The Bennet Brother: P&P Readers Choice #3
Welcome to the third installment of The Bennet Brother, the new interactive group writing project from Austen Authors! At the end of this segment, you’ll have a chance to vote on what happens next. There are also extra details on Twitter where this story has taken on a life of its own. Mr. Edward Bennet (@edwbennet) already has a notable presence and regularly interacts with readers, including this interview with Miss Leatherberry on Leatherbound Reviews:
BIG NEWS– Due to the enormous amount of fun we are having, and the incredible enthusiasm from our wonderful readers, the Austen Authors have decided to change the timeline of P&P Readers Choice to every week rather than every two weeks! That means, voting for the story plot option will conclude Thursday morning by 6am EST so that the next author can start writing! Segments will post each Wednesday. More info is on the P&P Readers Choice page.
And now, Scene 3 by Diana Birchall ~
It was absolutely necessary for Elizabeth to speak, startled though she was, with her breath coming fast. She could not meet Mr. Darcy’s eye, and was conscious that he was gazing past her, in a similar state of agitation.
“Sir,” she said, “this is a most extraordinary admission of yours – I confess that I am lost for words.” She paused for a moment, struggling to examine her feelings.
He looked at her more directly, and his expression seemed to soften. “I hope, Miss Elizabeth, that your silence does not indicate your displeasure.”
She lifted her own eyes to his. “No, oh, no! I do assure you, I am gratified – yes. It is only my surprise that has made it difficult for me to speak.”
He spoke with compunction. “I am sorry indeed, Miss Elizabeth, for seeming to put you on the spot in such a way. I ought to have thought how it would appear to you, but I was so chagrined by my own behavior, and so anxious to make things right, that I fear I have only been wrong, once again, in my impetuosity. Pray, can you forgive me?”
“I can indeed,” she said cordially, “and let me say, in my turn, that your sensitive feelings and conscience do you credit. Let this be the last of ill feeling and spiteful exchanges between us.”
She put out her hand, and he took it quickly. “Spiteful! Miss Elizabeth, you could not be that. What did you say of, or to, me that I did not deserve? My temper, I know, is not as amiable as that of my friend, and my manners not as happy. I am endeavoring to improve, and wanted of all things to be on a good footing with you, a young woman who, I judge, is worthy of pleasing.”
“I hope I shall always deserve your good opinion, Mr. Darcy, but I do assure you that I am of a lighter nature than what you assign me, and very often get into trouble myself, when my spirits lead me wrong.”
He smiled, and took her arm through his. “It is a beautiful morning. I am starting to think that Hertfordshire is not as ill a place as I judged. First impressions, I believe, are often wrong. Will you walk with me?”
“With the greatest of pleasure,” she had just replied, when a hallooing was heard, coming from the direction of the house, and her brother Edward came striding thither, evidently half-ready for riding, for he was waving his crop.
“Lizzy! Lizzy! What are you doing with that man? Is he harming you?” Edward came up and stood, legs apart, planted between her and Darcy, as he glared furiously at the latter. “You dog! How dare you approach my sister, after your behavior last night?”
“Edward, no! Mr. Darcy did not – he meant nothing wrong, I assure you, he came to – “
“Lizzy, go into the house at once. Do not presume to tell me what this man’s intentions were. Whatever he told you is a lie. You cannot understand.”
Mr. Darcy spoke calmly. “Mr. Bennet, there is no need to insult. I must tell you that I came out at this early hour because my behavior of last night would not allow me to sleep, and I would apologize to you, to Miss Elizabeth, and to your family, before another day could begin. “
Now it was Edward’s turn to be at a loss for words. He turned to Lizzy. “Is that so? But why was he alone with you, then? Why not come into the house properly?”
“If you would only listen, Edward, I will explain. I went out early for a walk, and met Mr. Darcy rapidly coming hither, bent on his apology, which he proffered to me, as the first member of the family he saw. Now, will you compose yourself, and let there be no more hot words exchanged, on this day or any other day?”
“Well – yes, if that is the case, I suppose so.” Edward reluctantly bowed. “Forgive me, sir, if I misjudged the situation. I can only plead that I am naturally solicitous of my sisters, and I lost my temper, thinking Lizzy might be in danger.”
“Miss Elizabeth could never be in any danger from me, I give you my word as a gentleman,” said Darcy firmly. “As we both have something to be ashamed of, in this exchange, permit me to suggest that we try to forget it ever occurred, and start over again, on a friendlier footing.”
