A Night to Forget
Charles Bingley was a sociable fellow. He dearly loved a ball. So, just because young Lydia Bennet asked him to, he threw one. It was not that Miss Lydia meant anything to him – he was clearly besotted by her angelic eldest sister Jane. Nope. He just liked to dance.
Bingley invited everyone in the neighbourhood of any note to his ball. This meant all the families of gentle birth, all the officers of the militia, and even the leading townspeople of Meryton, including the Phillipses, who brought with them their foremost clerk, Mr Fiddlestitch, as they were without offspring of their own and very ready to promote the deserving young man into polite society.
At Netherfield, Bingley was already entertaining quite a large party of guests. Not only were there his two sisters, Caroline and Louisa, and Louisa’s fashionable husband, Mr Hurst, but his best friend Darcy had come with his sister, Georgiana, and his two cousins, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Anne de Bourgh. It was still quite a secret, but the colonel and Miss Anne had hopes to marry, despite the fact that Anne’s mother clung to the belief that no one but Darcy would do for her darling child.
As they were awaiting the first guests, Caroline Bingley continued to badger her brother about his imprudence at inviting such wide spectrum of society to his home.
“Riff raff like the Bennets and worse!” she mocked, as she eyed Darcy knowingly. “You would have quite a different guest list would you not?”
“Indeed,” replied Darcy. “It would be too far a distance for any of these people to travel to Pemberley, unless of course they were already my houseguests.”
His cousin, the colonel, smirked.
Bingley was frantically talking to himself and paid his sister no mind. “Sir William, Miss Maria Lucas, Mrs Long, Colonel . . . oh! It’s no good. I shall never remember all their names!”
“Excuse me, Mr Bingley.” whispered Georgiana, blushing as she did so. “I have trouble remembering names too. Miss Annesley has devised a method whereby all my guests write their names on little sticky notes and affix them to their bodices, and then all I need do is read. It makes introductions so much easier.”
“What a splendid idea,” cried Bingley. “And the gentlemen could attach the notes to their breast pockets. Excellent. I shall have Lister procure some for me immediately.”
“And do not forget a number of inkpots and well-mended pens,” said Anne helpfully.
Caroline lifted her chin and curled her lip. “How insufferably gauche! Nametags! I certainly shall not have the silk of my gown ruined with some revolting glue.”
“Suit yourself,” said Bingley.
As it turned out, Caroline was the only person at the ball without a nametag. Everyone else had entered into the spirit of the venture with gusto. In fact
Kitty was doing much the same, though she had not been brave enough to write ‘Miss Catherine the Catch’ upon her nametag.
Mary looked about the ballroom and sighed in relief. Her aunt and uncle had brought their clerk as she had hoped. The very sight of Mr Fiddlestitch caused her heartstrings to twang, like a concerto playing in her chest. Fordyce had never prepared her for feelings such as this.
Jane, of course, had eyes for no one but Bingley, and he was just as moonstruck as she. When Lizzy had told her that she was going to go across the room to greet Charlotte, Jane didn’t so much as bat an eyelash.
“Who is the gentleman in your party?” asked
“That’s no gentleman, that’s my cousin,” answered Lizzy. “And I have to dance the first two with him!” She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
“With whom would you rather dance?” asked
Lizzy blushed and shook her head.
“One of the other officers?”
Lizzy bit her lip and her blush deepened. “Not an officer at all,” she whispered shamefacedly, and she gazed across the floor.
Lizzy shuffled her feet and bit her lip again. “One ought never say never,” she said. “It is a sure way to bring about what one least desires. Oh
“You must think me very shallow.”
“I think you all too human, and I am much relieved, Lizzy my dear.”
“But even all the terrible things Wickham disclosed to me about how Mr Darcy ruined his prospects have not shaken the attraction. I am utterly mortified with myself.”
Across the room, Mr Darcy was in as deep a struggle for equanimity as Lizzy. He wanted nothing more than to cross the room and ask her to dance and yet he knew it would be wrong to single her out so and raise hopes that he could not fulfill, no matter how much he wished to. Marriage to a lady of her connections was unthinkable. And yet he could think of nothing else.
Georgiana swept her eyes over the officers and then lowered them. Her heart raced and colour spread across her cheeks. He was here and still as handsome as ever. Though her brother had separated them, she had never stopped loving Wickham, and through their secret correspondence, which they kept up with Mrs Annesley’s aid, she knew he still loved her too.
The music struck up and the dance was underway. Amid the laughter and light, the swish of gowns and the stomping of feet, the colour and the pageantry, any sounds from outdoors were indiscernible. For this reason no one heard the battalion of French soldiers* that slipped out of the shadows of the night and set up a line of canons upon the sweep.
“All ze officers are attending zis ball,” cried the general with a wicked grin. “We shall subdue zem wiz a single barrage of canon fire!” He looked down the line of soldiers, torches at the ready, and then lowered his sword with one swift motion. Fuses lit, the canons blasted in unison.
The ensuing blast collapsed the ceiling of the ballroom, sending gilt angels and chandelier crystal showering down upon all of Bingley’s guests. As the clouds of plaster dust thinned people began extricating themselves and their neighbours from the wreckage.
