Posted on Saturday, 24 July 2004
Caroline Bingley was surrounded by the elegance of her mother's gowns. She was alone in her mother's chamber. Mrs. Bingley was out for tea at a friend's house and her maid, Mary, was in the servants' quarters. There was nobody but Caroline in Mrs. Bingley's chamber on this Tuesday afternoon.
Young Caroline knew she should not be there. Mrs. Bingley had never allowed her children to be in her chamber. The elder daughter, Louisa, was always a proper girl; she always followed her mother's instruction without asking questions. But Caroline was different; she did not like to listen to any of her elders. One of elders was Mrs. Bingley, whom Caroline believed was not as beautiful as she appeared to be. In her childish imagination, Caroline believed her mother had performed some tricks to become beautiful and her chamber was where Mrs. Bingley performed her tricks.
Caroline had entered the chamber once when her mother was said to be very ill. Her innocent soul took pity on her mother. So she stole away from the nursery and entered her mother's chamber. She found Mrs. Bingley lying in her bed and Mary was attending to her. Mrs. Bingley was only wearing an old nightgown, her face was white and her black hair had not been tied up but let lose in the most uncivilized manner. Young Caroline was shocked. She could have declared at that moment that her mother looked like a witch depicted on her storybook. But Mrs. Bingley screamed before Caroline could utter a word. Mary dutifully returned Caroline to the nursery. The next day the nursemaid who used to look after Caroline and her siblings was let go.
Caroline was terrified by the experience but it confirmed to her mind that her mother must have employed some form of tricks. In her opinion, her mother always looked lovely outside her chamber-Mrs. Bingley always wore gowns in the latest fashion. Her face was always shining with brilliancy and her hair was always put up in the most fashionable way. Her mother just looked like one of Caroline's dolls -- too beautiful to be touched.
It had been many months since Caroline had wished to enter her mother's chamber and to learn about these tricks. This afternoon, she had found an opportunity. Her mother was away. Caroline heard vaguely the sound of her mother descending the stairs of their London townhouse. She heard Mrs. Bingley instructing some servants that a guest would come for dinner that evening. Then, Caroline heard the noise of Mrs. Bingley exiting the entrance hall and she knew her mother had gone for the afternoon.
Louisa and Caroline did not have their daily lessons with their governess that afternoon. The governess was given a week off from her position following the death of her mother. Louisa said she would practise her pianoforte; she entered the sitting room where the pianoforte was located after lunch and had not left the room since. Caroline told the servants that she would read in the nursery. The servants knew that it was better to let Caroline to do whatever she chose.
So, here she was, alone in her mother's chamber and standing inside the wardrobe. She was looking at a bright orange coloured gown. Caroline could not remember that gown being wore by her mother and she thought that it must be a new purchase. Then she moved her attention onto a blue gown, idyllically touching the laces on the front and then the buttons on the green gown and then the ribbons on the red gown.
Then she stopped in front of her mother's chemise or so she thought it was her mother's chemise. The fabric was not soft to the touch and Caroline knew there were certain hard objects that had been inserted inside the chemise. The length of this piece of clothing was not as long as the other the gowns and made Caroline wondered the purpose for her mother to possess such an item.
"Miss Caroline!" cried Mary.
Caroline turned around and saw Mary standing behind her. She could tell Mary was shocked to see her there.
"Miss Caroline, I should take you to the nursery at once. I do not want Mrs. Bingley to be displeased with you."
"I know my way out."
"You shall not be seen exiting the chamber either! I will take you to the nursery though the servants' hallway."
"I shall not go through the servants' hallway."
"Miss Caroline, you mother will return very soon!"
"Mary, I do not think I need such help," Caroline's proud voice did not fail her, although she was still a child.
"Miss Caroline, you should leave before you are in trouble."
"What is this, Mary?" Caroline pointing at the item she thought was her mother's chemise.
"This is a a pair of stays, Miss," said Mary with her nervous voice, "Ladies wear it underneath their gowns."
"Is it comfortable to wear?"
"It is not my position to give opinions, Miss."
"Why do ladies wear them?"
"Gentlemen like ladies' figures in stays, Miss."
"Do ladies always want attention from the gentlemen?"
"I would believe so, Miss."
"So, when I become a lady, gentlemen will pay attention to me?"
"Miss Caroline, let me take you to the nursery!"
Caroline believed Mary was avoiding answering the question. She knew at this moment the purpose of stays and wondered whether this object was one of the tricks her mother employed. But there was not much time to think. She knew Mary was right. She should leave before her mother returned. Mary was not a bad servant and Caroline would be sorry to see her go. Finally, she agreed that Mary should lead her to the nursery though the servants' hallway.
