My contribution to Touring Thursday #4 is a brand new, never previously revealed excerpt of Chapters Two and Three of Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret! (Chapter One has been unveiled earlier.)
And now... Read all the complete and uncut hilarious first three chapters below!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when the moon is full over Regency England, the gentlemen are all subject to its curse.
It is a peculiar monthly Affliction inducing them to take on various unnatural shapes—neither quite demon, nor proper beast—and in those shapes to roam the land; to hunt, murder, dismember, gorge on blood, consume haggis and kidney pie, gamble away familial fortune, marry below their station (and below their stature, when the lady is an Amazon), vote Whig, perform sudden and voluntary manual labor, cultivate orchids, collect butterflies and Limoges snuff boxes, and perpetrate other such odious evil—unless properly contained.
And thus, as the first pale rays of Selene’s silver sphere illuminate the celestial velvet of the night, they turn—baronets and dukes, earls and marquises, counts and princes, lords and squires high and low, regardless of fortune—shedding skin and inhibitions, breaking bones and genteel habits (and fine china and porcelain), distending into strange unnatural musculature and contorting into bestial forms, growing nails and claws and teeth; fur, scales, feathers, gristle, hide, or peculiar additional appendages; becoming monstrous beings of savagery and grim wonder.
Woe to any who might encounter them thus! And woe a thousandfold to any who might in such a state encourage them!
Fortunately, as a rule, the gentlemen are safely restrained indoors for their transformation. They are locked up discreetly, in deep cellars or family crypts, caged behind thick iron bars and swaddled in heavy links of chain in custom bedrooms and parlors and hidden estate alcoves. Some are even bound and manacled to stone walls of ancient dungeons converted for just such use—while being closely observed and ministered to by their closest kin or loyal servants.
For as long as the devious pallid orb illuminates the night heavens, they remain thus. And only the golden rays of Helios, the bright luminary of morning, can return them to their human form. . . .
Alas! There is no antidote for this manly Affliction. There is no succor or respite, from month to month. And there are no exceptions. Indeed, even the regent himself is not immune.
All that remains is for the pious to pray, and for the ladies to speculate—for it is a rare amusement indeed to discuss the advantages of each gentleman based on the supposed nature of his Affliction (and manner of private confinement), in conjunction with the more pleasant expectations of his income and inheritance.
Now, it is also a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, bound by the usual gentleman’s Affliction, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters—even though, it is precisely such a man that must also harbor a Dreadful Secret.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer. It was only a week till the full moon, and his customary leonine languidity was beginning to make its presence felt, foreshadowing other related symptoms.
“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently, affronted more than usual by the sight of her excessively absent-seeming husband and the promise of what was yet to come.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England! He came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; he is to take possession before Michaelmas. Some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week. And in advance of his other possessions comes a very sturdy and generously proportioned iron cage.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year, and a grand impressive cage! What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? How can it affect them? Do you intend to incarcerate them monthly alongside this gentleman?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes—and well before the Affliction takes its odious hold of the both of you.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party. In which case I will naturally have to call him out; fur will fly, and there will be all manner of sanguine unpleasantry.”
“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty (and cage duels), but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
“In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of.”
“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighbourhood. Consider your daughters! Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.”
“You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley with his grandiose crate will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my brave little Lizzy.”
“I desire you will do no such thing! Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference and letting her tend to the padlock and bars of your confinement room.”
“Indeed! Lizzy is the only one who dares approach the confinement room when I am within. But—they have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters, and a great deal more courage.”
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. It must be the odious moon, making you so beastly already. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. Unlike you, the moon is impotent in daytime. And I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
“Ah, you do not know what I suffer.”
“Consider what I suffer behind two-inch iron bars. Now, I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood, bringing with them enough sturdy metal enclosures to fill a zoo.”
“It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all, if only to appraise the structural integrity of their containment. One learns a great deal from observation of other such contraptions to benefit one’s own.”
Mrs. Bennet could verily speak nothing to that, only open her mouth and wring her handkerchief.
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand either his Affliction or his character.
Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
Her single favorite nemesis was the dreadful luminary in the night heavens, the odious moon.
Before the moon could fatten even by a sliver, Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, and timed it rather well (though, to the last, with a lion’s distinctive indolence, always assuring his wife that he should not go). Indeed, till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it, and fussed exceedingly at every window, making repeated adjustments to curtains against “that wicked illumination.”
The visit was eventually disclosed in the following manner. Observing his second daughter employed in trimming a hat, he suddenly addressed her with an unmistakable hint of a rumble-purr:
“I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy.”
“We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes,” said her mother resentfully, particularly displeased to hear the lion’s familiar deep undertone, “since we are not to visit.”
“But you forget, mamma,” said Elizabeth, “that we shall meet him at the assemblies directly after the full moon, and that Mrs. Long promised to introduce him.”
“I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman with a mangy boar or possibly hyena to tend to every month (so I am told, but of course she would never admit such a thing of her spouse), and I have no opinion of her.”
