The Longbourn Eight
"I hereby call this meeting of the Longbourn Eight to order." Mr. Bennet banged a gavel down on the desk in his study, and the rest of the gentlemen finished their conversations. "Roll call, Mr. Collins," he requested, "if you please."
"Mr. Darcy, nephew of my esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh?"
"Present. Cut the comments, you nodcock, and just call our names," Mr. Darcy blandly replied. Mr. Collins quelled under the cold look in the man's eyes.
"Yes, sir," Collins mumbled. "Mr. Bingley?"
"You are Mr. Collins," Mr. Bennet told him.
"So I am. Mr. Wickham?"
"Mr. Bennet? Mr. Gardiner? Mr. Hurst? Mr. Hurst?"
"I am afraid my brother-in-law is already well into his cups," Mr. Bingley apologized. "But his body is present."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam? All present and accounted for, Mr. Bennet."
"Thank you, Mr. Collins." Mr. Bennet winced as the churchman wiped sweat from his brow and it splattered on the elder man's coat. Mr. Bennet did not aspire to the dandy set, but he didn't want to spend the rest of the day reeking of eau de Collins, either.
"Old business," Mr. Bennet continued. "At our last meeting, we discussed the high amount of fan fiction we found ourselves thrust into, and I believe Mr. Wickham, for one, wishes to continue the conversation. Wickham? Wickham," he called.
"Er, yes..." Mr. Wickham had been gazing out the window at the five Bennet sisters, who were gathering in the garden, and his mind was not on the meeting.
"Mr. Wickham, if you would kindly stop leering at my daughters... No? Then perhaps that answers any questions you might have concerning your lack of hero status." He paused for effect, but Mr. Wickham continued to stare outside.
"On to new business. First, I would like to ask Mr. Darcy to stand," said Mr. Bennet.
"Oh, no," moaned Mr. Collins. Colonel Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes and Mr. Bingley burst into laughter.
"I believe you three are out of order," Mr. Bennet said sharply. "On behalf of the Derbyshire Writers Guild, I would like to bestow the title of 'Best-Loved Dwiggie Hero' on Mr. Darcy for the 15th month in a row."
Mr. Gardiner applauded and Mr. Hurst, quietly drinking in a dark corner, raised his glass of port in salute.
"I don't know what to say. Honestly," Mr. Darcy told the group.
"Go on, Darcy," Wickham taunted. "You know you love it."
"Fitziepie!" someone simpered.
"He throws the certificates in his desk drawer at Pemberley," Bingley told the assemblage.
"I would have them framed and hung on a parsonage wall at Hunsford," Mr. Collins admitted dreamily. "If Lady Catherine allowed it, of course," he hastily amended.
"Gentlemen - and Wickham - please! Our next order of business pertains to assignments."
"Please, not Lydia again," Wickham moaned. "Why do I always get stuck with Lydia?"
"Because you ran off with her?" Darcy dryly suggested.
"Good news, Wickham," Mr. Bennet said cheerily, ignoring Mr. Darcy's comment. "I've been scoping out the message board and some of the writers have decided to match you with Miss Bingley instead."
"Caroline?" Wickham gasped.
"That's Miss Bingley to you," Mr. Bingley admonished. "And where will I be in all of this when my sister gets partnered with this scoundrel?"
"With Jane," everyone chorused, stating the inevitable.
"But what if I don't want Caroline?" Wickham whined.
"What? Not want Caroline?" Mr. Bingley stood up and looked outraged for a moment, and then abruptly sat down. "Smart writers, those Dwiggies," he conceded.
"Mr. Collins," Mr. Bennet continued, "after your outing as S.T.U.D. Collins, it has been requested that you try something else along that vein. However, Lady Catherine says, and I quote, that you 'no longer have the living at Hunsford should you subject the readers, not to mention poor Mrs. Collins, to such shenanigans ever again!' Therefore, the company has decided to leave the decision up to you."
"Oh, dear," whimpered Mr. Collins. "Oh, my - how can I choose stud status over my esteemed patroness, even if Charlotte was happy..." He had worked himself into a lather, he was thinking so hard.
