Do you ever have those moments where it is your turn to speak, but you aren’t sure what to say? As I sat down to write this post, I felt a little like that. Since we last connected, I’ve continued to work on my latest Pride and Prejudice variation.
When writing, I tend to run across interesting little historical tidbits, but they don’t always fall within the Georgian period. For instance, last week I wanted to use a simile that referred to a merry-go-round, but whenever I think of carousels, the scene from Mary Poppins comes to mind. They just feel so very early 20th century to me. I ended up reading all about the evolution of this ride and discovered it’s actually a modified version of a training device that was used to prepare knights for jousting tournaments during the Middle Ages. I seriously considered filling you on this topic because it was interesting, but it’s not very on-topic for a website devoted to the writings, life, and fiction inspired by Jane Austen. Which is why I decided to instead offer you another chapter of my current, unedited, work-in-progress. What do you prefer? Do you enjoy reading excerpts or hearing about topics people researched as they wrote?
As an update, the story is maybe one-third to one-half finished. I was thinking it would be fun to continue on with my little naming routine. If you have any thoughts on a good title that involves two words starting with F and connected by an ampersand, I would love to hear them. Falsehoods & Forgiveness is the best one I have thought of so far, but the readers of JAFF always offer brilliant suggestions. The working title is the unimaginative F&F.
I hope you enjoy:
A soft smile settled on Mr. Bennet’s face as he watched his daughter Elizabeth slip into his study and shut the door without a sound.
“Hiding from your mother, I presume?” he asked. His eyes danced with merriment.
Sheepishly, Elizabeth nodded. “Though it is no more than you yourself are doing,” she added. Her gaze left her father and traveled to the shelf of books. The house was in turmoil, and she longed for an escape. Reading had always brought her comfort, and her father’s study was the only room in the house that guaranteed a quiet retreat for such solitary endeavors.
He chuckled. “We are two peas in a pod, my dear.” He waved to an open seat. “Choose a book and join me. My sanctuary will always have room for one more bibliophile.”
She did as she was bade, settling into the well-worn leather chair and tucking her feet beneath her. Her hand brushed over the book cover. A sense of contentment filled her as her finger tips stopping on the embossed letters of the title. Cuddling up with an excellent book, she could forget the litany of tasks her mother had planned on her behalf.
Mr. Bennet cleared his throat. “Before you start, there is something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you.”
Elizabeth groaned and looked toward the door. “Out of the pan and into the fire,” she muttered, certain her father intended to speak of the very topic that had caused her to flee her mother.
“I received a letter from your uncle. He has been working long hours and thought it would be nice for your aunt to have a visitor—someone to keep her company. I think you should go.”
His approach was unique, but it did not hide his motive. From the very beginning, he had urged her not to befriending Edmund Waters. Considering how absent minded he was and his lack of interest in the family’s social events and callers, Mr. Bennet’s hesitation toward the kind and honorable Edmund had always confused Elizabeth.
Still, she wasn’t sure if she should hug him or scold him. If she was no longer in Hertfordshire, she would be free of her mother’s endless pestering, and all the primping and polishing would end. She could hide in London and avoid, or at least delay, the moment she was dreading. But this was the coward’s way out and solved nothing. In fact, it was entirely unfair of her father to tempt her. She had come to him seeking refuge for an hour or two. As she was on the cusp of finding peace, he reminded her of her greatest anxiety.
Her eyebrows drew together, and she glared at him. “You cannot fool me, Papa. I know what you are up to.” She set the book on the table beside her and folded her arms.
Wide, innocent eyes gazed up at her. “I cannot imagine what you mean, Lizzy. I thought you enjoyed London.”
Elizabeth snorted. “You are just as bad as mama. This isn’t about Uncle Gardiner, nor is it about London. This is about Mr. Waters. While mama tries everything in her power to push us toward the alter, you do your best to keep us apart. You know very well he will be here next week. I cannot leave town when he is expected.”
She couldn’t leave, could she? She bit the edge of her lip.
How had everything changed? Even as the question formed, her mind offered an answer—Jane had left her.
Mr. Bennet wrinkled his brow and pouted. “Really? He’s coming again? Next week, is it?”
Elizabeth laughed. “As if you could forget. Mama has spoken of little else in months.”
He dropped his head, reminding Elizabeth of a guilty puppy being confronted about eating the last biscuit. Her heart softened with pity. She reached across the divide and offered him her hand.
“Why do you dislike him, papa? Is he so bad?”
Mr. Bennet took her offering but refused to lift his head. “He is a fine young man, Lizzy. In fact, he would make an excellent match for any of your younger sisters. The two of you, however, are not suited. He cannot bring you the happiness you deserve.”
She squeezed his hand. “Now, papa, there is little to fear. He hasn’t declared his feelings. We are far from engaged.”
He raised his chin. Small tears glistened along the edges of his eyes. “But if he asked you to marry him, would you refuse?” His voice conveyed the same hopefulness Mrs. Bennet’s had held when she begged her daughter to accept a suit with Mr. Edmund Waters, should he see fit to make such an offer.
It was a question Elizabeth could not answer, for she did not know how she would react. Before her sister Jane had married and embarked on a year-long honeymoon, she had believed she would only marry for the deepest of loves. Without her elder sister’s comfort and companionship, Elizabeth discovered what true loneliness felt like. Fortunately, Edmund had been there to listen and help her pick up the pieces.
