July 11, 2015 12:03AM
What if? Is an oft used alternative scenario in tale-telling. So then, what if we made a gracious nod in Jane Austen’s direction and promised to follow her guidelines, but turned a few things on their heads in her Regency era comedy of manners, amidst the rattle of carriage wheels down in Meryton in the mud, can we hope she will be gracious and forgive us?

Chapter One.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an intelligent young woman, accomplished in music and of pleasant appearance, will rarely want for offers of interest from the male sector. With the latter predominantly to the fore as the first criteria, many a man’s idle interest in music may suddenly blossom like spring daffodils when such a one appears . His reception, however, may well depend upon his financial status as much as his musical appreciation, for a talented musician needs something to live on just as does a tone-deaf one. “ If music be the food of love, play on” as a certain well known bard once had stated.

Mrs Bennet let out an exaggerated hiss of annoyance.

“Dammit, Mr Bennet, sir; have you heard, Netherfield Park is let at last. How utterly inconvenient. Michelmas upon us and some young popinjay from up north has taken the let on it. Now you will have to go visiting and be all sociable just when I had the next couple of days all planned out, for he is sure to attend the Assembly. Shopping today for new bonnets, ribbons, shoes and cloaks for the assembly, tea and crumpets with Mrs Long at four, and a family discussion on the latest dance steps this evening. You were supposed to exercise the horses this morning and shoot a few dozen pheasants and grouse or something this afternoon, because unfortunately it is our turn to entertain the Crampets and Wilberforces this weekend. There have been rumours of a buzzard flying around Longbourne, so Mrs Long tells me, whatever one of those is, and I’ve never tried it as a game delicacy. No doubt she will get to try it first unless you can kill it and claim it. The new tenant will probably want to call and cast an eye over our girls when he hears about them, if indeed he has not done so already, but I doubt he has enough money to cater for all of us. He has probably heard about Mary. This wedding fiasco with the girls is so very tedious. What on earth your silly ancestors were doing handing our beloved family home over to a complete strangers in an entailment when you expire, totally escapes me. But for that we should be rich enough to spend a few months in France now that the war is more or less over, and not have to worry about living in a tent like a bunch of Gypsies when we got back. Entailments are very silly things indeed and quite beyond me! ”

“Since most things are beyond you my dear, why should an entailment be any different?. So you think a few months in France would be very beneficial to you and would see me off do you? Ha, well I have no intentions of quitting the human race for a considerable time yet , I assure you my dearest, but if you see any indications of my doing so, please be sure to inform me and I shall be sure to get roaring drunk for a full week and be as totally objectionable as possible. ”

Mr Bennet puffed out his cheeks in mild frustration and his fingers tapped out a tattoo on his knee. This was dashed inconvenient news indeed. He had no plans to go social-visiting anyone really, but tradition must ever be the servant of society and therefore better to get the task out of the way tidily and promptly. He would ride Thunderbolt, his faithful cob, the three miles to Netherfield and back, as he had not heard his wife arranging for any rain that day and no doubt, as accomplished as she was, it would still be pleasant to escape Mary’s constant homage to Mozart’s Requiem for an hour or two. Lizzie and Jane were out strolling around somewhere, probably on Meryton main street contemplating on the merits of pink versus lilac as Assembly dress choices, and Kitty and Lydia would no doubt be hiding in the hedgerows, on the way to Meryton, attempting to waylay anything in a uniform into hysterical flirtation mode . He would, he decided, suffer no great pangs of loss when the scarlet clad minions of the militia moved onwards to metaphorical richer pastures. With a resigned sigh he rose and headed off in the direction of the stables. Hopefully, tomorrow evening the family would depart en-masse to the Meryton Asssembly for a few hours, and leave him to his library a slice of cold pork pie and a small glass, or possibly two, of vintage claret. Yes indeed, that would do nicely.

The following day was a mad whirl of activity involving sartorial elegance and matters of terpsichorean importance as the female sector of the Bennet family prepared for a full-scale assault on Meyton that evening. Mr Bennet was only too glad to escape the house and carry out the tasks that visiting Netherfield Park the previous day had delayed. The new young tenant, Charles Bingley by name, had seemed gentlemanly enough and welcomed his visit warmly. A very pleasant young man in both manner and appearance he had expressed a wish to meet the members of the Bennet family at the assembly. He had also presented his two elegant sisters who made respectable, if somewhat languid noises of welcome. Rather fortunately, today, there were no sightings of the villainous aforementioned buzzard and, with the season now arrived, he could confine his shooting to better known varieties of game birds, which he, together with his dogs and a couple of bearers, did with some gusto. His day passed well enough and evening arrived all too soon.

“ Come girls, hasten now. We must not be last to arrive in case we miss any snippets of gossip or anything of interest, and I want our carriage to be seen before Mrs Long’s hack chaise. My, Mary, you do look exceedingly well tonight. Jane and Lizzie are more striking it is true, particularly Jane, but without a shadow of a doubt you look decidedly well. Whenever I look at you, I see myself twenty years ago, I do indeed!”

