Fair Stands the Wind by Catherine Lodge

by Catherine Lodge
Genres: Austenesque
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We all know that in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy is proud and prejudiced because he is a wealthy landowner who believes himself above his company; and that Elizabeth Bennet can afford to be proud and prejudiced because she believes she has the freedom to make choices for herself.

But what if Mr Darcy is the second son, sent to sea at a young age? What if Elizabeth is trapped by circumstances, with an ill father on one side and an understandably desperate mother on the other?

Meet Captain Darcy of the Royal Navy, a successful frigate captain, with ample prize-money and a sister he needs to provide for while he is at sea. Meet Elizabeth Bennet, who needs a husband and is trying to resign herself to Mr Collins, the worst “least worst alternative” in the history of literature.

In an effort to enliven the evening, Elizabeth thought to ask Mr. Bingley how he and the captain had come to be friends.

            Mr. Bingley seized on the topic at once. “We met in France,” he said, adding hurriedly, “in the Peace, of course. My father sent me over as soon as the treaty was signed. I think he hoped I would acquire a little Town bronze. I met Darcy a few miles outside Calais when Boney broke the peace and started detaining travellers. I did not much care for the idea of the fortress at La Bîche; the rumour was it was most unpleasant. Captain Darcy and I were in the same hotel and both decided to skip the place and try for the coast.” He smiled gaily. “Dashed horrible it was too. Took us a week to sneak through France, raining all the way, and then we had to wait ’til Darcy found us a fishing boat he could sail to England.”

            “You make it sound much more exciting that it was,” interrupted the captain.  We were not  twenty miles from the coast, and I had every confidence we would meet the Channel Fleet—and we did, less than five miles from shore. And once we did, we were home and dry.”

            “Not exactly dry,” protested Mr. Bingley, and went on to describe the hardships of life in a war sloop of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. “While the hanging cots are very comfortable, I regret I never got used to the way the walls kept opening up and squirting me with ice-cold seawater.” This at least had the effect of distracting Miss Bingley from her pursuit of Miss Darcy, and the rest of the dinner passed in her commiserations to the captain for the rigours of his life afloat and his attempts to assure her that, as captain of a ship of the line, it had been many years since he had slept in a shower-bath.

            When the two Darcy ladies retired, and Elizabeth and Jane went up with the younger lady to see she had everything she needed. Once Georgiana was settled for the night and a maid was seeing to Mrs.

Darcy, Jane, too, retired, exhausted by the evening after her recent illness. Elizabeth, however, went downstairs, resolving to request the carriage for the morrow.

            As she crossed the hall, she could hear the querulous tones of Miss Bingley, no doubt complaining about the escape of her conversational prey. Refusing to be daunted and quite out of patience with that lady, Elizabeth sailed into the drawing room, head held high, and had the satisfaction of reducing her hostess to red-faced silence.

            Captain Darcy brought her a cup of coffee and sat beside her. “Is my sister quite well?” he asked.

            “Just a little tired.”

            At the other end of the room, Miss Bingley was engaged in a furious whispered conversation with her sister while they searched through the available sheet music.

            “You and Miss Bennet have both been very kind. I wonder whether I might trespass further on your good nature.”

            Elizabeth nodded.

            “You have seen the state of my sister’s clothing. Would it be possible for you to accompany her to Hatfield or some other local town and help her repair the deficiencies in her wardrobe? I fear she needs almost everything—a full rig. I shall of course repay your father, perhaps when the bills are submitted?”

            Elizabeth smiled sadly. “Sir, you are inviting a lady to go shopping with someone else’s money, and under normal circumstances I would be happy to oblige. However”—here she blushed and lowered her voice—“my father’s illness has led to at least one of the local tradespeople withdrawing credit, fearing, I suppose, that they might not be paid. I regret that any shopping we did would have to be…what is the expression? Paid on the nail?”

            Despite her mortification, Elizabeth could see that his expression did not alter from one of polite interest, and while she was glad that neither Miss Bingley nor Mrs. Hurst had heard, she felt that the captain at least could be trusted with her confidences.

            “Then I shall accompany you all and draw on my London bank. Perhaps Miss Bennet would feel able to accompany you, and we would not have to take a maid along too. My sister is, as you have seen, exceedingly shy, and I fear she has enjoyed too few such frivolous outings.”

            “Then, sir, I should be delighted to take your sister shopping, although I fear you may have to resign yourself to several dull hours at the King’s Head while we three enjoy ourselves at your expense.”

            Captain Darcy smiled, a most becoming expression, and they sat in companionable silence while Mr. Bingley’s sisters attempted to outdo each other in execution on the fortepiano. Indeed, in view of the heaviness of Mrs. Hurst’s hands and right foot, Elizabeth thought that “execution” was very probably the right word.

            In a brief pause between pieces, the captain took the opportunity to ask about Mr. Bennet’s illness. There was nothing intrusive about his questioning, merely a genuine and compassionate enquiry.

Elizabeth looked at her hands. “He first took ill in July. I do not know whether you were in England, but the weather in this part of the world was extremely wet. He was caught in a downpour, took cold, and from there grew worse. The doctor says it is pneumonia and there is very little we can do except pray.” As her eyes filled with tears, she felt the sofa rock as the captain rose and strode to where the two ladies were preparing for a duet.

            “I really must come a little closer,” he said. “It is not often we sailors get to hear such first-rate music.”

            More than a little surprised, Elizabeth placed her hand on the sofa, preparatory to rising and leaving the room in haste, but as she did so, her fingers touched a small bundle of cloth. It was a gentleman’s silk handkerchief. As she hurriedly wiped her eyes, she looked up and saw the broad, dark blue back of the captain, standing precisely in the spot that hid Elizabeth from the gaze of everyone else in the room.

About Catherine Lodge

Catherine Lodge is a semi-retired lawyer and lecturer, living in Yorkshire–a part of the UK even more beautiful than Derbyshire. One of five daughters, although by birth order regrettably the Jane, she found 19th Century literature early in her teens and never looked back–even if that meant her school essays kept coming back with “archaic!” written in the margin next to some of her favourite words. She still thinks that “bruited” is a much nicer word than “rumoured.”

After years of drafting leases and pleadings, she finally started to write for fun in her forties and has never stopped since. Much of this will never see the light of day, having been fed to the digital equivalent of a roaring bonfire, but “Fair Stands the Wind” is the first book she thinks worthy of public attention.

She spends her day fixing computer problems for friends and family, singing in her local choir, and avoiding the ironing.