Authors' note: Well, this is the new idea that we had for Belle and Leigh! We hope you approve! If not... OH WELL!!! Just kidding! *cheesy grins* Oh yeah and this takes place right at the end of Chapter 39 in "Did I Miss Something?" Enjoy! :-D
The library door opened and slammed back shut. Leigh Ashton stormed through the room and stopped in front of a large armchair. "Are you still in here?" she demanded of it's occupant.
Belle looked up and arched an eyebrow. Giving her sister one smug look, she returned to reading her book.
Leigh snatched the book from Belle's hands as she said, "What are you reading anyway?" She looked at the familiar cover and exclaimed, "Mansfield Park? Where on earth did you get this?
"Cory. I asked her to bring me a copy from our time."
"But we're already living in Regency times! What do you need this for?" Leigh asked, looking down at the book.
"Do you mind?" Belle said in a superior tone, "I'm trying to read!" She tore the book out of Leigh's hands and buried her nose in her it.
Leigh plopped down in the chair next to her. "Well read it out loud!" she said petulantly. "I'm bored! Ethan is out with the gentlemen and I'm sick of planning our wedding!"
Belle looked up. "What's there to plan?"
Leigh stared at her sister. "What do you mean 'What's there to plan?' Everything! But you haven't done any of the work!
"Never mind," Leigh long-suffering sigh. "Now will you please, please, please read to me?"
"But I'm already halfway into the book!"
"Who cares? If you don't, I'll tell everyone about the time you slipped and got stuck in the chamber pot!"
"You wouldn't!" Belle shrieked.
"Wanna bet?" Leigh replied with an evil grin.
Belle rolled her eyes and sighed. "Fine! I'll start all the way back at the beginning, just to make you happy!"
"Gee thanks Belle!" Leigh gushed, batting her eyelashes.
Belle gave her sister a disgusted look. "Don't make me sick." And with that, she began to read. After a few chapters, Leigh was sawing logs. "Finally!" Belle sighed, "Now I can get back to my place!" She yawned and stretched. "Hmmmmm... Not before I take a nap first though I think..." She curled up in the chair and soon was snoring.
"Belle..." a voice called as if from a long distance.
"Mmmmmmmmph... Hrmmph..." she mumbled.
"Belle... wake up..." the voice called again.
"Dammit go away and let me sleep!" she grumbled.
A gasp. "Now there is no need for that kind of language young lady!"
Belle opened one eye, ready to give whoever was bothering her what for, when she saw a stranger standing over her. She leaped out of her seat, screaming loudly. This startled the man and he screamed in terror, which woke Leigh up and as soon as she took stock of the situation, she began screaming also. The screams alerted others in the house and the library door banged opened, scaring the room's occupants, who then screamed at that. The people at the door screamed at their screaming and soon everyone was screaming. Belle still had her book in hand and raised it to throw at the intruders when she noticed the title, Fordyce's Sermons. She screamed at that and dropped the book.
Leigh put her fists up and hopped around the room. "Come on beotch! Let's get it on!" she shrieked at the strangers.
"Father, what is going on?" said one of the people at the door. "Did I miss something?"
The man shook his head. "I am just as perplexed as you, Edmund. I came in to wake my nieces up and seemed to have scared them instead."
"I think, Father," said the another person at the door, "that you did more than just scare them! I nearly jumped out of my skin with all the screaming! I was so terrified that I messed up our billiard game!"
Edmund gave his brother an exasperated look. "Is that all you can think about Tom?"
"But I was winning!" Tom whined.
Belle and Leigh stared at the people before them and then gaped at each other. Tom? Edmund? Nah... It couldn't be... could it? Their question was quickly answered by a whirlwind that tore through the room. It bore some resemblance to the Tasmanian Devil mostly due to the slobbering and gibberish that spewed forth. When it stopped, the sisters were shocked to see that is was no animal but was in fact a middle-aged woman. "Oh my dear Sir Thomas!" she cried, "I heard all the screaming and came as quickly as I could! I had to put a maid in her place first though, as she was about to throw away a bit of cabbage! Well that is what she said but I believe she was keeping it for herself, the scheming thing! I set her straight and then came directly here!"
Belle's eyes bugged out of her head and Leigh stifled a groan. If the lady was who they thought it was, both were ready to begin cursing whatever deity thought fit to take them out of their comfortable Pride & Prejudice world only to drop them into this. Eeeeeeeeeh...
"Thank you, Mrs. Norris," Sir Thomas answered, "But I believe I just gave my poor nieces a fright." He turned to Belle and Leigh. "I am sure all of your traveling has made you tired. I suggest, perhaps, that you should rest in your rooms for a while."
"Huh?" Leigh asked, thoroughly confused. She hadn't been traveling as far as she knew. What were they talking about? She looked again at Belle, who just shrugged.
Sir Thomas looked at them, pity written all over his face. "I perceive that you are both more exhausted than I first believed. It is not surprising, considering the ordeal you just went through. Mrs. Norris," he said, "Would you be so kind as to show my nieces to their rooms?"
The lady's eyes widened in shock. "What? Me? Sir Thomas, surely you jest! I have to return to Lady Bertram! I am sure she is missing my absence this very moment!" She narrowed her eyes as she caught sight of a third person standing in the doorway. "But Fanny may do it!" And with that, she picked up her skirts and whirled out of the room.
"Ahem... Right..." Sir Thomas shook his head then looked at Fanny. "Will you please show your cousins to their rooms, my dear?"
"Yes sir," Fanny replied quietly. "Belle? Leigh? Please follow me." She turned and started down the hallway.
The sisters wasted no time in going after Fanny, as they wanted some privacy to talk over the events of the last half-hour.
Authors' note: All right, these chapters are for you alethea! *grins* You did ask me politely in chat! :-D ~~Col
After thanking Fanny profusely for being such a dear as to show them the way, the sisters went into Leigh's room. Belle plopped down into an armchair with a grunt. "Well this sucks! There we were, adjusted to our new home and happily engaged and look what happens!" she exclaimed with a grand gesture. "Whisked away and dumped into the same household with Aunt 'Nosy' Norris, Tom 'The Teh-Heh Man', Edmund 'Doldrums', and Sir 'I Have A Stick Up My...'"
"Belle," Leigh said exasperatedly, "I get the point! We can make up names for them later but right now we have to figure out why we're here."
"Well you know there's only one person...errrr...squirrel that can tell us that!"
"Where is that little bugger any... OUCH!" Leigh broke off with a yelp, rubbing her head. A maniacal laugh came from one end of the room. Both sisters looked over to see Cory on top of the mantle piece, leaning against the wall and chewing on a nut. "It's about time you showed up!" Leigh growled. "Now would you please tell us why we're here?"
Cory gave them a strange look, "Because you asked to!"
"Uh no we didn't," Belle said, "I just asked for the book, not to be in the story!"
"Uh oh," Cory said scratching her head. "You sure about that?"
"Oh well, nothing I can do about it now!"
"What do you on earth do you mean?" Leigh half-yelled. "You brought us here so you can sure as heck take us home again!"
"I'm afraid not," Cory said apologetically. "You see when I grant wishes, the grantees are bound by them until the wish's time period runs out. That's the rule."
Belle stared at the squirrel. "Do you know how long this book is?" she shrieked. "If you brought us here before Sir Thomas leaves for Antigua, then we'll be stuck here for a year or two!"
Leigh's eyes widened and she exclaimed, "My gods, you're right!" She advanced on the squirrel. "Take us home now! I don't care about your silly rules! I want go back home to James and Ethan and Anne and, well, everybody! Don't you realize people will miss us?"
