Beginning, Next Section
Posted on 2016-04-05
Friday, November 15, 1811
Elizabeth Bennet had been nursing her older sister, Jane, at Netherfield Park for two days and she viewed the necessity of breaking her fast with her host and his sisters with scant enthusiasm. Mr. Bingley was, in every respect, a most genial gentleman and host: kind, amiable and obviously much attracted to Jane Bennet, for it was apparent that nothing was to be found wanting in the care provided her while she resided at Netherfield. Elizabeth could not see that his sisters were of a similar disposition. While quite prepared to express their concern for, and a desire to entertain, her sister, their intentions and attentions did not survive the inclusion of the gentlemen into their company. Mr. Darcy, in particular, was the object of Miss Bingley's regard and it was a source of amusement to Elizabeth to discern that gentleman's obvious, to her at least, distaste for Miss Bingley's admiration. If Elizabeth had liked the gentleman more, she might have felt some sympathy for him; but, as it was, Darcy's manners and comportment had not recommended him to her and his gratuitous insult at an assembly before they had even been introduced, had fixed in her mind that he thought poorly of her. Nothing that had occurred between them since had altered this opinion and she quite believed him to be the most disagreeable and conceited man of her acquaintance.
It was this company she contemplated before she entered the dining room to break her fast. She was, therefore, not disappointed or surprised, to find, when she did so, the exact company already engaged in eating. Mr. Bingley only greeted her.
"Miss Elizabeth, may I inquire as to Miss Bennet's health?"
"She is much better, sir. I have hopes that she might be well enough to join us downstairs this evening."
Mr. Bingley was pleased at such tidings and was expressing his satisfaction when the door to the room opened and the butler made an announcement.
"Captain James Bingley."
The gentleman who followed the butler into the room was greeted by silence. Miss Bingley's mouth was gaping like a day old cod and Mrs. Hurst looked almost dismayed. Elizabeth wondered at their reaction but her thoughts were distracted by her host's behaviour for, as soon as he mastered his surprise, he jumped from the table and almost rushed to welcome the newcomer.
"Brother," said he, "You sent us no warning you were to visit."
"Does that mean I am unwelcome, Charles?"
The good natured laugh that accompanied his words and the eagerness with which the two men greeted each other left no doubt as to the affection that existed between them. Captain Bingley was a man of about thirty years of age, rather weathered in complexion; with a multitude of wrinkles around his eyes as if he spent much time squinting into the sun. He was a good looking man, although not as handsome as his younger brother, of much the same height but seemingly larger and more strongly built.
He greeted his sisters with an easy familiarity and Elizabeth rather supposed, from the manner in which that greeting was returned, that the pleasure shared by all three parties was inferior to that existing between the brothers. Mr. Hurst received only a brief nod which was returned in kind. Mr. Darcy, the captain greeted with civility. It was clear that while the two were acquainted, the relationship was not as warm as that between Darcy and the younger Bingley. Neither, however, appeared displeased to have renewed the acquaintance.
When introduced to Elizabeth, the captain made no effort to mask his pleasure at gaining the acquaintance of such an attractive young woman. He quickly made it known that he had departed his accommodations very early in the morning, and having eaten only lightly, required no encouragement to join them in their meal. Once a plate was filled, he wasted no time in placing himself beside Elizabeth; however, he was not to be allowed to devote his attentions to her as his brother had numerous questions which must be addressed while he attempted to consume the edibles before him.
Why had he come to Netherfield? - His business had called him to London and, as he had no pressing engagements, he thought to visit his brother and sisters. How long did he intend to visit? - This was a matter to be decided but he was not averse to remaining with them for some time. Why had he not written to advise them of his coming? Captain Bingley glanced at his sisters and mentioned that it had been a decision made on the spur of the moment.
Elizabeth laughed, remembering the conversations of the previous day about Bingley's impulsiveness.
"You are much like your brother then, Captain Bingley?"
He looked puzzled and Bingley laughed.
"Miss Elizabeth is, I fear, recollecting our conversation of yesterday where Darcy was finding fault with my habit of acting upon impulse."
"Ah, I see. Allow me to assure you, Miss Bennet, that my behaviour in this regard is generally more like Darcy's than my brother's."
"I found no fault with your brother's character, sir."
At this point Elizabeth realized that she had finished her meal and that Jane was likely to be waking. Making her excuses, she made her way upstairs, leaving Captain Bingley puzzled as to the reason for her presence. His confusion was quickly answered by Miss Bingley.
"Miss Eliza has taken upon herself the nursing of her elder sister who most inconveniently fell ill while visiting us two days ago. We assured her that her sister would be provided the best of care but Miss Bennet was so desirous of her sister's presence that nothing would do but to have her stay here also."
Bingley was not pleased at the asperity in his sister's tone.
"Caroline, that is most. . .well, allow me to say that Miss Elizabeth has been most attentive to her sister and I find nothing wanting in such sisterly concern."
"But surely Charles, her appearance when she arrived! Her petticoats six inches deep in mud. Even Mr. Darcy questioned the need for her attending her sister. Why. . ."
"That is quite enough, Caroline!" responded Bingley, who then turned to his brother who had been listening to this brief exchange with a great deal of interest. He wondered if his brother had an interest in Miss Elizabeth, for he had defended her most vigorously. That his youngest sister did not like the young lady was quite obvious, although he could not fathom why that would be so.
Most of the questions he harboured about the presence of the Miss Bennets were answered later that morning when he joined his brother and Darcy in the study. A change of clothing and a bath had not been unwelcome and his mood was cheerful when he sat down across from his brother. Darcy was also present but, as he was as reticent, as was his usual wont, Captain Bingley chose to disregard him, for his brother had claimed his attention quickly.
"I still wonder at your joining us, James. I had not thought you likely to leave the comforts of Liverpool."
James Bingley was slow to respond. In truth he was not sure why he had decided to join his siblings. The obvious reason, his business affairs were such at the moment that he had the freedom to do so, did not explain why he had acted so precipitously, for he could as equally have visited friends or stayed in London. Several possibilities had been before him and yet he had come here to Hertfordshire, a county that he had never before visited and one, if asked about in the past, he would have declaimed any interest in visiting. Yet here he was and with company that, if honest with himself, only one member of which could be considered pleasant.
"I cannot give you a satisfactory answer, Charles. I hardly know myself. I suppose that I was simply interested in seeing the estate you had let."
"Your business affairs go well?"
Captain Bingley nodded, "Very well indeed. All my ships but one are at sea and I do not anticipate them returning until the new year."
"How many is that now?"
Charles' eyebrows rose, "Indeed, I had not realized it was so many."
Captain Bingley shrugged. He was not in the habit of discussing his business affairs with anyone and his brother had rarely displayed more than a passing interest in the subject. He had no reason to believe his interest had grown. Besides, there was a matter of greater import.
"Now, Charles, you must enlighten me as to the presence of Miss Bennet and her sister. How did you meet them?"
Charles then endeavoured to do exactly that and, if his recital was somewhat disjointed, his brother swiftly understood that it was not Miss Elizabeth Bennet who had secured his brother's interest, but her older sister, Jane.
"When am I to meet this angel of yours, Charles?"
The captained noted a little smirk cross Darcy's lips and wondered at it.
"Tonight, if Miss Elizabeth is correct. You will, I know, find Miss Bennet to be everything that is most delightful. She is the most beautiful creature I have ever met."
"She smiles too much." said Darcy.
Bingley laughed, "And that is to be considered a fault? She is the most proper of creatures. I have yet to hear her speak poorly of anyone, even Darcy!" He laughed again and Darcy scowled slightly. Captain Bingley pursed his lips to stifle a chuckle. Clearly his brother's friend did not, for some reason, view Miss Bennet as favourably as Charles. He was soon enlightened on the reason.
Darcy sighed, "I do not mean to speak poorly of Miss Bennet, or even of Miss Elizabeth, but their family is most unsuitable. Their mother!" He shuddered slightly. "A harridan of the worst sort. And their younger sisters." He shook his head but would say no more.
As Charles did not refute his friend's statements, the captain could only suppose that there was substance to them.
He was to encounter Miss Elizabeth later that day as she was exiting the house for a walk with Mrs. Hurst. His company was offered and willingly accepted by both ladies. They had been walking for some time and the conversation, mostly carried by Elizabeth and the captain, was pleasant. After a quarter hour they could hear voices ahead, coming from an intersecting path and very shortly encountered Miss Bingley and Darcy.
His youngest sister appeared slightly perturbed at their meeting, although the captain could not discern a cause for it.
"I did not know that you intended to walk." said Caroline.
"You used us abominably ill," replied Mrs. Hurst, "running away without telling us you were coming out."
Then taking the unengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabeth to walk with the captain. As the latter was not adverse to the loss of his sister's company and quite willing to enjoy that of Elizabeth, the situation appeared to satisfy all the parties to it.
"Miss Elizabeth," said he, "perhaps we might wander down this trail. From what my brother has mentioned, you are a great walker - which I know my sisters are not - and we might thus allow ourselves a brisker pace and you could better acquaint me with the beauties of Netherfield's park."
