Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Mixed Up Mashup: Dining at Donwell

Emma watched as the other ladies entered the drawing room, smiling at Mr. Darcy. He remained in the hall, staring most particularly at Miss Bennet's retreating back, and she was certain something very interesting had just occurred between the two - far more than just the simple return of a forgotten object. Perhaps there was a note for Miss Bennet in the book? Mr. Darcy was so very formal in his presentation of the volume, and Emma was certain it must be some sort of a signal, known only to the two of them. Yet Miss Bennet had spoken of wanting to avoid Mr. Darcy - why would she risk a forbidden correspondence with a man she did not care for?  Emma was agog with speculation, her mind rapidly weighing the possibility for romance against that of blackmail, but as soon as she entered the drawing room, Mr. Knightley quickly commanded her attention.

"Thank goodness you have returned, Emma. I require your assistance in sorting out this debacle," he said, gesturing towards the small mob of fashionables, several of whom were engaged in energetic argument.   

Emma smiled, "Let my guess: the issue is precedence? It has been all day."

"You would think, under such circumstances, that pageantry could be set aside, but no. The Elliot family tree must be our prime concern. I pray Sir Thomas Bertram is a better representation of the nation's baronetcies. His only demand regards being seated as far as possible from Mr. Price, which one cannot dismiss as unreasonable."

Emma surveyed the poorly dressed man who eagerly insinuating himself amongst the party's naval contingency. "For that I cannot blame him. I think Mr. Price will be pleased to sit near Captain Wentworth, who might also prove just the man to keep him in check."

He noted his companion's admiring appraisal of the Captain, but said only, "Let us hope the rest of this mass of notables are so easily appeased."

They stepped away from the guests to survey the dining room, where an impressive table had been laid. "My!" Emma exclaimed, looking with familial pride to Mr. Knightley. "Now this is Donwell in its glory! I advised Mrs. Hodge that your guests would understand far less grand fare than this portends. I know not how she and Cook managed such a feat."

"We had some unexpected assistance from Mrs. Adams," he replied. Emma looked at him in surprise. "It seems along with the bulk of Highbury and Donwell, we have misplaced the butcher as well, let alone the livestock to justify his trade."

"I had not considered," she betrayed slight consternation. "Mrs. Adams is remarkably accommodating."

"Indeed," he said dryly. "We shall have much business to attend before she returns."

Emma's face expressed excitement at the prospect, and Mr. Knightley laughed, "Yes, my dear, we will finally meet her ourselves."

"You believe she can extricate us from this confusion?" she asked, her words tinged with a hint of the disappointment she would feel at having such a true adventure come to an end.

"I hope so," he replied, "for I feel fairly certain she must be responsible for it."

They returned to the drawing room where, after several more minutes of squabbling, the guests were finally able to proceed. Sir Walter quickly secured the companionship of his two nieces to himself, and along with the  attending Mr. Crawford, claimed a place for his party as far from his brother-in-law on the one end, and Lady Catherine and Sir Walter on the other, that he could contrive. Fanny found herself seated between Mr. Crawford and Mrs. Dashwood. She felt fortunate in this lady's companionship, for she had both a kindly aspect and a claim on her sympathies, for the locations of her eldest daughters, like Fanny's own friends in town, yet remained unknown. Having been so seldom exposed to the finer aspects of maternal feeling, Fanny felt stupendous admiration for Mrs. Dashwood, who balanced so well the expression of her very true concern with a desire to shield Miss Margaret, sitting on her other side, from the worst of her fears. The ease with which the two conversed and commiserated was a blessing, for Fanny was quite in danger of being overwhelmed by the strange foreboding brought on by her circumstances.

Robert Burbage 1983
Mr. Crawford was largely left to the neighbor on his right. Elizabeth, of course, found her companion thoroughly agreeable, for who but Fanny did not? Her enjoyment of the witty conversation which came so easily to both was, perhaps, unduly increased by the presence of Mr. Darcy across the table, gazing on her disconcertingly. She did not know how he came by her book, which she knew quite well was never at Rosings, and mistrusted his prevarication. Determined to think on it no more, she found a great deal of relief from the tensions of the past two days in Mr. Crawford's discourse. The gentleman's manner was at its very best, for regardless of the alteration of reality, his main purpose remained the pursuit of Fanny, and no matter how charming the lady on his right might be, he would not allow his attentions to pass the bounds of polite discourse into flirtation. 

Mr. Darcy was in agony as he watched Elizabeth laugh at something Crawford said, envying this man only just introduced the enjoyment of her smiles. As soon as the book had left his hand, he began to furiously doubt the wisdom of accepting Mrs. Adams assistance. Who was the woman, after all, and how did she come by Miss Bennet's possessions? He should have forced her to come inside and explain their predicament to her full ability, rather than allowing himself to be distracted by a poor conveyance for his message. The unusual events of the day, compounded with lack of sleep, must be to blame for the unsoundness of his judgement.