"You may decide later," Mr. Bennet said not unkindly. "Smoke is starting to come out of your ears, my boy, and I would hate for your oily hair to catch fire."
"Thank you, Cousin, for your helpful words. You are kindness personified. You are..."
"Sit down, Mr. Collins, and be quiet. And don't call me cousin," Mr. Bennet tartly replied. "Do you think I like being reminded of our shared ancestry?"
"Mr. Hurst, you, of course, will get Louisa, unless you would rather have a different Bingley sister to wife?"
"Good god, no!" Mr. Hurst was slumped over now, and his words were slurred. "But why can't I be a lonely widower, sometime, and get to meet your daughters when I come with Charles to Netherfield?"
"Mr. Collins!" Mr. Bennet barked. "Add that to the next meeting's agenda. Maybe a Dwiggie can mull that over in the meantime."
"Mr. Darcy, your assignment this time is to continue..."
"...to woo and win spunky, spirited Elizabeth Bennet!" chorused the rest of the company. After years of hearing those exact words from Miss Elizabeth's proud papa, they had it down pat.
"Jane!" everyone replied. Bingley grinned at everyone.
"I rather fancy Anne de Bourgh, but lately she prefers the colonel."
"You can have her," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied. "it's rather outré these days to marry your cousin. And it looks like Caroline is going to be busy with Wickham. Perhaps I'll try my hand at one of your cousins, Mr. Collins."
"You can have Lydia," Wickham suggested. But I'm warning you - no offense, Mr. Bennet - she's going to grow up to be just like her mother!"
"Maybe another Bennet sister..." the colonel murmured.
"Gardiner and I, of course, are already married," Mr. Bennet hurried on, "but even that is not etched in stone."
"I make a motion that we draw names out of a hat," suggested Wickham.
"I second that motion," someone else said.
"All in favor?"
There were five ayes. Even Mr. Gardiner had put up a hand.
"All opposed? I say nay."
Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy agreed with Mr. Bennet.
"The ayes have it, five to three. Mr. Collins, kindly write out slips of paper with the ladies' names on them, and then everyone will get a chance to choose. Even we older gentlemen."
"And if we choose someone inappropriate?" queried Mr. Darcy. "I should not like to draw my sister's name."
"Then you would be able to draw again."
Mr. Bennet, as senior member and president of the club, drew first.
"Mrs. Bennet. As it should be."
"Mr. Gardiner was next. "Charlotte Lucas. Interesting! She and Elizabeth are such good friends."
"Mary Bennet," cried Mr. Bingley after he drew a name for his brother-in-law. "She would reform you or die trying!" he teased Mr. Hurst.
"Hey, what did I just say about cousins?" Colonel Fitzwilliam complained after drawing Georgiana's name.
"Who cares?" Mr. Collins replied with a lusty leer wasted on the present company. "I got Jane!" Mr. Bingley began to pout.
Mr. Darcy drew Lizzy's name, and smiled. Everyone groaned "Not again!"
Then it was Mr. Bingley's turn.
"Lydia Bennet? Do I have to?"
"Sorry, my boy," Mr. Bennet sympathized. "But rules are rules."
Mr. Wickham had drawn his name and was smacking his lips in anticipation. "Anne de Bourgh! And she's rich, too!"
"So there you have it, gentlemen. Some new assignments, and the admonishment to behave no matter where the writers put you, unless you are written otherwise. This meeting is adjourned." Mr. Bennet banged his gavel on the desk.
"I have a license to cause mischief and mayhem!" Wickham said proudly. "Which reminds me. I'm off to my meeting of the Austen Chaos Team and Other Unsavories Team (ACT-OUT) meeting. Ta!"
"Say hello to that delicious Mrs. Elton for me," Mr. Collins called after him. "I'd like to get her in my parsonage," he muttered under his breath. "And give my regards to Mr. Willoughby!"
Mr. Bennet watched the other men file out of his study. Darcy was looking too smug for his own good, and was probably planning on framing his latest award. Perhaps a little juggling in the assignments... And Bingley - he looked like he was headed for the gallows now that his beloved Jane was to be traded in for Lydia. As for himself, why couldn't he have chosen someone interesting, like Lady Catherine?
