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Pride and Platypus
Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret
by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian
Third book in the Supernatural Jane Austen Series,
forthcoming in May 2011 from Curiosities.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when the moon is full over Regency England, the gentlemen are all subject to its curse.
It is a peculiar monthly Affliction inducing them to take on various unnatural shapes—neither quite demon, nor proper beast—and in those shapes to roam the land; to hunt, murder, dismember, gorge on blood, consume haggis and kidney pie, gamble away familial fortune, marry below their station (and below their stature, when the lady is an Amazon), vote Whig, perform sudden and voluntary manual labor, cultivate orchids, collect butterflies and Limoges snuff boxes, and perpetrate other such odious evil—unless properly contained.
And thus, as the first pale rays of Selene’s silver sphere illuminate the celestial velvet of the night, they turn—baronets and dukes, earls and marquises, counts and princes, lords and squires high and low, regardless of fortune—shedding skin and inhibitions, breaking bones and genteel habits (and fine china and porcelain), distending into strange unnatural musculature and contorting into bestial forms, growing nails and claws and teeth; fur, scales, feathers, gristle, hide, or peculiar additional appendages; becoming monstrous beings of savagery and grim wonder.
Woe to any who might encounter them thus! And woe a thousandfold to any who might in such a state encourage them!
Fortunately, as a rule, the gentlemen are safely restrained indoors for their transformation. They are locked up discreetly, in deep cellars or family crypts, caged behind thick iron bars and swaddled in heavy links of chain in custom bedrooms and parlors and hidden estate alcoves. Some are even bound and manacled to stone walls of ancient dungeons converted for just such use—while being closely observed and ministered to by their closest kin or loyal servants.
For as long as the devious pallid orb illuminates the night heavens, they remain thus. And only the golden rays of Helios, the bright luminary of morning, can return them to their human form. . . .
Alas! There is no antidote for this manly Affliction. There is no succor or respite, from month to month. And there are no exceptions. Indeed, even the regent himself is not immune.
All that remains is for the pious to pray, and for the ladies to speculate—for it is a rare amusement indeed to discuss the advantages of each gentleman based on the supposed nature of his Affliction (and manner of private confinement), in conjunction with the more pleasant expectations of his income and inheritance.
* * *
Now, it is also a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, bound by the usual gentleman’s Affliction, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters—even though, it is precisely such a man that must also harbor a Dreadful Secret.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
Mr. Bennet made no answer. It was only a week till the full moon, and his customary leonine languidity was beginning to make its presence felt, foreshadowing other related symptoms.
“Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently, affronted more than usual by the sight of her excessively absent-seeming husband and the promise of what was yet to come.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England! He came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; he is to take possession before Michaelmas. Some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week. And in advance of his other possessions comes a very sturdy and generously proportioned iron cage.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
“Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year, and a grand impressive cage! What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? How can it affect them? Do you intend to incarcerate them monthly alongside this gentleman?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes—and well before the Affliction takes its odious hold of the both of you.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party. In which case I will naturally have to call him out; fur will fly, and there will be all manner of sanguine unpleasantry.”
“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty (and cage duels), but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
“In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of.”
“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighbourhood. Consider your daughters! Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.”
“You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley with his grandiose crate will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my brave little Lizzy.”
“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference and letting her tend to the padlock and bars of your confinement room.”
“Indeed! Lizzy is the only one who dares approach the confinement room when I am within. But—they have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters, and a great deal more courage.”
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. It must be the odious moon, making you so beastly already. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. Unlike you, the moon is impotent in daytime. And I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
“Ah, you do not know what I suffer.”
“Consider what I suffer behind two-inch iron bars. Now, I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood, bringing with them enough sturdy metal enclosures to fill a zoo.”
“It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all, if only to appraise the structural integrity of their containment. One learns a great deal from observation of other such contraptions to benefit one’s own.”
Mrs. Bennet could verily speak nothing to that, only open her mouth and wring her handkerchief.
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand either his Affliction or his character.
Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
Her single favorite nemesis was the dreadful luminary in the night heavens, the odious moon.
* * *