Posted on: 2012-05-15
It is a truth universally acknowledged that whenever a couple of people meet regularly to sing they will form a choir, and another truth universally acknowledged is that where there is a choir there must be performances. No one puts up with weekly rehearsals without getting the opportunity to show off on occasion.
Sometimes, especially in an area where there are many choirs available and the church choirs hog all the Sunday services, conductors will find themselves in the unenviable position of having to find some place for their choirs to sing. If such an opportunity does offer itself, enthusiasm knows no bounds.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Re: FW: International Choir Meeting in Uppsala, Sweden
1 Attached File: uppsala_invite.pdf
Dear Lizzy & Jane,
I don't know if you got this invitation, so I'm sending it on to you. Don't you think it would be just the thing for the Singers? Tell me what you think, I might bring it up @ next rehearsal. Incidentally, Lizzy, WHERE WERE YOU LAST THURSDAY?
Lizzy, who'd skipped rehearsal the previous Thursday in favour of a long overdue night at the movies with her friend Charlotte Lucas and who knew that no excuse she could ever come up with would interest her mother clicked on the attachment to see what the fuss was about.
On the whole, it was what it said on the label. The city council of Uppsala was organising an international choir meeting in celebration of the University's foundation anniversary. There would be singing workshops with renowned voice trainers and conductors, day trips into the surrounding countryside to explore Swedish history and culture, several smaller concerts during the week and one final concert on Saturday night to round the festival off. It did sound interesting enough, Lizzy thought, and she was not surprised that the idea of going there excited her mother.
Her sister Jane, with whom she shared her flat, came into the room and, at Lizzy's invitation, looked over her shoulder to read their mother's e-mail.
"Sounds good," she said. "Don't you agree?"
"It does sound good, but can we afford it? Quite a few of us are students, and cash is not a thing any of us have in abundance, even if some of us have tons of talent. Who's going to pay for the flight, or our accommodation once we get there? Sweden is not a low-cost destination I've been told."
"Uppsala is a university town, isn't it?" Jane pointed out. "Where there are students there's usually a cheap place to stay. There has to be."
"And whatever this place is it will be full of students."
"In mid-August?" Jane grinned. "I'd be surprised."
"It's probably just as well." Lizzy laughed. "Can you imagine what Cathy and Lydia would do in a city that's full of gorgeous Swedish students?"
Even Jane's never-failing optimism could not prevent a shudder as the thought of her teenage cousins running riot in the student bars of Uppsala crossed her mind.
"And Mum," Lizzy added darkly, "will probably be just as bad as them."
"She won't be running after students half her age," Jane said.
"But will she act her age? I don't think so. You know what she's been like ever since Dad left, and it's got worse since he got married again."
"You can't blame her for taking it hard," Jane defended their mother. "How would you feel if your husband dumped you for someone younger?"
"Dad didn't dump Mum for someone younger," Lizzy pointed out. "He just took that job in Vienna and …"
"Stayed there," Jane finished the sentence for her. "Anyway, what's so bad about Uppsala that you dislike the notion so much? I'd like to go to Sweden, I'm sure there's a lot to see and do, and some of the seminars look like fun!"
"You want to go."
"Why yes, if it can be arranged. Don't you?"
"I don't know. But if you want to go, go we will! Do you need the computer or shall I switch it off?"
"You can switch it off, I don't need it. What's for dinner?"
"Unless you've done some grocery shopping, it'll be pasta and ketchup." Lizzy hoped it wouldn't come to that, but she wasn't going to do Jane's chores for her, and this week it was Jane's turn to do the shopping.
"Mmmmmm. I love ketchup. Let's put some water on the boil, shall we?" So she'd forgotten about going to the shops on her way home, Lizzy thought indignantly. At least she had the grace to look guilty.
Lizzy opened the fridge and looked inside. "Hold on, there's still some pesto left, and parmesan too! Looks like we'll have some proper pasta tonight after all! But if you don't buy any food tomorrow we'll have to go hungry."
"I will," Jane promised and went off to her room to change from her office outfit into something more comfortable.
Seven thirty, Thursday nights was when the Meryton Singers met in Longbourn Parish Hall for their rehearsals. Such it was in theory, at any rate, but in the thirty-odd years since Lizzy's maternal grandfather had founded the choir there had never been a Thursday when all the singers had arrived on time. Annie King, the longest-standing member of the choir, had told them so one night when Lizzy's mother, frustrated with her singers' lack of discipline, had left the premises in a huff at seven forty-five and announced that unless matters improved they'd have to find another conductor. Things had got slightly better in consequence of this, but most people were still late. Not Lizzy and Jane though. They'd made sure to be at the parish hall ten minutes before the rehearsal was due to start, to put the chairs in place, unlock the music cupboard and hand out the folders with the music sheets and the pencils. Mary was not much help that evening. She was already sitting in her place, her nose in a book, barely looking up at her two sisters as they came in.
"Can't chat," she said curtly. "I've got to do a presentation tomorrow and there's a lot of revising I ought to be doing instead of sitting here."
"Why didn't you stay at home then?" Jane asked.
Mary rolled her eyes, indicating that it would be a freezing day in hell before Mrs Bennet would let her stay away from rehearsal for the sake of mere homework. Jane's remark was certainly not worthy of a reply, not if some precious minutes of all-important studying could be squeezed in somehow.
William Collins was the first non-family member arriving, probably hoping for a few minutes' conversation with Lizzy. He'd asked her for a date more than once, and she'd been at great pains to explain to him, without hurting his feelings too much, that this was just not going to happen in this lifetime. It did not look as if he'd got the message yet, though. The moment he came in, he was heading towards her with that foolish grin of his. Tonight, Lizzy did not feel like bearing with him, and so there was only one thing a girl could do. Lizzy escaped to the ladies'.
There wasn't much she could do to put an end to his advances, apart from telling him again and again that she was not interested. Even that was risky - she'd never hear the end of it if, in consequence of her refusal to go out with him, he decided to leave the choir. They didn't have enough male singers to be able to do without William. What was worse, he was a decent singer; he had a nice bass voice and even took lessons to improve his singing technique. Men weren't usually so keen - a choir had to take whomever they got.
Having spent some five minutes in the ladies' room, Lizzy returned to the hall. By now most of the choir members had arrived, and Lizzy gave a sigh of relief as she noticed William conversing with the other two basses, her uncle Timothy Philips and Paul Denny. Her cousins Cathy and Lydia were whispering and giggling, occasionally glancing at Paul on whom they had developed quite a crush. Not that Paul seemed to care - he had too much good sense for that. Steve Chamberlain and Bill Lucas, their most reliable tenors, were discussing the merits of Steve's new motorbike, but Steve looked up for a moment and gave Lizzy a grin by way of a greeting. She quite liked him; he was a lovely kind of person and, as so often happened with men who were a lovely kind of person, he was gay, which made him safe to be with.
Annie King had taken her seat and was earnestly studying her music sheets but upon seeing Lizzy approach her she looked up, greeted her with a smile, and reached into her handbag to pull out her packet of sage drops with which she liberally provided the choir at each practice.
"Have one," she said to Lizzy. "To get your voice going." Lizzy thanked her, and went to her seat.
By now it was twenty to eight, and Mrs Bennet called her singers to order, wishing to begin with their breathing and warm-up exercises. No conductor in her right mind would let her singers ruin their voices by starting the rehearsal unprepared. Apart from warming up the singers' vocal chords, it gave them the signal that practice was about to begin and that they ought to pay attention now.
Having gained everyone's attention, Mrs Bennet told the choir about the Swedish invitation. It was almost ridiculous, Lizzy thought, how accurate her guess had been. Cathy and Lydia uttered little shrieks of excitement, looked at each other and dissolved in laughter. One of them had even mentioned the words "gorgeous" and "Swedes". William Collins was willing to go provided it did not cost them too much, and could Mrs Bennet be so kind as to look up some cheap accommodation in Uppsala to make it easier for them to make up their minds? Mrs Bennet was more than willing to do that. It was Bill Lucas who came up with an objection that Lizzy felt made some sense, much though she hated to admit it - did Mrs Bennet think that there were enough singers? While there were enough female singers, they were seriously lacking male voices.
"You've got a point there," Mrs Bennet had to admit. "But I suppose we could ask around - maybe we can find some singers who are willing to join us for the meeting. Mary, why don't you put up a notice at uni? Some students might be interested in coming along."
"We can't pay them though," Bill pointed out. "Even worse; they'll have to pay their own expenses. Who's going to join us in these circumstances?"
"They might want to come along for the experience," Jane said. "I like the idea. Don't you, Lizzy?"
"It's worth a try, certainly," Lizzy agreed. "Let's put up that notice and see if anyone's interested. What's the worst that can happen?"
Having settled that point, Mrs Bennet asked them to open their folders.
"Mendelssohn," she announced. "Wie lieblich sind die Boten*."
Lydia groaned. She hated singing songs in any but her own language, and German was the one she hated most, or so she'd said in a fit of temper two weeks before. That ch - sound alone was enough to ruin any voice!
She'd been overruled though when Mrs Bennet had played both the German and the English version of the hymn to them, and the German version had sounded much better - more legato**.
"Well then, let's hear the altos please," Mrs Bennet said. "Remember what I told you last week - try to imagine a string orchestra playing the tune, and try to imitate that sound. Remember the recording I played to you? Remember how beautifully the altos and strings blended? Keep that in mind as you sing. And there shouldn't be any breathing until after verkündigen; you can do that, it's not that hard. Sopranos, don't be afraid of the high notes! Use D4 as a diving-board to D5, and do the same on page 3, In alle Lande, to get from G4 to G5. Open up to make sure the high notes turn out sweet and clear, and don't let your voices down. No squeaking, please. Ready? Then let's go!"
* The English version, "How Lovely are the Messengers", is pretty well known too, but the original is in German.
** musical term, "smooth".
Posted on: 2012-05-22
It was the Tuesday following Mrs Bennet's grand announcement that she rang Lizzy at work. Lizzy, who was in a hurry to get an important report written in time for a conference later that afternoon, was none too happy about this interruption but knowing her mother, she answered the phone call anyway. There was no point in ignoring her, she'd just try again and again and again. The sooner Lizzy got the phone call over and done with, the sooner she could concentrate on her work again.
"Yes, mum?" Lizzy's tone was curt and businesslike; she was trying to convey to her mother that she was rather busy and that she had chosen a bad moment for calling her. But Mrs Bennet was too excited to notice it.
"Lizzy, the best of news!" she cried.
"Listen, mum, can you call me again later?" One might make an attempt at least.
"Oh, it'll only take a moment! I won't keep you! You know that notice I asked Mary to put up at the university? The one I also put up at Tesco's?"
"The one asking people to join our choir?" said Lizzy, submitting to the inevitable.
"Yes, indeed, that's the one. Only think, I just got an e-mail from a music student asking for particulars. His name's Charlie Bingley and he wants to join, and he's going to bring some friends along if we don't mind. As if we would!"
"Is he any good at singing?"
"I don't know that, but we'll see on Thursday."
"He's coming then?"
"I haven't replied to his e-mail yet but I suppose he will."
"Provided you let him know, mum. You'd better reply to his mail at once or he'll think you're not interested."
"Why yes, I suppose I'd better. Can you come to dinner tonight, you and Jane?"
"I don't know if Jane has any plans, mum, so I can't accept for both of us. You'd better ask her too."
