The Mouse of Lucas Lodge
The Lucas Lodge ball took place on a Wednesday, and I was all aflutter the entire day and night beforehand -- la, you would not believe the work involved in hosting a ball! (For indeed I was to host it mainly; it was my dearest papa's express wish that it be so, and Mamma was all agreement upon the matter.) So many candles to be lit, so many tasks to be overseen . . . la, it gives me a sudden headache just to think of it all! I was therefore very glad when the guests actually began arriving, and I could simply greet and converse with them rather than having to remember this and that task that I had forgotten until the last minute.
The Bennets, with the Darcys, arrived first, and oh, Georgiana was wearing the most beautiful gown I have ever seen! It was a new one, she told me later, purchased by her brother in town as they passed through on the way to Hertfordshire. It was a pale yellow silk, with delicate pure white lace trim and a beaded waistline, and she wore a beautiful yellow ribbon in her hair to match. She was the picture of elegance and delicate refinement, and I was amazed at how she condescended to speak so kindly to such an empty-headed person as myself. Lizzy's gown was of snow white silk, and very beautiful she looked in it too, and very radiant as well all throughout the evening, perhaps because she did not taste the jellied eel.
The many guests arrived soon after the Bennets and Darcys, and a quadrille was begun with haste, with more than fifty couples on the floor. My dear papa was at his best, weaving about the guests with his shouts of "Capitol, Capitol!" and, unfortunately, forcing them to try the jellied eel, which dish is to me (and most others, I believe) completely unpalatable.
I cannot express my happiness and contentment as the evening wore on; I danced several dances with a Mr. Snodgrass, several more with Colonel Denny (who appeared at the last minute before the dancing started -- when the company first beheld him, a gasp resounded throughout the room for fear that Mr. Wickham might be with him, and a grave confrontation it would be if so, with Mr. Darcy present -- but indeed Lydia had told me and so I had no doubt that her husband was then safely away in America), and one each with Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, and -- unfortunately -- Mr. Collins. I was able to detain Mr. Collins's dance until the very end, and so was consequently able to conceal my ripped gown after the dancing was over until the guests' departure.
I must confess that, lovely as I am making the entire event sound, there was a certain event that shattered my contentment for the remainder of the evening and no doubt several other persons'.
At an interval between quadrilles, Lydia approached me gaily, hanging on the arm of Colonel Denny in a most friendly way.
"Oh, Maria!" she giggled. "Hear what Denny has to say! His regiment is come to Meryton again, to stay a whole month. Is that not delightful news?"
"Yes, certainly," I replied, though worriedly, for I knew that Lydia would begin her flirting again on a regular basis and I should have to soon speak to my papa about one of us somehow hanging about her with the needle constantly in order to control her. (For we have discovered that Lydia is quite frightened of needles of any fashion, and halts her flirting immediately she sees or even thinks of one.) Colonel Denny looked a little embraced at her flirtatiousness, which comforted me slightly, but I determined to go over and speak to Papa immediately about bringing out his needle. He has instructed me to tell him whenever I believe Lydia is carrying her giddiness a bit too far, and of course the mere sight of him rummaging in his trouser pocket for the pinpoint is enough to make my friend change colour and nearly swoon.
"Excuse me for a moment, Lydia; Colonel Denny," I said, curtsying, and then picked my way through the crowd towards the refreshment table, where Papa was distributing glasses of wine and punch with great good humour. Mary and Mr. Collins both stood near him at the table, and I could hear them speaking of Fordyce's sermons in a most disinterested manner.
"Papa," I said, approaching my father as he guffawed over a good joke just told him by Sir Artemus Snodgrass, Mr. Snodgrass's father. Sir Artemus immediately acknowledged my presence and bowed; I returned the gesture of greeting, excused myself for interrupting, and began speaking softly to my papa about the needle and Lydia's apparent need for subduement.
"Thank you, Maria; I shall attend to it presently," he replied. "This is not at all capitol."
"No indeed," I replied, my gaze happening to turn toward the ballroom doorway, which was quite near the refreshment table, for a moment. What I saw there caused my heart to beat quite vigorously and my eyes to grow wide in horror.
"Papa -- Papa, look!" I whispered loudly, but Papa had already turned back to Sir Artemus, and was again laughing heartily over one of his jolly antcedotes.
