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"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hot Water

Pride and Prejudice
"Hot August Nights"
During a summer visit to Kent, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have similar ideas on how to escape the unbearable heat.

Lizzy folded her letter and met Jane’s enquiring gaze. “Uncle Gardiner is prevented by business from leaving London. There will be no Northern tour.”

“How unfortunate! You must be sorely disappointed.”

“I am, although with Papa hesitant to let any of us out of his sight, he might have changed his mind and prevented my going.”

“He knows you are not Lydia. You would never behave as she did.” Jane patted her forehead with her handkerchief. “We can only be grateful to Colonel Forster for his timely actions.”

“We can be grateful for his inability to sleep in this unrelenting heat, which afflicts even the seaside towns. That is what preserved our family’s respectability, not any particular vigilance on the colonel’s part. I do not want to consider the consequences had he been abed three nights ago.”

“I still cannot believe Wickham was so very bad as to try to elope with her.”

“A heavy blow, indeed. He has destroyed my faith in men.”

Lydia burst into the room. “I have opened all my windows for naught. There is not the slightest breeze. I wish I had gone with Wickham. It cannot possibly be this hot in Scotland.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes to the heavens. Only heat-induced lethargy kept her from fleeing the room.


The next day’s post brought Elizabeth an invitation to Hunsford. The March visit had been postponed, and while Elizabeth desired neither to see Mr. Collins nor to travel south in summer, it had been an age since she had seen Charlotte. She was curious to observe for herself how her friend fared.

Mr. Bennet granted permission to his restless daughter after extracting her promise not to run off with any young men. To this Elizabeth readily agreed, and within a se’nnight she was on the road to Kent.


Fitzwilliam Darcy read the express in growing exasperation and disbelief. “My aunt has lost her wits.”

“That would explain quite a lot.”

“Georgiana, I do not jest. She is summoning me to Rosings in the middle of the hottest August I can remember. How much trouble can she have brought upon herself since April?”

“I was not jesting, either. I do not have to go, do I?”

“No. Just promise not to run off with any young men while I am away.”

“Fitzwilliam! I should hope I have learnt to behave better than that.”

“I hope so, too, or I shall have to take you with me after all. I would not wish to subject you to my aunt’s strictures on your musical abilities, which are far superior to her musical inabilities.”

“Lady Catherine will be too busy throwing you and Anne together to criticise me.”

He rolled his eyes to the heavens. “Thank you for the reminder.”

“I still cannot believe she never learnt to play.”

“Nor I. She should forego her boasting of what a great proficient she would have been and practise instead. But enough of her. I shall depart in two days’ time. Is there anything I can do for you in London?”

“You do not have to go, either.”

“You know what will happen if I do not.”

“She will write you a nasty letter, in which she berates you, forgives you, and summons you again, just as she always does and will continue to do until you make her permanently angry by marrying someone other than Anne.”

“I know! I know.”

The next day, Darcy received another letter from the South. That Bingley should write so soon after leaving Pemberley was no surprise; that he had posted the letter from Meryton was completely unexpected.


After a week in Hunsford, Elizabeth had drawn several conclusions:

Spending abundant time with Sir William and Maria gave one an appreciation of Charlotte’s eagerness to leave Lucas Lodge for her own establishment.

Mr. Collins was much the same as ever; indeed, it had been madness to hope otherwise.

It was, as she had feared, even hotter in Kent than at home. After returning to the parsonage sweaty and cross from an afternoon stroll, she had restricted her solitary walks to early mornings and evenings.


“Lady Catherine.”

“Darcy! You have come at last.”

“I departed two days after receiving your express.”

“You should have come immediately! You see how we suffer. The workers—craftsmen, they dare call themselves!—have ruined the view from the Scarlet Parlour.”

“What is it you have them doing, Aunt?”

“Why, installing a fountain, of course! I though you would have noticed it on your approach.”

“I was intent on getting here and paid attention to little else.”

“I knew I could rely on you, Nephew. Anne also is relieved to have someone capable to sort out our difficulties. I do not advise her going too near the fountain, but the sound of running water is calming to the nerves. However, she has yet to enjoy its benefits due to those incompetent men, who are now demanding payment! Anne is greatly distressed by the deprivation. You must act for her sake.”

Darcy noted the utterly serene countenance of his utterly serene cousin before wearily meeting the excited gaze of his aunt. Perhaps the fountain’s calming properties would soothe his nerves.

Walking out to assess the matter for himself, he arrived at an area that had been cleared during his previous visit.

A handful of men rushed back and forth. Someone called out; another answered. Water shot several feet into the air. Darcy’s eyebrow rose at the ornate, glittering, indubitably expensive spectacle. Were those rubies in the wolf’s eyes? He counted likenesses of twelve different animals arranged in a ring, each creature half a man’s height, each spouting water into a centre bowl large enough to contain the entire menagerie. Crowned with an elaborate centrepiece, the overall effect of the massive waterworks was a curious mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous.

“You there—I need to speak with you.”

“Beg your pardon, Sir, but her ladyship has ordered us to reposition the fountain five times already! We refuse to do it again! ‘Tis a wonder nothing has been damaged. Whenever I declare the job complete, she finds a new place for it all, just a short distance away from the old.”

