"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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bingley's Blunder, chapter 3

It occurs to me that I perhaps ought to explain, for the uninitiated, that Matlock is the name which fanfiction has widely bestowed on Darcy's uncle the earl, who is not named in the book. I have always used it because it was convenient.

Chapter 3

“Bingley!” Mr. Darcy strode impatiently through the house, his voice and steps echoing against the high ceilings. “Bingley!”
A quiet cough behind him caused him to turn his head. Netherfield’s discreet butler murmured, “Mr. Bingley is at Longbourn today, I believe. He is not expected home for dinner.”

Darcy sighed, torn. He wanted very much to ride to Longbourn, where he could see Elizabeth, but private conversation would be nearly impossible there, and explaining his precipitous return to the Bennets was not something he wanted to do. “I will need a servant to take over a message for me,” he told the man.

“Very good, sir.”

His note was brief and to the point. BingleyDon’t tell the ladies, but make your excuses as soon as you can and come back to Netherfield. I need to talk to you. D

About an hour elapsed before a very curious-looking Mr. Bingley made his appearance. “Darcy! What is this about?”

Darcy looked at him over the rim of his wineglass. “I was wondering if you could tell me, Bingley, why it is that half of London currently thinks I’m engaged to be married to your sister?”

“ToCaroline?” A look of astonishment (not unmixed with unholy glee) crossed his face. “Are you serious?”
“Unhappily, quite serious.”

“They think you’re engaged to Caroline?” he repeated unsteadily, struggling to hide a burgeoning grin.

“Yes, yes!” said Darcy impatiently. “And apparently you, my friend, are the source of the rumor!”

“What?” All laughter disappeared from his face. “No, no, I assure you! I would never say such a thing!”

“And yet you said something! I spoke with your sister myself, and she assured me that you are credited. So what did you do, Charles? Who did you speak to, and what did you say?”

“Nothing!” He protested. “No one! I was scarcely in town for a day. I saw no one but my sisters and my solicitorand a business acquaintance or two, but we did not speak of you! Indeed, why should we?”

“You must have spoken to someone, Bingley! There was no rumor of my being engaged at all until you went to town, and immediately afterward this began. Now think, man! Did you speak to anyone at all about my engagement? Some chance acquaintance, perhaps?”

Bingley knit his brows. “Well…” he said slowly, “there were a couple of ladies in the street I greeted. MissLamb? And Mrs. Snitchwood?”

Darcy groaned. “Mrs. Snitchwood is one of the most indiscreet and gossipy women in all London. What did you tell them?”

“Nothing at all, I assure you! Nothing that they could have…” he trailed off slowly, as a look of consternation settled over him. “Oh,” he said at last.

Darcy waited. “Well?”

He shook his head. “Darcy, old man, I’m sorry.” A slow grin began to tug at the corners of his mouth.

Darcy rolled his eyes. “What was it?”

“Well, Ithat is to say“ he fidgeted, amusement fighting with chagrin on his face. “They asked how I was,” he blurted out, “so naturally I told them I was splendid because I was engaged, and then one of them asked me about you and I said that you were engaged too, and that… well, that….”

“Out with it, man!”

“I said we were to be brothers,” he finished sheepishly. Darcy groaned.

“Tell me you clarified that statement!”

“I got distracted! I saw this fellow I have long been wishing to speak to about a horse he has for sale; he was headed in the other direction, so naturally I had to go after him. It never occurred to me that my words would be taken in such a way!”

“Yes, it never occurred, because you didn’t think! You said the first thing that came into your mind, sharing news, I might add, that was not yours to impart, and then ran off the moment something else caught your interest. Bingley, I knew you to be impulsive, but this passes all bounds! You must learn to consider the effect of your actions before you carry them out! Now everyone in town believes me to be engaged to your sister. Even my aunt wrote to inform me of it! Do you realize the mortification this has caused to herwill cause her, when it becomes known that it isn’t true? And what if this comes to Elizabeth’s ears, or her father’s? I know he reads London papers sometimes! Can you imagine their displeasure?” Darcy had stood up and begun to pace around during this speech.

