Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Old School Reunion

Gentle readers: Mrs. Dashwood is not on hold, technically. It's just that last week was fantastic weather in Ohio -- balmy, beautiful, and a little intimidating because if there was any outside work to be done, it had to be done by Thursday, hard stop. So we raked leaves, painted some of the back porch, got up on scaffolding, glazed windows, used oil-based paint for the first time, etc. Even after dark on Thursday, we were out getting the very last warm-weather tasks checked off the list.

On Friday, a rainy day of almost zero visibility, Darwin and I drove to Steubenville for the weekend, to see our oldest daughter in a revival of a show I performed in my senior year of college, and to have a mini reunion with a few drama friends. We stayed in a farmhouse, ate copious amounts of food in accordance with various dietary restrictions, drank moderate amounts of alcohol, and went to bed at reasonable hours. This is what happens when you're old. 

But what creaky pleasure we derived from touring our old theater and announcing to the current students, politely showing the oldsters around, that they don't know how good they have it now, and back in our day we had no air conditioning or light grid, and all we had for prop storage was the corridor up to the lighting booth, and a creepy storage space in a crumbling house in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Adversity builds character. Age hath its privileges.

What delight, also, to talk to old friends as adults. Time has not been gentle to us all, but we've all grown in age, grace, and wisdom. I hope it won't take twenty more years for us to get together again.

Now our weekend of jollity is over. It's freezing outside. Darwin flew out this morning to Baltimore to help cover the USCCB conference with the Pillar crew. I'm considering recaulking the bathtub, another pleasure of the boring homeowner. And somewhere in here more Mrs. Dashwood will be written. After all, she too dreams of making over an old house.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Mrs. Dashwood, 12


The next morning promised fair, after days of rain, and all three girls left in good spirits for breakfast at Barton. Mrs. Dashwood breathed a sigh of relief as she watched them stroll off in a flutter of shawls, Margaret hand in hand with Marianne. Last night Margaret had been in some kind of disgrace which none of the girls quite wanted to explain to her, even -- with a strange new step into adult discretion -- Margaret herself. But as the older girls completed their toilette that morning, Margaret stepped into Mrs. Dashwood's bedroom and asked, "Mama, is it elegant to talk about rain?"

Mrs. Dashwood, nestled in her pillows, stared over her teacup. "Rain? Why?"

"Because Colonel Brandon talked incessantly of rain with Lady Middleton at dinner, and on the way home Elinor said he was a model of tact and delicacy."

"Perhaps Lady Middleton had a great desire to talk about the weather, and Colonel Brandon indulged her." 

"Perhaps," Margaret allowed, "but she does not have much to say about it. She makes the same remark again and again. Do you think that she can be quite intelligent, Mama? Colonel Brandon tried to make more conversation, but all Lady Middleton could say was that it rained very hard."

"Could something have agitated her?" Mrs. Dashwood suggested gently. "Lady Middleton is most fastidious, and seems to find solace in repetition when the conversation becomes too inelegant for her taste."

Margaret became very interested in the drapes. "Mrs. Jennings was teasing about lovers, and Marianne was getting angry, and Colonel Brandon suddenly started talking about rain with Lady Middleton, and Elinor was grateful, I suppose." 

"I suspect that what Elinor praised in Colonel Brandon was not his attentiveness to the weather, but his sensibility of the feelings of others in guiding the conversation away from a topic that caused distress to some."

Margaret's brow furrowed at the complexity of adults. "But Willoughby is sometimes satirical when the Colonel says it will rain, and declares that he does it only to annoy, and Colonel Brandon does not change the topic for him." 

"Colonel Brandon is sensible enough to know the difference between excessive spirits and genuine agitation."

Just then a cry came up from the hall, and Marianne dashed in and bundled Margaret out the door. "Now, Margaret, you are not to tire Mama with chatter and speculation. I do believe it would do you good, though, Mama, to be out of doors with us today. Nothing is so medicinal as a draught of bracing fresh air."

