The Ladies Take Their Turn
In which the story ends, we hope satisfactorily.
“This meeting of the League will come to order,” cried Mr. Bingley, banging his gavel several times. The hubbub died down in the crowded Pemberley ballroom. Everyone had come: the gentlemen, the ladies, the blackguards, and even the minor comic characters.
“Miss Bates, I beg your pardon, madam,” said Mr. Bingley, “but I must ask you to desist as well.”
“Oh, Mr. Bingley, I beg your pardon,” said Miss Bates. “I was just telling dear Jane and my mother about the unfortunate result of the blackguards–”
Mrs. Churchill managed to quiet her aunt, and Mr. Bingley nodded to her gratefully.
“Mr. Darcy will speak to you all now about the next steps of the defense.”
Everyone applauded politely as Mr. Darcy took the podium.
“We undertook the defense of Miss Jane Austen’s work against the forces of popular culture, which sought to overtake us and bend us to its will,” said Mr. Darcy. “We have used the generous resources with which Miss Austen provided us, and have had success. The Royal Navy, the army, the gentlemen of the hunt, and the gentlemen of the cloth. Even those of us who have not behaved as they ought–” he glanced at the blackguards, who sat a little apart from everyone else, passing around a bottle between them; Mr. Crawford, wrapped in blankets, sipped shakily– “have had a part in the defense. I am proud of all that we have done, and I hope you all are proud as well.”
He stopped speaking to take a drink of water, and there was scattered applause. Mr. Darcy held up a hand.
“Thank you—but I am very sorry to report that we have not, at last, succeeded.”
There was a moment of shocked silence, and some whispers among the spectators. He held up his hand again to quiet them.
“The forces of popular culture have seized hold of Miss Austen’s work, and I fear they have become too deeply entrenched to be completely expelled. There is no way to stop it. There will be monsters, and melodrama, and the exposure of the most personal moments of married couples. We will continue to be dragged across time, and turned into supernatural creatures. Even Miss Austen herself has not been left alone, and is given insipid adventures, as though she were unable to create us out of her brilliant imagination. It has become obvious to me that, despite our endeavors, despite our successes, that we can, at best, slow these depredations; we cannot stop them entirely.” He fell into a thoughtful silence (one might even say he brooded manfully, though best not within his hearing) for a moment.
A lady with fine, dark eyes went to the podium. “May I speak, sir?” she asked Mr. Darcy.
“Yes, of course,” he said, surprised; then to the audience, he said, “May I present—my wife.”
“Oh, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “They know me.” Mrs. Darcy turned to the audience.
“We have all seen these books and films that usurp our stories. And yet—here we are.”
The audience listened intently.
“We are not changed. You and I,” she said, turning to her husband and taking his hand, “have not changed, Fitzwilliam.”
“They keep calling me William,” he muttered.
“That is because they do not truly know you, my love.” She turned back to the audience. “These forces aligned against us–they cannot change us. We still exist, right here on the page–” she waved one of the Brock illustrated editions over her head– “as we have been since Miss Austen first wrote our stories. Between the monstrous parts, our own stories can still be found.” She gripped the edge of the podium. “They can send vampyres!” she cried
“Yes!” cried Bingley, shaking a fist.
“They can send werewolves!”
“YES!” cried the assembled characters.
“They can send sea monsters, and mummies, and lurid imaginations that would shame Monk Lewis!”
The crowd was on its feet. “YES!” they shouted as one.
“But can they change us?”
“NO!” came the roar.
“Can they defeat us?”
“Even if we do not bear arms against them?”
Mr. Tilney hastily kicked his crossbow under his chair. “NO!” he cried with the rest.
Mrs. Darcy stood in front of them, her eyes flashing magnificently. “Then there is only one thing to do!”
They waited breathlessly.
She turned to her husband. “Mr. Darcy, it is time this room enjoyed its proper use. We are going to have a ball!”
The characters cheered and immediately began pushing the chairs back against the wall and gathering up the papers and maps.
Mr. Darcy whispered, “Elizabeth, have we white soup enough?”
“Of course, Fitzwilliam. Do you think my housekeeping negligent?”
“No, my love. It is, like you, magnificent.” He kissed her hand.
That night, the ballroom glittered, with the great crystal chandeliers throwing off candlelight that reflected from the women’s jewelry and hair decorations. The room was packed with people, and the dance sets as full as the room could hold. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy led the first dance, and everyone danced with them; as the evening progressed, there were some disappointed ladies, and petty disagreements, and slanderous gossip spread, and a certain amount of drama, because, as Miss Jane Austen knew so well, one cannot have a ball without them.
It was considered a very successful ball, and everyone danced very late, even Mrs. Bertram. They all slept rather late the next morning, and then went back to their own homes to live the delightful lives that Miss Jane Austen had given them, and had given to all of us to enjoy again and again.
This is the ending we always planned–but when it was written we were not completely satisfied with it, which was part of the delay in posting it. We hope that our Gentle Readers are happier with it. –Ed.