Caput I: Cuniculus conspirat, or The Bunny Plotteth
Posted on 2010-02-17
Rabbits are NOT rodents. If you didn't know that, you probably should. Rabbits belong to the category of animals known as lagomorphs, which just means "shaped like hares". This category includes rabbits, hares, and pikas or coneys. And Caput is Latin for "chapter", no relation to the German "kaputt" which means something, usually a machine, has stopped working.
It is a universally recognized truth that –
-- Hold on. You're not going to start out another one like that, are you?
-- No, sorry, let me start over.
Once upon a time there was a rabbit. This was a rather unique rabbit, with a noble and inquisitive mind, soft white fur, nimble paws, long and sensitive ears, observant and perceptive bluish-pink eyes, an affectionate nature, and of course, a soft cottony tail. It wasn't a very large rabbit, but it was more than one year old and its genetic makeup was a mixture of Angora and Dwarf. This rabbit, Francesco, lived in a pleasant house with two birds and a couple of humans, one of whom liked to read and write many different kinds of stories. He liked hopping around, and the author liked to take care of him, to feed him carrots and cabbage and apples, to watch him hop and play and explore or do practically anything else that rabbits do. His wife had first brought him to their house as a present for the author's birthday. The rabbit liked being taken care of and spending time with its owners, in fact, it knew more about their lives than they could ever have suspected…
"Dagnabbit!" said the rabbit, "That's a bad habit! You humans think everything revolves around your own species. Rabbits do not have owners. The proper term is host, human companion, human friend, or caregiver."
"Sorry, Francesco," the author replied contritely, "don't get mad at me now. You know I have nothing but the greatest respect for rabbits, and especially for you. Rabbit was even my nickname, translated into various languages, when I was smaller. Would you like me to bring you a carrot?" Having said this, he proceeded to bend down and slowly stroke Francesco's fur. The rabbit's expression immediately softened as he allowed himself to enjoy the soothing of a friendly touch.
(Now someone will say that rabbits can't talk, and usually that's true. But this is fiction, which means anything can happen. Just ask Beatrix Potter or Luis Sepúlveda. And then this is fan-fiction, which means that all sorts of even stranger things can happen, you don't need me to mention examples, just look them up in the index. One talking rabbit – or even more than one – is not going to upset the universe. Besides, it's faster than paw language.)
Anyway, Francesco was pleased with the idea of eating a carrot, so one was provided for him. It happened that on this particular evening, he and the author (and the birds, but they were in a different room) were at home, and the author's wife was out with friends of hers, or at a dancing lesson.
"Are you reading fan-fiction again?" Francesco asked the author. The author merely nodded, and then had a sudden thought. "How did you come down here now? I thought I'd put you in your cage. How did you learn to open it?"
"By watching you open and close it, of course." Francesco answered. After all, if a rabbit can talk, it can most certainly also open a cage, and it might even be able to read the content of a computer screen. Why not?
"I wanted to ask you something." The furry creature continued. "I know how much you like rabbits, you collect ceramic and other statuettes of us and you even used to have one on your business card. I also know how happy you are that Eva brought me here. I was just wondering… do you think you could write some of those stories like the ones you read with a rabbit in them somewhere? That would be a really nice addition to the plot."
"Rabbits in Jane Austen novels?" The author asked. "I'd have to think about it. I suppose it's possible, but if you want to read the stories, you have to promise not to chew on any of the computer cables. I can provide better things for your teeth."
"I'll try not to," Francesco said, "it's just that my teeth grow all the time and I need to sharpen them by chewing on things."
"Should the rabbits in the fan-fiction stories be able to talk?"
"I'll leave that up to you." Francesco said with a wiggle of his ears. "You're the author, creative license and all."
With a few helpful suggestions from Francesco, the author began to write several scenes and events in which rabbits played a role, with the characters of the original Austen novels. And eventually, the author was ready to read these stories to his furry white friend.
