Dragons can’t possibly complicate the Meryton Assembly? Can they?
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Jane Austen’s Dragons, Book 1
Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon
Papa was right on all counts.
Mama was not at all unhappy to be excused from nursing. She did not ask how the apothecary had come so quickly nor did she bemoan Mary’s expected absence from the upcoming assembly. All told, it was odd how little Mama asked. No doubt, Rustle and April, and maybe even Rumblkins had something to do with that.
He was also correct that the newly hatched chicks would be a tremendous amount of work for them all. April had required a great deal of attention in her hatchling days too, but those memories had faded over time. They came flooding back with each trip up and down the stairs with victuals and other supplies for all the sick room residents.
It was a shame that Mary would have to stay at home from the assembly, but then again, perhaps not. She was rarely asked to dance, so maybe staying at home would better suit her.
For Elizabeth’s tastes, though, enjoying some company and a few lively dances would be just the tonic for too much time in the ‘sick room.’
“Lizzy, please, help me with my hair.” Jane peeked into the hall and beckoned Elizabeth in.
Evening sun shone directly in the windows, warming the room almost too much. The golden light suited Jane well though. She glowed in the sunbeams.
“I have never known you to be so anxious for a ball.” Elizabeth took the brush and smoothed Jane’s tawny tresses.
“Mr. Bingley will be there. At least he said he would be. He said he was fond of dancing.”
“And of course, according to Mama, to be fond of dancing is a certain step toward falling in love. No doubt you entertain very lively hopes of Mr. Bingley’s heart now.” Elizabeth twined Jane’s hair into an elegant twist and secured it with pins.
Where were those ribbons that would look so well with Jane’s dress?
“Oh, Lizzy, pray do not tease me so.” Jane’s cheeks colored. She pressed her hands to her face.
“What is wrong? You know I mean nothing by it.”
“Still, I do not fancy you mocking me in that way.”
“I was not mocking you. We have always played this game. What has changed?” Elizabeth set the brush aside and caught Jane’s hands between hers.
Jane looked aside, as though unable to meet Elizabeth’s gaze. “It seems foolish to say. I have only just met him. I am afraid I like him, though, more than I should, I think. Is it wrong to entertain hopes?”
“Hopes, so soon? Do you not think it very—”
“Unwise? Impulsive? Foolish? Silly?”
“I said none of those things. Pray, do not put words in my mouth.”
Jane rose and wandered to the window casting a long shadow that reached all the way across the room. “I cannot explain it. I have never felt this … convinced … of anything.”
Convinced? Were there dragons involved?
That was the only thing that made sense. But why would dragons meddle in the affairs of those who could not hear them? Certainly some enjoyed the sport, but Walker was the only dragon at Netherfield and certainly was not the type to make such efforts. No one at Longbourn would do so either, not with newly hatched chicks to protect.
Still, it was so unlike Jane.
“Just be careful. Do not attach yourself to him before you discern exactly what kind of man he is. You are apt to think well of everyone, but not all are so deserving of your admiration.”
Jane drew a deep breath—was she covering up a sniffle? She pulled her shoulders back and lifted her head. “Of course, you are right, and I shall listen. It is unseemly for a woman to demonstrate her feelings to a man who has not declared himself. I will not allow anyone but you to know of my true feelings. You will be proud of my reserve.”
Jane’s smile was wan and thin, her eyes bright.
“And in return, I will hope for the best from Mr. Bingley, that your secret hopes—and now my own—might be fulfilled.”
Jane blinked rapidly. “Thank you. I knew you would understand.”
“Come now. Let me finish your hair before Mama entreats us to come downstairs.”
Papa declined to accompany them to the assembly, as was his usual preference. The standing about hurt his feet and hips. Even the card room held little appeal when it was all he could do to hold the cards, unable to shuffle or deal in his turn. At least, Mama did not argue as she usually did, probably counting herself fortunate that he did not insist she remain at home to tend her ‘sick’ daughter.
The past few days had been so intense, trying to meet the needs of the hatchlings and their new companions, while keeping Mama and her sisters unaware. Had it not been for the persuasive powers of the dragons, it would have been impossible. Even Longbourn had to be called upon. He took up temporary residence in the cavern near the cellar and spent many hours inventing viable explanations for the odd sounds from the sickroom and even odder items which Elizabeth brought up from the kitchen.
