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Carrie-Sue (Part 2)

Alicia M
November 30, 2019 02:03AM
Chapter 5

A few days after the party at Lucas Lodge, Miss Darcy joined Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst in the drawing room.

"Ah, dearest Georgiana it is so good to see you. Have you been unwell since our arrival?" asked Miss Bingley.

"No," she replied, "the authoress merely forgot that she had brought me to Netherfield when she wrote the last chapter."

Miss Bingley was affronted. "Of course, this would happen in a story about me! I'd wager if Elizabeth was the heroine, the authoress would not have forgotten such an important detail!" Lucy, who was lying at his mistress' feet, raised his head to give her a sympathetic look, let out an indignant huff in commiseration, and nuzzle her hand.

Mrs. Hurst rolled her eyes, and then in an effort to change the subject, said, "The gentlemen are to dine with the officers this evening, so we should have plenty of time for catching up."

"Oh, perhaps we could have some company for dinner this evening," said Miss Darcy, enthusiastically. "We could plan a girls' night with some of the local ladies. The Bennet Girls seemed very pleasant and I have not seen anyone since the Assembly."

Miss Bingley's expression showed her distaste for the idea. "I had hoped for a more intimate dinner this evening, with just the three of us. We will be having a large dinner party here next week, after all."

Mrs. Hurst suggested a compromise saying, "We can have company and still be an intimate party if we invite just one person. How about Miss Bennet? You seemed to find her tolerable, Carrie-Sue."

"Very well, I will send a note to Longbourn requesting Miss Bennet's company for dinner," replied Miss Bingley as she looked out the window. She only acquiesced because it looked like it would rain and perhaps that would prevent Miss Bennet from accepting the invitation.

Georgiana smiled out of both relief and pleasure. She did not wish to dine alone with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, and she also wanted to get to know Miss Bennet.

To Miss Bingley's disappointment, Miss Bennet not only showed up for her dinner engagement, but she showed up on horseback and was consequently quite soaked as the rain had begun during her journey.

She was given a large shawl to wear over her sopping clothes before they went in to dinner. At dinner, Georgiana attempted to speak with Miss Bennet about the neighborhood, the society, and the surrounding countryside. But, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley continually bombarded her with questions regarding her family, her fortune and that of her sisters, her connections, and her situation. By the end of dinner it was evident that Miss Bennet was feeling very poorly.

As she rose to move to the drawing room, Miss Bennet swayed helplessly and collapsed back into her chair. She was escorted to one of the guest rooms where she was able to lie down. She continued to insist she'd be well enough to go home after just a few minutes’ rest. Georgiana remained in the room with her, but Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst returned to the drawing room.

"Well now our evening is ruined," said Caroline bitterly as Lucy curled up at her feet. "I do not know why you suggested inviting her in the first place."

"But isn't this what you wanted, a nice quiet evening?"

"I wanted a nice quiet evening with Miss Darcy!

"Ah, well, you'll just have to make do with my company."

The ladies continued in much the same manner, conversing for several minutes, until at length, Miss Bingley observed Mrs. Hurst staring blankly past her.

"Whatever is so captivating?" asked Miss Bingley, glancing in the direction her sister was gazing.

"Has that tree always leaned towards the right like that?"

"Leaning? Why Louisa, whatever is the matter with you? That tree is not leaning. Its trunk is perfectly straight. I am very pleased that my company is so interesting that you must stare at potted trees of all things!"

"Well, I am sure it is leaning. But it is of no consequence," she said with a brush of her hand.

Soon, Miss Darcy joined them and announced that Miss Bennet had fallen asleep. She would have to spend the night. After some conversation, the ladies decided to entertain themselves with some music. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst insisted that Miss Darcy play first. She obliged them, but would only play one song. Afterwards, Miss Bingley moved across the room to the instrument.

While her sister was in the middle of a perfectly executed concerto, Mrs. Hurst gasped loudly, interrupting the music, to Caroline's mind, rather rudely.

"For Heaven's sake, what is it Louisa?" asked Caroline.

"Look at the tree, Caroline. Now it's leaning the other way, towards the instrument."

"Nonsense, Louisa, the tree is as straight as ever it was. I am really becoming concerned about this apparent arboreal obsession of yours!"

"But do you not see? It is leaning to the left now, and before it was leaning to the right. It is very strange."

"Louisa!" snapped Caroline, "Trees do not move!"

Poor Georgiana, caught in the crossfire, simply gaped back and forth at the two of them as if she was watching a tennis match.

It was at this moment that the gentlemen entered the room. They were quickly informed of Miss Bennet's presence in the house and her condition. Mr. Bingley was beside himself with worry for her, but could not say he was displeased that she was spending the night in his home. He commissioned a well-trusted servant to have the apothecary summoned from Meryton at first light.

Miss Bingley moved from the instrument to order supper and then resumed her seat near Mrs. Hurst, as the gentlemen made themselves comfortable. Mr. Bingley continued speaking of Miss Bennet, asking questions until he was satisfied on every detail of how the ladies had passed the evening, and speculating on what could be the matter with her, and how soon she might recover.

After a few moments of conversation, Mr. Darcy took the opportunity, during a brief pause in Mr. Bingley's expression of concern for Miss Bennet, to observe, "Bingley, is that tree leaning to the right?"

"Ha!" said Mrs. Hurst, triumphantly. "I told you it was leaning, Carrie!"

"Yup," added Hurst, "it's leaning."

"What?" said Bingley.

"Don't say what, say pardon," replied his sisters in unison.

"Pardon?" Bingley sputtered obediently, looking to Darcy in confusion.

"The tree," said Darcy, gesturing.

"Oh, the tree. Looks straight to me. Do you suppose I should ask Cook to prepare some chicken soup in the morning?"

Lucy arose from his position to walk over to the tree and sniff it thoroughly. He regarded it indifferently, then resumed his place near Miss Bingley.

"How very odd," said Darcy, philosophically.

"Indeed," added Hurst.

"Yes, chicken soup will be just the thing," said Bingley.

