Author's Note: You'll note that, at least for now, the dialogue follows almost exactly with the movie [A&E/BBC version]-- it will continue that way for awhile, since changes take time to snowball.
I found, as I was writing this, that I had some trouble picturing the characters. If you have the same problem I do, I used this for assistance in mental imagery.
"It's a fair prospect!" Bingley said enthusiastically, gesturing at the scenic view of the estate of Netherfield from atop his horse, looking for signs of approval in his companion.
"Pretty enough, I'll grant you."
The compliment, though it may have been deemed paltry by those unacquainted with Bingley's friend's character, was well received. "Though it's nothing to Pemberley, I know. But I must settle somewhere. Have I your approval?"
His companion awarded him with a sideways glance. "You'll find the society something savage," came the warning, with a hint of reproach.
"Country manners? I think they're charming!"
A shrug. "Then you'd better take it."
Bingley couldn't resist a wide grin - not that he ever did. "Thank you, I shall! I shall close to the attorney directly!" He rode off on a wave of irrepressible enthusiasm.
With a sigh and a slight shake of the head, Miss Felicia Darcy rode after her friend.
From atop a nearby hill, Mr. Ellison Bennet quirked an eyebrow at the two figures racing along below. He couldn't recall having seen them before, but it was of little consequence. It was nearly winter, and the families of Meryton and Hertfordshire had friends visiting left and right. No doubt, with his mother's machinations, he'd make the acquaintance of any new people in the neighborhood before long.
Speaking of which, Mama would be wondering after him. It was nearly time for church, and if he was late, she'd begin screaming in hysterics, which would set off his sisters, which would cause his father to start teasing and thus making everything worse. Not a pleasant picture for a Sunday morning. Ellison picked up pace in his walk back to Longbourn.
Still...it would be interesting, to see who precisely those two newcomers were, assuming they were newcomers. He harbored a secret hope that they would be ridiculous and silly - it had been far too long since he'd had a new source of diversion.
As he approached the house, he realized his efforts of alacrity had all been in vain - from the shrieks piercing the air even from within the drawing room, disorder was obviously already the manner of the day.
"I would, I want to wear it again! Look what you've done to it! Mama! Mama!"
Ellison approached the window to the library, observing without surprise his father taking shelter from the storm within, determinedly focused on a book rather than the squeals of his wife and daughters. Mr. Bennet did, however, look up when he saw his son approaching, and rolled his eyes in amusement. Ellison returned the favor and proceeded to the front door.
"Lydia has torn up my bonnet and made it up new and said she will wear it to church! Tell her she shall not, Mama!"
"I shall wear it Mama, and tell her so, for it's all my own work and she would look a fright in it, because she's too plain to look well in it!"
"Let me have it!"
"No, you shall not have it!"
"Girls, would you tear my nerves into shreds?" Ah, there was the voice of reason. Ellison considered it a great tribute to his own sense of self-control that he did not burst into hysterics every time his mother mentioned her nerves - even at the dinner party with the Phillips when she had made reference to "her poor nerves" no less than one-and-twenty times. He had not laughed even then. Well, not outwardly, anyway. "Oh, let her have it Kitty, and be done with it."
"But it is mine! You let her have everything that is mine!" Kitty came tearing out of the drawing room, took one look at Ellison, and promptly burst into tears and fled. He was saved from any inclination to follow her by the entrance of his elder sister Jane (elder by a mere ten months, as he never failed to remind her), who raised an eyebrow at him in question. He shrugged in return and gave her a quick smile.
"Oh, what is to become of us all? Jane! Ellis! Where are you?"
Jane, the essence of good nature, replied with an obedient "Here, Mama."
"Coming, Mama." Ellison was less able to keep the laugh out of his voice when calling back. Jane gave him a slightly reproachful look for his impertinence, to which he responded with his "I know I'm awful but I'm your only brother and you love me anyway" grin.
Jane could never stay mad for long.
As the Bennet family exited the church, and proceeded on the short walk back to Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet, apparently in the possession of some new bit of gossip, ran to catch up with her husband, who showed no sign of slowing on her account. "My dear! Mr. Bennet! Wonderful news!"
Ellison paused in his conversation with Jane to hear whatever it was his mother had to say. He rather suspected it would be amusing.
"Netherfield Park is let at last!" she continued, ecstatic.
"Is it?" Mr. Bennet inquired in tones indicating he didn't care in the slightest.
"Yes it is, for I have just had it from Mrs. Long." Mrs. Bennet waited patiently for a reply for all of five seconds, then asked again, "Do you not want to know who has taken it?"
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
"Why then, it is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England. A single man of large fortune, my dear!"
Rolling his eyes, Ellison shot a sympathetic look at Jane, who blanched slightly. They'd both heard this spiel often enough to know where the current conversation was heading.
"He came down on Monday to see the place. His name is Bingley, and he will be in possession by Michaelmas, and he has five thousand a year! What a fine thing for our girls!"
At this Mr. Bennet paused, and turned to survey his family with mock ignorance. "How so? And how can it affect them?"
"Oh, Mr. Bennet, how can you be so tiresome? You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them!"
Jane smiled at this, even as she turned a bit whiter. Trying to put his favorite sister more at ease, Ellison said to her in a teasing voice, "For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Jane tried to hide a look of humor, which was of course his intention, even as Mrs. Bennet agreed loudly and whole-heartedly. Ellison wished sincerely that there were something he could do to stop his mother from her relentless mercenary matchmaking, but time and experience had taught him that it was hopeless. All he could do was pray that this Bingley character didn't have a single sister with a large dowry, or he'd be in the same position as Jane.
Lydia snorted behind him, to which Jane scolded her. "What a fine joke if he were to pick me!"
"Or me!" Kitty added, which started the two off giggling again. Mary shot them an open look of disgust, and Ellison wanted badly to join her. Indeed, between his family and many of the silly young ladies of the community, he fully believed that were it not for the good influences of Jane and his friend Charlotte Lucas, he would end up a misogynistic misanthrope.
