Here is Chapter 5 of my current, untitled, WIP. (I am narrowing down my choice of a title!) In this Pride and Prejudice variation, Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley meet first, because both Jane and Mr. Darcy are gone. I have been posting once a month, but next month I will post twice. I hope to finish the book this month, go through edits, and then my goal is to publish it in October. If you have not yet begun reading this story, here is the link to Chapter 1. Enjoy!
A few days later, Elizabeth received another letter from Jane, who informed her plans were being made to come home. She was delighted to hear that Mr. Marshall decided to accompany them to Hertfordshire. He had an acquaintance who lived an easy distance from Meryton and had been hoping for an opportunity to visit him for a considerable time. This would provide the perfect opportunity to meet the Bennets and visit his friend. Jane told Elizabeth she had also written her parents to inform them about Mr. Marshall and their arrival.
“I shall finally meet Jane’s Mr. Marshall!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “And she shall meet my… she shall meet Mr. Bingley.” She giggled softly. “Poor Mama. How will she handle two such gentlemen interested in her daughters? She has not had reason to hope for a suitable and favourable match for any of her daughters since Jane was fifteen, let alone two such matches at once.”
Elizabeth frowned and bit her lip. If only Mr. Bingley’s sisters and friend were not so intolerant of everyone, she thought. It would be so much easier to enjoy his particular regard.
On Friday, the Bennet household was filled with anticipation for the party that evening at Lucas Lodge. Kitty and Lydia could hardly wait to dance with the officers, Elizabeth looked forward to seeing the amiable Mr. Bingley again, and Mrs. Bennet hoped he would continue to single out her second eldest daughter. Her mother also could not wait to inform everyone about Jane’s new beau who would be arriving soon. She had been ecstatic when she read Jane’s letter.
Elizabeth attempted to curb her mother’s conjectures in both quarters, but to no avail.
As she readied herself for the party, she gazed into the mirror. She could not help but wonder whether Mr. Bingley had taken Mr. Darcy’s admonition about her to heart and whether his sisters would continue with their disapproving looks towards her, her family, and essentially the whole neighbourhood. She pondered this as her fingers tapped her lips. How would she feel if his attentions waned? She stood up and snatched her shawl, throwing it about her shoulders.
She turned back and looked at her reflection again. For some reason, the only feelings she sensed were anger and resentment towards his friend and sisters. She pressed her lips together, shrugged her shoulders, and walked out of the room.
That evening, many from the neighbourhood gathered at Lucas Lodge, ready to meet, welcome, and dance with the newly arrived officers. It was apparent to Elizabeth that Kitty and Lydia had already become acquainted with several of them, and they soon introduced her to those they had met.
Elizabeth was talking to Colonel Forster and some of the officers when Mr. Bingley and his party stepped in. She saw both him and Mr. Darcy glance her way, and the expression on each were as opposite as one could imagine. Mr. Bingley’s face lit up with a broad smile, but Mr. Darcy frowned, provoking Elizabeth to such a degree she felt she had hackles raised along her back.
Mr. Bingley approached her with a wide smile. Mr. Darcy followed grimly, and she watched with humour as Sir William Lucas stepped up, intercepting Mr. Bingley’s sisters, who seemed not at all pleased with his intrusion.
She continued to talk to Colonel Forster about the regiment being stationed in their small neighbourhood. “Are the militia here because we are suspected of having spies among us?” she asked with a laugh.
“Oh, heavens no!” the colonel replied. “At least I hope not!” He laughed. “It seems to be a most civil and… peaceful neighbourhood.”
“Did they perchance hear of our populace rising up in protests and riot or do they hope to incite a riot here so they may then subdue it?”
“Of course not!” Colonel Forster replied.
Those around her laughed, and she excused herself from the colonel and those with whom she had been talking. She turned to Mr. Bingley and smiled.
“Good evening, Mr. Bingley. It is good to see you… and your sisters and friend here.” She glanced briefly at Mr. Darcy, who stood behind his friend.
