Starting with this chapter, you will find references to musical performances by our two starring musicians. You’ll find information about each song in footnotes, as well as (for some) sampling links. You will find links to Spotify playlists on the About the Music page.
Dinner was finished at last. William jumped to his feet with the alacrity of a convict making a jailbreak.
“Where are you going?” Caroline called out, scrambling from her chair to follow him. “I thought that horrid Bennet woman would never stop talking, but we’re free of her now. Why don’t we go for a nice stroll in the courtyard?” She placed a proprietary hand on his arm.
He withdrew his arm from her grasp. “I’m supposed to play for the guests soon. Excuse me.”
Shrieks issued from a nearby table; Kitty and Lydia were whooping with laughter at something, probably understood only by them. Charlotte Lucas rose from the table, accompanied by the man seated beside her. She smiled at William and deftly steered her companion in his direction.
“Hi, William,” she said. “How was dinner at your table?”
“A bit quieter than yours, though not much.”
She chuckled. “Mrs. Bennet does like to talk, but she means well. She’s always been kind to me. William, I don’t think you’ve met Roger Stonefield, the drummer for Golden Gate Jazz. Roger, this is William Darcy.”
The men shook hands. “I understand you play a mean jazz piano,” Roger said.
William saw no point in denying his skill level. “Charles and I formed a jazz quartet while we were at Juilliard.”
“Maybe tomorrow at the reception you could sit in for our keyboard player for a while. You’ve met Bill Collins, right?”
William nodded grudgingly.
“Oh, great idea!” Charlotte said. “I bet the guests would get a kick out of that.”
“So would Bill,” Roger remarked with a sly grin. “I think he’d much rather flirt with Elizabeth than perform with us.”
William’s enthusiasm for playing with the group evaporated, but he did his best to maintain an impassive expression.
“Unfortunately for Bill, I can confirm that his feelings are not mutual.” Charlotte looked directly at William as she spoke. He wondered if she had read his mind.
Roger chuckled. “Poor guy. He isn’t exactly a chick magnet.” He shrugged. “Anyway, let me tell you about our set list; we can figure out where to slot you in.”
After a few minutes of jazz-musician shop talk, Charlotte and Roger excused themselves and headed for the bar. Alone once again, William absently watched a small dance band setting up in the front of the room.
Suddenly, Charles materialized beside him. “Will? Come here for a minute.” He drew William off to the side, away from the other guests. “Why did you say those things at dinner, about Elizabeth’s career?”
“I complimented her talent. What was wrong with that?”
“No, you didn’t. You said she was wasting her talent.”
“I said nothing of the kind.” William couldn’t understand why Charles seemed so agitated. “But she could have done so much more. I think highly of her abilities.”
“But not of her judgment, since you disapprove of her career choices.”
“She must agree with me; after all, she’s giving up Broadway to become a teacher.”
Charles shook his head. “You just don’t get it, do you? Suppose someone said you were a fool to pursue a classical music career. Wouldn’t you resent it?”
William shrugged. “It would be ridiculous for anyone to say that. I’ve been successful. Elizabeth hasn’t.”
“As you pointed out bluntly to her mother.” Charles shook his head. “You honestly don’t see anything wrong with what you said?”
“No, I don’t,” William replied, though doubt was creeping in.
“Well, I hope you didn’t offend Lizzy.”
“She wasn’t there.”
“She’ll hear about it from her mother, I’m sure.” Charles shook his head again. “I think you’d better apologize the first chance you get.”
Charles glanced across the room to a table where Jane and Mr. Bingley were seated. “Oh, oh. Father looks annoyed and Jane looks upset; I’d better get over there.” He sprinted away.
William considered Charles’s advice. Apologize? For saying that she had greater talent than she realized? But Charles seemed genuinely upset. William resolved to speak to Elizabeth after they both performed; such a simple misunderstanding, if one even existed, could be cleared up quickly.
He considered what to play for the guests. It should be something short and familiar, for the sake of people like Mrs. Bennet and Lydia, who would be unable to sit still for anything longer than the Minute Waltz. But it was also a chance to demonstrate his artistry. It was pointless to deny that he wanted to impress Elizabeth.
