Regrets, I Have But a Few
I suspect I was in a particularly melancholy mood when I wrote this short piece. For that I beg your forgiveness. Like many writers before me, I have often speculated on the turn the lives of the Bennet sisters would have taken had Darcy not found Lydia and forced her marriage. In this short piece, he does not because he never encounters Elizabeth again after leaving Hertfordshire. I have always viewed Elizabeth as being quite pragmatic in nature, a trait which maturity would enhance as her more romantic hopes had to be pushed aside.
She folded the page and laid the newspaper aside without thinking much of what she was doing. The report she had stumbled upon, quite by accident, for she rarely did more than scan the society page and would have missed this item altogether had not the name that headlined it captured her attention.
"What has caused such a pensive look, Beth?"
The voice came from behind and quite startled her, for she thought herself alone. Her husband leaned against the doorway.
"I came across an item in the society pages."
"And that caused that look of sadness I saw?"
"It brought back memories I had thought forgotten."
Her husband of twenty-eight years pulled out the chair next to hers, sat himself beside and reached for the paper. Opening it, he thumbed the pages until the society pages lay spread before him. He glanced at the contents but, as she had expected, nothing was familiar to him. She pointed to the offending item.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Lady Elena Carlton Darcy, of Pemberley, Derbyshire, are to please to announce the marriage of their son, Carlton George Darcy to Miss Emily Dorrington daughter of Francis Dorrington and Hortense Lester Dorrington of Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
He looked at her expectantly. "I assume you were once acquainted with one of these people, Beth."
She nodded, "I became acquainted with Mr. Darcy some four or five years before we married."
She glanced at the item once more and snorted, "He married well. The daughter of an earl! Mr. Darcy's pride would allow for nothing less."
She paused briefly to collect her thoughts. "I had not thought of him in years. He was visiting Hertfordshire with a friend who leased Netherfield, "she looked at her husband who nodded. He was quite familiar with Netherfield which had been sporadically leased out for almost thirty years now.
"And?" he prompted.
"There really is not a great deal to tell. Mr. Darcy's friend paid particular attention to Jane. So much so that we all expected him to offer for her. Instead, he left after staying at Netherfield for only two months. He never returned and Jane, well, it took Jane almost a full year to recover her spirits and by then Lydia. . ."
He need no elaboration on the pain that his wife's youngest sister had inflicted on her family.
"I assume that Mr. Darcy left at the same time as his friend?"
"I confess I fail to see what has distressed you."
"Mr. Darcy was a proud, rather unpleasant man, or at least that is how I had come to view him then."
Her husband's eyebrows rose and he chuckled. "Then? Have you been harbouring a secret tendre for the gentleman all these years?"
She smirked, laid a hand across her brow and sighed dramatically, "Indeed, I have wished for him to come, throw me across his horse and carry me off."
"Deuced uncomfortable way to travel, my girl. I think you have been reading too much of that novel pap."
She laughed, secure in her affection for him, and his for her. They had both invested too much in the marriage, for it to be otherwise.
"No," she said, "I had no romantic flights of fancy for Mr. Darcy. Even after I had acquitted him of his worst offences, I still thought him a proud, disagreeable man. I have regrets enough, but his departure is not one of them."
He watched her curiously. "And those regrets are?"
She looked at him and thought she detected a slight degree of concern flickering behind his curiosity. He had married above himself. A gentleman farmer, albeit one with a large farm and earning near unto five hundred pounds a year when she married him, could rarely aspire to wed the daughter of a gentleman – even one with but a thousand pounds in her dowry. She had known him slightly, for quite a few years, before he first approached her with marriage in mind. She might even have danced with him once or twice at the local assembly, although she could not remember doing so. He averred she had and she could not deny the possibility, for she had enjoyed dancing and he was not unhandsome and a competent dancer. Lydia's ruination – running away with George Wickham and then not marrying him – destroyed the reputations of all the remaining Bennet sisters. For two years, she and her sisters had not bothered to attend the local assembly, for no respectable gentleman would ask them to dance, and the unrespectable ones did not bear thinking upon. It had gradually improved, although the principal families discouraged their sons from dancing with the tainted Bennet sisters for many years.
