A Night at the Theatre<
This story takes place the night Elizabeth, Maria, and Sir William stop at Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner's house on their way Hunsford.
From Chapter 27: It was a journey of only twenty-four miles, and they began it so early as to be in Gracechurch-street by noon. . . . The day passed most pleasantly away; the morning in bustle and shopping, and the evening at one of the theatres.
The grandfather clock in the hall struck five o'clock. Mr. Gardiner spoke with his butler.
"Humphries, have my carriage and Sir William's carriage brought around. We should be ready to depart in a few minutes."
Elizabeth, dressed in the gown she had worn at the Netherfield ball and Jane, also in her ball dress, made their way down the stairs. They joined Mrs. Gardiner and Maria in the parlor.
Sir William came into the room, "Why we shall be escorting the four most beautiful women in England, eh, Mr. Gardiner? Why, you would all stand out in the Court of St. James. Capital, capital" he beamed at the women. Humphries, a footman and a maid entered with evening cloaks, capes, hats and gloves. The party prepared to depart.
Elizabeth, Jane and Mrs. Gardiner took the first carriage. Talk revolved around the Bennet clan left behind in Meryton. Mr. Bennet was well, Mrs. Bennet had an argument with Mrs. Philips, but had since made up. Mary, Kitty and Lydia were behaving as usual. The regiment was still in Meryton.
Maria, Mr. Gardiner and Sir William were in the second. Maria, who had never been to a London theatre was very excited. Mr. Gardiner saw this and spoke to her about his first visit to a London theatre. "Yes, I went to see a Comedy of Errors, which I enjoyed immensely. Not only for the play, you understand, but the grandness of the theatre, and looking at all the ladies and gentlemen in their boxes. The ladies wore their hair powdered and the gentlemen wore wigs. . ." he continued in this vein, until the coach had reached the theatre.
The little ormulu clock on Miss Bingley's desk chimed a quarter past the hour. Mr. Bingley was really not in a temperament to enjoy the theatre, but he had agreed to accompany his sisters along with Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Georgiana, who would make up the rest of the party. His valet had just finished tying his cravat into the Mathematical. He shrugged into his blue coat.
Bingley left his room and walked down the hall. He stopped before his sister's bedroom door and knocked. "Caroline, are you almost ready. We need to leave soon, if we are to meet Darcy and his sister at the appointed time."
Miss Bingley's maid placed the ostrich plume in her hair. She stepped back to admire her handiwork and Miss Bingley also seemed pleased with her reflection in the mirror. Caroline rose from the vanity and crossed the room. Opening the door she told her brother "I shall be down in a few moments. I just need to fetch my gloves and shawl." Her maid correctly interpreted this to mean she should fetch those items--now.
Mrs. Hurst was already in the drawing room when Charles entered. He had stopped to tell a servant to fetch the carriage. "Louisa, I am glad you could join us. Is not Arthur with you?"
"You know Arthur prefers an evening at cards to evening at the theatre, so he went to his club." Caroline entered the room wearing a peacock-blue velvet gown.
"Caroline, you look lovely," her brother complimented. Caroline took his compliment as her due, but she it gave her hope that another gentlemen might bestow a similar one.
Focett and another servant entered with their outer garments. "Charles, what is this play we are going to see?"
"I told you, Caroline, we are to see Mr. Kean in Othello."
Caroline grimaced , "Who chose the play--for you know I do not like tragic drama."
"Darcy, my dear, for if we are to sit in his box, it is only fair that he pick the performance."
"Well, Othello is Shakespeare, is it not? Shakespeare is not your average tragic drama."
"I would by no means refer to Shakespeare as average, Caroline. Especially around Darcy, who is rather fond of the Bard."
"Charles, you must know that I adore Shakespeare. I have told Louisa so, many times, have I not?" The servant helped Caroline into her cloak.
Louisa, also donning her cloak, agreed that Caroline adored Shakespeare. The carriage awaited at the door. The Bingley siblings entered the carriage and departed for the theatre.
The bells of St. Paul's rang a quarter to the hour of six when the Gardiner party arrived at the theatre. Mr. Gardiner had been able to procure a first tier box.
