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The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Five

April 17, 2016 04:52PM
Chapter Five


Wednesday, November 27, 1811

“So you intend to offer for Miss Elizabeth!”

The question caught James by surprise for his brother had joined him the breakfast table and been silent for some minutes as he collected his meal and sat down to eat. Even now Charles was focused on his meal, studiously avoiding his brother’s eyes. James wondered at his brother’s question for he had already indicated that such was his object.

“I do.”

“When?”

He chuckled, “When I am convinced the lady is ready to accept me.”

“Is she not now?”

A pause of some duration persisted and Charles became increasingly uncomfortable with it but did not withdraw his question.

The captain replied slowly, “I believe that she will accept but I prefer to allow her more time to get to know me better. We are talking of a lifetime together. A brief delay now to forward our happiness in the future is a small price to pay. Nonetheless,” and he grinned broadly, “I would not take it amiss if she were to indicate that she was ready now.”

He looked at his brother. “And your intentions to Miss Bennet are?”

Charles swallowed, “I would wish. . .I hope to offer for her.”

“I would repeat your question and inquire as to when you would do so; but I sense some hesitation.”

Charles nodded, “I believe I have her regard but I am unsure.”

“I cannot speak to Miss Bennet’s feelings. I have not been in company with the two of you all that much. You must trust your own feelings on this, Charles; however, from what I have observed I am convinced she is far from indifferent to you.”

Charles nodded slowly and his brother could see that his assurances had not been unwelcome.

“Trust yourself, Charles, and all will be well.”

“Agreed. Well, I am off to town and should return in several days.”

“I shall be here when you return. Is there a message you would wish me to convey to. . .Longbourn?”

Charles thought for a moment before replying.

“I have already informed Miss Bennet that I must be away and will return in a few days. There is nothing further to say at this time.” He hesitated and then blurted, “Caroline and Louisa quite confuse me. They profess admiration for Miss Bennet and then in the next breath say she is not suitable to be my wife. What is your opinion?”

Hs brother laughed, “You would ask me that? Surely the answer is obvious.”

“They insist that as you are determined to remain in trade, the expectations are lower and that I should look to a lady with superior connections and consequence to support my aspirations to become a gentleman and honour our father’s wishes.”

“I am sure you realize that I do not agree with our sisters; however, the choice must be your own, Charles. If I have learned one lesson, it is that when making a decision, one regrets an error less if it arises out of following one’s own opinion than if one is guided by the opinions of others. Be your own man, Charles, and there are few decisions more important than the choice of a wife. Choose for yourself and no one else. And that shall be all the advice I tender. Contrary to our sisters’ opinion, I do not believe Miss Bennet would materially detract from your aspirations. She is a gentleman’s daughter after all.”

James was silent for a few moments and then added, “I wonder at our sisters on occasion. Do they not realize the great insult they pay our father when they speak so disrespectfully of merchants and trades people? It is their own background they disparage and I cannot help but suspect that it does them no favours with those whose esteem they so covet.”

Charles wore a most thoughtful expression as he left the room and his brother could only hope that he would not allow his sisters to determine his course. He would not interfere unless his sisters became overbearing and his counsel sought.

A slight mist and cold breeze had settled in and made driving the curricle an unpleasant option; and so today he chose to ride his small carriage to Longbourn. It was oddly quiet when he arrived there and he could only suppose that Mrs. Bennet and her daughters were still abed resting from their exertions of the night before. He was shown into the drawing room, to find only Elizabeth, Jane and Mr. Bennet to greet him and he was not sorry for the absence of the others. After a few minutes speaking of the pleasures of the night before, he mentioned that his brother had left for town but expected to return in several days. The news was clearly not unexpected although the reaction of Jane was.

“He is definitely to return then?” she pressed softly. He became aware of a touch of anxiety in her manner.

“He said as much to me, Miss Bennet, and, since I have no intention of leaving, I am quite sure he will return.”

Mr. Bennet interjected, “Jane was somewhat perplexed because Miss Bingley has apparently spoken of her plans to return to town and that her brother would accompany her.”

“I believe Mr. Darcy plans to leave soon for his estate in Derbyshire to spend Christmas there with his sister.” added Elizabeth.

“He intimated as much to me as well; however, Miss Bennet, I can only relay what my brother imparted to me this morning. He intends to return in several days. As to my sisters’ intentions, I cannot say for they have not spoken to me of them.” He shrugged, “It would not surprise me greatly if they remove to town for the Christmas season, but that would in no way impinge on Charles or me.”

