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

 

mail author

 

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 four  

glossary :
Het huis van Frederik Hendrik; Dutch for: The house of Frederik Hendrik
De markt; Dutch for: The Marketplace

 

Upon arriving home Elizabeth learned that her presence had been requested elsewhere for dinner. Slighty tense as a result of the choice of formal words her mother preferred to use, she composed instantly after hearing who had issued the invitation.

“Ah, Mother, why didn’t you say right away it was Charlotte? I thought Jack had asked me for one of his business dinners. When did she call?”

“Only half an hour ago. She could have asked you sooner though. How am I supposed to manage this household if all of you come and go from the dinner table, whenever it suits you,” her mother replied, wailing every single syllable.

“My dear, I think you are absolutely right,” Mr. Bennet said, deciding to take his share in the conversation, “It does right to your clear judgment to apportion Charlotte with the largest part of the blame,“ and with a voice suddenly warming up, “Lizzy, Jane, how was your shopping expedition? Did you find something you like?”

While Jane informed her parents about the secondhand sofa they had purchased, and, not being in the luxurious position to even think about superfluities, only a few other necessary items, Elizabeth called her friend to arrange the dinner meeting.

“Nothing fancy,” Charlotte said, when Elizabeth asked which restaurant her friend would prefer “Just to have a nice chat.”

Het Huis Van Frederik Hendrik opened a few weeks ago. You know the former post office on the market -- Shall we eat there?” Elizabeth proposed.

“Perfect, I’ll pick you up at 6.30.”

“Right, see you then, bye!” And so Elizabeth found herself, barely one and a half hours later, walking with Charlotte towards the Meryton center from their parking spot near the medieval church. The Town Square, called ‘De Markt’, was situated very close to the church and three ancient roads converged there. The arteries could be estimated at least as old as the church, because from whatever direction, the roads aimed straight towards the ancient building. Several restaurants were adjacent to the building and when the weather was cooperative, tables and terrace chairs were put out on the square to create a place to see and be seen. Due to the temperature, eating outside wasn’t an option. Charlotte and Elizabeth went inside the latest hot spot of Meryton, the ancient post office that recently had received a new purpose as a restaurant where simple, but tasty dishes were served.

After leaving their coats in the corridor, where some plain, ancient-looking hooks were installed for just that use, they chose a table in front of one of the tall windows, of which the upper part was leaded, facing the town-square. The building was 105 years old and part of it had always served as a post office while the other half was a residence. The restaurant was situated in the former office and the interior decorator had built around the original black-and-white tiled floor, using small, square, black-painted tables and long, straight curtains which were white from the ceiling down to where the windows ended where the walls began.  At that point, the curtains became black. Simultaneously the decorator had tried do to something with a royal battle theme and huge portraits of ancient war heroes were painted on the walls between the windows.

“What do you think?” Elizabeth asked.

“Hmm, don’t know.” Charlotte didn’t like it, but as she wasn’t knowledgeable enough to analyze why she did or didn’t like it she simply shrugged. “And you?”

“It’s the same painter who did half of the restaurants here. I don’t like his work. The portraits are badly done. The faces do nothing for me. And they’re giant, they dominate the room.” Still facing the walls, Elizabeth absentmindedly took the menu from the table and continued, “Honestly, they almost spoil the whole room. But I like what he has done with the black and white.”

“I agree, you hit the nail on the head.”

A small party of four entered and was about to take the table next to Elizabeth and Charlotte, when one of the women turned and noticed them. With a small shake of her head and a hardly audible cough the four put the chairs back in place and removed themselves to a table at the other end of the room. Lowering her lashes, Elizabeth tried to focus on the menu, fruitlessly ignoring the blush that burned a slow path from her neck towards her cheeks. Embarrassment mingled with disappointment formed the knot in her stomach, irrigated with the juicy sauce of fear, her newfound trepidation that moments like this would occur. Thus was created a maze of emotions melted together in plain hurt—hurt and a tiny piece of indignation. How could they? They weren’t entitled to hurt her like this, to shun, quash and reject her publicly. Noticing the discomfort, reading the internal struggle on her friend’s face, Charlotte raised a questioning eye to her friend.

“Colleagues of Jonathan.”

“This wasn’t the first time something like this happened, right?” Charlotte asked slowly.

“No”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t let them make you feel disconsolate. You don’t deserve it.” She placed her hand on top of Elizabeth’s menu, pushing it flat on the table and forcing her friend to look up.

