//Netherfield Ball: a Pride and Prejudice choose your own adventure story//, by Laura Hansen of Northanger Soapworks
You arrive at the Netherfield Ball with your cousins the Lucases. Charlotte has been talking non-stop since you arrived this morning about her friend Elizabeth Bennet. Whether Elizabeth will be as interesting as she sounds you have yet to determine, but anything is better than listening to Uncle's droning on about Sir James's Court.
As you step out of the carriage, you nearly drop your heavy reticule.
Choose the explanation for the heavy reticule:
[[You knew you shouldn't have brought a book with you. But Mrs. Radcliffe was too tempting to put down.->Powder Room]]
[[The worn copy of //The Italian// was quite heavy, despite the hollow cavity inside.->Head to Ballroom]]Hugging the reticule to your chest, you make your way through the disorder inside.
Introductions are made to the hosts, and you are pleased with the kind manners of Mr. Bingley. Although-- he did spend most of his time peering wistfully toward the Ballroom.
Charlotte and your aunt and uncle have already gone on, so you turn toward Mariah at your elbow. "Do excuse me, but I must find the powder room post-haste!"
She nods a brief acknowledgement, already drifting nearer to the corner where a cluster of officers stand together.
You stride off, alone for the first time all day, and soon find the powder room and plant yourself onto the deepest cushion.
After about an hour, you hear a commotion in the hall outside.
Do you [[abandon your perch to investigate?-> Check the noise]] or [[hope they move on soon, as you have just gotten to a very exciting part in your novel?->Stay Put]]Hugging the reticule to your chest, you make your way through the disorder inside.
Introductions are made to the hosts, and you are pleased with the kind manners of Mr. Bingley. Although-- he does spend most of his time peering wistfully toward the Ballroom.
You follow the Lucas clan into a large room, richly decorated and very elegant. You musn't spend too much time looking at architecture. As much as you wish it, Lady Catherine did not send you here to observe the furnishings at Netherfield Park.
"Charlotte," you say, turning to your cousin, "would you introduce me to your friend Elizabeth? I should like to meet her."
She obliges you immediately. Elizabeth is a tall woman with a clever look about her.
You exchange small talk for a moment, biding your time, discussing favorite books and plays. She eyes your reticule, and asks, "Goodness, what a large bag you have. I only carry one that large if I'm sneaking a book somewhere!"
You smile with nonchalance. "Of course, intelligent ladies like us would think alike!"
She laughs, her shoulders relaxing into a more comfortable stance. You have won her over.
Your true quarry appears at your side, and bows a little too far.
"My dear cousin Elizabeth, if it is not too much trouble, will you introduce me to your new acquaintance?"
With surprising eagerness, Elizabeth completes the introduction and Mr. Collins immediately asks you to dance.
Will you accept?
[[Never. You feign a sore ankle->sore ankle]]
[[Readily. You are fond of dancing.->dance with collins]]You put your book away and hide your reticule under the settee before leaving the room.
The hallway looks clear, but voices drift from around the corner. "...the worst singing I've ever heard. Such an embarrassment, I could hardly stand to listen..."
You frown. Surely it was more than voices that disturbed your reading. There is nothing much in view besides an empty corridor, the door you just came through, and a tapestry on the opposing wall.
Your eyes narrow and return to the tapestry. Is it possible something lies behind it?
A distinct groan reaches your ears.
Do [[you run away, terrified that you are about to be set upon by savages.->run away]] or [[resolutely step forward and pull the tapestry aside?->lift tapestry]].A very sensible choice. The noise fades almost immediately, and you sigh happily as you turn the next page.
A few minutes later you finish the chapter, and start to feel a little guilty that you didn't check if anyone was in need of assistance. You gather your things and have nearly reached the door when it is thrown open with such force that it slams into you. You stumble back and fall, knocking your head against the wall. In your final moment of consciousness, you see a man with a cane and bruised knuckles come into view.
You have broken your spine and die instantly.
[[Return to Start->Arrival at Netherfield]] You are certain you hear footsteps chasing you, so you hasten even more quickly and leave the estate through a side door. The carriages are lined up nearby and as you are certain there is no other option, you hastily select one and throw yourself into the darkness within.
The horses spook, and as the driver was off taking refreshment in the kitchen, there is no one to stop them from driving off with you trapped inside.
Their speed increases, shapes and foliage blurring through the darkness.
Scrambling to open the door, you find the mechanism will not respond. Eventually you give up and sit down, determined to think logically.
Before you can think of another course of action, the carriage begins to slow and comes to a halt.
Steps approach and someone opens the door. You are frozen to your seat.
[[next page->wickham]]Behind the tapestry is a small door, slightly ajar. A secret room?
You step through, still seeking the source of the sound. The tapestry falls behind you, but through the veil of darkness you see a shape huddled in the corner.
It appears to be a gentleman. You kneel down beside him as your eyes begin to adjust.
