For those who have been having a giggle over the 50 Shades of Jane…? series. I have another for you! If you attended the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this year, you might recognize a few of the streets or the comedy walk I reference in the scene below. Thanks so much to the Natural Theatre Company’s Austen Undone comedy walk for the bit of inspiration.
“Bloody Hell! Why does Bath always have to be so crowded this time of year!”
Elizabeth’s giggle from beside him helped soothe his frazzled nerves. “Then why did you decide to conduct your business this week? Evaluating properties could have waited a few more days.”
They had room to cross the street, so Darcy pulled her to the small island between lanes as he began to watch traffic again.
“Isn’t there a property in The Paragon you were supposed to view?”
He glanced back to Elizabeth, who pointed down the street of tall, beige-coloured buildings.”
“Tomorrow. Today we are meeting an estate agent to view a flat in Royal Crescent and another at the Circus. Then, we’ll have lunch before meeting the next agent to view two more properties: one on Gay Street and the other in Queen Square.” With a tug, they finished crossing and began the uphill trek on Lansdown Road. They dodged several ladies clad in Regency dress as they continued the climb.”
“By the way, why do you object so to the festival?”
“You know how much I adore crowds.”
She cocked an eyebrow at his sarcasm. “That can’t be the only reason. Aside from the usual shopping traffic and hordes of tourists around the abbey and the Roman Baths, it isn’t so bad.”
“Did you know Georgiana loves the festival?”
Once they crossed the street, Elizabeth stopped him. “She should have come with us. The flat where we’re staying has two bedrooms. I wouldn’t have minded her tagging along.”
“I know you wouldn’t, but I wanted some time alone with you. We’re always with Charles and Jane or Georgiana.” He began walking down Alfred Street towards the Assembly Rooms as she fell into step beside him.
“Why do I feel there is more to this than you’re letting on?”
The muscles in his back tightened painfully. “I don’t know what you mean.”
She pulled him back to face her. “You have a reason for disliking the festival, and I want to know what it is.”
He turned to the front of the Assembly Rooms and a heavy whoosh of air escaped his lungs. Look at them! So many people dressed in Regency costumes. Men, women, and even children were sometimes attired in long gowns, bonnets, hats, reticules… They were all over Bath this time of year. What a reminder!
“I don’t want to discuss it.” He turned and continued to make his way around the different groups with Elizabeth just behind him.
“Darcy!” He stopped as an outstretched hand accompanied the familiar voice.
“Wentworth?” He shook the hand of a friend he’d had since university. “What are you doing here?”
“You know Anne still writes those period romance novels. She loves these sorts of gatherings. We attended a Regency week in Hampshire in June.”
As he glanced down, he started. Elizabeth! “Forgive me. Frederick Wentworth, this is my girlfriend, Elizabeth Bennet.” Elizabeth shook Wentworth’s hand as his old friend gave an insufferable grin.
“Girlfriend? I’d heard rumours, but I believed them all to be false.” He chuckled and peered around several people. “Anne!”
Anne Wentworth held up her fan in their direction, nodded to the group she was with, and walked over with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. “Why Darcy! I never thought you would return after that debacle with Mary Crawford two years ago.”
Elizabeth’s head whipped around and her eyebrows rose to her hairline. Oh no! He’d never get around explaining what happened now!
Wentworth placed a hand to his wife’s back. “This is Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy’s girlfriend.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope you’ll get him into costume at least once before the week is over. He has such lovely, well-turned calves.”
Why was that necessary? His cheeks began to burn as a huge grin overtook Elizabeth’s face. “It would be a shame not to see those in breeches.” Both ladies giggled and he cringed. A voice called over the crowd, distracting Wentworth and Anne for but a moment.
When Wentworth turned back, he extended his hand. “We must go. I promised Anne another stroll through the Fashion Museum before we do the comedy walk.”
Darcy gave a nod as he gave Wentworth’s hand one last shake. “Of course, next time you are in London, bring Anne. We can all have dinner one evening.”
With a kiss to his cheek, Anne smiled. “I would enjoy that. I look forward to speaking with you again, Elizabeth.”
As Anne and Wentworth walked away, Elizabeth bounced on her toes. “You never told me you know Anne Wentworth. I adore her books! I have every one, you know.”
He glanced at his watch. Twenty past two? They needed to get to Royal Crescent! “We’re late.”
“We’re not late. You aren’t expected until half-two. We should be right on time.”
They turned into the Circus in the direction of Brock Street. “On-time is late.”
“I do expect to be told the story of Mary Crawford when we have a free moment.”
