Place du Tertre, the River


   
 

Table 
of contents:

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7.1

Chapter 7.2

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 11b

Chapter 11c

 

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Place du Tertre, the River

 

A modern Pride and Prejudice version, set in the Netherlands. 

 

The story is NC-17, R rated.

 

Marjolein © 2003-2004 All rights reserved M.Houwer


Place du Tertre, the River,       chapter two

Meryton, a small city with 10,000 inhabitants, had a history which went back several centuries. It had gained city rights more than seven hundred years ago and had been the scene of a few historical battles. Royal armies and Spanish troops had each in turn besieged the fortified city in order to free it from the enemy. The last time the Spanish units left Meryton and were forced to surrender it to royal hands again, the city maintained the Roman Catholic habits of the Spanish. At the beginning of the twenty-first century it remained a Catholic bastion between Protestant villages. With its canals, partly saved city walls and ancient buildings, it exuded an atmosphere of history. The narrow streets, some of cobblestone, formed the same pattern they did centuries ago.

The fact Meryton possessed city rights that the villages surrounding it lacked provided the inhabitants an excuse to maintain an old fashioned sort of pride. People who lived in the city were ‘much better and more sophisticated’ than the peasants and villagers around them. Of course, this form of chauvinism is highly ancient and not part of this time, but nonetheless fun to maintain. And so, the Merytoners pretended to be better than their surrounding neighbors. This feeling, as old as the city itself, can still be found on the soccer fields, the tennis courts and on the vehicles that form the annual carnival procession. Meryton had also several industries, a few vacation resorts, large discos that attracted thousands of party-seekers every weekend, and many small cafés. If such an old city is situated somewhere in the country, hidden in large woods and fields of corn, clearly its inhabitants also go back several centuries. It seemed everybody knew everybody in town, and everybody had an opinion of everybody. Parties, like the Phillips’s wedding anniversary, were the excellent means to exchange information, shape and reshape new and old opinions.

“Honey, hurry now,” Mrs. Bennet ordered her second daughter in her usual impatient manner. “We are going to be late, if you don’t make haste. I promised your aunt we would be on time so I can take care of the gifts. We must be there before the guests arrive.” She literally ran through the house to collect her husband and five daughters, afraid she would not arrive on time at the huge Phillips party where she was to play the role of mistress of ceremonies.

“Mom, you two go and take Lydia, Kitty and Mary with you. We’ll take your car,” Elizabeth answered, seeing that Jane, like herself, was far from ready.  Mrs. Bennet considered the possibility and, after a short period of deliberation, decided lending her red Peugeot to the girls wasn’t as bad as arriving too late at the party. “Here.” With a sudden toss, the key chain flew in Elizabeth’s direction. Her mother didn’t even wait to see if she caught it, she had already turned around and shouted orders to her youngest daughters.

With a sigh of relief Elizabeth saw her family leave. “I wish it was next week.”

“Lizzy, don’t. We ought to be grateful we can stay here.” Jane walked out of the bathroom, still brushing her beautiful, long, blonde hair.

“I know, I am, really,” her sister replied. “I don’t know where I could have gone to. It’s just….”

“Mom acting as if you’re a teenager again.” Jane completed the sentence, putting the brush on the hall table and picking up her purse. “Do you know, are we supposed to give a gift ourselves or did Dad put our names on the Bennet envelope?” It was common practice locally to give money on wedding and anniversary parties instead of the often ‘useless’ gifts. The parties were usually huge and expensive; it was an unwritten law to give money and even the amount was always pretty much the same, as a result of old habits.

“Don’t know. Let’s give for ourselves. I don’t want them thinking we can’t afford it and yes, it’s the feeling of being beneath her wings again,” Elizabeth said, swiftly changing from one subject to another and back, without any misunderstanding between the sisters. She searched her father’s desk and found a nicely printed congratulations card with matching envelope. After writing a few lines, she closed the expresses with both their names and took the appropriate bills from her wallet. Without hesitation, she also paid for Jane, quickly closed the envelope, put it in her own purse next to the package of cigarettes and said, “You drive.”

