The whole village, with a brass band, was assembled on the shore when Hansei and Walpurga, with their family and worldly possessions, embarked to cross the lake on the first stage of their "flitting." All vexations were forgotten in the hearty send-off, and as the boat glided across the silent lake it was followed by music, cheering, jodling, and the booming of mortars.
They approached the opposite shore and Hansei pointed out the figure of Uncle Peter waiting for them with the cart and the furniture, when Walpurga suddenly ceased rowing, and gave a startled cry.
"Heavens! What's that? I could swear, when I was singing I thought if only my good Countess Irma could see us here together, how happy she would be. And just now it seemed to me as though——"
"Come on, let's land," said Hansei.
On the shore a figure in a fluttering garment was running up and down. It suddenly collapsed when the wind carried a full sound of music across the lake. Then it rose again, and vanished in the reeds.
"Have you seen nothing?" asked Walpurga.
"Rather! If it were not broad daylight, and if it were not superstition, I should think it was the mermaid, herself."
The boat at last touched the shore. Walpurga was the first to jump out. She hurried to the reed-bank, away from her people, and there, behind the willows, the apparition fell on her neck and broke down.
IV.—The Countess Irma's Atonement
Dr. Gunther received the first telegraphic news of his friend, Count Eberhard, having lost the power of speech through a stroke of paralysis. He was to break the news to Irma. For some time she had felt, through the physician's reserve and sympathetic kindness, that he could read her secret. And now she realised that sudden knowledge of her disgrace alone could have struck down her father, whose vigorous constitution had always kept illness at arm's length.
They arrived at the manor house before midnight, and were shown into the sufferer's room. Count Eberhard's eyelids moved quickly when he recognised Dr. Gunther's voice, and he tried to extend his hand towards his friend, but it fell heavily on the coverlet. Dr. Gunther seized it and held it in a firm grasp. Irma knelt down before the bed, and her father's trembling hand felt over her face, and was wetted by her tears. Then he quickly withdrew it, as though he had touched a poisonous animal; he turned away his face and pressed his forehead against the wall. Now he turned round again, and with a gentle movement indicated that he wished her to leave the room.
She was with him again next day. He tried painfully to say something to her, to make her understand by signs—she could not understand. He bit upon his lips and tried to sit up. His face was changed—it assumed a strange colour, a strange expression. Irma saw with a shudder what was happening. She knelt down and laid her cheek upon his hand. He withdrew the hand. With supreme effort he wrote a word, a short word, with his finger upon her forhead. She saw, she heard, she read it—in the air, on her forehead, on her brain, in her soul—she gave a scream, and fell senseless to the ground. Dr. Gunther entered quickly, stepped over Irma, closed his friend's eyes, and all was silence.
For many hours Irma was in her room, shut in with her despair, her remorse. No one could gain admission. She thought furiously, she raved, and then fell into a troubled sleep. When she awake her resolution was made. She asked for light and writing material, and wrote: "My queen,— With death I atone for my guilt. Forgive and forget! IRMA." On the envelope she wrote: "To be handed to the queen herself by Dr. Gunther." Then she took another sheet, and wrote:
"My friend,—For the last time I speak to you. We have gone astray—terribly. The atonement is mine. You belong to her and to the people. Your atonement is in life; mine in death. Be calm, be one with the law that ties you to her and to the people. You have denied both and I have aided you. Be true again to yourself! This is my dying word, and I die willingly, if you but listen. Listen to this voice, and do not forget it! But forget her who speaks to you. I will not be remembered."
She sealed the letters, left them in her writing-case, and asked for her horse to be saddled. She rode out, followed by a groom, whom, some distance from home, she sent back on some pretext. When he was out of sight, she galloped off at full speed, dismounted, struck her horse with the whip to make it run away, and lost herself in the wood in the direction of the lake.
V.—A Court Scandal
Irma's torn boots were found on a rock by the lake, her hat floating on the waters. Although her body could not be recovered, there was no doubt that the countess had committed suicide. Her father's death must have bereft her of reason.
When the news was first brought to the king he trembled violently, and had to seize the back of a chair for support. Then he requested to be left alone, and with dim eyes he read Irma's farewell message. On the impulse of the moment, he wanted to send the queen the last words of his friend; he wanted to write under them, to pour out his whole heart, his whole repentance. He decided not to act hastily. Even the heaviest task must be fulfilled without loss of dignity. A chase had been arranged for the morning. The hunting-party were waiting in the courtyard. With an effort he pulled himself together, descended with firm step, and entered his carriage, returning smilingly the salutations of his guests.
The queen was scarcely less shaken by the terrible news, which was gently broken to her by Dr. Gunther. Her heart was filled with profound pity for the unfortunate child, and she gave vent to her grief in sobs and touching lamentations. Dr. Gunther tried to comfort her. "She is not gone without farewell. She has left this letter for your majesty—surely a letter that will bring balm in this terrible hour. Even to the last she proved her loving nature."
The queen seized the letter, read it, and turned deathly pale, then burning red. When she found words, she exclaimed: "And she has kissed my child, and he has kissed his child! They talk of the sublime, and their words do not cut their tongues! Everything is soiled! And he dared say to me: A prince has no private actions. His doings and his neglects set the example! Fie! Everything is soiled, everything filthy! Everything!"
She became unconscious. Dr. Gunther sprinkled her forehead with eau-de-cologne, and had her taken to bed. He sat by the bedside for some time, until she opened her eyes, thanked him, and expressed her desire to sleep. He spoke some soothing words, and retired, leaving instructions with the lady of the bed-chamber in the ante-room.
Some days passed before the king sought his wife's forgiveness. The interview was brief and decisive. The king spoke nobly, manly and sincerely; the queen was bitter, sharp and irreconcilable. Her duty as a queen demanded that the rift should not appear in public; her injured pride as a woman refused to admit more. He demanded to know whether her friend and adviser, Dr. Gunther, knew of her decision. She replied he was too noble to let thoughts of anger or revenge enter his great heart.
"This great being can be made small!"
"You will not rob me of my only friend?"
"Your only friend? I do not know this title. To my knowledge there is no such office at court. Be what you will! Be alone and seek for support in yourself."
He stripped the wedding-ring from his hand, placed it on the table, and moved towards the door. He hesitated a moment—will she call him back? She looked after him—will he turn around? The moment passed. The door closed.
In the evening a court was held, and the queen appeared, pale, but smiling, on her husband's arm. They spoke confidentially, and nobody noticed the missing ring.
Next day the journals announced that the king's physician had tendered his resignation.
And court gossip had it that Walpurga had bought a farm with the gold she had earned as intermediary between the king and the unfortunate Countess Wildenort.
VI.—Forgiving and Forgiven
Irma had passed four years at Hansei's mountain farm. Her secret had been well kept. Even Hansei, who had promised his wife never to ask any questions about their permanent guest, was in complete ignorance about her identity. Irma, who, after having tried her hand at various domestic occupations, had taken up wood-carving with considerable success, enabling her to discharge at least the material part of her debt of gratitude, was generally held to be a half-witted relation of Walpurga's.
Her despair and remorse had gradually given way to resigned sadness. Self-communion had to make up for lack of intellectual intercourse, and sharpened her perception. In her diary she entered the profound thoughts suggested to her active intelligence by her observation of events in themselves insignificant, and analysed with cool aloofness the working of her mind. She never entertained the thought of finding a refuge in the convent—her atonement was to be wrought, not by compulsion, but by free will. And so the weeks passed, and the months, and the years.
