[INT. MRS. PHILLIPS’s parlour, a simple but elegant room currently aglow with the aftermath of a dinner party. ELIZABETH BENNET is taking advantage of the noisy musical background to converse with a new client.]
GEORGE WICKHAM (his hands spread out earnestly) : … and there it is, in a nutshell: a case all but perfect in its hopelessness. I know how the bequest stands: my late godfather, Darcy’s father, showed me his will a year ago when he had it drafted. But it is now in Darcy’s hands, his solicitor not having scrupled to let him retain it. And since Darcy cannot, nay, will not produce it…
ELIZABETH BENNET: Surely this is against the law?
WICKHAM: I have seeked legal redress. Alas, neither my purse nor my good name will stand the cost of a courtroom skirmish against one such as Darcy. (A pause.) The son of Lady Anne would invoke privilege of peerage, and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh…
ELIZABETH (bristling at the name): Lady Catherine!
WICKHAM: … has been known to entertain the county justice over a game of piquet. Oh! but I forget - you know of her already. Indeed, 'twas news of your success in outwitting her that brought me to Meryton.
ELIZABETH: What, good news travelling fast? Impossible!
WICKHAM (laughing): Bad news for Her Ladyship, I understand.
ELIZABETH: Ah, well. Her Ladyship should have stuck to piquet instead of fancying a game of Matching Pairs. Two months ago she laid down an abominable suit for a close friend of mine, on behalf of a dunce. [Warmly ] My dear Charlotte acquainted me with the match. I protested; indeed, I cried out... saw her liberty, her very happiness at stake… both of ourselves robbed of the comfort of… an intimacy such as… [Quickly ] In short, my resolution was formed: I would take the last trick.
WICKHAM: How game of you!
ELIZABETH: It is an advantage, Mr. Wickham, to belong to a family with a tarnished good name. My mother laments her single daughters; yet was glad enough when our tricks and stratagems single-handedly broke the entail, restoring Longbourn to her. But of this another time!
WICKHAM: Sometimes, scoundrels make the best saints. But is not there a limit to your accomplishments? If it pleases Darcy to withhold the will, no power on earth can make him display it. That bequest is a dead-end quest - pray forgive my desperate wit.
ELIZABETH: Wit I always pardon; desperation, not so much. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! My sisterhood will be happy to procure it for you.
[A close-up on Wickham’s face, speechless with gratitude.]
ELIZABETH (turning to face the audience): Those of fortune and consequence take as they please. What they steal, we retrieve for you. My sister Mary deems arrogance a common failing among the great; I say it deserves a sip of its own medecine. We provide… BEVERAGE.
[The background harpsichord strikes an upbeat tune, introducing us to the Bennets’ Ever Vigilant Enterprise to Right the Aggravating Gentry’s Exactions and its five members: Jane, Mary, Lydia, Kitty, and their leader, Elizabeth.]
[INT. LONGBOURN. Mr. BENNET’s study, leased over to his daughters’ vigilante society on the mornings when he is busy at the farm. The young ladies are seated around MARY, who points at various papers spread out and pinned to the wainscoting.]
MARY (pointing at an engraved portrait): Fitzgerald Darcy, Esquire. Debrett’s teaches us that he is of ancient stock with an estate of ten thousand pounds to his name; on-dit says he hardly ever entertains at home. [She directs her pointer to an extensive plan of Pemberley] However, papa has - not very graciously - agreed to borrow Rural Improvements, or, Hertfordshire Displayed In a Series of Engravings of the County Estates, Parks, Houses, &c., With Critical, Topographical and Architectural Illustrations from Clarke’s library. The section on Pemberley comprises seventeen pages -
LYDIA: Lord! I cannot be expected to memorize them, I declare.
MARY: No need, sister. I have made extracts of the relevant plans.
ELIZABETH: What of his character? There has to be a breach in that well-moated pride of his.
