Monday, April 28, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Six

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter Five

The nankin boots Mrs. Hill assured Alison were Mrs. Bennet's best walking shoes pinched her toes, revealing their owner the kind of woman who would put fashion and vanity before comfort. Alison was not such a woman, and she resented the sensation of fleshing rubbing off her right heel as she climbed the steady slope to Oakham Mount.

Pleasant companionship might have rendered incidental aches no bother, but Mrs. Bennet's daughters were not capable of providing any. Mary sulked and clung to a book of sermons she insisted on bringing, while Kitty and Lydia whispered between themselves, giggling periodically without sharing the cause of their mirth. Alison did not expect teenage girls to behave amiably when forced to do something against their will, but she liked to think her daughters would at least lose both themselves and any sulks in the scenery, which really was magnificent. Spring was apparent wherever one looked across the gentle English countryside. Graceful, rolling hills were spotted with bursts of floral colors. How three girls could remain so petulant under such influence was beyond her. Before they reached the summit, she found she could abide it no longer.

"Kitty!" she called out, halting the progress of the two youngest Bennets before her. Both turned to her with wondering eyes. "Take my arm and speak with me a bit," she demanded, offering no explanation. Her own Kitty would have asked "Why?" without hesitation, but to her relief this girl obediently came to her side. Mary hurried forward towards Lydia, who had already resumed a rapid pace forward, while Alison deliberately slowed her own down.

They walked for a few moment in silence, until Kitty finally ventured, "You wished to speak to me, Mama?"

"No. Not particularly. I just wanted your company," she stopped to take advantage of a lookout over the checkered fields below. "Is it not a divine day?"

Kitty just looked astonished. "You wished for my company?"

"Indeed. Should not a mother want to spend time with her children?"

Kitty looked away and said softly. "Usually you prefer to spend time with Lydia."

"Yes," Alison sighed. "I'm afraid I've been too indulgent of your sister, and it has rendered her behavior unbecoming." For some reason, the particular ease with which this archaic sentenced rolled from her foreign sounding tongue made her pause and take note before plowing forward. "The unfortunate truth is that I have done her a far greater disservice than she yet realizes. Mothers so often are foolish when it comes to our last baby. From now on, I am going to endeavor to be less so."

Kitty did not fully comprehend the words, but she smiled tentatively and asked for further explanation.

"It would be unduly cruel to force a girl back into the schoolroom when she has tasted adulthood," Kitty gasped in shock at the words, but Alison ignored her. "Nevertheless, I intend to see that Lydia behaves in a manner more befitting her age. The youngest of five unmarried daughters has no business being the most forward. Do you think, Kitty, that you might help me in this?"

Kitty shook her head negatively. "I have no influence with Lydia, if that's what you mean."

"And why ever not?" Alison demanded. "Are you not her elder?"

"Yes, but I was always so much more tentative than Lydia ..." she began to explain.

"And I imagine a great deal more prudent, too!" Alison interrupted. "You've allowed Lydia to persuade you to lead you into activities and situations against your better judgement, have you not?" It was just what her own Lydia had so often done to her twin. When Kitty nodded hesitantly, and she continued, "Do not do so again. By setting a strong example, you can help your sister more than you imagine." The girl looked so grave that Alison instinctively sought to lighten the mood. "Come now! We cannot remain so serious on such a day, can we? Let us walk fast, that we might catch up to your sisters. What do you propose to wear to the Colonel's ball?"

By the time Alison and Kitty reached the top of the hill (Alison could not truly regard it at anything more), they were talking quite naturally about the alterations Kitty planned to make on an old gown. Mary and Lydia were sitting on a convenient rock while waiting, the former perusing her sermons, and both looked at the new arrivals with blank stares. Lydia rose to join Kitty, trying to lure her back down the path, but Kitty shook her off. "Just a minute, Lydia!" she said impatiently. "Can't you see I'm still speaking with Mama?"

With an all too familiar nasty glare (Alison was disappointing to know it habitual to teenage girls even so long ago), Lydia stormed off down the hill, leaving Mary scrambling to follow, with a inquiring, backward look at her mother. Kitty, to Alison's delight, simply maintained her train of conversation. The two women linked arms and set off in harmony, blisters and abrasions easily forgotten as they enjoyed a perfectly pleasant descent. The girl wasn't brilliant, but neither was her own Kitty. Alison was pleased to find the same generousness in this girl that she so admired in her daughter. If all the Bennets proved to similarly mirror the disastrously named brood back in Baltimore, she should have little difficulty managing them.

