“I imagine he is ever so handsome,” said Kitty, holding and petting her recently-returned, favourite barn cat.
“Who?” asked Elizabeth, with some asperity.
“Sir Arthur Wellesley. Are you not reading the article about him?”
“It is difficult to read anything at all with you lurking over my shoulder like that. You may have the paper when I am done with it. Are you truly interested, though, in reports of the Peninsular War?”
“She is not, really,” said Lydia. “Kitty is only curious because she shares a name and nickname with Wellesley’s wife.”
“That is not the only reason!” cried Kitty. “My heart breaks because he apparently has little affection for her. When I marry, my husband shall be violently in love with me and miss me madly whenever we are parted.”
Mrs. Bennet waved around her lacy handkerchief like a white flag of surrender. “I want that horrid Napoleonic conflict (17)to end.”
“All wars are dreadful for those with missing or lost loved ones,” said Jane, while stitching beautiful pleated sleeve cuffs with the patience of an (18)angel. Of the center fold, not one criticism could be made, so perfect was each placement. “Shall it go on much longer, do you think, Papa?”
“I cannot predict the duration of such a war (19)betwixt two equal armies,” said Mr. Bennet. “However, if anyone can put rout to the tyrant, ‘tis Wellesley. I look forward to the day the Murmurer and all the newspapers in England announce his victory.”
Mr. Wells, a humble silversmith originally from Brighton, opened a shop in Meryton and been nicknamed “Brighty” by the local populace. A former member of the then-disbanded Gilded Metals Guild, the artisan’s specialty was well-crafted mourning rings, brooches, pendants, and miniatures.
Commissioned to create such a piece for a grieving widower, Brighty was given a lock of the beloved’s hair and instructed to somehow incorporate her favourite flowers into the keepsake. The deceased’s auburn strands were woven into a pretty little trug basket, which Brighty then filled with tiny, dried florets. Those delicate (20)bluebells in the mourning piece represented Mr. Read’s everlasting (21)love.
At first, slightly choked up with sorrow, the widower tried to pay for the silver-framed miniature, but his attempts to do so were kindly waved away.
The next week the Meryton Mirror ran a heart-rending obituary, written by the grieving editor himself, and in it he mentioned (22)Brighty’s special gift and thanked him for creating such a touching memento.
The Meryton Mirror’s creators, desperate for news, informed the local populace that the average price of muscovado sugar had been set by the clerk of the grocer’s company at thirty-six shillings and three pence farthing per hundred weight. The same issue reported a strike at the sugar factory had been dissolved after its assets were liquidated.
Weeks then months passed, with Read and Pickles quickly running out of newsworthy articles. Meryton was not exactly a bustling beehive of activity, and it had little crime . . . if one did not count the hefty cost of six pence for a rural, weekly newspaper that had resorted to reports from the pillory. The latest wearer of the wooden ruff was the gossiper responsible for accusations against the baker, and the paper mistakenly stated the scoundrel had been pelted with flowers, when, in fact, he had been pelted with flour by a man wearing a white apron. In the next issue, Read apologized for the typographical error.
Mr. Read then invited his neighbours to send in their own contributed articles, and the good citizens of Meryton, thinking it (23)a most civil proposal, gave much thought to their offerings.
Desiring anonymity, many of the local populace, including the master of Longbourn, wrote their pieces under an (24)alias. Thomas Bennet’s nom de plume, Will B. Rye, might have fooled some, but most readers recognized the man’s style when, one week, he challenged them to name the greatest chicken-killer in Shakespeare and the following week gave his answer, which was Macbeth . . . because he did murder most foul.
Mrs. Bennet’s profound contribution, hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper during the ten minutes in which her husband entertained a visitor in his library, reported that the recently arrived Mr. Charles B was a handsome, single man of large fortune (four or five thousand a year!) who rode a blue horse and wore a black coat. Following the flower/flour erratum, Read was wary about reporting false information, and he sent Mr. E. Pickles to Netherfield to verify the existence of the horse of a different colour.
