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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In Want of a Single Man with a Large Fortune?; Or, Jane’s Cats | Guest Post from Nicole Clarkston!

If you've been following along to this year's Janeite Conversations, you'll have seen the name Nicole Clarkston popping up. If you're not already familiar with Nicole, she's the author of a whole host of Jane Austen (and Elizabeth Gaskell) adaptations, all of which you can find here. Today, she's joining us to share a fun confection written for the occasion, comprised of anybody who's anybody. And oh, how tongues will wag when claws come out. . .  Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments!

It was unfathomable! Simply ridiculous, and Caroline Bingley was still baffled by it all. She swallowed her drink, glancing about the room at the assembled gentleman. Not one of them could compare with the prize she had lost: Fitzwilliam Darcy, the veriest fool in all of London.

Oh, certainly there were some appealing catches in the room. There was the gentleman brother of her host, a handsome colonel, a rake, a rogue, a rascal, and a widower. Not one had half so handsome a countenance, although a few possessed appealing prospects.

"Caroline, dear! What are you doing here? I had not thought to see you back in London so soon."

Caroline turned. Mary Crawford, a dear—or, rather, not so dear—friend from school days, wove her way through the party at the refreshment table.

"Why, Mary, dear," she smiled sweetly, "I always attend house parties whenever one of my favourite hosts opens his home. It would be the height of rudeness to decline. What of you? I had thought you gone to Northamptonshire to visit your half-brother. You are back very soon from such a long journey."

"Oh! As to that, I had enough of that dull set. So backward they are! I was forced to look elsewhere for amiable companionship. Do you know dear, I had the most dashing future baronet eating from the palm of my hand!"

Caroline lifted a brow in interest. "And what came of it, dear?"

"Would you believe it? The foolish boy threw himself away on a poor relation! No family, no class, and absolutely no fashion. The girl was an utter innocent! I was ill-used in that business, I declare. And what of you, Caroline dear? I hear I hear that Fitzwilliam Darcy is no longer on the marriage market. A country girl? Did he truly fall for such a strumpet?"

Caroline sniffed. "It is a pity he did not simply make her his mistress, for he will regret that alliance within a month. Absolutely no breeding or connections. Did you hear that she has an uncle in trade?"

Mary gasped. "That he allied himself with such a woman is positively unconscionable! Oh, I had neglected to ask you, Caroline, how do you brother's woolen mills fare after such a dreadful winter as we have had?"

Caroline narrowed her eyes. "My brother intends to purchase an estate. Tell me, how does your brother? I have heard of some scandal involving a married lady. She was ruined over the whole affair, was she not?"

"Oh! You know my brother, he is so amiable that all the ladies fall heartbroken for him. I should not wonder that her husband thought his wife smitten with him, but I am sure that Henry was perfectly innocent. It is not his fault if that same chit who later ruined my prospects first broke his heart!

"Tell me," Mary continued, "have you heard about that colonel I see in the corner? I understand that he has never married, though he is perfectly fine to look upon, and has already inherited."

Caroline followed the direction of Miss Crawford's gaze. "Brandon? Why, no, he has just betrothed himself to the silliest girl you can imagine, a Miss Marianne Dashwood.”

“Dashwood! I have heard of those sisters. Did you know that her sister has done rather well, catching the eldest Ferrars son?”

“Edmund?” Caroline scoffed. “He has been disinherited! No, if it is a catch you desire, Lady B— was just telling me about that gentleman over there, do you see?”

Mary looked, and her eyes widened in appreciation. “Mr George Knightley? Ah, yes, our host Mr John Knightley is his younger brother. He is marvelous catch—single and in full possession of his inheritance.”

“Indeed?” Caroline mused. “I should like an introduction to him. He looks rather morose, do you not think? What can be better than the gentle love of a sympathetic lady to share his burdens?”

“Whatever, indeed?” agreed Mary.

“However, I have not yet found a single person to introduce me to him,” Caroline sighed. “Mrs Knightley has been far too occupied with other guests, and no one is speaking to him. I am waiting to see if someone approaches him.”

Mary Crawford pouted faintly, then her eyes lit with interest as they fell upon a newcomer. Her cheeks pinked becomingly and her eyes sparkled as her smile brightened with welcome. “Mr Tilney! I did not know you would be here this evening.”

Henry Tilney bowed and accepted the hand she offered. “Miss Crawford, it is a pleasure to see you again. May I present my betrothed, Miss Catherine Morland?”

The light died in Mary Crawford’s eyes, though her smile remained frozen in place. “You may indeed,” she curtsied. “Charmed, Miss Morland.”

Caroline could scarcely hold back a snigger. “Mr Tilney,” she crooned, “I believe you are rather well acquainted with our hosts. Do you know Mr George Knightley?”

“Why, yes, I was just walking over to speak to him. He looks as though someone has just sold his favourite dog, poor fellow. However, you ladies must catch me up on all the gossip before I go over to him so I shall have something clever to say.”

“Well,” Mary leaned forward conspiratorially, quite cutting off Mr Tilney’s intended from the conversation. “I was just about to tell dear Caroline here something about a rather recent acquaintance of mine. Are you familiar with Frank Churchill, sir?

He smiled in recognition of the name. “Frank! Now there is a jolly fellow, always ready for a laugh, but I have heard no news of late.”

“Well,” Mary dropped her voice, “I heard that he had dallied with some Miss Woodhouse in Highbury, but then just when everyone expected a proposal, he jilted her and left her absolutely flat! Broke her heart, it did. And what do you think? It turns out that the whole time, he was engaged to a nobody named Jane Fairfax!”

“You don't say!” exclained Mr Tilney. “I had never thought Frank capable of that. Why was it such a great secret? Perhaps he feared his aunt would disapprove? I believe the old dame still controls his inheritance.”

“Oh, but she has died. That is what precipitated the announcement.”

As they had been speaking, Mr Knightley had at last disturbed himself at his couch to refresh his drink. Unseen by either Mary or Mr Tilney, he stood now behind them, unable to help overhearing every word. Caroline Bingley simpered and attempted to gain his notice, but he only stared, aghast at the conversation.

“Indeed,” continued Mary, “I believe Frank Churchill's engagement was of some long standing, but that he dallied with Miss Woodhouse in an attempt to distract his aunt’s suspicions from the real object of his affections. I heard he dealt most meanly with Miss Woodhouse, and I should not wonder if she is not broken-hearted after the affair.”

There was the shattering of glass, and all the assembled parties turned to see Mr Knightley standing behind them, white-faced and staring.

“Knightley!” Tilney laughed, “I do believe we shall have to stand elsewhere, ladies, or he shall take to dropping the platters next. Oh, my good fellow, I do not believe you are acquainted with Miss Bingley or Miss Crawford. I… Knightley?”

Mr Knightley had already departed, without speaking a word to them. A moment later he was across the room, speaking urgently to his brother, and that was the last anyone saw of him all evening.

Mr Tilney brushed off the discourtesy, and in time, he had taken Miss Morland to introduce her to Mrs Knightley. Caroline bit back a disappointed sigh, but not ten minutes later, her prospects brightened again when a new gentleman entered the room.

Her enthusiasm was noted by her companion. “Someone of interest, dear?” Mary asked.

Caroline smiled and finished her glass so that she might have an excuse to join the gentleman at the refreshment table. “Why yes, I was introduced to him only a fortnight ago. A gentleman of impeccable breeding, Mr John Thorpe.”


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