"So, that is his design in settling here, to marry one of our daughters?" Mr. Bennet asked his wife with all pretense of seriousness.
"Design? Oh, how can you talk such nonsense! But you know, he may very likely fall in love with one of them. Therefore, you and Ellis must visit him directly he comes." Luckily for all involved, Mrs. Bennet was facing away from her son and thus missed the look of mingled shock and horror that he should be roped into this plot. Jane, however, did not miss it, and gave him a smug smile.
"Visit him? Oh, no, I see no occasion for that." Relief was immediate.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet!"
"Go yourself with the girls, or still better, send them by themselves."
"Aye, for you're as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley might like you best of the party."
Ellison could not resist a slight laugh at this, and though Jane gave him a slightly reprimanding look, she was quickly distracted to admonishing Lydia for excessive snorting.
"Oh, Hill!" Mrs. Bennet cried in tones of abject misery as she entered the house. Mr. Bennet had already retreated to the parlor. "Hill, I am so distressed. Mr. Bennet says he will not visit Mr. Bingley when he comes." Hill replied in a sympathetic manner, and Ellison marveled again at their good luck to have found the perhaps only housekeeper in all of England who could cook, clean, and appease Mama all at once.
"Mama, I'm sure he is only teasing you. He will call on Mr. Bingley as sure as he would call on any new neighbor of our regard." Jane did her best to calm their mother, following her and the rest of the family into the parlor, but a full-fledged Fanny Bennet tempest was underway, and there was little hope of stopping it.
"Oh, Jane, how can you say that? You heard him yourself! And you know that your father has a will of iron." Mrs. Bennet examined her reflection in the mirror, then turned to her son, who had taken up residence by the window and was watching the scene with amusement. "Ellis, dear, perhaps you can talk some sense into your father."
"That would be without a point, my dear," Mr. Bennet interrupted, thankfully sparing Ellison from the duty of replying. "But, I'll tell you what I'll do. I shall write to Mr. Bingley, informing him that I have four daughters, and that he is welcome to any of them that he chooses. They're all silly and ignorant like other girls - well, perhaps Jane has bit more wit than the rest - but then, he may prefer a stupid wife, as others have done before him. And, of course, I will inform him that I have a fairly sensible son, should he have any single sisters of large dowries." He turned with satisfaction to his wife. "There, will that do?"
"No, no, I beg you will not write at all if you- oh, you take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves!"
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves, they've been my old friends these twenty years at least."
Jane and Ellison glanced at each other, trying admirably to keep straight faces - the former having considerably more success.
"You don't know what I suffer."
"Well, I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of five thousand a year come into the neighborhood."
"It will be no use to us if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them," Mrs. Bennet cried, pouting.
"Depend upon it my dear: when there are twenty, I'll visit them all." With that, Mr. Bennet made a hasty exit and retreated, one could only guess, for the haven of his library.
Mrs. Bennet scowled, her mood not improved by the obvious expressions of amusement on her eldests' faces. "There, you see Jane? He will not be prevailed upon. He will see us all ruined." This was Mrs. Bennet's common lament, connected to the fact that Longbourn only generated a mere fifteen-hundred a year, difficult for a family of seven to live on, especially when there were four dowries and the expensive tastes of Mrs. Bennet to be considered. She thus spent most of her son's youth trying valiantly to keep him even from leaving the house, for fear that he would catch cold and die and leave the estate entailed to their cousin Mr. Collins, which would surely lead to the ruination of them all. Thankfully, Mr. Bennet had intervened and spared Ellison from a most miserable childhood indoors.
"Misfortunes, we are told," Mary spoke up, in her most scholarly voice, "are sent to test our fortitude, and may often reveal themselves as blessings in disguise." She smiled hopefully, and Ellison gave her a slight inclination of the head in thanks for generously bestowing her wisdom. It truly was a shame that she would be incapable of becoming a clergyman herself - one could only pray that she should marry one.
Lydia flounced into the room and dropped into a chair, the picture of melodrama. "Lord, I'm so hungry!"
The sun had long since set, and Ellison stirred the fire in the parlor room hearth. Only he and Jane remained in the room, his mother and sisters having retired to bed, and Papa having yet to emerge from the library. This was his favorite time of day - a chance to talk privately with Jane, whom he loved better than any person in the world.
"Do you imagine you shall ever marry, Ellis?" Jane inquired from table. He was slightly surprised by such a question, but only slightly - after all, with the arrival of Mr. Bingley, matrimony had been on the minds of nearly everyone today.
He sighed. "If I could love a woman who would love me enough to accept me for a mere fifteen hundred a year - minus your and Mary and Kitty and Lydia's dowries - I should be very well pleased." He looked up from the fireplace and quirked an eyebrow at Jane. "But such a lady could hardly be sensible, and you know I could never love a woman who was out of her wits."
Jane chuckled. "Oh, Ellis." Her lovely face darkened into a deeper seriousness. "A marriage where either partner cannot love or respect the other - that cannot be agreeable. To either party."
"As we have daily proof," he said, rolling his eyes. "But beggars, you know, cannot be choosers."
"We are not very poor, Ellis."
He sighed. "Father and I shall do our best for you, but with the estate not making a great deal of money, I am afraid you and our sisters will be left with little but your charms to recommend you...as abundant as they are," he added, winking. "And say nothing of me - what lady in her right mind would marry a man who may have difficulty providing for her?" He looked back at the fire. "There is little hope for Kitty and Lydia and even Mary securing themselves exceedingly rich men, so it would seem that either you or I must marry very well." With an affectionate look at Jane, he moved to sit by her at the table. "And since you are quite five times more beautiful than I am handsome, and have the sweetest disposition in the world, I fear the task will fall on you to raise our fortunes."
Jane looked down. "But Ellis...I would wish...I should so much like to marry for love."
He chucked her under the chin. "And so you shall! When you take heed to fall in love with a man of good fortune."