Elizabeth was pleased at such an offer and with the prospect of furthering her acquaintance with Bingley's older brother. She was almost convinced that to remain at Netherfield might not be unpleasant, if the captain continued to be so agreeable.
As she could not remain separated from her sister for too long, the duration and extent of their ramble was limited; however, their conversation was not, and Elizabeth had rarely enjoyed a gentleman's company as much before. The captain was interested in Hertfordshire, Longbourn and her family and she had much to relate. She had only begun to direct the conversation to other subjects when she realized that it was past time for her to return to her sister.
"I am forced to take exception to your company, sir. It is altogether too enjoyable and has made me quite forget my obligations to my sister. I must leave you now and hurry back to her."
Captain Bingley laughed, "Never before have I been chastised for such a cause. I must ensure you of my gentlemanly behaviour and accompany you. I believe I can accommodate your pace."
In good spirits they returned to the manor house where Elizabeth left him to join her sister. The captain found that he missed her company exceedingly; he had never so enjoyed a young lady's conversation and regretted the loss of it. His intention to return to Liverpool before the Christmas season, he now questioned; however, there was easily a month before such a decision was required and that was more than sufficient to allow him to get to know Miss Elizabeth Bennet better.
When the ladies removed after dinner, Elizabeth ran up to her sister, and seeing her well guarded against the cold, attended her into the drawing room, where she was welcomed by her two friends with many professions of pleasure. Elizabeth had never seen them so agreeable as they were during the hour that passed before the gentlemen joined them. Their powers of conversation were considerable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.
But, when the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the first object. Mr. Darcy had advanced but a few steps into the room when Miss Bingley had something to say to him; however, he addressed himself to Miss Bennet with a polite congratulation on recovering her health, and Mr. Hurst echoed the sentiment. Diffuseness and warmth were left to Charles Bingley who was full of joy and attention. His first object was to introduce his brother to her acquaintance, but once that task was complete, he spent the next half hour building up the fire lest she suffer from the change of room; and she removed, at his desire, to the other side of the fireplace, that she might be further from the door. He then sat down beside her and scarce talked to anyone else. Elizabeth who was sitting somewhat removed from them both watched with great enjoyment.
Captain Bingley, once the necessary introduction to Miss Bennet had been made, moved to sit near Elizabeth and both comfortably conversed until tea was over. Mr. Hurst reminded his sister-in-law of the card-table - but in vain. She had learned Mr. Darcy did not wish for cards; and Mr. Hurst soon found even his open petition rejected. She assured him that no one intended to play, and the silence of the whole party on the subject seemed to justify her. Mr. Hurst had therefore nothing to do but to stretch himself on one of the sophas and go to sleep. Darcy took up a book; Miss Bingley did the same; and Mrs. Hurst, principally occupied in playing with her bracelets and rings, joined now and then in her brother's conversation with Miss Bennet. Elizabeth and Captain Bingley remained comfortably ensconced on a sopha and Elizabeth took the opportunity to further her acquaintance with him.
"I am ashamed, Captain Bingley, to admit my ignorance but, with the _______ Militia being quartered here, I rather thought you were an officer in the regulars, but from a little you have said, I now surmise that to be a mistake."
It turned out that her supposition was greatly in error. James Bingley had been sent to sea as a midshipman in His Majesty's Royal Nay at the tender age of twelve and was almost continuously at sea for the next fifteen years, rising to the rank of captain before retiring upon his father's death.
"I am an active sort of fellow, Miss Elizabeth and upon retiring was not content to live an idle life."
Miss Bingley had overheard some of their conversation and interrupted.
"My brother decided not to purchase an estate and chose instead to return to trade." she said disdainfully.
"Our father was in trade; your dowry is derived from his efforts. I see no shame in his activities."
"He wished his sons to be gentlemen." Caroline protested.
"I do not consider myself ungentlemanly. The life of a landowner does not suit me, Caroline. I have lived my life on the sea and it is that sphere where I am most comfortable."
"Do you captain a ship now, sir?" inquired Elizabeth.
"Not precisely, Miss Elizabeth. I engage in shipping, the transport of goods from one continent to another for the most part."
"Ah, my uncle engages in importing and exporting goods. Mayhap he uses your ships."
Captain Bingley smiled. "I know the company. They use a competitor of mine."
Elizabeth smiled slyly, "I am sure my father could arrange an introduction, should you wish one."
He laughed and Caroline scowled. Mr. Darcy's thoughts on the matter could not be discerned but Elizabeth was sure from his expression that he did not approve.
Elizabeth considered the captain further. His manner was engaging although not as polished as his brother's and, if his voice had a gruffness not evidenced in Mr. Darcy and Charles Bingley, she suspected that it was due to having to make himself heard over the howling of winds. She was not inclined to fault his manners for, if slightly unrefined, there was no want of politeness or consideration in his behaviour. There was a touch of an accent in his voice which she thought must be from his roots in the north; but it was not unpleasing. His clothes reminded her of how her uncle dressed. There was a plainness of style married with an excellence of cut and quality of fabric which suggested his business was not unprofitable and that his taste, was superior. She wondered at his circumstances and that his younger brother had inherited his father's fortune, but it was not a question that could be raised in polite company. She could not doubt her observations and was of the opinion that he possessed a respectable income.
Miss Bingley's attention was now quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, "How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."
Captain Bingley laughed, "Caroline, to my knowledge, in the years since my return, you have not read anything more challenging than a novel and not more than a handful of them."
Caroline ignored her brother's comment and he forwent the pleasure of teasing her further.
She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement; when, hearing her brother mentioning a ball to Miss Bennet, she turned suddenly towards him and said, "By-the-bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure."
"If you mean Darcy," cried her brother, "he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins -- but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards."
"I should like balls infinitely better," she replied, "if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."
"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball."
Captain Bingley's grimace prompted Elizabeth to inquire, "Are you of Mr. Darcy's persuasion, sir? Do you despise dancing?"
"Not at all, Miss Elizabeth, but my years at sea have not provided many opportunities for me to perfect the art."
Elizabeth was dismayed for she had, upon learning about the ball, hoped to have a dance with the captain. "Have you not learned, sir, or is it a want of practice?"
"The latter, fortunately. I must confess that my talents do not entail displaying a nimble foot on the dance floor."
"I believe the ladies of Hertfordshire will treat you kindly, Captain."
"Provided I do not insult their feet too much!" He chuckled.
Elizabeth's response was interrupted by Miss Bingley who had begun to walk about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings she resolved on one effort more; and turning to Elizabeth, said, "Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude."
"Caroline," interrupted her brother who was not insensible to the touch of disdain underlying his sister's words, "I am, I admit, not often amongst the highest circles of society but I always have been given to believe it highly improper to refer to someone other than by their proper name unless one is a particular friend. Am I incorrect on this?"
Miss Bingley looked affronted, for she knew that she had spoken of Elizabeth in such a manner as to display a touch of contempt. Only her eldest brother would dare question the propriety of her actions - and in front of company. She was not prepared to concede her fault though and chose to ignore what he had said. Her brother, however, was not disposed to allow the matter to rest and persisted.
"In future, Caroline, you shall refer to Miss Elizabeth properly."
He fixed his gaze on his sister and, after a brief pause, she nodded and repeated her request to walk about the room.
Elizabeth was surprised that Caroline had repeated her request, and was about to agree to it when the captain interceded once more.
"I am sure that Miss Elizabeth obtained sufficient exercise this morning as we must have walked for more than hour complete. And I should not wish to have our conversation interrupted."
Elizabeth was pleased at being so championed but the idea of stretching her legs was not unpleasant and she, with an apologetic look at Captain Bingley, said as much and agreed to Miss Bingley's suggestion. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was also invited to join their party as was Captain Bingley, but both men declined it and Mr. Darcy observed that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere.
Miss Bingley was excited by such a response. "What could he mean?" She was dying to know what could be his meaning - and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him.
Captain Bingley only laughed heartily, "I know not what Darcy is about, but I can admire Miss Elizabeth's figure best if I remain sitting here."
Elizabeth blushed prettily at such a comment although she was far from displeased. Darcy scowled but only Miss Bingley was sensible of his reaction.
Captain Bingley smiled at having discomposed Elizabeth to such an extent and, if he had thought she might object, would not have hazarded the comment. He turned to Darcy, "I had not meant to discourage your comment, Darcy. Say your piece."
Darcy waved it off. The moment had passed. Elizabeth was curious as to what he might have said although she was not unhappy he had chosen to be silent.
"Do not encourage him, for I am certain he means to be severe on Miss Bingley and myself, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it."
The captain raised an eyebrow at Darcy who shrugged and gave every sign that he did not wish to pursue the matter further. His demeanour looked more forbidding than usual and Elizabeth could not comprehend what could have caused a disagreeable man, to become even more disagreeable.
