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The Secret Life of Caroline Bingley - Part One Chapt 4 - 8

July 29, 2017 01:13PM
Chapter 4 - 8 SUMMARY -- Caroline finally arrives at her aunt and uncle's home on the coast of Scotland. It's been a while, the Bingley's have not visited in many years, presumably because it was Caroline's father who engineered the visits. It's a side of Caroline that we didn't get to see in P&P and one she sort of forgot about. We also get to meet an old friend.

Chapter 4
Kittredge Manor, At Last

Several days had passed since their carriage had left Gretna Green, several days of inns with uneven beds and scratchy wool blankets, noisy common rooms and taverns, and nosey proprietors.

Thankfully Lucy was more than up to the task of securing the best accommodations without giving offense.

Caroline ached, she hadn’t remembered the journey being so long, but then she was much younger when she last visited. The Bingley family had summered at her aunt and uncle’s nearly every summer from the time she was born until she was sixteen, before her father’s unexpected illness.

She had loved everything about those summer holidays with her Scottish kin including the journey there. Traveling with her father always felt like a grand adventure. It was the one time of year that her father gave his children all his attention.

On those long carriage rides, with a family of five nestled into the carriage, William Bingley managed to keep all three of his children enthralled with tales of merchant endeavors.

The hero of her father’s stories won the day not with his sword but with his brains and wit. The heroes of his stories fearlessly negotiated and formed alliances and always secured the most profit.

Her father also saw the beauty in all parts of the world, from French fashion to Indian spices. By contrast, her mother, for all that she was Scottish-born, held to the belief that English taste was superior to all. To which her father would reply that she was his greatest prize, his Scottish rose, and a prize beyond perfection. Her mother would usually tell him he was being ridiculous but that usually ended the argument, for neither could bear to disagree with the other for long.

Caroline inhaled the faint tang of the sea long before she arrived at her aunt and uncle’s estate. The smell of the coast after so long a journey, brought with it an anticipation of freedom.

It was difficult to believe it had been so long since her last visit, before her father’s untimely passing. Her father had been the one to insist that the country was the perfect restorative to the sophistication of London - it was by all accounts where he had met and fallen in love with her mother. Her mother would have vastly preferred to remain in London, but her husband had prevailed, he loved the wildness of his wife and her country.

Caroline closed her eyes and thought of making crowns of bluebells, heather and cornels with Louisa in the meadows surrounding Kittredge. She thought of riding her uncle’s beautiful Friesian gelding, through those same purple fields on sunny days.

Looking back, she could hardly recognize that intrepid wild girl. Had she ever been so free, free from society, obligation, and dignity?

Of course, that was before the seminary, where she had learned the finer points of how to properly comport herself in society.

It may be noted, dear reader, that these fond reminiscences were, in fact, the first hint -- although Caroline did not know it yet -- that the implacable sadness that had shrouded her these past few months, would not last forever.

The final day of their journey arrived at last, and with it roads thick and swollen with heavy rain. Thick brown mud clung to the wheels and hooves slowed as if unwilling to allow Caroline to leave her past.

It should have been a half-day’s journey, but whenever Caroline called to the driver he assured her amicably, “it would only be a few hours more.”

This went on for several hours and Caroline was quickly losing patience.

Lucy found her mistress’s grousing somewhat comforting - when she considered how Caroline had begun the journey in very dull spirits. Her irritability suggested an enlivening, signaling that perhaps she might return to herself and put away that shroud of apathy that had taken away both sorrow and joy alike. But of course, Lucy would never dare say anything of the sort.

Instead, she observed, “It will be a pleasure to stay at Kittredge. According to mother’s last letter, things remain as they ever were, and the whole household has spoken of little else than your arrival.”

“Of course, you’ll want to see your mother as soon as possible,” Caroline said. Caroline had fond memories of Lucy’s mother; Mrs. McCaffery had been the head cook at nearby Trenbraugh Castle since before Caroline could walk. Trenbraugh Castle was the estate of Lord Ferguson and his family. Her Aunt Adele was the younger sister of the current lord and the two houses were so close they may as well have been kin. As she recalled, she could expect to see as much of the Fergusons as she did her aunt and uncle.

Mrs. McCaffery, despite her stern attitude with her staff and the other bairns, had seemed to have a peculiar affection for the youngest Ms. Bingley.

“Please send my regards to your mum when you see,” Caroline said to Lucy. Lucy was Mrs. McCaffery’s youngest and had already been given permission to visit at the first opportunity.

“Assuming we ever arrive,” She grumbled and sat back in her seat.

