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Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

June 15, 2017 11:33PM
Chapter Six


Residence of Mr. & Mrs. Philips
Meryton, Hertfordshire
December 5, 1811


The exigencies of society frequently do not allow for the time to reflect and absorb those calamitous events that strike one unexpectedly. In this instance, grieving in private must lose precedence to accepting the condolences of their neighbours. The sympathy was, for the most part, sincere. Mrs. Bennet and her husband had not been overly popular (Mrs. Bennet’s vulgarity and delight in gossip could not endear her to everyone and many of his neighbours harboured a suspicion that Mr. Bennet regarded them as objects for his amusement.); however, Jane and Elizabeth were held in considerable respect and it was a regard for them that imbued the expressions of regret that were rendered by their neighbours.

It would have been a difficult occasion for the surviving Bennet sisters under the best of conditions, but Mr. Collins’s presence did much to increase their burden. He was as loquacious as ever, filling any random moment of quiet with meaningless babble; in turn, expressing his sorrow at the passing of his cousin, and congratulating himself on his good fortune at inheriting Longbourn. More than one visitor regarded him with astonishment and even Sir William Lucas, that model of civility, had found it necessary to rebuke him slightly for his insensitivity. It was done politely, of course, and, because of its mildness, Elizabeth could see no abatement in her cousin’s vulgarity. She could only be resolved that, once they left Meryton, she would avoid her cousin whenever possible. A very little of his company went too far for her peace of mind.

The funeral took place; her parents and sisters were laid to their final rest. It was impressed upon her that she would never again experience the pleasures, anxieties, mortification and happiness that her parents and sisters had provided. She would not miss her mother’s voice which had grown increasing shrill and uncomfortable as her efforts to marry off her daughters had borne little fruit. Nonetheless, she had fond memories of her mother from when she was a child and these were what she intended to remember. Her father’s loss would, she was certain, be much harder to recover from. For all his faults, and she was not blind to them, he had loved her, taught her, cared for her and, ultimately, protected her against an unwanted marriage. For that, she would ever be thankful and in his debt. Her two youngest sisters had become, in recent years, a constant source of embarrassment and mortification. She could only remember them with fondness, if she excised such memories from her mind. She determined to recollect only the times when she had enjoyed their company, when they had played together, and before they had lost all semblance of propriety.

Elizabeth and her sisters might not attend the funeral, but their presence, as the mourners came to the Philipses’ home afterwards, was a required duty. It was late by the time the final visitor had departed. Elizabeth thought her uncles might defer the reading of the will until the next morning; however, her Uncle Gardiner was required by his business to return to town as soon as possible. Reading the will could not be delayed. Mr. Philips convened the gathering in his parlour. It was comprised of only the Philipses, Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Collins and the three remaining Bennet sisters.

Mr. Philips cleared his throat and began, “Mr. Bennet’s will was made some five years ago. I shall read it in its entirety excluding only those portions dealing with bequests to the servants. I will speak to them tomorrow.” He looked around the gathering, cleared his throat yet again and began to read. It took no more than five minutes to complete the task and Jane shook her head as though to clear it of cobwebs.

“Could you please clarify this for my understanding, Uncle. The language leaves me somewhat confused.”

Mr. Philips smiled and was about to answer when Mr. Collins interjected, “It is obviously a matter that is beyond the understanding of gentlewomen such as my cousins. I suggest that your uncles and I be allowed to resolve such matters in private.”

Mr. Gardiner coughed loudly.

“I believe,” said he, “my nieces to be quite capable of understanding this matter, Mr. Collins. Quite capable. And, if my Brother Philips will allow me, I will summarize the matter for their better understanding.”

Mr. Philips was quite prepared to cede the explanation to Mr. Gardiner and the latter began in a decisive manner.

