Elinor was doing her best to both keep her sister from the view of others and revive her with lavender water. She was not succeeding very well.
“Let me help you,” a warm voice said. “I have some rose water, which never fails to aid my mother.”
Elinor looked up gratefully, finding her assistant to be a classically beautiful young woman with nothing but kindness and concern in her looks. Between the two of them they managed to revive her. Marianne’s only thought was for Willoughby, and she entreated her sister to fetch him to her without regard for who could hear her. Thankfully the young lady did not waver in her attention once she understood what Marianne was asking for. Elinor was further surprised when she offered to remain with Marianne while Elinor went to inform Lady Middleton that her sister had taken ill. She even went so far as to help Elinor guide Marianne to the carriage. When she asked to call on them, to ensure that Miss Marianne was recovered, Elinor has no desire to deny her. The very next day saw Miss Bennet in Berkeley Street.
“Miss Dashwood, you look well this morning. I trust that means your sister was well enough to sleep and you did not find it necessary to stay up and watch over her?”
“Thank you, Miss Bennet. She did indeed sleep, though I’m afraid she received little benefit from it.”
“I am sorry to hear that. I conclude she is not up to visitors then?”
“No, I fear not.”
Jane would not stay long, knowing Miss Dashwood would wish to be with her sister, but she was there long enough for the two of them to learn of each other’s families and residences. Elinor had raised an eyebrow at Miss Bennet’s close relatives in trade, but staying with Mrs Jennings and dependent on that lady’s son-in-law, dismissed the matter entirely, choosing instead to focus on her new friend’s genuine compassion for Marianne, which some of her closest relatives lacked.
Miss Bennet continued to call, not quite daily, but as often as she could, to enquire after Marianne. Miss Dashwood’s sincere apology over her lack of reciprocity was brushed aside.
“Do not distress yourself, Miss Dashwood. Your sister must be your first concern now.”
As soon as she could contrive it, however, she called on Miss Bennet, where she was introduced to Mrs Gardiner, who she liked immensely. Aunt and niece were so similar that Elinor had trouble believing they were not blood-related. Jane had laughed at the observation, which had endeared Miss Dashwood to Mrs Gardiner more than anything else could.
“If you think that, I should dearly like you to see my uncle and mother together. You will be hard-pressed to find two more dissimilar siblings.”
By the time Elinor was able to convince Marianne to return Miss Bennet’s kind attention by calling on her, she was beginning to despair of Caroline ever returning her call. She had considered calling on her again, as she had not scrupled to do with Miss Dashwood, but she knew Caroline would not be willing to forgive such a departure from the social customs. She could not help but be concerned about her friend -- Caroline had not even sent a note! Something must be very wrong indeed.
Finally, Caroline came, a full month after Jane had called on her. When Miss Bingley left after an extremely awkward fifteen minutes, Jane gave vent to her tears of hurt and confusion. Elinor was shown in and Jane could not help spilling all the details to her. She did her best to comfort Jane, while being unable to explain any of it, not knowing the Bingleys at all. Shortly thereafter the Dashwoods left London, but Elinor and Jane had promised to correspond with each other without reservation.
Little has happened since you left town. It has been very quiet here, but my cousin Maddie has begun to learn the pianoforte so I expect the noise to increase every day as she becomes more proficient and finds greater enjoyment in her practising.
My sister Elizabeth and Sir William Lucas and his daughter Maria stopped here on their way to Kent. They are going to visit our cousin, Mr Collins, who has lately married Sir William’s eldest daughter, Charlotte. We have long enjoyed a friendship with the Lucas family as they are our neighbours in Hertfordshire. Lizzy and Charlotte have always been intimate friends and I hope my sister will not find their friendship as altered by marriage as she fears.
I have missed Lizzy dearly, especially since I realised the truth of Miss Bingley’s lack of true regard for me. Her visit brought me great pleasure and I wished for only two things -- that her visit was longer than a single night, and that you could have met her. I shall have to hope that such an opportunity presents itself in the future.
