Have you ever wanted to read how a conversation would go between Darcy and Captain Wentworth? Have you ever wished Caroline Bingley might make the acquaintance of Sir Walter Elliot? Have you ever thought Mrs. Norris and Lady Catherine could be best buds? Then you’ll love March Madness where we combine characters from Jane Austen’s books in a way you may not have imagined or in ways you may have hoped. Find a comfy chair, grab a cuppa and a few biscuits, and join us for the fun!
Mr. Elton was at the frame maker’s shop, waiting to receive the framed painting of Miss Smith which he intended to present to Miss Woodhouse. He hoped she would be flattered, even if the portrait was hardly worth the expensive frame. Still, if he achieved his objective and Miss Woodhouse agreed to marry him, it was a small price to pay.
As he was about to turn away from the counter, the bell on the shop door tinkled and a young lady stepped in. His attention was immediately arrested by her tall form, her fashionable attire, and the haughty expression on her face. Outside, two footmen laden with packages stood waiting. She was clearly a young lady of some consequence, with more than a small fortune at her disposal. There was no watchful mama to curb her spending, no sister to restrict her purchases, no husband – and here he glanced at her gloved hand – to keep her to heel, only a dignified maid who made everything quite proper.
She looked around her with a disdainful eye.
As her gaze fell upon him, Mr. Elton felt a strange thrill. Nobody had ever looked at him with quite that expression before. As a clergyman, he was known in the community and respected. His scholarly knowledge and his advantageous position guaranteed that people would look up to him. He guided their souls in this world and the next. This lady, however, looked at him as if he was nothing. It goaded him. It spurred him into action. It was a delicious provocation.
Curiosity forced him to peek at the painting she was holding as she unravelled it and placed it on the counter. He immediately saw it was a portrait of the lady herself. It was a good likeness, though perhaps a little too studied. There was a perfect curl that was painted on the lady’s cheek, just where the blush began. The painting was skilled but it was clearly not executed by a professional hand. He could only conclude that the lady herself had done it.
He could not help it. He had to express his admiration. He had to draw her attention. He wanted to feel again the exquisite pleasure of her contemptuous eyes.
“What an extraordinary likeness,” he exclaimed. “The original is of course more beautiful, but the painting is remarkably true to life.”
She turned to him with that haughty stare – oh, how it agitated him! She said nothing, of course. He did not expect it. It would indeed be quite unmannerly for her to talk to him without being introduced. She turned to the shopkeeper instead.
“I would like a gild edged pine frame.”
“Pardon my intrusion, miss,” said Mr. Elton, “but I cannot help but feel that such a frame would not do the painting justice. You must have it done in oak, carved and gilded. It is more a more classical design, and more worthy of its subject. Would you not agree, Mr. Harper?”
Of course, Mr. Harper was bound to agree with him, for what shopkeeper would not welcome the opportunity for more profitable trade?
“Yes, indeed, Miss Bingley,” said the shopkeeper. “It deserves better.”
The shopkeeper knew her name, which meant the young lady was a frequent customer. Better and better. Few people had the means to buy picture frames on a regular basis.
Miss Bingley turned her gaze once more upon Mr. Elton, who settled his face into a very agreeable expression.
“Indeed,” said Miss Bingley, addressing the shopkeeper. “However, as I am not acquainted with the gentleman, I find I cannot accept his recommendation.”
The shopkeeper, ready to oblige, immediately turned to Mr. Elton.
“If you will permit me to present you to the young lady, Mr. Elton?”
He did not wish to appear too eager. He allowed his voice to show some reluctance. “It is rather unconventional,” he said. “However, as I am a clergyman and accustomed to meeting all sorts of people in my daily intercourse, I have no objection.”
Mr. Elton was accordingly presented to Miss Bingley, who looked pleased to hear that his father owned a sizeable property in the south of England, even if Mr. Elton himself was a younger son. Mr. Elton himself was happy to hear that Miss Bingley was of Netherfield. The name had a fine ring to it. He had the feeling it was a large estate, from the way Mr. Harper had said the words.
Accordingly, Mr. Elton took an extraordinary decision. He was not given to impulsive actions, but action was required if he did not wish to lose this opportunity.
“If you will cut the string, Mr. Harper,” said Mr. Elton, “I will show Miss Bingley the frame that I have chosen.”
The shopkeeper according cut the string and unravelled the brown paper. Miss Bingley looked at the portrait critically.
“Did you paint it?” asked Miss Bingley.
“Oh, no. I admit that I have a natural capacity, and on the occasions when I have dabbled in paint, I have received a favourable response. However, my duties do not allow me the time. No, this was painted by an acquaintance of mine who wishes to give it as a present. I am merely fulfilling an errand.”
He did not wish her to think he cared a fig for either Miss Woodhouse or Miss Smith, who was the object of the painting.
“Then I hope you do not mind, sir, if I remark that there is some disproportion in the execution. The body is rather small compared to the face.”
Mr. Elton beamed. “Exactly what I thought, Miss Bingley. You have a very quick and discerning eye.”
Miss Bingley was not immune to flattery. In fact, since she was rarely the recipient of complimentary remarks, even though she dispensed them often – to suitably eligible gentlemen, of course – she began to form a rather positive opinion of the young man before her. He was handsome, with a proud Roman nose, a good tailor and a good haircut. Moreover, he had a very gentlemanly air about him. He did not compare to Mr. Darcy, of course, but Mr. Darcy had been very preoccupied of late and was no longer as receptive to her comments as he used to be. It would not hurt to have someone else in mind, in case her plans with Mr. Darcy came to naught. Gentlemen who would be willing to overlook her family circumstances were few and far between. She had the feeling Mr. Elton would be amenable.
She sought for a way to commend him.
“It is rare that a friend will go to such lengths to oblige someone. I hope the young lady in question appreciates your loyalty.”
Mr. Elton preened. “I will admit that she does not always appreciate the finer subtleties,” he said, thinking of how Miss Woodhouse had only yesterday offended him by asking him to dance with Miss Smith. Miss Smith! Surely she realized that a young woman of uncertain parentage was far beneath him, and that to dance with her required huge condescension on his part? He had done so, but only to please Miss Woodhouse. However, she had barely thanked him for his sacrifice, intent as she on introducing that unworthy creature into the higher society of Highbury.
Miss Bingley, it was clear, would never make such an error of judgement. One only had to see how very patronizing her manner was to the shopkeeper, and how she lifted her nose even at him.
He would have to find a way to further his acquaintance with her. There was little enough to go on, but if he found a way—.
“Miss Bingley,” he said, rubbing his hands and smiling his most benevolent smile, a smile he rarely bestowed on anyone. “You must allow me to choose a frame for your picture. If you will give me your direction, I will personally deliver it to you. I would be happy to be of service to such an accomplished painter.”
“Well, sir,” said Miss Bingley, feigning hesitation, but secretly delighted that he had called her painting accomplished. “Since it is apparent that you are a gentleman of good judgement, I will leave matters in your capable hands.”
Mr. Elton bowed deeply, keeping his head down to hide the pleasure he knew was written on his face. Things were progressing exactly as he wished. How angry Miss Woodhouse would be if he brought home a worthy bride to Highbury! How she would regret all those moments when she had failed to recognize his superior position in society!
Mr. Harper cleared his throat, looking from one to the other.
“Is that settled, then, Miss Bingley?”
Miss Bingley gave an arrogant smile that sent Mr. Elton’s pulse racing.
“I do believe it is,” she said.