Caroline hated the seminary.
Life at the seminary was about order. She was forced to get up early. She was forced to practise on the pianoforte for at least an hour a day. She was forced to have lessons on those subjects she did not have an interest. Last but not least, she was forced to get along with young ladies who had far more accomplishments than she did.
In fact, Caroline was never good at her lessons. She could speak a little French, play a little, sing a little, draw a little, and write a proper and functional letter. If asked what subject she was good at, Caroline would answer that she was good at dancing.
Caroline wished that her mother would keep a governess at home, just like when she was younger. Her last governess, Miss Levitt, was responsible for Caroline and Louisa's education for quite some time until some six months ago. One afternoon, Caroline was surprised by her mother announcing that Miss Levitt had left the Bingley townhouse and would never return. Mrs. Bingley did not give the girls a reason for Miss Levitt's leaving, only to add that she would hire no more governesses but to send them to a seminary. Miss Levitt had spoiled Caroline, letting the young miss have too much freedom in her pursuit of accomplishments. She was offered no such freedom at the seminary.
So, Caroline was happy to be home for Christmas.
Until she found out that her home was not as it was used to be.
Her father was the same as ever. He was often away for business and seldom stayed at home. Her mother, however, had picked up a new interest of entertaining guests at home. On the evening that Caroline and Louisa came home, Mrs. Bingley entered their chambers and said,
"Girls, I will have your maids prepare some muslin gowns for you tomorrow. You remember Mrs. Wells, Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Sherrington? They are to come for tea tomorrow. You will sit with me and provide some entertainment, perhaps? I have persuaded your father to give me a great deal of money to send you to the seminary. You must show them how accomplished you are and that the money has not been spent in vain!"
Mrs. Bingley's friends arrived at the townhouse at the appointed time. They were shown to the sitting room where Caroline and Louisa occupied a sofa. 'How do you do's' were exchanged and tea was served. Mrs. Bingley immediately enquired of Mrs. Jenkins about the latest fashion in London. Mrs. Wells joined in the conversation, while Mrs. Sherrington laughed. Louisa and Caroline sat there quietly.
"Oh, I quite forgot," said Mrs. Bingley suddenly, "Mrs. Sherrington, I remember you said the other day that I made the gravest mistake in sending my girls to a seminary. I must tell you that my girls suffered no less attention there. The idea of seminary might be novel, but I declare this form of female education will be in vogue in the not too distant future."
"Mrs. Bingley," said Mrs. Sherrington, "I do not mean your girls would be neglected, but I point out the lady -- if I am still allowed to call her as such -- who runs the place is a radical. What is the meaning of teaching the girls anything beyond the knowledge they would use in the future as the mistress of the house? I say if she were a true lady, she would be the wife of a very respected man."
"But I understand," said Mrs. Bingley, "that Lady _____'s three daughters are sent to this seminary also. Not everyone is as fortunate as my daughters are. They have daily association with her ladyship's beautiful daughters. If Lady _____ believes a seminary education would do wonders for her daughters, I do not expect less for my own."
"I still prefer obtaining a governess," said Mrs. Wells, "I cannot bear to have my dear daughter away from me. Sending my son Robert to Harrow was very difficult for me, Mrs. Bingley. I suffered no less than a fortnight of sleepless nights when Robert was sent away. I am sure you understand this feeling. Your son is at Harrow too. How can you bear to have all your children being away from home?"
"Mrs. Wells, a good governess, such as the one you are keeping, would not bring evil to the family. I did not have such luck with my last. I run a well-regulated house. I do not tolerate any behaviour that cannot be served as example to the innocence of children!"
"I think," said Mrs. Jenkins, "obtaining a good governess is a matter of luck. I envy you, Mrs. Wells, in obtaining a satisfying governess for your daughter. You know not how much trouble my last governess had given to me! I requested my husband to release her from her duties and let her go but he would not listen to me! At last, that woman had some sense and left my house."
"I do not believe we should discuss such a thing in front of the girls, Mrs. Jenkins," said Mrs. Wells.
The three women suddenly realized Louisa and Caroline were still sitting quietly on the sofa. No one spoke for a few seconds until Mrs. Bingley suggested her daughters to play a duet for her friends. The daughters obeyed. They sat on the bench in front of the pianoforte and played.
