Last month, as part of our theme, April Showers, I posted Chapter 1 of a new book I am working on. If you did not read it or if you want to refresh your memory, the link to that chapter is here.
In this story, Jane is up at the Lake District with the Gardiners when Bingley lets Netherfield. She has written Elizabeth and told her they encountered long-time friends of the Gardiners and they have a son she has been spending a good amount of time with. In the meantime, Elizabeth encounters Mr. Bingley while out on a walk. This sets a whole new spin on things.
So without any further ado, here is Chapter 2 of my new book, which is as yet untitled, although I have a few ideas.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bingley. We heard Netherfield had been let at last.” She smiled and looked up at him with a raised brow. “And we have heard all about you.”
“From your father perhaps? Mr. Bennet? I met him the other day when he came by during a lull in the rain.”
“No, we did not gain any intelligence from him. My father is a man who loves to tease, and while we all wanted him to tell us about our new neighbour, he conveniently deflected our questions with answers that were not at all informative.”
A surprised look crossed Mr. Bingley’s face. “As I have not yet met many people in the neighbourhood, where could the account come from?” He grimaced teasingly. “I hope you have not heard anything too dreadful.”
Elizabeth looked ahead and smiled, thinking it was nice to have a new face in the neighbourhood – particularly a new, handsome gentleman’s face. The gentleman was tall, with sandy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a ready smile. In the short time since encountering him, she had sketched his character to be quite amiable, lively, and altogether charming.
“Mr. Bingley, I fear we would have heard about you even if you had not met a single person here. You must understand that any time someone new moves into the – or even just passes through the neighbourhood – there is always a great deal of speculation about who the person is, what they are like, and anything else of interest.” Elizabeth shrugged. “So you see, what we heard was likely not based on someone having met you at all.”
“I understand completely,” Mr. Bingley said, looking down as he scuffed the dirt with his boot. He glanced at Elizabeth with a twinkle in his eye. “But pray, do I want to hear the stories about me?”
She waved a hand through the air. “You have no reason to be concerned, I assure you.” She dared not mention the gossip circulating the neighbourhood about his fortune of four or five thousand a year.
Mr. Bingley let out a reassured breath and said with a chuckle, “I am greatly relieved!”
Elizabeth smiled. “We did hear that you came down from the north. Would that be accurate?”
“Partially. My family is from the north, but I came here directly from London.”
“I see. And are you here by yourself or did you bring others with you?”
“I arrived last week with two gentlemen and two ladies.”
“So small a party? ” Elizabeth laughed. “We heard it was a much larger party, for you know how people love to exaggerate. I look forward to meeting them.”
“And indeed you shall, well, at least some of them. The two ladies are my sisters, one of the gentlemen is my sister’s husband, and the other gentleman is a good friend, although he had to return to London on business. I hoped he would come out with me this morning to view Netherfield from up here, but he took his leave at daylight when he saw the weather had improved.”
“It is a delightful day, and since you were on your way up to see the view of Netherfield, I shall leave you to finish your climb.”
“I will not hear of you walking home unaccompanied! I can see the view at any time. Please allow me to escort you so I can meet the rest of your family. I planned to return your father’s visit, and what better time to do it than now?”
“I thank you, Mr. Bingley, but it is truly not necessary to accompany me. If you knew how often I walked up and down this mountain by myself, I fear you would be shocked.”
“Not a great deal shocks me, Miss Bennet. Come, let us walk.”
“Thank you. I know my family will be delighted to meet you.”
The two began walking as Mr. Bingley led his horse behind him.
“If I recollect correctly, your father informed me you have four sisters.”
“Indeed. You have an excellent memory.”
“I shall look forward to meeting each of them.”
“And so you shall, but my elder sister is from home visiting the Lake District with our aunt and uncle. You will have to make her acquaintance another time, as it may be some time before she returns.” Elizabeth silently chuckled as she considered she may even return already engaged.
“So it shall have to be!” he said with a smile.
The two had a pleasant conversation as they walked, and although it appeared Mr. Bingley thought nothing of how dishevelled she looked, every time Elizabeth’s eyes caught a glimpse of the mud on her dress or shoes, she chided herself for not taking care to stay out of the puddles. What would her mother say?
Mother! Elizabeth suddenly stopped, her eyes widening.
“Is anything amiss?” Mr. Bingley asked.