They had all eventually married but none to husbands of the gentry. Only Jane, beautiful Jane, had come close. Their Uncle Gardiner had brokered a marriage for her with one of his business associates who was a very gentleman-like person, although more than ten years her senior. Elizabeth's own husband was a good and intelligent man, certainly literate enough to manage his farm well, lacking only the range and depth of knowledge that rendered a man truly educated. She had been willing to teach and he, to learn. Between them, they had forged, from its unlikely beginnings, a strong and healthy marriage. She remembered well her Aunt Gardiner's advice before her marriage.
"A successful marriage, even one based on strong affections, takes work. A lot of work and the most important aspect is how you manage the disagreements, for disagreements there shall be. Compromise is crucial, particularly in your circumstances where there is not a strong mutual affection to carry you over the bumps. A mutual respect must serve the purpose instead. That does not entail subjugation of your wishes to his, but to work out the differences to a resolution that both of you can live with. Sometimes that will favour you, other times, it will not."
Their farm had increased in size with the judicious application of her dowry and prudent management of their income. Their children, six of them, had strengthened those bounds. She had not loved him when she took her vows but, within several years, her affections for him were such as to make the distinction trivial. It had been a source of pleasure to have them returned, and she had long suspected the confession of her regard had produced their second child.
She would never have anticipated such a conclusion when he had approached her that evening during the assembly. He had requested the next set, but to converse, not to dance. And for the half hour the dance lasted, they did exactly that. He had been unusually direct, speaking of his farm and his aspirations and inquiring into her own circumstances. She had not spoken of Lydia, nor had he asked. It was quite unnecessary. He had asked her for the next dance as well and this one they did dance. She was pleased to learn that he was reasonably competent in an activity he confessed he rarely performed. Later that same evening, he once more engaged her in conversation, picking up where they had left off earlier in the evening. His behaviour puzzled her greatly and yet his company was not unpleasing and his conversation suggested an intelligence that she had not expected from one of his station.
All became clear two days later when he approached her father to speak with her in private. Permission was granted, of course, for Elizabeth was increasingly aware of her spinster status and the insecurity of her situation. Her suitor had laid out his hopes and explained his motivations. He was both intelligent and ambitious and hoped for a better life for his children. A wife, he was convinced, who was of the gentry could guide and educate him and their children. The difficulty had been finding one whose circumstances made an offer such as his appealing and who had the personal characteristics that he sought. He had learned of Elizabeth's situation, had spoken with others about her, and finally approached her at the assembly to talk with her. She was what he sought and the only question that remained was whether she could be brought to accept his offer. He did not plead a romantic attachment but instead he showed her his home, his fields and talked of his hopes for the future. For her part, Elizabeth considered his offer for a week, spoke with her father and the Gardiners, and ultimately agreed to marry Thomas Helton. It had been a marriage of prudence, but her prospective husband had many admirable characteristics, his home and farm gave evidence of a careful and diligent owner, and she had heard nothing of him that spoke of dissolute behaviour. He did not attend the Longbourn chapel but the clergyman of the church he did attend spoke well of him. She felt she could safely place her future and that of her children in his hands.
She looked at him now and realized her silence had made him uneasy. She smiled as warmly as possible and felt a stirring in her stomach. She wondered if he might, even after so many years, be enticed up to their bedroom. An afternoon engagement was not something they had enjoyed for more than ten years, although in all other respects their marital intimacy was not wanting. Her husband cleared his throat and wondered himself at the warmth of her gaze.
"Only if you do not take me upstairs and love me, husband."
She lay beside him less than an hour later, bathed in sweat and deliciously relaxed. He was in his usual half awake condition following such intimacies and she knew he would drift off for an hour or two unless she acted to keep his attention.