The following morning, a note was dispatched to Longbourn explaining Miss Bennet's condition, the fattest chicken in Netherfield's coop had a very bad day, and the apothecary was indeed summoned to visit and examine Miss Bennet. He determined she had caught a bad cold in consequence of getting wet through the night before, and would be well after a few days' rest. No sooner had he left the house than Lucy began barking viciously. Miss Bingley had just quieted him when Miss Elizabeth Bennet was shown into the breakfast room. "I might have known," Miss Bingley muttered under her breath.

Miss Bingley exchanged a knowing glance with her sister after they both had an opportunity to take in Miss Elizabeth's appearance. She looked positively wild. Her face flushed, her hair blowsy, and her petticoat a full six inches deep in mud, they were absolutely certain. They could not imagine the circumstances meriting her having walked the three miles from Longbourn. And, Miss Bingley could have sworn that Miss Elizabeth had looked upon Darcy as a lioness looks upon a baby antelope, in the wilds of Africa, immediately before striking.

Miss Elizabeth was shown to her sister's room. Later Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst shared their thoughts about her with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. The former defended Miss Elizabeth admirably, but our heroine was most perturbed by Mr. Darcy's observation that the exercise had brightened Miss Elizabeth's fine eyes.

The next few days were absolute torture. Miss Elizabeth, who had extorted an invitation to remain until her sister was better, was dangling after Mr. Darcy quite shamelessly, and made every attempt to ingratiate herself with Miss Darcy. It was disgusting really, and quite nauseating for Miss Bingley to witness. At first, Miss Bingley was inclined to laugh at the injudiciousness of Miss Elizabeth's efforts. She argued with Mr. Darcy at every opportunity and seemed to purposely disagree with his every opinion. Indeed, Miss Bingley felt sorry for the girl, who obviously had no idea what men really desired in a wife. What was Miss Eliza trying to do? Prove her intelligence? How absurd! Men like Darcy wished only for wives who would cater to their ego and agree with them like any good hostess should. But soon, it became evident that Darcy was not wholly impervious to Miss Elizabeth's charms. He paid a great deal more attention to her than Miss Bingley approved.

On the evening of Miss Elizabeth's arrival, Miss Bingley was playing cards at one end of the drawing room with her brothers and sister when Darcy noted, "Good Lord, Bingley, I do believe the tree is leaning in a different direction now."

Mrs. Hurst confirmed his observation with a shocked, "It is indeed!"

No one else seemed interested in the tree. Later, Miss Bingley ended the card game and moved to the instrument in an effort to put an end to her rival's unscrupulous flirting with Mr. Darcy – which was thinly veiled as verbal sparring – by playing at the pianoforte. She had not been playing long, when Mr. Darcy looked up from the book he had been reading and said, "Good Heavens, it is leaning towards the pianoforte now."

"It is!" said Mrs. Hurst. Her husband may have supported the observation further had he been awake to notice. "I do believe it is following you about, Carrie."

"That is complete nonsense," said Miss Bingley – who had stopped playing upon hearing the sound of Mr. Darcy's voice – even as she recalled pouring cup after cup of love potion laced tea into the tree's pot.

There was some general speculation about whether the tree leaned in different directions and what could be causing it. Miss Bingley was asked to move about and stand in various positions around the room, while the others watched the tree carefully to detect any movement. Lucy, of course, followed his mistress to each new location and then looked expectantly at the tree. Mr. Hurst had even awoken to join the fun. The worst part, though, was the participation of Miss Elizabeth in the sport. After having had quite enough of being treated like the proverbial laboratory mouse, Miss Bingley tired of the experiment and left the room. Lucy followed at her heels, but paused before exiting the room to glance back at the tree and make a smug, scoffing sound.

Over the next few days, Miss Elizabeth continued her audacious pursuit of Mr. Darcy, and to Miss Bingley's disgust, he seemed to be playing right into her hands. Their “verbal sparring” continued, and now encompassed conjecture regarding the famed drawing room tree and how its apparent conquest by Miss Bingley had been accomplished. Mr. Hurst found sufficient entertainment in the subject to stay awake and partake in the speculation regarding his sister-in-law. Miss Bingley made an effort to deflect further discussion of the tree's apparent preference for herself by talking of the dinner party planned for next week. It was then that her brother mentioned his plan of having a ball instead of a dinner. Miss Bingley tried to dissuade him from this course, but upon Miss Elizabeth's assurance that her sister would be pleased to attend a ball at Netherfield, he was resolved.

During the Miss Bennets' stay at Netherfield, Miss Bingley made no further attempt to serve Mr. Darcy her tainted tea. She would not attempt the spell in Miss Elizabeth's presence. To her further frustration, however, Darcy seemed to be more inclined to drink tea than ever during this interim. At long last, Miss Bennet's health returned, and the sisters finally took leave of Netherfield. Miss Bingley could not have been happier about their departure. But she had at least gained some insight from their visit into Miss Elizabeth's designs and Mr. Darcy's vulnerabilities. She had to do something before the Netherfield Ball. After the debacle with Mrs. Martin she was hesitant to use her spell book again. But she knew she had to be prepared to confront her rival on the evening of the ball.

The following morning, Miss Bingley wracked her brain for ideas as she made her way through Meryton. If only she could go to London and consult the coven again. She was at a loss as to how to proceed with winning Mr. Darcy and extinguishing his attraction to Miss Elizabeth. She entered a confectionery in search of comfort and had just ordered a selection of treats from a young freckled girl when she noticed a design seemingly drawn on the inside of the girl's wrist.

"What is that?" asked Miss Bingley.

"It is a tattoo," she replied, pulling her hand away.

"But the design," said Carrie, "I have seen it before."

The young lady was surprised. "Have you? Where?"

"At a shop in London."

"Do you happen to know the name of the proprietor?"

"Mrs. Norris."

The befreckled girl smiled widely. "My aunt!"

"Your aunt?"

"Yes, my father's sister. I haven't seen her since my parents died. My uncle, my mother's brother, took me in after their death. Aunt Norris wished me to go live with her and her … pupils in Town, but my uncle would not allow it." Then the girl remembered herself and said, "Forgive me, my name is Miss Mary King."

