If Only I Had Learnt
Blurb: "If only I had learnt, I would have been a proficient," declared Lady Catherine. But proficiency changes a lady more than Lady Catherine realized.
I have place a copy of the original FFN version of Given Good Principles and If Only I had Learnt on Gumroad for you to down load and pay what you think it is worth. A number of you have asked for the original rather than the published version and I've finally found a way to make it happen. You an find it at: gumroad dot com forward slash mariagrace
The greying gentlemen accepted his coat from his valet and slipped it on. "How does it look, Wallace?" he asked, fastening the buttons.
"Very well indeed, sir. Miss Elizabeth did a fine job instructing your tailor. She chose an excellent shade of green for you; it suits you well." Wallace brushed a little dust from the back of the coat. "I dare say you will make a most favorable impression on Netherfield's new tenants."
"I can do no less for my dear wife's sake." Mr. Bennet chuckled to himself. One of those rich young men might do as a husband for one of our daughters. There are so few eligible young men in the neighborhood for the likes of my Jane and Lizzy.Her shrill voice rang still in his ears.
Wallace handed him a pair of dark glasses then opened the door, and Longbourn's Master left his room. As he carefully made his way down the stairs, he heard voices coming from the parlor. It is remarkable how much Lydia sounds like her mother.Smiling to himself, he headed for that room. He paused in the doorway, waiting to be recognized. When he was not acknowledged soon enough, he cleared his throat loudly. "So which one of you girls shall drive me on my errand this morning?" he announced.
"Good morning, Papa!" A tall, blonde young woman hurried to his side. Smiling broadly, she kissed his cheek. "I am afraid I cannot this morning."
"What has you so occupied, Jane?" he asked, cocking his head slightly.
"Oh, Mrs. Kenner and Mrs. White are quarreling again. Mrs. Kenner complains that the fence is broken, and Mrs. White moans that Mrs. Kenner does not keep her goat properly restrained, thus allowing it to destroy both the fence and her garden. I am going over there to try to settle them both and find some way to keep the peace with them." Jane laughed as she settled a napkin over her basket. "Their quarrel has been going on long enough."
"And several loaves of Cook's fresh bread will help your cause, eh?" Mr. Bennet laughed, nodding toward the basket.
"If often does, Papa." Jane smiled brilliantly and slipped past her father.
"So then, Lizzy, I suppose that means you have the honor today." He cocked his head, surprised when he received no answer from his normally loquacious daughter.
"I am here, Papa," a voice called from behind him; rapid footsteps down the stairs followed.
"Ah, I mistook Kitty's voice for yours, dear." He turned to face the stairs.
She paused beside her father, tying her bonnet in place. Brushing past him, she walked to her sister. "That was not kind of you, Kitty, confusing Papa like that. Have you not learned better than to play those sorts of tricks?" She scooped up her spencer from the chair next to Kitty and fastened it.
"Oh, Lizzy, you are far too serious! Lydia dared me to try to see if I could do it since she sounds so much like mama. I do, after all, sound very much like you. It was a harmless lark." The younger girl tried to laugh despite the severity of her sister's glare.
"You only sound like me when you are not engaging in such foolishness! There is nothing harmless in having fun at the expense of others." Lizzy went to the side table to retrieve a large leather-bound book. "I believe you have forgotten some very important lessons. Here," she opened the book and pointed to a passage. "While I am gone I want you to read this and then…"
"No, Lizzy, not another essay. Please, that is entirely unfair," Kitty pleaded, pushing the book away.
"I think it is a capital idea," Mr. Bennet commented from the doorway, "and you shall read it to me when we return. Considering the number of times you have written on that particular passage, I look forward to hearing what new insights you might have on the matter."
"I am so tired of reading and writing on that passage!" she moaned.
"If you found it so objectionable, then you should have thought before you acted. Clearly you have not yet learned its lessons," Lizzy declared firmly, pulling her gloves on. "Where is Lydia?"
"She is on her way into town on an errand for Hill. Before you ask, Mary is in the kitchen with Hill and Cook discussing menus." Kitty dropped into a chair, pouting. "My pen needs mending."