“No more have I,” said Mr. Bennet, continuing to rumble deeply (at which his wife reacted with rising discomfiture—of which he was no doubt perfectly aware—and thus they resonated off one another in perfect mutually-building dissonance, as only two perfectly un-tuned strings can, when forced by proximity to sound together); “and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.”
Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.
“Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven’s sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces, worse than any large clawed creature in residence . . .”
“Kitty has no discretion in her coughs,” said her father; “she times them ill.”
“I do not cough for my own amusement,” replied Kitty fretfully. “When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?”
“To-morrow fortnight. As soon as the gentlemen are fully recovered from their Ordeal.”
“Aye, so it is,” cried her mother, “and Mrs. Long does not come back till the day before (since she has to mind some additional relation’s odious cage); so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, for she will not know him herself.”
“Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr. Bingley to her.”
“Impossible, Mr. Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquainted with him myself; how can you be so teasing?”
“I honour your circumspection. A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight—that is, one might observe the painful moments in the cage, followed by the usual glib recovery in the drawing room, but the true depths remain occluded from even the most discriminating eye and the most tattling tongue. But if we do not venture somebody else will; and after all, Mrs. Long and her daughters must stand their chance. Therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself.”
The girls stared at their father. Mrs. Bennet said only, “Nonsense, nonsense!”
“What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?” cried he. “Do you consider the stressful art of introduction as nonsense? I cannot quite agree with you there. What say you, Mary? Come, have I grown my lion’s coat and teeth a tad early that you stare so, child? Speak, for you are a young lady of deep reflection, read great books and make extracts.”
Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how—particularly now that dire visions of her father’s Affliction were presented so bluntly to her sensible mind.
“While Mary is adjusting her ideas,” he continued, “let us return to Mr. Bingley.”
“I am sick of Mr. Bingley!” cried his wife.
“I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me that before? If I had known as much this morning I certainly would not have called on him. As I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now. Indeed, always a pleasure to make acquaintance with a fellow grand feline—a tiger, to be precise, for such, was revealed to me, is the gentleman’s condition.”
The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished; that of Mrs. Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest. When the first tumult of joy was over, she declared she had expected it all the while, exclaiming, “A tiger, oh, what a fine thing! A tiger! Are you certain, Mr. Bennet? Did he admit to it outright? Indeed, how pleasantly direct of him!”
“If you recall, my dear, we have our ways of ascertaining such things without the uncouth bluntness of direct inquiry. But yes, rest assured, I smelled a tiger.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet!”
Her husband’s chuckle was very much a rumbling purr.
“How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet!” she continued. “But I knew I should persuade you at last. I was sure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! Such a good joke, too, that you should have gone this morning and never said a word about it till now.”
“Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose.” And Mr. Bennet left the room, fatigued with the raptures of his wife.
“What an excellent father you have, girls!” said she, when the door was shut. “I do not know how we will ever make him amends for his kindness. Indeed, after this coming full moon, do take care to make your father’s recovery as gentle as possible . . . At our time of life it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day, feline or otherwise; but for your sakes, we would do anything. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr. Bingley will dance with you at the next ball.”
“Oh!” said Lydia stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.”
The rest of the evening was spent in conjecturing what manner and how much of a tiger he was, how soon he would return Mr. Bennet’s visit, and determining when they should ask him to dinner.
Whatever inquiries Mrs. Bennet, with the assistance of her five daughters, attempted, was insufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley.
They attacked him in various ways—with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, distant surmises, and even feline wiles that were deemed most provocative for the lion. But he eluded their skill, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Lady Lucas.
Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with Mr. Bingley (his own elderly panther nature finding immediate soothing familiarity in the youthful tiger). He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, definitely in possession of a grandiose cage with most lordly and substantial iron bars, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next post-moon assembly with a large party. Nothing could be more delightful! To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love; and very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley’s tiger heart were entertained.
“If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”
Mr. Bennet refrained from uttering a triviality about nothing but the moon, his wife’s source of constant aggravation, and would that it might at last elude her vigilant abhorrence in case of such a happy event. . . .
In a few days Mr. Bingley returned Mr. Bennet’s visit, and sat about ten minutes with him in his library. Reportedly, feline gentlemen’s sounds of ease and contentment were soon heard to issue from behind closed doors. Mr. Bingley had entertained hopes of being admitted to a sight of the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard much; but he saw only the father.
The ladies were somewhat more fortunate, for they had the advantage of ascertaining from an upper window that he wore a blue coat, and rode a black horse.
An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched. Mrs. Bennet set to planning the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, so close to the full moon and its inherent danger, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc.
Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire. What if he might be always flying about from one place to another, never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be?
Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball. A report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly. Imagine the extravagance and the number of cages involved!
Never mind the cages—the girls grieved over such a number of ladies. But they were comforted right after the full moon and its resulting circumstances on the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve he brought only six with him from London—his five sisters and a cousin. Some of the gentlemen apparently declined, as most preferred not to travel during, or even soon before or after the monthly Affliction. And thus, when the party entered the assembly room it consisted of only five altogether—Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.
Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance in which the spirit of a noble tiger was easy to imagine, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman (but purportedly smelled a bit less savory, and a bit more doggish) . . .
But his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, the report (which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance) of his having ten thousand a year—and a truly inscrutable and impenetrable air of mystery regarding his precise flavor of Affliction. It was as if a preternatural wall stood all about him, so that no one might sniff out what manner of supernatural creature commanded these delightful ten thousand—whether he were a noble feline, lupine, canine, ursine, or possibly porcine1, lapine, or any other somewhat less notable beast.
Although unable to properly identify him as one of their own, the gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man. The ladies meanwhile declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and absolutely had to be one of the gallant Great Cat breed.
And thus he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening . . . till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity.
For Mr. Darcy was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased. And not all his large estate in Derbyshire or his possible grand manner of Affliction could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.
Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room. He was lively and unreserved, danced every dance with the spring of a kitten, was angry as a vigorous tiger that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend!
Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley—showing neither feline grace nor lupine passion, only the icy precision of extreme breeding. He declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party.
His character was decided and his Affliction disdained. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world—likely, an uncouth Siberian bear whose enclosure required additional padlocks and much tedious cleaning afterwards. And everybody hoped that he would never come there again.
Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.
Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances. And during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to hear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.
“Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this—a tawdry menagerie—it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
A few steps away, Elizabeth Bennet felt a sudden gust of heat envelop her, and listened, barely breathing. She could not help but imagine Mr. Darcy during the apex of the moon in a very dank and rotten, utterly dismal basement, transforming most painfully and slowly into a large mangy creature . . .
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Mr. Bingley, “for a kingdom and a gilded cage! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
Nearby, the second-eldest Miss Bennet gave herself entirely to the imaginary scenario, and now that dismal basement was thoroughly infested with rats . . .
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!” said Mr. Bingley. “But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
Elizabeth’s controlled breath stilled. Her cheeks, flaming only moments ago, were now numb. And her heart, just for an instant, was very, very cold. In the basement, rats gnawed the thick rusted iron of his filthy cage, and inside, the unspeakable monster snarled, and, oh yes!—scratched himself furiously in unspeakable places . . .
Meanwhile, Darcy continued; “I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings toward him, but with a thoroughly gratifying scene of moon-induced manly frenzy.
She told the story, however (indeed, both stories; and to the latter grotesque fantasy she added fleas), with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous—and was easily swayed to enhance the merely ridiculous into something truly sublime.
The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by the tiger’s sisters. Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane’s pleasure. Mary had heard herself mentioned to Miss Bingley as “a proper lion’s daughter” and the most accomplished girl in the neighbourhood. And Catherine and Lydia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball.
They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants. They found Mr. Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless of time (indeed, with any book, scented with catnip or not, for the lion was a bibliophile); and on the present occasion he had a good deal of feline curiosity as to the events of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. He had rather hoped that his wife’s views on the stranger would be disappointed; but he soon found out that he had a different story to hear.
“Oh! my dear Mr. Bennet,” as she entered the room, “we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Jane was so admired! Everybody said how well she looked; and Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice! Only think of that, my dear; he actually danced with her twice! and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time. First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her! But, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed, nobody can, you know, not with all that pork2 in the family; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. So he inquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger—”
“If he had had any compassion for me,” cried her husband impatiently, “O that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance! For God’s sake, say no more of his partners.”
“Oh! my dear, I am quite delighted with him. He is so excessively handsome! One cannot help but think of the splendid roars that might issue from his enclosure every moon! And his sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst’s gown—”
Here she was interrupted again. Mr. Bennet protested against any description of finery unless it included fur (in which case he attended, absentmindedly smoothing down his own thick head of hair—in particular the tufts behind the ears—and then adjusting his spectacles). She was therefore obliged to seek another branch of the subject, and related, with much bitterness of spirit and some exaggeration, the shocking rudeness of Mr. Darcy.
“But I can assure you,” she added, “that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy; for he is a most disagreeable, horrid beastly man, not at all worth pleasing, and not likely to be anything more than a mangy housecat. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your roaring set-downs. I quite detest the man.”
1 It is unclear why mushrooms are referenced here. —Ed. [Begging pardon of the reader, there are no “mushrooms” referenced here. “Porcine” refers to swine. —Ed. 2]
2 Alas! Gentle reader, Sir William Lucas was the sole panther in a long line of male boars. It was widely assumed that the somewhat dubious Affliction merely skipped a generation. In matters of the marriage mart, Miss Lucas was doomed.
Read the rest of the story in Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret -- coming soon!
Meanwhile, the two earlier books from the Supernatural Jane Austen Series are just as much fun!
Read the rest of the story in Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret -- coming soon!
Meanwhile, the two earlier books from the Supernatural Jane Austen Series are just as much fun!