"You can't be too busy to have dinner with your own mother!"
"I didn't say I was too busy, or that Jane was. I just told you to ask Jane if she can come because I don't know if she has any other plans for tonight. Now if you don't mind, mum, they're paying me to get some work done here, so whatever it is you want to talk about let us talk about it tonight, OK?"
"I don't even know if you'll come to see me!"
Lizzy sighed. "I'll give Jane a ring later and ask her," she said, "and I'll let you know as soon as I've talked to her. Is that fine with you?"
Her mother was obviously disappointed that Lizzy was in no mood to discuss, at length, the new singers she was about to recruit for the choir. In the petulant tone that Lizzy knew so well, she informed her daughter that she expected to see her in the evening, and rang off.
Naturally, Jane made no objection to dining at their mother's, and so she and Lizzy only stopped in their flat to change their clothes and then made their way along a crowded M1 to Longbourn, the small village in Hertfordshire where their mother had been living alone with their youngest sister Mary since their father had left the family some six years before. The drive usually took them about half an hour, but an accident and the consequent traffic jam made them lose another twenty minutes. They arrived exhausted and late for dinner.
The house was still the one they had grown up in - a cottage situated on the river bank on the outskirts of Longbourn village, with a large garden. When Mr Bennet had filed the divorce, he'd shown himself very generous to his family - probably because he had no wish to keep the house for himself, having started a new life in Vienna, Austria. It was also quite possible that he just hadn't wanted to bother with a time-consuming legal struggle. The house was Mrs Bennet's, and since she'd been a stay-at-home mother and housewife during all those years of her marriage the alimony he was paying her was enough to enable her to continue staying at home and concentrate on her hobbies, which included gardening and singing. There was no necessity for her to find a job, and she'd never made the attempt. This was just as well, Lizzy thought, for it was not likely that a woman of her mother's age, with no education to speak of, would find it easy to get a job which supported herself, her daughter and a cottage in Hertfordshire. Her father must be paying her a considerable part of his income, she thought, and wondered how he managed.
One thing was certain. Gertrude, his new Austrian wife, could not have married him for his money, although this was what Lizzy's mother had told everyone in their neighbourhood when she'd found out what he was planning to do. That grasping, good-for-nothing Viennese floozy was what she'd called her. It was understandable in a way; it probably made it easier for Mrs Bennet to deal with the break-up of her marriage to think that her ex-husband had been stolen away from her by some ruthless method or other, but Lizzy, who'd attended their father's wedding in Vienna along with Jane and Mary, quite liked Gertrude. She was nothing like Lizzy's mother, which seemed strange - or maybe not, for what was the point in marrying a woman who was exactly like one's ex-wife? But she was a decent sort, and although it hurt Lizzy to think of how easily her father had left them all behind, she was glad to know that he was happy now.
"At last!" Mrs Bennet cried when her daughters came into the kitchen through the back door. "It took you ages to get here! And then I switched on the radio and they were talking about that dreadful accident on the M1 and I was beside myself with worry! Why didn't you call to tell me you were fine?"
"We didn't know you'd heard about the accident," Jane said soothingly.
"You could have tried to phone one of us," Lizzy said. "Why didn't you?"
"I didn't think of it," Mrs Bennet said. "I was too worried. - Anyway, I hope your dinner isn't spoilt."
"Never mind, mum. It's warm, and it's food. It'll do," Jane said. "It smells delicious whatever it is."
"Shepherd's pie. I know how much you like that, Jane." Mrs Bennet also knew that Lizzy was not overly fond of lamb, but had apparently forgotten that vital piece of information when planning their dinner. If Lizzy was lucky, though, she'd just used up the leftover Sunday roast and no lamb had been involved in the making of this pie.
"My favourite!" Jane gave her mother a quick hug. "Shall I lay the table?"
"Mary has already done that, thank you love. Just wash your hands and we can start eating."
Although they were both grown women now, Mrs Bennet still treated her two eldest daughters like children. Surely she did not think that she still had to remind them of washing their hands before dinner?
Once they'd sat down at the dining table in the small conservatory overlooking the garden, and Mrs Bennet had handed out the plates, Lizzy asked, "Have you sent that e-mail to that bloke you told me about, Mum? Bingley, isn't it?"
"Oh yes, his name's Bingley. He's from some place in the North, and he's studying music in London. He saw the note I put up at Tesco's in Netherfield, and emailed me to ask for particulars."
Mary looked up. "He must be pretty good if he gets to study in London. Is he a singer?"
"He must be, if he wants to be in a choir."
"Not necessarily. I don't think a professional singer - or someone aspiring to be a professional singer - wants to join an amateur choir." Sometimes Mary sounded intolerably pompous. This was one of those moments, Lizzy thought. Had she forgotten that she, too, was one of the amateurs?
"He's going to bring some friends too, he says," Mrs Bennet continued, beaming. "Two men and four women!"
"Too many women," Lizzy commented.
"Oh, we can do with female singers as well. I'm not going to tell him he can't bring them - it might put him off!"
"There's some sense in what you say. He will want to take his girlfriend along for company, and we can't let him cry off just because we don't want her." Lizzy grinned.
"I've also heard from Uppsala," Mrs Bennet told them. "There are plenty of youth hostels in the town, and I looked up some of them - they look quite nice, and they aren't too expensive, so William can have no objection to us going. And only think! We're going to have an orchestra to accompany us at the final concert! We must definitely do the Mendelssohn there - it sounds divine, especially with an orchestra! And I think we ought to do some Swedish piece, in honour of our hosts, but I haven't found anything that will suit us yet."
"I'm looking forward to you telling Lydia she's to learn Swedish lyrics," Lizzy chuckled.
"Oh stop it, Lizzy," Jane said. "She'll be so keen on going to Uppsala she won't complain."
"I wouldn't bet a large sum on that chance," Lizzy countered.
"Gorgeous Swedes, remember?" Jane said, and gave Lizzy a wink.
"You've got a point." Maybe the gorgeous Swedes would make Lydia forget she hated singing in foreign languages.
"Maybe," Mary said to her mother, "your contact in Uppsala can help you find some suitable choral literature. Speaking of literature, do you think there'll be enough time for me to visit the university library there? I might want to do some research."
"Don't tell me you can read Swedish books," Lizzy teased. To say the truth, it would not surprise her much if Mary did read them.
"No, but I do read Latin," Mary snapped. The poor girl had no sense of humour at all. "And why shouldn't I make use of a perfect opportunity to have a look at some books to which I can't get access here?"
"We'll be there for the choral festival," Mrs Bennet pointed out. "You won't have the time."
"Well, if I can't drop in at the library I won't go," Mary threatened. This upset her mother so much that Lizzy and Jane spent the rest of the evening trying to make peace between their mother and sister, and under these circumstances they were happy to be able to return to the comparative tranquillity of their London flat.
Charlie Bingley did indeed turn up for the next rehearsal, bringing two men and one woman with him. He introduced himself and his friends - his sister Caroline, and his friends Tom Hurst and Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy.
Mrs Bennet was delighted to see that his party consisted of more men than women after all, and graciously welcomed them all. Lizzy took an instant liking to Charlie. He seemed to be a very pleasant sort; very open and well-mannered and willing to get to know everyone as quickly as possible. He was on friendly terms with his fellow tenors almost immediately, discussed choral music with Mrs Bennet and William Collins, and after looking through the music folder Mrs Bennet had prepared for him he assured her that he was going to enjoy himself immensely. He'd been singing ever since he'd been a schoolboy, he told them, and he enjoyed singing, but he'd chosen an instrumentalist career nevertheless, keeping up his singing as a hobby.
"I'm not a bad singer but I don't think I'm good enough to do it professionally," he said with a disarming grin.
"Which instruments do you play, then?" Lizzy asked.
"Saxophone and clarinet."
"I wouldn't have guessed that," Lizzy said. "You don't look like a saxophone player to me."
"What do saxophone players look like then? It's Elizabeth, isn't it?"
"Lizzy. And I don't know what saxophone players are supposed to look like but I don't think you look like one."
Charlie was at once taken with Jane. There was an expression of frank admiration in his eyes as they were introduced, and while he could he sat down next to her and talked to her. Lizzy, who already liked Charlie a great deal, watched them with some amusement. It would be nice, she thought, if those two became a couple - Jane could do with a boyfriend like Charlie to draw her out.
None of Charlie's friends was his match when it came to friendly and unaffected manners. Especially his sister and his friend Michael's behaviour made it clear to everyone that they did not wish to become acquainted with anyone; that they felt above their company. They took part in the rehearsal, but during the break they only talked to each other, or Charlie, or Tom Hurst. It was almost as if they did not acknowledge the existence of anyone else in the room.
As they left the parish hall after rehearsal, Lizzy overheard a conversation between Charlie and Michael that set up her bristles.
"Well, Darcy, what do you say? The choir is rather good, I think, and their repertoire isn't half bad either. I'll certainly come back next week; how about you?"
"I don't think I will," Michael replied. "You know I don't like singing in this amateurish manner! It's well enough as long as I'm with people I know, but with these ..."
"If you paid me a million I wouldn't want to be as fastidious as you are," Charlie protested. "I've never met so many pleasant people in my life as I have tonight; some very pretty girls too!"
"You've hit it off with the only pretty girl in the room," Michael said, glancing at Jane.
"Oh, she's the most beautiful girl I've ever met! But her sisters are very pretty too - there's Lizzy over there; why don't you ask her to come along to the pub for a drink with us? I'll ask Jane!"
For a moment, Michael turned around and looked at Lizzy. "She's not my type," he said curtly. "And I'm not in the mood to ask a girl out just so you can get to know her sister."
Lizzy felt the colour rise to her cheeks, and for a moment she contemplated giving that arrogant idiot a piece of her mind, but that would mean attaching more importance to the incident than there was. Besides, the same rule applied to Michael as to William. Her mother would never forgive her if her behaviour was to blame for a useful bass leaving the Meryton Singers.
Posted on: 2012-05-29
In the car, on their way back to London, Lizzy watched her sister who appeared to be in a dreamy mood. She was humming a tune, although Lizzy did not recognise it at first, the radio making it impossible for her to hear it for certain. There was also a smile lurking at the corners of Jane's mouth. Jane, it seemed, was as much taken with Charlie Bingley as he was with her.
"So, how do you like our new singers?" Lizzy asked. Jane flushed slightly, and hesitated for a moment before she answered.
"I quite like them," she finally said.
"Charlie especially, I guess."
"So what if I do? One doesn't meet many men like him these days; he's sensible, good-humoured, lively, and I like his manners."
"He's also good-looking, which is what a young man ought to be if he possibly can," Lizzy added, grinning.
"I was surprised when he asked me to go for a drink at the pub with him and his friends," Jane said. "Quite flattered, in fact. Too bad you couldn't come along. I'd have really liked to go."
"It's not so much that I couldn't," Lizzy confessed. "I didn't want to."
"Really? Why?" Jane's surprise was evident.
It was then that Lizzy told her sister what she'd overheard after rehearsal and said, "I hope you won't blame me for my refusal now that you know why I said no, Jane. But I couldn't, after all that was said, sit in a pub next to that arrogant jerk and act as if I was enjoying myself. I'd have spoilt everyone's evening by starting an argument with him, I'm sure."
Jane would not have been Jane if she had not tried to downplay Michael's rude behaviour and found a reasonable excuse for it.