They caught up with Mary and Lydia, again, and walked home together. Lydia remained sulky, and Mary's superior smile suggested she had been lecturing the girl all the way down the mount. Even she doesn't deserve such treatment, Alison thought a bit guiltily, and resolved to find a way to make the girls reigning in more palatable. She idly wondered what the good of it all was. She could not really change the outcome of a beloved novel, could she? And if she could, would she truly want to? Perhaps most importantly: what else was there to do? If she must be Mrs. Bennet, it was intolerably to not try and better the woman a bit. Whether her actions could have any effect at all, or this was all just an amazingly elaborate dream, she could not be idle, that much was certain.

Read Chapter Seven

Monday, April 14, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Five

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four

Alison came to consciousness the next morning upon hearing the familiar sound of girlish giggles in the hall, yet before she could even open her eyes the feel of straw crunching beneath her and a bonnet on her head reminded her that she was not in Kansas anymore. Or Maryland, as the case may be. She sighed and opened her eyes to stare at the heavy canopy above her head. It had to be full of mites. At home, Mary's allergies required all of their bedding be incased in hypoallergenic covers. All the comforters had been replaced with easy to wash quilts, and they had the sofas and rugs professionally cleaned quarterly. Thoughts of what might be living in the bed curtains surrounding her made Alison feel rather queasy, and she drove it from her mind.

She needed to contemplate her predicament. There had to be something resembling a rational explanation for what was going on. Perhaps, like Dorothy Gale, she was in some sort of coma. That really was the most logical solution to her predicament. Time travel, if allowed to even be possible, would not result in her inhabiting a fictional world, however real it seemed to her. She set herself to recreating the events of the following day. Lydia and Kitty were arguing, they were late for the food bank, she was driving while Tom worked ... an accident! She must have bumped her head, just as in the carriage! Yes. She was clearly in a coma. Countless films, from The Wizard of Oz to Peggy Sue got Married, proved it.

If she was in a coma, what of the rest of her family? A thousand horrors pressed upon her, but she would not allow them to overcome her, unlike the real, or fictional, Mrs. Bennet. This was no time for needless worry. She had no way of knowing the truth, and she would not allow herself to be beset by anxiety. There was a family here in need, and she was always one to be useful where she could. She was sure to wake up to reality in no little time.

The previous day, upon first becoming aware of her strange surroundings, she had reacted poorly. Alison had always believed it essential to successful parenting to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. Having contemplated the faults of the various Bennet girls so often, seeking corollaries in her own brood, the real life spectacle of Lydia shook her already agitated core, and she made several mistakes. Such high handedness would not pay off with the girl. This she knew all too well. If she were stuck in Pride & Prejudice, and in the guise of one of its least likable characters, the least she could do was repair the damage she had dealt the mother-daughter bond. Perhaps she might even do a great deal more. Alison spared little thought for the consequences of meddling in the plot of a literary classic. This was her coma, after all, and her actions could be of little consequence to anyone. She would not truly be changing the course of the story, and even if she did, it could only be for the better.

She climbed out of the impossible bed and opened the wardrobe doors. There she confronted the fact that she had not the slightest notion of what was appropriate to put on. She was not ignorant of Regency fashions. Indeed, she was educated well enough to know that she knew too little of what actually constituted morning dress. The one time she and Tom had spent an entire day in full costume at a Jane Austen festival, the removal of her fichu was deemed sufficient to transform her day dress to evening for the closing ball, but there was a great deal more to it than that. Dismissing five silk dresses and three brocade, which even she knew was passe, she still confronted a baffling variety of muslim, lace, and wool. It was fall, but the previous day had been warm, and remembering images of Mrs. Bennet from the films, she landed upon a tiered lace monstrosity. It seemed just the thing a Mrs. Bennet might wear on a morning. With a shawl and lace cap, she fancied she'd look just the part. The predicament remained of where such accessories might be kept and how and the laces and layers were supposed to be properly arranged. Alison laughed out loud at herself, remembering the bell pull a thoroughly confused maid had shown her the night before. It was cleverly disguised to blend with the wallpaper, which was hand painted with vertical braids, interspersed with a blue floral motif. Alison had seen something like it when her family visited a Vanderbilt estate in North Carolina, though this paper was a century older. The luxury of such an item slightly astounded her, and she wished she had her cellphone that she might take a picture of it. This thought made her laugh again, nonsense that it was. The sad truth was that it was all too clear how frivolously the money that should have been used to boost the dowries of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's needy daughters had been squandered. She shook her head at the mounds of lace in the gown she had selected, wondering whether or not it was imported.  