“First, my three nieces are to receive and share equally in their mother’s jointure. It was set at five thousand pounds at the time of her marriage; however, following the birth of Lydia, Mr. Bennet decided, at my suggestion, to reinvest the annual interest in the funds and allow the amount to grow.” Mr. Gardiner consulted a piece of paper. “It now stands at ten thousand and four hundred pounds which, divided three ways, would amount to approximately three thousand, four hundred and fifty pounds for each of my nieces; however, Lizzy has requested, due to her recent inheritance, that her share be apportioned between her sisters. Therefore, Jane and Mary shall each have dowries of five thousand, two hundred pounds.”

“Lizzy, no!” cried Jane, “You must take your share.”

Mary nodded in agreement but Elizabeth would not be dissuaded and, after a brief argument, the matter was brought to a close by their Uncle Gardiner who insisted on finishing his explanation.

“I have to return home in the morning and I would appreciate some sleep tonight. May I suggest, Jane and Mary, that you cease your remonstrance and allow Lizzy her way on this. She is being quite reasonable in my honest opinion and, as well,” Mr. Gardiner grinned at Elizabeth, ”she is more stubborn than either of you.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose at him and her two sisters nodded in reluctant acceptance. Mr. Gardiner continued.

“Now, I have surveyed the site of Longbourn, and, while my nieces are entitled, by the terms of their father’s will, to much of the contents of the house, the sad truth is that little, if anything, is salvageable. The house – such as remains - must be completely torn down and rebuilt. As to funds available, my Brother Philips has provided a record of the balance in Mr. Bennet’s account and the total amounts to four hundred and twenty-two pounds. Against this must be held the outstanding debts in Meryton which I have been advised total no more than forty pounds. The residual, about three hundred and eighty pounds, will be managed by myself on behalf of my nieces.”

“There is one remaining issue in regards of my nieces.” Mr. Gardiner carefully did not look at Mr. Collins as he added, “By the terms of my Brother Bennet’s will, I am named the principal guardian of those of my nieces who have yet to reach their majority – Elizabeth and Mary, specifically. Mr. Philips, in the event I am unable to discharge my guardianship, will replace me. Allow me to assure my nieces that I will not reverse any recent decisions rendered by their father.”

Mr. Gardiner turned to Mr. Collins. “Longbourn is yours, sir. While the house is lost, the stables and carriage house and other outbuildings were not damaged in the fire thanks to the efforts of the residents of Longbourn village. The carriage and livestock are also yours. Mr. Philips will continue to act on your behalf in dealing with the tenants and contracts.”

“But monies! What am I to do about rebuilding the house? Are there no funds available? Surely not all the funds belong to my cousins? What am I to do?”

Mr. Philips cleared his throat, "I believe, sir, that it will cost somewhere between six and eight thousand to rebuild Longbourn to a reasonable approximation of what was destroyed. That will take no more than four or five years of the income of the estate. As well, the estate account contains over three hundred pounds and I believe the quarterly rents become due at the beginning of the new year. You will have some funds for the purpose of rebuilding.”

Mr. Collins gobbled for some seconds attempting to find words appropriate to express his displeasure at this circumstance. Finally, he succeeded and turned to Elizabeth.

“You can no longer persist in this foolish business of rejecting my offer, Cousin. Surely you can see the sense behind our marriage. Your fortune will allow us to rebuild Longbourn to its former state and, if I can be guided by the excellent advice of my patroness, I have no doubt that a much superior dwelling can be constructed. Surely, Cousin Elizabeth, you cannot be so insensible as to deny the propriety, the correctness, of our marriage. Your fortune, so conveniently bestowed, can serve to benefit us all. I am sure that Lady Catherine de Bourgh, despite her objections in general, would support my position on this and urge you to accept me as your husband. Her displeasure at having Miss de Bourgh deprived by your machinations in the matter, would, I am sure, be ameliorated should you do so, for surely you cannot seriously be intending to stand in opposition to her demands. Moreover, you will be established as Mistress of the house, your sisters under my wise guidance and I. . .”

“Mr. Collins!” snapped Elizabeth, “At the risk of sounding ungrateful for your offer, I must once more – and for the third time, I believe - refuse it. As it turns out, I do not require to live at Longbourn. I have a most suitable house in which to reside. My sisters shall live with me, we have sufficient funds as to ensure a very comfortable existence and my uncle will provide such guidance as we may require.”