She was a mystery: by turns sarcastic, silent, and friendly. Their conversation in the car had gone well, yet she had ignored him since then. Perhaps she simply preferred to use her time to talk to her family and friends, whom she saw only rarely. And as for her friendly demeanor with Bill Collins, he worked at the conservatory where she hoped to get a job. If only she knew who could genuinely help her to make a good impression on Catherine de Bourgh! Perhaps he would have a chance to tell her soon.
Also, while some of his fans were aggressive and talkative, like the Webmistress at JFK airport, his presence intimidated others into nervous silence. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? She didn’t seem easily intimidated, but hero worship manifested itself in strange ways.
William leaned back and closed his eyes. He had almost drifted into a light sleep when two female voices disturbed the peace of the hallway.
“Imagine the money the Bingleys spent on this dinner. My sweet Jane has certainly done well for herself, hasn’t she?”
“Yes, Francie, she sure has.”
William stole a glance down the hall and saw Mrs. Bennet and her sister, Mrs. Phillips.
“She’s a smart girl,” Mrs. Bennet crowed. “I taught her well. I was thrilled when I found out she was dating a rich man, and I told her to hang onto him, no matter what. Annoying habits are easy to overlook if you have lots of money to distract you.”
Mrs. Phillips laughed.
“And Charles is sure to have some wealthy friends for the other girls,” Mrs. Bennet added.
“Like William Darcy.” William could almost hear Mrs. Phillips rubbing her hands together with glee.
“Exactly! They say his family is loaded. I’d love for one of the girls to catch him. But I think he’s got something going on with Charles’s sister.” Mrs. Bennet lowered her voice, but not enough to keep William from hearing. “She put her hand on his knee at dinner. Twice!”
Mrs. Phillips giggled. “Well, who can blame her; he’s a handsome one. But so is Charles.”
“Yes, Jane hit the jackpot—good looks and money! You should see the house he bought for her! He paid almost five million dollars. And it has all the most modern appliances, not to mention—”
Mrs. Phillips interrupted. “Tell me the rest in the ladies’ room. I want to powder my nose.”
Their voices faded, and William stood up, glowering. He hated gossip about himself and his family. Even worse was Mrs. Bennet’s rapacious attitude toward Charles’s money. Her remark about Jane echoed in his ears, confirming his worst fears: She’s a smart girl. I taught her well.
New voices echoed in the hallway. He saw Elizabeth and Bill Collins approaching, each holding a music book. Elizabeth’s eyes crackled with excitement. “Hello, William,” she said. “Ready to entertain the masses?”
He was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of her greeting, grateful for this proof that Charles’s warnings had been unnecessary. He smiled at her. “What are you going to sing?”
“A Gershwin song.” Her lips twitched. “I picked it with you in mind.”
Her eyes danced with merriment. “Yes. Well, are you going back in?”
He accompanied her into the Terrace Room and stood beside her for a moment, hoping to continue their conversation. His hopes were dashed when Bill whispered something to her, darting a glance in William’s direction. Elizabeth turned away and spoke to Bill in a low tone.
Charles approached, smiling broadly. “Ready?”
“I was just making sure the piano was in good condition. Please, let Elizabeth go first.” He took a seat at the table closest to the piano.
Bill, oozing self-importance, installed himself at the piano. Elizabeth stood close behind him, studying the music over his shoulder and chatting enthusiastically. She rested a hand on Bill’s shoulder to steady herself as she pointed to something in the middle of the page, and William felt a twinge of … envy? He shook his head involuntarily. He was a solo artist, and proud of that fact. Orchestras accompanied him; he didn’t accompany others.
But he imagined himself shoving Bill off the piano seat onto the floor, taking his place, and playing the introduction to a slow, sultry love song, maybe something like “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.”
In his imagination, Elizabeth stood behind him, her arms twining around his neck. As she began to sing the words of love and desire in her achingly beautiful voice, she slipped his jacket off his shoulders and removed his tie. Next, she unbuttoned his shirt slowly, her movements seductive, as she continued to sing. When her hands slipped inside his shirt and began to caress his chest, he abandoned any pretense of playing the piano. He spun around and pulled her onto his lap, capturing her lips in a searing kiss. She gasped at his boldness, but answered his passion with her own, burying her hands in his hair as she pressed her soft body urgently against his and—
At that moment, her eyes met his, and he looked away, humiliated by the possibility that she might have divined his thoughts. He couldn’t remember his libido ever running amok as it had today, not even in his teens. He knew dozens of women more beautiful and more sophisticated than Elizabeth, women of refinement who treated him with respect and interest, who catered to his feelings and wishes. How had this one dark-haired, green-eyed girl tied him in knots so quickly?