When Sarah arrived, Alison learned that she was, in fact, completely ignorant of Regency fashion. The girl stared at the lace dress in astonishment, timidly questioning why her mistress wanted to wear a ball gown that morning. She was gradually conjoled into making a selection on behalf of her mistress, and Alison found herself dressed in the very same green silk that she was certain had to be evening wear. The only parts she got right were the cap and fichu, which were stored in the hope chest at the end of the bed.

Alison found herself the last one to join the table, all the other members of the household being deep into their plates. She greeted them all warmly but received little gratification in the way of replies. Seeing the sideboard piled with food, she made her way to it and inspected the offerings. She supposed she had been expecting something along the lines of what was served in the English bed and breakfasts she and Tom had stayed in when they traveled through England for their honeymoon. The only items in this spread that mirrored those more modern English tables was the cold toast in the silver rack, a plate of kippers, which she never cared for, and hard-boiled eggs. Thank goodness for the latter! Between them and what she soon identified as a ham casserole, she was able to sit down with something like satisfaction, though she could not help but wistfully imagine the field greens salad that would balance the richness of the meal.

It was not a lively meal. Kitty and Lydia chatted and giggled, while Mr. Bennet and Mary were buried in books. Alison imagined Mrs. Bennet usually joined in her youngest daughters' chatter, but as they both were casting periodic glares her way, she abstained from interjecting until there was a natural lull in their conversation.

"I was thinking we'd take a walk today, girls," she said with a smile. The entire table stared at her.

"But you don't walk, Mama," Kitty was first to break the silence.

"Nonsense!" she replied. "It is a beautiful day, and I intend to enjoy it."

"Is this a bid for the carriage, my dear?" Mr. Bennet questioned. "I might very well spare the horses. You need not engage in such maneuvers to get to Meryton."

"I'm not maneuvering," she said tartly. "I want to walk and not to Meryton. Let us explore nature and enjoy the fall foliage!" Lydia's jaw hung open in shock.

"And where do you propose to walk?" Mr. Bennet was clearly amused.

She racked her brain and declared, "Oakham Mount!"

He laughed. "My dear! That is very good. I have not been so diverted in years."

"I'm quite serious."

He looked as her critically. "I see that you are! Very well. Girls, you will escort your mother to Oakham Mount. I know she cannot find the way alone, having never ventured there these past twenty years or more. How good of you to clear Lydia's schedule for her, my dear! That was forward thinking."

Alison glared at him and stood from the table. "I shall be ready to depart in fifteen minutes," she declared before excusing herself from the room.

"Do you think my mother is up to such exertion after the accident yesterday, Papa?" Mary questioned, thinking remorsefully of her pianoforte, before which she had intended to spend most of the morning.
"I'd be very surprised to learn what your mother might not be up to," he replied. "Never fear, Mary! Your instrument will await your return, which I doubt will be long in coming, but if you should fail to return by tomorrow, I will ask Mrs. Hill to keep it company on your behalf."

Read Chapter Six

Monday, April 7, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Four

Read Chapters One, Two, and Three.

Alison was shown to large bed chamber with adjoining sitting room. The canopied bed was heavily curtained, and the furniture carved mahogany. Having only ever viewed such a room in museums or historical homes, and always across velvet-roped barriers, she entered cautiously, rather afraid to touch anything. Fortunately, Mrs. Hill quickly expelled her sense of reverence. The heavy dress was removed, the stays undone, and she was assisted into the tall bed. Though her eyes grew wide at the sound of crackling straw when she pressed on the mattress, the servant seemed not to notice. A cup of bitterly strong tea was soon presented to her, dosed with several drops from a greenish bottle, and she was left to an uncomfortable repose. Waves of nausea soon overwhelmed any amusement or interest she had in the laudanum, resulting in her making the acquaintance of the chamber pot.