Mr. Collins appeared prepared to continue the argument but Mr. Gardiner, hoping to forestall his attempt, rose to his feet. He was not successful, for Mr. Collins immediately fixed on another object of his affections.

“Miss Mary, you cannot be as insensible of the advantages of an offer which I can make. Surely, you would be satisfied to become the new mistress of Longbourn.”

Whatever Mary’s inclinations were on the matter - and from her mien Elizabeth could be sure her sister would not accept such an offer – Mr. Gardiner was not disposed to allow her to state her preferences.

“It matters not, Mr. Collins!” he growled, “Apart from the impropriety of such an offer – of switching between sisters so readily and only, I am convinced, with the sole intent of accessing their dowries – I shall simply not allow it. Mary is not of age and I will not give my consent to a marriage with you at this time. They shall mourn their parents and sisters for the appropriate time - a year - and if, when that period has ended, you wish to court Mary, you may do so if she agrees to it. But it shall not be here and it shall not be now. Am I clear on that point, Mr. Collins?”

Mr. Collins shakily agreed that he was.

Mary was not to be denied her share of the conversation. Too surprised by Mr. Collins’ application to her to respond immediately, she had now found her voice.

“Mr. Collins may spare himself the bother of applying to me in the future, Uncle.” She declared angrily, her breathing quick as she exerted herself to control an evident desire to cough. “After his contemptible behaviour during the fire, I have no wish to see him ever again.”

There was a deafening silence and Mr. Collins’ mien took on the aspect of a day-old cod, his jaw having dropped in stupefaction. Mary turned her face away from him. Mr. Gardiner, after a quick glance at his nieces, rose to his feet.

“Now, Mr. Collins,” said Mr. Gardiner, “I believe you are staying with the Lucases, are you not?” Mr. Collins’ mouth closed and then re-opened as he shakily agreed that he was.

“I shall have my carriage return you there immediately.” said Mr. Gardiner. He then turned to his nieces, “If you will indulge me for a few more minutes, there is a matter which I wish to discuss with you in private when I return.”

Mr. Collins appeared to have recovered his composure and demanded to be a party to that discussion but Mr. Gardiner would have none of it and accompanied him to the carriage - informing him on the way that the matter was between his nieces and himself. Mr. Gardiner instructed the driver to deliver his passenger to Lucas Lodge. When he returned to the parlour, he sat and contemplated his nieces for a few moments.

Finally, he began, “Your future is much brighter than I had imagined when I left London to travel here. Then, I thought you to have only your mother’s portion and while ten thousand eight hundred pounds is a respectable amount, it would provide for only a very modest form of living for the three of you. I had thought of having you live with us and, while the prospect is delightful, I cannot deny that space would be very limited – very limited, indeed. To learn of Lizzy’s inheritance – particularly, that a decent house is included - was, I confess, a great relief. Your aunt, I know, will echo my sentiments.”

After a brief, thoughtful pause, he added, “We shall be required to find you a suitable companion. Three young, unmarried women must be properly established. I shall make such arrangements as are necessary when we return to town. Until a companion is hired, you shall live with us. As well, since your companion will act as your chaperone in place of your aunt and me, her salary shall be my responsibility. No, do not argue with me on this. It is my responsibility as your guardian.”

Mary suddenly appeared anxious and her whispered, “Uncle.” did not at once attract attention. She cleared her throat, repeated it more loudly and, having obtained their notice, said, “I do not wish to live in London.”

This was greeted with a prolonged silence until Mr. Gardiner responded.

“You need not, of course. Where should you prefer to live?”

“I prefer to remain here in Meryton, with my Aunt and Uncle Philips, if they will have me.”

Mr. Philips was surprised at this application, as was his wife; however, that lady was quick to express her approval of such an idea. Mary would be warmly welcomed into their immediate family. Jane and Elizabeth were not so readily reconciled to the idea.

