Posted on 2009-05-13
Bingley stood with his arms crossed on the front steps pursing his lips as he watched the carriage pull away bearing an extremely indignant Mrs. Bennet and one of Netherfield's maids. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly as he glanced up at the darkening sky. Feeling the first drops signal the end to the brief lull in the weather, he re-entered the house and walked back to the parlour where he had last seen his sisters-in-law. Upon opening the door, he immediately saw that it was empty and appreciated the speed with which Elizabeth arranged for dry clothes and rooms for her sisters.
Deciding that if he were wanted or needed, Elizabeth would know where to find him, Bingley turned around and headed for his study. With every intention of attending to a few items of business he knew required his concentration, he took a seat at his desk and looked over the work; however, the earlier situation repeatedly drew his mind away from it.
After making a couple of mistakes, Bingley pushed the business papers aside and leaned back in his chair as he considered the events in the drawing room. Closing his eyes, he shook his head to clear his mind of the anger that returned upon recalling Elizabeth's expression upon hearing her mother's heartless pronouncement. Tightening his jaw, Bingley started to make plans to prevent such an incident from happening again; he would stand to see Elizabeth hurt particularly in her own home.
He became so caught up in his planning that he jumped when he heard a loud knock on the door and looked up to see his wife peering at him with raised eyebrows. She smiled slightly, amusement playing along the corners of her mouth.
"I knocked several times without a response. Whatever you are doing must be very important to hold your attention so completely." Sobering, her smile vanished, "Are you really very busy or may I join you?"
"No, no. Please come in. How are your sisters?"
As she took the seat opposite his desk, Elizaberth sighed, "They are all well, though Mary was rather fatigued and retired as soon as she had changed; she was asleep shortly after laying down. Kitty and Lydia talked with me about Mama until the carriage returned. Once we took care of their things as well as Mary's, they each had a cup of hot chocolate before deciding to rest also. Like Mary, they were soon asleep. The combination of the exertion, the worry and the rain seem to have exhausted them."
"The carriage is back already? What time is it?" Blinking, he turned his head toward the clock and his eyes widened as he saw the time. Looking back at Elizabeth, he fought back a blush as she failed to stifle a grin.
"Yes, it has been over three hours. Did you not know how long you were in here?"
"No, I did not. I had a matter that took more of my attention than I realized."
"I can see that. May I ask what was so important to make you so unaware of the passage of time?"
Bingley hesitated; he wanted his proposal to meet with her approval, but he worried that he might upset her instead, "Ah, I have been considering if it might not be a good idea to help your sisters get some time away from your mother for awhile. Do you think it would be a good idea?"
He winced at the end of his phrasing, but Elizabeth only nodded slowly, considering the idea. "Perhaps. How do you suggest we manage that though? I doubt Mama will be pleased with them staying here for long."
"What makes you say that?"
"When the carriage returned, the maid mentioned that Mama gave her some difficulty when she tried to collect my sisters' things."
"Would it not be more likely that she was only upset that I all but threw her out of Netherfield?"
"Possibly, yet that does not explain some of her comments. The maid reluctantly told me the basic gist of my mother's rant in the carriage and at her home. Apparently, she does not want my sisters being influenced by their rebellious elder sister." Elizabeth let out a frustrated breath as she leaned back in her chair before looking up and meeting his eyes with more determination than hurt, "I agree with you, Charles. Mary, Kitty and Lydia require a much needed break from my mother's behavior. I only wish I knew what to do about Mama. I cannot understand why she continues to act the way she does. In some ways it is very unlike her and yet in others . . . 1"
"I understand what you are saying and I wish I had some answers for you."
Both shared a sympathetic smile before Bingley continued, "When I asked if it was a good idea to get your sisters away for a while, I had considered several possibilities one of which involved Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Do you think they might be willing to invite your sisters to stay with them for a week or two until we can join them?"
Elizabeth's eyes widened in surprise, "We would go to London?"
Shifting uncomfortably, Bingley looked at her, "Only if you would like to go. I . . . ahem . . . had thought perhaps leaving Hertfordshire for a while might prove beneficial."
"Where would we stay?"
"Actually, I have a house in _____ Street though it has been closed up for a few years now. Caroline always preferred to stay at Louisa and Hurst's house to our parents' home which is in a somewhat less fashionable district and I either stayed with them or with friends rather than opening up the whole house for just me2 ."
"You said it has been closed up for some years. May I presume that it was since your father's death3 ?"
Nodding, Bingley looked down at his hands clasped on the desktop, "He died about four years ago."
"Would you feel comfortable returning there now?"
Tipping his head thoughtfully, Bingley blinked. "Truthfully, I would. My father's death was not sudden, and we had much time to prepare for it. Also, that house holds many happy memories of my mother. My father took the house when I was about ten and I remember my mother's enthusiasm as she organized and outfitted everything." Bingley smiled as one memory came to mind, "There was one parlour that was her favorite. It was the one she reserved strictly for her family and her closest friends. I remember how she would read aloud from her favorite books to Louisa and me. Those times became even more precious after I left for school."
Elizabeth smiled, "That must be such a happy time to remember. It reminds me of how Papa would read to Jane and me when we were little."
A moment of sadness tried to encroach at the mention of Jane and Mr. Bennet; however, neither Bingley nor Elizabeth allowed it to gain a foothold and forged on ahead pushing the feeling aside.
Hesitating as she bit her lip, Elizabeth took a deep breath as she began to speak, "Charles, are you suggesting we go to London because of my mother's actions today?"
After pausing a moment, Bingley nodded, "But only in part. I admit that the idea had crossed my mind once or twice before though today's events definitely gave it more appeal. I only delayed telling you because of your injuries as I wanted to be sure you were fully healed before suggesting any travelling beyond short visits to Meryton." He glanced meaningfully at her arm which the doctor had finally told them had healed well enough to be used.
She smiled gratefully at his last comment before biting her lower lip in contemplation of relocating to London. As a frown marred her forehead, Bingley stiffened and his breath caught uneasily in his throat. Glancing up, she caught his eye and smiled tentatively, "How long would it take to make the house ready?"
Bingley let out a sigh of relief, feeling his muscles relax at the sudden loss of tension. Returning her smile briefly, he replied immediately, "Not less than a week though I hope for not more than two for the most necessary work to be done. As I said, it has been closed up for some time. If I send an express tomorrow, I know I can trust Louisa and Hurst to hire the servants we would absolutely need and take care of those arrangements that need to be managed in London before we can travel. Also, while we wait for the house to be made ready, we can learn which of the servants here may be willing to move to the London house."
"Yes, that sounds good. However, do you think Mama would allow my sisters to come to us after staying so short a time with the Gardiners?"
"I do not know. However, even if we cannot take them into our home without raising Mrs. Bennet's ire, we can still have them over often and visit the parks with them."
"That might all be possible to arrange, unless my mother invites herself along."
Groaning, Bingley looked up at the ceiling as he let out a frustrated breath. Closing his eyes, Bingley pursed his lips as he lowered his head. "Somehow I feel that this whole situation will be nigh unto impossible to do without your mother causing a hindrance of some sort or other."
Turning his head to the side in disgust at the problem, Bingley suddenly realized just what he said and to whom he had said it. Wincing, he looked up at Elizabeth apologetically, "I am sorry, Elizabeth. I do not mean to make any insult to your mother, I just . . ." He let his hands drop to the desktop as he sighed.
Elizabeth leaned forward and reached across the desk taking his hand in hers, "I fully understand you meant no offence. You like I and my sisters are frustrated beyond belief at my mother's behavior. You also forget that I am well aware of how difficult my mother can be when she chooses to be and she definitely has chosen to be so now4 ."
"Still, I should not have said what I did."
"It is all right. I still know what you meant by it."
"So, how do we manage to get your sisters away without bringing your mother?"
"Let us first write to Aunt and Uncle Gardiner; they may have an idea of what to do."
"Yes, let us write to them first thing tomorrow after we return your sisters to Meryton."
"The sooner the better, the sooner we get that letter out, the sooner we get my Uncle's advice."
"Which means less time spent worrying about that situation and the possibility of travelling to London sooner."
Both smiled at each other before he replied, "Then perhaps we had better write that letter tonight."
After finishing the letters to the Gardiners and Hursts, Bingley arranged to send them by express first thing in the morning. While Elizabeth attended to her sisters who had by then awoken from their naps, Bingley finished up the odds and ends of business that he had started earlier before joining the others for a simple but enjoyable dinner. He watched Elizabeth as she interacted with her sisters; a small smile graced his features as he observed the effect happiness had on her countenance particularly on her eyes5 . Mary paused in the middle of bringing her glass to her mouth as she took notice of her brother-in-law's expression as he watched Elizabeth. Raising her eyebrow, Mary's mouth curved upward at one corner as she speculated about the changes in the relationship between Bingley and her sister as well as her plans to share such thoughts with her younger two sisters later that night.
Later that evening, the four sisters spent some time in one of their rooms sitting and talking about many things eventually broaching the twin subjects of Jane and Mr. Bennet. This conversation spawned many tears, expressions of regret and surprisingly a few smiles as happier memories broke through the clouds of grief and loss. They huddled on the bed as they talked and eventually Elizabeth found herself holding Mary on one side and Kitty on the other leaving Lydia in the precarious position on the edge of the bed by Kitty. Seeing how crowded they were, Elizabeth coaxed her now drowsy sisters awake and sent them all off to bed.
However, as soon as Elizabeth entered her room, she knew she would never get to sleep with all the memories flooding into her mind. Walking over to her bedside table, she began to look for her book when she recalled having intended to take another from the library having finished the last one. Sighing, she left her room and went to the library and having procured a book began her return journey to her room.
As she approached the stairs, Elizabeth nearly jumped when she heard her husband call to her. Turning around, she managed a small smile, "Good evening."
"Good evening, Elizabeth. I thought you would have already retired by now."
"My sisters and I spent more time than we had anticipated talking. Once I ushered them off to bed, I realized I was too wide awake to go to sleep and came down for a book." At the last, she held up the item in question and he smiled.
"I see. Well then, may I escort you back to your room?"
Elizabeth could not help the smile that slipped onto her lips at the sight of his lighthearted grin and his proffered arm with which she linked her own, "Indeed you may, sir."
They both laughed lightly and began the walk back to their rooms; however, by the time they arrived back at her door, Bingley noted that Elizabeth was not feeling as light hearted as she acted by the change in her grip on his arm.
As she started to let go, he took her hand, "Elizabeth, what is wrong?"
Startled, she looked up at his wide-eyed, "Why nothing really."
"That's not true and you know it."
Sighing, Elizabeth glanced away for a moment before looking back up at him, "One of the subjects my sisters and I discussed was Jane and my father."
He nodded slowly in comprehension. "Ah."
Upon further seeing the tears beginning to well in her eyes, he opened his arms and Elizabeth threw her arms around him as she let those same tears fall while he held her. After a few minutes, her tears subsided and she pulled away and managed a weak smile.
Silence took over the vacant hallway as they stood there before Bingley broke the silence, "Well, good night, Elizabeth."
"Good night, Charles."
Hesitating momentarily, Bingley stared at Elizabeth. Unable to stop himself, he took her hand and kissed it gently before turning and striding into his room. Astonished, Elizabeth stood rooted to the spot as she tried to grasp the meaning of this sudden action. Swallowing hard, she absentmindedly entered her room totally oblivious to her youngest sister's grinning face peaking out a door down the hall.
