Posted on 2009-01-12
Fitzwilliam Darcy was uncommonly kind to Charles Bingley and took a prodigious deal of care of him in those areas where the younger man most needed it, and Bingley was very much indebted to him.
A circumstance which Darcy would not wish to be generally known (Because if it were to get around to the ladies’ families, it would be an unpleasant thing.) was that he congratulated himself on saving his friend from the inconvenience of entering into some most imprudent attachments. Bingley was the kind of fellow to get into scrapes of that sort, and Darcy had often seen him in love before.
The reasons for these interventions were sundry objections against the ladies. Some may have called his boundless interference officious. Indeed, what right did Mr. Darcy have to decide on the propriety of his friend’s inclinations; or why, upon his own judgment alone, was he to determine and direct in what manner Bingley was to be happy?
But it would be unjust to condemn Mr. Darcy, as we know none of the particulars, or do we? A quick retrospective glimpse into the interval between their graduation from Cambridge and their arrival in Hertfordshire may shed some light on the circumstances.
The impressive Darcy carriage moved along London’s St. James Street, transporting its owner and his friend, Charles Bingley, to an afternoon’s entertainment.
“So, Darce, are we for Whites today or Brookes?”
“Definitely Whites, as I have a need to peruse their betting book. It seems my name has been linked with yet another young lady,” said Darcy as he rolled his eyes. “Apparently bets are being laid at that club on the odds of my marrying a Miss Julia Thorne by season’s end.”
“How do you suppose such gossip gets started?” Bingley was wide-eyed with wonder and amusement, at his friend’s expense.
Darcy sighed and said, “That is unsure; but its origin is certainly with someone in possession of an uninformed sense of rumour. I do not believe I am even acquainted with a Miss Julia Thorne. However, it would seem we are to marry soon, nonetheless.”
Bingley grinned and teased, “Ah, yes, marriage…the morning after the knot before. Tsk, tsk! It would be prudent, Darcy, to at least have a passing acquaintance with one’s intended.”
“Well, I do not recall having met this Miss Julia; but mothers of the ton are forever throwing their daughters in my direction. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of them all.”
Darcy was uncomfortable discussing his eligibility and pretended to be engrossed in the view of the street his window afforded, but Bingley would not let the matter drop. “I envy you, my friend. I adore women, and it must be heaven on earth to have so many attractive young ladies constantly trying to win your regard.”
Darcy snapped, “No, it is, in fact, rather tiresome and embarrassing; so please change the subject.”
Charles Bingley thought for a moment and then said, “What do you think of my new coat? I took your advice and have changed tailors. Thank you for the recommendation.”
The carriage came to a halt, and the two young bucks entered the gentlemen’s club. As Darcy settled into one of the comfortable leather armchairs, he remarked, “I must say, you do look rather well turned out today, Bingley. As I surmised, shades of blue and grey do suit you quite well. Do not listen to Caroline, or she will have you attired in orange waistcoats!” The last was said with a smirk, which caused one of his dimples to make an appearance.
“Yes, my sister has quite the fashion sense, does she not? Did you happen to notice the atrocious ensemble Caroline was wearing at the theatre last night? I daresay my poor eyeballs are bloodshot today due to the glare from her gown rather than from the drinks you and I consumed following the play. Speaking of dresses, is not Miss Priscilla Chesterfield a most gorgeous creature? I do believe she may become the new love of my life.”
Darcy took a sip of the drink that had just been placed on the table beside his chair and replied, “Yes, I am glad you have finally recovered from your last heartbreak; and by the way, Bingley, I have been meaning to inquire how you met Miss Chesterfield.”
“Louisa introduced us at the Matheson’s dinner party. I am unsure how my sister first became acquainted with Miss Chesterfield, but I understand they have the same modiste.”
Darcy cleared his throat and nonchalantly commented, “That modiste must be making quite a considerable profit by cutting back on the amount of fabric used on her gowns. Miss Chesterfield’s dress last evening was lacking much of its bodice.”
Charles choked on the brandy he had been about to swallow; and while he coughed, Darcy continued to comment on Priscilla Chesterfield’s low-cut gown. “She is an attractive woman, but she exposes her décolletage too much.”
“I say, Darcy,” gasped Charles, “that is hardly a mark against her in my books.”
The other gentleman raised an eyebrow. “Really, Bingley? Would you want your consort displaying her wares for other men to ogle?”
Charles controlled his coughing but was growing indignant. “Well, it is the fashion just now; and I noticed you did not seem to mind getting an eyeful whenever in Miss Chesterfield’s company. Indeed, I seem to recall that you preferred rather buxom women while we were at Cambridge.”
Darcy squirmed in his seat and shot back, “We are not presently discussing my preferences, Bingley. You asked for my opinion on Miss Chesterfield, and I believe she should dress with more decorum and propriety.”
Bingley thought his companion was being uncharacteristically prudish and said, “At least she is not dampening her gown, as I have seen some other women do lately. Did you happen to observe Lord Ryerson’s wife at the ball last week?”
“That was not his wife, my innocent friend. Your naiveté really does amuse me, Charles.”
“Well, man of the world, please do educate me,” Charles felt callow and a bit defensive.
Darcy set his glass back down and regarded his friend seriously. “Bingley, please remember that we are attempting to elevate your status in society. It will not do to show vulgarity in your tastes; and in any case, physical appearance should not be your primary consideration when choosing a mate.”
“Fitzwilliam Darcy, you are a hypocrite! All the women I have ever seen you with have been stunningly beautiful. Do not try to tell me that comeliness is unimportant to you.”
Darcy looked a bit sheepish but continued to lecture. “Once again, we are not discussing me. However, I am fortunate enough to have both wealth and eminence. My goal, therefore, is to make a match with a lady in possession of a title. You have money; but it is very important that your intended have, at least, good connections, regardless of her appearance.”
“But, Darcy,” Bingley protested, “you must admit there has to be an initial physical attraction to tempt one to pursue a woman; and I do find Miss Chesterfield to be very tempting, indeed.”
Darcy shifted uncomfortably again. He would rather not be having this conversation but felt he had to instruct and assist his less sophisticated friend. “Well, yes, to find one’s own wife to be, at least, tolerable would be a bonus. But I cannot stress enough the importance of connections, wealth, character, accomplishment, and propriety. You would not wish to form an attachment with a female merely based on her physical attributes, surely. If for no other reason, beauty fades with time, you know.” Bingley considered those words of wisdom from his older, more worldly and intelligent friend and nodded his head as Darcy continued. “Tell me, what would you do, Bingley, if you found yourself attracted to the daughter of a poor country squire, just because she was a classic beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes? You and I are not the type of gentleman who would take advantage of such a woman or have one as a mistress. Therefore, you must regulate your natural tendencies and look beyond a lady’s charms and concentrate on her worthiness as a potential spouse. I encourage you to reevaluate your attraction to Miss Chesterfield and raise your standards.”
The discussion ended when they were joined by several acquaintances, and they all entered into a game of faro.
The courtship of Charles Bingley and Priscilla Chesterfield came to an end almost before it had really begun. The young man called at the Chesterfield townhouse, which was situated in a less fashionable section of London; and in a private moment when her chaperone was called away, he said, “Miss Chesterfield, you must know that I am attracted to you…”
He was interrupted by her breathless words, “Oh, Mr. Bingley, I am so glad to hear you say so; for I am beginning to feel the same toward you!”
Bingley was momentarily distracted while Priscilla took a deep breath; however, he remembered Darcy’s words and raised his eyes to her face. “Since we seem to be coming to an understanding, my dear Miss Chesterfield, may I be so bold as to request that you not wear…That is, may I suggest that your gowns be a bit more…well…decorous?” Charles blushed and could not continue to meet her gaze. If he had, he would have seen anger and hurt in her eyes.
Miss Chesterfield’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was at first silent. When she regained her ability to speak, Charles knew he was in trouble. “Excuse me, Mr. Bingley; but are you insulting my style and implying that my dresses are indecent?”
“Well,” he gulped, “not indecent…exactly. But perhaps it would be prudent to request that your dressmaker raise your necklines to cover more of your…um…more of you.” Bingley’s fair complexion was flushed with very high colour; and he realized he had just stepped over a line about which he should have known. Unfortunately, Darcy had neglected to warn him about that hazard.
Priscilla rose from her chair, put hands on her ample hips, and spat, “How dare you!”
“Calm yourself, dear Miss Chesterfield.” Bingley rose as well and was desperate to set things right, but could not seem to form the right words around the foot that was implanted in his mouth. “I am merely counseling you in an attempt to improve your respectability…”
Miss Priscilla Chesterfield was seething, and the disturbance of her mind was visible in her every feature. She snapped at him, “Counseling me! Improve my respectability! In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the advice offered, however unwelcome it may be. It is natural that obligation should be felt; and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot. I have never desired your ‘good advice’; and you have certainly bestowed it most uninvited.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Bingley. Please do not bother to call on my indecent, indecorous, disreputable person again.” The heaving of her bosom went unnoticed by the poor unfortunate young man as he hastily bowed, donned his hat, left the room, opened the front door, and quit the house.
