Posted on 2014-12-01
Afterward, Darcy was never sure how it had all happened. Had he spoken condescendingly to the wrong person, insulted someone whose powers he could neither guess nor comprehend? Had it really even happened at all? Regardless, its effects remained, always. Indeed, he was sure that all his later happiness was due to this strange series of events.
Darcy opened his eyes and regarded the old-fashioned bed canopy overhead. Alas, he was still at Netherfield. Bingley would be all right here as he learned to run an estate, especially with Darcy's expert guidance. But Darcy himself was happy in the knowledge that before long he would depart for more exciting venues and more varied company. This sort of rural life was not for him. For one thing, the locals did not show him the deference he was due. Those at the assembly had revealed themselves to be the worst sort of rustics. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet were exceptions to the general rule, of course, but oh!, their mother. Yes, the previous evening, spent in the company of Miss Elizabeth while her sister recovered in the sickroom upstairs, had been diverting. But there was no future for him with her or indeed with anyone in this place. The sooner he could be away to town, the better.
With a yawn, he sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed. His head swam when the sunlight of the fine morning lit upon his eyes. He shaded them and moved to stand up, but immediately found himself sprawled on the floor, posterior and pride both badly bruised. The floor had been much farther down than he had expected. Damn Bingley and his tall beds. He quickly scrambled back to his feet, reaching high to grab the bedpost.
Reaching up? What was that, now? What the devil was going on here? Did his eyes deceive him, or had everything gotten bigger? Perhaps he had just had too much brandy the evening before. He decided to call for his man, Milton. Maybe this would throw some light on the situation. He scrambled back up on the bed, yanked the bell pull, and flopped onto his back, feeling for all the world like a schoolboy resisting the matron's call to rise.
"Good morning, sir," said Milton as he swept into the room with Darcy's morning attire.
Darcy shot up to a sitting position and let himself down to the floor with more caution than was quite seemly, his hand still gripping the bedpost. He held himself as tall as possible and endeavoured to shake this feeling that the world was off kilter.
"Everything all right, then, Milton? Any odd occurrences this morning?" Darcy was shocked at the higher-than usual pitch of his voice. He cleared his throat.
Milton looked down at him, which was strange, because the last Darcy remembered he had only come up to his master's chin.
"Quite all right sir. Might I inquire what prompts your question?"
"Nothing, nothing at all. Perhaps I just feel a bit off this morning. Nothing at all odd, you say?" He walked across the room and clambered up onto the seat of the armchair by the fire. This was not right! Darcys did not clamber! Never.
"No, sir." Milton nodded and hung Darcy's clothes up on the stand next to the shaving mirror on the wall. Darcy could see that they were the right fit for a man of his current diminutive stature. How could this be?
"Sir, I thought you might wish to know that Miss Elizabeth Bennet has already sent a message to her family this morning."
"Oh, dear God. That wretched woman will be here in the blink of an eye," Darcy muttered. Milton might have the good sense not to comment on his changed state, but Mrs. Bennet surely would not. Quickly improvising, he instructed, "I shall shave and dress as usual, Milton, but I shall take breakfast in my room. Please tell Bingley I am, errr, knackered after our long ride yesterday afternoon." He winced at his poor effort at a fib. Bingley would never believe that and would give him a devil of a ribbing about it, he was sure.
Milton helped him dress. All of the garments fit him perfectly, but he discovered that they had certain alterations, clearly designed to make his figure appear taller and more substantial. The jacket had some peculiar padding in the shoulders to broaden and magnify them; the boots were fitted with peculiarly high heels and contained lifts of some sort within the insoles. Even with these minor feats of engineering in place, though, he still could not see himself in the mirror when he went to check the arrangement of his hair. The mirror was higher than his head. Good grief. It was true; every new piece of intelligence confirmed it. He was short. Short! A Darcy was many things, but never short.
Darcy hid in his room till the mid-day meal. It was clear he was not imagining things, but he was not sure whether Milton's cool acceptance of the situation was indicative of the man's extreme sang-froid, or perhaps instead telling of the fact that Darcy had always been this small. He dared not test the situation with the others. This cowardice was not a normal part of his character, he told himself; these were shockingly unusual circumstances.
After Milton left, Darcy spent several minutes trying to catch a glimpse at his image in the mirror to ascertain if he were changed in other ways than his height. It seemed not, though it was difficult to know for certain because the shiny surface was up so high that he had to position himself nearly on the other side of the room to get the proper line of sight. He felt it beneath him to jump up for a quick peek. Eventually he threw his dignity to the wind and pulled a chair up to the mirror so he could get a good look. Yes, it was his own visage--the same cleft chin, the same dark eyes and hair, the same handsome mien. Only much, much smaller than usual.