Sir William and Mr. Gardiner sat next to eachother and began discussing politics. Maria looked around, wide-eyed, at a real London theatre. It was exactly as Mr. Gardiner describe and more. The theatre seemed quite magical, all red and white and gold. Against this grand background she observed ladies, in their fine clothes and jewels, flirting with handsome gentlemen. The mass of humanity in the orchestra pit caught her attention. It was a mixture of high and low class and everything in between. Shop girls and law clerks mingled with young gentlemen of the upper class. It was all fascinating, and the play had not even begun.
Jane sat quietly beside her. The theatre held little allure for her and seemed to have lost some of its glamour, even though she had previously enjoyed her trips to the theatre enormously. She looked out across the theatre, scanning the crowd. She made eye contact with a young man in the orchestra section, who began to pantomime being lovestruck as he placed his hands over his heart and fell back into his seat. His friends thought that it was a great joke. Jane, however, became embarrassed and receded into the shadows of the box.
Elizabeth had contrived to sit by her aunt, so they might enjoy some quiet conversation. Their first subject was her sister.
"My dear Aunt, pray tell me, how is Jane getting along, really? Her spirits still seem low."
"Jane always struggles to support her spirits, but there are periods of dejection. I sometimes come into a room, and find her staring off to space, with a look of despair on her. It quite breaks my heart," Mrs. Gardiner told Elizabeth who was grieved to hear this news.
"It is reasonable, however, to hope that this dejection will not continue much longer, for after Miss Bingley's visit in Gracechurch-street..." Mrs. Gardiner paused for a moment.
"Yes, Jane wrote to me of her visit. I fear she was quite upset with Miss Bingley's behavior, though I did not find it in the least surprising."
"After Miss Bingley's visit in Gracechurch-street, I have had several conversations with Jane and I have come to believe that Jane has, from her heart, given up the acquaintance of Mr. Bingley and his sisters. Though it has greatly pained her to do so."
"Well, none of them, is truly worthy of her good opinion," Elizabeth stated, looking at her sister, who was unknowingly scanning the crowded theatre for one of the unworthy.
Darcy pulled out his pocket watch. It was six o'clock and still Bingley's party had not arrived. Darcy hated to be kept waiting. He had already sent Georgiana and Fitzwilliam up to his box. He was just about to join them when the Bingley party arrived at the theater.
"Sorry to be late, Darcy," Bingley apologized, as he helped Louisa descend from the carriage, before assisting his other sister. Caroline, who paused for moment on the coach step, in anticipation of Darcy saying "the wait was worth it to behold such beauty" or any equally gallant and flattering compliment.
Instead, Darcy said, "Georgiana and Fitzwilliam are already in the box. I suggest we hasten to our seats. The play will begin in but a few minutes." Though he offered his arm to Caroline, she was quite displeased with Darcy for not behaving as she wanted. However, she did not let this displeasure show and instead complimented him on his fine choice of entertainment.
"For I simply love Shakespeare and Othello, so inspired, so tragic...."
"So many deaths," Bingley inserted with uncharacteristic dark humor.
Mr. Bingley's poor attempt at wit was incomprehensible to his sister. Frowning at her brother, Caroline asked "But that is what makes a tragedy so tragic, do you not agree, Mr. Darcy?"
"No, I do not agree. A tragedy portrays some great weakness of character, such as greed or jealousy, which, when given free reign brings havoc to the character and those around him." He wondered how Miss Elizabeth Bennet would respond to such a statement. This thought surprised Darcy, who had until that moment firmly believed that he had dismissed Miss Elizabeth Bennet from his existence, and he quickly suppressed his impulse to think about her.
Miss Bingley, however, did not know how to respond. She was ill-prepared for a literary discussion and unsure how to turn the conversation to more congenial matters. Fortunately, before the necessity of a reply was called for, Darcy's box was reached.
Inside, Caroline greeted the Colonel and Miss Darcy. She took the seat next to Georgiana. Caroline hoped that Darcy could see her delight in his sister's company and Georgiana's delight in her company.
