Posted on: 2010-07-05
"You must be joking," Elizabeth said, peering over Jane's shoulder at the letter in her hands.
Three of the Bennet girls had gathered in one of the sitting rooms. Tea things and treats were set out to tempt them, but they had been touched little. Kitty had collapsed onto a sofa. Her eyes were still red from crying. Jane sat in a wing chair reading a letter while Elizabeth paced behind her.
"What does it say?" Kitty asked. "Is he coming?"
Jane cleared her throat and began to recite the letter aloud.
"To the Misses Bennet,
"Please accept my deepest condolences on the death of your father. You are no doubt aware that Longbourn was entailed upon me. I will leave Lancashire this morning and will very likely arrive at the estate in the early afternoon of the 2nd, if not before. I hope this letter will reach you before I arrive.
Yours, &c," Jane trailed off. "It is signed."
Kitty stared at her. "That is all he wrote? Four lines?"
"Four very sloppy lines," Jane said, with uncharacteristic censure in her voice.
"But he was so kind as to send his letter before him," Elizabeth said, pacing the length of the room. "It is a wonder he was not waiting here with a land-surveyor and a draughtsman when we returned from the funeral."
"We should be prepared to leave as soon as possible," Jane said. "No doubt Mister--" It seemed even Jane could not bring herself to say his name. "It seems that the new owner of Longbourn wishes to take possession and I do not believe we should stand in his way."
"I can be ready by the morning," Kitty said, with a defiant lift to her chin.
Elizabeth sighed. "No, you cannot. We cannot be ready to leave by morning, no matter how much we might all wish to. But I do believe we should leave as soon as possible. I am sure he would prefer it. I only hope he does not decide to toss us out the moment he arrives. He would certainly be within his rights."
"Your uncle and I would be happy to take all of you in," said Mrs. Gardiner from the doorway. "Though I hope it will not come to that." Mrs. Gardiner had come to stay with them in the wake of Mr. Bennet's death, but Mr. Gardiner was too much tied up with business to have joined her. She entered with Mary trailing behind her.
Jane nodded. "I thank you, but I assure you we will not impose upon you for very long. We are not entirely without funds. If my uncle will only assist us in finding a place to lodge, we can find something that will suit our needs, I am sure."
"Needs and wants are so often confused," Mary said. "If we only insist upon what we need, we will easily find a home."
For once, no one disagreed with her.
"And I only just took off my mourning clothes for mama," Kitty said softly.
They sat in silence for a long time. Elizabeth, more for the sake of serving as an example to the younger girls than for herself, took some tea and ate a piece of buttered bread.
"I think I hear a carriage," Kitty said.
They gathered at the window to look but there was nothing. Then Jane perceived a man coming down the drive.
"Could that be him, do you think?" Elizabeth asked.
"On foot?" said Mrs. Gardiner.
"I will not meet him!" Kitty cried. "I will not say one kind word to him and no one can make me!" She rushed from the room, likely to go up to her sister and be as hysterical as she liked, Lydia being the only one in the house who had nothing to say on self-control even in the face of great trial.
Mary took a seat in a far corner of the room. Mrs. Gardiner stood, poised and erect, just out in front of Jane and Elizabeth, as if she could shield them both from the reality of their new lives. Jane and Elizabeth sat upon the sofa; the only outward sign of their distress was their joined hands, gripped tightly together.
Everyone jumped when the bell was heard. Mary went to the window. "He does not look so very bad, but then appearance is often deceiving," she said and returned to her seat.
Jane and Elizabeth released one another and folded their hands in their laps, waiting. There were footsteps, the heavy tread of a man, then Mrs. Hill opened the door to the sitting room and announced, "Mr. Bingley."
Mr. Charles Bingley was a man of one and twenty, of average height, with pleasing features and a fair complexion. He was dressed respectfully in a dark brown coat with a black crepe armband. Had one looked closely, they might have seen that the collar and cuffs of shirt had been darned more than once and that there was a shine on the elbows of his coat. He stood at the door for a moment looking vastly uncomfortable before stepping inside and bowing. "I presume that I have the pleasure of addressing the Misses Bennet."
"You do, sir, and I am their aunt, Mrs. Gardiner."
Mr. Bingley bowed to the lady. "Madam."
The young ladies rose and curtsied. "I am Miss Bennet," Jane said, "and these are my sisters, Elizabeth and Mary. My two youngest sisters are upstairs at present."
"Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth." He bowed again, and turned to the corner of the room. "Miss Mary."
All stood with an awkward air about them until Elizabeth broke the silence, saying, "Mrs. Hill, please see that Mr. Bingley's things are taken upstairs to the master's chamber."
"No! Please take my things to one of the guest rooms." Everyone looked at him in surprise. He had turned red in the face. "Please understand that I--I know what--I know how I must appear to you, coming like this so soon after the death of your father. If I had not been without--" He cleared his throat and regained command of himself. "It is not my intention to be unkind nor to chase you from your home. I beg you will stay here as long as you wish it. Indefinitely!"
"You are very kind," Mrs. Gardiner said, "but it would not be proper for the girls to stay here indefinitely. Your house has no mistress."
"Yes, of course," said Mr. Bingley. "Still, I hope you will not allow me to chase you from your home. We are family. We are cousins. We are very...very distant cousins."
"It is your home," Elizabeth said. She spoke slowly, as if she were puzzling over something. "I think it behooves us all to remember that. But I do thank you for your kindness."
There was another moment of awkward silence before Jane broke it by asking, "How was your journey?"
"It was quite good," Mr. Bingley said.
"Did you not come by carriage?"
"I came by stage coach. I walked from the coaching inn outside of Meryton."
"You must be tired out from your journey."
"I am accustomed to walking. It was no great distance." He looked around the room once more and bowed. "I beg you will all excuse me. I must put my things away."
"Well," Mrs. Gardiner said after he had left them. "He was nothing at all like what I expected."
"Nor I," Elizabeth said, though she could not have said what she had expected. Jane only shook her head in wonder.
The ladies were again able to wonder at Mr. Bingley at dinner when he was at last introduced to the youngest Bennet girls. Kitty and Lydia were not impressed by his shabby dress or his red hair, though they thought him handsome despite these disadvantages. His manners were, upon this second meeting--he had taken to his room after arriving, and no one had seen him again until dinner--more polished and allowed for some easy flow of conversation.
After dinner they gathered in the sitting room. Mr. Bingley took a chair by the open window where he could enjoy the cool evening breeze. The light was only just beginning to fade, though the hour was advanced.
Mrs. Gardiner attempted to break the silence that had overcome the room. "Have you any other family, Mr. Bingley?"
"I do, yes. I have two sisters. They are both married and settled in Cheshire."
"Do you see them often?"
"I see them hardly at all."
"Are they well?"
"I suppose they are. I have no bad news of them, so I must assume all is well."
"Do you not write?" Jane asked.
"Very little and not without good reason. I wrote to tell them I was coming here. We are not close. My sisters were raised by my grandmother, but I was with my father from the time I was nine until...until shortly before his death."
"Your sisters did not live with your father?"
"No, he was...not in good health. They were better where they were." He paused. "Will you tell me of the neighborhood? Is there much company?"
"I would not say there is much company," Elizabeth said. "We dine with perhaps four and twenty families."
Lydia giggled at him. Elizabeth gave her a quieting glance.
Mr. Bingley blushed. "I...have not often had the chance of being in company. I do enjoy company, however. I enjoy it very much."
"You shall have it," Jane said. "You will find the society here very open and friendly. Sir William Lucas will be glad to make your acquaintance, I am sure. Longbourn and Lucas Lodge have long been intimate."
Elizabeth added, "Sir William perhaps will call in two week's time. He would undoubtedly call sooner, but for--" Only a fortnight had passed since the death of Mr. Bennet. The house was still in deep mourning.
"There are frequent dinners," Jane said. "We dine out--we did dine out very often. I am sure you will meet with the same hospitality."
"There is a good deal of shooting, if that is your preference," Elizabeth said.
"I have never shot before, but I think I would enjoy it."
"And there are dances," Kitty said, "though not as many as there should be."
"I do not dance," said Bingley.
"Never?" Elizabeth asked. "You will not make friends that way."
"I do not know how."
No one could think of anything to say to that, and so the subject was changed.
Mr. Bingley was, naturally, an object of curiosity. From the maids they discovered that he had come with a small portmanteau containing very little in the way of clothing or comforts. From the steward they learned that he gave every appearance of the sort of man who would be a respectable and responsible land owner. He had no experience, Mr. Holt admitted with a shake of his head, but he had come prepared to work and, what was more, he had come with a humble attitude that allowed him to be taught. Only one thing did not sit well with Mr. Holt, and that was, that Mr. Bingley had sold some livestock immediately upon his arrival and had taken the money for himself.
This, they could not think well of, but it seemed an aberration. In every other respect he was generous to them even to a fault. His manners were good. He was inclined to be amiable and outgoing, friendly to all. He visited the tenants during his first week and he was generally well reported on in public and only a little disparaged in private, which is about as much as a landlord can ever hope for from his tenants.
The first caller to come was not Sir William Lucas but Mr. Phillips, who had the advantage of family ties which allowed him to have the first glimpse of the man who had ignited a great deal of curiosity in the neighborhood. He met with Mr. Bingley alone.
"How do you find Longbourn?" was his first question, when the introductions were complete.
"It is a very fine house," said Mr. Bingley. "Very grand."
Mr. Phillips chuckled. "Grand, do you call it? I hardly think it that. But it is fine. 'tis nearly 100 years old now. Old Mr. Bennet, by which I mean great-great-grandfather of the girls, rebuilt the house after a fire. It was about then that he instituted the entail, the one to which you owe your good fortune."
Bingley only smiled politely.
"I am sorry for the girls, but the entail saved the estate from their grandfather. If what I've heard of the man is true, he would have mortgaged the house and aliened the lands 'till there was nothing left, had he been able. Mr. Bennet had more sense, but his wife, sadly, did not. He would not have hacked up his inheritance as his father might have, but more than once I thanked Providence that he had not the option of mortgaging this or selling that to pay for a new carriage or some improvement to the house that Mrs. Bennet thought absolutely vital for her comfort and continued existence." He pressed his lips together. "You, of course, being the last person specially called in the tailzie, have the estate on...different terms."
"I am aware of my privileges."
"Privileges they are, but ones that come with no little responsibility."
"I have no plans to alien the land, that I can promise you."
"Very good. I hear from Mr. Holt that you are a man versed in the ways of business."
"My father was a knowledgeable man, and I had more than ample opportunity of learning from him," Bingley said. "Business and law, or the law of business, in any case, those things I know. I know them very well. Land management I do not know, but I hope to learn."
"Mr. Holt speaks highly of you, though he is still not pleased with you for selling--"
"Will Mrs. Phillips call soon, do you think?"
Mr. Phillips narrowed his eyes. "I believe she may. She is eager for an introduction."
"I should very much like to meet her. I should very much like to meet all of my new neighbors."
"Your new neighbors are equally as eager to meet you, I can promise you that," said Mr. Phillips. He tried once more to turn the conversation to the sale of the cattle, but Mr. Bingley was resolute in turning it back and Mr. Phillips gave up the cause. He came away from the conversation, if not entirely sanguine about Mr. Bingley, at least knowing that he did not lack in understanding, and that he did not appear to be unaware of the consequences of his actions, even if he would not speak of them.
The rest of Mr. Bingley's neighbors came as soon as propriety allowed them. Sir William thought him the most capital man he had met that week. Mr. Long begged him to come shoot with him, assuring him that his lack of experience would not in any way diminish their pleasure at having him. He was acknowledged as amiable, kind, and generous. If he had faults, it was that he was too quick to defer to the opinions and wishes of others, and hospitable almost to the point of making his callers uncomfortable, but the fault of trying too hard to please will never be ranked so high as that of trying not at all and by the end of a fortnight, Mr. Bingley had well endeared himself to all his callers and, by extension, some of their wives.
Posted on: 2010-07-08
One afternoon, after the hour had become too advanced for calls, but before the dinner hour, Jane came upon Mr. Bingley in the library. Mr. Bennet had always kept the door closed when he was in his library and, seeing it wide open, she had thought the room empty. Instead, she found Mr. Bingley asleep in a chair, his feet up, a translation of Euthydemus open upon his chest. She began to retreat, but he blinked awake.
"Miss Bennet, forgive me," he said and rose.
"I should ask your forgiveness," she said. "I did not mean to wake you."
"I am a very light sleeper." He gestured to a chair and sat down himself, running his fingers through his hair. Setting aside his book, he said, "You see I am trying to improve my mind, but my mind is not grateful for the assistance. This is a very fine library, but I fear it will not have the admiration or use it deserves. I am no great reader. I prefer newspapers to Greek philosophers."
"If that is a failing, sir, I think it is a very common one."
Bingley smiled. "Your father was a learned man."
"I am sorry I never had the chance to meet him. But I never knew of him until I learned of my inheritance."
"I think you would have liked him, and he you."
"He was surely intelligent."
"Oh, yes. Lizzy alone of all of us has his quickness, though Mary has his love of study and reading."
"Do you like to read, Miss Bennet?"
"Some, yes. I am fond of Shakespeare, and there are a few novels that I care for. In general, I must own that I am not a very good reader. I most often read only things that I can see the use of."
"I am much the same. If I can see the practical in something, I will read it, but of what use to me is some philosophy written four thousand years prior, which I must strain my brain to understand, or a poem which is all very pretty, but has no meaning in it?"
Jane laughed. "Yes, exactly!"
There was a moment of silence, but it was a comfortable one. "So what do you do, Miss Bennet, with the time you do not spend reading?"
"A great many things. I have a love of needlework, and I am told I am skilled at it, and there is always some new baby in the neighborhood, or a young lady in need of something for her trousseau, and if there is not that, there is the poor box to sew for, and of course my own sisters. I have been accustomed to being mistress of Longbourn--" She paused, but Bingley did not appear to her to be annoyed with the allusion, and she forged on. "I suppose that whenever my sisters and I move to our own establishment, I will again take that position, though in a different way."
"And what do you do that is not for the benefit of others? What do you do for your own sake?"
"I love the theater, though that is a pleasure I am afforded only in London. I ride, nearly every day when the weather is fine."
"Do you ride for your health, or for pleasure?"
"Both, I suppose, though more for pleasure."
"I have never seen you ride since I have been here, and the weather has been very fine."
Jane blushed. "I do not wish to seem--the horses are no longer mine to--I was going to ask if you did not mind, but I have not yet had the chance--"
Bingley understood her at once. "But of course you may take the horses out! Any you like, whenever you like. You need not even ask."
"Thank you," Jane said quietly. "You are very kind." The conversation lapsed again for a moment, but again it was a natural and amiable silence. "And you, sir? What are your pursuits?"
"I have very few, I am sorry to say. I am not accustomed to my time being my own. This business of being a gentleman of leisure will take some getting used to."
"Do you call it leisure? You seem to me to have a great deal to do."
"Only because I am unschooled and ignorant. Mr. Holt has been good about teaching me, and I must read over all of your father's papers, which means I must find all of your father's papers. The man was not terribly organized. Oh, but I do not mean to--"
Jane shook her head. "No, no, 'tis the truth. Lizzy says there is order in his desk, only it is an order that no one but himself could ever understand."
Bingley smiled. "With all of that, I nonetheless often have whole hours of time to myself and nothing to fill them with, and so you found me in a less than dignified state just now. But as to the pursuits that I do have...I like cards very much."
"Do you play whist?"
"I have, but I so rarely had anyone to play with. My father and I played piquet, until he could no longer hold the cards. I have created a great many games that can be played by oneself."
"Have you? Will you teach me some of them?"
"They are mostly very silly."
"Will you teach me anyway?"
He found a deck of cards and began to show her the games he had made up for himself until they were interrupted by Mrs. Gardiner, who came to say that dinner would shortly be served. They rose, both of them shocked to find that they had been nearly an hour and a half in one another's company without the least awareness of the passing time.
It was some weeks before any of them could quite understand Mr. Bingley. He was in every way the gentleman. He spoke as a gentleman, his manners were those of a gentleman, and his dress, though far from fine, showed him to have a proper concern for his appearance. His education also spoke to his being a man of understanding. He was not wrong in thinking himself no great scholar, for, excepting only his skills in business and arithmetic, and a certain fascination--common to the other sex--with the bloodier battles and more gruesome executions that had stained English soil, none of his learning had come to him by his own desire; but he spoke some Latin and a very little bit of French, and he had general knowledge of history, of mathematics, of literature, of science, and of philosophy.
Despite all of this, there were certain gaps that spoke to the circumstances of his upbringing. He said he did not dance, nor ride, had never taken out a gun, had never driven any cart or carriage or other vehicle. He had little knowledge of balls and had never been to any such thing, though he had often heard of them with longing. He viewed even routine calls carried out with the most mundane or self-serving of motives as great kindnesses. He looked upon a plate of cold meat as a delight. He found it worthy of remark that more than one candle burned in the sitting room after the sun went down.
In short, though his constant association with his father and his tutor had instilled in him all of the manners and education that one needed to pass un-censured through polite society, he had known privations in his life which had left him, in some ways, ill-prepared for his new rank and income.
There was to be a dance at Lucas Lodge which Kitty and Lydia very much wished to attend. They protested greatly upon being informed that they most certainly would not. Lydia especially, though her grief had been great at the death of each of her parents, had now begun to allow a certain selfishness to once again take the lead in her motivations. She knew only that a dance would lift her spirits, she thought nothing of how her attendance would reflect upon her family, nor how it would act on the feelings of her sisters to see merriment so soon after the death of their father.
Mrs. Gardiner succeeded in, if not swaying the minds of Lydia and Kitty, at least expressing to them the impossibility of their going in such strong terms as to make them give up hope, if not all complaints.
"I do not see why there must be all these silly customs," Lydia said. She was slumped down in her chair, her arms crossed over her chest, in a very childish and unbecoming posture.
