Posted on Monday, 12 September 2005
It was a dark and stormy night. Some of the unmarried young women of Pride and Prejudice were gathered in a library with a roaring fire raging in the grate. They were waiting patiently for the rest of their group to arrive. A knock sounded at the door. One of the young women stood. She was an elegant young thing who seemed to radiate innocence and timidity.
“SSPP. Password?” She whispered through a small screen.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, Gatekeeper.” Two voices said this simultaneously. “And-oh! Anne’s here with us. Can she come in too, Georgiana?”
“Sure.” Georgiana said, and opened the door. Three slender figures in black cloaks and masks slipped into the room and collapsed into chairs.
“Whew! Sorry we’re late- Mother wouldn’t let us escape to our rooms until she’d read us the regular riot act. You know, the ‘why are you not married yet my poor nerves’ one.” The girl speaking threw her disguise off and was revealed as Kitty Bennet.
“I’ve news, girls.” The speaker also removed her cloak and mask and stood, pacing forward to stand in front of the fire. She was Anne de Bourgh- but a very different Anne from the one her mother supposed her to be. She was healthy and beautiful, practically glowing. A sigh fell from the fair lips of the maidens gathered. Anne was considered the beauty of the group- not that any of them were at all unattractive. Anne was simply the most striking with her black hair and pale skin and vivid golden eyes.
“Mr. Collins is dead!”
A most improper cheer arose from those seated.
“At last the world is free of the most unattractive man to ever besmirch her reputation!” Cried Mary Bennet, whose proclivity for sententious sayings had simply taken a more secular turn.
“Yes, and Charlotte is a well-off widow. The most amusing news is- she and my mother have formed a secret society of their own! Winsome Widows Anonymous!”
“I imagine we can easily gather the purpose of this little group.” A dry voice announced.
“Really, Maria?” Mary King said.
“Quite. They are our enemies, as of this day! For what can the purpose of the WWA be but to hook any eligible single men in their path? And, as we all know, that is our prerogative.” Maria was not the foolish, simple girl she appeared. Indeed, she was curiously like Mr. Bennet.
A collective gasp arose once more. They themselves were not overly successful in capturing the elusive Colonel, and with the older women on the chase as well, they feared that Charlotte would have him before the month was out. Lady Catherine, of course, was his aunt and thus unable to attach him.
“We shall simply have to snare Colonel Fitzwilliam ourselves, before they can. Of course, who is to get him? Georgiana and I are out, of course- we’re relations. It would of course be very confusing for genealogists if Mary or Kitty got him (you’d be your own sister’s cousin) so I am afraid that it is up to Maria, Mary and Caroline.”
The aforementioned girls blushed. But then, only one had developed a tendresse for him, and that one would soon be revealed.
“Yes, I mean, we can’t let the widows have him! He’s the only unmarried male our oh so Beloved Authoress left for us!” Georgiana exclaimed. “They’ve already had a shot at matrimony.”
“The question, then, is who loves him?” Maria said pointedly with a knowing look around the circle. One face blushed and looked down. One face alone showed the tell-tale signs of unrequited affection.
“Ah. Our darling Caroline has been found out. I, Maria, henceforth withdraw myself from the competition. Mary, you’d best retire too and leave the playing field clear.”
“Quite. I’m not much of a one for officers, anyway.” Mary King said resignedly. Really, it was too much of the Authoress to be so stingy. And, with two Marys, Mary King is to be henceforth assigned the appellation of Maude.
“Really, I think it is time to turn our attentions to the sundry possibilities of other gentlemen.” Spoke Kitty. “I am sure there are some out there besides the ones our Noble Authoress allotted us. And no officers besides the Colonel! I am sick to death of officers. They are all rotten inside.”
“Even in the darkest of hearts must lie some seed of good.” Mary said.
“Poppycock, Mary! Where is the good in that turd who eloped with Lydia?” Said Kitty.
“Point taken. But still, not all officers are like him, surely.”