“Thank you!” he said with a grin. “I have been looking forward to it. There is nothing like delightful company, delicious food, and exceptional music and dancing to round out a good day.” He continued to smile as he looked about.
Elizabeth lifted her brows and gave him a rueful smile. “I can assure you the food is delicious, I hope the company is delightful, but I cannot guarantee that the music will be exceptional.”
“I am certain I will enjoy it.” He extended his arm towards some empty chairs. “Would you care to sit down?”
As Mr. Bingley guided her towards two vacant chairs in the corner, she noticed Mr. Darcy turn away and walk to the fireplace. He stared into the fire, and then turned, propping his arm up on the mantel as he slowly looked about the room, a displeased look on his face.
She and Mr. Bingley sat down and began conversing. He was very attentive to her, asking about her family, friends, and what she enjoyed doing. To his credit, he did not seem at all put off by – or that he had even noticed – the behaviour of her family across the room. Unfortunately, it appeared Mr. Darcy had noticed.
Lydia was openly flirting with the officers, laughing with such abandon that the boisterous sound filled the room. Mrs. Bennet stood nearby watching, but instead of admonishing her youngest to behave properly, seemed to be enjoying it and at times joined in with her own laughter. She then nodded her head towards Elizabeth and Mr Bingley as she spoke with some ladies, likely pointing out his continued attention to her daughter while exulting in the fact that her eldest had met a suitable gentleman from the Lake District who would be accompanying her party on their return.
Elizabeth watched Miss Bingley walk over to Mr. Darcy, and the two began speaking. He wore that same scowl Elizabeth now believed was permanently etched on his face. His and Miss Bingley’s gaze shifted between her, her mother, and her two youngest sisters. She knew they were displeased both with the behaviour of her family and that Mr. Bingley was sitting with her.
Elizabeth started. She had not been attending to his conversation. “Pray, forgive me, Mr. Bingley. Of what were you speaking?”
“The neighbourhood. I find the people so very pleasant. Is everyone as amiable as I have found them to be?”
Elizabeth smiled, silently chiding herself for not paying attention to the gentleman who was being so attentive to her. “It is a fine neighbourhood indeed. While there are the occasional conflicts and frustrations, most everyone gets along quite well.”
“Splendid! In the short time I have been here, I have come to like it very much.” He gave her an encouraging smile. “I have found everyone quite amiable.”
Elizabeth looked around the room. In addition to the glaring eyes of Mr. Bingley’s sisters and friend upon them, the eyes of the people in this very fine neighbourhood were, as well. She was certain their wagging tongues were doing a great deal of unwarranted speculation. This would not do.
“Mr. Bingley, if you do not mind, I see my good friend Charlotte. If you will excuse me, I would like to visit with her.” She gave him a sympathetic look. “Would you mind if we continue our conversation later?”
“Not at all!”
Elizabeth walked away, grateful to have a small respite from Mr. Bingley’s company. She approached Charlotte and greeted her.
“Good evening, Charlotte. It is a lovely evening. How are you?”
“I am well.” Charlotte stole a glance at Mr. Bingley. “It appears as though you are also doing quite well, Lizzy. Mr. Bingley is again spending a good amount of time with you,” she said. “There can be no doubt that he admires you.” Charlotte smiled and tilted her head. “And what of you? Have your feelings for him deepened?”
“Oh, Charlotte, I still feel as though I hardly know him.”
“I wonder if one can ever really get to know someone, no matter how much time they spend with one another.”
“Well, of one thing I am certain. I am currently not making any plans to marry the man.”
“Do you not feel as though you could love him?”
“I know I would be treated with kindness by him. But love?” She shrugged her shoulders.
“You know my opinion of the subject. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. There are always things about the other person we cannot find out before the wedding, and then there is always the possibility that a person will change.”