Bingley heard his reproof without resentment. Rather, he hung his head, properly chastised. “It is very bad, I know,” he agreed. “What can I do to set it right?”

“Set it right? I can only pray that I can be set right!” He frowned heavily, lost in thought for some minutes while Bingley watched anxiously. “We must put an announcement in the papers immediately,” he said. “I believe we should announce both of our engagements together, which will, I think, make it clear to most people how the mistake came to be. If necessary, I will speak to the editors of the papers myself. And as for you” he bent his gaze on his friend, “you will follow me back to town and pay a call immediately on Mrs. Snitchwood and Miss Lamb, and personally explain to them what you meant when you said that you and I are to be brothers.”

Bingley sighed. He was not at all happy to be leaving his dearest Jane again so soon, but in this case he clearly had no choice. “Very well, Darcy. Is there anything else?”

“You must help me in speaking to your sisters. You must impress upon them the necessity of their speaking well of Elizabeth.” They both knew neither woman was naturally inclined to do so. “If we want to avoid scandal it must be made absolutely clear that neither Miss Bingley nor I ever claimed the engagementthat it was a purely mistaken rumor. If it is seen that she is on good terms with my intendedthat she bears her no malice, and in fact finds it all quite amusingthat will help tremendously.” He looked seriously at his friend. “I am counting on you for this, Charles. Remind her that it is her own reputation that is at stake as well.”

Charles nodded. “Caroline does not lack for sense. She will do what is necessary, I am sure.”

Darcy sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I must away back to London immediately. There is no time to spare in setting this right! You will come tomorrow?”

“In the afternoon, yes. I have a meeting with my steward in the morning.”

“Very well. I will see you then.” Their farewell was as brief as their greeting, and as soon as his horse was rested, Darcy was back in the saddle.


            Mrs. Hurst was sitting with Miss Bingley when Mr. Darcy was announced the next morning. Caroline seized her sister’s hand and held it tightly for a moment. “Are you sure you can’t make him?” whispered Mrs. Hurst, but she shook her head emphatically, and shushed her.

            Darcy strode into the room and bowed to both ladies, offering a civil but brief greeting before turning to Miss Bingley. “Madam, I saw your brother yesterday, and have to report to you that you were correct: he was, unwittingly, the source of these false rumors.”

            “But that makes no sense,” protested Mrs. Hurst. “Why would Charles say such a thing?”

            He smiled wryly. “He did notprecisely.” He then proceeded to recount Bingley’s explanation with surprising good humor.

“Oh, howhow very like him!” exclaimed Caroline faintly.

“Indeed. He is truly penitent now, and he intends to return to town later today to support you, and to explain himself to the ladies that began all this. I have just come from visiting the offices of two major daily papers, where I personally spoke with the editors and requested that they announce the true details of my engagement, as well as your brother’s, tomorrow.” Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst both knew how much Mr. Darcy despised associating himself or his name with the papers, so his willingness to do this conveyed just how determined he was to set the rumors right immediately. “I am truly sorry, Miss Bingley,” he said sincerely, “that your name should have become involved with mine in such a manner, and for all the embarrassment I know this must have caused you. But you need not worry.” He rose to his feet. “After tomorrow—or the day after at the latestno one will ever suspect you of being engaged to me again.”

Miss Bingley looked away.

“My advice to you,” he continued, “is to act like nothing is wrong. Pay and receive visits as always. Talk about it as lightly as possible; laugh about it if you can. And,” he looked rather sternly at both her and Mrs. Hurst, “the more affection you can show when speaking about both Miss Bennets, the better it will be for you. Let the world see that all is well between our families, and they will quickly accept that it was a simple mistake, and that you are in no way to blame for it.”

