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The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

April 20, 2016 05:57PM
Chapter Six


Thursday, November 28, 1811

The volume of business correspondence that greeted James when he came down the next morning was so great that he was forced to send his regrets to Longbourn that he would be unable to call until the following morning. He had been working for more than an hour when the desire to partake of more substance than a cup of tea drove him to the dining room where breakfast was being readied. He was soon joined by Darcy, then the Hursts and, after a while, by Caroline.

Darcy, as ever, was mostly silent throughout, answering such questions as were directed to him as concisely as possible, and initiating no conversation of his own. Mr. Hurst had no attention for anything other than his food, and his wife, only slightly more. It was left to Caroline to converse and, having her brother at her disposal, she sought once more to change his mind about accompanying them to town. Her effort met with as much success as before; she finally huffed in exasperation, refused to speak with him further - for which he gave silent thanks - and turned her focus to Darcy.

“You are to travel to town also, Mr. Darcy.”

He nodded.

“I thought you were planning to travel to Pemberley, Darcy.” inquired the Captain.

"I must collect my sister. We shall depart the day after next.”

Caroline had clearly hoped he would remain in town for longer. “When do you expect to return to town, Mr. Darcy? I do so miss dear Miss Darcy and was hoping to enjoy her company this winter. I would hope you shall not remain in the country much past the new year.”

“I have made no plans to return so soon, Miss Bingley. I have no doubt we will return but it may not be for several months – March perhaps. I have much work awaiting me at Pemberley.”

Caroline attempted to mask her dismay, but Darcy gave no sign of noticing her response. The captain smiled. Would his sister never learn that the man did not have any intentions towards her? He sighed quietly.

Their meal completed, all that remained was to collect their baggage, order the carriages and be on their way; however, before this occurred, James, who had returned to his correspondence, was interrupted by an unexpected visitor.

“I wish to offer my congratulations, Captain Bingley.” said Darcy. “I understand that it is premature but I have found Miss Elizabeth Bennet to be a most unusual young lady and believe she shall suit you very well. If her circumstances had been otherwise. . .” He shook his head briefly, “It is for the best, I believe. She is a remarkable woman. Quite singular in my opinion.”

He offered his hand and the captain grasped it firmly as they shook and expressed his thanks. He wondered at Darcy’s words as he watched him walk out of the room. Had the man admired Elizabeth? He could quite understand him doing so, although he had certainly given no sign of any attraction. He thought of the insulting comment Elizabeth had overheard and wondered if Darcy realized that she had held him in some dislike. Probably not, for her manners to him had never been other than civil and James himself had only come to learn of her dislike from her own revelations. Circumstances, Darcy had said. Could that mean her want of fortune and connections? Perhaps even the vulgarity of her mother and younger sisters? Darcy was such a fastidious gentleman that such consideration must inevitably carry a great deal of weight with him. He shrugged. It was not as though he and Elizabeth would be in Darcy's company a great deal in the future. His attention returned to his correspondence. A note from his solicitor suggested waiting on the Common Licence until a date for the wedding was set as the licence would be valid for fifteen days only. He penned his agreement and turned to another letter. His ship, the Scarborough Star, had departed on schedule for New Orleans with her cargo and. . .


Friday, November 29, 1811

James arrived at his usual time before Elizabeth broke her fast and left his carriage in Longbourn’s stables. With Elizabeth on his arm and a maid trailing behind, they set out for what was likely to be a brief excursion, for the temperature had dropped overnight and the wind was raw.

Something was once more clearly bothering Elizabeth and her reluctance to reveal the matter suggested that it had to do with either her family or his or, he thought whimsically, both. The latter supposition proved correct. His sister, Caroline, had taken it upon herself to pen a letter to Jane, and the message contained therein had created no small amount of concern for that lady. After some questioning, he was able to discover that his sister had written to impart two important pieces of information. The first that her brother, Charles, was unlikely to return to Netherfield and, the second, that Charles admired Miss Darcy, the sister of Mr. Darcy, a great deal and that Caroline had hopes that an attachment would be formed between them.

