"Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding.... There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?”

“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language." --Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bingley's Blunder, Chapter 1

Author's Note: Of all the stories I have ever written, this one shows most strongly the influence of Georgette Heyer, who I used to read prodigiously as a teenager.

Bingley's Blunder, or The High Fine Art of Gossip

Chapter One

Mrs. Soffrania Snitchwood and Miss Lucia Lamb were walking down Bond Street together one afternoon in the fall, lamenting how thin of company London was at that time of year, when the former, a middle-aged woman with a fondness for all kinds of gossip, grasped her younger friend’s hand. “Look, here comes that nice Mr. Bingley!” she said. “Do you know him?”

            “Yes, ma’am, I’ve met him on a number of occasions. Isn’t he the intimate friend of Mr. Darcy?”

            “Yes, I believe he is. Mr. Bingley!” She waved to him and he came over immediately, bowing with great friendliness and beaming happily at them.

“Mrs. Snitchwood! Miss Lamb! What a pleasure to see you both! Are you well?”

            “Yes, indeed! And yourself?”

            “I am extremely well, thank you! In fact, I am to be married!” He smiled broadly.

            Mrs. Snitchwood’s small eyes gleamed with excitement. “Now this is news indeed! Mr. Bingley to be married! Who is the fortunate young lady, if I might ask?”

            “A Miss Jane Bennet of Hertfordshire, ma’am, but I am the fortunate one! You must come and call on us when I bring her to town after we’re marriedor we’ll come and call on you! You’ll adore her! Everyone does!”

            “And your friend, Mr. Darcy?" interjected Miss Lamb, who had her own interests in mind. "Is he well?”

            “Oh, yes! He is extremely well too! He is also to be married!”

            This announcement elicited gasps. “Mr. Darcy?” repeated Mrs. Snitchwood. “Mr. Darcy of Pemberley to be married?”

            Mr. Bingley beamed more brightly than ever. “Yes, indeed! In fact,” he burst out radiantly, “we are to be brothers!” Both ladies gasped again, but before another word could be spoken, Mr. Bingley looked over to the side and said hastily, “I beg your pardon, but there goes a man I absolutely must speak with! Good day!” He doffed his hat to them. “Don’t forget to call!” And he dashed off.

            The two women were left to stare at each other in some astonishment. “Well!” said Mrs. Snitchwood. “Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy both to be married, and to be brothers! That can only mean one thing.”

            Miss Lamb shook her head in amazement. “Caroline Bingley has finally got her man.”


            “I can’t understand it,” said Maria Culvert fretfully over a cup of tea. “Young Darcy never looked seriously at a woman in his lifeand certainly not at Caroline Bingley!

            “Well I don’t think there’s anything so wonderful about it,” answered her companion, a Miss Fleetwood, with a shrug. “A young man in his position must marry, I suppose, and Miss Bingley has good looks, breeding, and a respectable fortune and connections.”

            “Humph!” replied Mrs. Culvert. “Respectable indeed! They’re only one generation removed from tradesmen! I can scarcely believe that such a proud man would be willing to unite one of the oldest names in England with a name like Bingley! Why, he might marry into the nobility if he chose to!”

            “Well you must remember that she’s the sister of one of his dearest friends! I daresay that accounts for any partiality.”

            She shook her head gloomily. “It’s scandalous how young women these days throw themselves at men. I’d believed Darcy inured to flattery, but clearly I was wrong.”

            “One thing is certainMiss Bingley is feeling very pleased with herself this morning.”


            “And I simply don’t know how I’ll even be able to see her again!” confided Miss Morton to her friend Lady Deadlock. “She’ll be simply insufferable!”

            “So would you be if you had such a conquest.”

            “I must say I can’t imagine how she managed to pull it off! I never thought he showed the slightest partiality for her, for all her wheedling ways. Of course, Sarah Pollock will be disappointedshe wanted to marry him herself, you know.”

            “She’s not the only one! Sophy Grey was her fiercest rival. I remember a certain ball last yearI must admit it was excessively divertingwhere all three of them were present. You would have laughed, Julia, to see those two women dancing attendance on him, circling him like a pair of satellites while he remained perfectly indifferent to both. You must give Mr. Darcy his dueproud and reserved he may be, but he never yet let any woman’s attentions discompose him.”

            “What do you call this, then?” replied her companion tartly.

