Miss Bingley's Trip To The Park
The drawing room was exceedingly warm. Louisa slowly waved her fan back and forth in a vain attempt to create some breeze. She stopped only to take a sip of warm lemonade.
"Do cease pacing about, Caroline. I am becoming overheated, just by watching you," Louisa complained languidly.
"It is not my fault that we are in London during the height of summer. I blame our present inconvenience on Miss Jane Bennet."
"Miss Bennet? How is she at fault?" Louisa asked, with only mild curiosity.
"Because if she were not still in the vicinity of Netherfield, we could enjoy the comforts of the country. However, staying at Netherfield when there is even the slighest chance that Charles might offer for her is unthinkable."
"Well, it is very wrong of her," agreed Louisa, "but that is not what has you pacing about so, is it?"
"No, I want to go to the PARK!" Caroline crossed her arms over her chest and her lower lip jutted out into a pout. It was not an attractive picture for a woman of her age.
"What is to prevent you from going?" Louisa asked.
"There are no horses. Charles is taking his new curricle out, and Mr. Hurst has taken the coach up to Newmarket. All that is left in the stables is Charles' old nag that should have been sent to the knackers ages ago."
"Then why did you not ask for a carriage earlier? I am sure Charles would have been willing to accommodate you."
"Because Charles only informed me -- as he was heading out the door -- that he will be meeting with Darcy in the park this afternoon, to show off his latest acquisition."
Louisa tisked-tisked at Charles' thoughtlessness. Really, it was to bad that he could not see to the well-being and happiness of his sisters as any brother should. "Well then, why do you not send around to Thorp's Livery for some horses?"
"Do you think that I have not thought of that? There are none available! An animal from any other establishment will look like what it is -- a hired hack."
Louisa nodded in agreement with Caroline's estimation of the horses available for hire in London, "Then perhaps you can walk to the park," Louisa suggested.
"Walk? To the park? Have you quite lost your senses, Louisa?" Caroline asked incredulously.
"No, I have not. I admit I would not want walk on a day as warm as today, but," Louisa paused to take another sip of lemonade, "Mr. Darcy did admire Miss Elizabeth Bennet's walking, if you recall."
"He admired her eyes. 'They were brightened by the exercise'," she spat out.
"Well, your eyes will be, too. You do not have to walk to the park, just be seen walking in the park. All you need to do is take a Hackney to take you to the park and wander about there until you run into Charles and Mr. Darcy."
"I could then beg a ride home with Charles and Mr. Darcyäbeing overcome by the heat and feeling a somewhat faint," Caroline warmed to the idea, falling gracefully into a mock swoon on the couch.
As Caroline entered the park a group of rowdy and filthy children ran toward her, chasing after a ball. Her efforts to shoo them away were fruitless. Thinking it a grand game, the children made a special effort to touch her garments as they ran around her.
"Filthy little beggars," Caroline shouted, "Get away from me!" She swatted at them with her reticule to no avail. Only after the harried governess caught up her charges was there any cessation of the children's antics.
"It is about time that you put in an appearance," Caroline raged, "Just look at what these brats have done to my gown! It is smeared with dirt and jam and who knows what else by those beastly children!"
"I am very sorry, ma'am," soothed the governess, "they are not bad children, just high spirited."
Caroline shot her a burning look, "They belong in Newgate!" she spat before striding away from the miniature vandals.
"My best orange silk ruined, completely ruined by those little beasts. Why anyone would want children about is unfathomable. They all belong in school," she muttered as she tried to rub the dirt and other debris from her gown. When a sticky blob jam oozed beneath her fingers she grimaced, "or in prison! The work houses at the very least!"
Caroline was crossing a bridge over the river that ran through the park when she spotted a punt with a man and a girl that she was positive had to be Mr. Darcy and his sister.
She hurried over to the spot where such vessels were for hire. She spied a lone young man sitting beneath the shade of a tree, munching on an apple.
"I wish to hire a punt. How much?" she asked.
"Two," he said, with his mouth full.
Caroline shuddered at his vulgarity. She grimaced in distaste, but opened her reticule, "Two shillings," she said, handing the man the coins.
He just looked at her, "Two guineas," he stated.
"TWO guineas, why that is robbery! I won't pay it!"
The punter shrugged. "'Tis a 'ot day, Miss, plenty of ladies and gents willing to lay out the blunt for a refreshin' trip," as he chomped on the apple core.
Seeing another customer approaching, Caroline said, "Very well. But this is not to be a pleasure trip. I need you to catch up to another punt."
"I'll do me best, Miss," he said, pocketing the money. He escorted Caroline to the punt, helped her settle in, then began the tasks of pushing the craft along the river.
Impatient at the slow pace, she shouted at the young man, "Go faster!...You are going to slow!...Pick up your pace, we will never catch up with him!"
"'im? Is your man out on the water with another lady?" asked the punter.
"That is no business of yours. Your only business is to make this boat go faster!" she snapped back at him.
"Should have charged her five guineas," he muttered under his breath. As he tried to comply to her orders, his pole broke and he fell into the river with a great splash. The punt, unsettled by the accident, rocked back and forth, and then, inevitably, overturned. With an indignant scream, Caroline crashed into the water.
Fortunately, the water was not deep. Unfortunately, it was not easy getting out of the water. Her water-logged garments hampered her movents, so she could not move easily. Then the muddy river bed kept trying to swallow her slippers. Every step she took seemed to sink her lower into the water.
She slowly walked, crawled and stumbled her way out of the river. Though her struggle lasted no more than fifteen minutes, to Caroline it seemed like hours. When at last she emerged from the water, she was a soggy mess.