She giggled helplessly at this. "Well, I shall try, to please you, dearest brother." He was rewarded for his efforts with a scrutinizing look. "And what of you?"
Ellison reclined back in his chair, glancing out the window. "I am determined...that nothing but the very deepest love will induce me into matrimony." Which likely did not exist. He shook off his temporary melancholy and flashed a teasing grin at his sister. "So I shall end an old bachelor, and I shall entail Longbourn on one of your sons, who would be far more worthy of it than any offspring of mine I'm sure, and teach the boys how to make fun of their mother behind her back and the girls how to properly reject unworthy young men." Jane was beside herself with laughter, and he kissed her on the forehead. "Goodnight, Jane."
The next afternoon, Kitty and Lydia burst into the parlor without warning, mouths running a mile a minute. Mr. Bennet barely glanced up from his newspaper, but Ellison was inclined to stand and retreat to a farther corner of the room, for fear of having his ears literally talked off.
"Mama! Mama! Mr. Bingley has come to Netherfield!" Lydia began, stationing herself across from Mrs. Bennet.
"And Sir William Lucas has called on him!" Kitty added, with a slight cough.
Lydia glared at her. "Save your breath to cool your porridge, Kitty, I will tell Mama."
"I do not wish to know!" Mrs. Bennet declared, scowling at Mr. Bennet. "What should we care for Mr. Bingley, since we are never to be acquainted with him."
"But Mama!" Lydia cried, over Kitty's coughs.
"Do not keep coughing so, Kitty, for heaven's sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves!"
"I don't cough for my own amusement!"
"He has thirty- no, forty servants, and he's very handsome, and wears a blue coat!"
"And he declared to Sir William that he loves to dance!"
"And he's promised to come to the next ball!"
"At the assembly room!"
"And bring six gentlemen and four ladies!"
"No, it was twelve gentleman and seven ladies."
"Too many gentleman," Ellison murmured under his breath to Jane.
"I disagree," she returned with a rare impish look.
Mrs. Bennet let out a cry of distress. "Oh, Lydia, I beg you would stop! For we are never to know Mr. Bingley, and it pains me to hear of him."
"I am sick of Mr. Bingley!"
"I'm sorry to hear that," Mr. Bennet spoke up, folding his newspaper. "If I'd know as much this morning, I should never have called on him." He returned to his reading without another word. Ellison hid a smile, having suspected as much all along.
Mrs. Bennet, however, apparently had not. "Called on him?"
"I'm afraid we cannot escape the acquaintance now," Mr. Bennet said sadly, winking at Ellison and Jane.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet!" his wife shrieked, jumping up to give him a kiss. "How good you are to us!"
"Well, well," he said, looking a bit pleased in spite of himself to have caused his wife such raptures.
"Oh, is he not a good father? And never to tell us, what a good joke!" She burst out laughing and began dancing around the room with Kitty and Lydia. Ellison raised an eyebrow at Jane. Mary continued to ignore the proceedings, deeply engrossed in Fordyce's Sermons. "And you shall all dance with Mr. Bingley!"
Ellison smiled. "I hope he has a strong constitution, Mama."
"And a fondness for silly young women," Mr. Bennet added.
Mrs. Bennet broke away from her daughters and wagged a finger in her husband's face. "Oh, my dear Mr. Bennet, nothing you say shall ever vex me again."
"I'm sorry to hear it. Well Kitty," he said rising, apparently having had enough family moments to last him the rest of the day, "I believe you may cough as much as you like now."
Mrs. Bennet gave a cry of delight and returned to dancing.
Mr. Bingley's carriage arrived outside the assembly room fashionably late, as had been dictated by the amount of time it took Miss Bingley to arrange the feathers in her hair. She had tried valiantly to convince Miss Darcy to wear feathers as well, or at least orange, but in vain - Miss Darcy would not be moved.
Bingley hopped out of the carriage as soon as the manservant opened the door and surveyed the building with undisguised delight. Felicia, despite having known Bingley since childhood, never failed to be amazed by his continual affability, regardless of circumstances or surroundings. She herself was less than impressed by the evening planned - she would have much rather stayed home and written to her sister Georgiana, but propriety demanded she at least put in an appearance at this country dance. Besides, she doubted that either Bingley or his sister would have allowed her to remain at Netherfield, though for different reasons - Bingley was convinced that she was in desperate want of society, and was resolved to help her become more sociable, regardless of her objections. Miss Bingley just wanted her to dance with Bingley and fall madly in love, in spite of her wishes or Bingley's.
Miss Bingley linked her arm around Miss Darcy's in a gesture of familiarity. Felicia desired greatly to brush her off, but she valued Mr. Bingley's friendship, which demanded civility towards Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. "Shall we be quite safe here, Miss Felicia, do you think?" she said laughingly. "I trust Mr. Bingley will protect us."
Mr. Hurst climbed out of the carriage behind them, managing not to fall flat on his face only by the assistance of Mrs. Hurst and the grace of God. "Damn silly way to spend and evening."
Miss Darcy glanced at the doorway with trepidation. She was quite in agreement with Mr. Hurst.
Ellison had just finished a dance with one of Mrs. Long's daughters, only his third of the night (ladies were exceedingly scarce) when the Bingley party walked in.
The entire room went silent at once. There were certainly not twelve gentlemen and seven ladies among them - indeed, there was only Mr. Bingley, a gentleman, and three other young ladies. In spite of himself, Ellison was curious, and made his way towards Charlotte Lucas, who was standing near Jane and who could always be counted on for information.
Charlotte was one of Ellison's closest friends, and for a very long time, much of society fancied them in love, for having spent so much time in each other's company - but now that Ellison was of a marrying age and Charlotte was rapidly approaching spinsterhood, and there was still no sign of an attachment, rumors had died down. Charlotte and Ellison had never given the concept a second thought, however; they were agreed on the subject that to wed one another would be similar to marrying a brother or sister. So friends they remained, and Charlotte was his best source for neighborhood gossip, aside from his mother and Lydia. "Charlotte, it would seem that Jane and I have been misinformed as to the number in Mr. Bingley's party. Would you be so kind as to enlighten us as to the identities of our newfound neighbors?"
