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Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

August 02, 2018 09:24PM
A/N: It may seem, at first glance, that I've posted this story on the wrong board. Despite initial appearances, this is not a Fan Fiction story. It's an original story, with original characters, which just happens to be partially influenced by Jane Austen. Naturally, there are some lines taken directly from Pride and Prejudice, most of which are part of the "script". It becomes much less "Austen-like" as the story progresses.

This has been a ten-year labour of love. I wrote and posted the first version of this story in 2007, under the title "To Act in Your Name". Since then it's been re-written and greatly expanded, now being more than double the length of the original. Few (if any) who read the story here will have ever come across the old version, or the original ending, but if you do happen to remember it, I'd be grateful if you could avoid posting spoilers. Thank you!




**Please Archive**


Blurb: "When Jessica Lyons is offered the role of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, it feels like fate has handed her the chance to find her very own Mr. Darcy."




Chapter one

She never saw it coming.

There was no warning. No dark sense of foreboding as the tiny black and white ball sailed across the screen and hit the back of the net.

"Yessss!" Jared jumped up, fist thrusting towards the ceiling as an exultant cry spread through the crowded pub. Her glass, knocked from her hand by the sudden movement, cartwheeled once in midair before smashing against the edge of the table.

He snatched his phone out of harm's way and dried the screen with a loving caress before stowing it safely in his pocket. His friends slithered back to avoid the spreading puddle of vodka and coke dripping off the table like an alcoholic waterfall. Those sitting at nearby tables offered cardboard coasters in a pitiful effort to mop up the mess.

Only then did he spare a thought for Jessica. "You okay?"

The white top had looked so pretty in the shop. Now it had a new pattern; a diagonal slash of dingy brown, like one of those canvases you might see hanging in the Tate Modern. Cold, wet denim clung to her thighs, as her jeans had soaked up nearly half of the liquid. Jess carefully collected some of the larger glass shards that lay in her lap as she bit back a curse. "I think I'll live."

Someone threw Jared a dry bar towel. He grinned as he blotted the coke from her chest until she snatched it off him. The day before, when he'd asked her out, his uneven grin had seemed cute. That was before four and a half pints twisted that cute grin into a lecherous leer that turned her stomach. He bent close to her ear, his beer-breath reeking. "I didn't expect you'd be practising for the wet t-shirt contest tonight."

He was right. The coke hadn't just stained her top. It had turned parts of the white polyester transparent, and Jared's mates into giggling thirteen-year-old boys. The one, admittedly tarnished, silver lining was that it had also stained her white bra a pale beige, so it was less noticeable at a distance. Jess covered the worst of the mess with the towel. "I'd better go and clean up."

"You can come back to our place if you like. We'll get you out of those wet clothes and dry them on the radiators." One of his friends laughed as Jared waggled his eyebrows.

Did he honestly think his offer would appeal to her?

Jess collected her bag and her jacket. She had no interest in spending another minute in their company. "I think I'll be okay. I'm nipping to the ladies room. I won't be—" Her words were smothered beneath a chorus of cheers and boos as one of the teams playing on TV scored another goal. She slipped through the crowd, past flashing fruit machines and the thumping bass of the jukebox, doubting whether he'd even notice she was gone.

She rinsed out the stain and held her top under the hand dryer, hoping it would dry enough for her to get home. It hadn't been a great night, even before the accident, but she couldn't lay the whole blame on Jared's slightly hunched shoulders.

It was all Jane Austen's fault.

Ms. Austen had written most of her favourite romantic heroes: those fictional but otherwise perfect specimens who existed only to sweep a girl off her feet. Yet despite years of fruitless searching, she hadn't entirely given up hope of one day finding a mild-mannered Henry Tilney, a steadfast Captain Wentworth, or—if she was really fortunate—a prideful Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Even George Wickham would be an improvement on Jared.

