Close your minds to the mundanity of modern life, and travel back to a time when butter was truly churned by hand, and Manors were many, and serfs aplenty. When the gentlemen were gentlemen, and ladies proper, and carriages were the fastest means of transport. And when the grasses were greener, and a quiet serenity ruled the countryside....
"My LORD!" cried she of the extremely loud and high-pitched voice. She was running through the house, yelling at the top of her lungs, a young maid scurrying after her, attempting to relieve her mistress of her outer-wear.
"My Lord? Where on earth have you hidden yourself?" she screeched. Of course, the unfortunate gentlemen being sought out could hear her quite well, but her merely chose to ignore.
"Here she comes Papa, brace yourself." said a dark haired girl of 11 sitting in a corner reading.
"Apparently, I haven't hidden myself well enough," Lord Bennet muttered as the lady came to an abrupt halt at the door of the library, skirt askew and hair pins flying, causing the maid to bump into her.
"Oh! Clara, you clumsy oaf! Why on earth did you hire her my Lord?"
"I didn't ... your housekeeper did, I suggest you go find her," said he calmly, with just a hint of hope and desperation.
"Yes, I suppose I should," she replied, turning away, and Lord Bennet gave an audible sigh of relief..."WAIT! NO! My dear Lord, you shall not defer me from purpose quite so quickly!" I have the most splendid news for you!"
"Oh, I am so excited, I think I should die of anxiety if you don't tell me of the pretty ribbons you saw in Mrs. Long's shop window." said the tired man, sarcastically.
"Oh, no silly sir, the ribbons have already been bought...Anyhow! I am just come from my sister's house at Meryton, and Mrs. Benton was there, dear soul that she is, she informed me that Netherfield has finally been let! Isn't that positively delicious news sir?"
"Not as delicious as the tart I had for tea, madam." replied he, causing the girl in the corner of the room to giggle.
"Oh! Incorrigible man! Lizzy? Miss Lizzy, what on earth are you doing in the library!?"
"I am reading Mama."
"Reading! What on earth are you reading for?"
"I find it to be an interesting activity Mama."
"There must be no other girl in all of England like you...Honestly...Reading??!! Go and practise the pianoforte or something lady like. I must have a chat with your father."
'Miss Lizzy' gave her mother a disgruntled 'humph' and her father a sympathetic smile and walked off.
"Now, Lord Bennet, Netherfield has been let by a rich gentleman from Derbyshire!"
"Well, isn't that nice? A new neighbor!" cried the Lord with mock enthusiasm. "Perhaps he'll be someone with an ounce of sense, thus preventing me from being driven to insanity because of you." he added in a low voice.
"What was that? Oh, no matter ... I do hope you'll stop all this muttering though. Well, this gentleman, a Lord Fitzwilliam, I believe, has an income of 9,000 a year! That is even more than your 7,000 sir!"
"And, how does all this relate to me Fran?"
"Well, you are being thick-headed this afternoon!"
"At least I have more than air in my brain." he said.
"Incorrigible man!" she said. "I am trying to say to you that Lord Fitzwilliam has two sons and a nephew in his family, who are all older than our daughters! Now, if you would just go and visit them --"
"Ahem, sorry to interrupt, Fran, but our daughters are barely old enough to mingle in elder company, let alone be 'out'! Why are you thinking of marrying them off?"
"Not marrying, not yet at least! I am merely saying that it could be beneficial for you to make close acquaintance with these gentlemen."
"Well, as you know, m'am, I'm an extremely busy gentleman, what with running this large estate..etc.etc. So, I must apologize, but I shan't be able to visit until at least fortnight next." said the Lord smugly. He was familiar with practically every tactic in the book (and not in the book) for ridding oneself of a hen-pecking wife.
"Ohhhh!! You horrible horrible man! Everyone else will have visited him first, and we shall be put to shame!! Why I ever married you I have NO idea!"
"7,000 pounds per annum, perhaps?" asked her husband calmly.
"Well, I was actually, quite taken with you until you turned into a funny, silly, white-haired pile of boredom who resides in the library."
"Hiding from you..."
"Ohh, we are ruined!!" And with that, the Mistress of the House was off to wail and squeak at her maids. The Lord of the House went back to "counting out his money" occasionally rolling his eyes at the shrieks of his 'lovely wife,' that could be heard throughout the entire Manor.
The Bennet sisters were quite famous (and sometimes infamous) for their pranks, playful natures, and future fortunes. By the town gossips, they were always referred to as "the Bennet Sisters," as if they were one entity, and this thoroughly annoyed them. The eldest had the most natural beauty, being fair haired and blue-eyed. It was a sad ordeal for her that whenever her mother looked upon her, she say money, since Lady Bennet though her daughter beautiful enough to attract the eye of a Prince! The Lady was constantly pulling her daughter aside to teach her the "Ways of the Coquettish Lady," lessons that her daughter found abominable, but her youngest found fascinating, who was quite spoiled.
Yet, let me refrain from getting to far ahead of myself.
Lady Jane Bennet of Longbourn Estate, age 12. She had the sweetest of natures, yet her main fault was her naiveté. However, when she thought of something as 'evil' she would never near that subject again. For example, as a toddler, she was stung by a bee, and now has pronounced them evil, and has a professed fear of them.
The second sister is Lady Elizabeth Bennet (etc) - Age 11. To her father, she was the most interesting of all his daughters. And she was her mother's worst nightmare , as a daughter. Lady Elizabeth had unruly dark hair, almond eyes, and an overall pretty face. However, she mostly looked the ruffian due to her playing about all the time. Elizabeth was somewhat the tomboy, running and playing ball amongst the village boys, whereas Jane preferred dolls. Elizabeth chose books where Jane chose the pianoforte, and Elizabeth would propose a ramble through the trees any day, but Jane preferred her stitch-work. But between these two sisters the deepest of love and respect was evident. They even refused to stop sharing a bedroom, even though they were old enough to have their own chambers.
Next in line, we have the queer Lady Mary. No one could quite understand why the poor child of 10 was fascinated with science, but she was. At the moment, she was in the process of devouring each and every math and science book her father owned. She had fair hair, dark eyes, and a too-small nose and a too-big mouth. She mostly kept to herself, but would sometimes spout a theory or other at the dinner table; this ceased conversation for but a minute, and Mary would receive her mother's disgruntled snorts and her fathers amused, twinkling eyes, and then all would return their attentions back to their roast mutton and pea soup.
Lady Catherine Bennet, age 9, was probably the unhappiest of Bennet sisters. She felt that she lived in the shadow of her younger sister Lydia. The only one with whom she found empathy and solace was her sister Elizabeth, whom she was most like in physical resemblances. Both Elizabeth and Cat suffered from their mother's constant taunting and scolding, and so Elizabeth would console Cat when she cried, and Cat would laugh off her mother's antics with Elizabeth later. Cat and Lydia hardly ever got along, since Cat was quite jealous of Lydia being the child upon whom both parents would lavish their attentions.
Lady Lyd was, in one word, a brat. She was outrageously spoiled by both parents. Her father indulged in his youngest (at age 7), and what he thought was his cutest daughter. He would read and play with her always. Her mother had many high hopes for her concerning marriage, of course. She began hinting these things to her from very early on. Lydia had a ridiculous sort of "bold" beauty. She was unlike her sister Jane, who had a gentle beauty, nor like Elizabeth whose strikingly black-brown tresses and sparkling eyes gave her a mischievous appearance, nor was she like Cat, who had delicate and subtlety in her prettiness. No indeed, Lady Lyd had astonishingly yellow hair that her aunt found charming, and the most unnaturally blue eyes that shot out from beneath short lashes. All her elder sisters realized how very spoiled she was, but it was only Jane who made the effort to try to take her under her wing. Lydia, of course, was easily bored with her nicest sister, and would run off to taunt the younger servant boys, a habit neither of her parents were the wiser of, but Elizabeth would often catch her at it, and would scold her for her "un-lady like ways." In short, Lyddie was most like her mother.
And now, let us return to the present story: Miss Elizabeth was amused with her mother's stupidity. 'The only book she has ever read is probably Ms. Lynde's How to Catch Thee a Rich Man.' She laughingly turned a corner and bumped right into Lydia, who was smiling ear-to-ear.