“You make marriage sound like it is destined to fail from the start.” Elizabeth laughed and then sighed. “But he certainly seems to be one of the finest gentlemen I know.”
Charlotte gently placed her hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “I have said many times that I am more practical than romantic, but I cannot help but wonder what reservations you may have about him. We are, both of us, from families of little fortune with only a small dowry. Do you think another opportunity will present itself – one with such an esteemed gentleman with a more than acceptable fortune?”
“Charlotte, my feelings are not yet deep, my affections not secured. He is handsome and kind, and I certainly enjoy his company, but I need more time getting to know him.”
“Well, since he needs to get to know you, as well, come. I insist you play for us.” Charlotte smiled at her friend. “Let Mr. Bingley see you are a lady of musical accomplishments.”
“I hardly think I…”
Charlotte waved her hand and lifted her voice to the crowd. “How delightful! Elizabeth has agreed to play and sing for us this evening.” She gave her friend a nod and extended her hand towards the pianoforte.
Elizabeth sat down at the instrument after casting an admonishing glare at Charlotte.
She was flattered when Mr. Bingley came and stood by her, a smile on his face. Out of the corner of her eye, however, she espied Mr. Darcy, who appeared displeased. She determined he was most likely used to listening to only the finest performers, and had judged her playing as deficient in comparison.
When she finished playing, Bingley thanked her for the lovely piece and escorted her back to their chairs in the corner to talk. With every snide glance by Miss Bingley or critical stare from Mr. Darcy, she became more determined to display to them how much she enjoyed Mr. Bingley’s company with smiles, laughter, and enjoyable conversation. His company was truly delightful; she did not find it difficult.
At length, Mary sat down at the pianoforte to play. Unfortunately, it was not a song conducive to dancing or even enjoying.
Mr. Bingley looked at Elizabeth. “Do you think we shall soon have music to which we can dance?”
Elizabeth nodded as she watched her mother hurry over to Mary. “If my mother has her way, my sister has most likely been told to play something more suitable to dancing.”
After watching Mary struggle through her piece to completion, Elizabeth said, “Pray, excuse me, Mr. Bingley, but if you do not mind, I believe Mary is in need of someone to turn the pages for her.”
“Certainly! But if she plays a song to dance to, may I request the dance with you?”
Elizabeth smiled. “You may, sir.”
As she walked away, she noticed several pair of eyes following her. She let out a soft huff. Speculation about her and Mr. Bingley was likely getting out of hand. When her gaze fell on Mr. Darcy, she made no attempt to stifle her chortle and the quick shake of her head. He looked as if he were a statue, with his arm propped up on the hearth’s mantel and his head held high. She could readily detect, however, the movement of his eyes following her as she moved across the room.
She took her place beside her sister at the pianoforte and read the music as Mary played, turning the page when needed.
“Thank you, Lizzy,” Mary said. “No one else seemed inclined to help me this evening.”
“Unfortunately, Kitty and Lydia are preoccupied with all the officers here,” Elizabeth said with a shake of her head.
Mary frowned and pounded the keys a little more severely than written. “They are far too young to be consorting with them.”
Elizabeth gave a resigned shrug. “Hopefully the officers will have the sense and discipline to refrain from indulging those two silly, young girls.”
Mary let out a disgruntled groan. “They are men, Lizzy. I strongly doubt it.”
When the song was finished, Elizabeth moved away. Her brow lifted when she saw that Mr. Darcy had moved to stand beside his friend. She strongly suspected he was giving his friend more unwanted and unwarranted advice.
The ire she felt at his continued interference overruled all thoughts of prudence and caution, prompting her to return to Mary to ask her to play a country dance. She looked forward to dancing with Mr. Bingley just to spite his friend.
As Mary began the introduction, she watched Mr. Bingley jump to his feet and hurry over to her, hopefully leaving his friend with an unfinished sentence or thought. Good for you, Mr. Bingley, she said to herself. Defy his admonitions!