Everyone knew gentlemen were a dying breed but was it really asking too much to meet one? Or were they consigned to the past; only coming to life within the pages of romantic novels and dusty history books?


~~~~~


Raindrops rebounded from the pavement as the taxi stopped halfway down the deserted street of neat terraced houses. Jessica thrust a moist ten-pound note towards the driver, hunched her shoulders against the storm and flew towards the nearest front door. Once inside she peeled off her jacket, draping it over the radiator as water pooled on the tiles beneath.

Her soggy jeans stuck to her skin, and she eyed the staircase as a mountain to be conquered on her way to some warm dry clothes and a fluffy towel, until a disembodied voice floated from the kitchen.

"Is that you?"

She rolled her eyes in the semi-darkness. "No, it's my evil twin. With an axe. I thought I told you to keep the door locked at night?" She glanced in the hall mirror as she passed, running her fingers through the limp clumps of hair plastered against her head and shoulders.

A willowy figure with a mass of red curls and a retroussé nose bounced into the hallway with her arms full of towels. She wrapped a large one around Jessica's shoulders and offered a second for her hair. "I didn't want you to get any wetter while waiting for me to unlock the door. It's horrible out there. How was your date?"

Jess sighed and shook her head. "You wouldn't believe it."

"Pity. I had high hopes for Jared. I thought he showed promise. You go upstairs and get changed, while I put some milk on for cocoa. Then you can tell me all about it."

Jessica smiled at the motherly tone in her house mate's voice but did as she was told. She peeled off her jeans before shrugging herself into pink flannelette pyjamas. Ten minutes later she'd snuggled into the corner of the sofa, wrapped in her soft dressing gown, her hands around a warm mug, inhaling the chocolaty aroma.

Beatrice sat in the chair opposite, her back straight and legs crossed, yoga-style. "So Jared didn't climb too high on your scale of eligible bachelors then?"

"I think even a three would be too generous."

"Not even a Frank Churchill? Ouch. He seemed like quite the gentleman when he bumped into you in the café...all polite and apologetic. You were only meeting him for drinks. How could he mess that up?"

"The first half hour was fine. We were chatting about his job and I thought it was going well. Then his friends turned up and the whole evening suddenly morphed into a boys' night out. At that point, I became slightly less important that the match they were showing on the big screen. I don't expect to be the centre of any man's world, but I would like to rank a bit higher than a stupid ball game, particularly on a first date. It's not as if they were playing a major cup tie, or something important. It was an Italian league game." As Jess described the accident with her drink she realised Jared hadn't even apologised.

"Perhaps you were best off out of it."

"That's what I thought, so when I'd dried off I decided to come home. By the time I left the pub it was throwing it down outside, and I was only wearing my short jacket, so I went for a taxi instead of waiting for the bus."

"If you came home in a taxi how did you get so wet?"

Jess shivered involuntarily as she recalled the moment she'd been drenched by the filthy water. "I swear the first cab drove through the puddle in front of me on purpose. There was no way he didn't see me. So I went from damp to soaked in a matter of seconds. To top it off, the second taxi driver complained about my wet clothes messing up his upholstery and tried to charge me extra. If I hadn't been so desperate to get home I would have told him where to stuff his taxi."

Bea grinned. "Go on, say it."

"What?"

"The same thing you say whenever you have an awful date. Where are all the real gentlemen these days?"

"Wherever they are I can tell you they don't spend much time in the Frog and Dolphin." Her gaze drifted to her shelf next to the TV, which held all her classic novels and her collection of period drama DVDs. She loved the whole idea of living in a time where men removed their hats, bowed to the ladies and didn't feel the need to check their phone every five seconds. "Is it too much to ask for a man's undivided attention for a couple of hours?"

