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

Thanks for dropping by! Titles are below and to the right, under the following headings:
The Trouble of Practising | Longer fiction
The Result of Previous Study | Challenge entries and stories based on others' prompts (or simply others' prompting)
Impulse of the Moment | Short stories written on a whim
Drabbles | Snapshots, usually 100 words but occasionally more, and usually based on a prompt
The Alcove | Writings other than Jane Austen fanfictionNewest Post: All Six Senses (and All F
Note: Some stories include direct quotes from Austen's works, and there is the occasional nod to one or other of the adaptations.

Most Recent Posts:
A Great Coxcomb, Parts 1 - 5 (May-July 2017)
A Little Alteration: Mrs. Forster's Friend (October 2016)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Great Coxcomb, Part 5

Elinor would have to wait to sit alone and have a proper cry. She rang for more tea, pressed her sister to eat, and tried her hardest to convince Marianne that Edward was not a rogue.

“How could he have trifled with your feelings like that?”

“He was not acting by design,” Elinor insisted. “He has been imprudent, that is all. He could hardly have known what he would come to feel for me! Even so, he made me no promises, and there was something in his manner that convinced me he could not, long before I discovered the reason.”

“What was he thinking? There seems to be no love lost on either side.”

Elinor smirked because she could not help it. “People fall for a pretty face every day.” Lucy was not without her attractions, and Marianne had certainly fallen for Willoughby before discovering what that handsome exterior concealed.

Marianne's next words showed she had missed both the smirk and the implication. “He was wrong, Elinor. All men are! They are all evil.”

At that pronouncement, Elinor simply stared until Marianne looked away, the latter so caught up in her own thoughts as to be unaffected by the scrutiny.

“So the woman left him once she knew he would be poor? And he did nothing dishonourable himself in breaking off the engagement?”

“His brother witnessed the entire event. The lady was clearly at fault. She made it evident she had no affection for him and felt no obligation to him. She was, in fact, willing to form a second alliance without properly ending the first. Since her arrangement with Edward had not been announced or sanctioned, it was simple enough to dissolve in light of her behaviour.”

“Then Mrs. Ferrars ought to reverse what she has done.”

“She cannot, as I understand it. The estate is now Robert's to do with as he pleases.”

“She may not be able to give Edward the estate, but surely she has money enough to relieve his poverty!”

“Undoubtedly, but Edward would still refuse to marry Miss Morton, which was the cause of the breach.”

Marianne stayed quiet for so long that Elinor allowed her thoughts to drift into daydreams. She was startled out of them by her sister's voice.

“You must have been as shocked as I was to hear today that Edward was engaged! How can you be so calm?”

“Oh, this was not fresh news. That the engagement is over was—is—a shock to me, I own, but I have known of its existence for some months now.”

“Some months! How? Did Edward write to you? Did he tell you when he was at Barton? No wonder he was so low then!” She turned swiftly round and said angrily, “You have known for months, and you never said a word? To me? To Mama?” Her anger cooled as quickly as it had flared. “Another day, I would have said it was because it meant little to you. I would have said your affection for Edward was hardly a grand passion! But that was before I saw you in tears and watched Edward's brother fret over you! His voice was so strong that it woke me. I had to come down and see what was the matter. I had been so certain it was Edward himself! I suppose I ought not be surprised that they sound a little alike.” Marianne continued to look annoyed when she asked, “But how is it you knew of the engagement for so long?”

“I was told in confidence, and certainly not by Edward. He would have been kinder.” Elinor was unable to keep the bitterness from her tone. “The knowledge was forced upon me, rather cruelly, I thought. I would not have wished such knowledge, such misery, on myself.”

Bewilderment replaced the coolness in Marianne's expression and voice as she said, “Who did this to you?”

Elinor could no longer withhold the intelligence that Lucy Steele was the woman involved.

Marianne's indignation and astonishment burst forth in the most abusive language. She begged Elinor to speak in detail, and she listened to her account with rapt attention: of enduring that woman's attacks for months; of lamenting Edward's having been bound to Lucy before he had discovered her true character; of the way Robert had stumbled upon part of the truth and ferreted out the rest. All was revealed. Marianne could only wonder and exclaim that Edward had attached himself to such a thoroughly unamiable woman. She allowed the inexperience of youth and his blindness to Lucy's scheming nature to be some excuse, but she could not clear him of all blame in the matter.

“I do not know how I shall forgive him for injuring you,” Marianne said after they had sat in silence for a time. “Lucy is not worth bothering to forgive. Yet I must try to pardon Edward, for he has been made to suffer greatly in all this! If Lucy knew he was partial to you, she must have made him even more miserable and dissatisfied than he already was with her.” She grasped Elinor's hand. “But I do wish you had given up your scruples and confided in me. You would have done better to have let me share in your grief!”

“My own cares were hardly the only ones I bore then,” Elinor said, and she saw how strongly Marianne was still affected by what had passed between her and Willoughby in the deep flush that overspread the latter's cheeks. “How selfish would it have been for me to have sought your sympathy while you suffered as you did?”

“That only makes my selfishness more grievous. I left you to the kindness of a near stranger for the consolation you should have had from your own family. Oh, Elinor!” Marianne cried, and many tears and fervent expressions of apology followed.

“This brother, who has become the heir,” Marianne said many minutes later in a much subdued tone, “is inclined to help Edward?”

“He is,” said Elinor. She smiled despite her weariness. “I think when you know Mr. Robert Ferrars better,” she told Marianne, “you will like him very much.”

~*~

The following morning, rather earlier than Robert had called the previous day, Elinor once more heard the sure sounds of a visitor. Having readied herself before her sister and Mrs. Jennings, she had just poured her tea and taken a few sips when the door was opened by a servant. In the next instant, she found herself stood face to face with Edward.

Robert had accompanied him, and he stepped forward to greet her.

Elinor willed herself out of her sense of shock. “You might join us for breakfast,” she suggested. “The others will be down shortly.” She turned back to her place and gestured to the empty chairs.

“Miss Dashwood, may I have a word, please?” Edward said, not moving. “Please?” he repeated when Elinor stopped and looked at him.

Robert cheerfully said he would await them there while Edward, in uncharacteristic forwardness, placed Elinor's hand on his arm and escorted her out of the room.

Elinor directed him to the library, the place she thought most likely under normal circumstances to remain unoccupied the whole of the morning. Once there behind closed doors, she was too uneasy to sit. Edward did not even attempt it; for half a minute, he paced, stopping at intervals to stare at her.

Finally, he spoke. “Now that I have you to myself, there is so much to say that I know not where to begin.” His anxious smile quickly turned into a grimace. “You know all my secrets, do you not? I understand Robert has spared me the humiliation of relaying to you whatever things you had not already heard.”

“He told me quite a lot.” She frowned. “He said you witnessed that woman's falseness.”

