This extract is from about half way through the book. Brandon is about to go on a pleasure outing with Sir John Middleton's party when a letter arrives from Eliza. He makes his excuses to Sir John and travels to London to help her.
I took my leave, saying to Miss Dashwood, 'Is there no chance of my seeing you and your sisters in town this winter?'
'I am afraid, none at all,' she replied.
'Then I must bid you farewell for a longer time than I should wish to do.'
I bowed to Miss Marianne, and left the room. As the door closed behind me, I heard Mrs Jennings saying to Miss Dashwood in a low voice, 'I can guess what his business is, however, it is about Miss Williams, I am sure. She is his natural daughter.'
I was not surprised to hear her say so, for she had intimated her belief to me in the past; but I wished she would have kept quiet, all the same, the more so because she was wrong in her conjecture.
But I had no more time to waste on thoughts of Mrs Jennings. My horse was ready, and I was soon away.
Thursday 27 October
As soon as I arrived in London I went immediately to the address Eliza had given me in her letter. I was relived to see that, although nothing grand, it was at least respectable. A maidservant let me in, and when I asked for Eliza, a woman came bustling from the back of the house. She was clean and homely, and said to me, 'Did I hear you say you'd come for Eliza? Mrs Williams?'
I started at the use of Mrs, and I wondered if she was, after all, married, but then I realised that she would not have used her own surname if that had been the case.
However, her landlady thought she was married and I did not wish to disabuse her of the notion.
'Yes, I have.'
'At last! I've been expecting someone to come for weeks past.' She turned to the maid. 'I'll take care of this,' she said.
'Yes, Mrs Hill.'
The maid departed.
'"Write to them," I said to her,' said Mrs Hill, leading me into the house. "Your family'll help you. You shouldn't be on your own, not in a state like this." But, "I don't like to trouble them," she said. "Where's the trouble?" I said, but you know how women are in her condition. You've come with news of Mr Williams, I hope? Have you found him.'
'I regret to say that I have not.'
She shook her head and clucked her tongue.
'It's a bad business. I said to my sister, "What's the world coming to when fine young gentlemen abandon their wives?" and she said, "He could be dead," and I said, "I'm sure I hope he is for at least that would explain it, only he seemed too young to die". And then she said, "Maybe he's got the smallpox," but as I said to her, "I hope it's not the smallpox. Just think of my sheets," so then she said he probably dropped off his horse, as gentlemen have a habit of doing.'
By this time we had reached a set of rooms at the back of the house and she knocked on the door.
'Mrs Williams. Mrs Williams, my dear. Here's your cousin come to help you.' She turned to me. 'I'll fetch you some tea,' she said to me, as she opened the door. 'I'm sure you could do with some, and her, too, poor mite.'
I thanked her and entered the room. It was shabbily furnished and the paper was peeling off the walls at the corners, but it was clean, and to my relief, there on the sofa was Eliza.
She sprang up on seeing me, her face a mixture of misery, shame, joy and despair. Her flowing gown rested on her front and I saw that her time was near. She put her hand to her back to support herself and I moved forward quickly, helping her to sit down again, but not before she had thrown her arms round my neck and wept great hot tears.
'There, now, there is nothing to cry about,' I said. 'Everything will be all right. You may depend on me. I am here.'
She wiped her eyes with her hand, and the sight of it set my heart aching, for, despite her condition, she was still such a child.
'I did not know if you would come,' she sniffed.
'You should have trusted me, you should have written to me sooner. I have been so worried about you, not knowing where you were, whether you were safe or happy, nor even knowing if you were alive or dead.'
She hung her head.
'I wanted to write to you, but somehow there was always something to prevent it,' she said in a small voice.
'You had better tell me everything, from the beginning,' I said, sitting down on a chair by her side, for I thought it would be a relief to her to tell me all. 'You met him in Bath?' I prompted her, when she did not begin.
'Yes,' she said. 'He was there visiting friends.'
