Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Eight

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five / Part Six / Part Seven

None but Mrs. Ferrars and her sons could know what words were exchanged that evening once they were alone, but the result of their conversation was clear to all concerned before the dawn broke. Mrs. Ferrars disavowed her eldest and sent missives to all his familial connections insisting they do the same. They were to do nothing for Edward: provide no assistance, nor offer him any comfort. It was to be as if he had no connections at all in this life, as if he never existed.

The feelings of the Misses Dashwood upon this occasion were complex, requiring several hours of discussion and ponderance, a need which conveniently served to isolate them, for the most part, from the rest of the household’s frenzied conflict. As much as Elinor was hurt and Marianne indignant, neither could feel anything but disgust for the acrimoniousness of Mrs. Ferrars, Fanny, and even their brother John, whom they were sorry to learn could be so severe. Yet though they could sympathize with Edward’s plight, and even honor him for the strength of character it took to stand firm against his family, his misrepresentation to themselves, by introducing himself as a single man, was unforgiveable.

Elinor’s distress was acute. Marianne saw her sister struggle and fail to contain her feelings and provided a sorely needed shoulder upon which to weep. Though she suffered as well, Marianne struggled to be strong for Elinor. It was a rather novel service for her to perform for her usually steady sister, but the shock of Elinor’s emotion rendered any other course untenable.

Marianne’s first urging, once Elinor had exhausted her tears, was that they return to Norland at once. She knew what she sacrificed in suggesting such a course of action, knew that a hasty departure would likely bring an end to the very delightful acquaintance she had so recently begun, yet she hesitated not at all in so martyring herself. The moment, she reasoned, warranted sacrifice and tribulation. Elinor, however, even in her affliction, thought more was due to the hospitality of their hostess and brother than so unceremonious a desertion. Yes, she longed for the comfort of her mother’s embrace, but words on paper would suffice. Further, her pride demanded more than a retreat to Sussex. Though she was unlikely to meet Edward now that he was ruptured from his family, the ever reliable gossip mill would surely keep him informed regarding the actions of the estranged, and she would not have him know how deeply he wounded her heart. She would have her season and would hold her head high throughout, as befit a Dashwood of Norland.

Marianne found her sister’s bravery inspiring and praised her nobility to Mr. Willoughby when next he called. He had heard of the family’s falling out, though he was not previously privy to Miss Dashwood’s unique role in the drama. Marianne would not tell him all, for she could never so forget herself as to betray sisterly confidences, but she revealed enough in her enthusiasm for Elinor’s virtue for him to largely surmise the truth. Elinor, had she been privy to the exchange, would not have approved, but she was riding in the park with John, who was on a determined campaign to make sure his sister’s spirits and looks suffered no harm due to what he termed “Edward’s foolishness.”

The following weeks saw Mr. Willoughby as constantly in attendance of the Dashwood party as decorum and Fanny could sanction. Whenever possible, it was seen that he was invited to the same parties and gatherings. When such requests were untenable, he somehow managed to find himself included nonetheless. Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shown, but Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve. Had not Elinor now learned all too well the folly of such diffidence? To aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same, and their behavior at all times was an illustration of their opinions.

When he was present, she had no eyes for anyone else. Everything he did was right. Everything he said was clever. If their evenings were concluded with cards, he cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get her a good hand. If dancing formed the amusement of the night, they taxed the bounds of politeness by the frequency with which they partnered and their neglect of everybody else. Such conduct made them most exceedingly laughed at, but ridicule could not shame and seemed hardly to provoke them. Their behavior rendered their engagement a foregone conclusion. Only Mrs. Dashwood’s absence from London delayed it.

This was the season of happiness to Marianne, her joy only checked by her sister’s less fruitful romance. Elinor's happiness could not be so great, but her disillusionment in Edward’s character and conduct went far to heal her wound. Also efficacious was her continued exposure to his disagreeable relations. She could not lament the loss of a future comprising a considerable amount of time spent in such unappealing company. She was fortunate enough to be spared any attempt on her sister-in-law’s part to attach her to the despicable Robert following the desertion of Miss Grey, much to Fanny’s chagrin, by the introduction to their circle of one Miss Morton, only daughter of the late Lord Morton and possessor of thirty thousand pounds.

It was soon learned that Mr. Ferrars had married Miss Steele, an act made possible by the generosity of an acquaintance procured in Devonshire, one Colonel Brandon, who, despite having no interest in the couple beyond pity for the treatment they had endured, had given Edward the living attached to his estate of Delaford in Dorsetshire. His alienated relations congratulated themselves on the likelihood of never seeing him again, his income not permitting trips to the capital, and wondered that anyone so unconnected to him should be so generous when they, who most properly should have provided him assistance, were so determined against anything of the kind.

Elinor bore the news of Edward’s marriage with equanimity. She had made good use of the intervening months and had gone a long way to feeling perfectly herself once more. The attentions of two competing suitors, both worthy, intelligent, and admirable, even if they had not engaged her feelings to the same degree as Edward once had, did much to elevate her spirits, even as she was forced to reason that first love might always be more dizzying than the more mature emotions that followed. Both Mr. Mathers and Sir William had much to offer towards the establishment of her future happiness. She would certainly choose between them before long, and she refused to harbor any regrets for what might have been.

When the Misses Dashwood returned to Norland that spring, they were accompanied by Mr. Mathers and Mr. Willoughby, both having been successful in petitioning Mrs. Dashwood for the hands of her daughters and now bound to meet the great lady herself for the first time. The warmth of their reception was guaranteed. Mrs. Dashwood could never love by halves, and any gentleman who so recognized the worth of her precious girls was the instant possessor of her truest affection.

The End      


That's a wrap on this year's Twisted Austen. If you enjoyed the story, please show your support by purchasing a copy here. Happy Halloween everyone! Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Seven

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five / Part Six

Edward appeared flustered when bowing to Elinor and failed to look her in the eyes before making only such remarks as might be bestowed on any distant connection, inquiring after her mother and Miss Margaret. This coldness and reserve mortified Elinor severely. She was vexed and angry, but resolving to regulate her behavior to him by the past rather than the present, she avoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure and treated him as she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection. “Have you been in London these many months?” she inquired.

“No. I have but recently returned from Plymouth.”

“Where you were educated? Do you maintain many connections in the area?”

“Yes. Several.” He then pointedly turned his attention to greeting Marianne, who was as mystified by his behavior as her sister and displayed that astonishment a great deal more.

His mother frowned on this performance, commenting curtly, “Edward spends more and more time in Devonshire. I should like to know what he finds so charming about it.”

