NO THANK YOU, MR DARCY

Pride & Prejudice for the 1920s

 

Prologue

What Grandfather Bennet Did

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an elderly misogynist in possession of a good estate will entail it away from the female line.

In 1903, after learning of the birth of a third granddaughter, Mr Septimus Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, made an arrangement to leave an intact estate to the infant son of his least favourite cousin should his son’s wife should fail to produce a male heir. Indeed, he was so incensed at the stupid woman for giving birth to three girls in a row that only the interference of his own wife prevented him from leaving everything to small, fat Willikins there and then.

When the second granddaughter reached the age of 21, having done her share of war work by typing and writing letters home for the soldiers in Netherfield Park Rehabilitation Hospital, she went, like her heroine, Jo March, to find a job in the big city.

Relieved of the responsibility for doing needlepoint at Longbourn waiting for a husband to pop up at the bridge club, she took up a position on her aunt’s magazine and lived in a cosy garret in fashionable West Hampstead. No eccentric professor ever turned up to worry her with the idea that her writing was terrible, and so she lived another two years in perfect contentment.

Chapter One

Netherfield Park Is Let At Last

In 1921, the year Septimus Bennet’s second granddaughter went to London, the local stonemason completed the War Memorial for the Longbourn village church which began:

Recall with thanksgiving the men of Longbourn, Little St Mary and High Combe who went forth from this place to serve King and Country and who fell in a foreign land.

Harry Woodhouse, Capt., 1918.

* * *

A heart-rending list followed the name of the handsome, carefree young man who died so honourably at Valenciennes but to the Bennets, the only name that mattered was the first for Harry Woodhouse[1] was to have married their Jane.

This lost young man was on Phoebe Bennet’s mind the Sunday after Michaelmas of 1923 as she watched her two eldest daughters take turns adjusting their hats in the hall mirror and picking up their prayer books.

“Jane, you must make an effort to be nice to Mr Stoughton, my love. It’s such a pity about poor Harry, but you must get a move on.”

Jane drooped and seemed to examine her blue kid shoes.

“Mother,” Elizabeth, her second daughter, darted between them taking her arm, “do you think you could refrain from mentioning Harry so often? It was five years ago.”

Phoebe shrugged her off and started in high dudgeon along the path to the church, with Jane and Elizabeth following behind in the autumn morning fragrant with hints of bonfires and apples.

Jane waited until their mother was out of earshot. “If only she would never mention Harry again. She heard a rumour that old Mr Woodhouse finally has a buyer for Netherfield so now Harry is mentioned every day. It’s so bad even Cousin William has run out of platitudes.”

Elizabeth, who felt guilty about living away, took Jane’s arm but had no reply.

Longbourn Church was busier than usual for it was the custom for the rector of Meryton to exchange places with the curate at Longbourn when St Michael’s feast fell on the weekend. Reverend William Collins, son of Septimus Bennet’s nephew and the heir to the Bennets’ estate, was a tedious preacher, but this Sunday – this one Sunday of his life – Mr Collins produced a gem.

Leaning over the pulpit, he intoned, “Finally, brothers and sisters, it is my joyous duty to announce: Netherfield Park is sold at last.”

The congregation, agog with excitement, could hardly wait for their parson to perform the benediction better suited in its grandiosity to a certain sort of city church than a tiny country parish before it began spilling out of the pews and clustering into little gaggles of speculation and gossip. Would the new owner be a family man or a bachelor? Would he live there or only come for summer and shooting? Would he be looking for a wife or fill the pews with his numerous offspring? It was the best gossip since the undertaker’s wife had run off to live in sin with a bus driver from Beccles.

Elizabeth dodged the coveys of chattering matrons and found Jane, who had darted away from the crowd unwilling to be pleasant to Mr Stoughton. Mr Stoughton was a portly widower of fifty-three who, although well off, would not pay a pig man and was often seen walking his favourite sow along Longbourn High Street. Jane elegantly shooed the leaves out of their path and said nothing. They both knew that if the new owner of Netherfield was single, Phoebe Bennet would consider him a potential son-in-law, regardless of age, body odour, or rotten teeth.

