Not part of story: To Cassie M, Lise, Rachel and Malini--I said I was going to start with John and Alexander, but since that story's going on I decided to save any future fighting for that. Hope you don't mind, Rachel, that I decided to go ahead and begin with this one!
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of different feuds that would be interesting if they'd happened with Austen's characters, written by different authors. The difference is that in these, the characters are going to forget that they are supposed to be ladies and gentlemen and allow themselves to act in any manner. I hope you enjoy it.
If you think it's dumb or in poor taste, please let me know, but I thought it might be kind of weird and amusing.
The day began as any other day did. People came and went at leisure, doing ordinary, everyday things. Ladies went calling upon each other, gentlemen went hunting, spent time at their businesses (which rarely required much attention past two in the afternoon) and then joined their friends in a drink or some other form of comraderie.
Yet there was a tension in the air that had been building for a long time. The people knew that this day would come, and at a little gathering but two weeks earlier, the challenge had been delivered and accepted. Since that day, people had been arranging to be invited to the event. The lady whose little house party had been the origin of the first skirmish and was to host the second, a lady by the name of Mrs. Philips, was overjoyed as she became the most sought-after hostess in Meryton.
It had began when Mrs. Philips had invited her dear friend Mrs. Augusta Elton and her husband, the Reverend Mr. Elton, to an evening of cards and laughs, as her favourite niece Lydia had been fond of calling such gatherings. On this occasion, Mrs. Philips had also invited the future owner of Longbourn, a man by the name of Mr. William Collins, and his wife Charlotte, praying as she extended the invitation that she would not have the displeasure of the gentleman's company. She would not have such good fortune.
Mr. Collins was still in service as clergyman to a great lady by the name of Catherine de Bourgh, mistress of Rosings Park, daughter of the Earl of Matlock and, by his reckoning, the most noble lady that had ever breathed. Nowhere else on earth, he felt, could there be a more noble person than she.
Mrs. Elton, however, had a different opinion, one that disagreed with Mr. Collins'. Although she had not had the privilege of meeting Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and she likely would have considered it the highest honour to have such a condescention made on her behalf, she did not believe that a more noble person could exist than her own brother, Mr. Suckling of Maple Grove.
The two exchanged heated words upon the subject of who was the more noble and deserving of praise. Not even the repeated entreaties of their hostess could dissuade the pair from their argument, and the disagreement grew louder until all the guests were staring at them and the two were bordering on downright rudeness to each other.
It was a mysterious, well-muscled man who appeared from nowhere to suggest the solution to the problem. He had to be six or seven inches above six feet tall, with a bald head (which would have shocked the guests had they known it was shaved) and a most peculiar mustache-beard combination that one guest remarked made him look like a goat. He wore peculiar attire: a short-sleeved black shirt with trousers made of a strange, rough-looking blue material. His only concession to the standard attire was a jacket, but even this jacket was strange--no buckles or ruffles to be found. Plus, it was not nearly long enough, stopping at his waist, and at the moment he had discarded it onto a chair.
Mrs. Philips could not recall inviting him to her little soiree, but as he had the size to prevent the corpulent Mr. Collins from coming any closer to the petite but resilient Mrs. Elton, she did not object to his presence.
In a most peculiar accent (one that almost sounded American), the man said, "What you folks need is a 'deathmatch.'" When the party turned blank faces to him, he clarified his answer. "A fight. Where neither of you would have to act by this sissy society's rules."
The guests gasped aloud in shock at the suggestion that there be a fight, much less one between a lady and a gentleman.
"Not that kind of fight, you overdressed turkeys. Just a simple braggin' contest. Whoever ends up being able to top the other wins the contest."
"That sounds rather simple," Mrs. Elton said, smug in her confidence that she would easily win such a contest.
"Most simple, indeed," Mr. Collins agreed, thinking that there was no way such an annoying woman would possibly defeat him in singing the praises of a such worthy person as Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
And thus the tall stranger made arrangements with Mrs. Philips to reconvene the parties at her home two weeks hence, to have the contest. From the moment everyone heard about the unusual battle to come, speculation and fascination about the event grew to unprecedented heights.
Ladies and gentlemen were supposed to be polite to each other even when they were mortal enemies. No one had ever heard of a fight between the two sexes, even if fights between men were common (indeed, there were places where such matches were sanctioned) and fights between women, although not sanctioned, took place in drawing rooms and dance floors all over the countryside.
Mrs. Philips, realising the importance of the event, decided to move the event to the Meryton Assembly Hall, where there would be room for more people and where dancing could possibly be held before or after the "deathmatch."