Caroline chose to allow the matter to drop for her brother's comment raised in her breast a suspicion that he admired Miss Elizabeth Bennet and she hardly knew what to think. If the lady's interest was deflected to her brother, it was possible that Darcy would lose interest in her. Certainly, Miss Elizabeth and her brother had appeared most companionable. Could she tolerate such a connection? Could she even influence her brother's decision? He was not like Charles. He never sought her advice, nor did he attach any value to it when she had provided it unsolicited. In more cases than not, he had done the reverse of what she wished to happen. It was bad enough that Charles appeared enamoured of Jane Bennet. To have her elder brother equally bewitched by Miss Elizabeth was more than she could countenance.
Miss Bingley was most unsettled by her current dilemma and cried, "Do let us have a little music! Louisa, you will not mind my waking Mr. Hurst."
Her sister made not the smallest objection, and the pianoforte was opened, and Darcy, after a few moments recollection, was not sorry for it. He had begun to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention and yet, if he understood the situation, her interest had been captured by Captain Bingley. He was not sure how he felt about that and he hoped the captain was not trifling with her. He wondered how long an attachment would last once the man had been introduced to her family for he could scarcely believe that any sensible man would pursue a connection to a family so bereft of propriety. Charles might, he knew, simply because he cared little for such matters. Darcy doubted his older brother would be equally sanguine about such behaviour. He was a sensible man, after all.
Saturday, November 1, 1811
In consequence of an agreement between the sisters, Elizabeth wrote to her mother to beg that the carriage might be sent for them in the course of the day. But Mrs. Bennet had calculated on her daughters remaining at Netherfield till the following Tuesday which would exactly finish Jane's week, and could not bring herself to receive them with pleasure before then. Mrs. Bennet sent them word that they could not possibly have the carriage before Tuesday; and in her postscript it was added that, if Mr. Bingley and his sister pressed them to stay longer, she could spare them very well. Her answer, therefore, was propitious, at least in terms of Elizabeth's wishes, for she was eager to have more of Captain Bingley's attention; however, Jane, whose notions of propriety were stringent, felt it imperative to return home. She was reluctant to further impose on her hosts and fearful of being considered as intruding themselves needlessly long and decided to request the use of Mr. Bingley's carriage immediately. At length she settled with Elizabeth that their original design of leaving Netherfield that morning should be mentioned, and the request made.
The communication excited many expressions of concern; and enough was said of wishing them to stay at least till the following day, to influence a change of Jane's opinion; and till the morrow their going was deferred. Miss Bingley was then sorry that she had proposed the delay, for her jealousy and dislike of one sister much exceeded her affection for the other. The master of the house heard with real sorrow that they were to go so soon, and repeatedly tried to persuade Miss Bennet that it would not be safe for her - that she was not enough recovered; but Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right. Captain Bingley was almost equally vociferous in the expression of his wish that Miss Bennet remain as it would ensure that Miss Elizabeth would be part of their company.
To Mr. Darcy the departure of Elizabeth cast him into an unfamiliar milieu of mixed emotions. On one hand, it was welcome intelligence - Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked - and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to him. One the other hand, Elizabeth had paid him little attention and such conversation that she had was mainly with Captain Bingley. An emotion he thought might be jealousy - and he could not even be certain of that, for he had never before been in such a state - arose when the Captain's attentions were considered. He could not be blind to Elizabeth's obvious approval of the captain but was certain that, should his interest be known to her, she would quickly transfer hers to him. His wealth, status and connections were, in every respect, superior to those of Captain Bingley, and Elizabeth, as a gentleman's daughter, could not possibly be insensible to them. Nonetheless, he resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the remainder of her visit must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.
If he had known that Elizabeth had entered the library after a long and interesting walk with Captain Bingley and had hardly even been aware of Darcy's presence, he would have been elated at his success in masking his interest, and disheartened at her lack of the same for him.
As one gentleman was resolving to hide his interest in Elizabeth in order to ensure he did not raise expectations, another was considering how best to forward his attachment and, when Captain Bingley had, from his bedchamber window, observed Elizabeth as she was strolling in Netherfield's gardens, he hastened down to join her. It had been a felicitous move for she welcomed him with pleasure. They had wandered around for over an hour, their conversation so easy as to render them quite oblivious to the garden itself. There had been no shortage of subjects to be discussed and an eager interest on both their parts to discuss them. Hertfordshire, Meryton, the navy and Liverpool were amongst the topics canvassed and both were sorry when required to separate. The Captain, while unhappy at the prospect of Elizabeth's departure, which would deprive him of her company, realized her removal would also allow him to pursue her more directly. As long as she was in residence at Netherfield, he could not, with propriety, speak of his intentions. Once she returned to Longbourn, he would act.
Sunday, November 17, 1811
The Bingley brothers were more than eager to accompany the Bennet sisters to services on Sunday. Miss Bingley, the Hursts and Mr. Darcy joined them with varying degrees of pleasure. Miss Bingley had the satisfaction of being escorted by Mr. Darcy to the pews reserved for Netherfield; however, her satisfaction was tempered by the sight of her brothers each escorting the Bennet sister of his choice to those same pews.
The service was remarkable only in one regard. Captain Bingley's voice, although quite capable of making itself heard over the roar of the wind and the snapping of sails was not melodious. Not in any respect. And he quickly became aware of that singular fact and noting the amused glance that Miss Elizabeth Bennet sneaked at him after the first hymn, the singing of which he had entered with no little enthusiasm. He knew he had best moderate his efforts.
As they left after the service, Miss Elizabeth once more on his arm, she whispered, her eyes fixed determinedly ahead, "I must admire your enthusiasm for singing the hymns, sir."
He chuckled, "I confess I tend to forget that one need not sing as loudly as possible to be heard, Miss Elizabeth."
"Church services are held at sea then, Captain?"
"Indeed they are. Every Sunday unless conditions or circumstances do not permit."
"Aye, I am afraid war does not recognize the Sabbath and we have, several times, had to clear for action on a Sunday."
Elizabeth wished to have him explain what he meant by 'clear for action' but as they had reached their carriage, the separation, so agreeable to almost all, took place. Miss Bingley's civility to Elizabeth increased at last very rapidly, as well as her affection for Jane; and when they parted, after assuring the latter of the pleasure it would always give her to see her either at Longbourn or Netherfield, and embracing her most tenderly, she even shook hands with the former.
Posted on 2016-04-08
Monday November 18, 1811
At Netherfield Park, the absence of the Bennet sisters was felt keenly by only the Bingley brothers and it was the press of business alone that kept them from calling on Longbourn after breaking their fast that morning. While his affairs might be quieter than usual at the moment, Captain Bingley was greeted by a large number of business correspondences that demanded immediate attention. Much as he might wish it otherwise, he could not defer tending to the letters and thus plans to call on Elizabeth must wait until the morrow. Seeing that the Captain was so engaged, it was not difficult for Darcy to convince Charles that estate matters, which had been neglected while Jane Bennet was sick, should now be addressed. That such concerns also removed them from Miss Bingley's company was appreciated by all three gentlemen, for that lady had made her delight at the absence of those sisters quite clear.
"How good it is" she exclaimed, as she sat down at the breakfast table that morning, "to be once again our own party only."
Her brothers looked at her, one with amusement and the other unhappily.
"I quite enjoyed Miss Elizabeth's company." smiled Captain Bingley.
"I only wish that Miss Bennet could have been persuaded to remain another day or two." muttered his brother.
The Captain disagreed, "No, it would not do, Charles. Miss Bennet was quite right to insist on returning home although I do not doubt that her wishes aligned with yours."
"Do you think so?"
The Captain's features displayed some surprise. "Of course! It seemed obvious enough to me from the little I saw. Do you not agree, Louisa?"
Louisa was unhappy at having her opinion sought and cast a wary eye at her younger sister.
"I cannot speak with such certainty, James. She obviously will welcome our brother's attentions. How could she not in her circumstances."
"Her circumstances?" Captain Bingley mused, "Are they so very dreadful, then?"
Caroline chose to answer on her sister's behalf and it was impossible to miss the derision in her voice.
"She is one of five sisters, their estate is small - I have learned its income is only about two thousand a year and some cousin or other will inherit when her father dies. She has also never had a season in town or been presented at court. I would mention her connections, one uncle is a solicitor in Meryton and the other in trade in town, but of course the latter matters not at all to you." The distaste in her voice was clear and the Captain cheerfully smiled at her.
"Not at all. Why should it?"
Caroline pursed her lips at the mildness of his response but chose not to answer and the captain's smile broadened as he nodded at her.
"Very wise." He said and returned his attention to his plate.
Louisa was less willing to allow the matter to rest and spoke directly to her younger brother. "You must realize, Charles, Mrs. Bennet's intentions were made very clear when she visited. She has every expectation of seeing her daughter as Mistress of Netherfield. Jane is a dear creature but she is compliant and obedient, and you were extremely attentive to her. You must be sensitive to the danger of paying her such marked attentions. You will undoubtedly raise her expectations to match those of her mother which are quite high enough, thank you."