“Cousin William for lunch!” called their youngest sister as she skipped past. Jane and Elizabeth exchanged downcast glances. Whenever Fatty Willikins celebrated at Longbourn Mrs Bennet invited him to lunch and ruined the afternoon.

Their clerical cousin was a tall, heavyset young man of twenty-nine. He was not repulsive but not agreeable either, despite all their mother’s attempts to persuade them otherwise. He had taken Natural Sciences at Oxford and named rose breeding as a hobby, served as a quartermaster’s clerk in the war, and returned to theological college in 1916 after a box of boots falling on his head gave him a discharge from the army.

When Jane and Elizabeth reached home, Kitty and Lydia were already at the table bickering about hats. Elizabeth sat in the window seat and turned her face towards the lemony sunshine.

“Where is everyone?”

“Mother is pestering Mrs Hill in the kitchen, and father is getting sozzled in the study,” replied Lydia.  She sat where she could see herself in the mirror over the sideboard, and her attention was focused on the tall, curvaceous, chestnut-haired beauty in the glass.        

“That’s not a proper way to speak about your father,” said Jane.

“Oh, stop nagging! It’s 1923, and Queen Victoria has been dead for ages, but I’m still in school even though I’m almost sixteen. I could die! Kitty has been allowed to leave, and when I think of the dresses I could have for the money father is wasting, I want to cry until Christmas. Meanwhile, Maria Lucas is walking out with Martin Henry, and I can’t get a beau because I’m in a school uniform. I can’t get my hair cut, can’t wear nice stockings, can’t wear lipstick, can’t do anything!”

Jane sighed and gazed stoically out the window at Mr Collins wobbling up on his bicycle. Lydia had been in and out of pique and fury for months at not being allowed to leave the Cloister School with Maria Lucas in the summer, so she listened to several more minutes of her thoughts on the superiority of Lady Lucas as a mother for letting Maria ‘come out’ at seventeen and  how her life was irretrievably ruined by having to remain in school until June.

“Enough, Lydia,” said Elizabeth through clenched teeth as the others entered the room. Mr Collins took his place to the right of Professor Bennet and proceeded with a lengthy grace which, like the great plague, left two out of three of its victims if not exactly dead then nearly so. Only Professor Bennet vaccinated by Señor Emilio Hidalgo’s excellent fortified wine and Elizabeth, enlivened by the thought of the six-thirty to Kings Cross, remained in possession of their senses.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth let the table conversation wash over her, catching a snippet here and there.

A most edifying sermon, Cousin William… Pass the mint jelly, Lizzy… This is such good news about Netherfield, let us hope it will not become a development, my dear… A clergyman should not have a wooden leg… I’m not feeding the cat… Lydia, stop looking in the mirror…  you silly child… Mummy, Lydia called me a silly child… Dr Jones tells me Sir William has gout again… Kitty, I won’t say it a second time… I hear it cost one hundred and fifty pounds although where Ethel Long got a hundred and fifty pounds is anyone’s guess… Jane, I hope you spoke to Mr Stoughton… I wouldn’t have Martin Henry if I won him in the tombola… with a derriere as big as yours, Lydia, you won’t get anyone…  I said I’m not feeding the cat… as I was saying, Cousin Phoebe, about the chancel roof… did you hear we’re going to sing ‘Jerusalem’ at the WI conference…  I heard Fred Tovey fell in the canal again… Oh Lord, he must have been drunk… my dear, cousin, the Lord’s name, the Lord’s name!… Poor Fred, he’s never been the same since the war… Mary, take that cat out… Oh, no, is that a sprout… I hate sprouts…

Elizabeth was about to make an effort to raise the level of the conversation when she became aware of Cousin William gazing at her with bovine intensity, accentuated by him having taken too large a serving of cabbage, some of which was creeping from the corner of his mouth. It did not bode well, given that, with the entailment, Mrs Bennet had determined that one of the girls should marry him and although she had planned for Mary, Elizabeth knew she would do just as well.

“Do tell us how you came to know about Mr Bingley and Netherfield, Cousin William?” she asked before he could avail himself of another mouthful of cud.

