du Tertre, the River, chapter
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.
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.
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.
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.
a sigh of relief Elizabeth saw her family leave. “I wish it was
don’t. We ought to be grateful we can stay here.” Jane walked
out of the bathroom, still brushing her beautiful, long, blonde
know, I am, really,” her sister replied. “I don’t know where I
could have gone to. It’s just….”
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
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.”
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.
go girls … ta ta ta da da da, “
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
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?“
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.”
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.”
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’.
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.
~ * ~ *
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
handshake was made. It was at least firm, Elizabeth noticed.
and with a slight interval, “William.” His voice was dark and,
in contrast to his eyes, warm.
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
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
got a reprieve when the waiter came back and with her nod placed a
glass of beer, Merytayns, of course, in front of her.
Rob,” she said amicably, “Jane also wants one glass of beer and
orange juice afterwards. She’s the lucky one driving me
“Do you know what Charles will drink?” she asked, turning
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.”
put the beer in front of Jane’s seat and went away to fetch the
a few moments of relative silence, Elizabeth tried to be polite.
“Your friend is a good dancer,” she stated casually.
William answered and nodded when the waiter brought him his juice.
you, do you like to dance?”
answer was once more very short and didn’t invite more
conversation. However she tried again, “Why not? Never took
not in the mood to explain, only shrugged his shoulders before
sipping his drink.
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.
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.
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.
what a surprise!” Elizabeth rose and hugged her friend.
“Charlotte, this is Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Darcy, this is my friend Charlotte Lucas.”
the handshake, Charlotte took Jane’s seat across from Elizabeth
and the two chatted.
mother told mine you couldn’t be here tonight,” Elizabeth said,
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 just the old brat and me.”
did the other one quit?”
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.
reminds me,“ Charlotte continued, “I do have a favor to ask.”
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.”
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.
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?”
been told the handsome man talking with Jane did.”
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?”
the man himself”, William said, seeing Charles and Jane coming
back from the dance floor.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
What about it? Think how good it will be for the sales
be sure he gets a tax-deduction for this. Did you make plans yet on
how to start the job, anyway?”
got an office today and I want to interview all the staff members
first thing Monday morning.”
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.”
what’s the matter with you?” Charles answered, rather annoyed.
“What would you know? You haven’t spoken to any of
and actually, I don’t feel the urge right now.”
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?”
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.
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.
action was stopped when she almost bumped into her mother and Jane.
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.
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
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.
two pair of eyes locked with each other.
realization, surprise, recognition hit …. once, twice, thrice,