To A Timeline Of The Evening's Ball
This story is connected to Carolyn's Elizabeth's Tour of Pemberley.
Elizabeth was running late. She rushed into her bedroom to find a bath waiting and her costume laid out on the bed. With the help of her maid she quickly disrobed and sank into the steaming tub. The warm water seemed to relieve her of some the cares and worries she was experiencing.
The snow had stopped on the twenty-seventh, but it had remained cold. There was some doubt whether all those invited would be able to attend. But no sooner had the sun shown on snow, than it seemed guests were arriving, and had continued to arrive for the past several days. The Earl and Countess of Matlock arrived first, next came Col. Fitzwilliam with what appeared to be half a regiment of officers. (Thank goodness there appeared to be no shortage of gentlemen for the ball!). Her parents and sisters arrived soon afterwards. Jane and Bingley arrived in the carriage behind them. Mr. Collins and Charlotte also arrived, he being under strict orders from Lady Catherine to report back all signs of contamination at Pemberley to her the first moment he returned, else she would never have consented to his attendance at the ball. Finally, when Elizabeth had just about given their rooms away, Miss Bingley and the Hurst's arrived.
The past few days had been hectic, to say the least. Soon, however, the ball would begin and the difficulties of the past few days would be forgotten. Or at least Elizabeth hoped they would.
A short time later, while Elizabeth was under the ministrations of her maid, a knock sounded on her door. The maid opened the door, revealing the Countess, a footman, a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
"I thought that you might be experiencing some anxiety in regards to the ball this evening. I have brought the best medicine for calming nerves. Walters, pour out the champagne."
"Thank you, Madame," Elizabeth said, as a glass was placed on her dressing table.
"What shall we drink to?" asked the Countess.
"To an uneventful evening," Elizabeth replied.
"Surely not," teased the Countess, "for it is a well orchestrated disaster or a bit of scandalous behavior that makes a ball truly memorable. Why I remember my own come out, noted not because it was my entrance into society, but because of the behavior of my cousin, Buckminster. Now Bucky, so called because of his resemblance to a rabbit, particularly the teeth, decided to stand on his head. And while this feat might have been interesting in itself, it was the location that Bucky chose that truly made it memorable."
"And what location was that, ma'am?" inquired Elizabeth, sipping from her glass of champagne.
"Why the punch bowl, my dear. There he was--head first in the punch bowl, if you can imagine, turning as purple as the punch, when the bowl, being Mamma's second best, broke. Punch splattered everywhere, staining several gowns beyond repair. But that was not the end of it. Bucky had lost his balance when the bowl broke and came crashing down on the table, right on top of a plate of lobster patties. Unfortunately, the cook had included some lobster claws as decorations. Do I need tell you where one claw pinched poor Bucky?" asked the Countess.
"Oh, ma'am," Elizabeth gasped out, for she was laughing. "Not there?"
"Yes, there. Bucky then jumped off the table, but in his haste he sent one of the candlesticks flying. It landed on the floor, but not before igniting the Duchess of Torrey's monstrosity of a wig. Gerald, the Earl that is, being quick witted, grabbed the wig off the Duchess and through it on the soggy mess that was once the punch bowl. The wig ceased to be aflame. The same could not be said for the Duchess," the Countess paused, sipping her champagne.
"Come, ma'am, you can not be so cruel. Tell me why the Duchess was aflame."
"Because she was bald as a cue ball, my dear. Everyone was shocked, as I am sure you can imagine. No one said a word, we just stood there, staring at her shiny pate. Finally, she stormed over to the table, took her soaking purple wig and placed it on her head. With as much dignity as she could muster, she left the ball. Bucky also left the ball, escorted by two of my father's heftiest footmen."
"Ma'am, are telling the absolute truth?" questioned Elizabeth.
"Oh, yes, my dear. Ask Gerald if you do not believe me. The incident has attained legendary status amongst the ton," replied the Countess. She went on to amuse Elizabeth with several other tales of comically disastrous or outright scandalous behavior she had been privileged to witness. The champagne in the bottle was gone when the Countess concluded. "So you see, my dear, you have nothing to worry over. If the ball runs smoothly, everyone will enjoy themselves and will remember it fondly. If a disaster happens, why then the ball will instantly become legendary. Now I must go and dress," said the Countess, as she set down her empty glass, "and I will allow you to do the same."
"Thank you, ma'am," Elizabeth said, "for the champagne and the stories and your company."
"You are most welcome, Elizabeth. Most welcome," said the Countess, as she left the room.
Elizabeth felt that all her anxieties had left the room with the Countess, and now only anticipation and excitement remained. The ball would begin in few short hours.
Chapter 1--Jane & The Wizard
Author's Note: This chapter was inspired by Inko.
Miss Austen received her invitation to Pemberley with delight. She was in the neighborhood, along with her brother Henry, visiting an old friend of hers who had married an old friend of his. Mr. Partridge now had the position of rector for Lambton and, as such, had been issued invitation that included himself and his wife. Mrs. Partridge let it be known that they had guest, and without much ado, an invitation was dispatched to them as well.
Jane had not come to Derbyshire planning to attend a costume ball, so she made do with her hostess' old pink domino. No matter, for Jane loved a ball and dancing and flirting. She was looking forward to the evening at Pemberley.
However, approaching the grand house, she felt somewhat intimidated. In all her imaginings she could not possibly have known how grand Pemberley truly was. She retrieved her invitation from her reticule. It was a standard invitation, but across the bottom written:
Dear Miss Austen,
Please do attend the ball, for I am looking forward to meeting you. I have read your books with much enjoyment. Sincerely, Elizabeth Ben scratched out, Darcy.
Miss Austen felt the thrill (which every authors knows) that comes when others openly admired her work. The hard work and perseverance were often compensated in a few words (though a royalty check was not dismissed out of hand.)
Standing in the receiving line waiting to be introduced, Miss Austen noticed the happy couple greeting their guests. Mr. Darcy was dressed in a scarlet coat, and, upon closer inspection, a black waistcoat embroidered with what looked to be scarlet pimpernels. Miss Austen smiled to herself. Like many of her fellow countrymen and women, she had first thrilled to the Pimpernels daring adventures, but had come to believe, as many had, that it was pure legend, without basis in fact. Still it made a romantic story, she mused.
Just then a guest behind her step on her gown.
"I am very sorry, ma'am," said the gentlemen, who was somewhere between 40 and 50 years of age. "I hope I did not damage your gown. Growing old, you know, plays havoc with one's eyesight. Sir Percival Blakeney, at your service, ma'am." He bowed low before Jane.
"Miss Jane Austen," she replied, "and I do not believe that you are so very old."
"It is not the years but the mileage," said Sir Percy, "but this is delightful accident. My wife and daughter eagerly await each new book penned by you, as I do. Please say that I may introduce you to them later this evening?"
"It would be my pleasure, Sir Percy." He bowed and left. She dropped a quick curtsey, and then turned back into line. She was closer now to meeting her host and hostess. Mrs. Darcy was dressed as gypsy.
"Her hair, Louisa, it looks practically wild," came a voice from antechamber off the main entrance. Jane looked over and spied a woman peeking out the door at the ball's hostess.
"And her blouse, surely you noticed the neckline of her blouse, Caroline" said another female voice.
"I did," grunted a male voice.
"Mr. Hurst!" cried the two ladies between gritted teeth. "Hussy," said Caroline, turning her glare back on her hostess. Jane wondered if her hostess could feel the daggers being sent her way.
"Mr. and Mrs. Partridge, welcome to our ball. I am so glad your friends could come with you. Mr. Austen, Miss Austen, it is a pleasure to meet you," said Elizabeth.
"Miss Austen," Darcy said, "I cannot tell you how much I admire your work. Though some of it I find uncannily reminiscent. It is almost as if you have captured my life's story."
"Mr. Darcy, I fear you flatter me," said Miss Austen.
"Oh no, ma'am, for Mr. Darcy always speaks the absolute truth, do you not, my dear?" said Elizabeth. "But I must concur with his assessment. I sometimes find it hard to believe that you are not writing about me."
"Miss Austen, my I take this opportunity of soliciting a dance? I fear word has gotten out that you would be attending and I am sure that your dance card will be full."
"I would be delighted, Mr. Darcy," replied Jane, handing him her dance card. Darcy put his name down for a country dance.
"It is a singular honor, Miss Austen, for Mr. Darcy has agreed only to dance two dances with me!" Elizabeth teased her husband.
"But Elizabeth, surely you do not think that there will be a scarcity of gentlemen to dance with, not with all these officers present. I would not appear "ungentlemanly" by taking all the dances."
"In some instances, Mr. Darcy, gentlemanly behavior has it drawbacks," said Elizabeth. "I hope you will enjoy the ball, Miss Austen."
"I am sure I shall," Jane started to move away, but her way was blocked by a handsome gentlemen wearing a kilt and a friendly smile. "Bonnie Prince Charlie, at your service, ma'am."
"Your majesty," Miss Austen curtsied.
"Finally, a woman who appreciates my worth, what do you say to that, cousin?"
"I believe that Miss Austen has more intelligence than you are aware of. Miss Austen, may I present my cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam."
"This is indeed a pleasure, ma'am. I am under strict orders to make you known to my great friend, Col. Tristam Bradford. A veritable rogue, I warn you, who will try to steal all your dances, so I best fill out your dance card now, if I may?"
"Thank you, sir. I am sure I shall enjoy our dance very much."
"Good," said the Colonel, after signing her dance card, he offered his arm and led her into the ballroom. They made there over to a group of officers.
"Which one is Col. Bradford?" asked Jane.
"The one dressed like a roundhead. I told you he was a rogue," the Colonel informed her, adding in a louder voice, "imagine coming to ball dressed as someone who did his best to drive fun away from England."
"Tis better than being a Pretender," replied Bradford. "Beware, ma'am, for Fitzwilliam has been known to play false."
