Mr. Darcy was in the morning room of his London townhouse, leisurely reading the paper, sipping his coffee, and waiting for his wife to come down to breakfast, when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam rushed in. The colonel was very agitated and continually paced the room.
"Darcy, I don't know how much more of this I can take!"
Mr. Darcy put his head in his hands and muttered, "Not again!"
After a moment Mr. Darcy collected himself, got up and brought the older man a cup of coffee.
"Settle down, Fitzwilliam. Have some coffee. What's your trouble now? Still too active a love life?"
"Just the opposite, I'm afraid," Colonel Fitzwilliam said sadly as he sat down. "Now I'm virtually ignored. Oh, I do have some wonderful relationships brewing, a flirtation here, an Elizabeth-clone there, but they are few and far between. I'm relegated to the sidelines much of the time, if I'm present at all, that is."
"I'm sorry, I don't follow you. What do you mean if you are present at all?"
"Just that. It has become very popular of late to skip the whole Hunsford situation completely and stay with the action centered about Meryton or Pemberley - and you know what that means - no more Hunsford, no more me."
"Well, you had said you were being matched with far too many young ladies and needed a break. You know what they say, cousin - Be careful what you wish for, it might come true. But I am truly sorry, I had no idea things had gotten so bad for you."
"Bad, Darcy? Things are practically nonexistent! Even Wickham is seeing more action than I am!"
"Wickham?!" spit Mr.Darcy.
"Yes, Wickham! And he's not just paired with Miss Lydia anymore, he's been matched with Miss Charlotte Lucas, Miss Caroline Bingley, and even Georgiana."
"Georgiana is old news, Fitzwilliam."
"Not this time - this time he marries her!"
"What? You must be mistaken. That could not have happened, because if it had, he would be dead," said Mr. Darcy with icy certainty.
"Never the less, it has happened, and naturally we are both sick about it. But as horrible as that scenario is, that's not the worst of it."
"How could anything be worse than Wickham marrying Georgiana?"
"I've been made into a male version of... of... of Aunt Catherine!"
"Yes, it's true. Instead of being your rival for Miss Elizabeth's affections, I've been made into the fiercest opponent of the match."
"Fitzwilliam, how could you?"
"Don't ask me! I don't write this stuff, I just do what they tell me."
"Fitzwilliam?" called a woman's voice from outside the room.
"Yes?" both men answered in unison. Elizabeth came into the room, as the two men looked at each other with disgust and jealousy, not for want of Elizabeth, but for want of the name.
"Oh, I'm sorry, not you, Colonel. You see, darling? I told you William was much easier."
"William is not my given name," he said through clenched teeth. He was extremely tired of this discussion; it had gone on 189 years too long. Elizabeth shrugged; she was just as tired of it.
"Did you want something, Elizabeth?"
"Then you have come to the right place, my dear," said her husband, pulling out a chair for her. He was happy the name business was being dropped.
"Mrs. Darcy, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you."
"Bad news, Colonel?"
"Yes, I'm sorry to say that illness has struck our little community."
"Could you be little more specific, Fitzwilliam, as to what and who," Mr. Darcy requested.
"Old news again, cousin. Anne is always ill."
"Especially when she is married to you, dear" put in Mr. Darcy's primary wife. He just nodded, his eyes betraying a tinge of guilt and pain; they changed from green to black to reflect his now darkened mood.
"It seems to be spreading to our other friends," resumed the Colonel.
"Again, who specifically?" asked Mr. Darcy impatiently.
The colonel lowered his eyes. "Mrs. Bingley," he said quietly.
"Jane?!!" asked Elizabeth in alarm.
"Let's not jump to the conclusion, dear, I mean she does get ill quite frequently at the beginning of a number of our stories."
"I'm afraid it's much more serious this time, cousin," warned the Colonel. Mr. Darcy put his hand on Elizabeth's her arm, attempting to give her some quiet support.
"No, not Jane!" she exclaimed, "Why, we planned to go shopping this morning. Surely you must be mistaken."
"But is it certain, Fitzwilliam?"
"Quite certain, a saw the rough draft myself."
