[wip - Regency/R]
Charles Bingley looked up at the jet sky peppered with white stars high above and sighed. He was sad. Sad and depressed to a measure he had never knew till then.
The night before, as the last carriage had left his mansion in Netherfield Park, with his heart full of Miss Bennet, he had done the most stupid thing ever: Confess Caroline his intentions to marry Jane Bennet. Thereupon the attacks commenced.
"Charles. You are not serious," his sister whispered in disbelief.
Charles was embarrassed, but he was serious. He was deeply in love with the lovely Miss Bennet. But Caroline did not approve of his choice of bride, and far from accepting his decision, she chose to confront it.
At first resistance to Charles's wishes solely came from Caroline. But soon she summoned forces. His sister Louisa, his best friend Darcy, everyone seemed to be of the same opinion. Before long, Bingley himself was persuaded of the unsuitability of the match and of Miss Bennet's indifference. With a broken heart, he looked at the starred sky on his last night at Netherfield Park and sighed. And as he sighed, he wished with all his heart, that somehow, someday he could be by his beloved Jane and feel her pressed to his side in the intimacy of a shared bed. He wished he could awake to the sweet perfume of her hair every single morning. He wished he could touch her face with tenderness and kiss and caress her lovely hands with devotion. He wished all that and when he had wished it all, he saw a falling star in the middle of the sky.
Elizabeth Bennet looked up at the jet sky peppered with white stars high above and sighed. She was angry. Angry and exceedingly revengeful to an extent she had never been. The day before, just as the family was breakfasting, she had to suffer the most embarrassing moment in her life when her idiotic cousin made a spectacle of themselves with his marriage proposal. Thereupon the attacks commenced.
"Elizabeth. You are not serious," her mother cried in disbelief.
Elizabeth was serious and not at all embarrassed until her mother began a most ridiculous quest to summon forces so that she could be prevailed to accept the toad as a husband.
It was only by mercy of Mr Bennet's peculiar idea of fatherhood that she escaped her destiny. She knew perfectly well, that had she been born under a different name, she most provably would have been obligated to marry the disagreeable parson without delay. After all, he was a good match according to conventional standards. With a heart full of anger against society and injustice, Elizabeth looked at the sky and sighed. And as she sighed, she wished with all her heart that somehow, somewhere she could be treated by men as their equal. She wished she could have the rights of a gentleman of fortune, and that she would not be expected to follow such stupid conventions so unfairly imposed on her sex. She wished she could be free to marry whoever she wished and as she wished all that, a star fell right in front of her eyes.
Early in the morning, Mr Darcy woke up and rang for his manservant to ready his bath. A long journey on horseback awaited him for he would rather walk all the way to London before stepping into Bingley's carriage. Much as he loved his friend Bingley, Darcy would not be forced to suffer Bingley's wretchedness as they sat crammed with Caroline, Louisa and Hurst. Thinking of the day ahead, he sighed and prayed for a peaceful trip. But his pray would not be answered. But he had not been many minutes in the enjoyment of his warm bath when the door was flung open and Bingley stormed in with the most bewildered face ever, looking as though he had just fallen from a roof.
"Upon my word, I thought it was customary to knock at doors before getting into a room!" Darcy grumbled.
Bingley was staring at Darcy with savage eyes, and we all know how little the second gentlemen cared for savages. It seemed to Darcy that Bingley was at loss ... as for what Darcy did not know, yet it was evident that Bingley found it difficult to recognise his best friend for in a strangle voice he ejaculated, "Mr Darcy?"
"Faith, you look as if you have just seen the devil! What is the ..." But his words trailed off since his friend's pallor betrayed that the question was irrelevant. Evidently there was something terribly awful going on.
Not a little alarmed, Darcy rose to his feet and was about to ask Bingley to handle him a towel when his friend let out a cry that defied Mrs Bennet's raptures in pitch.
"Hang it, Bingley! What the deuce are you alarmed about?!" Darcy cried searching with widened eyes his surroundings trying to spot the evil that was scaring his friend.
"You are... Mr Darcy you are..." he gasped out.
"Yes. I am Darcy," the gentleman from Derbyshire acknowledged with uncommon good humour. "But you have known me quite some time already to be seeking an introduction."
"You are...naked!" As Bingley stated what was evident, he closed his eyes and pointed with a tremulous hand at that part of Darcy's body the tall gentleman usually failed to conceal entirely even in his inexpressibles, let alone in his Adam's costume.
"What?" he asked briskly.
"You are naked!" Bingley repeated.
Darcy took his hand to his loins and unsuccessfully endeavoured to shade the area of his body that so distressed Bingley.
"Now run me through my body if I am not! What did you expect? You happen to be interrupting my bath. Now get me that towel, there is a good boy."
Bingley, eyes still tightly closed, did not move. Darcy shook his head and in seeing his friend seemed to be nailed to the floor, he quitted his bath, not with little splashing of water, and got himself the towel.
"There now. Open your eyes."
Bingley did not move. Instead, Darcy would have wagered he heard him uttering a noise which sounded quite like a sob.
This was beginning to annoy Darcy.
"Bingley. This is ridiculous. You have seen me naked more often than I have seen your sister wearing a decent colour in her gown."
Bingley, still with his eyes closed, shook his head and he whimpered like a dog in pain. Darcy went over to him and very gently endeavoured to lead him to a chair, but to no avail. He refused to move from his spot. It was not after some time, when Darcy had used all sort of measures to calm him, that Bingley, still with eyes closed, at last made a shy attempt to ask a question. Now Bingley's question was even more disturbing than his odd behaviour. He asked, "Why do you call me Bingley?"
"I am sorry?"
"Why do you call me Bingley? And what am I doing in this house? Where is Jane? I was in bed with Jane in my house last night, not here at Netherfield Park. How can I possibly have awoken here?"
Darcy leaned over his friend and taking him from his chin he smelled him. No, he was not drunk. However, Darcy's proximity did not pass unnoticed to Bingley. His eyes flew open and in finding himself face to face with Darcy he stepped back as if he were afraid of him.
"What are you doing?" Bingley hissed behaving like a little girl.
"I am merely checking your breath," Darcy informed. "You are not drunk, I see. You have not smoked anything, have you? Those cigars Lord Thackeray brought from India might have a strange effect on you."
"Cigars?" Bingley asked with a frowned face. "Mr Darcy, stop toying with me. Pray tell me what am I doing here?" His eyes once more fell on Darcy's loins, this time conspicuously hidden behind the towel, yet nonetheless Charles seemed to find the absence of breeches too disturbing hence he gasped again. "Lord, you are still naked!"
"You goose, stop saying I am naked. Good God, what is the matter with you! Besides, you are not what I could say formally attired either!" and to proved him his words, Darcy showed his friend Bingley a mirror.
That was it. After a terrifying cry that promptly reached the rooms down the stairs, Bingley fell unceremoniously into Darcy's arms only a second before he passed out.
Elizabeth Bennet lay on her back, staring up at the immediate area within the reach of the single eye that she had dared to open to spy her whereabouts. It was the intricate weave of a fabric which she construed belonged to a canopy she was not familiar with. She opened the other eye and her eye span immediately broadened to allow her the sight of a great clock that marked the eleventh hour, if of the morning or the evening she knew not. There was an unusually warm fire in her bedchamber which immediately alerted her that she was not at Longbourn. She could hear the noises of the burning logs entwined with the ticking of the clock. That this was nowhere near her house she was more than certain by now so she chose not to sit up but to shift her position only a little bit. Maybe she was still dreaming that she was Mr Bingley and chances were that Mr Darcy was still naked somewhere in the bedroom. She thought of inspecting her chest in search of some definite proof of her feminine charms but she was checked by a noise coming from within the same room she was occupying.
"Look, I think he is coming round," said a masculine voice.
"Mr Bingley?" the canopy was quickly replaced by a face she recognised as the kind apothecary who had visited her sister while she had been infirm at Netherfield Park. His words, though scarcely two, were enough to confirm to her that she must still look like Mr Bingley.
"Well, well. It is good to see that you recognise me, sir," he said with infinite kindness as he rubbed a pocket handkerchief scented with pungent lavender under Elizabeth's nose. "How are you feeling?"
"As a matter of fact not 'quite' myself."
"Not quite yourself?" the apothecary asked uneasily and with a scowl. "What is the matter, sir? Does your head hurt?"
He seemed to relax. "That is to be expected after a faint, sir. It could have been worse. You must thank your friend here who caught you in his arms before you reached the floor."