Yes, a few hours away, lost in the music and dance steps was just what she needed.
Sir William Lucas greeted them at the door, wearing his ‘Master of Ceremonies’ sash. Since his visit to the assembly rooms at Bath, he had insisted upon wearing it at every assembly. He did so enjoy those subtle reminders of his importance as former mayor and only titled individual in the room. All told, it was a good thing that he was possessed of such a pleasant disposition or he might be insufferable.
Charlotte Lucas sidled up to her. “So you are here to see the legendary Mr. Bingley?”
“Indeed, why else would anyone attend?” Elizabeth chuckled.
Charlotte was her best friend for a reason. Few so aptly understood Elizabeth’s sense of humor.
“I have heard he rides a black horse and wears a blue coat. What new intelligence have you?” Charlotte’s brows flashed up.
Though her features were universally regarded as plain, her wit was sharp and she did not hesitate to make her, sometimes unpopular, opinions known.
“Very little, I am afraid. We have only been in his presence once, when he and his friend called upon Longbourn. We found his manners very agreeable. He is in possession of a buff coat as well.” Elizabeth’s eye twitched in a little half wink.
“So then tales of his fortune must be true, if he is in possession of two fine coats.”
“So my mother assures us.”
“So which of your sisters has she claimed him for? Jane or Lydia? I will warn you, my mother has claimed him for me and Mrs. Goulding insists he will do for her eldest niece.”
Elizabeth gasped. “You should not speak so!”
“Is it untrue? Does not every mother in the parish seek to claim him in some way?”
“True enough, but it is not safe to speak so out loud.”
“Look there,” Charlotte pointed toward the door. “I suppose I must curtail our conversation as the gentleman himself has arrived. With a party of friends as well—surely he will be the hero of the evening now. He brings another gentleman who may very well be as unmarried as himself.”
Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, two finely dressed women and a third gentleman slowly entered the rooms only to be accosted by Sir William. Given Mr. Darcy’s expression, Sir William was anxious to introduce them to the entire room.
“He is unmarried, to be sure. Unpleasant, but unmarried,” Elizabeth muttered.
Why was Mr. Darcy even here? He had significant business to be about. Why was he wasting time at the assembly? Unless it was to try and garner further intelligence on the whereabouts of the missing egg.
But what could he discover in a public venue such as this? No wonder Papa was so put out with him.
Sir William approached with Mr. Bingley in tow. “May I present my daughter, Charlotte Lucas.”
“Charmed to make your acquaintance, I am sure.” Mr. Bingley bowed, all smiles, obviously ready to be well-pleased by all he saw.
Charlotte curtsied, blushing. It seemed even she was not immune to a charming man,.
“Might I engage you for the first two dances, Miss Lucas?”
“Yes, certainly.” Charlotte stammered a bit. Since her recent birthday—seven and twenty—fewer young men invited her to dance.
Good on Mr. Bingley for being so sociable. Still though, it was very obvious of Sir William—he almost demanded Mr. Bingley ask Charlotte to dance. Mama would call it intolerable conceit.
Jane appeared at Elizabeth’s elbow. Where had she been?
Mr. Bingley looked past Elizabeth, to Jane, his eyes slightly glazed. “Ah, Miss Bennet, I am pleased to see you and your lovely sisters here tonight. Perhaps I may have the second set of dances with you?”
“I would be delighted.” Jane’s expression matched his.
Their slightly dazed expressions hinted that they had already been at the punch, but it was too early in the evening for it. Neither were there dragons nearby to blame.
What was about with them?
“Miss Elizabeth, might I have the third set with you?”
She started and curtsied. “Thank you, sir, I would be honored.”
At least she would have one dance this evening. With the women outnumbering the men, it could be the only dance she had. No, she should not dwell upon such gloomy thoughts.
Sir William ushered Mr. Bingley away and the introductions continued.
As the musicians took their places, Peter Long bounded up and requested Elizabeth dance the first set with him. He was gangly and a touch clumsy, not the best dancer in the room by far. But he was also lively and good humored, well-read and quite a conversationalist, so he would make a very tolerable partner indeed.
As the couples lined up for the first dance, Maria Lucas elbowed her and pointed with her chin toward Mr. Darcy.