While it was forcibly born upon Alison that she really was in a 19th century novel, the young Bennet ladies received a visit from Mrs. Forster, the new wife of the militia's colonel. Having so often sought the company of the officers, Kitty and Lydia were quickly becoming well-acquainted with the lady, and they delighted to make her their confidant on this occasion.

"You are so fortunate to be married, Mrs. Forster," was Lydia's lament. "I do not see why I should still be subject to the whims and inconsistencies of my mother's fancy. I'm sure I'd do much better on my own."

Kitty, feeling something was not quite right about this speech, hastened to explain, "We had a carriage accident this morning, and Mama bumped her head."

"A carriage accident!" exclaimed Mrs. Forster. "But you all look well. Was it not serious."

"Lord, no," Lydia replied. "No one was hurt but Mama. It was really rather exciting, until she began to act so strange."

Mary, who was only present out of duty and contributed very little to the conversation, now felt the need to interject: "A mother's attempt to steer her children towards the path of virtue is but her duty. I, for one, was pleased to see our mother being so reasonable under the pressures of an adverse circumstance. I would have granted lenience to anyone for extreme behavior following a severe accident." Other than an acknowledging smile from their visitor, this speech was entirely ignored.

"Imagine forbidding a slight indulgence as visiting a litter of precious kittens, and then threatening to keep us from your ball just for questioning such gothic behavior!" Kitty elaborated. "Our mother has always been in favor of our acquaintance with the militia. It was most unlike her!"

"Oh, but you must come to the ball! It will be no fun at all without you."

"My dear Mrs. Forster! I must be on my very best behavior so we do not disappoint you!" Lydia cried, greatly touched by the casual sentiment, which warmed into something more under the influence of her enthusiastic response.

"I know what we shall do! If you are indispensable to me, Mrs. Bennet could not keep you away. T'would be unneighborly."

"It's true," said Kitty excitedly. Mrs. Forster turned to her and said, "My dear Miss Kitty, won't you and Miss Lydia come to the inn and assist me in the arraignments? I'm sure your help will be very valuable.

Three of the ladies burst into animated chatter, while Mary's eyes grew wide. What two irresponsible and inexperienced girls like her sisters could possibly offer other than hindrance was unimaginable to her, but it mattered not: as they began to scheme to set out immediately to attend such a pleasant pursuit, another, more solid objection to the scheme provided a ready obstacle. "You forget, Kitty, that you are to oversea the inventory of the storeroom today."

This reminder incited no small degree of chagrin. "Mary, would you not do it for me?" her sister pleaded.

"Indeed not! I did it last time it was your turn."

"What is to be done? If Jane or Lizzy were here, I'm sure they would do it for me!"

"There is nothing for it," Lydia readily replied. "I will go with Mrs. Forster, and you shall do the inventory."

"But how am I to be indispensable if I am not there?" Kitty lamented, but her concerns went unheeded. Mrs. Bennet being indisposed, Lydia quickly applied for her father permission to go out with her friend, and it was readily granted. Soon they were off, leaving Kitty far too distraught to attend to the inventory, which Mary ended up doing after all.

When Lydia returned for dinner, she was alive with talk of Mrs. Forster's arrangements. Over the course of the afternoon, the two ladies leaped across the boundary between acquaintance and intimate, now referring to each other on a first name basis. "Harriet will not serve such a grand feast as Miss Bingley did at Netherfield, but the George simply cannot accommodate such abundance. As it is, the guests will be forced to cross a drafty corridor just to get their dinner. Harriet thoroughly laments the situation, to be sure, but she is hampered by being in lodgings."

Alison sat at the head of the table in a state resembling shock. Despite having disposed of the entire contents of her stomach, she could still feel the effects of the laudanum, which had at least dulled her headache. Meeting Mr. Bennet had been the most strange experience in a thoroughly bizarre day. At least there was little chance the couple were intimate.

Listening to Lydia babble and trying to eat the unfathomable dishes before her took almost all her effort, rendering her silent thus far, but when Lydia lightly explained her intention of spending the next morning with Harriet at the dressmaker's, the outing to which Kitty was pointedly uninvited, she had to speak,

"Mr. Bennet," she began firmly, "do you think Harriet Forster an appropriate chaperone for your daughter?"

He looked up from his food, in which he had been thoroughly engrossed, in surprise. "I'd sooner trust a epileptic with a surgeon's knife!"