A few days after returning the three Miss Bennets to their home in Meryton, Bingley received a reply from Hurst asserting their willingness to help and relating the results of his and Louisa's examination of Bingley's home as well as the actions taken to make it inhabitable. Virtually on the heels of the Hurst's letter came an express from the Gardiners which they read with great interest. Mr. Gardiner was not only willing to take in his nieces for however long necessary, but offered an especially welcome suggestion. He had lately received word that his sister, Mrs. Philipps6 , and her husband had found a house close to Mr. Philipps's family and intended to relocate there permanently; furthermore, Mrs. Philipps had mentioned that she felt quite wretched for not having been of help to her sister and nieces and hoped that they would be able to come to see her for a month or two. With that in mind, Mr. Gardiner had written to his sister informing her of the present situation and asking for her help in the matter.
As pleased as they were with they way things appeared to be going, Bingley and Elizabeth only felt relief when Mr. Gardiner forwarded his sister's positive reply only a few days later and upon hearing their sisters joy after receiving their invitation from the Gardiners. However, the pleasure everyone felt diminished upon Mrs. Bennet's refusal to let her daughters go without her and promptly invited herself along. Despite this exasperating although not unexpected difficulty, Bingley and Elizabeth worried less about their mother's interference knowing that Mr. Gardiner was handling the situation and knew that he would ensure she received the invitation from Mrs. Philipps a few days after arriving in London.
During all this time though, the couple never once mentioned their own plans to anyone until two days after her mother and sisters left for the Gardiners during a visit to Lucas Lodge. Although disappointed by losing the ability to call on her friend, Charlotte quickly secured a promise from Elizabeth to write and Elizabeth replied with a desire to hear any important news her friend might wish to relate causing Charlotte to blush. It was quite clear to all those in Meryton that Dr. Richards was courting Miss Lucas and most speculated that a wedding would take place in the near future.
Throughout the next week, Elizabeth and Bingley prepared to close Netherfield and chose which servants, who were both willing and able, would join them in the London house. They were pleased to learn that their ever-efficient housekeeper, Mrs. Grey, would be one such as she had no ties that would keep her in Meryton and would be happy to be closer to her daughter who lived in London.
Finally, the couple received the much awaited notice from Mr. Hurst that the house was ready for their arrival and they were on their way. The weather cooperated with their travel plans and remained clear but cold and windy.
However, due to a delay brought about by a fallen tree, they arrived as the sun was setting. Weary, they decided on the last leg of the journey to have only a light meal and retire leaving everything else till the next morning. However, the couple were notprepared for the welcome that greeted them as soon as they entered the house.
Before either Bingley or Elizabeth could get their bearings, they heard a squeal and the sound of running footsteps followed by Lydia flying down the stairs and running right at them. Both were surprised further when Lydia flung her arms first around Elizabeth and then Bingley before standing back with one hand on her hip and shaking her other with pointer extended at them.
"And you two tried to make us think it was Uncle Gardiner's idea for us to come to London. Shame on you two; you did not even let us have a hint of what you planned and did not let us help you. Well, thanks to Uncle Gardiner we found out today and we all decided to come and make sure you two received a proper welcome."
Before either could formulate a reply to this enthusiastic dialogue, they were joined by the Hursts, Gardiners and Mary and Kitty who promptly welcomed them as well.
While Elizabeth was engulfed in an embrace from her aunt, Louisa took her brother's arm and pulled him aside, "Now, I know you both must be tired, but I do not want either of you to worry about a thing. As your housekeeper was not due to arrive until next week, I arranged everything. The servants know that proper greetings will wait till morning and your valet and Elizabeth's maid are in your rooms preparing some hot baths as we speak. The cook is preparing a meal which will be ready as soon as you both are done freshening up. Now, do not think to ask us to stay out of sheer politeness brother, I know you, at least, too well. There will be plenty of time to visit later and I have a few things to take care of myself. So we will take our leave in just a minute and do not think you have to see us off. I think we can find the door easily on our own."
Bingley glanced at Elizabeth during his sister's monologue and saw she was being similarly steered toward the stairs by her aunt through the throng of family. She looked up and gave him a half-shrug before returning her attention to her aunt. Shaking his head slightly, he looked back at his sister in time to catch her last sentence. "Also, I should tell you that I set you and Elizabeth up in our parents' old rooms."
"Yes. I thought they were the proper rooms for the two of you though you both may wish to make a few changes. I have also looked into mother's parlour to straighten up a few things. I hope Elizabeth will like it."
"How has it weathered the years?"
"Fairly well, though I had to replace the one settee; you know the one Aunt Virginia and Aunt Beatrice picked out for mother. It seemed a mouse decided it had the right materials to make a very nice nest; it was torn up pretty badly though everything else was relatively untouched. You may want to choose something besides the one I put in for now, but I thought it could do temporarily."
Bingley grinned at the mention of their two maiden great-aunts on their mother's side. They were always well meaning and kind hearted and about as alike as twins could be, but they never did have a great sense of taste and the settee they picked out for his mother was not exactly a pleasure to look at; however, his mother had never had wanted to hurt the two dear women and had put it in her special parlour thus ensuring no one but trusted friends and family would ever see it and those that did always noted the various afghans placed over it. "I am sure your choice will be perfectly fine and I do not doubt that Elizabeth will like it."
"Thank you. Now, I have detained you long enough. Go, freshen up and enjoy the meal with Elizabeth."
In short order, the group left after brief farewells and he was surprised to note Lydia and Louisa chatting arm in arm as they approached the door. However, he began to develop a slight sense of unease with that relationship when he heard the youngest Bennet's giggle and her sly backward glance at Elizabeth and himself.
When the door closed behind the retreating party, the couple turned to each other and let out a simultaneous sigh.
"Well, that was unexpected, though I greatly appreciate their efforts, particularly Louisa's arrangements."
"Indeed. I was every bit as surprised at our welcoming committee as you were, but did you notice one person's absence? I do wonder how yoru mother took their little excursion."
"Actually, she does not know about it. She left with my Aunt and Uncle Philips early this morning."
Bingley turned to look at her in surprise, "How did that happen?"
Elizabeth smiled tiredly, "My Aunt and Uncle Philips felt that, knowing Mama as they do, travelled all the way to London to convince Mama to join them at their new home. Apparently, Mama had intended to stubbornly stay with the Gardiners, but when my Aunt Philips actually showed up in person, her intentions wavered. Aunt Gardiner told me it took most of the evening, but after pressure and reassurances from the Gardiners, her daughters and her sister, Mama finally agreed to go with them and leave my sisters with the Gardiners."
"We must thank them then."
"Yes, but let us let it wait until tomorrow."
Noting her fatigued countenance, he nodded, "Of course." After pausing for a moment, he extended his arm, "May I show you to your room then?"
They walked up the stairs and down a hall, Bingley pointing out certain things and describing something about them until he halted in front of one door.
"Here is your room, Elizabeth. Louisa arranged a few things for now, like she did at Netherfield." He paused briefly and then opened the door for her. She walked in and looked around noting the older style of much of the furniture and the lighter colours of the upholstery and other furnishings.
Turning back to him, she smiled, "It looks lovely. Am I correct in guessing that this was your mother's room?"
He relaxed, "Yes, it was, but please feel free to change anything you wish."
"I do not see anything I would want to change at the moment."
"Well, if there is, let me know. I want you to feel like this is your home too."
"As soon as I see something I would like to change, I will tell you."
"Good. Well, I will leave you for now. Perhaps after we have something to eat, and if you are up to it, we could tour the house or at least some of the rooms."
"I would like that."
Bingley paused as he took in her smiling face and nodded as he tried not to fidget. Neither had forgotten the night Bingley had kissed her hand though neither had addressed it and now each recalled it clearly.
"All right then. I will leave for now."
Not knowing what else to do, Bingley exited and went to his room down the hall.
Over the next few days, the Bingleys adjusted to life in London. They met the servants and Bingley gave Elizabeth the full tour of the house. They also learned from the Butler, a Mr. White, the overall condition of the house and of several small repairs that were required.
However, work was not the only thing keeping the couple busy. The Hursts and Miss Bennets frequently called on them. Mrs. Hurst, in particular, spent time with Elizabeth informing her of a number of her brother's acquaintance that would no doubt call as soon as they learned of his and now Elizabeth's presence in Town. Many of them, particularly those with unattached young ladies, were quite interested in meeting the young woman who had caught such an eligible gentleman. Fully aware of the deep scrutiny Elizabeth would face, Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Gardiner intended to call early and stay and support her throughout the entire exhibition of the morning callers.
Soon those first few days of bustle became a much longed for time as people discovered Bingleys' taking up their residence in Town. Most of the earliest visitors were friends and close acquaintances; however, as time passed, the numbers increased to include those who fell into the category of bare acquaintances.
Of all the visitors, Elizabeth liked the Brandons and Knightleys who were close acquaintances of her husband best. However, among the many other callers, Elizabeth felt immediately wary of Mr. and Miss Crawford. Louisa had informed her of a scandal involving the gentleman and the woman's manner irked her7 particularly with her veiled criticism of their residence's location. Yet a few others provided her with great amusement. One such was Isabella Thorpe8 whose rather petulant attitude and studied carelessness revealed the woman's displeasure at seeing yet another eligible – and wealthy – gentleman disappear from the marriage market. It would be doubtful that that young lady would have found pleasure in the knowledge that she had unwittingly given Elizabeth something with which to tease her poor husband who only laughed and expressed his relief at his ineligibility.
After the rush of morning calls and their return visits ended, Bingley and Elizabeth finally managed to find time to resume some of their usual activities which led to their visiting a number of bookshops. However, neither forgot their plans for Elizabeth's sisters as both recognized the difficulties the Gardiners faced with the addition of the three youngest Miss Bennets. They had already noted Lydia's over-exuberance returning full force and neither wished to encumber the Gardiners with the sole responsibility for her behavior. Thus, Bingley and Elizabeth arranged for some activities that would work well into Elizabeth's mourning state which also delighted her sisters and provided an outlet for Lydia's high spirits though the youngest Bennet toned down her behavior somewhat reluctantly after receiving not one, or even two, but four lectures on proper decorum. Elizabeth had been faintly amused that when she had started her own spiel, Lydia had held up her hand declaring that she already knew everything she could ever want to know about proper behavior having received the same speech from her Aunt Gardiner, Mary and Mrs. Hurst earlier that same day.
However, the couple did not spend all their time with their relatives or receiving and returning calls, but occasionally had a day to themselves. On one such day, Bingley and Elizabeth were enjoying breakfast when the mail arrived. Both grinned at each other and immediately looked through the pile until Bingley stiffened slightly. Seeing his unusual reaction, Elizabeth stopped her own perusal, "Is something wrong?"
He looked up and shook his head, "No, not wrong, rather . . . I have received a letter from my friend, Mr. Darcy, the one I told you about."
"It has taken a long time for his response to arrive. Do you think he disapproves?"
"I do not know, but I doubt the delay is any fault of his. See here, it was misdirected after reaching England."
"And any delay in the ship travelling to and from America would lengthen the time to receive his response. Why do you not now open the letter and see what his reaction was?"
Bingley nodded before taking a breath and opening the thick letter. After reading the first few lines, Bingley sighed in relief and smiled. "He and his sister congratulates us on our marriage and offers us their full support. He also expresses their wish to meet us once they return to England which . . ." He paused as he glanced again at the date on the letter, "could be anywhere up to another month from now."
"Does your friend have anything more specific about their return?"
Bingley shook his head, "He states that business may delay him and that once that is accomplished only the weather will play a factor in their return."
"You are looking forward to seeing them again."
"Yes, he is one of my closest friends3 ."
"Then I look forward to meeting them whenever they have returned."
He smiled at her, "Thank you. I know they will like you."
Elizabeth hesitated as she set down her cup, "I hope they do."
The smile slid off his face as he noticed her solemnity, "What makes you think they would not?"
"I do not know. I . . . I only worry that this whole situation might still cause a breach in your friendship. It is not something I wish to see happen."