JANE: He has a younger sister whom he dearly loves. Are we sure that our client is not mistaken? A man capable of such affection…
ELIZABETH: Jane, dear. You thought Mr. Collins a victim, too, until Lydia caught him…
LYDIA (flippant): … in a nice hot game of back gammon with Her Ladyship, if you catch my drift.
ELIZABETH: Well, Her Ladyship does credit herself with “a very good notion of fingering”.
MARY: My dear sisters, you will not find Mr. Darcy reaping those wages of sin. He professes no regard for ladies young or old, but, like myself, values the merits of books, music and bachelorhood.
LYDIA (meaningfully): P’raps he likes back gammon, too. [Kitty mews on her lap] Aye, his… friend Bingley has been staying for ever at Pemberley.
JANE: That would be to his credit, should there be true feelings of the heart.
ELIZABETH: Well, it was one thing to dress Lydia up as a nice gushing lady’s maid. Somehow I doubt that we can pass her off as a nice gushing valet. [Lydia pats her curvy assets self-complacently ] What of his tastes and pursuits?
MARY: By all that I have read and heard, I would situate Mr. Darcy’s foible in his very home. He is justly proud of it and looks to improve its twenty-four rooms. [Points to the connected rooms on a plan ] Drawing-room, dining-room, smoking-room, morning-room, library, music-room, sitting-room…
ELIZABETH: Hold on! A library, say you? [Mary points to it again ] The will is there, I wager. You know the old country saying - where does the wise man hide a leaf? [ Kitty mews] In a forest - quite right, Kitty. It is all important that we access that library. But how? [Thinks some more] How old is the sister?
MARY: Sixteen. Skilled at her music. He is said to be looking for a pianoforte for her… [Meets Elizabeth’s eye and recoils in horror] Not my pianoforte!
ELIZABETH (implacable): The music room is adjacent to the library, a felicitous arrangement. After all, he already thinks us a disreputable lot - why not launch a fudge that we are in need of pin money and keen on selling our precious, our unrivalled mahogany instrument?
JANE (to Mary): Only as a temporary wile, dear. And you could offer a demonstration?
MARY (her eyes lighting up): Then I shall make sure to keep him in the room for… [ browses her repertoire ] fifty-three minutes. That should leave you ample time to locate the will.
ELIZABETH: Aye, he probably keeps the library under lock. Think you can retrieve the key for us? [Enthusiastic mewing ] Good, excellent good! Lydia will take you to the music room in her reticule.
LYDIA: What of his current guests? Miss Bingley never walks anywhere but to join him - at the hip, if only she could. And she is a busybody of the first water.
ELIZABETH: One of us must be taken ill, then, and cause a distraction.
JANE: I could -
ELIZABETH: No, Jane, I need you with me. Lydia, this is where you come in. Swoon, cry, do whatever it takes, but keep the lady dis-incrustated from Darcy for the better part of an hour.
LYDIA: That’ll be a sterling piece of fun!
ELIZABETH (rising with determination): Now let us go and steal a will.
[INT. PEMBERLEY. DARCY’s drawing-room, a vast, well-lit room currently occupied by three people: DARCY, his sister GEORGIANA, and MISS BINGLEY. They are seated in flawless, near frozen deportment, each stirring a spoon in an early morning cup of tea.]
MISS BINGLEY: Sugar, Mr. Darcy?
DARCY: No, I thank you.
MISS BINGLEY: Miss Darcy, sugar?
GEORGIANA (startled, drops her spoon): N… no, thank you, Miss Bingley.
[A pause. But Miss Bingley will not be deterred in her attempt at the Fine Art of Conversation.]
MISS BINGLEY: The sun is quite high in the sky, is it not?
DARCY: As is its wont in summer, yes.
MISS BINGLEY: But the rain stays mainly in the plain.
DARCY: I dare say that it may - in Spain.
MISS BINGLEY (once more unto the breach): Biscuit, Mr Darcy?
[Before he can answer, a tall footman steps into the room]
FOOTMAN: A Miss Bennet to see you, sir. Also a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet, Miss Lydia Bennet, and a pianoforte.