Cory backed away towards the window. "I swear to you, I can't do anything! You'll go home when everything's resolved! And I'll take care of every back home as you say, don't worry!" she squeaked. With that, she opened the window and jumped out, escaping into the darkness.
"Come back here! ARGH!" When no answer came, Leigh yelled, "WELL FINE THEN! BE THAT WAY!" She slammed the window shut and proceeded to stomp around the room, shrieking curses.
"Will you quit?" Belle yelled, "People will hear you!"
"WHAT DO I CARE IF THEY HEAR ME?" Leigh yelled back. She ran to the door and flung it open. "SEE!" she screamed into the empty hall, "I DON'T CARE IF YOU HEAR ME OR NOT, DAMMIT!"
In the library...
"What was that?" Edmund gasped, looking up from the book he had been reading.
Sir Thomas and Tom stopped their conversation as the last of Leigh's words rang through the house. "It sounds like one of my cousins," the younger man said.
"Hmmmmmm..." Sir Thomas pondered for a moment. "I think I had better look in on them."
In Leigh's Room...
"...ROTTEN, WORTHLESS, FLEA BITTEN FUZZBALL!"
"Leigh, you're gonna bring everyone up here if you keep shouting like that!" Belle said, trying to reason with her sister.
"SO? LET 'EM COME! I'LL SHOW THEM ALL! AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!" Leigh rambled incoherently. She was still in the middle of her ranting when someone knocked on the door. She stormed back over to the door and threw it open. "WHAT IN THE SAM HILL DO YOU WANT?" she yelled at the visitor.
Sir Thomas stood in front of the doorway with his two sons, their faces frozen in expressions of shock. "Did something happen? Is something wrong?" the Baronet finally managed to ask.
Leigh's face turned a bright red and her expression was murderous. Belle buried her face in her hands, waiting for the inevitable explosion but she was surprised when it never came. She looked up to see Leigh struggling to control her temper. "Nothing," she choked out, "There's nothing wrong. Goodnight." She slammed the door in their faces before more questions could be asked.
Belle looked at her sister, one eyebrow arched. "Getting an early start on terrorizing them, are we?"
Leigh grinned suddenly. "Of course! What else did Cory put us here for?" Her eyes narrowed. "I wonder what the gentlemen are saying about us now..."
"Well," her sister replied, "There's only one way to find out!" The sisters grinned wickedly and tore out of the room.
"...but Father, such behavior! I truly worry about their propriety... and their sanity." Edmund's voice drifted past the library door, where Belle and Leigh were not so subtly eavesdropping.
"Edmund," Sir Thomas replied, "You must understand that my nieces have been through traumatic experience. My sister and her husband were cut down by highwaymen! Losing one's parents and then having to move out of one's childhood home would make anyone act strangely. We must be patient with them." He sighed. "All they have is each other now. Had their brother lived, he would have been their guardian but that task has fallen to me. I expect you to show them every courtesy and to make them feel welcome. I especially charge you with this task, Edmund, as I must leave for Antigua within the week and am taking Tom with me."
"But Faaaaatheeeeerrrr..." Tom whined.
"Enough, Tom! You will do as I..."
The sisters lost interest in the conversation at that point and crept back up to their rooms.
"WWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" the sisters screeched. Poor Sir Thomas tried to comfort his wailing nieces but only succeeded in making them cry harder.
"DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON'T GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Leigh whined. "YOOOOUUUUUUUU'LLLLLLL BE KIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLED JUST LIKE MAMAAAAAAAAA AND PAPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
Belle threw herself to the ground and latched onto the Baronet's foot. "I WON'T LET YOU GO! NO! NO! NONONONONONONONONONONONOOOOOO!"
"My dears," Sir Thomas said while trying to untangle himself from Belle, "everything will be fine! Calm down! I will not be killed and I will return soon!"
Belle looked up at him and sniffled, "Promise?"
"I promise my dear. Now release my leg so I may go."
Belle let go and stood up. "Buh bye!" She turned and ran back into the house.
Leigh's eyes filled with tears. She ran up to her uncle and gave him a bear hug. "Bye Uncky Tom!" She then ran after Belle. Once inside the foyer she said to her sister, "Do you think we made him feel missed?"
Belle shrugged. "I think so. Nobody else around here will miss him!"
"Well congratulations on a job well done!" The girls shook hands and skipped off to the drawing room.
The winter passed slowly as the girls integrated themselves into life at Mansfield. They desperately missed their family and fiancés but Cory assured them all was well. Why did they doubt this? We don't know. Then an event happened that Jane Austen thought so momentous, she saw fit to mention it in the book. The old gray pony died... (Silence in the audience. Col looks at Tabbi. "You know, I don't think they get it." "Maybe they're just too shocked," Tabbi replied. "No I don't think they get it," Col insisted. To the audience, "Come on people! You know! The old gray pony! The one that Fanny used to ride!" Comprehension dawned on the audience's faces. "Ooooooooooooooooh... We see...") Anyway back to the old gray pony...
Belle, Leigh, Fanny and their two aunts were sitting in the drawing room when the issue came to Edmund's attention. He noticed that Fanny was looking pale and sickly and correctly guessed that it was from a lack of exercise. So in the middle of the ladies' conversation he blurted out, "Fanny must have a horse."
"Oooooooook," Leigh said slowly. "And what brought about this random thought? Surely a conversation on lace would not remind you of horses Edmund?"
"Well, uh no! But Fanny must have a horse!"
"My... You escaped that topic rather easily," was Leigh's reply.
"Uh... Fanny must have a horse!"
Arching an eyebrow, Belle said, "You do have a one track mind, Edmund, do you not?"
"Well, I do think Fanny must have a horse!" Edmund said stubbornly. Aunt Norris and Lady Bertram immediately attacked him as to the expense and making a purchase without Sir Thomas's consent, blah, blah, blah. Finally out of desperation, he turned to Belle and Leigh. "What do you think, cousins?"
The sisters looked at each other with stupid grins. "Assume the thinking position!" Leigh proclaimed grandly. Both girls stuck their forefingers in their noses and stared off into space. The room was silent for a minute before the ladies looked at Edmund, with their fingers still in their noses, and said, "We officially do not know!"
"But," Belle added, "We will get back to you on that as soon as we can get our fingers out of our noses. Mine seems to be stuck. What about you Leigh?"
Leigh tugged on her arm. "Yup! Stuck like flies on ssshhhh... Uh... Yeah..." She grinned innocently. She stood up and said to the others. "Please excuse us while we retrieve our fingers." She motioned to Belle and they both walked out of the room.
Edmund stared after them and mumbled to himself. "I still question their sanity."
The seasons changed quickly and fall approached once again with no sign of Sir Thomas returning home. Unfortunately for the gentleman, hardly anyone missed his presence. Maria and Julia were to busy thinking about the upcoming balls to spare a moment for their father. Mrs. Norris would rather look for husbands for her nieces and Lady Bertram was... well Lady Bertram! Thus, they all lived in relative harmony except for spats between the sisters and their Aunt Norris or Maria and Julia.
The Miss Bertrams despised their cousins because rather than looking up to them, the Ashtons spoke their own minds (and quite often we might add). Adding insult to injury, Belle and Leigh preferred to spend their time with Fanny than with the other two. Maria and Julia couldn't understand why anybody would want to spend time with that dull girl rather than with themselves, who were the embodiment of beauty, wit, and charm. Hardy, har, har... This rivalry soon receded into the background as winter came round, bringing with it many important social engagements.
Belle limped over to where Leigh was standing. "That is the last time I ever dance with Edmund!" she huffed angrily. "I've danced with men who had two left feet but never ten!" She looked over to where the gentleman was engaged in conversation with the host and hostess of the ball. "IDIOT!" she yelled at her cousin but the music drowned out the insult so she only got some strange looks from her neighbors.
