Here is Chapter 8 for you, my 3rd chapter this month, and there will be one more next Friday, as I promised. I shall post 4 more chapters in October on Fridays, along with some reveals as we lead towards the book launch (see below for my proposed schedule). I hope you are enjoying these chapters. If you are just now discovering this story, you can find the first chapter here.
Later that evening, Darcy watched as Miss Bingley and her sister they left for their rooms. Mr. Hurst was prone on the sofa, already asleep and snoring loudly.
Darcy leaned forward in his chair, clasping his hands, wondering what more he could say to his friend. While he had agreed with Miss Bingley regarding the unsuitability of Miss Bennet, it was not for the same reasons. She had felt her obscure family connections, lack of fortune, and having family members in trade were all decidedly against her – and that she should be far beneath his notice.
While she had a right to her opinion about Miss Bennet’s position in society, Darcy did not consider her unsuitable for those reasons. In his opinion, it was due to the difference in their interests and intellect. He let out a groan as he considered that, as he listened to each of her conversations, he discovered something about her that tugged at his heart. She seemed to be exactly the type of lady who would make him happy.
It was something he had found himself fighting from the moment he first saw her. It grieved him that he felt the need to discourage this infatuation Bingley had formed with her. He had seen it happen before, only to have him enjoy a lady’s company for a short while, believing himself hopelessly in love, and then moving on when someone prettier came along. He did not want Elizabeth to be hurt.
It grieved him even more that Miss Bennet had heard his remark at the Meryton Assembly when he had stepped outside with his friend. Did he really believe he could dissuade his friend from his affection for Miss Bennet only to step into his place? Did he even have a right to do so?
He slowly turned his head and looked at his friend, who sat quietly after receiving such a pummelling. “Bingley, I know what you must be thinking.”
“Do you?” Bingley shook his head. “I feel as though I have been ambushed by my sister and my good friend, and I find it hard to justify your opinions. I could care less about her family, her connections, her fortune or lack thereof. She is a delightful lady, lively, intelligent…” He paused and looked at Darcy. “I am rather surprised you are so set against her when I would have thought you would think highly of her.”
Darcy’s head shot up. “What do you mean?”
“I thought you would find her intelligence and wit appealing.” He shook his head. “She is nothing like the other ladies who have turned my head.”
Darcy clenched his jaw. “I do admire that in her.” His voice cracked as he considered just how appealing he found her, and more than just her intelligence and wit! How could he ever tell Bingley that in truth he felt Miss Bennet would be the one making the mistake if they married? As long as his friend felt this way towards her, he could not – and would not – allow himself to do the same.
“Darcy, I have been doing a lot of thinking, and feel she would be good for me. I know you think I am going to see another pretty face and shift my attentions, moving them on to someone else. I will have you know I have no such intention.”
Darcy bit back his response, which would have been to say he actually wished he would. “I do not wish for either of you to be hurt.”
Bingley shook his head. “Have no fear, good friend. My intentions are honourable, and my hopes are high that she might be the right one.” He gave his friend a broad smile.
Darcy was grateful his friend seemed to harbour no ill feelings against him. It would grieve him to lose Bingley’s friendship. His chest tightened as he considered that to keep that friendship, he might have to rid himself of all the ardent admiration he had begun to feel towards Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Later that night, Darcy paced about his darkened room. He braced his hands on the desk and could only see the intelligent, sparkling eyes and lively smile of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. His heart pounded in his chest as he wondered how this could have happened. How was it that he finally found a woman he felt he might just be able to spend the rest of his life with, and Bingley happened to meet her first and had also formed the same opinion of her?
He sat down in the chair, put his head back, and closed his eyes. Dare he hope that Elizabeth would come to the realization that Bingley was not suitable for her? He could only hope she would, for Bingley seemed more determined than ever. He hoped that Elizabeth would see that his friend was not suited to her, as Bingley was not a good reader, did not play chess, and – as he had so conveniently informed her as they had walked up Oakham Mount – was not an avid early morning walker.
Darcy pressed his lips together as he considered she might be inclined – forced, perhaps – to consider and accept any offer of marriage if it was favourable in terms of fortune. The Bennets had little, and Longbourn was entailed along the male line. With only daughters, it would one day go to someone else. Would she accept an offer of marriage solely to provide for the family even if the gentleman was not completely suitable? He shuddered and hoped she would have more sense.
A wave of guilt passed through him as he considered how critical he was being of Bingley. He had no right to think so poorly of him, and assert that he was not good enough and would not measure up to the expectations Miss Bennet may have regarding the man she would marry.