He mulled and considered for hours, trying to understand how this could have happened. Logically it could not be so; and yet, it was so. So he moved on to thinking of what his next actions must be. He soon came to the conclusion that it was unlikely any of the others in the house would see anything amiss with his appearance, given that not only Milton but indeed all the physical evidence around him pointed to the long-time nature of his miniaturization.
Eventually, his natural pride and powers of reason overcame his fear and unease. He was a Darcy, with every reason to be confident. He could surely bluff his way through the situation.
He marched right into the sitting room where Bingley and his sisters were waiting for their tea. Bingley, standing about as he so often did, nodded at him and said, "Glad to see you are feeling better, Darcy. I told you the ride was too much for your delicate constitution." He reached over and ruffled Darcy's hair as if to say, "that's a good boy" before walking across the room to see what Hurst was doing.
Darcy was so shocked he could neither move nor say a word. Finally he squeaked out, "I say, Bingley."
"What's that now, Darcy?" Bingley asked, looking up distractedly from the newspaper article Hurst was reading concerning a debate over the rules of pugilism.
"Nothing, nothing," squeaked Darcy.
He walked to the window. Normally he very much enjoyed the view of Netherfield's gardens, and moreover found looking out over them a capital way to avoid uncomfortable conversations. But today he found that the lower half of the view was unaccountably obstructed by the unreasonably tall wainscoting. He stood on his tiptoes to peer out over the sill and nearly took down the curtains when he grabbed them after losing his balance.
But the thing that really threw him off balance was that Caroline Bingley barely gave him a second look. The world had been turned upside down, it seemed.
Once tea arrived, it passed mostly in silence since Miss Bingley studiously ignored Darcy and was engaged in some kind of whispered quarrel with her sister, while Darcy dared not speak for fear of squeaking. The silence was punctuated only by Bingley's occasional comment about the beauty of Hertfordshire and its women. Darcy was too stunned to attempt a rebuttal of his claims.
After tea, Darcy hid in his room again till evening to think some more. He still could not ascertain the origin of his plight. But what could he do to return to his normal state? If only he were at Pemberley. Its extensive library was bound to have some sort of information about his condition. Perhaps others in history had had this experience of extreme physical diminution.
He reluctantly dragged himself to supper at the appointed hour. In the dining room, Bingley patronized him again, Bingley's sisters ignored him as their whispered argument intensified, and Hurst guzzled his wine so that he quickly became too drunk to speak. Thus Darcy sat once more in sullen silence for most of the meal.
After their repast, the party repaired to the sitting room. Bingley and Hurst began a game of piquet with Mrs. Hurst as an audience. Hurst was now sober enough to sit up straight, but was unable to shuffle the cards. Bingley therefore took over that office. Miss Bingley seemed not to know what to do with herself, and so she arranged herself on the settee next to her sister.
Darcy recalled that he owed his sister a letter, so he sat down at the writing desk. He found that it was too high for him, his arm sloping upward at an awkward angle, and his chin nearly resting on the tabletop. He found the tilt of his arm not at all conducive to writing and for a moment considered stacking some pillows on the seat to solve the problem. He quickly discarded that idea for fear of how Bingley would tease him. He was not sure what he would write to Georgiana, in any case, since he could not mention what was foremost on his mind.
Soon Miss Elizabeth Bennet joined the party, and, after giving a sickroom report, pulled out her needlework and began to embroider.
Darcy looked down at his paper. So far he had only written, "My Dear Georgiana." He had no idea how to carry on from there. Should he say, "I woke up this morning and discovered I was half my normal size"? It was not strictly accurate, but close enough; nevertheless, she would never believe it, because it was absurd. Perhaps, "I hope you are well; this letter finds me feeling not quite all here"? Perhaps it was better not to say anything at all. Thus he listened intently to the others in the room while pretending to consider his next words carefully.
Mrs. Hurst hissed to her sister, "Caroline, go over and talk to him. Promote yourself."
Miss Bingley gave a great sigh. "Very well, very well. If I must." She stood and walked over to Darcy's side and peered over his shoulder.
A wave of relief washed over Darcy. At last, this was normal! This was how things should be.
"I see you are writing to your sister. She is such a dear girl," Miss Bingley cooed. But Darcy could hear that her heart was not in it. His own heart sank just a bit.
In an effort to recover his spirits and re-establish their normal form of repartee, he replied curtly, "Yes, she is."
Miss Bingley cleared her throat, clearly searching for some sort of compliment to shower upon him in spite of her clear disdain for his person. "Errrm...Mr. Darcy, you write uncommonly fast."
"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly," he riposted. But his voice broke shot up rather alarmingly on the word "write."
