A Truth Universally Acknowledged
Chapter 1 - The Beginning
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gentleman in possession of a good fortune ought to be a landowner as well. Such is the tale of Mr. Charles Bingley and his possession of the estate known as Netherfield in the County of Hertfordshire, and the misadventures that occured because of it.
Our story begins in London outside a fashionable coffee house. Two well-dressed young gentlemen are seen leaving the establishment. While both men are observed entering a smartly liveried carriage, the younger of the two appears a little reluctant to leave. This young man is the hero of our story, Mr. Bingley. The other is his oldest friend, a Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. The two men have been friends since their school days.
"Did you not find the young ladies lovely, Darcy?" Bingley asked as he settled back into the cushions of the coach opposite his friend. "Especially, Miss Jones? I find her company most enjoyable."
Darcy shook his head with a chuckle before responding, "Last week you found Miss Smith's company enjoyable and the week before last, it was Miss Roberts'. You are a modern day Romeo, Bingley; falling into and out of love as quickly as you change your clothes."
"Perhaps I am, but I'm just waiting for my Juliet and then I'll settle down," replied Bingley in his defence.
"Well I hope for your sake that your story has a happier ending," Darcy quipped and went silent. At that Darcy brought an end to all discussions of young ladies and Bingley's never-ending romances because Bingley knew his friend could never endure such talks for very long.
A short time later the carriage stopped at a large house on Grosvenor Square in one of the better neighbourhoods of London. Bingley alighted from the carriage, but remembered to remind his friend of his promise to accompany him to Hertfordshire the next day; "You will be coming with me to look at Netherfield tomorrow, correct? I'll be at Perley House by ten to collect you, but I expect you will have been ready since nine."
"Bingley, if I see you at ten o'clock tomorrow, I will be very much surprised. Knowing you as well as I do, some pretty woman will pass by you on your way over and you will become quite distracted."
Bingley laughed quite heartily at Darcy's assessment before responding with a tip of his hat and, "Until tomorrow then." He was still laughing when he entered his brother-in-law's house.
"Good day, sir. I believe you will find Mr. and Mrs. Hurst as well as Miss Bingley in the drawing room," the Hursts' subdued butler informed Bingley while collecting his great coat, hat, walking stick and gloves.
"Thank you, Harris. Is dinner still expected in an hour?"
"Yes sir. Mrs. Potts is making leg of lamb I believe."
"Excellent, my favourite," he replied, not that he disliked anything Mrs. Potts cooked. Bingley was licking his lips in anticipation of dinner when he joined the rest of his family in the drawing room. "Good afternoon, all!"
"Charles, wherever have you been? We feared that we would have to hold dinner for you," cried his younger sister, Caroline Bingley.
"Yes Charles. Where have you been? Mr. Hurst was quite fretful that you would be late," his older sister, Louisa Hurst, inquired.
Bingley look at both his sisters and then at his brother-in-law, John Hurst; his sisters were quite anxious to hear his news, but Mr. Hurst was asleep on a nearby settee, as usual. "I have been to Johnson's for a late tea with Darcy after leaving our club and running errands this morning. He just left."
"Mr. Darcy was here? Why did you not ask him to dinner? Mr. Darcy is always a welcome addition to our little party."
"Of course Caroline would want Darcy at dinner. She's been chasing after him ever since she made her debut." Bingley thought before responding with, "He had a previous engagement with Miss Darcy."
"Oh! I guess we should not want him to disappoint his sister, dear Georgiana." Miss Bingley did"very little to hide the disappointment in her voice.
Bingley cringed when she mentioned Darcy's sister. Usually whenever the young lady was referred to, Caroline would go into some diatribe about Georgiana's accomplishments. Bingley had never quite figured if Caroline was trying to get into Darcy's good graces by complementing his sister or had some other motive. Fortunately, the diatribe was prevented on this occasion as Louisa commented to Caroline that perhaps they should dress for dinner so both ladies vanished off to their chambers and Bingley went to change.
Bingley managed to be his typically amiable self through dinner and several rubbers of whist, however his mind was focussed elsewhere. He was thinking about Hertfordshire and Netherfield. Netherfield might be the completion of his late father's dream. Mr. Bingley Senior made his wealth through trade (something Bingley's sisters have been trying to make insignificant and make all their acquaintances forget) and always intended to purchase an estate, but unfortunately did not live to accomplish the task. The task now fell on the shoulders of the son, quite a burden for the young Charles Bingley to bear.
True to his word, Bingley was dressed, mounted on his best stallion, Wellington, and outside Darcy's townhouse by ten o'clock. "Good morning, Darcy!"
At the sound of Bingley's voice, Darcy's jaw dropped in shock, "Bingley, you continually surprise me. I expected to have to go to Grosvenor Square and drag you out of bed, like I sometimes had to do at Cambridge. You didn't meet any pretty young ladies along the way?" Bingley shook his head in the negative. "Must be too early in the morning. Well since you're here, shall we be off and see this manor you've been raving about for the past week?"
"You already know I went down last week in a chaise and four to see it after I heard about the place from Price, but you don't know that once I saw it, I immediately fell in love with it. I mean to take it, but I would like your advice; I always do." With that said Bingley started off down the road leading them from London to the town of Meryton in Hertfordshire.
After a few hours of riding, Bingley lead Darcy through a large field. Both men stopped in front of a clearing in the trees bordering the field; in the distance was a large stately home with very beautiful grounds. "It is a fair prospect," declared Bingley to which Darcy agreed, "though nothing to Pemberley I know, but I must settle somewhere. Do I have your approval?"
Darcy looked at the house and other surrounding homes visible in the distance. He grimaced before replying. "You will find the local company somewhat savage," he replied, instead of the approval Bingley was looking for.
"Country manors? I think they're charming." Bingley laughed. Charles Bingley was the very antithesis of his sisters. He had an easy-going open nature and chose to be pleased with everything and everyone he saw or met, while his sisters loved to make snide comments about everyone they met.
"Then you had better take it," Darcy advised.
"Thank you. I shall. I will close with the attorney directly." With that said, Bingley spurred his horse into a race across the field. The suddenness of Bingley's actions stunned Darcy for a moment, but moments later he had overtaken him and Bingley was forced to admit defeat.
An hour later Bingley met Darcy at the local pub after meeting with the attorney, Mr. Morris. Darcy was reading a copy of the London Times, but looked up as his friend approached. To the casual observer it would seem as if Bingley was a little disheartened. "Goodness man! Whatever is the matter? You just fulfilled your father's wish and bought an estate. You should be happy, not melancholy."
"That is just the problem. I was not able to purchase Netherfield. I only have a short lease on the place, with the possibility of extending it. The owner, Mr. Lewis, is currently very pleasantly settled in Upper Canada, but should that situation change, his family would return to Netherfield. They're in the middle of a war with the Americans, you know."
"I am truly sorry, Bingley," Darcy replied sincerely. "Well there are other counties to look for homes in. How about Derbyshire?"
"I guess, but as I am settled here now, I might as well enjoy it. I take possession at Michaelmas. I shall send the servants down just after to prepare and will go to oversee everything myself. I hope I can consider you one of my first guests, Darcy."
"Of course. What are friends for? Are the Hursts and Miss Bingley to come as well?" Darcy innocently inquired, trying not to show that he would prefer Caroline Bingley somewhere far away from Hertfordshire.
Bingley could tell his friend's distress at Caroline's overt attentions and knew that his response would not alleviate it, but in fact heighten Darcy's grief, however Bingley knew Darcy was a gentleman and would bear the news stoically. "Caroline is to keep house for me. Well as I am all through here and if you're done reading the newspaper, shall we start off for London so we arrive before dark?"
Chapter 2 -- Introductions
For the period of time before Michaelmas, Bingley was seen about London tidying up his affairs, paying his regards to acquaintances and ensuring everything was prepared for the "big" move. Items had to be packed, provisions needed to be purchased and servants needed to be retained. Bingley had everything taken care of within ample time, especially with Darcy's assistance.
