JA quotes and intro

"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 12, 2010

There's Just Something about a Good Backrub


(2007)
Emma, Lady Susan, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility
A few good backrubs result in accelerated and mostly canonical courtships for several JA characters.



A Backrub by Any Other Name
Or, I('ve) Got Your Back
Or, How a Few Good Backrubs Can Preclude the Necessity for Hundreds of Pages of Text

~*~


However inferior the quality of text describing said backrubs may be on first appearing on the story board, this truth (the efficacy of backrubs, if there is any question) is so well fixed in the mind of this author that though the resultant work be completely unworthy of its inspiration, it is considered more than worthy of the loss of a few nights' sleep required to produce it. In any case, those very same nights no doubt would have been spent by the author perusing the fan fiction of one or other of her readers, had not those particular hours been claimed for this particular purpose.

~*~


Charles Bingley walked into Lucas Lodge with a purpose. He greeted his hosts and immediately thereafter sought out Miss Jane Bennet. Coming up behind her, he placed a hand on her back and looked down into her face. "Miss Bennet?" Her eyes widened and shone with an emotion he could not identify, but it made him all tingly (is that even a word? he wondered, thinking that it ought to be if it were not, for it described his feelings perfectly), and he found it difficult to force the hand on her back to remain still. "Jane?" he said when she had not returned his greeting after thirty seconds.

"Yes!" Jane shouted (which meant that perhaps one other person who was not Mr. Bingley might have heard her) and threw her arms around him.

(No one noticed, of course, and those who thought they might have seen a hint of Miss Bennet's behaving in an undignified fashion like her hoyden-of-a-sister Lydia believed she must have had a perfectly good reason for touching Mr. Bingley in that brazen manner, such as having spotted a venomous spider on his back and having bravely attempted to brush it off. A perfectly acceptable reason. Jane was a good girl. Let us get back to her now.)

Charlotte had advised Jane earlier that evening to show more affection than she felt in order to secure Mr. Bingley, but she was fairly certain she could love Charles if she had not already begun to do so. She had not wanted him to think she was so easy! But she had felt so generous! And he had approached her and given her that look of his and made her shoulder blades feel all tingly! (Is that even a word? she wondered, thinking that it ought to be if it were not, for it described her feelings perfectly.) Placing her hands securely on his back, she closed her eyes to better appreciate the moment.

"What do we do now? It is not as if I can marry you this very minute."

His statement unfortunately reminded her of the present realities. "Let us sit down, Charles, and make ourselves comfortable. Even in this shortened version of events, I have a feeling that Lizzy and your friend will take forever to be reconciled to their fate. This could be a long night."

Charles - so complying! - complied at once, taking a seat next to his beloved and resting his hand on her back, soothing her with gentle strokes as they watched those events unfold.

~*~


Wentworth felt the gentle strokes against his back and convinced himself he must be dreaming. One minute he had been jumping up and down like a madman, rubbing his spine against a tree in a vain attempt to soothe a troublesome spot; the next, he had been somehow transported to paradise.

He had been lucky. At the exact moment of discomfort, Louisa had been distracted by a rabbit and had followed the poor creature. He had sighed in relief and taken the opportunity to attack this nuisance of an itch.

He had not anticipated being observed by anyone, least of all Anne. She had taken pity on him and motioned him to a convenient seat, apparently one she had been occupying just moments before. Now her precious hand was inside his shirt and his itch was gone, taking with it the vestiges of his resentment and leaving behind another sort of impulse altogether.

"Whatever happened to us, Anne?" He turned his head but did not meet her eye. "At this point in our lives, we were supposed to have had a house by the sea and at least three little Annes clamouring for our attention."

"Or little Fredericks." She never could resist him when he was in one of his wistful, whimsical moods.

"Anne!" He grabbed her free hand. "You love me still? Tell me you do!"

"Of course I do. I never stopped loving you." She started scratching again. "But you seem to be attached to Louisa now."

"Ouch! A little lighter, please. Do you wish to scar my back? And, no, I am not, nor could I possibly be, in love with Louisa Musgrove."