“Ready then?” Jane answered automatically with this question. “It isn’t bad to arrive a little bit late, but if we want to have a nice seat we really should go now.”  She picked up the brush again and brought it back to the bathroom where it belonged. She dimmed the lights in the house and after a quick check to see if the backdoor was locked, followed her sister to the garage where the Peugeot was parked.

“Let’s go girls … ta ta ta da da da, “ Elizabeth sang the popular Shania Twain’s song, opening the doors and taking her place next to the drivers seat, careful not to step on her long black skirt. “Let’s go and face the world,” she dramatically added.

“Hey, you, what is the matter? First you’re complaining about mother and now it looks as if you don’t want to go to the party.” The second half of the question was barely audible because of the noise the engine made while still standing in the huge garage. Jane easily put the car in first gear, drove out of the building and touched the small remote control to automatically roll the garage doors down. “Don’t you look forward to seeing your cousins?“

“Oh, Jane, you know I love to see the cousins, especially the ones I haven’t seen in a while. It’s just, I’m not looking forward to all the questions, the looks, the … you know.”

Yes, Jane knew. She knew how it was when a relationship broke up and all the ‘friendly’ neighbors, trying to gain information, kept asking questions. But Jane saw merely genuine interest and not gossip, unlike Elizabeth. “They feel sorry for you. It’s nice of them to ask how you are.”

“Yeah, right,” was Elizabeth’s soft reply. She opened the mirror on the sun visor and checked the little make-up she was wearing. Dropping her eyes from the mirror to her person, she softly stroked the skirt and brought her hand to her throat.  She had been surprised when she had bought the skirt the week before. Surprised and a little shocked, because it actually fit her perfectly. She must have lost more weight than she first thought, to be able to wear such a tight piece of clothing. Above it, she wore a dark, red top, with a very low neckline and a transculent blouse with long sleeves. Not one single adornment completed the outfit; every ring, necklace, watch or brooch she possessed had something to do with Jonathan, her almost ex-husband, the last person she wanted to think of. She realized, though, that she would be reminded of him this evening. She already knew she would hear his name several times, when passing a table or just before joining another group of party-goers. In the little town, where juicy stories were not available every day, she and Jonathan were still  the ‘story of the month’.

They weren’t really very late, but the parking lot was already crowded and it took Jane a few minutes to find a space.  Then, Elizabeth dropped her purse and the twilight didn’t make things easier to find anything quickly. Therefore they were among the last guests to walk into the party hall. Jane increased her speed and Elizabeth followed her, still rummaging through her bag, wondering if she had forgotten to pack her lighter.  Vainly attempting to do everything in the same moment, she tried removing her coat. Of course this wouldn’t work while digging in her bag and again she dropped the small purse. Immediately, she leaned over to get it, unconsciously noticing that the gray lines in the white marble tiles seemed to form a pattern like water waves. At the exact moment, her hand reached her belongings … another’s did too.

* ~ * ~ *

An electric shock, and not a tiny, little one, went through Elizabeth’s body the moment her fingers touched the other hand. She noticed the long, gracefully shaped, though very masculine, fingers. Elizabeth had read piles of books about the art of palm reading and she truly believed the shape of one’s hand revealed some significant characteristics about the person. She liked the hand immediately. However, her opinion about the rest of the person changed very quickly and drastically when, while in the act of standing up straight again her eyes followed the line from the hand, up along the arm to a very broad shoulder, a beautifully shaped face and then to very deep brown eyes.

Those eyes were not a warm, inviting, “want to drown yourself in”, color of brown. They were color of cold and wet mud, poisoned by too many chemicals and other artificial garbage, sucked up by heavy machines from the dark depths of a misused, heavily traversed river and thrown out at the side, disgusted by people who didn’t know what to do with the filth they had created. It was not the healthy kind of mud one wants to bathe in.