Bingley looked about himself. He had no clue where or who he was, or who any of the other people around him were, for that matter. And neither did Darcy, nor Georgiana, nor Anne, nor Colonel Fitzwilliam. In fact, nobody in the entire room had the least recollection of anything at all. This was probably the first case of mass amnesia in the history of
Blurb: When the French fire upon Netherfield Hall on the night of the Netherfield Ball, the resultant outbreak of amnesia turns everything topsy-turvey.
*For the purposes of this story we have taken liberties with history - to our knowledge the French did not actually invade
Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be) for those who were married, the name tags alerted them to their mates (or possible siblings, it was truly too difficult to know). Mr. Bennet, whose tag said Mr. Bennet, was reunited with his wife (whose tag said Mrs. Bennet), who insisted he was the most clever man in the world for reading her tag for her. Mrs. Hurst took one look at Mr. Hurst and ran. The Lucases not only found each other through their tags, but accidentally discovered they had a relative named Maria when she bumped into them in her confusion. At least they thought she was a relative of theirs. She had the same last name.
Trapped together under a singularly hideous Greek statue were the host of the party and the very young lady who had been allowed to name the date for the occasion. Not that either of them knew it. Mr. Bingley only saw an uncommonly pretty girl with glossy dark curls and bright blue eyes who had gotten her legs crushed under the marble, same as he.
“Are you all right, Miss… er,
But what is a last name? he asked himself.
“Can you move your legs?”
“No, I cannot. Can you?”
“No. I fear I am paralyzed from the waist down, Miss Lovely.”
The lady giggled. “I am, as well!” Not knowing any better, she decided to make the best of it by looking as desirable as possible from the waist up. After all, this was a man. At least she was sure the name Charles Bingley indicated his gender. She did not know any ladies named Charles. At the moment, she was hard-pressed to name anyone at all, except Charles. “I wonder if we will know anyone else when we are rescued.”
“Anyone here with the last name of Lovely?”
“Anyone have the name of Bingley?” he hollered. There was no reply. Caroline might have answered, except that she had pooh-poohed the idea of a name tag earlier. Louisa, of course, was still running from Mr. Hurst. It was rumored later that she was captured by the French, renamed Louise and became a famous camp follower. But that was just a rumor.
“I am an orphan too!” Mr. Bingley cried with delight. “We can be orphans together!”
While the two future paraplegics became acquainted, Colonel Fitzwilliam found himself under a table with a young lady whose nametag proclaimed her as Mary Bennet.
“Who is feeling up my leg?” she demanded sharply. “Someone has their hand on my leg! It had better not be you, sir!” she said to the colonel. “I will hit you with this book in my hand!” She glanced down at the title, scrunched up her nose and threw the book across the room, where it hit someone on the head. “Sorry!” she called to whomever it was. She only knew the names of herself and the man in the red coat under the table with her. The one with the hand on her leg. The more she thought about that, the more she rather liked the idea.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam. Hello, Colonel,” she said, mistaking it for his first name. “I am…” She pulled out the bodice of her gown, the better to read her own tag. “Mary Bennet.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mary Bennet.” With no memory, all the niceities went out the window, because he did not realize that good manners would insist that he add Miss to the first part of her name, and that he remove his hand from her leg. As there was no one to make them the wiser, the hand stayed and he never called her anything but Mary Bennet. “And I am…” He laughed. “You already read my name! I am Colonel Fitzwilliam! What a nice name, Colonel.” He thought it was his first name, as well.
“So, Colonel. What do we do now? Where are we? I do not recognize this room, but it is uncommonly large and there are quite a few people in it… Look at those two over there! They are quite crushed by that large statue. I do believe their feet are sticking out the other side!”
“How do you know those are feet?” Colonel wondered. “And what is a statue?”
“I… I am not quite sure,” Mary Bennet said in wonder. How did she know these words when it was only by dint of a nametag that she knew her own name. Unless someone had given her a wrong tag… She looked at Colonel in alarm.
“What if Mary Bennet is not my name?”
“Why should it not be, if that is the name on your chest?” Actually, Colonel had read her tag several times over by now, and not because he was memorizing her name.
“All right, but if you are wrong, I am going to throw my… Oh, dear, I already did that. Sorry!” she called out once more to the person she had hit earlier. “I need another book. Shall we go find one together?”
“All right,” he docilely agreed. “But where does one find a… you called it a book?” He was all admiration, because he could hardly remember that his own name was Colonel. He was still too busy reading Mary Bennet’s chest, er, tag.
“I do not know. But if we wander about, maybe we could find more of them. And I shall retrieve my other one.” But the book she picked up (after apologizing once more to the person whose head it hit) was not the one she had thrown. She had instead a book by someone named Mary Wollstonecraft. It was called “Thoughts on the Education of Girls.”
“This looks promising,” Mary Bennet said, glancing at a few pages before tucking the book under one arm and her hand under Colonel’s arm. They left the big room with all the confused people and wandered the house until they came to another large area, this one filled with lots of books.
“We found it!” she cried and invited him to look for something to read while she involved herself in how young ladies should comport themselves, courtesy of Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Bennet felt this was an omen, them having the same first name.
Colonel, not to be outdone on the subjects written by Mary Wollstoncraft, found another of her works, “A Vindication on the Rights of Men.” He was a man, right? At least Mary Bennet had told him so, and he had no cause to doubt her. So he should read a book about men.