"Are sure you want to meet such a disreputable fellow, Miss Austen? I have already informed her that you are a rogue, sir."
"Do not listen him, ma'am, he does my reputation no good," replied the Colonel.
"But I have always had a soft spot for a rogue," returned Jane.
"Then I should thank Fitzwilliam for putting me in your good graces, and I shall ask for dance, now, before you learn the truth."
"The truth, Col. Bradford?"
"That I am a plain and simple man, not at all of a romantic caliber."
"I think you sorely underestimate yourself, Colonel."
"I am flattered, Miss Austen."
Jane spent an agreeable evening dancing and flirting all night. Her brother, Henry, ran into another old friend and rector, Edgar Ferris, and she danced with him. She sat out only one dance, but this due to the fault of her partner, who dressed as St. George, in full armor, found that he could not dance. Still, she enjoyed her conversation with the kind and gentle knight. As she was sitting with the knight, a young man came up and bowed.
"Ma'am, I hope you will excuse me for introducing myself, I am Captain Cedric Wordsworth (no relation to the poet), and I had the very great pleasure to serve with your brother."
"Yes, I believe that my brother has mentioned you in his letters," replied Jane. St. George excused himself to seek another partner.
"I feel that I already know you, Miss Austen, for your brother often relates some of the innocuous contents of your letters."
Jane frowned. She did not like to think her brother was imparting family business to all and sundry.
As if reading her mind, the Captain told her, "He only related the events to me, ma'am, and only of the innocent nature, I assure you. It is just that he felt sorry for me."
"And why is that, sir?" asked Jane.
"Not all of us have families to receive letters from, ma'am," replied the Captain.
"No family at all, sir?"
"None, I'm afraid, though there was a time a thought there might be, but it did not work out. However, I have been fortunate enough to have a good friend in your brother who allowed me adopt his family as my own."
"Then would you care to join me in a bit of supper?" asked Jane.
"It would be an honor," replied the Captain.
Jane went down to the supper room on the Captain's arm. They joined her brother and friends and set down to enjoy the lavish feast provided by the Pemberley cooks. Many of the officers, stopped by the table and enjoyed a laugh or a two.
"She should be ashamed of herself," cried Mrs. Bennet, loudly. "Flirting with all the officers and gentleman, why she is thirty if she is a day, and most likely older. She should be sitting in a corner with the other chaperones."
"Of whom are you speaking, my dear," asked Mr. Bennet, who had been heretofore deaf to his wife's ramblings.
"Why that Miss Austen! What an artful creature to be sure!" Her statement was followed by a laugh from the gentlemen at Miss Austen's table, which now included Mr. Darcy.
"Where are you going, Mr. Bennet?" screeched his wife.
"Why to see what all the fuss is about, my dear. Miss Austen must be quite remarkable to make Mr. Darcy laugh. It is an acquaintance worth cultivating, I think."
"Oh, Mr. Bennet!" cried Mrs. Bennet, throwing her silverware down on the china plates with a loud rattle.
After supper, Jane returned to the ballroom. All evening a young man had watched her from the sidelines of the ballroom. The unmasking of the guests was to take place at midnight, and being the shy sort, did not wish to reveal himself to the woman he so admired. Taking a deep breath, he step forward into her path.
"Excuse me," the words barely came from the young man's mouth. "Miss Austen" the words were barely a whisper! Clearing his throat, he spoke louder. "Miss Austen, please forgive my presumptuousness, but I felt I could not go on another moment without making your acquaintance. I have struggled all evening in the hopes of asking you to dance, but I have only now found the courage to ask."
"Am I so frightening then?" Miss Austen asked the young man dressed in a wizard's garb, complete with pointy hat and wand.
"Oh, no. Never that. Please, ma'am, I did not intend an insult. It is just that I so admire your works that I could not stop myself from asking, but knowing myself to be a very poor dancer, I know that I shall give a bad performance on the dance floor, if you were so kind as to accept my invitation to dance and I did not want to disappoint you," this somewhat convoluted sentence came out in a rush.
Jane noticed that the young was blushing. He almost turned and fled, but Jane lightly touched his robe and he stilled. "Mr..........?"
"Merlin" he said, making a gesture to his costume.
"Mr. Merlin, I should be delighted to have the next dance with you, if Col. Bradford does not mind giving up his?" Jane asked her companion.
"No, I do not mind, for if I do not, I am sure I shall wake up tomorrow and find that I have been turned into a toad. Ma'am," the Colonel bowed and left.
"Now, Mr. Merlin, the next dance is a waltz. It is not difficult, do you think. But be warned, I am most severe when a gentleman steps on my toes."
"I shall do my best not trod upon them, Miss Austen, my very best."
"I am sure you shall, Mr. Merlin."
The musicians struck up the music, and Miss Austen and the Wizard joined the other dancers. Several minutes passed without a word between Jane and Merlin. Merlin, despite his prophecy of ineptitude on the dance floor, proved to be a better dancer than he thought. This was because he was mentally counting along with the music so that he would not miss a step.
"Come, Mr. Merlin, I believe we must have some conversation," Jane teased. Merlin smiled tensely but kept on counting out his steps.
"A very little will suffice," still no response from the Wizard.
"You should make a remark on the weather, or I should remark on the number of couples."
"Miss Austen, please, I am trying to avoid stepping on your toes."
"And doing a most excellent job of it, so far. Surely, you can dance and talk at the same time."
"I fear not."
"Is there not some spell you could cast to make your feet fall in line, leaving your mouth free to make conversation?"
"That kind of magic is beyond my capabilities."
"Well, then I shall carry on a conversation for both of us. You just nod or shake your head at the appropriate times. Is that all right with you?"
The wizard nodded.
So Jane began a decidedly one sided conversation with Merlin only nodding and shaking his head. At the end of the waltz, Merlin escorted Jane back to her brother. "Please accept this small token as thanks for our dance, Miss Austen," said Merlin, reaching into his sleeve and pulling out a perfect bouquet of pink rose buds. Jane was amazed to see dew still on them. Lowering her eyes to bouquet, she sniffed the fragrant scent.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Merlin. Mr. Merlin?" Jane looked up, but her wizard was nowhere to be seen. Attached to the bouquet was note. Thank you was all it said. Turning it over, she read the printing on the back of the note card. University Florist, Austin, Texas
Where in the world is Texas? Jane thought, as the chimes struck midnight.
"Louisa!" cried Caroline, entering the antechamber. Louisa was dropped unceremoniously down on a couch as the Mysterious Man Black escaped out the window.
Chapter 2--Desdemona and the Artist.
Author's Note: This Chapter was inspired by Lucie
Guy Fawkes was in one of the curtained alcoves that were situated around the ballroom. He was passing the time (as he usually did at balls) by drawing caricatures of the guests. He rarely attended balls or assemblies and danced even less. He would not even be here tonight, except that Mr. Darcy had extended a personal invitation to attend, in gratitude for the portrait of Elizabeth that Guy had given Darcy as a wedding present. Guy had just turned to a fresh page in his sketch book when a young woman, obviously highly agitated, stormed into the curtained alcove.
"I will wring his neck" she cried, twisted the long red scarf she carried as if were indeed someone's neck beneath her hands. In her excited state she was completely unaware that she was not alone in the alcove.
Guy took to the opportunity study this invader into his privacy. She was dressed in an Elizabethan-style gown of gold and white.
She also carried a long, red scarf. The clue to her identity, he hoped. He coughed. The woman turned and glared at him.
Guy was not surprised by her actions, but he was surprised by her eyes. He had often thought that blue eyes were insipid, but hers flashed with anger, (and to his discriminating artist's eye) hurt and embarrassment as well. Raising from the sofa, he said, "Lady Desdemona, I fear you have the story wrong. Desdemona does not strangle Othello, Othello strangles her."
"What?" asked Desdemona, taken aback by this stranger who invaded her privacy. She shook her head to clear it. No, she must have barged in upon him. Her face went red.
"Though I think it would be a shame to mar such a pretty neck as yours," said Guy.
"Thank you for the compliment, but you need not waste such flummery on me," replied Desdemona, sharply.
"I assure you, it is the truth. Come, have a seat. Can I get you a glass of wine or lemonade to soothe your agitation?"
Desdemona refused. "The only thing that would soothe my agitation, is for Oliver to stop acting like a...like a....like a pig!," she fairly spit out the word, unable to come up with a more suitable epithet.
"It seems to me that the best way of deal with pigs is to turn them into ham. Shall turn your particular pig into ham?" replied Guy.
"You do not know which pig I am referring to, Mr., ummm, Mister?" Desdemona asked, for she could not make out who the man was supposed to be from his costume.
"Guy Fawkes, at your service, ma'am," Guy introduced himself, bowing, "and it matters not who he is. I can see that he has upset you greatly. I am sure that he is in need of punishment."
"There is no need for you to rise my defense, Mr. Fawkes," Desdemona told him.
"I never saw much use for dawn meetings myself, fair lady. However, if you show me the porcine fool who caused you such distress, I will flay him with my pen. It is my one talent."
Reluctantly, Desdemona parted the alcove curtain and pointed out her Othello. "That is Oliver, amongst the group of officers paying court Miss Darcy and Miss Bennet. "
Guy studied the young man for a few minutes, making note of his costuming and his features. Othello seemed particularly interested in Miss Darcy, who seemed oblivious to his presence. "Yes, that is it," Guy nodded to himself and his pencil began to fly over the paper. Except for the scratching of pencil against paper, the room was silent.
"There," Guy said several minutes later, "I do believe I have captured his likeness quite well. What do you think?" he asked, handing the sketch book to Desdemona.
Desdemona laughed, "It is a very good likeness, I think, very good, Mr. Fawkes." The picture was of Oliver, but a very porcine Oliver, complete with snouted nose. He was dressed in Elizabethan garb as Othello (a curly tail showing from behind) and gazing upon a pile of slops the same way as Oliver was gazing on Miss Darcy.