Elizabeth took a moment to organize her thoughts and pressed her fingers to her lips. “You may find this an odd request, Mr. Bingley, but when we arrive at Longbourn, would you allow me to return indoors alone? May I ask that you wait a few minutes before coming to the door? I fear my mother would be quite horrified if she knew that the new gentleman in the neighbourhood had come upon her daughter in such a state.” Elizabeth chose not to inform him that despite her mother’s mortification, she would likely be ecstatic that he had accompanied her down the hill and in her mind would have them married by Christmas.
He smiled and nodded. “I shall be more than happy to oblige you. Shall I wait long enough to allow you some time to make yourself presentable? Perhaps, fifteen minutes?”
Elizabeth looked down at herself and shook her head. “Perhaps twenty would be best.” She laughed and looked up at him. His smile warmed her and she could not help but feel truly delighted by his company.
When they reached the base of Oakham Mount, Elizabeth thanked Mr. Bingley for his chivalry and graciousness, and hurried off to the house. As she walked, a smile lit her face, and she thought that perhaps she might have a handsome gentleman about whom she could also write to Jane.
Elizabeth was grateful no one saw her step inside through the back door. She slipped off her dirty shoes and hurried up the stairs, entered her room, and closed the door behind her. She went to her closet and perused her dresses, suddenly feeling as though none would be stylish enough for the wealthy single gentleman from the north.
She finally selected a pale blue muslin dress, one that Jane had often said suited her quite well, brightening her eyes and complimenting her skin. She carefully removed her soiled dress, taking care not to get any mud on her face and trying not to dishevel her hair.
She went to the mirror and felt another wave of mortification when she saw that there was a fairly large smudge of mud in the centre of her forehead. She took a handkerchief and dipped it in a basin of water. She hoped it happened when she removed the dress, but considering how dry it was, she was fairly confident it had been there the entire time she had been walking down the mount and talking with Mr. Bingley.
“And he did not mention it at all!” she said, shaking her head. But a smile immediately appeared. “I think Mr Bingley has just improved in my estimation of his person!”
Elizabeth heard a commotion downstairs and determined the gentleman had been let in. He had perfect timing! She took one last glance in the mirror, tidied a few strands of wayward hair, and then stepped from her room.
She hurried down the stairs to find her sisters and mother gathered in the drawing room.
“What is all the commotion?” she asked innocently.
“A gentleman has just been shown into your father’s study! We believe it is our new neighbour,” Mrs. Bennet said.
“I know it must be Mr. Bingley, for we have never seen him before!” Kitty cried. “Lydia and I saw him through the window when he walked up. I think he is quite handsome.”
Lydia tossed her head. “I have seen much handsomer men. Perhaps if he were in regimentals, his appearance would be much improved.”
Mary looked up from her needlework. “I doubt that we shall ever see him in regimentals, Lydia.” She shook her head. “Men of fortune have no need to join the military.”
“Well, I can hope, can I not?” Lydia asked.
“Do you think Father will introduce him to us?” Kitty asked. “I hope he does. I will be most disappointed if he leaves after their meeting without an introduction.”
“Mr. Bennet must introduce him to us, or I shall be most displeased!” Mrs. Bennet said loudly and let out a soft chuckle. “I want to meet him as much as you girls do.”
The ladies waited – several of them more impatiently than the others – and they finally heard the study door open.
Mrs. Bennet gave her daughters a look that demanded they be on their best behaviour. She turned expectantly towards the door as the sound of approaching footsteps and low conversation could be heard. Just before the men reached the door of the drawing room, she clasped her hands and rested them in her lap.
The two men stepped into the room and Mr. Bennet began to make introductions. Mr. Bingley looked at Elizabeth and smiled secretly, and then very politely greeted her mother, herself, and each of her sisters in the most delightful manner. He seemed truly pleased to make their acquaintance, as were all the ladies of Longbourn delighted to make his.
“Mr. Bingley,” Mrs. Bennet cried. “It is with great joy we welcome you to our little neighbourhood. We are quite certain you will be delighted with all your neighbours. But please, you must join us for dinner one day this week. We would be honoured to have you dine with us.”
“Why, thank you, Mrs. Bennet. I…”
“Shall we plan on Thursday?” she said. “Our cook prepares the most delicious meals. I am certain you will enjoy it.”