"Elizabeth, if that were to happen, it would be completely from his side. He would not be a true friend if he did not support me in this and he has already stated that he does. Believe me, they are already predisposed to like you. You want to know why I think that? Here let me show you." Handing her the letter he pointed three quarters of the way down the page, "See there, his sister asked him to relate her wish to correspond with you. Darcy would never have done so if he thought you would be a bad influence on her."
"You think so."
Looking over the letter again, Elizabeth bit her lip, "I admit to surprise at having been asked to correspond with Miss Darcy as we have never met."
"True, but Darcy and I have been friends for a long time. Besides, if he has allowed Caroline to correspond with her, I doubt he could find fault with anything you would write. Actually, if he has learned the content of anything my sister has written, it may have influenced his decision to include his sister's request. Darcy probably feels his sister needs a little more, ahem, variety in her correspondents."
As her lips twitched upward, Elizabeth could not help but agree and felt herself relax. She only regretted that the letter had arrived too late for her to begin corresponding with Miss Darcy as it would now be unlikely to arrive before they began their return journey to England. They would simply have to wait for the Darcy's return.
1) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 1
2) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 21; Volume 2 Chapter 1
3) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 4
4) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 1, 20, 21, 23; Volume 3 Chapter 5
5) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 6
6) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 7
7) Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Chapter 46-47
8 ) Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. Chapter 16, 17, 19, 25, 27
The next four weeks passed in much the same manner of those previous with many activities involving the Hursts, Gardiners and the three Miss Bennets. However, Bingley and Elizabeth felt a growing frustration with the entire situation. That was not to say that they were not pleased with the overwhelming support of their friends and family; rather, the constant bustle besides the development of several other matters began to chaff the couple.
First, they found themselves the object of many sly glances and much giggling between Kitty and Lydia who also started advising the now wary Elizabeth on fashion while slipping in comments about what their brother might like to see. However, the youngest Miss Bennets were not alone in their endeavour having garnered occasional help from Louisa who not only observed her brother and sister-in-law at every opportunity but also acted as a source for the girls' advice to Elizabeth by telling them what she knew of her brother's preferences. Mr. Hurst also helped from time to time by slipping in a suggestion here or there to Bingley. Suffice it to say, the couple felt perturbed at their family's less than concealed attempts to make them take a deeper interest in each other. If only the matchmakers knew that instead of working toward achieving their goal, their interference produced more caution and greater uncertainty in Bingley and Elizabeth's interpretation of the other's manner thus slowing the progression of any feelings each developed toward one another.
Second, the couple found the numerous and incessant visits by the Crawfords utterly vexing particularly as neither the brother nor the sister seemed willing to take the many subtle hints that they would not be missed if they did not return. It did not help that every call lasted for at least half an hour nor that the pair spoke of little that went beyond mere polite conversation. Despite enduring these unwanted visits and after much discussion, neither Bingley nor Elizabeth could fathom why the Crawfords were so resolved on deepening the acquaintance or their insensibility regarding their quarry's disinterest.
Third, Caroline had somehow discovered that the Darcys were due to return in the near future and claimed that she had nothing appropriate to wear to greet them when they arrived pestering her brother and sister relentlessly until Louisa finally offered to take her shopping in order to gain a modicum of peace rather than for its necessity. However, Louisa felt a surge of misgiving when Caroline expressed a desire on the day of the shopping excursion to call on and ask Elizabeth to accompany them. With great reluctance, Louisa agreed to the visit silently dreading what might arise out of it particularly at a time when her brother had planned to be out on some business with Mr. Gardiner. It did not help that as soon as they arrived at their brother's and Elizabeth's home, Caroline carelessly mentioned her intent to advise Elizabeth to update her wardrobe as it would not due to embarrass Charles in front of his friends when they returned making Louisa purse her lips in frustration and pray that she could somehow contrive to make the call as short as possible. Only she had not counted on arriving in the middle of one of the Crawfords' visits.
Unfortunately for Elizabeth and Louisa, their efforts to tactfully end either visit proved to be in vain as the Crawfords and Caroline either freely disregarded the hints or were insensible to them. To worsen the situation, Caroline and Miss Crawford found a kindred spirit in each other conversing happily about the many entertainments found in London as well as the merits of current fashion leaving the other ladies at the mercy of the brother's charm. Nevertheless, while Mary became increasingly pleased with her new friend, the gentleman found himself increasingly uncomfortable with the strained politeness and stilted conversation with the lady of the house and her sister-in-law. Thus, Henry Crawford put a premature end to the visit by claiming a prior engagement much to his sister's confusion, Caroline's dissatisfaction and Elizabeth and Louisa's delight. Yet, the latter's delight lasted only so long for the pair to depart and Caroline to cheerily declare how well she liked Miss Crawford and ask her sister if she minded that she had invited the lady to tea the next day.
Suffice it to say, Louisa did mind, but could not rescind the invitation once it had been given and put up with the lady's presence the next day carefully preventing any further invitation being given by her sister. Nevertheless, Louisa failed to stop Caroline from accepting an invitation from Miss Crawford and soon the two had become inseparable friends causing an increase in frustration and concern in the Hursts, Elizabeth and Bingley. All were now forced to endure the Crawfords' presence due to the new friendship and Bingley especially grew concerned for his sister spending time in even minimal company with such a gentleman1 .
Yet, even with these irritating events, Elizabeth and Bingley continued to communicate and enjoy each other's company always managing to come to a compromise on any issue they disagreed upon; that is, until one particular matter arose.
One day Bingley had received a note from his solicitor stating that if he had any desire to discharge the lease at Netherfield2 , the owner had received a very fine offer of purchase and was interested in selling; the purchaser was stated to be willing to continue the lease until the end of the contracted time, but hoped that Bingley might be persuaded to let go of the estate sooner so that the purchaser and his family might move without delay. Knowing that he and Elizabeth enjoyed their life in London far more than their time at Netherfield which had more than its share of unhappy memories, Bingley wrote back immediately that they would be happy to discharge the lease immediately fully intending to inform Elizabeth that evening.
However, as with the best of intentions, things go awry and the disturbance came in the form of an ebullient Lydia, a sulking Kitty, as well as two overly harried Gardiners and a mildly concerned Mary. It did not take long for the party to inform the couple of what had taken place to cause such disarray. Apparently, Lydia had climbed a tree in the park in an effort to retrieve her wayward favorite bonnet – which she had been swinging carelessly by the ribbons before inadvertently letting it go – only to get herself stuck as well. The Gardiners, Mary and Kitty were beside themselves in trying to find another way down for her when a gentleman in uniform approached them and offered his assistance much to everyone's relief and Lydia's delight. After having helped the damsel in distress down from her perch, the gentleman took his leave after introducing himself to the whole group as one Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam3 . Thus, Lydia glowed with the ultimate happiness of having been rescued by an officer4 and relished the retelling of it, repeating it no less than five times with excruciating detail before the Gardiners all but dragged her back to their home quite late into the evening leaving behind a pair of weary listeners.
Unable to manage any real coherent thoughts or conversation after listening to their sister's animated narrations, Bingley and Elizabeth retired. Nevertheless, Bingley found himself lying wide awake wondering why the name Colonel Fitzwilliam sounded familiar. After some thought, it struck him that his friend Darcy had spoken often about his cousin who served in the military3 and Bingley burst out laughing causing a half-asleep Elizabeth to sit up in her room next door wondering what was amusing her husband so much. However, after hearing his laughter abate, she simply shrugged and went back to sleep thinking that he would tell her in the morning.
Although Bingley did tell his wife about the identity of Lydia's rescuer which she found equally amusing, he failed to remember to inform his wife about the relinquishing of the lease on Netherfield for a full five days and only remembering it upon receiving confirmation from his solicitor over the completion of all matters involving said lease. Realizing his error in not informing her, he did so a bit sheepishly that evening secure in the knowledge that she would overlook his slight lapse particularly since she had been in an exceedingly cheerful mood for most of the day. However, her reaction was far from anything he had imagined.
"You gave up the lease to Netherfield!"
Bingley blinked as he watched his wife purse her lips and glare at him. "Yes, I thought it was only reasonable."
"Yet, they were willing to continue the lease until the end of the term!"
"Why should we have taken up their offer? We were unlikely to return there and the family desired to be settled as soon as possible."
Standing, Elizabeth started pacing, "Did it not occur to you that I might like to remain near my sisters for the duration of the lease at the very least?"
He shook his head, "Considering how much time we have been spending with them over the past two months, I thought you might enjoy a small break. Besides, your Aunt Philips reports that your mother is somewhat more reconciled to our marriage and will not create as much difficulty when we invite your sisters in the future."
Clenching her teeth, Elizabeth stopped her pacing and narrowed her eyes at him. After a moment, she walked over to a small desk by the wall and removed a letter from the drawer before returning to him and handing him the missive. "I received this today while you were out. Please read it."
Opening the letter, Bingley kept his eyes on his wife observing her tense posture and noting the fury rolling off her. Glancing down at the letter, he realized it was from the eldest Miss Lucas and the reason for his wife's earlier elation and her current displeasure at his action became abundantly clear after reading the first few lines.
Setting down the letter, he sat back and sighed. "I do not know what to say. I know that it would have been more convenient to stay at Netherfield when we attend Miss Lucas' wedding; however, no longer retaining the lease does not mean anything. It is not like giving up the lease means we cannot return to Meryton to visit."
Elizabeth took a deep breath before giving him an irritated look, "True, but the point is you never bothered to consider my feelings on the subject."
Standing, Bingley stared angrily at her, "Now that is not true, Elizabeth. I did consider your feelings."
"It certainly does not seem that way."
"Nevertheless I did. I . . ."
Before he could continue, Elizabeth held up her hand and interrupted, "No, I do not want to hear your excuses. I do not want to hear anything from you at all. It is apparent that you do not care for my opinions otherwise you would have spoken to me of this before you made your decision."
With that, she turned on her heal and strode out of the room leaving her stunned husband behind.
Bingley slowly paced in his study thinking about how everything had turned out so badly the previous evening, but most of all, he contemplated on how to set things right with Elizabeth. After her departure from his study, Bingley had not seen nor heard from her and only knew that she was in her rooms by asking the servants.
Sighing, he ceased pacing and walked over to the window where he leaned on the frame and looked out at the night. He knew he had made a mess of the whole situation by simply not talking to her about it before giving up the lease despite believing that it would have made little difference to the eventual outcome. Closing his eyes, Bingley rested his forehead against the frame as he thought of all the changes he and Elizabeth had weathered over the past sixteen weeks and realized that more remained for them to adjust to including sharing major decisions with his wife.
Opening his eyes, Bingley straightened and pursed his lips; he needed to speak to Elizabeth. The past twenty-four hours had been difficult without the usual activities they shared; in fact, the day had been empty . . . and lonely. Turning, Bingley strode out the door determined to end this silent confrontation and attempt to at least alleviate the problem that caused it.
Arriving at Elizabeth's door, he paused suddenly feeling a knot tighten in his stomach as fear that she would not speak to him crept into his mind. Pushing the feeling away, he raised his hand and knocked on her door.
"Elizabeth? May I speak to you for a moment?"
Hearing no sound, not even a whisper of movement, Bingley swallowed and tried again, "Please, Elizabeth! I only wish to speak to you for a moment. Please! Will you not speak to me for a short moment?"
He waited feeling the pressure of the silence surrounding him and acutely aware of the emptiness of the hallway. Pressing his hand against the door, Bingley rested his head against it. "Elizabeth, I know you are upset with me and have reason to be, but please talk to me. That is all I ask. Please Elizabeth."
After hearing nothing but the continued silence, Bingley shook his head and sighed. Pulling back from the door, he started to walk away when he heard the faint sound of footsteps. Turning back, he saw the door open slowly and Elizabeth step hesitantly out.