"Nonsense, Marianne," said Elinor, pulling on her gloves. "It is draughts of bracing fresh air that have brought Mama so low. There is a broth warming on the stove which will serve you much better than a turn on a lake, be it ever so exclusive. It is owned by Colonel Brandon's brother-in-law, and we may not get in unless he shepherds us through and offers a guarantee of decorum. We must go now, or Lady Middleton will comment upon our absence at her table. Do you drink your broth, Mama, and blow your nose in peace these several hours."

And then the girls were gone, and the promised peace descended. What bliss, to be wrapped in silence! Never before at Norland had she craved silence. The sounds of small piping speech, Henry's dear laugh, old Mr. Dashwood's rumbles and grumbles, the clatter of servants, the chime of company -- all these she had craved, and sought out when they were not at hand. She had allowed the girls to speak more freely than she had been allowed to as a girl, and rejoiced in their blossoming. Had she been wise? Had she only encouraged Marianne's latent petulance, Elinor's latent sharpness? But surely it had not been wise to be as strict as her mother had been, caring only for the image of decorum with no thought of forming the mind behind the face. And yet, dear Mama... even her scheming had been borne of love, and fear for her children's welfare in a world where marriage decided a woman's lot in life. 

Now I am a widow, dear Mama, with three daughters of my own who must marry if they are to have any money. The income you thought you were providing for me when I married Henry Dashwood, heir presumptive to Norland, has vanished into the coffers of Fanny and her son. What then of all your prudence? At least I had love, where you had none.

Her reverie was interrupted by a clamor at the front door, first a few tentative knocks and then a more urgent rapping. Before she had time to do more than sit up in bed and clutch for her dressing gown, Evans entered the room. "Colonel Brandon desires to see you, ma'am. He's in the parlor."

Mrs. Dashwood rushed downstairs, decorum cast to the wind. She could certainly receive Colonel Brandon in her dressing gown if he came bearing bad news of the girls. Why else would he be here, on the morning of a trip at which he must be present? She entered the parlor with more haste than grace, exclaiming, "Tell me quickly, Colonel. Has Marianne's ankle given way? Was Elinor taken ill? Surely Margaret was not climbing again?"

"I beg you to forgive this intrusion," said Colonel Brandon, clutching his hat and his riding whip, and appearing almost ill himself. "Your daughters are quite well. The only emergency is my own."

"Sir, you are not well!" Mrs. Dashwood exclaimed. "You must sit for a moment, if you can, and have a cup of tea." 

"I cannot spare the time," he said, but then he hesitated. "I must beg your pardon again. No doubt I appear in an alarming state. Indeed, I rushed from the breakfast table at Barton, for which I fear Lady Middleton will not soon forgive me. I told them I had not an hour to spare, but I could not leave without saying good-bye to you. But all is done ill, and I see I have disturbed your rest, and will perhaps have delayed your own recovery."

"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Dashwood, able to take command of the situation now that her apprehensions for the girls were set at ease. "I am not an invalid, though my daughters have doubtless reported me so. I suffer from nothing worse than a cold, which would be soothed if I took some of the broth Elinor ordered for me. And so should you, sir, if you have had no breakfast. Wherever you must go, you will not be served by leaving hungry."

Again Colonel Brandon hesitated, taking a step toward the door, then back toward her. "I have so little time. You must allow me to explain myself, and then leave as soon as may be."

"You shall explain all you like, sir," said Mrs. Dashwood, rallying all her maternal authority, "but you be none the worse for doing it over a mug of broth."

Colonel Brandon allowed himself to be seated at the small table by the window, and Evans was summoned and soon returned with two steaming mugs. Mrs. Dashwood sat in silence to give the Colonel time to collect himself.

"I have confided in no one," he said. "But I must speak to someone. May I confide in you, Mrs. Dashwood? You are a mother, and will perhaps enter into my feelings."

"Certainly, sir," she said, surprised. "I will be happy to assist you by any means within my power."

"I have received a letter this very morning, not thirty minutes ago, from my ward Eliza. I know you have heard of her; Mrs. Jennings speaks of nothing else to all who meet me. Perhaps she has told you that Eliza is my natural daughter."

It was pointless to dissemble politely at this moment. "She did."