The Bingley girls by no means played beautifully but good enough to satisfied their mother. Mrs. Bingley, at that moment, felt she had proved her point; that her daughters were benefiting from a seminary education. When the girls finished playing an Italian song, Mrs. Bingley declared,
"I must say Louisa and Caroline's skills have greatly improved. Mrs. Sherrington, you see the seminary has also done wonders for my daughters. I can tell that you they could never play anything sensible before they went to the seminary. I dare say they will become very accomplished young ladies in the future, sought after by gentleman after gentleman in the ton. While Louisa cannot settle for less than becoming a wife of a gentleman, I have higher hopes for Caroline. She should settle for no less than becoming a wife of a Lord!"
Caroline was happy when her mother said such things about herself. She seldom heard a word of encouragement from her mother's mouth. Indeed, for the first time in her life, Caroline was glad that she had been sent to the seminary. Caroline now believed that she could do better than Lady ____'s three daughters and that she, Caroline Bingley, would become a powerful and rich lady in the future.
Perhaps it was not such a bad Christmas after all, Caroline thought.
It was the morning after Caroline was presented at court. She knew she had made her mother very happy. Mrs. Bingley could not believe how well her daughter had learned from her the art of being a fashionable young woman. Caroline had chosen to wear a gown that was made in the finest sink and was the most fashionable. Her hair was twisted with expensive ribbons in the most sophisticated way on top of her head. She had danced with a couple of eligible and rich gentlemen at the Ball. Now, one of them had come to call on the Bingleys.
Mr. Tandy had an annual income of six thousand pounds. His family possessed an estate in Norfolk as well as a house in town. The society gossips said his parents were anxious for him to find a bride this Season. He was handsome and tall, as a gentleman should be.
"Caroline," said Mrs. Bingley. "Pay close attention to Mr. Tandy. Should you follow Louisa's footsteps and marry a gentleman, I shall be very happy. He has six thousand a year! He can provide you with all those gowns you are always wanting."
After the tea was served, Mrs. Bingley said, "You are very kind, Mr. Tandy, by calling on us. You are doing us a great service."
"Not at all, Ma'am. Your daughter is beautiful and I would like to get to know your family a little bit better."
"Caroline is a very accomplished woman. She was sent to _____ seminary when she was younger. She plays, she sings, she dances. I believe you observed that last night."
"Yes, I did, Mrs. Bingley. I dare say your daughter is the most accomplished woman among the many young ladies being introduced to society last night. Tell me, Mrs. Bingley, I don't think I have heard of the name of Bingley from my parents before. Where is your family's estate?"
This question was unexpected. Mr. Bingley had wished to purchase an estate for many years but he had never had enough money to do so. Mrs. Bingley felt cold and her face turned white.
"Mrs. Bingley, are you ill?"
"No, no, Mr. Tandy. I must be very tired from last night. It was very silly of me. I am sorry, but what is your question?"
Mr. Tandy suspected Mrs. Bingley was hiding something and he did not like that at all. He looked at the daughter. She certainly looked very pretty at the age of eighteen. No, he did not love her. He did not even like her. But he needed a wife who had good breeding. Last night Miss Caroline Bingley had appeared as such. However, after meeting with the mother, Mr. Tandy was not so sure.
The following day it was agreed that Caroline would accompany Mr. Tandy for a walk in the park. Caroline was not a great walker. Her mother said that only wild girls walked; rich girls took their carriages. But Mrs. Bingley did not raise any objection when Mr. Tandy made his suggestion. So Caroline could do nothing but to agree with Mr. Tandy's suggestion to such an activity.
Mr. Tandy started the conversation, "Your mother failed to tell me the origin of your family the day before. So I must depend on you to enlighten me. Miss Bingley, can you tell me a little bit about your family?"
"My family comes from the North," This was all Caroline could say without angering her mother. Mrs. Bingley hated to be reminded of her origin as a tradesman's daughter.
"Your father must be a very good one, Miss Bingley. I do not know many fathers who are willing to spend so much on their daughters' accomplishments, even though the daughters might have the patience to be accomplished."
"But it is a lady's responsibility to entertain the guests, is it not? I do not see why a father should not try to improve on their daughters in such a manner."
"Well, if you often bring home friends and family members, having an accomplished lady in the house could be very useful. However, I think it is more important for a lady to know how to run a house. Did you receive such an education from your governess?"
To this question Caroline could only give a negative answer. "But the housekeeper runs the house, does she not?"
"But it is the mistress's job to watch over the housekeeper, don't you think so?"
To this question Caroline made no reply. In fact, she did not know what to think. Responsibilities never came to her at home and she never thought a marriage was about anything other than a way to increase her social status in town as well have the money she could spend on her gowns.
