Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 9

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Part Nine

Darcy’s brows furrowed as he shook his head. “But she has my good opinion; she does not have to wish for it.”

“Oh, she knows she has your tolerably good opinion,” Mrs. Gardiner said as she rose and gathered empty cups.  Both of her brows rose as she took Mr. Darcy’s cup from him.  “I am afraid she heard your comment at the assembly.  In fact, I am quite certain everyone who knows and is close to Lizzy has heard your comment from the assembly.  I had it in a letter not two days after it was spoken.”

Darcy blew out a breath and closed his eyes for a moment.  “Then, if she is so set against me, do I have any hope?” he asked.

Mrs. Gardiner placed the cups she held on the tea tray and then, as she crossed the room to summon someone to clear the things away, she stopped and lay a hand on Darcy’s shoulder much like Richard’s mother would at times when attempting to reassure him of something.

“Hope is not lost until she is married to someone other than you.  Until that time, we must not faint.”  She gave his shoulder a pat and then rang for the maid.

“Now, we must decide how to proceed,” she said as she returned to her seat. “I am not a matchmaker, mind you.  However, I do long to see my nieces well-settled.”

Her smile and accompanying laugh were infectious, filling the room with a lightness it had not had for several minutes.

“I might be able to persuade her to visit,”  Mrs. Gardiner said.  “And then you can call just as you are now, and she will see that you are not as she thinks.”  She winked. “I will be certain to sing your praises if she should disparage.  An unhappy Lizzy is known to allow her tongue to get the better of her good sense.  Aside from getting Elizabeth here and allowing Mr. Darcy to confuse and then charm her, are there any other contentious items that need our forethought?” Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 9

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 8

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Part Eight

“Was it an unpardonable error?” Bingley’s heart thumped wildly, and his palms became moist while drawing a breath became something about which he needed to think.  How he would survive a negative response without making a complete cake of himself, he was uncertain.

Jane’s cheeks grew rosy, and she took a slow sip from her cup.  Then, as she returned her cup to her saucer with only a small clatter, she answered.  “It is only unpardonable if you intentions in calling today are less than sincere or if you should be so easily persuaded once again.”

“I promise my intentions are both sincere and unwavering,” Bingley replied, passing his cup to Darcy.  “I fear I will drop this if I must hold it any longer.”  He rubbed his hands on his breeches.  “If you will allow me, Miss Bennet, I will request an interview with your uncle to gain his blessing in your father’s stead to court you. I know this is not exactly the most fitting setting for such a discussion. I should have asked to speak to you in private. However, I came today determined to discover if I had any hope of winning you, and I am willing to openly suffer any humiliation my offer may bring.”  He smiled sheepishly. “Although I would be lying if I said I did not hope to avoid the humiliation of rejection.”

“You may speak to my uncle,” Jane said with a smile.

Bingley grasped Jane’s hand which was not holding her cup and lifting it, kissed it.   “Thank you,” he whispered, returning her smile.

“My husband will not be home for many hours,” Mrs. Gardiner said.  “He is to dine with an associate this evening.”

“Tomorrow would be soon enough,” Bingley replied.  “Unless it would not be too offensive for me to stop at his place of business today.”

Mrs. Gardiner chuckled.  “You do not do things by halves, do you, Mr. Bingley?”

“Not when it is of such importance as this,” Bingley replied with a smile.  “Now if you were to ask me to muck out the stables, I might not be as eager.”

“I shall ask you to do no such thing.”  Mrs. Gardiner’s left brow rose with an impertinence that reminded Darcy once again of Elizabeth.  “However, there are four children in the nursery, and I would not be above shuffling one or more of them off on you so that both their nurse and I might have a nice quiet cup of tea and a read.”

Bingley shrugged and settled back in his chair.  “I am fond of both children and toys, especially if there might be a tin of biscuits involved.”

“Oh, boys and their biscuits!” Mrs. Gardiner cried. “My youngest son is forever attempting to sneak an extra treat when his nurse’s back is turned.”  She chuckled.  “He is only two, so though I reprimand, it is forgivable.”  She held out a plate of almond cakes to Bingley.

“Mr. Darcy,” she began as Bingley selected two cakes from the plate, causing her to smile.  “You are like John,” she said to Bingley before turning back to Darcy.  “You said you could not return to Netherfield, and I admit to being curious as to the cause of your reluctance — nay — refusal to return.”  She offered him an almond cake and refused to move from her spot until he had taken one.  Then, she gathered his cup from the tea tray and returned that to him as well.  “I will not have you leave without refreshment,” she said kindly before returning to her seat. “Would I be correct in assuming it had something to do with another one of my nieces?”

Darcy washed down his bite of cake with some tea.  “Yes,” he replied simply.

“Were you much attached to Lizzy?”  Jane asked, causing Darcy’s eyes to widen in surprise.