"She is not my daughter, though I wish she was so. Nor is she my niece, though I also wish that was so. She is the daughter of my sister-in-law, the late Mrs. Brandon, whose life of suffering I have not the time to recount to you now. Your Marianne reminds me much of her as I knew her when she was young, though Marianne has had all the advantages of wise and loving parents which Eliza lacked. Rather, she was ward to my father, who married her off, much against our wills, to my older brother, and I was sent to the West Indies to learn resignation. From such a cruel match -- for my brother was a cruel man, and a most unnatural husband to my poor Eliza -- she at last rebelled, and in her rebellion she fled with a man who showed her flattering attention. And alas! I was thousands of miles away, though always with her in thought. And young Eliza, my ward, is the child of this first desperate liaison. I have taken such pains to shield her dear dead mother that I have allowed the tell-tales to have their way, provided they sully only my name."

"Your precautions have not been in vain," said Mrs. Dashwood, agog at this unexpected tale of romance and horror told by the weary man sitting opposite her clutching a mug of broth. "If Mrs Jennings knew the true tale, so doubtless would all of Devonshire."

"Some of Devonshire knows some of it," said Colonel Brandon. "Delaford is not so far from here, and all this is within living memory, for," with grim humor, "I am not as old as Miss Marianne believes me to be. But when I came into my brother's estate five years ago, against all expectations and all desire by that point, I pensioned off the older servants who remembered my father and brother and their ways, and set them up far from Delaford. Those who would not help Eliza when she was young and helpless shall have no claim on my house or purse." 

In his anger he rose and strode the confines of the room, fireplace to door and back again. Mrs. Dashwood swallowed the hundred questions that sprung to her lips, and watched him pace with pity in her eyes. At last he slowed his steps, though he did not sit again.

"As I say, this morning I have received a letter from Eliza's daughter, my own ward, named for her dear mother. It was forwarded to me from Delaford, my house, you know. I did my best to provide a father's care for her, without a father's rights or experience, and in my folly I failed her again and again. I thought I could not raise a child, I who had no home of my own until I came unexpectedly into Delaford five years ago. I have tried to provide care for her -- nurses and governesses and finishing school -- without caring for her myself. And yet I could not say no to Eliza, not without seeing my own Eliza who was so often refused in her own unhappy childhood. I allowed her, in February, to travel to Bath with a school friend and her father, a man too ill himself to supervise two girls of sixteen. And in February, Eliza disappeared from Bath. For eight months I have searched for her, with no clue to her whereabouts, or communication from her. For eight months I have waited in fear for this letter, and now I hope I may not be too late."

"Eight months," breathed Mrs. Dashwood, meeting his eyes in sudden comprehension. "You are not too late. But you must indeed leave now, if she is to be settled before her time. Will you bring her back to Delaford?"

At last he sat down across the little table from her again, spent and yet lightened by the act of confession, and by her hoped-for understanding.

"I must make her comfortable," he said. "But I thought to do so in the country far from here, where she has no history and thus no reputation. She is scared and ill and young, and without friend but me, and I must be with her for some time. I do not know when I will be back at Barton or at Delaford, and unless you come to town this winter, I do not know when I will see you again. And so I must say goodbye. It is an undue burden, but I rely on your discretion, Mrs. Dashwood."

"Not a word of what you have told me here will pass my lips," she vowed. "I will swear if if you like."

"No!" he said, standing, and then attempted to check his vehemence. "I beg your pardon once more. But a vow is a sacred thing, and should not be required for less than sacred subjects, lest a person chafe and smother under a burden made heavier by a promise. Indeed, I should not have confided in you if I did not already rely on your trust. I ask nothing of you but that which our Lord instructs, that your yes mean yes and your no mean no."

She had risen as he spoke, and now, as he faced her in the light of the window, she noticed upon his jaw a small glint of stubble, missed by the razor in his morning ablutions. The little shock of domesticity in the midst of sorrow shook her grief-lulled senses awake. With no warning, she was intensely aware that she was standing near enough to this man to see the stubble on his face. In the next instant, she realized to her astonishment that unless she stopped herself by cold force of will, she would lift her hand and brush his cheek with her fingers.

She must not touch him, not at this moment where he needed all concentration and speed. She must not touch him, when he had just entrusted her with the account of his own weakness and failure. She must not touch him, she a widow of less than a year who had not forgotten her own dear husband's touch. 

