“I declare, I just don’t understand it,” said Elizabeth Weston. “It is hard to fathom why a man like your friend Mr. Woodhouse would marry someone such as this Miss Brown. I’m sure she is lovely and poised, but he could have had any number of girls with twice the breeding and the dowry. He certainly could have done better than a solicitor’s daughter.”
Frank Weston sighed, looking out the carriage window. “Henry is quite smitten with Emily,” he replied. “She will make him a good wife. And Henry says she is quite accomplished.” He turned, taking his wife’s hand. “Besides, if you were so conscious of station, Lizzie, you would not have married me, a mere military man.”
“That’s another matter entirely,” said Elizabeth. “You came from a family of means, and they were able to purchase your commission. You have done well for yourself, my darling.”
“Yes, my father was what people would call a nabob.”
“That is a terrible term. It is a crime to make money in the Far East? I think not. Your father did well there, and brought his wealth back to England. I say it shows great ambition and ingenuity.”
He laughed. “I would have been nice if your father had thought that.”
“Yes, well, my family believes wealth must be inherited. They don’t understand the world is changing, and that anyone with the right connections can earn their way into good society if they choose, such as your father did. Still, a tradesperson’s daughter? Mr. Woodhouse could have done better.”
Frank didn’t answer. Elizabeth had her opinions about things, and he had learned in the short time they were married that arguing with her about them was futile. He didn’t bother to correct her that solicitors were not considered tradespeople, and many of them had married their sons and daughters into the upper classes.
Sometimes he wondered who this woman was that he had married. Their courtship had been a short and passionate one. He met her at a ball given by one of his fellow officers when they were billeted in Yorkshire. When he thought of it today, it still made his heart pound. Elizabeth Churchill was everything he ever wanted. Beautiful, well-spoken and mannered, intelligent and funny. He was sure he’d found the woman of his dreams.
But her family had other plans for her. The Churchills were one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Yorkshire. They had promised her to the son of her mother’s sister when she was still an infant; a cousin that had £30,000. per year. Frank could never compete with such a sum, even though he had enough to provide Elizabeth a good life. Elizabeth was given a choice, either marry her cousin as planned, or marry Frank and be disowned by her family.
Frank told her he understood; that making such a choice would be impossible, but she said no, she wanted to be his wife more than anything. They ran away to Gretna Green in the middle of night, and Elizabeth never looked back.
Or did she? He sensed a restlessness in her at times. He gave her all the material things she wished, but she could no longer fraternize with the people of her youth. The social circles she’d been a part of all her life were now closed to her. When she saw these old friends in the streets and tried to speak to them, they looked down and quickly walked away. She was lonely and discontented, and he could not be with her during the times he was called up. He wondered if she was sorry that she married him and turned her back on the life she had known.
He was sure that soon she would have a child to occupy her, but in the interim, she needed something to ease her troubled disposition. “My dear,” he started, “I have been thinking. Soon we will have a family, and I don’t wish to raise them in town. My father’s house in Highbury has been vacant for some time. We could move there temporarily, and then look for a place of our own.”
She stared at him. “You want to live in Highbury? But I know no one there, Frank.”
“I grew up there. I know pretty much everyone. And you have always been very adept in the social graces. You would be the most important lady of the town in no time.”
She sat quiet for a moment. “I will think on it. You say most of the people in the town will be at the wedding?”
“Absolutely. I think you will find them all quite amiable. Many of the people I grew up are like we are; newly married and starting families. A new generation of residents is emerging. It will be a wonderful place for our children to grow up in. And when I am away with the militia, you will have friends to look after you. Also, Surrey is only 16 miles from London, should you wish to partake in the amusements of town on occasion.”
“And they are all respectable families?”
“Well, of course.”
She lowered her voice. “You know what I mean by respectable, Frank. I mean people that are equal to our station. You know I cannot be expected to fraternize with farmers and artisans.”
“I think that is of minor importance,” he said, his tone curt. “But to answer your question; yes. There is Mr. Knightley of Donwell Abbey, a widower with two young sons. And there are the Goddards, and of course there is Henry Woodhouse, and many others.” He reached for her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. “Trust me, Elizabeth, it is for the best.”
She rested her head on his shoulder. “Alright, Frank. I will be very astute today in my observations of everyone, and I inform you as to what I think.”
“That sounds fine, darling,” he said. Elizabeth could observe all she wanted, he thought, but the decision had been made. He would take her after the wedding and show her his father’s house, which he had completely refurbished just to her taste. She would be thrilled, and ready to show it off. They would be happy, and her memories of life before their marriage would fade.
He just knew that all would be well. He could make her happy again. He was absolutely sure.