DARCY (rising with suspicious alacrity): Ah! Show them to the music-room, Chambers.
MISS BINGLEY: Truly, an infestation of Bennets! Are you certain that you want to expose your sister to them, Mr. Darcy? I believe them most unfit company for dear Georgiana.
DARCY: Undoubtedly. And you would therefore oblige me in bestowing your own upon her, while I see to this little musical matter.
MISS BINGLEY: Oh… but… if the pianoforte is for your sister’s use, perhaps she had better try it in your presence. I shall be glad to attend, in case one of these ill-bred girls tries familiarity while you anatomize the instrument.
GEORGIANA: I do not know that -
MR DARCY: Should your brother -
MISS BINGLEY (appropriating his arm): Oh, Charles will not be down before an hour. You know what an idle fellow he is - and not one to put the food of love over a hearty breakfast. You and I, on the other hand…
[Cut to the music-room, a charming period piece already filled with a harp, a flute, a guitar and a few chairs with petit-point tapestry. It has three doors - one, on the left wall, leading to the library; one, opposite, leading to Georgiana’s sitting-room; and the main door, that opens onto the passage outside. Chambers and another footman are carrying MARY’s pianoforte from the passage into the room, followed by DARCY, GEORGIANA, MISS BINGLEY and the BEVERAGE team. LYDIA is dressed extravagantly, with an immense reticule hanging on her arm.]
CHAMBERS: Here in the centre, sir?
MARY: Certainly not. Are you acquainted with D’Alembert’s sound theory, Miss Darcy? No? Pity. He recommends to place the instrument close to a wall, for the wave equation issuing from the strings to bounce and resonate to the happiest effect. [Points to the left wall] Here.
DARCY (to GEORGIANA): Will it please you try it, sister?
[But GEORGIANA, petrified by MARY’s D’Alembert expertise, remains stock-still]
ELIZABETH (pleasantly): I fear this is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Or rather, too many musicians in the room. With your permission, sir - no, no, stay where you are -, my sister and I will enjoy the wave equation from the passage. Good-bye!
[She curtsies and quickly steps out with JANE.]
MARY (seating herself at the pianoforte): Pray observe the ivory keys, how they lend themselves to a woman’s delicate touch. [A robust arpeggio] Miss Darcy, are you more inclined towards pious or worldly music?
GEORGIANA: I - I - both, I think?
MARY: Then you will find that it excels in the minor chords, those suited to a devotional purpose. Let me demonstrate with Psalm 42. Lydia, my scores?
[LYDIA saunters up to the piano and opens her reticule, leaning forward to hide KITTY, who leaps to the floor and burrows under MARY’s skirts.]
MARY (loudly, so as to be heard from the passage): As the deer pa-a-a-ants for the water…
[INT. PASSAGE ]
ELIZABETH: Psalm 42! [She falls to her knees in front of the library door ]
[INT. MUSIC-ROOM ]
MARY: … So my soul ne-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ds you, Lord…
[In synch with Mary’s stern trill, Kitty scuttles along the wall, unobserved; leaps onto the harp and clambers up its pillar, then stretches her limber body until she has reached the window-sill. The bottom pane of the sash window has been pulled up to let in the fresh morning air: Kitty slips out. We follow her course along the window ledge, before she catapults herself onto the next window - that of the library .
[INT. LIBRARY. We discover that delightful room, the work of many generations, from KITTY’s point of view: row upon row of books, forming a vertiginous downward perspective. ]
MARY’s voice, carried over from the music-room : … I need you Lord! I need you Lord! I NEED you Lord!
[Pursued by Psalm 42, KITTY scampers down the bookcase and across the room. The main door is, indeed, locked up, with the key still in the lock: the DARCYs tend to access the library from the adjacent morning-room. KITTY’s next somersault lands her on the door: she clasps her forepaws around the knob and retrieves the key in her mouth.
