A/N: Welcome back to my loyal readers and a hearty welcome to new ones!
We return once again to Hunsford. This is the fourth in my Propriety/Manners/Etiquette series. I've done quick romance, heavy angst, light hearted fun and now we go to frivolous. This is yet another writing experiment. I got a little enamored with the idea of thought balloons from comics, so wondered if you could do that in plain text? I started out with outlining people's thoughts as they conversed, but it didn't work that well, so I tried another tack. There is quite a lot of exposition in the style, so we will alternate between nearly all exposition and nearly all dialogue. You'll see what I mean in a couple chapters.
This will be a novella, maybe 20-25 chapters, low angst and dare I say it… even a bit frivolous… well scratch that, it's downright frivolous. I even have a genuine ball! I've done assemblies before, but not a London ball.
Not to be to spoilerish or anything, but everybody knows I love a good setdown, and this will be one for the ages. Strap yourself in for the worst verbal thrashing ever written. You think Circles was tough… wait to see what Lizzy says this time but try not to let it distress you too much. After all, Lizzy is a lady and always follows the Rules of Etiquette to the letter.
Elizabeth's astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent. This he considered sufficient encouragement; and the avowal of all that he felt, and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority-of its being a degradation-of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit. P&P Chapter 34
≈ If you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all! ≈
Elizabeth Bennet sat staring at the man in front of her in a state of complete perplexity. What had she just heard? It was the oddest and most unexpected thing. Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire had just delivered a speech using love and matrimony as bookends on a shelf otherwise filled with insult and derision practically to the ceiling.
Was it possible for the lone little affectionate bookends to contain the insults without the entire edifice crashing down in ruin? Was the floor of the parsonage even sufficient for the task once the shelf collapsed? It seemed unlikely. Was this proposal even worse than Mr. Collins'? At least Mr. Collins had stupidity in his favor, so one could argue he knew no better; but Mr. Darcy was a man of sense and education. Was she just supposed to ignore the fact that he had interfered in her most beloved sister's affections, or perhaps he just believed she did not know nor would she ever? Was she supposed to enjoy the idea of being a degradation? How exactly did being a degradation advance her supposed suit?
≈ If you cannot be pleasant, at least be silent! ≈
Elizabeth tried to say something… anything, but every time she opened her mouth, she saw a surprisingly realistic vision of her mother standing next to Mr. Darcy, shaking the infamous Fanny Bennet finger and giving her yet another bit of motherly 'advice'.
≈ A true lady is polite and demure under all provocations! ≈
Elizabeth was quite familiar with both the finger and the sentiments, as both had been directed at her nearly constantly, day in and day out for the past decade. In fact, she had always at times of stress remembered people advising her, and she almost always saw the actual conversation. She had no idea if such things were remembrances or hallucinations, but since the advice was sometimes useful she had never concerned herself with it.
≈ A lady does not raise her voice, nor say unkind or impertinent things! ≈
Mrs. Bennet's censure was quite familiar, but rarely applied to Elizabeth's sisters. Jane was too serene, beautiful and perfect; Lydia was so much like her mother she could do no wrong; and Elizabeth doubted her mother was even aware Kitty and Mary were her daughters in anything other than a vague way. Despite Mrs. Bennet's almost complete lack of decorum or propriety in her own manner, she delighted in endlessly instructing her least favorite daughter on the subject.
Mrs. Bennet was vexed that Elizabeth had turned down a most eligible match with Mr. Collins four months past, and had also convinced herself that Elizabeth was responsible for Mr. Bingley's defection… somehow?
The young lady's current conundrum was nearly unfathomable. To be entirely bereft of words was nearly unprecedented. To be replaying her mother's words over and over was only slightly less so. In fact, paying the slightest attention to Mrs. Bennet's ramblings was rare, as ignoring the matron's effusions was a basic survival mechanism at Longbourn.
≈ If you cannot keep a civil tongue in your head, at least keep a silent one! ≈
She tried once again to speak, but nothing came out. Once, twice, thrice she tried again and again; but every time she opened her mouth to say something, her mother chastised her yet again, while Mr. Darcy just sat looking on apparently in breathless anticipation.
≈ You will accept this or any proposal, you foolish headstrong girl, or I will never speak to you again. ≈
That promise had turned out to be empty, as her mother had been chastising her nearly constantly these four months since the rejection of her first insulting proposal. Apparently, the term 'never speak to you again' was more figurative than literal.
