Monday, June 23, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy: Chapter Thirteen

My deepest apologies, but I need to forgo Being Mrs. Bennet again this week. Last week's omission was due to a minor surgery; this week's is due to the fact I need to finish the third draft of The Madness of Mr. Darcy. Please accept this excerpt from my next novel in abeyance. It's a little strange that the last excerpt I posted was chapter 19, I know, but it was during the last draft and had been much altered since. This is from Mr. Darcy's first day at Ramsey House, a private mental asylum. Enjoy.

While Mr. Darcy contemplated the ironies of fate, his fellow guests of Ramsey House loitered on the main stairwell’s enormous landing – the area referred to as the lounge – busily remarking on the new arrival. It was thought very odd of Dr. Wilson to have ushered a new guest away so quickly, without introducing him round or imparting some words of announcement. The few things learned by the first sighting of Mr. Darcy cast more interest on the matron than him. Many at Ramsey House, particularly a few of the ladies, had long been curious of Mrs. Bennet’s origins. Clearly, despite her title, she had never been married, for why else wear no ring? Both she and the doctor’s allusiveness on the subject was suspect, and further provoked by questions posed by the housekeeper, theories abounded on her possible story. The most far-fetched saw her as a Jewess or the daughter of a traitor to the crown, but the generally agreed upon explanation was that her father drank the family fortune away. Her beleaguered mother went mad, taking her daughter with her into some lesser private asylum than Ramsey House, where she eventually found employment and was rescued from total obscurity by Dr. Wilson. The one thing everyone absolutely agreed upon was that Dr. Wilson was the hero of her story. Mr. Darcy, already of great interest to the small society of Ransey House, now possessed a further intriguing attribute.

“He must have know her when she was more comfortably situated,” Lady Elliot speculated loud enough for all to hear, though her words were addressed to Miss Crawford.

“If not, their prior association will be much more difficult to explain,” Miss Crawford replied, in more refined tones. “We’ll see how reluctant he is to discuss it. That shall reveal a great deal.”

“Was there not some trouble surrounding a Darcy?” Lady Saunders mused, racking her mind for the answer. “The name is so very familiar to me, but I cannot place it!.”

“Mr. Darcy was rather well-known, once upon a time,” Lord Dunfield contributed. “Used to be a rather rigidly correct fellow, if I recall. It must gall him to be here. I’m rather surprised Lady Anne allowed it.”

“Why not?” Mr. Knightley replied, sneeringly. “Who is to tell anyone he is here? Certainly not them, nor any of us, should we ever get out of this place.”

“I’d think you’d be glad for the change of pace,” Mr. Smothers replied. “You’re always complaining of the regiment!”

“You’d complain too, if you weren’t too bewitched by the great doctor to see anything else,” he grumbled in reply.
“Oh yes! Bewitched body and soul, are not we all, Mr. Knightley?” Mrs. Bennet’s voice rang out across the room. She still stood where the doctor had left her, Miss Higgins standing beside and looking excitedly around at her companions.

“Surely not you, Mrs. Bennet,” Mr. Knightley replied with the smallest glimmer of a smile.

“I’m glad you think so, sir. Since you all take such an interest in our new companion, I do hope you all will take it upon yourselves to ease his transition into life at Ramsey House.”
The guests might have heard such words with the best intentions, but their excitement got the better of them. When Mr. Johnson escorted Mr. Darcy to the dining room, he led him straight into a swarm of new acquaintance. Mr. Darcy had rarely felt so uncomfortable in all his life. Several guests crowded around, all seemingly talking at once, reminding him of distant connections they might or might not share, and attempting to establish whatever similarities they might between one another.

Mr. Darcy struggled to respond to the onslaught of inquiries, until his eyes found Mrs. Bennet, standing not ten feet from him, her eyes laughing at his predicament. The whole cacophony seemed to melt away. How could he think of anything else with such a vision before him! She had haunted him for so long; could this be an illusion? He was in an asylum, after all: who was he to know real from fantasy? But then she drew near, and the scent of lavender, just as it always had in the past, wafted from her. Phantoms have no aroma, he told himself firmly. She must be real, and I must get a grip upon myself or lose this second chance.

He laughed aloud, and Elizabeth cocked her head inquisitively, not unlike a spaniel he had as a boy: her smile never faltering, her eyes sparkling like jewels! He did not note the looks attending him from the rest of the room, but when she turned to address another, he felt the connection between them sever.

