This little story is dedicated to Caroline Bingley who is really not so bad!
A blinding light pierced Caroline's eyelids as her maid yanked open the curtains. Caroline yanked the blankets over her head and demanded, "What are you doing, Nellie? Close those so I can go back to sleep."
"But, miss, it's yer birthday, I thought ye'd be wanting te get up early." Nellie stated, and bustled around the room. She'd been Miss Caroline's maid for five years now and wasn't in the least cowed by her manners. "Actually, ye'd best be getting up anyways. The master's been hopping about all morning waiting te wish ye a good day and getting in everyone's way this morning. Cook's 'bout ready te give 'im a good whack wit her ladling' spoon."
"I do not want to get up. In fact, I do not want to be bothered for the rest of the day!" And thus, turning over, she tried to go back to sleep. It wasn't meant to be.
Yanking the blankets off of her mistress, Nellie stood over her, hands on hips. "Ye'll be get'n up, miss, and that's that."
"No! Nellie, I'm not getting up. Today is going to be the worst day of my entire life, I know it." Caroline moaned and dragged the covers back over her head.
Smiling affectionately at her mistress, she said, "Now, my dear, what has ye thinking that? It's yer birthday and that's gotta count fer something good, surely."
A sniffle emanated from beneath the blankets. "It does not. I'm twenty-four today, Nellie."
"Aye, and as good an age as any, I'd think."
Giving a shriek of frustration, Caroline sat up, her hair a disarray of curls. Caroline hated her curls, it took her hours to tame the horrid mop into a reasonable style. "No, it is not! I might as well declare myself a spinster right now! Another year older and no suitors to show for it. Mr. Darcy sure doesn't seem to care two hoots if I'm even alive." She sniffed. "What is wrong with me, Nellie, that men just seem to look through me?"
"Oh, my dear! Cheer up now. There is nothing wrong with ye at all. Yer a lovely young lady, intelligent, fashionable. Ye just haven't met the right one, is all." Nellie gave her mistress an affectionate hug, and smiled. "Now get dressed, the master has a lovely surprise for yer birthday."
Swiping impatiently at her tears, Caroline sighed, "Very well. I'll get up."
"Good!" Nellie then busied herself getting her mistress ready, paying special attention to her appearance. "Yer gonna be the belle of the ball, my dear."
Giving a tentative smile, Caroline said her thanks and headed toward the breakfast parlor to find out what her brother was so excited about.
"Caroline! Do come out, or at least let me in!" Louisa shouted through her sister's bedroom door.
"Go away, I just want to be left alone!" Caroline yelled back, her voice choked with emotion.
Just as she'd predicted, Caroline's birthday had been disastrous. Charles had surprised her by having the cook prepare her favorite dishes, which actually turned out to be Louisa's favorite...broiled cabbage and tomatoes, smoked halibut, and lemon pudding for desert. Caroline's stomach still revolted at the thought...broiled cabbage...lemon pudding...ugh! Then what made the situation worse, Charles had bought her another gown made in that hideous sun-burnt red, pea-green combination. Ever since she'd worn a similar colored gown to a masquerade ball as a joke, Charles had been quite delighted to find they shared a favorite color.
Half her wardrobe consisted of gowns in varying styles all made of the same fabric. Caroline refused to even look into her closet anymore for fear of becoming ill. Her best colors were burgundy, royal blue, or emerald green...honestly, you'd think Charles would get the point after not seeing her wear the others.
Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Caroline stared at her haggard expression with disgust. Why did she get her hopes up? Why did she have to love a man that completely ignored her? Why did her brother have to keep buying her hideous clothes? And why did she have to be the one in the line of fire when Mr. Hursts had sneezed, sending whiskey and bodily fluids flying into her face? Bloody drunkard! And Mr. Darcy! Caroline had seen his face, and although it reflected the disgust on her own, she'd also witnessed his mouth twitching as if he were trying not to laugh. That had finally worked to convince her that Fitzwilliam did not, and more likely, never would return her affections. Caroline was quite sure if someone loved you, they would not snicker when someone else caused you mortification.
