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Vampire and Prejudice

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I could not sleep, and daydreams had infected my every hour. Never could I conceive that such a thing was possible—to be so completely pulled in by another person, but it was a truth I had to acknowledge at least to myself, for there were no other words for this sickness: Miss Elizabeth Bennet had bewitched me. I was always seeking her company—jealous of it when I had it, sulking when I did not. If she would but permit me, I would drool all over her, nibble at her soft skin, reward each round of teasing with a kiss on her lips, play with the strands of her hair, and have her all to myself for every moment of every day.

I was insufferable and could hardly stand myself—how anyone else could bear me was astonishing. Even Miss Bingley, I was sure, would soon lose patience with me and give me a hearty slap to bring me to my senses. Perhaps I should go to her now and demand that she do just that. If it would work, I would be forever grateful.

It seemed that it was a peculiar gift of the Bennet line—to choose a victim and wrap them in their web so thoroughly that there could be no escape. Had not Miss Bennet done the same to Bingley? Perhaps I should go to him and we could commiserate over our obsession with our own particular Bennet girl. No. He no doubt would see it as a gift, whereas I saw it as a curse. It was torture. And the more I struggled against it, the more tortured I was.

My only hope was for her and her sister to leave, for surely my thoughts would become my own again when I was removed from her direct influence. Regrettably, Miss Bennet was not yet well enough to depart—an undisputed intelligence I had received straight from Mr. Lamb and which Mrs. Bennet now used to the utmost, feigning concern for Bingley’s benefit. Where was her concern when one of her daughters was so sick that it drove the other to tears? I despised the woman with all my heart.

“She is such a brave girl,” said Mrs. Bennet, “and she did try not to worry her mama, but I saw right through it and declare her quite ill. I dare not think of taking her back to Longbourn.”

“No, indeed you mustn’t!” exclaimed Bingley. “Mr. Lamb has forbidden it in no uncertain terms.”

They went back and forward on the subject for several minutes and I tried to bear it with the cold and unyielding patience of a rock. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the room to interest me: Mrs. Bennet had brought her two girls who were silly creatures whispering by themselves, Miss Bingley tried to be attentive to the principle conversation and offer her assurances that Miss Bennet would be well taken care of here, and there was Miss Elizabeth who seemed to suffer at least half as much as I did if her face was any indication—a face, I might add, I tried very hard not to study in present circumstances.

“What a wonderful room you have here, Mr. Bingley. I dare say you could not have found a more charming house in all the country.”

“I am very well pleased with it.”

“And are you planning to put a good use to it and give a ball?” asked Mrs. Bennet. “I am sure in a fine house like this it would be a spectacle unequal to our imagination.”

“I dare say it would be,” Miss Bingley sought to remark under her breath.

“A ball?” repeated Bingley. There was nothing of displeasure in his voice. If anything, he sounded inspired. “I think it a marvelous idea!”

My eyes locked with Miss Elizabeth and she quickly looked away, no doubt remembering her promise. I was determined to hold her to it, and was uncommonly pleased about the opportunity. I was pleased even more about her carefully averted eyes; she held immense power over me—it warmed my heart that I had some power over her as well.

“Let us not be hasty, Charles,” said Miss Bingley. “A ball is a grand undertaking and not everyone in the house would feel comfortable enough to participate.”

“We would wait, of course, until Miss Bennet’s recovery to name the date.”

“That is not entirely who I mean.”

“Darcy? He may retire, if he wishes, before it begins. I will not press him to join us if he would rather not.”

“I understand, Mr. Darcy, that in your advanced age a ball is a grand undertaking,” said Mrs. Bennet. For a moment the intelligent part of the party was struck silent with such a daring proclamation.

“I am sure, madam, I do not know what you mean,” I managed an answer in an even tone, boiling with indignation that I had to answer at all to a woman who was so beneath me she should not have dared to speak directly to me at all.

“Oh, we were just speculating about your age and had rather decided that it was too grand for you to truly enjoy such active pleasures as dancing. It must be difficult, for age is such a burden, rendering us blind and deaf. What we enjoyed in our youth we are sure to despise in our advanced years.”