He turned to his mother with something like relief. “The countryside is exquisite. Miss Marianne, who is very well-versed in matters of the picturesque, would understand my passion.”

Marianne could not but laugh in disbelief. “I never knew you to be an admirer of landscape scenery.”

“No. I know nothing of such matters, but I can enjoy a fine prospect as well as anyone else. I have been introduced to your relation, Sir John Middleton of Barton Park. He sends his greetings and hopes to reacquaint himself with his cousins in the not too distant future. He is a warm, hospitable man, a great lover of the hunt, and the sponsor of endless diversions and entertainments for the young people of the area.”

“Were you introduced on one such occasion?” asked Elinor.

“Indeed. He has some distant connection to Mr. Pratt, through his wife.”

“Well, Edward, while you have been so occupied with diversions, we have been deprived of your company, and I could have used your assistance at Norland,” Fanny admonished. “I shan’t forgive you for so neglecting me. Whether my sisters will be more lenient with you, we shall have to see.” She looked eagerly to Elinor, hoping she would seize the provided opportunity for flirtation.

“We must not tease Mr. Ferrars on the subject,” was Elinor’s disappointing advance, and with that, the subject closed, the business of eating taking precedence over all foolish matters of the heart.


When the gentlemen rejoined the ladies that evening, John prevailed upon Marianne to entertain them with some music. Her audience was not as attentive as she could wish, but the lack of appreciation troubled her little while she could indulge her own tastes upon the pianoforte and lose herself in agreeable recollections from the morning, without the disruption of the far less agreeable evening she was presently enduring.

The rest of the party engaged in stilted conversation until it was time for tea, when Marianne withdrew from the instrument, remarking on how quickly the time had passed. Fanny undertook the distribution of the refreshment, a task in which Elinor, who had not found the time to pass so swiftly as her sister, readily volunteered to assist. Mrs. Ferrars nodded her commendation. She had found the eldest Miss Dashwood to be what she had hoped, but she had not found Edward to be as smitten as her daughter had implied. She studied her son’s features as he reached to take his tea from Elinor, looking for signs of affection, when his hand passed so directly before her as to make a ring, with a plait of hair in the center, very conspicuous on one of his fingers.

"I never saw you wear a ring before, Edward," she cried, rather unthinkingly. "Surely, that is not Fanny's hair, which is darker."

The room grew silent and turned as one towards Edward, who colored very deeply, in expectation of his reply. When none surfaced, Fanny went halfway towards clarifying the situation by confirming that she had never bestowed a lock upon Edward, and no one in the room was so foolish as to think a brother would stealthily procure such a trophy from his sister. Many looked to Elinor now, and then back at the ring. It was her turn to redden. Neither had she ever presented a lock of hair to Edward, but that did not negate the possibility that it was hers. The color, in the candlelight, looked to be exactly the shade of her own, but she could not conceive how he contrived to obtain it. She was not in a humor, however, to regard it as an affront, and the first stirrings of hope she had allowed herself all evening began to bubble and brew.

Edward's embarrassment lasted some time, and it ended only when John, whose own ruminations had led him to conclude that he really ought, perhaps, be affronted on his sister’s behalf, rose to a haughty posture and said in icy, challenging tones, “Have you an announcement you wish to make, Edward? As most of your closest connections are here assembled, as well as those of whom it may be said hold the greatest interest in the matter, I think we are deserving of an explanation.” He paused, looking to both his wife and Mrs. Ferrars for their approbation before continuing. “I myself have never been approached by you on the subject of your intentions towards my sister, nor has my mother indicated that you have so petitioned her, though we have, amongst ourselves, long suspected there was a growing attachment. The time has come for transparency. Well, sir? What have you to say for yourself?”

Elinor’s complexion blazed, but it went unperceived. All eyes were upon Edward. Hers as well.

“It is not Miss Dashwood’s hair, if that is what you are suggesting, John. She is far too delicate to bestow such a token on any gentleman other than her rightfully intended.”

Elinor’s hopes sank, and John nearly shouted in frustration, “Then who does it belong to, man?”

Quietly, Edward replied, “It belongs to the niece of Mr. Pratt, to whom I have been secretly betrothed these past five years.”

For those who take pleasure in rather gruesome spectacles – for example, touring the wards of Bedlam – the scene that now unfolded might be cause for some amusement, but for those who endured it, please be assured, it was most horrid. Fanny screamed, then fainted, and her husband was too distracted to catch her. It was Marianne who came to her rescue, her quick mind an asset in such a crisis, though she really had not the strength for the task. Fortunately, John regained his senses and came to her assistance before she buckled under his wife’s dead weight, all while Mrs. Ferrars unleashed a torrent of abuse upon her son.

“Have I, with the truest affection, been planning a most eligible connection for you while all the time you have been secretly engaged to another person? Such a suspicion could never have entered my head! Have you lost all notion of your duty and honor? It is outrageous, Edward, and I insist you bring an end to the affair at once!”

“I cannot do that, ma’am. It pains me to have deceived you all this time. In that respect, know that I have long suffered what I ought. I was young and foolish to have proceeded in such a clandestine fashion,” he admitted, looking to Elinor and pleading with his eyes, “but I cannot now, in good conscience, break my troth to Miss Steele. She is innocent of wrongdoing, having been urged by me into secrecy, and it would be an even greater sin to so repay her faithfulness than ever was the deception of those dearest to me.”


“I will bestow the Norfolk property on you immediately,” his mother yelled, understanding little of what he said, “and better yet, add to its annual income an additional two hundred pounds, but you must end the engagement immediately! Do this at once, or mark me well, Edward: you shall have nothing but what is already your own! I shall not support a son who so betrays his family!”


“That is very generous,” John eagerly contributed as Fanny began to revive. “Do be reasonable, Edward. A man cannot live on the interest of two thousand pounds, let alone support a family.”

“You call it generous?” Marianne burst forth, unable to contain her indignation any longer. “Never had I imagined such odious happenings might plague those so closely connected to myself! How could you, Edward?” she demanded, turning on him with uncharacteristic ferocity.

“Please, Marianne,” Elinor interrupted firmly, though she was only able to do so by means of the greatest exertion. “Let us say nothing more of this. Mrs. Dashwood is unwell, and it grows late. I think we had best be leaving.”

“Quite right, Elinor. You are ever wise,” commended John with a mixture of pride and resentment, even as he looked loathe to depart a scene of such suspense. The Dashwood party made as rapid a retreat as they could, the two young ladies supporting their chaperone while her husband bid hasty parting counsel upon his obdurate brother.