“I know,” Elizabeth said softly and after a few moments in painful silence continued “But it hurts, you know. noaber help, my ass. Pastoral, pleasing, picturesque, peace. Yeah right, as long as you follow the right paths. Don’t you dare step aside.” Deliberately using the word for a neighbor from the ancient, dialect of the east to emphasize the irony, she fiercely, though in a low voice, spat out every element of her alliteration.

“Do I smell some repressed anger here?” Charlotte asked and after an interruption to order their meal and drinks, “Why don’t you leave town? Start somewhere new.”

“Leave? Never! Would make them feel vindicated. After all, I did nothing wrong … well that is to say … I didn’t commit any serious crime. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Judgment is so easy. Here we have it. A break up, a divorce, I’m the bad girl and he is the poor guy. See? Easy as that.”

“It was about time for you to spit it all out, right?” Charlotte asked. ”Do you have any regrets?” Elizabeth chose to look out of the window, without seeing anything that was happening outside.

“Yes and no.” The answer came out in divided pieces between loaded periods of silence, as if it was the first time Elizabeth had come to really think about it. Charlotte patiently listened, not interrupting her friend except to give the waiter the opportunity to serve the dishes.

“I don’t regret that I ended the marriage.” That’s for sure.

“I know the way I did it wasn’t right. Not really very proper.” Now, that’s an understatement. 

“But hey, is there a proper way to end a relationship?” Of course there is. At least if it’s true when people say they ended it with mutual agreement.

“I don’t hate Jonathan.” That’s not true. Yes it’s true. It isn’t hate.

“I feel nothing.” Meaning, I don’t care about his feelings.

“I think, I ought to feel pity for him, but I don’t.” That’s true, I don’t care a bit he’s hurt and that I’m the reason for it.

“I feel nothing. I don’t know what he is saying about me.” Not that I can’t imagine it.

“They won’t hear anything from me about him, that’s for sure. He’s a good man, he really is Charlotte.” He always meant the best for me, that’s true. He did what he thought was best.

 “But not for me.”

When the hush following this remark lasted longer than the silences after the other utterances, Charlotte decided to react, “Well, it says something about who you really are.”

“Maybe. Too bad there’re so few people who see it. It is such a damn cliché. Hard times reveal who your true friends are. Believe me, I’ve few left.”

“Hey, quality first, right? Believe me Lizzy, you might be topic of the month right now. But in a few weeks time you’ll see, something else will happen and you’ll be out of the spotlight. I think you’re wonderful for not pouring scorn on Jonathan. It would have been the easiest thing to do and you chose not to.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth responded genuinely pleased. “But why does it still hurt?”

“Because you feel everybody is condemning you?”

“I guess you’re right. I mean, who are they to form an opinion while knowing so little about us?”

“You said it yourself. ‘As long as you follow the right trail.’ They pretend they always follow the right path and nothing proves that they really do as detesting someone who dared leave it.”

“Sometimes, when I go to the supermarket or when I’m on my bike and see an acquaintance approaching, I brace myself for what is to come. It doesn’t happen often, really. Only a few times, when a person chooses to look the other way or quickly steers the cart into another row, but it hurts.”

“Right, I imagine. Or at least I try to.” After finishing the remnants of her beef, Charlotte said carefully, ”But it isn’t easy to approach a person the first time after something significant has happened. What words to choose? Which questions to ask and which not? How to phrase the first line? You aren’t making it easier when you are showing a ‘hey don’t come any nearer’ attitude,” and after some time to give Elizabeth the opportunity to ponder her words, she continued cheerfully: “But, I’m sure you can’t maintain this attitude very long. You’re way too inviting, friendly and open for that.”

Pricking the trout with her fork, playing with her food instead of eating it and looking at the crayfish adorning the dish, she sensed a sudden temperature drop. “Speaking of attitude.” Elizabeth nodded towards the entrance where she saw Charles Bingley and William Darcy entering the restaurant, “Please tell me mine isn’t as repulsive as his.”

Charlotte, facing the opposite of the entrance, had to turn around to see whom her friend was referring to. Immediately she spotted Charles Bingley, whose friendly eyes rounded the room, clearly approving of what he saw before he approached the two women and expressed his wish that they were enjoying their meal. Charlotte answered affirmatively and faced the other man briefly. Elizabeth was right. He was tall and it seemed indeed as if he used his height to look down on everything. His blank expression showed nothing but a slight condescension. Looking down meant automatically he was up. Up on his own level where he certainly wasn’t inviting anyone to join. With a small nod she turned back to Elizabeth. “Don’t be afraid, even if you were to spend the night in a freezer and decided to come out only to sprinkle liquid nitrogen around, you’d spread more warmth.”