“It says here we should have a more equal society,” he read.
“Sounds fair to me. She also says that made-up manners hide one’s sincerity and fancy clothes should not take the place of natural manners.” Mary Bennet looked down at her own plain gown and smiled with satisfaction. She was doing everything exactly as it was proscribed in the book.
“Equal rights!” Colonel said with a grin.
“Manners without artifice!” she agreed with a smile. They were well on their way to an egalitarian society.
Georgiana pushed aside the fronds of a potted palm that were tickling her forehead. The pot itself was on the chest of a young man with a rather pale complexion. It took Georgiana quite a while to realise that he looked so pale because of the coating of plaster that was on his face. It took her even longer to realise that her name was Georgiana. The young man’s lips had been moving, and she had to lean very close to him to hear the words come out from his mouth.
“Miss Georgiana Darcy,” he wheezed.
She wondered what the gentleman meant by such an oblique statement, and then he pointed at her chest. At first she thought him rather impolite, until she realised there was a piece of paper affixed to her bodice. Upon it were written the very words he had uttered. How strange! He then pointed to his own chest. She thought he expected her to roll the heavy pot off from him, but then she noticed, under all the dust, a similar paper on his red coat. Before reading the paper she took the time to wipe off his coat. Such lovely red material. He smiled softly and she felt rather faint inside. She was sure it had nothing to do with the empty feeling in her head, but rather the empty feeling in her heart. This impelled her to keep dusting until she had cleared off his face as well. She was pleased with what she saw, especially as he smiled all the more when her hand touched his cheek. It felt warm to the touch – soft on the downward strokes, but a little rough on the upward ones. Georgiana decided that she liked the sensation, and as the gentleman showed no signs of complaining, she continued to stroke his cheek long after the dust had been cleared.
“Are you an angel?” he whispered, his voice no longer raspy.
She cocked her head to the side in contemplation of the question. She really had no idea.
“You fell upon me from heaven,” he said, his voice ever stronger.
“I did?” she asked, finally finding her own voice.
“Yes,” he sighed.
“And you?” she asked. “What are you in your lovely red coat?”
“Your most devoted slave,” he answered.
“You are my only slave,” she responded, not at all sure what a slave might be, but knowing that she only ever wanted one in her life, and it was he. She decided that she had best read the piece of paper on his chest. It might be the missing clue to the puzzle. “Lieutenant Saunderson.” It meant nothing to her, but he seemed to enjoy her saying it, so she said it again, and again, as she continued to stroke his cheek.
“I could lay here like this forever,” he said, his voice soft and warm.
And he probably would have lain there forever because neither of them thought to remove from his chest the heavy pot that was pinning him to the floor.
A short way from them, another young lady was sitting and coughing, surrounded by crystals from one of the fallen chandeliers.
“Are you well?” asked a voice from above.
“That is ridiculous question,” she replied testily. “As you can see I am suffering greatly.”
A face suddenly appeared before hers. It was streaked with blood, which was flowing from a gash at his hairline. The blood perfectly matched his red coat. She was impressed at his ability to coordinate his injury with his outfit and told him so immediately.
He thought it only polite to respond that her luminous eyes shone brighter than the crystals that surrounded her before he fainted dead away.
She thought it a most delightful comment, so she did her utmost to rouse him in order to hear more of the same. Whilst searching his red coat for a pocket-handkerchief she could not help but notice how firm and strong his chest was. She pulled his head into her lap and wiped away the blood, but still his eyes did not open. She decided that maybe she needed to check the rest of his body for injuries, and so felt along the length of his well-formed legs to the tops of his Hessians. It was quite a delightful endeavour and she wondered why she had never thought to become a nurse. Finally, as her hands made their way up his other side, she noticed a piece of paper stuck to his chest.
“Lieutenant Denny,” she read out loud. At that his eyes opened and met her own. “Lieutenant Denny,” she repeated.
“Is that my name?” he asked.
“It must be, because you responded to it immediately even though you were out cold.”
Denny thought it best not to mention that for the past five minutes he had only been closing his eyes, relishing the sensation of her hands trailing up and down his body.
“And who might you be, fair damsel,” he asked, as his eyelids fluttered closed again.
She pondered for a moment and then looked down at her own chest. Sure enough, there was a paper stuck there as well. “I am . . . I am . . . oh! I cannot read upside down,” she said crossly. “You will have to open your eyes and read it to me.” She had been disappointed that he had closed his eyes so quickly. She did not want to be stuck with a gentleman suffering from sleeping sickness, how then was he to pay her fine compliments?
Denny had been hoping that once his eyes were closed her hands would have resumed their perusal of his body, but it seemed that was not to be, so he opened them and looked at her nametag. The decision, he decided, had been a good one because her bodice, where the paper was affixed, was more than adequately filled out. He gazed at it for some time.
“Can you not read?” she asked impatiently.
“Certainly, but you must know that it is written very ill indeed,” said Denny, stalling for time. “It says Miss um . . . is that a C or an E? No, I think it must be a C. Miss Ca-th-er – I am sorry, but that is much too long for me to read. I think I will just call you Miss Kitty, for you look as adorable as a kitten.”
Kitty giggled, blushed charmingly, and then coughed for good measure. She then settled his head more comfortably on her lap as she wondered how many more comments like that he had up his sleeve.