At the squeaking sound, Miss Bingley jerked back, forced a thin smile, and quickly returned to Mrs. Hurst's side, barely bothering to whisper as she bit out, "Hang it all! Pemberley is beautiful, to be sure, and the social standing, and the fortune... but really, I could not have that man as my husband. He is so very, very short!"
Mrs. Hurst elbowed her sharply. "Caroline, he is handsome enough. Many women have been happy with less in that regard, as long as one can live in style."
"Honestly, Louisa. I cannot bear the thought of it. When I stand next to him, his eyes are level with my...you know!" She gestured to her décolletage.
"All the more reason to display your assets properly, then." Mrs. Hurst reached over and gave Miss Bingley's bodice a tug downward.
"Louisa, honestly!" Miss Bingley jerked the fabric back up to its proper location. "I cannot imagine why we agreed to come here with Charles. What were we thinking? Tell me we can return to London as soon as possible."
Mrs. Hurst whispered back pointedly, "I think you are perhaps too nice when it comes to your requirements for a husband." She turned to Miss Elizabeth Bennet and continued on in a louder voice. "What say you, Miss Elizabeth? Last evening it seemed you thought Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy asked rather too much when they spoke of the qualities of a truly accomplished woman must possess, did you not? What say you about gentlemen? Would it not be rather absurd for a lady to expect too much of a gentleman, a husband?"
Startled, Miss Elizabeth looked up from her embroidery. "I beg your pardon?" Even Darcy could see that she did not savour the thought of being dragged into the sisters' argument.
"Come now. For a gentleman to be truly accomplished, to be a worthy husband to an accomplished lady, what qualities must he have?"
Miss Elizabeth shot an uncomfortable glance at Mr. Darcy before laying her handwork in her lap.
Darcy decided to play along, hoping it would divert everyone's attention away from him and toward the follies of Miss Bingley.
"Yes, do tell us, Miss Elizabeth, as you then doubted such a lady could exist," he piped too eagerly. He bit his lips to remind himself not to speak again.
"Ahem. Well, I suppose, if we are speaking of the qualities equivalent to those we discussed yesterday evening, then...we could say he should be well-versed in the gentlemanly arts. Fencing, riding, shooting, that sort of thing."
"Yes," nodded Miss Bingley. "And he must have an appreciation for the fine arts. And an ear for music, as well as an eye for fashion."
Darcy felt a bit better, since he had devoted himself to cultivating these qualities in his person his entire life, and thought he had succeeded rather well. He could be proud of these things even if he was not physically imposing.
Miss Elizabeth thought for a moment and added, "And a fine education, of course. A foundation in the Classics and facility with the Classical languages, as well as possession of a quick mind."
Bingley, who had been craning his head around to hear their words, put down his cards and laughed, giving up all pretense of paying attention to the game. "Well I suppose that rules me right out, then. But I say, I have never heard of a man who combines all these qualities so well as Darcy. Except for the fencing. When we fence, his sword is like as not to hit me in the knee, whilst mine inevitably pokes him in the eye if I am not extraordinarily careful."
Miss Bingley tittered.
Darcy suddenly began to have some sympathy for Bertie Bottomwood, a ridiculous little baronet with whom he had gone up to Cambridge. All the other fellows had laughed at his unsuccessful attempts to woo women, and had taken his increasing attempts to trumpet his own consequence as a kind of pathetic overcompensation for his physical attributes. Apparently it was his turn to be the ridiculous little fellow now. This was insupportable. This never happened to Darcys. He kicked his feet in agitation and was preparing to take Bingley down a peg when he was cut off at the pass by Miss Bingley.
"Certainly, a gentleman should always endeavour to be as...I should say, to have as much stature as possible," she interjected, straightening her posture so as to maximize her own height.
"I believe you mean to say that a gentleman should endeavour to be as tall as possible, do you not?" Darcy snapped.
"Well, yes, if we must put it that way. Of course I mean no offense to present company." Miss Bingley gestured around the room as if she did not mean anyone in particular.
"Naturally not," Darcy muttered.
"I believe we are speaking of qualities that one may cultivate, Miss Bingley, rather than immutable characteristics," Miss Elizabeth broke in, her eyebrow cocked inquiringly. "Thus to the others we have already mentioned, I would add liberality of mind, responsibility toward dependents, and unimpeachable morality. And let us not forget a well-regulated sense of pride."
Bingley erupted into laughter, nearly upsetting the card table in his mirth. "Ha ha! Once again it sounds as if we are describing you, Darcy! Certainly most men could not measure up to these high standards, but they are the very image of you, old friend. How diverting," he teased, "Except for the pride, that is. You are like a bantam rooster, puffed up---"
Darcy interrupted stiffly, "I think it is only right to have pride in one's family and patrimony."
"Yes, yes," Bingley soothed him. "Of course it is. You know I meant nothing by it."