Mary, who held to the customs of mourning with great tenacity, and had earlier attempted, in her own heavy-handed way, to impress upon Lydia the need for such, only sniffed into her book.
"Lydia, you know full well that even if you were permitted to attend, you would not dance. You are not yet fifteen years old and you are not out." Elizabeth turned from her sisters to Mr. Bingley. "Will you be attending, sir?"
"Oh, no. I do not dance, and I would not like to leave you all behind and make merry while you are at home."
Lydia's misery rejoiced in company, but the rest of her sisters were not so eager to see him suspend his pleasures.
"There is no reason at all for you to stay at home," Jane said. "Sir William would be sorry if you sent your regrets."
Mr. Bingley said that he was sure he would take no pleasure nor give any by standing about in a stupid manner all night.
"You cannot be forever avoiding the dance floor," Elizabeth said. "Surely you have danced some in your life."
"Nothing that would prepare me for a proper dance in the home of a gentleman," Bingley assured them. His past experiences with dancing had been few and hardly anything that the Bennets would have regarded as proper. They had been brief escapes from his father's sickbed and his tutor's lessons and the demands of running his small house to inns and barns. There had been assemblies, but he had not often danced at them. His situation was such that he was almost never allowed introductions to the ladies of the area. Mothers in particular were careful to keep their daughters away from him once they saw the dangerous combination of his poverty and personal charms. After the third time the Master of Ceremonies had returned to him with a polite smile and slight blush and told him that he would not have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Bingley to Miss So-And-So for she was already engaged for the evening, and her mother did not wish to tire her out with too many introductions, Bingley had stopped asking. "I have taken no lessons."
"Why, you need only practice," said Mrs. Gardiner, and was about to suggest that his cousins would be happy to oblige him when she saw the potential to mortify both him and her nieces with such a statement, and checked herself.
The conversation turned, but Bingley had fallen silent. The truth was he very much wished to attend the dance. He loved a dance, and he had many times watched the carriages of the great families in his neighborhood going to balls with no small amount of longing, and he had continued to attend the public assemblies even after it became clear that he would spend much of his time standing by the wall watching the merriment rather than participating in it. Jane, being nearest to him, and his favorite of his cousins, received this application: "I wonder, Miss Bennet, if you might not stand up with me. I will be a very poor partner, but I will trod upon your toes as little as possible. You must promise only to afterwards give me your honest opinion as to whether or not you think I will do for the ladies at Lucas Lodge."
Jane was surprised and pleased by the request, and if Elizabeth or Mary would only agree to play for them, she would be happy to oblige him. Mary took to the pianoforte, and Jane and Bingley stood up. He was not so poor a partner as he claimed or believed. He was in some ways more agreeable for having learned, not with a stuffy dancing master standing over him, but at the instruction of other young people. His steps were not always exactly correct, but he was lively and easy, and he never came close to stepping on her toes. He was assured in the warmest terms that he would more than do for the ladies at Lucas Lodge. A few more days and a bit of practice and instruction settled it. He would attend. He could not dance every dance, the minuet in particular gave him much trouble, but that was almost certain not to be played, and he would in any case be unkind to rob the ladies of the pleasure of his attendance.
Thus was Mr. Bingley introduced to the whole of the neighborhood, and thus did he win over the ladies as well as the gentlemen. If he was not polished to a high gloss, he was agreeable and well-mannered, and as the owner of Longbourn, he was among the principal men of the area. Not a few matrons came away from Lucas Lodge thinking that it would be a good thing if the Bennet girls were shortly removed from Longbourn, and Mr. Bingley left to his own devices.
Those same matrons would have been very sorry to have seen the goings on the following day. Having satisfied Kitty and Lydia with his account of the dance, he walked out to find Jane preparing to ride. Without entirely intending to, he crossed to her, and commented on it being a fine day for the activity.
"It is," Jane said. "Will you not join me?"
"I do not ride."
"If you do not ride as you do not dance, I am sure you will shortly be leaping stone walls."
Bingley laughed. "I have not the least experience in this, I assure you." He eyed a tan and white stallion cautiously, but with no small measure of curiosity. "Will you teach me?"
"I? Oh, no, I could never teach, certainly not a gentleman." She called to Jeb, the groom, who was obliged to defer his many duties in order to teach his new master how to ride. The stallion was set aside for a time when Bingley had greater skill. A tame mare was chosen instead, and they all went out to a field.
Jane sat upon her horse and watched, offering occasional instruction and much encouragement and Bingley, at last mounted and having learned to move the beast in roughly the direction he desired, was rewarded for his efforts by riding with her, Jeb following close behind them with an eye toward making sure his master did not fall from the horse and crack open his head.
They rode along the edge of the property, Jane pointing out local places of interest.
"That is Netherfield," she said, as that great house came into view. "It is the grandest house in the area. Mr. Maydestone is the owner, but his gout is very bad and he is never seen. There has been some talk of his removing to Bath, and then I suppose the house will be let."
"Have you ever been?"
"Yes. When Mrs. Maydestone was alive, they entertained often, but she has been dead many years, and they have no children. I thought it a very nice house."
"The estate where I grew up was called Whyting. The owner of the estate was a gentleman from Derbyshire, but the manor house was let to Mr. Branwhaite. We lived in a...it was called a cottage, but it did not deserve the name. It was near to the houses of the laborers. My father was very particular that his house be known to be the house of a gentleman, though we had scarcely seventy pounds a year to live on. As I had a tutor and my father had some relations among the landed families, we were permitted to speak of ourselves as gentry without contradiction, though I was almost never in company with those who truly were of the first class. I was at Whyting Hall just once, and I can only suppose that the invitation was extended by some accident. It was clear I was not welcome, especially after Miss Branwhaite seemed to take a bit of a fancy to me." He broke off, surprised to have spoken so much. On leaving Lancashire he had thought to put the whole of his life there behind him, but he was learning that it was not so easy to cut his past away from himself as he had thought it would be. He glanced at Jane, afraid that he would see derision in her eyes, but there was nothing of the kind.
They returned to the house speaking of other things, of the landscapes they passed and which seasons they each found the most enjoyable. Bingley dismounted with little grace, Jane with a great deal of it. They entered the house together, and parted in the front hall. Jane caught herself missing him almost as soon as he had left, and was near to being vexed when he sat apart from her that evening after dinner. She was quick to chastise herself for such silly feelings, however, and had soon satisfied herself both on her not having any tender feelings for Mr. Bingley, and on the need for her to remain vigilant against cultivating any such thing.
A month after his arrival, Mr. Bingley called Mrs. Gardiner into the study. He was peering down at some letters of business which Mr. Bennet had saved, trying to puzzle out if there was are reason they had been saved, or if Mr. Bennet had simply never bothered to discard them. He rose when Mrs. Gardiner entered the room. A breeze from the open window blew the papers and Mr. Bingley set them under the paperweight. He gestured to the wing chair which had been a favorite of Mr. Bennet, taking the edge of the desk for himself.
Polite nothings followed but at last he came to his point.
"It is my intention to marry one of Mr. Bennet's daughters."
Mrs. Gardiner, not wholly surprised by this, asked which of the girls he had set upon.
"Whichever will have me," Mr. Bingley said with a laugh which turned into a sigh. "Miss Bennet as the eldest is the natural choice, and I confess a preference for her."
Not very much surprised by this either, Mrs. Gardiner said only, "Jane is a beautiful young lady."
"She is, and she is mild, and kind, and--" He shook his head. "I want to do right," he said, earnestly. "I have injured, without intending to, granted, but I have injured them, and I cannot even be entirely sorry it happened because I truly do not know what I would have done if--well, that is neither here nor there. You are their aunt and they respect you. I have seen enough to respect your judgement. If you will go to them, and forward the matter, and one of them is agreeable... I want to do right."
Mrs. Gardiner had begun to feel affection for him during their short acquaintance. She had even begun to excuse the exceptional nature of his arrival at Longbourn, seeing that something other than greed or hubris had driven him to it. Mr. Bingley was gifted with a handsome and open face, and manners which were very pleasing. Mrs. Gardiner was not a woman who was immune to such charms. She did not, however, lack prudence. She acknowledged the good motives that led to his desire and assured him that she would do what she thought right.
It cannot be said that she tarried in carrying out her promise, but she had too much good sense and too much affection to be hasty. She wrote to her husband to beg his advice and then she set about watching and waiting.
To even such an attentive observer as Mrs. Gardiner, the extent of his preference for Jane was difficult to determine, not least because he was careful not to pay excess attention to any of his cousins. That there was a preference, however, could not be doubted. On Jane's part, any symptoms of love were even harder to discern. Jane was always smiling, always kind, and always spoke highly of everyone, but she had never been known to show peculiar regard to anyone.
Mrs. Gardiner had quickly determined, however, that it would be Jane if it was any of them. Lydia and Kitty were too young and foolish to make good wives, Mr. Bingley seemed, and indeed was, not at all fond of Mary; her he treated with nothing more than polite familial regard, and it was only his good breeding and concern for others that prevented many a sarcastic statement after her speeches. Elizabeth was not interested by Mr. Bingley. Mrs. Gardiner did not doubt that she would marry him, if asked, for the sake of her sisters, but there was no sign of love there, nor did Mr. Bingley seem the least excited by her.
Jane alone of all her sisters had taken the time to learn to knit. Mrs. Bennet had not pushed the skill, thinking it unnecessary and certainly less interesting to gentlemen than the more showy accomplishments of the sewing and embroidery needles, but Jane enjoyed the rhythm of it and the feel of new wool through her fingers. Bingley, always eager to be of use to any of the girls, but most especially Jane, needed no persuasion to sit across from her and hold the skein with his hands as she wound it into a ball.
"Have you never seen a play, Mr. Bingley?"
"No. Are you fond of them?"
"Oh, very. I am as much at Drury as I can be, when I am in London."
"I have never been to London, though I have often wished to go."
"Were you never able to get away? Just for a short time?
"I had no money to travel, and my father could not have spared me even if I had."
"What was your father like?"
"He was ill almost the entire time I knew him. When I was four he left us, myself and my sisters, in the care of our grandmother and went away to India in the hopes of making his fortune there, but that was not to be. He returned five years later, a very unwell man." He quieted for a moment, then forged on. "There was no money to hire a nurse to care for him. My grandmother was happy to keep my sisters with her, but she said I was too much of a trial upon her nerves. I was sent to live with my father."
"Was it only the two of you then?"
"Had you the burden of caring for him all alone? From such a young age?"
Mr. Bingley only nodded.
"That must have been very difficult."
The yarn ran out at last. Mr. Bingley, in aiding her to catch up the last of it, brushed his fingers against hers. To what extent the action was deliberate, and with what feelings the lady received it, the author will leave for the reader to determine.
Posted on: 2010-07-13
Mr. Gardiner came to Longbourn as soon as his business allowed him. His reason for coming was ostensibly to give what advice and aid he could to Mr. Bingley, but his true aim was to observe Mr. Bingley, and to see in him, if he could, a suitable husband for his niece.
"What think you of him?" Mrs. Gardiner asked her husband when he had had several days to observe the man.
"I see nothing bad in him. There is a certain sadness in him at times, though he hides it well."
"Yes, I have seen it too. I do not think he is naturally melancholy, only I doubt he has had an easy life."
"He is not unintelligent. He has a natural quickness where business is concerned, though he is too reluctant to come to a decision. He would make a poor manager, but I would be glad to have him as a clerk."
Mrs. Gardiner hid a smile. "And what think you of him as a husband?"
"For you or for one of the girls? I would rather object to him for you."
Mrs. Gardiner gave no reply to this but a slight shake of her head.
Mr. Gardiner sobered. "Upon the basis of our short acquaintance, I see nothing objectionable. I would prefer more time to form an understanding of his character, but given the circumstances..."
Mrs. Gardiner could not bear to be separated from her children for very much longer, and the girls could not stay at Longbourn without the presence of their aunt. Had Mr. Gardiner seen in Mr. Bingley any great defect of character, he would have taken the girls under his own roof without a further thought, but he did not deny the inconvenience and cost associated with such a plan.
Mrs. Gardiner, while having great admiration of Jane's upright character and goodness of heart, had still greater respect for Elizabeth's understanding. To this niece did she first speak.
"Mr. Bingley confesses a preference for Jane," Mrs. Gardiner said, once she had acquainted Elizabeth with his intentions.
"I have perceived something like one in him."
"See you any signs of regard in Jane?"
"I cannot say. I think she likes him, but then Jane likes everyone."
"Yes," said Mrs. Gardiner. "But he is not a bad sort of man. Jane finds good wherever she goes and in whomever she meets. If Mr. Bingley be only respectable, she will be content. If he be kind, she will be happy."
Elizabeth sighed. "Perhaps she will, but I want for Jane something more than a marriage forced upon her by circumstance and duty. I want her to know love."
"Love can grow in time. I think she will know it. And, what's to be done?"
"Very little," Elizabeth said. "We are none of us fit to be governesses. Jane and perhaps Mary have the temperaments to be companions, but they would neither of them be happy in such a circumstance. To live, all five of us, on two or perhaps three hundred pounds a year--no prospects beyond our small circle--no chance to mix in society--very little chance of marrying respectably--" She had always thought her mother's nervous fits about their marrying silly and her fears overblown, but faced now with the reality of the situation, she was forced to acknowledg the validity of those concerns if not her manner of expressing them. She sighed. "Will you take the matter to Jane?"
"I will. I have no intention of pressing her, but..."
"But she will press herself. She feels her duties acutely. The opening of the matter and the settling of it are one and the same. Her feelings will not matter at all once she has determined marrying Mr. Bingley to be her duty." They were seated in the drawing room, side by side. Mrs. Gardiner, seeing Elizabeth's distress, guided her to lay her head upon her shoulder.
"Dear Lizzy, do not make more of this than it is. Do not assume Jane has your same feelings."
"Perhaps I might do as well for Mr. Bingley."
Mrs. Gardiner pressed her cheek. "I should be far more concerned to see you wed to him than Jane. I know your feelings, Lizzy. You are too nice, sometimes, and you will not be content with any man whom you do not hold in the highest regard."
"I have some regard for Mr. Bingley," Elizabeth said. "He is not a complete fool, which is more than can be said for most of the world."
"Jane is the eldest. She is the natural and wisest choice. But Lizzy, I must ask something of you. I must ask that, once Jane has made her choice, once it is done, do not attempt to sway her from it. You will only cause her pain if she sees you are unhappy with her."
"I could never be unhappy with Jane, and for her sake, I will pretend to be happy for her," Elizabeth promised.
Mrs. Gardiner did not promptly go to Jane, but allowed a few more days to pass. Had she known Jane's true feelings, had she known that Jane was every day growing fonder of Mr. Bingley's company and had now begun to dread the day when she would be removed from it, she would have settled it all immediately, but she did not know it, and delayed from unneeded fear. She delayed, in fact, just long enough that her interference was no longer needed at all.
Jane had gone out early to walk in the garden. She came upon Mr. Bingley in the kitchen garden, raiding the strawberry bush.
"If you do not leave enough for preserves, the cook will be very unhappy."
Bingley jumped up, looking like a naughty child. "Good morning, Miss Bennet."
"Good morning, sir," Jane said, attempting to hide a smile.
"I--ah--" He held out his hand, a few berries to tempt her, and Jane carefully removed off her gloves and took one.
"They are not so sweet as they were last year. I most look forward to the blackberries, but we will not have those for some time."
"I have not had berries in such quantity since I left my grandmother's house. I was forever raiding the garden there, and getting a sore backside for the trouble."
Jane laughed. "This being your garden, I think your backside is safe."
He sat down on the edge of the low wall. "How are you this morning, Miss Bennet?"
"I am well, thank you, sir."
"I am very glad to hear that," he said, too earnestly. He looked down at this feet. "I mean, I...it is my wish that you all be happy and well."
"We are," Jane assured him. "You have been kind to all of us."
"After imposing myself upon you so soon after the death of your father, it was the least I could do. But you do seem well today. You look..." She looked radiantly beautiful in the morning sun. Her black mourning clothes overwhelmed her delicate features, but the clear air and clean light of the morning eased the effect. "You look well."
He stood and begged her to walk with him. She took his arm and they left the kitchen garden, moving to the flowers and bushes.
"How do you like Longbourn, now that you have had time to know it?"
"I like it very well."
"Will it soon feel like your home, do you think?"
"It does already, in some ways."
"I am curious...you have not yet moved from the guest room." He looked away and Jane said, "I overstep myself, forgive me."
"Not at all. I confess I...I do not want to give offense."
"You could not possibly give offense by doing that which you have the right to do."
He stopped abruptly in the middle of the walk. Jane, startled, looked at him. "Will you marry me?"
Jane had not allowed herself to hope that he had any inclination toward her. To have such a proposal thrust upon her left her speechless.
"Oh, that was awful, too blunt. I am sorry, Miss Bennet. I am so terribly...there are times when an idea flies into my head and I simply seize upon the impulse of it. What I meant to say--" He stopped, and took a breath. "You say I have a right to be here, and I know that I do, but I also feel that it is only correct that I try to share the inheritance which I have gained with the women who, if they have not the technical, legal right to it, must be thought to have a moral right. It was my intention from the first to marry from among Mr. Bennet's daughters, and having discovered you whom I would admire under any circumstances, the eldest and the most natural choice--I know not why I have been so blessed. Forgive me, I am assuming that you will have me. Only, please know that I do not ask only because of circumstance. I do--I do love you."
The world swam for a moment, and Jane thought she might faint. "Love?"
"Mr. Bingley, I--I do--" Bingley was growing quite nervous by her lack of response and, seeing this, she forced the words, "Nothing would make me happier than--yes--indeed I am so--"
A brilliant smile broke out upon his face. "Then, let me ask you again, properly this time." He took her hand and got down on one knee. "Miss Bennet, having established that I am no great orator, I will attempt to impress upon you how deeply I admire your beauty and your charm and your good sense and your kindness and everything about you. I love you, Jane, and I am humbly asking you to do me the great honor of being my wife."
"Yes," Jane whispered and then, louder, "Yes, I will."
