Louisa Hurst accepted the letters from the footman. She and her husband had been staying in their house in town with her sister Caroline while their brother, Charles Bingley, was shooting game at his home in Netherfield. Louisa saw today's letters contained one from Charles and hoped it would bring more welcome news than what they had received two weeks ago. At that time, Charles had joyfully written that Jane Bennet, a Hertfordshire girl, had agreed to marry him. What shrieks of distress filled the house on that day.
Quickly scanning her brother's letter, Louisa let out another small shriek.
"What is it, Louisa?", Caroline asked as she lazily poked a needle through a muslin she was embroidering. "Surely Charles has no more bad news to tell us?'
Louisa looked wide-eyed up at her sister and gulped.
"Well, what is it!" Caroline demanded more loudly.
"I fear it is more bad news, sister," Louisa said timidly. Her sister was a few years younger, but still frightened her in some ways. "Charles writes to tell us..." Louisa gulped again. "...that Mr. Darcy .... is engaged to marry Elizabeth Bennet."
Caroline's eyes bulged out and her mouth flew open but no sound came out. Louisa watched her as she turned red then white. She hurried to the door to call a servant for help but was stopped by sounds of sputtering from her sister.
"No, no, it can not be. It must be a joke or you did not read it correctly. Give me the letter."
Without waiting for Louisa, Caroline snatched the pages herself from the floor where they had dropped. She stared at each letter and mouthed each word to herself. Finished, she fell back on the chair where she was sitting and raised her hand to her face.
"Oh, Louisa, it can not be, it can not be. Quick, get me some water. I feel I shall faint. This can not be, sister."
Louisa hurried to pour water from the decanter nearby and knelt by her sister with the glass. Caroline greedily drank but continued to sputter.
"What can he be thinking of? Has that wretched girl cast a spell on him? Jane was bad enough but Elizabeth Bennet? He must be mad. Oh, Louisa, all men are mad."
"Dear Caroline, it is a grievous thing. Mr. Darcy has ruined his good name. If only we had gone with our brother to Netherfield, perhaps this could not have happened."
"Yes, you are right. I know I could have distracted him from that girl. He needed a confidante while he was there. You know Charles can not judge anyone true so he could only have hindered Darcy. Poor Darcy. Poor, poor boy." Caroline's eyes lit up. "But perhaps it is not too late! There is no wedding date mentioned. Yes, I will go to Netherfield directly. I will persuade Fitzwilliam Darcy that no woman is good enough for him. No one, that is, except me."
"Are you sure that's a good idea, dear?" Louisa asked. She was not as convinced as her sister that Darcy only needed to have his eyes opened regarding the merits of Caroline before he would make her his wife.
"Yes, of course. Mr. Darcy is of proud, noble lineage. I need only remind him of that and his duty to his family. And then it will finally be time to tell him of my love for him. I have waited too long for him to see it. I can not let any other girl get their hands on him. Mr. Darcy is destined to be my husband."
With that, a determined Caroline Bingley left the room to see to having her trunks packed.
Fitzwilliam Darcy had never felt so animated and carefree since Elizabeth Bennet had consented to be his wife. He thought of nothing else but her and spent as much time as was decently possible by her side. On another particularly magnificent autumn afternoon, Darcy ran up the stairs to the entrance to Netherfield in order to hurry change his clothes. Elizabeth had consented to ride horseback with him even though she was not a confident horsewoman but she knew she would be completely safe with Darcy as her companion. It pleased him immensely to know how much she trusted him.
Entering the house, he headed for the grand staircase to go to his rooms but a familiar voice stopped him short in his path.
"Mr. Darcy," Caroline said. "It is so nice to see you. I suppose you did not expect a visit from me so soon."
"Miss Bingley," Darcy politely said turning towards her. "It is a pleasure to see you again. Did you just arrive?"
"But an hour ago, sir. I was told my brother was at Longbourn so I have been sitting all alone waiting for someone to talk to. I hope you can spend a few moments to tell me how you've been getting on."
Darcy wavered. He did not know if Caroline had heard the news of his engagement yet. While he had let his friend, Bingley, be the one to convey the happy news to the ladies in London, he did not think he should pretend the event had not occurred if indeed she was still ignorant.
"I am afraid I have only a few moments, Miss Bingley. But I would be happy to share them with you. I think perhaps you have not heard my news."
Caroline flushed slightly but kept a tight smile on her lips. "Indeed I have heard your news, Mr. Darcy. I hurried immediately to Netherfield to relate my feelings on the subject."
This did not sound promising to Darcy. He looked longingly at the stairs but decided he had best be the gentleman and allow Caroline to have her say. He could save time if he would only change his jacket and not his boots.
"Very well. Let us go into the drawing room." He motioned that she should go in before him. He took a deep breath and followed, closing the door behind him. The less the servants heard, the better.
Darcy decided to broach the subject of his engagement first. "I know you have never thought very kindly of Elizabeth Bennet. If you are about to say abusive things about her now, I will not be able to stay to listen."
Caroline laughed. "Indeed not, Mr. Darcy. That is not what I have come to say at all. Eliza Bennet is a lovely girl, very innocent and charming. I can certainly see how gentlemen can find her attractive. No, Mr. Darcy, I would never abuse your intended."
Darcy eyed Miss Bingley warily as she moved closer to him.
