Here is Chapter 3 of my WIP that is a Pride and Prejudice variation where Elizabeth meets Mr. Bingley first, as Jane and Mr. Darcy are both away. If you have not read the previous 2 chapters, here is the link to Chapter 1. Now, on to Chapter 3, where we finally see the arrival of Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth made every attempt to remain calm as she waited for Thursday’s dinner, which Mr. Bingley and his family would be attending. She kept telling herself that it was premature to have formed an attachment to the gentleman, but she looked forward to his coming, anyway.
She was also eager to meet his two sisters and brother-in-law, and his friend, if he had returned. She wondered whether they would all be as agreeable as Mr. Bingley.
Elizabeth was slightly disappointed, then, when he sent word that his sisters and brother-in-law had to return to London unexpectedly, and his friend had not yet returned. He expressed his regrets, but assured them he looked forward to dining with them.
On Thursday, Mrs. Bennet repeatedly checked on the meal Cook was preparing. She wanted everything to be perfect, for certainly Mr. Bingley would form an attachment to one of her daughters. Both Kitty and Lydia claimed that he had likely found one of them completely irresistible. Lydia, however, continued to insist that he would be more suited for her if he were to wear military attire.
Elizabeth merely smiled at the folly of her two sisters, grateful that her brief, prior meeting with the young man had been kept from all of them.
That evening, Mr. Bingley arrived and he was ushered into the drawing room where the Bennets were gathered, waiting expectantly. Elizabeth was pleased when she observed how he was steadfastly polite in the midst of Kitty’s and Lydia’s silly antics and her mother’s foolish outbursts. The conversation was all about Netherfield, what changes he might want to make, and whether he was pleased with the neighbourhood.
“I shall not make any changes until I determine whether I want to purchase it.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. “You will definitely wish to purchase it, for our neighbourhood is one of the finest in all of England.”
Mr. Bingley chuckled. “I am certain it is,” he said, as he looked at Elizabeth and smiled. “I have met a good number of the families here, and everyone seems…” Bingley paused and a finally added, “delightful.”
Elizabeth gave her head a slight shake as the thought crossed her mind that he was much like Jane in that he seemed pleased with everyone and everything. You could not ask for a finer quality in a gentleman that that.
“It is a shame your family could not join us tonight,” Mrs. Bennet said, looking quite dejected. “What could they have to do in London that would draw them away from here?”
Mr. Bingley’s mouth twitched, and he said, “They were sorry to leave and wanted me to express their deepest regrets to you.” He shrugged. “My sister and her husband have a home in town and something needed their immediate attention.” He shrugged his shoulders. “They needed to see to it directly.”
“Oh, but certainly they did not…” Mrs. Bennet began, but Elizabeth interrupted her.
“Oh the joys of owning and maintaining a home,” Elizabeth laughed. “Shall they return shortly, do you think?”
A wide smile appeared on Mr. Bingley’s face. “I believe they shall return in a few days, as well as my good friend. I think… I hope they shall be here in time for the Meryton Assembly.”
“Oh, you must write them directly and insist they be here in time for that. I know they will enjoy it immensely!” Mrs. Bennet declared.
“How can they not?” Lydia asked incredulously. “With all the music and dancing.”
“And all the food!” Kitty added.
Lydia looked pointedly at their guest. “Do you enjoy dancing, Mr. Bingley?”
“I do, very much!”
“Oh, wonderful!” exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. “We have enough daughters to keep you dancing the whole evening.”
“Mother,” Elizabeth said. “I am certain Mr. Bingley will wish to dance with other young ladies in the neighbourhood. We are not the only ones.”
“I shall insist on dancing with each of your daughters,” Mr. Bingley assured Mrs. Bennet as he looked at them. “If they will be so kind to accept.”
“Oh, but Jane is not here,” Mrs. Bennet lamented. “I do not think she will make it back in time for the Assembly.”
“Jane? Would that be your eldest daughter who is from home?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, with a knowing smile. “She has been in the Lake District with our aunt and uncle.”
“She was expected back by now,” Mrs. Bennet lamented, “but we recently received news that they have been delayed in their return. Such a pity. I know you would like her. Everyone says she is the prettiest girl in the whole neighbourhood.”
Kitty and Lydia rolled their eyes at their mother’s claims. Elizabeth, however, readily recognized her sister’s beauty and looked upon it with no hard or jealous feelings. There could be no two sisters closer than she and her elder sister, and none kinder than Jane. She wholeheartedly agreed with her mother’s assertions and believed Jane was at least five times prettier than herself.
The conversation continued as they moved into the dining room for dinner. They talked about the Meryton Assembly and the people of the neighbourhood, while Mr. Bennet seemed to enjoy talking with their guest about the joys and pitfalls of home ownership and property management.
Mr. Bingley proclaimed several times throughout the meal how delicious it was, which greatly pleased Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth was quite certain this was an exaggeration on his part, for to her it was nothing exceptional, but she attributed his praise to his wanting to be kind and gracious.
