Hi everyone! This is a new WIP of mine, a short(ish) Regency forced marriage scenario, written in epistolary form. The story will comprise of maybe 10 to 12 letters (or maybe more, we'll see) Elizabeth sends to Jane after something has happened to force her to marry a certain haughty gentleman from Derbyshire.
My thanks to Gayle who has once again bravely agreed to tame my unruly grammar, any mistakes left are entirely my doing. Don't forget to drop me a line after you've finished - all comments are much appreciated! :)
The Althorp Inn, December 30th 1812
My dearest Jane,
A thousand apologies for the gloomy epistle I sent you last. If for some reason you have not yet received it, I humbly beg of you to burn it without so much as a peek when you do. But of course, I know you have. While being in Town felt to me much like being at the far end of the world, I am sure the Royal Mail does not share my sentiments.
It is a wretched beginning indeed that after less than a fortnight of married life, I should have already turned into one of those acrimonious old wives whose letters are filled with nothing but complaints & grievances. I shall try to mend my ways, I promise. In my defense it must be said that when I penned my last, I was quite convinced that I had sunk into the Dark Depths of Despair. But I have since come to my senses, much thanks to our dear sister Mary – she was kind enough to remind me that the only place I have sunk into recently is Mr. Thompson's old pond. How sweet of her, do you not agree?
As I am sure you can imagine, I was very grieved indeed to find out that Miss Bingley should have become so very ill so soon after our departure. I suppose it was not entirely unexpected – she did look a bit wan when I last saw her at the wedding breakfast. I only hope her illness will not keep her brother in Town too long; it seems very untoward that they should have travelled thither in the first place, her being so Very Gravely Ill. Do tell me again, what malady is it that ails her so?
I cannot express how happy I was to hear that little Thomas has started talking. I can only imagine how many tales he must have to tell, having looked at the world around him for two whole years without being able to tell a soul about all that he has seen. Tell me, are the Gardiners with you still or have they departed already? I should so have liked to spend more time with them, to spend one last Christmas at Longbourn. Aunt has written a long letter to me, describing in great detail all her memories of the village of Lambton and its surroundings, no doubt trying to ease my mind and to give me something happy to look forward to. I dare say she has succeeded – Lambton sounds like a dear little place.
We are currently in Althorp, which I am told is a little more than halfway from London to P. I do not know if I long to see the place or dread it. We are to leave here in the morning and should reach P before nightfall, if the weather allows it. My husband sits across the room from me, reading a book – or at least graciously pretending to read, for I do not think he has turned the page once since he sat down. We have not exchanged too many words since that unfortunate quarrel on our first night as a married couple; it seems wiser to be quiet. It feels odd, still, to be in a room alone with him, a virtual stranger with whom I am to spend the rest of my life.
The days have grown steadily colder since we left Hertfordshire. This morning, the air was so cold that I could see my own breath as we stood in front of the inn, waiting to board the carriage – it was supposed to be waiting for us, not the other way around, but there had been some last moment mishap. Needless to say, my husband was quite displeased; he did not say much, but his expression bore a great resemblance to a storm cloud. I have come to know that that is his way. The bricks and sheepskins kept us warm enough on our journey here, but I do believe that if it gets much colder, we might see some snow before long.
I will end here; the maid has arrived to announce that supper will be served soon. I will write to you again as soon as we reach P, though I am sure that anything I have to say of it will pale in comparison to Miss Bingley's meticulous descriptions of its many charms. Please let me hear from you again soon, and give my love etc. to Mama, Papa, Mary, Kitty, Lydia and everyone else who is inclined to receive it – but not to Lettice Thompson, mind you. If she asks after me, I advise you to lift your chin as high as you can and walk right past her.
Pemberley House, January 2nd 1813
My dearest Jane,
I am sitting at a window, gazing at a view that I am convinced would have Lettice Thompson wishing it had been her in the pond that day, instead of myself. Outside the wind is sweeping through the gardens, coming and going in furious gusts, making even the great Spanish chestnuts tremble and bend their backs like old, weary men. I long for warmer days when I can escape this house and sit writing under the chestnuts instead of watching them from afar. I wonder if sitting under a tree with a book or a paper and a quill is considered fitting behaviour for the mistress of Pemberley?
