglected not a moment longer; he must see it immediately. Mr. Darcy happily led the way, finding no little amusement in the child-like joy displayed by the usually wry gentleman upon entering the sanctuary. Mr. Bingley joined them on this excursion, but quickly finding himself unable to participate in the other men’s bibliophilism, he excused himself, and drawing Jane away from the other ladies on the flimsiest excuse, Charlotte and Elizabeth found themselves alone.   

Caressing her hand along the silk material of the elegant chair upon which she sat, Charlotte exclaimed, “It is a lovely room! I knew Pemberley would be grand, but I had no notion such grandeur could be so warm and inviting. You are a most fortunately woman, Eliza.”

“I try to count my blessings, but mathematics never being my forte, such exponential growth is beyond my abilities to track. All I can do is pray this is a dream from which I will never wake, for it all certainly must be too good to be true.”

“I had not realized the estate would be so massive. No matter how often I heard the size calculated most exactly, it did little to prepare me for the reality.”

“You mean my mother has been talking your ears off these past days recounting every minute detail she knew about Pemberley. Poor Charlotte! At least you are now sure of respite, for until his name is mine she will not dare do anything to frighten Mr. Darcy away. How we shall manage once that restraint is released, I know not.”

Charlotte smiled, “Perhaps she too will fear to end the dream, and so refrain from any sudden oscillations?”

“One can but hope. Let us not engage in such fruitless conjecture. I had much rather discuss the fineness of this house over which I am to preside. Now we understand why Mrs. Wickham was so determined to tie herself to Pemberley!”

“Yes, indeed. Poor woman! I’ve heard she was most put out to learn that nothing scandalous marked her husband’s relationship to Mr. Darcy. Can you imagine wishing for illegitimacy?”

“She has my utmost pity, I assure you, and can only deserve more in time, as she comes to learn what kind of a husband she has caught. Unfortunately, marriage is an ailment for which there is no cure.”

“It almost is enough to make one wish to be an old maid. As I dwindle into perpetual maidenhood, Eliza, be sure to remind me of what a great blessing it is not to be married to Mr. Wickham.”

“Oh, let us not rely on him alone. The man is not worthy such undo consideration. Think on my new brother, Mr. Collins, should you ever need a reminder of Artemis’ blessings.”

“But how shall I fare when all the gentlemen before me are not Mr. Wickhams or Collinses, but Mr. Darcys and Bingleys? If your fiancĂ©e weren’t so impressive, my lot might be made easier.”

“You are still a young woman, Charlotte. Your fate is not yet sealed.”

“Perhaps in spirit, but reality renders me dangerously near thirty.”

“There will be a number of eligible gentlemen here over the next few days, as well as variety that should be worth meeting once the rest of the guests have departed. I shall make it my first priority as a married woman to see you properly settled with an agreeable gentleman of easy fortune, whose home lies in close proximity to my own.”

“You sound as if you already have someone in mind, Eliza,” Charlotte laughed. “If so, you shall hear no complaint from me, as the situation you describe sounds very agreeable, and I cannot be so simple as to not have formed hopes for the new acquaintances I shall make while in Derbyshire.”

Elizabeth smiled secretively, as she had indeed already selected a potential suitor for her friend: Mr. Westover, the rector at Kympton, but she had no intention of manipulating the situation in any way to bring about such a happy ending. The two would have ample opportunity to meet, and if her instincts proved correct, they would establish a ready rapport. She thought his steady temper and scientific mind were precisely what would appeal to her practical Charlotte, while a shared interest in the arts would encourage those more creative aspects of her friend’s personality, so wont be eclipsed by her stubborn pragmatism. Of course, Elizabeth had only dined with him once thus far, and so while she saw no harm in privately amusing herself with visions of the future, she would not yet dare to speculate aloud and so turned the subject back to the wonders of Pemberley.
“I truly think that should Mr. Darcy’s house have proven a hovel, we would still be just as happy together.”

“Though certainly not nearly so comfortable! Be reasonable Eliza. If Mr. Darcy had been penniless, you never could have allowed yourself to accept him, no matter how in love you profess to be. It would have been madness to do so.”

“But I do not imagine him penniless, only living in a hovel. Would not a miser be just the same as an impecunious husband?”

“Not at all. Do not bait me so! Be as romantic as you wish, but you cannot convince me that you would ever have married against your interest. It is very well to boast such munificence when you have never been forced to weigh such considerations, but the reality, had you been in such a sorry predicament, would be very different from what you describe. Only fools marry against their own interest.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow questioningly. “What of Mr. Darcy? No one can say he has chosen to align himself profitably, in manners of both influence and finance. I’m sure I am far more likely to be seen a detriment to his well-being than an asset.”

“Then he will surely pay the price for his folly!” Charlotte declared rather forcefully before checking herself and continuing, in a more gentle tone of voice, “My dear Eliza, who could begrudge you your luck? I know no one so deserving of it, and if it truly is all a magical dream, as you say, you cannot reasonably concern yourself with the normal rules of everyday life. I give you leave to be the happiest couple in the world, without qualification.” She rose to survey the view from the window. “I cannot wait to explore your park!”

