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 nine   

 

After checking on her sister, whom she found sound asleep on top of a bed in one of the guestrooms, Elizabeth went downstairs. William stood in the hallway, waiting for Elizabeth. They were about to leave to collect clothes from the apartment together. As Charles was nowhere to be found, Elizabeth asked William if he could take her to the scullery. “I need something to hang the rabbit with, and perhaps I can find it downstairs,” she said.

William walked ahead of Elizabeth, though she knew exactly where the room was she needed to go to. She just didn’t feel comfortable traipsing about the house by herself.

“What I remember, from when we were kids,” Elizabeth explained, “is that they used to kill game in the scullery next to the kitchen. I hope there’s some of the equipment left.” She sent William a questioning glance asking if she could open the drawers of the beautiful, antique, built-in closets.

He nodded and watched as she searched. “Did you come here often, when you were a kid?”

“Not very often. I’ve been here a couple of times after a hunt. Mary and I participated in the beating (Note: 1) and afterwards we were all invited to the house.” She rummaged in the drawers. “I’m afraid they took the hooks; a rope will have to do.”

They walked outside and Elizabeth tied a rope to one of the hind legs of the rabbit and attached it to the cullis. “Nice, high and dry,” she mumbled.

“Why did you do that?” William asked.

“The meat will be tastier when the blood sinks down. This is how we’ve done it for years. It’s cold enough outside so it doesn’t need to hang in a cold store.” Elizabeth cast a quick look at William. “Have you ever killed game?”

“Actually no ... I like to eat it though,” answered William, who was accustomed to visiting the best restaurants, with an excellent selection of game on the menu. “I allow my neighbor to hunt on my land and every year he offers me something from the catch. I never had to kill or prepare it myself though. They take care of that in the kitchen.”

Hearing him say “they” in the kitchen, Elizabeth deduced that William had a rather large staff. She wondered what his house would look like. Assuming it wasn’t very likely she would see it -- why would he invite her? -- she shrugged off her question as trivial.

“Shall we?” William gestured toward the car and they drove to Lizzy and Jane’s apartment.

A short time later, Elizabeth opened her apartment door and let William and herself in. “Please have a seat while I gather Jane’s things. It won’t take long.”

William took the opportunity to look around. The room had little furniture, but somehow the two sisters managed to create a warm atmosphere by scattering personal belongings throughout the room without making it look cluttered. A beautiful painting graced the wall above the couch, and William was convinced it came from Elizabeth’s hand. It depicted a huge wave and was at first sight, very simple. Its superficial starkness did not prevent him from taking a closer look. Puzzled as to why the blue surface wasn’t emanating coldness as that color often does, he strode towards the couch. Placing his knee on the seat he was able to approach the painting very closely. He discovered little golden flecks beneath the blue strokes, not enough to mix the blue into green, but precisely and sufficiently enough to take away the chill. “It’s yours, right?” William asked when Elizabeth entered the room, her arms laden with clothes. On her confirmation, he continued, “It’s amazing. Simple at first sight yet so much to see when you take a closer look.”

“Isn’t that often the case?” Noticing the golden flecks in William’s brown eyes again, she shifted her gaze to her painting, and wondered if he knew how much of her meaning he had caught. “Thank you,” she simply said. The few words didn’t do justice to the warmth she felt within, but an attentive observer could see by her shining eyes, and the curled corners of her mouth, how much she liked him saying it.

“I need an overnight bag to put these things in. Let me find one and we can go.” She wanted to be back with Jane as soon as she could, figuring her sister would also like to wash and change clothes. “I guess it’s okay if I take my shower there?”

“I’m sure it is.” William, slowly tore his gaze away from the wave and turned to a pile of books that, for a lack of a bookcase, were placed on the ground. “I would like to freshen up myself,” he absentmindedly added. Thinking the collection of one’s books often says something about the owner, he tried to inconspicuously skim through the titles. The number of art books didn’t surprise him. The publications about business economics were probably Jane’s. Then he heard Elizabeth mutter something and he followed her voice down the little hall to see what was the matter. “Something wrong? Can I help?”

