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Playing Around in Derbyshire - 3 & 4

August 09, 2018 10:48AM
Chapter three

The clock chimed six as Mandy took up her position at the front of the room. "Thanks for arriving on time, everyone. Welcome to Exley Hall." She collected a handful of loose papers from the table and cleared her throat. "You all know what we'll be doing next week, but maybe not why we're doing it. This beautiful old building is celebrating it's two hundred and fiftieth birthday next Thursday, and the owners, along with the local tourist board, are hoping to cash in on their Jane Austen connection to increase visitor numbers."

Mrs Green raised a thin, wrinkled hand. "Is there a Jane Austen connection?"

"They think Miss Austen might have visited Exley Hall while she was travelling in Derbyshire. She mentions the house in her letters, and as the nearest village is called Lambley it's given some people the idea that the house and village were the inspiration for Pemberley and Lambton in her book. This is why the owners decided on the Jane Austen theme for their celebration."

Mandy peeled back the cover of the flip-chart. "There have been a few last minute changes, so I'll need to run through our timetable for the next ten days. Sunday will be our first day of performances. Monday and Tuesday we're sharing the house with the Jane Austen Convention, so we'll have to fit our running times around their talks and lectures. On Thursday there is a Regency fair and tea-party in the grounds, so they're expecting the most visitors then. Next Saturday will be our final day."

She turned the page, revealing a bullet-pointed list. "Here are the eleven scenes we'll be presenting to the house visitors. We will show each scene in a different room of the house. Hopefully, you've all spent some time learning your lines."

Mrs Green's hand rose again. "Why are we not doing the whole play? Would that not be easier than messing about with individual scenes?"

Mandy shrugged. "The owners wanted to encourage more visitors into the house. They tried 'Shakespeare in the Park' here a couple of years ago, but it was rained off. My boss suggested this kind of pop-up theatre, using the rooms on the house tour. Fortunately, Exley Hall is perfectly set out for this. The internal corridor can function as our backstage area, while the public walk through each room behind the red ropes. You'll be performing in the parts of the room the visitors aren't allowed to enter, so please be careful of the furniture and antiques, and try not to break anything.

"Tomorrow we'll rehearse downstairs in the servants' hall during the day, and after tea I'll show you around the rooms where our scenes will be set. On Saturday Exley Hall will be closed to the public for health and safety reasons, because they need to erect the marquee for the convention. That gives us a great opportunity to rehearse in the house all day on Saturday, so you can block out your scenes and get an idea how much space you'll have available to move around."

The eleven scenes were split into two acts. The first five would be presented during the morning session, which ran from ten in the morning until twelve-thirty. After an hour for lunch, they would cover the remaining six scenes before the house closed at five.

"Jessica, Gerald, Alison and Emily. Your first scene will be in the breakfast room, where the Gardiners and Elizabeth talk about visiting Pemberley."

"Why do they need Georgiana?" Trevor asked before Jess had the chance.

"Emily will be doubling up as the chambermaid serving them breakfast at the Lambton Inn," Mandy said, before turning her attention to the second item on the list. "Jessica, Gerald, Alison. You'll also be in scene two, where Mrs Reynolds shows them around the house. That scene will be next door in the yellow parlour, with Mrs Green."

Alison sighed as she looked up from her script. "So many names to remember! Given that we'll only be together for a week, wouldn't it make more sense if we all answer to our character names?" Glancing around the room at the others, she counted their silent shrugs and nods. "Thank you. I'm sure that will make things easier for all of us."

Laura, who Jess had already begun to think of as Jane Bennet, put her hand up. "The fifth scene of the afternoon session is titled 'Lady Catherine's visit', but we don't have a Lady Catherine."

Mandy smiled. "Mrs Green will be playing the dual roles of Mrs Reynolds and Lady Catherine."

This was news to everyone except Mrs Green. "Housekeeper in the morning, irascible Aunt in the afternoon. Now that's what I call job satisfaction."