Leigh was doubled over in laughter. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAA! YOU HAD TO DANCE WITH EDMUND! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA! WHAT A COUPLE YOU MAKE! HEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEEEEEEEE!"
Belle glared at her sister and gave her an unladylike shove. "Oh shut up! He threatened to ask you in a bit anyway!"
"He didn't!" Leigh gasped
Belle just smirked knowingly.
"AAAAAAACK!" Leigh shrieked. She picked up her skirts and ran to hide behind a curtain but was intercepted by Edmund on the way. Belle watched as Leigh's face turned red as Edmund asked her to dance. She laughed out loud as her sister was dragged to the dance floor and subjected to a half-hour of torture.
"Now you know how I feel," Belle said to her sister, who had returned limping and in a rage.
Leigh plopped down on a chair and rubbed her sore foot. "Yeah well I'm now beginning to understand the saying 'Ignorance is bliss.' Ye gods! How many more of these stupid balls do we have to endure anyway?"
Belle shrugged. "I don't know. There's only a couple of weeks left of the season."
"Good. The people in this neighborhood are starting to get on my nerves."
"I know! Everything sucks here!" Belle exclaimed heatedly. "The houses suck, the balls suck, the weather sucks, the land sucks..." Her voice grew louder every moment. "The food sucks, the music sucks, the musicians suck!" She drew a deep breath and shrieked, "Y'ALL SUCK!" Unfortunately the music stopped at that very moment, allowing her last statement to echo loudly through the room. Everyone looked over at the sisters. Leigh hid her face in her hands and Belle looked like a deer caught in headlights. She quickly regained her composure. "Mind your own business!" she ordered the assembly. After several seconds of silence, the other guests took her advice.
Leigh rolled her eyes. "Good going woman. Very smooth."
"Why thank you! I thought so myself!"
A Week And Another Ball Later...
"Cousins, do you know where Maria is?" Edmund asked the Ashton sisters.
Leigh snorted. "Who knows and who cares?" she said rudely.
Edmund looked about ready to explode but Belle stepped in to smooth things over. "Uh, she is over there!" she said, pointing towards the balcony door. "I believe she has just come in with Mr. Rushworth."
"Ooooooh, I think something important has just taken place," Leigh said. "She looks like a cat who just got into the cream." Indeed Maria looked very pleased with herself and Mr. Rushworth looked no less happy. "I think you better go over there, Edmund, and take Mrs. Norris with you. She probably has something very important to announce."
It took Edmund a minute to figure out what they were implying. "Oh yes! I see! I see!" And with that he rushed over to the happy couple, pausing only a moment to collect Mrs. Norris. The foursome then left the room to have a private conversation.
Leigh began to chuckle. Belle looked at her and asked, "What?"
"Maria's going to marry the Pillsbury Doughboy!"
Belle thought about that for a moment and then started to laugh with her sister. "He does look like the Doughboy doesn't he?"
Leigh nodded and choked out, "C-could you im-imagine their we-we-wedding night? Wha-what if M-m-maria accidentally p-poked her hubby in the s-stomach? He'd go 'He-he!'"
Both women howled with laughter, clapping and stomping their feet.
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
The sisters stopped suddenly and looked at each other. The same idea occurred to them at that moment.
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
"What are you ladies doing?" asked a gentleman, who stood nearby. "Are you all right?"
"Oh we are wonderful!" Leigh replied. "We, uh, just, uh, were remembering a new dance that we learned in London."
"Oooooh!" the gentleman exclaimed. "Well then you must teach it to us! Is that not right, my dear?" he said to his wife.
"Oh yes!" cried the lady. "You simply must!"
"Ummmm... I am not sure that you would like this one," Belle said.
"Oh nonsense! And how are we to know whether or not we like it unless you teach us?"
The word of a new dance soon spread to the other people in the room and they joined their entreaties in with the first couple.
Leigh looked at her sister helplessly. "Well," she said. "If that is what you all want..."
"Congratulations Maria!" Mrs. Norris gushed disgustingly. "Your father will be so proud and I'm sure it will ease his mind to know you will be so well settled if something happens to him."
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
Edmund and Maria just stared at their aunt while Mr. Rushworth looked confused.
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
"Yes... Er... We had better return to the dance," Edmund said. "I am sure they will be looking for us."
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
"What on earth is that?" Maria exclaimed.
"What is what?" Edmund asked her.
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
The foursome exchanged perplexed looks before hurriedly entering the ballroom.
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
STOMP! STOMP! CLAP!
A large crowd had gathered in the center of the room and all were stomping their feet and clapping. Edmund motioned for the others to follow him and he pushed his way towards the center of the crowd. There stood Belle and Leigh leading the others in the noise.
"All right!" Leigh yelled. "You all have the beat! Now are you ready to rock?"
The crowd had no idea what Leigh meant by "to rock" but it sounded fun. "YES!" they roared.
"Okay then!" Leigh spied Edmund standing near the center, looking at her in disapproval. She grinned and then pointed him out to her sister. Together they made their way through the clapping crowd and stood in front of him. They then started to sing.
Buddy you're a boy make a big noise
Playin' in the streets gonna' be a big man some day
You got mud on yo' face
You big disgrace
Belle and Leigh poked their cousin in the chest, causing his face to turn red.
Kickin' your can all over the placeThe crowd joined in on the refrain.
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you
The girls made their way over to Maria. "What are you doing?" she hissed at them. "You are embarrassing me in front of everybody!" The sisters just smiled sweetly and continued singing.
Buddy you're a young man hard man
Shoutin' in the street gonna' take on the world some day
You got blood on yo' face
You big disgrace
Wavin' your banner all over the place
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you
Belle and Leigh danced around the room and stopped in front of Mrs. Norris.
Buddy you're an old man poor man
Pleadin' with your eyes gonna' make you some peace some day
You got mud on yo' face
You big disgrace
"Big disgrace! What do you mean big disgrace?" Mrs. Norris yelled. "Who is a big disgrace? Surely not I! Why I just arranged a marriage between my dearest Maria and Mr. Rushworth!"
Somebody better put you back into your place
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you
The crowd cheered with delight and cried for more. Belle and Leigh curtsied modestly but after taking one look at their rather irate relations, they quickly escaped from the center.
Leigh looked at Belle. "Balcony?"
Belle nodded. "Definitely."
They were halfway to the door when Edmund appeared in front of them. His face was now an unhealthy purple color and he was breathing heavily. "You... You... You... You... YOU!" he choked out angrily.
"We what?" Belle asked innocently.
"You... You... You... You... You... YOU!"
"You... You... You... You... You... You... You... You... YOU!"
Belle looked at her sister. "You know, I think he looks like his cravat is tied very tight."
"I believe you are right," Leigh replied. "Here. Let me see if I can fix it." She stepped closer to Edmund and tugged on his cravat. She succeeded in pulling it tighter. "There!" she said proudly. "Much better!" Edmund's face slowly turned a beautiful shade of blue.
"Excellent work Leigh!"
"Thank you! I always have had a way with cravats!"
The girls just smirked at Edmund and each other before running out the room, quitting the house, and walking the two miles back home. They left poor Edmund to struggle with his cravat.
Authors' note: This little bit was inspired by the Three Stooges so if it makes no sense, then don't blame us! Enjoy! :-D
Having finally gotten sick of Tom's whining, Sir Thomas contrived a reason to send the fop from Antigua. Actually he didn't really have to make up a reason -- he just sent the young man back home to convey his blessings upon Maria and Mr. Rushworth's engagement. And so it was, Tom came home, though nobody much noticed except to exclaim over his message.
