This is my first attempt at any fiction. As P&P is my favourite what better than to start with JAFF. I would love feedback; however this IS my first attempt at storytelling and English is not my first language so please be kind while giving feedback, especially negative ones :)
Prologue (Part 1)
March 1810, Meryton
It was pleasant day for March and Elizabeth was enjoying her walk to Meryton, even though her sister Mary walking alongside was her usual taciturn self. The reason for this shopping trip and the stealthy manner in which Elizabeth had arranged it was adding to her pleasure. She had to wait almost a week for Jane, her closest friend and eldest sister to be absent from home at the time of her planned trip. Today as soon as Jane went out with a basket for their tenants, she had cajoled Mary to accompany her to Meryton. It had been necessary to keep this trip a secret from Jane, as today she was going to buy a special gift for her dearest sister. Jane's 21st birthday was a week from today and Elizabeth wanted to make this important day more special for her.
"So what is so urgent Lizzy that you could not even wait for my piano practice to end ?"
"Actually, I want to finish my shopping and be back before Jane returns home".
When Mary raised her brow enquiringly, Elizabeth hesitated only for a moment. Trouble in keeping a still tongue was not an affliction that plagued Mary, it was her two younger sisters whose love for gossiping made it risky to share any information with them that you wanted to keep quiet. It was why Elizabeth had bribed a reluctant Mary with a sheet music to accompany her rather than ask Kitty or Lydia who were ever ready to visit Meryton. If anyone enquired, they were venturing out to buy the music sheet.
"I am going to buy a gift for Jane's birthday and do not want anything to spoil the surprise".
"Ah! now I understand all the hurry. Don't worry, Jane is planning to visit Mrs. James and Mrs. Smith both and would most definitely be away for more than an hour." The sisters shared a conspiratorial smile and walked along companionably.
Elizabeth was planning to present Jane with a copy of Wordsworth's latest poems and a pretty straw bonnet that Jane had so admired in the shop last month. She had not been able to buy it as Lydia had once again "borrowed" a portion of her pin money for some ribbon that she just couldn't do without. Remembering the incident irritated Elizabeth all over again. "Really, Jane is too soft hearted for her own good ", she grumbled under her breath.
Soon they were in Meryton, stopping just before the milliner's shop Elizabeth said, "You carry on to the book shop and browse for the music sheet, I will make my purchase at Mrs Bates' and join you directly." Mary nodded and the sisters parted ways. Smiling inwardly Elizabeth made to enter the shop for the much anticipated gift for Jane, little knowing that circumstances would force her to act in a manner which will be a greater gift to her family than any she had given to anyone of them ever.
Just as Elizabeth made to open the shop's door, it was jerked open from inside and Mrs. Long rushed past her, almost knocking her down in her hurry. Mouth agape at her rudeness, Elizabeth turned to stare after her as she went away almost at a run, or as much of a run the portly lady could manage. Shrugging she went inside, although the fleeting glimpse of pain and anger she had witnessed on Mrs Long's face disturbed her a little. "Were those tears that I saw on her face?" she wondered.
"Mr Goulding saw her in a compromising position with Mr. Sandhurst as soon as he entered the study with her Unc..." , Mrs Goulding stopped abruptly when she saw Elizabeth had entered the shop.
She and Lady Lucas with whom she was talking both turned towards Elizabeth and gave her strained smiles. Disconcerted at the talk she had interrupted, Elizabeth pretended not to have heard anything and exchanged pleasantries with them. Very soon however, both ladies bade her goodbye and left the shop together, talking now in low voices. Though, Elizabeth did not hear anything more of the disturbing talk she had unwittingly overheard, she felt some of her earlier excitement leaving her as she worried about the identity of the hapless creature whose name was being bandied about so carelessly. Don't be a ninny, Lizzy, she scolded herself. Mrs. Goulding loves to gossip but she is not vicious or cruel. This, whatever 'this' is, will soon blow over. However, she had a niggling worry that Mrs. Goulding's gossip and Mrs. Long's storming away from the shop were related. With a shiver of unease, she turned to ask Mrs. Bates for Jane's bonnet. That Mrs. Bates too was uncomfortable was plain for her to see.
Forcing a smile she said, "Good Morning Mrs Bates, I hope you still have one of those bonnets Jane had tried on when we last visited your shop? I would like to buy it if you do have one"
"You are in luck, Miss, there is one piece still left with me", Mrs Bates appeared more cheerful with the prospect of a sale.
Quickly making her purchase, she hastened out to join Mary in the bookshop. Cheering herself by imagining Jane's pleasure in her gifts, she deliberately tried to stop brooding about the conversation she had overheard. When, she entered the shop, she saw Mary handing her selection to the owner, Mr Templeton.
"You were very swift with your purchase Lizzy", said Mary smilingly as she turned to face Elizabeth. "Yes, it seems both Mrs. Bates and I were very eager to close the deal", Elizabeth tried a feeble joke. "I see you too have made your selection." Turning to Mr. Templeton, Elizabeth asked about her order of Wordsworth's poems.