“It was a welcome sight.” He sighed, and then a new light appeared in his eyes—a more determined, more penetrating look than she had seen from him before. “That is not exactly right. I should say that the only pain I felt was in knowing that at nineteen years old, I had been susceptible to such empty flattery. I ought to have exhibited more sense than that.

“Lucy's actions aside, I want you to know I had arrived at Fanny's determined to end the engagement. At first I meant only to offer Lucy the opportunity to cry off, but the more I considered the situation, the more convinced I was that it simply must end. Continuing as we were would have been fair to no one. Reflection had given me this conviction, and Robert's support had given me the courage to act on it.” His slight smile held a depth of gratitude and satisfaction. “My brother has done me a kindness I can never repay.”

“Your brother is kind.”

You are kind, so kind as to care for my feelings when I must have wounded yours. I could hardly believe it when Robert said you wished to be assured that I was well! I thought you would be very angry with me.”

“I did feel anger, but I could not sustain it while allowing that you had done your best to behave as a gentleman should.”

“You are entirely too good to me. You are everything good.”

“No,” she said. “That is impossible.”

“You are!” Edward said in a rare impassioned tone. “You must know I think you everything good, and I now know a little about real goodness and the mere appearance of it—not just from others' behaviour, but from my own. To agree to see me again after all that has passed! What does that say of your heart?”

He walked right up to her and stopped mere inches away, looking at her so intensely and so strangely that he did not seem like himself. “You say you are not angry, but you cannot deny I have been wrong. Can you forgive me, Elinor?” he asked.

Elinor nodded. She could not do otherwise. She almost felt as if he were embracing her. In another moment, he was, and she understood something of the vastness between almost and actually so.

“I am sorry,” Edward said in a rush, “for having met anyone before you, for having thought I loved anyone before you. I must have been mad.”

“How delightfully irrational.” She wanted to tease him further, to laugh even, but she said nothing else. His own words had taken her breath away, and when she regained it, his actions robbed her of it once more.

“Marry me,” he said in a voice steadier than it had a right to be, considering the tentative, innocent nature of his kiss. Edward was not a clumsy person, and he was too happy at the moment for awkwardness or nervousness to impede any effort of his. Elinor credited it to inexperience. Had being engaged not provided him that sort of education? Elinor was pleased to imagine it had not, that Lucy might have denied certain liberties in order to retain her allure or to protect her reputation during the secret engagement.

Perhaps Lucy simply had not been eager to share that particular intimacy with a man for whom she felt no real affection. Whatever the cause, Elinor could almost be grateful to her for it.

“Marry me,” Edward said again in that resonant, intelligible hum of a voice she had heard at times when he was most at his ease. His mouth slid from its place near her ear and meandered across her cheek. He kissed her once more, more confidently this time, before she could answer him.

Her reply was given as steadily as his question, though the “yes” was just above a whisper.

He is mine, she thought. He is mine.

They taught each other then, improving apace as the minutes passed and no one bothered to peek into the room where they were. Finally they heard Robert's voice, followed by Marianne's.

“I know they are here somewhere.”

“I have looked everywhere.”

Elinor and Edward broke apart as the door opened. Sister went at once to sister, and brother to brother, to deliver good news and receive good wishes in return. Elinor was relieved to see no hint of coolness from Marianne towards Edward.

They left the library smiling, talking and laughing together, and they all sat down to breakfast with their hostess. Mrs. Jennings herself seemed as giddy as the young people to welcome to her home not only Miss Dashwood's “Mr. F,” whom she recalled from his brief visit to Barton Cottage months ago, but his charming brother as well.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Great Coxcomb, Part 4

Elinor heard a guest enter the house. She believed it must be a guest and not Mrs. Jennings returning, for Mrs. Jennings was not particularly forgetful or one to turn back in a flurry for whatever trifling thing she might have unintentionally left behind her.

It was early for callers, however. Who, then, might be walking through the door? Lucy and her sister, fleeing Fanny's home? She dearly hoped not.

Edward? She dared not hope.

Unsettled at the thought of either prospect, she could sit no longer. She got up, walked to the door of the parlour just as it opened—and saw Robert Ferrars.

“My dear Miss Dashwood. Alone again!”

“Mrs. Jennings just left.”

“Yes,” he drawled. “I watched her out of the house.”

“You what?”

“Do you want her to hear what I came to tell you?”

Elinor frowned. “Probably not,” she conceded.

“Besides, I understand she is cousin to Miss Steele and her sister and therefore might not like what I have to say. Or what I have done, for that matter. But first, have you had any news from Harley Street?”

“Sir John Middleton said Miss Steele and Miss Lucy are decided favourites with Fanny.”

“I have seen Fanny's esteem for them myself.”

“And Lucy may have written once or twice.”

“Ah—now we come to it.”

“I suspect you have much to tell. Are congratulations in order?”

Robert looked at her sharply. “What do you mean?”

“I understand you have lately come into possession of an estate.”

“Ah. That. Yes, I now have a home in Norfolk. It is rather exciting, and though it is not a cottage, it will do nicely for my purposes.”

Elinor laughed despite everything and watched Robert relax. She rang for tea. As it was brought in, she was of two minds whether to call her sister down. Though she preferred to talk to Robert alone, she hated to risk an awkward interruption. In the end she went upstairs and was relieved to find Marianne, who had rested little each night since learning of Willoughby's betrayal, sleeping soundly. Elinor returned on light feet to the parlour and tea and Robert's news, which she was unabashedly eager to hear.

“I was pleased, in all my dealings with these Steele sisters,” Robert said with a warm smile and a look free from any affectation, “to find Nancy Steele such a friendly girl. Wonderful sense of fashion, makes much of the little she has to work with. Very useful, too. If she were a tad less vulgar—actually, a lot less vulgar—I might take a fancy to her, though she is several years my senior.”

Elinor stared. “Would you really?” she asked him.

“Oh, she is hardly the kind of girl you would seek for your particular friend, nor should you,” he said. “Entirely too inquisitive, does not know the meaning of delicacy, that sort of thing—but she notices every thing and remembers every thing, and I admire that. As for her person, she is as plain as her sister is pretty, but not being handsome myself, I can hardly hold it against her.” He smiled. “It matters not. According to Edward—according to the girl herself, I should almost say—she is in love with some doctor fellow.”

“Yes, one Doctor Davies.”

“I am of a mind to throw in his way some of my friends with invalids among their relations, especially the kind with too much money and too little imagination, that fancy themselves ill when they are merely discontented. I am certain I could find some for the purpose—to increase the man's income, give him that needed push to pluck Miss Steele from the pool of eligible ladies and save me from temptation.”

Elinor looked into Robert's eyes, which were alive with merriment. “So the fashionable, useful Miss Steele is a danger to your bachelorhood? Please continue. I am all curiosity.”

