Staying at Netherfield
"I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me that trouble of liking them." - Jane Austen
A servant had been sent to Longbourn to fetch two suitcases each containing a week's supply of clothing. Jane and I complied with this since we only had the dresses we came here wearing. I waited downstairs, and the servant finally came back. Moving towards the stopped carriage, I watched as the servant took down two trunks of clothing. I reached for my trunk.
"Miss Elizabeth," I heard Darcy say behind me, "what are you doing?"
"Mr. Darcy, I can manage. It doesn't look too heavy."
The servant and I tried to move the suitcases at the same time. "Please, ma'am," the servant politely said, "if you will allow me."
Darcy instructed the servant and told him which rooms to place the trunks. He turned towards me, "Miss Elizabeth, you do not need to do everything on your own."
"What do you mean?"
"There is no flaw in accepting help." He continued, "It is the servants' office; his livelihood. Were you going to rob him of his trade?"
"I understand," I remarked, "but, I don't want to take advantage."
"Are you not?"
My cheeks reddened, "No, sir, I am not."
Darcy considered me for a moment and then walked away. With a renewal of embarrassment, I could conceive of nothing better than disappearing in some unused room where I was guaranteed of not seeing anyone until I came out of hiding. I saw a fully furnished, vacant drawing room at the end of a hall and entered it.
I imagined a tumbleweed blowing through this forsaken parlor room. However, I think they did not have tumbleweeds in England. But, if they did, this space would be filled with them! Netherfield was overflowing with rooms of all shapes and sizes. I figured I would go to one of these rooms to remain out of Caroline and Darcy's way. Alas, I was aware that I had to be more sociable. Standing up, I gave a lamentable sigh and began my walk back to civilization.
I overheard Caroline, "How much longer do we have to entertain them?"
Darcy muttered, "You invited them. I cannot see a defect in your design. You wanted to become more acquainted with them, and you have."
Caroline scoffed, "Mr. Darcy, you must be as tired of them as I am."
Darcy stated, "If you were a more attentive friend, the prudent thing would have been to check the weather."
"Why should I bother?" said Caroline. "They could have found out the weather on their own."
I lingered by the wall for a moment. I hated those moments when you wanted to enter a room, and people were talking about you. I supposed the polite thing to do was to join the trio while Jane slept. Up until today, they had been kind to Jane and I. I felt an intruder in a house full of strangers. I was their guest and even though I felt unwanted, Bingley excluded, I knew that I had to keep up appearances for the Bennet family.
I entered the room, and everyone curtsied. Bingley politely said, "I trust you slept well."
"I did." I paused, "Thank you."
I walked towards a sofa and sat down. Opening my book, I began to read. Darcy walked back to the writing desk. He sat down and started to compose a letter. This sentiment of being unwanted and ignored had me wishing that I never came downstairs to join them in the first place.
Caroline was busy playing solitaire on her own. Darcy was writing letters at the desk on his own. The one person that was not doing anything productive was Bingley, and he was pacing around the room, worrying about Jane... on his own. Bingley paused mid turn to look at me as though he was going to say something, thought better of it and began pacing again. At last, Caroline looked up from her cards, "Dear brother, please pick an occupation, or I will pick one for you."
"How is she?" Bingley inquired as he sat beside me. He had settled on making Jane his occupation. I found this endearing and predictable since I had already read the novel.
I shut my book. "She slept poorly last night. She is feverish and not well enough to leave the room." I glanced at the clock on the fireplace mantel, "I should check on her."
I stood up, holding my book. Everyone stood up and bowed, and I curtsied back. Bingley sent me a strained smile, "If you or Jane need anything, please let me know. I will help in any way I can."
I smiled, touched by his concern. I shook my head, "Sir, you have bestowed enough kindness to my sister and I. I will take care of her, you need not worry yourself."
"Whilst you are my guests, I should like very much to make sure you are both comfortable."
"Thank you, Mr. Bingley." I decided that there was no point in reasoning with a man in love. His attention to Jane had warmed my spirit. I think I understood Bingley more now that I had met and spoken to him.
A character in a novel was one-dimensional, no matter how hard the writer tried to sculpt them. A character was always a character... a caricature. A true writer wrote human beings. Jane Austen wrote human beings. She was so good at it at this writing business. And now, I was stuck in her world with no way out. Jane Austen, you genius!
It was surreal to have met them all. These characters were all flesh and blood. These creations, from the mind of Jane Austen, were moving, living, people! I had met them all - Bingley, Caroline, The Bennet Family, Darcy.
I had met Darcy.
Darcy was watching me from his writing desk. I could sense his eyes on me as the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up. I turned to look at him, and he looked aside. Disappointment washed over me, and I was unsure as to why. I realized he was a fictional character. I should have been worrying myself about getting back home, not whether some 19th-century bloke wanted to check me out. Okay, fine, he was more than a 19th-century bloke... he was Darcy. Fitzwilliam Darcy and I had to remind myself I was, in fact, not Elizabeth. I wondered what would happen to Pride and Prejudice if details changed in the novel. Would Jane Austen still be the most revered romance novelist? The way Darcy was observing me had me rethinking my escape plan.
My mind began to argue with me. What if I was Elizabeth and my other life was a bad dream? What if Amanda Price was not real and Elizabeth was? Why couldn't I be both Amanda and Elizabeth?
My mind needed to shut up.