Realizing that I must indeed take matters into my own hands, and quickly, I hurried over to the scene that so disturbed me, but I found that I was too late; I could do nothing to stop the tragedy. I simply looked on in dread as a little white mouse, which, until a few days previously when it was inadvertently misplaced, had been the much-adored pet of my young brother George. I knew that once one of the ladies saw the creature, the entire room would erupt in chaos. After a silence of only about three or four seconds, my theory was proven correct.
"La! A mouse! Horror of horrors!" screamed Miss Bingley, who, incidentally, saw the animal first. She immediately dropped her glass of wine, lifted her skirts, and began to run quickly in a direction which she thought was opposite from that of the mouse's, while the mouse instead darted right in front of her (probably not at all intending to do so). She shrieked and attempted to stop abruptly, but only succeeded in toppling over and landing in an inelegant heap on the ballroom floor.
"The indelicacy! Oh, the impropriety! I knew these Lucasas kept a dirty home, but I hardly expected this!" she exclaimed, rather loudly, of course. Mr. Bingley hurried over to assist her, and she accepted his offered hand in order to arise, her maroon peacock feather dangling most charmingly in front of her eyes.
The entire room had heard her screams, and so by now most of the ladies were running about frantically, the gentlemen attempting to calm them, and the company in general were quite loud.
I simply stood in the corner and groaned softly for a little while, leaning against the wall and hardly believing what was taking place before me. I wondered repeatedly how I should ever live this misfortune down, but soon came to my senses, halted my self-pityings, and hurried to locate the one young gentleman who could put things to rights -- my brother George.
Slipping from the noisy ballroom, I hurried down the hall, up the back stairs and into the library, where I found George, snoozing on the settee with a week-old copy of the London Times resting upon his face. My brother, although more than twenty and quite old enough to attend assemblies and balls, prefers to spend his time in what some consider a more eccentric manner, studying various animals and reading extensively. So, knowing much of his outlandish mode of living, I was not at all surprised to find him thus situated.
"George!" I cried, and he immediately snorted, sending "The Porcupine" flying up into the air. Sitting up reluctantly, he looked at me as if I appeared a very unwelcome sight indeed.
"What is the trouble, Maria?" he asked in a rather sleep-ridden tone.
"Oh, George; do come down to the ballroom! Your white mouse is running loose among the guests and I am completely undone as to what to do! You must capture him and take him away directly, else the ball will be ruined!"
I must have sounded quite pitiful, for George gallantly arose, smoothed his very messy hair, and came to pat my shoulder reassuringly.
"Never fear, Maria dear," he said, using his favourite rhyming phrase. "I shall capture Neely and return him to his quarters. I am actually quite glad that he has been discovered!"
"Thank you ever so much, George," I replied, sniffling. "But we best make haste before all of the guests begin to leave."
"La; they would not dare!" he cried, then turned and walked briskly down the hallway with me just behind.
I am loath even to remember the scene we witnessed immediately upon our arrival there. The entire room had become very hushed, and all attention was turned towards the refreshments table, beside which stood Mary, Kitty, Papa, Charlotte, and Mamma, among others. The sight which truly caused my brother's and my eyes to widen profusely, however, was not that of them, but of a certain figure who stood UPON the table -- Mr. Collins.
"Mr. Collins; do come down from there!" urged Papa, with a meaningful gesture of his arm. Poor Charlotte appeared simply pallid with mortification, and stood off to the side and looking away, apparently unable to bear the sight of her fatuous husband any longer.
I wondered immediately what was amiss, but would have been far too stupefied to approach the table had not George seized my hand and dragged me along behind him to the scene of embarrassment.
"Where is Neely?" he immediately inquired of Papa and the crowd in general. I turned my attention to Charlotte, taking her hand comfortingly and inquiring of what on earth Mr. Collins was doing? She mumbled something in reply which I could not make out, and so, deriving that she was in no mood to explain matters, I turned towards the table, upon which Mr. Collins was yet perched, his eyes wide with fear and his clerical collar rather rumpled.
"My dear family," he cried, nervously but apologetically. "I am extremely sorry to thus ruin your beautiful refreshments table, but it is a fact well known by my dear Charlotte that I am excessively -- indeed, most excessively -- frightened of that horrid little animal that is now under this table."