“I will indeed. Knowing m’mum, she’ll have a packet of butter cookies ready for me to take to you. You were always her favorite of all the little ones. And of course, she’ll want you to catch her up.”

Caroline’s mouth watered despite herself. Mrs. McCaffery’s cooking was legendary. Neither her sister nor brother, not even the young lords of the castle were indulged so by the portly cook, meeting the handle of the cook’s long wooden spoon as often as not, whenever they begged for cookies outside of mealtimes, but not Caroline. With her awkward lanky limbs and her bright red hair and ruddy complexion, the cook had taken a peculiar shine to the lass. Going so far as to send off her second oldest daughter, Lucy to look after her as her lady’s maid.

By the time they arrived at Kittredge Manor, the sun was setting, despite pressing on through meals, at Caroline’s insistence. Nonetheless, the entire household was turned out to greet her as the finally arrived.

The moment she descended from the carriage her Aunt Adele rushed up to embrace her. “Oh my dear, dear girl, we’re so glad you are finally here. Especially in such disagreeable weather - but of course, it couldn’t be helped your mother has told us all the details of your terrible circumstances, although it sounds like the man has made an incredibly insensible match which says quite a lot about his taste but you are so young. I suppose since he was such a good friend of your brother’s it wasn’t your fault not to have realized his insensibility.”

Caroline stared helplessly while her aunt continued her unhinged ramble.

The woman was a verbal whirlwind barely taking a breath as she laid bare all of Caroline’s concerns for the entire household to hear; a fact which Caroline found most unsettling. Fortunately, she had learned better than show her true feelings and instead, she expertly shifted the conversation.

“I fear it is my mother who is most disappointed by the double marriage. Charles is her only son. But let’s not dwell on such things.” She counseled. “Instead I am happy to report my new sister is a lovely sweet girl. Which I am sure you will agree as soon as you meet her.” Caroline gave her aunt her most sincere smile. “And of course my brother’s marriage has given me the opportunity to take you up on your kind offer to return to Kittredge Manor and visit you, my dear uncle, and my dear cousin.”

“Of course, as you say my dear,” Adele hurriedly agreed, and embraced her niece once more, with a decidedly un-English amount of affection.

“Indeed mother, I did say as much,” Elspeth said with all the asperity of one who is barely sixteen. Caroline’s aunt clucked at her daughter’s reprimand but otherwise took no notice of the impertinence. Caroline had not seen Elspeth for two years. She noted that her cousin remained a tiny thing, with pitch-black hair and those absurdly large chestnut eyes. Her proportions reminded Caroline of a doll she once had.

Elspeth clutched at her cousin’s hands and brought it to her breast in an oddly affectionate gesture.

“Caroline, I am so glad you are here at last. It’s been so dull, you will be a breath of fresh air. Mother has agreed to bring me to London next season and I have so many questions to ask you.”

“Of course I would love to tell you all about London,” Caroline said before bringing her knuckles up to cover her mouth just in time to stifle a yawn.

“That all sounds wonderful my dears. But it’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Clearly, my niece is exhausted,” Jaimie Carmichael announced.

“Uncle,” she said with a somewhat subdued smile. Jaimie Carmichael was as large as his sister was small.

Her uncle was a bear of a man, well over six feet, with the muscles of a man familiar with hard labor. She recalled that he ran his estate with a quiet efficiency that left no uncertainty as to who was in charge. In that way, he reminded her of her own father. She found there was something comforting about a man who knew his responsibilities

“You’ve grown up to match your mother’s beauty.” He said as he too embraced her warmly.

Caroline had forgotten just how effusive her relatives could be and was a bit embarrassed by such familiarity. But then he smelt of soap, tobacco, and whiskey, reminding her so strongly of her own father that she relaxed, almost, a little.

She let herself be escorted by her aunt and cousin, first to her room - and then to a bathing chamber, before she was let alone to soak in a gloriously hot bath.

# # #

Chapter 5
Nocturnal misgivings

Caroline returned to her room to find that Lucy had industriously unpacked her trunks and laid out her nightclothes. In the stone hearth, ash and gean logs burned brightly, filling the room with the pleasant aroma of sweet cherry wood.

“It’s odd being here in Kittredge without Charles and Louisa,” Caroline admitted as she dressed. “I’ve never been here without them, or my parents. I hadn’t considered what it would be like before we left.” It was the first time since she had been at the seminary that the three of them had not all been under the same roof.

“I can only imagine, my lady.” Lucy sympathized, as she helped Caroline comb through the wet tangles in her thick auburn hair.