“Mary, I would wish you to reconsider. I would not have us separate at this time. Surely, London cannot be so very bad?” exclaimed Jane. Her distress at the idea was obvious and Elizabeth knew that having lost so many of her family, her sister was unprepared to be separated from one of the two that remained. However, it proved impossible to sway Mary from her decision.

“I have no wish to leave Meryton. It shall be a consolation to me to remain amongst what is so familiar.” She replied.

Mrs. Philips was delighted. Childless herself, she had always enjoyed the company of her nieces and to have one now reside with her was almost enough to render her speechless with pleasure. Almost!

“Oh my dear Mary! What a delightful time we shall have. And the officers are to be in Meryton all winter! Why. . .”

Mr. Philips cleared his throat loudly. “I believe, Mrs. Philips, that you have forgotten that we shall be in mourning this winter. There shall be no entertainments of that nature.” He glanced apologetically at Mr. Gardiner who limited himself to a brief, resigned shake of his head. He well knew his sister’s character.

Seeing that Mr. Philips also approved of Mary’s request, Mr. Gardiner could find nothing to object to the arrangement and, after a brief discussion with Mr. Philips, it was agreed between them that guardianship and control of Mary’s dowry would be transferred to that gentleman, although he retained to himself the right to approve any offer of marriage she might receive. The only other stipulation that Mr. Gardiner insisted upon was that the proprieties of mourning be strictly observed. He then returned his consideration to Jane and Elizabeth.

“You now have between you about sixteen thousand pounds which, in the four percents, will provide an annual income of about six hundred and fifty pounds. As your home is provided for, you will be able to live quite comfortably – quite comfortably, indeed. However, I have a proposition for you. Your father did not wish to accept any risks in his investments; hence your mother’s settlement was placed in the funds and generated a return of five percent. I am expanding my business and I am always interested in attracting additional funds to do so. My offer is simply this. I shall invest your monies in my business and pay you a return of five percent – eight hundred pounds - every year. However, the profits your investment generates will be added to your investment and will be available to you should the need arise.”

“How much of a difference is there likely to be, Uncle?” inquired Elizabeth.

Mr. Gardiner smiled, “I have been averaging a profit of about ten percent since I began my business, Lizzy. I see no reason to anticipate that the future will prove less. . .successful.”

Elizabeth nodded, “I am willing to accept your offer, Uncle, but Jane must speak for herself.”

Jane nodded at once. Mary looked between her two sisters for several moments before asking, “Shall my dowry be treated in a similar manner?”

“It may be, should you wish it so.” replied Mr. Gardiner. Mary looked at Mr. Philips who indicated that the decision was hers alone. After some thought she agreed with her Uncle Gardiner’s proposal, although there was a trace of hesitation and uncertainty in her voice. Mr. Gardiner realized her fears and spoke with some assurance to her, “I understand your reluctance, Mary. To have lost almost everything and then be asked to take what must seem like an unnecessary risk. . . Well, I understand and, should you decide in the future to withdraw your portion, you may do so with but a word to me.”

Seeing that Mary was more content, he stood and stretched, “I think we had best get some sleep. Jane, Elizabeth, I wish for us to leave early tomorrow morning - before breakfast, if possible. Your aunt is most eager to have you come and stay with us and, as you must replenish your wardrobes, it can best be done in town.


Great North Road, England
Mid-December, 1811


Fitzwilliam Darcy was a conflicted man. He could view his actions in regards to his friend, Charles Bingley, with no little satisfaction, although he was honest enough to admit to himself that, while satisfied with the results he had obtained, he could take little pleasure from them.

