Welcome back to my loyal readers and a hearty welcome to new ones!
My last story, The Fee Entail was admittedly on the heavy side, so maybe this can be the antidote. I did very much like the shifting first person POV of FE, so I believe I will continue it. I intend this to be a short story, maybe 6-10 chapters, but as usual I have no idea how it will end, and I hardly ever meet my self-imposed chapter limits. I guess I'll find out when you do.
As always, I like to caution my readers to scare off the meek.
Stern Content Warning; Contains fluffy fluffericious fluffety fluffiness. If reading this on a mobile device, hold it with both hands lest it fly away. Desktop users should really superglue their monitors to the desk. For laptop users, run down to the store and buy one of those cable locks nobody ever uses.
Now just in case that has you worried, let me tell you what worthy content this story has to expand your mind and build your character: None, Nunca, Nada, Zip
I have always believed that the best thing to do when you have a headache is engage in an activity so vexing it makes the headache even worse; just so that you will be so relieved when it finally goes away. At least, that would seem to be my belief based on my activities of that Thursday afternoon in Hunsford when I was visiting my friend Charlotte Collins. She of course had been dragged kicking and screaming off to tea at Rosings (perhaps I overstate the case). Tea at Rosings is not the dullest activity in the world, or at least it is not if you have to attend my cousin's services; but after Colonel Fitzwilliam's disclosure of his cousin's perfidy and interference in my sister's life, I was disinclined to spend any time with either of the pig‑widgeons. I naturally decided to improve my disposition by rereading Jane's letters, apparently because I could not think of anything even more frustrating to occupy my time.
Jane was not likely to shrivel up and die over the defection of Mr. Bingley, or his pointedly ignoring her in town, but her letters showed a certain lack of Jane-like spirit that I found distressing. Of course, now that I knew a little bit more of the story I would have to decide whether I was going to enlighten her on more of the particulars or not. I still had a fortnight to think about it, so perhaps rereading her letters would serve some purpose aside from frustrating me, although it was hard to imagine what it might be.
I was quite surprised by the sound of the bell on the door. I had not heard a pounding on the front door so it was not an express rider. It certainly was not anybody from Rosings. Perhaps someone from the village was making a delivery? I was well on my way to ignoring the bell exactly as I would have done were I at Rosings, when I heard the parlor door opening. Drat! Now I would have to get up.
I did manage to get up from the sofa, and did not actually fall over on the floor, although it was a close thing, so that was all to my credit; but then I heard Molly make the most peculiar announcement.
"Miss de Bourgh, ma'am"
Now I was not quite so certain I would not have been better falling over on the floor. At least then I would not have had to curtsy awkwardly, but it was much too late so I performed the office as well as I could. Fortunately, hers was not that much better.
"Miss de Bourgh, welcome. I am afraid Charlotte and Mr. Collins are over at Rosings having tea. You find me quite alone, Miss de Bourgh."
I thought about adding a quip about why she was not at Rosings, but I imagined the poor woman realized she was not at home and needed no instruction from the likes of me. Perhaps her pony threw a shoe or the wheel of her phaeton broke, and she needed me to send a servant to fetch her back.
"Miss Bennet, I hope you are feeling better."
"Yes, I am feeling much better, Miss de Bourgh. Will you not sit down?"
She looked nervous, which I would have found strange, except I could not really think of a time she had not looked nervous, so perhaps my powers of discernment lacked refinement. She sat in a chair by the parlor table, and I sat opposite her.
"Shall I ring for tea?"
She seemed puzzled by the question, so when she did not answer for a moment, I took it as assent and rang the bell. Once tea had been requested, we entered in some awkward and stilted conversation for a few moments until it arrived, and then I served and we partook in the usual manner.
After a few more awkward moments, the lady said the strangest thing.
"Miss Bennet, pardon me if this seems overly forward or familiar, but I have come here to forewarn you."
No, not forward or familiar, just odd! Very odd!
"Warn me about what, Miss de Bourgh? I must say you are either very mysterious or very alarming. I cannot decide which at the moment."
She seemed mostly stuck at that point, so I leaned into the table and tried to set her at ease, adding, "You may speak with candor, Miss de Bourgh. We are quite alone and I will keep your confidence."
I regretted that promise as soon as it left my mouth, but there was nothing to be done about it. I continued, "Whatever dire warning you carry is best delivered, is it not? What terrible event is about to befall me?"
Now she looked truly alarmed, and stuttered, "Not… not… not… no… not… no… not terrible. Not terrible, just… well… oh dear!"
Now I was becoming a bit alarmed and agitated, and my headache was back with a vengeance. She seemed alarmed herself, perhaps because she was making such a muddle of the whole business.
She tamped down her anxiety, and said, "I believe my cousin is planning to propose marriage to you."