'Does he have a name?' I asked her.
'He does, but I cannot tell you.'
'You mean you will not. Why is it such a secret? He has seduced you, Eliza. He deserves to be brought to account for his crime.'
She shook her head. I tried to coax her but she was resolute, and I pressed her no further, hoping she would tell me of her own free will before much more time had passed.
'Your friend knew him?' I asked her.
'Yes, Susan knew everything. We met him in the circulating library one morning, when we were exchanging our books.' Her voice took on strength, and her face gained some animation. 'He was lively and friendly and we saw no harm in talking to him, for he was a gentleman, and we were in a public place with lots of people around us. Indeed, he seemed to know most of them. He had many friends, and it was clear that he was well thought of and well respected. He talked to us about the books we were borrowing, and he recommended some we should try. They were perfectly respectable, and we thanked him for his recommendations. He made us a bow and he said he hoped we would enjoy them. As we went home, Susan said he had been much taken with me. I thought so, too, but as it had been a chance encounter I did not think I would see him again.'
'But you did?'
'Yes, we seemed to be always coming across him.'
'When you were out without a chaperon?' I asked her.
'We did not go out alone. Susan's father was infirm, but he always sent her maid with us.'
'And did she stay with you?'
'No, not all the time,' she admitted.
'But Susan was always with you?'
'Yes, for the most part.'
I looked at her enquiringly.
'Once, I met him without Susan, for we were late leaving the house and so Susan went on to the milliner's with her maid, where she had some business, whilst I went ahead to the library. I met him on the way and he carried my books for me. How he made me laugh!' she said, her face brightening as she spoke of him. 'He was always so good-humoured. And after that, I seemed to be always seeing him. He offered to escort us home one day and we accepted his offer, but then, as we were walking past the coachmakers, he said he had to collect his curricle. He said he would take us home in style, but as there was only one spare seat and as Susan had some shopping to do, it was arranged that he should take me home and that Susan would join me there later.'
'And her maid went with you?'
'No, her maid went with Susan.'
'And did she not object to you going in the curricle alone?'
'No. She said I was a lucky girl to have such a treat.'
I gave a sigh. 'I see.'
'And then he offered to take me driving the following day, and Susan and I met him at the corner of the street. She was a great friend to me. She knew I was falling in love with him, and so she helped us to see each other. I had told her all about my mother, you see, and how my mother had been prevented from marrying the man she loved, and how it had ruined her life. And so Susan said nothing to anyone, for she was not going to behave like Mama's maid and betray me.'
'And did you never think that it was wrong?' I asked her.
'How could it be wrong to fall in love?' she asked me innocently.
'And could you not have told me about him?' I said gently.
'He said we would surprise you, and how romantic it would be to elope.'
I shook my head, and she looked perplexed.
'I thought that you, at least, would understand, for you were going to elope with Mama.'
'That was different,' I said. 'Your Mama and I had known each other for many years. We knew each other in all our moods and we knew that we could trust one another. We intended to marry in church, and we only eloped because my father wanted to force your mother into marrying someone else. But no one was trying to force you into a distasteful marriage, my dear.'
The door opened and the landlady entered with a tray of tea. I eyed the cups dubiously, but it was obvious that Eliza was used to drinking from cracked cups, for she set them on the table without a thought and proceeded to pour the tea.
'He's dead, is he?' asked Mrs Hill, hovering by the door. 'I knew how it would be.'
Eliza's eyes filled with tears.
'Indeed he is not,' I said.
'Ah, well, that's a blessing,' she said. 'It's an injury, I suppose. I was talking to my brother. "There's a lot of people falls downstairs and breaks their neck," he said to me. Poor dear,' she added, looking at Eliza.
'Thank you, we must hope for the best,' I said, not wanting to give her any details, and then waited until she left the room.
Eliza handed me a cup of tea. I took it and drank it, more to encourage her than because I wanted it, and she seemed better for the drink.
