Posted on Wednesday, 15 September 1999
"'Wouldn't you like to ride him, sir?' says I, and 'No no,' says he, and off he walks!"
"Sopping wet?!" Mrs. Dibbuns leaned even farther over the counter.
"As wet as can be!" declared Roger, "I ain't never seen anything like it! His shirt all untucked and sticking to his body, his breeches all muddy..."
"Ah, Elsie, perhaps you should finish dusting the shelves now," interrupted Mrs. Dibbuns.
"Ha, I'm not leaving now!" declared 16-year-old Elsie Dibbuns, "This is even better than the story of that grand Caroline Bingley being thrown from her horse!"
"That's not even the best part!" said Roger. The three of them leaned closer, "I had it from Peter, the doorman, that a young lady was visiting at the time!"
Mrs. Dibbuns' mouth fell open, and Elsie laughed hysterically.
"But, here, are you sure?" asked Mrs. Dibbuns at last, "And did she see him in that, er, undignified manner?"
"She must have. Roberta, one of the upstairs maids, said she was looking out the window and they walked right toward one another. And after the lady saw his, um, condition, she nearly ran away!"
"Well, so would I!" laughed Mrs. Dibbuns. Just then the bell rang and they all straightened up.
"Good evening, Mrs. Dibbuns."
"Why Hannah Bromley! How goes everything at the inn?"
"Fine, I was just sent over for some flour."
"Have you heard this one, Hannah?" asked Elsie, "Go on, Roger, tell Hannah your story!"
Roger repeated his colorful story.
"Well then, that explains..." mumbled Hannah.
"Well, there's a family at the inn, a couple and their niece, whom I've been tending to, and they visited Pemberley today. When they came in I asked, 'How was your visit, Miss?' and she blushes and mutters something about it being very attractive, and the lady and gentleman give each other a look. Then, when I was bringing in the tea, I overheard them saying something about Mr. Darcy's unusual appearance."
The bell rang again, "Why Roger, fancy finding you standing around chattering with women!"
"Floyd! How are you? Mrs. Dibbuns, you remember Floyd, I'm sure. One of the Darcy's coachmen."
"Pleased to meet you again, sir," said Mrs. Dibbuns, handing a sack of flour to Hannah.
"Say, Roger, that young lady who was here today..." began Floyd.
"We've just been talking about that!" exclaimed Elsie.
"Well, I could swear that I've seen her before. Twice, I think. Once at Hertfordshire and once at Kent."
"Ooh! Perhaps it was arranged that they were going to meet today!" said Hannah.
"Yes, maybe they were going to take a swim together," suggested Roger. The little shop shook with laughter.
"What's going on?" a voice insisted as the bell rang.
"Why, Mrs. Vance! Surely you've heard about our Lord of the Manor stripping down for a swim!"
"Of course!" the old woman sniffed. Roger was disappointed at not being able to repeat his story again.
"I've just had it from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Mrs. Madeline Gardiner. She's staying here with her husband and her niece..."
"Yes, they're the ones at the inn!" interrupted Hannah.
"She said they went to Pemberley today, to see the grounds and all," continued Mrs. Vance, "And they thought Mr. Darcy would be away. But lo and behold, as they're strolling across the lawn who should appear but Mr. Darcy? And in such a disgraceful manner! Why, I was told that...oh, there are young ladies present."
"I've already heard it," said Elsie nonchalantly.
"Me too," added Hannah.
"Well then, Mrs. Gardiner was a good distance away, but she told me," Mrs. Vance lowered her voice to a whisper, "That the only garment she is sure she saw was his shirt."
Four pairs of eyes grew enormously wide.
"That's silly," said Roger, "I saw him and he clearly had his breeches on."
"I like Mrs. Vance's version better!" cried Elsie.
"You, back to work!" insisted Mrs. Dibbuns, "And Hannah, back to the inn!"
"He would hardly be standing right in front of the young lady if he had no breeches on!" argued Roger.
"Sometimes an extra long shirt is sufficient. Are you calling Mrs. Gardiner a liar?" snapped Mrs. Vance.
"No, she must have been mistaken, that's all. I saw his breeches!"
"Why were you paying so much attention?"
The bell rang.
"I wasn't!" declared Roger, "But I certainly would have noticed if he wasn't wearing any breeches!"
"Now look, let's not argue," said Mrs. Dibbuns calmly. Nobody paid any attention.
"What do you say, Floyd?" insisted Roger.
The door clicked shut.
"Well, I w-wasn't actually there," stammered Floyd.
"Perhaps we should ask Peter and Roberta again. They will tell you most clearly that after Mr. Darcy's swim he was wearing his breeches!"
A gasp from the back of the room.
"But not much else!" laughed Elsie from the back room.
"Perhaps you're right," sighed Mrs. Vance, "But I've already told all my friends everything. I'll have to clear it up. By now I'm sure the whole village thinks Mr. Darcy was breeches-less in front of Miss Elizabeth Bennet!"
Another gasp. Everyone turned toward the door. There, fully clothed, stood Mr. Darcy.
This time, Elsie did not laugh.