"Do you want to read them on the screen like I do, Francesco," he asked, "or would you like me to read them to you out loud?"
"Computer screens make me dizzy." Francesco said. "If you read them out loud, I promise to listen, and if I start to hop around, don't imagine that I'm not paying attention. It just means that I got tired of staying in one place without moving."
The author asked the rabbit to hop up onto his lap, and began to read to him while stroking his fur. "You're a very good rabbit, Francesco."
"You're not bad yourself, for a human." Francesco began to lick the side of the author's hand. For a rabbit, this is a very affectionate gesture.
And so the stories began…
Caput II, Cuniculus Londinensis or a Rabbit in London
Some humans have the gift of being able to make animals trust them, even small animals. Miss Jane Bennet was such a person; in her native Hertfordshire she was known for taking prodigiously good care of puppies, kittens, horses, migratory birds, and even the occasional squirrel or two. That she was also rather amiable to humans, even the undeserving at times, is beside the point. (Or maybe it isn't.)
The life of a rabbit in London was not at all easy. There was much less soft ground available for the digging of rabbit holes and warrens, and unfortunately there were many dogs and cats in the vicinity that had to be avoided at all costs. The streets were dominated by large vehicles driven by several horses, often carrying a large number of humans. Thus, although the rabbits of the town were quite tempted by the neighborhood vegetable markets, they preferred to spend their time in parks and gardens, avoiding the streets as much as possible.
There was a park near Gracechurch Street, in London, where a family by the name of Gardiner lived. Mr. Edward Gardiner was an honest, sensible, and respectable tradesman, and his wife Melody, who was born in Derbyshire, was a very intelligent lady. They had three young children, whose names were Franklin, Rachel, and Stephanie. Mr. Gardiner had two married sisters, Frances, who had become Mrs. Bennet and lived at the estate of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, and Alexandra, who had become the wife of Mr. Ernest Philips, an attorney in the town of Meryton, which was just a few miles from Longbourn. The Philips family had no children, while the Bennet family had five daughters. The elder two of the Bennet daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, were particular favorites of the Gardiners and were occasionally their guests at their home in London. Jane and Elizabeth were also very much loved by their young cousins, albeit for different reasons: Jane was patient and gentle with them, and particularly skilled at nursing them if they were ill, while Elizabeth, also known as Lizzy, entertained them with amusing stories and played with them. At this particular point in time, Jane was her aunt and uncle's guest in Gracechurch Street, while Elizabeth was visiting her recently married friend Charlotte Collins in Kent.
The two sisters shared one other characteristic: they liked to walk. Elizabeth was the more adventurous and exploratory, but both of them appreciated the calming power of nature, and were aware that sometimes, if there were thoughts that disturbed you, a walk was a good solution. Thus, they walked often.
If one walks often in nature, eventually one will come into contact with animals of some sort or other. Elizabeth enjoyed observing animals, while Jane, thanks to her special gift, preferred interacting with them. Jane possessed the ability to talk to animals, and it was as though they could understand her feelings and react to them. If an animal was hurt, or in danger, she could sense it and the animals trusted her; even the wildest of wounded animals submitted gently to her ministrations, and took heed of her warnings.
On one particular day, Jane went for a walk in the park feeling rather disappointed. More than four weeks earlier, she had visited the London home of Mr. Charles Bingley, a young man who had recently leased the estate of Netherfield, just a few miles from her home at Longbourn. On the first evening that they met, at the Meryton Assembly Ball, he had asked her to dance two sets of dances with him, and she had gladly accepted, finding him to be rather personable, elegant, courteous, well-mannered, amiable, and definitely handsome. She had long dreamed of finding a husband who could love her and accept her as she was. Accept her as a person with her own thoughts and feelings, not merely a pretty ornament for his home, nor just a producer of heirs, but a true companion and helpmeet in life. For the first time, as her acquaintance with Mr. Bingley grew, she had allowed herself to hope that she might have found the man of her dreams.
