Prologue: Miss Caroline Bingley looks back at how P&P began and wishes that it had all been different...
It's all my brother's fault. Whatever possessed Charles to buy an estate in Hertfordshire? It couldn't have been the company, because as we found out, there wasn't much to be found. All of those silly, pompous people, full of airs and importance. The countryside itself was mildly pleasant, but nothing in comparison to...dare I say it? To Derbyshire. The house was lovely, but there are others far more distinguished in...
But I must keep my mind from that. It is all over now. Hope is all over. Mr. Darcy is married. To Elizabeth Bennet, of all people. It was she who had the honour of hearing the words, "May I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy," and not myself, the way it might have been.
The way it should have been, if it were not for her.
Which of course, is my brother's fault. He had to choose Netherfield. He had to choose Hertfordshire. He had to choose Jane Bennet to fall in love with, which led to Jane coming to visit, which led to her illness, which brought Elizabeth to Netherfield...
Which caused Mr. Darcy to fall in love with her.
It is the strangest thing, though. Try as I might, I do not understand how it could have happened. As I watch them leaving now, in their wedding carriage on their way to Pemberley, I cannot help but wonder where everything went wrong. And as I see him kissing her, I think, that should be me.
I suppose it all started with Charles announcing that he'd found an estate for himself...
Charles had been looking for an estate for some time with no success. That day, however, he bounded into the sitting room of our London home with a look of joy and pride on his face. He announced, "Caroline, I've found the most incredible estate." He beamed. "It's beautiful...the grounds, the home, the views...it's pleasantly situated. You are going to love it."
I smiled at him. My brother was always enthusiastic about such things, and it was quite possible that he always would be. He was always exclaiming that every girl he met was beautiful, he was in love with half of them, and he would never meet prettier girls anywhere else. The people he met in desolate places were friendly and good-hearted. Personally, I thought they were primitive and crude--no people of fashion at all to be found in these places he dragged us. Charles was a very active man, if I did say so.
"That's wonderful. Where is this 'incredible estate'?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"In Hertfordshire." Charles sat down with a triumphant grin. "The place is called Netherfield, and after only half an hour, I agreed to take the place."
"Half an hour? Charles, do not tell me that this was another of your impulsive decisions. They never amount to good."
"But Caroline, you did not see this place. It was beautiful. I tell you, you're going to love it."
"In Hertfordshire? Do we know anyone from Hertfordshire?"
"What does that matter? We'll have plenty of friends there in a very short amount of time, I am certain."
Of course we would. For who can resist you, dear brother, with your five thousand a year and your easy manners? You are an easy mark for any parent with a pretty daughter. It is all so insupportable, all of these people interested in you for your money. And you're so oblivious to it all!
"I just wish we could live in another place, like Derbyshire, where we have many friends."
"There was nothing suitable for us there, Caroline. But if you do not wish to come to Netherfield with me, you can always stay here in London with Louisa and her husband... unless they choose to join me." Charles looked unhappy at the thought.
"No," I said quickly, and was rewarded by seeing my brother smile again. "I'll come to Hertfordshire with you." Anything to avoid being trapped alone with my sister's boorish husband. Much as I love my sister, she made a perfectly dreadful choice in a husband. One I certainly did not intend to make.
"Excellent. Then I'll prepare to have our things sent there at once."
I barely heard Charles' comment. I was thinking about the man whom I had chosen to marry...
His name was Mr. Darcy, although in my deepest dreams, I called him by his Christian name, which was Fitzwilliam. I had loved him since I first saw him at a garden party a few years ago. He was tall, handsome, and although reserved in polite society, he had a pleasant demeanor among his close friends, of which my brother and (I believed) myself were numbered.
And of course, the fact that he had ten thousand pounds a year didn't hurt my affections for him, either. But it wasn't polite for a young lady to say that aloud.
"Caroline? Have you been paying attention?" my brother's voice interrupted the line of my thoughts.
"Yes," I replied. "I was just trying to remember who we might know or have heard of in Hertfordshire..." Just then, I remembered. "Oh, of course. The infamous Miss Bennets."
"The Miss Bennets?" Charles was interested.
"Yes. Five daughters, all reputed to be quite beautiful and accomplished. They say that the eldest two, Miss Jane and...oh, what was the other one's name? Miss Elinor--no, that's not it. I'm certain I shall eventually remember her name."
"What do they say about the eldest two?"
"Oh, yes! So sorry, Charles. They say that the eldest two are particularly lovely and charming."
Charles' smile grew even more, if it were possible for such a thing to happen, and I scolded myself for saying such a thing. Now he would be certain to meet these Miss Bennets, and who knew if the gossip were true? They being from Hertfordshire certainly insured that they were not from the best society, which is what Charles desperately needed.
So to stray him from that subject, I turned to a subject I was far more interested in. "Is...is Mr. Darcy to join us for dinner this evening?"
"I did not ask if he was occupied, and he did not ask to join us."
"Oh, Charles, you can be so thoughtless sometimes. I suppose that he shall be returning to Pemberley now that the two of you have found the...perfect estate?"
"I believe he plans on that, but Caroline, I was thinking about something." Charles seemed hesitant, then sighed. "Never mind. It was nothing of importance."
"Then I shall resolve not to wonder," I replied. At the same time, my mind was racing to figure out what he had been thinking about. Only one idea came to mind, and I was hoping it was the right one. "You know, since Mr. Darcy has been so kind a friend as to join you in your search, you might return the favor by inviting him to stay at Netherfield for a brief visit."
"That was my idea exactly, Caroline! Darcy hasn't been much in society in the past year, since...well, he has just lost interest, I think. I believe that he needs to participate more, and arranging for him to come stay at Netherfield would be the perfect way to start. Only I thought that you might object." Charles leaned over to me and looked concerned. "After all, you have not been the same since you found out that Darcy was to marry his cousin, Miss Anne de Bourgh."
There is no way I would ever allow him to marry that little ninny. How could he ever consider marrying a girl who would never be out from under the thumb of her mother? A girl with no sense of fashion, no social sense, and if her mother is any indication, no sense of decorum?
"You are right, Charles. It was disappointing for Lady Catherine to inform me of that, but it was probably for the best, before I let my hopes become too high."
"Then you are...over him? You would not mind if I were to invite him to stay at Netherfield?"
"Not at all. And do not forget, brother--it is your house. You may invite whomever you please, regardless of my opinion."
Charles gave me a warm smile. "I hope you would never think that I would invite a person to stay who you did not like."
"I seem to recall you doing that on occasion." He did not really want me to start naming names, did he?
"I have resolved not to do so any more, for your sake, sister."
I smiled at him, to reassure him. Of course, I knew better. I still doubted that there was much for Hertfordshire to offer me, and he would make many friends, and it would all begin again....
Still. Mr. Darcy was going to Netherfield, hopefully. Surely he would agree, and Charles could be rather persuasive on occasion.
That reason alone would make everything bearable.