When Mr. Bingley finally left that night, Elizabeth was confident that everyone approved of the young man. While her two youngest sisters claimed that he was amiable and certainly attractive, it appeared their infatuation with him had lessened. Elizabeth attributed it to the news that the militia would be coming to Meryton and a young man in uniform was more to their liking. Her other sister, Mary, rarely said anything about the desirability of a young man, but agreed he was certainly a fine and respectable addition to the neighbourhood.
That night, as Elizabeth lay in bed, she thought back to the evening. Mr. Bingley was certainly a fine young man. She could not find a single fault with him, but the thought kept reappearing that her heart was not yet touched. “It is best,” she said softly. “I barely know him.”
She curled up under the coverlet, wrapping her arms about her bended knees. “He is handsome and respectable, everything a young lady would want in a man,” she said. “But…” She could not shake off that thought, or even finish it.
Netherfield – Two Weeks Later
“I am so glad you have returned, Darcy!” Bingley exclaimed. “I thought you had left me for good. But I will have you know I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my new neighbours!”
“I am certain you have,” Darcy replied drearily. “That surprises me not one bit, but you are the new neighbour, not them! I am certain everyone here in this little country neighbourhood lavished you with their gentility and hospitality. Far better for you that I was not here to hinder you in your pursuit of country acquaintances.”
Bingley let out a huff. “Between you and my sisters conveniently having business taking you all back to town, I only hope no one was the wiser.”
“I am certain they were not. They are all likely simple folk with simple country manners.”
“I have enjoyed every new acquaintance I have made.” An odd smile appeared, and Darcy shot him a questioning look.
“I have seen that look before, Bingley.” Darcy crossed his arms at his chest. “If I can trust my intuition, I would say you have met a young lady for whom you now think you have a grand affection… again!”
His friend’s smile widened. “I have! Miss Elizabeth Bennet is wonderful, Darcy! She is witty, intelligent, clever, and quite pretty.
“As were all your previous affections.”
“No, but she is different!”
“Of course she is,” he replied with little enthusiasm. “I shall reserve my judgment until I meet the young lady in question.”
“And you shall! There is an assembly on Saturday.”
Darcy lifted a single brow. “An assembly? In this neighbourhood?”
Bingley nodded. “I am quite looking forward to it.”
Darcy clenched his jaw and fisted his hand. His friend was too eager to throw himself into the life of this neighbourhood and possibly into the life of one of its ladies. He did not want to discourage his friend, but did not want to boost his already heightened delight, either. “You certainly do not expect me to go?”
“I do, and I hope that my sisters and Hurst will, as well.”
“They will not be happy attending such an affair.”
“What of you?” Bingley stood in front of his friend and propped his hands on his hips. “I know you dislike being in places where you know few people, but remember when we were at Cambridge? You remember the favour you always asked of me?”
Darcy drew in a breath. “That was a long time ago.” He turned quickly away. “This is different.”
“Yes, it is, as this time I am asking the favour of you.” Bingley looked down at his feet, and then glanced back up. “I know this is a simple country neighbourhood, but I want you… I ask you to join me at the assembly.”
Darcy muttered, “I shall consider it. When do you expect your sisters?”
“They arrive on the morrow.”
“Have you informed them of this assembly that is going to take place on Saturday?”
Bingley shook his head. “No, not exactly. I requested that they return by Friday, but did not tell them why.”
Darcy began to rub his jaw. “Bingley, you know what they thought about you taking this house. I cannot imagine they will want to attend an assembly held in a neighbourhood such as this.”
“Well, I am tired of everyone’s complaints. I am perfectly satisfied with the house, its grounds, and even its neighbours.” He grew silent for a moment. “I only wish Caroline and Louisa had not decided to return to London when the Bennets had invited us for dinner. I knew what they thought about having to dine with them and I was quite put out.”
“You wanted them to meet these Bennets because of the young lady?”
A smile again appeared.
Darcy took a seat and indicated his friend to take one, as well. “All right, Bingley. Tell me all about her.”
Bingley hurried over and sat down. “As I said, her name is Elizabeth Bennet. I met her when she was out walking and I was riding up Oakham Mount to get a bird’s eye view of the land around Netherfield, as we had discussed ought to be done. My horse startled her and she fell into the mud.”
Darcy dropped his jaw. “Goodness, Bingley! She was out walking in the mud?”
“Well, certainly you recollect how much rain we had received. She had been just as eager to get out and walk as you were to get out and ride back to London!” he replied and laughed.
“Who was with her?”
“No one; she was alone.”
Darcy looked at his friend incredulously. “She was out walking with no one accompanying her?”
“Now, I can see what you are about, Darcy, but I found her adventurous spirit quite endearing.”
Darcy shook his head at what his friend was telling him, and so far he was not impressed. “Those are not the manners of a well-bred and refined lady, Bingley. You need to take care in a neighbourhood such as this.”
“Wait until you meet her. I have never met anyone so delightful.”