I trust you have reached the Palmer’s home without incident and that the journey was not too fatiguing for Miss Marianne.
My dear Jane,
I trust you will forgive my tardiness in replying. I have no doubt that you’ve been worrying and you were right to do so. Marianne has been very ill -- the Palmers were forced to leave for the health of their infant. In truth, we almost lost her. I have never been so frightened, even during my father’s brief illness. And at the worst moments I had only Mrs Jennings and the servants. Her aid and expertise has been invaluable, but she was far too pessimistic to be any comfort to me.
Colonel Brandon was of great help, but at the crucial time he was not present, for Marianne was asking for our mother in her delirium and he went to fetch her. By the time they arrived, late last night, dear Marianne was out of danger. I cannot imagine the anxieties they felt on their journey. I do wish you had met the Colonel before we left London. He has been a true friend to us and I’m certain that you would find him as steadfast and sensible as I have.
He is currently entertaining Mrs Jennings, while Mama sits with Marianne. I am taking this time to reflect on what happened last night. I have told no-one, though I feel Mama and Marianne would wish to know. Your advice will help me to determine what I should do, so I ask you to dispense it freely.
Willoughby was here last night. Even seeing it written plainly like that, I can scarce believe his audacity. His manner was as warm and endearing as ever. I must admit he charmed me into feeling quite sorry for him, though thinking of what he had to say now, I cannot imagine that he deserved it. Simply summarised, he is selfish, has always been selfish, and continues to be so. He actually wished for his wife to be dead, that he could be free to once more pursue Marianne! And he claims to love her! Perhaps in his own way he does. He said he intended to propose, and I cannot see why he would lie about that now.
I am all ajumble and know not what to think. Your calm company would aid me immensely, but in lieu, please respond speedily.
Yours in confusion,
Thank God for Marianne’s recovery! I trust she will continue to improve now that you are home at Barton once again. As for Mr Willoughby, you will know how to broach the subject with your family, and I’m sure you will know when is the best time for it. I think you’re quite correct that Mr Willoughby’s defining characteristic is selfishness. That will not change regardless of who he is married to -- Miss Marianne was never first in his thoughts, regardless of what he may now profess.
I trust you will forgive me the pain this will cause you, but knowing of Mr Ferrars’ thoughtlessness towards you has been painful, but has helped you curtail your feelings. However much it may pain Miss Marianne, knowing the truth of Mr Willoughby’s character can only aid her.
I saw Sir John and Lady Middleton at the theatre last night. They had both Miss Steeles with them. All send their love and best wishes for Miss Marianne’s recovery. I am sorry to say that the play was not particularly enjoyable, but with so few of the ton left in town there are few opportunities for truly excellent entertainment.
Elizabeth Bennet stared at the letter in her hands. She was mortified, ashamed, and shocked. The tale of Mr Wickham she did not wish to believe, but knew to be true. The improprieties and inconsistencies of Mr Wickham's story had at last made themselves known to her and she could not deny that, had she listened to his woes impartially, she would not have believed him so readily. And then, there was the business with Jane. She had expected him to justify himself with an accounting of the Bennets’ lack of proper connexions and inappropriate behaviour. He had not followed Mr Bingley to London, but had gone at the request of his sister. When asked for his opinion on the match by the Bingleys he had told them that Jane had appeared indifferent to him -- and here she heard Charlotte's warning to her -- but he had also told them that as Jane was a gentleman's daughter she would be a good match for Bingley. He dismissed her relatives in trade when Caroline brought them up, as the Bingleys themselves had many relatives in trade.
She knew not what to think. Well, no, she knew exactly what to think. She had been insulted by a comment she had not been meant to hear and used that to consider a reserved, proud man to be all manner of unpleasant things. She had slandered him, accused him of being dishonourable, and blamed him for matters beyond his control. She was thoroughly disgusted with herself. She had mocked her dearest sister for thinking only good while she had proved herself to think only bad, and with considerably less sense or reason. She burst into tears.