Fitzwilliam Darcy found himself once again in the unenviable position of attempting to cheer his heartbroken friend. He took him for a fencing lesson at Angelo’s and invited him to the opera later in the week. Charles Bingley was not overly fond of the latter entertainment but did not want to offend Darcy by refusing.
During intermission at the opera house, while the gentlemen were obtaining refreshments, a pretty young lady and her parents approached. Darcy introduced them as acquaintances from Derbyshire, Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Marchwell and their daughter, Miss Laura.
Bingley’s spirits were instantly raised, as Miss Marchwell was not only very pretty but also proved to be delightful company. Darcy asked the family to join them in his private box; and Bingley was thrilled to be seated next to the young woman for the remainder of the performance, to which he paid scant attention.
Miss Marchwell and Mr. Bingley met again at a dinner party at Darcy’s home the following week and at a concert several days later. Charles asked permission to call on her, and the two entered into a courtship during the family’s extended stay in Town.
After Darcy returned to London from a quick trip to Pemberley, his ancestral home in Derbyshire, he and Bingley went riding at Hyde Park one morning and then met at Boodles during the afternoon. It was not long before Charles was singing the praises of his newest lovely lady. “I cannot thank you enough for introducing me to Miss Marchwell last month, Darcy; and I fail to understand why you rejected her for yourself. Was she not a sight to behold when we encountered her this morning?”
“Indeed, Bingley; she certainly was a sight. In fact, she looked almost wild. What could she have meant by scampering about the park on foot after yesterday’s foul weather? Why, her hair was positively untidy and blowsy; and her petticoats were six inches deep in mud! Her maid even looked none too pleased with the state she was in.”
“Darcy, you exaggerate. Her hems were only soiled an inch or two; and I think the fresh air gave brilliancy to Miss Marchwell’s complexion, and her eyes were brightened by the exercise. She presented quite an alluring picture, in my opinion.”
A roll of his eyes signified Darcy’s exasperation. “Having known the young lady for years, I believe she has nothing, in short, to recommend her but being an excellent walker.”
“Well, I daresay I certainly have had great pleasure walking out with her, arm in arm, four times now in as many weeks. I was quite content to stroll through her neighbourhood, saunter along streets as we browsed in shop windows, amble along her garden brook, and aimlessly wander through parks.” Charles became dreamy-eyed as he recalled being in Miss Marchwell’s presence. “I quite enjoyed our roaming around and very much look forward to our next outing.”
“That is all very well; but her trudging ankle-deep in dirt today displayed an abominable sort of conceited independence and indifference to decorum,” dictated Darcy.
“However, Darce, if I am to settle on a country estate one of these years, a lady who enjoys the outdoors and is not afraid of a little dirt would seem a good choice to me.”
“No, no, no, Bingley. You cannot convince me of Miss Marchwell’s worthiness. She walks too much. You would be better off finding yourself a dignified young woman who has enough sense to ride in a carriage when conditions are unsuitable underfoot. A nice little phaeton or curricle would be more appropriate as a means of getting around. I realize she is not an accomplished horsewoman, but riding would be preferable to such scampering about.”
“Well, I am to call on Miss Marchwell again Friday. We planned on walking to that new sweet shop on _____ Street; but perhaps I shall suggest we travel by carriage instead. I must admit I would prefer her chaperone to walk behind us, rather than have her sitting next to my beloved in the chaise. But no matter, I shall simply anticipate being in my Miss Marchwell’s company. I am off now, Darce. Are we still on for meeting with the rest of the chaps next Wednesday at Brookes … or is it back here at Boodles? I am forever getting those two names confused and showing up at the wrong club.”
“Yes, I shall meet you at Brookes after purchasing sheet music for my sister. If you are confused about the location, just think of ambling along your Miss Marchwell’s garden brook. Until then, my friend.”
Friday saw the demise of Charles Bingley’s short-lived relationship with Miss Laura Marchwell. Their day began pleasantly enough when he called for her but deteriorated when Bingley told her that his carriage was waiting to transport them to the sweet shop.
“But, Mr. Bingley, I have been cooped up in the house for two days now due to the inclement weather. I have been looking forward to our excursion since the sun made an appearance this morning. Oh, do say we shall leave the carriage behind and take a walk instead!”
“Miss Marchwell, the streets may still be unfit to go on foot; and you would not want to soil that pretty frock you are so attractively wearing today, now would you?”
“Oh, what are dresses to sunshine, fresh air, and exercise? You have always enjoyed our expeditions before, so why are you now balking at walking?”
Charles was afraid of the defiant look in Miss Marchwell’s eyes, but he remembered Darcy’s advice and hoped he could change her attitude about walking too much. “Really, my dear; you must think of your appearance after scampering about outdoors. Refined young ladies should not become untidy and overheated from exertion.”
Miss Marchwell was, in fact, becoming overheated, but not from exertion. Her face was flushed and her eyes brightened by indignation. “Pardon me, Mr. Bingley; but did you just infer that I am not refined? Has Mr. Darcy said something to you about …”
Charles was quick to say, “No, no…you quite misunderstand! Please accept my humble apologies and forget my careless words. It absolutely pains me to have upset you so.”
“Sir, I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone; however, it has been most unconsciously done. I hope it will be of short duration; and speaking of short duration, I am afraid that will be the extent of our attachment. Good day, Mr. Bingley.”
“Take your precious carriage and leave my unrefined presence. Good-bye, Mr. Bingley.”
Charles Bingley dismissed his coachman and walked all the way home, scuffing his feet, and kicking pebbles as he sulked and muttered, “This is too much! How many more rejections must my poor oft-broken heart suffer?”
The young man was so absorbed in his misery that he completely missed the turn to his street and had to retrace his steps for several blocks. He arrived at his home in pain and suffering, and the agony of defeat was made worse by the fact that his best boots had become marked from his scuffing, and they had also caused blisters to form on his heels. Bingley wished he had been sensible enough to take his blasted precious carriage after all. It was obvious he had walked too much.
At Boodles on Wednesday, a sad young man sat alone nursing a drink as he wondered why his friends were all so tardy. Darcy, especially, was always punctual; and he really needed to speak with him about this latest disappointment. He was crushed by Miss Marchwell’s dismissal and longed to be with her again. In particular, he fondly remembered their ambles along the … brook…drat! He was at the wrong club! He gulped down the rest of his port and hurried to Brookes.
When Charles arrived, he found Darcy waiting for him; but the rest of their friends were off in other rooms gambling.
“You went to Boodles,” Darcy said with a smirk.
“Darcy, I am in no mood to be tormented! I am suffering my friend. Will you please lend me your ear?”
Charles Bingley’s best friend tried to understand but grew impatient as he listened, once again, to the younger man’s lament. “Bingley, do not despair. As I told you, Miss Marchwell was not worthy of your regard. I am confident you shall soon fall in love again with the next pretty woman to make your acquaintance. In fact, I was wondering whether you have met your new neighbours yet. I have heard that the Bookman family, lately of Grosvenor Square, has several lovely daughters of marriageable age. Perhaps you should pay them a visit.”
Bingley perked up at this revelation and decided to pay a courtesy call on the Bookmans as soon as possible. He invited his friend to dinner once Darcy was back in the city from his yearly visit to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate in Kent.
Mr. Bingley’s initial call on the Bookman family resulted in many more such visits, to the delight of Miss Amelia. The second daughter, at nineteen years of age, was, in Charles’ opinion, absolutely lovely. She was quite an intelligent young lady and very well read. Bingley was soon convinced he was violently in love with her and proud that he had chosen a woman with whom Darcy could not possibly find fault.
Shortly after his return from Rosings, Darcy dined with Charles and his family. Bingley, Mr. & Mrs. Hurst, and Caroline were all in the drawing room when he arrived. “Darce! Welcome back. How was your stay with Lady Catherine?”
“It was a delightful visit, Bingley, and perfect in being much too short!” Pleasantries were exchanged with the others in the room; and Darcy asked his friend, “How did you occupy yourself while I was out of town?”
“I took your advice and called on the Bookman family; and Darcy, I am head-over-heels in love with Miss Amelia. You shall meet her this evening, as the Bookmans are invited for dinner as well. Your approval of my choice is assured, for she is a most accomplished young lady,” Charles enthused.
Darcy did a mental eye roll and thought, “Here we go again.” Aloud he said, “I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
“Well, Miss Amelia is certainly so! She is always reading books of all sorts; and when I decide to lease or purchase an estate, I must ensure it has a very good library.”
Caroline proceeded to wax lyrical about Pemberley’s extensive library until the arrival of the Bookman family. When they were shown into the drawing room, Bingley was proud to introduce his neighbours to his esteemed friend.
At dinner Miss Amelia was seated to her host’s right, with Darcy next to her. Their conversation turned to books, and the young lady began expounding on the talent of a recently published lady author. Bingley was not much of a reader but wanted to participate in the discussion with his ladylove. “Miss Amelia, I am sure Darcy has not read any of the same books that you have.”