Elizabeth turned her head, and she caught sight of Mr Darcy, looking very much concerned, seated on a chair, his eyes fixed on her. He was wrapped in a yellow robe, his hair still a little damp in the extremities and his enormous feet shoeless.
This is a nightmare.
A horrible nightmare.
What can one do to awake from a horrible nightmare? Nothing. One has no other choice but to dream on.
"Now let us check on you," Mr Thomson went on in a soothing manner. "Will you please allow me to check your back?"
"Yes. Pray discard your shift."
"In front of him?" Elizabeth asked in a hissed whisper, holding the shift tight after a skulking look at Mr Darcy. The good apothecary smiled.
"You have a problem with Mr Darcy watching?" the good man whispered back.
She pondered her answer for a minimal second. If she said yes, the second question might be why, after so many years of shared intimacy with Mr Darcy would Mr Bingley suddenly feel ill at ease in his presence. If, on the other hand, she said yes, she would be agreeing to Mr Darcy inspecting her bared chest.
After only a moment's thought she took a quick look at her bosom. It seemed it was flat like a little nine-year-old girl's. Chances were that her breasts were gone with the rest of her feminine charms.
"No problem at all," she said bravely and slowly began to undo the laces of the nightshift. The process proved ridiculously difficult. Her fingers, no longer the small delicate ones, found the simple task of undoing the knots of the nightshift almost impossible.
"Allow me," suggested the old man, and he attacked the laces but in noticing his patient's growing uneasiness, he eventually left them be. Elizabeth fumbled helplessly with the obstinate knots until, with horrified eyes, she spotted Mr Darcy coming towards her with a look that showed both annoyance and determination. With an impatient groan, as if he were aiding an undisciplined child of his, he tugged hard at the laces trying to force them free but to no avail. Growing increasingly annoyed, he signed to Elizabeth to hold up her arms, which she immediately did without protest yet with infinite embarrassment. Darcy then endeavoured to pull the nightshift off, but Elizabeth was so nervous at his nearness, that she became quite unintentionally uncooperative, which caused her to be momentarily trapped inside the shift, with her breasts, which truly consisted of mere swellings on her flat chest, fully exposed to Darcy's face. Albeit she was currently devoid of her feminine charms, she felt quite naked, totally exposed, and thoroughly humiliated. The gentleman seemed oblivious to the small storm under the shift and continued the task of undressing his friend, whom to Darcy's mind, had chosen the worst moment to become maiden-like shy. With a sharp sigh, which Elizabeth fully felt on her sensitive skin, Darcy tugged harder with the sad outcome that the nightshift got stuck on her neck to the point that it would go neither up nor down.
"Dammy, Bingley! Why must you be so bloody clumsy!"
She ended up with her head covered by the tangled cotton robe, hooded like a helpless hostage, while the man of science and Mr Darcy inspected her body.
"No signs of bruises here," announced the apothecary. "Pray, turn around, sir, and lie on the bed with your face down."
"I beg your pardon?" Elizabeth cried, making a worse mess with her prison-nightshift.
"Hang it, Bingley! You heard Mr Thomson. Now, do as he bids you and lie still!" barked Mr Darcy impatiently.
Once again, obediently, she froze, horrified by the agitation in Darcy's voice, automatically certain that Mr Darcy would beat her at any moment now. A dry physical sensation of shrinking, revulsion at what she might be asked to do, shame at the notion that she was naked in front of two gentlemen, one of which she considered her ultimate foe, overpowered her. Now her buttocks were exposed to his eyes, and she thought she heard Darcy chuckle when the apothecary pronounced her rear free of bruises.
To her horror, when the thorough inspection of her back and lower back was over, and before she was restored to a sitting position, Darcy smacked her nude rear as he rose to his feet.
O miserable being!
The inspection over, her nightshift was lowered, her arms were freed and her face, livid with rage, and eyes like hot coals were revealed at last.
"Uff!" she snorted.
Darcy, with perfect coolness, resumed his seat a few yards away.
"How dare you, sir!" she cried.
Darcy's dimples appeared. It was evident he was amused by his friend. "How dare I what?"
"That what, sir?" he asked, with scarcely a sneer. "You are not making a scene in front of Mr Thomson, eh Bingley? Shut up and hear Mr Thomson, if you please."
Mr Thomson was a little taken aback by the quarrelsome pair. Seeing his patient relenting a little, he proceeded with his examination. "Mr Bingley. I shall ask you a few very simple questions and you shall answer without delay. Are we ready, sir?"
"Who are you?"
Refraining from the first impulse to say that she was the second-born Bennet girl, a little hesitantly Elizabeth enquired more than replied, "Charles Bingley?"
She thought she heard another chuckle coming from Darcy's side as she passed the first test.
"And this gentleman here is...?"
That was an easy one.
"Mr Darcy," she stated with a more resolute tone.
"Are you married, Mr Bingley?"
"No, I am not."
"And Mr Darcy?"
"Not that I am aware of," Darcy answered merrily.
"Indeed!" chuckled Elizabeth.
"Is there anything you wish to point out?" Darcy asked, bouncing up.
"O not at all," she said hastily.
"Then, pray, what did you mean?"
"I was merely wondering which of the ladies of your acquaintance would be willing to sacrifice herself to a miserable life by your side!" This audacious statement caused the manservant, Wilkinson, to cough a little, and Mr Thomson looked at them with wild surprise.
"Er ...you must pardon my friend, Mr Thomson," interrupted Mr Darcy. "Charles ... I hope you are done with your insults. Mr Thomson here is come to see to your good health. Now pray, comport yourself and stop fussing like an old lady, will you?"
If reluctantly, she nodded. Good Lord, how she hated that man! Even in dreams he was so petulant and bossy! How could she be dreaming about him, of all people!
After Darcy signalled Mr Thomson to proceed with the quiz, the man asked, "Pray, Mr Charles. Forgive me for asking again. So you are sure now that you are not married?"
"Not engaged either?"
At this she hesitated a bit, unsure what she was expected to say. At last she said, " No, I am not engaged or married."
The apothecary and Mr Darcy exchanged looks. "Well, well. Do you remember what happened to you this morning, sir?" the older man inquired.
"No, I do not."
"Apparently, you were sleepwalking, and happened upon your friend here, looking and behaving a little strangely. A few minutes later you passed out."
"Is that it, then? Only sleepwalking?" asked a bewildered Darcy.
"Did you drink or smoke anything this morning, sir?" the apothecary continued, not paying attention to what Darcy had just said.
Elizabeth shook her head.
"Did you all eat the same dinner?" This was addressed to Darcy.
"Yes. Fish and boiled potatoes."
"I did not eat fish," objected Elizabeth.
"You did not?"
"No," she declared shaking her head. "I ate pork and vegetables."
"Are you sure?"
"I am positive."
The apothecary sent an inquiring look at Mr Darcy, who only shrugged.
"Very well. Perhaps that explains everything. Pork might be a little poisonous to a delicate system if it is not properly cooked."
"Where on earth did you eat badly cooked pork, Bingley?"
"Twas not badly cooked!"
"It cannot be at home. I have my cook here. He would have never cooked anything poorly," he informed the apothecary.
"Maybe he was meaning to poison you," she said under her breath.
"I heard that!" Darcy cried. "I thought we have agreed to refrain from hostilities. But it seems you are in a humour to tease me," Darcy said.
"To tease you was not my intention. I was merely stating a possibility."
The apothecary smiled, highly amused by their continual arguing. These two reminded him of an old married couple. "Very well, Mr Bingley. I shall leave you in the capable hands of your ... hem ... friend. I shall give him instructions on how to proceed with your diet. In the meantime, pray, stay in bed and rest as much as you can."
When both the manservant and the apothecary were gone, Mr Darcy came immediately back into the room with a face full of badly concealed mirth.
"Delicate, huh? Methinks you have become a little hussy, my friend." Darcy laughed. "Wilkinson shall bring you some tonic that will do you good," he said suddenly while with great tenderness he smoothed her pillow and gently helped her slide amidst the sheets.
Elizabeth could have punched him right where his dimples appeared. How dared he touch her? How dared he treat her like a beloved one? But of course, she was Mr Bingley to him. She wondered if that might not be somehow Darcy's dream instead of hers, for she could not fathom how she could be having visions of Mr Darcy talking sweetly and gently to her, even when she was incarnating Mr Bingley.
The dream could not get any worse, could it?
However, her situation could.
Mr Darcy had not finished his words when, as predicted, his manservant reappeared with a cup of a beverage that looked like tea but smelled of something completely different. Of this cordial she swallowed off a couple of gulps with eagerness until she noticed with disgust that it was not a tonic but an opium concoction dissolved in a cup of brandy.
