The Lady Vanishes
There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. - Jane Austen
Morning came, and I lingered in bed for a bit, staring at the ceiling. Plastered upon my features was a lazy smile. I thought of the kiss Darcy, and I had shared and sighed to myself. I rose from the bed refreshed and happy, and I was not a morning person. I was ready to tackle the day. Carpe Diem! I was going to face the day head on, come what may! Preparing myself for the morning, I changed and walked downstairs to have breakfast.
Mr. Collins sat at the breakfast table, reading from his volume of discourses. Father had nodded off in his chair. However, Kitty and Lydia, who had moved into the room with much noise, had woken him up. Kitty giggled when she saw Mr. Collins was sermonizing to a group of people who did not want to hear it. It was ten in the morning, after all! Lydia paused when she saw Mr. Collins was reading aloud. She made a face and sat next to me, "I would ask what I missed, however, seeing how dull everyone seems; I would say I didn't miss much."
I looked at her, "You would be right."
Mr. Collins cast Lydia a wary eye. He cleared his throat. He continued to read in a louder tone, but, all it did was make Lydia noisier (something we could have all lived without). "I wonder if I shall see Mr. Wickham today."
"What about Mr. Samuel Palmer?" Mary asked.
Mr. Bennet spoke, "Mr. Palmer is to buy the neighboring farm.
"We shall be neighbors with him! Oh, happy day!" Mrs. Bennet inquired, "What is his age? Is he short or tall? How much does he make?"
"Why not ask him, my dear?"
"Oh, Mr. Bennet," Mrs. Bennet exhaled in exasperation, "Not again! I will not listen to you anymore. You have teased me enough!"
"Oh well, that is a pity, for, what I meant to say was," Mr. Bennet said, "I have invited him to dinner tonight."
Lydia paled, and I glanced sidelong at her. For somebody who cared not about a simple farmer, she was, without question, acting the role of a woman with a crush. Of course, the term crush would not have existed then. "Papa," Lydia asked, "why have you invited Mr. Palmer to dinner? We barely know him."
"Hush Lydia!" Mrs. Bennet scolded, "He is a man of property."
"Not yet!" Lydia protested, "Mother he is a farmer. We can all do better than Mr. Palmer. Jane has Bingley, and I have Mr. Wickham. Oh and," she sent me a mischievous look, "Lizzy has Mr. Darcy wrapped around her little finger!"
"No," I dissented, "I do not!""
"Lydia dear," Mrs. Bennet remarked, "Mr. Wickham has no property. What will he offer you?"
Defeated, Lydia sighed, "Fine. But, do not expect me to like this Palmer fellow."
"There is nothing wrong with being a farmer. He establishes an honorable livelihood. It proves that he is responsible and dutiful. Wouldn't you rather have a devoted husband at your side?" Mary asked.
Lydia pouted and slumped in her chair. With a sigh, Mr. Collins closed his book; for, no one was listening. He stood up and walked towards the window. He seemed in a pensive mood. Everyone looked relieved and went about their morning duties. I avoided mother. She had settled upon finding out what had happened between Darcy and I. Before she could ask me any more questions, Mr. Collins walked back to the table, "Miss Elizabeth, I would like to ask you a question."
He extended his arm out to me, "Shall we go to the parlor room? I would have asked to take a stroll, but, it is rather cold outside, and I fear we are ill-prepared for it."
I followed him into the parlor room and shut the door. He began to twiddle his fingers, clasping and unclasping his hands. I feared he was going to break his fingers off. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it again. He cleared his throat.
"What is it?"
He nodded, "It is in regards Miss Lucas."
"I understand you are friends with her."
"Yes." I smiled, "She is a great woman."
"Yes, yes." He looked down with a crinkled brow.
"Mr. Collins, are you in love?"
He flushed, "I-I do not know."
"How do you feel when you think about her?"
He looked at me smiling shyly, "Miss Elizabeth, your questions are most forward."
"God, I forgot you're a clergyman," I muttered under my breath.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." I shrugged, "Well, why did you want to talk about Miss Lucas then?"
Mr. Collins hesitated for a moment. I could hear the clock on the mantle ticking as if every second mattered and standing here was not solving a single thing. I looked at him with expectancy, hoping he would answer me soon. Goodness, he chose his words with too much care! In general, it was a good thing to take care while speaking, however, Mr. Collins took the cake. The entire bloody cake! A full minute had gone by before he started to talk.
"I hope you are not hurt." Mr. Collins began, "You see, I mean to ask for Miss Lucas' hand, and I had asked you first. Despite your rejection, I still wish you all happiness."
"Oh, Mr. Collins," I smiled, "you are a good man and will make Miss Lucas the happiest woman this side of Hertfordshire. I am not hurt. I am glad for you and Miss Lucas. She is important to me, and I cannot see her with anyone else but you."