For the next few months all talk at Mansfield Park was dominated by Maria's engagement to Mr. Rushworth. It drove Belle and Leigh mad and eventually the others learned not to speak of it in their presence because they insisted on making flatulence noises every time the subject was brought up.
"Why Mr. Rushworth..."
"Southerton is the most...
Well you get the point. Anwho, this all continued until some newcomers arrived at the Parsonage, one Mr. and Miss Crawford ("Crawford!" Col yells excitedly, "Whoohoo!" Tabbi stares at the gentleman and drools, "Oh yeah baby, give me a piece of that!"). And so it was one fine evening that Tom, Edmund, the Miss Bertrams, Mrs. Norris, and the Ashtons all went to visit at the Parsonage and the general agreement among them was that they would walk.
"Man, this sucks," Leigh said to Belle, "I hate spending time with these losers."
Belle snickered. "Now, now. Don't speak that way about our relatives."
"Relatives only through the interference of Cory."
"True." Belle did a little jig and tripped over a rock. She fell flat on her face. "Oooooooooooowwwwwww!"
Leigh burst out laughing. "Walk much, woman?"
Belle merely glared at her sister and then picked herself up off the ground. She sniffed disdainfully and walked on. Just then something sharp jabbed her in the foot. "Ack! What now?" she screeched. She hopped on one foot and pulled off her shoe. A small pebble fell out onto the ground. "Stupid rock! I'll teach you to get in my shoe!" Belle picked up the rock and threw it as hard she could. Unfortunately a certain someone was walking directly in front of her...
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!" Maria howled in pain, rubbing the back of her head. "Mrs. Nooooooorrrrrrriiiiiiiiissssss! Something hit meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" she whined.
Belle stared at Maria in horror. Looking up, Maria saw her cousin's expression and correctly guessed just who had thrown that pebble. She narrowed her eyes and growled, "Why you did that on purpose!"
"I did not!" Belle yelled back.
"Did so and I will get you for that!" Maria retorted hotly. She picked up a rather large stick and stalked towards Belle. "GAH!"
Belle reacted instantly and took off running towards the Parsonage, with Maria hot on her heels.
"Girls! Girls! What are you doing?" Mrs. Norris shrieked as the two ladies disappeared into the distance. "This is no way to behave! I will tell Sir Thomas!"
The Bertram siblings and Leigh gave their aunt a disgusted look before racing after Belle and Maria. Mrs. Norris shrieked at them too before following.
Belle reached the door of the Parsonage and began to pound on it frantically. "HELP!" she yelled. "LET ME IN! THERE IS A MADWOMAN AFTER ME!" The door suddenly swung open, revealing an astonished Dr. and Mrs. Grant. Belle pushed her way inside and slammed the door shut. She leaned against it, breathing heavily.
"What is happening?" asked a concerned Dr. Grant. "Are you well, Miss Ashton?"
"Shhhhhhhhhhhhh..." Belle hushed them. She turned, opened the door a crack, and spotted Maria storming towards the house, the stick still in her hand. Belle let out a little yelp and ran for the drawing room.
The Grants peered out the door just in time to see Leigh run up behind Maria and tackle her. The good doctor ran outside as the two women wrestled with each other on the ground. "Ladies! Please!" he cried desperately. "You forget yourselves!" Just then Edmund and Tom appeared and they pulled the fighting banshees apart, receiving a few kicks and punches in the process. Julia and Mrs. Norris reached the group just after that.
"GET YER STINKIN' HANDS OFF ME!" Leigh snarled at Edmund, while pulling away from him.
"Now wait a min..." Edmund protested as he made a grab for her.
"I'm not gonna beat up on your precious Maria," Leigh replied, "I have to find Belle." She looked at Dr. Grant. "Sir, you would happen to know where my sister is?"
The gentleman pointed to his house. "She is in there." Leigh turned wordlessly and headed in the direction he pointed. Dr. Grant looked confused and he asked, "Will someone please tell me what happened?"
Edmund shook his head. "I would like to know that myself!" he said. "I apologize for all the trouble, sir, but I suggest that we go in before something else occurs."
The other gentleman paled noticeably. "Yes, yes!" he exclaimed as he turned and walked very quickly to his house, the others close behind.
They entered the drawing room to find the Crawfords and Mrs. Grant staring at the sofa. Rather they were staring at what was sticking out from underneath the sofa.
In a vain attempt to hide, Belle had scared the Crawfords earlier by bursting into the room and running around like a chicken with her head cut off. She tried to conceal herself in several places but none worked so she finally resorted to crawling under the sofa. Unfortunately, all she could fit was her head, leaving the rest of her exposed.
Leigh rolled her eyes and said, "Belle, just what do you think you are doing?"
"Shhhhhhh... I'm hiding," came the muffled reply. "OUCH!" she shrieked as Leigh kicked her in the butt.
"Quit being a bloody coward and get out here!" Leigh ordered. "It's Maria we're talking about here, I mean come on!"
"Well, I would like to but I, uh, seem to be stuck," Belle replied as she tried vainly remove her head from under the couch.
"Where's a chainsaw when you need one?" Leigh mumbled to herself. She glared at the gentlemen. "Well what are you waiting for? You heard her! Help her out!"
"But, but how?" Edmund asked.
"Gods! You men are worthless!" Leigh rolled her eyes. "It's very simple! Everyone take a corner and lift the sofa." She stepped back as the men surrounded the sofa and bent down to lift. Her face took on a speculative look as this had given her a very nice view of Henry Crawford's bum. "Oooooooh yeah..." she said.
Crawford looked back at her. "What?" he asked.
"Huh? Uh, oh nothing!" Leigh replied, batting her eyelashes.
With a lot of grunting, groaning, and curses (Belle has a potty mouth you know), they finally got the lady unstuck. Her face was layered with dust and she sneezed several times before saying to Mrs. Grant, "Ye gods woman! When was the last time you cleaned under here? What do you do, sweep all the dirt from the floor under the sofa?"
Mrs. Grant blinked in surprise and then blushed furiously.
"Thought so," Belle said with a smirk.
The silence that followed was deafening until Mr. Grant remembered his duties as host. "Uh, Henry and Mary, I would like you to meet our neighbors, Mr. Bertram, Mr. Edmund Bertram, Miss Bertram, and Miss Julia Bertram." He stared dubiously at the grinning Belle and Leigh. "And these ladies are their cousins, Miss Ashton and Miss Leigh Ashton."
Everyone curtsied or bowed except Belle. Oh she had tried to but had sneezed in the middle of her curtsey, which caused her to loose her balance and fall face first on the floor.
"Good going Grace," Leigh said.
"Oh bite me!" Belle snapped as she picked herself up off the floor. She glared up at Crawford, who was standing over her. "And don't be staring down my dress, you pervert!" she growled.
Leigh cracked up as Henry gasped in astonishment. "I would never do such a thing," he exclaimed.
"Ah tell it to the priest, you whoremonger! I've heard about you!" Belle shrieked. "I know all your wicked ways! Thou shalt burn in hell! Satan will ram a pitchfork up your bum! AAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!"
Everyone gaped at her in astonishment, even Leigh.
"WHAT?" Belle demanded. "Why are you all staring at me? Is there snot on my face? I got a booger on the end of my nose, don't I? Noooooooooo! Get it off! Get it off!" Belle started frantically turning in circles.
"Oh my gods..." a stunned Leigh said. "There must have been crack in that dust!" She shook herself and grabbed on to hyperventilating Belle. "I believe I shall take her home," she said to the others. "I think the dust has temporarily addled her brain so I leave you all to a pleasant evening." Leigh steered Belle towards the door but turned back to say, "Fare thee well! And thus we depart!" she proclaimed grandly and then belched. And with that, they were gone.