His reverie was interrupted by a hand on his shoulder; he identified its owner immediately from the long, red fingernails. “Where have you been?” Caroline purred. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
When he didn’t respond to her repeated question, she shrugged and claimed the chair next to his. “Oh, look,” she trilled. “It’s that girl with the fine eyes. What is she going to do?”
It seemed best to ignore her sarcasm. “She’s going to sing. Don’t you remember? Charles mentioned it at dinner.”
“I hoped he was joking.” She folded her arms over her chest and huffed, “Just what I want, a concert. I was hoping the band would start soon so you and I could dance the night away.”
“I’m going to perform, too.”
“Well, yes, of course, darling, but that’s different. You’re a world-renowned artist, not some pathetic little amateur.” She pronounced the last word with an affected French accent.
His eyes narrowed. “Elizabeth is very talented.”
“But she’s been a big, fat failure on Broadway,” Caroline said in a loud voice. “You said so yourself at dinner.”
He glanced sharply at Elizabeth, who fortunately showed no sign of having heard. “That’s not what I said.”
Charles stepped to the front of the room and called out, “Could I have your attention, please?”
The guests gradually fell silent. Some took seats at the tables while others stood in small clusters around the room. William heard a commotion in the back and turned to identify its source: Kitty and Lydia, holding two drinks each, scurrying out the door.
“Jane and I want to thank you for being here this weekend,” Charles said. “It means so much to have our families and friends with us. We hope you’ll enjoy the dancing that’s about to start, but before that, two accomplished musicians in our ranks have agreed to perform. First, we have my lovely future sister-in-law, Elizabeth Bennet.”
Elizabeth acknowledged the scattered applause with a smile. “I hope Jane and Charles will forgive me, but I’m not going to sing a gooey love song. I have something different planned. A tribute, you might say. As you know, we have a celebrity in our midst tonight, the world-famous concert pianist, William Darcy.”
He accepted the recognition with a calm half-smile and a dignified nod. This sort of thing happened frequently.
“He was kind enough to offer me some career guidance earlier this evening. And of course when someone of his stature gives you advice, it is wise to take heed.”
Her eyes bored into his, and his heart sank when he saw them blazing with anger. “This song is for you, William, to show you that I’m giving your advice all the consideration it deserves.” She gave the other audience members a conspiratorial wink.
In answer to her nod, Bill Collins began to play. She assumed a haughty expression, clasped her hands in front of her, and began to sing in an exaggerated operatic style:
Be off with your Irving Berlin.
Oh, I’d give no quarter to Kern or Cole Porter,
And Gershwin keeps pounding on tin.
How can I be civil
When hearing this drivel?
It’s only for night-clubbing souses.
Oh give me the free ’n easy
Waltz that is Viennes-y
And go tell the band
If they want a hand
The waltz must be Strauss’s
Ya ya ya
Give me oom pah pah …
When I want a melody
Lilting through the house
Then I want a melody
It laughs, it sings
The world is in rhyme
Swinging to three-quarter time
Let the Danube flow along
And The Fledermaus!
Keep the wine and give me song
By Jove, By Jing!
By Strauss is the thing
So I say to ha cha cha
Just give me an oom pah pah
She was an accomplished comic actress as well as a fine singer, and she had the party guests chuckling throughout. But William stared at the parquet floor beneath his feet, unable to meet her eyes. That she was angry with him was bad enough, but in addition, she was publicly mocking him.
When the song ended, she accepted the enthusiastic applause with practiced grace and then moved into the crowd, joining a circle that included Charlotte and most of Golden Gate Jazz. Bill Collins followed anxiously in her wake, like an awkward duckling waddling after its mother. Laughter rang out from the group, and William was certain it was aimed at him.
Charles returned to the front of the room. He shot an amused but rueful glance at William, and then said, “Thank you, Lizzy! Thanks also to Bill Collins, her accompanist. And now, my best man and best friend, William Darcy.”
William scarcely heard the guests’ applause, too emotionally and physically off balance to register such details. Elizabeth’s back was to him as she stood with the jazz ensemble members; she didn’t even want to watch him play. A dull ache throbbed in his chest.