Denny decided that his vantage point was very good, and searched his repertoire of flatteries for something that might keep him thus pleasantly situated for some time to come.
Over by the remnants of the refreshment table, Maria Lucas, who had been searching for other family members after having found her parents, unearthed a gentleman who had been covered by three broken chairs and a haunch of beef. She could see through the gravy dripping down his face that he was fairly handsome. She hoped sincerely that he was not one of her brothers. That is if she had any brothers. On his nametag was written Mr Fiddlestitch in a clear, bold hand. She sighed with relief.
“Mr Fiddlestitch,” she called. “Mr Fiddlestitch, can you hear me?”
He put his hand to his head and opened one eye. The room swam before him until his eyes focused on a blur beside him. What he saw was a sweet face surrounded by bouncing honey-coloured ringlets. This induced him to open the other eye. At the same time he realised his hand was sticky. “Am I bleeding?” he asked weakly.
“’Tis only gravy,” Maria assured him.
“Gravy?” He was taken aback. “What on earth? I do not believe one goes out into polite society covered in gravy. Have I behaved indecorously? I cannot remember a thing, but I am extremely mortified. You must forgive me. I assure you I am not usually like this. Actually I’m not quite sure what I am usually like, but I can guarantee I don’t normally wallow in broken furniture and foodstuffs. At least, I believe I can guarantee that.”
“It is hard to know what to believe,” said Maria. “I am just as confused as you. Already I have found two rather boring people who claim to be my parents, and waded through piles of debris trying to find someone else with whom I am acquainted so I don’t have to spend the rest of the evening with them.”
“Are we acquainted?” asked Mr Fiddlestitch.
“I rather think we are,” said Maria. “After all, do you know anyone else in the room?”
Mr Fiddlestitch looked about. There were people under tables, potted palms, statues, and pillars. Others were milling about with befuddled expressions upon their faces. Most of the people did not seem to be acquainted at all, and some of the people seemed to be all too acquainted. He averted his eyes. “They are decidedly unfamiliar.”
“So the only person you know is me.” She was very pleased at her deduction. Logic had never been a strong point before, as far as she knew.
“You say it with such conviction, it must be so.”
“In fact, I think we are betrothed,” said Maria. It was worth a try. He was really quite handsome. And not boring.
“We are?” he asked, smiling broadly. “Despite the gravy?”
“Possibly because of the gravy,” giggled Maria.
“Well, Miss . . .”
She pointed to her nametag.
“Miss Lucas. You must take me to meet your parents.”
“Not just yet,” she said, holding out her hand to help him up. “And please, call me Maria.”
One young lady, who had thought nametags beneath her at one point, sat staring at the man beneath her at the moment, and sighed. “I know your name, sir, because you have one of those slips of paper on your coat. And it is a large slip of paper with large writing on it, as if you wish everyone to know who you are.” She wiggled a bit and the man she had landed on grunted, as if he wanted the lady using him as a pillow to move her bum elsewhere. She did not.
“But I do not know which part of your name to call you. ‘Mr. William Collins, vicar of
“Yes?” he asked patiently, paying no little regard to the pain in his middle. The unknown lady above him was no lightweight.
“P for patronage. The O in of. Unctious… U. Condescending… C! And an H for Honorable! The word is POUCH! I shall call you Pouch!” The fact that she was sitting on his was not lost on him for a moment. “I just wish I knew who I was!” she wailed
“Two may play such a game, Miss, and perhaps this is your chance to choose a name that suits you? Or is more to your liking?” he suggested. It was obvious he was going nowhere fast, and as he did not remember that he needed go anywhere at all, playing games seemed a harmless pastime.
“Shall we go down the alphabet? We shall each give a name for each letter and I shall decide which one I like best. I will go first. Andromeda.”
“Averil,” he replied, wondering where in the world these names were coming from when he had no memory of his own, save for the pompous tag on the front of his black coat. “Beatrice.”
“Oh, no, what a dreadful name!” She made a face. “I know I should never be called that! Dorinda?”
“Eunice. Fiona.” They went back and forth, laughing at such names as Farklelinda, Josephetta and Kitty.
“Louisa,” Pouch said when he reached the L’s. The lady frowned.
“Hmmm… That name sounds very familiar. Perhaps it is my own? I shall save it, and if I do not like any others better, I shall make it mine.”
He agreed and once they reached Yetianna and Zambonina, she had already decided that she should be called Louisa. She would worry about a last name later.
Elsewhere, a sweet-faced young woman was feet up in an empty Grecian urn, made from Venetian glass.
“Could you help me get out of this thing, please?” she called to the man in the red coat nearest her. He had never been able to resist a pretty face, and he swaggered over to give his assistance. However, even after she gave him specific instructions on how to remove her, and he complied, she was stuck tight.
“You are stuck tight.”
“I know that, moron! If you had followed my instructions, I could be standing on my feet now, instead of showing everyone in the room my petticoats and stockings! Tip me over and roll me to the edge of that statue that has those two people crushed underneath it. We will use the carved head for leverage.” She looked over and did a double take. “Are they kissing? Monstrous! Why, they will both be helpless cripples the rest of their lives! What use have they? Now roll me! Roll me, I say!”
