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Note: To quote Dorothy L. Sayers in a different context: "It would be idle to deny that the City and University of [St. Andrews, in place of Oxford] (in aeternum floreant) do actually exist, and contain a number of colleges and other buildings, some of which are mentioned by name. It is therefore the more necessary to affirm emphatically that none of the characters which I have placed upon this public stage has any counterpart in real life." (Gaudy Night, Author's Note).
This story does take place primarily at a real and dear university (though not my own), and I fear that most of my representations are based on inadequate facts and a good deal of imagination, in addition to whatever facts and experience I have actually acquired. I must also apologize to the Marshall people for hijacking their program into the world of fanfiction, for the benefit of my fictional heroine. I have chosen all of these places and programs from real love and respect, and not from any desire to willfully misrepresent them.
Posted on Wednesday, 4 October 2006
It was hard not to be excited. Lizzy Bennet had waited for this day, the day she would put aside her year of work in the ‘real world' to resume her career in academia. Less than a year ago she had applied for a Marshall scholarship to study in the UK, and miraculously she had been selected as one of the forty applicants to receive one. Now she was set to indulge her passion for medieval Scottish history for two entire years at the expense of the Marshall program, with the added laurel of knowing that a respected group had found her to be intelligent and worthy of attention. She had decided to use her two years to put a M.Phil under her belt at Scotland's oldest university, the university of St. Andrews. The plan was all the more sweet since just six months ago her older sister and closest friend, Jane, had been sent to London by the magazine she worked for. It was perfect: researching and taking classes by the sea in an ancient institution, all the while (relatively... as in she was much closer than 3,000 miles away) near her sister and in the country she had studied in part for years.
By a great miracle, Jane's magazine had sent her north to Edinburgh at the very time Lizzy was to arrive. This was made even more pleasing by Jane's taking her summer vacation late, so that she'd not only be nearby, but also have time to help her sister settle into the postgraduate flat she was to share with fellow students in the town. It was a beautiful act of Providence, Lizzy mused, as she sat in the passenger seat of the small car Jane had procured for her holiday. Jane was used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, but Lizzy wasn't used to being a passenger on the other side. She kept on feeling that there ought to be a steering wheel in front of her.
"I've never been to St. Andrews," said Jane, as she drove, momentarily sparing a hand to tuck a strand of her long, dark brown hair behind an elegant ear. "You've only been the once, right?"
"That's right," said Lizzy. "Just that once to visit a few years ago. Professor Anderson's sister got a job at the University, and she put me up when I came to look around and showed me about. It's a nice little town, I thought."
"I'm sure it will be lovely," Jane assured Lizzy. "Things are so lovely and old here in Great Britain. You love that sort of thing." Jane was always sunny and optimistic, but she was right. Lizzy did have a passion for history and historical details. She had already salivated over the Georgian houses she had passed during their afternoon in Edinburgh, and died a hundred times upon seeing the wonderful gothic architecture up by the Mound. It thrilled her to think that she'd be spending the next three years or so taking classes and doing research. Many of her friends back at college in the States had thought she was insane to want to embark into such a ‘boring' career, but she didn't care for their choices either: law, medicine, interior design... each to her own, really. Lizzy prided herself on her ability to laugh about anything, and had regaled her professors with clever, witty comments in papers. She didn't think history had to be boring at all. It was brilliant.
They crossed the Forth Railway bridge, and Lizzy gasped, looking out over the Firth of Forth. "Oh!" she cried. "It's beautiful. I think I'll love it here." The expanse of water was dramatic, and Jane, having only crossed the bridge once before, was a little amazed herself.
"Yes," she said, smiling. "I'm sure you will. It'll be nice to have you close by. And Aunt and Uncle Bennet are pleased as well."
"I feel like a heel for not visiting them before we left," said Lizzy. Their father's brother and his extraordinarily special wife lived in Edinburgh, with their three daughters, Mary, Kitty and Lydia. Lizzy wasn't especially close to her cousins, as they had never lived near one another, but she liked them, and saw the prospect of spending more time with them to be a positive thing. Mary and Kitty were both in undergraduate courses, at St. Andrews and Edinburgh respectively, while Lydia was still at school in Edinburgh. It was inevitable that they would meet, and it was nice to know that there would be familiar people about in this strange country.
"If only Dad would come out to the UK, we could be a complete family," mused Jane, switching lanes now that they were off the other end of the great bridge. Lizzy and Jane had lived all their lives in Massachusetts with their father, their mother having died when they were young. He had been a good father, if a trifle distant at times, and they had enjoyed their childhood. The two girls had been close to an aunt and uncle on their mother's side, and hardly missed the good woman in their lives, for all the love they received. Lizzy worried that her father would be lonely, though, now that both his daughters had abandoned him for the lures of the United Kingdom. It did seem possible, however, that he might make the move over, as his brother had years earlier, if it looked as if Lizzy and Jane might permanently stay in that overarching nation.
After driving along the highway and through several small towns, Lizzy was delighted to see a sign for St. Andrews, and bounced a little in her seat, forgetting that she was twenty-four years old and preparing to become a Ph.D. candidate. She sat up straight, leaning forward to get a glimpse out of Jane's window as they passed by a first large collection of academic-looking buildings.
"I think that's the science area," Lizzy commented, as she scrutinized the signage available. "Oh! And the golf courses on my side." She looked for a moment and then looked back to the directions printed out in her lap. "Keep on going, I'll tell you when to turn." Jane nodded, and before long Lizzy had safely navigated them to a convenient parking place near the house of postgrad apartments she had a place in. Paperwork was briefly taken care of, then at last she and Jane were arriving in Lizzy's flat, which she was to share with three others.
"Very nice," said Jane, surveying the spartan interior. It was clean, and the common space inside the flat seemed adequate. She was certain that Lizzy would be happy there, but then, Lizzy was perfectly capable of creating her own happiness. Lizzy had meanwhile dropped her large bag in the middle of the floor and scurried off to examine the other rooms. She found her small single, and threw open the curtains, taking in the not particularly spectacular view and surveying the size of her wardrobe with satisfaction. Slamming the door back cheerfully, she came back into the common area to report to Jane. Jane, however, was focused elsewhere, chatting amicably with one of Lizzy's flatmates.
"Lizzy, this is Charlotte Lucas," said Jane, in her even, pleasant way, indicating the girl she had been talking to. Charlotte was tall, and rather plain, though something in her eyes betrayed a shrewd mind. "She's from Newcastle and doing Modern History." Lizzy smiled, and offered her hand to her flatmate.
"Hi, I'm Lizzy," she said. Charlotte seemed friendly, and returned Lizzy's smile.
Charlotte studied them, a moment, and then said, "You do look like sisters."
Lizzy laughed. "I'm glad to hear you say it. Since our coloring is different, people sometimes don't make the connection. Jane is lovely, and I hope you won't mind if I have her come and visit."
"You're welcome to visit this humble flat whenever you like," replied Charlotte, with a good-natured laugh. "And I don't think your coloring is so very different. You've got similar eyes, anyway. You should see my younger sister. We look nothing alike. You two do. You both have very nicely shaped faces. My mother paints, I notice these things." Jane blushed, which was becoming to her ivory complexion. Jane had lovely dark hair, while Lizzy possessed strawberry blond locks and a freckled nose. Lizzy knew that Jane was considered the beauty of the two, but she didn't much mind. The contrast of Jane's dark hair with her light eyes and skin, combined with a light figure, elegant features and flawless choice of clothing was always bound to attract attention. Lizzy was likely the cleverer of the two, and the more ambitious, and was immensely fond of her sweet, gorgeous sister.
"Also on the first year?" Charlotte inquired of Lizzy.
"Yes," said Lizzy. "I am glad to know someone in roughly the same boat as me. I'm doing Medieval, myself."
"Very good department here," Charlotte remarked. "I think it's supposed to be the best in Great Britain. Certainly one of the few departments entirely devoted to the field."
"I'm very excited," said Lizzy, a little sheepishly. "Medieval history is hardly a ‘cool' thing to study, but I think it's wonderful. Are you in a research degree as well?"
"I'm glad," said Lizzy. She wasn't actually sure if she was prepared to pursue her research degree, but she had to give it a try. There was no sense in putting it off. It was a step towards her eventual dream of being a researching and publishing historian. She'd dreamed of having her name on the spine of books all her life, as her father's favorite room had been his library and he took such delight in his books.
"Shall we get the rest of your things, Lizzy?" asked Jane.
"Probably," replied Lizzy, coming back to the present.
"I'll help," offered Charlotte. "Then maybe we can find something to eat? I'm starving." Her offers were accepted, and soon they had Lizzy's other bag and a box of things Jane had collected from her own flat and her aunt's house for Lizzy safely stowed in Lizzy's small bedroom. With that task completed, Lizzy glanced quickly at the folders of information she had collected, and then followed Charlotte out of the house and onto the streets of the town, in search of food.
It seemed that Charlotte knew where she was going, which amused Lizzy, who was hopelessly lost. She hadn't exactly been taking in practical geography in her one previous visit.
"Have you been here before?" asked Lizzy.
"Yes," said Charlotte. "I transferred to the undergraduate program here in my second year. It's a nice place to be, and I was happy enough to come back."
"But you're in university owned housing?" asked Lizzy, whose past experiences with universities had proven that those who knew the towns they lived in generally liked to take independent housing, which could be cheaper and nicer.
"It's easy," said Charlotte, with a shrug. "I've been away for a few years, so I don't know as many people any more."
"Oh," said Lizzy. Jane had been studying storefronts, and cut in with a question about the population of the town.
"I think 16,000," Charlotte ventured. "Small, but populated. It's medieval down by the castle and the cathedral, and along the three main streets, with a liberal dose of 18th century buildings and some Georgian stuff. Some of the walks are too gorgeous, I am particularly fond of the street the Modern and Scottish history building is on... it's called the Scores. You have to see it to understand its charm. Basically, the town is small but can supply your basic needs. And if you need anything else, there's the bus to Dundee. The restaurants are wonderful, if you have an open mind. Come along in here." She entered a small, cozy eatery, and they settled into seats. Food was ordered, and the three girls, relaxed, smiling, as they waited.
"So, tell me more about yourself," urged Charlotte, leaning her thin face on one hand.
"What do you want to know? I graduated with my BA two and a half years ago, and I've been working ever since. Jane is my only sister, and we come from a town outside Boston."
"That's fair enough," commented Charlotte. "I've been off on a research grant the last three years, in Turkey. I have one sister and three younger brothers, and they are complete twits."
"It must be nice to have lots of siblings," said Jane, a little wistfully.
"I suppose so," agreed Charlotte. "Though after a summer sharing the house with them again, I'm quite pleased to be on my own once more. That's why I moved in as soon as I could. Plus, there will be lots of parties and things before work begins in earnest, and there's quite a lot of fun to be had. In fact, I know of one tonight. Want to come along? Both of you?" Charlotte smiled easily. "You'll have a good time, meet people. What else were you going to do tonight?"
"Not much on my part, anyway. Do you have to go back tonight?" Lizzy asked Jane.
"Not really," replied her sister. "Since I'm only up here for a couple of months I'm not very settled in. "Let's go along, you'll meet lots of new friends, I'm sure. And I like parties." There was very little that the sweet Jane did not like.
"Excellent," replied Charlotte. "Another History student, the brother of one of my friends, is holding it, and, as I understand it, the more the merrier."
Posted on Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Lizzy had enjoyed getting dressed up to go out. She hadn't been properly part of a university in some time, and thought briefly about how students, who studied so hard, usually gave very good parties. It was a form of relaxation really. Instead of quietly sitting with books and a computer, they needed a chance to be loud, to dance, to enjoy themselves. She needed it as much as anyone else, and although she hadn't been working in a few weeks, she liked the idea of mingling with a lot of other students.
Fortunately, Jane had brought along an overnight bag, as she hadn't been sure whether to stay the night with Lizzy or not. She quickly dressed elegantly, to Lizzy's envy. Since all her worldly belongings were packed into her two bags, she had a good deal of trouble rummaging through them to find the clothes she wanted. In the end she settled for a sage-green patterned silk camisole, and hoped that the wrinkles didn't show very much. Charlotte was waiting in the common area when Lizzy and her sister emerged from Lizzy's room. Lizzy smiled, and swung a light jacket over her shoulders and a handbag over one arm.
"Ready. Sorry about that, all my life is packed up in my bags and it's impossible to find anything."
"Poor dear," sympathized Charlotte. "I was driven up, so I could sort things out a bit more. Don't worry, you look lovely. I like that color with your eyes. And Jane, I like your top. It's lovely."
"Thank you," said Jane. "I only brought so much, so I'm glad that I had something suitable." Charlotte privately thought that Jane looked more than suitable. She was certain more than one young man would be disappointed to hear that Jane wouldn't be living in St. Andrews, but in London.
They arrived at the party some time after it had started. The room was filled comfortably, although far from full, and Lizzy found herself enjoying meeting other history students and their friends. It was a pleasure to be around similarly academic-minded people, and happy ensconced herself in a chair, beverage in hand, and embroiled herself in an argument about tenth-century Norman chronicles. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had such a pleasant time.
Jane cared rather less about chronicles than many of the history students at the party, but was pleased to find herself much in demand anyway. It was very flattering to be liked by all of these terribly intelligent young people, and she very much enjoyed seeing Lizzy laughing so hard.
Jane scanned the room idly as her host left her side to answer the door. All in all there were about thirty students in attendance, all pleasant sorts. She looked in interest to see who the new arrivals to the party were. There were three new additions in all, a tall, somber man of about thirty, who appeared to be the leader, a jovial-looking man of about the same age, and an elegant young woman not much younger. Jane watched as her host, a merry young gentleman called James, shook the hand of the leader of the party firmly, with respect. The leader was polite, but not overly warm, in reply. In a few moments, the party had appeared before Jane.
"I thought you'd like to meet the Bingleys," her host said, "as they're neither students nor historians. I'm afraid we've been boring you to tears."
"Not at all," replied Jane, with a sweet smile. "But I am nevertheless pleased to hear that I am not the only intruder to this scholastic gathering."
"Scholastic? Not at all," cried James. "This is just a bit of fun. Jane, Anyway, I'd like to introduce you to Charles and Caroline Bingley, friends of a comrade."
"Pleased to meet you," murmured Jane. She examined her new acquaintances with clear eyes. Charles was the friendly, cheerful young man she'd spotted earlier. He was an attractive man, with fair hair and the slightest shadow of golden down on his chin. He was dressed as a banker on holiday, that is, in a mixture of old yet expensive clothes of a particularly cultured rustic style. The woman at his side, Caroline, was similarly fair, with a slim figure and a chic haircut, and in clothes decidedly more expensive than old. She smiled at Jane, with thin, penciled lips.
"Thank goodness, I was afraid this would be such a bore, with all these pointless academics about. Do tell me you do something worth talking about." Her accent, Jane already knew, marked her out as a member of a particularly languid and posh class.
"I write for a magazine," said Jane. "Cultural stories, for the Atlantic Pulse. I'm Jane Bennet."
