Posted on 2014-09-08
Netherfield Park was asplendor with all the excitement and festivities one might expect at a ball. Miss Bingley had been most determined that while she may be relegated to her brother's country house and the meager society that surrounded it, even the most refined of attendees should not find anything lacking in her display. Whether in truth it was Mr. Darcy's opinion that concerned her over any other was neither here nor there.
As for the gentleman in question, it mattered not, for he was sufficiently occupied attending to his present conversation and maintaining a studious ignorance of the lilting sound of laughter coming from a certain young lady, who while not unusually handsome, was inconveniently more tempting than he would care to admit.
It was unfortunate, then, that Mr. Wilson, with whom Mr. Darcy had been speaking, chose that particular moment to ask for an introduction to a young lady he had spied on numerous occasions throughout the evening. Not that providing an introduction to the young lady herself was particularly objectionable - for Mr. Darcy was certain that any member of the local gentry was equally unsuitable - but rather it was her present company that caused him concern.
Be that as it may, Mr. Darcy had little choice but to perform the office as requested, and so he inclined his head and led Mr. Wilson to be introduced to the ladies, Miss Charlotte Lucas and her present companion - Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
"Miss Lucas, Miss Bennet," Mr. Darcy greeted formally, "May I introduce Mr. Wilson of Crenley Hall. Wilson, Miss Charlotte Lucas and Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"How do you do, sir," Miss Lucas greeted as the ladies performed their curtsies.
Mr. Wilson nodded in polite greeting as the second young lady began to speak.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, sir," Miss Elizabeth smiled.
"The pleasure is mine, I assure you," Mr. Wilson replied. He then proceeded to draw both ladies into conversation, speaking of all matters inconsequential which are expected to be discussed at a ball. Mr. Darcy remained, though by his silence it could be questioned whether he did so out of desire for their company, or that he simply would not trouble himself to move elsewhere.
While Miss Elizabeth's conversation was vibrant and made no secret of her wit, it was Miss Lucas' staid participation and subtle confidence that had made an impression on Mr. Wilson, and so he continued on his intended course. "Miss Lucas," he said, "if you are not otherwise engaged, I should like to request the next two dances."
"I thank you, sir," Miss Lucas accepted warmly, "I should be happy to accept."
"Very good then, I believe they are lining up even now," Mr. Wilson replied, offering up his hand to escort her.
"Miss Elizabeth," Mr. Darcy said once the pair had left, "might I request the next set?"
"Why...I had not..." Miss Elizabeth paused to collect her faltered speech, and mustered a weak smile, "Yes, you may."
Mr. Darcy led Miss Elizabeth to the floor in anticipation of enjoying the next half hour's time in the company of the lady who intrigued him so. Not being a man given to shows of enthusiasm, however, this sentiment was not readily portrayed to the lady herself. With no great deflect from their natural characters on the part of either, their conversation heated and turned in a most unfortunate manner, to the frustration and dissatisfaction of both. Thankfully for the pair that had preceded them into the set, polite conversation between acquaintances was not so difficult to accomplish.
"I must thank you for the pleasure, Miss Lucas," said Mr. Wilson, not long after their dance had begun, "I do enjoy a dance, even when I am not well acquainted with many of the ladies in the room."
"A problem easily remedied, I assure you," Miss Lucas replied, wondering which of the young ladies present had caught his eye and resigning herself to the introduction.
"That it is, particularly with so amiable an acquaintance as Mr. Bingley, though Mr. Darcy has performed the office effectively."
Charlotte would later chastise herself for the smiling blush that quickly effused her features at this, she should not so readily assume that Mr. Wilson's comment had been meant flirtatiously. "Have you known Mr. Bingley long?"
Mr. Wilson smiled, in a manner not unlike his aforementioned friend, and accepted Miss Lucas' modest dismissal of his compliment. "For several years, in fact; his father and mine shared several acquaintances, both business and social. I admit in our younger years, a boy over ten years my junior was not an attractive addition to the party, but I have quite enjoyed his recent visits to my estate, and am glad to return the favor."