Come back tomorrow for the conclusion!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Six

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five

Mr. Willoughby was prompt in his attentions. He called the next morning to assure himself of the fair damsel’s well-being, and he remained much beyond his half hour, so great was his delight in his new acquaintance. Indeed, there was much to entrance a young man in Harley Street, for Elinor had a delicate complexion, regular features, and a remarkably pretty figure, yet Marianne was still handsomer. Her form, though not so correct as her sister's, in having the advantage of height was more striking, and her face was so lovely that when, in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. Her complexion was uncommonly brilliant, her features were all good, her smile was sweet and attractive, and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness which could hardly be seen without delight. From Willoughby their expression was at first held back by the embarrassment which the remembrance of his assistance created, but when this passed away, when her spirits became collected, when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when she heard him declare that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to herself for the rest of his stay.

It was only necessary to mention any favorite amusement to engage her to talk. She could not be silent when such points were introduced, and she had neither shyness nor reserve in their discussion. They speedily discovered that their enjoyment of dancing and music was mutual, and that it arose from a general conformity of judgment in all that related to either. Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books. Her favorite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight that any young man of five and twenty must have been insensible, indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Thereby, their taste proved strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each. If any difference appeared or any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm, and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

"Well, Marianne," said Elinor as soon as he had left them, "for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott, you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favorite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."

"Elinor," cried Marianne, "is this fair? Is this just? Are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every commonplace notion of decorum. I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."

“I believe your sister speaks in jest,” Fanny placated her charge, of whose temper she was somewhat afraid. “No reproach was intended to youI ought to have sent him on his way sooner, but he is such a diverting young man, and the time passed so very quickly.”

Elinor was quick to dispel any suggestion that she should dare to chastise her hostess, and Fanny, pleased by this deference, changed the subject to what each lady would wear that evening, when they were engaged to dine with Mrs. Ferrars.

That lady was looking forward to finally meeting the famed Misses Dashwood, in whose fortunes she had invested so much interest, as she ever was making any new acquaintance. It was no easy feat for a woman of her nature to bestow a small fortune upon her child, let alone for marrying a lady whom she had never yet seen, but she trusted her daughter’s judgment (it had, of course, been molded by her own), and truth be told, she had begun to rather despair of Edward ever making anything of himself in the least. As Robert often noted, it was the private tuition that was to blame. Both her sons ought to have been sent to Westminster for their education, and then, perhaps, both would be equally presentable.

As it was, securing Edward a respectable maintenance and a secluded life where his backwardness could not embarrass herself began to seem a worthy goal. And she had once harbored such lofty ambitions for the boy, yet even such a moderate objective looked to prove beyond him. She had been informed by Fanny of his odd defection from Norland the previous summer, and though he professed that business in London had called him away, she knew full well that he instead fled to Plymouth to while away his time with the meaningless connections formed while living with Mr. Pratt, the private instructor of Edward’s formative education, in whom she had been so misled. There was simply no comprehending the boy: fleeing from the lady of his own choosing like a cowering dog. Thank goodness Robert showed greater promise. He would do something worthy with himself. Sometimes the spare proved preferable to the heir.

The Misses Dashwood were almost as eager for the evening as Mrs. Ferrars, but their excitement was entirely inspired by the knowledge that Edward resided with his mother, not in making her acquaintance. Certainly the lady, even one as disagreeable as they had been taught to find her, who might have such influence upon Elinor’s future happiness must be of interest, but she was a secondary concern and, unfortunately, proved to be just as they expected. She was a little, thin woman, upright even to formality in her figure, and serious even to sourness in her aspect. Her complexion was sallow and her features were small, without beauty, and naturally without expression, but a lucky contraction of the brow had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity by giving it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature. She was not a woman of many words, for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas, but of the few syllables that did escape her, the bulk fell to the share of Elinor, whom she eyed with a spirited determination to charm, a task as much beyond her as the acquirement of fame and fortune was to Edward. Not repulsing Miss Dashwood would have to suffice.


Mrs. Ferrars made great inroads towards that goal by simply being able to announce that the disappointing Edward was expected to join them shortly. He was, however, not prompt, and his brother Robert, also expected, preceded him. Never having before made his acquaintance, Elinor harbored hopes that he might prove more personable than Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars, but she was destined to be disappointed.


Happy had it been for Elinor, if her regard for Edward depended less on his own merit than on the merit of his nearest relations, for then his brother's bow must have given the finishing stroke to what the ill-humor of his mother would have begun. Here was strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion. And while she wondered at the difference between the two young men, she was sorry to discover that the emptiness and conceit of the one put her somewhat out of charity with the other, though not enough to deter her wish that he would hasten and present himself. That they were different, Robert eloquently evidenced himself upon learning of Edward’s tardiness by lamenting the gaucherie which he believed kept his brother from mixing in proper society. Beyond that display, he fortunately had no leisure to bestow any further attention on the two ladies than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares, and those politenesses his mother’s insistence procured before Mr. Ferrars was, to Elinor and Marianne’s infinite relief, finally announced.


Come back tomorrow for part seven!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Five

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four

Edward departed the following day before breakfast. Elinor was awake to say goodbye, a ceremony conducted with a great deal of awkwardness. His behavior betokened a guilty conscience, and she wondered, watching his carriage pull away, what it was he concealed. Trusting that explanations would likely materialize when next they met, she returned to the house to try and forget her troubles by means of industrial employment.

Summer faded into fall, and fall shortly thereafter succumbed to winter, an occurrence which ought to surprise no one and which was probably rather irrelevant to chronicle. That the John Dashwoods continued their residence at Norland, despite Mrs. Dashwood’s polite urgings to leave, was a great deal more astounding. The motivation for Fanny’s obsequience was ever obvious, but cynicism was not in the widow’s nature. She forbore with her son, his wife, and their child for her late husband and her daughters’ sake, but she parted with them with a graciousness born of perfect sincerity, wishing them joy in both the season and in the bosom of Mrs. Ferrars’ motherly affection.

1798 was but scant days old when the two eldest daughters of the house said goodbye to their home, their mother, and Margaret. Elinor could not find herself in the carriage and beginning a journey to London as her brother’s guest without reflecting on her own charmed existence. She was Miss Dashwood of Norland Park, imbibed by nature with beauty, intelligence, and, by sheer good luck, a fortune and social prominence. Embarking upon what must surely be a successful London debut, in the house of the sister of the one gentleman whom she most esteemed, she had much for which to be grateful. Any remaining uneasiness over Edward’s inexplicable behavior she forcefully pushed aside. So easily might her lot in life have been different had her uncle not been so generous or her own gifts less ample. Fanny’s companionship might be something to forbear rather than enjoy, but irritating relations are a universal constant that even the most blessed must endure. Elinor knew herself quite up to the task. Their certain approbation of her made the obligation less burdensome, and it was with reasonable equanimity that she could survey her prospects.