"I am Miss Caroline Bingley, pleased to meet you, Miss King."

"Likewise, and please call me Mary."

"Very well, then you must call me Caroline," replied Miss Bingley, though she disdained the appearance of intimacy with a working class girl.

"I shall be happy to, Caroline. Now, tell me, have you seen my aunt and cousins? Are they well?"

Miss Bingley assured the young lady that her relations were quite well when she saw them in London, then proceeded to ask cautiously. "Do you know aught of your aunt's . . . craft?"

"I know a little, but my skill lies primarily in another area.

"Really?" asked Miss Bingley, with great curiosity.

"But how do you know of my aunt's abilities? Did you have occasion to avail yourself of her services?"

Miss Bingley briefly confided the nature of her experience with the London coven to Miss King and explained her present difficulties.

Miss King smiled. "I know just what you need. And, you will not find it in that spell book! Come." She locked the front door to the shop and then led Miss Bingley into the back room. They passed through another small door in one corner, after Miss King opened it using a key she wore around her neck.

Miss Bingley was a bit apprehensive about entering the room after her experience with this girl's relations in London. However, a glance through the doorway soon revealed that it was filled with many bolts of different fabrics and various other trinkets used in the making of what appeared to be rag dolls. Miss King picked up one of the white dolls from a basket in the corner. It had black buttons for eyes and a small stitch of red thread that curved into a teasing smile. "That's her!" said Miss Bingley. They fitted the doll with appropriate clothing. Then Miss King began chanting over the doll in some unknown language while she burned some very odd smelling substance she called incense. She handed Miss Bingley what appeared to be a rudimentary wooden drum and a tambourine and told her to play while she danced about the room with the doll, singing.

When she had finished the ritual, Miss King handed the doll to Miss Bingley with a small box. Miss Bingley opened the box and saw that it contained several large pins. "I have placed a spell of a rather exotic nature on the doll, Caroline. Whatever you do to the doll will happen to Miss Elizabeth, so be very careful with it."

"Oh," said Miss Bingley, who hadn't had any idea what was going on until now. "Thank you so much, Mary."

"You are quite welcome. That will be one hundred pounds."

"A hundred pounds? Surely the fabric and buttons could not cost so much."

"No, but I believe my artistic skill has some value. It is really all a matter of supply and demand. There is not a terribly large market for my craft hereabouts so I have to make my profit where I can."

"Oh very well," said Miss Bingley, handing over the money. She left the place quickly, cradling her doll as she started to make her way back to Netherfield, grinning in anticipation of using it at the ball.

Chapter 6

As Caroline made her way down one of Meryton's back alleys towards the direction of Netherfield, clutching her Eliza-doll closely, she fantasized about all the misery she could inflict on Miss Elizabeth Bennet using the doll. She would be able to foil the little gold-digger once and for all and give Darcy the means of seeing her for what she really was. Then Caroline would have a chance to return Darcy's attention to where it belonged – herself. She was drawn from her happy reverie by the sound of voices chattering in the street. There was one in particular that she could distinguish – that sweet, lyrical little laugh tinkling through the air. She would recognize the sound of her nemesis anywhere.

She crept up a side street; and, from her hidden vantage point, could see four of the Miss Bennets standing on the corner talking to several of the officers and another strikingly handsome man who was with them. A man dressed in clerical garb also stood with the ladies. Caroline wrinkled her nose when she saw him. He was sweating . . . in November, was painfully unattractive – painful to anyone who had the misfortune to look upon him, that is – and was waxing poetic about some woman of rank and her windows.

Miss Eliza was smiling suggestively – like the little tramp she was – at the plain-clothed young man, who Caroline had heard called Mr. Wickham. Caroline gently took out one of the pins and then shoved the box in her pocket. First, she grazed the pin across the back of the doll's neck. To her glee, Miss Eliza swatted at the back of her neck. Caroline smiled and jumped up and down in her delight. She tried again, this time poking the doll with the pin. "Ouch," said Miss Eliza as she rubbed the back of her neck."

"Are you quite all right?" asked this Wickham fellow.

"Oh yes, I am well."

Just then, Caroline saw her brother and her husband, er, and Mr. Darcy, ride up to the group. "Aha," Caroline said to herself, pleased that Darcy would see Elizabeth flirting with another man, "now my one true love will see the little strumpet for what she is."

Caroline clutched the doll to her as she watched in nervous anticipation, accidentally sticking the pin hard into the doll's hip. "Ow," screamed Eliza, as she fell to the ground in excruciating pain. Caroline immediately realized her mistake and withdrew the pin. But it was too late. Darcy had dismounted and was offering his services to the young lady.

"Is there anything I can get you for your present relief?" he asked as he cradled her in his arms.

Wickham was also doting on her. "A glass of wine perhaps?"

The parson, too, was particularly concerned for her well-being. "Allow me to summon the apothecary."

Jane was too busy gazing into Charles' eyes to notice anything amiss with her sister. Caroline rolled her eyes. It was too much!

It was Mr. Collins' inclusion in the trio of gents who came to her aid that led Elizabeth to assure them all that she was quite well – the pain had subsided. She stood to her feet and noticed a look of passionate dislike pass between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Mr. Collins, however, was looking at Darcy with a far different kind of passion, and she shuddered.

Knowing her Eliza-doll was effective, Caroline headed home to make plans for using it at the ball next week. Upon arriving at Netherfield she went up to her room to place the doll safely under her pillow . . . no wait, as tempting as suffocating Miss Eliza might be, it would ruin Caroline's plans for the ball. She carefully placed the doll on the window seat in her room and pulled the drapes closed in front of it. Then she rushed downstairs to join Louisa and Georgiana.

In the meantime, Lucy was doing his usual rounds of inspecting his mistress' chambers, and discovered the doll on her window seat. He intuitively recognized it as an enemy. At first he regarded it curiously, then he barked at it furiously. Finally, he knew he had to remove the distasteful item from his mistress' hallowed quarters.