"I've picked that up from time to time," acknowledged Caroline, offhandedly. "A magazine not at all bad in its way. So are you based in London?"
"Yes, but they've sent me up for a story in Edinburgh."
"How lucky," said Charles, shouldering his way into the tête-à-tête. "I'm from Edinburgh myself, that is, I live there now. I'm English, though. You must come and look us up."
"Of course," said Caroline, perhaps a little coldly, with a sideways glance at Jane through her immaculately darkened eyelashes. It was one thing to use someone to spare oneself from boredom while one's man insisted on visiting his fellow students, it was another to have one's brother invite a woman into their social circle without knowing more about her.
"Darcy, Jane Bennet works in Edinburgh," said Charles, calling his solemn friend's attention from a conversation with their host. Jane examined the man's face. He was certainly a beautiful man, or would have been if his face was not ever-so-slightly scowling. His manner was perfectly civil and polite, without devoting any emotion to his movements or words.
"A pleasure, I'm sure," he said. James, the host, collected himself, and presented the solemn man to Jane. "Jane, this is Fitzwilliam Darcy. Will, this is Jane Bennet, a visitor to the town. William is doing rather amazing work on the Scottish Renaissance just now, he's on the fourth year of his doctorate." Jane gave a gracious nod of acknowledgment to William Darcy, and he gave a slight bow. It was strangely formal.
"What, pray," asked Caroline, determined to be a party in any conversation involving Will Darcy, "are you doing here in St. Andrews, Jane? Are you here for the golf, like Charles?"
"No, not at all," said Jane, smiling sweetly. "I'm here with my sister. She's just here for her Masters, and I thought I would help move her in, since I was relatively local for a time."
"And who, pray, is your sister?" asked Caroline, looking to see if there was anyone as elegantly appareled as Jane in the crowded and noisy rooms.
"She's over there," pointed Jane. "I'll just get her."
"Excellent," said Charles. "Always pleased to meet friends of friends. Would you like a drink, Jane? Caro?"
"Gin and tonic," said Caroline, gingerly taking a seat on one end of the couch with James and Jane had recently occupied. She left ample space, in hopes of William joining her. He didn't, but stood awkwardly against the wall. He liked James Sullivan, his host, and had agreed to make an appearance at his party, but scarcely wanted to spend his evening talking to recent BAs.
Lizzy followed Jane cheerfully from her small group of new friends, and greeted the newcomers with a grin. "I'm Lizzy Bennet," she said, stretching out her hand.
Caroline looked her over briefly, and said, "charmed." The girl's camisole was perfectly wrinkled, and her hair mussed.
"Enchanted," said Charles Bingley, depositing Caroline's drink in her hand, and shaking Lizzy's hand firmly. "Charles Bingley. That's my sister, Caroline. I take it I have you to thank for bringing your sister along to this party. I was absolutely delighted to meet another non-student, especially one as delightful as your sister." He shot a glance at Jane, which spelled his admiration openly on his face.
"What is it that you do, Charles, if not studying?" asked Lizzy, cheekily.
"I'm a banker," replied Charles.
"That accounts for the banker-on-holiday look," Lizzy said.
"What? Oh, do I really look like a banker on holiday? I am here for a golfing holiday, you know."
"Yes," said Lizzy. "You do."
"Is that a bad thing?" asked Charles, his brow furrowing in an endearing manner.
"No," said Jane, surprised at herself for speaking up.
"Then I'm delighted to look like a banker on holiday," Charles replied. "Can I get you drinks, my dear ladies?"
"That's very kind," began Jane. "Two white wines," replied Lizzy, firmly. Charles scurried off, delighted to be of service.
"He likes you!" whispered Lizzy. "Where's he from?"
"He lives in Edinburgh," admitted Jane.
"Excellent!" Lizzy replied. "You must see him again, when you head back."
"Lizzy, I've just met him!" protested Jane, quietly. "And I'll be back to London soon enough anyway." Lizzy laughed, and Charles returned, bearing both drinks and the solemn William Darcy. He handed off the drinks to the girls, and planted himself on a chair beside them.
"Lizzy, I must introduce you to my friend here, he's an academic sort, getting his doctorate."
"I'm Lizzy Bennet," said Lizzy, rising and offering her hand again. "I'm doing a taught Masters. Medieval Scottish history."
He took her hand very lightly and briefly. "Fitzwilliam Darcy. Fourth year doctoral student."
"Will does Scottish history as well. What is it?"
"I work on the Renaissance in Scotland."
"I'm pre-Renaissance myself. The early Stewarts." He gave a quick nod, and let his eyes roll around the room. "Excuse me," he said. "I have a question for our host."
"Probably ‘when can I leave?'," commented Charles, cheerfully.
"Why would be come if he doesn't want to be here?" asked Lizzy, annoyed at his unfriendliness.
"I think he expected more older students to be here. He was off for a year in the middle of his course, and now feels that everyone is unforgivably young." Charles answered, flippantly. Lizzy rolled her eyes. Charles seemed to ponder his next comment but, hearing an announcement and burst of music from across the room, turned to Jane.
"Care to dance?" he asked. Jane nodded, with flushed cheeks. They rose and departed across the room, to where dancing had begun. Caroline rolled her eyes, and examined her fingernails. Lizzy shrugged, and made her way back to her chronicle-loving friends.
After the first dance was done, Charles excused himself from Jane, and made his way back to where William was now standing, leaning against the wall, not far from where Lizzy had been recently abandoned by her conversation partner, who had gone off in search of a toilet.
"Why don't you dance, and have a bit of fun?" asked Charles. "Relax, for goodness sake."
"How can I? It's not as if I know any of these people. Where did they come from? Half of them are in the taught degrees, anyway."
"How about taking a dance with Lizzy Bennet, Jane's sister? She's attractive, and is studying the same thing as you. Or even just talk to her. How bad could it be? I can't have you standing about all evening as if you couldn't wait to be gone."
"I can't wait to be gone," said Will. "I don't like this student party scene, I never did, and I especially don't now. I'm almost ten years older than a good number of the people here. And as for Lizzy Bennet, we don't study the same thing at all, and she's only a Masters student, about ten years younger than me, an American, and scarcely handsome enough to make me forget it."
Charles scoffed. "There is no pleasing some people. I, in any case, am glad that you brought me here. I have quite enjoyed meeting Jane, and will go back and enjoy her decidedly more friendly company, if you don't mind."
"Go, enjoy her smiles. She's a handsome young woman."
"Isn't she? She's gorgeous. I'm terribly glad I decided to come golfing when I did, and even more glad you felt you had to make an appearance for James Sullivan's sake. Bless James Sullivan!" Will rolled his eyes, and turned aside, and examined the drink in his hand, sniffing it gently. It wasn't quite the quality of his own whiskey, but it wasn't bad. He didn't notice Lizzy Bennet glare at him, and flounce off across the room to where Charlotte was chatting amiably with a few new friends.
"What do you find so funny?" questioned Charlotte, noting Lizzy's expression.
"Apparently Americans and Masters students are beneath the notice of some people," said Lizzy. "The funny part is, I never sought to be noticed by people who judge entirely upon superficial criteria. I'm a Marshall Scholar! Who does he think he is?"
"And who, pray is ‘he'?"
"Fitzwilliam Darcy, that tall, disagreeable guy over there. If I were to sum him up chiefly upon his own criteria, I should say that he is very rude, and extremely old. He must be over thirty!" Lizzy laughed out, in a beautiful, silvery laugh.
"He is over thirty," said Charlotte. "I know about him: he was an undergraduate here before my time, but I knew people who knew him. He owns one of the last great independent whisky distilleries in Scotland, Glen Leigheas. He took over the business when his father died, and he has only just gotten back to pursuing his doctorate. His work on James IV is supposed to be quite remarkable."
"Fine, then I can understand his age and his arrogance, but there's no need for him to be so disagreeable."
"If you were fabulously wealthy and intelligent, I'm sure you would be rude too."
"Well, as I am merely fabulously intelligent, I suppose I'll have to keep my manners," teased Lizzy in return. Just then one of the young men at the party came up to Lizzy and asked her to dance. She put down her wine glass with a saucy toss of her head towards the unpleasant whiskey-distilling doctoral student. Who cared about his opinions, anyway?
Will Darcy watched Lizzy Bennet from the corner of his eye. He had begun to fear that she had overheard him talking about her, and was regretting his rudeness a little. Still, she seemed to be having such a wonderful time, chatting gaily with another fourth year doctoral student. So, she probably hadn't heard. But he wondered if perhaps he should learn to control his words a little more.
Posted on Tuesday, 17 October 2006
After a several days of orientation and nights of merrymaking, classes began in earnest for Lizzy. She had spent her time well beforehand, becoming familiar both with many of her fellows students and with the town and university where she would be living for the next two years. It was just as well, for, once Jane left for Edinburgh, she had other people to turn to. The town was certainly full of bright, enthusiastic young people, and fascinating buildings, so that Lizzy barely had the time to miss her sister, or her father in the States, in her off time. In terms of her academics, she was currently enrolled in two courses, one on sources and one which was a private tutorial closely related to her personal topic, the role of the Highlands in the early Stewart era.
All in all, life was going well. Her courses were fascinating, the town a delight, her fellow students a joy to associate with. About a week and a half into the Martinmas Semester, Lizzy encountered her cousin Mary Bennet, the solemn and bookish daughter of her uncle and aunt in Edinburgh. Mary was a third year Divinity student at the University. As it happened, they ran into one another one afternoon in St. Mary's quadrangle, as Lizzy was wandering about, absorbing the historical atmosphere.
"Miss Bennet!" called a voice, not far from Lizzy. She looked up, still amazed whenever she heard her name, being such a recent addition to the town and university. And who would hail her so formerly?
A middle aged woman was walking out of one of the Divinity buildings, waving earnestly. "Miss Bennet! Dr. Phelps wanted to know if you had finished with the department's copy of..." Lizzy tuned out of the words as she noticed a serious-faced young woman approach the middle aged shouting woman.
"Yes, of course," said Miss Bennet. "I'm sorry, did I leave it out in the library? He may certainly use it, I am finished with it."
"Thank you," replied the woman, who trotted back into the divinity building. Lizzy examined the young woman with interest. She looked familiar, so she approached, and hailed her.
"Hullo, you name is Bennet?" asked Lizzy.
"Mary Bennet," replied Mary Bennet.
"I'm Lizzy Bennet. I think you're my cousin."
Mary studied Lizzy for a moment. "I do believe you are right. It's been some time since we've seen one another, isn't it? You've got the Bennet eyes. I always wanted the Bennet eyes. But genetics dictated that I get my mother's. The dominance of the brown-eyed gene, and all."
"Yes," said Lizzy, unsure how to reply. "I knew that you were a student here, did you know I was going to be doing a Masters?"
"I think Mother mentioned it," said Mary, off handedly. "I can't be expected to remember all these details. It's very nice to have met you again. Where is it that you are staying?"
Lizzy supplied the building and the flat number. Mary nodded vaguely. "I've a single in St. Regulus."
"Are you headed anywhere now?" asked Lizzy, curious to become reacquainted with her strange cousin.
"Not in particular," replied Mary. "I need to head back to the library for some more work, but I suppose I can wait. Why?"
"Would you care to get a cup of coffee somewhere with me? Catch up?"
"All right," consented Mary. She steered Lizzy to a tiny cafe, where they faced each other across a minute table, each clutching a mug of (to Lizzy, scandalously overpriced) coffee. Mary awkwardly smiled.
"I'm not very well practiced in social chatter," she said.
"What do you like to talk about?" pursued Lizzy.
"I like my classes," her cousin replied. "I'm in a fascinating course on post-Reformation Anglican reforms just now."
"Tell me about it," urged Lizzy, seeing that this would be a subject her awkward cousin would feel comfortable with. Besides, as a history major, she was mildly interested in the subject. Mary launched into a tirade, which Lizzy absorbed with good grace, occasionally inserting a shrewd observation or encouragement. By the time they had each finished their coffees, Mary seemed a great deal more relaxed around Lizzy, and seemed genuinely disappointed when she noticed it was four o'clock.
"I really must go now," Mary said. "But I'll look you up. Do you have a mobile phone?"
"Not just yet," admitted Lizzy.
"I think you'll need one," answered Mary, with her first comment demonstrating social awareness. "Everyone text-messages like mad. No one will know how to get hold of you without one."
"Then I will look into getting one immediately," replied Lizzy, cheerfully. "Good luck with your work." Mary smiled, and trotted down the street towards the university library. Lizzy looked after her a minute, and then laughed to herself.
"She's definitely an odd fish, but rather sweet. I wonder what Jane would make of her." With these thoughts, she departed towards her own flat, and her own work.
Lizzy's next odd encounter with a somewhat familiar face occurred in relation to her tutorial. Her tutor, a Dr. Lewis Alban, had been discussing the possibility of drawing in a particular source into their study, a text which was only currently accessible in Gaelic. Lizzy lacked knowledge of the language at this point, and questioned her tutor as to how she would be able to use the source. He pondered a moment, and then slapped one hand on the table.
"I've got it. There's a rather brilliant doctoral student just now who speaks Gaelic extremely well. I think I can ask him as a personal favor to do a translation for you. We really must look into a course for you, it's going to be important if you want to continue with this particular subject in the long run."
Lizzy agreed, and the tutor promised to drag his student out of the library stacks and see about the translation. A few days after this incident, Lizzy encountered her tutor in the entrance hall of St. Katherine's Lodge, home of Modern History, Scottish History, and her tutor's office. He hailed her immediately.
"Elizabeth! Come, I want you to meet the doctoral student I was telling you about. He has very graciously agreed to execute the translation, and has already begun to work on it. I was telling him how fascinating your approach to the material has been so far, and what excellent work you've been doing."
Lizzy blushed at the praise, and then glanced up through her eyelashes to get a look at the doctoral student. She wished she could melt into the floor, or walk away: it was William Darcy. He seemed just as surprised as she was.
"Elizabeth, this is Will Darcy, one of my old students. Will, this is Elizabeth Bennet, whom I've been telling you about. She's a Marshall scholar from the States, here for an M.Phil."
Will nodded, not acknowledging that they had been introduced before. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth," he said. Lizzy raised an eyebrow at him, which he seemed to ignore.
"Charmed," she replied, taking her cue from him. "I'm very grateful for your help with the translation."
"It's no trouble," he replied, in a colorless voice.
"I just stopped by to return your books to you," Lizzy went on, turning her back on Will Darcy, and facing Dr. Alban. "I've got to run to class now, but thank you very much for the loan. I promise I'll figure out the departmental library hours soon."
Dr. Alban laughed. "Naturally quite glad to be of service. I'll let you have a copy of the translation when Will is done. Maybe I'll have him stop by during our tutorial, seeing as he has touched upon your topic in what I know of his dissertation. It might spark an interesting conversation."