As the event drew near, both Mr. Collins and Mrs. Elton could be found making lists of the attributes of their candidates, and although neither would admit it, making lists of their opponent's detriments. Excitement ran wild. Children begged to be allowed to attend, but were denied because the parents feared that something worse might occur during the course of the fight. (In later times, children would not only be allowed to see such things but be catered to by the promoters, but remember that this was the early 1800's.)
Finally, the night arrived. The guests arrived early to talk amongst themselves before the guests of honour (or in this case, dishonour) arrived.
Mr. Collins arrived first, dressed in his finest outfit, accompanied by his wife Charlotte, who looked extremely embarrassed. Charlotte would have died before admitting it, but she was as interested as everyone else about what might occur. She only prayed that her husband did not take the worst of it.
Mrs. Elton followed him by ten minutes, followed by her caro sposo, who had tried every day for the past two weeks to dissuade his beloved from engaging in something that would cause him infinite shame. But Mrs. Elton would not be deterred.
"That gentleman deserves a lesson in humility, and I feel I am just the person to give it to him," she replied.
Mr. Elton tried telling her that it was God's job to teach people humility, but Mrs. Elton would not listen, as she tended not to do when he spoke.
The noise in the Meryton Assembly Hall loudened as Mrs. Elton and Mr. Collins faced each other in the center of the room. Everyone quickly moved to the walls to watch. Someone handed each a glass of wine, which both drank and set aside.
Although no one had seen him enter the room, and no one had seen him anywhere in the building, the tall, well-muscled stranger had appeared. He was again dressed in those bizarre trousers, this time with a white short-sleeved shirt with the words "This Bud's for You" on it, carrying a cylinder object in his hand with the word "Lite" and a picture on it.
"Nice to see you here tonight," he said in his strange accent. "Thanks, folks, for comin' out. As you know, we're here to see these two face each other because they have a disagreement."
The crowd had quieted when he spoke.
"Here are the rules--there are no rules, except that there's to be no actual physical fightin'. Collins, I don't care how ticked you get at her, she's a woman and any man who hits a woman's gonna answer to me." The tall stranger pointed a finger at the heavyset man. "Got that?"
"Y-yes," he said.
"And you," he turned to Mrs. Elton. "Don't go hittin' him either. No cheap shots."
"Of course not," Mrs. Elton said.
"All right. Then I'm gonna step aside, and you two can start." He walked over to one side, flipped something on the metallic cylinder he had with him, and brought it to his lips. It appeared to be a drink of some sort.
Since the man had not designated who should go first, Mr. Collins made his last concession to being a gentleman by allowing the lady to begin.
"I simply adore my brother, Mr. Suckling. He has the most delightful house called Maple Grove. Perhaps you have heard of it, Mr. Collins?"
"You asked me this the last time we met, Mrs. Elton, and I have not. And neither, might I add, has Lady Catherine, and let me assure you that if Lady Catherine has not heard of this Maple Grove, then surely it cannot be anything spectacular."
"How would you know if she had not heard of the place?"
"I know for I have written her to ask. Lady Catherine knows all the truly great estates of England, you know...Pemberley, Rosings, Norland, Mansfield Park..." With a sly smile, he recalled two places she would hate the mention of. "Hartfield and Donwell Abbey."
Mrs. Elton glared at him. "I will have you know that those last two are not all that impressive, and I should know, for I have visited both."
"That is not what Lady Catherine says, and I must say--"
"Do not repeat that rubbish about Lady Catherine. From what I have heard, she is not one whose opinion should be trusted. Where does she go? How often is she out in Society?"
"These things matter little when a lady is as noble as she. And I must say, she is connected to some of the most respected personages in the land--the Earl of Matlock, the Viscount Hampton, and let us not forget the de Bourghs. Who is connected to your Mr. Suckling?"
Mrs. Elton did not have an answer for this, for in the connections department Lady Catherine did most adequately. However, she did feel the need to lash out by saying, "She is also connected to a man of dubious reputation named Wickham, and another...person by the name of Bennet, which I might add, sir, means she is connected to another most odious personage...yourself."
There were titters from their audience at the slight.
"Lady Catherine is only distantly connected to such people, and I consider myself to be greatly honoured that one of those connections is myself. Your Mr. Suckling is connected to your family, which has very little distinction."
"I was considered quite an heiress," she snapped.
"Yes, but you were an old heiress when you married, were you not?"
Mrs. Elton expected the tall stranger to reprimand them, but when he did not, she decided to change the subject. She blinked several times before continuing. "The grounds of Maple Grove boast an enormous amount of trees, beautiful trees, elegantly situated."
"Rosings Park contains -- acres of land with a park so large that one could take a different path every day of the year to walk through it and still have plenty more to choose from."
It was clear that Mr. Collins was in control of the argument, and he smiled.