Caroline was not reluctant to support her sister, "And her mother is hardly the epitome of propriety and manners. Such a vulgar woman. One wonders that Jane could be so genteel. Her younger sisters, unfortunately, take after the mother. "
"I would not have called Miss Bennet particularly compliant." offered the Captain. "She was quite determined to return home and, if she were as mercenary as you claim, Caroline, would she not have attempted to prolong her stay? Might she not also set her cap at Darcy here, for he has twice the income of Charles?" He paused briefly before adding, "And I would not wish you to suggest that all her younger sisters behave improperly. I have met only Miss Elizabeth, of course, and certainly found nothing wanting in her behaviour." He gazed fixedly at his sister until she acknowledged his caution with a slight nod. He had no illusions that her opinion had changed but as long as she withheld her criticism of Elizabeth, he would be content. It was Charles' responsibility to rein her in with regard to Miss Bennet; however, his brother's dislike of confrontation made it likely he would do so only reluctantly. Charles would have to become his own man or his sisters would rule his life, and to their benefit - not his.
Darcy had remained silent throughout the siblings' discussion and, as everyone else seemed more interested in food than conversation, quiet lasted for several minutes punctuated only by the sound of cutlery clicking on the plates. However, silence was not a state that Caroline could long tolerate, particularly when the opportunity existed to express her displeasure at being in Hertfordshire. In this instance, her dislike at the thought of hosting a ball spilled over into a condemnation of the society in the area and she elaborated comprehensively on the poverty of fashion, style, manners and discourse of that society for several minutes. Finally, realizing that she was in danger of repeating herself on the subject, she appealed to Darcy.
"Should you question my views, James, I can assure you that Mr. Darcy has been equally censorious. Is that not so, sir?" she paused, not allowing him time to respond, "If I remember correctly, you stated that you saw a collection of people with little beauty, no fashion and whom she found no one of interest and received no pleasure from such attentions as you did receive."
The Captain rather thought Darcy looked briefly discomposed and wondered if he was embarrassed at having his opinion now repeated; however, Darcy maintained his silence, neither refuting nor confirming his words and the captain suspected his sister was not altogether pleased at the obvious lack of support for her position. He decided to press him on the matter.
"Is the neighbourhood here so much different than in Derbyshire, Darcy? I have stayed in different parts of the country since my return and it has always seemed to me that such areas are more similar than otherwise."
"The country cannot be compared to town, Brother!" huffed Caroline.
"Of course not! Why ever would you expect such to be the case?" He looked at his sister more closely, "If the country is such a burden, if you find it so unpleasant, I wonder at your staying here. What can you mean by it?"
James had an excellent idea why his sister was willing to forsake the delights of town to act as hostess for her brother and did not doubt that, should Darcy decide to remove to town, she would quickly make excuses to remove to town herself. He could only wonder at her persistent delusion, for she had pressed her suit with Darcy for several years and the gentleman could hardly be so blind as to be unaware of her intentions. That he had not, in all that time, acted to satisfy them should have been sufficient to convince her that he would never do so. Unfortunately, Darcy's basic civility prevented him from displaying the distaste he undoubtedly felt at being the object of her suit, and Caroline was apparently so wrapped in her desire to achieve her ambitions that she could not accept or even recognize that they were not shared by the object of them. Darcy had made his lack of intentions known to Charles and Charles had relayed the bare facts to both his sisters and his elder brother. But Caroline would not desist and the captain suspected she would only do so when Darcy finally married.
Tuesday, November 19, 1811
Once breakfast was complete the Bingley brothers felt free to call on Longbourn and, in a matter of minutes, the plan was made. Apprised of their intent, Darcy agreed to accompany them and good-naturedly shrugged when chaffed by his friend that he did so only to avoid being left at Netherfield in Caroline's company. The captain noted with amusement that Darcy's disclaimer appeared more a matter of courtesy than conviction.
When his curricle was brought out, Darcy's turned an astonished gaze upon Captain Bingley. "You do not ride?"
"The navy does discourage its captains from transporting horses for their personal use. Apart from feed, there is a want of space to hold and exercise them and they are deucedly awkward when attempting to board another ship when one must do so."
Darcy ignored the captain's attempt to lightly deflect the matter and would not allow the matter to drop. "And you have not learned since you left the navy?"
The captain was becoming a little irritated at the censure he detected in Darcy's tone. "It was not worth my time or effort to learn. My carriage and this curricle serve me quite well. I have no intention of purchasing an estate so the lack of such an accomplishment is of little significance."
Darcy chose to pursue the matter no further; however, the captain was well aware that riding was considered a mandatory skill for a gentleman landowner. As he had no pretensions in that direction, he refused to allow it to concern him. Darcy could think what he wished. Shortly thereafter the two horsemen left for Longbourn bracketing the captain's curricle which was drawn by a matching pair of greys. They were part way through Meryton when they noticed a group of ladies and gentlemen ahead. Very quickly it could be seen that amongst their number were the two eldest Bennet sisters, along with two younger girls and three gentlemen. One was dressed in regimentals and the captain assumed he was a member of the _____ Militia of which he had heard. Another man was dressed in black and appeared to be paying particular attention to Elizabeth Bennet. He was a tall, heavy man of four or five and twenty. The third gentleman was obscured by the others but appeared to have garnered interest from several of the young ladies.
Miss Bennet was the first to become aware of the presence of the approaching party and her eyes clearly saw no one but Charles Bingley. The captain was amused to note that his brother's attention was equally fixed and that he wasted no time in dismounting and greeting Miss Bennet. For himself, the captain's attention was drawn by Elizabeth and he was pleased to see that she was favoured him with a smile. He brought his curricle to a stop a short distance away, dismounted and walked to her side to greet her and the others of her party.
The introductions had hardly been made when he happened to observe an alteration in Darcy's countenance. His complexion reddened and he gave every sign of a man controlling his temper. The object of his displeasure appeared to be the third gentleman for whom an introduction had yet to be provided. The exchange between the two men had been brief and, on Darcy's side, bordered on the discourteous. After barely acknowledging the other's presence, he had turned and rode away without another word and Charles, surprised at his friend's actions, mounted his horse and followed. He looked back at his brother but a shake of the captain's head indicated that he would not join them. His purposes today would not be furthered by chasing after Darcy and, in truth, he was very little concerned about the man's actions. He was, he admitted to himself, somewhat relieved by them, for he wished to speak with Elizabeth, and in private.
The gentleman who discomposed Darcy turned out to be a Mr. George Wickham who appeared to be an amiable, genteel sort of man. His intentions were to join the militia and the captain had to laugh at the younger Bennet sisters - for he had learned they were the two youngest of Elizabeth's sisters - who clearly could see no greater accomplishment of a gentleman than being clothed in regimentals.
Miss Bennet introduced him to the gentleman garbed in black who turned out to be a visiting cousin, Mr. Collins, and from the man's convoluted babble of words he gleaned that he was visiting for the purpose of effecting reconciliation with the Bennet family. If the man's assiduous attentions to Miss Elizabeth were of significance, he appeared to have designs upon her. The pinched look of her features and the occasional pursing of her lips indicated that such attentions were not welcomed. The captain wished to speak with her privately but could not do so amongst such a crowd.
"Miss Elizabeth, is it your intention to return shortly to Longbourn?" He asked.
Elizabeth conceded that she would do so after calling on her Aunt Philips.
"May I instead," he asked, "offer to drive you home?" He turned to Miss Bennet. "I would offer to carry you all but my vehicle seats only two."
Jane looked dubiously at him. She did not question his gentlemanly behaviour; it was simply the propriety of the request. A glance at Elizabeth revealed that she wished to avail herself of the offer, perhaps as much as to be spared Mr. Collins' attentions, as to be in company with Captain Bingley. Jane nodded and before Mr. Collins could organize his thoughts sufficiently to protest, Elizabeth was handed up into the curricle. The captain climbed to his seat and, ignoring Mr. Collins' protestations at the loss of his cousin, had the vehicle moving smartly away. If his plans reached fruition, Mr. Collins' concerns would be of little moment. They rode in silence until Meryton had been left behind when he slowed the speed at which they travelled.
"I had two purposes in seeking your company, Miss Elizabeth, well three, in truth."
Elizabeth was amused. She had never ridden in a curricle before and it was a most pleasant experience. The midday sun was bright for mid-November, the day was unseasonably warm and the odious efforts of Mr. Collins to impress her had been removed. She could hardly be certain of the captain's intentions, but she rather believed he had developed an interest in her. She could not otherwise explain his persistent attempts to seek her out while she was at Netherfield. In any event, she welcomed the experience of the ride and his attentions, should he desire to bestow them.
"Indeed. I. . ."
All at once he felt uncertain and awkward. He believed her to welcome his advances but she was so pleasant that he could not be totally sure that she had perceived his interest.
"I. . .ah, well to put it simply, Miss Elizabeth, I find myself greatly attracted to you. You have a most uncommon attractiveness and intelligence. I wish to know you better. To win your regard and affections, if possible."
Elizabeth was surprised at the forthrightness of his declaration and responded in kind. "You have my regard, Captain."
"Will you allow me to call on you - to court you?"