As everyone seemed satisfied with this situation, he thought it time to raise the purpose of his call.

“Miss Elizabeth informed me several days past of a conversation she had with a Mr. George Wickham. Has she informed you of what was told her?”

Jane and Mr. Bennet admitted she had.

“I spoke with Mr. Darcy several nights past and he has clarified the matter greatly. He did not provide proof of his words but assured me that it was available, if required. In essence, Mr. Wickham’s charges are the basest of slanders. The living he was promised was rejected by him and he received compensation – quite a large amount actually. More than sufficient to have allowed him to learn a profession. He apparently wasted the funds because he returned a few years later demanding the living. Mr. Darcy was well within his rights to refuse him.”

“I should expect so!” declared Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth nodded slowly. Jane looked distressed.

“Surely there has been some misunderstanding. There was such truth in Mr. Wickham’s looks.”

Captain Bingley shook his head. “I am sorry to distress you, Miss Bennet, but the matter seems perfectly clear. Mr. Wickham received and wasted a substantial sum of money and that is not the worst of the charges. Mr. Darcy was reluctant to be specific but he knows Mr. Wickham well and declared him totally unsuitable to be a clergyman. I have no doubt as to the veracity of the charge.”

“Unsuitable?” Inquired Mr. Bennet.

“I understand he is not to be trusted in any particular and young women may well be in some danger. It is not a matter that can be ignored”

Elizabeth gasped. “What do you intend?”

“You believe me to have some intentions on this matter, Miss Elizabeth?”

He was pleased that she so quickly understood that he would not stand by and allow someone to harm her family.

She smiled, and he returned it.

“You are indeed correct, Miss Elizabeth. I intend to leave here shortly to speak to some of the shopkeepers in Meryton. If Mr. Wickham’s character is as I expect, he may already have begun to incur debts in town. Mr. Darcy suggested that Mr. Wickham has been reluctant to settle his accounts in the past.”

He turned to Mr. Bennet, “I plan to speak to the shopkeepers but I am largely unknown here in Meryton and. . .”

“Not so unknown as all that!” giggled Elizabeth.

“Perhaps not but, nonetheless, my task would be easier if you, Mr. Bennet, or Miss Elizabeth, were to accompany me.”

“When do you propose to do so?” Inquired Mr. Bennet.

“I had thought today – immediately, if possible. Are you to accompany me, Mr. Bennet?”

James could see that the expenditure of such effort did not suit that gentleman. He had not really expected that it would. Elizabeth must have come to the same conclusion for she quickly offered to replace her father whose consent was given, a little hesitantly. The captain was uncertain whether Mr. Bennet’s reluctance was due to a concern for propriety or a wish to not have his family engaged in the business at all. Nonetheless, to Meryton he and Elizabeth were to go and, if after their transactions were complete, they seized the opportunity to drive aimlessly for an hour or so, who was to know?

As it happened, they were able to complete the main part of their business in less than two hours. Mr. Wickham had not been in Meryton long enough to have accumulated an excessively large number of unpaid accounts. Only a dozen shops had extended him credit. The largest amount was held at the local tavern – a matter of three pounds. James had chosen to settle Wickham’s debts which in total amounted to less than fifteen pounds – a sum made more substantial by the fact that it had been accumulated in less than a fortnight.

Elizabeth had not questioned his actions during their interviews with the various shopkeepers, but now that they were alone, could not repress her curiosity.

“Why have you paid Mr. Wickham’s debts, Captain?”

James was struck by the formality of her address and wondered if she would object to less formal terms when they were alone.

“Would it be too forward, do you suppose,” He asked, “if we, when alone, address each other as James and Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth was slightly taken aback at this request for such familiarity was reserved for only the closest of family and friends. A few moments thought, however, allowed her to realize that she would enjoy such familiarity and Captain Bingley was now clearly one of that select group. And, as they were courting, such familiarity in private was hardly too improper.

“I see no reason why not, James.”

He smiled and nodded, “Then allow me to answer your question, Elizabeth. I had not intended to buy his debts; the amounts are not so very great individually; but taken together, they represent an amount sufficient to deter Mr. Wickham should he take my interference amiss.”

Elizabeth frowned. “Do you believe him. . .violent, James.” She savoured his name and the pleasure of using it.

