Here is Chapter 4 of my yet-untitled WIP, 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 chapters, here is the link to Chapter 1.
Elizabeth endured the ride to Meryton with her mother and three younger sisters, as the two youngest were plotting and scheming how to ensure they danced every dance. Mr. Bingley was mentioned a few times, but Kitty and Lydia no longer spoke of him with excessive praise; their thoughts were on the militia that would soon be stationed in Meryton for the winter. Elizabeth was grateful for her sisters’ distraction, for that would make it easier if Mr. Bingley began to show her particular attention… and if she were to welcome it.
When they stepped inside the Assembly Hall, Elizabeth searched for her friend, Charlotte Lucas. At least, that is what she told herself. In truth, she was looking for Mr. Bingley and his party. When she did not see him, but instead saw her friend, she hurried over to her.
“Charlotte!” Elizabeth said, reaching to take her friend’s hands. “How have you been?”
“I have been quite busy, but we are all well.” She tilted her head at Elizabeth. “What news do you have of Jane? I thought she would have returned by now.”
“Their trip has taken an unexpected turn, as our aunt and uncle encountered friends they had not seen in many years.” She bit her lip as she pondered whether to mention Jane’s beau. Despite being a confidential friend, Charlotte also tended to tell her mother everything, who would then pass the information on to everyone she encountered. Elizabeth knew her mother would be displeased if she was the last person to hear about her own daughter’s admirer. “We expect her home within a few weeks.”
“I imagine you are looking forward to her return.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I am. You know me well, Charlotte!”
Charlotte nodded her head toward the main door. “Look. Our new neighbours have arrived.”
Elizabeth turned to see Mr. Bingley flanked on either side by two very fashionable ladies. They both stood erect, but the taller one regarded those in the room through squinted eyes and lips turned down in a frown. The look of disapproval was readily evident in her features. The other lady, wearing a solemn expression, was murmuring something to the gentleman at her side. It was evident to Elizabeth they were not pleased with what they saw.
Another gentleman stood on the other side of the taller lady, and Elizabeth tried to determine which one was the husband of Mr. Bingley’s sister and which one was his friend. Both gentlemen were tall, but one had a portly build. That gentleman’s gaze seemed focused on a nearby food table rather than the people; he barely acknowledged the shorter lady’s words to him. The other gentleman, decidedly handsome and slimmer, cast his eyes down and away from anyone who might look his way.
Charlotte grasped Elizabeth’s arm. “Look, my father is going over to greet them. Am I mistaken, or does it appear as though Mr. Bingley is the only one pleased to be here?”
“I was thinking the very same thing, Charlotte. Have you met them?”
“Only Mr. Bingley, when he returned my father’s call.” She turned to Elizabeth. “I understand Mr. Bingley has already dined with your family at Longbourn.”
“Yes, he did. We had invited his whole party, but his family and friend had business that took them back to London.” Elizabeth shuddered. “If their disapproving looks indicate what I think they do, I am glad they did not come for dinner.” She shook her head. “They do not seem at all pleased with what they see here.”
“I agree. If only Jane were here to temper our opinion,” Charlotte said with a soft chuckle. “She would tell us they are very pleasing women and that we are much mistaken.”
“That she would, Charlotte!” Elizabeth said with a laugh.
Elizabeth’s mother stepped up behind her and spoke in a fervent whisper. “Look, Lizzy, it is Mr. Bingley and his sisters. Do you not think the ladies elegant and quite fashionable?”
Elizabeth pondered what to say to her. “They are certainly wearing gowns that are unlike anything that would have been made around here.”
“They must have been made at one of the finer millinery shops in London,” Charlotte added.
Mrs. Bennet nudged Elizabeth. “Smile, girls! Mr. Bingley and his party are coming this way. We are about to be introduced to them.”
Elizabeth heard her mother squeal softly as the party approached. Despite being eager to make the acquaintance of his family, she did not have high expectations that they were as eager to meet hers.
Mr. Bingley came up to the three ladies and gave a slight bow. “Good evening, ladies. What a pleasant affair this is. May I introduce you to my family and good friend?”
Mr. Bingley made the introductions. His sisters, Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst, her husband, Reginald Hurst, and Bingley’s friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, did not seem particularly affable, as they extended only the barest civilities. Despite being polite in their words and manners, Elizabeth sensed that she was being scrutinized by the four of them.
But for the scowl that seemed etched on his face, Elizabeth could have considered Bingley’s good friend handsome. He finally lifted his eyes, and Elizabeth saw that they were on her. She attempted to smile, but his response was only to lower his brows and press his lips tightly together. She turned her attention back to Mr. Bingley and his sisters, who were engaged in conversation with her mother.
It was at that moment that Kitty and Lydia hurried over, out of breath.
