A Night Out With the Gentlemen
(a THE THREE COLONELS unpublished outtake)
Special for Austenesque Extravaganza 2012
A coach made its way through the night-time narrow streets of London before stopping before one of the most respectable public house in the city. The postilion stepped quickly to open the door of the coach, and two gentlemen emerged from the vehicle. One was tall and dark. His companion was shorter and stockier. It was cold, and the men’s breath danced about their faces in the light breeze.
The taller gentleman took in his surroundings. “Tell me again, Fitz, why I am here on the coldest night of the year?” asked Colonel Sir John Buford.
Colonel the Honorable Richard Fitzwilliam laughed. “It is for your sake, as you well know! Surely you can spare a few hours and enjoy fellowship with your friends! Or does your intended already have you wrapped around her little finger?”
“Hardly.” Buford’s voice was colder than the air. “Lead on, Fitz. You are more familiar with this sort of place than I.”
The two men entered the building. It was small but not cramped, well-lit and comfortable, the smell of decades of stale beer omnipresent. The place was about half-full, mainly with well-heeled tradesmen and barristers, but there were a few gentlemen in one corner. A healthy fire was burning in the grate, warm and welcoming. The bar, tables, and floor were relatively clean, as was the apron worn by the proprietor. He greeted his two new guests with a smile.
“I take it you’re with Colonel Brandon’s party, gentlemen. They’re in the private room in the back. If you’ll just follow me.”
Within a few steps, they entered the room indicated. Awaiting him were Sir John’s brother, Mr. Edward Buford, and his future brothers, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Hurst. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s cousin, Mr. Darcy, was in attendance, along with Buford’s friends Colonel Brandon, Captain Tilney, and Mr. George Blakeney. All were seated at a long table in the center of the room, a serving wench filling their mugs with ale.
“Ah, you have finally arrived!” cried Mr. Bingley, who raised his mug in welcome. “Gentlemen, a toast to the man of the hour!”
“Can you not wait until we have a drink, Bingley?” laughed Fitzwilliam.
“Of course, of course,” replied Bingley.
All looked at Hurst, who was swallowing a large gulp of his ale. The rotund gentleman was unrepentant. “Well, get on with it,” Hurst mumbled after wiping his mouth on this sleeve. “A man could die of thirst around here.”
Sir John was still shaking Edward’s hand when the serving wench approached him with two mugs.
“Ale, my good sirs?” she asked them as she handed them their mugs before turning her attention exclusively to Sir John. “Or do your tastes run to more particular refreshment?” She was dark and buxom with a smile that promised far more than liquid stimulation.
Sir John cleared his throat. “Ah, no—ale is just what I need.”
“As you will.” She filled their mugs, placed a pitcher on the table, and then paused as she prepared to leave. “Should you need anything else, just ask for Ellen. I would be happy to … serve.” The comely servant winked an eye and left the room.
“Hah!” laughed Captain Tilney. “I see you still can turn a woman’s head, Buford!”
Sir John was embarrassed. “I have no idea what you mean, Tilney,” he said as he took his seat at the table.
Tilney took a swig of his ale and turned to the others. “It was always that way while Buford and I were in training. Never could we fellows enter a tavern or public house without the wenches falling over themselves over Buford. As least we got to enjoy his leavings!”
“Tilney,” Buford cried, “it is a black picture you paint of me! I did not dally with barmaids!”
“Not for lack of opportunity.” Tilney grinned.
“True,” added Colonel Brandon. “Remember that time in Palermo in the Year Six? What was the name of that lass, Buford? The maid for the Baroness of ____. Maria?”
“Her name was Marisa, Brandon.”
“Yes, right you are! Half the garrison was in love with her, but she had only eyes for you. But you never took advantage of it, did you?”
“No, I did not.” The Baroness, however, was a different matter, Buford recalled.
Just then, another serving girl came in, carrying a plate of bread, cheese, and cold meat. Her eyes were dark as her hair was light, and the top of her blouse was loosely fastened.
“I hope this meets with your approval, gentlemen,” she said brightly. “The cheese comes from my master’s brother in Hertfordshire.” She eyed Buford, and a saucy smile graced her full lips. “Or do you have appetite for … something else? I aim to please.”