Marianne could not witness the expectation detectable in the eyes of her usually staid sister without feeling her own future somewhat blank in comparison. How gladly would she have the same certainty of love in view! Yet she was convinced that a very short time must now shed some light on her own prospects, for if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, certainly she must seek them abroad. Regarding the endurance of intolerable relations, it was a subject on which she troubled herself little.

Upon their arrival and settlement in Harley Street, Marianne's self-occupation rendered her behavior a happy specimen of what future complaisance and companionableness to Fanny might be expected to be. She sat in silence almost all the evening, rapt in her own meditations and scarcely ever voluntarily speaking but to ascertain that Edward was in town, to question why he did not dine with them, and inquire when he might be expected to call. To atone for this conduct, Elinor took immediate possession of the civility post which she had assigned to herself, behaving with the greatest attention to Fanny. She talked with her, laughed with her, and listened to her whenever she could. Fanny, meanwhile, treated both sisters with a strange combination of condescension and consequence, as if she could not decide what pleased her the most: the kindness she conferred upon the ladies of Norland, or the lofty attention her guests would surely convey upon herself.

The top order of business the following day was to bedeck the Misses Dashwood in the latest London finery, befitting to their station, or at least to the degree the young ladies would tolerate. It was a mission destined to frustrate Fanny, as the sisters proved perversely unengaged. Elinor at least submitted to the exercise with something akin to patience, but Marianne would not be contained. Every bookstore, music shop, or some equally odious emporium would capture her attention, and Fanny had to make countless promises to return to such premises in order to direct Marianne into the establishment that was their declared destination. Once inside, Marianne could not be made to submit to standing still for measurements or alterations, flitting to the window every time she heard the streets echo with the sounds of the metropolis in action, as horses and hawkers competed to produce the biggest cacophony. When this symphony was interrupted by a particularly discordant fracas, Marianne could not maintain even the semblance of composure any longer. To Fanny’s horror and Elinor’s mortification, she ran from the store without her cloak and entered into the fray.

Marianne had little thought for decorum or her relations’ concern for it as her eyes took in the sight of an informal squadron of officers making their way through the crowds, laughing uproariously, spooking the horses, and teasing any unsuspecting ladies who fell into their paths. In her disheveled state, standing in countrified admiration of such unfamiliar mayhem, Marianne was quickly perceived by one of the gentlemen at the forefront of the band, and soon found herself in the distinctly uncomfortable position of being their latest object of admiration. Her color rose, and suddenly aware of her undress, she quickly turned to go back into the shop when one of the officers was bold enough to block her path, insisting she pay the toll of a smile before he would let her pass. Marianne burned with indignation and had begun to seriously lament her disregard for the strictures prescribed by society when a gentleman, passing within a few yards, perceived her distress and came to her assistance. Admonishing the officers with a few curt but effective words, he offered his services and, without further delay, ushered her back into the fashionable establishment from which she had clearly emerged. Far too stunned to object, Marianne allowed herself to be deposited into the nearest chair while her rescuer called for a glass of restorative wine.

Fanny and Elinor, who had watched the entire occurrence from the window, turned in amazement at their entrance and, indeed, remained in befuddlement equal to Marianne’s for some moments before turning their attention to caring for the distressed damsel. Yet the eyes of each would fix on him with an evident wonder and a secret admiration as he apologized for his intrusion in a manner so frank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he been even old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of the ladies would have been secured, but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance gave an additional interest to his actions.

Marianne thanked him again and again, inviting him to be seated with the sweetness of address which always attended her. This he declined, determined to depart from such feminine surroundings as soon as he was assured of his charge’s well-being. Fanny begged to know to whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Willoughby, and he presently resided nearby in Old Bond Street, from whence he hoped she would allow him the honor of calling tomorrow to inquire after Miss Dashwood. Fanny, whose eyes glimmered with recollection when she heard his name, readily granted the honor, supplying the gentleman with the address before he departed.

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from his exterior attractions. Marianne herself had seen less of his person than the rest, for the confusion which crimsoned over her face had somewhat robbed her of the power of regarding him, but she had seen enough of him to join in all the admiration of the others and with an energy which always adorned her praise. His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favorite story, and there was a rapidity of thought in his hasty rescue which particularly recommended the action to her. Every circumstance belonging to him was interesting.

Fanny had more concrete information to supply, as she conjectured this was the very same Mr. Willoughby who was courting one Miss Grey, a great heiress. She had rather hoped Miss Grey might take a liking to her brother, Robert, who required little more than a windfall marriage to fulfill all the wildest ambitions of his relations, but now, having seen the object of Miss Grey’s admiration up close, Fanny could not deceive herself into believing charm alone would turn her attention. Not even the fondest sister could make such a mistake. But should Mr. Willoughby’s admiration shift … well, that was easy enough to conceive. Miss Grey, while certainly a handsome woman, had not Marianne’s fresh-faced innocence, known to be intoxicating to even the most urbane gentleman, nor her well-developed figure. Further, Miss Grey was a cold, formal lady. She might have fifty thousand pounds, but perhaps Marianne’s charms were adequately compensating. She, too, had a dead father. In so much, the ladies were equal. It was not the advantageous match which she had fantasized about securing for her second sister, for Mr. Willoughby was said to be a man of but small property, but she knew, even as she did not comprehend it, how little Mrs. Dashwood regarded such worldly considerations. If it made Miss Marianne happy and simultaneously furthered Robert’s prospects, she was not one to object.


Come back tomorrow for part six!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Four

Part One / Part Two / Part Three

The family were all assembled at breakfast one mid-summer morning when Mrs. Dashwood received a letter from her cousin, Sir John Middleton. She had not seen her Devonshire relations in many years, but upon the reception of a heartfelt letter of condolence after Mr. Dashwood’s passing, the two had resumed a regular correspondence.

“Sir John presses me most earnestly to visit Barton Park this autumn,” she said, turning to address her daughters. “I have no wish to be away from Norland at this time, but perhaps you, Elinor, and Marianne might wish to take advantage of the invitation. The scenery is spectacular, and Sir John, who is an avid hunter, promises a multitude of entertainments: picnics, dinners, balls, and I imagine whatever else Lady Middleton can tolerate.” She smiled fondly. “My cousin is quite the enthusiast.”

“My dear Mrs. Dashwood, there is no need for you to remain so sequestered throughout your period of bereavement. You should all journey to Barton and reacquaint yourselves with such worthy relations. John and I can stay on and manage Norland.”