He came to his feet and pulled her into an embrace, lifting her up off of her feet and spinning her around and poor Jane, who was already giddy and lightheaded, was nearly overcome. She was very glad that he did not release her right away, for she was not quite certain she could stand on her own two feet. She leaned her head against his shoulder, breathless as if she had run for miles. She was not the only one close to being overcome. Bingley's hands trembled against her back. He had always been of an affectionate nature, had been apt to desire attachments to women even when his circumstances had made such highly imprudent. He had been sure that, if he found only a little beauty and an agreeable nature in one of the Bennet girls, he would be happy to take her as his wife, but he had not expected this.
When they had recovered themselves, they began walking again, her arm in his. They were both too happy to speak much, but at last Bingley said, "I want to thank you for accepting me. I do not know if you feel as I do--"
"I do," Jane said. "I do, indeed I do. I have been trying so hard these last weeks to stop myself from loving you, for I did not know if you had any inclination toward me, but now I know that you do and I may...I may love you."
"You may," Bingley said. "Love me, Jane. Love me as madly as I love you."
Jane blushed and shook her head, feeling herself in danger of being undone by her own happiness. Bingley saw, and fell silent, satisfied with having her arm on his. They walked all of the garden paths twice before Jane felt fit to return to the house.
Mr. Bingley went immediately to Mr. Gardiner, emboldened by Jane's acceptance and his assurance of her feelings. Jane found Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth in the sitting room. She was in such a state of agitation that she could at first not speak properly. She sat, stood, paced the room, and went to the open window, hoping to catch her breath.
"Jane, whatever is the matter with you?" Elizabeth asked.
"Mr. Bingley has asked me to marry him."
Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth's first thoughts were the same, and that was, to be angry with Mr. Bingley for going to Jane before Mrs. Gardiner had spoken to her. But another moment swept that thought away. Jane turned back from the window. "I wish the whole world could be so happy as I am at this moment. I have never known such happiness. I can hardly speak for joy."
Elizabeth, when she had recovered herself, said, "Then, do you mean to say that you...have affection for Mr. Bingley?"
"I love him! I have been trying not to and now I may and it is all bursting upon me at once. Oh, Lizzy, is he not the finest man you have ever known? He is so kind, and good, and I can speak to him about anything. His manners are so easy and he is so handsome and--" She laughed and pressed her hands to her mouth. "Forgive me, I shall be rational again very soon, I promise you."
Elizabeth laughed. "If this is your irrationality, I hope you never know reason again." She pulled Jane into an embrace and caught her aunt's eye. Mrs. Gardiner merely shrugged her shoulders, wondering anew at Jane's self-command that had hidden all of this from those who knew her best.
Mr. Gardiner and Bingley entered soon after, and, everyone coming to an accord that things could not have turned out more perfectly, Jane and Bingley were permitted and encouraged to behave as proper lovers, and had soon isolated themselves in a corner of the room to speak in raptures of the perfections of each other.
With the matter thus settled, there were only details to work out. It was thought unnecessary for Jane to be completely out of the blacks before the wedding, but even under the circumstances, too much haste would be unseemly. A date of eight weeks hence was set upon.
Mr. Bingley had assumed that all of the girls would remain in the house after the wedding, but the greater experience of the Gardiners quickly won the day.
"A newly married couple needs peace and time to themselves," Mrs. Gardiner said. "I propose we take one of the girls back to London with us. Kitty, I think, would suit best." She privately wished to have Elizabeth in her house, but Elizabeth would be of the most use to Jane. She had long desired to take Kitty away from Lydia's influence and hoped to instill in her a more serious character by such a removal.
"I do not see why Kitty should get to go to London and I must stay here," Lydia said.
"Kitty is the elder and has a greater affection for children," said Mrs. Gardiner easily. She turned to Kitty who was smirking in a very unseemly manner at Lydia. "It will not be all balls and parties and plays, Kitty. I will do what I can to insure your comfort and entertainment, but you will be expected to do your part. You will help me with the children and I am sure there will be many other duties for you to attend to."
Kitty's face fell and it was Lydia's turn to smirk.
Mrs. Gardiner's next plan was to visit Mrs. Phillips.
"It is my hope to leave no more than two of Jane's sisters at Longbourn," Mrs. Gardiner said, sipping her tea.
"Oh yes, sister!" cried Mrs. Phillips. "That is a very good scheme. I think Elizabeth should return to London with you."
"No, no, I will take Kitty back with me. I think a change of scenery will do her much good. Elizabeth will stay at Longbourn as a help to Jane. But that does leave Lydia and Mary..."
Mrs. Phillips loved Lydia almost as well as Mrs. Bennet had. "Why Lydia can come to stay with me!"
"I confess I had hoped that one of them might come to live with you. Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bingley would of course give the girl a stipend. I wonder, though, at your preferring Lydia to Mary."
"Why should I not?"
"Mary is so much quieter, so unlikely to cause trouble. And she is older, and likely to be more of a help to you." She sipped her tea. "She is also a good deal...cheaper to maintain."
Mrs. Phillips loved Lydia almost as well as Mrs. Bennet had, but she loved her income and having a peaceful home more. Mary it was to be.
"I hope you will not take all of Jane's sisters away from her," Bingley said, when the decisions were explained to him.
"No, Elizabeth must stay with Jane, and Lydia also will be best served by the company of her two eldest sisters."
Preparations for the wedding shortly began in earnest. Mr. Gardiner returned to London for a short time, to return with the children until the wedding. Jane's trousseau was prepared, a new gown of white muslin with a green sash was purchased for her by her uncle.
"And what of you?" Jane asked Bingley.
"What of me?" Bingley asked.
"Will you not have a new coat?"
He shrugged. "I have no need of one."
Mr. Bingley had, so far as anyone could tell, two coats. He wore a brown one every day, and a green one to church on Sunday. Neither could be said to fit him properly, nor were either of them in good condition. Jane moved to sit beside him, glad that the room was empty of all but the two of them. She did not want to embarrass him, but his appearance was of some concern. He was not neglectful. He was scrupulous in his toilet, neat in his dress. His clothing was clean and well-cared for, only old and worn and clearly had been bought second-hand.
"I think you should have a new coat for the wedding."
"I can wear my Sunday coat."
"I would very much like to see you in a new set of clothes for the wedding."
"If you wish it, of course I will."
"I do appreciate that, but I would hope that you would do it for more than my own sake. You are the owner of Longbourn, a squire and a gentleman. Your appearance should reflect that."
"I have what I need. I see no occasion for squandering the estate's money."
"It is not squandering money to see that your appearance reflects your rank. And it is not the estate's money, it is your money. You are the legal heir of Longbourn. Can you not accept that? Can you not bring yourself to take for yourself the luxuries to which you are entitled?"
He laughed. "You see that I am not accustomed to thinking of myself. I will buy myself a new set of clothes for the wedding. I may go mad and buy two sets."
Jane smiled. "I would be very glad if you did."
Bingley did, in his own opinion, go a bit mad. Mr. Gardiner was the very good friend of a respected London tailor who, at his friend's request, journeyed to Longbourn to attend Mr. Bingley. It was a service that was routinely given only to clients who were of far greater consequence than Bingley could ever hope to be, but Mr. Bingley was not familiar enough with the ways of the world to be quite cognizant of the honor he was receiving.
Mr. Hawkes spread out before him wool and silk of every shade and hue. He was soon caught between a deep blue wool and a green silk.
"May I ask, sir, what you presently have in your dressing closet?" Mr. Hawkes asked. He glanced with barely repressed distaste at the coat Mr. Bingley now wore, taking in with the critical eye of an expert, not the shine on the elbows or the botched repair near the bottom, but the poor quality of the cut, and the lack of a lining.
"Two coats and a few shirts. Cravats. Some inexpressibles."
Mr. Hawkes did an admirable job of suppressing his horror. "Have you a full dress suit? Riding attire? A morning suit? Ah, sir!" He pointed to a swatch in his book of samples. "Red velvet, proper for full dress. I recommend it with a satin waistcoat in yellow, with red embroidery. The blue wool is appropriate for every day wear. Two waistcoats to be made for this, one in a matching fabric, the other in..." He considered the samples. "The other will be of silk, pink and white stripe. The green silk you may wear in afternoons or to informal dinners. Each coat to come with a matching set of inexpressibles, all but the blue wool. That, I think, you ought to wear with a dark tan. Now as to riding attire--"
"I do not ride often enough to be in need of that," Bingley said quickly. "As for the rest." He ran his hand over the swatches. "You do not think it is too much?"
"Too much?" Mr. Hawkes sighed. He had not come to the house unwarned, but he had not thought Mr. Bingley so unschooled as this. "Sir, for a man of your standing, it is not enough."
"May I have them lined? I have never had a lined coat."
Mr. Hawkes sniffed. "I never sell unlined coats. Now, let us discuss buttons. Do you prefer a double breast or single?"
Posted on: 2010-07-15
The tailor's bill caused no small amount of concern on Bingley's part, but Jane only commented that Mr. Hawkes had been very reasonable. He needed also a new great coat, but this he purchased from the local tailor at the suggestion of Elizabeth, who desired him not to lose the goodwill of the local merchants. New shoes, new boots, two hats, four pairs of gloves, five pairs of drawers, a silver toothpick, and several pairs of silk stockings rounded out the purchases he made at local shops and garnered him as much good will as Elizabeth could have hoped.
The personal effects of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, all that was not included in the entail, had been left to their daughters. Jane had received her father's pocket watch. The case was of solid gold and dated from the early part of the century, having belonged to Jane's great-grandfather, though the internal components had been replaced only a few years previous. She bestowed it upon Mr. Bingley despite his protests. When his coats were finished, she gave him also a gift of several linen shirts and cravats of both silk and linen.
"Jane, this is too much! Where did you get them?"
"I made them," Jane said. "Yours were in shabby condition, full of darns and mending, and badly done mending too!"
"I am a poor excuse for a tailor," Bingley said with a smile.
"Did you mend your own shirts?"
"As well as I could, which was not very well at all. These are very nice. I will look like a dandy when you have had done with me."
"You will look as you ought to look," Jane said.
He did not look like a dandy, but he did cut a very fine figure in his blue coat and tan inexpressibles, with kid gloves upon his hands and his new beaver hat upon his head. He wore still a black crepe armband in honor of Mr. Bennet, and would until the girls were out of mourning.
Mrs. Gardiner set about the last task which she thought necessary for Jane's comfort and that was, that they redo the master suite. It had laid empty since the death of Mr. Bennet, cleaned out and rarely visited. Many of the things the girls did not want had been sold, others given away to servants and tenants. Mrs. Gardiner proposed to redo the bed chamber and the two attached dressing closets. It was to be their wedding present. Jane and Bingley together protested, but the Gardiners would not be swayed.
"My dear Aunt, you have done so much for us already. How can we ask for more?"
"You have not asked, Jane, I have offered. I have more than offered, I insist. We will do this for you."
"It is not necessary," Jane said. "The rooms are comfortable and in the modern taste."
"They are in your mother's taste, not your own." Mrs. Gardiner sighed and put her arm around her. "Jane, I will leave you after the wedding. You will have many duties to care for, many demands upon yourself. Elizabeth and Lydia are to stay with you, and there will be children. I want you to have this room for you, and for Mr. Bingley, as a place where you can go and be alone, and think only of yourselves. You are both too apt to neglect yourselves and give all of your time and effort away to others."
It was settled. It would be done. Green damask replaced pink flowers upon the walls, the floors were refinished to a darker shade, green and blue curtains were hung upon the windows and the bed frame, and new linen sheets, imported from France and embroidered with green scroll at the edges, were put upon the bed. A velvet sofa with silk pillows was installed in front of the fire. The Enraged Musician, a favorite of both Jane and Bingley, was hung on one wall, a landscape upon another, small botanical prints above the fireplace.
Mr. Bingley was convinced at last to move into the master's apartment as soon as it was done. It seemed silly to delay any longer with the wedding but two weeks away. The atmosphere at Longbourn became gay and light, as befitted a wedding, but none of them could forget that they had been a house of mourning not so long ago. Thus it was that Bingley found Jane crying in the garden one afternoon.
He sat down beside her, slipping his fingers into hers, and waited.
"I am sorry you have seen me like this," Jane said, when she had collected herself well enough to speak. "Please do not think me unhappy or ungrateful. You are so good and so kind and I am so glad to be marrying you. It is only that my uncle will walk with me on Friday, and it should be--I wish so much that it was to be my father."
Bingley had too much experience with grief to offer anything other than a gentle press of her hand.
"My mother died not so very long ago, and now my father. I am so weary of grief. When your father died, did it--does it end?"
Bingley looked away. Jane would have retracted the question, cautious as she was of ever intruding upon others' private thoughts, but he began to speak before she was able.
"It has not yet. I still miss him every day, which I confess I did not expect. It was such a relief when he died." At her look of surprise, he said, "Do not think I wanted him gone for my own sake, but his suffering was so great and for so long. I was devastated by my loss, despite everything. I had--forgive me. We should not be speaking of my concerns."
Jane shook her head. "No, please. I want to know. We are to be married. I want to know you."
"I cared for him each and every day. It was...wearying. I do not deny that."
"What was the matter with him?"
"That is a question to which I never was given a satisfactory answer. His limbs failed him, but not always. Some days he could walk and some days he could not. Some days he could feed himself and some days he could not. As time went on, the days in which he could grew less and less and the days in which he could not grew more and more. The last two years he was all but helpless."
"You had no help?"
"A maid of all work, but she was always hired on the understanding that she would not have to care for my father. Each day I woke him, washed him, dressed him, moved him to his chair, fed him, read to him, prepared his medicine, spoke with him... He could still speak. His words were slurred, but his mind was there. I have yet to decide if that was a blessing or a curse."
"To have taken all of that upon yourself..."
"There was nothing else to be done. I was not without friends, of a sort. The owner of the estate where we lived was charitable to us. He--I thought he was very kind, until..."
"Never mind that," Bingley said with a shake of his head.
"Will either of your sisters be able to attend the wedding?"
"No. Caroline is in expectation of a confinement and Louisa is not of a mind to travel so far."
They heard boots on the gravel path and saw Elizabeth returning from a walk. She would have turned back toward the house and left them to themselves had they not begged her to join them. She did join them, but was careful of not seeming to intrude. There was little she would not do to forward intimacy between her sister and the man who was to become her brother. She was conscious of her place in this new arrangement, aware that she would henceforth no longer be the person of utmost importance to her sister. That such a thought pained her cannot be doubted, but that she was more than glad that Mr. Bingley would succeed and exceed her in her sister's esteem must also be thought certain.
They walked the garden paths together, Elizabeth watching all the time. Though Bingley walked between them, he was most often turned toward Jane, and Jane toward him. Incivility was never so well received.
They returned to the house at last, and Elizabeth went upstairs to attend to her sisters. Kitty's things were being sent ahead of her to London where a room, which she would share with her eldest cousin, was prepared for her.
"It's hardly fair that you are to stay here and have your own room while I must go off and share a room with a little girl," Kitty was saying as Elizabeth entered the room.
Lydia, who had become more and more reconciled to staying at Longbourn as she came to realize that Kitty would not be attending a ball every night in London, said, "Oh, la, Kitty! Too bad for you. I do not know what I will do with all of the room."
"What room do you think you will have?" Elizabeth asked.
"Why all of this! With Kitty and Mary gone, I will have all the room in the world."
"Kitty and Mary are going, and I am coming," Elizabeth said.
"The room that Jane and I now share is to be a nursery."
"They haven't any children!"
"Not yet, but they very likely will, and soon. Better that we learn to live together now than wait until we have no choice."
"There are two other rooms!"
"Those are guest rooms," Elizabeth said patiently. "Are you really so averse to sharing a room with me?"
Lydia huffed and Kitty grinned. Elizabeth would insist upon Lydia picking up her own mess and would not allow her to waste candles by staying until all hours of the morning. Elizabeth was hardly more pleased at the prospect than Lydia, but had a more pressing motive than any she had expressed to her sister. Lydia's conduct did not sit well with her. She had been too long indulged in too many things. If Mrs. Gardiner wished to instill a more serious character in Kitty, Elizabeth hoped to instill at least a respectful one in Lydia.
The day of the wedding now seemed to speed toward them. Mr. Gardiner returned, the children in tow. Preparations were finalized, certain details worked out, the etiquette of providing a happy wedding for Jane and Bingley while respecting the mourning period was puzzled out.
Mrs. Gardiner pulled Jane aside one morning and had a certain quiet conversation with her. She was glad to find her less ignorant than she had feared, and more sanguine than she had hoped about the prospect of her marriage bed. Mrs. Gardiner had only to correct a few misconceptions and answer some specific questions. The conversation between Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bingley was of a somewhat different sort.
Mr. Gardiner had had no plans to speak to Mr. Bingley at all. Gentlemen, in his experience, most often knew a good deal more than they should about the ways of men and women before they reached their wedding night. His only concern in that area was that Mr. Bingley might have prior experience with a class of women whose behavior had nothing at all to do with what one ought to expect from a lady. But as Mr. Bingley did not seem to be that sort of man, and as he treated Jane with respect in every other aspect of their relationship, he thought it unlikely, and he was content to let the matter alone. That Mr. Bingley had no experience he entertained as a dim hope. That he had no knowledge never entered his mind until Mr. Bingley came to him.
"I was wondering," Bingley said, "if I might not ask you about a certain subject on which I seem to lack essential understanding."
Mr. Gardiner raised his eyebrows and, after a pause sufficient for him to process his surprise at the application, and to determine the best way of making the poor young man less wretchedly mortified, said, "As you are currently redder than the fabric of my waistcoat, I am going to assume you are referring to something other than the current state of relations between France and Germany."
Bingley nodded, managed a small smile, and appeared one degree less embarrassed.
"Sit down, son, and take a breath before you faint."
Mr. Bingley did as he was commanded.
Mr. Gardiner cleared his throat. "Now what is it, precisely, that you need to know? Or perhaps I ought to ask you, what do you already know?"
