Chapter 3 Books and Libraries
Darcy was working in his study at his desk when the post arrived. Two weeks ago, anticipation would have made it impossible for him to remain seated, but weeks of disappointment had dulled his sense of hope. By his calculations, he knew it was highly unlikely that he would receive the letter that he sought. Too much time had passed. He cursed himself for setting into motion a plan that made him his own jailer. He had written to her because he needed to do so and he did not regret a word. If anything, he wished he had said more. It was not his letter that kept him awake for countless sleepless nights, it was his too clever idea of leaving her an envelope to write him back. At the time, it seemed the right balance between forwardness and reserve to gauge her reaction to his overture. If she wrote back, then he would know there was some slight hope and he would attempt to forge a relationship with her through cautious steps. If she decided not to write, then he would respect her decision and never bother her again. He would avoid Hertfordshire, even to the point of missing Bingley's wedding. After Bingley and Miss Bennet were married, he would see them only when they were in London, where he could be certain that his company would not be forced unwillingly upon Elizabeth. What he did not take into account was the uncertainty implicit in his plan. He was willing to accept Elizabeth's rejection as final, but only if he was certain that she had consciously decided not to write. But how could he actually know? He was unsure whether she had even found his letter, let alone the envelope addressed to him. Even if she had discovered both, he had never explicitly told her that he would welcome a continuing connection between them. Or maybe he had said too much. She might be apprehensive as to what it would signify if she wrote back. Consequently, her silence could mean any number of things and he was left to puzzle it without any hope of coming to a conclusion.
As the days passed, he alternated between believing that the delay was because Elizabeth had not yet found the concealed communications to thinking the worse. If that were not bad enough, he could not see a way to end his uncertainty. Darcy had vowed not to approach her until he received some sort of encouragement and he could not abandon his resolve simply because the wait might stretch on forever. Perhaps if he had not included a means for her to contact him, he could initiate an accidental reunion, but if she had already found his envelope and was purposefully trying to avoid him, his appearance would seem, at best, domineering and, at worse, pathetic. His pride may have caused his downfall, but he could not abandon his dignity completely. Even if he did arrange for their paths to cross, what would he do? Inquire if she had found his highly improper missive and then ask if she was avoiding any further interaction with him because, despite knowing the truth about Mr. Wickham, she still hated him or was she simply not sufficiently curious to flout propriety and pen a reply? No, he would wait in London, afraid that if he left for Pemberley, her letter would arrive and needlessly prolong his purgatory while it was forwarded. Every night he asked himself how much longer he would wait. So far, he was always willing to remain at least one more day.
As he saw the letter with his name written upon it in his own hand, his heart began to beat faster. He discarded the other correspondence and bought her letter to his desk. Despite weeks of impatience, he delayed opening it for a minute. He felt the enormity of the moment and briefly tried to understand how he gotten to a place where the contents of one letter could dictate his fate.Mr. Darcy,
I was initially unsure if I should write. It is, of course, improper and, despite what I assume to be the significance of you having left your address for me to find, a small part of me cannot help but believe that the impulse that moved you to do so might later be regretted. I do not mean to imply that you did not draft your very gracious letter with sincere intent. It is more that there seemed a certain degree of ambivalence in the manner that you posted it, since by its very nature, it left a great deal to chance. I wondered if you might have hoped both that I would find it and that I would not. I mean no disrespect. It is just that I have never been in such a situation before and, despite having previously sent you an unrequested letter, I am somewhat anxious about initiating contact in case it is unwelcome. After some of the things that I said to you in Kent, it would seem more likely that you would never want to hear my name again, let alone receive a letter from me. But that does not quite explain the envelope and I also realize that your method of delivery could just as likely be borne from the need for secrecy, although that necessity only emphasizes how ill advised our behavior might be considered.