Edward hesitated. “On the surface of it that seems fair, Darcy, but – “
Elizabeth pressed his arm. “Edward! For shame! When Mr. Darcy came with such a handsome apology, and so immediately, too. Be generous!”
He shook her off. “You know nothing about it, Lizzy. There is something more here. I have heard reports, in town – “
“What reports? To whom have you been speaking?” Darcy demanded haughtily. “I must know who is defaming me.”
“Very well, then I will tell you. It is the companion of your own youth who is so ready to say the strangest things of you, things that cannot but disturb me, as a man and a brother. Mr. Wickham – ah, yes, I see you know that name.”
“This is beyond everything! That you could take the word of that reprobate – but stay. I will not deign to answer any allegations of his, but must only state, in defense of my own character, that there are matters in which Mr. Wickham and I have been involved, which do not reflect at all well upon him. He has injured the peace of my family, and if you desire a witness, for my veracity and character, you need only apply to Mr. Bingley. And I may say, sir, that I find it a most extraordinary proceeding, to permit prejudice to arise from mere gossip retailed by a chance acquaintance of yours, who, I assure you, has malicious ends toward me.”
“Heaven and earth, Edward!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “I hope you are convinced by such a testimony!”
He stood irresolute, and that moment of thought was sufficient to remind him that there could be no advantage in making an enemy of a man of ten thousand pounds a year. “Yes,” he agreed, “I am sure you are right, that it is unfair to judge without hearing the whole story. I hope we may begin afresh. Will you shake hands?”
“Certainly,” said Darcy, and did so.
Elizabeth took a breath, feeling as if she had been breaking up a nursery fight between two small boys. “Well,” she said, “that is better. Shall we change the subject? I have been thinking, Mr. Darcy, that strange as it may seem, you may be a very proper person for my brother to consult. He has plans to help his father to improve the estate, and might benefit from your vaster experience, and advice.”
“I should be most happy to give any advice I could, sir,” Darcy replied politely. “Will you tell me what schemes you have under contemplation?”
Edward’s mood changed immediately to one of eagerness. “I have heard a great deal about new methods of cultivation, while in London,” he began, “talking to other gentlemen with like estates; and I assure you I have a great many ideas. First, as to the house. It is ridiculously small. If ever I am to marry, and bring a wife here, we will require much more room, and I think of throwing out a new wing. Out where the pasture now is, you see it may be easily done. And then there is the new rotating crop system…and I think of a greenhouse. Do you not have a greenhouse at Pemberley? I have heard you can grow pine-apples even in winter.”
Darcy’s brows drew together, as he considered which of Edward’s ideas to tackle first, but Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled with satisfaction. “There,” she said, “I am glad I have put you together to argue it out. I must go into the house; my dear mother will be growing nervous, waiting for me.” And she ran lightly off.
Elizabeth had been right. Mrs. Bennet was nearly beside herself. “Lizzy!” she cried. “Where have you been? Oh, don’t say a word, I know where, you have been with that dreadful man, whom you promised never to dance with. How could you stand right by the window, like that, for every one to see you talking with him? Did he abuse you? Did Edward have to whip him?”
“No, no, Mama, nothing of the sort,” Elizabeth assured her, and Jane, too, endeavored to show her that nothing was wrong.
“It appeared a perfectly civil conversation, Mama – was it not, Lizzy?”
“Oh, certainly. Mr. Darcy only came to apologize for his odd behavior last night, and we are all friends again.”
“What? You mean Edward will not have to whip him after all? Oh, I never was more relieved in my life. What if Mr. Darcy was the stronger – they are both tall, of course, but you never can tell how these things will turn out, and what if Mr. Darcy had a pistol? Oh! And if Edward was killed, there would be no one to break the entail, and we would all be thrown out into the hedgerows to starve!”
Elizabeth and Jane both protested against such terrific ideas, and by ceaseless repetition were able to persuade her that Edward’s life and the Longbourn estate were both safe.
Mrs. Bennet began to exclaim and bless herself. “Well, on second thought, you did look uncommonly comfortable talking to him, Lizzy. He did seem…And he has ten thousand a year, you know. There have been worse matches. His being unpleasant would not matter a straw, with such an income. Dear me! What pin money you would have…”
“Mama! I am not going to marry Mr. Darcy! Do not run away with such an idea.”
