My dear Caroline.
Pray forgive me for my long silence. I know that you must have wondered at this most unusual interval between letters.
That was certainly true. More than a week earlier, a short note written in Charles' usual flighty manner had arrived, telling of pressing business that might prevent him from writing for some time.
I hope this letter finds you in good health. Darcy tells me you looked very well when he met you in town last week.
Mr Darcy. Those dark eyes, that beautiful head of hair, the tall, slim, elegant figure. The instant of fire and ice rushing through her veins every time she met his eyes, saw him walk into the room, or even saw his name put on paper.
"You are a fool if you attach yourself too much to a man who is promised to another", Louisa had said, in one of their rare conversations about matters of the heart. Sound advice indeed, and Caroline told herself that she would certainly have followed it, had Mr Darcy ever dropped a word about miss de Bourgh that showed him to be truly inclined to marry her. Anne de Bourgh must be well into marriageable age, she thought, and yet not one sign of impending nuptials between her and Mr Darcy! Indeed, Caroline would not have known about the matter at all, had her brother not mentioned it after his visit to Rosings Park with Mr Darcy some years earlier. No, even if Mr Darcy's aunt wished him married to her daughter, he certainly would not comply unless he truly wanted to.
And he had said that she looked very well. Caroline read the line over and over again. When she first opened the letter, it looked merely a neat collection of words on paper -- neater by far than Charles' letters usually did -- but now Darcy's name shone like a beacon among the other words. He had told Charles she looked very well.
She had come home to the house at Grosvenor Street a quarter of an hour earlier, after visiting with Georgiana Darcy. Seeing Georgiana was always a true pleasure, but she had felt obliged to cut her visit short when the afternoon mail arrived with a letter from Mr Darcy to his sister. Caroline could see how much Georgiana wanted to read her brother's letter, and in spite of entreaties to stay had returned to Mr & Mrs Hurst's house, where she had been rewarded with the letter from Charles. Louisa and Mr Hurst were out of town visiting his sister in Surrey, so they had not been at home when Mr Darcy came to call the previous week.
Mr Darcy. His eyes on her face when they talked together.
Caroline resolutely returned to the letter.
As for myself, I am in the best of health and spirit, and enjoying a period of extraordinarily fine weather.
Dear Charles! Everything was always "extraordinary" with him. And yet he was always in earnest! There was nothing affected in his exclamations of delight.
That is what endears Charles to Darcy, thought Caroline. He has remarked more than once on his dislike for everything that is contrived or false. I know he sees through my games to capture his attention -- but how else is a woman to win the interest of any man?
I try to talk at him of things he hold in high esteem. His sister, and Pemberley, and literature. It cannot be that he does not see my high regard for him! I even profess to prefer conversation to dancing, and as he surely understands that it is not so, he must see it as a compliment!
Indeed it is unlucky that he should dislike dancing so. He does it uncommonly well.
Caroline was aware that she danced very well herself, and on every occasion when she had danced with Darcy, her elevation of spirit lifted her to new skilfulness. She would move gracefully with the other dancers, weaving in and out through the turns, and rejoicing as she saw him move and turn as she did. Fitzwilliam, she would call out in her heart of hearts. Fitzwilliam, I...
But not even in her daydreams would she stoop to naming her feelings for him openly. Those were the manners of the dreadful younger Bennet girls. And what a scandal that had been! her train of thought continued. Such a shame, and eternal disgrace for the family! In a way, she felt sorry that she would never be able to see Jane Bennet again, for she was sweet in her innocence and pleasant enough to talk to, but of course it was out of the question to talk to any member of that family again now.
She had not been able to resist mentioning the scandal in passing to Mr Darcy, to see how he would react to the name Bennet. He looked just as uncomfortable as she had anticipated, and she immediately regretted it. And she was normally so good at restraining herself!
"I would beg you not to mention this to Georgiana", he said gruffly. "She knew Wickham when she grew up, as you know, and was quite fond of him as a child. Although she knows of this unfortunate happening, I know it must pain her to think of it." Caroline was mortified that she had not thought of this herself, and she promised readily not to mention Wickham's name again where Georgiana could hear it.
Would that it had been Charles who had known Darcy since boyhood! Then she would have been able to call him by his first name, as naturally as miss Darcy did with Charles.
No, this would not do! She had spent the better part of an hour mulling over the first few sentences in a letter from her own brother!
And now, dear Caroline, for the reason of my negligence in writing to you. The news I have could not be presented in a short or hastily formed letter, and that is all I would have had time to ere now. I do not, however, want you to hear my news from any other source than myself, so I could not defer writing any longer.
Defer writing? Did he not want to write to his own sister? And what news could it possibly be?
Dearest sister, I must ask you to wish me joy.
The words swam in front of her eyes. Had he... but no, he had not been to town, of that she was certain, and if Georgiana had been engaged she would without a doubt have told Caroline about it.
No. It could not be. He could not have reverted to his old feelings and affections, not after the scandal. No; it must be some other local girl, perhaps one of the ghastly plain Lucases. Or were they even out yet?
All this went through Caroline's thoughts in less than a second; then the words on the paper had steadied themselves sufficiently:
Miss Jane Bennet has made me the happiest man alive by consenting to be my wife.
So it was true. It was understandable then that he had hesitated to write her. Caroline felt drained and empty of emotion as the prospect of being related to some of the most despicable people alive became a reality. It was of course impossible to do anything about it, once the engagement was finalised. A breach of promise would be a scandal and could be costly, and besides she knew that Charles would not listen to reason now. She read on mechanically, slowly coming to a kind of reconciliation with the unavoidable. That was her strength: to adapt herself to inevitable situations. After all, Jane Bennet was by far the best of her family, and it was very likely that Charles might be prevailed upon to move farther away from his in-laws. More than likely, in fact, once he had lived in close proximity with his mother-in-law for some time. He would be happy; that was one point in favour of the match. And Jane could probably be moulded, as long as she was removed from her sister Eliza.
She let the letter sink again, as Elizabeth Bennet invaded her thoughts, just as she had invaded almost everything else that was dear to Caroline Bingley. And the worst part was that she was probably likable enough, if it hadn't been for that horrible country pride that made her turn up her nose at townsfolk. And, of course, her uncouth manners. Caroline resolutely suppressed the twinge of envy she always felt for the closeness between Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, and forced herself to think only of the insufferable ways it showed itself in.
Voices drifted up from downstairs. She recognised Georgiana Darcy's sweet, melodic voice. She was come to extend her congratulations, no doubt. The news of Charles' engagement must have been in her letter from her brother. Caroline rose to her feet as she turned to the second leaf of the letter, in order to scan through it quickly to see if there was anything else of consequence there.
And so it was that miss Caroline Bingley was yet in that ungainly posture, half-arisen from her seat, as her world quietly fell into pieces around her.
...Darcy engaged to Elizabeth Bennet...delighted at this...you have always felt such a warm, friendly regard towards him that I know you will want to be the first to wish him joy...know you will come to like her better upon improved acquaintance...to marry on the same day as myself and miss Bennet...Darcy engaged to Elizabeth Bennet...Darcy engaged to Elizabeth...Darcy engaged to Eliza...Darcy engaged...engaged...engaged...
When Georgiana Darcy entered the room, eyes full of joy, miss Bingley came towards her with a smile and embraced her. Nothing could be noticed of the wailing cry in her heart of hearts, for Caroline Bingley prided herself on her ability to restrain herself and to adapt to the inevitable.
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