"I've heard you say similar things about William Collins," she pointed out. "Worse things, actually."
"Not within his hearing."
"Are you sure he never overheard you? He might have done."
"He wouldn't keep asking me out if he had." Not even William could be so spineless as that. Even he had to have some pride.
"It was his first rehearsal with us. He may have felt insecure among so many strangers," Jane mused.
"Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy insecure? You must be dreaming, Jane. He's just a stuck-up idiot, that's all there is to it. I guess we'll have to get along with him if he chooses to come back, although I sincerely hope he'll decide not to return to our inferior gathering next week. I, for one, won't miss him. As for his friend, he's a lovely person, and you may like him with my good-will. You've liked many a stupider person."
Jane laughed. "Lizzy! It's not as bad as that!"
"Oh, admit that you never see a fault in anybody! You're a great deal too apt to like people - and I've never heard you speak ill of anyone in my life. Not even Dad when he left us, or Gertrude, before we met her that is."
"I just don't want to judge people too hastily. But I always say what I think."
"I know you do, and that's what makes me wonder. Someone with your good sense to be so blind to other people's faults! One always meets people who say they're candid, without really being so. But you're the only person I know who can take the good of everybody's character and make it look even better and say nothing of the bad, and be perfectly sincere about it. - What about Charlie's sister? Do you like her? Her manners are nothing like his!"
"Not at first, certainly. But I did talk to her and I found her quite pleasant. I'm sure we'll find her quite charming once we become better acquainted with her."
Lizzy was not quite convinced. She had not liked Caroline Bingley's behaviour at the rehearsal any more than she'd liked Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy's. It had not looked to Lizzy as if Caroline had put herself out to please anyone, or as if she had been keen on making anyone's acquaintance except, maybe, Michael's. She'd probably come along because either Charlie or Michael had asked her to, and had not given anyone the impression that she had enjoyed herself much. Lizzy was certainly not going to miss her either if she decided not to come back, even though she was a mezzo with a decent voice that might come in useful at times.
"Who's buying now?" Tom Hurst asked.
"Always the one who's asking," Charlie said, grinning. "I'll have another coke, please."
"Coke," Tom snorted. "Where's the good in that? The beer here's not half bad."
"You forget I'm the one who's supposed to drive," Charlie said. "Also it's my car you'll be going home in, so I hope for your sake you'll take good care you won't be sick. I don't want to schlep you all the way from the parking lot to your flat and listen to Louisa's lecture for my pains."
"Another pint won't do me any harm," Tom replied, and made his way to the bar to order another round of drinks. Not even the fact that it was his turn to buy put him off his drink.
"Well," Caroline said. "So we've been to see these people. Do we have to go back next week?"
"I'm not going to tell you what to do, Caroline," Charlie replied. "For my part, I'm going to join the Meryton Singers. They're a pleasant lot; the conductor looks competent enough, and some of the girls are very nice. Easy on the eyes, too, though I think none of them can hold a candle to Jane Bennet. There's no primadonna, male or female, messing up the atmosphere, and everyone has been very kind and attentive. I've enjoyed myself very much. - Thank you, Tommy."
"Jane is very pretty," Michael admitted. "But what kind of reason is that to join a choir?"
"As good a reason as any other," Charlie said. "What's wrong with me wanting to get to know her better? And what better way is there?"
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to get to know her better," Michael said. "And meeting her at rehearsals will give you the opportunity to do so without committing yourself. Still..."
"Still what? Listen, I am not asking you to accompany me to rehearsals if you don't like, but I don't think it's very polite to turn up at one rehearsal and then disappear, never to be seen again. How can you judge these people after two hours spent in their company? It's not as if they hadn't done their best to make us feel welcome, too!"
"Do what you like," Caroline said. "As for Jane Bennet, she certainly is very pretty and seems to be a nice girl, and I don't mind getting to know her better. The rest of these people - I suppose we'll get along with them, too. I see no harm in our going to Sweden with them, now that they appear to count on us. After that choral meeting we can still decide what to do - you'll be going to Salzburg in autumn anyway, Charlie, and we can make that our excuse for not showing up any longer. Don't tell me you're planning to pass up an opportunity to spend a term abroad, and at the Mozarteum too, all for the sake of some girl you happen to have a crush on!"
"I didn't say I wasn't going," Charlie said indignantly. "Very well, so Caroline is coming along again next week. What about you, Tommy?"
Tom Hurst, who was in the process of sampling the Red Lion's beer, said that if Charlie was game so was he.
"That leaves you, Michael," Charlie said. "As I said, you don't have to come along if you don't like, but don't you think it would be fun, helping the Meryton Singers and going to Sweden with them?"
Michael was on the point of declining but then surprised everyone including himself by telling Charlie that he, too, was going to go back to Longbourn the following week, even though his opinion of the Meryton Singers' artistic qualities was not high and he could think of few worse things to do on a Thursday evening.
Spring is the time when ladies open their wardrobes and begin to suffer from severe attacks of seasonal textile blindness; for although the wardrobe may be almost bursting with garments they will find nothing to wear. In order to amend that pitiable state of affairs, they then set out in the company of their friends (who, in many cases, are suffering from the same affliction) to do some serious shopping.
Charlotte Lucas, Bill Lucas' eldest daughter, had been Lizzy's best friend ever since they'd both been children even though she was several years older than the Bennet girls, and it was with her that Lizzy and Jane met up at Caffè Nero's in Regent Street to have breakfast before braving the crowds in Oxford Street on a Saturday morning. Although Charlotte herself was not a member of the Meryton Singers, the news concerning the new singers had already come to her ears. Her father, who was the most enthusiastic member of the choir apart from Mrs Bennet herself, had told her all about them at the earliest opportunity. He assumed that his daughter would take as much interest in the Meryton Singers' affairs as he did, and Charlotte did not have the heart to tell him that she did not. It was bad enough that she could not sing, she'd once told Lizzy.
"So you've caught yourselves some real musicians for the Meryton Singers," Charlotte said, once they'd all settled down at a table and sorted out their coffee, paninis and pastry. "Dad is delighted! He says I must come to Longbourn next week to meet them."
"Are you going to?"
"I don't think so." Charlotte laughed. "But what kind of people are they? Tell me all about them!"
"I think you'll get a very different answer from Jane than from me," Lizzy said, grinning. "Jane's got a crush on Charlie Bingley."
"I don't!" Jane protested, blushing.
"Oh, no need to be upset, Jane. It happens to the best of us," Charlotte said. "And from what I've heard he's just perfect. He probably isn't, but you know Dad. I've heard this Charlie seems to have taken a shine to you, too, Jane, so you'll be fine. What about you, Lizzy? Anyone for you among the party?"
"I'm afraid Lizzy got turned down," Jane said.
Lizzy snorted. "Yeah, right."
"Oh? How did that happen?" Charlotte took a sip of her coffee.
Lizzy told her about Charlie Bingley's conversation with his friend.
"Poor Lizzy!" Charlotte laughed. "So you're not Michael's type! Aren't you disappointed?"
"Can't you see I'm inconsolable? Seriously, I'm beginning to think that something would have to be wrong with me if he did like me. I'm determined not to take it personally. He's the most arrogant man I've ever met - he managed to sit next to Uncle Tim and Paul Denny for two hours without saying a word to either of them. That's quite a feat."
"Are you sure of that?" Jane asked. "I thought I saw him talk to Paul once."
"Yes, because Paul asked him how he liked the Mendelssohn and he couldn't help answering that, but Paul says he looked quite angry at having to talk to him, which is why Paul decided to leave him alone after that."
"Caroline Bingley told me that he never talks much to people he doesn't know very well," said Jane. "But with his friends he can be very pleasant. Maybe he just needs time to warm up to people."
"I don't believe it. He's just a stuck-up jerk, that's all there is to it," Lizzy said. "And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Ask Paul, and Uncle Tim."
"I don't mind his not talking to them," Charlotte said. "But I wish he hadn't been so rude to you, Lizzy. If I were you, I'd refuse to come along for a drink if he ever did ask me."
"I think I can safely promise that I'll never go for a drink with Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy," Lizzy said, got up and made her way to the counter in search of another blueberry muffin.
Posted on: 2012-06-05
Lizzy was not surprised to find Charlie Bingley already waiting for them when they arrived at Longbourn parish hall for rehearsal the following Thursday, but it did surprise her to find that he had not come alone. She had not expected his sister and two friends to come with him again, and suspected that they didn't really want to be there. Still, there they were, and the rehearsal went rather well. Since the basses were sitting in the second row and Lizzy in the first, she did not have to notice Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy; it was a habit of hers never to look into the basses' direction, if only to discourage William. No doubt he'd think she was flirting with him if she did do as much as turn her head. Now there was an additional incentive for her to keep her eyes on either her music sheets or her mother.
This time, Lizzy did not get out going to the pub afterwards - it had been Steve Chamberlain's birthday the day before, and he invited them all along for a drink or two to celebrate the event. This was more or less a choir tradition, and it would have been rude to call off. So Lizzy went along, happy in the knowledge that Jane would get an opportunity to talk to Charlie and that she could enjoy the evening with Paul, Steve and the other younger members of the choir who were mostly fun to be with, Cathy and Lydia being the only exceptions. But even her cousins behaved themselves that night, apart from ogling every young man that happened to enter the bar and giggling whenever one of these men looked at them for as long as half a second. To stop them behaving like the teenage halfwits that they were, Lizzy challenged them to a game of darts, and took them to the games room at the back of the pub. Steve good-naturedly followed them and took part in the game and so, unfortunately, did William, though in his case good-nature was not one of his motives. It was probably so he could spend some time with Lizzy and pretend they were having a date. That man was like a limpet. Worse, in fact. One could get rid of limpets, eventually.
The evening ended with Charlie, Jane and Tom Hurst joining their game, and Michael and Caroline sitting down at a table next to them to watch. Caroline admitted, with an air of candour, that she was no good at playing darts and would rather not hurt anyone if she could help it, while Michael merely said that he did not like playing darts - of course. The game was not dignified enough, Lizzy supposed. Yet he appeared to be watching them with some interest whenever he got the chance; whenever Caroline was not demanding his attention, which was not often. Lizzy wondered what was going on between those two. They did not look like a couple - they certainly did not behave like one. But it was obvious that Caroline fancied Michael, and if even Lizzy who knew neither of them noticed it Michael could hardly be unaware of the fact. If he felt the same about Caroline he certainly did not show it. On the other hand, Lizzy would have been surprised to find him the kind of man who did show his feelings in public.
On their way home, Jane told Lizzy that Caroline had asked her to join her for a drink in town on Friday night. Jane was the only member of Lizzy's family with whom Caroline had spoken more than ten words altogether; it seemed as if she alone was worth Caroline's notice - Lizzy suspected that if it hadn't been for Charlie Caroline would not have taken the trouble to become acquainted with her, either. Of course, if it hadn't been for Charlie they would have never even met. Lizzy hoped that this was a good sign - that Caroline was trying to be friends with Jane for Charlie's sake. Jane was shy, and while people who did not know her well noticed nothing out of the ordinary about her Lizzy knew her well enough to realise that Jane was well on the way to falling in love with Charlie.