“I can’t help but wonder if I made a mistake.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean coming here. Perhaps I should have made alternative arrangements, stayed with a friend in London or gone to Bath. I love my aunt and uncle, and of course Elspeth, but I don’t think I can live up to either Adele’s expectation that I am some forlorn chit of a girl she can mother to pieces. I can only imagine what my mother has written her about me. No doubt the very worst, as she seems to have no compunction speaking of my affairs. Elspeth seems to think that I will somehow magically transform Kittredge to a fashionable salon.”

“Oh, I don’t think your aunt means anything by it. Would that be so bad to be mothered a little?” Lucy asked gently.

“I’m not sure I ever have been mothered.” Caroline admitted.

Lucy conceded that Lady Moira was hardly the most maternal of figures, “Well then what do you want?” She asked Caroline simply.

Caroline laughed. “I’m not entirely sure. A few months ago, I thought--I know --I tried so hard to be perfect.” Of course, Lucy had known it all, the knots Caroline had tied herself into trying to secure Darcy’s attention. “I had my mother’s style and poise, an excellent education, proficient in all the arts expected of ladies in society, I was nearly as musical as Louisa, ... but it wasn’t enough for him.”

Lucy didn’t have to ask who “he” was. Caroline’s countenance had darkened and she looked as if she would weep.

“M’Lady. You’re tired it has been such a long journey and you don’t have the knack for sleeping in the carriage. These matters I think are best left in England.”

Lucy pulled back Caroline’s bed sheets, which she had already ironed and heated.

Caroline ignored her maid’s attempt to put her in bed. “Mother was right to send me away. I am broken, useless. I used to be so certain and now--I thought I was in love and all I wanted was him to return that love, it seemed too easy.”

Lucy was a better maid than Caroline deserved. She had such a generous nature, she didn’t even sigh as Caroline repeated the lament that had plagued her for so many months.

Instead, she patiently consoled her mistress. “You are being silly. You are not broken. If he doesna see your value -- well I’m sorry to say it but he’s daft. And do not tell me he’s not because he’s good at business and the like. Plenty of men are smart but know nothing about women or love.”

Caroline frowned, it said something for her exhaustion that she did not contradict her maid and instead climbed into bed.

In a voice already thick with sleep she confided, “You know. I am supposed to want to be married and to start a family by now. It’s my responsibility. I know that. You know that dear Lucy, and yet--,” Caroline yawned deeply and pulled the thick woolen blankets up to her neck, “--without affection... I’m scared I will never feel what I ought to for any other, man.”

“And how is that m’lady.” Lucy said as she settled the bedding around Caroline.

“Like the best me.” She sighed. “Maybe this, maybe all I need is a holiday – to recall my childhood. I loved it here. We always had so much fun.”

“I think that sounds lovely m’lady. Everyone here loves you. They are most definitely on your side, especially your cousin who looks up to you quite as an older sister. I daresay you could arrive with a duck on your head in polka dot stockings and tell her it’s the height of fashion and she’d believe you.”

“Ridiculous,” Caroline murmured already half asleep, “Polka dots are terrible”

Lucy smiled as she checked the fire and blew out the lamps, it was a good sign, and she thought that her mistress’s wit was returning.

“Well then it’s a good that you are here, how else would she know.” She said softly as she closed the door behind her.

By then Caroline was already fast asleep.

# # #

Chapter 6
Elspeth’s Unbounded Affection

Caroline dreamed of floating away on a ship, sailing in choppy seas oddly rocking back and forth to the cadence of horse clomping. Where could she be going? Where was Lucy? How had the ship maker managed to recreate her bedchamber at Netherfield so exactly? She had always supposed ship rooms were cramped little things? She rose and wandered on deck, where she found herself quite alone with the uneasy feeling she was adrift. Barefoot and dressed in her dressing gown she found herself at the ship wheel struggling to steer and -- woke to the rustle of Lucy pulling back the curtains to let the lazy Scottish sun pour into her room.

Seeing her round-faced maid reassured Caroline more than it ought, and yet she still groaned, “Oh Lucy what time is? I’ve just traveled a hundred, hundred miles. I can’t be expected to be about so early.” Of course, she gave no thought to the fact that Lucy had made the same journey, risen before the sun and had undoubtedly already spent several hours already helping with morning chores.

Lucy mentioned none of this, and before she could respond, Caroline heard a faint knock was immediately followed by Elspeth’s dark curls and bright chestnut eyes peeking into her room.

“Oh good, you are up!” Elspeth exclaimed and before Caroline could contradict her, she bounded onto her cousin’s bed. “I could hardly sleep a wink, I was so excited that you are here at last. In truth, I have hardly slept a bit since I heard you were coming!”