'You said you eloped, but in your letter you said you were not married?' I asked her.
Her eyes filled with tears.
'No. But he said we would be. He told me we would be married as soon as we reached town. It would be easier in town, he said, because no one would know us there and so no one could object on account of my age. And then we would go to Delaford and surprise you.' She smiled. 'I was looking forward to it so much. I wanted you to meet him, for I was sure you would like him. And it pleased me above all things to know that I would be a respectable wife and you would be able to acknowledge me as your friend and that you need not be ashamed of me.'
I was startled.
'I have never been ashamed of you!'
'Susan's maid said that people whose parents were not married are always a source of shame to those around them.'
'Susan's maid would have been better off minding her own concerns,' I said angrily. 'But go on. What happened when you reached town?'
Her face fell.
'He found there was something wrong with the licence. I do not know what it was, something trivial, but it meant he would have to get another one. But then there was some difficulty about it, so he decided it would be better if he contacted a church in the neighbourhood and asked them to read the banns. So then we had to wait another three weeks for the banns to be read.'
I began to see how it had happened. She had been lured to London with the promise of marriage, and then lured to stay by circumstances; which, I did not doubt, had been manufactured, for her seducer must have known that no clergyman in England would officiate at a marriage with a sixteen-year-old bride unless her parents or guardians approved of the match.
'And after the three weeks were over?' I asked.
'The clergyman who was to perform the ceremony was ill,' she said.
She turned her handkerchief over in her hands, and I knew she suspected that it was a lie, but that she did not want to face it.
'So you had to wait until he was better?' I asked her gently.
'And did you speak to the clergyman yourself?' I asked, though I knew it was a vain hope.
'No. I did not need to,' she said. 'He told me that everything was arranged and I believed him. He is a good man, he loves me, I know he does.'
'If he was a good man, he would not have deserted you,' I said gently.
'He didn't desert me. He had to go away for a while because his benefactress was ill, and then he was going to find a house for us to live in when we were married. He promised me he would come back soon, but it has been two months and I am dreadfully worried,' she said, looking at me with sick apprehension. 'I think something must have happened to him.'
'It is possible,' I said, more to soothe her pride than for any other reason. 'If you give me his name I will make enquiries, and find out what has become of him.'
She did not want to do so, for I could tell that she was afraid of what I would say to him when I found him but at last, reluctantly, she gave in.
'His name is Willoughby,' she said.
I stared at her, aghast. Willoughby! She could not have given me any name that would have shocked me more.
But then, as I thought over the matter, I realized it must be another Willoughby. The man I knew might be shallow and frivolous but he was at least a gentleman; he could surely not be so base as to leave a sixteen-year-old girl alone in London whilst she was carrying his child, and then go to Barton and make love to another young woman without a care in the world. No, it was impossible.
'What is his Christian name?' I asked.
'John,' she said. 'Here, I have a sketch of him.'
She raised herself on her elbow and opened a small book which lay beside her. She turned the pages until she came to the sketch of a young man. It was poorly executed, but the likeness was unmistakeable.
I shook my head in dismay.
'Do you know him?' she asked.
'I am sorry to say that I do.'
I did not want to hurt her, but I knew that she had to be told. As gently as I could, I told her that I had spent the last few weeks in company with him, that he had been happy and carefree, and that he had never once mentioned her, nor thought about her, for he had been courting another.
'No! It cannot be true!' she said, falling back on the sofa.
'It gives me great pain to say it, Eliza, but I am afraid it is so,' I said.
'I do not believe it!' she said, rallying.
'Then you must ask Sir John Middleton,' I said. 'You have paper on your table. Write to him and ask him if he knows a man named Willoughby.'
'I never suspected . . . ' she said, ashen. She looked at the paper and then said, 'No, I will not write. I know you to be honest. If you say it is so, then it must be so. But Willoughby. To have abandoned me, promising to return, and then to leave, and never to think of me again? Do I mean so little to him, and his child, too?' she asked, as fresh tears began to fall.