"That is better. You have a lovely laugh, Lady Desdemona. Now, if it is not too presumptuous, may I have the pleasure of doing your likeness?" Guy asked.
Desdemona nodded, but added, "Please be kind in your depiction. I should not like to appear foolish."
"Trust me, fair Desdemona, I would never do you harm. It will be a picture you will be proud to own." Waiting until Desdemona was seated on the sofa, he gingerly sat down on a small gilded chair and began to sketch.
"Your parents must be proud to have such a talented artist in the family," remarked Desdemona, as a way of making conversation.
"I fear you are wrong, again. I am the black sheep of my family. I have been all but disowned for not following family tradition. Alas, I have forsaken the Army for Art."
"I am glad to finally meet a gentleman who is not army mad. Oliver talks of nothing else since his father bought him a commission in Colonel Fitzwilliam's regiment. That is why we are here. All the officers for the regiment were invited so that there would be enough gentleman for the ladies."
"And he asked that you to come with him? That does not seem very piggish to me."
"Oh, Oliver did not want me along at all. Indeed, there is very little that we wish to do together."
"Excuse my curiosity, but, I can see that you are wearing a betrothal ring, Is it not from Oliver?"
"Yes, it is and we are betrothed, but neither of us wish to be. Oliver's father has money but no land, my father has land but no money. Both of our fathers believe it to be perfect match of estates. Oliver received his Army commission from his father after he agreed to marry me, it was his reward."
"And what was your reward?"
"This ball, I believe. Mr. Sterling insisted that I should accompany Oliver to this ball --to become better acquainted, he said. But Oliver has other plans. Now that he has got his commission, he is on the look out for an heiress to marry, for the Army is awfully expensive for an officer, he says. He shall jilt me as soon as finds one who agrees to marry him."
"I am sure you are mistaken, surely no gentleman would behave so callously," Guy spoke reassuringly. He already thought Oliver a fool for abandoning such a beautiful young woman. And she was beautiful. Both the artist and the man recognized the beauty. Guy thought that many undiscerning men would miss it, for it was not the blatant prettiness often associated with beautiful women.
"I am only repeating what Oliver told me himself. When we arrived at Pemberley, he told me to stay with the chaperones and other wallflowers, for it is where a mousy little thing like me belongs. If Colonel Fitzwilliam had not greeted us practically on the doorstep, I doubt very much that Oliver would have introduced me to anyone." She paused a moment, wondering if she should confess what followed, but considering what had already been said, prudence in speech now seemed redundant.
"The Colonel asked to put his name down on my dance card. I knew Oliver wished me to refuse the Colonel, for he did not wish to dance with me and was hoping I would make some excuse to sit in the corner all evening. But I wanted to dance, so I accepted the Colonel's invitation. Oliver then had to write his name down on my dance card, too. When it came time for our dance, I waited for Oliver to come, but instead he deliberately walked right past me and then led someone else out on to the dance floor," Desdemona stated in what she hoped was a perfectly calm voice. "That is when I came in here."
SNAP went Guy's pencil as it broke in two. He heard the catch in her voice that she tried to hide. Oliver deserved to be horsewhipped.
"Mr. Fawkes?" asked Desdemona.
"I seem to have broken my pencil, but it is of no matter, for I am done. I hope you like it," he said as he handed her the sketch book.
"Mr. Fawkes, this is not me, the woman in this picture is beautiful."
"I believe that you are wrong again, fair Desdemona. For I draw only what I see and since there is no other woman in the room, I must have certainly drawn you. It is the only logical explanation." Guy stood up from, and given a half bow, offered his hand, "Now, even though I am warning you in advance that your toes are in very great danger of being trod upon, will you allow me the next dance."
Desdemona laid aside the sketch book. "I would be truly honored," she said, accepting his hand.
Lady Sophia and Lady Matlock were seated with a clear view of everyone in the ballroom. They had spent the past half hour chatting about their acquaintances attending the ball.
"Sophia, is the not young Wilking taking the dance floor?" the Countess asked, cutting off her friend mid-sentence.
"Where?" asked Lady Sophia.
"Over there," the Countess pointed to the dancing couple.
"Yes, Rebecca, I do believe that you are right. How extraordinary! Do you know who the girl is? I saw her earlier, seated amongst the chaperones and wallflowers, but she is unfamiliar to me."
"And also to me," the Countess frowned, not liking the mystery.
"Excuse me, my ladies, but I could not but help overhear your conversation. I believe that the young lady is somehow connected to one of the officers in Fitzwilliam's regiment," came a voice from behind them.
"Why, thank you, Colonel Bradford," said the Countess, as her eyes scanned the ballroom for her son. Lady Sophia turned to look at the gentlemen. "I saw that you had the privilege of speaking with Miss Austen."
"Yes, indeed, ma'am. One of the highlights of my evening," replied the Colonel. "Did you also have that pleasure?"
Lady Matlock caught her son's eyes and summoned him over to her.
"No, not yet. I hope to be able to speak with her later," Lady Sophia kept up the conversation with Colonel Bradford until Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived. Then Colonel Bradford excused himself from the ladies.
Fitzwilliam smiled at his mother, "Have you changed your mind then, ma'am, and are you allowing me the pleasure of escorting the most beautiful lady here to supper?"
The Countess was pleased with the compliment, but did not allow it to show (at least not too much). "No, I am afraid your father has already claimed the supper dance. What I, and Lady Sophia, want to know is--who is that young lady dancing with young Wilking? Colonel Bradford seemed to believe that she was connected to one of the officers in your regiment."
"The young lady is Miss Lucinda Braybant. She is engaged to Lieutenant Oliver Sterling," the Colonel told his mother, "he is one young gentleman over by Georgiana. The one dressed as Othello. Hopefully, he will turn out to be an officer of truly "sterling" character." The Colonel chuckled at his own pun.
The Countess was surprised when Fitzwilliam pointed out the gentleman. She the had displeasure of witnessing Lt. Sterling's earlier insult to the woman she now knew to be his fiancee. "I believe that a man of sterling character does not abandoned his fiancee all evening. Poor Miss Braybant has sat amongst the dowagers all evening."
"I am sure you are mistaken, ma'am, for I danced with her myself. And I know I saw Sterling's name on her dance card. And now she is dancing with Wilking. There must have been others in between. I am sure you are mistaken," said Fitzwilliam, unaware that he sounded quite patronizing, but he was trying to hide the fact that he had also noticed the Lieutenant's behavior this evening.
"Edward, please do not take that tone with me. I know what I saw. I saw the young lady sitting out dance after dance. No one approached her. No one. I saw the Lieutenant walk quite deliberately over to his fiancee at the beginning of the waltz. He waited for her to rise from her seat, then he turned away and escorted Miss Kitty Bennet onto the dance floor. Is this type of behavior that you want to encourage in your officers?" demanded the Countess.
"No, ma'am, of course not. I shall speak to him," Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed and made his way over to the Lieutenant.
At the same time, the Countess noticed General Sir Paul Wilking on the other side of the ballroom. The Countess stood up. "I think I see an opportunity to light a few powder kegs. Would you care to accompany me on a tour of the ballroom, Sophia?"
"Of course, Rebecca, I would not wish to miss it." said Lady Sophia. The two women made their way around the ballroom to ambush the General.
The Colonel had by this time gotten the Lieutenant off to the side.
"Lieutenant, you were invited to this ball because you are both an officer and a gentleman."
"Yes, sir," said Oliver, smiling slightly.
"I suggest that you began acting like one, then. I have seen privates with more sense of what is owed to their fiancees than I have witnessed from you tonight. A gentleman does not leave his fiancee alone in a room full of strangers. A gentleman does not gives his fiancee a cut direct, nor does he discouraged his fellow officer's from dancing with her," the last had been a shot in the dark, but the Colonel could tell that he hit the mark from the shifting of the Lieutenant's eyes. He became very angry.
"It is fortunate, is it not, that there are some here tonight who know how to act like gentlemen," he pointed to where Lucinda and Guy were dancing.
"I expect all my officer's to behave like gentlemen. I have yet to see that you know the meaning of the word. You best learn it quickly, or you will soon find yourself in my black books, and, I trust you will believe me," the Colonel said, as he tightened the glove over his fist, "that is not a place you wish to be."
"Will that be all, sir?" asked Oliver.
"I trust I have been understood," said Fitzwilliam.
"Yes, sir," said Oliver.
"Dismissed." Oliver left, but not before caught a look in the Lieutenant's eyes, that could only be called vicious.
By God, I will strangle her. This all her fault. Why couldn't she stay home where she belonged, Oliver thought as he stormed over to the dance floor.
"Darcy," Colonel Fitzwilliam called as he came out onto the balcony. He quickly turned his back when he spied his cousin embracing his new wife.
"It is all right, Fitzwilliam," said Darcy, dropping his hands from behind Elizabeth back. He tried to catch hold of one her hands, but she reluctantly freed herself and stepped back into the ballroom.
"I did not mean to interrupt, but I think I may have lit a powder keg. I fear a situation might be arising. I may need your help in diffusing it."
"Of course, Fitzwilliam, you can count on me."
"General Wilking, how are you?"
"Very well, Lady Matlock, and you?" he asked, bowing slightly.
"Very well, tonight, sir, very well. I am enjoying the evening greatly, and I can see that your son is also. It is so seldom that he can be seen on the dance floor."
"Harumph," was the only reply to this sally. Lady Matlock continued. "Oh, I believe that her fiancee has spotted them dancing. My, he does not look pleased. But I am sure your son can handle a jealous fiancÚ. After all, he is used to dealing with outraged military gentlemen."
The General look at her, startled. The Countess just smiled. "Have a good evening, General." She continued on her tour of the ballroom, Lady Sophia beside her.
When the dance was over, Guy accompanied Lucinda back into the alcove. She had expressed a desire to see more of his caricatures, and he wanted to oblige her. They had just seated themselves on the sofa and had just opened the sketch book when Oliver stormed in.