"Yet you gave permission for her to act so today and make no objection to her doing so tomorrow?" The entire table stared at her. "I believe that the married lady takes responsibility for an unmarried female companion in this society, and I know Mrs. Forster is not up to it."

"You surprise me, my dear!" Mr. Bennet said with an amused look in his eye that angered Alison. "I did not know you were such a student of character. Perhaps you and Mary ought to compare notes on the subject."

"You have not answered my question," she insisted.

"Very well! Mrs. Forster is not my first choice of companion for Lydia, but nether is Kitty. If the latter will not feel her sorrow too loudly, I can only conclude that the former's attendance on the Colonel's wife will buy us all a great deal of peace and quiet. I like the scheme very well."

Lydia preened with satisfaction. "But Mr. Bennet," Alison began again, "I am her mother, and I do not give he permission to go. We must discourage this growing intimacy."

"My dear, what harm do you believe might befall them at the dressmaker's?"

"Nothing particular." Oh how she wished it were Tom she were reasoning with! They never disagreed before their children, alway providing a united front. If she were stuck being Mrs. Bennet, she was going to need this man's support. "You can't image that Lydia will improve her mind in such company."

"No, I certainly do not image such a thing, nor that she will do so amongst anyone else!" See an unusually determined look in his wife's eye, he sighed and relented. "Lydia, if your mother is against it, you'd best send a note to Mrs. Forster with your apologies."

"No, Papa!" she cried, and a burst of laments poured forth. Alison had an urge to scream and protest herself. It seemed Mr. Bennet only behaved as he ought in order to minimize his own trouble, expecting she would pester him until she got her way! It was insulting, and as Alison had no intention of acting in such a manner, she could not depend on the fear of her nagging to insure his compliance again. If she woke up the next day still trapped in this body, she would have to think long and hard about how to proceed. She had only one goal in site in this time, and that was to keep Lydia from ever going to Brighton.  

Continue to Chapter Five

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy: Chapter 19

I just finished Chapter Nineteen of my second draft of The Madness of Mr. Darcy. I really wish I had this finished last week so it could have been featured at More Agreeably Engaged, but as it wasn't, and it is now, I thought I'd go ahead and post here. The following takes place during Mr. Darcy's second day at Ramsey House. Please please please leave comments! I'm really excited about this book, and the enthusiasm others have shown for it keeps driving me on during a rather torturous undertaking: turning 83,000 words of gibberish into something coherent. I think next NaNoWriMo I'll slow the pace down and in order to produce a more functional rough draft. Enjoy!

Mr. Darcy was escorted to the lounge. Looking about himself and seeing no sign of Mrs. Bennet, and finding Lord Dunfield and Mr. Knightley deeply engrossed in the chessboard, he decided to again attempt an afternoon of quiet reading. Having spent more time socializing in the past twenty-four hours than he had in the past ten years, a respite from conversation immensely appealed to him. He found a copy of the Odyssey, a lifelong favorite, and contentedly settled into a comfortable chair with no intention of interrupting his pursuit for anyone but Mrs. Bennet.

Again, such reclusive behavior was not to be allowed. Today it was Miss Crawford who imposed herself upon him. At first she was unobtrusive, merely getting up and sitting beside him, picking up a book of her own and saying nothing for a great many minutes.

He had just gotten fully reinvested in the story when she suddenly commented, “I always felt bad for Calypso. Perhaps she behaved somewhat badly, but think of her life when Odysseus has left her behind. At least Penelope might eventually die, if her husband never returned, but Calypso is doomed to mourn his lost forever. Perhaps she yet remains on Ogygia, still wishing for a man dead for thousands of years.”

“You are very familiar with Homer for a lady, Miss Crawford,” he responded, intrigued by her musings.

“Oh yes. I had a very worldly upbringing, I suppose, being raised by my uncle the Admiral. His sufferings of his poor wife taught me well what men are made of Mr. Darcy. I had no warmth in my heart for your sharp witted hero, though he’s preferable to Jason.”

“You do not like Jason!” he exclaimed, suddenly animated by a favorite passion. “The Argonautica was my favorite story as a boy. I must have read it countless times!”

“That scene before the temple of Hecate is remarkable!” and she began to recite:

But only do thou, when thou hast reached Iolcus, remember me, and thee even in my parents' despite, will I remember. And from far off may a rumour come to me or some messenger-bird, when thou forgettest me; or me, even me, may swift blasts catch up and bear over the sea hence to Iolcus, that so I may cast reproaches in thy face and remind thee that it was by my good will thou didst escape. May I then be seated in thy halls, an unexpected guest![1]

Silence followed, but Darcy did not resume his book. He looked at his companion with new respect and said warmly, “You recite beautifully, Miss Crawford, and from memory too! Your governess is to be commended.”

