"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

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bingley's Blunder, chapter 2

            Mr. Darcy arrived in town about a week after Bingley had left. He had been reluctant to leave Elizabeth so soon after their engagement, but there were matters to be attended to regarding their marriage and he was not one to put off things. He hoped to be finished within three days, and so back to Hertfordshire. He did not anticipate returning to London again until he brought his wife with him.
            He first encountered Mrs. Polly Wilkins in the street outside his own townhouse. She was a very slight acquaintance, and would normally have received no more than a nod from him, but she looked at him with such bright, interested eyes that, mindful of his determination to not appear proud, he paused and addressed her. “Good morning, ma’am. How are you?”

            “Oh, well, Mr. Darcy!” she said eagerly. “And as for you, I need not ask, I’m sure!”

            “No, I am quite well,” he replied, surprised.

            “I hear that we are to wish you happy, sir!”

            At that a smile flickered across his facea nearly unconscious one, but so eloquent of an almost bashful happiness that she was quite amazed, and immediately discounted all the ill-natured people who claimed he didn’t love her. “It’s true,” he admitted, “I am recently engaged, though I am surprised that you have heard of it.”

            “Indeed I have, sir! We have all been talking about Mr. Darcy’s marriage, and what a splendid match it is!”

            At that his eyebrows went up, but all he said was, “Thank you.”

            “Such a comfort it must be to all your family and friends to see you so amiably established, sir. Such a suitable young woman, in every way!”

            Before he could respond to this astonishing approbation, she had hailed a passing friend. “Mr. Gerard, sir, good day! Here is Mr. Darcy, to whom I have just been offering my congratulations on his forthcoming marriage! I was just saying what a particularly pleasing connection it is.”

            “Ay, yes!” responded the man promptly. “A very charming, well-bred lady, I understand. I do not believe I have the honor of her acquaintance just yet, but I hope you may be persuaded to present her to me in the near future.”

            “We do notanticipate being in town for some time,” Darcy managed.

            “Such a charming couple as you will make, Mr. Darcy!” Mrs. Wilkins effused. “I declare I was quite delighted when my sister told me of it. You did catch us all by surprise, though!”

            “Aye, never had a notion of it!”

            Darcy paused a moment, nearly bereft of speech, then finally managed to thank them and excuse himself. The officious nature of their congratulations had offended his fastidious taste, but more than that, it had amazed and perplexed him. That he could never be ashamed of Elizabeth, and had determined not to be ashamed of her connections, was certain, but that news of his engagement would be received with uncritical delight by London society had certainly never occurred to him. Was it just deference for him, or good manners that led to it?

            His astonishment did not decrease during the course of the morning. Everywhere he went he was accosted by people wishing him happy and seemingly eager to sing the praises of his future bride. While such words were gratifying (and Darcy was far too happy in love not to reveal at least a little of what he felt on his face), they were also slightly unnerving. He had no idea where these people were getting their information from, so he did not linger long with anyone, but continued on his way as quickly as possible. By the time he had heard the words “handsome,” “charming,” “accomplished” and “suitable” for about the fourth time he began to wonder if this was Bingley’s sisters’ doing. It was possible that, in view of their forthcoming connection with Miss Jane Bennet, they had decided to spread tales promoting both women’s consequence. The idea of Miss Bingley singing Elizabeth’s praises made him smile, but he sighed, and wished they had just stayed out of it.


            In the business quarter of town he ran into Sir Gerald Cumming. Sir Gerald was an old man and notoriously forgetful, but he had been a friend of Darcy’s father, so he stopped to greet him and inquire after his health.

            “What’s this I’ve been hearing, eh, Darcy, aboutnow, what was it?—have you bought some new horse? Or was it a house?”

            “I’m getting married, sir,” said Darcy with that involuntary, transforming smile.

            “Oh yes, of course! Congratulations! Getting married to that young ladywhat’s her name?—Miss B he frowned. “Miss B…B…

            Bennet,” finished Darcy for him. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

            “Oh yes, that was it! No” he frowned again, “it wasn’t. It was something else.”

            “No, sir, it is Miss Bennet, I assure you.”