They had all helped in the building of a wooden cowherd's hut on the height of the mountain, a few hours' climb from the farm. Now Irma felt the need for more complete solitude, away even from her simple friends. Up there, on the height, she would find peace and complete her atonement. And so it was decided to let her have her way, and to let her stay in the hut, with Peter and his daughter.
The first two days and nights a cloud lingered around them, forming a veil of dense fog; but on the third day Irma was awakened by the sun and stepped out to see the awakening of nature. The grandeur, the immensity of it all, the pure-scented air, the voices of the birds, filled her heart with gladness. A sunray struck her forehead—the forehead was pure, she felt it.
Irma now gave up her wood-carving; she had to be urged to eat, and only took her food to please the kind old "pitch-mannikin." Immovably she would lie for hours in her favorite meadow, and think and breathe the pure air. Her life was slowly ebbing from her. A sudden vision of the king with his companions of the chase galloping past her in pursuit of a stag gave her the final shock. She cowered on the ground. She bit into the moss, scraped the earth with her hands—she feared to scream aloud. She staggered back to the hut, shaken by fever, and threw herself upon her bed. Then she asked Peter for some paper. She had heard that Dr. Gunther was living with his family at the summer resort at the foot of the mountain. She wrote with shaking hand: "Eberhard's daughter calls Dr. Gunther," and sent Peter to speed down with the message.
In the little town all was excitement and commotion owing to the sojourn of the royal court. Dr. Gunther, now in favour again, was with the king when the message arrived. He read the note and was left speechless with amazement. Then he collected his wits, and hurried with Peter to the dying penitent's bedside. Irma was sleeping, and he sat by her side until she awoke. She saw Gunther—pleasure illumined her face, and she held out both hands towards him. He took them, and she pressed her feverish lips upon his hands.
Walpurga, to whom the news of Irma's impending end had been brought, took a quick resolution. She hurried to the little town to seek her queen. The matter was not easy, for suspicion rested heavily upon her; but her determination removed all obstacles, and the queen, profoundly moved by Walpurga's jerky explanation and passionate appeal, and stirred to the very depths of her soul by Irma's heroism, demanded to be led at once to her. She was followed in a short while by the king, to whom the whole incident had been reported.
Gunther sat for hours by Irma's bedside, listening to her heavy breathing. The door flew open and the queen appeared.
"At last, you have come!" breathed Irma, raising herself and kneeling in her bed. Then, with a heart-breaking voice, she exclaimed: "Forgive, forgive!"
"Forgive me, Irma, my sister!" sobbed the queen, and took her in her arms and kissed her. A smile spread over Irma's face; then with a cry of pain she fell back dead.
When the king arrived he found his wife kneeling before the bed. He quietly knelt down by her side. The queen arose, placed her hand upon his head. "Kurt," she said, "forgive me, as I have forgiven you." Then she spread a white kerchief over the dead, and they left the hut. They walked hand in hand through the wood, until they reached the road, where carriages were waiting.
During the night the "pitch-mannikin" dug a grave on the spot where Irma had loved to lie in the sun. She was buried there early next morning. Hansei and Peter and Dr. Gunther carried the corpse, and Walpurga with her child formed the procession.
* * * * *
Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen, daughter of the rector of Steventon, in North Hampshire, England, was born there on December 16, 1775, and received her education from her father, a former Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford. Her life was spent in the country or in country towns, chiefly at the village of Chawton, near Winchester. She died, unmarried, at Winchester on July 18, 1817, and was buried in the cathedral. The novels of Jane Austen may be divided into two groups. The first three—"Sense and Sensibility," "Pride and Prejudice," and "Northanger Abbey"—were all written, in first draft, at any rate, between 1792 and 1798. These are the novels composed during the author's residence at Steventon, which she left in 1801. There succeeded an interval of practically fourteen years (1798-1812), during which time the novelist let her mind lie absolutely fallow. As a natural consequence of the comparatively secluded life which Jane Austen led, the society with which she deals in her novels is a rather restricted one. It is the world of the country gentleman and of the upper professional class. From a very early age Jane Austen had a taste for writing tales, and the first draft of "Sense and Sensibility "—then called "Elinor and Marianne"—was composed as early as 1792. The book was recast under its present title between 1797 and 1798, and again revised prior to its publication in 1811. In addition to the six novels on which her fame is based—all of which were issued anonymously—Jane Austen has to her credit some agreeable "Letters," a fragment of a story called "The Watsons," and a sort of novelette which bears the name of "Lady Susan."
I.—The Dashwoods of Norland Park
Mr. Henry Dashwood, of Norland Park, Sussex, died leaving his widow and his three daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, to the generosity of Mr. John Dashwood, his son by his first wife and the heir to his estate. Mr. John, who, apart from the family inheritance, had received one fortune from his mother and another with his wife, was at first disposed to increase the portions of his sisters by giving them a thousand pounds apiece; but under the persuasion of his wife he finally resolved that it would be absolutely unnecessary, if not highly indecorous, to do more for his father's widow and children than such kind of neighbourly acts as looking out for a comfortable small house for them, helping them to remove their things, and sending them presents of fish and game whenever they were in season.
Taking account of this resolve, as expressed in Mr. John Dashwood's frequent talk of the increasing expenses of housekeeping, and of the perpetual demands made upon his purse, and exasperated, too, by the manifest disapprobation with which Mrs. John Dashwood looked upon the growing attachment between her own brother, Edward Ferrars, and Elinor, Mrs. Henry Dashwood and her daughters left their old home with some abruptness and went to live in Devonshire, where their old friend, Sir John Middleton, of Barton Park, had provided them with a cottage close to his own place.
Elinor, the eldest of the daughters, possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgment which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart. Her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them. It was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught. Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever, but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting; she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great, and her excess of sensibility, which Elinor saw with concern, was by Mrs. Dashwood valued and cherished.
Margaret, the other sister, was good-humoured; but she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense, and, at thirteen, she did not bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
But whatever the virtues or failings of the Dashwood ladies, their society was very welcome at Barton Park. Sir John Middleton was a good-looking man about forty, thoroughly good-humoured in manner and countenance, friendly and kind-hearted in disposition, who delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold.
Lady Middleton was a handsome woman of six-and-twenty, well-bred, and graceful in address, but deficient in frankness, warmth, or anything to say for herself. She piqued herself upon the elegance of her table appointments and of all her domestic arrangements; and this kind of vanity it was that constituted her greatest enjoyment in any of their parties. Sir John was a sportsman; Lady Middleton a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. Continual engagements at home and abroad, however, supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education—supported the good spirits of Sir John, and gave exercise to the good-breeding of his wife.
Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother, who formed one of the party on the first occasion of the Dashwoods dining at Barton Park, was a good-humoured, fat, elderly woman, who talked a good deal, and seemed very happy, and rather vulgar. She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and husbands, hoped they had not left their hearts behind them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush whether they did or not. In fact, this lady was a born match-maker; and she at once proceeded, by hints here and raillery there, to promote a match between Marianne, aged seventeen, and Colonel Brandon, a grave but sensible bachelor on the wrong side of thirty-five. Marianne, however, scorned and laughed at the idea, being reasonable enough to allow that a man of five-and-thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment; and having met with an accident which led to her being carried home by a handsome and vivacious young gentleman called Willoughby, who had a seat called Combe Magna in Somersetshire, she rapidly developed a liking for his society, and as quickly discovered that in regard to music, to dancing, and to books, their tastes were strikingly alike.