[EXT. PASSAGE. ELIZABETH, kneeling, spots the key as it is pushed under the door. She picks it, jumps to her feet, unlocks the door, and enters the library with JANE. ]
ELIZABETH: Pitty-pat-perfect, Kitty! [KITTY leaps onto her shoulder] Now for our claim on tranquillity. [She raps twice on the library’s right wall]
[ INT. MUSIC-ROOM. MARY is close enough to the left wall to pick up the signal. She pauses, then resumes in a much higher key.]
MARY: Quench our hearts… [LYDIA, fiddling with her dress, has missed her cue. MARY repeats the line shrilly.] Quench our hearts, and fill this space with…
LYDIA: Ooops! I’ll kick up the lark. [Filling the space] OH, LORD! LA! OOH LA LA!
GEORGIANA: Are you not well, Miss Lydia?
LYDIA (doing a fine imitation of her mother): My nerves, oh, my poor nerves! It’s that dratted high D, always does me in. Oh, nobody knows what I suffer!
[She turns and half faints into MISS BINGLEY’s less than altruistic arms.]
GEORGIANA: Where should we take you? These chairs are not for lying down.
MISS BINGLEY: She had best go home. Surely, that farmer of theirs is still around with his cart?
DARCY (rising) : Do let me get your sisters for you -
LYDIA: Nay, don’t! They will scold, and I cannot endure scolding. ‘Tis nothing, a mere touch of the headache. [Fanning herself with the score] If you would be so kind… a bit of a lie-down and a dollop of vinaigrette should do the trick… ooooooh….
GEORGIANA: Let us take you to my sitting-room. Dear Miss Bingley, do you happen to have any stimulant?
MISS BINGLEY (aside): Stimulants for a simulant, forsooth. We had better stay with her - I do believe the girl is up to a scheme.
GEORGIANA: Oh, surely not…
[Together they half coax, half drag the limp LYDIA to the next room.]
DARCY: I really ought to -
MARY (quickly): Of course, this instrument can accommodate the more trifling tunes. Note how the second pedal softens the harmonics, notably when seconding a French song. [ Launches into a new aria] Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre, miroton, miroton, mirontaine…
[Civility forces DARCY back onto his seat. Meanwhile…]
[INT. LIBRARY. Elizabeth is inspecting the books while Jane keeps a general lookout. Mary’s voice can be heard across the right wall, soldiering through the Malbrough song.]
ELIZABETH: Oh, good, it’s Malbroogh Goes To War - fifteen stanzas!
JANE: Dear Mary, always so reliable.
ELIZABETH: Now, which tree among this venerable forest? [Thinks] A will would be large-sized - larger than your average octavo. And it would be the hardest thing to hide, especially a rich man’s testament, that might cover several sheets. Depend upon it, our good luck lies in the quartos. [She leans forward, since the quartos are stocked in the lower shelves] Hmmm. For all his conceit and villainy, Darcy is no fool. His books are arranged in an orderly fashion, according to both format and matter - he would not pick one haphazardly. And he is proud. Proud of his lineage, proud of his name, that was his father’s before him. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
JANE: There are no Fitz quartos that I can think of.
ELIZABETH: But there is, in every library, a William quarto holding pride of place. [Points to an exquisitely bound collection of Shakespeare’s works] Strong india paper, the same as is used by our lawyers for their clean copies. What better cache -
JANE: Lizzy! Hide!
[ELIZABETH has only time to huddle against the corner of the bookcase before the door to the morning-room opens fully, letting in MR. BINGLEY. Instead of hiding, JANE steps right up to him.]
BINGLEY (stunned by her beauty): Oh!
JANE (softly): I do beg your pardon if I startled you.
BINGLEY: Not at all. That is, you did, but it proved a startlingly pleasant start for my day. Miss Bennet, I believe? [bows] Charles Bingley, at your service.
JANE (still advancing upon him): How good of you, Mr Bingley. I was sent to fetch some vinaigrette for my younger sister; she was taken a little ill in the music-room, as Miss Georgiana entertained us.
