November 15, 1811
With Jane ill upstairs at Netherfield, Elizabeth is forced to spend long hours in the company of Mr. Bingley’s sisters and his unsociable friend. While Caroline entertains at the pianoforte, Mr. Darcy is drawn to Elizabeth’s side – noticing her intriguing mixture of sweetness and archness of manner. And Caroline has noticed him noticing. (P&P chapter 10)
While she had been playing the Italian tunes, which she knew by memory, Caroline had also been watching Mr. Darcy – normally one of her favorite occupations. On this occasion, however, she had derived little enough pleasure from it. For it seemed to her that the gentleman in question, rather than listening to the music she skillfully performed for him, had been paying far more attention to Miss Bennet. He had tried to be inconspicuous – pretending to look beyond her and averting his eyes if Elizabeth should turn his way. But Caroline was not deceived; she knew him too well.
The situation had gone from bad to worse when she had next launched into a Scotch air, hoping to redirect Darcy’s attention to herself by the liveliness of the tune. It seemed to have only driven him closer to Elizabeth, though. Now he was actually taking the trouble of speaking to her! Caroline could not hear the content of their conversation, but she observed the lady’s sportive manner, although it was not quite clear if this was meant to provoke or flirt. She could also see Darcy’s bemused countenance. The poor man looked positively bewitched!
Caroline stumbled uncharacteristically in her performance, sounding a discordant collection of notes too loudly to go unnoticed. Mr. Darcy did then, at last, render her his full attention, as did the others.
“Sorry,” she said to the room in general. “I cannot imagine how that happened. I must have played this piece a hundred times without once making such a mistake.”
Caroline resumed her playing, trying to be more attentive to her task. But the distraction of Darcy conversing with Elizabeth – by choice, this time, and not by necessity – persisted.
There was danger here. Mr. Darcy might not yet see it, but it should be plain enough to his true friends. How earnestly then did Miss Bingley wish for the invalid’s immediate recovery. Parting with Jane would be a small price to pay for also getting rid of Elizabeth!
In the meantime, the presumptuous female’s mesmerizing effects must be counteracted as much as possible, before things were allowed to progress too far. Surely the man was not yet slipped beyond the influence of reason. Perhaps a few well placed words about Elizabeth’s low connections, a few well drawn portraits of what life married into such a family would look like, might wake Darcy from whatever delusions he currently suffered. It would be risky, but Caroline saw no alternative.
And it was for his own good, after all. Darcy might be irritated with her for a time, but he would thank her in the end, once the danger had passed and he saw how she had saved him from it. Caroline could picture it now. He would take her into his arms, just as she had imagined a thousand times, and he would say,
“My darling Caroline, can you ever forgive me for looking at another woman? You have been as patient as a saint, you noble creature. I am so grateful that you showed me the error of my ways in time. There never could be anyone for me but you. Will you marry me?”
“Yes! Oh, yes!” she cried, closing her eyes to receive her beloved’s kiss.
“What was that, Caroline?” said Mr. Bingley, unpleasantly drawing her back to reality. “Do you have a headache or is the light too bright?”
Realizing that all eyes were once again trained on herself, and not necessarily with the admiration she could desire, Miss Bingley grasped at the offered excuse. “Yes, a headache,” she said, abandoning the pianoforte and rising, one hand held to her forehead. “Perhaps I will go to bed now.”
Her campaign to undermine Miss Elizabeth Bennet would have to wait until morning.