This is a repeat performance from the archives from my dear friend, Joana Starnes, who gives us a brief look at London’s Green Park, which plays a pivotal role in Ms. Starnes’s Austen-inspired The Second Chance: A Pride and Prejudice/Sense and Sensibility Variation .
When drawn to Jane Austen’s world, we readers attempt to find glimpses of Regency London, but sadly we are often disappointed. Two hundred years have elapsed, bringing along hordes of Victorian improvements, air raids, the dreaded 1960s-70s, also known as the ‘decades that taste forgot’, and the necessary growth of a city which could not be expected to remain frozen in time – much as some of us would have liked it to!
Green Park and Piccadilly are no exception. No longer associated with the glamour of Devonshire House, long demolished, the junction between Piccadilly and Berkeley Street is now known for the glitz and glamour of The Ritz. Many other townhouses that customarily graced this area are no longer standing, or are substantially altered.
The only mansion that seems unchanged is the one overlooking Green Park: Spencer House, built by the ancestors of Diana, Princess of Wales. Alongside it runs the Queen’s Walk, that used to be greatly favoured in Jane Austen’s time and also before then, as a place to see and be seen.
Green Park is virtually featureless these days – but a very different vista would have opened before one’s eyes in the early 1800s. A wide open space, not quite so cluttered with trees and allowing a good view of Queen’s Palace, later to become Buckingham Palace. At the other end of the Park, near Piccadilly, one could still see the Queen’s Basin, a reservoir that provided water for St James’s Palace and was adorned with a tall sprinkling fountain. And further down Queen’s Walk stood the Queen’s Library – all named in honour of Queen Caroline, wife of George II.
There is a large collection of engravings on the British Museum website. If you follow the link, the viewer will see one that shows what Mr. Darcy might have seen, if he strolled into Green Park: the reservoir and fountain, the path leading to the Queen’s Library to the left, and Westminster Abbey in the distance.
In my own works of fiction, I’ve chosen to believe that Mr Darcy’s townhouse would have been in Berkeley Square, quite close to Grosvenor Square, Miss Bingley’s oh-so-fashionable address; also very close to the glamorous Devonshire House and Lansdowne House, and a few doors down from Mr. Canning, the Foreign Secretary who fought a duel on Wimbledon Common with Lord Castlereagh, the then Secretary of State for War, over a difference of opinion regarding the Peninsular Campaign – hard as it might be nowadays to imagine politicians settling their differences in this manner!
So, why am I taking you on this trip down memory lane? Just to show the setting of an excerpt from my latest book ‘The Second Chance’.
Hoping for a modicum of peace in times of deep regrets, uncertainty and anguish, Mr. Darcy wanders off from his house to stroll through Berkeley Square, under the same plane trees that Jane Austen herself might have walked past, on her way to Gunther’s, the famous pastry-shop.
And then he makes his way towards Green Park and, unbeknownst to him, towards a most fortuitous encounter…
~ ** ~
EXCERPT from The Second Chance: Bingley had not written yet, of course! He would sooner travel to town on foot than set pen to paper, Darcy thought with more than the customary irritation. The very notion that he was wasting precious days because he did not know where he should seek her was driving him to distraction!
Was travelling to Netherfield his only option, then – to go and ask Bingley, face to face? He frowned, knowing full well he would, if it came to that, though heaven knows how he was to justify such a drastic course of action to his friend without giving rise to speculations or, worse still, to questions that he had no answers for!
Darcy stopped pacing and dropped the post back on his desk. He lowered himself in the great chair and rubbed his temples. He had spent a large part of the morning poring over estate business, and the struggle to give it his undivided attention had brought on a headache. As with everything in recent months, it was impossible to give anything his undivided attention!
He cast another glance at his papers, then pushed them from him and stood. It was no use, and he was getting nowhere! He rubbed his temples again. He needed a respite – from his papers, from this house, from himself!
He should go out. To his club? Nay, he could not bear it! To Hatchard’s, perhaps? Or his favourite small bookseller’s in York Street? Pall Mall maybe, to buy some music for his sister, to follow the pianoforte he had recently acquired for her – although he knew full well that gifts would not compensate for his absence, nor would they assuage his guilt for having left her for so long with none but Mrs. Annesley for company. Still, it could not be helped. At least this time he had assured himself that the lady was eminently trustworthy and it was plain to see that Georgiana was very comfortable with her.