Bingley glanced about the theater from his seat. He spied a young man in the orchestra section, pantomiming being love struck as he placed his hands over his heart and fell back into his seat. The woman who inspired this show of devotion was hidden from Bingley's view, as she (whoever she was) was sitting in a box directly below Darcy's, about two tiers down.
Bingley rather envied the young man his high spirits, for his own seemed to have vanished. For a moment he wonder what the woman looked like, but he doubted the unseen beauty was the equal of Jane Bennet. He sighed heavily.
Darcy glanced sharply at his friend. Bingley had yet to regain his usual good humor and Darcy did not like this aberration in his disposition. Since leaving Hertfordshire, Bingley had seemed to have varying degrees of moodiness and, at times, almost a cynicism quite unapparent in his character before Jane Bennet had entered his friend's life.
At 6:15 the curtain rose and the play began and Darcy's attention was centered on the stage.
Note: 99% of the dialogue between Elizabeth and Mrs. G is lifted directly from P&P.
When the curtain came down for intermission, Jane, Elizabeth, Maria and Mrs. Gardiner decided to walk the promenade while Mr. Gardiner and Sir William went in search of refreshments.
Jane and Maria headed the party of four. Maria, still very much in awe of the theatre, was quiet and Jane appeared to be deep in thought. As they were walking along the hallway outside the boxes, Mrs. Gardiner rallied her niece on Wickham's desertion, and complimented her on bearing it so well.
"But, my dear Elizabeth,'' she added, "what sort of girl is Miss King? I should be sorry to think our friend mercenary.''
"Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin?" She paused to gaze at Mrs. Gardiner, who merely shrugged her shoulders, for she did not know the answer and Elizabeth continued.
"Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary." She smiled at her aunt.
Mrs. Gardiner gave a slight shake of her head. "If you will only tell me what sort of girl Miss King is, I shall know what to think.''
Jane overheard some of this conversation, at turned back to look at Elizabeth. She was worried that her sister was experiencing the same kind of heartache that she was now going through.
"She is a very good kind of girl, I believe. I know no harm of her.'' Elizabeth smiled at Jane, showing she had no resentments to report.
"But he paid her not the smallest attention, till her grandfather's death made her mistress of this fortune.''
"No -- why should he? If it was not allowable for him to gain my affections, because I had no money, what occasion could there be for making love to a girl whom he did not care about, and who was equally poor?''
Mrs. Gardiner frowned at this reasoning, "But there seems indelicacy in directing his attentions towards her, so soon after this event.''
"A man in distressed circumstances has not time for all those elegant decorums which other people may observe. If she does not object to it, why should we?''
"Her not objecting, does not justify him. It only shews her being deficient in something herself --sense or feeling.''
"Well,'' cried Elizabeth, "have it as you choose. He shall be mercenary, and she shall be foolish.''
"No, Lizzy, that is what I do not choose. I should be sorry, you know, to think ill of a young man who has lived so long in Derbyshire.''
Elizabeth gave a small laugh. "Oh! if that is all," she said with some relief, "I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better." Here Elizabeth frowned, Bingley's actions toward Jane still made her angry just to think about them.
With more force than was perhaps necessary, she continued, "I am sick of them all. Thank Heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all.''
"Take care, Lizzy; that speech savours strongly of disappointment.'' Mrs. Gardiner cautioned her niece.
The party of women had reached the lobby of the theatre. As they were crossing the busy area, they did not notice a young man on the promenade above them.
Jane stopped abruptly and began looking around the theatre lobby. "Jane, is something wrong?" Elizabeth asked with some concern.
"No, I just I had a strange feeling, as if someone was watching me."
Bingley let out an exclamation, "Darcy! Is that not Miss Jane Bennet with her sister, Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
Elizabeth also looked around the theatre but could see nothing. "It is probably that rude young man from the pits. Come let us go back to our box. Uncle should have procured the refreshments by now."
Darcy looked over the railing to crowd below. "Where, Bingley?" Not quite sure if he was hoping to see or not see Miss Elizabeth Bennet. "There," Bingley pointed to the direction where he had thought he had seen Jane.