I had absolutely nothing to say to that and faintly registered the reddening of Miss Elizabeth’s cheeks. Bingley opened his mouth to say something several times, but was not equal to the task.

“You mustn’t be shy about it, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Bennet continued. “We will all be prone to similar faults, eventually.”

“Allow me to assure you that Mr. Darcy has no such faults.” Miss Bingley seemed to find her voice, and we were all thankful to her.

“See, mama,” one of her youngest said to Mrs. Bennet in a low voice, “he is not French!”

I was so dumbfounded that I scarcely could understand what on earth they were talking about. Only the delicacy toward the feelings of my friends—and perhaps my bewitcher—stopped me from abruptly standing up and quitting the room, probably breaking a few things on my way.

“Then I see no reason why he should object to a ball. All people of quality and with good manners delight in a ball.”

“And I promise I will delight in hosting it,” Bingley chimed in.

“And so good of you to wait for Jane’s recovery.”

“I would not think of having the ball without her.”

“Jane is fortunate indeed to have such good friends who take care of her.”

“We are fortunate to have the pleasure of taking care of her. And Miss Elizabeth is as good a sister as there ever was,” Bingley said and was rewarded with a shy smile from that very lady.

“Oh, but Jane has such a sweet temper and patience to suffer all ills that it is hardly a sacrifice on Lizzy’s part. You know, I often tell my other girls that their characters are nothing to Jane’s. And she is such a beauty, too, there really is no equal to her.”

Bingley was rather unsure what to answer to this.

“At least that is what I am always told. I could not trust my own judgment, for as a mother I would find all my girls great beauties for no other reason than being their mother. But Jane, well, let me tell you, the world has been in love with her ever since she was a young girl. At only fifteen, there was a gentleman in town so in love with her that my sister-in-law swore he would make Jane an offer. At fifteen! Can you imagine? I could not have parted with my child, I am sure. And she has only grown in beauty since then.”

Mrs. Bennet was trying hard to sell a cow that Bingley already worshiped with hardly any encouragement. It was painful to listen to and painful to watch Miss Elizabeth shrink with shame ever so slightly in her seat. I felt keenly the lowness of her connections and what humiliation they brought upon her daily. What possible sins could merit this penance?

“He did write some very pretty verses on his love and that is a compliment that warms every woman’s heart, I think,” she added, and Bingley’s eyes shone with inspiration. I had the urge to break every bottle of ink in the house. Bingley was no poet, and he hardly needed to prove his ineptitude by lowering himself to the suggestions of such a despicable woman.

“And empties the heart of every gentleman,” Miss Elizabeth spoke up. “Verse is such a powerful drug to ward off any feelings of love, apothecaries should start selling prescriptions for it.”

I felt incredibly conflicted on the few lines I had composed in her honor, inspired by a particular volume of poetry she had the misfortune to bleed upon.

“Is not poetry the food of love?” I asked, trying my hardest not to seem defensive. It was not that I had any intention to present my work to her, but to find that she had contempt for it without even seeing it wounded me most peculiarly.

“Poetry demands too much of the surface feelings with which people are often afflicted. In digging for their love, they find the pit too shallow, and a single verse will exhaust it of material.”

I only smiled. Perhaps I should instruct Bingley to write some poetry after all; for me, however, I feared there was no hope, and the only thing that would save me from Miss Elizabeth was my determination not to be ensnared. I grant it was a poor speech by a rabbit to a fox.

“Lizzy, do remember where you are!” Mrs. Bennet spoke. “You are not to behave like you would at home; your wild ways here will not be appreciated.”

I gave the woman a scolding look. How dared she chastise my bewitcher in such a manner, to shame her in front of everybody, even though she was a person who was the most shameful of the party? She had no right to speak to her that way, to treat her that way. To Mrs. Bennet’s credit, it could be said that she was affected by the look. I could only hope she would know her place in the future.