“I do not know, but it may provide some deterrence and the cost is not a concern given what I am protecting.”

Elizabeth blushed for his words had been accompanied by the warmest of looks and she was quickly coming to the belief that she would wish this man to offer for her and that he need have no fear of her acceptance. She was only surprised at the speed with which her affections had become engaged and worried that she might be acting with too much haste. She returned to the matter of their visit to the various shops.

“I believe, James, that you have made a few friends here in Meryton.”

“If I did, it was because I was accompanied by a young lady that they all admire. Your presence made my task much easier.”

“It was good to warn them of Mr. Wickham’s proclivities and, as well, to impart the knowledge that Mr. Darcy was the source of your information. If Mr. Wickham is inclined to repeat his tale of misfortune, I would hope now that few will believe it.” She was paused briefly in thought, “Mr. Darcy is not well regarded here and your support will undoubtedly improve people’s view of him.”

"What did Darcy do, apart from displaying his usual haughty manners, to create such a dislike? I can assure you that I was not blind to the perception held of him here, and it is most puzzling.”

“I fear that I must take some of the blame.” replied Elizabeth and frowned in embarrassment. James waited patiently for her to continue which she did after a minute or two.

“Mr. Darcy had the misfortune to insult me and, to a lesser extent, the other young ladies in the neighbourhood at the assembly where we first made his acquaintance. His first offence was to refuse to dance with anyone but your sisters and then, after what I concede was some very vigorous importuning on the part of your brother, he refused to dance with me specifically, saying I was not handsome enough to tempt him.”

James winced and pursed his lips before muttering, “Foolish, foolish man. And this was said where people could hear?”

Elizabeth shook her head, “No, and this is where my behaviour was not without fault. Only I overheard him, but I was so incensed that I repeated it to Miss Lucas and made a joke of it. From there it spread widely as I am sure you can appreciate. But even that might not have sunk his character to everyone’s eyes, if he had not made his disdain for us all so very obvious. He refused to speak with or even be introduced to anyone.”

“I have heard,” said the captain slowly, “that his manner is not so very different in town at such affairs. With those he knows well, I am told he is amiable, although I have never heard him described as overly talkative. However I am not included amongst select company so I cannot speak from personal knowledge. And,” he glanced down at Elizabeth and smiled, “I would not be too harsh upon yourself, Elizabeth. He certainly merited censure for saying such a thing in a public setting.”

Little more was said on the matter. Elizabeth was not satisfied that her behaviour had been at all appropriate and vowed that, in the future, she would be less hasty to disparage anyone based on a single poor first impression. True, Mr. Darcy had been uncivil, but he had not meant his words to be overheard and that she had spoken ill of him because her own vanity had been hurt, spoke poorly of her character. It was a mistake she hoped not to repeat.

She and James returned to Longbourn where he was invited to remain and partake of dinner with them that evening. The day was spent quite enjoyably at Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet had retired early to her chambers complaining of a headache; Mr. Collins was absent, undoubtedly courting Miss Lucas; and Elizabeth’s two youngest sisters had gone to visit friends and recount their triumphs of the ball. The absence of all four was not regretted by those that remained. Their presence would certainly not have allowed for a most enjoyable day of conversation, chess and a chaperoned meandering around Longbourn’s park. The dinner was to Mrs. Bennet’s usual excellent standards and thus it was quite late when Captain Bingley returned to Netherfield. His reception there was not what he had expected.

He entered the drawing room to find his sisters and Darcy in a close conference. Mr. Hurst was, as usual, sprawled out on a sopha, asleep. Caroline was the first to greet him.

“I fail to understand the attraction of Longbourn and Miss Eliza. . .Elizabeth!”

He looked at her amusedly, “I should be surprised if you did, Caroline, but I assure you, most men would quite understand the attraction, as you call it.” He flicked a glance at Darcy but that gentleman’s countenance was as impenetrable as ever.

Caroline huffed and was clearly about to remonstrate further until she saw her brother’s gaze fasten on her face. Swallowing her comment, she directed her attack to another matter.

"We are all about to leave for town. I assume you will accompany us?”

He smiled, “You assume quite incorrectly, Caroline. Why would I do so? I can be quite comfortable here until Charles returns. It is a matter of a few days only, after all.”