"Well, Marianne," said Elinor, after his first visit, "for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what to think of Cowper and Scott; you are aware of his estimating their beauties as he ought; and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favourite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."
To this Marianne replied, "Is this fair? Is this just? Are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease—too happy, too frank. I have erred against every commonplace notion of decorum. I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."
From which it will be gathered that Marianne began now to perceive that that desperation which had seized her at sixteen-and-a-half of ever seeing a man who could satisfy her ideas of perfection had been somewhat rash and quite unjustifiable.
II.—Marianne Dashwood in Love
Willoughby's society soon became Marianne's most exquisite enjoyment. The mutual attachment was obvious—amusingly obvious. They read, they talked, they sang, they danced, they drove together, and they even agreed in depreciating Colonel Brandon as "the kind of man whom everybody spoke well of and nobody cared about; whom all were delighted to see, and nobody remembered to talk to." Then, after cutting off a lock of Marianne's hair, after offering her a horse, and after showing her over the house which would eventually be his on the death of Mrs. Smith, the elderly relative on whom he was partially dependent, the young lover suddenly took leave of the family, having said not a word to Mrs. Dashwood of an engagement, and having offered no other explanation of his hasty departure than the flimsy pretext of being sent by his relative on business to London.
Willoughby left for London a few days after Colonel Brandon had also been unexpectedly summoned to the same place, and he expressed no hope of any rapid return into Devonshire. On such an occasion Marianne would have thought herself very inexcusable had she not given way to all her feelings; and for some days she courted misery and indulged in tears, in solitude, and in sleeplessness. But she was soon set a better example by Elinor, who did her utmost to remain cheerful under the depression of heart caused by a visit paid to the family about this same time by Edward Ferrars. He was obviously uneasy, low-spirited and reserved, said he had already been a fortnight in Devonshire stopping with some friends at Plymouth, and, after a week's stay with the Dashwoods, left them, in spite of their wishes and his own, and without any restraint on his time. But Elinor and Marianne were not long allowed leisure to be miserable. Sir John's and Mrs. Jennings' active zeal in the cause of society soon procured them some other new acquaintance to see and observe. One of these couples was Lady Middleton's brother-in-law and younger sister, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. It was impossible for anyone to be more thoroughly good-natured or more determined to be happy than Mrs. Palmer. The studied indifference, insolence, and discontent of her husband gave her no pain, and when he scolded or abused her, she was highly diverted. "Mr. Palmer is so droll," she used to say in a whisper to Elinor; "he is always out of humour." One day, at dinner, his wife said to him, with her usual laugh, "My love, you contradict everybody. Do you know that you are quite rude?" To which he replied, "I did not know I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred." But the good-natured old lady was in no wise affronted, "Ay; you may abuse me as much as you please," she said. "You have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip-hand of you."
The other couple of new friends whom Sir John's reluctance to keep even a third cousin to himself provided for them were the Misses Steele. In a morning's excursion to Exeter Sir John and Mrs. Jennings had met with two young ladies whom Mrs. Jennings had the satisfaction of discovering to be her relations; and this was enough for Sir John to invite them directly to the Park as soon as their engagements at Exeter were over. The result was that Elinor and Marianne were almost forced into an intercourse with two young women, who, however civil they might be, were obviously underbred. Miss Steele was a plain girl about thirty, whose whole conversation was of beaux; while Miss Lucy Steele, a pretty girl of twenty-three, was, despite her native cleverness, probably common and illiterate.
Marianne, however, who had never much toleration for anything like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts, or even difference of taste from herself, soon checked every endeavour at intimacy on their side by the coldness of her behaviour towards them; but Elinor, from politeness, submitted to the attentions of both, but especially to those of Lucy, who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation, or of striving to improve their acquaintance by an easy and frank communication of her sentiments, until one day, as they were walking together from the Park to the cottage, she asked Elinor if she were personally acquainted with Mrs. John Dashwood's mother, Mrs. Ferrars, and, in explanation of her question, proceeded to confound her by confessing that she knew Mr. Edward Ferrars, who had been at one time under the care of her uncle, Mr. Pratt, at Longstaple, near Plymouth, and that she had been engaged to him for the last four years.
Distressed by this news, which she was quite aware that Lucy had confided to her merely from jealousy and suspicion, indignant at Edward's duplicity, though convinced of his genuine attachment to herself, Elinor resolved not to give pain to her mother and sister by telling them of the engagement. Indeed, her attention was soon withdrawn from her own to her sister's love affairs by an invitation which Mrs. Jennings gave the two girls to spend a few weeks with her in town at her house near Portman Square, an invitation which was accepted by Marianne in the hope of seeing Willoughby, and by Elinor with the intention of looking after Marianne. Mrs. Jennings' party was three days on the road, and arrived in Berkeley Street at three o'clock in the afternoon, in time to allow Marianne to write a brief note to Willoughby. But he failed to appear that evening; and when a loud knock at the door resulted in Colonel Brandon being admitted instead, she found the shock of disappointment too great to be borne with calmness, and left the room.
As it happened, a full week elapsed before she discovered, by finding his card on the table, that her lover had arrived in town. Even then she could not see him. He failed to call the next morning, and though invited to dine on the following day with the Middletons in Conduit Street, he neglected to put in an appearance. Which strange conduct moved Marianne to send another note to him; and Elinor to write to her mother, entreating her to demand from Marianne an account of her real situation with respect to him.
A meeting between Marianne Dashwood and John Willoughby at last took place at a fashionable party, where the latter greeted the two sisters with great coldness and reluctance; and a third letter from Marianne, now frantic with grief, elicited a reply from him in which he announced his engagement to another lady, "reproached himself for not having been more guarded in his professions of esteem for Marianne, and returned, with great regret, the lock of her hair which she had so obligingly bestowed on him."
A day or two later Colonel Brandon called on Elinor to give her certain information about Willoughby. He told her that his sudden departure from Devonshire to London, which had surprised his friends so much, had been due to an affecting letter he had received from his ward, Miss Williams, the natural daughter of a beloved sister-in-law. Willoughby had met this lady—a pretty girl of sixteen—at Bath, and, after a guilty intimacy, had abandoned her. Colonel Brandon had gone to her rescue and to fight a bloodless duel with her betrayer.
One day Elinor and Marianne were at Gray's, in Sackville Street, carrying on a negotiation for the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels belonging to their mother, when they came upon their half-brother, Mr. John Dashwood. He paid a visit to Mrs. Jennings the next day, and came with a pretence of an apology for his wife not coming, too. To his sisters his manners, though calm, were perfectly kind; to Mrs. Jennings most attentively civil; and on Colonel Brandon coming in soon after himself, he eyed him with a curiosity that seemed to say that he only wanted to know him to be rich to be equally civil to him. After staying with them half an hour, he asked Elinor to walk with him to Conduit Street, and to introduce him to Sir John and Lady Middleton; and as soon as they were out of the house he began to make inquiries about Colonel Brandon. Which inquiries having elicited the satisfactory information that the gentleman had a good property at Delaford Park, in Dorsetshire, Mr. Dashwood—indifferent to his sister's disclaimers —proceeded to congratulate her on the prospect of a very respectable establishment in life, to insist that the objections to a prior attachment on her side were not insurmountable, and to inform her that the object of that attachment—Mr. Edward Ferrars—was likely to be married to Miss Morton, a peer's daughter, with thirty thousand pounds of her own.
Mrs. John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband's judgment that she waited the very next day on both Mrs. Jennings and her daughter. She found the former by no means unworthy her notice, and the latter one of the most charming women in the world. The attraction was mutual, for Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs. Dashwood.