“You have already been so long from your own home, Fanny. I am sure you must wish to return.”

She was quick to demure. “No, indeed not! Little Harry has his heart set on remaining longer, that he might continue riding every day, do you not, my dear?”

“I like pony.”

“You might take the pony with you,” Marianne could not help but suggest.

Harry lit up, but his mother was quick to assert, “Your stables are so much finer than our own. I am sure he is happier here.”

“Thank you for your consideration,” Mrs. Dashwood replied, not specifying whether she referred to her daughter-in-law’s concern for herself or for the well-being of the pony, “but I truly have no desire to travel. That does not mean I am so cruel as to deprive my daughters of adequate diversion. Should you care to see Devonshire, Elinor?”

“I should be very happy to see the countryside, Mama, but I would much rather remain here with you. I, too, have no longing to part from Norland.”

“Certainly not!” Marianne agreed. “I am sure Devonshire is very fine, but I could never leave Norland in autumn.”

Elinor, though in full agreement, opted to tease her sister, a favorite pastime, rendered all the more pleasurable by Marianne’s tendency to think her earnest. “I am sure the trees can undergo their annual metamorphosis even without your valued guidance.”

“But who should remain to properly revere them?” she seriously questioned.

“And what of the poor trees in Essex? How are they to thrive without your admiration?”

“I leave the trees of Devonshire to the Devonians. I can claim no responsibility for any trees but my own, and while they may not even perceive my presence beneath their shady branches, I do feel they must benefit from my enjoyment.”

“Where in Devonshire is Barton Park located?” Edward asked in tones rather severe.

“I believe it is about four miles northward of Exeter.”

“Edward knows the area well. He was tutored near Exeter.”

“Mr. Pratt is located near Plymouth, Fanny,” he corrected.

“Nevertheless, ‘tis all Devonshire. Perhaps you could escort the ladies on their journey?”

“Thank you for the offer of Edward’s services, but we all appear resigned to remaining at home for the time being, in the company of our beloved oaks,” Mrs. Dashwood said with a smile for her middle child.

Edward looked relieved by this assurance, a circumstance for which most of the ladies at the table believed no explanation was required.

“Perhaps you might meet Sir John and his family in town next year?” John suggested, somewhat oblivious to the undercurrents of the conversation, which he only half attended from behind his newspaper. “I do hope you will join us, Mother, or at the very least allow Fanny the pleasure of chaperoning my sisters.”

“I do not believe Sir John is often in town. He has a large and young family, and his pleasures seem to be all in the country, but I should be very happy to indulge my girls in a season, if they will submit to going.” She looked at them speculatively, attempting to gauge whether the pleasures of London outweighed the price of enduring Fanny’s company.

“I have little care for the pleasures of London society,” Marianne scoffed, “but I should enjoy having access to the music and book shops. And I should like to tour Mantagu House and see Captain Cook’s treasures.”

Fanny looked somewhat askance at this suggestion but managed to force a smile. “There is so much to see and do in London, but if you will remain throughout the season, I am sure we will have ample time for it all.”

“There!” declared John. “You see how happy it should make her, and I certainly have no objections to escorting three beautiful ladies about town. What say you, Elinor? Shall we enjoy the pleasure of your company?”

Elinor looked to Edward, trying to penetrate the meaning of his subdued countenance. “I should be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the season. Thank you, Fanny. ‘Tis very kind of you.”

“Then it is settled!” she gleefully replied. “We shall all remain at Norland for the time being, snug in our family party, and then Elinor and Marianne can come to us in London in the New Year. We are promised to my mother for Christmas, but should you have need of us here, Mrs. Dashwood, I am sure she will be happy to oblige you.”  

“I would not dream of so depriving your mother,” Mrs. Dashwood readily replied. “And what are your plans, Edward? Shall you linger with us in the country, or have you affairs to attend to that will deprive us of your company?”

He hesitated a moment before saying firmly, as if he were taking himself in hand, “I have, alas, already intruded far too long upon your hospitality. My brother writes of some business matters he wishes to discuss with our lawyers. I shall leave for London as soon as I can prepare for the journey.”

“Robert writes of business matters? Nonsense! I made sure you would remain until Michaelmas.”

Edward smiled wearily. “I should not wonder if the contents of his letters to you are rather different than those he pens to me.”

“‘Tis a wonder that he writes at all!”

John chuckled. “Very true, my dear.”

“Wonderful as it may be, I have an appointment in London I must attend.”

“This is very unfortunate. Your business will not detain you from us long, I hope," said Mrs. Dashwood with concern.

He colored as he replied, "You are very kind, but I have no idea of returning to Sussex immediately. My business is of a nature to detain me for some time."

"We shall be very sorry to lose your company. Know that you are always welcome at Norland Park. You need not wait for an invitation here."

His color increased, and he said with his eyes fixed on his plate, "You are too good."

Mrs. Dashwood looked at Elinor with surprise. Elinor felt equal amazement, which she struggled to contain, while Marianne looked as though she might burst into tears. For a few moments everyone was silent. Fanny spoke first.

“This is a disagreeable surprise, Edward. Very disagreeable! But why I should be surprised at all, I know not. You were always disobliging,” she grumbled.

He looked at her with a faint smile. “I am sorry, Fanny. It has never been my intention to inconvenience you.”

Fanny accepted his contrition with a dissatisfied, “Hmph!”

Marianne, appalled by her sister’s acquiescence to this abandonment, could contain herself no longer. “But we shall see you in London, Edward, shan’t we?”

He smiled more easily. “I am certain that you shall.”

This confirmation steadied the nerves of the mother and her daughters, though countless questions remained unanswered. Marianne pressed her sister on the subject later that day.

“For once, and may it remain infrequent, Fanny and I are of like mind. I could not be more surprised by Edward’s sudden determination to depart. Had you any notion of it?”

“None at all,” Elinor replied steadily.

“Do you not think it unusual that he said nothing sooner? He had no missive this morning, yet his manner suggested it was a recent decision.”

“Perhaps he has been deliberating on it for some time,” she sighed, “but as we cannot know what calls him away, and as it is certainly inappropriate for us to speculate upon the matter, I had rather let the subject alone.”

Marianne stared at her in amazement. “How can you be so calm? Were it me, I should confront him at once and demand an explanation. I think he owes you that much.”

“He owes me nothing, and you are not me.”

“No, indeed.” She paused to consider. “So there is really no understanding between you?”

Elinor shook her head. “We have discussed this before.”

“But have you no intimation that he loves you? No spark in his eyes? Surely, the symptoms must be detectable.” 