"When I was fourteen my father had a conversation with me, but it was not a very informative one. We talked about...he quoted quite a lot from Leviticus and then he gave me some strenuous admonitions against...paying too much attention to self, and I never quite understood what it was he was telling me I should not do, and that was all. I was told things by other boys, much of which I found highly suspect, and Mary Martin would let you see her bosom for a shilling, but she wanted five to allow you to touch it and I never had the money to spend on something like that. I have heard the talk of men in taverns, but that can hardly form a basis for the way one should treat a woman one loves. And I have seen dogs and horses, but I am not a dog or a horse. It is not the essentials, only the...this is Jane. I fear...I fear degrading her. How can I impose upon her?"
"You assume that she does not wish to be imposed upon."
"Jane is so modest, so proper."
"A woman's modesty is a strange thing. It is not so rigid as you might suppose. The proper expression of the desires that both of you have is not degrading to either you or her."
"And how do I--I know--but I do not know--I have never--"
Mr. Gardiner had not yet reached the point of having this conversation with his own sons, but he had long ago decided that frank openness was the best approach in such a situation, and so, despite the hot sweat of embarrassment that broke out across his shoulders, he looked Mr. Bingley in the eye and told him all that he needed to know, answering his questions without reserve.
By the time they had finished, Bingley had nearly returned to his normal color and was drumming his fingers against the arm of the chair. "I do not see what would have been so hard about telling me some of that when I was fourteen. It makes a blasted well better bit of sense than half of the things I had come up with."
Mr. Gardiner chuckled and dabbed his temple with his handkerchief. "When your son turns fourteen and you must have such a conversation with him, do be sure to write and tell me how easy you find it."
Mary was moved into the home of Mrs. Phillips in the space of half a day, and most of Kitty's things were sent to London. Exactly one week before the wedding, Elizabeth and Jane sat up late. The moon was full that night and they sat by the window, with no candles or fire burning.
"How strange it all is," Elizabeth said. "How quickly everything is changing."
"Mama died hardly a year ago," Jane said, mostly to herself. "And now Papa is gone and now I am to be a wife and Mary has already gone from here. Kitty will follow."
"Are you scared?"
Jane pulled her knees up to her chest. "Some, yes. I love him. I think in some ways that is more frightening than anything else. It is so different to love a man. To love him in this way, I mean. It is not like loving a father or an uncle."
"I should think not," Elizabeth said.
"It is but two doors down the hall and I feel as though his room" (for it was now Mr. Bingley's room in all their minds though he had occupied it for far less time than their parents) "is far across a wide sea. Oh, how silly!"
"A woman about to be married to the man she loves may be as silly as she likes. Tell me of his eyes, Jane. Speak of them at length."
"Lizzy, you are too much! His eyes are blue. There is nothing more to say about them, except that they are kind and when he smiles they become very bright and I never saw him smile more than yesterday when we were playing with the children. He will be such a wonderful father--" She broke off and looked at Elizabeth who was barely repressing her laugher. "Oh, hush, Lizzy. We will see how rational you are when you are in love."
They sat in silence for a time, looking out over the moonlit grounds.
"He kissed me."
Elizabeth had wondered if he had, but had not dared to ask.
"Yesterday, in the library. He kissed me. It was very nice. I want him to kiss me again. I want him to kiss me," her voice dropped to a whisper, "everywhere." Elizabeth gasped. "I feel so wicked for saying such a thing, but I do!"
"In a week's time, he may. In a week's time you will be sharing a bed with Mr. Bingley, who is the object of so many of your desires--" Jane blushed. "--and I will be sharing a bed with Lydia, who snores." Elizabeth leaned her head against the window. "I begin to envy you, though not," she hastened to add, "Mr. Bingley. He would never do for me because I would never do for him. I am too contrary for such a character as his."
"Oh, yes, I am sure you are right," Jane said and sighed. She had stopped listening, and Elizabeth, perceiving this, smiled and teased her and allowed herself to feel just a little bit sad.
The next day, the adults were gathered around the breakfast table. Mr. Bingley sat nearest to Jane, who had not yet taken the space at the end of the table, though she would soon enough. Kitty was playing with her food. She could not lament going away to London, for London must ever be more exciting than Meryton, even if she would have to do mending and help with the children, yet as the date drew closer, she could not but be sorry to leave Longbourn. It was a quiet breakfast, but the peace was shattered by Mr. Holt bursting in upon them.
Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bingley came at once to their feet. Mr. Holt held in his hands a letter and Bingley, perceiving what it was, turned red in the face.
"How dare you?" Mr. Holt said. He was all but spitting in his rage.
"Sir, what is the meaning of this?" asked Mr. Gardiner, but Mr. Holt's fury and hence his attention were all for Mr. Bingley.
"Have you no decency? To do it at all! But to hide it 'till it was all but done!"
"Do you make it a habit to poke about in papers that are not yours?" Bingley asked quietly. He was holding onto the back of his chair, his head down, his eyes down upon the floor. The ladies were still seated, all but Jane who had stood up and had her hand on Bingley's arm.
"Mr. Holt! I ask again, what is the meaning of this?"
Mr. Holt took a breath and said, as calmly as he was able, "Mr. Bingley is mortgaging Longbourn."
Posted on: 2010-07-23
It was perhaps fortunate that the two people in the room most likely to speak and act without control were the two least likely to understand the accusation at all. Indeed, Kitty and Lydia only frowned curiously at each other. They knew what a mortgage was, in a vague sense, but had no understanding of why it might be of such concern. Elizabeth, Jane, and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner felt the full impact of the words, however.
Elizabeth spoke first, saying, "I do not understand. How can he...Longbourn cannot be mortgaged."
"Longbourn could not be mortgaged," said Mr. Gardiner, "because your father had only a life tenancy of the estate, but Mr. Bingley is the end of the entail. He owns the estate outright, and he can do as he pleases."
Mr. Holt muttered an angry sentiment under his breath that only Mr. Gardiner was close enough to hear.
"You overstep yourself, sir," snapped Mr. Gardiner. "Your place is to discharge your duties to the satisfaction of Mr. Bingley, his is not to satisfy you."
Mr. Bingley, shocked to find himself thus defended, was quiet for a long moment. At length he asked, "Did you open my mail?"
Mr. Holt drew back, offended. "I did not. Your banker assumed me to be aware of the matter, and sent some routine communications, addressed to me."
"I see," was Bingley's only reply.
"Perhaps," Mr. Gardiner said, "we should withdraw to the study."
"I am mortgaging," Bingley said, when they had gotten to the study, "but I am not mortgaging the entire estate, only a portion of it. I am taking two thousand pounds."
"For what purpose?" asked Mr. Gardiner.
"I would rather not say."
Mr. Gardiner pressed his lips together. "That is your right, but I do wonder..."
"You may wonder, sir, but 'tis not your concern."
"I am about to leave three of my nieces in your care. It is very much my concern. I have seen too much of you to think you intend to do nothing more than finance your own pleasure, but I must insist upon knowing that you understand what you are about."
"I understand," Bingley said quietly and took from the desk a sheet of paper, covered in calculations and estimations, all to the purpose of determining both how best the estate could support the cost and the quickest way of clearing the mortgage. "I...dislike debt," he said, and his mouth twisted as if he had drunk sour milk. "Barring unforeseen occurrence, I intend to be free and clear within six years."
Mr. Holt took the paper from Mr. Gardiner and shook his head. "You'd best find yourself a new steward, sir. I'll not work blind and stupid." With that he tossed the letter and the paper down and left the room.
Mr. Gardiner sighed. "I will speak to the man. Heaven knows you have too many responsibilities to be finding a new steward in addition to them." He pinned Mr. Bingley with a stern gaze. "I like and respect you, sir, but I do not like or respect your decision to do this, and most especially not to do it in secrecy. I can see that you have, or think you have, no choice, but I will remind you that you have chosen to take for yourself a wife, and her dependent sisters. You have no longer the privilege of conducting your affairs without reference to others."
"I have never known such a privilege, I assure you, but in not revealing my motives for needing my money I suppose I have, this once, chosen to be selfish."
Mr. Gardiner had no reply for this, and quit the room. When he had gone, Bingley stood with his head tilted up toward the ceiling. Mr. Gardiner had closed the door behind him. Bingley opened it just slightly, and opened the window to allow some free flow of air into the room.
Jane, thinking the door was latched, knocked. It swung open. Bingley had seated himself, and had his head in his hands. He looked up, and Jane thought his eyes looked faintly red.
"I beg your pardon, I thought the door--" Bingley shook his head and waved her into the room. "My uncle has spoken to me, and told me all you said. Will you not...I do not want to overstep myself, but I wonder if you cannot tell me why...we are to be married, and it is your right not to tell my uncle or your steward, but if I am to be your wife, can you not tell me?"
"Will you end the engagement if I do not tell you?" Bingley asked quietly.
Jane drew back, angry and hurt and shocked that he would even say such a thing. "I--would you tell me, if I threatened to do so?"
He said it so simply and plainly that she saw what he was about. He would tell her, but she would have to force it from him on harsh terms. It was unkind of him to express himself in such a way, even Jane could see that. She stared at him. His eyes never left hers. She crossed the room at last and took his hand. "No, I will not. I love you, and I have faith in you. I wish that you had faith enough in me to tell me--"
"It is not that, Jane, I promise you it is not that. There are some things that hurt to speak of. If I tell you why, I will have to tell you all, and--I will tell you, only, only to speak of it is so hard and--"
She knelt before him and pressed her hand first to his mouth, and then to her own lips. "Then do not speak of it. Do you know what you are about?"
"I believe so, yes. I have looked at it from every angle."
"Is the two thousand all? Do you need nothing more?"
"Nothing more," Bingley said. "Soon it will be settled."
Jane said no more about it, and when Mrs. Gardiner questioned her about it, she only raised her chin slightly and replied, "Charles and I have discussed the matter. I am confident that he has acted properly."
Mrs. Gardiner raised her eyebrows and saw that she would not be swayed.
The next morning, they sat together on the sofa in the parlor. Their hands were joined. They were a picture of demure courtship, but pictures are not always accurate and when Mr. Gardiner excused himself, Bingley stole a kiss. He liked it so well that he stole another. He kissed her cheek, then her neck, then, when she turned to him, her lips. Jane had learned that he was far from disapproving of her when she saw a reason to take initiative, and gave attention the spot behind his ear, a patch of skin she was rather taken with. They broke apart at last when they heard the children run through the hall.
"I love you," Bingley said. "I love you so much, but I think perhaps we should not be in the same room right now."
Jane, mortified by her behavior, slipped from the room and went upstairs by a back staircase. She was so fortunate as to avoid any of her sisters, but was seen by her aunt before she could reach her room. Mrs. Gardiner looked her over. Some of her hair had escaped the pins and her face was red, not only from embarrassment.
Jane stammered. "I--we--we certainly did not do anything--"
Mrs. Gardiner sighed. She remembered only too well the final days of her engagement, and she had not even been forced to live in the same house with her future husband, "Wash your face, dear, and then I recommend a very long walk."
Jane preferred riding to walking, but she did take her aunt's advice with respect to the length of the exercise.
A few days more brought the wedding, with all its bustle and excitement. The lady wore white muslin, the gentleman wore his blue coat, the vows were exchanged, and no few people cried. The servants moved the last of Jane's things into the master's bedroom, and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner left for London, their children and Kitty in tow.
Mr. and Mrs. Bingley also went to London for two weeks time. They stayed in a hotel, which was a new experience for them both. There they discovered that Bingley loved the theater even more than Jane and that neither of them much cared for the opera. There Jane was permitted to do all of the things that a young, unmarried lady might not do, but that a married woman in the company of her husband could not be censured for. There she visited coffee shops and walked through the London streets at her leisure. There Bingley reveled in pretending, for this brief space of time, that he had no cares or responsibilities but making himself and Jane happy. There they stayed awake in their hotel room sometimes until the sun rose, talking and doing as they liked, with no more restraints on the intimacy of their speech or actions.
And then they returned to Longbourn, to begin the business of being a family.
Jane had been the mistress of the house since her mother's death nearly a year previous, but there was something different in being Mrs. Bingley. Miss Bennet had clung to the ways of her mother, fearful of imposing the slightest change upon a house reeling from the death of one parent and the infirmity of another--for, indeed, the carriage accident which had killed Mrs. Bennet almost instantly had also, in time, carried off Mr. Bennet. Mrs. Bingley's first act was to sit down with her housekeeper and review all of the accounts, as well as the procedures of the house.
Mrs. Bennet had kept no housekeeping book which, with the constant comings and goings of servants, caused no small amount of confusion at times. Jane determined that it was necessary to create such a book, and enlisted Elizabeth to aid her in the task.
"With all respect to our dear mother," Elizabeth said, eying the ledger severely, "she had not a mind for economy."
"There is not very much waste in the housekeeping," Jane said. "Only I am concerned about the laundry. Two of Charles' cravats have begun to yellow and they are hardly worn at all. Much too much starch is being used there. Two dishes have been broken in the last month, and another is dreadfully scratched. The cook is too apt to allow heavy things to be put upon them. And I find that the library is not being properly cleaned."
"That is because our father would not allow the servants to touch the library. Do you recall when one of them put a book out of place? I have never seen him so angry."
"Well, Charles is not so particular. I must see that it is done regularly. One of the new maids waxed the mahogany table. The housekeeper must be better about seeing that it is properly cared for." Jane leaned back in her chair. "What do you think of new calico dresses for the maids?"
"I think you will choose a calico that is much finer than you ought and make them very happy," Elizabeth said with a smile.
They were interrupted by Bingley, who had just escaped from a very long meeting with Mr. Holt and was not in the mood for any ledgers for the time being. He came to stand beside Jane, who had found that, rather than diminishing his power over her, marriage had only heightened the effect Mr. Bingley had upon her. She stared down at her papers, determined to focus on them and not the slight warmth she could perceive next to her, nor the faint smell of him. He had been out walking the fields early that morning, and he smelled of sweat and the earth.
"How do you get on, Jane?"
Jane wore a simple lace cap trimmed with pale green ribbon. A few curls peeked out from the front of it, and one stubborn curl always managed to fall out the back. Bingley had a penchant for playing with it, which Jane found sometimes delightful, sometimes vexing, and always maddening. She bit her lip as he twisted his fingers round and round.
"How do you get on?"
"Very well, thank you."
He brushed his thumb under the edge of her fichu and Jane stood abruptly and crossed to the other side of the room under the pretense of correcting the arrangement of the statues on the mantle. She looked significantly first at him and then at her sister who was still shaking her head over her mother's past failures of economy. Bingley gave her a very unapologetic smile in return.
A door closed too hard announced the return of Lydia from Mrs. Phillips, where she had taken to spending part of almost all of her days.
"Oh, la, Maria! There's no need to stand upon ceremony. Bingley lets me do as I like."
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. Maria Lucas, weak-willed and easily led, had supplanted Kitty as Lydia's companion of choice. In Elizabeth's opinion she was an even more dangerous friend for, while Kitty had taken as much pleasure in seeing Lydia foiled as in seeing her succeed, Maria seemed to be entirely at Lydia's service.
The two girls came into the room, their bonnets hanging from their arms by the ribbons. Maria had some awareness, at least, and made very polite and respectful greetings to everyone, while Lydia only fell upon a sofa.
"Lord, I'm so knocked up. We walked all the way to Meryton and back."
"Is there any news?" Elizabeth asked.
"Mr. Maydestone has quit Netherfield. They will let the house," Maria said.
Jane hoped Bath was kind to him and aided his health, Elizabeth wondered at his not having done it sooner, and Bingley mused on who might let the house.
"I hope it is a handsome young man, and very rich," Lydia said.
"Perhaps it may be," Elizabeth said, "and perhaps he will come with his lovely wife."
"For his sake, I hope he does," Bingley said. He had removed himself from the speculations of the local matrons almost before he had begun to be thought of, but he remembered well the few hungry glances he had received before the engagement had been announced.
"I do not care who he comes with, so long as he has a taste for balls," Maria said.
"Oh, yes!" cried Lydia. "I long for a ball. And I will be fifteen in three month's time, and so I may soon go to as many as I please, and dance with whoever I like."
Elizabeth pressed her lips together. Lydia was wild enough, Elizabeth did not think it proper for her to be out so young. But, as all the other Bennet girls save Jane had come out at fifteen, Elizabeth could think of nothing to delay it.
Maria, after the space of fifteen minutes, prepared to take her leave, but Lydia would have none of it. "Oh, you must stay. Elizabeth and Jane are no company at all. Bingley, tell her she may stay."
"I have no objection," Bingley said, "but I think she does well to return home, if she does not know for certain her mother will not miss her."
Maria did not know for certain that she would not be missed and took her leave, though reluctantly. After she had gone, Lydia put her feet up.
"Lizzy, play something, won't you? I am so bored."
"I am busy at the moment. If you wish the pianoforte to relieve your boredom, you might think of taking it up yourself."
Lydia harrumphed as mightily as her tender age would allow.
"Would you care for cards?" Bingley asked, always eager to smooth over a disagreement.
Lydia shook her head. She had propped her elbow on the arm of the sofa and placed her chin on her hand. She silently watched Jane and Elizabeth at work. Bingley had taken up The Gentleman's Magazine. They were all interrupted from their pursuits by Lydia who said, "May I wear my pink ribbons at last when we all go to Aunt Phillips'?"
"It is too soon for pink ribbons, I think," Jane said. "Black and white do very well for now."
Bingley frowned. "Is Lydia joining us on Friday?"
"Why should I not?"
"You are not out."
"Oh, la! As to that, we are only going to Aunt Phillips, and she gave me her particular invitation, you know."
"It does seem hard to make Lydia stay home from an informal family party," Jane said. "And she will be out very soon."
Bingley wanted to observe that simply because Mrs. Phillips was holding the party, it was not necessarily an informal family gathering, but he felt himself out of his experience. If Elizabeth and Jane did not object, neither would he. Shrugging, he returned to his magazine.