After walking a few more steps, Mr. Tandy said, "Miss Bingley, may I be frank with you? You are a very innocent young lady. I believe you do not have had the pleasure of meeting other young ladies in society whose situation is similar to your own. A man does not always choose a pretty wife over an intelligent one. Let me advice you, Miss Bingley, to improve on other areas of your accomplishments."
Caroline could say no more. In her mind, she was already a highly accomplished young lady who did not need any improvement. She felt insulted and she let her feelings be known to her mother.
"I would not marry Mr. Tandy even if he would offer me his hand," cried Caroline, "What does he mean by improving on other areas of accomplishment? I went to a private seminary and it taught me everything I need to know to be a lady!"
"Caroline," said Mrs. Bingley, "Perhaps the man has been a little foolish. I am certain that he does not mean that. And it will be very stupid of you to turn him down if he should make you an offer! No ladies in society would dare to turn down an offer of marriage!"
"He is not a Lord."
"But he is a gentleman and has six thousand pounds a year! Caroline, I want you to stop thinking of all this nonsense. Mr. Tandy will call again. You must make a better impression on him than the one you gave him in the park!"
But Mr. Tandy never called on the Bingleys again. By the end of the Season, Mr. Tandy was engaged to the only daughter of an attorney in town. The future Mrs. Tandy could not draw and she only possessed a dowry of nine thousand pounds. But it was enough to satisfied Mr. Tandy's parents, according to the society gossips. Both Mrs. Bingley and Caroline could not understand why Mr. Tandy would make such a choice.
Caroline has just left the graveyard where Mrs. Bingley's body was laid to rest. It was very sudden. Mrs. Bingley had suffered a stroke and died a few days later.
Caroline could not honestly say she missed her mother, until she thought of the balls she would not able to attend during the period of mourning. Mrs. Bingley often left the upbringing of her children to the hands of servants. Only a few years ago did Mrs. Bingley gave more attentions to the girls and that was when they had just entered the marriageable stage. She had planned to attend many balls with her younger daughter before she died but those plans had to be put on hold. And instead of the colourful gowns that Caroline loved to wear, mourning gowns had been made and she must wear them. She hated the colour. Furthermore, she hated her mother for dying at the worst possible time, when she could have enjoyed attention from any number of eligible young gentlemen.
Not many days after the funeral, Caroline was asked to go to her father's study. When she arrived, she saw that her brother and her aunt, a Mrs. Lane, spoke with a very low voice with her father. Mrs. Lane was Mr. Bingley's sister and lived with her husband on a small estate in Yorkshire.
"Father, you have sent for me."
"Yes, my daughter. Sit down. Your aunt, Charles, and I are discussing your future."
"My future, sir?"
"My dear Caroline," said Mrs. Lane, "I have suggested to your father that you should be removed from town. I believe you should come and stay with me."
Caroline was shocked. She had lived her whole life in London. She had never thought of removing from town.
"I do not like the idea of you living in a house alone, dear," said Mrs. Lane. "Your brother is not yet finished with his studies at Cambridge. I dare say your father's business will often take him away from home. You should not be left alone in a house while the men are away."
"I can go to Louisa. I believe she would have me. Father can hire a companion, too!"
"I have told you, my sister," said Mr. Bingley, "Caroline has learned from her mother too well. She thinks men have an endless amount of fortune!"
"Father, we are not poor!" cried Caroline.
"Charles, my son, mark my words," cried Mr. Bingley, "When you marry, you should choose a woman who can manage the household and give you a comfortable home rather than a woman who can play the pianoforte and talk about fashion but nothing else. Is that what the seminary has done to you, Caroline?"
"Father," cried Charles, "'Tis too cruel. I am sure Caroline has put a lot of effort into practising her music."
"If your mother had not spent so much on your sisters' so-called accomplishments and their ridiculously expensive gowns, I am sure I would have bought you and your heir a family estate by now."
"Hush, hush! 'Tis bad to speak as such about the dead, my brother," said Mrs. Lane.
"I will not leave London," cried Caroline. "I thank my aunt for her offer but I will not leave town."
"But it is for your best interest, my dear niece," said Mrs. Lane. "Without a mother or a companion, it would be very difficult for you to attend social functions, let alone meet young men who possessed enough fortune to be in want of a wife."
"My mother promised that I will marry a rich gentleman in town," cried Caroline, "I am sure my aunt means well but she could not find me such a gentleman in Newcastle."
"Ungracious child!" cried Mr. Bingley, "You may stay in London if you wish, but I will not hire a companion for you!"
"So you've said!" cried Caroline and left the room.