The Miss Bennet he had witnessed today in this drawing room clashed with the one he remembered from his time in Hertfordshire.  This Miss Bennet was much bolder.  However, from the pink that stained her cheeks and the way her eyes did not hold his for long before dropping away, he knew that the effort was not without cost.

“Surprisingly, yes,” he admitted. “Although I did not realize just how much until I returned to town and could not rid myself of her memory.”

“She likes you,” Jane’s voice was no more than a whisper.

“I am sorry to disagree with you, Miss Bennet, but your sister most certainly does not like me,” Darcy returned.

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Gardiner said, “our Lizzy is quite taken with you.  She just does not realize it.”

For the first time since his arrival, Darcy saw the woman relax into her chair and take a leisurely sip of her tea rather than the quick ones she had taken thus far.

“You will have to explain that to me,” Darcy said. “I was left with the distinct impression that she did not approve of me any more than I approved of such a connection at that time.”

“How will your family receive her?”  Mrs. Gardiner asked.

Darcy shook his head and shrugged.  “I do not know, but first –”

“Do you love her?” Mrs. Gardiner interrupted.

Darcy drew a deep breath and released it as he nodded his head.  “But I do not see how –”

“Good,” Mrs. Gardiner interrupted again.

It appeared that the lady was determined to be the only one asking questions and directing the conversation, so Darcy leaned back and waited expectantly.

“No more protests, Mr. Darcy?”

The familiar twinkle had returned to Mrs. Gardiner’s eyes, causing the right side of Darcy’s mouth tipped up in a half smile.  “You are very much like her.”

Mrs. Gardiner finished the tea in her cup and placed it to the side. “I cannot deny that.  However, the fact that you have recognized it, speaks to how much you must admire her to have noticed such a thing. Tell me, because my curiosity must be satisfied; what makes you say that Elizabeth and I are alike?”

Darcy tipped his head.  “You would leave your children in the care of Bingley to have a cup of tea and a read. Therefore, I assume you enjoy reading as much as she does.”

With a tip of her head, Mrs. Gardiner accepted his statement as true.

“You are determined and unafraid to speak your mind.  You challenged both me and Bingley.”

“One of my faults,” Mrs. Gardiner said with a smile.

“No, I do not find it to be a fault. I prefer directness to prevarication and pandering.”  He tipped his head and watched the light dance in the eyes of the woman before him.  “Her eyes sparkle and dance just as yours do, and her brow raises in much the same fashion as yours is now.” A smile spread across his face.  “And, her lips purse and twitch just like that when she is trying to contain her amusement.”

Mrs. Gardiner clapped her hands in delight.  “Oh, you do love her!”

Darcy nodded.  “But –” He stopped as Mrs. Gardiner held up a hand.

“She would not dislike you as much as she does if she did not like you.”

Darcy’s brows furrowed.  How could dislike equate to like? “I beg your pardon?”

Bingley chuckled.

“Do you understand her meaning?” Darcy asked his friend.

“I think I might,” Bingley replied.  “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”

Darcy’s eyes grew wide.  “Shakespeare?”

“I said I read occasionally,” Bingley retorted.

“He has the right of it,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “does he not, Jane?”

Jane nodded. “Oh, indeed.  Lizzy avows her dislike far too much for it not to indicate how much she wishes for your good opinion.”

~*~*~

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Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 7

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Part Seven

Darcy and Bingley stood just inside the foyer of a neat but modest home on Gracechurch Street waiting for their cards to be presented to the mistress of the home and her niece.

“The Gardiners do not appear to be destitute or even wanting,” Bingley whispered.  “This paper is new.” He nodded toward the wall. “Caroline has admired it and had begged me to allow her to redecorate the front sitting room with it.  However, I prefer paint over flowers.”  He pursed his lips as he studied the paper on the wall.  “Unless of course my wife prefers flowers, and then I shall prefer them as well.”

Darcy chuckled.  “I have not considered my preference one way or the other.  I simply wish my surroundings to look…” His brow furrowed as he thought of how best to describe his taste in decor. It really was not something he considered often. He knew what he liked and what he did not, but he had not put significant effort into deciding how he would decorate a home.  His mother had done that sort of thing, and now, if a space needed refreshing, he simply deferred to the opinion of either Georgiana or Lady Matlock.  He shrugged. “I prefer my rooms to be welcoming and not garish, homely and not ostentatious.”

“Which is why my sister should not be allowed to decorate your home or mine,” Bingley said with a smirk.  “Are you prepared to see if it is possible to convince a Bennet lady to take on such a task?” he whispered as they followed behind the maid who directed them to the sitting room on their right.

They had discussed how they would approach this interview as they had travelled together today.  It was decided that the folly of both Caroline and Darcy should be broached directly as neither gentleman wished to be left wondering as to their position in hoping to attain their happiness.

“Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, it is a pleasure to meet you,” a lady, dressed in the current fashion of the day and appearing to be no older than Darcy, if she was even that, greeted them as they entered the room. Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 7

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 6

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Part Six

Richard eyed Bingley and Darcy suspiciously.  “And who might that be?”