At first, he could say nothing as he took in her appearance and realized from the dark circles under her eyes and the way she bit her lower lip that she had not fared any better than he over the past day.
Stepping closer, Bingley opened his mouth to speak only to close it again swallowing his nervousness. He simply stared at her for a few moments trying to gather his thoughts hoping that the curiosity in her eyes was a positive sign. Finally, he managed to speak, "Elizabeth, I am sorry. I never intended to hurt you or be inconsiderate of your feelings. My only thoughts at the time were that once the lease on Netherfield was cancelled, we could find someplace else that we could both enjoy that did not have so many memories attached to it. Besides, I . . . I thought you might like spending the summer travelling to look at places where we might settle. I know this is not an excuse, but I hope that it will assure you that I did not act out of an intention of becoming a dictatorial husband with no regard for your feelings. From now on, you have my word that we will discuss these types of matters before coming to any decision."
When he stopped talking, Bingley observed how she glanced away while taking a deep breath. He noted how she tried to discreetly wipe away a tear that had escaped down her cheek and wished that he could have stopped it from falling in the first place. Elizabeth looked back up at him a mixture of emotions in her eyes, but the predominant expression was one of apology, "I understand and thank you for your kindness in light of my own behavior. I overreacted yesterday. I know you are used to making such decisions on your own and have every right to do so without consulting me. It is just that I had only just learned of Charlotte's engagement and had already started making plans for our return to Meryton. I know it makes no real difference, yet I let my frustration of such an upset affect my words. You only wanted to make the whole situation turn out positively for all involved. Not only did you want to accommodate the family purchasing as you understood their desire to settle as soon as possible, but you wanted most of all to straighten out everything for us. I am sorry."
At the end of her statement, Elizabeth looked down at her hands and did not see the look that passed over her husband's face. Feeling her stomach tighten, she began to turn away when she felt her husband take her hands. Surprised, she looked up and saw compassion and concern in his eyes as well as another expression that she could not quite name.
Continuing to hold her hands, Bingley smiled slightly, "Elizabeth, you have no need to apologize. You were justifiably upset. I acted hastily on a matter that would have taken no harm if delayed a day or two. I think . . . I think this simply shows us that we still have much to work through; things we have taken for granted will have to be looked at from beyond our usual habits."
Elizabeth returned his smile with a small one of her own. "True. Only I hope the next time we discover another situation like this one, it will not result in us not speaking for a whole day before we can sort it out."
At this he grinned, "There is nothing I could agree with more."
"Perhaps, to rectify today's silence, we might go to the library and continue our book?"
Feeling every inch of relief that their disagreement was finally resolved, Bingley smiled and pressed her hands in his own, "That would be wonderful."
They stood there in silence for a moment before he released her hands and offered her his arm which she took with a smile and they started off for the library. Elizabeth did not miss the fact that his other hand covered her own resting on his arm which caused her to blush a little. Swallowing, Elizabeth glanced up at him and felt another blush come to her face when he smiled at her briefly before they turned their attention back to the passageway and the staircase.
It was not long before both were seated in the library enjoying a hot cup of tea while they discussed where they had left off two nights earlier. Once they finished their tea, the couple moved to the settee where Bingley read aloud. Occasionally, they would stop to discuss what they read or for one of them to interject a comment here and there. Neither noticed the passage of time and at some point Elizabeth rested her head on his shoulder.
Noticing that Elizabeth was close to falling asleep, Bingley slipped his arm around her shoulder and continued to read. After a few minutes, he glanced back at her to see she had indeed fallen asleep and set the book aside after marking their page. He sat there watching her for some time thinking that she would be more comfortable in her room yet felt somewhat unwilling to risk disturbing her slumber. Taking his eyes off her for a moment, he leaned back resting his head on the back of the settee thinking only to rest for a few minutes before carrying Elizabeth back up to her room before retiring as well. However, Bingley never did manage to return her to her room as he too succumbed to sleep resting his cheek on the top of her head and unconsciously pulling her closer with the arm still wrapped around her shoulders.
1) Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Chapter 46-47
2) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 1; Volume 2 Chapter 9
3) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 2 Chapter 7
4) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 7; Volume 2 Chapter 18; Volume 3 Chapter 5
Posted on 2009-10-23
The days following Bingley and Elizabeth's night in the library proceeded normally enough if one overlooked the fact that one or the other would blush for no apparent reason and the odd glances they would aim at the other when they believed he or she was not looking not to mention the gentleman's sudden need to clear his throat repeatedly when in the lady's presence. Despite these and many other little deviations from their routine, neither he nor she was willing to address the cause for such behavior, except within the safety of his or her own thoughts, as each struggled with the feelings and subsequent embarrassment resulting from having awoken in one another's arms.
This new pattern continued uninterrupted until an unexpected visitor brought some troubling news.
Bingley and Elizabeth sat at the table enjoying some tea and sharing their correspondence after finishing breakfast when a servant entered announcing that a certain Mr. Crawford desired to speak with them if possible. The footman further relayed the gentleman's assertion that it was quite important.
Raising his eyebrows, Bingley shared a look of astonishment with Elizabeth whose widened eyes and subtle half-shrug indicated her own curiosity at this development.
Returning his attention to the footman Bingley asked for him to show the gentleman into the breakfast room.
As soon as the door shut, Elizabeth looked at her husband, "What do you think he could want?"
"I have not the faintest idea; nevertheless, I hope that we will learn the reason for all the visits he and his sister have inflicted on us."
"As do I and if this visit proves as enlightening as we hope, I will be even more grateful to my Aunt Gardiner."
"Yes, her advice is always valuable."
The sound of approaching footsteps stopped them from saying more and the door opened admitting the gentleman.
The couple immediately noted the Mr. Crawford's hesitant demeanor, how he nervously turned his hat in his hands as well as the dark circles under his eyes.
While they were occupied observing the gentleman's state, Mr. Crawford approached the table and bowed.
"I apologize for intruding so early and be assured I will not stay long, but I . . . have some information I thought you should know."
Bingley, who had stood when the doors opened, nodded and gestured at a chair at the table, "Please join us and you can relate whatever is obviously disturbing you, but perhaps you might wish for something to drink first?"
As he took the seat opposite them, Mr. Crawford shook his head, "I would prefer, with your permission, to get this over with as soon as possible."
"It must be serious to cause so much discomfort."
"Yes, the involvement of my sister makes it very uncomfortable."
Surprised and not a little curious, Bingley and Elizabeth shared a quick glance before returning their attention to their guest. "Your sister?"
Mr. Crawford had not missed the momentary look between the couple and smiled grimly, "I know you must suspect my motives for telling you of this as I am sure you have heard something about a . . . particular incident in my past 1 . However, I can assure you that I not here to cause trouble."
"As you say, sir, we have heard a few things about you that are less than complimentary; however, that does not mean we will not listen to what you have to say, but we will reserve judgment on what you relate until after we have heard it particularly since you are relating some apparently negative news involving your sister."
"I understand both reasons as my history makes me questionable and my apparent willingness to forward information that could prove damaging to my sister. Believe me sir when I say I take no pleasure in this. My sister and I were close for many years even after my less than admirable choices. However, we have been growing more and more distant since the first time we called on you."
Blinking, Elizabeth stared at him, "Since visiting here?"
"Yes." Here he turned to Mr. Bingley with an almost apologetic look, "You see, we were aware of your friendship with Mr. Darcy and we desired an introduction when the Darcy's returned to London. Now please do not think that I planned anything underhanded. I knew my sister became interested in what she had heard about your friend and I hoped only for an introduction for her sake and, if after they met, a courtship developed all the better; however, that is all I wished for and I think you can hardly fault me for wanting to see my sister well settled."
"No, I cannot fault you for that, Mr. Crawford, but I am sure you understand my displeasure at you and your sister's false attempts at friendship."
Mr. Crawford winced. "I admit that our initial interest was due to your friend; yet, when I did call with my sister and were always received graciously by you both that I had begun to hope that a friendship might be formed though I do not believe you will wish to continue any acquaintance with either of us now."
Bingley sent a skeptical look to his wife whose raised eyebrow revealed her concurring sentiments before returning his attention to the gentleman. "Please continue."
Nodding, Mr. Crawford closed his eyes and massaged his temple for a moment. Looking back up at the two of them, he resumed his story. "As I said, about the time of our first visit here, my sister and I started to grow more distant. I did not notice it at first dismissing the lapse as my sister enjoying spending time with your sister. They do enjoy many of the same things. Only later did I realize something else was going on."
"A little over a week ago, I happened to overhear a conversation between my sister and a friend of hers. It seems that she only befriended Miss Bingley so that she could garner whatever information she could on the Darcy's."
"That is not overly surprising."
"I know, but the next part surprised me greatly. My sister stated quite plainly to her friend that she would be the next Mistress of Pemberley."
Leaning back, Bingley stared at him clearly unimpressed, "Many a young lady had thought she could catch Mr. Darcy including my own sister 2 . I cannot count how many times Caroline has stated such things with certainty. Yet my friend has never been caught by the machinations of any young lady with such designs."
The expression on Mr. Crawford's face became even graver than it had been. "Yet none of those young ladies would ever stoop to making use of the possibility of a scandal to capture him would they?"
That got both their attention. Bingley sat forward, all his attention focused on his guest, "How do you know your own sister would resort to such tactics? Surely she would not risk her own reputation on such a reckless gamble."
"Ever since her own disappointment 3 , she has stated to me several times that she will not let another man she is interested in slip through her fingers and would use any means necessary. Naturally, I dismissed such talk as the result of her disappointed feelings which were due in part to my own actions 1&4. It was not until I overheard her conversation that I realized her to be sincere in her use of any means."
"Just what does Miss Crawford mean by any means?"
"She will not do anything that will draw negative attention if that is what you mean. Nevertheless, she will try to get close to your friend without appearing to and will use his own good manners, sense of duty and gentlemanly behavior against him. She is exceptionally good at insinuating something she wants people to believe while dropping a word here and there."
"Thus creating a rumor that might force Darcy into a proposal. You do realize that he will not fall for it. Darcy will never marry merely to appease an unfounded rumor."
"That is why my sister has contrived to become acquainted with Lady Fitzwilliam."
Crawford nodded. "My sister has been spending much time in Lady Fitzwilliam's company and has accepted several invitations from her. If she can convince his aunt and uncle that there might be some truth to the rumors . . ."
"They will put pressure on Darcy."
"Now you see that my sister is quite determined."
"Indeed. Is there anything you can do to stop her?"
"Not much. My sister's fortune is independent of my own so I have not the ability to cut her allowance. I will do all that I can, but I cannot force her to leave Town or prevent her from accepting invitations. If I can arrange to be present, I will try to keep her away from the Darcy's as much as possible. However, if you can warn your friend to avoid spending any real length of time with her and avoid dancing with her, it will go a long way to curtail her plans."
Bingley nodded, "We will be sure to inform Mr. Darcy as soon as possible. Thank you for bringing this to our attention."
Some of the tension seemed to leave Mr. Crawford at that statement relief filling his face. "No, thank you for hearing me out. I am thankful for your believing me. I will take my leave now. I wish you both a good day."
The gentlemen stood and Mr. Crawford bowed then turned quickly to the door. He almost reached it when Elizabeth's voice caused him to turn around.
"Mr. Crawford, I have one question for you."
"Why did you inform us of this discovery? After all, it does involve your sister."
The gentleman shifted uneasily and turned his hat in his hands before looking up at them, "I . . . I recently came across an old acquaintance. Some one I greatly admire. I . . . seeing her again reminded me of my own foolishness. I was a fool to lose her. . . 4 "
The last was said so quietly Bingley and Elizabeth barely heard it. Closing his eyes, Mr. Crawford took a deep breath and looked back up at them.