"But those nice ladies from Epilogue Abbey said... Do you know of whom I speak? One of them calls frequently at Kellynch in the summer."

"Of course I know them! Excellent people! We have been long acquainted. They are very kind, though I suspect they love to make mischief, for they once caused me to suffer while contending it was all my own doing. The ladies have not misled you; I must own there was a time when I was," he looked up to assure himself that Louisa was not yet returning, "uncertain of my fate, though eventually things turned out well. However, you may rest assured, my dear Anne, that in this story - too good, too excellent creature! - I shall love none but you."

"Prove it. Here comes Louisa now." She removed her hand from his shirt.

He caught that hand in his own. "Oh, Anne! Darling, how I suffered when I thought you no longer wanted me!" He pulled her into a passionate kiss.

"Frederick Wentworth!" Anne dazedly tried to break free from his embrace, but he held her fast. It had been merely a token protest, so no harm was done. Besides, his hands were on her back now.

"It shall be as if our engagement had never been broken. We can start where everything fell to pieces in the year six. Shall I go to your father immediately?"

Anne's jubilant reply was drowned out by a scream.

~*~


Louisa heard her own scream as if it were coming from someone else. She screamed twice more in quick succession and then ran towards Winthrop to find her brother and sister. Unfortunately, she tripped and fell all the way down the hill, twisting her ankle. At the same time, the skies opened up and rain poured down, hopelessly muddying her petticoat as she attempted to raise herself up from the ground.

Just then a stranger approached. "Who are you?" she asked, tottering in the gentleman's direction.

"Willoughby. John Willoughby. I saw you from the road and came immediately to your assistance. After tethering my horse, of course. Allow me." He took her up in his arms without further delay. "Where to?"

"Not Winthrop, that's for certain," she said, nodding towards the house. Thankfully, the rain shower had dwindled to a light drizzle. Within seconds it ceased altogether.

"I shall think of something. By the way, who are those two people shamelessly kissing up on the hill? The trees do not provide as much privacy as they might think."

"Oh! Do not speak of them to me! I hope they are both soaked to the skin and catch horrid colds!" It would be fitting if the trees had offered them no more protection from the elements than from prying eyes.

"Disappointed in love, eh? I know how you feel."

"How can you?" Had he seen her spying on Anne and the captain? Had he heard her scream at them?

"I rode out today as far as I could, just to get her out of my mind. She injured her ankle, like you, running in the rain. Silly impulse you women have; it never leads to any good. Why not simply wait for the weather to improve?"

"It was not raining when I fell." However, it had been pouring by the time she had stopped falling, she recalled. Actually, she remembered feeling something wet on her face sometime during the fifth or sixth tumble. "Well, I suppose it was, but the ground was still dry when I first stumbled."

"Oh, then you must be clumsier than Mar...I shall not say her name. She deserves no such attention."

"I am not clumsy as a rule." Louisa tried not to take too much offence at the remark; after all, he was carrying her and saving her from the exertions of a most painful walk. "I was overwrought." Captain Wentworth certainly had not come to her rescue, being too busy studying Anne's lips to help her in her time of need. "What happened? Did your lady have a previous eight-year-old attachment that she had not bothered to reveal to you?"

"Nothing like that. That I could have borne. Instead, I called on her, bouquet of wildflowers in hand, only to see another man already sitting by her on the sofa. She reclined against him as if he were one of the cushions! He neither stood nor extended his right hand, which was busily moving up and down the lady's back! She had the gall to tell me it was not personal, that she simply had an itch and the colonel had been there just in time to scratch it."

"You poor man!" Handsome man, too, she thought. "What will you do now?"

"I do not know. I have the next fortnight free, since my latest flirtation has been nipped in the bud." They had almost reached the place where his horse was tethered. "Do you ride?"

"Of course! But how shall I mount?"

"Both of your ankles are not twisted. Use the good foot."

"Oh" Louisa felt like an idiot.