"Well then, you shall have the opportunity to practice mending it." Lizzy handed her a pen knife that had been left out on the table. "Make sure you put this away when you are done with it. Then when you are finished with what I have given you to do…"
"Find something useful to spend my time upon," Kitty finished for her, a pout evident on her face. "You always say that!"
"And I will stop when you no longer need to be reminded!" Lizzy chuckled and kissed the top of her younger sister's head. "We will only be making one call this morning, so we will not be too long. After we return, perhaps we can go together to call upon the Lucases."
Kitty's countenance brightened. "I would like that. It has been days since I have seen Maria." She turned her attention to the book. "I shall have this finished well before you return."
Smiling wistfully, Lizzy walked back to her father and took his arm. "Shall we go now?" He nodded, and they left the house.
Just outside the door, a groom held a smart bay gelding hitched to a gig. The groom helped Mr. Bennet step up into the vehicle, and then turned his attention to Lizzy. But she was already settled and taking the reins into her hands. "Are you ready, Papa?"
He settled his hat firmly on his head. "I am indeed, dear. Let us be off then."
Lizzy clucked her tongue and slapped the reins. The bay pricked up his ears and started off at a lively pace.
"Well, it looks like Mr. Werner has finally repaired the hedgerow that was damaged when the carriage ran off the road. It still looks a bit sparse, but it should be filled out by next summer, I believe." Lizzy turned her eyes back to the road. "Hold on, that hollow in the road here has gotten worse. The storm last week has certainly left its mark on the road."
Mr. Bennet gripped the seat and gritted his teeth. "That was certainly one to rattle your bones!" He laughed and resettled his hat. "It feels like we have more rain on the way. I hate to think what new ruts and holes will greet us after this week."
"I shall see if we can steer around it on the way home." She readjusted her bonnet.
"You say that every time, Lizzy, and still I find myself counting my teeth to be sure they are all still with me when we arrive."
"Riding with me is most certainly not that bad, Papa. But if you continue to complain, I shall have Lydia…"
"No, no, you have made your point. I shall immediately cease my ingratitude. You are indeed the best horsewoman in Meryton." Indeed you are,though perhaps that is a fact best kept to myself.
"Ah, be careful. Did Mama not warn you that such flattery would go to my head? Oh, there is Mrs. Harris." Lizzy slowed the horse. "Hello there! How's the new roof coming along?"
"I believe we will have it mended just in time for the next weather to blow through," the older woman said as she bobbed her head in greeting. "So kind of you to ask. How are you and your sisters this morning?"
"We are doing very well, thank you. We have been enjoying the new soup recipes you sent to Cook. They have become some of Mary's favorites."
Mrs. Harris smiled broadly. "Well, that is good to hear!" She waved as the horse walked on.
Mr. Bennet waved in her direction, chuckling. "How you remember so much about all our neighbors just astonishes me."
"But your memory is ever so much better, and we are both quite aware of that fact. You never have to be reminded of where we left off our last chess game."
"That sounds like an invitation!" He leaned back and stroked his chin. "I believe I had just moved my queen…"
A short time later, they arrived at Netherfield Park. Her father's arm firmly in hers, Lizzy knocked on the door. The housekeeper greeted them warmly and showed them in to the parlor. "Mr. Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet to see you, sir." She curtsied and retreated from the room.
Inside the well-furnished room, a young man with blonde hair and blue eyes jumped to his feet. "Charles Bingley at your service, sir." He rushed toward his visitor, staring wide-eyed. "Miss Bennet." He bowed toward her. "This is my friend Mr. Darcy and my brother, Mr. Hurst." He gestured at the two other men behind him.
Lizzy curtsied then guided her father to a chair. After he sat down, she said, "If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I do not mean to intrude upon your conversation. If it is all right with you, Mr. Bingley, I shall just take a turn about your grounds and return in a quarter of an hour or so."