Caroline looked over at her maid for some support. She herself would prefer not to inform her cousin that such conduct was unseemly.

Lucy could hint at the faux pas to her cousin, perhaps even usher her out until a more reasonable hour. Instead, Lucy had the audacity to look amused and take her leave.

“I have such plans for us.” Elspeth declared and began to rattle off an exhausting itinerary.

Was this how little sisters behaved, Caroline wondered even as she tried to recall how she had acted around Louisa when she was this age. Surely she admired her sister, but she was never so --effusive.

Elspeth didn’t seem the least perturbed by Caroline’s lack of response. Her rapid monologue was only interrupted when she caught sight of the book on Caroline’s nightstand.

“You have Camilla!” Elspeth gasped, snatching up the novel. “I’ve been dying for a copy. May I?”

“You are welcome to it,” Caroline said. “My friend Rebecca lent it to me for the journey.”

“Is it really as terrible as they say? I heard it is rather provocative, but it’s been impossible to find a copy. I felt sure I’d have to send away for it.”

“I honestly couldn’t tell you. Lucy must have put it there. It gave me the most terrible headache in the coach. I nearly tossed it out the window.”

Elspeth gasped dramatically, “Oh no you wouldn’t.”

“I have always preferred the classics to this modern trend of romantic novels.”

“Oh, not me.” Elspeth said with great fervency. “I don’t think there is anything better than a good romance. We are so fortunate to live in this time for literature, poetry, and art.”

Caroline couldn’t help but smile at this. There was something about her younger cousin’s enthusiasm that was utterly disarming. “Well then it’s settled, when we are in London next season we will attend every salon we can find. My family is acquainted with all the best patrons. I’m sure my dearest friend Rebecca will know which ones are worth attending.” It actually gave Caroline some pleasure thinking about shepherding her cousin about town.

Elspeth assured her in the most effusive terms exactly how agreeable that prospect was. “To think I could discuss Shakespeare or read Pope with Lord Byron. Could you imagine anything more perfect.” She said. “I might even be an inspiration for some new poet yet to make their mark.”

“I think you have a rather fine opinion of artists - the pursuit of art is an excuse to ignore all rule of propriety and decorum.”

Elspeth laughed; mistakenly assuming that Caroline wasn’t entirely serious. “How thrilling. I can’t wait!”

“Well you must, I have only just arrived here and won’t be returning for six weeks at least.” Elspeth laughed at this.

“But now you really must let me get dressed,” Caroline proclaimed, “Unless you expect me to attend your parents at the breakfast table in my bedclothes.”

Elspeth giggled once more at the thought but did eventually allow Caroline to dress.

# # #

Chapter 7
A most undignified stroll

“Walk? To the village?” Caroline repeated back to her cousin. The ladies had adjourned to the eastern parlor shortly after breakfast. Elspeth observed that it was an uncommonly fine day for March and suggested that she and her cousin could venture to the village and shops.

“Are you quite certain we couldn’t borrow the carriage or buggy. My shoes simply won’t suit an extended excursion.” Caroline said lifting up the hem of her skirt revealing satin shoes, dyed to perfectly match the coral pink of her dress.

Elspeth agreed that her shoes were entirely too fine for such a journey. “What about your traveling boots, surely you brought something that can bear up to walking such a short distance.”

“My boots? I couldn’t. They don’t suit what I am wearing at all.” Caroline said with a degree of alarm.

Elspeth bit her lip unwilling to contradict her cousin but determined nevertheless to venture out.

“I think my dear you might make allowances for it being the country,” her aunt urged warmly, “None of us here stand on any sort of ceremony or much care what you wear.”

Caroline frowned.

Before she could say anything Elspeth exclaimed, “Truly cousin we must rectify this. You’ll be miserable if you are cooped up here on such a fine day. We will go to the cobblers and commission a pair of boots better suited for this rustic life.”

“I can’t imagine you have a shoemaker nearby of any quality. I might as well send away for them.”

“Indeed we do!” Elspeth assured her. “And really it works out so much better to be shopping with a purpose. I’m always so vexed with my purchases when I go shopping without any real need.”

“Indeed my dear there is very little more vexing than shopping when you don’t actually need anything.” Aunt Adele agreed.

“Not at all,” Caroline said. “If you wait until you require something you will always be at a disadvantage since it is more difficult to walk away from a negotiation if a merchant knows you require something you can be assured you will pay a premium.”

“Indeed, I don’t know that I’ve ever negotiated for anything in my life,” Elspeth admitted, wide-eyed and impressed with her worldly cousin.

“Oh you must,” Caroline said sharply. “Besides true luxury is must never be useful.”