What second chance? The voice of reason reprimanded as his spirits plummeted. He was a lunatic, or as good as: a man of uncontrolled violence, capable of inflicting irreparable harm n his fellow humans. What woman would ever be interested in such a man? If Elizabeth Bennet had ever harbored any regrets for refusing his marriage proposal, they must all be wiped away upon meeting him again here. Yet her smile seemed so pure, loving, and inviting! But why would she not now meet his eyes. I‘ve misread her before

The guests sat themselves at random about the long table. Darcy sat beside Mr. Smothers, whose age and bearing suggested a dignity innately attracted him. Miss Crawford claimed the seat on his other side, causing him to inch his chair to the left, much to her annoyance..

It was not surprising to anyone to see the reluctance with which Mr. Darcy approached his food, as each resident had experienced something similar in his or her time. The increased frequency of food consumption took adjustment on everyone's part. The fare, on the other hand, required endurance.

“Do not worry yourself too much with eating today,” Mr. Smother said confidentially. “You will allowed some leniency at first. In case you missed it amidst the bustle, I am Gerald Smothers. Forgive the informality in introductions. I’m sure the doctor will say something properly in time.”

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Smothers,” he looked at his plate with misgiving. “I understood I would be required to eat a substantial meal everyday at this time, but I am not accustomed to it, nor such fare as this. Is it rhubarb?”

“Yes! Boiled rhubarb[1] in salad, dressed with cucumber, parsnip, and raspberry puree.”

“Perhaps I’ll just eat some bread,” Mr. Darcy said meekly, reaching for a wine glass and finding dissatisfaction in the water that filled it.

“Soon you’ll be eating as voraciously as the rest of us, but it is not of great importance today. Dr. Wilson is lenient as you make the adjustment.”

“Why will not it matter today?”

“You have not had your examination yet, and perhaps you will be spared, but I will warn you most patients upon admission are subject to a thorough internal cleansing, if you understand my meaning.”

Mr. Darcy was not sure he did, but at that moment Dr. Wilson rose from his seat at the end of the formal table, and the room suddenly grew quiet with attention.

“I hope you have all enjoyed a profitable morning. I just wanted to take a moment to formally introduce you all to our newest guest, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. You will surely learn on your own, if you do not already know, all the salient details regarding family and income, so I’ll say no more on the subject. I know you will all want to do your part to help him settle comfortably,” he looked at Mrs. Bennet meaningfully. “I will not take anymore time away from your meal. Do continue.” He sat down, and the din of resumed conversations filled the room.

“The doctor is usually more effusive in his welcome,” Mr. Smothers commented, looking at Mr. Darcy with a hint of suspicion.

“I’m afraid I did not quite catch your meaning before,” Mr. Darcy replied. “What, prey tell, is an internal cleansing?”

“Usually Dr. Wilson uses a combination of emetics and enemas.” Mr. Smothers said tartly.

“You’re not serious?” Darcy’s face went white.


“Pay Mr. Saunders little heed, Darcy,” said the wiry man sitting across the table from him. He appeared about Darcy’s own age, though with far grayer hair and a world-weary look. Darcy was certain he was not amongst the crowd at the door, which spoke well for his character. “Your neighbor is Dr. Wilson’s most ardent follower and promoter. Any extreme experiment conducted once must be the totem forever more.”

“It is precisely the procedure prescribed me, upon my arrival here, Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Smothers insisted indignantly.

“But it was not my experience,” retorted the man, “nor that of anyone else admitted without a great deal of poison in their gut.” This seemed enough to silence Mr. Smothers, who omitted a huffing sound in protest, but then chose to turn his attention entirely towards his plate.

“You must learn take what some of the guests say with a grain of salt, Mr. Darcy. I, by the way, and John Knightley, sir.” He bowed his head slightly in salutation.

Mr. Darcy returned the gesture, while Miss Crawford, who had henceforth been entirely preoccupied with the lady on the right, inserted herself. “The right honorable John Knightley, if you will, sir. We have a high court official in our midst.”

“Miss Crawford is inclined to disguise flattery beneath an intention to cause discomfort, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley informed him. “In this case, she knows I have no right to the title and so refuse to use it, though it legally belongs to me still, and thus she amuses herself at my expense.”

“What nonsense Mr. Knightley speaks!” the lady retorted. “As if my attempt to bolster his standing can be construed as malicious. Mr. Knightley has the blackest of humor, Mr. Darcy. He would be vastly amusing, were he not so ridiculous.”

