Authors: Elizabeth Aston
“I am going out alone. Go and fetch me a hackney cab, and don't you dare let my father get wind of what I am about.”
“A hackney cab? Go alone in a hackney cab? And where to, may I ask?”
“You may not.”
“It's more than my place is worth. Sir Giles would scalp me, and then turn me off without a reference. A fine thing that would be!”
“Oh, very well, you may come with me. Go and find a cab, and tell it to wait around the corner.”
Miniver pursed her lips. “It isn't right.”
Phoebe was not in the mood to put up with Miniver's moral disapproval. “It isn't for you to say what is or isn't right. I will be out in ten minutes, be there with the hackney cab.”
Miniver shut the door behind her with a bang discreet enough not to be noticed by other servants, and loud enough to express her disapproval. Phoebe sank down on the chintz-covered sofa. She closed her eyes, as if by doing so she could shut out the images flitting through her mind. She could remember last night with such startling clarity that the scene
might be taking place again there before her eyes. She had been at an informal party, given by the rich and amiable Mr. Portal. The season was not yet under way, but Phoebe had come early to town with her father, who had parliamentary business to attend to. Her mother was due to come up to London next week.
It was just such a party as Phoebe liked best. And her pleasure in the evening was capped by the arrival of Arthur Stanhope. She had been standing beside Mr. Portal, and laughing at one of his witty remarks, when she saw Arthur Stanhope standing at the door. Their eyes met, hers brimming with merriment, and his amused and alight with pleasure in seeing her.
They talked, as they had done ever since they first met, a conversation which, Phoebe felt, could go on for the rest of their lives and never grow boring. They went down to supper together, and then afterwards, her cousin Camilla persuaded her sister Alethea to play some dances for the company.
Oh, that exquisite moment when Mr. Stanhope took Phoebe aside and led her into a little alcove, quite deserted, and there took her into his arms, and in a voice quite unlike his usual calm tones, told her he loved her. His kiss, gentle, then growing more passionate, had wrapped Phoebe in a cloud of velvet delight, and when they drew apart to look into one another's eyes, she felt a joy such as she had never experienced.
As this scene replayed over and over in Phoebe's head, her feelings finally overwhelmed her, and she clenched her fists until the pain of her nails in her palms brought her to her senses.
She must hurry, surely Miniver had been gone ten minutes. She opened the door of her room, looking up and down the corridor to make sure she was unobserved, and then flew down the stairs to let herself out of the front door before the butler or a footman came hurrying to see what she wanted and enquire where she was going. A minute later, she was turning into the street which led out of the square, and there, at the end of the little street, stood a hackney cab, a fat jarvie sitting on the driver's box, and Miniver leaning out and gesturing to her to hurry.
The cabman leaned back to ask where they wanted to go, and Phoebe, panic-stricken, remembered that she did not have Mr. Stanhope's exact address. He lived in Melbury Street, that was all she knew. Well, she would tell the man to go to Melbury Street, and once there, someone, a servant or a deliveryman, would know which was Mr. Stanhope's house.
It wasn't far, and as the hackney carriage rounded the
corner, the driver pulled up and asked which number she was wanting. Phoebe was about to ask Miniver to get out and make enquiries, when she saw a door open a few houses down. A tall, familiar figure came down the steps of number 19. Mr. Stanhope. Phoebe rose, and was ready to jump down when she saw the man turn round and speak to someone hidden from sight. She shrank back, all too aware of how improper it was for her to be making a call on a man. Who was he talking to? A servant? In a minute, the door would shut, and he would come down the street. An accidental meeting, that was much better, not the severest critic could find fault with that.
A carriage was coming down the street from the other end, and to Phoebe's dismay, it drew up outside number 19. It was an elegant equipage, a lady's carriage, she would have said. And even as this thought entered her head, a woman came out of Mr. Stanhope's house. She had an exquisite figure, and walked down the steps with a light gracefulness which Phoebe could not but envy. The woman was wearing a veil, but Phoebe didn't need to see her face to recognise the notorious Mrs. Vereker.