Mrs. Collins chose to not take offense at her neighbor's inattention, for a lack of predictable behavior was what she had come to expect from Mr. Darcy. She saw with amusement where his focus was captured, and in doing so also perceived that Miss Woodhouse, too, took note of his interest in Elizabeth. Charlotte wondered what the lady would make of it, particularly after Elizabeth's expressions of dislike for the man. She wished She wouldn't be so dismissive of a man who might offer so very much.

Anne sat on Mr. Darcy's other side, and she too saw a great deal.  There could be no mistaking the gentleman's distress, however, and Anne dismissed all idle speculations, setting herself instead to the task of again relieving Mr. Darcy's discomfort. It took a great deal more effort on her part than it had at Longbourn, but she was eventually rewarded by his posture relaxing, and his attentiveness to her questions increasing.

Captain Wentworth saw her efforts to speak with the same man who had engaged her attention earlier with a degree of pain he could not allow himself to acknowledge. Fortunately, he was amply provided with an abundance of distraction. Here were his good friends, Harville and Benwick, his brother and sister, and a bevy of admiring ladies to entertain him. He had already once made the Misses Musgrove's acquaintance, and the two were fervent in their new found love of all things naval. Kitty and Lydia Bennet quickly doubled the size of his coterie. With so many rivals for his attention, it was hard to spare a thought for Anne Elliot, though he managed it often enough, nevertheless.

Both the John Dashwoods and the Eltons had firmly attached themselves to the de Bourgh and Elliot contingency, and along with Mr. Collins, the three gentleman found themselves in a lively discussion regarding the importance of improving one's state, to which they were graced with a good deal of advice from Lady Catherine. Sir Walter could have nothing to say on such a subject, instead entertaining the ladies with a description of the ugliest woman he ever saw, occasionally interrupting himself to assert loudly his rights to Kellynch.

Amidst such intrigue and frivolity, Catherine was pleased to find herself seated next to Mr. Tilney. "I had wondered if we would never sit down," he said with a smile."Little does Sir Walter know that mine is the most desirable seat at this impressive table."

"Mr. Knightley's servants have certainly proven their worth today," she replied, not perceiving the meaning of his compliment. "To prepare such a feast, and with no notice at all! I am unfamiliar with this preparation of chicken, but it is quite lovely."

"Miss Morland," Henry persisted, "the excellencies of this fine repast aside, never would I have thought, upon setting out for Fullerton this morning, that I would have the felicity of dining beside you this evening. All outrage to the laws of physics aside, I could not be more content with my circumstances or company." Catherine blushed becomingly, unable to misconstrue such advert gallantry, and Henry was pleased to change the subject. "Your father and mother are not with us?"

"No. Miss Woodhouse was so kind as to write to them this morning, informing them of my whereabouts, inviting them to join us at Donwell, and asking if I might be her guest at Hartfield while we sort matters out." She blushed again, this time with pleasure at the flattering attention she had received from her new friend.

"Miss Woodhouse seems an excellent lady. May I take it from your parents absence that you will be residing at the elegant abode next door for the time being?"

"Yes. They could not leave the children this evening, you see, and so I am to represent the family in any discussion of what is to be done," she said with pride.

Henry surveyed her with pleasure. "That is a quite a responsibility. Your father's faith in your ability to fulfill such a role speaks very highly of his daughter's capabilities."

"To be honest, I do not think he would have allowed it, had I not managed the journey from Northanger Abbey so well."

"I have not yet offered my apologies for my father's inexcusable behavior," he said seriously. "Upon learning of the ruthless way in which he revoked his welcome, I immediately set forth to assure myself of your safety."

"You did not need to put yourself to such trouble," she replied, avoiding his gaze.

"Yes, I did, for there would be no peace of mind for myself until I was certain of your well-being. Miss Morland," he lowered his voice, "you must know my feelings for you, or at least recognize their sincerity when I profess how deeply I have come to care for you. Only one so lacking in pretension as yourself could have remained in any doubt this long. I'd like to make it my responsibility to always see to your welfare. Would you allow me that honor?"

Catherine must have reserved her deepest blush for this moment, for she turned a color more ambitious than any yet attempted, to Henry's great delight. "Yes, Mr. Tilney. I would like that very much."

Poor Emma! When she learned later than evening from her new friend what transpired during the course of the dinner, she was most grieved to have allowed such a romantic episode to have passed without her notice. How fortunate that her other new companions were to prove so much more entertaining in their quests for love.


  1. This looks like so much fun..I don't remember reading the earlier parts, I'll do so right now! Thanks for the story!

    1. Hi June! You are very welcome. Thank you for the comment!