"Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding.... There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?”

“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language." --Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nothing to Be Gained

“Well, Lizzy?” Mr. Bennet looked up smilingly from his book. “Have you come to share my solitude for an hour or so?”

Elizabeth came slowly into the library. “I wish to ask your opinion, Father.” It was odd this, seeking his advice. She hadn’t done so for years, but it was just so very hard to know what to do, and Jane had been little help.

“My opinion?” He set down the book, and looked her over closely. “This is a new start. What matter troubles you so much that you should seek my opinion on it, eh?”

She twisted her fingers together. “Father, if you had knowledge that some… some person of your acquaintance was not of good character, but that person was soon to depart from the area in any case, would you feel it your duty to share your knowledge with society generally?”

Mr. Bennet frowned. “And is this person’s, er, ill character, of the sort likely to inflict itself on others?”

Elizabeth thought of Mr. Darcy’s young sister. “Perhaps. Yes. Not always.”

“Not always? Are we speaking of Mrs. Long’s tendency to collect other people’s silver spoons, or something more sinister?”

She smiled a little. “More sinister, without a doubt.”

“But he is to leave the area soon?”

“Yes, very soon.”

For several moments his shrewd gaze studied her face. “Has someone been telling you stories about the officers, Lizzy?”

She jumped a little at his quickness. “Only one.”

“Ah, well…” he squirmed a bit. “I do not like to tell you this, but it is a fact that perfectly respectable men may sometimes engage in behavior which would sound shocking to a girl such as yourself. I advise you not to listen to such talk, or to put a great deal of stock in it.”

“Father, no!” She blushed furiously. “It was not that sort of story. There was no titillating gossip. My source was very reliable, I assure you, and the charge very serious. It involved a gentlewoman.”

His brows rose. “One we know?”

“No, and I could on no account reveal her identity—or tell the whole story, even. It was told me in the strictest confidence, and to even name the person who related it to me would be a betrayal of trust. But as for him—the officer—is it right that he should continue in good society without anyone understanding his true character?”

“Perhaps not right, but inevitable, I’m afraid, if you’re unable to say any more. Ruin a man’s reputation because a person you cannot name accused him of offenses you cannot name against a lady you cannot name? Really, Lizzy, you must do better than that.”

She sighed miserably and twisted her fingers more tightly. “His general habits were described as vicious and profligate.”

“Not so uncommon among officers, I am afraid.”

“He slandered an innocent man.”

Again his gaze grew penetrating. “Is that man likely to suffer from it?”

Instantly, she saw again his face as she had berated him for misusing Wickham. “I think he has already suffered from it,” she said in a low voice. “But I do not know that the continued ill opinion of the populace here is likely to disturb him.”

“Then I do not see the benefit that could come from exposing this officer who is, as you say, leaving the neighborhood in a mere fortnight. Particularly if he is an, um, well liked fellow, you’ll appear more like a spiteful gossip than anything else, telling everyone that he is a drunkard and a seducer, yet without any specifics.”

“Yes… yes, I suppose you’re right.”

“Of course I am. I honor your conscience, my love, but really, there is little to be done in most of these cases, and so long as he does not pose an immediate threat anyone’s daughters, little purpose in attempting it. And you wouldn’t want to appear merely disappointed in love now, eh?”

So he had guessed right again. She smiled wryly. “I am not disappointed, or in love.”

“Perhaps, but that makes you a less interesting subject, does it not? No, Lizzy, I think if you were to decry his character at just this time, the resulting gossip would be more likely to center on you than him.”

Elizabeth doubted the veracity of her father’s argument, but felt his point was correct: there was nothing to be gained from attempting to expose Mr. Wickham now. She was relieved. It would not have been a pleasant task. Yes, she thought as she left the library, remaining silent was undoubtedly the best course of action. Soon enough he would be gone out of all their lives forever.

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