The formality of his address surprised her and she expressed her amazement that he should propose such a step so early in their acquaintance.
"My training does not, I suppose, allow for indecision. If I might be blunt, Miss Elizabeth, I had decided upon this course of action, the second day I was in your company. Is it the haste with which I have moved that disturbs you? Or is there some uncertainty with regard to my circumstances? It is not that I wish to be precipitous but I cannot stay here in Hertfordshire for a prolonged period."
"I will admit that the speed with which you have made your request surprises me, sir. I do not understand to what you refer by circumstances."
"I am in business, Miss Elizabeth. A tradesman, some might call me. My brother and Mr. Darcy are what society considers a gentleman; and, although His Majesty has deigned to call me one, I will not hide the fact that I engage in business. Do the circumstances of my profession represent an encumbrance?"
Elizabeth laughed softly, "I could hardly be such a hypocrite, sir. My most beloved uncle is in business and, if others do not consider him a gentleman, I most assuredly do, for he is most truly a gentleman in those attributes that are important. I do not know your character fully, sir, but the little I have seen leads me to believe that you are his equal in character."
"You will allow me to court you then?"
"I would be delighted to have you court me, sir. Delighted!" She looked thoughtful for a moment before continuing. "Am I to assume, Sir, that your time here in Hertfordshire is limited?"
"It is. The press of business will call me away and I cannot be certain when I shall return." He could see her about to speak and guessed her next question. "As for how long I shall be here, I cannot say but almost surely not past the end of the year."
"A short courtship then, Captain Bingley?"
He nodded, "I am afraid so. I understand if you might wish for more time but I cannot see how that will be possible."
Elizabeth looked at him thoughtfully. She admired what she had discerned of the man in their limited acquaintance. She could not accept an offer from him now, but in a month? She could not rule out such a possibility.
She nodded. "I will not deny that a longer. . .courtship would better illustrate your character, Captain Bingley, but I trust we shall be enough in the other's company for each of us to come to a better understanding of the other."
"I am of a similar mind, Miss Elizabeth. I will speak to your father when we arrive at Longbourn."
Elizabeth's face clouded and she was suddenly hesitant, "Perhaps you should meet my mother before you speak to my father, Captain."
His eyebrows rose quizzically.
She continued, "I will not hold you to your commitment, sir, if you decide to withdraw your offer after meeting her."
He stopped the curricle and considered her words and manner. Obviously she must consider her mother an obstacle or deterrent. Well, he would be married to Elizabeth, not her mother.
"You have not spoken of me to her?"
"Jane and I decided that your presence, for now at least, might be best concealed from our mother. She was already much disturbed by the arrival of Mr. Collins."
"I see." He nodded and returned to her initial concern.
"When we marry, will your mother be living with us?"
"Marry, sir?" Her voice quavered.
He looked at fixedly, "Of course. My intentions are quite clear. I very much hope to marry you. This courtship is to allow you to find that marrying me is what you wish for your future."
He paused, "I see no reason to be concerned about your mother. Even should she oppose our marriage, it is your father whose consent is important. So, Miss Elizabeth, I will speak with your father upon arriving at your home."
She shook her head ruefully, "Be warned, Sir! Once you call on me twice, my mother will be ordering my wedding clothes."
He laughed heartily, "So I can assume she will forward the match?"
"She will be your most attentive assistant, sir."
"Ah. . .and most unhappy should you refuse my offer."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and he chuckled. The road to Longbourn was fast approaching and Elizabeth indicated the lane he should turn unto but he ignored her direction and snapped the reins to speed up the horses and they scooted past Longbourn and proceeded through the Longbourn village.
Elizabeth was about to remonstrate with him about his having done so but his next words removed such an inclination.
"I mentioned I had three purposes for offering you this ride. Our courtship was the primary object but the next will, I hope, be equally agreeable. My brother's plans to host a ball are proceeding apace. I expect that an invitation will be delivered to your parents in a day or two. I would like to take advantage of my foreknowledge to request the first and supper dances with you. In truth I would wish for the last also but I have been given to understand that doing so would be, at this point, most improper."
Elizabeth grinned, "I would be delighted to agree to your request, Captain. I would accept you for the last if it was possible, but I fear you are correct as my mother would assume an engagement to exist between us."
"I thank you." He paused for a few moments, "I have no doubt that I will ask you for your hand, you know. The timing will be yours; however, I know that marriage is an extremely important decision for a woman. Perhaps the most important of her life and I would not wish you to enter that state with reservations about my character or our future situation."
"You have arrived at such a conclusion so soon after making my acquaintance? I admit to astonishment. You cannot have developed such a degree of affection so quickly."
"I will not pretend to have done so, Miss Elizabeth. I happen to believe that a strong mutual respect, esteem and an understanding of your partner's character is fundamental to a successful marriage. I have seen situations where a passionate attachment may quickly develop and lead to a marriage which suffers as the couple comes to a fuller understanding of their partner's character. I have been in your company sufficiently to understand your caring nature - who else might walk three miles to tend an ill sister. . ."
"I claim no special credit there, Captain. Who could not love Jane and wish to care for her?"
He smiled and shook his head, "I will not concede the point, Miss Elizabeth. But allow me to continue. You are intelligent - I had not spoken to you a half hour before that became obvious - and you are well read with a variety of interests. I believe we have spoken of literature, public affairs, your neighbours and theatre to name but a few. In addition, you are quite civil and, in my opinion, one of the most ladylike women of my acquaintance. And, I am not ashamed to admit that I find you extremely attractive. I doubt I could encounter a better woman to wed."
Elizabeth was silent, warmed by such praise for the Captain's manner was clearly sincere. She remembered their conversations quite well. He had listened and debated with her and never, even when they took opposing positions, had she felt he demeaned her position or her intelligence.
"I thank you, Captain. I am not sure I deserve such fulsome praise for my mother often refers to me as wild and impertinent; however, I will also provide an assurance. I do not expect we will require a long courtship."
He stopped the curricle at a spot where they were screened by trees along either side of the road, took her hand and pressed a kiss to it. "You have made me quite happy even now, Miss Elizabeth. I hardly know how happy I shall be when you agree to marry me." He grinned at her, "I am presumptuous, am I not?"
"You are, sir, but as I have encouraged it, I can hardly fault you."
"Then I should return us to Longbourn lest your sister return before us and chastise me for not being a proper gentleman."
"May I inquire as to your third purpose, Captain Bingley?"
He looked at her blankly for a moment before smiling. "My third purpose was to have you show me the beauties of Hertfordshire. Perhaps we might defer that till tomorrow?"
She nodded, "If my father gives his consent, sir."
"Do you doubt that he will?"
Her smile displayed that archness he so admired, "I am his favourite daughter. I am sure he will not object if I have given my consent."
When they arrived at Longbourn, they found that her sisters had yet to return from Meryton. Elizabeth introduced Captain Bingley to her mother and that lady, ever sensitive to a possible suitor for one of her daughters, was at first much taken with the information that the visitor was a captain; however, her enthusiasm in that regard did not survive learning that he had been a navy captain who had since retired. When she learned that he was engaged in business, her interest waned even further. Her efforts to get the gentleman to disclose his income and prospects proved unsuccessful as he was quite as used to deflecting such impertinent inquiries as she was in making them. From what he could understand of her conversation, Mrs. Bennet had designs of matching him with one of her daughters other than Elizabeth for she had made several references to Mr. Collins, accompanied by meaningful glances in Elizabeth's direction and appeared to have no thought for any other possibility. Mrs. Bennet's wishes were obvious but, as he had Elizabeth's approval, he worried not at all about her mother's. He could see that Elizabeth was mortified at her mother's behaviour but her embarrassment appeared to ease when he gave her a quick smile. He was unsure if Mrs. Bennet's discourse would ever cease and began to despair of being able to take his leave without giving insult when the sound of the party returning from Meryton could be heard. He grasped the opportunity, made known his wish of being introduced to Mr. Bennet and solicited Elizabeth's assistance in doing so. They were out of the room before Mrs. Bennet could marshal an objection.
Elizabeth led him down the hall towards her father's bookroom, knocked on the door and, when instructed to enter, did so. The introduction was quickly made and Elizabeth showed herself out but not before receiving another smile from her suitor. Captain Bingley turned to look at Mr. Bennet who was regarding him with some confusion.
He nodded and agreed that he was indeed Captain Bingley and the brother of the Mr. Bingley who was leasing Netherfield.
Mr. Bennet regarded him quizzically and a wry smile briefly crossed his face."The gossips have been sorely ineffectual, sir. They had no intimation of your existence." He waved to a chair fronting his desk, "How may I be of service to you, Captain Bingley?"
Captain Bingley was uncertain how to start his explanation. "I arrived at Netherfield several days ago without, I fear, providing my brother notice of my visit. Your daughters were still there. Miss Bennet being ill and Miss Elizabeth there to care for her."
Mr. Bennet nodded agreeably, still with no intimation of the purpose of his guest's visit.