He told himself once more that his motives, in advising his friend to quit his Netherfield Park estate and return to London, were just and the actions of a disinterested friend, seeking only to forward the well-being of one he held in esteem. While he had noticed that his friend was attentive to Miss Jane Bennet, he had often seen him in love before and had frequently observed to his friends that Bingley fell out of love as readily as he entered that state. It had only been at the Netherfield ball, whilst dancing with Elizabeth Bennet, that he had been made aware that Bingley’s attentions to her sister had given rise to the neighbourhood’s expectations of their marriage. Therefore, he had, for the remainder of the evening, paid special attention to his friend’s behaviour, and to that of Miss Bennet. Bingley’s affections, he quickly realized, were much beyond those he had ever previously observed. Miss Bennet’s, however, were not so readily discerned. Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of uncommon regard, and he became convinced that, though she received Bingley’s attentions with pleasure, she did not return them in equal measure. The serenity of her countenance and air was such as could lead to one conclusion and one conclusion only; however amiable her temper, Jane Bennet’s heart had not been touched by his friend.

If that were not inimical to the happiness of his friend, the situation of her family, though objectionable, was nothing in comparison to that total want of propriety so frequently, so almost uniformly, displayed by her mother, by her three youngest sisters, and occasionally even by her father. It was a constant source of amazement and puzzlement to him that the two eldest Bennet sisters could belong to such a family and comport themselves so properly. From what passed that evening, his opinion of all parties was confirmed, and every inducement strengthened, and he was resolved to preserve his friend from what he could only perceive as a connection that would not promote Bingley’s future happiness. When Bingley left Netherfield for London, on the day following and with every intention of soon returning, Darcy and Bingley’s sisters, whose displeasure with their brother’s situation had been equally excited, immediately resolved on joining him directly in London. They did so and soon were readily engaged in the office of pointing out to Bingley the certain evils of attaching himself to Miss Bennet. Darcy could not, however, delude himself as to Bingley’s feelings and it became quickly apparent that the want of connection, fortune and propriety which so offended his sisters and Darcy, were of little significance to him. It was, in truth, only the assurances from Darcy that his affections were not returned by Miss Bennet - who would, nonetheless, accept an offer of marriage as she was obviously under the sway of her mother’s persuasion - that finally convinced Bingley against returning into Hertfordshire.

That Darcy had other motives for his actions was not a matter that he was prepared to consider, let alone concede except to himself. While his departure from Hertfordshire was nominally to forward his friend’s interests, he was not oblivious to his own. He had, at first, scarcely allowed Elizabeth Bennet to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the Meryton assembly; and when they next met, he regarded her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, then he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and despite his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he had been caught by their easy playfulness. He thus began to wish to know more of her and, as a step towards conversing with her himself, began to attend to her conversation with others and when she came to Netherfield to nurse her sister, he had attempted to engage her in spirited debates. His success was mixed but he could not fault her intelligence, the quickness of her wit and understanding, and her composure in the face of the considerable incivility displayed by Bingley’s sisters. His attraction to her grew with each succeeding encounter and he soon believed himself in some danger from her. Her circumstances, however, were such that he resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, to display nothing that could excite her hopes of his forming an attachment with her; sensible that, if such an idea had suggested itself to her, his behaviour during the last days of her sojourn at Netherfield must have been sufficient to crush it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of her last two days at Netherfield, and, though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.

His only lapse had been to seek a dance with her at the ball his friend had hosted. It was, he thought, to be his last memory of her, for separating from her he was determined upon. The dance had not met his expectations at all. His partner had appeared determined to provoke and irritate him, culminating in a bitter exchange about his treatment of George Wickham. Her inquisition about that gentleman had angered him and he required all his self-control to suppress a visible display of it. His cautious, elliptical responses did little to illuminate Wickham’s character, and obviously even less to satisfy her insistent curiosity. They had parted in silence; on each side, dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree, for in his breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all his anger against Wickham.

His departure for London, if apparently for the purposes of assisting his friend, had the object of removing himself from what was becoming an intolerable temptation. After completing his service to Bingley, he was to Pemberley; and the separation of more than one hundred miles from the society of Elizabeth Bennet would, he was resolved, allow him to rid himself of this infatuation. His duty to his family, his station and the Darcy name itself, demanded that he wed appropriately – a woman of equal status, connections and fortune would meet the expectations placed upon him. Surely, it was not impossible that he could find another woman possessed of such attributes and endowed also with beauty, character and intelligence?