            “No,” disagreed Sir Gerald with unexpected obstinacy. “You’ve got the wrong one! The one I heard about was a Miss B… B…”

            Bennet,” said Darcy again, with emphasis, torn between impatience and amusement. “I can remember the name of the lady I proposed marriage to, Sir Gerald.”

            “What? Oh, well, if you insist. I daresay the other Miss whatever was all a mistake. As long as she’ll make you happy, sir!”

            “I am certain she shall.” They parted and Darcy went on his way feeling rather bemused. After he had seen his solicitor, he decided not to walk any more, but took a hackney cab to a jeweler’s shop, where he had a mind to buy a gift for Elizabeth.

            It was customary for a man to give jewelry as an engagement present, but as Darcy’s eyes ran over the diamonds and sapphires and rubies on display, he hesitated, unsure of how his proud Elizabeth would perceive a gift so costly. Would she see it as a reminder of his superior wealth, or an attempt to somehow improve her? Yet it went against the grain with him to purchase anything inferior, especially for the woman he loved. His eyes went back to the rubies. He would like to see rubies in Elizabeth’s pretty hair, and against her soft skin. Would she accept them as he intended themin love? He hoped so. For a long time he studied the various sets the smiling proprietor brought forward. Some he rejected as too elaborate, or inappropriate for a young woman. The rest he fretted over, unsure. Finally he asked himself which one Elizabeth herself would chooseand instantly his eyes went to the simplest of the sets: a hairpiece, a necklace, and a bracelet, with graceful but plain settings. The rubies themselves, rich and brilliant and glossy, needed no further adornment. Like her. “I’ll take these,” he said. Then, as the man went to wrap it up, he let his eyes run over the other items set out for display. All at once, his attention rested on a small pearl pin in the shape of a flower. In his mind’s eyes he could see Elizabeth wearing it, pinned gaily to the front of even her simple morning frocks. “I’ll take that too,” he said.

            Turning around he almost collided with Miss Amelia Wasson, a most fashionable young lady with twenty thousand pounds who had spent the last winterthe one he spent trying not to think about Elizabethdoing her best to attract his attention. Miss Wasson had a pair of very pretty dark eyes that had, for a time, reminded him of Miss Bennet’s, and so he had danced twice with her at the same ball and attempted to make conversation with her at an evening party soon afterwards. She was a lively woman, with quite a bit of wit of her own, and he had been determined to discover if she could awaken the same feelings in him that her country counterpart did. But somehow nothing she said ever pleased him the same way that all of Miss Bennet’s speeches pleased him, and the expression in her eyes was not quite what he was looking for. His initial display of interest soon gave way to coolness, and Miss Wasson, who had preened herself regally after her triumph, was left to wonder what had gone wrong.

            She had come into the shop to speak with him, had he known it, having seen him through the window. That he was buying jewelry for a woman was obvious (and it quite made her burn with envy to see those rubies he had chosen), but Miss Wasson had not yet been able to bring herself to completely believe the rumors that had flown over town. It just did not seem to be possible. She determined to find out the truth for herself immediately.

            “Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed with her charming smile, extending one hand. He bent over it perfunctorily. “I declare, sir, you have quite astonished us all!”

            “So I understand,” he said slowly.

            “There has been weeping in drawing rooms all across London these seven days, sir!”

            “I think you exaggerate, ma’am.”

            “Indeed, I do not! I assure you, Miss Bingley is the luckiest woman in all England!” She watched his face closely, and was satisfied to see a sudden look of astonishment and uneasiness.

            “Miss Bingley?”

            “Why, yes!” She opened up her eyes very wide. “Do not tell me I am mistaken, sir! How embarrassing!”

            “You are mistaken if you think that there is anything more than common friendship between myself and Miss Bingley,” he said a little sharply. “May I know where you got your information from?”

            Feeling far too maliciously pleased to reveal the whole truth to him, she said rather coyly, “Oh, I am afraid it must be all my fault. I did hearindeed I believe I heard that you had formed an engagementand I thought it was Miss Bingley who was spoken of, but I am sure now I must have been mistaken!”

            He frowned, and drew himself up in unconscious hauteur. Miss Bennet would have recognized that look. “Indeed, madam, you are.” There was a pause, before, relenting a little, remembering the rumor that had first set Lady Catherine off not a month before, he said, “I believe, perhaps, that the intimacy between our two families may be to blame for such a supposition. May I ask if you have spoken to anyone else of this?”