“Mamma?” Lydia tugged on her mother’s sleeve.
“Oh, and here are my two youngest daughters, Kitty and Lydia.”
The two girls gave a small curtsey, and Lydia turned back her mother. “Mamma! Aunt Phillips has told us the militia will be here any day now!”
Elizabeth noticed Mr. Bingley’s sisters share a look of disgust between them. Her mother, fortunately, seemed unaware, or at least she did not acknowledge their disdain as she shooed her youngest daughters away.
Mr. Bingley’s smile, however, was genuine, and he turned his gaze to her. “Miss Bennet, if you are not already engaged, may I have the next dance?”
“I am not engaged. I thank you, yes.” As Elizabeth spoke those words, Mr. Darcy glowered and turned away.
Mr. Bingley joyfully expressed his appreciation to Elizabeth, and he walked away with the rest of his party to await the next dance.
Mrs. Bennet, unable to contain her feeling of triumph, walked away and laughed with great mirth.
Elizabeth turned to Charlotte. “What say you, good friend? Do you think Mr. Bingley’s party is at all satisfied with those they must now consider as their neighbours?”
“It was quite apparent in their manner and expressions what they think of us,” Charlotte replied. “Not too highly, I would suppose.” She shook her head. “Considering their family fortune was made in trade, I fear they must have very short memories!”
“Or convenient lapses! If they are to settle here, they shall be quite lonely, for there are few here that they would consider their equals.” Elizabeth lowered her brows in thought. “It seems odd that Mr. Bingley is so completely unaffected by those his sisters and friend consider to be beneath their notice.” Her brows pinched in consternation. “And how is it he is such good friends with Mr. Darcy?”
“That I cannot answer.” Charlotte turned towards the small orchestra and nodded her head. “But we shall have to contemplate that later, as it appears the next dance is about to begin, Lizzy.”
“So it is, and I shall quite enjoy dancing with Mr. Bingley.”
Charlotte laughed. “And I shall quite enjoy watching his party as they watch you dance with him.” She squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “He pays you an honour to single you out for his first dance.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Whether that was his intention or not, I am quite honoured he did.”
Elizabeth enjoyed her dance with Mr. Bingley. He was an excellent dancer and a delightful conversationalist. She was, however, slightly distressed when the movements of the dance forced her to take her neighbouring partner’s hand, which happened to be that of Mr. Darcy. He was dancing with Miss Bingley, and Elizabeth readily noticed him scrutinizing her frequently, as if watching for a misstep or for her to do something that did not meet his expectations. Fortunately, those moments with him did not last long, but each time she met his solemn glare, she was more determined to enjoy Mr. Bingley’s company.
“Tell me, Mr. Bingley,” she said as she stepped around him with a backward glance. “Are you settling in well at Netherfield?”
A wide smile lit up his face. “Indeed! I feel as though I have lived there forever, and yet it has been less than a month.”
“I am glad. I have lived at Longbourn all my life, and I can only imagine what it must be like to get used to living in a new place.”
“I have lived several places and found that, in each one, I settled in quite well.” He laughed. “I have often been told I am easy to please.”
Elizabeth considered this a good trait for a gentleman to have. She let out a soft laugh as she turned to take Mr. Darcy’s hand, her smile quickly fading. The fact that he did not speak to her did nothing to improve her opinion of him. She felt as though he was looking at her only to find fault.
When she and Mr. Bingley came back together, he said, “I hope you will allow my sisters to pay you a call at Longbourn. I do wish them to become better acquainted with you and your family.”
It was easy for Elizabeth to smile as she looked into Mr. Bingley’s hopeful face. “We will welcome them warmly.”
When the dance concluded, Elizabeth thanked Mr. Bingley and walked over to sit with Mary. Charlotte was now taking the dance floor with Mr. Bingley. As her eyes swept across the room, she noticed Mr. Darcy sitting out, as well.
As the evening progressed, Elizabeth danced about half of the dances, as there were not enough gentlemen in attendance to partner all the ladies. She often found herself talking with Charlotte, her mother, Mary, or her aunt, Mrs. Phillips. Towards the end of the evening, Mr. Bingley came up to her and addressed her.
“Miss Bennet, would you do me the honour of standing up with me for a second?”
Elizabeth felt honoured, but was somewhat surprised that he would ask for a second dance. She was about to claim fatigue and decline, as she truly did not want to dance anymore this evening, but her mother answered for her.
“Oh, such an honour, Mr. Bingley! Lizzy would be delighted!”
Elizabeth shuddered at her mother’s outburst, especially since Mr. Darcy stood nearby and it was apparent he had heard her, for he turned his head towards them. She continued to smile, however. “I look forward to it.”
