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Pride and Petticoat

January 27, 2020 12:37AM
Pride and Petticoat
by Amy Shore
Daria tugged at the corset stays digging their way into her back as she paused in the hallway of the Cloverdale Community Center. One last dash into the ladies’ room had revealed a tell-tale showing of her rented but torn white petticoat. She had attempted to fix it after rummaging through her decidedly ‘not-period’ purse for a ‘not-period’ safety-pin, suddenly necessary for the prim and orderly appearance of Jane Austen. The ladies of the Cloverdale Austen Society would have all eyes on her, or so she reasoned.

She slid into the room, her ballet flats under the high-waisted muslin gown barely peeking out. She smiled, embarrassed but pleased as the room collectively gasped. A small but sudden rush of grateful tears pushed their way into the backs of her eyes, and she blinked, moving to the platform, fingering her speech in one hand, holding her skirts up with the other.

Feldman was seated in one of the two chairs in a splendid green velveteen waistcoat, his creamy white breeches following an attractive masculine frame. His face, in contrast, wore that signature stern frown she had dreaded to face. If only he were not the one they’d chosen for Darcy. He obviously hated Jane Austen! But when your mother is the head of the Cloverdale Austen Society, you have small choice in the matter. Nor do you have a choice at being named ‘Feldman’ she thought with a wicked triumph. In the few read-through rehearsals, he’d been as arrogant as they come, his dark eyes burning whenever he managed to look at Daria. It was obvious he was out of his element.

His face attempted a stage smile, and he stood bowing from the waist as she took the podium.

“Ladies, gentlemen,” Daria began, “it is my distinct privilege to greet you today on what is a most momentous occasion: the 245th anniversary of my birth! Astonishing as this event is, none could be more delighted than myself!” There was general laughter. “I’d like to thank the committee, that illustrious, industrious hub of activity for which we are eternally and gastronomically grateful!

There was general applause, during which Daria noticed out of the corner of her eye one of the servers in coattails and white cravat who caught her eye and winked. He was stunning to look at, sporting a full head of dark curls. But to be sure her eye wandered from his head down to a finely proportioned figure of a man. Feeling a slight flush, she returned to her notes, suddenly aware that she had no idea what was next.

The reading! she reminded herself and introduced her reading partner to even more uproarious applause. She looked in the direction of the waiter just in time to see his back disappear into the kitchen area. Then, noticing Feldman at her side she took a deep breath, and began reading from the script.

“I invite you to enjoy with us an excerpt from my most popular book, Pride and Prejudice. I will be reading for Elizabeth and Feldman will read the part of Darcy.

Elizabeth: Is this not a pleasant room for dancing?” (a pause) “It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy: “Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?” (He delivered the line so sarcastically that Daria inwardly applauded Mrs. Granger’s choice of her son for the part of Darcy!)

Elizabeth: “Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some (and here Daria regarded Feldman with a knowing look, which was not altogether acting on her part), conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.”

Darcy: “Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?”

Elizabeth: “Both!” Daria was delighted to have the last line.

The room erupted. Daria and Feldman took their respective seats on the stage as Feldman’s mother, Mrs. Granger, took to the podium and made those general announcements which are best energized by the serving of dessert.

When she stepped off the platform, Feldman gave her his arm. She looked him in the eyes, as she took it, gratefully. These long skirts are certainly more romantic-looking than they are practical, she thought. It was fortunate for her that she took his arm, because the dreaded petticoat had torn loose from its pin when her shoe caught wretchedly in the lace of it. Feldman used a second hand around her waist to assist, and she was able to keep from falling…barely. Humiliated, she excused herself and made a beeline for the hallway to remedy the problem once and for all. Duct tape! They’ll have some in the kitchen, she reasoned, not letting herself fully address the thought that the handsome waiter might be in the vicinity.

He was.

As she knelt to assess the petticoat, he sidled up and crooned in a low voice, “Wardrobe malfunction?”

“Oh,” she said, startled, “Yes. Ripped jeans I can manage, but…”

“I’m sorry to report that I don’t have a needle and thread on my person,” he said, his merry eyes twinkling. He was playing the part of a Regency gentleman! Why couldn’t they have used him for Darcy?

“I was thinking maybe…duct tape?”

“Allow me,” he offered, running into an adjacent room and returning with an industrial size roll of duct tape.

He knelt before her and tearing a length of tape with his teeth, he attached the tape to the ripped petticoat, while she thanked Providence she had shaved her legs that morning. He smells nice, she thought, as a hint of spice rose in his wake.

In a flash, he was off to check on the state of the coffee service, and she returned regretfully to the table reserved for her. She located her place card which read ‘Miss Austen’ and realized with a sinking feeling that Feldman, aka Mr. Darcy, was placed in the next seat over. A steaming plate of food had just been laid in front of them both.

He stood as she approached the table.

“Is everything all right?” he asked.

“Fine,” she answered, “Just a slight costume problem.”

