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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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."
"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,
" 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
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