“As I recall, your mother always had a keen eye for luxury,” Her aunt agreed. “I suppose with your father’s trade initiatives, she has used that to advantage.”

Caroline winced at the indelicate mentioning of the source of her family’s fortune. Her mother would have been mortified by the suggestion that she had any involvement in her husband’s business affairs. Yet, Caroline knew both her mother’s connections and taste had been invaluable to her father’s success.

“I’m hopeless,” Elspeth sighed. “I always seem to come back with a terrible mix of hats, gloves, and whatnot - most of it clutters my closets until I get tired of looking at.” Adele assured her she wasn’t so very terrible and that she was, in fact, one of the most fashionable young women in the county. Elspeth dismally pointed out that there were in fact very few young women with whom she could compare herself.

“Well it is fortunate that I am here, I am an excellent shopping companion,” Caroline assured her cousin. There was a small sort of pleasure in being of use, and her cousin evidently needed the assistance. Indeed, this might be the perfect project for Caroline to divert herself with.

Elspeth resolved to loan Caroline spare boots for the journey. Fortunately, the two women were of a similar size, and with the addition of pair of stockings, the boots fit quite adequately even if they were the most unfortunate burnt umber color.

Matterly was a small enough village that Caroline was certain she could have seen all it had to offer in less three hours, or would have if each proprietor didn’t engage them in conversation for at least half an hour.

Of all the shops, their purchase at the cobblers was the most exigent and the most efficient. Mr. Duggan quickly took her measurements and had presented her with several leather options with very little fuss. Caroline was most impressed by his stock.

“We have a fine importer who stops here before going on to Glasgow and London, so we get the very best of his selection.” Mr. Duggan said with no little pride.

Caroline selected a soft gray Italian leather for her boot, privately admitting it was as a good of quality as any she would get in London, although her pride would not let her admit anything of the sort aloud. If Mr. Duggan’s workmanship proved satisfactory she would eagerly commission a second pair made out of the rich cognac leather.

“I concede that Matterly has a first class boot smith - much finer than I expected,” Caroline said as she took her cousin’s arm.

For a brief moment she thought of Merryton, the little village outside of Netherfield. By contrast, that village’s shops had less to recommend them for all that they were English and but a half day's ride to London. Caroline had expected much the same thing of Matterly and had been pleasantly surprised.

“We do have some small advantages. You can’t imagine we’d allow our farmers and seaman stomping about in poorly made boots.” Elspeth teased good-naturedly, oblivious to her older cousin’s snobbery.

“You do have some fine artisans but you must admit the milliner’s was quite atrocious. You must promise me you’ll never go back.”

“Oh I agree the hats are terrible - I generally pull apart the bonnets and remake them at once. Mrs. Galway has been going blind for years but she really does have the best gossip and a few ugly ribbons and bonnets seems like such a small price to pay. Oh!” Elspeth said suddenly as if struck, “We must visit with M. Lebeau and discover if he has any new stock.” Elspeth said before urging her cousin to one more shop. “I would so appreciate your advice on the fabric for my birthday gown.”

“Don’t you think it would be best to wait until we go to London?” Caroline asked.

“But that won’t be for another four months, and my birthday is in three.” Elspeth said pulling her cousin into the shop.

Caroline bit her lip but allowed herself to be lead. Her father had built much of his trade on textiles and Caroline has inherited his discernment for quality in addition to her mother’s keen sense for fashion.

Elspeth put her entire weight into the shop’s door, swollen by the seaside humidity; the bell fastened to the top of the frame announced their arrival just as Elspeth called, “Monsieur Lebeau!”

The shopkeeper, an older gentleman with birdlike features looked up from behind the cutting table at the back of the shop, where he was engaged measuring out stiff bolts of cotton duck cloth of the sort preferred by farmers and seamen.

He, himself, wore a plain brown wool suit that was, Caroline noted, impeccably tailored, lending him an air of quiet dignity.

Elspeth hurried past bolts of sturdy wools and cotton weaves, clearly meant for everyday wear and heavy labor.

The older man took Elspeth’s hands in his own and kissed her on both cheeks.

“Bonjour ma petite princesse.” He exclaimed in perfect French.

Caroline was a bit taken aback by his familiarity but her cousin seemed to expect it.

“I have come to see if you have any thing fit for my birthday gown. I have even brought my cousin Caroline to chaperone the purchase.” Elspeth said if conferring a secret confidence.