His warm tone startled Elizabeth, who hadn’t heard him coming close. Quickly standing up from a kneeling position she bumped her head against a shelf in the meter closet. “Ouch.” She touched the sore spot with her hand.

“Watch out,” William said, a bit more forcefully than he intended. “One concussion a day is enough. Are you okay?” he asked with a concerned look. “Let me see.” Carefully, he brushed a lock of hair aside, while cupping her face with his other hand. “There’s no blood, but I’m afraid you’re going to get a bump. Do you have something in the freezer for cooling?” He softy blew on the spot, which was already turning red. It caused goose bumps everywhere on Elizabeth’s body, except for the spot it was intended to cool.

“I didn’t hear you,” Elizabeth said faintly. While she softly pushed William’s hand away, she tried to hide the impact his voice, touch and breath had on her skin. In a stronger voice, she explained, “I wanted to put the light on because it’s rather dark here. But it didn’t work and I’m afraid the fuse has blown so I have to change it. It’s the third time it’s blown since we moved in.”

“Let me.” William wanted to replace it but Elizabeth didn’t give him a chance to do.

“No need.” Quickly she took a box with spare fuses, removed the old and screwed a new one in. “Fortunately this one is not for the fridge. Imagine what would welcome me after being away for a weekend.” She smiled and wrinkled her nose simultaneously.

“Well, you certainly couldn’t get an ice pack from your freezer if that was the case,” he smiled.

“It’s not a big bump, I don’t think I need an ice pack. Not even one that’s really frozen instead of melted” she joked. “Can you take this, please?” She handed William the overnight bag, which she had found in the closet. She then picked up the mail that was still lying on the doormat.

William put the bag on the table and kept it open to allow Elizabeth to put what she and Jane needed inside. At last, she placed the mail on top of them. “I can read it at Netherfield,” she said with a frown, which did not go unnoticed by William.

“Is this all?” he asked and when Elizabeth nodded, he zipped the bag closed. A quick glimpse at the hand-made paper envelope told him it came from a lawyer's office.

* ~* ~*

  

“It was thoughtful of Charles to take Jane to Netherfield,” Elizabeth said as they sat in the car on their way back to the house. As William nodded a silent yes, she continued. “I mean, if I go to work on Monday and she still needs to lie down, there will always be Mrs. White to look after her.”

“Damn it, no,” William muttered.

Utterly surprised by that answer, Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open. Would William disapprove of Jane staying at Netherfield during the week? Well, who was he, to say anything about it. It was Charles’s house after all. Astonished and a bit offended, she looked at him and saw her assumption confirmed as his faced suddenly turned into a mask of disgust.

Hearing him saying it right after she dropped the casual remark left little space for another interpretation. However, Elizabeth swiftly adjusted her assumption when William pointed at something else that could very likely explain the reason for his remark.

“That’s Louisa’s car,” he said curtly. On Elizabeth’s question as to whom Louisa might be, William explained her connection with Charles and Caroline. “An entire house filled with Bingleys, now that’s fun.”

“Come on, it’s a large house. Three of them can’t possibly dominate it. Besides, you’re still here and as far as I know you’re definitely not a Bingley,” Elizabeth laughingly said.

“Right, and neither are you.” William’s mood seem to lighten up a bit again. “Nor Jane.”

“You said Bingleys. That includes Charles, you know. You wouldn’t spend so much time with him if you didn’t at least like him as a friend, right?” Elizabeth was still smiling and she sounded so friendly William could not possibly be offended by her attempts to belie his remarks.

“Of course, you’re right. Charles is nothing like his sisters, believe me. Louisa and Caroline – the two of them alone can fill a palace.” William sighed, got out the car, opened the door for Elizabeth and took the bag from her.

On entering the house from the back, two shrill voices welcomed them immediately.

“You can’t give me a room without a bathroom.” It didn’t sound familiar so Elizabeth figured this must be Louisa.

“She’s right Charles. You can’t send Louisa to an attic room, just because you invite anybody who crosses your path. What where you thinking; asking her without my consent?” This was definitely Caroline with her high, stuck-up voice. “We have no housekeeper this weekend; nice schedule you have.”

