In this humorous, topsy-turvy Pride & Prejudice variation, all the gender roles are reversed. It is Mr. Bennet’s greatest wish to see his five sons advantageously married. When the haughty Miss Elizabeth Darcy comes to Netherfield with the Widow Devonport (nee Bingley), speculation—and prejudice—runs rampant. William Bennet, a reluctant and irreverent future reverend, catches Miss Darcy’s eye, even though he is beneath her station. His opinion of her was fixed when she slighted him at the Meryton Assembly. As her ardour grows, so does his disdain; and when she fully expects to receive an offer of marriage, he gives her something else entirely …
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s walk from Longbourn to Netherfield occupies a paragraph: Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.
Love at First Slight’s counterpart scene with William Bennet gives a somewhat fuller account.
After the previous day’s rain, the ground was spongy but the morning sunny and warm. He set a brisk pace, slowing only to climb and jump down stiles and leap across puddles—easy activity for one with long, muscular legs. Stopped in his tracks when a splash sounded from behind, William turned and barely recognized one of his dogs, covered as it was with muck.
“Cordelia! Go home! ’Tis neither training session nor a pleasure jaunt.” He pointed in Longbourn’s direction. “Go!” The dog sat and stood her ground, so to speak. “Obstinate, headstrong girl!” Cordelia’s ears twitched and her tail wagged. “Go home!” He pointed, and Cordelia bounded off as commanded.
Surprised at so easily gaining the upper hand, William picked up the pace and sloshed along a muddy track. Perspiring and breathing hard from heat and exertion, it gradually dawned on him the panting was not his alone. He turned in time to be on the receiving end of a spray of dirty water as Cordelia shook vigorously. The dog’s master groaned and wiped spatter from his face with a handkerchief. He sighed and set off towards Netherfield with Cordelia trotting along at his heels. She occasionally left to snuffle at clumps of grass or to lap rainwater.
“Chapped, are you? ’Tis thirsty business, I agree. Those puddles may appeal to you, but I hanker for a mug of something more potable—or to strip down and plunge into a cool pond, were one to be had hereabouts. Well, every path has its puddle, so they say. I shall not be fit to be seen by anyone other than Charles. And you, you disgusting, flea-bitten cur, shall have to remain outside.”
Resigned to a down-at-the-heels arrival, William played fetch with Cordelia for the remaining mile-and-a-half footslog. Within view of the house, he wiped his brow with the soiled handkerchief and swiped at his filthy clothing. “I shall make a grand entrance in Netherfield’s vaunted vestibule, all sweaty and scruffy. What a pair we are. Why is it you freely frolic through puddles but turn tail from a tub? Ye gods, you stink! What foulness did you roll in this morning, you mud-bespattered mutt? Wait! Delia, come back here!” William emerged from behind a row of trees and nearly collided with another early walker.
“Miss Darcy!” He removed his hat and bowed. “Please forgive me, madam. I did not expect to meet anyone from the manor out and about at this hour. I hope you are well and not suffering from the start you were just given.”
“I am well, thank you.” She looked at him with expectancy as she swivelled her cross on its chain. “May I be of assistance?”
“No! You dirty dog!”
Eyes widened and face reddened, Elizabeth said, “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, God! No, no, not you, Miss Darcy. My apologies. ’Tis one of my gun dogs, you see, behind you there. Cordelia was going to shake, and she is disgustingly dirty from the mucky track we just trod along.” Worried his dog might yet befoul the lady’s clothing, William remained vigilant.
“Oh, she is adorable.” Elizabeth clapped hands. “Come here, girl.” Cordelia’s back end wagged, and she gathered herself to jump. William pictured muddy paw prints on white muslin and prepared to shout a warning. “Down,” Elizabeth commanded gently. Cordelia instantly dropped, as did William’s jaw. “Aw, are you not a good doggy? Yes, you are,” cooed Elizabeth. She crouched to the dog’s level and scratched behind her ears. Cordelia sat up and gloried in the attention. Her eyes nearly rolled back in her head, and a hind paw thumped against the ground in time to the woman’s ministrations. “Do you like your chest rubbed, hmm? Do you, do you? Of course you do, pretty girl.”
William rolled his eyes. “Ahem. Miss Darcy.” She ignored him. “Miss Darcy, please stop mollycoddling her. Delia is not used to such treatment. She is a gun dog, not a lap—” William watched in horror as his dog tried to climb onto Elizabeth’s lap.
“Sit,” said she. Cordelia obeyed.
William snorted. “As I was saying, Delia is a purebred sporting dog. Well, she is supposed to be a gun dog. She is, of all her littermates, the most dismal failure. Terribly, terribly disobedient and skittish.” He gave Cordelia a baleful look. “Miss Darcy, I have come, at the Bingleys’ behest, to lend a hand with some troubling estate matters and to check on my own brother’s health.”
Elizabeth wiped her muddy kid gloves on the grass and stood. “We expected your father or eldest brother to arrive on horseback. It was not necessary to walk such a distance. We would have sent a carriage, had we known.”
He endured her disdainful look. “My elders were not at home. I came in their stead. Horses were unavailable, so I set off on foot. Fields were wet in places but tolerable, and the morning was handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humour at present to give consequence to my appearance—other than regret if you feel, in any way, insulted by it. I mean no disrespect by arriving in such a state.”
Her face burned, but his steady gaze was met with her own. “I understand completely, sir, and am in no way offended. Your willingness to assist my friend and her brothers is sincerely appreciated. Concern for your own sibling is admirable. That you walked such a distance reveals generosity, dedication, and vitality. I find nothing offensive in your appearance here. Nothing at all.”
Her inspection began at his feet—encased in tall brown leather boots, covered six inches deep in mud—moved up to his snug buckskins, splattered with muck, to his tight green coat, speckled with heaven knew what, then further to his visage—complexion ruddy from exercise, eyes smouldering, a dirty smudge across one cheek—then finally resting on his hair, a tousled mass of dark curls. With a start, Elizabeth realized she had stared for what must have been an improper extent. Proper duration for ogling deacons was not a subject touched upon at the London seminary she had attended.
William’s scrutiny began at her hem and ended at her bosom under an open spencer. He jerked his eyes away before they had a chance to linger overlong. He wondered why her gown was not soiled after walking through dew-covered grass and mollycoddling a muddy mutt. Apparently, she repels not only everyone but everything, including dirt. Impatiently, he said, “Would you take me to see the Bingley brothers, please?”
J. Marie Croft lives in Nova Scotia and divides her time among working at a music lesson centre, geocaching (a high-tech treasure hunt) with her husband, and writing. Her stories are lighthearted; and her tag line is Jane Austen’s quote, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” A member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (Canada), she admits to being excessively attentive to the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Adult twin daughters are the light of her life even though they don’t appreciate Mr. Darcy the way ‘Momzie” does.
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