"Look at what Mama gave me this morning Lizzy! Aren't' they prettiest ribbons you've ever seen?"
"Oh, yes, delightful, I'm sure," replied the elder unenthusiastically.
"Lord! But you're a bore! Never mind, I'm sure Jane will love them! Goodbye grumpy."
Lizzy carried on, mumbling highly unladylike words when she almost toppled over Mary, who, unsurprisingly, had her too-small nose in a book.
"Oh, terribly sorry Mary, didn't see you there!"
"Hmm ... yes, good day to you." And off she walked, not even sparing a glance for her Lizzy.
Just then, Lizzy saw Jane coming in from the garden.
"Afternoon Jane! How are you?"
"Quite well dear, only ... Mama doesn't sound very happy, does she?" Right then, a whale-like screech echoed throughout the House.
"Better go to her. I don't think Papa agreed to meet with the new neighbors!"
"Oh, dear, well, bye Lizzy, have a nice walk."
"Bye bye." And with that Miss Lizzy walked out of the house and set off at a run for the "meeting place." 'Jimmy would surely be there already' thought she.
She ran for some minutes until she came to a thick grove, and she went right into it. She walked to a tall tree with a large-ish squirrel hole adorning it. Amongst the roots sat a red-haired, freckled boy with a flute. Some birds were sitting there listening to his happy song.
This was Jimmy Benton, age 11. He was the only son of a gentleman, and quite a brilliant pupil. He was also Elizabeth's best friend, besides Jane. Jimmy had known the Bennet sisters since they were born, since Mrs. Benton and Lady Bennet were great friends. Jim and Liz both thought their mother's were nut-cases, which was their first major topic for discussion, thus they grew to be the best of friends over the years.
"Excellent playing Old Boy!"
"Lizzy! Thought you wouldn't come!"
"Jimmy! How could I not? I was only held up by the old bat ranting at me again."
"Ha! yes, I just barely got out of one myself this morning."
"So, what'll it be today?"
"Oh, I've already thought of that! A race!" said the naughty boy as he began scrambling up the tree.
"Oh! James Benton, you infuriating child!"
"Oh my Lord, Lizzy. How could you bear to sound like our mothers?" asked he with mock astonishment, and he stopped his progress upwards only long enough for Lizzy to tie up her bothersome hair and pull up her frock.
"Ugh! This useless old dress! Why are only boys allowed to wear breeches!?"
"Well, it's not my fault you were born a girl, now is it?"
They laughingly reached the top (Jimmy won).
"Not fair at all, young man," Lizzy scolded, who managed to tear her skirt and ruffle her hair on the climb up.
"Because you started first and --"
"Do shu'up Lizzy, it's just a game. You're much too competitive you know. Not at all like Cat! I beat her at chess, and she hardly even winced. Now there's a Lady for you.
"Ha! HA! Well, I'd hardly call myself the "proper lady" anyway!"
"Shush it! I hear something coming..."
Just then, footsteps neared, and two elder boys sat down at the foot of the tree.
"I say, this part of the country is not half bad ehh? At least Netherfield is comfortable!" said the fair haired one.
"They must be the Fitzwilliams!" Lizzy whispered, as she did so, she leaned forward, and her branch creaked. Jimmy shot her a warning look."
"Yes, Richard, it seems rather nice...did you hear something?" Asked the dark haired boy, and they both remained quiet for a bit to listen as Jimmy and Elizabeth held their breaths.
"Must have been a bird, " said the one called Richard.
"Hmm ... yes. I wonder what we can do to keep ourselves entertained?"
Before Richard had a chance to respond, a crash, snap, scream, and thud were sounded almost simultaneously, and the next thing he knew, Dark Hair had a girl settled in his lap.
He sat there, frozen in the moment, wondering whether some wood-nymph had fallen right into his arms. He reached forward and pulled a twig out of her hair. Right then, the "spell" broke, and the girl burst out laughing.
"Lady Elizabeth Bennet, at your service, sir!" She managed between laughs.
"Sorry, what?" Asked the dark-haired one dazedly.
"You asked for entertainment sir, and here it is!" cried Elizabeth, casting a sneaky glance up at Jimmy. Richard was smirking by this time.
Jimmy traipsed down the tree, "Yes sir, we be the finest actin' company in the country, sir!"
Lizzy climbed out of the other boy's lap, blushing just the tiniest bit:
"Yes ... indeed..." said he of the dark hair skeptically.
"Yes, of course sir, finest there is!" piped in Jimmy.
"Aren't you a bit young to be acting?" Asked Richard smilingly.
"Well, now, we poor orphans have no choice, now do we?" said both the children together.
"Ah, I see." said dark hair.
"Wouldn't you just love to see one of our jigs?" asked Jimmy with a sly glance at the shocked Lizzy.
"Why, yes, absolutely!" cried Richard, "Wouldn't you, Will?" He asked openly laughing now.
"Why not?" replied Will cautiously, wondering what Richard was up to.
"Give us a moment, will you?" Asked Lizzy, leading Jimmy a-ways away.
"What do you think you're DOING!"
"Thought it'd be fun, you started it, you know."
"No time for this Jimmy ... what shall we do? We are now honor-bound as pranksters."
"Ha! Yes ... well how about the Irish Jig we did last Easter?"
"Shall we?" Asked he, offering his arm.
"Lets!" She replied with a mischievous smile.
The danced the Irish melody with Jimmy playing the flute and Lizzy doing her little tap-dance. They ended to the sound of an enthusiastic applause.
"A-thank you! A-thank you!" They both cried before bowing and scurrying off into the woods amidst bouts of laughter from both parties.
"Do you think they bought it?"
"Of Course old-chap! You were fantastic...can't believe you remembered it either!"
"You weren't half-bad yourself, Jimmy-man!"
"Alrigh' Alrigh', old chap ... race you back hooommme!!" He yelled while trotting off.
"Again? Jimmy, when will you learn the cheaters never prosper!"
The happy children ran off to Benton House for tea, leaving two very confused strangers in the woods.
"Well now, wasn't that odd?" asked Richard.
"Yes, not the everyday occurrence, I wouldn't say." replied Will. The cousins laughed merrily for a bit.
"But, you didn't actually believe them, did you? It's quite obvious they were just some prankstering neighbors." Richard smiled inside as Will shook off his trance of contemplation.
"Bright little girl, wasn't she?"
"Yes ... what?! Richard, you're disgusting! She couldn't have been more than 12!"
"Indeed, but I have a feeling that in another ten years or so --"
"I refuse to hear this you disgusting child molester!" And with that, Will arose.
"'Molestator' is hardly a word cousin! I thought chaps bound for Cambridge knew that?"
"Do shut up Richard. Doesn't the name Bennet sound familiar to you?"
"Bennet? Where did you pick that up from?"
"The girl ... she called herself Elizabeth Bennet."
"Why, yes, she did, didn't she? Come to think of it, I do believe the old governor's got an acquaintance by the name Bennet...can't say where he resides though." said Richard scratching his blond head.
"Well, Bennet is a common name. A coincidence like that is hardly likely."
"Yes, I suppose you're right. Well, do you think the old man's temper has run cool a bit?" Asked Richard standing up and dusting off his breeches.
"Yes, maybe we should venture back home." And the began walking back to Netherfield.
"I still think sneaking in is the best choice." said Richard.
"And I still think you're nutters."
As they entered the grand house, Richard winked at a passing maid, but they both stopped dead in their track when the saw Him.
For, there, at the top of the staircase stood the Earl of Matlock, Andrew H. Fitzwilliam...the second!
"Uh ohhh ... I told you sneaking in would have been better! But no! Does anybody listen to nutty Richard? Of course not, because everyone is smarter than stupid old Ri--"
"Shut your big mouth boy! Now, Will, Richard, explain yourselves, and do NOT run away again. What do you think you were doing stuffing frogs in the turkey we are to have for dinner?"
"Actually sir, frogs are quite the delicacy in--"
"I don't want to eat like some French! As punishment--"
" No dinner?" Richard asked.
"No allowances for a week?" broke in Will, gloomily.
"Oh, please Father, don't tell me it's no Cambridge! The girls there are supposed to have bigger--
"Will you two shut up and listen to me!? I have arranged a very special turkey for you ... French style, and that shall be your dinner!"
The boy's faces turned a sickly shade of green upon merely hearing of their sentence. The Earl went off, laughing at their strange predicament.
