On this first Friday in the month of October, I am finally announcing the title of my new book, which I have been mainly referring to as WIP (work in progress) when I have posted my stories. I actually had one title I was going to use, but then recently I decided to go with another one. So… without further ado, the title of this book is going to be… CHANCE AND CIRCUMSTANCE!
In this variation, Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley meet first, as Mr. Darcy has returned to London, and Jane is in the Lake District with her aunt and uncle. Mr. Bingley begins favouring Elizabeth, much as he did Jane. This story examines what happens when Mr. Darcy returns, as well as Jane, who just so happens to bring back with her a gentleman, whose family was a long-time acquaintance with the Gardiners.
Here is Chapter 10 of “Chance and Circumstance!” Enjoy
Later that evening, when Elizabeth and her sister were alone, Jane asked her to tell her more about Mr. Bingley.
“Oh, Jane, as I said, I have never met a kinder, more amiable gentleman. He is…” Elizabeth drew in a deep breath.
“Yes?” Jane leaned in with a smile.
Elizabeth tucked her hand through Jane’s arm. “He is a man possessed of open and inviting manners, is very polite, and his appearance is greatly in his favour.” She chuckled. “I am certain you would approve of him.”
Jane took her sister’s hand in hers. “I am very happy for you. I approve of him already.”
“Now you sound like Mother, assuming there is something between us when there really is not.”
Jane smiled. “Pray, forgive me, Lizzy, but he does sound charming and delightful.”
Elizabeth’s smile faded. “Indeed, he is, but I do not know what to think about his sisters. They are so different from him. While they treat me with kindness outwardly, I felt they were silently looking at me with disdain and contempt.” She let out a sigh as she shook her head. “And Mr. Darcy, who is supposedly such a good friend of his, may even be worse.”
“Oh, certainly not, Lizzy.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I know they are not pleased with the partiality he seems to be displaying towards me.” She paused. “And I am not…”
“What is it?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “It is nothing.”
“Lizzy, I know once they get to know you better, they shall love you as much as I do.”
Elizabeth’s lips turned down in a frown. “I strongly doubt it. I was with them for a full day and night.” She patted Jane’s hand. “I am certain they do not consider our family good enough for him – or more particularly, for them.”
For the next few days, Elizabeth struggled to avoid Mr. Collins and keep him away from Jane and Mr. Marshall. He seemed intent on joining in on their every conversation and every walk, and barging in whenever Elizabeth and Jane wished to be left alone in privacy.
Mary, however, showed an interest in everything Mr. Collins said, but unfortunately for her, he was not particularly attentive towards her. Even when Mary directly complimented him or Elizabeth hinted to him that he might prefer her company to theirs, he remained at their side.
On one particularly pleasant day, Elizabeth sat outdoors, grateful that Mr. Collins was nowhere in sight. She sat on a bench making every attempt to keep her eyes from watching Jane and Mr. Marshall walk about. They appeared to be enjoying each other’s company, but as her aunt had said, neither displayed an outward show of emotion, other than an occasional warm smile.
She gave her head a slight shake as she considered that Jane had never been one to reveal her true emotions. Whether it was excitement, fear, anger, or frustration, one would rarely see an outward sign of it. She always seemed serenely content.
Her attention on the couple was drawn away when she heard Kitty and Lydia’s squeals as they rushed towards her.
“Lizzy! Just try to guess what Mr. Collins and Mother were just now talking about,” Lydia prodded.
Elizabeth shook her head. “He is in with Mother? I wondered where he was. I imagine he was saying something about the spectacular lace window coverings in the drawing room or the imported rugs in the parlour at Rosings.”
“No!” Lydia said as she clasped her hands. “The reason he came to Longbourn was to select one of us as a wife!”
Elizabeth drew back. “Truly? And has he selected you, Lydia?” she asked with a teasing smile. “You did say you wished to be the first of us to marry.”
“Ha! I would not marry him for anything, but I have no worries. This is one time I am grateful I am the youngest!”
“Why is that?” Elizabeth asked.
“Because Mother told him he was not to consider her youngest daughter because I am… too young.”
“Well, good for her.” Elizabeth’s stomach tightened. “And what else did you hear?”
Kitty answered. “You and Jane are safe. Mother hinted that her two eldest were likely to be very soon engaged to other gentlemen.”
Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief. “Did she?” Elizabeth silently gave thanks for her mother’s haste in coming to that conclusion! For once, it served a beneficial purpose! “So… it is to be Mary?”