"Oh, no, no. My sisters are here with me, and they would never forgive me if I did not see you introduced. They have met so few of our neighbors; they would be sorely disappointed to miss making your acquaintance. Let me take you to them." Bingley smiled brightly. "They are in the morning room, I believe."
"Is that agreeable to you, Papa?"
"Certainly, child." Mr. Bennet nodded absently, as though he was listening carefully to some noise in the room.
"I shall return for you in a quarter of an hour then," she said and followed Bingley out of the room.
An awkward silence ensued as Darcy and Hurst stole glances at one another then stared dumbly at Mr. Bennet.
Mr. Bennet chuckled, reaching for his dark glasses. "Here, gentlemen, I shall remove these. That will make your staring much more efficacious."
"Sir! I beg your pardon; I had no idea…" Darcy stammered uneasily.
"No need to make yourself uncomfortable… Mr. Darcy, is it? I have quite inured myself to it by now; there can hardly be a man who would be confronted with this and not stare." He pushed himself up from the chair. "Both of you come here," he invited as he waved them over. "Come along now."
Staring at one another , Darcy and Hurst rose and stepped toward their guest.
"There now, have a good solid look." He turned his face until he felt the warmth of the sun upon it. "Come close; it is frightful I know, but I assure you, I do not bite.
Hurst gasped while Darcy bit his lip. Heavy scars ran across Mr. Bennet's face from one temple to the other, up the right side of his forehead and down his left cheek. Scar tissue covered one eye entirely. The other could only open partially, and the eye underneath the heavy lid was clouded.
"Gawk all you want; I will take no offense, for I cannot see your horrified expressions." Although you would be surprised how accurately I can hear them."I am indeed quite blind."
Hurst shook his head as he realized he was rudely staring. "Please, forgive us, sir. Do sit down," he said very loudly.
Darcy winced and shook his head disapprovingly.
"I am blind, sir, but not deaf." Mr. Bennet laughed, rubbing at his ear. He reached behind him to find his chair and sat down smoothly.
"Of course, sir, please forgive me," Hurst stammered, blushing hotly.
"Think nothing of it, Mr. Hurst. It is something that nearly everyone does until they become accustomed to me. I have come to expect it at a first meeting. It is only if you continue to shout at me that I take offense." He settled his glasses back into place with another chuckle. "I am sure you are too polite to ask; it was a hunting accident. Blasted gun misfired, exploded in my face. It was ten years ago now; my youngest had just turned five, I believe. The surgeon said it was a miracle I survived."
"Forgive me for saying so, but from the look of those scars, it would seem so," Hurst finally spoke. "I have seen the kind of accident you described, and the poor bloke was not nearly so lucky. He did not live an hour afterwards."
"I have heard that same story a number of times. But then again, in the months I spent recovering from it, I was forced to wonder if it was not the ones who died that were lucky." Mr. Bennet leaned back in his chair. "Ah, Mr. Bingley, you have returned." He tipped his head toward Bingley and moved to remove his glasses again.
"No need, sir; Miss Elizabeth has explained." Bingley glanced at Darcy and Hurst apologetically. "I asked." He shrugged, blushing.
"She is a good girl, the second of my five daughters. No, I have no sons, just daughters." He listened as the others in the room shifted uncomfortably.
"Well, I look forward to calling on them, perhaps tomorrow, sir? I should very much like to meet them all, and your wife, too," Bingley declared energetically.
Mr. Bennet sighed, the corners of his mouth falling. "I am afraid the latter will be quite impossible. My wife has been gone these five years now."
"My condolences, sir," Darcy offered awkwardly, tugging at his cravat. This just keeps getting worse.Bingley shot him a look of puzzlement, caught, uncharacteristically, without words.
"There, there gentlemen, no need to be so awkward and uncomfortable. Your shrugs and sighs are quite clear to me, even across the room." Mr. Bennet smiled gently. "Yes, there has been tragedy, but one lives in that or chooses to recall the past only as it gives one pleasure. I would not have chosen my accident, certainly. But in truth, I have been made a better man for it all. Moreover, I find there is very little that I am forced to do without, despite having lost my sight." He smiled thoughtfully, turning his face into the warmth of a sunbeam.