The next days and weeks went by with the enervated rapidity of every day life. There was much to adjust to, were many calls to make, but on the whole the days blended one into the next with little to distinguish them. Jane finished her housekeeping book, and set her eye on redoing the downstairs sitting rooms. Bingley worked slowly but steadily at making sense of Mr. Bennet's odd organization and this business of being a land owner.
It was six weeks after the wedding that Jane first spoke of her suspicions.
"The prince has not come," she said, as they were getting into bed.
Bingley blinked at her. "What?"
"It has not come."
"What has not come?"
"The monthly...indisposition specific to women. It has not occurred since we married."
"I have not the first clue what you are speaking of."
Jane blushed. She had not imagined that she would have to explain. "A woman becomes...indisposed once each month. Have you never noticed that Lydia and Elizabeth sometimes take to their beds for a day or two."
"I thought they had the head-ache."
"So what is wrong with them?"
"They...a woman..." Jane found she could not speak aloud, she whispered it to him instead.
Bingley pulled back. "You are funning with me."
"Upon my honor, I am not," Jane said, unable to repress a laugh at the expression on his face.
"That is horrific."
"It is not. It is only uncomfortable at times, and messy."
Bingley stared at her, his expression caught between incredulity and horror. Jane only waited patiently until he had recovered himself. "And this...indisposition has not come, since we married. Is that bad? Are you ill?"
"It is not bad. It may mean nothing at all, but is may mean that I...am...with child."
Bingley's face lit up and all discomfort at this new fact about women which he somewhat wished he had not learned fled from his mind. "A child!"
"Yes," Jane said, grinning herself, for his delight was contagious.
"How soon will you know for certain?"
"Many weeks at least," Jane said. "If the prince comes, then I will know I am not breeding. If it does not, then there are other signs to look for."
"Oh..." Jane rose from the bed and took out the letter from Mrs. Gardiner. "My bosom may be tender, I may be tired, I may be irritable, I may be sick at times, I may have heart-burn...it is all full of maybes. I will not know for certain until the quickening."
"But that will be months!"
He sighed. "A child would be such a delight."
Jane joined him in the bed. "Are you very glad? I hoped you would be. I hoped you would want this as much as I do."
"I do! So much so."
"We must not be too hopeful. Things are yet very uncertain."
"I will be as hopeful as I like, thank you, Jane," Bingley said with a grin. "I will speak of it as a certainty. What shall we name it if it is a boy?"
"Do you find blind optimism serves you well?"
A shadow fell over his eyes. "There have been times in my life when blind optimism has been the only thing that kept my spirits from dying out entirely." His face brightened. "Now, I am partial to Charles, as it is a name that has served me very well all my life, and I should like to bequeath it on another generation. What say you, Jane?"
Jane could only laugh and let him draw her into his arms. They spoke of names and nurseries until they fell asleep.
From them on, babies were an obsession between Jane and Bingley, but it was an obsession they limited to their rooms. No one else was to know of it. Jane did not even whisper it to Elizabeth. As each day added mounting evidence, Jane grew more and more certain that she was with child, but she knew that the risk of a loss was greatest now. If they were to be disappointed, they would be disappointed in private.
As Maria and Lydia had become so close, it became routine for both of the Misses Lucas to call together at Longbourn in the morning. Elizabeth and Charlotte would often walk out with them, but Maria and Lydia frequently went their own way after a few short steps, to run off to Meryton or call upon another young lady.
"How is Jane?" Charlotte asked on one such walk, with a note of interest in her voice that told Elizabeth it was not simple a polite question.
"She is very well," Elizabeth said. "She and Mr. Bingley are--they are very much in love."
Charlotte smiled sadly and Elizabeth caught a shadow of her feelings.
"I am seven and twenty today," Charlotte said. "I think I may now safely say that I will never marry. At least, it is very unlikely."
"You are not romantic, though, Charlotte."
"Romance I can very easily do without. It is only the command of a house of one's own that I envy. The freedom of a married woman is something I do desire."
"Do you call it freedom? A married woman is so much under the control of her husband."
"A married woman must please her husband, but an unmarried woman must please the whole world."
"Yet an unmarried woman may own her own property, and carry on business without the permission of her husband."
"What business might I or you carry on? Might I go to my father and ask him to give me my dowry that I may invest it, or open a shop with it? I would not wish to even if I could."
"Nor I," Elizabeth said.
"To be mistress of my own house is all I have ever wished. I want the freedom to redo a room or plan a menu without regard for what my mother would like." Charlotte shook her head. "Forgive me, Elizabeth. I am only very tired of living in my parent's house."
Elizabeth linked arms with her and pressed her hand.
"For myself, I am...I could live happily as only Jane's sister, I think. I do not need a house to preside over. I should like one, but I am content without one. I do envy Jane a loving husband. I should very much like to experience such a complete comparability of spirit as they seem to have."
"Such a thing is very rare. Even a happy marriage may exist without it, and a happy marriage is far from certain upon entering the state."
"Is this from you, who have been just praising the state?"
"I say only that marriage is preferable to spinsterhood. I do not think it a panacea for life's ills."
"It is certainly not that, and I say, if one cannot have a happy marriage, one had better not have one at all."
"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. One never really knows what one has until it is too late to change one's mind."
"Oh, Charlotte, that is too much. Jane knew exactly what she had in Mr. Bingley."
Charlotte did not choose to address this, but said, "If he had not been what he was, if he had been dull, or unintelligent, if he had not shared any of her diversions, had been uninteresting, and inattentive to her, might she still not have married him, given her circumstances?"
"She might," Elizabeth said with a shudder. "But I would have thought her very wrong for doing so."
"And I would have thought her perfectly right," Charlotte said. "Provided a man is not cruel, provided he is not violent, or a drunkard, or an excessive gambler, or irreligious, I think a woman must make the prudent choice."
"And prudence to you means marriage."
"In the world in which we live, yes," Charlotte said. She sighed. "But I ought not to speak. I am unlikely ever to have the choice."
Elizabeth, though she wished to say more, perceived her friend's unhappiness, and changed the subject.
They returned along the back lanes. The weather was still warm, though it was the end of September and the leaves had begun to turn. They heard the commotion before they saw it: a shout of anger, a girlish yell, a giggle that sounded suspiciously like Lydia's.
Lydia and Maria rushed out through the trees, gasping and red-faced, followed close behind by Bill Jarman, one of the local yeoman farmers. Bill was known to everyone round about for his height--nearly six foot five inches--and his appearance. He was excessively handsome and had an excellent figure that could not be hidden even by the shabby cut of his work clothes.
Today he was also dripping wet and wearing nothing but his inexpressibles, and those clearly put on in great haste. His less than polished state did not detract from his appearance.
"What do you wenches think you're doin'?"
Maria was hiding behind Charlotte, but Lydia stood boldly in front of him. "We were doing nothing more than taking a walk. I am sorry we stumbled upon you, but what do you mean to be bathing where you might be seen when it's not even summer?"
"It's hot as August out here! A man works from the sun rise bailin' hay in the blazing sun and wants to wash off, he ought to have that right! He shouldn't have to worry about a couple of idle wenches with nothing to do but skitter around in bushes! And it's my blasted pond! You were on my property!"
"We were taking an innocent walk. I am very sorry if we lost our way," Lydia said. A fine blush had begun to spread over her features, as if even she could see the horrible impropriety of her behavior.
Elizabeth stepped forward. "Mr. Jarman, please allow me to apologize on behalf of my sister. I am sure she did not mean to inopportune you in any way."
Bill shook his head. A few stray drops of water dripped from his hair onto his shoulders, momentarily distracting all of the ladies in the group but Charlotte.
"I am very sorry," Maria said, softly.
"As am I," Lydia said, when Elizabeth pinched her.
"I hope," Charlotte said, "we can keep this unfortunate and embarrassing incident from reaching any more ears."
Bill snorted. "You think I want this spread around?" He turned on his heel, back toward his property.
They parted ways, Charlotte to drag Maria home and Elizabeth to lecture Lydia. This she did with great zeal, but Lydia did not attend.
"I am going to tell Mr. Bingley about this as well."
"Oh, la! Bingley is much more fun than you or Jane."
"I wish you would not call him that. You are not his gentleman friend."
"It is better than calling him Mr. Bingley all the time. And he does not mind."
Elizabeth had seen his looks and discerned, correctly, that he did mind, but now did not seem to her to be the time to quarrel over modes of address. She took hold of Lydia's arm, not at all gently. "Do you not understand how serious this is? Do you not understand how indelicate your behavior was? If news of this gets abroad, your reputation will be seriously compromised, and our entire family will be called blamable."
Lydia waved her hand. "Who will tell if we do not? Bill Jarman never will. You should have seen his face! He was so embarrassed!"
When they returned to the house, Elizabeth ordered Lydia to her room and asked after Jane and Bingley.
"Mrs. Bingley is in her room, ma'am, and indisposed," said the new maid. "Mr. Bingley is with her."
"Thank you, ah--" Elizabeth groped for the girl's name.
"Matty, ma'am, Matty Evans," the girl said, and dropped into a curtsy. "I was at Netherfield, 'till Mr. Maydestone left, and they cut the staff down almost to nothing."
"Thank you, Matty," Elizabeth said.
She arrived at the door to the master's chambers just in time to hear the sound of someone being wretchedly sick. Cringing, she turned and left, thinking that her report could wait for a time.
Elizabeth met the post that day, and, partly as a reason to check on Jane, took Bingley his letters. Jane was sitting up by then, her head in her hand. She smiled when Elizabeth entered and answered her questioning look with, "It is nothing too serious, Lizzy. I am already almost better."
Bingley took his letters and flipped through them casually, but paused when he came to the next to last. He glanced at Jane and her sister. Elizabeth was occupied with Jane, and Jane was occupied with her stomach. He carefully tucked the letter in his coat pocket, sure that he could not read it without some reaction. The next few minutes seemed an eternity, but at last he felt he could excuse himself. He half-ran to his study and tore open the letter, his eyes flying over the words so quickly that he had to read it three times before he got the sense of it.
The letter was as follows:
As regards your letter dated 17 September of this year--
I have reviewed your case with my colleagues. We are of the opinion that there is some merit in it, but urge extreme caution before any legal action is taken. A great deal more evidence must be gathered before any sort of allegation can be made, and you are no doubt aware that the gentleman in question is a man of great wealth and connections. Prudence must reign supreme in this matter. Please advise how much you are prepared to spend in pursuit of your case. I warn you that your outlay may equal or exceed what you will recover, if indeed you recover anything at all. The papers you provided are being copied and will be returned to you as soon as is possible. I am,
Bingley swallowed hard and closed his eyes. It was neither as good as he had hoped nor as bad as he had feared. He put the letter away and began to pace the room, only to take it out again. He pulled a fresh sheet from his desk and began to write.
I have received your letter and advise that I am prepared to
Here he stopped, pen poised in the air, considering. What, he wondered, was he prepared to do? There was a part of him that wanted to fly ahead without regard to caution or prudence, to say d--n the money and advise Mr. Gelding that he did not care about what he would recover. Jane came into his mind then, Jane who carried his child inside of her. Whatever his personal feelings, he could not risk her security and happiness to satisfy his own lust for--he called it justice. It might have been revenge.
He dipped his pen.
spend a reasonable sum in pursuit of my case. I will not name a specific amount at this time but I give you leave to charge up to one hundred pounds to my account before inquiring after further expenditures on my part. If this is insufficient to move forward I will cease pursuit of this matter but I hope it will not be. I am aware of the wealth and connections of my adversary. I will not be cowed by them.
Mr. Charles Bingley
He hesitated for a moment and then scrawled Esq. after his name. He felt sick as he folded the letter.
Jane, my reader has no doubt deduced, had reached the sickening stage of her pregnancy. Her sickness struck like clockwork in the late morning each day, and stretched into the afternoon. Her constitution was good, and she did not suffer anything out of the ordinary way, but two weeks of this took its toll on her.
She lay on her bed, contemplating whether rising would be wise or only result in another bout of sickness when Elizabeth knocked softly and entered.
"I brought you something to eat," she said. Setting down the tray upon the table, she turned to her sister and said, "Jane," in such a way as to make it clear she knew all.
"Oh, but I wanted to tell you myself!" cried Jane.
Elizabeth sat down on the side of the bed. "You must not be too hard on Mr. Bingley. I was very severe with him for not being more worried about you, and I could see he was hiding something. I forced it out of him."
Jane sat up. Her stomach lurched, but did not rebel against the action. "I am so very happy, Lizzy. Sick, tired, and sore, but very happy."
Elizabeth laughed and hugged her with extreme gentleness. "So, in some months time, I will be Aunt Lizzy. Or will I be Aunt Bennet? No, I think Aunt Lizzy suits much better."
Jane smiled. "She will be Anne Elizabeth, if it is a girl. Anne, for Charles' mother."
"And Elizabeth for the Virgin Queen?"
Jane did not trouble herself to reply and Elizabeth, perceiving how tired she was, said, "Well, you must rest now, and try to take some of this toast, if you can. Worry about nothing, think about nothing but the child that you will soon be able to hold."
Jane closed her eyes. "You are all so good to me," she said softly.
"No more than you deserve, dearest sister," Elizabeth said, and left her.
With the matter all but certain, anxiety began to be mingled with the hope and excitement. They all looked forward with great joy to the arrival of the baby, but no one was unaware of the risk to Jane's health. The arrival of Mr. Trumpington, an accoucheur trained in London and settled so as to serve Meryton and the surrounding towns, was very welcome by all but Bingley.
"I am so glad," Jane said. "I had hoped to have a trained man attend me. Mr. Jones deals only in emergencies, you know, and Mrs. Brook--"
"Old Mrs. Brook has no claim to the title of midwife but that of being so fortunate as to survive the births of all sixteen of her children," Elizabeth said.
"I hope to have Mr. Trumpington visit me as soon as he is settled, so that I may meet him, before the actual event."
"It is such a good thing, his arriving here now," Elizabeth said.
"I am not so sure of--a man, Jane? Do you really want a man to attend you?" Bingley asked, not at all sanguine about the idea.
Jane flushed slightly. "I would perhaps be more comfortable with a woman, but I would infinitely prefer a trained man to Mrs. Brook, or to no one at all."
"It seems something better left in the hands of women," Bingley said.
"Perhaps it is," Elizabeth said. "But unless they begin admitting women to the medical colleges, Jane is better off with a man."
"I would be much more comfortable with him to attend me," Jane said, and thus ended the argument.
Mr. Trumpington came and spoke to Jane and Bingley, declared Jane to be in excellent health, and had nothing to suggest but that Jane take care to have some exercise each day and that she avoid warming liquid.
"Tea, coffee, and strong spirits are all very warming. Wine or ale are fine, but here in the country where we may drink water without fear, I always suggest it above other things, with some mint or other herbs, if you prefer. Light meals, and remember my admonition to partake of exercise. A short walk in the garden each morning will suffice."
Jane obeyed and was thus out with Elizabeth and Lydia on a short walk when they all ran into Bill Jarman. Jane was prepared to walk by him without taking notice. They had never been introduced and they were certainly not of the same circle. But Lydia giggled, Elizabeth blushed, and Jane saw Bill duck his head and keep going with a determined look on his face.
The matter of Lydia and Maria's misadventure had, on account of Jane's indisposition, never been communicated to either Jane or Bingley. Too many days had passed, Elizabeth had not been able to find any way to introduce the topic, and at last she had let it rest. But Jane now noticed, and Elizabeth saw no choice but to enlighten her.
"Lydia, how could you do such a thing?"
"We lost our way," Lydia protested. Not even Jane was fooled by this.
"Such indelicate--such improper--poor Mr. Jarman, how embarrassed he must have been."
"It is all in the past, Jane," Lydia said, unconcerned, and Elizabeth pressed her lips together in annoyance. "May I go call upon Aunt Phillips? Mary is always complaining that we never pay her any mind now that she does not live with us."
Mary did no such thing, and quite enjoyed being in a situation where she was not continually in company with her sisters, and thus mortified by comparisons between them and herself, but it was a convenient excuse for Lydia, and worked on Jane's guilt at not spending very much time with Mary. Lydia was allowed to go, and Elizabeth and Jane continued without her.
"I must tell this to Charles. I cannot conceal it from him. I wish you had not concealed it from me."
"It was not intentionally concealed," Elizabeth said. "Still, I should have told you. I certainly should have told Mr. Bingley. I will tell him myself, if you would prefer."
"Oh, no Lizzy, I am sure you acted with best intentions. I will speak to him,"
Jane intended to make the communication that very day, but several things prevented it, and it was deferred until the next day, when they were all to attend a party at Lady Lucas'. Lydia had once again managed to get for herself a particular invitation, and was included.
Elizabeth was specific about Lydia not dancing, and about her acting with all the propriety due to a young lady not out, but Mrs. Phillips was there, and Mrs. Phillips could not bear to have Lydia denied any diversion. She wished to dance. Elizabeth objected that it was improper for her to dance at a formal party at her age, and said that Lady Lucas would surely object, but Mrs. Phillips would have none of it. Mary would play a jig and surely some young man would oblige her. Lady Lucas could hardly stand against her in the face of all of this, and Lydia had her way.
Bingley was for much of the party too much engaged elsewhere to attend to any of this, but when he was tired out from dancing, and when the heat and press of the room--for the windows were all closed--drove him outside for a moment, he had the matter thrust upon him in a very unpleasant way.
Standing in the shadows, he overheard two men.
"Aye, Green, she's a prime article, and not a day over fifteen, I'm sure."
"Indeed! I would have guessed her sixteen or seventeen at least."
"Miss Lydia has always been tall, and her figure would be the envy of many women. She is very good natured."
Green laughed. "I had that impression. But she is a lady, is she not?"
"I suppose so. Her brother-in-law is the master of Longbourn. Her mother's family was low, I believe, but the old woman managed to raise herself by marriage. I suppose the vulgar strains were not bred entirely out. Still, they are a handsome race, the Bennets."