Mary gave a small smile. Totally without vanity she was unaware of her own beauty and appearance was not her first consideration. Whereas Jane and Lizzie had naturally curly hair that needed constant attention, her own tresses were long, dark and straight and worn in a simple fashion. Tall and slim, her features were elegant and a trifle serious in appearance, but she possessed lovely dark brown eyes that, when viewed closely spoke of intelligence and humour. Her thoughts were far from dancing partners however. Tonight, she was secretly and rather ungraciously hoping that the pianoforte player in the Assembly quartet might have one of his seasonable attacks of gout and she would be asked to deputise for him and play. Of what value were men who danced, against the supreme majesty of music? None at all, she decided. Music was superior to any man on the planet and a pianoforte preferable to the finest curricle. Soon they were all crowded noisily into the carriage for the short journey to Meryton. Kitty and Lydia chattered incessantly about the twelve ladies and seven gentlemen that Mr Bingley was declared as arriving at the Assembly with, but their main topic was officers of the militia and their relevant status at flirt-worthy targets. With their father absent and a mother who made no attempt to check their facetiousness, their imaginations knew no bounds and bordered enough on almost indecency that the other three sisters grew quite annoyed at them. To Kitty and Lydia, such a triviality was hardly worthy of notice and easily dismissed in their eagerness for sightings of scarlet clad males. King George himself would pale into insignificance against men in regimentals.

The subject of their father’s neighbourly visit duly arrived with a somewhat smaller entourage than predicted: Bingley himself, two sisters, the rather stoutly built husband of one of them and a tall, dark and somewhat severe looking stranger who stayed to the rear of the party as introductions were made amongst the others. In a very short time indeed local intelligence sources declared Bingley as a five thousand a year man and assessed his his friend’s fortune at ten thousand a year, give or take a bucketful of sovereigns or two. The Bennet girls and their mother arranged themselves in advantageous positions at the front of the dance floor. Mary was rather deeply disappointed to find the pianists foot seemed to be gout-free and stamping the instrument’s pedals with gusto. When Jane drew her attention to Bingley’s friend and announced her hopes of an introduction to all the newcomers, she looked across at him, fleetingly catching his eye for a few seconds.

“Do you not think him very handsome Mary? Shall I seek out Mrs Long and get her to fix him as a partner for you? He does appear quite the gentleman, does he not? ”

Mary shrugged with no real attention as her foot tapped along with the lively reel that the band of musicians were playing. One of the fiddle’s strings was out of tune and needed tightening, she decided. Maybe she should mention it? She saw that Jane was awaiting an answer to her query on the stranger with Bingley.

“He is tolerable looking I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Far too severe. See how even a merry reel such as this cannot raise a smile out of him. Somewhat of a sourpuss I would say !”

Behind her, Bingley’s friend, who intelligence had discovered was one Fitzwilliam Darcy from the county of Derbyshire, raised an eyebrow in shocked disbelief at her words. She had hardly uttered them loudly, but a lull in the music allowed him to hear quite clearly her remark. He turned to Bingley, a stunned expression on his face as they walked off.

“Charles, did you hear that young lady declare me “tolerable”? Tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt her to dance with. Good Lord, who is she, the Queen of France or someone? Has she any idea who I am? You must find out who she is and make her aware of who she thinks of as “tolerable". Insupportable…”

Bingley tried to smother a grin at his friend’s obvious annoyance. He too was surprised at the words of the somewhat elegant girl who was obviously totally unimpressed by Darcy’s magnificence, but secretly he was more than a little amused. This was not an occasion often encountered as even his own sisters paid homage to Darcy’s importance in the society world. “ Not handsome enough to tempt me” The words echoed in his head as Darcy, grievously wounded by such an insult strode off in search of the sympathetic ear that his sister Caroline was certain to provide. Once again, Bingley smothered a smile. This was capital. Meanwhile, the eldest Bennet girl, Jane, was of more than passing interest to himself. She was quite delightful. He would seek an introduction and ask her to dance, always assuming she found him “tolerable” and possibly handsome enough to dance with.. The thought caused his smile to widen into a laugh that he made no attempt to check.

Darcy’s mood suffered no improvement as the evening progressed. He danced distantly with both of the Bingley sisters and was rude enough, even by his own standards, to express no wish to dance further when Mrs Bennet tried unsuccessfully to partner him off with her second eldest daughter Elizabeth. He paid scant attention to her in his wounded state of insupportability that a young woman of any level in society should find him but “tolerable”. Mrs Bennet shared his sense of outrage in her own way, less than pleased that he should not find her daughters irresistible. Whilst he simmered silently like a pot of white soup on the hob, she made no attempt to disguise her disgust at his bad manners. Half the room were suddenly less than enamoured with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

If Darcy made a bad impression, Bingley dazzled all within his acquaintance by his cheery friendliness and likeable personality. Jane Bennet was partnered not once but twice because there was a rather obvious mutual attraction between them already. He also danced with Lizzie and her friend Charlotte Lucas and was declared a very fine young gentleman indeed by all the local members of the personality jury. Mary Bennet got into conversation with members of the small orchestra and was invited to play a couple of airs with them whilst the pianist partook of refreshment both solid and liquid. Darcy, assuming she had left the Assembly in disgrace when informed of her grievous error, failed to look in the right direction when scouring the hall for his new nemesis. He was hardly sorry when, much to Bingley’s disappointment, the evening came to an end and they took their carriage back to Netherfield. The word “tolerable” continued to disturb his peace even when he lay in the faint moonlit darkness of his bedroom and he realised he could not even conjure up a mental image of the girl who had uttered it. “Mary Bennet”, Bingley had called her. Who was Mary Bennet? Tomorrow, he would find out, he decided, and slipped off into an uneasy sleep in which he was surrounded by the Meryton locals all pointing at him and calling out..intolerable

They must have heard about Mary. Chapter One.

Jim G.MJuly 11, 2015 12:03AM

Re: They must have heard about Mary. Chapter One.

ShannaGJuly 11, 2015 03:01AM

Re: They must have heard about Mary. Chapter One.

Lucy J.July 11, 2015 11:29PM

Looking forward to reading more! (nfm)

ErinVGJuly 12, 2015 05:05AM


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