My name is Caroline. I was the second daughter born to the Bingley family. My sister Louisa preceded me by nineteen months, and my younger brother Charles followed shortly after I was born. My father, as I am ashamed to admit, traded in fabrics at the time, but he expanded his business successfully and opened several warehouses in due time. Because expensive fabrics were easily available to us, and my mother having good dressmaking skills, my sister and I were always dressed so well as to make us appear as daughters of a gentleman. My family, it must be said, were an extremely respectable family, with good manners and looks. I doubt if anyone who would have encountered my father in the street would have guessed that he earned his money in trade, so well did he dress and carry himself.
When my sister Louisa and I were fourteen and thirteen our mother died. My father, who had long wanted us to get a proper lady's education, suddenly saw his opportunity, for my mother had always been against sending us to London. He sent us to an expensive seminary in Town, which was a pleasant experience. I was wise enough to know that many people would be fooled by my ladylike appearance, but for me the mere appearance of a lady was not enough. I should not feel completely at ease if I did not also acquire a lady's education and way of thinking. Only then, I thought, would I be accepted, for I had seen very well that many merchants and tradesmen tried very hard to become gentlemen without succeeding, for they always kept a certain way of thinking that set them apart from the really fashionable people.
We enjoyed our time at school. It was not too strict, although some other young ladies complained, but I was not one to want to break the rules by going out to buy sweetmeats of my limited allowance. Besides, I had seen in some girls who did that too often that their teeth were subject to decay, and I was rather protective of my teeth.
The end of our education was more or less signalled by our coming out, which was arranged very handsomely I must say, and we were chaperoned by a kind lady who had no daughters of her own and to whom it gave much pleasure to do such a thing. We met the most interesting people and I found my education had prepared me well for conversing with them. I was also quick enough to discover how to treat them.
I was eighteen at the time, and though it was a marriageable age, I was not interested in the state of matrimony yet. I had no intention of settling for the first young man who came along. I wished to make a deliberate choice and choose no less than the best of men, as I had been taught at school. There were times when I wondered how it was possible that my whole class would end up marrying the best of men, for as yet I had not seen so many excellent specimens of the opposite sex as to think that our choice would be unlimited. Therefore I looked around myself and made many new acquaintances.
There were, naturally, a few gentlemen who cast their eye upon me, for as I discovered, some men only want a good-looking wife, and as I said before, our whole family were blessed with good looks. To some, I fear, I may not have been as polite as I should have been. Of some it was definitely presumptuous to court me, for they could not possibly captivate me in any way. One was rich and titled to be sure, but he spewed forth such nonsense when he opened his mouth, that I would not dare to be associated with him. Others were tolerably amusing, but they lacked the means to provide for me adequately. Louisa said I should not be so picky, but I truly think that marriage is an important thing. I thought about it for very long and I came up with a sort of character description of my future husband. She laughed at it and told me he did not exist, but Louisa generally settles for less than the best. When we go shopping, she just buys and never compares.
My father had got rid of his business at the right time, and he had moved to London as a very rich man, which pleased me greatly. Louisa and I lived with him in a house we had no reason to be ashamed of, and we were acquainted with so many people that it dazzled me at times.
My brother had been sent off to another school, of course, and after school he was sent to university. He had, somewhere, made an acquaintance with a young man named Fitzwilliam Darcy. The name alone was enough to start me fantasising, for it sounded it extremely aristocratic. It turned out that he was the heir to a great estate and that he was very, very wealthy. Since Charles was still at university, I had to rely on his letters to discover more about this Mr. Darcy, but to my pleasant surprise I heard from my friends that he was said to be very handsome. I had only heard points that spoke in his favour: his name, his wealth, his looks, and his availability, for he was both unattached and my brother's friend, which made him a good deal more approachable than that foreign prince I had briefly fantasised about a few years before.