“Well, well, Cousin Elizabeth, it so happens I was visiting Archdeacon Prattlewell at Plumchester, and he mentioned that he had heard – thank you, Kitty, lovely parsnips, nothing like Mrs Hill’s parsnips I always say – that old Mr Woodhouse’s steward had mentioned that it looked likely a young man from London would buy the place soon.”

“A young man?” interjected Mrs Bennet. Her sister had not told her that.

“Indeed,” Mr Collins’ bestowed a longing gaze on his roast lamb, but he would not postpone any pleasure of his cousin Elizabeth’s. “And then I remembered that I happened to have a Parish Council meeting that night and mentioned the name to Mr Morris,” he coughed gently to acknowledge that the Woodhouses didn’t use the services of Messrs Gardiner and Phillips, “and he said a Mr Charles Bingley, drove down from London in a Kingston to see the place last Tuesday and signed the purchase agreement there and then.”

“And what is a Kingston?”

“A Vauxhall Kingston, Cousin Phoebe, a most elegant motor car capable of one hundred miles an hour, and although he must be remarkably wealthy to own such an equipage Mr Morris tells me the friend who accompanied him, a Mr Darcy of Derbyshire, is worth at least three times as much.”

Professor Bennet rolled his eyes. He had little interest in his neighbours, less in money, and none at all in cars.

“That’ll be Mr Tall, Dark, Handsome and Rude,” put in Lydia, pleased to have a way into the conversation at last. “Mabel Harrington told me they went for lunch in the Damsel And Dragon, and he was fearfully rude to poor Betty, and Mr Piggot had to serve them himself and Mabel says Mr Bingley is a millionaire and he designs and builds aeroplanes but Mr Tall, Dark, Handsome and Rude’s grandfather is an earl, and he inherited over three million, and that’s from the side of the family who aren’t earls,” she finished breathlessly having used up her supply of ‘ands.’

“Do have another roast potato, Cousin William,” said Elizabeth, noting her mother’s expression. Millionaires and earls, eh? Mr Collins might have to start looking for a new source of brides for even Mary must have her chance at glory, however slight.

At half-past five Elizabeth started to make her farewells, but before she had got as far as assuring her mother she would phone from a booth at Kings Cross (slave traffickers apparently plying their evil trade on the London & North Eastern Railway), Cousin William offered to walk her to Meryton station.

Elizabeth looked beseechingly at her father who jumped up shaking cake crumbs from his tweeds on to the sofa and announced that as he was going to the station himself, Mr Collins could remain and finish his tea with the ladies. At the thought of being alone with her mother, sisters, and cousin Jane hastily offered to drive them both, and they left Phoebe to single-handedly negotiate use of the church hall for the WI meeting whilst refereeing a disagreement about the handsomeness of Uncle Arnold’s clerks, and checking Lydia’s enthusiasm for Rudolph Valentino which she deemed inappropriate for William’s delicate clerical ears.

At the station, Elizabeth hugged Jane goodbye and joined her father on the platform where the crispness of the morning had given way to a damp, fragrant dusk. She broached the subject of her mother’s obsession with Harry Woodhouse just as the Cambridge train drew in. Her father, predictably reluctant to confront his wife, could not board it fast enough.

“I’ll have a word when the time is right,” he said. “Now go on, run over the bridge or you’ll miss your train. Here’s five shillings to get a taxi at the other end.”

 

Notes

1. In British war memorials, the fallen are listed by seniority of rank.


Chapter Two

An Old-Fashioned Dance

After a short, quiet reprieve in London, Elizabeth was back at Longbourn the next weekend with a party dress and dancing shoes for a much anticipated event in the old Assembly Rooms. It advertised itself as a ‘ball,’ and she considered herself fortunate not to have been at home while her mother enthused incessantly about an imminent supply of rich bachelors, – not that many turned up to local Meryton dances, but Phoebe was ever an optimist. She was still enthusing when Elizabeth crept in the kitchen door.

“Ah, there you are Lizzy, and what pray is the problem with using the front door? It is quite bad enough that you insist on being in trade without using the tradesman’s entrance as well.”

Elizabeth had not expected her mother in the kitchen but bestowed kisses on both her and the ever-patient Mrs Hill.