It was a lonely year for Caroline following the death of Mrs. Bingley. Charles was away at Cambridge. Louisa Hurst, Caroline's sister, spent the majority of her time at her husband's estate in Essex. Mr. Bingley was very busy making his fortune. It was his wish to purchase an estate before his son took a wife. Other friends and relatives made their excuses and would not make themselves available to act as Caroline's chaperone or take her to balls and the theatre. Therefore, there were many evenings that Caroline would find herself staying at home when she could have received the attention of many eligible gentlemen. She had many colourful gowns made for those occasions but she had few opportunities to wear them. Shortly after Charles's graduation from Cambridge, Mr. Bingley suffered a heart attack. He died a fortnight later. It was on this occasion that Caroline found herself wearing mourning gowns again.
"Caroline," said Charles one day before he left for his club, "I'll be entertaining one of my friends here this evening. This gentleman will bring a lady with him. You will make the necessary arrangement, won't you?"
Caroline had been the mistress of the house since the death of her mother. But really, the job of overseeing the servants had been undertaken by Mrs. Clegg, the housekeeper, long before the death of the former mistress. It was the arrangement that pleased both the late Mr. Bingley and the late Mrs. Bingley. The late Mr. Bingley could not trust to put so much money into the care of his wife and the late Mrs. Bingley, on the other hand, was only too happy to have more time to pursue her pleasure with the company of other ladies in town.
Caroline followed the example of her mother. She could not see why she should go over the servants' duties everyday. Surely, she thought, they knew their responsibilities in the household. Caroline was only too happy to have Mrs. Clegg to do it all.
So Caroline asked Mrs. Clegg to come to the mistress's sitting room. Caroline made her wishes known to Mrs. Clegg, which was to prepare a grand feast for two special guests, a gentleman and a lady. Mrs. Glegg then was allowed to leave the room. That was easy.
The mistress was often to wonder why her brother would not bring any eligible young gentlemen home and introduced them to her. She must marry someday and she was sure her brother knew her needs. However, Charles, like his father, was always busy with the family business. His plan was to fulfill his father's wish on buying a family estate in the near future. On the other hand, the late Mrs. Bingley's friends had formally dropped their acquaintance with the Bingleys; the relatives continued to make excuses not to take her out into society; and Louisa was not always available. Indeed, Caroline spent most of her evenings in the same manner as when her father was alive. She felt lonely. She felt angry.
However, this evening brought a young gentleman to the Bingley townhouse. Mr. Darcy was not married and the lady he brought with him was his sister, Georgiana. She was so young that she was not out yet.
"My sister," said Charles over the dinning table, "Mr. Darcy told me that he knows a number of estates that are for sale or rent close to his family estate in Derbyshire."
"Yes," said Mr. Darcy, "those houses are not as grand as my home, Pemberley. But I must be allowed to be biased, for I grew up there."
"Mr. Darcy," said Caroline, "you must tell us how grand your estate is. I believe my brother needs a few directions on how to buy an estate that fits his station. Perhaps he can take your estate as a model and buy another similar to yours."
"I believe that would be impossible. But, Mr. Bingley, I would be happy to invite you and your sister to visit us in Derbyshire. You can stay with us while you view those estates or look for other properties in the neighbourhood."
"Most certainly!" cried Charles, "Caroline, what say you?"
"Of course, brother, I would be delighted. Mr. Darcy, I cannot wait until I can lay my eyes on your estate."
Caroline wrote to her sister the next day, enquiring about Mr. Darcy. Louisa wrote back, telling her sister that Mr. Darcy came from the richest family in Derbyshire. Furthermore, the society gossips said he had ten thousand a year. Louisa ended her letter by saying Caroline should command Mr. Darcy's attention whenever she was able.
The trip to Derbyshire and to Pemberley had come and gone. Caroline had been stunned by the richness of Pemberley. She declared that the furniture there was not to her taste. But she fancied that after she became Mrs. Darcy, she could change the decor of the house quite easily. As to encourage Mr. Darcy's attention on her, Caroline was unhappy that she made no progress. The master of the estate either left the house very early in the morning or locked himself in the library for the most of the day. Caroline often would not see the gentleman until supper. She would try to speak with Mr. Darcy during dinner but he never made an effort to speak to her besides polite replies. Caroline thought of playing the pianoforte in front of the gentleman. Indeed, for several evenings, she asked Miss Darcy to play and sing with her. But Miss Darcy was a far more superior performer than Caroline was. One evening, after she took turns with Miss Darcy in playing the instrument, Mr. Darcy declared that he could not find a better performer than his sister and it made Caroline quite disappointed. Worst still, Mr. Darcy would not take a second look at the colourful gowns Caroline specifically had made for this trip. For Charles, the trip had come for naught. He was not satisfied with the estates he had viewed; therefore he did not make offers on any of the properties. Nevertheless, this trip had strengthened the friendship between Darcy and Charles. Caroline was sure that she would have another chance to engage Mr. Darcy's attention in the near future.