James walked in silence for some minutes. His sister’s actions were unexpected but not surprising. Her claims were difficult to refute for he had no assurance that Charles would return once Caroline interfered with his plans, and little firm knowledge of any relationship between his brother and Miss Darcy. Nonetheless, he was convinced that his sister’s intent was to persuade their brother to remain in London and to mislead Miss Bennet as to Charles’ affections.

Elizabeth grew increasingly concerned at his thoughtful mien.

“I had not, James, accorded much creditability to your sister’s claims, but your silence worries me, I admit.”

He placed his hand atop and pressed firmly.

“I cannot, I fear, provide absolute assurance that Caroline’s words are false, although I believe them so. In regards of Miss Darcy, I am not aware of any particular attachment between her and Charles and he has never spoken of such to me, something I believe he would have done if an attachment had been formed. I also do not believe him so capricious as to pay his attentions to your sister while also forwarding an attachment with another. That would be extremely dishonourable and my brother is not such a man, Elizabeth. As well, it is my understanding that Miss Darcy is but fifteen or sixteen and has not yet even been presented to society. I cannot see Mr. Darcy permitting a courtship under such circumstances. Finally, I do not see how Charles could even pursue Miss Darcy as she is to leave for Pemberley with her brother in two days and shall be gone for some months. No. No. I cannot credit my sister’s words on that matter at all.”

“So this, as I suspected, may be a case of Miss Bingley wishing to discourage my sister?”

“That seems most probable.”

“And, as to his return?”

He shook his head in frustration. “I simply cannot say what he will do. He has said he will return and I expect him to do so, if only to ensure I am not left without any company; but Caroline may persuade him to remain.”

Elizabeth huffed in exasperation, "Jane will be very much hurt should he not return."

“Her heart has been engaged then?”

“Of course, can you not tell?”

“I am afraid your sister’s serenity of countenance defeats my understanding of her feelings, Elizabeth. I thought it possible but was unsure. I believe my brother also is somewhat uncertain.”

Elizabeth sighed, “You are not the first to say as much. Charlotte Lucas made a very similar observation some weeks ago; but surely, your brother, who has been in her company and attended her more closely than anyone, cannot doubt her affections. Surely he cannot!”

“I hope that you are correct, Elizabeth. But Charles did tell me he was uncertain of her regard for him. You must understand that I could not assure him of your sister’s affections as I did not know them. Her countenance is not one to be read easily by one who can claim only a slight acquaintance. I did tell Charles that I believed your sister was not indifferent to him, but more than that I could not venture to say. My advice to him was essentially to be ruled by his own opinions – to act on his own judgement, rather than that of his sisters or his friend or even mine.”

“Is there naught that you can do? Surely he will listen to your advice.”

“I would not have you believe that I will not speak strongly on your sister’s behalf, for I will, given your assurances as to her feelings. My sisters were not pleased that I am calling on you but I have silenced them on that matter, but it is Charles’ responsibility to defend his choice. I will support him, of course, but his dislike of argument and dispute may not serve him well.”

“I wonder at your being so very blunt about your brother and sisters, James.”

“Would you have me lie or dissemble about a matter that is so important to you? If you cannot trust my word or that I will always act in our interests, what hope is there for our future?”

They walked in a companionable silence for several minutes before Elizabeth spoke again.

“I was sorry you could not call at Longbourn yesterday.”

James was heartened to learn she had wished for his company.

“As was I. It was an unfortunate event. I received drafts of several contracts that had to be reviewed on an urgent basis.”

“Your business follows you, I see. I can hardly fault your diligence although it does leave me the poorer for your company.”

“You may be assured, Elizabeth, that I will never place my business ahead of my wife and family.”