“You know, I kind of like your...” he fumbled slightly his eyes avoiding hers, “outfit,” he finished.

“Thank you,” she said, sitting down. Was he human after all? Her bonnet obstructed a good view of him, but she could feel his eyes on her.

“Coffee?” a familiar voice asked.

She turned to see the waiter, carafe in hand, standing between their chairs.

“No thank you,” said Feldman, a touch too bitterly for the simple refusal of a hot drink, and as she turned she was able to get a full view of him, and noticed his jaw clenching tightly.

“I’d love coffee,” she answered the waiter, still eyeing Feldman. The waiter leaned in close to pour her coffee and she caught a whiff of tantalizing men’s cologne, recognizing it from the encounter in the hallway. Then he sauntered away.

“This bonnet—”, she began, searching for a way to make polite conversation.

But Feldman was lost in some dark thought, his head buried in his plate, food untouched.

“Do you know him?” Daria asked.

He took in a labored breath.

“Pass,” he said, taking up his napkin and laying it on his lap.

“A mystery!?” she said, curious.

He turned to face her, his look steel-cold.

“You have no idea.”

“That’s why I asked,” she persisted, feeling she was on a freight train going downhill, and she had no brakes.

“Let’s just say I’m keeping my eye on him. You may have other reasons for doing so.”

“How dare you imply…”, her voice rose in anger so that a few heads at the next table turned.

The room, especially for December, felt very warm.

“Doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” he murmured so only she could hear.

Mrs. Granger approached the table, smiling cheerily.

“Oh, good, they’ve brought our food!” She sat on the other side of Feldman, placing her napkin in her lap. Daria quickly grabbed her napkin. Why did she always forget to do that first?

“Hello, Mrs. Granger,” Daria said, deciding to ignore Feldman altogether. She adopted her best ‘in character’ smile and began to eat her food. Truthfully, she barely tasted it.

He had some nerve.

When the event ended Daria stumbled away from the table, managing to keep her composure as the flock of ladies that wanted to shake her hand and tell her what a perfectly convincing Jane Austen she was, finally trailed out of the Community Center.

Midway out to her car she realized had left her purse in the ladies’ room. As she walked back in, the waiter was leaning on the wall at the entrance to it.

“How would you like to join me for a celebratory drink?” he asked, his tie rakishly askew over the white cravat. “I’m headed over to the Blue Moon.” He pocketed a small wad of bills that she imagined were his tip earnings for the night.

She considered.

Just then, Feldman appeared.

“Go home, Jared,” he barked.

Hands up in acquiescence, the young man offered a knowing wink to Daria as he turned to go down the hall and out the back door.

“What is this about?” Daria demanded.

“He sweet-talked my mother into serving tonight,” Feldman said. “He doesn’t belong here.”

“But why not?”

“He’s worked for my parents for the past year. Multiple items have gone missing, and he’s the only one who could have taken them.”

“That seems rather unlikely. And slanderous of you to say so,” she added. “It would be obvious he’d be caught!”

“I told you. You have no idea,” Feldman looked tired. Tired, but something else crossed his features. Was it…tenderness?

“You did a fine Jane Austen today. I’m sorry to be a downer. I wasn’t expecting to play the part, but…mother…” he gestured helplessly.

“Well,” she giggled, not able to resist a final dig, “you were a perfectly boorish Darcy.”

He smiled, and the tired face lit up.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said. “May I walk you to your car?”

She looked at him in surprise.

“I wouldn’t want you to, uh… trip on your petticoat,” he answered shyly.

“Um…I have to get my purse. I’ll be right back.”

Once inside the ladies’ room, she leaned on the sink counter, relieved that her purse was still there. It was hanging open in a most unlady-like way, however. She could feel her heart beating fast, but it wasn’t because of her fear about the purse. She dug into her wallet.

All her cash was gone.

She closed it up and came out into the hallway. Feldman had his back turned, as any gentleman would.

“My money!” she said simply. “It’s gone!”

If she was expecting, “I told you so,” she was unprepared for the compassionate face she now saw before her.

“I’m sorry, Daria,” and her knees suddenly went weak when he said her Christian name. How had she not seen him truly before? Is this always how it was? The moment you know. Austen’s Darcy had nothing on Feldman.

Before the end of the day, there were few who did not know the whole story. Like Wickham, the deceitfully flirting waiter had absconded with quite a few valuables from the evening’s fete, making Daria blush at her very misleading first impression of him.

And as for Daria, a ripped petticoat was not quite the disaster she had thought it would be.

Pride and Petticoat

Amy ShoreJanuary 27, 2020 12:37AM

Re: Pride and Petticoat

EvelynJeanJanuary 28, 2020 03:19AM

Re: Pride and Petticoat

Amy L MarisJanuary 28, 2020 05:25PM

Re: Pride and Petticoat

MichaJanuary 27, 2020 11:03AM


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