Once again, she opened her mouth to speak a polite refusal, but remembered that scheme had not gone at all well on the previous proposal. This time she did not have even the dubious protection of her father; being currently under the supposed authority of her odious cousin, whose head might explode if he had to contend with a difference of opinion between the formidable Mr. Darcy and his esteemed patroness. There was little doubt where Elizabeth's opinion on this or any other subject would count for him or anyone else in Kent should the two of them be in dispute.
The young lady was to reach her age of majority in six weeks and wanted no complications before that. The believed that most reasonable people would agree that being betrothed could well be considered a complication. She did not have a strong belief that Mr. Collins or her father would force her into a marriage but did not want to wager the rest of her life on it, considering how consistently unreliable and arbitrary both men were.
In fact, Mr. Darcy's very presence unchaperoned in the parsonage could well be considered a compromise and could be yet another tool that could force her into an unwanted marriage. She would not like to be on the end of Lady Catherine's tongue should that idea take hold! She could not even fathom the idea of being introduced as a niece at Rosings. It would be incomprehensible!
Mr. Darcy was obviously much smarter than Mr. Collins; as truth be told, almost anyone was. Mr. Darcy had even demonstrated that on some occasions he could speak in complete English sentences that occasionally even made sense… in a Darcy sort of way. He truly was a man of sense and education in everything except manners and agreeableness and amiability and kindness and generosity and basic good sense. Even those had occasionally been displayed at Netherfield, so he at least understood the basic concepts.
He did however have a look of stubbornness about him, and per the Colonel, he was a man who liked to arrange his affairs to his liking. Mr. Darcy had also told her personally at Netherfield that he was a man of implacable resentment - or in his own word, his temper was too little yielding. His good opinion once lost was lost forever. He was clearly not accustomed to being denied anything; and seemed quite capable of at least as much stubborn willfulness as Mr. Collins, but his stubbornness would be much harder to counter than her cousin. Instead of four sisters listening at the door, the nearest person who could assist her was a half‑mile away at Rosings.
Mr. Darcy obviously had no idea that there were even two possible answers to his question; and Elizabeth was not presently inclined towards inciting his wrath or testing his stubbornness. What if he carried on as Mr. Collins had? What if he rejected her refusal or became angry or despondent? What if he became loud and angry - It was a distinct possibility? What if he picked her up and dragged her off to Gretna Green, or worse yet tasked Lady Catherine or her cousin with wearing down her resistance? What if Charlotte weighed in on what a supposedly eligible match it was?
≈ Think of your mother! Think of your sisters! It is your duty to save us from the hedgerows! ≈
Once again, she opened her mouth for a polite refusal, or a rude refusal, or an acceptance, or a delay, or a courtship, or even to ask some type of clarifying question, but once again nothing came out. Not a peep. Not a whisper.
≈ For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn? ≈
Having her father standing next to Mr. Darcy was something of an improvement over her mother, but he was singularly unhelpful. Who should she be making sport of? Mr. Darcy? The Colonel? Lady Catherine? Charlotte? At this very moment, none of their positions held any more sport than she herself was presenting - and she was not particularly enjoying being on the receiving end of sport.
≈ Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. ≈
Two proposals in four months was entirely too many. When it came to insulting proposals, she firmly believed that a little goes a long way. She actually started wondering if her father had ever had anything sensible to say in his life, since his advice now mirrored her mother's.
≈ TEEEEEEN THOUOUOUOUSSSSAND A YEAR AND POSSIBLY MOOOOOORE! ≈
Mrs. Bennet was back with a vengeance! Her spectral form was apparently no more pleased with being spoken over by Mr. Bennet than her corporeal form was. That recollection and many more like it filled her with mortification. Was that how a man was to be measured, by his purse? Somehow, Mr. Darcy had heard that at the Netherfield Ball, yet he was still here making his addresses. It was unfathomable. He could not possibly really esteem her unless he was the most inscrutable man that ever lived. He must be worse than Jane by a wide margin, and nobody but Elizabeth and Charlotte understood Jane… and even their understanding was rudimentary at best.