You take his hand and whisper, "Sir, are you hurt?"
He remains still. A hurried step is heard in the corridor outside, and you hear the door to the powder room thrust open. You crouch closer, half in horror at the fate that nearly befell you had you remained there, and half in protection to the man beside you who was clearly sought by the ruffian so near. The ruffian shouts in rage, and continues down the corridor. Searching.
The minutes tick by in silence. You dare not leave the man beside you, nor are you certain the ruffian will not return.
"My dear lady," says a low voice, "I cannot deny awakening to a beautiful woman at my side is something of which I have not dreamt. But I fear I must arise as my errand is urgent."
The strain in his voice is audible, and you fear the severity of what has been inflicted. "Allow me to help you."
Together you stand. "This is a rather secret room. How lucky you discovered it in your hour of need."
The gentleman's eyes find yours. "Indeed, I was lucky to find this room two decades ago as a child. I know every inch of this estate. And what you think is a secret room is actually a passageway."
[[next page->into the passageway]]A handsome man is before you. His hair is rumpled as though his hands have run through it too often. His unfastened red militia coat hangs open, as does his jaw. You have shocked the poor man.
His disheveled appearance is nothing to the fright of remaining in the carriage, and you step out through the open door. He recovers enough from his shock to extend his hand to steady you.
"Welcome to the encampment of my regiment. At present I am the only officer who may assist you. My name is Wickham. How may I be of service?"
His disarming smile and polite manner sets you at ease and the fright of the journey falls away.
You venture a smile in return. "Thank you, sir. I am Miss Erstwhile, and I seem to have misplaced my book."
[[Return to Start->Arrival at Netherfield]] He sets off into the darkness. You can see nothing; but his intrepid course more than anything convinces you he does indeed know Netherfield Park's secrets, as his familiarity with the space is the only explanation for his bold steps.
You stumble, but before you fall his hand catches yours, steadying you. You continue hand in hand until you muster the courage to speak. For there is only one man he could be, one you heard tell of in your childhood.
"Pardon my curiosity, but how came you to live at Netherfield Park? The previous occupants, or rather, the owners of this place, are...well...dead, sir."
"That is not entirely correct," he says, "But it may yet come to pass if I cannot outwit the assassin that follows me."
The news stuns you. What were the chances you would find the true Master of Netherfield Park unconscious in a secret passageway? Slim, indeed.
A small light appears around the dark corner. "Where does this passageway lead?" you ask.
He turns, and there is just light enough that you can see his grin. "It is well that you are dressed for dancing. Would you dance the next with me?" Then he ducks through a low passage and begins to push on the wall ahead, but the wall does not move. "It appears to be stuck."
Still perplexed by his question, you join him and throw you weight against the wall. "Dancing whilst evading an assassin?"
The wall gives way in a rush, and you both stumble into the brightly lit ballroom. A very large plant hides you from the view of most except for a few footmen. In the full light you can now see just how handsome he is and--oh no! There is blood on his coat!
[[next page->to the dance]]Your look of alarm goes unnoticed, as his full attention is given to swiftly shutting the door behind you. He then turns his attention to the footman. "My coat, if I may?"
The footman is clearly expecting him. "Right on time, sir! Here is the coat Mr. Bingley sent."
The wounded man quickly changes into a fresh formal coat and offers his arm. "Time for our dance, my Lady."
As you step onto the floor, you spot Charlotte whispering across the room to a dark haired lady.
You turn to him and begin the steps. "I am Miss Erstwhile, cousin to Sir William Lucas of Lucas Lodge. And now I demand to know your name as well as the extent of your injury."
His grin returns. "Oh, 'tis nothing of concern, Miss Erstwhile! I had no idea the Lucases had such lovely relations!" He does a quick survey of the room--hopefully not noticing your blush--and then continues, "My name is Mr. Forsythe. I am Mr. Bingley's landlord and long-time friend. Indeed, this is my family home, long left vacant after the tragedy to which you alluded. My survival was recently discovered by certain parties, which is why an assassin was dispatched for me."
Mr. Forsythe's eyes open wide as he looks again around the room. "He is here. Let us pray I am unnoticable in ballroom attire. Bingley provided coats for many of the attendees this evening, and all are the same style so that I might blend in. I hope the disguise confounds him long enough for Bingley's men to subdue him. I am done running."
"Let us look as natural as possible then," you say. "You saw me across the room, and requested a dance, but have not yet asked me what my favorite book or flower is. I will tell you immediately, that your curiosity may be abated. My favorite flower is the geranium, and my favorite book--oh dear! I left it in the powder room."
Without thinking, you turn toward the exit, forcing Mr. Forsythe to move quickly away from where he stood in the line. At that same moment, a shot rings out, followed by several men running. You turn to look and see the assassin on the ground with his hands behind his back. "So close!" he howls with rage.