He laughed at her downcast expression. "No need to be so glum! I will assist you. Do you think I am such a cad that I would enjoy watching you struggle?" After he lowered her to the ground, his hands steadied her at the waist. Then he briefly, gently pressed her lower back to propel her closer to the horse.

"Would you mind doing that again?"

"Doing what?"

"Putting your hand where it was before. Ahhhh. Yes, there." She wiggled until he began to move his palm in a circular motion at the small of her back. Her only regret was that she could not fully enjoy his ministrations and gaze upon his manly beauty at the same time.

"Will you not try to mount?"

"I believe I hurt my back when I fell," she said, leaning into his touch and deliberately ignoring his question. She did not recall hurting her back, but it was not an unnatural surmise.

"Fortunately, the rain stopped as rapidly as it began, else we would be wet through by now."

Louisa sighed. "I could stay here forever like this."

Willoughby held her closer. "You are leaning a great deal. We really should get you off that foot."

"Oh, yes," she thought, wondering how this would feel on a sofa.

~*~


"Marianne, get up from the sofa! Edward is come!"

"Miss Margaret, you should not speak to your elder sister that way." The colonel reluctantly curtailed his actions and allowed Marianne to rise.

Edward Ferrars burst into the room. "Happy day! Such a happy day for all my romantic feelings! Congratulate me. I have got rid of my most undeserving betrothed."

Elinor shrieked and ran from the room. The door remained ajar, and the others assumed she was just beyond it, listening for further intelligence on the matter. The corner of fabric poking out from under the door confirmed it.

Marianne shrank back in horror. "You are engaged? For shame, Edward!"

"My shame is now past. That is why I have come."

"Your shame may be over, and I certainly hope your engagement is over, but my questions are not. Who is the woman that would steele..."

Edward blanched.

"Somehow, that did not feel right."

"I cannot but agree," said Edward, nervously tugging at his cravat.

"As I was saying, who is the woman that would steal you from our dear Elinor?"

"Marianne!" someone hissed from just beyond the room. The fabric under the door moved an inch.

"Since you already consider her a thief, you will not be surprised to hear that her name is Lucy Steele." They both cringed. "For her latest exploit, she has stolen the bachelorhood of my feckless brother. Robert will have to suffer that lady's charms for the rest of his days. Rather he than I! Mother has disowned him entirely and irrevocably settled the Norfolk estate on me, just to be certain he cannot claim a farthing of it in future. I came here straight from a meeting with our lawyer." Edward looked greatly relieved after this confession. "Elinor, will you not come out now? This is ridiculous."

"No."

"Come, my darling. I am tired of talking to the hem of your dress. I have a sudden urge to rub your back."

"Do let him, Elinor!" Marianne urged. "The feeling is divine!"

"If you insist," said the faceless voice. "I suppose it can do no harm."

"No harm at all," asserted Mrs. Dashwood. "Your dear father was so good at giving backrubs. I am certain Edward will do just as well for you, Elinor. Two daughters married! What will become of me? I shall go distracted."

"I heard a rumour," Elinor whispered, "that Mrs. Bennet went distracted because she had three daughters married."

"Who is Mrs. Bennet?" asked Edward.

"Marriage?" asked the colonel. "Yes, well, I suppose. Ha! Why not?" He smiled at Marianne.

"Mama," said Margaret, unhappy to be ignored any longer, "now that your eldest daughters will be leaving you so soon, you must be pleased that your youngest is still single."

"Of course you are single, child. You are thirteen! What else can you be? You have no choice but to remain at home."

~*~


When Sir Thomas arrived home from Antigua, Edmund was eagerly rubbing Miss Crawford's back. Mr. Crawford was enthusiastically rubbing both Maria's and Julia's backs and furtively extending a stocking-clad foot towards Fanny's back while reading from a volume of Shakespeare. Mr. Rushworth kept reaching for Maria's back but ended up repeatedly knocking his stubby fingers against Mrs. Norris's elbow instead. Fanny sat very close to Edmund on his other side, skilfully dodging Mr. Crawford's foot and imagining what it might be like for her besotted cousin to realise he had been born with more than one hand.

