What kind of schemes did Darcy and Bingley come up with?
The chaotic noise of servants packing only served to add to Mr. Bingley’s agitation. He had just enjoyed a wonderful night. No, it had been a marvelous night. Miss Bennet was angelic, pretty, kind, sweet, and pleasant. He had danced the night away with her in the ball held in her honour. When he thought he had finally found the woman with whom he could spend the rest of his life, he did not need his sisters to tell him otherwise so early this morning.
He could live without Louisa’s and Caroline’s advice, because they were always going on and on about the “savages” in Meryton, as if they were lady and duchess by birth. But Darcy also joined in this time. He said nothing about the Bennets’ improper behaviour or Jane’s lack of connection or wealth. Instead, he focused on the fact that she did not seem to have any special regard for Bingley.
Am I wrong? Bingley thought. Had he mistaken Miss Bennet’s smiles, kind words, and sweet whispers? For the first time in his life, Bingley wished he could be more confident of his own discernment. If only he was a student of human character, like Miss Elizabeth was. Then, he would be more certain that Jane would accept his hand in marriage because she loved him, not because her mother forced her to do so due to the entail, as Darcy had suggested.
Bingley sighed. Perhaps this was not to be. He should oversee the packing, rather than sitting in his bedchamber with his head in his hands. They would be leaving Netherfield in two hours. For once in his life, he felt discontent; being led away from what he truly wanted to do. What he wanted was to ride to London, get his mother’s ring, ride back to Longbourn, and propose to Jane. His angel. His beloved and his happiest future.
He screamed loudly, grabbed a pillow, and threw it in frustration and rage.
The pillow hit the inkwell on the desk, dropped to the floor, and became soiled with black ink.
Now see what you’ve done! he chastised himself. The black ink spread across the pristine white pillow, taking the shape of a heart. Now you are crazy, Bingley! he told himself. His own heart had not turned black. It was broken. He picked up the inkwell and put it back on the desk, discolouring his fingers in the process.
Suddenly he remembered the discussion Darcy had had with Miss Elizabeth. Darcy chastised Bingley for writing carelessly, of being deceitful. It was often only carelessness of opinion, sometimes just an indirect boast, Darcy had said. But bless the witty Miss Elizabeth! She had defended Bingley, commented on his sweet temper. Mr. Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition, she had said. Perhaps, he could fight for her sister’s heart in this case.
He took out a sheet a paper, dipped the pen with ink, and drew a line in the middle of the page. On the left side, he wrote, as slowly as he could:
Why must I leave Jane? (in Caroline and Louisa’s words). Beneath it, he started a list:
* No dowry
* No lord or lady in the family
* Will not bring property to the marriage
* No education
* No accomplishments
* Loud and scheming mother
* Silly younger sisters
* Eccentric father
* Impertinent Eliza
* Will be saddled with four sisters and a mother when Mr. Bennet dies
Beneath these, he added a few reasons Darcy had mentioned:
* Jane does not seem to love me
* She may accept my offer due only to her mother’s pressure
Bingley sighed again. The list on the left was long, and his heart was like a rock. He wanted to ball the paper and throw it out the window. Instead, he looked to the right side of the page and started writing.
Why must I offer for Jane?
* She is an angel, the most beautiful woman I have ever known. She is kind, pleasing, lovely, nice; has a wonderful figure; is good to me, the servants, neighbours, and even to my horribly rude sisters.
* Simple taste, does not exceed her allowance like Caroline does so frequently
* Well read, or should I say, understands the meaning of great works better than Caroline and Louisa
* Has the most skilful hand in needlework
* Respects and listens to her parents
* Sets a good example for her younger sisters
* She is a gentleman’s daughter
* She said I am kind and gentlemanly, a very good friend, and a dutiful brother. Surely she loves me!
Bingley sprang from the desk, pocketed the note and left the room. He took the servants’ entrance, and told his valet in a rush, “I shall be back in an hour.”
He did not take the horse, as he did not want to draw his sisters’ attention. If Miss Elizabeth could walk three miles to Netherfield to take care of lovely Jane, Bingley could certainly walk three miles to Longbourn to ask Jane one simple question.
About a mile on, Bingley’s resolve was already slightly shaken. He did not know that walking could be as tiring as he found it to be. How did Miss Elizabeth do it? And all the mud and grass! They made a mess of his shiny new boots. As he plodded onward, a conversation came to his mind.