“Or, of all people, me!” Kitty cried with a groan. “Can he not see how perfect Mary is for him? But he does not seem interested in her at all! You must do what you can to make sure he does not single me out!”
“What do you expect me to do, Kitty?”
“I do not know.” She shrugged. “You must somehow make him realize how perfect Mary is for him!”
“I shall think on it, but I make no guarantees.”
“Thank you! I know you will be able to do something!” Kitty squealed and gave Elizabeth a quick hug.
Elizabeth looked at Jane and Mr. Marshall and then back at her sisters. “Do not say anything to Jane. I will tell her later how she escaped a fate worse than death thanks to Mr. Marshall.”
“You can thank us any time, Lizzy,” Lydia said triumphantly as she jutted her chin and drew her shoulders back.
Elizabeth looked up at the exuberant faces of her young sisters and obligingly said, “Thank you.”
“You are welcome!” Lydia grabbed Kitty’s arm and pulled her away.
“I am counting on you!” Kitty cried. “Do not let me down!”
Elizabeth watched them leave and drew in a deep breath, letting it out in a whisper. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Marshall, for being unwitting participants in thwarting what could have been a most awkward – and disagreeable – situation.” Elizabeth laughed. “You have no idea how you just saved Jane and me.”
She shook her head. She could not allow anyone to know of the doubts she had in regard to Mr. Bingley’s suitability. At least not yet. She would have to make her mother and Mr. Collins believe that her affections were as deeply engaged as were his for a little while longer.
An idea suddenly came to Elizabeth. Mary had never made an effort to make herself look pretty. Perhaps all she needed was a little help in that area for Mr. Collins to notice her. The only difficult part was for Mary to agree. It was for an excellent cause, and it might actually prove advantageous for her, as well as the rest of her sisters.
The next day it was decided that all the young people would walk into Meryton. While this was not something Mary normally would choose to do, Elizabeth took her aside and encouraged her to join them, as Mr. Collins seemed intent to go.
“You know I dislike walking that far just to look into the windows of the shops,” Mary protested, “or to meet up with the officers in the militia, as Kitty and Lydia are wont to do.”
“Yes, I understand that, but there is a reason of greater import here.”
“Of greater import? What would that be?”
“Mary, you must promise not to say anything, but apparently Mr. Collins has come to Longbourn in search of a wife.”
Mary’s eyes lit up. “Has he?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said as she took Mary’s hand and brought her to sit at the dressing table. “Now, a man wants a lady who makes an effort to look pretty for him.”
“Lizzy, you know I do not care for that sort of thing. Vanity is…”
“Yes, I know, but there is something I would ask you to consider.” She paused and tapped her lips. “Tell me, what does Mr. Collins enjoy talking about?”
Mary glanced down at her dress, fingering the worn fabric of a gown passed down to her. “He talks about the church, his patroness, and…” Her voice trailed off.
“And what else?”
Elizabeth smiled. “Yes! He is a man – a gentleman – who appreciates finer things.” She leaned in to Mary. “Do you not also think he would appreciate a young lady who takes the time to make herself attractive?”
Mary shook her head. “There are more important qualities a lady must possess.”
“Certainly, there are, Mary, and you do possess all those inner qualities a gentleman – and especially a clergyman – requires. But let him notice your outer beauty, as well.”
Mary let out a long sigh. “How do I do that?” She waved her hands in front of her face. “I only have what the good Lord has given me.”
Elizabeth took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “And what He has given you is so worth taking good care of.” She fingered the fabric of her sister’s gown. “I believe if I rearrange your hair a little and find you a nicer gown to wear, it will be a good start.”
Mary gave a futile shrug. “Do you really think so? I suppose you can try…”
“Thank you, Mary! Just sit back and let me see if I can find you a more flattering gown.”
She hurried to her room and picked a dress that she thought would look nice on Mary, and then returned to work on her sister’s hair.
When she was finished, Elizabeth stood back and smiled. “There! You look very nice, indeed. Just remember to smile often.” Elizabeth chuckled softly. “And be sure to let him know how fortunate he is to live just across the lane from such a fine home, provided to him by a most generous and kind patroness.”
“I suppose I can do that,” Mary said. “At least, I will try.”
Elizabeth hurried to get herself ready and then came downstairs to find everyone commenting on how nice Mary looked. Mr. Collins said little, but she felt that, at least, he noticed. She hoped it was just the beginning.
As they walked into Meryton, Elizabeth made certain Mary was always close enough to Mr. Collins to comment on his ongoing discourse. Jane and Mr. Marshall followed behind Lydia and Kitty, who talked of nothing but which officers they might encounter in Meryton.