“That’s Janeian, and you know it.” Said Caroline.
“Anyway, Kitty has a point. Caroline, we will help you win the Colonel, who I do not believe is as indifferent to you as he thinks, and then we shall have to discover a few more gentlemen for the rest of us. It can’t be that hard…”
Both tasks seemed harder than the SSPP could handle. The Colonel was slippery. Days after their resolution was formed, they still had not had a Colonel sighting, much less caught him for Caroline. The other task- combing the peerage and the landed gentry for eligible beaus- dragged on and on. It seemed all the gentlemen were much too old or MUCH too young. At length, a list of twelve gentlemen was composed.
“That’s good. Two for each of us!” Exclaimed Maria.
“Indeed… Hopefully they’ll suit. It would be sad to have to go abroad as the other women not favored by mention in our Noble Authoress’ brilliant work have had to do.” Muttered Georgiana, who was not resigned to a pick-and-choose fate. She wanted a hero on a dark horse to sweep her off her feet and carry her off into the sunset, possibly kidnapping her and insulting her until she made him fall in love with her proud spirit. Georgiana had been reading too many romance novels.
“The trick is, how are we to get them all in one place? It’s too much work to view them each separately… What if we got Elizabeth or Jane to throw a bachelor meeting party?” Maude suggested.
“Huh. And they’d come? These fellows haven’t remained bachelors this long for nothing! They’re probably all as slippery as my Colonel.” Caroline sulked.
“Probably not. And we can’t offer a horse race, for which of us would want a gamester? No cards, then. We shall have to be sneakier… What if Darcy invited all of these young men and a couple of his married friends as well for an all-male house party, at the end of which they all meet up with the women again?” Anne suggested.
“Even Bingley doesn’t like self-sacrifice that much, Anne! I doubt he’s that grateful for you not wanting to marry him.”
“True enough. Maybe Lizzy could persuade him?” Kitty countered.
The girls giggled as they (unsuccessfully) tried to imagine what would persuade Mr. Darcy the Supposedly Stiff to host a possibly rowdy all-male party. They didn’t think it was possible. They may have been right.
“We could send them all notes from each other for a bachelor party… I know! Let’s get the Colonel to host a bachelor party for all the landed bachelors in England of his age. That would be our twelve. Anne, I imagine, could persuade him as a favor for her. Since she’s his cousin and all. Georgiana, his ward, could help. Play on his guilt and all, or devise some method of fooling him into thinking it is his own idea. We don’t actually want to be around most of the time, do we?” Said Mary brilliantly.
“One problem. No one has seen the Colonel in days.” Said Caroline sadly.
Just then a knock came at the door. Georgiana, looking mystified, went to answer it, gesturing to the others to hide or at least don cloaks. Anne refused, as it was her house. One might anticipate her presence in her own library.
“SSPP.” Georgiana murmured, sure that this person (obviously not a member) would not know the password.
“The Colonel.” An obviously male voice whispered back. Anne stuffed her fist in her mouth and bit hard to avoid giggles. Her cousin was obviously just introducing himself, little knowing that his name was the password! She gestured for the other members of the society to remain concealed. It was time to put phase one of the plan into action.
Georgiana opened the door.
In walked the colonel, dressed to the nines in the army uniform. Anne thought she heard a gasp from behind the couch and swallowed a snort. At least Caroline wouldn’t be sighing the whole time they were attempting to cajole the colonel.
“Come in, cousin.” Anne said brightly, and sat down. Georgiana hastened to sit beside her. The Colonel, henceforth known as Richard (or Caroline’s Prey, but not really because it is too long) sat down opposite them and smiled charmingly. Anne admitted that he had a very charming smile, and swallowed hard.
“Ladies? You appear to have something to tell me…” He trailed off invitingly.