My brother rode back to Hertfordshire several days later to officially take possession of Netherfield. I was grateful that he did not ask me to join him, but what had me in good humour during his absence was the news that although Mr. Darcy was not currently in London, he would be joining us in Netherfield for a long visit. I knew that if I were ever to win his affection, it would be at Netherfield. I visited my dressmaker in order to have many new gowns made, more in number and more elegant than I would probably need in such primitive society as Hertfordshire, yet I wanted to always look beautiful and modish before Mr. Darcy.
So caught up was I in the plans for my wardrobe and for Mr. Darcy that I did not realize how swiftly time had passed, until Charles returned to London to bring the family to Netherfield. He was excited about everything in Hertfordshire--the gentlemen who had called upon him, the people in the nearby town, and of course, he had had the opportunity to see several lovely young women. I asked if he had had the chance to meet the Miss Bennets, and found that he had not, to his disappointment. He did, however, say that there was a ball being held within a few days of our arrival. I was looking forward to dancing with Mr. Darcy, for dancing was, I believed, the first step toward falling in love. Never mind that I had danced with him several times before and he had not fallen in love with me on those occasions. I had not been as determined to marry him before.
Yet as I caught my first glimpse of Netherfield from the carriage, I could not help to fear that my endeavor would be in vain. For one thing, he might believe that he had to marry his cousin, even though he clearly felt no regard for her other than as a relative. For another, he might become captivated by one of the Hertfordshire beauties. Yet I could dismiss that fear as well, for what could Hertfordshire offer that could compare to the young women in London that Mr. Darcy had already seen? No, I told myself, I was the only logical choice for Mr. Darcy in such a setting.
"You are pleased, Caroline," Charles said, smiling.
I thought about that for a moment. Netherfield was absolutely lovely--nothing in comparison to Pemberley, yet it had its merits and I could not deny this. Plus, my brother had brought us to a place where there would be little competition for what I wanted most. Was I pleased?
I returned my brother's smile. "Yes, Charles, I am. You were right. Netherfield is perfect," I replied.
The evening of the ball, I dressed with particular care for this first important step toward my goal. After rejecting half a dozen brand new gowns which were probably grander than any others that we would see, I chose the dress I felt was most flattering. As my maid began to fuss about my hair, I glanced at myself in the mirror. I was not the type of young lady who stared into a mirror all day, but I was not unconscious to the fact that I was rather lovely. Many a young man had told me so, and except for one ill-mannered young lady who once told me my features resembled a duck's, I had not heard a negative comment about my appearance. The maid finally arranged my hair to my satisfaction just as the carriage which would take us to the ball appeared.
I walked calmly down the stairs where Charles, Louisa, Mr. Hurst, and Mr. Darcy were waiting. I smiled with more confidence than I felt as I saw them. "Shall we go?" I asked.
"We've been waiting on you, Caroline," Charles replied.
"I'm so sorry." I looked to see if Mr. Darcy had noticed the pains I taken in my dress, but his attention seemed to be elsewhere, and I was disappointed.
Well, surely he shall notice when you arrive at the ball.
There was little conversation in the carriage. Mr. Hurst, as always, looked as though he would rather be anywhere else but where he was. Charles was too nervous and eager to speak much. Louisa was the only one of us who was talking, and although I made responses to indicate that I was listening, I was focusing all my attention on Mr. Darcy. He was staring out the window, looking at everything. Was it my imagination, or was he slightly displeased by what he saw?
The carriage stopped in front of a building in Meryton. Charles exited first, followed by Mr. Darcy. A footman appeared to help Louisa and I out of the carriage. Mr. Darcy set his hat on his head and again looked at his surroundings. Again, I thought that he was displeased by the sight.
"Shall we be quite safe here, Mr. Darcy, do you think?" I asked.
I did not receive an answer from him, but Mr. Hurst spoke. "Damned silly way to spend an evening."
By this time, I had thought that I would be used to my brother-in-law's annoying habits, such as swearing in public and then not apologizing. This was not the case. My sister may have thought that she was marrying a man of fashion, but she did not. I refused to let Mr. Hurst put me in bad humour, so I simply followed Charles and Mr. Darcy into the ballroom.
There were more people in attendance than I had expected, but as far as I could tell from my first impressions, there were not many who would be worth knowing. I saw several pretty young women, but none who could be called beautiful. In the center of the room were several couples dancing a country dance. As I gazed on them, I thought again of dancing with Mr. Darcy. I could not ask him, yet surely he would ask me. He always did.
I continued to look around, taking in the sights and sounds, and occasionally I glanced at Mr. Darcy to see if he was still as disappointed by Hertfordshire as he had seemed, and he appeared to be. Just as I was about to ask him what he thought, an older man walked up to my brother and welcomed him to the ball.
"There's nothing I love better than a country dance," Charles said, pleased. The music started up again. The man, who was introduced as Sir Lucas, quickly whisked Charles away toward a group of young ladies. Mr. Darcy went to join them, and though I was tempted to as well, I stayed with Louisa and Mr. Hurst. A few minutes later, Charles returned to us, an almost enraptured smile on his face.
"Caroline," he announced, "I have met the loveliest young woman I have ever seen."
He had said this many times before, so I did not take him seriously.
"Her name is Miss Jane Bennet--you recall, one of the sisters you told me about?"
"Yes, I recall."
"Good. As soon as this dance is over, I have engaged to dance with her."
Since I had not seen who he had been speaking to directly, I asked, "Which one is she?"
Charles glanced back in the direction he had come, saying, "She's the young lady standing beside Sir Lucas. Her mother is over there as well, with her daughter Miss Elizabeth. Miss Mary is sitting there," he said with a motion of his hand toward a group of chairs, "and the youngest two, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia, are dancing."
I glanced over across the way to glance at the young woman he had indicated, and I had to agree with him. She was quite lovely--beautiful, in fact. She had the countenance of an angel, and I could immediately see why Charles was fascinated by her.
After my initial examination of Miss Jane, I looked at the sister who stood beside her...Miss Elizabeth.
The young lady in question was tall, but not as tall as I was. She had dark brown hair fashioned in a style that was flattering to her features, if not very modish. She was smiling, and while I suppose she had a pleasant enough smile, and her teeth were tolerable, it was not a particularly winning smile, not one which would win a man's heart. Her nose was fairly ordinary, which could essentially sum up what I thought of her altogether. Fairly ordinary. But a beauty, as she had been reputed to be? Hardly. Her older sister, Miss Jane, was beautiful, but not this second sister. Passably pretty, at best. The only thing I could say in Miss Elizabeth Bennet's favor was that she did appear to have a nice pair of dark eyes, bright and cheerful. Yet what were a pair of eyes when compared to everything else that was essential?