Mr. Bingley was very attentive and talkative during their dance. Elizabeth could not help but compare him to Mr. Darcy, who stood up with Miss Bingley. He was neither talkative with his partner, nor with her when they occasionally came together in the movement of the dance. She suspected both he and his partner were silently conspiring against them with their rigid looks of censure and disdain etched on their faces. As usual, Mr. Bingley was completely oblivious to their expressions. Or perhaps he did not care.
That was certainly in his favour – and yet not. Elizabeth did not mind that he cared nothing for their critical judgments of her, yet she would have preferred him to display a little more backbone and take a stance in defending her to them. She tried to convince herself that he did it when he was with them in private instead of a public place.
For the remainder of the party, Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth danced and conversed with others, but when he was not with her, he often smiled in her direction. She hoped that by spending time with others, people would cease their staring and gossiping about the two of them.
When Mr. Bingley took the floor with Charlotte, Elizabeth’s friend looked at her with an apologetic shrug, followed by a smile. Elizabeth shook her head and laughed, wondering what, if anything she would say to him as they danced. She hoped Charlotte would not misrepresent her feelings to him. She turned away and collided with someone. She looked up into Mr. Darcy’s face.
“Pray, excuse me, Miss Bennet.”
Elizabeth waved her hand. “It was my fault. I was not looking where I was going.”
Mr. Darcy drew in a breath as if he were about to say something, but he did not. The two were watching the dancers when Sir William Lucas stepped over to them.
“Miss Elizabeth! I see that Mr. Bingley is engaged in dancing with my daughter, but that is no reason why you should not be on the dance floor, as well!” He turned to Mr. Darcy. “Miss Elizabeth is an excellent dancer. You have likely seen how well she dances.”
“I have. She is indeed a fine dancer.”
Sir William turned to Elizabeth. “And Miss Bennet, you have likely seen how well Mr. Darcy dances. He is…”
Elizabeth smiled. “Indeed, I have seen him dance, but if you will excuse me, I am fatigued and need some refreshment.”
Darcy simply nodded as she walked away.
Later, as the Bennet ladies returned home in the carriage, Elizabeth found herself at odds with her mother. Mrs. Bennet was delighted at how the esteemed and quite wealthy Mr. Bingley was continually singling her out, and she was certain an engagement would be announced directly.
“Really, Mama, it is too soon to speculate on such a thing. I am not even certain he is the right man for me.”
“Right man? Why do you speak so? Everyone in the neighbourhood has been saying how they believe it is already a decided thing!” Mrs. Bennet let out a huff. “He is a most amiable gentleman, quite wealthy, and gets along splendidly with you. How could you even think such a thing?”
Elizabeth drew in a slow breath and turned her head towards the window in the carriage, glancing out into the darkness. Just as she had suspected, she and Mr. Bingley had become the topic of gossip and speculation. Her mother was likely the one encouraging it all. She turned back to her. “He is indeed amiable, but there are other things that I must consider.”
“Other things? Heavens, Lizzy. You could not ask for anyone finer. I would be honoured to have him as a son in our family. Oh, yes, indeed! I would be more than delighted!”
Elizabeth pursed her lips, knowing there was no sense in trying to convince her mother otherwise. After a while, she said, “Indeed, he is amiable, but it is far too soon for him to ask for my hand. Pray, do not further the neighbourhood gossip that has already decided the two of us will marry before Christmas. Let us patiently wait and see how things transpire between us.”
That seemed to appease her mother for the duration of the ride home. Kitty and Lydia spoke of the officers and their delight with how many handsome gentlemen had come into the neighbourhood. Mary tried to voice warnings about the two younger girls’ behaviour, and while Elizabeth believed her to be a little severe, she could not argue with her caution. Mrs. Bennet was inclined to allow the girls a little fun and not be so harsh. Their father, who had not accompanied them, would likely have done nothing to check their behaviour, either.