It had been four years since Caroline had first met Fitzwilliam Darcy, and she had thought she'd found all she'd ever wanted in Fitzwilliam...He was handsome, rich, well connected, and respectable. But over time, it was his impeccable manners, the shy smile that rarely made its appearance, and his kindness to friends and family that had made her love him.
A hiccup bubbled from her throat as she took a deep breath. Tonight was the last night. Caroline determined to forget Fitzwilliam...Mr. Darcy, she mentally corrected herself. She was moving on to better, greener pastures. It was time to get rid of silly, childish dreams. Obviously, there was no Prince Charming in her future. She'd just have to find someone else to give her heart to...if it wasn't too late.
The next day arrived as most do, and Caroline rose with a resigned heart. She could not be really cheerful having given up her heart's desire, but she put her best foot forward and determined not to look back. As Nellie helped her dress and style her hair, Caroline mentally bolstered her spirits by telling herself that there were a large number of men out in society who were just as acceptable as Mr. Darcy. After all, she was quite handsome, intelligent, and accomplished...she'd been told so many times!
Nellie had noticed her mistress's sad countenance. "Are ye all right, miss?"
Starting, Caroline replied, "Oh, yes, I am well. I was just thinking of...some things."
"Ye aren't still mad 'bout yesterday, are ye?" Nellie suggested.
Smiling, she denied it. "No, it is nothing like that, Nellie, honest." Caroline looked down at her hands, and sighed. "Well, truthfully, I am still a little embarrassed about yesterday, but that is not all. I have finally given up on marrying Mr. Darcy."
"Oh, honey," Nellie replied sympathetically and hugged her mistress. Caroline accepted the embrace for a moment. Swallowing hard, she fought back her tears and gave Nellie a watery smile. "I'll have yer breakfast brought up to ye this morning."
"No, I will be all right, Nellie. After almost four years of loving somebody and deluding yourself into thinking they felt something for you, only to find out they only tolerated you out of necessity...well, it is just something I have to get used to."
"He said that to ye?" Nellie exclaimed indignantly.
"No, no! But his behavior toward me last night worked as nothing else has. Actually, I guess I knew it all along, I just didn't want to believe it. I kept holding on to the hope that if he just realized how much I loved him, he'd come to love me in return." Here, she sniffled again, giving a derisive laugh at her own stupidity. "But enough of this, I have decided to move on and whining about something that never was isn't going to help me now."
"That's the spirit, miss!" Nellie rallied, and added brusquely, "Now, will ye be needing anything else this morning?"
"No, I am fine, thank you." Caroline observed her appearance in the mirror. Her eyes were a little red and puffy, and her cheeks were pale. Well, this was no way to start out. Splashing some cold water on her face helped the puffiness. She'd just have to say she hadn't slept well. Pinching her cheeks brought some color back to her features, and giving herself a final glance, she nodded. It would do.
Bingley continued talking, mostly to himself since nobody else was listening, about the new estate, Netherfield, he'd leased in Hertfordshire. Ever since he'd returned from the country and informed his sisters, he'd talked of little else. Invitations flowed freely from the gentleman to all and sundry. Luckily, Darcy was able to talk some sense in to him and have him limit those invitations to just a few close friends and family.
After all, Darcy had said, you will want to ensure everything is running smoothly before inviting large parties. If everything weren't in order, it could prove disastrous.
Charles, after rethinking his friend's words, concluded that he was right. Indeed, after all was said and done, the party to Netherfield would consist of his two sisters, his brother-in-law, and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The party was large enough to satisfy Charles and small enough to ensure that if any problems arose, he wouldn't have the arduous task of appeasing a great many people.