Elizabeth froze when she saw those eyes and read a certain amount of disgust in them. Then her eyes went downwards again, only to see the package of cigarettes lying on the ground. Quickly she picked it up and extended her hand to accept her handbag from the eyes. “Thank you,” she politely said and placed the cigarettes where they belonged. She looked again at the face, trying to avoid the eyes. A slight sense of familiarity crept inside her consciousness, recognizing the features. She was sure she had seen the man before, she knew his face, his features and his beautiful, curly, brown hair, but she couldn’t connect them with the hard, cold eyes. She tore her gaze away and noticed the man wasn’t alone, but accompanied by someone who could be described as his opposite. This blond person, only a little bit shorter than his friend, beamed inviting kindness. He shook hands with Jane who, Elizabeth noticed, was blushing a little.

“Elizabeth,” her sister said, still shaking hands and turning towards them. “Let me introduce you to Mr. Bingley. He started today at Merytayns as a consultant.” While gesturing in the direction of Elizabeth she continued, “Mr. Bingley, this is my sister Elizabeth.”

Releasing Jane’s hand, the said gentleman turned towards Elizabeth. “Please Jane, call me Charles. Very nice to meet you, Elizabeth. Let me introduce you to my friend, Darcy.”

Another handshake was made. It was at least firm, Elizabeth noticed.

“Darcy,” and with a slight interval, “William.” His voice was dark and, in contrast to his eyes, warm.

They learned that Mr. Phillips had invited the two gentlemen to his party and Jane suggested they join them. Festivities like this could be quite overwhelming for guests who didn’t know the other partygoers.

They were among the last guests to enter the room, which made Elizabeth suddenly realize that everybody would see them as they walked towards their aunt and uncle. With a barely noticeable motion, she straightened her back, tilted her nose a tiny fraction higher in the air and plastered a beaming and very confident smile on her face. No one would see what she really felt deep inside. She hardened herself mentally for the remarks she knew would come, gestured to Charles and William to follow them and entered the ‘party-barn’.

William Darcy was tired, exhausted from a long work-week and a boring ride to the middle of nowhere, as he described the region where Netherfield was situated. Charles had decided a few weeks earlier that he wanted to do things differently. Not that their business was dropping or anything like that, on the contrary, it looked like more and more companies needed D&BI and the money they had to offer. Charles had expressed that reading all the annual reports and spending hours and hours talking with only the top echelons of possible clients no longer gave him sufficient satisfaction. He felt the urge to delve deeper into an organization and try to make it work more efficiently. Both he and William had seen many well-run, but even more badly-run companies. They were sure they had gathered enough information and experience to improve management in certain organizations and when Charles had made his statement, William had suggested he could start as a consultant. It seemed they found a niche in the market because when they had dropped the news left and right that Bingley was available for financial and management advice, several clients immediately reacted positively. Charles had already set his sights on Netherfield as a pleasant house for himself, his sister and all her horses; one of his private and least lucrative investments. Due to the house’s proximity to the beer factory he decided this would be the start of his new career.

The two friends had decided together that they had better wait to see how things turned out before William also made the change. Therefore, William stayed in his old position, finding good investment opportunities, and Charles tried to improve a target that didn’t presently look suitable enough for straight investment. It had been a busy week without his companion and William was not too pleased when he had heard his first visit to Netherfield would not bring him the pleasant and quiet evening he craved, but yet another social event. It would have been all right if he could have met interesting business associates, like the ones he was going to see at the horse event Caroline Bingley was taking him to the week after next, but it appeared he would only be introduced to the locals tonight. He wasn’t interested in peasants and production employees at that moment. However, he understood it was important for Charles, and therefore for the company, to accept the invitation, so he had agreed to accompany his old friend.

While Darcy had carried the wooden box of expensive bottles of wine and waited in the party center’s foyer for Charles to return from the men’s room, he had noticed the two women entering the building. That is to say, he had noticed a very fine looking blond-haired woman and another person trying to get rid of her long coat; he couldn’t see her face. She had dropped her handbag. Automatically, he had put the box down and immediately bent forward to help her. His eyes had fallen on the cigarettes and his opinion was set.