There was no letter from you awaiting me when we arrived the day before yesterday – I hope it is due to some delay in the post and not because you are afraid to write me after that ghastly missive I sent to you while in Town.
I have spent the morning today touring the house with the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds. You can guess how much it pains me to ever admit Miss Bingley's being right about anything or anyone, but I confess that I am glad that she was right about my husband's library – like the chestnuts, it is truly magnificent. And it is as well that it should be so grand, if we are to spend all our evenings in the same manner as we have done thus far. Alas, it seems that my powers of deduction have yet again been bested by Miss Bingley, for when we stayed at Netherfield, she professed me to be a great reader who has no pleasure in anything else – I did not admit to it then, but it seems now that she might have had the right of it, after all.
As you will remember from that letter we shall not mention again after this, my husband has declared himself less than pleased with the idea of us entertaining my relatives here at P. His relatives, however, seem to be another matter entirely. I have been told to expect Miss Darcy to arrive tomorrow afternoon, along with a cousin of the Darcys, a colonel in His Majesty's army. Mrs. Reynolds mentioned in passing that my husband had invited the colonel's parents as well, but that they were unable to come. I wonder if it is on my account? After all, I have been told by some that a marriage to me could be considered a degradation and that there might be some family obstacles that might have prevented our marrying altogether in other circumstances. I must wonder why some think that a marriage would ever have even entered the discussion in other circumstances?
But I digress. As I said, I am to expect Miss Darcy and the illustrious colonel tomorrow, and I confess to feeling somewhat daunted. The house is so big that I can barely find my way from the front door to my chambers. What if I get lost? Would not that make a fine impression? Mrs. Reynolds asked me if I had any preferences for the menu tomorrow and, as I did not have the vaguest idea of what sort of dishes would be considered suitably grand by my husband, I simply asked if Mrs. Reynolds knew what Miss Darcy's favourites were. She seemed pleased with my answer, so at least on that account I believe I will be saved from any embarrassment.
I am half agony, half hope when it comes to the arrival of my new sister. Agony, because I fear that our friend Mr. W was as right about her character as he was about my husband's. Hope, because I dearly hope that he was not! There are several portraits of her hanging in different rooms of the house – one is looking down at me from above a mantelpiece as we speak – and I have spent a good part of my tour this morning staring at them, trying to decide her character. The one in the portrait gallery made me shiver a little, and after seeing it, I felt confident that Mr. W had been right. But then the one in the music room made me think that I should give her a big hug & a pat on the head for comfort. I wonder which painter has hit closer to the mark?
Do write to me, Jane dear, and tell me all the news from Longbourn. I want to hear every significant thing – and every insignificant one, too. Has Mr. Bingley returned yet? Is Mary still reading Fordyce or have you caught her sneaking about with a copy of Udolpho hidden in the folds of her apron? Have Kitty and Lydia stopped bickering over my green frock? If not, tell them that I have changed my mind and will take it with me on my next visit, whenever that may be. And if Papa is still bent on blaming himself for what has happened, do tell him to stop immediately and to write to me as soon as he can. I miss him dreadfully.
I have the strangest feeling that I am being spied upon. I will close now & report back to you as soon as I have caught the culprit.
Pemberley House, January 4th 1813
My dearest Jane,
I have received your letter (finally – there had been some confusion on the way, and it had been quite misdirected), read it thrice over and still I am not sure what to think of it. Are you sure that Miss Bingley really means to say that none of their party will return to Hertfordshire this winter? Or could it rather be that she thinks that they should not return? Truly, Jane, I never heard of a doctor who claimed country air to be bad for anyone's constitution! And even if Miss Bingley insists that it is so, what does it signify to her brother? Mr. Bingley is not ill, is he? He seemed perfectly healthy and unharmed by the Hertfordshire air the last time I saw him.