“Miss Steele's usefulness, in my recent endeavours, consisted mainly of her eagerness to engage in conversation with me. We talked so animatedly of fashion that her sister had a difficult time getting a word in.”

“And all the while, Lucy stared balefully at the two of you?”

He looked up and tilted his head. “Did she say that in her letters?”

“She did seem to feel the neglect.”

Robert's expression changed at once. “If that girl has any feelings, any proper feelings, that is, I will eat my hat. She is colder than Fanny. I am disgusted that she kept her claws in Edward for so many years. The poor boy thought she felt genuine affection for him. Without that misconception, he never would have let things go on as long as they did.”

Thought, you said?” she asked, holding onto the one word that had leapt out at her from his speech. “Do you mean he no longer thinks so?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What made him change his mind?”

“He saw the evidence himself.”

Elinor's mouth opened and closed again. Her own breathing suddenly sounded too loud to her; it was distracting. “I cannot imagine how he must have felt,” she said at last.

Robert smirked. “Do you wish to know how it came about?

“On my first call during the Steeles' visit, I sought to learn what I could in order to assist Edward. As you have learnt from your letters, I spoke a great deal with Nancy and very little with Lucy, who seemed to resent me for it. I also mentioned Edward's prospective match with Miss Morton. Fanny warmed to the subject immediately. Lucy did not like hearing her rival praised. She liked even less our claims that Edward's prospects would be blighted if he were to refuse the match.

“Later, I gave Edward my firm opinion that Lucy's interest reached only as far as his inheritance. He was reluctant to accept it. I insisted the matter must come to a head regardless, the sooner the better for all concerned. To this he agreed immediately. I recalled his ring, for he had shown it to me—you know the one of which I speak?”

Elinor nodded. “The one containing a lock of hair.”

“Yes. He never wears it in Mother's presence. I suggested he 'forget' to hide it and allow me to draw attention to it. He would have to do nothing but tell the truth while concealing only the name of his intended to protect her reputation. Oh, and withstand Mother's ire, of course. I would do the rest.”

Robert looked quite serious as he continued. “I warned him that he would lose his fortune, an unnecessary gesture because he knew very well it was true. My mother is not in the habit of brooking disappointment, and I could envision no way in which Edward might at once defy her and keep his position as heir. The threat of disinheriting him was not a new or idle one, and thus he was resigned to it.”

“What a choice!”

“It is hardly fair, I know. However, Edward decided to trust me, and I will honour that trust.” He looked steadily at her for several seconds.

Elinor began to feel uncomfortable, but she did not look away.

“I realise it looks as if I have used Edward's trouble for my advantage,” Robert said. “I have benefitted. It would be ridiculous to deny it. But I am determined that he will benefit as well.”

Elinor murmured something in acknowledgement.

“That ring. Let me see....Ah, yes. Edward wore it as we sat with Mother. I remarked on it and said the hair did not look like Miss Morton's, but it reminded me of the hair of some other woman I had lately made the acquaintance of. That was enough for Mother. She thought,” he began, and he hesitated.

Elinor said at once, “Mrs. Ferrars thought it was mine.” She recalled that day, months ago now, when she, too, had thought it was hers.

“Yes. The colour is very like.”

“It is,” she agreed and sipped her tea. How strange it was that they should sit together, drinking ordinary tea and eating ordinary cake while they talked of such extraordinary matters.

“Edward admitted,” continued Robert, “the lock of hair belonged to a woman to whom he had been betrothed for some years. 'Years!' I cried. 'Certainly not Miss Dashwood then. Do tell me this young lady at least has a larger fortune.' Forgive me; I only said such a thing to provoke my mother. 'She has a smaller one, actually,' Edward replied, 'for she has none at all.' Mother, having recovered from the initial shock enough for speech, offered him the Norfolk estate immediately, then two hundred more a year than it currently produces, then any and every thing she could think of—which was a very short list of purely financial incentives—to get him to forsake the wretched girl. Edward claimed as tempting as the offer was, he could not be persuaded to sever an engagement, not even a secret one, for money; and it would not answer Mother's purpose in any case, as he would never agree to marry Miss Morton.

“At that point, Mother was beside herself with fury, and nothing but a complete break from her wayward son and a revision of her will would suit her. We parted ways: Edward to an inn to wait out the dreadful business; Mother to her room, only to be summoned upon the arrival of her lawyer; and I?” He raised his brow and grinned devilishly. “I went to Fanny's.

“You would have thought I had rehearsed with Fanny, so well did she act her part! After having a chat with Nancy, I said to Fanny, 'Do you know Mother is determined to make me her heir to-day?' 'What!' Fanny cried. 'What ever has Edward done to displease her?' 'He has refused to marry Miss Morton,' I said. 'Is he out of his senses?' she wanted to know. 'He may well be,' I told her, all the while trying not to look too often at Lucy, who was growing white and red in the face by turns. I explained all about the ring. Fanny drew the same conclusion as Mother at first, until the length of the attachment convinced her it could not be the case. 'An easy mistake to make,' I said, 'for the hair is nearly the colour of Miss Dashwood's.' Then I looked at our dear girl with as surprised and admiring a glance as I could muster and added, 'It is a pretty shade and looks very like Miss Lucy's, I think.'”

“Did you?” said Elinor, rather surprised he would go so far. “How did Lucy behave? How in the world did she respond?”

“Lucy did not have the chance, for at that very moment, Fanny began to laugh.” Robert smiled as he recalled it. “She giggled, Miss Dashwood! My sister! 'Lucy!' she said. 'She would never presume!' Oh, my dear Miss Dashwood, Fanny went on and on! A girl with nothing to her name, from nowhere, daring to draw Edward in? What a tragedy it would be if it were not such a good joke!” Robert sat upright and pitched his voice to approximate his sister's. “'Lucy would not be so foolish for the world, not after all the attention my mother and I have condescended to pay her!'” he mimicked.

“Now here,” Robert said in his own voice, “is a part you may particularly like: Had it been you, it would be nothing to this, Fanny declared. She owned she would be disappointed but should hardly blush at the connection, what with your brother's being her husband, and you have some little fortune, though the whole would be but a tenth of Miss Morton's—she had to mention that. But a girl with nothing to recommend her, seeking to be the wife of Edward Ferrars! Fanny burst into laughter again and again. Poor Nancy was stupefied into silence, but Lucy...” Robert shook his head. “Lucy vacillated between laughing along with Fanny, as my sister clearly expected, and seething at Fanny because she could not help it.”

Elinor had placed her hand over her mouth at some point in the tale. She now moved it away. “No wonder Lucy was eager to escape Fanny's house. That is, until she had the idea to seek your...assistance, I suppose.”