“I hope you’ve brought a pretty frock. We’ve seen Mr Bingley in church, and he is terribly handsome, but he has an even better friend! I want all my girls to impress. Oh my, this is the best thing ever to happen to our family!”

“Is the handsome friend Lydia’s Mr Tall, Dark, Handsome and Rude?” Elizabeth helped herself to a plum.

“I daresay, and leave the plums alone, there are barely enough for a decent crumble as it is. The point is, Lizzy, a rich man does not come alone. He has rich friends.”

* * *

“I see the Duchess of York is in the newspapers again. I really am most put out. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon[1] is nothing to our Jane, and it irks me that she has been married six months and Jane is still single.”

Phoebe put the paper down and glared around the table. All of her girls were still single and sitting there eating breakfast as if it didn’t matter a jot.

“Of what were you speaking, my dear?” asked her husband who had caught the word ‘newspapers’ and nothing else.

“Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon,” replied Phoebe, “being married before our Jane.”

“Oh, Lord, I am so hungry!” Lydia stabbed a sausage and deposited it victoriously on her plate, “You wouldn’t have wanted Jane to marry Bertie, mummy, he’s such a bore!”

“I am sure I would consider a royal duke for any of my girls even though you are all determined to become old maids.”

Elizabeth stared hard at her plate. She could not look up in case she met her father’s eye and laugh but he, replete from his favourite breakfast of kidneys and poached eggs and having got to the hot milk for his coffee before Lydia, was in rare good humour.

“Console yourself, my dear, that the Prince of Wales is still single and may yet visit Hertfordshire. When he does, I must remember to put in a good word for my little Lizzy.”

Professor Bennet adroitly snatched a mushroom from beneath Elizabeth’s fork and took the last piece of toast from the rack.

“I have given up on your little Lizzy, Gilbert. All my hopes of becoming a grandmother and not being cast out into the hedgerows when you die are dependent on Jane making Mr Bingley fall in love with her tonight.”

“Yes, yes, let Jane marry Mr Bingley and leave the Prince of Wales for me. Oh, what fun that would be! Everyone would have to curtsey to me except Queen Mary herself. How would you like to curtsey to me, Lizzy?”

“I’m sure I will, Lydia when the time comes.”

Lydia’s good humour diminished as the day wore on because she would not be going to the dance. The other four, on their mother’s orders, spent the afternoon competing for the bathroom, the curling tongs, and the good offices of Mrs Hill who had once been a lady’s maid in a far grander establishment.

* * *

That evening, for once, the Bennets arrived somewhat on time. Professor Bennet refused to attend, but dutifully got out the temperamental Austin and drove his wife and four daughters to the Assembly.

“Have a marvellous evening, my dears,” he said, pecking Phoebe on the cheek. “If the car lasts that long I shall send Thomas Lundy to retrieve you all when it’s over.”

Having ensured that Phoebe would worry about having to beg the Lucases for a lift or be brought home in a farmer’s cart, Gilbert took himself to the Dancing Maggot to while away a pleasant hour in the company of a pint or two of India Pale Ale before going home to face Lydia.

Despite all the gossip about a large group with varying numbers of ladies and gentlemen, when Charles Bingley arrived, only with his handsome friend, another young man, and two elegant girls who had never been seen at church. Phoebe panicked over what looked like two couples and a gooseberry as the third young man headed for the bar and remained there. Luckily, her good friend, Lady Lucas, was on hand to assure her that the girls were Mr Bingley’s sisters and neither was engaged to Mr Darcy who was reputed to be as rich and well-connected as he was obviously tall and good-looking.

“Oh, my, isn’t he handsome?” she demanded breathlessly as soon as her eldest two were within earshot.

“Which one, mother?” teased Elizabeth.

Phoebe paused to observe. She did not need spectacles yet, and Mr Darcy was half a head above his friend with dark hair waving over his a lightly tanned forehead above his strong straight nose, deep grey eyes, and a well-shaped mouth.

“I think the tall one is a fencer,” she said. “Such a physique.”

“So he is the most handsome then?” said Elizabeth as Jane blushed.

Phoebe sighed. “But I have a fancy for blue eyes and a cheerful countenance, so I cast my vote for Mr Bingley, who has had the good sense to settle in Hertfordshire.  If only he hadn’t asked Miss Oliver for the first dance.”