It was the first time I had seen Mr. Collins smile with happiness. I imagined a great deal had been on his mind. Taking over Longbourn was never something he had wanted to do with evil intentions; however, it had fallen into his lap. He did not deserve mistreatment and yet, we were all rolling our eyes behind his back because of an issue that was out of his hands.
"And now, I must apologize to you," I smiled. "We have not been very accommodating or kind to you. I am surprised that you have not thrown us out of the house."
"I understand why I am not liked." Mr. Collins sighed, "Were it possible to pass Longbourn to you and your sisters, I would do so in a heartbeat. I care about this family, and I would like to see you and your sisters married well."
"Even Lydia?" I snickered.
"Yes," he smiled back, "even her."
The next few hours proved crucial. Lydia tried her hardest to feign sickness. Mother would not fall for any of Lydia's harebrained schemes, not today. She would not back down when we were anticipating an important guest, a guest who could alter our lives for the better. With finality, Lydia stomped all the way upstairs to change. Mother wanted her presentable for Mr. Palmer. We expected her to come down to meet him; however, she was taking her sweet time.
"Oh for heaven's sake," Mrs. Bennet said with frustration, "Kitty, go upstairs and find out what is taking Lydia so long."
Begrudgingly, Kitty went upstairs. She was not upstairs for long before she hurried back to tell us she could not find her sister. Jane and I were at a loss for words. We had no idea where she could have gone. She had been upstairs and the only way out was through her bedroom window. There were no signs of struggle. It was as though Lydia had vanished.
Mrs. Bennet began to hyperventilate. I did not blame her for panicking. Her daughter was missing and it wasn't as though Lydia had anywhere to go. Jane handed mother a glass of water, trying to calm her down. Smelling salts were at the ready in case Mrs. Bennet passed out from mental strain. Nerves as she put it. Soon enough, mother was sent to bed.
Our servant ushered Mr. Palmer into the house. Father looked at me, concern etched upon his aged features, "Lizzy, tell Mr. Palmer what has happened and give him dinner, for, he is our guest."
I walked into the foyer and found Mr. Palmer waiting. I curtsied, "I do not know how to say this, so, I will tell you straight out."
"What has happened?" Mr. Palmer asked, "Can I be of any service?"
I shook my head, "Lydia has vanished. We searched the entire house. Our servants are presently checking the grounds. We have no idea where she has gone."
"What was the last thing she did?"
"She went upstairs to change for dinner."
He nodded, "And you've checked her room?"
"Yes." I sighed, "I dread the worst, Mr. Palmer."
"No." He shook his head, "Do not worry. We will find her."
"You must be hungry," I suggested, "Why not eat dinner?"
"I will eat after we find her."
I nodded, "Where should we start first?"
"What places does she frequent?"
"Meryton!" I stated instantly.
A servant came to me, "Miss Elizabeth, we found a ladder lying on the ground next to Miss Lydia's window."
"A ladder?" My brow crinkled, "So, she was taken?"
"It would seem so." The servant gulped, "Who could have taken her?"
I narrowed my eyes, "I have a feeling I know who and this will not be easy."
We trudged all the way to Meryton. Jane, Kitty, and Mary stayed behind with mother. Mr. Bennet, Mr. Palmer and I went to look for Lydia. The last place we looked was The Tudor Rose Inn. The inn was dimly lit. Some families were there, but the audience was mostly men. I felt uncomfortable stepping foot in the tavern and felt heads turn to watch me. My father tried his best to shield me from their prying eyes.
Mr. Bennet went to the owner and inquired, "Have you seen a young girl with dark curly hair? She's tall for her age and goes by the name Lydia."
The owner said that he had. Mr. Bennet continued, "Whom was she with?"
"A man," the owner said, "he was quite tall with black hair. The missus said he was pleasant and quite handsome. We found it inappropriate that he brought the girl here."
"Why didn't you stop them?" I demanded.
Father whispered to me, "Lizzy, stop."
"What is the matter, Mr. Bennet?" I heard a familiar voice behind me.
I turned around to see Mr. Darcy. "I thought you'd left."
"I leave tonight." Mr. Darcy looked at us, "Is something wrong?"
"Lydia has vanished." My voice trembled, "She went upstairs to change and did not come down in time for dinner. Our servant found a ladder on the ground beside her bedroom window. We have every reason to believe that she has been taken."
Mr. Darcy gazed down at me, "Could I be of any help?"
"But, sir," I said, "you are going away this evening. I would not wish to keep you here."
"I would like to serve your family," Darcy remarked, "I can put off my departure for a few days."
I mouthed the words 'thank you' to him and his lips twitched into a smile for a second. If I had blinked, I would have missed it. He introduced himself to Mr. Palmer and father and the three of them began to discuss who would have taken Lydia and why. After a few moments, I spoke up, "I believe it was Mr. Wickham."