“See the woman he is dancing with. She is Caroline Bingley, sister to Mr. Bingley. It is said she has a dowry of twenty thousand pounds! No wonder her dress is so elegant! I am quite certain it is silk. The sleeves, I saw them in the newest issue of A Lady’s Magazine. She might have had it made just for this assembly. Can you imagine?”
Maria was quite correct both about the silk and the cut of the sleeves. So perhaps she was also correct about the amount of her dowry as well. It certainly made sense that Mr. Darcy would pay attention to such a woman. Not that he looked overly pleased about it, though. But his expression was generally so severe. He might not be able to look pleased about anything if he wished to.
Such a shame though, he was a well looking man—
No! Where had that thought come from? He was entirely disagreeable and that did not look well upon anyone.
The music began and Elizabeth lost herself in the music and movement. Three couples down, Bingley and Charlotte turned by the right hands and cast down the set. He was a graceful, energetic dancer, sure of his steps and easy to dance with. But his eyes remained fixed on Jane.
Two couples down, Jane danced with her partner, casting surreptitious glances at Mr. Bingley. While they were not nearly as obvious as Bingley’s, anyone who really knew her would notice. Thankfully there were few here who truly knew Jane. Still, Bingley’s actions would be enough to have rumors flowing by the end of the night. Pray Mama—
—it was too late, she had noticed. What else could the wave of her handkerchief toward the dancers mean? Mama bumped Mrs. Long’s shoulder and turned to whisper something in her ear.
Poor Jane. She would not be able to escape Mama’s machinations now.
The music ended and Peter Long escorted her off the floor. He bounded off to find his next partner.
Jane and Bingley came together and took their place on the dancefloor. Without a partner, Elizabeth retreated to a corner. Usually it was a trial to be left a wallflower, but, at least for now, it was a boon, allowing her to observe her sister without attracting undue notice.
They danced together brilliantly, and insofar as that was the marker of a successful marriage, they were made for one another. Bingley’s open temper suited Jane well. She needed a cheerful man. And there was certainly no objection as to his fortune or station in life.
How fortunate for her, her needs were so simple.
Oh, that was uncharitable, was it not?
Perhaps Elizabeth had become as cynical and jaded as Longbourn himself. Perhaps Papa’s concerns that she had acquired too many of Longbourn’s draconic traits were better founded than she had thought. At least she was not as disagreeable as Mr. Darcy, who stood not far from her, seemingly watching Bingley with the same interest she did Jane.
Did he think Jane not good enough for his friend? It would not be entirely surprising if he did.
The first dance of the set ended. Mr. Bingley slipped away from the dancefloor, heading directly for Mr. Darcy.
“Come, Darcy,” he said, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
Darcy sniffed and edged half a step back. “I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room with whom it would not be a punishment for me to stand up.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are, for a kingdom! Upon my honor I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening. There are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.” Mr. Darcy looked directly at Jane.
At least he could acknowledge Jane was pretty. That was a small point in his favor.
A very small one.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you. She is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. You have been introduced, so there is no impediment to you asking her to dance.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own.
Blast and botheration! He had seen her looking at him. Did he think she was eavesdropping on his conversation? While it was true, she was, it would not do for him to be aware of it.
Or worse, did he think her pining after a dance with him? Oh, that would be insufferable.
Mr. Darcy’s lip curled back. “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Mr. Bingley rolled his eyes and returned to Jane. Darcy squared his shoulders and wandered away.
Elizabeth’s cheeks burned. She did not desire his attentions, not at all. What did his opinion matter? Even if it was very harsh?
Whilst it was entirely true that Jane was many times the prettiest of the Bennet girls, being so bluntly reminded of it was unpleasant at best. Had it been possible to think Mr. Darcy unaware of her presence, it would be easier to excuse his frankness. But he might as well have said it to her face.
The gall! The audacity!
With men like him about, was it any wonder that she should prefer the company of dragons?
The music ended, and Mr. Bingley ushered Jane off the floor to Elizabeth’s side.
“Shall we have our dance, Miss Elizabeth?” Mr. Bingley extended his hand.
“If my sister is willing to part with her most eligible partner.” Elizabeth took his hand.
“It will be but a brief parting, for I have already engaged her for another dance.” Mr. Bingley bowed his head at Jane and escorted Elizabeth to the dance floor.