"Meeting the lady again has reminded me of my faults and I did not like what I saw. Though I have no possibility of earning her good opinion, this chance encounter has given me the desire to improve myself in the hopes that someday I will be fortunate enough to gain some good woman's esteem and hand4."
Smiling sadly, Mr. Crawford shrugged, "My actions are not so altruistic I know, but if I am to change, I must start somewhere."
"And it is a good start you have made and one we are grateful for." Bingley paused as he glanced at his wife who nodded, "And know that you will be welcome here."
Crawford blinked as he looked at them in astonishment, "Thank you. I . . . ah . . . Thank you." He paused, uncertain how to proceed. Finally, he gave a small smile and took his leave.
After the door shut, Bingley sighed and rubbed his forehead, "We did not need this."
"You do not think he was sincere?"
"Oh, I believe he told us the truth."
"You are concerned for the Darcy's."
"Yes. They will be arriving in London by the end of the week. Darcy will not be pleased to hear of this scheme."
"What do you think will happen?"
"Knowing Darcy, I would say he will stay in London long enough to take care of the most pressing business matters and then retreat to Pemberley where he can handle the rest without dealing with the additional invitations he would receive here. Though, if Miss Crawford is indeed becoming friends with Lady Fitzwilliam, Pemberley may not be far enough to get away from her."
"Why would his estate not be a safe place?"
Bingley sighed, "Because his aunt and uncle live only one county over. If she is as clever as her brother makes her out to be, Miss Crawford may somehow finagle an invitation from Lady Fitzwilliam and naturally . . ."
"They would come in contact with Mr. Darcy and his sister."
"But, do you think they would actually press the match with your friend?"
"I do not know them well having only met the Earl and Lady Fitzwilliam and their oldest son twice, but from Darcy's description of them, I doubt they would under normal circumstances."
"And you feel they might act differently in this case?"
"Yes. If Miss Crawford manages to create enough talk, they may convince Darcy to offer for her in order to silence the rumors for his sister's sake."
"You mean that any rumor no matter how untrue that is attached to Mr. Darcy could affect Miss Darcy's prospects and as such that argument might convince him to marry where he normally would not."
"Precisely. He loves his sister very much and would do anything to protect her even if it means giving up his own chance at happiness."
"Oh. This is a mess. How is it going to work out?"
"Personally, I am hoping Darcy will step out of character this once and arrive back in London already married."
Elizabeth's lips twitched and her eyes sparkled, "Do you think it likely your friend will do so?"
"Not really, but it would solve this whole mess with the least amount of trouble."
"For then Miss Crawford could have no motive."
Looking at Elizabeth, Bingley smiled tiredly as he reached over and took her hand squeezing it gently, "At least we learned of it in time. Now, we can plan to avoid inviting both at the same time or, if that is not possible, at least seat them as far apart as possible."
Frowning, Bingley paused for a moment, "I really should have suspected that the reason for all those visits was their interest in Darcy. It is so obvious."
"Be that as it may, Charles. The fact of the matter is we do know and can pass it on to the Darcy's."
"True, and we must thank your aunt when we next see her. Her advice to remain patient, that they would reveal themselves in time has proven more advantageous than I believe even she imagined."
"What shall we do until the Darcy's arrive?"
"What can we do except wait and warn Louisa and Milton to not invite Miss Crawford and Darcy at the same time. Though even if they do, I doubt Miss Crawford will have much opportunity to spend any time with Darcy. Caroline will make sure of that2 ."
"Poor Mr. Darcy!"
They both rolled their eyes, for once thankful that Caroline's antics might for once prove beneficial. Feeling some of the tension of the morning draining off, they both recognized the need for a slight change of subject.
"I do look forward to making the Darcy's acquaintance. You said they should be here by the end of the week?"
Bingley nodded, "Probably the day after next at the earliest. Darcy mentioned in his note that he had a few things to settle with his friends who came with him from America."
"Are these friends coming to London with them?"
"Not at first. I understand they have some family of Mrs. Ridgeworths they intend to visit first. I believe their name is Wentworth."
"They must be looking forward to seeing them again. I suppose they have not seen each other in years."
"Considering the Ridgeworths have been in America for the last three years, except for Mrs. Ridgeworths sister, they have only had letters to satisfy them."
"Well I wish them a happy visit."
They talked for a short while longer before returning to their correspondence and writing up a quick note to the Hursts that while unrevealing of the true situation, let them know it would be inadvisable to have Miss Crawford visit at the same time as the Darcy's.
The next two days passed uneventfully, but pleasantly poisoned only by the disquiet of having yet to inform Mr. Darcy of their disagreeable news. Thankfully they received the Darcy's note two days after Mr. Crawford's visit along with an invitation to dinner the following evening.
1) Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Chapter 46-47
2) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 6,8 & 10-11; Volume 3 Chapter 3
3) Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Chapter 47-48
4) Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Chapter 48
Chapter 23 – Part A
Posted on 2010-03-11
Darcy smiled as he entered the dinning room and observed his sister's third review of her arrangements. Shaking his head at her nervousness, he walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder resulting in a startled yelp followed by pursed lips and a set of narrowed eyes.
"Brother, you should not sneak up on me like that."
"I was not trying to sneak up on you. Besides, any effort to do so would have been wasted; you were so engrossed in your preparations I doubt if you would have noticed a charging elephant enter the room."
This earned him another glare and a gentle swat on the arm, "I can assure you that I would notice a charging elephant, but you hardly qualify as that. Now quite teasing me and let me finish."
Chuckling, Darcy glanced over the table before facing his sister again, "You have looked everything over three times now. Why are you so nervous?"
"You know this is the first time I have organized an entire evening without help and besides, I want to make a good first impression with Mrs. Bingley."
"I sincerely doubt Mrs. Bingley will be looking to find fault not that she could in any case."
"Nevertheless, I want everything to be perfect."
Darcy looked down at his sister and put an arm around her shoulders. "Everything is."
Smiling up at her brother, Georgiana nodded and let him lead her out of the dinning room resisting the urge to glance back at the settings.
As they walked across the entrance hall toward the sitting room to await the Bingley's, both were stunned to hear a knock sound at the door as they knew the Bingley's were not due for another half-an-hour. Curious as to who could be calling, they stopped and watched as a servant answered the door. All apprehension and concern left as soon as the brother and sister saw the servant's reaction and heard an all too familiar voice.
Before the gentleman could proceed further than a few steps inside and hardly a moment after the door was shut, a squeal of delight erupted from Georgiana as she ran across the hall and wrapped her arms around the visitor.
"Richard, it is so good to see you! We were disappointed when we called on our aunt this morning and found you were not there."
"Ah, yes. I was very sorry not to be there, but duty called. Besides, it gave me the opportunity to receive such an enthusiastic greeting I would not have at home."
A blush crept up Georgiana's face as she let go of her cousin and stepped back. Only when she saw the grin on his face did she relax and laugh, "Yes, well, we have not seen you in so long. We missed you."
"As I missed you."
Grinning impishly, Georgiana looked up at him shyly and said, "You mean you did not miss Fitzwilliam?"
Raising his eyebrows, Richard stepped back in semi-mock surprise, "What is this, Darcy? Has our little songbird dared to tease me?"
"Indeed she has and I think you will have to get used to the change."
"My, my . . . and to think, the last time I saw you, you were a quiet little thing and now a lively young lady. I wonder what could have been in America to bring about such a change."
Smiling at the happy interaction, Darcy approached his sister and cousin. "We could alternately thank or blame a Miss Wentworth – Mr. Ridgeworth's sister-in-law – as she and Georgiana became quite good friends during our stay in Boston which only increased significantly during our return voyage. I have little doubt that Georgiana will tell you much about her."
"I can hardly think there would be anything to blame if it means seeing my cousin's bright smile more often."
Georgiana attempted to scowl at her brother though the twinkle in her eye spoiled the effect, "Ignore my brother, Richard. He likes to be contrary whenever Miss Wentworth is mentioned, but you should have seen him tease her."
Darcy's mouth dropped open and he looked positively affronted while the Colonel shot him an amused and inquisitive glance. "I did no such thing."
"Yes you did. You just do not realize it."
"I do not go around teasing young ladies and most particularly not Miss Wentworth."
"You are so blind not to mention stubborn!"
Richard covered his mouth with his hand in an attempt to restrain his mirth at this uncharacteristic display. He knew one thing and that was whoever this Miss Wentworth was, he certainly hoped to meet her if only to thank her for her positive influence on his cousins. Perhaps, he mused as he watched Darcy bluster in response to Georgiana's statements, I might one day call her cousin.
" . . . be that as it may, brother, I still think you like her more than you are willing to admit."
"I have no feelings of the sort for Miss Wentworth."
Pursing her lips, Georgiana raised an eyebrow clearly indicating her disbelief of that statement, but instead of pursuing the subject, she let out an aggravated sigh, "Well, enough of that. Richard, please come into the drawing room. I am sure we would all prefer to have some refreshments and talk beside the fire than to continue standing by the door."
Pleased with the temporary change of subject, Darcy merely nodded and quietly followed his sister and cousin to the drawing room. As he took a seat opposite the Colonel, Darcy warily eyed the overly thoughtful expression on the other gentleman's face and wondered if his cousin was putting a little too much weight to his sister's assertions. Noting the amused glint in Richard's eyes as well as the tell tale twitch of the lips that always warned that his mischievous sense of humor was about to be vocalized, Darcy spoke the first thing that came to mind.
"Oh, Richard, I hope you will join us for dinner. Georgiana arranged everything despite her nervousness. We are having Mr. Bingley and his new wife as guests and it would be good to have you join the party. By the way, have you met Mrs. Bingley? I know you only have a passing acquaintance with Bingley, but perhaps you have had a glimpse of them during their stay in London."
"Firstly, I would be happy to stay for dinner which I am sure will be wonderful, Georgiana. Secondly, no, I have not had the pleasure of meeting the Bingleys. Between my duties, the annual visit to Rosings and my parents' demands, I have had little time to myself. As for . . . Georgiana are you alright?"
Darcy turned to see his sister looking a little ashen with widened eyes. Before he had the chance to speak however, Georgiana rose and hurried for the door, "Please excuse me for just a moment, brother, cousin, I have to have another place set."
"Georgiana, simply ask Mrs. Grey to place the setting and come back here. You do not need to do it all yourself. I am sure everything will be fine."
"No. Although I know Mrs. Grey would handle it quite well, I want everything to be perfect. I will see to it myself."
As Georgiana closed the door behind her, the two men shared a look, "She is really determined to handle it all, is she not?"
"Very much so. I only wish she would not be quite so anxious."
"Darcy, this is her first time arranging everything on her own and as I understand from your letters, she looks forward to making a friend in the new Mrs. Bingley. It is natural that this is important to her that everything be perfect. As time goes on, she will be more confident."
Allowing himself a small worried smile, Darcy leaned back in his chair, "I hope so."
"Hmpfff. Now look whose worrying too much. It is easy to see where she has learned it from."
Laughing, Darcy shook his head as his cousin sat back and gave him a stern glare. "Alright, I see what you mean."
Smiling, Richard laughed too, "Good. It is good to see you both acting so relaxed and lighthearted compared to the last time I saw you. That trip to America has obviously done you a world of good and frankly I am pleased to see the changes though some have objected to them."
Darcy's smile faded, "My aunt informed you of her displeasure with me I take it."
The Colonel grimaced, "Yes, my mother was quite expressive on the subject. She made it quite clear that you were neglecting the family by inviting friends, or 'mere acquaintances' as she called them, before family to a dinner party upon your return to London."
"Still, I do not understand why she was quite so upset."
"I understand that the whole purpose for her party this evening was to introduce you to a young lady."
Darcy shot a sharp look at his cousin. "What makes you think that my aunt is playing matchmaker again?"