Green sighed. "I should not let my thoughts wander in that direction. 'tis too dangerous to indulge oneself with a girl of any rank. Brothers and fathers and uncles have notions of honor, and soon enough one finds oneself in court, or at the alter."
Bingley slipped away before he heard anything more. His heart was beating quickly in his chest. When he returned to the room, he took up a corner and watched Lydia. She was still dancing, she was trying to convince one of the men servants to stand up with her, but this not even Mrs. Phillips would allow.
"What, pray tell, are you looking at so intently, sir?" Sir William asked him.
"Lydia," Bingley said, absentmindedly.
"Such a sweet, good natured girl. So much spirit!" said Sir William. Through an agreement between Charlotte and Maria, neither he nor Lady Lucas had been enlightened as to Lydia and Maria's indiscretion.
"Perhaps a little too much spirit," Bingley said.
"A young lady can never have too much spirit."
"She is not even out," Bingley said, but cut off before he was tempted to add more. A few months' acquaintance had made Bingley understand that Sir William was not to be trusted with a confidence.
Bingley was silent and grave on the ride home, so much so that even Lydia noticed. They retired to their chambers almost immediately. Jane was tying the strings of her nightcap when Bingley called to her from his dressing room. He was standing over the basin, patting his face dry.
"Jane, would your father have approved of Lydia's behavior tonight, do you think?"
Jane had rarely seen him look more serious. "I do not think he would have witnessed it. My father disliked parties such as tonight's."
"And your mother?"
"She always was fondest of Lydia and rarely saw anything to disapprove of. Is something wrong?" He told her what he had overheard. Jane blushed to hear of it. "Perhaps they did not mean something very bad."
"It does not matter what they meant, Jane. It matters that Lydia's behavior makes her vulnerable to such talk." He stripped down to his shirt and left his clothing lying around the room for the maids. Living many years with no servants to speak of had not done anything for his habits of tidiness. "This is not something I feel fit to judge, but tell me truthfully Jane, do you approve of Lydia's behavior?"
Jane bit her lip and looked away, which was all the answer Bingley needed or expected. He was somewhat surprised when Jane said, "She is such a sweet girl, and can be very good, but...her behavior is not always proper." She told him then of what Elizabeth had revealed to her.
Bingley shook his head in dismay. "This is too much. The girl needs to be checked before she runs entirely wild. I am going to write to Mr. Gardiner and ask his advice. Do you think that the proper course?"
"I do," Jane said, somewhat relieved to be excused from the duty of any more judgements against Lydia.
Mr. Bingley did write to Mr. Gardiner and received a reply that was, if anything, more supportive of his concerns than he would have liked.
Your letter has caused myself and Mrs. Gardiner much concern. We had hoped that separating Kitty and Lydia would do as much for Lydia as it has done for Kitty, but Lydia has a more decided character, and has suffered the greater evils of excessive indulgence from an early age. I cannot account for her having grown worse--do not start at that, yours is not the only letter I have on this subject. Lizzy has expressed the opinion to her aunt. They spoke about Lydia before we left you, and Lizzy said she would do what she could, but Lizzy is young herself and Lydia does not always mind her as she should.
Something must be done, and soon. My first suggestion is that she not come out at fifteen, as almost all of her sisters so unwisely did. My second is that she be kept at home far more, and made useful to her sisters. The proverb is true. The Devil can make use of an idle hand more easily than he can take up any other tool.
Discipline is more distasteful to administer than to receive, but only cowards and the indolent shrink from it when it is necessary. I do not think you are either. Play the tyrant if you must, but do not forget that she is a young girl. Do not forget that she is an orphan. Do not forget that she was not properly checked by either of her parents--God rest their souls. You have the support of myself and Mrs. Gardiner in this.
Bingley showed the letter to Jane first.
"Not come out at fifteen! No, Lydia could never take such a blow!"
"You did not come out until you were sixteen," Bingley pointed out. "And many young ladies survive far longer."
"But Lydia is so looking forward to it and--"
"Once she is out, she will lose whatever little restraint she has. It is the only good course."
Jane only shook her head. Elizabeth had even less reservations about the scheme than Bingley.
"Poor Lydia is such a sweet girl--"
"No, Jane, she is spoiled and almost wild. She seemed to improve a little after our mother died, but she is now becoming far worse than she ever was under our mother's care. She leads Maria Lucas about as if the girl were on leading strings."
"But to deny her the pleasure--"
"Not deny, only defer."
"It just seems so unkind."
"And so it is, but not to Lydia. The unkindness is all toward ourselves." Jane did not understand her until Elizabeth added, "Enjoy the current quiet, Jane. I doubt very much we will have a moment's peace for six weeks together after Lydia finds out about this."
Posted on: 2010-09-14
Bingley would not suffer anyone to break the news to Lydia but himself. It went about as well as Elizabeth had expected, which meant it went badly. Lydia raged, she cried, she threw herself into hysterics.
Bingley had always hated conflict, and despised making anyone unhappy, but he stood firm against the pitiful tears. Lydia fled at last to her room, and Elizabeth went to join her, to comfort her, and to attempt to instill some rationality in her. Bingley collapsed in a chair as soon as she was gone, drained. Jane shared his feelings, and sat beside him in silent commiseration until he had recovered.
"Well. The worst is over, I daresay. She will cry herself out, and then she will become reconciled. Sixteen is not so very far away. You were sixteen when you came out."
Jane nodded, and was hopeful, but the worst was not over. Lydia did not become reconciled. They were brutish and horrible, no girl in any romance had ever suffered as she did. Mr. Bingley was seen as the instigator of all her troubles, and was thus the object of her hatred. In vain did Elizabeth and Jane attempt to disabuse her of this notion, and Bingley himself would allow her to keep it.
"Let her hate me," he said. "She must hate someone for all of this, and I am the best choice."
She did hate him. If he entered a room, she left it. If he spoke to her, she ignored him. She showed such flagrant disrespect that Mr. Gardiner, on learning of it through Elizabeth, wrote to him imploring him not to tolerate it. Yet, Bingley would tolerate it. He would not yield on the essential point, but he would not force her to pretend to like it, or him.
He knew that Lydia's suffering, such as it was, had only begun. She would not come out until she was sixteen. This she saw as the greatest evil ever inflicted upon anyone. Yet, there was worse to come. They would no longer tolerate her acting in such a manner as to make her being out or not a moot point. She would stay at home when they went out. She would no longer fly abut to the houses of her friends. If she was permitted to attend a party, and such permission was not likely to be given for some time, she would not dance, or speak to whomever she liked. She would sit with one of her sisters and behave herself.
"Why are they being so mean to me?" Lydia asked when she had fled to Mrs. Phillips.
Mrs. Phillips wrapped her arms around her. "Poor, dear Lydia."
"I think Mr. Bingley is a very hard man. I do not like him. I hate him. Why can you not make him see reason?"
"I did ask Mr. Phillips to speak to him, but he would not, and he has said that I must not either."
"The whole world hates me!"
"Oh, Lydia, never think that."
Mary, returning from an errand to her Uncle Phillip's office, saw Lydia seated on the sofa crying into Mrs. Phillips arms. "You should not make an unseemly display. Remember what we are told in Hebrews. 'No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.'"
"Be quiet, Mary!" said Mrs. Phillips and Lydia together, and Mary went to her room.
"Poor Lydia, they just do not understand you. You are so much like your mother, you have so much spirit." Mrs. Phillips, though she had been maneuvered into taking Mary into her house, delighted in Lydia. She was the most like the late Mrs. Bennet, who in death had been washed clean of all fault, at least in the eyes of her sister.
"Oh, Aunt! Make them understand me! Make them be kind to me!"
As Lydia would accept no definition of kind that did not allow her to act as she liked, this was beyond Mrs. Phillips' power.
Lydia, now at home more than abroad, was determined to make her presence there as miserable for others as it was for herself. She hardly spoke, and when she did it was only to say something cutting. She would not lift a finger to aid either of her sisters in their tasks. She read magazines and the gossip pages of Mr. Bingley's newspaper, and she wrote poetry expressing the tragedy of her existence. She did nothing else. This was tolerated until Bingley left one morning while Jane was at work hemming curtains and returned home in the late afternoon to find her in the same place, at the same work.
"Have you been at this all day?"
"I took a few short breaks. I did not neglect my exercise, and I have taken meals." Jane rubbed the back of her neck with her hand.
"Can you not enlist a servant to help you?"
"They are at the ironing today, and this must be done as soon as possible. There are no curtains in the back parlor at present, and we will have company on Wednesday."
Bingley rubbed her shoulders, and Jane smiled gratefully. He could feel the tension in them, and he could see that Jane was squinting in the way that she did when she had a head-ache.
"I wish you had not worked at this so long."
"It must be done, unless you would have us entertain with naked windows. There--" She cut her thread. "Nearly done. I have but one more side to do."
Bingley took the curtains from her hands and instructed her to do something other than sew for at least an hour. He looked at Lydia who was seated by the window, doing nothing. "Are you incapable of holding a needle?"
Lydia looked at him and then wordlessly lifted a book in front of her face. Bingley knew he should not tolerate the disrespect, but he shrank from the conflict and bit back his anger.
The curtains were done, and without Lydia's help. The next time he came upon them, Jane was seated at the table working on the menu for the following week.
"Lydia, will you fetch me The London Art of Cookery? You must ask Mrs. Hill where it is."
Lydia did not respond. Jane sighed and began to rise, but Bingley put his hand on her shoulder.
"Lydia, fetch the book for your sister, please."
He could see that she had heard them, but she would not attend.
She jumped a little at the harsh tone, but steadfastly stared out of the window.
"Very well," Bingley said. "I will fetch you the book, Jane, and Lydia will not be dining with us tonight."
This got her attention. "What?"
"If you cannot be bothered to fetch a book for your sister, I see no reason why you should be rewarded with the dinners she prepares. You may have some broth in your room."
"I'm to be starved now too?"
"You will not starve."
Lydia got up and stomped out of the room. She returned several minutes later with the book and threw it down onto the table. It slid and fell onto the floor. Jane picked it up with a sigh.
"That does not change what I said. You'll not dine with us tonight."
"I fetched the book."
Bingley did not reply, but his expression silenced Lydia. She did not dine with them. No place was set for her, and the servants were not permitted to give her anything. She had broth and tea in her room and that was all. This show of strength led to a few days of increased civility on Lydia's part, and Bingley hoped, perhaps foolishly, that they had seen the worst of it.
"I only think that any man who chooses to make such things his life's work must be very odd indeed," Bingley said. He had been included in a small card party at Haye-Park. William Goulding, John Robinson, Thomas Harrington, and Bingley made up the whist table.
"So he must," said Robinson. "But the women will have these man midwives attend them, and what are we husbands to do but nod our heads and pay the bill?"
"Better left to women, I say," said Mr. Harrington. "It's meddling in the affairs of nature when a man sticks his nose into it."
"Precisely!" cried Bingley.
Goulding, unmarried and not of a mind to discuss such things, said, "How does Miss Lydia fare? She has not been often in Meryton of late."
"She is more at home lately. Mrs. Bingley needs additional help now that she is in a delicate condition." The extent to which any of his friends believed such a statement was questionable. Mrs. Phillips was well acquainted with Lydia's situation, and what Mrs. Phillips was acquainted with, the whole neighborhood was soon to be acquainted with.
Mr. Harrington said, "Such a good girl, Miss Lydia Bennet. But not so much of a girl, I daresay. The young men of the neighborhood are sorry to be denied her company, or do I mistake Mr. Goulding's motive in asking?"
Goulding shrugged his shoulders. Bingley frowned.
Robinson laughed. "Lord, Bingley, do not get missish over Miss Lydia. If your daughters are half so handsome as their mother, you will spend the second half of your life glaring at every man within twenty miles."
Bingley did not reply and rose to refill his glass.
"Stay, Bingley. No more brandy, I have something far better planned for this evening," said Goulding. He rose and took up a bottle. "Irish whiskey."
"I make it a general rule to never trust anything that comes out of Ireland," Robinson said.
The half-Irish Goulding glared at him, partly in jest, partly not. "Do be careful, sir."
He poured them all glasses. Bingley sipped his carefully, and without much enthusiasm. Goulding sighed happily. "Best liquor on the planet, Irish Whiskey, and no one makes it better than my grandfather. What do you think, Bingley?"
"It...ah..." Bingley took another sip.
"It tastes like something you would take to induce a vomit," Robinson said.
Bingley laughed, then choked, then grimaced as the whiskey made its way up into his nose. His expression sent the table into roars of laughter.
"By the by, Bingley," said Mr. Robinson when the table had quieted, "something very odd happened today concerning you. I met a certain Mr. Alfrey in Meryton. He works for a solicitor. He has a good many questions about you."
Bingley's stomach dropped, but he admirably kept his countenance and said, "I do hope you were kind."
"Kind enough," Robinson said. "It was very odd is all."
"I am involved in a minor legal dispute. Mr. Alfrey will not find anything that will be of use to him, I am sure of that."
Goulding snorted. "You? A man would be hard pressed to find anything to use against you."
Bingley smiled, but his heart beat fast in his chest and his stomach could handle no more whiskey.
He finally came face to face with Mr. Alfrey in Meryton. He entered Inwood's shop and heard Mr. Inwood say, "I'm not a man who goes about telling his customers business to all and sundry. I wouldn't have many left if I were. On what terms I extend credit to Mr. Bingley is no business of yours."
Mr. Inwood hissed as he saw Bingley enter. He was a gruff man, not given to displaying affection for any of his customers, but he rather liked Mr. Bingley, and was sorry he had not thrown the offensive Mr. Alfrey out of his store before Bingley had entered.
Mr. Alfrey turned and nodded politely. Bingley took off his gloves and twisted them up in his hands. At first he could barely speak, but he began to see that Mr. Alfrey would not open his mouth and said, "You seem to have an interest in my affairs, sir. I must wonder if it is merely a personal curiosity or if your interest lies elsewhere."
"I make it a rule never to take a personal interest in anyone. Now, professional curiosity..."
"You are being paid."
"Tell your employer that his conduct does not befit a gentleman."
"I shall do that, sir."
"If you aren't here to purchase my goods, I'll have to ask you to leave," said Mr. Inwood to Mr. Alfrey. "I'm not in the business of providing a spot for idle talk."
Mr. Alfrey bowed. He paused by the door and said, "Mr. Inwood, you are quite right that the terms on which you extend credit are your concern alone. I admire your goodwill and faith in mankind. It is not every merchant who would so freely extend credit to a man who has been in a debtor's prison."
Bingley winced as the bell rang to announce Mr. Alfrey's exit. He swallowed hard and forced himself to meet Mr. Inwood's eyes. Inwood muttered something under his breath and then said, "What can I get for you today, sir?"
"I hardly remember," Bingley said with a small, nervous laugh.
"Well, look around if you please. I have some new snuff in, though I recall that's not your pleasure. Whatever you like, sir. Your account is good here."
Bingley smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Inwood."
Inwood grunted and, being of that class of man who is often ashamed of himself for acts of compassion, snapped at his son to finish his sweeping rather than responding.
Bingley knew, of course, that he must tell Jane. If the good people of Meryton did one thing well, it was gossip and he could not bear the thought of her learning of his past errors from Mrs. Long or Lady Lucas.
They sat together on the sofa by the fire. "Are you very angry with me for not telling you before now?"
"No," Jane said. "Not very angry. I wish you had."
"I wanted to, sometimes. No, that is a lie. I wanted us to live our whole lives without you ever finding out. I am so ashamed of it."
"How came you to have the debt? How came you to be unable to clear it?"
"Through a combination of heinous fraud and my own stupidity. My father and I trusted a man, a man we had every reason to trust. We thought he would help us to recover some money that was rightfully ours, but instead he cheated us out of it, and in such a way as to leave us with no recourse from the law. There were many months when I considered the money a certainty and I spent, freely and foolishly, sure that I would have no problem clearing the debts, once the money came. Which I was assured it would, if I would just wait a few weeks more, and then a few weeks more. There was this delay and that delay and then...and then there was nothing. By then I had amassed so much debt." He rose to open the window, though there was a chill outside. He stood by the open window, breathing the cold night air. "My father--" He felt himself begin to choke up.
Jane put her hand on his back. "You need not say any more."
"No more secrets between us, Jane. My father was in his final months by then. He had been devastated by the loss of our money. It was money from India, you see, it was money he had made there. He had so long thought himself a failure and to discover that he had made something, that he would leave me with something...and then to have that hope ripped away from him. It hastened his death, I know it did." He turned back to her. Hot tears stung his eyes. Jane began to wrap her arms around him, but he pulled away and paced the length of the room. "I tried to hide the debt from him. I tried to make him think that things were only as bad as they had ever been, not worse. But so many of the things I had bought were for him. I bought him a new chair and warmer blankets and wax candles because the tallow always irritated his eyes and he knew, but he never blamed me. It was all my fault, my fault that we had been cheated out of the money, but he never blamed me."
"My father was too weak to read over the papers himself. He asked me to do it. There were things I did question, but I was afraid to raise a fuss, because I was so grateful--the solicitor was preparing everything free of charge--and I was sure that Mr.--I was sure that he would never cheat us, so I told my father to sign. My fault." He began to speak more quickly. "He was dying. I should have been by his side all the time, as I always had been, but I had this debt. I tried to clear it, tried to find employment, but I could not hold down employment and care for my father and I could not find employment which would pay for a nurse. My father was so ill and the only thing that mattered was his comfort. What little I did have, I used to care for him, to pay for his medications and coal to keep his room warm. We began to fall behind on our rents and--the very same villain who had cheated us now tried to evict us. I wrote to him, but it did no good. I was desperate. I took a great risk with some little money and ended up with even more creditors and troubles. Then I was pulled into court. I petitioned the court for mercy for the sake of my father. I only wanted to be with my father until the end. I suspect that the court was worked on in private to deny me this mercy, for I cannot conceive of any judge being so black-hearted as to deny a dying man his son on the basis of a debt, but so it was. I was put in the gaol. When it became clear that my father had entered his last days, I was allowed to leave to see him, but I...I arrived too late. I arrived to an empty, cold house and my father's corpse. He died alone, knowing his only son to be imprisoned. He died with no one to care for him or hold his hand in the end. He died in his own filth because no one was there to change the linens."