“Really, Mr. Darcy? Are you a literary snob?”
Charles was alarmed by her comment and rushed to smooth things over before his friend could retaliate. “My dear, Miss Amelia, I merely implied that Darcy never reads novels.”
The young lady was intrigued, “Why ever not, sir?”
Mr. Darcy opened his mouth to respond but was beaten to it once again by Bingley. “Because novels are not clever enough for him, I daresay. I am sure he only reads better books.”
Darcy was annoyed that Bingley kept answering for him and put his friend in place by saying, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Charles reddened and turned the conversation to the state of the roads, a discussion in which the entire party could participate.
The courtship between Amelia Bookman and Charles Bingley went along swimmingly; and as the weather turned warmer, the Bingleys, the Hursts, the Darcys, and Miss Bookman spent many pleasant afternoons together. They visited one another’s homes, had picnics in the countryside, and were regularly in company traveling to and fro by carriage. Miss Amelia, more often than not, had a newly published volume in hand each time they were together. The only others in the party able to converse with her about books were Mr. Darcy and his sister, Georgianna.
As summer approached, the Darcy siblings prepared to depart for Pemberley again. The day before they were to leave, Mr. Darcy paid a visit to Mr. Bingley in order to invite Charles, Caroline, and the Hursts to his Derbyshire estate for an extended stay. Charles was torn. The Bookman family was to remain in London for most of the summer, and he did not wish to be parted from Miss Amelia. At the same time, he did not want to refuse Darcy’s kind offer. “Well, Darce, thank you for such a generous invitation. Caroline will be thrilled.” Charles cast a mischievous look at his friend.
“Bingley, can you not discourage your sister from pursuing me? I enjoy her company but do not hold her in any special regard. Speaking of such, how is your Miss Amelia?”
“Oh, she is simply wonderful! Miss Amelia takes great delight in relating a variety of interesting facts from the books she studies and even in summarizing her favourite fictions for me. I wish she could see your excellent collection in Pemberley’s library.”
Darcy was afraid that was a hint to extend an invitation to the young lady; and he also wondered if she was, indeed, a suitable match for his friend. “I say, Bingley, is there more substance to Miss Amelia Bookman than merely being an excellent reader?”
Charles was hurt by the comment but tried not to show it. “Darcy, you have often mentioned that a young woman should add something more substantial to her accomplishments by improving her mind by extensive reading. Now you are mocking her. Do make up your mind, man.”
“But what can a young woman do with the information gained by such extensive reading? Surely, Bingley, you do not want to form an attachment with a bluestocking?”
“A bluestocking! Do you really believe my Miss Bookman may be a bluestocking?”
“No, Bingley, I am not accusing her of that; however, you must admit she reads too much.”
“This from one whose nose can often be found buried in a book, and that is if said nose is not stuck up in the air or being used to look down upon someone! What do you now have against reading?”
Fitzwilliam Darcy was affronted by the tone his protégé had taken with him but remained civil as he replied, “Do not be ridiculous, Bingley. Of course I have nothing against reading. I simply said she reads too much. Young ladies should cultivate a variety of skills and talents. You must endeavour to find a woman who can paint tables, cover screens, net purses, has a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages. In addition, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions.”
“Good God, Darcy; I still have so very much to learn from you about women! I will speak with Miss Amelia and attempt to steer her toward other pursuits.” Darcy was pleased with the result of his lecture and prepared to take his leave. Charles accompanied his friend to the door and thanked him for the guidance and for the invitation to Pemberley. “We shall see you in a fortnight, Darcy. God speed, my friend.”
It would not be difficult to determine that their time together was coming to an end for Amelia Bookman and Charles Bingley. Fitzwilliam Darcy had thrown a wrench into the works once again. When Charles hinted that she should cut back on her extensive reading, Miss Bookman took offence; and who among us could blame her?
“But, Miss Bo… My goodness! I just realized we have been arguing about books, and your name is Bookman!”
Charles flinched at the look he was receiving from his ladylove. “Yes, well, as I was saying, I think you should find some other interests to occupy your time. I will be happy to assist you, and I certainly do not want to sever our attachment. Perhaps you and I could go for long walks and...” Charles was anguished as he remembered Darcy’s objection to Miss Marchwell. “No! Forget I said that! Um, what about playing games? Do you enjoy cards or charades? We could set up some outdoor activities, such as badminton or lawn bowls. No? Or, would you like to go riding? Miss Amelia? Please say something, my dear.”
“Oh, I shall have my say, Mr. Bingley. Despite what I may or may not have felt for you, do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps forever, the happiness derived from a most beloved book? I now have every reason in the world to think ill of you. No motive can excuse the unjust and ungenerous part you have just tried to play in dividing me from my cherished tomes. Can you deny that you have done it? You dare not; you cannot deny that you have attempted to be the means of plunging me into misery of the most acute kind by asking me not to read. It is too much to ask, sir! You and I shall certainly not live happily ever after. And this most assuredly is the end!”
“But, but …”
Bingley was eager to escape from London for the summer. After being spurned by Miss Bookman, the city no longer held any appeal.
“Caroline, I give you five minutes; or I swear I will leave without you! How many more trunks are you sending along to Pemberley? And why on earth do you need to bring six hatboxes, three valises and a portmanteau on the chaise with us?”
As Mr. Bingley paced to and fro in the foyer of their townhouse, his sister fussed and fretted over the luggage being strapped onto their carriage and loaded onto another equipage bound for Derbyshire.
“Charles, do not be insensible! You know I shall want to look my very best every day for Mr. Darcy; and I certainly do not want him to see me wearing the same dress twice. My hatboxes must travel with us, as I do not want the feathers on my turbans and headpieces to become crushed. They may not be properly cared for on the cart; therefore, they must come with us!”
“Well, please make haste, Caro. I want to collect the Hursts and get underway as soon as may be, as we have a long journey ahead of us.”
Charles knew the trip would be unendurably long, indeed. Between his sisters plotting and planning the capture of one of England’s most eligible bachelors for Caroline, and Hurst’s sprawling, grunting and snoring, he doubted he would have a moment of comfort or peace.
Caroline consulted her list of things to do and suddenly gasped, “Oh, brother, you must not forget to stop at the booksellers on _______ Street prior to leaving the city!”
Charles stopped pacing, crossed his arms and said, “Darcy only asked me to pick up those newest volumes for him if it would be convenient; and I have no inclination to go out of my way merely for the sake of a few blasted books. I have never been overly fond of reading and will not waste my time today conducting business at the bookseller.”
His sister straightened from securing the lock on one of her trunks and sniggered. “What ever happened between you and Miss Bookman, Charles?”
The young man turned away and started down the front steps. He shot back over his shoulder, “That is none of your concern, sister dear; and your five minutes have now elapsed. Let us leave this place and make our way to Pemberley.”
Upon arrival at Darcy’s Derbyshire estate, the travelers discovered they were not to be the only guests in residence. Georgianna’s friend, Miss Emily Arthur, and that young lady’s cousin, Miss Bridget Yardley, were also spending the summer at Pemberley. Miss Yardley was several years older than the other two girls, had blonde hair and blue eyes; and Bingley was instantly besotted.
The weeks spent in the company of Miss Bridget were absolutely delightful for Charles Bingley, and the lady welcomed his attention. The only fly in the ointment was that Charles developed an allergy during his time in the countryside. His eyes constantly watered, his nose dripped, and he sneezed violently. Darcy was quite amazed that one could actually sneeze so many times in quick succession, and he suspected that his friend suffered most acutely while in close proximity to Miss Yardley.
Bingley and his friend were the last to retire one evening, and they sat in the drawing room finishing their drinks.
“Darce, (sniff, sniff) I do dot understadd. What can be the cause (achoo, achoo, achoo) of this addoyigg allergy?”
“Well, my friend, it seems to be easing, as you only sneezed three times just now. However, I have observed that your reaction appears most severe when Miss Bridget is near. Perhaps you would be best advised to avoid her company as much as possible.”
“Doh! It caddot be her! I ab id love with Biss Yardley, Darce!”
Mr. Darcy groaned and said, “Oh, God, Bingley! You have scarcely known her a fortnight.”
Charles blew his nose and responded, “I doh. Devertheless, I ab very buch attracted to her and thikk she bight be the love of by life.”
“You cannot even breathe or speak properly around her, Bingley! So, tell me; do you plan on asking Miss Yardley to barry you?”
“Ha, ha, very fuddy, Bister Darcy! Seriously, though, do you have ady reasod why I should dot pursue Biss Bridget?”
“She wears lavender too much…” Darcy stopped abruptly. “Good God, Bingley. It is the lavender! Lavender oil is a known allergen.”
Charles morosely said, “I bet she sbells heavedly, though, Darce. I wish by dose was dot plugged up so I could stiff her aroba.”
“My friend, the scent lingers even after she has left, and you cannot keep exposing yourself and suffering as you have been. Find a lady who does not wear lavender.”