"Ugh!" she complained.
"No, no, my friend. You must swallow the whole cup, till the last drop!"
Thereupon Darcy induced her to down the whole cup in one gulp. Albeit the expected effect had been to knock her out for the rest of the morning and possibly the rest of the day too, the immediate one left her prone to fantasy and hallucinations.
She had scarcely downed her cup when a series of strange images appeared in front of her. She was feeling gay and tipsy, as if she had drunk all the punch ever available. What was going on with her? Where was her? Brilliant colours, red, blue, yellow, shimmered around her like incandescent waves of light. She reached out her hand to touch them.
"Bingley, put your hand down and go to sleep now..."
Who was that handsome man who was gazing at her with soft brown eyes, she wondered? Was he the rich, proud peacock that had just poisoned her? No. He could not be! That gentleman never smiled and this one had the most scintillating smile she had ever seen! What was that shimmer in his eyes? Had he stars in them?
The opium was gradually getting deeper into her system, making her see the most fantastic visions ever. The lights acquired different shapes, and whizzed past her face, lifting up her body with foreign warmth. She no longer was with the disagreeable Mr Darcy. In his stead, there was this amazingly beautiful man, whose teeth glittered like shining stars on water. He was amusing too and had a lovely neck attached to his body which she began to discern there, where the robe folded indiscreetly. Thus, as Mr Darcy sate at the edge of her bed, with the cup in his hands, she took to admiring his white chest peppered with curly chest hair. "You have hair on your chest," she remarked, staring at him with excitement
"That is very observant of you," he said jovially.
She examined her own front. "I have none. Why?"
"Because you are barely three and twenty, that is why."
"Will I have hair on my chest when I am your age, do you think?"
"I should imagine so."
"I have never seen a girl with hair on her chest!"
Darcy beheld Elizabeth (he only saw a curiously flushed Bingley, of course) with an amused smile on his face. "Upon my Honour. I hope I shall never live to see any lady with hair on her chest! Especially if I am to look at her chest!"
"But you just said I will grow hair on mine when I grow up!" she said dreamily.
"You are no girl, you idiot."
She raised her eyebrows in frank surprise at his use of the oath, but instead of taking offence she laughed out loud. She was a girl, no matter what appearances might say, and she would never have hair on her chest. "Wrong, sir," she said playfully.
She nodded several times, finding it difficult to focus her eyes on Darcy, as her handsome roommate seemed to multiply in front of her and the flashing lights around them were driving her to distraction.
"Why am I wrong?"
"Tis because I am a girl, you goose!" This was not strictly accurate but drugged as she was, she was in denial, and did not think of herself in a masculine body. She was once again Elizabeth Bennet, only she was feeling a little dizzy and maybe a little restless too if you want. She found the young man highly amusing and although he was not being polite, he had never abandoned the smile and was treating her like an equal, not flirting with her or being politely courteous. A pity, because just then she would have welcomed some flirtation.
"You are a girl?" laughed Darcy. "Good God, Bingley. The laudanum was supposed to put you to sleep, not to make you speak nonsense!"
She laughed merrily.
"You laugh at me? I see. Now, lay down, Miss," Darcy teased. As he said that he took a pillow from under Elizabeth's head and entreated her to relax. Reluctantly, she obeyed. "Now make haste and go to sleep."
"I do not want to sleep!" she protested.
"I am very sorry. But you must go to sleep." He tucked her in. "There is a good boy. I must see to our carriage. We are not going anywhere today after all, are we?" She said nothing in response, but endeavoured to focus on his face and avert her eyes from his enticing hairy front, which suddenly had become a difficult thing to do. She would have reached out and touched the conspicuous hair there but, though the opium was working its magic dangerously fast, she still possessed some sense of decorum. However, the scent emanating from that particular part of Darcy's body had become unexpectedly irresistible and appealing, his nearness disturbing to the point of occasioning her to blush and feel unnervingly warm. She was beginning to imagine she would very much like to place her nose in the opening of Darcy's robe and lick the skin amidst the chest hair.
"Is there anything else, sir?" mumbled Wilkinson who, as usual, had silently watched the colloquy waiting patiently to retrieve the cup.
"Yes, I must finish my toilette. Do you mind, Bingley?"
If truth be told, Darcy was not seeking Bingley's permission to finish his toilette. He would do it regardless of Bingley's opinion, since, albeit that was Bingley's house, those were his apartments. Elizabeth for her part, being totally intoxicated by the brandy and opium concoction, was a willing observer, though her eyes widened in discreet shock at the news, but she said nothing to oppose the motion. She felt a strange boldness that impelled her to watch the handsome gentleman's bath as if she were invited to a play at the theatre. Scarcely knowing what she was doing, she propped herself up and got ready to enjoy the offered spectacle.
The servant immediately set himself to readying the warm bath for his master, and when the last bucket of warmed water had been poured, Mr Darcy unceremoniously discarded his robe and voila! There he was again, in glorious nudity.
Her lips rounded as if on their own accord and a mute ooo escaped them.
To her benefit and distraction, he took sometime before he sat in his bath, which occasioned a renewal of the disturbance in Elizabeth's feelings. Lord what a view! His long legs were as hairy as his chest. In fact he seemed to be all covered by hair, except for his tummy, which was comparatively bare.
Darcy noticed Bingley's odd interest in his bath, and looked at him inquiringly. But his friend continued to stare apparently undisturbed by his glare.
"Is anything the matter?" Darcy asked a little annoyed.
"I say, sir. I had never thought to live to see a gentleman other than my husband out of his pantaloons!" she exclaimed merrily.
This manner of replying persuaded Darcy that his friend was being but delusional, thus far from scandalised, he turned his face exhibiting his smiling dimples, which despite the fleshy display in front of Elizabeth, still drew her attention. He had a beautiful smile.
"Husband?" he asked good-naturally. "Bingley, you had better turn around and go to sleep."
"O no, sir. 'Tis a fine view you afford! I had better watch."
Despite himself, the smallest laugh escaped Wilkinson, who immediately endeavoured to repress his mirth by clenching his jaws as tight as he could. Now Darcy turned red. He was used to his manservant watching over him while in his bath. He had been naked in front of Bingley many a time too, but his friend had never displayed the slight interest in his... him. Now this unseemly behaviour was beginning to make him feel increasingly uncomfortable. What could have possibly come over Bingley?
"Wilkinson. Go down and order Mr Bingley's room to be readied."
"Yes, go, Wilkinson." she nodded, diverted. She was feeling quite brave. "Mr Handsome here feels intimidated with me watching his toilette!"
"Bingley, I warn you..."
"O and Wilkinson. Do not forget to leave a towel at hand for him. He is blushing!" and she laughed a drunken laugh.
"You drunken wretch ...I swear I shall kill you when I finish here!"
"A pity you are such a disagreeable fellow. I could have liked you well enough."
"Yes," she nodded emphatically.
"I am disagreeable?"
"But nonetheless, I daresay you are very handsome. I confess bathing becomes you. You possess the manly beauty a girl finds very appealing. A good leg, yes, sir," she said with admiration.
"Good God, Bingley. You are scaring me like hell. Of what are you talking?"
Decidedly unsteadily she rose to her feet and staggered a path to reach him. When she was close enough the lights had ceased to dance around her, and the blurred image of her interlocutor became clearer and she recognised him as none other than Mr Darcy.
"Upon my word! It is you! This is most unfortunate for I have sworn I shall hate you for life!"
"Yes! I will not do now, you know." She put her arm around his shoulders and in a whisper she asked, "Do you want to know a secret?"
She took his earlobe between forefinger and thumb and gently tugged his head towards her. Not waiting for his response, she whispered, "Actually, you, sir, are definitely handsome enough to tempt me."
"For God's sake, Bingley ... what bee you have in your bonnet?" Darcy asked in furious astonishment.
Elizabeth giggled. "O do not be shy, sir. I will not bite you!" She thought her words hissed in her mouth as if she were some kind of villain. The opium was doing its job now, and she felt heavy and drowsy. Nonetheless, she was still the talker that she ever was and now she thought herself entitled to say the truth and nothing but the truth. That she very much liked what she had in front of her was one of those truths she had well repressed in the farthest corner of her mind. Such was her excitement that she would have jumped into Darcy's bath and rubbed his back with soap but for the stern look upon his face.