“And Miss Crawford,” came the retort, “is possessed of a lively mind, so lively, indeed, that she finds life at Ramsey House far too limited in its entertainments, a point on which she has my concurrence, and therefore she amuses herself with whomever places themselves at her disposal.”

Miss Crawford turned her head deliberately from Mr. Knightley’s direction, casting a winning smile on the newcomer. “You must know, Mr. Darcy, that your arrival here has caused no ordinary stir. We thought ourselves quite fortunate to now have even numbers of men and women, but the value of finding you a much younger man than had been supposed is not to be underestimated.”

“Show no weakness now, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley warned. “Miss Crawford will think she has the upper hand of you.” The lady in question laughed as if this were amazingly humorous and turned to her other neighbor, Lady Elliot, and Mr. Darcy was left to inspect the unusual food in peace. He had ventured on a tentative bite of greens when Dr. Wilson was inviting everyone to repair to the lounge. Darcy noticed that every plate but his own was clean. With abrupt efficiency the table was cleared and the guests ushered up the steps. Some headed back to their rooms to gather supplies, and all settled in to pursue their regular hobbies.

Darcy looked about him. The place referred to as the lounge was really not a proper room, but an unusually large landing at the top of the grand stairwell. The space was semi-circular, with a huge arc of windows confronting the stairwell, only interrupted by a grand fireplace in the middle. The ceiling was domed, and a well-selected collection of books lined the walls. Several worn but serviceable sofas were comfortably arranged, along with occasional chairs placed to accommodate both conversation or solitary reflection, with the common smattering of tables amongst them.

The room was handsome, but its attractions did little to ease Darcy’s way forward, yet before he could even begin to curse his old social awkwardness, a well-loved voice sang to his ears. “I recall you claiming to be ill-qualified to address yourself to strangers.”

He closed his eyes, and the years and Ramsey House seemed to slip away. Visions of Rosings Hall danced through his mind. Elizabeth sat at the pianoforte, with Fitzwilliam by her side, and Darcy left Lady Catherine to stand by the instrument and watch. His aunt had been lecturing him on the importance of Georgiana practicing her instrument regularly, that she might perform better than the unfortunate Miss Bennet, raised without a governess, and unmarried while her younger sisters were out. You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? She taunted him. But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me. He remembered the spark in her eyes as she said it, and turning to face her, he was overwhelmed by the pleasure of seeing that very same spark, undiminished by time and suffering.

“Mrs. Bennet,” he bowed with more formality than he wished. Forcing an unpracticed and surely awkward smile, he continued, “You have as much penetration as the good doctor and read my thoughts precisely.”

She smiled back at him, and his heart began to pound with a vehemence he was sure she must hear. “I do not have the doctor’s training in physiological analysis, but I have made human nature a lifelong study, and I am assisted in this instance by having sketched your character many years ago.” She looked at him intently, and Mr. Darcy’s arms tingled with the desire to hold her. The connection between blossomed once more, and his heart swelled with relief and joy, but again the moment broke. She looked at her watch and assumed an entirely business-like demeanor. Here was the matron, not his long lost love. “The afternoons at Ramsey House, as I am sure Dr. Wilson informed you, are spent in quiet recreation. Everyone must have an occupation. Idleness is what will not be tolerated. I believe you made the acquaintance of Mr. Knightley already,” she gestured to one rounded corner of the room, where both he and Lord Dunleigh were seated before a chessboard. “Have you met his lordship?”

“Not today, but I know him of old.”

“I think you will find both gentlemen comfortable companions.”

“Chess is not a three person game, Mrs. Bennet,” he replied.

“Indeed,” she studied him quizzically for a moment, and again his heart sored. “Perhaps you prefer a book to cards … or other games?”

He smiled more naturally than before. “There is no enjoyment like reading.”

“Very good!” she said, gesturing with a sweeping arm around the room. “As you see we have plenty from which to chose.” An attendant came up and commanded her attention, and when Mrs. Bennet again turned round, she addressed the entire room. “Excuse me, ladies, but Mrs. Simpson tells me all the materials are gathered for our little experiment, if you would care to join me in the front drawing room.” All the ladies responded eagerly to the summons, and soon the sound of swishing skirts filled the air as they abandoned their various pursuits and trampled down the stairs.

Again on his own, Mr. Darcy walked to the nearest bookcase, hastily making a selection. A young man seated on the closest sofa looked at him, and Darcy’s lips twitched in greeting as he chose the seat opposite. With some relief did he think he might lose himself in the pages, his companion seeming disinclined to interrupt, but he was soon to find that the other guests, though the matron herself recommended it, would not tolerate such a peaceful pastime.

“Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Smothers came towards him jovially, in response to which he buried his nose further into the book. “You cannot be heavily invested in even the most intriguing novel, not so quickly! You must socialize! Let us get to know you! It is part of Dr. Wilson’s treatment, you know!”

“And a bigger waste of money I’ve never countenanced before in my life!” An old man ejaculated, shaking the dice box with apparent delight in the noise, never casting them, and barking: “Spendthrift!” Traitor!” Darcy was unnerved to then see him methodically clear the board, never having made a move.

“Pay no attention to Mr. Winters,” Mr. Smothers urged, “nor should you bury yourself with Mr. Lotts amongst the books. We shall find some activity to engage your mind! Do you care for billiards, Mr. Darcy? I’m sorry if you do, for we do not have a table at Ramsey House,” he shook his head sadly. “As you see, Mr. Knightley and Lord Dunfield are busy with the chessboard, per their want, but perhaps Mr. Winters would consent to actually play a hand of backgammon?” Though the man was now setting back up the board, the look he cast on his inquisitor was decidedly negative. “Well then! Perhaps you would be interested in listening to the sermon I’ve been composing, on the subject of the bible’s advocacy for strenuous exercise and industry, just as Dr. Wilson prescribes?”

“Do not trouble yourself with Mr. Darcy’s entertainment, Gerald!” Lord Dunfield called across the room. “Go back to your sermons, as you know you wish to! Come over here, Darcy,” he commanded. “Bring your book if you must.”

Mr. Darcy pulled up an indicated chair, stationing himself so that he might watch the game. The men didn’t say much, but what they did say was sensible, and Darcy was thankful for it.

A stir on the stairs announced the return of Mrs. Prescott to the lounge. Darcy was to learn she was the only guest permitted to wander the house unescorted. She quickly scanned the room before deliberately headed towards the chess game. The gentlemen stood at her approach, and she began speaking to Mr. Darcy.

“Hello, Mr. Darcy. I am Mrs. Prescott,” she said matter-of-factly, making use of an accommodating chair.

“How do you do, ma’am?” he bowed

“I’m to ask if your room is comfortable, Mr. Darcy.”

“You are to ask me, Mrs. Prescott?” he questioned.

Laughing, “I am not only performing a duty, Mr. Darcy. I’m genuinely interested in you,” she said with an analyzing glance.

“My room is well-appointed, thank you, but for any sofa or lounge of any kind.”

“We don’t spend a great deal of time in our rooms, Mr. Darcy.”

“I am exceedingly grateful to Mrs. Bennet.”

She smiled. “I will be sure to tell her you said so.”

“Was it Mrs. Bennet who sent you?” he asked eagerly.

“In a way,” she said cryptically. “The doctor and Mrs. Bennet often ask me to bridge the divide between themselves and the guests. I’m one of the permanent ones, you see.” His apparent confusion prompted her elucidation. “We all come to Ramsey House for different reasons, Mr. Darcy. Most of us come to Dr. Wilson ill, but not all of us depart when cured. Some of us have nowhere else to go, and so we stay on, making a place in this little world where we can serve some purpose.”

“You have no home to return to?” he asked with concern. Homelessness was almost incomprehensible to him, so grounded in the stability of land ownership as he was, yet he knew it was exactly the predicament Elizabeth must have faced and had often dwelled on its many ills.

“I have a sister who would take me in, but she is just as content for me to remain here as I am.”

“But you must want to return to the outside world.”

“No. I don’t think so,” she replied.

“I, on the other hand,” Mr. Knightley spoke up, “cannot wait until I escape this godforsaken place. Do you have a family, Mr. Darcy?”

“None at all,” he replied.

“Then perhaps your tenure here, however long it might last, will not be so unbearable to you as it has been to me. I – thank god! – will be departing soon.”

“Has your sister finally come around?” Mrs. Prescott asked.

Mr. Knightley smiled for the first time since Mr. Darcy had met him. “Almost. I received news from my brother today, and he is of the belief that I have ridden out the chief of my disgrace, and a quiet life in Surrey is now perfectly unobjectionable. As soon as Emma consents,” he smirked grimly, “George and Isabella will come to collect me.”

“And I will be out a chess partner,” Lord Dunfield complained. “Do you play, Darcy?”

Before he could respond, Mrs. Prescott rose from her seat and put a tender hand on Mr. Knightley’s arm, the intimacy of which gesture surprised Mr. Darcy, and said, “I am so pleased for you, John! You are resigned to remaining at home?”