“Th-thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she said with some difficulty. Then as he turned to go, she suddenly stood and called out after him, “Mr. Darcy!”

He paused. “Yes, Miss Bingley?”

“Mr. Darcy, I haveI have forgotten to inquire of you how you left Miss Bennet and her family. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I mean.”

“She was very well the last time I saw her, I thank you.” He turned again.

“Mr. Darcy!”

Again he paused. “Yes?”

“Mr. Darcy…” she bit her lip, then looked at him squarely. “Do you really love her?”

The look Mr. Darcy directed at her was not without understanding, and some sympathy. “I have loved her for a long time,” he said.

“Then” she took a deep breath, and then let it go. “I wish you both very happy.”

“Thank you, Caroline,” he answered, using her given name for the first and only time. He fitted his hat back on his head, nodded to both ladies, and left.

            Mr. Darcy’s fourth stop of the morning was his uncle’s house. It was his aunt he came primarily to see, of course. His uncle was a mild-mannered, retiring man, the very opposite of his sister, who generally deferred to his wife’s judgment in all things.

Lady Matlock looked up when he was shown in, and extended her hand for him to kiss. “There you are! I have been wondering if you were planning on calling and explaining yourself!”

“My apologies, Aunt. I have been out of town, and my staff failed to forward your note to me. I only received it yesterday.”

She gestured at a chair, and he took it. “I hope you are going to set my mind at ease, Darcy.”

“I hope so too.”

“Don’t be so teasing! Tell me outright: are you going to marry that Bingley woman?”

“I am not.”

She nodded with satisfaction. “And I said as much to that fool woman who tried to assure me it was true. Do you have any idea how the rumor got started? It wasn’t she, was it, in an attempt to force you? All of London knows she’s been dangling after you for the last two years!”

He sighed. His aunt was only so brutally frank in private, but it still sometimes discomposed him a bit. “It was a misunderstanding based on something my friend Bingley said. May I ask you if you have received any recent correspondence from Lady Catherine?”

She looked at him speculatively. “Yes, she’s written, but I haven’t been in the mood for her humors recently, so I haven’t read any of it. Should I?”

“That is for you to decide, but I am grateful for the chance to inform you first of a circumstance that has greatly displeased her.”

“Well, it doesn’t take much to do that usually.”

He paused.

“Out with it!”

“There is a part of that rumor that you should know is true. I am not going to be married to Caroline Bingley, but I am going to be married.”

His aunt’s eyes widened. “Indeed! And when were you going to tell us of this?”


Her eyes gleamed, but she shook her head sternly. “And pray tell, how long have you been engaged?”

“About two weeks, madam. This is my first trip back into town since then, and I thought it better to speak to you in person than to write.”

“Why? You haven’t made an unsuitable alliance, have you, Darcy?”

“I trust you will not think so,” he answered, but so seriously that the anxious look stayed on her face.

“The Darcys have always been proud, and you the proudest of them. Are you going to tell me now that you’ve chosen someone your parents would have disliked?”

“No.” He smiled now. “No, I believe my parents would have liked her very much. Georgiana is delighted with her. Her family, I own, is not what I would have chosen, had I chosen her for her family, but she is a gentleman’s daughter, and a true lady herself. And I did not choose her for her family,” he told her firmly.

“Why did you choose her then?” she asked, watching his face closely.

He looked her in the eye. “I chose her because I love her.”

“Well that’s something, anyway. But are you sure you haven’t entangled yourself with a girl who is unfit for the sphere you function in? Who is she? Do I know her? It isn’t that Marlburg woman, is it?” 

“Certainly not.”

“Or Eleanor Jurbish? Or Alice Simmons?”

He shook his head impatiently. “None of them,” he said with dismissive contempt. “The woman I am to marry is completely unknown to London society, though you may perhaps have heard her name.”