The orchestra finished one song, and Charles disappeared to claim his lovely partner for the next dance. I stood over by Louisa near Mr. Darcy, and continued to observe the ballroom. The next thing I noticed was the third Bennet sister, Miss Mary, sitting down looking at everyone. That was the proper thing for the third sister to do, as the elder two were not married. Not, I thought with an inward chuckle, that anyone would truly notice Miss Mary Bennet if her sisters were married and she had a great fortune. A plain, spotty creature, wearing a hideous pair of spectacles (surely she knew that she should not wear them in public) and watching the dancing with a look of little interest. I told myself that I should not be surprised that rumour was wrong about all of the Bennet sisters being beautiful. After all, it had not been true for Miss Elizabeth.
A loud, high-pitched giggle reached everyone's ears from the far end of the ballroom, and I saw a lively, earthy young girl of maybe sixteen dancing around, holding another girl's hair ribbon just out of her reach. Such childishness, I thought.
"That's one of those Bennet girls--the youngest," Louisa said.
"The youngest, here at a ball, dancing? Even though the eldest sisters are unmarried?" I asked, almost incredulously--yet I knew she was right. Charles himself had pointed them out as they were dancing. "They are all out?"
"Apparently so, Caroline. Such a disagreeable lack of decorum--and yet no one seems to be bothered by it." Louisa frowned. "Charles should be ashamed of himself, bringing us here."
"Still, it was his decision, and this is where he chose. And I suspect that it may turn out to be a very eventful and fulfilling decision after all." I looked over at Mr. Darcy, who was looking closely at Charles and Miss Jane. "For all of us."
Louisa looked a little suspiciously at me, but said nothing. "I must say, these Miss Bennets are not as they have been rumoured to be. The only one of any beauty at all is Miss Jane."
"And our dear brother seems enraptured by her at first sight," I said. "I shall venture to say that he shall be in love with her within a fortnight."
The dance ended, and Charles brought his partner over to introduce her to us.
"Miss Bennet, my sisters Caroline and Louisa. This is Miss Jane Bennet."
She smiled at us. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
I could not help but to respond to such a nice young lady. "It is a pleasure to meet you as well. There has been much said not only about your beauty, but also your accomplishments."
Jane blushed. "I can assure you, the reports do not resemble the truth."
"I am sure they fall far short of the truth." I smiled at her. "You must come and visit us soon at Netherfield. I am sure that we shall be quite bored without other female companions. Isn't that right, Louisa?"
"Absolutely," she agreed. "We would be honored to have you at your earliest convenience."
"I thank you very much for the invitation," Jane replied. "I shall be sure to visit."
Charles excused himself to dance with another young woman, and Jane's attention was claimed by a somewhat handsome man who led her to the dance floor.
"A very sweet girl," Louisa said. "Modest, polite, friendly. Just what a young lady should be."
"I was just thinking that myself."
As Charles was introducing us to Jane, Mr. Darcy had walked away, near Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her mother. Miss Elizabeth was not dancing, and as I looked around, I saw why. There was a shortage of gentlemen compared to the number of ladies. For a moment, I was afraid that he would ask to dance with Miss Elizabeth. If he danced with her before he danced with me...I would consider crying.
I would not, of course. But I would consider it.
The question was hypothetical, since all Mr. Darcy did was stand alone and not speak to anyone. Even as the next dance started, and Miss Elizabeth sat without a partner again, Mr. Darcy did not ask her to dance, and that was reassuring. Charles talked to him for a moment, then, looking disgruntled, danced once again with Jane. Miss Elizabeth looked at Mr. Darcy for a moment with a cool gleam in her eye, then walked over to the young lady Charles had danced the previous dance with...I wasn't sure, but I believed her to be the daughter of Sir Lucas. The two whispered to each other, glanced at Mr. Darcy, then laughed aloud.
I was nearly ready to walk over and demand a share of the conversation, which seemed to be about Mr. Darcy, when I stopped myself. They might not be talking about him, and anyway, what did they matter to me?
I walked over toward Mr. Darcy, passing Mrs. Bennet on my way and hearing her say, "I care not that he has ten thousand pounds a year! He is the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world!"
What a rude, pretentious woman she is. To say such a thing aloud, for heaven's sake. And about Mr. Darcy!
I wanted to say something to Mr. Darcy, but I decided to wait until he said something. The dance ended, and he finally noticed me standing near him.
"Miss Bingley, I would be honoured if you would dance with me," he said.
I smiled brightly--a smile that was one to win the hearts of men, one that was beautiful. "I thank you. I would like to dance."
Those bright and fleeting moments were so wonderful. To be seen dancing with Mr. Darcy, who had not danced with another young woman even when men were scarce in the room, was quite a coup. I was not insensible of the honour. I had thought to engage Mr. Darcy in conversation, and dazzle him with my wit, but I found as the dance came to a close that we had not spoken but about ten words to each other. Perhaps that was for the best, because I had not been sure what to say.
Mr. Darcy led me back to Louisa and promptly asked her to dance. As the two of them made their way down the line, I noticed something which struck me as odd. Even though Mr. Darcy was dancing with Louisa, his eyes seemed to be following someone else. I looked to see at whom he might be looking, but found no one of significance. It took me three minutes entire before I realized that the young woman he was looking at was Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Not in the way of a man infatuated with a woman, as with Charles and Jane, but...
I was unsure of that look, and what it meant. It was not his boredom or disdain, but yet it wasn't interest. It was completely confusing, and I did not like it at all.
After the ball, we retired to the drawing room for tea before the evening ended. Mr. Hurst fell asleep in a most disgraceful position, snoring softly.
"And so none of the Hertfordshire ladies could please you, Mr. Darcy? Not even the famous Miss Bennets?" I asked, trying to keep myself from asking why he had been looking at Elizabeth Bennet.
Charles answered before Mr. Darcy could. "Well, I never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in my life."
I smiled. How typical of you, Charles.
"Bingley, you astonish me," Mr. Darcy said. "I saw little beauty and no breeding at all. The eldest Miss Bennet is, I grant you, very pretty."
Charles frowned at his friend. "A fine concession," he said in a slight miffed tone. "Come, man. She's an angel."
"She smiles too much."
I thought that that was a somewhat silly fault to find with someone, but considering how much I had smiled at him during our dance together, it made me rethink the "dazzling him" part of my plan.
"Oh, Jane Bennet is a sweet girl. But the mother!" No one defended the insupportable woman, not that I expected anyone to do so. Looking at Mr. Darcy, who had turned away to look at the fire, I could not resist finally asking what I had wondered all evening. "I heard Eliza Bennet described as a famous local beauty. What do you say to that, Mr. Darcy?"
He did not turn away, but his answer put my worries to rest. "I should as soon call her mother a wit."
Louisa burst into loud laughter. It was a little annoying, but this was in private company. "Oh, Mr. Darcy, that's too cruel," I said.
Charles walked over to stand next to Mr. Darcy by the fire. "Darcy, I shall never understand why you go through the world determined to be displeased with everything and everyone in it."
"And I shall never understand why you are in such a rage to approve of everything and everyone that you meet."
"Well, you shall not make me think ill of Miss Bennet, Darcy." Charles sighed and walked away.