            “Why, no one in the world,” she lied.

            “Then let me correct you now.” He turned to take his packages from the proprietor. “The lady who has done me the honor of accepting my hand in marriage is a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, from Hertfordshire.” Unaware of the effect of this announcement on his companion, he was about to bow, when she spoke.

            “FromHertfordshire?” she asked faintly.

            “Hertfordshire,” he said firmly. “She is the daughter of a country gentlemen living near Meryton. Her elder sister is to be married to Miss Bingley’s brother, Mr. Charles Bingley.”

            “Oh.” She couldn’t immediately think of anything else to say. He bowed, and was about to depart, when she stopped him yet again. “She must be a very special young woman indeed, to have earned your regard, Mr. Darcy.”

            He paused, again with that softened expression which, for those who knew him, spoke more eloquently than all of Mr. Bingley’s smiles. “She certainly is, Miss Wasson.” With a final nod he strode out of the shop.

            To describe Mr. Darcy as irritated at Miss Wasson’s mistake would be an understatement; but still, no real presentiment of the truth had as yet crossed his mind. The idea that the whole of London believed him engaged to the wrong woman was too absurd to even consider, although he did wonder if anyone else might have made the same mistake she had. He supposed it was due to the obscurity of Miss Bennet and her connections, and sighed over it, but did not trouble himself unduly. All in all, his satisfaction over his purchases overcame his irritation.

            For dinner that day, he decided to repair to White’s, that most exclusive of gentlemen’s clubs. Nor did he meet anyone on the way, which improved his mood even more. Once there, he took a seat by the fire, stretched his long legs out, ordered a meal, and was settling down to pleasant daydreams of his ladylove, when the Hon. George Haversham spotted him. If the Hon. George Haversham had been rather older and rather wiser, he would never have approached the formidable Mr. Darcy so freely, but he was neither of those things, which undoubtedly accounts for the following conversation.

            “Darcy!” he cried, striding up to him. Mr. Darcy looked up in surprise and disdain. “There you are!” He dropped into the chair next to him and leaned forward, waggling his finger under his nose. “I have to say I’m disappointed in you, Darcy! Very disappointed indeed! You let us down, old man!”

            Darcy frowned coldly at him. “Us?”

            “Us!” He flung his arms out. “All of us! Or nearly all! Not to mention mankind! What do you mean by it, eh? Disappointing all our hopes!” Darcy stared, not knowing how to respond. The younger man sat back. “By George, you owe me three hundred pounds, you do!”

            “I, sir? You must be mistaken.”

            “I could have sworn,” he continued heedlessly, “that you were the coldest-blooded devil about! What do you mean by turning reverse on yourself, eh?”

            “I cannot pretend to understand what you mean.”

            “Women, man! Women! If anyone should have been able to hold out against ‘em, it should’ve been you! Oh, there were some who said she’d get you!” He leaned forward again, gesturing wildly. “But I didn’t believe it! I put my money where my mouth was, too, and now I’ve got to pay! I still can’t believe you” (he was proceeding from reckless to foolhardy very quickly) “would allow that woman to get her talons into you!”

            Darcy stiffened even more, and his face grew quite pale with anger. “Sir, if you are referring to the lady who is to become my wife

            “I guess her schemes finally got to be too much for you, eh? Couldn’t put up with it, so decided to marry her to keep her quiet? Mind, I don’t say it won’t work, but it isn’t what I would have chosen!”

            Darcy jerked to his feet furiously. “How dare you!” he hissed. “You, sir, have no right to speak of my betrothed in that way!”

            Taken aback, the Hon. George threw up his hands. “Now, now, don’t take such offense! I didn’t mean

            “To impugn the character of the woman I love?” he demanded, losing his usual composure and reserve together. “I will have you know, Mr. Haversham, that Miss Bennet is a woman of impeccable virtue and integrity, and I will personally demand satisfaction from any man who dares to say differently!”

            But rather than being overawed by this threat, Mr. Haversham just stared up at him with an expression of rather puzzled stupidity. “Miss Bennet?” he repeated, shaking his head. “I wasn’t talking about any Miss Bennet! It’s the Bingley woman I meant!”

