Friday, January 25, 2013

A Mixed Up Mashup: Through the Looking Glass

"Mr. Collins!" Lady Catherine interrupted the rector as he replied to her own question, effectively silencing the table. "Now is not the time to speak of tithes. Can you not perceive that Mr. Knightley has something to say?"

"Thank you, Lady Catherine," said Mr. Knightley, acknowledging her unwanted assistance, for he had indeed risen to his feet in order to command the attention of his guests. Upon fortifying himself the best he could on the rather unusual fare his staff had prepared, the host of this unruly gathering thought it time to address the business in hand. "As much as the familiar rituals of dressing and dining might provide reassurance in a world turned upside down, I'm afraid further delay will not make our situation any more decipherable. I welcome you all to Donwell Abbey and have only to wish your acquaintance was met under more ordinary circumstances. Answers to the many questions this day's unusual events provoke are what we require."

"I believe we can all agree on who might supply those answers," Mr. Darcy spoke up determinedly. "It is Mrs. Adams who is the only person amongst us who seems to understand our circumstances, and to an extraordinary degree."

"Indeed," concurred Mr. Knightley. "I am pleased to say she will be joining us after dinner."

"Then it seems there is little left to be discussed at this time," interposed Sir Walter. "Let us defer further conversation until the ladies withdraw."

"I should also say," proceeded Mr. Knightley, ignoring the increasingly troublesome baronet, "that we our indebted to Mrs. Adams for supplying the bulk of fare upon which we dine this evening. One of the most pressing issues we must face is how to sustain our estates without the produce of the land. I cannot attest for everyone, but almost the entire acreage associated with Donwell has vanished, including the majority of my livestock. There is no sign of the home farm, but the kitchen garden, thankfully, remains."

"My mother's garden is gone," attested Charles Musgrove, "as is the dairy and poultry yard, but most of the woods remain. There was no time to take out a gun today, but I do not think I have ever seen so many birds, nor such varieties."

"I am so relieved, Charles," Mary said happily, "for now you can fulfill my invitation to Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley for a hunting party."

"This hardly seems the time for sport," Sir Thomas said with a frown, "but as Mansfield Park has likewise been reduced to little more than pleasure grounds, it seems it might be necessary."

"I think our first order of business on the morrow ought to be a complete survey of the land," Mr. Knightley determined. "If one estate keeps their poultry, and another their dairy, perhaps we might devise a barter system in order to ensure all needs are met."

"I'm sorry to say I have no grounds to survey," said Mr. Bingley amiably, "as Netherfield Park is entirely surrounded by Rosings on all sides. I would be pleased to accept your invitation, Mrs. Musgrove, but I fear my time must be employed in trying to account for my sister's whereabouts." He actually thought more of Miss Bennet than Caroline, but such concern was not his to profess.

"Excuse me," Mrs. Dashwood spoke up, "but I wonder how many arrangements we should make before consulting with Mrs. Adams."

Mrs. Weston seconded the notion. "She may already have plans for what we are to do."

Mr. Knightley hesitated, "It seems wrong to place so much dependance on one woman."

"And who is this Mrs. Adams, to decide for us all?" Mrs. Elton contributed. "Do we even know who she is?"

"Mrs. Adams will explain herself," Mrs. Dashwood persisted, "but she and I spoke at length this morning.  She left me determined to discover my eldest daughters, and I have complete faith in her ability to extricate us all from this unusual situation."

"As do I," Mrs. Bennet declared pointedly. "Mrs. Adams will bring my dear Jane home again, just as she made sure Lizzy was near at hand. I do wonder what has become of Mr. Bennet, but she will surely tell me when we speak again."

"I wonder if there is not a pattern or meaning to be found in who Mrs. Adams has interacted with so far," Miss Woodhouse mused. "Has she only spoken with those who are missing their relations, like Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Bennet?"

"She spoke at length with my mother this morning," Charles Musgrove replied, "and all of our family is together. Even my own house has been relocated within sight of Uppercross. Mrs. Adams brought us guests, in the form of the Harvilles and Captain Benwick."

"So she still had particular business with your mother," Mr. Knightley reflected. "In such chaos, is it possible all her movements could be so efficient?"

"I seemed to meet her quite by accident,"Mr. Tilney attested, "though she rendered me no little service by pointing me in the direction of Fullerton." He smiled at Miss Morland, who blushed becomingly in response.

"How many of you have spoken with Mrs. Adams?" Mr. Knightley asked the company at large. "A show of hands, please." He was surprised to see Mr. Darcy raise his hand, as he had spoken with the man shortly before diner, and he had betrayed no sign of having made her acquaintance. "Mr. Darcy?" he questioned.

