Monday, August 27, 2007

The Infamous Netherfield Ball

This post is a modified version from Chapter Two of my 52 page story called "The Coda." Most of the "Coda" is not fit for being published here because it is too personal as wonderful as it is. Yes, even more personal than the rants I write here. Mr. Gryphon figures prominently in "The Coda" as a companion, protector and voice of reason.

“Miss Turtle, what is going on here?”

I am wearing all white. My long hair is piled up high on my head and my sister, Jane, has painstakingly taken the time to put pearls and ribbons in it for decoration. All of the women are wearing white since it’s fashionable at that time.

Mr. Gryphon is still his usual self. “No one can see you except me,” I say quietly. I’m having difficulty walking in my shoes.

“Sorry, Lizzy, did you say something?” A beautiful blond young woman walking ahead turns to me. She looks like the personification of Spring. Someone that Botticelli would have painted.

“No, I was just excusing myself. Someone stepped on my hem.”

She smiles at me. “There is a crush of people here, Lizzy, isn’t there?” I smile back at her and nod. We are waiting in the receiving line. Mr. Gryphon is staring at me oddly. He is taking up plenty of space, but no one seems to notice. I smile weakly at him. We’re going to have to wait before I can tell him what’s going on. He nods in the direction of a group of handsomely uniformed soldiers. I nod back and he makes his way through the crowd. He is much taller than everyone else there.

“Did you find him, Lizzy?” says a sweet voice close to my ear.

“Find who?” I say to Jane. I can smell roses when she leans towards me.

“Mr. Wickham,” she looks expectant, her blue eyes are bright.

“No, I haven’t found him yet,” I make a show of looking at all the soldiers swarming around, but I know he’s not there. I look ahead and see our hosts, Mr. Bingley and his sister Miss Bingley.

“Mr. Bingley looks quite handsome tonight, Jane,” I give her a little pinch.

“Oh!” she looks at him. His bright smile and agreeable manner are radiating down the line of people. Jane turns to me, giggling. She is blushing. “He does look so handsome tonight. Do you think he’ll ask me to dance?”

“Jane, he’s already spotted you and now he can’t take his eyes off you,” I nod toward him and sure enough he is staring at my sister like there’s no one else in the room.

We make it through the receiving line. After going through the required steps of finding my best friend Charlotte, dancing with Mr. Collins and then avoiding him, looking for Mr. Wickham and confirming that he’s not here, I manage to sneak off to find Mr. Gryphon.

He is sitting on a large chair holding a champagne flute. A white rose is just visible at his left shoulder. No one seems to notice the chair is empty. His manner is formal and refined. Put him in the proper attire and he would blend in as any wealthy gentlemen in the room even if he is half eagle/half lion and over seven feet tall.

“I have ascertained that we are in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and that this is the Netherfield Ball, and that you are Elizabeth Bennett, Miss Turtle. You look very beautiful, by the way.”

“Thank you,” I say, taken aback, “Elizabeth Bennett is a very beautiful woman.”

“Yes, and so are you, and a good deal more exotic besides. Now, what are we doing here?”

At that moment the reason for our being there is walking in our direction. Mr. Darcy hasn’t seen me yet. He is nodding at people as necessary and looking around the room as he strolls. He sees me and pauses in his steps for a moment. He stares openly at me without moving until he is jostled by a soldier following another young woman. He walks past me. I smile a small smile and watch him as he moves out of the room. Before he crosses the threshold to the ballroom, he glances back at me, then he is lost to my sight because of the crowd of people.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” I ask. Mr. Gryphon laughs, but mercifully doesn’t say anything. I turn to him. “Mr. Gryphon, why can’t I find a man like Mr. Darcy? I mean, I don’t mind if a man is a little shy and aloof as long as he has a good heart.”

“Lots of men are good hearted, and have the added bonus of being real human beings.”

“Yes, of course there are those few men somewhere, so why can't I find them? And another thing, why do many men hide their feelings if they have any feelings for me at all?” I’m still scanning the crowd for the tall, dark figure of Mr. Darcy.

“Mr. Darcy hides his feelings for Lizzy and even makes a disparaging remark about how she could never tempt him,” says Mr. Gryphon.

“Yes, but it’s different. Did you see how Mr. Darcy stared at me? He’s crazy about me,” I look around to see if Charlotte or Jane are looking for me.

“Lots of men have looked at you like that, Miss Turtle.” I wince and let the remark hang in the air without replying.

"Yes, you are right, Mr. Gryphon. Perhaps my time for finding someone who is crazy about me is over; I've had a decent run, I suppose. I can't complain.”

“That's a silly thing to say, Miss Turtle. You can swoon over Mr. Darcy all you want, but a man fixed as a picture on the screen is no match for a real human being.”

“Tell me about it," I say. I'm giving up on the conversation now. Mr. Gryphon and I have been down this road many times.

“You give up far to easy, Miss Turtle, because you think everything should be handed to you on a silver platter.”

“Are you trying to ruin this section of the story for me, Mr. Gryphon?” I face him squarely, my hands on my hips. He shifts elegantly in brocade white satin chair and takes a sip from his glass.