For a moment, Darcy thought he was the one that was suffering from hallucinations, for albeit he acknowledged Bingley was acting under the effect of the powerful mixture of the drug plus the brandy, he found his touch so ... delicately feminine, so unlike Bingley's, that he almost thought the sensation was quite ... he could not bear even think of the word ... pleasurable. Good God, was he mad? He would have sworn he had had the same tickling feeling at the gentle touch of Miss Elizabeth's bare hand! What was more, he would wager Bingley now laughed Miss Elizabeth's contagious laugh and he raised his eyebrow just like so... Darcy blinked. Much as he tried he simply could not rally from the state of stupor and confusion in which the closeness of Bingley was throwing him.
That the person facing him with dreamy eyes was not Elizabeth Bennet but Charles Bingley, he was more than sure. Such a thing was not to be tolerated, no sir. He felt severely affronted to the point of almost knocking Bingley out with his bare fists, but contained himself due to Bingley's poor health and the apprehension that he was acting under the effect of the concoction. Never in his wildest dreams would Darcy have imagined he would hear his best friend say such outrageous things and act in such a shameless manner! Repulsed by the mere notion, he jerked his face away and pushing his friend, he burst out a series of outrageous words that would have made a fishmonger blush.
"Bingley. Take your bloody hussy hands off me and go back to bed!!"
Elizabeth sighed...and as unsteadily as she had come, she returned to Darcy's bed and sooner than I can tell you she was fast asleep.
High above in the sky, a naughty star laughed.
Oh what a pleasant dream! It had been the best dream ever. Mr Bingley sighed in contentment. He had spent the most joyous hours of his life, drown in countless waves of breathless ecstasy while entwined with Miss Jane's superbly beautiful body all through the most perfect night.
It had never occurred to him that something as insubstantial as a dream could become so tangible, so perfectly real. Yet there he was, lying in bed, eyes tightly closed for fear of waking up sitting on a pumpkin, sucking his thumb surrounded by mice; the presence of his lover noticeable only by the gentle shagging of the mattress where, miraculously, she still lay.
The Jane of his dream had been the most pleasing lover ever imagined, sweet and passionate and always complying. Her lips had been so responsive; her kisses, so hot and wet. Lord, even in the notion that it was but a dream he knew he would wake up completely undone.
Eyes still closed he grouped the body of his beloved still silently lying beside him. No matter how tempted he might be, he was resolved not to open his eyes, lest she should vanish in thin air. Lazily, he ran his fingers over the smooth naked skin under her shift, and felt with pleasure the soft intake of air that his touch occasioned.
She was so easily pleasured, had immediately opened up to him with such abandon! His hands reached her bottom, and he languorously caressed her curves, over and over, like he had done so many times that night, and felt her tense and then relax with obvious contentment at his touch. Lord! If the Jane of his imaginings was so subtle to his hands ------- he marvelled at the warmth of her skin------ he could not begin to imagine what touching the real one might feel like!
Mmm... he would have to have her again. Hardly believing a dream could be so real, he stretched his arm to hold her closer and the bed squeaked mournfully under him. Strange, for his four- poster was made of the strongest wood and he had never heard the minimal squeak till then. Dreamily, he rubbed himself against his lover's lower back but found the feeling was not exactly what he had expected. It was as if there was nothing to rub. Instinctively, his hand dove to his loins only to find it devoid of that specific appendage that so well defined a man.
With a terrified gasp, he opened his eyes and looked at himself only to corroborate what his hand had already told him...
The most horrific thing had befallen him. He had become eunuch overnight!
"Argh!" he leaped up on the mattress in absolute horror. "Arghhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!"
"What?" Jane turned round and saw her sister, her back on the wall, with a terrified look upon her face.
"ARGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!" Charles went on while he frantically searched for his missing manly instrument under his shift.
Jane, thinking Elizabeth had seen some lurking animal in the bedchamber, jumped on her feet and raised the hem of her nightshift in the same manner her sister was holding hers.
"Ohhhhh! Argh!!! No, no, no, Arghhh!"
"Where? Where is it?" asked a bewildered Jane running her eyes through Elizabeth's nightshift since she seemed to be looking for the intruding pest under it.
"I do not know!" cried Bingley in a desperate manner. They were thinking of different mice, you know.
The hysterical cries soon alerted the inhabitants of neighbouring bedchamber who rushed to see what the matter was. One can only imagine Bingley's astonishment when the door if his bedchamber flung opened and Lydia, Mary and Kitty burst in wearing nightcaps and shifts. When they saw their sisters standing on the bed, backs against the wall, nightshifts held up, they immediately knew it must be some horrible creature at large, and almost as instantly jumped on the nearest piece of furniture they found and joined Charles in his cries of horror. This unexpected company at least had the effect of confusing Charles more than before, for the sight of the whole Bennet clan howling in nightshifts was far more distracting than his lost masculinity.
"Can you see it?" asked Jane to Charles.
"No!" whined Charles helplessly.
"What was it?" asked Mary.
Jane turned to Charles.
"Mice? You mean two? Lord!"
The whole house was summoned. As if all the inhabitants could recognise the source of the commotion up the stairs, every one came armed with brooms and immediately set for mice chase. That they were evidently quite used to such pursuits was clear to see. However, Charles Bingley beheld them at the task with a most bewildered look upon his face. Or should I say her face? Perplexed, he saw that no one thought his presence there amiss, and no one seemed to understand which the real loss had been either. Of course, he knew his masculinity could not be found anywhere under the bed, let alone restored to his body by a blow of a broomstick but in his stupor, he could not begin to explain what the situation really was, simply because he had no idea what was going on. There was no way he would ask a question which might sound stupid to Miss Bennet. Yet, forgetting for a moment that he was not even half the man he used to be, he estimated that perchance, somehow, he and Miss Bennet had got married; the fact that he looked very much like Miss Elizabeth totally escaping him.
Emasculation notwithstanding, the mere idea of being so united to the love of his life made him feel like leaping into her arms. True, it was unlikely that he should have forgotten such an event in his life...But maybe he was having a momentary loss of memory and he really was married to her.
However, after a few minutes of observing the family moving about the room, and listening to their conversation, he came to the conclusion that far from recognizing him as the noble gentleman from Netherfield park that had married Miss Bennet, they seemed persuaded that he was one of the sisters, Miss Elizabeth to be specific.
"There is no mouse here, Lizzy" Mr Bennet finally said looking at Mr Bingley. "Did you see where they might have gone?" Mouth half open, Bingley shook his head.
"Very well. I suggest that you should get down of that bed. Whatever it was, it is gone now, my love."
"Aye shall get them cats. Aye be sure them will catch them mice before noon," said Mrs Hill.
"Yes, do that," sighed Mr Bennet. Mrs Hill dropped a curtsey and quit the room. "Come, come, Lizzy. I have never seen you so terrified before, child," he said reaching out for Charles's hand. This one only beheld him even more bewildered. At length, he took Mr Bennet's hand, and, if reluctantly, allowed him help him get his feet on the ground. "There is a good girl. Now get yourself dressed, and come downstairs."
In absolute puzzlement and unable to utter the smallest sound, a profoundly confused Bingley commenced a most strange toilette in front of the Bennet girls and finally began the difficult process to get dressed, with a little help of the youngest Bennet, into Elizabeth's pink gown, while Miss Bennet's hair was being attended to. Still unable to grasp what could be possibly going on, he followed the progress of Miss Bennet's toilette in complete silence, and made no attempt to forestall or interrupt Lydia's frenzy conversation, all the while ogling at his own image in the mirror as if he were beholding an apparition.
"Lizzy. Whatever happens to you?" asked Lydia seeing that Charles was now staring at his swelling bosom with most astonished eyes, utterly unable to concentrate on anything else, least of all in the laces of his corset. "Since when you cannot dress yourself?"
"I think she is unwell, Lydia. She tossed and turned all night, is it not so dear Lizzy?" Jane asked innocently.
In being so addressed by the woman he had recently subjected to ardent amorous ministrations while incarnating her sister, Bingley's face acquired the pallor of a sick man and he prayed to God that Jane might indeed merely remember his love making as a restless night.
"Are you feverish?" Kitty asked putting the back of one hand on Charles's brow.
"Is she?" inquired Jane with a frown.
Kitty shook her head.
"Have the mice eaten your tongue?" asked Lydia cheekily and Kitty giggled stupidly. Recollecting his lost virility, Charles's eyes widened in horror. The mere idea of mice eating any part of his body was simply terrifying. Though that could hardly explain the exuberance of his chest, which he could not finish to admire, or the subtle curves of his hips.