With a smile, Charlotte got down to work. "The two ladies in feathers are Mr. Bingley's sisters. One of them is married to the gentleman there. The other is keeping house for her brother."
With deep feelings of misgiving, Ellison inspected the other sister. "And the taller one is unmarried?"
"Indeed." Charlotte stole a glance at her friend. "And of good fortune."
He rolled his eyes. "I beg you, do not inform my mother."
"Not a word shall pass my lips."
"They are very elegant," Jane said, sighing with admiration for the sisters.
Ellison's admiration was not quite so easily won, as he watched them point and snicker to each other at their surroundings. "Aye, and better pleased with themselves than what they see, I think." He was about to inquire about the other young lady, when Mrs. Bennet called for him and his sister with a frantic motion.
"Do you see that lady there?" Mrs. Bennet said in what passed for a low whisper to Ellison, gesturing at the lady he had been about to inquire after. "Lady Lucas has just told me that she is one of the Bingley family's oldest friends!"
"And she is staying at Netherfield with Mr. Bingley? Perhaps, Mama, he cannot be won after all."
"Say nothing of the kind! I understand her to be merely friends with Mr. Bingley, from childhood I believe, and nothing more. Her name is Miss Darcy, and she has a mighty fortune and a great estate in Derbyshire."
"She is a woman of property?" Ellison said, surprised. "She looks too young."
"Yes, apparently the Darcy family had no sons, and the father refused to entail. Her wealth is greater than Mr. Bingley's! A fifty thousand dowry, and the estate is worth ten thousand a year, at least!" Mrs. Bennet was quite clearly beside herself. "Don't you think she's the prettiest lady you've ever seen, Ellis?"
Ellison smiled slightly at this. Miss Darcy had a fair complexion and a well-shaped figure, to be sure, but looked cold and unwelcoming. "She would not be quite so pretty were she not quite so rich."
Mr. Bingley was speaking to Sir William and gesturing at Jane, which did not escape the notice of anyone in the Bennet family. "Lord, he's coming over! Smile, Jane, smile!" Ellison, who knew Jane better than herself, could see her nervousness. He gave her shoulder a squeeze in comfort.
Sure enough, Sir William led Bingley to them almost at once. "Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Bingley has expressed an interest in becoming acquainted with you and your family."
"That is very good of you," Mrs. Bennet replied in a simpering voice. Ellison wanted to give a Lydia-like snort of disgust, but felt that perhaps it would be unappreciated. The gentleman bowed and the ladies curtseyed. "This is Jane, my eldest," she continued, "and my son, Ellison," she gestured to a row of chairs, "and Mary sits over there," and then to the dancers, "and Kitty and Lydia, my youngest, you see there dancing." There was a brief pause, and Ellison was about to say something, but Mrs. Bennet beat him to it. "Do you like to dance yourself?"
Bingley gave her a wide grin. "There is nothing I love better, madam. And if Miss Bennet is not otherwise engaged, might I be so bold as to claim the next two dances?"
Jane smiled prettily, and Ellison resisted the urge to nudge her in the side, just to tease. "I am not engaged, sir."
"You do us great honor, sir," Mrs. Bennet spoke up again, and Ellison wondered if it would be so wrong to join Mary and simply watch the party, rather than witness his mother try to participate in it. "Thank the gentleman, Jane."
Jane blushed slightly, and her brother felt for her. "Mama," he admonished under his breath, but either she didn't notice or didn't care. One could never really tell. Indeed, she seemed to consider this sufficient encouragement to address Miss Darcy, who quietly hanging back. "And you, miss! Are you fond of dancing, too?"
Miss Darcy turned towards them with an icy glare. Mr. Bingley, after a moment of confusion, seemed to remember himself. "Oh, I beg your pardon. Mrs. Bennet, may I present my friend, Miss Felicia Darcy."
"You are very welcome to Hertfordshire, I'm sure, Miss Darcy," Mrs. Bennet said, curtseying. "I hope you've come here eager to dance, as your friend has." She looked significantly at Ellison, who smiled at the lady but did not presume to ask her to dance so quickly.
"Thank you, madam," she said coldly, clearly not unaware that she was being matched with Mrs. Bennet's son, "but I rarely dance."
"Well, let this be one of the occasions, then, Miss Darcy, for I'll wager you'll not easily find such lively music." She nudged Ellison in the side, and he was prepared to ask Miss Darcy for the next dance for the express purpose of convincing his mother to leave him alone, but Miss Darcy had already curtseyed and stalked to the other side of the room. Mrs. Bennet colored with indignation at her abrupt departure, and Mr. Bingley begged his leave and pursued his friend. "Well! Did you ever meet such a proud, disagreeable lady?"
"Mama, she will hear you," Ellison said sharply, but in vain.
"I don't care if she does! And her friend is so agreeable and everything charming." Mr. Bingley was whispering to Miss Darcy, and occasionally glancing back at the Bennets. Miss Darcy did not appear to be responding with anything beyond haughty indifference to Bingley's words. "Who is she to think herself so far above her company?"
Ellison shrugged. "Well, the very rich can afford to give offense wherever they go. We need not care for her good opinion." He honestly didn't care about Miss Darcy's clear unwillingness to dance with him - the lack of good opinion from one young lady was hardly enough to ruin his life, regardless of how rich she may be. "Perhaps she is not so pretty after all," he said slyly.
"No indeed! Quite ill-favored," Mrs. Bennet said indignantly.
Jane continued to smile.
Felicia was not enjoying herself in the slightest.