"That would be lovely, if he could take the time to help a lowly Masters student," replied Lizzy, challenging Will Darcy with her cool blue eyes. He had the grace to look embarrassed, realizing that he had been wrong -- Lizzy Bennet had overheard his ill-spoken words at the party. What was more, she wasn't going to forget them, which might make the coming tutorial mildly awkward. Still, Dr. Alban was looking on with such a hopeful smile, Will felt that he had no choice but to agree.
"Of course. It's no trouble at all. I can always help you, Elizabeth, with some of the linguistic connotations that may not be clear in the translation." Lizzy looked slightly incredulous, but shrugged.
"Great," she said. "I have to run now. Goodbye." She zipped up her shoulder bag, and turned round, walking briskly out the door.
"I'm never sure what to expect from students who want to study Scottish history who have been through American institutions," confided Dr. Alban, "but Elizabeth is a real joy. Well read, good brain, extremely pleasant person. But then, I would expect no less from a Marshall scholar. I understand the process of application is rather difficult."
Will made a noncommittal noise. So, Lizzy Bennet was not simply a naïve recent graduate American. Apparently she was a young scholar in the making. As he briefly recalled her cool, challenging glance he was struck by the thought that she had no respect for him, aside from whatever respect Dr. Alban invested in him. It was a strange thought -- and it was a disconcerting thought. Especially because, in the back of his mind, he realized that the eyes behind that glance had been rather beautiful.
He felt a little giddy as he entered Dr. Alban's office on the afternoon of Elizabeth Bennet's tutorial, and more than a little mortified when he realized it was Elizabeth herself who was causing the giddiness. When he entered, Elizabeth was already sitting in her accustomed chair by her tutor's desk, and Will slid into the seat on the opposite side of the desk easily.
"Will. So glad you could join us."
"As I am, Dr. Alban. Good afternoon, Elizabeth." Lizzy looked up from her notebook, a slight hint of surprise on her face. Who was this man? Why couldn't he remember that he was obnoxious and judgmental, and stop being polite? It was frustrating of him.
"Good afternoon," she said quickly, in response, when she realized both he and Dr. Alban seemed to expect her to answer. Dr. Alban turned to the translation of the text William had completed. Soon they fell into discussion about the source, with Lizzy asking several remarkably shrewd questions about the translation to Will. He wondered if he was imagining the challenging look in her eyes as she shot a question across, a sharp, well-thought out barb, demanding an answer from him. He smiled to himself, enjoying her contrary and challenging behavior. It was refreshingly different from the attitudes he'd been receiving from women outside of his academic life. Ever since he had inherited his father's whiskey fortune and, for that matter, while he was simply a whiskey heir, women had approached him, with admiration for his fortune, or his family, or his looks. He had often wished that one of these women might realize that he had a mind as well. In academic circles, he had often met with respect and deference, from his talent in writing and from the strong and silent approach he took towards academic argument. However, in all his years, he had never encountered anyone who acknowledged his brain and yet treated him haughtily, disdainfully. It was, in a word, astonishing.
And so Elizabeth Bennet came to be a frequent topic of contemplation. He wanted to convince her that he was a good person, but was far too proud to actually stoop to soliciting Elizabeth on her own, and asking for forgiveness for his inconsiderate words. Instead, he contented himself in the occasional meeting in Dr. Alban's office, where she would make clever comments aimed at provoking his theories. As she did so, her lovely blue eyes would come alive with wicked merriment. He wished that she were a person he might see in other circumstances.
Lizzy, on the other hand, was quite frustrated with Will Darcy's increased interest in visiting Dr. Alban's tutorials. Clearly he had a brilliant mind, capable of pulling a wide variety of material into support of his theories. He was well-read, read six languages, and had a compelling way of framing his arguments. In fact, she should be rather in awe of him, had they met in different circumstances. But they hadn't. Clearly he was attending the tutorials as a way of proving his superior intellect, stealing her tutor's time away from her, as she was a mere Masters student, and he was nearly a Ph.D. He seemed to delight in provoking her in discussion, so that she carefully prepared for each session, so that, should he deign the company with his presence, she would be able to hold her own. She didn't entirely like to admit it, but he was provoking her into being a far more hardworking scholar than she should have been otherwise. But that was all he was -- a provocation, an enemy, something of a bully, perhaps. She wished that she needn't run into him anywhere other than those few tutorial sessions. Unfortunately, she did.
Posted on Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Charlotte, being a sociable creature, soon decided that it would be only right for Lizzy and their two roommates, Katya and Ellen, to hold a party in their rooms to reciprocate some of the many invitations they had enjoyed so far in the term. All four girls were rather popular with their classmates, which made the decisions for the guest list rather complicated, as their flat was modest in size. In the end they had chosen an agreeable bunch from amongst the history, biology and international relations postgraduate students (the latter two departments being those of the roommates, as well as including Charles Bingley and his friends, for Jane's benefit. Jane was to come for the weekend, and Lizzy was delighted to have learned that the young man had called Jane several times since they had met, hoping that they might meet again. Here was an excellent opportunity, so Lizzy almost did not mind that Charles intended to bring his obnoxious friend and malicious sister with him. Almost.
Lizzy had a last minute addition to the guest list: her cousin Mary. After their chance meeting in St. Mary's quad, Lizzy had run into her cousin a few other times, mostly by design. Mary accepted her invitation to Lizzy's party gratefully, if a little awkwardly.
"It's very kind of you, Lizzy" she said, hesitatingly. "Are you sure you want me to come?"
"Of course I do! I wouldn't have invited you otherwise. And you needn't think that it's a pity invitation. We're inviting the people we'd like to spend more time with, and you're one of those people. Well, a few of the guests aren't people I want to spend any time with, but never mind that. I do want to see you. Bring a friend, if you like, as insurance that you'll have a good time."
"All right," said Mary. "It'll be nice to see your flat, and to spend time with some of the post-grads. Under-grads are often so naive or immature."
Lizzy laughed. "So speaks the undergraduate! I'll see you at nine o'clock then. If you'd like to be a darling, bring a bottle of wine, or some such."
Friday night arrived, and the four flatmates were gratified to see that most of their invited guests had come. Music was playing gaily in the common room, and friends lingered in the various rooms of the flat. Jane sat patiently by the door, dressed in a lovely pale green confection, pretending that she wasn't counting each minute until she saw that lovely Charles Bingley once more. When he arrived, she smiled slightly, and sat until Charles approached her. At his greeting, she rose, and smiling once more, gave him her fullest attention. Fitzwilliam Darcy stood awkwardly beside Caroline Bingley, whose nose had turned up at the site of the small and comfortably shabby flat. Lizzy laughed at them quietly, and turned to Charlotte.
"If neither of them wants to be here, why ever did they come?"
"Well," replied Charlotte, sensibly, "Caroline is here because Darcy is, anyone can see that. And Darcy is likely here because of Charles, and Charles is most certainly here because of Jane. The question is: who is Jane really here for?"
"Charles of course," replied Lizzy, in surprise. "She can visit me any time, and is busy this week, I can tell that she wants to see Charles because of the way she arrived so promptly despite all that, and wore such a pretty dress. Can't you see her fawning over him? It's remarkable, Jane usually doesn't. She doesn't need to, really."
"Fawning?" echoed Charlotte. "No, I don't see that at all. She looks remarkably indifferent to him to me, as if they were mild acquaintances and nothing more. And as for the dress, it is certainly stunning, but I've only ever seen your sister immaculately turned out, so I couldn't perceive the especial effort. But if you say that she reciprocates that nice Charles Bingley's attention, I am glad, since I like the both of them very much. Perhaps, however, Jane should err on the side of the obvious, if she wants to keep his attention."
"Do you think so? I like them both very much as well. I just wish Charles wouldn't bring his sister and friend with him."
"You know, Lizzy, I am surprised at how much you took Darcy in dislike, I really am. I barely know him, you know him far better, but he has always seemed so polite and intelligent."
"Perhaps to fellow Brits. He seems to loathe Americans."
"I'm sure that's not true."
"He's standing there glaring at me. Of course it's true. Who comes to a party and then glares at the host?"
"I'm not sure I would call that a glare," commented Charlotte, shrewdly. Lizzy was interrupted, however, from asking what her friend meant by her words, when an eager knock sounded at the door. Charlotte surged forward, Lizzy in her wake.
"Hi, Mary!" cried Lizzy, perceiving her cousin.
"Hullo, Lizzy," said Mary, shedding off her bulky coat, which she had recently adopted against the cold North Sea winds. "I did bring friends. Sisters, rather. Surely you remember Kitty and Lydia?" Two eager faces beamed forth at Lizzy, from beside Mary.
"Of course," replied Lizzy, trying to remember what she could of her cousins. She remembered them as silly adolescents, and this seemed to have been rather unchanged by time. She knew that Kitty was now a first year at Edinburgh, studying English and French, and that Lydia was still at high school (she never could remember to call it ‘college,' as the Brits did) in the same city.
"Lizzy!" cried Lydia, the youngest and yet the tallest, surging forward. Lizzy eyed her outlandish attire with a skeptical eye, but returned the hug her cousin graced her with. Lydia's attention, however, quickly snapped away from her cousin to glance happily about the room at the various young men assembled, and at the bar in the kitchen. "I'll just go make myself at home, shall I?" She was off, with a skip and a bound. Kitty shook Lizzy's hand warmly, before following in her sister's steps. Kitty was dressed no less outlandishly, making them conspicuous amongst the soberly or elegantly dressed postgraduates assembled. Mary watched them, with a bemused expression.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Mum said that they had to visit this weekend -- she likes us to stay close even though we're all at different schools now. And when they heard that you were throwing a party, they insisted on coming. I'd much rather Lydia drink at your party than at a pub," she added, sheepishly.
"She's underage even here, isn't she?" asked Lizzy.
"I hope they can behave themselves," said Lizzy, with a sigh. She turned and effected introductions between Mary and Charlotte, and then walked Mary over to where Jane was sitting chatting with Charles and Darcy.
"Jane, you remember our cousin Mary, don't you?"
As the elder sister, Jane naturally did. "Enchanted," she said, in her clear, sweet voice. "We haven't met in years, you've changed quite a bit. It's lovely to see you again. Were those girls Kitty and Lydia just now?"
"Yes," said Mary, hesitating. "I'm afraid they are."
"My other cousins," clarified Jane, to her conversation partners. "My uncle lives in Edinburgh too. Out near the, what's it called. The road that looks a bit like ‘Constantine'?"
"Corstorphine," corrected Darcy. Lizzy shot a very small glare at him, not perceiving his desire to be helpful to his friend's new new object of interest.
"Oh yes. Exactly."
"Further out from the city than me personally, but of course I know the Corstorphine road, no one who uses the airport could not," said Charles, cheerfully.
"Where do you live?" asked Lizzy, curious.
"I have a lease on a house in the New Town."
"You must be very well off!" cried Lizzy, forgetting herself.
"Yes, I suppose I am," said Charles. "You must visit, of course, if you visit your sister in Town. Both of you, do come and dine some time. Of course, I have the house here in St. Andrews through the end of October, I must have you two to dine some time there, as well. It's a charming house, with a lovely view out to the sea."
Lizzy smiled at his invitations, and promised to come at some point. She soon excused herself, intending to look after her cousins. Charles took the moment as a cue to ask Jane to dance, which she gracefully agreed to. Lizzy paused a moment, scanning the room for her cousins, hoping that they weren't making nuisances of themselves. Darcy cleared his throat.
"Elizabeth, if you're looking for a partner, I'd be pleased to dance with you."
"I wasn't hanging out for a partner," replied Lizzy, truly surprised and a little annoyed. "I was hoping to go keep an eye on my cousins, to make sure that they won't scare my friends away from me. Excuse me." She walked away briskly, having spotted two brunette heads bouncing up and down to the music all-too-vigorously. Will Darcy stared after her, feeling a trifle stung by Lizzy's rejection, and surprised at himself for actually dangling after her. Brooding on the two conflicting feelings, and watching Lizzy wean her cousins away from the empty glasses in their hands, he did not notice Caroline Bingley slinking up to his side. She drew an arm about his, and leaned close to his ear to whisper softly into it.
"I can see how astonishingly sorry you are to have come to this... assembly."
He started. "Not at all," and detached her arm gently.
"Then what?" asked Caroline, demanding his attention once more.
"I was thinking about how beautifully the eyes express liveliness and intelligence in the face of a handsome girl."
"And whose eyes express such vivacity and intelligence?" asked Caroline, opening her own lovely eyes very wide in an appealing manner. Darcy was blind to her, and to his wits.
"Those of Elizabeth Bennet."
"Elizabeth Bennet!" echoed Caroline, shocked. Darcy, waking from his reverie, realized what he had just said. Caroline, fuming, continued. "And when will the engagement be announced?"
"There's nothing of the kind going on," said Will. "You're making far too much out of a slip of the tongue."
"I'm relieved to hear it. I thought we had established her as an inferior sort of American child. Look at her lodgings! Can you imagine Georgiana living in a flat like this? Or associating with your beloved's charming young cousins? I'm convinced both deserve Asbos. You, Will Darcy, are a tease." She prattled along in a similar vein for a full fifteen minutes longer, but Will wasn't listening. He realized that, despite himself and all of his efforts to stay detached from the female sex, that grasping, greedy, treacherous sex, that he had fallen in love with one of them. And not with just any young woman, but an American of dubious family, with horrible cousins and shabby lodgings, with the most astonishingly lovely blue eyes, delightful wit and keen mind... he would have to discipline his mind and his heart. Here, now, in his last months of finishing up his degree, he could not afford such distraction.
Lizzy was oblivious to the torment she was invoking in the breast of the handsome whiskey heir in the corner of her common room. Instead, she eagerly entered into conversation with her cousin Mary, debating aspects of the Divorce and Henry VIII's split from the Catholic church, until Charlotte hauled her out onto the dance floor, where the two friends moved easily and gracefully to the music. Darcy collected his coat and excused himself from Charles -- work to do -- before taking his leave, and walking out along the darkened streets of St. Andrews. If he was going to discipline himself, and ignore Elizabeth Bennet, it wouldn't do to linger, and to watch her dance, wishing that her attention was on him, and not upon her flatmate.
Posted on Wednesday, 1 November 2006
After the party at their flat, Lizzy, Charlotte and their flatmates settled down into ordinary life once more, with work. Jane departed back to Edinburgh, after a pleasant evening and following afternoon with Charles. Lizzy watched the budding relationship with joy, Charles seemed to be a genuinely sincere and sweet man, whatever his unfortunate connections. She was not surprised when Jane rang her up in the middle of the week, announcing that she had a lunch invitation in St. Andrews that Friday. Since she had no other engagements for the day, she worked on her story throughout the week, and intended to drive up to St. Andrews on Friday morning. Would her sister be available at all that day, or that night?
"Of course I'll have time for you," Lizzy insisted. "Even if I didn't, I would make time for you. I'll work myself to the bone tomorrow and Thursday, so we can spend every minute you're in town together. I'm thrilled for you that Charles has asked you over to his house."
"He didn't exactly ask me," said Jane. "Caroline invited me. I trust that Charles will be there, of course, but he wasn't the one to invite me."