"Well, have they?" said Lydia impatiently. "Say something, you silly!"
Bingley shook his head, his eyes still glued to his own reflection.
"No what?" Lydia cried. She was beginning to feel a little intimidated by her sister's uncommon silence and odd behaviour.
In seeing Lydia's discomfort and reluctance to assist Elizabeth, and this one so discomfited, Kitty offered her services, not without a scheme that would benefit her in return. "Would you like me to help you, Lizzy?"
Charles stared at his new interlocutor, in vain trying to elaborate the whole situation. Evidently, they had no doubt that he was their sister Elizabeth. But how could that have happened? To disabuse them of the notion while still in the form of said lady would be hardly a believable intelligence to pass to these simple girls in case he ever summoned enough courage to tell them who he really was. Kitty repeated her question once more, and Charles silently assented, his mind still busy trying to process how on God's green earth he had landed in Miss Bennet's bedroom and her sister's body, ignoring that in granting Catherine permission to help him with his toilette he might just as well signed his death warrant. Clapping her hands with elation, a wild Kitty opened Elizabeth's wardrobe and began to toss out all of her belongings on the bed.
Lydia bit her lip, jealous that Elizabeth was allowing Kitty to play dolls on her.
"I shall help too," she declared and both began to comb Charles's hair and tie ribbons in it with the mastery of a ... nine year old. The result was a veritable joke. Poor Bingley looked like a prized puddle. But unlike Elizabeth, Bingley did not complain, such was the utter confusion in which he had been thrown. Instead he grinned stupidly, enthralled with the agreeable company of the lady of his heart, by now persuaded he was in the middle of the silliest nightmares of his life, from which he would be promptly awaken by Wilkinson.
"Lizzy!" Jane protested. "You must feel really ill to let the girls toy with your hair like that!" She dismissed the two sisters and took over the task of finishing Bingley's hair.
"There now. You look beautiful, my dear." And she kissed her sister on the cheek, leaving Charles dizzy with the overdose of tenderness.
At Breakfast Charles witnessed the family at their best. Albeit dumbfounded, he passed potatoes and filled glasses here and there automatically, without eating so much than a few bites and taking two or three gulps of tea.
"You are not going for your morning walk, dearest?" asked Jane to Charles after breakfast was over. Charles was standing at the door frame, staring into empty space, unsure on how to proceed. In realising he had been asked a question, he mechanically shook his head, tossing the carefully plaited hair which occasioned the dark ringlets to bounce up and down.
"Would you like to help with these?" Jane said as she unceremoniously passed him some sewing work. Bingley stared at the threaded needle with wild apprehension. He had never made the smallest stitch, and something told him he never would. Yet he dared not refuse or contradict Jane. Not until he had figured out what was going on. Hence he sat in front of her, the needle work on his lap and stared blankly at her while Jane sewed on.
"Is anything wrong with you, dearest? You have not opened your mouth since this morning."
Charles shook his head and was momentarily captivated by Miss Bennet's beautiful smile. It was his wish came true ... to be close to her day and night ... His dream came true? ... No, not his dream ... His wish!! Of course! The wishing star! Good Lord! Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined a wishing star would ever grant him a wish! Blasted! How unfortunate he had not wished to be properly married to Miss Bennet!
All he could think of now was how long this wish would last. It could not be for too long, since it if did, it would be a curse more than a wish.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Miss Bennet, with her customary serenity and softness, working patiently with her needle, completely foreign to his thoughts, and his anxiety relented by half.
As the reader might no doubt have perceived, Mr Bingley was not, perhaps, the brightest of men. He was not brilliant, nor witty, nor wise overmuch, nor extraordinarily intelligent. Thus, of spending some time in this unmanned form, he thought with considerable, though not perfect pleasure, for he imagined he could be quite content as long as it was not a permanent change. This was indeed not very consoling but at least he would be able to sit with her, dine with her, talk to her, even touch and kiss her, and dear God...sleep with her, which he could not even dream of doing, even if he were properly engaged to her. Under such delightful persuasion, he made up his mind to make the most of this odd situation, sanguine that the next day would surely open a new scene, in which, once restored to his masculine self, perhaps he could entertain hopes to secure Miss Bennet as his wedded wife. So, gathering his work together, he sate merrily closer to his 'sister' and sewed and mended Mr Bennet's cravats, and even embroidered a cushion, with very little success of course, but at least he spent an agreeable time and all his efforts were properly remunerated when he eventually got the needle through his thumb and Miss Bennet sucked at it with her delicate lips.
Things were not so agreeable at Netherfield Park. Later that same day, Elizabeth woke up in a familiar room. This time it did not take her long to discover that she was still in her masculine self, as if the dream had taken control of her entire life. She sat up in bed for a while and wondered what would become of her if she could never wake up. But that was not possible. Sooner or later she would. She had begun to suspect, however, that there was a good chance that this was no dream, and that she had been cast in a strange spell that was keeping locked in Mr Bingley's body. Everything seemed so real, that it was very difficult to think it was make believe, all part of a dream. Her first suspicions somehow seemed the most logical explanation to the nightmare.
She abandoned the bed, walked up to the nearest window and looked outside. It was not dark as in her room, so probably it was the afternoon. She strained her ears to hear a sound but the whole house seemed in a sepulchral silence.
Not knowing what to do, she looked around the room in which she had been placed. Judging for its size it must be the Master's room, hence Mr Bingley's, so she thought. The fact that it was devoid of all reading material, persuaded her of the accuracy of her hasty conclusion. As she felt so absolutely out of place, she returned to the bed, and lying supine pondered what her next movement would be. Maybe she would go to Longbourn and see what had become of her. Instantly, a ghastly thought pervaded her mind. What if she was dead? What if she had been cursed to remain in Mr Bingley's body for good? Her heart began to beat quickly as the alarming idea occurred to her ... Did she still exist at Longbourn or had she been erased from her family's memory? Lord! What would become of her if that was the case! She would be doomed to live in Mr Bingley's body, perhaps forever, helplessly tied to his disagreeable family and friend! Elizabeth trembled from head to toes as a fresh horrific thought suddenly filled her mind. Her sister Jane would be violently in love with her, so she would have to avoid all contact with her!
"O Jane, Jane! I shall break your heart!" she thought to herself.
Instantaneously, another similar thought succeeded. What would happen if she were to fall in love? Would she fall in love with a gentleman? She was certain she would never love a woman! The mere idea made her feel sick!
Before another shocking notion happened to invade her head, she decided it was absolutely necessary to discover what had become of her body, so she made up her mind to go home.
With the rays of the sun in her window cheering her up, Elizabeth rose before Mr Bingley's manservant could hear her, got dressed in her manly clothes with excessive care not to disturb Wilkinson (she later discovered menservants were excessively attentive to any noise their masters might make and would offer assistance even when this was not required) and tiptoed downstairs. To her relief no one else was around. She grabbed an apple and set out for Longbourn. On foot.
We last left Mr Bingley and Miss Jane doing some needlework at Longbourn. Soon the rest of the Bennet females joined them for it was with this simple task that poor ladies were accustomed to while away their leisure moments while other more prominent ladies took up German lessons or draw sketches or took some other lesson that was fashionable in London.
Mr Collins meantime, was meditating in solitude what to say to his intended. He thought too well of himself to fear a second refusal but was persuaded that a more effusive proposal was all that it was required to get an affirmative answer, so he imagined that this time he would have to display a more violent show of his affection. Mr Bingley, of course, had no idea of this scheme. Thus when the parson entered the room and Mrs Bennet quite artlessly summoned her daughters but for Lizzy and they all quitted it, this honest man thought nothing of it, until the toad flew to his side and, catching him completely unaware, grabbed his hand, and kneeling down, he said in a trembling voice,
"I knew, I knew you could not be serious in your rejection of me for my hand could not be unworthy of your acceptance. O dear, dear cousin. You have made of me the happiest man on earth! I do assure you that the establishment I offer you cannot be more desirable and my affections more profound. I assure you the suspense has but increased my love."
With that he rose to his feet and though awkwardly, he leant over him and kissed a very astonished Mr Bingley on the lips.
Now, Mr Bingley, who did not finish to comprehend why he was thus vigorously besieged, had never kissed a woman on the lips other than in his dreams. He had once or twice brushed a cheek with feathered lip touch, and kissed countless unglobed hands but never lips, at least not consciously. Therefore, to be experiencing such momentous event of his life in the arms of a fatty parson was more that his Englishness and politeness together could take. He jerked his head away and pushed free of Collin's arms, his anger lifting itself to unprecedented proportions. With his right hand he gripped Collin's shoulder, and with his left, took him by the throat and pushed him back against a wall. There was a breaking noise of china and thrashing of furniture about the room. Still clenching the parson's throat, Bingley hit him on the face, once, twice, so hard, that the poor man was knocked out senseless.