"Indeed, he shall not. I shall dare his disapproval and declare she is a dear, sweet girl, despite her unfortunate connections, and I should not be sorry to know her better." I smiled, thinking that Mr. Darcy would notice my charitable gesture and approve.
"No. No, nor I. You see, Mr. Darcy. We are not afraid of you," Louisa said.
"I would not have you so." Mr. Darcy did not smile, but he turned and looked at me as he said it, and I could not resist feeling pleased. He did not want me afraid of him, that is what he really meant.
Before I could revel in the sensation of having his interest, Mr. Hurst woke up with a loud snort. What? Very true. Damn tedious waste of an evening."
I frowned. Leave it to Mr. Hurst to ruin my private triumph by being rude and boorish.
Soon after this, I excused myself for the evening and started walking up the stairs to my room.
"Caroline! Caroline, I wish to speak to you," Louisa said behind me.
"I want to know what you have planned for Mr. Darcy."
My eyes widened. "I have no idea what you are speaking of."
"You most certainly do. I watched you all evening, Caroline, and I know you all too well. You have something in mind for him, right? You are still in love with him."
I sighed. "I won't deny it, Louisa. He is very special to me."
"What about his cousin, Miss de Bourgh?"
"I can't let him marry that wretched girl! He would be throwing his life away to please his aunt. He does not love her--he couldn't."
"I agree with you, and I just wanted to tell you that if you wish for my assistance in winning him...all you need to do is ask."
I couldn't help but smile. "Thank you, Louisa. I shall remember that. Good evening."
"Good evening, sister."
A few days following the Meryton ball, the Miss Bennets, unfortunately accompanied by their mother, paid a call on Louisa and myself. After serving them all tea, I sat in my favorite chair across Louisa.
"This is such a beautiful estate, but then, I always said that Netherfield was the most beautiful place in Hertfordshire," Mrs. Bennet said, taking a sip of tea. "Are the gentlemen here?"
"No, ma'am, they are out shooting," I said.
"Oh! A gentlemanly sport to be sure, and if they ever run out of game here at Netherfield, they can always come to Longbourn. Since Mr. Bennet never cares for such matters, they will be no bother."
"I...shall be sure to tell them of your generous offer when they return," I said. I turned to Jane, who was sitting next to me. "Miss Bennet--or, if I may be permitted, Jane?"
Jane smiled tentatively. "Of course."
"And I am Caroline. Jane, my brother is a young man who enjoys meeting a number of young women, so it surprised me that he danced several times with you. He was quite enthralled."
Jane's smile this time was much more confident. "I liked him as well. He struck me as being a very pleasant sort of young man, friendly and obliging."
"Charles is all that you have said and much more. Of course, I am very prejudiced, since he is my own brother."
"You could not possibly be accused of being prejudiced, Miss--um, Caroline. For who should speak higher of a man than his own sister?"
Mrs. Bennet asked very loudly, "Miss Bingley, I was just asking your sister if she knew how long your brother intended to stay here."
Abominable woman. Of course, what could you expect, with her connections?
"We are uncertain of how long Charles will stay. He is the sort of person who...well, when he is in one place, he likes that place best. But he tends to forget that place when he is in another one."
Mrs. Bennet looked a little distressed at that, which, mercifully, kept her silent for a while.
"Do you suppose that your brother would be willing to give a ball?" Miss Lydia Bennet asked, her eyes bright at the prospect.
"I am not sure what Charles intends to do," I replied coolly. "I believe he has spoken of giving a ball once everything is settled here, but not until then."
"That is wonderful! I long for a ball, and so do my sisters," the girl said.
From what I could tell, the only other people longing for a ball in that family were the mother and the fourth sister...I could not recall her name, not that it mattered much.
"If he is planning to give a ball sometime in the future, then he has plans to stay for a long while." Mrs. Bennet seized on my comment--although if I had my wish, Charles would not be giving a ball unless it was in London, far away from this desolate place.
"As I said, I am uncertain of my brother's wishes." Now, would you please be quiet so I could talk to Jane? I turned back to Jane, leaving Louisa to tend to the questions of the other Bennets.
"Mr. Bingley mentioned that you had recently been in London," Jane said when she had my attention again.
"Yes. We have a lovely townhouse there that my brother bought several months ago. But a townhouse is nothing in comparison to an actual estate of one's own, and that is why he has been searching for one."
"I happen to share my mother's opinion that Netherfield is one of the loveliest places I have seen."
"Have you, by chance, had an opportunity to visit Derbyshire?"
"No, I have not had that pleasure, but I have been told that it is quite lovely."
"The most beautiful part of the country, I assure you. Mr. Bingley's friend, Mr. Darcy, has an estate there. It is quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever been to."
Elizabeth Bennet, who up to that point had been listening to the conversation silently but with interest, added, "Our Aunt Gardiner grew up in Derbyshire. She has always said that it is her favorite place."
"Is this Aunt Gardiner your mother's sister?" I asked, slightly confused for a moment. Someone had mentioned the evening before that Mrs. Bennet's family had been in trade, so to hear that she had a relative who lived in Derbyshire seemed to contradict that.
"She is married to our mother's brother," Elizabeth replied.
"Ah. Do they still live in Derbyshire?"
"No, they live in London," Jane said. Neither sister was willing to volunteer more information about where, precisely, in London they lived, so I assumed that it was in one of the less fashionable parts of town.
The conversation lapsed for a moment, until Mrs. Bennet said, "How long has it been since your parents died?"
Louisa cringed visibly, and I felt an inward twinge at the insufferable woman's question. We rarely spoke of our parents' deaths between ourselves, much less complete strangers. And here was this extremely rude woman asking an irrelevant, not to mention painful, question!
The conceit of the woman!
"Mama," I heard Elizabeth whisper in a horrified voice.
But the woman could not be shut up. "I had heard that they had died, of course. That news went around as soon as the news of your brother's arrival. But no one said how it had happened, because it seems as though they were quite young."
"Have the Lady and the Miss Lucases been to call?" Elizabeth asked quickly, before her mother could continue. "I spoke with Charlotte yesterday, and she said they were extending an invitation to their party next week."
I wasn't sure I liked Elizabeth Bennet, because even though Mr. Darcy had not considered her a beauty the night of the ball he had looked at her oddly, but I was extremely grateful to her right then.
"Yes, we saw them just yesterday afternoon," Louisa said. "We are...looking forward to attending their little party."
"Yes," I added. "The Lucases seem to be...very polite people."
Elizabeth's eyebrows raised and her eyes gleamed as if she realized something, but all she did was sip her tea.
After what seemed to be a never-ending visit in which Mrs. Bennet could not keep quiet about Charles and the two youngest could not keep quiet about balls and dancing (and the militia which had just the other day camped in Meryton for the winter), the carriage carrying the female Bennets left and Louisa and I were alone again.
"How insufferable!" I said, enraged. "How is such a woman to be put up with? How did Jane ever learn manners and good sense with a woman such as her as a mother?"