There was a kind of cold-hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually attracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipid propriety of demeanour and a general want of understanding. Indeed, the Dashwoods were so prodigiously delighted with the Middletons that, though not much in the habit of giving anything, they determined to give them a dinner; and soon after their acquaintance began, invited them to dine at Harley Street, where they had taken a very good house for three months. Mrs. Jennings and the Misses Dashwood were invited likewise, and so were Colonel Brandon, as a friend of the young ladies, and the Misses Steele, as belonging to the Middleton party in Conduit Street. They were to meet Mrs. Ferrars.
Mrs. Ferrars turned out to be a little, thin woman, upright even to formality in her figure, and serious even to sourness in her aspect. Her complexion was sallow, and her features small, without beauty, and naturally without expression; but a lucky contraction of the brow had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity by giving it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature. She was not a woman of many words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas; of the few syllables which did escape her, not one fell to the share of Miss Dashwood, whom she eyed with the spirited determination of disliking her at all events; whereas towards the Misses Steele—particularly towards Lucy—both mother and daughter were ostentatiously gracious. On this occasion Marianne created something of a scene by openly resenting this treatment of her sister; while Mr. Dashwood, seeking to interest Colonel Brandon in Elinor, showed him a pretty pair of screens which she had painted for his wife, and informed him that "a few months ago Marianne was remarkably handsome, quite as handsome as Elinor."
The next morning Lucy called on Elinor to exult in Mrs. Ferrars' flattering treatment of her; her joy, however, was somewhat diminished by the unexpected appearance of Edward Ferrars in Berkeley Street, for though both Elinor and Lucy were able to keep up their respective poses towards him, Marianne confused all three by an open demonstration of her sisterly affection for him. But an invitation from Mrs. John Dashwood to the Misses Steele to spend some days in Harley Street soon restored Lucy's equanimity, and almost made Elinor believe that her rival was a real favourite.
At any rate this was the view taken by foolish Nancy Steele.
"Lord!" thought she to herself, "they are all so fond of Lucy, to be sure they will make no difficulty about it." And so away she went and told Mrs. Dashwood all about Lucy's engagement to Edward Ferrars; the result of which was that the married lady fell into hysterics, while the Misses Steele were hastily bundled out of the house.
Elinor, on hearing this news from Mrs. Jennings, soon saw the necessity of preparing Marianne for its discussion. She lost no time, therefore, in making her acquainted with the real truth, and in endeavouring to bring her to hear it talked of by others, without betraying that she felt any uneasiness for her sister or any resentment towards Edward. At first Marianne wept in grief and amazement; then she began to ascribe Elinor's long reticence about the engagement to lack of real depth of feeling; and it was not till the latter had done a deal of protesting that the younger girl was able to give her sister due credit for self-sacrifice and generosity. So when Mr. John Dashwood came round to his sisters to tell them how Edward had refused to break off his engagement, and how Mrs. Ferrars, on hearing of this, had resolved to cut him off with a shilling, and to do all in her power to prevent his advancing in any profession, and had settled on his brother Robert an estate of a thousand pounds which she had intended to bestow on him, Marianne let her indignation burst forth only when her brother had quitted the room. A few days later, Elinor met Nancy Steele in Kensington Gardens, who gave her a certain information, which subsequently turned out to have been derived from listening at the keyhole. This was to the effect that Edward, out of consideration for Lucy, who would be marrying a man with no prospects and with no means save two thousand pounds, had offered to give her up; but that Lucy had protested her affection for him, was determined not to give him up, and was building hopes on his taking orders and getting a living. Fortunately, the much desired living came far sooner than Lucy could have expected, for Colonel Brandon, with characteristic kindness, offered the presentation of the rectory of Delaford to Edward through Elinor.
IV—A Happy Ending to Love's Troubles
Anxious though the Misses Dashwood were to get back to Barton, they could not refuse an invitation from the Palmers to spend a few days with them. But, thanks to the romantic folly of Marianne—who, because she fancied she could see Combe Magna, Willoughby's place, from Cleveland, must needs take two evening walks in the grounds just where the grass was the longest and the wettest—the house-party enjoyed not the pleasantest of times. Marianne had to take to bed, and became so feverish and delirious that Colonel Brandon volunteered to fetch Mrs. Dashwood himself.
The next evening Elinor, who was acting as her sister's most devoted nurse, and was hourly expecting her mother's arrival, was astounded by a visit from Willoughby, who, having met Sir John Middleton in the lobby of Drury Lane Theatre the previous night, and thus heard of Marianne's serious illness, had set forth post-haste to make inquiries, and was now delighted to find her out of danger. Attempting an exculpation of himself, he confessed that at first meeting Marianne he had tried to engage her regard without a thought of returning it; that afterwards he grew sincerely fond of her, but put off from day to day paying her his formal addresses and that just at the moment when he was going to make a regular proposal to her, Mrs. Smith's discovery of his liaison with Miss Williams, and his refusal to right matters by marrying the young lady, dismissed him from his relative's house and favour, prevented him from declaring his love to Marianne, and, in the embarrassed state of his finances, seemed to render marriage with a wealthy woman his only chance of salvation. He repudiated the charge of having deserted Miss Williams, declaring that he did not know the straits to which she had been reduced. He also alluded to the violence of her passion, and the weakness of her understanding, as some excuses for the apparent heartlessness of his own conduct.
He then went on to explain his treatment of Marianne's letters; how he had already—previous to the arrival of the Dashwoods in town—become engaged to Miss Sophia Grey; how, with his head and heart full of Marianne, he was forced to play the happy lover to Sophia; and how Sophia, in her jealousy, had opened Marianne's third letter and dictated the reply.
"What do you think of my wife's style of letter-writing? Delicate, tender, fully feminine, was it not?" said he.
"You are very wrong, Mr. Willoughby," said Elinor. "You ought not to speak in this way either of Mrs. Willoughby or my sister. You have made your own choice. It was not forced on you. Your wife has a claim to your politeness—to your respect, at least." She must be attached to you, or she would not have married you."
"Do not talk to me of my wife," said he, with a heavy sigh. "She does not deserve your compassion. She knew I had no regard for her when we married. And now, do you pity me, Miss Dashwood? Have I explained away any part of my guilt?"
"Yes. You have certainly removed something—a little," said Elinor. "You have proved yourself, on the whole, less faulty than I had believed you."
When Mrs. Dashwood arrived at Cleveland, Elinor at once gave her the joyful news of Marianne's material improvement in health and, after an affectionate but nearly silent interview had taken place between mother and sick child, the former proceeded to express to Elinor her admiration for Colonel Brandon's disposition and manners, and her expectation that he and Marianne would make a match of it. The Colonel, it seemed, had told Mrs. Dashwood on the way of his affection for her daughter.
Marianne, however, at first seemed to have other plans. When the family got back to Barton Cottage, she announced that she had determined to enter on a course of serious study, and to devote six hours a day to improving herself by reading. But with such a confederacy against her as that formed by her mother and Elinor—with a knowledge so intimate of Colonel Brandon's goodness—what could she do?
As for Elinor, her self-control was at last rewarded, thanks to a strange volte-face on the part of Lucy Steele who, finding that Robert Ferrars had the money, married him and jilted his brother. The way was thus cleared to Elinor's union with Edward, whose mother was induced to give the young couple her consent, and a marriage portion of L10,000.