"I cannot believe that a drab little thing like you could cause so much trouble," he spat at Lucinda. Pulling her up from her seat, he grabbed both her arms so tightly that she had bruises for a week. "Why could you not stay in the corner like I told you to? I will not be made a fool by the likes of you. It is time you learned who is in charge!" Oliver pulled his hand back to slap her.
"I think not," said Guy as he grabbed Oliver's hand.
"This is none of your affair," ground out Oliver.
"I believe that it is," replied Guy evenly.
Smack, Guy's sketchbook hit the floor. The book fell open onto the page with the pig-like portrait of Oliver. Oliver let go of Lucinda, and struggled out of Guy's grasp. Picking up the notebook, he asked harshly, "Did you do this?"
"One of my better portraits, I do believe. Though it is an insult to pigs everywhere to be coupled with the likes of you."
"I demand satisfaction."
"Well, I have already had mine, so I fear I cannot oblige you."
Oliver laughed, evilly, "Oh, Lucinda, your lover is a coward. I know just how to deal with cowards."
"How dare you call my son a coward! Guy, why do you put with this insult?" demanded the General.
Guy shrugged, "I have heard it before, from no less personage than yourself. Why should I get upset when the words are spoken from some," Guy looked directly at Oliver, "pig?"
Oliver rushed towards Guy, intent on doing as much damage as possible. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam entered just in time to see Oliver fall on the floor, his nose all bloody.
"Lady Desdemona, I believe that I have not yet claimed a dance with you. Let me take the opportunity of doing so now, for I hear the orchestra striking the next dance," Darcy said, leading the somewhat dazed young woman out of the alcove.
The Colonel retrieved the sketchbook from the floor. There was something about the caricatures that seemed familiar. Looking at Guy and his costume, it finally dawns on him.
"You are Guy Fawkes," exclaimed the Colonel.
"I did not think my costume so obvious."
"No, I mean you are Guy Fawkes, the cartoonist. The one forever tweaking Parliament and Horse-guards about their mistreatment of soldiers, especially the returning wounded."
"I thought you wanted nothing to do with the Army," said the General, gruffly.
"I said that I did not wish to join the Army. That does not mean that I lack respect for those that do. Just because I do not march in parades or lead Cavalry charges, it does not mean I am without patriotism or honor. I can fight with my pen."
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. Both Guy and the General looked at him, perplexed by this sudden outburst. But Fitzwilliam could not help it, for he had just come across the picture of Mr. Hurst as Bacchus, reclining on a couch, wine goblet in one hand, one hand on his protruding stomach, dreaming of nubile young handmaidens feeding him grapes.
"Forgive me, I did not mean to interrupt such a serious conversation, but you have captured Hurst. Where am I?" asked the Colonel, flipping through the book.
"I fear I have not done one."
"Then I am insulted, and demand the satisfaction of your doing one right now," said the Colonel handing the sketchbook to Guy.
"I am afraid you will have to wait, Fitzwilliam," said Darcy from the doorway. "Lady Desdemona claims that Mr. Fawkes has this dance."
"I trust you do not mind, Colonel, that your portrait will have to wait?" said Lucinda.
"I can deny nothing to such a fair lady," said the Colonel. Oliver groaned. "I have business that needs attending anyway."
"Will you give this to Oliver when he wakes?" Lucinda asked as she pulled off her betrothal ring.
"It will be a pleasure."
Guy gave Darcy the sketchbook, after carefully tearing out a page. "It is a present for Mrs. Darcy. A remembrance of her first ball at Pemberley. I am afraid that I will not have time to make further sketches this evening." He spoke to Darcy, but his eyes were on Lucinda.
"No, I do not believe that you will," replied Darcy.
"Louisa!" cried Charles, entering the library. Louisa was dropped unceremoniously down on a chair as the Mysterious Man Black escaped out the door at the far end of the room.
Caroline and the Baron--Prologue:
Caroline had never been afraid at Pemberley. Long used to thinking that it would one day be hers, she had explored the house from its dungeonous wine cellars to its lofty attics, never once experiencing even a shiver of fear.
Caroline knew that Pemberley had a ghost, but that only added to the allure, for what self-respecting English estate did not have at least one? True, she could have wished it were a more dramatic ghost--something along the lines of Anne Boleyn carrying her severed head about, or a headless coachman driving a team of headless horses--but a gentle spirit who appeared to announce the coming heir was still a ghost after all. And it was Pemberley's ghost so Caroline was not afraid.
Which was why it was so hard to explain why Caroline now felt trepidation entering a drawing room she had been in dozens of times before. Yet, as if some unknown force guided her, she open the door.
"Bring the arm band" Caroline ordered her maid.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Caroline knew she outshone the little upstart that Darcy had married. From a bit of bribery, Caroline knew that Elizabeth would be attending the ball as a gypsy. Well, if Elizabeth was going as a peasant, she would be going as a queen, Cleopatra to be precise. From her white silk gown, to the gold and lapis lazuli necklace and bracelets, to the black wig and golden sandals she looked every inch the Queen of the Nile. Except for the arm band, which was missing.
"Where is the arm band?" she demanded her maid.
"Here, ma'am," said the maid, holding the bracelet gingerly between two fingers.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, give it to me," Caroline said impatiently as she grabbed the gold and sapphire jewelry.
"Aren't you afraid, ma'am, the jeweler said that bracelet was cursed," asked the maid.
"It is only cursed so that the jeweler could raise the price. A good curse doubles the cost, a bad curse triples it."
"But what if the tale is true?"
"Do not be so gullible, a bracelet can not come to life. And I have too much of a fondness for gold and sapphires to let this piece go slithering away," Caroline said as shoved the armband up till it rested on her forearm. She had to admit that the serpentine features were amazing life-like and the sapphire eyes glowed with an inner light.
It was the light that had caught her eye in the shop. The antiquities dealer claimed the piece had belonged to Cleopatra herself. The legend, the dealer told her, was that this was the actual asp that had bitten the Ancient Queen, and it had been turned to gold after the foul deed was done. It was fated to come back to life when in the presence of death. Caroline was not fooled by the sales pitch, but some how when she had left shop she had in her possession a cursed arm band.
She stroked the asp's head before heading out the door of her room. "To bad it just a legend, for a little snake bite to a certain gypsy would not be unappreciated."
"What a bore," Caroline thought, as she watched the revelers arrive. Half the assembly seemed to be dressed in Shakespearean attire. "Can they not show some originality?" she asked Louisa, "I dare say we have enough Shakespearean characters here to put on all his plays this evening." Caroline quite forgot that Cleopatra also appeared in one of the Bard's plays.
"So right, my dear," agreed Louisa, whose remembrance of all things Shakespearean was even less than that of Caroline. "You look very fine tonight. All eyes shall be upon you."
"That was the idea, Louisa. For I am determined to outshine the gypsy." Caroline began to regally descend the staircase. She stopped midway down, to peer at the crowd, and to allow the crowd to look at her. When she was satisfied that the low murmurs she heard were regarding her, she finished descending the staircase.
"Ah, Caroline," said Bingley, "I have just the person I would like you to meet. Victor," Bingley called over his shoulder. A man started walking over. He was dressed all in black except for a snow white cravat. He had curly brown hair, a mustache and a goatee. A small ivory skull hung from the man's watch fob.
"Your Royal Highness, Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, may I introduce His Royal Highness, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark," Bingley said merrily. Caroline groaned, another Shakespeare character.
Hamlet bowed over Caroline's hand. "Victor, this is my sister, Caroline, and my sister Louisa. Louisa, Caroline, this is a friend of mine from school, Baron Victor von Frankenstein."
"A Baron," thought Caroline, "how delightful."
"Fraulein," he said, with a faint German accent, which was delightful.
"Are you visiting England, my lord?" Caroline asked.
"I was visiting with an old professor who is now at Oxford. Your brother spotted me in town and talked his friends into sending me an invitation," the Baron replied. "You are nothing like your brother described, fraulein."
"And how did my brother describe me?" asked Caroline, shooting a glance at Charles that suggested retribution if she was not pleased with what the Baron had to say.
"Best not answer that, Victor," Bingley interrupted.
"Then I should only say that your beauty far exceeds any words," replied the Baron. Truly, he was a delightful gentleman, thought Caroline.
From the ballroom, the sound of the musicians warming up could be heard. The Baron bowed over Caroline's delighted hand, again. "Can I have the pleasure of a waltz with you?"
"Oh, yes, of course," Caroline said, thinking he had delightful smile. The Baron signed his name on her dance card. What a delightful signature.
"I thought you were going to save the waltz for Darcy," questioned Louisa.
"Darcy, who?" asked Caroline, as she watched the baron enter the ballroom. What a delightful....walk, she thought.
Caroline spent the first part of the ball surreptitiously watching the Baron as he (and she) danced with other partners. None held Caroline's attention for more than a minute or so. Her eyes would wander back to the Baron.
Finally the band struck up the first waltz. The strains of the lighthearted music began to play as the Baron bowed over Caroline's hand and led her on to the dance floor. She could feel the warmth of his hand upon her waist through the sheerness of her gown.
"I did not think Shakespeare would be that popular in Germany," Caroline said by way of conversation.
"I believe that he has universal appeal. He understands man's soul. The need to create and the need to destroy."
Caroline was baffled, not being anything of a scholar. Still she tried to persevere. "But do you not find it difficult to comprehend, the language being foreign even to one who speaks English as a native tongue."
"Ah, but the works are full of love and hate and jealousy and passion," he said, pulling Caroline much closer than was considered proper. "Besides, there are translations."
"How came you to go to school with my brother?"
"My father work at our embassy for a few years. Our family traveled with him. I made many good friends who now introduce me to their beautiful sisters," said the Baron, as he gazed intensely into her eyes.
Caroline felt herself blushing, something that she not done in quite some time. The Baron noticed the rush of red on her cheeks and asked if she was well.