“My assistance?” Robert's contorted face was almost comical, and his snort made Elinor start. “How did you know she wanted something from me? Lucky guess? Or was that in one of your letters too?”

“It was in the postscript of the one I received from her last evening.”

“Really? Perhaps yours was that note she was so anxious to have delivered when I last saw her. So you have heard all this before?”

“Very little of it. And your accounts differ considerably.”

“How?”

Elinor smiled. “For example, Lucy implied you might be well disposed towards her, in part because you paid particular attention to her hair.”

That made Robert laugh. “The girl has a positive talent for misrepresentation.” He looked at Elinor, shook his head, and laughed again. “It must have taken her some time to rearrange the truth into a happier fiction, for she certainly was in high dudgeon when I first left the house. I went back again that evening, as I had promised to do if Mother were to carry out her threat and make me her heir. But first I returned to Park Street, where there were papers to sign and assurances to avoid giving.” He leaned toward Elinor with a conspiratorial air. “I cannot marry Miss Morton either, for all her money. The lady has no sense of fashion!”

“Is Mrs. Ferrars never to gain Miss Morton for a daughter? What will she say when you tell her?”

“Quite a lot, I imagine, but there is nothing she can do about it. This cake,” he said, “looks delicious.”

“Mrs. Jennings employs a very good cook.”

Silence reigned as they both took a moment to appreciate the labours of Mrs. Jennings's kitchen staff.

“Where was I?” Robert asked when he had put down his fork.

“Signing papers?”

“Ah. Yes. Eventually, the lawyer left and Mother went to lie down. I took the opportunity to see Edward. I let slip to the coachman that I hoped to bring about a reconciliation with my brother, and he ought not to speak of it in the event that I failed. That done, he gave me no odd looks when I brought Edward out to the carriage with me, or when I ordered him to take us to Harley Street.

“I wanted Edward along, for I thought putting him in the same room with Fanny and Lucy might be more than one of them could bear—the secret would get out, and the disapproval would be too much for Lucy to withstand. Edward felt he ought to meet with Lucy and offer to release her now he had been disinherited. I did not care for Edward's idea, and he cared less for mine, but in the end we agreed to go to Fanny's together and see what would come of it.

“Our timing was fortunate. I went in first. The servant that admitted me went away again directly, and Edward entered the house unnoticed, which he wanted, for he hoped to stay out of Fanny's way until he had accomplished his goal. He disappeared into the back parlour—Fanny never sits there. I thought he would come right out again and ask me to send Lucy to him or some such nonsense, but he did not. I had just decided to follow him when I heard Lucy behind me. She had seen the carriage from her window and known what it meant. She held out her hand, and with a sad smile and a simpering voice, she offered her 'sincere congratulations' and asked to speak with me alone on a 'delicate subject,' as she called it.

“She had a letter with her—it must have been yours—and she had no trouble catching the attention of a passing footman and getting him to agree to deliver it immediately! Insinuating little—” He covered his next word with a cough.

“You need not guard your speech for my sake,” Elinor said.

Robert flashed a brief smile and rolled his eyes heavenward. “I imagine Lady Middleton was just as charmed by her as Fanny was?”

“Oh, yes.”

“The conceit of that girl—and I am hardly one to complain of another's conceit!”

Elinor tried to picture the scene: Robert standing in plain view; Edward somewhere in the shadows, perhaps hearing Lucy's attempts to charm the wrong brother. “I suppose,” she asked Robert, “when Lucy saw the carriage, she did not see Edward leave it?”

“I am quite certain she had no idea he was in the house.”

“And did she speak with you of this 'delicate subject'?”

“Ha! She spoke, but none too delicately in my opinion. I led the way to the dining room since the family were to dine out, and the room was sure to be empty. It had the added bonus of being very near the back parlour, and I could make certain we sat where Edward would hear us.

“I pulled out three chairs, for Nancy had come down too, but the third was not needed. There was a short, sharp exchange between the sisters, which Lucy won, and Nancy went off to the upper hall to watch for Fanny.”

“Lucy usually prevails over her sister,” Elinor said.

Robert stood up and began to pace. “Miss Dashwood, the moment Nancy left that room, I was subjected to some of the most ludicrous flirting I have ever witnessed. I tried to look any thing but disgusted, which was how I felt. I must have succeeded, for Lucy kept at it: leaning too close, touching too often, pouring out compliment after compliment and prodding me to do likewise (to no avail, of course). In short, she behaved in a way no girl attached to my brother ever would. Apparently, there can be no difference to her which man she marries, so long as he is in possession of the family fortune. Her little act might have fooled someone who did not know what she was about, but throughout it there was an air of self-satisfaction, of security, of triumph, that she could not suppress, or did not think to suppress. She had no doubt she would achieve her aim. Such was her presumption.

“She continued her performance until she was interrupted by a quiet cough. We turned to the door to see Edward stood there, eyes quite blank, expression devoid of feeling. Lucy squeaked like a mouse when she saw him.”

“Oh!” Elinor said in something like a squeak herself, trying to imagine the look on Edward's face, unable to bear the thought of standing in Lucy's stead and seeing him look at her without feeling, she who had grown so used to noting the smallest shift in his expression.

“Edward was masterful, Miss Dashwood! I wish you could had observed him yourself. 'You had better take this,' he said to Lucy, dropping the ring on the table, 'so you can bestow it on another.' He said it with just the right tone: utter boredom. Lucy sat with her mouth open, glancing between us and looking more frustrated and mortified by the second, until at last Edward walked away and quit the house.

“His leaving roused her to speak, but her words were nonsensical. She went on almost long enough for me to feel sorry for her, but then Nancy came down and spared me that, the dear girl. Fanny and John were ready to leave, which suited me, and I stayed only long enough to tell Fanny that Mother had indeed carried out her plans. Fanny's insincere congratulations were almost more than I could bear after the earlier scene. Miss Dashwood, I...I say, Miss Dashwood!”

Elinor heard Robert perfectly well, but she could not answer. Tears had begun flowing down her cheeks without her permission. It was odd, this feeling of satisfaction, almost elation, regarding Edward's freedom from Lucy, mixed as it was with fury and sadness for the humiliation and disrespect he endured in the accomplishment of it. Had Lucy one scrap of genuine affection for Edward, there might have been some excuse.

“Let me...Miss Dashwood, I apologise. I had not thought how shocking the news might be.”

Robert left her side, and she heard him summoning a servant. A minute or two later, he was back, pressing a glass of wine into her hand. She had taken only a sip when she heard footsteps and then Marianne's sleepy voice.

“I thought I heard Edward. Elinor? Elinor! Are you ill? What has happened?”

“Marianne,” Elinor said, composing herself, “permit me to introduce Mr. Robert Ferrars.”

“Edward's brother!” Marianne said before the courtesies were complete. “Has something happened to Edward?” she asked Robert, looking at him and her sister and back again. “Oh, dear Elinor!” She grasped her sister's hand.