The feeling of disdain wasn’t about to abate when he entered the huge party room shortly afterwards. Apparently, the room had originally been a barn, judging by the shape of the roof and the still visible loft, where antique looking farming equipment was exhibited and the hemisphere windows divided in several parts. Dark red and white checkered curtains, fancifully trimmed with red ribbons, partly covered the old brick walls. Tablecloths, with the same pattern, covered very long tables and it seemed that every chair, placed along those tables, was taken. More than 300 guests were already seated when the four walked across the wooden dance floor towards the table where Mrs. and Mr. Phillips were standing to accept the congratulations and gifts. Darcy pretended not to feel the looks, because he was used to receiving them. This didn’t prevent him from hearing catty remarks:   “Wow, look who she is dragging along. That could be the reason for her behavior of course,” and “Hey, is she back on the track fast, or what?” Vain enough to assume he was the who in the first remark and curious enough to wonder which of the two women filled the role of she, he presumed she was the smoking one.

Jane first congratulated her aunt with a smacking kiss on both cheeks and offered her uncle the same treatment. Elizabeth followed her sister and gave the envelope, which Mrs. Phillips automatically passed on to the woman behind her. The two women waited for the gentlemen to express their felicitations and offer their gift. William noticed that the woman behind the couple was all ears when Mr. Phillips introduced Mr. Bingley to his wife. He assumed she didn’t only want to hear their names to write them correctly on the label that she affixed to their gift for the Phillipses to remember who gave it. Hearing very soon afterwards she was the mother of both the women accompanying them, he concluded from the greedy look in her eyes he had to deal with a ‘You -- bachelor? Me -- mother of available daughters!’ sort of person. No, this was definitely not the way he had intended to start his quiet weekend in the country and after a polite, but short “Pleased to meet you”, he turned and followed his friend and the ladies to the only available chairs left.

They were seated in a corner not very far from the dance floor yet far enough from the music to converse.  Darcy, not in the mood to share the last and facing the dance floor, tried to stretch his long legs beneath the table to take his very much rehearsed position:  the observer. A waiter, carrying a huge square tray, brought them coffee and cake and immediately went along to collect coffee cups from other guests. William saw another waiter approaching with lots of beer on his tray and a few other drinks. Then the musicians said something and Mr. and Mrs. Phillips walked to the center of the dance floor to open the dance. After polite applause from the guests sitting next to the floor, and a few turns on their own, they were accompanied by other couples. They were ballroom dancing and more and more people filled the floor to join them in their quickstep. Distracted from the movements as a sharp smell invaded his nostrils, he turned his head back to the table and with a vexed wave of his hand tried to fan away the smoke coming from a cigarette.

Elizabeth also watched the dancers and longed to join them. She had always loved dancing and begged her mother to send her to ballroom lessons when she was a little girl. For some reason, her mother hadn’t thought them necessary and offered her piano lessons instead. It was not the instrument Elizabeth preferred, but young as she was, she realized with four sisters, all of whom wanted to take music lessons, it was very reasonable to have all five of them sharing the same piano. And since the piano is a very good means to improve musicality in all its breadth, she also polished her sense of rhythm, from her early years on. Later, when she was 15 years old, she had her dancing lessons, like all the other kids in Meryton that age. Tapping her foot, following the pace of the music, she drank her coffee and lit a cigarette. Well, dancing was one thing Jonathan had been good at, she thought, putting the lighter back in her bag. She noticed Darcy … William waving the smoke away so she automatically replaced the ashtray and took the Marlboro with her other hand when she saw him looking at it. The temperature emanating from his look could easily extinguish it and simultaneously deprive her of any desire she might have had to start a conversation with him. But politeness would demand conversing very soon because Charles and Jane went away to dance and she simply wasn’t the type of person to sit quietly and alone with someone.  Well, as alone as possible among 300 other people, of course.

She got a reprieve when the waiter came back and with her nod placed a glass of beer, Merytayns, of course, in front of her.

“Hi, Rob,” she said amicably, “Jane also wants one glass of beer and orange juice afterwards. She’s the lucky one driving me tonight.”

 “Do you know what Charles will drink?” she asked, turning towards William.

Slightly surprised that a nod was enough to say you wanted beer, not fully realizing what Merytayns really denoted in this community, he faced the waiter, “He wants a glass of white wine, a dry one, and I’ll also have an orange juice, please.”