Charles had rented an estate in Hertfordshire, called Netherfield. However, the society of Hertfordshire had proved to be too much for Caroline. She saw her brother was on his way to propose a lady who could not bring any fortune to the family. Worst still, in Caroline's opinion, the lady had the most awful mother and sisters in England and had connections with people in trade. Caroline remembered too well her mother's effort to hide their family's connection with trade.
"Do you know how much effort our mother had put in to elevate our status, Charles?" cried Caroline.
"I know about her uncles, Caroline. I don't need to be reminded."
"You should marry Georgiana! She could bring thirty thousand pounds into our family!"
"She is only a child!"
"A child of sixteen years of age! Surely you can wait for a few more years!"
"Caroline, let us understand each other. I do not intend to increase my fortune by the means of marriage for our father has left me quite a large sum of money upon his death. I will seek to increase my fortune when business opportunities arise. But to marry an heiress just for her money is absolutely impossible."
"That is a country nobody that you claim to be falling in love with."
"I will not have you speak ill about Miss Jane Bennet or her sisters. They might not have the benefit of being taught by the masters our parents had hired for you or received an education at a seminary like you did. But certainly they are by no means ill-natured -- May I ask you, Caroline, why are you so interested in whom I am to marry?"
"I care for you, brother. It is for your best interest. You could live a gentleman's life and no one would dare to question our connection with trade!"
"I do not know whether I should trust you or not. I shall agree to spend more time in town but nothing more."
Deep down in Caroline's heart she knew that had she become Mrs. Darcy already, she would not care who his brother was going to marry. Before she could spend Mr. Darcy's money on her new gowns, she did not want to lose her status as the mistress of her brother's house. But Caroline had made no progress towards Mr. Darcy's heart after a year of acquaintance. There was also Miss Eliza Bennet, Jane's sister. Miss Eliza was the most imprudent young woman Caroline had ever met. Yet, her manner had captured the fancy of Mr. Darcy, who had come to Netherfield at Charles's invitation. Caroline saw Mr. Darcy looking intensely at Miss Eliza, defending her unladylike behaviour, seeking her attention and even dancing with her at the ball! Caroline could not remember a time when she felt more jealous of a lady before.
Also, Miss Eliza only dressed in simple gowns and she was always dirty after walking in the countryside. Caroline found out later that the Bennets did not always make their carriages available to the family members and Miss Eliza, rather than waiting for a carriage to be available, would walk to the nearby town or to a neighbour. The late Mrs. Bingley would not approve of such behaviour, calling it unladylike. Caroline could not help but condemn Miss Eliza.
Caroline could not understand. She was an accomplished lady and Miss Eliza was not. She dressed in fashionable gowns and Miss Eliza did not. But Caroline knew Miss Eliza had become an object of attention for Mr. Darcy.
Sitting on Caroline's bureau was a letter from Jane Bennet. Without opening it, Caroline threw it into the fire.
The afternoon picnic was cancelled. It was not an event Caroline was looking forward to. She knew it was an excuse for Mr. Darcy to invite Miss Eliza Bennet to Pemberley. But Miss Eliza could not come after all. Charles told his sisters that Mr. Darcy received a letter from Miss Eliza's uncle earlier in the morning, saying that an urgent business had make it necessary for him to return to London at once, and he was going to take his wife and his niece with him. Caroline was pleased with the news.
"Louisa," said Caroline, "I am glad that Eliza Bennet will come no more."
"Lately I find myself not being able understand you," said Louisa, "Why do you find Miss Elizabeth so objectionable?"
"Do you not see, sister? My Mr. Darcy has developed an interest in her."
"He has detached himself from her since our removal from Hertfordshire. Caroline, I am sure Mr. Darcy could not help but to be civil with her. Those relations might be from Cheapside but you do not know their connections. You do not want them to spread gossip about Mr. Darcy's behaviour?"
"Why would the ton be listening to these Cheapside people?"
"I am sure they are respectable people. We may want to condemn them at our own leisure, but we shall never do it in public! It is bad for Mr. Darcy's reputation, Caroline! I am sure you know this. What is wrong with you lately?"
"Eliza Bennet is the problem!"
"Do you really believe that Mr. Darcy would allow himself to form an attachment with her? Certainly you don't?"