Georgiana leaned forward. "B...but if we're using our character names what should we call you? Mrs Reynolds or Lady Catherine?"

A rare gleam of humour lit up the old woman's face. "Let's stick to Mrs Reynolds, shall we?"

An older woman wearing an apron interrupted their meeting to let them know dinner was ready. The production assistant rolled her eyes, but couldn't really ask the catering staff to keep the food warm until the meeting ended. Instead, she invited them downstairs, where the old servant's hall would serve as their canteen, rehearsal space and green room during their stay.

The narrow staircase down to the basement created a bottleneck of bodies in the corridor. Jess was near the back of the group when Sebastian moved next to Laura. "You must be playing Elizabeth Bennet."

"No...no, I'm not. I'm Jane."

He frowned. "Really? But then who...?" His question tailed off as he scanned the group. After discounting Georgiana's youthful appearance, Jane laughed and pointed behind him to where Jess was hiding.

He turned, and for the first time she had Sebastian Fox's full attention.

Although Jess didn't mind being stared at, she'd never been stared at by Mr. Darcy before. Even wearing jeans and a collarless shirt his height and imposing presence made her feel jittery. Then he chuckled as he shook his head. "I'm so sorry, I ought to have known. Of course you're Elizabeth! What a stupid mistake for me to make, and how very Darcy-like." He held out a hand to Jess. "Good evening, Miss Bennet. I'm Sebastian, and I'll be your Darcy."

Just hearing him say those words set off a tiny tremble in her stomach, and she stumbled over her own name. Instead of shaking her offered hand, he lifted it to his lips, pressing a chaste kiss to her fingers. Jess felt her face grow warm and hoped she didn't look like a blushing schoolgirl.

"You know, I'm not usually such an idiot," he continued with genial self-deprecation. "I can assure you that, unlike Darcy, I don't make a habit of sticking my nose in the air or ignoring beautiful women." Perhaps to prove his point Mr. Darcy offered an arm, escorting her down the stairs to the low-ceilinged hall.

The rest of the evening passed in a whirl for Jessica. It felt natural for Sebastian to sit at the head of the table, but not before he'd made sure she was settled in the chair next to his. The understandable awkwardness she often felt when meeting a new set of castmates for the first time was lessened by his innate ease and friendliness, and an aptitude for drawing others from around the long rectangular table into the conversation.

During the evening, Sebastian enquired about her previous work, and later offered some stories of his own. His resume was far more impressive than hers, although no one listening to the conversation could ever have accused him of boasting. Caroline—who had pounced on the chair to his right like a lioness hunting a gazelle—made an effort to overshadow Jessica with a long list of successful theatre productions and minor TV appearances. If she was hoping to snag Mr. Darcy's full attention, then she must have been disappointed, because, just as in the book, he didn't pay her much notice at all.

At almost twenty-four, Jessica had thought herself inured to a handsome face. You couldn't spend more than ten years hanging around theatres, with its ever-changing stock of good-looking young men, without becoming disillusioned with the species. Yet Sebastian Fox was not just incredibly handsome. He was also a patient and sympathetic listener. He tolerated Caroline's efforts to dominate the conversation, and even laughed at Mr. Flint's awful jokes.

After dinner, the cast remained around the table, nursing their drinks as they reminisced over past productions, famous names and ancient scandals, until the older members of the group decided to retire. By unspoken agreement, the whole cast climbed the three flights of stairs together, and each cast member called out their goodnights as they disappeared through their own doors. Mr. Flint's room was just before Jessica's, while Jane's was on the far side.

As Jessica reached for the door handle she sensed Sebastian behind her.

Bingley, his eyes shifting between the pair of them, frowned as he wished Jessica goodnight and returned to his room opposite hers. She spun around. They were alone in the corridor; Darcy pensive and silent as he stared down at her. "Where is your room?" She winced, mentally kicking herself as soon as she's said it. She'd grasped the question for want of something to say, not thinking how forward it might sound until it left her lips.