            “My dear, I cannot claim to understand the workings of any man’s mind,” she returned magnificently.


            In a drawing room on Clarges Street

                        [the sound of weeping]

            “Well you know,” young Lady Fleetwood whispered behind her fan that night to the highly fashionable Miss Vera, “my brother says that some of the men at White’s had been laying bets as to whether he would hold out against hersiege, they called it.”
            “Men are so disgusting!” exclaimed Miss Vera, smiling coquettishly at a very stylish gentleman who passed by her, ogling.

            “Aren’t they! Well, George is most put out because he laid his money quite against Mr. Darcy ever giving in. He felt it to be a sure thing.”

            “I saw Mr. Darcy once at an evening party. I thought him handsome, but ever so cold and stiff! Why, he didn’t pay me one complimentor any other lady, either! He hardly talked to anyone and didn’t laugh once. I can’t imagine ever wanting to be married to him.”

            “Oh but he’s very rich, you know, and they say his estate, Pemberley, is one of the finest in England. I’ve heard it’s very beautiful. I’m sure Miss Bingley is marrying him to be mistress there.”

            “Who wants to be mistress in the country? I’d rather live here all year long!”

            “You won’t say that when you’ve experienced London in the summer. Indeed, a fine country estate is a very agreeable thing, especially when you can entertain well, which you certainly can at Pemberley. I dare say they’ll hardly even spend any time alone together.”

            “Just the same, I’ve been told Mr. Darcy hardly ever dances, and I want a husband who dances delightfully all night long!”

            Across the same room, Sir Reginald Chutney was discussing the same matter with the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple. “I never could understand why that amiable boy, Charles Bingley, should want to be friends with a haughty fellow like Darcy until now.”

“Oh?” said her ladyship.

            “Yes, clearly he was out to secure an Advantageous Connection for his family. Clever of himmore clever by half than I would have expected him to be. Of course, didn’t I hear something about Bingley himself getting married too?” The Dowager Viscountess shrugged her shoulders. “Yes, yes, I’m almost sure I did. Hey there, Jartley!” A thin, grey-haired man in an elaborate coat turned around. “Didn’t I hear something about young Bingley getting married?”

             The man frowned. “You mean his sister?”

            “No, no, Bingley! The story waswho was it from, again?—that both Bingley and Darcy were to be married. Darcy is marrying Bingley’s sister, but who’s Bingley marrying?”

             “Some lady fromHerefordshire, wasn’t it? Sounds dashed unfashionable, to me. I can’t recall her name, except that I didn’t know it.”

            “Hum. Seems strange that after securing such a Good Match for his sister, he should be remiss in marrying well himself. Perhaps the unknown lady is really an heiress of some sort!”

             “Or perhaps” the man tittered. “Perhaps he felt that his sister’s success left him free toindulge his fancy where he pleased.”             “Well, now. That’s enough I suppose. We shouldn’t speak of what we don’t know. But I give Bingley credit for doing very well by his sister. Bringing Darcy up to scratch can’t have been easy.”


            In a drawing room on Half Moon Street


            Lady Matlock, receiving the news from a breathless acquaintance, drew her brows together and articulated one word: “Nonsense!”

            The lady gasped and faltered. “But, my lady, it’s all over town! Everyone is talking of it!”

             “Everyone is a fool!” she said roundly. But after her company left she sat down and wrote a letter to her nephew.


            Miss Caroline Bingley first received the news some three days after her brother’s flying trip to London, her delay of information being due to a trifling cold which prevented her from either going out or receiving visitors during that time. Whether that cold may have had something to do with the news which her brother brought with him of a certain young man’s recent betrothal, we shall not speculate. However that may be, on this morning she was seated in her parlor, tolerably composed, and deriving not inconsiderable consolation from perusing her mail. My, but her consequence was increasing! Never in her life had she gotten so many invitations as had poured in in the last two days. From the innermost circle of good society, too! Her humor was so good that even when the maid announced Miss Thane, she was able to rise with a perfectly sincere smile.

            Diana Thane was an outspoken woman, and having gone to school with Miss Bingley, only being two years older, felt herself entitled to say anything she liked to her. Miss Bingley knew this, which is why she would ordinarily have been more on her guard.

             Miss Thane walked in. “Why, you sly little thing!” she said, cutting off Miss Bingley’s greetings. “You managed to surprise us all, didn’t you?”