Posted on March 20, 2009
"What the heck got into you Belle?" Leigh asked after they left the Parsonage.
Belle shrugged. "I don't know--it seemed appropriate at the time since Crawford was looking down my dress!"
Leigh rolled her eyes. "Well, I understand why you went off on him but you didn't have to call him a whoremonger."
"Yes I did."
"No you didn't"
"Yes I did!"
"No you didn't!"
"Yes I did!"
"No you didn't!"
"YES I DIIIIIIIID!"
"Ok, ok, fine! Sheesh, you don't have to yell!"
"Yes I do!
"No you don't!"
"Yes I do!"
"SHUT YER HOLE!"
"NO! We're stuck in this godforsaken novel, which ticks me off! I want to go home! I want to get married! I want to see Darcy and Elizabeth again! I want…. Candy! Lots and lots of candy! And flushable toilets… wait… we didn't have those either. I just want to get away FROM THESE LOSERS!" Belle's voice echoed through the night, silencing every animal and cricket within a mile radius.
Leigh laughed at her sister and joined in, "EDMUND, I CAN'T STAND EDMUND! HE STARES AT MY CHEST EVERYTIME HE THINKS I'M NOT LOOKING. STUPID MAN! HE'S SUPPOSE TO BE A CLERGYMAN, A MAN OF THE CLOTH! WITHHOLD THY DESIRES AND ALL THAT CRAP! YEAH RIGHT!"
The sisters continued their ranting the rest of the walk back to Mansfield Park.
Needless to say, the Bertrams and Mrs. Norris were extremely angry with Belle the next morning. They glared at her all through breakfast and Belle had the grace to smirk triumphantly at their displeasure. When the others realized she didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt, they ignored her and turned their attention to more important matters. Since Leigh was deep in conversation with Fanny, Belle quickly decided there was nothing to keep her in the room and quietly left. She wandered the halls of Mansfield, bored out of her mind. After a half-hour she came across some excitement.
"WHOOHOO! THE PAINT'S PEELING OFF THE WALL! SOMETHING TO DO AT LAST!" she screeched, jumping up and down. Her eyes widened in shock as she realized what she just said. "Oh gods, no!" Belle said in horror, "I have no life… I'VE BECOME A CHEESY-POOF!"
"Noooooooooooo… Cheesy-poofs have more intelligence than you," Leigh said as she walked in the room.
Belle glowered at her sister. "Who asked you?"
"No one, but it doesn't make it any less true."
"Oh go take a flying leap off the roof! Why don't you go back to the drawing room and kiss Aunt Norris' bum?" Belle said and then started making kissing noises.
"Jeez, what's made you so grumpy? You've been acting like a jerk all week!" Leigh looked at her sister suspiciously. "Is it that time of the month?"
"No!" Belle shrieked, startling a passing servant, "This place is so boring! The story is too long and I just want to go home! I mean come on! There's got to be more than cutting roses and sitting on the stinkin' couch all day! Stupid, brainless idiots."
"Well, I do have a suggestion as to getting back home quicker," Leigh replied seriously.
"Well then, suggest away!"
"While I was talking with Fanny earlier this morning, I got to thinking… What if we got her to fall for someone other than Edmund? Someone who won't be drooling over Mary Crawford and making a total moron of himself? Someone who isn't going to pick her as a rebound?"
Belle's eyes brightened. "That's a great idea!" she exclaimed. "But who?"
"I've thought long and hard about it and I think Henry Crawford would be the right man."
"Crawford! Are you nuts?"
Leigh shrugged. "He's going to fall in love with her anyway. We could just try to make Fanny less in love with Edmund and maybe get Crawford to act serious for once."
"Yeah, that's a great fate for Fanny, marrying her off to that two-timing misogynist. There's got to be someone else!" Belle replied. She stared thoughtfully at the peeling paint for a moment and then had an epiphany. "Youstinka! I mean, Eureka! How about Mr. Rushworth?"
"You have got to be kidding me!" Leigh exclaimed. "That's a better choice? That…that…that…lump of worthless human flesh? Besides, he's engaged to Maria!"
Belle smirked. "I can take care of that! All I have to do is drop some insinuations and show him how much Maria is flirting with Crawford, as they'll be doing very soon. He'll drop her like a hot potato and Fanny will be there to console him."
"Why would he stay around after breaking the engagement?"
"Easy! We'll just chain him to a wall!"
Leigh buried her face in her hands and sighed. "And thus the brilliant plan of a mastermind!" she said sarcastically. "I hardly think that would help our situation and besides, who would want Rushworth around all day and night? He'd just whine!"
"We could drug him."
"That's just plain stupid!"
"Yeah, well what's your great plan for Crawford?"
"Simple! We'll just get him and Fanny in a compromising position. That should be easy enough with that sleaze."
"So you hate Fanny that much you'd marry her to a sleaze…and not under ideal circumstances?"
"No, but it would get us out of here."
"Nope! No way are we going to do that to Fanny. I still think Rushworth is the better bet."
"And I vote for Crawford!" Leigh growled at her sister.
Belle eyes narrowed dangerously. "Rushworth!" she snarled.
"Crawford!" Leigh bit out, her voice rising.
"Rushworth!" Belle shrieked.
"Crawford and die you mother!" Leigh screamed, tackling Belle.
The ladies slid across the floor of the gallery, biting, punching, kicking and screaming the names of their respective suitors. They were so engaged in the brawl, they failed to notice Tom walk in. He had originally come looking for the sisters to take leave as he was going to Weymouth for some horse racing but was drawn on by the commotion. He watched, fascinated by the brutality displayed by the two ladies and only wished for someone nearby so he could place a couple of wagers. Finally, after about five minutes, Tom decided to put an end to the fight that was starting to damage some of the furniture. Bravely, he reached into the fray to separate the sisters and was bitten by Belle for his reward.
"YEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUCH!" Tom shrieked like a woman. This brought the sisters up short and they turned to stare at their cousin. "What did you do that for?" Tom asked Belle.
Belle stared at him dumbfounded as a new idea formed in her mind. "Uhhhhhhhhh…because I thought you were Leigh," she finally replied as Tom nursed his hand and glared at the Ashtons.
"And pray, why would you bite your own sister?"
"I dunno," Bell shrugged.
"And you?" Tom asked as he turned to Leigh, "Why were you putting on such a disgusting display of vulgarity?"
"I didn't know you know so many big words, Tom!" Leigh said sweetly, irritated by his pomposity. "Is there something we can do for you?"
"I was coming here to say farewell," Tom replied angrily. "I'm going to Weymouth for some racing."
"Oh great, lose some more money for Daddy," Belle muttered under her breath and then yelped as Leigh kicked her. "Well, do have a wonderful time, Cousin Tom!" she said aloud, batting her eyelashes. Leigh just smiled vacantly.
Tom gave them one last glare before stalking out to the gallery, muttering curses under his breath.
"Gods, what a wanker!" Leigh exclaimed.
Belle turned to her sister in excitement. "Leigh! I've just had the best idea! What if Fanny was to become the future Lady Bertram?"
"What? Are we killing Lady Bertram and marrying Fanny to Sir Thomas?" Leigh asked in confusion. "That's incest and it's disgusting!"
Belle smacked her upside the head. "Don't be obtuse," she replied. "I'm not talking about Sir Thomas but about Junior!"
Leigh thought about it for a moment as comprehension dawned. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "OH! I get it now! That's a great idea! But how do we do that? He just left plus he's kind of a selfish fop. I doubt he'd look twice at Fanny."
"We could pretty her up," Belle said, "And as for Tom, I'm sure there's some way to bring him down to earth. We just need a good plan!"