Buford colored. “I will keep that in mind, miss. This food will do handsomely.”
“Such a shame! Should you change your mind, the name’s Mary Anne.” Her full breasts moved seductively under her blouse as she exited.
Young Blakeney, son of the famous baronet, was stunned. His jaw had fallen open. “Buford refusing an offer? I would not have believed it had I not seen it.”
Fitzwilliam laughed. “And you claim a friendship with Buford? My old comrade has been behaving himself of late!” He clasped Buford on his shoulder. “Ha! Remember Spain? The serving girls there were dark and passionate. I clearly remember one evening when you had two fighting over you.”
“Et tu, Fitz? I cannot be blamed for that. Enough! Please stop such talk. You give a bad impression of me before my new brother.” Buford saw that Bingley’s face was drawn.
The door flew open and the barmaid entered. She had wild long red hair, fiery blue eyes, and a body to tempt a saint. The top of her breasts were clearly visible under her thin blouse. She carried nothing; she simply marched across the room towards Buford and stopped mere inches from the guest of honor. Hands on her hips, she leaned down, showing off her impressive assets.
“See anything you like, m’lord?” the redhead seductively inquired. “My name’s Deborah, and I’ll be serving at the bar until closing time. You can find me there. Remember that.” With that, she blew Buford a kiss and sauntered out, her hips swaying enticingly.
The men in the room, excluding the bridegroom, were astonished. As for Buford, he held his face in his hands and groaned.
“How do you do that?” demanded Fitzwilliam.
“I do not know!” cried Buford. “It just happens!”
Bingley jumped to his feet, waving his hands in an agitated manner. “That is enough! There will be no wedding! I will never allow you marry my sister!”
“Charles, it is not my fault!”
“A likely story!” Bingley growled. “Come, Gilbert!”
“Ah, sit down,” drawled Hurst.
“No! I mean to leave this disreputable den as soon as may be. I will not be in the company of any man—”
“Shut your yap, Charles,” Hurst interjected, “before you say something you’ll regret for the rest of your life.” He belched. “Caroline will make sure of that.”
“What about your angels, eh? Have you forgotten them?”
Bingley paled. “Gilbert, how can you say such a thing? I have been faithful to Jane.”
“Wasn’t talking about now.” Hurst turned to Darcy. “You want to remind him or should I?”
Darcy crossed his arms, a serious look on his face. “Remember university, Charles?”
Bingley gasped. “Are you talking about Cambridge? That was almost ten years ago!”
“You weren’t exactly lonely, were you?” Hurst grinned.
“But I was not married at the time! I was not even courting anyone!”
“No, you were not,” said Darcy softly. “But if one judged your character solely by that behavior—”
“I was no different than any of our acquaintances.” Bingley brought himself up short. “Except you.”
Hurst looked at Darcy. “You always were a bit of a prude, Darce.”
“This is not about me, Hurst.” Darcy turned his attention to Bingley. “You continued your wild ways for a few years after Cambridge, correct?” He held up a hand at Bingley’s protests. “Yes, I know you stopped when you become serious about securing a wife. I trust my sister, Jane, has no complaints.”
“You know she does not!” cried Bingley.
Darcy smiled. “Yes, or she would have told Elizabeth.” Darcy looked at a wide-eyed Buford. “Buford here says he has reformed, as well. Fitzwilliam believes him, Brandon believes him, and most importantly, I am told Miss Bingley believes him. Would it not do well for you to put your trust in a man who has overcome the same deficiencies in his character as yourself?”
Bingley gulped and turned to Buford. Unlike every other man in the room, he was not looking at Bingley. Instead, he was gazing into his ale, hands tightly grasped around the mug. He finally raised his eyes.
“I will never dishonor your sister, Mr. Bingley. I swear on the grave of my father.”
Bingley said nothing for a moment. Suddenly a grin broke out on his face. “What is this Mr. Bingley? That is not how brothers speak to one another!”
Buford took his offered hand. “Quite right, Charles. Let us all refill our glasses.” He turned to Darcy and raised his mug. “A drink with you, sir. Now tell me—just how devout a monk were you at Cambridge?”