Novels by Jack Caldwell


Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner
a Jane Austen farce

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Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner
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(Excerpt from Chapter 2:)

The soup was taken away, and just as the party began to partake of the next course, Mr. Jones came into the room. Mr. Bennet immediately invited the apothecary to join them to dine. This earned a comment from Mr. Collins about inappropriate condescension of a country squire -- what was perhaps acceptable in Hertfordshire would not be tolerated in Kent. Mr. Bennet allowed this insult to pass without comment, and a red-face Mr. Jones took his seat -- in Mr. Darcy's chair, Elizabeth noticed.

With quiet efficiency, a plate appeared before the gentleman while he gave his report. "As you know, Miss Bingley is well. She suffered no ill effects from her swoon. I understand she dines upstairs with her sister?" Assured that his information was correct, Mr. Jones continued, "I advised her to rest once she returns to Netherfield this evening. As for Mr. Darcy, he was not as fortunate. I suspect a fracture of the lower leg -- the fibula, to be exact. The discoloration reveals the location of the injury, you see. Very painful, I am sorry to say."

"Oh, Mr. Jones, how dreadful!" Mrs. Bennet cried. "Shall you be able to save the leg?"

The apothecary was astonished. "Save it? Oh, most certainly, Mrs. Bennet! There are two bones in the lower leg, you see, and the fibula is the minor of the two. I have slapped a splint on it, and given quiet rest, the gentleman shall be as right as rain in a couple of months. Madam, this chicken is excellent!"

"I am glad to hear that the gentleman is on the road to recovery," said Mr. Bennet. "Mr. Bingley, would your carriage be sufficient to transport your friend back to Netherfield, or shall we use one of my wagons?"

"Transport?" cried the apothecary. "Oh, no, Mr. Bennet! The patient cannot be moved." This pronouncement was like a thunderbolt in the room.

"What?" returned Mr. Bennet. "What do you mean, he cannot be moved? Certainly you are not saying he must remain here!"

"Mr. Bennet, we cannot take any chances. Moving Mr. Darcy may exacerbate the injury; the bone may shift, endangering the leg! No, Mr. Darcy certainly cannot be moved. It is unthinkable."

"Oh, my goodness, my nerves!" Mrs. Bennet placed a hand on her heart. "I . . . I must prepare a room for--"

"Madam," Mr. Jones cut in, "Mr. Darcy must not be moved at all, even upstairs. He must stay where he is."

"In my parlor?" the good lady cried. The apothecary nodded. Mrs. Bennet bristled. "I never heard of such a thing!"

"Mama," offered Jane, "at least Mr. Darcy will be comfortable. It is the warmest room in the house, you always said."

"True, very true," Mrs. Bennet reluctantly agreed.

"Warmth is important in recovery," Mr. Jones pointed out. "Would someone please pass the potatoes?"

"This is stuff and nonsense!" Mr. Bennet proclaimed. "Mr. Darcy is not going to spend two months in my parlor!"

"Of course not," said the apothecary patiently. "He should be able to tolerate a carriage ride in four weeks or so -- no longer than six weeks, certainly."

"F-four to six weeks!" Mr. Bennet sputtered.

"I agree with you, dear cousin," Mr. Collins interjected. "This humble abode, which sadly will one day decline to my ownership, is not fine enough for a relation of my generous patroness. Other arrangements must be made."

"If you wish to endanger Mr. Darcy's leg and therefore his life," warned Mr. Jones, "then by all means move him. I take no responsibility for it."

Mrs. Bennet took fright. "Oh, Mr. Bennet! Think of Mr. Darcy's relations! They will have us transported to Australia!"

"Mama, please!" cried Elizabeth. "No one is going to Australia! Mr. Jones, are you quite satisfied with your diagnosis?"

"I am," he said. "As I told his valet, who arrived during my examination, Mr. Darcy should be kept quiet and warm for the next--"

The gentleman was interrupted by an extraordinary sound from without:

"Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we've received orders for to sail for ole England,
But we hope in a short time to see you again!"

The table as one started at the singing -- a loud baritone, slightly slurred. Everyone rose to their feet, the sound of chairs being moved drowned out the singing, and all dashed to the sitting room, where upon opening door, they beheld Mr. Darcy, a glass of brandy in his hand bellowing:

"We will rant and we'll roar like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar all on the salt sea!
Until we strike soundings in the channel of ole England;
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues!"