"While she did not mention it in so many words, she made it quite clear that certain guests would be most disappointed. Besides, I have overheard several conversations between my parents and my mother has repeatedly mentioned one young woman's name whenever they have been discussing you. Personally, I do not know why my mother is so determined to press the introduction and more than likely a match as well. Having met the lady, I find that although charming and ladylike, she is likewise selfish and not a little cold1 ."
"How does my uncle feel about all of this as well as my absence? Unfortunately, I missed him as well during our call."
"Actually, my father told me to tell you to enjoy your evening and be thankful you had a prior engagement.
"Indeed. I do not think he likes Miss Crawford."
"Hmmm . . ."
Watching his cousin, the Colonel could not help ribbing him a little, "And I think once he hears about a certain Miss Wentworth, he will be more than pleased to help dismantle mother's schemes."
Darcy pursed his lips as he glowered, "Now do not put much stock in Georgiana's assertions on that subject. I am not interested in Miss Wentworth."
"As you say, Darcy, as you say." Despite the words, Darcy could clearly see the gleam in his cousin's eye and knew that the Colonel did not believe him.
Rolling his eyes, Darcy shook his head, "Really Richard! There is nothing to speculate about."
"What am I speculating about?"
Huffing in frustration, Darcy stood and pointed at his cousin. "You know very well what I mean. Ever since Georgiana expressed her opinion on the subject, those gears in your head have been turning nonstop. Know this, I will not tolerate any attempts at matchmaking from anyone, family or no."
"So I am to assume I will meet the lady."
"Yes, she and the Ridgeworths will be visiting Pemberley this summer."
"Ah!" The broad grin on the Colonel's face was nearly enough to make Darcy consider rescinding the invitation to dinner.
Before Darcy could respond, a servant entered and announced the Bingleys.
1) Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Chapter 7 & 47
Chapter 23 Part B
Posted on 2010-04-09
A short while earlier, Bingley felt Elizabeth shift nervously next to him as the carriage started forward. Reaching for her hand, he gently squeezed it and smiled at her. "Relax. There is nothing for you to worry about. Darcy and his sister will like you, I know they will."
"I am sure you are right."
"I worry that your friendship will be adversely affected."
Sighing, Bingley recalled a similar discussion as he watched his wife look down at her hands, "Elizabeth look at me."
When she did, he continued his effort to reassure her, "There are two reasons you should not worry so. The first being that I know Darcy and I sincerely doubt that he will cause us any difficulties, so please trust my judgment. The second being that should he cause us trouble, I will have no qualms over severing an unequal friendship."
"Yes, but the ending of such a friendship would cause you pain and that I do not desire."
Bingley's heart skipped a beat while secretly considering if there might be more to her words. "Thank you, Elizabeth."
They continued to ride in silence content to simply hold hands. By the time they arrived, the anxiety they felt had diminished significantly.
They were greeted by a footman who promptly showed them to the drawing room where they saw the taller dark haired gentleman glaring at a grinning uniform clad gentleman seated by the fire. Elizabeth took in the surprised and subsequently embarrassed looks of the two gentlemen as the flustered footman finished announcing her and Bingley and felt a small ripple of amusement as they hurriedly moved to greet them with curious and welcoming faces. Before either could utter a word, Bingley grinned and spoke.
"I see we have interrupted one of those famous arguments you always mentioned, Darcy. Now what could your dear cousin have done to warrant the infamous Darcy glare?"
The other gentleman affected an offended air only betrayed by his twinkling eyes, "Now really! Why would you assume that I have done something to deserve my cousin's indignation?"
Darcy sighed and smiled in a resigned manner at the now double sided attack though he felt at ease with the effortless banter, "Usually because you have done something cousin." Turning his attention briefly to his cousin who rolled his eyes good naturedly, Darcy then stepped toward his friend noting a certain self-assurance in his manner that though not absent before had grown considerably since he had last seen him.
Shaking his friend's hand, Darcy smiled, "It is good to see you again and I can see you look well."
"As it is to see you and you look as if your trip has given you much pleasure. Please let me introduce you to my wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, this is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, my very good friend."
"It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Mrs. Bingley. What I have been able to decipher of Charles' letters1 about you has been quite positive."
Elizabeth's lips twitched upward and her eyes sparkled as she sneaked a glance at her husband who huffed a little indignantly at the slight to his letter writing.
"Yes, I am well aware of my husband's potential for creating complicated minefields out of his letters1. Likewise my husband has told me much about his friend and I am pleased to finally meet you."
"Thank you Mrs. Bingley. I am sorry my sister is not here to greet you properly, but she left to have another place set for our unexpected addition. Please let me introduce my cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam. Richard, I believe you already know Bingley."
The Colonel nodded to the last but gave a playful grumble. "Am I merely introduced as a passing substitute for your sister, cousin?"
Turning to Elizabeth, the Colonel smiled, "I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, ma'am."
"As I am to make yours, Colonel. I must thank you for your assistance to my sister some time ago sir."
The Colonel blinked blankly at her while Darcy raised an eyebrow, "Your sister?"
Elizabeth smiled and nodded at Darcy's question before motioning at his cousin, "The Colonel was quite kind when he helped my youngest sister from her little escapade up a tree after a wayward bonnet."
For a moment, the gentleman continued to stare blankly before a slow embarrassed smile crossed his face, "Ah, I do recall something of the like. I did not realize there was a connection."
"I am not surprised, though you did make quite the impression on Lydia. She talked of nothing else for quite some time and even now speaks of it on occasion."
Richard cleared his throat while deliberately not looking at his cousin's smirking face, "Yes, well, I only acted as any gentleman would." He paused and noted the expectant looks on the others' faces and continued, "I hope the young lady is well."
"She is indeed."
Before Elizabeth could say more the door opened and Miss Darcy entered.
"Brother I . . . Oh . . ." Georgiana stood there wide eyed and mute until Darcy took pity on her sudden reversal in manner.
Walking over to his sister, he took her arm patting it reassuringly as he turned to their guests.
"Bingley, you know my sister. Mrs. Bingley, please let me introduce my sister, Georgiana. Georgiana, this is Mrs. Bingley."
Smiling shyly, Georgiana disengaged her arm from her brother and approached Elizabeth.
"It is a pleasure to meet you."
"I can assure you the pleasure is mine. My husband has told me much about you and your brother."
Bingley smiled and added, "Yes, I told her quite a bit about Darcy as well as informed her of your excellent skill at the pianoforte. Unfortunately, that left her feeling just a little intimidated."
Elizabeth blushed and sent a brief glare in the direction of her rather too innocent looking husband. "Charles! I would not necessarily say intimidated was the correct word; however, I readily admit to my lack of superior performance. I fear I am only somewhat competent."
Bingley shook his head, "Do not listen to her. She is more than competent."
"And that is a biased opinion, my dear."
Georgiana smiled widely at the animated exchange. Although she recalled Mr. Bingley as always having been cheerful and outgoing, she had never really seen him this lively and what appealed to her most was the complete lack of artificiality in either of them.
"I can assure you that my playing is only tolerable."
The Colonel shook his head in disbelief at his youngest cousin, "Hardly that. You play very well."
It was only when he looked up that Richard Fitzwilliam knew he was in for it; Georgiana's sparkling eyes and mischevious smirk told him all he needed to know.
"And how would you know how I play now, Cousin? You have not heard me play since last summer."
Darcy looked aghast, "Georgie!
"Well, he has not. Besides, I have not been able to practice since before we left America." Here she again reverted to her natural shyness as she looked at Elizabeth, "It is rather difficult to pack a piano after all and I dare say it would have been tricky to play while the ship rocked with the waves."
Elizabeth's eyes twinkled, "I imagine it would though it would have been an interesting challenge."
Georgiana could not help but giggle a little, "Indeed."
Although he was pleased with his sister's behavior despite his moment of shock, Darcy realized they had left their guests standing. Quickly rectifying the situation, Darcy asked everyone to sit down and offered something to drink which the others turned down. They spoke of only a few subjects, namely the Darcys' return voyage before dinner was announced.
After they were seated, Elizabeth complimented on how nice everything looked and asked Miss Darcy if she had planned it all. Georgiana replied shyly that she had. From there on, the discussion passed from the dinner itself to a number of other subjects and finally to the Darcys' description of their trip to Boston. Much laughter filled the room after Georgiana related a few of the verbal sparing matches that occurred between her brother and Miss Wentworth much to the former's chagrin resulting in repeated further denials on his part that he was not interested which only increased the amusement of the rest of the party and the frustration of his sister. Finally, when the meal came to an end, everyone prepared to return to the drawing room when Bingley asked if he might have a moment of Darcy's time resulting in the gentlemen taking their leave and removing to Darcy's study leaving the ladies to their own devices.
For some minutes Elizabeth and Georgiana had some general conversation before Georgiana fell silent and her pensive manner caused her guest some concern.
"Miss Darcy is something the matter?"
"No, nothing is the matter. Rather . . . I . . . oh, it is nothing of importance and I am sure you would think me impertinent."
"How could I think you impertinent? You have been nothing but what a lady should be."
Georgiana blushed, "Well, would you mind if I asked you a . . . personal question? You do not have to answer. I . . . I am only curious but that is not excuse to pry . . ."
Elizabeth gently lay a hand on the nervous young woman's arm and smiled causing the other's babbling to cease. "Go ahead and ask your question. If it is not something I feel comfortable answering, I will say so, but I will not be upset with your merely asking a question. You are not malicious or seeking any harm, merely curious."
The young lady gave a relieved smile and then bit her lip as she hesitated. "I have observed how well you and Mr. Bingley get along and how happy you two seem. How . . . how could you be sure that you and Mr. Bingley would be happy when you married? I mean the circumstances . . . after the tragedy of losing both your father and sister and everything, how could you see passed it?"
Georgiana paused when she looked up to see the surprised expression on Elizabeth's face and when no response was forthcoming, she clenched her hands tightly together in her lap as her face flushed with mortification, "Oh I knew I should not have asked."
This startled Elizabeth out of her daze, "Miss Darcy, please do not distress yourself. I was merely taken aback, that is all. And to answer your question, I did not know. At the time so much had happened and so many complications as well as other things that it was the only thing either Charles or I could do. To be perfectly honest, I could not see beyond what was happening at the time to even consider what the future would hold."
"Oh. How did you manage to cope?"
"Well, I am not exactly sure where to start, but besides understanding what each of us were going through and trying to support each other, we mostly talked."
"Anything and everything . . ."
Elizabeth and Georgiana talked until they heard the gentlemen returning when Elizabeth fell silent and focused on Bingley as he came through the door. Considering the serious but friendly interaction between them and her husband's nod and smile to her, Elizabeth felt herself relax as she finally could let go of her worries regarding Charles' friends' acceptance.
The evening continued with more cheerful topics until it was time for the Bingleys to leave. Darcy, his sister and cousin walked with them to their carriage.
Before the Bingleys entered, Darcy spoke.
"It was a pleasure to see you again Bingley and a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Bingley. I hope we will have an opportunity to meet again soon. Perhaps you could join us for dinner next week?"
Bingley spoke first, "I wish we could Darcy, but we have to be in Hertfordshire in a week. Two friends of ours are to be married. Miss Lucas, a good friend of my wife, who was also of great help to us, is to be married to Doctor Richards who treated Elizabeth and her family after the accident. Perhaps we could arrange another time."
"Well, Georgiana and I will be leaving for Pemberley in two weeks time. Some friends of ours from America will be visiting. Bingley, you and now your wife are welcome to come to Pemberley at any time, remember you still have an open invitation."
"Thank you Darcy. I will remember that."
After the carriage left, Georgina turned to her brother, "I like her. They seem to make a good couple."