A young lady of deep (25)reflections, a Miss Mary B, having read both good and great books and having made extracts from them, proffered a steady stream of sermonic submissions . . . all of which were politely rejected.
Sir William Lucas reported that the night of October’s first full moon, occurring on the second of the month, was set as the date for the market town’s next assembly. The event’s announcement in the Mirror resulted in increased profits for local shops selling ribbon, bugle beads, feathers, and artificial flowers.
Other contributions to the paper included such topics as magic, ghostlike appearances, and from Purvis Lodge, with its dreadful attics, one occurrence of a (26)haunting.
Mr. Darcy, the Hursts, and the Bingley siblings were the subjects of several carefully attentive descriptions in the newspaper, and their conduct and what they wore at the Meryton assembly was much written of, taking up one whole column.
Less space was taken up by an astronomy article written by a young Cambridge man, Fearon Fallows, encouraging readers to (27)find wonder in all things, particularly the night sky.
Consulting his calendar for the next full moon, the young man leasing Netherfield Park chose 26 November as an excellent date upon which to host a ball. He then rode his black horse to Meryton and advised Mr. Read of the event and extended invitations to him and his assistant. Following the Mirror’s announcement of the private ball, Meryton suffered an alarming shortage of shoe-roses, and that deficit was duly reported on page one.
On 27 November, Mr. Read’s office was snowed under with a flurry of contributions, and the following week’s Mirror overflowed with descriptions of the food, finery, and high-spirited goings-on at Netherfield.
A Mr. D of Derbyshire is reported to have exclaimed to an attending footman during supper at said ball, “See here! I have found a button in my salad.” According to eye witnesses, the servant replied, “Oh, that is not a problem, sir. It is part of the dressing.”
A young clergyman of, in his own words, “early and unexpected prosperity” sent several grandiloquent submissions to the Mirror in praise of Kent’s superiority over all other, lesser counties. Mr. Read, however, surmised the local populace had interest in neither the number of fields in every direction at Rosings Park nor how many trees there were in some distant clump at that distant estate.
All similar submissions were likewise rejected, but the Mirror did, in due course, print notice of the cleric’s marriage to the former Miss Charlotte Lucas. Further mention was made of Mr. and Mrs. Collins, months later, when the second eldest Bennet daughter returned from a visit to their humble abode.
In the third grandest bedchamber in the family wing of the great house at Rosings Park, Colonel Fitzwilliam sat in an ornate, spindly chair, booted feet propped comfortably on Darcy’s bed, and watched with amusement while his cousin paced.
“She refused me!”
“So you have reiterated, ad nauseam. The only difference is that you alternate emphasis on the words. She refused me! She refused me! She refused me! If I had a shilling for every time you have uttered that same blasted sentence, I might not have to wed an heiress.”
His face changing from anger to confusion to sorrow, Darcy walked back and forth, stopping only to summon his valet, to glare whenever the Colonel made a derogatory remark, to cuff his cousin’s head, and to reprimand him for resting his feet on the dimity counterpane.
“These boots are spotless, I will have you know. But you should stop pacing. Aunt Cat will not take kindly to having a path worn on her Axminster carpet. The woman’s claws will come out, and I cannot abide all the hissing and spitting.”
“Pish!” Darcy sat on the bed and hung his head. “Lady Catherine could take lessons on being cattish from Elizabeth Bennet.”
His valet arrived, was ordered to make arrangements for their return to London, and was dismissed with a flick of his employer’s hand. Darcy then made a swing at his cousin’s boots before getting up and pacing again.
“She refused me, Richard, and was deliberately hurtful whilst doing so. I do not understand. Why would she? How could she? I offered her the world, but she refused me.”
“Is that so?” Buffing his nails on his lapel, the Colonel ducked and neatly evaded another couple of half-hearted swipes at his (28)boots and back.
“Pack straight away,” said Darcy to his valet as soon as the gentleman’s gentleman returned from his prior task. “I shall depart at first light.”
“ I will accompany you,” said the Colonel.
“Oh, does the big, brave dragoon fear being left alone with the big, bad dragon?”