His eyes closed. The last thing he wished to do was speak of that horrid woman, but now that Anne and Frederick had let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, how was he going to get out of it?
He reluctantly nodded. Maybe she would forget. They were going to have a busy afternoon looking at these flats. Perhaps Elizabeth wouldn’t give it another thought. His shoulders dropped. Who was he kidding? Elizabeth had a memory like a steel trap.
The estate agent was waiting in front of the building when they arrived and promptly showed them through the flat in that building as well as the one in the Circus. After she departed, they had almost an hour before their next appointment, so they decided to have tea at a small café on Bartlett Street.
Once they’d ordered their coffees, Elizabeth rested her elbow on the table and placed her chin in her hand. Why were her eyes narrowed?
“You owe me a story.”
He groaned. “It’s humiliating. Please do not make me recount it.”
With a gasp, she sat straight. “I told you about Harry Lucas and the terrible prom night when our braces locked together. I told you about my school trousers splitting in class when I was in ninth year. I also told you about my mother telling me off for not actively looking for a husband while I was in uni.
“You will tell me this, William Darcy. I insist.”
The server placed his flat white in front of him, and he took a fortifying sip. “Do you remember when I said Georgiana loves the festival?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me. She adores anything Georgian or Regency—especially novels. She showed me that peacock edition of that one book you purchased her for Christmas.”
With a nod, he set his cup on the table. “Georgiana was desperate to go a few years ago, and I agreed, albeit with reservations, to take her. Mrs. Reynolds helped her purchase the necessary gowns and accessories; however, unbeknownst to me, they even contacted my tailor for my measurements.” He shuddered. “I was horrified to find a full Regency suit awaiting me the day of the promenade.”
She bit her lip as her eyes ran down his navy button-down shirt and smart grey trousers.
His arm shot out and pointed at Elizabeth’s face. “Oh no! That is precisely the reason I will never wear that horrid costume again!”
With an impish smile, she bit her lip for a moment. “Not even for me?”
“You don’t understand. Women are always more plentiful at these events than men, and they all appeared to appreciate the fit of my breeches. Mary Crawford, in particular, commented on my ‘well-turned calves,’ which is why Anne used the phrase.” A violent shudder wracked his body.
“That is your objection? Having women ogle you?”
“Not just me, Elizabeth, but my… what is it those ladies say? My bunchage? It was intolerable. I am not a piece of meat.”
Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hand as she burst into peals of laughter.
“Thanks for the sympathetic ear,” he growled as he lifted his coffee to his lips.
When his girlfriend re-gained her composure, she tilted her head. “That couldn’t have been all Mary did or you wouldn’t be this vehement.”
His cheeks again began to burn. “She grabbed my…”
Elizabeth leaned closer. “She grabbed your what?”
He reached across the table and whispered it into her ear. Her eyes bulged as he nodded. “The next time I went to the loo, I had indentions from her fingernails.”
Her jaw dropped. “Even through the breeches?”
“Have you looked at that woman’s talons?” His voice was high-pitched. Why did Mary Crawford never cease to terrify him?
At that moment, a little man dressed in black ran past the window of the café. Elizabeth shifted closer to the window. “Was that man in a Regency era vicar’s costume?”
A larger group then passed. Several of the people were in costume, while one older, costumed chap appeared to be speaking to the crowd. A hand waving caught his eye.
“Look! It’s Frederick and Anne! That must be the comedy walk.” When Frederick and Anne had passed, she returned her attention to him. “You do know you have me now. I won’t let Mary Crawford sink her fingers into you.” She looked down at his lap. “Or your little Willy.”
He rolled his eyes. Why did she insist on that ridiculous nickname? Her lilting laughter reached his ears and he could not help but smile. Hopefully, the worst of the day was over. He’d survived the walk to Royal Crescent and past the Assembly Rooms.
All that was left were two more properties, and then they could return to their nice, quiet flat on Great Pultney Street.
He finished the last of his coffee and paid the bill. “We need to start walking.”
Elizabeth rose, took his hand, and followed him out to the pavement. It was a lovely day and Bath was a beautiful town. Perhaps he should just ignore the festival and enjoy his week with Elizabeth. Yes, that was exactly what he would do.
They turned a corner as the same group that passed the café earlier came from the opposite end of the street. At the front, was a young woman in Regency dress who led the people behind her in a resounding chant of “I love Fanny!” Their cries echoed around the buildings and carried down the street as they continued walking and chanting. When they drew near, the woman pointed directly at him.
“He loves Fanny, too!”
If only he could shrivel and sink into the pavement beneath him! How he hated Bath!