You look at Mr. Forsythe. He says, "I must thank you, Miss Erstwhile. Your urgent need for that book just saved my life. I must say I'm terribly curious to know what it is. Shall we retrieve it?"
"Yes," you say, breathless.
On your way out you are greeted by Mr. Bingley himself, and you are met with several odd looks issuing from several in the community as they see you being escorted by a man they slowly begin to recognize.
You might call this THE END. Or is it the beginning?
[[Return to Start->Arrival at Netherfield]] You politely decline, indicating your sore ankle as the reason you may not dance.
He quickly suggests you sit in one of the chairs available not twenty feet away. "Do let me assist you in reaching your seat." You see beneath his veneer of friendliness that there is no other option. You take his arm, and allow him to escort you to an empty chair.
He sits beside you. "That was quick thinking, Miss Erstwhile, as I wondered how we might make an exchange whilst dancing."
You nod, hoping he believes that the true reason for your refusal. "Well, have you got what I came for? Lady Catherine is an impatient woman."
He nods, removing a letter from his pocket. It is sealed in wax. You reach for it, and he pulls it back. "I must have payment first. I trust no associate of hers."
You sigh and pull the book out of your reticule.
The unfortunate situation that allowed Lady Catherine to manipulate you into being a courier was not your fault. But she has promised this will be your last assignment.
Turning the pages until the gap appears, you remove the coin purse and hand it stealthily to Mr. Collins. He gives you the sealed letter.
Mr. Collins excuses himself and you are left alone.
[[Will you stay and enjoy the Ball->stay at the ball]] or [[return to Kent immediately?->return to kent]]
You accept the offer, and the dance set soon begins. You are enjoying yourself, for you do dearly love to dance, even if your partner is less than ideal.
Unfortunately, Mr. Collin steps on your ankle, causing you great injury and tearing your dress, leaving your calf exposed. You faint in mortification.
Unfortunately you will never wake up. Mr. Collins does not notice you have fallen, and accidently treads on your neck and breaks it. You die immediately.
[[Return to Start->Arrival at Netherfield]] You decide to stay. Some time is spent speaking with Charlotte and your new friend Elizabeth. You do like her exceedingly, and you find the time passing quickly.
You grow tired of your seat, and while visiting the refreshments table, you spot a strange aberration in the wall. Yes, you are certain now, the wall is opening every so slowly, in spurts, as though a great force was working at intervals.
A man slips out of the secret opening, and he swiftly closes it behind him. A nearby footman provides him with a new coat, and the man looks around suspiciously. You pretend to be busy selecting the best cream puff, and after a moment you look back up and find the man has approached.
How interesting! You do love architecture, and are so very tempted to ask him if he knows of any other passages. However, he appears to be a touch uneasy reaching for a cream puff. You wonder if he might be injured?
Alas! You left your reticule unattended on your chair. It is not far, and you have just retrieved it when a newcomer with a cane catches your eye. Though he is dressed as well as the other guests, there is something altogether savage in his looks that you instantly distrust.
His eyes search the room, and then stop--he appears to have found who he is looking for. You look at where he is heading, and the man at the refreshment table is looking very alarmed indeed, and begins to walk in another direction--coincidentally, toward you.
In a flash, the events unfold. The savage man, very near to you now, pulls out a small gun and points it toward the injured one, and you throw your reticule at his hand. The gun is knocked out of his grasp. Both men turn to look at you, and you see the savage set upon by three large men in Netherfield livery.
You smile, glad all is well.
"Excuse me," the injured man clears his throat, "but I do believe you saved me from a dreadful end. I must thank you for your assistance. I am forever indebted to you, Miss..."
"I am Miss Erstwhile," you say, hardly able to process what just occurred.
The man grinned, his handsome looks appearing to his advantage. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Erstwhile. I am Mr. Forsythe. It is my greatest wish to know more about you."
And the rest is history.
One year later, after you are wed, you recall the book and take it down from the shelf. The sealed letter is still there.
You open it. It reads:
"Dear Lady Catherine,
I am grieved to tell you that your nephew Mr. Darcy appears to have some attachment to Elizabeth Bennet. I will do my duty and attempt to put a stop to anything more growing between them. I had intended to offer my hand to Mary, but will offer for Elizabeth instead. She will accept me, and Mr. Darcy will be safe once more."
You recoil in horror. Goodness! If you'd delivered such a letter to Lady Catherine, she would have been quite angry indeed. You are very pleased with the outcome of your story. But it is just beginning.
[[Return to Start->Arrival at Netherfield]] You make your way back to Kent this very night, eager to be done with Lady Catherine's bidding.
Upon your arrival the next morning, you give her the sealed letter.
She is so angry upon reading it that you are thrown into the De Bourgh dungeon, and promptly forgotten, except by the servants who smuggle food down to you. It isn't until Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam come to visit four months later that Lady Catherine recalls you are there, and she has you removed from the premises shortly before their arrival.
You smell terrible.
[[Return to Start->Arrival at Netherfield]]