I must elaborate on the prince. He was simply princely. A friend at school went to Italy to study the language during the summer, and Louisa and I were invited to go. Her family had a house there and they moved in the highest circles. We were not out yet, so we were not allowed to go to assemblies, but we were not prohibited from talking to everybody who came to play tennis, and one day the girl's father brought a prince. He was very handsome and very charming to us all, and he had the most expensive equipage I had ever seen and he was attended by so many servants that I was sure he must live in a wonderful castle like in a fairy tale. Unfortunately he came only once.
Knowing Charles, he would bring home his friend sooner or later, for Charles was that sort of person. Usually his friends were not worth speaking to, but in this particular instance I divined that I might find Mr. Darcy very well worth my while. Meanwhile, I was stuck with Lord Featherstonehaugh and Mr. Saunders, whose sisters could not get enough of inviting me to balls and assemblies. They were by far the most charming men of my acquaintance, so I always went, and because one never knew who one might meet. For that reason I could not pass up any invitation and my social calendar was filled completely. If Mr. Darcy had been living in Town, I would have invited him to our dinners and soirées, but he always stayed at Pemberley. However it disappointed me, it certainly bespoke a dedication to his estate that was worth applauding. How many young men had I not seen in Town, wasting their fortune at the cards table? That it could also mean that Mr. Darcy was an extremely unsociable man was something I chose to overlook.
I was not disappointed when I first saw Mr. Darcy at Pemberley. Charles had been so good as to procure us an invitation and I was really excited. I could enumerate all his good qualities, but it is enough to say that he exactly fit the character description I had drawn up before. The gentleman who had come closest to my ideal before, was completely forgotten, even if his name was Lord Featherstonehaugh. Mr. Darcy was all his name had promised to be and more, for he was also extremely polite, compared to his two cousins. True, one was a Viscount with prospects of a comparable estate nearby, but he was already engaged and therefore off the market. His other cousin was the Viscount's younger brother, which automatically disqualified him from being interesting. I was certain that this trip would influence the rest of my life. Mr. Darcy did not show any inclinations of being on the look-out for a wife, but that did not bother me. I was in no hurry either. I did not care how long it took, as long as I got what I wanted.
It took very long. Mr. Darcy never once increased his politeness to me, and he remained somewhat distant and aloof. Since I was somewhat obsessed with the man, it did not put me off, and I remained attentive and solicitous. I spoke with Mr. Darcy at every opportunity that presented itself. I was certain that he would notice me sooner or later. I never voiced any opinion that differed from his, because, as I was told by a friend, it was about the worst faux-pas imaginable to openly disagree with a gentleman and certainly so if you wished to secure his affections. I would not say I liked dancing if he disliked it, so I always took care to find out his opinion first and then adapt mine to his.
My friend, whose name was Annabella Dryden, shared my objectives and our conversation was always laced with thinly veiled stabs at each other. She often asked me how I was proceeding with Mr. Darcy. I suspected her of setting her cap at him herself, though she always denied it, saying that she set her sights much higher, which then offended me. I would say I would not stoop as low as she, by securing a man by wearing the kind of gowns she wore. Neither Mr. Darcy nor my father would appreciate me in such a gown, I thought, so I was never tempted to wear anything as daring as that, besides wishing to avoid the sore throats Annabella always seemed to have due to the colds she always contracted at balls, even though she claimed that husky voices were extremely alluring.
I had other friends, but none of them understood my need to distinguish myself in the eyes of Mr. Darcy, least of all my sister. Louisa and I, from being so close in age, had ever since our childhood been able to go from loving sisters to cruel witches in an instant. Our moods turned quicker than the weather. I could be at odds with Louisa, but if Charles interfered, we might both side against him and have no scruples in calling him a spot-faced brat.
We had become acquainted with a family called Hurst. One of their sons liked Louisa, I could tell. If it had been me, I should never have given him any consideration, but as I said before, Louisa was not as particular as I was. Shortly afterwards my father died, and he again impressed the need upon us to marry well. Louisa married Mr. Hurst and we all lived in my father's house until Charles came of age, which was understandable, for Mr. Hurst would never be able to afford a house such as ours.