As he was speaking, a voice and a quick step had been heard in the hall; the door opened; Colonel Fitzwilliam entered. “Good morning to you, Mother!” he said cheerfully. “Darcy, old fellow! I thought you were in the country!”

“I was,” said Darcy, rising to give him his hand.

“Richard, you have interrupted at quite the wrong time!” his mother said.

“Why, is Darcy telling you secrets?”

“Not with you here.”

“Oh, in that case!” he turned toward the door. Darcy spoke.

“No, stay, Fitzwilliam! I am telling news, but no secrets.”

“News? What kind of news?”

“Your cousin says he’s getting married!”

“Getting married!” Fitzwilliam turned astonished eyes on him. “You?”

“I, cousin!” Darcy smiled. “In fact,” he added deliberately, “you know the lady.”

Fitzwilliam laughed. “I know a lot of ladies, Darcy! Does my mother know her too?”

“No, not yet. It is not anyone in London,” he added. His eyes looked steadily at the colonel’s as the older man searched his mind in vain.

“A lady I know, not in London? Why must you make me guess, Darcy?”

“Because I am curious to see if you will.”

The colonel furrowed his brow. “Have we been in company with this lady together?”

“Yes, we have. On numerous occasions, in fact.”

“But I haven’t even seen much of you since” Fitzwilliam’s eyes widened suddenly. Darcy’s even gaze did not falter. “Why, you sly dog!” he cried. “Is that why you were so silent and stupid the whole time, and glowered at me whenever I talked of her? You should have told me to keep my hands off of her!”

“If I had had the slightest real concern that you woulderput your hands on her,” replied Darcy calmly, leaning back in his chair, “then I assure you I would have.”

“So instead you sat by and let me flirt with the woman you were in love with!”

“Well you did have your uses, you know. You got her to talk, which was more than I could do then.”

“But who is it?” cried her ladyship. “I demand to know at once whom you are speaking of!” Darcy just looked at the colonel, his brows raised slightly.

The colonel turned to his mother. “Well, ma’am, unless I am very much mistakenand if I am I’m about to put my foot in itour Darcy’s engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” Darcy smiled his approbation, and Fitzwilliam exclaimed, “There! Upon my word, I congratulate you, cousin! She will make you a delightful wife.”

“Thank you.” A spot of color rose in each cheek.

His aunt was frowning. “Elizabeth Bennet? I have heard the name, but I do not immediately remember where.”

“It was from me. I met her when Darcy and I stayed at Rosings over Easter. Her cousin is Aunt Catherine’s vicar, and she was visiting at the parsonage. We saw a great deal of her.”

“And did Catherine approve of her?”

Darcy answered her. “At the time, I believe she liked her quite well, although Elizabeth did express more opinions than she was accustomed to.” A smile flickered around his mouth.

“But I don’t understand,” said Fitzwilliam. “When did this happen?”

“About two weeks ago.”

“Butyou’ve been in love with her since the spring?”

“Longer, actually.” Darcy got up and poured himself a drink, fighting rare self-conscious shyness. “I first fell in love with her in Hertfordshire last autumn.” He turned his eyes to his astonished aunt. “So you may rest assured, Aunt, that this is not hastily done on my part.”

“But if you’ve known your own desires so long, then why weren’t you married months ago? What took you so long?”

Darcy stared at the liquid in his glass and did not immediately reply. It was Lady Matlock who eventually broke the silence. “You don’t mean to say she wouldn’t have you?”

“No, madam,” he replied in a level voice, “she wouldn’t.” Then he smiled. “Until now.”

“Well!” She subsided into thoughtful silence.

Fitzwilliam was shaking his head. “Now I know what to make of your black moods! You were thwarted in love, by Jove! I can only hope your present happiness makes up for your unhappiness then!”

Darcy sighed and smiled even more. Aunt and cousin exchanged an amused look. “More than sufficiently. I am indeed the happiest of men,” he acknowledged.