"These days, yes. Besides, you don't just want their attention, Jess. You want someone to sweep you off your feet. You bring all this disappointment on yourself by reading those stupid romance books. Jane Austen is a danger to the sanity of womankind, by raising false hopes all over the world. If she wasn't long dead already I'd be tempted to strangle her myself. You need to realise that modern men aren't like those guys with the tall hats that you watch on telly every week."

"Don't be ridiculous. I don't watch them that often."

"Every other week then. Face it, you're obsessed with those brooding, Byronic heroes with the baggy shirts and tight breeches. What is it about them that you love so much? I never thought Mr. Darcy was all that. He's a stuck up snob at the beginning, thinking he's better than everyone else. His first proposal is borderline offensive."

"You're missing the point. He has to start out like a jerk so he can become a better man. I like the way he listens to Elizabeth, even if he doesn't always understand what she's saying. He goes to visit her, but he's tongue-tied and embarrassed. Once he falls in love with her, his feelings are constant, and he doesn't stop loving her, even after she rejects him. Mr. Darcy is the kind of man who would hold the door for you and allow you to go through first, rather than letting it slam in your face. He would walk nearest to the road, to protect you from sadistic taxi drivers and puddles. He wouldn't spend all night on his phone, or watching football, because he's only interested in you." She sighed. "I just want to meet someone like that, but there's not many of them around these days. At least, not under sixty."

"At the theatre, Giovanni holds the door for me all the time. He's very sensitive and romantically minded, and he's not even thirty yet."

"I thought you said he was gay?"

Bea shrugged. "All the best dancers are, but you're going to have to lower your standards if you don't want to be perpetually disappointed. You'll never find a man you can be happy with if you measure them all against a mythological creature like Fitzwilliam Darcy."

"You're probably right. Besides, even if he did exist chances are he's most likely married."

"Exactly. You need to cut all these twenty-first-century guys some slack. Then you might not be disappointed so often." Bea uncurled from the chair and stretched her arms above her head before collecting the empty mugs. "Bedtime for me. I have early rehearsals tomorrow. Did you see those letters I left on the table? They were on the mat when I got home."

The brown envelope contained a phone bill. The other had a return address for an office in Streatham; a place she'd visited only a fortnight ago. She ran a shaky finger under the flap and pulled out a thick booklet; a script she already knew by heart. A smile grew as she returned to the living room. "Do you still think I can't find a real-life Mr. Darcy?"

"Never. Like the Yeti, he doesn't exist."

"He does, or at least he will do next month." She waved the script in front of Bea's eyes. "I got the job."

"Which one?"

As the reality sank in her excitement bubbled up inside, like a balloon about to pop. "The job! The one in Derbyshire I told you about. I'm going to be playing the part of Elizabeth Bennet, with the Regency dresses and everything!"

Bea laughed. "You lucky cow. So you will be meeting a Mr. Darcy after all. I hope the poor guy realises what he's taken on, playing a role that embodies every virtue. Being the perfect man must be so boring. How long will you be away for?"

"It's a short project for the local tourist office; part of some Jane Austen celebration week they're putting on. We'll have three days prep and rehearsal, then I'll be acting out selected scenes from Pride and Prejudice every morning and afternoon for seven days."

"Only ten days? It's a pity that won't give you very long to get to know Mr. Darcy. And they're actually paying you for this?"

"Not a lot, but to be honest I'd almost have done it for free. We'll be staying in a beautiful stately home, in the middle of nowhere. They're providing all the food and accommodation, and the house is only open in the daytime, so there are no evening performances. I don't care that the money is awful. I've always dreamed about having Jane Austen on my resume, and this might be my only chance. It'll be like spending the week in a real-life period drama."



~<>~@~<>~




Chapter Two


As her taxi drove through the ornamental gates, Jessica craned her neck to catch her first glimpse of Exley Hall. The winding ribbon of tarmac took them past a herd of deer, dotted across the wide paddock, while real sheep roamed bumpy fields in the distance. The only sheep Jess normally saw were the stylised drawings on her shrink-wrapped lamb chops.