“Well, and why not, pray? He is as good as a lord!”
“Because, Mama, even if he politely apologized this morning, last night I was not handsome enough to dance with, and I am certainly not vain enough to think that he is in any way to be falling in love with me.”
“Hm! We shall see. Next time we are in company, we must have Hill do your hair much better. You are not so very plain after all, when you wear ringlets. And I must think that those green ribbons you had on last night, were not at all becoming to your complexion. You shall have new red satin ones next time. I will ask your father for the money. It will be an investment. “
Lydia spoke up at this, with a wail. “Why does every body have new clothes but me? Lizzy will look like a ferret in red. I am taller and fairer and am tired of wearing Jane’s old gowns, I need an entirely new ensemble. ”
“Yes, yes, my love, we shall manage it as soon as we can,” her mother promised. “When Lizzy is the wife of Mr. Darcy and Jane is the wife of Mr. Bingley, and when Edward is married to a lady with just as much money as they have, or likely more, why then I assure you, you shall have a new gown every day.”
“You are,” put in Mary slowly, “building on a hypothesis that has no basis in fact. Women are often given to believing that dreams are reality, and this is the downfall of many a foolish female. From all that I have read, I am convinced that it is best to base one’s expectations on probability rather than possibility.”
“Nonsense, Mary. You waste my time with all this talking. I hear a carriage, do not you? That will be the Lucases. The morning is half over, and none of us ready. I knew they would come. Dear me, I will grow distracted! There is so much to tell, and so much to discover! I must know if they heard Mr. Bingley or Mr. Darcy say any thing about Jane or Lizzy. And what of that Miss Perry Edward danced with?”
“She must be rich, did you see the lace upon her gown? So much of it, I am sure it is real,” said Kitty.
“No she isn’t rich either,” Lydia told her, “don’t you know, my aunt Philips said she has a friend who married into a family in Surrey, who told her that the Perrys are relations to a village apothecary there, who does not even keep a carriage.”
“Impossible!” exclaimed Mrs. Bennet, “Miss Perry is no such kind of a girl. I had however better warn Edward to be on the watch. We do not want him to be taken in. One take-in, in marriage, is enough in this family. I am sure I should have liked to marry a man of ten thousand a year.”
“I do not think that Edward is likely to be taken in, Mama,” Elizabeth tried to reassure her. “He is more likely to take some one in himself, poor as he is, and with such numerous sisters.”
“What are you saying, Lizzy? Are you calling your own brother a deceiver? You are never fair to him, I begin to think you are jealous, because you have not his good nature. And our family is not unprecedentedly large, compared to many. Look at the Gouldings, with eleven children. That is large, if you like. But they can afford to provide for them all, and are luckier than your father and me.”
She was becoming tearful, and Elizabeth and Jane had to remind her that there was every hope that some of her children would marry, and marry well enough to alleviate any chance of want coming to her in old age. At length she began to look more cheerful, and very soon brightened at the sound of the visitors’ voices in the hall. It was, as she had thought, the Lucases.
That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.
“You began the evening well, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command to the eldest Miss Lucas. “You were Mr. Bingley’s first choice.”
“Yes; – but he seemed to like his second better.”
“Oh! – you mean Jane, I suppose – because he danced with her twice. To be sure that did seem…”
But the delicious talking-over of the ball, of what Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy said and thought, and what lady they preferred, had to be delayed, for the young gentleman of the house was seen returning with Mr. Darcy, both talking animatedly.
“Goodness! Edward is actually bringing Mr. Darcy into the house,” exclaimed Kitty. “I wonder why. I know he is rich, but he is so unpleasant.”
“He is not unpleasant,” said Elizabeth with some difficulty, “he is remarkably civil when one comes to talk to him a little.”
“Civil! When he said you were only just tolerable!” exclaimed Charlotte. “Well, that is a forgiving spirit, to be sure!”
I believe Lizzy is right,” said Jane, anxious for the gentleman to be politely treated. “Miss Bingley told me that Mr. Darcy never speaks much unless among his intimate acquaintances. With them he is remarkably agreeable.”
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear,” said her mother, “but we must not forget – ten thousand a year – he must have the very best of every thing. Young Ned, there,” she hooted at a young Lucas, “do not touch those macaroons. Mr. Darcy might fancy them, and he has two or three French chefs at least.”
“But I’m hungry,” protested the lad.
“Sacrifices must be made for your sisters,” Lady Lucas reminded him.