Elizabeth chuckled but couldn’t resist searching William’s eyes when the men took their seats at the table behind Charlotte: the same one the other party abandoned a short while ago. Charles’s back almost touched Charlotte’s and William sat opposite his friend, which allowed Elizabeth to watch his face undetected. Noticing his look at the huge portraits, she was certain she spotted disapproval and had to admit smilingly to herself she had found something to agree with him on, even if it was minor. More feeling than seeing his eyes turning towards hers, instantly and, so she liked to believe inexplicably, she turned her own towards her friend.

“Anyway, I guess you’re right. I’ll try not to see demons in the supermarket. However, intentions and actually acting upon them are two different things,” she leisurely continued their initial conversation.

“So tell me,” Charlotte said, also back on the same topic again, ”We’ve only been talking about hurt. It’s time for the positive part. Find anything for your new home today?”

“Ah, yes,” Elizabeth replied, immediately brightening up. “We found a secondhand sofa. Nothing special and really cheap, but I love it. It has a zillion different shades of green. Char, it was fun to shop with Jane. It was fun to choose something I really like. And it was my decision to buy it. Mine alone. Jane even let me negotiate a bit about the price.”

Charlotte, surprised by the sudden flood of words, sensed an improvement of her friend’s mood. “Ah, I wish I could help you move next week.”

“Oh, Char, egocentric me. We’ve been talking about me and me alone the whole evening. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t.” Charlotte turned and answered the waiter who approached the table, “Ah, yes please we would like to see the dessert card.” They perused the menu for the desserts and made their choices.

“Tell me. How is your work Char,” Elizabeth said trying to avoid the profound glance she felt William Darcy cast at her every now and then, a glance that caused her to shiver and feel uncomfortable.

“Well, what shall I say,” Charlotte chuckled. “It’s one big role-play and I don’t have a textbook. It’s all about improvising.”

“Role-play?”

“Yes, I feel I have to perform my play every day.” Charlotte had accepted a job as a professional companion, in the original meaning of the word. An old and very wealthy lady paid her to provide friendship and keep her company. When Charlotte was on duty she lived in the servant apartment, adjacent to the main house. She had to serve the old lady breakfast, spend some time chatting with her about the morning paper, take her to the hairdresser, read through the television guide to plan which programs to watch together in the evening, avoid letting her drink too much booze, prepare dainty dishes and fake, that word hadn’t been used in the original job description of course, friendship.

“She’s old money, you know.”

Elizabeth nodded, not knowing old money herself, but familiar with the expression.

“She’s pretty small, but she sits in her room straight like a statue, dominating her whole surroundings. She acts as if she never gets no for an answer, which perhaps she actually really never does,” and showing her mirth between bites of her excellent chocolate mousse Charlotte chuckled, “Except from me, when I refuse to give her another glass of Port.”

After a few moments of silence where the women enjoyed their dessert Charlotte continued “Do you know the Van den Bild De Bourgh?”

Elizabeth answered affirmatively telling Charlotte briefly about the times she had visited the famous Rotterdam art-museum with the huge Potter collection.

“The De Bourgh family founded the museum in cooperation with the rich Van den Bilds. I don’t know if they own part of it, but Lady Catherine likes to believe it’s hers and hers alone.”

“Are you allowed to call her Lady Catherine?”

“I mostly call her ma’am. She likes it. I think she had been called ‘my lady’ or ‘madam’ her entire life. Nobody dared call her anything else. Nobody dared contradict her either.”

“Which has made her believe she is always right?”

“Oh yes. She is always right. She always has to say something about everything and everybody and her opinion is always correct.”

“You never disagree with her?”

“No. That’s when the role-playing starts. I pretend I always agree. She has been treated thusly her entire life. Who am I to change that?”

“Must be difficult.” Elizabeth tried to imagine how it would be not to be able to defend one’s  opinion. This fantasy wasn’t very difficult to achieve, having adapted her own opinion to that of another too often these past few years. Did I?

“That’s why it’s so difficult to find and keep good personnel. That, and because she always makes you feel you are beneath her.”

“Really?” Elizabeth was surprised to hear the casual tone Charlotte used.

“Oh yes. I can’t tell you precisely how she does it. But she uses those small words and looks and moves her hand in a certain way to dismiss you.” Enjoying their coffee Charlotte remained talking about the grand old lady. About the huge house, the gardens, the employees who had to take care of all the property, the daughter who called on her mother twice or perhaps three times a year. No, calling on wasn’t the right term. No one just called on the lady. Those who were allowed could pay her a carefully organized and planned visitation. Not that there were many people dying to chat in the unduly decorated room. Elizabeth heard about the illness the lady was suffering from and the decision Charlotte had to make. Staying with Lady De Bourgh till her death meant increasingly acting as a nurse. Leaving her would mean she had to search for another old lady in want of a companion.

