To commemorate our second anniversary, we invite you, our loyal readers and friends, to join us this month at Austen Variations. We have grand plans! For February, we intend to share the endearing moments of Jane Austen’s beloved characters as they celebrate their own anniversaries.
When we asked our readers for suggestions about anniversaries they would like us to write about, someone suggested it might be fun to see how Caroline Bingley celebrated the first anniversary of the big double wedding. The idea captured my imagination and here’s the result.
Caroline had not started out with a plan to drink to excess; it just happened spontaneously when she discovered a bottle of brandy hidden in a vase in the upstairs hallway. Undoubtedly, her brother-in-law, who dearly loved his brandy, had placed it there. Her sister Louisa had been trying to cajole him into reducing his consumption, and he must have secreted this one away so he could have an extra nip from time to time. Caroline reasoned she was actually helping her sister by removing temptation from Mr. Hurst’s path. Checking to make sure no servants were observing, she concealed the bottle in the folds of her gown and hurried to her room.
Once in her room, she considered the bottle. She had never tasted brandy. Deciding to satisfy her curiosity, she found a glass and opened the bottle. At the first sip she nearly choked. Ack! How did men drink this? It was vile! The second glass, however, was quite soothing. The third and fourth went down even more easily.
Caroline was certain no one could condemn her for taking a drink on a day like this, the first anniversary of what she had officially declared “the worst day of her life.” It was worse than the time her brother had pushed her head first into a pond when she was wearing her new gown. Of course, that was complicated by the fact she was not supposed to be wearing it outside, as it had been purchased specifically for a party to which she was invited. Much to her mortification, she’d been forced to wear an old gown to the event. It was worse than when she was seven years old and realized for the first time that being a gentleman’s daughter was not something you could become by acquiring good manners and nice clothes. You had to be born that way. It was ever so much worse than the day at Miss Henrietta’s School for Young Ladies when Lady Elizabeth March humiliated her by calling her a “cit.” Yes, the name “Elizabeth” had always been unlucky for her.
Today was worse than all of those events combined. It was the anniversary of her brother’s wedding to Jane Bennet, and thus, also the anniversary of Mr. Darcy’s marriage to Elizabeth Bennet. In other words, the end of all her dreams of becoming the mistress of Pemberley. Caroline had held out hope up until the last moment that Mr. Darcy would realize his mistake. Barring that, she prayed for lightning to strike Elizabeth on her way to the church. At the wedding, she contemplated jumping up and objecting when the minister asked if anyone knew of any impediments to the marriage, but somehow she could not further humiliate herself by shouting, “He was supposed to marry me!” when that was not exactly true. Darcy had flirted with her. She had been sure of it at the time, but now looking back, she could not be quite certain.
Caroline cringed as she remembered the set down Darcy had given her at Pemberley the summer before the wedding, “For it has been many months since I have considered her the handsomest woman of my acquaintance.” Oh, her poor, wounded heart! That was when she first began to realize he was lost to her.
She refilled her glass. How many had she had? Four? Five? She swirled the contents around, took a ladylike sip, and began to plot how she was going kill Elizabeth Bennet. Errr…Elizabeth Darcy. She could barely make her mouth form those offensive words. Yes, she must devise a plan to efficiently and painfully kill Elizabeth!
First, she thought of a knife but rejected it as too messy. So much blood and she might stain one of her beautiful gowns in the process. Next, she considered poison, surely an effective and unpleasant way to die. In her mind’s eye, she could see Elizabeth’s hands flailing at her throat as the poison did its deadly work until the light flickered out forever from those “fine eyes.” Caroline’s gleeful giggle rose but fell quickly when she realized she had no idea how to obtain poison, let alone how she might put it in something Elizabeth would consume. She did not want risk poisoning Darcy or anyone else.
A venomous snakebite she dismissed as impractical. Where would she find a snake in the city, and if she did, who could she coerce into placing it in Elizabeth’s room? She would never touch a snake! It was much too disgusting. Hiring someone to assist her opened up the potential she might be blackmailed at some later date, which would then necessitate her killing her accomplice, too. Very messy.
It would be easy work to go out walking with Elizabeth, and once they were out of sight of all the watchful eyes, push her nemesis off a cliff to her death. Unfortunately, there were no cliffs nearby in London, and she had not been invited to Pemberley since the wedding.
Recently, Caroline heard Elizabeth was learning to ride. She wondered if it would be possible to steal into the mews one morning before Elizabeth’s riding lesson and loosen the girth on the saddle so she would fall off the horse, hopefully to her death. Unfortunately, Caroline had never saddled her own horse, and so she had no idea what to loosen that would result in the saddle coming off at the exactly the right moment when the horse was going fast enough to do some real damage. The same was true for a carriage accident. So many straps and buckles! Which ones should she loosen? No, that would never do. Besides, she might break a fingernail in the process.