He carried it outdoors and Elizabeth, who was sitting at Longbourn with her sisters working diligently as all proper young ladies did, suddenly had the sensation that she was floating. Lucy at first started to dig a hole, and threw the doll to the side to begin his work. Elizabeth was relieved the sensation had stopped. Then, Lucy decided the little doll would make an excellent chew toy. Elizabeth suddenly felt like she was being mauled. She began screaming and flailing about the parlour – much to the dismay of her poor mother. She was taken to her room and put to bed and the apothecary summoned, before Lucy tired of his play. He was about to pitch the doll into the hole when Mr. Darcy walked by.

"What do you have there?" he said.

The dog didn't answer.

Darcy then proceeded to wrestle Lucy for the doll and was finally successful in removing it from the animal's teeth – after Elizabeth gave further proof of her insanity to her family.

Finally, having taken possession of the doll, Darcy looked at it curiously. It was beautiful. It looked just like her: The soft pale cheeks, the rosy lips, the gentle curves of her figure. He caressed its face, and Elizabeth sighed in contentment. Then he cradled it as he took it up to his room to place out of the reach of Caroline's mutt. Elizabeth fell asleep in her bed to the rocking sway of Darcy's gait as he mounted Netherfield's stairs. He placed the Lizzy-doll in a capacious drawer of his wardrobe, nestled atop a pile of his neatly folded cravats.

Elizabeth awoke from her nap feeling rested and refreshed, with a pleasant, yet somehow manly scent wafting through the air around her. The apothecary had come and gone, not wanting to disturb her slumber, advising Mr. Bennet to summon him again should there be a relapse. Elizabeth joined the family for dinner and seemed fine for the rest of the day.

After dinner, Caroline made another attempt to serve Darcy a dose of tea with her potion in it. He took it from her and she was so shocked that he'd accepted it, that she forgot to prepare to perform the spell. She immediately lifted up her foot and put her hand over her heart. She reached out to touch Darcy as he looked into the tea. He took a step back just as she was reaching for him, and she stumbled forward, almost falling to the floor. He looked at her with a frown and asked, "Are you trying to kill me?"

"No, of course not, I just . . . "

He showed her the cup and she noticed a fly floating on top of it, struggling to get out of the hot tea. "Ew," she said.

Darcy laughed and placed the cup on the tray, to be removed by the servants.

"Here let me fix you a fresh cup," she offered eagerly, going to the teapot.

"No," he replied, "I'll do it myself." Darcy prepared his own tea as she stared at the discarded cup. What was she to do with it? She could not pour it in the tree pot now, they would all be suspicious and possibly figure her out.

The others sat down to play cards, but Caroline refused to join them. She could not allow anything to distract her from keeping track of that cup of tea. She simply sat in a chair near the tray and stared at it, trying to figure out how to best dispose of it. Everyone ignored the potted tree as it leaned in her direction – they had all grown quite used to the phenomenon.

A few minutes later Caroline was disturbed from her strategic reverie by a buzzing sound. She waved her hand around wildly trying to swat at the annoying fly. The buzzing finally stopped, and Caroline was relieved, but when she turned to her left she could see the little bug sitting contentedly on her shoulder. Caroline sighed. It seemed she had another admirer. She knew if she swatted it away it would just keep buzzing around her. Anyway, she'd read somewhere that houseflies had a life-span of 24 hours. This one had certainly lost its youthful glow. By tomorrow it would be gone.

A maid entered the room and began to remove the tray. "No!" cried Caroline with a little too much alarm in her tone. Everyone looked at her curiously. "Um . . . I may drink more tea later."

"Very good ma'am," said the girl as she curtsyed and left the room.

Caroline waited until everyone else retired. Once they left the room, she was finally able to dispose of the tainted tea. She figured the tree's pot was the best place to put it, since it was already affected. Then she gently stroked its leaves before leaving the room with Lucy following behind her and the fly on her shoulder.

She was happy to arrive in her rooms and to have a chance to check on her Eliza-doll. She was shocked and dismayed to discover it missing. She searched her room for it frantically – emptying drawers, stripping the bed, overturning furniture. A half-hour later she was satisfied it was not in her suite, and she was exhausted. She fell asleep in her dinner clothes, on her naked bed.

Meanwhile, once Darcy had arrived in his rooms, he immediately retrieved the Lizzy-doll and hugged it to him as he slept. As Elizabeth lay in her bed at Longbourn she felt herself wrapped in a warm, cozy embrace and slept in peaceful contentment.

The next few days brought rain and an interrogation to Netherfield. Miss Bingley inquired of the staff again and again regarding her lost doll. She questioned them as a group, and spoke to each of them individually. She threatened, bribed, and eventually begged them to tell her where the doll was, but to no avail.

Finally, the day before the ball, Caroline sat in her room sobbing. She had gone to Meryton in the rain, but Miss King could not make another doll of the same person until the spell was reversed on the first. The doll had to be found. Lucy, sensing his mistress' agitation, came to nuzzle her hand. "Oh, Lucy," she said, "It is gone. Gone." He looked at her curiously and she said, "The doll. My Eliza-doll has gone missing." Lucy then jumped to the window seat and barked in the corner where the doll had been. "Oh Lucy, did you see it there?" The dog walked towards her and prostrated himself in front of her. "Did you take it, Lucy?" she asked. He whimpered. "I know you were only trying to help. It reminded you of my enemy and you wished to rid my room of it. I am not angry, but you must find it. Please find it for me." Lucy took off running. He searched the house. Then he remembered who had taken the doll. He went to Darcy's rooms but the door was closed. He stood in front of the door, waiting until morning when the man who had stolen his mistress' doll would emerge. Darcy was inside sleeping soundly, hugging his Lizzy-doll to his chest – as he had done every night since the day he took possession of it – unaware that Lucy stood sentry outside his door waiting to deprive him of it.