"I made the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth during her stay at Netherfield. In fact, we spoke together quite often and I was able to accompany her several times when she went for a walk for respite from her nursing duties."
Mr. Bennet sat upright in his chair. He suddenly had an excellent understanding of where this conversation might be headed.
The captain continued, not insensible to the dawning comprehension on his host's face and the alertness of his posture.
"I very quickly came to believe, Mr. Bennet, that Miss Elizabeth would suit me very well. She is charming, very attractive, intelligent and altogether the most delightful young woman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. However, I realize that she has had little opportunity to know me well and I do not wish to press my suit when she is not yet ready to hear it. I have asked her to allow me to call on her and she has agreed. As you and I had not met, I thought we should do so in order that I might assure you of my intentions."
"You intend to marry my Lizzy?"
Mr. Bennet did not attempt to mask the amazement in his voice. He was grappling with the idea that a man, he had not known even existed, had walked into his bookroom and informed him that his favourite daughter was receptive to his courtship.
"I hardly know you, sir. You are a stranger to me in every respect. I. . ."
The captain could understand his host's distress. "Perhaps, sir, if I informed you of my background, you would feel more. . .comfortable consenting to the courtship?"
Mr. Bennet nodded hesitantly.
"The first point I would make, Mr. Bennet, is that I left my family at the age of twelve to join the navy as a midshipman. My father accepted the matter as I had, for three or four years, been pressing him to allow me to do so. Once I was old enough, he made the necessary arrangements. I served for fifteen years, until my father's passing three years ago. I rose to the rank of Post Captain and believe, if I had remained in the navy, would rise to become an admiral in ten or fifteen years. I chose to retire instead although my preference for the sea remains with me still."
"What is your profession now, Captain?"
"I have acquired a few ships and carry goods from one continent to another, hither and yon, so to speak." He smiled, "I even, on occasion, sail as a passenger on one my ships to explore new markets."
Mr. Bennet opened his mouth and then closed it. His guest risked an eyebrow but Mr. Bennet shook his head.
"I would prefer, Mr. Bennet, to answer any questions you have now, rather than leave you in doubt of my intentions."
Mr. Bennet considered the matter for several moments before shrugging and explaining his confusion.
"It is, I confess, a rather impertinent question and also one that should be raised only if my daughter accepts your offer of marriage. You will offer for her, will you not? You appear quite determined and I am quite sure that such is your intention. I doubt Lizzy would have accepted or encouraged your attentions if she did not believe it likely that she would accept your offer."
The captain nodded before adding, "You may ask me any question, sir. Some I may not choose to answer, of course - at least at this time."
"Very well, then. I admit to some confusion. The claims have circulated widely that your father's estate was settled on your brother - your younger brother - which appears peculiar as the usual custom is to settle to the advantage of the eldest son. Yet your father did not do so and I gather you were welcomed at Netherfield, so there appears to be no ill-feeling between you. I am perplexed, sir. Sorely perplexed."
The last was said with a rueful smile and the captain nodded briskly. He had not expected this issue to arise so quickly but better it be dealt with now than for suspicions to arise as to his situation.
"The circumstances are, I concede, peculiar, Mr. Bennet. My father, you see, wished to have the Bingley family rise into the ranks of the gentle folk, to have his son acquire an estate and put the family's roots in trade behind them. My brother - who is seven years my junior - was educated as a gentleman, sent to a public school - Eton I believe - and then to Cambridge. I, on the other hand, went to sea at the age of twelve, at my own request, and my education was mainly of those matters which would advance my career. I did not learn Greek or Latin and, was not instructed in philosophy or the classics. I did acquire the rudiments of an education in literature and the histories but it was by the instruction of a few officers who had gained such knowledge and the interests which they implanted I developed over my years at sea. A captain, on a properly run ship, has a certain amount of time free to indulge such interests. Nonetheless, I was not educated as a gentleman, Mr. Bennet, and, in the year before his death, when my father raised the matter with me as to the disposition of his fortune, I declaimed any desire to acquire an estate or to aspire to his perception of a gentleman. He therefore settled the bulk of his fortune on my brother and did so with my blessing."
"I do not understand then why you left the navy. You cannot. . ." Mr. Bennet paused only briefly as he recognized the answer to a question he had been about to raise, "You have other sources of income then?"
Captain Bingley nodded, "Remember I said he settled the bulk of his fortune on my brother. In fact, he gave him one hundred thousand pounds, set aside twenty thousand for each of my sisters and left the residual to me - about forty thousand pounds."
"That is a handsome sum indeed."
The captain nodded, "As well, I had at the time of my father's passing, from my efforts in his Majesty's Navy, accumulated another eighteen thousand pounds in prize money. I have spent the past three years building my own shipping business in Liverpool where I live. I own outright six ships, plan to acquire more and my income this year is a clear five thousand from business alone."
Mr. Bennet smiled, "Hardly a pauper then." He grinned at the captain, "Has my wife winkled the amount out of you yet?"
"I am not inexperienced in dealing with such inquiries, Sir. And not at all reluctant to simply not answer an impertinent question."
"There'll be no shortage of those when you visit." Mr. Bennet muttered.
"Do you have further questions of me, Mr. Bennet?"
Mr. Bennet shook his head, "None that I can think of at the moment."
"Then may I make a request, actually several requests, now that I think about it?"
At Mr. Bennet's assent, he continued, "The first matter concerns Mr. Collins."
Mr. Bennet was astonished. "What has my foolish cousin to do with the matter?"
"I have been given an intimation that Mrs. Bennet is forwarding a match between your cousin and Miss Elizabeth."
Mr. Bennet gaped at him, "My Lizzy and Mr. Collins?" He began to laugh and at the confused glare on his guest's face, laughed even harder. "Lizzy would never accept such a man and I had not believed my wife so foolish as to think she would. I certainly would never force her to accept him and I am sure she is aware of that."
"Nonetheless, sir. The situation is. . .awkward."
"I have no doubt, "Mr. Bennet chuckled, "that when I inform Mrs. Bennet that you will be calling on Lizzy, any expectations held by Mr. Collins will expire, and quickly."
"I am not sure that Miss Elizabeth wishes to have the courtship become public knowledge. She will not be happy, I believe, to have her mother actively encourage the match."
Mr. Bennet smirked, "Mrs. Bennet will become aware of your intentions almost as soon as you start calling on Lizzy. We might as well try to have her channel Mr. Collins towards another of my daughters." He grimaced, "To have such a man as a son-in-law."
He looked at his guest, "I will spare you Mrs. Bennet's effusions of delight and inform her that you intend to call on Elizabeth only after you leave. I presume we will see you again tomorrow?"
Captain Bingley nodded and, after a few more pleasantries, left Mr. Bennet's bookroom to return to the parlour. There he was displeased to observe Mr. Collins sitting in very close proximity to Elizabeth and giving every appearance of annoying her exceedingly. Unfortunately, the man was oblivious to this result of his attentions and the captain could see he would have to take action to separate them. A slight nod and a brief smile imparted to Elizabeth that his meeting with her father had gone well. A notion crossed his mind and he decided to act upon it.
"Miss Elizabeth," he said loudly, "your father wishes to speak with you."
Elizabeth rose, and Mr. Collins did likewise as though to accompany her. Elizabeth looked at him in confusion.
"I believe my father wishes to speak with me, Mr. Collins."
"I am certain, Cousin Elizabeth, that he would wish that I be part of any such discussions."
Captain Bingley was about to decry any such wish on the part of Mr. Bennet but Elizabeth was not in want of assistance.
"I can assure you, Mr. Collins, from long association with my father, that should he desire your presence, he will be explicit in requesting it. He has asked to speak to me, and to me only."
She afforded him a brief curtsy and moved to join the Captain briskly. They walked together in the direction of Mr. Bennet's lair and Captain Bingley's apologies were quickly made.
"I fear I employed a small strategy to separate you from Mr. Collins, for I wished to speak with you before I return to Netherfield. Your father has given his permission for our courtship and will speak to your mother tonight to. . .have Mr. Collins' attentions. . .redirected."
Elizabeth smiled and nodded, "He is quite the most odious creature, although I suppose I should not be so harsh. He is a respectable man but certainly not one I could ever respect."
Captain Bingley smiled in return and said, "I shall call quite early in the morning. Do you still walk out before breaking your fast as you did at Netherfield?" At her nod he continued, "I shall join you then if you will provide me the direction."
That information being imparted, he took his leave and returned to Netherfield, his mind already preoccupied with plans on how best to court Elizabeth while ensuring that his business affairs did not suffer from a want of attention. His arrival back at Netherfield went unnoticed, and he was able to remove to his rooms, wash and refresh himself before venturing downstairs. No one, apart from his brother, remarked on his absence and even he was satisfied when informed that he had been exploring Hertfordshire's countryside.
