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!
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.”
“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?” 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.