He grinned at her discomfort but seemed to understand that she hadn't meant it as a request for a personal tour of his bedroom. "Back there, nearest the stairs."

The implication couldn't be clearer. He'd walked past his own room to see her safely to hers. Despite having met Sebastian only a few hours earlier, he'd already climbed higher up her Darcy scale than any man she'd known in the last four years.

"Well, in that case...we have an early start tomorrow, so I'll...I'll see you in the morning." Hopefully, by then, she would have untangled all the knots in her tongue.

He shared a smile of understanding as he bowed his head. "Sleep well, Miss Bennet."


Breakfast began at seven o'clock sharp. Only Mr. Flint and Mr. Gardiner were morning people, as they huddled over the sports section of the daily paper, discussing the latest odds on the three-thirty at Ascot. The others consumed their bacon and eggs or cereal and toast in what passed for silence among their transitory community.

By nine o'clock they'd cleared the room, and moved the large table to one end, allowing space for the cast to rehearse.

"I confess I would love to see Pemberley again," Aunt Gardiner said with a sigh as they began with the first scene.

"Are we close by?"

"A mere five miles from Lambton. It would be no more than a mile or two out of our way," Mr. Gardiner confirmed. "I have no objection if your aunt wishes to go."

"My love, should not you like to see a place of which you have heard so much? A place, too, with which so many of your acquaintance are connected. Wickham passed all his youth there, you know."

"I must own that I am weary of great houses, after visiting so many during our journey." Jess infused her words with all the reluctance she knew Elizabeth Bennet would have felt at the idea of visiting Pemberley without an invitation.

"If it were merely a fine house richly furnished I should not care about it myself, but the grounds are delightful." Mrs Gardiner swatted at a fly with her script. "Not that my room is richly furnished, of course," she added, dropping out of character. "There's not enough space to swing a cat. Very different from the Master Suite. Have you seen the main rooms upstairs yet?" When Jessica shook her head, Mrs Gardiner sat back in her chair. "Very elegant. Imagine what it must have been like to sleep in the Master's chamber with the blue and gold draperies, and that huge bed with twisted posts." Her smile widened as she paraphrased from the book: "To be Mistress of Pemberley would have been something indeed!"

Emily giggled. "The Mistress of Exley Hall isn't enjoying the benefits. I've heard the Major and his wife sleep in a small set of apartments in the east wing."

"Don't blame them at all," Mr. Gardiner said, laughing. "Can you imagine how it would be if they overslept one morning and found tourists wandering through their bedroom?"

Mandy's entrance cut their laughter short, and they returned to the beginning to try it again. A brief time later, they moved onto the next scene, where Mrs Reynolds would show them around Pemberley and talk about her favourite subject.

"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs Gardiner, as she pretended curiosity in an imaginary miniature. "It is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."

Mrs Reynolds frowned and looked at her script. "Shouldn't it be like him or not?"

"No, it clearly says like or not."

"Who wrote this script?"

Mr. Gardiner grinned. "Wasn't it Jane Austen?"

Mrs Reynolds shot him a withering glance before purposefully turning away from him and resuming character. "Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"

"A little."

"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, ma'am?"

She cast a quick glance at the man himself, sitting in the far corner of the room, talking to Mr. Flint. "Yes...yes, he is very handsome."

Following the direction of her gaze, Mrs Reynolds snorted. "And I've no doubt he would agree with you about that," she replied, in an undertone. "It seems our Mr. Darcy thinks very highly of himself indeed."


Chapter four

As rehearsals continued, each cast member received a summons to the makeshift wardrobe department, where racks of costumes, a sewing machine and two ironing boards were squeezed into the old housekeeper's room. They called Jess in just before lunch, which provided her with a much-needed respite. She'd found it rather exhausting to work with Mrs Reynolds while she was in Lady Catherine mode.