As for Miss Bingley's allusions to any alliance anticipated between her brother and Miss Darcy, I do not believe a word of it. I have spent most of yesterday and the entire morning today in the company of said lady and not once has she mentioned Mr. Bingley.Imentioned him in passing yesterday, but she only nodded and smiled, more out of politeness, I think, than of any great interest in hearing news of him. Oh, Jane dearest, do not let Miss Bingley's venomous words poison your mind. I am sure that Mr. Bingley will return any day now – and if he does not, perchance you might consider spending a few weeks with the Gardiners? I am sure little Thomas and his sisters would love to spend more time with Cousin Jane.
Miss Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, along with Mrs. Annesley, the lady with whom Miss Darcy has been living in London, arrived yesterday afternoon with much less commotion than I had expected. My husband was acting uncommonly impatient the whole morning, pacing back and forth from one window to another, looking at his pocket watch every half-minute. I could understand his uneasiness – the winds were still high, and it had started to snow the previous night. If it had been you in that carriage, I know I would have been wretched with worry until I saw you arrive safely to us. I almost felt like saying some words of comfort, but what is one to say in a situation like ours? It seems to me that every time we speak of anything other than the most mundane matters, an argument of some sort ensues.
The morning seemed to draw on forever, but in the end our guests did arrive, not much late and mostly unaffected by the weather. I feel rather foolish now for ever having fretted over their reception of my person. Colonel Fitzwilliam is about thirty, not what I would call handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman. If there are family obstacles to my marriage to Mr. Darcy, he is certainly not one of them. Miss Darcy's opinions on the matter are more difficult to decipher. She speaks very little, and when she thinks we are not looking, her wary gaze travels from myself to her brother and then back to me again. One thing I can tell for certain is that Mr. W has greatly mislead us in his description of her character – so much so that I wonder if he has not done it for some clandestine purpose of his own. Miss Darcy is shy, painstakingly so. I imagine she would not dare to be proud, even should she wish it.
My husband's behaviour continues to perplex me. Dinner last night was a pleasant affair – not once since I left Hertfordshire have I been half so well entertained as I was last night. Unlike his cousin, the colonel proved himself to be a great conversationalist. We talked of the differences between Hertfordshire and Derbyshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music. Even Miss Darcy seemed to enjoy the conversation, being so bold as to nod every now and then to agree with something her cousin said and even offering a smile or two. But not my husband. He just sat at the end of the table in all his austerity, giving clipped answers whenever his cousin tried to include him in the conversation. Perhaps he is displeased with my crude country manners?
Oh, Jane, I try to understand him, but I do not get on at all! I would have thought that he would have been pleased to have some company besides myself. We have sat in silence for days on end, looking at the walls or pretending to read books, trying to avoid conversation. It must have been as straining to him as it has been for me. And yet, instead of rejoicing at the first chance of easy, pleasant conversation, he chose to sulk all night. The colonel seemed to find his brooding silence amusing, but perhaps it is because he has known my husband so long and is, therefore, used to being at the receiving end of his infuriating stares?
Remember when I told you in my last that I had an odd feeling that I was being spied upon? Well, as soon as I had closed my letter to you, I started a thorough investigation on the matter. I did not catch the spy that day, but I found biscuit crumbs and two dead dragonflies (!) under the piano forte in the music room – a telltale sign of mischief, do you not agree? With the arrival of our guests I have not had the time yet, but I have every plan to catch the criminal mastermind as soon as I have a morning all to myself. I intend to leave a plate of biscuits under the piano forte and wait and see who will crawl below the instrument to pilfer them. Our butler, Mr. Parker? Bonaparte's spies? Or perhaps my husband has a secret penchant for biscuits? Whoever it is, I plan to catch them and punish them mercilessly. After all, I have quite an infamous reputation already – I might as well live up to it.
P.S. Do give my love etc. to everyone – despite being mad, bad and dangerous to know, I am quite full of fond feelings when it comes to my family.
* Half agony, half hope... -line shamelessly stolen from Persuasion.
* In 1812, Lady Caroline Lamb famously declared Lord Byron mad, bad and dangerous to know.