"Well, we're in quite a fix now, aren't we?" asked Richard, "Why'd you think of that turkey thing anyway, had you lost your marbles Will?" William sheepishly sauntered off to try avoiding his impending doom for as long as possible.
Will and Richard approached the dining room in dread. At the head of the table the Earl was seated. he was a man who had a temper that equaled his jolliness, and so he was generally a jovial man. On his right was Mr. George Darcy, who was strict in discipline and manners, but was quite kind at heart. On the left of the Earl was his wife, Lady Geraldine Fitzwilliam of Matlock. Of the entire family, she could very well be considered the most ridiculous member. Her vanity, she took to an extreme, and fashion ruled her world. In fact, she would make a very sound companion for Lady Bennet. Mrs. Jeanne Darcy sat next to Lady Fitzwilliam. She was a fair haired, quiet, yet wise woman who possessed a charmingly dry sense of humour. She was the only one who could console her husband in one of his "stress fits" which often occurred because of his weak constitution. Down from Mrs. Darcy's side were the Fitzwilliam children, Thomas, the eldest boy and heir at age 21 had just completed his education at Cambridge and recently entered the "Marriage Mart," as his mother referred to it. Next to him sat the two Fitzwilliam daughters, who were both exactly like their mother. On the other side of the table sat Miss Georgiana Darcy, the apple of her father's eyes. She was a proper young lady of a grand six years, an she was currently eating her dinner in a manner quite seldom found in a child.
"Does my hair look too big Jeanne. I am told it is the latest fashion in town this season." asked Lady Fitzwilliam of her neighbor.
" No, not at all dear," replied Mrs. Darcy, staring at the foot-high sculpture atop her sister's head.
George Darcy barely stifled his laugh, but was saved by the entrance of the boys.
"Ah! Come in, come in! cried the Earl, joyfully. Please, sit down, and do enjoy the meal!"
They sat on a far end of the table, as directed by a footman. Two suspiciously smelly platters were placed before them. Will glanced to his mother for a reassuring smile. At 19, he still acted the naughty little boy. He was his mother's favorite, although he was constantly trying to live up to his Father's standards. (Readers, I am certain you are all familiar with Will's fabulous physical features, as I'm sure we have all dreamt about finding our own Darcy for countless hours.) He was as much the pessimist as his cousin Richard was an optimist, and as level-headed (most of the time) as Richard was spur-of-the-moment. And so, being opposites, these two were good friends for each other. Richard was also fairer in looks; Thomas was the only one to have inherited his Father's darker, but less handsome features.
Richard and Will took the covers off their platters and were greeted with the unusual sight of sliced turkey and slimy stuffings on the side.
"Well, eat up you two! It is, after all, a French delicacy!" smiled the Earl.
They each picked up a fork-full of food, and stuffed their mouths. Will turned green, stood up, turned blue then, felt dizzy and sat back down. Richard stood, turned and without any hesitation ran for the nearest chamber-pot. Will simply swallowed it, trying to pretend it was all turkey and no frog, took several gulps of wine and finally excused himself, clutching his stomach as he walked off leaving behind sounds of unchecked laughter that had been threatening to pour forth since the ordeal began.
"My, my Andrew, you truly are a Master of practical jokes. I suppose this is where Richard inherits it from?" Mrs. Darcy said.
"Yes indeed, Jeannie! But, might I say that your husband and I were the thickest, thieving and most conniving pranksters in all Derbyshire!"
"I do believe I heard somewhere that frog skin does wonders for the complexion...did I tell you that Jeanne?" commented Lady Fitzwilliam.
Everyone at the table stared blankly at the Lady for a while, before resuming their dinners.
They later found the unfortunate sons moaning on sofas in the drawing room, occasionally running to a window to turn-out the contents of their insides.
About a fortnight ago, Thomas Bennet received a letter which greatly captured his interest. It was from an old friend who, for mysterious reasons of his own, he had kept hidden from his wife. Perhaps because had he introduced him to his wife, the Lady would surely begin planning out which of her daughters would marry her husband's rich friends' sons. Yet now, after seven years, the meeting became inevitable, however, Lord Bennet was quite happy with the opportunity to once again see him. The letter was as follows:
20 June, 18-
My dear old friend and accomplice,
Though it has been years since we have formally met, in society, I still do consider you my closest of friends.
I write with great pleasure to inform you of a visit my family and I will pay to your county in the near future. My brother George Darcy and his family will accompany us as well.
(The letter went on in a 'catching up on old times' manner)
And so it haps, that we shall meet again, and until then, I remain your sincere friend,
Andrew H. Fitzwilliam II, etc.
Of course, none of this news did the Lord of the House reveal to his Lady until one afternoon.
"Mrs. Bennet, I have reason to believe to expect guests today in the afternoon, most likely for tea. Please see to it that enough food is prepared; I believe 10 people shall be here."
Lord Bennet announced this at the dining table, and calmly awaited his wife's tirade of questions.
Lady Bennet's fork had clattered back to its plate sending bites of bangers flying everywhere.
"What is this? Mr. Bennet, my Lord! 10 guests! How can it be? Who are they? Do they have any sons? I must know this instant I say!"
"You shall know who they are when they arrive, if you can practice using that ounce of patience I'm sure is hidden somewhere in your mind." He replied with a bit of orange juice. He had already practiced his rebuttals. "I shall only disclose that it is an old acquaintance of mine." He prepared himself, glancing at Lizzy, who didn't dare to meet her Father's eyes for fear she'd burst out laughing.
The Lady popped off her chair and the anticipated wail began "Ohhhhhh! You are too cruel Mr. Bennet, too cruel."
"Here we go..." muttered Catherine.
"Do shut up Kitty! Insolent girl! You don't know what I suffer, no, none of you know what I suffer! Clara, the salts, at once! I must retire immediately!" And the hennish lady plodded off, but not before securing another munch on her scone.
"Have a talk with cook about tea, won't you Jane?" asked Lord Bennet.
"Yes, of course father," said Jane, who was smirking as well.
The carriage slowly rolled off Netherfield's grounds and onto that of it's neighboring estate. Inside, Lady Fitzwilliam was fussing with her hat.
"If you ask me, mother, it looks like a dead cat is sitting on your hat, so there's really no point in trying to fix it." Richard said matter-of-factly.
Will elbowed Richard, and Geraldine Fitzwilliam gave her son a deadly stare.
"Does my hat look all that bad Jeanne dear?"
Mrs. Darcy was hard fought not to laugh, "No, no Geraldine, it's very ... unique!"
"Ah, yes, the best that Meryton town had at the shop I dare say." and Lady Fitz chattered on for the remainder of the trip, driving the rest of the party to tears from boredom.
They finally reached Longbourn Estate, and Richard and Will jumped out of the carriage as if it was on fire.
"If I have to listen to one more nonsensical word she has to say, I swear I'll puke." Will complained.
"Not if I do first ... actually, we've had quite enough puking yesterday." Will winced at the awful reminder.
They entered the house to hear faint sounds of wails coming from somewhere. They were shown into one of the drawing rooms; this particular room was adorned in a bright green that could possibly injure one's eyes. Lord Bennet rose to greet his guests and gave the Earl a hearty shake of the hand.
"Fabulous to see you again old man!" cried Lord Bennet.
"Same here Tommy." Everyone else was rather confused by this show of intimate camaraderie, but did not comment, as Fitzwilliam began introducing his family. Lord Bennet began to get uneasy about the absence of his family, so he called a servant to summon the daughters.
Just then, one of Lady Bennet's louder screeches was heard.
"I say sir," began Lady Fitzwilliam, and Lord Bennet got a pained look on his face, "Do you have a terribly ill hen about the house?" This received some blank stares and choked laughs, " A cat perhaps?" She went on, "That sound seems to grow-"
"M'lady," interrupted Andrew, "Won't you come see the prospect ... from the window?" He asked patiently indicating with his head and receiving a look of the utmost relief from Bennet.
"I'll just go and ... ahem, summon, my ... wife." stuttered poor Lord Bennet.
He left, and the Darcy's and Fitzwilliam's sat, trying to ignore the persistent sounds of the wailing woman. After a moment, footsteps were heard, the door swung open, and the girls were announced. One of the daughters piqued Will and Richard's curiosity.