"Poor Jane," she murmured, still in disbelief.
"Poor Bingley," added her husband. "He will be devastated."
As frequently happens in fiction, Mr. and Mrs. Bingley just happened to arrive while they were being discussed. Elizabeth rose from the table and rushed to her favorite sister.
"Oh Jane, my dearly beloved sister! How are you feeling?"
"I am well, Lizzy. (*cough*) And you? (*cough*) (*cough*)" It was so like Jane, always thinking of others.
"I am fine, thank you," Elizabeth replied, suppressing a sob.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," Mr. Bingley said brightly, "So good to see you again. Anything new?"
"Not in ages," he said morosely.
"Lizzy (*cough*)" coughed Jane, "Is Mary (*cough*) coming with us today?"
Tears began welling up in Elizabeth's eyes. Jane was so brave, so good. "No, Jane, (*sob*) Mary said she had other plans for today."
"It's alright, Lizzy, (*cough*)" comforted Jane, not really understanding why her sister was so upset, "I'm sure Mary will be able to come with us (*cough*) another time."
Elizabeth shook her head in sadness. Perhaps there would be no other time. Poor, dear Jane.
"What are Miss Bennet's plans?" queried Colonel Fitzwilliam, "if I'm not being to bold by asking."
"I believe she has a date," replied Elizabeth, determined to be brave for Jane's sake.
"Mary? A date?" asked a surprised Mr. Darcy.
"Yes, a date."
"With (*cough*) who?" asked Jane.
"I believe with Mr. Wickham," answered Elizabeth in distaste.
"Wickham!" spit both Fitzwilliams in angry unison.
"Yes, Mr. Wickham," said Mary, entering the room.
"Excuse me," said Mr. Bingley, "But isn't he already married to your youngest sister Lydia?"
"I was told he was with Georgiana now," said Mr. Darcy, staring accusingly at his cousin.
"He is with neither at the moment," replied Mary, "he has been shifting a lot lately."
"So I noticed," muttered the Colonel under his breath.
"Anyway, we are going to a revival meeting," continued Mary. "He will be picking me up shortly."
"Wickham at a revival meeting? That's hard to believe," sneered Mr. Darcy.
"One should always believe the best of one's fellows," stated Mary earnestly. "He is becoming quite reformed, you know."
"And pigs fly," he spat.
"I say," said Mr. Bingley, trying to turn the conversation back to pleasanter things, "When the ladies return, why don't we all take a nice stroll in the park."
"That's a lovely idea," replied Elizabeth, "if you think Jane is up to it."
"Why shouldn't (*cough*) I be up to it, Lizzy?" asked Jane.
"Because of your illness, dear."
"Illness? (*cough*)" Elizabeth made a mental note to ask the housekeeper to look into the problem with echoing in the morning room.
"Jane isn't ill," said Mr. Bingley.
"The poor man is in denial," whispered Elizabeth to her husband. Mr. Darcy nodded sadly in agreement.
"I am not ill, (*cough*) Lizzy."
"But, Jane dear, your cough."
"Oh that," chuckled Charles. "That's just a speck of dust stuck in her throat."
"A speck of dust?" asked Elizabeth. Great, she thought, Now I'm doing it!
"Yes, we've just (*cough*) come from Louisa's (*cough*) (*cough*) and..." said Jane.
"And one of the maids was being a little over zealous with dusting the wainscotting," continued Mr. Bingley for her. "My dear Jane got a little to close and breathed in a bit of dust."
"Yes, and when we asked the kitchen maid (*cough*) for a glass of water..."
"She just muttered something about coming over here and disappeared..."
"So I never did get (*cough*) the water."
"Good help is so hard to find!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "Here Jane, I'll get you a nice cup of tea."
"Thank you, Lizzy,(*cough*) if it's not too much trouble. (*cough*) (*cough*) I could really use one."
"And speaking of tea, that's another thing I'd like to talk to you about, Darcy," said the Colonel urgently. "The quality of tea around here lately has been atrocious!"
Mr. Darcy just put his head in his hands and began muttering, "Lord help me, not again!"