Mr. Stanhope took both Mrs. Vereker's hands, and raised first one and then the other to his lips in a gesture of affection and finesse that caused Phoebe's throat to constrict with anguish. He handed Mrs. Vereker into the open carriage, and as it drew away, she blew him a kiss. He watched the carriage out of sight, and then went back up the steps and into the house. The door closed behind him.
Phoebe sank back into the scruffy seat, and Miniver, alarmed, banged on the roof, calling to the man to take them back directly to Aubrey Square.
“And that'll cost you a second shilling,” he muttered as he backed his horse to turn round. “Counts as two journeys, and why bother, that's what I want to know?”
Phoebe's mother reached London two days later, and Sir Giles lost no time in telling her what had happened. “She's taken it badly, won't say a word to me, treats me as though I were an ogre, won't go out. It's to be hoped you can talk some sense into her. She's pining, I dare say, as young ladies will when they fancy themselves in love. It's good for a girl to have an unhappy time in love now and again. It satisfies the romantic side of their nature. You'll be able to deal with her, you'll know just what to say.”
Lady Hawkins forbore from telling her husband that he was a fool. She saw that her daughter had been deeply hurt by what had happened, and also, sadly, that the relationship between Phoebe and her father had changed, perhaps for good. Phoebe, in the very short time that she had been apart from her mother, had shed the last of her girlhood and seemed older and more reserved. Certainly the zest had gone out of her life, and it was Lady Hawkins's opinion that she would not get over Mr. Stanhope as quickly and easily as her father predicted.
Phoebe would not discuss it with her mother. No, she didn't care anything for Mr. Stanhope, her father was quite right, she could not be happy married to a rake. No, she didn't want to go out, thank you, not shopping, not to any party, Mama would make her excuses, she could say she had a slight cold and was staying indoors. And when Lady Hawkins tried to make her change her mind, Phoebe turned on her with what
was almost savagery, begging to be left alone, and saying that she wasn't at present fit for any human company.
What was to be done? In her own mind there was no question of Phoebe launching into the busy social life of the season, not if she were to be in this state. Sir Giles said that as soon as the balls and parties and picnics and routs started, she would forget about this whole affair, and enjoy herself just as she had done the previous year; Lady Hawkins thought otherwise. Apart from anything else, Phoebe was far from in her best looks, and with that and a listlessness that was not natural to her, she was unlikely to have a successful or enjoyable time. The London season was ruthless, and the mothers of her fellow debutantes would be quick to notice that something was amiss, rumours would spread, and Phoebe would become even more unhappy.
Lady Hawkins, wiser in the ways of the world than her husband, also had a suspicion that the attachment between her daughter and Mr. Stanhope might have been noticed. She held to the old adage that love cannot be hid, and she suspected that Phoebe had made no secret of her liking for Mr. Stanhope. There would be gossip, and to a girl with Phoebe's pride, it would wound. She was coming to the conclusion that it would be better for Phoebe to leave town. If she were not there, new gossip and new scandal would quickly take the place of any stories about her and Mr. Stanhope.
Lady Hawkins did not know the Stanhopes as well as her husband did, but she took his word for it that the match was a wholly unsuitable one, and indeed the last thing she wanted was to see Phoebe married to a rake or a philanderer. And since Phoebe apparently felt the same, they would have to let time do its work and heal her daughter's hurt.
In the end, with some trepidation, she broached the mat
ter with Phoebe, whose response was immediate and adamant. She did not want to do another London season, she would prefer to go home to Hawkins Hall.
That presented a problem. Sir Giles had planned that, while he and Lady Hawkins and Phoebe were in London for the season, the younger girls would be taken to a seaside resort by their governess, to enjoy the sea air and the benefits of sea bathing, while he had some essential works carried out at the house. It was already arranged and the workmen would be moving in within the next week or so. Of course, Phoebe could accompany her younger sisters and the governess to Ramsgate, but it was a resort which Phoebe much disliked, and when the family physician, Dr. Molloy, was consulted, he said that the seaside would not be beneficial for her.
Phoebe had flatly refused to see Dr. Molloy, saying with truth that there was nothing wrong with her health.
