|Available August 20127|
All in the golden afternoon,
My pen in hand, I ply.
The task before me comprehends
That which I never tried.
To intertwine two writers’ books:
Beloved worlds collide.
Oh, my muses! Adored authors,
I ask through me you speak,
And help me play with each your tales
While dodging your fans’ pique.
Please let me take sufficient care
In tweaking the antique.
Austen — my Prima — heeds my call
(she’s such a constant friend),
And sends me tales of Pemberley,
The Darcy brood ascends.
They plan to host a birthday ball
And all their world attends.
Carroll next infuses fancy;
Tales of Alice enchant.
But Austen still must have her say,
So Darcy will transplant
From Pemberley to Wonderland,
Miniscule as an ant.
It is only on occasion
That my voice will intrude,
Upon those of famous authors.
Just me: a parvenu.
Yet as I alone am living,
What would you have me do?
And when my pen decreased its speed
One Muse to me would chat,
And then, in turn, the other one,
Would take his turn at bat.
And so we sailed forth to the end
And never once fell flat.
Darcy! Pursue your daughter through
Adventures most absurd,
But born of child’s fantasy
And playful choice of word.
Tumble down endless rabbit holes,
Where lunacy allures.
Chapter One: A Troll and a Rabbit
“Papa! Papa! The most wondrous thing has happened!”
Fitzwilliam Darcy stifled the indulgent smile threatening his lips. “Alice, please recall our many conversations on manners.”
The little girl who had so unceremoniously burst into his office instantly checked her advance, freezing in place like a statue. Slowly she began to move, creeping her way backwards until she was again outside the door, upon the frame of which she knocked.
The smile could no longer be retained. “Can I help you, Alice?”
She returned it with one full of mischief. “How can you know it is me, Papa?”
Bennet, who sat on the opposite side of the massive mahogany desk, a mirror image of his father at the same age, rolled his eyes. “What is wrong with that child?” he muttered, incurring a quelling glance from his father.
“I can see you, my dear. The door is open. You may come in.”
“No, I cannot. There is a troll guarding a drawbridge, and one must have a password if one wishes to proceed,” she explained.
“And what is the password?”
Her face contorted into a mask of tragedy. “I do not know it.”
“Good Lord!” Bennet turned to stare at his youngest sister. “Can you not be rational even in your own game? You imagined the troll and the bridge; can you not dream up a password just as readily?”
She scowled at her brother. “No, I cannot. I said I don’t know it.”
“Well, I do,” Darcy stated firmly. He knew from experience that once Alice established an imaginary impediment, it was not to be overcome without making a concession to her whimsy. “It just so happens this troll is an old friend of mine.”
“You know him already, Papa?” Her chubby face fell. “Now I shan’t have the honor of the introduction.”
“You sound like Aunt Catherine,” Bennet muttered.
“We met at Eton,” Darcy said before Alice could retort. “When the older trolls gave me trouble, he was always the first to come to my aid.”
“What is his name?” she eagerly inquired.
“You see, you could never have made an introduction anyway,” Bennet persisted.
“His name is Travelos. Travelos Gymphenor.”
Alice cooed with delight. “What a splendid troll name, Papa!”
“Thank you, my dear.”
“What is the password?”
Very solemnly Alice turned to the imaginary creature and said, “Custard.” She then thanked Mr. Gymphenor and curtseyed before reentering the office.
“She is mad, Father,” Bennet said. One firm finger pointed at the ledger he was supposed to be ciphering, and he hurried to refocus his attention on his task.
“Now, Miss Alice, how may I be of service?”
Her eyes grew big. “Papa, I saw the most wondrous thing in the garden.”
“So I hear. What was it?”
“Well, Miss Williams and Cassie were reading Kenilworth, again, while I was making a daisy chain,” the evidence of which remained in her hair, “and feeling senselessly bored. Papa, what is the use of a book without any pictures?”