When Jess opened the door the smell of freshly laundered cotton wafted over her; the comforting aroma rekindling memories from earlier times, sitting with the theatre dressers while they were mending tears or adjusting seams. Sebastian stood in the centre of the room while two women hovered around him, pinning here or adjusting there.

He smiled as soon as he saw her, and held out his arms, turning slowly. "Well, what do you think? Does Miss Bennet approve?"

She allowed her gaze to slide over his form, taking in his stone-coloured breeches and stockings, embroidered waistcoat and snowy-white shirt. On top he wore a navy coat with shiny brass buttons, its tails reaching almost to the back of his knees, while the cut-away front seemed explicitly designed to emphasise the wearer's masculinity.

Catching his eye Jessica realised that he still expected an answer. "Yes, Mr. Darcy. I approve very much. You look very smart. Every inch a gentleman." Some inches more so than others.

His answering grin held a touch of satisfaction, as though he knew just what was going through her mind. "I'm glad you think so. Would you mind giving me your opinion on this one?" He shook his fingers impatiently towards a second coat hanging on the rack. One of the assistants fell over herself to help him out of the blue coat, while the other held out a second for him to slip his arms into.

Jessica sighed. It was dark green, and again he looked wonderful.

After spending a few moments appreciating just how well he fit into his costume, one of the women in the room reluctantly turned her attention towards Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Jessica had learnt from a young age that there was no place for modesty in show business. The changing rooms were nothing more than an open space behind two racks of clothing, standing across opposite corners of the room. However, seeing her own costumes, with their high empire waistlines, distracted her from any embarrassment. The first gown was a simple white cotton, decorated with delicate lace, and a deep frill at the bottom. The second dress had long sleeves and an all-over pattern of tiny blue flowers on a cream background.

After temporarily pinning up Jessica's long hair, the dresser settled a short velvet jacket over her shoulders before moving around to the front. Once she'd made a few adjustments—mumbling instructions around an assortment of pins sticking out from between her lips—she stepped back and instructed Jessica to turn around so she could check her handiwork.

The whole ensemble looked perfect, as though she'd stepped back in history to the early 19th century. Inhabiting the clothes made such a difference, and really helped her to feel like Elizabeth Bennet.

"Oh yes, that's very nice."

Jess started. She had been so busy studying her reflection in the tall mirrors that she'd almost forgotten Mr. Darcy, who had returned to his everyday clothes. Leaning on the rail he twirled his finger around in the air, requesting a second rotation. When she obliged he nodded his appreciation. "And without the jacket?"

His question sent the assistant scurrying to do his bidding. As they peeled the little coat from around her shoulders, Jessica felt strangely under-dressed in the thin muslin, even though it covered her from collarbone to ankle. She did a second turn for him, without waiting to be asked.

"Miss Bennet has exquisite taste, I see." By the time she glanced back at Sebastian, his attention had turned to something on the props table; the fob watch, chain and seal that would complete his outfit.

She wondered why he was still hanging around. "Is no one waiting for you to rehearse?"

He shrugged. "All my scenes are with you. Besides, they'll be calling lunch in ten minutes. I thought I'd wait and escort you there. I trust you have no objection?"

Of course she couldn't object. The wardrobe staff seemed to look upon her with a new-found respect, and set to work a little faster to complete the last minute adjustments to her dress before they allowed her to slide it carefully over her shoulders. She settled comfortably into her jeans and t-shirt and they left wardrobe to head to lunch.


That afternoon, the cast worked their way through the remaining scenes. Mr. Darcy played his part to perfection, seeming to know exactly the amount of assurance and deference to give to the role. As they took up their positions for each scene he transformed, giving himself a more noble mien and regal aspect. If he'd reminded Jessica of Mr. Darcy in the blue drawing room the previous evening, it was nothing to the way he looked when he was consciously playing the part.

