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)

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.