Stubbornly, Charles stated, “I do dot care. I would gladly suffer for by love.”
Darcy was incredulous. “You cannot be serious. Perhaps you could just ask her to change her fragrance to rose, or lily of the valley, or some such. I know she likes you, my friend; so I am sure she shall be agreeable to such a request.”
On a sunny afternoon, Charles Bingley happily escorted Miss Bridget Yardley on a walk around Pemberley’s immediate lawns. He had come prepared with extra handkerchiefs but was sneezing profusely by the time they approached the swing that was suspended from a branch of one of the estate’s magnificent Spanish chestnut trees.
“Mr. Bingley, would you please push the swing for me,” Miss Yardley asked sweetly as she settled onto the wooden seat.
He desperately needed to wipe his nose, so the swing moved crookedly as he nudged the rope with one hand. “Biss Bridget, I do edjoy your coppady; but I deed to keep by distadce. Please forgive be.” Charles walked around the swing and stood several feet away in front of her.
Miss Yardley frowned at the young man and said, “I thought you said you had an allergy to something and did not have a cold. If you are contagious, please do keep your distance, sir!”
“Doh, it is dot a cold. I suffer frob ad allergy to y…ACHOO!”
“Pardon me? You suffer from an allergy to …?”
Bingley shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, looked down at the ground, causing his nose to drip, and mumbled, “Biss Bridget, I believe you are the cause of by bisery…”
Charles realized how his words had sounded and tried to make amends. “Doh, doh; dot you, but I thikk it is your fragradce. By allergy seebs to be to lavedder. Could you please stop wearing it?”
Again she frowned at him and said, “Oh, dear, Mr. Bingley; that is a problem. Lavender is my family’s business. I live, breathe and even eat lavender. That soothing herb’s essence is, in essence, my very essence, so to speak. You cannot ask me to eschew my family’s lifeblood.”
Charles was, indeed, in misery, in more ways than one. “You would dot do this eved for be? I have a very high regard for you, Biss Yardley, despite your sbell. Could you dot use rose or adother scett? Lavedder is adythigg but soothigg to be. It irritates by eyes add dasal passages.”
Bridget Yardley jumped up from the swing and glared at her former suitor. “Mr. Bingley, I might as well enquire why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting my family’s ‘sbell’, you chose to tell me you have regard for me against your will and reason? I think, sir, that you are allergic to any serious attachment; for I have heard of several other matches that you have botched. I do not wish to further our acquaintance, as I feel your courtship finesse stinks! Perhaps you should cover the stench with ‘lavedder’!”
“But, but, Biss Bridget…”
Another agonizing week had to be spent in one another’s company before Miss Yardley returned to London. As soon as she departed, Bingley began to breathe easier. However, as Darcy predicted, the scent of lavender lingered; and, as we all know, smell is a very strong memory trigger. Poor Mr. Bingley!
MISS ELLEN TEASEDALE
As summer wore on to its inevitable conclusion, country estates were deserted for fashionable townhouses, and the city welcomed back returning members of the ton.
Bingley's family was also back in Town; and the Hursts were hosting Mrs. Sophia Teasedale, who was Mr. Hurst's married sister from Bath, and her daughter, Ellen. At two and twenty, Miss Teasedale was a pretty brunette with brown eyes and a light, pleasing figure. Her mother, however, could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a handsome woman. In fact, Sophia Teasedale rather unfortunately resembled her flaccid, florid-faced fleshy brother in appearance.
Miss Ellen had, years previously, been educated at the same prestigious London seminary as Caroline Bingley; but the two young ladies were not on a friendly basis. The Teasedale chit was far too outspoken for Miss Bingley's discrimination and comfort. Having been on the receiving end of Miss Ellen's sharp-tongued jibes on several occasions, Bingley's sister avoided Hurst's niece as often as civility allowed.
Conversely, Mr. Bingley began spending more and more time at the Hurst residence. Often invited for dinner or an evening's entertainment, Charles also managed to invent reasons for visiting during the day. His brother-in-law grew suspicious of Bingley's flimsy excuses for dropping by unexpectedly; and while pretending to doze on the settee, Hurst surreptitiously observed the younger man and caught him gazing longingly at Ellen and blushing when she looked his way. Mr. Hurst snickered but was pleased, as his sister despaired at ever being able to secure a gentleman for her sarcastic and witty daughter. Sophia constantly attempted to curb Miss Ellen's enthusiasm for tomfoolery, with little success.
Charles Bingley was not at all offended by the young lady's teasing nature and absurd sense of humour; and to him, she was amusing and enthralling. He enjoyed her repartee but was often left behind by her clever jests. Nevertheless, he eagerly availed himself of any opportunity to be in the fun-loving woman's presence.
Upon learning of Darcy's arrival in London, Mr. Bingley made haste to visit and relate important news. "Darcy, I have finally met the girl of my dreams! Come to dinner at Louisa's with me on Thursday. She would be thrilled to have you grace her table; and you simply must attend, for I very much wish you to become acquainted with Hurst's niece, Miss Ellen Teasedale. She and her mother are visiting there, and I have had the immense pleasure of being in Miss Teasedale's company on numerous occasions. She is such fun and very pretty. But, as you have advised, appearance should not be as essential to me as character; and, oh Darcy, she is a character! I am certain you shall be greatly entertained by her delightful quips, puns, and banter. Miss Ellen enjoys a good joke, is very witty, and loves to laugh. You often comment on my happy nature, so I daresay you will agree she and I are well suited in temperament. I am positively captivated by her, Darce!"
Bingley's best friend sighed and reluctantly accepted the invitation. He arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hurst in company with Bingley and Caroline, who had only agreed to accompany her brother upon learning Mr. Darcy would be in attendance.
As the three guests entered the foyer, a woman's shrill voice could be heard. "…and for pity's sake, child, do not carry on as you are wont to do. No one cares to hear your foolish riddles and jests. Remember what I …" The censure was abruptly curtailed upon the announcement and entrance of Mr. Darcy and the Bingley siblings. After he was introduced to the Teasedale ladies, Darcy took a seat next to Bingley, who had quickly claimed the nearest chair to Miss Ellen. Caroline sashayed across the room in a hurry to gain a place near Mr. Darcy, and Louisa Hurst sat down beside her sister.
Miss Bingley monopolized the conversation and ensured the talk centered on Darcy's journey from Derbyshire, the splendours of Pemberley, and his dear sister, Georgiana. That gentleman was usually reserved and reluctant to boast; but Darcy was very proud of his sister and their beloved estate. So, with Caroline's encouragement, he spoke at length.
Almost immediately did Miss Ellen Teasedale form an unfavourable first impression of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and ascertain that he was an arrogant bore. "You seem quite the skilled speaker, Mr. Darcy. No doubt you studied oration in university; so pray, tell me, are you aware that ancient orators tended to Babylon?"
The young man from Derbyshire was struck speechless by Miss Teasedale's impertinence; and before he could muster a response, she continued. "Your silence on the subject of historical oration makes me suppose your curiosity too great for words, sir. Perhaps we should change the subject of discourse. As the owner of a splendiferous country estate, what think you of raising bees, Mr. Darcy? Do you happen to know that pompous males of that species are often known to drone on about themselves?"
Mrs. Sophia Teasedale was horrified that her daughter's churlish barbs were aimed at the illustrious Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, and she admonished, "Ellen! Remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home!"
"I am sorry, Mama, and promise to beehive myself." The young lady fanned herself and remarked, "My, it is swarm in here, is it not?"
Mrs. Teasedale opened her mouth to chastise her daughter again, but further embarrassment was halted by the announcement that dinner was about to be served. During the meal, the other diners agreed with Mr. Darcy's comment that the Merlot chosen to complement the repast was of an excellent vintage, which prompted Miss Teasedale to ask, "What did the grape say when it was stepped upon?" No one dared to take the bait; so she giggled and revealed, "It said nothing but did let out a little whine." Mr. Bingley was the only one delighted by Miss Ellen's banal humour, and he requested that she devise a riddle to pose to the party later in the evening.
The sexes separated for a short duration after dinner; and when the gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing room, Miss Teasedale inquired whether they had been discussing the Peninsular War. Her mother shot her a warning look, but Ellen soldiered on. "Sirs, pray, enlighten me. Can Napoleon ever return to his place of birth?" The men looked askance before she replied, "Of Corsican!" Mr. Bingley laughed while the others in the room exchanged exasperated glances and wondered what the chit would say next. They did not have long to wait.
"Do you realize that a cannonball launched onto a kitchen floor in France could result in Linoleum Blownapart?"
(TAG: Author's Note: Linoleum would not be around for another 50 years or so, but I could not resist. Sorry.)
"Ellen Augusta Teasedale, that will be quite enough! Please, everyone, allow me to apologize for my daughter's folly."
Mr. Hurst put his hand on his agitated sister's shoulder, gave a gentle squeeze, and said, "Sophia, a little levity is quite acceptable; but perhaps it would now be advisable to request some music. So, which of you fine young ladies would care to perform for us first?"