Nothing of great consequence was said for the remainder of their dance, though when Charlotte was approached soon after by her mother - in the unfortunate company of Mrs. Bennet - such was not easily believed.
"I see you have danced with Mr. Wilson," said Lady Lucas to her daughter.
"That I have," Charlotte replied calmly.
"Well, come come, Miss Lucas! Do tell us what was said," Mrs. Bennet inquired with equal parts excitement and impatience.
"Nothing of great consequence I assure you. He professes a delight in dancing, and he spoke of his long-standing friendship with Mr. Bingley."
Lady Lucas then inquired as to whether he had requested another set, as he enjoyed dancing so. When it was discovered that he had not, it could not easily be said which most dominated the conversation that followed, Lady Lucas' subtle hints that she wished Charlotte had tried more, or Mrs. Bennet's appreciation that Mr. Wilson had not requested a second set and might then settle his attention on one of her own girls.
Miss Lucas was quite glad of it when this particular subject was laid to rest, even if it meant the matrons would now return to prodding for more information she may have gleaned during her dance with Wilson.
"And did he tell you of his estate?" Mrs. Bennet inquired eagerly.
"Mr. Wilson did made brief mention of it," Miss Lucas replied.
Of too much enthusiasm, but at least a great deal more sense than her previous effusions were Mrs. Bennet's recitations of Mr. Wilson's wealth and consequence. She was quite proud to have learned from Mrs. Long that he held an estate in Buckinghamshire, which was of long standing in his family, and its income rumored to be just over two thousand pounds per annum. Being that this figure was not far shy of Longbourn's income, Mrs. Bennet considered his slightly advanced age and modest looks to be of little hindrance to his being a fine match for one of her daughters.
"Oh, I do hope he shall soon dance with one of my girls," cried Mrs. Bennet, "if you will excuse me, I must go and speak to Kitty and Lydia directly. In my day, I could well appreciate a red coat as much as any of them, but I will not have my girls garnishing all of their attention on the officers to the exclusion of an eligible gentleman."
It was quite fortunate that rather than overhearing this indomitably vulgar display and attributing Miss Lucas any credit for it, Mr. Wilson was otherwise engaged, having been snatched up by his friend almost the exact moment he released his dance partner. Mr. Bingley, eager to introduce as a gentleman hosting his first ball and of his amiable temper can be expected to be, was happy to introduce his friend Mr. Wilson to several of the gentlemen in the room, not excluding Sir William Lucas, a circumstance which pleased Mr. Wilson as it save him the trouble of asking for the introduction directly.
"Sir William, may I present an old and dear acquaintance of mine, Mr. Wilson of Crenley Hall. Wilson, this is Sir William Lucas of Lucas Lodge."
"A most capital pleasure, sir," Sir William beamed, "any friend of Mr. Bingley's can be assured an excellent reception in our neighborhood, I am sure."
"I thank you, sir," Mr. Wilson replied with a dip of his head and a few marks less enthusiasm, "And may I say that after the honor of escorting your daughter Miss Lucas in the dance, the pleasure is mine as well."
"Capital, capital," replied Sir William, not immune to the compliment of his daughter being mentioned, and not of a mind to pass up on the opportunity, "I hope you would feel most welcome to call at Lucas Lodge, if you are so inclined. I am often fond of a match of chess, and the sport on my property is as good as any. Am I to understand that Crenley Hall is in Hertfordshire?"
"Buckinghamshire, sir, but being in the southeastern quarter of the county, it is not an overly troublesome distance for visiting friends, as you see evidenced this evening."
"Very good then," Sir William answered, in a rare break from his typical exclamation, "I hope we shall soon see you then, calling upon your friends again at Netherfield and Lucas Lodge."
