Pride and Prejudice fanfiction: The question remained: where to find such a gentleman?
'Upon my word, never was there a more detestable bonnet!', the unfortunate article which had drawn such censure rested upon the drawing room table, neatly trimmed with a light blue ribbon, the detraction itself having issued from the lips of its more unfortunate occupant (or so she believed herself to be) Kitty Bennet. She had unwittingly sought solace from her sister Mary Bennet for her sartorial woes, the font from which such a soothing draught was least likely to be drawn, as Mary was as implacable to high spirited conversation as her sister was fond of it.
For it was conversation that Kitty missed sorely since the departure of her treasured confidante, Lydia. Indeed, Kitty's mainstay had consisted primarily of gossip, balls, and the fluctuating fortunes of those individuals connected with her family, onerous (as in Mr Collin's case) or otherwise. In her insatiate need for talk she rivaled only Lydia and their mother, Mrs Bennet, whose highly wrought nerves had appeared to settle somewhat with the marriages of three of her daughters; so that now her chagrin, if not her opprobrium, (this was Mr Bennet's exclusive domain) alighted its trenchant beam upon her unfortunate remaining offspring still at Longbourn, both of whom (she supposed) must have been languishing for the want of husbands.
Mary sat impassively reading one of Samuel Richardson's books, and if she had indeed heard her sisters complaint condescended not to reply; (probably within the context that here was another of Kitty's foibles, of which they appeared to proliferate rather than abate). To draw Mary perforce from her reveries (Mary was prone to these) Kitty added as a spur to elicit a response 'It shall make me appear mean indeed next to Verity Fitzroy', this had the desired effect, for Mary gave the bonnet a cursory glance, reluctantly diverting her attentions from her missive and then solemnly commenced intoning judgement, 'I am sure it is passable, I myself have never cared for such baubles with which women especially are wont to augment their personal charms, the focus of which is to draw attention towards artifice whereas humility should rightly be expressed...'
'Oh Mary, how tiresome you are today!' retorted Kitty, wondering how her sister Mary, imbued with so much good sense as she was, had allowed rigorous dictates to circumscribe rather than inform her intellect, constraining her to ever-narrowing tracts of thought rather than expanding the horizons of her knowledge; the facts she gathered were as a moral shield, providing a safety that she cleaved to, an enchanted circle which cast an aura about her which did not extend to others whose motivations she consciously (to her sister's mind) sought to find mean.
This characteristic dourness had interpolated itself into the fabric of Mary's mind and expression, hence the disparity of their relationship in contrast to Kitty's affinity with her younger, lively sister Lydia. Kitty gazed upon the bonnet on the table and as it absorbed her contemplation, awakening sober reflection on their deportment, to tell truth, their behaviour had been somewhat reckless, and left unchecked save for Jane and Lizzy's timely interventions at certain balls. To be libeled as two of the silliest girls in the country was indeed a heavy interdict, and as for father's exhortation to 'prove' that they had spent ten minutes of the day thinking sensibly! To be sequestered at Longbourn interminably was intolerable, not to mention preposterous.
Happily, Kitty could now veritably assert she had spent the greater part of this April day thinking sensibly, perhaps the legacy of her two eldest sisters and the strange fate of Lydia had given her the dose of sense she needed; and the invalid far from languishing from the tonic, was now greatly revived and saw the world afresh rather than as an enchanted procession of balls intended only for her divertissement. Do not mistake her nascent sense of responsibility with seeing through a glass darkly, rather her eyes were adjusted themselves through the new filter of filial expectation, and as such her focus was still adjusting itself to this new world in which she was called on to become more realistic in her expectations, more tempered in her conversation.
Despite their vagaries, for each sister believed the other to have the greatest share, Mary and Kitty sought a swift resolution to any disputes, for after all, their married siblings being no longer at Longbourn, they had only recourse to each other. Mary sufficiently rallied her wits ' I am sure with your complexion it will befit you well', Kitty was placated, 'thank you Mary, if you desire I shall walk tomorrow with you to Merton and we shall seek out its equal for you to adorn yourself with, not that such baubles are needed'.
Meanwhile within his library Mr Bennet's thoughts turned to his two daughters with not a little trepidation as to their respective chances of making a good match. Poor Mary lacked the astuteness of her elder sisters, a great pity as indeed she was well learned. It was indeed a pity her ideas had not found willing audience, it were as though she unwittingly incommoded her listeners with her rather staunch ideas, unable to disarm them through either charm or wit (Mr Bennet reflected sadly that her mother had not been a paragon of either), her nature being less garrulous than that of her sisters, she had become introverted and from an early age beholden unto books and music for company and improvement.
Her father reflected it was not through want of intelligence that Mary had been impeded, rather by the lack of refinement the voicing of her opinions took, they needed to be more palatable to their audience, couched with greater refinement, he smiled wryly in the knowledge that at the very least Mary always had the strength of character to voice her opinions, no matter how inconvenient for the hearer. Her comments, whilst intended to be edifying, were more often construed by those she sought to instruct as barbed, and her chiefest of accomplishments (her piano playing) was blandished by those who would have praised her- for society is a fickle mistress- and the excessively somber tunes she would play drew negative opinion, whereas had she played a short and merry tune (with less accomplishment) she would have been hailed as the most talented young lady at playing the instrument in the room.
