This piece, started as an exercise in writing in an alien style (Regency—Jane Austen being the model for this.)has afforded me much amusement. I find I like writing in a non-contemporary style; so much that I’m writing a Regency Romance as a new project. The style I’m using there is a little less formal than this, but the scenario is more dynamic, featuring steam and a possible Napoleonic invasion.
This bagatelle is my training camp for the other and I’m hoping that the lively physical conflicts in the background will provide the punch that modern readers expect. I’d like to write the interactions with the same sense and sensibility Miss Austen used, and rely on cannons going off between conversations to provide the pace of narrative drive needed today. Anyway—back to the folks at Pemberly…
Dinner was served in the dining parlour where the five family members and three guests nevertheless seemed lost around the huge mahogany table laden with much silver and fine china. The Darcy’s table was a modest one for such an informal gathering, some new-caught trout with oyster sauce, boiled chicken and a pig’s face, a bullock’s heart roasted and a rich plum pudding. Conversation was scarce and intermittent as the meal was attended with proper diligence, but grew more lively when decanters of spirits of various kinds—brandy, rum, shrub—moved in ceaseless procession around the table.
Mr Author, seated between Mrs Darcy and Miss Darcy, watched Gisel, on the other side of their host, with a little concern as she sampled every spirit offered. He well knew she had a good familiarity with spirits but was inclined to be too confident of her capacity for them at times. He decided to restrict his own intake to shrub, where the rum was diluted with water, orange and lemon juice, so that he might keep a more sober watch upon her conversation. She liked tall, haughty aristocratic men—how else did she get into that unwise affair with Lord Ricart of Amberden?
Even so, with the constant buzz of several conversations around him he only heard snatches of their conversation, which seemed to rest in safe generalisations of politics and the new steam engine tramway that carried coal from the mine to the River Aire near Leeds. Steam engines were still a novelty in 1814, and sounded safe, so he hoped they would stay with them and not broach the subject of the recent Luddite riots where workmen smashed the new cotton machines. They were bound to be at odds there, and Gisel would likely have a forceful opinion to offer.
Miss Austen, between Mr and Mrs Bennet, seemed to enjoy an exchange of witticisms with the paterfamilias, some of which seemed to grow out of the earnest pronouncements of the distaff side of the house. That good lady, being in such fine humour at the fruits of the table and the sight of her second, and most troublesome daughter, seated at her own table opposite her wealthy husband— and such a fine table in such a fine house—that she took all her husband’s teasing with an admirable calm and gracious patience.
Miss Darcy, at her brother’s side, seemed interested in hearing Gisel’s contributions to the opinions on mechanised travel and factional politics. What scraps Mr Author heard suggested Mr Darcy was faced with selecting a new candidate for his constituency, since the one he’d had elected at the last election, in 1812—had become indisposed due to ill health. It was vexing to have to request a by-election to fill the empty seat, but Mr Darcy found it essential if he was to continue to have a voice in Parliament to advance the affairs of his estates and the region of Derbyshire where they were located. He seemed to be undecided between a son of one of his neighbours and a bright young curate recently sent to assist the aged rector of Lambton.
Rather fearing Gisel might express a recommendation for some red revolutionary, or a Freemason, Mr Author did his best to join in.
Gisel jumped in before he could speak. “So whoever you nominate will be elected?” she queried, smiling sweetly at Mr Author. “That seems novel to one such as myself who has lived under different arrangements of Parliamentary democracy.”
“Indeed. What differences do you mean?”
Mr Author, disregarding any possible rudeness, made a second attempt. “So you have the only vote, Mr Darcy, or are there few electors in the constituency?”
Mr Darcy turned his head. “There are twelve electors, but most are obliged to the Darcy family for past and present favours.”
Gisel set down an empty glass. “Twelve? But how many people live within the constituency?”
Mr Darcy shrugged. “Fifteen hundred, but only twelve who can give proof of being forty shilling freeholders.”
Gisel seemed about to respond but Mr Author got in first. “So this constituency elects a Knight of the Shire?”
“It’s a questionable term, whose meaning is somewhat lost in antiquity, but yes— the Darcy prerogative comes from the days when my grandfather was first among equals. The electors are all descendants of the men he lived and prospered among.”
“Fascinating,” Gisel allowed. “But I like Iskander’s system where everyone has the right to vote.”
Mr Darcy’s mouth all but fell open. “Really? How can one possibly control such an arrangement?”