The remainder of the evening passed quite enjoyably for Mr. Wilson. The local populace was warm and welcoming, and where he might have overheard hints of vulgarity and a few remarks on the details of his income and estate, he admitted it was not so very different from what he encountered in his own neighborhood, nor was it so rampant as the gossip regarding the more affluent coffers of Mr. Darcy or his old friend Bingley.
Though he might not be so eager to dance as Mr. Bingley, he was fond of the activity, and through the course of the evening he found many willing and agreeable partners. Miss Jane and Miss Elizabeth Bennet were two such agreeable ladies, after which he paid the due compliment of requesting a set from Miss Bingley. She might have felt far more superior about the quality of her partner if he had not proceeded to dance the following set with Miss Mary Bennet.
To Mrs. Bennet's vexation, Mr. Wilson did not dance with Miss Kitty nor Miss Lydia - that her daughters were preoccupied exposing the wildness of their characters in front of the officers did not lessen her resentment as perhaps it should. He did, however, dance again with Miss Lucas following the supper, and after returning her to her father at the close of the set, remained in conversation for some time with Sir William and his daughter. Thankfully at this very same time, Mr. Bingley was occupied much the same with Miss Jane Bennet, such that by the time the ball closed, even Mrs. Bennet declared the evening to have been a great success.
Felicitous as the experience of hosting his first ball had been for Mr. Bingley, unfortunately the events of the following morning were not equally so. He had entered the breakfast room, naturally all smiles and complimentary statements regarding Miss Bennet, and with every intention of remaining in such an idyllic state throughout the day. However, not ten minutes later a footman hurried into the room with an express from London that warranted the master's immediate attention. A small furrow crossed Mr. Bingley's brow as he broke the seal, wondering why Mr. Johnston should be sending such an urgent missive. His expression only grew more somber as his eyes moved further down the page.
"Perkins!" he called distractedly for his butler, "Have the carriage prepared at once, and alert my man to pack as quickly as he is able. We shall depart for London as soon as conceivably possible."
"It is nothing too serious, I hope?" Miss Bingley inquired insincerely, her satisfaction in his being called away not well concealed.
"None of our relations are at death's door, if that is your meaning," Mr. Bingley replied, too preoccupied at the moment to come up with a kinder reply to his sister's incivility, "As much as you might care to forget our family's origins in trade, a fair portion of our fortune is still tied to it, and it is much in our best interest that I meet with Mr. Johnston directly."
Mr. Wilson chose this as a fine moment to intercede, not wishing the scene to escalate further, for as much as he would not care to bear witness to it, he also would not wish his young friend to be unnecessarily delayed. "You will not find me in your way, Bingley, for I am all but prepared to depart myself. I thank you again for your hospitality and I hope your business can be conducted to your satisfaction."
Mr. Bingley offered an appreciative smile at this, and clasped Wilson's hand by way of adieu. Darcy rose and offered a curt version of the same, which Bingley accepted with alacrity. He then offered a quick nod to the rest of the party as he excused himself from the breakfast room and hurried abovestairs, only to descend a few minutes later as the carriage was brought round.
He had almost rushed directly out the door, when he noted his sisters in the foyer, who at least had the good courtesy to see their brother off.
"I cannot say when my business will be completed," Mr. Bingley informed them as he tugged on his gloves, "I have every hope that the matter can be resolved easily in town, but I fear it more likely that I must journey to Scarborough, in which case I will be detained a fortnight at the very least.
"Should you be so inclined," he added with a shrewd glance towards his sister, "I suppose there would be no harm in your following me to town and notifying the housekeeper."
"Of course, Charles, I shall see to everything," Miss Bingley smiled sweetly, all too happy for the excuse to call her maid and begin packing immediately.
"You must write to Miss Bennet," he added as they descended the steps, "she is our friend, and I would not like her to think we would depart without any acknowledgement to her."
Miss Bingley nodded insincerely, thankful that her brother's back was turned as he spoke. Barely had she completed this thought when he paused and turned to face her.
"You will write to her, Caroline?"