“It was an accident. I didn’t plan anything,” Charles answered his sisters.

Apparently the sisters hardly heard what he said, as Caroline interrupted him immediately. “And which of her noisy sisters is coming to nurse her?” This caused not only Elizabeth’s eyebrows to rise but some of her hairs, and quite a few of William’s as well.

“Hello, Louisa; Caroline, good morning.” William spoke not too loudly but was clearly audible as he and Elizabeth rounded the corner. In his right hand he carried the bag and his left hand lay on the small of Elizabeth’s back. It remained there while he dropped the bag on the ground, nodded to Charles and extended his hand to Louisa. “It’s been awhile, Louisa. How are you?” But before he gave Louisa the opportunity to answer he continued, “Let me introduce you to Elizabeth Bennet.”

It was clear the sisters would not be physically filling the house as Elizabeth noticed Louisa was as thin as Caroline. Charles’s eldest sister, who was a bit taller than Elizabeth, had salt-and-pepper colored hair worn in a stylish chignon. She had covered her bony body in elegant, but colorless clothes. The quality of the cloth, the tailoring, as well as the subtly embroidered logos of famous brands, radiated “expensive”. Together with her refined makeup, she could be described as having sophisticated elegance. Though Elizabeth, biased by the words she heard the lady utter before setting eyes on her, could see no beauty. The handshake was formal and weak, and the pale blue eyes only projected cold indifference.

“Nice to meet you,” Elizabeth said and shifted her gaze to Caroline whom she had met before in the restaurant. As Caroline had been sitting on that occasion, this was the first time Elizabeth could actually see how tall she was. Head and shoulders over her, Caroline sent an aloof glance downwards. Like her sister she wore designer clothing, meticulously applied makeup, a not too subtle fragrance and had, to Elizabeth’s surprise, manicured, long nails; not the kind of nails that would survive several workouts with horses.  

“Hello, Elizabeth,” Caroline said in a none-too-friendly tone, but then noticed how William still kept his left hand on Elizabeth’s back, making it clear that he apparently had no objections to her presence. Like a beaming sun suddenly appearing from behind a thundercloud, her face brightened and her voice transformed into cloying sweetness. “I hope your sister is doing well? Please tell me if she needs anything and I will take care of it.” She hardly listened to Elizabeth’s, “Thank you, I will,” and turned to William. “I hope the morning was lovely? Nice area to take a horse outdoors?”

“Until the moment Jane fell it was indeed a very nice morning. If you will excuse me, I’ve promised Elizabeth I’d bring this bag upstairs.” With a curt nod, he picked up the bag from the floor and took it upstairs to leave in front of Jane’s bedroom.

After William disappeared, Caroline and Louisa apparently saw no reason to stay in the hallway and so turned and left for the large living room. Charles expressed his concern to Elizabeth and made her promise to ask for whatever either of the sisters might need.  “I’m glad you’re here,” he said with a bashful smile.

“I’m sorry we’re trespassing,” Elizabeth said.

“Oh, but you’re absolutely not. I feel responsible for what happened this morning and giving Jane some shelter and a place to rest was the least I could do.”

Elizabeth started to laugh. “There’s absolutely no need to feel responsible. Neither you, nor anyone else could have stopped that rabbit.” A bit more seriously she continued, “It was sweet of you to bring Jane here. I’m happy to know she won’t be alone when I have to get things from home or the store.”

Charles answered with a beaming smile, “I’m off to Meryton now. Jane was prescribed a painkiller. I’ll collect it from the pharmacy.”

Elizabeth thanked Charles again, waved him off, smiling to see him so eager to be helpful, and then walked upstairs to Jane. Picking up the overnight bag, Elizabeth softly knocked on the door. The large room was darkened by tall, velour curtains, so the daylight didn’t bother Jane, who lay on the bed with her eyes closed. She was awake and noticeably happy to see her sister. With Elizabeth’s help, she changed into her pajamas and freshened up.