“You will find joy in a great many books without pictures as you grow older, Alice. I predict the day will come when you are an even more ferocious reader than your mother or Rose.”
“Adults always say things like that. I miss Rolie,” she declared, utilizing a pet name for her favorite sister. “When will she be home?”
“And why did you have to send her to school?”
“Why does one go to school but to learn?”
“She seemed to learn well enough with Miss Williams. She knows more than Miss Williams does about flowers.”
“Which is precisely why her education needed a different teacher to reach completion. Speaking of which, I thought Miss Williams had planned to review French and Geography with you girls this morning? Certainly little enough is likely to be accomplished over the next few days.”
Alice shuffled her feet restlessly. “I much rather she had. We started on French, but it was so lovely outside, and my legs were just aching to be out and about. So we took our books out, and Cassie brought Kenilworth. I learned to ask where things are.” She clasped her hands before her and turned her toes out. “Où est mon livre? Où est l'école? Où est ma chatte?” She relaxed her posture and continued. “But then Miss Williams was persuaded to read Kenilworth, again, instead.”
“I see.” He made a note on the tablature before him: a reminder to discuss the matter with Elizabeth. “And what happened that was so wondrous amidst Sir Walter Scott and the daisy chain?”
Her eyes sparkled once more with excitement. “You shall never believe it! A white rabbit with pink eyes came by — ”
“There is nothing so very remarkable in that,” Bennet interjected, again distracted from the work before him. “A great many rabbits are white with pink eyes.”
“ — wearing a pocket watch and waistcoat!”
Darcy sighed. The wondrous happening was merely more fantasy. His son said, “Now that would be a sight worth seeing.”
“Papa, he actually took the watch out and checked it!”
“Why wear a watch if not to know the time?”
“You don’t believe me,” Alice said accusingly to Bennet.
“Whatever gave you that notion?”
“Come now, children. Enough squabbling.”
“But it is true, Papa. I saw the rabbit and got up to follow him, but I soon lost his trail.”
“You might release the hounds, Father.”
“Don’t you dare!” Alice shrieked indignantly at her brother. “You would never do such a thing, would you, Papa?”
“There must be some means of controlling the pest population,” Bennet continued to goad.
“Papa!” True panic now read on the child’s face.
“Let her be, Bennet. Attend to your work.”
“Yes, sir,” he said with a satisfied smirk.
“Now, Alice, no one shall harm your Mr. Rabbit. The dogs and the groundskeepers know how to tell the difference between your average rabbit and the very proper gentleman you describe.” Alice sighed her relief. Bennet harrumphed.
“I wish you might see him, Papa. Do you think he shall return?”
“If he is a tenant of Pemberley, we are sure to see him again.”
“When Mr. Fredericks comes complaining that Mr. Rabbit failed to pay his tithes.”
“Sorry, Father. It is just too irresistible not to tease her when she so opens herself up to it.”
“I do not!”
“You most certainly do.”
“That is enough,” Darcy interjected. “Alice, please return to your lessons.”
“But Kenilworth is not a proper lesson!”
“Call it History,” Bennet replied.
“Then return to making your daisy chain under Miss Williams’s guidance. You may keep an eye out for your white rabbit.”
“Oh, I shall certainly do so! I won’t let him get away from me again. Next time I see him, I will invite him to tea. That way you can all meet him.” She frowned. “But who will introduce me to him?”
“It certainly won’t do for you to be accosting strange rabbits on the street. What will the neighbors say?”
“Bennet,” Darcy said warningly.
“You are not. If you were, you would cease provoking her.” The young man’s grin acknowledged the truth of his father’s assessment. “Run along now, Alice. Bennet and I have a lot of work to do.”
“Will you come to the nursery tonight and read to me?”
“Of course, my dear. A book with pictures, I assume?”
“Well, I shall certainly not request Scott. I much prefer nursery rhymes.”
“Then nursery rhymes you shall have.”