Darcy was dumbstruck. Did his social standing really mean so little, even to his friends? His wealth? His personal attributes? He did not deserve this treatment, he was sure of it. He had never felt so insulted in his life, and had never known Bingley or his sisters to show him so little deference or respect. He hopped down--no! descended gracefully!--from his chair, ready to stomp out in icy silence, when Miss Elizabeth Bennet once again intervened.
Shooting a quick look at Darcy, she asked teasingly, "Mr. Bingley, do you truly believe that physical size and strength are the only measure of a man? You cannot be serious! Surely as a species we have progressed beyond the point where the respect a man deserves is determined only by how many bales he can tote or how heavy a load he can pull." She gave him a saucy smile.
Bingley laughed in turn. "No, no, of course not. A gentleman does not tote bales in any case, even a newly made one like myself."
"Charles!" Miss Bingley hissed.
"Toting bales or not, I am certain you agree that it is better to judge a man on the goodness of his character and on what he has made of himself, rather than on the accidents of birth, whether his station in life or his physical vessel. Would you not concur, Mr. Bingley?" She asked so sweetly that Bingley could not take offense.
Cheerful yet chastened, Bingley hastened to agree. "Quite right, Miss Elizabeth. If any one of us is grateful for the happy accident of his birth, it is I. I do apologize, Darcy. I should not have spoken so to you just now."
Darcy's head swam. He truly could not comprehend how Bingley could speak to him in this manner. He wondered if this was how the world always looked through the eyes of the small and insignificant.
"Think nothing of it, Bingley." It seemed small of him not to forgive this trespass. But it did make him wonder about Bingley's character, and also about his own.
That night Darcy tossed and turned in bed as all sorts of thoughts crowded into his mind.
On one hand, he worried about what the next day would bring, and, truth be told, whether he could go on if his reduced stature should prove to be permanent.
On the other hand, the evening's conversation, and particularly Miss Elizabeth's words, gave him considerable food for thought. Truly he had been blessed in every way by accident of birth, until today at least. Today, his natural-born advantages were evident in almost every way, but indeed not in every way. If his physical diminution had cost him much of the deference he was accustomed to receive, what would the loss of any of his other attributes--his wealth, his social standing, perhaps even his admittedly handsome visage--cost him? It was humbling indeed.
Finally he drifted into a shallow and troubled sleep.
The next morning, he woke up to the same view of the elderly canopy overhead. He squeezed his eyes shut again and prayed he had been returned to his normal size. Whether he had been or not, he swore to himself that he would be a better man, one who would see the merit in others no matter their appearance or other superficial characteristics. No matter, for instance, whether they had an uncle in trade.
He took a deep breath and swung his feet over the side of the bed. His toes just touched the floor. He nearly wept with joy.
At breakfast, Miss Bingley fawned and simpered. Bingley joked and deferred. All was as it had been, which was most delightful. But he soon discovered that he himself was not entirely as he had been.
Easing back into his familiar pose of disdainful hauteur, he said something imperious to Miss Elizabeth. For perhaps the first time he observed her reaction closely and listened to the tone of her voice when she replied. To his utter astonishment he discovered that not only was she not flirting with him, she did not like him in the least.
She had shown him such kindness the previous evening that he found it mattered to him what she thought.
As the day passed in a haze of familiarity, though, he found it became easier and easier to forget the events of the previous day. Perhaps it had only been a dream, after all. His former attitudes and sharp barbs gradually found their way back into his speech as his memories faded.
That afternoon, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst announced that as the weather was fine, they would go out for a walk. They invited Darcy to accompany them, and he acquiesced. As the trio approached the front entrance, Miss Elizabeth came down the stairway from her sister's sickroom.
"Will you not join us, Miss Elizabeth? We know how you love a good walk, although we cannot promise any mud," Miss Bingley snickered.
Darcy opened his mouth to chime in, something about countrified habits, perhaps. As he did so, he reached for his beaver hat from the footman and clapped it onto his head, only to find that it did not sink down toward his ears as usual. Rather, as he caught sight of it in the mirror by the door, it perched absurdly atop the crown of his head, like a furry brown cup and saucer.
So it had all happened after all. And perhaps it would again. He stood frozen for a moment in contemplation.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked at him and laughed her generous, pealing laugh. "Is that the latest London style, sir?"
He doffed his hat with a sudden motion and handed it back to the footman. "Would you put that in my room, please? I think I shall do without today." Turning to Miss Elizabeth, he smiled. "Perhaps I shall start a new fashion by going bareheaded from now on. Will you not join us, indeed? It is a fine day for a walk."
He stepped away from Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst to offer Miss Elizabeth his arm. A servant approached with her pelisse.
Miss Elizabeth looked at him questioningly and paused, searching his face for some ulterior meaning. Apparently she found none. She smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Darcy. I believe I will."The End