As Jane went out to spend Friday evening with Caroline, probably hoping that Caroline's brother would join them sooner or later, Lizzy rang Charlotte and invited her to a cosy night at home with takeaway curry, some Austrian wine, a huge bowl of popcorn and DVDs. Charlotte immediately accepted the invitation. She shared Lizzy's passion for classic movies and, since they both felt like watching a comedy after what had been a long and busy week, they chose Some Like It Hot. As Marilyn Monroe, alias Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, told the story of her life to her new friend Josephine (who was, actually, Tony Curtis dressed up as a girl), Lizzy began to laugh*.
"Do you know, Charlie plays the saxophone!"
"Can he play Come to Me, My Melancholy Baby?" Charlotte asked.
"Don't know. Maybe I should ask him next time I see him."
"And hope he doesn't know this film, or he'll think you've got a crush on him."
"True. Or he'll think Jane has, which is fine by me."
"Wouldn't it be better if Jane told him so herself? Or at least behaved in a way that will make him guess? I've often thought Jane is too cautious in these matters."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep one's personal affairs private," Lizzy defended her sister.
"I'm not saying there is," Charlotte remarked. "All I'm saying is that keeping it from the person concerned is not a clever move. How is he to know what she feels about him if she doesn't give him a hint now and then? Everyone needs some encouragement - right now he may simply like Jane, but he may not allow himself to become more involved with her unless he feels that it will be worth his while to take all that trouble. And before you protest, what I mean is a permanent relationship, not a fling. I know Jane is not that type, and by now Charlie will know that too."
Lizzy digested this, and for a moment they returned their attention to the film. It was not until Jack Lemmon fought off his unwanted suitor in the elevator that Lizzy said, "But she does give him hints, as much as her nature will allow. If I can see how much she cares for him, he'd have to be blind not to notice."
"Don't forget that he doesn't know Jane as well as you do." Charlotte emptied her glass of wine and helped herself to another. Austrian wine had one major fault. One glass was never enough.
"But if a woman fancies a man, and doesn't take any trouble to hide it, he must find out sooner or later." Lizzy said.
"Perhaps, if he sees her often enough. But although Charlie and Jane have spent some time in each other's company, they've never been together for long, and never alone. She should make the best of every opportunity she gets to reassure him."
"To catch him, you mean?" Lizzy asked. "For what purpose? Jane can't be sure yet of what she feels about him; she only met him a week ago! They sing in the same choir, and they had a couple of drinks together at the pub. That's not enough to get to know him well enough to really have an opinion of his character; certainly not enough to decide what to do about him, even if she does find him attractive."
The new piece they were studying at rehearsal the following Thursday caused some hilarity and even indignation among the Meryton Singers; at least until Mrs Bennet made them sing the first two pages.
"Old McDonald Had A Farm? Do you think we're a children's choir?" William asked. "I'd say we can do better than that!" He turned the first page. "Do you really expect us to go oink - oink?"
Charlie chuckled as he studied the pages. "This is going to be fun!" he announced. "Especially the oink-oink."
"Of course you do. It's the basses who will have to behave like idiots," Michael said.
"Not at all. I can see some oink-oink for the tenors too, on the last page. An oink shared is an oink halved. I still think it's fun - and not as easy as it may look at first. I like it, and what's more I think the audience will like it too. Old McDonald with a twist. Have a better look at it before you start complaining, Michael."
Half an hour later, when they had sung the first two pages of the song in a way that satisfied Mrs Bennet for the moment, even Michael had to admit that the song was difficult enough, and that they might not be making such fools of themselves after all, provided they did not miss their cue, which was a very probable thing to happen.
"The next song I want to prepare for our concert in Sweden is something along more traditional lines," Mrs Bennet said. "I'll hand out the music today, and we'll start working on the accompaniment tonight. We'll need four soloists for that one, however, one per voice, and whoever wants to sing a solo should look at the solo part for their voice until next week. We'll have a sort of audition and decide who's to sing the solos then."
Mary eagerly took the music sheet from her mother's hands. She always volunteered for solos, but never got to sing them in the end, since her high notes lacked steadiness. But she kept trying.
Lydia looked at the music in disgust. "It's Spanish!" she cried. "I can't sing Spanish!"
"French, actually," Lizzy, who'd also had a look at the song said. "Trois Beaux Oiseaux Du Paradis - Three Beautiful Birds Of Paradise." She hoped Jane would volunteer for the solo this time - she had such a sweet voice; it was a shame to keep it hidden among the other sopranos.
"It's Spanish," Lydia insisted.
"Ravel was French, Lydia," Mary said.
"That doesn't say he didn't write Spanish songs, does it?" Lydia glared at her cousin. "Didn't he write that … thingy, I've forgotten what it was. Takes hours. And it's Spanish."
"If it's Bolero you're talking about, Lydia, it's an orchestral piece, and it does not take hours" Mary said, rather smugly, Lizzy felt. As for herself, she was quite impressed with Lydia's half-knowledge of Ravel's work. It was more than she'd ever expected her to know.
"Anyway, can't we sing something more modern for a change? Something from this century? And in English?"
"We've just done that," Mary pointed out.
"But there's no solo worth singing in Old McDonald!"
"Ask the basses for their oinks," Cathy said maliciously. "I'm sure they won't mind sharing." Lydia burst into angry tears, hit her sister over the head with her music folder and ran outside. After this incident, it took some time for everyone to calm down and concentrate on Trois Oiseaux. Lydia refused to come back, which was just as well, Lizzy thought. She'd just have started another fight with Cathy, and Lizzy felt that she'd had more than her fair share of embarrassment for one night.
* If you're not familiar with the movie, here's the entry at IMDB to give you some info. But do watch it if you possibly can. It's fun!
And this is the bit I'm talking about:
" I have this thing about saxophone players, especially tenor sax...I don't know what it is, they just curdle me. All they have to do is play eight bars of 'Come to Me, My Melancholy Baby' and my spine turns to custard. ...You fall for 'em and you really love 'em - you think this is gonna be the biggest thing since the Graf Zeppelin - and the next thing you know, they're borrowing money from you and spending it on other dames and betting on horses...Then one morning you wake up, the guy is gone, the saxophone's gone, all that's left behind is a pair of old socks and a tube of toothpaste, all squeezed out. So you pull yourself together. You go on to the next job, the next saxophone player. It's the same thing all over again. You see what I mean? Not very bright..."
Posted on: 2012-06-12
Lizzy was so busy keeping an eye on the progress between Jane and Charlie that she did not realise that someone was keeping an eye on her as well - and the most unlikely of men, too. At their first meeting, Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy had thought she was not his type and barely worth his notice; he had not thought her much to look at and found nothing to admire in her. When they met at his second rehearsal with the Meryton Singers he had been determined not to pay her any attention at all, only to realise at the pub afterwards that Lizzy Bennet was rather attractive after all. She was clever and witty, there was a lively sparkle in her eyes that he liked and he had to acknowledge that her figure was almost perfect.
Lizzy did not notice his change of heart; to her he was still the man who had not thought her pretty enough to go to the pub with. This was why she was rather annoyed when she realised that he was listening in to her conversations with others. Honestly, did the man have no manners at all?
"What does he mean by that I wonder?" she asked Jane.
"I'd say that's a question only he can answer," Jane replied.
"It's not as if I'd said anything interesting to Paul; we were just talking about the Ravel solo - are you sure you don't want to do it? I think you sounded like an angel, and Paul agreed with me."
"I am not going to sing it," Jane said. "I'd be terrified to sing it in front of a large audience in Uppsala. Let Mary do it."
"Mary won't do it either if Mum has anything to say in the matter," Lizzy said. "As you well know."
"Caroline then, or Annie. Or you. You're as good a singer as I am, and have a lot more courage. I can't see you losing your nerve even when singing solo for a large audience."
"I am not as good as you are, and I won't sing the solo because William is doing the bass solo, and you know how he'd think it's some sort of encouragement on my part, us singing a duet or something. It must be true love."
Jane laughed. "It's not a duet!"
"I know that and you know it too, but does William? I'm not sure Annie will sing it either; she didn't audition for the solo tonight. You know how she is; she'll say the solos are for young girls who are pretty to look at. - But back to Michael. Next time I catch him listening in to what I'm saying to someone else I'll let him know I noticed. If I don't take him to task for it I'll grow afraid of him and we can't have that."
"Come now, he's not that scary!" Jane protested.
"Isn't he? Do you think it's perfectly normal behaviour for a man to be listening in on conversations that have nothing to do with him? I don't!"
Not long afterwards, Michael came towards them and although Jane wanted to stop her Lizzy immediately confronted him.
"Didn't you think, Michael, that I expressed myself very well when I discussed Ravel with Paul just now?"
"It was certainly an energetic discussion," Michael said. He was not at all embarrassed, Lizzy thought indignantly. Yet he must have understood what she'd really meant to say - he had his faults, but he was anything but stupid. She was about to say something to that effect when Jane intervened.
"Don't let Lizzy tease you," she said and turned to Lizzy. "Keep your breath to cool your porridge. Or, in our case, to sing our songs. Mum is going back to her piano and you know what that means."
Giving Michael one last glare, Lizzy went back to her seat and prepared her music folder for the second half of the rehearsal.
As Mrs Bennet chose to work with the sopranos first, Michael was at leisure to not only listen to Lizzy's voice, but also to admire her profile as she sang. Unfortunately there were moments when Lizzy's younger sister Mary sang so loudly that her sisters' much sweeter voices were drowned in the noise. She probably thought to make up for her lack of talent by singing more loudly than everyone else.
"I think I know what you're thinking," Caroline whispered to him, even though she, too, was supposed to be singing. Caroline, although sitting with the sopranos, had moved her chair into the second row to sit among the men, officially in order to hear her own voice better.
"You're thinking what a punishment it would be to spend many evenings like this; and I quite agree. What I would give to hear your opinion of these people!"
"Certainly not here and now," Michael replied. "But you're totally wrong; I've had much more pleasant things to think about than..."
Mrs Bennet interrupted the sopranos in mid-song and turned to Michael. "Do stop talking, will you? Some people are trying to get some work done in here!"
Michael shrugged, and ignored Caroline for the time being. It was not until they were at the pub later that she began to pester him to find out what he'd wanted to say during rehearsal when Mrs Bennet had so rudely interrupted their conversation.
"You said you were thinking of something pleasant," she prompted, batting her eyelashes.
"So I was. I was thinking of what a pair of fine eyes can do to a woman's face - how their sparkle can make her even more beautiful."
"Oh! And was there any woman in particular that made you think so?" Caroline asked, all eagerness to hear her own praise.
"Lizzy Bennet," he replied. Diplomacy did not work with Caroline, but maybe frankness did. For a moment, she was almost speechless, then she managed, "Lizzy Bennet! How astonishing, considering what you said of her when you first saw her!"
"A man can change his opinion, can't he?"
"No doubt he can. So for how long have you been a couple? And where is she tonight?"
"That's exactly what I thought you'd say," Michael said. "Which was why I wasn't planning to tell you at first. Just because I think she's got beautiful eyes doesn't mean I'm going to marry her!"
"So you're that serious about her! It's absolutely settled then. All the world will envy you your mother-in-law, and no doubt she'll hang around at your place all the time, mother-hen that she is! You're to be congratulated!"
Michael did not take much notice of the things she said but let her run on in a similar fashion, and as his indifference convinced her that all was safe, she went on for a long time.
