Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard:
A Tale of Tide & Prejudice
To my delightful family at Longbourn
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a yacht must be in want of a female crew.
It was this that occupied the mind of Mrs Bennet as she stepped purposefully out from her holiday house at 3 Island Street, Salcombe, and strode along Victoria Quay and up Fore Street, drawn hypnotically towards the divinely glamorous world of Amelia’s Attic, with only the vaguest notion of what she would do there when she arrived, apart from browse a little and browse a little more. It just seemed a perfectly respectable place to be heading, and it was so important to look busy and wanted. As she passed The Upper Crust bakery, delicious warming aromas caused her to pause, but one look at the queue of Crew-clad shoppers dangling jute bags as proof of their environmentally friendly lifestyle in one hand and jangling their 4 x 4 keys in deep pockets with the other, made her swerve to the right side of the narrow street. She was just considering the fudge in Cranch’s when a squawk made her swivel her head violently to port.
“Yahoo! Frances! Darling! Have you heard the news?”
It was Mrs Lucas, flushed with excitement.
Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.
“Of course, darling.” Mrs Bennet never liked to appear not in the know. “What on earth is it?”
“Look. Are you busy? Never mind if you are. Come with me to The Wardroom for a cappuccino, and I’ll tell you what the whole of Salcombe society is talking about!”
Mrs Bennet found herself being scooped up Fore Street, arm in arm with her best friend, Mrs Lucas, and over a cup of steaming cappuccino, being the recipient of startling and delightful news.
“A man of great fortune is said to have taken Netherpollock!”
Netherpollock! A magnificent seaside villa with large bay windows, situated on the opposite side of the estuary, perched just above Small’s Cove, with fabulous views of the harbour’s comings and goings. How splendid.
“…and what’s more,” continued Mrs Lucas, breathless, “he is young…”
This was too much. Mrs Bennet spluttered into her cappuccino, sending a frothy spray over her unfortunate friend. This was news indeed! Gulping down her refreshment with the utmost speed, not even pausing to use her teaspoon to scrape any residual froth from the bottom of the cup as was her normal custom, Mrs Bennet muttered something about having to catch the post—her usual excuse, although how rare it was these days to put pen to paper—and dashed off back to Island Street.
“News, Mr Bennet! News!”
Mr Bennet, happy to be on holiday in Island Street with its lively mix of activity—boatyards, chandlers, art galleries, tanks of live crabs and lobsters, the sounds of craftsmen banging, chipping, and sawing—was still in his striped pyjamas, peacefully reading the Daily Telegraph in the little flagstone kitchen of No 3. Spurning the plate of foreign croissants, he was enjoying a hearty piece of thick toast spread with thick butter and thick marmalade, when the explosive, high-pitched sounds pierced his ears from two streets away. An instalment of his wife’s “news” was hard to bear. A sale on at Jack Wills? A new diamanté bag in Amelia’s Attic? He closed his eyes, savouring the last moments of sanity.
The front door slammed open, and the front door slammed shut. Heavy breathing and six hurried footsteps down the wooden-planked hall followed, and Mrs Bennet burst into the kitchen.
“Mr Bennet! Oh, Mr Bennet! Have you heard? Netherpollock is let at last!”
Mr Bennet opened his eyes, adjusted his specs, and read that 20 percent of married men confess to having considered leaving their wives at least once. “Only 20 percent!” he muttered.
“Twenty percent? No, the whole lot!” retorted Mrs Bennet. “A young man of large fortune from the north of England has taken it.”
Mrs Bennet paused, reflecting on her own words. North was not as promising as south, but she was prepared to remain open-minded.
“And is his wife charming and dressed from head to toe in Joules clothing?”
“His wife? Oh, Mr Bennet! How you tease me! He is single, to be sure! Young and single! Is that not a fine thing for our girls?”
“How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr Bennet! How can you be so tiresome? You must know that I am thinking of him going out with one of them and, if we are lucky, marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in taking Netherpollock?”
“Design? Nonsense! How can you talk so? But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must go up to the Yacht Club for a drink this lunchtime and make his acquaintance, for he is sure to be there.”
“Why don’t you go and take the girls with you? Then he can see which he prefers, and, who knows—he might even choose you!”
“Oh, Mr Bennet. You know I cannot go on my own or with the girls. It would look too obvious. Too pushy! No. You must go and fall into friendly conversation with him. Talk about tax cuts, budgets, financial sorts of things. Make his acquaintance.”
“You go, and I will send a note along with you, saying he can marry whichever of my daughters he chooses, though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy!”
“Oh, Mr Bennet! It’s always Lizzy, Lizzy, Lizzy. She is no better than the others. Yet you always favour her!”
“They have none of them much to recommend them; minds stuffed with fashion, ears stuffed with iPod intrusions, mouths stuffed with Chupa Chups. No ability for normal conversation or comment on the world,” replied Mr Bennet. “They are gormless and half-witted, like most of their generation; but Lizzy shows the occasional spark of being able to function like a reasonable human being.”
“Mr Bennet! These are our girls you are ridiculing. Our babies. Oh! Oh! You have dehydrated me with your venomous talk. Oh! I am all palpitations. I need to detox. I need purified water. Oh, Lord! My stress levels are rising. I can feel them! Can you see them, Mr Bennet? Can you see them?”
Mr Bennet looked at his wife and shook his head.
“Oh, Mr Bennet, you have never cared for my stress levels.”
Mrs Bennet sat down heavily, holding her heaving chest, gasping for breath.
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your levels. They are the barometer of my life. I have been party to their rises and falls for the past fifteen years.”
“Oh, Mr Bennet. You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my nerves either.”