He broke off from talking then, his breath coming fast, and crossed again to the open window.
He dared not look at her. He could hear that she was crying, and to see her tears would bring on his own.
"I returned to prison after that, as I had promised I would, to sit in a small cell with no windows and grieve my father. My sister's husband arranged for my release some weeks later, quietly. I took some employment and rented a small room. I had nothing and no way of making anything of myself. My father educated me--spent so much of our meager income on a tutor to educate me to be a gentleman. I would have been better served learning a trade. I was...very poor and I will confess that my experiences had left me so drained that I had little ambition to strive for more. Three months later, I received word that I had inherited Longbourn."
"Charles--" Her voice broke. The effect of such a story upon a heart as tender as Jane's can well be imagined. She wrapped her arms around him and wet the back of his shirt with her tears.
He turned to her. "I am sorry I did not tell you sooner."
Whatever little anger had been roused by his secrecy had been buried under her grief for him. Jane could hardly speak, but she managed to express how little she cared about that.
They went to bed, and twined themselves around one another until they seemed almost a single entity in the dim light.
"Was this why you mortgaged? Why you sold the livestock?"
"Yes. I had to repay Caroline's husband. It was not a gift; he purchased my debts. I paid for my father to be taken out of a pauper's field and given a proper burial. There were other things, small kindnesses that had to be repaid. I took no more than I needed." He hesitated before saying the next, but at last decided that he would keep nothing more from her. "I have been pursuing legal action, in the hopes of recovering some of the money, but I am afraid that perhaps I may be acting foolishly. I may pay a very high price and gain nothing at all. May I show you everything, tomorrow?"
"I know nothing of law or business."
"I will explain it to you. You are steadier than I am, Jane. You have more good sense."
Jane kissed his neck. "You may show me whatever you like, and I will give you my opinion, but whatever you choose, you know I will support you."
They fell asleep like that and more than usual exhaustion kept them in their bed until late the next morning.
Bingley gave Jane leave to tell her sisters, asking only that she would be as sparse as possible with the details. To Lydia she said only that Mr. Bingley had amassed a debt and had been imprisoned for it, that he had learned from his past errors, and that he did not like to speak of it. To Elizabeth she was hardly more explicit, though unlike Lydia, Elizabeth perceived that much of the story was being held back.
The gossip mongers worked with their usual efficiency and the news made its way around Meryton with due haste. Bingley endured nothing worse than a few glances and the sure knowledge that people were talking about him. On the whole, it was not very interesting news. Had not Sir William's nephew come very close to a similar conviction? Could not any man find himself in such a state with a peculiar run of bad luck? If Mr. Bingley had acted foolishly in the past, there was no evidence that he was now a spendthrift.
When Mrs. Long's niece was thought to have developed a tendre for a shopkeep, the gossip about Bingley was all but forgot.
As painful as it had been to tell her, it was a relief to him that Jane knew. He took Jane into his study and showed her everything. She was ignorant of the details of law, but she could understand enough that she saw clearly the risks of pursuing the case, and she understood her husband well enough to know that it was not the money he was after.
"It would pain me very much to see you hurt, and I cannot see how you can pursue this without being hurt. How much do you stand to recover?"
"Fifteen thousand pounds," Bingley said. "That is if I manage to recover all of it, but I likely will not. My solicitor thinks I will perhaps get a tenth. One thousand five hundred pounds. It is not even enough to clear the mortgage. You must know, however--"
"It has nothing to do with the money." Jane shook her head. "I simply do not know. It was so wrong that Mr. Alfrey was sent here to expose you. What more could be done to deter you from this?"
"I cannot say. I--I want to do this, but I do not want--for myself--but you and our child and Lizzy and Lydia...how can I do anything that might risk their security?"
Jane looked down at her hands. "I cannot tell you what to do. I would not, even if I could. You must decide for yourself." She laughed. "I am not very much help."
"No, but I can talk to you. That is a help in itself."
Jane was called away to deal with some emergency in the kitchen involving spoiled fish, and Bingley was left alone with the tick of the clock and his own thoughts.
Lydia's fifteenth birthday came and went very quietly. The Bennets had never celebrated birthdays with any regularity, and Bingley had never thought of celebrating his. Lydia certainly could not bear to have hers marked with anything less than her appearance on the Meryton social scene.
Lydia's behavior had become better of late, but it was still far from ideal. She was as much with Mrs. Phillips as she could be, and there she was indulged and flattered into good spirits, and commiserated with on the hardness of Mr. Bingley and the meanness of his rules. Lydia was in fact enjoying a great deal of freedom. She could call on her friends and go to Meryton accompanied by her sisters. She could go to smaller parties and even dance there. She was required to do very little at home, her chores being limited to helping Jane or Elizabeth when they asked for her assistance which, truth be told, was not very often because Lydia's help was often worse than none at all. None of this, however, made up for her not being properly out as she felt she should now be.
There was to be a winter assembly in Meryton that November. Having left their mourning clothes behind, there was a deal of bustle about gowns and feathers. Lydia would at last be permitted to wear her pink ribbons. She could not dance, but provided she stayed close to Jane and acted properly, they had no objection to her going.
For a time, Lydia seemed to be easy with these rules, but a few days before the assembly, her mood changed. She was no longer content with going as a girl, she wished to attend as a proper lady and dance and flirt. Elizabeth and Jane tried to reason with her, but Lydia would not be reasoned with. She glared sullenly at Bingley that evening at dinner and when Elizabeth tried to rouse her spirits by asking her about her gown, she simply said, "It does not matter, I'll not attend."
"Not attend?" Jane asked. "But why? Surely you wish to go."
"If I cannot dance, I see no reason to attend."
Jane was prepared to attempt to cheer her, but Elizabeth said only, "Well, you may stay at home then. Do you mind if I leave you my torn petticoat? I have not lately found time to mend it, and I am sure you will be in want of something to do."
Lydia stormed from the room.
When the camel collapses under his load, it is often hard to locate the precise straw which did the deed. The weather had turned bad and they were confined indoors for much of the day. Worse, the chill in the air meant the windows must all be closed. Had he slept alone, Bingley would have left them open despite the cold, but he had to concern himself with Jane, and so he slept poorly in the shut up room.
After a few day's respite, Jane's condition had once again left her in a sickly state, and though she was able to leave her room, she sat in the parlor, exhausted and unable to attend to her duties. Mrs. Phillips had not extended any invitations to Lydia for some days, and Lydia had no where to go to be doted upon as her mother had once doted upon her.
Bingley had taken up Pope's Rape of the Lock and was reading quietly to Jane. Rain beat at the windows, hard, then soft, then hard again, and though it was midday, the clouds were so thick that the sun could hardly make itself known.
Lydia sat down at the pianoforte and began to tap at the keys. She did not make music, she made noise. Silence had ever been a trial to Lydia.
"Please do not," Jane said, but Lydia either did not hear or did not attend. Jane, acutely aware that everyone's nerves were very raw, said nothing more, but Bingley saw how she closed her eyes and pressed her temple.
"Your sister has a head-ache," Bingley said.
Lydia's hand paused for a moment. She did not hate Jane as she hated Bingley. She did not want to cause her pain. Yet, to yield to any request of Mr. Bingley seemed too great a concession. She played on.
Bingley set the book down and stood.
Jane, seeing that he was really upset, sought to remove him from the room and said, "I should very much like some peppermint water."
She made so pathetic a figure that she spoiled her own plan. Bingley sat down beside her and took her hands in his, looking her over anxiously. "Fetch the peppermint water for Jane."
"I do not see why I should fetch and carry. I am not a servant."
"Oh for heaven's sake, Lydia!" Bingley snapped. He looked at Jane and forced his voice to a lower volume. "I am sorry you dislike my rules and I am sorry you dislike me and I am sorry you were not able to come out when you liked but must you really be disagreeable every moment of every day?"
"Yes, I must," Lydia said. "If Jane wants peppermint water, she can fetch it herself. Or perhaps you would like to get it for her. It's not as though you had nothing to do with her condition." Bingley started at such an indelicate speech. Elizabeth entered then, carrying peppermint water for Jane. Jane took it and supposed she had to drink it, though she had not even wanted it in the first place. "I do not care if I am disagreeable," Lydia continued. "What reason have I to be anything less when you all hate me?"
"We do not hate you," Elizabeth said, "and I very much wish you would stop saying that. You did not come out because you showed yourself to be unready, and all that is required of you now is what should have always been required of you."
"No! You are all mean and cruel to me and no one cares for me anymore. My mother loved me and my father was not unkind and you are horrible to me!" She turned to Bingley. "I hate you most of all! What right do you have to come here and say bad things about me?"
"What bad things have I ever said about you? What have I ever asked but that you pay some small measure of respect to my authority?"
"Authority! You have no authority over me! You are nothing but some man who came here and took our house and married my sister, probably for no reason but that you wanted her in your bed!"
Jane's mouth dropped open.
"Enough!" Bingley shouted and they all jumped. He crossed the room. At fifteen, Lydia was as tall as Jane if not a hair taller. She stood but four or five inches below Bingley. "I will stand for many things, but I will not brook you insulting my wife or my marriage."
Lydia, angry and outnumbered and desperate to cause pain to him to repay her own, screamed, "You're nothing! You're so pathetic you couldn't even keep yourself from the gaol! I'll bet you weren't even in there because of debt! I'll bet you're a--a--Miss Molly!" She didn't know quite what a Miss Molly was, but she knew men did not like to be called one, and that you could go to prison for it.
Bingley slapped her. Lydia staggered back and stared at him, then ran sobbing from the room.
The rain picked up again, beating the at the windows while the wind made mournful noises in the trees. The room was so still, they could hear the maid cleaning the fireplace two rooms over and the tick of the clock in the hall.
Jane recovered first. "Charles--"
"I need air," Bingley said. He went to the front of the house to stand under the small portico and watch the rain.
Jane burst into tears. Elizabeth, forgetting all else, went to her and wrapped her arms around her, whispering comforting nothings while she cried. When Jane pulled away she said, "Oh, Lizzy, do not pay me too much mind. 'tis this matter of being with child. The smallest things will undo me." Elizabeth touched her cheek. "What did that even mean?"
Elizabeth's brows raised. "I--I could not say," she lied, since she did not want to make Jane cry again and she surely would if she found that Lydia had called her husband a sodomite.
"I think I should go up to Lydia."
"No, Jane, stay. That girl--" Elizabeth shook her head. "Let her cry herself out. You will do no good going up to her now."
"Do you still say that? I have no sympathy for her when she acts as she did just now."
"Oh, but Lizzy, think. We are all of us always scolding her and telling her she may not do things which she has always been permitted to do."
"Things she should not have been permitted to do."
"Nevertheless, think of how hard it must all seem to her, and she is so young..."
"Precisely why we must be strict with her. Should we wait until her character is fixed? Should we wait until she exposes herself so severely that nothing will repair the damage? Her misadventure with Bill Jarman...Jane, if that had gotten abroad, think of the damage to all our reputations! Not to mention the mortification to the poor man himself."
"I know," Jane said. "I understand that we must check her behavior, yet I cannot help but feel for her."
"That, dearest sister, is because your heart is too kind for this world."
Bingley was a long time under the portico despite the rain wetting his stockings whenever the wind shifted. The Longbourn estate stretched out in front of him. He could see smoke from the chimneys of the tenant houses, the horses and cattle in the fields, and the muddy lane which led down to Meryton. Looking out over his holdings did not give him the pride or self-satisfaction that it might have given another man. Responsibility did not sit easily on his shoulders. He thought only of how many people's lives were now influenced by his decisions and felt rather sorry for them.
He returned to the house at last and went straight to his room, passing maids who gave each other exasperated looks as his wet feet made marks on their newly washed floors. He changed out of his wet clothes and went as if to walk down to the parlor where Jane and Elizabeth were still sitting, but paused as he passed by the room Elizabeth and Lydia shared. It was silent inside and he knocked twice. He got some muffled reply through the door and, after a second of indecision, entered.
Lydia was sprawled out on the bed. She sat up when he entered. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, her hair was all down around her shoulders. Her face was wet and pale where it was not red and splotchy and her nose had run all over her upper lip. She sniffed and wiped at her nose with the back of her hand.
Bingley offered her his handkerchief, but she would not take it.
"May I sit down?"
"If I say no you will only hit me again."
"May I sit down?"
Bingley sat on the chair by the window. The rain eased for a moment then a sharp wind blew against the house, rattling the window. "Do you even know what you called me?"
Lydia shook her head.
"It...it does not matter, I suppose, but if you ever said such a thing to anyone else... Have you no concern for your own reputation?"
Lydia shrugged. "It does not signify. Nothing signifies." She pulled her knees up to her chest. "I want my mother."
"You know nothing about it."
"I know what it is to lose a parent."
"If she were here, none of this would be happening. I would be out and no one would be mean to me. I want my mother and father back. I do not see why you had to come here and change things. You act as though you know everything and Jane and Lizzy do whatever you want and you have no right. You have no right to tell me what to do."
"I have more than a right. Your legal guardian placed you under my care and I have a responsibility to discharge that duty. I am not trying to be your father, but I would like to be a proper brother to you, if you will let me."
"You hit me."
"Yes, I did."
Lydia stared at him and he forced himself to meet her eyes calmly. She at last dropped her eyes.
"God knows that I have not the first clue--I am trying. I am trying to be a good husband and a good brother and a good landowner. I do not pretend to perfection. I do not even pretend to any extraordinary competence. I get by because I have been blessed to have Jane and Elizabeth and Mr. Holt and friends who give me sound advice. I wish for all your sakes that your parents were still here. Certainly they would be making less of a muck of things than I am. But they are not here, I am and I must try to do the best I can. If you think I am severe on you, that is because I have seen parts of the world that you have not. I have seen men, bad men--"
"When you were in the gaol?" Lydia asked.
Bingley grimaced. "Yes, when I was in the gaol. I have been in company with men who think nothing of taking advantage of a girl like you, good natured and pretty. A good reputation is a protection, and when it is coupled with good sense, it is perhaps the best a young lady can have. It is not entirely fair, but it is the way of the world." Lydia was staring resolutely out the window. Bingley rose. "Would you like anything? Tea? A glass of wine?"
Dinner that evening was a quiet affair. Lydia was subdued and Bingley was carefully polite. There was little conversation beyond what was needed to get potatoes from one end of the table to the other. After dinner, Jane, Elizabeth, and Bingley played cribbage while Lydia sat and watched the fire. When she rose to go to bed, she roused herself to say goodnight to Mr. Bingley, which was a good deal more than he had expected from her so soon.
The Gardiners were held in London that year, and unable to come in December as was their custom. Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, and Elizabeth and Lydia, went to London for a brief visit. Mr. Gardiner was eager to see Mr. Bingley in person again. Bingley's letters, though frequent, were short, badly punctuated, and sometimes illegible. A conversation, he was sure, would give him a better understanding of the state of both the man and the estate.
Mrs. Gardiner was just as eager to pull her favorite niece into a tete-a-tete. "Well, Lizzy, what think you of your new brother? Is he still not a complete fool in your eyes?"
Elizabeth laughed. "He is not a fool. I like him well enough. He is good to all of us and serious about his responsibilities, but he is still lively. He makes Jane very happy. He is not always decisive, and he is easily swayed. Those are his greatest faults."
Mrs. Gardiner laughed. "Yes. I have often wondered at how quick he is to appeal to your uncle for advice. I admire his modesty, though I think he would do well to learn to trust himself. Still, one must make allowance for inexperience, and for age."
"Two and twenty is not very young."
"You think so because two and twenty is not yet something that you can look back on. At this age I like him as he is. Give him a few years to come to know himself. He seems to have wisdom enough to choose good advisers. How does Lydia fare?"
Elizabeth was silent for a time, considering her answer. "I cannot say, exactly. She seems more respectful. She does more for Jane, and she does not dare to act impertinently to Mr. Bingley. He seems to have earned her respect, or at least her fear."
"It is not a bad thing if she does fear him. I am sorry that Lydia's character is such that it requires strong measures to check her, but so it is."
"That is what I do not like. She behaves herself because she is forced to, not because she has acquired understanding. Kitty is materially improved."
"I am surprised by how well I like having her. She is a great help to me, though we do not always get on very well. How is Mary? I am surprised she is not with you."
"She would not come. She said she had no interest in London. She has made new friends in Meryton. I cannot say I entirely approve of them--no, do not be concerned. They are not in any way badly behaved, but they are below her in rank. They are the daughters of shop keeps and the sisters of farmers."
"You have never shown excessive concern for such things."
"I do not show it now. I do not object to her friendships, and I am truly glad to see that she has made them. It is only...oh, I do not know what it is. I should be glad that she has friends. I will be glad. She is the daughter of a gentleman. She is able to be principal among them. I am sure that greatly increases her desire to be among them, and their desire to be with her."
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Gardiner.
They were interrupted by the entrance of Jane and Kitty. Mrs. Gardiner rose to speak to Jane, and to congratulate her again on her impending motherhood. Elizabeth said, "I beg all of you will excuse me, but I am struck by one of my occasional urges to pretend that I am a woman of great accomplishment in music and I intend to visit a shop to further this deception."
She declined all offers of company, being of a mind to have a morning to herself, and was soon ensconced in her uncle's carriage with only her aunt's abigail as chaperon. The music shop was in one of the more fashionable areas of town, and Elizabeth was amused to see how the clerk immediately looked her over to discern her rank and fortune by the cut and quality of her gown. Having come to his judgement, he nodded politely and greeted her, but declined to leave the side of the handsome woman that he was then assisting.
"Indeed, your ladyship, it is a fine instrument, worthy even of your expert playing, I am sure."