Perhaps next time. Then Darcy could see how well he liked marrying his cousin - because that would then be Elizabeth!
Jane Bennet had just come from an interview with her mother, and it had been disturbing and confusing. It hadn't helped that Mrs. Bennet was always disturbed and confused. This time, however, she had managed to throw her eldest daughter into the same state.
Mrs. Bennet's news, in fact, had sent Jane into a swoon, and the sooner she found where Lizzy had gotten herself off to and allowed her clever sister to help her re-right her world, the better.
She found Lizzy, finally, alone in the garden, and burst into tears, flinging herself at her sister's feet.
"Oh, Lizzy, I have had the most horrid news!"
"Poor darling, what is it? Some Dwiggie author trying to kill you off again? How dare they! Why, I think I will just..."
"No!" Jane wailed. "It's even worse! I'd rather die than...Mama has been snooping!"
"That is horrid!" Lizzy mocked.
"No, you don't understand. Mama found the minutes to the last meeting of the Longbourn Eight."
"How extraordinary! Did they discuss us?"
"Prodigiously! Oh, Lizzy, it's horrid, just horrid, what can happen to us at the hands of these writers! Some of us, anyway..."
"I believe we have established that something is horrid. What could possibly happen to you now, dearest?"
"It hasn't happened yet, but I live in fear someone else will get hold of these minutes, and take what these gentlemen - and I use the term loosely - have concocted amongst themselves."
"What have they done?"
"Lizzy, they put our names in a hat and drew out who they should be paired with in upcoming stories!"
"No! And who did I end up with?"
Jane's pout was almost identical to Mr. Bingley's the day of the gentlemen's meeting. "Oh, you don't count!" Jane whined. "You got chosen by Mr. Darcy!"
"How wonderful!" Lizzy clapped her hands in delight. "Oh, sorry, Jane. And yourself?"
To Lizzy's consternation, Jane buried her head in her hands and began to sob.
"Oh, come now, Jane. Surely it's not as bad as all that? Who is it? Obviously not Charles Bingley...hmmmmmm, Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
Jane shook her head. "I should be so lucky," she muttered.
"Wickham?" Lizzy whispered, not even daring to say the name aloud. Jane shook her head once more.
"Well, there is only one other - Oh, Jane, say it isn't so?"
Jane sobbed even harder, but she was nodding.
"Get out of town!" her sister squealed. "Oh, you poor dear. How very horrid, indeed!"
Lizzy sat for a long moment, deep in thought.
"I have it!"
"What?" Jane was startled most alarmingly out of her sobfest.
"We need a ladies' night out!"
"And I know just the place to have it! Moreover, with the help of the author of this little story, I think we could manage to pay back the Longbourn Eight members for their high-handed, male chauvinistic ways, and have a good time in the process."
"Don't you fret, Jane dear. Go inside and tell Mary, Kitty and Lydia to get dressed up - I'll invite a few other characters, and then... we're going out on the town!"
"I don't see why Miss Eliza gets to call all the shots," Caroline Bingley grumbled as the carriage carrying her sister Louisa and herself headed toward the assembly rooms in Meryton. She grumbled even more when the carriage stopped and admitted Charlotte and Maria Lucas.
"I can't imagine what Lizzie has in store for tonight," Charlotte wondered.
"I can't see where any entertainment devised in this backwater could even compare to the delights of London," Louise interjected. Caroline had to agree.
But even the Bingley sisters were curious when the arrived at the assembly rooms and were seated at small tables in front of a raised platform flanked by red velvet curtains.
Lizzy walked from table to table, pouring wine, greeting guests and making sure all the women were present before the event. She made polite noises to Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh, and air-kissed Caroline and Louisa. None of these were her favorite people, but in all fairness, they had to be invited.
The Bennet table was large and rowdy, with Lydia prattling on to Kitty about the hardiness of military men, and her mother talking loudly with Mrs. Phillips in order to be heard above Lydia and Kitty. Mary was sipping from a glass of wine and Jane was keeping an eye on her.
A shy and retiring Georgiana Darcy found herself sandwiched between her aunt and cousin and wondered what the heck she was doing there anyway.