Bingley was at odds on what to do now. He was divided between his desire to stay with Miss Bennet and enjoy her company, and his impulse to jump through the window and run towards Netherfield Park for shelter.
On hearing the terrible noise that the struggle had occasioned, Mrs Bennet and her daughters, who had been eavesdropping from behind closed door, at first hesitated to find out what the source of the fuss was. But after the sepulchral silence that ensued, they gathered courage and stormed in only to find Mr Collins lying unconscious on the carpet, his face sporting a most conspicuous swelling bellow his eye while a thin line of blood trickled down his lower lip. Mr Bingley stood in a menacing posture, fists pointing at the undesired lover ready to bounce back the minute the ridiculous man should endeavour to attack him again.
"Lizzy!" gasped Jane.
"Good Lor'!" cried Lydia.
"Merciful Heavens!" prayed Mary
"Ungrateful child!" yelled Mrs Bennet.
"He ...he kissed me!" was Bingley's awkward explanation. "On the lips!" he added pointing at that particular part of his face which had been the recipient of Mr Collins's ardent desires.
Lydia made a face of disgust. "Ugh. I cannot blame you."
The mayhem in which the whole household was thrown after Miss Elizabeth's ungraceful though decisive refusal, did not for once fail to induced Mr Bennet out of his sanctuary. Though the gentleman could not but approve his daughter's negativity to comply to be subjected to the parson's amorous embrace, the manner of her rejection, though it must be own did not allow for confusion of its negative nature, he found a little violent, and unladylike in extreme.
Unfortunately, Bingley, still unused to the fact that he was in fact Miss Elizabeth, mistook Mr Bennet's concerned face with a furious countenance and he panicked. Everyone, with the exception of Miss Lydia, seemed angry with him. He was suddenly overpowered by a terrible fear that perhaps that was not a dream and the realisation that he had probably ruined a prospected alliance for the real Miss Bennet suddenly dawned on him. Desperate, he flew to the nearest window and endeavoured to quit the room through it.
"Lord! What is she doing?!" laughed Lydia.
"Come here, child!" cried Mr Bennet. "Do not do anything silly, my love."
"O dear! She will jump! I cannot look!" said Kitty horrified, giving her back to the scene.
"Lizzy!" gasped Jane once more, and she darted towards her dear sister.
At length Mr Bingley was persuaded not to jump, which in case he had, would not have been so injurious to his health since they were down stairs on the ground floor so he would have merely landed on the dirty gravel. Abandoning the idea, however, Bingley unsaddled the window pane and stood penitently looking at his pretty pink sandals, a sad reminder of his present feminine form.
Mr Bennet, using his most tender voice towards his favourite daughter, took him by the hand and led him to an adjoining room and to the comforts of a chair. Meantime, the bell was rung and the servants were summoned to take care of the fainted Mr Collins, who still lay unconscious on the floor of the library.
"I think I told you in the library the other day that I should not speak to you again if you accepted Mr Collins. Was it necessary to express your refusal in so violently a manner?" Mr Bennet began with a concerned look upon his face. "And where on earth did you summon the strength to knock a man out in this way? Not that I have much scruples, indeed, against how you conducted things. I would have done pretty much the same myself were I in your position." He laughed at his own joke. Bingley, however, beheld him with stupor.
"Now what will we do now with Mr Collins, eh? I think he will not be very happy to see you when he recovers. Why do you not find somewhere to go? Go visit Charlotte, or the Netherfield ladies. Take Jane with you. She will be more than happy to see Mr Bingley again. Meantime, I will see what I do with your beau."
Bingley thought that Mr Bennet's idea for them to call on the Netherfield ladies was not so bad after all. So it was that the younger girls set off for Meryton, while Jane and Bingley for Netherfield Park.
"Is it not strange," Jane began after a long pause, "that Mr Bingley has not left yet, as Caroline had warned us he would."
Bingley, still struggling for command of his wits, looked up at Jane in frank surprise. "You knew I was leaving?" Jane looked back at her sister with puzzled eyes. "I mean, you knew Mr Bingley was leaving?"
"Of course. You must remember the note I received yesterday!"
"Yes! Lizzy, how could you have forgotten!" The sudden realization that Elizabeth indeed could not recollect the dreadful missive persuaded Jane that something must be the matter with her. "O dearest," she said visibly concerned. "You are unwell."
Shaking his head, Bingley endeavoured to brush that off. "Pray, tell me. What note?"
"Here. You can read it yourself. I do not care." She dipped her hand in the pocket of her morning dress and produced a carefully folded slip of paper.
Charles unfolded the letter and leaning against a tree, read it with great interest. As he did so his eyes widened in extreme surprise, and his surprise gradually turned into vexation which quickly evolved into the purest ire.
"This is insupportable!" he huffed in annoyance quite red in the face. "This is all a big lie! How dare she, dammy!"
"But you do not understand. I have never... Charles ...Mr Bingley has never shown the slightest interest in Miss Darcy!"
"How can you know that, Lizzy?"
Bugger it. How indeed... he paused for a second pondering which would be the most plausible explanation for such intelligence to be in possession of Miss Bennet, not contemplating for the twentieth fraction of time of course that Miss Elizabeth was a helpless gossipy hence very likely to know the life of everyone within her range. At length he came up with the most absurd notion, "Mr Darcy ... he has told me!"
"Mr Darcy!" cried Jane with disbelief.
"Yes...he...he ...confided me that he thinks Miss Darcy is too young to even think of attending a ball, let alone getting engaged."
"Mr Darcy told you all that?"
"But you hardly speak to Mr Darcy!"
"Yes, you hate him so much. How could he possible trust you with his sister's affairs?"
Hate Darcy? A woman that hated Darcy? Now that was a double surprise. He would have wagered that Elizabeth had been flirting with him, even expecting his addresses. Had they not danced together at the ball? Darcy would have never singled her out if he were not profoundly impressed by her. Before knowing what he was saying, Bingley said just that to Jane. "Well... It so happens that Mr Darcy ... is a little enamoured of Miss E... of me. So he does trust me."
Jane was perplexed. She stared at her sister trying to decipher what she really meant with all that. Finally, she blinked twice and narrowing her eyes she said accusingly, "Now I know you are lying, Lizzy. Have you forgotten that I know how Mr Darcy has slighted you in front of everyone at the Meryton Ball? You have been telling the joke to everyone in Meryton...'she's tolerable I suppose...but not handsome enough to temp me.'"
Bingley's face went so pale he could have passed for a ghost. Lord! Miss Elizabeth had heard Darcy say such an outrageous thing? No wonder she hated him! "Have I, now?" he asked hesitantly.
"Of course you have. You have always said how much you hate each other. Now suddenly Mr Darcy is sweet on you?"
"Faith, Jane. He is not at all indifferent. Neither is Charles where you are concerned, my dear." Jane shook her head. "You must believe me, Jane. Charles is head over heels in love with you! He has never, ever, thought of offering for Miss Darcy! Wo! The girl is but a little sister to m...him!"
The reader knows very well that Jane Bennet was not usually prone to drama and that she was sincerely in love with Charles Bingley. This conversation was moving certain feelings she was trying hard to repress. She then learned she was not strong enough. Despite herself, Jane let a soft sob escape her.
Now Charles was naturally a very soft hearted young man. The sight of a woman in pain usually melted him. But the sight of Jane broken hearted and suffering for his sake tore his soul with unprecedented anguish. He hurried to her side and kneeling beside her, grabbed her hand and forgetting for a moment he was not Charles Bingley endeavoured to sooth her pain. "Jane, Jane, do not cry. Lord! What have I done! Jane, do not, do not cry... I cannot bear see you cry, my love. Lord, how stupid I have been! How did I not see how much you love ...Charles."
In between sobs Jane smiled and softy said. "You have always known how much I love Mr Bingley, Lizzy."
"Have I?" he said softly, hardly restraining his wild need to kiss her tears away. "So you have told others?"
Jane shook her head. "Only you."
That was too much. He broke out into an unmanly emotion and I daresay he thanked Heavens his present form entitled him to be rightly prone to tears. "You should have let Mr Bingley know, you know," he said sobbing with her. Lord! What was wrong with him! "The poor wretch was dying with indecision."
"What would you know?" sobbed Jane back in between smiles.