"Do you not find it difficult to stay at home so much, to be in such limited company?" Bingley gasped, suddenly blushing when he realized what he had said.
Mr. Bennet laughed heartily. "So you are a very social gentlemen, Mr. Bingley, if what you fear losing most is being in company. Mr. Darcy, what would you fear losing without your sight?"
"It surely would not be being in company!" Bingley joked with a sidelong glance at his friend.
"That is easy," Hurst teased, "he would mourn the loss of his pleasure in reading."
Darcy chuckled. . I cannot believe how easy Bennet is with all that he has been through. His smile is so ready, and he seems to have good humor in abundance. But he is indeed an odd fellow. "It is true – my library is perhaps my greatest pleasure."
"And you, Hurst?" Bingley challenged.
He folded his hands over his ample belly. "I do not know. I would miss the view of the countryside … and chess. There is nothing like losing oneself in a good game of chess."
Or a good meal, I imagine."I am denied none of those things." Mr. Bennet shook his head adamantly. "My dear wife refused to allow me to linger and fade, locked in the confines of our home, as, I admit, I was wont to do. It was she who insisted on the purchase of the gig in which you, no doubt, saw us arrive. She saw to it that my eldest daughters learned to drive so that I would never have the excuse of having no one to drive me about. They ensure that I do not neglect my social calls. Likewise, they all, in their turn, read to me. Not a day has gone by that I have lacked the pleasure of a good book."
"But certainly, you cannot enjoy the sentimental novels that young women read these days!" Hurst protested. "I have seen what my wife reads from time to time, and, upon my word, it is stuff no man should be forced to endure." They all laughed heartily.
"Not hardly. Keep in mind though, I did say 'a good book.' The youngest of my girls humor me as they read my selections, but the older, particularly Elizabeth, share my tastes in histories and philosophy and poetry."
Darcy's eyebrows rose, and he glanced toward the door. "That is quite extraordinary." It is rare to find a woman who has improved her mind by extensive reading.
"Indeed. She also is my most frequent partner in chess. It took a little time, to be sure, but now we are quite able to play without even a board, which does simplify things most considerably. I ask you, Mr. Hurst, how often have you been able to enjoy a game of chess on a long carriage ride?"
"There are many times that I have wished to do so, I will admit. Playing without a board – that is quite an accomplishment." Hurst rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I have never heard of such a thing."
"I have," Darcy murmured, "I have heard of masters playing multiple games at once and of some who were kept prisoner in war playing boardless games such as you describe."
"Indeed, that was where my daughter got the idea. You play chess yourself, sir?" Darcy nodded. "Then perhaps you and my daughter will have to play some afternoon."
Bingley laughed at the astonished look on Darcy's face. "Your daughters sound like very accomplished young ladies."
"Perhaps not in the eyes of society, but I believe they are indeed." Mr. Bennet smiled. "But, now, you have heard enough of me to last ten social calls. Tell me of yourselves." He sat back to listen. "It is time for me to learn of my new neighbors."
A quarter of an hour later, Elizabeth appeared at the door to the parlor. Conversation stopped as the men rose to greet her. . I cannot believe how easy Bennet is with all that he has been through. His smile is so ready, and he seems to have good humor in abundance. But he is indeed an odd fellow.
.She stepped to her father's side.
"Thank you so much for coming to call, Miss Elizabeth," Bingley gushed, bowing over her hand. "I hope we may repay the courtesy and call upon your family soon."
"We look forward to your call. I shall have Elizabeth dust off the chess board and perhaps we might have a game." Mr. Bennet answered, bowing to his host. Elizabeth curtsied. They bowed in return. Taking her father's arm, she led him to their waiting gig.
He waited until he felt the gig turn the corner out of the drive before he asked, "So, my dear, tell me your impressions of our newest neighbors."
"Oh, Papa!" She sighed heavily. "I do hope Mr. Bingley and his friends were more agreeable than his sisters."