The soldier looked at the nametag of the lady who was hollering at him. “Miss Jane Bennet. I knew a Jane Bennet once…” he said without thinking. “Why, yes I did!” Perhaps the young man’s memory had suffered less than others, because he adopted a dreamy expression. But he was not allowed to drift off into a daydream about angels named Jane, because the shrew in the pot was yelling once more.
“You!” She squinted to read his tag. “Captain Carter! Roll me!”
Carter, ever the gentleman (this he knew instinctively), rolled the lady, but not in the direction she wished. He steered her towards the doors leading to the terrace, thanked the French or whoever had fired into the ballroom for blasting the doors away in advance, and gave the pot a shove, sending wench and all down the stairs. The glass broke once it reached the last step, sending Miss Jane Bennet flying into a fountain, where she was stuck once more.
“Captain Carter! Come attend me this instant!”
The captain, who was getting his memory back much more quickly than some others, bowed, turned on his heel and returned to the ballroom. No doubt the perky lady trapped under the marble could do with some help. Perhaps if he used the carved head of the statue for leverage…
Carter may have had a bit of a swagger (well deserved for the routing of Jane Bennet and regaining his memory at a terrific rate), but the man who he once determined could out-swagger him was hiding in a closet. At the first sound of cannon fire, George Wickham had been running scared. And while he shook amidst the wraps hanging there, fearful of emerging, he heard a noise. It sounded like… sawing?
A young lady was bent over a pair of sawhorses, her tool making short work of pieces of wood that seemed to have been salvaged from the ballroom outside.
“Hand me that level, would you?” she asked without looking. When he did not reply, she looked up and read his nametag. “Hand me that level, would you, George Wickham?”
“What is a level?” he asked.
“One of several tools I am using to build shelves in this closet,” she replied, as if it were a commonplace thing for her to do. Perhaps it was. She did not know, although she felt somehow that closet shelves were in her blood. Instinct. Like knowing that George Wickham was a rake. Good thing she liked tools, even garden ones.
She plucked a pencil from behind her ear and reached over, making a notation on his nametag: George Wickham, tool.
“There!” she said with some satisfaction. “Just a reminder to myself,” she assured him.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “How do you know this, when your memory consists of how to make shelves and little else?”
She gave him a quelling stare and drew herself up to her inconsiderable height. “I am… who am I?” She looked down for a moment, and quickly looked back up, lest this rake get the jump on her. “I am Miss Anne de Bourgh!”
“And?” he prompted.
She did not like his attitude. “Do not question my authority or knowledge. I have a saw and I am not afraid to use it,” she warned. “Still, I do not want to put it to the test. It could get ugly.” For him. She knew what to do with rakes that were offensive, after all. One sawed off their handle.
George Wickham, tool, got the message and climbed out of the closet. One was better off surrendering to the enemy than messing with Miss Anne de Bourgh. He beat a fast retreat off to where the cannon fire had come from, met up with Louisa Hurst and together they joined the French army.
Lizzy rolled over and glanced around the ballroom. Everywhere ladies and gentlemen were pairing off at an amazing rate. She wondered if there could be a gentleman for her to pair up with, for it indeed appeared to be the popular thing to do. She stood up, dusted off her skirts, and began wandering about the room in search of a man. She was certain that her mother would approve. In fact that was the only thing she was really certain of. She had no idea who she was, or even who her mother was, for that matter.
After walking around for a bit she remembered one other thing her mother approved of. Red coats. She wished she had a red coat of her own. She was feeling quite chilly in her short sleeves, what with the room being open to the outside air as it was.
A tall, rather handsome man was standing next to a crushed mantle, leaning against it and rubbing his head. At least he would have been handsome if he had not such a doltish, vacant look upon his face.
“Excuse me sir,” she asked. “Would you happen to know where I could procure a red coat?”
He stared at her. “Do I look like a haberdasher?” he asked.
She gazed at him in an attempt to decide. “Possibly. You are very well dressed.”
He looked down at his raiment. “I am indeed. So – I am a haberdasher. One problem solved. If you are indeed desirous of a red coat, I would approach that gentleman over there.” He pointed to a young man who had just appeared from under a pile of rubble. “He may be covered in plaster at this moment, but I do detect the colour red underneath it all.”
Lizzy turned and looked, her eyes still only half open because all the dust in the air was irritating them so. “Thank you so much for your help Mr . . .” She squinted at the tag on his breast pocket.
He looked down to see what she was staring at and noticed paper marring the perfection of his ensemble. There was writing on it. “Darcy,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr Darcy.”
He looked at her gown and noticed she had a tag affixed to her spangled shawl. “You are most welcome, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” There was something about the name. He gave his head a shake. No – he could recall nothing. Anyway, she had a most definite squint – he was certain he liked ladies with fine eyes.
Lizzy, meanwhile, rushed over to the newly emerged gentleman who was busy dusting himself off. His coat was indeed a most becoming shade of red.
“Pardon me, sir,” she said, “but would you mind awfully if I borrowed your red coat from you?”
He turned and regarded her. Then a smile spread across is face. “On the condition that you lend me your lovely shawl,” he replied.
Lizzy most eagerly agreed to the trade. She felt she was getting the better end of the bargain because his coat was much thicker than her flimsy shawl. Soon she was buttoning up the shiny gold buttons and he was flinging the shawl over his shoulders with gay abandon. He really did look quite stunning, she thought, and then she gasped.