"I fear the dance has me a trifle overheated. If you would not mind, perhaps we could take a quick turn in the garden?" Caroline asked, suggestively.
"It would be my pleasure," said the Baron, clicking his heels.
As soon as they stepped out into the winter garden, Caroline realized she had made a tactical error. It was freezing and the thin material of her costume offered no protection.
"Here, Caroline, perhaps this will help," the Baron took off his coat jacket and placed it about her shoulders. Caroline warmed immediately. "Perhaps just a quick stroll down this path?"
"Yes, that would be lovely," Caroline agreed, now that she had some protection against mother nature, "but you will now be chilled."
"I come from a colder climate, this weather seems almost mild. Is it not beautiful, the way the light of moon makes the snow glow?"
Caroline looked around and was not particularly impressed with the scenario. It did have a stark sort of beauty she acknowledge, looking about. A figure moved ahead of them.
"What a grotesque costume," Caroline said, "he looks a man who has been patched together with needle and thread
Victor went white, though Caroline could not tell in the moonlight, "Where is this strange costume?" he asked
"Over yonder," Caroline pointed and frowned, "How strange, he was there but a moment ago."
"Perhaps we best return to the ball, Fraulein" said Victor.
Caroline was not disappointed to leave the garden. However, she was disappointed when, once inside, Victor bowed and excused himself, after retrieving his jacket.
"Such bugs and goblins in my life," quoted Victor, to himself as he hurried off.
Caroline followed the Baron. As he walked down the hall, she heard a voice call out from the drawing room, "Victor Frankenstein!", the voice was low, harsh, and it sent unexpected shivers down Caroline's spine. The voice sounded like it came from the grave.
Caroline saw the Baron speak briefly to a footman. Once the servant had disappeared, he took a sword down from a hallway display, and visibly gathering up his courage, he entered the room and closed the door behind him.
Caroline crept stealthily up to the door. She could hear a conversation taking place, but the language was foreign, and it sounded harsh and guttural to her untrained ear. Peeking through the key whole she could make out the oddly costumed man arguing with Victor.
"Is this what you made me for? To grunt and sweat under a weary life?" cried the man in the strange costume. Upon closer inspection it really did appear as if the man was sewn together.
Caroline felt fear rise in her throat. She could not look away. Her eyes remained on the occupants of the room for she knew not how long, it might have been minutes or hours. Finally, as her heart pounded with trepidation some unknown force guided her to open the door.
The occupants of the room were unaware of her entrance. Victor was holding off the other man with his sword. The argument escalated.
"Then let the devil wear black!" roared the creature as he rushed his creator. Caroline cried out as she saw the unholy light in the eyes. The creature stopped and turned his gaze upon Caroline.
"You promised a wife, a mate, a companion Frankenstein. But you did not keep your promise. What I cannot have one, you cannot have one! You are fated to the share my fate. To live your life in misery and alone. She must be destroyed!"
"Caroline, flee!" called Victor as he tried to block the path of the monster.
But Caroline's feet were glued to the floor, she could not move, or speak or breathe. The monster was coming towards her with his large hands straining to wring her neck.
"The devil take your soul!" cried Victor as struggled with the monster.
"He already has, he already has!" cried the monster.
During the confrontation, Caroline felt something odd on her arm, looking down she saw the snake, scaly and reptilian, winding around her arm. She could see it's forked tongue flickering in and out. It's eyes seemed to be casually surveying Caroline.
A chair crashed, Victor was underneath, unconscious. The creature was coming closer to Caroline, the snake began to climb Caroline's arm. Caroline could not move, her eyes flickered between the snake and the monster, each intent on her destruction.
The hands were just inches from her throat when the snake stuck. The monster recoiled slightly as the serpent came lunging towards him, but was quick enough to brush it aside. The snake went flying across the room.
Caroline watched it all happen, "It is as if time had slowed to an immeasurable quantity," she thought wildly. Yet the springing action of the asp caused Caroline's silence to cease. She screamed, and screamed and screamed. Loud, terrified screams that brought the other guests running. Then Caroline fainted.
When Caroline awoke she was being gently laid on the couch by Darcy. She sighed, knowing that everything was right with the world.
"Elizabeth, my dear, fetch some brandy," said Darcy.
Caroline awoke fully. Now awake, she remembered what had taken place. She started shaking and could not stop.
"Caroline, please, try to drink this," Darcy gently offered her a glass filled with brandy, "It will do you good."
Caroline sipped the drink and felt the hot rush of the alcohol as it hit her unwary throat. "He tried to kill me...Victor," she said faintly.
"Victor tried to kill you?" asked Bingley, greatly shaken. He lifted his sister's hand and began to rub it.
"No," Caroline shook her head, "Not Victor, the other gentleman, surely you must have noticed him? He was wearing a bizarre costume. He looked like a rag doll, sown together with bits and pieces. He hit victor over the head with a chair, that one!" Caroline pointed to the chair that she had last seen on top of Victor. It was back in it's proper place. And Victor was no where to be seen.
Everybody in the room exchanged glances, they had not seen any man like Caroline described. "It is not possible for someone to lift that chair," Darcy said quietly to Elizabeth, though Caroline heard, "I can barely move it an inch when I want to get a better light."
"But he did hit Victor over the head with it!!" Caroline screamed, "the man was crazed and he has Victor, we must rescue him."
"Caroline, I received word from Victor not quite a half hour ago, saying that he had to leave, and to make his apologies to you. He is perfectly well, I assure you," said Charles.
Caroline shook her head. Louisa sat down beside her sister, "It is all right. I am sure it will be all right," she offered what comfort she could. As she patted her sister on the shoulder, somewhat awkwardly, she noticed that Caroline's armband was missing.
"The ruffian must have stolen Caroline's armband, for it is missing," she whispered to her brother.
"A thief, that explains the situation. Caroline must have come upon a thief, and he tried to stop her from alerting anyone," said Darcy. The crowd nodded.
"I think it would be best if everyone heads back to the ballroom. Caroline will be better without so many people around. Please, everyone, let us leave Caroline to regather her wits," Jane said, as she hurried the assembly back to the ballroom.
"It was not stolen, it came to life," Caroline whispered, when the crowd was gone.
"What?" Louisa asked, puzzled.
"The armband came to life, I thought it would bite me, but instead it attacked the...the monster, he swept it aside, I don't know where it landed."
"There, there," said Louisa, "You obviously ate something that did not agree with you," she shot a look at Elizabeth that said she was to blame, "You need a nice lie down. Come. Let us go to your room." Louisa escorted her sister from the room.
"What a bizarre night for Caroline, I am sure I do not know what has come over her," said Bingley.
"Probably the shock of catching a thief caused her to hallucinate," said Darcy.
"Yes, I am sure you are right. I shall go check on her," Bingley said as he exited the room.
"William," Elizabeth called softly. Darcy looked over at his wife. She bent down and picked up an object on the floor. Crossing over to her husband, she opened her palm, so that her husband could see.
In Elizabeth's hand was Caroline's armband, but it was now straighter, and flatter, holding only a remnant of it's shape. It's mouth was wide open with ivory fangs bared and the sapphire eyes gazed out malevolently. There was no way it could be worn as armband ever again.
Louisa had just closed the door to her sister's room, when the mysterious man in black appeared beside her, and took her into his arms.
"Mrs. Hurst," Elizabeth said in a mocking voice just as Louisa rested her head on the man's shoulder. The man in black quickly disappeared around the hallway corner, "Not again," thought Louisa, turning to glare at Elizabeth.
This story was inspired by Cheryl, if you had not already guessed.
Chapter 4--Beatrice & Benedick
This chapter was inspired by Rachel.
"I shall be laughed out Whites. Never be able to show my face Brooks. I am facing social ruin, and for what, a costume ball! Why ever had Darcy agreed to such a thing? Marriage has certainly change the man," Sir Joshua Parsall pondered as he looked in the mirror. The Elizabethan garb made him feel foolish. He scowled at the picture he presented.
"Is your leg bothering you?" came a soft voice from the adjoining doorway. Rachel came into the room, wearing a velvet gown of deep, dark blue. Despite the fact that the gown was based on old woodcut, it look curiously modern. Which made Joshua feel a deeper sense of outrage at his own outlandish costume.
"Such wifely concern," his voice dripped sarcasm. "But thank you for the inquiry, my leg is fine," growled Joshua, hating to be reminded of his physical injury in addition to the sartorial one he was suffering.
"If you are in need of assistance...."
"I need no assistance, from you or anyone else. I said that my leg is fine," his voice rising on the last few words.
Rachel spine stiffened. "Forgive me for asking, I shall not make the same mistake again." She turned to leave the room.
"And I am sure you choose this costume to make me look like a fool!" he added harshly, to her retreating back.
Rachel stilled. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing his words had upset her. Her fists clenched and unclenched. Taking a deep breath, she left the room.
"Rachel," he called softly after her, too softly to be heard above the slamming of the door.
"Benedick, the married man," said Joshua, grimacing at his mirrored reflection. "Hendricks," he called to valet, "bring me my uniform!"
The orchard room was so named because the wall paper was printed with scenes of an orchard. Each wall represented another season. It was a very pleasant room, just across from the state dining room, which was why the guests who had been invited to Pemberley gathered there before dining.
Darcy was reading the newspaper in a green wing back chair, while Elizabeth and Mrs. Reynolds dealt with last minute details. Even after having spent two evenings at Pemberley, Rachel still felt some trepidation as she entered the room. Darcy stood, and bowed slightly.
"I read in a report that Parsall's regiment was in another battle," said Darcy, pointing to the newspaper.
"How many men have been lost in this action?" inquired Rachel.
"Very few, which makes the victory that much sweeter. I see here that the Horseguards has bestowed another honor on your husband."
"I believe that it is much deserved on his part," replied Rachel. She, who had seen the extent of his wounds, felt all honors were justified.
"His father will be very much glad to hear it," said Darcy, doing his best to make conversation.