In that case, why could they not find each other now that they were both in London?
When she had fallen ill at Netherfield, after an invitation from Mr. Bingley's sisters, he had been a most attentive host, and had allowed Elizabeth to stay and help take care of her after she had walked through miles of mud to reach her side. Jane could not refrain from smiling when in Mr. Bingley's presence; some sort of unusual mental connection had developed between them, as though they could each effortlessly find something to say to delight the other, the right words for the right moment. The matrons of the neighborhood had begun to speculate as to when Mr. Bingley might be asking for Jane's hand in marriage. Jane knew what her answer would be: she had fallen in love with this charming man who tended to her every need when they were together, who always seemed able to find her even in the most crowded of rooms, who when speaking with her, seemed not to notice anything else around them. It was no secret that the ball that he gave at Netherfield was truly in her honor, as a celebration of her recovery from illness.
And then he left the county on the very next day, giving the explanation that he had some urgent business to attend in London. Within three days, his two sisters, the husband of the one married sister, and his friend Mr. Darcy, who had also been staying at Netherfield, returned to London as well. The note informing Jane of their departure had been written by Caroline Bingley, the unmarried sister. She had hinted at the possibility of an attachment between Charles and Mr. Darcy's young sister, and had stated that the Bingley's would probably never return to Netherfield.
Lizzy had encouraged Jane to have hope of his return, telling her that Miss Bingley in no way spoke for her brother, and reminding her how great his attachment to her was; surely he would miss her and return quickly, even if his sister objected. Instead, the days went on and on, with Netherfield vacant and no letters of any kind from the Bingley's. Lizzy's encouragement, with no evidence of its truth, gradually became weaker, and Jane began to doubt that things would be as she wished. For her true desire was that Mr. Bingley would return and make an affectionate offer for her, whose acceptance would be sealed by their first kiss.
As each day went on, this event became less and less likely in her mind, and her usual optimism was blunted. Although she tried not to show this outwardly, she was saddened.
Presently Jane, tired of walking, sat down on a bench, still contemplating the events of the past months. Unbeknownst to her, she was being watched, not by Mr. Bingley or any of his friends and relations, nor by any of her own, but by a small gray rabbit that had darted out from behind some bushes.
"Why did he raise my hopes so much if he did not intend to fulfill them?" Jane asked herself. "And if he did, what has prevented him until now?"
Her voice must have succeeded in transmitting something of her emotions to the rabbit, for it made several small hops in her direction, until it reached the far end of the bench from her. At that moment she noticed its presence and engaged in her first smile of the day.
"Good day, little rabbit." She said in a sweet voice. "Would you like to join me? Do not be afraid, I would never harm you."
The rabbit understood the message behind her words, namely, that Jane would enjoy some undemanding company, and nestled itself at her feet, actually laying its forepaws on one of her shoes. Fortunately, Jane was not ticklish.
"If only there were a way," Jane said with a sigh, "for me to ask him directly what his feelings and intentions are, I believe he would answer me honestly. The rules of society and propriety restrict us too much, for how could I ask him such a question in the presence of another, as would be required?" Her shoulders slumped as her thoughts continued. Since the initiative was left to the man, it was in this way that he showed his intentions, by visiting, making invitations, requesting dances, and so on. That Mr. Bingley had no longer done so ever since her arrival in London – of which he should know – meant that his intentions toward her had ceased to exist, if they ever had.
Sensing her sadness, the rabbit began to think about what it could do. This young lady clearly liked animals and it wished to make her happy. Was there some way that it could help her find this Mr. Bingley person? Its ears perked up as it focused all of its attention on Jane's words. Then it decided to hop onto the bench and sit a couple of feet away from Jane, allowing her the choice of coming closer. Soon, a gentle and friendly hand was fluffing up its fur.
