Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Mixed Up Mashup: Finding Hunsford

Mr. Darcy hurried beside Bingley towards Longbourn, quite forgetting his purpose as he rushed towards where he hoped Miss Elizabeth Bennet might be found. He could feel the letter still in his breast pocket, the slight friction it created a constant reminder of his disappointment and the agony suffered in its writing. But if she were there, how would he ever be able to deliver it? It was impossible. He would have to find a way to meet her in private, which is precisely the circumstance she would be most determined to avoid. Perhaps she remained at Hunsford, wherever it might be. Regardless, he knew not why he continued to hurry towards the one familiar object in a most bizarre landscape, for he could only expect a very cool reception, assuming Elizabeth's feelings for him were indicative of her family's.

And how would they greet Bingley? What would he say upon learning of Darcy's involvement in separating him from Miss Bennet? His pace slackened, and he began to fall behind his friend. There was every possibility that Elizabeth would write to her sister regarding what she had learned.  Looking about him, he saw with guilty feelings all the houses they had passed by, the residents of each requiring interview. "One moment, Bingley!" he called out, coming to a complete stop.

"What is it Darcy? Do you not see it is Longbourn? I know you think she thought little of me, but I have been unable to forget her. I must see if Miss Bennet is home."

"For once I am as anxious to greet familiar faces as you are, but we really should not have hastened here so. It was negligent. We have a responsibility to fulfill."

"We can retrace our steps as soon as our call is complete, but I for one will begin nowhere other than Longbourn."

"Very well," Darcy conceded, loath to come between Bingley and the Bennets again, and he lengthened his strides once more. It was only a few minutes before they were at the door.

"Mr. Bingley! How excellent to see you again. And Mr. Darcy, too." He noticed how her suddenly cold tone raised the eyebrows of the three ladies on the sofa, two of which shared a significant glance. If Mrs. Bennet's lack of hospitality did not make him uneasy enough, their acute inspection solidified his discomfiture. Instinctively, his hauteur rose.

Anne perceived Mr. Darcy's response to the close scrutiny he and Mr. Bingley received, not just from those who had not previously made his acquaintance, but also from the two youngest daughters of the house, who were giggling and whispering to each other in a most conspicuous manner. She dropped her gaze and focused upon her work, supplied from Mrs. Bennet's poor basket, relieving him of at least one set of prying eyes. Her response did not go unnoticed by Mr. Darcy, who was instantly reminded of Elizabeth's recent rebukes. He forced his face into an expression he hoped was amiable.

"You find us in uproar, as I am sure you know," continued their hostess, having completed the introductions. "Do tell me, Mr. Bingley, if you returned to the neighborhood on purpose, or just happened to find yourself amongst us again?"

"The latter, I am afraid, but I always intended to return to Netherfield. It was really very convenient that I just happened to wake up there this morning. Oddly enough, I now find myself neighbor to your cousin's benefactress. Are your older daughter's at home?"

"Sadly not. As I have been saying to Mrs. Dashwood, who too has daughters in town, no one can know the agony we suffer, not knowing where our dear ones might be!"

"And I have repeatedly assured you, Mrs. Bennet," said Mary Musgrove, "that all mothers know such suffering. I have two boys of my own, gentlemen, and very find lads you will find them. You must come to Uppercross and shoot with my husband. It is not a quarter mile from here." She smiled amiably, very pleased with the appearance of these new acquaintances.

 "You forget, Mary, that the park is quite gone," reminded Anne.

"Oh dear! I quite forgot. We must hope that someone has retained their park, or else I know not what Charles will do with himself. He must have something to hunt."

"Perhaps he will begin with his own grounds."

Mr. Darcy looked eagerly towards Anne. "That must be the first object with us all. We passed several homes on our way here. In which direction is Uppercross?"

"Due North," Anne replied.

"Then we must have passed it on our way here."

"It is a Tudor building and quite conspicuous sitting in prominence on the corner. It was much more at home in its cozy grove in Somersetshire."

"I recall it well. Your description is most apt." Darcy was please to discover a sensible lady amongst the party assembled, even if she was not the one he had hoped (and feared) to find.

"My husband and I live in the Cottage, which is now just a block beyond." Mary supplied.

Mrs. Weston looked interested. "The pretty little place with the French windows? The trellis in my garden at Randalls lies directly to your left."

"It is very convenient we have met you all here," said Mr. Darcy seriously. "Several of us have banded together to search the area, discovering who it is we all find ourselves amongst, and trying to see if we cannot locate this strange woman who seems to be implicated in whatever it is that has happened."

"You mean Mrs. Adams," said Mrs. Dashwood.

"Have you seen her?" asked Mr. Darcy eagerly.

"Yes. Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Bennet, and I have all conversed with her, and we agree she seems a pleasant, if unusual, lady. She is undoubtedly the person to speak to, if your goal is to make some sense out of our predicament."

"What else could it be? We all must want to get to the bottom of this."

"I for one am very pleased to find myself amongst so many new acquaintances," declared Mrs. Bennet defiantly. "Even you, Mr. Darcy, can no longer find the society of our neighborhood limited. Only think of the dinner parties we are sure to have!"

"Forgive me, madame, but I cannot think of such things at a time like this. It is imperative that we learn what has happened to us, and in order to do so, it seems we must find this Mrs. Adams."