The Lucas sisters found themselves seated next to Mrs. Gardiner, who was in on the secret, and slyly told Charlotte and Maria to get out their checkbooks.
Assured her assembled guests were ready, and had not imbibed in too much alcohol, Lizzy stood on the platform and addressed the party.
"Good evening, ladies of 'Pride and Prejudice.' Without going into too much detail, it has come to my attention that the so-called members of the Longbourn Eight have tried to rewrite Miss Aunsten's story and other assorted Dwiggie musings in the pairings of their own choosings. Ladies, they pulled our names out of a hat, each one to be paired with the lady chosen by that member. However, with the help of this writer, we are going to attempt to balance the equation. I hope you brought a lot of fictional money, because tonight, ladies, we are going to buy our own mates off the auction block!"
The Bennet ladies, except for Jane, who had given up on limiting Mary's alcohol intake, whooped and hollered, clapped and cheered, and whistled loudly. And the men weren't even on the block yet.
Lady Catherine snorted, but did not make a move, although she considered sending Anne to the carriage so as not to be subjected to such unlady-like things. Georgiana blushed, and Lady Catherine wondered if the two young ladies shouldn't sit this one out. But before she could utter a word, Caroline Bingley stood up.
"Bring 'em on out!" she roared.
Mrs. Gardiner grinned and winked at the Lucas girls.
"Let's get too it, then," Lizzie replied. "First on the block is Mr. Hurst. Mr. Hurst is married to Louisa, but that can be arranged any which way you wish, should you choose this fine, er, this, er, specimen of a man. He enjoys his drink, so you might want to consider him for reformation, Mary dear - oh, you're drunk too. All the better. Let's give it up for Mr. Hurst!"
There were whistles and catcalls, and other such nonsense, until Mr. Hurst actually stepped out onto the platform. Wearing nothing but a loincloth of pink zebra stripes, he touted chicken legs and a beer belly, and all the women went silent. Mr. Hurst took a swig from the bottle in his hand and belched.
Georgiana and Kitty giggled. Louisa burst into tears and ran from the room, and Caroline laughed out loud. "No wonder they don't have any children!" she exclaimed to the room at large.
"Oh, come now, ladies. Surely there is someone out there who wants to bid..."
"One pound!" Lady Catherine called out. "I need someone to warm my bed. He's big enough!" The Bennet ladies all called out their encouragement, and Louisa re-entered the room.
"Two pounds!" she called, waving a handkerchief.
"Three!" said Lady Catherine. The bidding continued furiously, with Louisa finally dropping out, having bid most of her pin money and deciding to save it for someone more attractive. Lady Catherine was the high bidder at 13 pounds.
"But, Mama!" Anne protested.
"Patience, child," Lady Catherine admonished. "I'll buy you one, too, see if I don't."
"Next out, my dear old Dad, president of the Longbourn Eight, although I wouldn't hold it against him," Lizzie advised. Mr. Bennet came out from behind the curtain, clearly against his will, sporting a black leather thong. The Bennet sisters all shielded their eyes, except for Lizzy, who had no choice but to get the bidding started. To her credit, she did not look at her father once while he was on the block.
"I'm going to turn you over my knee when we get home, young lady, favorite daughter or not," he growled under his breath.
"Now, Father, I am not the one who pulled names out of a hat...What do I hear for a first bid," she called.
"Ten pounds!" shouted Mrs. Phillips, and then she giggled like a schoolgirl,. "Well," she told her sister, who was looking daggers at the giddy lady, "You treat him like dirt!"
"I do not! Twenty pounds on Mr. Bennet. Yoo hoo, Mr. Bennet!" Mrs. Bennet stood up and waved at her husband. He ignored her.
"Twenty-two pounds!" Mrs. Phillips screamed. "I've always wanted that man!"
"Go get your own!" Mrs. Bennet screamed back. "Twenty-five pounds!"
"All right," Mrs. Phillips ceded with a pout. "That's too much for me."
"Mr. Bennet going once, going twice," Lizzie called. "Gone! Sold to his wife for twenty-five pounds!"
"Hurray!" shouted the Bennet sisters, their hands over their eyes.