Mrs Bennet was the musician in the family, although she'd never had much formal musical training. She'd learned to conduct a choir from her father, who'd founded the Meryton Singers and never left her in any doubt as to whom he wanted to take over once he was unable to conduct the choir himself. Her husband had never been very musical, although he had occasionally helped the choir out in times of crisis, such as an extreme shortage of male voices. But he'd never really taken to singing. The choir had been Mrs Bennet's thing and, once her husband had gone, she'd become involved with the choir to an even greater extent than before. This was hardly surprising considering that she did not have a job to occupy her and that her children were grown up and no longer needed her as they had done when they'd been younger.
Mr Bennet was a pharmacist who'd sold his own chemist's shop some years before and started working for a large pharmaceutical company instead. Boots and the like were taking business away from the smaller chemists he'd said, and he was not going to stay on until all he could do was hand over his shop to some chain or other and become a better class of shop assistant in a place that had once belonged to him. His job in Vienna had been a temporary arrangement at first - he'd been supposed to go there for two years to supervise a research project. It was probably not until he'd lived by himself abroad for several months that he'd realised he no longer wanted to return to his family. And so, because he was the kind of man who dreaded unpleasant confrontations of any kind, he'd merely applied for a permanent job in the Viennese branch of the company and had had no problems in getting it. Only then, on the last day of his visit back home, he informed his wife that he was not thinking of coming back again, and that he wanted a divorce. He'd left his daughters to deal with their distraught mother while he'd taken a taxi to Heathrow and had literally flown away from all the trouble.
For a while, Lizzy had hated her father for what he'd done. She was the first to admit that her mother was difficult to live with even at the best of times, but this was no way to treat one's wife. He ought to have made an effort to save his marriage; and if that had failed he ought to have arranged his divorce in a different way. It had been almost a year until Lizzy had talked to him again - on the phone. He'd invited her and her sisters to visit him in Vienna; to have a look at the flat he'd taken in the third district, see the sights and enjoy a week or two with their dad.
She'd hardly recognised him during that visit. He'd improved so much - he was actually happy. Only then she could find it in herself to forgive him. It was not until her second visit to Vienna that she met his new partner in life, Gertrude, a doctor whom he'd met at work. Now Gertrude was - not another mother; she was not old enough to be Lizzy's mother and did not act in a motherly way at all. But she was a friend. Something like a favourite aunt, probably, someone who was always happy to see one and occasionally asked how things were going. Someone to go to when one was in trouble and needed advice and did not want one's parents to find out.
The telephone rang just as Lizzy got home from work on Friday afternoon. After some rummaging in her handbag she found her mobile just as the caller rang off. It was Gertrude.
Lizzy sat down on the living-room sofa and called her back.
"Hello, dear! How are things on the continent?"
"Fine. Which is why I called you, I wanted to brag." Gertrude's English was good; almost perfect except for a slight German accent. Viennese accent, actually, as Gertrude had told them. Austrians and Germans went a long way back, and were about as fond of each other as the Irish and the English. The difference between German and Viennese mattered.
"The Danube 's still brown?" This was an in-joke. On their first visit to Vienna, Jane had been disappointed to find that the famous river was anything but blue, as it ought to be according to Johann Strauss the Younger, or whoever had written the lyrics to his most famous waltz.
"I'm afraid so - no use for Jane to check for herself, unless she wants to. Actually that's why I called you."
"To tell me the Danube water is still muddy?"
"No, but to ask if you felt like checking on the Danube again some time."
"Always," Lizzy said, remembering, among other things, the Viennese coffee houses and the Danube Island Festival* she'd been to with Jane and Mary during their last visit. She also remembered the Austrian food, even more so because she was hungry.
"Good. We're planning to come to London in December, you know, and I thought it would be fun if we could meet up and you'd go back to Vienna with us for the New Year. We're having this New Year's party in the city centre that you'd like to see I'm sure."
Celebrating the New Year in Vienna - that was a tempting thought, Lizzy had to admit, but she was not sure how her mother would react if they suggested such a thing.
"I'm not sure we can all go," she said. "I don't like the thought of leaving Mum by herself on New Year's Eve. You know how she is."
"Of course; I understand that. It was your dad's suggestion, he doesn't think about these things, you know - that your mother might want to celebrate with you too. But it would be lovely to have all of you here with us. Think about it."
"I will," Lizzy said. "We all will." Jane certainly should go, she thought; especially if Charlie was in Austria as well. They could meet up in Vienna and spend some time together. "How's Dad?"
"Busy, as always. I shouldn't complain, he works so hard. But then so do I, which is why we don't often meet these days. I know I share the flat with a man because there's a razor and a toothbrush in the bathroom that don't belong to me, but that's about it. So we're really looking forward to our holiday in London. It won't be a problem for you to meet us there, will it?"
"No, I don't think it will," Lizzy said, although she wondered what her mother would say when she heard that Gertrude was planning to come to England in a few months. She might suspect her of wanting to steal not only her husband but also her home - and her children.
* Donauinselfest / Danube Island Festival: Takes place in June every year ; it's a series of concerts and sports events and lasts 3 days. It's the largest of its kind in Europe. Last year there were about 2,8 million visitors at the Festival.
Here's a link, but it's in German: http://www.vienna.at/specials/donauinselfest
Even if there's no Festival, the Danube Island is a great place to go in summer - and the Viennese love it.
Posted on: 2012-06-19
"Mind if I take the car tonight?" Jane asked Lizzy as she got home from work one evening.
"Not at all; I'm planning to stay in and have an early night. Where are you going - or mustn't I ask?" Lizzy grinned.
"Caroline has asked me to come over," Jane told her. "She rang me in the morning and told me Charlie was having a night out with the boys, and asked me if I'd like going out to dinner with her and her sister."
"I had no idea Charlie had another sister."
"He does. Her name's Louisa, and she's Tom's girlfriend."
It was certainly a good sign that Caroline thought it necessary for Jane to meet her sister, Lizzy thought. It would have been even better if Charlie had introduced them to each other, but maybe he was not sure whether his sister wanted to meet Jane yet. Still, it looked as if this was a case of Meeting The Family, which meant that Jane certainly ought to go.
"So that's how he got to know Tom then." Lizzy said. "Well, I'd say go by all means except for the weather forecast for tonight. I don't know if you heard it but they said there's some heavy rain heading this way, and I know how you dislike driving on rainy nights. Do you think you can stay the night at Caroline's if the weather turns out really awful?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I may not like driving in a downpour, but that's no reason for me to stay with Caroline overnight."
"I suppose if all else fails Charlie can drive you home."
"After having been out all night with his friends? I don't think so. I wouldn't ask him to, either," Jane said.
"He doesn't drink much," Lizzy said. "At least that's the impression I got. He might drive you home if you wanted him to." And so they'd get to spend some time alone with each other after all, she thought.
"He doesn't drink much," Jane agreed. "But he does not drive when he has drunk, even if he's still perfectly sober. Which is why I'm not going to ask him to take me home. Don't worry. I'll be fine."
The telephone rang just as Lizzy came out of the bathroom the following morning. It was Jane.
"Morning, Lizzy!" She sounded cheerful, so at first Lizzy thought Jane had spent the night at Caroline's after all and merely called her to tell her so, to keep her from worrying. But something was not quite right. There was a certain edge to Jane's voice indicating that not all was well.
"Hello Jane! You didn't go home after all, then?"
"Well, I wanted to, but somehow... listen, Lizzy, first of all - I'm fine. I really am. Just a bit of a headache, that's all. But, well, you know … the doctor wants me to stay here for another day or two just to be on the safe side."
"What? Where are you?"
"What happened?" Lizzy sat down at the kitchen table; her knees momentarily going weak.
"I'm afraid I wrecked the car. Looks like I should have stayed overnight after all." There was a nervous laugh. Whatever she was saying, Jane was anything but fine.
"Jane, never mind about the car. Are you sure you're alright?"
"As I said, I've got a headache, but otherwise I'm OK. Nothing broken."
"Lizzy, can you do me a favour? I need some stuff from home - toilet bag, pyjamas, fresh underwear and the like. Can you pack it up for me and bring it over here after work?"
"I'll bring it over right now!"
"There's no need to rush, Lizzy!"
"I'm coming anyway. Did you phone in at work to tell them you won't be there today or do you want me to do it for you?"
"There's no one in the office yet, but I'll take care of it, don't worry. Really, I'm fine. Charlie and Caroline are keeping me company, and Louisa's been here too."
"How did they get there?" It seemed strange that Charlie and his sisters should have known what had happened before Lizzy did.
"Charlie found me and called an ambulance, so that's how they know what happened. I'll tell you all about it when you get here, as far as I can - my memory's a bit fuzzy at the moment."
"I see. Shall I bring Mum along?"
There was a pause.
"Jane, we can't possibly keep this from her. She'd never forgive us!"
"I don't want you to keep this from her," Jane said. "But let's wait until we've talked to the doctor about the tests and x-ray results before telling her. She'll be terribly upset, and I want to know exactly if there's anything wrong with me before I let her know."
Jane had a point, Lizzy had to admit. "OK, I suppose you're right. I'll pack up your things and start the car … no, I won't do that, will I? I'll ring up the office to tell them I need the day off and then I'll take the first train to Netherfield."
"Lizzy, I'm in good hands here and there's no need for you to take a day off! If you can drop by in the evening after work that'll be perfectly fine with me!"
"But not with me. I'm coming to see you as quickly as I can. See you!" Lizzy rang off and hurried to Jane's room to look for her overnight bag and pack some clothes.
An hour and a half later, Lizzy arrived at Netherfield Hospital. She'd been running all the way from the railway station, and considering that the weather had not improved much and that she'd forgotten her umbrella at home Lizzy knew that she must be looking awful. She walked into the hospital foyer, carrying Jane's bag in one hand and her own handbag in the other, and was heading towards the reception desk to ask where she'd find her sister when someone addressed her. It was Michael, carrying two paper cups of coffee that he must have bought at the vending machine next to the lifts.
"You're here already?" He was obviously surprised to see her.
"Already?" Lizzy snapped. "It felt like hours coming here; especially walking here through the rain from the station."
"If you'd let us know you were on your way one of us could have picked you up," Michael said.
"Jane knew I was on my way." Lizzy said. "Though she didn't want me to miss work on her behalf. As if anything could keep me away from her at such a time! Where is she?"
"Room 5, casualty ward, down the hall and to the left. I'll show you where it is. Do you want me to take your bag?" he offered.
"No, thank you, I'll carry it myself. You don't want any mud stains on your suit, do you?"
He looked at her for a moment as if not sure what to say in reply to that; then he managed, "As you wish. Come along then."
Lizzy followed him across the hall towards a pair of frosted-glass doors with "Casualty Ward" written on them. The corridor behind those doors seemed to her to be about a mile long, and naturally Jane's room had to be the one at the other end of the corridor. Michael knocked at the door, opened it, and held it open for Lizzy to pass through.
It was a large room, with six beds all in all, but as far as Lizzy could tell not all of them were occupied. Jane's bed was next to the door, and a curtain separated her bed from the rest of the room. She looked up as Lizzy came in, smiling at her but looking far from well. Her face was bruised and swollen, and she was wearing a neck brace. She was looking much worse, in fact, than Lizzy had thought she would. Lizzy tried hard to hide her shock.
"There you are then!" she said cheerfully, putting up a brave front. "I told you I'd be here soon!"
Charlie, who'd got up as Lizzy had come into the room, said something to his sister in a low tone of voice and then turned to Lizzy.
"I think you'll want to spend some time with Jane alone," he said. "I'll just take my sister home and will be back in an hour or so if you don't mind. We'll talk it over then, OK?"