Darcy nodded, "They do indeed. I think Bingley will have a happy marriage despite the circumstances that brought it to be."
"I am glad. I would not want them to be unhappy."
Darcy smiled at his sister, "You would never want anyone to be unhappy."
Richard finally joined the conversation, "Quite true, Darcy. Georgiana is the kindest of young ladies."
Blushing, Georgiana smiled at the praise from her brother and cousin and decided to change the subject, "So, do you think they will come to Pemberley?"
"Perhaps, but I do not know what obligations they have now. I do hope they will have an opportunity some time this summer; I would like them to meet the Ridgeworths. Oh, you are welcome to come whenever you can, Richard."
"Thank you so much for remembering me, cousin."
Georgiana giggled at Richard's dry reaction to her brother's afterthought of an invitation before grinning and turning her attention to her brother.
"Do you not wish them to meet Miss Wentworth too?"
Darcy froze at his sister's remark but recovered himself quickly.
"Naturally, I would not wish to slight her. She is, after all, Mrs. Ridgeworth's sister."
"Is that the only reason, brother?"
Taking in his sister's sly smile and his cousin's amused grin, Darcy threw up his hands and walked back into the house wondering when their teasing would end. Probably, he thought, not until they have married me off and likely not even then.
1) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 10
Posted on 2010-10-09
The next morning, Bingley smiled as he entered the breakfast room, "Good morning, Elizabeth. You are up awfully early."
Setting down her letters, Elizabeth looked up and returned the smile, "I am up early every morning even after late evenings. I know I told you last night, but I enjoyed meeting your friends, particularly Miss Darcy; she is a sweet young woman."
Accepting a cup of tea from Elizabeth, Bingley grabbed a muffin and took a seat beside her. "I am glad you enjoyed yourself. Do you suppose you would like to visit them after we return from Miss Lucas' wedding?"
Elizabeth frowned, "I thought they were travelling to Pemberley."
"They are. What I meant was . . . well . . . After Miss Lucas' wedding, your sisters and mother will be staying again in Meryton and your Aunt and Uncle have plans to visit the lakes1 while Louisa and Hurst are taking Caroline to visit Bath. I thought perhaps a trip to the country would suit you. I know you long for your long walks and are unable to enjoy them while we are in Town and I know you would enjoy exploring Pemberley's grounds. Besides Darcy has already extended an open invitation . . ."
"I think that would be wonderful. It will be nice to escape Town for a while and I would like to know the Darcy's better. Yet, I do wonder if that is all you have in mind; you look like you want to say something else."
Bingley chuckled, "Yes, I am completely unable to hide anything. I am easily read."
Playfully swatting him with one of her unopened letters, Elizabeth sent a mock glare at him while making a poor effort at suppressing a grin, "You mean to imply that my powers of perception are weak, sir! How discourteous you are!"
Joining in the teasing, Bingley placed a hand over his heart and attempted a solemn expression, "My sincerest apologies dear lady for placing your most remarkable powers of perception in any doubt. You truly are most perspicacious."
After a moment of silence the two burst out laughing. Once able to control her giggles, Elizabeth said, "Perspicacious? Where did you ever hear a word like that?"
Bingley grinned, "Caroline. She always did like to show off and when she was about fourteen she endeavored to use as many large words as she could and spent several hours pouring through the dictionary. Suffice it to say, I was left asking her to translate so that I might understand her dialect."
"How did she come to use a word like perspicacious?"
"It was after about the tenth time I asked her to repeat herself or translate into common English that she claimed that I needed to study more if I were to be perspicacious enough to understand her common English. It was her way of saying I was not clever."
She laughed, "Well, you were clever enough to speak in a way that people could understand what you were saying while she was focused on appearing intelligent."
"Very true! I heartily agree with your assessment, dear."
Elizabeth's eyebrows rose, "You were awfully quick to agree."
"Of course. You are very perspicacious."
Laughing, Elizabeth shook her head, "And to prove that point I will simply remind you that you have yet to tell me what it is you wanted to say."
She raised an eyebrow as if to dare him to change the subject again, but he merely nodded and fidgeted with his cup. When he failed to say anything, Elizabeth frowned, "Is it something serious?"
"Yes and no. I guess what I wanted to say was . . . How would you feel about looking at some houses when we visit Pemberley?"
"Oh . . . well I . . ."
"I do not mean to say we have to pick any of the houses, but I thought you might like the countryside there and it would place us close to friends2. " Bingley paused and sighed, "I am not doing a very good job at this . . . What I was trying to say is that I hoped we could use the opportunity to search for a house that would suit us both."
"I think that would be a great idea."
Bingley looked up, "You do?"
"Of course but I foresee only one problem?"
"What is that?"
"Are there any houses available in Derbyshire?"
Seeing the mischievous twinkle in her eye, Bingley grinned as he shook his head, "That I do not know, but can easily find out. I asked Darcy last night if he knew of any houses in the area might be open and he said he could find out for us."
Arching a single eyebrow, Elizabeth looked intently at him over the rim of her cup, "You spoke to your friend before me?"
Unsure if she were teasing now or genuinely upset with him, Bingley held up a hand to forestall any possible scolding. "I told him I had yet to speak to you before we even decided to look and Darcy said that once we decided whether or not we wanted to look to simply let him know and he could procure a detailed list of houses available as well as their conditions."
Elizabeth blushed as she realized how quickly she had jumped to a conclusion and put the cup down, "Oh, I . . . umm . . ."
"Do not apologize. I understand your concern." Then he added with a rueful smile, "But just so you know, I did learn my lesson on the whole Netherfield issue."
Relaxing a little Elizabeth fiddled with her cup as she looked up at him. "It appears though that I did not learn mine. Charles, I am sorry."
Bingley reached over and took her hand, "It is quite alright."
Facing him, Elizabeth felt she could not determine the meaning of his expression or rather she could not admit to understanding the tender look. Feeling overwhelmed, Elizabeth gave an uneasy smile and turned back to her letters. Upon seeing who the first was from, she frowned and exclaimed, "My aunt has sent me a note. I wonder why she simply did not call instead."
Opening it, she let out a sigh as she read it.
"Is something wrong?"
Elizabeth looked up, "It appears my mother has returned to Grace Church Street and intends to call here tomorrow."
Pausing as he considered his words, Bingley tentatively asked, "And what does your Aunt say about your Mother's feelings toward us."
"My Aunt says that she is more resigned to it than pleased, but she at least no longer hates it. Evidently her learning of our dining with the Darcy's last evening has made her feel a little more charitable."
Bingley raised an eyebrow, "Why do I have the feeling that her good humor is directly related to Darcy's marital status?"
At that, Elizabeth could not help but share a partially amused look with him, "On that score at least we can have no doubt. My mother has been pestering my Aunt and Uncle with questions about Mr. Darcy and at the same time communicating her remaining daughters' marriage expectations with increasing frequency3."
"It is fortunate, I suppose, that Darcy will so soon leave for Pemberley."
"It is indeed, I for one am grateful that the Darcy's and my mother will not be crossing paths. I would not wish to alienate your friend via my mother's obsessive fortune-centric matchmaking. 3"
"While I am equally grateful for the respite on this issue, I do wonder how you feel about this, I mean, your mother's coming here tomorrow."
Elizabeth stared at her tea which was growing cold, "I must admit that I . . . am wary of her visit."
Seeing his wife's agitation, Bingley reached over and again took her hand giving it a gentle squeeze. "You do not have to see her if you do not wish it."
Shaking her head, Elizabeth looked up, "No. It must be now. It would not be fair to have the first meeting occur at Charlotte's Wedding. If my mother is to make a scene, it would be better to be here tomorrow, than there."
Sighing, Bingley knew he could not argue with that statement, but refrained from stating that he thought it a hopeless cause to even think it possible to prevent Mrs. Bennet from creating a scene once she had set her mind to do so. Instead, he asked, "Would you like me to stay and be with you when she calls?"
Elizabeth looked up with a grateful expression, "Please Charles. I would be glad to have your support and . . . perhaps . . ."
"Perhaps she may not be as caustic as she might if it were only the two of you or even with your aunt present."
"Yes, that is my hope."
"Then I shall be here." Bingley paused as he looked down at their hands, "Elizabeth, I would not let anyone hurt you, not even your mother."
Blushing, Elizabeth turned away, quietly pulling her hand from his, "Thank you. You do not know how much that means."
Seeing her discomfort, Bingley sat back with a strained smile, "I am happy to help."
After that, they lapsed into silence for the rest of the meal after which they went their separate ways as Bingley had business to attend to while Elizabeth had her own duties to see to. Neither saw each other until dinner much to one's relief and the other's consternation.
1) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 2 Chapter 19
2) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 3 Chapter 19
3) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 1
Chapter 25 - Part A
Posted on 2010-10-26
Walking up the stairs, Bingley tried to tamp down his growing concern. When he had noticed Elizabeth's absence at breakfast and had learned from the servants that she had yet to leave her room, he had immediately guessed the cause and dropped everything to go to her.
After reaching her door, Bingley entered after receiving her faint response to his knock and was unsurprised to see Elizabeth pacing restlessly with her arms crossed tightly in front of her.
Frowning at Elizabeth's behavior, Bingley walked over and put his hands on her shoulders to stop her pacing and then reached with one hand to gently tilt her face up. When she would not meet his eyes, he became more worried.
"Elizabeth, if you do not feel up to seeing your mother today, we can call it off."
Finally looking up at him, Elizabeth shook her head adamantly, "No, it will be better not to put this off. If we postpone it, I will only have more time to worry about how my mother might behave. You must see that it is better to have it over with today as we will at least know what we are now facing."
Realizing she was right, Bingley sighed and pulled her into his arms where she rested her head on his shoulder. He simply held her for a moment before speaking. "I agree with you, but I still do not like to see you so upset."
Elizabeth turned her head so that she could look up at him without removing her head from his shoulder and for a few moments observed him silently. Unsure of what to say, she instead tried to smile, "You do not need to worry. I will be alright as soon as my mother's visit is over."
"It is not a matter of needing to, Elizabeth; I simply do." As much as Bingley wished to continue in the direction the conversation had turned to, he also noted the time on the clock above the mantlepiece. Reluctantly, he pulled away from a now confused Elizabeth. Placing his hands back on her arms, Bingley forced a smile, "And since we still have a little time before your mother and Aunt Gardiner arrives, I think we should make our way to the breakfast room and have a bite to eat and talk about some other topic until then."
"Charles, until this is over, I am not sure I will be able to eat."
"You should at least try to have some tea. It will be better if you have something on your stomach."
"But . ."
Holding up a hand, Bingley closed his eyes for a moment in mild frustration, "Now, Elizabeth, I am asking you to please trust me and allow me to make this easier for you."
"How can you make this any easier than you already have?"
Bingley smiled cheekily, "Well, you could take my advice and eat something."
Letting her hands fall to her sides in defeat, Elizabeth shook her head while a small smile played at her lips. "Alright, I will try. But I make no promises on if my stomach will cooperate."
"Fair enough. Besides, I would not have been able to eat at all if you had refused to eat and I for one am famished."
Pursing her lips in order to stave off a smile, Elizabeth playfully swatted his arm, "Ah, so all you really care about is filling your empty stomach?"
"Absolutely! Now, are you coming down or must I carry you down?"
Elizabeth's mouth dropped open, "Charles! You would not!"
"And why would I not?"
Unsure of what to make of the mischievous twinkle in his eye, Elizabeth turned and headed toward her vanity. "You simply would not."
Before the words had even finished leaving her mouth she felt herself spun around and lifted up in one smooth movement.
"Is there a problem, dear?"
Elizabeth drew her head back and looked at her husband noting the twitching lips and raised eyebrow. Spluttering, she racked her mind for an answer when she spied the door. "Actually, yes. How do you propose we leave the room with the door closed?"