* * * * *
Pride and Prejudice
This, Jane Austen's best-known novel, was written between 1796 and 1797, and was called "First Impressions." Revised in 1811, it was published two years later by the same Mr. Egerton, of the Military Library, Whitehall, who had brought out "Sense and Sensibility." Like its predecessor, and like "Northanger Abbey," it was written at Steventon Rectory, and it is generally regarded not only as its author's most popular but as her most representative achievement. Wickham, the all-conquering young lady-killer of the story, is a favourite character of the novelist He figures as Willoughby in "Sense and Sensibility," as Crawford in "Mansfield Park," as Churchill in "Emma," and—to a certain extent—as Wentworth in "Persuasion." Another characteristic feature of "Pride and Prejudice" is Wickham's unprepared attachment to Lydia Bennet, resembling as it does Robert Ferrars' startling engagement to Lucy Steele in "Sense and Sensibility," Frank Churchill's secret understanding with Jane Fairfax in "Emma," and Captain Benwick's sudden and unexpected union with Louisa Musgrove in "Persuasion."
I.—A Society Ball at Longbourn
All Longbourn was agape with excitement when it became known that Netherfield Park, the great place of the neighbourhood, was let to a rich and handsome young bachelor called Bingley, and that Mr. Bingley and his party were to attend the forthcoming ball at the Assembly Rooms.
Nowhere did the news create more interest and rouse greater hopes than in the household of the Bennets, the chief inhabitants of Longbourn; for Mr. Bennet—who was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character—was the father of five unmarried daughters; while Mrs. Bennet—a still handsome woman, of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper—made the business of her life getting her daughters married, and its solace visiting and news.
The evening fixed for the ball came round at last; and when the Netherfield party entered the Assembly Rooms it was found to consist of five persons altogether—Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the elder, and another young man.
Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentleman-like; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend, Mr. Darcy, soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report, which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. He was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was found to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room. He was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst, and once with Miss Bingley, and declined being introduced to any other lady.
It so happened that Elizabeth, the second eldest of the Bennet girls, had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes.
"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner" At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening, and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty."
"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
"Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."
"Which do you mean?" And turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own, and coldly said: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men; You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."
Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained, with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends, for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.
II—The Bennet Girls and their Lovers
Despite its rather unpromising commencement the course of a few days placed the acquaintance of the Bennets with the Bingleys on a footing approaching friendship; and soon matters began to stand somewhat as follow. It was obvious that Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet were mutually attracted, and this despite the latter's outward composure, which, like her amiability of manner and charity of view, was apt to mislead the superficial observer. On the other hand, while the Bingley ladies expressed themselves as willing to know the two elder Miss Bennets and pronounced Jane "a sweet girl," they found the other females of the family impossible. Mrs. Bennet was intolerably stupid and tedious; Mary, who, being the only plain member of her family, piqued herself on the extent of her reading and the solidity of her reflections, was a platitudinous moralist; while Lydia and Kitty were loud, silly, giggling girls, who spent all their time in running after men. As for Mr. Darcy, the indifference he at first felt to Elizabeth Bennet was gradually converted into a sort of guarded interest. Originally he had scarcely allowed her to be pretty, but now he admired the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. He began to wish to know more of her, and, as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others, while, since both he and she were of a satirical turn, they soon began to exchange little rallying, challenging speeches, so that Caroline Bingley, who was openly angling for Darcy herself, said to him one night: "How long has Miss Elizabeth Bennet been such a favourite? And pray when am I to wish you joy?" To which remarks he merely replied: "That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy."
Meantime, the friendship subsisting between the two families was advanced by a visit of some days paid by the two Bennet sisters to the Bingleys, at whose house Jane, thanks to her mother's scheming, was laid up with a bad cold. On this occasion Jane was coddled and made much of by her dear friends Caroline and Mrs. Hurst; but Elizabeth was now reckoned too attractive by one sister, and condemned as too sharp-tongued by both.
"Eliza Bennet," said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, "is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But in my opinion it is a very mean art."
"Undoubtedly," replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, "there is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."
Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject.
Nevertheless, Darcy's growing attachment to Eliza was little dreamt of by that young lady. Indeed, her prejudice against him was strengthened by her pleasant intercourse with a handsome and agreeable young man called Wickham, an officer of the militia regiment quartered at Meryton, the nearest town to Longbourn. He told her how he was the son of a trusted steward of Darcy's father, and had been left by the old gentleman to his heir's liberality and care, and how Darcy had absolutely disregarded his father's wishes, and had treated his protege in cruel and unfeeling fashion.
On the top of this disclosure, and just at it seemed certain that Bingley was on the point of proposing to Jane, the whole Netherfield party suddenly abandoned Hertfordshire and returned to town, partly, as Elizabeth could not help thinking, in consequence of the behaviour of her family at a ball given at Netherfield Park, where it appeared to her that, had they made an agreement to expose themselves as much as they could during the evening, they could not have played their parts with more spirit or finer success.
III.—Elizabeth Rejects the Rector
About this time the Rev. Mr. Collins, heir-presumptive to Longbourn, came on a visit to the Bennets. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. He was a strange mixture of pomposity, servility, and self-importance, a creature most abjectly, yet most amusingly, devoid of anything like tact, taste, or humour.
Being ready to make the Bennet girls every possible amends for the unwilling injury he must eventually do them, he thought first of all of offering himself to Jane; but hearing that her affections were pre-engaged, he had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth. It was soon done—done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire. His proposal he made to the younger lady in a long, set speech, in which he explained, first of all, his general reasons for marrying, and then his reasons for directing his matrimonial views to Longbourn, finally assuring her that on the subject of the small portion she would bring him no ungenerous reproach should ever pass his lips when they were married.
It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him then, so Elizabeth told him he was too hasty, thanked him for his proposals, and declined them.
"I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second, or even a third, time. I am, therefore, by no means discouraged by what you have said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long."
"Upon my word, sir," cried Elizabeth, "your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration! I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy; and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so. Nay; were your friend, Lady Catherine, to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation."
"Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so——" said Mr. Collins, very gravely. "But I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualifications."
Twice more was Mr. Collins refused, and even then he would not take "No" for an answer.
"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin," said he, "that your refusals of my addresses are merely words, of course. My reasons for believing it are chiefly these. It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration that, in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made to you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will, in all likelihood, undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must, therefore, conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."
"I do assure you, sir," said Elizabeth, "that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart."
"You are uniformly charming," said he, with an air of awkward gallantry; "and I am persuaded that, when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will be acceptable."
IV.—Darcy Loves and Loses
Rejected by Elizabeth, to the great satisfaction of her father and to the great indignation of her mother, the rector of Hunsford lost no time in betaking himself to Elizabeth's dearest friend, Charlotte Lucas, who, being a girl with unromantic, not to say prosaic, views of marriage, readily accepted and married him, thereby moving to further disgust and anger poor Mrs. Bennet, who was already wondering and repining at Mr. Bingley's returning no more into Hertfordshire. Jane suffered in silence, and despite Elizabeth's efforts to point out the duplicity of Caroline Bingley, was inclined to believe the protestations that the latter made in her letters from London of Bingley's growing attachment to Darcy's sister Georgiana.
Mr. Bennet treated the matter in his customary ironical way.
"So, Lizzy," said he, one day, "your sister is crossed in love, I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of, and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn to come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now is your time. Here are officers enough at Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably."
"Thank you, sir, but a less agreeable man would satisfy me. We must not all expect Jane's good fortune."
"True," said Mr. Bennet; "but it is a comfort to think that, whatever of that kind may befall you, you have a mother who will always make the most of it."