Unprecocious in social mores Mary would happily have monopolized the piano, gradually drawing more confused stares, were it not for the kindly meant intervention of those such as Sir Lucas who had sundered her temporarily from the instrument; which truth be told she was loth to give up to another, her supreme consolation being in this her chief talent. Despite his silent admonitions Mr Bennet dared to surmise that could his daughters' thoughts alight upon one she found worthy that she would display the same tenacity and affection for her husband as she did for her piano. The question remained: where to find such a gentleman? Having raised five daughters Mr Bennet fancied he knew much about the female temperament, not least (and he found this the most astonishing) the alacrity with which they were said to be 'in love'.
Their fledgling ideal of love appeared to take flight simply at the manifestation of a smile on the face of a suitor, thank heavens that men were not susceptible of falling into such a quagmire as to confound a set of attractive features with real regard, admiration, love itself! Love should be a compound of many parts, Mr Bennet concluded, and not least amongst these qualities trust, genuine concern and true sacrifice should be paramount, had not Darcy risked the conflagration of a scandal regarding his sister's infamous elopement in rescuing his Lydia? It redounded to his son-in-law's credit as a gentleman that he could thus lay open the old wound of his family's rupture with Wickham, exposing the unfortunate affair if only to save the Bennet's from a base and ignominious marriage that would surely have tarnished them all.
Mr Bennet could reflect with much relief that Kitty and Lydia were parted, sundered from Lydia's thoughtless deportment there was hope for her yet, all too often had Lydia's plaintive lamentations been echoed with equal despondency by her impressible sister. The world his two youngest daughters inhabited was wholly devoid of sense or sobriety, all within their peripheries appeared as frippery; lace, bonnets, the latest fashions, the militia (about whom in general there was an unbounded hysteria Mr Bennet had never comprehended, much less his daughters whimsical excuses for constant wanderings into Meryton, and their meeting with that Wickham).
Mrs Bennet had of course buttressed this world of idleness pandering to their every exigency, exhorting Hill to greater and greater care over her charges hairstyles and dress. The consternation besetting the good woman on all sides before a ball was excessive to say the least, meaning in her eagerness to attend to all she could scarce adequately attend to one. The scandal ensuing from Lydia's elopement had enveloped them all and still encumbered the family like a miasma. Mr Bennet was conscious of being forever in his son-in-law's debt for his timely intervention as to the settling of the affair, saved as they had been from the precipice of scandal, form which the upward climb was infinitely more difficult to achieve than the initial tumble into the abyss occasioned by Lydia's folly.
Casting his mind back to the early days of their acquaintance it seemed scarcely plausible he was now Lizzy's husband, considering how universally maligned he had once been. Mrs Bennet's transformation (unsurprisingly) had been truly alchemical, Mr Darcy rose within the ranks of her estimation within the space of an hour from the most arrogant gentleman ever to set foot on Hertrfordshire soil to the acme of sophistication and fine breeding, no doubt, thought Mr Bennet, the charms of Pemberlay had played no small part in his wife's sudden conversion.
It struck him this place of comparative tranquility was about to be invaded with the turning of the door handle to reveal Mrs Bennet's imperious sweep into the room. Mr Bennet was as well attuned to the mercurial nature of his wife's moods as any helmsman of the peculiar lurches of his foundering ship. A certain dissipation appeared to have befallen her since the marriage of her three daughters, her nerves an intricate filigree of many threads, not least of these a certain pride for her daughters as well as concern for their futures, had abated their ceaseless clamour for attention. As though to attest that she was not out of sorts (for calmness was not native to her temperament) her maladies had resumed with her consciousness (not long ago placated) that indeed there were two of her children as yet - horror of horrors! - unwed.
He imagined the nature of his wife's complaint, namely a harangue about a visit she supposed he had neglected, recognizing the flurries of tears and profusion of exasperated sighs she now vented as a precursor to the diatribe in which she would avow he was trying to ruin her nerves, a supremely cruel husband and that the happiness of his children (and by extension herself) rested solely upon his visiting every new bachelor to Hertfordshire in order to thwart the attempts of other eligible ladies to claim the honor of having dined with Mr _ first. Her consternation was currently as palpable as the heavy rain clouds outside which betokened an approaching storm. To his learned eyes Mr Bennet knew his wife's current mood but a trifle, the outward manifestation of her artfulness, a precursor to a whim as sure as high winds wreak havoc before the tempest. Before she commenced Mr Bennet remarked ruefully 'peradventure were Lizzy here she would see through your folly, parting from such a sensible child was a trial on my nerves, albeit I did not commence to lament and bemoan my state as virulently as you do, my dear' began Mr Bennet shifting slightly in his favourite chair.. 'Indeed, I daresay, Mrs Bennet, no woman in history has suffered such acute pangs and heart-wrenchings'.