"It's got possibilities," Leigh said as she looked around, "but I think we should discuss this elsewhere. I don't want anything getting back to the others." And with that, she and Belle walked off to their rooms and spent the entire night plotting Fanny and Tom's fate.
The sky was just beginning to lighten as Belle and Leigh were putting the finishing touches on their scheme to ensnare Fanny and Tom in the web of love. Operation B.E.O.T.C.H (Boot Edmund Out Tom Changes Heart) was to begin that very morning.
"I think this is going to work," Belle smirked. "Once we can lessen Fanny's dependence on Edmund, it should all smooth going from there. Tom can snap her up and we can go home!"
Leigh grinned. "This should be easy. First thing's first though. We've got to get Fanny another horse--one that has no strings attached. Tom's knows good horse flesh when he sees it. I'm sure he can get us a good one at Weymouth. But…," she suddenly frowned, "How are we going to pay for it?"
"Not a problem!" Belle said confidently. "Before Sir Thomas left, I asked him about the state of our affairs. We are filthy rich, sister mine!"
"Yeah, that's only if we have access to it," Leigh retorted. "You know what they think of women in this time period. We're all stupid morons who have to be guided in everything or else we'll spend the cash, screw anything that moves, eat an apple and die!"
"Stuff a sock in it! And don't glare at me! If you'd listen for a moment, I'd tell you how we'll pull this off."
"Okay, okay," Leigh grumbled.
"Now, of course we don't have access to all of our wealth, but we do receive a certain amount from the interest. It's mainly to provide for our upkeep while we remain unmarried but we've barely touched any of it. It's a very generous allowance. Enough say to buy Fanny a horse, plus one for each of us, and still have plenty left over for living expenses.
"Oooooooooooooh," Leigh drawled. "But there's still just one problem."
"What?" Belle asked irritably.
"Well, Tom's supposed to buy the horses for us, right?"
"How's he going to do that if he's not privy to the information?"
"Uhhhhhhhh… Good question. Telepathy maybe?"
Leigh rolled her eyes. "Come on, let's hope Tom hasn't left yet!"
The girls raced out of Belle's bedroom and through the mansion, crashing into several servants who were already at work. They skidded to a halt in front of the door that belonged to Tom's suite.
"Should we knock, or just barge in?" Belle asked a bit breathlessly.
Leigh arched an eyebrow. "You have to ask?"
Tom had intended to leave early in the morning but after having staid up half the night playing billiards, he was still sound asleep well past the time he was supposed to be up and about. He was in the middle of a very pleasant dream about being surrounded by women of dubious reputations when he suddenly had trouble breathing. Two of the women had reached out to pinch his nose and cover his mouth, giggling all the while. He started to struggle but they refused to let go. His eyes flew open as he realized he wasn't dreaming the suffocation and found his two cousins grinning down at him. Seeing that he was awake, the girls let him go. "What are you doing?" Tom nearly screamed.
"Good morning, sleepyhead!" Leigh replied. "We decided you overslept, since you were supposed to leave over an hour ago, and decided to be nice and wake you up!"
"You call that being nice?" Tom yelled.
"Considering the other ideas we came up with…yes. No need to thank us."
"I wasn't planning on it," Tom grumbled. "Now was there something you needed or may I get up?"
"Actually," Belle said, "We have two questions for you." Leigh quirked an eyebrow at her sister and mouthed "Two?" Belle nodded and turned her attention back to their cousin.
Tom sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He really needed to get going but decided to humor the sisters out of morbid curiosity. "What are they?"
"First, we need to know if you would be willing to purchase three horses for us and second, do you always sleep in the nude?"
Tom glances down and noticed the bed clothes had slipped down dangerously low around his waist, revealing his bare chest and almost a bit more besides. He blushed scarlet as he yanked the sheet up to his neck. "I do not see where that is any business of yours!" he exclaimed.
The girls burst into peals of laughter as their cousin glared at them, his face red to the roots of his hair. "Do you mind?" Tom said acidly.
"Not at all," Belle replied, her eyes shining with laughter. "But you still haven't answered us!"
"I told you that it is none of you business!"
"No, no! Not about the nudity, though we did appreciate the view," Leigh said waggling her eyebrows. Tom pulled the sheet up to his chin.
"Horn ball," Belle muttered.
"You were looking just as much as I was!" Leigh retorted. "But what about the horses, Tom?"
"Do you think you ladies can wait until I am dressed to discuss this?" Tom asked plaintively.
"Sure! Go ahead! Don't mind us!" the girls replied enthusiastically.
"I would prefer to be alone!" Tom yelled.
"Oooooooh," Leigh said, "I see. We will just wait for you in the sitting room then. Come on, Belle." The girls swept out of the room, leaving behind a bewildered Tom. He stared suspiciously at the door for several minutes until he was sure the Ashtons wouldn't come back through. He threw back the sheet and rang for his valet.
An hour later, Belle and Leigh were still lounging in Tom's sitting room. His valet had appeared soon after they had left the bedroom and they had been expecting Tom to come out for the last half hour.
"Jeez," Leigh grumbled, "I never took Tom for a dandy."
"Not a dandy, exactly," Belle replied, "but definitely picky about his appearance. We may have to do something about it if we want him to get serious. He's got to realize there are more important things in life."
"Like Fanny?" Leigh asked.
It was then Tom made his appearance. "What about Fanny?" he asked, having heard only the last comment.
"That is part of what we wanted to ask you," Belle said from her seat beside the fireplace. "Leigh and I want to purchase three horses, suitable for ladies to ride. Two are for us. The third needs to be especially gentle since it is intended for Fanny."
"Does not Fanny already have a horse?" Tom asked.
"Not really. It is still Edmund's horse though she is allowed to use it when she wishes. What Leigh and I want to do is buy her one for her very own. She will have it to keep or not, no matter where she goes in life. We will pay for the stabling."
Tom paced the room for a moment and then stopped to face the girls. "I can fulfill your request but I do not see why you want to spend the money on Fanny. Besides, Edmund would not take the horse from her. I do not understand your concern."
Belle and Leigh exchanged glances. They knew that Edmund eventually use the horse for his own needs, forgetting Fanny in the process but they couldn't tell Tom this.
"Tom, you have always been able to purchase what you want and call it your own. Fanny has nothing to her name but what we give her," Leigh replied. "Belle and I want her to have something to call her own, something of real value. But it is not only that. Tom, you cannot rely on Edmund to always think of Fanny and her needs. One day he must take orders and most likely will marry. He will not always be here to watch over her. It is your duty, Tom, since you are the heir, the future Sir Thomas."
"But Fanny will marry one day, will she not?" Tom asked.
Leigh rolled her eyes. "Yes, Tom. If she has the amazing good luck to come across the man who can afford to overlook her lack of dowry and who can overcome her shyness enough to love and respect. Since she goes hardly anywhere and is confined to the small society of Hampshire, I doubt that will happen. Most likely her home will be Mansfield Park for the rest of her life and those of us with a better future and fortune in store have an obligation to make her as happy as we can."
"I do bring her presents on occasion!" Tom protested.
"Yes you do surprise her, and she does love your gifts, Tom," Belle replied. "But have you seen to her comfort and happiness? Is she being treated well by others? Is she included in any scheme you plan that she may enjoy? Are her rooms made comfortable for her? Is she respected and loved as she ought to be?"
"I do not know," Tom whined, "that is all too dull for me to notice."
"Dull?" Belle repeated, her voice laced with scorn. "Dull to care about another human being who also happens to be related to you?"
"You… What? Tom, are you a boy or a man? Are you an heir to a baronetcy or a spoiled brat?"
