Is Caroline Bingley green with envy as she notices Mr. Darcy’s attentions to Elizabeth Bennet? Does Emma Woodhouse wish unspeakable horrors on Harriet Smith because of Harriet’s crush on Mr. Knightley? After Willoughby, does Marianne covet Elinor’s more sensible behaviour? We could go on for ages, but it’s only for this month so don’t miss a post! Today’s is from Shannon Winslow:
I had already written a couple of pieces about Caroline’s jealousy of Elizabeth over Mr. Darcy for our P&P Behind the Scenes series (see Caroline Detects Danger of Elizabeth). So I decided that she and I should both try to move on. I’m sorry to inform you, though, that Caroline doesn’t fare any better on her next attempted conquest. Here’s the story, inspired by something in my first P&P sequel, The Darcys of Pemberley.
Unbelievable. How could it possibly have had happened a second time… and to someone like her, too?
Caroline Bingley glowered dangerously, considering her bad luck. First Mr. Darcy – so much time and effort invested only to lose him to a complete nobody: Elizabeth Bennet, whose main claim seemed to be that she had “fine eyes!” That was all that could be said for her.
The wedding had been pure torture, of course. Caroline remembered thinking while she sat in the pew, the rector droning on and on, that if there had been any justice in the world – which obviously there was not – it should have been her standing up beside Darcy there, her he regarded so tenderly, and to herself he plighted his highly covetable troth.
Ironically, she also remembered thinking at the time that it would have been a bit easier to bear if Darcy had chosen to marry Miss Anne de Bourgh instead. That she might have understood! That her pride might have weathered without too much damage, for despite her own considerable attractions, one could not expect to complete with the undeniable claims of a noble bloodline and a far superior fortune.
Yes, ironic indeed, for here she was, now bested by the very person and the very claims she had then acknowledged as superior. She had been wrong about one thing, however; it was no easier to bear.
Caroline had met the man in question several times before, but she had never given him any serious consideration while Mr. Darcy remained available. Then at the breakfast after his wedding, she had been forced to concede defeat and turn her attentions elsewhere. And when she turned, quite literally, there was Colonel Fitzwilliam.
He smiled at once and greeted her, “Miss Bingley, we meet again, and what a happy occasion it is, too!”
Immediately, her natural instincts – those that exerted themselves whenever an eligible man came within her range – engaged. Caroline flashed her own winning smile and promptly began exuding charm. “Colonel Fitzwilliam! How very good it is to see you again, and no one could disagree with your assertion. Certainly, all Mr. Darcy’s true friends must wish him joy today.”
“And Elizabeth as well, of course.”
“To be sure! Elizabeth as well.”
The next few minutes between them were filled with standard pleasantries and polite nothings. On the whole, however, Caroline felt satisfied that she had made an excellent start. After all, it was not the content but the style and tone of the conversation that mattered, especially in the beginning, and the colonel’s manner had seemed a good deal more than friendly. One might even have concluded by observation that he was being deliberately flirtatious with her. Yes, it was an excellent start.
After Colonel Fitzwilliam moved on to speak to Georgiana, Caroline did a quick mental evaluation.
It would be a bit of a comedown; one could not deny it. Colonel Fitzwilliam was not as handsome as Mr. Darcy, nor nearly as rich. Not an heir, but a second son, in fact. That was lamentable. But second son to an earl was something, and second sons did often live to inherit titles, whereas Darcy never would. All in all, not be a bad bargain. She would not be said to have sold herself cheaply by marrying him. No, it was definitely a possibility worth pursuing.
So Caroline had made sure their paths crossed again before the party broke up that morning, and she had made the most of every opportunity in the months since to curry Colonel Fitzwilliam’s favor, most recently at Georgiana’s eighteenth birthday ball at Pemberley. There, Caroline had danced with the colonel and been as encouraging to him as she could well be.
The more she saw of him, the more she saw to admire. His good breeding could not be questioned, but he had a certain distinctive flare on top of that. Too many gentlemen of higher rank, especially the ones with money, were dull old sticks, in Caroline’s experience. Money could compensate for only so much and for only so long, after all.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was neither dull nor old but entirely agreeable. Caroline could imagine herself going on together with him very happily for years, and she had thought things were progressing nicely toward that end… until today.
She had stayed on with her brother and his wife at Heatheridge after Georgiana’s ball, trusting that her nearer proximity promised well for another encounter with the colonel before she would be forced to return to London, for really, she had exhausted most of the possibilities there already.
Three weeks later, the anticipated invitation did come: a dinner party at Pemberley. Her guess that Colonel Fitzwilliam would be present was likewise correct. They had no opportunity to speak upon his arrival, but Caroline was gratified to find him seated right next to her at their hostess’s end of the table. Excellent! She would have at least an hour of conversation with him, if only Elizabeth would not interfere too much. Let Elizabeth direct her attentions to the other side of the table where Mr. and Mrs. Bingley were installed.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was his usual charming self, and Caroline made sure to equal but not outshine him. “Really, Colonel,” she said at one interval, chortling excessively and fanning herself with her hand, “you should take pity on me. I can scarce draw breath for laughing.”
“Forgive me, Miss Bingley. Perhaps I am monopolizing too much of your time,” he replied. “A gentleman should allow his dinner companion the chance to eat.”
“Oh, heavens, no! You must not take me at my word, Colonel. I only meant to compliment you. I find all your stories so very droll. In truth, I would much rather listen to you than eat. Food one may get anywhere; delicious news and humor, expertly told, are much more difficult to come by. Please, do go on.”
“Very well. I shall tell you one thing more before I have done. It is sure to be of interest to you, and it would be impossible to overstate its significance to me personally. If you do not already know this news, you should. I am proud to inform you, Miss Bingley, that I am recently become engaged to Miss Anne de Bourgh.”
Caroline could not have been more staggered had she been struck a physical blow. Eyes wide with shock, she repeated, “Engaged to Miss de Bourgh?”
The question came out more loudly than Caroline had intended – indeed, rather more like an angry accusation. The only saving grace was that the others at the table, those who had prior knowledge of the information and those who had not, combined to make a noisy show of congratulating the colonel’s good fortune. No one stared at Miss Bingley. No one seemed to have noticed her outburst or her silent, dark mood which followed.
Needless to say, the rest of the evening was a total loss. Caroline could not stomach her dinner or the conversation of the ladies after they withdrew. She could not abide the sight of the men when they rejoined them either. To her mind, they had all conspired against her, as had fate. Even her own brother had shown himself a traitor for congratulating Fitzwilliam and ignoring her pain.
But what of the absent Anne de Bourgh? Caroline could taste the bile rising into her mouth when she considered the name. Reportedly, the young lady was much improved now, but it was still hard to imagine how such a pale, lifeless creature could have attached a lively man like Colonel Fitzwilliam, her obscenely large fortune and blue bloodline not withstanding.
The more Caroline thought about it, however, the more she was certain it was Lady Catherine de Bourgh who deserved the larger share of her wrath, for this was surely her doing. When that great lady had failed at getting Darcy for her daughter, she had obviously turned to Colonel Fitzwilliam as the next best alternative. In that respect, they had something in common with each other, although Caroline could not readily decide whether the comparison conveyed more compliment or insult to herself.