As Elizabeth continued to stare out into the darkness, the accusatory looks of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley further inflamed her. Would they have sway over Mr. Bingley and persuade him out of what they likely considered an imprudent marriage? Marriage? Was she really concerned that they might do that – when she was not even certain that was what she wanted?
She slowly turned to her mother and sighed. At present, there were no other prospects for her in their neighbourhood. There were available gentlemen, to be sure, but none that she found attractive and appealing to her sensibilities. It was apparent that Mr. Bingley was the most suitable gentleman for her in all her acquaintance. She might never meet another. Perhaps Charlotte was right.
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. The bright smiling face of Mr. Bingley appeared, bringing a smile to her lips. But his image slowly faded, and before her was the proud and brooding Mr. Darcy. She shook her head briskly, opening her eyes to quickly rid herself of the image. Once it was gone, she breathed a sigh of relief.
She began to finger the fabric of her gown as she thought about Jane. While she missed her terribly, she was envious that her sister had remained at the lakes. She considered her fortunate to have been able to spend the time getting to know Mr. Marshall away from their mother and her endless speculations on a forthcoming engagement.
It was not difficult to imagine Jane having a beau. She was at least five times more beautiful than anyone she knew, and there was no one kinder or more generous. She was certain Mr. Marshall was likely already very much in love with her.
As the Bingley carriage returned to Netherfield, Darcy sat rigidly staring out the window into darkness. Bingley continued to praise Miss Elizabeth Bennet to the other occupants, while his sisters continued to disparage everyone and everything in the neighbourhood. Darcy remained quiet, thinking about the evening.
So lost was he in his thoughts, that he had not heard Bingley call his name out several times.
“Darcy, have you fallen asleep?”
“Uh, no. Pardon me. What were you saying?”
“How did you find the party tonight?”
Darcy expelled a quick breath. “It was tolerable, but nothing exceptional,” he replied with an edge in his voice.
“I thought it was delightful!” Bingley’s voice resonated with a hint of laughter.
Darcy leaned forward and rested his arms on his knees. “Your description of everything is delightful, Bingley. You really must learn to expand your vocabulary.”
“I found the whole thing pathetic,” Miss Bingley said. “There was no music to speak of at all, and the behaviour of some…” She looked at her sister. “…was inexcusable.”
Darcy shifted on the seat. He had actually enjoyed Miss Bennet’s playing and singing. While she had not sung and played with flawless proficiency, she had performed with heartfelt emotion, which he truly enjoyed.
He had closely watched her this evening to determine if she was suitable for Bingley, and he found that the more he watched her, the more he became intrigued by her. The night of the Meryton Assembly, he had cautioned his friend that he ought not to have shown her such particular attention, for it was too soon. But even then, at his first meeting with her, he had taken great delight in observing her. He shook his head when he realized he sounded like his friend.
What is there about Miss Elizabeth Bennet that has me so captivated? And what am I to do about these burgeoning feelings when my good friend is already so fond of her?
What is it about her? He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He instantly saw an image of her laughing. She does not stifle her laughter, as do some ladies who feel it is impertinent to laugh out loud. She is not flippant, as Bingley is, nor boisterously loud as her younger sisters are. Her figure is light and pleasing, and her eyes…
Darcy suddenly opened his eyes. Her eyes were very fine indeed. While he would never have considered her beautiful, he was drawn to her dark eyes that either had a twinkle in them when she smiled or a piercing glare when she was displeased. He grimaced when he considered that was often how she looked at him.
He had listened to her converse with several people that evening. She seemed to have an intelligence that likely came from reading and studying under one of the finer masters.
What a foolish infatuation I have developed! Miss Bennet is not only someone whom Bingley seems to greatly admire, but she is also so far beneath me! This is absurd, and something I need to conquer directly!
He found himself unwittingly shaking his head and stifled a grumble. His eyes turned to the others in the carriage. Gratefully, none of them seemed aware of the turmoil in which he found himself. For that, he was grateful.