As it turned out, Wickham, though he had not arrived at an intimacy which enabled him to jilt Elizabeth, yet most certainly transferred his attentions very shortly from her to a Miss King, who, by the death of her grandfather, had come into L10,000. Elizabeth, however, was quite heartwhole; and she and her former admirer parted on friendly terms when she left Longbourn to pay her promised visit to Mr. and Mrs. Collins at Hunsford.
There she found Charlotte, managing her home and her husband with considerable discretion: and, as the rectory adjoined Rosings Park, the seat of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the patroness of the living, she was introduced to that lady, in whom she could discover nothing but an insolent aristocratic woman, who dictated to everyone about her, meddled in everybody's business, aimed at marrying her sickly daughter to Darcy, and was, needless to say, slavishly adored by Mr. Collins.
In the third week of her visit Mr. Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, came down to see their aunt, and thus—to Elizabeth's indifference—an acquaintance was renewed which Darcy soon seemed to show a real desire to take up again. He sought her society at Rosings Park, he called familiarly at the rectory, he waylaid her in her favourite walk; and all the time, in all his intercourse with her, he revealed such a mixture of interest and constraint as demonstrated only too clearly that some internal struggle was going on within him.
Mrs. Collins began to hope for her friend; but Elizabeth, who had received from Colonel Fitzwilliam ample confirmation of her suspicion that it was Darcy who had persuaded Bingley to give up Jane, was now only more incensed against the man who had broken her sister's peace of mind.
On the very evening of the day on which she had extracted this piece of information from his cousin, Darcy, knowing her to be alone, called at the rectory, and, after a silence of several minutes, came towards her in an agitated manner.
"In vain have I struggled," he said. "It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt, for her immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed. His sense of her inferiority, of marriage with her being a degradation, of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit. In truth, it was already lost, for though Elizabeth could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man's affection, her intentions did not vary for an instant. Accusing him of having ruined, perhaps for ever, the happiness of her sister Jane, and of having blighted the career of his former friend Wickham, she reproached him with the uncivil style of his declaration, and gave him her answer in the words:
"You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it."
Soon after, Darcy took his leave; but the next day he accosted Elizabeth in the park, and handed her a letter, which he begged her to read. She read it, and had the mortification to discover not only that Darcy made some scathing but perfectly justifiable comments on the objectionable members of her family, but that he was able to clear himself of both the charges she had brought against him. He maintained that in separating Bingley from Jane he had not the slightest notion that he was doing the latter any injury, since he never credited her with any strong attachment to his friend; and he assured Elizabeth that, though Wickham had always been an idle and dissipated person, he had more than fulfilled his father's intentions to him, and that Wickham had repaid him for his generosity by trying to elope with his young sister Georgiana, a girl of fifteen.
When Elizabeth returned to Longbourn, she found it a relief to tell Jane of Darcy's proposal, and of his revelation of Wickham's real character; but she thought it best to suppress every particular of the letter in which Jane herself was concerned.
Some two months later Elizabeth went on a tour in Derbyshire with her maternal uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. The latter had lived for some years at a town called Lambton, and wished to revisit her old friends there; and as Pemberley—Mr. Darcy's seat—was only five miles off, and was a show-place, the Gardiners determined to see it, though their niece was reluctant to accompany them until she had learned that its owner was not at home. As they were being shown over the place, Elizabeth could not help reflecting that she might have been mistress of it, and she listened with surprise as the old housekeeper told them that she should never meet with a better master, that she had never had a cross word from him in her life, that as a child he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world, and that there was not one of his tenants or servants but would testify to his excellent qualities as a landlord and a master.
As they were walking across the lawn the owner of Pemberley himself suddenly came forward from the road, and as if to justify the praises of his housekeeper, and to show that he had taken to heart Elizabeth's former complaints of his behaviour, proceeded to treat the Gardiner party with the greatest civility, and even cordiality. He introduced his sister to them, asked them to dinner, invited Mr. Gardiner to fish at Pemberley as often as he chose, and, in answer to a spiteful remark of Miss Bingley's to the effect that he had thought Elizabeth pretty at one time, made the crushing reply:
"Yes, but that was only when I first knew her; for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance."
But just when Elizabeth's growing esteem and gratitude might have deepened into affection for Darcy, circumstances were communicated to her in a letter from Jane which seemed to render it in the highest degree improbable that so proud and fastidious a man as he would ever make any further advances. Lydia, who had got herself invited by some friends to Brighton in order to be near the militia regiment which had been transferred there from Meryton, had eloped with Wickham, and the pair, instead of going to Scotland to be married, appeared—though their whereabouts could not yet be discovered—to be living together in London unmarried.
Darcy seemed to be staggered when he heard the news, and instantly acquiesced in the immediate return of the Gardiner party to Longbourn. They found on their arrival that Mr. Bennet was searching for his daughter in London, where Mr. Gardiner agreed to go to consult with him.
"Oh, my dear brother," said Mrs. Bennet, on hearing this, "that is exactly what I could most wish for! And now do, when you get to town, find them out wherever they may be; and if they are not married already, make them marry. And as for wedding clothes, do not let them wait for that; but tell Lydia she shall have as much money as she chooses to buy them after they are married. And, above all things, keep Mr. Bennet from fighting. Tell him what a dreadful state I am in—that I am frightened out of my wits, and have such tremblings, such flutterings all over me; such spasms in my side, and pains in my head, and such beatings at my heart that I can get no rest by day nor by night. And tell my dear Lydia not to give any directions about her clothes till she has seen me, for she does not know which are the best warehouses. Oh, brother, how kind you are! I know you will contrive it all."
Mr. Collins improved the occasion by writing a letter of condolence, in which he assured the distressed father that the death of Lydia would have been a blessing in comparison with her elopement. But, unfortunately, much of this instruction was wasted, the distress of the Bennets proving less irremediable than their cousin had anticipated or their neighbours feared—for, thanks, as it seemed, to the investigations and to the generosity of Mr. Gardiner, the eloping couple were discovered, and it was made worth Wickham's while to marry Lydia. Longbourn society bore the good news with decent philosophy, though, to be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town.
VI.—Three Bennet Weddings
After arrangements had been made for Wickham's entering the regulars and joining a regiment at Newcastle, his marriage with Lydia took place, and the young couple were received at Longbourn. Their assurance was quite reassuring.
"Well, mamma," said Lydia, "and what do you think of my husband? Is not he a charming man? I am sure my sisters must all envy me. I only hope they may have half my good luck. They must all go to Brighton. That is the place to get husbands. What a pity it is, mamma, we did not all go!"
"Very true. And if I had my will we should. But, my dear Lydia, I don't at all like your going such a way off. Must it be so?"
"Oh, Lord, yes! There is nothing in that. I shall like it of all things. You and papa and my sisters must come down and see us. We shall be at Newcastle all the winter; and I dare say there will be some balls, and I will take care to get good partners for them all."
"I should like it beyond anything!" said her mother.
"And then, when you go away, you may leave one or two of my sisters behind you; and I dare say I shall get husbands for them before the winter is over."
"I thank you for my share of the favour," said Elizabeth; "but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands!"
Indeed, from some remark which Lydia let slip about Darcy being at the wedding, Elizabeth soon began to think that it was only due to outside efforts that Mrs. Wickham had succeeded in getting her own husband.