The gentleman betrayed some signs of embarrassment. "I met her for just a moment before entering the drawing room this evening." In response to his host's obviously perplexity, he continued, "She was rapping upon the window in your hall."

"Indeed?" said a confused Mr. Knightley. "Had she anything particular to say?"

"She introduced herself and said she would return later in the evening." He could not say she had given him Elizabeth Bennet's book, and he again bemoaned the exchange that forced him to prevaricate.

"Such proceedings do not seem to conform with her previous behavior. I'm afraid that puts an end to your search for order in her appearances, Emma," Mr. Knightley concluded with a slight smile.

"We shall see," was her response, as she studied Mr. Darcy closely.

"There seems little purpose in pursuing such conjecture until the lady, if that is what she is, arrives to enlighten us further," inserted Lady Catherine, determined to maintain her share of the conversation. "Let us focus on the practical. Land must surveyed, and game must be shot. This will occupy the men."

"I think I might prefer to contribute to the game stores as well," supplied John Dashwood, who shuddered to consider what of Norland might have vanished. He had thought to sell his timber before, but never without substantial profit.

"I shall inspect Kellynch personally," asserted Sir Walter poignantly.

"I remind you again, Sir Walter," replied Captain Wentworth severely, "that Kellynch is not at the moment your home, but the legal residence of the Admiral."

"What care I for contracts at such a time? There is not a trace of Bath to be found, rendering it necessary for me to reclaim possession immediately. The Crofts may remain as my guests until further accommodation can be made."

Captain Wentworth began to rise from his seat in protest, but Lady Catherine forestalled him, commanding the attention of the table with a display of her own impressive height. "I invite Sir Walter and Miss Elliot to be my guests at Rosings Park until this predicament is resolved. We have more important matters to discuss."

Some of the more thoughtful and observant members of the party might have detected some communication between the grand lady and her nephew both proceeding and following this intervention, and a few might have silently thanked Mr. Darcy the resolution he seemed to provide to a mounting conflict.

"That is very kind of you, Lady Catherine," Elizabeth Elliot said quickly, grateful for the escape from such a public airing of their difficulty. Sir Walter, upon reflection, was also able to accept her hospitality with gracious sensations, for regardless of his rights as Elliot of Kellynch, it remained an expensive estate to maintain. Furthermore, at a time of crisis, the demands of the landlord were sure to prove exceedingly burdensome, while being the guest of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, no matter how sadly pronounced the lady's crow's feet, sounded very pleasant indeed.

"There is no reason for the ladies to remain idle," Lady Catherine resumed her dictates. "Several should oversea a complete inventory of each estate's stores, while those who ought to be in the classroom," she stared down the table at Lydia and and Kitty Bennet, who were whispering to each other and Captain Benwick, and whose solemn veneer was beginning to break under the influence of their antics, "will be put under Mrs. Jennings supervision at Rosings Hall, that they might benefit from Miss de Bourgh's superior example. Miss Elliot may also assist in their supervision."

This soured the prospect of being a guest at Roings, but before Miss Elliot could begin to object, her indignation was drown out by the far more verbose protestations of the younger Bennet ladies. "The Misses Musgroves intend to walk out with the hunting party," Lydia complained, "and they invited Kitty and I to join them. We have already accepted!"

 "Enough, Lydia! You should be honored by Lady Catherine's attention!" her mother admonished through a simpering  smile. "She is such a high spirited girl!"

"I was informed by Miss Bennet of the sad neglect of your daughters' education," Lady Catherine said severely, "but I had no notion it could be quite this bad!"

Mrs. Bennet's smile fell, and Mr. Darcy quickly interjected, "The young ladies will enjoy the company of others their age, while those unemployed by the inventory can be of great assistance in mapping out the terrain we explored today."

Elizabeth, unconsciously thanking Mr. Darcy for this lifeline, held on to it tightly. "Is there any territory that remains unexplored? Are we all accounted for?"

He looked directly at her. "I had hoped to find some trace of Pemberley."

"There is one area we missed," Mr. Tilney confessed. "I'm afraid that upon spotting Northanger Abbey, my father's estate, to the southeast, I abandoned that path of exploration, heading west instead." Several voices rose in protest, and the gentleman apologized, explaining that he last parted with his farther on bad terms, and promising to correct his oversight on the morrow.

"That wont be necessary, Mr. Tilney," said a voice from the door. "You have business at Fullerton that has already been delayed too long."

Having walked in without waiting for the stuttering footman's announcement, Mrs. Adams now strode with odd gate towards the front of the room, gazing at the party before her in wonderment. "You are all really here!" she said gleefully, and turning to Mr. Knightley, she familiarly shook his hand. "I know I have a great deal of explaining to do, but first let me bask in the moment just a bit. To be surrounded by all of Austen's characters like this! This is either some wild dream come true, or I have completely lost my mind."

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