Although it was mildly amusing to watch Bingley make a fool of himself with his obvious enrapturement of the eldest Miss Bennet, Felicia had overheard Mrs. Bennet spread the news through the crowd that she was a proud, disagreeable young woman, and of a very haughty disposition. The whole room clearly felt the same, and she could feel a tide of dislike washing over her. She had absolutely no care for their opinion of her, and of they were so predisposed to think ill of her, she would not feign contentment with her surroundings and company, either. A few young men had approached her in an attempt to induce her to dance, but she had refused on general principle - she didn't know any of them, nor did she truly wish to. The only man she had danced with thus far was Bingley, which she knew would excite Miss Bingley's irrational hopes of having her for a sister-in-law, but it could not be helped.
Felicia had thus stationed herself against a wall, content for the moment to observe quietly. But, it would seem that she was to be denied even in that, as Bingley detached himself momentarily from Miss Bennet and made his way towards her.
"Come, Felicia! I must have you dance!" She glared at him. "I must! I hate to see you standing about in this stupid manner. Come, you had much better dance!"
"I most certainly will not," she replied frostily. "At an assembly such as this? It would be insupportable. You are engaged at the present," she motioned to Miss Bennet, "Mr. Hurst is in no position to dance," another motion to the drunken figure of Bingley's brother in law, "and you know perfectly well it would be a punishment for me to stand up with any other man in the room."
Bingley shook his head in mock disgust. "Good God, Felicia, I wouldn't be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom! I never met so many pleasant people in my life!" He glanced back over at Miss Bennet. "Some of the girls are uncommonly pretty."
Miss Darcy quirked an eyebrow at Bingley's latest foray into love. "Yes, you seem to have speedily located the only handsome girl in the room. But I doubt even an excess of pretty girls would affect my situation."
"Felicia, she is the most beautiful sight I have ever beheld." She couldn't resist a slight smile at this bit of poetry. She cared for Bingley like the brother she'd never had, but he really could be daft from time to time. "But that is not what we are discussing. Look, over there is Mr. Bennet, and he is quite without a partner. If you were to speak to him for a few minutes, I'm certain he would ask you to the next dance." He smiled at her. "You can be quite charming when you have a mind to be so."
Felicia glanced over her shoulder to where Mr. Bennet was sitting, indeed, watching them. "He is tolerable, I suppose, but he is not handsome enough to tempt me. Bingley, I am in no mood to give consequence to men who are slighted by other ladies. Go back to your partner, enjoy her smiles - you are wasting your time with me."
Bingley did so, and Miss Darcy returned herself to the process of observation...and she observed Mr. Bennet rise with a peculiar smile on his face, cross to a lady friend she recognized the eldest of Sir William Lucas across the room, and speak for a few moments, and start laughing.
She got the distinct impression she was the object of his humor.
"And Jane was so admired! There was nothing like it!" Mrs. Bennet said rapturously. Mr. Bennet barely acknowledged the discourse with a nod, but Jane blushed from her seat. Ellison was unable to keep himself from smiling at her discomfort.
"Lord, I'm so fagged!" Lydia plopped down on the couch, while Kitty sat in a slightly more ladylike manner next to her. "And Lydia and I danced every dance." "And Mary none!" This led to another round of giggles, and Ellison could not help but wonder why all the men in Meryton found them attractive. Even as his sisters, his family, he found them to be the most absurd, tiresome girls he'd ever had the misfortune to encounter.
"And Mr. Bingley favored Jane above every other girl! He danced the first two with her, then the next with Charlotte Lucas, which vexed me greatly, but lo, in the very next, nothing would please him but to stand up with Jane again! And then he danced two with Miss Darcy, and then, what do you think he did next?"
"Enough, enough, madam, for God's sake!" Mr. Bennet had reached his admittedly low limit for ballroom gossip. "Let's hear no more of his partners. Would he had sprained his ankle in the first dance!"
"And his sisters! Oh, such charming women! So elegant and obliging! I dare say that Miss Bingley could do very well for Ellis," the man in question rolled his eyes at this, "though they had no immediate predisposition for one another, I'm certain that shall improve on closer acquaintance. Oh, and the lace on Mrs. Hurst's gown was-"
"No lace, no lace, Mrs. Bennet, I beg you." Mr. Bennet was holding the fire poker in a somewhat threatening manner, but no one seemed to notice other than Ellison.
"But that woman they brought with them - Miss Darcy, as she called herself - is not for our concern. Though she may be the richest lady in Derbyshire - the proudest, most disobliging - she slighted poor Ellis, and flatly refused to stand up with him."
Mr. Bennet raised an eyebrow at Ellison. "Slighted my son, did she?"
Ellison smiled. It had all been rather amusing, after all. "I didn't care for her either, Father, so it was of little matter."
"Another time, Ellis, and I would refuse to ask her to dance even if she should be in search of a partner."
"I think I may safely promise you, ma'am, never to dance with Miss Darcy."
"And so none of the Hertfordshire gentleman could please you, Miss Darcy?" Felicia glanced up from her view of the fireplace at Miss Bingley, who was looking even more smug than usual. No doubt she had taken this evening as confirmation of Felicia's affection for Charles. No matter how many different ways, subtle and direct, and Miss Darcy tried to put the matter, Miss Bingley was quite determined to not relinquish her fondest hope of situating her brother in Pemberley. Felicia could only be glad that Bingley's rose-colored glasses were too firmly situated on his face to notice the intrigues of his scheming sister.
"Well, I never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in my life," Bingley declared.
"Bingley, you astonish me. I saw little beauty and no breeding at all. It takes a woman to notice these things." Seeing that her friend looked miffed, she added, "The eldest Miss Bennet is, I'll grant you, very pretty."
"A fine concession! She is an angel!"
"She smiles too much," Felicia said darkly.
"Oh, Miss Bennet is a sweet girl," Miss Bingley intervened. Though always careful to check for newfound attachments on Miss Darcy's part, she rarely concerned herself with directions or designs of her brother -- Bingley was so often in and out of love, that were Caroline to be constantly working to discourage his affections towards any other than Miss Darcy, she would have found herself quite exhausted. "But the mother!"