Elizabeth did not immediately respond. Her thoughts were on her Uncle Gardiner who had chosen to live within sight of his warehouses in order to have more time for his wife and their children. It was, she understood, a delicate balance. A man must work to provide security for those dependent upon him. She had ample proof of the unhappiness that arose when a man did not accept that responsibility - or did so lackadaisically.

“I am not insensible, James, as to the need for a man to pursue his business. I have the good example of my Uncle Gardiner before me so I would not have you believe I was finding fault. It is simply that I have come to anticipate with pleasure your visits.”

“I look forward to meeting your uncle and aunt.”

“You will like them, I am sure; and they you, for I have already written my aunt of our courtship and they are pleased for me. My uncle, according to Aunt Gardiner, is interested in discussing your naval career, for he is an avid reader of the gazetted articles about the Royal Navy’s exploits.” She paused only briefly before saying, “I confess I do not understand how matters work in the navy. In the militia, I am told, one can acquire a commission – even purchase one in the regulars. It is not the same in the navy?”

“Indeed it is not. Quite the reverse, actually.” He barked a laugh, “I have, on more than one occasion, encountered an army officer – a colonel or general, most frequently – who is quite displeased at the navy’s habit of rewarding merit by promotion. It offends their. . .sensibilities that a parson’s son from Norfolk could rise to the rank of an admiral.”

At her puzzled expression, he shook his head in bemusement, “Did you think Lord Nelson, hero of Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar, was some noble’s son? Indeed he was a parson’s son and not even the eldest I believe.”

“Oh!”

“I will not suggest that connections are not at work in the navy but I have heard of midshipmen who remain so for years because they fail to pass the examination by senior captains who sit to determine their capability for command. It is a harsh life with severe rules but a competent man can rise in the profession.”

“As you have done.” She made no attempt to mask her admiration.

“I was fortunate, I admit. I served with several notable captains. In fact, I owe my promotion to the success enjoyed by such a one.”

“Now I am intrigued, James. Please explain.”

He could not describe the particulars of the engagement that had won him his promotion to captain. Even now he had the occasional nightmare of that action. He doubted her sensibilities could survive the thought of blood coating the decks of a ship and running down its sides. Even he wished to banish such sights from his memory. He inhaled to calm his thoughts.

“I was first Lieutenant on the Argus, a thirty-two gun frigate,. . .”

“Frigate?”

He spent a few minutes explaining the ranks assigned to ships and their fundamental purpose.

“As I said, it was the year four and I was first lieutenant on the Argus. Captain Howell commanded her. We were stationed in Barbados and patrolling north searching for French vessels in the Windward Islands. We encountered two of them – a frigate carrying the same weight of guns as ourselves and a barque of some ten guns. It was a. . .fierce action and we eventually prevailed, sinking the barque and capturing the frigate. I was given the honour of sailing our prize home and, as is quite often the case when a particularly noteworthy action takes place, the first lieutenant was promoted to captain.”

“So you were made captain of your prize?”

He laughed. “I wish that it had been so but once she was made seaworthy, the command of her was given to a more senior officer. She was too fine a vessel for a newly made captain. No, I was given command of an older frigate of twenty-eight guns – the Belleton – the Old Belle the lads called her.”

“Oh! That seems quite unfair.”

“I had no complaints, I assure you, Elizabeth. The ‘Belle’ served me quite well until I was given command two years later of a larger, more modern vessel.”

“You speak so warmly of the navy, I wonder at your leaving it.”

He was quiet for some minutes and she could not, for the first time, discern the direction of his thoughts. This must be, she thought, how he appeared to the men he commanded. There was a remoteness to his demeanour that was quite foreign to her and she wondered at its cause. Finally he responded.