"I have already sent him some letters, and he was most pleased," Rachel stated simply, knowing that the Earl was more than pleased with what his son had accomplished.
Bingley and Jane entered the room followed by the Earl of Matlock. Rachel smiled when she saw Joshua, but the smile quickly disappeared when she saw that he had changed into his uniform and that Caroline Bingley was hanging upon Joshua's arm. Mrs. Reynolds discreetly left the room.
Caroline greeted the gathering, "Good evening, Elizabeth. I take it that you are you ready for the masquerade ball? From past experience, I know that it is a type of entertainment Darcy usually wishes to avoid at all cost, and here you are hosting one."
"I have been persuaded that it shall not be all bad," Darcy said, catching Elizabeth's hand in his, and pulling her close to his side.
Caroline frowned at this, but realizing Elizabeth was not going to be easy prey, she turned to Rachel instead, "I hope you do not mind that I offered Sir Joshua my assistance."
Rachel's eyes wandered to where Miss Bingley's hand still rested on Joshua's arm, "Not at all," turning towards her husband, she continued, "though I thought that you had no need of assistance--from anyone."
"But how could I be so discourteous as to deny the lady," he took Caroline's hand and kissed it, "her good deed."
Darcy wondered if he imagined the sound of Lady Parsall's teeth grinding. He decided to interrupt this bickering, for it confused him. When the Parsalls had married three years ago, they appeared to be the happiest of couples.
"Let me bid you welcome, Caroline," said Darcy, "as I was unable to do so earlier."
"I thank you. It is always a pleasure to be at Pemberley."
Conversation became general as more and more guests entered the room. Soon it was quite full. A servant came to announce that dinner was served. The room emptied until Sir Joshua and the Earl of Matlock were the last ones still there.
"Sir, a moment of your time please. You have been married many years?" Joshua asked the Earl of Matlock.
"Indeed I have, forty at last count."
"Then you know something about women...about wives?"
"So you wish to question me, as an old married man, for my hard earned knowledge of the fairer sex?" the Earl inquired.
Joshua nodded his head in agreement.
"But to answer your question, no, I can not say that I do know women..or wives." At Joshua's look of shock, he continued. "They are, I find, ever a mystery."
"But surely after so much time you know your wife quite well?"
"True, but just when I believe I know everything there is to know about her, she surprises me yet again."
Joshua pondered this answer. "Much of my marriage has been spent with me on the battlefields and my wife at home. Now, when I have put down my sword, I find, to my surprise, that I have a battle raging in my home. I have a wife who treats me with anger, my lord; not with love, yet I know not the cause. I lost more blood with love than I ever spilled in battle. I vow I should have remained single," Joshua said.
"Then you are a fool. If I were twenty years younger, and unmarried, I would be chasing after your wife myself. But you appeared more pleased with other company tonight."
"That is nothing, Sir, though, I must say that I am glad that you are married. For you would be true competition even at your present age were you not."
"Save the pretty speeches for your wife, sir." The Earl bowed and left.
"She does not want to hear them," Joshua said to the now empty room.
In the dining room, many small tables were set up for the guests, instead of one large one. Rachel was seated between Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth, Georgiana, and the Earl and the Countess rounded out the table. Joshua, who should have been seated with them to even out the numbers, instead sat next to Miss Bingley, in plain site of his wife.
"How tartly that woman looks! I never can see her but that my heart burned an hour after," Rachel said as she glared across the dining room.
Elizabeth hid a smile behind her napkin. "Yes, Miss Bingley does seem that effect on people," Elizabeth smiled at the other woman. "I have often a similar effect myself."
Rachel could not eat, she pushed the food around on her plate. Finally, unable to watch Joshua and Caroline anymore, she got up from her seat, looking down at the slightly gelatinous mess that was on her plate, she got a simply wonderful, awful idea. Taking plate in hand, she marched over to her husband's table.
As she neared she could her him reciting Shakespeare to Miss Bingley. Rachel's ire rose another notch.
"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more!
Men were deceivers ever,"
Here Sir Joshua glanced at his wife,
"One foot in sea, and one on shore;
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so,
But let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,"
He looked directly at Caroline then, though Rachel was across the table from him.
"Converting all your sounds of woe,"Joshua said as Rachel leaned over the table and dumped her plate of curried chicken into Joshua's lap, on top of his white trousers.
"Hey nonny, nonny." Rachel said slowly as she wiped her hands, turned on her heel and made her way back to her own table. There was complete silence in the room.
"Men!" cried Rachel, glaring at the gentlemen who awaited her there.
"I quite agree they are vexatious creatures," returned Lady Matlock.
"My dear, I must protest," said the Earl.
"Which only goes to prove my point," replied the Countess. She turned away from her husband just in time to see Rachel flee the room.
The Countess and Elizabeth made their excuses and followed.
Meanwhile, Sir Joshua made so progress in cleaning the mess off his lap. Unfortunately for him, the remains of the dish stained the front of his trousers a bright yellow. He would have difficulty leaving the room without becoming the object of more snickering and stifled laughter. Gathering up as much dignity as he could muster, he firmly inserted a serviette into his waistband. He bowed towards Caroline, apologized for the scene she had been unfortunate to witness. With head held high and his ears burning, Sir Joshua left the room.
Sir Joshua entered his bedroom quite angry, and ready to have words with his wife. The situation of their marriage that had been maintained during these last few months was no longer tolerable. Joshua marched over to the connecting door to Rachel's room, ready to remove the door from its hinges if necessary.
"He is wearing his uniform, when I especially chose a costume that would not chafe his wound, and he was quoting poetry to her. He never quoted poetry to me, even when I believed he was in love with me. "
Joshua hand stilled on the door. He opened the door no more than a crack, grateful that Darcy's kept the hinges well oiled. The women were unaware of his presence as he eavesdropped on their conversation.
"You have some reason to believe that he no longer loves you?" inquired Elizabeth. Rachel did not answer.
"Come now, Lady Parsall, there is no need to be missish, nothing you say will go beyond Mrs. Darcy and myself, I promise you. Come tell us your tale, and perhaps we can help you," Lady Matlock urged.
Rachel looking into their kind and sympathetic eyes, related the whole tale.
"When Sir Joshua first came home, his wound became infected, and he had a severe fever. There was even some discussion that he might lose his leg."
"And this bothered you?" asked Elizabeth.
"It bothers me only to the extent that I knew it would bother Sir Joshua. For myself, I believed that a one legged husband is preferable to no husband at all. Neither do his scars bother me, because I know that despite the efforts of the French, he is alive."
"A very sensible attitude, my dear. Please continue your story," said the Countess.
"It was during his fever that he confessed that he did not love me. Throughout that night, I worked to bring to his fever down, bathing him, seeing that he got his medicine, giving him water. And through the night, all he keep repeating, over and over again, was 'Don't love Rachel'. In the morning the fever broke, and I knew he would be well. But I was sick, in my heart, for I stilled loved him. Still love him, though our marriage can never be what it was."
"But perhaps it can be something better," replied the Countess. "I have watched you both. Sir Joshua never takes his eyes off of you--when you are not looking him."
"I believe you are mistaken," returned Rachel.
"I have noted it, also," said Elizabeth, "I believe that he is very much in love with you."
"You are only saying that because you are newly wed yourself, and wish to see the world in love."
"Nonsense," said Elizabeth, "I have seen my share of marriages where there is neither respect nor love, nor even liking on the part of one or more of the partners."
"And I am not newly wed at all, and I believe that I know love when I see it. And I do see. Do not despair, my lady. I am sure a solution to your problem will come--and very soon, too. Why do you not rest until the ball? A nice lie down will do you good."
Before Rachel knew what was happening, she was lying down, a lavender scented cloth on her forehead. Seconds later she was alone in the room.
Elizabeth was equally bewildered with the speed in which she was bundled out of Lady Parsall's room.
"Why the need for such haste?" asked Elizabeth.
"It pays to be observant, my dear. I noticed, in the mirror, that the door to Sir Joshua's room was slightly open. And if my eyes do not deceive, I believe I saw the gentleman eavesdropping on our conversation with his wife. Let us hope he is the type of gentleman to take advantage of the situation. Do you think there is any pudding left?" she asked Elizabeth as they made their way down the stairs.
Softly closing the door between the bed chambers, Sir Joshua felt like doing a jig. His wife stilled loved him.
Sir Joshua sat down at his desk, and taking a sheet paper began to write. Half way down the page, he set down his pen and crumpled the sheet of paper in his hands. And did the same with the next and the next and the next and the next until he was finally satisfied with words he had written on the page.
Wiping his ink stained hands on his already stained trousers he called for his valet, "Hendricks, bring me that demmed Benedick suit."
Some time later, again dressed in Elizabethan garb, Sir Joshua was ready to confront his wife. Gathering up his writing paper, he gently knocked on Rachel's door. There was no answer. Entering, he found his wife had already descended to the ball.
She was one of the belles of the ball. Her dance card was fully booked. Some dances were taken by gentlemen who liked a woman with spirit. Others, who had seen the episode in the dining room, hoped that Lady Parsall was finally in search of discreet entertainment and wished to get into her good graces. Whatever the reason, her dance card was full.
Sir Joshua watched jealously from the sides of the ballroom. Now and then he would lightly flirt with a lady, but Rachel remained the main focus of his attention.
Finally, sometime later in the evening the ballroom emptied as a scream was heard throughout Pemberley. Joshua saw his chance. He grabbed Rachel's hand and dragged her off to an alcove, only to find it occupied by an artist, who was unperturbed by the excitement. The next alcove was unoccupied.
Closing the curtains decisively behind him, Joshua turned to his wife.
"What is this all about?" Rachel asked, sounding angry, but secretly hopeful.
"I have something that I wish to say to you, and I wish that you will listen." Digging into his doublet he pulled out the sheet of ink stained paper and began to read.