It was, therefore, a source of some displeasure with himself – and with Elizabeth Bennet – that the absence of her company did not relieve him of the desire for more of it. In the weeks that passed, not even the company of a most beloved sister and his Fitzwilliam relations with whom he was on the most cordial terms had served to purge her from his thoughts. He had indulged himself in the most enjoyable activities encompassing the theatre, family dinners and other such engagements and still her face, her figure, her voice haunted him.

It plagued him on the oddest occasions. He would be talking to one of his cousins and suddenly he would find himself wondering what she would have said or thought or how she would have reacted. He had, more than once, detected his relatives looking at him with some puzzlement; however, none had sought – or perhaps, dared – to question him on the matter. It had been a trifle embarrassing and his usual response of appearing more actively interested in the conversation around him had been accepted, although he could not believe them oblivious to his abstractions. His Aunt, Countess Matlock, had made him the focus of her particular attention on several occasions, but had declined to raise the matter with him. He wondered if she would continue to be as circumspect, should his distraction continue.

He was grateful that Georgiana appeared to see nothing different in his behaviour; however, he suspected her discernment was clouded by her obvious enthusiasm for the Christmas season and the company of her Fitzwilliam relations. What was a brother to cousins who were much of an age and lively as well?

He smiled at the thought and looked over at Georgiana who had drifted into sleep leaning against the side of the carriage, her head cushioned by a pillow and herself covered with a quilt, gifted to her by the housekeeper of their London home. His smile faded as he remembered their last evening spent in London in company with Bingley and his sisters. It had been an unfortunate affair. He had seen little of Bingley after leaving Netherfield. Apart from the evening spent persuading him of Miss Bennet’s unsuitability, they had few occasions to meet in the fortnight that followed. It had not been an act of avoidance on Darcy’s part. He had followed his usual routine while in Town. Visits to his club and fencing had been places where he might expect to encounter Bingley with some frequency. He had not done so. Just before they were to leave London, he had invited Bingley and his sisters to dine at Darcy House. The invitation was accepted and they had not long been in company together when it became clear that Bingley’s spirits had not regained their usual ebullience - he was still prone to moments of sadness. Even Georgiana had become aware of the matter and commented quietly to her brother as to the cause.

“He has had a disappointment, Georgiana.” Darcy replied.

Georgiana’s eyes flicked between her brother and Bingley. “Disappointment?”

“Yes. He became attached to a young lady in Hertfordshire who did not return his affections.”

"Then I feel sorry for him.” she said, “I hope his disappointment will be of a short duration.”

“With Bingley, I am convinced it shall be eventually, although he does not appear to be recovering quite as quickly as in the past.” responded her brother.

Further discussion was prevented by Miss Bingley who wished to inquire of Miss Darcy how long she expected to be at Pemberley – for the Darcys were to leave on the morrow – and to express her pleasure at having been invited there in the past and her enjoyment of country society.

Darcy managed to control his reaction to the latter claim. Miss Bingley had enjoyed Hertfordshire society only when leaving it and her time at Pemberley had not involved anything more sociable than a brief visit to Kympton. His concern that his sister might inadvertently extend an invitation to the Bingleys to visit was relieved when Georgiana responded by stating only that they planned to return by the end of January.

“We wish to enjoy the benefits of London for several months before the season is truly underway.” declared Darcy, “As well, I and my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, must make our usual visit at Easter to our aunt in Kent.”

“That is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is it not, Darcy?” asked Bingley who had moved closer to join the conversation.

Darcy agreed that it was and that he would be there for about a fortnight.

“Is Miss Darcy to join you?” inquired Miss Bingley.

Georgiana paled and Darcy smothered a grin with a cough before replying, “No. My sister shall remain in Town and pursue her studies.”

“Well, we can then hope to have her call on us in your absence.” suggested Miss Bingley.