Bingley was a good man – an excellent one – and he would be a very suitable match for Elizabeth in terms of how he would treat her and what he could do for her and her family. Darcy knew there was nothing he could do about it if she did not care that he took little pleasure in the things she enjoyed.
For her sake, he hoped she would ponder long and hard about those differences and deficiencies before an offer of marriage was made. His chest tightened as he reflected that she might not have a choice. He dropped his head as he thought how foolish he had been to allow his heart to be so easily touched! There had to be something he could do about it.
In the middle of the night, a fierce thunderstorm developed. Elizabeth had been sleeping fitfully, and she rose and walked to the window. She could tell by the flashes lighting up the sky that they were coming from the south side of the house. Unlike her sisters, who took shelter under the blankets during a storm, she loved to get up and watch it.
She put on the robe Miss Bingley had given her and stealthily opened the door and stepped out. She knew there was a large window in the drawing room that faced south, so she set out for that part of the house.
The house was quiet as she came into the room and walked towards the window, she could readily see the bright flashes of light in the distance. Thunderous booms followed.
She peered out and smiled at one particularly large, arcing streak of lightning that extended from the clouds to the ground. “Oh, my!” she said in an excited whisper.
“That one was quite breath-taking, was it not?”
Elizabeth abruptly turned, startled by the voice behind her. Mr. Darcy was seated in a chair, which he had turned to face the window.
“Pray forgive me for startling you. I came to watch the show. I believe this is the best seat in the house.” He stood up and extended his hand to the chair. “Would you care to sit down to watch from here? I can pull up another chair.”
Elizabeth would have found his chivalry charming, if not for what she had overheard him say earlier. “No, thank you. I had not…” She turned back and looked out as lightning lit up the room, followed almost instantly by more thunder. She swallowed; her mouth was suddenly dry. “I do not plan to stay long.”
“That one looked – and sounded – fairly close,” Darcy said.
Elizabeth nodded and closed the robe more snugly about her. She did not wish to have a conversation with him, but she could attempt to be civil. “Yes, it did.”
“Do storms… do they frighten you?”
Elizabeth laughed. “On the contrary, I love to watch them.”
Darcy let out a breathy chuckle. “Why does that not surprise me?”
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Elizabeth continued to stare out, but a sudden realization came to her. If she could hint to Mr. Darcy of her admiration for Mr. Bingley, she doubted he would inform him. Knowing what he thought of his friend’s attachment to her, he would undoubtedly not wish to encourage those affections by revealing to his friend how she felt – or supposedly felt.
She could readily cause him distress without blatantly – and deceitfully – encouraging Mr. Bingley’s affections. “Do you think Mr. Bingley will come watch the storm? I would… I would greatly enjoy his company. It has been such a delight to get to know him better.” She turned and looked at him. “How fortuitous it was for the heavy rains to have obliged me to stay at Netherfield.” She forced a smile.
Darcy let out a huff. “I highly doubt Bingley would leave his bed for anything, particularly to watch a thunderstorm.”
Elizabeth looked at Mr. Darcy with surprise. “Are you saying thunderstorms frighten him?”
Darcy shook his head. “No. I believe he does not wish anything to disturb his precious sleep.” He laughed. “Even a marvellous thunderstorm display.”
“I see,” she said softly. She gave her shoulders a slight shrug. “He has so many other fine qualities; I suppose one ought not to judge a man by whether or not he arises to watch a late night thunderstorm.”
“Indeed,” Darcy said with an edge to his voice. “Or whether or not he arises early to take a walk and enjoy the sunrise or read several chapters in a book before going to sleep.” Darcy pointed to the table. “You left your book here when you retired.”
“Yes, I… I realized it too late.” She walked over and picked it up, feeling somewhat perplexed by his words. “I should get back to my room. Pray, excuse me.”
“There is no need to leave on my account. The window in my room faces this direction. I can watch the storm from there. Please excuse me.”
He bowed, and Elizabeth watched him as he stepped out of the room. When another boom shook the room, she jumped and turned back to look out the window. She glanced at the chair in which Mr. Darcy sat, and she moved to take his place. She sat down and became very much aware of the warmth emanating from it.
She quickly stood up and walked back to the window. She shook her head as she pondered the many differences between her and Mr. Bingley. She only wished that she did not agree with Mr. Darcy on that subject, but she certainly did not have to tell him she did.
Elizabeth awakened the next morning after a restless sleep. She had spent her waking hours either weighing Mr. Bingley’s suitability for her or considering the words Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley had spoken against her.
She had stayed in the drawing room only a short time after Mr. Darcy had left. Surprisingly, she had found it more diverting to watch a storm with someone else, even if it was Mr. Darcy.