"Thank goodness for Miss Eliza," Louisa said. "At least she has sense where her mother has none. And those younger sisters! I thought they would never stop talking about the possibility of Charles having a ball. Do you suppose he'll give one?"
"He undoubtedly shall. It would be just like Charles." I sighed. "I sometimes wonder at Charles' sense. Why did he drag us to this place, with mothers like that one and unwed daughters desperate for his money?"
"Doesn't he realize that he needs a good name to go with the family fortune?" Louisa agreed. "We can never forget that our dear Papa made his money in trade. The least we can hope for is that our children shall be able to forget."
"It shall be all Charles' fault if that happens," I said. "You realize what we are saying, Louisa?"
She looked at me. "Jane Bennet is a sweet girl, but..."
"Exactly. Charles cannot afford to marry her. She does not have the right connections or family, even if she has excellent manners."
"It is quite unfortunate, Caroline, but you are right. Besides, if he marries her, then we shall be stuck with her mother visiting all the time."
"Or even worse! For you must have heard, have you not, that the estate is entailed away from the Bennet girls. It goes to a cousin of some sort. If Charles marries her, and Mr. Bennet dies, she might come live with him--and us."
And that was a truly terrifying thought. I could picture it now in my mind: Mrs. Bennet would spend every day of her life thanking Charles for the enormous favor he had done Jane, and asking embarrassing questions, and holding balls so that her daughters could find husbands! Worst of all, if she were around all the time, and I had not married Mr. Darcy by then, he might leave and never return! Oh, the horror! It was not to be borne! The Bingley name would be scorned, laughed at, ruined!
I looked at Louisa. I knew she was thinking the same thing.
"We cannot allow this to happen," she said. "Yet how can we prevent it from happening?"
"I don't know, Louisa. We'll just have to think of something."
Lord help me, but I hate her.
I never thought it was possible to hate another human being with your entire soul, but at Sir William's party, I realized that it was possible, and I did hate someone more than anything.
And her name was Elizabeth Bennet.
The evening started innocently enough, I suppose. I walked down the stairs, holding everyone else up again, but how else was I to draw attention to myself? Mr. Darcy smiled at me. He actually smiled at me, and complimented me on my gown. The first signs of his admiration, at long last! It should have been the beginning of the most wonderful evening of my life.
Instead, it swiftly turned into a nightmare.
When we arrived at Lucas Lodge (what a pretentious name for a house!), we were accosted by Sir William himself. Charles escaped, using Jane as his excuse. I dearly wished I had such an excuse, but I did not. Mr. Hurst, as usual, completely disregarded the fact that Sir William was speaking to us by wandering over to the punch bowl and having a drink. (He would then proceed to have several more drinks, and by the time the party was half over, he would be drunk, sleeping in a chair.) Sir William then started chatting away to Louisa and I about his time at court, where he was undoubtedly one of the most long-winded speakers ever to grace it.
I swore, while pretending to listen to him, that I would never go there even if the His Majesty demanded I go there or die.
Sir William then had the gall to say that if we ever needed any help in London society, we should just ask him. As if we would need the help of a former tradesman! Honestly! Thankfully, Sir William was called away by some other pressing matter, and Louisa and I snuck away before he could return.
"Poor Mr. Darcy," I said, observing him staring across the room. "Such agonies he must be suffering, to be here."
"Yes, Caroline. He certainly deserves better than this," Louisa said.
Mr. Darcy turned around and looked right at Louisa and I, almost as if he had heard us and was about to say something. But without saying anything, he turned around and continued to hold his silent vigil, looking again at something...or someone.
I followed the object of his gaze. To my shock and horror, he was once again staring at Elizabeth Bennet. She was across the room, talking to Charlotte Lucas and looking with a smile at her sister Jane. Jane was standing in a slightly secluded part of the room, talking quietly with Charles.
"Mary! Mary, play something jolly, we want to dance!" Lydia Bennet's high-pitched, whining voice rang through the room as she scurried to where her sister was playing the piano.
"But there's still two movements! Mama. Mama! Tell them it isn't fair!"
Mrs. Bennet, who had been talking to Lady Lucas about Charles and Jane (I know I heard her mention "five thousand a year"), turned to look at her daughters.
"Oh, play a jig, Mary. No one wants your concertos here," Mrs. Bennet said.
Louisa and I exchanged glances, once again thinking the same thing. It was extremely rude of her to cut off one daughter in the middle of a performance in order to please another one. But exchanging glances was all that we could do, for laughing aloud or rolling eyes was not appropriate public behavior.
Sir William stepped up to the piano and calmly said something to the disgruntled player. Finally, she agreed and pulled out a sheet of music. Lydia attempted to persuade Jane and Charles to dance, but Jane sensibly (and graciously) declined. Mary began playing, and to my surprise, she was doing quite well.
"Why do you suppose Mr. Darcy looks at Miss Eliza Bennet?" I asked Louisa, as Sir William approached Mr. Darcy and began talking about something inconsequential.
"Does he look at her? I had not noticed."
"He looked at her at the assembly ball, and he's looking at her now."
"You heard him yourself, though, Caroline. He would call her mother a wit before he called her beautiful."
"Suppose he's changing his mind."
"Don't be a ninny. Mr. Darcy is not changing his mind about her. How could he? She is nothing compared to you. If he is looking at her, it is only to confirm that she is not beautiful."
"Why would he need to do that? Think, Louisa!"
"Just this evening, Mr. Darcy paid you a compliment. He does not do that often, Caroline, and we both know it. If anything, that should give you more strength in your resolution to marry him."
"Yes, it does, but I still can't help but worry."
"Your worries are groundless. You'll see."
Just at that moment, Elizabeth happened to be walking past Sir William, who invited Mr. Darcy to dance with her.
Blast the man! I thought, furious. But when Elizabeth walked away, I realized that Mr. Darcy must have turned her down.
Now is the time for me to speak. Mr. Darcy continued to stand in the same place he had been standing all evening, so I walked over to him.
"I can guess the subject of your reverie," I said, sounding confident and calm.
"I should imagine not," he replied.
I'm hoping you're thinking about me, but I'll pretend that you're not. "You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner--in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise--the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!"
"Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was much more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."
I looked him straight in the eye, hoping that this would be the first real step toward his admitting that he was in love with me. For whose eyes could he speaking of, but mine? I had never thought of my eyes as being fine, but if Mr. Darcy thought they were...
"And may one dare ask, whose are the eyes which have inspired these thoughts?"
I didn't expect him to say my name outright; however, I wasn't expecting the name he said, either.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
A wave of shock overtook me. Elizabeth Bennet? ELIZABETH BENNET! "Miss Elizabeth Bennet!" I repeated, just to hear it aloud. "I am all astonishment." To say the least. "How long has she been such a favourite?" You'd at least better tell me that! "And pray, when am I to wish you joy?" Never!
"That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy."