A knock on the door did not announce Charles with the medicine but, surprisingly, William with two bowls of soup and some sandwiches on a tray. “I figured you must be hungry,” he said while handing the tray to Elizabeth. “Would you do me a favor?” he asked while retrieving his mobile phone from his pocket. “Next to the bed there should be a knob. Could you push it?” As Elizabeth did so, he speed dialed a phone number. “Charles, can you hear it? Yes? Okay.” After snapping his phone shut he explained while still standing in the corridor, that Charles and he discovered there was a servant-system with buttons in the rooms connected to the bell-board in the kitchen. “It’s working, so if you need something you can ring downstairs.”

Elizabeth objected. “It’s very kind of you, but absolutely not necessary. I brought Jane’s as well as my cell phone. She can call me if I’m not in the room. But thanks again, that’s very kind of you.”

William answered with a shrug and turned to leave.

“William?” Elizabeth called after him. She hadn’t said his full name many times before. It caused the nape of William’s neck to tingle pleasantly before he slowly turned.

“Thanks for the soup. That was very thoughtful.” Slowly the corners of his mouth went up. As negligible as the movement was, it produced an immense change in his mien. His usually serious expression suddenly brightened like a little bypass flame on a stove that, with the right turn of the switch, lights the main burner. Again, Elizabeth saw how warm William’s brown eyes were when he set them on her and nodded a silent and pleasant, “You’re welcome”.

Elizabeth stayed quite some time with Jane and made sure she ate something. As Jane insisted her sister should not feel obliged to stay in the room the entire day, and certainly not when she was sleeping, Elizabeth put some of the mail she had brought from home in her pants pocket, and took the tray to the kitchen, where she washed the bowls. Some warm sunbeams, which managed to reach the basement, invited her to come outside; a request Elizabeth was by no means willing to refuse.  Donning her coat, which she had left earlier in the scullery with her riding boots, she took the ancient stone steps two by two to the small path at the back of the house. Inhaling fresh air and enjoying the natural fragrances of the beautiful autumn garden, she casually wandered to the backside, where she found a stone bench.

It wasn’t the solitary place she had expected it to be for she had hardly finished the letter from her lawyer when William joined her. “I see, you’ve found my favorite spot.” He approached the bench. “May I?” he gestured towards the empty place and at Elizabeth’s nod seated himself next to her. “Is there something wrong?” For someone who couldn’t see Elizabeth, this question would surely come as a surprise; however, William was able to read her countenance. In fact, even an illiterate could read that she was upset.

“If you ever want to slim down, start a personal lawsuit. Every letter from your lawyer will cause you to lose at least one kilo.” With fierce movements, Elizabeth folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. William said nothing but waited patiently for her to continue. “They say going through a divorce is in the top ten of life’s most stressful moments. I don’t know who figured that out but they’re absolutely right.”

When Elizabeth didn’t say anything for a while, William softly broke the silence. “So, the letter didn’t bring you any good news?”

“It’s so silly,” Elizabeth sighed. “I had hoped we could go through this like adults; make clear agreements and divide everything honestly.”

“You had community property?”

“Yes, but I don’t want half of it. When we married, he possessed much more than I did and I don’t consider it fair to claim it after such a short marriage.”

William turned his head and looked at her in surprise. “So, what’s the problem then?” 

“Instead of being grateful, he still tries to get the best out of it. Even though I granted him everything he owned before the marriage, he wants to bargain.” She sighed, “I have the feeling he deliberately wants to make my life miserable.”

“You shouldn’t let him do that.” William sounded rather fierce. “Do you have a good lawyer? What does he say about it?”

“He said I should not sign a list right away but think about it for a few days and send it via him and Jonathan’s lawyer.”

“Your lawyer is right. You had a letter—does that mean you take care of everything by mail or do you visit your lawyer personally?”

“Visiting a lawyer is way too expensive for me. I have legal insurance, thank heaven, but that means I have to use the lawyer my insurance appoints. Their office is in the north, about a three hour drive away.”

William wanted to offer the services of his personal lawyer, but on second thought he kept his mouth shut. Elizabeth wouldn’t accept it anyway, and she would be right. He had only known her for a short while. What justification could he make to provide his lawyer’s service for free?

