Every Monday I will post another installment of my upcoming novel, The Ladies of Rosings Park, here at Austen Variations. The book (which should publish around the end of February) primarily tells Anne de Bourgh’s story, beginning with the period covered in Pride and Prejudice (the part I will be sharing here) and then carrying well beyond to her own happy ending. These early chapters, though, will read like P&P “missing scenes” – your favorite book from a different perspective.
The ladies who live in and around Rosings Park (Anne, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Jenkinson, and Charlotte) take turns telling the story. Last week in chapter two, Lady Catherine had her say – her opinions of Elizabeth Bennet and her plans to move things along between her daughter and Mr. Darcy. Today, it’s Anne’s turn again. She’s feeling the pressure. Does she want to marry Darcy? What happens when Lady Catherine leaves the two of them alone together, expecting him to officially propose at last? I wonder if Anne’s impulsive reaction will have unintended consequences.
On Making Oneself Agreeable
Fitzwilliam Darcy, whom I had always known as William, was coming to Rosings. Mama had informed me of this, but not that she had summoned him. She let me believe it was his own idea.
“His attachment to Rosings and to you increases month by month,” she told me. “Still, you must do everything in your power to make yourself agreeable when he comes.”
My bewilderment as to how that was to be accomplished must have shown, for Mama sighed and went on, slowly, as if speaking to a small child or an imbecile.
“Smile at him. Compliment him on some aspect of his person or character. Show your interest by asking him questions about himself and about Pemberley. Few men are secure enough within themselves to make an offer without encouragement. And although it is a mere formality in this case, we are dependent on his doing so before moving forward with the wedding plans. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mama,” I said.
Make myself agreeable. That was a tall order. I was not unwilling to do so, nor was I disinclined. I liked William very well indeed, and I did wish to marry him, just as was intended from the beginning. Though I had been of a marriageable age for months without his formal proposal having come, I was not particularly worried. I considered it probable that my cousin was unready to give up his bachelor ways quite yet. He knew where to find me when he was. Then I would become his wife and mistress of his estate in Derbyshire.
When we were all children together, I looked forward to my visits to Pemberley with great anticipation. The vast, untamed country of the north, the enormous park, along with the less stuffy tendencies of the Darcys themselves, set a relaxed tone. I could breathe more easily as we left the heavy atmosphere of Rosings further behind and then the greater distance beyond London we passed. My nerves unwound mile by mile like a tight ball of yarn being released to run across the floor where it would. When gathered together again, it would be remade into something new and beautiful, something fresh and useful. Likewise, I felt recreated each time I traveled north. It was not that I disliked my own home. It was more that Mama did not rule at Pemberley. That was the largest part of the attraction.
Georgiana was like a sister to me. Being a little younger and just as painfully shy as I, she presented no threat. I could be at my ease in her company. We could romp and play with abandon. And we did. While I had my health, we rambled across hill and dale. I even learned to ride and also to drive a donkey cart in those idyllic days at Pemberley.
Georgiana tried to share her interest in music with me on more than one occasion, and I remember her mother gave me a few elementary lessons at the pianoforte when I was very young. Later, I wished that I had taken advantage of the opportunity to learn while Lady Anne was still alive and I still had the ability to apply myself. But there were simply too many other things to do and places to explore at Pemberley for me to settle down to anything so studious. Georgiana did not despise me for my lack of dedication, and Aunt Anne made no scolds that I should be a true proficient if only I would practice. I understood I was among friends who accepted me as the imperfect person I was and still am.
My relations with Georgiana’s brother are not quite so simple to characterize. It is a complex thing with which I never entirely came to terms.
With the young Master Darcy being nearly a decade my senior, it is hardly surprising he should have been no playfellow to me when I was a child. He treated me in much the same manner he did Georgiana – benignly indulgent but largely disinterested in a young girl’s concerns. My clearest and happiest memories of him during that period come from time spent out of doors. He was often assigned as guardian, guide, and escort to his sister and myself on our rambles throughout the park, whether on foot or on horseback. He saw we came to no harm, and he did not interfere with our pleasures any more than necessary. Sometimes he even contributed to our enjoyment with little games and other kindnesses.
Looking back, I honor his patience. I can see how irksome such a duty must have been to a boy on the verge of manhood. But he never complained, at least not in my hearing.
He treated me as a sister, and yet sisterly affection does not adequately describe my feelings for him, either then or now. Nor does the idea of friendship tell the whole story. The knowledge that he would be my husband one day made a distinct difference from the beginning, and the importance of that fact only increased as I grew older. How could it be otherwise? Even had he been a very ordinary man – plain and utterly undistinguished – I could hardly have banished our future connection from my mind. But this was William Darcy. With his superior height, maturity, and good looks, was he not exactly the type of romantic hero to inspire a young girl’s imagination?
From the age of eleven or twelve, my daydreams were filled with proposals and wedding scenes. In these imaginings, William was always perfectly handsome, and I was always graceful and completely at ease, no trace of my perpetual timidity evident. As for how this transformation in me was to have taken place… Well, these were dreams, after all. Logic does not enter in.
