Posted on 2016-03-21
Fitzwilliam Darcy flung out an arm to grab the heavy silk-covered hanging strap on the doorpost of his carriage as he was almost flung across the vehicle's interior. He had been silently contemplating thoughts of a wholesome supper, possibly a glass of claret, and an early retirement to end a long day. It was his second, such day on the road returning from London and the inclement, if somewhat unusual September weather had decided him against riding any part of the journey on horseback. The last stretch he had originally intended to do so, but the roads were slower and he had no particular hurry. They had made some seventy miles each day and he was longing for his own hearth. The rain had long ceased and it was still light enough not to need coach lamps lit, and home was not overly far away. He had previously been mentally dwelling on a rather unpleasant recent encounter with George Wickham, his one-time home companion and the Godson of his own father. Wickham had spurned a chance of a decent and profitable ecclesiastical living in nearby Kimpton parish in favour of a settlement from the Darcy residence at Pemberley, the homestead of the vast and sumptuous estate in the county of Derbyshire. Little had been heard of him for some considerable time, a fact that caused no regrets to Darcy, it must be said, until an alarming incident had occurred that had almost seen him elope with Georgiana, Darcy's fifteen year old sister. Darcy had intervened just in time and Wickham disappeared rapidly to parts unknown. Darcy had dismissed the governess companion of his sister, a Mrs Young, after finding she had known of this situation and kept it secret. He had established his young sister afresh in London lodgings with a new companion, and was now heading north to oversee affairs at Pemberley. He had little worry of anything being amiss as his steward and staff were of the very best, so he was anticipating few if any problems. Such had been his thoughts when, with a rending crash his coach rose into the air throwing him from his cushioned seat, then landed heavily and lurched diagonally to one side in a way that told Darcy that, beyond a doubt, a wheel had either broken its spokes or sheared from its axle. It was somewhat fortunate that the wheel was on the opposite side to the one Darcy had chosen to sit on or he may well have been thrown heavily against the coach door and likely out onto the road itself.
The coach slewed into a part turn as the hoarse voice of the driver roared the four horses to an untidy halt and he and the guard scrambled down to tend to his passenger. Darcy raised a calming hand and assured the worried man that he was uninjured. He did not bother to mention he had cracked his shin painfully on the base of the seat opposite as he clambered down to assess the damage, but just tried to calculate roughly how far from home they were. In his reverie he had not taken too much notice of distance but he knew they had left Leicester some way behind and must be entering his home county of Derbyshire. He sighed resignedly looking at the broken, splintered remains of what had been the coaches lead wheel, the light oak innards of the shattered spokes contrasting markedly with the vivid scarlet of the paintwork, then turned resignedly to the driver.
"Unyoke a horse, Baines, and one of you will have to ride to the nearest hostelry and procure a new wheel. This is a rather remote spot, but that cannot be helped. There must be somewhere nearby, maybe even a farm. Get someone to come back with you and the three of you should manage to change the wheel. I must just hope that someone may come along in a carriage going my way, but I do not see it as likely. I.....!
"Stay where you are me fine fellow and don't even be thinking of climbing up for that there blunderbuss or I'll put a hole in you somewhere real sharpish!"
The course voice took them all by surprise as a horse and rider emerged from behind a copse of trees that bordered the road. The rider wore a black greatcoat and a tricorn hat and had a scarf tied around the lower half of his face. He motioned the driver and guard to stand away from the coach and regarded Darcy arrogantly. It was Darcy however, who spoke first, his voice harsh and angry..
" If you have anything larger than a pea for a brain you will see from my livery that this is a private coach, and I am also a magistrate of Derbyshire county. I shall advise you at once to ride away and leave us in peace or see life from behind bars until they hang you."
The masked rider guffawed loudly just as a second rider came out from the trees. This one carried a blunderbuss similar to the one that was lying tantalisingly on the coach roof and out of reach. The first rider ceased to laugh and pointed his pistol directly at Darcy. His voice, somewhat muffled by the scarf, assumed a mocking tone.
"Well now, my fine bucko, I've always wanted to rob a man of the law, so empty your pockets of any valuables and we'll be taking them and your trunks along with us. Look lively now afore I ventilate your waistcoat with a lead ball. We'll start with that watch I see in your pocket there."
Darcy cursed silently under his breath. He had a reasonable amount of money on his person and whilst losing it was not his first priority for concern, his anger was hardly below the surface at the injustice of being robbed by villains such as these. He also knew that the safety of his coachman and guard must be regarded. He could see no option but to comply with the robbers' demands. He was reaching resignedly for his purse when a sudden shout rent the air and a rattle of wheel rims on the road surface became audible as a second carriage appeared coming towards them at some speed. A crash of sound that could only be a flintlock discharging brought a curse from the lead robber and he dragged the bridle of his horse savagely around and back towards the trees followed by his silent companion. Both riders kicked heels at their mounts and tore off across the adjoining field in a fiendish hurry .
The arriving coach came alongside them in a rattle of chains and harness, the horses' hooves raising dust from the hard mud of the road and Darcy and his companions smiled in some relief at the sight of a burly guard and driver hauling the steaming horses to a halt. The guard hurriedly reloaded his blunderbuss whilst the driver produced a pistol and gazed warily after the fleeing highwaymen. Darcy stepped forward and offered his grateful thanks to the pair just as the coach door opened and a pleasant-faced young man stepped down onto the road. He was quite tall, brown-haired and dressed elegantly in the manner of a gentleman, and seeing the drama had ended with their arrival beamed widely as he approached and extended a hand towards Darcy..