“After the tedium of this place,” he said, “Hartfield sounds like heaven to me. I always was a homebody, you know, until my father-in-law died and we moved to the country. I couldn’t shake the old man’s influence out of the place. Eventually Serle, the old cook, served me so much gruel as to send me scurrying back to London, there to spend all the time I could.” He looked suddenly downtrodden as he said, “I missed some of the best years of my children’s lives, and I’ll never have them back, but I’m not going to waste any more of the time I do have.”

“Bravo! Mr. Knightley!” Mrs. Prescott applauded. “Now if you’ll excuse me gentlemen,” she rose, “I shall return to the ladies.” She dipped into a graceful courtesy, nodding to each man at the chess table, and turned to cross the room and descend the stairs.

“To your question, Darcy,” Lord Dunfield said,“Mrs. Bennet sent her to talk with you, as sure a day, and kept everyone away longer than needed that her spy might have plenty of time to interrogate you!” He shook his head knowingly. “You’ll learn that Priscilla Prescott is almost an extension of Mrs. Bennet in this place. The two are as close as two ladies in their situations can be.”

“Their situations?” Mr. Darcy asked hesitantly.

“Oh, all the ladies are always in turmoil over how to behave towards Mrs. Bennet. Is she a servant? Is she a lady? There has been a great deal of speculation on the point.”

“Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley said authoritatively, “if he plays chess, might like to play the winner. What say you?”

“It’s been many years since I last played, but I was once considered tolerably skilled at the game.”

“Oh ! I see how it is to be. You and Mr. Darcy will be better matched, and I shall no longer be wanted for my measly skills,” Lord Dunfield predicted. “Good thing you’re off, John.”

Mr. Knightley smiled. “Perhaps Mr. Darcy will prove my superior, and you know I can’t bear to lose very often, Tom. Check mate.”

“Drat! Do go on and try your hand at the game, Darcy, and for my sake as well as his own, beat the living daylights out of Knightley, will you?” He stood and ceded his chair with a gracious gesture to Mr. Darcy. Mr. Knightley was already resetting the board.

Mr. Darcy truly couldn’t remember the last time he played chess, for he did not have the kind of companionship about him that lent itself to such games, and he took the proffered seat with hesitation. He was equally out of practice at cards and backgammon, but he hoped his neglected former skills would hold up. How could he not have realized that such pastimes would be cherished in a place like Ramsey House? At least regarding backgammon I ought to be reprieved, he thought with a glance towards Mr. Winters, again clearing an unused board.

I will do my best, your lordship.” He said stalwartly and made his opening move.

Mr. Knightley was quick to make his play, and then he asked, “So through what means do we enjoy your society, Mr. Darcy?”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t be too taken aback, for what have we to talk of if not our individual maladies? Such topics might be taboo elsewhere, but here they are indispensible conversation points. Here is my brief history, that you don’t feel put on the spot.” He smiled slightly at Mr. Darcy’s next move and began to ponder his own. “I am overworked and exhausted, or at least I was before finding myself here these past ten months. Now I suffer acute boredom. If I get any more rest, I shall truly go mad.” He moved a pawn, and continued, “My good wife sought the assistance of my good brother, who happens to be married to her equally good but far more meddling sister, and between the three of them they locked me up here for the best part of a year. It’s time I be gone.”

“Not me,” declared Lord Dunleigh, who sat in Darcy’s abandoned seat. “I have been here far longer than you John, and I am in no rush to leave. If I were left to my own devices again, I would just get in the way of Roger, my brother, and soon all the effort he has put into recovering my fortune will be just as wasted as Knightley labor.” He looked slightly ashamed, but also cavalier. “I’m better off remaining right where I am.”

“You have extensive lands, Mr. Darcy, I think.” Mr. Knightley said, continuing his offensive maneuvers.

“Yes. Pemberley is a large estate.”

“I have heard of it before. In whose hands to you trust it while here?”

“My cousin, Lord Matlock’s.”

“Then you have nothing to fear. Fitzwilliam already has too much to possibly require any more. Besides, is not his son your heir?” Darcy nodded to the Earl in affirmation. “I think your assets are in rather safe hands.”

“Is it common for relations to seize estates while their owners are ... indisposed? One hears of such things, of course, but I admit to thinking such accounts more sensational than common.”