Elizabeth had no idea as to who the guests were, nor did she care, because the sooner she had the "civility" thing over and done with, she could go back outside to Jimmy. Her eyes locked on two faces, and she desperately wished she was daydreaming.
There, on her favorite chair sat that Will-boy, and Richard ... 'doomed, I'm doomed, doomed, doomed. Her name was announced and she saw the surprise and amusement register in their faces. Elizabeth performed her curtsey, which wasn't as graceful as Jane's, nor as short as Mary's or as loud as Lydia's. She was then forced to take a seat by her father, who had arrived with her mother. Lord Bennet wished to show off his favorite daughter to his favorite friend. To Elizabeth's utter mortification, Richard and Will came and sat right next to her.
Lady Bennet's entrance was a grand one indeed. First, a screech of "oh, my Dear Lord!" was heard from some upper chamber in the Manor. Next came pounding footsteps and the door opened to the Lady, red faced and hands wringing.
"Oh! My dear Lord Fitzwilliam!" cried she in an octave higher than usual.
Here, let me step back from our present story and explain the reaction each had to the Boisterous Lady Bennet:
Mr. Darcy: 'My! I'm surprised the woman hasn't popped in that tight a dress ... terribly annoying voice!"
Mrs. Darcy: 'So she was the wailing woman!'
Earl Fitzwilliam: 'Aha! Bennet and I both have the knack of being ill at choosing wives I see .... hideous dress I dare say!'
Lady Fitzwilliam: 'Oh, what a smashing dress! I too, would have bought it, save for Andrew's complaints.'
Viscount Fitzwilliam: 'Ahem ... well, no comment.'
Richard Fitzwilliam: 'Good Lord! Get that monster out of the house! Some one!? Has everyone gone absolutely mad, letting that thing in?! Damn thing should be in a zoo!'
Fitzwilliam Darcy: 'Oh no! Not another one, I thought Aunt G was enough!'
"Ahem ... my dear, that would be the Earl of Matlock." interrupted her husband.
"Dear sire, do forgive me! It's the nicest day for a visit, is it not?" Just then, a crash of thunder was heard somewhere far off.
"Hahahah!" squeaked the Lady, causing several of her guest's ears' to pop. No one else thought the situation very funny. "Well Lady Fitzwilliam, Mr. & Mrs. Darcy, a joyous welcome to you as well!"
"Thank you m'am, you are all kindness, but it our pleasure, to be sure." replied Mrs. Darcy.
"Why, thank you for your most gracious hospitality Lady Bennet! And what a charming Manor you do have!" cried Lady Fitz. 'She seems a good acquaintance to keep...plenty of rich daughters.'
Lady Bennet turned back to Lord Fitzwilliam and loudly proclaimed, "Good sir, I do believe my husband has acted in a most ungracious manner with you! He has not yet visited! For that I do apologize, and-"
Mrs. Darcy came to the rescue this time, "Madam, hadn't you better order the tea; I apologize for being so forward, but I believe we should leave soon, else we'll be caught in the rain."
Lady Bennet's displeasure was barely concealed at this, but she called a servant and ordered the tea.
'Good Lord, not another feather-brain! I thought my hands were full with just Geraldine?!' thought Mrs. Darcy, not daring to glance at her brother (who was already smirking), for she knew they would both start roaring with laughter.
Lady Bennet returned and chose a seat near Lady Fitzwilliam. 'Hmm...wonderful acquaintance. Two sons, and a rich nephew!' thought Lady Bennet.
"My dear Lady Fitzwilliam, I see you have two sons. And how old might they be?"
"21 and 19, ma'am. And your-"
"And your nephew?"
"He is also 19. How are-"
"I see, very good. And how much has been bestowed upon them?"
"I..excuse me Lady Bennet, but..." stuttered Lady Fitz.
"Oh, never mind, they'll do very nicely!. And how are you enjoying your time in our fine county?" asked the Lady, spouting bits of biscuit out of her mouth as she talked. Mrs. Darcy reached for a napkin and tried to inconspicuously wipe her face. Lady Fitzwilliam noticed the strange behaviour, and was about to comment when Jane quickly offered her a piece of plum-cake.
"Why, thank you dear" she smiled. Jane breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes, Lady Bennet, Hertfordshire is a fine county. However, we were to spend the season in town, but Andrew surprised us with this visit!"
"You have a house in town?" said Lady Bennet, "....splendid indeed. Oh, and I must say, my dear Lady Fitzwilliam that you have a most beautiful hat!"
Mrs. Darcy rolled her eyes at this and thought 'this will be one very long evening.
Elizabeth sat nervously as her father talked with the Earl and the gentleman. They would turn and smile at her once in a while, yet she could not bring herself to smile back. She envied Mary who was sitting inconspicuously in a corner, swinging her legs.
'So,' thought Will, 'It's going to be the silent act, will it? Little minx...'
In a spontaneous gesture, Will plucked a feather out of Elizabeth's hair and waved it before her face.
"Trying to catch a bird in the tree this time, were we?" asked Will.
"Yes, and how is the acting company coming along? I can't wait to see one of your plays!" Richard could just barely suppress his laughter.
Elizabeth sat wide eyed, and grabbed a cup of tea when served. She gulped at the scalding hot liquid and jumped in her chair.
Richard an Will were excessively amused by this, and being yet young men just barely out of boyhood, they couldn't resist teasing her further.
"I think she rather belongs in a tree, don't you Rich? She is rather crow-headed!"
That was the last straw for Elizabeth. She was tired of telling people she had BROWN hair, not black like Mary's. Her face and neck turned decidedly red. She jumped off her chair, spilling her tea all over Will in the process, who yelped. She trembled with rage for a moment, then shouted the first words that came to her mouth.
Just then, Lord Bennet was in the process of telling his friends of Elizabeth's remarkably bright nature, "Yes, the child absorbs her studies like a sponge, and I am always finding her happily situated in the-"
"You insolent, pig-headed, ignominious idiot!" yelled our Elegant Lady. And with that, she quit the room.
Will was shocked, to say the very least, and Richard was extremely hard fought not to laugh. Jane covered her head in her hands and awaited the uproar.
It was Mr. Darcy who laughed first. His wife joined him and soon everyone else ... except Will.
Will followed Elizabeth out of the room, but she did not notice him. She ran to the entry-way of the Manor and found a soaking wet Jimmy standing there.
"Hi Lizzy! Just got in out of the rain, because Longbourn is closer to 'the tree.'.... um ... is something wrong old chap?" asked he.
"Is something wrong!!? Everything is wrong Jimmy! He ... that ... stupid idiotic ... I hate him and I never want to speak to him ever again!" cried Lizzy.
"Is this 'he' you're on about by any chance that bloke there who went wee in his knickers?"
Lizzy turned and came face to face with her arch-enemy.
"I will NOT speak with him!" she shoved Jimmy in the ribs, "tell him Jimmy."
"She won't speak with you." Jimmy said in a bored voice while rolling his eyes. He conspiratorially whispered to Will "You didn't by any chance call her a crow, did you?" Will nodded, trying to swallow the lump forming in his throat.
"Well then, tough luck for you, ehh old man?"
"Eliz ...Lady Elizabeth, I'm terribly sorry! I think dark hair is charming on young ladies!"
"Tell him that my feelings have been irreparably bruised, and that I advise him to leave."
"She says-" Jimmy began.
"I can hear her! I only wanted to apologize!" and with that, Will stomped off.
Lizzy 'humphed' at Wills departure and Jimmy only said, "Elizabeth, you are a very stubborn #$%."
The guests left soon afterwards, and Lady Bennet hustled of to rant at Elizabeth.
"Lizzy! Goodness Lizzy, where are you? Insolent child, show yourself!" Lizzy gave a sigh as her mother passed by the closet in which she was hidden. She crept out, and was surprised to find her mother standing right there.
"Think me a fool, do ye?" cried the Great Hen. She grabbed her daughter's ear and dragged her off "Come Lizzy! We must have a talk!" And Lizzy trudged off, wincing at the pain and scowling as Lydia blew a raspberry at her.
"Yes, except Mother will be doing most of the talking," mumbled she.
Before retiring for the evening, the Fitzwilliams were in the habit of having a night-cap in the library.
"Wasn't that an eventful evening?" asked Mr. Darcy, smilingly.