Mr. Darcy turned to me, "Why would you believe that?"
I hesitated a moment. What could I tell them? I could not tell them that Wickham had done this in the book. They did not know they were fictitious characters. If they ever found out, I would not know what to do. Would all hell break loose? No, I told myself, they could never find out. I did not want to ruin Lydia's chance with Mr. Palmer as well. If he found out that she was a silly flirt, he would never come back to Longbourn.
I stammered, "Mr. Wickham and Lydia were courting each other last summer. She wanted to break off ties with him when she found out what he was like. I guess he did not take this well and kidnapped her."
Mr. Darcy asked the owner, "Are they still here?"
"I believe so."
"Well then," Darcy gestured towards the rooms, "lead the way. We are here to collect the girl and return her home safely."
We walked towards the rooms and the owner knocked on a specific door. There was no answer. The owner opened the door to the room. No one was there. "There's no one here, sir," said the owner. A small voice shouted, "Help!" I gasped and father put a comforting hand on my shoulder. The voice was coming from the sitting room. The owner fumbled with the keys, dropping them on the ground. "Forgive me, I will pay for the damages," said Darcy as he kicked the door open.
We found Lydia in the sitting room, crying. The entire room looked as though it had been ransacked. She seemed unharmed but frightened. She ran towards me and threw her arms around my neck, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Where is Mr. Wickham?" Darcy demanded.
"He-he left." Lydia sobbed, "He took my money."
"I am not surprised," said Darcy. "How did he lock you in the room?"
"He didn't," Lydia shuddered. "I locked myself in here. I panicked and forgot where I put the key." Lydia trembled as she clung to me, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
"I think it was a smart decision to lock yourself in here. Wickham was not to be trusted." I said, "Even I told you that."
"I'm so sorry," Lydia repeated.
"Did he kidnap you?" Mr. Palmer asked.
Lydia looked at me and then at Mr. Palmer. She shook her head, "No. I-I left on my own." Lydia's hands were trembling as she spoke, "He had deserted the regiments. I told him I could not marry anyone that could do such a thing and then he got angry. I locked myself in here."
"Marry?" asked Mr. Palmer.
Lydia cringed, "Yes. He wanted to elope. He left saying he could never marry me. It turns out that he only wanted my money." Lydia shut her eyes, "When he found that I had no dowry, he said he thought I was an heiress because of the airs I gave. He told me that I had fooled him into believing I was someone substantial. Then, he took what little I had."
"How much?" Mr. Darcy asked.
Mr. Bennet inhaled sharply. Forty pounds was no trivial matter. The modern-day equivalent would have been about two to three thousand pounds. She looked down as father said, "Let us hope this will teach you your own insignificance."
I put an arm around Lydia and looked at the men with me, "Mr. Palmer and Mr. Darcy, thank you so much. Please come over for dinner as thank you."
Once we were back, mother cried and kissed Lydia hundreds of times. Lydia walked upstairs. Jane, Kitty, Mary, and I kept Lydia company. She looked at us all and shook her head, "Mr. Palmer will not want me now."
"How do you know?" Mary inquired, "He may not care."
"All men care about these kinds of things." Lydia sighed, "I am finished."
"What kind of talk is this?" Jane said, "You are not finished. You are sixteen years old. Life does not end at sixteen."
"It does when you know a rake named George Wickham!" Lydia grumbled.
Lydia made a grumpy face and started to laugh. All of us started to laugh and then we realized even if Mr. Palmer did not marry Lydia, at least she still had her sisters. I walked downstairs to see if Mr. Darcy was still there. I saw him walk out of the house and into a carriage. I doubted that I would ever see him again. I did not want to blame anyone, but I had a feeling that Lydia's actions had solidified his negative feelings towards the family. I had already called him relentlessly unpleasant and I was certain that he had not forgotten that.
The wedding of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins was intimate and simple. Charlotte wore an empire-waist fine white muslin gown. The dress had delicate white embroidery on it with embossed white-satin flowers. She wore a silk shawl around her shoulders. Mr. Collins looked as though he had stepped out of the church on Sunday. The wedding was simple and beautiful at the same time.
Mr. Collins and Mrs. Charlotte Collins turned towards me with idealistic grins upon their faces. "Mrs. Collins and I have noticed your depression. We think travel would do you good and a change of scenery would be beneficial." Mr. Collins beamed, "We would like to invite you to stay at Hunsford Parsonage whenever you like."
I smiled, "Mr. Collins, thank you for being so considerate."
"It is the least I can do," he nodded towards his wife, "for the person that has introduced me to my lovely wife."
It was what I needed, a vacation to forget about everything. I had to clear my mind. .A way to rejuvenate and reinvent myself was a great idea, and I accepted the invitation without regret. If this played out the way I hoped, I would see Darcy at Rosings and finally, find my way back home.