Elizabeth chuckled to herself. She was perfectly aware that neither Mr Bingley nor Mr Darcy were intended for her – either by her mother or by the gentlemen themselves and had come prepared to dance and be merry without making any conquests.

Mr Bingley was handsome with a tumble of wavy fair hair and the kind of easy manners that make people feel wanted. He thanked Miss Oliver after their dance and then made a bee-line for Jane. Elizabeth smiled and turned her attention to his friend, who was skulking in a corner beside a potted palm. He looked disagreeable and irritated, and even all the excited chatter about his wealth or his grand estate in Derbyshire could not make him half as attractive as his friend.

“I am impressed with my mother,” she whispered to her particular friend, Charlotte Lucas, who was ensconced at the tea table with the old ladies.

“That is a rare occurrence. What brings it on?”

“She is prepared to sacrifice half of Derbyshire for Jane to marry Mr Bingley and remain near Meryton.”

Charlotte chuckled. “I hear Mr Darcy is as rich as Rockefeller. Has your mother truly no plans for him? Kitty, perhaps?”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, “Mr Darcy was only as rich as Henry Ford when I left Sybil and Mrs Proudie not five minutes ago. I don’t think such a man will have much interest in someone who can’t put three words of sense together unless she’s complaining.”

“Sensible men marry silly wives all the time,” said Charlotte with uncharacteristic tactlessness.

After a while – thanks to being a career woman who frightened the young men of Meryton with her independence – Elizabeth found herself without a partner. She flitted past a gaggle of ladies and overheard her mother in sonorous tones speaking of Jane’s broken heart after Harry. Unable to join that party without showing irritation Elizabeth attached herself instead to her grandmother, Mrs Mary Gardiner, who had already danced with Sir William Lucas, Dr Jones, and Mr Dibley and was getting her breath back. As she bent her head to hear the latest on the fitting-out of Dr Jones’ new consulting rooms, Elizabeth realised Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley were standing close enough for her overhear their conversation.

“Come on, Darcy, what is the matter with you, man? For goodness’ sake, dance. I hate seeing you stand around in this stupid fashion.”

“Charles, you insisted upon me coming, and I did. Please let that be an end of it and do not insist on anything else.”

“There are so many attractive girls. Surely one of them can tempt you?”

“You have been dancing with the only pretty woman in the room,” he replied glancing at Jane. “It would be purgatory to dance with anyone here apart from your sisters. I danced with Elsa Brereton only because I was at St John’s2 with her brother.”

Charles grinned broadly. “Jane Bennet is an angel, Darcy, or I’d introduce you, but there is one of her sisters sitting down. She’s a looker. Why don’t you give her a chance?”

Elizabeth froze, aware that he had turned to bestow a fleeting glance on her.

“I don’t dance with wallflowers. Return to your lovely companion, Charles, before you lose her. You’re wasting precious flirting time on me.”

Elizabeth waited until Charles rejoined Jane, and then looked up and caught Mr Darcy’s eye for a second and felt his contempt.  Of course, it was understandable that a man with however many millions should feel a small town dance beneath him, but such a man should have remained at home with his Financial Times and not come out in society to disconcert others.  She got up and walked past close enough for him to hear the swish of her dress and catch the fragrance of Pears soap.

* * *

“The place is savage.” Bingley’s younger sister sidled up to him.

If it had been anyone else, he would have agreed. Good God, it was awful, all these Arthurs and Reginalds and Marjories and Daphnes going on about fox hunting and money.

“It could be worse,” he replied, not wishing to agree too heartily with her. His eyes followed the wallflower as she related an anecdote to a handful of her friends. He noted her light figure and sparkling eyes with considerable appreciation before it dawned on him that he Fitzwilliam Darcy was the object of her joke.

Caroline Bingley was tall and slender with lustrous grey-blue eyes, and dark hair cut in the most avant-garde style. She had been educated at Roedean, had enough money wisely invested (and the elder Mr Bingley was very wise) to enable her to live in luxury for a long, long life, and her clothes came directly from Lanvin. There was not much else to be said of her. They both stood for a moment observing Elizabeth, Caroline with loathing for she hated it when Darcy looked at anyone other than her, and he with consternation for he had never knowingly been the butt of a joke.