'Hush,' I said. 'You are with friends now.'
I knew that friendship could do little to alleviate her suffering, but what it could do would not be wanting.
'He is not the man I thought he was,' she said, drying her tears. 'And I? What am I? I am not the person I thought I was, either, for I thought I was a dearly loved woman who eloped with her fiancé, but instead I am a dupe. And yet I love him still. Oh! I have been so wrong. I cannot bear it.'
She covered her face with her hands, and I put her head on my shoulder whilst she wept until she could weep no more.
'Never fear, you are not alone,' I told her. 'As soon as your lying in period is over, I will take you to the country. There you can grow strong and happy again.'
'Strong, perhaps, but I do not believe I will ever be happy again,' she said sorrowfully.
I made allowances for her circumstances and her condition, and soothed her and talked of pleasanter things. But she did not listen to me. Her mind was still in the past, with Willoughby.
Friday 28 October
I have found a nurse for Eliza, and hired a maid and a manservant to look after her, and now the only thing I can do for her is to sit with her and cheer her until her child is born, for her time is very near. She does not complain, though I can see that she is in discomfort, and she has begun to show an interest in her life after her child is born, for I tempt her with thoughts of her own establishment in the country, where she and her child can be together.
Wednesday 2 November
My feelings are all confusion, for Eliza has had her child, a girl, as like her mother as it is possible for a new-born baby to be. I am thankful for her safe delivery, and full of tenderness when I look at the child, but I am conscious of feelings of guilt as well, for I should have protected her from such a fate.
However, there will be no debtor's prison for her, no consumption, no early death. I will make it my business to see that she is well cared for. I am convinced that she is young enough to regain her spirits and that, in time, she will be happy again.
Friday 4 November
Having seen Eliza through her ordeal, my thoughts turned to her seducer, and I went in search of Willoughby. I was about to board the stage and travel back to Barton when a chance remark from an acquaintance told me that he was in town.
'Saw him at my club last night,' said Gates.
'Thank you, you have spared me a journey, and an embarrassing scene at the end of it,' I said, for I had not been looking forward to confronting Willoughby at Barton, where it would worry my friends and neighbours. 'Is he staying at the club?'
'No, he is in lodgings.'
'Do you happen to have his direction?'
He gave me the address and I went there straight away. Willoughby was out, but I said I would wait and the landlady let me in. I sat and waited an hour for him. He entered in high good humour, looking as handsome as ever, and with not a care in the world.
'What, Brandon? I never thought to find you here. I thought you were attending to urgent business,' he said impudently. 'Well, what is it then? You must have some reason for coming here, and I cannot suppose it is for the pleasure of my company. You never struck me as a man who courted pleasure! Indeed, the last time I saw you, you were doing everything in your power to avoid it.'
I took my glove and slapped his face. He looked startled, and his hand went to his cheek, and then he laughed.
'What! Are you calling me out! I cannot believe it. For laughing at you? No, that is impossible. For what then? I have done nothing - unless you wish to call me out for taking Miss Marianne for a drive when you were called away?'
'I am not here about Miss Marianne, though, God knows, if I were her brother, I would be tempted to give you a thrashing,' I said. 'I am here about Eliza Williams.'
'Eliza Williams?' he asked incredulously, and then something wary entered his eye and the smile left his face. 'I know no one of that name.'
'Then let me refresh your memory. She is the young girl you met in Bath, and then seduced and abandoned,' I said.
'Oh, hardly that. She took no seducing -' He stopped as he realised that he had admitted to knowing her, but then he shrugged and went on, 'and as for abandoning her, I did no such thing.'
'You left her alone in a strange city where she had no friends,' I said, restraining the impulse to knock him down. 'The very circumstances that should have aroused your compassion instead aroused your cruelty. She was an orphan, with no one to protect her and so you used her as you pleased.'