Caroline was sitting at the writing desk, composing a letter to Georgiana whom she'd become closer to over the last four months. She couldn't quite comprehend the reason why, but ever since she'd given up on marrying Mr. Darcy, everyone had been much nicer to her, more open and friendly, including Mr. Darcy. Although Caroline still caught glimpses of wariness in his eyes as he watched her. Almost as if afraid she was going to attack him when he least expected it.
It had been extremely hard for Caroline to battle her emotions over the months, especially since Charles spent a great amount of time with Mr. Darcy. To see the object of her affections at regular intervals was tearing her heart slowly to shreds, but nobody could guess from her outward demeanor. If she continued as she was, it would only take another ten years to get over him. Caroline told her heart and head to shut up so she could finish her letter.
Sanding the letter, Caroline folded it neatly and sealed it. She rang the bell for a servant. When he appeared, she said, "Would you please have this letter sent out as soon as possible? Thank you."
Stopping his tirade for a moment, Charles asked, "Good Lord, Caroline, if you keep writing so much, there will not be enough paper in all of England to support your habit. As it is, I already owe Darcy a fortune for all his paper you've used."
Caroline rolled her eyes. "Oh, Charles, don't be stupid. I do not write all that much, and besides, I cannot very well ignore my friends. I will be relying on their letters during our stay at Netherfield. Why you purchased a house in the country is beyond me. Being near town would be much more preferable."
"Maybe so, but I am certain once you see it, you will love it as much as I do." Charles argued cheerfully. Indeed, he'd bought an estate in the country to keep Caroline away from town. She'd been spending too much time and money over the last four months. To Charles it seemed almost as though she was trying to cheer herself up, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out what had made her so unhappy in the first place.
"We shall see," was all Caroline replied. Picking up her needlework, Caroline continued her project and ignored her brother.
Mr. Darcy entered the room moments later, having returned from business in town. He looks even more handsome than I remember, she thought to herself. The smile she gave was strained. Not trusting her voice, Caroline merely nodded in greeting, then ignored him entirely. Poking her finger with the needle, she gave a small yelp, then mentally chastised herself for not having more control over herself.
"Are you well, Miss Bingley?" Darcy asked.
"I am fine." Caroline replied, more sharply than she'd intended. Pursing her lips, she scowled at Mr. Darcy. It was all his fault she'd nicked herself. Putting away her sewing, she stood. "Excuse me."
Darcy watched her leave with a confused look on his face. "Did I say something wrong?"
Charles shrugged. "I doubt it. She's been acting very strangely lately."
"Yes, I've noticed. Ever since her birthday actually." Darcy murmured, then shrugged.
"Has it been that long? I must confess I haven't noticed. Does that make me a terrible brother?"
Darcy smiled, "Not at all Bingley. If she wants you to know what is wrong, she'll tell you. But enough of this talk. I could use a good brandy, how about you?"
"Now that you mention it!" Charles grinned. They quickly forgot about Caroline and instead spent the evening talking about business, politics, and Netherfield.
When Miss Bingley still hadn't received any word from Georgiana three weeks later, she worried that maybe something in her last letter had offended her. During Georgiana's stay in Ramsgate, she'd met an old acquaintance who had become very dear to her, and she'd written to Caroline of it, swearing her to secrecy. Not wanting to break their trust, Caroline had debated what to do, and had finally sent a letter trying to persuade her to tell her brother. Something about the situation didn't sit right with Caroline. After all, if he was as trustworthy as Georgiana said, why would he wish their relationship to remain secret.
Caroline sat down at her desk and quickly wrote another letter to her friend, her agitation clear in every word. Even her naturally elegant writing looked more like her brother's botched up messes. She spent half an hour pacing the room after sending out the letter, wishing for a faster way to get word to her friend. Finally, even irritated with herself, she turned and strode from the room, and ran straight into Darcy.
Caroline muttered an apology and quickly started off again without another word. However, Darcy, who'd noticed her peculiar behavior of late, addressed her before she could leave.