“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” Caroline said in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”
“Not at all,” he replied. “They were brightened by the exercise.”
Bingley stopped dead on the road. What!? He had never heard Darcy admitting to admiring a woman to Caroline before; not in the eight years since they had known each other, or since Caroline had set her cap to snare Darcy. Darcy had mentioned he did not want Caroline to increase her “Capture the Master of Pemberley” campaign if she knew a real rival was in the vicinity.
Not that he had heard Darcy admire many ladies, by any means. He was so fastidious that he even found that Jane smiled too much. For him to confide to Caroline that Miss Elizabeth had fine eyes, and that his admiration had not been reduced by her traipsing across the countryside all alone, was a great shock indeed.
Would the admiration overcome Darcy’s reservation about the family? Bingley walked on absently as he pondered this thought. Darcy had found Elizabeth was not handsome enough to tempt him to dance at first. Then, he said if she could be called a beauty, he would agree that Mrs. Bennet was a wit. So, how had his admiration for Miss Elizabeth grown?
Then Bingley remember what seemed to be innocent behaviour under other conditions. At the gathering at Lucas Lodge, Darcy stared at Miss Elizabeth quite frequently, and seemed to find excuses to follow her around. That was it! And when Elizabeth was in Netherfield nursing Jane, his tall friend also behaved very strangely, staring, debating with Elizabeth, asking her to dance a reel with him! And, just the night before, he danced with her, the only woman in Meryton with whom he had danced the entire night. By gosh, Bingley realized, Darcy had fallen in love! Bingley was sure. He had never seen his proud friend behave in such a manner before.
Bingley smiled at the irony. Could his friend want the whole London party back in town so Darcy could get away from the allure of Miss Elizabeth himself? Could Bingley use this fact for some purpose? He continued his musing.
Caroline was a schemer. Surely, as her brother, Bingley could scheme a simple campaign, by throwing Miss Elizabeth into Darcy’s path! Would Darcy lower himself to marry the second Miss Bennet? The chance might be small, but if indeed it happened, Bingley would be most happy. He and Darcy would become brothers. Caroline would hit the roof! Haha, he laughed to himself.
Bingley was startled out of his imaginings. Suppressing his grin, he saw the object of Darcy’s admiration walking toward him.
“It is a … good day to walk,” she commented, clearly agitated.
“Indeed. I …” he hesitated, “I am surveying the grounds.” It had taken him longer to walk a mile than he figured. There would not be enough time for him to walk to Longbourn, ask Jane the question, and return in time to leave for London. He would still leave with his sisters and friend to placate them. But what he would do thereafter would depend on the outcome of the next few minutes.
Miss Elizabeth’s appearance was a godsend. She would answer his questions for her sister. He drew in a deep breath and began to speak quickly. “We are to leave for London today, and will be away for some time, taking care of some urgent business. I have asked Caroline to write to your sister, to inform your family of our plans and apologise that we cannot take our leave in person.”
“Oh,” she said, looked genuinely disappointed. “Jane will be devastated. She has enjoyed your … sisters’ friendship these past weeks.”
Bingley pondered Elizabeth’s hesitated addition of the word “sisters”. Could she be telling him that Jane would be devastated with his absence? This was encouraging indeed.
Then, Miss Elizabeth grazed the tall grass with her bonnet. He could not fail to see her turmoil. His caring nature emerged. “Are you unwell, Miss Bennet?”
“No, there is nothing the matter with me,” she replied, but stopped abruptly.
He looked at her with a kind expression. “May I be of help?”
She continued again, after pausing for a minute. “Well, you will know soon enough, when your sisters hear from their friends in Meryton.” She drew in a deep breath. “I have just refused an offer of marriage. My mother said she will not speak to me again if I do not rescind my refusal.”
Bingley’s heart dropped. Could Darcy be right, that Jane’s mother would force her daughters to accept suitors against their wishes?
“But father said he will not speak to me again if I accept the proposal.”
Bingley frowned and did not understand.
She laughed, even if somewhat uncomfortably. “I see I have confused you. The … gentleman in question has a good station in life. It would have been a prudent marriage for me, and beneficial for my family. That is why my mother insists that I accept. But the man in question … does not suit me, and I do not think I can love and respect him. For this reason, my father supports my decision. I wish to marry for love.”
“Will your sister have a similar wish?” His face turned bright red as quickly as the words had left his mouth. “I should not have …” he stumbled.