Whatever prompted you to write, I must also mention how surprised I am that you felt confident in assuming that I would, in fact, discover the letter or the envelope. You should know that it did not immediately occur to me to look at the bookplate. Was it your intention to point me in that direction by sending me a different book? Because it was my confusion over the book that motivated me to examine the entire volume more closely. Perhaps I am just being vain and loath to admit that that my behavior is easier to forecast than I would have previously thought, since your plan did in fact succeed in its particulars. Perhaps I am disinclined to accept the fact that you could so accurately predict my behavior, because I know I never could have predicted yours. To have written in such a manner seems more than out of character, but perhaps that is the point. I do not truly know your character --although your previous two letters have given me more insight into it, than our acquaintance of many months had achieved. In the end, I was persuaded to write by the thought that if you were curious enough to contact me, albeit indirectly, about such an unconnected matter as my reading habits, then you certainly would be actively wondering if your letter had been found and anticipating a reply. Because Mr. Bingley indicated that you had no specific plans to return to Hertfordshire, I felt I should respond to you through the medium that I assume you intended.
Having explained why I am writing, I suppose I should also clarify the timing of my letter. I did not receive your book until almost three weeks ago. Mr. Bingley, being otherwise occupied with events commanding his attention since his return to the neighborhood, did not deliver it until then. It then took me until after I had read it thoroughly to examine the back cover.
As I mentioned, the presence of your letter and the envelope more than surprised me, but no more than the letter's contents. Your supposition as to why I had that particular book with me at Hunsford was correct on all scores. Once again, you seem to have fathomed my actions better than I would have anticipated. I was indeed familiar with the book's verse when I took it to Kent and was seeking an opportunity to reread it. I felt that I had never given its contents sufficient attention and hoped to remedy the situation. I had just finished reading it again when I sent it to you. I am pleased that you enjoyed it as much as I did, although I must be honest. When I used it to deliver my letter, there was no intent in its selection. The plan to contact you occurred to me with little time to reflect on its repercussions in almost any regard let alone as to my choice of literature. My only concerned was as to your reaction to my decision to contact you and what I wrote. As to that, I would be remiss in not specifically thanking you for the gracious tone of your letter in response. It would have been well within your right to have ignored me, despised me, or received me in a far less generous spirit, given our past disagreements and my intemperate words. I thank you for your civility.
I wonder if I should also extend my gratitude for your friend's recent return to Hertfordshire. I suspect I do, since you asked him to deliver your book to me. I believe, though, that you would prefer me not to dwell on the details of his return other than to rejoice in the happy conclusion of the affair and as to that, I assure you I am most pleased at my sister and Mr. Bingley's newfound contentment.
As to the book you sent, I found it quite compelling. Despite what I may have led you to believe, I do enjoy poetry. I simply vehemently dislike bad poetry. While a novel can be poorly written and still superficially entertain, bad verse can have no redeeming qualifications. In any regard, in retrospect, I am surprised you took my assertion about the efficacy of poetry at face value. I thought you yourself had once observed that I take great joy in professing opinions that are not my own. Perhaps it is best to take all my sweeping observations with a grain of salt. It might lead to less mischief. The poetry you provided, however, was beyond reproach. I had heard of the author by reputation and had hoped to obtain the volume, but it is not the sort of work my father would actively acquire and I doubt I would have come across a copy in Meryton anytime soon. Consequently, I am in your debt for the opportunity. My father's library unsurprisingly reflects his tastes, which often runs to satire. William Gillford, Bernard de Mandeville, Thomas Moore, and Voltaire are among his favorites, but above all else, my father loves the Greek classics. His books are his companions and he reads them as one would entertain an old and trusted friend. From his devotion, I have developed a deep respect for the works of the ancients, but my tastes run to more current works, although my access to such authors are at a distance more removed. My Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, who my sister Jane resided with this last winter in Cheapside, are avid collectors, each with a diverse and distinct taste in literature that I have come to value and rely upon. They maintain an ever-expanding library that I am lucky enough to use whenever I visit. It is through their interest, that I have developed an inclination towards poetry and the type of literature that approaches the world from a less satirical point of view than my father favors. The book you sent me is exactly the sort of poetry that I would hope to find in their collection and I thank you for the thought that went into its selection. I think I once told you that we were unlikely to read the same books or to do so with the same feeling. I must add this to the list of misconceptions that I have unfairly held against you. Thank you for opportunity to realize my mistake. I would not wish to have left our acquaintance in the state of acrimony we fostered in Kent. It would remain a difficult and troubling memory. For me, this odd but engaging correspondence has served to erase some of the more painful details of our interactions. I hope the same can be said for you.