Rob put the beer in front of Jane’s seat and went away to fetch the other drinks.

After a few moments of relative silence, Elizabeth tried to be polite. “Your friend is a good dancer,” she stated casually.

“Yes,” William answered and nodded when the waiter brought him his juice.

“And you, do you like to dance?”

“Not much.”

The answer was once more very short and didn’t invite more conversation. However she tried again, “Why not? Never took lessons?”

William, not in the mood to explain, only shrugged his shoulders before sipping his drink.

With a hardly noticeable “Then not,” Elizabeth gave up and looked at her sister and Charles again. She noticed they weren’t dancing anymore, but stood talking with Mr. Phillips. Her uncle seemed very pleased and had his 'business smile' on. He and Charles were conversing and Jane stood between them. Even from a distance Elizabeth could almost sense her sister’s thoughts:  was she the niece, the employee, or both tonight? Merytayns had been a family business for ages.

In these family companies, the line between private and professional life is not always easy to discern, Jane, however, realized she was both:  the favorite niece of the boss entertaining his business associate. She didn’t need pity though. This associate was not only polite (she had spent hours with worse), but handsome, friendly and a good dancer as well. Added to the fact she still sensed something familiar about him, she stayed with the gentlemen, careful not to interrupt them and to nod at the right moment. These were skills that came very naturally to her.

Expecting them not to come back to the table very soon, Elizabeth’s eyes left her sister and Charles to wander around the room.  Suddenly, her face brightened, its pleasure answered when another woman walked towards her.

“Charlotte, what a surprise!” Elizabeth rose and hugged her friend. “Charlotte, this is Mr. Darcy.  Mr. Darcy, this is my friend Charlotte Lucas.”

“William.”

After the handshake, Charlotte took Jane’s seat across from Elizabeth and the two chatted.

“Your mother told mine you couldn’t be here tonight,” Elizabeth said, wondering.

“I wasn’t going to come. Did I tell you, my other colleague quit and now Lucy and I have to do everything on our own? We’ve made a five-days-on, five-days-off schedule. But Lucy had already planned a vacation months ago, so she will be away six weeks. She’s working the rest of the week now, to give me some time to relax and then it’s going to be show time, 42 days in a row.”

“42 days?”

“Yes, 42 days just the old brat and me.”

“Why did the other one quit?”

“Sometimes I think of her being an instruction manual because many aren't able to read her,” Charlotte answered cryptically. Elizabeth, knowing from her friend’s stories whom ‘the old brat’ was, understood her perfectly.

“Which reminds me,“ Charlotte continued, “I do have a favor to ask.”

Seeing Elizabeth’s questioning eyes, she continued, “Do you think you can find time to ride Lady Brown and Ilioan? Not tough training, only a ride in the woods, some simple exercise.”

Lady Brown and Ilioan were Charlotte’s horses. When she had enough time to train them properly, she competed with them in regional contests. For the past few months, after she accepted a job a few hours distance from where she spends the nights during her work shift, she had neglected them a little. Without owning any themselves, both Jane and Elizabeth had ridden horses since they were teenagers.

“I’d love to and I’m sure Jane will as well,“ Elizabeth replied. Remembering the Lucas house and stables were located next to the property belonging to Netherfield, and also aware of the gossip that someone had rented the house and fixed up the stables, she continued, “Do you know who rented Netherfield?”

“I’ve been told the handsome man talking with Jane did.”

“Ah,” Elizabeth wanted to ask Charlotte more, but didn’t consider it proper, when William sat beside her, so she turned again towards him and asked, “He did? How long does he plan to stay here?”

“Ask the man himself”, William said, seeing Charles and Jane coming back from the dance floor.

Elizabeth stood to give Jane a seat. Immediately after Elizabeth informed her sister of the promise she had made about the horses, Charles started asking questions about the neighborhood: if there were many horse trails, nice woods in which to ride and if the girls did this often. His sister bred horses and sold them when they were ready to go into training. She didn’t keep stallions, but had quite a few good mares. Charles said he liked to ride now and then, only for the exercise and relaxation after heavy workdays and he hinted enough that Jane said she would be delighted to show him around.