Jane was such an accomplished dancer that it was not unusual for her partners to request a second dance from her. It happened often enough, but tonight it felt particularly difficult.
The music started. The peculiar steps of My Lord Byron’s Maggot distracted her pleasantly.
“How are you enjoying our little country assembly, sir?” Elizabeth asked during a pause in the dance.
“There is little I like more than a country dance, I assure you. Especially in the country as it were.” He laughed, but stopped when he saw she did not do likewise. “I fear that you may have overheard my conversation with my friend.”
Elizabeth flushed and looked away.
“It is as I feared. Please, accept my deepest apologies for his remarks.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, sir.”
“But I do. I provoked him into speaking what he is otherwise far too well-mannered to even think, much less say.”
“Forgive me if I question his good manners after tonight.” She cocked her head and tried to wink, but the expression was affected at best.
“Pray believe me. He is under much vexation of spirit at the moment. I should have known better than to try and cajole him into being sociable when it is not his long suit.”
“The man you speak of bears little resemblance to the man I have seen. Are you certain we are talking of the same person?”
“You are not the first person to have made that observation, but perhaps the most civil. I am afraid he is known for giving offense wherever he goes.”
“That is a serious indictment to his character, is it not? I am surprised that you should mention it so casually.”
“It would be of greater concern if it were an accurate portrayal of his character.” Mr. Bingley glanced over his shoulder toward Mr. Darcy who lingered near the wall, scowling at everything he saw.
“You maintain it is not?”
“Not at all, he is a great friend to me. I quite rely upon his judgement. One cannot have a greater friend than he, truly.”
“If one can overcome being offended at every turn?” Elizabeth laughed a little, because it seemed she should.
“He does take some becoming accustomed to. But I pray you would excuse him tonight. He is dealing with some very bad news from home. It has him a bit out of sorts, I am afraid.”
“Bad news? I am sorry to hear that.”
The loss of a dragon egg was in truth bad news. And Mr. Bingley did have a point. It was a justifiable reason for ill-temper.
“I can see you are a gracious, compassionate creature, like your sister. I shall trust you to withhold judgement upon him until you can meet him in a more providential light.”
The dance ended. He bowed to her.
“As you say.” She curtsied, and he led her off the dance floor.
Perhaps he was right.
She glanced toward Darcy.
Bother, he was looking directly at her and caught her eye. His eyes narrowed and his lip curled back. He turned his back and walked away.
Then again, perhaps not.
Papa greeted them at the door and ushered them into the parlor, all inquisitiveness about the assembly. That was unusual enough, but the presence of hot cider and biscuits?
What was he about?
Certainly nothing could be wrong with the hatchlings. He would not be downstairs if that were the case. He must be seeking some sort of intelligence.
Hill took their wraps and served the cider. Lydia and Kitty sprawled on the sofa in a most unladylike fashion. Mama must be happily tired; she did not bother to correct them. Jane seemed little aware of it either, a dreamy expression in her eyes.
Mama threw her head back and pressed into her chair. “My dear Mr. Bennet, we have had a most delightful evening, a most excellent ball. I wish you had been there. Jane was so admired! Everybody said how well she looked. Mr. Bingley thought her quite beautiful, and danced with her twice. Only think of that my dear! He actually danced with her twice! She was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time.”
“Two dances? That is most notable.” Papa glanced from Mama to Jane and back.
No, actually, it was not. It happened often enough. Why did Papa think it was now?
Mama fanned herself with her handkerchief. “First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her; but, with Sir William lurking about, introducing him here and there, what else could he do but ask her? He did not admire her at all. Indeed, nobody can, you know. He seemed quite struck with Jane when he entered the room you know. So, he asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Lizzy, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Miss King, and the Boulanger –”
Papa huffed and flicked his hand. “If he had had any compassion for me, he would not have danced half so much! For God’s sake, say no more of his partners. Oh, that he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!”
Mama flapped her handkerchief at him. “How can you say that? I am quite delighted with him. I overheard him asked whether he did not think there were a great many pretty women in the room, and which he thought the prettiest? ‘The eldest Miss Bennet beyond a doubt, there cannot be two opinions on that point.’ He did not hesitate to say.”
How many words could Mama utter on a single breath?
