JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Scarcely Ever Clouded

Pride and Prejudice 
"A Character Unveiled"
Jane Bennet learns early in life to see people in the best light.

“What do you think of this sad business, Mr. Bennet?”

Jane supposed Mama had just told Papa the news her aunt Philips had brought to Longbourn earlier that day: rumour had it that Mr. Long had left Hertfordshire, never to return. She stopped to listen at the door of the library.

“Perhaps the woman is well rid of him,” Mr. Bennet replied. “And he of her,” he added so quietly that Jane wondered if her mother could hear the words across the room, assuming Mrs. Bennet occupied her customary place by the fire.

Mr. Bennet continued in a louder, cheerful voice, “Well, well. Not much can be said for the gentleman. He is a poor shot; no good at whist, either. Good riddance to him. A sad business, did you say? Mrs. Bennet, surely you jest.”

“How can you speak so? Jest about a man leaving his wife? I do no such thing!” Mrs. Bennet’s voice warbled as it did whenever she was on the verge of tears.

“Silly, stupid woman. Of course you do not. After all these years together you cannot even tell when I am joking.”

Jane flinched at the murmured words. She hoped Mama had not heard them but feared the contrary. Surely Papa was only teasing, but calling Mama stupid when she was merely concerned for Mrs. Long’s circumstances did not seem like a very good joke at all! Mama certainly was not laughing. From what Jane could hear, her mother sounded quite upset. Papa, on the other hand, was smiling.

Jane had never seen a smile look so…wrong.

She must have made a sound, for Papa suddenly turned and saw her. His expression softened to something familiar and comforting. “Ah. Here is our sweet girl.” He beckoned her closer and reached for a lock of her hair, as he so often did, gently twisting the hair round his fingers and declaring, as he so often did, that she would grow up to be the prettiest lady in Hertfordshire just like her mother.

Jane felt a little better. Calling Mama pretty was much better than calling her silly and stupid and making her cry. Perhaps he had not meant to say those mean things and smile so strangely; he had looked almost cruel, and Papa would never be deliberately cruel.


Surely not.

Would he?

If he would, Jane did not know how she could continue to think well of him—a possibility too distressing, too horrid to imagine. What kind of girl had no respect for her own father? She would be very naughty indeed, and very miserable. She was already beginning to be miserable.

Before the oppressive mixture of anger, fear, and confusion could take hold, her mother provided some distraction, if not relief, by devising an errand for her. With a “yes, Mama” and a nod to both parents, she left the room, telling herself all the while she had misunderstood what she had seen and heard. Men and women sometimes said and did things children did not fully comprehend; she knew and accepted this. She continued to explain the scene away in her mind as tears blurred her vision.

In the following days, Jane tried not to think much of it whenever her father teased her mother. Without meaning to, she sought her father’s company a little less and her mother’s a little more. She was only vaguely aware of her hope that Papa would not say objectionable things very often to Mama with his eldest daughter present to observe him. She was even less aware of the way her countenance slipped a little whenever the teasing went too far. She did not realise how frequently she attempted, in her gentle manner, to defend the object of such pleasantry while excusing the perpetrator with equal fervour until it had become quite a habit.

(She never knew that her father had seen her shudder when his lips curled into a smirk. The first time he had believed it a trick of light, but the second instance had disconcerted him enough to make him forget the witty remark on the tip of his tongue and render him quiet for the remainder of the evening. He watched her carefully for days after that, but there was nothing more to see; it happened no more than twice, for she had quickly learnt to suppress the urge.)

Papa continued to compliment her but no longer called her to his side or caressed her hair as she stood near him. He spent more time in Lizzy’s company, and the two of them laughed together more than he and Jane ever had. Jane felt the loss at first, but soon her mother’s ample conversation and need for attention left little leisure for melancholy thoughts. Besides, she and Lizzy remained as close as they had always been.

By the time her sisters were almost all grown up and little Lydia, at fifteen, was old enough to flirt with the neighbourhood’s young men, Jane had earned a reputation not only for her beauty but also for never having said a harsh word to or about anybody. She eschewed all praise for possessing an extraordinarily kind nature, for she only said what she thought—or, rather, what she permitted herself to think. Only rarely did she ever admit to herself or to anyone else that some notions were simply too painful to dwell on for more than the tiniest instant it took to banish them from her consciousness.

~The End~

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