The Irrefutable Meat Market
"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." - Emma Woodhouse from Emma
Netherfield disappeared until all that remained was nature. Groves of trees and small hills peppered the countryside. Here and there, the birds flocked in the sky, from tree to tree, as though they could not make up their mind on which sapling to settle. Never had three miles seemed so vast, Longbourn and Netherfield were two worlds apart. I was glad to leave, for, I had never experienced such snobbery. With the exception of Mr. Bingley, I was unwelcome and regarded as a trespasser. In some manner, I suppose Jane and I had been interlopers into their world. We had gone horseback through the rain to secure ourselves two decent marriages and had received nothing but colds in return. We left Netherfield, not knowing where we stood with our particular men.
Jane said, "Mr. Darcy seemed sad to see you go."
I snickered to myself. Sad to see me go. Was he sad to see me go? Jane was ever the optimist. A trait I hoped she would never lose. I feared for her. Hoping her naivety would never be exploited to the caprice of men and their changeable ways.
I looked out the window, my back to Jane, "I did not notice."
There was something wanting in the way that Mr. Darcy conducted himself with me during my brief stay at Netherfield. He was so on and off, so hot and cold, and I felt these mixed signals were going to drive me mad. I desired something more substantial, better. I wanted to have been swept off my feet. My voracious mind had read all those fairy tales and love stories, and I had wanted to go through it all. I wanted to experience something other than deep like with someone. I wanted to feel treasured and loved for who I was, not who I could be!
It was never going to happen. It was not going to happen to someone as arrogant as Mr. Darcy could be; there was no way to get to him. He was an enigma. I had no time for his perplexing nature and no time to peel back the layers of his character. No matter how hard I tried to lend a hand; the story would not work itself out, and I was still stuck here.
After some silence, Jane asked, "Lizzy, are you not excited about the ball next week?"
I answered, "Yes."
"You are not excited?"
"Yes," I looked out the carriage window, "I am excited."
This was false sincerity. For, I had to face Darcy at this ball and feared nothing excellent would come out of it. I could see the ball unfold in my mind. I would say something that would offend Darcy. He would say something that would cause me great discomfort and offense that at once, fighting scruples, I would hurl him out the window. I believe an overactive imagination did not help the situation whatsoever.
In silence once again, I watched the English countryside whisk by me. I could hear the carriage wheels rubbing upon the dirt road. I could hear white collared doves whooping in the sky. The aroma of fresh bread permeated through the atmosphere from a small cottage in the distance. A shepherd stood upon the downs flanked by his sheep. A little brook cascaded through the hills, stopping by a bed of wildflowers.
"Lizzy," Jane said calmly, "turn around and talk to me."
I turned towards Jane, "Yes?"
"You have been so quiet," Jane's brow crinkled.
I concentrated on the landscape once again as my voice shook, "Yes, I know."
"Lizzy," Jane asked, worried, "what is wrong?"
"Nothing. I am fine."
"I am fine."
Jane took hold of my hand and did not say a word until we arrived at Longbourn. Despite how homely Longbourn might have looked in contrast to Netherfield, it provided me with a sense of warmth that the coldness of the latter did not. Netherfield boasted dozens of Grecian columns and tapestries and velvet brocade walls but did not have an inkling of life in it. Though there were people that resided in Netherfield, it appeared more like a failed museum that no one ventured to. To be frank, it was a little too rich! Longbourn was warm and inviting, and though Mrs. Bennet meddled here and there; she was a far better companion than Caroline Bingley could ever be. Longbourn was not as vogue as Netherfield, but it did have what Netherfield lacked, and that was a warm hearth, down-to-earth people, and most of all, love!
When the carriage stopped at the drive, I saw that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet stood in the front along with Lydia, Kitty, and Mary. "Did you get engaged yet" was the first thing out of Lydia's mouth.
"Good morning to you as well," I quipped.
"Have you been crying Lizzy dear?" Mrs. Bennet peered at me.
"What?" I looked down, "No!"
"Your eyes are rather bloodshot and swollen," Lydia added.
"Is there anything that you would like to discuss?" Mrs. Bennet inquired.
I repeated my mantra of the day, "No. I am fine."
I knew what would materialize if I told Mrs. Bennet everything. She would have asked whom I liked and then would have turned into the matchmaker from hell. Once her matchmaking skills faltered, she would have complained that I did not give Mr. Darcy any lift. She would have told me encouragement is what all men need. Retiring to her bed, she would have pretended to be ill because I brought further destitution to the family by not encouraging him. For weeks, months, and maybe even years, she would have gone on about how I threw away 10,000 pounds a year. No, the best and simplest solution was to lie and state that I was fine even when I was not.
"We have had rather a long journey." I repressed a yawn.
"Oh! Do have tea with us?" Kitty pleaded.
I shrugged, "Yes. I shall have tea, but, after that I need my rest."
We assembled in the sitting room. Mary sat at the piano, practicing sheet music that she had purchased from Meryton. Mrs. Bennet sat in front of Jane and me, watching us like hawks. She wanted to know all the details; nevertheless, there was nothing to discuss or nothing that I cared to divulge. Expectant looks were cast our way by all; even Mary tore herself away from her piano practice to send a look our direction. The truth was that there was no news. A week should have afforded ample time for Darcy and Bingley to summon the courage for a proposal. A week is also plenty of time to have driven them away, which is what I must have done.