When Bingley walked away, Elizabeth pursed her lips tightly together, knowing that she would soon be the object of gossip amongst their neighbours for having danced two with the new occupant of Netherfield.
Despite her fatigue, she enjoyed her second dance with him, as well. Mr. Bingley had such a lively personality, laughed frequently, and was always gracious in his manner of speaking. She also preferred this dance to her first one, as Mr. Darcy stood this one out. But even though he was across the room, she could readily see the censure on his face as he watched them.
When the dance ended, Elizabeth again thanked him and excused herself, saying she needed to freshen up. She hoped that in doing so, it might discourage any gossip relating to her and Mr. Bingley.
She picked up a drink and stepped outside to join Charlotte in the back courtyard. It was a delightful evening, with a mild breeze, and she enjoyed being able to get away from the crush of people. The two ladies stood in a corner near the door and watched as people came in and out.
As they talked, Elizabeth noticed Mr. Darcy step out with Mr. Bingley.
“I cannot approve of your asking Miss Bennet for a second dance, Bingley. It is far too soon to be declaring yourself in such a manner, and you must realize she is completely unsuitable for you.”
“Declaring myself! Darcy, you are too old-fashioned, and besides, what if I do find Miss Bennet’s company enchanting and delightful?” He shook his head. “Why should I not dance two dances with her? I cannot help it if you refuse to dance with anyone here but my sisters.”
“You know I detest dancing unless I am acquainted with my partner. To dance with anyone else at an assembly such as this would be insupportable!”
“Darcy, you are too fastidious for your own good!”
The two men stepped further out, and Elizabeth could hear no more. She nudged Charlotte to urge her back inside before the men turned around and saw them. Once they stepped through the door, Elizabeth turned back with a glare, only to see that Mr. Darcy had turned and witnessed their retreat.
Elizabeth was outraged, and once they were inside, she let out a huff. “Did you hear what Mr. Darcy said to his friend?”
“I did, Lizzy. I was not certain whether you had.”
“He has no right to tell him what he ought or ought not do!” Elizabeth said angrily.
Charlotte took Elizabeth’s hand. “Lizzy, while Mr. Bingley likely meant nothing by it, two dances with a young lady is significant. I can assure you people in Meryton will be talking.”
Elizabeth drew in a long breath and let it out slowly. “I know you are right, Charlotte, but it irritates me that Mr. Darcy thinks he has a right to direct Mr. Bingley’s actions.” She laughed. “What kind of friend does that?”
Charlotte shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose it depends on whether he feels he must look out for his friend’s best interest or merely wants to use his influence on him for his own purposes.”
“Well, I shall know which one I think it is, and he is certainly not someone I would want as my good friend!”
Charlotte laughed. “I suppose he never will be, either!”
“I would imagine not!” She shook her head. “It is a pity, then, that he is so handsome.”
“He is both rich and handsome – a deadly combination that often makes one think they can do and say whatever they please and not be questioned about it.”
“As he most likely has done all his life!” Elizabeth attempted to calm herself, and then said softly, “Charlotte, when we stepped back indoors, I looked back and saw that Mr. Darcy turned and saw us. I am certain he will not tell his friend we were out there and likely overheard what he said!”
“He saw us?”
Elizabeth turned to look in the direction of the gentleman. “He did.” She gave her head a determined shake. “That man has no idea who he is dealing with. I shall show him!”
“How do you intend to do that, Lizzy? The man has a fortune greater than we can ever imagine, and with that, he likely has a good deal of influence.”
“I am not quite certain, but the more he insists that I am not suitable for his friend, the more I shall convince Mr. Bingley that I am.”
Charlotte placed her hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “You have no need to try too hard, Lizzy. I believe the admirable Mr. Bingley is quite fond of you already.”
Later that night, when the ladies returned home, Mrs. Bennet could not stop talking to her husband about how Mr. Bingley danced two with Lizzy and only one with every other lady.
“He favoured my Lizzy, did he?” Mr. Bennet laughed. “He is obviously a man of good sense!”
“Papa, there is no need for you to add to the speculation. Enough of our neighbours in Meryton will do that for us!” Elizabeth smiled. “But I do find him quite agreeable.”
Mrs. Bennet clasped her hands together. “I doubt Mrs. Lucas will want to add to the gossip. I saw her looking with disapproval during that second dance of yours. I could see on her face that she wished it would have been her Charlotte.”
“Well,” said Mr. Bennet as he folded up his newspaper. “Let us all go to bed and sleep on it. Perhaps on the morrow we shall wake up and find it was all a dream!”
Elizabeth was glad to retreat to her room. She had much to think about concerning Mr. Bingley and his particular attention towards her, and how Mr. Darcy discouraged such attention. She pondered what her feelings for Mr. Bingley really were. He was certainly amiable and a very well-mannered gentleman, although she did not particularly care for his sisters and friend. It was quite unfortunate, indeed.
