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
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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)

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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