The child kissed her father on the cheek, stuck her tongue out at her brother, and skipped away.
Bennet watched her go before turning forward towards his father. “You will need to do something for that one.”
Darcy sighed. “What do you suggest?”
“A madhouse, for starters.”
“The child is perfectly sane, as you very well know. She is just rather … creative. Your mother tells me it is a sign of great intelligence.”
Bennet scoffed. “All I know is that if I had run about spouting such nonsense at her age, you would have knocked the sense into me quick enough.”
“It is rather different, Bennet. You were our first born: our only son.”
“And not to be indulged like the baby of the family.”
Darcy smiled in acknowledgement. “Perhaps we are too easy on her, but I really have no notion how else to handle the creature. No punishments work on her. She simply turns anything we contrive into another game.”
“I should like to see her turn a solid spanking into a game.”
“Should we beat her for being imaginative?”
“No, you should beat her in hope it imbues her with some sense.”
“Your mother would never allow it.” Darcy’s fond smile suggested that neither would he.
“As I said, you are too easy on Alice. If you and my mother do not take her in hand and impose reality upon her, the world will someday do it for you, and it will be a far more difficult lesson to learn.”
“You are right.” He turned to his son. “When did you become so wise?”
“That university education you are subjecting me to must be put to some use.”
“It is for your own good, Bennet. You cannot simply cloister yourself at Pemberley all your life. The world insists we mingle with it.”
“I understand, Father, but I do not have to like it.” He put down his pen and leaned back in the comfortable leather chair, looking lovingly at the book-lined walls. “I feel more at peace here than I do anywhere else, even taking into account this formidable brood of sisters with whom you have cursed me. If I could see them all fired off and remain here farming the land and caring for the tenants the rest of my days, I should be most content. I have no taste for society.”
“It is one of those necessary evils in life. Besides, you will want some lady to share the years with you. You have your posterity to consider.”
“Yes,” his son conceded, taking back up his pen, “someday I suppose I will, but right now I should just be pleased not to have to return to Cambridge.”
Darcy looked at his son with concern. “Is it really so terrible?”
Bennet continued his ciphering. “It is not unendurable, if that is what you mean.”
“The other young men are kind to you?”
He looked up and smirked. “Almost too kind, if you understand me.”
Darcy relaxed. “I most certainly do. Tell me, are some of your fellow scholars interested in introducing you into their equally sister-laden homes?”
“Well, few are equally laden, but yes, they do. They all wanted me to come visit them over the holidays. It is like offering myself up as meat to hungry lions. Had I not had Ellie’s ball for a firm excuse, I should have been pestered to death. How is it that such an extraordinary number of perfectly amiable gentlemen have sisters who are so positively vile?”
Darcy laughed. “I know not, but it seems frightfully common.”
“Mother tells me Uncle Charles’s sister gave you a rather difficult time when you were all young and eligible.”
“Yes. Mrs. Lucas, Caroline Bingley as she was then, was quite persistent in her pursuit of me. It was exceedingly awkward, I can assure you.”
“I can only imagine,” he laughed.
“Here is something to think of: had I not been willing to endure the society of one friend’s vile sister, I might never have met your mother.”
“I shall start petitioning for friends with amiable neighbors,” he quipped. Yet his usual smirk was absent, and it was with an earnest mien he proceeded to ask, “What if I never meet someone to suit me as Mother does you?”
“You will, Son. Give it time. You are not yet one and twenty — far too young to marry now even should you happen across the right lady. The here and now is dedicated to the ledgers, and between Alice’s rabbits and trolls and this tête-à-tête, I fear we shall never be done.”
“Alice started it.”
“No, I need not fear you are growing up too fast. Any wisdom you may have stumbled upon is still judiciously diluted with a great deal of childishness.”
“The books, Father! We must attend to the ledgers!”
“What would I do were you not here to recall me to my duties?” Darcy retorted with a sardonic smile, and they got on with their work.