"I went to the house on Grosvenor Square," Jane said, "and only Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were at home. Caroline even told me that she rarely saw her brother during the day
because he was occupied with all sorts of business and was also spending much time with Mr. Darcy and his young sister." And that was not all. They had been short with her to the point of rudeness, explaining that they were in a hurry to visit a friend of theirs in another part of London, while Caroline waxed poetic on the virtues, accomplishments, and education of "dear Georgiana", saying that she was the exact type of young lady that she would wish to call her sister.
Three whole weeks later, Mr. Bingley's sisters had returned the visit and called on Jane in Gracechurch Street. If the first visit had been painful to Jane, this one was sheer torture. Caroline effectively dispelled any hopes on Jane's part that Mr. Bingley might come to call on her, saying that she had told him three times of Jane's visit, and of her own intention to visit Gracechurch Street, and her brother had shown himself completely indifferent. In effect, with carefully crafted words, Miss Bingley managed to give Jane the message that she was of no consequence to either her brother or herself. After about twenty minutes, she and her sister had begun shifting in their seats, looking at each other and then at the door, and saying as little as possible, clearly indicating that they were anxious to end the visit.
"Lizzy was right," Jane thought that evening, "they truly do not care for me."
However, it was in their brother that she felt the most disappointment, for he had seemed to care for her the most. Had he made an offer for her, she would have accepted. It would not have been out of duty to her family because of their entailed estate, nor in fear of never receiving another offer of marriage, and definitely not in order to throw her sisters in the way of other rich men, as her mother would have believed. She would have accepted Charles Bingley out of affection for him, and because she believed him to be in love with her as well. A marriage without affection was inconceivable to her and to Elizabeth as well.
Perhaps she had just been a pleasant diversion for him during his time in the country and now town held a greater attraction for him. Perhaps his head had been turned by another. Could he have been persuaded against her by others – by his sisters, perhaps, or even a friend? Jane could not believe this of Mr. Darcy, who had accompanied him in Hertfordshire, although Elizabeth definitely did.
As Jane continued to engage in musings, sometimes silent and sometimes spoken, she gently stroked the rabbit's soft fur. Then she turned her head and addressed it directly.
"I am surprised that you are still here, little rabbit," she said, "listening to the words of a lovestruck young maid, rather than hopping around and playing with other rabbits and sampling the plants of the park. However, I must admit that you are quite a good listener."
The rabbit made a small sound, wiggled its ears slightly, and proceeded to sniff Jane's glove and wrist, as well as her pelisse and the long sleeve of her gown. Then it placed itself immediately below Jane's hand again, as though it were asking her to stroke it some more, which she did.
"Are you surprised at my scent?" Jane asked her furry companion. "It is only the rosewater. I even have a small bottle of it here in my reticule." She showed the bottle to the rabbit, even opening it slightly to allow for a few sniffs, and then placed it in her reticule again.
Suddenly in one quick movement the rabbit took the reticule and the bottle of rosewater in its mouth and hopped off the bench. While some of her belongings spilled out, the rabbit managed to keep a firm grip on the reticule and the scent bottle. It gave one quick look at Jane and then leapt into the bushes, and from there it found its way to the warren that it called home.
Jane sighed and began to gather up her belongings. At least, this would be a tale to tell her young cousins.
Charles Bingley sat in his study reading some business papers. His progress was slow, however, because his heart was truly not in his work. He could not concentrate on the matters before him because he found himself thinking often about a lovely young lady that he had not seen in months.
From their first meeting, he had been attracted to Miss Jane Bennet, the eldest daughter of his neighbors, when he had leased the estate of Netherfield in Hertfordshire. With her demure and unassuming demeanor, her kind and optimistic nature, her dazzling unaffected smiles, and her virtuous and honest character – not to leave aside the beauty of her face and form – she had captivated him by the time their first set of dances was over.