Elizabeth, however, was more interested in watching Jane and Mr. Marshall. They occasionally conversed, not excessively, but when they did, Jane smiled sweetly. It was apparent they enjoyed each other’s company, but were their hearts engaged? She was not certain.
When they arrived in Meryton, Lydia and Kitty hurried off to look in the window of the millinery shop, while glancing about looking for officers. Mary and Mr. Collins stood back silently. As Elizabeth pondered whether that was a good sign or not, Jane and Mr. Marshall came and stood alongside her.
“Lizzy, Mr. Marshall and I were discussing the militia’s presence in Meryton. Has their being here had much effect on the neighbourhood?”
“The officers have added an interesting diversion, particularly for Kitty and Lydia.” She nodded her head in their direction. “Look, I believe our sisters have spied someone they know.”
“They look like decent gentleman,” Jane said.
“I imagine they are typical officers,” Mr. Marshall said. “Your sisters need to take care.”
“I wonder who that gentleman is with the officers,” Elizabeth said. “He is not in regimentals.”
“Your sisters seem particularly pleased to be making his acquaintance.”
Elizabeth’s brow lifted. “Perhaps we ought to join them and make sure they are behaving properly.”
When they reached them, Lydia was delighted to introduce officers Denny and Chambers, and a newly arrived officer, Mr. Wickham, to everyone.
As they chatted with these new acquaintances, a cheery greeting came from behind Elizabeth. She turned to see Mr. Bingley riding his horse towards the group and then dismounting. “How fortunate! We were just on our way to Longbourn to visit.”
“Mr. Bingley! It is good to see you!” Elizabeth said cheerfully.
His smile was wide as he walked to Elizabeth’s side. “We have decided to host a ball at Netherfield on the twenty-sixth of November. The invitations are not yet ready, but I wanted to apprise you of the date.”
“We will certainly look forward to it very much.” Elizabeth said. “Mr. Bingley, there are several here with whom you are not acquainted. May I introduce you to them?” When he nodded, Elizabeth introduced him to Jane, Mr. Marshall, and Mr. Collins.
Mr. Bingley addressed Jane. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Bennet. I have heard so much about you.” He drew in a deep breath. “I hope… I hope you will be able to attend the ball.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bingley. I am certain I shall.”
As Mr. Bingley became immediately engaged in conversation with them, Elizabeth turned and noticed Mr. Darcy seated on his horse behind them. His eyes were on the small group consisting of her youngest sisters and the officers as they moved away. When Mr. Wickham turned towards them and then to Mr. Darcy, he stiffened and gave his horse a kick, leading it away.
Elizabeth glanced back at Wickham, noticing that the smile he had been wearing since first being introduced had disappeared. He appeared distressed and unsettled. After a moment, however, he turned back to his small group and became engaged in conversation with the others, his smile reappearing. She could not help but wonder what prompted such a response between the two men.
She turned back to Mr. Bingley, who was asking Jane about her trip.
“We had a wonderful time, thank you.”
“I am delighted you enjoyed yourself and would love to hear more about it sometime.” Mr. Bingley clasped his hands. “I am very excited to be hosting our first ball at Netherfield. I do hope you shall be able to attend.” He nodded several times, looked behind him, and then turned to Elizabeth. “Where did he go?”
Assuming he was speaking about Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth pointed up the street.
“Oh… well, I ought to join him. Good day.” He gave a quick bow. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He looked at Jane and then Mr. Marshall, and then promptly turned to mount his horse and set off after his friend.
Elizabeth walked over and took Jane’s arm.
“Mr. Bingley seems quite nice,” Jane said softly. She leaned over and whispered, “I can see why you are partial to him.”
“Miss Elizabeth, did I hear your sister correctly?” Mr. Marshall asked with a wide grin. “You are partial to Mr. Bingley? I am delighted to hear that.”
Elizabeth smiled and looked down the street after him. “He is quite amiable and a delightful gentleman.”
“I readily noticed that,” Jane said softly.
“Who was that gentleman who was with him?” Mr. Marshall asked.
“That was Mr. Darcy. For some reason, he did not seem inclined to stop and be introduced,” Elizabeth said with a tone of disgust.
“Mr. Darcy was here? I did not see him,” Jane said regretfully. “I am sorry I did not get the opportunity to meet him.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Well, I am certain you shall have plenty more opportunities, although…” She paused and shook her head. “That was quite ill-mannered of him.”
“He must have had a good reason,” Jane said.