“Your name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. That is my name too. How can we both have the same name?”
The gentleman shrugged. “What makes you think that is your name?”
“Why, the haberdasher, Mr Darcy, told me it was my name.”
“It clearly states on your coat that you are one Lieutenant Chamberlayne.”
“I am?” she asked. She looked down. “You are quite right. Well, he must have been confused – if you ask me he was one brick short of a load, if you catch my drift.”
“Not the sharpest knife in the drawer?”
“Quite. But you seem to have your wits about you.”
“And I’ve great fashion sense, which I always feel is a must,” he responded.
Lizzy was impressed. “Are you engaged by any chance, Miss Elizabeth?” she asked.
“Not that I know of,” he responded. “But I have always wanted to be a bride.”
“Could I prevail upon you to be my bride?” asked Lizzy with a smile.
“Dearest Chaimberlayne,” he cried. “I thought you would never ask. Let us go and have the banns read at once.”
As they sauntered off, Lizzy cast a glance back at Mr Darcy who was still leaning upon the shattered mantle. Poor soul. She hoped someone would take pity upon him, mindless gorm that he was.
Darcy was just congratulating himself upon his narrow escape. She not only had a squint, but now that she was wearing the red coat it was evident she had shoulders like a trooper. Still, what with all the couples forming in the room, he wondered if there was a lady made for him anywhere about. At that moment he heard a scrabbling noise from the fireplace and a lady, covered in a fine dusting of soot, backed out. If he had ever believed in pre-destiny, this was surely a sign. He pondered for a moment, realised he had no idea at all what any of his beliefs were, and threw caution to the wind.
“May I be of some help?” he asked.
The lady had been doubled over, coughing. At the sound of his voice she raised her head up. Her eyes met his. They were circled with black soot that emphasized their vivid green. He had never seen anything finer.
“It would be vain to struggle,” he gasped. “So I will not do. My feelings cannot be expressed! You must allow me to . . .” suddenly his mind went blank. Well, blanker than it had been before, which was very blank indeed. “Are your feelings what they were last April?” he asked bemusedly, and then rubbed his forehead.
The lady looked at him and smiled broadly. She had no idea who he was, other than that his name, as his tag proclaimed, was Mr Darcy. But then she had no idea who she was either. One thing she was sure of, though, was that in matters such as these it was better to show more affection than she felt. Besides, she was certain that happiness in marriage was entirely a matter of chance. It was infinitely better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with which she would pass her life – so the situation was ideal. Neither of them knew anything about the other, or even themselves. It would be a marriage made in heaven.
She reached out and clasped his hand. “What is it you are asking me, my dear Mr Darcy?” She batted her eyelashes, spattering soot liberally.
He stared into her eyes and said. “I know that I am only a haberdasher, and you appear to be a fine young lady, but I hope you will cast aside social conventions and agree to be my wife.”
“I would indeed,” she said, thinking that he must be wearing some of his best merchandise, and she threw her arms about him in a fervent hug that progressed to an even more fervent kiss. As she drew back her nametag had been wiped clean upon his lapel and her name was now visible.
“My dearest, loveliest
She readily obliged him, quite pleased that she had followed her instincts. When they broke apart for air she asked, “But what am I to call you?”
Darcy was momentarily puzzled. “It hardly matters," he said. “After all, I probably have some outlandish given name that you will want to shorten anyway.”
She cocked her head and then giggled. “I shall call you Mr Darcy in public,” she decided. “And when we are alone I shall simply call you Darcy. And when you are especially good I shall call you Darcykins.” She kissed his forehead. “Darcykins,” she whispered. Then she kissed his cheek. “Darcykins.” His neck. “Darcykins.” His earlobe. “Darcykins.” The tip of his nose. “Darcykins.”
From a few paces behind them came a retching sound, and then a door slammed and someone began hammering very, very loudly.
One year later, give or take a few weeks, some couples began remembering and others, well – sometimes a bad memory is pardonable:
At Netherfield, Jane was still stuck in the fountain, where legions of plumbers could not free her from the tight grip of a bronze Adonis. This had posed somewhat of a problem over the months, because of the weather and Jane’s shrewish disposition. Bingley had taken pity on her and had ordered a tent to protect her from the elements, but when she got particularly heated up, water would spout from her sides.
“La, but that is a prodigiously fine fountain!”
Jane never recovered her memory, but one day, as Lydia was excitedly egging her on, Lydia fell out of her chair and conked her head on the terrace. When she came to, she recalled that she was Lydia Bennet of Longbourn.
“Are you all right, my love?” Bingley had wheeled himself out to check on her, only to find her laughing like a madman on the terrace.
“I am perfectly fine, my love.” She gazed down at the ring on her hand, realized she would never find a better situation if she tried, and allowed a footman to place her back in her chair. She eyed Jane, laughed once more and turned her back on her sister, gazing adoringly into Bingley’s besotted eyes as they were pushed back indoors.
“Thank you, Colonel. I…” One look and they fell in love, although they were both sure it had been coming on for some time.
“Let me know everything I am to know without delay,” he begged, Anne still in his arms. “Will you tell me how long you have loved me?”
“It has come on so gradually, Colonel,” she breathlessly replied, “I hardly know when it began. I believe it must date from my first seeing you admire my shelves at Netherfield.”