"Charlie, I don't know how to thank you!" Lizzy cried.
"Now don't you start talking nonsense. I've done nothing out of the ordinary," Charlie protested. "See you later. Are you coming, Michael?"
"Sure," Michael murmured and followed Charlie out of the room, still carrying the paper cups.
There was an awkward pause for a moment; then Lizzy started to unpack Jane's bag and put her things into the locker she told her was hers. Then she sat down on the chair Charlie had vacated, and said, "So what did happen last night?"
"I don't remember all that much," Jane said. "The doctor says I will, sooner or later, and the police hope I will because otherwise they won't be able to find the other driver ..."
"There was another car involved?"
"Oh yes. I was driving away from Caroline's and the weather was truly awful. I wasn't going all that fast, which is a good thing, considering, isn't it? It happened at that sharp turn just before the roundabout - the one that's quite tricky even at the best of times. Suddenly there was that car - on my side of the road, or so I thought, and so I slammed on the brakes and I must have pulled the car over to the left and skidded into that big oak tree by the roadside. I remember the crash, but not much more than that - next thing I remember I was here and the doctor was asking me all sorts of questions. It looks like Charlie knows more about my accident than I do! He got there a few minutes later and phoned for the police and an ambulance."
"That other driver didn't stop then?"
"No, Charlie says there was nobody there when he got there. Maybe they didn't notice there was an accident."
This was so like Jane that Lizzy had to laugh in spite of it all, and she said so.
"I, for one, hope the police will find out who it was," she added. "They deserve to get in trouble for not stopping and helping you! Are you sure you can't remember anything about that other car?"
"Not at the moment, but the doctor says my memory will come back at one point, so I might. They've done all kinds of tests and x-rays to make sure there's nothing much wrong with me, except for a couple of bruises and a mild concussion. They're also going to check on my neck some time this morning, and I want to wait for those results before telling Mum I'm in hospital."
"I'll tell her," Lizzy decided. "I think someone needs to be there to tell her; it's not something to be told on the phone. Do you want me to tell Dad as well?"
"Oh yes, please do! It's probably not enough to make him hurry to my side but I guess he ought to know too."
While an MRI scan was being done on Jane's neck, Lizzy went back to the foyer and bought herself some coffee. Then she sat down in the waiting room, chose a magazine and began to read. It was not long until Charlie joined her there, and asked how Jane was doing.
"She's being brave," Lizzy said. "As usual. She may feel rotten but she won't tell anyone just how dreadful she's feeling. But poor you! It must have been such a shock to find her like that!"
"It was," Charlie admitted. "I didn't recognise the car at first; it wasn't until I'd opened the door that I realised it was Jane, and in quite a state too. She was panicky, and I don't blame her. That's why I got her out of her car - I guess I should have left her there, but she thought the car was on fire and couldn't wait to get out, so I helped her. It wasn't until later that I worried if I should have done it."
"I'm sure it hasn't done her any harm," Lizzy said. "But only imagine what might have happened if you hadn't come along!"
"Someone else would have," Charlie said, refusing to take the credit for what, in Lizzy's opinion, was almost a heroic act.
"What about the car?" Lizzy asked.
"I'm not a mechanic," Charlie said, slowly. "But I'd say it's a total wreck. The passenger side got the worst of it; it's a good thing there was no one in the car with Jane. The police had it taken to a garage in Meryton, or so I've been told."
"I know the place," Lizzy said. "There's only one garage in Meryton. I'll ask my mother to take me there so I can have a look at it."
"I can take you there if you like," Charlie offered. "You'll want to see your mother too - I can drive you there as well, and take her back here with me. She'll be too upset to drive when she hears what has happened."
Lizzy had to agree with him there, and gratefully accepted his offer. Charlie, she thought, was a dear.
Posted on: 2012-07-03
Charlie dropped Caroline off at their sister Louisa's place and hurried back to the hospital to see if there was anything he could do to help, while Caroline rang the doorbell in the expectation of a comfortable chat with Louisa. Louisa, apart from asking how Jane was doing, did not show much interest in her state of health. Once Caroline had told her that there was nothing seriously wrong with her, she was content to let the matter drop.
"I really like Jane," she said. "A nice girl."
"Oh, she's lovely! But I can't warm up to that sister of hers, Lizzy," Caroline remarked . "I don't like her manners at all - so stuck-up and impertinent."
Louisa, never having met Lizzy, was unable to contradict that remark and therefore she did not. But she was willing to listen to anything Caroline might say against her - once Caroline got started there was no stopping her; besides it could be quite amusing.
Caroline went on. "She's not much to talk to either, and as to her looks! I'll admit her to be sporty enough, if she really ran all the way to the hospital from the station as she said she did. Personally I doubt that, but I suppose she must have found an excuse for looking such a mess!"
"Did she look a mess?" Louisa asked interestedly.
"You should have seen her!" Caroline snickered. "Her trousers were spattered with mud, and her hair! She did pin it up when she got there, but still - awful! Honestly, I wouldn't let myself be seen in such a state." With a grin, she added, "I guess Michael forgot all about her fine eyes when he saw her arrive at the hospital looking as she did."
"What's that about fine eyes?"
"Oh, just something he said the other day, about Lizzy Bennet having beautiful eyes. Have you ever heard anything like it?"
"Maybe her eyes are the only thing that's noticeable about her," Louisa suggested.
"She's nothing out of the ordinary," Caroline agreed, laughing. "And even if Michael thought her nice once, which I know he never did, he'd have been put off by today's show. Michael, who likes his women to be neat and well-dressed!"
At least, that was what Caroline thought, but she was quite mistaken. Michael did think a great deal about Lizzy that day, and his thoughts were of a very different kind than Caroline's. Maybe that was why he found himself at the hospital again in the evening.
In the meantime, Lizzy was suffering from severe embarrassment as she and Charlie shared the task of telling her mother what had happened to Jane. Mrs Bennet received the news exactly as Lizzy had feared she would - she had hysterics. She hugged Charlie, who bore with the attack with considerable fortitude, and in between sobs thanked him for having saved poor Jane from dying in the ditch.
"I don't think she'd have died," Charlie ventured. "And if I hadn't got there someone else would have done sooner or later."
"But what might have happened till then? I can't bear thinking of it; it's too dreadful! Charlie, you are an angel!"
"Anything but that," Charlie replied, with an embarrassed grin. "Anyway, Mrs Bennet, the doctor says there is no serious injury and Jane will be fine before long."
"I hope it will be found to be so," Mrs Bennet said. "But one never really knows! They may have missed something! Only the other day there was that documentary on TV - about how doctors messed up some of the easiest cases! I won't have a moment's peace until I've seen Jane for myself!"
"I can take you there, Mrs Bennet," Charlie offered.
"Oh, dear Charlie, you mustn't!" Mrs Bennet protested, hugging poor Charlie once again.
"You shouldn't be driving, Mrs Bennet. You're too upset," Charlie said diplomatically. "And I really don't mind."
"It's really very kind of Charlie," Lizzy ventured.
"So it is! I'll just leave a message for Mary to tell her where we've gone and we can be off. Does Jane has everything she needs?"
"I took care of that, Mum, and they're doing a good job of looking after her at the hospital."
"That remains to be seen," Mrs Bennet said, sceptically.
"Shall I ask Gertrude to have a look at her medical reports?" Lizzy suggested, and immediately realised her error as her mother flew into a fit of temper.
"That Woman! I won't let her come near any of my children!"
"Mum, she's a fully trained doctor! She might be able to look at the reports and reassure you!" Lizzy said, deciding not to mention that each of Mrs Bennet's children had visited Gertrude several times; apart from the fact that all of them were by now old enough to vote and able to make their own decisions as to with whom they were spending their time.
"Or whatever passes for a doctor in those parts," Mrs Bennet sneered. "It can't be much of an accomplishment if a woman like that can get a licence."
"I don't think there's any substantial difference between medical training in Austria and in the UK," Lizzy said. "And people are the same everywhere."
"Lizzy, if you ring That Woman I won't have you in my house again!" Mrs Bennet threatened.
"Very well, I won't," Lizzy promised, to keep the peace. "But I will have to tell Dad."
Mrs Bennet gave her permission for that, albeit grudgingly. Probably even she realised that telling Mr Bennet about Jane's accident also meant telling That Woman, and was afraid that both her ex-husband and his new wife would rush to Jane's bedside.
Luckily, Mrs Bennet behaved herself at the hospital, and her visit there passed without any unpleasantness. She was even able to listen to the doctor without pointing out that doctors could well be wrong, as they'd been in the case of that woman in Glasgow she'd seen on the telly. One had to be grateful for the small mercies.
In the evening, after Mary had come to see Jane and take Mrs Bennet home with her, Caroline and Michael arrived back at the hospital "to keep poor Jane company", as Caroline announced grandly.
Jane had just confessed to Lizzy that her headache was growing worse again and that she'd prefer to go to sleep if she could, but being Jane she was too polite to tell her visitors so. Caroline even pulled a deck of cards from her handbag and offered to play with Jane; an offer which Jane civilly declined. Lizzy, too, preferred sitting with Jane and reading to her to playing cards, and said so.
"You don't like cards, I suppose," Caroline said.
"I do like cards, but I don't think this is the moment for card games," Lizzy replied.
"You're busy looking after your sister," Charlie said. "I hope she'll soon reward you by getting better."
"Thank you," Lizzy said, smiling at him and picking up one of the newspapers she'd bought for Jane that morning. She offered to read it to Jane, but Jane told her that she had rather read something cheerful. Newspaper reports tended to be on the pessimistic side, and she was not sure she would be able to deal with the nation's difficulties on top of everything else.
"What you need is a book," Charlie said and offered to get one from the hospital library. "It's not much of a library as far as I can tell, but I'm sure they have something to cheer you up. I'd drive home and get you something from my place; only I don't have all that many books except for those musical reference books I need, and you wouldn't be happy to read those, believe me."
"That won't be necessary," Lizzy assured him. "We'll be happy with a library book, and I can get one myself. You've run enough errands for us today. Settle down!"
"It seems such a shame that we don't have more books," Caroline remarked. "But Daddy never liked reading much, and so he didn't buy anything worth having. I like your library, Michael! I've never seen anything like it, except in some National Trust property or other."
"Like the libraries in National Trust properties, mine has been the work of many generations," Michael said. "So it ought to be good."
"Pemberley is such a beautiful house! And the fact that it has belonged to your family for generations does add to its charm!"
"It might lose some of its charm for you if you saw the bills I have to pay every month," Michael said dryly. "An old house is a job rather than an asset, and if it's been in your family for generations everyone will expect you to keep it there. You can't just walk away from it."
"As if you ever would!" Caroline cried.
"No, I guess I wouldn't," Michael agreed.
"If every I buy a house of my own it will be something like Pemberley," Caroline said.
"Buy Pemberley itself if Michael will sell it," Charlie suggested, grinning.
"I'm talking of possibilities, Charlie! - Tell me, Michael, how is your sister? I haven't seen her for ages!"
"She's fine, thank you," Michael said.
"Has she grown much? Will she be as tall as I am, do you think?"
"There's a fair chance of that. She's now about Lizzy's height, or a little taller."
"I wish I could meet her again some time! Such a delightful girl! Pretty, too, and quite a musician already! I've never heard anyone play the piano quite so well as Georgie! Such an accomplished girl!"