Elizabeth danced with her father and Charlotte returned to her own table. Jane and Charles kept talking about horses until she had to join the other employees of Merytayns. As was common in this area, they did a kind of act, telling jokes about their boss and singing funny songs in between them. It was done in the regional dialect that everybody in Meryton spoke and was quite funny, although it certainly didn’t reach the level of professional stand-up comedy.

Elizabeth was standing with her father at the other side of the dance floor during the act, so Charles and William were alone for the first time since their arrival at the party.

“A wonderful evening, don’t you think?” Charles started, nursing his glass of dry white ‘house wine’, “Nice people, they sure know how to party over here.”

“Ah, c’mon, take a good look Charles,” William replied rather harshly, “they sure know how to drink over here. The waiters don’t even ask if you want another glass. They put a full one in front of you the second yours is emptied. I warn you, everybody will be completely drunk by the end of the evening.”

“So?  What about it? Think how good it will be for the sales figures.”

“Right, be sure he gets a tax-deduction for this. Did you make plans yet on how to start the job, anyway?”

“I got an office today and I want to interview all the staff members first thing Monday morning.”

“Hah, looks like ‘fun’,” William said ironically and nodding in the direction of the group of employees singing on the floor he added,  “Quite a challenge. Be sure you stoop to their level.”

“Will, what’s the matter with you?” Charles answered, rather annoyed. “What would you know? You haven’t spoken to any of them.”

“No and actually, I don’t feel the urge right now.”

Charles, genuinely trying to improve William’s humor, suggested, “You don’t need to. But neither is it necessary to sit here on your own the whole evening. I haven’t seen you speak to anyone, and why don’t you dance? Hey, you can ask Elizabeth. She’s a good dancer, you saw her dance, didn’t you?”

“Stop it, Charles,” William answered shortly, feeling his headache progressing into a splitting one. “I’ve no desire to dance right now and I certainly don’t want to talk to a walking chimney.” At his last remark he pushed the package of cigarettes with his fingertips in a sudden movement to the other end of the table … where Elizabeth caught them. He had not seen her coming back and noticing her frowning at him, he realized she had overheard him.

Okay, that was it, definitely. She’d had enough. She had tried to start a polite conversation several times, she had tried to be kind to him and all she got back in return were gruff uninterested answers, and now he called her a walking chimney. It was not what he said that annoyed her immensely, it was more the way he had said it, with a cold, disdainful look and a voice dripping with nausea. Deciding the evening would be more pleasant at Charlotte’s table, Elizabeth got her bag and the cigarettes and turned to leave the gentlemen without a word.

Her action was stopped when she almost bumped into her mother and Jane.

“C’mon honey. Don’t leave us now. A mother is entitled to know with whom her daughters spend the evening. Come and introduce me to your companions.” Mrs. Bennet hooked her arm through Elizabeth’s and dragged her back to the table. Both her elder daughters being taller than she, she didn’t see the alarmed look Elizabeth gave Jane, who only shrugged it off in reply.

After Jane introduced her mother to the gentlemen, Mrs. Bennet took over the conversation, firing questions at Charles and William. While his friend chose to remain silent, Charles tried to answer them as politely as he could. Was it true Charles had rented Netherfield? Was it his sister who was to join him? How long had Charles and William been business partners? Was it necessary for them to travel a lot?

“Paris?” Mrs. Bennet asked, completely ignoring Elizabeth, tugging her arm. “You were in Paris a few weeks ago? Lovely city, isn’t it? We have some business associates there and Jane and Elizabeth visited them recently. Do you know my Lizzy painted in Paris? Not just anywhere, mind you, she worked on Place du Tertre itself.  Have you ever been there? It’s very famous for….” The rest of what Mrs. Bennet said went unnoticed.

Twice, two pair of eyes locked with each other.

Shock, realization, surprise, recognition hit …. once, twice, thrice, four times.

 

 
   

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    Marjolein © 2003-2004 All rights reserved M.Houwer