“Yes! I will not stay on here without my big buffoon of a cousin to hide behind.”
Flinging himself on the bed, boots and all, Darcy gazed at the underside of the canopy. “I am a buffoon. Perhaps, rather than stopping in London, I should travel on to Hertfordshire and purchase a full-page advertisement in the Meryton Mirror.”
“Do you plan on making a public apology to Miss Bennet for having rendered to her the worst marriage proposal in history? Or is it your intention to particularize your many deficiencies to the local populace there? If the latter, you might need a second page.”
Darcy stretched out one long leg and made another kick at his cousin’s feet. “Neither. I was thinking of writing an article warning the populace of a certain militia lieutenant’s wild and wicked ways.”
“A second page might, indeed, be justified, then.”
May of 1812 is proving to be a merry month, indeed. To wit, a good piece of fun was recently reported at Colonel & Mrs. F's, where a certain Mr. C of the ___shire Militia was dressed up in a gown borrowed from Mrs. P with the intent to pass for a lady at a dance there later in the evening. Members of the militia did not recognize one of their own until laughter gave away the ruse.
Reluctant to disparage the principal family in the village of Longbourn, Mr. Read glossed upon, as tactfully as possible, the summer scandal involving them.
On a lighter note, that same issue of The Meryton Mirror included a report about a new barn being erected on the Bennet home farm.
According to eyewitnesses, the carpenter hired to build the structure had fallen through its rafters. Not being hurt, the fellow bounced up and cried, “I defy any man to get through his work as quickly as I did.”
Elizabeth stood in the garden, gazing at the night sky, her profile caught by a moonbeam and her eyes misting in (29)remembrance of the past. Each and every shared conversation, look, and emotion flickered through her mind and, like the stars above, some memories were bright, some more faint. She recalled a resonant voice which spoke to her in (30)echoes of Pemberley, of Hunsford, of Rosings, of Netherfield, and Lucas Lodge—all the places his words had some visceral effect on her. Shedding a tear, she cried to the heavens, “Foolish, stupid girl! To be (31)falling for Mr. Darcy just when there is no hope of—”
“Lizzy? Where are you?”
“Over here, Jane.” Elizabeth swiped at her eyes and pasted a smile on her face as she turned.
“What are you doing? Come back inside where it is warm.”
“It was a bit too warm in there. Mama invited quite a crush to celebrate your engagement. I needed some air.” Elizabeth discreetly wiped away another tear.
“Dearest, have you been weeping?”
“A little. I have been reflecting on how happy I am for you and how very much I shall miss you. I am both eager for and dreading the day the Murmurer announces your marriage.”
Jane wrapped her favourite sister in an embrace. “I shall miss you, too, but Netherfield is merely three miles from here. You must visit whenever you feel lonely, and stay as long as you want. You are welcome to call it your home, too, you know.”
“But you will not always be at Longbourn or Netherfield. You will marry someday. Your perfect gentleman has just not come along yet. Do not lose heart.”
“I will try, but I am afraid my best chance of marrying has already come and gone.”
“Surely you do not mean Mr. Collins.”
“No. I have no regrets there.” Linking arms with her sister, Elizabeth steered them back towards the house. “It is, however, by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made to me. In my heart I had hoped . . .” Shaking her head, two more tears were dislodged, despite her best efforts to hold them at bay. “But my head tells me there is no hope.”
“Well, I wager one’s head does not always know what is best. My odds are on whatever (32)the heart does,” whispered Jane.
“Have you read the latest Murmurer, Lizzy?”
“Of course. I hardly miss an issue, whether we are residing in London or Derbyshire. Once Papa has finished reading a month’s worth of papers, he forwards them to me.”
“I was always curious why you never submitted anything—other than that scathing opinion of Advice to Wives,” said Jane, as she and her younger sister picked their way across (33)rocks in the stream flowing through their father’s estate and giving Longbourn its name.
Elizabeth agilely leapt onto the bank, then held out her hand in assistance. “Of what would I have written?”