Darcy sighed. He knew that although he ought to, he could not return to Pemberley. Not yet. Perhaps the answer was to ask his sister if she would be willing to travel to town sometime soon.
He walked to the window and pushed the curtains aside, then opened one of the small casements. There was some rain in the early morning, but then most of the clouds were blown away. The gust of fresh air that brushed over his face was cool and pleasantly refreshing. A walk? Perhaps. It might settle his headache. Aye. A walk would suit him very well indeed!
Darcy took a deep breath as the heavy door of his London home closed behind him and finished putting on his gloves. He pondered his direction for a moment, and then he shrugged. Anywhere would do. Green Park was the nearest, and the Queen’s Library ensconced there, in a small pavilion, was proven well-worth visiting in the past.
He ambled along Berkeley Street, crossed the noisy madness that was Piccadilly and wandered into Green Park through the tall wrought-iron gates. He walked slowly past the Reservoir, his gaze wandering over the wide expanse of green, broken here and there by lime trees and tall chestnuts. He smiled to himself, safe in the knowledge that although the Queen’s Walk might be fashionable with some, the time of day was anything but, and he would not be plagued by encounters with the denizens of the West End and their progeny.
He regretted for a brief moment that he had not taken his latest purchase from York Street with him. It would have been quite pleasant to find an unobtrusive bench and enjoy a good book and a moment’s peace, if any could be found!
Seemingly, the notion had occurred to at least two others. Just in front of him, on a quiet alley, two young ladies appeared absorbed in their books. Or perhaps not so absorbed. One of them, suddenly distracted, abandoned her volume on the seat, stood and moved a few steps away from her companion, only to turn and look into the sky, her palm sheltering her eyes from the sunlight.
What was she looking for, Darcy wondered, his curiosity piqued despite himself. Clouds? Swallows? Were there any young ladies left in London who would show an interest in something so mundane as a lovely day? Or indeed an interest in anything at all, rather than exuding what was deemed to be a highly fashionable ennui?
Darcy looked again, then stared. It must be another figment of his imagination, surely! It could not possibly be–…!
“Elizabeth? By God, Elizabeth!” his voice came in a quiet whisper and before he knew how it came about, he found himself a few steps from her, his countenance unrestrainedly suffused in all the joy such a fortuitous encounter brought him.
“Miss Bennet! What a wonderful surprise!” he said, before he could even attempt to remember common civility, or his habitual reserve – only to find to his extreme mortification that he immediately followed it with, “You are looking remarkably well!”
‘Good grief!’, he mentally chastised himself. Could he possibly have been more gauche?
Why, yes, in fact. He could have said ‘You look even more beautiful than I remembered’, which were the very words on his mind at the time, he futilely reasoned.
The unexpected encounter and his surprisingly warm welcome made Elizabeth more open in her greeting than she might otherwise have been. Instead of a restrained curtsy, she offered him her hand. Darcy took it, belatedly remembering to bow over it, and the cheeks of both were overspread with the deepest blush. Darcy nervously cleared his voice and looked away, then down at his feet.
But no, this would not do! This unexpected, wonderful chance! What fool would waste it on mere commonplaces? He swallowed and, uncharacteristically, threw reserve and caution to the wind as he offered quietly but earnestly:
“I consider myself very fortunate to have happened upon this spot, Miss Bennet. ‘Tis far too long since I had the pleasure of seeing you.”
“Indeed, it has been a while, Sir.”
“Over seven months, I believe. We have not met since the 26th of November, when I had the honour of dancing with you at Netherfield.”
Elizabeth looked up in surprise to find his memory so exact and for a few brief moments their eyes met, before she looked away. His openness of manner was nothing short of extraordinary and although she found it pleasing, Elizabeth knew not what to make of it.
~ ** ~
I wonder, what do you make of it? If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like more details about this and my other books, they can be found here: Books by Joana Starnes or at http://www.joanastarnes.co.uk/
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