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was confused. Darcy had apparently told Miss Bennet everything about Wickham -- including Georgiana -- and wanted him to confirm the truth if she did not believe him. He did not understand what was going on, but Darcy had looked so miserable that he had agreed. They had called at the parsonage to take their leave and found that Miss Bennet was still on her walk. So, here he was, traipsing about the countryside with little hope of finding her. He had given himself only ten more minutes to find her when he heard a most dreaded noise. A woman was weeping. He sighed and turned towards the sound. He found Miss Bennet seated on a fallen log, her dainty lace handkerchief of no use. He proffered his square of cambric and sat beside her.
"I am grieved that Wickham was able to impose on you. I know Darcy saw to it that the merchants were warned, but he really should have had a thought to the fathers as well. Especially given our most recent encounter with the man."
Elizabeth tried to smile, "You need not worry. We none of us have dowries to tempt him. Except Miss King. I hope things have not progressed too far there."
"I will write to Colonel Forster and warn him. And though it's not proper to say so, Wickham would have no compunctions about seducing a penniless lady and abandoning her."
Once again Elizabeth was shocked. "Please tell me you are not serious."
"I'm afraid it has happened before."
Elizabeth resumed her weeping.
"I am sorry to distress you, but after what happened with Georgiana I find myself agreeing with my mother. Sheltering ladies does nothing but make them vulnerable to these sorts of creatures."
"I certainly agree with your mother, however some ladies are too willful and headstrong to allow even common sense to help them."
"My youngest sisters are completely wild. I would not want to think it, but I know perfectly well that Lydia would take little seducing. I think, I hope, however, that she would be too thoughtless to keep it a secret from us. Of course it would spread immediately and we'd be ruined. Perhaps your cousin should be thankful for my thinking my blind prejudice to be so very clever."
"I do not understand. Why would Darcy be pleased that you were taken in by a scoundrel?"
"Well, I might have agreed to marry him, otherwise."
"You're right. Given his incomparable rudeness and the way he insulted me it's very unlikely I'd have said yes, but I might have been more civil about it. I certainly wouldn't have thought him dishonourable, however ill-humoured he might be. Though I expect he has reasons for his ill-humour," she added, looking at the letter.
"What did you think he'd proposed?"
"I didn't think he'd proposed at all!" Shocked as he was, he still found the look of horror on the lady's face amusing.
"He didn't tell you that."
"No, he neglected to mention it. It does explain why he looked so miserable this morning. Now, since we've been dreadfully improper since I found you here, let us carry on in the same manner. Tell me everything about your acquaintance with my cousin from the moment you were introduced."
She laughed, "I will start slightly before that, if you don't mind."
Miss Bennet was an excellent storyteller and Richard enjoyed the tale greatly. He did endeavour to explain Darcy's thoughts and feelings however. "I am certain Darcy did not meant to insult you at the assembly. He has never been comfortable in crowds and given what happened in Ramsgate..."
"Yes. And had I not spent the last twenty years being told I'm nothing to Jane I might have been more philosophical."
"I do agree that his manners need work. I shall set my mother upon him when we return to town."
Elizabeth returned to the parsonage and Richard to Rosings. The next morning the gentlemen left. Elizabeth spent her final couple of weeks in Kent trying to come to terms with her newfound self-awareness, and tried not to appear too disheartened.
Marianne Dashwood was not well. She tried to hide it from her family, knowing how worried they had been for her recently. She could not get Willoughby out of her head, no matter how villainous he might have been. She felt very sorry for Miss Williams, but was quite sure she would not have been so weak to succumb. And yet her behaviour had been rife with improprieties. Dear Elinor had tried to tell her but she would not listen. In low moments Marianne felt that she very well could have ruined them all. That was very upsetting, but what made her truly despise herself was the way she'd treated Elinor. She had belittled her sister's feelings, believing they could barely exist if they did not fit her notions. And the way she'd behaved when Lucy and Edward's engagement had been revealed! She cringed to think of Elinor attempting to comfort her.
And there was the object of her thoughts. She smiled at her sister.
"Mama has taken Margaret into Barton Village."
"I am glad to hear it. Meg could not have taken another day of rain!"