"Yes," replied his wife, "except the poor girl seemed a tad bit upset. What on earth did you say to her Fitzwilliam?"
William was saved from answering by another brainless comment coming from his Aunt:
"Isn't Lady Bennet a most genteel lady? I find her taste in furnishings and clothing to be impeccable as well!" said Lady Fitzwilliam.
"Yes, and yours is quite similar to hers, is it not, Geraldine?" asked Mrs. Darcy quietly.
Why, yes, it is, I must say." said the clueless Lady, quite happy with the 'compliment.' "Thank you Jeanne."
"Lady Bennet seems to be the most boisterous woman I've seen, except perhaps one other." said Mr. Darcy, casting a side-ways glance at Lady Fitzwilliam. Lord Fitzwilliam looked at the Darcy's with mock disapproval, however he, too, enjoyed their teasing attitudes towards his wife. They continued on in the same manner until Lady Fitzwilliam announced that "late night discussions caused wrinkles," and so she retired. Everyone else soon followed suit.
Lizzy was off on her own one day, since Jimmy was under punishment (for something or other), and he was not allowed to leave his room. She was walking along the edge of the estate when she came upon the groundskeeper's hut. Next to it she spied a small boat on the Rooney River's dock. (Lizzy and Jimmy had named the river after Lizzy's - late - pet fish).
Suddenly, her eyes lit up with mischief as she thought out her plan. Untying the boat, she jumped in and paddled off. She belatedly realized she was rowing against the current, and that this was an excessively difficult task for a girl of 11. Suddenly, a strong current sent her small boat flying backwards and it hit a larger boulder. A chunk of the boat cracked off and she rapidly began to sink.
Being a girl of "spunk" and intelligence she thought that sitting and screaming for help wouldn't be as useful as helping oneself. She climbed onto a log that was standing upright in the water, and watched as the last of the boat sank. "Hope no one's going to miss you" she thought. She realized then, the serious and dangerous nature of her predicament and her 'nerves' almost failed her. She tried calling out for help once but her throat was dry and cracked. She tried calling out again and managed to croak "help." This time, she received an answer.
William Darcy was out on a tramp the woods along a river he had discovered on the edge of the property. He had tried looking for Richard but was told by his cousin's nervous valet that his sire "Has been unavoidably detained ... ahem ... in the stable with - ahem, actually sir, he's just in town."
But Will was no fool, and was quite certain that Richard was in town with some naive young maid or other.
He absently walked along the river, deep in contemplation of yesterday evening's escapade at Longbourn. He found himself unnaturally bothered by the young girl's anger. 'Perhaps it is just that she has embarrassed me so, by announcing me a "pig-headed, ignominious idiot" and wetting my breeches.' thought he. His musings were interrupted by a blue ribbon floating along the river. He looked up and down the coursing, angry water and finally spied a bundle tied onto the nearby bridge. Naturally, his curiosity lead his feet to the spot. And as he neared, he recognized a familiar figure.
"Lady Elizabeth Bennet, I do apologize for talking to you despite your vows of silence towards me, but I must ask you this question: Just what do you think you are doing hanging on that bridge?"
It was not until she heard this reply that Elizabeth realized her log was attached to a bridge. She looked up, happy to see she had a savior, but her face took upon a frown the second she realized who this being was.
"I dare say, it looks like you could use some help!" said William, offering his hand.
"No, I do not!" she replied vehemently. "I can very well help myself." she proceeded to do so, thinking 'stupid boy ... thinks he can help me. I'm a stable, level-headed girl who can very well-' her thoughts were interrupted when she slipped on a pond scum covered part of her log and fell down with a splosh into the water.
Will merely rolled his eyes at her stubbornness, took off his coat and boots ... leisurely, paying no attention to the splashing girl below, and gracefully dived into the river.
William was an apt swimmer, and he quickly grabbed the flailing girl by the waist and brought her up for air. Elizabeth was gasping and choking as Will's swift strokes brought them both safely back to the bank.
Elizabeth sat on a rock, glaring at Will who was attempting to ruffle slime out of his hair.
"What? What did I do now!? I think I just saved your life madam! Do you not think you can forgive me now?"
"Precisely, you had to come along and save my life and now I must be forever indebted to you! Furthermore, I must lift my vow and forgive you ... .ugh." Elizabeth started to rub her hands up and down her arms.
"Why, thank you ma'am." Will replied gallantly with an exaggerated bow.
"Oh! Stop pretending you're a knight in shining armor, sir, because you are hardly that!" Elizabeth now began to shiver and William went to recover his discarded tailcoat and fit it around her shoulders.
"Th-th-thank you" she chattered. Just then, a frog jumped onto Will's shoulder and he yelped.
"Aagh! Get off me! Get i' off me!!" cried he.
Elizabeth did nothing but laugh at this great show of cowardice by the grown boy. She managed to secure the frog despite Will's flying arms.
"Hello there, Mr. Ribbit. And how do you do today?" asked she.
Her only response was a dry 'crooak.' She put him down and Will sheepishly walked around the frog , took Elizabeth by the elbow and began to walk towards Longbourn.
"Now sir, would you care to explain what all that was about?" she asked, nodding towards the river bank.
Will's ears reddened and he mumbled "It is just that I do not like frogs much anymore ... " And on the way home, Will narrated his odd punishment.
By the time they reached the House, Elizabeth was laughing merrily at the strange antics Will and Richard would get up to.
"I do believe sir, that I should call you Mr. Ribbit. Quite an appropriate name, wouldn't you say?"
At this, Will could barely nod through his bouts of laughter.
"Elizabeth, I do not think you are even half the spoiled brat I first thought you were."
"Dear me, sir! How could I be a brat?" cried she with mock astonishment. "I'm only cheeky!"
Lady Bennet was sitting in her parlor waiting for her tea to be served when an astonishing sight caught her eye for but a second: A sopping wet Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth walked past her door.
Lord Bennet, too, was walking down that very hallway and saw his daughter. He gave her and her companion hardly a second thought before saying "Hello Lizzy, best to dry yourself off and show Mr. Darcy to my valet." he said nodding to the young man.
Right then, a snort of disgust was heard from the Lady's parlor, down the hallway.
"Make haste girl! Or your mother will catch you!" Elizabeth grabbed Will's arm and rushed down the hall, skidding off to the right just as a woman in a very pink dress hustled into the corridor. She looked up and down, and then at her husband who stood there with a very nonchalant look on his face.
"Sir, I say, have you seen our daughter and a young man, dripping wet, walking by?" asked she.
"Why, no! Whatever has gotten into your head, m'lady?" I suggest you lessen your opium intake, I have already told you of the severe negative affects it has," he quietly added "and with any luck I should be able to send you to a mental asylum for your insanity."
"Oh! Insupportable man! Mrs. Hill? Hill! Bring me my tea!" clucked the large madam.
Not far off, William and Elizabeth burst into bouts of suppressed chuckles, and they snuck off to their separate destinations.
The following day found Elizabeth and Jimmy, along with quite a few other young boys, playing cricket* on Longbourn's field. At present, Elizabeth was only being a fielder, and Jimmy was bowling.
At the height of their game, two gentlemen were spotted riding out of the cluster of trees off to the right. Jimmy recognized one, and yelled out to Elizabeth.
"Oi! Lizzy! Ain't that the bloke who wet his breeches night a'fore last?" This caused the unlucky William to redden, as his cousin smirked, not bothering to withhold his laughter.
Lizzy turned to see who Jimmy was pointing out, and recognized Mr. Ribbit.
Richard ambled up to the children's small game, and asked sarcastically, "Excuse me, Lady Elizabeth, but I would love to see you play! I am confident that one girl amidst this big lot of boys would surely win!" he began smirking again, "Surely you know, little girl, that boys play better than girls. Should not you be off with some dolls or some such nonsense?"
Elizabeth's blood began to boil as she glared at Richard, then William, and then the rest of her playmates before stomping towards the ballerss end of the field. The other boys gasped and shook their heads at Richard.
"Oohhh ... you dun' it now, mate!" cried Jimmy, slapping Richard on the back and handing him a bat.
"Lucas! Ball!" demanded Lizzy of the mousy little catcher boy, and he fearfully placed the ball in Lizzy's hand.