"I think Mr. Darcy is quite right," defended Mrs. Musgrove. "Social concerns certainly must wait until some very pressing questions have been answered. Then we may consider entertaining, and I have no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove will be amongst the first to open their doors to our new neighbors." secretly, she worried that such behavior would force her to associate with those beneath her notice, but she wisely kept such concerns to herself.

Julia Sawalha 1995
"Perhaps Mr. Bingley will have another ball at Netherfield," giggled Lydia Bennet. "The last one was marvelous! I'm sure I danced with every one of the officers."

"Certainly there will be quite a competition to see who can be most hospitable," said Darcy dryly, "and my friend Bingley can be counted upon to enter the ranks, but to keep to the matter at hand, is your home located in the vicinity as well, Mrs. Dashwood?"

"Barton Cottage is not a block away. You can see it from the window."

He looked where she pointed, to a picturesque cottage not one hundred yards away, but his eye was caught elsewhere. Directly beside it stood the familiar rectory of Hunsford.

"Mrs. Bennet, are you aware that your cousin's home at Hunsford is also within sight?" He instantly found himself crowded out by the three Bennet girls, who all jockeyed for position at the window.

"Mr. Collins? Dear me! How disagreeable! Well, at least we will have Lizzy at home, though Jane would be much more to the point! You will excuse me, I'm sure, but I must collect her at once. There is no need for her to be keeping Charlotte company when I could very well use her assistance here. Mary, you will entertain our guests until I return."

Tessa Peake-Jones 1980
"Yes, Mama," she replied importantly. "Shall I open the pianoforte? Perhaps some of our new neighbors are musical."

"Yes, yes! Whatever you like. I must be off! Kitty, you are to accompany me."

"But I do not want to see Mr. Collins anymore than you do, Mama! Why must I be the one to go?"

"As Darcy and I are heading in that direction ourselves, we would be happy to escort you to Hunsford, Mrs. Bennet," offered Bingley.

"Thank you, Mr. Bingley! Always such a gentleman!"

Polly Maberley 1995
"Then you will have no need of my company, will you Mama?"

"No, Kitty, I have no need of you. Surely a lady of my age does not require a chaperone!' she giggled as girlishly as her daughters.

Darcy struggled to not show his contempt, bringing his thoughts back to Elizabeth and how she would react to him showing up at Hunsford in the company of her mother. It was a circumstance to be avoided at all costs."

"Is Mr. Bennet at home?" he asked hopefully. "We should really speak with him prior to our departure. Perhaps I might interview him while Mr. Bingley sees you to Hunsford?"

"No. Mrs. Adams carried him off with her. Something about a most impressive library it was imperative he see. I know not when we shall see his return."

"That is unfortunate," he conceded, knowing not how else to avoid a most uncomfortable meeting with Elizabeth. "I suppose we might as well continue southward from the Rectory, and then we can call at the homes we missed as we return to Donwell."

"Donwell Abbey!" exclaimed Mrs. Weston excitedly. "Dear Mr. Knightley's home! How good it will be to see a familiar face."

"I well know the feeling," chimed in Bingley. "It was familiarity that hastened Darcy and myself here. Are you acquainted with Miss Woodhouse as well?"

"Dear me, yes! I was her governess before I married Mr. Weston."

"Her governess!" cried Mary and Mrs. Bennet in tandem, the former raising her chin disdainfully, while the latter began to lecture Mrs. Weston regarding the vast difference between a mother's tender feelings and that of a hired caretaker.

Perceiving the discomfort of her companion, Anne was quick to advise Mrs. Weston to call on Donwell posthaste, that she might be reunited with her friends. "I will join you," she said, rising from her seat. "I am afraid my curiosity is far too engaged to tolerate sitting here and waiting for something to happen. Would you care to join us, Mary?"

Mrs. Musgrove was unsure. She was not eager for more walking, but she also had no desire to become further acquainted with Mrs. Weston.

"If you like, Mrs. Musgrove, Darcy and I could call here again to escort you either to Donwell or your own home, once we again head in that direction." It was his ardent desire that Miss Bennet would somehow materialize in her family home before they returned, in a similar way to that which Miss Elizabeth had been located.

"Thank you, Mr. Bingley. That is most attentive. I will remain here, Anne."

"Very well. I shall see you shortly. Are you ready, Mrs. Weston?"

"I certainly am. Surely learning of my dear Emma's whereabouts was precisely what Mrs. Adams intended in directing me here."

"You know, Bingley, perhaps I ought to see the ladies on to Donwell. From there I could call at the houses that remain unaccounted, meeting you somewhere in the middle. We would cover ground far more quickly in such a manner."

"Excellent notion! I will see you shortly."

So Anne, Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley all said their goodbyes to Mrs. Musgrove, Mrs. Dashwood, Margaret, who was looking on in wide eyed fascination as Lydia dictated to her older sister what pieces she ought and ought not to play, and the three Bennet daughters. Upon reaching the road, they parted ways, Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Bennet bound for Hunsford, while Darcy enjoyed the surprisingly felicitous companionship of Mrs. Weston and Miss Elliot as they made their way back up the hill. He looked behind him one last time towards Hunsford, simultaneously yearning to enter the parsonage doors and congratulating himself on his near escape.