"No, she would have driven us all mad," Elinor paused, watching her sister. "Marianne, I know something is wrong. Will you not allow me to help you?"
Try as she might, Marianne could not stop the tears from falling. "Oh, Elinor! How can you be so selfless when I do nothing but injure you?"
"I constantly cause you pain, I never even know when you need help and yet you're constantly looking after me!"
"That is because I am the elder sister," Elinor teased, joining Marianne on the piano bench and embracing her. "It is also because I am reserved, like our father was, and you have Mama's open temper."
"I never asked what your feelings about Edward were. I just assumed that I knew. Will you tell me now?"
"Let us get some tea and sit in the parlour. However comfortable you may be, I am not used to sitting at the piano for any length and I suspect this will be a long tale."
Once they were settled Elinor began. "I did develop feelings for Edward, Mr Ferrars, while we were still at Norland. I was convinced that he reciprocated my feelings because Fanny seemed to think he did. His behaviour, however, puzzled me exceedingly. I did not know what to think. And then he came to visit us here. And still his behaviour made no sense. It was as clear to me as it was to you, he came to see me. But he could not afford to marry me and his mother would never allow it. I was upset. If he truly loved me then he would have realised that raising my hopes when things were so uncertain was cruel. And then Lucy came. I was incensed. He knew he was engaged and yet he stayed at Norland and visited us here. He was clearly thinking only of himself. I could not love someone so thoughtless, so selfish. How could I marry a man who gave so little thought to the pain he would cause me? I will always consider him a friend, but by the time his engagement became public I was quite easy with the knowledge and felt no pain."
"And then Lucy ran off with his brother."
"Yes. That was a difficult conversation. He claimed that he had convinced himself that I was not affected, and yet the moment he was free he came to secure my hand. He was not pleased to hear that I was unable to respect him in the way I would wish to respect my husband."
"I am certain that he will survive and love again."
"Thank you, Elinor. I feel I understand you better now. And you have a far better list of requirements for a husband than I."
"You are not me, Marianne, of course your list will be different. Now, I have answered your questions. Will you not answer mine?"
Marianne sighed. "I wish I could. I know not what is wrong, but I do know that there is something amiss. I cannot rouse myself to any employment, not even music. I have no energy for anything, I have no appetite. I wish only to sleep." She eyed her sister momentarily. "No matter what I do I cannot get Willoughby out of my head. I know that I could never have been happy with the man he is and yet I still love him."
"You love the man you thought he was. As I love the man I imagined Edward to be. I suspect that that love will never truly leave us, we must learn to cope with it as best we can."
Colonel Brandon turned at the sound of his name. "Fitzwilliam! This is a pleasure. What brings you to London?"
"I've been promoted to General and transferred to the War Office to see to the training of recruits."
"Congratulations! Your family must be pleased."
"Mama is thrilled I won't be in the thick of the fighting and father finds every possibility he can to mention his son, General Fitzwilliam."
"And are you hard at work or do you have time for visiting?"
"I'm on leave till the Autumn, unless something happens."
"Then I must take the opportunity to invite you to Dorset."
"Wonderful! I look forward to seeing what you've made of the place. I'm to my cousin in Derbyshire in August, and my parents for now. Perhaps July would suit?"
"I shall expect you then."
The two parted ways. General Fitzwilliam was headed to his mother, intending to relate the tale of Darcy's disastrous courtship and obtain her help in civilising the man. Colonel Brandon was headed to Gracechurch Street. He found the house he was looking for and was admitted. He was directed to a drawing room, but found himself drawn to the parlour beside it. Music had always been his weakness. He was not surprised to see a little girl at the piano, the playing was clearly that of someone just starting to learn. What had caught his ear was the rich, warm contralto that was carrying the other voices -- children's voices -- through a well-known hymn. The pianist was the first to notice him and stopped playing abruptly.
"Forgive my intrusion, Mrs Gardiner, I'm afraid I cannot ignore the siren's song."
Her laughter was rich with the music of her voice. "I am not Mrs Gardiner, but her niece, Miss Bennet. I shall fetch her for you."