‘Oh, I am sure that, now he is in town, Charles will not wish to return. His business will almost assuredly take more time than he anticipates and once he experiences the pleasures of good society, I have no doubt that Hertfordshire’s. . . attractions will fade from his mind.”

“You are convinced of that, are you? And you as well, Louisa?”

Louisa nodded and echoed her sister’s misgivings.

“James, you may have chosen to align yourself with the Bennets but that does not justify Charles doing so as well. They are quite beneath us and it is a connection that should not be pursued.”

“And yet I have done so, and once Miss Elizabeth and I are wed,” he heard an audible gasp from Miss Bingley and he looked at her in some amazement “How can you be surprised? I have made my intentions quite clear. I intend to wed Miss Elizabeth. All that remains is to convince her that she will be happy as my wife. ”

“Convince her! My dear brother she will fall over herself accepting you.” sneered Caroline.

He glared at her. “There is clearly a major distinction between the characters of properly reared young women like Miss Elizabeth and her older sister, and those like yourself, Caroline.” He turned to Louisa, “And I include you in this as well.”

“You both,” he continued, “have no understanding of the character and wishes of such women. For you, the character of the man you marry counts for little and his estate and consequence count for everything. I have been in Miss Bennet’s company - and Miss Elizabeth’s - sufficiently to understand that while they hope to marry prudently, their primary wish is for a husband they can respect and who respects them. They do not pursue a gentleman - particularly one who has evinced no interest.” He flicked his eyes to Darcy once more and noticed him shifting uncomfortably.

He looked back at Caroline and continued, “In fact, they pursue not all. Miss Bennet has made no overtures to Charles that I have observed. The attentions have been his doing, and his alone. She has received them most properly.”

“I am surprised,” said Mrs. Hurst, “that if you feel so strongly, you have not pursued Jane’s hand. She is the most beautiful of the sisters, after all.”

He grinned at her, “There we must disagree once more. Even if Charles were not enamoured of Miss Bennet, I find her younger sister suits me very well indeed and I certainly do not believe her inferior in point of beauty.”

“She cares not for him, you must realize that.” cried Caroline. “And she will accept his offer should he make one. Her mother will not allow her to refuse. Mrs. Bennet made her intentions known to us all at the ball.”

“I do not claim to know the state of Miss Bennet’s heart, nor whether she could resist her mother’s persuasion; but I can say with assurance that Mr. Bennet will not force her to marry against her inclination. I am, as well, convinced that the characters of Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are such as to not allow them to marry for mercenary reasons. I suggest, sister, that it would be wise not to impute your motives to others. I have already spoken to our brother on this and informed him that, to the best of my knowledge, Miss Bennet is not indifferent to him.”

“How can you be so confident that Mr. Bennet would support his daughter. Such a marriage would certainly be the salvation of his family.” exclaimed Darcy.

“Because Mr. Bennet had no intention of requiring Miss Elizabeth to marry her cousin who stands to inherit Longbourn. Such a match would just as surely benefit his family after his passing.”

Caroline scoffed, “You were paying your attentions, were you not? What more would he need?”

“I have given no assurances in regard of his family, nor have I been asked for them. The problem may well arise but I doubt anything is imminent and he has other family to call upon for assistance. I shall undoubtedly be asked to contribute and will do so as a member of the family. I see nothing to be particularly concerned about.”

Louisa subsided and Caroline snorted, but he ignored them both.

“Now,” he said, “if you have nothing further to discuss, I shall retire.”

“You are determined to remain here then?”

“I am,” he replied, suddenly tired of their importuning.

“We are all leaving for town, nonetheless. And Mr. Darcy, as well.”

He shrugged, looked at his sisters for a few moments, waiting to see if they had anything further to add. They did not.

“I may well leave the house before you take your departure. If so, I wish you all a safe journey. Please inform Charles I await his return.”

James rather doubted that any such message would be delivered and wondered if he should send a letter to his brother. He decided that if Charles did not return as expected, he would do exactly that. He was certain his sisters would waste little time trying to convince their brother to remain in town. If Charles bowed to such pressure, he would interfere only to the extent of assuring him of his support and intention to remain at Netherfield. He could only hope that his brother’s resolve was firm. If it was not, then Miss Bennet might well suffer disappointed hopes, but her future felicity in marriage might be better served, if such were the case, by another who possessed of more firmness of will.
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The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Five

PeterApril 17, 2016 04:52PM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Five

KateBApril 19, 2016 03:21PM



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