Darcy finally set the letter aside only after he had read it several times. His initial elation was now slightly tinged with concern. In many respects, her letter was more encouraging than he could have hoped. An hour ago, he would have been satisfied with the fact that she had written at all, regardless of its contents. But it was not her letter that troubled him; he would cherish each kind word. It was the daunting task of determining what his response should be. He knew he would have to think carefully before he decided on a course of action. His initial reaction was to mount his horse and seek her out, but he knew that his rashness had cost him, in part, his chance to win her in the first place. He would not commit that mistake twice. He read the letter again, attempting to put aside the euphoria he felt at any passage that contained even the slightest hint of a compliment to his character or a waning of her disapprobation. He would continue to reread it until he could do so without emotion, for only then would he be able to determine rationally what her letter actually implied about her present opinion of him. Once he accomplished that task, he would begin to consider his next move.
* * * *
Elizabeth entered Netherfield with the female members of her family, dreading the impropriety that her mother would surely soon exhibit. They were there to discuss wedding plans with Mr. Bingley and his sisters, but Elizabeth knew her mother had an additional agenda. Mrs. Bennet had spent the previous week and a half complaining about Jane's decision to make only the most minor alterations to Netherfield. To her mother's thinking, the fact that there were funds available to make widespread modifications was reason enough to undertake them. Mrs. Bennet planned to see for herself what needed to be done. If Jane was still unwilling to properly follow her mother's advice, then she would broach the subject directly with Mr. Bingley. In Mrs. Bennet's estimation, Jane simply did not comprehend what was due her and it was a mother duty to see that it was provided.
As they began yet another expedition through the house, Elizabeth could not help but drift into memories of her last tour and the book Mr. Bingley had given her at its conclusion. Since she had written Mr. Darcy again, she could not quite get the subject out of her mind. She knew that their correspondence was at an end, but wondered how it would effect the manner they would greet each other when they eventually met because of Jane's marriage. Elizabeth questioned why such a thought should preoccupy her mind. There was no guarantee that she would ever see him again, so why fret over its occurrence -- and was it concern she felt or something else?
She knew that some of her interest had to be attributable to the fact that all of their interactions had occurred in secret. If anyone in the room, other than Jane, actually knew that Mr. Darcy had proposed to her and then that they had engaged in a clandestine correspondence after she refused him, she could not predict the uproar it would ignite. But as much as that thought entertained, there was more to it than that. She felt she was privy to having seen a secret side of Mr. Darcy and she did not know what to do with the image. Her previous opinion of him, as well as all of Meryton's, was now at odds with what she now knew of his character and not just because of Mr. Wickham's lies. She could no longer brush aside his clumsy but fervent declaration that the intensity of his regard had moved him to seek her hand against his family's wishes or the thought that he was sufficiently preoccupied with her refusal to puzzle over the import of her sending him a particular volume of poetry. Nor could she dismiss his willingness to write her without rancor and the tone of his letters, which revealed him to be far more compassionate than she would have ever imagined. She wondered which version of Mr. Darcy demonstrated his real disposition, because no matter how engaging his last letter was, she could not completely forget his previous interactions in Hertfordshire either. Instead, she needed to blend the two versions of him into a new estimation of his character. The result was a complicated blur in her mind. Despite this lack of clarity, her newfound intelligence seemed so startling and important, that it felt exceedingly peculiar that the realization should come too late to have any actual consequence.