“I would not recommend the waters at Bath or Harrogate, either,” he said when Lady Hawkins summoned him for a private talk. “Not for one of her years. From what you tell me, and from my knowledge of Miss Hawkins's constitution and temperament, her complaint lies rather in the mental than physical region. Country air and familiar surroundings would be best for her at this time.”
It was Phoebe's cousin Camilla who came up with the obvious solution. Why should not Phoebe go to Pemberley? Camilla Wytton was a Darcy by birth, and had grown up at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's seat in Derbyshire. Phoebe loved Pemberley, where she had spent many happy times with her numerous cousins all through her childhood. It would be quiet, but there would be some company for her in the form of Lady Mordaunt's governess, as her two boys, together with the young daughters of Camilla's elder sister Letitia, were to
spend the summer there. They would be in the charge of this Miss Verney, apparently an excellent young woman, if French, so that Phoebe would not be alone. She could walk and ride, and some of the neighbouring families would be bound to be fixed in the country.
Camilla was concerned about Phoebe, and she had a fair idea of the cause of her cousin's disinclination to stay in London. She had the notion of talking it over with her father, Mr. Darcy, and reported back to Lady Hawkins. “My father is having work put in hand at Pemberley, in the gardens and park; he has a dream of a new landscape there, complete with splendid glasshouses. I dare say he has been reading Mr. Coleridge's poem, and plans a new Xanadu, with a stately pleasure dome to rival that of Kublai Khan, I must say I am wild to see it all when it is all done. However, that need not bother Phoebe. He is very glad for Phoebe to look after all the arrangements for the summer ball he and Mama are holding at Pemberley in June,” she went on. “No, do not look so doubtful. I know no one more capable than Phoebe, and it will keep her extremely well-occupied. Any ball at Pemberley will be delightful, Aunt, as you know better than anyone, but I have a feeling that Phoebe will add some special touches that will make it a more than usually splendid affair.”
So Lady Hawkins in her turn visited her brother, Mr. Darcy, who was on the point of departing on yet another one of his foreign trips, and he assured her that he would indeed be delighted for Phoebe to stay at Pemberley and manage the ball. His steward and housekeeper would be there to give guidance and advice, and his secretary, the admirable Mr. Tetbury, would not be accompanying him abroad, would be in London, and could be consulted by letter when necessary.
Phoebe was relieved rather than pleased when her mother
said she might go to Pemberley. She would even have gone to Ramsgate in order to get away from London, and as soon as the visit to Derbyshire was agreed, her eagerness to leave town increased.
The news brought ecstatic happiness to another member of the family. Her next sister, Sarah, was to have been one of the seaside party; although she was already eighteen. Lady Hawkins had wished Phoebe to have another season to herself before she brought Sarah to London for her come-out. In the circumstances, it made perfect sense for Sarah to do a London season, in Phoebe's place.
Lady Hawkins planned to travel back to Hawkins Hall with her daughter. From there, Phoebe would make the journey to Pemberley, and then Lady Hawkins would return to London with Sarah. Meanwhile, wise in the ways of the world, she made sure that Phoebe, albeit reluctantly, attended one or two small, private partiesâalthough she had taken great care to ascertain beforehand that there was no chance of Mr. Stanhope being among those present. Those who saw Phoebe noticed and commented upon how pale and pulled she looked, and Lady Hawkins was at pains to talk in quiet tones of a tiring, persistent sore throat which afflicted her daughter and the benefits country air would do for this entirely imaginary complaint.
“That should quell some of the gossip,” she said to her husband.
Two days later, Lady Hawkins and Phoebe, with Miniver in attendance, left a still-grey and wet London to make the journey to Hawkins Hall, which was situated in Warwickshire. Phoebe's spirits were as dreary as the weather, and as the carriage rattled out of Aubrey Square, she felt as though she were leaving part of herself behind.
Louisa Bingley was always pleased to receive a letter from her cousin Camilla. The one she held in her hand had arrived from London that morning, and she sat reading it in the old drawing-room of her parents' house in Derbyshire. This was one of the original rooms of the house, not much used by the family now, since a new wing with a large drawing-room had been added to the house some years before. The cosy, panelled room was a favourite place of Louisa's, and had gradually become thought of as her own private sitting room.