"La; oh dear," I muttered, suspecting something of this nature all the time but hoping ardently that the reason for my brother-in-law's strange behaviour consisted of something a bit more substantial or reasonable. I immediately became quite put out with the gentleman, for I realized that he had, in the few short minutes of my absence in search of my brother, put an end to any sort of respectability or success of the ball that remained after the mouse's initial appearance. The memory of the ball would now be but a joke to all who attended; they should tell and retell the story of Mr. Collins's foolishness, along with the general filthiness of Lucas Lodge as made indisputable by the untimely appearance of my brother's pet, and the event would involve its hosts in its disgrace. It was too much to bear.
"Oh!" I cried, then immediately began sobbing into poor Charlotte's muslin-covered shoulder. My tears prompted hers, and so we both stood crying bitterly upon each other for several moments before Mamma fought her way through the assembly to comfort us. Papa would doubtless have come too, but he was still much engaged with trying to get his frightened son-in-law to remove himself from atop the table.
I am not at all sure what occurred for several minutes afterward, for indeed I was crying most loudly and my racking sobs succeeded in drowning out any outside noise. Mamma succeeded in comforting me slightly after a little while, however, and so I then attempted to recover myself, embraced at the scene I had caused along with my dear sister. I found Kitty and Lydia nearby when I could see again through my tears, and found their concerned presence most soothing.
At that moment a gasp arose from the guests, who were behaving rather like an audience by now, being quite enthralled with the silly scene before them. I glanced from the guests to the source of their surprise, and saw that, despite my papa's frequent urgings, Mr. Collins remained upon the table, and now, to his utter horror, the mouse had found its way up and onto the furniture's surface. George was attempting to slowly corner the little animal, who appeared quite frightened itself, but as he did so the mouse moved slowly towards the feet of Mr. Collins, whose eyes now bulged most alarmingly below his excessively greasy hair.
"Mr. Collins, please stand quite still," instructed George, without looking up from the mouse.
Mr. Collins said nothing, only continued to stare at the mouse, but George's hands were now very near closing over his pet so that I was almost breathing a sigh of relief, when suddenly the mouse darted from beneath my brother's hands and weaved amongst the bowls and plates to the other end of the table, directly towards Mr. Collins.
The mouse-fearing clergyman let out a scream of terror, then promptly took two or three steps backward (one of which landed his foot in a large bowl of punch) and fell with a tremendous crash to the ballroom floor.
Chaos immediately reigned throughout the ballroom -- Charlotte wailed in mortified grief, George ran after the mouse, shouting to clear his path, ladies throughout the room screamed again and again, and gentlemen loudly discussed a plan of action to seize the loose animal, while I could only stand by in a state of utter depreciation and shock.
Surprisingly, it took only a few minutes following this climax for my brother to capture his animal and cart him safely from the room. Mr. Collins, covered from head to toe with red punch, was in quite a sorry state indeed, and the refreshments table and the floor near it shared his unseemly condition, but all in all not too many were the worse for the escapade. Papa called in servants immediately to clean up the mess, and soon after that the dancing began again. I was still quite angry with Mr. Collins for the terrible scene he made, but when he asked me to dance later in the evening I could think of no excuse immediately to justify a refusal. Charlotte, too, remained upset with her husband for a time, but since she seemed able, after a day or two, to forgive him, I have endeavored to follow her dear, worthy example and do so as well.
Miss Bingley will, I am sure, make absolutely certain never to attend a ball or party here at Lucas Lodge again, but Mr. Bingley seemed as usual quite amiably forgiving, as does, of course, sweet Jane. I thought I detected a smile on Lizzy's face following the escapade, leading me to believe that she thought it rather a joke, as which I suppose it could be considered, but when she and Mr. Darcy bid me their farewells at the evening's end, she was very sympathetic and he quite kind.
Mr. Collins himself seemed to misplace all memories of the event almost immediately it concluded, and I was amazed at his depreciative dignity as he danced away the remainder of the evening in his punch-drenched clothing. It is certainly fortunate for him, I think, that his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh was not present at the ball, for indeed such behaviour on his part would banish him from her patronage forever. On the other hand, if she and her daughter had been present, he might well have refrained from acting so like a simpleton and bravely fought his fright of small rodents in order to retain her favour.
At any rate, that aspect of the ball is one that I wish to forget now that it is done. I trust that the next event given at Lucas Lodge shall proceed with infinitely more smoothness and decorum, but I hardly know if I am prepared to plan and host such an event again at any early hour. Whenever I do, however, I shall make absolutely certain, before any of the invitations are sent out, that my brother George's pets are safely stored away in their various compartments and places of residence.
© 1999 Copyright held by author