Tom stared at his cousin, his face turning an interesting shade of red. "I…I…I guess I never really thought it through before…about Fanny I mean."
"Do you not think it is past time?"
"I suppose…" Tom was quiet for several minutes as he paced the room again. The girls let him think things through on his own. Suddenly he stopped in front of Belle and asked almost shyly, "Do you think… Would it be all right if… I mean could help you with the purchase of Fanny's horse? What if I purchased her a new saddle and bridle?"
Belle and Leigh jumped up, each taking a hand and shaking it. "That is a wonderful idea, Tom! I could not have had a better thought myself! Fanny will love it!" they chattered excitedly, talking over each other.
Tom's smile was huge as he drank in the sisters' praise and prompted him to say, "I think I will go and check in on Fanny before I leave. I will ask her if she needs me to do anything for her while I am in Weymouth."
"You do that," Belle smiled, "while we go and write the authorization for you to act for us. Oh, and Tom?"
Tom was on his way out of the room but paused to answer Belle. "Yes?"
"Do not mention the horse to Fanny. It is meant to be a surprise."
Tom grinned. "I understand. I will not say a word." And with that, he hurried from the room.
"Well," said Leigh, "It's not much but it's a start. I wonder how long it will take the enthusiasm to leave him."
"With Tom? Who knows?" Belle replied. "Probably not long, but at least we made him stop and think about someone else for a change. We'll just have to keep after him. I was surprised he even listened to us!"
"Maybe he's not as hopeless as we thought."
Posted on March 29, 2009
Fanny Price wandered through the garden a couple of days later, musing on the strange occurrence on the morning of her Cousin Tom's departure. She had been sitting in the East Room, thoroughly engaged in reading Cowper, when a knock on the door brought her back to reality.
Fanny's heart began to beat fast as she fully expected the intruder to be Edmund. Her surprise on finding it was Tom could hardly be imagined. He hesitantly walked into the room and made a slight bow. "Cousin Fanny, I hope I find you well?"
Fanny curtsied and said nervously, "Very well, I assure you cousin."
"Capital!" Tom exclaimed a bit too loudly. "Well I am on my way to Weymouth and just wanted to know if I could do anything for you while in town?"
Fanny was silent for several moments, stunned by Tom's consideration. He had never done any such thing for her before and she scarcely knew how to reply. "I…I thank you, cousin, but I cannot think of anything at this time."
"Nothing? Not even a new book?"
"I…Yes, that would be nice."
"What would you like? The newest novel? The latest in Gothic horror?"
"Well I do not read many novels…"
"May I see what you are reading so I might have an idea?" Tom asked, reaching for Fanny's book. He looked down at the title and grunted. "I see. Well now I know the type of books you do like, I can find something to surprise you with." He returned her book with a smile. "I take my leave then and will return in a few weeks time. Goodbye Fanny."
"Have a safe journey, Tom," Fanny replied.
As Tom turned to leave the room, he stopped when he noticed the empty fireplace. Turning to Fanny, he exclaimed, "No wonder it feels chilly in here! You have no fire! How did this oversight happen?"
Fanny's face turned bright red. "I…I…n-n-never have a fire in here," she stammered.
"Surely Sir Thomas would not deny you the comfort of a fire?" Tom seemed horrified that she had been denied even the most basic of comforts.
"Noooooo… Mrs. Norris…"
"I see!" Tom cried angrily. "Well, I shall have to rectify the situation! I will make sure of it before I leave. Now I must bid you a good morning." He bowed and stormed out of the room, leaving behind a very confused Fanny.
Surprisingly, Tom had been as good as his word. That very night, when Fanny walked into the East Room to return a book to her shelf, she found a fire cheerfully burning in the grate. She had knelt in front of it and wept tears of gratitude. Unsure of what had motivated Tom to take notice of her, she hoped that it was a sign of better things to come for Mansfield Park. Tom's lack of maturity and concern for others had often made her wonder what sort of landlord and master he would be when he eventually stepped into the role of Sir Thomas. Fanny tried very hard to avoid thinking of her own future though now, with a fire to sit by everyday in her beloved room, it became a less worrying thought.
Fanny's musings were interrupted by someone shouting her name. She turned around and found the Ashton sisters charging towards her, running at top speed while shoving and pushing each other. It seemed to be some sort of race. She covered her mouth to hide a smile as Belle tripped over her own feet and stumbled into the hedge. Leigh stopped running to point and laugh as Belle started to kick and scream. Apparently, Belle's dress had caught on the branches and she was unable to free herself. Fanny often disapproved of her cousins' behavior as it was far from ladylike, but she often envied the openness of the Ashtons' dispositions and the obvious affection they had for each other. It made her think of her own brother William and the closeness they had shared.
Now, Leigh was tugging on one of Belle's legs, unsuccessfully trying to pull her sister out of the hedge. Shaking her head, Fanny sighed and walked over to her cousins to help free Belle. "Let me help, Leigh," she said.
"Sure!" Leigh replied, "since my efforts seem to be useless."
"You're useless," Belle screamed, as Fanny reached into the shrub and began to unhook the dress from the branches.
"Patience, cousin," Fanny said gently, "Your gown has snagged in many places. I am trying to avoid damaging it so please do not struggle so. You will be freed in a few moments."
Belle actually calmed down long enough for Fanny's efforts to be successful. When she was finally out of the shrub, Belle turned and glowered at her sister. "Thanks a bunch, Leigh" she said sarcastically.
Leigh shrugged. "It is not my fault you are a klutz. But you might want to thank Fanny for rescuing you."
"I was getting to that!" Belle growled. She turned back to Fanny and smiled sincerely. "I thank you cousin for your timely help. If it were not for you, I am sure my leg would have been pulled off."
"That is a shame," Fanny replied.
Belle stared, dumbfounded, at her cousin. "And why is that?"
"For then we should have called you Peg-Leg Belle!"
Leigh began to chuckle as Belle put her hands on her hips and scowled at Fanny. "Are you teasing me?" Belle demanded.
Fanny smiled. "It would seem so, yes."
Belle, wearing a huge grin, clapped Fanny on the shoulder. "That's my girl!" she exclaimed. "We'll soon have you joining the ranks of the sarcastic harpies any day now." Fanny, raising her eyebrows, said nothing. "Oooooooorrrrrrrrrrr, maybe not," Belle continued. "Anywho, keep up the good work. I need all the allies I can get when battling my sister."
"Who said I would be your ally?" Fanny asked.
Leigh howled with laughter. "Fanny's gotcha there!" she crowed.
"Why don't you shut your mouth before I shut if for you?" Belle yelled at her sister.
"Oooooooooooooooo…. Like you could!" Leigh replied tauntingly.
"That's it! I'm gonna smash your face in!" Belle advanced on her sister, baring her arms for a fight.
Leigh began bouncing around like a boxer. "Come on then, beotch! Put up yer dukes and let's see whatcha got!" she screamed, waving her fists in the air.
Fanny followed the exchange, unsure of what to do or what to make of the sisters' curious dialect to which they often reverted. She did understand there was a fight brewing and having gotten to know the Ashtons over the last year, did the only thing she knew to halt it--she abruptly changed the subject.
"I understand the Crawfords are to dine with us tonight," Fanny said loudly.
Belle and Leigh, who had been nose to nose and growling at each other, turned as one to stare at Fanny.
"What?" Belle screamed. "No! No! Nononononononononononononoooooooo! I hate that wanker! Gods!" She turned and ran screaming back to the house.
Leigh sighed. "As you can see, Belle does not care for the Crawfords, especially the brother."
"And you?" Fanny asked curiously.
"I feel the same, if not so strongly as Belle."