BINGLEY: If I may be of help…
JANE: Oh, but I would be loath to incommode you.
BINGLEY (reeling under Jane’s Uppercut of Kindness): Not at all. In fact, Miss Bennet, it would be a remarkably good deed on your part to enable mine. Do let me take you to the housekeeper.
JANE: Thank you, sir; I value the full benefit of your aid.
[Utterly and completely smitten, BINGLEY offers his arm; they cross into the morning-room .
[ELIZABETH waits until the door has closed again and, KITTY still on her shoulder, hastens back to the Shakespeare shelf. She retrieves the first quarto, opens it - nothing. But in the second quarto, nestled between the cover and the end-paper…]
ELIZABETH (retrieving a distinct sheet of paper): Hooray! Where there’s a Will…
[She begins to read the document, and her eyes widen. So focused is she that she lets the heavy quarto slip between her fingers and crash to the floor. Kitty, startled, mews loudly.
[INT. Music-room. MARY hears the boom and mew, and, too late, tries to cover them with a discordant chord.
[DARCY, not to be distracted, rises from his chair, strides over to the partition door, and flings it wide open.
[The scene is revealed to him as it is to us: the Shakespeare Quarto lying open on the floor - KITTY pawing at its pages - while ELIZABETH stands, her mouth agape, the incriminating document in her hands.]
[INT. MERYTON's Inn, where a very jittery WICKHAM is pacing the parlour.]
THE INNKEEPER (opening the door): Here’s the gentleman, Ma'am.
ELIZABETH: Thank you. Pray leave the door open for propriety’s sake. [Curtsying to WICKHAM] Well met, Mr. Wickham! I trust that I find you in good, if impatient, health?
WICKHAM: Thank God! I have been half dead with fright on your behalf. I have every trust in your wit and courage, but there has been a rumour, since yesterday, of a fracas at Pemberley…
ELIZABETH: Pooh! Much ado about nothing. And now to business. (She opens the large reticule we last saw on Lydia’s arm and takes out a single sheet of india paper. Showing him the recto side, with the inscription) Will you turn your eyes on this and tell me if you recognize it?
[WICKHAM’s eyes light up at the sight.]
ELIZABETH (pointing to the broken seal): A family seal, I reckon?
WICKHAM: Yes, the strong-headed eagle, its beak elevated... the Darcy emblem. My godfather sealed the wax with his signet ring before me.
ELIZABETH: Good. And the hand…?
WICKHAM: … is that of his solicitor at the time. See you the twirl in his e’s? A distinctive mark, which I recall to this day.
ELIZABETH: Ah, yes. The twirling e. How lucky, Mr Wickham, that you should have stored it in memory. [The door, left ajar by the innkeeper, opens silently to let in MARY, LYDIA and KITTY.] Mary, pray dot the e’s for us.
MARY (scholarlily): The twirling e belongs to the Spiral Hand, a new and, to my mind, entirely frivolous variation on the English Roundhand, that was launched about a fortnight ago. It was brought to my attention by -
LYDIA: - me! Mrs. Forster says it’s the latest thing, and sure to have a wicked success with the Ton.
ELIZABETH: Hear you this, Mr. Wickham? A fortnight ago. There is no possibility that Mr Darcy’s solicitor might have inscribed his will in a Spiral hand. Not a year ago, when his client allegedly showed it to you.
WICKHAM: I do not understand. Whose side are you on, now? Did Darcy trick you into -
ELIZABETH: Nay, sir. The stratagem is all mine - and Mary’s. My sister excels at calligraphy; she had no difficulty in penning this more… fashionable inscription for me. As you can see [turning the sheet over to display a blank side] I only requested her skill for the recto.
WICKHAM (sneering): After you allied yourself with Darcy. So much for crying out against the rich and mighty, Miss Bennet!
ELIZABETH: I cry out against injustice, Mr. Wickham, which comes in many stripes. Or so I have found lately.
[A flashback scene in white and black takes us back to the Pemberley library, at the exact moment when DARCY flung the door open.]