“My last action was rather horrendous, Elizabeth. I received several wounds that laid me ashore for some months. I could have returned to sea when I had recovered but as my father was ill and he wanted me to quit the navy – to avoid having myself killed I suppose – I honoured his wish. It was not as difficult as it might seem for I had tired of the life. It happened that, during my recovery, he consulted me on some matters of business which I dealt with to his satisfaction and, to my surprise, my own. And then there was the Rebecca.”

“Rebecca?”

“She was a schooner rigged ship – she could carry about a hundred ton or so – not big but fast, very fast. I doubt another ship could touch her. Certainly none of the frenchies’ vessels. She shows her wake to them all.” He smiled down at her but she thought his eyes saw something else - most probably this ship, the Rebecca. “I bought her using some of my prize money and put her to work carrying wares that were very expensive and which, if first to hit the auctioneer’s block, would bring premium prices. I made almost three thousand pounds clear on her first voyage and she made two more within the twelvemonth. I decided to resign my commission then and there, and have not regretted it since.”

"I wonder at your not seeking a wife, sir, as so many men seem to do.”

He chuckled, “Who is to say I did not?”

“And one could not be found in three years, James? I must question your diligence.”

“I admit I was not in active pursuit of a wife. My business was in its infant stages and commanded a great deal of my time. But I can also assure you that there was no want of young ladies presented for my approval.”

"Your standards were so very high, then?”

“Indeed they were and still are. I could not settle on one until I walked into my brother’s house in Hertfordshire.”

“You settled on me at our first meeting?”

“Almost – it was the second, I believe.” He chuckled, “Oddly precipitous for a cautious man of business, is it not?”

“Indeed it is, but perhaps it is a reflection of your years in the navy.”

“It does tend to make men decisive – one cannot progress unless one knows one’s mind and is prepared to take some risks.”

“Am I such a risk?”

“Fishing for a compliment, Elizabeth? I consider you a prize – a most valuable prize and one well worth winning.”

"Like your frigate, then?” She teased.

“Even more beautiful and, if you understood a sailor, you would appreciate the compliment. We are a strange breed and find few things more beautiful than a ship under a full rig of sail. You shall, I hope, come to understand some day.”

They were, by this time, near the entrance of Longbourn and from the sounds inside, the family was gathering at the breakfast table. Shedding their outerwear, Elizabeth and James joined them in the dining room and began filling their plates. Their walk had increased their hunger, warm food and tea was laid out and they were not slow to satisfy their appetites. Conversation burbled around them, none of it of particular significance. Mrs. Bennet was her usual garrulous self and Mr. Bennet did not deviate from his customary silence. He occasionally exerted himself to mock one or another of his daughters to which they appeared oblivious. The Captain could never be sure whether such disregard arose because of the poverty of their understanding or simply because they held little regard for Mr. Bennet’s cutting wit.

He was quite prepared to ignore their chatter when something Lydia said captured his attention. He turned to Elizabeth.

“You encountered Mr. Wickham yesterday?”

She nodded. “We walked into Meryton and he greeted us there. Lydia was most unhappy that he did not attend the ball for she had quite expected him to dance with her. She was not reluctant to make him aware of her dissatisfaction.”

“How. . .what excuses did he make for his absence?”

“He claimed that matters of pressing business required him to travel the day before.” She lowered her voice as she added, “However, Mr. Wickham confided to me that he deliberately avoided the ball out of a sincere wish not to discompose your brother. He claimed a desire to avoid a scene between Mr. Darcy and himself.”

The captain covered his lips with his napkin to conceal a smile. “How very. . .thoughtful of Mr. Wickham.”

“Yes, was it not? If I harbour any doubts as to Mr. Wickham’s character – which I do not – he has certainly proven the falsity of his story. A man assured of the rightness of his position would not have hesitated to attend.”

Lydia and Catherine’s voices increased in volume as they discussed the officers they had encountered the day before.

Lydia was particularly ebullient. “I quite told Mr. Wickham how disappointed I was that he did not attend the ball. He assured me that it was only the demands of urgent business that called him away.”