“I assure you, Mrs. Bennet, Miss Elizabeth’s spirit is much appreciated,” said Bingley, and the conversation turned to the business of neighbors. Then it was thankfully the time for the three Bennets to depart, leaving us with the more pleasant part of the family.

*

Miss Elizabeth went to her sister and the loss of her was a grave injustice that I was unwilling to bear. Finding no peace until I had her back before my eyes, I convinced Bingley to ask her down for a walk in the garden—it was unforgivable that such an avid walker was locked in the house for days and fresh air, and exercise would do her good. Bingley, not suspecting anything amiss, complied with cheery air. 

For my part, I invited Bingley’s sisters on a stroll through the gardens. Mr. Hurst was not of a disposition to enjoy walking, so we left him where he was.

“I did not think I could have a lower opinion of that family, but here we are,” said Mrs. Hurst on my left side.

“I can wager my opinion will sink even lower before our stay here is done,” answered Miss Bingley.

“It is a shame that Miss Bennet must have such relations.”

“I find it a miracle that her character is so pleasing with no company of note to speak of. Look at her sister!” I did as Miss Bingley instructed. “Scarcely any manners, such an arrogant and conceited air, she thinks incredibly highly of herself and has no deference to true people of importance, which is an unforgivable character flaw. To tolerate her for her fine eyes alone is a terrible chore.”

“Indeed,” I admitted. For the pleasure of her lips, on the other hand, I was tempted to hold half of Pemberley for ransom.

“Maybe if she had some elegance of dress,” said Mrs. Hurst, “she could hide her hideous flaws better. But look at that bonnet—I would hate her just for the ugliness of it.”

“Country fashions supposedly hold some charm for certain people, but I can profess no love for them. An arrangement of more ill-fitting clothes than those worn by Miss Elizabeth is hard to come by. Just to have to constantly observe them is annoying. Do not you agree, Mr. Darcy?”

“Certainly,” I said. All Miss Elizabeth’s clothes were a constant source of annoyance for me since I had not the pleasure of removing them.

“What could Charles be so happy to talk to her about!” cried Mrs. Hurst. Both were having a very pleasant conversation that I was eager to break up. She had no such unaffected smiles for me, and I loathed to see them bestowed upon my friend who could hardly deserve them. 

Jealousy, indeed, was a green-eyed monster.

“Her sister, no doubt,” I said. At least I hoped they could not strike up a friendship and affection from some other common source of interest. Miss Elizabeth was too smart, too quick for Bingley by half. A horrible vision of the future accosted me: Miss Bennet succumbing to her illness, Bingley finding a new love in Miss Elizabeth, and the new pair flaunting their happiness before my very green eyes for the rest of their days. I felt nauseated.

“I feel his affection for Miss Bennet has only grown. I cannot fathom how, for he has not even seen her since she has come here, and her beauty was what had recommended her so thoroughly to him,” said Mrs. Hurst.

“I am not worried,” said Miss Bingley.

“I am,” I asserted, and Miss Bingley quickly changed her stance to be worried as well.

“Who knows what things she is telling him!” she exclaimed. “Her tongue is more skilled than her mother’s, and she is sure to succeed when her mother has blundered. We must separate them immediately.”

Before I had gotten over insidious images of Miss Elizabeth’s skilled tongue and its possible application, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had stirred us to intercept their brother.

“Charles, I have need of you,” Mrs. Hurst demanded. “Caroline is dreadfully tired and needs assistance getting back to the house.”

“You already have a gentleman on your arm, Louisa, and I am presently engaged.”

“Mr. Darcy has denied us, for he cannot conceive of going back to the house so soon. I am quite vexed with him,” she said. Miss Bingley fought to hide her surprise at her sister’s capacity to spread falsehoods about me with ease. “Come, Charles.”

Bingley obeyed, and I was left with Miss Elizabeth.

I was left with Miss Elizabeth!

“If you are not likewise fatigued, might I beg the pleasure of your hand along the gravel walk, Miss Elizabeth?”

If she would deny me, I might swing her over my shoulder and carry her off—so great was my eagerness to share a moment with her alone, safe from the stares and opinions of others. That Mrs. Hurst had afforded me this opportunity was extraordinary.