Someone very familiar with Miss Darcy might have noticed her barely perceptible grimace at Miss Bingley’s suggestion; however, as the latter was looking at Darcy and not his sister, he alone recognized his sister’s reaction. Fortunately, the conversation turned to other subjects and Darcy endeavoured to more closely assess his friend’s mood. It was clear that Bingley remained less ebullient than was his usual wont. He certainly made every effort to appear engaged in the discussion around him but his usual interest and enthusiasm was missing and Darcy could not but conclude that his friend’s heart was yet far from fully recovered. As he was to leave for Pemberley the next day, there was little assistance he could offer to remedy the matter; and, while he might wish to have his friend visit him at Pemberley, it could not be arranged without including his sisters. If their company had been more agreeable, and Miss Bingley’s attentions to himself less intrusive and unwelcome, he might have considered extending an invitation. As neither was the case, he did not. Nonetheless, he could not help but be bothered by the fact that, even after a separation of several weeks, Bingley’s spirits had not fully recovered. In the past, it had taken but a week or, at most a fortnight, for him to forget about his latest “angel”. If Darcy had allowed himself to make the connection, he might have noted the similarities between his behaviour and that of his friend. It was to his benefit that his reticence was such as to make small changes unnoticeable other than to the most discerning and familiar of observers.


Bingley residence
Grosvenor Street, London
Saturday, December 21, 1811


Miss Bingley was seriously peeved. Her ire had two causes. The first was her inability to secure an invitation to Pemberley. She expected that her not so subtle compliment to Georgiana Darcy would have prompted an invitation to visit over Christmas. It had not and she could only wonder at whether the girl was naturally obtuse on the matter or deliberately ignoring her implied request. She rather thought the first to be more probable. She was also disturbed that Mr. Darcy had not picked up on the opportunity to invite Miss Bingley’s brother. He could not have been ignorant of her wish and she was intelligent enough to understand that his disregard for her wishes did not bode well for her aspirations of becoming Mistress of Pemberley. Moreover, it would also suggest that if Darcy had any thoughts of fostering an attachment between his sister and his friend, they had died aborning. As Miss Bingley had hopes of such an attachment for reasons of her own, the absence of a similar goal on the part of Darcy was, to her way of thinking, regrettable to say the least.

Her second source of ire lay in the letter before her. Jane Bennet had written to inform her of her removal to London in the wake of a fire which claimed her home and some members of her family. While Miss Bingley could not have wished Jane Bennet to have died in the fire, she would not have been greatly saddened to have learned of her sister Elizabeth’s having done so. Unfortunately, the latter event had not occurred and, from the directions given in the letter, the sisters were to reside in a most respectable home. _____ Street may not be in the most prestigious area but it was respectable, very respectable. Miss Bingley crumbled the letter in aggravation. Miss Jane Bennet was now altogether too close to her brother in terms of proximity and station. Of more moment was that the most objectionable members of her family no longer existed. There was now a real danger that, should her brother remain in town, he might encounter Jane Bennet. She could not suppose that her state of mourning would seriously restrict her social activities. Miss Bingley knew that her own observances, should such ever be required of her, would be rendered in such a manner as to inhibit her as little as possible.

It was, therefore, a matter of some urgency to remove to the country. Her first thought was to travel to Netherfield. It was under lease and could be re-opened with minimal bother. It was a matter of less than a minute to realize how large a mistake that would be. Charles could hardly help but learn of the Bennet family’s misfortune, and to learn Miss Bennet’s location would take scarcely longer. Miss Bingley had no doubt that once he learned she was alive and living in London, his chivalrous instincts would prompt him to seek her out directly. Miss Bingley might wish that her brother would forget Miss Bennet, but she was not blind to the fact that, although almost a month had passed since he had last seen her, his interest in her, while somewhat abated, had not expired altogether. She could not be sure but that, should he accidentally encounter Miss Bennet, it might ignite again. He had yet to find her replacement and, until he did so, Miss Bennet was a danger to his sisters. No, Netherfield would not do.

She searched through her stack of invitations. She had declined them all – or rather had delayed accepting any – in the hopes of securing an invitation to Pemberley. Now she would have to humble herself and seek to find an invitation that had not yet lapsed. All too many of her acquaintances had already left town. The Radcliff Highway murders, and the failure to catch the perpetrators, had galvanized many to leave for the safety of the country rather than enjoy London’s amusements over the Christmas season.