Charles, who did not like to occupy himself with such tedious matters as business or the management of his money, preferred to spend his days either at Pemberley or at Mr. Darcy's townhouse. Because I foresaw that his careless lifestyle would be his ruin one of these days and because I was still dependent on him, I took it upon myself to guide his business where I could, in which I was assisted by Mr. Darcy, who shared my concerns for Charles's wellbeing, but probably not for my own wellbeing. Charles's affairs were thus managed to my satisfaction. If Charles squandered his fortune it would have no direct effect on my own, but if his circumstances were to deteriorate, we would probably have to move to another house, and another house often signified other acquaintances, as some people can not be seen visiting certain parts of town, and I dearly wished to retain the greater part of them.
I had discovered exactly who were Mr. Darcy's friends. From my own experience I knew that a favourable word from a friend about another person, e.g. me, could be important. Had I not often heard Mr. Darcy guide Charles about people? Mr. Darcy had a sister, whom I did not see very often, but whom I took great care to treat with the utmost friendliness. She was a good girl and amazingly accomplished at music. She was rather young for Charles, but I had hopes of Charles marrying her one day, for it was an excellent match. It would also bring me often in Mr. Darcy's company.
Charles rented an estate to see whether he would like having one. Unfortunately estates were usually located in the country, so I had urged Charles to look within a reasonable distance from London so we might travel back quickly in case the countryside would drive us mad. I had no great opinion of the country. Life there was simply backwards. Charles happened on an estate called Netherfield Park near a hamlet called Meryton and I should never have consented to set foot in it if Mr. Darcy had not given his approval. Charles was all too apt to like everything. I believe he could even be in raptures about a cottage, and everybody knows that cottages are built to be sketched and not to be lived in. It was with apprehension that I undertook the journey to Netherfield Park.
Though Netherfield pleased me with it appearance and elegance, I was not so pleased that Charles had accepted and invitation to an assembly on our behalf. Did I really have to mingle with the natives? I asked him, but he said it would be jolly good fun. I was not looking forward to it at all. There were so many matters in which our tastes did not coincide.
They were all gaping at us as if they had never seen anything as elegant as our gowns and headdresses, which -- judging from their own -- was probably true. I was thankful that Louisa was there -- although Mr. Hurst was never an asset -- and Mr. Darcy, because neither of them seemed very inclined to mingle either, so we just stood there entertaining ourselves and making witty comments on whatever struck us as odd and peculiar. And that was quite a lot. I do believe Mr. Darcy appreciated my sense of humour and fashion, for he smiled a few times when I addressed him. And he was not in a good mood, so smiles would not have come easily to him.
I looked around myself to see if there was anyone who would outshine me and saw but one pretty girl, and the one who was supposedly the most accomplished was not pretty at all. It seemed that I needed not fear for my position with regard to Mr. Darcy. Charles introduced a sweet creature called Miss Bennet to us who was very pretty and I thought I could be excellent friends with her, although I missed my friends in town. How much more agreeable would it all have been had there been but one of them present.
I danced only a few times. The first with Mr. Darcy, which was very agreeable and I am sure we made a fine couple, the second with Mr. Hurst, which was less agreeable, and the third with a local gentleman who thought nothing would please me better than to dance. Now at certain times that would be true, because I really enjoyed a good dance, and by a good dance I mean one with a good partner, such as at the assemblies in town.
After the assembly all sorts of families called on us, and we could not help returning the visits out of politeness. It turned out that there were no grand estates in the vicinity and the rooms we were received in were at times nearly shabby. There was one house that was so small that there was no special room to keep the children in, and the family kept them in the drawing room where they also received their visitors. Louisa said it reminded her of when we were little, but I have never been so uncomfortable in my life.