Lizzy, discovering that Jane had fallen asleep, drew her visitors' attention to that fact and put an end to their visit. But although she forbade Charlie to take her home, feeling that he'd done enough driving for that day, she did permit him to drop her off at the train station.
In the end, Jane stayed in hospital for four days before the doctors pronounced her well enough to return home. Lizzy visited her after work every day, and stayed for as long as the nurses would let her. But she was not the only visitor. She usually found Charlie with Jane, which was quite understandable, and Caroline too - Lizzy supposed that was understandable too, in a way - and Michael. That, Lizzy felt, was quite a mystery. What was he doing here? Was he keeping Charlie company, or was he here with Caroline? While it did not look as if they were a couple - Lizzy hoped for Caroline's sake that they were not - Lizzy had hardly seen one without the other, and the way Caroline flattered Michael at every turn was telling. She did not know what Michael thought was going on, but Caroline was a woman with a purpose, as was easy to see.
One evening Michael got a text message from his sister and, excusing himself for a moment, he retired outside to the corridor in order to answer it. Caroline followed him, offering all kinds of flattery and advice.
"That's rather a long message," she said. "Georgie will be delighted!"
Michael, concentrating on his mobile phone, made no reply.
"You type uncommonly fast! I'm sure I couldn't do it!"
"I don't type fast at all."
"But you do! With all those letters and e-mails you must be writing all year round! Boring business matters, too! How I would hate it!"
"Isn't it a good thing it's my job to write them rather than yours?" Michael asked.
"Do tell Georgie that I'm looking forward to seeing her again."
"I've already done so, don't worry."
"Tell her I'm so thrilled she got accepted at Leeds College! You must be so proud of her!"
"May I tell her about your raptures next time I call her? A text message won't do them justice," Michael said.
"Oh, it doesn't matter. I'll see her before long I dare say." Caroline waited for a few moments, but when Michael continued to type and more or less ignored her she went back into Jane's room. Those two, Lizzy decided, where more fun to watch than a show.
Posted on: 2012-07-10
Quite naturally, everyone was talking about Jane's accident at the next rehearsal. Even though Jane had left hospital, she could not sing yet - her bruises hurt her too much, she said, to even attempt it. Sometimes even breathing troubled her. Since it was Jane who said so, Jane who never complained much when she was ill, Lizzy told her to stay at home.
Her mother was anything but pleased when she found that Lizzy had come to the rehearsal alone. She did think Jane was making too much fuss about the whole affair, surely she must be well enough to sing! Who was to sing the Ravel solo tonight, with Jane missing? She ought to have known that she was needed! Why was everyone out to annoy Mrs Bennet? And what if Jane did not recover soon enough to sing the solo in Uppsala? She really ought to make an effort! Lizzy bit back an angry retort; she knew her mother to be quite capable of arguing all evening and it was not really worth it to start a quarrel. So she forbore to point out that things could be much worse; that Jane might have suffered serious injury or worse. Still, she was ashamed of her mother's conduct, which she knew was incomprehensible to everyone present except Mrs Bennet herself.
"I can sing the solo," Mary offered. "You know I can - I know it by heart!"
"To say the truth, Mary, and I hope you won't take offence if I say so, you're just not good enough," Mrs Bennet said.
Mary reddened. "I know you don't like my singing," she retorted. "I'm not saying I'm as good as Jane, I know I'm not, and I know you won't let me sing solo at the concert, but this is a rehearsal for Christ's sake! No one's going to hear us, and if you want to rehearse the Ravel tonight you'll need someone to do the soprano solo, so why not me?"
"Why not me?" Lydia chimed in. "I can do it on my head!"
"I'd like to see that," Charlie murmured behind Lizzy. In spite of her acute embarrassment, she had to suppress a laugh.
"Don't be ridiculous, Lydia," Mrs Bennet said. "This is a soprano solo, and you're an alto."
"That's what you say, but I can sing anything I like. You're just hiding me among the altos because you know Lizzy and Jane would lose their star status if I was one of the sopranos."
Lizzy rolled her eyes. This was not the first time Lydia accused her aunt of deliberately putting obstacles in her way to stardom, but she'd never done so in public before. The other choir members stared at Lydia in silence, too shocked to say anything - or even to laugh at her preposterous statement. Everyone in the choir knew Lydia was practically tone-deaf, and had only joined because both her parents were members too.
Mrs Bennet glared at her niece, and for a moment Lizzy was afraid she'd start an argument with Lydia. It was quite possible that she would, Lizzy knew, and she waited with bated breath for her mother's reaction. Luckily, Mrs Bennet decided that Lydia's statement was not worth getting too upset about, and merely said, "Mary, you sing the solo."
With an indignant shriek, Lydia ran off to the ladies', not to be seen again until the end of rehearsal, when she left the premises together with her parents and sister, violently arguing her case with Cathy, who could not care less.
"I hope," Caroline Bingley said to Michael on their way home from rehearsal, "that you will teach your future mother-in-law that it's better to hold one's tongue sometimes."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Michael asked.
"Mrs Bennet's outburst tonight was not quite in good taste, was it?"
"And what has that to do with me?"
"I thought you were charmed with somebody's beautiful eyes?"
"Does that mean getting married these days? I know lots of girls with beautiful eyes - am I supposed to marry them all? Bigamy is illegal!"
Charlie grinned. "It's not bigamy if you marry all the girls with beautiful eyes."
"More than two," Charlie hinted. "Which means it's not bigamy."
"Shut up, will you?"
"Shutting up alright."
"And if you can do it at all, make sure her sister doesn't put herself forward quite so often, for her own sake as well as ours."
"Any other ideas for my domestic bliss? Do keep them coming, Caroline!" By now, the tone of annoyance in Michael's voice was unmistakeable, and even Caroline knew better than to go on teasing him when he was irritated.
"Can't we just order takeaway food?" Lizzy asked her sister on Friday night. Jane had invited Charlie, his sisters, Tom and Michael to their flat, to thank them for their kindness and help during her brief stay in hospital, and now they were cooking dinner. "There's this new Nepalese restaurant round the corner..."
"No, Lizzy. I promised Charlie home-made food and that's what he'll get," Jane protested. "It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but I'll cook for them. You needn't help."
"Of course I'll help; I can do the cooking on my own, I just thought it would be better for you to rest," Lizzy said.
"I don't think putting some rice on the boil will overtax my strength," Jane pointed out. "And I can do the sauce as well."
"I suppose it has to be Gertrude's Sicilian Rice Casserole, does it?" Lizzy asked.
"Don't you like it?"
"I love it, but it takes hours to make!"
"They'll be here at eight, by which time it'll be ready." Jane said.
Lizzy shrugged. "As you wish," she said, and started cutting the ingredients for the casserole while Jane made the strawberry sauce to go with the panna cotta she'd prepared earlier.
The dinner was a complete success. Charlie, especially, was enthusiastic about the food although slightly concerned that Jane had been doing too much. Tom had something favourable to say about the white wine they'd served along with the casserole - not Italian but Austrian, from the vineyard belonging to one of Gertrude's friends. Caroline and Louisa enthused about the salad dressing and the dessert, and asked Jane for the recipe for both. Even Michael appeared to have enjoyed his meal.
"And you did this all by yourself, Jane?" he asked.
"Oh no, Lizzy did the hard work and left me to mix up the ingredients and take the credit for it all," Jane said, laughingly.
"Cooking is one accomplishment I've never been able to master," Charlie said. "It's all so complicated, don't you agree?"
"Not at all complicated," Lizzy said. "Just follow the instructions in the recipe. If you do that often enough you'll end up not needing a recipe any more."
"I don't have the patience for that I'm afraid."
"That's quite surprising, considering that you play two instruments that need quite a lot of practice if you want to play them professionally," Lizzy said.
"That is true," Michael agreed.
"It's the most surprising thing of all about me," Charlie admitted. "Usually, everything I do I do in a hurry. I'm afraid Michael has no great opinion of my talent."
"I have the greatest opinion of your talent; I just think you don't exercise it enough," Michael replied. "You take things too easy."
"And yet I got that scholarship for Salzburg."
"Because for once you took the trouble to practice," Michael said. "Sometimes talent is not enough."
Charlie shrugged. "Things have been rather easy so far, and I'm having fun. What's the point in doing something you no longer care to do, just because you do it well? If I lost interest in playing, I'd drop it in a moment and take up something else."
"What would that be?" Jane asked.
"I don't know. Accountancy, maybe." Charlie laughed.
"I can't think of anyone less suited to become an accountant," Michael remarked.
"You know, Charlie," Lizzy said, "I thought you were the kind of person who made his decisions on the spur of the moment. Right now I'm quite satisfied with myself for having discovered it."
Charlie laughed. "I wish I might take it as a compliment, except that it's pitiful to be seen through so easily."
"It does not necessarily follow that a more intricate character is more estimable than one like yours."
"I didn't know you studied people's characters," Charlie said. "It must be quite amusing."
"Sometimes more, sometimes less. Depends on the character." Lizzy smiled. "The more intricate ones are more amusing than others. There's that to be said for them."
"Did you ever think of studying psychology then?" Michael asked.
"I did think of it, but I didn't like the career outlook very much," Lizzy replied.
"So you're not studying at all?"
"Not at the moment. Right now I'm earning money and putting something aside for when I do decide what to do with my life," Lizzy replied coolly. "I don't depend on my parents to feed and clothe me forever."
"I like your attitude," Charlie said. Michael said nothing; he simply looked at Lizzy as if he'd just discovered something entirely new.
"And for now I'll let human nature be human nature, and take care of the dishes instead," Lizzy said, and got up to fetch a tray from the kitchen. Surprisingly it was Caroline who followed her there, and who helped her load the dishwasher. It was probably to show off her superior abilities in the field of dishwasher-loading, Lizzy felt, for she kept telling her how to arrange the dishes and crockery until Lizzy gave way and let her do the work. Unfortunately for Caroline, Michael did not seem to notice her housewifely qualities. This would not do, and so Caroline asked him to come and assist them. Michael smiled and shook his head.
"I'd only be in your way," he said. "In more ways than one."
Lizzy agreed with him; the kitchen was very small, and it was difficult enough for two people working in there not to step onto each other's toes. It would be much worse with three.
"What does he mean, Lizzy?" Caroline asked. "What can he mean?"
"Ignore him," Lizzy recommended. "He only means to get our interest, so the best thing to do is to disappoint him."
But Caroline was incapable of disappointing Michael, it seemed, and so she asked him what he'd meant with his cryptic remark. He explained himself quite readily.
"Firstly, the obvious thing - the kitchen is too small for three people," he said. "Secondly, you followed Lizzy to the kitchen to talk about things we're not supposed to overhear. And thirdly, you may want to impress us with your efficiency, in which case I'd much better admire you from where I am."
"Shocking!" Caroline cried. "How shall we punish him, Lizzy?"
"There's still some panna cotta in the fridge you could throw at him," Lizzy suggested. "Or we could laugh at him. Tease him! You know him well enough to know how it can be done."
"But we can't laugh at him! There's nothing to be laughed at!" Caroline protested.
"Nothing at all?" Lizzy grinned. "That's rather uncommon, and uncommon I hope it will stay that way. I do like to laugh now and then!"
"Caroline has given me more credit than is my due," Michael said. "The best and wisest of people - and the best of their actions - can be made ridiculous by people whose first object in life is a joke."