Bingley sighed, unable to defend the woman.
"I heard Mr. Ellison Bennet described as quite popular with the local young ladies. What do you say to that, Miss Darcy?"
Felicia had little opinion on the subject of Mr. Bennet, but was willing to oblige Miss Bingley, if it would make her be quiet. "I would as soon call him handsome as his mother a wit." The two sisters burst into obnoxious laughter at this, but she hoped they would be ceasing their inquisition.
Bingley rose and spoke in admonishing tones. "Felicia, I shall never understand why you go through the world determined to be displeased with everything and everyone in it."
"And I will never understand why you are in such a rage to approve of everything and everyone that you meet." Despite her reproach, Felicia was unable to keep herself from smiling at her old friend. His good nature did him credit, even if it did make him insufferably naive from time to time.
"Well, you shall not make me think ill of Miss Bennet."
"Indeed she shall not," Miss Bingley added. "I shall dare her disapproval and declare Miss Bennet to be a dear, sweet girl, in spite of her unfortunate relations," despite her confidence of the fleetingness of Mr. Bingley's attachments, she clearly could not resist a small jab in that direction, "and I should not be sorry to know her better."
"No, nor I," Mrs. Hurst said, nodding in acquiescence. "You see, Miss Felicia, we are not afraid of you."
"I would not have you so," Miss Darcy said gravely, though with disappointment -- perhaps, if they feared her a bit more, she would not have to put up with this constant nonsense.
Mr. Hurst chose this extremely opportune time to awaken. "Ah, very true, damn tedious waste of an evening."
Oddly enough, Felicia found herself more and more in agreement with Mr. Hurst these days.
"He is just what a young man ought to be, Ellis," Jane said dreamily, selecting a rose for her basket. "Sensible, lively...I never saw happier manners."
"Handsome too, I suppose," Ellison replied from his vantage point within the shrubbery, having been enlisted by his sister to assist with the more difficult weeds, "which we young men ought to be if we can possibly help it. And he seems to like you very much, which shows good judgment." He wriggled out from underneath the branches and grinned cheekily at Jane. "No, I give you leave to like him. You've liked many a stupider person."
Jane blushed even as she smiled. "Dear Ellis."
They began walking slowly back towards the house. "He could be happier in his choice of sisters and friends, though. His sisters, I suppose he cannot help."
"You did not like them?"
"Not at all! Their manners are quite different from his."
"At first, perhaps, but after a while I found them very pleasing."
"They seemed vain, pompous...none of which, I'm certain, will stop Mama from trying to match me with the single one."
"Perhaps you are wrong, Ellis. And even Miss Darcy, you know, may improve upon close acquaintance."
Ellison stared at his sister in mock horror. "You mean she will be in humor to give consequence to men slighted by other women? Never!" Jane laughed, which was sufficient encouragement for him to adopt a haughty pose, nose in the air, and say in a squeaky falsetto tone, "He is tolerable, I suppose," he nearly broke up with chuckles at this point, "but not handsome enough to tempt me!"
"It was very wrong of her to speak so," Jane giggled.
"Ah, indeed it was, Jane, indeed it was. Capital offense." He was distracted from his teasing by the arrival of Charlotte Lucas at the front gate. "Charlotte!"
"Ellis!" she approached him quickly with a wide smile, which could only mean there was some new bit of society news to be had. "My father is to give a party at Lucas Lodge, and you are all invited."
Felicia could not help but wonder how she kept finding herself in these situations. The chatter at Lucas Lodge was grating unbearably and encouraging a monstrous headache. Bingley had attached himself to the eldest Miss Bennet at the moment of their arrival, so her only hope of conversation lay in Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley - an unfortunate fact that she did not believe would bode well for her headache. So she satisfied herself for the moment to stand by the mirror and watch the crowd.
More often that she would admit to, she found her gaze drawn to the younger Mr. Bennet, who was engaged in conversation with some of the ---shire Militia. She wondered if perhaps she had been a bit too hasty in declaring him to be merely tolerable - he did have something of a handsome face, when lit by a mischievous grin, which was fairly often. And every now and then, he would look over at her and raise an eyebrow in what appeared to be curiosity or amusement.
What was the meaning of it all? The question dogged her, and in spite of her efforts to ignore everything and everyone, she found herself pondering it most of the night.
Ellison was growing quite tired of the officers' conversation - although interesting in its novelty, none of them seemed too bright and were incapable of carrying on a conversation that didn't relate to the number of women they'd been in the company of in recent times. When he spied Charlotte standing by herself near the window, he excused himself and made his way through the throng of dancers.
"I see that Mr. Bingley continues his attentions to Jane, Ellis," Charlotte said by way of greeting, nodding slightly to the couple in question. He was not surprised she had noticed - Charlotte could always be trusted to keep up to date on these sort of matters.
Ellison observed them for a few moments, noting with pleasure the subtle but noticeable signs of enjoyment on Jane's face. "I am very happy for her, Charlotte."
"She does seem very well pleased with him."
"I think if he continues so, she is in a fair way to be very much in love with him." Ellison, though saddened slightly at the prospect of losing his dearest sister, felt that a match with Mr. Bingley would certainly bring her great happiness - provided, of course, that this Bingley was an honorable sort of fellow, which he saw no reason to doubt.
Charlotte raised her eyebrows at this. "And Mr. Bingley? Do you think he is in love?"
"I think it is clear that he likes her very much," Ellison said, after another moment or two of surveillance.
"Then she should leave him in no doubt of her heart," she said confidently. "She should show more affection, even than she feels, not less, if she is to secure him."
He burst out laughing at this. "Secure him? Charlotte!"
"Well yes! She should secure him as soon as may be!" she replied pragmatically.
Ellison could only shake his head. "Before she is sure of his character, before she is certain even of her own regard for him?" He sighed in mock distaste. "Women."