All I wanted to do was to lash out at him and wound him as he had wounded me. The best way, of course, was to prey on his weakness--in this case, his abhorrence of Elizabeth Bennet's family.
"Nay, if you are serious about it, I shall consider the matter is absolutely settled. You will have a charming mother-in-law, indeed; and, of course, she will always be at Pemberley with you."
Mr. Darcy did not reply to that, and although I was tempted to say more, about the third sister with her serious demeanor and lackluster talents, and the youngest sisters who would overrun Pemberley with balls and dances and giggles and snorts (I heard that youngest one snort, I swear I did). But I did not say anything else.
I needed Louisa, so I went to find her.
I did not wish to be overheard in public talking about Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. It was bad enough that he was interested in her, but if their names were linked, even by accident, who knew what could happen. So although Louisa could tell that something was bothering me, I didn't talk to her. I waited until we were home. I told Charles that I had a dreadful headache so I could excuse myself from having tea in the drawing room. Louisa quickly excused herself as well, saying that she was concerned about me. Not that it mattered much. Charles and Mr. Darcy were speaking of old friends from university and Mr. Hurst was passed out on the couch.
I refused to let myself cry, even after Louisa shut the door to my room. "Caroline, what is troubling you?"
"It's Mr. Darcy. I went up to him, to talk, and...oh, Louisa!" I threw myself on the bed, but still, I could not cry. "He said that he admires Elizabeth Bennet!"
"Impossible!" Louisa exclaimed. "But he said--"
"I know what he said! This evening, he told me that he had been admiring her eyes...he said that she was pretty! He has never once told me that I was pretty."
"Oh, Lord." Louisa sat down on the bed and put a comforting hand on my shoulder. "How perfectly awful for you. What else did he say about her?"
"Well...well, that was all. That was enough!"
"That was it? For heaven's sake, Caroline, I thought that he continued on. Did he say anything else, about Eliza Bennet or otherwise?"
"I asked when I was to wish him joy, and he...he said that he was not thinking in that vein."
"How is that good, Louisa? He admires her!"
"He only admires her eyes, and perhaps her spirit. Since when was that leading to a marriage proposal?"
"Sometimes, that's all it takes."
"Look at it this way. Charles has admired half the unmarried women in England, and he has yet to marry."
"But Mr. Darcy so rarely gives out praise that when he does...it could mean something more."
"He praised you earlier this evening. Do not forget that in your misery."
"He just complimented my taste in gowns. That was all. It was nothing personal."
"Nothing personal? Caroline, Mr. Darcy is one day going to marry a woman who will need to have exquisite taste not only in fashion but in a great many other things as well. I would think that, coming from him, is a better compliment than pretty eyes any day."
I sat up. "How is it that you manage to make it all sound so...ordinary? It wasn't, you know."
"You're making it sound extraordinary, and it wasn't. It was just an observation. Besides, Eliza Bennet is not here every day, as you are. She does not have half your accomplishments. She does not have any of your beauty." Louisa smiled. "She, on the other hand, has low connections, a vulgar mother, and three silly sisters. That is what Mr. Darcy shall have to remember every time he thinks about Elizabeth's eyes."
I started feeling a little better. "Yes, that's right, isn't it."
"Yes, it is."
"Then that is what I shall have to emphasize to him," I said in a moment of inspiration. "Every time she is near, I shall mention the mother, or the sisters, or even some things which are inappropriate about her." I frowned. "Not that I can think of any at the moment."
"Just don't make too much of a point," Louisa reprimanded gently. "If you stress her unworthiness too often, he may turn against you."
"You are right," I said, resolved. "Oh, Louisa, how can I thank you? You have made me feel much better about the entire incident."
"Good." She smiled. "As for the other little matter we were discussing the other day..."
"You mean about Charles and Jane."
"I still have not been able to think of what we might do. I have been far too concerned with this Mr. Darcy matter. I still do not see any way of accomplishing that goal."
"Perhaps Mr. Darcy could be an ally," Louisa said. "You know how well he takes care of Charles. If, in the course of pointing out how unsuitable Elizabeth Bennet is for him, you mention that her sister would be unsuitable for Charles, he might be able to persuade our brother to leave Netherfield."
I laughed in glee. "Louisa, that is a capital idea. Why didn't I think of that?"
"As you said, you have been concerned with other matters this evening." She squeezed my shoulders. "I believe I shall retire for the evening. Sleep well, Caroline, and in the morning, you'll start working on Mr. Darcy--for Charles' sake, and for yours."
Louisa walked out of the room. I was about to ring for the maid, then decided to wait for a moment. Standing before my mirror, I thought back on the entire evening, how well it had started, how horribly it had ended for me.
Enough of those thoughts, Caroline Bingley. I can conquer this problem, and I shall. Elizabeth Bennet is not going to win Mr. Darcy, not after all the time I have loved him.
I refuse to let her win.
In retrospect, the worst thing I ever did was to invite Jane Bennet to dine with us. Although she probably would have denied it, I knew Mrs. Bennet had intentionally made sure Jane would catch ill and be forced to stay several days at Netherfield. So part of this is that woman's fault. She should've had better control over her daughters than to let them go walking about the countryside alone. At the time, however, I thought that it was a nice gesture, and I had promised Jane that I would invite her to visit.
Besides, although I did not like her sister, I was still looking forward to getting to know Jane Bennet better, whether she was suitable to marry my brother or not. Therefore, I sent a note to Longbourn inviting her (and her alone) to dinner. As Charles, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Hurst were going to dine with the officers, Louisa and I felt safe to invite Jane where Charles would not be able to get to know her better.
My Dear Friend,
If you are not so compassionate as to dine today with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers.
Had I known that it would start raining, I would never have extended the invitation. Since the sun was still shining into my bedroom when I wrote the note, I had it sent to Jane immediately. It wasn't for another hour that the sky clouded up and it started raining.
"This is most vexing," I told Louisa. "Now Jane cannot join us for dinner today."
Neither of us were expecting her to actually arrive, but arrive she did, and in a most shocking fashion. Jane had been sent from Longbourn to Netherfield on horseback, not in a carriage. In the rain! What had she been thinking of?
"I apologize for my appearance," Jane said once she was inside. "I started out hoping I would be able to get here before it started raining, but was unable to."
"You certainly cannot be to blame for the weather," I said. "But I insist, Jane, you must come and warm yourself by the fire before you catch cold. Dinner shall be ready soon."
Jane took off her bonnet and coat and handed them to a maid nearby. "Thank you, Caroline."
"Why ever did you come on horseback?" I asked.
"The carriage was unavailable because the horses were needed," she replied with a discreet sneeze.
"To the fire, now," I said with a chiding smile.
For all the care that was taken to insure that Jane would not catch a cold, it was clear by the time dinner was served that Jane was not feeling well. Her state of health, however, did not prevent Louisa or myself from asking her about her family. After all, one does not need to be well in order to speak.
"Now, let me see if I've got this right, Jane," Louisa said. "Your mother's sister is named Mrs. Philips, and Mr. Philips' estate is..."