After a few more minutes the road descended into a valley, revealing the hall, squatting in the landscape like some kind of stone tomb. Signs by the roadside identified points of interest, such as the Japanese garden or the Orangery. One arrow pointed to the car park, while another directed visitors to the reception and ticket office.

Jess asked directions from a cheery young woman wearing an Exley Hall sweatshirt. She followed the path around the outside of the house, and down a flight of steps, to reach the basement room being used as a temporary office for their production. Inside, a laptop hummed while a harassed female with a phone in each hand seemed to be holding two separate conversations at once. She pointed towards the spare chair and Jess sat down, waiting until the call was finished before introducing herself.

The woman brushed the loose wisps of blonde hair back from her face. "Hello! Sorry to keep you waiting. My name's Mandy." She picked up a clipboard, her pen sliding down the list of names until she located Jess. "Ah, you're our Miss Bennet! You're a bit early. We didn't expect anyone for another hour or two yet."

"Unfortunately the local trains don't run too often this far away from the main line, and the next one would have been half an hour too late."

"Well, at least you had no problem finding us. Let me show you to your room. It looks like I'll be coordinating things on my own for now. My boss was supposed to be here, but I think she might have resigned. It's a nightmare!" One of the phones started ringing again. Mandy sighed, checked the screen and declined the call. "We'd better get moving before they try again. Follow me."

They passed through a long corridor and up a flight of narrow stairs that took them from the basement level to the ground floor of the house. At the top of the stairs, she unclipped a rope marking the staircase as out of bounds to visitors. "We're going to meet in the blue drawing room at six o'clock. That's this room here." She pointed to a door that stood ajar, next to a full suit of armour. "But the house doesn't close to the public until five so until then you can get yourself settled in your room. It's on the top floor, in the old servant's quarters." The melody on her phone played again. Apologising, she glanced at the clipboard and waved towards a grander staircase. "Go up two flights, ignore the no entry sign, and then take the corridor on your left. Yours is the fourth room on the right. You can't miss it."

When Jessica reached the top of the second flight of stairs, she paused to catch her breath. The drab walls and bare floorboards had probably seen hundreds of servants come and go over the two hundred and fifty years of Exley Hall's history. For the next week it would be her home away from home. She counted the doors until she reached the one she'd been assigned and peeked inside.

Spreading her arms wide she couldn't quite touch both walls at the same time, but it only lacked a few inches. A narrow bed, pushed against the wall, stood opposite an ancient chest with three drawers. The dozen hooks screwed into the wall and a handful of hangers was the closest she'd get to a wardrobe. The only concession to modernity was a tiny hand basin squashed into the corner behind the door, the mirror above barely larger than a paperback novel.

Jessica sank onto the end of the bed, making a couple of experimental bounces on the lumpy mattress. It wasn't as uncomfortable as it looked. As she ran her hand over the cool cotton quilt cover she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Despite its size, the bedroom wasn't all bad. She'd slept in worse, including a B&B in Brighton that had been memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Standing on tiptoe she peered through the grimy dormer window set high in the angled ceiling, but all she could see were the tops of the ancient trees that dotted the lawn, and a sliver of the hills in the distance.

Jess looked at her watch. She had more than an hour to kill so she settled onto the bed, allowing her head to sink into the soft pillow. Jess felt tense and stiff, like a coiled spring waiting for its release. It was nothing more than her eagerness to meet the group of people she would be working with over the next ten days. This week's work would not earn her any glowing reviews, but at least she could look back and say she had spent a week with Mr. Darcy.

Wasn't that every woman's dream come true?