DARCY (not one to garble his phraseology, even in anger): Pray do not think me unreasonable, Miss Bennet, if I ask how, and to what purpose, you have trespassed into the very sanctum of my estate.
ELIZABETH (rising from the floor): Sir, I have been misled!
[DARCY is left speechless.]
ELIZABETH: Even as I misled you! [Shows him the document] This I took for a paper that would right a wrong - your father’s will, which Mr. Wickham assured me held a bequest granted to him by the scriptor and denied by you -
DARCY: Denied? I gave him three thousand pounds in this very room!
ELIZABETH (urgently): Against signature? In presence of a witness?
DARCY: No, and no. I am not in the habit of conducting family business -
ELIZABETH: Oh! You nincompoop!
DARCY: I beg your pardon?!
ELIZABETH: He would have me steal the will, supposedly to enact justice… though I am now convinced his meaning was to twist it in such a way as to lay claim of the sum again, since you could not have brought proof of previous execution.
DARCY: The rogue! But what made you change your mind?
ELIZABETH: This. [Hands him the document] Which I found where he must have hid it at the time - Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. 'Tis in his hand, a most indecent proposal for your sister to - pardon my frankness - elope with him at night.
ELIZABETH: Thank God, it appears to have been either missed or ignored by her.
DARCY (looking at her): And now by you. I find it rather… admirable that you should choose to return this paper.
ELIZABETH (proudly): I have vowed my wit to repairing injury, sir. When it is done to a gentlewoman, and, by extension, her relatives, I see no reason to alter my principle.
MARY (popping her head round the door): And by this we learn that lack and strength of principle may coexist in human nature.
ELIZABETH: Mary! Quick, come inside. I have a notion, sir, that may put an end to Wickham’s mischief… if you will trust me.
[DARCY, who has been perusing Wickham’s proposal with disgust, nods slowly.]
DARCY: What can be done - what can be attempted? I shall not suffer a third attempt to ruin my family.
ELIZABETH: First, answer me this. Is the will with you in Pemberley?
DARCY (pointing at the last Shakespeare quarto): Try King Lear. I moved it there after I let the ingrate feed on my father’s bounty.
[ELIZABETH smiles as she retrieves the book - and the will.]
ELIZABETH (quoting King Lear): The gods are just, sir, if a little playful. Now, to confound Wickham, I only need one more thing...
[We then cut back to the present, as DARCY strides into the inn’s parlour, the county justice on his heels.]
DARCY: And confounded he is. (To the justice) Do you have proof enough, sir?
THE JUSTICE (counting the Beverage members): Indeed. A cloud of witnesses here, if the young ladies will agree to testify in court.
LYDIA: Gracious, yes! I shall laugh like anything! (The justice signals for the officers of the law to come and lead Wickham away.)
ELIZABETH: Mr. Darcy, here is your signet ring - with due thanks. (DARCY takes the ring, but does not put it back on his finger. He holds it, gazing at her admiringly.) Be warned that I decline all offers of marriage from Monday morn to Saturday night, Sabbath not excepted.
DARCY: Oh. (He slips the ring back, a little vexed.)
ELIZABETH: Let not your pride be hurt, sir, by my honest confession. In fact, I have a counter-proposal.
ELIZABETH: I suspect that my sister Jane will leave us in the near future.
DARCY (smiling): You foresee an alliance with the foe?
ELIZABETH: And shall endure it gladly for her sake... if I may.
DARCY (reading her): You will not find me an opponent to gladness, Miss Bennet.
ELIZABETH: Spoken like a gentleman! And since her departure will leave a position in our midst… (DARCY blinks) … I cannot but reflect on the advantage of knowing one so highly-connected that he may observe, and relay, the manner in which his connections importune others... as he himself was importuned.
MARY: A commendable thought, sister.
LYDIA: Aye, he can be the Spyer!
[KITTY mews her approval, as ELIZABETH laughs, MARY nods, and DARCY - very tentatively - considers becoming an honorary Bennet.]