"Mr. Richard Fitzwilliam, you have unwittingly challenged me to a game of cricket. Now you shall suffer the embarrassment." And with that, Lizzy smirkingly walked off to the baller's end of the field, leaving behind a bemused Richard.
Lizzy ran up and balled her fastest, hitting Richard's wickets* a mere moment before Richard lamely swung his bat forward.
Jimmy walked over and clapped Lizzy on the back.
"That's the way, old chap!" said he.
William watched, wide-eyed and unable to believe that an eleven year old girl had just struck Richard out!
Richard's mind was so out of focus that he could not even form a coherent thought. "She ... but I am a ... how did you ... oh, Lord. Now I've seen everything!"
"Wait just a minute! Let me try," said William, "I know there must be something wrong here, and I intend to find out Lady Lizzy!" challenged her Mr. Ribbit.
"All right Mr. Ribbit, but on your head be it!" warned Lizzy, flashing a mischievous smile while she walked back to the baller's end.
She again ran up quickly, and threw the ball hard. Luck was not with her so much this time, and William managed to hit a short but high ball. He began making his runs, leisurely, quite certain that the girl had only fluked the last time. However, as William was completing his first run, he was surprised by the sound of a very triumphant "HAH!" coming from Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had run, jumped and caught the ball mid-air, thus still managing to strike William out. This was a feat very few of the boys were able to accomplish, and Lizzy had the red flush of victory on her face.
"What on earth? I mean ... how ... who taught you ... agh! I give up." stuttered William.
"I shall admit defeat. Thee are a fairer cricketer than I!" William said solemnly, when he had collected himself, eliciting giggles from Lizzy.
Lizzy checked her pocket-watch then, and exclaimed a loud "OH! NO!"
"What's the matter?" asked William.
"I bet it has something to do with the Hen, does it not?" speculated Jimmy.
"Yes, indeed. I was to be home before half past four, and now it is almost half past five!" she cried, "Till tomorrow then boys!" cried she to the crowd. "Goodbye, Jimmy. Good game, old boy! Lets see if you can knock me out tomorrow, eh?"
"I accept the challenge, good madam. Goodbye Lizzy!" He waved and went back to the game.
Lizzy had just begun running off towards Longbourn, when someone grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Juuust a minute there," came William's voice. "If you really are in such a rush to get home, why don't we give you a lift? Richard and I have our horses ambling near by."
"Plus, we'd love to have a chat with you about your bowling skills, Miss." said Richard just a bit sheepishly.
"Alright, well thank you for your consideration, sirs!" said Lizzy.
Elizabeth sat on William's horse, and he mounted behind her, and they trotted off at a medium pace. As they neared an alcove of bushes, Elizabeth spied a small snake attempting to eat a large mouse. She screeched, and a very surprised William halted his startled horse.
"We can not possibly leave that poor thing to die there by itself! Rotten, cruel snake ... come here!"
Elizabeth began fidgeting, trying to step off the horse. William dismounted first, then helped the frazzled Lizzy down. Richard preferred to keep his distance.
"Now, William," said Lizzy, momentarily forgetting about Richard, "You grab the snake whilst I help Mr. Mouse back to his hole."
"Sorry, but ... what?"
"Oh! Fine, be the 'fraidy-cat if you will! You help Mousy, and I'll grab the snake."
And she began creeping towards the scene of pending murder.
William bemusedly followed her, pretending to play along.
"Alright, now, count of three ... one ... two ... three!"
Elizabeth took the snake in both her hands, twisting the tail into a knot, and choking the slimy mouth. She spun and flung the snake into the air.
All the while, William stood a few feet away, mouth agape. 'What stunt will the girl try to pull off next?' thought he.
Lizzy's aim wasn't as grand as usual, and the snake landed on Richard. He squirmed and fidgeted and almost screamed for help before falling off his horse and landing in the puddle of mud and muck. The poor snake tried to creep off, wondering how on earth to get his tail back to normal.
William shook of his trance and went to help Richard, attempting, unsuccessfully, to hid his smile.
"Are you afraid of nothing little girl?" asked a bewildered Richard. "Were you raised by the wild animals or some such codswallop?" He began rubbing at his sore behind.
"Ha! I am only at home with nature, sir. Perhaps we should continue to Longbourn. My mother is surely in a fit of nerves by now." And Elizabeth lightly hopped onto the horses back, ignoring the proper code of ladies to sit side-saddle.
William only shook his head as he watched the nimble little imp who acted as no other young girl he had ever seen ... perhaps would ever see?
When the reached Longbourn, the shrieks of Lady Bennet could be heard from the front entrance.
* Dear Readers, for those of you unfamiliar with the British game of Cricket and think that they're playing baseball with a bug ... well, they're' not. It's a lot like baseball. The baller is the pitcher, a fielder is a catcher or 'is fielding,' and a wicket is a small stick on top of three long sticks that are stuck in the ground behind the batsman, (got that? :) The baller must hit the wickets in order to strike the batsman out, or catch the ball that was hit before it touches the ground. I haven' t played since last summer, so please excuse me if I've mis-explained the rules of the game, or mis-named the positions of each player.
It was soon known throughout the members of Meryton and their neighbors that the much talked of Earl of Matlock and his Lady Fitzwilliam were to host a ball at Netherfield.
The Fitzwilliam's had (despite Earl Fitzwilliam's loud protestations) visited every notable family in Hertfordshire. And now, by the request of the Lady Fitzwilliam, a ball was to be held that very Friday.
"Oh no!" cried the luckless Lord. " Lizzy!" he called, and Lizzy came away from her corner in the library, noting the urgency in her Father's voice.
"Oh, good Lizzy, there you are. Now, tell your mother I've been detained in the study with my steward-"
"Sorry, used that last night, remember?" said Lizzy.
"Oh, bothersome woman! ... How about ... I'm inebriated!"
"Father, you're never intoxicated and besides, I already tried using that one this morning, if you'll recall."
"Well ... I know! How about I've run away with that maid of hers, and now she must fend for herself. Perfect!"
"Father, I can't believe you could be so cruel as to leave us to deal with the volcanic tantrum that is sure to erupt because of your absence." she replied dryly.
"My Lord? Where on earth have you hidden yourself? I'm quite fed up with your game of hiding and seeking."
"Dear Lord, preserve me! Quick Lizzy, think of something! I must stay here." And with that, he pushed his daughter across the hall and into the parlor.
"Lord Bennet, I demand to know where you are. Show yourself." she spied Lizzy then. Lizzy rolled her eyes at her Mother's state of dress: she had curling papers sticking out from all over her head, and had only her numerous underskirts and petticoats on, that, from their colour foreshadowed an evening of seeing her mother draped in a shocking red. It was a surprise to see that the strings and buttons on her corset were still intact. A passing footman grimaced, and turned from the horrific sight.
"Lizzy! What are you doing!? No matter, where is your father??" cried the great Red Hen.
Elizabeth noticed her Father had opened the door of his library just a crack so he could peek at the conversation.
"Well, ahem ... Mother. I believe Father has a ... um ... thing ... yes, a thing that he simply had to take care of."
"Oh! Stop talking in your riddling nonsense, child!" Lady Bennet gave a quick turn of the room, making sure to check behind all sofa's and under the tables. As she was leaving the parlor, she noticed the door to her husband's study close with unnatural abruptness.
"Aha! I think I have you at last Lord Bennet!" she cried gleefully.
The unfortunate Lord inside was leaning heavily against the door, slapping a palm to his forehead. It was then that the Lady chose to make her ungraceful entrance, smacking the door open sending her husband tumbling to the floor. He got up dusting his coat and rubbing his behind.
"My Lord! I must have a word with you. I believe Jane and Lizzy should accompany us this evening, for people should see what a lovely young lady Jane is becoming. And Lizzy ... well, she could use the exposure to polite society. Perhaps she'll stop being such a hooligan."
"Yes, fine, just leave me be woman!" said he, pushing the Lady out and slamming the door shut.
"Oh my! I wonder what made him so agreeable! Jane, Lizzy! Put on your nicest frocks, you're going to a ball!"
Lydia poked her head out of the nursery's door and began to wail. "Mamaaa! I want to go to a ball! Why are you taking Lizzy!"
"Do shut up, you imbecile." Mary was heard saying from inside the nursery.
"My child, you are only 7. Don't be ridiculous." said her mother. This show of sense from her mother caused Lizzy to gape at her.