She crossed her leg over his. "I hope I have satisfied any concerns you might have harboured."
"My dear Beth, I doubt I have the strength to harbour anything now. I am quite undone."
"You certainly did not appear undone a few minutes ago." She teased, turning slightly to pluck at the greying hairs on his chest.
"With such beauty before me, how could I not rise to the occasion."
She blushed and slapped his chest, "Behave yourself!"
"I suppose I should return downstairs." He said. She could discern no interest on his part of actually carrying out such a plan.
Her hand slipped lower, "Is there anything that important right now?"
He looked at her, "As much as I hate to confess it, I doubt I can accomplish much for some time yet."
"I think, my dear Thomas, that you may be surprised at your abilities. And I have nothing better or more interesting today."
"Then I shall allow the . . .matter to remain in your hands."
His own moved over and down her body and she arched under his caress.
"I always knew you were an intelligent man, Thomas."
Her efforts eventually proved successful and it was several hours later that Thomas Helton staggered downstairs. He had been so absorbed by his wife's playful seduction that he had given little thought to its cause. He picked up the newspaper and read again the announcement of the Darcy wedding. He still had no answer to his wife's pensiveness. She entered the room to see him reading the report and, from his mien, guessed at his thoughts.
"You are questioning my regrets, Thomas. I thought I had laid them to rest."
"Not questioning, Beth. Simply curious. Your expression was unusually pensive. Will you not share what prompted it?"
She walked over to the stove, encouraged the fire to heat the kettle and then sat beside him at the table. Taking his hand in hers, a hand roughened and strong from work, but one that was amazing gentle and delightful on her body. She stroked it for a few moments.
"My regrets? I have a few I suppose. I regret that I did not listen more closely to Mr. Darcy when he cautioned me about George Wickham. So much could have been avoided had I done so and come to a proper understanding of that man's character, or lack of it. I regret not arguing more strongly with my father about allowing Lydia to go to Brighton. I knew, even without Wickham's involvement, that it was a bad idea. That Lydia was likely to embarrass us all. I just never thought her behaviour would be so wanton. I regret not seeing Mr. Bingley's deficiencies in character more clearly. The signs were there had I chosen to see them. He boasted of his impulsivity, you know, and more than once. I never considered what such a flaw might represent."
She rose from the table, added tea leaves to the kettle and fussed about getting cream and honey for their tea. Pouring each of them a cup she settled back at the table.
"I regret, most of all, not knowing what has happened to Lydia. I wish to find her, curse her and hug her all at once. She was but fifteen, Thomas, the age of our Jane and you know how silly she can be at times."
"Jane is a good girl. How can she be otherwise with you as her mother?"
"And you as her father, Thomas. Do not ever disparage your role in making her a fine young woman. It is just that, knowing how glib and pleasing Wickham was, I see now how easy it was for my sister to fall under his power. She was a wild, fearless creature and possessed not a lick of sense. I doubt he had to do much to convince her to be in love with him; and, from that, it was but a small step to running away. She thought to be married but he had no designs of that sort."
She fell silent and he felt compelled to respond.
"I cannot. . .well, simply allow me to observe that, had you been able to persuade your father and prevent Lydia from going to Brighton, we would never have married and been blessed with such fine children. I know this" and he waved his hand about the room, "is not what you expected in life, but I cannot repine the circumstances that brought you into my life."
"And neither can I, Thomas. I never meant to suggest otherwise. Simply looking back and wondering how things might have gone differently.
He chuckled, "Perhaps, if Mrs. Collins had not have fallen sick and cancelled your trip to Kent."
Elizabeth shuddered, "That was a trip I have no regrets missing. I believe I could have borne six weeks of Mr. Collins; however, Charlotte told me later that Mr. Darcy visited his aunt that same year and I would have had to endure his company for a fortnight. No, that trip is one I cannot regret missing."
"Regrets, I have but a few, Thomas. And none of any significance now."
~ The End ~