“I have heard you say that before,” Darcy grumbled. “What are her connections? Who is her family and what fortune do they possess?”
Bingley shrugged. “Mr. Bennet owns a manor on a small estate. They have several servants, and while they do not have a grand fortune…” His voice trailed off as he caught his friend’s expression of disapproval.
“I doubt she would be considered suitable, Bingley.”
“No, my friend. I honestly think you will think highly of her.”
“We will see. I shall reserve any judgment until I meet her, but I hope you have not paid her any particular attention. A lady from this neighbourhood is likely desperate to marry a man of fortune and will interpret any such attentions as a sure sign of attachment.”
“Have no fear. She has three sisters and I treated them equally the same.” A sly smile appeared. “Except, of course, when we came down from Oakham Mount.” He looked at his friend earnestly. “She was…” Bingley paused and merely sighed.
“Delightful is how you described her, I believe.”
“Yes, you shall see. Wait until you meet her, and that will be at the assembly… on Saturday.”
Darcy let out a frustrated breath. “So be it.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Bennet ladies hurried to ready themselves for the Meryton Assembly. While this was an event that Elizabeth usually looked forward to with a reserved enthusiasm, today she found herself filled with a great deal of eager anticipation. She credited it all to Mr. Bingley.
She took extra care with her dress and hair, asking Sarah to help her weave some flowers through her upswept curls. She looked at herself from every angle in a mirror, adjusting her sleeves, bodice, or anything else that she felt could use improvement. When she was at last satisfied, she went downstairs and joined her father in his study.
“You are not going to accompany us tonight?” Elizabeth asked.
He looked up from his book and frowned. “You know I take no delight in these affairs where the women all compare themselves and their dresses to one another, and the men stand about trying to make idle conversation and look engaged.” He shook his head. “No, I shall be perfectly content to remain here reading in peace and quiet.”
Elizabeth smiled, already knowing her father’s thoughts on assemblies.
“And you, Lizzy? Are you looking forward to a dance or two with Mr. Bingley?”
Elizabeth’s eyes shot up, and she felt a blush warm her cheeks.
“Ah, just as I have suspected all along. Ever since seeing you and Mr. Bingley come down from Oakham Mount that first day he came to Longbourn, I have had my suspicions.” He wore a sly smile.
“You saw us?”
“Oh, yes. I was quite amused with how you both feigned unfamiliarity with each other when you were first introduced.” He let out a chuckle. “I assume you did not want your mother to know you had already encountered him on your walk as you were quite covered in mud when you arrived home. I was amazed at how quickly – and pleasingly – you tidied and cleaned.”
Elizabeth looked down at her clasped hands. “His horse startled me when I was trying to jump over a mud puddle. I did not want Mother to know that Mr. Bingley saw me in such a state. She would have been quite displeased with me.”
“So I suspected.” Mr. Bennet leaned back in his chair and began tapping the table. “And I suppose you also did not want her to know you had already met him for she would likely have you married – in her mind, at least.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes, just as Jane did not want Mother to know about her beau.”
Mr. Bennet looked confused. “Jane’s beau? What is this?”
“Oh, I forgot I have not told you about the contents of her letter to me. Mr. Bingley’s unexpected appearance made me quite forget that you wanted a report of what she wrote.”
“Jane has a beau?” He leaned forward on his elbows, his bushy brows lowered over his eyes.
“According to Jane, he is a very fine gentleman, the son of Aunt and Uncle Gardiner’s friends. He is the main reason they delayed their return.” Elizabeth drew in a breath, her shoulders rising as she took it in.
Mr. Bennet pressed his lips together and brought clasped hands up to his chin. “This is significant news, Lizzy. Imagine that! My two eldest daughters entertaining the notion that a gentleman they have just met might be the one who captures their hearts.” He looked back up. “Does Jane know of your Mr. Bingley?”
“He is far from being my Mr. Bingley, Papa, but yes, I did write to Jane to tell her about him. I truly cannot say that he is everything I want in the gentleman who will one day be my husband. I hardly even know him.” She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “But I am more than willing to find out.”
“He seems to be a friendly and polite enough gentleman, to be sure,” Mr. Bennet said with a nod. “I cannot say that he has your intelligence and wit, Lizzy, but then, like you, I have not spent a great amount of time with him.”
“I appreciate your candour, Father. Mother would not be so cautious in her opinions if she had a notion of anything between us.”
“Then it shall be our secret, Lizzy, until you are certain.”
“I appreciate that.” They both sat silently for a moment.
“I understand his friend has arrived, and possibly his sisters, as well,” Mr. Bennet said.
“I hope they are as agreeable as he is.”
“No reason why they should not be,” he replied.
“Girls! Girls! Hurry along! We do not want to be the last ones to arrive!”
At the sound of her mother’s shrill voice, Elizabeth sent her father a resigned look. “I must leave you now. Enjoy your evening, Father.”
He nodded and smiled. “I know I shall. Now, get along, and I hope you enjoy yours.”
Chapter 4 will be posted July 14.