~~~~~


She woke with a start, her eyes snapping open as she looked around. The bed must have been more comfortable than she thought because she'd dozed off. Panic rising, she looked at her watch, and then released a breath. She'd only slept for a little over an hour, and there was still plenty of time before she had to make her way downstairs.

Before her nap, the house had been silent, but now she could hear the faint murmur of voices in nearby rooms; a sign she was no longer the only resident of the attic corridor. The brief squeal of furniture moving against a floorboard, or the sounds of running water and squeaky taps were strangely comforting. At half past five, Jess ducked and dived in front of the mirror, trying to see enough of her head in one go to be sure she looked presentable. She freshened up her make-up, took a deep breath and opened her door.

The man standing in the doorway of the room opposite hadn't expected to see her either, and there was a second or two of awkward silence before he cleared his throat. "Hi, I...I'm Gareth."

Jessica's heart sank as she shook the offered hand. The sandy-haired actor looked to be in his late twenties, but with a boyish kind of innocence that suggested he could easily play younger. Sadly his beige cable-knit sweater and studious metal-rimmed glasses shouted tax accountant, rather than dashing Austen hero. No...no, he couldn't be Darcy. He didn't have the noble mien and stately bearing necessary for the role.

Actor he might be, but nobody was that good.

She forced her lips into a smile. "Hi, I'm Jessica. Are...um...are you going to be Darcy?" She mentally crossed her fingers and held her breath, praying for a negative.

He pulled a face. "God, no. No, no...definitely not Darcy. Charles Bingley, at your service." His stiff bow showed that he, at least, knew something of the time period they would be working in.

Jess relaxed, laughing at herself for jumping to such ridiculous conclusions. Yes, she could definitely picture him as a nice-but-dim Mr. Bingley. "Of course you are. Well, we'd better get downstairs and meet the others."

She headed down to the blue drawing room, and Mr. Bingley followed along in silence. He obviously wasn't big on small talk, but Jess didn't mind. She was more focused on the excitement of getting to know the other cast members. The room was empty apart from Mandy, who was still working her phone like a double glazing salesman. The poor woman paced back and forth, talking in a low but earnest voice.

With its blue chintz wallpaper and damask curtains, their meeting room was one of the poshest Jess had ever seen. They had a choice of settees and sofas, along with a couple of extra chairs standing against the wall. Mandy had set up a flip-chart in front of the fireplace, and there were refreshments on a table by the window. The man playing Bingley offered to pour her a tea or a coffee, but she declined, and he left her to her thoughts.

Jess already knew their cast was small. No more than ten people had been hired to bring scenes from Pride and Prejudice to life within the elegant rooms of Exley Hall. Jessica wondered when the other eight were going to arrive. A few minutes later four people entered together. A glance over the group told her that Mr. Darcy wasn't among them.

The recent arrivals were a varied bunch. An ageing, portly thespian called Gerald introduced himself as Mr. Gardiner, while Mrs Gardiner turned out to be a small woman with a kind, smiling face and short, curly hair. She introduced herself as Alison and mentioned that she'd just finished a short season of repertory theatre in Birmingham. A doe-eyed ingenue called Emily, whose only claim to fame was a short stint on TV as a child, would be playing the sixteen-year-old Georgiana, while the fourth was a dark-haired young woman of similar age to Jessica. She introduced herself as Laura but would be better known to them as Jane Bennet.

"But I thought Jane Bennet was blonde?" Young Emily blushed as all eyes turned in her direction.

Laura fingered her dark pixie cut with an apologetic smile. "They said something about providing a wig."

"You know, the book never describes Jane as blonde," Jessica said. "It only says she's the most beautiful of the Bennet sisters." There was no doubt that this Jane was beautiful. She had the bluest eyes Jess had ever seen.

Laura smiled at the description of her character. "I don't know about being beautiful, but at least you won't need a wig to play Elizabeth. Your hair is perfect."

Jess twisted a lock of her long brown hair consciously around a finger. Two months ago she'd been thinking of cutting it short, but she hadn't had the heart. When the Jane Austen audition had been advertised Jess had taken it as a positive omen that she'd made the right choice. Once her hair was put up, they'd only need a few minutes with the curling tongs and it would be perfect.

They settled into two small groups. Mr. and Mrs Gardiner, being of a similar age, gravitated towards each other, taking Georgiana with them. Jessica wasn't surprised that Laura ended up sitting next to the man who would play Bingley, or that the two of them had fallen into an easy conversation.

She took a moment to ponder who, apart from Mr. Darcy, was yet to arrive. She barely had the chance to tick Mrs Reynolds off on her fingers when an older woman wearing a short tweed jacket and sensible shoes appeared in the doorway; her steel grey eyes casting a razor-sharp glance around the assembled cast. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen."

Mandy, briefly between phone calls, made another mark on her clipboard. "Ah, Mrs Green. If you'd like to take a seat, we'll begin in a few minutes."

The elderly Mrs Green strode across the room, choosing to sit next to the Gardiners. Shortly after, a stocky older man with salt-and-pepper hair entered with far more grace than she would have expected from his size. He apologised for being late and introduced himself as Trevor. Jessica was surprised to learn that he would play the part of the Pemberley butler, Mr. Flint.