"O yes. Mr Darcy told you."
Charles smiled his stupid grin and Jane was momentarily puzzled for her sister strongly reminded her of her lover.
"For a kingdom, Jane. If Mr Bingley has not left yet, I am of the mind he will not leave at all. Truly I am! I have this feeling that he might have discovered his sister's scheme to separate him from you by now, and no angel in Heavens will be willing to help Caroline once that Mr Bingley catches her! She would wish she had never meddled in his affairs!"
"O I am sure this is all a mistake, Lizzy."
"Miss Bingley is not capable of such a scheme against her own brother!"
As she pronounced these words, Bingley's heart filled with tenderness for this wonderfully angelical woman. "Jane. You are too good. You must know I did not expect anything less from you, my love. But, I must contradict you. There is no mistake here. Caroline has shamelessly lied in what my ...Charles Bingley's wishes and feelings respect, and that is no mistake. I wonder how much of this Darcy's aware of..."
"Lizzy! You speak of Mr Darcy as if you were already intimate with him!"
"Believe me. You would be surprise of that gentleman's intimacy with me! And so would I if I were ..." but he trailed off thinking it was too complicated to explain Jane Mr Darcy's true feelings for the lady he inhabited. "But I refuse to think ill of him. Are you certain that I hate Mr Darcy?"
Jane suppressed a laugh and nodded highly amused.
"Well! I must say it should not surprise me in the least! Darcy has never bothered to earn anyone's good opinion. But he will be surprised with this, I grant you."
Once he had figured out all that the rest was not half as difficult for Charles, and he smiled quite content, determined to make the most of his situation while he was sanguine that he would eventually be restored to his body, which he imagined must be presently occupied by Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The mere notion of Miss Elizabeth being at Netherfield Park impersonating him was in itself gratifying enough, and he would have wagered all his money that that lady would never allow his sister to get away with her shameful scheme and would make her pay for every deed she had ever committed as well.
The way to Longbourn had never been so difficult for Elizabeth to traverse. Hang these men's clothes! What she would give for her old shabby walking boots! These tall Hessian boots were killing her. The breeches too, though very convenient for men to ride astride, had the undesirable effect of heating her legs exceedingly, which made her sweat profusely. Unused to wearing a tall gentleman's hat, and incapable of keeping her head held up with one on it, she had purposely left it behind. The summer sun combined to the walking exertion was now making her pay for such thoughtlessness.
To make matters worse, she had a desperate need to relieve herself, so to speak, but her apprehension for her manly appendage was such and inconvenience of the whole man apparel so great, that she would rather hold off forever. It would not do, however. Sooner or later she would have to seek relief.
In the end, resigned to face her present masculinity and be a man, she jumped over a fence to hide as much as possible amidst the shrubs, and pulling the uncomfortable breeches down her legs, she crouched to urinate. Taking prodigious care not to come in direct contact with it, in other words using the edge of the pristine shirt in between her hand and Mr Bingley, she pushed the offensive manly organ a little back so its emissions would not stain her breeches and let it go. The relief was such, that for a minute she forgot the fact that she had assumed the most ridiculous position for a man, for in her innocence she had failed to figure out that men did not sit to pee, hence Mr Darcy's astonishment to find his young friend with his pants down, peeing in the forest in a most lady-like manner.
"Bingley?" he asked disbelieving his eyes. Having gone on his usual morning ride, he had dismounted a few yards afar, when he had caught sight of Bingley jumping over the fence, and had walked his way through the tall shrubs taking the unaware ladycompletely by surprise.
Elizabeth, who by force of sheer curiosity had been quite distracted following the winding course of the yellowish fluids down the earth, a most curious outcome no doubt, instantly raised her face and in being thus confronted with Mr Darcy, she gasped in horror. Darcy was in turn taken aback.
"O for shame!" she cried and immediately stood up. Fortunately, her breeches were unstained. Amazed at first that his friend would have chosen the woods to commune with nature, Darcy stared at him for a fraction of a second, and then as Bingley rose to his feet, he impulsively looked behind him. To his relief he instantly noticed that Bingley had been merely making water, nonetheless his astonishment as to Bingley's odd posture increased. "Damn it, Bingley! What the deuce...why were you crouching like that?"
Elizabeth blushed so profoundly, that Darcy thought his friend was choking. Her embarrassment was such, that not bothering to offer explanations of any kind, she quickly pulled her breeches up, ran towards the fence and endeavoured to jump back to the other side. Darcy, more intrigued than ever, followed her, and before she could begin to cross the fence, took hold of her arm and asked insistently. "Are you out of your wits? It is only me!" He was completely clueless as to his friend's behaviour, unable to comprehend why Bingley would feel so embarrassed for such a trifle. It was only natural. They did it all the time.
"By Jove, Bingley! That must be the most extraordinary position to empty one's bladder I have ever seen. May I inquire after your reasons to pose like that to merely urinate?"
To tell the truth, Elizabeth knew not how to hide her agitation. To be so addressed by Mr Darcy, of all people! "Dear me! What does that question tend to?" she asked breathlessly.
Darcy laughed at his friend's offended demeanour. "Merely to gratify my curiosity. I should have thought only ladies crouched for that."
She huffed in annoyance at such discourse. How dare he speak so lightly of so intimate a subject? "Indeed, sir. But in this dress it is impossible!" she protested.
"I beg your pardon? Didn't your father tell you that boys just stand at any corner? Dear me! There is no need for your pants to go down. You just need to..." and he insinuated how his own breeches would open in case he would need to go. Elizabeth, with a sharp intake, turned hastily around.
Perceiving his friend was noticeably uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation, and still at complete loss as for his unseemly behaviour, Darcy, coughing lightly, endeavoured to change the topic. "But of course you must know that...ehem...Are you going back already? Where were you heading in the first place?"
"Longbourn," she answered as succinctly as possible.
"Ah." The answer in itself was quite preoccupying. He felt tempted to remind him of the apothecary's recommendations, but then thought better. Evidently the pull of Bingley's heart was stronger than any doctor's orders. Looking around, Darcy asked, "Pray, where is your horse?"
Elizabeth winced. "I did not bring it," she said gravely.
Darcy beheld Bingley not a little astonished. "But you are going to Longbourn?" Elizabeth nodded. "On foot?" she nodded again.
"As you see," she said beginning to forget her embarrassment and becoming a little vexed.
"What happened to your horse?"
She was momentarily silent, being unprepared for the quiz at so early a time. At last she said, "I chose not to mount. That is all."
Darcy beheld her doubtfully. It was as if he were measuring her words. "It is nearly three miles, you booby."
Disregarding the appellation she said dryly, "I know."
"Of course you do."
"Well then," she said impatiently, her face with a heightened colour that betrayed her annoyance.
"Well then what?"
"Well then I am leaving. I cannot stay here admiring your necktie, sir. The sun at midday is insupportable. Good day, Mr Darcy." And she departed, swaying Bingley's hips in a very unmanly manner, a fact that did not escape Darcy as he watched her go. Hands on his hips, head a little askance, Darcy observed Bingley jump the fence, with the clumsiness of a little girl, and he chuckled diverted.
Yet it was neither his delicate gait nor his virgin -like movements that caught his attention but the manner of his address. It was not like Bingley to call him sir, least of all Mr Darcy. And there was something about this new impertinence, that perky way that was not at all Bingley's. Unless for the utterly fantastic nature of an unlikely body switch, Darcy would have sworn that Bingley's body was being inhabited by Miss Elizabeth. No, of course, not. That is simply impossible, he thought!
Yet, the conversation had been enough to send his head reeling. Surely there was more to this strange behaviour that met the eye. He was on the brink to follow him when he recollected that Longbourn would necessarily mean a sure meeting with Miss Elizabeth. The mere thought of the petit brunette impelled him to check his apparel. He was wearing his riding breeches, which were an absolute mayhem after the ride, his shirt must be all wrinkled and most surely stained with sweat and his neck in dire need of a clean neckcloth. No sir, he could not present himself in front of the lady looking such a sight.
Neither could he leave Bingley on his own, he wagered. He quickly set for Netherfield, hurried into his dressing room, rang for his man and before he knew it, once again he found himself in front of a mirror, despite all the haste, taking precious care of his looks for the sake of a woman he did not intend to woo. His valet spied him from afar, a little suspicious of his master's sudden interest in appearances. Darcy sent him back a defiant look, as if daring him to say anything. The servant raised his eyebrows and quit the room with no comments, though a knowing smile blossomed on his face.