Elinor managed to keep from spilling her wine. She put it down and convinced Marianne to sit. “It is nothing dreadful,” she assured her sister.

“The dreadful parts are over, in any case,” Robert amended with a wry smile. “Shall I tell her?” he asked.

Elinor nodded.

“How much does she know?”

“None of it, I would think.”

“I shall limit myself to essentials, then. Miss Marianne,” he said, turning to her, “my brother has suffered a great reversal of circumstances. My mother has disowned him. She discovered he had been engaged, secretly, for some years, and he would not dissolve the engagement in order to betroth himself to Miss Morton. As a result, Edward is no longer Mother's heir. As a result of having been disinherited, he is no longer engaged either.”

Marianne let out a shriek of a sound. “What! Has he thrown you over, Elinor? I thought you were not engaged to him!”

“I was not.”

“Then who?” She spun about to face Robert, and her face contorted in confusion. “Did you say years? To whom?”

Elinor looked at Robert and shook her head very slightly.

“It does not matter who the lady was,” Robert said, “for Edward's engagement ended with the loss of his prospects. The lady decided to try her luck elsewhere.”

Marianne was silent only for a moment. “Then Edward is free,” she said. “But he was engaged? Even while he was with us at Norland? I cannot believe it! Elinor,” she said, turning to her sister, “he cannot love her, whoever she is. How could he, when—”

Marianne paled and sank back into her chair. “Another Willoughby,” she whispered.

“No, not that!” Elinor said. Never that, she thought.

“Miss Marianne,” said Robert, “if you refer to Mr. John Willoughby, recently married, I can assure you my brother does not share that man's habits.”

Elinor looked at Marianne and knew she would very soon have to take on the role of comforter despite being in want of comfort herself. She wished the interview to end. Marianne was distraught, Robert was agitated, and she—she did not yet know what she was. One more thing, however, she must know. “What of Edward? Is he,” she began but did not know how to conclude. “Is he well?” she said, unsatisfied with her insipid question. If she even knew what to ask, would Robert know the answers?

“You want to know how Edward does.” Robert closed his eyes and shook his head, and then opened his eyes again and smiled at her. “My dear Miss Dashwood. You sit there, tears barely dry, having heard things no one wants to hear concerning a man you esteem, told you by his great coxcomb of a brother who is too caught up in his storytelling to see what a strain on you all this has been, and yet you want to know how Edward does.”

Robert approached Elinor. He took her hand in his and kissed it. Then he leaned in and said too quietly for Marianne to hear, “I believe no one could tell you better than Edward himself. He will come to you. It cannot be long now.”

Urging her to take heart, Robert bade Elinor an affectionate farewell, bowed to Marianne, and left.


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Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Great Coxcomb, Part 3

The next day when Elinor informed Mrs. Jennings of her desire to remain at home, the latter baulked. “You can't mean to be shut up in this house alone! And what will Mary do without you to entertain her?”

“I will call on Lady Middleton again once her present company has left her, but for now, she and her guests have much to do. You may recall, ma'am, that Miss Steele and Miss Lucy are to go to my brother's house tomorrow, and they have had little time to prepare for their removal.”

“Aye,” she conceded. “There is something in that. Mary takes her time when organising her things, not to mention the children's, for any sort of journey, and Charlotte an't much better. Perhaps my cousins are more like my daughters than you Dashwood ladies—I declare I never saw such female efficiency in my life as when you and your sister made ready to leave Barton! How dull Mary will be when the girls have gone, and how happy to see you and Miss Marianne again!” She smiled, gathered the last of her things, and moved toward the door. “Well, it is good of you to give them time to be about their business, though I don't see how you would be any thing but a help to them. If I was you, I would go just the same, never mind the collecting of bandboxes and packing of trunks.”

A few more demurrals later, Elinor saw Mrs. Jennings on her way.

A convenient headache of Marianne's and a day or so of steady rain guaranteed the reprieve Eleanor was determined to have from Mrs. Jennings's relations. Not even Mrs. Jennings herself pressed the matter under such circumstances.

Elinor did not entirely escape the Steeles, however. Lucy, in defiance of the weather, sent word to Berkeley Street by way of the two-penny post before she had been with the Dashwoods two full days:

My Dear Miss Dashwood,

You will be delighted to know, I am sure, that me and Anne are happily settled with your dear brother and sister. Their welcome has been every thing charming! If only Edward was here, my happiness would be complete. I have only known a moment of uneasiness—I know I will have your sympathy when I tell you who did come to Harley Street today. Mr. Robert Ferrars called on your sister, having nothing else to do on a Sunday afternoon. He brought particular greetings from Mrs. Ferrars, which was prodigiously civil of him and her. Mrs. Ferrars is such a kind woman, and I am fortunate to have gained her notice! However, it was very hard to look upon the man who will get all Edward's fortune if Mrs. Ferrars is not pleased with his choice of wife. He does not look as if he could ever deserve it, or if he would care how unfair it would be. I am glad he spent the visit talking to Anne and not to me, or I might have said something uncivil. Again, I can only be vastly happy to have Mrs. Ferrars's favour.

Think of me, Miss Dashwood, and remember me to your sister and Mrs. Jennings and to Lady Middleton when you call on her next.

Yours, etc.,
Lucy Steele
A slow, rumbling laugh welled up in Elinor, and it was all she could do to subdue it and keep its sound from attracting the attention of Marianne and the servants. Never would she have believed there was such pleasure to be had from one of Lucy's letters!

Lucy's vanity, nurtured by Edward's reluctance to terminate the engagement, and recently fed to bursting by Mrs. Ferrars's unwarranted favour and Fanny's surprising invitation, would not now quietly bear being neglected, starved even, by the impudence of Robert Ferrars! Surely, having conquered every other member of the Ferrars family, Lucy would not rest until Robert was also in her power!

“Oh, you poor, unsuspecting girl, you have met your match indeed!” she mumbled through her muted laughter. “You could not have foreseen this!” Gathering paper and pen, she amused herself with the idea of directing her reply to Miss Anne Steele instead.

In the end, the letter that made its way to Harley Street (“I have received your last, and I do pity you more than you know,” etc.) was addressed to Miss Lucy Steele. While Elinor took much encouragement and even delight from what Robert Ferrars had done, she could not yet bring herself to make his behaviour a model for her own.

~*~

Elinor soon called on Lady Middleton. As uninteresting as that lady's society was, the prospect of half an hour in her company could only be improved by the absence of the Steeles; assured of that gain, Elinor felt equal to resuming the duties of civility.

Marianne refused to accompany her. “Go if you like,” Marianne told her, “but I shall not. We have spent enough tedious hours there. It is not as if Lady Middleton calls on us here.”