But the moment his fingers touched the keys, his surroundings faded away. As always, the piano was a balm to his soul, his refuge from pain and trouble, and his primary means of speaking from his heart. Tonight there was so much he wanted to say, even if no one understood.
He had chosen to play a ballade by Chopin.2 Its dark and somber moments suited his mood, and the last section in particular displayed the pianist’s technique to great advantage. The piece began with a mournful melody and gradually built to a crescendo. Next, a plaintive tune, one that expressed intense longing, alternated with the original theme of loneliness and regret. The music ebbed and flowed between contemplative moments and passages of furious passion as his fingers flew over the keys. He poured all of the day’s disappointments and frustrations into the music, finding solace as always.
As soon as William began to play, Elizabeth moved to one side of the room and stood alone, studying him. She was transported back to the first time she had seen him play, ten years before, when she was sixteen and had first fallen under his spell.
His connection with the instrument was as intense as she remembered, perhaps even more so. He poured out his feelings with overwhelming passion, allowing the listeners to eavesdrop on an intimate moment. His remoteness and reserve fell away and he laid his soul bare for all to see. She stood, mesmerized, finding it difficult to breathe.
Much too soon, the gloomy final chord echoed through the room, the pain in the music unresolved. William sat motionless at the piano for a moment, and then slowly, almost reluctantly removed his hands from the keys and rose to his feet to the applause of the party guests. She stood frozen at first, but then she brushed a tear from her cheek and joined in the applause. Their eyes met, and she prepared herself for the unsettling impact of his intense stare. But he looked away after only a moment, his eyes dark and hooded.
Of course, he was angry about her song. He had deserved it after the insulting things he had said. But she winced as she thought of her sarcastic “dedication,” which had ridiculed him in front of the other guests. She had turned an artistic genius into her personal scratching post in front of a room full of people. He hadn’t deserved that.
Jane approached her, her eyes solemn. “Lizzy, may I talk to you for a moment?” Elizabeth nodded, and the sisters stepped into a quiet corner.
“What possessed you to treat William that way?” Jane asked.
“I know, I shouldn’t have. All I intended to do was to sing the song—just sing it, not say anything. But I got up to sing, and he was sitting front and center looking so smug, schmoozing with Caroline Bingley, and I got carried away.”
“Lizzy, I know he made you angry, but you promised you’d be polite to him. Please, for my sake?”
Elizabeth sighed and looked at the ground. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“He’s the one you should apologize to.”
Elizabeth met Jane’s steadfast gaze. “I will. And I’m sorry if I embarrassed you and Charles.”
“Actually, Charles thought it was hilarious. As far as he’s concerned, William deserved it. And the other guests probably didn’t understand the implications. It’s William I’m concerned about. He looked absolutely miserable while you were singing.”
“I’ll go and talk to him right now.”
“Thank you.” Jane hugged Elizabeth and then hurried off to join her mother, who was speaking rapidly and in a loud voice to Mrs. Bingley.
With a deep breath, Elizabeth took a determined step in William’s direction, but her progress was impeded by a hand on her arm.
“Elizabeth?” Bill Collins stood at her side, an eager light in his eyes. “Please, come here for a moment.” He led her back to the area where the members of Golden Gate Jazz had congregated. “Elizabeth, we have a question for you. Now, we do of course realize that you may need to think about the matter, and certainly we won’t rush you, but we want you to know how thrilled we would be if you agreed to do this for us. And be assured that we’ll understand if you say no, because—”
Roger Stonefield interrupted Bill’s soliloquy. “If you get the job here in San Francisco, we wondered if you’d consider joining us as our vocalist. We loved your performance—fantastic voice, and you’re great with an audience.”
“That sounds like fun, and you’re so kind to ask me.” Elizabeth scanned the group members’ faces, smiling. “Of course, I don’t know yet if I’ll get the job, but if I do, I’d love to talk about possibilities.”
“Oh, how wonderful!” Bill clasped his hands together. “It will be such an honor to perform with you! I simply can’t wait for our first gig, and I know ….”
His voice faded into the background as she glanced around the room, searching without success for a tall head of dark, wavy hair.
1 “By Strauss,” music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. ©1936, Chappell & Co., Inc. Performed by Christiane Noll, The Ira Gershwin Album, © 2001, Varese Sarabande. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.
2 Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23, CT 2, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Essential Chopin, © 1995, Decca Records. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.