“No!” interrupted Mr Bennet with severity and raising his hand to halt further comment. “Not your nerves! They are my old friends, whom I have heard you mention with consideration these twenty years at least, and I will not have them dragged into this conversation, too.”
“Ah! you do not know what I suffer,” cried the panting Mrs Bennet.
Mr Bennet returned to his calm, reasonable manner, adding, “But I am sure your attack will soon pass, and you will recover to see Salcombe soon overflowing with young men of good fortune, and our girls will have the courage to speak with them direct.”
There was a clanking on the wooden stairs. Lydia, the youngest Miss Bennet, dressed in buttock-revealing pink-spotted pants and a lacy singlet top, shuffled into the kitchen, robotically put on the kettle, fumbled in the cupboard for a mug, blobbed in a teaspoon of Nescafé, slumped down onto one of the six pastel blue kitchen chairs, and yawned vigorously. Her presence created a pause between Mr and Mrs Bennet. Mrs Bennet had temporarily run out of steam, unable to maintain continuing signs of dangerous stress, and, after a formal “Good morning, Lydia” to his daughter, from which he expected, and obtained, no response, Mr Bennet returned to his paper.
At lunchtime, Mr Bennet did indeed venture to the Yacht Club and there, just as Mrs Bennet had predicted, was the young man in question, sitting in the window, having a quiet gin and tonic whilst earnestly tapping away on his laptop. Mr Bennet introduced himself as Mr Bennet, and the young man leapt to his feet and shook hands.
“Delighted to meet you, Mr Bonnet.”
“No, I’m Bingley. Mr Bingley.”
“And I’m Mr Bennet.”
“Who then, sir,” asked the beaming Mr Bingley, “is Mr Bonnet? I am new around here and not familiar with the names.”
“There is no Mr Bonnet.”
“How strange! I’m sure you mentioned him earlier. Perhaps he is a shy fellow, but I would be pleased to meet him, as I have few acquaintances in Salcombe. But what a splendid place it is, is it not Mr Bonnet?”
“Oh, Bennet! Bonnet! Such similar names. It must cause you quite a confusion.”
Mr Bennet found the young man in question most amiable and discovered that his new acquaintance had quite a unique and captivating understanding of the world. On the effect of a credit crunch, the young fellow enthused that as far as he understood, it was a fabulously healthy cereal, that employing hedge fund managers was the only way to keep the rabbits out of one’s vegetable garden, and, from what he had seen so far in Salcombe, the bottom line seemed jolly attractive. Mr Bennet was rarely so entertained and invited Mr Bingley round to a barbeque that very evening, an invitation which the young man, having no acquaintances in the vicinity, accepted with alacrity.
The hot summer’s day, meanwhile, had passed in the usual Salcombe manner for Mrs Bennet and her five daughters. After breakfast the girls had set out for town, armed with regulation jute bags to gather supplies for a picnic. Lizzy and Jane had queued at The Upper Crust for six deliciously soft dough rolls sprinkled with sunflower seeds, whilst Lydia and Kitty had gone round to the deli to buy slices of ham and little quiche pies. The younger girls were seriously delayed by a detour into Cranch’s, the sweetie shop, where they spent a good fifteen minutes holding little plastic baskets and selecting with plastic tongs fizzy cola chews, luminous green snakes, rainbow crystals, and pink shrimps, before exiting, clutching pink-and-white-striped paper bags of goodies. Mary, meanwhile, remained back at 3 Island Street in the front room, where passers-by could peer in and see her swotting for her AS exams. She perched her physics textbook in the window so people could see that she was a girl of intellectual substance, not one to be drawn into softy subjects like media studies—the very thought! The baffled frown on her face showed the intense challenge that such a mission as physics could present even to the brightest student.
The picnic at last prepared and packed into outsized waterproof bags printed with strawberry patterns, the little party was ready to venture out to the beach.
Beaches at Salcombe are either a little distance from the centre of town, North and South Sands, or across the estuary—or dendritic ria , as Mary had once discovered and enjoyed correcting anyone ignorant enough to get the distinction wrong—where lie the glorious ribbons of golden sands known as Fisherman’s Cove, Small’s Cove, Mill Bay, Sunny Cove, and, for those with boats, The Bar.
Visitors delight in the fun of the ferries to get about from the town to the beaches or even up to Kingsbridge. The sturdy Salcombe to South Sands ferry ploughing back and forth, with its gaily fluttering flags and packed with holidaymakers waving buckets and spades, who have the added pleasure of disembarking onto a fine sea tractor to ensure a dry landing on the beach, is a regular sight. Many locals and holiday house owners, however, have invested in some sort of craft to take them from beach to beach at their leisure. So it was a pleasant hundred-foot walk to the wooden jetty where Angelica , a twelve-foot grey inflatable, dearly loved by the Bennet family, was patiently waiting, that the girls and Mrs Bennet headed, laden with one large wicker picnic basket, three Cath Kidston-patterned picnic bags, buckets, spades, cricket kit, rugby ball, tennis ball, towels, swimming gear, handbags, books, magazines, newspapers, windbreakers, and life jackets. Mrs Bennet liked to think of herself as “good in boats.” Her inability to start the six horsepower engine, distinguish a bowline from a clove hitch, or cast off did not deter her from barking instructions. Transferring her weight from the pontoon and down into the bouncy boat always caused Angelica to lurch alarmingly and cause a slight heart flutter in Mrs Bennet’s bosom, but she was game and shouted and bossed the girls around so efficiently that she had a hand to help her from the pontoon, a hand to catch her into the boat, a hand to steady her posterior onto the thwart, and a hand to pass her the overflowing and very unseaworthy handbag that accompanied her everywhere.