"So you will not have the same reaction?"
Leigh smiled. "Not unless something changes, no. Now, if you are continuing your walk, I would like to join you!"
"I want to, but… I should really get back to my Aunt Bertram," Fanny said hesitantly.
"Aunt Norris arrived just before Belle and I left the house. She is with Lady Bertram now," Leigh replied, "so I think you may extend your walk without having to worry about it."
"Yes then I believe I shall walk a bit further," Fanny said smiling. The two girls linked arms and wandered out into the park.
Several hours later, Leigh was late coming down for dinner. Having gotten into one of her snitty moods, Leigh was dissatisfied with her wardrobe. None of the gowns pleased her. The blue one didn't fit right. The green one made her look too fat. The red one made her look to skinny. The striped muslin made her look too tall and the sprigged one, too short. Leigh's room was a disaster area with gowns, lace, and shawls strewn everywhere. Her maid was seriously considering giving her notice by the time Leigh actually decided on a gown. She still wasn't satisfied with her appearance, but the powder blue gown with the darker blue stripes didn't rankle her nerves as the others seemed to do.
So it was by the time Leigh walked into the dining room, everyone was already seated for dinner. She started to walk towards her usual seat next to Belle, when she stopped dead in her tracks. Leigh scowled as she realized Miss Crawford was sitting in her place and the only seat open was the one between Mr. Rushworth and Mrs. Norris.
"Great," Leigh muttered as she seated herself, "I get to sit between a spaz and a moron."
"Pardon me, but did you say something?" Rushworth asked.
"Uh, I said that gravy looks good and I have to pour it on," Leigh replied, grabbing at the dish of gravy and pouring it all over her food. She took a big fork full and stuffed it into her mouth. "Mmmmmmmmmm… delicious," she said while chewing her food.
Rushworth turned slightly green as some of the half masticated food dribbled down Leigh's chin and he decided to engage to others around him in a more genteel conversation. "I wish you could see Compton," said he, "it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now is one of the finest things in the country. You see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison--quite a dismal old prison."
His speech set off a flurry of conversation that Leigh little cared to follow. She scowled at her sister, who sitting with Edmund, Fanny, and Miss Crawford at the end of the table. They seemed to be enjoying their chat although Belle would occasionally roll her eyes and make faces at Edmund when he wasn't looking. Leigh wished she was sitting with them for then she could at least be having fun with Belle. But she was stuck with people who thought the subject of improving Sotherton the most fascinating one ever, and worse yet, Mr. Crawford sat across from her, staring at her chest. He stopped soon after Leigh made a cutting gesture across her throat and she was left alone by all the others.
As the conversation droned on around her, Leigh found her eyelids growing heavy. She blinked several times and stretched and yawned in an effort to stay awake. Soon her eyes sagged shut and she slowly pitched forward, her head coming to rest on her plate. The sound of snoring filled the room.
Belle and Fanny were deep into the subject of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing when a loud snort interrupted them. They realized the room had suddenly gone quiet. Everyone was staring at the heavily snoring Leigh.
"Oh no," Belle sighed, burying her face in her hands.
Mrs. Norris put her hand Leigh's shoulder and began to shake her. "Miss Leigh! Miss Leigh! Wake up, Miss Leigh! This is entirely inappropriate! We have guests! Miss Leigh!"
Leigh mumbled incoherently and shifted slightly. The sound of flatulence filled the air and the smell followed not long after. The stench was horrendous. Everyone dropped the thin veneer of civility and covered their noses with either handkerchiefs or hands.
"That will not work," Belle said, rising from her chair and walking over to her sister. "She's out of it and there is only one way to wake her now." Belle stuck each forefinger in her mouth and then stuffed them in Leigh's ears, twisting them around. "Wet willy!" she yelled.
It worked like a charm. Leigh suddenly sat up and screamed, "DON'T TOUCH MY GOAT!" She looked around the room wild-eyed for a moment before realizing she wasn't dreaming anymore.
Belle began to laugh at her sister's appearance. Leigh's face was covered in gravy with bits of peas and carrots clinging to it.
"What? What is it? What are you laughing at?" Leigh demanded of her sister.
"Let's get you cleaned up, Leigh," Belle said, still snickering.
"Why? Did I get a spot on my dress?'
"Uh…sure. Let's just get it cleaned up," Belle replied, pulling Leigh up out of her chair and taking one arm. "Fanny, would you mind helping us?"
Fanny was out of her seat in a moment and at Leigh's side in the next. "Of course, Belle," she said taking Leigh's other arm.
The three ladies hurried out of the room leaving behind a table full of people bewildered and marinating in Leigh's finest gas. The cousins were not seen again for the rest of the night.
After Fanny had gone to bed, Belle and Leigh sat up a bit later, deep in discussion over Fanny and Tom. Fanny had related to Leigh earlier in the morning all that Tom had done for her and this conversation Leigh now passed on to Belle. The sisters were trying to decide if Tom's behavior was a good or a bad omen.
"What I'm worried about," Belle said, "is if he did all of that just to relieve a guilty conscience. I hope this isn't just a onetime deal and now that he feels better about himself, he thinks he can forget about Fanny again."
"I know," Leigh said morosely. "We definitely have our work cut out for us. But maybe we'll know more by the time gets back with the horses… if he hasn't gambled away all of our money that is."
"He better not or he'll find himself a few inches shorter," Belle growled. "And he better get here soon because Edmund will have Mary Crawford riding around on that mare shortly. We've got to intervene or there's no hope for Tom."
"Speaking of intervening," Leigh said, "Should we do something about Crawford and Maria? You know they all take the trip to Sotherton in a few weeks and that's sort of the turning point for them."
Belle frowned thoughtfully. "No. Let's not. With us changing the story already, that whole fiasco may or may not happen. Besides even if it does, it'll help get Crawford out of the picture if he decides to latch on to Fanny."
"Yeah!" Leigh agreed. "And who cares about Maria anyway? She's a grown woman who can make her own decisions and it's not our fault she's stupid."
Suddenly, the window in Leigh's room blew open, and Cory the squirrel came flying through it. "What's all this about you changing the story?" she chittered angrily.
"Nice to see you too," Leigh said sarcastically.
"Oh great, here comes the conquering hero," Belle muttered.
"Shut up and answer me!" the squirrel yelled, waving her tiny paws in the air.
"Well you said we couldn't go home until the story was finished and we're just trying to speed things up a bit," Leigh replied. "The story ends when Fanny is happily married. That's what you told us!"
"And we're trying to give Fanny a better happy ending than Austen had planned for her in the bargain!" Belle added.
"You can't do that!" Cory protested.
"Uh huh! You never said it was against the rules," Leigh argued.
"Well, you're taking an awful risk you know. What if things don't turn out as planned? You'll be much longer at seeing your precious Caulder and Harmon again!"
"That's a chance we're willing to take," Belle replied quietly.
"Fine! Have it your way," Cory sneered, "but don't come crying to me if you girls mess it up!" The squirrel climbed back out through the casement, slamming the window behind her and disappeared into the darkness.
Belle and Leigh both went to bed after this exchange, feeling depressed. They weren't discouraged by Cory's warnings but her mentioning their fiancés brought their moods down. The sisters avoided thinking or speaking of Caulder and Harmon during the last few months mainly for the sake of their sanities but also because it was dangerous to speak of them, even to each other, at Mansfield Park. The two men belonged to a different world and if word got out the Ashtons were engaged to gentlemen wholly unknown to Sir Thomas, there would be heck to pay. It was easier to avoid the subject all together.
Neither sister slept that night and the next morning, they found it difficult to shake their depression the next morning. All the while, their impatience with Mansfield and its dull inhabitants was growing.