“Come now. Over the past years, we have experienced varying degrees of sorrow, alarm, mortification, surprise, and boundless felicity.” Jane landed gracefully, shook her soggy hems, and followed Elizabeth to a bench along the water’s edge. “I image you, of all people, might have a great deal to reflect upon.”
“That is the salient point. I have so much to share, I might end up with a novel, should I start writing.”
“Then you should, at the very least, have kept a journal for posterity. It is never too late to start.”
“Would you have me commit to paper my thoughts on the (34)consequences of first impressions, of (35)pride, prejudice, and secrets and such?” Removing her bonnet, Elizabeth raised her face to the spring sun as Jane settled beside her. “Last year I spoke at length with Mr. Read, you know. We talked of how the Murmurer has evolved from a medium for gossip, slander, and trivial prattle to a means of thought-provoking expression for those within its purview.”
“It has, indeed. Who knew Mrs. Long could wax lyrical about the difficulties she has had raising her nieces or that Uncle Phillips was such a connoisseur of wine.”
“Well, we always knew he loved to imbibe, but he really is quite knowledgeable on the subject and capable of eloquent communication when not in his cups from too much port.”
“Most surprising has been the avid following of Maria’s poetry,” said Jane. “I never realized she had such talent. I especially enjoyed her ‘A Gent from (36)the West.’”
“Yet, glimmers of her flair for poetry were evident in all those silly ditties she composed and sang for us at Lucas Lodge.” Elizabeth sighed and clasped her sister’s hand. “We had an uncommonly happy childhood here, did we not?” Closing her eyes, she basked in the warmth of the (37)sun. Kissed by its rays, she steadfastly ignored Jane’s plea to protect her skin. There being not a cloud in the sky, Elizabeth opened her eyes with a start when bright sunlight disappeared (38)suddenly.
“Mrs. Darcy,” came the deep voice of her husband. Standing in front of her, his large form blocked the sun. “I do regret tearing you away from our dear sister and from Hertfordshire so soon, but it is time to take our leave. Georgiana must be rescued from our Fitzwilliam relations this very day, my (39)love. Then begins our long journey home.”
Turning towards her sister, Elizabeth said, “While we dine with the Earl and Countess, my husband will try, once again, to purchase (40)his uncle’s favourite steed. If successful, he will ride to Derbyshire atop that massive horse instead of travelling in relative comfort with his (41)dearly beloved wife, his baby boy, and his own sister. What do you think of that, Jane?”
“I think my steadfast brother is quite capable of getting whatever his heart desires. Is that not so, sir?”
“I have, indeed, been blessed. But I shall remain quite content even without acquisition of Rion. My happiest moments are those spent at your sister’s side.”
“And I,” said Elizabeth, rising and standing beside him, “shall be quite content to be right here by (42)yours, forevermore.”
Darcy reverently kissed her knuckles, eyes growing wide as he realized her hands and head were bare. Clucking his tongue, he fetched her bonnet from the bench just as a familiar cry was heard, loud and clear, across the expanse of lawn. Adoring father that he was, Darcy bolted away, bonnet in hand, to discover what had befallen their one-year-old toddler, Charles.
On their way to London, Elizabeth informed her husband that the Meryton Mirror would, most likely, have the pleasure of announcing, in approximately six months, the birth of another grandchild for Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.
Later still, while the Earl’s favourite steed munched oats in the mews behind Matlock Manor, Darcy travelled northward in his carriage’s relative comfort with his increasing family.
In due course, the Mirror did, indeed, happily announce the arrival of Annabella Darcy, followed months later by the births of Jemima Wickham and Eliza Bingley. Over time, Meryton’s local newspaper reported scores of other such joyous deliveries.
It also reported that Netherfield had, for the third time in as many years, been put up for sale or lease.
Like others of its ilk, the Mirror was also the bearer of inevitable sad tidings.
A sad day it was, indeed, when Mr. Read folded his newspaper and departed for Town.
The ultimate issue of the Meryton Mirror chronicled its scant six years of newsworthiness in an article entitled “Looking Back at the Mirror.”