Elinor hesitated. “Eyes might be misread. We have not discussed the matter, and I will trust to nothing but plain language in matters of the heart. They are far too easy to misinterpret.”

“If you can remain so calm at such a time, I think I understand you.”

“You think me unfeeling?” she cried. “Have a care, Marianne. You wound me deeply, and yes, I have a heart to deeply wound. Just because I restrain my sentiments, do not mistake their depths.”

“I am sorry, dearest Elinor!” Marianne exclaimed, falling to her knees and grasping her sister’s hands. “Forgive me my callousness, as you always do. You are but too good. I know not how you manage it.”

Quite in spite of herself, Elinor smiled fondly. “I have had two years of additional practice.”

Marianne forced a disenchanted laugh and regained her feet. “Well, we shall at least see Edward in London. That is something to look forward to. I fear it will be immeasurably dreary, surrounded by Fanny’s friends day in and day out.”

“Surely London, with all its diversions, will not so deprive you of interesting companionship. I know you do not care for Edward’s society as much as I do.”

Marianne made a face. “Fanny suggested that I should find Robert Ferrars’ company agreeable. I think that unlikely.”

“From the little that Edward has said of him, most.” Elinor laughed, her equanimity largely restored.


Come back tomorrow for part five!

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Three

Part One / Part Two

The speculation that consumed Mrs. Dashwood and her second daughter was also in the forefront of Fanny Dashwood’s mind, as she happily perceived her brother making strong inroads upon both Elinor’s and her mother’s affections. She wrote to her own mother regarding her expectations and was encouraged by that quarter to support the budding romance with a promise of the same guaranteed income to her eldest son that most mothers so positioned would have provided upon his entering manhood. She took the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law with tales of her brother's great expectations: how Mrs. Ferrars would settle the Norfolk estate, worth one thousand a year, upon him when suitably married, with the promise of a much larger fortune to be dispersed upon her death. Mrs. Dashwood gave her an answer which marked her contempt for such calculations, and though finding her mind of a similar bent as her daughter-in-law did nothing to further recommend the match to herself, she nevertheless cradled the suggestion to her heart, content to know that her daughter’s future in-laws, repugnant though they be, would not be cold and unwelcoming.

Both ladies were prudent enough not to mention such monetary concerns to Edward or Elinor themselves, Mrs. Dashwood out of respect for the young lovers’ sensibilities and Fanny due to her belief that a character so uncommon as her brother’s might reject their mother’s generosity merely to disoblige her. Edward being forever uncooperative, he could be expected to react precisely contrary to the dictates of reason.

Marianne was not so discrete, and she soon confronted her sister regarding the deficiencies in what she considered an acknowledged attachment. "What a pity it is, Elinor," said Marianne, "that Edward should have no taste for drawing."

"No taste for drawing!" replied Elinor. "Why should you think so? He does not draw himself, indeed, but he has great pleasure in seeing the performances of other people, and I assure you he is by no means deficient in natural taste. Rather, he distrusts his own judgment in such matters so much that he is always unwilling to give his opinion on any picture, but he has an innate propriety and simplicity of taste, which in general direct him perfectly right."

Marianne was afraid of offending and said no more on the subject, but the kind of approbation which Elinor described as excited in him by the drawings of other people, and the diffidence in expressing himself that she so easily explained away, was very far from that rapturous delight which, in Marianne’s opinion, could alone be called taste. Yet, though smiling within herself at the mistake, she honored her sister for that blind partiality to Edward which must have produced it.

"I hope, Marianne," continued Elinor, "you do not consider him as deficient in general taste. Indeed, I think I may say that you cannot, for your behavior to him is perfectly cordial, and if that were your opinion, I am sure you could never be civil to him."

Marianne hardly knew what to say. She would not wound the feelings of her sister on any account, and yet to say what she did not believe was impossible. At length she replied, "Do not be offended, Elinor, if my praise of him is not in everything equal to your sense of his merits. I have not had so many opportunities of estimating the minuter propensities of his mind, his inclinations and tastes, as you have, but I have the highest opinion in the world of his goodness and sense. I think him everything that is worthy and amiable."

"I am sure," replied Elinor, with a smile, "that his dearest friends could not be dissatisfied with such commendation as that. I do not perceive how you could express yourself more warmly."

Marianne was rejoiced to find her sister so easily pleased.

"Of his sense and his goodness," continued Elinor, "no one can, I think, be in doubt who has seen him often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent.”

Such reasoning broke Marianne’s restraint. “Yet why ought a gentleman of sense and goodness, as you say, be so reserved? I had always thought a young man should be forthcoming in his manners.”

“It surprises me not in the least that he fails to fulfill your notions of manly perfection, but you know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. At first sight, his address is certainly not striking, and his person can hardly be called handsome until the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance are perceived. At present, I know him so well that I think him really handsome, or at least almost so. What say you, Marianne?"

"I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother, I shall no more see imperfection in his face than I now do in his heart."

Elinor started at this declaration and was sorry for the warmth she had been betrayed into. She felt that Edward stood very high in her opinion, and while she believed that regard to be mutual, she required greater certainty of it to make Marianne's conviction of their attachment agreeable to her. She knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next. With them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real state of the case to her sister.

"I do not attempt to deny," said she, "that I think very highly of him, that I greatly esteem him, that I like him."

Marianne here burst forth with indignation. "Esteem him! Like him! Coldhearted Elinor! Oh, worse than coldhearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."

Elinor could not help laughing. "Excuse me," said she, "and be assured that I meant no offense to you by speaking in so quiet a way of my own feelings. Believe them to be stronger than I have declared. Believe them, in short, to be such as his merit and the suspicion of his affection for me may warrant, but farther than this you must not believe. I am by no means assured of his regard for me. There are moments when the extent of it seems doubtful, and until his sentiments are fully known, you cannot wonder at my wishing to avoid any encouragement of my own partiality by believing or calling it more than it is.”

Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination of her mother and herself had outstripped the truth. "And you really are not engaged to him! Yet you certainly will be shortly. No degree of shyness can account for a gentleman’s failure to speak when his affections are plainly apparent. But no matter. His reticence is my gain, as I shall not lose you so soon.”

Elinor had given her real opinion to her sister. She could not consider her partiality for Edward in so prosperous a state as Marianne believed. There was, at times, a want of spirits about him which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke of something almost as unpromising. Perhaps Marianne was correct to be wary of his reserve, for certainly she could not depend on that result of his preference for her which her mother and sister considered so certain. Nay, the longer they were together, the more doubtful seemed the nature of his regard, and sometimes, for a few painful minutes, she believed it to be no more than friendship.