"You must go, Colonel Brandon," she said briskly enough, she hoped, to cover the split-second delay of wrestling with her impulses. "Time and tide wait for no man, and the same is true of babies."

"I may have need of your advice and counsel," he said, already moving to the door. "May I write to you as I care for Eliza?"

"Yes, of course," she said wildly, ushering him along, willing to do anything to hasten his moment of departure while her resolve was still firm. "I will tell you all I know about the rearing of daughters, and advise you as best I may about the necessities of Eliza's coming confinement. Please tell me how you find her, as soon as you find her."

"I will," he said, hand on the doorknob. "I cannot fully convey my thanks for your kindness to me, and for your gentle mercy toward my poor Eliza, who now stands condemned by the world. Goodbye and farewell, my dear Mrs. Dashwood."

He turned in the open doorway to take her hand in gratitude. For a moment he lingered, seeming to study her hand as it rested in his. Then, as she drew a startled breath, he pressed it to his lips. 

"May we meet again under happier circumstances," he said, raising anguished eyes to her face. After a split second of hesitation, he released her hand and was gone before she could make any reply.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Mrs. Dashwood, 11

It's NaNoWriMo, and a lot has happened since I dropped my project last year. Let's see if I remember how to do this...



There is never a good time to have a cold, but it seemed particularly unfair to be ill now, when everything seemed so promising between Marianne and Willoughby. It was a mother's part to be discreetly present during a courtship, either to discourage inappropriate liaisons, or to prompt amorous suitors to come quickly to the point so as to set a date to be free from supervision. And Willoughby was everything Mrs. Dashwood could have hoped for one of her girls: entirely matched to Marianne's every taste and caprice. So she and Mr. Dashwood had been, in their day, and no marriage could have been happier. 

And now, thanks to this ridiculous cold, caught of gallivanting through the rainy October countryside on one of Sir John's pleasure excursions -- no woman of 40 should be expected to go on a pleasure excursion in the foggy dew!, Mrs. Dashwood ruminated in rheumy petulance -- Elinor was required to shoulder the burden of chaperone, at an age where she should have been requiring a chaperone herself. Mrs. Dashwood fretted under the guilt of relying once again on the strength of her oldest. The guilt ought to have made her more indulgent toward Elinor, but rather it made her defensive. The joy and relief of seeing a daughter likely to be as pleasantly settled as she herself had been, and even more securely tied to an estate and an income, made her quite out of sorts with Elinor's reluctance to enter fully into her sister's raptures. Indeed, Mrs. Dashwood had come across the girls almost quarreling more than once. Both, however, were reluctant to say much about it, and Mrs. Dashwood refused, both on principle and from bitter experience, to force a confidence. 

"Mama, we know so little of him," said Elinor, holding her mending to the window to catch the misty October light. "The acquaintance, though charmingly begun, has been brief. Can a few weeks be enough to reveal a man's character and intentions?"

"A strange question from you, Elinor!" her mother cried, her own mending dropping unheeded. "Did you need long years to study Edward Ferrar's character at Norland? Were his intentions opaque?"

"I am not in possession of any intelligence about Edward's intentions, mama, so there's no point in pumping me," Elinor said with infuriating blandness. "His character I can vouch for as being most admirable, and this I know because of his kindness to Margaret and to all of us at Norland, and his complete dissimilarity to Fanny. Indeed, it took the trial of Fanny's rudeness for his gentleness to be fully displayed." Was Elinor sighing, or just shifting in her chair? "But we have seen Willoughby under no trial worse than weather. His unfortunate propensity to chafe under small burdens of propriety seems of a part with the weaker side of Marianne's character. I would they had something more substantial in common."

"Is taste unsubstantial?" protested her mother, feeling on oddly weak ground against Elinor's . "Is poetry unsubstantial?"

"Bad men have liked good poems."

"Do you have reason then to believe Willoughby bad?" asked Mrs. Dashwood, seized with sudden worry. "My love, if you know anything to his discredit, you must not be afraid to tell me. Your sister's life-long happiness is my desire, and I would not see her robbed of it through a passing fancy. Have you anything definite to lay at Willoughby's door?" Elinor was a deep old file. What difficulties might she try to manage herself, without worrying her mother? Had she witnessed any improprieties that she was covering up so as to keep Mama from distress? Had she overheard some word, some rumor, and now was dropping delicate hints? It was almost impossible to imagine the frank Willoughby in some dark intrigue, but a man was a man, for all that.