"I'm sure he told Caroline to invite you. The point is, you'll get to see the gorgeous house we've been hearing about, and I'm sure Caroline will have a very fancy spread for lunch. And, you'll see Charles. It's perfect, you can spend the afternoon with him and his friends, and then you two could always go out in the evening together."
"I hope so," said Jane, quietly. "He really is extraordinarily nice."
"You deserve him," Lizzy replied firmly. "You get some beauty sleep this week, all right? This is the first chance the two of you have really had to spend an extended period of time together, more than an afternoon. And you'll see his house."
"I am looking forward to that," Jane admitted. "A man's living arrangements say so much about him."
"Too true. Do you remember that complete tool I dated for a while my sophomore year of college?"
"Do you mean that nice Ben?"
"He was nice. Too nice. Too nice to hurt the feelings of the swarms of cockroaches that lived in his apartment."
"It was true. He was an utter wreck. But I'm sure Charles has better living arrangements."
Jane refused to comment further on her potential swain. "I'll go to sleep now, I'm glad I'll get to see you again, so soon."
"The pleasure is mutual. Goodnight, darling." Lizzy rang off, and tapped the receiver against the wall gently. If she wasn't mistaken, Jane would probably start actually dating this Charles soon. She wondered what that would mean when Jane returned to London in a few weeks.
On Thursday, at her tutorial, Lizzy was surprised to see Will Darcy waiting outside her tutor's office.
"Isn't Dr. Alban in?" she asked him.
"He's finishing up with a pupil." He was pleased to see her, it was why he had stuck around after his own meeting with Dr. Alban twenty minutes earlier. He hoped that Dr. Alban didn't notice his lurking in the hallway.
There was silence for a few moments, then Lizzy spoke again.
"Are you attending my tutorial again?"
"No," Will admitted. "I had a question for him. But you have your tutorial, of course. I'll just be going. It was pleasant to see you again." He unexpectedly smiled. Lizzy looked surprised, her lovely blue eyes widening briefly, and her forehead wrinkling ever-so-slightly. "Of course," she said. The student left Dr. Alban's office, and Darcy whisked away, terrified to let Dr. Alban see him hanging about the hallway in hopes of encountering Lizzy. Lizzy shrugged. Will Darcy was a very strange man. It was odd how he was almost friendly, and then ran away, as if afraid to let the world see him talk to the American in the taught M.Phil. It didn't really matter to her, she didn't particularly want to be seen talking to him either. She turned and entered her tutor's office, her mind switching back to thoughts about the Wolf of Badenoch, rather than the wolfish doctoral student.
Darcy, slowing his steps as he came out on the ground floor of the building, had a harder time regulating his thoughts. He was surprised at himself for hanging out so much for one girl. It was unusual for him, very unusual. He regretted that he and Elizabeth should have gotten off on such a bad foot initially. Undoubtedly that could be fixed, no girl had ever been angry at him for long before. Actually, no girl was usually angry at him at all. It stood to reason, then, that she shouldn't still be angry with him. He cheered at this thought, ignoring the unusually bad logic of it all. He rather thought that if he were to spend more time to her, he could convince her of his good qualities. After all, he had many. With that thought in mind, he gave Charles a call. Charles, after all, was the social link between the two. The two men were already to golf together the next day, but Darcy soon arranged a luncheon prior to the game.
When Jane arrived outside Charles's house on Friday afternoon, she immediately turned to her sister, who had accompanied her on the walk.
"Are you sure this was right?" she asked. The house was rather larger than the usual St. Andrews house, and was set at some distance from the road, behind walls. On the other side of the house, the sea roared.
"This is address you gave me. He did say that he was well-off," replied Lizzy. "Come on, I'll ring the bell for you, and send you on your way. I'm rather surprised as it is that Charles isn't pacing the grounds waiting for you."
"He certainly seems smitten enough. Give me a call when you're done spending time with him and his sister, I'll want to hear all about it. Take notes."
"Oh, Lizzy." Jane watched as her sister rang the buzzer at the gate, and answered when Caroline spoke through the security system. The gate opened, and Jane entered the property. Caroline stood in the doorway of the house, and raised a hand in salute. Lizzy took it as her cue to leave, and departed after giving Jane's hand a last squeeze.
Jane smiled as Caroline approached her and shook her hand firmly.
"It's good to see you again, Jane. I've been bored out of my mind here, I can't understand why Charles would want to vacation here. Why not the Riviera, I ask you!"
"It's a very pretty town, and doesn't Charles golf?"
"Naturally he does. He's off golfing at this moment. What a tedious game. The only time I can bear to watch is during the Dunhill Links championship, because then at least the town is full of people worth knowing, and the paparazzi!"
"I think Lizzy mentioned something about the tournament. I don't really remember what."
"She's studying, isn't she? She must not have time to properly look around."
"Did you say that your brother was golfing today?"
"Yes. He was going to be in for lunch, but Will took him out. Charles is quite Will's best friend in the world, you know, and dotes upon him."
"Will Darcy? He seemed to be very nice," Jane replied. "And very intelligent."
"Of course. He's perfect. I'm so delighted I found him, no one else can compare, to be sure! Oh, come through here, I thought we could eat in the dining room."
The dining room looked out over the sea, Jane could not help but gasp a little at the spectacular view of the silver-gray plane, dotted in the distance with stripes of white, where the waves were crashing. The room was impeccable as well, exquisitely furnished. Caroline sniffed.
"I'm sorry it's so old fashioned. Until Charles agrees to buy the house, the landlord won't let us redecorate it. I'm thinking bolder colours and putting in more modern windows."
Jane said nothing, not wanting to disagree with her hostess. Caroline prattled on a little longer. Lunch arrived at the table borne by a silent matron. The portions were fashionably small, but of excellent quality. Jane fell to her food as Caroline chatted on about Edinburgh and London and Paris and Milan. The first course was some sort of seafood, which Caroline claimed to have "brought up from London last week." Caroline picked at her food with the air of a woman conscious of her figure, while Jane ate what she was served, hoping that the gentlemen would return before it was time to leave. She had wanted to see Charles, and he was so very disorganized. She briefly wondered whether he actually cared for her in the way she had begun to care for him, or if she had mistaken his friendliness for further interest. He certainly hadn't followed up in the way she had wished he would. And now he seemed to prefer to eat out and golf than to seeing her. That was all very well, she could manage.
And then, she couldn't. "I think I'm going to be sick," Jane said desperately, not feeling well at all.
"Goodness! Mary! Our guest is ill, will you show her to the loo?" The silent matron appeared again, and led Jane competently away. When Mary returned, Caroline was still sitting at the table, playing absently with her food.
"Miss Bennet thinks she may have eaten something nasty."
"Here?" asked Caroline, unmoved. "Ridiculous. I ate everything she did."
"She thought perhaps the seafood was off."
"Yes, I suppose it may not have traveled as well as all that," replied Caroline, eyeing her own unfinished plate, and pushing it firmly away. "Well, how is she?"
"I think she should probably stay where she is at present, and then perhaps I could turn down one of the spare beds for her to rest in? Food poisoning is not pleasant, ma'am."
"Undoubtedly." Well, this was tedious, Caroline thought. She invited the girl down to break the tedium and discover who made her scarves, and she fell ill. "Very well, make her comfortable." At least it meant keeping Jane as a captive audience, should she later feel up for company. Since, at present, Jane was not well enough to handle conversation cheerfully, Caroline whiled away her afternoon reading, a thoroughly unusual and unsatisfying pastime. She was only too glad when Charles returned from golfing, with William in tow.
"Will!" cried Caroline, leaping up and leaving her book on the couch she'd been occupying. "Tell me, how was your game."
"Very nice," replied Will. He was torn between curiosity as to why Caroline was reading, and a desire to disengage her interest.
"It was a splendid game, it really was. I'm afraid I didn't do so well as Will, but no one does, usually. Did you have a very dull afternoon without us?"
"Only moderately so. I had asked that Jane Bennet down to lunch..."
"Jane? Did she come? Is she still in town?" asked Charles, a little too quickly.
"Yes," drawled Caroline, slightly amused and slightly mortified that her brother was showing so much interest in this random American girl. "In fact, she's still here. Apparently my experiment in serving food of distinction up here failed miserably, and the poor girl seems to have gotten some sort of food poisoning. Mary's taking care of her, and now I'm bored to sobs."
"The poor girl," cried Charles. "I'll just go and check with Mary and make sure she's comfortable. How very unfortunate that she should fall sick in my own house. Will, make yourself comfortable, I'll be back. There's some of your eighteen-year whiskey on the sideboard." Will got up, and crossed into the dining room in search of the drink, and to avoid sitting alone with Caroline. Ever since they had come up to St. Andrews, Caroline seemed to feel that she had some sort of claim upon him, and he wasn't entirely comfortable with the thought. He poured a dram into a glass and poured a little water in as well, before taking a sip of the dry, slightly fruity liquid.
Charles reappeared a few moments later. "Jane is indeed sick, though Mary thinks she'll be fine in the morning. I've asked Jane to stay the night, naturally. I'm just going now to give her sister a call. I'm sure she'd like to know, and I think Jane would enjoy her company." He trotted off to the phone, pleased to be of use to Jane, who, ill as she was, still appeared an angel to him, with her serene face and kind blue eyes. He was sorry that she was ill, naturally, but extraordinarily pleased that this accident should have befallen her. It was a sign that he should spend more time with her, and properly take her out. One didn't find a girl as genuinely sweet and kind as Jane every day,
Darcy finished his single malt as he stared out across the water. So, Elizabeth Bennet was shortly to arrive to spend the night with her sick sister. He, like Charles, was naturally sorry that a guest should have fallen ill in the house, but was pleased to know it meant a certain young lady would be spending time in the building. He rather thought he would spend the night in the room which Charles kept for him this evening.
Posted on Tuesday, 7 November 2006
"Oh my goodness!" Lizzy exclaimed, once Charles had related the afternoon's events to her across the phone. "Of course I'll come over. Are you sure she'll be okay? Food-poisoning can be serious!"
"My housekeeper, Mary, assures me that she will be just fine. She was once a registered nurse, so I trust her completely in this. I honestly think the thing that would make Jane most comfortable now would be a familial face, and as it happens you're just across town. Shall I come and fetch you?"
"I'll be fine on foot, don't bother. It's not that far."
"You know the house?"
"I dropped Jane off this morning so, yes, I do. Don't bother any more about me. Go and see if there's anything Jane wants me to bring along for her."
Charles took the order readily. "I'll ring you back as soon as I've talked to her."
"I'll pack a bag in the meanwhile. Cheers." Lizzy lay the receiver back in its cradle with a sigh. Here was a pretty pickle... Jane sick with food poisoning at her swains house (an excellent situation bar the illness, which worried Lizzy), and Lizzy bound to spend the evening there as well. She hoped Caroline would have decided to jet off for the weekend, but she doubted it. Very well, she'd put on her best behavior. Lizzy burrowed through her drawers selecting the few items she deemed necessary or useful for a night away from home, and was just leafing through the books for her tutorial when the phone rang again.
"Charles here!" exclaimed Charles, when Lizzy had identified herself. "Your sister asks if you could bring along her bag."
"Are you sure you don't need a ride?"
"I am. I'll see you soon." Lizzy rang off once more, and went in search of Jane's bag. Sadly, it was Jane's shoulder bag, and not the rolling suitcase. Lizzy sighed. She'd manage somehow. Assembling the necessary books into her own duffel, she balanced the two bags across her back, and wrote a brief note to Charlotte, explaining her absence. She then locked the door of her flat, and set off across town, towards the sea.
By the fifth block, Lizzy was wondering if perhaps Charles had had a point about the car. The two bags did not sit well together on her shoulders, and she hadn't packed up her books very well. One kept poking her oddly in the ribs. It seemed an age later when she arrived at the gates of Charles's rented house. He had been waiting by the window, and sprang out of the door as soon as Lizzy had reached it.
"Excellent! Lizzy, I may call you Lizzy, mayn't I? Welcome. I wish you had come under more cheerful circumstances, but Jane says she is feeling rather better. I have hopes that she'll be up for a bit of quiet company later this evening. Come along inside. Leave your bags. I'll just take you now to see your sister."
Lizzy gratefully dropped her bags, and smiled in a bemused manner as Charles led the way up a pleasant flight of stairs into the second story of the impressive house. Lizzy supposed that it was early nineteenth century, and was rather impressed by the architectural decorations. Charles stopped in front of an oak door, and tapped lightly, his attention focused intently on the soft voice that replied. He turned the knob gently, and stuck his head round.
"Lizzy is here," he said briefly. Jane smiled at the news, and his face echoed her expression tenfold. Lizzy was touched by the pleasure kindness towards Jane seemed to give him. Holding the door open, Charles ushered Lizzy into the room.
"If there's anything you want, either of you, just ring the electric bell. Mary will be only too glad to help, and if she's busy I'll do anything you'd like me to. In the meantime, Lizzy, I'll have your bags brought up. I've put you in the room directly across the hall. Which bag was Jane's?" he asked.
"The blue bag," replied Lizzy. "Mine is the green, and also the messenger bag."
"Excellent. And I'll have some sort of tray sent for you Jane, when it's dinner. Lizzy, do you wish to stay and eat with Jane, or shall I have a place set for you at the dinner table?"
Lizzy looked at Jane.
"I don't really want to think about food just now," Jane admitted softly.
"Then I won't bother you with any pungent food smells," Lizzy promised. "But you must try to at least drink something. Hydration is important."
"Yes, mother," replied Jane with a faint smile.
"Dinner for four then," Charles tallied up, and left.
"Four?" asked Lizzy, to Jane.
"Caroline, Charles, you and Will Darcy. I understand he and Charles were out golfing earlier. He must have stuck around afterwards."
"Brilliant," muttered Lizzy.
"I'm sure Darcy is a very nice man," Jane insisted. "Charles has nothing but good things to say about him."
"He's a provoking man, that's what he is. But I am so pleased to see what good care Charles has been taking of you."
"Well, he's certainly seen me at my worst now," Jane agreed quietly. She did look even more pale than usual, with her long dark hair about her shoulders, and her large blue eyes slightly ringed.
"But he seems even more besotted with you than ever before. Jane, I think the two of you might really have something!"
"It would be nice," Jane agreed, wistfully. "He's so kind."
"You deserve him," Lizzy replied firmly. She kissed Jane's forehead, and then sat back down, taking up her invalid sister's hands in her own. "What would you like me to do now. Is there anything I can get you?"
"I think I'll take a bit of a nap now," Jane answered. "I just feel rotten and a little weak from it all. I'm sure I'll be better tomorrow."
"I hope you will, you darling. Very well. I'll go and explore my room and this fabulous house." Lizzy tucked Jane into a luxurious cashmere bed-throw, and then left the room quietly.
Her own room was just across the hall, and as pleasant a room as Jane's. Her view looked out onto the sea, and the room was decorated with a cheerful blue, white and yellow striped paper, the pattern of which was echoed elsewhere in the room. Her bags had been brought up, and Lizzy spent a few minutes unpacking, before pondering her next activities. Until Jane had had time to wake up from her nap, Lizzy decided she had really best entertain herself. She picked up a volume of the Scotichronicon, and set out to find a doorway into the lovely gardens she had spied on her way up the drive.