“But what of my sweet wife, Mary?”
“She is a darling!” Anne agreed. Indeed, she had never met anyone so charitable as Mrs. Mary Fitzwilliam. “But she must share you. Have we not been arguing in society for the equal rights of all women?”
“Why, yes, we have.”
“Then you shall join your wife one night, and me the next. I must have my share in the conjugal visitations.”
The colonel agreed, to the detriment of his health. Six months later, he was dead of exhaustion, leaving his entire income, and the house, to both Mary and Anne. Afterwards, the two ladies transferred their affections to one another, never married and continued to push society towards equality in the sexes.
Mrs Georgiana Saunderson sat in the window seat of her private chambers. She had been married to her dearest Lieutenant for a year now, and she had never known such happiness. That is hardly surprising as she recollected nothing before the wondrous night that she and her husband had met. It had been pleasant to discover that she was an heiress and they had no need to live upon her husband’s paltry wages.
Her husband let himself into the room and walked towards her tentatively.
“Whatever is the matter, my heart?” she asked.
“I have just had the most unusual recollection,” he responded. “I was at the Netherfield Ball, given by a Mr Bingley, hoping to dance with one of the younger Bennet sisters when it seemed the world fell in, and then you appeared before me out of a cloud of plaster dust, like an angel of mercy and grace.”
“Mr Bingley,” she pondered. “The name rings a bell . . . he was . . . he was my brother’s best friend!” Suddenly she remembered a lot more than that. She remembered her love for Mr Wickham, and how she had hoped to dance with him that night. But in the year since she had loved none other than her own dear husband, and Mr Wickham . . . hadn’t he turned traitor and joined the French army? She gazed up at her husband with adoring eyes and sighed, “That was the night my life began.” To herself she admitted what a narrow escape she had had. There was much to thank the French for.
Kitty and her husband, Lieutenant Denny, were strolling along in the meadow, when Kitty tripped and fell, pulling Denny down upon her. Their heads cracked together.
Kitty rubbed her head and stared up at the man lying upon her.
“Mr Denny!” she cried. “What is the meaning of this? I’m a good girl, not at all like my sister
Denny scrambled off her, his cheeks flushed a bright red. “M-Miss Kitty,” he stammered. “How . . . what . . . where?” He must have had too much to drink at the ball the night before, but then, why was he with the wrong Bennet girl? It was
“I have been compromised!” Kitty wailed. “Oh Papa! Papa! I ought to have listened to you when you told me not to follow
“Calm down, Miss Bennet,” cried Denny. “You are taking things a bit too far.”
“But you have compromised me!” moaned Kitty.
“Yes, of course. Anything you say,” he responded. “I am not at all averse to marrying you. But please promise me that you will not turn into your sister Mary. I cannot abide sermons or concertos.”
Kitty smiled up at him. “I do not believe I even know how to read,” she admitted. “My education was severely deficient.”
Denny sighed. “I must speak with your father at once,” he said, wondering all the while why he had ever thought he preferred her forward sister
Imagine their surprise upon their return to Longbourn when they discovered they were already married and had been for nearly a year.
Eugene Fiddlestich and his wife Maria were sitting down to their first anniversary dinner. They were enjoying a haunch of beef with liberal dollops of gravy.
“To think it was a year ago when we met!” sighed Maria, as she dipped her finger in the gravy and traced it down her husband’s cheek.
“Yes,” he replied, catching her finger between his lips. He continued speaking soft endearments, but they were indecipherable due to the digit in his mouth. Maria left it there. She loved her husband dearly, but sometimes his conversation did get a little boring. She preferred action. And there was nothing like sharing a tasty boat of gravy with her husband to get the action going.
They were invited to dine at Rosings, and Mr. Collins was quick to point out the honor. Louisa quickly agreed, having heard much of Lady Catherine and Rosings on their trip home to be suitably impressed. She did not remember much of her former life, but she knew that wealth was important.
After dinner, Mr. Collins was eyeing the pianoforte. He just knew he could play, and he whispered something to his patroness.
“What are you telling Lady Catherine?” Louisa demanded.
“We are speaking of music.”
“Oh, music! It is of all subjects my delight! There are few people, ever, who enjoy it more than I do. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient!” Louisa exclaimed.
Lady Catherine looked her over. “I am very glad to have such a good account of that,” she said grandly, glad to see that the lady would not upstage her toady in his talents. She thought, perhaps, that the lady could be cultivated as another sycophant, however, and that proved to be much the case. “Now tell me about your wedding…”
Louisa lost no time in relating the circumstances, although she was sad that she had to make up a name for the church register in Meryton. She chose the name Bingley, because she had met her darling husband at Netherfield, and no one had raised an eyebrow! Imagine that!
“My only true regret,” she related to Lady Catherine, “was that there was very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!”
“If I had been present, we should have seen more of that,” Lady Catherine agreed.
In the end, although Louisa (Caroline!) never regained her memory, no one had any cause for complaint, not even Lady Catherine, who found Mrs. Collins most agreeably easy to agree with. She took the lady under her wing, and when Anne was found to be living with another woman in
And so Mr. Collins and his wife, Louisa (Caroline!) Bingley Collins de Bourgh, came to inherit Rosings and Longbourn over time, and they generously gave pitiful little Longbourn to Mrs. Bennet so that she might not have to live in the hedgerows.