Her ladyship ran her hand over the harp, a thoughtful expression on her face. Elizabeth crossed to examine some sheet music, but could not help looking at the woman by the harp. She was clearly a woman of great wealth, perhaps three or four and twenty, with a tan complexion and shockingly blue eyes. Her features were symmetrical and elegant, and her figure was much like Elizabeth's own, small and slight, but pleasing.
A mulatto woman, Elizabeth assumed her to be her ladyship's maid, stood by the window watching the bustle on the street.
"Yes, fine, it will do," said her ladyship at last with a sharp nod.
Elizabeth saw the woman by the window shake her head and mutter something under her breath and could not help smiling. The clerk, turning over the final transaction to some underling, began to turn his attention to Elizabeth, but the bell rang again, and a tall man of about thirty, finely dressed entered. There was a great resemblance between the man and the woman, though she was handsome and he was rather plain. Her complexion was brilliant and clear. His had been marked by the smallpox. Elizabeth's suspicion of their being related was confirmed by the familiar manner with which he addressed the woman.
"Mary, are you done yet?"
"Andrew, you are horrifically rude and for that bit of impertinence, I will be here another twenty minutes at least."
"You most certainly will not," said the woman by the window. Elizabeth looked at her with surprise at her commanding tone. "My daughter is quite finished," she said to the clerk.
Elizabeth looked again and saw that the woman she had assumed was the maid was dressed in a mauve silk gown with a shawl of the finest quality upon her shoulders. She was in half mourning, in widows weeds. She was not so handsome as her daughter nor so plain as her son.
The clerk bowed low. "Of course, Lady Buxton. If I may say, it is always a privilege to have your family in my shop."
Lady Buxton condescended to nod, and the younger woman thanked the clerk for his time. The man did neither, and appeared to be interested in nothing but a loose thread on his coat. At last this family of quality left, and the clerk was able to turn his attention to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth purchased only some sheet music. She was not yet inclined to return to Gracechurch Street, and wandered in and out of shops, making occasional small purchases and taking as much pleasure in looking at the people as the merchandise. She saw the same family again in a book shop. Lady Buxton was examining a book of poems and asked her son, "Would Richard like it, do you think?" She spoke with a slight French accent.
"You would do better to ask the scullery maid what Richard would like. I am sure we never had a similar thought in our entire lives," the man replied.
Elizabeth, taken with curiosity, turned to a clerk and asked if he knew of the family. The clerk replied that he did, with some evident surprise that she did not. The older woman was the widow of the second Earl of Buxton, and the man was her son, the present Earl of Buxton. The younger woman was Lady Mary Fitzwilliam, soon to be the Marchioness of Huntly. Elizabeth took care to memorize the details of their clothes, sure that Lydia and Kitty would press her for every detail of her brief brush with such a great family.
Lady Buxton took up two more books. "Is it certain that England will send more troops into Saint-Domingue?"
"Nearly so," replied Lord Buxton. "It is too valuable a territory to pass over."
Lady Buxton sighed and set the books before the clerk. "These will give him some joy, I think."
"Certainly they will," said Lady Mary. "You fret too much, Mama. Richard is quick and strong. I am sure we will have a letter from him soon."
Elizabeth felt rude for listening to a private family conversation, though it was held in public, and turned away. She failed to notice that Lord Buxton had moved closer to her in order to examine a book until she turned at the same time he was stepping to the side and he stepped on her foot.
Elizabeth cried out more from surprise than pain and most of the shop looked at them. Elizabeth begged his pardon for bumping into him. Lord Buxton stiffened and looked away. He walked away from her without a word or apology. Elizabeth stared after him, offended. She met the clerk's eye and he shrugged. Lady Buxton and Lady Mary left the shop, but as Elizabeth was paying for her book, Lord Buxton came to her and said, "I am sorry for stepping on your foot earlier."
Elizabeth looked at him, wondering at his choosing to say something five minutes after the fact. She could not know that it had taken him five minutes to work up the courage to speak to an unfamiliar person. "Quite alright," Elizabeth said.
"I was not attending and I--you were right there--both our faults, really--I--well, yes. So sorry."
Elizabeth stared after him as he left. The clerk shrugged again. "A man with twenty five thousand a year can be as queer as he likes, I suppose," he said.
Elizabeth laughed. She was quick to relate her adventure to her younger sisters when she got home.
"A lord! An Earl! Stepped on your foot!" Lydia cried. "What was it like?"
"Like having my foot stepped on," Elizabeth said.
"Was he handsome?" Kitty asked.
"No, not at all. Nor charming nor polite nor especially interesting in any way. Hardly worth thinking of, really, except for his being so rich." Elizabeth would have been very surprised to find that this brief brush with one of the foremost families of England would not be her last.
Sir William Lucas was in town for a brief stay, and greatly desirous of introducing his good friend Mr. Bingley to all of his best connections. They went to a coffee shop together one afternoon. Lord Buxton, entering and taking his customary place by the window, would have left had he seen Sir William. He had been unable to escape an introduction some years previous and had no desire to give more opportunities than strictly necessary for Sir William to impose upon the connection.
But he did not see him, did not see him until it was much too late, at any rate, and Sir William strode up crying, "Lord Buxton, what a capital meeting!"
Buxton pressed his lips together and nodded coldly, hoping he would be rebuffed, but Sir William would not be swayed. "Please, you must allow me to introduce you to my very good friend, Mr. Bingley."
"I am not of a mind for introductions at present," he said and rose to leave.
"Ah, but I am sure you will be glad of this one, Mr. Bingley is a capital young man, and I did promise to introduce him to my finest friends."
Lord Buxton flinched at the word friend, and turned to leave, but seeing that Mr. Bingley had turned crimson and was attempting to hide himself in the crowd of patrons, he was struck with an odd and unusual sympathy for the man and, though he despised introductions in general and Sir William in particular, nodded his acquiescence.
"Capital!" cried Sir William and took him over to Mr. Bingley, making the introduction with great flourish.
Mr. Bingley bowed, Lord Buxton nodded, and Sir William ran off to speak to someone else. Lord Buxton stared at the wall just over Bingley's left shoulder, cursing Sir William for placing him in the mortifying position of now having to make some minute of conversation with a man he did not know.
"Sir William is a very good man," said Mr. Bingley, "but I must occasionally class him with that category of friend who negates the need for having enemies."
Lord Buxton smiled and became easier. "Have you been long in London, sir?"
"About a week. It is my second visit. I like London very much."
"I despise it. I would much rather be in the country." Mr. Bingley fell silent. Lord Buxton, no matter what his relations accused him of, was not a man who took pleasure in offending the whole world, nor a man who was deliberately contrary. "But then I may be wrong."
"About disliking London?"
Buxton fell silent. He glanced at Mr. Bingley, but did not find in his eyes that silent laughter that characterized so many conversations he had with others, nor even a quizzical lift to his brow. He tried again. "Are you married?"
Bingley blinked at the abrupt and personal nature of the question. "Ah, yes, recently so."
"Do you like her?"
Bingley did laugh then, but checked himself quickly. "Yes, I like her very well."
"Not as yet."
"I suppose like Sir William you live in Hertfordshire. He called you a neighbor."
"Your accent is from the north."
"I lived in Lancashire for most of my life."
"Your accent is a bit low."
"Not very low, and only occasionally. I have never been to Hertfordshire."
"I had never been there either, until I inherited my cousin's estate."
Lord Buxton looked at him, still expecting to see some sort of mocking derision in his eyes, but Bingley's expression was open and amiable and only a little amused.
"My seat is at Kentridge, in Derbyshire. It is larger than your estate, I imagine."
"I do not doubt it."
Lord Buxton stiffened even more. He was so tense that his back hurt. He wondered why he had said something so stupid. "I did not mean...it does not matter...well, of course it matters, and I am very rich, but..."
"Do you like cards, my lord?"
"They are small pieces of paper with printing on them, frequently used for games, often with wagers involved, but sometimes not."
Lord Buxton drew back, prepared to be offended by the sarcasm, but there was an easy humor about Bingley that forbore offense. He was much surprised to find himself amused. "I do not like cards."
"What do you like?"
"Insects, books, and boxing."
"I am glad you added the last, or I would have thought this a very unproductive conversation. I only care about insects when my wife calls me from bed to chase a spider from her dressing closet, and there are scant few books to which I pay proper attention."
"Spiders are not insects. I hate spiders."
"Do you like boxing?"
Bingley, who about five minutes previous had given up any thought of following the threads of conversation and was simply taking the twists and turns as they came, said, "I have never tried the sport, but I have seen a few matches and found it enjoyable to watch."
"I box and fence. I prefer fencing."
"I have never fenced. I think if I were to choose, I would rather try boxing."
Lord Buxton fell silent. He had never before been in company with anyone who did not make him feel defensive or uncomfortable. Even his own family was sometimes a trial to his nerves, but there was something in Mr. Bingley which made him feel at ease.
"27 ---- Street, second floor."
"27 ---- Street, second floor, Friday at 2 PM. If you would like to try boxing." Lord Buxton tossed a few coins on the table and left. "Good day."
Bingley stared after him. "Good day."
"What were you and Lord Buxton speaking of?" asked Sir William when he came back to Bingley's side.
Bingley shrugged helplessly.
He did not mention to Jane or anyone else the odd invitation issued by Lord Buxton, but when Friday came, curiosity would allow him to do nothing but duly present himself at 27 ---- Street and see what came of it. He was met at the door by a butler who asked for his card. When he presented it, the butler went inside and returned a few moments later with instructions for Bingley to come upstairs.
The room he entered was large and open, with light flooding in through windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. There was a stage in the center. A man with a rough face was instructing two younger men who had their hands in mufflers. There was an odd atmosphere in the room, not the relaxed, idle air of a club or party nor the intensity of a boxing match. The room was filled with men who were at their leisure, but who preferred to spend their leisure beating each other about the head a bit. It smelled of sweat. Servants could be easily spotted by their neat dress. The gentlemen wore nothing but their shirts and inexpressibles. Some had not even their shirts.
A few men glanced at him curiously. Bingley felt out of place. At last, he spotted Lord Buxton who was standing near the wall. A servant came and took his coat.
"Do you have a second?" Buxton asked without any sort of preamble of polite greeting.
"No," Bingley said. He never would have thought of brining another person with such an odd invitation.
The Most Honorable The Marquess of Huntly, the future brother-in-law of Lord Buxton, was called on to perform this task, Buxton making a careless sort of introduction and Lord Huntly accepting it with bad grace.
"Are you a friend of Lord Buxton?" Bingley asked, when Buxton had excused himself.
"Buxton does not have friends," Lord Huntly said. "He has people he has materially offended and people he has not."
Bingley smiled. "You, I suppose, belong to the latter class."
"I do not," Lord Huntly said. "I am marrying his sister." He shrugged.
Bingley's smile wavered a bit. "I have not met his sister. What is she like?"
"She is a Fitzwilliam," Lord Huntly replied, as if that were all the answer needed.
Fortunately, Lord Buxton returned then, and they went up onto the stage. Graves was the name of the trainer, a man who had spent many years as a fighter and now spent his time training bored noblemen. They played by Broughton's rules. No hitting a man who was down, nor grasping him below the waist. If the second did not bring his man to the square within half a minute of a fall, his man was beaten. A man on his knees was reckoned down. In addition to those rules which were followed by all true sportsmen, this stage had its own. A man was not to fall to his knee and take a rest. That was unmanly. It was bad form to strike the face with intent to do real harm, and mufflers were always worn. They were not men who could go about looking like ruffians.
Graves took Bingley through the basics and then set him at Buxton. Bingley found himself being parted from the rails by Lord Huntly before he was even aware that they were fighting. Buxton was quick and strong. It was entirely over in five rounds and then Bingley was seated by the windows nursing bruised ribs and drinking ale.
"How do you like it?"
"Very well," Bingley replied.
"You may come back any time you like. Come back with me, rather. They'll not let you come here on your own merit. You have not the rank or fortune to belong here, but as my--my friend, you may come." Buxton glanced at him and then glanced away.
Bingley hid a smile behind his glass. He decided to pass over the insult--perhaps better thought of as a tactlessly put truth--and the odd, defensive way that Lord Buxton had of speaking.
"You are very kind, my lord," Bingley said, and watched the Earl of Campbell fall into the rails.
Bingley had no intention of telling Jane about his choice of diversion or his sore ribs, but wives have a way of finding these things out, and she soon knew all.
"Boxing?" Jane asked. She was not, as he'd feared, concerned. Merely confused. "Why ever would you take up boxing?"
Jane had the ability to raise one eyebrow. It was not a skill she often displayed, not being the sort to quiz others, but she exercised it now. Bingley only shrugged and climbed into bed. "I was with the Earl of Buxton. Only, pray do not tell anyone that part. People can be so strange about these things."
"Lizzy saw Lord Buxton in a shop some days ago. How odd. The world can seem very small sometimes."
"Well, I suppose that is part of what makes it interesting," Bingley replied. He shifted so that Jane's weight was not against his ribs and fell asleep almost as soon as he'd closed his eyes.
They set out for home on the third of January, and two days after arriving, Mr. Bingley had a most surprising call.
Mr. John Hammond was a short, squat man, not handsome, a clerk for Mr. Phillips. Bingley had never paid him the slightest mind, nor had he been introduced to him, but Mr. Hammond had come on business, not socially.
He was a painfully shy man who spoke in such a low tone that Bingley had to lean forward to hear him. "Yesterday, I asked your sister, Miss Mary Bennet, to be my wife and she has agreed. I have come to ask your blessing on the match."
Bingley stared at him, stricken dumb for some time. When he recovered himself, he said, "I--ah--you will forgive me, I am surprised. I was not aware of any tendre on Mary's part, nor of any relationship between you. And I know nothing of you."
"Miss Mary has been much at Mr. Phillips office. We have been in company there. I can appeal to Mr. Phillips as a reference to my good character. I am the eldest of nine, moral, temperate, religious."
"I do not doubt it. Mary would have nothing else. Do you love her?"
Mr. Hammond hesitated. "The principled love, agape, the love of the scriptures--"
"I feel that for the widow Mrs. Higgins who sends me flowers from her garden every time she pays her rent as thanks for my consideration after the death of her husband. I hardly consider that alone to be a basis for marriage."
Mr. Hammond sighed. "I do love her. Not passionately, but I am not one for passion. Neither is she. We understand each other very well."
"You know that I am not her guardian. The ultimate choice will be that of Mr. Gardiner."
"Yes, but Mary asked that I come to you first. She respects you very much." Bingley was surprised and it showed on his face. "I believe it is because of your handling of her sister. She has often expressed to me an admiration of your willingness to stand fast against her."
Bingley's brows rose, but he did not reply directly. Instead he said, "Well I certainly do not object, but I hope you will understand if I defer giving my blessing to the match until I have spoken to Mary and had time to know you."
Mr. Hammond did understand, and they shook hands when he left. Bingley said nothing of it to Elizabeth or Lydia, but did tell it to Jane who was quick in pulling Mary into a confidential conversation.
"Are you certain, absolutely certain?"
"None of us in our mortal, imperfect state can be certain of anything."
"Do you love him?"
"He is precisely what I want."
"But do you love him?"
Mary simply lifted her chin. The Bennet women all had a stubborn streak in them that came out at the oddest times. She was determined to have him. Neither her sister's desire to see her in a more passionate match nor her brother's tactful reminders that Mr. Hammond was beneath her in rank and was unlikely to ever be more than a clerk would dissuade her. At last, Bingley, after watching them and seeing that Mr. Hammond, though far from passionate or amiable, was not a hard or unkind man, wrote to Mr. Gardiner with his recommendation that they be allowed to wed. The wedding was set for early February.
The time of the engagement was perhaps the most gratifying of Mary's life, for she was for scant weeks able to be in company with beautiful Jane and witty Elizabeth and good natured Lydia and still stand above them. They could not be more interesting than her while there was a wedding to speak of.
"Soon there will be two of us married," said Elizabeth to Jane as Lady Lucas pressed Mary for details of her gown. "Poor Mama, that she did not live to see it, though I cannot imagine she would have entirely approved of Mary's choice."
During this time, Jane felt the first fluttering of new life stir inside of her. At first they were so slight that she could not be sure of them, but they grew in frequency and the sensation was at last so certain that shortly before the wedding, she was able to tell her husband, "I have felt the quickening."
They were seated on the sofa before the fire where they often sat up talking before bed.
Bingley laughed. "Have you?" He put his hand on her belly where it had just begun to swell.
"There, did you feel it?"
"I suppose it is too soon for you to feel it, but it is there. There is a child, Charles, our child, making itself known to me."
He ran his hand back and forth across her belly. Jane took his hand away and shifted herself so that she was lying down with her head in his lap. She held his hand in her own.
"I am scared," she said.
"Of many things. I am scared of how much I already love this child. Mrs. Robinson lost her son last week. I do not think I could survive it if-- And I am so very terrified of my lying in."
There was nothing Bingley could say that would not be a lie. Children did die, and he was terrified of her lying in too.
"I suppose...I suppose we must have faith. The Lord does not allow us to be tried without giving us the strength to endure it."
Jane kissed the knuckles on his hand. "The ladies tell such horrid stories. I wish they would not. I am frightened enough as it is. I do not need to be told gruesome tales." She looked up at him. "Can we go to bed? I feel safe when we are together. It seems as if all of my concerns are far away."
He took her to bed and made her forget, for a brief span of time, her worries and fears. After, she slept in his arms. Bingley lay awake. It was black as pitch with the bed curtains drawn up all around them, but he felt her breath on his chest, the beat of her heart, the silk of her hair--un-plaited and loose, she would surely be unhappy with it in the morning--on his shoulder.
The thought of losing her was almost too much to bear and yet it was not a possibility he could blithely dismiss. His own mother had died in the child bed.
Jane rolled over. He gathered her into his arms. Her hair tickled his chin. His life had left him incapable of taking any blessing for granted. He pressed her tight to him, closed his eyes and thanked God for the privilege of holding her. Whatever might befall them tomorrow, tonight he had her in his arms.