The maid came into the parlor room with the tea serving set and placed it in front of Mrs. Bennet. She curtsied and left the room. I watched as Mrs. Bennet poured seven cups of tea and left it up to us how much sugar and cream we wanted. It was an informal gathering as we all congregated at a small card table. I placed two lumps of sugar into my teacup as Mrs. Bennet watched my every move. I hoped she would find someone else more entertaining than me. Why couldn't she watch Mary play the piano or listen to Lydia prattle on about Meryton?
And, lo and behold, I was saved by a cough. Kitty started to cough and Mrs. Bennet turned around, "Kitty, will you stop coughing? Have some compassion for my nerves!"
"Mama," Kitty pouted, "I don't cough to displease you."
Mary finished her piano playing and joined us at the table. "Good of you to join us," Lydia smirked. Mary said nothing. She reached for her cup of tea and warmed her hands against the porcelain. With Mrs. Bennet's back to me, I placed a third sugar cube into my teacup and looked at Mr. Bennet. A smile appeared on his lips as I mouthed the word Ssh. He nodded with a grin and put two lumps into his teacup. Once Mary was done with the cream, she handed it to me. "Mama," I looked at Mrs. Bennet, "would you like cream?"
She sighed, "Lizzy, will you not tell me what went on?"
"What Mrs. Bennet means is," Mr. Bennet's eyes twinkled, "won't you tell me every detail?"
"Mr. Bennet, how you tease," Mrs. Bennet giggled. "Yes! I must know every detail!"
"What shall I begin with?" I blew on my tea.
"At the beginning, of course!" Kitty exclaimed.
Mary interjected, "It would be ideal to drink our tea first, lest it becomes too cold."
Lydia rolled her eyes, "Goodness Mary! Why must you always ruin the mood with your philosophies?"
Mary frowned, "It was not philosophy. It was a mere observation."
Lydia snickered, "Well then, stop ruining the mood with your observations."
"Maybe," I said to Lydia, "you should quit being a silly girl first."
Lydia groaned, "Oh Lord, just tell us the story!"
"Fine. All right. You want the story." I remarked, "As you all know, it began one rainy day when Jane and I were invited to Netherfield. We arrived drenched and shivering from the cold and torrential rainfall. Our horses were sent to the stables, and we were sent to a warm fire with blankets and broth. The stables were in good condition. The horses seemed jubilant to be part of such richness and decency."
Mrs. Bennet's jaw tightened, "Lizzy, you make fun now, but, when you have your own daughters; you will know that matrimony is a commerce in itself."
"Who said I was going to have daughters?" I asked as Kitty and Lydia started to titter.
"I dislike all this talk of children!" Mrs. Bennet blushed.
"Why?" I teased, "You brought the subject up."
"Because I am your mother," Mrs. Bennet's face turned scarlet, "Let us comment on the weather or something less trivial."
"Of course!" I looked out the window, "Shall I give a play-by-play weather report? Or, should I say that it will rain and leave it at that?"
"Oh Lizzy!" Mrs. Bennet cried.
"These are the details." I looked to see that Mrs. Bennet had completely forgotten about her nerves as she leaned over, eagerness spread across her plump features. "Mr. Bingley was a pleasant and sensible man. He seemed to be smitten with Jane. Caroline Bingley is pretentious and thinks highly of herself. Mr. Darcy is the male version of Caroline. These are the details as simple as they are, but, are details nevertheless."
"It is a shame," Mrs. Bennet frowned, "that Mr. Darcy may seem so proud."
"His ways are not wholly blemished!" Jane spoke up, "He has flaws as any human being, and Lizzy ought to look past that."
"Jane," I shook my head, "he is uncouth."
"I should like to meet this man," said Mrs. Bennet, "so that I may see for myself how mistaken you are, Lizzy."
"You will have the chance next week," I smiled, "for, Mr. Bingley is throwing a ball at Netherfield."
Mary seemed not to care about this. Instead, she stood up and walked back to her piano. She was eighteen years of age and should have been considered for marriage. With the spotlight on Jane and I, she was overlooked. She was the invisible daughter. She quietly gave her opinion on matters and then said nothing more. She had a desire, a need to prove herself. Lydia and Kitty were the silly, flirtatious daughters. Jane was the beauty of the county and I was the intelligent and spirited one. But, what did that make Mary? She was neither flirtatious nor was she exceedingly pretty. She was intelligent, but the crown had already been given to me. She was the daughter in the middle, but, did not want to be known as such. Being a woman of few words, she was still viewed as a child. She hoped this would soon change.
Lydia and Kitty jumped up from their seats and started to squeal in delight. "I must sort out my dress right away!" Lydia bent over to take a sip of tea and almost dropped her teacup in the process.
"You have one week and that is an ample amount of time. Sit down," Jane laughed, "finish your tea."
Lydia and Kitty obliged Jane as they sat down. They looked at each other again and squealed like the overindulgent girls they were. Lydia took another sip of tea, "I must get a new dress. I must."
"What is wrong with your white dress with the bows on the sleeves?" Jane asked.
"Everyone has seen me in that!" Lydia sighed.
"Why don't you put a ribbon around the waist?" I suggested.
Lydia sighed again, "We are not so poor that I cannot purchase a new dress. Are we that destitute?"
Mrs. Bennet shook her head, "Destitute? I should think not! All my daughters will have new dresses for the ball."
This news was enough to make Mr. Bennet groan and hide his face behind his cup of tea. One new dress he could manage, however, five new outfits were no trivial matter. He could afford five new dresses; this was not the problem. The trouble was the five new pairs of shoes, fans, sets of jewelry, etc. He knew Mrs. Bennet well enough to know what five new dresses translated to, five new outfits. Doubtless, he was thinking of the money involved in what was an irrefutable meat market.t was an irrefutable meat market.