That autumn, they had often been in each other's company, especially after Jane had fallen ill one rainy evening on a visit to his sisters. He, his brother-in-law Hurst, and his friend Darcy had been the guests of the local militia garrison. During the days of Miss Bennet's recovery, during which her sister Elizabeth had come to nurse her, Charles had been anxiously eager to offer her the best possible attention and comfort.
He had even held a ball to celebrate her recovery. Their two sets of dances together – unfortunately, more were not possible because they were not yet engaged- had been absolute rapture. He could still remember the scent of rosewater from their closeness during the waltz and the slight tremble of her body.
And on the next day, his man of affairs had sent him an express explaining that urgent matters required his presence in London. He had ridden quickly, hoping to be back at Netherfield within a few days. Apparently, an accountant had been diverting funds from the business to his own pocket and altering the account books to hide his deception. The attempt to understand what damage had taken place, to repair relations with angered creditors, and then to attempt to catch the wayward man had taken up considerable time. And within three days of his own arrival in London, his sisters, his brother-in-law, and his best friend Mr. Darcy, instead of staying on at Netherfield and awaiting his return as he had requested, had closed up the estate and returned to London.
The next weeks were a very painful time for Mr. Bingley. Besides the business of the dishonest accountant, he missed the country air, the frank and open manner of the country people, the feeling of open space at his disposal, and the presence of Miss Bennet, or at least the thought that she was but a few miles away. However, nobody at all supported his plan to return to Netherfield. Caroline and Louisa put him in a difficult position by forming and accepting all sorts of engagements and insisting on his presence – as though they thought he could enjoy the pretentious chatter and malicious gossip of their insipid friends – and when he protested this, began a vehement discussion of why
Netherfield, though a fine estate, was not in a suitable neighborhood, and no people of the slightest consequence lived in the vicinity. This inevitably led to screeching denigration of every single family with whom they had come into contact, but especially of the Bennets. Jane Bennet was admitted to be all that was genteel and kind, but the inexcusable boisterousness and vulgarity of her family, as well as the fact that her uncles were a tradesman and a country attorney, made her an unsuitable match for Charles in his sisters' loudly expressed opinion.
By that time, when Charles had already begun to suffer a pounding headache, Caroline took the offensive. "I remember you saying that if she had enough uncles to fill Cheapside, that would not make her a jot less agreeable Well, if you are so infatuated – which I can understand, Jane is a rather charming girl – as to set aside every consideration of the proper rules of society, at least you could think of my future! You must know that any choice you make regarding marriage could seriously damage my own prospects of a union with an eligible and upstanding gentleman."
Charles knew that for his sister, "an eligible and upstanding gentleman" mainly meant "Fitzwilliam Darcy", which the latter man did truly consider himself to be. What Mr. Darcy definitely did not consider himself to be was Caroline Bingley's future husband. However, Charles' headache by this time had grown to a magnitude that did not allow him to formulate a response, since she continued her tirade with even greater intensity, expounding on the derision that Charles and herself would face if he were to take Miss Bennet as his wife. And then Louisa dealt the final blow.
"Besides, Charles, she does not love you."
"What?" He was astonished to hear such a statement.
His elder sister brought her hand to his face, as she used to comfort him when he was a small boy, "Charles, it pains me to tell you such a thing, but there are some things that a man cannot tell that a woman can. I am older than you, and married, and more experienced in the ways of the world – I know how a woman in love looks, and Miss Bennet, alas, was not one. Not to say that she finds you disagreeable – no one in the world could find you so, brother. However, no doubt her mother would press her to accept an offer from you and she would agree out of duty to her family, for you know that their estate is entailed away."
"How can that be?" Bingley was incredulous. "I saw her smile, and her blush, and felt her reaction when we danced."
"No doubt your wish for her feelings to be true colours your perception, brother," Louisa continued. "I can understand – it is natural to wish to be loved, but can you be certain that it was more than the excitement of having an agreeable partner, or of dancing a new kind of dance for the first time? I can tell you, as I observed both of you out of concern for your happiness, Charles, it was not."