I often I pictured myself strolling on William’s arm by the lake at Pemberley, he having cleverly maneuvered to leave the others behind so that he could have me to himself. My fanciful daydreams went something like this:
He smiles down at me and presses my hand. I wonder if this could be the moment. But then a pheasant startles from the brush and flies, the noisy distraction breaking the spell.
We laugh and stroll on again in contented silence.
“Such a beautiful day!” I say spontaneously minutes later. “It is pure perfection – the sky, the lake, the grounds. I do not think I can ever remember Pemberley looking finer.”
William stops and turns to me, taking both my hands and looking earnestly into my eyes. “Dear Anne,” he says, “I must agree with you. Never have I seen more beauty here than I do at this moment. But if you ever leave, the picture will be spoilt. Say you will stay at Pemberley always… with me.”
“Why, William, what can you mean?”
“I mean that I love you, hopelessly and passionately. Say you will marry me, my darling. Be my wife, mistress of my estate and of my heart.”
“Yes, yes of course I will,” I cry, collapsing into his arms, prostrate with joy.
This is the point at which the daydream typically began to fail. William leant down as if to kiss me, but the picture always faded before he could accomplish it. It seemed my youth and naïveté were insurmountable obstacles; even my overactive imagination could not fill in the places left open by my complete lack of experience.
These melodramatic fancies seem foolish to me now, especially in light of all that has happened since. But at the time, I stood in considerable awe of William Darcy. It is an impression I never completely outgrew.
Brushing aside these remembrances, I came down as soon as Mama sent for me, informing me of William’s arrival to Rosings. It was an added bonus to discover that my other cousin, Colonel John Fitzwilliam, had accompanied him. John I found less intimidating, and I expected that his presence and jovial manner would ease conversation all the way round. In consequence, perhaps I would be less profoundly reserved and appear more “agreeable” in my intended’s eyes, more the competent lady of my imagination. At least I hoped. But Mama, probably thinking she did me a favor, immediately took up conversation with the colonel and left William to my share.
After an awkward, silent minute, during which time I thought of Elizabeth Bennet’s example, I bravely ventured an opening comment. “I hope your travel was comfortable, Cousin,” I said, immediately wincing for how completely unremarkable my remark sounded. This was no very good imitation of Miss Bennet’s wit or even the best of my own.
“I thank you, yes,” he answered. “We suffered no complication of either weather or equipage. And Fitzwilliam is always excellent company.”
“Yes, of course.”
A long pause reigned until he presently continued, “May I inquire after your health, Anne?”
I inwardly sighed at the question. Although usually a mere courtesy – the one asked expected to answer, “I am very well, thank you” – for me it was not so easy. I was not very well, in general or at that specific moment either. But I preferred not being reminded of that fact… and reminded that everybody else remembered my sickly constitution too. Still, I knew the question had been kindly meant.
“I am well enough, I suppose,” I said and thanked him.
He nodded and offered nothing more. Neither could I think of anything to say. William turned his attention to Mama and Cousin John, listening – or at least pretending to listen – to what was passing between them. They were not sitting in silence. Neither of them struggled for words.
Once again, I had failed. If I could not hold William’s interest for five minutes, how did I propose to keep it through long years of marriage?
Mama must have had marriage and proposals in view as well, for she wasted no time making sure to arrange conditions amenable to that very thing taking place. “Fitzwilliam, come with me,” she said before a quarter of an hour had elapsed since my arrival downstairs. “I have something very particular to show you in the conservatory.”
He rose, and I began to as well, saying, “We will come with you, Mama.” A cold hand of fear had clutched my throat as soon as I realized what she had in mind. I was afraid it was all too obvious to William, but mostly I was afraid of the long, awful silence that would most probably ensue once we were alone together.
“Stay where you are, Anne,” she ordered at once. “This business concerns no one but Fitzwilliam. I wish you to remain and keep your cousin Darcy company. No doubt he has things to say to you that could benefit from a degree of privacy.” Then she and John quit the room, he giving us a backward sympathetic glance on his way out. Or perhaps John’s sympathy was meant only for his friend’s unenviable position.
If someone with a pallid complexion is capable of going red in the face, no doubt I did, for my cheeks were burning. I was humiliated, and it seemed the only way to rescue myself – and my cousin too – from the mutually mortifying situation would be by my speaking first, though it ran contrary to my every natural impulse. I felt far more like retreating to the safety of my own apartment than standing my ground. But I was quite sure Elizabeth Bennet would never be so cowardly.
Gathering my courage, I said abruptly, “I am sorry, William. Mama should never have placed you in such an untenable position. Please be aware that I had nothing to do with this.” It seemed somehow insufficient, so I went on, hardly knowing what I was saying. “And furthermore, you should know that I neither want nor expect anything from you.”
His head tipped to one side, he looked at me quizzically for a long moment. Then his expression softened to understanding. “Ah,” he said, nodding. “Yes, of course. I see how it is. I see now that you are as much a victim of my aunt’s misplaced ambitions as I am.” Here he rested a hand over my own, saying, “Be not alarmed, Anne. Despite what your mother has decreed, you shall have nothing to fear from me, I promise you.”
That is when I realized the truth. Fitzwilliam Darcy would never propose marriage to me… and it was at least in part my own fault.
(Continue reading Chapter 4)