On the morning of the ball, Darcy awoke early, dressed, and went whistling down to breakfast in the best of moods. As soon as he was out the door, Lucy snuck into his room before it closed behind him. He soon sniffed out the doll, but he was unable to open the drawer where it was stashed. He ran to Caroline's room and awoke her by licking her hands and face. "Mr. Darcy," she muttered. Then she opened her eyes and said, "Lucy?" The dog jumped up and down and spun around once or twice. "Have you found it?" she asked. He became more excited. She patted his head and said, "Good boy," then rang for her maid. As soon as she was dressed, she looked at Lucy and said, "Show me."

Lucy led her to Darcy's room and looked at the door, which had been closed by a servant. She said, "It is in Mr. Darcy's room?" The dog jumped against the door. She opened the door cautiously and crept into his room. Lucy led her to the wardrobe and she opened the drawer he put his nose to. There it was. She grabbed the doll and closed the drawer as she turned to leave the room. Just then, Mr. Darcy walked in. She quickly put the doll behind her back.

"What are you doing?" asked Darcy.

"I was looking for you," answered Miss Bingley as she waved the doll inconspicuously behind her back until Lucy took the hint and removed it from her hands.

"Looking for me? Whatever for?"

She moved towards him in an effort to distract him, while Lucy slunk out through the dressing room with the doll. "I was wondering if you'd care to join me for a walk in the garden."

"It is raining."

She looked towards the window. "Oh. So it is. Perhaps later."

With that, she returned to her rooms, where Lucy was awaiting her with the Eliza-doll. "Oh what a good dog you are," she said enthusiastically, scratching his ears. "Thank you!"

She took the doll from him and locked it in her trunk along with the box of pins, until the evening. Now she was ready for the ball.

Chapter 7

Caroline examined her reflection in the mirror. She looked very well swathed in a delightful orange confection of the latest style. Her skirt was trimmed in layers of peach-coloured lace. Her decolletage dipped daringly low and was embellished with rows of beading in coral and salmon shades, yet pushed to an exquisite height by the tightness of her undergarments. Her hair was swept up in an elegant arrangement with tangerine-colored ribbons woven throughout, perfectly complementing the three extraordinarily long feathers that erupted from her coiffure, and tantalizing wisps had been left to curl down her neck in a most provocative way. She wore an abundance of necklaces and bracelets and rings, and earrings that stretched to her shoulders, all inlaid with dozens of delicate citrine stones. Her final adornment was a matching shawl, gloves, slippers, and reticule of deep fiery-sienna velvet. Her face was perfectly made up with rouge and scarlet paint on her lips. She could not fail of attracting Mr. Darcy's attention this night.

"Good evening, I am Mrs. Darcy, this is my husband, Mr. Darcy. It is a pleasure to meet you," she cooed to her image in the glass, then laughed to herself and spun around in glee. "Soon," she said. "Soon." Lucy was standing to her side looking back and forth between Caroline and her reflection. "What do you think?" she asked. He cocked his head to one side regarding her reflection, then barked his approval. She smiled and patted his head. "Now for the finishing touch," she said, walking over to her trunk. She unlocked it, opened it and removed her Eliza-doll along with the box of pins. She carefully placed them in her reticule with the vial containing the last few precious drops of her love potion, and looped it securely around her wrist. (She did not need a thimble, she had already measured out the remaining potion and had only one treasured dose left, she could not fail in her use of it.)

This was to be an evening of import. She could feel it. She felt it in her very bones. Tonight was the night in which her fate would be fixed. It would all happen in this one momentous evening.

As Miss Bingley glided down the stairway to join her brother in the receiving line, she saw that he was standing at the bottom next to Mr. Darcy. Both gentlemen looked up upon hearing her approach and she could immediately perceive their awe. She smiled broadly. Both gaped up at her in muted adoration. They were stunned by her beauty. "Good evening gentlemen," she said in a tone of pretended modesty, as she averted her eyes. They continued staring at her unbelievingly. She rolled her eyes, sighed, and said, "Men!" Then took her place in the receiving line.

They were soon joined by Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. When the former first saw his sister-in-law he immediately broke out in peals of laughter. His wife, however, soon quieted him then turned to her sister and said, "My dear Carrie-Sue, perhaps you do not need quite so many frills this evening."

"Nonsense, Louisa. This shall be my evening to shine. My effervescent illumination will dim the very stars in the sky. My entire life has been leading up to this one occasion. My one true love will emerge from the slumber of his heart this night and claim me as his own. His very soul will serenade me. From this night forward only I shall exist for him! He will never see another woman. He will be perfectly devoted to me forever and he will adore me even into the afterlife and for all eternity! Our heavenly selves will revel in a perpetuation of our Earthly attachment!"

"Alrighty, then," said Louisa, turning away from her sister with wide eyes and a nervous flinch in her stomach. Mr. Hurst's laughter was renewed, but this time remained unchecked by his wife.

The guests began to arrive and each one, man and woman alike, was equally affected by Miss Bingley's appearance. All were wide-eyed. All could barely formulate words in the face of her beauty. Their wonderment was empowering to her. Finally, she was being venerated, adored, exalted, as she so deserved. She smiled to everyone with all the graciousness of a goddess.

Finally, her nemesis entered the room. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was so simple, so inelegant, so unadorned, Miss Bingley nearly scoffed upon seeing her. Obviously, she had not even bothered dressing for the evening. She must be still in her morning dress. She must have realized all her efforts at ensnaring Mr. Darcy and shackling him to herself would be in vain. She had given up her suit. Miss Bingley overheard Mr. Darcy telling Miss Elizabeth that she looked very well. He must have taken pity on her. He was ever the magnanimous gentleman. She would put a stop to that!

After everyone had arrived, Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet led the way to the dance floor to open the dancing. Miss Bingley waited patiently for Mr. Darcy to approach her and solicit her hand for this all-important first pair of dances (she was a little vexed with him for not engaging her in advance of the ball) but he did not. She ventured a glance in his direction. He was turned away from her. She walked towards him, quickening her pace as the first strains of music began to play. He had simply forgotten, he was not attending. She would have to teach him to be more cognizant of her situation. "Excuse me, sir," she said, "the dancing is about to start."

"So it is," he replied, shrinking from her with a half-frightened look and moving to the other end of the room. Now she comprehended his feelings. The poor dear. He was quite intimidated by her beauty. Fearful of rejection. She must reassure him.