"How do you do sir. I beg you will forgive this unqualified introduction under the circumstances as we are obvious strangers, but my name is Bingley, Charles Bingley. To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
Despite the prevailing tension of the so recent occurrence and the formality of address, Darcy could not prevent a smile twitching his lips. The young man had about him an unforced geniality that required a positive response to his obvious, and genuine air of bonhomme. He took the extended hand, shook it strongly and gave a small bow.
" I am Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire sir, and I am very deeply in you debt for a more than timely arrival to our rescue. How are you headed sir that brought you to our rescue so very opportunely?"
Bingley's smile widened and he waved a hand towards the coach just as its door began to be opened again by the driver.
"We, that is my younger sister and I, are headed for London eventually to see my other sister who is married and lives down there in Grosvenor Street. We currently reside in Wakefield where my father recently passed away, but our plan is to find and purchase an estate somewhere further south and nearer the capital. We shall explore possibilities as we journey. I fear we may not tarry long as we must find a hostelry before nightfall if possible, probably in Leicester which isn't far. We will, of course, give you a lift to wherever nearby will accommodate you until your coach is made roadworthy again. Oh, do forgive me, may I present my sister Caroline to you. Caroline, this is Mr Darcy from Derbyshire."
A tall, attractive and fashionable young woman was helped down to the road surface by a seemingly personal manservant, and narrowed her eyes calculatingly as she regarded the man, considerably taller than herself, who now gave her a formal bow. He was obviously a gentleman and a rather handsome one at that, well attired in expensive looking apparel and, as her eyes alighted on the damaged coach with personal livery on its door, her interest changed from somewhat bored indifference at the delay to a sharpened awareness that here was someone of consequence. She manufactured a charming smile as his blue eyes regarded her calmly if somewhat dispassionately. He turned back to her brother and spoke.
"You say you are intending to stay temporarily in a hostelry sir. That will not do, no it will not. My home is but a few short miles from here and if you will be so kind as to turn your coach and take me there, I shall insist on you being my guests until you are ready to resume your journey. I have stables and servants aplenty who can feed and look after your own and your horses tonight, and it will all surely resolve itself well on the morn. Unless it is absolutely imperative that you travel tonight, I shall not accept any form of refusal. It will be but a small consideration for the thanks owed to you for preventing me from being robbed and possibly shot. Come sir, accept my offer of hospitality I pray you".
Bingley looked somewhat hesitantly at his sister, but there was no hesitation to be seen there as she smiled winningly and gazed directly at the stranger.
"How very gracious of you sir. I must admit I am somewhat weary already of travelling and it does grow late...if you are absolutely sure?"
" It is decided then" Darcy smiled an acknowledgement and Bingley nodded pleasantly and spread his hands as he went to supervise the turning of the coach without getting it bogged down in the field beside the road. Because of Darcy's damaged carriage it was necessary for Bingley's driver to carry on down the road apiece before affecting the turn. Darcy's men would wait resignedly for the replacement wheel and the inevitable late arrival home. Darcy stood to one side and Caroline Bingley stepped up beside him, obliging him to offer her his arm to avoid the ruts. She did not hurry in letting go of his support and he, displaying no obvious reaction to it, waited silently for the coach.
The Bingleys stayed at Pemberley for two days during which time Darcy found Charles Bingley a young man who was so utterly affable in all respects that he was more than willing to accept him as a friend and they soon arranged to meet again. Caroline, Darcy found somewhat of an over-talkative and attention demanding woman, but was able to be himself and remain unaffected by it, and Charles was so much the opposite that the scales were balanced enough for Darcy to bear. Darcy's circle of friends was somewhat refined to a possible few dozen close acquaintances who met in London during the season and winter and returned north in the spring. The Bingleys travelled around searching for a suitable estate to settle in, at least temporarily and, since Louisa, Charles's elder sister and her husband, a Mr Hurst had a house in London coincidentally quite close to Darcy's own London house, they met and formed an acceptable if somewhat ill-assorted group. Louisa and Mr Hurst, Darcy was easily capable of blanking from his mind completely and although Hurst had few interests beyond eating and sleeping he was a willing fourth at any card game. Caroline absolutely forbade her brother to ever broach the subject of their deceased fathers background in wool and cloth dealing in Wakefield, as a trade background, however financially lucrative, would be unacceptable to Darcy and his family, particularly his aunt, a Lady Catherine who they had not yet met but was said to be exceedingly wealthy and decidedly class conscious.
Eventually, through a chance encounter, Charles Bingley heard about a promising estate in the county of Hertfordshire some fifty miles or so from London. He went to view it and was eminently satisfied enough to take the let almost on the spot. He would move in for Michaelmas at the end of September. The estate was called Netherfield Park and was situated some three miles from the small market town of Meryton. Bingley soon met some of the residents and was liked immediately. He was alone on that visit and returning to London. He arrived back full of enthusiasm and announced his news:
" I met a Sir William Lucas and he has invited us to an assembly tomorrow night. We must make haste and pack, for we must leave for Netherfield in the morning. Country dancing is delightful and I have heard there are many pretty girls in attendance. I shall love it.."
Despite some complaints at the short notice, Bingley was brim full of enthusiasm and would not be denied. Thus, he and his two sisters, Mr Hurst and a less than enthusiastic Darcy headed north for Nether field and the Meryton Assembly.....The End