Jane blushed prettily and sighed. “He is just what a young man ought to be, sensible, good humored, lively. I never saw such happy manners! So much ease, with such perfect good breeding!”
“He is also handsome.” Elizabeth leaned back so she could see Papa and Jane at the same time. “Which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete.”
“I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment.”
“What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. He certainly is very agreeable, though, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person,” Elizabeth said.
Unfortunately, it was true. But she had never been so open about it before.
Kitty and Lydia edged close to one another and tittered.
“You are a great deal too apt, you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life. With your good sense, to be honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! And so, you like this man’s sisters too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his.” Elizabeth folded her arms over her chest.
Papa leaned forward, elbows on knees, studying Jane closely.
“Certainly not at first. But they are very pleasing women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house. I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbor in her.”
No doubt there were to be a great many good dinners and large parties hosted under her watch.
“I agree entirely, you know,” Mama said, “His sisters are charming women. I never in my life saw anything more elegant than their dresses. I dare say the lace upon Mrs. Hurst’s gown—”
Papa threw his hands up and waved them vigorously. “No discussion of finery and especially no lace!”
Mama sniffed and rolled her eyes. “If you do not appreciate that discussion perhaps you will find more interesting his friend’s shocking abuse of our dear Lizzy. He quite refused to dance with her.”
Papa’s expression grew dark. “He insulted my Lizzy?”
There were unwritten rules governing the behavior of Dragon Mates to one another. Civility must always be extended, especially in public. If companion dragons became aware of a dispute, all manner of unpleasantness might ensue, not the least of which was their tenacity and making certain appropriate reparations were made. Major-dragons made things even more complicated.
Mama waved the question off. “Do not be troubled. I can assure you that Lizzy does not lose much by not suiting his fancy. He is a most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing. So high and so conceited that there was no enduring him! He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself so very great! Not handsome enough to dance with! I wish you had been there, my dear, to have given him one of your set downs. I quite detest the man.”
Lydia giggled and bumped shoulders with Kitty. “Mrs. Long told me he sat close to her for half an hour without once opening his lips.”
“Miss Bingley told me that he never speaks much unless among his intimate acquaintance. With them he is remarkably agreeable,” Jane said.
“I do not believe a word of it, my dear. If he had been so very agreeable, he would have talked to Mrs. Long.”
“I do not mind his not talking to Mrs. Long, but I wish he had danced with Lizzy.” Jane sagged into her chair.
She was truly upset.
“Another time, Lizzy, I would not dance with him, if I were you.” Mama waggled her finger toward Elizabeth.
Lydia and Kitty mimicked the gesture. How dear of them.
“I believe I may safely promise you never to dance with him. I would refuse him should he have the temerity to even ask.”
“You might not want to be so quick to say such a thing, Lizzy. As I recall it was you who sat out dances without a partner whilst Kitty and I danced every dance.” Lydia snickered and launched into a description of her every partner during the evening.
Papa leaned back and chewed his lip. There was a great deal he was not saying, but clearly needed to.
He twitched his head toward the door and beckoned her to follow him.
She rose and curtsied toward Mama who was too engrossed in Lydia’s conversation to notice.
Papa shut the study door behind them and locked it. This was a serious matter indeed. He gestured toward a chair near the fire, but he paced in his shambling way along the windows.
Moonlight poured through the glass, painting him with a cold grey-blue glow.
“You are troubled, what is it?” Elizabeth asked. “I cannot imagine something wrong with the hatchlings, or you would be upstairs with them.”
“They are very well, keeping your aunt and sister constantly stuffing food down their gullets. They eat, they sleep, they preen, and they chatter—not entirely unlike a houseful of young daughters, I might add.” He chuckled without mirth.
“I knew there was a reason you were so easy among fairy dragons.”
He crossed back and forth before the windows three times. His steps fell in a tense, measured rhythm.
He stopped and leaned on the windowsill. “What do you think of Jane?”
Would that he have asked anything else.
Lizzy hunched over, elbows on knees and heaved a heavy breath.
“You have noticed something too, then?” Papa stepped closer.
“I do not know what to make of it.”
“Tell me what you see.” He crossed the room and sat on the low ottoman near her chair.