Elinor could not dispute the latter point.

Sir John was at home, He and Lady Middleton spoke of Miss Steele and Miss Lucy at length—or, rather, Sir John spoke at length and his wife nodded—and the former brought fresh news of them from his recent visits to Harley Street. “The girls are decided favourites with your sister,” he told Elinor. Then he turned to his wife. “Mrs. Dashwood says she will call on you soon, Mary, and bring the girls with her, and Harry as well, to play with William and Annamaria.”

“How delightful!” said Lady Middleton, who then fell silent for the next several minutes. Elinor took it upon herself to supply nods and gentle assents while Sir John expressed the hope that summer might see them all, along with a great many other young people in their part of Devonshire, often making merry at Barton Park.

Before long, Elinor received more news from Harley Street without being required to call there to procure it. Lucy spared her the trouble with the following letter, delivered one evening by one of the Dashwoods' servants:

Dear Miss Dashwood,

I hope that you will forgive any offence, but I must express my great surprise and disappointment that some of your family are not as amiable as I had first supposed. When we last met, you spoke of how well your sister and me would get on. I thought you was in earnest; I hope you was not trying to mislead me. I do not know how much longer Anne and me can be comfortable in Harley Street after the scene we have gone through here.

I will not bother with how we came to speak of the subject, but Mrs. Dashwood made it clear only a lady with Miss Morton's connections and fortune will do for her brother. There was something in her tone I did not like. I can only think some hint of my situation must have got out. At first I wondered if I was deceived in your friendship, but then I remembered that Mrs. Ferrars is not friendly toward you, and Mrs. Dashwood told me herself she is not at all close to you or your sister. Edward would not choose to betray our secret, but his brother's words must mean something has happened. That man called here again and talked as if he will be his mother's heir by the end of the day, and Edward will be completely cut off! I would not be shocked to find Mr. Robert Ferrars is behind the whole thing. I cannot ask Edward. I am afraid to so much as write while all is in uproar.

Perhaps you can speak to Mrs. Jennings about us visiting with her or returning to Lady Middleton's house, but do not put yourself to the trouble if you had rather not. I count myself fortunate even to be able to write to you of my difficulties. Anne and me are happy to find we still have some friends after this trying day.

Yours sincerely,
Lucy Steele
Beneath those words were several more lines, uneven and untidy, apparently scrawled in haste:
P.S. Do not speak to Mrs. Jennings yet. Mr. Robert Ferrars has returned to tell us Edward is nothing and he is the heir now, with an estate settled on him! I have decided to throw myself on his mercy. I must hope he will be kinder than his sister and mother. He looked at me and spoke to me more to-day than before. He even took particular notice of how I had done my hair. Perhaps only the women of the family have hard hearts, and I may yet have some influence over the men.
Elinor allowed her anger and disgust at so blatant a mercenary manoeuvre to wash over her for a moment. Lucy's obvious intent of injuring her she barely acknowledged, so inured to that woman's hostility had she become.

She directed her attention to the page again and stared down at this proof that Edward's disfavour had made Robert an independent man. Her hands shook a little. Would Robert be satisfied as things stood and leave Edward to shift for himself? Elinor felt some hope that Lucy's engagement might now come to an end—it seemed the girl was all too ready to throw Edward over for his wealthier brother—but how likely was Lucy to let go of one man before securing the other? In any case, Elinor could not be easy while she knew nothing of how Edward fared.

Her concern must have been apparent, for Mrs. Jennings, who had handed her the letter and knew it was from Lucy, asked what was the matter.

“I am not sure there is any thing truly wrong, Ma'am,” Elinor prevaricated carefully while looking at the letter again and choosing what to reveal. “It is certainly nothing urgent, though it seems Lucy and her sister may be leaving Harley street sooner than they expected.” It could not hurt to prepare Mrs. Jennings for change in that quarter; it did appear some sort of change was imminent. “I had believed them fixed there for several weeks.” She put the letter aside, away from her hostess's curious eyes. “But it is of no matter. I imagine Lucy will write and tell us where they will go next.”

“Oh! Will she and Nancy return to those cousins in Bartlett Buildings, then?” asked Mrs. Jennings. “And an't it right that they should! They have been flitting from place to place since they arrived in town, popular as they are. I suppose they ought to spend some time with the party that brought them here.” She laughed. “That Lucy has charm. She's a right pretty thing, and Nancy's a good girl.”

“I am sure you are right,” Elinor said, though had Mrs. Jennings called Lucy a good girl, neither the constraints of common civility nor any claim on Elinor's gratitude her hostess might have could have induced her to agree at that moment. Regarding where the Steeles would next reside, Elinor thought it very likely Mrs. Jennings was correct as well. Were Lucy no longer engaged to Edward, she would have little reason to stay in Harley Street. If she were discovered attempting to cling to Edward—or to attach Robert, as her postscript implied—Fanny would show her the door herself.

Elinor changed the subject and was relieved when Mrs. Jennings followed suit and did not mention her cousins again that evening.


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Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Great Coxcomb, Part 2

While Elinor had thought at length about her conversation with Robert Ferrars, she certainly did not expect him to appear in Mrs. Jennings's home not twenty-four hours after they had been introduced.

“I called earlier, but you were out,” he said.

“Mrs. Jennings still is. She is with her daughter. My sister and I have just returned from Conduit Street. Marianne is in her room.”

“That is just as well,” he said, taking a seat near her. “It allows me to speak plainly. There has been a development in the matter we discussed last evening, Miss Dashwood!”

“Has there?”

“Fanny called. I heard her telling Mother she wrote just this morning to invite two young ladies to stay with her in Harley Street. When I asked who these young ladies were, imagine my surprise upon hearing they were not you and your sister, but a Miss Steele and a Miss Lucy Steele, relations of Edward's tutor! My first thought was that no good could come of further intimacy with them; you already know my opinions on private and public education. I asked why she had not thought to invite her husband's sisters, but I will not trouble you with what she had to say on that score. I left the ladies to their conversation and sought out Edward at once. I think you will be much more interested in what he had to say. Shall I enlighten you?”

Elinor did not trust herself to speak. She only nodded.

His smile was terribly impertinent as he began his recounting. This Ferrars, Elinor decided, would not allow himself to be brought low by an ill-formed engagement. He would relish every tiny deception required to keep their acquaintance in the dark, and no doubt he would ease himself out of his little difficulty the moment it bored him. He had a natural slyness that was absent in his brother.

Despite this and despite her decided preference for the elder gentleman, she could not deny the younger man's appeal. No small part of that appeal was the consequence of gratitude. By taking an active interest in her plight even against her recommendation and in the midst of what appeared to be hopeless circumstances, Mr. Robert Ferrars had behaved more like a brother to her than John had ever seemed inclined to do.