Posted on 2016-04-11
Wednesday, November 20, 1811
Captain Bingley drove to Longbourn the next morning and met Elizabeth as arranged. It was quickly determined that conversation was easier if they walked and so they strolled companionably, with his horses and curricle trailing behind. They walked for some time, their discourse covering a myriad of subjects. Elizabeth had a great interest in his life at sea and he had the experiences of fifteen years to share. She was particularly drawn to his descriptions of his misadventures as a midshipman - although he was careful to avoid mentioning the those aspects of life at sea that would likely distress a lady. Such was the ease of the discourse that they were insensible of the fact that over an hour had passed and to return by the curricle was necessary if breakfast was not to be missed.
They arrived back at Longbourn to find that Elizabeth's absence had been noted only by Mr. Bennet and he was not pleased at such a breach of propriety. The captain accepted the rebuke graciously, admitted that he had not considered the matter properly and gave such assurances as necessary to ensure that he and Elizabeth might walk together in the future - properly chaperoned by one of her sisters or a maid. Once this matter was resolved, the invitation to remain for breakfast was issued and accepted. It was an enjoyable repast and, with only Elizabeth and her father for company, there was no shortage of intelligent conversation or want of subjects on which to converse. Unfortunately, such a happy state did not survive the arrival of Mr. Collins and Elizabeth's two youngest sisters and it was with no little relief that Captain Bingley finished his meal and took his leave, although not before assuring Elizabeth he would return in the afternoon after his business correspondence had been dealt with.
When he returned that afternoon, he was greeted by an effusive Mrs. Bennet, an apparently affronted Mr. Collins, and Elizabeth's four sisters whose attitude towards him ranged from serene approval (Jane), disinterest (Mary) and giggling silliness (Lydia and Catherine). Elizabeth's obvious embarrassment at her relations' behaviour only abated when it became clear that the captain viewed them all with amusement. How could he take offence at Mrs. Bennet's manner? Was it not every mother's desire to have her daughters well-married? He would not allow her to discompose him, although her ability to sustain a conversation replete with inanities without assistance was impressive, as were her efforts to glean more information about his situation. Obviously, her husband had disclosed enough to allay her concerns about his eligibility but only enough to whet her appetite for more knowledge. As he was not prepared to supply her with all the information she desired, he deflected her more blatant initiatives and ignored the others. After some fifteen minutes Mrs. Bennet conceded defeat and allowed him to direct the conversation to other topics. It was an easy matter to suggest a walk with Elizabeth and such of her sisters as might wish to join them. As Jane expressed such interest, the needs of propriety were satisfied and they were soon out-of-doors and strolling in the direction of Oakham Mount. While they walked, Jane gradually allowed herself to fall behind the courting couple, permitting them freedom to converse privately.
"It would appear, Miss Elizabeth, that your cousin is not pleased at the turn of events."
Elizabeth smiled, "Indeed he is not. He was not inclined to accept Mama's word on the matter and appealed directly to my father who, I assure you, was delighted to promote your interest and to suppress Mr. Collins' presumptuousness - for such he called it - by informing him that he would never have countenance a marriage between Mr. Collins and myself. I fear that was the only means of dissuading my cousin."
"Dare I ask what your cousin intends to do now?"
Elizabeth shrugged, "I cannot say. He disappeared for some hours after speaking with my father and did not account for his absence. Mama wished to direct him towards Mary, whose preference for the works of Fordyce would seem to make her a more suitable choice. I have not, however, seen any sign that he will accede to Mama's wishes. Mary, I am sure, would be receptive to any overtures he made."
James glanced behind him. Jane was not delinquent in her duties and nodded at him when their glances crossed. He returned his attention to Elizabeth. He would not be allowed to take any liberties nor even to find out if Elizabeth wished for him to attempt them, with such close chaperonage.
"What think you of the theatre, Miss Elizabeth? I have read most of Shakespeare's plays but have not yet seen one performed - at least not by a reputable troupe."
As Elizabeth had been taken to the theatre several times while visiting the Gardiners in London, she was able to expound on the subject for some time. Their discourse wandered to determining their personal favourites and exploring the plot and characters contained in each. The captain admitted a preference for the histories and Elizabeth for the comedies and his suggestion, made without thinking, that he hoped to see one in her company, was greeted with a blush and a brief nod by Elizabeth. Their attention was soon captured by Jane's voice informing them that it was time to return to Longbourn as she and her sisters were expected at their Aunt Philips that evening.
"Are you to attend, Captain?" asked Jane.
He suspected her interest was more on whether his brother had been invited and his guess was confirmed at the touch of sadness that disturbed her serenity briefly when he replied that his brother had accepted an invitation for the Netherfield party to dine with the Gouldings that evening.
When he finally took his leave, he assured Elizabeth that he would call on Longbourn early the next morning. Her smiles and teasing, the way he frequently caught her looking at him and the blush that ensued when she realized he had noticed her attention, all seemed to suggest that his suit was progressing very well. He doubted that she loved him as yet, but that she was well on the way to doing so, seemed very possible - indeed, even probable. Of his own feelings he was increasingly confident. He had begun this courtship charmed by her manner, liveliness and intelligence. His affections now were much more engaged and the thought that hers might not be was not one that he wished to consider.
Thursday November 21, 1811
As the weather continued fine the next day, James arrived to find Elizabeth awaiting him and accompanied by a young woman who he gathered was a maid. She was introduced and he acknowledged her presence, but his concern was on Elizabeth, for some matter had clearly disturbed her composure.
Whatever had affected her so appeared to have little to do with him, for she greeted him with every evidence of pleasure and accepted his arm with alacrity. They walked for a few minutes in silence, his companion's thoughts clearly returning to that matter which troubled her. He was loath to presume on her confidences but finally felt impelled to speak.
"It is obvious to even the most self-centred of suitors that your thoughts are elsewhere and the subject is causing you some concern. Might I be of some assistance?"
Her eyes searched his face for several moments before she replied.
"The matter that concerns me was told in confidence and shows a gentleman of my acquaintance in an exceedingly bad light. As he is an acquaintance of yours, although I do not know how closely you know him, I am concerned as to how you might perceive the information."
Captain Bingley was puzzled for several seconds. The only acquaintance they held in common, apart from his siblings, was Darcy and he could hardly believe anyone could speak poorly of that gentleman.
"It is Darcy of whom you speak, is it not?"
Elizabeth agreed reluctantly that it was.
"I would ask you to trust me. I will listen most carefully and may be able to provide some assistance. I cannot claim a close acquaintance with him, as I think I have already mentioned, but I do have some understanding of his character."
She walked in silence for a minute, considering his offer and then, seemed to relax and smiled up at him.
"I do trust you and your help - guidance even - would be helpful."
He nodded for her to continue.
"As you might remember my sisters and I were to attend a party at my Aunt Philips' last evening. A number of the militia officers were invited, among them a Mr. George Wickham." She glanced up at him, "Do you recollect being introduced?"
He shook his head slowly, trying to recall the man's feature but could not. His attention had been directed too thoroughly upon Elizabeth.
"Mr. Wickham approached me during the evening, claimed an acquaintance with Mr. Darcy and began questioning me about him. Was I acquainted with him? Where was he staying? How long was he to be in the neighbourhood? I answered as best I could and he must have been satisfied with them for he began speaking of his past dealings with Mr. Darcy."
"What was his connection to Darcy?"
"Oh. . .his father was steward for the Darcy estate when Mr. Darcy's father was alive. Mr. Wickham was raised on the estate and treated with great consideration by old Mr. Darcy. Raised with his own son, educated and promised a clerical living when it became available."
"Unusual, although not unheard of."
"I thought it uncommonly kind of Mr. Darcy's father; however, Mr. Wickham says that Mr. Darcy did not honour his father's wishes and declined to provide the living."
Captain Bingley was extremely surprised at such an assertion. Nothing he knew of Fitzwilliam Darcy would cause him to believe the man capable of dishonouring his father's wishes so blatantly.
"Was this bequest of old Mr. Darcy included in his will?"
Elizabeth nodded, "However, Mr. Wickham claimed that there were such ambiguities as to allow Mr. Darcy to disregard his father's intentions."
James disagreed, "No, that will not do. Wills are not drawn up so casually and certainly not by a responsible landowner and a good solicitor." A sudden thought struck him and he wondered that it had taken so long for it to do so.
"Miss Elizabeth, I was under the impression that Mr. Wickham was a new acquaintance of yours."
Elizabeth agreed that he was and that they had met for the first time when the captain encountered them on the street two days before.
"I cannot speak to the veracity of Mr. Wickham's claims. I do not know the man at all. . .but there is certainly something. . .inappropriate about making statements of such a nature to one with whom he has but the barest of acquaintance. I doubt there are a half dozen people with whom I would speak so freely about my personal affairs. My sisters, for instance, would not be among them."
Elizabeth walked silently beside him. He had no doubt she was pondering his words.
"Why," she finally blurted, "would he make such revelations and why to me?"
"I suspect his intent was to discredit Darcy and perhaps, in the process, engender sympathy for himself. Why he should wish to do so, only Mr. Wickham can answer."
"But to speak so to me?"
"You are not unattractive, Miss Elizabeth. Far from it! I suppose he wished to garner your favour, perhaps incite your sympathy or your interest."
"But you and I are courting!"