"We must, of course, wait until you are nine." she smiled. 'Thought too soon, I suppose.' thought Lizzy as she trudged off to be primped, pulled, straightened, and tied. Jane was only slightly more enthusiastic.
"I'm sure this could be fun if you wanted it to, Lizzy." said Jane comfortingly.
"Yes Jane, I'm sure it could." said Lizzy as the seeds of a mischievous plot began to grow in her mind bringing a glint to her eyes.
Mrs. Darcy's maid was just adding the last touches to her lady's toilette when a furry, red and high pitched 'thing' rustled ungracefully into her dressing room. Mrs. Darcy dismissed her maid and fought hard not to roll her eyes.
"Jeanne, dearie! Aah, now don't you look lovely?" screeched Lady Fitzwilliam
'Now why does she dress so plainly? I'm sure Mr. Darcy can afford better!' thought the fickle woman.
'My, my. Quel surprise!' pondered Mrs. Darcy, 'What a surprise! Her costume is that of a hairy ape-woman in pink tonight.'
Mrs. Darcy plastered her most artificial (and it was quite difficult for this lady to be artificial) smile for her most hypocritical relative.
"Jeanne, I simply must have your opinion on these furs! Do you think I should wear the brown, or should I marvel Meryton with my excellent tastes in fashion and wear the black?"
'If you really must have my opinion, I think you're a selfish brat to buy the skin of an animal who had to die so you could drape it across your fat shoulders!'
Yet while the rant was forming inside her, she replied, "The black will do nicely, Geraldine."
Satisfied, Lady Fitzwilliam trodded off, her own maid scurrying after her with ribbons and hair pins.
Mrs. Darcy's husband entered next.
"Had your brains picked enough, Jeanne?" asked he, noting the flustered departure of his sister.
"George, if I have to choose furs or persuade Geraldine not to decorate the entire ballroom in yellow ever again, I swear I'll-"
"My dear," said Mr. Darcy in a gentle, soothing tone, putting his hands on his wife's shoulders "swearing is never nice. Besides, it's only a few more weeks, and remember that patience is a virtue."
"George, I don't know what I'd do without your level-head." she replied kissing his cheek.
"Come along, might as well face the crowds sooner than later." And with that the couple walked down to the ballroom.
Lady Bennet thought it best to arrive fashionably late, being such a prominent member of Hertfordshire society.
A few people gawked at the fact that the Bennet's had brought their two eldest daughters. A few merely rolled their eyes at the usual antics of Lady Bennet. Jane and Lizzy attempted to inconspicuously blend into the wallpaper while Lord Bennet sighed and headed for the anteroom.
To Jane and Lizzy the ball wore on (although for a short time, Lizzy had found something extremely naughty to do). They found seats for themselves and set out to yawn the evening away. A short while later, Mrs. Benton and Lady Lucas sauntered over their way. They sat a few chairs away from them and began chatting loudly.
'Hoo-ray, we're invisible.' thought Elizabeth glumly as she overheard the loud conversation.
"Now, aren't the Bennet sisters growing into charming young girls, Lady Lucas?"
"Why, yes ... absolutely charming. And such prim manners too!" cried Lady Lucas hypocritically.
Elizabeth gritted her teeth and Jane turned uncharacteristically red.
"The fools," whispered Elizabeth, "talking as if we aren't even present. Why those nasty witch-"
"Stop letting everything annoy you Lizzy," interrupted Jane as she noticed the two elder ladies sniff and walk away.
"Jane, I can't help it. I'm bored to death and nothing exciting will happen until dinner."
"Why?" then a look of dawning crossed Jane's face "Lizzy! You didn't!"
"Didn't what, Jane?" asked Lizzy a tad bit too sweetly.
"Lady Lizzy! I know you did something and I demand you to stop it."
"Such strong language, dearie."
Jane didn't have much of a chance to respond because dinner was announced.
Jane and Elizabeth followed their parents into dinner.
When everyone was seated and the footmen uncovered the platters a deafening shriek was heard as all the ladies clambered and fell over their chairs. The gentlemen mostly held looks of surprised disgust and didn't even bother to aid their clucky, hennish ladies. Only Earl Fitzwilliam held a look of embarrassed amusement, and William sat wide-eyed, pale and stricken next to his cousin who could barely conceal his laughter. Jane covered an extremely red face in her hands but not before sending a deadly glare at her obnoxious sister. Lizzy sat, barely able to contain her heightened amusement at the otherwise stiff adults, now causing a ruckus because of the tiny frogs she had slipped into the kitchen earlier. The frogs peeked out from inside the cornish-hens and some began croaking and hopping about amongst the vegetables.
Lord Bennet, too, was quite hard fought not to chuckle at his red wife, feather scarf and all, hopping about trying to escape the horrid frog that was 'chasing her.'
It was the Earl who first overcame the tense (however entertaining) situation and suggested they all proceed to the terrace to refresh themselves ... 'and perhaps sooth my ruffled wife, too,' thought he.
The ladies all but stampeded out, and the gentlemen followed somewhat smirkingly, but most were agitated.
Elizabeth slunked off to a solitary corner to celebrate the joys her efforts brought.
William, after overcoming the shock of seeing a frog on his dinner plate (again) followed the others outside, and soon spied Elizabeth wearing a much too innocent look on her face, standing off to the side.
"It was you, wasn't it imp?" cried William.
"Now whatever makes you think that, Mr. Ribbit?"
"Dear child, I have many reasons to believe you of guilt."
"How could I when my partner in crime is absent from this evening's festivities?"
"I have come to believe that nigh anything is not impossible for you, elf-girl!" He spontaneously pulled on her ear twice and she just as naughtily responded by squeezing his nose.
They laughingly spent the remainder of the evening in such playful banter. Elizabeth was amazed at how companionable a conversationalist Will had become for her. William speculated on Richard's fore-shadowing comment: 'how would Elizabeth look in another 10 years?' But he quickly gave himself a mental slapping for having such ungentlemanly, leering thoughts.
As for the adults of the party, an air of uneasiness pervaded throughout the remainder of the evening, despite the general gaiety of the moods of all present. When Mr. Darcy suddenly decided to retire, and his wife with him, the guests began to bade their goodbyes and departed.
"Andrew! I must have a word with you. I can't believe you took Richard and William as examples! You've completely tarnished our reputations in this society! I'll never be able to show my face to them again." wailed the exhausted Earl's wife. He dragged his furry wife upstairs, shoved her into her own chamber and pulled his tired self off to his own rooms. Not even a minute had passed before he heard a scream a-ways down the corridor. He quickened his steps, following the distressed sounds of his sister. He came to his brother-in-law's chamber, and barely managed to stifle a gasp at what he saw there.
Upon arriving at Longbourn, the Bennet's immediately sent Jane up to bed, and Lady Bennet shoved Elizabeth towards her Father's library, her husband trudging along behind her.
"Lady Elizabeth Bennet! Explain yourself girl!" demanded the mother so loudly the poor girl jumped and squeaked.
This began a third-degree interrogation the likes of which Elizabeth would not soon forget. In short, Lord Bennet rolled his eyes multiple times, twiddled his thumbs and agreed with his wife with an absent-minded nod and mumble, all the while silently congratulating his daughter on her incredibly naughty feat. Lady Bennet yelled herself hoarse, as impossible as that may seem, and Elizabeth bore it all with the countenance of a battle hardened veteran. Her sentence: She was not to leave her room before permission was granted or 12 days had passed, which ever came later.
Elizabeth was amused by how naive her mother thought her to be.
The chamber was dimly lit with barely a handful of candles. The apothecary had already come and gone, and a doctor from London had immediately been called for. A gentleman lay in the large bed and wore a peaceful countenance, despite the persistent fevering of his brow. A weeping woman sat next to the bed, and another gentleman stood over her with a sympathetic hand placed at her shoulder. A desolate young man knelt at the floor of the bed, deep in prayer.
Such was the scene of Mr. George Darcy's bedroom on a fateful night; this night would change the lives of all present, forever.
Mr. Darcy's eyes fluttered open, and he gave his wife a weak smile, and she smiled back, determined not to let her worry show.
"Jeanne..." he said lightly, "Remember, I will always love you Jeanne. Take care of ... be strong for ... for Georgie, let her know I loved her." This brought a new onslaught of tears from Mrs. Darcy.