            Darcy’s mouth fell open. “Bingley?”

            “Yes, yes, the tall one with the hair like” he gestured with his hand to show what Miss Bingley’s hair was like. “Been after you for years! She’s the one I put my money against.” Then he brightened. “Do you mean to say that she hasn’t caught you? Well, by Jove, that restores my faith in humanity, it does! And it’ll be Caldicott who owes me money now!” He chuckled, rubbing his hands together.

            Darcy sat back down again, not feeling entirely steady. “My good man,” he began, addressing Mr. Haversham in a carefully controlled tone, “Please be clear with me. Did you hear a rumor that I am engaged to Miss Bingley?”

 “Heard it?” He snorted. “It’s all over townand what counts more, it’s all over White’s. And Brooks's. They’re settling up the bets already.”

The other turned pale again, this time for a different reason. “Well, content yourself, sir,” he said at last, coldly. “I am not engaged to Miss Bingleynor shall I ever be! You may tell everyone of your acquaintance I said so.” He strode out of the club, not even waiting for his lunch.

Caroline Bingley, in the meantime, had spent most of the week hiding. She had asked Mr. and Mrs. Hurst to do their best to squelch the rumor, which they did, but without much success. The general opinion of those who heard their contradiction was that Mr. Bingley had been precipitousMr. Darcy had not actually proposed, but was certainly planning on doing so. Or, thought some, it was all a plot to trick him into committing himself. Some did accept the denial, with an amused titter, or lift of the eyebrow. Still, the word that they were engaged flew faster than the word that they weren’t.

            She did, however, have one morning of sublime triumph which offered her some small consolation for the mortifications which were surely to follow. It was on Tuesday, when Louisa finally coaxed her out to a shop on Bond Street, that Caroline, walking along with her eyes nervously downcast, heard something akin to a hiss. She looked up and saw Miss Grey, staring at her with sullen, resentful eyes. Seizing the moment, Miss Bingley instantly smiled her most condescending smile, graciously inclined her head, and swept out of the shop.

             From that point on she began to enjoy herself. Although wisely refusing to stop and actually talk to anyone, she sailed along with her head held high, bowing right and left in queenly fashion to all her acquaintances (particularly her female acquaintances) whom she happened to see, and enjoying the chagrined and envious stares of more than one young woman who had cherished her own designs on the handsome and rich young Mr. Darcy.

            It wasn’t until she got home that she allowed herself to remember that the triumph she was taking credit for actually belonged to a pert young lady from Hertfordshire. Then she broke down and cried for an hour at least, while Mrs. Hurst murmured soothing platitudes and handed her hankies. She wondered if she should write to her brother, or worse yet Mr. Darcy, and what the man himself would say when he found out the truth.

             “Do you not think, my dear,” began Mrs. Hurst hesitantly, “that there is even the slightest chance that Mr. Darcy would decide not to cause a public scandal by denying the report, but instead agree to it?”

            “Oh, if only I could, Louisa!” she sniffed. “But there is no hope, I am quite certain. Mr. Darcy has always been most disdainful of the opinions of othersquite rightly, I am sure. And it is not as if he has compromised me!”

             “No, to be sure, although I have begun to wonder if it might be nearly as good. Surely he could be brought to realize the measure of embarrassment and even disgrace that might fall on you, should you be blamed for this! I cannot imagine him really so attached to Eliza Bennet as to forget his sense of honor!”

            “But he has made her a promise!” she almost wailed. “And you know Mr. Darcy would never go back on a promise! At least he will never be able to find anyone who’ll say I told them I was engaged to him. I am innocent! He must realize it!”

             “And so he shall, dear,” replied the other placidly, patting her hand. “And so he shall.”    


            Mr. Darcy stalked into his townhouse. His butler took one look at him and resigned himself to the fact that his master’s extreme good spirits had apparently deserted him again. “Do you have a daily paper?” he demanded.