When they entered the library, Elizabeth's thoughts were interrupted by her mother's loud voice. "Mr. Bingley, what a lovely room this is in layout and orientation. It is a pity, though, that the bookshelves take up so much space. It would otherwise make a rather nice music room. If you were to remove the shelves, there would be more space to entertain. Why you could even hold small dance parties in here! The ballroom is more than adequate for larger affairs, but I think you may find that you will also want to host smaller family parties with your circle of acquaintances. That sort of event would be most beneficial to Jane's sisters and this room would certainly make a charming space to dance. After all, you cannot have a party without some dancing. Do you not agree Jane?"
Bowing her head demurely, Jane replied, "Mother, I think this room is lovely as it is. It is to serve as a library and I assume that Mr. Bingley will want to keep it as it is."
Seeing his fiancee's discomfort, Bingley added in a jovial tone, "Yes, 'tis true. I think it is very important for an estate to have a library. Something that can be handed down to succeeding generations. I have been remiss in the past in the upkeep of my collection of books but given my upcoming nuptials, I think it should become something of a priority." Turning to Jane he added, "I was actually hoping to discuss this very subject with you later on, but seeing as it has come up now of its own accord, I should tell you that I received an engagement gift from Mr. Darcy. He sent several volumes for the library to move me along in the right direction. It is a very diverse group -- mostly newer authors that he said he could personally recommend. I was wondering as to your taste in literature. I want to be sure that our collection satisfies your needs as well." Indicating with his hand, he added, "This section of books were acquired by my father. This paltry showing encompasses my additions. These three shelves are the books that Mr. Darcy sent."
"I am sure that they will be more than adequate for my needs," Jane replied with another radiant smile. "It was very thoughtful of Mr. Darcy to send these books. You must express my gratitude to him."
"Oh, yes," exclaimed Caroline, "It was most thoughtful of him to bother. Charles, you must send our compliments. He is such an authority on the subject. The library at Pemberley is beyond comparison."
"Books?" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet with a frown. "What an odd engagement gift. I am sure I have never heard of such a thing."
Elizabeth could not help but walk over to look at the titles Mr. Darcy had sent. "Miss Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy mentioned that some of the titles might be of interest to you as well. He said that he thought you an avid reader. I hope you know that my library is always open to you. Come whenever you wish."
"That is very generous, Mr. Bingley. I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness."
"Miss Elizabeth, I thought we had agreed you would call me Charles. I am to be your brother after all."
"Yes," smiled Elizabeth. "You are right. I will endeavor to do better to remember. In exchange, I may just test your brotherly generosity further and take you up on your offer to borrow a book or two."
"That would please me very much."
As Mrs. Bennet attempted to turn the conversation once more towards renovation, Elizabeth bent to examine Mr. Darcy's collection. She had the oddest feeling as she reviewed the titles. They were all impeccably chosen and each volume was either a favorite of hers or one that she had hoped to find at her Aunt and Uncle's home. Her heart started to race as she began to suspect that these books were sent more for her benefit than for Mr. Bingley's. Could Mr. Darcy really have remembered from her letter that she did not have easy access to newer titles and then gone to the trouble of making the more appealing volumes available to her. Was she vain to even think it? It otherwise seemed too much of a coincidence. For once, she had to agree with her mother. Books were not a typical engagement gift. She wanted nothing more than for everyone to leave so she could examine the bookplate of each book. Was Mr. Darcy attempting to contact her again? Did she want him to? She knew one thing for sure. She needed to find out.
Elizabeth awoke the next day with a single-mindedness of purpose. She could not bear the suspense any longer. She would go to Netherfield to check the books for a concealed letter. She no longer cared if it appeared forward or if Miss Bingley took note and ridiculed her presence. She could check the books while pretending to select one to read. If she found a concealed letter, she would borrow that book and remove it later.