"Keep your eyes covered, girls," Lizzie told her sisters. "Next up, my favorite uncle, Mr. Gardiner! Uncle Gardiner likes practicing law, touring regions of England, and helping out wayward nieces. A big round of applause for Uncle Gardiner!" Mr. Gardiner came out in a red thong.
There was a round of applause, and Mrs. Gardiner, laughing, raised a hand. "Thirty pounds!"
"Too rich for my blood..." someone who sounded like Mrs. Phillips muttered.
"Not interested," Lady Catherine said with a sniff. "Not aristocratic enough."
"Sold, then, to Aunt Gardiner!" Lizzie replied. "Now the next man on the block, if he could be called such by anyone except Charlotte, who knows better," and the mistress of ceremonies winked at her friend, "is Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins, cousin to the Bennet sisters, is a clergyman who enjoys - and I mean, enjoys - the patronage of his esteemed Lady Catherine. He also enjoys sermonizing, talking about things he knows nothing about, and cataloging the belongings in my parents' home. Here he is, ladies - Mr. Collins!"
"Delighted, ladies, delighted!" Mr. Collins told his few fans. He was sporting a green silk loincloth and looked around with interest. "Ah, Lady Catherine! I'm please to know my esteemed patroness will do me the honor of an opening bid."
"I will do no such thing, Mr. Collins," Lady Catherine snapped. But to her amazement, Anne held up one finger.
"One pound," she whispered.
"Ah, bless you, Miss de Bourgh. Anyone else?" Mr. Collins shook his bandy legs at the audience, and Kitty and Lydia burst into laughter.
"Forty pounds!" Mary Bennet called. Then she let out a hiccup and covered her mouth. "Excuse me."
"Forty-one pounds!" cried Charlotte. "Show 'em your stuff, S.T.U.D.!" she hollered. Mr. Collins complied by strutting around on the platform. Lizzy thought she was going to be sick, but Caroline Bingley stood up and called out a bid.
Louisa gasped. "Caroline! Are you out of your mind!"
"Possibly," Caroline replied. "Just look at his hair! I must be nuts."
"I can't argue with that, neither can I argue with forty-five pounds. Anyone else? No? Sold, to Miss Caroline Bingley!" There was a smattering of confused applause as Mr. Collins pranced off the stage and into the audience to sit with Caroline. Louisa was disgusted and tried to move to Lady Catherine's table, but that august lady looked down her nose at Mrs. Hurst, and she wisely chose to sit with Mrs. Gardiner instead.
"Things are heating up, now, ladies, and our next guy is modeling hot pink spandex and a military braid - let's give it up for Colonel Fitzwilliam!"
Even Lady Catherine approved the colonel's appearance, if her applause was any indication. Anne blushed as pink as the spandex, and Lydia swooned.
"That's right, ladies," Lizzy announced. "High-ranking Colonel Fitzwilliam enjoys the military, visits to Rosings and lusting after his cousin's intended, when he's not consoling Caroline Bingley - what is the opening bid? Lydia?"
"She fainted," was Jane's reply. "But I will bid five pounds."
"Jane!" came the shocked voice of Charles Bingley from behind the curtain.
"Well," Jane temporized, "it is just to get the bidding started, Charles. Poor man looks like he's freezing out here!"
"I won't allow you to..."
"You won't what?" Jane stood up and stalked over to the red curtains, flung one of them back and then stared. Charles Bingley had on a mesh thong that left nothing to the imagination. Jane wavered a moment, threw the curtain back over Charles' exposed flesh, and sat down with a thud.
"Cancel that bid. I'll take the man behind the curtain for 100 pounds!"
"Any objections?" Lizzy asked the assembled ladies. Everyone shook their heads.
"Then Charles Bingley is sold for 100 pounds to Miss Jane Bennet!"
Jane let out a whoop, ran behind the curtain, and the two disappeared for the rest of the event.
"Which brings us back to the delectable colonel," said Lizzy. "Any opening bids?" Three ladies stood up: Anne de Bourgh, Charlotte Lucas and Kitty Bennet.