“You misunderstand. I bring no such orders from Lady Catherine.”

“Are you here to pay us?”

“No, but I shall explain the situation to her ladyship.” The relief on the man’s face was palpable. Darcy spotted others working closer to the manor house. “How many are in your employ?”

“Only these five.”

“What are those men doing?”

“Something with the glazing,” another man answered.

Why, Darcy wondered. The windows had seemed perfectly fine at Easter. In fact, his aunt had spoken of them with especial pride. With what Sir Lewis had spent on them, they ought to last through the next several centuries.

Darcy examined the results of his aunt’s awkward taste once more before returning to the house. He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. The oppressive weather did not help his mood. He quickened his steps. I should have splashed some of that water from the fountain on my face.


The following morning, the residents of Rosings and Hunsford Parsonage met to admire the new fountain.

“Mr. Darcy.”

“Miss Bennet.”

I cannot believe he is here. Elizabeth sighed.

I cannot believe she is here! Darcy smiled.

“How does your friend Mr. Bingley?”

Does not she care how I do? “Tolerably well.”

“Just tolerably? He seemed very well and very happy in Hertfordshire. Does he remain in town for the summer?”

“He visited Pemberley with Miss Bingley and the Hursts in July. Hurst took the ladies on to Scarborough from there, and Bingley returned to the South.”

“Please give him my and my eldest sister’s regards when next you see him.”

“I shall.”

“Perhaps he would not remember us, however. Jane believes he has forgot her entirely. You see, she spent the winter in town without encountering him once during her stay, even though Miss Bingley claimed he knew of her presence there.”

“How fares your sister?”

Tolerably well.” Her expression conveyed her full meaning.

“I believe Bingley thought that…that is, I know he became convinced Miss Bennet, uh, would not miss him if he were to give up Netherfield.”

“I wonder how that preposterous idea occurred to him.”

“He has changed his opinion—about Netherfield. He is there now.” I hope that will appease her. Is it my imagination, or is she even lovelier than she was on the twenty-sixth of November?

“Really?” First, Wickham is proven a scoundrel. Then Bingley returns to Netherfield. And now Mr. Darcy is being…amiable? At this rate, I shall begin to swoon over his handsome features and noble mien any moment now. I need to sit down.

Fortunately for them both, Mr. Collins, eager to greet the nephew of his patroness, interrupted their conversation.


Darcy lay in bed bemoaning the intolerable heat, made worse by his placement in one of the rooms with new glazing. Lady Catherine had insisted he take this particular chamber, the better to appreciate the improvements. He would have considered it an improvement if only the windows would open to admit some cooler air.

Then there was the matter of Elizabeth. He felt hotter just thinking about her.

This is ridiculous. He donned a shirt and breeches and quietly left the house for the one place on Rosings’ property almost certain to provide relief.


Elizabeth stared at the ceiling, not because she enjoyed examining its cracks in the dark, but because Mr. Collins’s snoring and the unbearable heat had prevented her slumber.

This is futile. She exchanged her nightgown for an old dress and left the parsonage for the one place across the lane that might provide the relief she sought.


Wolf. Horse. Swan. Elizabeth closed her eyes and continued round the fountain. Bull. Monkey. Hmm. This one feels like… aaaahhh! What she had touched was undoubtedly human.

Darcy was drizzling water over the nape of his neck when he felt a hand on his posterior. He stood completely still. Then the hand touched him again and lingered. He turned, mouth open in shock, and saw Elizabeth.

“I am sorry, Sir! I did not expect to see you here.”

“Or feel me here?”

“Mr. Darcy, you must know I had no intention of… of…”

“Would that be the first touch or the second that was unintentional?”


Seeing Mr. Darcy was not angry, Elizabeth recalled her purpose for venturing out. She stepped closer and put her hands into the fountain. “This is heavenly!” Bending over, she applied water to her heated cheeks until a hand touched her from behind. She jumped.

The hand gave a gentle squeeze and then moved slowly round in a titillating caress before falling away.

After a few turns of “ring round the fountain,” roaming fingers grew adventurous. Mister and Miss became simply Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. Dampened clothing was hung over elephant’s trunk or ram’s horn to dry while laughing lips and glistening skin met under the glow of the moon.


The playful sounds carried to the bedchamber over the Scarlet Parlour, where the window, exempted from the recent glazing frenzy, stood open to the night air.

Miss de Bourgh’s vision lacked sharpness, but her hearing had always been acute.


Elizabeth deemed it prudent to return to Longbourn the next day. Despite her haste, one of Mr. Collins’s lengthier missives, sent express, preceded her, much to her and her father’s chagrin. The uproar worsened when Jane and Bingley walked into Longbourn more than reasonably dishevelled after being caught in a summer shower; it had reached a deafening pitch by the time Mr. Darcy arrived in Hertfordshire.

A double wedding took place in September. As Georgiana had predicted, Darcy was no longer in danger of being summoned to Rosings—a fortunate circumstance, for Mr. Collins had informed him of Lady Catherine’s plan to refurbish her chimney-piece in October.

Not ones to repeat their folly, the Darcys insisted on a suitable enclosure when they commissioned their own less splendorous, more elegant fountain at Pemberley.

~The End~

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