“Oh, it is nothing much,” said Georgiana collectedly. Evidently that smile hadn’t done anything to her, or maybe she was used to it. “Merely that Mr. Collins is dead. I believe he choked; you know how he used to eat. Also, Aunt Catherine and Mrs. Collins have formed a society, supposedly secret, to hook any unmarried man available.”
It is against officer training to look taken aback, but Richard only very narrowly escaped it. His gaze turned inwards- obviously he was wondering if he was to be a victim. Anne confirmed this.
“Yes, we thought we ought to warn you. I daresay Mrs. Collins will be chasing after you shortly- you’re about all she has left. Of course, all your friends are in the same fix…” Georgiana took the hint.
“Oh! I know! If you had a bachelor party or something, and all the possible victims in the country got together… you could guard each other’s backs!”
“Yes, but what if they decided it was more like a viewing party?” Richard muttered. Suddenly his eyes cleared and a sly expression crossed his face.
He always did have an open face, thought Anne, smirking inside.
“A viewing party… Are you sure you aren’t interested in this little get-together yourselves, girls?”
He’s so obvious, thought Georgiana fondly, No subtlety at all.
“Not likely, cousin,” she said aloud. “Anne and I plan to go on a tour of the continent for that. Honestly, where have all the young men of this generation gone? Were only women born?”
Richard, true to form, was visibly relieved.
“I think that must be it. Are you sure you don’t want to at least meet some of the ones in England? I mean, there are only seven eligible young women left, yourselves among them, and thirteen gentlemen. When Aunt and Mrs. Collins have their pick of the lot, there’ll still be eleven left… You wouldn’t want them to have to go abroad for wives, now would you? Most of the women have already left, and so, if anything, there is a shortage of them.”
The girls looked at each other. They hadn’t considered the other point of view before.
“Of course, Amberdale and Covington are confirmed bachelors. I personally don’t think any decent girl would be interested in them. I think I’ll leave them to the mercies of- what did you say their society’s name was?”
“The Winsome Widows, of course!” Anne chimed, beaming.
“Oh. As I was saying, I think they can fend for themselves. As far as it goes, I don’t want to spend any time with them either.”
“Then by all means, leave them to the wiles of the Widows.” Exclaimed Georgiana. “No point in protecting them if they aren’t worthy of the protection.”
“What a marvelous notion all round… I say, have you girls seen Miss Bingley anywhere about? She’s been awfully quiet lately when I do get a glimpse of her. Not at all like her usual loud, annoying self.” Despite this distinctly unflattering description, his eyes were pleading. Anne refrained from making a comment on his own absence, and left Georgiana to answer.
“Hmm. No, I am afraid that we haven’t seen her much lately either. Perhaps she is indulging in melancholy?”
“Why would she do a fool thing like that?” blustered Richard anxiously.
“Maybe she has developed a tendresse for one of the eleven truly eligible bachelors of England? In any case, I imagine that one could probably find her in the garden maze if one looked hard enough. Shall we tell her you inquired when we next see her?”
“No, no, never mind. Just wondered how you could lose track of someone in a house of all places. Now the maze, there is an easy place to lose people in.” With this, he turned and left, no doubt seeking consolation in the contours of the boxwood hedge.
“Psst! Caroline!” A disheveled black head popped up interestedly. “Well, aren’t you going?”
“But… This outfit! And my hair…” She was shoved unceremoniously towards the door by six pairs of interested female hands.
“Never mind that! And if I know my cousin, he’ll only think it makes you more interesting.” Anne said, and shoved her out the door, closing it firmly behind her. She was sure where this little meeting would lead, and it was with a sense of satisfaction that she surveyed the remainder of the group. One down, six to go, if one counted Anne, though Anne didn’t. She had something up her sleeve. Or perhaps, someone!
Posted on Wednesday, 21 September 2005
It had been decided that Mary King was to host the party for the ladies. She lived in the area, and though the Bennets and Maria Lucas did as well, she had the advantage of solitude. No prying parent would interrupt their wiles at her home. It was midnight, and everyone had arrived at the meeting but Anne- and Caroline. Caroline was off interrogating the Colonel. Anne was- no one knew where Anne was, and you really couldn’t start the meeting without her.