She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet was the night
Softer than satin was the light
From the stars
She wore blue velvet
Bluer than velvet were her eyes
Warmer than May her tender sighs
When love was ours
Ours was love that I held tightly
Feeling the rapture grow
Like a flame burning brightly
But when she ceased to love, gone was the glow of
But in my heart there will always be
Precious and warm, a memory
Through the coming years
And I still will see blue velvet
Through my tears
She wore blue velvet
But until back in her heart I can be
Feeling cherished and warm,
When each second is a sacred memory
I hope that when next I see blue velvet
She will release me from all my fears
Of wasted and loveless years.
Joshua looked up from his paper, to see that Rachel had tears in her eyes.
"I know I am not a poet, but it wasn't that bad," teased Joshua. Growing serious, he confessed, "I overheard your conversation with Lady Matlock and Mrs. Darcy. I cannot offer an explanation for what you heard me speak in my delirium. I have only a vague recollection of the sawbones coming at my leg, and I was begging him not to cut it off, because I needed to return home to you, because I loved you. I am sorry that my words caused you pain, but I was recompensed by your coldness to myself. I feared that you found my injuries offensive to your delicate sensibilities."
"No, never that. I am so sorry, more sorry than I can ever say."
"Regrets are useless. I have learned that we must be more honest with one another, from now on if you have any fears or doubts, come to me, let me ease your worries, for I never want to spend another minute as we have spent the last few months. Agreed?" Rachel nodded her head, "And I promise to do the same."
"Perhaps we should try to forget these past few months. What if we start over?" Joshua left the alcove, only to turn around and enter again.
"Rachel, my love, no more battles for me. What do you say to that, my dear?"
"I say this," Rachel put her arms around Joshua's neck and kissed him until they were both out of breath.
"I like the way you speak, my dear," Joshua said, and he kissed her like a soldier who had finally come home.
"Oh, Mrs. Hurst, I would not let that gentleman hold you so tightly. You might tear the lace on your gown," Mr. Bennet said from his seat beside the fireplace in Darcy's study.
Louisa whirled around to face Mr. Bennet. Not again, she thought grinding her teeth, what have I ever done that was so wrong that I deserve this punishment tonight?
"My, what a quick gentleman. I do not believe I have seen anyone that quick, at least of foot, in some time," Mr. Bennet commented as the Mysterious Man in Black disappeared, again. Louisa stamped her foot in frustration.
Chapter 5--Margaret & The Major-General
Part One -- The Morning Of The Ball.
The horses trotted leisurely along the path between the Pontley woods and those belonging to Fitzwilliam Darcy. The branches were bare, except for a few tenacious leaves that remained attached despite the best efforts of wind which was doing its best to dislodge them.
Margaret and her father, Major-General Sir Thomas Pontley, were enjoying their usual morning ride despite the efforts of the wind to make them uncomfortable. These morning rides were a long standing tradition between them which a little bad weather could never deter. It was during these rides that the two talked of everything or sometimes nothing at all. This morning's topic of conversation was the ball.
"It is a pity that Celina and Zacharius cannot not make it to the ball. We have not seen them in ages," Margaret said, for she had longed missed the company of her eldest sister. "Poor little Xavier and Bailly, I hope they get over their illness."
"Whatever happened to good old fashioned English names, is what I want to know," harumphed the Major-General. "Names like James or Edward or Robert or Thomas, good solid English names."
"Oh, Papa," Margaret laughed, "Shall I promise make up for Celina's oversight and name all my children with good English names? But you must admit that they are quite good little horsemen, despite their unworthy appellations."
"Indeed, they are. They take after their grandfather in that respect," said the Major-General, puffing out his chest proudly. Margaret giggled.
Ahead in the distance, they spotted another rider on the path. It was Mr. Darcy. Margaret, like many of the young ladies in the neighborhood, had grown up admiring Darcy, but was much too shy to do more than stammer and blush whenever he took notice of her.
Darcy reigned in Folly, his beautiful black horse, when he met oncoming riders. He tipped his hat to Margaret and the Major General, who had been a friend of the his father. "Miss Pontley, Sir," greeted Darcy.
"Ah, Darcy, I see you are escaping the chaos of ball preparations. There was many a time, when I would leave my own Elizabeth to command the hustle and bustle. Directing troops is much easier than all the fuss that goes into putting on a ball. Though I must say that I am looking forward to attending the ball. It has been too long since the country side has been able to enjoy such an amusement."
"Thank you, Sir Thomas. And you Miss Pontley, are you looking forward to the ball?" Mr. Darcy asked.
"Yes, it is my first ball," Margaret replied, glancing briefly up from her contemplation of Mr. Darcy's boots.
"Then I am doubly honored that you will be attending tonight. And what will your costume be?" Darcy asked with a slight smile at the girls obvious shyness.
"I shall be coming as Iris," Margaret replied shyly, unused to such masculine attention.
Darcy turned to the Major-General. "Some of old military friends of yours, Sir Thomas, will be attending the ball."
"Really?" replied Sir Thomas, skeptically. "I fear that retired Major-Generals quickly fade from the memory. I doubt that I shall find nine or ten military acquaintances who will still remember my name.
"Papa, you are too modest," Margaret protested. "I am sure you will find many more than that."
"Indeed, Miss Pontley, at least nine acquaintances have expressed an interest in seeing your father again. Why just yesterday, Col. Fitzwilliam remarked when we were at the breakfast table that he wished to see his old commander again."
"Col. Fitzwilliam is too kind, especially to remember me at the breakfast table. The Colonel, I am sorry to say, is not much of an early riser." The Major-General gave a slight nod to Darcy.
Darcy interpreted this to mean that Sir Thomas had understood the message he had been sent to relay. Darcy felt uncomfortable with all the subterfuge. It was not as if the woods of Pemberley were filled with French spies. However, Col. Fitzwilliam had impressed upon him the need for such secrecy.
"I have detained your ride long enough, Sir Thomas. Good day, Miss Pontley, Sir Thomas." Darcy rode off towards Pemberley. Margaret's eyes followed Darcy until he was out of site.
The Major-General asked teasingly, "I believe that marriage agrees with Mr. Darcy. I have never seen him in finer looks, do you not agree, my dear."
Margaret nodded her head in agreement, though she privately thought that Mr. Darcy always looked well.
"How could you tell, my dear? I do not think that you lifted your eyes from above Mr. Darcy's boots."
"But they were such fine boots, were they not, Papa," Margaret replied, blushing.
"Very fine indeed, my dear. But may I offer you some advise. Young gentlemen prefer young ladies to look at them not at their boots or dancing slippers."
"Mr. Jeffries does," replied Margaret teasingly,
"Mr. Jeffries is a demmed dandy," retorted the Major-General. Margaret laughed, "So he is, Papa."
Urging her mount into a canter, she called over her shoulder, "Come, Papa, I will race you home!" Margaret took off in a gallop. The Major-General quickly closed the gap between them. Neck to neck the pair raced back to the stables. Unable to decide a clear victor, they called the race a draw, and went into the house for some breakfast.
Part Two -- The Drawing Room.
The family gathered in the drawing room as the carriages were made ready for departure. The Major-General proudly looked upon four of his five children. His eyes first lit upon Capt. Darren Danion, who was standing by the fire place.
At age three-and-thirty, he was the eldest child. He was the son of Margaret's mother and her first husband, an ill-fated sea captain. The Major-General had always treated Darren as his own son, even when the lad had followed in his blood father's footsteps. No father could have been prouder than the Major-General was in learning how gallantly his stepson had fought with Nelson at Trefalagar. A trace of the captain remained upon Darren even though he had dressed as a common sailor for the masquerade.
Next his eyes came upon, Alice, (three and twenty), who was dressed as a shepherdess, and Octavia (twenty) was dressed as milkmaid. The Major General sighed. They were pretty young woman but they were infernal complainers.
Finally, his eyes settled on Margaret, who was eagerly watching for the arrival of the carriage. Only just turned sixteen, her appearance in the world had been a bit of a surprise for the Major-General and his wife. As a baby, it was thought that she would not live long, being born too soon. However, little Margaret had proven them all wrong. Today she was a lovely young girl on the brink of becoming a woman.
The Major-General thought that Margaret's costume outshone those her sisters had chosen.
Margaret wore an ampechonion or outer garment, and sleeveless chiton buttoned to give the appearance of sleeves. The cloth had already been printed with small irises, which had given Margaret the idea for her costume. She was Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Margaret had spent the past the weeks embroidering the hem of the ampechonion and chiton with the colors of the rainbow--red, orange, yellow, blue, green and violet.
The sky blue silk of her gown, emphasized her blue eyes and her dark brown hair was done in a Grecian style that highlighted her natural blonde streak. A rainbow of colored ribbons was woven through the curls.
The Major-General, dressed in a plain black domino, reached into his pocket. "My dears, I have a something for you. A small memento of the evening." He handed each of the girls a jeweler's box. Alice and Octavia, opened their boxes. Inside each box rested a pearl bracelet.
"Really, Papa, you shouldn't have, it is much too expensive," said Alice, as she fastened the bracelet around her wrist. At the same time Octavia complained "It is so ordinary, Papa, a nice diamond or ruby would make it just the thing."
The Major-General gave Margaret a charm bracelet. It contained a small silver ball, a laughing Greek mask, and the attributes normally associated with Iris, a pair of wings, a herald's staff and a water pitcher.
"Oh, Papa, it is lovely!" cried Margaret, giving her father a kiss on the cheek. "But what about Darren?"
"I received my gift earlier, little one. A particularly fine bottle of brandy," replied the Captain.
"I am not so little any more," complained Margaret, good naturedly.
"Yes, you are," replied the Major General.
"The carriage has arrived, Sir," the butler announced.
The next quarter of an hour was pure misery for Capt. Danion, Margaret and the Major-General. During the ride from Pontley House to Pemberley, Alice and Octavia found much to complain about.
"This carriage ride is too bumpy, Papa, I shall be in pieces by the time we reach Pemberley," complained Alice.