Elizabeth had been at her avowed task with no success for twenty minutes when Mr. Bingley interrupted her progress. "Miss Elizabeth. Good day. How nice to see you. I was out riding and just told of your arrival. I hope you are finding everything you need."
"Mr. Bingley, -- Charles, yes, thank you. I thought I would take you up on your kind offer and borrow a book. I hope you do not mind."
"No, not at all. It is my most sincere wish that you feel at home here. My entire library is at your disposal." With an eager expression, he added, "Did Jane come with you as well?"
"No, she did not. I wanted to walk out first thing this morning and she had some tasks she needed to complete for our mother that unfortunately will occupy her entire morning. She asked, though, that I convey her regards. She hoped that she might see you later today."
"As do I. Tell her that I plan to come to call this afternoon. Although, perhaps I could go earlier, so that I could return you there in my carriage. I could leave whenever you are ready."
"Thank you, no. I do appreciate the offer, but Jane will not be available until after lunch and I would not want you to change your plans on my account. I am all but finished here and I had planned to walk back as well. I will enjoy the exercise. The weather has turned quite fine."
"Yes it has. But it would be no bother."
"No, that is very generous, but I truly would prefer to walk."
"If you are certain because I could also send the carriage with you now and then have it return later for my use." After seeing that she would not relent, he added, "I do hope that you have at least found something to read?"
"I have found so many things. It was difficult to choose just one. I must say, Mr. Darcy's gift was quite generous. Is he in the habit of sending you books? It is an odd choice, is it not?"
"Yes, I suppose in one regard it is rather surprising, but his generosity is not. It is his nature. He has always been like that. Nothing spared for his friends and family. If you will keep a secret, it is actually not his only gift. He has always chided me for my failure to keep up my library. The books are more a gift for me. He said that he could not let me enter into the state of matrimony will so little to offer Jane by way of literary contribution. For our real wedding gift, he has commissioned an artist to paint Jane and my portrait to mark the celebration of our wedding. He used his considerable influence to engage an artist that I could not hope to commission without waiting several years for a sitting. I am really quite in his debt. I am anxious to tell Jane about it this evening when we have a moment alone." After a pause, he asked, "Am I right to think that she will like the gift?"
Elizabeth hardly knew how to respond to this new intelligence. The books were generous, but a portrait seemed a particularly thoughtful gift. As she thought on it, she knew it was something she would cherish as well. Jane was so beautiful and to capture her likeness in the bloom of her happiness would make the portrait a treasured object for everyone that loved Jane and Charles. It was a very dear gift and one that clearly indicated that Mr. Darcy was more than pleased with Charles' choice of a bride. Elizabeth reached for Charles' hand, gave it a small squeeze, and said, "Yes, I am sure Jane will be delighted. She might be a little self-conscious at first with the sittings, but I know she will adore the results. Mr. Darcy is very wise. I do not think Jane would feel comfortable sitting alone. To have your likenesses taken as a couple will make her very happy indeed." She paused for a moment, with her brow furrowed. "Charles, may I ask you a question that might seem slightly odd? Are these all the books that Mr. Darcy sent?"
"Yes, they are. It seems more than I will ever have time to read. Do you think more are required?"
"No, not at all," Elizabeth exclaimed blushing slightly. "I was just looking for a specific title and wondered. But thank you anyway, you are quite right, the volumes he sent will give hours upon hours of pleasure. . . Charles, thank you again. I should be going. I will just take this one book, if you do not mind."
"Of course," Charles smiled easily, "be my guest."