I liked Miss Bennet better and better, however insufferable her mother and younger sisters were, but I chose to ignore them as civilly as possible. Only Jane and the second sister would be worthy acquaintances, despite their lack of sophistication.
The lack of sophistication was all-pervasive, even in the shops. Louisa and I did not go there beyond the first time, and I had not spent so little in a week ever since I came into my money, simply because there was absolutely nothing to spend it on. When I complained of this to Mr. Darcy, he said that he always encouraged Georgiana to spend as little as possible, and that he gave her but a small allowance, lest she should be tempted to use it wrongly, as so many ladies are apt to do. I immediately agreed with him and gave him some examples of ladies who did exactly that, and he found it very amusing, because he laughed. I did not quite see why it was so diverting, but I was glad he thought so.
Naturally I wrote to my friends and they all pitied me. I did not understand why their trips to the country were always so much fun. Perhaps Charles had decided on the wrong county. Everybody always seemed to meet young noblemen and reportedly the countryside held plenty of them, but I had not seen any so far. Everyone in Meryton seemed to have only girls, save one family, but their sons did not make a great impression on me. Which was not surprising, for to have three unmarried sons in a neighbourhood with so many families with so many daughters must mean that there is something wrong with the young men.
Then there were some new arrivals to Meryton, a whole regiment of them, and I hoped they would distract some of the attention from us. I had quite enough of being new to the area and being visited by all and sundry. It was inevitable that Charles would be invited by the officers, and also that they would not invite Louisa and me. I did not think that I should have liked it anyway. I did not care much for officers. Only a few of them could be made generals.
To amuse ourselves we had decided to invite Jane to dinner. The silly girl came on horseback, and I divined soon enough that it must be some sort of clever scheme on her mother's part when I had to invite her to stay the night because it was too wet outside. It was no wonder that she fell ill during the night and that she was quite unwell in the morning. I felt for Jane, but I was also rather cross with Mrs. Bennet and the success of her scheme. I asked if she wished to send her mother a note, despite the fact that it was likely to bring the woman into my house, but she said she had much rather write to her sister instead. My sympathies for Jane increased.
Miss Eliza surprised us all by walking to Netherfield. I should never have done it. I should never wish to appear anywhere in the condition in which she appeared to us. But I was very polite, because I was glad that she had not brought her mother.
The apothecary advised us that it was better to let Jane stay at Netherfield, and the poor girl was so concerned about parting with her sister, that I could not avoid inviting her as well. I did not know why Jane wanted Eliza. Louisa and I had taken excellent care of her.
It was a pity that we had to entertain Eliza. I am sure Mr. Darcy did not like the expansion of our party, for he was always very grave and silent. It was my duty to be nice, I suppose, but I found it very hard. What should we talk about? I could not help letting Mr. Darcy know that I felt the same way about it as he did -- that she certainly was not a friend I had invited to annoy him, and that I also found it rather exaggerated that she had come on foot all the way just because her sister had a cold.
Later on, Charles had been so stupid as to say he would give a ball at Netherfield and we had to suffer the whole neighbourhood at once. Fortunately I was the hostess and I could always excuse myself from tedious conversations by saying that I had to oversee one arrangement or another.
I should have thought that the display her family made of themselves at our ball was enough to turn anybody's preference, but Charles remained attentive to Jane. We -- meaning Mr. Darcy, Louisa and myself -- had discussed it before, though jokingly, but it was now quite obvious that my brother was getting involved too deeply for our comfort and his own. When Charles had gone to town for business, I spoke to Mr. Darcy about it and he agreed that it was best to return to London, because we did not doubt that he would soon forget all about Jane.
I did not know what Jane would feel, but she had never shown herself to be attached to Charles very much. I did not doubt that she liked him, but friendships do not last forever. I wrote her a letter and tried to excuse our departure, fearing that she would feel ill-used when her friends would desert her so suddenly. I lied, though, because I sketched the situation between Charles and Miss Darcy as somewhat more favourably than it was. But it is always much easier to lie in a letter. I did not bother to write to anyone else, nor did Louisa. I believe Charles would have personally taken his leave of every farm boy in the country, if he could have helped it, but fortunately he did not know he was not ever to come back.