“You really talk about this as a business decision, don’t you?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes, of course. It’s my job and if I want to stay in this field I’ve to look into the future. I expect the lady will live another year, perhaps two. Staying till the end will mean I’ve to wash her, to nurse her, to feed her, to comfort her, etcetera. I’m not really accustomed to doing that but I might learn. She’s cancer and doesn’t want to use any medication, perhaps some painkillers in the future, no more. But, on the other hand, if I stay with her it will show my faithfulness. It will look good on my résumé.”

“Wow, Char you make it sound like an investment, like a business proposition.”

“Like I said, it’s my job. It’s not like I care for her, or so. I do my job, she pays me.”

“You’re very practical. I should almost say pragmatic,” Elizabeth concluded.

It was warm inside the restaurant. They had finished their dinner and were not inclined to go home yet. Elizabeth proposed that they walk a little. It wasn’t raining and, though too cold for eating outside, the temperature was nice enough for a enjoyable stroll. The minute they‘d paid the tab and rose to collect their coats both of the gentlemen at the table behind Charlotte did the same. Together they crowded the small corridor.

Darcy noted the chocolate brown pants hugged her bottom perfectly. His gaze traveled from her casual ankle high boots with low heels up to her brown hair, which hung loosely on her shoulders, lingering extra long on her nicely shaped derrière.

She thought he was overdressed. The restaurant wasn’t very chic and most of the guests were casually dressed. William Darcy was the only one attired in an expensive suit. It certainly didn’t cause him to remain inconspicuous between other visitors, rather serving to make him look like the only ‘Hugo Boss’ advertisement in a Jeans Magazine. 

“May I help you?” Charles offered and took Charlotte’s coat to help her in, leaving William, gentleman that he was, no option but to help Elizabeth into hers. She thanked him politely and heard Charles asking where they could find the famous area of Meryton where the canal, the rampart and the ancient cannon could be seen. Charlotte glanced at Elizabeth and replied they had just agreed to take a stroll and that it would be their pleasure if the gentlemen accompanied them. 

“Of course, we’re happy to show you around. It’s a lovely sight and very nicely lit.” Charlotte said, stepping outside with Charles at her side and claiming his attention with engrossing tales about the city and its history.

The other couple remained silent. She, not willing to start, waited for him to phrase an opening line. He, not willing to start either, remained silent. She, not used to saying nothing at all, started to feel uncomfortable. He, enjoying the silence he rarely received in company, kept his mouth locked. She, uncomfortable enough not to endure this silence any longer, decided to abandon her initial intention and said: “I hope you enjoyed your meal.”

“I did.”

“But?”

“But what?” he asked surprised.

“ ‘I did’, is way too short an answer. You didn’t like it very much, did you?”

“What makes you think so?” After adjusting his long steps to Elizabeth’s shorter ones he turned his head slightly, so he could see her. The day before, at the party, he had already noticed that she possessed a pleasingly light figure and that she danced with grace and elegance. While helping her to don her trench coat, he had smelled her sweet hair and admired silently the short curly locks and the long tresses she held aside at the back of her neck. And now he witnessed how her face could change from emotionless to seriousness to a frolicsome question mark. Unbeknownst to him, she had decided to act a little boldly in order to have a conversation with this man at all and he automatically answered her emotion when a smile adorned his face, emphasizing its natural beauty.

“It’s the way you say it. The intonation you used when you said ‘it was’,” Elizabeth answered. “Words may form the phrase, but the tone provides the meaning.”

“C’est le ton qui fait la musique,” William replied.

“Wow, what a long answer that was.”

“Does that imply that a short answer cannot receive your approval?”

“What makes you think so?” she bounced back.

“It was the tone in which you said it,” he playfully answered, giving her her own answer back.

“Well it is a French saying. I guess, I don’t have to expect other long answers from you…unless you are repeating mine.”

“I disagree with you on disapproving of a short answer.”

“I never said I disapproved of short answers!” Elizabeth objected. “I was surprised to hear such a long answer from you, that’s all.”

“Why should you be surprised?”

“Why do you think? Why should I be surprised?”

“Do you always answer a question with another question?”

“You only give me short answers. I’ve never heard you uttering a long one, except the French translation of my own answer.”

“Right.”