Just following Michaelmas, Bingley shepherded the entire move to Netherfield. As the manor was already furnished, only a small number of items had to be transported from London, however quite a bit of cleaning was necessary, as Netherfield had not been occupied for some time.
Just after the manor had been straightened out and Bingley settled into his new role as a member of Britain's landed gentry, the gentlemen of the neighbourhood began to visit and welcome him. The first to wait on him was Sir William Lucas, a member of the local nobility; a man who had risen from local merchant to knighthood. Sir William while a very genteel man unfortunately had very little sense.
"Sir William Lucas of Lucas Lodge, sir," announced Mr. Nicholls, Netherfield's very efficient butler, as Sir William entered the room. The two gentlemen exchanged bows.
"Thank you, Nicholls. Could you have some tea brought, please? Welcome to Netherfield, Sir William. Won't you sit down?" Bingley directed Sir William to one of the leather wing backed chairs in his snug library.
Following the arrival of the tea, Sir William proceeded to offer his welcome to Mr. Bingley on the behalf of the neighbourhood and give his best wishes for an enjoyable stay at Netherfield.
"I am sure I shall enjoy my stay in Hertfordshire very much," replied Mr. Bingley.
"Let me provide you some information about your nearest neighbours, so that you will be prepared for when you meet." Bingley thought this was a little inappropriate, but before he could voice his concerns, Sir William began speaking, "Nearest to Netherfield is Longbourn, only three miles away. Longbourn is home to Mr. Henry Bennet and his family. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five delightful daughters, very pretty and quite accomplished, especially the eldest two daughters. Lucas Lodge is the next closest residence. Then there is Mrs. Long and her two nieces at Westhall not too far away. Lastly, among the nearer set of neighbours, there are the Gouldings of Haye Park. Mr. and Mrs. Goulding have three fine young sons."
Mr. Bingley was gracious in his thanks, "Thank you Sir William for enlightening me. I look forward to meeting them all."
"Well I'm afraid I must be off, Lady Lucas will be looking for me. I hope we shall see you in the Assembly Rooms in Meryton in a fortnight for one of our little dances," Sir William mentioned as he stood up to leave.
"I certainly shall. I love to dance. I hope it will not be too much of an imposition if I bring a small party with me to the ball," Bingley said.
"The more, the merrier. Capital! Capital!" was the response from Sir William.
Bingley then accompanied Sir William to the door. Both men bowed to each other and Sir William took his leave.
Mr Henry Bennet was the next member of the local gentry to pay a call on Mr. Bingley. Bingley thoroughly enjoyed meeting Mr. Bennet. The two men discussed the local game and the hunting prospects of the area. They also compared the countryside of Hertfordshire and _____shire in the North Country from where Bingley's family hailed.
A few days later Bingley returned both Sir William's and Mr. Bennet's calls. He spent a significant amount of time at Lucas Lodge listening to Sir William talk about his presentation at St. James', his favourite topic. As Bingley was a good-natured gentleman, he was able to maintain an adequate conversation, even with such a boring topic. Just prior to leaving Sir William reminded him of the assembly and made a formal invitation for Bingley's attendance.
When Bingley visited Mr. Bennet, he spent the entire time in Longbourn's library discussing books and complimenting Mr. Bennet on his fine collection. "I hope I might be able to meet the young ladies," Bingley thought when he arrived at Longbourn. Unfortunately Bingley only saw the father, however, he was convinced he saw a hint of a patterned frock in an upstairs window as he was mounting his horse to leave.
Following the visits by the gentlemen of the neighbourhood and Mr. Bingley returning those calls, invitations to dinner, tea, etc. arrived at Netherfield, all for within the next few days. Bingley, regretfully, had to defer all of them as he was expected in London to accompany Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley and the Hursts back to Netherfield in time for the Meryton assembly.
Chapter 3 -- Guests
"We didn't expect you back so quickly, Charles. Is everything alright?" Louisa Hurst asked, when Bingley arrived at 17 Grosvenor Square.
"Of course. The only thing lacking at Netherfield are guests and that is why I'm here, to escort you to Hertfordshire. I trust everyone can be ready to leave in a few days?" Bingley asked.
Miss Bingley was not in the least pleased about the move to Hertfordshire. "Must we hurry back, Charles? Everyone we know is in London. We would have a wonderful time if we stayed."
"Caroline, I thought you were pleased about becoming Mistress of Netherfield. I hope you have not changing your mind. Besides I've met some of our neighbours already and I think you will find their company as agreeable as I do," Bingley commented to his sister.
"Alright," she reluctantly agreed. "I guess I will find something to occupy my time. Perhaps redecorating Netherfield?"
"Good. I expect we will be leaving at the end of the week. Be sure you pack your hunting rifle, Hurst, as I've been informed that the sport is very good in Hertfordshire," Bingley advised his brother-in-law, who muttered his assent. "Darcy and I expect to get a few days of shooting in while we're there."
Miss Bingley's countenance visibly brightened at the mention of Mr. Darcy. "Mr. Darcy will be a member of our party!" she exclaimed. "Maybe Netherfield shall be pleasurable after all."
Even with the numerous trunks that needed to be packed (since both Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst needed whole new wardrobes so they could impress the "country bumpkins" as Miss Bingley so eloquently phrased it) the party was able to set out for Netherfield only a day after Bingley hoped they would be leaving. Misters Bingley and Darcy travelled on horseback, while Miss Bingley and the Hursts rode in Mr. Hurst's carriage. The majority of the luggage was sent on ahead in Bingley's modest equipage with the gentlemen's valets and the ladies' maids.
"Well what do you think of Netherfield?" Bingley asked, after he had given his guests a tour of the house, and group had retired to the drawing room following dinner. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley both exclaimed that it was a very elegant home and that the grounds around it were charming. Mr. Darcy complimented Bingley on his choice of residence. Mr. Hurst said nothing, just helped himself to Bingley's best scotch and then asked if anyone wanted to play cards.
Once the party had set down to a game of loo, Miss Bingley told her brother that their father would be proud with Bingley's choice of estate. Bingley looked uncomfortable before replying, "Unfortunately, Netherfield was only available for renting, not purchase. I'm still looking to fulfill our father's wish."
"Oh well. I'm sure Netherfield will be fine for the time being," Mrs. Hurst offered in consolation.
Bingley decided to brush off the disappointment and think about the dance tomorrow at the Assembly Rooms. "By the by, we've been invited to an assembly in Meryton tomorrow night," he casually mentioned knowing full well the news would not be well received by any of his guests.
"Charles, how could you make such a commitment? Must we go?" Miss Bingley protested.
"I have already accepted the invitation. You would not want me to back out now; it would be impolite. Besides you will get to meet all our neighbours, Caroline." In order to end all discussions about backing out of the ball, Bingley excused himself and went to his chambers.
In the hours prior to the Meryton assembly, the Netherfield party each pursued their own affairs or interests. Miss Bingley occupied the majority of her time by becoming acquainted with the tasks required of her as Netherfield's Mistress by interrogating with Mrs. Nicholls, the housekeeper, meeting the rest of the servants and further exploring the manor accompanied by Mrs. Hurst. The remaining time was spent selecting the gown that would most awe the local populace and recommend herself to Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Hurst spent the day either sleeping or cleaning his hunting rifle and drinking
Bingley's scotch (he seemed determined to empty Bingley's scotch supplies). Now alcohol and a hunting rifle are a dangerous combination and any number of horrible accidents could have arisen, but fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it and from whose perspective, Mr. Hurst remained hale and hearty but extremely tipsy by the time it was necessary to dress for the assembly.
Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy spent the day at a number of pursuits. Following a late breakfast since Bingley was a notorious late riser, the gentlemen worked in the library until lunch. Darcy showed Bingley just what was required to maintain an estate such as Netherfield; books had to be looked over, accounts read and budgets prepared. Bingley was most appreciative of his friend's advice and help. Bingley had learned to rely on Darcy's advice over the years, especially since Darcy had been able to prevent Bingley from making a number of hasty and imprudent mistakes. "I'm much obliged, Darcy, for your help this morning. I'm not sure I would be able to do all that needs to be done for Netherfield without your assistance."
"You would be able to manage on your own quite well, with or without my help," Darcy replied confidently.