"Mr. Suckling and my sister have a beautiful barouche-landau and a chaise, although I personally recommend the barouche--so much more comfortable and currently in the height of fashion."
"Lady Catherine has a number of carriages, all made to her specifications and most comfortable for both her and her daughter."
"My sister Mrs. Suckling has three healthy, beautiful children who are likely to make excellent matches."
Mr. Collins frowned. Lady Catherine had only Anne and, sad to say, she would hold up quite poorly compared to three healthy, robust children.
"They also have a most elegant townhouse in London and were just last Season presented at Court, where they were greeted with all courtesy and respect."
Again, Mr. Collins was at a disadvantage. Lady Catherine had only been to Court once in the past twenty or so years, Anne's health being a primary factor in her lack of travelling.
The victory he had felt certain of was slipping. "At least I was not anyone's second choice," he said, finally reverting to the list of things he had discovered about her.
"I was no one's second choice, either," she hissed.
"Oh? Does the name Emma Woodhouse ring a bell, or should I say Mrs. Knightley? Tell me, Mrs. Elton, how does it feel to have to consider her your superior in station as she married the wealthiest man in Highbury while you married the clergyman?"
"As you are a clergyman yourself, sir, I cannot see how you can frown upon the profession so."
"Ah, but I stand to inherit an estate one day, insuring that I shall not be a clergyman forever. I have prospects, something your caro sposo lacks. And I was not my wife's second choice."
"No, but she was the only person you could get, was she not? I understand that you proposed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet before you managed to convince Mrs. Collins to marry you, poor woman. How did it feel to be rejected by a woman who is now your superior in station?"
"As the lady told my noble patroness herself, she was on equal footing with Mr. Darcy when they married. He was a gentleman, she a gentleman's daughter." And never mind that he had never agreed with her to Lady Catherine. "What were you, other than a girl with a poor education who had to settle for being second best?"
"I happen to have a first rate education, and at least I know my husband loves me!"
"He loved your ten thousand pounds more."
"As I am certain your wife loved the idea of Longbourn more than you."
"My Charlotte and I are of one mind and one thinking on everything now. We have an equal marriage. Can you say the same?"
"Of course! My husband and I talk about everything." Mrs. Elton put her hand on her chest. "I feel rather dizzy."
Mr. Collins felt a tad queasy himself, but would not comment lest he give away any weakness.
"And anyway, my cousin never had the massive stupidity to run away with anyone," she said. "My cousins are all good people, quite sensible. What are your people, other than a bunch of buffoons and fools?"
"My people are the Collinses of Hertfordshire, or they were before a disagreement between my father and Mr. Bennet. And my people are related to the Darcys and the Bingleys."
"Again, there is that Wickham fellow, and everyone knows that the Bingleys acquired their money in trade."
"And how did you family come about its fortune?"
Mrs. Elton's chin dropped a notch as her dizziness worsened. "Quite well, I assure you. At least I was not almost expelled from the university for being a complete bore!"
There were gasps from the crowd, and Mr. Collins could not refrain from trying to slap her, for he did not wish for the incident at university to come out. Before he could bring his arm around to do so, a strong hand gripped his wrist and nearly snapped it in two. There stood the tall stranger, who forced him into submission. Mr. Collins lay on the floor, whimpering in pain. So much pain that he failed to notice that Mrs. Elton was also collapsed upon the floor, but her complaint was that of some sort of poison, for she had felt fine before arriving at this occasion.
"I told you I wasn't gonna have any violence," the stranger growled. "What I ought to do is beat the living--daylights out of you."
Before he could, Mrs. Elton, with great deliberation, reached out and punched Mr. Collins in the stomach, bringing about a gurgling sound which sounded almost as though he were drowning.
"Hey!" The stranger said, realizing that she had been feigning illness the whole time, waiting for her opponent to be weak so she could strike. Mrs. Elton had risen to her feet and was kicking at the downed man with her pointy shoes. "Stop that, you cat!" He picked up the lady and, when she would not stop kicking, nearly tossed her across the room in an act of self-defense, where she landed in an undignified heap on the hostess. Mrs. Philips screamed in shock and continued shouting for Augusta to get off her.
Mr. Collins groaned in pain, shouting for Charlotte to come assist him. The crowd began to break into gossip, and all agreed that they were uncertain who had actually won. Mrs. Elton appeared to have done so.
The tall stranger sighed. Maybe this hadn't been a good idea after all. Next time, he thought, he'd just let them fight it out physically in private, or with a small, contained audience rather than in front of a large crowd.
But he had a feeling that if he had not pulled Mrs. Elton away from Mr. Collins, she would probably have beaten him. Verbally and otherwise.