"Now that was uncalled for," Charlotte scolded him. "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance, you know. There will always be vexation and grief, and it is better to know in advance as little as possible of the defects of your marriage partner, is it not now? And if you continue to have such critical thoughts about the opposite sex, you will never have the opportunity to test this theory."
"And the Hertfordshire community believes I am the cynical one," Ellison said, grinning. "You would never act like that yourself, I know."
"Well, it seems that Jane will not." She smiled fondly at the couple. "So we must hope that Mr. Bingley will." She continued with a glance over her shoulder at Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, who were surveying the company with unabashed discontentment. "Though he receives little encouragement from his sisters."
"Or his friend," Ellison added, noticing Miss Darcy watching him again from across the room. She had been doing so numerous times that evening, he had perceived, and his numerous attempts to dissuade her with a mocking expression had been unsuccessful. What on earth was she up to?
This did not go unnoticed by Charlotte, either. "Miss Darcy looks at you a great deal, Ellis," she said shrewdly.
"And I cannot think why," he said lightly, "unless she means to impress upon me the full extent of her contempt. But as you know, dearest friend, it takes a great deal more than the dislike of a stranger to move me." He observed the woman in question for another moment, again taking note of the aloof and cold air about her. "I wish she would not come into society, she only makes people uneasy."
"From her expressions, I cannot imagine you wish it any more than she does."
Ellison was about to reply, but was cut off by a loud squeal from Lydia as she ducked the arm of an officer. He sighed. Papa was not there, Mama clearly had no intent of reigning in her favorite daughter, and Jane was engaged, so it was his duty to deal with the child. "I think I should go speak to Lydia before she exposes us all to ridicule. If you'll excuse me?" He departed from Charlotte and made his way towards his unruly sister.
"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Miss Darcy!" Sir William Lucas exclaimed, approaching Felicia from a blind spot on her side, so that she did not notice him until it was too late to escape. "Nothing like dancing, you know. One of the refinements of every polished society."
Felicia refused to look at him, hoping he would take the hint and leave her in peace. Her head was throbbing something fierce. "And every unpolished society."
"Every savage can dance," she said frostily.
Sir William seemed surprised for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Oh, yes...yes, quite." And he showed no signs of going away. Miss Darcy wondered what she had to do to convince people to leave her be, short of contracting smallpox.
At that moment, Mr. Bennet passed by, and was captured by Sir William before he could proceed to his intended destination. "Ah, Ellison!" The gentleman turned about, looking surprised. "Why are you not dancing? Please, allow me to present you with a most desirable dancing partner," he continued, grasping Felicia's hand (who was too stunned to react) and offering it to Mr. Bennet, "though she dislikes the amusement so much in general, I'm certain she cannot refuse when asked to the floor by yourself."
Mr. Bennet seemed to flush ever so slightly, but still merely raised an eyebrow at Felicia, who was trying hard to hide her mortification. She suspected that she was only moderately successful. "I thank you Sir William, but I have no inclination to dance, and I have no doubt that Miss Darcy is not of a mind to do so either."
"I have no objection to dancing, Mr. Bennet," Felicia said, intending it to be a gesture of civility, but astonishingly enough, found it to be true. She was not adverse to the idea.
"There, you see, Ellison?"
He merely smiled. "Miss Darcy is all politeness," he said archly, "but I assure you, I have not the least intention of dancing." He was turning her down? In spite of this obvious insult, Felicia could not help but notice what handsome eyes Mr. Bennet had when he smiled. "If you would excuse me?" He bowed and continued on his way.
Sir William was at a loss for a few moments, but smoothed everything over quickly with a few "Capital!"s, and went to see about his other guests, leaving Felicia to ruminate on the exchange.
But again she was interrupted, this time from the tempestuous front of Miss Bingley. "Oh, my dear friend, I believe I can guess your thoughts at this moment," she whispered with some false attempt at camaraderie.
"I should imagine not." Indeed, if Miss Bingley were correctly calculating her musings at this moment, she would not sound nearly so pleased.
"You are thinking how insupportable it would be to spend many nights in such tedious company. Indeed, I have no doubt that you find the evenings at Netherfield with my brother far more pleasing."
"I assure you, my mind was more agreeably engaged." Felicia considered ending the conversation at this, but recognized a rare opportunity to disillusion Miss Bingley, and with a rare mind of humor, found herself quite unable to pass it up. "I was meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in a handsome man can bestow."
"And may one dare ask whose are the eyes which inspired these reflections?" Miss Bingley glanced over Felicia's shoulder, no doubt to determine whether Mr. Bingley was in her line of sight.
"Mr. Ellison Bennet's."
Felicia was incapable of keeping a small Mona Lisa smile from her face as she felt Miss Bingley freeze in horror behind her. She rather suspected that she would pay for this admission later, but the present disquiet it had caused Caroline made it worthwhile. "Mr. Ellison Bennet! I am all astonishment!" Thankfully, Miss Bingley retreated in bafflement, and Felicia was left to her contemplation in peace.
Perhaps the evening was not a total loss, after all.
"A note from Netherfield! Oh, Jane, what does it say?"
Jane scanned the front of the letter quickly. "It is from Miss Bingley."
"Oh." Mrs. Bennet sounded disappointed, and it was only for the sake of a mouthful of eggs that Ellison didn't laugh at her. Did she honestly expect Mr. Bingley to propose by post? "Well, that is a good sign too," she continued in a more cheerful voice, jumping out of her seat sweeping around the table to Jane's side. "Give it to me." She unceremoniously snatched the letter out of Jane's hand, to the latter's great chagrin.
"'My dear friend,' there now! 'Dine with Louisa and me today'...la dee dah, la dee dah..." Jane looked as though she wanted to die from embarrassment at her private letter being read aloud. Ellison could only give her a wince of sympathy. "'As Mr. Bingley will be dining with the officers and Miss Darcy has gone to town for the day.' Well, that's unlucky, the bit about Mr. Bingley anyway. Still, you must go and make what you can of it. 'Yours ever, Caroline Bingley.' Very elegant hand," Mrs. Bennet said admiringly. "Ellison, I cannot imagine why you are not taken by her."