Louisa should have been upstairs in her bedchamber, advising Betsy, once her nurse but now her maid, about which of her clothes to pack up to take to London. Louisa was about to embark on her fourth season, a fact which was astonishing to most people who knew her, since Louisa had inherited all her mother's beauty, besides also sharing her good nature and her kind ways. Like Phoebe Hawkins, a connection by marriage, she did not lack for suitors, but she had simply never met a man that she particularly cared for. She resigned herself, quite cheerfully, to a single future. She would be an aunt to her nieces and nephews, for her younger sister had been married these
two years, had produced a fine son, and was now expecting a second child.
She read the letter from Camilla through again. So Phoebe would not be in London, but would soon be on her way to Pemberley, to recover from a bout of persistent low spirits, which had led her and her mother to decide that a London season would not be right for her this year. The news surprised Louisa, for she had never known Phoebe to suffer from low spirits; her vitality was one of the most striking things about her.
Louisa was three years older than Phoebe, but despite the difference in age, they had always got on well together, and they shared many happy memories of the summers when various members of the Darcy family and their connections gathered at Pemberley. The Bingleys, who lived some thirty miles from Pemberley, often spent days over there, Mr. Bingley enjoying the company of his close friend Mr. Darcy as much as the excellent fishing, and Mrs. Bingley always pleased to see Mrs. Darcy, her favourite sister.
Phoebe was in trouble. Camilla said nothing explicit about the situation, but reading between the lines it was evident to Louisa that Phoebe had suffered a shock of some kind. And, unless the trouble was a further estrangement between Phoebe's parentsâLouisa, with her calm and watchful nature, had been well aware of how difficult things had been for a while in that quarterâthen the most likely cause was an affair of the heart. That surprised Louisa, too, since Phoebe had managed her numerous admirers with great skill, a witty tongue, and a refusal ever to take any of them seriously. None of them had ever come close to touching her heart; that was a part of herself that Phoebe kept out of reach of the men she laughed at for being fools or peacocks.
Louisa knew that many in the family hoped that Phoebe
and Jack Harlow, the son of a family whose estate was close to Pemberley, might make a match of it. They were almost of an age, had been childhood friends, and had a great deal in common. Although Louisa liked Jack, she didn't feel that he would make a suitable husband for Phoebe. Amiable as he was, he would be unlikely to stand up to her, and Phoebe could never be happy with a man that she could not look up to and respect.
At that moment Betsy came into the room, summoning Louisa in peremptory tones to come upstairs that instant, or her trunks would never be ready. Louisa followed her maid to her room, deep in thought, and told Betsy in abstracted tones to leave out a dress of pink taffeta that she much disliked, which Betsy, against the express instructions of her mistress, was attempting to pack into one of the large trunks that stood open on the floor.
Betsy upbraided Louisa for not listening to what she was saying, and Louisa, with a start and a guilty smile, apologised and said that she was thinking over the contents of the letter that had come from Mrs. Wytton. “Miss Phoebe is not to do a London season this year but is to go to Pemberley.”
“Pemberley? Is she in disgrace? Has she been in some scrape?” From her long service with the Bingleys, Betsy felt herself at liberty to speak her mind, and indeed there was little about the family that she wasn't privy to. And she knew perfectly well that it was a family joke that often, when one of the lively Darcy girls and various other members of the family were in trouble of some kind, she would be packed off to Pemberley to rusticate and keep out of mischief.
“No, no, it is nothing of the kind. Although it does seemâI am not sure, Mrs. Wytton is rather opaque, but I think there may be an affair of the heart, some young manâ¦Betsy, I
do not want that spencer, I thought last time I wore it that the colour does not become me. Phoebe will be very dull at Pemberley, all by herself. Mrs. Wytton writes to say that Lady Mordaunt's children will be there, of course they are hardly more than babies, but they have a governess, a perfectly respectable, well-bred young woman, Mrs. Wytton says, who will be a companion to Phoebe.”
Betsy snorted. “I can't see that a respectable governess, however well-bred, will be the kind of companion to suit Miss Phoebe.”