“I am merely stating the facts, Miss Turtle. You can’t expect me to watch you discount those things.”

“I guess I can’t.”

“Lizzy! What are you doing all alone in this corner? Are you all right?”

I turn towards Charlotte. “Oh Charlotte, I’m so disappointed about Mr. Wickham,” I say right on cue. Mr. Gryphon smiles grimly at me.

“I know you are, but you can’t stay here in the corner all by yourself. Come, let's find something to drink,” she takes my arm and I feel her lace covered hand take mine. I glance back at Mr. Gryphon as we leave the room. He is waving primly at me.

We make our way through the crowd holding our glasses and giggling at something Mr. Collins said when Mr. Darcy’s solemn, tall figure suddenly appears in front of us.

“Miss Bennett, may I have the pleasure of the next dance?”

I stare at him not in shock, but in awe at his beauty.

“You may,” I manage to stumble out. He nods his head in a slight bow and then I drag Charlotte out the nearest doorway to the garden.

“Uh,” I can’t remember what I’m supposed to say next, then it comes to me “Charlotte, did I just agree to dance with Mr. Darcy?”

“Yes, you did, Lizzy, and I daresay you’ll find him most agreeable.”

“I hope so because because something about Derbyshire,” I stumble out. Charlotte laughs on cue and we giggle together.

The dance is about to begin. I am looking appropriately solemn, but it’s really just me being unable to breathe. Mr. Darcy stares deeply at me and the music starts. I relax and let myself fall into the appropriate dance steps. He takes my hands. They are warm and strong.

“I love this dance,” I say.

“Indeed, most invigorating,” says Mr. Darcy. I see Mr. Collins watching us on the other side of the room. Mr. Gryphon is standing directly behind him, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. Mr. Collins is quite a bit shorter than average height and is completely dwarfed by him. Mr. Gryphon glares at Mr. Collins and then sticks his finger in his mouth with a gagging motion. I crack a smile.

“Now, it’s your turn, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, now you should remark on the size of the room or the number of couples,” I say as we turn and hold hands, releasing and stepping around each other in time with the music.

He looks a little startled. “I’m happy to oblige. Please tell me what you would most like to hear.”

“That reply will do for the present,” I say as we move back and forth with the other couples. I look up to see Jane and Mr. Bingley who is looking at her like she is the only woman in existence.

“Now we may remain silent,” I say with what I think is with a touch of elegance and dignity.

“Do you always talk so much while dancing?” asks Mr. Darcy.

I turn around him, smiling. “No, I prefer to be unsociable and taciturn.”

Mr. Darcy stares at me and bites his lip on the next turn. I can feel myself melting with each touch of his hands and I want more than anything to grab him around the neck and shove my tongue down this throat.

“Tell me, do you often walk to Meryton?” he asks.

“We do often walk to Meryton,” I say drawing myself up to be pro-Wickham, “It’s a wonderful way to make new friends. In fact, we’d had the pleasure of making a new acquaintance when we saw you.”

“Mr. Wickham has such happy manners. It makes it easy for him to make new friends. Whether he’s capable of keeping them is less certain,” says Mr. Darcy.

We are supposed to take each other’s hands as we cross each other during the dance. I stop instead and we are face to face as the other couples move and turn around us.

“He’s been most unfortunate to lose your friendship,” I say and then as I stare into his eyes, I forget the next line. I tilt my head towards him and we are transfixed with each other. Unable to stop myself, I finally throw my arms around him and plant one on him. There’s huge collective gasp and the music stops. He doesn’t have time to react to the kiss before I am suddenly jerked back. As I stumble away from him, I can see that his arms are up as if he were just about to enfold me in them. His eyes are deep liquid.

“Come on, Miss Turtle, time to go home,” says Mr. Gryphon snapping me out of the moment.

“What are you doing!” I yelp trying to free myself from his iron grip. Everyone is staring at us and I can see from their faces that they are shocked to their toes. He quickly drags me out of there and then puts me in the nearest carriage. He climbs in after me after tapping the driver. Apparently, the driver can see him or sees someone because the carriage begins to move.

“What I’m doing, Miss Turtle, is saving Lizzy Bennett’s virtue. You have no right to compromise her like that. If you do, she won’t be able to marry Mr. Darcy.”

“I WAS KISSING HIM!” It is all I can say. The carriage rocks back and forth along the gravel road. I sit and pout, arms folded, not looking at him. Mr. Gryphon leans back on the cushions, apparently relaxed. Some time passes and I feel chagrined.

“You’re right. I shouldn’t have done it,” I say. He does not reply, his great yellow eyes glowing at me in the carriage dark. “Did you know, Mr. Gryphon, that in the U.K. Mr. Darcy was voted the man women would most like to go on a date with beating out James Bond and Superman?”

“That’s not surprising, Miss Turtle. There is something compelling about him, no question, but you need to remember a real man, not a fictional character who does everything you want him to do is far more compelling.”

I sigh. “Point taken, Mr. Gryphon.” I am back in my usual clothes. The carriage stops and Mr. Gryphon steps out and pays the driver. He helps me out of the carriage like a true gentleman. We step out onto a odd, friendly landscape. The carriage continues down the gravel path and disappears.

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