"After lunch what do you say about a ride around the neighbourhood and an exploration of Netherfield's grounds?" Bingley asked, desiring to get away from the infuriating accounts. His mind was more agreeably engaged in speculating about the evening's assembly and he would not be able to concentrate.
"Well÷I suppose the accounts can wait, certainly long enough for a quick ride," Darcy hesitantly agreed.
As soon as the party completed lunch, the gentlemen set off for the stables and their mounts. Bingley showed Darcy the little grove of trees at the east side of Netherfield's property that lead to a walking path toward Meryton. Bingley pointed out Haye Park and Westhall. Darcy commented that the manors were pleasant looking. The two rode past Lucas Lodge and finally Longbourn. The two stopped at a knoll overlooking the property at Bingley's insistence.
"Longbourn is home to the five Miss Bennets. I understand they're all very pretty and accomplished. I should very much like to make their acquaintance at the assembly this evening," Bingley remarked, a bit wistfully.
Darcy held a differing opinion about the Miss Bennets, "Remember Bingley, Žaccomplished' for Hertfordshire will not be the Society definition of Žaccomplished'. The Miss Bennets would probably not be deemed accomplished if they were in London."
"We shall see," Bingley replied not wanting Darcy to dampen his spirits.
The two began a leisurely canter back towards the stables as Bingley thought it necessary to have an early informal dinner and begin preparing for the evening's entertainment.
Chapter 4 -- The Assembly
Bingley strode into his dressing chamber solely focussed on one thing. "Dawkins, I must look my best this evening," he told his faithful valet.
"Of course, sir. I have already anticipated that and prepared your new dress breeches and coat. Your dancing shoes are polished as is your hat," Dawkins replied.
"Good man. Now let's get to it." Bingley quickly shed his clothing and climbed into the waiting bath.
After some time and the careful ministrations of Dawkins, Bingley walked out of his chambers looking very much the handsome young gentleman. "Looking good, old boy," he thought to himself while checking his appearance in a nearby looking glass. He paused for a moment to adjust his cravat, an item of clothing he detested since it always seemed to him to be choking him.
As he was about to descend the grand staircase to the lower hall to wait for the others, Darcy exited his chambers also looking very sharp. Bingley was dismayed at his friend's appearance; "It never fails, Darcy. Every time I think I look my best, you upstage me," he complained.
"I do apologize, Bingley. It certainly was not my intention. I do not plan to be impressing anyone this evening."
"Well in the case, I forgive you," Bingley replied, never able to be angry with anyone for very long. "Shall we see if the carriages are ready?" Bingley gestured towards the front entrance and the two gentlemen proceeded downstairs.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Hurst appeared shortly after the carriages had arrived (both Bingley's and the Hursts' carriages were being used due to the large number of their party), however Miss Bingley kept them waiting for some time. Bingley had begun pacing about the room when she finally appeared. Bingley was beside himself with irritation, "Caroline, what ever have you been doing? We'll arrive late."
"I just could not decide what to wear for tonight, Charles. Beside it is good to be fashionably late. Do you not agree, Mr. Darcy?" Caroline inquired, to which the response was, "Some people prefer that custom," not the favourable reply she was expecting.
Once they arrived in Meryton, Mr. Bingley hurried out of the carriage smiling in anticipation of a wonderful evening of dancing. Mr. Darcy followed Bingley and frowned as he put on his hat. Just before offering his sister his arm, Bingley saw Caroline sidle up to Darcy and ask him a question to which his brother-in-law responded with, "Damned silly way to spend an evening."
The dance was well underway when they arrived, however once the party entered, the room fell silent and all eyes were turned towards them before the whispering began. After some awkwardness, Bingley noticed Sir William Lucas approaching just as the next dance began. The two men bowed in greeting and Sir William welcomed Bingley to the assembly. "There's nothing I love better than a country dance," Bingley replied. Bingley then introduced Sir William to the other members of his party, first his sisters and then the gentlemen.
Sir William took Bingley aside and began introducing him to all the principal people in the room. Bingley noticed that many of the gentlemen who had paid him a visit had not attended, however their older children were in attendance, with their wives as chaperons.
Upon being introduced to Sir William's family, the previous dance finished and he asked Sir William's eldest daughter, Charlotte, for her company during the next. While he was lively and attentive to Miss Lucas, he was not totally focussed as he was scanning the room. He saw the Hursts dancing as well as Darcy and Caroline. "Poor Darcy!" He looked for Mr. Bennet in order to obtain an introduction to his amiable daughters. Unfortunately Mr. Bennet was one of those fathers who chose to stay at home.
Following the completion of the dance, Bingley requested that Sir William introduce him to Mrs Bennet and her daughters. Sir William led Bingley over to a matronly woman standing with two pretty young ladies. The beauty of the taller of the two ladies struck Bingley almost like a physical blow. She was stately, with a serene but open expression on her face. As Sir William was making the introduction, Bingley saw Darcy was approaching out of the corner of his eye. "I wonder what Darcy thinks of the Miss Bennets now? They're certainly pretty. In fact one's an angel." he thought.
"This is Jane, my eldest," Mrs. Bennet said while gesturing to the young lady, whose beauty caught Bingley's attention earlier. "÷and Elizabeth," indicating the second young woman. "Also very pretty," thought Bingley, "but very different from her sister." "÷and Mary sits over there÷" Unfortunately Miss Mary Bennet was no beauty. She was rather plain and did not appear in the least interested in the dancing. "÷and Kitty and Lydia, my youngest, you see there dancing." The two remaining Miss Bennets were also pretty, but appeared quite silly as one seemed to be prancing about with the other's ribbon, however Bingley was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Bingley confirmed his love for dancing to Mrs. Bennet after she asked, and he was quite eager to dance; "If Miss Bennet is not otherwise engaged, may I be so bold as to claim the next two dances," to which Miss Bennet replied in the negative and smiled demurely.
Mrs. Bennet then inquired of Darcy's feelings toward dancing but she did so prior to the two being introduced. Bingley inwardly cringed, as he knew Darcy abhorred any lack of civility, however Darcy responded quite politely and very succinctly with, "Thank you, Madam, I rarely dance."
Mrs. Bennet was not to be dissuaded and Bingley realized that she must know about Darcy's 10,000 pounds per annum; how was another issue. "Well let this be one of the occasions, for I'll wager you'll not easily find such lively music or such pretty partners," indicating Miss Elizabeth Bennet, unfortunately Mr. Darcy had already taken his leave.
Bingley did not have too much time to ponder Darcy's behaviour as the next dance began. He claimed Miss Bennet's hand and they took their places. Bingley had a very enjoyable time dancing with Miss Bennet. He found her the most pleasant woman of his acquaintance. Unlike his previous dance, he was solely focussed on the here and now and his wonderful partner.
Following the first of the two dances, he led his partner toward Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. His sisters were standing at the side of the room engaged in their favourite sport of insulting the other attendees. As they walked over, he noticed his brother-in-law at the refreshments looking quite drunk and Darcy prowling about the room in his typical standoffish manner used for whenever he was uncomfortable, however Bingley knew that to those who did not know him well his behaviour would be attributed to pride and conceit. "Well, Darcy can look after himself," he thought as they reached his sisters.
"Miss Bennet, may I introduce my sisters, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. Louisa, Caroline, may I present Miss Bennet of Longbourn," Bingley said and all three ladies curtsied. He listened to the ladies chatting for a while before the next dance began. He hoped they would get along well.
During the course of the dance, he smiled once at Darcy in the hopes of getting him to lighten up a little and Darcy responded with a frown. At the end of the dance, Bingley had resolved to do something about Darcy's behaviour, maybe even get him to dance. He left Miss Bennet with Misses Charlotte and Maria Lucas and walked over to Darcy on the far side of the room where he watching the clock and frowning.
"Come Darcy, I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. Come, you had much better dance," he advised, smiling.
Darcy's frown deepened and he replied, "I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable." Darcy gestured to where Bingley's sisters were dancing and commented, "Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room who it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
Bingley chuckled lightly and replied, "I would not be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom. Upon my honour I've never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening. Several of them, you see, are uncommonly pretty."