Georges Wickham, famous French lover (not a fighter!) was suffering heavy loses one evening playing ving-et-un in
“Want to try your hand at it, ma belle?” he asked the equally-famous courtesan known only as Louise. (Louise had dropped an ‘a’ and ‘
“You know I always play to win, monsieur,” she purred. She stepped up to the green baize table just as Napoleon himself, who had been munching a banana, tossed the peel on the floor in front of her. She stepped on it, fell backwards and woke up with her feet in the air.
“It is her natural position,” Georges was explaining to the Emperor. “And I would gladly sell her to you.” Wickham was not above pimping for a few cold hard sous.
Napoleon seemed to be in the market for a courtesan, because he did not hesitate to pay Georges a kingly sum and then ordered his soldiers to cart Madame Louise off to the Tuileries.
All would have been smooth sailing after that for both Georges and Louise, but when she woke in Napoleon’s palace, she suddenly remembered who she was and screamed the place down until she was deported back to
Wickham, however, incurring the wrath of Napoleon, was sent to the front in the battle of Waterloo and was killed, putting the entire populace of two nations at ease.
And what of Captain Carter? He gained his memory very quickly, entered the regulars and distinguished himself at Waterloo by shooting down a turncoat Wickham at the front.
Chamberlayne was deep in thought as he walked home from an evening at the inn with his fellow officers. Strange thoughts kept obtruding. When he reached the modest lodgings that he shared with his wife he ran indoors quickly and shut the door with a bang. It could not be! But he had to admit that it was – or rather, she had to admit that it was. For now she knew that she was really Elizabeth Chamberlayne, nee Bennet, and not a soldier at all.
No longer could she go outdoors and sport the red coat she loved so much. She would have to wear gowns and spencers. No longer could she share the camaraderie of her fellow officers, well, not if she wanted to keep her reputation. She now knew why she had been such a popular soldier in the regiment. Tears broke from her eyes as she hung up her coat. The worst thing was that she now knew she was not in love with her wife – er – husband. She was in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy – the most arrogant gentleman of her acquaintance – and the lady she had thought to be her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, had stolen him from her.
Her husband was playing the pianoforte in the drawing room when she joined him. He smiled up at her, his head cocked to one side, his ringlets trailing down his neck in a most beguiling manner. However Lizzy was in no mood to be beguiled.
“You must go to our bedchamber and change out of that gown at once!” cried Lizzy.
Chamberlayne’s face fell. “You do not like it?” he asked.
“It is a lovely gown and you look most fetching in it, my dear,” said Lizzy. “But I have just remembered all. You are the man and must wear the regimentals. I must wear the gowns.” She stifled a sob at the look of desolation that crossed her husband’s face.
“Not even in the privacy of our own home?” he asked at last.
“Think of the servants – you know how they love to gossip.”
“In the privacy of our bedchamber?” His tone was beseeching.
“Yes,” said Lizzy. “And at those times I will wear my breeches.” She sighed at the very thought.
Chamberlayne left the room. His thoughts were starting to take on a happier bent as he remembered the camaraderie of the officers. He had always been a favourite.
Lizzie glanced at the pianoforte. It really was a pity – she was such a good marksman and Chamberlayne was so accomplished at all the womanly arts. She shook her head and moved to her escritoire. She had a letter to write to her erstwhile friend. Charlotte could not be so cruel as to keep Mr Darcy to herself now that the truth of the past was out.
Charlotte was perusing a letter when Darcy entered the room. A blush overspread her cheeks and she attempted to hide it. The subject matter of the letter was something she had no desire at all to share with her husband. If he should ever remember how attracted he once was to Lizzy’s charms, the happiness of their marriage might be at an end. He sat across from her and smiled.
“Who has written you a letter to put you to the blush, Dearest?”
Charlotte was tempted to prevaricate, but Darcy’s abhorrence for deceit had rubbed off upon her, to a certain extent.
“Elizabeth Bennet,” admitted Charlotte. And then, more tentatively, “Do you remember her at all?”
Darcy nodded slightly. It was only one month prior that he had visited his poor crippled friend, Bingley. Whilst wheeling Bingley along the streets of Meryton in his Bath chair he had suddenly regained his memory. He had been under the spell of Elizabeth Bennet whose fine eyes turned his thoughts in directions only imagined, until he had met and married his sweet Charlotte.
He walked on in a state of supreme confusion, wondering how to reconcile his past love with his present, when Bingley spoke and brought him from his reverie.
“Darcy, you remember my sister, Elizabeth?” he was saying. “And this is her husband, Lieutenant Chamberlayne.”
Darcy stared in shock at
His heart flipped in his chest and his face turned white. Darcy knew not what he said or how he managed to wheel Bingley back to Netherfield, but he was overridden by the desire to leave Hertfordshire at once, never to return. That was how strongly one look from Lieutenant Chamberlayne’s lovely eyes had affected him.
“Do we need to keep up the acquaintance?” asked Darcy, picking up a book to hide behind. He did not want his wife, who could read his every expression, to ever suspect that he’d felt even a moment’s desire for another man. Indeed, It was a memory he wanted to wipe from his mind forever.
“Not at all,” said