"I did find them quite agreeable, as a matter of fact. I do hope to maintain an acquaintance with them. It seems I might have another partner for chess and someone besides you and Jane to discuss history and philosophy with. I somehow do not see Mr. Darcy as one so fond of poetry, though. It does not sound as if you have the same opinion of Mr. Bingley's sisters."
"I am afraid not, Papa. It seems they are very different from their brother. Mrs. Hurst … well picture if you will a bittern hiding in the reeds. It stands straight up, beak in the air, trying to be unassuming, but all the while watching for any who might be noticing it."
Mr. Bennet laughed into his fist, pretending to cough.
"I could feel her eyes on me, trying to assess whether I was predator or prey. Knowing me as you do, you no doubt know which I would prefer to be." She glanced at him, giggling. He laughed more loudly. "Her sister was even worse! Miss Bingley in her white dress and feathers, she was most definitely a grey heron."
"A heron, you say?"
"Indeed." She slapped the reins. "She is quite tall, you know, and stood looking down at me, her feathers drooping down her back, with a posture most like a heron with its bill tucked into its chest. She stood there motionless, staring at me, waiting for the proper moment to pounce and declare her accomplishments. Quite a pair of superior sisters if ever I have encountered them."
"You have a sharp tongue there, daughter! Let us hope that your impression of the men was more charitable." He reached to lay a warm hand on her shoulder.
"Of that you can be sure. You know I am most severe on my own sex. Let me see. I would say that Mr. Bingley is most definitely a spaniel, a blonde one, with the largest blue eyes you can imagine. He is a friend to all and devotedly loyal, content with sport or in the drawing room beside a good fire."
"That was my perception as well. He certainly seems a capital fellow. He might do very well for Jane."
Elizabeth pulled the horse up short, stopping the gig. "No, Papa, no. Please, no more matchmaking! You are truly worse than a nervous mother!"
"Now that is unfair." No mother would have invited a man for a game of chess."I am only thinking of you and your sisters."
"You have given us dowries enough to attract decent men, but not so ample as to attract fortune seekers. Uncle Philips and Uncle Gardiner have given their solemn word to give us homes should the heir to Longbourn turn us out. You need not concern yourself with matchmaking." She clucked at the horse and slapped the reins again.
"I had no way of knowing what a fool Collins would turn out to be. You have to agree that it was reasonable to consider he might do for one of you girls."
"Perhaps, at first, but within an hour of his arrival, it was quite clear he was most absurd. It was only the greatest of providence that he set his sights on Charlotte and was fortunate to obtain her hand. If not for that, I think he should still be here trying to persuade you to give him a wife from among your," she shifted her posture to mimic Mr. Collins, "'most lovely and charitable daughters, who would, in the interest of charity and reconciliation in the family line, be most well suited to be the wife of the clergyman of Rosings Park.'"
Mr. Bennet laughed deeply and slapped his thigh. "He was a tenacious man, if nothing else. In truth, I was not sorry to lose his company. Your imitation is quite sufficient for any moment I feel myself in want of him!" He gripped the seat as the gig jolted over the hollow in the road. "I thought you would avoid that on the way home!"
"I would have, had you not distracted me with talk of matchmaking."
He sighed dramatically. "All right then, we shall forget Collins. Tell me your impression of the other gentlemen."
"Mr. Hurst is a most ample gentleman, and seems very content, despite the fact he has very little hair. He is a bulldog, for I am quite certain he snores most frightfully at night." She laughed to herself. "I believe he would be quite content to rest beside a good fire with a bone to gnaw on."
"I fear what you would say of me, given the opportunity! No, no, do not tell me, I have no wish to know." He held up a hand to stop her ready answer. "Tell me instead of Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth became quiet for a long moment. "He is more difficult to capture."
How interesting. There are few you do not immediately discern.
"He is a tall man, dark and serious. I think he is a stallion, a black stallion, the one the grooms fear and only the master himself can ride." A blush crept over her cheeks as she kept her eyes firmly focused on the road.
She did not see the small smile on the father's face. He will do very well for you,my dear. He was impressed with you as well.