The gentleman took notice of his impromptu audience and called out to a tall, thin, white-haired man in the room, "Ah, Bartholomew, we have guests! Come in, come in!"

"I gave him laudanum," said Mr. Jones in sotto voce. "One cannot predict how the patient will react, especially in combination with sprits."

Shockingly, Mr. Darcy was laughing! "Come, Bingley, do not stand about in that stupid manner -- fill a glass! We must sing to the ladies! I know you will not decline a glass, Hurst! Mr. Bennet, your brandy might be only adequate, but at least it is plentiful. Pour for us all, will you? Mr. Jones, too! We must sing! Sing to your good wife and fair daughters!

"Now let ev'ry man drink off his full bumper,
And let ev'ry man drink off his full glass;
We'll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy,
And here's to the health of each true-hearted lass!"

Mr. Darcy drained his glass before returning to the refrain. "We will rant and we'll roar like true British sailors . . ." Meanwhile, the other gentlemen stood in various stages of amazement, joined by most of the ladies. Kitty and Lydia were almost doubled over in laughter.

Once Mr. Darcy had finished his song, the man referred to as Bartholomew removed the glass. "Well done, sir," he said in the dry, unemotional voice of a senior servant of a rich man. "It is time to retire."

"Is it?" cried Mr. Darcy.

"Yes, sir. There is much to do tomorrow. You informed me to make certain that you get your rest."

"Did I? Well then, I suppose I must say goodnight to my friends." Mr. Darcy turned to the door. "Good night, all!"

Bartholomew crossed over to the open door, his long, lanky, almost frail body blocking the view of the room to the observers without. Without preamble, he addressed the apothecary, his voice dripping with condescension. "Are there any other instructions for tonight, Mr. Jones?" He looked down the long, narrow beak of a nose, not for a moment hiding his disdain, proving the maxim there was no snob like the personal valet of a member of the Quality.

Mr. Jones only suggested a very small amount of laudanum if the patient had any difficulty sleeping. The valet gave the man a hard look. "Be aware, sir, that I have sent an express to Mr. Darcy's personal physician, the distinguished Mr. Macmillan of Park Place. He will most certainly be here in the morning."

Instead of taking insult at the servant's pronouncement, Mr. Jones seemed delighted. "Mr. Macmillan, you say? I have heard of the gentleman! Very high up in the Academy! I should be pleased to hear his diagnosis!" He turned to Mr. Bennet. "I shall stop by in the morning, then." He turned back to Bartholomew. "What time did you say he would be here?"

"I expect him no later than ten o'clock. We will not wait for you." Bartholomew then turned to Mrs. Bennet. "I take it you are Mrs. Bennet? The girl, Sally, is adequate. Please see that she is here first thing tomorrow to see to Mr. Darcy's breakfast."

Mrs. Bennet was flustered. "Of . . . of course. I shall tell Mrs. Hill and have her arrange quarters for you."

"That will not be necessary, madam," the valet said with only the barest civility. "I shall make do with an armchair in this room. But you may have a couple of blankets brought by. The rest of you, I would ask that you remain as quiet as possible for my master's sake."

Mr. Bennet finally roused himself to respond to the outrageous servant. "Now, see here! I am Mr. Bennet, and Longbourn is my house. Who are you to make such demands of my family?"

Bartholomew narrowed his eyes as he stared, not at Mr. Bennet's face, but at his cravat. "It has been a long time since you visited Town, I see. That knot has been out of fashion for ten years." Mr. Bennet blanched, but the valet continued. "This may be your house, sir, but this room is reserved for the use and care of my master. I have served the Darcy family all my life, father and son both, and I will have no one trouble Mr. Darcy whilst he is incapacitated. You can have no business here. Therefore, I wish you all a good night."

With that, he closed the door in the crowd's collective faces. The assembled looked at each other in astonishment.

Mr. Bingley shrugged. "My apologies, Mr. Bennet. Bartholomew is somewhat . . . protective of Darcy, I have learned through experience."

"Too right, there," agreed Mr. Hurst, his first words of the evening, save a couple of grunts.

Mrs. Bennet, white with anxiety, wrung her hands. "Well, let us return to dinner before it is spoiled!" She spun on one heel and made for the dining room, the others in her wake.

Two lingered -- her husband and second daughter, who stood by the closed door incredulously. Then, with a sigh, Mr. Bennet put his head down and followed the others.

Elizabeth remained flat-footed and flabbergasted in the hallway.

***

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