“See what I mean?” Thinking to herself that this was absolutely the most unusual conversation she had ever had with a relative stranger about strange questions and answers, she pained herself to find a way to end it. “Well, did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Enjoy your dinner?”

“Yes, I did. It wasn’t top-notch of course.”

“No it was not. I agree. It’s a new restaurant, opened a few weeks ago. You didn’t like the paintings did you?”

“What made you think so?”

She felt the urge to stamp her feet, annoyed by his short answers, which constantly forced her to draw longer ones out of him. On the one hand they discouraged her from asking other things, on the other hand she sensed a challenge. She felt he did it on purpose, he was deliberately fencing himself off. How was it again, the way to have a decent conversation? Right… You ask open questions and you look at each other while answering them. You use a friendly tone in your questions and answers and you show your interest in the other. Why on earth should this man act the way he did? She had tried to start a polite conversation, how many times now? Then her mind wandered back to the sunny afternoon on Place du Tertre, looking at his face, his blank non-emotional face. She had found him a puzzle and she liked puzzles. He had had a beautiful face of course and it still was a beautiful face. The man was an enigma. But why did she dislike him so much? Of course, she had almost forgotten -- she wasn’t good enough. Meryton wasn’t good enough. Nothing was good enough.

“Yes, you were right. I don’t consider those paintings to be extremely beautiful.” His warm voice woke her out of her reverie. Again he had managed to confuse her, this time by actually saying something without her asking a question. But his warm voice couldn’t change her opinion. Of course he didn’t consider them to be beautiful. She started to wonder if there was anything at all which he might consider beauteous. Following Charlotte and Charles at an easy pace, not trying to follow their conversation, Elizabeth looked at the ground where he and she placed both their feet and noticed his very fine leather shoes.

“Charlotte!” the others were a little ahead and had chosen the lower path along the canal side when Elizabeth called. “I think we might better take the upper path.” Her friend nodded and turned to follow the other two. “There’s mud down there, this path has cobblestones,” she said pointing at his footwear.

“That’s very kind of you.” Walking next to each other again, after having climbed a few stone steps during which, she noticed, he had stayed behind her, his right hand slightly raised with care, ready to catch her should she stumble, he expressed a desire to learn how she made her discovery about his preferences. “How did you know I didn’t like the portraits?”

“I saw you looking at them on entering the room.”

“You surprise me.”

That answer only raised another question, expressed by a slight raise of Elizabeth’s brow.

C’est le ton qui fait la musique. Did you know words aren’t as important as many people like to believe?” Elizabeth didn’t answer, having discovered that it was probably the best option for getting him in a talkative mood. “Sixty to eighty percent of the impression we have of someone else is based on non-verbal communication and their signals have five times the strength of verbal ones.” Although she hadn’t been aware of the exact numbers before, she knew the importance and 'volume' of silence. Wondering where his declaration was leading, she raised her head slowly towards his and faced him with another questioning movement of her brow.  He answered her unspoken question “We show our feelings seven percent in words, thirty-eight percent in the tone and fifty-five percent in the expression of our face.”

After they had walked towards the old cannon, proudly standing on a stone platform, still defending the beleaguered city from its attackers and had listened to Charlotte’s explanation about its age and history, Elizabeth and William followed their way to the other side of the wall. “I still don’t have an answer as to why you are surprised I knew you didn’t like the paintings in the restaurant,” Elizabeth asked.

“Conversation is part of my job when making business deals. Showing too much emotion can be dangerous. I was surprised you saw it, that’s all.”

“Dangerous?” She was utterly surprised.

“Being an open book, like you, might be inviting at first, but in business … it won’t take you very far.”

They descended the stairs on the other side of the wall and, on nearing the place where Charles had parked his car, goodbyes were said. His “thank you, it was a pleasure,” was only answered by a slight nod from her and when the men drove away, the women walked together, arms hooked, towards the church.

How could he criticize her demeanor? She had always been an open and inviting person. Hadn’t Charlotte said so only an hour ago? Normally, people liked her, liked to talk with her. She always had a topic to talk about, was always ready for a nice chat. She could smile, she could laugh, she could flirt, she could wink, and she could send Jane complete messages across the loud Bennet dinner table without uttering one word. It was one of her better traits and he had managed to turn it around into a drawback, a disadvantage. What did he mean, he was surprised? Surprised she had sensed his disapproval? An open book? Look in the mirror, man and you’ll see an open book. The book called, ‘How to scare the world of in 7 days’, no make that ‘7 hours’.

 
   

Back to Table of contents -  Previous chapterNext chapter 

    Marjolein © 2003-2004 All rights reserved M.Houwer