An application for information which she made to her Aunt Gardiner confirmed this suspicion. Darcy, it seems, had hurried up to London immediately on hearing of the elopement; and he it was who, thanks to his knowledge of Wickham's previous history, found out where Lydia and he were lodging, and by dint of paying his debts to the tune of a thousand pounds, buying his commission, and settling another thousand pounds on Lydia, persuaded him to make her an honest woman. That is to say, thought Elizabeth, Darcy had met, frequently met, reasoned with, persuaded, and finally bribed the man whom he always most wished to avoid, and whose very name it was punishment to him to pronounce. Meantime, Bingley, accompanied by Darcy, made his reappearance at Netherfield Park and at the Bennets'; and Elizabeth had the mortification of seeing her mother welcome the former with the greatest effusiveness, and treat the latter coldly and almost resentfully. "Any friend of Mr. Bingley's will always be welcome here, to be sure; but else I must say that I hate the very sight of him," said Mrs. Bennet, as she watched the two men approaching the house to pay their first visit.
Despite, however, rather than by reason of, this surfeit of amiability on the part of the mother, the lovers quickly came to an understanding, and this, strangely enough, in the absence of Darcy, who had gone up to town. It was in Darcy's absence, also, that Lady Catherine de Bourgh came over to Longbourn, and helped to bring about what she most ardently wished to prevent by making an unsuccessful demand on Elizabeth that she should promise not to accept Darcy for a husband, and by then reporting to him that Elizabeth had refused to give such a promise. The natural result followed. Elizabeth mustered up courage one day to thank Darcy for all he had done for Lydia; and this subject soon led him to affirm that in that matter he had thought only of Elizabeth, and to renew—and to renew successfully—his former proposals of marriage. When Mrs. Bennet first heard the great news she sat quite still, and unable to utter a syllable; and at first even Jane and her father were almost incredulous of the engagement, because they had seen practically nothing of the courtship. But in the end they were all convinced, and Mr. Bennet's decisive comment was: "I admire all my three sons-in-law highly. Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane's. If any young men come for Mary or Kitty, send them in, for I am quite at leisure."
* * * * *
"Northanger Abbey" was written in 1798, revised for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for L10 to a Bath bookseller, who held it in such light esteem that, after allowing it to remain for many years on his shelves, he was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum which he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was already the author of four popular novels. This story—which is, of course, a skit on the "terror" novel of Mrs. Radcliffe's school—was not published till after its author's death, when, in 1818, it was bound up with her last book, "Persuasion."
I.—A Heroine in the Making
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy could have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard, and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence, besides two good livings, and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and, instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on—lived to have six children more—to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. Catherine, for many years of her life, was as plain as any member of her family. She had a thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark, lank hair, and strong features. So much for her person; and not less propitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boys' sports, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy—nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rosebush. Indeed, she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief—at least, so it was conjectured from her habit of always preferring those which she was strictly forbidden to take.
Such were her propensities; her abilities were quite as extraordinary. She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught, and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid. Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinet; so at eight years old she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it; and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life. Her taste for drawing was not superior; though, whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother, or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did what she could in that way by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another. Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother. Her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could.
What a strange, unaccountable character! For with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny. She was noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.
Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending: she began to curl her hair and long for balls, her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery; she grew clean and she grew smart; and she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. From fifteen, indeed, to seventeen, she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
So far her improvement was sufficient; and in many other points she came on exceedingly well, for though she could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte of her own composition, she could listen to other people's performances with very little fatigue.
Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil. She had no notion of drawing, not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no, not even a baronet! There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door; no, not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children. But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the Morland family lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of a gouty constitution; and his lady, a good-humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village she must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.
II.—In the Gay City of Bath
When the hour for departure drew nigh, the maternal anxiety of Mrs. Morland will be naturally supposed to have been most severe. But she knew so little of lords and baronets that she entertained no notion of their general mischievousness, and was wholly unsuspicious of danger to her daughter from their machinations. Her cautions were confined to advising her to wrap up well when she came from the rooms at night, and to try to keep some account of the money she spent.
Sally, or rather Sarah, must, from situation, be at this time the intimate friend and confidante of her sister. It is remarkable, however, that she neither insisted on Catherine's writing by every post, nor exacted her promise of transmitting the character of every new acquaintance nor a detail of every interesting conversation that Bath might produce. Everything, indeed, relative to this important journey was done on the part of the Morlands with a strange degree of moderation and composure. Catherine's father, instead of giving her an unlimited order on his banker, or even putting a hundred pounds bankbill into her hands, gave her only ten guineas, and promised her more when she wanted it. The journey was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. They arrived at Bath, and were soon settled in comfortable lodgings in Pulteney Street.
Mrs. Allen had not beauty, genius, accomplishment, or manner. The air of a gentlewoman, a great deal of quiet, inactive good temper, and a trifling turn of mind, were all that could account for her being the choice of a sensible, intelligent man like Mr. Allen. In one respect she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion; and our heroine's entree into life could not take place till after three or four days had been spent in providing her chaperon with a dress of the newest fashion. Catherine, too, made some purchases herself; and when all those matters were arranged, the important evening came which was to usher her into the upper rooms. But nothing happened that evening. Mrs. Allen knew nobody there, and so Catherine was unable to dance.
A day or two later, when they made their appearance in the lower rooms, fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentleman-like young man as a partner. His name was Tilney. He was a clergyman, seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, he talked with fluency and spirit, and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by, her. Catherine felt herself in high luck; and they parted, on the lady's side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance.
But when Catherine hastened to the pump-room the next day, there was no Mr. Tilney to be seen. Instead, Mrs. Allen had the good fortune to meet an acquaintance at last in the person of a Mrs. Thorpe, a former schoolfellow whom she had seen only once since their respective marriages. Their joy on this meeting was very great, as well it might be, since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years. Mrs. Thorpe had one great advantage as a talker over Mrs. Allen, in a family of children; and when she had expatiated on the talents of her sons and the beauty of her daughters, Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend. She was forced to sit and to appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, and to be introduced, along with Catherine, to the three Miss Thorpes, who proved to be sisters of a young man who was at the same college as Catherine's brother James. James, indeed, had actually spent the last week of the Christmas vacation with the family near London.
The progress of the friendship thus entered into by Catherine and Isabella, the eldest of the Miss Thorpes, was quick as its beginning was warm; and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends and themselves. They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up to read novels together. One day, after they had been talking of "Udolpho," of other "horrid" books and of their favourite complexion in a man, they met Catherine's brother James and Isabella's brother John in a gig. On introduction, the latter proved to be a smart young man of middle height, who, with a plain face and ungraceful form, seemed fearful of being too handsome unless he wore the dress of a groom, and too much like a gentleman unless he were easy where he ought to be civil, and impudent where he might be allowed to be easy. James, of course, was attached to Isabella. "She has so much good sense," he said, "and is so thoroughly unaffected and amiable."
At the dance at the upper rooms which took place on the evening of the same day, Mr. Tilney made his reappearance, and introduced his sister to Catherine. Miss Tilney had a good figure, a pretty face, and a very agreeable countenance. Her air, though it had not all the decided pretension, the resolute stylishness, of Miss Thorpe's, had more real elegance; and her manners showed better sense and better breeding. She seemed capable of being young and attractive at a ball, without wanting to fix the attention of every man near her.
