Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Mr. Bennet

My Mr. Bennet is an odd duck, but so is Austen's. The primary difference is that hers learned some humility when Lydia ran off with Wickham, while mine has never had a reason to lament: "It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it." I had not envisioned him becoming quite so meddlesome when I wrote First Impressions, but somewhere during the course of Second Glances he became a force unto himself. I really cannot bring him into line, no more than I can make Lydia any less than "invariably silly." 

In Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes, Mr. Bennet does meet with a degree of failure in his attempted machinations. I've already provided several spoilers to the story, and I must hold something back, but here is a glimpse into the man's mind, as revealed through a conversation with his favorite daughter, at the end of her first year as mistress of Pemberley:

“Lizzy? Might I intrude upon you?”

Elizabeth looked up from her accounts with a surprised smile. “Of course, Papa. I had not thought to see you but at meals and social occasions.”

“I have made no good reputation for myself, in that case. What a house guest to be saddled with: barging in upon you unexpectedly, and in the most surprising company, and then I do not even put myself out to be agreeable, cloistering myself away in your most excellent library!”

“If you behaved otherwise with such a temptation on hand, then I would be concerned. You know you are always welcome, and I cannot imagine who you might bring to my door who wouldn’t be.”

Mr. Bennet smiled enigmatically and changed the subject. “I have been thinking of Miss De Bourgh’s desire for Miss Lucas’ company. Is there any particular reason why you did not invite her to join us this year?”

Elizabeth noted something in her book. “I would love it if Charlotte were here, but I was unable to contrive her conveyance.”

“Perhaps Jane and Bingley can collect her on their way North?” he suggested. 

“I fear it is too late to act on your plan. Why do you concern yourself in the matter, Papa? It is unlike you.”

“I think Miss Lucas was sorry to not see you this year. She, her mother, and Miss Maria called not long before our departure, and while I only spoke to either for the briefest moment, I thought I detected some dissatisfaction in Miss Lucas’ eye. She asked how you were most sincerely.” She eyed him suspiciously, which he ignored and continued speaking, examining a nonexistent spot on his cuff all the while. “Miss Lucas has seemed rather downcast ever since she came home from Derbyshire early last spring. There was talk that she was nursing a broken heart, but perhaps that was just a ready defense, providing her a sort of distinction amongst her companions. Next to being married, a girl does likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of.”

“Papa! Have you come here to gossip?”

“Well, yes. I supposed so, if you must term it such. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?" 

“If you would like to speak on any other subject, I will be happy to indulge you, sir,” she laughed in spite of herself, “but I will not expose Charlotte in such a manner.”

“Nor should you! To do so knowingly would be a violation of the dictates of feminine friendship, but as you have only accidently betrayed your friend Miss Lucas, your conscience need not be burdened. I believe I know what happened.”

“Do you?” asked Elizabeth, feeling a great deal of disbelief that the conversation she found taking part in was real.

“Yes,” he said matter-of-factly. “It was Mr. Westover. Poor man didn’t know he was in love until after she left, I suppose, for I can’t imagine Miss Lucas rejecting a proposal, considering her circumstances.”

“And when did you discern all this?”

“Last evening at dinner. Mr. Westover is not the man he was.”

“You are a quick study of characters,” Elizabeth replied evasively, “but why concern yourself in the matter at all?”

“I do not like to see Miss Lucas cast down. I never thought the lady had much heart to lose, but I fear I was wrong.”

Elizabeth looked deeply concerned. “Is she that changed?”

“Only to the eyes of those who can see, and there are exceedingly few of us. I suppose I must do something about it.”

Elizabeth stared at him in astonishment. “What?” she demanded. 

“I am not yet sure,” he admitted.

“Really Papa,” she admonished. “Have you not had enough of matchmaking? If you must concern yourself on a lady’s behalf, do you not have two very fine daughters remaining from which to choose.”

“I meant to say something to you on that subject, incidentally,” he turned the conversation.  “Kitty is a great deal improved, do you not think?”

“Yes, indeed I do.”

“I wish you might consider having her with you this summer. Georgiana is a good influence on her, and perhaps she may guide Lydia a bit, too. My youngest is a necessary part of the package, you understand,” he shuddered to think of Lydia’s complaints should she be left out of such an arrangement.

“I think it an excellent idea and will speak to Mr. Darcy about it this evening. It would be a very nice surprise for the girls, too, do you not think so?”

“Indeed! Very well then, I shall return to my favorite haunt. Excuse the interruption, my dear!” and he took himself off, his daughter smiling inquisitively behind him.

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