The girls were sitting down, muttering softly to themselves, without any particular topic. Kitty and Maude were playing whist on the floor by the fireplace. The door, naturally, burst open, because it was once again a dark and stormy night. Doors always burst open on dark and stormy nights.
A dripping figure swirled in dramatically, and threw her cloak haphazardly in the direction of the fire. It landed a little far, and Maude, sitting closest to the fire, quickly jerked it away and beat out the little flames. Anne didn’t notice. She was busy towelling her hair dry and looking disparagingly at her gown.
“How did you get so wet, Anne? Weren’t you in the house?”
“Of course, but it is a dark and stormy night, so I was pacing my room nervously when I saw a light outside. I threw open the doors of my balcony and stepped out, since the rain had momentarily stopped, and someone pitched what felt like a bath full of water down on my head. Unfortunately, it wasn’t at all warm like bath water. I ran straight back inside and switched gowns, but it was wet too. All my gowns were wet. I ask you!”
“Sounds like the WW has been at work again.” Georgiana remarked grimly. “They wish to spoil your gowns so you will be unable to see the gentlemen at Caroline’s Colonel’s house party.”
“Oh, that is no problem. I packed most of my clothes in your trunk, and some in my maid’s case. Even Lady C. wouldn’t think of looking there! All the nice ones I hid about so they’d be safe. The ones in my trunk were all cotton day dresses for walking and gardening.”
“Hey! I hope my clothes are all right too!”
“Unlikely.” Mary intoned grimly. “The WW are thorough and cunning.”
“So- who all hid their stuff?” Kitty asked brightly. AT this, everyone looked sheepishly around. Apparently, the SS had all been clever.
“I hid my good gowns in the gardener’s shed.” Maude muttered.
“I put mine in the silver serving bowls.” Georgiana confessed happily.
“Mine are in the flour bin- at least, it says flour, but there was none in their and the thing was scoured. All that was there was a bottle of whiskey, and that obviously doesn’t go there.” Mary said practically.
“Mine are under the floorboards. The maids clean there as well, did you know?” Maria asked Maude.
“This is all well and good,” Anne growled, “but we have to do something about those Widows! Last week our bonnets were all mysteriously discombobulated. Yesterday someone mutilated our shoes. The food was inedible this morning, and the cook was drunk this evening. Tomorrow, no doubt, all our necklaces will be tied in knots, or worse, our undergarments, or they might arrange for us to be spread with butter in our sleep.”
“Anne! Where do you get these ideas?” A shocked Maria asked innocently.
Georgiana and Anne exchanged far from innocent glances.
“Oh, nowhere.” They chorused sweetly, and giggled. Kitty wondered what the Colonel and Darcy had done to deserve that in their youths.
“What if we pre-empted them?” Mary asked. “We could do all of the things you just mentioned, as well as pour the spoilt cream over them and maybe some molasses.”
“Yes, Mary! And what if we tied them to their beds, or maybe painted the floor with oil?”
“Lovely, girls. Let’s ask the maids if they’d mind, first. It’s something they’ll have to clean up, since I think I know where the widows are. I did barricade them in and place tinware at the base of the stairs before coming down. The ladies are hiding in the attic.”
A crash and a muffled curse floated through the door in a timely fashion, and the young ladies giggled. Stealthy footsteps retreated to the attic. Maude reconnoitered to the maid’s rooms, where the help were apparently having a party of their own. The girls waited silently.
A knock on the door. Georgiana did her gatekeeper thing, and Maude replied.
“Girls! It was the funniest thing! The footmen are all lying about laughing right now. Apparently they think it is a fine notion. The maids appear to be amenable- one said that at least it was different. But you’ll never guess what the gardener’s boy said! He offered to supply us with little frogs, enough to hop all over the room!”
The plan was in motion.