Summary: What if Elizabeth received a series of valentines from a secret admirer?
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Jane Austen (except for a few who were inspired by her). © 2013
(Author's Note: This fanfic is not intended to change any events in our favorite story.)
Chapter 1: Wordsworth
February 9, 1812: Elizabeth was feeling pensive; she missed her dearest sister Jane who had travelled to London with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner at the end of December. Her hopes had been so cruelly and suddenly disappointed by the amiable Mr. Bingley. A proposal had been expected; however he had left Hertfordshire without a word. Caroline Bingley had reluctantly called on Jane at their uncle's home and made a disturbing reference to her brother's attachment to Miss Darcy; leading Elizabeth to believe that Caroline was the instigator of their sudden departure. There was no logical explanation for Mr. Bingley suddenly diverting his attentions to a sixteen year old girl who was not yet out in society; the only plausible explanation was that Caroline disapproved of his association with the Bennets.
Also weighing heavily on her mind was her dear friend, Charlotte Lucas, who had recently married the odious Mr. Collins; that sniveling, pompous, ridiculous parson! Charlotte had invited Elizabeth to visit her at the parsonage and the trip was planned for early March. There was nothing left to do until then, except for avoiding the barbs of her Mama's relentless criticism; in the two months that had passed since Elizabeth had refused Mr. Collins' proposal, her Mama continuously reproached her for her carelessness, selfishness and thoughtlessness. In her Mama's eyes, a dutiful daughter would have accepted the proposal for her family's sake, to keep their beloved home in the family; she was expected to cast aside her repulsion for the revolting toad. No, that would never do for Elizabeth, whose greatest desire was to marry for love. The only way she would marry a toad was if she truly loved said toad; she certainly could never love the toad named Collins.
Her only escape from the constant harangues of her Mama was her extended walks through the grounds of Longbourn. She would leave the house before her Mama left her bed chamber and stay out as long as the weather permitted, accompanied by her faithful companion, Dmitri, the family's Irish wolfhound. She would wander to her favorite hiding places; Oakham Mount, the pine grove, the rocky meadow and the hayfield, to read a book, play with Dmitri or merely contemplate her surroundings. On days when the weather did not oblige her, she escaped to the barn where she and Dmitri snuggled on a blanket in a cozy corner.
On this early February morning, she and Dmitri were sitting on a blanket in the pine grove contemplating their surroundings when something caught her eye: a white rectangle peeking out of a nearby hollow log. She was immediately captured by curiosity and cautiously approached the object. She concluded that this was nothing formed by nature; it was clearly man-made. As she came closer to it, she noticed that it was made of paper – a letter, perhaps? Could someone have accidentally dropped it on their way through the pine grove? She bent down to observe the item more closely and observed the fine calligraphy. Upon closer inspection, she noticed the letter was addressed to 'Miss Elizabeth Bennet'. She was astonished beyond all reason! Could someone have dropped a letter intended for her? Could someone have stolen a letter from her hiding place in her closet and dropped it here? Could someone have placed a letter here, intending for her to discover it? The possibilities intrigued her. She grasped the letter and turned it over to inspect the seal; the red wax had been embossed with a fingerprint instead of a seal bearing an initial, monogram or family crest. This was very intriguing, indeed! "Who would write to me anonymously?" she wondered. Dmitri enthusiastically sniffed the paper and ran off in search of a scent, while Elizabeth retreated to her blanket.
Ordinarily, upon receiving a letter, Elizabeth would rip it open, intent on reading it immediately. This time, however, she preferred to contemplate the mystery first. There was no mistake that the letter was intended for her, of that she was certain; but who would wish to remain anonymous? It had to be a man, she concluded. No woman of her acquaintance would leave a letter for her outside, exposed to the elements, on the off-chance that she might discover it there. Since it was improper for a woman to receive correspondence from a man who was not her husband, she could only conclude that a man had left it there for her. Would this mean that the content was inappropriate? Perhaps she should not open the letter; she should just destroy it, as a precaution to unsuitable influences being made upon her. She could bring the letter home and toss it into the fire when no one was watching. She touched her finger to the seal; the fingerprint was much larger than hers – it was most definitely a man's fingerprint. She turned the letter around and around, flipping it front and back, contemplating her next move.