“They are to call on Longbourn today.” Said Catherine eagerly.

“Oh yes!” cried her mother, for whom the prospect of officers was as delightful as it was for her daughters. “They shall be quite welcome.”

“And Mr. Wickham is ever so handsome in his regimentals.” exclaimed Lydia.

James looked at Mr. Bennet expecting him to bring this discussion to a close – to prohibit Mr. Wickham’s presence at Longbourn. He was to be disappointed for Mr. Bennet said nothing. Elizabeth grew restless.

‘I do not believe, from what I have learned, that Mr. Wickham’s company should be encouraged.” she said.

Mr. Bennet’s eyebrow twitched and Mrs. Bennet was vociferous in her disagreement.

“How can you speak so, Lizzy? The officers are uniformly charming and perhaps one of them shall marry one of my daughters.”

“I do not believe that marriage to one whose profession is to harm a fellow man would make a satisfactory husband.” Intoned Mary.

“Oh hush, Mary. We do not need Fordyce now.” cried her mother.

“And just because you have a suitor, Lizzy, is no call to deny us the pleasure of a fine gentleman like Mr. Wickham.” said Lydia heatedly.

James could see Elizabeth was increasingly disturbed and spoke before she could do so.

“I am not convinced, Miss Lydia, that Mr. Wickham is as fine a gentleman as you claim. I would urge caution, for a charming manner can hide a not-so-charming character.”

Lydia gazed at him blankly, her comprehension unable, it appeared, to grasp that a man’s appearance could be at odds with his true character.

Mrs. Bennet’s faith in officers was undiminished.

“I am sure that you are mistaken, Captain Bingley. The officers have been most gentlemanly, and most attentive to my girls,” Mrs. Bennet smiled warmly at Lydia.

“I do not wish to decry Mr. Wickham’s character, Mrs. Bennet, but in the fortnight he has been in Meryton, he accumulated almost fifteen pounds in accounts with local shopkeepers.”

“Fifteen pounds!” gasped Catherine, “Why that is as much as my allowance for a year!”

“And almost a fifth of Mr. Wickham’s income for a year. It is a prodigious sum to run up in a fortnight, is it not, Mr. Bennet?”

Mr. Bennet, thus challenged, could only nod.

“Fifteen pounds!” exclaimed Mrs. Bennet once more, as the enormity of the sum pierced her consciousness. “In a fortnight?”

James simply nodded, wondering how matters would develop. Mrs. Bennet, who might be flighty and possessed of a mean intelligence, was however, quite aware that such a sum was excessive and spoke poorly of the individual concerned.

“Is it wise, Mr. Bennet, that we should encourage Mr. Wickham’s company at Longbourn?”

Mr. Bennet looked at his two youngest daughters. Lydia’s countenance was mulish and it appeared she was not of a mind to see a favourite discouraged from paying his attentions for such a cause. Catherine was more conflicted, her glance switching between her mother, James and her father. Lydia’s protests were not long in being heard until finally Mr. Bennet angrily rose from the table saying, “It appears I am not to be allowed even one peaceful meal. I am to my bookroom and do not wish to be disturbed by anyone.” He paused only briefly, “But let it be clearly understood that Mr. Wickham is not to be welcomed here at Longbourn.”

Lydia’s expression was mutinous but in the face of her father’s command and her mother’s acquiescence, she could do naught but pout and sulk.

Once they had finished their breakfast, the captain was required to make his excuses to Elizabeth.

“I cannot stay, for my clerk is due to arrive shortly. We have considerable business to transact and I doubt that I can return before this evening.”

“You will return after dinner?” she paused, “Your clerk is welcome also.”