She laughed, and Mr. Darcy found he liked the sound. “It was no instruction I received, but the model my brother provided. His powers of recitation are admirable, indeed.”

“Did you perform theatrics on your holidays?” he asked with a smile.

“Dear me, no. Not at the Admirals. We did once participate in a production at a friend’s house, but it was called off before we were able to try our talents on the boards.”

“What happened?”

“The father of the house returned unexpectedly from Antigua, of all places, and put an immediate end to the proceedings.”

“That seems rather severe.”

“The play was Lovers Vows, Mr. Darcy, There were two unmarried daughters of the house, and the one playing Agatha recently engaged – not to the man playing Frederick.” She smiled mischievously. “I was to play Amelia.”

“That does cast a rather different light on the situation,” he said, fully recognizing the impropriety of the situation. “What possessed you to choose such a play?”

“Some demonic force, undoubtedly,” she laughed charmingly. “We were all intent on a great deal of mischief that autumn, and we all paid the consequences for our actions in the end.”

They both grew contemplative and nothing was said for several minutes. Mr. Darcy thought the conversation might be at an end, but before he could recede back into his book and rejoin Telemachus on the shores of Ithaca, Miss Crawford regained his attention.

“You do realize, Mr. Darcy, that we are not all mad here.”

“Indeed! The entire house seems most determined to exclaim so.”

She smiled. “It is not easy to find yourself in a madhouse full of people insisting they are sane, I know. Who is one to believe? Actions must prove the matter. Based on your observations so far,“ she cast an arm about, “where does your tally stand, Mr. Darcy? Who do you think is sane, and who is truly mad?”

Her question made him uneasy, but as he want to know where she was leading him, he offered, “Mrs. Prescott is sane.”

“Yes. She is perhaps the sanest of us all, for who wouldn’t have wanted to end their lives after losing all that is dear to them?” She saw his look of non-comprehension and elucidated, “Her husband and three children all died of a fever four years ago. Her sister took her in to her home, and there she took a knife from the kitchen and sliced her wrists in a bathtub. The sister would have kept her still, but her rigid husband couldn’t tolerate the scandal that arose and made accommodations for her to come here, to learn the value of living once more.” She paused thoughtfully. “She has carved quite a niche for herself in this little world we inhabit. Most invaluable to the doctor and Mrs. Bennet. Miss Higgins is fairly sane too, just prone to hysterics and invariably silly, as is Miss Whitten,” she laughed bitterly, “whose tale is so classic it might have been written by anyone from Virgil to Scott. She refused to marry the old man preferred by her father, and he locked her away to teach her obedience. Quite barbaric, do you not think?”

“Indeed, I do!” he exclaimed. “I am surprised the doctor allowed it.”

“Oh you must not blame Dr. Wilson,” she said quickly, in a surprisingly protective manner, “for he knew not of the truth when she was brought to him, and has since kept her here to protect her from her father, much to that gentleman’s approaching chagrin, once he knows of it. And then there is Lady Elliot,” she sighed. My boon companion, for lack of a better, she is really quite pleasant company, but completely out of her mind. Thinks she’s the former daughter of her estate half the time, whom I suspect her husband preferred to herself. I do not know all the details,” she looked to Mr. Darcy as if he might know before continuing, “but her periodic confessions make me suspect she’s far from guiltless in the affair. I would not be surprised if she somehow entrapped Sir William into marriage, somehow, and now regrets her actions. Poor dear. She is very pleasant company, even if she only responds to Anne and not Penelope, and if she’s a bit too fond of misquoting romantic poetry.” She looked at him critically, “You, of course, informed everyone yesterday of your reason for coming here, just the kind of action, may I say, that has probably landed you on most of our “crazy” lists, though I suspect you are one of the sane ones, just in need of some new direction. Perhaps the doctor will help you find it. He has been invaluable to me.”

“Are you sane, Miss Crawford?” he dared to ask.