Laura pulled out a battered copy of Pride and Prejudice from her bag and flicked through the pages. "I can't remember Jane Austen writing about a butler."

Jess, who knew the book back to front, agreed. "There was no butler in Pride and Prejudice. The only servant mentioned at Pemberley was Mrs Reynolds."

Mandy, perched on the edge of a table, looked up from her notes. "The organisers of this event thought that the visitors would expect to see a butler, even though one is not specifically mentioned in Miss Austen's novel. As Mr. Flint, Trevor will lend some gravitas to the proceedings as well as formally welcoming the visitors, directing them to the beginning of the house tour and explaining the various locations where the performances will take place."

"That is perfectly correct," Mrs Green's sharp voice added from across the room. "It would be historically accurate, of course, to include a butler in the household. I'm only surprised they didn't hire a few extras to play footmen or maids as well."

"I'm not." Mr. Gardiner rubbed his fingertips together. "It's all extra cash, ain't it?"

Georgiana moved next to Jessica, Jane and Bingley. She leant forward, her voice little more than a shy whisper. "Does anyone know who's playing Mr. Darcy?"

Bingley shrugged. "There were a few others there when I went for my audition, more Darcy types than Bingleys actually, but I have no idea who got the part in the end."

"There should be the two Bingley sisters to come, as well," Jane said as she scanned a random page in her book.

"No, they've only hired someone to play Caroline. They said it would save them money, and if the films can do it so can they."

As a fan, Jessica would have preferred them to stick as closely to the book as possible and thought their employers were a bit tight-fisted. She looked around their little group and saw a general agreement. Productions always seemed to be looking for ways to save money.

"Although the costumes I saw were very nice," Georgiana added, just as the doors opened.

All conversation ceased as the last two members of their group arrived. Although Jessica had never met either of them before, the actress who would be playing Caroline looked and behaved just as Jessica expected; tall and slim with a supercilious air that pronounced her above mere mortals.

Ruth Swale was garrulous, introducing herself with a hearty "hello" to each cast member, and treating them all to a secret smile that promised friendship but had little warmth in it. While she was pretty, there was a hard, angular look to her face that stopped her from being beautiful.

When Jessica's gaze slid to her companion, she sucked in a breath. Slightly taller than Bingley, their Mr. Darcy had a strong jaw, a straight, noble nose and dark brown hair tumbling in loose curls that made him look a little like a young Colin Firth. And his eyes...well, it was fortunate Jessica was sitting down.

The casting gods must have been smiling down on them, as they'd found the perfect Mr. Darcy. He was her Austen dream come true.

The man who would be Darcy had held himself back from the group while Ruth was introducing herself. Jessica couldn't decide whether he was just being polite or if he was as taciturn as the character he would be playing. When Caroline had completed her turn in the spotlight she turned towards him. "And this, of course, is our Mr. Darcy...Sebastian Fox."

He nodded to the group and offered a quick hello before lowering himself into the nearest chair. The dimples that appeared when he smiled only added to his charm, and she had to wonder how she would manage to work with him when a mere smile could turn her knees weak. Even out of costume he looked every bit the elegant gentleman.

Georgiana leant towards Jessica and Jane, her eyes bright with excitement. "Sebastian Fox! I saw him in a West End production once; Dickens, I think. He's also spent six months as second understudy with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Isn't he gorgeous?"

Jess had to agree. Sebastian Fox would make a perfect Darcy. The only question left in her mind now was whether she would live up to his idea of a perfect Elizabeth Bennet.




~<>~@~<>~
SubjectAuthorPosted

Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

Heather FAugust 02, 2018 09:24PM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

LiseAugust 11, 2018 05:57AM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

Heather FAugust 12, 2018 04:26AM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

IASAugust 06, 2018 09:38PM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

Heather FAugust 09, 2018 09:47AM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

KarenteaAugust 03, 2018 03:56PM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 1 & 2

Heather FAugust 04, 2018 08:26PM



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