Tom lay flat on his back, thinking of Miss Augusta Sneyd and her light and pleasing figure, especially as viewed from the rear, particularly that delightful and perfectly symmetrical expanse that began at the nape of her neck and ended at her waist. Meanwhile, his friend Yates ranted that Mr. Crawford was a greedy rascal who ought to share Julia's back-rubbing privileges with him.

Sir Thomas gazed upon the scene with complacency, if not pleasure. He would have rubbed Lady Bertram's back straightaway, but Pug nipped at his fingers.

~*~


Fingers entwined, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy stood and smiled at one another like fools. (Well, Fitzwilliam almost smiled like a fool.) They had decided to discuss their new understanding face to face.

Jane had been correct in her prediction. Her stubborn sister had refused to be civil to Mr. Darcy, especially after she had seen him frown at the news of his friend's engagement. After listening for more than an hour to a spirited, albeit witty, argument (too much like a dispute for Bingley's taste), Jane and Bingley eventually sat the couple down back to back on an ottoman and watched their expressions change as their proximity grew.

"Finally..." began Bingley.

"Some progress," Jane finished with a sigh.

Elizabeth thought Mr. Darcy looked very handsome in his almost-smile. "I never imagined I would fall in love with a man whose standard facial expression terrifies small children."

"I never imagined I would be happy to call Mrs. Philips my aunt."

Their smiles faded. (Fitzwilliam's face looked imperceptibly different, though still quite handsome.)

"Let's try that backrub thing again," they said simultaneously.

~*~


"Again. Please, Reginald?" Lady Susan shamelessly begged him to rub her back once more.

Mr. De Courcy had not done it on purpose the first time, having been set before his arrival at Churchill against the notion of performing backrubs (though, curiously enough, pleased to witness and detect them being performed by others), and he stepped away from the vixen with disgust. Thoroughly vexed, he cried out, "Get Sir James to rub your back, if you are so desperate!" and ran off, only to collide with her daughter, the hapless Frederica.

"How can you abide that mother of yours?" He put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Mrs. Catherine Vernon stood by with what would later become known as a Cheshire-cat smile, mentally composing her next letter to her own mother.

~*~


"What would your mother say if she knew what you were doing right now?"

Catherine laughed at Henry's question, never ceasing the deliberate, forceful movement of her hands against his back. Right now, she was standing over him as he sat by Eleanor in Northanger Abbey's massive dining room. "Mother would tell me I ought to sit down so as not to injure my own back. Then she would say she expects we will want to be married very soon."

Henry was not of a mind to object to such expectations. "What powerful arms you have, my dear. How did you develop such strong muscles? You do not play harp or pianoforte, and you barely draw."

"Cricket. Baseball. Riding on horseback. Running about the country."

Henry heard a crick-crack sound as Catherine worked out a cramp in his upper back. "Oh, love of my life!" he crooned in appreciation. "Run off to Gretna Green with me this instant!" He smiled as Eleanor admonished him not to be silly. "Fine, no Gretna Green. But Catherine, love, seriously, will a wedding next week be soon enough for your mother? I care not what the general may say."

~*~


"Whatever you may say," Emma insisted, renewing her futile attempts to appear perfectly comfortable, "I have no thoughts of backrubs at present."

"Nonsense." George Knightley turned to ensure that Mr. Woodhouse could not see him rub his daughter's back. "There is one thing, Emma, which a man can always do, if he chooses, and that is his duty."

"By manoeuvring and finessing?" She shifted, trying to locate the exact place that was bothering her and position it under his fingers.

"By vigour and resolution." He found the right spot and grinned as she covered her moan with a cough.

"Mr. Knightley, I think you must be right." Her father's nervous enquiry regarding her health went unanswered, for Emma's thoughts had wandered to images of N. and M. in wedding finery.