She laughed. “Oh, I have no business being here at all, having committed no act of violence to myself or others, and having only been possessed of the gall to tell my brother, before his guests, precisely what I thought of his newest amore. I ran his house for him for thirteen years, Mr. Darcy, and now that woman does so in my place. You see there are ways in which a sister can be of no use to a brother.” She smiled bitterly, and Mr. Darcy avoided her eyes in his embarrassment. “Had I married, I would not be here. I always intended to, of course, and having failed that, I should have arranged for my own provision, but there was always an obliging sibling on hand to prevent me from establishing my own household. But I shall not lament the past, Mr. Darcy, nor the future, either. Henry will grow tired of Mrs. Shaw, and I will be recalled from exile, wiser than I was before and more determined to control my own destiny.”

“Better than the fate of many of Greek heroine,” he sympathized.

“Yes. Have you read Euripides’ Medea, Mr. Darcy?” she asked.

Now she truly surprised him. “Yes, but I am astounded you have. Was that part of your upbringing with the Admiral as well?”

“Goodness no. I found the volume here. Presumably, Dr. Wilson, when examining the library of the house, did not consider that he might one day have a female guest who could read the classic languages.”

“My word, Miss Crawford,” he replied, greatly impressed.

“Oh, I am terribly accomplished. I was so as a girl, and as an unmarried woman, I’ve had ample opportunity to expand my knowledge. I mentioned it because I find Medea a fascinatingly powerful woman, Mr. Darcy. So difficult to relate to: feeling the right and privilege to act as one will, even in matters over life and death.” she said musingly. “To defend oneself, instead of being dependent on other to defend you. That would be a great thing.”

“The workings of men are not to be misconstrued with those of demi-gods, Miss Crawford.”

“Is not the world a vast prison, and women born slaves?”[2] she asked, and he thought she seemed to quote, but looking at him with a hint of crossness, she elucidated. “I just think its telling, Mr. Darcy, how many of the men at Ramsey House landed here of their own volition, while the ladies were placed here by the gentlemen in their lives: their so-called protectors!”

He looked alarmed. “Surely there is good reason for Lady Elliot, and Lady Saunders to be here,” he said defensively.

“Yes, of course. It’s just that I wonder if anyone notices the discrepancy other than myself,” her mischievous smile returned, “or Mrs. Bennet. She, of course, must be particularly aware of the inequalities that have so affected her life. I’m sure she only found herself needing to work at all because of the failures of the men in her life. She must have had a spendthrift brother or father, or perhaps a husband who left her destitute.” He felt all his new goodwill towards the woman evaporate in a moment. “You have known Mrs. Bennet longer than anyone here, Mr. Darcy. Tell me: do you know what circumstances brought her here?”

He rose, and it was then she noticed the black look that had overcome his face. “No, Miss Crawford, I will not comment at all on Mrs. Bennet’s past, to you or to anyone! How dare you presume to know what she, or any other human is called upon to suffer!” He nearly shouted, and his body language was violent. Mary Crawford cowered in the corner of the sofa and orderlies pressed in to prevent any disturbance. Just then a voice rang out:

“Mr. Darcy is correct, Miss. Crawford,” all the room turned to look at Mrs. Bennet, standing at the top of the stairs. “We should never presume to judge what others have endured, or do endure, in their daily lives.” She caught Mr. Darcy’s eye, and he stood frozen, watching her. “We all have our struggles, and when we are at our best, they are a blessing, for they teach us how strong we are, and we learn self-reliance. These are invaluable treasures.” She stood a moment longer, and then walked over to Mrs. Prescott and began discussing some household matter. Mr. Darcy sat back down and resumed his book, and Miss Crawford hastily withdrew to the other side of the room, where she began to chat in quiet tones to Lady Elliot.

Sitting back down, Mr. Darcy thought of Elizabeth’s interference, and how she knew just what to say to defuse his anger. After all these years, to know him so well! But perhaps that was her way with all the guests at Ramsey House. He wished he might see something more in her actions, but caution stayed his hope. Besides, he reasoned, now he was truly on everyone’s crazy list. What would Mrs. Bennet ever want with him, violent and volatile? He felt a wave of shame for his outburst, much the same sensation of nausea he experience whenever he thought of Wickham or Georgiana. Was it not just as Miss Crawford said, and Elizabeth, whatever her journey, was reduced because of the failures of the men in her life: her father and himself? The full impossibility of any future with her weighed down upon his heart. He could only keep up the pretense of reading while guilt continued to crush him down.