Ellison had many responses to that - few of them flattering - but held his tongue for the sake of diplomacy (and Jane).
Jane looked very pleased at her invitation. "May I have the carriage, Father?"
Mr. Bennet opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by the shrill voice of his wife before he could utter a syllable. "The carriage? No indeed! You must go on horseback," said she, looking in the throws of a great scheme, "for it looks like rain, then you will have to stay the night!"
"Mother!" Jane cried in the tones of one beyond horrified.
"Father," Ellison said under his breath, hoping to enlist Mr. Bennet's help in keeping Jane from falling victim to one of their mother's intrigues, but to no success; Mr. Bennet merely shrugged helplessly and glanced out the window.
"Now why do you look at me like that? Would you go all the way to Netherfield and back without seeing Mr. Bingley? No indeed. You will go on Nellie. That will do very well indeed."
"Mama," Ellison interrupted sharply, feeling the weight of Jane's helpless gaze on him.
"And don't you start, Ellis! If we listen to your views about 'man-trapping conspiracies' as you've put it, your sisters will never be married!" Mrs. Bennet scolded, and that was the last said on the subject.
Indeed, less that fifteen minutes after Jane had departed, a torrential downpour opened from the skies. Ellison stared out the parlor window at the weather mutely, hoping that Jane had felt the urge to gallop towards Netherfield rather than trot. He didn't hold his hopes too high, though.
"There Ellis, you see?" Mrs. Bennet said smugly from her needlework. "It is all exactly as I planned."
Ellison paused in his contemplation of the rain to spend a few moments glaring at his mother, then returned to worrying.
Miss Bennet sniffled as she looked down at her food with an expression of vacant disinterest. Caroline was not all that surprised - the new cook in the house was odious. As soon as possible, she was going to convince Charles to be rid of him and hire someone new - with the advice of Miss Darcy, of course. Miss Darcy was always willing to give Charles advice, which was precisely what he needed in a wife, Caroline had decided - bless the boy, he just wasn't too bright about proper behavior for one of his place in society.
In the meantime, however, it was necessary to derive as much information from Miss Bennet as possible regarding her family and situation, in the event that ammunition should ever be needed against her. Jane was a sweet girl, certainly, but though Caroline was quite certain that she was no true contestant for Charles' heart, it was always best to be prepared.
Louisa, of course, was always willing to help. "Now, let me see if I've got this right, Jane. Your mother's sister is named Mrs. Phillips?" Jane nodded affirmatively, though she seemed a bit detached. Caroline wondered if riding through the rain had perhaps affected her. But then, perhaps she was just not a very quick girl. "And his estate is...."
"He lives in Meryton," Jane supplied, with an unabashed smile. "He's an attorney."
It took all of Caroline's good breeding not to choke on her glass of wine. She merely gave Jane a slight smile as she tucked away this damaging tidbit for future use. Miss Darcy would find it amusing, certainly.
"And your mother's brother lives in London?" Louisa continued, unfazed.
"Yes. In Gracechurch Street," she replied, sounding weaker by the moment.
"In which part of London is Gracechurch Street, Jane?" Caroline asked sweetly, already knowing the answer. Poor girl, one uncle an attorney, another in Cheapside. She had absolutely no hope of marrying well.
Jane paled rather abruptly, which Caroline first thought was a sign of shame about her uncle, but soon realized her mistake when Jane put her head in her hands and began trembling. "Foster, get help - Miss Bennet is unwell," she said sharply to one of the servants, who bowed and left at once.
"Well, my dear, if Jane should die of this fever, it will be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr. Bingley, and under your orders."
"Oh, nonsense! People do not die of trifling little colds," Mrs. Bennet responded confidently. "She will be very well taken care of."
"Mama, I think I must go to Jane," Ellison spoke up, unable to eat. He felt immensely guilty at having not done more to secure her the carriage, and therefore, he was at least partially to blame for her illness. He could not simply leave her at Netherfield alone.
"Go to Netherfield?" Mrs. Bennet said, astonished. "No, there's no call for that. Jane is very well where she is. You shall stay here."
Ellison glowered for a moment. Mama could not make him obey, of course, but if he went expressly against her wishes, he'd never hear the end of it. But he was fairly certain he could convince her to change her mind...odious though the method was. "Yes, of course, you're right, Jane shall be very well attended...by Miss Bingley, I suppose." He tried to inject a note of wistfulness into his voice, hiding the revulsion he felt at resorting to such tactics.
"Miss Bingley? Oh, of course! Yes, you'll be wanting to see Miss Bingley!" Mrs. Bennet cried happily. Mr. Bennet shot Ellison an amused look, to which he rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly. "Well, in that case, you will of course be going to Netherfield!"
"I suppose that is a hint for me to send to the carriage," Mr. Bennet spoke up, quite clearly amused by the whole exchange.
"Thank you, Father, but I would much rather walk." The idea of enjoying the morning by a nice stroll was immensely appealing, especially considering the long months of winter ahead. "It is barely three miles to Netherfield, and I'll be back before dinner."
"Walk three miles? In all that dirt?" Mrs. Bennet cried, horrified.
Ellison had had quite enough. "Yes, Mama, dirt. I shall survive."
"I know, Ellis!" Kitty cried happily, which could only mean that she'd found some new excuse to see the Militia. "Lydia and I will set you as far as Meryton."
"Aye, let's call on Denny early before he is dressed!" Lydia interjected enthusiastically. "What shall he forget?" This was followed by girlish giggles and swooning. Ellison was disgusted - he knew it was unfair to judge the female race by his sisters and mother, but sometimes, it was difficult not to.
"Life holds few distinctions, Mrs. Bennet," Mr. Bennet said acidly, apparently feeling the same, "but I think we may safely boast that here sit two of the silliest girls in the country."