Bingley's other eyebrow rose to join the first, "Ah, but you forgot all the practice I got not so long ago." And with that, he smoothly bent and used his right hand that was around her back to turn the knob and open the door, reversing the process when he'd stepped out. Only when he straightened and they were halfway down the hall did Elizabeth loosen her grip.
"Charles! What are you doing?" Elizabeth laughed.
"Cheering you up and as you are laughing, I can see it is working splendidly."
Shaking her head, Elizabeth smiled and rested her head on his shoulder, "Thank you."
After a moment, Elizabeth added, "You know you can put me down now, I am perfectly capable of walking to the breakfast room on my own."
"Oh, I know you are, but I am quite content to carry you."
"But I know I am too heavy. You had enough to carry me when my ankle was injured, but . . ."
"But as that is the door to the breakfast room it makes our little disagreement a moot point, would you not agree?"
Pursing her lips, Elizabeth glared at him, though its effect was lost by the slight upward tilt of her lips. "Hmmm . . ."
Bingley simply grinned at her and Elizabeth could hold out no longer and laughed, "All right, you win. This time."
"Only this time?"
"Only this time."
Only their having reached the table prevented the conversation from slipping into a playful game of 'will to and will not.' Setting her down, Bingley pulled out a chair for her and once she was seated, he leaned down next to her ear. "Now you must eat something. If you would prefer something else than what is here, I will ask cook to fix it for you. All you must do is ask."
"Oh, that will not be necessary. I think I will have a cup of tea and one of those muffins."
"Good." He whispered before quickly kissing her on the cheek.
Blushing, Elizabeth watched him as he took a seat next to her and poured tea for both of them before turning her attention to the muffin he procured for her.
At this point, the pair lapsed into silence each mired in their own thoughts. Bingley stole occasional glances at her and gratefully observed that she did not revert to her earlier distressed manner. Likewise, Elizabeth peeked at him whenever he was not looking and mulled over the events of the morning so far.
When breakfast, such as it was, was finished, Bingley turned to Elizabeth, "Feeling better prepared for your mother's visit?"
"At least it will soon be over."
"Indeed." Elizabeth paused and then added, "I think before my aunt and my mother arrive I will return to my room for . . ."
Before she could finish the door opened and a footman entered, "Pardon me, but Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Bennet have arrived. They are waiting in the drawing room."
Bingley blinked, "Thank you, Jones. Tell them we will be with them in a moment." Once Jones had left, Bingley turned to Elizabeth, "They are earlier than expected."
"No doubt my mother's doing. We will have to remember to thank my aunt."
Confused, Bingley frowned, "For what?"
"For keeping my mother from calling at daybreak."
"Surely she would not have thought to call so early."
Elizabeth shook her head, "Where family is concerned, she cares little for proper etiquette regarding calls."
"Hmmm . . . I should have realized that."
"And I should have remembered as well, but as it is she is here now."
Bingley looked over and noticed that despite here calm exterior, her clenched hands and pale face betrayed her nervousness. Standing, he pulled out her chair and when she stood, he turned her to face him and when she finally looked up at him he spoke. "It will be fine. Remember, I will be right there next to you."
Elizabeth nodded and took a deep breath, "I know. Shall we go see them now?"
"Yes. Let's get this over with." Bingley held out his arm to Elizabeth who smiled gratefully as she took it and both proceeded to the drawing room where Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Bennet waited.
Chapter 25 – Part B
Posted on 2010-11-05
As Elizabeth and Bingley neared the drawing room, they could hear Mrs. Bennet's loud commentary emanating through the door. The pair shared a look that conveyed their mutual apprehension and forbearance. Shaking his head slightly, Bingley opened the door for Elizabeth, but both paused when they heard Mrs. Bennet's unmistakable voice.
" . . . The room is pleasant but Lizzy ought to have made some changes. After all, there is hardly anything in here that meets current fashion. What must people think!"
Feeling his wife's hand tighten on his arm, Bingley reached over and patted her hand before starting into the room and addressing his mother-in-law, "Whatever anyone else may think, I find my wife's tastes quite to my liking."
Mrs. Bennet paused with her mouth open as she looked at the two of them. Glancing at Mrs. Gardiner and taking in her pursed lips and warning glare, Mrs. Bennet closed her mouth and forced a smile.
"Lizzy dear, you are looking well."
Elizabeth nodded as Bingley escorted her to the settee, seated her and promptly took the spot next to her. "I am well. And you, you appear to be doing well too."
"Indeed I am. My sister Philips' new home was quite pleasant and accommodating considering my situation. I must say my brother Philips has already made quite an impression on the community there. Do you know he already has fifteen clients and has handled several bits of business. And the society is far superior to Meryton. Did you know that they host five assemblies a year to Meryton's three not to mention all the parties and private balls hosted by various estate owners. Although I was not able to attend, I understand that everything was very fine indeed. And you would not believe . . ."
From that moment, it was a continuous monologue of trivialities that tried the patience of the three listeners. Aside from the occasional nod, no conversation was required by them until the subject of Bingley and Elizabeth's dinner with the Darcy's came up. This subject took up a full half hour – mostly involving descriptions of the house, menu and other guests – and required more evasive answers and verbal maneuvering after the inevitable inquiries into Mr. Darcy's and Colonel Fitzwilliam's marital status were made. However, whatever pleasure Mrs. Bennet procured from the knowledge that both these gentlemen were highly eligible was diminished greatly in light of the fact that neither gentleman would remain in town for long putting her hopes of creating an opportunity for her remaining daughters to cross paths with them at an end. Disappointed to no end, Mrs. Bennet consoled herself by changing the subject to a more pleasant one, but, if Bingley and Elizabeth took this as a sign that they had weathered the worst of the visit, they would soon learn that this was merely the eye of the storm.
As Mrs. Bennet prattled on, Bingley looked at Elizabeth taking in the tired yet resolute expression. When she finally glanced at him, he mouthed, "It is almost over." Elizabeth gave him a brief smile and reached over to take his hand, squeezing it gently. While they shared this fleeting moment, neither perceived the change in Mrs. Bennet. Seeing a familiar and unwelcome look pass over Mrs. Bennet's face as she observed the couple, Mrs. Gardiner stiffened, glancing quickly at the pair before pursing her lips as she turned back to her sister-in-law to suggest that it was time to leave. Before Mrs. Gardiner could utter a sound, however, Mrs. Bennet addressed the couple.
"You know I have not yet seen the house. I would really like to see it before my sister and I have to leave."
Elizabeth noticed the change and quickly glanced at her aunt taking in her frustrated and resigned expression. Looking at her husband, Elizabeth could see that he was ready to step in and call an end to the visit, but she also noted the confrontational look in her mother's eyes knowing that it only meant trouble if her request was not granted. Forcing a smile on her face, Elizabeth faced her mother, "Of course. We will be happy to show the house."
Standing, Elizabeth felt Bingley take her arm. When she looked up, she saw the tension in his face. Leaning close, she whispered, "At least this will keep her from asking for another visit."
He nodded in understanding but retained his hold on her arm intending to stay close throughout the tour.
Starting on the main floor, Bingley and Elizabeth patiently led Mrs. Bennet through the rooms all the while enduring her endless chatter and especially the ever increasing criticisms. However, after they arrived on the second floor, everything took a definite turn for the worse with Mrs. Bennet finding fault with every little thing particularly after entering Elizabeth's private sitting room upon which Mrs. Bennet could find little to please her.
Letting out a loud hiss, Mrs. Bennet turned to her daughter, "Lizzy! Why this room is not fit to be seen. Those curtains are completely out of style and that couch is absolutely hideous. You have been married several months now. Why have you not done anything about this yet? You are neglecting your duties as a wife! Now Jane would have handled this responsibility already. You really are a poor . . ."
Fed up with his mother-in-law's incessant disparagement of his wife, Bingley scowled at Mrs. Bennet, "Elizabeth is not neglecting her duties as my wife. In fact . . ."
"Then it would also be safe to conclude that I can expect a grandchild soon?"
Both Bingley and Elizabeth turned a deep shade of scarlet while Mrs. Gardiner managed a reproving, "Fanny!"
While Elizabeth stood in stunned silence, Bingley stared at his mother-in-law, "I do not think . . ."
Before he could say more, he was interrupted by a loud huff and Mrs. Bennet's disapproving frown. Turning to her daughter, Mrs. Bennet started shaking her finger at her, "So you have not even begun to work toward producing an heir! You realize you are failing in your responsibility as a wife. Jane would have already been expecting by now!"
Finally snapping out of her shock, Elizabeth glared at her, "But Mama, you never gave birth to an heir for if you did, Longbourn would not now be in Mr. Collins' possession1 ."
Mrs. Bennet huffed again and looked away, "That was your father's fault. But that is not the issue! I at least made the attempt."
Having had more than enough of this discussion , Bingley stepped in, "Madam. This conversation is over."
"But . . ."
Bingley held up a hand, "No. Elizabeth's and my private life is frankly none of your business. As to Elizabeth's suitability as my wife, she has done exceptionally well under the circumstances of our marriage."
"And what exactly does that mean? What do the circumstances have to do with anything? It does not change the fact that . . ."
Seeing the obstinant expression on Mrs. Bennet's face as she continued on, Bingley realized any argument was useless and decided to end the conversation with or without her cooperation, "I believe it is time you left. You are no longer welcome here." Turning to Mrs. Gardiner, he gave a remorseful look, "I apologize for insisting on making you leave at the present time, please know that you are still very much welcome here."
Mrs. Gardiner shook her head, "It is I who must apologize. I did not know she would do this. I truly thought she was at least tolerating your marraige."
Bingley held up a hand, "No apology is necessary . . ."
A fuming Mrs. Bennet interrupted, staring angrily at Bingley, "You refuse to welcome me - your wife's mother - yet you freely accept her, an aunt only by marriage."
"I welcomed you when you first entered my home, however, that welcome was thrown in my face by you as you have done little but criticize and belittle us. So I feel very justified in my actions." Turning back to Mrs. Gardiner, "May I impose on you to escort Mrs. Bennet out?"
She nodded, "Of course, we will leave immediately."
"If you need anything, ask any of the servants."
Understanding his meaning, Mrs. Gardiner nodded again before propelling a protesting Mrs. Bennet from the room.
After the door closed behind them, Bingley turned to see that Elizabeth had retreated to the window and now stood staring out at the street below. Walking over to her, Bingley hesitated briefly before putting his arms around her only to feel her stiffen slightly in his embrace. Bingley grimaced in dismay and started to say something when Elizabeth spoke.
"I do not know what to say."
"You need not say anything. What she said was both inconsiderate and unwarrantable."
Elizabeth looked down before quietly speaking, "It may have been inconsiderate, but I do not know if it was completely pointless."
Bingley stepped back as he frowned and turned her around to face him, "What do you mean?"
Blushing, Elizabeth refused to meet his eyes, "You . . . you do have your responsibilities to your family and position to consider and . . . and at some point you will want an heir. I . . . I mean it is only natural . . ."
"Shhh . . . Elizabeth, calm yourself and look at me." When she did, he continued, "You are my family and whatever expectations my other relations may have, you will always come first."
"But . . ."
"No. As my wife, you come before my sisters and all my other relations. As for," Bingley found he had to pause to clear his throat, "As for the issue of an heir, there is no rush. If and when we . . . umm . . . desire to . . . umm . . . have children, that will be soon enough to discuss it. As it is, we can continue on as we have been."
Elizabeth opened her mouth to say something else and then closed it again. Stepping forward, she felt Bingley's arms wrap around her as she leaned against him. The room became unnaturally silent as neither said a word, both content to simply hold onto each other and let the subject drop for now.
1) Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Volume 1 Chapter 7 & 13To Be Continued . . .