Always eager to exhibit her exemplary talent at the pianoforte for Mr. Darcy's appreciation, Caroline was quick to volunteer. As she played, Miss Teasedale leaned toward that lady's brother and whispered, "Show me a pianoforte falling down a mineshaft, Mr. Bingley, and I shall show you A-flat minor." A pun is its own reword, and Charles gave the quip more credit than it was due. When his laughter subsided, he asked if she had been able to come up with a poser for them.
"Indeed I have, sir." Miss Teasedale presented the following riddle to the company: "Four men sat down to play. They played all night 'till break of day. They played for gold and not for fun, with separate scores for everyone. When they came to square accounts, they all had made quite fair amounts. Can you the paradox explain ~ If no one lost, how could all gain?"
The occupants of the room pondered the enigma, and Miss Ellen was asked to repeat it several times. Some discussion and several wrong guesses preceded Fitzwilliam Darcy putting forth the answer, "They were musicians, were they not?"
"Correct, Mr. Darcy!" Well done, sir," enthused Miss Teasedale. "May I offer another?"
The others readily agreed, so she delivered: "While walking down the street, I met a man. He tipped his hat and drew his cane, and in this riddle I told his name."
"Oh dear," said Bingley after some thought, "I am certainly stumped."
The others gave up as well, and Miss Teasedale stated, "The man is Andrew. His name comes from the words …and drew…."
At that point, Mr. Hurst suggested that his niece should take her turn at the pianoforte. She tried to decline by joking, "I am sorry, Uncle Hurst; but, unfortunately, I was dismissed from my music lessons for being a treble maker."
"Ellen! Cease your foolishness at once! Daughter, you are going to be the death of me! Now take your turn as requested."
"Yes, Mama." Miss Teasedale reluctantly played a pretty Scottish air with precision but not much feeling or enthusiasm. Then, with a defiant glance toward her mother, she presented another riddle: "I am a box that holds keys without locks, yet they can unlock the soul. What am I?"
Caroline Bingley scoffed and smugly replied, "That is simple, Miss Teasedale, as you have just arisen from the item. The answer is a pianoforte."
"Yes, Miss Bingley; you surprise me. I would not have expected you to arrive at the correct answer; congratulations."
On the carriage ride home with his sister and Mr. Darcy, Bingley enthusiastically praised Miss Teasedale's wit. Caroline sneered and said, "She a wit? I should as soon call her mother a beauty!"
Mr. Darcy sniggered, but Bingley protested and spent the rest of his traveling time devising excuses for calling on the Hursts again.
Three days before the Teasedales were to depart, Bingley and Darcy were engaged in a billiards game at the latter's home. As his host was lining up a shot, Bingley uttered, "Darce, Miss Ellen said a most comical thing about you the other day."
Darcy was alarmed and missed his shot. He straightened up and looked inquiringly at his friend. "About me?"
Bingley walked around the table in preparation for his turn and said, "Well, we were speaking of the military; and first she quipped, 'Soldiers in plays like to Shakespeares.' Do you get it, Darce…shake spears?"
Darcy rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Oh, yes, Bingley, I do, indeed, get it; but how does that insufferably lame pun involve me?"
Absentmindedly rolling one of the balls back and forth between his hands, Bingley replied, "Well, that is not what I meant. It was another play on words, and she did not exactly say it was about you; but it could be, as I know that Georgiana often calls you 'William'…"
His friend growled, "Out with it!"
"Miss Teasedale said, 'If William joined the army, he would dislike the phrase fire at will.'" Bingley hooted. "Is that not clever, Darce?" Charles noticed his friend was scowling. "Perhaps not, for I see that you are not laughing. Do you not approve of Miss Ellen's wit?"
Mr. Darcy assumed his rigid lecturing stance. "No, Bingley; I certainly do not. It is rather unladylike for Miss Teasedale to be exhibiting in such a silly manner. I quite agree with her mother that she should not be so forward and outspoken with such childish inanity."
Bingley was crestfallen. He hung his head, looked up at his friend with sad puppy dog eyes, and spoke dejectedly. "I thought she was clever and amusing, Darce. How could I have been so wrong?"
"She may be sharp, Bingley; but Miss Teasedale should not display so in public. I found myself rather embarrassed by her quips, although I must admit her riddles were in good taste."
"So, I take that to mean you would not recommend that I pursue her. I must confess that some of her comments go over my head, but I do enjoy her company."
"I would strongly advise against forming an attachment with Miss Ellen Teasedale, my friend. She uses her wit, laughs, and enjoys the ridiculous too much. Oh no, Bingley! Do not look at me in that woebegone manner, and please do not tell me that you are now going to be overcome with melancholy!"
"Well, I am despondent," Charles Bingley said sullenly.
"I asked you not to tell me that!"
With a heavy heart, Mr. Bingley sat down with Miss Teasedale the next day and suggested that she curb her enthusiasm for levity. The request was not well received.
"Mr. Bingley, from the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your dimwittedness, your failure to understand my jokes, and your gratuitous laughs formed the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a disinclination; and I had not known you a fortnight before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to share my very best wordplay."
"You have said quite enough, Miss Teasedale. I perfectly comprehend your feelings, even though I have not always understood your witty remarks. Forgive me for having taken up so much of your time, and accept my best wishes for your health and, most especially, happiness."
And with those parting words and a gentlemanly bow, Bingley took it a pun himself to leave without causing a scene, act, or entire play.
Alas, a man's love can be measured by his overall sighs; and for a sennight Charles Bingley, a medium sized man, moaned, moped and mourned. However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that seven days without a pun makes one weak; so Mr. Bingley chastised and punished himself for not being stronger.
Poor, poor Bingley. But let us move on, dear reader; and this author shall let other puns…sorry, other pens dwell on guilt and misery.
Years before, Darcy had felt compelled to take Charles Bingley under his wing as soon as the two became acquainted at Cambridge; and although the younger man's family was beneath his sphere, Mr. Darcy welcomed the friendship of such a happy-go-lucky fellow.
Charles had introduced the gentleman from Derbyshire to an acquaintance, Mr. Reginald Lively. A handsome young man with auburn hair and hazel eyes, Lively originally hailed from Bingley's hometown in the north. His family made a vast fortune in leather goods, when their tannery became well known across England for turning out the highest quality saddles and tack. They had then branched out to include the manufacture of boots, gloves, and luggage. At about the same time that the Bingleys moved to London, Reginald's father inherited Oakenvale, an enormous estate in Essex; and the Lively family took up permanent residence in that county and added horse breeding to their fame and wealth.
Initially when Mr. Darcy became acquainted with Reginald Lively, he was only interested in learning about the renowned Thoroughbreds from Oakenvale's famous stables. However, he soon added Lively to his limited circle of close friends; and the three formed an unusual trio. Fitzwilliam Darcy was studious, staid, standoffish, but shy. Charles Bingley was charming, cheerful, chipper, and, in a way, childlike. Dashing, debonair, and dynamic Mr. Lively was the more daring of the three. The many pranks in which the latter had involved his two friends could have found them in a great deal of trouble had it not been for Bingley's amiability and Darcy's wealth and prestige.
The friends kept in contact after leaving university and visited occasionally; and through their correspondence, Lively learned that Bingley was interested in finding a country estate and that Darcy was assisting him in his quest. He dispatched an invitation for them to stay at Oakenvale and investigate several potential properties that abutted his family's estate.
As the miles between London and Essex melted away, Darcy felt his shoulders relax. Society mamas, and Miss Caroline Bingley, were no longer breathing down his neck, neither figuratively nor literally. In the carriage across from him, his younger friend was looking forward to a change of scenery. He had suffered another disappointment after Miss Teasedale, but his spirit refused to be crushed; and Bingley hoped they might have an opportunity to become acquainted with some interesting young ladies during their stay in the country.
When Darcy and Bingley had visited Oakenvale on previous occasions, they had never encountered Reginald's sister, as she had always been away at school or visiting with friends or relatives at the time; and Bingley wondered what she might be like and if they would finally have a chance to meet.
Reginald and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lively, warmly welcomed the two travelers; and a servant showed them to their rooms in order to rest and freshen up after their journey. As Darcy and Bingley later descended the magnificent oak staircase to join the family before dinner, they overheard Reginald in a heated argument with an unfamiliar female. The two friends exchanged curious looks and were unsure if they should continue on or retreat back upstairs until the dispute was resolved.
The woman raised her voice, "Oh, hang your friends, Reggie! I am truly sorry I was not here to meet them; but if they are gentlemen, then they shall surely excuse my tardiness. I was more agreeably engaged at the time in a debate with Mr. Addington about Marshal Andre Massena."
"Who in blazes is Massena?"
"Watch your language in my presence, brother! For heaven's sake, do you not follow the news? Our country is at war, Napoleon is trying to take Portugal, and you are an ignorant ignoramus! Why in blazes do you not read a newspaper now and then? Honestly, you should stop horsing around all the time and discover what is going on in the world around you."