Darcy quickly glanced about the room before responding with, "You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," and nodded toward the eldest Miss Bennet.
Bingley sighed and whole-heartedly agreed, "She is the beautiful creature I ever beheld." He glanced around the room before telling Darcy that one of Miss Bennet's sisters was sitting nearby and was both very pretty and agreeable (she was only sitting down due to the shortage of young men). "Do let me ask my partner to introduce you," and turned to find Miss Bennet.
Darcy glanced in the direction Bingley specified and coolly replied, a little too loudly, "She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Bingley I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me." Bingley shook his head and decided to follow his friend's advice yet again, he returned to Miss Bennet.
Bingley enjoyed the rest of the evening immensely, especially once he chose to forget about Darcy. He danced with Miss King, Miss Maria Lucas, Miss Bennet again and finally Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the one who had been slighted by Darcy earlier. All too soon the assembly came to an end.
"It is far too soon for the dance to be ending. There are still many hours of the evening left," Bingley cried as the assembly was breaking up. "I believe I must have a ball at Netherfield so we can continue all this gaiety." His comment endeared him to many of the young ladies in attendance, especially the two youngest Miss Bennets, but did not please the members of his party.
Once back at Netherfield, the little party retired to the drawing room to discuss the evening at Bingley's insistence. The two ladies and Bingley sat down but Mr. Darcy stood leaning on the mantle of the fireplace. Mr. Hurst fell asleep on a chaise.
"So none of the Hertfordshire ladies could please you, Mr. Darcy? Not even the famous Miss Bennets?" Mrs. Hurst teased since she had observed Darcy's behaviour to Bingley's insistence that he dance.
"Well, I never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in my life," Bingley observed.
"Bingley, you astonish me," Darcy remarked. "I saw little beauty and no breeding at all. The eldest Miss Bennet is, I grant you, very pretty."
Bingley was miffed. "A fine concession. Come, man, admit it. She's an angel."
"She smiles too much," Darcy replied.
Miss Bingley agreed with her brother's opinion. "Oh, Jane Bennet is a sweet girl. But the mother!" Even Bingley was forced to shake his head ruefully at the thought of Mrs. Bennet and he behaviour that evening.
Miss Bingley decided to continue teasing Mr. Darcy, "I heard Eliza Bennet described as a famous local beauty. What do you day to that, Mr. Darcy?"
Darcy did not even look away from the fireplace, but responded sarcastically with, "She a beauty? I should as soon call her mother a wit."
The ladies began laughing. "Oh, Mr. Darcy, that's too cruel!" Miss Bingley shrieked.
"Darcy, I shall never understand why you go through the world determined to be displeased with everything and everyone in it," admonished Bingley.
"And I shall never understand why you are in such a rage to approve of everything and everyone that you meet."
"Well, you shall not make me think ill of Miss Bennet," Bingley declared, thinking he should very much like to know more about her.
Miss Bingley continued to defend Miss Bennet, declaring her a "sweet girl" and expressing a wish to get to know her better. Mrs. Hurst concurred, daring Mr. Darcy's anger.
Bingley had heard everything he needed to hear. His sisters had given their endorsement of Miss Bennet and even Darcy had in his usual obtuse way, so Bingley was free to think of Miss Bennet however he pleased. With that decided, he excused himself and went to bed.
Chapter 5 -- Further Acquainted
As there was now a mistress at Netherfield, the ladies of the neighbourhood came to visit. It would not be proper for young ladies to be visiting a young man, particularly without their husbands and/or fathers making the first visit.
Bingley would have liked to be present to welcome all the ladies to his home, especially when Miss Bennet came to call, but his duties as host called him away. He was present when the first few ladies called the day after the assembly. In fact the whole Netherfield party was present, however his brother-in-law declared the practice of Mornings In "a damned silly waste of time" and requested the gentlemen partake of a little sport instead, after all "he had cleaned his rifle."
In deference to Mr. Hurst's wishes Bingley organized a number of shooting parties and invited the neighbouring gentlemen. He even organized one party for the officers of the local militia since the men probably did not get much time for such idle activity. It was prior to one of these sporting parties that Bingley met with Miss Bennet for a few minutes as she had accompanied her father, he for sport and she to visit his sisters, and all the two of them had time for was the exchange of pleasantries.
Once introductions had been made between the Netherfield party and the rest of the area, invitations for various functions began arriving in earnest. Many of these were from neighbourhood mamas looking to unite their single daughters with the two eligible rich gentlemen, though Bingley was preferred over Darcy because of Bingley's open and charming manners. As mistress Miss Bingley was responsible for planning the group's social calendar and she accepted as little of the invitations as would be politic; her negative opinion of the neighbourhood not lessening one iota.
At each of these engagements Bingley was in the company of Miss Bennet, almost exclusively in her company. He still found her as pleasant company as he had the night of the Meryton assembly. His esteem of her was increasing with every meeting. Truth be told, he was really starting to 'fall' for this girl. He had never truly been in love before so he could not recognize the depth of his feelings for Miss Bennet. Even his most intimate acquaintances could not recognize his true feelings.
As he was preparing for the latest party, at Lucas Lodge, he realized that it was taking him longer and longer to get ready for the group's engagements. "What is going on? I'm not a vain man and yet I'm focusing more and more attention on my appearance," Bingley thought before he came to the realization that he was doing it all for Miss Bennet since he paid particular attention to his appearance whenever he knew he would be in her company. He decided he would ponder this realization for a while longer and determine exactly what it meant.
Bingley was spared Caroline's comments regarding country manners as he chose to ride with Darcy in one carriage and she rode with the Hursts in the other. The seating arrangements were certainly not to Miss Bingley's liking, but as Bingley was eager to reach Lucas Lodge and Caroline was late as usual, the two gentlemen left earlier. He would have liked to discuss his feelings for Miss Bennet with his friend and get some of Darcy's sage advice, however since he knew Darcy avoided such talk as a rule and seemed quite pensive this evening, Bingley chose to remain silent.
Upon entering the parlour of Lucas Lodge, his eyes unconsciously sought out the young lady who seemed to be dominating his thoughts of late. She was standing by the windows talking with one of her sisters and Charlotte Lucas. Trying not to look as if he was hurrying, he walked over to her side as quickly as possible. It took longer than he expected because other attendees at the party waylaid him and Bingley then had to stop and exchange pleasantries.
"Good evening Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Miss Lucas," he said while bowing, the ladies responded with curtsies. "This is such a lovely party. What a splendid way to spend an evening."
"It is indeed, Mr. Bingley," responded Miss Eliza.
"Are not your sisters and Mr. Hurst with you?" asked Miss Bennet as she had noticed only Mr. Darcy enter with him.
"They were running a bit behind schedule," Bingley replied, focusing his gaze directly on her face, also as unconsciously as his gaze wandered previously. Miss Eliza and Miss Lucas noticed that his attention was elsewhere so they quietly excused themselves to the refreshment table.
Bingley inquired after Miss Bennet's health and the health of her family, a benign start to a conversation. Conversations with Miss Bennet tended to be a little one-sided as she did not speak much or forcefully, but during previous meetings they had discussed the weather, their families, literature, music and countless other things. He would talk for hours without her contribution if she wished it, as long as she bestowed her happy smile and charming eyes on him.
Bingley noticed that Miss Eliza had begun to play the Lucas' pianoforte. "Do you play, Miss Bennet?"
"I am afraid only a very little and very poorly, Mr. Bingley. The skill at the pianoforte belongs to Lizzy and Mary. My artistic talents tend toward drawing and painting," Miss Bennet modestly replied.
"I should very much like to see your work, Miss Bennet," Bingley said honestly. "You should visit the galleries in Town. Some of the pieces displayed are quite remarkable."
"I have been to them several times, but it has been a number of years though. If you wish to see my portfolio you shall the next time you call at Longbourn."