As Elizabeth walked slowly home, her mind was a swirl of emotions. If she was honest, disappointment was foremost. After inspecting the titles and discussing Mr. Darcy's gifts with Mr. Bingley, she believed that the books were meant to be a gift to her as well. It was otherwise too much of a coincidence and Mr. Darcy had specifically told Charles that she might enjoy some of the titles. While she was grateful for his thoughtfulness, --for what could she enjoy more than having several dozen books she had been hoping to read available to her at such an easy distance \endash but she had expected more. As soon as she heard about the books, she had hoped to find a letter, and while the possibility was alive, it had given her a sense of excitement that was difficult to name. Her dashed expectations made her emotions clear. On some level, she was hoping for further contact with him and regretted that it was now clear it would not come to pass.
Mixed in with her disappointment, she felt something that she had to name as respect. She had to admit that all of Mr. Darcy's actions since Hunsford had impressed her. He had bothered to write her to reveal Mr. Wickham's true character when any other man would have shunned her. He had earned her forgiveness concerning Jane by correcting his mistake. His gift of Jane and Charles' portrait exhibited exactly the sort of attention to other people's pleasure that she secretly wished her father would exhibit, but never did. It was not the cost entailed, although she knew it was a generous gift, but rather the insight its selection showed. Through his correspondence, she had found him to be well read, discerning, and thoughtful. His actions were bold, and yet always appropriate, and he demonstrated a sensitivity to the awkward situation that they found themselves that she could not have imagined. He seemed to be able to read her with a clarity that she could not understand. And in the end, he had concluded their interactions with grace by sending a very generous, but more importantly, thoughtful gift that he manage to deliver without compromising her in any manner.
She had clearly been wrong to dismiss him as dishonorable, but she had not realized until now that he was more than just respectable, he was admirable. She had to laugh at the irony of realizing such a fact so late. Instead of being relieved that their acquaintance had ended better than she could have predicted, her pride was wounded and she felt rejected. She knew she had no right to such an emotion, since she was the one who had initially rejected him, but idea that their acquaintance was truly at an end engendered a sense of loss that startled her. She knew that she probably would eventually see him through Jane's connection with Mr. Bingley, but the vision of them engaged in stilted discourse, all the while being careful to act as indifferent strangers, gave little to comfort.
As she came to the turnstile at the edge of Netherfield, she found that a stranger was also about to cross. Bowing, he said, "Miss, please, after you." He then offered his hand to steady her ascent.
"Thank you, Sir," she said as she smiled at him with a nod. Once he navigated it himself, he asked, "Miss, if I might trouble you. I am working for Mr. Bingley. I am a steward staying at Netherfield and I was told that the Longbourn estate is situated across this field. You would not happen to be Miss Bennet, would you?"
"Yes, I am Elizabeth Bennet. But you must be confusing me with my older sister, Mr. Bingley's fiancee's, Miss Jane Bennet."
Executing another crisp bow, he replied, "It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bennet. I am indeed looking forward to meeting your sister as well. I have heard a great deal about her from Mr. Bingley."
Smiling, Elizabeth easily replied, "Yes, it is quite difficult to engage Mr. Bingley in many other topics."
"Yes, but it is always a pleasure to listen to a man who knows the source of his own felicity. Such a man is always an example to others, for the gratitude he expresses is a testament to his good fortune."
Smiling at his sincerity, Elizabeth asked, "You are new to the area, are you not? Did you recently take the position as steward?"
"The answer, Miss, is both yes and no. I am new to the area but I have been a steward my whole life, as was my father before me. I have worked for one family for many years now. I am presently working for Mr. Bingley, but I am not in his employ. I have actually come to Netherfield on a temporary basis at my Master's bidding to help train Mr. Bingley's permanent steward and to help him organize some of the estate's business. Mr. Bingley steward is a very capable man, but he has not served in such a capacity before. I am here to help show him the ropes. He is, in his own right, a very accomplished man and he already possesses the necessary attributes for such an occupation. He knows that a steward must do his Master's biding without question and always with discretion. It is the role of the steward to aid his Master in whatever manner available and to do so as discretely and unobtrusively as possible. A good steward must be trustworthy and loyal above all else."