When William remained silent, Elizabeth continued, “I don’t get it. It took me quite a while to make the final decision. When I told him, Jonathan was all tears and misery. He couldn’t continue without me, etcetera. It didn’t take him long to change his mind though. Only a few days later, I received the first letter from his lawyer. No attempt to get me back … to try it again as he had offered … but immediately fighting to get the most out of it. It hurts me.”

“When it hurts, you should fight back.” William suddenly stood up and put his hands in his pockets. “You went away. He can’t stand it, of course, and wants to fight back. No matter how worthless the things he wants are, he just wants to fight. That’s logical.” Considerably gentler, he continued, “Care for a little walk?” At Elizabeth’s nod, they slowly headed towards the same exit they had taken with the horses that morning.

“I don’t want to fight,” Elizabeth said in a low voice. She didn’t want a straight solution from William, not from anybody actually. She only needed to voice her feelings. It was strange; one minute William annoyed her by giving direct answers to problems she didn’t remember having voiced as questions. The next moment she felt free enough to tell this man her most private feelings. Who was this man she first laid eyes on that sunny day on Place du Tertre, who insulted her at the second encounter but now that she knew him a little bit better, made silence comfortable if sharing it with him during a nice walk?

At the end of the sand path behind Netherfield, William broke the quiet. “Last week you said you didn’t know exactly why you were unhappy in your marriage. Have you found an answer yet?”

Elizabeth didn’t react immediately. She kicked a little heap of autumn leaves that formed a beautiful reddish yellow carpet on the gray, sandy ground, ballooned her cheeks and exhaled audibly before carefully formulating her answer. “I wasn’t myself anymore. I did what he did and in the end I liked what he liked. Sometimes I even waited before giving an opinion on the most insignificant matters until I knew what he would say.” They took another road so they were actually walking around the property, just outside the borders of Netherfield. After some time, Elizabeth continued, “It happened gradually, but at the end I never took the initiative in anything at all. Who knows, I might even have forgotten what it was to take the first step in a situation.”

This time William didn’t need much time to react. “That’s ridiculous.” The tone in which he said it caused Elizabeth to turn her head quickly upward and look at him with questioningly eyes. “I mean…” William continued on with a gentler intonation. “Look at this morning, you were all initiative. Jane fell, we couldn’t reach a doctor right away and you took over the lead immediately. You even arranged an appointment before we came back to her. You were terrific.” Elizabeth shrugged, but a broad smile couldn’t hide how much she liked hearing his praise. William continued, “See, you haven’t forgotten how to do it. … but how could you lose it anyway? During your marriage I mean.”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said. “That is…. I think he was just too strong for me. He was better at substantiating his point of view. After some time, I was tired of even trying to oppose them. I often took the easiest way.”

“You made the decision to end the marriage, right? That certainly took effort. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

“Oh, yes, you’re right. But it took me some time to get there,” Elizabeth explained.

“I bet you doubted.”

“Of course I did. But that wasn’t the only thing.

“You were the one who then filed for divorce?”

Again Elizabeth waited a bit before she responded. Doubt as to whether she should actually disclose her most secret thoughts or not consumed her for some minutes. She felt a bit ashamed and truly thought she was the only person in the entire world who had such feelings before daring to take the big step. “Well…” she slowly began. “Yes, I took the initiative. But before that I had wished many times ... oh, you don’t want to know how often ... that I didn’t need to take that step. In my more desperate moments, I wished he would get killed in an accident, or that he would catch a fatal disease. That would have been easy, huh?”

“Yes, that would have been easy,” William also took his time. “… perhaps. Perhaps not. Be glad you don’t know which option would have been easiest.”

“Yes, I am.”

After this, they both remained silent until they were half way down Netherfield’s gravel driveway. Elizabeth again began doubting if it had been wise to tell him. Cautiously glancing at William, she noticed he was deep in thought. With a slightly furrowed brow and a solemn look, he walked on and she was convinced he avoided her eyes. Right, silly me. He really must think I’m nuts by now. She mentally kicked herself. I knew I shouldn’t have told him. Trying to lighten the atmosphere she felt had suddenly become gloomy, she audibly took a breath of fresh air and cheerfully said, “A pity Jane has to stay inside. The weather is so lovely today.”

