Echo joined our family three years ago. She was found huddling for shelter underneath a family’s deck on a wintry afternoon, during a November weekend of freezing rain, wet snow, and miserable winds. The family’s deck backed up to an empty field, and Echo’s rescuer theorized that she had been abandoned there on purpose. She was shivering and miserable. When her rescuer brought her inside she was on the scrawny side, and she ate an entire bowl of dog food without stopping. Neighbors reported that they had seen her running around the area for several days. No owner ever stepped forward to try to claim her, and eventually she became ours.
Are you wondering what breed she is? It’s hard to tell from the picture but she is a wire-haired daschund. Daschunds, also called “badger dogs,” have a long and storied history in both Europe and England. They were Queen Victoria’s favorite breed, and she kept a number of them as pets.They were bred to go into the holes of small animals such as badgers and chase them out, so they like to dig. They are brave, independent, energetic, and playful. They are also notoriously stubborn and difficult to train, but once you have their loyalty they are utterly devoted to you.
Besides the usual challenges of her breed, Echo has some serious trust issues. When she first came to us she would not accept any food from our hands. It did not matter who offered it–she would stay a healthy distance away from us, sniffing longingly, but afraid to get too close. If we bent down to give it to her she would turn her face away, communicating her unease. If we stepped towards her she would run away. The only way to give her a treat was to throw it on the ground for her and then keep our distance while she grabbed it and dashed away.
After a long while Echo learned to take a treat from my hand, but she would not allow me to pet her at the same time. It’s only been in the past six months that she has finally learned to take the treat and let me pat her on the head before she runs off to eat it in private.
She is my little shadow and I can scarcely take a step in the house without her, but even now, all close contact takes place on her terms.
Echo also does not like men. She cuddles up to women and kids in her own time, but she will not allow a man to approach her for any reason. My husband can only pet her or rub her belly if I am right next to her. Most men she does not tolerate at all. If only she could talk . . .
What does all this have to do with Jane Austen fan fiction? Simple: Echo is the inspiration for the dog Belle, who becomes a significant character in my newest story, An Unexpected Turn of Events. In this story Mr. Bennet outlives Mrs. Bennet and must find a new place in the world. Along the way his family and Belle help him confront some uncomfortable truths about himself. An excerpt follows below. You can find the story in progress at darcyandlizzy.com or on fanfiction.net.
In An Unexpected Turn of Events, Lydia did not marry Wickham. Instead she married a soldier named Jonathon Fret, and this scene opens with Mr. Bennet at the Fret’s home, Godfrey House in Newcastle.
The little dog that had attached itself to him stretched out and sleepily re-arranged herself in the warm air. Fret looked at her with a smile, reaching down to scratch behind her ears for a moment. The animal looked at him gratefully, then cuddled closer to Thomas’s feet. Fret sat back again.
“You have a devoted admirer, Mr. Bennet.”
“A troublesome pest, you mean. She follows me like a shadow. I can scarcely take a step without tripping over her.”
“Have you given her a name yet?”
He thought for a moment. “I believe the children are calling her Belle.”
“What made them call her that?”
Thomas snorted. “Her overwhelming beauty, no doubt,” he said sarcastically. The children had managed to clean the dog and improve her overall appearance, but she was still emaciated. In his estimation, Belle did not live up to her name.
“Have you tried to find her owner?”
“Why should I? I believe she is a stray. She likely has no owner, and never did. If anyone comes asking for her, they are welcome to her.”
Fret frowned. “Her affection and attachment mean nothing to you?”
“Why should they?” Thomas answered, a little surprised by the question. “I take no responsibility for the animal.”
Fret took another sip of his port. Another minute or so passed before he spoke again. “Lydia asked me this morning if you have mentioned anything about your reasons for leaving Hazelton so abruptly.”
“What did you tell her?”
“The truth-that you have not said a word about it to me.”
“Nor shall I. It is nobody’s business but my own. I was hoping Lydia would have given up her hounding and questioning by now. I have avoided her company as much as possible since I arrived.”
“You have been in retreat, you mean,” Fret said, and Thomas nodded casually, not bothered by the implied criticism. “You cannot hide from Lydia forever. My wife is the most determined person I have ever met. Sooner or later she will discover a way to find out what she wishes to know.”
“Let her ask Kitty, if she wants.” Thomas shrugged. “In the meantime, I will make the library my hiding place. A redoubt, I believe you military men call it.” He lifted his glass in a salute to the younger man, but Fret did not return the gesture. Instead, Fret leaned down to pet the dog at Thomas’s feet. When he spoke again, he kept his eyes still facing down towards the floor.
“It seems to me, Mr. Bennet, that retreating and hiding are particular talents of yours.”
“What?” Thomas wondered if he had heard right. “Retreating, Fret? Hiding? Of what are you speaking?”
“I mean that you have made it your mission to hide and retreat for as long as I have known you. If you will consider your actions just in the time you have been at Godfrey, you will see that I am right.”
Fret’s voice was as polite as ever but Thomas felt a sting just the same. He set his glass down on the table. “I am sure I do not know what you are talking about.”
“I do not know what happened at Hazelton, but it is plain that you left without fully discharging your responsibilities there. You should have told Kitty your plans and informed her of your destination.”
“Believe me, Kitty is not worried one bit about my well being.” He snorted. “Nobody is.”
“That is not true. Kitty said everyone at Hazelton was concerned when you disappeared.”
“Because they all wanted something from me, no doubt.” He snorted again.
“This dog wants nothing from you,” Fret pointed out, “but you do not reciprocate. She has been your devoted companion for a week now. She follows you during the day, sleeps with you at night, and will scarcely be parted from your side at any time. Yet you care nothing for her.”
Thomas squirmed uncomfortably. “I think the heat has gone to your head, Fret. You ought to rest.”
“Even now, while you are sitting in this room, you are avoiding facing your youngest daughter. You conceal yourself in a library, alone with your books, refusing to lift a finger to help yourself or others, and you complain of having no purpose or direction! The truth is, Mr. Bennet, that if you want an object or purpose or some sort of meaning in your life, you will have to put yourself to some trouble to find it. You cannot sit back and merely watch things happen around you and then wonder why life goes on without you.”
“Do you know what you are saying, Fret? I lost my wife less than a year ago. I was uprooted from my home. Elizabeth does not need me, Jane has no time for me, and at Kitty’s I very nearly aligned myself with someone who-“ he stopped just in the nick of time.
Fret was looking at him intently. “Go on.”
“Never mind! I have said more than I should. Allow me to remove myself from your company. I will trouble you no more.” He stood and began to move towards the door, but Fret’s voice stopped him.
“Where are you going, Mr. Bennet?”
“Anywhere I can avoid this intrusive questioning!”
Fret’s voice was unusually gentle. “You are running away yet again.”
“As you say, it is a particular talent of mine. I might as well put it to use.”
“I wish you would not. Though my words may cause you some pain, they are only meant for your good. I know what it is like to run and hide from something painful.”
Thomas wondered what he meant by that, but he was too angry to ask. His hand was on the doorknob when Fret spoke one last time. “Love is a blessing, Mr. Bennet, not a burden. I pray that you will see that for yourself one day.”