“No, nor can I.” Louisa looked at the trunks for a long moment. Then she made up her mind. “Betsy, leave the packing for now. I am going to talk to Mama to tell her that I am not going to go to London this year, instead I shall go to Pemberley to keep Phoebe company.”
Not all the questions and objections and arguments of her family could make Louisa change her mind. And in the end, with a sigh, her mother agreed to her plan. As Mrs. Bingley observed to her husband that night in the privacy of their bedchamber, since Louisa had not in three seasons found a husband to suit her in the ballrooms and drawing-rooms of London, why should she be any more likely to this year?
After all, she and Mr. Bingley had met in the country and not in London. “It is not as though every family will be going to town. There will be those who stay in Derbyshire, and I dare say that Louisa and Phoebe, if she is well enough, will be invited to outings and picnics and parties, where Louisa may, who knows, at last meet a man she likes.”
Miss Sarah Hawkins was wild with excitement and disbelief when she heard the news that her come-out was to be brought
forward to this year. Starry-eyed, she greeted Phoebe, wan and drawn after the journey from London, with a warm embrace and a volley of questions about Almacks, balls, parties, riding expeditionsâ“Oh, you cannot imagine how glad I shall be to be rid of the schoolroom at last. And not to have to spend the summer at Ramsgate with the children!”
Lady Hawkins, anxious for Phoebe, chased Sarah away, but Phoebe was amused by her sister's delight, and said that it did her good to see her so happy. Phoebe remembered being just as full of excited anticipation before her own first season. What a difference a season and a broken heart made. She rebuked herself; what she felt in her heart was anger, not sorrow. She would not allow herself the indulgence of dwelling on lost love and a broken heart, like some helpless heroine in a novel.
She went up to her own room, intending to give Miniver instructions about what to take to Pemberley, but she wasn't there for five minutes when she saw Sarah peeping anxiously round the door. “Mama says I'm not to disturb you or pester you with questions, only there are so many things I want to ask you. Are you quite happy again? When Mama wrote to tell me the astonishing news about my going to London, she said we weren't to worry, for there was nothing wrong with you that a few weeks of good country air wouldn't put to rights, but I must say, you aren't in your best looks.”
“Thank you,” said Phoebe, laughing at her sister's outspoken comments. “No, you do not disturb me, I am only sorting out some of my clothes. I am glad to have someone to talk to.”
“This would have been your second season,” Sarah said, plumping herself down among the cushions on Phoebe's bed, and heaving a sigh. “And no husband. Oh, Phoebe, there must have been one man you wanted to marry?”
“Perhaps there wasn't one man who wanted to marry me,” said Phoebe, her face expressionless.
“I know that isn't true, for I heard Mama telling Aunt Hawkins about the offers you'd had, from the most eligible men, but you turned them all down. I shall be so ashamed if I'm not engaged by the end of the season.”
“You will be no such thing. Many a young woman has accepted a man merely for the sake of a ring on her finger, and in order not to be left on the shelf come the summer of her first season, and lived to repent it for years afterwards. You know the words of the marriage service, and it is quite true,” she couldn't help sighing, “matrimony is not to be entered into lightly.”
“Yes, but then there must be just as many young ladies who meet the right man and fall in love, and then live happily ever after.”
“That notion belongs in fairy tales, and you're too old for fairy tales,” said Phoebe. “Listen to me, Sarah. Do not let your head be turned by a handsome face or a large fortune or a title, or the prospect of being mistress of a great house. None of those things will make up for not being married to a man whom you truly love, and to whom you are well suited. And above all, find yourself a good man, do not ever allow your head to be turned by a man whoâthat is, a man whose morals would not pass muster.”
“No, Great-aunt Phoebe,” said Sarah pertly. “Only I can tell you, I am inclined to fall in love, which you aren't, and therefore I dare say I shall. With an excellent man, perfect in every way. No rakes for me, I assure you, I and my best friend, Lizzy Carlow, are agreed that we both abhor a rake.”
“If you expect perfection, you will be marrying the man
in the moon, for I assure you, there is no such paragon alive on earth. And,” she added, but too quietly for Sarah to hear her words, “when you do fall in love with an excellent, perfect man, you will soon enough find that he is no such thing.”