"If we had known you would be at home, Mr. Darcy, we would never have dreamed of invading your privacy. Your housekeeper informed us that you would not be here until tomorrow. Indeed, before we left Bakewell we understood you were not immediately expected in the country." Jess bit her lip, hoping she'd coloured Elizabeth's lines with the right amount of apologetic embarrassment.

Mr. Darcy stood, seemingly at ease, yet Sebastian subtly conveyed his character's own agitation by twisting the signet ring on his right hand. "That is true. Business with my steward occasioned my coming forward a few hours before the rest of my party. They will join me early tomorrow, including some who can claim an acquaintance with you; Mr. Bingley and his sisters." He paused for a scripted beat before adding, "One person in our party more particularly wishes to be known to you. Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?"

Knowing how surprised Elizabeth would be by his question, Jess dropped her gaze to the floor in a show of bashful modesty. "I would be happy to make her acquaintance,"

Sebastian's shoulders fell as his voice returned to its natural timbre. "Can you imagine how Darcy was feeling at this point? I know he was tongue-tied and awkward the first time he met her in the garden, but he must have been so aroused, knowing that the woman he loved was right there, standing outside his own house."

"Is that all you men ever think about?"

"That's not the point. This time in history must have been hell for any man in love. No phones, no internet, and no way of communicating without breaking all those ridiculous etiquette rules. He hasn't seen her in months, thought she hated him, and all of a sudden there she is!"

Jess sighed. "I know. It's so romantic."

"Romantic? It must have been agony for him. His mind would have been full of her, wondering what she would look like under all those layers. Although he couldn't even hold her hand, don't think for one second he wasn't imagining all the places he might be touching her if they were alone."

"No, no. Mr. Darcy is...was a gentleman. He was happy to see Elizabeth and eager for her to meet his sister. He wanted to show her that he had changed...that he wasn't the same man she'd rejected earlier in the book."

"Men haven't changed that much in two hundred years. Being a man, I think I can safely say what we as a species spend most of our time thinking about." His stare became more firmly fixed in her direction. "Particularly when a man finds a woman who interests him. It's human nature, I'm afraid."

Slightly flustered by his look—a look she would have described as meaningful if she tended towards the melodramatic—Jessica picked up the pages of her script again and suggested that they ought to continue with the scene. He made no argument, and they began again from the first line.

By the time they reached the proposal, Mr. Flint and Mr. and Mrs Gardiner stood by the door, while Georgiana perched on one of the chairs next to Caroline. Jane and Bingley were sitting to one side, exchanging whispers as they watched the final scene play out.

Darcy turned suddenly, staring at Elizabeth with an intensity she thought might burn her soul. "You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged. One word from you will silence me on this subject forever."

Jessica blushed and looked down at her feet, feeling almost as nervous as Elizabeth Bennet must have felt upon hearing his declaration. "Mr. Darcy. My...my sentiments on this occasion are so...so very different from your previous declaration that I imagine you must think me quite fickle. My feelings have altered, to such a startling degree, that it is almost impossible for me to sufficiently express my gratitude of your happy assurances."

Darcy's face seemed to transform; one minute grim determination, the next an exquisite happiness that made him glow. He took a step closer, capturing her hands in his as he looked into her eyes. "Miss Bennet! Elizabeth! Is it true? Dare I hope I have won your love?"

A withering voice by the door shattered the romantic moment. "You've got to be joking! Dare I hope I have won your love? My cat could write better than this rubbish." Everyone turned to look at Mrs Reynolds, who shook her head, her lips pursed in disgust. "I realise they have no original dialogue to borrow from, but couldn't they come up with anything better than that?" As the previously quiet room erupted with overlapping opinions her sharp voice cut through the noise. "You!" She pointed a bony finger at Sebastian. "What do you think Darcy would say if you didn't have to spout this drivel?"