And so it happened that we found ourselves back in town again.
Charles was truly disappointed when he discovered we had followed him, but he optimistically kept thinking that we would soon return to Hertfordshire. Little did he know that Mr. Darcy and I had secretly agreed that that would never happen. I had told Mr. Darcy to keep him occupied. Well, not literally like that, for I would never dare to give him such an order, but I had hinted it to him nevertheless. It was really a wonderful feeling to share a secret with Mr. Darcy. It felt like such a small step towards sharing more.
Mr. Darcy invited Charles to stay at his house, which I encouraged and he did gladly. I was convinced that I acted purely for my brother's sake, for it deprived me of the only person who would talk to me. Ever since we had returned from Hertfordshire, Mr. Hurst had ignored Louisa and me. Consequently Louisa ignored me, as if I could help it that her husband chose to behave himself in this childish manner. Whenever he would pass me in the hallways, he would look the other way and shake his head and sigh, muttering something about never getting rid of me. I do not know what it was that I had done wrong.
I visited Georgiana almost every day, but my calls became less frequent when Darcy took Charles to Pemberley. The remainder of the time I spent keeping up with everything, be it fashion or news, and it kept me so occupied that it left me very little time for other things.
Jane wrote that she was coming to town and that alarmed me greatly. I had never thought that she would and now I had to decide what I should do. She could not meet Charles, because that would upset everything. Charles might find out that Mr. Darcy and I had been scheming against him and he might be angry with me.
She actually called when Charles was in the house. I had never been so nervous in my life. My nerves needed a good half hour to calm down to their usual state afterwards. Fortunately I had got Louisa to co-operate by saying that we were just going out and so get Jane out of Charles's way. Louisa was back on speaking terms with me, because she had become bored with no one to speak to. I did not know whether Mr. Hurst was speaking to her again, but I did not care. It seemed to me as if one could do very well without being spoken to by Mr. Hurst.
I knew I could not avoid returning the visit to Jane, but I put it off for as long as possible. How could I lie even more? How could I actually go to Cheapside besides? Before I would get stuck in my own web of lies it was better to discontinue the acquaintance with Jane. Days passed and I came no closer to a solution to this problem, and I still had not returned the visit.
Charles had moved back with us and Mr. Darcy frequently called, sometimes accompanied by Georgiana, and sometimes by his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, who never failed to inquire after my Hertfordshire friends as he called them, having got wind of something somehow. I admittedly mentioned Miss Bennet a few times and I did imitate a few of her relatives in his presence, so perhaps that was how he had come to know about them.
Although he always agreed with me that such connections were highly undesirable, the Colonel -- whose understanding appeared somewhat inferior -- also never failed to misunderstand who exactly was in danger of being undesirably connected and then I had to explain to him all over again that it was not me. I could not tell him that it was because of Charles, because he might tell Charles and then it would all leak out, so I always concocted some story. In retrospect I believe that it was not always exactly the same story. Not that the Colonel ever noticed, I think. A clever person would undoubtedly have questioned me about it, but he never said a word. I always pressed him not to tell anyone why I would not go back to Hertfordshire, and he solemnly vowed that he would not. I thought it was unlikely that he could, anyhow, for how could he tell anyone if he was not even clever enough to remember it himself?
After some time I returned the visit to Jane and it did not give me any pleasure, but it had to be done. I thought this would be the last I would ever hear of the Bennets, but I was not so lucky. Mr. Darcy had gone to visit his aunt Lady Catherine De Bourgh, which gave me the slightest worry in that Lady Catherine might set a date for Mr. Darcy's wedding to Miss De Bourgh, to whom he seemed to be engaged. I had never been put off by that alliance, for Mr. Darcy did not seem to take it at all seriously, but as the years passed and Miss De Bourgh grew older, I could imagine Lady Catherine taking matters in her own hands and have the two officially engaged any time now.