Come back tomorrow for part four!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Two

Read Part One

The John Dashwoods remained at Norland several months, not from any disinclination on the part of their hostess to be rid of them, but rather a peculiarly gratifying sense of martyrdom that Mrs. Dashwood had developed in response to their continued company. For a period of time, she found her suffering rendered even more satisfyingly acute by the imposition which she endured, but once her spirits began to revive and her mind became capable of some other exertion than that of heightening its affliction by melancholy remembrances, she was rather impatient to see her guests gone. The contempt which she had from very early in their acquaintance felt for her daughter-in-law was very much increased by the further knowledge of her character, which half a year's residence in her family afforded. No more was Mrs. John Dashwood truly fond of her mother-in-law and sisters, but she convinced herself otherwise. It mattered not to her that her newfound affection was born of greed, for self-interest can always be counted upon to cast a rosy tint on selfish behavior. Nevertheless, the ladies might still have found it nearly impossible to have lived together for so long, and Fanny and family would have long since decamped, had not a particular circumstance occurred that increased the eligibility of her family’s continuance at Norland.

This circumstance was a growing attachment between Elinor and Fanny’s brother, a gentleman-like and pleasing young man who was introduced at Norland soon after his sister's arrival and who had been invited to spend a considerable part of his time there since, Mrs. Dashwood finding him a far more pleasing addition to the family circle than those who more properly belonged to it. He was quiet and unobtrusive, and she liked him for it. He did not disturb the wretchedness of her mind by ill-timed conversation. She was first called to observe and approve him further by a reflection which Elinor chanced one day to make on the difference between him and his sister. It was a contrast which recommended him most forcibly to her mother.

"It is enough," said she. "To say that he is unlike Fanny is enough. It implies everything amiable. I love him already."

Mrs. Dashwood now took pains to get acquainted with him. Her manners were attaching and soon banished his reserve. She speedily comprehended all his merits, and while the persuasion of his regard for Elinor perhaps assisted her penetration, she really felt assured of his worth. Even that quietness of manner, which militated against all her established ideas of what a young man's address ought to be, was no longer uninteresting when she knew his heart to be warm and his temper affectionate.

Where Mrs. Dashwood found much in Edward Ferrars to recommend him, the same could not be said of his closest relations. He was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished as they hardly knew what. They wanted him to make a fine figure in the world in some manner or other. His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day. Fanny had long wished it likewise, but it was an ambition whose attainment both ladies began to despair, for Edward had no turn for great men or fashion. All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life. Fortunately, he had a younger brother who was more promising, and Fanny had a husband equipped with two highly eligible sisters. If Edward could secure one or the other, he might yet prove of some use, being situated both respectably and conveniently, well-positioned to protect her own family’s interest in the Norland estate.

Some mothers might have encouraged the intimacy from motives of interest, for Edward Ferrars was the eldest son of a man who had died very rich, and some might have repressed it from motives of caution, for the whole of his fortune, except a trifling sum, depended on the will of his mother. But Mrs. Dashwood was alike uninfluenced by either consideration. It was enough for her that he appeared to be amiable, that he loved her daughter, and that Elinor returned the partiality. It was contrary to every doctrine of hers that difference of fortune should keep any couple asunder who were attracted by resemblance of disposition. Besides, she could see no imprudence in the match. Between his two thousand pounds and her ten, they might not be rich, but they would always be comfortable, and no sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behavior to Elinor than she considered their serious attachment as certain and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching.

"In a few months, my dear Marianne," said she, "Elinor will, in all probability, be settled for life. We shall miss her, but she will be happy."

"Oh! Mama, how shall we do without her?"

"My love, it will be scarcely a separation. We shall live within a few miles of each other and shall meet every day of our lives. I have the highest opinion in the world of Edward's heart. But you look grave, Marianne. Do you disapprove of your sister's choice?"

"Perhaps," said Marianne, "I may consider it with some surprise. Edward is very amiable, and I love him tenderly, but yet he is not the kind of young man I should expect to seriously attach my sister. His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. His studied reserve compels one to wonder how much he possesses of either, and besides all this, I am afraid, Mama, he has no real taste. Music seems scarcely to attract him, and though he admires Elinor's drawings very much, it is not the admiration of a person who can understand their worth. He admires as a lover, not as a connoisseur. To satisfy me, those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings: the same books, the same music must charm us both. Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it and be happy with him. But Mama, the more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward's virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm."

"Remember, my love, that you are not seventeen. It is yet too early in life to despair of such a happiness. Why should you be less fortunate than your mother?”


Come back tomorrow to read part three and leave a comment to be included in the SURPRISE GIVEAWAY, the contents of which will be announced at the end of this story on Halloween. I will choose a winner November 1st. Comment on the story posts and share (you must inform me where you shared in your comment) to accumulate entries, and please, make sure I have a means of contacting you. Whichever format is comfortable for you, as long as I can reach you, because if you're totally anonymous, how can I inform you that you won? This has happened to me more than once, so please, take my urgings seriously. Good luck! 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part One

The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the center of the property, where they had for many generations lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man who lived to a very advanced age and who, for many years of his life, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister, but her death, ten years before his own, produced a great alteration. To supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew, Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew, niece, and their children, the old gentleman's days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive, and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.

By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son; by his present lady, three daughters. The son, a steady, respectable young man, was amply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large and half of which devolved on him upon his coming of age. By his own marriage, which happened soon afterwards, he likewise added to his wealth. To him, therefore, the succession to the Norland estate was not so important as to his sisters, for their fortune, independent of what might arise to them from their father's inheriting that property, could be but small. Nevertheless, expectations will arise, even when unwarranted. Mr. John Dashwood, it was noted, could be relied upon to be particularly punctual in his visits to Norland, together with his wife and son, a child of four years, who was encouraged to court the affections of his uncle by such attractions as are by no means unusual in children of that age: an imperfect articulation, an earnest desire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal of noise. But such accomplishments, impressive though they be, were not enough to outweigh all the value of the attention which, for years, he had received from his niece and her daughters.

The old gentleman died. His will was read and, like almost every other will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure. The bulk of the estate, as expected, was disposed upon Mr. Henry Dashwood, and with lifetime proprietary rights guaranteed to Mrs. Dashwood and handsome bequeathments secured upon his three nieces. He meant not to be unkind, however, and, as a mark of his affection for young Harry, left him a pony and three thousand pounds.