“I hope she is doing well,” William said. “Send her my regards. You have to excuse me now. I have work to do.” Although he sounded friendly, his demeanor wasn’t as bright and breezy as Elizabeth hoped it would be. On the other hand, she concluded after a short contemplation, he was rarely  joyous. Recalling the times she had met him, she only remembered a serious man. With a few exceptions, he had been polite, most of the times friendly, now and then even smiled and only one, exceptional moment had he laughed out loud. That had been last week at the military when he teased her after she made her remark about typical male and female behavior.

* ~* ~*

 

Whereas Elizabeth spent the rest of the afternoon as she planned, comfortably together with Jane or in the other room reading a book, William’s time didn’t pass as productively as he desired. He tried to concentrate on the accounts and statements he should have been able to plough through quickly, but time and again his mind drifted away to the conversation he had had with Elizabeth that afternoon and from there to other, older memories.

During their walks, mutual confidences seemed to unfold, but nothing was further from the truth. As revealing as Elizabeth had been when she told him about her feelings and experiences, William stayed utterly close-mouthed. He felt no reason to disclose to Elizabeth why he could advise her so credibly about Jonathan’s reactions. He knew them very well.

Walking toward the wall of his room, having crossed the distance from the little bureau many times this afternoon, William’s eyes were again drawn towards a small painting. It was from an unknown, regional artist, in oil and it reminded him of Monet’s 1874 Bridge at Argenteuil. It wasn’t a copy, but the chosen point of view at the side of the river, the shape of the bridge and the equivalence of light and color certainly were similar. Wondering why he could not keep his eyes off the oil painting, he tried to focus on Elizabeth and what she had told him about her marriage. Then it suddenly hit him.

Every time Elizabeth told him something about her divorce or marriage, William would think back on his ex-wife and the years they had spent together. Almost all of the ways Jonathan had reacted to Elizabeth were familiar to William. He had done the same. Talking with Elizabeth made memories he had persistently banned from his consciousness, come to the surface again. She was the bridge between his present life and bygone days. The past was where, if it was up to him, his former marriage would stay for ever.

Thinking through it, he almost saw the bridge in the painting morphing into Elizabeth. Her beautiful, svelte ankles stood in the strong current of the river, where the water tried to find a way between the piles. Standing straddle-legged with outstretched arms, her fingers barely touched the banks. Far away at the other end of the bridge, but still way too close for his liking, he could discern Victoria, his ex-wife. Her beautiful, long red hair was, uncharacteriscally loose, and the wind caught the strands and blew it to all sides. She flung her head back and when she opened her mouth, showing her beautiful teeth, William could hear the resentful tones of her wicked laugh coming towards him across the bridge.

Would Victoria have wanted him dead like Elizabeth had wished her husband?  The fact Elizabeth had those feelings and dared to voice them was the reason William stopped talking. He wouldn’t value her any less now that he knew. No, it was the sudden realization that probably plenty of people on the verge of divorce, more specifically his ex-wife, had those very wishes. This thought alone made him silent and introverted. If so, how badly would Victoria have wanted his life to end? Would she have been capable of deliberately ending it?

Suddenly in the middle of the bridge another man appeared. The association with killing must have brought him into William’s virtual image. 

“No!” William loudly yelled. The memories of his former marriage were supposed to stay buried deep down in the past, any recollection of this man was absolutely the last image in the world he would ever want to see again and should be forgotten forever. William’s fist hit the wall, right next to the painting. He vigorously shook his head, turned on his heel and walked quickly to the bureau. Opening his laptop and loading his spreadsheet program, he searched through the pile of reports for calculations or analysis that absolutely needed to be done. He would ensure they would distract him from other contemplations.

* ~* ~*

 

The water droplets headed towards the bridge with the inbuilt weir. Choosing which arch to take they followed a current that would lead them between the two middle piles. It was one of the many surmountable obstacles one could find in an ordinary river. But nonetheless, a hindrance that had to be taken, before the journey into the future could be continued.

 

* ~* ~*

 

Note: 1 Beating: A beater is a person that strikes bushes or other cover to rouse game. The action is called beating. (click and go back to text)

 
   

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