"I don't think he would have said anything. If I was in Darcy's position, hearing her words, I would grab Elizabeth and kiss her senseless. Any real man would do the same." He paused until he had the attention of everyone present. "All Miss Austen wrote in her book was that he expressed himself just as you would expect from a man violently in love. That doesn't mean it was necessarily a verbal expression of love. Of course, back then she couldn't say they kissed, but I'll bet everyone understood what she meant at the time." His gaze met Jessica's. "If I was violently in love, and the woman of my dreams had just accepted my proposal, I wouldn't be able to keep my hands off her."

Mrs Green nodded her approval. "The most natural reaction is often the best. We'll see what Mandy says." She wandered off to find the production assistant.

"Well, I think it's an excellent idea," Mrs Gardiner said. "We need something to liven up the story, and really get the audience applauding."

Jane stood up. "It's hardly in keeping with the spirit of the book though, is it? I don't think the Jane Austen fans will like it."

Bingley's usually placid features were tense. "Darcy is supposed to be a gentleman, and no gentleman would behave in that way."

"It's a terrible idea," Caroline said. "Change the dialogue, by all means, but there's no need for a physical kiss. It would completely ruin the power of the scene, and isn't anything like the book."

Even shy little Georgiana felt compelled to share her opinion. "We really ought to follow the script, don't you think? Otherwise, we might get in trouble."

Mr. Gardiner shrugged. "I don't care what you do, but make your mind up. I'd like to finish this first run-through before dinner. I'm starving."

Sebastian smiled. "The quicker we decide, the sooner we can finish rehearsing." When Mandy arrived Darcy explained his idea, and she agreed that they should at least try it out.

Moving back to her starting place, Jess dried her damp palms on her jeans and took a couple of deep breaths to relax as she waited for Darcy to join her. She hadn't been this nervous since her last opening night. It wasn't that she objected to kisses in general, but she hadn't expected to be kissed, on stage, by Mr. Darcy.

"Let's try it again." Darcy took up position next to her and leaned closer, whispering, "Relax. It'll be fine. You'll see."

Jess felt a tangle of anticipation growing inside, like that feeling just before the roller-coaster goes over the top. She swallowed her nerves and faked a smile. "I hope so."

Sebastian straightened his back, and lifted his chin, inhabiting his character once more. "My affections and wishes are unchanged. One word from you will silence me on this subject forever."

"My sentiments on this occasion are so...so very different from your previous declaration that I imagine you must think me quite fickle." As Elizabeth expressed her gratitude for his actions, Darcy turned to her, a gentle smile spreading over his face. Then, before she could draw another breath, he clasped her in his arms, whispered her name and brought his lips down to hers for one of the most seductive kisses Jessica had ever experienced. Counting the seconds in her head, she clung to his shoulders to keep herself upright.

When he finally released her the room exploded in appreciative applause. "Should we keep that change in then?"

"I don't see why not," Mr. Flint said. "The audience ought to like it, except perhaps the die-hard fans, and it's not like the scriptwriter is supervising the performances."

They all looked at Mandy, who was nodding uncertainly. "I'm not sure my boss would like it, but then she's not here to ask. We might get a few complaints, but it could really help with the publicity."

"Even complaints can be good for business," Mr. Flint reminded her.

Mandy smiled. "I can tell Sebastian doesn't have a problem with it. What does our Miss Bennet think? Do you have any objections, Jess?"

Jessica wanted to say yes. She could not imagine how she would get through the week knowing that, every afternoon around four thirty p.m., she would have to cope with a kiss that turned her legs to jelly. Seeing everyone else's enthusiasm for it she smiled weakly and shook her head.

It was going to be a long week.


Playing Around in Derbyshire - 3 & 4

Heather FAugust 09, 2018 10:48AM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 3 & 4

AlidaAugust 09, 2018 11:34PM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 3 & 4

Heather FAugust 12, 2018 05:40AM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 3 & 4

LiseAugust 11, 2018 03:26PM

Re: Playing Around in Derbyshire - 3 & 4

Heather FAugust 12, 2018 05:45AM


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