"Of course Charles, I shall send a note within the hour," Miss Bingley replied, an exact replication of her previous smile set upon her features, "Now, let us not detain you, have a safe journey and Godspeed."
Mr. Bingley smiled his relief and boarded the carriage, rapping on the roof for the coachman to drive on.
The occupants of Longbourn were not so occupied in wonder over what was currently transpiring at Netherfield as one might expect, for at that moment Mrs. Bennet would have every member of the household be aware of the incident of utmost importance that was currently taking place in the breakfast parlor. Mr. Collins, heir to Longbourn, had requested a private audience with Miss Elizabeth, and as sure as Mrs. Bennet was about his intent, she was equally sure that nothing should occur to disrupt the pair before all was settled between them.
She was greatly vexed, then, that when the doors to said breakfast room were forced open without ceremony, she was not only made to scurry out of the way of her storming second daughter, but to swallow the congratulations that had been poised on the tip of her tongue.
"I assure you, sir, I am most serious in my refusal," Elizabeth declared with forced civility.
"My dear cousin Elizabeth, surely you cannot think your demure words shall dissuade me. I flatter myself to be well enough acquainted with you to know that your intelligence must stress upon you the honor of my proposal, such that nothing but your present surprise could delay your acceptance. Allow me to ease your conscience of any misgivings until you are more comfortable in offering your positive reply."
"If you would excuse me, Mr. Collins," Miss Elizabeth bit out in clipped tones, not slowing her rapid progression across the house in the slightest, "I find myself in much need of some fresh air."
Having attained her goal of the front door, she wrenched her pelisse and bonnet from their place as she passed through the foyer, not bothering to look over her shoulder to see who might observe or attempt to follow her escape.
"Insolent, headstrong girl," Mrs. Bennet huffed under her breath before turning to her guest with as calm and assuring a smile as she could muster. "Mr. Collins, you must forgive our Lizzy. Surely she is overwhelmed and only needs time to compose herself! Do make yourself comfortable, and I shall join you momentarily."
No sooner had she ushered Mr. Collins into the morning room and closed the door than she allowed all of her distress over the present situation give way, "Oh, Mr. Bennet. Mr. Bennet!" she called, hurrying herself to the library where her husband was sure to be found. "Oh Mr. Bennet! We are all in uproar! You must come quickly and make her see that she must marry him!"
Mr. Bennet calmly sat up in his chair and set his book the table before him. Any rolling of his eyes as he removed his reading glasses and offered Mrs. Bennet his full attention was completely lost on his wife. "I do not have the pleasure of understanding you, Mrs. Bennet. Of whom are you speaking?"
"Of Lizzy and Mr. Collins, of course!" Mrs. Bennet replied, her husband not at all surprised as she stamped her foot in frustration, "Lizzy declares that she will not have Mr. Collins, and if we do not exert the utmost care, Mr. Collins shall begin to say that he will not have Lizzy, and then where shall we be!"
"It seems a hopeless business," Mr. Bennet replied, more pleased with the prospect that the situation may settle itself on a favorable outcome without his interference than anything else, "What would you have me do?"
"You must speak to Lizzy, and make her marry Mr. Collins! If she will not listen to reason, you may tell her that I shall never see her again if she does not accept him!"
"Very well then," Mr. Bennet replied with practiced calm, "send her in."
It was in fact some time before Miss Elizabeth could be located, for nothing short of sending every groom and manservant to search the countryside from Meryton to Oakham Mount could have hastened her return. When she did enter the house, with calmer hold on her resolve if not better spirits, she was kindly warned by Mrs. Hill that her father wished to speak to her, and soon after waylaid by her mother with a much shriller means of conveying the same message.
"Here she is, at last!" Mrs. Bennet cried, marching her second daughter into the library, "Now what have you to say, Mr. Bennet?"
"Elizabeth, I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage this morning."
"And am I to understand that you have refused him?"
"Indeed," Elizabeth replied, she noted the slight glimmer that twinkled in her father's eye as he spoke, and restrained the small smile it brought to her lips.