"Miss Bingley!" Darcy exclaimed. "Are you all right?"
"What?" She snapped, then had the good grace to blush. "Forgive me, I am in ill humor tonight."
"Whatever for? Has something happened?" Darcy's concern was genuine. Caroline had never acted this way, especially toward him.
"Yes, I...No, you would not understand in the least." How much she wanted to share her concern with someone, but she could not. Georgiana would never trust her again. But what if she is in trouble? The distress showed clearly in her expression, her face becoming quite pale at the thought of Georgiana in trouble.
"Ah." Some trifling female matter, no doubt, Darcy thought to himself. "Could I be of any assistance?"
"No. Yes. Not really. Mr. Darcy, is Georgiana well?" Caroline blurted out. Decorum be damned, she was concerned.
At the mention of his sister, Darcy paled visibly. "What do you mean, is she well? Have you heard something from her?"
Darcy's face hardened and he said coldly, "You will tell me what you know, Miss Bingley."
"I don't know anything! It has been three weeks since her last letter, and I have just sent off a second letter to her about an hour ago. She..." Caroline hesitated, then made up her mind. It was for Georgiana's own good. "She wrote to me about a gentleman she met at Ramsgate that she has known for quite some time. From her words, I guessed he was not a man of wealth or any consequence but she swore me to secrecy on the subject. So I answered back to warn her...I fear she is angry with me for what I have said, or that..." Here she swallowed, "I am afraid that something horrible has happened to her."
Darcy's expression was now one of relief and gratitude. He had been afraid that George Wickham had come after Georgiana again, despite his threats, but now he was at ease. Noting Miss Bingley's stress, he said, "Please, put your mind at ease. Georgiana is well. She is...may I count on your secrecy in this matter?" At her nod, he continued, "She is removed from Ramsgate. My last visit to her two weeks ago revealed a plan of elopement to me. The gentleman, if you can call him that, was the son of my late father's steward. Luckily, I arrived in time to put an end to his revenge and save my sister. I fear, however, that I was not in time to save her from heart break."
The expression of sadness that accompanied his words broke Caroline's heart. If only she had told him sooner of Georgiana's beaux this might not have happened. "I am sorry."
"But what have you to be sorry for?"
"I should have told you sooner of Georgiana's beaux. It is all my fault! I might even have prevented her heart ache." Caroline raged.
"It is too late to make any suppositions. The blame should lie entirely with the person who caused her such pain." His face darkened momentarily, then he gave Caroline a strained smile. "I am relieved knowing that my sister has a friend and confidante during this time. I have arranged for her return to Pemberley for the summer where she may recover. You may write to her there."
Caroline nodded and swallowed back her tears at his kindness. "Thank you, I believe I shall write her directly."
As Caroline left to send a letter to Georgiana, Darcy watched her with a calculating look on his face.
Caroline slumped in her chair as Charles escorted another visitor out. "Lord, I am so tired! How many people live in this town? One would never think there were so many residing in the country. I can guarantee you that it's not our arrival but our brother's that has spawned such interests." Caroline muttered and took a sip of tea.
Louisa tittered, "I believe you are right, sister."
"You know the worst part about the whole matter is that our brother is so amiable. How many young ladies here are we going to have to beat off with a stick? From what I gather, there are two respectable families that have any possibility, the Lucas' and the Bennets'. There are no gentlemen of age or prospect in this area. I shall be bored out of my mind in less than a fortnight." Caroline sighed.
"I wish Mr. Hurst would let us journey to London for the winter. But I cannot persuade him. What am I to do in the country? There is no opera, no plays, no balls." Louisa whined.
Caroline ignored her sister and they sat in silence for a few minutes when the bell rang again. "Joy. Another round of visitors. I think I am going to claim a headache and go up to my room. Let Charles handle them."
With that said, Caroline swiftly left the room before the new guest was shown in.