"I would like to meet your aunt, but it is you that I am here to see."
"Indeed. I am tasked with delivering vital correspondence to you and instructed to kidnap you should you not acquiesce to the demands made of you."
This time the laughter came from behind him. The deep rumble of a male and a high tinkling female giggle.
"Mr and Mrs Gardiner?" he asked, turning around. They nodded. "I am Colonel Brandon, currently playing postmaster for Miss Dashwood."
While the introductions were taking place, Jane had been reading her letter. "Oh, Aunt, Uncle! Elinor has invited me to Barton for the summer!"
"Your father will not be pleased for both you and Lizzy to be away at the same time again so soon, but I'm sure we can convince him."
"Besides," Mrs Gardiner added, "he'd best get used to it as you girls are sure to marry soon."
"Pending your family's agreement, I will be leaving town in a fortnight and will happily escort you to Barton at that time." All agreed that this was a sensible plan and the Colonel was invited to dine with them.
In bed that evening, Jane reread Elinor's letter, one part in particular.
It appears that while Lucy Steele is now Mrs Ferrars, she has managed to attain her goal of wealth as she is now Mrs Robert Ferrars. We owe our intelligence to Edward, who came at once with the intention of engaging himself to me. I am afraid that you will think less of me when I tell you that I lied to Marianne. She is still quite fragile and I wanted to spare her feelings, so I told her only that the conversation was difficult, and said nothing of how painful I found it. To tell the man I love that I do not want to marry someone so thoughtless and selfish! How I longed for your support!
I think Marianne is coming to realise that marriage requires more than merely passionate love. I fear that the knowledge came too late. I know not the circumstances, but I have noticed a change in the Colonel's manner to her. It was only once we came to London that I noticed he had the tender regard for her that Mrs Jennings made so much of. Since her illness he has treated her in much the same way as I imagine he does his ward. He is gentle and caring, but there is no more tenderness than one would expect from an uncle. She has not noticed the alteration, but I cannot help but wonder at it. I know he saw in her a resemblance to his beloved cousin, so perhaps that faded?
I do hope you will come to stay. Not only will it help Marianne, it will be a comfort to me.
Jane sighed and tucked the letter away. She hoped her father would give her permission to go to Barton. She did not like to dwell on it, but she'd always envied Lizzy's friendship with Charlotte. She had never really had a close friend that she wasn't related to. She loved both Lizzy and Charlotte, but could not relate to the former's cynicism or the latter's harsh practicality. Elinor's reasonable realism suited her far better. It balanced her optimistic candour without calling her worldview into question.
She did not wish to stay in town. Knowing that Caroline -- Miss Bingley -- who she'd thought was the friend she'd always longed for was so close to her and yet so far from her at the same time hurt. And the knowledge that Mr Bingley was in town with no desire to see her was even more hurtful. She did not, however, want to go home. Her mother was at home and as much as she loved her, she could not face her concern and anxiety over Mr Bingley. She did wish to see Lizzy again, letters were not enough, but she didn't feel she could explain her feelings properly in the face of Lizzy's assured opinions.
Edward Ferrars did not know what to do with himself. That was not a new state of affairs. He was quite accustomed to being idle after all his years of being under his mother’s thumb. Things were different now. He’d been so sure that all his dreams were about to come true. Lucy had run off with his brother, leaving him free to pay his addresses to Elinor. Miss Dashwood. He should think of her as Miss Dashwood now. It had never occurred to him that she might refuse him. How could it? She had shown every sign of being in love with him, even Fanny had believed it. So now he sat, not knowing what to do with himself.
He’d managed to get himself ordained, so he could quite happily be a country parson as he’d always wished to. Colonel Brandon had offered him the living at Delaford. He wasn’t certain that he wanted to be in such close proximity to Barton, though he believed Elinor, Miss Dashwood, when she said that she had no understanding with the man and did not expect to. He would still prefer to have a wife with him in his parsonage. That had always been his real dream. A happy family in a snug country parsonage.