I grew even more worried when I learnt that Elizabeth Bennet was staying so near them that they could not help but meet. I recalled how Mr. Darcy had once admired her looks, and though it is a common failing in men that they continuously praise the ugliest women for their looks, it was best not to be too trusting where Mr. Darcy and a member of the Bennet family were concerned. I kept in mind Mrs. Bennet's schemes to ensnare Charles. Who could say if she had not sent another daughter out to a place where she might meet Mr. Darcy?
I had no rest until Mr. Darcy was returned and thankfully he did not mention that he was engaged to anyone. He was very silent, though, and sometimes he looked at Charles very gravely. He took very little notice of me. He would only see me when I addressed him. It was very frustrating and I was beginning to despair of my chances. I began to think that getting Mr. Darcy interested in me was a Herculean task. But why would he not see me? Was I not pretty? Accomplished? Fashionable? I knew I was all that. But as long as he showed no interest in anyone else I did not completely lose hope, although addressing him was costing me more and more effort. In the beginning it had been easy, but when after so many attempts there is still no result, it becomes harder and harder.
An invitation to Pemberley raised my hopes again. I adored Pemberley. It was absolutely the most beautiful estate I had ever been to and it would be grand to be mistress of it. I could not wait to go, even if it was in the country, but it was the sort of countryside that I appreciated. I told my friends and they all envied me. They said that certainly it must mean something if he invited me. I was not so sure. After all, he had not singled me out. Louisa and Mr. Hurst were also coming. I was, however, still willing to give it a try.
I had looked forward to travelling with Mr. Darcy, having bought several travelling sets for the purpose, but he went ahead of us. When we arrived I was in relatively low spirits, for Mr. Hurst had snored for almost two days, and when he did not snore he was talking about food. The man should have married a cook.
What sunk my spirits even more was the information that none other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet was staying in the area and it was a blow that Mr. Darcy took Georgiana and Charles to meet her right after we had arrived. He wanted his sister to meet someone so lowly connected. It was incomprehensible. Any guest of his would feel insulted at being so blatantly ignored upon arrival, I think, but I was even more affected by the implications it had. He must have some regard for Elizabeth, or he would not have done it. How could he? Was this the same man who had schemed with me to keep Charles away from her sister? It did not make sense to me that he should want to be acquainted with any Bennet. What had got into the man? I truly did not understand. Did he prefer her over me? That was another frightening thought. I was as confused as I had ever been.
He even invited her to Pemberley. I knew I was pretty silent and could not say a word, but who could blame me? I really did not know what to say. I could only think and wonder. She could have no claim on his affections. It was impossible. He would soon see reason. I was convinced of it. I tried to make him see it and I made some denigrating comments about her when she was gone.
He, however, did not share my opinion. He made it abundantly clear. I was mortified, hurt, angry, ashamed, embarrassed. He did not care for me. He never had and he never would. He cared for her. He probably only thought I was a nuisance. Again I was mortified. Thoughts tumbled through my head incoherently. They continued to do so for a very long time -- hours, days, weeks. Why had I spoken? I had brought this all onto myself. Could I not have realised it in a less painful way? I never wanted to see him again. I could not face anyone who would think I was a terrible fool, although I would agree with him. I began to see that I had been extremely foolish.
My life was over. Not that there had been any life in the first place. What should I do and where should I go? What did people think of me? I hated to think of that. I was sure Mr. Darcy held me in contempt for my foolish behaviour. He must have a very poor opinion of me. I had a very poor opinion of myself too. I would never degrade myself in such a way again, I vowed. It was better not to marry than to feel like this. Never again.
What was this fantasy I had been chasing? Did I love him? Had I loved him? I was not sure. Considering that my chief emotion was mortification, I probably had not. But then again, I had no idea what love was exactly.