Posted on 2011-10-31
It was the first Wednesday of the month, which meant the meeting of the Austenian Women's Circle (Lady Catherine and Mrs. Norris had both tried to make it a Committee, which they could then rule as Chairwoman, but Elinor Dashwood had sensibly headed off that idea). Since fictional homes could be as large or small as necessary, it met at every member's home in turn without difficulty, from the large and grand estates of Mansfield Park, Pemberley and Rosings to parsonages and the smallest cottage on which the Wickhams ever managed to pay the rent. Actually, the months it met at Thornton Lacey parsonage, small as it was, often proved the best attended, for not even Mrs Norris, try though she might, could fault Fanny Price Bertram's ability to make everyone comfortable.
So it proved yet again, for nearly every female character in Austen's works (and a few outsiders who had crept in via fanfiction), lounged about at her ease in the parsonage, listening with varying degrees of boredom to yet another tirade from Mrs. Norris brought on by a book group's reread of Emma.
"…Everyone calls me a busybody and a tyrant and an abuser when discussing my place in my novel, and that upstart Mrs. Churchill is no better, yet everyone leaves her alone…"
"Indeed!" Huffed Lady Catherine, "She is never burned in effigy in fanfiction, yet some of us, far better bred by far, suffer such humiliation almost daily!"
A long and rambling discourse from Miss Bates centered on the fact that Mrs. Churchill, bless her deceased soul, had done nothing worse than wish for her adoptive son's company, and that one should not speak ill of the dead.
"Well, that's just it, isn't it," Marianne Dashwood interrupted saucily (she had chosen to come in her pre-London phase, which made her romantic, impertinent and sometimes blunt to the point of rudeness). "She's dead. In fact, she's married and dead, which makes her automatically respectable by the standards of polite society."
No one responded to that, either because they agreed and were disgusted by it, or they agreed and felt resigned or even content with the idea, or because the optimists couldn't think of good reasons to refute it in favor of human goodness. The meeting itself, apart from lamenting that even at Fanny's, Algernon Moncrieff always snuck into their universe to steal the cucumber sandwiches, broke up shortly afterwards, and in a day or two, Marianne's remark had largely faded from everyone's mind.
Until Mrs. Norris was found facedown in the haha, strangled with what looked like scraps of green baize.
Two weeks later, someone bashed in Lady Catherine's head using that woman's own compendium of household remedies. A day or so after that, Mrs. Elton choked to death on a poisoned strawberry. Then Mrs. Ferrars smothered in money. Not long afterwards, acid-laced Gowland's lotion took off not only Mrs. Clay's freckles, but the her face and life as well. Someone stabbed both Lady Susan and Mr. Manwaring during a liaison. Just before the month ended, John & Isabella Thorpe's mother stepped on a poisoned tack in one of her dress slippers and died of blood poisioning.
The next meeting of the AWC, held under heavy guard at Pemberley, needless to say, overflowed with anxiety. Someone, they decided, had taken Marianne's ideas on respectability far too much to heart.
"I am all for reformation and respectability of our less virtuous members," Anne Elliot spoke quietly but firmly. "But I do not think that killing someone is the best method of reforming her."
"But is everyone redeemable?" Elizabeth Bennet spoke for the cynics, sometimes because she agreed with them, and sometimes for the sake of being perverse.
"After all," Marianne (who felt it prudent under the circumstances to stay in her young and unmarried persona) piped up, "there are some selfish women, like Lady Allen, who do no one any good and might as well be dead."
"The problem," replied her sister, "is that there are many of us who may appear to others as selfish and useless as Lady Allen does to you. Lucy Steele has been very polite during this meeting, but do you not think that she might have felt as if I were a hussy designing to steal Edward from her? And just where does one draw the line between too wicked to live, and wicked, but still capable of living redemption?"
"And on that note," said Mrs. Smith from her chair in the corner, "I think perhaps we should look at ways of protecting ourselves. As yet, the never-married ladies, such as Miss de Bourgh and Miss Susan Price, appear to be safe, but I think those of us who are married or widowed ought not to venture out alone."
After some discussion, a plan along those lines met with the approval of all the surviving members. Scarcity of married women in some of the novels, or disagreements among the characters led to some odd cross-book pairings; Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Bennet turned out to work remarkably well, since the younger Mrs. B could blather to her heart's content about her nerves, and the elder was too deaf and inured to her daughter's chatter to pay any head to the stream of chatter). Isabella Knightley and Lizzy Bennet got on as poorly as chalk & cheese.
The pairings proved a mixed blessing. The women stopped dying mysteriously.
The men, on the other hand, began…and more than the traditionally villainous husbands made the list. By the end of the second month, fully half the Austen wives had become widows. Mr. Darcy drowned in the pond, another soldier "accidentally" shot Wickham in a drill, Willoughby broke his neck while out riding, Captain Wentworth's soul was truly pierced by a sharp pen…the list went on & on.
By the third AWC meeting, no one, not even the spinsters and bachelors, dared to travel alone. Dr. Perry had a full schedule simply tending to the nervous complaints of those characters prone to hysteria. Susan Price had run away to a convent, calculating that a minor character in an unpopular novel might be left alone if she put herself permanently off the marriage market (she had forgotten, as it would prove in a few days that the murderer had not, that nuns are the Brides of Heaven). Much chatter and distress abounded, but no one had any real solutions to offer.
And the dying continued.
The fourth AWaMC (they had expanded to a co-ed group due to member shortages) proved an unqualified disaster. Someone had poisoned the refreshments, and everyone at the meeting died (out-novel, the Wilde universe fell into chaos due to Algernon Moncrieff's death by purploined cucumber sandwich).
Jane Bennet had missed the meeting, having been talked by Caroline into a re-enactment of the wet ride to Netherfield (they had both come down with terrible colds, but Caroline, who would never dare shun an invitation to Kellynch Hall, had dragged herself out anyway, with fatal results).
Alone, so she thought, in the Austen universe, she recruited servants from other novels to help her run Netherfield. Still, though she thought that guilt must have made the murderer commit suicide when he or she exterminated the rest of Austen's characters, she kept a wary eye on her surroundings. When the bell at the Netherfield entrance rang on the first of the month, she was ready.
She nodded to Bunter (imported especially from the Wimsey world for the day), who coolly pulled the rope releasing all the statuary they had stolen from the P&P3 Pemberley on the head of the visitor. After the screams and the crashes had faded, Jane and Bunter opened the door and checked the hand extending from the rubble for signs of life. Finding a feeble pulse, Bunter held a gun steady on the pile as some of the other servants pulled away the now broken marble.
Jane bit back a gasp as the last of the statues came clear. "I don't even know you!"
The other woman gasped, "The Beautiful Cassandra. I was so tired of being ignored…"The End