Elizabeth sat down and looked at a letter she had been penning to Jane. She had left off when she had departed for the assembly, assuring her she would give her a detailed account of the evening. As she wrote about the charming Mr. Bingley, she paused as she wondered if she was being more effusive in writing about her feelings for him than she actually felt. She tapped the end of the quill on her chin as she pondered what her true feelings for him really were.
She bit her lip as she questioned whether she felt true affection for him or merely wanted to spite Mr. Darcy and his attempt at interference. She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “Whatever my feelings for Mr. Bingley are, he is worth writing about to Jane.” She tapped her fingers a few times on the table.
“So it shall be,” she said softly. “Jane can extol the new gentleman in her life, and I can extol the new one in mine!”
The following morning, Elizabeth was grateful no one seemed inclined to speak any further about her and Mr. Bingley. Her two younger sisters would not stop talking with great enthusiasm about the officers who were coming, and her mother seemed equally eager for them to arrive. That appeared to replace her excitement over her daughter dancing twice with Mr. Bingley.
A few days later, Mr. Bingley’s sisters visited Longbourn. The ladies displayed civil manners and engaged in friendly conversation, but Elizabeth could readily detect condescension in their exchanged looks, rigid comportment, and even the stilted tone of their voices. As one who loved to sketch a person’s character, she was more attuned to the small mannerisms that conveyed – or betrayed – one’s true sentiments. Her mother did not appear to notice their disdain at all. She doubted the youngest ones would, as Kitty and Lydia had stayed but a few minutes, as they were determined to set out for Meryton to hear the latest gossip.
Elizabeth determined that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had paid the visit to Longbourn at the urging of their brother. She was certain he had persuaded them to call.
She was speaking of this to Charlotte, who came to visit the next day. “I cannot help but be wary of the motives of Mr. Bingley’s sisters. While they appear in every way gracious and courteous, there is an underlying animosity that I find distressing.”
“Perhaps it is due to all the talk about your second dance with Mr. Bingley, “Charlotte said as they strolled through the garden. “It is as I expected.”
“I wish people would not talk so much about it,” she replied.
“His sisters likely wish they would not, as well. I doubt they will say anything to promote the gossip!”
Elizabeth laughed. “And neither will his friend, I would imagine.”
Charlotte tilted her head and looked at Elizabeth. “Mr. Bingley is a good man. It is a shame he has such sisters and friend as he does. I heard that Mrs. Long attempted to engage Mr. Darcy in conversation, and he said very little. When he did speak, he almost seemed angry that someone imposed upon him by conversing with him.”
“Oh, that we could choose our family, as well as our friends.” She shook her head. “There is nothing to be done about family, but I do not see how Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are such close friends. They are so very different.”
“There must be some reason,” Charlotte said. “Perhaps you might discover it this Friday at the party we are hosting at Lucas Lodge.”
Charlotte nodded. “My father thought it would be a good way to welcome our new neighbours, as well as the officers who have arrived.”
“They have arrived, then?” Elizabeth said.
“Yes, they arrived just yesterday.”
“I am certain Kitty and Lydia will look forward to meeting them at the party.” She let out a huff. “If they have not already met them by then.”
“And do you look forward to seeing Mr. Bingley again?”
Elizabeth only smiled.
“You need to make up your mind, Lizzy. I can see that you are not yet decided about him.”
“It is true, Charlotte. He has so many fine traits and yet…”
Charlotte shook her head and took her friend’s hand. “Must you always so painstakingly evaluate one’s character? You will never find a gentleman who fits every standard of the man you want to marry.” She sighed and looked down. “I know I am more practical than you, but if a good, kind gentleman began to single me out, I would welcome it. Neither of us can afford to be too particular.”
“I do welcome his attentions, Charlotte.” Elizabeth laughed. “But it is still too soon for me to have developed a strong feeling of love for him.”
“Do not wait too long, my friend.”
Before Charlotte left, she informed the rest of the Bennets about the party and the arrival of the militia. This excited Kitty and Lydia to no end, and the two young girls set out immediately for Meryton, hoping to meet some of the officers.
When the girls returned, having also stopped in the milliner’s shop to purchase ribbons and lace for their bonnets and gowns, it was evident they had succeeded in their mission. They could not stop talking about the handsome officers in regimentals they had met.
In all their effusions over the officers, Mary gave them a look of stern disapproval, Mrs. Bennet squealed with delight, and Mr. Bennet rose and stepped from the room. Elizabeth listened quietly with more than a little concern that the girls were far too young to be so interested in these men. She hoped she could trust her sisters to act with restraint and decorum around them. She inwardly sighed. Or was that asking too much?