The feathers on her bonnet fell over her eyes and she furiously brushed them aside. Looking at her gown, she could see that the hem was at least six inches deep in mud (if not more), it smelled of river and, most gaulling, the damp garments clung most indecently about her. She needed a place to hide until the garments dried enough for her to make her way home and strangle her sister!
"Of all stupid ideas, Louisa, this was the stupidest!" she stamped angrily away the river bank, looking for a good hideaway.
She took the wrong direction. Instead of ending up in the secluded rose garden, she was ran into a crowd, listening to a hell-fire breathing preacher.
"And I say unto you, that London is a city that is full of sin. Debauchery and decadence is around every corner! Those on the highest wrungs of society are flaunting their disgusting behavior for all to see! Why look at the way that woman there is dampening her gown! Tis positively indecent!"
All eyes turned on Caroline. The women eyed her with righteous anger and the men with lascivious inquiry.
Realizing the futility of claiming her innocence, she hurried down the path. One young buck caught up with her.
"Why are running away, sweetness? After putting the goods on display, you can't mean to hide them away." The man grabbed her in his arms and drew her forward, only to stop as the smell of river filled his nostrils. "Now isn't that an interesting perfume -- eau de sewer?" he sneered.
Caroline punched him in the nose. All those childhood years of tormenting Charles had not gone waste. But now she had this rude stranger's blood added to the stains on her dress.
Caroline rubbed her sore hand. "What a boor! Serves the ruffian right! I hope he bleeds all the way from here to Mayfair!" In her anger she unheading of her path. She stepped on a sharp stone.
"Argh! What more could happen today?" she demanded of the fates. Limping, she made her way to a park bench. She sat down with a sigh of relief.
It was short lived.
"Who do you think you are? Sitting down next to respectable lady! Get off! Go away!"
"Are you speaking to me?" Caroline asked incredulously.
"Am I speaking to you? You see anyone else around, you hussy? Get off my bench!" The nursery-maid emphasized her demand by hitting Caroline with her book. "Go away! Go away from decent people!" screeched the woman.
Caroline fended off the blows from Udolpho (a book she had always despised.) Believing that in this case retreat was the better form of valor, she vacated the park bench.
Caroline searched for a place in the garden to hide until her outfit dried enough for her to venture into the more public areas. She had just noticed a sunny and uninhabited corner.
"Oh, what a catastrophe," she mumbled under breath as she made way towards it.
Caroline was aware of a carriage slowly making its way towards her. She was horrified to see that it contained Mr. Darcy and his sister. Caroline had never been more mortified when the vehicle came to hault beside her.
"Miss Bingley, you appear to be in distress. Please let us offer you a ride home," Darcy said, as he steadied his horses with a confident hand.
"I thought Charles was with you?" she questioned weakly.
"He has taken up with some other friends, Mr. Elton and Mr. Dwight. He is taking part in an impromptu race to Mr. Dwight's house in Richmond."
"He has gone to Richmond," she muttered weakly.
"My sister and I are on our way to Gunthers for ices," Darcy began, only to be interupted by Caroline.
"Do not let me detain you. I can get hansom home."
"Nonsense, we cannot leave you here, not in your present distress. It is obvious some accident has occured?" he lifted an inquiring eyebrow.
"What has not occured? I thank you for the offer but it is not necessary," Caroline claimed.
"I must insist," Darcy stated as he helped the reluctant Caroline into the carriage.
She turned to thank Darcy, only to see him wiping his soiled gloves on a handkercheif. Her humiliation was now complete.
Caroline arrived home in her ruined finery.
As Caroline entered the house, the footman gawked. Gnashing her teeth she squished across the parapet floor, before heading up the stairs. She could hear the snickers and chortles behind her but raised her head and forged ahead to her room.
She collapsed on her bed, not even worrying about the damage her ruined gown was causing the coverlet. She buried her face into one pillow, while her fist pounded on another.
"Never have I had such an awful day!" she cried. "Never again will I listen to Louisa! Never will I be able to show my face to Mr. Darcy again! Oh, the humiliation!' Tears dampened one pillow whilst the poor abused pillow burst its seams. Feathers flew in all direction.
Caroline cursed, quite fluently for a gently bred young lady. Would this blasted day never end?"
Half an hour later, Louisa stuck her head in the room. "Caroline? Are you in here?" she asked.
"Where else would I be? I shall not be leaving this room ever again, thanks to your advyce! She sent the good pillow flying at Louisa.
"Caroline, whatever is the matter with you? I have come to deliver some good news!"
"Nothing good can happen today!" Caroline wailed into a pillow.
"An invitation to Pemberley is not a good thing?" Louisa waved the invitation over her sister.
Caroline turned quickly and snatched the paper out of Louisa's hand. "How can this be? I was sure he would never wish to see me again...Not after what happened in the park.
"What happened in the park?"
"Louisa, you best not mention the park again, if you wish to remain among the living."
Caroline opened the letter and read:
Dear Miss Bingley,
I most cordially invite you to accompany your brother when he comes to visit my brother at Pemberley. Pemberley is delightfully cool this time of year and will offer you a bit relief from this warmth of the season.
Please let me know if such a visit will be agreeable...
"How could it be disagreeable, my dear Georgiana?" Caroline muttered
to you. The invitation is also extended to Mr. & Mrs Hurst.
Caroline smiled in happy satisfaction. Rushing over to writing table, she penned her acceptance to the invitation and sent it off.
She then rang for her maid to bring up a warm bath. As she settled into the warm water, all the calamities of the afternoon forgotten as she thought of her upcoming visit.
What had prompted the unexpected invitation to Pemberley? Could Darcy have feltäWhat? Pity or compassion for her bedraggled state this afternoon? Was that the reason for the unexpected pleasure of the invitation? If so, she had gravely mistaken the power of such emotions. She would have to test this new theory when she went to Pemberley. Where there any ponds or lakes or streams that she could fall into?
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