“It’s not my sisters she cares about,” he muttered.
At that moment, Edward entered with Darcy. They made their bows to the ladies, and Mr. Darcy, showing no disposition to be disagreeable, sat down near Elizabeth.
“What do you think, Mama,” said Edward excitedly, “Mr. Darcy has invited me to visit Pemberley, so that I may learn about managing our estate!”
There was a general exclamation of surprise and delight.
“I must bring a sister or two, to keep me company in the journey,” he continued. “Darcy proposed it himself!”
“But we do not wish to impose on Mr. Darcy’s good nature,” Elizabeth reproved him.
“Lizzy! For shame!” exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. “Do not be spoiling your chances – I mean, you may not be the one selected to go. We must talk it all over with your father, of course. Perhaps it would be properest, after all, if he and I went along with you. After all, he has something to say about the running of Longbourn.”
Edward and Darcy glanced at one another with some concern, and Edward began to wish that he had not spoken.
At this juncture, Mr. Bennet, having heard the arrival of the carriage, felt the necessity of leaving his study, and entering the drawing-room with some reluctance proceeding from his very great dislike of company, greeted his guests as politely as he could. His manners were immediately put to the trial by being clamorously informed on all sides about the invitation.
“Go? To Pemberley, indeed? Mr. Darcy, you do us honour.” He bowed. “However, I believe it is an invitation that ought not to be accepted.”
“Mr. Bennet!” wailed his wife. “How can you say such a thing! When Mr. Darcy, out of his own generous heart – and it is as I always thought, only the great are as truly generous as that – “
“My dear, will you give me space to speak,” he told her. “My grounds for refusal are this. We have only just been admitted to the undoubted privilege of your acquaintance, Mr. Darcy, and the measure seems precipitate. A visit of a such a party from Longbourn, traveling as far as Derbyshire, would be giving unnecessary trouble to you, and I don’t mind confessing, it would be an expense to me that I cannot afford.”
“Father!” cried Edward. “I hope I can pay for the carriage to transport myself and my sisters!”
“Can you now?” Mr. Bennet said coolly. “Pray, how much is left of your allowance since your sojourn in London? And you were telling me at breakfast that you wish me to buy another two draft horses and hire more hands, to expand my fields. “
Elizabeth and Jane did not know where to look at this unseemly family display that at once exposed their finances and their acrimony, but Mr. Darcy, seeing their concern, spoke quickly.
“There would be no expense, Mr. Bennet, and the visit would be a very great favour to me, I do assure you, and very far from being an imposition. Pemberley is indeed rather remote, and it is seldom that I have the company of a young man of as good education, like interests, and congenial manners as Mr. Edward Bennet, with whom it would be useful to me to talk over agricultural and business estate matters. There is room in my barouche for as many of your daughters as you like to send, on my return journey to Pemberley. In addition, my sister, who is left much alone, with only her companion, would be very grateful for their company. May I hope,” he looked directly at Elizabeth, and her heart unexpectedly leaped, “that Miss Elizabeth Bennet will be of the party.”
“Oh! Certainly,” said Mrs. Bennet, the first to find her voice. “And more too – Jane, my love, you will surely want to go, and will Mr. Bingley be returning to Pemberley with you, Mr. Darcy?” she finished.
Darcy smiled briefly. “To be sure he will.”
“Oh, why is every body so unfair!” cried Lydia. “I want to go. I never go any where! Here I am stuck in poky Meryton while my sisters go flaunting all over the country. I won’t have it. Do make Mr. Darcy let me go too,” she begged.
“That will do, Lydia,” said her father sternly. “Not another word. We will not speak of this again until I have considered the matter thoroughly.”
“I begin to wonder, sir,” said Mr. Darcy hesitatingly, “if I should not ask your pardon for mentioning it, without consulting you first. Perhaps I ought not to have spoken.”
But he had.
~~~ to be continued next week by C. Allyn Pierson ~~~
What happens next is up to you! Here are your choices:
1.It is decided that the whole Bennet family will visit Pemberley.
2.It is decided that only Elizabeth and Jane will visit Pemberley with Edward.
3.Darcy tactfully suggests that the visit happen only at some later, indefinite date.
4.Mr. Bennet decides to try some of the new agricultural changes Edward proposes, and bans all family traveling for the present, to conserve money.
Please note that the voting time frame has changed! Voting will close 6 AM ET on Thursday, February 28.