Luck seemed to be with Lizzy, for as she came down onto the first floor, she met with Mary, the capable housekeeper cum nurse.
"I was wondering," Lizzy asked, after expressing her gratitude for the woman's care of her sister, "how I would best be able to reach the gardens. It's a lovely crisp sort of afternoon, and I'd very much like to read outside. Do you have any recommendations of places to go?"
"Yes, miss. There's a rather pleasant garden out the side door, by the main lawn. The door is just here, head out along the path, and you'll see the lawn. There is a bench under a tree on the far side, and one in the sun on the near."
"Thank you very much," Lizzy replied.
"Mr. Bingley and his sister and his friend are outside just now. The gentlemen are playing a spot of hockey, apparently."
"What, not Caroline?"
"Her, miss? Not likely. She's afraid of rough sports."
"Well, I'll just go along outside, and hopefully not be hit by any stray balls. Thank you again." Lizzy found her way outside, and examined the two benches. The one under the tree was occupied by Caroline Bingley, who was wrapped up in an exquisite cashmere wrap, and was watching her brother and Will Darcy horse around with field hockey sticks. Lizzy took her the near, sunny bench, and tried to read, but found herself drawn to the game on the lawn. Even after nearly two months in the country, she still found the idea of men playing field hockey, a sport typically played by privileged high school girls in the States, rather novel. Neither of the two men was a bad player, either. She hadn't played the sport competitively since her sophomore year of college, but she found her hands itching to hold the stick as her attention was captured by the feints and hits of the two men. it did not even register in her mind that one of the men was Will Darcy, her nemesis, and that he was demonstrating a fascinating new side to her: that of friendly comrade and casual sportsman. She watched happily, enjoying watching the game being well played between the two men, or at least as well as any large team sport can be played between just two men.
Will Darcy was the first of the two men to register the appearance of their second spectator. He halted in the game, delighted to see Lizzy.
"Elizabeth! Do you play?"
"I played for years. But not recently," Lizzy replied. She opened her book once more, determined not to be caught watching the two men again.
"Then you must play!" cried Charles. "It's fabulously fun as a bit of distraction before dinner. There's a stick back inside that might suit you. Darcy bought it weeks ago for his sister, but hasn't given it to her yet. Lizzy is about Georgie's height, isn't she?"
Darcy scrutinized Lizzy briefly. "Yes, she is. I'll just fetch the stick."
"Oh, don't bother," Lizzy replied. "I don't want to interrupt, and I don't want to be responsible for ruining a perfectly new stick."
"Tosh! Darcy, get the stick. Lizzy, we need you. One versus one gets very tedious. With three players we might have a better match." Darcy had swept away towards the house, and Lizzy decided that she might as well play. Besides, it would be a bonus if she could hit Darcy with a ball on a shin. She liked Charles, and she wanted to play, and Darcy was determined to let her use his sister's new stick.
He returned a few minutes later, with a gleaming composite stick in his hands. Lizzy measured it for size in the Dutch style, which involved very inelegantly sticking it in her armpit, and satisfied that it would work for her, nodded to the two men.
"What position did you play?" asked Darcy.
"Midfield. So, most anything. But I haven't played in years, as I said."
"Very well," replied Charles. "Lizzy, you and I will gang up against Darcy." I suppose you haven't any shin guards on you?"
"No," Lizzy answered.
"We haven't any spares, so I suppose we'll just be gentle with you."
"You can have mine," offered Darcy. Lizzy, disturbed by the giving Darcy, misunderstood his intention. She resented the fact that, in her view, he thought she would need the safety equipment when she played with the two men.
"I'll be fine without them," she answered in a slightly rebuking tone.
"Very well." The three lined up along an imaginary line, and the informal game commenced. Lizzy found her old skills slightly rusty, but nonetheless still present as she darted about with the ball. Charles passed to her quickly before darting ahead for a through pass. Darcy approached her, and Lizzy happily engaged in a personal duel to get the ball by him. It wasn't easy, but when she finally managed it, Charles lifted the ball easily over an decorative shrub and into a flower bed.
"Excellent!" Charles commended his teammate. He fetched the ball from amidst the ornamental grasses. Darcy, Lizzy, you now team up against me."
Lizzy shrugged. Darcy started with the ball, and expertly passed it to her as she cut around Charles. Running lightly with it, she dodged around a tasteless stone statue and observed Charles to be coming up on her again. Pivoting about quickly, she passed the ball off to Darcy, who easily scored. Charles once more smiled, and gathered his two friends into a lose hug of sorts.
"Fabulous. Simply fabulous. I'm enjoying this game with three players."
Darcy, uncomfortable with demonstrations of affection, shrugged off Charles's arm. "It does add a certain dimension to the game, he agreed, before fidgeting with the ball. Lizzy, freed from Charles's grip, wondered why Darcy was so unable to relax.
At this point, Caroline came over.
"You play sports?" she asked Lizzy, a little incredulous.
"Of course," Lizzy answered. "I love how they make me all smelly and look disheveled and unfeminine," she added deliberately. Caroline looked disturbed. She turned her attention to Darcy.
"What a fabulous sport, you were simply wonderful!" she prattled on in a similar vein. Charles excused himself, to go back into the house and check up on Jane. Noticing for the first time that the light was fading, Lizzy gathered up her book, and turned back to where Darcy stood awkwardly with Caroline.
"Thank you for the use of the stick," she said, offering it back to him.
"You're welcome," he said, truthfully. "Did you like it?"
"This stick?" He nodded. "Yes. I did. It's an excellent one."
"I hope you'll feel free to use it again, if you wish. I can get my sister another one easily, and I'd be happy to think that you'd feel able to practice the game whenever you liked."
"That's kind of you," replied Lizzy, taken aback at his awkward phrasing of the offer. "But I don't really have time to play often."
"Neither do I. Neither does my sister. But should a lack of regular engagement deprive a person from the chance to do something they really love? Take the stick." He turned abruptly away from Lizzy, and strode back towards the house, not wanting to examine his motivations for giving his sister's gift away to his young woman. Caroline trotted after him, and proceeded to pour forth in his ear a stream of insults about how sports made women look disheveled, dirty and unfeminine. Darcy didn't listen to her, instead pondering how exercise brought color to a certain woman's face, and how it brightened her eyes.
Lizzy shrugged, took the stick and her book, and followed them at a safe distance into the house. She hoped that dinner would be less awkward than the ending to the informal match on the lawn, and that perhaps Jane would feel well enough to come down afterwards. She didn't think either Darcy or Caroline much liked her presence, and, aside from wishing her sister to be in better health and to be able to enjoy Charles's presence, wished firmly for another friendly face in this strange house.
Posted on Monday, 5 May 2008
By supper-time, Jane had recovered her strength and some of her appetite -- to both Lizzy's and Bingley's delight -- and expressed a wish to join the others for dinner. The two solicitous would-be nurses conferred briefly with one another over the wisdom of such a move, and then conferred with the competent Mary, before they finally granted the invalid permission to appear at the table with the rest of the company, at least with the provision that she and Lizzy would stay the night after all. Jane was pleased, glad to be free of her lonesome sickroom and joyful in the prospect of spending the evening with Bingley. Her anticipation was not one-sided, too: Bingley, looked equally over-the-moon at the thought of Jane's continued presence, and immediately rushed down to the kitchen to make sure that Caroline's menu would include items suitable for a delicate digestion. Of course Lizzy, too, was glad of her sister's recovery, but she secretly thought that it was too bad that Jane wasn't so cured as to warrant a complete and immediate removal from the house. She (Lizzy) took no joy in the thought of spending an entire evening at the mercy of Caroline and Darcy.
Caroline was already present in the dining-room when Lizzy appeared, temper steeled to endure the meal and whatever snide and insulting conversation that would be served alongside it. Happily, however, Caroline seemed disposed to ignore her unwelcome guest, and busied herself flipping through a glossy magazine as the clock ticked loudly in the silent space. Lizzy watched her for some moments, and then turned her attention to the silvery span of ocean out the windows, watching the waves distantly roll in towards the shore.
"Jane!" the blond woman suddenly cried, breaking the silence. Lizzy turned around and observed her sister with a wide smile. Jane, coming in on Bingley's arm, looked far from the pale, wan creature of the afternoon and rather more like some sort of advertisement for skin-care products, or perhaps perfume.
"Caroline, Lizzy," Jane said, with a smile, sitting down in the seat that Bingley had drawn out for her.
"You look much better, darling," Caroline drawled, studying the lovely Jane's face and deportment closely. "If I hadn't known you'd been ill all afternoon I couldn't have been able to tell."
Jane thanked Caroline politely, and then turned to her sister. "Did you have a nice afternoon?" she asked.
Lizzy shrugged. "Didn't get as much work done as I'd have liked. Charles was determined to make me mess around playing field hockey."
"That must have been so much fun for you!" Jane was all optimism and joy, so Lizzy decided not to show any of the annoyance and confusion that the afternoon's game had left her with.
"Yes," Lizzy answered briefly, toying with the cuff of her sky-blue sweater. At that moment Darcy appeared, and slid silently into the empty seat beside Caroline, across the table from Lizzy.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said, dividing his words impartially between each of the four other diners. "I lost track of time, I was editing portions of my thesis."
"How is your thesis?" asked Caroline, turning to look at the whiskey prince with batted eyelashes and the appearance of complete and fascinated attention as if her every thought had been focused on his progress. As a matter of fact, in a twisted way, she did care about his thesis: the sooner he was done with it, the sooner he'd be done playing a student and settle back into the world of whiskey and wealth.
"Well enough," Darcy answered, brusquely, knowing that if she was at all curious on the topic it wasn't related to the subject matter of his work. He paused, and then looked directly at Lizzy, who alone of the company might actually be interested. "I was revisiting one of my James III chapters. Have you studied late medieval Flanders, Elizabeth?"
"No." Did he get some sort of perverse pleasure of out of rubbing in her relative academic inexperience? Lizzy wondered. She deliberately made a show of removing her napkin from within its silver ring, and settling it on her lap. "I haven't."
He seemed poised to say something else to the sulky scholar, but Caroline broke in quickly, determined to keep the conversation away from academic matters about which she knew nothing.
"Mary! The first course, please! You'll love the soup, Will," she purred, having ordered the housekeeper to start serving. "I persuaded the chef at that amazing French-fusion restaurant -- you know, the one we went to for Charles's birthday last year -- to give me his recipe, and I've been dying to try it out. You must tell me how you think it compares."
Lizzy privately wondered what exactly the "persuasion" had entailed -- had Caroline thrown a fit, or had she perhaps bribed the poor chef? -- and hid her smile behind her soup-spoon.
After the meal had finally drawn to a close after no less than six courses, the five young people meandered slowly towards the spacious drawing room, where there was a roaring fire burning. Lizzy immediately ran over towards the flames, drawn like a moth towards it with a wholesome joy. Caroline led the others towards a couple of low settees some distance away, and invited her brother and his guests to sit down. Charles obeyed promptly, urging Jane to settle beside him. Jane did so willingly, glad of his solicitation, and also to be free from the rich food smells of the dining room. As much as Charles had ensured that there would be food suitable for someone recovering from a bout of food-poisoning, he had not thought to rethink -- or had not been able to dissuade Caroline from -- the planned, elaborate menu.
Darcy resisted Caroline's blatant invitations to sit beside her on the narrow love-seat, and instead wandered over towards one of the scantily-filled bookshelves that lined the southern wall of the room, browsing the titles of the books left by the landlord for the Bingleys' edification. Caroline sulked for a few moments, but then turned her attention to Jane.
"How is your story for the Atlantic Pulse coming along?" she asked. "How long will it keep you here in Scotland?"
"I'm set to return to London in three weeks," Jane replied, pleasantly. "My editor has decided to broaden my story into a series of three separate stories, so I'm taking a bit more time than I had intended."
"That's excellent news!" Charles enthused. "I'm so pleased that your work is going so well. And I'm simply delighted that you'll be around a little longer. I'll be here in Fife for another two weeks, and then will be returning to Edinburgh -- I'm glad that we'll overlap there a little before the bright lights of London reclaim you."
Jane smiled softly in reply, her pale cheeks flushing a dusky rose. Darcy, from his position across the room looked up sharply, and studied the beautiful couple on the sofa. Caroline, noticing that Darcy's attention was pointed in her rough direction, took immediate advantage of the opportunity, and called out to him.
"I'm so sorry for the state of our bookshelves," she said, and simpered. "Of course they came with the house -- and are not to be compared with your own charming collection at Glen Leigheas." She then turned and pointedly smirked in Lizzy's direction, pleased to have turned the conversation to something that the girl couldn't join in on, never having seen Darcy's beautiful Highland estate.
"Of course not," Darcy replied to Caroline, shortly. "I fear your landlord had far more intention of decorating the room with these volumes, rather than in them as books in themselves. No one could possibly be actually interested in reading bound copies of the Fishmonger's Gazette, regardless of how impressively complete the collection might be."
"Oh, no!" Caroline agreed, but Lizzy looked up and between the two, with some curiosity. Books, regardless of their owner, were a subject of great interest to her.
"You write off those journals far too early," she said, piping in to the conversation. "Yes, perhaps they are not of any interest to you, or to Miss Bingley here, or even -- I will admit -- myself, but what of historians? What of anthropologists? Environmentalists? I'm sure there is a great deal of interesting material contained in the Fishmonger's Gazette if you are interested in fish, or fishing, or food, or in the social history of the years covered in these numbers."
Darcy smiled, looking both contrite and immensely pleased. "I concede to you, Elizabeth. You are absolutely right." His gaze was too warm for Caroline Bingley's tastes, so she seized direction of the conversation once more, steering it back to Darcy.
"How is your dear sister, Will? How is she fairing at university?"
"Excellently well, thank you," Darcy answered, tearing his gaze away from the pleasing picture Lizzy Bennet made, sitting there beside the fire, her lovely red-blond hair made to glow in its light. "She's enjoying it more than last year."
"And is she to have another concert some time soon?" Caroline turned and impartially addressed the two Bennets, who were following the conversation with polite interest. "Georgiana is a wonderful pianist. Last year she gave a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It was simply stunning"
"She was one of six young musicians to perform a piece at a charity concert," Darcy clarified. "She's a second year student at Aberdeen."
"Aberdeen's a wonderful place for a musician, isn't it?" asked Jane, smiling at Darcy. "Of course I've only ever been there for a few days, researching, but that was the general impression I received."
"Yes, it is."
"Georgiana is so accomplished," Caroline continued on, ignoring Jane's comment completely. "In addition to being such a gifted pianist, she also plays the harp and guitar, and has the most beautiful voice you can imagine. And she speaks four languages, wins ribbons as an amateur dressage rider, and plays hockey and tennis. And to top all that she has the most exquisite taste."