"Do you know Miss Bennet, it is a good thing you do not have any brothers or you and your sisters would never have learned to play the pianoforte at all. When Louisa and Caroline were learning, I played so many jokes on them. Once I cut the strings on instrument since they were just learning and sounded terrible; my parents were not pleased with my actions to put it mildly. Another time I painstakingly copied out my sisters' favourite pieces, but changed some of the notes so instead of beautiful Mozart and Bach, they were playing horrible Bingley originals. I also got Louisa's parakeet to screech every time Louisa sang," Bingley told Miss Bennet.
"Mr. Bingley, I would never have thought you would be so mischievous," Miss Bennet admonished with a merry twinkle in her eye.
"I was merciless to my sisters when we were younger," he said without remorse. "There was the time I exchanged the sugar for salt during one of their tea parties and chased my father's hunting dogs through the drawing room during another tea party. I once dipped Caroline's braids into my ink well during our lessons and it took a week to wash out of her hair, but the gown was ruined."
Bingley was so focussed on telling her those stories of his past that he had no inkling what was going on around them until the sound of raised voices nearby reached his ears. It was an argument between Misses Mary and Lydia Bennet regarding dancing. Eventually Miss Mary reluctantly began to play some country-dances. "Come dance, Jane, Mr. Bingley," cried Miss Lydia. Miss Bennet responded in the negative, her sister left and Jane asked Bingley to continue his stories where he left off. They remained talking for the rest of the evening.
The day after the Lucas party was rather dull for the little Netherfield group. Outdoor activities had to be curtailed or avoided because the sky threatened rain and indoor activities pursued, however due to the size of Netherfield, any member of the party could avoid the others if he or she chose. Bingley and Darcy again worked on the accounts in the library, while Mr. Hurst started on the replenished scotch supplies in the solitude of his chambers. The ladies of the group chose to amuse themselves in the drawing room by making sport of the "tedious company" at the party and they sent a dinner invitation to Longbourn.
Pretty soon the day had expired and the gentlemen were to dine with the officers of the militia in gratitude for the day of shooting. It had begun raining during the afternoon and as they were travelling to Colonel Forster's residence, Bingley thought he saw Miss Bennet on horseback, but he dismissed that thought as ridiculous. "Why would Miss Bennet be out in such weather and riding towards Netherfield? You're starting to see things, old boy. Must be those dratted accounts!" Bingley thought.
Bingley's evening with the officers was splendid. Apparently a couple of the more senior officers had served with Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and were eager to regale the group with heroic and not-so-heroic stories of their adventures. Laughter abounded as well as a few groans of agony. Apparently a pinch of gunpowder can create all manner of excitement and mischief.
Chapter 6 -- An Illness at Netherfield
As the gentlemen entered the manor, Bingley noticed that the normally tranquil house (Caroline actually made a fairly good mistress, but was a tad too demanding) was in a bit of an uproar. Servants carrying firewood and blankets were rushing up the main stairs. Bingley snagged one of the under-butlers as he flew past; "Fawcett, what is going on?"
"Excuse me, Sir, but Miss Bingley's and Mrs. Hurst's guest, Miss Bennet, has taken ill."
"What?!" Bingley was surprised and incensed, but determined not to show it. "Where is Miss Bingley now?" he asked through clenched teeth. Even Misters Darcy and Hurst seemed surprised that Miss Bennet was there.
Fawcett could see that his master was violently trying to maintain his composure. "Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst are in Miss Bennet's chambers. I'll show you the way, Sir," and Fawcett set off for the guest quarters with Bingley close on his heels.
"Caroline? Louisa? I would like to speak to you for a moment please," he called through the door after quietly knocking so as to not disturb Miss Bennet if she was resting.
Both ladies exited the room after wishing Miss Bennet a pleasant rest and Bingley pulled them into a nearby sitting room without so much as a 'hello.' "Charles, whatever are you doing?" Miss Bingley protested after her brother released her arm.
"Caroline, why is Miss Bennet here?"
"Louisa and I invited her. We wanted some company for dinner while you were with the officers. If we dined alone, we would end up cross with each other," Caroline answered.
"But the weather was and still is so inclement; you should not have sent the invitation," he admonished.
"We did not think she would come on horseback. We thought her father's carriage would be available for her. Besides it was not raining when we sent the invitation," Mrs. Hurst offered in their defence.
"She came on horseback? So it was her I saw." "Well we certainly cannot send her home in ill health. Perhaps a good night's rest is all she needs. We can send for Dr. Jones in the morning if necessary," Bingley remarked. "God, I hope she'll be better in the morning. I cannot believe Caroline and Louisa invited her in such bad weather. I would hate if anything happened to her." "Good night, ladies," Bingley said and left for his bed. His sisters looked relieved they had escaped a further lecture and Bingley probably would have continued lecturing if he was not so worried.
The following morning Bingley inquired after Miss Bennet's health via his sisters to which the response was that she slept poorly and was feeling feverish. He was extremely distressed at her condition. "Caroline, go insist to Miss Bennet that she remain at Netherfield until she is feeling better and that Dr. Jones be summoned. Tell her that any messages she wishes to send to Longbourn will be dispatched immediately."
Miss Bingley was not at all pleased with Miss Bennet staying any longer; "But Charles would she not be more comfortable recuperating at home? And the germs...what if she is contagious? The rest of us would not want to get ill."
"Miss Bennet is ill because of your desire for company so you will act as a good hostess and ensure Miss Bennet's recovery." Bingley was firm with his sister and would brook no further argument.
Miss Bingley reluctantly left the breakfast-parlour with Mrs. Hurst hot on her heels not wishing to further anger their brother. After his sisters left, Mr. Bingley sent a servant for Dr. Jones. Caroline returned a short while later with both Miss Bennet's sincere gratitude and a letter from the lady to her sister Elizabeth. The letter was sent to Longbourn immediately.
A few hours later, Mr. Darcy showed Miss Elizabeth Bennet into the dining room. Everyone else was present waiting for lunch to be announced. Bingley greeted her warmly and expressed a concern about her walking the three miles from Longbourn to Netherfield in such damp weather and risking her own health. He answered her enquires after her sister and then escorted her to Jane's chambers.
Miss Bennet appeared relieved to see her sister and expressed her gratitude to Bingley for his kindness. Bingley stated that it was his pleasure and wished her a rapid recovery. He then ensured there was nothing at present either sister required and returned downstairs.
Almost immediately after sitting down at the dining table, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst began to abuse Miss Eliza. "We must allow her to be an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance earlier. She really looked almost wild!" Mrs. Hurst cried.
"She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. What does she mean by scampering about the country while her sister has a cold? Her hair, Louisa!" Miss Bingley replied.
"Yes and her petticoat. I'm sure you saw her petticoat, Brother... six inches deep in mud," Mrs. Hurst commented to Bingley.
Bingley replied that he had not noticed her dirty petticoat and remarked that Miss Bennet "looked remarkably well."
"You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure," Miss Bingley said to Darcy standing at the window. "I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition."
"Certainly not," Darcy tersely replied.
"To walk three miles in dirt and quite alone. It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country town indifference to decorum."
"Why is Caroline abusing Miss Eliza so much? She did not do anything that could be construed as improper." "It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing," Bingley said in the young lady's defence.
"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy, that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes," Miss Bingley commented.
"What's this about Miss Bennet's fine eyes?" Bingley thought as he looked between Darcy and his sister. "Darcy must be trying to let Caroline know his feelings or lack of them toward her by mentioning other ladies in hopes Caroline will look elsewhere."
"Not at all. They were brightened by the exercise," Darcy calmly replied and Miss Bingley's countenance fell slightly.
"Jane Bennet really is a sweet girl and I wish with all my heart she were well settled. But with such a father and mother, and such low connections, I am afraid there is not a chance of it," Mrs. Hurst lamented trying to redirect the conversation for her sister's sake.
"Yes, Louisa, it is a pity. The uncle she told us about works in trade and lives in Cheapside," Miss Bingley said with distaste. Bingley threw her a look of warning in hopes of reminding her from whence came their wealth and to speak so disparagingly of people in trade.
"That is capital! Perhaps we should call the next time we're in town," Mrs. Hurst suggested and both sisters erupted into laughter.