Elizabeth began to expound on what she had so far learned of her new home and grounds, and soon Georgiana rejoined them. The dinner hour drawing near, Charlotte excused herself to see her room settled and herself refreshed. Before departing, she said in an aside to Elizabeth: “Thank you, Eliza, for including me in your wedding, and for giving me the opportunity to escape Hertfordshire for a while. You must know how miserable it will be at home without you nearby!”

“Do not think of such things now, for we know not what the next few months may bring,” Elizabeth replied, negating the need for any more to be said on the subject. She had her own dress to see to, as well as an appointment to keep with Mr. Darcy in the Conservatory. She could not be happier than she was, and if anything appeared off in some of Charlotte’s sentiments, it was certainly the effect of many days of travel – in wearying company, no less – and was quickly forgotten.

But when left by the maid to the quiet of her own reflections, Charlotte struggled with regrets she could not quell. She had betrayed some of her less generous sensations regarding the impending marriage to Elizabeth, and she could not excuse such carelessness in herself. Though sincerely happy for her friend, something like envy could not be repressed. She had meant to be grateful and supportive, condoling with Elizabeth on the great responsibilities she was about to undertake, and helping her to transition from her old life to her new, but her revere that morning while standing on the overlook had left her unsettled.

That impressive spectacle – the confirmation of all she had heard of Mr. Darcy’s wealth, and more – brought forward nagging doubts she had fought against ever since the inevitability of Elizabeth’s fate became clear. Charlotte, ever practical, was quick to celebrate the match. Being well acquainted with her friend’s opinions on marriage without attachment, she rejoiced to see Elizabeth find someone who not only suited her ideals, but who also had the means to marry for affection. She was honored when Elizabeth chose to include her in this most important of life’s great rituals, and would have happily born Mrs. Bennet’s exclusive company for four days more, had the distance required it, in order to stand with her closest friend as she took her vows. Nevertheless, Charlotte could quietly acknowledge that her joy was not unalloyed. There were nagging sensations tempering her delight. She would miss Elizabeth’s presence in the neighborhood, certainly, but though the vacuous void left in Charlotte’s life, as she trod ever further down that seemingly inevitable path towards spinsterhood, was sure to be rather horrendous, this was not what most bothered her. Missing a friend was a torment, but the feelings thus invoked where at least honorable. Charlotte was bothered by other emotions, of a nature to cause her shame. The vista as she gazed down upon Pemberley’s grandeur that day had forced the most pressing of these to the forefront of her consciousness.

From the first, Charlotte struggled with an irrepressible desire to find something in Mr. Darcy that she could despise, his perfections being far too much for a lady like herself to bear. Too long had she schooled herself against unreasonable expectations, debating with Elizabeth the wisdom of seeking affection in marriage at all, and to see such a fairytale unfold before her very eyes undermined some of her most cherished beliefs. Were Mr. Darcy ill-looking, bad tempered, or overly proud, Charlotte could be more equanimous, but to be confronted by a real-life Prince Charming was intolerable. Such beings did not exist, or at least not for a lady of little fortune, average face, and on the wrong side of five and twenty. Something, anything, must be discovered wanting in Mr. Darcy.

The task was not an easy one, but slowly her doubts began to center upon the disparity between Eliza and Mr. Darcy’s circumstances.  Their very different backgrounds would certainly compound the inevitable challenges of such a marriage. Why a seemingly sensible man would connect himself without more advantage she could not fully comprehend, nor could she understand the good fortune that led his relations to bless the engagement, for they could not be blinded by Elizabeth’s ready wit and pretty countenance to the absurdities of the connection. Charlotte found such blatant disregard for his own interest suspect, a conclusion that set her mind at ease without any great diminution to her friend’s triumph. A little stupidity in a husband was not such a bad thing, after all. It might even be considered an asset. Yet to see his capability on such obvious display everywhere one looked at Pemberley, where everything stood proof of Mr. Darcy’s excellent stewardship! Charlotte was left to contend with the possibility that dreams really do come true, at least for others.

No knight in shinning armor could be expected to lose his caliber over Miss Lucas, but she was not yet completely hopeless of finding someone acceptable. If she might yet attract a husband both respectable and of adequate fortune, she would then think herself nearly as lucky as Elizabeth. As the alternative was playing attendant aunt at Lucas Lodge all her days, Charlotte knew she was willing to endure a great deal for the independence gained through such a marriage. She wondered she could be so discriminating on Elizabeth’s behalf, finding even so excellent a man as Mr. Darcy to come up short, but confronted her own dismal prospects with relative calm. Looking at her circumstances objectively, Charlotte knew she had no better hope of meeting a potential husband in her near future than on this trip to Pemberley. Though Lady Lucas never discussed it with her daughter, the variety of new gowns she had made up for the trip implicitly revealed that she too perceived the invitation to Pemberley as a vital opportunity. Charlotte was determined to do everything in her power not to let it go to waste.

Read Part One (C)

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