"No, George dear, don't say it. You will be all right, a doctor is on his way!" cried she almost desperately. But Mr. Darcy was no longer listening.
His eyes flicked to the figure at his feet, and in an instant William was at his father's side.
William had a pained look on his face, and he fought to hold back his tears.
"Fitzwilliam, my son ... " Mr. Darcy began gasping for breath at this time, "I have never told you ... but I have never been prouder of you. Do well ... well," his words began to slur, "Cambridge. Take care ... care for them," and his eyes returned to his wife's for a moment. He smiled then at William, and Will returned a trembling smile while holding his father's hand and kissed his forehead. His breaths became shallower and he closed his eyes. As he drew his last breath, his face relaxed into a contented smile, and the sun rose over the horizon.
Mrs. Darcy crumbled in her chair and wept until her eyes turned red and her brother lead her to her own room.
William merely stood at the foot of the bed, his face contorted with emotional pain. He fled the room not a minute later, as if trying to escape the realism of the situation. As he walked down the hall, he nearly toppled over a sleepy-eyed Richard, who had just awakened.
"Will! What are you doing up so early!?" asked he.
"Not now, cousin. Just leave me be!" pleaded William as he continued to rush towards the exit.
He felt a great need to retch. Richard cast a confused look his way, and continued on to see what the chaos was about.
Elizabeth had been pacing her room for the past hour waiting for Catherine to arrive. She heard a discreet knock at her door, and upon opening she faced a sleepy eyed Catherine.
"What took you so long?" asked Elizabeth in an accusatory whisper.
"Sorry Lizzy, but why must you do this so early in the morning?"
"So the Hen doesn't get in my way ... understand?" replied Lizzy a bit impatiently. "Now, help me down." Lizzy went to the window and threw down the rope. She began her descent while Catherine yawningly tied the rope onto the bed-post.
When Lizzy had reached the ground she waved up to Catherine and smiled a quick thank-you before running off to her freedom. 'My goodness, Jane really does sleep like a horse!' mused she, happily.
She wrapped her woolen cardigan more tightly around herself and ran on. She stopped only when she reached the grove, but walked in quietly, careful not to disturb the sleeping squirrels. As she neared the tree, she noticed an unrecognizable figure slumped at the base. Upon more careful examination, she saw that it was Will.
"Mr. Ribbit? What brings you here this bright morn?"
"The sunshine shall never reach my eyes again, Elizabeth." said he, sullenly.
"Whatever do you mean?" inquired she.
He looked up then, and Lizzy nearly gasped at the dark circles around his tired eyes. Immediately dropping to her knees, she took one of William's hands in her own and looked at him with sympathetic eyes.
"Tell me what's wrong Will, are you feeling ill?" said she with a surprising amount of compassion for a child of eleven.
"Elizabeth ... .my father is ... he has expired."
Elizabeth's sharp intake of breath and sudden tears surprised Will.
"What are you crying for?" asked he, quite irritated.
"I don't like death. I remember when my pet hamster died and I cried for days." she caught herself before she began rambling, but she softly added, "I am just sorry for you my friend."
"I don't need your sorrow! I don't need anyone's sorrow!" yelled William, awakening a few birds to flight. Elizabeth was taken aback by his outburst, but she continued to hold his hand.
"Why are you not crying, William? I can see the sadness in your eyes." said she gently.
"I ... don't' need to cry. Men don't cry."
"It's all right William ... no one but me is here. I promise not to tell." she said in her compassionate, yet childish manner.
It was then that William truly looked into his young friend's eyes, and saw not sorrow or pity there, but true empathy. Perhaps her hamster hadn't been as great a loss as his father, but it was a loss indeed. Then, William saw his Father's smiling face in his mind's eye, and tears sprung to his eyes the moment he realized that he would never look upon his face again.
He began to weep silently, then his shoulders began shaking with his racking sobs. A few tears escaped Elizabeth's eyes as well and the two companions gave each other a special solace while attempting to cry the sadness out of their eyes.
No one except his immediate friends and family felt a great loss upon the death of Mr. Darcy. Lord Bennet was, despite his short acquaintance with the man, perhaps one of the few who would miss the old gentleman's dry sense of humour and excellent conversations. However, amongst his limited social circle, he would be sorely missed.
The funeral was to be held at the end of the week, and until then, Mrs. Darcy was out of her mind with the overwhelming amount of courtesy calls they received, (Lady Bennet's being the worst of the lot). Were it not for her brother, she would definitely have fallen into fits of tantrums.
It was a dark and cloudy day when everyone walked with sorrowful steps to the church. Soft pellets of rain began to fall, and this was how the Darcy's arrived, with dampened hair and emotions to match the weather.
William cast a sullen look over the entire congregation, thinking disgustedly at how hypocritical these beings were, for he knew they didn't care two pennies about his father. He felt a strange surge of anger as he saw Lady Bennet in black, weeping her eyes out onto a bright pink handkerchief. His eyes came to rest with Elizabeth's, and her slight reassuring nod put him at ease a little. He breathed deeply and went to take his place by his mother.
The priest began his sermon, but William barely heard a word of it. His complete focus was on the coffin barely a few feet from him. He went through his entire part in the ceremony as if he were merely an actor, playing his part. He consoled his tearful mother, and spoke the small speech required of him, his voice cracking in some parts because of the pain in his heart. But when the time came for him to step up to the coffin and take his last look, he had the hardest time trying to stand.
Elizabeth noticed her friends' struggle, as she was sitting but one pew behind him. She laid a comforting hand on his arm and gave him a quick nod, ignoring her mother's warning glare.
William stood a little shakily, took his mother's arm and led her to the coffin. As he looked upon his dear father, he was unable to admit to himself the finality of his parent's death. He expected his father to awaken at any moment from his deep sleep and scold Will for keeping his hair so disheveled. It was then that he remembered his father's twinkling eyes, and his wry smile as he played with Georgiana ... he would never be able to see them again. William felt suffocated; he honestly thought his lungs had ceased to function. He abruptly turned and ran out of the church to the sympathetic clucks of everyone present.
Elizabeth immediately sprang into action and followed Will, (what caused her to do this, she could barely recognize at the time). Her mother failed in trying to bring her back.
William sat upon the stone steps of the church, and Elizabeth came up behind him. He heard her footsteps as she came and sat down next to him. He turned his face from her but spoke,
"I'll never have someone to call 'Father' again ... never!" he cried.
She laid a hand on his arm and he turned his face towards her. She saw the tears collected on the brink of his eye-lids.
"It's all right to cry," she whispered.
He let a few tears drop but wiped them just as quickly, for the funeral procession was about to begin. A slow march began in rhythm to the rain. Tears and water mingled on everyone's faces.
William followed his father's coffin and held his mother.
As his father was lowered into the ground, he turned his head away, not being able to bear the sight. He saw Georgiana cling to the front of his mother's dress, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.
The rest of the ceremony seemed like dream, or perhaps a nightmare, to William. And that night, as he sat in his room watching the stars and the majestic moon, as he was wont to do, he realized that he had never met so wonderful an eleven year old as Lady Elizabeth Bennet.
The Fitzwilliams and Darcy's had decided it best to return to Derbyshire. The Darcy's would be staying at Matlock for quite a while.
Mrs. Darcy had made sure their farewell visit with the Bennet's would be of short duration.
A striking difference in manner could be observed between hostess and guest. Lady Bennet had donned a bright yellow gown, and was far too chirpy.
Mrs. Darcy sat somberly in her pinstripe gown of gray. The guest gritted her teeth throughout the entire visit, whilst her hostess was oblivious to her discomfort.
When it was finally over, Mrs. Darcy rushed out the door, and William was close behind. Elizabeth leaned against the door to the drawing room. William turned (an action caused by a reason unknown to him), and Elizabeth waved at him. He walked to her and tugged on her ear twice. She smiled and reached up to squeeze his nose. He smiled in return.
"Thank you elf-girl ... goodbye." said he.
"Goodbye, Mr. Ribbit." she replied.
With another smile and wave he was off. Elizabeth was surprised to find more tears sliding down her cheeks, as she was not in the habit of crying. She wiped them with the back of her hand, and returned to her mother to help Jane with the chaos her parent had caused now. ~