She began making her way towards him again when she heard Mrs. Hurst and Mr. Hurst arguing. The former was saying, "The hostess of the ball cannot be without a partner for the first dances."

"I will not dance with her," bellowed Mr. Hurst in a pretend whisper.

Miss Bingley turned sharply toward her sister. "You do not truly expect me to dance with my own brother-in-law to open this ball?"

"Oh forgive me," replied Louisa, "I did not notice the long line of gentlemen waiting their turn to solicit your hand."

"They are all too frightened," replied Caroline pityingly.

"I'll say," said Hurst. His wife gave him a commanding look, but he was adamant in his refusal. "She clearly does not wish it," he replied, grabbing a glass of wine from a nearby tray. Then he added thoughtfully, "Perhaps later in the evening, when much of the wine has been consumed she will be more solicited." He then left them to join Darcy.

Caroline was a bit frustrated by the apparent lack of men in the room with any courage! She walked about the room proudly, content to simply watch the dancers. Everywhere she went she drew the eyes of everyone. Several gentlemen, being distracted, moved wrong in the dance in consequence of their being unable to refrain from gawking at her. She caught a glimpse of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, dancing with the very same odious parson she had been standing with on the street in Meryton the day Caroline purchased the Eliza-doll. He trampled Miss Elizabeth's delicate toes more than once, much to Caroline's delight.

As it was, several of the officers were standing in a corner noticing Miss Bingley's beauty. They began to talk of daring one another to dance with her. Bets were laid out, money changed hands, and Miss Bingley was secured for the second set of dances. She was pleased to see a man in the room able to overcome the awe that her appearance must provoke and step forward to claim what he must most desire. And she was certain she looked very smart on the arm of an army officer.

At the end of the second set, she found herself again partnerless, yet confident until the first steps of the third dance set commenced that another young swain would have the courage to approach her. None did and she watched surreptitiously as the decanters of wine were emptied into their glasses, recalling Mr. Hurst's prophecy.

When the dancers began to line up for the third set she could not believe her eyes when she witnessed her Mr. Darcy leading Miss Elizabeth Bennet to the dance! It was not to be borne! Drastic measures were required. Here was the moment that would determine if Miss King was worth her price! Caroline made her way, quietly, stealthily to a corner of the room where she could be hidden by one of the additional potted trees that had been brought in to adorn the place for the ball. She looked around her furtively and then removed the little doll from her reticule. She drew one long, slender pin from the little box. She stabbed potently at one ankle of the Eliza-doll and simpered with glee as Miss Elizabeth suddenly lifted that foot into the air, grasping at her ankle in obvious pain. Mr. Darcy immediately offered his arm and led her from the dance floor. But, before they had gotten far, the other ankle received a similar blow. Miss Elizabeth screamed in pain jumping back and forth between her two feet as her father walked up and supported her other side. The pin was then thrust into her back and she arched her spine in a most unnatural way. Caroline grimaced at the sight.

Mrs. Bennet had already begun fluttering towards her darling child who was soon seated in a chair and seemed perfectly well. Miss Elizabeth began assuring her family there was nothing the matter when yet another yelp escaped her in consequence of Miss Bingley sticking the pin in the doll's arm. Mr. Darcy had taken the chair next to her and was offering comforting words as well as any assistance he could render. Miss Bingley raised the pin above the doll to plunge it into its head – half curious to see the effect it would cause – but instead drove the pin into her own flesh by accident. She screamed in agony as blood began to drip from her finger. Everyone turned to look at her. The music stopped, the dancing stopped – all except for Miss Lydia Bennet who continued dancing merrily without any music at all until she noticed her partner looking at her strangely. Caroline hurriedly hid the doll behind her back, then covertly dropped it into the large pot holding the tree behind which she'd been standing. A nearby footman gave her a napkin to stop the bleeding and all was well. Miss King walked to her side and while Caroline was telling the musicians to resume their playing she scooped up the doll into her own reticule.

The dance recommenced while Miss King admonished Miss Bingley to take greater care in using the doll. "You cannot leave it lying about. It would be disastrous for it to end up in the wrong hands." Miss Bingley thanked her and asked for the doll back. "It is too dangerous," replied Miss King. She extended her reticule and said, "Trade with me." Miss Bingley readily complied, checking the colour of Miss King's reticule to make sure it would not clash with her own ensemble. It was not as elegant as she might wish – surprising, considering what Miss King charged for her services – but it would do.

Caroline knew her office as hostess. She went over to Miss Elizabeth and asked whether she were well. Then, in spite of being assured of Miss Elizabeth's feeling quite fine, she looked at Mrs. Bennet and said with great solicitude, "I am frightfully concerned for Miss Elizabeth's health. I would wish you to know we would not be at all offended if your party was obliged to leave us. She appears pale to me, I think she should be at home, resting from such an ordeal. I have never witnessed anyone to be so possessed by seizures. I wonder what could be the cause of it. Surely, she must be suffering from some dreadful malady."

Miss Elizabeth protested again that she was quite all right. She would stay at the ball. Mr. Darcy, however, supported Miss Bingley saying that if Miss Elizabeth was in the least bit unwell, she should take every precaution with her health. He obviously wished her gone as much as Caroline did! Mrs. Bennet, however, was not disposed at all to leave the ball, or to have any of her daughters leave it. She said, "Thank you for your kindness, Miss Bingley, but she is perfectly fine now, as you can see. It was merely a passing sensation." Mr. Bennet did not seem inclined to contradict his wife, and so they were to remain.

Frustrated, Miss Bingley moved away from them. She danced with another couple of officers, who were full of smirks and sideways glances to their friends. Soon, it was time for supper. This was to be the culmination of all Miss Bingley's well-laid plans. Indeed, this would be Mr. Darcy's last meal as a free man. He would no longer be able to resist the attraction of his one true love afterwards! She patted her reticule, thinking of her potion, and then blanched as she realized it was not in this reticule at all. She instantly began scanning the room for Miss King, but she was nowhere to be found!