             Miss Bingley frowned. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

             “Oh Caroline, what’s the point in pretending such modesty? To be sure, I’m amazed you haven’t been crowing it from the rooftops. I’m sure I would.”
             Miss Bingley opened her mouth, and then shut it again, not quite sure what to say.

            “I don’t know how you did it, Caroline,” said Miss Thane, stripping off her gloves. “You must teach me a trick or two about allurement, since you obviously have some up your sleeve. It is quite a signal triumph, I assure you. Amelia Wasson, Jane Henry, Cara Barringtonnot to mention Harriet Tilner!—are all quite green with jealousy! Of course, you did have the advantage of being his best friend’s sister, and so got far more time with him, but I confess I did not think your chances were any better than the others.”

            A strange trembling sensation seized Miss Bingley, and her head began to spin. She sank down on the couch. “Would you please oblige me, Diana, by explaining exactly what it is you are talking about?”

            Miss Thane raised her eyebrows. “Why, your engagement to Mr. Darcy, of course! What else?”

            Engaged to Mr. Darcy! For a moment a wild hope sprang up in her breast; had something happened which she did not know of? Had Mr. Darcy done something, said something to give rise She forced herself to speak calmly. “Who said that I was engaged to Mr. Darcy?”

            Miss Thane looked surprised and amused. “Why, everyone, my dear! It’s been the talk of the town for these three days past; didn’t you know it?”

            She shook her head, feeling dizzier every moment. “No, I have been ill,” she managed. “Butwho started the story? Does anyone know?”

            “Why, your brother, so I hear.”

            Disappointment hit hard; she shook her head. “It’s not possible,” she said slowly. “My brother would never have said that.”

            Miss Thane’s eyes widened. “Dear me, don’t tell me it’s not true! How very awkward for you, to be sure!”

            Miss Bingley’s common sense told her that it would only be worse for her if she did not confess the truth immediately, but that was very hard to do with her friend’s mocking eyes on her, and in her bosom she cherished the remnants of hope that this infatuation of Darcy’s would still, in the end, come to nothing. So she compromised. “The reports have beenexaggerated,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster. “Mr. Darcy and I have noofficial understanding. Andneither he nor I would want it to be spoken of so.” Miss Thane burst out laughing. “Indeed, Diana, you must deny it when you hear it,” she said with more earnestness, her cheeks growing flushed. “Say that I said it’s not right, that my brother was misunderstood. Mr. Darcy would be very displeased if he knew of it.” In that she knew she spoke nothing but the truth.

            But Miss Thane only appeared more amused. “Oh, I’ll tell them, all right,” she said, drawing her gloves back on. “But I don’t think they’ll believe it! Your brother may be indiscreet, or precipitous, but he’s not likely to claim you’re to marry Mr. Darcy without a good reason!”

            “But he never did say it!” Miss Bingley cried, growing more distressed as the enormity of the situation broke over her. “I don’t know how this story started, but it could not be with him!”

            “It must have been, Caroline,” replied the other frankly, “because no one would have believed it else! Very well! You’ve got a deep game to play, it seems. If he’s not yet asked you outright I can see you’d be in a delicate position. But it’s too late for subtlety now. You’ll have to throw yourself on his honor.” She smiled. “Cheer up! You may have just gained the leverage you need to clinch the deal! He won’t risk a scandal, I’m sure. I’ll come see you next week and you may tell me all about it then.”

            When she had gone, Caroline sat staring wretchedly at the wall. Why couldn’t I just have told her? she demanded of herself. I should have just said, “Mr. Darcy is not engaged to me; he’s engaged to someone else.” But even still the words made her flinch and cringe. She thought of the man she had tried so hard to attach, and what joy would now be hers if all these rumors had been true. What happiness, what satisfaction, what gloating! And all those insipid or preening or smug other women who threw themselves so disgracefully at Mr. Darcythey would all have had to keep their hands off him, and acknowledge defeat to hernot to little Eliza Bennet from the country!

            Then she thought of his handsome face, and that light in his eyes when he had looked at Miss Bennet at Pemberley. She had believed once that under his calm temper there must be passion. She had tried so hard to awaken it, until she finally came to the conclusion that it wasn’t there after all. Until that day. She had finally seen all the admiration and warmth she could ever have desired… but it wasn’t directed towards her.

            The doorbell rang, and she hastened to deny her caller. She was ill again, she said. She would see no one.