“Ze Caroline?” He asked as he took Caroline’s hands – his bushy eyebrows raised. “Mademoiselle, your cousin has spoken so eagerly of your arrival, and I see why. Vous etes manifique, tres a la mode.” He said admiring Caroline’s dress. “I see ma petite amie is in excellent hands, except - for those shoes.” He gasped. “Did she insist you walk? Wicked girl. These country people are very stubborn.” He said clutching Caroline’s hands in sympathy, Elspeth overheard him and laughed.

“D’accord.” Caroline replied before she went on to explain--in the perfect French she had acquired at the seminary--that the mud would have destroyed the slippers she had brought to wear with this particular dress.

“Bien sur! Bien sur!” M. Lebeau commiserated. “It is a sad thing to sacrifice fashion for practicality.” Then he switched to English since Elspeth was not nearly so proficient as her cousin. “Your timing is perfect, a shipment just came in and I think you will be very happy.”

He disappeared into the storeroom before returning with his arms full of several brightly colored bolts that he laid carefully on the table. “I have been assured these are very current.”

“Look at this!” Caroline said more impressed than she’d admit. She unrolled an arms length of fine navy silk with delicate pink flowers.

“So bold?” Elspeth asked breathlessly. “I’m more accustomed to lighter shades.”

“Its boldness is entirely appropriate for a woman of your age. And it suits your coloring perfectly. More importantly, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with you if you were to wear such a dress even late in the season.”

“Your buyer has impeccable taste.” She congratulated M. Lebeau.

“I’m glad to hear our Scottish tastes meet with your approval.” Said a voice from the front of the shop.

Caroline turned to see a man standing at the front of the shop carrying several packages wrapped in brown paper.

Standing as he was with his back to the bright window it was difficult to make out his features.

By his forward manner and refined accent, Caroline would have guessed that he was a man of some distinction and yet his unkempt hair and hard worn faded jacket and trousers, the uniform of common laborers, belied that.

“I found I could spare a few more bolts of that tweed.” The man said turning his attention to the tailor. As he moved past her she noticed the scar from his cheek to his chin.

“Camden!” Elspeth called out just as Caroline recognized her old childhood play fellow.

The last time Caroline had seen Camden Ferguson he had been a gangly young man, with a poor complexion, and a perpetually sardonic expression.

“Hey bug,” Camden said to Elspeth who rushed to embrace him with all the intimacy of a brother.

“You’re back!” She exclaimed and to Caroline’s shock actually embraced him, in public. “You were away so long this time, I was afraid I was going to miss you before I went off to London for the season.”

“And miss your birthday?” He scoffed.

“Indeed, you’ve missed the last two.” Elspeth’s pout made her appear much younger than her almost sixteen years.

Caroline stood, still trying to process the changes six years had made in the young man. Camden’s wiry muscles were more befitting a common laborer’s - rather than the younger son of a lord. His hair had streaks of blond and his skin could only be described as weathered. The boy she recalled ventured outdoors rarely unless it was to go riding.

This man evidently spent as much time out doors as a farm hand.

“You really ought to consider the navy silk, I picked it with you in mind- perhaps with the red damask.” He said looking at the options laid on the table. “And please tell your mother I am very much looking forward to dinner tonight.” He then bowed slightly to both ladies and excited.

It wasn’t until after he left that Caroline, realized she hadn’t said a word.

“Who does he think he is advising us, advising me on our selection? Utterly ridiculous.” She said at last.

“Oh you the think the red damask is too much?” Elspeth frowned.

“No. It’s exactly what I would have suggested,” Caroline said and gave M. Lebeau the order and instructions to send their purchases to the Manor.

“But he had no right to say so.”

# # #

Chapter 8
Muddy Lanes and Dirty Petticoats

The walk back to the manor was considerably more brisk than the leisurely stroll to the village. The sky had begun to irritably spit rain on the two young ladies and Caroline was forced to hike up her skirts to avoid soaking her petticoats.

“What did you think of Camden?” Elspeth asked, “He’s turned out much more handsome than one might have guessed.”

Unlike her cousin, Elspeth seemed completely untroubled by the turn of weather or by ruining her petticoats.

“He looks well enough I suppose.” Caroline agreed focusing on where she stepped. The next time she went to the village she really would insist on the carriage. “Just as arrogant as ever, he hardly said hello. And you rushing into his arms in public as you did. Hardly appropriate, my dear.”

“What can it matter, he’s my dear cousin and I’m not yet out.”

“No but you soon will be and remember it’s not only yourself that you are representing but your entire family. I can’t imagine what would happen if you exposed yourself like that in a London shop. The consequences would be dire.”

“But we’re not in London, there is no need to be so formal, Monsieur LeBeau is so old and Camden is practically my brother.”

“Practically is not the same as actually,” Caroline said. “Treating any eligible young man in such an unguarded manner would only expose you to the worse kind of gossips.”