Elinor's needlework lay neglected in her lap for a long moment. "No, mama," she said at last. "I have nothing definite to accuse him of. Indeed, I believe him to be, as you suspect, ardently in love with Marianne, and as desirous of her happiness as you are. I only wish that they would be as open with us as with each other."

"That will come in time, my love," said Mrs. Dashwood, in relief. "The openness with each other is all. Their characters are so forthright as to make concealment a burden to them. They will tell us of their engagement soon."

"Then you believe them engaged?" said Elinor, studying her with disconcerting earnestness. "I am glad to hear it."

"Why, yes, my dearest goose," said her mother in surprise. "How can you doubt it? An attachment so quickly, so strongly formed, with no impediment on either side -- I am sure that we will be wishing them joy soon enough. Too soon, perhaps, once we feel the lack of Marianne's sweet presence in our small society."

"Perhaps we already feel that lack," murmumed Elinor, as Marianne entered the room like a clap of thunder and threw herself onto the couch as moodily as her rapidly healing ankle would allow. 

"Where can Willoughby be?" she complained. "Men have so many distractions to amuse them, while women must wait in idleness until such time as men choose to visit them." 

"Only if they so choose," said Elinor with ascerbic mildness. "You see here much distraction in the mending basket, or perhaps you might walk to the kitchen and pick from the amusements on offer there in the broom cupboard or the dishpan." 

"Yes, those who can't ride must walk," snapped Marianne. "What a pity we have no horse, nor no prospect of one."

"Yes, a pity indeed," said Elinor sharply. "A pity that a horse cannot live on air and good intentions, but needs a stable, an extra servant, a groom. Any prudent horseman knows that." 

The girls locked eyes in a battle of wills, but it was Elinor who prevailed. Marianne tossed her tangled curls with what she must have assumed to be careless womanly grace. 

"I myself prefer a generous horseman to a prudent horseman, dearest Elinor."

"Only the prudent horseman can be truly generous, dearest Marianne."

"What is this talk of riding, Marianne?" asked Mrs. Dashwood, disconcerted by the odd discord between her girls. "You know I have no thought of keeping a horse. When you have your own establishment you may keep what accoutrements you will."

"So I have been told," said Marianne, sitting up and reaching for her mending basket beside Elinor's. "Lend me your scissors, Elinor, and let us see if your generosity matches your prudence." 

"Of course, Marianne," said Elinor without inflection. "My scissors are always at your disposal, especially when you have misplaced yours."

Marianne's hand trembled on her basket. "Thank you, Elinor," she said. "I know that you have a generous heart, hide it though you may under your armor of prudence."

And with that, the squall passed and the sisters were once more in cryptic harmony. Their mother, far from feeling relief, was exhausted from trying to navigate the hidden currents of their drama. She sought her handkerchief and tried to blow her nose daintily.

"You must go back to bed, Mama," said Elinor, taking her elbow and steering her, unprotesting, upstairs. "There is no question of you going to dinner with the Middletons tonight."

Nor was there any question of her joining in yet another pleasure excursion conceived by Sir John at the table that night, to see Colonel Brandon's brother-in-law's estate. 

"I am sorry for you, Mama," said Elinor brightly from beneath her shawl, as she brought Mrs. Dashwood an evening cup of tea. "The grounds are said to be lovely. But in this rain...! Colonel Brandon was most solicitous for your health, and begged that you be excused from Sir John's scheme of open carriages and lake excursions in a dinghy. Indeed, I believe that he himself would rather not go, only the plan cannot proceed without him. The steward will not allow visitors without the Colonel himself there."

"I did not not know that Colonel Brandon had a sister," snuffled Mrs. Dashwood. "She must not be at home now. How sad that you will not meet her. I should like to know her."

"I am sure Mrs. Jennings could tell you all about her," said Elinor, turning toward the door. "She wants to know everything about everyone. Goodnight, Mama. Ten to one we shall do nothing more interesting than eat hothouse peaches in a thick mist."