He stopped to see if Elizabeth had taken in what he had said and then bowed. "May I introduce myself, Miss? James Cunningham, at your service. I was actually on my way to Netherfield to seek you out."
Elizabeth colored at the name and looked at him for a long moment, attempting to appraise his intent. He seemed forthright, and not overly familiar, despite having initiated this contact. When she studied him closer, looking for any sign of amusement at her expense, she found none. She finally spoke. "You said you have worked for one family for many years? Where is that?"
Cunningham looked her in the eye and said, "I spend most of my time on my Master's estate in Derbyshire. Before that I worked for my Master's uncle in Matlock."
"Derbyshire?" she asked in a shaken voice, "Do you work for Mr. Darcy then?"
"Yes, Miss, I do. He asked me to come to Hertfordshire for a while to help Mr. Bingley organize the estate before his wedding and to aid him in whatever other manner I could. Master Darcy suggested that while I am here I could also help Mr. Bingley expand his library. I brought several books with me towards that goal, but he encouraged me to be on the lookout for ways to continue to increase the collection. He actually suggested that I contact you in that regard, Miss Bennet. He thought that you might have some ideas on what books were lacking."
Elizabeth colored and attempted to summon the necessary affront for his presumption in seeking her out. The man was so earnest; it proved difficult. She knew he must know more than he was letting on. It was no coincidence that his name was the return address on the envelope that Mr. Darcy had left her, but his demur manner disarmed her of any anger or embarrassment towards him. Elizabeth could only ask, "Did he?"
"Yes, Miss, he did." Taking a volume from his inside coat pocket, he continued. "Mr. Darcy also suggested that I give you this book for your review. When you are finished with it, I will see that it is returned directly to Mr. Darcy. Similarly, if there was any particular book that you might wish to read that is not available to you, I could procure it for you and then, if it pleased you, add it to Mr. Bingley's collection."
As he handed the book to Elizabeth, he ignored the book she already held which he must have recognized from Mr. Bingley's library. She nodded her assent and said, "Thank you, Mr. Cunningham."
"Thank you, Miss," bowing, he added, "Until we meet again."
As he walked away, Elizabeth was glad for the support of the fence post behind her.
She waited until the privacy of her own room before she even looked at the title of the new book or its contents. Her emotions seemed to have gotten the better of her and she felt completely unsettled. The previous disappointment she had felt when she thought that she had heard from Mr. Darcy for the last time was now replaced with a sense of relief and, if she was honest, baited anticipation. But those emotions were also tinged with foreboding. She was shaken by her encounter with Mr. Cunningham. Previously her correspondence with Mr. Darcy had seemed surreal and as a result, the total lack of propriety their continuing contact entailed seemed a distant concern. Now that someone else was involved, an actual living person, her concern had turned to burgeoning alarm. Mr. Cunningham himself was not the problem. He seemed as gentle and understanding as she could hope. It was what he represented. What had she gotten herself into and, more importantly, why? She reviewed the steps that had brought her here. She knew intuitively that each progression was natural and understandable when it was viewed in sequence, but the overall result --the fact that she was corresponding in secret with an unmarried man who was not her relation--did not.
Despite her concerns, she opened the book, looked at the date on the front bookplate, and peeled it back to find the letter she knew would be contained there.Miss Bennet,
I hope you can forgive my method of contacting you. I assure you that my steward is a completely trustworthy individual in whom I have the utmost confidence. I have absolute faith in him. I have had occasion in the past to trust Mr. Cunningham with my own life, the future of Pemberley, and my sister's security. I hope you know that I value you reputation in a similar regard and that I would not undertake to write you without complete assurance as to its protection.