But the women had vanished. "I see no one who resembles Miss Bennet or her sister. Come, Bingley, I am sure it was just some woman who bore a passing resemblence to Miss Bennet. Let us return to the box."
Bingley reluctantly followed him into the box, but not without glancing back, hoping to get a glimpse of Miss Bennet. For he was sure it was Jane. If his eyes had betrayed him, surely his heart had not. It was beating far too fast to be mistaken.
Jane, now returned to her own box, settled into the shadows. She had not told Elizabeth the entire truth. She had felt someone's gaze upon her, true, but it was not the embarrassing gaze of the young man from the orchestra section. No, it was a warm, tingly feeling that she felt often back in Meryton. When it occurred before she would turn to find Mr. Bingley smiling at her.
Neither Jane nor Bingley paid much attention to the second half of the play. Each was sure the other was in the theatre. Each hoped and despaired of meeting.
Bingley eyes turned to stage, were Othello was being tormented by his jealousy. "I know what is like, old chum," he thought, "to love a woman who does not return the affection. Though for myself, I believed I would much prefer that Miss Bennet, Jane, were in love with another. Maybe then I could forget her." His thoughts drifted to those happy days at Netherfield.
Jane, meanwhile, had tears in her eyes as Othello denounced Desdemona on the stage. Desdemona had failed to convince Othello of her love. Had she also failed to convey her true feelings to Mr. Bingley? Was that why he stayed away? Or had he realized her true feeling and that was why he stayed away? These ruminations were of no help and she was getting a headache. It would be over soon, and she was glad. The curtain came down. The play was over.
As the actors were taking their bows, Elizabeth again fell into conversation with her aunt.
"Lizzie, would you care accompany your uncle and me, on pleasure tour we are taking in the summer," Mrs. Gardiner paused for moment, and noting her niece's eyes brightening at the prospect, continued, "We have not quite determined how far it shall carry us, but perhaps to the Lakes.''
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful.
"My dear, dear aunt,'' she rapturously cried, "what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?" Mrs. Gardiner gave a little laugh.
"Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travelers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing."
She began to count off on her fingers. Pinkie: "We will know where we have gone -- we will recollect what we have seen."
Ring: "Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor,"
Index: "when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travelers.''
Mrs. Gardiner and the rest of the party laughed. So it was agreed between them that Elizabeth would be part of their summer adventure. The Gardiner party readied to depart the theatre. Although they could have stayed another three hours, to enjoy the farce and other entertainments, it was decided that since some of the party had to get up early in the morning to finish their journey, it would be best to leave now.
Darcy's party was also leaving, though to go on to other entertainments. As he waited for the rest of the party to ready themselves, Darcy looked down upon the crowd when he suddenly spotted Elizabeth Bennet. "No, it is not her," he thought, "it cannot be." His eyes remained fixed on a woman his brain told him could not be before him. Bingley had been mistaken. He had to be!
"William", Gerogiana called softly, touching her brother on the arm.
Tearing his gaze from below, he offered his arm to his sister, but he could not resist looking back down upon the crowd. She had gone. He gave a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was not her afterall, but if Bingley had truly seen Miss Bennet, then it was not out the realm of possibilities that her sister her could be in London, also. Indeed, he though it would be quite like Miss Elizabeth Bennet to want to visit her sister.
Darcy felt the need to run from Miss Bennet in order to prevent running towards her. "It would not do to remain in London if Miss Bennet were also here. Though it is unlikely, there is always the chance that we might meet." This thought was exciting, too exciting for a man determined to forget Miss Elizabeth Bennet. "Perhaps it would be best if I quit town. A letter from Lady Catherine arrived this morning asking me to come to Rosings Park. I think I shall accept her invitation."
"Fitzwilliam," Darcy inquired after he settled into his carriage, "will you accompany me on visit to see Lady Catherine? She has invited me for the Easter holidays and I would enjoy your company, and she will, also. Georgiana has already promised to visit your parents in Bath."
As his carriage pulled away from the theatre, he was not quite sure if he caught a glimpse Miss Elizabeth Bennet, waiting to enter her carriage.
No matter, he would be heading into Kent soon, and there was no chance of running into Miss Elizabeth Bennet there!
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.