Elspeth frowned and looked so miserable Caroline could not help but laugh. Oh come now, it’s not so terrible, I promise, the dresses, suitors, and balls will make up for any inconvenience in manners.”

This seemed the have the desired effect and Elspeth immediately brightened. She returned to the subject of the younger son of the local laird, “It must be six years at least since you saw him last. I think he was quite unpromising then and you must admit he’s much improved.”

“It hasn’t been six years entire. It was in London, six months after our last visit to Kittredge.”

“London! Whatever for?”

“I don’t know. It was only a few months before my father passed away.” She frowned. Mr. Bingley’s passing had been quite sudden, casting a miserable pall over that entire time.

“I think Camden was in town visiting friends on his way to university.”

“You do know he never went to university, although he is the most well-read person I know,” Elspeth said. “He is always reading – although he never approves of my novels.”

“You’d hardly guess it the way he looks. He is quite transformed. I’d have a hard time distinguishing him from a field hand.” Caroline said.

The boy she recalled had enjoyed libraries and solitude, even more than she had. At the time, she’d supposed it was because he was in the habit of avoiding his bully of a brother. It was her own brother, mild-mannered, Charles who had found Connor utterly fascinating, trailing after the elder Ferguson all summer long.

Camden was always hiding from the pair of them. Which is how Caroline found him. She had too much energy to enjoy sitting quietly as Lady Ferguson, her mother, her aunt, and her sister sat placidly and drank tea.

At home, she might have shown some restraint, but to succumb to boredom in an actual Castle – the idea was intolerable. Inevitably her mother would relent and allow her to explore the Castle, provided of course she was no trouble.

The Ferguson family’s ancestral home, Trenbraugh Castle, was centuries old. It was a solid stone fortification with actual towers and turrets, standing watch over the Southwesterly Coast. It also possessed an ancient library where you could feel the weight of the centuries. From its oaken shelves, the voices of poets and writers whispered from beyond the grave. However, the place that first drew her like a moth to a flame, was the kitchen.

The smell of vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and anise, drew Caroline in like a moth to a flame. Breads, pies, cakes and biscuits cooled on racks atop the great wood table in the center of the kitchen. Unable to help herself, Caroline reached for a cooling morsel.

Just as she did, a wood spoon cracked on the table, so close it made the hairs on her arm stand up.

“Those are for the ladies’ tea.” Said Mrs. McCaffery a stout woman with a scowl that could shatter stone.

“I am a lady,” Caroline exclaimed.

“Really?” Mrs. McCaffery glowered.

“Well, I was at tea, so I must be. I think I deserve to on- two.”

“Do you now, little lady.”

“Yes!” Caroline continued emboldened. “I could make you carry mine up and this way I’m saving you the trip. Besides my mother and sister won’t eat any I might as well eat theirs.”

“You’re Moira’s youngest bairn. I’m not surprised you’re a bold thing. I’ve had to spank her bum a few times trying to claim a few of my cookies.”

The thought of her mother with a sore bottom caused Caroline to dissolve into a fit of laughter. It was this completely unaffected delighted more than anything else that caused the old cook to decide she liked the youngest Miss. Bingley. Equally strange was the fact that Caroline who was never particularly dulcet with anyone - developed an equally found affection for the fearsome cook.

After feeding the girl cake and milk and listening to her early impressions of Scotland, Mrs. McCaffery handed Caroline a packet of biscuits.

“What’s this for?” Caroline had asked.

“We’ll be starting the evening meal, and you’ll need to go. But I thought you might visit Agnes in the barn, she still has her pups.”

Caroline’s face lit up in delight, was the only reward Mrs. McCaffery required. Caroline jumped down from her stool and immediately set off for the stables.

“Mind you don’t feed her your hand as well.” Mrs. McCaffery called to the backside of the girl.

Agnes was an enormous gray wolfhound, nearly big enough for the eight-year old Caroline to ride. Caroline offered the new mother her cookies, which the beast gently but efficiently ate, then repaid Caroline with several kisses, which may have also been her way of cleaning up any cookie crumbs from Caroline’s face.

Her rough tongue caused Caroline to giggles, which encouraged the hound to redouble her efforts.

“What are you doing?” Caroline felt a hand roughly hook under her arm and abruptly pull her away.

“Don’t you know better than to disturb a new mother? She could eat you alive.” A sullen looking boy loomed over her. She probably would have taken him more seriously if there were not pieces hay in his hair and stuck to his otherwise neat jacket.

Camden Ferguson, the second son of the Lord was not more than two years older than her. He certainly did not deserve to lecture her so with that arrogant tone.