"Why does Eliza Bennet deserve such attention from Mr. Darcy? He could let her and those Cheapside relations to tour the estate by themselves. They would leave and we would not even have to know that they were in the neighbourhood."
"Caroline!" cried Louisa, annoyed.
"But no, Mr. Darcy took Georgiana to Lambton to introduce her to those people. Poor Georgiana! To be introduced to such people!"
"I think you have said too much."
"That companion of Georgiana! Mr. Darcy should not have offered her the position in the first place. She never encourages conversation between Georgiana and myself. But yesterday, Louisa, did you see that woman direct the poor girl to talk to Eliza and the Cheapside relations!"
"Caroline, that is unkind!"
"And it was very rude of Mr. Darcy to exclude me from his conversation with Georgiana and Eliza. I thought I was being civil and polite. I enquired after her family! You know, Louisa, how the Bennet girls love red coats and the militia? But no! That Eliza was determined to keep Mr. Darcy to herself for the evening. That was very rude of her!"
"Sister, please forgive me for saying that you were very wrong for bringing up the militia."
"And why was that? I simply reminded Eliza that she could have her Mr. Wickham."
"If you had observed Mr. Darcy's behaviour after you mentioned the militia, you would understand."
"Do you think," Caroline suddenly calmed down a little, "Mr. Darcy was angry with me? Do you think Mr. Darcy said Elizabeth was a handsome woman just to punish me?"
Louisa sighed. "I do not know, Caroline. Perhaps he was displeased with something and he did not wish to talk about it. Sometimes Mr. Hurst is like that, too. He does not like me to talk to him always."
"Then why did he come to the saloon? He must have wanted some conversation and I meant to provide it."
"Caroline," said Louisa after thinking for a while, "Have you thought of directing your attention elsewhere? It has been almost two years since you were introduced to Mr. Darcy but you never receive more attention from him other than being the sister of our brother."
"Are you mad?" cried Caroline, "I played the pianoforte upon his request. I danced with him when he asked. I come here when he issued his invitation. Of course he thinks of me as a desirable partner!"
"When mother was still alive," said Louisa, "she would tell me not to let myself focus on only one gentleman. If I had had a choice, I would have married Mr. Walmsley."
Caroline was shocked. She had never expected her sister to speak as such. "Mr. Walmsley only has four thousand a year! Mr. Hurst has more! You told me he has seven thousand a year!"
"Which is not entirely true," said an embarrassed Louisa, "After all, Mr. Hurst was the first gentleman to propose to me. Would you have me refuse an offer of marriage? Mama would never forgive me for that. Caroline, Mr. Darcy is not the only eligible gentleman in society!"
"But he has ten thousand a year! Think of the gowns and the pin money I will have! Think of the Lords and Ladies I can associate myself with by being Mrs. Darcy!"
"Our mother wanted us to marry gentlemen but she did not say we had to marry a certain gentleman!"
"Louisa! I thought you would have a little sympathy for me but I was wrong. Please excuse me."
Caroline left the saloon and returned to her chamber.
Caroline knew her brother and Mr. Darcy had just returned from a visit to Longbourn, where two elder Bennets girls would be spending their last night as young maidens. Caroline, on the other hand, would be spending her last night as the mistress of the Bingley household at Netherfield. Tomorrow, she would become no more than a daughter of a tradesman.
She could not believe she had come to this. Only a year ago she thought she was on her way to becoming the wife of the finest gentleman in England. Now, she was going to witness this gentleman marry another. At the same time, her brother was going to take a wife, too! Caroline believed that, with the influence of the new Mrs. Bingley, her place in her brother's household would sink and she did not like the idea at all.
Caroline entered the drawing room. She had expected her brother to be here but she found Mr. Darcy alone in the room reading a book.
"Mr. Darcy," said Caroline.
"Miss Bingley," said Darcy, "I believe your brother will be here shortly."
Caroline found a seat on the sofa. Mr. Darcy returned to his book and silence filled the air. Mr. Darcy had no desire to speak to Caroline but she never found silence bearable, therefore she spoke,
"I was shocked to be told that you are to marry Miss Eliza, Sir. I must say I did not see you had any inclination to be married nor that the lady had any feelings towards you while we were at Pemberley."
"Ma'am, You are not the only person who was surprised. But it is of no consequence."
"I wonder, sir, how Miss Eliza will conduct herself as the mistress of your grand estate. I believe her education has not prepared her to become such an important lady."
"I beg the differ. She is very good with accounts and she can write wonderful letters."
"She can play the pianoforte... "
"With ease and pleasure, unlike many young ladies in society."