The guests were sitting down to supper, the time for the fruition of all Miss Bingley's designs was at hand and the most instrumental object in accomplishing her wishes was out of her reach. She looked about the room in desperation. What was she to do? She swatted at a fly that buzzed near her face as she murmured to herself, "Oh, if only Lucy were here to assist me! He could sniff out the little witch!" She was soon relieved of the infernal buzzing around her head as the fly zipped off in the direction of her quarters.

Very soon afterwards, Lucy bounded into the room. Finding his mistress in a moment, he stood before her, erect as a soldier, ready to do her bidding. The company was astonished to see the animal amongst them. Some of the gentlemen laughed, some of the very delicate ladies screamed, some of the guests just stared in wonderment. "I need you to find my reticule," Miss Bingley whispered to him. He was on the case!

Miss King was not, in actuality, terribly far off. As it happens, she managed to lure a redcoat into the library to discuss the merits of Mr. Bingley's collection of books. The conversation was by necessity a very short one. Luckily, however, they discovered sufficient amusement to justify their having walked all the way to the library, which now kept them there. And they were presently situated between the shelves occupied in a mightily passionate exchange. In short, they were partaking in a rather delicious snog.

The beastly sound of a determined being was heard entering the room and Miss King adjusted her dress, fearful that it was her uncle. Instead, they encountered a dog – a dog with a singular mission. He approached her purposefully and snatched at the reticule hanging from her wrist. At first she would not give it up and shooed him away. The soldier – gallant as he undoubtedly was – tried to push Lucy back from Miss King. But Lucy quickly dispensed with his valiance by pushing him onto the floor and growling rather wildly in a manner that brooked no opposition. He was not to be diverted from his purpose and Miss King was forced to relinquish the item with an "I hope Miss Bingley will not be too disappointed!" The dog raced from the room, the reticule gently clutched between his teeth, leaving the two to return to their prior activities in peace.

Lucy returned to his mistress, his mission accomplished. She patted his head, accepting the soggy accouterment from him. Then she realized how silly she would look with two reticules in hand and sent him to her rooms with Miss King's. Upon his departure from the room, Miss Elizabeth again began to feel queasy as if she was suffering from motion sickness. She had felt somewhat like she had been floating all evening, but now she felt the sensation more keenly, more violently. In a few moments, however, it passed and she felt at ease. Her cousin, Mr. Collins, however, had been particularly concerned by her preoccupation, expressing apprehension for her well-being. He had been telling her of his intent to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy, in consequence of his own connection to that gentleman's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who was his patroness. Miss Elizabeth had made every possible attempt, given her dizziness and present agitation, to dissuade him from such an inadvisable purpose, but he would not hear her admonitions.

Meanwhile Miss Bingley, upon receiving her own reticule back, immediately set about preparing a cup of tea for Mr. Darcy. She knew he would desire a cup after his supper as had been his habit of late. She added the potion to his tea and two sugars, no milk, just as she had been instructed. She approached him saying to herself under her breath, "Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble . . . ." She handed him the cup and to her delight he took it! She stood on her right foot, placed her left hand over her heart and extended her right hands towards his. All her most precious dreams were about to come true.

He lifted the cup to his lips. She urged him to drink it all in one gulp. Then just as he was about to imbibe and she was in the process of uttering the all-important phrase, Mr. Collins approached Mr. Darcy to make his intended introduction. Mr. Darcy's elbow – poised outwardly as it necessarily was for him to drink the tea – was jostled by the parson. Mr. Darcy lurched forward, bumping Miss Bingley's outstretched arm to the side and sending his tea flying in the direction of Mr. Collins, who was effectively doused. Miss Bingley's hand landed on Mr. Collins' breast just as several drops of the tea splattered about his face. She still stood on one foot and everything happened in such quick succession she had not ceased quoting the Bard. Suddenly, she was all fear and panic when only a moment before she had been euphoric, triumphant. She watched the glistening drop of tea that had settled on his upper lip in silent, terrified suspense as his tongue inevitably darted out to catch it. "Noooooo," she screamed regaining the floor with both her feet. But it was all too late. She watched in disgust as the parson's expression became serene. Then she remembered the fob. He could not be affected by the potion without Darcy's fob. She glanced down at Mr. Collins' breeches and was stricken with every sensation of alarm and pain and disgust. It was the very same fob she had taken to the coven in London!

She looked pleadingly at Darcy, announcing with dismay "He is wearing your fob!"

"No indeed," replied Darcy, more than a little curious at her seeming obsession with his fobs. "I would not be caught dead wearing a fob from Fobs Discounted."

"Fobs Discounted?" she cried, observing the FD woven into the leather, "I thought they were your initials!" Darcy merely laughed as Caroline went on – uncaring what she might divulge about her own artfulness – "Why did you have his fob?"

"It somehow ended up in my luggage last time I visited Rosings. But I returned it to him express!"

Caroline crumpled to the floor sobbing in acute misery.

During the same few moments that this occurred, Mr. Bingley had begun to talk of music. Before he was able to give voice to his entreaty, however, the pianoforte was occupied. Strains of a very singular sort of music began to emerge from the bowels of the instrument. It was a melody none had ever heard before, but the assembled company found it to be quite a catchy tune.

Mrs. Hurst had come to her sister's side and led her to a chair where she sat, her face still buried in her hands, contemplating the perverse set of circumstances which had destroyed her most fervent hopes. She was about to excuse herself and retire to her room and was just trying to compose herself adequately to make an exit when a deep voice raised in earnest song filled the room.
Where it began
I can’t begin to knowin’
But then I know it’s growin’ strong
Miss Bingley raised her eyes to the instrument to see Mr. Collins playing jovially, his hands flying zealously over the keys. He caught her eye and winked.
Was in the spring
And spring became the summer
Who’d have believed you’d come along
She was mortified by his presumption and turned away. The crowd had taken up the beat and was now clapping and swaying to the music.
Hands, touchin’ hands
Reachin’ out
Touchin’ me
Touchin’ you
As he sang, Collins nodded in Miss Bingley's direction, then smirked as he reached the zenith of his song.
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good
I’ve been inclined
To believe they never would
Miss Bingley sat wide-eyed, dumbfounded! Mrs. Hurst giggled and whispered, "My dear Carrie-Sue, I do believe you are being serenaded, just as you predicted!"

