*What might have happened if Captain Jack Aubrey had picked up a different newspaper aboard HMS Charwell at the opening of Post Captain?*
*(Any similarities between the words here and other authors’ work is purely intentional)*
*In the wardroom of HMS Charwell*
Captain Aubrey picked up The Times and ran through the London Gazette, in case he should have missed his own name in the first three readings. “Toss me one of the newspapers on the locker, will you?” he said, throwing it down. 'The Hertfordshire Chronicle' was the one he was handed.
"This is more like it, Stephen," he said, five minutes later. "Mr Long's hounds will meet at ten o'clock on Wednesday, the sixth of November 1802, at Meryton Green. I had such a run with them when I was a boy: my father's regiment was in camp at Ware. A seven-mile point - prodigious fine country if you have a horse that can really go. Or listen to this: a neat gentleman's residence, standing upon gravel, is to be let by the year, at moderate terms. Stabling for ten, it says."
"Are there any rooms?"
"Why, of course there are. It couldn't be called a neat gentleman's residence, without there were rooms. What a fellow you are, Stephen. Ten bedrooms."
He reverted to the advertisements. "There's a great deal to be said for somewhere in the neighbourhood of Ware - three or four packs within reach, London only a day's ride away, and neat gentlemen's residences by the dozen, all standing upon gravel. You'll go snacks with me, Stephen? We'll take Bonden, Killick, Lewis and perhaps one or two other old Sophies, and ask some of the youngsters to come and stay. We'll lay in beer and skittles - it will be Fiddler's Green".
*At Longbourn, near Meryton*
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a naval officer in possession of a good sum of prize money, must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such an officer may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "I have had some more good news since hearing of the arrival of that rich young man Mr. Bingley who is to take Netherfield Park, have you heard that Purvis Lodge is also let at last?"
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Phillips has just been here, and she told me all about it."
Mr. Bennet made no answer.
"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried his wife impatiently.
"*You* want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Phillips says that Purvis Lodge is taken by a naval officer of good birth and of large fortune from the southwest of England; that he came down with a companion on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Phillips immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas."
"What is his name?"
"Is he married or single?"
"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single officer; with a large fortune in prize money and many handsome young naval officer friends to be sure. What a fine thing for our girls!"
"How so? How can it affect them?"
"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of him or his friends marrying any of them that Mr. Bingley does not choose."
*At the Meryton Assembly Hall*
Shortly after the influx of so many young men in the neighbourhood, Meryton was fortunate to host an assembly and the new arrivals were eagerly anticipated by the young ladies, though there was some concern that Mr. Bingley would be bringing a large party of unattached ladies from town.
The girls grieved over such a number of ladies, but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve Mr. Bingley brought only his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man. Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having a fine estate in Derbyshire and ten thousand a year.
The party from Purvis Lodge consisted of only two, a large, jovial and handsome young officer, though a bit scarred about the ears. He had long golden hair carefully clubbed and wore a fine naval uniform. His small and dark visaged companion was indifferently dressed with an old fashioned bob wig. The town gossip had already determined that "Lucky" Jack Aubrey was one of those naval captains who had made a fortune in prize money in the Mediterranean and that he was the gentleman son of General Aubrey who owned a pretty estate in Dorset or Devon. His companion was more mysterious, though it was known that Dr. Maturin was a learned Irishman, a true physician not a mere apothecary or naval surgeon despite his dishevelled and unprepossessing appearance and possibly someone's natural son.
Mr. Bingley and Captain Aubrey soon made themselves acquainted with all the principal people in the room and danced every dance, though it became obvious that a certain degree of competition arose over the lovely person of Miss Bennet, acknowledged in Meryton as the most beautiful young lady in the neighbourhood. Both gentlemen requested her company for two dances and made great efforts to outperform the other in their elegance and conversation. Mr. Bingley's companions made a less favourable impression. Mr. Hurst danced once with his wife and then repaired to the card room while Mr. Darcy displayed a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent much of the evening in silently walking about the room. Mr. Bingley's sisters also showed disdain for the populace and avoided making conversation with the other attendees. Dr. Maturin although he seemed to blend into the background was very attentive to those about him and had short conversations with many of the townspeople and was generally acknowledged to be agreeable if a bit eccentric. The doctor was not seen to dance with any young lady, however.
While Captain Aubrey was engaged with Miss Bennet, Mr. Bingley approached his friend to press him to join the dancing.
"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Mr. Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty."
"You and that naval officer have been dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable."
Mr. Darcy turned and was about to decline Bingley's suggestion rather rudely when Dr. Maturin suddenly approached the young lady, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and asked her to dance. Smiling at him, she agreed.
Mr. Darcy took a longer look as the couple made their way on to the floor. He noted the reptilian stare that Dr. Maturin was giving him and refrained from making the rather cutting remark that had been about to emerge from his lips.
"She is quite attractive, is she not, Bingley. Rather fine eyes I perceive. Perhaps I should make her acquaintance after all."
When the dance was over and Dr. Maturin had returned Miss Elizabeth to her friends, she was pleasantly surprised when the tall, dark and wealthy Mr. Darcy approached her and asked her to stand up with him in the next dance which offer she accepted. However, the rather impertinent young lady could not forebear from making a comment about his earlier attitude.
"Why Mr. Darcy, we ladies were coming to believe that you did not find any of us tolerable enough to dance with."
Mr. Darcy coloured slightly and then replied, "Miss Elizabeth, first impressions can change, you know."
*(First Impressions was the initial title of Jane Austen's novel which was eventually published 200 years ago this year as Pride and Prejudice)*