"It seems a settled business then, for you have two choices before you. Your mother vows that she shall never see you again if you do not accept Mr. Collins, and I shall never see you again if you do."
Miss Elizabeth did her utmost to restrain her smile at this, for she knew it would only multiply the vexation bubbling across her mother's features. "I understand, sir," she replied with as much seriousness as she could muster, "if you would excuse me, I find I am fatigued from my walk and shall retire to my room."
"Very well, my child, off with you," her father answered with good humored composure.
Miss Elizabeth offered a warm smile to her father as she dipped a brief curtsey and turned to exit the library, being sure to avoid her mother's outraged eye as she passed. Mr. Bennet was then left to spend the next quarter hour wishing it would be so easy to rid his library of his most aggrieved wife.
Mr. Collins may not have been a man of utmost understanding, but he was not immune to the reaction his proposal had evoked. The morning's passing and Miss Elizabeth's continued absence had given him adequate time for reflection, and Mrs. Bennet's outbursts as she came from the library had left little room for misunderstanding to remain.
These unpleasant realizations lent a certain awkwardness to his remaining at Longbourn, and so Mr. Collins announced his intent of going out for a constitutional, insisting that he would carry his point before Mrs. Bennet could overexert herself in coercing some of her daughters to accompany him. He set out with little particular destination in mind, though with a limited familiarity with the neighborhood - and surely a limited tolerance for exertion - he kept to the principal lanes and soon found himself approaching Lucas Lodge.
Upon finding himself thus, he considered it would be most uncivil not to call upon his future neighbors, particularly as he recalled each member of the Lucas family as being gracious and not at all prone to shrill or vulgar outbursts as he had just escaped at Longbourn. As he continued up to the house, he considered further how little he had yet related to Sir William regarding Lady Catherine, and that indeed the Lucas family should be honored to receive such a caller as himself.
He presented himself to the housekeeper, who let it be known that the family was currently in the front parlor and she would announce him directly.
As the door was opened, he settled what he considered to be a most dignified air upon his countenance as he prepared to greet his most fortunate neighbors with a flourish. When he entered, however, he was very surprised by the manner Sir William's greeting.
"Mr. Collins, sir! I believe you may have met Mr. Wilson last evening at the ball?"
Mr. Collins looked to where Sir William had gestured, and found indeed that Mr. Wilson was already present calling upon the family, and at that very moment rising from his seat beside Miss Lucas.
"Of course," Mr. Collins smiled magnanimously, all too aware that this gentleman's residence at Netherfield indicated at least some degree of connection to the nephew of his noble patroness, "it is an honor to meet with you again, sir."
"Likewise, I am sure," Mr. Wilson replied with little affectation of enthusiasm. He had not failed to notice the manner in which Mr. Collins' eyes sought Miss Lucas first upon entering the room, and did not know what to make of the gentleman's sudden appearance. Yet, given the favorable impression he had made of Miss Lucas and equally unfavorable impression of Mr. Collins, he had no trouble playing the role of protective admirer, and seated himself beside Miss Lucas once more, perhaps closer than was strictly necessary. Any assumptions Mr. Collins might make from his behavior may prove accurate in any case, Mr. Wilson reasoned, and if even if they should not, no harm could possibly be done by deterring the obsequious man. As a matter of fact, he even for a moment considered the great pleasure he could derive from growling the man off much like a possessive canine. The idea was preposterous of course - he could not possibly conceive of truly acting upon it - but the notion did bring a small smile of pleasure to his lips, which Mr. Collins appeared to take note of, and if he were inclined to misinterpret it, Mr. Wilson could not but consider it all the better.)
Whatever Mr. Collins' intention had been in calling - for none could say precisely - Mr. Wilson's method proved extraordinarily effective to its purpose. While his farewells may have been too exceedingly verbose to satisfy any of those forced to endure them, they were at last completed and Mr. Collins departed with as much pompous ignorance as he had arrived not an hour earlier.