In the society section of a prominent London newspaper:

It has reached the ears of the Editor of this Publication that rumors are currently spreading that a certain Mr. D of Derbyshire, who has long been considered one of the great Matrimonial Prospects of the London season, has at last yielded to the blandishments of a certain Miss B, the sister to his good friend and close companion Mr. B. The handsome Mr. D and the stylish Miss B are certain to make one of the great Matches of the year, should such stories prove true, and the lady’s Triumph will be exceeded only by the Disappointment of other eligible misses, who had hoped to stand in her stead. Will P have a mistress at last? Friends and foes of both parties await eagerly the official announcement.


            “That scheming hussy!” cried Mrs. Middleton. “Do not speak to me of her! When I consider all the parties I invited him to, all the money I spent on gowns for all three of youthe flattery I paid him, the hints I gave him! If only just one of you had exerted yourself a little bit to please him!”

            “Mama, please!” whispered her youngest daughter, in some agony. She was a pretty child, with cherubic blue eyes and soft blonde curls. Mr. Darcy had danced with her once at a ball, at her mother’s insistence, and he had been really very kind to her, and talked to her so gently, even though he was cold to her mother. She thought him very handsome and romantic, and ever since then had had secret daydreams of a man with his tall figure and face, but not for the world would she hear her mother abusing him, or any woman he chose to honor with his love.

            “Oh, it’s all very well for you, my child, you’re young yet! But your sisters, now! Well, I would have thought he could have noticed at least one of you, before that Bingley woman. After all, our name is as old as his, and we’ve just as many lords in our family tree! Besides, my maternal aunt and his mother were third cousins. Doesn’t family count for anything anymore?”


            In a quiet, though affluent, lodging house, Mr. Niven Tutor stood by his window, staring down at the street. He was a young man, not handsome, but well-bred, with a lively eye and a modest manner. He was a friend of Charles Bingley’s, having known him at Cambridgehad been nearly his best friend, before Darcy. They were still friends, of course, but it wasn’t the same as it had been once. Watching the people promenading below now, he reflected that it had probably been inevitable… but still, he wished that just once Caroline Bingley would have looked at him.

            There had been a time, of course, when he hoped she might. She had seemed to be softening toward him; her manner was growing warmer and more familiar. He thought she no longer looked down her elegant nose at him so much. But then Bingley brought his new friend to dinner with him. He remembered that evening well… how Caroline’s eyes rested on the tall, inscrutable figure of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. Then she stood up from the settee where she had been sitting next to him, and walked away from him to Darcy; and even in that moment he understood there was a greater significance to that walk.

            Like others, he had never observed, in the times he’d seen them together, that Mr. Darcy had any particular preference for her company, and it angered him sometimes to see the man be so indifferent to the attentions of a woman like that. But so it always was with him. Cool, masterful, handsome, Mr. Darcy always attracted the attention of every woman in the room without opening his mouth, and his very imperviousness to female charms seemed to make them run mad. Add to that his wealth, and the glamor of an estate like Pemberley, and it was no wonder, he supposed, that half the women in London seemed to pine for him.

            As for Caroline, he supposed he really should be happy for her, that she finally had what she wanted, but he could not think it right that she marry a man who, whatever his reasons for choosing her, had never shown the least disposition towards loving her.

            Why am I so ineligible? he suddenly wondered savagely. I have a good name, and good connections. I even have money. But I don’t have Pemberleyor his face. Or that way of looking down on everyone. Maybe if I learned how to act haughtily and refused to dance, then Caroline would notice me. But nono, it’s too late now.

            Mr. Tutor turned away from his window and went to sit, alone in his room.


In the society section of another prominent London newspaper:

Could it be true? Could the wealthy and elusive Mr. D of P finally have fallen into the Parson’s Trap? After more than eight seasons among the most beautiful and eligible ladies of the ton, this gentlemen, whose handsome face and vast fortune are equaled only by his aloof demeanor, is finally rumored to be on the verge of, if not actually entered into, an Engagement. The fortunate lady, a Miss B, is well known to London society, as is her family’s intimacy with Mr. D,  a fact which is thought to have given her an advantage over all the other young ladies who were only recently vying for his Favor.


In breakfast and morning rooms in Mount St., St. James Square, Grosvenor Square, and Brook St.:

            [whatever sound having vapors makes]

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