"If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside, it would not make them one jot less agreeable," Bingley offered in the Misses Bennets defence. "Caroline, Louisa, I thought you liked Jane and wanted to know her better, now you're speaking so disapprovingly of her family?"
"But with such connections, it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying well," Darcy succinctly pointed out to his friend.
Suddenly Miss Eliza entered the dining room and Bingley rose to greet her, hoping she did not hear their conversation. "Miss Bennet, how does your sister do?" Bingley asked. "Is she any better?"
"I am afraid not, Mr. Bingley," Miss Elizabeth replied.
"I have already sent for Dr. Jones and I insist you stay until your sister's recovered. I am sure you will be a great comfort to her." Bingley was unusually very forceful in his speech, but this situation has seemed to demand unusual behaviour from him. He did not notice his sisters' grimaces of distaste.
"I would not want to impose," Miss Eliza said hesitantly, looking uncomfortable for she had noticed the Bingley sisters' grimaces.
"Of course it would not be an imposition. I will send to Longbourn for your clothes and inform them of your stay." He nodded toward Fawcett standing in the corner of the room who disappeared immediately.
"You're very kind, Sir," she said and smiled at him pleasantly.
"Any sport today?" Mr. Hurst suddenly asked; his first contribution to the morning's conversation after which the party broke up. The gentlemen went to prepare for an afternoon of hunting and the ladies repaired to Miss Bennet's chambers to give her what comfort and company they could.
The gentlemen did not have much luck at sport that day. It seemed none of them had their minds on the task in front of them. Bingley was thinking and worrying about Miss Bennet. He saw that Mr. Hurst was getting quickly tipsy from the flask he carried in his great coat and was liable to either shoot himself or his compatriots. He also noticed that Darcy was brooding about something, but he knew that Darcy had been brooding over something since earlier in the summer. What it was he was brooding about only Darcy knew; he had not chosen to confide in his friend.
When the company sat down to dinner, Bingley asked Miss Eliza how her sister was feeling. He appeared extremely disappointed when he discovered that Miss Bennet was no better. "Is there nothing that I might do or procure that would give her some relief? What did Dr. Jones advise?"
"Dr. Jones said that she had caught a violent cold and advised bed rest. He has provided some draughts to help relieve the symptoms," Miss Eliza replied.
"I am grieved that she is ill. I feel that it is partly mine and my family's fault." Miss Eliza looked a little ashamed at Bingley's statement, but he could think of no reason why this would be, so he decided that perhaps he had misread her expression.
"She appreciates your sympathy and is grateful for all you have done so far. Please do not make yourself ill over this unfortunate circumstance. It is nobody's fault." Bingley was relieved by her kind words.
The little Netherfield group spent the rest of the meal in pleasant conversation. Bingley noticed that both his sisters seemed to be ignoring their guest and Darcy was trying not to stare at Miss Bennet.
After dinner conversation amongst Bingley and his male guests was sparse once the ladies had left. Bingley and Darcy discussed politics for a time while Mr. Hurst drank his scotch. Bingley then decided to ask his cook to prepare Miss Bennet's favourite dishes for either tomorrow or the next day's meals and left for the kitchen. Darcy accompanied him as far as the billiards room.
As Darcy and Miss Eliza were not present when he returned from the kitchen, Bingley got pulled into Mr. Hurst's desire for loo. He would have preferred not playing since he was never very good at the game and Mr. Hurst liked to play high. "Miss Bennet, come join us," Bingley entreated her as she entered the drawing room. She declined and picked up a book instead. Mr. Darcy entered the drawing room shortly after Miss Eliza was seated. He too declined an invitation to join the game and began writing a letter.
"Do you prefer reading to cards? It is rather singular, isn't it?" Mr. Hurst questioned Miss Bennet with surprise in his voice.
"Miss Eliza Bennet despises cards. She is a great reader and takes no pleasure in anything else," Miss Bingley replied sarcastically.
"I deserve neither such praise nor such censure. I am not a great reader and take pleasure in many things," Miss Eliza responded.
"Caroline is at her very worst today and now she is insulting Miss Eliza to her face. Perhaps I should step in." "In nursing your sister I am sure you have pleasure and I hope it will soon be increased by seeing her well," Bingley offered in hopes of lessening the sting of his sister. "Is your book alright? Can I fetch you another? I wish my collection were larger, but I am an idle fellow and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into."
"Thank you, Sir, but this book is fine. I am perfectly content."
"I am astonished that my father left so small a collection of books," Miss Bingley said. "What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy. Charles, when you build your house, I wish it may be half as delightful as Pemberley." Bingley replied in the affirmative as he felt that Pemberley was indeed a delightful home.
"I would advise you to make your purchase in that county and take Pemberley as a model," Miss Bingley continued.
"With all my heart; I will buy Pemberley itself if Darcy will sell it." "Really Caroline, Pemberley is nice, but I do have my own style. Netherfield is more suited to my tastes. Besides it is much less work to buy a completed home than build one from scratch. You have to find a piece of land, hire an architect and so many other things."
"And what are you doing so secretly over there, Sir?" Miss Bingley asked Darcy who was still writing his letter on the far side of the room. He responded that he was writing a letter to his sister, Georgiana.
"Dear Georgiana! Is Miss Darcy much grown since the spring? Is she as tall as I am?" Miss Bingley asked. Bingley discretely rolled his eyes knowing this could start a Georgiana praise-fest from Caroline.
"She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet's height or rather taller," Darcy replied after some thought, not looking up from his letter.
"How I long to see her again!" Miss Bingley cried. "I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! So extremely accomplished for her age!"
"There she goes! I wonder how long this ramble will go on for? Maybe I can shorten it a little." Bingley thought. "It is amazing to me how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."
"All young ladies accomplished? My dear Charles, whatever do you mean?" Miss Bingley asked in astonishment.
"Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens and net purses, sing and play the pianoforte, speak French and German and I know not what," Bingley responded.
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments has too much truth," Darcy commented. "The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it only by netting a purse, or covering a screen. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished." His statement reminded Bingley of their earlier conversation regarding the accomplishments of the Bennet sisters.
"Then you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman," Miss Eliza observed to which Darcy responded in the affirmative.
"A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages, to deserve the word," Miss Bingley offered in assistance. "Besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions."
"All this she must possess," Darcy agreed, "and yet she must add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."
"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women, I rather wonder now at your knowing any," Miss Eliza commented.
"I must speak as I find. I never saw such a woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe, united," Miss Elizabeth said in response to Mrs. Hurst's comment that she was too severe upon women.
Mr. Hurst called their attention back to the game and shortly after the party broke up for the evening. Not soon enough for Bingley's taste as he had lost a significant amount to his brother-in-law, both in money and scotch. He made a mental note to have Nicholls check the restocked supplies the next morning.
The next day began chiefly as the previous day. Bingley inquired early after Miss Bennet's health and he received a tolerable answer that she was a little better, which made him overjoyed and he thought Miss Bennet's health might really improve after she had her favourite dishes as he had asked the cook to prepare. He also made sure the message Miss Eliza had prepared was sent to her mother.
The entire group, save Miss Eliza, were gathered in the parlour when Mrs. Bennet arrived with Misses Kitty and Lydia in tow just following breakfast. Miss Eliza showed the group into the room after Mrs. Bennet had seen her daughter and consulted with Dr. Jones. As they entered, Bingley threw his sisters a look of reproof as they had been again insulting the family just moments before and then greeted Mrs. Bennet. "Mrs. Bennet, welcome. I hope you have not found your daughter worse than you expected."
"I have indeed, Sir. She is a great deal too ill to be moved. Dr. Jones says we must not think of moving her. We must trespass a little longer on your kindness," Mrs. Bennet replied to his enquiry.
"Removed! It must not be thought of," Bingley assured her. "My sister, I am sure, will not hear of her removal." He looked to Miss Bingley for confirmation.
"You may depend upon it, Madam," Miss Bingley said, "that Miss Bennet shall receive every possible attention while she remains with us."
"I am sure if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world, which is always the way with her, for she has without exception, the sweetest temper I ever met with," Mrs. Bennet said in one breath without pausing. "That is her most attractive feature," Bingley thought.