Caroline felt uneasy. So far she failed to engage Mr. Darcy into the conversation. She could not believe this was the same Mr. Darcy who had asked her to dance a year ago and helped her in preventing her brother from seeing Miss Jane Bennet in town not some eight months prior.
"Miss Eliza is by no means accomplished."
"Miss Bingley," said Mr. Darcy, dropping his book, "I know we have different opinions concerning Elizabeth. Please allow me to say this -- I will not have you injure her or her family. And I believe you would do yourself a favour by not speaking ill of them in the future. Please accept my advice and my wish for your happiness."
"My happiness is in your hands, Mr. Darcy." cried Caroline, "Ever since we met, I believed you were the very gentleman who will take me as a wife. I have proved to you, over many months, that I am a suitable candidate to become the mistress of Pemberley. Yet, you chose to ignore my attention and you chose to take that Eliza! What has she done to you?"
"Caroline!" cried Charles, who had just entered the room. "You are not to speak to Mr. Darcy in such manner. I demand you to apologize at once!"
" I certainly shall not!" Caroline said. Suddenly, she felt her courage rise. "Our mother had done so much to prepare Louisa and I to marry gentlemen. I am certain Mother had made great plans for you to marry a rich lady."
"If she had, she had never told me! But I know father would like us to attach ourselves with respected families and I find the Bennets quite respected."
"Her uncle is in trade!"
"So am I!" cried Charles, "You forget that I have inherited my father's business. Are you going to hate me for that?"
"You could have waited until Georgiana comes out! Her dowry could have provided you with a gentleman's living!"
"Is this all that this is about?" cried Mr. Darcy angrily. "What gives you the reason to believe that I will give my consent for the marriage between your brother and my sister?"
Caroline's face turned white. She knew she had said something that should not be said in front of Mr. Darcy.
"Caroline," said Mr. Bingley. "If you do not go to the church and witness our wedding ceremony, I shall make your excuses. However, if you do come, I expect you to behave. Good night, my sister. Come, Darcy, let me show you something in the library."
As Mr. Darcy stood up and made his way to the door, Caroline sealed the one last chance to catch the gentleman's attention and cried,
"Mr. Darcy, I cannot believe that all my efforts have meant nothing to you!"
Mr. Darcy turned around and faced Caroline. With a calm voice, he spoke,
"Miss Bingley, I have never had any intention to improve our acquaintance. Ever since our first introduction, I have never treated you more than being the sister of my friend and respected you for being the mistress of this house. If you find anything in my behaviour that encourages you to think of a possible union between us, I can only say that I am sorry. It was never my intention. As for Georgiana -- I know there are many fortune seekers among the gentlemen in our society. I share my guardianship of my sister with my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. We have both vowed to my father before he died that we shall not let any fortune seeker marry my sister. I am sorry to say, Miss Bingley, that I would have refused to give your brother consent to a marriage if he asked, knowing your intention for this match. Elizabeth will become my wife tomorrow and I wish, in my heart, that you will accept and respect her as such. Good night, Miss Bingley."
Mr. Darcy then made his exit. Charles had no more to say to his sister. He gave a look to his sister and left the drawing room.
Caroline did not often find herself crying but she found her eyes watered with tears as the gentlemen left the drawing room. She broke down and wept and did not know how to console herself.
Caroline Bingley was born to experience this extraordinary fate. She was pretty but never possessed a clever mind; She learned to be too proud for her own good and suffered from its consequence; She thought she would become the wife of a rich man but it never happened.
Caroline tried to be civil to her brother and his wife in order to maintain her power within the Bingley household but it was not to be so. For the first time in her life, Caroline was asked not to spend more than she ought. Charles explained that it was the new Mrs. Bingley's wish to practice economy so that the family would not exceed its income. Caroline protested but it had come for naught.
When the news came that Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy was with child, Caroline had secretly wished that Mr. Darcy's wife would die in childbirth. But Mrs. Darcy had safely delivered a healthy boy and an heir to Pemberley eight months later. She had also become a very popular figure in society. Caroline would always look at Mrs. Darcy's face with feelings of jealously and anger.
Caroline still made her stand for perfection in a gentleman, with Mr. Darcy in mind, and she would slight many rising gentlemen in the after-days as bearing no comparison with him. After her disappointment with Mr. Darcy, there were a number of gentlemen with lesser fortune who tried to court Caroline but she would not pay any attention to them.
Caroline Bingley, once a popular lady sought after by many gentlemen in society, never married, lived under her brother's roof for the rest of her life and died as an old maid. Only her immediate family members came to her funeral.