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 eleven, part two   

 

Ballooning his cheeks and consciously breathing out at a steady pace, William stretched his back and raised his arms as high as he could. He had been working a few hours on several Merytayns reports, analyzing them, and making notes where he wanted to know more details. Charles had joined him for two hours, but left the study when Caroline announced they had visitors. Other than vaguely wondering if it was common for this area to have neighbors visit each other on Sunday mornings, William hadn't paid much attention to the noise in the hallway, remaining focused on his task. Now, deciding to stretch his legs and get some coffee, he crossed the hallway. In the Chinese room, Caroline greeted him with an obvious fake smile, rolling eyes and a slight nod toward the other end of the room. There he spotted Mrs. Bennet and her two youngest daughters, Kitty and Lydia.

"Oh, if it isn't the man who called my daughter a walking chimney!"

Mrs. Bennet's voice was even shriller than William remembered. Not sure if it was his good upbringing or Elizabeth, whom he observed visibly stiffening from her mother's ill-mannered greeting, he ignored the remark and politely asked how Mrs. Bennet was doing. It was his first and last contribution to the conversation though, as he took some coffee from the side table and positioned himself with his cup in front of the window.

"Mr. Darcy, I was just telling how lucky our Jane is to have found a friend in Mr. Bingley." Mrs. Bennet seemed not to notice William's lack of interest in her talk, and shifted her position in her armchair towards him. "But then again, Jane is such a sweet girl. She could have been married now. A pity, things didn't work out that way."

"Mom," Elizabeth softly hissed.

"What?" her mother replied. "Nothing to be ashamed of, darling. At least she handled things graciously."

From his position at the window, William could sense Elizabeth gasping for breath; although he was somehow sure she tried to do it silently. He could also hear Lydia chortle, "Yes, she did, huh, Elizabeth?"

William unconsciously pricked up his ears, when Lydia dropped her voice and continued, "Unlike your sleeping around."

"A pity, indeed." Mrs Bennet stood up and started to walk around. "But who knows, maybe it was for the better for Jane. You have a beautiful house here, Mr. Bingley."

"Thank you, Mrs Bennet," Caroline answered in Charles's place.

To Elizabeth's horror her mother continued, "Jane would know exactly how to update a place like this. She has such wonderful taste in decorating."

Elizabeth's chair was so positioned in the room she could see her mother, as well as Caroline and William. Reading the emotions from all three faces she saw, not that she was surprised of it, the first had no clue about the hostility her remarks aroused. On Caroline's face, she saw a look of total disdain. William's, however, was more difficult to fathom. He stood, stiff as a rod, his mouth a firm line, his jaw tensed, staring into the distance. Not entirely sure how to explain it, Elizabeth thought she saw surprise, slight distaste and perhaps even shock.

"Mother, I think this household is being run perfectly," Elizabeth said to her mother in such a way everyone present could hear it. "The Bingleys did a great job renovating the stables and opening the house again."

"Of course, they did," Mrs. Bennet replied. "But it needs more to make a house a home. Not everybody is capable of adding a warm and welcoming atmosphere just by remodeling some wooden panels."

Now Elizabeth was sure she saw William snorting in contempt. "I had a nice evening yesterday and I certainly didn't feel cold or unwelcome."

Lydia and Kitty didn't take part in the conversation before, other than Lydia's vicious remark to Elizabeth, but after some whispering, Lydia turned to Charles. "Well, there's a way for you to prove this, you know."

Charles smiled back at the girls. "And what is that?"

Kitty started. "When a new neighbor moves in, it's quite customary to have a house warming party."

"Yes," Lydia eagerly added. "To sort of warm the house with all your new neighbors. Customary is an understatement here. If you don't give a party you'd be going against some very ancient country rules."

Mrs. Bennet's face brightened with this new suggestion of her daughters. "My girls are right Mr. Bingely; a party is a wonderful idea. Just an open house, perhaps some music." She turned on her heels admiring the entire room anew. "This house is so suitable for parties. Now, when I was a little girl we used to have Gala nights here. A palm-court orchestra in the Salon, card tables in the gentlemen's room, exquisite buffets in the dining room … ah those were the days."