Mrs. Bennet sat down once her daughter's welfare was taken care of and appeared unwilling to leave. "You have a sweet room here, Mr. Bingley. I do not know a place in the country that is equal to Netherfield. You will not think of quitting it in a hurry I hope, though you have but a short lease."
"I should be happy to stay here forever," Bingley replied with much enthusiasm. "Especially with Miss Bennet nearby," he added silently. "Would you not agree, Darcy?"
"You would? You don't find the society confined and unvarying for you tastes?" Darcy coolly asked.
Before Bingley had a chance to answer, Mrs. Bennet interrupted with, "Confined and unvarying? I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four and twenty families." At this comment Bingley heard his sisters snickering in the corner and decided it was safer to ignore than draw attention to it.
"As I was saying before, I would be happy to stay here forever. However whatever I do is done in a hurry and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. When I am in the country I never wish to leave it, but when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages and I can be equally happy in either," Bingley stated with conviction.
"That is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman seemed to think the country was nothing at all," Mrs. Bennet said in approval of Bingley's comments.
Bingley could hear his sisters still snickering from Mrs. Bennet's comments and while he found her comments amusing, he would maintain an even and open countenance, at least for Miss Eliza's sake. She appeared mortified by her mother's behaviour. He could see her valiantly attempting to change the conversation by asking after Miss Lucas.
Unfortunately that started Mrs. Bennet discussing Miss Lucas and the manners of Sir William, declaring her plain and him as an example of good breeding. She also insulted Darcy by comparing him to Sir William. Bingley cringed at that remark and quickly glanced at his friend to judge his friend's countenance. Darcy had his usual serious expression on his face for use in public, although it was seemed more serious than normal so he had taken affront to Mrs. Bennet's comments.
Luckily for Miss Eliza, her mother called for her carriage and expressed her thanks for the Bingleys' care of Jane. She also apologized for troubling them with Elizabeth as well and offered to take her back to Longbourn.
"I assure, Ma'am, it is no trouble at all and we insist Miss Eliza stay. We feel we are to blame for Miss Bennet's condition as we sent the dinner invitation on such an inclement day," Bingley said with the utmost of civility. "Don't you agree Caroline?"
"No trouble at all, Ma'am," Miss Bingley said with a chilled voice.
"Mr. Bingley, didn't you promise to give a ball at the Meryton assembly? It would be a shameful thing if you did not keep your word," said Miss Lydia as the group was breaking up. This was the first word either Lydia or Kitty Bennet had said during the entire conversation other than between themselves.
"I am perfectly ready, I assure you, to keep my engagement, and when your sister is recovered, you shall name the very day," Bingley said cheerily.
"There Lydia, that's generosity for you! What I call gentlemanly behaviour," cried Mrs. Bennet looking pointedly at Mr. Darcy.
Nicholls announced the carriage so Bingley escorted the Bennets to the door as Miss Lydia began discussing the local officers and Colonel Forster giving a ball as well. He gave a heartfelt good bye and the family left, except for Miss Eliza who went to Miss Bennet's room. Bingley slowly and reluctantly returned to the parlour, as he knew his sisters would be laughing over the Bennets' behaviour and did not wish to be exposed to it.
The afternoon was spent similarly to the day before. His sisters repaired to the sick room yet again to keep her company for a few hours, both out of concern for their friend and out of fear of what Bingley would do if they did not, while the gentlemen were outside on a hunt.
The gentlemen hoped that this day's hunt would be better than the previous day. Regrettably the fates were again not smiling on them. As Bingley was aiming at one of the few coveys they had seen all afternoon, he lost his footing and tumbled into a very large mud puddle. Laughing, Darcy held out a hand to help, but Bingley pulled him down with him as punishment for the laughter. Mr. Hurst would have been made to join them, but he wisely chose to remain a distance away and laugh at them. Both men extricated themselves with a bit of difficulty and went to their rooms for a bath and a change of clothes.
They passed Miss Eliza leaving for a walk as they went to their chambers. She was slightly surprised at their appearances, but calmly answered their enquires that stating that her sister was asleep, however there appeared to be a twinkle in her eyes that indicated she found their appearance humourous.
Loo was not the choice of cards for the evening, but Bingley did get pulled into a game of piquet with his brother-in-law, fortunately it was a game where he was more skilled. Darcy was again writing a letter to his sister, with Miss Bingley watching his progress. Miss Eliza was occupied with some needlepoint and observing Darcy and Miss Bingley. Bingley noticed she had a slight smile on her face as she listened to Miss Bingley praise every little thing Mr. Darcy did and Darcy's attempt to cope.
Bingley decided to intervene for Darcy's sake. "Sometimes Caroline can be a bit much and Darcy looks like he needs a reprieve." "That will not do for a complement to Darcy, Caroline because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do you not, Darcy?"
"My style of writing is very different from yours," Darcy said with conviction.
"Oh!" cried Miss Bingley. "Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words and blots the rest."
"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have no time to express them," Bingley said in his defence, "by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents."
"Your humility, Mr. Bingley, must disarm reproof," Miss Eliza offered in complement.
"Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility," Darcy commented. "It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."
"And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty," Bingley asked casually. His friend responded that it was an indirect boast of Bingley's belief in his 'rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution' and mentioned Bingley's comments of the morning.
"Nay, this is too much; to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believed what I said of myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment," Bingley cried. Darcy then began to dispute Bingley's claim of belief in his statement to Mrs. Bennet.
Miss Eliza then attempted to alter Darcy's reproof. Bingley offered his thanks for her complement. He then watched Darcy and Miss Eliza begin a battle of words regarding the persuasion of people, most especially Bingley. "This is interesting. First Darcy complements Miss Eliza's eyes and now verbal sparring, both last night and now tonight. Darcy has never behaved like this with another woman before. I shall have to watch this closer." He chose to intervene after a while as the battle was turning into a war and he could see Darcy was losing. He asked them to defer the argument at least until he had left the room, besides he did not feel that he was so easily swayed by others. Miss Eliza advised Darcy to finish his letter, which he did, in difference to Bingley's wishes.
Some music was suggested by Darcy to liven the atmosphere. He looked a little spooked from his argument with Miss Eliza. Bingley listened to Caroline play and Louisa sing. He got lost in the music because as he had said before he loves music and dancing.
Chapter 7 -- Recovery
Bingley's usual morning enquiries after Miss Bennet's health resulted in his receiving exceedingly happy news. Miss Eliza said that Miss Bennet was so much recovered that she intended to leave her room for a few hours in the evening.
Bingley's countenance bore a huge smile from then on as he went about his day. He was even unconsciously whistling as he went with Darcy out to the stables for an early afternoon's ride. "Bingley, would you please cease that annoying whistling?" his friend asked drawing Bingley's attention to his actions for the first time that day.
"Was I whistling? I'll stop then if it bothers you," Bingley said and stopped whistling for a time, however he began again about five minutes later. Darcy glared at him in hopes that he would stop, but Bingley did not seem to notice.
The ride went pleasantly until they were almost back to Netherfield and Bingley's horse, Wellington, threw a shoe. Bingley walked him back to Meryton to see the blacksmith. Darcy offered to accompany him, but Bingley urged him to continue on to Netherfield. Bingley then spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Žsmithy.
Once back to Netherfield Bingley was about to ascend the main staircase to dress for dinner when he heard, "Just what do you think you're doing, Charles Edward Bingley?" He whipped around to see his sister marching imperiously toward him.
"Whatever do you mean, Caroline? It looks like I'm going upstairs," he remarked with a bewildered expression.
"I'm not talking about right now. I'm talking about earlier. Just who is mistress of this house?" his sister asked with apparent anger.
"You are, of course. Why do you ask?" Her comments were not making much sense.
"If I am mistress, how come you changed today's menu that I painstakingly set with Mrs. Nicholls two days ago?"
"Is that all? She is behaving like I had just declared civil war." "I thought Miss Bennet would appreciate some of her favourite foods. It might help her recovery."