“He was hesitant to speak of them. Can you imagine why?” he said, pausing as if for her answer, though he continued without it. “He offered no intelligence until I asked him to describe their appearance. He said little of Miss Steele, but when he called Miss Lucy a pretty girl, he would not look at me. He refused to say more until I threatened to press pretty Miss Lucy and her sister for the truth of their acquaintance at the first opportunity. That got his attention.” He chuckled. “I should not laugh. Edward looked ashen when he begged me not to carry out my threat. With a bit of coaxing, he told me the whole of it.”

He gave her the details. Many of them matched Lucy's account, though some did not. He then leaned back and regarded her earnestly. “I suspect it is a story you have heard already.”

Elinor sighed. “A version of it,” she said. “I saw the invitation you spoke of,” she told him, thinking of the ease with which Lucy seemed to increase her intimacy with the Ferrars family.

“From Fanny? Did you indeed?”

“It was shown to me shortly after its arrival. My sister and I spend our days with the Middletons while Mrs. Jennings visits her other daughter and grandchild.”

Mr. Ferrars's confused expression cleared. “And the Steeles are staying with the Middletons at present.”

“As for the rest, Miss Lucy Steele told me of her precarious situation months ago without any pressing or threats on my part.”

“Ah. Guarding her territory?”

Elinor raised a brow.

“Edward was never any good at feigning contentment. He is too noble to drop her as bad business, which cannot be that difficult, as few are aware of the arrangement. She must have known for some time he had grown weary of her. Perhaps he even mentioned your name a dozen times or so.”

“She hinted at something like that.”

“Swore you to secrecy?”

Elinor smirked. “Of course.”

“Just as she persuaded Edward to keep their betrothal a secret so my mother would not disinherit him. The moment my mother finds out, Edward will be a pauper. She will cut him off without a penny if she can.”

“But,” Elinor could not help saying, “would not your mother be just as angry if...” She stopped and shook her head, unwilling to continue the thought aloud.

“If it were you? Angry enough to disinherit him, you mean? Certainly. But there are ways to compensate for that.” He looked very serious. “If it were you, you would have him regardless, would you not?”

Elinor, too taken aback to reply to his bald inquiry, was nonetheless certain her thoughts were laid bare on her face. His next words confirmed it.

“You love him,” he said just above a whisper, “and that makes all the difference.” He sat up straight in his seat.

“So,” he said in a cheerier tone, “Miss Lucy showed you that invitation, most certainly with triumph. She ought to have done it with gratitude, though she does not know it.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Fanny told my mother John wished to invite you and your sister to stay, but she got out of it by insisting she had already planned to ask the Steele girls instead. I did not want to say at first, for obvious reasons, but considering everything, knowing that might give you comfort.”

They shared a look of understanding, and Elinor knew any pretense was unnecessary; they were well beyond the need for it. “Poor Fanny,” she said. “I believe we have already strained the bounds of her hospitality by managing, however unintentionally, to be included in her friend's musical evening.”

“And now the Steeles have managed, regardless of intent, to be invited to my sister's home. I wonder how she and Miss Lucy will get on, two schemers living in the same house. I think I will be paying several calls in Harley Street in the next weeks.” He stood up. “Pretty little monster, this Miss Lucy.” He had a wicked gleam in his eye. “I cannot wait to meet her.”

He gave Elinor one of his ridiculous bows and a wink, and then he was gone.

~*~

The following morning, Elinor went with Marianne as usual to Conduit Street and began to take leave almost as soon as she had entered the place. Her motive was to achieve a little peace for herself, and Marianne may as well be listless in Mrs. Jennings's own house as in the home of her daughter. The Steeles' imminent removal to Harley Street provided the means she sought, and Elinor used it to great effect. She feared the ladies had little leisure to entertain with their departure so near; what spare moments they did have must by rights be made over to Lady Middleton; she and Marianne might call at any time in the next weeks to console Lady Middleton for the loss of their company, etc.. These along with a few other well-placed phrases earned an early escape for herself and her sister, to the satisfaction of all.

Lucy, apparently unwilling to forego the chance to launch her usual attacks on her rival, offered to walk them out. “I would be grateful,” Lucy said, “if you have any advice before I go to your sister and brother.”

Elinor affected a tone of surprise. “Advice? Surely you need none. Your warm welcome at my brother and sister's dinner must convince you of that.”

“That was one evening. This engagement,” Lucy said, looking more pleased than anxious, “will last so much longer!”

“Do you regret accepting the invitation?”

“Oh, no! Of course not.”

“Then why do you worry?” Elinor smiled as sweetly as she could. “You should get on splendidly. I am sure you will find you have many things in common. I might even say you and Fanny are two of a kind.”

Happily, they had reached the moment of parting. Elinor once more bade Lucy farewell, and she and Marianne hastened to the peace and quiet of Berkeley Street's empty rooms.

“That was brilliant, Elinor!” Marianne said as soon as they were some distance away. “Tiresome, tiresome creatures! Fanny is welcome to them!”

Elinor said something in reply, but her mind was not on Marianne's remarks. She was thinking of young Mr. Ferrars and wondering what he intended to do once Lucy had installed herself in John and Fanny's house.

Elinor had been used to sorting through difficulties on her own, forging ahead on the responsible path, and urging others towards prudence and moderation, even more so since her father's death. Now she felt like setting aside caution and giving way to fancy. What had she to lose, after all, but the melancholy that tested her composure every hour? Should circumstances fail to favour her, should hope be irredeemably lost, she could always go back to wearing her mantle of discontent.

All this was because there existed another person in the world who cared about her interests, who had ventured past her reserve to discover the source of her troubles. Had Marianne or her mother made as much of an effort, Elinor did not think she would have long been able to keep Lucy's secret. Their love for her was as deep and genuine as she could wish, but they were so often caught up in their own feelings; her feelings, so little displayed in comparison, could never compete for their attention. As for the rest of her family, dear Margaret was too young and indiscreet to be drawn into an adult's intrigues, and John's concerns were all for his pocketbook.

Robert Ferrars's concerns might mirror her brother's. Elinor had not failed to realise that any action by Mrs. Ferrars to disinherit Edward would likely enrich Robert. Perhaps Robert's true goal was to acquire all the trappings of birthright—money, property, and even, perhaps, the prospect of a very near connection to Miss Morton and her thirty thousand pounds. At least he, unlike his brother, was free to bestow both hand and heart.

It was true that Robert had brought Edward's story to her and not taken it to Mrs. Ferrars, when doing the opposite must have benefited him. Still, he could have expected a match between Edward and herself to achieve the same result in time. Robert might simply be a patient man with some filial affection, preferring to see his brother happy if he could not be rich.

But even the uncertainties surrounding Robert Ferrars's motivations could not spoil Elinor's buoyant mood, and she spent the majority of the day dwelling on the various possibilities in relative solitude.