Elizabeth was adrift in an endless sea of voices rattling around in her head as her level of panic escalated and escalated until she began to feel dizzy and even a touch faint, so much so that she had to grab the edge of a chair to hold herself up. She kept seeing flashes of her family, Mr. Darcy, the Colonel, and Lady Catherine without end, as if everyone she knew was in the room shouting at her to just accept a life of riches and luxury and quit worrying about trivialities like whether or not she and her husband could stand each other's company.
≈ Lizzy, a lady should show more affection than she feels until she fixes his attention! ≈
Apparently, even sensible and practical Charlotte's ghost needed her share of the conversation, although it turned out you could accomplish the same goal by showing him not the slightest affection whatsoever, and even veiled derision and endless arguments seemed to be effective in bringing a suitor to the point. Could she have sped this process up by hitting him with a club or poisoning him while he was at Netherfield? Would Lady Catherine and her words of wisdom be next?
Panicking, Elizabeth reached around for something, anything, that she could use to tell her what to say, what to do and how to act. Like a drowning woman, she thrashed around aimlessly until she finally, desperately, latched on to the first passing bit of flotsam that drifted by and paused long enough for her to get ahold of it. She was so happy to have an answer that she did so without evaluating its merits against the rest. She then did the most unthinkably shocking thing she had ever done in her life: She took her mother's advice!
≈ Well, Miss Lizzy Bennet! If you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all and take yourself elsewhere until you learn to keep a civil tongue in your head! ≈
Having chosen her admittedly weak device, she clung to it for dear life. Elizabeth walked to the door of the parlor and opened it.
Mr. Darcy stood looking at her in confusion, torn between his finally being able to look at the woman of his dreams in open admiration, the relief of finally unburdening his heart, finally removing all doubts about the match; and utter confusion at her most peculiar way of accepting his suit.
While he stood in confusion, the love of his life walked to the hallway, quickly donned her pelisse, stuffed her bonnet unceremoniously on her head, picked up her reticle and walked out the front door. Within five paces she was trotting, and within ten she had hitched up her skirt and was running. By the time the utterly confused Fitzwilliam Darcy became alarmed and started after her, she was rounding the corner out of sight, towards the village.
Pausing to take his coat and hat, he started running after her, but after only a few steps slowed down. A gentlewoman running towards the village with skirts hiked and flying would excite gossip if she were seen. It would be slightly injurious to her reputation, but not fatal and easily explained. A woman running through the lanes being chased by a gentleman would incite more than gossip. It would incite scandal at the very least. A likelier outcome would a thrashing by worrisome shopkeepers, a quick trip to the parson's noose; or both. With this in mind, he slowed his pace, and while not sedate, he followed the lady as quickly as he could without appearing to be another lunatic.
By the time Darcy got to the corner where he had last seen her, there was a break in the path. One branch lead to a very nicely secluded grove that he suspected his Lizzy had already discovered and loved; and the other went to the village. Unable to believe she ran to the village, he took the path to the grove and spent a good quarter hour scouring the path for her with nothing to show for his efforts. He presumed she must have been overcome by the proposal, and he wanted to set her mind at ease.
Moving from concern to alarm as the minutes ticked by, he decided running was not nearly so bad as previously believed, especially since he would not be chasing a woman through the lanes. Ten minutes of running deposited the man in the middle of Hunsford village, just barely in time to catch a glimpse of the post coach leaving the stage stop with Elizabeth Bennet inside, her head down, not looking out the window or at anything. He was afforded only a glimpse of her bonnet from the side, sitting with what appeared to be at least two matrons opposite her in the coach.
What could possibly be happening here? Of all the possible reactions to his proposal, this would have been the last he would expect. To tell the absolute unvarnished truth, he had to admit that anything other than a polite acceptance or her jumping into his arms would have been the last thing he expected.
In great confusion, he thought there must be something afoot here; although explaining it seemed to be quite beyond his capacity. Was she afraid of the wrath of Lacy Catherine or her father? Was she intimidated by the idea of joining the first circles? Was she already betrothed in secret? Was she overwhelmed by his wealth and status? Did she doubt his affection? Was it possible she did not feel affection for him? Was there something inadequate in the proposal?
Those last few thoughts caused him to abruptly stop mid-step and nearly fall over, while reconsidering everything he had said in his ill-fated proposal. A minute later with a very ungentlemanly exclamation of "BLAST AND DAMN AND BLOODY FESTERING BOLLOCKS", he turned around and started running back toward Rosings.