“Such things do happen, though you are right – it is not common. Nevertheless, certain persons of influence have been pushing to codify into law the right of those, like us, find themselves incapable of handling their own affairs,” Mr. Knightley said, with a hint of bitterness in his voice. “It is a cause I should have liked to take up.”[2]

“You see Mr. Darcy,” said Lord Dunleigh, “we are all at cross purposes. Some wish to never leave, some cannot wait to break free. And others,” he inclined his head towards a young man, of dower countenance, reading a book in a nearby chair, “cannot make up their minds.”

“I know you speak of me, my lordship,” the man replied without looking up from his book, even turning a page as he spoke. “Do recall that you had the privilege to admit yourself into this august institution. Those of us who had no choice in the matter are entitled to more complex feelings on the subject.”

“Young Lotts over there is a sad case,” Lord Dunleigh said to Mr. Darcy, as if the young man had nothing to say for himself. “Disgraced at school, he returned home only to imbibe such astronomical quantities of liquor that his poor mother found him in a pool of his own sick, completely unconscious. It took three days to rouse him, and then he was sent to keep us company. You see how well he fulfills his obligations!” Mr. Lotts pushed his nose deeper into his volume, which Darcy noted with interest was a translation of Aeschylus.

“Over there,” Lord Dunleigh pointed towards another gentleman, “you have our most recognizable lunatic, quite what you’d expect. Parsimony drove Mr. Winters to Ramsey House, while I got here rather the opposite way. Ironic, is it not?

“What is he doing?” Darcy asked in an undertone.

“Dr. Wilson won’t allow him to count coins. It makes his mind too feverish, so he obsesses over the backgammon board instead. He used to have a tin of buttons he’d pour over, when the buttons of the other guests started disappearing, Dr. Wilson was forced to take it away.”

Mr. Winters looked up from his board with a startled look, and Darcy could see the pain still in his heart for the loss of his treasure. He had to look away, it affected him so.

“You shouldn’t mention it, Tom,” Mr. Knightley admonished.

“He’ll get over it,” was the cavalier reply, but when Mr. Darcy raised his eyes to the backgammon table once more, he saw the old man diligently setting it up once more.

The ladies returned, all chatting loudly. They gathered near the railing the looked down upon the floor below, and Darcy inquired what they were about.

“Mrs. Bennet has set them to some experiment or another, right out of a school room,” Lord Dunleigh said indulgently. “It keeps them busy.”

“The ladies have a difficult time of it,” Mr. Knightley continued, “not being allowed their needlework, though I think Mrs. Bennet is trying to convince the doctor to be more indulgent on that point.”

“They are denied their work?” Mr. Darcy asked with some surprise.

“Are not you?” Knightley returned. “Nothing that might be fashioned into any sort of weapon, even an ineffectual one, is indulged at Ramsey House. Check mate.”

“Well done, Mr. Knightley!” Mr. Darcy declared.

“You are a skilled opponent. Let us play again,” Mr. Knightley began resetting the board, and with an urgency that allowed Mr. Darcy, for the first time, to observe any sign of disorder in him.

“Damn it, Darcy,” said Lord Dunleigh. “I thought you were to be my ally? Now I shall never get to play John again.”

“I will readily restore you to your seat, my lordship. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go see what it is the ladies are working on,” he stole a quick glance at Elizabeth, who was helping Miss Whitten tie a thin strand of thread to a waxed square of fabric. “I used to have quite an interest in such things, as a lad.”

“But we have yet to hear your history, Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Knightley looked up at him from the renewed chest board. “Surely you might indulge us after hearing so many of ours, though I did notice my friend here told you about half the room without leave, but never himself.”

“Pshaw, John! As if I care a lick who knows!” His lordship stared Darcy steadily in the eye. “I am a gamester and drunk, Mr. Darcy. My recklessness has brought shame and hardship upon all my associates. The best thing I ever did for anyone was go mad. I feel no shame in it, but rather pride.” He bowed to emphasize his point, and the sudden conviction that he really was amongst mad people chilled Darcy's blood to his core.

“And you, Mr. Darcy?” Mr. Knightley prompted, making an opening move in the new game.

He felt put upon the spot, but having heard such recitations from his two companions, he thought it chicken-hearted to not reciprocate.  “I am a recluse and eccentric. My family, finally sick of me,” he laughed grimly, “urged me to seek help from Dr. Wilson.” He looked at his new companions – his fellow guests – and saw they expected more. Somewhat ashamed that he held so much back, Mr. Darcy continued. “Dr. Wilson, thrust into my path though he was, made me hope for the first time that I might find some real that my ... abnormalities … might be resolved. Knowing that you, Mr. Knightly, prepare to depart encourages that hope.” He caught Lord Dunfield’s eye. “I do not intend to be a permanent guest,” he said meaningfully, but he questioned the veracity of his words when Elizabeth’s laughter caught his ear, its magnificence echoing across the lounge. He could not help but turn in its direction.