            The man immediately offered an assortment of local papers. Darcy picked one up and turned to the society columns, scanning quickly. Nothing. That meant little, though; the story could have run days ago. He sighed, and tossed it aside. If he could let George Wickham’s barbed lies roll off his back, he could let this pass, tooat least as far as the newspapers went. A tray full of mail lay awaiting his attention; he turned through it rapidly, stopping at a letter marked as coming from his aunt, Lady Matlock. “Why wasn’t this forwarded to me at Netherfield?” he asked.

            “I am sorry, sir. The under butler was to have seen to itI will speak to him, at once.”

            “Yes, well, never mind.” Finally casting aside his overcoat, he took his letter into the library with him, where he opened it with a bottle of good burgundy.

You may imagine, my Dear Nephew, my surprise at being informed, this morning, by a quite distant acquaintance, that you are engaged to be married to Caroline Bingley. She seemed completely confident of the veracity of this report. I, of course, told her it was not true, as I am certain that you would never enter into an engagement without informing your family at once. I advise you to make haste in correcting this rumor, as it appears widespread and generally accepted. If it is, however, true, then I suppose there is nothing more to be said, except that I am surprised at you, both for your behavior towards us, and in your choice of a woman I know you to have little admiration and less affection for. You are a greater fool than I believed if you tie yourself down to one such as her.

      I remain, however, your affectionate aunt, etc, etc.

            Darcy set his teeth, his frustration rising. One of his reasons for coming to town had been to acquaint his aunt and uncle with his engagement, but this was not what he had in mind. He had to find a way to get this sorted out before speaking to them.

            Darcy glanced at the clock. It was not yet too late for afternoon callers. He turned on his heel and went back out.


            Although Miss Bingley had given instructions that she was not at home to visitors, the elderly butler who opened the door to the house recognized in Mr. Darcy a personage who was always received. “If you’ll wait here, sir, I will see if Miss Bingley is at home,” he said formally.

            “Thank you. Please tell her that it is urgent that I speak to her immediately.”

            The man bowed, and carried his message upstairs to the sitting room where Miss Bingley was trying to occupy herself with some needlework. “Mr. Darcy is here and desires a word with you, madam,” he told her. “He says it is urgent.”

            Miss Bingley turned pale, and started up. “No, no, I cannot see him!” she cried. Then“Wait! No, I shall have to see him, I suppose. He will think it’s all my fault otherwise.”

            The butler received this confidence expressionlessly. “Shall I show him up, then, madam?”

            She closed her eyes, and nodded wretchedly. He withdrew, and she began to smooth her skirt nervously, and checked her hair in the mirror. Dared she hope he knew nothing of the rumors? That he might be here to see her for herself?

            Very soon the door opened again, and Mr. Darcy walked in. He looked just the same, to her eyes. Neither happiness nor distress disturbed the calmness of his manner as he bowed to her and greeted her civilly.

            “Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed. “I did not know you were in town! How long have you been here?”

            “I arrived only yesterday.”

            “Oh. And how did you leave… everyone?”

            “Well enough.” He frowned. “Miss Bingley, it pains me to speak to you about this, but since I arrived in town I have become aware of certain … rumors that appear to have become alarmingly prevalent.”

            “Oh, Mr. Darcy!” she exclaimed before he could go any further. “I have not known what to do! It’s not my fault, truly it isn’t; I swear I didn’t say anything to give rise to themI wasn’t even aware of it for several days myself!”

            “I am not accusing you, ma'am,” he said a bit stiffly. “However, I am sure you appreciate my concern. Do you have any notion how these rumors could have gotten started?”

             “Everyone says it was Charles!”

             “Charles?” His eyebrows rose. “Really?”

            “Yes, it was something he said when he was in townoh, I don’t know what it was, no one seems to remember, but something concerning his engagement and… and yours, and somehow he left the impression that… well…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it, but stood wringing her hands anxiously. “I have tried to contradict it, and Louisa and Harold have too, but nothing seems to have any effect.” His frown continued to deepen, his expression growing more and more forbidding, and soon she was nearly in tears. “Please, Mr. Darcy, you must believe me; it is not my fault.”

            His expression lightened as he realized her misery. “Do not you distress yourself,” he told her. “I am sorry this has caused you such embarrassment. I will take care of it immediately.” He turned to go.

            “Where are you going?” she called after him.

             “Why, to see Charles, of course!”

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