Jane appeared to be uncomfortable, but I believed that it was due to nothing more than a slight chill. "He lives in Meryton. He's an attorney," Jane said.
"And your mother's brother lives in London?" Louisa continued.
"Yes...in Gracechurch Street."
"In which part of London is Gracechurch Street, Jane?" I could not help but smile, thinking that this had been a wonderful idea of mine. Now we knew exactly where Jane's connections were, and they were low indeed.
"I, um...forgive me. I am..." Jane's voice trailed off and she nearly fell into her plate, clearly ill.
A surge of guilt coursed through me. Jane really had been uncomfortable because she was ill. I immediately called for a servant. "Foster, get help. Miss Bennet is unwell."
Although Charles was happy to hear that Jane was at Netherfield, he was less than pleased with Louisa and myself for inviting her on such a gloomy day.
"Did you not think that she might become ill?" he said angrily.
I was a little surprised to see this side of my brother, for he was rarely displeased with much and only on the rarest occasions angered. "It was a nice day when I sent her the invitation. If it had become unpleasant, she should not have come."
"Do not blame Jane for your recklessness, Caroline."
"At the very least, she could have come in a carriage. At least she would have been protected from the elements," Louisa defended. "She said the carriage horses were needed elsewhere today, but surely they could have been spared in such weather."
"Anyway, it is too late now to rethink the matter. Jane is here, and she is ill. I have sent a servant to Longbourn to inform the family that Jane will be here the night. In the morning, she shall undoubtedly feel better and go home."
"And if she does not feel better?" Mr. Darcy asked quietly.
"Then she shall stay here for a day or two until she is feeling better, and I shall call a doctor," I replied. "It is the least I can do, since Charles is right. This is my fault."
"You should not be so hard on yourself, Miss Bingley," Mr. Darcy said. "You did not force Miss Bennet to come."
Louisa and I exchanged glances. "Yes, but Jane is such a sweet girl, always agreeing with things. It would not be like her to refuse an invitation," I said. "I should never have made it."
"Perhaps not," Charles said. "If she is not better in the morning, I shall go find a doctor myself."
The next morning did not find Jane in any better condition than she had been the evening before. Jane requested that a note be sent to Elizabeth, which was done immediately. Charles was ready to send for a doctor, but we persuaded him to wait until later. Charles, Louisa, Mr. Hurst, and I sat down to breakfast. Mr. Darcy had eaten already and was out walking the grounds, which was why it was a surprise to me when he entered the dining room a scant fifteen minutes later. But he had a person with him, and that was even more startling than his appearance at breakfast.
Behind Mr. Darcy stood Elizabeth Bennet, looking wild and wearing clothes ruined by the muddy earth. Charles greeted her warmly, but neither Louisa nor myself could summon much enthusiasm for her sudden and unwelcome appearance. Luckily, we were spared having to talk to her for long. Elizabeth asked to see Jane immediately, and that was where she was taken.
"Well, we must allow her to be an excellent walker," Louisa said coolly after Elizabeth had left the room. "I suppose. But her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild."
"I could hardly keep my countenance," I said. I could not keep the note of disapproval out of my voice when I said. "What does she mean by scampering about the country because her sister has a cold? Her hair, Louisa!"
Louisa concurred. "Her petticoat! I hope you saw her petticoat, brother. Six inches deep in mud, I'm absolutely certain."
"I must confess it quite escaped my notice," Charles said. "I thought she looked remarkably well."
How typical of you, Charles. You never seem to notice the things that matter.
"You observed it, I'm sure, Mr. Darcy," I said to the man standing by the window. He was, as usual, staring out of it. There were times when I wondered what he was looking at, but I could never figure it out.
"I did," he replied.
"I'm inclined to think you would not wish your sister to make such an exhibition," I continued, hoping he was thinking about her inappropriate behavior rather than her nice eyes.
Good. He would surely not approve of a woman doing something he would not want his sister doing.
"It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence." I thought I put that quite well.
"It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," Charles interrupted, to my displeasure.
Rather than respond to what Charles had said, I continued my attack on Eliza Bennet, hoping that maybe I could link his admiration of her eyes to a far less agreeable subject, which just might make him admire those eyes less. "I'm afraid, Mr. Darcy, that this escapade may have affected your admiration for her fine eyes?"
"Not at all. They were brightened by the exercise."
No, no, no! That wasn't what you were supposed to say! You were supposed to say that they were not as admirable as you thought! And now you are admiring them even more!
I was uncertain of what to say next. The attack on Elizabeth herself had clearly not worked.
Louisa, however, knew exactly what to say. "But Jane Bennet is a sweet girl. It's very sad she should have such an unfortunate family. Such low connections."
There were times when I dearly loved Louisa. "Their uncle, she told us, is in trade and lives in Cheapside." I did not bother to check my tone when I said that, letting all of my distaste and contempt show, which was nothing less than the place deserved.
"Perhaps we should call, when we're next in town," Louisa said. We both started laughing.
Charles was unamused. "They would be just as agreeable to me had they uncles enough to fill all Cheapside."
"But with such connections, they can have very little chance of marrying well, Bingley. That is the material point."
I smiled. So he is thinking about how inappropriate she would be as a wife. Good. All he feels for her is the admiration any man would feel for a pretty woman, although I don't see why he would admire her.
At that moment, Elizabeth returned to the breakfast room. Charles stood up upon her arrival. Mr. Hurst merely continued to eat his breakfast.
"Miss Bennet, how does your sister do? Is she any better?" Charles asked, clearly concerned.
"I am afraid that she is quite unwell, Mr. Bingley."
"Let me send for Mr. Jones. And you must stay until your sister is recovered."
I glared at Charles, startled by his invitation. He was going to invite her to stay here? Where Mr. Darcy could see her every day for several days, and in such a good light as the nursing of her sister? How could he? I was praying that she would refuse.
"I would not wish to inconvenience you."
Then go home.
"I should not hear of anything else," Charles insisted. "I'll send to Longbourn for your clothes directly."
"You are very kind, sir." Elizabeth smiled.
This is getting worse by the second. I was extremely tempted to start pouting or screaming, but settled for looking down at my plate and not looking at anyone for fear they would know what I was thinking.
"Is there to be any sport today or not?" Mr. Hurst asked suddenly.
For once in my life, I was grateful to him for the distraction. Because of his untimely question, I was allowed to vent my anger at someone. So I stared at him with all the contempt and fury I was feeling at the moment, not that he noticed.
Louisa was apparently furious with him as well, for she clanged her silverware on her plate in frustration.
But neither of us could politely figure out a way to get Eliza Bennet to leave, so she had to stay.
And we had to endure it.
Charles sent for Mr. Jones immediately after breakfast, and as soon as the doctor had finished seeing Jane, I began feeling guilty. He pronounced that she had a violent cold, and that she could not be moved for at least three or four days. When he was informed that Elizabeth was her sister, he commended Charles for bringing her to Netherfield.