"Horsing around? You dare call my meticulous Thoroughbred breeding program horsing around? As you well know, I am producing some of the finest horseflesh in the entire country."
As Darcy and Bingley quietly arrived at the foot of the stairs, they caught a glimpse into the drawing room and were surprised and amused to see their friend going toe-to-toe with a pretty, petite, red-haired, green-eyed hellcat. Because of the Titian hair colour, they assumed her to be Lively's sister.
The little spitfire spat back, "No, Reginald; I believe it is the mares that are doing that!"
As was often the case, her brother was exasperated with his flippant younger sibling; and he shook his finger at her and scolded, "You had better curb that saucy tongue of yours, Dinah; and please control yourself at dinner tonight, as we do have guests, remember."
"Do stop wagging that digit at me, Reggie; or I shall surely bite it!"
Darcy was absolutely stunned at the cheekiness of the chit; and beside him, Bingley stood transfixed by the vibrant, sassy, elfin creature giving a piece of her mind to their friend. When she threatened to bite, Bingley gasped; and during that lull in the clash of the Titians, that small sound was heard. The ethereal faerie and her looming brother turned at the same time toward the door; and both had the grace to blush at being so caught.
"Sorry you had to witness that, old chaps. Allow me to introduce my dearest, and only, thank the Lord, sister, Dinah. Dinah, these are my very good friends, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, and Mr. Charles Bingley of London, who is here in search of an estate."
Bows and a curtsey were exchanged; and an uncomfortable silence dissipated when Miss Lively said, "Pray, gentlemen, please do come into the drawing room and make yourselves comfortable. My dearest, and only, thank my parents, brother is a simpleton and would have you standing in the hall for the duration of your visit." The Lively siblings shot one another a look that said their quarrel would continue in private later.
Charles Bingley was more than a little intimidated by the feisty, bewitching woman now seated across the room; and he remained uncharacteristically subdued. Mr. Darcy was always rather reserved around new people, so conversation was stilted until the host and hostess joined the young people.
Mrs. Lively gave her daughter an arch look as she swept into the room and said, "How nice of you to join us, Dinah, dear; though I do believe we were expecting you to make an appearance earlier this afternoon."
"Sorry, Mama; but I was conversing with Mr. Addington and lost all track of the time. However, I am extremely hopeful Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley will forgive me for not being a part of their welcoming party. They could hardly have missed me, though, for they had not yet made my acquaintance; and how can one miss what one does not know? Is that not so, Mr. Bingley?"
Charles was startled at being singled out by the spunky young lady at whom he had been staring; and he spluttered, and stammered, and promptly forgot the question. He answered in the negative and hoped it was the correct response. Bingley glanced at Darcy, only to find his friend looking at him as if he had grown another head; so he quickly amended, "I mean … that is to say … yes … Miss Lively."
Bingley groaned mentally and wondered what in the world was the matter with his brain, for he had never experienced such a reaction to a woman before. He was thoroughly enchanted by this delicate-looking pixie, who was apparently anything but frail. Charles sat mesmerized; and his eyes followed her every move as she rose, took a turn around the room, and stopped by a vase to daintily reposition several flowers in the arrangement. Because he was watching her so closely, Bingley was the only one to witness, as she moved behind her brother, a small hand reach out and fiendishly yank a strand of his auburn hair. Lively gave a yelp, and all eyes were upon him as Dinah gracefully and demurely settled back into her chair.
"Sorry. I do believe my hair must have accidentally become snagged on Dinah's fingers as she passed by. Please accept my apologies for the outburst." His eyes shot daggers at his sister as she sat serenely smiling at him.
Charles Bingley found himself wishing Miss Lively's fingers were entangled in his hair and suddenly sat up straighter as he realized he had barely met the young lady a half hour ago; and here he was daydreaming about her. This would not do! He could not help but steal another glance at her flawless complexion, large sparkling green eyes, and very inviting full, rosy lips. He was contemplating how he could possibly be so deeply in love so soon, when he noticed the others had risen and were making their way to the dining room. Bingley had not even heard dinner being announced. He scrambled to join the others; and in a matter of moments he found himself, of all places, seated at the table beside, of all people, Miss Dinah Lively.
As the meal progressed, Reginald said, "Bingley, I could never understand why you always prefer a plain dish to a ragout."
Darcy agreed, "Yes, my friend, you really should expand your dining experience by trying new foods and sauces. Mrs. Lively, I compliment your cook on this excellent dish. I detect claret and truffles amongst the herbs and spices. Come now, Bingley, you simply must try this."
Charles, as usual, wanted to follow his wise and trusted friend's good advice; and not wanting to insult his hostess, or her vivacious daughter, he bravely tried several new dishes, including oysters and the ragout. Unfortunately, one or more of those new taste experiences did not agree with him; and he suffered an upset stomach for the rest of the evening and, therefore, did not have the pleasure of Miss Lively's lively company. He did spend an intimate night, however, with his porcelain chamber-pot.
Fortunately, the morning found Bingley fully recovered; and when he entered the breakfast room, the others were already eating and discussing the possibility of going to an assembly in the nearest town that very evening.
Mr. Lively encouraged his son's friends to attend. "I daresay you will enjoy the dancing and shall find our neighbours to be very agreeable people."
His daughter then spoke, "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal."
"Oh, Dinah, please!" her mother implored, "Do not go sprouting your impertinent attitude in front of our guests."
"I apologize. Please pass the muffins again, Reggie. I am famished and rather impatient to commence my day with a bracing gallop on Cinnabar, and I am eager to try my lovely new saddle this morning." Her brother cleared his throat and scowled at her, and she frowned back and asked, "What do you mean by that look you are bestowing on me, brother? Do I have a spot of jam on my mouth?"
Bingley closely watched as she licked her lips trying to remove any trace of the non-existent jelly. He sighed and absentmindedly spread jam on his hand instead of his toast.
The siblings quarreled over her choice of mount. Although she was a very accomplished horsewoman, Reginald felt Cinnabar would be too much for her to handle; and she, of course, vehemently disagreed. Dinah excused herself and left the room in a huff; and Bingley was disappointed, as he had planned to ask her to stand up with him for, at least, the first set at the assembly.
Later that morning, the three young men debated whether to ride or travel by carriage to the first estate Bingley was to investigate. Instead of either of those choices, it was decided they would each drive a curricle and race one another; and they sedately made their way along the lane until they were out of sight of any of the manor's windows. Reginald reined in suddenly as he espied his sister atop Cinnabar, flying across the meadow to his right; and the others drew up alongside him.
"Of all the headstrong, harebrained, irresponsible, brazen acts my sister has pulled, this has got to be the most imprudent scheme yet! Is she trying to break her neck? If she is not, then perhaps I shall do it for her!" He shot a look at his companions and said, "I do not suppose I could impose on one of you dear friends to take this high-spirited, irreverent, and determined she-devil off and marry her. Could I?"
Darcy was aghast at such an idea; but Bingley was ready to volunteer, until he realized his friend was not serious. Lively shook his head at his sister's rash behaviour and signaled that they should continue on their way. So, the three gentlemen commenced their harebrained, irresponsible, brazen race to the boundary of the next estate; and the author is happy to report that none of the young people broke their neck that day and all were able to attend the assembly.
Unfortunately, however, Charles did not have another opportunity to ask Miss Lively for a set; for she had gone to visit Miss Addington that afternoon, would be traveling from there to town, and going back to spend the night with her friend after the festivities.
That evening, Bingley was prepared to depart Oakenvale before any of the others. He paced, stopped to look in the mirror, and adjusted his cravat. Then he paced, stopped to look in the mirror, and ran his fingers through his hair. The cycle was repeated again and again until he had to call for the services of a valet, as he had thoroughly made a mess of his hair; and the neckcloth was strangling him. As a result, the others were left to wait until an embarrassed Bingley was finally ready to leave, and they arrived late.
As soon as their party entered the assembly room, Bingley craned his neck trying to catch sight of Miss Lively; however, because she was pint-sized, he could not immediately spot her. Her brother was amused by his friend's actions and asked, "Are you looking for someone in particular, Bingley?"
"Oh, well, actually, I was wondering whether your sister had arrived safely. Are you not concerned?"
"She is fine, my friend. I see her presently standing up with young Mr. Cooper." Reginald pointed Bingley in the right direction, and the latter gentleman jealously observed a fortunate young buck engaged in a reel with Miss Lively. Her lovely face was a bit flushed from the exertion, and her eyes sparkled as she gaily laughed at something the devil had said. In Bingley's opinion, Mr. Cooper leaned down unnecessarily close to her ear as he spoke.
Reginald tapped Charles on the shoulder and said, "Come, my friends, and allow me to introduce you to some of Essex's more attractive young ladies. Darce, I hope you are prepared to stand up with at least one of our local beauties this evening."
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable."
What was insupportable to Bingley was that by the time he reached Miss Lively, her dance card was already full; and he had to watch her vigorously embracing life in the company of other unworthy men. Although he did enjoy dancing with several lovely young ladies, none was as full of life, as peppy or as bold as Miss Dinah Lively. He wanted to speak about her with Darcy on the carriage ride back to Oakenvale but dared not do so in the presence of her brother.