She despised the thought of causing Mr. Bingley any intentional pain by using arts and allurements to secure his affection. She suddenly remembered Mr. Darcy’s words to her that he would not want to see his friend hurt. She winced. Despite not really caring for what Mr. Darcy said, she did care about Mr. Bingley’s feelings.
She walked to her window and gazed out. The sky was just beginning to lighten, and it appeared the rains and storm had moved on. She actually felt that some of the anger she had felt last night had moved on, as well, but only because she had set into motion her plan teach Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley a lesson.
She retrieved her dress from the dressing room and slipped it on, pondering what she might say to Miss Bingley about her partiality towards her brother that might unsettle her. She hoped she would have some time alone with her this morning.
She let out a sigh. She was eager to leave Netherfield and return to Longbourn. She hoped Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley would fret about her and Mr. Bingley for a few days, but the next time she saw him, she would kindly discourage him in his attentions towards her.
When she came downstairs, she found it quiet. The delicious aromas coming from the kitchen teased her nostrils, and she could almost taste the bread and pork that were baking in the oven.
She came to the drawing room door and peeked in, almost expecting Mr. Darcy to already be there. She had encountered him without warning so often, she was certain he would be around every corner she turned or in every room she entered. Knowing he was an early riser added to that expectation. When she was fairly confident he was not in the room, she stepped in.
She sat down and began to read the book she had brought from her room, occasionally glancing up when she heard a noise. A maid brought in tea and freshly baked bread, warm from the oven. She offered Elizabeth some, which she gladly accepted.
Although Elizabeth had already read Evelina, it had been many years. She had forgotten much of it, so she was actually enjoying rereading it. She was lost in the action of the story when out of the corner of her eye she noticed someone standing at her side, and she jumped in surprise.
“Again, I have startled you, Miss Bennet,” Mr. Darcy said. “I have no idea how to make my presence known to you. Pray, forgive me, again.”
Elizabeth shook her head. It was difficult not to smile at the contrite expression on his face. “I was merely caught up in the story, so I imagine any manner of alerting me to your presence would have startled me.” She looked down and began reading again, thinking that, in truth, she was not so much startled as vexed.
Darcy stood at her side for a moment, and she was relieved when he finally walked over to the sideboard for coffee and something to eat. Perhaps if she kept her eyes on the page, he would realize she did not wish to talk.
He came back and sat down across from her. He took a sip of his coffee and then asked, “You are enjoying your book, then?”
Elizabeth inwardly groaned, but looked up and forced a smile. “Yes, even though I read it years ago. I had forgotten much of it, so yes, I am enjoying it.”
Darcy’s brow lifted. “You read that book many years ago?” He seemed surprised. “That looks at least to be a five-hundred-page novel.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “True, but if a book is well-written and keeps my interest, it matters not how long it is.” She smiled and lifted a brow. “Or how young I was when I read it.”
“I am actually surprised Bingley had that book in his library. Or any book, for that matter.” Darcy shook his head. “Reading is not something he particularly enjoys. He even had difficulty at Cambridge finishing the required reading.”
“You were with him at Cambridge?”
“I was in my final year there when he first came, but we became good friends.”
Elizabeth was curious how two men who seemed so different from each other could have become such good friends. Instead, she asked, “And what was it that drew the two of you into such a close friendship?”
Darcy looked at her, and he appeared to be carefully choosing his words.
“Bingley is intelligent and applied himself well, however…” Darcy began to rub his jaw. “There were a few areas that held little interest to him, and I agreed to help him out.”
Elizabeth lifted up her book. “And reading was one of those areas?”
Darcy silently nodded.
“I see.” She turned the book back to the inside cover. “Well, this might explain why Mr. Bingley has this book in his library.” She pointed to the page. “The name inscribed is Wellingsford. That was the name of the family who previously lived here.”
“That would certainly explain it. They must have left it behind,” Darcy said with a wide smile and a quick lift of his brow. “I wonder if all the books in his library belonged to the Wellingsfords.”
Elizabeth waved her hand through the air, intent to convince him that it made little difference to her. “Either way, Mr. Bingley has so many other excellent traits. The fact that he is not an avid reader means little to me.” She feigned a wide smile. “He is an exceptional gentleman, and from what I have seen of him, he is a man with very few faults.”
Darcy’s eyes narrowed as he looked at her. “Indeed?”
She could not meet his gaze, and looked back down to her book. Hopefully she had been able to convince him that she did not care whether Mr. Bingley read or not, although, in truth, it mattered greatly to her. She just wanted him to hear enough praise for his friend to make him believe she was on her way to falling in love.