"Twenty pounds," Kitty shouted. "Thanks for the advance on my allowance," she whispered to her mother, who nodded.
"Twenty-one," Charlotte countered.
"Twenty-five," was Anne's bid.
"Thirty pounds," said Charlotte.
"Too rich for me," Kitty replied, and sat down.
"Forty," said Anne.
"Seventy!" Charlotte was once again in the lead.
"Seventy-five pounds!" Anne shouted. "I want that man!"
"Whatever," said Charlotte, and sat down.
"Sold!" Lizzy cried. "And to keep this moving... no, Anne, please. Wait until we're through, all right. Anne? Anne! Lady Catherine, can't you control your daughter?" The quiet and reserved Anne de Bourgh had jumped Colonel Fitzwilliam on the platform, sending both of them tumbling to the floor. She then proceeded to shower his face with kisses, much to the amusement of almost everyone present.
"Someone get them a room!" Lizzy shouted. Mr. Bennet, having been allowed to get dressed once more, in the company of his brother-in-law, grabbed Anne by the ankles and dragged her from the room. This took some time, because she was still hanging onto the colonel, and he was much heavier to pull.
"And now, for you ladies who love those men in uniform, directly from the militia in Meryton, it's George Wickham!" Mr. Wickham, in bad-boy looks in black leather, had the ladies drooling.
"Twelve pounds, 20 pence, for my Wicky!" shouted Lydia, who had recovered from her faint. Mr. Wickham frowned.
"Do I hear 40?" Lizzy asked.
"Forty pounds?" cried Maria Lucas. "For that?"
"Forty pence," Lizzy clarified.
"Fourteen pounds." Mary Bennet stood up and blushed.
"Fifteen!" said Kitty and stuck her tongue out at her sisters.
"Sixteen!" Lydia shouted once more.
"Twenty-five pounds!" roared Mrs. Bennet, "and I get to choose which daughter he marries!"
"Thirty pounds!" Louisa Hurst cried. "I always did want a scoundrel!"
Mr. Wickham eyed Mrs. Hurst with some distaste until Lizzy whispered that she was well-dowered in his ear.
"Sold!" he cried, ran off the platform and whisked Mrs. Hurst off her feet. The two headed for the carriages outside and weren't heard from for two weeks, after which Mr. Hurst decided he was better off as Lady Catherine's boy toy and filed for divorce.
"And that concludes this evening's entertainment," Lizzy told the stunned crowd. "If you will just pay me as you leave..."
"We want Darcy!" came Maria's cry.
"We want Darcy! We want Darcy! We want Darcy!" Everyone, even Lady Catherine, took up the chant, which was icky, because she was his aunt, for goodness' sake!
Lizzy looked behind the curtain and grinned. There was Darcy, in dark trousers and a white lawn shirt, with no cravat, standing there with a bottle of wine and a bouquet of roses. He winked at Lizzy and she led him out. Naturally, everyone expected him to be in a loincloth, but as has been mentioned in the Tea Room, he just isn't the type. He received a lot of boos and hisses for his attire, but he didn't seem to mind.
"All right ladies, what do I hear for an opening bid?"
But they would have none of it, having been spoiled by men in thongs and loincloths, and everyone tossed off the last of their wine and packed up, grabbing men if they were lucky, and heading out the door.
Lizzy and Darcy shrugged, and then sat down on the platform, side by side.
"You are a clever girl, my dearest, darling Elizabeth."
"I know," she smirked. "And I bid three hundred and thirteen pounds for the man with the roses."
"Three hundred and - Lizzy, where did you get so much money?"
"From the sale of all those other guys tonight, of course! Oh, make that two hundred and thirteen. I promised Jane I would pay for Charles. I couldn't deprive her of the man she loves, any more than I could deprive myself."
"I never wanted to draw names, you know," Darcy softly told her, nuzzling one little shell-pink ear.
"It didn't sound like you, my love."
"So what do we do now?"
"Go home and start all over again?"
"Fine with me. We always get each other in the end, don't we?"
"We had better!" Lizzy growled, looking up at the author to see if she was paying attention. She was. "We had better!"
© 2002 Copyright held by the author.
Comments are always welcome!
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