“You’d be surprised how well one can adapt to the life,” Lord Dunfield replied, following Darcy’s gaze towards the matron. “Ramsey House affords excellent company,” he tilted his head in Mrs. Bennet’s direction.

Darcy snapped his eyes back towards his lordship’s, searching for the meaning behind such words, but instead he found laughter.

“Whatever happened to the unreadable Darcy countenance of old? You are an entire riot of emotions now and have been since your arrival! Most are, but you surely are a changed man from when we last met. I’d lay odds you thinking about doing something dreadful to my pour countenance,” he preened.

It was true, much to Darcy’s increasing irritation. What did the man mean by making such insinuations about Elizabeth? And were they even insinuations? His head began to swim wit familiar turmoil: the sensation of his ancestry clawing with their decaying fingernails at his skull, as if they could rake the failure and ineptitude away. He clutched his temples and stumbled forward, nearly oversetting the chess table.

“Steady, Mr. Darcy!” Mr. Knightley called, rising to stabilize both table and opponent.

Mr. Darcy looked towards this man he just met with the eyes of a repentant school boy  and said, “Last year on my estate there was a fire. Several cottages burned down, and three of my tenants died. A man against whom I have long bourn a grudge was accused of arson, and in a fit of madness I threw him screaming into the flames.” He pushed away and stood on his own, turning to face the room, all its inhabitants watching him, and addressed them all. “Had my family not intervened, or had the man perished, I would have probably have hung as a murderer.” He hung his head dejectedly until he felt a hand grasp his. Looing up, he was Elizabeth before him, her lips, slightly agape, seeming to reach towards him in comfort as tears welling in her compassionate eyes. Their sparkle in the sunlight was almost blinding, but Mr. Darcy would have gladly given his eyes for such a glorious vision. His hand tightened around hers and current shot through his arm, electrifying his soul.

“We will help you, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “The past is behind you, and we have only the future to address. Let it go.” With her other hand, she covered the one he already grasped, and it took every ounce of his willpower to not raise the small mountain of fingers to his lips.

[1] Rhubarb, valued for its purgative properties was, consumed in massive quantities in 19th century mental asylums.
[2] This was a time of rapid legislation effecting the insane, much of it an attempt to reform the Madhouses Act of 1774, until the Madhouse Act of 1828 instituted more difficult requirements for inmate admission and subjected private asylums to inspection. It was repealed and replaced by the similar Care and Treatment of Insane Persons Act of 1832, ushering in an era of reform and philanthropic interest, culminating in the Lunacy Act of 1845, which ruled mental health law throughout the Victorian era.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Eleven

Jane, Elizabeth, and Maria Lucas set out together from London for Hertfordshire. As they drew near the appointed inn where Mr. Bennet's carriage was to meet them, they quickly perceived, in token of the coachman's punctuality, both Kitty and Lydia looking out of a dining room upstairs. These two girls had been above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard, and dressing a salad and cucumber.

Elizabeth was not inclined to greet the spectacle of her sisters raptures with favor. Mr. Darcy's rebukes of her family still echoed in her mind, and here was a prime example of their indiscretion.

"And we mean to treat you all," Lydia gushed, "and you best be thankful you needn't lend us the money, for we almost just spent ours at the shop out there. I saw the most hideous bonnet and thought I might as well buy it as not, but Kitty said I oughtn't."

"Then Kitty has our sincerest gratitude for the fine repast," Jane replied on behalf of all, and surveyed the table of cold meat with true gratitude, even though it was only such fare as an inn larder usual affords.

"Yes, I think we can all be grateful for Lydia's forbearance and those who insured it," said Elizabeth dryly. "It would be dreadful to be subjected to spectacle of an ugly bonnet."

"I was going to pull it to pull it to pieces as soon as I got home, for surely I could make it up better."

"An industrious use of your time and money."

"It will not much signify what one wears this summer," Kitty eagerly put in, "as the militia are to leave Meryton."

"Are they indeed?" cried Elizabeth, taking her seat with the greatest satisfaction.  The waiter was told that he need not stay.