Elizabeth left her friends laughing over Mr Darcy’s despicable lack of charity towards wallflowers and went out for some air lest she offend the great gentleman by sitting out yet another dance in his line of sight.  A damp wind drifted down from the Fens, making her draw her aquamarine cashmere stole around her shoulders. She looked past the few cars and down the cobbled high street to where the church on the edge of the village green lay swathed in mist and moonlight. Even workaday Meryton with its brewery, canal barges, and monthly pig market could be beautiful. As she turned, she thought she glimpsed a tall, dark-clad figure dart back into the dance. A trick of the light, perhaps.

To Mr Darcy’s delight, Caroline had been approached to dance the bunny hug (of all dances, oh but God was good!) by Mr Bunting, a roly-poly little man, earlier introduced to him as the manager of the local branch of the East Anglia Linen Bank. Darcy had slipped out to enjoy his smirk in the relative privacy of the entrance hall just as the girl with the cloud of honey hair Bingley had called a ‘looker’ was stepping into the street. An irresistible urge to rush after her and say, “Forgive me, I actually find you quite lovely” seized hold of him and he went after her but thankfully it was short-lived, and she was none the wiser.

Notes

1 Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, then Duchess of York, mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

2 A college of the University of Cambridge.


Chapter Three

Reflections

At the end of the evening, Mrs Bennet was overjoyed at the attention Jane had received from the Bingleys, Jane was flattered, and Kitty had danced every dance and intended to crow over Lydia. Elizabeth and Mary had fared less well, but they had seen old friends, enjoyed a few dances, and the martinis had been good.

On their arrival home, Professor Bennet and Lydia were both waiting up. He was heedless of time while writing and had been in seventh-century Constantinople since wandering home from the pub. Lydia was consumed with curiosity about Mr Bingley. She knew from covert glances in church that he was not her cup of tea, but he was young, good-looking, and rich, and she felt acutely all the misery of not being able to dance with him.

“Charles Bingley is delightful,” cried Phoebe as the live-in maid helped her out of her coat. “He is everything a young man ought to be, handsome, charming, and good humoured.”

“And rich,” mouthed Elizabeth.

Gilbert chuckled, “Did he dance with Jane?”

“He did, he did!” Phoebe twirled Jane around the hall gracefully skirting her several tables of knick-knacks.

“First he danced with May Oliver, although what he sees in a schoolteacher is beyond me, and then with Jane, then with Edith Leigh which was most vexing, but then what should he do? He asked Jane twice more and sat with her at supper. He is besotted, my dear, besotted!”

“Besotted,” echoed her husband. “Sounds most promising.”

“It is, it is! So unlike that stuck-up man with him. What was his name, girls, Mr Darby? Mr Denby? Not that it matters. He was so pleased with himself. He walked here, and he walked there, fancying himself greatly, I daresay because he was linked to Princess Maud[1]. And he slighted our Lizzy.”

“Slighted my little Lizzy, eh?” Gilbert winked at Elizabeth.

“He called her a wallflower! Have you ever heard such nonsense?”

Elizabeth laughed. “Thank you, mother, but I was not tempted either.”

“Mr Darcy is connected with Alice Terry!”[2] cried Lydia. “He’s kissed Alice Terry! How can you expect him to be bowled over by Lizzy? Sorry, Lizzy, you are very pretty, but you are not Alice Terry!”

Elizabeth winked at her father who could never abide hearing about film actors. He shook his head at her, “Lydia, I refuse to hear these two words again. You know the ones.”

“Daddy!” Lydia was in paroxysms, “It was in The Confidential Companion.

“I don’t care if it was in The Manchester Guardian, if I hear the lady mentioned again I will cancel the subscription.”

Lydia threw herself on the settle[3], making a china spaniel leap off the table next to it in apparent desperation.

“Did any of you manage to dance with him? Oh, Lord, if only I could go back to school and tell them one of my sisters danced with a man who has had an affaire d’amour with a certain moving picture actress I am sure I should be tolerably happy until the summer term. Well, did you?”