They sat quietly, each reading their own book, as they waited for the remainder of the household to waken and join them. At length, Mr. Bingley came downstairs, looking tired, but pleased.
“Good morning!” he said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “For some reason, I feel as though I did not sleep well.”
“It was likely the thunderstorm that kept you awake.”
“Thunderstorm? Did we have a thunderstorm?” He shook his head. “I must have slept through it.”
“If you slept through it, I would wager you got enough sleep,” Darcy said. “Having seen you often in the morning, I can guarantee this is the way you often feel when you waken.”
Bingley laughed. “I suppose that is the truth. That is why I need my coffee before I talk to anyone!” He looked at Elizabeth. “How are you this morning, Miss Bennet? Did the storm keep you awake?”
She unwittingly looked at Darcy, who was watching her. “It did waken me. In fact, I came down for a short while to watch it.”
“Oh, you are one of those,” he laughed. “Just like Darcy. I am surprised you did not encounter him.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks warm as Bingley sat down. She was certainly not going to say anything, and she hoped Mr. Darcy would not, either.
“Bingley, you make it sound as if there is something wrong with people who get up to watch a storm.”
“In the middle of the night? Yes. It makes no sense to me,” he said with a laugh. He took a long sip of his coffee.
Elizabeth gave Mr. Bingley a warm smile. “I cannot tell you again how grateful I am for your kindness and hospitality in allowing me to stay here last night. I have enjoyed getting to know you and your… family.”
Mr. Bingley leaned forward in his chair. “It has been a pleasure and a delight getting to know you better, as well, Miss Bennet. I could not have asked for a more delightful houseguest.”
Elizabeth could readily see an expression of joy in his eyes. She felt a slight stab of caution that he might truly be forming an attachment to her, and if it were not for Mr. Darcy eyeing them with an expression of displeasure, she would have discontinued this charade at once.
“You are too kind, Mr. Bingley,” she said with an appreciative smile.
Miss Bingley came downstairs about fifteen minutes later, followed by her sister, and then Mr. Hurst. Elizabeth was grateful for the foods that had been set out for them, for she would have been starving if she had been required to wait for everyone to come down to break the fast.
As they finally gathered around the table, Elizabeth hoped to have some time alone with Miss Bingley to convince her of her growing attachment to her brother. Then she could return to Longbourn and imagine the frantic discussions she and Mr. Darcy would have about her.
It was later that morning that she had the opportunity. The men had gone to the billiard room, and Mrs. Hurst had stepped away.
Elizabeth looked at Miss Bingley. “I want to tell you again, Miss Bingley, how much I appreciated your hospitality while I was here. I do so admire your brother. I do not think I have ever met a gentleman who is so kind and considerate, and oh, so generous. You are so fortunate to have such a brother.” She smiled at her and tilted her head.
Miss Bingley practically sputtered out the tea she was sipping. “Charles? Kind and considerate? Oh, Miss Bennet, you must be mistaken. And generous? If only you knew!” She shook her head vehemently. “You have no idea how often I must sit down with him and give him a good scolding about his behaviour.”
“Truly?” Elizabeth was surprised to hear such harsh words from Miss Bingley about her brother, although she had her suspicions why she would say such a thing. “I find that hard to believe.”
“Well, he is a complicated man, and so difficult to understand.” She let out a snicker. “I have lived with him my whole life, and he is still a mystery to me!” She looked at her with a pathetic smile. “One moment he is generous and charming, and the next…” She shuddered. “He can be a fool and even a tyrant at times!”
“A tyrant? Surely you jest.” Elizabeth shrugged. “I have never seen that in him. He seems… quite well-mannered and proper. He is… everything a young man ought to be.”
Miss Bingley attempted to smile, prompting Elizabeth to smile back. There! Let her and Mr. Darcy suffer a bit under the misapprehension that I consider Mr. Bingley a most favourable match!
She did not believe a single word Miss Bingley said about her brother and wondered what he would think if he had heard her. Despite Elizabeth’s uncertainty about his being suitable for her, he was certainly not deserving of such a critical appraisal.
Mrs. Bennet sent a note to Netherfield saying she and her two youngest daughters would come later that day to get Elizabeth. This surprised her, as she would have expected her mother to have made some excuse for her to stay longer. She finally determined her mother likely wished to see Netherfield for herself. Perhaps she imagined it would soon belong to her second eldest daughter and wished to see exactly how elegant the home was now that Mr. Bingley lived there.
Elizabeth sighed. She hoped her mother would make no inappropriate remarks or speculate about any match between her and Mr. Bingley. It was one thing for her mother to express her hopes, wishes, and expectations to her own family, but it would be totally imprudent to express them to those in this household.