Miss Bingley was not so amused. "Do not be ridiculous Louisa, I did not intend to be serenaded by a buffoon!"
But now I
Look at the night
And it don’t seem so lonely
We fill it up with only two
And when I hurt
Hurtin’ runs off my shoulders
How can I hurt when holdin' you
"Oh dear God," said Miss Bingley. Her head ached.

"You could do worse," said Mrs. Hurst. "He has much in his favor. You could be mistress of Longbourn."

"Longbourn?" wailed Miss Bingley. "How can I settle for Longbourn when I am so deserving of Pemberley? I was meant to be its mistress. It is my destiny! I will accept nothing less."
Warm, touchin’ warm
Reachin’ out
Touchin’ me
Touchin’ you
Everyone had already been looking at Caroline in consequence of Mr. Collins' obvious display of devotion. But now, after such an outburst by her, they stared with even more interest.

Mrs. Hurst offered the following counsel, "I think you would do well to reconsider your ambitions."
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good
I’ve been inclined
To believe they never would
Oh, no, no
By now everyone was familiar with the song and took up the chorus with Mr. Collins. The entire room sang together:
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good
I’ve been inclined
I believed they never could
Sweet Caroline
*
With such vocal support for his song, Mr. Collins was able to leave his station at the instrument, while the singing continued as strong as ever. He approached Miss Bingley took her hand and pulled her from her seat. He spun her around once and folded her into his arms as he dipped her towards the floor just as he concluded the last words of the song. He then kissed her soundly on the lips.

A collective gasp was heard from the entire room. Mr. Bingley immediately approached the couple and demanded that Mr. Collins make an honest woman of his sister. Ignoring Miss Bingley's protests, Mr. Collins said, "With pleasure!" and dropped to his knees before his ladylove.

"No, this isn't happening!" she cried.

"Oh do get up!" said Bingley. "Let us go into my study to discuss the terms of your marriage."

They left the room with Miss Bingley following after them voicing her remonstrations the entire way, leaving the party in the capable hands of Mrs. Hurst who urged everyone back into the ballroom for more dancing.

Everything was speedily settled between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Collins in the study. Every objection made by Miss Bingley about her own future was met with a reminder that she was now a compromised woman. An entire room had witnessed her ruin. There was no keeping this from the eyes of the Ton. She would never attract a worthy gentleman – or in fact any gentleman – now. She had better jump at this opportunity for wedded bliss while it was available.

Mr. Collins was perfectly ready to give her every assurance of his eternal devotion. He would adore and revere her forever. He was disposed to offer her every comfort, every felicity that she could ever desire. He would live to please her. His appeals were so sincere, so earnest, his devotion so utterly evident, she began to think it might not be a very bad thing to be wed to such a man. A mere hour of ardent pleas was sufficient to win her over to the idea. Longbourn was not an estate to be scoffed at. Once they took possession of it, their total income, including her own, would be perfectly respectable. They would have a house in town, of course; they would reside there until such time as Longbourn fell into their hands. She began to calculate how many years Mr. Bennet was likely to continue living. She had just one more stipulation.

"Lucy is to come with me . . ."

"But I am allergic to dogs," replied her intended, clearly sad to disappoint her.

"It is not a negotiable term, sir."

"Very well," he replied. "Of course he shall be welcome at Hunsford Parsonage."

"Are you mad?" she cried. "Hunsford Parsonage! Surely you do not imagine such a shoddy establishment to be worthy of your bride!"

"But Lady Catherine herself suggested many improvements . . ." he began.

"I begin to think, Mr. Collins, that you do not love me at all."

His injury was instantly apparent. "No, I beg you, you must not think so. Of course, we shall reside wherever you wish."

"We shall purchase a house in town."

Mr. Collins did not at present have the wherewithal to inquire as to how that would be possible. He simply said, "Of course, my dear, whatever you wish."

Then Miss Bingley turned to her brother and said, "I also want the tree in the drawing room."

"I would not dream of dividing it from you," he replied.

She glared at him. It was then determined that the wedding would take place in a fortnight. She then left them and sashayed up the stairs to her room with all the dignity she could summon to impart the change of plans to Lucy. She went to bed in less contentment than she had expected to feel at this moment, but contented nonetheless and completely oblivious to the fact that hers was not the only engagement accomplished during the course of the evening.

The very object of her schemes, Mr. Darcy, had offered for Miss Elizabeth and she had accepted. Her own brother had succumbed as well to Cupid's machinations and engaged himself to Miss Bennet. Even Miss King had managed to elicit a proposal from the handsome young officer who had so enjoyed her attentions in the library, during the throes of lust that had consumed them both therein.

Miss Bingley became Mrs. Collins and had the pleasure of indulging her every whim. He could deny her nothing. During the first year of their marriage she was made more felicitous than she could have imagined possible with such a man as her husband. Yet, she lived in a mixed state of felicity and shame – knowing her husband to be decidedly inferior to her, knowing herself to be the ridicule of all her acquaintance because of it, and knowing the man she truly desired was forever divided from her. Yet, she also knew he would never indulge her as Mr. Collins consistently did. In time, however, his attentions and flattery and endearments became overwhelming to the point of being nigh intolerable! Even she began to tire of standing on the pedestal upon which he placed her; and their closest relations could not abide to observe his obsequious veneration of his wife. Caroline began to wish for relief from her husband's constant, unbearable, adoration. After a year of marriage her greatest source of solace was in the company of the one creature whose devotion never grew tiresome: Lucy.

Finis.

*Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
SubjectAuthorPosted

Carrie-Sue (Part 2)

Alicia MNovember 30, 2019 02:03AM

Re: Carrie-Sue (Part 2)

EvelynJeanDecember 06, 2019 04:31AM

Re: Carrie-Sue (Part 2)

LisaYDecember 01, 2019 07:34AM



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