“I am afraid,” said Jane picking up the spaniel who had luckily hit a thick rug, “Mr Darcy was very economical with his dances. Once with each of his friend’s sisters and then Miss Brereton, and that was it.”

“I’m pleased to hear it.” Professor Bennet had found his sherry, and his mood was improving, “A man who can withstand the massed ladies of Meryton for a whole evening is one I can respect.”

“I don’t know why he would choose Elsa Brereton,” complained Lydia. “Her complexion is the colour of whey, and she has such a long nose.”

“But Miss Brereton then danced with Mr Bingley who danced with Jane,” said Elizabeth, “so you can tell the girls at school your sister danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with Mr Darcy who kissed Alice Terry.”[4]

“Elizabeth,” said her father with mock sternness, “the prohibition on mentioning that person applies to you too.”

Elizabeth grinned, and both pretended not to hear Lydia protesting all the way up the stairs that no-one ever took her seriously.

The conversation at breakfast the following morning was still of the dance and Phoebe had spent the night reflecting on Mr Darcy’s lack of charm.

“I have been thinking, Lizzy, that friend of Mr Bingley’s was excessively rude and I would rather you didn’t dance with him if he should ask you another time.”

“I think I can safely promise you, never to dance with him. Not that I imagine I’ll be in his company again.”

Elizabeth put down the apricot jam and picked up the strawberry. She could hope Lydia hadn’t put a buttery knife in that as well.

“Good. I can’t say I care if Mr Darby owns all of Derbyshire or all of England if he’s that ill-mannered. Sir William Lucas told me he drives a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost which is apparently much grander than the whatever it was of Charles Bingley’s that so impressed Cousin William, but I refuse to be impressed. It will take more than Mr High and Mighty Digby, or whatever he calls himself, driving one to impress me.”

Gilbert poured himself more coffee. “I believe Mr Lenin has a Silver Ghost fitted with skis to drive around Moscow in the winter.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” replied his wife. “But if that odious Mr Lenin does have one, well, that proves my point, doesn’t it? I must say I thought the Bingley sisters most impressive. The elder is engaged to a baronet, you know, Sir Reginald Hurst of Puddley Grange in Wiltshire. Now that is a good thing for our girls.”

“How so, my dear?”

“Oh, Gilbert, rich men! Other rich men! Rich titled men!”

Elizabeth began to feel the weekend had been too long already, and it felt even longer when her mother mentioned inviting Cousin William to lunch again.

“Mr Bayley is going to Scotland to see if he can get a rectorship.  William was going to send his curate that Sunday but I said Mr Sanderson could as well do Meryton then William can lunch with us.”

“Oh, good Lord,” groaned Lydia, “not little Spotty Sanderson. Aren’t there any handsome parsons in the world?”

“I wish someone else in the congregation would feed Willikins,” said Elizabeth. She wondered if there was an excuse to remain in London on whatever weekend it should be. It was so easy to have too much of their cousin’s lengthy graces and graceless guzzlings.

“Charles Bingley danced with me after supper,” announced Kitty, seeing a way to change the subject and irritate Lydia at the same time.

“Did anyone else dance with you?” sniped Lydia.

Kitty affected a thoughtful expression. “Harold Watkins, Cedric Morris, Martin Henry, Robert Morton, Angus Whittaker, Owen Combes…”

Lydia stormed out followed by Jane, whose attempts to comfort her would likely be rebuked and then by Mrs Bennet to discuss fashions and finery with Mrs Hill. Professor Bennet was a poor audience given to quite unreasonably refusing to listen to extravagant descriptions of lace or feathers but Mrs Hill, being of her own generation, was satisfying impressed and disappointed in all the same things as herself.

Soon Elizabeth was left alone at the table to ponder what it might have been like to dance with one of the richest and handsomest men in Great Britain, especially one who had kissed Alice Terry.

“I suppose I shall never know,” she said to the empty room.

 

Notes

1 A granddaughter of King Edward VII, the right age to have been a love interest for Mr Darcy.

2 Alice Terry was a famous film actress of the 1920s.

3 A wooden bench with arms and a high back, very old-fashioned, and often ended up in hallways. Perhaps a precursor of the modern settee.

4 Elizabeth is anticipating the 1927 ditty, “I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.”


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