"There are such people," Lizzy admitted. "But I do hope I'm not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. But I laugh at folly and nonsense and inconsistencies whenever I can. I don't suppose you have any, though, so you are quite safe."
"Perhaps it's not possible for anyone to be without them. But I've always done my best to avoid those weaknesses which turn even the cleverest most distinguished person into a figure of fun."
"Such as vanity and pride."
"Vanity is a weakness. But pride - I don't think so; as long as a superior mind keeps it under control."
Lizzy turned away to hide her smile.
"And what is the result of your psychological analysis, Lizzy?" Caroline asked.
"I am quite positive that Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy has no fault. He has just admitted it himself."
"Oh no," said Michael. "I haven't said any such thing. I have faults enough, but I don't lack intelligence I hope. As for my temper - I can't vouch for that. I'm not yielding enough for the convenience of others, and I can't forgive the vices or others as soon as I ought; especially not their offences against myself. You might call me resentful, perhaps. Once someone has managed to lose my good opinion, it's lost forever."
"That is a fault," Elizabeth said. "But you've chosen it well - I cannot laugh at it."
Posted on: 2012-07-24
Ever since the Meryton Singers had decided to take part in the choral festival in Uppsala Mrs Bennet had done her best to compile a suitable programme for the occasion, and apart from collecting music that would make her choir shine yet hide her singers' shortcomings, she had been in a frenzy to find someone who would work with the choir to improve their singing technique. But it was not easy to find voice trainers who were not only willing to work with an amateur choir for a moderate fee but also had the time to do so. Some of the Meryton Singers had ideas of their own as to who should work with them. William Collins, especially, pointed out that since he'd already tried out several well-known voice trainers he could use his connections to get someone to Longbourn to sing with them, although, he remarked mournfully, Dame Catherine de Bourgh was probably not available at this time of the year.
Lizzy doubted that he'd ever even met that redoubtable lady, let alone taken lessons from her, but he certainly talked about her a lot. There was not one master class video on the internet featuring Dame Catherine that he had not watched and talked at length about. In his opinion she was The Perfect Prima Donna, and if only she took the trouble to come to Longbourn and instruct the Meryton Singers for two hours they'd immediately turn into sought-after professionals.
"It's not just that she's a brilliant singer herself - probably one of the best there ever were in my opinion - but she's also an excellent teacher, I have always thought. Such insight! And she doesn't miss anything! Watching her teach is a marvel!" he eulogised.
"Not missing any mistakes is the characteristic of a good teacher then?" Paul, who knew a thing or two about teaching, asked. "What about encouragement?"
"First you must make people aware of their mistakes to give them something to start with," William lectured. "And then you can encourage them to improve."
"Thank you, I'll try that method one of these days," Paul said. "Should go down well with my third-years."
"I'm not telling you how teaching children works," William said. "That's an entirely different matter. Dame Catherine works with adults; musical students who prefer the professional approach."
"And they do well to follow her example. Have you heard her in Lohengrin? A more divine Elsa has yet to be born."
"Not live on stage; that must have been a couple of decades before my time. Besides I'm not into Wagner."
"You're missing something," William said.
"No doubt there's a video I can watch," Paul said dryly.
"There is; I'll e-mail the link to you when I get home," William said eagerly. "The quality's not all that good, mind you; the film was made in 1978. Doesn't do her credit, but in spite of it all - what a voice!"
Lizzy felt the need to put an end to this discussion. "Since we can hardly afford Dame Catherine's tuition fee, this whole argument is ridiculous," she pointed out. "We'll be lucky if we find anyone who can fit us in, preferably for free."
"No one's going to teach us for nothing," Paul said.
"Oh, I know that. But it's nonsense talking about Dame Catherine as if there was even the slightest chance of us hiring her - or her consenting to do it if we did."
"Why wouldn't she?" William asked indignantly.
"Think, William. A world-famous singer whose master classes cost a fortune training up a choir of amateur singers? Not bloody likely," Lizzy said. "She can't afford to do that even if she wanted to, which I'm sure she doesn't. She has a reputation to lose."
"I don't think such thoughts would weigh with her," William insisted.
"How do you know what she's like?" Paul wanted to know, genuinely interested. "Have you ever met Dame Catherine?"
"I got to see her once when she was doing a master class in Cardiff. She was very kind and gracious when I talked to her - every inch a lady!"
"Doesn't sound like a prima donna to me," Paul said. "It's a pity there aren't more of that kind. - She no longer performs, though, does she?"
"No; she's retired from the stage and concentrates on teaching these days. It's a pity her daughter hasn't taken up singing as a career, I'm sure she would be just as marvellous as her mother if only she tried."
"It doesn't do to have two prima donnas in the same family," Lizzy said. "Miss de Bourgh will be well aware of that fact. Besides I'm sure she must have suffered some disadvantages due to her mother's profession, which may be why she refused to follow the same path."
Unwillingly, William had to admit that there probably were one or two disadvantages to having a famous opera singer for a mother, although he could not see why they should weigh with one's career choice.
As Lizzy looked up she noticed Michael once again watching her, although he turned away the moment he realised she'd seen him. For a moment it had looked as if he'd wanted to join their conversation, but he did not. Instead, he began to talk to Caroline. That man was definitely odd, Lizzy decided, though maybe not quite as odd as William.
Mrs Bennet succeeded in the end. With the assistance of the choral association the Meryton Singers belonged to, she engaged the services of a certain George Wickham. He had occasionally worked for the association with some success, and could fit them in for two or three rehearsals in spite of a busy schedule. This piece of news excited Mrs Bennet much more than Lizzy and Jane's new car, which they'd bought to replace the one that had been wrecked in Jane's accident. When Lizzy rang her to invite her and Mary to a picnic - to introduce their new car - she could talk of little else. She praised him even more when Jane and Lizzy picked up their mother and sister on Sunday morning.
"He's a professional singer," she told them, proudly. "Proper training and all."
"Where did he study?" Mary asked.
"Oh, somewhere abroad, I forget where that was. Some German-speaking place, Germany, I think, or Switzerland."
"Or Austria," Mary said.
"Don't be ridiculous!"
"They speak German in Austria," Mary insisted.
"He didn't study in Austria! I'd know if he had! He told me the name of the place, it's just that I can't remember!"
"Except that it wasn't in Austria," Lizzy said. Luckily her mother did not notice her smile.
He'd studied in Munich, or so George told Lizzy when he came to watch their rehearsal on Thursday and was at leisure to talk to her. He'd made quite a hit with the female members of the choir, no matter what age they were. George Wickham was young, good-looking and not without charm. It would have been ridiculous to see how Cathy and Lydia gushed over him if Lizzy hadn't caught herself thinking how attractive he was, and realised that she was just as susceptible to a handsome man's charm as any teenager. Not that her teenage years were that long past.
He was not going to do any work just yet, George said with a disarming grin. "I'm just going to watch and take notes. We'll get down to business next week."
"If you're going to take notes you are going to work," Lizzy said. "And now I'll be afraid to open my mouth all evening because of what you might write down about me if I did."
"Surely there's no call for that!" He laughed pleasantly. "People who sing in choirs often have plenty of talent, and I don't think I'll be disappointed here. There are some who know what they're doing, too - I've just talked to one of the basses who seems to have had some formal training."
"That must be William, but he hasn't had as much formal training as he would like you to believe," Lizzy said. "As you will see."
"That sort, is he? Never mind, even he will profit from a hint or two."
That moment, Charlie and Michael arrived. Charlie, at Mrs Bennet's invitation, immediately came over to be introduced to George. Michael did not. He merely favoured George with a stiff nod and went to his seat. For a moment, George looked slightly taken aback, but he quickly recovered his composure. They'd already met somewhere Lizzy, who'd witnessed their greeting, thought. But it was obvious that there was no love lost between them. Lizzy wondered why that was so.
Mrs Bennet had finally decided on their encores, the Meryton Singers' all-time favourite "April Is In My Mistress' Face", and a Swedish hymn, "Sommarpsalm", as a kind of thank-you for their hosts. Lizzy, who knew her mother had been bent on trying "Sommarpsalm" with the Meryton Singers ever since she'd seen the Swedish Royal Wedding on TV, had to suppress a grin when Mrs Bennet announced her intention, amid groans coming from Cathy and Lydia. As if learning French lyrics hadn't been enough, their aunt now expected them to learn Swedish. What was worse, everyone but them seemed to be happy about it.
Charlie and his friends did not come to the pub with the rest of the choir afterwards, although almost everyone else went, even George who wanted to take the opportunity of getting to know them all, and of telling Mrs Bennet what he was planning to do to improve the Meryton Singers' performance. Having done that, he joined the younger members of the choir in their game of darts, and later ended up sitting with Lizzy. She had no hope of him telling her how long he'd known Michael, or why they seemed to be on such bad terms with each other.
So she was quite surprised when he said, "I had no idea Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy was a member of your choir."
"He hasn't been with us for long, maybe six weeks or so," Lizzy said. "He came along with Charlie, though why he came back after the first rehearsal I fail to understand. He didn't exactly enjoy himself here."
"He's probably bored," George said. "It's not as if he had to work. His father must have left him millions. OK, maybe not millions but enough for him to do what he chooses without having to worry about paying his bills."
"You know him well?" Lizzy asked.
"We used to be friends. My father was his mother's agent - she was a singer, you know. Not as famous as her sister but pretty successful nevertheless. Anne Fitzwilliam - specialised on early music. The most modern stuff she did was Handel. There's a recording of his German Arias if you want to hear her - I have yet to hear a better one."
"I've never heard about her, but then I'm not interested in early music."
"You may know his aunt, though. Dame Catherine de Bourgh."
That at least explained why Michael had taken such interest in William and Paul's discussion of that lady, Lizzy thought, and quickly tried to remember if she'd said anything disparaging about Dame Catherine. She hadn't, or at least she could not remember.
"I've heard of her," Lizzy said.
"I should think so. - Anyway, I've known Michael ever since we were kids, but he doesn't choose to acknowledge our friendship. - Do you know him well?"
"I'm sufficiently acquainted with him," Lizzy said. "I've only met him at rehearsals, mainly, and I think he's quite stuck-up and disagreeable."
"Really? I'm afraid I'm biased, so I won't say anything as to that, though there are people who'd be greatly surprised at your finding him disagreeable."
"I don't think he's popular with the people in this choir," Lizzy said. "There's too much reserve; he keeps himself to himself. People don't like that. Why join a choir if you don't want anything to do with the other singers?"
"Why indeed? Yet in some circles he is very popular; he can be quite charming if he chooses. - Is he coming to Sweden with you?"
"I think he is; he certainly never said he would not. I hope his being a member of our choir doesn't make you reconsider your decision to work with us."
"Oh no! It takes more than Michael Fitzwilliam-Darcy to drive me away, I assure you. If he wishes to avoid seeing me, he's the one who should go. We're no longer of friendly terms, I'm sorry to say, and meeting him is painful, but I have no reason for avoiding him but what I might safely tell everyone. He's treated me badly, not in a way I'd expected from a friend. His father was one of the kindest men that ever lived, and probably the best friend I ever had, and I can never meet Michael without being reminded of what his father was, and how little he has in common with him. His behaviour towards me has been scandalous, but I do believe I could forgive him anything and everything for his father's sake."
He changed the topic then; it seemed to Lizzy as if he found it too painful to continue this conversation, but she hoped that there would be an opportunity for him to tell her just what it was that Michael had done to him.