Once their unexpected visitor had departed, the Lucases returned their attention to entertaining their most welcome guest. On his arrival, Mr. Collins could have had no way of knowing what he was interrupting, nor how pleasantly the morning had progressed at Lucas Lodge. Mr. Wilson, it would seem, had remained the night at Netherfield, his own estate being of a distance to make travelling in the small hours of the night undesirable, and Mr. Bingley's hospitable offer being well-suited to his prudent nature. Having found himself free of obligation to the Netherfield party that morning - though he found no necessity of detailing the particulars to his present hosts - he had taken the liberty of calling at Lucas Lodge before leaving the county for his own estate and explained as much upon his arrival.
"I hope you shall not mind, Sir William, that I take such ready advantage of your offered hospitality," Mr. Wilson had greeted cordially as he was shown into the parlor.
"Not at all, my good fellow," Sir William replied jovially, "We are always happy to receive our friends. Capital entertainment for the morning, is it not my dear?"
"Of course, sir," Lady Lucas replied, gesturing for Mr. Wilson to be seated, "do make yourself comfortable."
Mr. Wilson nodded politely and took the offered seat on the settee, not at all objecting that it happened to be beside Miss Lucas.
"And how are you this morning, Miss Lucas?"
"I am well, sir, thank you," she replied kindly.
Given the infancy of their acquaintance, it was only natural that no great feats of discourse could be accomplished between them, and yet equally true that some conversation must be had if the gentleman wished to become further acquainted with the lady. By his own confession, he was no great orator or maker of idle speeches, that was his friend Bingley's lot, but friendly banter he could manage, and thus determined he forged ahead.
"I see you have been most industrious this morning," Mr. Wilson offered, indicating the indicating the sampler from her workbasket that lay delicately across her lap, the needle still delicately poised between her fingers.
Miss Lucas nodded her thanks. "It has been a pleasant way to pass the morning," she answered as she tidied her needlework away, smiling at the open interest in his countenance and the buoyant nature with which he spoke, despite the relatively early hour - accented even further by the energetic fidget as his foot bounced a light soundless rhythm against his chair), and thus encouraged, she added, "I see you are not suffering over-exhaustion from last evening."
"No indeed, I admit that while some may revel in excess I have learned to enjoy the evening's entertainment in moderation. I confess I thought much the same this morning when I awoke at my usual hour - and to a very quiet house."
The pair shared a smile at this, he thinking of the very quiet nature of mornings spent in his own home, and she rather embarrassed to be imagining visions of him much the same. She could not mistake the kindness in his eyes as he smoothly introduced a more stagnant topic, commenting on the grounds at Netherfield being quite agreeable with a layer of morning frost.
It was not much further into conversation that Mr. Collins made his inauspicious arrival - and subsequent departure. Upon reflection Mr. Wilson could not regret his actions in the clergyman's presence, despite the shock and amusement that an observant young Miss Mariah could barely conceal. Certainly the girl read a questionable number of novels to be so excited by his courtesy - well perhaps it extended beyond - but he could not bring himself to regret it just the same.
" Well then," Sir William said once he had seen Mr. Collins off, "I would be most happy to invite you to join us for luncheon, Mr. Wilson, if it would not delay your departure overmuch."
"As much as I should enjoy it, I fear it would, sir, much as I do regret foregoing the invitation," replied Mr. Wilson.
Appropriate murmurs and comments of disappointment at this were made all around, though Charlotte's questioning whether his eyes truly lingered on her as long as she believed, and his unrealized distraction at just that left both parties little attention for what may have been said.
"I am afraid that I best depart for Crenley," Mr. Wilson replied, "though I confess I would benefit from stretching my legs a bit before restricting them to the confines of a carriage. I should enjoy the opportunity for a turn about your gardens, Lady Lucas, while the horses are prepared, if the Miss Lucases do not object to my company."To Be Continued . . .