"I knew when you fell in love one day, you would be a man to love all consumingly. Forgive me for being so bold, but I have known you for many a year," Caroline began. "My greatest fear for you is that you would be so passionate about your feelings, you would be blinded to everything else. A pretty face, a pleasing figure has turned many a man's head before. Couple that with a sharp wit and I fear there are few men who could resist such a combination. Even you, Mr. Darcy, who I have always admired as being sober and imperturbable, have fallen and I believe are in great danger of making the biggest mistake of your life!"
This was exactly what Darcy had expected her to say. He could not fault his friend's sister for he knew she had always hoped he would turn his attentions to her. In fact, he took a perverse pleasure in deflating her hopes when she ventured too near. He sometimes felt guilt at causing her pain but could not feel completely culpable for he was convinced he had never said anything to make Caroline feel she could make him her husband.
Before he could respond to Caroline's veiled attack on Elizabeth, she continued.
"It is not that the Bennets have no fortune and would bring nothing to the marriage. After all, my sister and I welcome Jane Bennet to our family though she is no asset. But your fortune, Mr. Darcy, your rank and substance is so much higher than the Bennets, higher even than the Bingleys, that you must, for your very legacy, maintain the strictest standard for a wife. That is why I believe you have remained single for so long, to search carefully for such a partner. Then, in a short time, a pretty face has destroyed it all. But believe me, Mr. Darcy, in just another short time, that pretty face will pale in comparison to the misfortune it will bring you. Surely, you have thought..."
"That is enough, Miss Bingley," Darcy said coldly. "You credit me with being sober and imperturbable. Please credit me with having the knowledge of my own mind and my own heart. I have fallen in love. Indeed, I have been in love with Miss Bennet for a very long time. Nothing else has changed about me other than I see faults in my character which I will try to correct. I hope you can wish me well."
Darcy moved to leave. Caroline had to think quickly before he was through the door.
"Fitzwilliam! Forgive me, I think only of your interests. Indeed, I think only..." Caroline let her voice trail off.
Torn between his chance to escape and his in-born civility which required him to listen to Caroline, Darcy's manners won out. He turned back to her and waited silently.
Caroline moved toward him, clasping her hands in front of her chin. At first, Darcy was afraid she was going to beg his forgiveness. Instead, she stood directly in front of him and raced on wildly in a whisper.
"You have been my be-all and end-all for four years now. I have followed you from London to Derbyshire to Kent to Hertfordshire to Sussex and back to London. I have dressed for you, done my hair for you, danced for you, flirted for you, smiled for you, and entertained for you. I think only of you."
Darcy could only think of how her nostrils flared at the end of her pointy nose. He was very startled therefore when Caroline flung her arms around his neck.
"I love you, Fitzwilliam. I ache for you. I dream of you at night, oh, you do not know what I dream."
"Please, madam," Darcy stammered, trying to extricate himself. "You know not what you're saying."
Caroline went on as if she could not hear him, tightening her grip. "I want only to be your wife. I will be a wonderful wife. We shall know only the best people and go to the most stylish places. I will make you very happy. Discard that silly girl and attach yourself to a real woman!"
Finally Caroline let his neck go but only to grab his hands and press them to her heaving bosom. "Feel my heart. It races with the thrill of being with you. I am a most passionate woman. You will never want another woman once you are with me."
"Please, Caroline, enough," Darcy exclaimed, finally loosening her grip. He cleared his throat a few times and wondered how to take his leave gracefully.
Caroline stood apart from him and watched him with her eyebrow arched. "You are going to give me up then. You are going to go back to that country girl."
Darcy could only smile and shake his head in disbelief. "I sincerely hope, Caroline, you will find your match someday. I am not the man for you and there probably are very few who are. But when you do find that man, I would expect nothing but an inferno between the two of you. I hope you wait for what you deserve."
"It will be difficult to remain friends with you but I will do my best," Caroline sniffed. "I am not quite ready to wish you joy on your wedding day but if you can find it, I suppose I shall be happy for you."
"I will not speak of what happened here between us today. It will be forgotten. Agreed?" Darcy asked.
"That I can agree on. Would you care to join me in a cup of tea?"
"No, I can not. I am already late for an appointment. Will you be here still this evening?"
"I am not about to go back to London hanging my head," Caroline snapped.
Darcy bowed. "Til this evening then." He quietly left the room.
Caroline walked up and down silently. She was too proud to doubt if her actions had been unwise and decided to put all the blame on Darcy. He had the temerity to turn her down. He was wasting the opportunity for an excellent match. She had half a mind to offer herself to the next gentleman she saw. Then he would be jealous.
Being away from Elizabeth much longer than he had planned, Darcy decided to forgo changing clothes entirely and return to Longbourn immediately with Elizabeth's mount in tow. As he hurried out the door, he saw another unexpected guest had arrived.
"Why if it isn't Tom."
Colonel Fitzwilliam grinned up at his cousin. "You sly dog. I heard the news from our Aunt. Why did you not tell me you were marrying? And your bride is Elizabeth Bennet! I was astounded and I must say quite envious."
"I am on my way to see her now. Tom, I want to see you but I am already late. Would you help me though? Would you mind going into the house to entertain another lady until her brother returns?"
"What? Two ladies! Darcy, I never thought you were a cad," the colonel laughed.
"It is Caroline Bingley."
Fitzwilliam made a sour face but soon recovered. "Of course, Darcy. Colonel Fitzwilliam to the rescue."
"I knew I could count on you," Darcy said as he hurried off to the stables.
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled and mounted the stairs.
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