“I shall come, of course, but I believe he intends to return to town tonight, although I shall make every attempt to change his mind on the matter.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

James returned – alone – to spend a quiet evening with Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet was in full voice and her effusions as she attempted to promote the match between Elizabeth and the captain were a source of considerable amusement for him and mortification for her daughter. Attempts to deflect Mrs. Bennet were largely unsuccessful until a chance remark on the prospect of his brother returning captured her thoughts and then it was but a short step to the contemplation of a match between her eldest daughter and Charles Bingley. Even Jane’s serenity was not proof against her mother’s enthusiasm as she waxed fulsomely on the desirability of having two daughters so advantageously married. The countenances of both Jane and Elizabeth were red with embarrassment and the captain wondered if Elizabeth would draw blood for she was nibbling on her lip with great determination.

Eventually, Mrs. Bennet appeared to exhaust the topic that was of greatest interest to her and took up another challenge. She had not been blind to Mr. Collins’ lack of interest in her daughters once he could no longer court Elizabeth. Nor had she missed his attentions to Charlotte Lucas; however, as no announcement of an engagement had been made and, as the gentleman was to leave the next morning, she had not completely buried her hopes that he might consider Mary or even Catherine for his wife.

Neither Elizabeth nor the captain was as sanguine on the subject given Sir Williams’ revelation at the Netherfield ball. In addition, the captain had noticed the gentleman’s air of suppressed excitement and could not but wonder at the cause. While none of the events that were shortly to follow vouchsafed an answer, his suspicions had been aroused.

As Mr. Collins was to begin his journey too early on the morrow to see any of the family, the ceremony of leave-taking was performed when the captain moved to depart; and Mrs. Bennet expressed, with great politeness and cordiality, how happy they should be to see Mr. Collins at Longbourn again, whenever his other engagements might allow him to visit them.

“My dear Madam,” he replied, “this invitation is particularly gratifying, because it is what I have been hoping to receive; and you may be very certain that I shall avail myself of it as soon as possible.”

They were all astonished; and Mr. Bennet, who could by no means wish for so speedy a return, immediately said, “But is there not danger of Lady Catherine’s disapprobation here, my good sir? You had better neglect your relations, than run the risk of offending your patroness.”

“My dear sir, “ replied Mr. Collins, “I am particularly obliged to you for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon my not taking so material a step without her ladyship’s concurrence.”

“You cannot be too much on your guard. Risk anything rather than her displeasure; and if you find it likely to be raised by your coming to us again, which I should think exceedingly probable, stay quietly at home, and be satisfied that we shall take no offence.”

“Believe me, my dear sir, my gratitude is warmly excited by such affectionate attention; and depend upon it, you will speedily receive from me a letter of thanks for this, as well as for every other mark of your regard during my stay in Hertfordshire. As for my fair cousins, though my absence may not be long enough to render it necessary, I shall now take the liberty of wishing them health and happiness.”

James did not delay his own departure that evening and, as he was to learn the next day from Elizabeth, there followed his departure considerable speculation amongst the ladies as to what Mr. Collins could intend that he meditated such a quick return. Mrs. Bennet wished to understand by it that he thought of paying his addresses to one of her younger girls. Mary might be prevailed on to accept him for she rated his abilities much higher than any of the others; there was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her, and though by no means so clever as herself, she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as hers, he might become a very agreeable companion.
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The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

PeterApril 20, 2016 05:57PM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

ISaraApril 22, 2016 12:24AM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

PeterApril 22, 2016 12:35AM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

JeannineApril 20, 2016 09:13PM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

PeterApril 21, 2016 05:39PM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

GretchenApril 20, 2016 07:05PM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

KimberlyApril 21, 2016 01:05AM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

SabineCApril 21, 2016 11:50AM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

PeterApril 21, 2016 05:37PM

Re: The Other Mr. Bingley - Chapter Six

AnnaOApril 20, 2016 10:05PM

Me too!

KateBApril 20, 2016 07:17PM

Re: Me too!

Diana WApril 21, 2016 03:47AM

Re: Me too!

AlidaApril 20, 2016 09:51PM



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