Mr. Bennet stepped forward. “Mr. Bingley presently has his two sisters and brother-in-law residing with him. Shall we extend the invitation to them, as well, Mrs. Bennet?”
“Of course!” she replied. “Pray, you must invite your whole party. They are welcomed to join us, as well.”
Mr. Bennet patted their new neighbour on his shoulder. “Now, ladies, I am certain Mr. Bingley has business he must tend to, so let us not keep him any longer.”
Mr. Bingley nodded to Mr. Bennet and turned back to the ladies. “Indeed, Mr. Bennet is correct, and as much as I regret it, I must take my leave.” He addressed Mrs. Bennet. “It has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Bennet, as well as your daughters. I shall see you on Thursday.” He stole a glance at Elizabeth, smiling briefly, before he stepped from the room.
Mr. Bennet accompanied the gentleman out, while the ladies held their breath until they had stepped through the door. Once they were outdoors, there was a gleeful squeal as the first impression of this gentleman was quite favourable. Elizabeth remained subdued outwardly, but on the inside she felt a great deal of delight.
Later that day, Elizabeth went to her room and pulled out some stationary. She would have much preferred to have Jane here to talk to, for they would have much to say to each other about Mr. Bingley and Mr. Marshall, but writing to her about him would be the next best thing.
Elizabeth dipped her pen in the ink and held it above the stationary as she thought about all she would say. She finally dipped her pen in the ink and put it to the paper.
My dearest Jane,
How delighted I was to receive your letter. Mother read your letter to all of us, and I confess I was disappointed (as was she) that it was so short. But when Father presented me with your letter, I could not be happier.
I immediately sought privacy by walking up Oakham Mount, much to Mother’s distress, for we, too, have had a lot of rain. I knew our sisters would not wish to join me, and I would have the pleasure of reading your letter in solitude.
Oh, Jane! I could not believe the news you shared with me. How fortuitous it was to have encountered this gentleman and his family, being as they were long-time friends of our aunt and uncle. He sounds absolutely wonderful, and I am delighted for you! I wish to soon make his acquaintance. I hope that as you remain in the Lake District and spend time with him and his family, that the two of you will grow in your attachment towards one another – if that is what is meant to be.
But now I have news of my own. I also had a chance meeting just this morning with the gentleman who recently let Netherfield. When I took the path up Oakham Mount, I was startled by the approach of a man on a horse as I was attempting to jump over a puddle. Needless to say, I ended up in the puddle instead of clearing it on the other side.
This gentleman, Mr. Bingley, was grieved that he had caused my stumble. I had to assure him that I was quite well and was solely at fault, but he insisted on escorting me back home. Dare I tell you that my dress and shoes were covered in mud, but he seemed not to notice at all? We talked and laughed, and I found myself greatly enjoying his company.
He even obliged me and waited twenty minutes before coming in to meet the family so I could make myself more presentable. Father met him a few days earlier, and Mr. Bingley had planned to repay the visit. I knew Mother would be vexed at me if she saw me walking back to the house with him in the state I was in.
So, just as you wished to keep news about Mr. Marshall from her, so I did not want her to know about my encounter with the new gentleman in the neighbourhood who is worth four or five thousand pounds! She would have been mortified by my unkempt appearance and that he had encountered me in such a state, but at the same time she would have begun planning our wedding! So you see, Jane, you and I are now both conspiring to keep our news from Mother for the very same reason. We know her well, do we not?
Oh, how I wish you were here so we could both laugh and giggle as we talk to each other about these two gentlemen we have just met. I do not know Mr. Bingley well enough to have lost my heart to him, or to even believe he is everything I want in a man I might marry, but it certainly is a nice change having a new, handsome face in the neighbourhood – someone who is gentlemanly, kind, and altogether charming.
I know you are busy, and quite enjoying your time, but I do look forward to your next letter. Please write soon. I am eager to hear more about you and Mr. Marshall!
With much love, Lizzy
Elizabeth folded up the letter and pondered the similar circumstances in which she and her sister found themselves. She had readily noticed her rapidly beating heart as she had pondered how to describe Mr. Bingley to Jane, and felt a grand sense of delight that she and her sister were likely experiencing very similar feelings.
Whether or not the outcomes would be the same she could not say, but right now she could not be happier.
(to be posted June 16)