"Anything that would make her recover quickly is a blessing," he said.
I began feeling horrible about my inward objections to Elizabeth's staying at Netherfield. As much as I disliked her, I could not deny that she was beneficial to Jane's well-being. Therefore, I endeavored to make her feel comfortable, and told myself to make sure to ask her often about Jane's health.
We were summoned to dinner at half past six.
"How is Jane?" I asked politely as Elizabeth sat down.
"I believe she is a little better, thank you," she replied.
"That is good to hear. Louisa and I were just discussing how much we hate to be ill ourselves. Louisa, do you recall that time a few years ago when I caught that terrible ague in Somerset and could not attend Lady Hampton's ball? I was positively heartbroken."
"You were miserable for weeks indeed, sister." Louisa smiled at Elizabeth. "We must confess, Miss Bennet, that we feel extremely guilty for bringing your sister to Netherfield. After all, she would be quite well if we had not."
There were times when I wondered if Louisa truly thought before she spoke. Obviously Jane would be quite well if we had not invited her to Netherfield.
And I would be in much better humour...
Enough of that. You are going to be civil to this young lady if you have to bite your tongue. You must remain in control, or else however are you to remain calm and get Mr. Darcy to marry you?
"We are excessively grieved," I said in a somber voice.
"I am sure Jane would be appreciative if she knew how concerned you were," Elizabeth replied.
There was an uncomfortable silence at the table, broken by Charles asking, "Shall you join us in the drawing room following dinner, Miss Bennet?"
"I had not thought to...well, I feel that I would be of better benefit to Jane if I were to stay with her."
"And so you shall," I agreed with a smile. "After all, Jane needs her sister in her time of need. I would want my sister to be with me if I were ill. Louisa stayed with me the entire time I was ill in Somerset."
"Except to attend the ball," Mr. Hurst mumbled with his mouth full. "That's where I met her."
I frowned at him. "Yes, she was there almost the entire time. Thank you for correcting me, Mr. Hurst. I would not, however, have wanted Louisa to give up something important on my account, and so insisted that she attend the ball."
And I'm sure she's been wanting to thank me ever since.
"You are such a good sister," Louisa said with an arch look at Mr. Darcy.
"I am sure that Jane would not mind you joining us for cards following dinner. She shall probably be asleep, anyway. Rest is the most important thing for her, Mr. Jones said."
Elizabeth gave me a small smile--was it my imagination, or was it a smirk? "I am uncertain as to whether or not Jane would truly want me to join in leisure activities if she were seriously ill."
"Yet Jane is not seriously ill. She just has a bad cold," I said.
"I shall leave the matter up to Jane," Elizabeth said quietly. "If she does not need me to tend to her after dinner, then I should be delighted to join you."
Mr. Hurst, Charles, Louisa and I were playing loo when Elizabeth walked into the drawing room. Louisa invited her to join in the game, but she turned her down, saying that Jane would need her again soon, and picked up a book.
Mr. Hurst frowned. "Do you prefer reading to cards?" he asked. "That is rather singular."
"Miss Eliza Bennet," I said, in a deceptively sweet voice, "despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else." Whether or not this was true, I knew that Mr. Darcy did not like bluestockings.
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure," Elizabeth exclaimed. "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things."
"In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure," Charles said, smiling. "I hope it will soon be increased by seeing her quite well."
Elizabeth thanked him, then returned to her book. Mr. Darcy walked over to a desk in the room and took out a pen and paper. He began writing, and I could not resist asking, "And what do you do so secretly, sir?"
"It is no secret. I am writing to my sister."
Now this was a topic which gave me much pleasure. "Oh, dear Georgiana! Oh, how I long to see her? Has she grown much since the spring? Is she as tall as me?" Since I happened to be quite tall (and very well-figured), I doubted this.
"She is now Miss Elizabeth Bennet's height...or a little taller."
Oh, Lord. Now he's noticing her figure!
"And so accomplished," I added, in order to keep his attention focused on the conversation we were having, not whatever pleasant thoughts of Eliza Bennet might be strolling through his mind.
"It is amazing to me," Charles said, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."
"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"
"Yes, all of them, I think. They sing, they draw, they dance, speak French and German, cover screens and I know not what."
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," Mr. Darcy said, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it for no other reason than for netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half-a-dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished."
"Nor I, I am sure," I agreed, certain that I was one of the half dozen ladies on his list. Hopefully, I was right next to his sister on that list.
"Then you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman," Elizabeth said, setting down her book.
"Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it," Mr. Darcy replied.
"Certainly!" I said, eager to list what he must consider accomplishments, those which I had--and Miss Eliza did not. "No one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."
"And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."
Extensive reading? But didn't you once say that you hated bluestockings? Or is that a nod to the fact that Miss Eliza Bennet is holding a book in her hand right now?
"I am not longer surprised at you knowing only six accomplished women," Elizabeth said. "I rather wonder at your knowing any."
"You are severe upon your sex, Miss Bennet!" I objected. Did the girl not realize a compliment from Mr. Darcy when she heard it?
"I speak as I find," she said.
"Then perhaps you have not had the advantage of moving about in such societal circles as we have. I may assure you, however, that there are many such young ladies who can be considered accomplished."
Mr. Hurst then called our attention back to the game, Elizabeth resumed reading her book, and Mr. Darcy continued reading his letter. Perhaps an half hour passed in such a manner before Elizabeth rose and, saying that she needed to be with Jane, left the party.
I could not help to take advantage of her absence to point out her flaws to Mr. Darcy. "Eliza Bennet," I said, "is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art."
And never mind that I've used it on several occasions.
"There is a meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable."
What is that supposed to mean? I was uncertain as to whether or not he meant me, decided that he could not know what I was doing, and asked Louisa if she would be willing to play some music for us.
Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.
Long after the party had broken up, I was hearing Mr. Darcy's calm rebuke against feminine ploys. As I lie abed, unable to sleep, I had to give serious thought to what I was doing. Was I being cunning in trying to get a man to admire me? Was I being cunning in trying to make myself look good in his eyes by getting close to his sister and admiring what he did? Was I being cunning in merely trying to dissuade him from making an imprudent match with Eliza Bennet?
Oh, for heaven's sake. He does not even LIKE her! He only likes her eyes. That comment about his sister being Elizabeth's height was just information, so I wouldn't think she was my height.
I wasn't being cunning. There was absolutely nothing wrong in getting him to realize how much I loved him without blurting it out as some women were no doubt prone to do. I genuinely like Georgiana, so there was nothing wrong in my friendship with her. I did happen to admire things he did, so I was only being honest. And...well, Elizabeth Bennet was a bad match for him! If Lady Catherine de Bourgh thought I was bad enough to warn, she would have an apoplexy if she knew her nephew was interested in a woman like Elizabeth!
You are doing the right thing. You must believe that.
I sighed and closed my eyes, knowing that sleep would be elusive for a while yet.