"She sounds very accomplished, indeed," Lizzy said softly, wondering how much of that list was true, and how much of it was Caroline trying to rub in Lizzy's presumed lack of such accomplishments. She stole softly from her seat beside the fireplace, and settled on a low bench between Darcy's bookshelves and the Bingleys' sofas.
"She is, she is!" Charles interjected cheerfully, determined to lay some claim into the conversation that had mostly been floating above his head as he was seeing to Jane's comfort. "It's astonishing how accomplished people are, these days. I always hear talk of how stupid people are, but then you realize that within this very room we probably collectively know almost a dozen languages, have two writers and two scholars, can play a half-dozen different sports, and can play at least two or three different instruments!"
"Your sample is somewhat skewed," Darcy replied to his friend's raptures. "After all, this is a university town, and the range of backgrounds among us is not so very great..." Caroline looked at him with astonishment. Not so very great? The Bennets', however well they may have been educated, certainly had nothing like the breeding and advantages that Darcy had been privy to! "For certain, languages and athletics and careers lend themselves towards accomplishment, but they aren't everything. A truly accomplished person -- and I have only met a dozen or so in all of my life -- has achievements not only in body and in career and in taste and mastering languages by rote, but is someone who has learned to think, who reads and argues." His eyes wandered over towards Lizzy Bennet, sitting on the low bench, watching him with an adorable frown. "It is not enough to learn to do something, we must also make our accomplishments our own."
There was a silence after the conclusion of Darcy's remarkable speech, which none of the assembled company had the least idea of how to reply. Both Caroline and Lizzy would have found themselves shocked to realize that they were thinking the same thing, namely that Darcy was somehow insulting them. This perceived condemnation sat very badly with Caroline, and rankled Lizzy. Lizzy shot back at Darcy with some temper.
"I'm not surprised that you claim to only know a dozen or so such people -- an excellent mind, refined taste, good dress and sound body all in one package? -- I'm a little surprised that you know any such paragons at all."
"Nonsense!" Caroline cried, glad to shift the Darcy's potential insult over onto her unwelcome guest. "You haven't had the opportunities someone like Darcy has. I'm sure if you moved in the proper circles you'd meet many such people."
"I suppose you count yourself as one of these wonders?" Lizzy asked Darcy, a trifle acidly.
"On the contrary," he answered, shortly. "But I dedicate my life to such an aspiration."
"Shall we perhaps have some music?" asked Caroline, abruptly, breaking in to what was becoming an increasingly private conversation between Darcy and the younger Miss Bennet. She strode across the room, towards an elaborate entertainment system, which she had obviously had had installed in the house herself, and turned it on, dispelling the tense mood of the room entirely. After a few moments Lizzy begged to be excused, and retired to her room to do some work, eager to while away the hours before tomorrow's much-anticipated escape from this bizarre and judgmental company.
On waking the next morning, Lizzy gathered her belongings together with joy, packing up so that she would be able to leave within a moment's notice. She wondered precisely how long she would have to linger out of politeness, and hoped that it wouldn't be long. She wasn't very fond of Charles's friend or sister, no matter how sweet he might be about her own sister.
After a quick shower and dressing, Lizzy stole down the hallway, and softly knocked on Jane's door. Jane opened it a moment later, and ushered Lizzy inside.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Lizzy asked, solicitous to her sister's health.
"Rather well, if I do say so myself," Jane answered, cheerfully. "I slept like an angel, and even think I'm up for a spot of breakfast."
"Good, I was thinking of going down myself. Care to join me?" Jane nodded, and slipped on a cardigan and a pair of soft leather flats before joining a waiting Lizzy in the hallway. They padded down the otherwise empty hall and down the stairs together, only to find the men of the party sitting around the table downstairs. Bingley and Darcy rose when the Bennets entered, but Darcy soon settled down at the table again, a newspaper held aloft in front of him.
"Good morning!" Charles said brightly, coming towards them. Lizzy observed him with some amusement, figuring that his apparent ability to be a morning-person was yet another sign of his suitability for equally sunny-tempered Jane. "How are you this morning, Jane? Should I get rid of the sausages and bacon and whatnot, or are you all right with them in the room?"
"I'm fine, thank you."
"Well, what would you like, girls?" Charles asked. "Mary's pleased to do up a hot breakfast if you'd like, and otherwise there's plenty of cereal and toast and fruit. Caroline probably has some cottage cheese, too, if you're into that sort of thing."
"Some toast would be lovely," Jane said with a smile. "And is there coffee?"
"Absolutely, trundle right on into the kitchen, Mary will get you some. Can't say it's quite the same as what you're used to in the States, but she does her best. Elizabeth?"
"I'll go with Jane, take a look around myself."
"Excellent, excellent." He showed them the way to the kitchen, and then busied himself setting two more places at the table.
"It's nice to see the Bennets eat breakfast," he observed to his friend. "I can't remember the last time I saw Caroline have it."
"Nor can I," Darcy answered, realizing that this was true. "Yes, nice." Cutting short his monosyllabic reply, he raised his paper up before his face once more, determined to resist any further efforts by Charles to be conversational this early in the morning.
Jane soon appeared back in the room, bearing a toast-rack and coffee-cup with her. She sat down at one of the newly-set places, and proceeded to examine the tray of jams in the center of the table, before selecting a strawberry one and opening it.
"What are your plans for the day?" asked Charles, watching her.
"I don't know," Jane answered, setting down her triangle of toast, and meeting his gaze, shyly. "I don't head back to Edinburgh until tomorrow, but I don't know what Lizzy had planned for us before... I fell ill."
"Please let me at least offer you a proper lunch," Charles pleaded. "You and your sister. I feel awful that you came here and we made you ill, that's no sort of hospitality at all. I insist."
"I'd like that, though we must of course ask Lizzy if she's willing to sacrifice even more of her sisterly weekend."
"I promise to release the both of you after lunch," Charles continued to wheedle, charmingly, as Jane laughed at his antics.
Lizzy herself finally returned to the dining room, complete with a plate heaped high with breakfast, and raised an eyebrow at her sister. "What's all this?" she asked, in her best imitation of a London bobbie.
Charles applauded her effort, and graciously leapt up to hold out Lizzy's seat for her. Lizzy became even more curious: "And why the sudden gallantry?"
"I have a favor to ask. Jane says that she's bound to you for the weekend, and I want the two of you to stay to lunch -- a proper lunch this time -- so that Jane knows we have no harmful designs on her health. Please be an angel and say you'll allow this."
Lizzy paused, and Darcy looked up from his paper, watching the delightful way she was biting her lip, and curious over why she seemed so unwilling.
"Well, I had a call on my cell while I was in the kitchen," Lizzy began, uncertainly. "It was Aunt Frances," she explained, to Jane. "It seems that she's brought the girls to come have lunch with our Mary in town, and she wanted to see us. Since I haven't seen her since I've been over, I said we would..."
"And you don't want to disappoint your aunt," Charles finished. "I have a proposition, however: why not invite your relations to join us for lunch? The more the merrier, and this way I get to keep the both of you delightful ladies a little longer."
Lizzy looked even more uncertain, and Darcy, remembering the one time he had met her cousins, thought he knew why.
"If you're really sure..." she began.
"Yes, absolutely. Charmed to meet your relations. I'll go tell Mary to expect -- how many? -- for lunch."
"Three Bennet cousins, one aunt, the two of us, Darcy, your sister and yourself?" Jane calculated helpfully.
"Nine. Excellent." Charles got up from the table, and wandered off towards the kitchen.
"Is that all right, Lizzy?" asked Jane, when he was gone.
"It's fine," she replied shortly. "I'm sorry not to have you all to myself this weekend, of course, but..." She shrugged. "I'd better call Aunt Frances and tell her the change in plans."
"I'll do that," Jane volunteered, taking up Lizzy's mobile phone. "I'm done, and you should eat. I'll just go and ask Charles what time I should tell them to come." She skipped off towards the kitchen, humming softly under her breath. Lizzy sighed, and turned back to her plate, realizing with some surprise that Darcy was still at the table -- she had forgotten that he was there. Now plagued between the choices of making polite conversation with the only other person in the room or continuing to ignore him, she settled for a compromise, and addressed him briefly.
"Is there any of that," she nodded towards the paper "that I could read?"
"Yes, of course." Darcy smiled at her request, finding himself surprisingly willing to converse with Lizzy Bennet, regardless of the early hour. He lowered the printed-fortress and fanned out the sections of the paper. "Do you have a preference? I'm not quite done with the business page, but if you'd especially like it, just say so." Lizzy smiled politely, and seized up the world news page. She quickly constructed her own paper barrier, and Darcy sighed, realizing that she both wouldn't be talking to him again and had even hidden her face from his view. He returned to his piece of the paper with some reluctance, and rapidly finished his meal.
"Oooh!" squealed Lydia, as her mother steered the car through Bingley's front gates. "Just look at it, it's gigantic! Think of the parties he could throw here..."
"Jane's friends must be very well off," her mother concluded. "Good for Jane!"
"Which ones are these?" Kitty asked, leaning forward to tap Lydia on the shoulder. "The strong, silent and sexy one or the financier Apollo?"
"Both," Lydia concluded. "At least I hope so. I'm not much into fancy food -- too pretty, not enough taste -- but I'd so convert if it always came with pretty men."
Mary just sighed, and hoped that the meal would be done with quickly. She'd been excited to see her cousins again, but had hoped it would be an all-female party -- her younger sisters were much less embarrassing in unmixed company.
Mrs. Bennet parked the car in the golden-gravelled driveway, and strode excitedly towards the door of the house, her brood trailing in various degrees of eagerness behind her. She rang the bell firmly, and repeatedly, before door opened to reveal the Bingleys, one all smiles, the other all sulks.
"Mrs. Bennet, I'm delighted to meet you," Charles said promptly, inviting her inside. "May I call you Frances? Thank you. It is so good of you to come and dine with us, and to indulge my whims. Come this way... Mary will take your coats. ... You're also Mary? ... Dear, dear, I must try to be more specific. Housekeeper-Mary will take your coats, and you guests will come along with me... we've got pre-lunch drinks set out in the drawing room." Charles took Mrs. Bennet's arm, and led the four newcomers into the drawing room, a distinctly annoyed Caroline Bingley following some distance behind them, and settling pointedly on the other side of them room once Charles had settled them into various choice seats beside a waiting Lizzy and Jane.
"Such a lovely house," Mrs. Bennet was saying. "Such a perfectly lovely house. Is it yours?"
Lizzy winced slightly at her aunt's blunt question, but Charles Bingley seemed well-disposed to answer the words, and not the thinly-veiled curiosity behind it. "I'm renting it, currently. I'm half thinking of buying it -- I love to play golf out here, and the views are spectacular. Besides, as much as people like to buy country houses, this is as much country as I'm interested in, really. It's nice to have civilization within easy reach."
Mrs. Bennet loudly agreed.
"My sister is rather shocked that I haven't bought the house yet, actually," Bingley continued, good-naturedly. "I usually do things in a hurry -- buying houses included -- so it's just as likely that I buy the house tomorrow as it is I give it up completely and look elsewhere."
"I doubt you could buy the house tomorrow," Lizzy piped up, drolly. "After all, tomorrow is a Sunday. But I'm interested to hear you say so, for I had thought I'd read a pleasing impetuosity in your character."
"Lizzy!" cried her aunt, "remember where you and and who you are speaking to!"
"I did not know," Bingley replied to Lizzy, ignoring her aunt's tactless appeal for her niece to be tactful, "that you were a student of characters as well as a student of history. It must be a fascinating study."
"Yes, it can be, especially in a place like a university town, where there are so many different people about."
"But aren't students and university-people so likely to fall into a number of different molds?" Darcy asked, speaking for the first time since he had stolen into the room some moments earlier. Lydia perked up perceptibly, and gave him a frank and admiring glance. Her mother took offense at the handsome man's words, however.
"Simply falling into molds? No indeed! People are far more individual than you give them credit for. I defy you to find someone exactly like my Mary here, in the whole of St Andrews, or our Lizzy!" Darcy found himself silenced, knowing that he had never encountered anyone quite like "our Lizzy" before in either St Andrews or anywhere else for that matter. He withdrew from the conversation and settled beside a perceivably-cheered Caroline Bingley.
"How is our uncle?" asked Jane, hastening to fill the conversation void. "I hope he's well?"
"Very well," Frances Bennet answered. She turned and looked at both of her hosts in turn. "My husband is the owner of an international chain of stores, the Highland Hammie stores, you know," she said, smugly. "He's very busy."
Caroline looked fit to choke, recognizing the name of a chain of tourist and novelty stores specializing in "Scottish" souvenirs, which had the especial embarrassment of having an animated haggis (called Hammie) for a mascot. Darcy also betrayed some chagrin for, as the owner of one of Scotland's more illustrious products, he had little taste or sympathy for the garishly-tartaned, Chinese-manufactured goods that abounded in such sorts of stores. His distaste for Elizabeth's family grew, and he felt increased pity for the object of his admiration, whose ears were turning as pink as her hair. Silence reigned.
The door opened, loudly in the silence for all of its well-oiled hinges. Mary the housekeeper appeared, an angel of mercy, saving the company from replying to Mrs. Bennet's fantastic pride with the announcement that the luncheon was ready. Lydia quickly slurped down the rest of her drink and bounced up, leading the way with Kitty and her mother, as the others followed a little dubiously and quite silently behind.
The meal passed with surprising ease and politeness until the dessert plates were set out. At this point, however, Lydia -- who had mostly been busy eating everything she could lay her hands on -- finally turned to her host, and said, "So, do you throw a lot of parties, with all this space? Can we come to one?"
Caroline glowered at the young girl, and deliberately ignored her questions, eating tiny bites of her blackberry tart with great determination.
"I haven't thrown any parties here yet," Charles replied, gravely. "But it's certainly a nice idea. Caroline loves organizing events. Maybe she'll do one here." Charles looked expectantly at his sister, and she put down her fork with some reluctance.
"We're not here for very much longer," Caroline hazarded. "But perhaps we might have one party before the lease is out."
"Excellent!" her brother cried, slapping the table in joy.
"Something tasteful though. Something elegant and perhaps black-tie."
"It'd give you a chance to wear one of those gowns you bought in Edinburgh," Charles replied, cheerfully. "And I always get a laugh out of seeing Darcy's all dressed up in his Mum's tartan, kilt and all." Lydia's face betrayed a certain fascination with this idea, so Charles continued. "And of course we'll invite you all to come!"
Kitty squealed, and Lydia bounced once or twice in her seat.
"You are most generous," Frances Bennet answered, clearly moved by the young man's generosity. "I can't imagine anything I'd enjoy more."
By the end of the meal, Lizzy found herself wishing not that she could escape back home, but that her relations would be the ones leaving. Mary was polite, if a little pointedly silent, striving in vain to counteract her family's unending torrent of talk, but her behavior hadn't been enough to save Bennet face. As Mrs. Bennet offered to stick around while Jane finished packing in order to give the girls a lift, Lizzy found herself instead accepting the offer of a later ride from Darcy, under the logic that she'd prefer to ride with him than to inflict her relations on these haughty people a moment longer. Lizzy was, she realized, firmly embarrassed already.