“But who is she?” asked Lady Matlock. “Who is her family?”

“Her father, Mr. Bennet, is a gentleman. He owns a modest estate outside of Meryton, called Longbourn. I believe it has been in the family for several generations. It is unfortunately entailed, and since he and Mrs. Bennet have no sons, it will devolve, upon his death, to that same Mr. Collins, Elizabeth’s cousin whom she was staying with in Hunsford. Her elder sister, Miss Jane Bennet, is to marry my good friend, Mr. Charles Bingley.” He looked at the countess gravely. “She has no fortune, and no connections to speak ofwhich did prevent me from initially forming any serious designs on her. I became convinced in time, though, that she herself more than makes up for any drawbacks of that kind, and remain even more convinced of it now. And since she was by no means eager to receive my attentions, you may acquit her of fortune hunting.”

He put his glass down and stood up. “Since I am sure whatever I might say in Miss Bennet’s praise will be immediately considered suspect, I will instead leave that for my cousin. You will,” he said, smiling, “do her justice, I know, Richard. Madam, I must bid you good day.” He bent over his aunt’s hand.

“Will I like her, Darcy?” she asked.

“I think you will. But” he picked up his hat and gloves. “I am going to marry her regardless.”

That made her laugh. “Good! You always were entirely too sure of yourself for such a young man, but this is one thing a man should be sure about.”

“Thank you, Aunt.” He paused at the door. “My Aunt Catherine is very angry. I wish you would not credit whatever she may say about Elizabeth.”

“No, no, I shall wait and judge for myself.” He thanked her again, made his last goodbyes, and left.

“Well!” she exclaimed, looking at her son’s twinkling eyes. “What kind of woman is she, Richard?”

“A charming one, I assure you.”

“You don’t need to tell me that! You don’t suppose a man like Darcy would fall in love with a woman who wasn’t exceptionally charming? But what is she like? What of her temperament, her manners, her appearance?”

He reflected. “She’s pretty, though not extraordinarily so. She has a great deal of spirit and vivacity that increases her prettiness whenever she’s talkingand she talks very well, with wit and clever opinions on everythingthe kind that amuse but don’t offend,” he added. “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed conversing with a woman more. She never showed the slightest sign of being intimidated by Lady Catherine, and Darcy’s right, I can’t recall that she ever paid much attention to him at all. When they did speak, she teased him amazingly. I remember being quite surprised at it.”

“Many women try to tease Darcy.”

“Not like this. She wasn’t teasing to get a compliment from him. She waswell, frankly, looking back, she was making veiled insults, I suppose, but delivered with such a sweet archness of manner that it’s not surprising he wasn’t offended. On the contrary, I think he liked it.”

“And did you have no suspicion of his being attached to her?”

“I thought he admired her. He certainly looked at her enough. But as for his trying to attach herI never saw any evidence of it. He spoke less than I’ve ever seen him do in my lifein small groups, I mean. I assumed her lack of connection prevented him from acting on whatever attraction he felt.”

Her ladyship gave a very unladylike snort. “It would be just like Darcy to make up his mind to marry a woman without bothering to pay her any attentions, and then be astonished when she didn’t immediately accept him. He has had far too much of his own way for most of his life.” Then, as Fitzwilliam burst out laughing, she asked, “Well? What is it?”

“Oh, just that I remember Miss Bennet saying something very like that once.”

“About Darcy?”

“About Darcy.”

“Well! Perhaps she has some sense, then. Darcy has plenty enough money, and pride, and good connections. It won’t hurt him to marry a little beneath him, if he can get himself a wife who’ll teach him not to take himself so seriously, and to laugh a bit more.”

“Miss Bennet laughs a great deal, I promise you.”

“So much the better. Now where is that letter from Catherine? She must be absolutely mortified to find out that Darcy prefers a country nobody to her daughter! It will be vastly entertaining.”

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!”

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]