"That fact is hardly common gossip. I spent the past evening with the Gouldings and, apart from a brief comment by Mrs. Goulding, the subject of my attentions to you was not raised. Was it mentioned at your aunt's?"
Elizabeth shook her head, "Only when I arrived and only by my aunt."
"Then it is likely he has yet to learn of our. . .attachment."
"Attachment, sir? We are not yet attached to my knowledge."
"Yet, Miss Elizabeth! Yet!"
"I rather enjoy making you blush, you know. It enhances your beauty quite wonderfully."
"I shall begin to suspect your sincerity, Captain Bingley, if you continue to praise me so fulsomely. For I know that Jane is the beauty in our family."
The captain stopped walking and drew her around to face him, taking her hands in his.
"Elizabeth, I will not deny that your sister is uncommonly pretty but I will not allow you to decry your own beauty. You are, beyond any doubt, one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance and when you and your sister are in the same room, my eyes - and indeed those of most men I suspect - will be drawn to you. There is a. . .spark, for want of a better word, of liveliness in you that is absent from your sister as handsome as she is." He raised her hands to his lips, unmindful of their chaperone, "You may trust me on this. I speak but the simple truth."
Elizabeth warmed at such heartfelt praise, felt her blush radiate down from her face and wondered at how far it would travel. Sadly, the moment could not endure, he returned her hand to his arm and they resumed their walk. The captain's thoughts had returned to the matter of George Wickham.
"I believe that I must acquaint Mr. Darcy that Mr. Wickham is speaking against his character."
"He is aware of Mr. Wickham's presence, is he not?"
"Yes, and if the demeanour of the two gentleman is to be trusted, Darcy was greatly angered to see Wickham."
Elizabeth flushed slightly but retained enough composure to say, "I did not observe the reaction of either gentleman."
James smiled. He had noticed that her attention had been fixed upon him and that had supported his intention to seek a courtship. Nonetheless, he had now remembered Wickham's reaction and it bothered him. Wickham appeared to be embarrassed and, if the paleness of his countenance was an indication, a degree of fear existed as well. He said as much to Elizabeth. That information surprised her greatly, for as she recounted, "Mr. Wickham asserted most confidently that he would not flee from Mr. Darcy. That if anyone should leave, it would not be him, but Mr. Darcy."
"That" she continued, "would appear to be the case inasmuch as Mr. Darcy rode away from their confrontation, did he not? What other interpretation could there be?"
"Only Darcy can answer that question but I could suppose that he did not wish to create an incident in public and did not trust himself if he remained in Mr. Wickham's company."
Elizabeth, after some thought, allowed that such could be a reasonable explanation; but, desiring to speak of happier subjects, began to query him about his brother's ball.
"You have secured two sets with me, Captain Bingley. I do hope that you shall not model your behaviour on that of Mr. Darcy and will dance with other young ladies, instead of standing about looking disapproving?"
He laughed, "I shall do my duty, Miss Elizabeth. I shall require all your sisters to dance with me, he grimaced briefly before adding, and I must, I suppose, dance with my sisters."
Elizabeth pretended to be thoughtful, her finger tapping her chin as though she were considering his words. Finally she giggled, "I dare say Mary will be taken aback to be asked to dance. She rarely, if ever, does so."
"Mary is the very. . .serious one, I believe."
"Yes, she professes to find no pleasure in the amusement. But. . ." her eyes twinkled up at him, "I suppose that she will put aside her reservations, if you request a set."
"And I shall also dance with one more young lady of your choice. Will that fulfill my obligations?"
Their conversation continued in this easy manner until they returned to Longbourn where he joined the family at breakfast. He did not linger, but informed them that he would accompany his brother and Miss Bingley later that day to personally deliver an invitation to the ball. After relaying this news, he quickly made his escape. As most of the invitations would be delivered by grooms, this display of preference on the part of Mr. Bingley promoted such effusions of delight by Mrs. Bennet as to strain even Captain Bingley's considerable tolerance.
Elizabeth walked out to the front door to wait with him for his curricle to be brought around. She chuckled, "I fear that your brother's show of particular favouritism will have Mama planning the purchase of Jane's wedding clothes."
He looked worried, "I noticed his attentions at Netherfield. . ."
"He has paid her particular attentions ever since he arrived. To no other young lady has he been as attentive."
He nodded and was about to comment further when they were disturbed by Mr. Collins making his departure from Longbourn, walking away in the direction of Meryton.
Elizabeth gazed after him and frowned, "I wonder at his destination."
Captain Bingley looked at her questioningly.
"He appears quite determined. I simply wonder what he is about."
"I would have thought you would be relieved at his absence." He smirked at her.
"I do not deny a sense of relief. The loss of his conversation I can bear quite easily. Ah. . .here is your curricle."
By the time he returned to Netherfield, the others had finished breaking their fast and it proved impossible to avoid their questions. As they were to visit Longbourn later that day, he could only suppose that his attentions to Elizabeth would be commented upon. It would be best to address the matter now. It would not do to embarrass his brother.
"As to your question, Charles. I called at Longbourn. Miss Elizabeth and I had a most enjoyable walk."
Charles was taken aback completely and seemed incapable of speaking. Louisa looked interested and her husband, indifferent. Caroline's face, however, clouded over and he could see her readying herself to argue with him. He looked at her directly and said in his commanding officer's voice, "Do not say a thing, Caroline. Do not! Unless it is something pleasant, you have nothing to say which I wish to hear and," he paused for emphasis, "as this matter is of no concern to you, Caroline, you shall be silent. Am I understood?" She did not acknowledge his words and her lips had compressed themselves to the point where they were a slash across her features. He repeated himself, "I repeat. Am I understood, Caroline!"
She nodded slightly. He expected no more. Darcy, who had hitherto been silent, asked in a rather strangled voice, "You have called on Miss Elizabeth?"
The captain nodded, wondering at Darcy's discomposure. He had displayed no overt interest in Miss Elizabeth, and had made no particular attempt to engage her in discussion. While he stared at her frequently when she was staying at Netherfield, his gaze did not appear to be one of admiration. Elizabeth had remarked laughingly that she had passed a half hour complete in the Netherfield library in his company without a single word being exchanged. But then he remembered several caustic comments to Darcy that Caroline believed to be teasing about a 'lady's fine eyes'. Was this a reference to Miss Elizabeth? It could well be, for her eyes were indeed fine - extraordinarily so. He gave a mental shrug. He must, at some time, talk with Darcy, but Wickham was the subject, not Elizabeth. As it was, his business affairs demanded his attention first.
He glanced at his sister who had withdrawn to sit with Louisa, their heads close together. The frequent looks directed his way by Caroline suggested that he and his actions were the subject of their discussion. He really cared not. Neither Caroline nor Louisa had impressed him with their attitudes and behaviour since his retirement from the navy. They thought altogether too well of themselves and equally poorly of anyone they deemed below them in society. He expected no support from them in his courtship and would be content if they made no effort to interfere with his life. However, he did not underestimate his youngest sister. Hers was a determined personality. Unfortunately, her aspirations and his were so different as to prevent any rapport between them. His absence of fifteen years had made them strangers to one another. The same could have been said of Charles, but his brother's innate decency had allowed a mutual esteem and respect to develop. If he sometimes despaired of his brother's pliant nature, he never doubted Charles' wish to see him happy.
James had been working for several hours through the large stack of correspondence that was delivered that day. Having done so, he addressed himself to a matter of particular importance. His solicitor must be instructed to acquire a common marriage licence - he feared that he might not have sufficient time for the banns to be called - and to have the settlement prepared. It was, he knew, almost presumptuous, but he was now very certain of his intentions and Elizabeth's regard for him seemed to be improving daily.
He had chosen to utilize the desk in his private sitting room as he found its solitude most conducive to his work. His concentration was broken by the appearance of his brother who, if his demeanour was an accurate guide, had matters of some import to discuss with him; however, he appeared hesitant to raise the matter that had brought him and the captain was losing patience with his dithering.
"You wished to speak with me?" He finally snapped, for he had more correspondence to complete and too little time to do so.
"Ah, yes. I did. We shall be leaving for Longbourn in a half hour. Shall you accompany us?"
The captained indicated that he would do so. Charles finally blurted, "You are courting Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
The captain nodded once more.
"I have her consent and that of her father, if that is what you are wondering."
"But you have known her only a week!"
"And how long should I know her?" The captain sighed, "I have spoken with Mr. Bennet and he has given his consent. I am calling on Miss Elizabeth with the intent of allowing her to come to know me."
"But a week!"
"I knew almost the first day I met her that I might wish to marry her."
He was not about to comment on his brother's attentions to Jane Bennet. They were two different men. From what he learned, his brother had a habit of falling in and out of love with some frequency. He could not approve of such dalliances; however, his brother's behaviour was apparently well known and, as far as he knew, Charles had avoided raising unwarranted expectations in the past. The captain could only hope that his brother had been equally circumspect in his approach to courting Jane Bennet although, from what little he had observed and been told, expectations were now rampant in the neighbourhood.Continued In Next Section