Reclining on the settee in her room, she held out her hand so she could better admire her graceful fingers and beautifully manicured nails. There must be another way.
A gun. Yes, a gun. Messy but effective. She had accompanied her father on one of his hunting trips years ago and had even fired a hunting rifle, although not with much accuracy. But if she was close enough to Elizabeth, accuracy would not matter. The problem was she had never loaded her own gun and had only a vague idea of how it was accomplished. She groaned miserably. Why did they not teach her something useful at Miss Henrietta’s School?
Pouring herself another glass of the delicious, magic liquid, she pondered if it might be possible to frame Elizabeth for the murder of her sister, Jane Bingley. Now that would kill two birds with one stone, and the punishment for murder was extremely unpleasant–hanging. Caroline put a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle that turned into a decidedly unladylike burp. A good idea, but again impractical. There was no guarantee the plan would result in Elizabeth’s arrest, and a magistrate or jury would be reluctant to convict the wife of Fitzwilliam Darcy without very convincing evidence.
This time when Caroline sat up, her head was spinning. More accurately, the room was spinning, as she was certain she was not moving at all. Reaching out for her glass to take another sip of the wonderful, soothing brandy, she discovered her fingers were not working properly, and the glass fell to the floor. This brought another round of laughter bubbling from her lips. Just thinking about killing Elizabeth was too much fun to keep to herself. She simply had to share it. Where was Louisa? She would find all of this quite amusing.
When Caroline tried to rise to go look for her sister, she discovered her legs had turned to jelly. Falling back awkwardly on the settee, she giggled again. A nap seemed like a good idea, but closing her eyes only made the spinning worse.
Her murderous plans quickly devolved from reality to wonderful fantasy with the vision of Elizabeth standing in front of a military firing squad. That image was delicious. No, she had an even better idea! A guillotine! Just as she was imagining a terrified Elizabeth on her knees begging for her life beside Madame Guillotine, Caroline heard a sound at the door to her room.
“Caroline? Caroline? It is time for supper.” Louisa’s voice sounded very far away.
Caroline blinked slowly and fought back nausea. When she looked up, Louisa was standing over her shaking her head. Reaching up with an unsteady hand, she tried to grab at her sister’s face.
“Please, do not move your head. It is making me dizzy.” At least, that was what she intended to say. She was shocked when it came out more like, “Pleesh, dear, do not moof your head so quickly. Ish, make me dishy.”
“What are you trying to say? Caroline, are you unwell?”
Through the haze, she saw Louisa examining the nearly empty brandy bottle.
“I do not believe it. You are not ill. You are quite foxed!” said Louisa. “Do not worry, dear. I will ask Mr. Hurst for help. He knows all the best remedies for too much drink.”
As Louisa turned to go, Caroline’s arm flailed out again, and she managed to catch hold of her sister’s hand. “No, doona leaf me. ‘M dying!”
“Oh, dear sister, you are not going to die,” said Louisa sympathetically. “Although you may wish you had.” This last part was mumbled under her breath.
Caroline tried to make her lips form the words to insist that, in fact, she was definitely going to expire and quite soon, but at this point, she could not because her lips were also numb.
The next morning Caroline awoke with a thumping headache. Had elephants been dancing on her head? Her eyelids hurt and her mouth felt like the inside of a birdcage. Someone, either her maid or her sister, had removed her gown and put her to bed. Just as Caroline was taking inventory of all the parts of her body that were in pain, Louisa appeared.
“I thought I heard you stirring. How are you feeling?” her sister asked, brightly.
“How do you think I feel?” Caroline snapped. That was big mistake. Talking made her head feel like it was going to explode!
“You are looking a little green,” Louisa observed.
Caroline felt like growling, but it was too much effort so she settled on giving her sister a scathing look.
“I do hope you are feeling better. We just received a last minute invitation to Darcy House for supper this evening. Charles and Jane will be there, too. And Georgiana. Is it not exciting? I have heard rumors the Darcys have a new cook who is simply amazing. There are other rumors, too, around town. Maybe they are planning to make a big announcement,” Louisa smiled and prattled on.
Just when Caroline thought things could not get much worse, now she would have to go to supper and face her nemesis again. Rolling her eyes, which brought on more pain, she wondered if she could possibly acquire some poison today after all. Then she could carry out her plan to rid the world of Elizabeth Darcy. When she tried to rise, she fell back on her pillows again with a groan. If she was not feeling better soon, perhaps she should just take the poison herself so she would not have to endure the agony of yet another family dinner party.
How do you imagine Caroline celebrating?