What better way to start the year that to focus on one of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters? Join Austen Variations as we spend January looking into the lovely Jane Bennet.
I like to imagine that rather than Mr. Bingley proposing to Jane Bennet in the family drawing room, they instead strolled in the garden. There under blue skies, he finally asked the question she has been waiting and hoping for.
Several days of cold rain fell, keeping Charles Bingley confined to Netherfield. He had visited Longbourn almost daily since his return to Hertfordshire, and each day strengthened his opinion that Jane Bennet would make the perfect wife for him. When would this infernal rain stop? The longer he had to wait, the more he feared he would not be able to express himself as eloquently as she deserved. At last, after three miserable days of pacing the rooms at his home, the skies cleared, and he hastened to Longbourn for what he thought might just be the most important day of his life.
After handing off his hat and gloves to one of the servants, he was shown to the drawing room where he was greeted by Mrs. Bennet who fussed over his comfort.
“You must sit in this chair, Mr. Bingley. It is by far the most comfortable in the room. Mr. Bennet prefers it when he joins us,” she said.
Jane kept her eyes modestly cast down, but he thought he noticed her glance his way several times. Her cheeks were slightly pink. Could that be because she was so affected by his presence.
“These are just from the oven,” Mrs. Bennet said, proudly, as she offered him a plate of fragrant biscuits.
Jane quietly fixed his tea. He was inordinately pleased she remembered exactly how he liked it, with more sugar than most people found agreeable. Although eating anything, even Mrs. Bennet’s delicious biscuits, was difficult given the constriction in his throat, he managed two just to be polite, washing them down with tea.
“And how are your sisters? Will they be joining you at Netherfield?” asked Mrs. Bennet.
“I have written to Caroline and asked her to join me as soon as possible. With my sister in residence, I will finally be able to repay your family for all the hospitality you have shown me in the past few weeks.”
“Oh, Mr. Bingley, how delightful! We shall look forward to it most eagerly, will we not, girls? Your sister is an excellent hostess.”
She continued in this vein for several minutes, praising everything from the quality of the food served in his home to the heavy damask curtains in the drawing room at Netherfield. Several times, he attempted to respond, but apparently she did not require him to speak at all, merely to listen and nod his head from time to time. Bingley set his cup aside and waited patiently for an opportunity to speak. Finally, Mrs. Bennet paused to take a breath.
“Mrs. Bennet, I wonder if I might take Miss Bennet out into the garden this morning briefly for a private word?”
Upon hearing “private word,” Mrs. Bennet sprang into action. She not only granted his request but practically shoved them out the door.
Once outside, Bingley was again at a loss for words. To cover his discomfort he began to question Jane about the various foliage in the garden. She looked puzzled but responded politely.
After several minutes of this, she said, “I know you are enjoying the garden, Mr. Bingley, but if I may be so bold, I believe you have something quite different on your mind.” Jane laid a reassuring hand on his arm.
Bingley felt the warmth from her hand through the superfine of his coat. “How is it you know me so well, Miss Bennet?”
Jane responded with a shy smile. “Surely, you are aware whatever you are thinking is clearly written upon your face?”
Bingley blushed and then grinned. He captured Jane’s hand and brought it to his lips.
“My mother always said that about me. It was very inconvenient as a child because I could never get away with even the tiniest falsehood to cover my wrongdoings. She always knew exactly what I was thinking.”
They both laughed. After a few minutes, Jane motioned to a bench under an old tree, and they settled there side by side. Again, Bingley felt the tension building as he struggled to find the words he wanted to say. Uncomfortable with the silence and still grasping for the courage to speak, he jumped up and began to pace.
“Miss Bennet, I do not have the facility with words that some gentlemen do, nor will I ever be eloquent at expressing myself about the things that are the most important to me.”
Jane kept her eyes on her hands, which were folded in her lap. After ranging back and forth for a while, he returned to sit beside her, taking her hands in his.
“I never stopped thinking about you,” he said quietly.
“And I never forgot you.”
“No one could ever be as lovely or as sweet as you. I have come to the conclusion that my life would not be complete without you in it. My dear sweet Jane, I love you most ardently. Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Jane felt heat rising inside her and knew she must be red from her toes to the top of her head. Continuing to keep her eyes on their joined hands, she did not know whether to laugh or cry. She could not seem to connect her brain and her mouth to form a reply. When she said nothing, Bingley continued anxiously, filling the silence.
“I confess when we first met, I was taken with your angelic beauty, but as I spent more time with you, I began to realize there is much more to you. Your inner light, your grace, your kindness, only serve to magnify the beauty of your face. In fact, the two are so intertwined and complimentary, well, I…” he faltered. “I am making a mess of this, Miss Bennet. Let me just say you far outshine any other woman I have ever met. Please, make me the happiest of men and accept my hand.”
Jane smiled and squeezed his hand.
“I think you are quite eloquent, and I liked it better a moment ago when you called me ‘Jane’.”
“Oh, Jane, my love,” he whispered, raising her hand to his lips. “Please say ‘yes.’”
When she finally found the courage to look up at him, she was struck by how the blue of his eyes was so like the color of the sky that day. They were very similar to her own, and she happily envisioned a stair step of children all with the same blue eyes. “Mr. Bingley, there is nothing in the world that would make me happier than to be your wife.”
Simultaneously, they each took a deep breath and then laughed at themselves. When he put an arm around her, she laid her head on his shoulder. To her delight, she felt him kiss the top of her head. Then gently tilting her face up, he touched his lips to hers. “Oh, Jane,” he sighed, pulling her more closely against him. “I have thought of you as “my Jane” for a some time now, but I did not dare to hope you would forgive me for not returning to Hertfordshire last autumn as I promised.”
“I have said many times you are forgiven. You must know it is not in my nature to hold a grudge.”
He smiled. “No, it is not and for that I am eternally thankful. I cannot believe you accepted me after I made such a mess of my proposal.”
She placed her hand gently on his cheek.
“Your proposal was perfect. There was really only one word I heard over the clamor of the blood rushing in my ears and that was ‘love.’ You said you loved me. That was all I needed to hear.”
Jane laid her head on his shoulder and breathed in the earthy scent from the garden as it mingled with his spicy cologne. At last, she was being rewarded for her unwavering belief in him.
“I could sit here with you forever, but I believe it is time for me to speak to your father.”
Although Mr. Bennet did not think Mr. Bingley had the most discerning mind, he was certainly one of the most pleasant young men he had ever met, and he was raised in Mr. Bennet’s estimation by chosing Jane as his wife. Mr. Bingley was perfect match for Jane’s gentle temperament. As a father, Mr. Bennet was very pleased to know that Jane would be so happily settled.
Do you have a favorite setting for Mr. Bingley’s proposal?