Charles was devastated by these words and soon retired to his room. On the morrow, as he had done many a time when faced with a seemingly intractable problem, he sought the counsel of his greatest friend, Mr. Darcy.
Unfortunately, a meeting with Darcy resulted in the exact opposite response of what he had hoped to hear.
"They are right, you know," Darcy said slowly during their luncheon at White's.
"How is that possible?" Bingley had asked. "My sisters claim that Miss Bennet simply welcomed my attentions as she would those of any pleasant man, and that she would have accepted an offer from me simply to please her mother and to help save her family from the entail over their estate. I felt something different – a connection between us, an affection that could not be anything but genuine. And now you are telling me that every perception and impression of mine is wrong."
"We have had similar conversations to these in the past, Bingley," his friend said in a calm voice. "Or have you forgotten the several young ladies with whom you fancied yourself in love – or fancied them in love with you – in the not so distant past?"
Bingley was too embarrassed to reply to this, although he was glad that Mr. Darcy was well practiced in the art of speaking without raising his voice.
"Miss Bennet is different from the others," he eventually managed to say, although there was little conviction in the tone of his voice.
"You have told me that before as well, my friend," Darcy replied, irritatingly unflappable as ever. It was no wonder that he was undefeated in debate at Cambridge. "Forgive me, but your natural kindness and happy manners may serve you well in establishing yourself in business and in giving yourself a reputation in society as a sterling character, but in no way do they protect you against those in our world who act from less innocent, and sometimes rather reprehensible, motives."
"What do you mean by that, Darcy?" Bingley's mental fortitude was being broken down by too many unpleasant conversations.
"Well, I do possess some experience in avoiding and thwarting various schemers and fortune hunters." This was true. Every season, Mr. Darcy was pursued by ambitious females who aspired to a greater standing in the aristocracy through marriage to him. His wealth, his noble and well-established relations, the reputation of his estate, and his undeniably handsome countenance made him desirable as a husband in the eyes of many.
A fire was instantly kindled in Bingley's eyes. "Are you implying that Miss Bennet is such a woman? That is a baseless slander! She is all that is gentle and kind – not at all like the ladies that you are skilled at avoiding."
"Of course she is not like them," Darcy said with one more sip of port, "it would be preposterous to accuse her of such a propensity, almost as absurd as accusing you. However, I cannot say the same about her mother. Do you not recall how she went on and on at the ball – held at your house, no less – about how her daughters would be thrown in the path of rich men?"
Bingley had to admit the truth of his friend's last statement. Before he had finished nodding his head, Darcy had gone on the offensive again.
"So you see what would happen, my friend: a gentle and obliging daughter – Miss Bennet – would be reminded by her ambitious mother of her duty to her family, namely to marry well in order to protect them from the entail. With a young man of good character with a respectable fortune – yourself – in the picture as an incentive, no wonder that she would welcome your attentions. She could not possibly say no if you were to offer for her, as no doubt you would have eventually if we had all remained in Hertfordshire, or even if you had by yourself. But she would have done so out of duty to her family, not out of love."
Charles merely groaned out loud because his headache had returned with even greater intensity and his appetite had disappeared. The depressing discussion continued for one more torturing hour, but at the end he was persuaded that his sisters and his friend had seen something that he did not, and he had deluded himself into hope.
A sudden noise brought Bingley's mind back to the present time: a series of quick taps could be heard from the far windows. As the sound continued, he rose from his desk to see what was happening. At the third window, he saw that a small gray rabbit was standing on its hind paws on the window ledge and tapping on the windowpane with its forepaws. It also appeared to be carrying some sort of fabric in its mouth.
Bingley was too kind of a man to attempt to chase the rabbit away, so he opened the window. The rabbit immediately hopped in, deposited its bundle at Bingley's feet, and began to run around the study.