Mr. Marshall shook his head. “Whatever the reason, it is quite unpardonable for him not to extend even the basic civilities, especially since he is already acquainted with you, Miss Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth agreed with Mr. Marshall, but then looked over at Mr. Collins, who was now walking down the street with Mary. She assumed that with the time she was spending with him, Mary would now have a complete account of the parsonage, Rosings, and Lady Catherine. She chuckled as she considered that he had apparently not been aware that the nephew of his esteemed patroness had been only a few steps away from him.
A few nights later, a party was to be held at the home of their Aunt and Uncle Phillips in Meryton. They had heard that several of the officers had been invited, and Kitty and Lydia spoke of little else, displaying a great deal of impatience for the evening to arrive.
The night of the party, the five sisters, accompanied by Mr. Collins and Mr. Marshall, crowded into the carriage and set out for Meryton. As they entered their aunt and uncle’s home, men’s voices could be heard, and Kitty and Lydia rushed off to the parlour to see which officers had come.
A large number of people, including officers, filled the modest home. Kitty and Lydia seemed acquainted with many of the soldiers. Elizabeth saw Denny and Carter, as well as Mr. Wickham. She hoped her youngest sisters would conduct themselves properly. She would not want Mr. Marshall to witness any impropriety in their youngest sisters’ behaviour.
As she watched Mr. Wickham speaking to the others in the room, she tilted her head. She thought he might be someone she could shift her attentions to if… no, when she discouraged Mr. Bingley’s affections. Mr. Wickham was handsome and appeared gentlemanly and kind. She believed he had the look and manner of a man of consequence and a respectable upbringing. He also seemed to have a lively disposition. She hoped to discover if his interests were similar to hers.
Different games were set up in the various rooms, and while eager to join in playing, Mr. Collins did not prove to be proficient at any of them. Elizabeth smiled as she considered this would be most suitable for Mary, who disliked playing and was sitting out. There were some things she refused to do.
At length, Mr. Wickham approached Elizabeth. He had been spending most of the evening with Kitty and Lydia, so she was rather surprised… and somewhat pleased. She greeted him with a warm smile.
“Pray, excuse me, Miss Elizabeth, I was talking with your sister, Miss Lydia, and she informed me that you were fairly well acquainted with Mr. Darcy, whom I saw the other day in Meryton.”
Her expression sobered at the mention of the gentleman. Recollecting the uncomfortable response between the two men when they had noticed each other, she was curious about their connection. “I am only slightly acquainted with him. He is a good friend to Mr. Bingley, who recently moved into the neighbourhood. I have seen him on a few occasions.” She tilted her head and shrugged. “For some reason, he did not seem inclined to stop and chat the other day as we were walking in Meryton, while his friend was more than happy to.”
“No, he did not, and it was likely because he noticed me.”
Elizabeth drew back in surprise. “You are acquainted with him, then?”
Wickham nodded. “My good father was his father’s steward. I grew up at Pemberley.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Did you? I am surprised he did not stop to acknowledge you.”
Wickham nodded. “While Darcy and I were always the best of friends when we were young, things changed, and our relationship is now… strained.”
Elizabeth’s brow furrowed. “To own the truth, I had wondered whether something happened between you.” She shook her head. “I noticed that he appeared rather unsettled when he saw you.”
Mr. Wickham shook his head and cast his eyes down. “I really ought not to say anything about it, as it was a personal matter between the two of us, and I would not wish to blacken his name to those who might esteem him in this neighbourhood.”
“Esteem him?” Elizabeth laughed. “He has presented himself as very proud and above us all.”
“He is a man full of pride in the Darcy name and fortune, but it is that very name and fortune that I had counted on to help me out in my life, as his father had promised.” He laughed derisively. “Not that I expected anything, but I wished to be a clergyman. A living had been promised to me by the late Mr. Darcy.” He looked down and began to rub his jaw. “After Mr. Darcy’s death, the son decided not to bestow it on me when it became available.”
Elizabeth’s hands fisted tightly. “He had no right to go against his father’s promises.”
A satisfied smile appeared. “I did not think so, either.”
Elizabeth readily recollected the words of caution Mr. Darcy had given to Mr. Bingley regarding his attentions towards her. “I have witnessed him trying to control his good friend in a way I found quite distressing.”
“Did you?” Wickham leaned in and gave her a pointed look. “The man has only two goals in life. He either wants to run your life… or ruin it.”
Elizabeth looked intently at the gentlemen. “That does not surprise me, Mr. Wickham.” She slowly shook her head. “That does not surprise me at all.”