Early October 1811
Five days had passed since Mr. Bennet had called on Mr. Bingley at Netherfield Park. The delay was a result of the number of calls the gentleman had to return as it appeared that there was not a man in the county who had not traveled down his drive for the purpose of welcoming him to the neighborhood. In fact, there were so many callers that he had delayed his journey to London.
In deference to rank, Bingley had first to pay a call on Sir William Lucas. It was at Lucas Lodge, where he was graciously received by the recently knighted gentleman and his wife, that Bingley understood the truth of Mr. Bennet’s assertion that every mother with an eligible daughter was already sizing him up for his wedding suit. The Lucas’s undiluted determination to have him as a son-in-law prompted several awkward exchanges. By listing every talent possessed by Miss Charlotte Lucas, Lady Lucas had succeeded in embarrassing her eldest daughter as there was a hint of desperation in the litany of her accomplishments. It was an exercise repeated at the homes of Mr. Long, who had two nieces, and Mr. Eaton who had two daughters and a niece. Although Mr. Garvey had neither daughter nor niece, he did have a female cousin who would be eager to come to Hertfordshire. Mr. Bingley need only ask.
After several visits with the neighboring families, Bingley was looking forward to calling on Mr. Bennet at Longbourn as it would make for a nice change. During visits with his neighbors, people deferred to him with a reverence usually reserved for members of the aristocracy—a display he found discomfiting. There would be no need to stand on ceremony with Mr. Bennet.
There was another reason for the visit to Longbourn. Due to the absence of family and friends, Bingley found Netherfield Park as dull as the king’s annual speech to Parliament. Of course, things would improve once his sisters and Darcy arrived from London. In the meantime, he would enjoy the company of a man who dropped bon mots as readily as a tree shedding its autumn leaves.
Once seated in Longbourn’s library, Bingley was not disappointed. Disarmed by Bennet’s wit and charm, Bingley admitted that he had hoped to catch sight of the Bennet daughters as he had been told by his butler that the Bennet sisters were particularly handsome, possibly the most handsome ladies in the shire. Bingley was not averse to being surrounded by a bevy of pretty faces.
“Indeed, they are,” Mr. Bennet answered without embarrassment, and when he saw Bingley’s smile, he continued, “You think I am bragging, Mr. Bingley, but I am not. My Bible compels me not to hide my lamp under a bushel.”
“I am happy to hear the reports are accurate.”
“Yes, it is common knowledge that my wife presented me with five handsome children. And as such, you have my permission to marry whichever one of the girls you chose. However, I should point out that Jane, as the eldest and the prettiest, merits your attention, but my second daughter, Elizabeth, has something more of quickness than her sisters.”
“Apparently, with regard to your daughter Elizabeth, the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
Mr. Bennet acknowledged the compliment with a smile. “As for the three youngest sisters, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, to continue the apple metaphor, they need to stay on the tree a little longer—a little maturing will hurt none of them. As for catching a glimpse of my daughters, when you mount your horse, all you need do is look to the upper windows, and you will see five faces pressed against the glass. They are as curious about you as you are about them.”
Before taking his leave, Bingley explained that business would take him to London for several days, but when he returned, he would be accompanied by two of his sisters, his brother-in-law, and his friend, Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire.
“Is Mr. Darcy married?”
“No, sir, and gives no indication of wishing to trade the title of bachelor for that of husband. As he is the son of a noted member of the gentry and the grandson of an earl, if he were to look for a wife, it would be amongst ladies of his own rank.”
“Of course,” Mr. Bennet said, nodding in understanding. “After all, this is England. We cannot have mingling of classes, although I daresay it would produce a more intelligent upper class if it did happen.”
Not knowing how to respond, Bingley quickly added, “Darcy is of a taciturn nature, and despite his rank, he can be awkward amongst company he is unfamiliar with. I shall warn you that he can appear aloof.”
“Then let him come to the assembly. We shall make him welcome.”
“Sir William Lucas has already extended the invitation. It will be my job to see that Darcy actually attends the dance. No easy chore there.”
“See that you do, Mr. Bingley. At every dance, there are ladies in need of partners, and if he can keep time to the music, he will be a welcomed addition to our little community.”
Outside, Mr. Bingley mounted his horse, and in doing so, stole a glance at the upper window. As predicted, there were at least four faces framed in its panes, including one fair-haired beauty, and this brought a smile to his face. He had a weakness for golden-haired maidens.
She must be the eldest Miss Bennet, Bingley thought and remembered that Buttons had been particularly generous in his praise of Jane Bennet. It seems the butler did not exaggerate.
As he turned his mount in the direction of the gate, Bingley touched the brim of his hat to acknowledge that he had seen them. The ladies, now giggling, hurried away from the window.
“An excellent start to my time in the country. There will be no shortage of dance partners,“ Bingley said aloud, thinking of the five Bennet daughters and their smiles. But as he made his way down the lane, another thought occurred to him: Darcy would not approve.
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For the next two weeks, Becoming Elizabeth Darcy will be available for .99 on Kindle and Nook. Also on sale for .99 is Another Place in Time on Kindle and Nook. If you enjoy time-travel P&P romances, you should enjoy these.