Perhaps she should read the letter first, and then decide whether or not to destroy it, she wondered. Knowing she would be unable to destroy the letter without first knowing the contents, she slipped her finger under the paper's edge and broke the seal. There! It was done; the seal was broken and there was no turning back now, she told herself. She held her breath as she carefully unfolded the paper and observed the contents; it was a poem. Someone had neatly copied a poem and left it here for her to discover.
The Solitary Reaper
Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?-
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;-
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more. (1)
There was no signature; no clue as to who had left the poem for her to discover. Dmitri finally returned and collapsed at her feet. "What does it mean, Dmitri?" she asked her companion; however, he had already fallen asleep and gave no assistance in her search for the meaning of this most perplexing correspondence. She was familiar with the poem, about a girl who sings a song that the listener finds beautiful but does not comprehend. "How appropriate," she laughed, "I also do not comprehend the meaning of this letter, sent by an anonymous man," she observed. She reread the poem several more times before folding the paper and slipping it into her pocket.
"Which men of my acquaintance would send me an anonymous poem?" she wondered. She contemplated the possibilities:
John Lucas? John was a few years younger than Elizabeth and she had known John his whole life but he had never expressed an interest in her, nor in poetry for that matter.
Mr. Collins? However revolting she found him to be, he had once proposed to her. But he was now married to Charlotte and had not been in the area for the last month. The paper seemed to be pristine; untouched by the elements.
Mr. Bingley? Their neighbor is a most amiable gentleman, but he was currently in London. Surely she would have heard if he had returned to Netherfield. Even so, from the first moment of their acquaintance, he had only shown an interest in Jane…or so she thought!
Mr. Darcy? He was most certainly familiar with the works of Wordsworth but certainly had no interest in her; he found her 'barely tolerable' and had often looked upon her with scorn and disapproval. Besides that, he was probably now comfortably ensconced in his home in Derbyshire.
Mr. Burberry? Her Uncle Stuart Phillips' neighbor in Meryton had been recently widowed. Was he seeking a new wife? If so, why would he not call on her at Longbourn or call on her uncle while she was visiting there? Was he interested in poetry? She could not recall.
Mr. Thurston? The proprietor of the bookstore in Meryton was constantly complimenting her and showing her the latest editions to arrive at the shop. He knew of her love for poetry. Was he harboring secret affections for her – or was she just one of his most reliable customers?
Mr. Wickham? Throughout their entire acquaintance, he had never once expressed an interest in poetry. All of their conversations centered solely on him, his history and his contempt for Mr. Darcy and his family. Could something have changed in his regard that she was as yet unaware?
Mr. Denny? She had always regarded him as a friend, as she was sure that all her sisters did as well. Could he have left the poem here?
Someone Else? She was acquainted with many men in Hertfordshire. Was she missing a clue?
Her stomach started to growl; she must have been outside for two hours by now and this latest development had diverted her attention but did nothing for her growing hunger. She sighed as she rose and collected the blanket, waking Dmitri from his nap. "Come Dmitri! Let us go home," she told him as he obediently fell into step beside her. Hesitant as she was to face her Mama and her constant criticisms, she knew if she lingered, she would face even more wrath. She did have responsibilities at home; mending, knitting, embroidery, helping her father's tenants, and tutoring her younger sisters. She would have to leave her private contemplations for later.
(1) The Solitary Reaper: William Wordsworth, 1770 - 1850
Author's Note: Dialogue and text were generously borrowed from the masterpiece: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813).
This story is continued in the e-book "Meryton Medley" by Cassandra B. Leigh. Please check my profile page for details.