The young men had a few drinks before retiring for the night, and they all awoke rather late the next morning. For Bingley, the breakfast table was much too quiet, despite his having a headache; and he yearned for Miss Lively's return.
The friends spent the day viewing estates and enjoying one another's company. The kitchen had prepared a picnic basket consisting of bread, cheese, fruit, and wine for the friends to take along on their excursion; so they stopped by a stream mid-day to enjoy their alfresco luncheon. While Darcy was off attending to nature's call, Lively tacked his beaver hat to the curricle seat where his fastidious friend had left it sitting upside down. Reginald played several other pranks on his friends that day, and the easy camaraderie the three had enjoyed at university returned. Of the two trips away from Oakenvale and one return so far, the races had resulted in a score of two wins for Lively and one for Darcy. Bingley was far too distracted to put much effort into winning. As they had been about to leave the last of the estates for that day, Bingley remembered another question to ask its steward. As soon as Charles left, Lively turned to Darcy and said, "Is it my imagination, or is Bingley attracted to my sister?"
"Oh God," groaned his friend, "let us hope it is your imagination! Oh, my apologies, Lively; I did not intend any slight against your sister. But I simply cannot believe how quickly our friend falls in and out of love. I am uncertain how Bingley manages to bungle each relationship; but he has been losing women at an alarming rate over the last few years, despite my good advice. That is all I meant when I said I hoped it was your imagination, for your sister is…ah… a very interesting young lady."
Reginald gave Darcy a thoughtful look and said, "Yes, I know; and I rather thought she might be a good match for you, my friend."
"For me?" Darcy was flabbergasted. "I cannot imagine how or why you could possibly arrive at such a conclusion, Lively."
"Well, I always thought you would need an intelligent, strong-willed, passionate woman with a mind of her own; and my sister is fervent in her beliefs and judgments. I know you find most young women of the ton to be overly fawning, simpering and vapid. Although we may not appear as such, Dinah and I do care deeply for one another; and I would not want to see her in a marriage where her husband could not appreciate her sagacity and respect her viewpoints. It is unfortunate that she is not as gorgeous as the other ladies I have seen you with, but neither is she particularly unattractive."
Darcy did not want to offend and honestly did find his sister to have a certain allure; so he diplomatically said, "Lively, your sister is charming, in her own way; and she is quite uniquely beautiful."
The approaching Charles Bingley overheard the last comment and was devastated. Sometimes life was so unfair. Fitzwilliam Darcy always got what he wanted; and if he wanted Miss Dinah Lively, there was nothing, or no one, who would dare stand in his way.
Neither Lively nor Darcy was able to catch Bingley during their race back to Oakenvale; and although he claimed victory, for him it was bittersweet. When he had bathed and was ready for dinner, Charles knocked on the door of Darcy's chamber and asked if he could have a word with him before going downstairs.
"Darcy, I could not help but overhear that you are attracted to Miss Lively; and although I had hoped to win her regard myself, I wish you both every happiness." Bingley looked at the floor rather than into his friend's eyes.
"I am what? You wish what?" The unflappable Mr. Darcy was quite 'flapped'. "Bingley, what in bloody hell are you speaking of? I am certainly not attracted to the vixen and simply cannot comprehend how you could arrive at such a preposterous assumption."
"I heard you tell Lively that you were charmed by her, and you said she was a ravishing beauty," Bingley pouted and accused.
"You heard quite incorrectly, my friend. I believe I might have said she was charming and beautiful in her own unique way, but I was definitely not declaring myself. Good God, Bingley! I cannot imagine being leg-shackled to such a harridan and pity the poor bloke she ensnares. However, Lively did wonder whether you were attracted to his sister. Are you?"
"She is the most exquisite creature, Darcy; and I am overjoyed that you will not be pursuing Miss Lively. You would have been formidable competition, and I was prepared to stand aside for you; but now perhaps I have a chance. But before I attempt to win her regard, I must ask whether you have any objection?"
Darcy threw his hands up into the air and exclaimed, "Any objection? You cannot be serious, Bingley! Your personalities are almost in complete opposition. You are amiable; she is irascible. You are kind hearted; she is inconsiderate. You have a cheery outlook on life; and Miss Lively always seems ready for an argument. While you are placid, she is an opinionated and temperamental shrew."
"Well, I do not mind that she expresses her point of view on certain issues. The world is full of apathy, but I do not care! If her opinion does not agree with mine, we shall have civil discussions; and if we do argue, we can always reconcile later. You know the saying, Darcy, 'opposites attract'. Let us go now to dinner, my friend. I am eager to know whether Miss Lively has returned yet." Bingley left the room with a bounce in his step and did not see the head shaking behind his back.
Miss Dinah Lively arrived home while the second course was being served. She hurriedly took a place across the table and several seats away from Mr. Bingley, but the young man was very happy to, at least, be in her company once again. She apologized for being late and explained that she had been involved in a discussion with her friend's father about Britain's victories in Spain and had not wanted to leave without expressing her thoughts on Wellington and Napoleon. Her mother closed her eyes and prayed that would be the end of the discussion, but Dinah continued to rattle on.
Mr. Darcy raised his eyebrows and, in a low voice, remarked to her brother, "Upon my word, Reginald, she gives her opinion very decidedly for so young a person."
Lively grinned and agreed, "Ah, yes; but although she irks me to distraction, I would not want her any other way."
Once the four gentlemen had finished their port and cigars, they joined the ladies in the music room; and Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy then experienced a performance at the pianoforte to rival any they had enjoyed in a concert hall. Miss Dinah Lively gracefully played with ease and enthusiasm, and her technique was flawless. She began with the third movement from Beethoven's 'Waldstein' sonata, and her audience was delighted. However, her next selection proved to be quite a surprise for the two guests. Her lovely soprano voice was rich and true; and Haydn's poignant cantata, 'Arianna a Naxos', was executed, in Italian, with heartbreaking emotion. But it was the violently intense passion and fire that she brought to the stirring performance that pleased one of the guests and shocked the other; and, for different reasons, Bingley and Darcy were both speechless as the last notes died away into the silence of the room. Then, before he quite realized what he was about, Bingley was on his feet applauding and shouting with approval, "Brava! Brava!"
Miss Lively gave the exuberant young man an amused glance while she stood and curtsied. The room's other occupants were still seated and politely clapping as Bingley looked around and realized he was probably making a fool of himself. He sat back down but continued to applaud and grin. He was quite desperately in love once again.
Charles wasted no time in approaching Miss Lively and asking permission to court her. Although the young lady was not overly enthused, she did give her consent. So time in Essex passed quickly; and although Mr. Bingley had not yet found an estate, he was ecstatic to have found Miss Lively.
After two days of rain, Robert and Reginald Lively rode out to attend to a leaking roof on a tenant's cottage. Whenever their friend and his father were busy with estate business, Darcy and Bingley were more than content to spend time in the stables, assessing the magnificent horseflesh therein. On the day before they were to leave Oakenvale, Darcy was evaluating a Thoroughbred mare he was considering purchasing for Georgiana; and Bingley had accompanied him but sat on a bale of hay nearby thinking of Miss Dinah Lively.
"She is a gorgeous creature, is she not," sighed Bingley.
"Yes, indeed, I do believe she shall do quite nicely. She has fine legs, a lovely neck, and certainly seems to welcome my approach and is not overly alarmed when I touch her."
"WHAT? You scoundrel! How dare you touch my Miss Lively? That is it, Darcy; I will have to call you out!" Bingley angrily stumbled to his feet and struggled to remove his jacket for the tussle.
Darcy straightened up from examining the mare's left hoof and was alarmed by the savage look he received. He thrust his palm toward his friend's face and yelled, "Whoa, Bingley! I was referring to the horse! Egad, man, have you lost all sense?"
Bingley hurriedly put his arm back in his sleeve and looked sheepishly at Darcy. "Sorry, old chap; but I assumed you were speaking of Miss Lively. Perhaps I have lost all sense, for I am in love but am unsure if she equally returns my regard. Tell me what I should do, Darce."
Darcy dusted off his hands, twisted the signet ring on his pinkie, and paced back and forth. "See here, Bingley, I appreciate that you seek my advice; but you must start standing on your own two feet and make your own decisions. If you truly want my opinion, however, I believe you are correct in that Miss Lively does not return your affection. Her look and manner are as open and engaging as ever but without any symptom of particular regard for you. Though she receives your attention with pleasure, she does not invite it by any participation of sentiment. Trust me, my friend; I do not believe her to be indifferent to you because I wish it, but rather on impartial conviction. Miss Lively is a very zealous woman who shows no reluctance to express her position in other areas. In fact, she is, at most times, too demonstrative. She plays and sings with extreme passion, and it is not seemly for a young lady to display such feeling in public. Face it, Bingley, she is spirited, expresses her own pert opinions, and is emotional too much."