"It's not a necessity. Mr. Bingley and Caroline are free to do whatever they want, and if that means no house warming party, so be it. Don't exaggerate. There are no strict rules at all." Elizabeth ignored the cross look Lydia gave her.

"Oh, no problem at all. If it's common in this area to invite all your neighbors over for an introductory party, we certainly won't break the habit," Charles cheerfully said.

"Let me know if there's anything we can do to help." This time Mrs. Bennet turned to Caroline. "We know the best caterers here. Don't use the florist on the market square in Meryton. The one on North Street is much better."

"Thank you, Mrs. Bennet," Caroline stopped the rant with a flat voice. "I must say, you are right. This house is perfect for a gathering. You don't need to worry; we have plenty of experience organizing a party. I've worked with the best party services before."

Slightly offended by the sudden interruption, and disappointed she would not be asked for help, Mrs. Bennet said shortly, "Fine. That's settled then." Turning to Elizabeth she continued, "We'll head home now. Elizabeth, make sure Jane gets enough rest." A little softer, but still audible for at least some present, she added, "And make sure you're not a nuisance while you're here. Please remember not everybody always wants to hear your opinions on every insignificant detail."

"Don't worry, Mom, Jane couldn't be in a better place than here right now. Let me walk you out." Although Elizabeth tried to sound calm and reassuring, she could almost feel her blood boil form annoyance, anger, and shame. The last emotion being the predominate one. Shame, because she felt her mother and sisters had done everything possible to make a fool of themselves. And not only that, Elizabeth was sure it hadn't done any good to the already bad impression Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst had of Jane and herself. When passing Charles's sisters, she could almost feel how they were preparing nasty descriptions to persuade Charles that they were the absolute last people with whom he should become acquainted.

 

* ~* ~*


After waving her mother and sisters off, Elizabeth quickly took the few sandstone steps to the monumental front door. As she was absolutely not in the mood to re-enter the Chinese room again, she rounded the corner to the tile covered basement stairs. She hastily crossed the long hall, entered the kitchen, grabbed her coat from the hook in the scullery, took the small servants back door and ran the little steps to the back square. She needed fresh air, now!

She didn't get much of a chance to enjoy it in solitude though, as William soon joined her at the pine wood hammock.

"I thought you gave me a rain check." He smiled at her and continued, "Or have you changed your mind -- do you want to walk alone?"

"Oh, it's okay," she languidly said. Actually Elizabeth preferred to be alone but she had not only promised William to join him on a walk, she concluded his presence might distract her thoughts as well.

She figured wrong.

William took out his handkerchief and handed it to Elizabeth. "Your mascara…"

"Must be the drizzle…" They both knew she was lying.

"You're upset." William stated it matter of factly. Elizabeth chose to look the other way, admiring the small spruces at the other end of the garden.

"That was quite a welcome your mother gave me." He snorted.

Now Elizabeth turned her head quickly. How could he? Getting annoyed by your own mother was one thing, but that didn't mean a complete stranger was entitled to say it out loud. Feeling her temperature rise from sudden anger, she wanted to automatically say something in defense of her family. Her thoughts propelled back to when she had observed William's stiff manner that afternoon. He might have been difficult to fathom, but she was sure she had read disdain on his face. She recalled how he had tightened his shoulders when his mother addressed him. Then, in the same split second the image of William in the lounge of the party centre, right before they entered her aunt and uncle's anniversary, filled her view. His cold brown, muddy eyes pierced through her again. Then, his remark that she was crystal clear … so unprofessionally crystal clear, that he made while they walked towards the Merytayns' Cannon after the dinner at The House of Frederik Hendrik, drummed through her ears again. All annoyances caused by her mother and sister's foolish behavior and comments vanished; stifled by a sudden urge to defend.