III.—Catherine Morland Among Her Friends
Unfixed as Catherine's general notions were of a what a man ought to be, she could not entirely repress a doubt of Mr. John Thorpe's being altogether completely agreeable. A tattler and a swaggerer, having elicited, as he thought, from Catherine that she was the destined heiress of Mr. Allen, he twice endeavoured to detach her, by a glaring lie, from keeping engagements with the Tilneys; and when he did succeed in persuading her to go with him in his gig, she found that the whole of his talk ended with himself and his own concerns. He told her of horses which he had bought for a trifle and sold for incredible sums; of racing matches in which his judgment had infallibly foretold the winner; of shooting-parties in which he had killed more birds (though without having one good shot) than all his companions together; and described to her some famous days spent with the foxhounds, in which his foresight and skill in directing the dogs had repaired the mistakes of the most experienced huntsman, and in which the boldness of his riding, though it had never endangered his own life for a single moment, had been constantly leading others into difficulties which, he calmly concluded, had broken the necks of more than one person.
All this rather wearied Catherine; and not even his relating to her that Mr. Tilney's father, General Tilney—whom he was talking to one night at the theatre—had declared her the finest girl in Bath could reconcile her to the idea that Mr. John Thorpe had the faculty of giving universal pleasure. It was a visit which she paid to Miss Tilney to apologise for not keeping an engagement which Mr. John had caused her to break that first introduced her to the general. A handsome, stately, well-bred man, with a temper that made him a martinet to his own children, he received her with a politeness, and even a deference, that delighted and surprised her. But whereas Catherine's simplicity of character made her growing attachment to Mr. Tilney obvious to that gentleman and to his sister, it was not so clear that he reciprocated her feelings. Generally he amused himself by talking down to her or making fun of her in a good-natured way. One day they were speaking of Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and more particularly of the "Mysteries of Udolpho."
"I have read all of Mrs. Radcliffe's works," said he, "and most of them with great pleasure."
"I am very glad to hear it, indeed," replied Catherine, "and now I shall never be ashamed of liking 'Udolpho' myself. But I really thought that young men despised novels amazingly."
"It is amazingly; it may well suggest amazement if they do, for they read nearly as many as women," was Mr. Tilney's answer. "I myself have read hundreds and hundreds. Do not imagine that you can cope with me in a knowledge of Julias and Louisas. Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford while you were probably a good little girl working your sampler at home!"
"Not very good, I am afraid. But now, really, do you not think 'Udolpho' the nicest book in the world?"
"The nicest; by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend on the binding," said he.
"I am sure," cried Catherine hastily, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?"
"Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day; and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh, it is a very nice word indeed—it does for everything! Originally perhaps, it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or in their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word."
Meanwhile, Catherine was required to interest herself in her friend's love affairs. Isabella surprised her one day with the news that she was engaged to her brother James; and, obviously under the impression that her lover was the heir of a wealthy man, seemed to wonder whether his parents would acquiesce in the engagement. But despite her affection for James, she danced with Mr. Tilney's elder brother, Captain Tilney, at a ball which was given while her betrothed was absent on the necessary visit to his parents; and when letters were received from him, announcing their consent to the match and the agreement of Mr. Morland to resign a living of four hundred pounds to his son and to bequeath to him by will an estate of the same value, Isabella looked grave first at the smallness of the income, and then at the fact that it would be nearly three years before James would be old enough to take it.
Meantime, she continued to flirt rather openly with Captain Tilney, much to James' uneasiness and to his sister's distress. But Catherine was to some extent reassured as to the captain's conduct by his brother Henry, and she was so overjoyed by receiving an invitation from General Tilney to pay a visit to Northanger Abbey, his beautiful country seat, that a parting interview with Isabella and James, at which he was in excellent spirits and she most engagingly placid, left her blissfully convinced that the behaviour of the lovers was a model of judicious affection.
IV.—Romance at Northanger Abbey
The Tilney party set out for the Abbey in great state, the ladies in the general's chaise and four, with postilions and numerous outriders, and the general and Henry in the latter's curricle. But at the first stage the general proposed that Catherine should take his place in the curricle that she might "see as much of the country as possible;" and, for the rest of the journey she was tete-a-tete with Henry, who amused himself by rallying her upon the sliding panels, ghastly tapestry, funereal beds, vaulted chambers, and kindred uncanny apparatus which, judging from her favourite kind of fiction, she must be expecting to find at the Abbey.
As a matter of fact, Northanger, though it comprised some parts of the old Abbey, turned out to be a building thoroughly modernized and improved. Notwithstanding, Catherine could not restrain her imagination from running riot just a little. A large cedar chest, curiously inlaid and provided with silver handles, first attracted her attention. But this was soon found to contain merely a white cotton counterpane. A high old-fashioned ebony cabinet, which she noticed in her bedroom just before stepping into bed, struck her as offering more promise of romantic interest. Even this, after a most thrilling search, in the midst of which her candle went out, yielded nothing better than an inventory of linen.
Still, Catherine's passion for romance was not easily to be disappointed. Hearing from Eleanor Tilney that her mother's fatal illness had been sudden and short, and had taken place in her absence from home, Catherine's blood ran cold with the horrid suggestions that naturally sprang from these words. Could it be possible? Could Henry's father——? And yet how many were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions? And when she saw him in the evening, while she worked with her friend, slowly pacing the drawing-room for an hour together in silent thoughtfulness, with downcast eye and contracted brow, she felt secure from all possibility of wronging him. It was indeed the air and attitude of a Montoni! What could more plainly speak the gloomy workings of a mind not wholly dead to every sense of humanity, in its fearful review of past scenes of guilt?
Full, then, of the idea that the general had ill-treated his wife, ready even to believe that she might still be living and a prisoner, our heroine set out one day to explore a certain set of rooms into which the general, in showing her over the house, had not taken her. But she was caught in the act by Henry Tilney, who revealed, with customary openness, what had been in her mind, and received only a very gentle rebuke.
Most grievously was she humbled. Her folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to him; and he must surely despise her for ever. But he did nothing of the kind. His astonishing generosity and nobleness of conduct were such that the only difference he made in his behaviour to her was to pay her somewhat more attention than usual.
But the anxieties of common life began soon to succeed to the alarms of romance. Catherine's desire of hearing from Isabella grew every day greater. For nine successive mornings she wondered over the repetition of disappointment; and then, on the tenth, she got a letter—not from Isabella, but from James, announcing the breaking off of the engagement by mutual consent. At first she was much upset by the news, and burst into tears. But in the end she saw it in a more philosophic light, so that before long Henry was able to rally her on her former bosom friendship with Miss Thorpe without offending her. And when a day or two later a letter arrived from Isabella containing the amazing sentences, "I am quite uneasy about your dear brother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford, and am fearful of some misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right: he is the only man I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it——" Catherine resolved: "No; whatever would happen, James should never hear Isabella's name mentioned by her again."
Soon afterwards, a bolt fell from the blue. General Tilney, who had paid Catherine the most embarrassing attentions, suddenly and unexpectedly returned from town, where he had gone for a day or two on business, and packed Catherine off home immediately, with hardly an apology, and at scarcely a moment's notice. He had met young Thorpe in town, it seemed; and John had this time under-estimated the wealth and consequence of the Morlands as much as he had over-stated them before when he talked to the general in the theatre at Bath.
The rudeness of the general, however, proved not so very great a disaster to Catherine. The interest and liking which Henry had first felt for her had gradually grown into a warmer feeling, and, roused to a sense of this by his father's tyrannical behaviour, he presented himself to Catherine at Fullerton, proposed to her, and was accepted. It was not long before the general gave his consent. Getting at last to a right understanding of Mr. Morland's circumstances—which, he found, would allow Catherine to have three thousand pounds—and delighted by the recent marriage of his daughter Eleanor to a viscount, he agreed to the union; and so Henry and Catherine were married within a twelvemonth from the first day of their meeting.