The worthy Mrs Bennet's spirits appeared to fluctuate wildly between melancholy and ecstasy (her chiefest delight was to have seen three children leave Longbourn bag and baggage) in spite of all this he was sure his formidable wife would outlive them all; as a caveat to this assertion however it appeared the robustness of her constitution was imperiled daily by her husbands' lack of asseverations to visit bachelors who had recently taken up lodgings in the area. 'Mr Bennet, how can you permit yourself to parley thus with me?' his wife flourished a handkerchief before her eyes and commenced dabbing vigorously, 'I could swear you seek to tear my delicate nerves to shreds!'.
His perspicacity forewarned Mr Bennet of the labyrinth into which he would soon be drawn composed of his wife's ramblings and vague fears of being turned into a hedgerow from lack of funds, her fancy exaggerating to such an extent that the tale would grow organically heaped with fresh miseries to complete a picture of abject desolation of which he was the cause. Mr Bennet therefore wisely refrained from retorting to his wife's comments lest her nerves be torn asunder. Only a short while ago he would have had Lizzy to help him divert his wife's entreaties to more straightforward channels, he missed her steadying influence within the household, and like an anchor in a storm her perspicacity was the quality he missed most of all.
'Mr Beaufort has only recently taking up lodgings at Althorp, such an eminent name can but signify wealth and good breeding', the argument flows logically, to neglect to send Mr Bennet upon the errand of paying a visit to the gentleman would be to the ultimate disservice to her daughters. Thus satisfied of the sageness of her convictions Mrs Bennet proceeded thus -
'But my dear Mr Bennet, I daresay to condescend to a meeting with the gentleman would not be beneath you, indeed it is our duty as good neighbours to show an interest, you must realise I am thinking of his marrying one of our daughters'. The adroitness of her wish was thus expounded; the onus lay with Mr Bennet (who else?)
'You read minds as well as any oracle Mrs Bennet, and have any infinite number of conjectures as to your daughters' futures', her husband replied, 'each abounding with plentiful suitors each with ten thousand a year (of course) and each one eager to win either Kitty or Lydia's hands. I hope for your sake that your prognostications reach fruition in this temporal realm, namely at the next ball held at Lucas lodge - that crucible of good taste and edifying conversation and of which, my dear, you are the pre-eminent dowager'.
We will have to forgive Mr Bennet's acerbic speech, his last intention was to cause his wife distress, he knew irony as lost to her refined sensibilities which were wholly confined to how much money so-and-so was in possession of yearly, the quality of their family and heavens forfend, avoidance of a mésalliance involving her daughters. The tone and content of such conversations could but find an audience with the like-minded (mothers with unmarried daughters) and thus he understood Mrs Bennet would not find his speech in the least patronizing.
By no measure was Mrs Bennet satisfied or quelled by her husband's reply, her words were all the more kindled by their customary fodder, namely her husband's apathy (for such she perceived his wit to be). 'The Lodge, oh Mr Bennet, by that time the young gentleman shall have made acquaintance with half of Hertfordshire, and upon my word, the worst is that I'll avow the Vane sisters can be most designing... lest one of them should inveigle herself into his affection, and they are none of them one-tenth as pretty as Kitty...'
Here Mr Bennet interposed 'before one of your daughter's has a chance to inveigle themselves instead? Upon that instance my dear, you may rest easy, for I have already called upon the young Mr Beaufort and find him both sober and respectable, and therefore he may happily chose whomsoever of our daughters he pleases'. Both these qualities indeed he saw rather as impediments, not in the young man himself, but for his young daughters who rather too frequently confounded good breeding with bad. Mrs Bennet was rendered temporarily speechless, the welter of admiration swelling inside her suddenly finding voice 'Oh my dear Mr Bennet, we are not to be confined to hedgerows after all!'
'I should say not, my dear' replied Mr Bennet dourly, picking up a volume from the table whereupon Mrs Bennet's nerves having been assuaged, the young man visited and Mr Bennet';s credibility as the best husband in England restored she could happily retreat to the drawing room, such news for her girls! She could barely refrain from summoning them to her at once, her mind at instant cross-purposes: what should they all wear? Had Hill enough veal from the butchers? The repast provided should the gentleman arrive on their doorstep would have to be princely…here we shall leave the good woman in her ruminations for to disturb her in her plotting would lead to no avail, for determination was as imprinted on her soul as perseverance found comfort within Mr Bennet's breast.
Perhaps, surmised Mr Bennet, replacing the book carefully upon his ledger which was fresh with the ink of the accounts lately recorded by his hand, the young people must needs be acquainted with true gentlemen and the rest would follow. The idea that had hovered on the peripheries of his mind converged with this reflection; and thus – he had decided, perhaps rather than pay another customary call to his new neighbor (by now a wearisome and somewhat tiring occupation) perhaps he would himself this invite Mr Beaufort to call at Longbourn after all...