Without bothering to leave any explanation to the Hursts who were nowhere to be seen, therefore still in bed, Darcy ordered an open phaeton and refusing a coachman, took hold of the reigns and rushed after Bingley. To his surprise, by the time he caught up with his friend, he had already covered half his way to Longbourn.
"Hullo again, old boy!" he greeted Bingley with a grin.
Elizabeth was stunned to see him back. She had seen the oncoming phaeton but would have never begun to think it could be Mr Darcy. "What! A cart now? Are you not weary of following me around, sir?"
He shrugged his shoulders, still grinning. "I thought you would welcome a wagon, since you are not in the mood for riding."
Elizabeth sent him a dismissing look. "I thank you, Mr Darcy. But I'd much rather walk," she said sulkily.
Darcy stopped his horses and allowed his friend to walk pass him. When Bingley had sufficiently overtaken him a good yard, Darcy said in a loud voice, "you know... I've been thinking... It is not like you to be so stubborn. I daresay you are behaving more like a complicated female of late."
That was it. Elizabeth stopped dead on her tracks and without one more comment she abandoned her resolute march, whirled around in what could have been described as a tantrum, and climbed onto the box, almost falling on her seat with a thud next to Darcy. Eyes twinkling with mirth, Darcy smacked his lips to set the horses forward and sending a knowing look towards his neighbour who sat proudly, head erect, looking straight ahead, he drove off.
"I reckon the Miss Bennets must be still in bed, do you not think? It is too early to call on them. We had better linger here for a while till an appropriate hour."
Of course it was too early, she thought sulkily. She had not planned to reach Longbourn before noon, well after lunch, but what with Mr Darcy's sudden appearance with the phaeton, they had arrived before the rooster could greet dawn. "Yes, I daresay you are correct," she said pointedly.
The phaeton was thusly stopped at a safe distance from Longbourn in front of a winding stream surrounded by bushy shrubs. They sat in apparent silent companionship, both perched uncomfortably on the box, Darcy's calf slightly touching her knee for want of space, each of them contemplating their own thoughts. She shifted her position a little, endeavouring to put some distance between their legs, but to no avail. Darcy's limbs were too large, and he could see no reason to avoid the feather contact of his leg with that of his friend.
Elizabeth despaired. It was not his mere nearness that ultimately disturbed her. The experienced reader must know she had many a provocation that fed her wrath against him, among which were the universally known concept that Mr Darcy was a most disagreeable and proud sort of man who thoroughly disliked her, and the astonishing intelligence of his abhorrent treatment of Mr Wickham that had deprived the charming officer of any provision for a promising future, condemning Lizzy's favourite to poverty and a life of privations. All things considered, one can not be surprised that Mr Darcy embodied all that Miss Elizabeth found disagreeable in a man, however handsome his appearance or large his income.
She was bent upon all these weighty ruminations when Mr Darcy's voice broke the silence.
"Are you cold?" Darcy asked warmly, noticing her constant shifting.
Elizabeth blushed deeply, why, she could not tell. Perhaps she felt a little ashamed that while she was meditating on her hatred for him, he had been concerned for her well being.
"Only a little," she said as she shivered.
"Let me see..." he said, and set himself to search behind the seat. "Here. Take this," he said triumphantly as he produced a light blanket.
"Thank you," she said, colouring even more. Why is he so good to me?" she wondered. "Ah yes. 'Tis because he thinks I am Mr Bingley, of course. He likes to have his pet well groomed and warm.
"Do you fancy there is trout here?" Darcy asked absentmindedly.
The question caught her by complete surprise. Was there trout? She hardly knew. Nevertheless, she chose to agree, and nodded as she looked away to avoid eye contact.
"'Tis a pity the lot will remain undisturbed. Had I noticed it before, we could have done some coarse fishing."
Elizabeth beheld him, not a little surprised. As much as she tried, she could not picture the proud Mr Darcy armed with rods and tackle on a fishing expedition.
"Anyway, there will be plenty of chances for fishing in my trout stream at Pemberley when you come in the summer."
Elizabeth's eyes widened like coffee saucers. O no. Summer with Mr Darcy? What would be next? Would I end up marrying his sister? "Yes, I should say so," she said hurriedly, taking for granted that Mr Bingley would have agreed to anything Darcy said. Darcy seemed happy with that reply, and said nothing more for a while. She saw him play with the reins and occasionally look towards her house with what she would have wagered was something akin to longing. Absentmindedly, he threw something into the water, a little piece of leather with which he had been toying. Then he sighed and smiled, probably at some memory.
It was not often that Elizabeth had been left alone with the gentleman. They had once found themselves half an hour in each other's company in the library at Netherfield, but they had been quite indifferent fellow readers on that occasion, both deeply concentrated on their own books. This time it was different. She was obligated to feign intimacy with him, otherwise she would have to tell him the truth. Of course she did not dread his company. Nor did she find him so disagreeable as she had imagined. Evidently Mr Darcy was a very different person with those who were of his own intimate circle.
"Mr Wickham was right. He is as amiable a gentleman as can be, provided he is with his friends and those who he respects as peers."
That Mr Darcy was devastatingly attractive, she had long discovered upon first sight, but his attractiveness had receded in light of his disagreeable character. Today, however, she must own he was particularly handsomely dressed in his morning clothes, his hair a little ruffled in the gentle zephyr. The fact that in her present body arrangements she would not be exactly the object of the gentleman's attention did not dim an ounce her inborn female tendency to admire such a man so worthy of admiration. All in all, Elizabeth had never been able to admire a man's attractive features at such close quarters before, free of the rigid social constraints that so severely prevented such intimacy. Despite her conscious efforts, she could not school her eyes to look away. Over and over, those tricky eyes of hers would stubbornly drift towards Mr Darcy, and gaze undauntedly at his chiselled countenance. It seemed her occupation did not pass unnoticed, and the gentleman began to feel uncomfortable, which added to her distress since she could not help staring at him.
"What is it? What are you looking at?"
"I... I thought... you looked a little pale."
She nodded, biting her lip. It was the first thing that had come to her mind. He instinctively raised his hand to his own brow, only to realise it would not do to feel it himself. A sudden dread that Bingley's malady could be catching invaded him.
"Pray, will you not feel me?"
Eyes rounded even more, she asked, "I beg your pardon?"
"Feel if I am feverish? Last year I caught a dreadful fever that held me in bed for more than a month."
Elizabeth continued to gaze at him with a frozen look, but her hands refused to oblige Mr Darcy's request.
"Feel it!" Darcy finally ordered. "Put your darn fingers on my brow!" Elizabeth finally obeyed, if hesitantly. "There, how does it feel? Cold or warm?"
"Feels cold," she mumbled, staring at his dark eyes, and for some strange reason her hand lingered a second too long on Darcy's brow.
"That is enough," the gentleman said.
"Oh, I am sorry I ... I ... Did you say you have your own trout stream?"
Darcy beheld him, full of astonishment. "Bingley, you are definitely and positively deranged. I think it would be advisable for us to go back to Netherfield Park, pack up our things and seek a good doctor in London."
Just then, the merry sound of female voices chirping savagely, each endeavouring to overshadow the other, reached Elizabeth's ears. On hearing her own voice coming from the group of ladies, Elizabeth became exceedingly agitated. Heart pounding she endeavoured to catch a short glimpse of the approaching group when alas, she saw herself walking with her sister Jane, arm in arm, pleasantly talking and laughing as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Her shock was such that she could not help a look of terror from taking over her countenance.
Mr Darcy immediately noticed his friend's discomfiture, and thinking it stemmed from his repulse to go away, he tried to comfort him with pledges of a soon recovery. But Bingley was not listening. Elizabeth was enthralled with the vision of her own figure sauntering gaily on the gravel that led to Longbourn.
However, in her effort to catch a better look at herself she had forgotten she was high up on the box of the phaeton, and miscalculated the inclination of her body, with the unfortunate result that she lost equilibrium and fell, head first, with a solid thud onto the back of the cart.
Mr Darcy once again could hardly believe his friend's clumsiness, and stiffening his mirth, he asked Bingley if he was well, not knowing whether to go in his aid, or simply laugh at him. The gay sound of the party of girls from Longbourn now was quite distinguishable, and Darcy raised his head to see who was coming their way.
His surprise could only be imagined, when, in spotting Mr Darcy perched on his phaeton, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, leaving her sisters behind, her beautiful face lit up with evident joy, and in a most extraordinary display of over-familiarity, ran towards him and exclaimed in a most delighted tone,
"Darcy! You are come! How good to see you, of all people!"
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