"Nonsense," said Octavia, "the ride is perfectly smooth. It is, however, too cold in here. I shall reprimand the servants for not providing enough hot bricks."
"Why I am practically boiling with such close quarters," returned Alice. "If it were any hotter I shall have to open a window."
"If the horses were going faster, we could reach Pemberley quicker. Why did you have the horseman hitch up such nags, Papa?"
The Major-General knew better than to enter into conversation with his daughters when they were indulging in this particular kind of verbal exercise, since his opinion was not really wanted. But he bristled when his prized chestnuts were called nags.
"Will you two cease prattling," ordered the Captain. It did no good.
"I should have expected such rude behavior from a Naval officer. The Army officers are so much more pleasant," remarked Alice.
"Most of the Army officers are too old, though. I prefer the officers in the Militia, they are much younger and ever so gallant," said Octavia.
After giving his sisters an exasperated glare, the Captain turned his eyes out the window. Margaret and the Major-General exchanged amused glances. The Major-General winked. Margaret buried her face in her muff to stifle her giggles.
And Octavia and Alice carried on. Pemberley was too big. The drive too long. The snow too deep. Too many people had been invited. Waiting for other carriages to dispense occupants and disperse was tedious. The other carriages were lining on purpose.
Capt. Danion, Margaret and the Major-General all gave a prayer of thanks when a Pemberley footman finally opened the door of the carriage.
The Pontleys enter the ballroom just as Caroline made her grand entrance on the stairway. "Is that the new Mrs. Darcy?" inquired Alice, "why she is so plain. Just look at that nose!"
"Shush," said Octavia, "she will hear you. Look there is Mr. Darcy and that is Mrs. Darcy beside him." Octavia looked over the new mistress of Pemberley and was not impressed. "I do not see why he had to marry outside the county. I am sure there were plenty of local girls who would have made better mistresses of Pemberley."
"You being one of them, I presume," said Darren, a bit snippily.
Octavia tossed her head back and ignored her brother.
"So much standing in line," said Alice, "why my feet will be worn out before the dancing even starts."
Margaret was too busy exploring the splendors around her to partake in any conversation. It was magnificently ablaze with hundreds of candles. She admired the vast array of costumes she saw amongst the other guest.
At last the family reached the Darcys. Darcy nodded over to a footman before he greeted the general and his family. "Sir. Danion, it is good to see you again. Miss Pontley, Miss Octavia, Miss Margaret.
"Mr. Darcy tells me that this is your very first ball," said Elizabeth to a tongue-tied Margaret.
"Yes, ma'am," Margaret replied, barely audible.
"Are you acquainted with my sister, Georgiana?" inquired Darcy, bringing forward his sister, suitably attired as an angel.
"Yes, sir. Hello, Georgiana," Margaret said somewhat hesitantly, for it had been a long while since she and Georgiana had seen other, though they had often played together when they were much younger.
"I shall look forward to renewing our acquaintance, Margaret," replied Georgiana.
The footman appeared at Mr. Darcy side, "Miss Pontley, a small token from Mrs. Darcy and myself." The footman handed a small tussy-mussy with two brilliantly blue Siberian Irises. Margaret blushed mightily, and thanked Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.
"Why Miss Darcy, I would not have recognized you. It seems I have been out to sea for too long. Can I offer myself as an escort into the ballroom?" said the Captain, as he offered his arm to Georgiana, who, after receiving a nod from her, placed her arm on his. He offered Margaret his other arm.
The Captain escorted Margaret and Georgiana into ballroom, where Kitty Bennet joined them. The Captain leveled a glare at the young gallants who surrounded the girls. Once he had made clear to the young men that these young ladies were not to be trifled with, he left them to the admiration of their admirers. Margaret had the happy advantage of being able to introduce Georgiana and Kitty to the young gentleman of the neighborhood. Soon all the young ladies dance cards were fill.
Part Five -- 9pm In The Breakfast Parlor
The Major-General made his way from the ballroom to the breakfast parlor, casually stopping now and again to speak with acquaintances. None of these acquaintance would have know from the Major-General's jovial countenance that he was on his way to one of several secret meetings with several high-ranking military and government officials that would decide the course of the war.
The Major-General had never actually retired from military duty. He had been an engineer and a demolitions specialist, and one of the original exploring officers. He could build a bridge, blow it up, and tell you about it in French or Spanish. Now, he used his expertise to estimate how much (or in most cases, how little) fire power and munitions, along with troop strength, were needed to defeat Napoleon in Spain.
Sir Percy Blakeney, newly arrived back in England from Paris, and General Sir Paul Wilking were already waiting in the breakfast parlor when the Major-General arrived. Several other gentlemen had yet to arrive.
"Sir Thomas, delighted to see you again," greeted the General. "I believe you know Sir Percy."
"Indeed. And how was Paris, Sir Percy?"
"The same as always, my friend. I could barely find a decent outfit to bring home for Marguerite. For one only goes to Paris for the fashions, don't you know," said Sir Percy, languidly.
"Just the fashions, Percy, or something more?" inquired the Major-General.
"For the fashions......and the odd rumor or two."
"And what rumors would those be?" said the General.
"I am sure you are aware that Napoleon's Russian campaign failed."
"Yes, we are aware of that."
"However, the magnitude of his defeat is just coming to light. It is possible that only a fifth of the original troops survived the retreat."
"But it was estimated that Napoleon sent over 250,000 men to Russia," interrupted the Major-General. "With a loss that staggering, he will have draw troops from Spain to shore up his eastern Army."
"He is now conscripting young men without beards, and old men with long gray beards," said Sir Percy.
"So how come you were not taken up into the French Army?"
"But, mon ami, have I not already given my leg at Austerlitz, or my arm at Ciudad Rodrigo for L'Empeurer," drawled Sir Percy, before cocking his. "I do believe the others are coming now, so I shall leave you, gentlemen. I believe I have promised the next dance to my wife." Sir Percy withdrew from the room onto a terrace just before Col. Fitzwilliam led several others into the room. The meeting officially began.
Part Six -- Back In The Ballroom, About An Hour Or So Later.
On returning to the ballroom, the Major-General search the dancers for his daughters. At last he found them, Margaret was dancing with Mr. Darcy, while Alice and Octavia sat out this dance.
Although Alice and Octavia were beautiful woman, the gentlemen did no more than dance with them, and did not stay to converse with them. This fact worried the Major-General. Seeking his step-son, he asked Captain Danion if he knew the reason for why Alice and Octavia had no beaux to dance attendance upon them.
The Captain began to point to the gentlemen at the ball, "Too short, too tall, too thin, too fat, hair too red, skin too brown, shall I go on?"
The Major-General shook his head. "No, you need continue. Since they are now alone, I have no hope that the gentlemen have not also heard these complaints." Looking at his daughters, the Major-General had a vision of them turning into ugly old women, equipped with crooked, sharp tongues that would rip unsuspecting victims to shreds. Something would have to be done, and soon, or they would be beyond repair.
"I have two of silliest girls in all England for daughters," complained the Major-General. Mr. Bennet, standing not to far way, overheard Sir Thomas remark and jovially exclaimed that he had longed claimed that singular honor.
The Major-General acknowledge this sally with a slight smile of commiseration. To soothe his worried thoughts, he again found Margaret among the dancers only to be taken aback. For the sudden realization that Margaret was now a young woman entered his consciousness. The Major-General was unsure what set off this wayward thought, it could have been the tilt of head as she listened to her partner, the way she gracefully moved across the dance floor, or the way the silk of her costume outline her bosom. (Bosom, where had that come from, the Major-General wondered, for it certainly had not been there this morning, he was sure of it!) All of the sudden, the Major-General felt every one of his five-and-fifty years.
"Sir Thomas," interrupted Col. Fitzwilliam, "sorry to disturb your reverie, but as you see, I have come to the aid of a damsel in distress. This lovely lady most sincerely wishes an introduction. I have warned what a rogue you truly are, sir, but alas, the lady remains steadfast in her desire to meet you. And I have never been one to deny a lady her heart's desire. Sir Thomas, may I present, her Majesty, Mary, Queen of the Scots. Your majesty, Sir Thomas Pontley." With the introductions made, Col. Fitzwilliam took himself off. He could see his mother beckoning from across the room.
Lady Wainwright, a pretty widow, batted her eyelashes at the Major-General. He felt twenty years younger.
"Your Majesty, if you are not engaged for the next dance, may I offer myself as a partner," asked the Major-General, unaware that Margaret was coming towards him.
"But it is time for our dance, Papa," said Margaret.
"Are you sure that you want to dance with me, when you have so many young men willing to take my place?" said the Major-General.
"I wish to dance this dance with the most handsome man in the room," Margaret replied.
"As do I," replied Lady Wainwright, batting her eyelashes.
The Major-General looked from Margaret to Lady Wainwright and back again. Bowing to Lady Wainwright, the Major-General said, "Forgive me, your majesty, but it seems I have a previous engagement. Perhaps the next dance?" Lady Wainwright turned on her heels and left.
"I am sorry, Papa."
"Do not be, my dear, for there is no-one who I will enjoying dancing with more than you." The band struck up a waltz. Margaret and her father glided across the dance floor. They did not talk much during the dance. The Major-General was intent on capturing every moment of the dance for future reference.
And for many years afterwards he would recall that moment when he was the most important man in his daughter's life.
"Why Mrs. Hurst, what a surprise it seeing you up here!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet as she entered the portrait gallery. "And who is this fine gentleman?"
The man in black glared at Mrs. Bennet before turning on his heels and leaving the room. "Was that one of Mr. Darcy's relatives?" asked Mrs. Bennet. "Why this reminds of the first time we ever met, Mrs. Hurst, at the assembly in Meryton. It was nothing as grand as the one Lizzy and Mr. Darcy are putting on, of course, but ....."
Louisa no longer heard the words, she was looking for a place were she could beat her head against the wall.
To Be Continued
Author's Note: I wanted to give everyone a timeline of the ball night because I thought there might be some confusion.