“Don’t be absurd, why would she hurt me. I gave her cookies.” Even at eight, Caroline had learned the habit of speaking with authority.

“She’s twice your size!” He said.

“Why are you here? Why aren’t you playing with the boys?”

Camden scowled. “My brother’s an idiot - and your brother, well he encourages mine to act like an ever bigger idiot than normal. I’d rather read, thank you.”

“In the kennels?” Caroline wrinkled her nose. The kennels could be endured for a visit to see puppies, but enduring the mix of damp, dog, and doo-doo was intolerable.

“In the kennels, attic, library, anywhere I can be left - alone.” The look he gave her just then reminded Caroline that she was the obstacle in the way of that objective. She chose to ignore him. She looked down at the book in his hand.

“Plato?” She read. “Which Dialogue is that?”

“The Republic.” He said looking at her skeptically.

She shrugged. “Father gave Charles a bound edition of all the dialogues last Christmas, and since my brother is not much for reading ... “

“You stole it.” He smiled.

“Borrowed it.” She said primly, although the truth was she never returned it.

“And what did you think?”

“It’s dry and dull. I don’t think I would have finished if, Mother hadn’t been completely horrid about me reading it.”

“Of course shouldn’t you be playing with dolls?” Camden teased.

“That’s what she said. She always wants me to act so – perfect, like Louisa. So I decided to memorize whole bits, just to annoy her.

Caroline took a deep breath and in her most official voice recited “‘If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.’ She sent me to my room for an entire week without dessert for that.” She laughed.

“You are extraordinarily odd.”

“Why? Do you think that all girls are stupid or just me?”

“You are a bellicose little thing I’ll give you that.”

Caroline pinched her face. “I don’t know that word. I can’t tell if it’s a compliment or an insult.”

Camden grinned, pleased to have something to teach. “It means war-like, you can decide for yourself if it’s a compliment or not.”

“Like Athena,” Caroline said thoughtful and grinned. “I like it.”

“More like a Scottish warrior lass. You know our women fought and rode they weren’t soft like English women.”

Caroline wanted to retort that Queen Elizabeth defeated Mary Queen of Scots, but her recollection of her history was far from perfect and truth be told she did want to hear about these wild warrior women, so she held her tongue.

Thus began an unlikely friendship, although perhaps less odd when you considered that both shared a love of words and learning. In the young Miss Bingley, Camden found a companion that was nearly as precocious as himself, with whom he could discuss books, literature, as well as a receptive and eager audience.

“Caroline!” Elspeth called to her, bringing her out of her memory. “You haven’t said a word for ages.”

Caroline apologized “I was just thinking how Camden looks so different. I always assumed Camden would distinguish himself in law or politics, not take up commerce.”

“So did we all. In fact, we all thought he had gone off to university. I don’t remember the details -- I was - oh I don’t know ten perhaps -- but I think it must have been about the time as you saw him -- after that he signed up on a merchant ship to the Americas! Lady Ferguson was quite distraught. He was gone for two whole years!”

“To America?”

“And Canada, the West Indies, and back around to Spain, France, and the East Indies. But he is Camden and it’s impossible to stay mad at him for long. And he always wrote the best letters to all of us and the gifts! He always brings the best gifts back - especially when he has been gone a long time.”

“His adventures do seem to have taught him a good deal of confidence.”

The Camden she remembered had never been so aloof. She did find herself annoyed that he would give her only the barest regard. She could hardly have expected to renew their friendship it had been so long ago. Still, Caroline had been accustomed to the polite flattery granted to pretty women, to be so completely ignored was disheartening.

“Lady Ferguson says his confidence comes from being accustomed to always being right,” Elspeth said. “I think you both have that in common.”

“Elspeth!” Caroline said sharply, ”That is a terrible thing to say.”

Her young cousin looked aghast, “I only meant that you always seem to know the right and proper way of things, as opposed to our country ways.”

Caroline very calmly explained. “It is perfectly acceptable to always be right - what is certainly not acceptable is for a lady to be perceived so.”

“I’m not sure I understand the distinction,” Elspeth said. “How you can expect anyone not to notice your good sense.”

Caroline fixed her younger cousin with a gentle but decided look. “It is called manners.”

The Secret Life of Caroline Bingley - Part One Chapt 4 - 8

HCIngramJuly 29, 2017 01:13PM

Re: The Secret Life of Caroline Bingley - Part One Chapt 4 - 8

AlidaJuly 29, 2017 09:04PM

Re: The Secret Life of Caroline Bingley - Part One Chapt 4 - 8

Maria VJuly 29, 2017 06:29PM


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