Had she known of his desire to deepen their friendship, she might not have leaned on him quite so much. And she certainly wouldn’t have accepted that hug—for it was that simple, innocent act that had set things in motion.
“Any woman would be lucky to have Mr. Waters as a husband,” she said.
This much was true, and she was determined to defend him. After all, it was entirely possible she might one day become Mrs. Waters. Losing Jane had shown her how bleak a future of spinsterhood could be. Edmund was a good man, and she did love him—just not romantically. Yet, many marriages were built on a foundation of friendship, and he would make a remarkable father. As her mother observed, she could do far worse.
Her father slid his hand out of her grasp. The sadness vanished from his eyes, giving way to a flash of anger or frustration. “But he is not your equal, Lizzy. You must see this. He lacks intellectual curiosity and shows limited resourcefulness.”
Offended on Edmund’s behalf, she said, “Now, Papa, that is not fair. He is well educated and very bright.”
“I never said he wasn’t. But being able to learn and seeking knowledge are two very different things.”
It was Elizabeth’s turn to be frustrated. Her father had never been fair to Mr. Waters.
“If you find him lacking, why did you hire him as your steward?”
Mr. Bennet removed his glasses. Slowly, he shook his head. “I didn’t. He came here at the behest of your cousin, Mr. Collins.” He let out a small chuckle. “Apparently, between serving our Lord and his revered patroness, Collins could not find the time to familiarize himself with Longbourn. Mr. Waters is not my steward. In fact, if he is destined to run this estate, he will not do so until I have died.”
Perhaps her father’s prejudice was born of pride. Anyone who reviewed the ledgers and rode the land would notice the copious opportunities to improve the management of Longbourn. Though Edmund was kind, he lacked tact. Had he offended her father by making suggestions about ways to make the land more profitable?
Even if he is blunt, whatever he said did not stop papa from listening to him.
“Yes. Initially, he came here to help Mr. Collins prepare for his future responsibility. But you were so impressed, you also hired him,” she pointed out. Surely, her father valued sound reasoning and insightful suggestions over politeness.
Mr. Bennet groused. “To deal with a few tenant issues, not to be my steward. A few minor jobs. It is hardly the same thing.” He set his glasses down and leaned in toward her. “But this is irrelevant. The world is changing. Factories are popping up everywhere. People are moving to the cities. In times such as these, resourcefulness and the ability to adapt are what matters. You have those skills, Lizzy. And you are too not afraid or foolish to ignore what is happening around you. You don’t want to be saddled with someone who either refuses to see how the world evolves or chooses to ignore it.”
“Are you implying Edmund cannot adapt?” Elizabeth snorted. “You? The man who keeps yourself hidden in your study. Someone who live off the land inherited from your great-great-grandfather, just as past generations have. Your life is devoid of change, yet you fear Edmund cannot keep up with the times?”
“Yes. I am an old man. I was fortunate enough to live as a country squire, to have been born into an era before all these sweeping reforms take hold. My way of life is coming to an end, and I admit, I too would be ill-suited for the future you must face. But you will march forth and embrace change, my dear. People like you will ascend the ranks of society. You deserve a man who can stride alongside you.”
“Papa, you are being dramatic. You know as well as I do that societies and the world at large are always changing. It is the one constant. Even if you had evidence to support your supposition that today’s reforms and shifts are more significant than those faced in the past, trying to predict how someone will react when faced with change is a fool’s errand.”
Mr. Bennet released a sigh. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “I have many shortcomings, Elizabeth, but I am a keen observer, and I have accurately assessed Mr. Waters. I once asked him to share his thoughts on A Vindication of the Rights of Women. He hadn’t read it. When I asked why, he said he knew it was rubbish. It seems he dismissed Mary Wollstonecraft’s arguments whole cloth without even reading them because of the scandals in her personal life.”
“He is not alone in that, Papa. I know very few people who can separate an argument from the person presenting it.”
He jumped to his feet and pointed a finger at her. “Exactly. You know so few people—full-stop. That is why you must go to London. You would understand, would see Mr. Waters’ failings, but for your… your lack of experience. No. My failure to expose you to… to more. Growing up in the country… well, there are only a handful of people here, most of whom share the same ideas and refuse to question anything. There are others out there, Elizabeth, who truly think for themselves. Your mother and I have been remiss in your education. Not your scholarly pursuits, but your worldly knowledge. Before you agree to spend the rest of your life with someone like Waters, I beg you to meet more people your age. Go to your aunt.”
Elizabeth longed to see more of the world and couldn’t deny her father’s logic. Making a major decision based on so few suitors was not ideal.
“But how can I? He is coming with the express purpose of seeing me.”
Her father shook his head. This time his movements were vigorous. “No. While I am certain he is eager to see you again, this visit has been scheduled for months. He has multiple appointments with several of the local landowners. Longbourn is too small to warrant a full time steward. He has always planned to move to a town where he can manage several smaller estates. Should Collins offer him a position as Stewart one day, he’d only accept if he can secure additional work in the region.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together. Edmund had mentioned none of that to her.
Come now, there is no reason he should have. Her reasoning did little to reduce her irritation.
“You leave her to me,” her father said.
At his words, a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She smiled. “I suppose I do not need to be here the entire length of his visit. London isn’t so far that I couldn’t return after a brief visit. When do you propose I leave?”