As soon as Aunt Bennet and the cousins had been dispatched off, Caroline rose with a small huff, and exclaimed,
"I need some air!" She turned, and speared Darcy with her gaze. "Will, do come for a walk with me. Fresh sea air is excellent for the digestion."
Darcy paused for a moment, then shrugged and nodded. He turned to Lizzy, and said, "Care for a short walk before I drive you home?"
Out of politeness -- for at this moment Lizzy felt honor-bound to cling to any shred of politeness she could muster, if only to distance herself from her aunt and young cousins -- Lizzy agreed, with the reservation that she receive Jane's permission. Jane quickly gave her permission, and went upstairs to pack her small bag, with Charles volunteering to keep her company and to load the Bennets' things into Darcy's car. Caroline grimaced to herself, but put on a brave face. After all, Caroline mused, she had discovered that there were far worse people out there than Elizabeth Bennet.
Despite her unlikeable company, Lizzy found herself enjoying her afternoon stroll on the beach. The sky was a glorious shade for October, and the wind mild. Soon Lizzy found herself removing her shoes -- defying the cool weather -- so as to better enjoy the feeling of the sand between her toes as she skipped along ahead of the others. Darcy watched her, entranced at her joy, at her ability to recover from that horrendously awkward meal and to revert back into her cheerful, lively self. He missed several of Caroline's comments, as the latter woman tried to gain his attention, and finally found himself having to admit to her that he was not paying attention. Caroline narrowed her eyes briefly, and then replied that it was no matter, she would leave him to his thoughts and join Miss Elizabeth instead, after which she quickly followed suit.
If Lizzy was surprised to be joined by Caroline Bingley when Darcy was free, she made no comment about it, instead commenting pleasantly on the beach. Caroline simpered, and begged that her companion would please walk a little with her, instead of running about so. Lizzy, still determined to be polite, acquiesced dumbly and the two adopted a slow, flattering stride. After some little time, walking along in silence, Caroline abruptly turned around and addressed the abandoned Darcy.
"Won't you come walk with us, Will, darling?" she called back to him. He walked a little more rapidly towards them, and then resumed his slower gait, shouting forward,
"I think I'd better not. Obviously you two are either walking ahead together in order to talk privately -- in which case I should be intruding -- or else you walk ahead so as to be admired -- in which case you'd want me back here, admiring."
Lizzy found herself bursting into laughter at the conceit of his comments, and Caroline starred at her in shock.
"Why are you laughing? You can't be laughing at Will! No one laughs at Will!"
"No one?" asked Lizzy, her eyes dancing.
"No one. He's perfect."
"I'm not perfect, Caroline," Darcy replied determinedly, coming a little ways closer to the other two. "And even if I was, you should still feel free to laugh at me." In fact, he realized, he felt very strongly that Lizzy should be able to laugh whenever and at whatever she wanted: she had a beautiful laugh, and he was more than a little pleased that he had had a hand in invoking it.
"I'm sorry," Lizzy cried, smothering her laughter and instead smiling brightly. "I'm so sorry, but if the two of you could hear yourselves, you'd be laughing too. The idea of perfection is perfectly ridiculous as an actuality, Caroline."
"I agree. Everyone has flaws," Darcy added. "Myself very much included."
"What are these flaws, Will?" asked Caroline, detaching herself from Lizzy's arm and reclaiming Darcy's. "You're generous and handsome, and intelligent..."
"And just a little bit proud of it?" whispered Lizzy.
"He has ever right to be proud!" insisted Caroline, who had caught the comment.
"I own to my share of pride," Darcy agreed, catching Lizzy's challenging gaze, and holding it as his heart and mind both raced. "Though I try to keep it in proper moderation. You were asking about flaws? I concede them: I am unpleasant in the morning until I have mastered myself; I can be resentful, and judgmental; my good opinion once lost is virtually lost forever."
"And I, in return, concede your flaws back to you." Lizzy averted her head, breaking off that drilling gaze. "I'll stop laughing."
Darcy nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Not even the best education can cure us of our faults, I'm afraid."
"And so you find yourself easily disposed to hate people?" A hint of malice had crept back into Lizzy's voice, remembering that this man had judged her without fairness.
"And so you find yourself easy disposed to misunderstand them," he shot back. He didn't hate people. Well, not many people. And certainly not her.
"I think we should head back now, no?" broke in Caroline, abruptly. Lizzy nodded, and the three turned neatly around, leaving a U-turn of footprints in the sand.
Posted on Monday, 12 May 2008
The ride back to Lizzy's flat in Darcy's car was strangely silent. Charles had volunteered to come along but Lizzy discovered with some surprise that this meant that Charles would be an additional passenger, rather than a relief driver for Darcy, who seemed oddly willing to keep his promise to drive. Lizzy shrugged, and slid into the front passenger's seat with some indifference, as her sister and Charles settled beside one another in the back. Soon their soft voices began to keep up a steady murmur, and Lizzy gave up hope that either cheerful passenger would intervene to keep a general conversation flowing: Darcy offered no words, so Lizzy resolutely did likewise. She didn't understand him at all -- one minute arguing with her on rather private topics, one minute ignoring her -- but then, she concluded, she really had no desire to understand him, either.
Darcy stopped the car in front of Lizzy's building, and she nodded curtly to her driver before jumping out of the car with some aplomb. Jane followed more decorously, offering fond farewells and expressions of thanks to the two gentlemen. Charles soon decided to follow her out of the vehicle and opened up the boot of the car, retrieving the various Bennet belongings from its depths and offering to carry them up. With a nod of consent from Darcy, he proceeded to make good on his word, not setting the bags down until the three were standing in the middle of Lizzy's flat. Lizzy picked up her bags and made a quick retreat to her room, sensing that Jane and Charles might like a private moment to make some future plans -- or at least to say good-bye properly.
A knock on Lizzy's doorframe broke her reverie, and she looked up to see Charlotte hovering there.
"Jane looks better," she commented, coming in to sit on Lizzy's bed as the girl unpacked her overnight bag and rearranged her books.
"Yes. I think she's all better. Maybe not up for Mexican food or a curry just yet, but we're going to make an afternoon of it."
"What'll you do?" asked Charlotte, with some curiosity.
"Take a walk around town, maybe go into a store or two. Jane hasn't been to the Castle yet, we might do that."
"I've got a robe you can borrow, for one free admission," Charlotte offered, referring to the tradition that gowned students from the university were admitted to the historic sites in town for free.
"Thanks," Lizzy replied, cheerfully. "That would be nice."
"So, how was your overnight?"
Lizzy paused, not sure how to answer. She hadn't enjoyed it, certainly, despite the joy it had given her to see Charles and Jane interact with one another. The problem was that everyone other than Charles and Jane had frustrated her: her family had embarrassed her during their visit, Caroline had repeatedly been rude, Darcy had been... Darcy had been infuriating, as always, if occasionally -- and oddly -- interesting.
"Wasn't that nice?" asked Jane, coming into the room, and saving Lizzy from answering the question. "I'm glad to be back here, too, of course, but I had a nice time, food-poisoning or not." Lizzy nodded, not wanting to inflict her frustrations on Jane. Instead, she asked about Charles.
"Did you and Charles make any plans?" she asked, pleasantly.
"Yes, actually. He's going to drive back to Edinburgh to sign some papers at his office, and asked me to have dinner with him, while his sister's still away here, so he wouldn't be lonely."
Charlotte cocked an eyebrow, and mouthed "Seriously?" at Lizzy, incredulous that Jane seemed to buy his thinly-veiled date-invitation.
"I'm glad," Lizzy answered, glaring at Charlotte.
"And of he went through Caroline's calendar while you three were out on the beach, and figured out a good night for that party he said he'd throw. Her schedule's insane, but he figured out that three weeks from today would work pretty well, though he says it's the latest he can possibly leave it. But I'll still be here in Scotland, and his lease won't be quite done, either. So, keep your calendar free for that night. You, too, Charlotte," Jane added, kindly. "He said he'd be pleased to have you come, too. He remembered you from a university party."
"A fancy Bingley party three weeks from today?" asked Charlotte with some interest. "How did that come about?"
"You wouldn't believe," Lizzy began. "My aunt and cousins ended up having lunch at Charles's house this afternoon --" Charlotte looked curious, but refrained from interrupting, "and they managed to convince Charles to throw a party before he goes. Caroline insists that it be black-tie, of course, though."
"Naturally," Charlotte echoed, solemnly. "Well, I'm up for a new gown. I'll take you shopping in Dundee some afternoon, Lizzy. It'll be fun."
"Speaking of fun," Lizzy replied, "it's probably time that Jane and I set out -- it's already getting late."
"I'll go get my robe for you right now," Charlotte said.
"So?" asked Lizzy, half an hour later, as the two stood on one of the Castle ramparts, gazing out into the North Sea. "You and Charles?"
"Lizzy," Jane replied softly. "I don't know. I like him a lot -- a big a lot. Do you think he shares the sentiment?"
"Of course he does," Lizzy replied, stoutly. "No one who sees the two of you together could doubt it. And if they did, there's always the fact that he's very pointedly fulfilling a promise to throw a party -- that he could easily beg out of -- and is throwing it while you're still around. If that doesn't speak regard, I don't know what does, because that's a Grand Gesture if I ever saw one."
"I'm so happy, Lizzy," Jane sighed. "Of course it will make it more complicated for when I go back to London... but I'm still happy. If one has to get food-poisoning -- and I really don't recommend it -- it's nice to have such a happy prospect as more time with Charles ahead."
While the Bennet sisters walked over the ruined stones of St Andrews Castle, Caroline, not far away, walked across the hardwood floors of Charles's rented house.
"Can you believe he's actually going to go through with it?" she asked Darcy, raging.
"I thought you said that you liked black-tie events," Darcy said mildly, gathering together his research materials as he packed his bags to return to his own place.
"Not throwing the party. Of course I like a party, and it's time I throw one anyway. I meant inviting all of those Bennets. I'm seriously going to have to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Highland Hammie Haggis Bennet. I'm going to have to have those underage bimbos ruining my party. I can't believe he's actually inviting the entire Bennet family!"
"I thought you liked Jane Bennet," Darcy commented, wrapping up his laptop's power cord in a several swift motions. He knew she didn't like Lizzy, and hoped he wouldn't have to listen as his best friend's sister disparaged such a remarkable girl. He might do something rash if she did -- like defend Lizzy -- and that would bring even more awkward and regrettable comments from his companion.
"Jane Bennet is a sweet girl -- and perfectly beautiful, I grant her her due -- but her family? But then... there's nothing to be done about it if Charles is the one paying for the party. I'll just have to do my best to make it a spectacular night, regardless of any unfortunate items on the guest-list."
"I trust you will," Darcy replied politely, his thoughts wandering off to the happy prospect of seeing Lizzy Bennet yet again, in a larger social gathering.
Jane returned to Edinburgh the next morning, and classes carried on for Lizzy as before. Between her classes with the other medieval and Scottish history Masters students and her private tutorials with Dr. Alban, she kept herself busy, and was pleased to note that the infuriating Darcy had stopped dropping by her classes, thus freeing her of some residual stress she had felt over class days. The relief was not to last long, however, as a new menace popped up into her horizon, again in the shape of an insufferable fellow historian.
Barely a week after the food-poisoning incident Lizzy found herself in the departmental library, anxious to make photocopies of two chapters of a book that had been checked out for the last two weeks, but had finally been returned. She made her way over to the only photocopier, whistling as she went, in a happy mood as a result of having a pleasant and productive morning. She stopped whistling when she observed that there was a book already in the copier. And a stack of books beside the copier. And a good number of copy-pages lying in the hopper below the copier -- clearly whoever had been using it wasn't done with it yet.
Sighing a little, Lizzy found a scrap of paper to mark her place in her book, and set it down on a table, determined to locate the felon who was hogging copy time. She didn't have far to look, as a remarkable young man -- regrettably dressed, desperately in need of rethinking his attempts at facial hair, and with a smug expression on his face -- popped into the library from the hallway.
"Is this you?" Lizzy asked, gesturing to the dormant machine and stacks of books.
"Yes," he said, coming up to her. "That is me. Qui sono. Do you speak Italian?"
"No. Look --"
"Tutte le donne belle devono parlare italiano. That is, all beautiful women should speak Italian. It makes them incomparably hot."
"Excuse me?" asked Lizzy, incredulous.
"That's all right, even without any Italian, you're definitely tops "
"That's not what I meant," Lizzy replied, eager to stop this man from speaking to her. "I just wanted to know if I could use this copier for a moment. I've only got thirty pages to copy."
He stared at her for nearly a minute and then nodded. "Yes. Let me move my things." He shuffled over to the machine, catching up the book and the papers from inside, and took to leaning on the table beside it, staring openly at Lizzy's face and figure as she bent to insert her copy card into the machine and set about her work.
"An American student of Scottish history?" he queried, having read the title of her book. "Very novel. I'm a Medici man myself."
"Oh?" asked Lizzy politely, hoping that he could entertain himself with the sound of his own voice while she finished the last twenty pages.
"Yes. I'm writing my doctoral thesis on the great Catherine de Medici. Which I find extremely appropriate, since my advisor as a Masters student was the one and only Catherine de Bourgh. Not only do they look very much alike, but their names are so strikingly similar -- and their last names (the only place in which they differ at all, you will note) both have six letters each. I feel it is no coincidence."
"Is that so?" Ten pages to go.
"You know of Catherine de Bourgh, of course, though."
"No, not really," Lizzy admitted, as she flipped another page in her book and jabbed the copier's buttons impatiently.
"She's at Cambridge, naturally, and I can tell you that it was a wrench to leave her solicitous guidance. You'd not believe the size of her personal library, and the reach of her influence."
"Wouldn't I?" Five pages.
"No, not at all. She graciously arranged for me to study here, with her former pupil, Professor Francis D. Freeman, and is extremely active in her field."
"Of course." Done! Except... blast... the publication information.
"My name is Wilfred Collins, by the way," the remarkable young man commented, as Lizzy rapidly finished her copying. "You are?"
"All done. I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. I have to run now." With that, Lizzy ran out of the library and out of the building, and didn't stop her brisk pace until she was safely inside her own building again.
Once Lizzy had appeared inside the flat, Charlotte looked up at her with some interest, for as soon as her flatmate had closed the door, she burst into laughter and slid down to the floor, clutching some photocopied pages tightly in her hand.
"Dare I ask?" Charlotte inquired.
"No!" Lizzy managed, between convulsions of mirth. "But I was just told that I'm 'tops' by a frighteningly under-groomed doctoral student who worships someone called Catherine de Bourgh, possibly or possibly not because of her resemblance to Catherine de Medici."
"It's definitely not my period, but I have a hazy recollection that Catherine de Medici was no beauty," Charlotte commented, sending Lizzy into increased peals of mirth. Shrugging, and deciding that Lizzy was suffering from some sort of hysteric shock, Charlotte turned the kettle on and administered to her friend's needs.