"He is an ugly fellow!" Lydia irritably declared behind him. "I never saw such a long chin in my life. I am glad he is gone., Lizzy, for now we can speak openly, and I can tell you why you needn't be so happy about the militia's departure! Life will be terribly dull once they go, and you sound just like Mama!"

"I do?" came the incredulous reply.

"Yes. She thinks their departure the greatest of things. They are going to be encamped near Brighton."

"Excellent! I am pleased she should be so reasonable."

"Lizzy!" Lydia cried.  "And I had so hoped you would persuade Papa to take us all there for the summer!"

"Oh yes! That would be a delightful scheme, indeed, and completely do for us at once. Good Heaven! Brighton, and a whole camp full of soldiers, to us, who have been overset already by one poor regiment of militia, and the monthly balls of Meryton!"

Lydia did not fully comprehend her sister's wit. "You needn't take such a tone. I told you Mamma will have none of it. She is so unreasonable these days. It would be such a delicious scheme, and I dare say would hardly cost anything at all, but she forbid me to mention it," Lydia concluded with a pout. 

"She did?" again incredulous.

"She has been beastly ever since the carriage accident."

"I was told she was not seriously hurt!" exclaimed Jane.

"Mr. Jones says she's perfectly hale, but she has been behaving differently lately," Kitty explained. "I like Mama this way."

"You would!" Lydia mocked. 

"How is Mama changed other than in  her approval of the militia?" Elizabeth inquired.

"She is never any fun anymore. Always declaring what I may and may not do, and turning on everything she once approved. I never thought I'd see the day she'd prefer Mr. Darcy to Wickham, but here we are! One never knows what to expect from her anymore."

"She spends a great deal more time with us than usual," Kitty eagerly offered. "We've had lovely long walks, and she's reading aloud to us while we work."

"She is?" Elizabeth felt she was in a loop of incredulity.

"That has been rather fun, "Lydia concurred. "She's reading Cecilia to us now, and we just finished Udolpho."

Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other. "But reading makes my mother's head ache," the former meekly protested.

"Not anymore," replied Kitty. "She's declared all needlework worthless, and her fingers impossible, after making a muck of the fringe Mary tried to teach her."

"My mother embroiders beautifully," said Jane, yet more meekly.

"Not anymore," Lydia affirmed emphatically, "She says there is nothing to do but read. Of course, she also said she had never read Cecilia before, when Mary just read it to us again last fall."

Elizabeth shook her head. trying to clear a path through her confusion. "And what has this to do with Mr. Darcy?"

"She said Mr. Wickham damaged your opinion of Mr. Darcy, and that you were lucky to escape his clutches before he wrought more harm.," Kitty eagerly supplied. "You see, Miss King broke off her engagement to Mr. Wickham, which is what we so wanted to tell you, and she has removed to her uncle's in Liverpool. Mama believes Miss King is well rid of him, as there must be a g00d reason for her to act so, and she  has forbidden us to speak to him anymore."

Elizabeth was all astonishment and knew not what to say but "Brava!"

"I hope there is no strong attachment on either side," said Jane.

"I am sure there is not on his. I will answer for it he never cared three straws about her. Who could about such a nasty little freckled thing?" 

Elizabeth noted as Kitty hung her head in embarrassment at Lydia's words with surprise., supplying: "It was a connection imprudent as to fortune."

"That must be why Mama was so vexed you thought so ill of Mr. Darcy, Lizzy, for he is far richer than poor Wickham, no matter how disagreeable, but still I did not think you would be so indifferent to Wickham being safe!" Lydia complained between bites of food. "Mama is being most unfair!"

"Mr. Darcy was a guest of Rosings Park at Easter, and we saw him very often," Maria supplied.

Elizabeth groped for the sense in the conversation. "And what does my father have to say of such a change in my mother's behavior?" 

"Not very much, though he seems rather amused by it. I believe he approves," Kitty replied.

"Perhaps we ought to consult a doctor," Jane said, worry on her brow. 

"La! She is not ill at all. She has barely kept to her bed in two weeks, and no longer needs draughts all the time. "

"Indeed? Well, I suppose we shall have to witness this transformation ourselves in order to believe it, for it seems most unlikely!" Elizabeth turned her attention to her food, her brain in too great a whirl to attend as her sisters chattered on.  Mrs. Bennet prefer Mr. Darcy to Wickham, let alone show such penetration of the man she actively sought to snub and offend the previous fall! What could cause such a turn around, and what would she say if she were to learn of his rejected proposal?

Read Chapter Twelve