du Tertre, the River, chapter
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.
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.
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.
nodded and watched as she searched. “Did you come here often, when
you were a kid?”
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.”
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,”
did you do that?” William asked.
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?”
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
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.
we?” William gestured toward the car and they drove to Lizzy and
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.”
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.”
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
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?”
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?”
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.
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.
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
me.” William wanted to replace it but Elizabeth didn’t give him
a chance to do.
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.
you certainly couldn’t get an ice pack from your freezer if that
was the case,” he smiled.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
it, no,” William muttered.
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
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.
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
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.
and neither are you.” William’s mood seem to lighten up a bit
again. “Nor Jane.”
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
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.
entering the house from the back, two shrill voices welcomed them
can’t give me a room without a bathroom.” It didn’t sound
familiar so Elizabeth figured this must be Louisa.
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.”
was an accident. I didn’t plan anything,” Charles answered his
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
sorry we’re trespassing,” Elizabeth said.
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.”
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.”
answered with a beaming smile, “I’m off to Meryton now. Jane was
prescribed a painkiller. I’ll collect it from the pharmacy.”
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.
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
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
answered with a shrug and turned to leave.
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.
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”.
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.
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
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.”
Elizabeth didn’t say anything for a while, William softly broke
the silence. “So, the letter didn’t bring you any good news?”
so silly,” Elizabeth sighed. “I had hoped we could go through
this like adults; make clear agreements and divide everything
had community property?”
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.”
turned his head and looked at her in surprise. “So, what’s the
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.”
shouldn’t let him do that.” William sounded rather fierce. “Do
you have a good lawyer? What does he say about it?”
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.”
lawyer is right. You had a letter—does that mean you take care of
everything by mail or do you visit your lawyer personally?”
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
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?
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
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.
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?
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?”
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.”
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.”
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.”
made the decision to end the marriage, right? That certainly took
effort. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
yes, you’re right. But it took me some time to get there,”
bet you doubted.”
course I did. But that wasn’t the only thing.
were the one who then filed for divorce?”
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?”
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
in the middle of the bridge another man appeared. The association
with killing must have brought him into William’s virtual image.
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
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.
1 Beating: A beater is a person that
strikes bushes or other cover to rouse game. The action is called
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