~*~


Anne and Frederick wandered up the road, where they happened upon Admiral and Mrs. Croft. The former, whose hands were on his wife's back rather than the reins, nearly ran the gig into a post; the latter was too caught up in her husband's attentions to notice. Frederick called out in time and prevented certain disaster, for which service the grateful couple offered him and Anne a cosy ride to Kellynch.

Mary, feeling anything but cosy in her current spot, sat up straight and stretched her back. She had grown weary of waiting for Charles and Henrietta. In hiding the house from her view, she apparently had hidden herself away from every possible source of amusement, for she had witnessed nothing more spectacular than a few screams (undoubtedly the sounds of those unruly Hayter children at play), a raindrop or two, and a rabbit. Seeing no sign of Louisa, Anne or Captain Wentworth, and having a sneaking suspicion that she was being denied some treat that the others surely were enjoying at that very moment, she swallowed the Elliot pride whole, stood to her feet, and prepared to enter Winthrop for the third time in her entire life.

Willoughby watched the lady in the distance walk the entire way from hilltop to Winthrop House without the slightest urge to be of assistance to her. (It was no longer raining, after all.) He and his delightful companion sat under a tree. He had no desire to move; he told himself it was all for his horse, which was probably happy not to have anyone on its back for once.

"I suppose you have hardly any fortune, just like her," Willoughby said to his companion.

Louisa pouted. "Why are we talking about her, whoever she is?"

"Excuse my indelicacy, but how much are you worth?"

"What?"

"I have a lifestyle to maintain, and my old cousin, whose estate I shall inherit, may well last another twenty years despite her infirmities. On the other hand, I could resolve to live within my means, but why should I?"

"I shall have five thousand pounds upon my marriage." She did not truly know for certain - her parents had been evasive regarding such matters ever since that singular day she had come home with her arms full of packages from an unplanned trip to the milliner's shop - but she thought it sounded like a good, round number, if a tad too grand for a Miss Musgrove of Uppercross. After all, Mary had had less than that, above three thousand pounds but not quite four, and she was an Elliot. "Or is it only one thousand?" she wondered. No; surely Miss Louisa Musgrove of Uppercross was at least half as good as an Elliot. "Let us say two, just to be safe."

"Two thousand!" He raised an eyebrow. "I admit it is a little more than I expected. Still, there is this woman in town - not half as handsome as you, mind, but she is ever so much richer and not at all clumsy. And, she is mad in love with me to boot."

"Then go to her! Have you been enamoured of this rich shrew for the last eight years? If so, the object of your previous flirtation has had a lucky escape."

"Rich shrew? You speak as if you know her. No, I don't care three straws about Sophia. Her pretty fortune, however, has caught my fancy very much."

"So she is Sophia to you? Do you like her enough to abandon me in the middle of the best backrub, the only backrub, I have ever had? Foul fiend! Doubly foul, for I am too badly injured to give chase!"

"You would come after me if I left? That is more than Eliza did. I suppose I should not have mentioned her name either, but what's done is done."

"Eliza, Sophia, this 'Mar' person - Mary, perhaps? Who else is there?"

He blinked, and his hand stilled on her back. "The list would bore you."

"If we were to live on the interest of my fortune," she reached behind her to get his hand moving again, "you would not have a shilling to spare for your flirtations. You had better hope the next woman you meet likes wildflower bouquets."

"If I marry, that will effectively put an end to all my flirtations but one."

Louisa said nothing to this, unsure if she believed him considering what she had learnt of his romantic history, but she snuggled closer until she was practically on his lap.

"I am beginning to discover," said Willoughby after some minutes, "what Colonel Brandon found so compelling about his unconventional position in Mrs. Dashwood's parlour. Will you allow me to rub your back very often if we marry?"

"How could you doubt it?" She turned to face him and slipped her arms around him, energetically moving her hands over his coat in an effort to repay some of his kindness to her.

"And will you promise to rub my back as well? It feels rather good to be on the receiving end."

"Hmm. I think I can safely promise that, Willoughby John Willoughby."

"Then consider us engaged. By the way, my dear, what is your name?"

~The End~

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