JA quotes and intro

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

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The Trouble of Practising | Longer fiction
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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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