"It is right here Miss Elizabeth", Mr. Templeton picked the volume from his desk and handed it over to her. Thanking him for procuring the book in so timely a manner, Elizabeth paid for their purchases and the sisters were soon on their way back to Longbourn.
"Hmm?" Elizabeth came out of her reverie when Mary touched her lightly on her hand.
"Is something the matter? You appeared troubled when you came into the book shop. And just now I had to actually shake you away from your wool gathering," said Mary.
Since when Mary had become so observant? mused Elizabeth. Or maybe it is she who had been the unobservant one where Mary was considered.
She bit her lip as she debated on how much to tell Mary. Not only did she hate gossip, she really did not have much information to impart. She had been mulling over what she had heard and trying to make sense of it. If she understood correctly, Mr Sandhurst and some girl were discovered in a compromising position by Mr. Goulding and the girl's uncle.
But who is the unfortunate girl and who is her uncle? I know that Mr. Sandhurst has been interning with Uncle Phillips for past few months. Oh No! Was Mrs Goulding referring to our uncle Phillips? But then it would mean… Elizabeth felt a sinking sensation in her stomach.
To her mingled relief and shame she could only think of Lydia and Kitty as the possibilities for the unnamed girl. It was utterly ludicrous to even imagine the pious and sanctimonious Mary in the situation described by Mrs. Goulding. Despite her worry, Elizbeth felt her lips quirking at the thought. And Jane! the idea itself was sacrilegious.
But Lydia is not even 15 ! and both the girls have been their usual boisterous selves in the past few days. For Lord's sake, they were squabbling about some ribbon or other when we left this morning! Surely even Kitty and Lydia would not be this heedless and unconcerned if one of them was caught red handed in a compromising situation, pondered Elizabeth.
And Mrs. Long would hardly be so upset if Mrs. Goulding were gossiping about one of us Bennets. If I am sure of anything it is that Mrs. Long hurried away from the shop because of Mrs. Goulding's barbs, Elizabeth mused along. This would make more sense if it were Julia or Harriet Long whom Mr. Goulding observed with Mr. Sandhurst, along with their uncle, Mr. Long. Again it is difficult to imagine the quiet, retiring Harriet I have known all my life, acting in so improper a manner. Julia though is a different kettle of fish altogether, Elizabeth grimaced. She, Lydia, and Maria Lucas are as thick as thieves and are found gossiping and giggling in a silly manner more often than not. Maybe I could ask Lydia if..
"Lizzy ?" Elizabeth started and found Mary looking at her impatiently. How long have I been ruminating? She decided to tell Mary the bare minimum which could explain away her abstraction.
"Er.. actually Mrs. Long almost ran me over when I made to enter Mrs. Bates' and she left without even acknowledging me. And later when I entered the shop, it seemed I had interrupted some gossip between Mrs. Goulding and Lady Lucas. While they were pleasant to me, it was clear that all of them including Mrs. Bates were very uncomfortable. Both the ladies then left hurriedly. All this discomposed me somewhat", Elizabeth admitted.
"You know Mrs. Goulding loves to gossip but she is harmless usually. What has you in a pother this time? Are you sure you did not hear anything of what they were talking?" Mary furrowed her brow at her. Again Mary's perspicacity disconcerted Elizabeth a little.
"Aah not really, Mrs Goulding stopped speaking as soon as she perceived me", Elizabeth decided to stick to the truth as much as possible.
"Well, don't worry, if it is anything interesting we would soon be having Aunt Phillips at our doorstep eager to impart all the juicy titbits " joked Mary. Elizabeth looked at Mary's mischievous smile in some wonder and shook her head. Who is this girl? Or maybe I have never truly known the real Mary.
"Then by all means let us wait and see if we are to be blessed with a visit by Aunt Phillips", smiled Elizabeth, inwardly grimacing at not being completely truthful with Mary.
They had been walking silently for a few minutes each wrapped in her thoughts when Elizabeth raised her head and noticed that the pathway to Longbourn was just coming into view. Suddenly Mary grabbed her hand, pointed in the opposite direction, and exclaimed, " Look, isn't that Harriet sitting on the log there? She looks quite dejected." Elizabeth looked to where Mary was pointing and saw Harriet Long sitting on a log in the grove some distance away. Indeed she was not looking at all happy. Elizabeth quickly came to a decision. "You go home and keep these in my trunk, I'll go and talk to her and be home in a while" she said handing over her purchases to Mary.
It was important to talk to Harriet and offer some comfort as best as she could. After all Harriet had always been a good friend to her even if not as close as Charlotte. If her actions were influenced a tiny bit by the hope that her talk with would clear her apprehensions regarding her younger sisters, she chose not to dwell on it too much. Mary shrugged, took the packets and was soon on her way. Elizabeth spent a moment observing Harriet. She was sitting with her shoulders slumped and appeared to be dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. Elizabeth took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and determinedly walked towards Harriet.