“It is fine, Mr. Bingley.” She continued slowly and seriously, “Jane and I have vowed to marry for love, and Papa stands by us.”
“Is he not worried for your future, because of the entail?”
“He is philosophical about it, even jokes that he will prevail to live longer than Mama.”
Bingley grinned. Mr. Bennet might not be a careful provider for the family, but at least he was an optimist and allowed his daughters to decide and shape their own futures.
And now Bingley had his answers. Jane would be devastated with his removal to town. And, she would not accept him if she did not love him. What could he do now? Rather than defying his sisters, perhaps he could continue his courtship behind their backs. It was not manly of him to do so, but he had to take small steps, to grow to be his own man. He did not want an outright war with his sisters. Arguments were too much like disputes. He hated it. How could he do that? Perhaps Miss Elizabeth could think of a way. After all, she was the witty one.
“It is a pity I have to stay in town for the entire winter. I would have loved to continue my acquaintance with your … family.”
“The entire winter?” Elizabeth questioned.
“Yes, a few long months.”
Elizabeth’s bright eyes darted around for a moment. “My uncle and aunt from town will be visiting us during Christmas.”
“Indeed. They are from Cheapside, with a large import business.”
“Yes, Uncle Gardiner has an import business, but I am not sure if it could be called large.”
“Your sister told me they are thinking of purchasing a property in the north in five years’ time. He must be doing well in order to do so.” Bingley ventured.
“Yes, that is Uncle Gardiner’s plan. He is a very focused person. He hopes to make his sons gentlemen.”
Bingley nodded. Mr. Gardiner sounded like his father—focused, kind, firm, and hard working. How did Bingley come to be this weak? To be led along by his own sisters? He had to do something, or he would regret his life. He would definitely regret not having Jane by his side.
“Jane and I usually visit them during winter.”
The significant look Miss Elizabeth gave him told him what he should do. “What is the name of his warehouse? I think I may … buy some oriental silk for Caroline.”
“Of course, the Guardian Angel,” she chuckled.
Both of them smiled. Then Bingley bowed and took his leave. Not a few steps into his walk back to Netherfield, he remembered another detail. Through Jane, Miss Elizabeth had asked about Wickham and Darcy’s dealing the night before. Bingley had vouched for the good conduct, the probity, and honour of Darcy. And later, Darcy vented his frustration about Wickham’s lies to Caroline instead. It would not do for Miss Elizabeth to fall for someone else and leave Darcy without a bride. Bingley’s scheme would not work.
He turned and called out to Elizabeth again.
“Miss Bennet, one more moment please.”
“Yes, Mr. Bingley?”
“I just remembered that your sister asked me about Wickham last night.”
Her lips thinned. “Yes, Jane told me you do not know the whole of his history, and are quite ignorant of the alleged circumstances that have principally offended Mr. Darcy.”
He chose his words carefully, for Miss Elizabeth was a strong-willed lady, similar to Darcy.
“Yes, I am unaware of the issue of the inheritance. But I do know Wickham’s reputation in Cambridge. I did not say this to Miss Bennet last night, because I do not want to alarm her sensibilities.”
She frowned. “What of his reputation?”
“He was known to be a gamester and a lady’s man, who lived beyond his means,” Bingley began. “If not for the backing of the Darcy family, he would not have been welcomed by many of the gentlemen in Cambridge.”
“That cannot be true!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“Do you accuse me of lying for my friend?” Bingley turned serious. “Do you think that I can be so easily imposed upon? I have known Darcy for eight years. I would have heard about any disgraceful or dishonourable behaviour on Mr. Darcy’s part. He would not be my friend if he were such a man!”
“No, no, I am not accusing you,” Elizabeth stumbled. “… but Mr. Wickham was so charming … Why should he invent such a history of himself? He gave me names, facts, everything mentioned without ceremony.”
“How long have you known him then? For I have heard him called Mr. Lady Love of Derbyshire for the entirety of three years. But to give you proof, I shall write to some of my Cambridge friends, who did not know Darcy. Their words will be more objective.” Bingley’s mind whirled around again. If Jane and he met in town and Caroline discovered their contact, they would need some protection from her ire. Miss Elizabeth would be the best person to protect Jane, not to mention to distract Darcy.
“Perhaps you will visit your aunt and uncle with Miss Bennet together? I can then relate the matter about Mr. Wickham to you in person.”
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