It is a truth seldom acknowledged that a greying gentleman not possessed of a fortune must be in want of a wife. This was brought to light most forcibly in a series of events which began quite innocently: the selection of fabric for Sue Lynn’s new dress, and, incidentally (to her father) that for her sister’s dresses as well.
“How that cornflower blue sets off your eyes, my dear,” said Mrs. Martin to her eldest daughter. “It’s such a shame you hide your charms so. If only you could be more like Linda Sue. She never wants for admirers.”
“No, mother. But then, I don’t want admirers.” Sue Lynn’s father made no secret of the admiration he felt for his daughter’s independent spirit. “I suspect Linda Sue has one too many already.”
“And I’ve one too few!” chimed in Lisa, the youngest in the family.
“Never you mind, dearie. The regiment is staying in Meryton for the winter. You’ll have beaux aplenty by spring!” Mrs. Martin was in no hurry to marry off her daughters — as long as it was done before the following summer, that is.
The bell over the door nearly flew from its hook as Aunt Phillips burst in. “You’ll never believe the news! Netherfield is let. And to a dashingly handsome gentleman. They say he has no wife.”
Mrs. Martin fairly clucked like a hen. “Come along girls, come along! We must be off home at once!”
As usual, Mr. Martin was sitting comfortably in his library when they arrived, and as usual, his comfort soon ended.
“Mr. Martin, Mr. Martin, I’m all of a dither. Netherfield is let and we have no time to lose!”
“My dear, if it’s already been let, we’re too late, though I must say I wasn’t aware we were seeking lodgings. I’ve grown rather fond of where we are now. Still, you know best, I’m sure.”
Fluttering around the room like a startled pigeon Mrs. Martin flapped her handkerchief as if fending off an attacker. “Please, Mr. Martin, please. You have no concern for my poor nerves. Netherfield is let to a single gentleman, and we must make his acquaintance before all the other single daughters are presented.”
“My dear, you’re quite wrong in all cases. Your nerves have become old friends, quite familiar over the years. And I feel no obligation whatsoever to make his acquaintance. I am not, you may have noticed, a single daughter. Though I daresay I have three of the silliest daughters in Meryton, or all England for that matter.”
“Oh, Mr. Martin! You will not visit him, and now our daughters will die old maids, even your precious Sue Lynn.”
“You are most welcome to deliver them yourself, my dear, though perhaps you should send just the girls, for I fear Mr. Canfield may well prefer you and then where would we all be?”
If she were capable of goggling, Mrs. Martin would have goggled. “You know his name? And has he a fortune? Have you invited him to visit?”
Mr. Martin smiled, though it wasn’t a happy smile. “He has not, and I have not. I found him a rather proud man, far too self-assured for my liking.”
Mrs. Martin’s eyes welled with tears. “Oh, my poor girls, my poor nerves, my poor life!” She flounced from the room and wasn’t seen for the rest of this story.
At the first party of the season Mr. Canfield made quite an impression. His self-assurance was off-putting to some, but it did not extend to dancing and so he inadvertently insulted the bevy of fine ladies (and their mothers) who were hoping that he secretly really did have a fortune, despite hearing the contrary oft repeated.
“I’d sooner sit out the dances anyway,” said Sue Lynn to the circle of friends around her. “Though a man of that age who can’t dance may not have learned much else in life.”
“Not so, Sue Lynn,” interrupted her friend Lizzie Bennet. “He is not only quite intelligent and accomplished, but a kind and generous man. Only recently he was instrumental in saving my own youngest sister from ruin of the worst kind. I beg you to reconsider your prejudices and welcome him to our village.”
While she was quick to form strongly held opinions, Sue Lynn respected her friend Lizzie and wanted to please her. She also knew that Lizzie wouldn’t let up until she relented, so acquiescence was a practical measure.
“Good evening, Mr. Canfield. I am Sue Lynn Martin. Since you have been too busy to introduce yourself I thought I should bid you welcome to Meryton.”
Standing stiffly away from the pilaster where he had been leaning, he spoke. “Thank you. Er, I apologize for my rudeness. Thank you for making me welcome. Joel D Canfield. Mustn’t forget the D.” He held out one hand, looked at it briefly, and would almost have withdrawn it if Sue Lynn hadn’t taken it.
“Why, he’s not arrogant,” she thought to herself, “he’s simply shy.” Then, aloud, “No apology is necessary, Mr. Joel D Canfield. We never stand on formality here in the country.”
He smiled – and such a smile. Sue Lynn suddenly wondered if a fortune had ever been very important to her, despite her mother’s feelings on the subject.
“Having been forced into a life of formality for far too long, I’m delighted to hear it. I’ve come to the country hoping for some quiet while I write.”
“Oh, you’re a writer,” said Sue Lynn.
“I aim to be. Takes more than writing to really be a writer, I must say.”
“Indeed. Good editing is essential, and of course, an emotionally evocative story touching on universal themes is always a good place to start,” she said.
Mr. Canfield’s eyes widened. “Are you a writer, Miss Martin?”
“We shall see, Mr. Canfield; we shall see. For now, perhaps we can escape this dance and discuss our future further in the well-lit and perfectly appropriate gardens?”