To my immense relief, Miss Elizabeth accepted my hand and allowed me to lead her on.

She was sunshine itself, gentle birdsong in the early hours of the morning, the essence of everything that was pleasing about life, of things that I wanted and was missing. Her effect on me was extraordinary to such a degree that I was tempted to ask Mr. Lamb to perform one of his tests to acknowledge the change with science. I would not, of course. The last few days I had plenty of practice to deny myself things I might be tempted to do, minor incidents observed by no one notwithstanding.

She was quiet. I could not think of anything to say. The thrill of being so close to her, to feeling her beside me, to having her all to myself filled me entirely the way blood never seemed to manage. A dangerous thought.

Any attempts for my mind to find a suitable topic to begin a conversation was an unwelcome struggle, though I wondered how she felt about it. Was she shy in my presence or merely thought the silence a preference of mine and aimed to humor me? If I did not speak, I would not find out.

I wished Bingley back in our presence with as much force as I had wished him away.

“The garden here is very beautiful,” she observed, and I agreed.

Silence reigned once more.

“I dare say it is more pleasing in the spring and summer,” she tried again. “But then again, gardens usually are.”

I agreed again and failed miserably in continuing the thread she was giving me—too nervous, I realized. I should have prepared better for our tête-à-tête in lieu of just daydreaming about it.

“Mr. Darcy, I insist we have some conversation.”

Was she peeved or just teasing me? I could not quite discern the tone, but I need not be concerned about her being shy or accommodating towards me—she was neither. Strangely, this only pleased me and I smiled to myself.

“I thought energetic walking left ladies too out of breath to wish for prolonged conversation—it might leave them winded and I confess myself very ill at ease with the possibility of carrying them back to the house.” There, I said words. I teased her back. I think I teased her. Did I do it correctly? If she was angry at me, I guessed I would find out soon enough.

“You spend too much time in London,” Miss Elizabeth observed.

“I do not, but continue.”

“A walk and a conversation might make a London lady winded and in need of assistance, but you will find no such feebleness here.”

“I think it might be a great insult to London ladies to have them called feeble.”

“It might be, but you must defer defending their honor to some other time and at present stir the topic to more civil waters.”

“I am a poor sailor, Miss Elizabeth. Explain, if you please, why I must strain myself thus.”

“Miss Bingley no doubt will ask me what we talked about during our walk and I can hardly report on our present conversation.”

Apparently, I had to pander to Miss Bingley even when she was not present.

“Very well, Miss Elizabeth,” I said, perhaps more coldly than I intended. “Shall we talk about books so that Miss Bingley can have nothing to object to?”

“I think not. Miss Bingley has no interest in books.”

“Even more reason to discuss them.” Let Miss Bingley think we are incredibly boring in our conversation and care nothing about our future ones.

“You are severe on your friends,” she observed.

“I am.”

“And do they bear such treatment well?”

“They are more patient with me than I deserve,” I said. Miss Elizabeth gave me a curious look. What she might be contemplating, she did not divulge. “But you wished to speak on books. Please, begin where you like.”

“You are mistaken. I did not wish that at all. I do not believe we have read the same things and therefore have nothing to compare.”

I wondered if she thought me a fastidious reader or downplayed her own achievements.

“But you cannot be proven correct if you do not attempt it.”

“I am quite at ease to live on faith alone. To prove myself right is not my objective.”

I was beginning to think that she did not trust me enough to reveal her interests. A pity. How much effort on my part would it take for her to confide in me, even with such inconsequential details of her life? I was eager to find out.

Miss Elizabeth allowed silence after that. I was not sure if Miss Bingley asked her about our conversation, but she certainly asked me and I felt myself uncommonly prepared.

“We had several false starts, but could not agree on the topic,” I informed her.

“How conceited and artful she is! She had no trouble laughing with my brother about little nothings. We must be careful of her—very careful.”

I feared Miss Bingley’s advice came too late. I was almost sure there was not much that could have the power to save me from Miss Elizabeth.