Encouraged by the fact that Wilfred Collins hadn't seemed to figure out who she was, Lizzy decided to chalk up her odd encounter with the Medici scholar as 'one of those unique student moments,' and reenacted the bizarre conversation several times to her friends -- to great applause -- over the next few days. Lizzy's Bennet cousins were especially amused when she performed for them over dinner at her aunt and uncle's house the weekend after the meeting in the library, though Jane, who had also been invited, expressed some doubts as to Lizzy's faithfulness in the retelling and Aunt Frances seemed willing to forgive the young man his reported foibles.
"After all," she explained, as she served seconds to the assembled Bennet clan, "he seems to be a very fortunate young man. That Catherine de Bourgh he speaks of is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, you know."
"You title-struck old girl," teased Uncle Bennet, digging into another helping of lasagna. "That doesn't mean so awful much these days."
His wife made a harrumphing noise, and turned back to Lizzy. "But not only is she Lady Catherine, but she's also a force in her field, as you said he said. Academic connections like that could mean a lot, especially to a girl like you who wants to study such an obscure subject. I mean, especially if you want to stay in Scotland for your doctorate -- funding is hard to come by if you're not British or from the EU, and you'll need all of the recommendations you can get." As tactless as Frances Bennet could be, she did care about her nieces and their future prospects.
"You've got a good point," Lizzy conceded, "but we work in very different areas, you know, and not in exactly the same period, either."
"You shouldn't suck up to that guy anyway, even if he had amazing connections," Lydia broke in, stoutly. "I mean, from your description -- gross!"
"Amen," said Kitty, the birthday-girl, in whose honor the dinner was being held.
"Speaking of funny-looking guys," Lydia piped in, "is Liam Carter going to be showing up at the pub later?"
Lizzy raised an eyebrow at her uncle as Kitty and Lydia digressed into conversation about people they -- and nobody else present -- knew.
"I gave in, and decided to let them serve the cake out at Kitty's favorite pub," Kitty's father explained. "So that she could spend some of her actual birthday night with her friends, and not just with her stuffy old family. I believe both you and Jane are invited to join in the young people's frivolity... didn't they tell you?"
"It must have slipped their minds," Mary cut in, nodding at her sisters.
"What kind of cake this year?" asked Jane, remembering that her aunt was an excellent baker, and kindly inquiring after her handiwork.
"Kitty still insists on chocolate," the girl's mother said, fondly. "So I did a variation on a German Chocolate Cake, with a marshmallow cream. It sounds a bit disgusting -- I couldn't believe Kitty when she described what she wanted -- but it actually tasted nice in the test-run."
"How many did you make?" asked Lizzy, who was not a baker herself.
"I made three for you girls to bring to the pub. And a smaller one for us to eat at home. And then a plain lemon cake in case any of Kitty's friends can't eat chocolate."
"You're the best, Mom," Kitty said, getting up to hug her mother. Lizzy smiled, reflecting on how much difference a setting could make -- Frances Bennet in refined, mixed company was a thing to fear and worry about, but Frances Bennet in private with her family could be genuine sweet, albeit still a bit silly.
"I'm done," Lydia announced, pushing her plate towards the center of the table. "Lord, I don't think I can eat another bite!"
"You must have some cake, sweetheart," her mother replied.
"I'll have some at the pub, Mom. I'm too full now."
"She's going to the pub?" Lizzy asked Mary, quietly. "Isn't she still too young?"
"Doesn't stop her," Mary replied grimly. "Besides, there'll be a big group of young people, all of whom will be older than her and of legal age, so it's not like they'll really make the effort to check."
"Can we just do candles on our home-cake?" Kitty asked, sitting back down in her seat. "I'm pretty full too." Her mother nodded and gathered up the remaining serving dishes from dinner, and busied herself preparing for dessert.
"You're coming with us, aren't you, Lizzy, Jane?" asked Lydia, settling her elbows on the table and making no move to help her mother. Mary sighed, and instead offered her services.
"You can sleep over if you don't want to get back to St Andrews so late," Kitty added to her younger cousin. "Do say you'll come. You can meet my friends from uni."
"I'm already set to sleep at Jane's flat. So, yes, sure. I'll come." Kitty looked pleased at the answer, but was distracted by the arrival of the cake from the kitchen.
Kitty's friends were a mixture of genuinely nice people and shallow vamps, Lizzy concluded after an hour of their company in the pub that evening. The problem, even with the nice ones, however, was that they were all really young. Lizzy herself might be only twenty-three, but Kitty's friends were eighteen, nineteen, twenty. And a three-year age difference in people so young showed in subtle -- and some less subtle -- ways. Jane, at twenty-six, also showed signs of feeling her age, but was too polite to comment on it, even as impossibly young men attempted to flirt with her.
Lizzy -- bereft of anyone to complain to or sympathize with -- was delighted, therefore, when a new group of Kitty's friends arrived, bearing with them an attractive man carrying a large bunch of gerbera daisies who looked to be rather closer to Jane's age than Lydia's. Lizzy watched the older young man as he came in and shamelessly eavesdropped on his conversation as he was introduced to Kitty.
"Kitty!" cried one of the younger young men.
"Hiya!" Kitty cried, pleasantly lubricated by a couple of drinks snatched between greeting her various friends. "Carter! Denny! So glad you could come! Cake's on me, but you've got to spring for your own drinks."
"This is our friend George. He works with us, at the Alba Club, and we brought him along because the rich old farts there gave him a really crappy time today."
"I'm so sorry to crash your party," the older young man called George cut in. "And to crash your acquaintance. I've brought you a floral tribute as an apology and in honor of your birthday -- that is cake, isn't it?"
"Yes, and there's plenty. What lovely flowers! I'll get one of the barmen to put them in water. Come on, the more the merrier. You think I know everyone here? Well, I don't! All right, I know most everyone who's on this side of the bar, because we had them reserve the tables, but everyone brings guests!"
Lydia came strolling up, and looked the newcomer up and down. "You're not an undergraduate," she said, admiringly.
"No, I'm not," he answered, cheerfully. "I'm not a student, I'm a humble waiter and lackey at one of the big supper-clubs. My name is George. George Wickham."
"Lydia. Lydia Bennet. Kitty's my sister."
"Very pleased to meet you."
Lydia seemed poised to continue the conversation, but soon broke off, with a squeal, as some more friends entered the pub. "I'll catch you later, George!" she cried, before dashing forward to envelope the friends in a drunken hug.
"Kids these days," Lizzy said to George, coming up to talk to him. "All kinds of energy..." She had been impressed by his gesture in bringing Kitty a present when he didn't even know her and -- admiring not only his politeness, but also his darkly handsome looks and his relative maturity -- had decided to come speak to him. George seemed pleased by her approach and stuck out a hand to greet her.
"I know, right?" he replied with a laugh. "George Wickham. I have no idea who you are, but you're not squealing, and for that I am immensely grateful."
"Lizzy Bennet. Nice to meet you."
"Another Bennet sister?"
"Aha. Well, at least there's a logical reason for there to be so many pretty American girls in one pub." Lizzy gave him an incredulous look. "All right, all right, I know it sounded a little sappy. It must be the influence of all of these children."
"I don't blame you for blaming them," Lizzy said, laughing. "Come, let me buy you a drink, and come speak sensible things to me. I'll be wonderstruck and at your feet." George nodded, and they headed off towards the bar together, where a busy barman filled their orders. George insisted on paying and tipped the barman generously as the two collected their drinks. Lizzy smiled at his generosity.
"Empathy for the Working Man," George said simply, in reply to her unasked question. "I'm hoping that my act of kindness here will come back to me when I'm the one working."
"Now, that's sensible," Lizzy said, smiling at the older young man. She steered him from the bar, and towards an empty table, a few feet away from Kitty and her crowds of friends, but just far enough away as to allow for a little more silence and a little more space. As she turned to take her seat, her eye wandered towards the door, which had just opened to admit some more pub patrons. More of Kitty's friends? Lizzy wondered. She'd ceased to be amazed at the numbers of people whom Kitty knew, but was instantly struck when she realized that the newcomers were not young birthday well-wishers, but rather familiar members of an older set of men: it was Charles Bingley and his frustrating friend Darcy. She stared.
George, catching her steady and incredulous glance, turned around himself to see whom Lizzy was staring at, and immediately turned white. Darcy, standing all the way across the pub, suddenly turned red, as if recognizing Lizzy's companion. He immediately turned on his heel, pulling his friend along with him out into the street.
"What's wrong with Darcy, I wonder?" Lizzy mused aloud. "Not that I'm fond of his company, but it's too bad he left, Jane would have loved to see Charles."
"You know Fitzwilliam Darcy?" George asked quickly.
"A little. We have the same advisor. My sister and his friend are almost an item. I also once spent half a weekend in the same house -- an experience that I hope won't be repeated."
"So he's back at his studies? I had thought he was still up at Glen Leigheas, and didn't spend much time this far south. How do you like him?" George inquired, with some interest.
"Not really. I find him proud and obnoxious, and a little unpleasant, for all that he's supposedly God's gift to Scottish history."
"I grew up with him," George said quietly.
"What?" asked Lizzy, genuinely surprised.
"I grew up with him. Our fathers worked together. We were playmates."
"You're not as old as he is, are you? I thought he was thirty, or something."
"Not quite," George answered, with a laugh. "I'm twenty-eight. He's thirty-two I think -- his birthday was in August. Yes, I was a bit younger... I was the kid who tagged along with him like a little brother. I really thought of him like my big brother. And I loved his father: he was like another father to me, especially since my own father died when I was fourteen."
"I'm so sorry," Lizzy murmured. "Well, what happened? Why are you here, waiting tables, and he there, smugly going for his PhD, despite his whiskey wealth? Isn't he willing to at least help you find something a bit more... permanent?"
"You'd think, wouldn't you?" George said, sighing. "And yet, no. He's been horrible -- obnoxious and unpleasant, I think were your words? Well, they describe his behavior towards me exactly." Lizzy nodded that he should go on, and he took a deep breath before continuing. "As I said, I grew up at Glen Leigheas with the Darcy family. My father, Alexander Wickham, was the old Mr. Darcy's manager at his distillery, in charge of the whole operation. I grew up learning about the distilling process, and whiskey marketing. My father didn't read me stories at night, he gave me tastes from the different batches, and taught me to understand them. I always thought I'd follow in my father's footsteps -- not immediately in them, of course, since I was so young when he died, but I thought I'd be able to train to at least be the assistant manager after university -- but it never happened. But then, everyone's got disappointed dreams. I dare say you have some of your own." He finished his drink and caught Lizzy's glance. "Hold on, I'll go and get you a taste of Darcy's fine label. He may be a sour old gent, but his product is first-rate." George disappeared back into the crush by the bar, and returned a moment later with two glasses with a dram of mahogany liquid in each.
"It's just the ten-year old, but it brings back memories... though ten years ago I was no longer at Glen Leigheas, of course..." He bit back whatever bitter memory had surfaced, and schooled his features, turning to catch Lizzy's gaze once more. "Sniff it," he instructed, gesturing at the glass he'd set in front of her. "Smells a little sweet, doesn't it? Can you smell the sherry? Oh, you don't know what sherry smells like? Well, you'll probably taste it anyway. Have a sip." Lizzy tasted it, and swallowed, not entirely sure of what to make of the drink.
"It may not be your thing," George said sadly. "Never mind."
"I think I could acquire the taste," Lizzy explained."But I'm not sure I've acquired it yet. Keep on talking, and I'll work on it. What happened to you ten years ago?"
"Well, ten years ago I finished with my schooling -- old Mr. Darcy had paid for me to go to school with his son, so it was an excellent school -- and went on to go to university. Again, old Mr. Darcy was very generous. I was a student at the University of Glasgow for two years."
"And then what?" asked Lizzy.
"Then old Mr. Darcy died, and his son didn't pay my fees, even though the old man had promised he'd look after them for me. I didn't know about it until it was too late, so I couldn't arrange to get a grant or even a loan. I decided I'd take the year off, and study by myself at night, an then come back the next year, after making a bit of money and sorting out my finances. Only I never quite managed to get back. Two years ago I finally acknowledged what I'd known deep down -- that I wouldn't be heading back to university -- and went to see your Mr Darcy about a job. I figured he owed me that much, even if he'd ruined my prospects in other ways. He refused -- he gave me a check for five hundred quid, and told me to try London."
"And then came back here?"
"Yes. I went to London, but didn't find things much easier there, and hated being so far from home. Edinburgh -- it's not really my scene in some ways, but at least it's Scotland. And I'm making money and have a flat, so I guess things have turned out well enough. There's my whole life saga. Melodramatic in parts, isn't it?"
"All I can say is -- I'm sorry for you and I'm disappointed in Darcy. I didn't like him before, but now... now I can see that he's not only cold and unpleasant, but also unfeeling. To abandon his childhood friend, to fail his father's last wishes? It's not right, I'll say that."
"I didn't tell you all that to make you dislike him," George insisted, gently. "And I'm sorry that you should have such strong feelings against him. As much as he's wronged me, as much as I've suffered... I can't help but remember our boyhood together, and also his kind father. I try to forgive the son for the sake of the father."
"You're a better person than I," Lizzy remarked, ruefully.
"As I said, as much as I've seen the more unpleasant sides of his character, I acknowledge his better qualities as well."
"Better qualities?" Lizzy asked.
"He's an excellent businessman," George replied, "if a ruthless one. He's done excellent preservation work on his estate, so that native species have been protected and promoted. He's a good scholar -- even if he stole his undergraduate thesis topic from my own unfinished research -- and an excellent brother. His pride stands him in good stead in these realms, so he has flourished."
Frowning over the accusation of plagiarism, Lizzy decided to turn to a more neutral topic, lest she explode publicly in a fit of temper more worthy of Lydia than herself. "What's his sister like? I've heard she's very accomplished."
"Accomplished? Yes, I suppose she is. We used to ride together, and I've heard she's gone on to study music. She's a bit like her brother -- proud, and cold -- though she was more like her mother when she was a little girl -- sweet and sunny-tempered."
"Regardless of his success, I'm surprised that he should be so friendly with Charles Bingley," Lizzy mused, connecting Georgiana Darcy in her head with Caroline Bingley, who in turn made her think of Charles. "Charles is so open, so friendly. I shouldn't think that they would get along so well."
"Darcy can be very charming when he wants to be," George answered, with a shrug. He paused, choosing his next words, but was spared the exercise by the arrival of a jubilant Lydia.
"There you are, George! Did you have any cake? Come and have some cake, it's almost gone."
"Apparently I must go and eat cake," George concluded, with a pleasant laugh. "I hope you will forgive me for abandoning you. Can I bring you a slice? No? Hold on a moment, Lydia. Look," he said, turning back to Lizzy, "I've really enjoyed talking with you. I don't normally talk about my background with strangers, but you were the perfect audience. Would I be presumptuous in asking for your phone number, so that you might have a chance to unload your entire life history on me, while I listen attentively to you?"
Lizzy smiled, and picked up the napkin from under her now-empty whiskey glass. She jotted down a string of numbers, and held the napkin out to him. "That would be lovely," she said.