I blew out the most relieved breath of my life. I was truly expecting something terrible, so I thought to set the poor woman's mind at ease.
"Oh! Is that all? Have no fear, Miss de Bourgh. I have already discussed the matter with your cousin in some detail, and no proposal is forthcoming. We are in complete accord on the subject. Really, Miss de Bourgh! You had me worried for a moment, but all is well. You may rest easy."
Now she looked perplexed, and said, "You have already discussed it with him? How? When?"
"We canvassed the subject this morning, when I met him in the park. The subject came up in relation to… well, to your other cousin and a friend. Fear not, Miss de Bourgh. All is well!"
She said, "He did not propose to you?"
"No, he did not, but we did discuss the matter and it is quite resolved, and to everyone's satisfaction I believe."
She looked confused, and said, "If it is not asking too much, can you tell me why it is resolved in such a way, for I was quite certain of my conclusions, and would be astonished to find them in error?"
The poor woman turned bright red and looked like she had never asked an awkward or embarrassing question before. This may well have been the worst moment of her life, but in the Bennet household, a moment this awkward would not even be the worst moment of breakfast. The poor woman truly needed some sisters to toughen her up.
"It was resolved in the usual way. He seems to have some… er… what did he call them… er…'habits of expense', that should guide his choice of bride. A figure of around £50,000 was discussed and seemed to be in the appropriate range. At any rate, we are in complete accord that no proposal is forthcoming, since I have no such fortune, and neither of us is particularly distressed by the lack of said betrothal."
Now it seemed the matter should be resolved, and all so easily. I had no idea what she could be nervous about.
She asked, "Do you know what 'habits of expense' means?"
Now I looked chagrined, and said, "I have no idea, and I suspect if given the opportunity to learn, I probably should demur. I am not certain I want to know that much about expensive gentlemen's habits."
She gasped at the implications, but then nodded in agreement. Some things were best left unknown.
She looked a bit embarrassed and asked, "I know I am being even ruder than my mother, but would you object to telling me how far short of that mark your fortune is?"
She gasped in surprise as soon as the words were spoken, and covered her mouth with her hands as her eyes open wide in fear or embarrassment, but I just looked at her calmly and tried to settle her down, saying, "Be at ease, Miss de Bourgh. I do not mind. You really should have some sisters if such a small slip is going to distress you. May I lend you some? I have quite a store and I could lend you at least two with no trouble whatsoever, and three would not be out of the question?"
She seemed incapable of seeing the humor of my suggestion, or anything other than horror, so I rushed in to finish the thought, "It is not gossip you are asking for Miss de Bourgh! Everyone in Meryton knows the answer. My cousin Collins knows as well so be assured your mother is aware too."
She looked at me curiously, finally coming down from her embarrassment, so I said, "As of this morning, I am around £49,993 short of the mark… more or less."
She gasped and asked, "You have no fortune at all?"
The shocked look should have made me angry, but it just made me impertinent.
"Yes, no fortune at all… well, actually I have £50 per annum, so I am not quite so destitute. But fear not, to compensate, I have no accomplishments either!"
She just looked mortified, and I had to spend another minute trying to explain the difference between teasing and censure; which seemed to be entirely new information to her. I thought it might profit Lady Catherine to hire a master to give her some lessons on teasing, and of course, Mr. Darcy could profit from the instruction as well. It would all be very efficient for the estates if they shared lessons, since they were both complete novices. They could both start with the very basics and work their way up.
She eventually calmed down, and said, "To be perfectly clear, you discussed marriage with my cousin, he told you he needed a large dowry, and you now consider yourself either bereft or barely escaped."
I laughed at that and said, "Your cousin is nowhere near that disagreeable… we are just not suited to each other, and our situations are entirely incompatible. I assure you, I am neither bereft nor relieved. I never seriously considered him at all."
She took the news with much more of a confused look than I might have thought. I was beginning to wonder what was so confusing about the whole thing, since I barely knew the Colonel slightly longer than a fortnight. Why would she expect him to be proposing marriage in a fortnight, and why was she surprised that an army Colonel might be short of funds from time to time?
I was pondering those weighty matters, and the quite unexpectedly cross countenance of Miss de Bourgh, when I heard the bell on the front door again. I begin to wonder if the Colonel was planning to come back and check on my condition, or possibly stand still while I beat him with a stick for saying such disagreeable things about my sister. "Honor of my cousin's triumph, indeed!"
When I had explored the idea of a stick and the colonel's head in sufficient detail, I cast about for an even more ridiculous supposition. Perhaps, if I was truly in a mood for far-fetched suppositions, I might hypothesize that it was Mr. Darcy come to check on my condition.
I was actually quite in the middle of enjoying a good giggle about the ridiculousness of that idea, when the parlor door opened again.