“She has always been one to see the good and admire people freely enough. But usually she is far more reserved with her sentiments. Granted, it is true, she has liked a good many gentlemen, but none so quickly, or perhaps so much, as Mr. Bingley.”
Papa chewed his upper lip. “I had come to the same conclusion.”
“I do not know if I am glad for that or not. I should have liked it more to know that it was just me, and I could chalk the whole thing up to jealousy.”
Botheration. That was not something she wanted to discuss, especially with him.
The creases alongside his eyes deepened and corners of his lips fell. He laid his hand on hers, warm and heavy. “You carry a difficult burden my dear. I had always thought there would be a son to inherit Longbourn. One who would inherit my hearing as well as my estate. That would have left you free to follow your affections. I wish it could be so. I hope you understand that. I wish you did not have reason to be jealous of your sisters’ freedom.”
She looked away. If he caught her eyes now, he would know far more than she was willing to admit. “I should say it is well, and that you need not worry.”
“But you are a very bad liar.” He squeezed her hand. His veins stood out over the bent and knobby fingers. “You have been my strength, taking over for me as I have been able to do less and less. You are the true Dragon Keeper here, my dear. As much an honor as it is, it comes with a price.”
“I know. Let us not speak of it for now. Jane is our current concern.”
She felt his eyes on her, studying her. Would that he not do that! Could he simply accept her request?
He withdrew his hand and turned his eyes to the ceiling.
“It is possible that her attraction to Mr. Bingley is genuine, and we have no reason for concern.” She forced her lips into something that should resemble a smile.
He tapped steepled index fingers along his lips. “As much as I would like it to be so, it is not wise to rely upon that possibility. Not with dragon chicks about and a stolen egg said to be in our vicinity.”
“You think the dragons might be involved with Jane and Bingley?” Elizabeth looked over her shoulder.
It was strange not to have April hovering close.
“It is one of the best explanations for their very odd behavior.”
“But who would be inclined to such mischief? I had the same thought, I confess, but there is none I could point to as a culprit.”
Papa clucked his tongue. “I know. The Longbourn house dragons are too concerned with the chicks to make mischief.”
“And Mr. Darcy’s cockatrice is far above such things. Besides, either one of us would doubtless have recognized his voice attempting to persuade Jane. His voice is very distinct. That leaves only Longbourn, who would hardly be bothered with such a game.”
“So then, it cannot be dragon-wrought.”
“There is another possibility.”
A cold chill snaked down Elizabeth’s spine.
He scrubbed his face with his hands. “Walker noted that an accurate accounting of the local dragons has not been kept. It is possible there is an unknown dragon in the vicinity.”
“We know that there are wild fairy dragons and tatzelwurms in the woods. So certainly there are unknown dragons about.”
“You know as well as I, they are unlikely candidates. On the whole, they are flighty and not willing to be bothered with something that should take so long to play out.”
“Perhaps a cockatrice then?”
Papa pushed to his feet, resuming is track about the room. “With Rustle and Walker about, we would know about the presence of another cockatrice by now.”
“A cockatrix then?” Elizabeth worried her hands together.
“We would have known about that even sooner. The females of their kind are so rare that their presence is always remarkable.”
“Are you suggesting,” she rose slowly, pulling on the back of the chair for strength. “That there may be a major-dragon unknown to any of us roaming the countryside? Surely that is not possible. A wild major-dragon—”
“Not necessarily wild, but perhaps a rogue, unattached dragon. There are estates in the kingdom abandoned by their dragons.”
“Do your histories point to any possible culprits?”
“I have found none.”
“Would not Longbourn be aware of it? I cannot imagine him keeping that kind of news to himself. Not to mention, he is so territorial, he would not tolerate encroachment on his land.”
“It does seem unlikely. But I have no other explanation.” Papa shrugged his bowed shoulders.
She pressed her hands to her cheeks. “A wild dragon would have made himself known by now. None of the villagers have gone missing, nor have we seen any odd disappearance of livestock, all sure signs of a wild dragon. And one unattached is equally unlikely. I do not like to disagree with you, but I simply cannot see it.”
“Still, there must be some explanation.”
“Can Jane not like a man because he is uncommonly agreeable?” Elizabeth shrugged. “I find that the most plausible explanation.”
What do you think about Jane and Bingley? Could there be something dragonic afoot?