In reading your last letter, I was struck by the sentiment you expressed that I might have been ambivalent about whether you ultimately found my letter because I had left its discovery to chance, or that I might later regret having sent it. I assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth. I never hoped for anything other than that you would discover it. I cannot explain why when I sent it I felt so very certain that you would discover it. At the time, it seemed so in your nature to question why I would return a different book that I knew you would inquire further as to the volume's contents. You said that one of the things that motivated you to write back was the recognition of my natural curiosity. I believe it is a trait we share and I suppose I depended upon yours taking precedent when I wrote to you in the manner I did. Nonetheless, your thoughts on the subject did make me see that there is a danger that someone else might inadvertently discover a future letter enclosed in a book if I entrusted its delivery to anyone else other than Mr. Cunningham. Consequently, I hope you will see that I have chosen to involve him out of caution, not in disregard of it.
You also said in your letter that you were unsure whether the envelope I provided signified an invitation to write back. I am very grateful that you understood that that was exactly its purpose. I was surprised to read that you wondered whether I would want to hear from you. Please be assured that I most certainly did. Any discomfort between us in the past was totally due to my own fault and folly. I hold you blameless and I was grateful that you could put aside my failings sufficiently to do me the honor of replying to my letter. If the manner I requested it seemed less than resolute, please know that it was only because I did not want to presume that I deserved a reply. On that note, I wish to make clear to you, at the risk of being both presumptuous and inappropriate, that I would welcome any contact from you at any time and if you should wish it to be so, Mr. Cunningham will be at your service.
I was interested to hear that your father preferred the classics and satire. Those were my own father's preferences as well and while I too appreciate such works of literature, they are not what I seek most to read. I think that it was a disappointment to my father that I could not esteem his favorite books as my own. I believe the newness of satire coincided and inflamed their generation's discontent with the ways in which society and politics had begun to stagnate and as a result, those authors hold a more particular interest to them than to their children. The turmoil that the continent is now experiencing, and as a result English society, began with the criticism innate in those satirical works and as such, their import cannot be underestimated. However, I think maybe you share my desire for authors who can propose solutions to change as well as identify the problems that require them. Some would find such works too earnest, but while I admire the wit entailed in satire, sometimes I seek an optimistic perspective to what man might achieve. Authors that illuminate the manner in which mankind fits within the natural world inspires my respect more. To that end, I have sent the somewhat controversial text of F. W. von Schelling's "System of Transcendental Idealism" for your perusal. I hope you do not think I am attempting to corrupt you. I know that ladies are not generally interested in political philosophy, but I thought in this regard, like in so many other ways, you might prove the exception to the rule. I am anxious to hear your thoughts. If, however, I have in fact misjudged your interest in this regard, I hope that some of the recent additions to Mr. Bingley library might be a good substitute.
I have tried to interest my sister Georgiana in political works, particularly treatises on government and their formations, but I think she is too young to develop a real appreciation for such reading. She has expressed, though, an inclination towards the accounts of military and naval battles, but I thought them too upsetting for her tender disposition. It is at times such as these that I feel particularly inept at my task as guardian. I find my instincts to protect her vying with my desire that she grow to understand fully the world she will soon inhabit as an adult. I cannot help but feel that our mother would know innately the best course in this regard. While I can obviously consult her governess or others in my employ, I am not as confident in their opinions or that they understand her in the same manner that a family member might. You have obviously been exposed to a wide variety of literature, at what I must assume was at a young age. Were your interests directed to certain types of study or were you allowed generally to follow your inclination? Do you think one course better than the other? I would value your opinion on the subject.
As to my sister, I find that I have left her overlong at Pemberley without my company. I have also too long neglected some of the demands of my estate. As a result, I am preparing to return there within the fortnight. London holds many attractions, but I find the comfort of country life overshadows it allure. The Derbyshire countryside this time of year is in the peak of its beauty --although I would be hard pressed to find a season when I do not find it beautiful. You stated in your letter that you often visit your aunt and uncle in London. They seem a most admirable couple and their literary interests compelling. Do you intend to visit them in the near future or are your plans for the remainder of the summer not yet fixed? Whatever your plans, please accept my best wishes for your felicity.
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