"My mother means well," she snarled. "At least she did her best to keep the conversation going. I cannot say that for you or anyone else present in that room."

"Sometimes no conversation is better than the ramble I heard this afternoon." The words were as cold as his gaze, icily staring at her.

"Sure, that's why you didn't say one single word during my aunt and uncle's anniversary party? Afraid you'd get an actual response?"

William stared at her in utter surprise. Anger briefly flashed through his eyes, but in a partly successful attempt to sound calm he slowly said, "Right, I think we should leave the rain check for another moment." Firmly pulling the hood over his head, he abruptly stopped, then with huge steps he walked away, braving a sudden downpour.

Not only wet by the rain but expeditiously cooled down as well, Elizabeth shouted, "William, wait." With short quick steps, trying to keep his pace, she walked next to him. "I'd like to walk with you … if that's okay."

When he didn't reply, or slow his gait, she stopped and shrugged her shoulders, ready to turn back to the house. But to her surprise, William pulled at her arm with a firm grip. "Let's get shelter in there." He pointed to the little arbor in the corner of the garden and they both started running. The octagonal bower had seen better times and could definitely use a renovation, but it was still dry, and the few panes that were broken had been covered with plastic. Elizabeth almost stumbled over the threshold when she hastily ran inside, and William quickly closed the French doors. Along all the windows were broad benches. Elizabeth could imagine them covered with floral patterned cushions, the same cloth as would have been used for the lampshade which she spotted, now a bare frame, hanging on the pointed ceiling. She seated herself while William preferred to stand, both hands in his pockets, in front of the doors overlooking the huge lawn, his view foggy by the curtain of rain.

Rubbing her arms, Elizabeth silently observed William. Why did she react so strongly to that man? Another memory of their short history rose to her consciousness; the time she had slapped him. Slowly shifting her look to the hands in her lap, she realized the resemblance. At the military she had been angry at Jonathan and his Corinne, and vented it on William by her impulsive reaction. It wasn't so different from her reaction now. Thank God she hadn't hit him this time, but she had lashed out with her catty remark. And for what? For him saying something that was true? There was a distinct difference, though. A few weeks ago William had remained calm, trying to ease her. Now, he had reacted as she deserved. Elizabeth softly sighed.

"You were right. I'm upset."

Slowly, William turned around till he was facing her. He looked at her for what seemed minutes. Finally he calmly said, "I shouldn't have said that about your mother."

"It's okay … I-" Elizabeth started.

"No, I was out of line. I apologize," he firmly said.

She dared to look at him again. "Well, what you said was true. My mother certainly gave you quite the welcome," she laughed nervously.

William looked at her intently, then noticed her rubbing her arms. With two steps he was next to her. "Are you cold?" Seeing her teeth clatter, he realized it was a rhetorical question. He grasped the lapel of her coat tentatively. "It's soaked. You should take it off." He knew he sounded worried, but he didn't care because it was precisely how he felt. "Here, take mine…" He quickly stripped off his moleskin coat, which was indeed still nicely dry and warm on the inside.

"No," Elizabeth objected. "You'll get cold yourself." She looked around at the stored garden furniture. "Isn't there something here I can wrap around me?"

William suddenly felt nervous, and quickly cleared his throat. "You can wrap this around you."

"I said no…. then you would get-" She couldn't end her sentence, as William interrupted her.

"We can wrap it around..."

William's eyes completed his statement with the proper question mark. Elizabeth hesitated, then slowly nodded. She shifted a little so William could sit next to her, while he draped his coat around her shoulders.

"Hey," Elizabeth protested. "I thought you said <i>we</i>. You're not covered now." She laughingly pulled at his coat in order to shift it back to William.

"Wait." William tried to conceal he was inhaling shakily. "This might help." He wrapped his arm around Elizabeth's shoulder and then the coat over his arm, Elizabeth and his other shoulder, simultaneously pulling her close to him.

And so they sat, silently watching the rain smash against the panes; the water droplets finding the shortest way to the ground in straight, parallel rivulets.


To be continued…

 
   

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