He shrugged, and said, 'And if I did, what business is it of yours? You cannot mean to champion every waif and stray you discover. Not even your chivalry would stretch to that.'
'She is my ward,' I said.
He went pale.
'Your ward?' he asked, and he put his hand out behind him and supported himself on the back of a chair.
'Indeed. My ward. I am here to tell you that you must marry her. You cannot give her back her heart, but you can at least give her the protection of your name,' I said shortly.
'Marry her? Come, now, Brandon, you cannot expect me to marry her. She is not at all the sort of girl I would wish to marry, and besides, she has not a penny to her name. A man does not marry his mistress, Brandon, you know that,' he said, gaining courage again and smirking at me insolently.
'She is not your mistress. She is a young girl of good family who has been cruelly deceived. I have been lenient with you in offering you a chance to marry her, but I confess that I am pleased you have refused, for I would not have liked to see her tied to a man of so little worth. If you will give me the name of your seconds, we will meet at a time and place of your choosing and settle this matter.'
'Now look here, Brandon, you are a man of the world. Let us settle this as men of the world.'
'That is what I am here to do.'
'On the field of honour? Oh, come now, Brandon, you are making too much of it. I am sure she will be happy as long as she has an income. I am not rich, but I can give her something, I am sure. And then, when Mrs Smith dies and I inherit my fortune I can give her something more. I will set her up in her own establishment, with a maid and everything comfortable.'
'If you will not repair the damage you have done to her by marrying her then you will name your seconds. Which is it to be?'
He protested, but as he was adamant that he would not marry her there was only one course of action open to me.
Leaving him, I sought out some of my friends from my regiment. As luck would have it, Green and Wareham were in town. I made my way to their lodgings and I found them in their shirtsleeves, cleaning their pistols.
'Brandon! Come in, man, come in,' said Green, as he opened the door.
I went in, and found that Wareham, too, was at home.
'Good to see you again, Brandon,' he said, looking up from cleaning his gun.
After the customary greetings, I said, 'Gentlemen, I am not here on a social visit. I am in need of your help.'
They looked at me curiously and Green said, 'That sounds serious.'
'It is,' I said, taking off my hat and gloves. 'I need you to act as my seconds.'
They were immediately alert, and wanted to know all the details. As soon as I had satisfied them as to what had happened they agreed at once to act for me.
'The dog!' said Green.
'He should have been in the army. It would have taught him a sense of duty,' said Wareham.
'I would not have wanted a man like that in my regiment,' I said, to which they both agreed.
'You have challenged him already?' asked Green.
'Yes. I have just come from his lodgings.'
'You know we will have to give him a chance to marry her?' said Green. 'There is a code of conduct in these things and we must stick to it, if we want to consider ourselves gentlemen.'
'Of course. I have already given him a chance and he told me he would not marry a penniless girl.'
Green's face showed his disgust.
'Nevertheless, we have to give him another chance,' said Wareham.
'As my seconds, I would expect you to do no less.'
'What weapon do you think he will choose?' asked Green with interest.
'A pistol, I suspect. He probably fences, but I doubt if he has any experience with a sword.'
'And will you agree to his choice?'
'Whatever it is?'
'Whatever it is.'
'He will be able to choose the ground,' said Green.
'Let him,' I said. 'It makes no difference to me where I fight him.'
'Then we will go and see him now, and return as soon as possible,' said Wareham, reaching for his coat.
They left me to kick my heels whilst they sought out Willoughby and returned just over an hour later.
'Well?' I demanded.
'He still refuses to marry her. He says he would rather die at once than die a slow death being married to a woman with nothing to recommend her but a beauty which has now surely gone.'
'It is a pity he did not think of that before he seduced her,' I remarked. 'And what weapon has he chosen?'
'Pistols. The place to be Hounslow Heath, the time tomorrow at dawn.'
'That suits me well.'
'Where are you lodging?'
'In St James's Street.'
'Then we will meet there in the morning and travel to the heath together.'
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