Under clearing skies that evening, as Miss Dinah Lively and her admirer walked in the garden, Charles Bingley was very apprehensive about broaching a most delicate subject; and he spoke in as gentle a voice as possible.
"Miss Lively, I have greatly enjoyed our time together thus far; however, I feel your passionate nature does not extend toward me. I do not understand your reticence, since you certainly do not hesitate to demonstrate your emotions easily enough in other circumstances. In fact, perhaps you should consider not being quite so demonstrative in public. I am afraid, my dear, that some people might take offence at such displays."
"Some people, Mr. Bingley? Are you referring to someone in particular … a certain gentleman from Derbyshire, perhaps? Really, sir, I cannot help but notice that Mr. Darcy takes an eager interest in your concerns," said Miss Lively in a less tranquil tone, and with a heightened colour. "You have elevated him to his present state of mentor and confidante, but he has deprived you of that independence which was your due. Being the male of the species, you are fortunate to be able to express your standpoint without fear of censure. If I were in your position, I would greatly value that privilege; so I suggest you grow a little backbone and learn to form your own opinions. Now, since we are not in public, let me be quite demonstrative …"
At that point, Bingley was alarmed to find himself toe-to-toe with the pretty, petite, red-haired, green-eyed hellcat he had first seen in the same position with her brother. The little spitfire spat at him, "…and express my opinion quite explicitly. You let your friend influence you too much! I could not continue in a relationship with such a wish-washy, indecisive, and weak individual as you, sir. This courtship is over!"
At length, in a voice of forced calmness, he said, "I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance."
"You offended and insulted me; so was that not some excuse for incivility, if I was uncivil?"
He shook his finger at her and scolded, "Miss Lively, you had better curb that saucy tongue of yours…" at which point she bit the offending digit.
Bingley gasped and stood transfixed as the sassy, elfin hoyden stormed off in a huff. He remained rooted to the spot, with mouth hanging open, until a fly flew into the gaping orifice, causing him to spit and sputter. While he choked and gagged, for some insane reason, he remembered Miss Teasedale reciting, "A flea and a fly in a flue were imprisoned, so what could they do? Said the flea, 'Let us fly'; said the fly, 'Let us flee'. So they flew through a flaw in the flue."
Once that nonsense was out of his head, Bingley was horrified by his own actions and wondered what had ever possessed him to dare point a finger at someone. But he had to admit, giving the scolding had felt …good; and Bingley stood a little taller and straighter. He raised his chin high as he strode off and immediately splashed into a mud puddle. Oops! That newfound self-confidence thing would take a bit of work to get the chin-raising to just the right level.
Mr. Charles Bingley had found neither an estate to lease, nor true love, in Essex; however, perhaps he had discovered something much more important.
In Hertfordshire, Charles Bingley finally found a country estate to lease; and, quite predictably, he fell head-over-heels in love again. After several weeks in the company of his one true ladylove, he invited Fitzwilliam Darcy to join him and his family at Netherfield Park in order to check out the estate and, more importantly, to meet his glorious angel.
Mr. Bingley, for once, was not looking for Mr. Darcy's approval of that particular young lady; however, at an assembly they all attended in Meryton, Darcy did voice his objection to her. "She smiles too much."
"Darcy! What in bloody hell is wrong with smiling? Pardon my language, Louisa and Caroline, but really! My friend, I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Bingley, "for a kingdom. My Miss Bennet is absolutely the most beautiful creature I ever beheld, and I happen to love the smiles she bestows so generously!"
Dismissively, Darcy shrugged and said, "Whatever you say, Bingley. I am leaving now; and you had better return to Netherfield with me, for you are wasting your time on Miss Bennet's smiles."
Mr. Darcy was rankled when his friend had the audacity to grab onto his coat sleeve and yank him away from the rest of their party. He had never seen Charles so angry, since the incident in Oakenvale's stable, and could not understand his altered behaviour nor scarcely believe his ears when Bingley began to take him to task.
"Good God, Darcy! I have had enough of your foolish objections and interference. It is too much! No one I meet is ever going to be qualified to meet the unobtainable high standards of Mr. high-and-mighty Fitzwilliam Darcy. I used to think I was indecisive, but now I am not so sure. Finally, I believe I know my own mind; and Miss Bennet is just the woman with whom I would like to settle down. I am quite certain that I have met my future wife; but I actually pity you and wonder when and even if you shall ever marry, for I do not know who could ever be good enough for you. I truly feel sorry for the poor woman, whoever she may be, for having to put up with your insufferable arrogance and hard-to-please manner."
The long-overdue words were only half registering with their intended target, as Mr. Darcy kept glancing past Bingley's shoulder; and his eyes had become quite glazed and dark. Most suspiciously and amazingly, the sober gentleman was actually slightly smiling; and Charles was annoyed that he did not have Darcy's full attention as he berated him and wondered what on earth, or who, had distracted his so-called friend.
"Ah, actually, Bingley, on second thought, perhaps I shall stay a little longer tonight. Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have here; and there are several of them who are uncommonly pretty. In fact, there is a young lady sitting down just behind you who is very handsome and, I daresay, very agreeable. Would you be so kind as to ask your Miss Bennet to please introduce us."
Charles was still a bit testy and he snapped, "Which do you mean?" Turning around, Bingley looked for a moment at the woman and then said, "Darcy, there is no need for Miss Bennet to perform the introductions, for I am well acquainted with the chit myself. That is Miss Elizabeth Bennet, my angel's younger sister. She is tolerable, I suppose, but certainly not handsome enough to tempt you. I happen to know for a fact that she reads extensively, is witty, enjoys the ridiculous, and loves to laugh. Miss Elizabeth plays the pianoforte rather ill but yet with great passion. She is an excellent walker who often muddies her hems, is lively and spirited, and expresses her own pert opinions readily. To make matters worse, she wears lavender scent and low-cut gowns. So, according to you, she is the epitome of an unsuitable woman. Each of those objections, on their own, may seem trivial; however, added together, Miss Elizabeth's faults would offend you too much. Forget about her, Darcy!"
"Honestly, Bingley, you take me seriously too much! I assure you, your conjectures are totally wrong. In fact, my mind has just now been most agreeably engaged in meditating on the very great pleasure that a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow. I must admit that my imagination is very rapid. It has jumped from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment; and I do believe I shall spend my entire night fantasizing about Miss Elizabeth Bennet as my wife. From my observations and the information you have just related, she seems quite perfect to me." Darcy sighed and became dreamy-eyed as he gazed longingly at the young lady.
Bingley was aghast that his scrupulous friend appeared to have been struck by 'love at first sight'; but little did he know that the worst was yet to come.
Darcy, in a dreamland world of his own, continued, "Even here and now, in my intelligent mind's eye, I can already easily imagine this stunningly beautiful, untamed enchantress briskly walking my splendid estate's manicured lawns, with her comely face prettily flushed, magnificent eyes brilliantly bright, and luscious chestnut curls absolutely wild and temptingly untidy. As I quickly join my lovely, spirited lady on Pemberley's perfect paths, she readily uses her canny wit to boldly express overly pert opinions, and to accurately ridicule and charmingly laugh at the handsome man walking proudly beside her; and she is absolutely delightful! When I finally grow tired of wandering so aimlessly, I softly suggest we forthwith return to my stately manor; and in my impressive music room my ravishing Elizabeth quite masterfully performs a tempestuous Italian love song with great emotion and intense fervour. We then gracefully proceed, hand in hand, to my extensive library, where we ardently read aloud tantalizingly romantic poetry from my rare leather-bound tomes."
(TAG: Author's Note: Whew! Excuse me while I keep the nausea at bay and take a rest from TOO MUCH thinking of arrogant adjectives and adverbs! OK. Sorry, Darcy, do carry on, my dear. As you were saying…)
Mr. Darcy was momentarily distracted and irritated but cleared his throat and quickly resumed his saccharine fantasy. "I cannot help but lovingly gaze into those seductively fine eyes and ardently admire her voluptuous figure in its outrageously expensive low-cut silk gown. Even though it is still relatively early, our mutual ardour increasingly becomes steadily heated; and we hastily retire to my sumptuous master chamber, where languid lavender's softly soothing and sensuous scent lingers hauntingly. As I gently take this gorgeous creature in my strong arms and effortlessly carry her to my huge canopied bed with costly satin sheets, her sultry lips hastily entice me to masterfully kiss her deeply. I am positively enraptured as I once again truly appreciate the undisputed fact that my very own bewitching Lizzy is such a loving, fiery, and passionate woman as we proceed to…"
Bingley was completely embarrassed and nauseated by such a mawkish, overly descriptive commentary involving Miss Elizabeth, who would one day soon, hopefully, be his sister-in-law. He fervently prayed that said young lady, still seated nearby, had not overheard his friend's mortifyingly graphic comments. The blushing Charles Bingley shut his eyes tightly, covered his ears, and interrupted, "Darcy, Darcy, Darcy! I cannot take anymore, my friend! Please cease your fantasy and abstain from providing me with TOO MUCH information!!!"The End