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Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Great Coxcomb


(2016-2017)
Sense and Sensibility
"Outrageously Out of Canon Characters"/"The Others"
Miss Elinor Dashwood finds sympathy for her plight in an unexpected place.

"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.
"Not at all—I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother—silly and a great coxcomb."
– Chapter 24, Sense and Sensibility


What a long day it had been for Miss Elinor Dashwood, and the evening was not proving any shorter. How relieved she would be to return to her room in Berkeley Street!

With Mrs. Palmer recently delivered of a son, Mrs. Jennings, the happy grandmother, had taken to spending the bulk of her time with her dear Charlotte and the child. As one daughter had deprived the Dashwood sisters of their London companion, the other sought to supply the lack by requesting their daily presence in Conduit Street. Therefore Elinor and Marianne called on Lady Middleton every morning to suffer through her well-mannered insipidity. Their tedium was augmented, and silences were kept to a minimum, by the efforts of Miss Steele and Miss Lucy Steele, who were currently staying with the Middletons. The elder Miss Steele rattled off a constant stream of inanities that drew sharp, graceless reprimands from her sister—that is, when Lucy was not directing the occasional barb at Elinor.

From that scene of irritation and noise Elinor had come directly to the home of Mrs. Dennison, one of Fanny's acquaintances, only to be immersed in noise of another sort, more melodic but no more interesting to her ears. Unlike Marianne, Elinor had never been able to lose herself in music when fatigued or troubled. Still, she preferred the strains of the violoncello to what passed for entertaining conversation in the mind of the young man stood next to her. He seemed to have an excess of silly opinions and an eagerness to impart them. Despite her initial curiosity upon perceiving him across the room, she was beginning to regret that John had introduced them.

Was it too much to ask that a day filled with so many wasted hours at least end rationally?

Elinor supposed it must be.

At last Mr. Robert Ferrars, for that was the gentleman's name, ceased holding forth on the virtues of the humble cottage, and Elinor had leisure to take note of something other than the length of his speeches. He was no handsomer than his brother, though he was as finely dressed as when she had first seen him in Sackville Street.

His silence did not last long. He noticed her consideration of him and asked, “Is something amiss?”

“No,” she said. “I was recalling the day I saw you in Gray's. You were giving very particular instructions as to the arrangement of a—”

“A toothpick-case. Yes! I can be quite regardless of time when it comes to toothpick-cases. It has been thus since I purchased my very first one.”

“You seemed completely preoccupied with the task.”

“Oh, I was. But I do recall diverting my attention long enough to get a glimpse of you and the lady with you. Your sister, I presume?”

“Yes.”

“You two presented such a study in contrasts, I could not help staring.”

She was surprised not that she and Marianne had appeared widely different, but that he had noticed and remembered it. All his talk to this point had persuaded her he paid little notice to any subject other than himself. “Do you mean your stares were in support of a character study?”

“Why not? Or did you think I looked at you merely to draw your attention rather than to bestow my own?”

That was exactly what Elinor had thought at the time.

“If you did think so, Miss Dashwood, I can hardly be offended. I was rather pleased with myself that day.” He laughed and added, “If I am vain, and I am, at least I am well aware of it.”

Elinor was astonished and delighted by his laugh. It was genuine and disarming.

“I can see why he likes you,” he said.

“Who?” she asked after the tiniest hesitation.

“Miss Dashwood, let us not pretend. There need be no secrets between us,” the gentleman said, whispering as if he were sharing one himself. “For if matters proceed the way I assume, we will be brother and sister, will we not? The last several minutes have shown your patience and politeness cannot be faulted. By the by, I did not literally cast Bonomi's plans into the fire, though I may have swept a sheet or two to the floor in my eagerness to make my point. Accidentally, of course.” He flashed a grin. “But, as I was saying, you know very well of whom I speak. You are perfect for him, not least because he adores you and Fanny does not.”

“Sir, please.” Elinor felt her composure failing at such an unexpected assault on it.

“Ah.” He kept his voice low. “You understand me.” He looked at her sympathetically. “If you believe my mother will not approve, you are correct. Both Mother and Fanny are determined to prevent the match, but they will not succeed.”

That is hardly—Oh!” Elinor, shocked and disappointed by her lack of command over the expression of her feelings, was grateful she had managed to prevent her cry from rivaling those of the soloist. It took all her powers to keep tears from forming. Never in a public setting had she wished to toss propriety to the wind and weep until her eyes were a hideous red more than at this moment. Not since Lucy had revealed her engagement to Edward had she felt so desperate and desolate at once.

Mr. Robert Ferrars shifted to the left. That this slight movement must shield her from curious onlookers was fortunate. Whether it also was intentional she had not considered until he looked into her eyes. “So there is more,” he said so tenderly Elinor thought her heart would break all over again and wondered that she was not openly sobbing. “By the time you and I had exchanged a dozen words, I found myself wondering at his hesitation. I should have realised Mother's disapproval would not have made him so melancholy. He has been used to resisting her demands since he came of age. Her opposition would pain him, of course, and cause unwanted delays, but it would not make him despondent.”

Elinor felt something being pressed into her hand. She looked down at the crisp square of cloth. Feeling a few tears escape despite her efforts to stop them, she quickly put the handkerchief to use.

I know!” Mr. Robert Ferrars said with a sudden air of purpose. “I will discover what the true obstacle is. Surely it can be overcome. I shall make him tell me.” He smiled. “And if he does not, I shall resort to tricks and stratagems to find it out.*”

The twinkle in his eye did much to transform Elinor's frown into what she hoped was an expression of complacency. She was not capable of more just yet. Nor was she ready to support Mr. Robert Ferrars in his quest or confirm the existence of any particular obstacles. “Please do not trouble your— I would not have you trouble him over this,” she urged.

“Do not worry, Miss Dashwood,” he said in reply, his bright grin telling Elinor her efforts to guard Edward's private concerns were futile. “It is the lot of the younger brother—nay, his positive duty!—to plague the elder.

“Now,” he said in a louder voice, one Elinor could almost believe calculated to draw the two or three censorious glances the nearest music devotees cast at his back, “if you will walk with me a few steps to this table, where the light is sufficient, I will show you that very toothpick case.” She did so, and he pulled the item from his pocket and laid it down for them both to admire. “There!”

As they lowered their heads to examine the intricate construction of the piece, he whispered, “Good girl. Your countenance is much improved. You shall be fully recovered in a moment.”

Elinor had barely seen his mouth move.

“Is it not a marvel?” he continued in normal tones and with a face that shone with more than feigned interest. Any person watching them could not doubt Mr. Robert Ferrars's passion for the little luxuries of the well-to-do. “I declare I should not be ashamed to recommend Gray's to any one!”

~*~

*from Chapter 51, Pride and Prejudice

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