Mr. John Dashwood’s disappointment was at first severe, but his temper was cheerful and sanguine, and he might reasonably hope that neither of his parents should live for many more years, carriage accidents being common and influenza on the rise. In the meantime, it was decided that the pony had better be left at Norland, where it could cause no additional strain to his own purse (the three thousand pounds were not found similarly burdensome), and where Harry might frequently visit to try the charms of his lisp upon his grandparents and aunts. Yet before even two such sojourns could be achieved, Fortune proved a less fickle benefactor than man, and Mr. Henry Dashwood followed his predecessor to the grave only a twelfth month later.

Mr. John Dashwood was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather coldhearted and selfish is to be ill-disposed, but he was, in general, well-respected, for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he might have been made still more respectable than he was. He might even have been made amiable himself, for he was very young when he married and very fond of his wife, but Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself, yet more narrow-minded and selfish. Though she, too, was severely disappointed, her hopes of a speedy ascendance to the title of Mistress of Norland rather dashed, she was, nevertheless, quite quick to see the possible advantages in their current circumstances, and well-versed in how to make the most of status and position as she was, had no hesitation in inquiring what her husband intended to do for his poor suffering mother and sisters. Four women, she argued, living alone in isolation must have need of masculine guidance.

“How is a bereaved widow to raise three girls while overseeing both house and estate? It is too gross an imposition.”

“You forget Sanders has been Norland’s overseer these ten years or more, ever since he succeeded his father to the post. He can be relied upon between our annual visits.”

“Perhaps we ought to spend more time at Norland in the future. Even the oldest retainers have been known to tamper with accounts when left unsupervised for too long.”

“I have no reason to suspect Sanders’ honor, but I dare say he should have an easier time managing the workers with my regular, commanding presence to uphold his authority.”

“I should certainly think so. Only think what a help it would be to your mother to know the estate is in good order. She could focus her attention on finding suitable husbands for your sisters, which will be an arduous task, I assure you. Such charming and accomplished girls deserve a London season, where they will require firm guardianship. Dear Mrs. Dashwood is far too lenient.”

“You ought to introduce them to society yourself, Fanny.”

“My thought precisely, John. I should enjoy the task, and your poor mother could remain at Norland with Margaret, as I am certain she should greatly prefer, but such notions are a bit unseemly in the moment. Fortunately, their mourning period will be complete in time for me to bring them out next year, but for now, especially as our own activities must be curtailed, I think we might best support the grieving family by removing to Sussex.”

He frowned. “You do not think the ladies would prefer their own company at such a time? My sister Marianne is certain to be in the darkest of humors, and her dramatics can be quite unnerving. When last I saw her, she barely uttered two words.”

The lady honored her husband’s sensibilities, but she could not indulge them. “A little discomfort to ourselves is a small price to pay when our support is so needed. You can see to the books and grounds, and I can take over the housekeeping duties for dear Mrs. Dashwood.”

“I do think little Harry provides a cheering presence. One cannot but smile at his antics,” the fond father mused.

“To be sure, he will be the greatest balm to their blighted spirits, and you know how much he enjoys our stays at Norland. When might we depart?”

"Are we not too hasty? I do not wish to be perceived as encroaching," he replied. "One had rather, on such occasions, do too little than too much. They can hardly be expecting company."

"There is no knowing what they may expect," said the lady, "but we are not to think of their expectations. The question is: what do they require?"

"Certainly. Four ladies left to wallow alone in their sorrow cannot thrive. The mundane but necessary details of daily life will fall into neglect."

“That you must not allow. Any diminishment of the estate takes from your own pocket, John, and Harry’s as well. You have not just a right and interest in the house and family, but a duty to both. I know you would not wish to appear negligent.”

"That is very true, my dear. Indeed, that would not do at all, and so it is decided. I shall write to my mother of our intentions at once, but do rest easy regarding Sanders, my dear. He is a good man. There is no reason for concern over his ability to manage the estate for a few years. Harry’s patrimony will remain undiminished.”

His wife hesitated a little in accepting this reassurance. "I do not mean to disparage the abilities of Mr. Sanders. However, one would hope the estate would improve, not merely avoid neglect, over the time of Mrs. Dashwood’s residence. Should she live fifteen years, many an opportunity to increase the property’s value may be squandered."

"Fifteen years! My dear Fanny, her life cannot be worth half that purchase."

"If you will observe, people always live forever when they hold property required by others and of little use to themselves. She is very stout, healthy, and hardly forty."

Mr. John Dashwood looked alarmed. “Do you truly think so? I had not thought it possible. Certainly, over the course of so many years, it is not just matters of maintenance that press upon the attentive landowner. As you say, I have a duty to myself, my child, and my heritage to ensure the future prosperity of Norland Park. It is a matter of honor.”

“Very well stated, my dear. I could not agree more.”

So it was that within a fortnight of his father’s funeral, Mr. John Dashwood, his family, and their attendants were installed at Norland, and with no determined time for their departure. Though John’s letter, full of proper civility and respectable sentiments, prepared the ladies of Norland for their reception, the notice was short enough that a refusal could not be conveyed in time to prevent the encroachment. Thus was their quiet period of mourning brought to an abrupt closure, disrupted by social dictates, hostessing duties, and a determinedly rambunctious four-year-old, possessed of no consideration for his relations’ distress and perfectly capable of invading even the most secure sanctuaries sought in desperation by his aggrieved aunts, upon whom he was extremely fond of imposing himself.

In sorrow, Mrs. Dashwood must be equally carried away by her fancy, and as far beyond consolation as in pleasure, she was beyond alloy. Thus, the indelicacy of the John Dashwoods’ behavior was perceived so much the greater. Mrs. John Dashwood had never been a favorite with any of her husband's family, but she had had no opportunity, till the present, of showing them how grasping she could be. So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood, a woman of romantic mind, feel her insinuating behavior, and so earnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that she was hard-pressed to extend even the most basic of civilities. She would have been loath to do so had not the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her to reflect on the propriety of such incivility, and her own tender love for her dear departed husband not afterwards acted to temper her aggravation and, for his sake as well as that of her much beloved daughters, avoid a breach with their son and brother.

Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgment which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counselor of her mother and enabled her frequently to counteract that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to rudeness. She had an excellent heart, her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong, but she knew how to govern them. It was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

That sister was the aforementioned Marianne, whose abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever but eager in everything. Her sorrows and her joys alike could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting — everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility, but by their mother it was valued and cherished. In their mourning, the two ladies fully encouraged each other in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted, but still she could struggle; she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival and treat her with proper attention, and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion and encourage her to similar forbearance.

Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humored, well-disposed girl, but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance without having much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life. But we should be generous; few children at that tender age do show much promise. It is a wonder so many survive to adulthood, but they somehow manage it, usually surpassing the expectations of the concerned relations who bemoaned their future not ten years before.


Come back tomorrow for part two!