"I guess the change is fine, but don't do it again," she barked. Miss Bingley would agree to anything that would get Miss Elizabeth Bennet out of the house quickly. She was exceedingly vexed by Miss Eliza's presence and not doing much to hide her feelings.
Bingley was unusually quiet during dinner. He was mentally reviewing the things that needed to be seen to when Miss Bennet joined them after dinner, which would ensure her continued recovery. Darcy talked him into a quick game of chess after dinner once the ladies had removed, but Bingley was so distracted that Darcy beat him easily. This was unusual as the two friends were so closely matched than an intense game could last several hours. But after an hour Bingley had been trounced and they elected to join the ladies in the drawing room.
Bingley absentmindedly responded to his sister's comments that the gentlemen were joining them rather early, however his attention was largely focussed on Miss Bennet. It was as if she was the only person in the room. Luckily Miss Bingley didn't pay attention since she was focussed on Mr. Darcy.
All three gentlemen walked over to Miss Bennet to express their pleasure at seeing her so well. While Darcy's and Mr. Hurst's comments were polite, they did not possess the warmth that Bingley's did; "Miss Bennet, I cannot begin to express how happy I am to see you so well recovered. I was delighted when your sister informed me this morning that you intended to join us this evening. I hope you found dinner to your liking? I had the cook prepare it specially."
He was speaking so fast that she had trouble responding, but finally she found an appropriate place to interject. "You're very kind, Mr. Bingley. Dinner was wonderful. I thank you for everything you have done for me," Miss Bennet said graciously in a weak voice.
"I fear you might catch a draft where you are sitting. I insist you move to this chair," Bingley said as he escorted her to a chair on the far side of the fireplace, further from the door. He then proceeded to build up the fire and requested that a servant bring additional wood. "I would not want you to suffer from the change of room, Miss Bennet," he said in way of explanation for his actions.
Miss Bennet again expressed her gratitude for Mr. Bingley's attentions and asked him to make himself at ease. Bingley heeded her entreaties and sat down opposite her, however before he did so, he got them both tea and some of the fresh baked gingersnaps. It turned out those cookies were both their favourites.
"That's a fine mare you rode over, Miss Bennet. A very fine animal indeed," Bingley commented, starting a new conversation.
"Oh! Nelly÷I completely forgot about her! My father will be wondering about her," Miss Bennet cried.
"Don't worry," Bingley soothed. "I had her taken back to Longbourn when your letter was sent the day after you took ill."
"That was very kind. Thank you yet again," she said and favoured him with one of her angelic smiles.
"My pleasure. When did you learn to ride?" he asked. "I have been riding since I was five."
"I think my father taught me around the same age or a little older. I don't ride much though since I don't have company. Out of my sisters, only Lydia knows how and she rides so infrequently."
"That is a pity. About not riding often, I mean. As for myself, I love riding," he said enthusiastically and Mrs. Hurst stated that she did as well for she had been somewhat listening to their conversation. "I would have liked riding around the Continent during my Grand Tour after graduation, but my father did not approve so I went by carriage Žas befitting a proper gentleman' as my father phrased it."
"Where did you go on the Continent? What did you see?" Miss Bennet asked with curiosity in her voice.
"All number of places÷ Paris, Berlin, Venice, Athens, Vienna. I learned to waltz at the assemblies I attended in Vienna. Have you ever waltzed, Miss Bennet?"
"I am afraid I have not, Mr. Bingley. I do not know how."
"I shall have to teach you some time. Perhaps at the ball I am planning for Netherfield. Although, maybe the waltz would not be appropriate," Bingley said with uncertainty in his voice.
"I should think not, Charles. That dance is scandalous," Mrs. Hurst exclaimed.
"Perhaps you are right, Louisa. No waltzes. Country dances will be just fine."
"By the bye, Charles, are you really serious about a dance at Netherfield," Miss Bennet asked, surprising Bingley as he had completely forgotten there were others in the room. "I would advise you to consult the wishes of the present party. To some among us a ball would be a punishment rather than a pleasure."
"If you mean Darcy," Bingley said, glancing at his friend, "he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins. As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards."
Caroline suggested that balls would be more rational if conversation occurred at them instead of dancing. Bingley agreed that they would be more rational but not "so much like a ball." He expected Caroline to continue their discussion, but she began to walk about the room so he went back to his conversation with Miss Bennet.
He told her about the artwork at the Louvre and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel since he knew about her interest in drawing and painting. She asked him about the people he met. They continued discussing his trip for the rest of the evening until Miss Bennet professed a little fatigue. Bingley escorted her to her chambers and decided to retire as well.
Following breakfast during which Miss Bennet was able to join them, Miss Eliza asked Bingley if he would dispatch a note to Longbourn. Bingley saw that it was done immediately and then accompanied Miss Bennet to the conservatory. She had professed an eagerness to see the flowers and perhaps do a little sketching. Once there, they discussed the grounds around Netherfield visible from the large windows for a while and later he just kept her company while she sketched.
"Here you are, Jane. I've been looking for you," Miss Eliza exclaimed as she walked into the room.
"I have been doing some sketching. What did you need me for?" Miss Bennet asked.
"Mama has sent a response to our message," she said while holding out a folded sheet of paper.
Bingley decided to give the sisters some privacy so he bowed to both ladies and took his leave. He was playing a solitary game of billiards when Miss Bennet sought him out later. "Miss Bennet, can I help you with anything?"
"Mr. Bingley, my sister and I were wondering if we might borrow your carriage to return to Longbourn. We asked for our carriage to be sent; however our father cannot spare the horses. We would not have asked if it was not necessary," Miss Bennet quietly said.
"Of course you may borrow the carriage, but perhaps you are leaving too soon. Are you recovered enough? You just ventured out of your chambers last evening. It may not be safe for you to be going so soon," Bingley exclaimed with real concern in his voice.
Miss Bennet was touched by his concern, but expressed that she thought it best they go home, as she was feeling much better. Miss Eliza was seeing to the packing of their belongings.
"Can I at least convince you to remain one more day and go home tomorrow? Perhaps after morning services? It will give you an additional day to recover."
Miss Bennet easily acceded to his request; "Tomorrow will be fine. Thank you again for everything you have done for both Elizabeth and myself."
"My pleasure, Miss Bennet," Bingley replied and she favoured him with one of her enchanting smiles. "Perhaps we should inform the rest of our party?" he asked while offering his arm.
Both Bingley's sisters expressed their sorrow that Miss Bennet would be leaving so soon fearing for her health, especially since her recovery meant the three ladies could have some fun together. However, try as they might to hide it, it was obvious that it was not soon enough for Miss Eliza to be leaving. Mr. Hurst made no comment whatsoever regarding the leaving of the Miss Bennets, except that his number of card players was dwindling. Mr. Darcy also expressed his sorrow that the sisters would be leaving, but he also looked slightly relieved. Bingley was extremely distressed for his companions' behaviour to the Bennet sisters, but there was not much he could do about it.
Unfortunately Bingley could not wile away the evening with Miss Bennet the same way they had done the previous night. As Mr. Hurst did not get his evening of cards the previous day, he insisted on Whist and Speculation for entertainment, especially with the number of available players. Bingley also asked Miss Eliza and his sisters to play for them.
Bingley never realized that Sunday service could be so enjoyable before, even though the return of the party to Netherfield would mean the Bennet sisters would be leaving. He was able to escort both young ladies to church in Meryton (not their usual church as the Bennets attended services at the nearby Longbourn church), sit between them the entire time and then accompany them back to Netherfield in his carriage. During the course of the morning he discovered that Miss Bennet had a truly lovely singing voice. He added it to his ever-growing list of her endearing qualities.
Once they reached Netherfield, he tried to get both young ladies to come in for refreshment, but they insisted that they should be leaving for home. The rest of their party quickly made their farewells and went inside, however Bingley waited until they had left to say his farewell. "Give your parents my warmest salutations," he said while leaning into the carriage window.
"You're very kind," Miss Bennet replied quietly and Miss Eliza smiled at him.
"Good-bye, Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"Good-bye," they replied.
"Drive on Roster," Bingley called to the coachman and he watched the carriage drive away until it disappeared from view.
Continued in Part 2
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