Miss Bingley was fortunate. An acquaintance from her days at the seminary had invited them to Bath and was not to leave until Monday next. It was the work of an hour to pen a note accepting their invitation (with appropriate regrets and false excuses at the delay), receive an acknowledgement, and the matter was resolved. The question of Jane Bennet would be shelved until she returned and perhaps by then her brother would have encountered and fallen in love with another angel. He had done so often enough in the past and his sister saw no reason why he would not oblige her once more.

She returned her attention to Jane Bennet’s letter which she had crumbled in her irritation. She smoothed it out as she considered how it was to be dealt with. A response was required, of course. Fortunately, as Jane was in mourning, she should not visit; and as she, Caroline Bingley, was shortly to travel to Bath, she must pack and make the necessary arrangements. She would hardly have time to call. Jane Bennet was of such an amiable nature that Caroline had no doubt of her excuses being readily accepted. As it would likely be several weeks before Caroline would return to town, she believed herself quite capable of forgetting to ever call and, if Jane should be so disingenuous as to write again, Caroline’s visit would leave her in no doubt as to her desire to sever the relationship.

It was now a matter of convincing her brother to adopt her plans. She began that same evening as they were dining.

“Charles,” she said, “I am most concerned about our safety. These dreadful murders on Radcliff Highway have quite overset my nerves. I have spoken to many of my friends and they are, one and all, leaving town for the country. I believe we should do so as well.”

Her brother, whose attention to the conversation around him had been intermittent at best, looked confused. “Leave for the country? I do not see why, Caroline.”

Caroline huffed in exasperation. “The Radcliff murders, Charles. I am extremely concerned and would wish to be much further away until they capture the men who have committed these horrible deeds.”

Charles nodded, thoughtfully. He had not been so wrapped in his thoughts as to be totally oblivious to the terrible news.

“Very well. I assume that Netherfield can be readied for us in a day or two.”

“No, Charles. Netherfield will not do at all. It will take several days to hire staff and obtain provisions. Besides, I do not think it advisable for you to travel into the area now. You know that your heart is still pained by Miss Bennet’s disinterest and I would not wish to see you suffer further by coming into her company. You know that should we return there, we would see her with some frequency. It would be an imposition on her and painful for you. I think it best to travel somewhere else.”

Mrs. Hurst, who was not privy to her sister’s machinations, nonetheless obliged with an opportune question. “Have you a place in mind, Caroline?”

Caroline smiled at her sister, her tone almost gleeful, “Indeed! I have received an invitation from Mrs. Steeves – who was Miss Janet Henderson - with whom I became friends at our seminary. She and her husband travel to Bath in two days and would welcome our company. I have accepted on everyone’s behalf. I hope that was not too presumptuous of me?”

Her brother grunted and his thoughtful, abstracted expression returned. A silence lasted for several long moments until Caroline became slightly exasperated, “Charles!” Her tone was peremptory.

“You are sure that Miss Bennet does not have any affection for me?”

“Yes, Charles. Did not Mr. Darcy give his assurances on the matter? You know you can always trust his judgement. None of us saw any sign of a significant attachment. If we had, you can be sure that we would have informed you of it.”

Mrs. Hurst schooled her features properly at this statement. Charles nodded unhappily and then gave his agreement to his sister’s plan, although Caroline knew he was not altogether pleased with the company of the Steeveses. He had met the gentleman only once, had disliked him almost immediately and nothing that happened later gave cause for him to change his opinion. Caroline was certain that, once in Bath, her brother would find sufficient other amusements to make his stay tolerable.

To Bath, the Bingleys would go.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

PeterJune 15, 2017 11:33PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

EvelynJeanJune 16, 2017 08:00AM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

Caroline01June 16, 2017 09:28AM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

Caroline01June 16, 2017 09:28AM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

KentJune 16, 2017 01:59AM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Six

LucieJune 16, 2017 12:24AM



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