"Has my sister been losing things in the garden?" He asked. "If so, you need not take upon yourself the task of looking after her – that is supposed to be the servants' job, or mine, and a very tiresome one it is, I assure you."
The only reply that he received to that was an audible snort. The rabbit then hopped back and its paws repeatedly tapped the small bundle, which, upon closer inspection, appeared to resemble a lady's reticule. Bingley bent down to take a closer look. It truly was a reticule, and it seemed familiar to him, but it was not ornate enough to belong to Caroline. Caroline would not wear or use anything that was not lavishly adorned. As he picked it up, he realized that it was not empty either, but contained a small vial, rather like a lady's scent bottle.
The rabbit made a few sniffing sounds, and in an instant Charles understood what he was supposed to do. He opened the bottle and was overcome with the scent of rosewater. His mind immediately turned to recent memories.
"Jane!" he breathed. "This must be hers." As he examined the reticule more closely, the last time that he had seen it came to life in his mind: it was the day that he had visited Longbourn to invite the Bennet family to attend his ball at Netherfield. Jane had been wearing a blue gown that matched the colour of her eyes, and she had carefully laid it on a nearby table before she went to find her father and inform him of the visit and the invitation. If her reticule and her scent bottle had been brought to him by this rabbit, this could only mean one thing. "She is in London, it must be so!"
The rabbit flopped down onto the floor and made a sound that vaguely resembled a sigh of relief. It then began to hop around the study again, as though it were searching for something.
"I have heard of carrier pigeons before," the gentleman said, while pensively scratching his blond head, "but this is the first messenger rabbit that I have seen." He understood that he must find some token of his, something to give to the rabbit, that it might take to Jane, to make her understand that he was in London and wished to see her. Well, regardless of how many legs and how much fur his messenger might have, the proper and gentlemanly thing to do was to send a card. He walked over to his desk and found a stack of his cards. He took one in his hand and then began to consider whether to write a note as well. Ordinarily it would not be quite proper, but this was a special occasion. He turned the card over and wrote, with uncharacteristic care to make his writing neat and legible, "Please tell me your direction. I wish to call on you. I am here every morning." There was much more that he wished to say, but the card lacked sufficient space.
"Where are you, messenger rabbit?" he called. The rabbit hopped in his direction and then hopped onto Bingley's chair and his desk. Bingley held out his card and the rabbit came close and then took the card's edge into its mouth. Bingley released it and gave the furry messenger a small pat. The rabbit hopped back down to the floor and moved in the direction of the window.
"Wait a moment, my good messenger," Bingley said, "I am not being a good host. Wait here and I will have my staff bring you a plate of vegetables before you take my card to Jane – to Miss Bennet." To make sure it would not escape yet, Bingley closed the window. He then quickly sought out his housekeeper, who rolled her eyes at the request of a carrot and a small amount of cabbage, and raw at that. Whatever her thoughts on bizarre London fashions and the Quality being touched in the head might have been, she did obey her master.
It was a topic of discussion among Bingley's servants in the next few days that apparently one or two of them had seen a rabbit hop in and out of the study window. However, the gentleman was considered such a kind and affable master that none could object if he wished to keep a pet. After three days, though, another topic replaced it: for the first time in anyone's memory, the master had not only raised his voice to his younger sister, but he had actually shouted at her and dismissed her from the house for refusing to accompany him on a visit to Gracechurch Street.
"About bloody time he sent her away, the shrew," Avery the footman remarked to the cook, Mrs. Weller. "And if the master's friend Mr. Darcy makes an offer for her, I pity the poor stupid sod."
Ten weeks later Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet were married at Meryton Church and began a life of great affection together. From that moment on, the hunting and cooking of rabbits were strictly forbidden at Netherfield and the Bingley town house. As for Mr. Darcy, he proved Avery's fears to be groundless, for several months later he married Mrs. Bingley's sister Elizabeth, but that is a story for another day.To Be Continued . . .