“Wickham,” said Darcy.

Richard muttered and took a gulp of his drink.

“Bingley’s neighbour has five daughters, and he is concerned for their safety.”  Darcy felt his ears warm at the half-truth. It was not only Bingley who wished to see to the safety of the Bennets.

“Five daughters?”  Richard whistled softly.  “And would one of these be your new angel?” he asked Bingley.  “You do still find an angel in every town, do you not?”

“If things go well,” Darcy answered before Bingley could, “I think this may be Bingley’s last angel.”

Richard let out another slow whistle.  “She must be quite the lady.”

Bingley grinned, completely undaunted by Richard’s teasing tone.  “She is,” he said, “and she has four sisters that need protection from Wickham.”

Richard tipped his head and looked from Bingley to Darcy and back. “Your angel has been seen in company with you and Darcy?”

Bingley nodded.  “As have certain of her sisters.”  Bingley winked slyly at Richard.

Darcy groaned inwardly as he shook his head.  Of course, Bingley would not keep that information to himself.

Richard’s brows rose as an impish grin spread across his face.  “Has my cousin singled out any sister in particular?”  Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 6

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 5

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Part Five

“Darcy,” Bingley said as Darcy finished his missive to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “perhaps you could help me with a little problem?”

Darcy glanced up from the paper he was folding and preparing to seal.  “Anything.”

“My sister…”

“Except that,” Darcy interrupted with a chuckle.

Bingley shook his head.  It was good to see Darcy so hopeful.   “I would not foist her on you.  If that were my intention, I would have done it long ago instead of suffering through these years with her airs.”

Darcy inclined his head in acceptance. He was thankful his friend had the good sense not to throw his sister in Darcy’s path.  Caroline Bingley was not the sort of lady that he had ever considered.  She was too… His brows furrowed, what was she exactly?  Devious, practiced, lacking in warmth? Any of those would do he supposed. Put simply, she did not possess a nature that appealed to him.

“I do not know what to do about her hiding Miss Bennet’s call from me,” Bingley continued.  “You know I am not the best at knowing how to deal with Caroline.”  He sighed. “I wish she would just marry and be someone else’s problem.”

Darcy lifted a brow. “You care for her,” he reminded him.

Bingley shrugged.  “Not as much at this moment as I did before I knew she was trying to keep Miss Bennet away from me.  I would rather fob her off onto the first chap to seem welcoming than have to keep her and act appropriately.”

“You would not fob her off on the first chap,” Darcy contradicted with a smile.  His friend really did care for both of his sisters, no matter how much they annoyed him.  “You would see her well-settled, at least.”

Bingley blew out a breath. It was true. If Caroline was not well-settled, he would have to abide her displeasure for the remainder of his life, and he honestly did not wish to see her utterly unhappy, he supposed, even if presently he was not entirely convinced of that fact.  “Then what do I do?” Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 5

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 4

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Part Four

“Why would she not have you? I see no reason for her to reject you.” Bingley knew he was close to securing a solution.  He had learned from his father that there were always a few nagging details which threatened to sink any negotiation.  Hopefully, this obstacle would be easily overcome, although, with Darcy, even a small obstacle could become nearly insurmountable when he was in a dour state of mind, such as he was this evening.

“She believes George Wickham.” Darcy drained the remaining liquid from his glass and placed it firmly on the table next to him.  “Which means he has once again stolen from me that which is dear.”

“He has not,”  Bingley refuted.  “He did not succeed with Georgiana, and he will not succeed with Miss Elizabeth either.”

Darcy’s jaw clenched as he shook his head.  “He has already influenced her against me.”

“How do you know?” With any luck, there would be a great leap that had been made by his friend who could be overly pessimistic about things at times and see one small error as the ruin of a project.

“She questioned me about Wickham at your ball.”

Bingley leaned back in his chair and bit his cheeks to keep from smiling with satisfaction.  He had heard about Miss Elizabeth’s questioning as Darcy had vented his frustration on an innocent set of billiard balls. It might be challenging to overcome the obstacles of George Wickham and Miss Elizabeth’s poor opinion of Darcy, but from Bingley’s position when considering the whole scheme of Miss Elizabeth and George Wickham, there was at least one way in which he knew he could very likely prod Darcy into action. Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 4

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 3

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Part Three

Bingley crossed the room quickly and, taking Darcy by the shoulders, led him back to his chair.  “Sit,” he said.

Darcy sighed and did as instructed.

“There is no reason for us to part,” Bingley reiterated as he handed Darcy a refreshed glass of brandy.

“But ─”

“No,” Bingley cut Darcy off.  “Duty be hanged.”  He dropped into his chair.  There was absolutely no way while the sun still shone that he was going to lay aside his own chance at happiness with Miss Bennet, but it was equally unlikely that he was going to let a man who was more brother than friend walk out of his life. How would he be able to be completely happy if he knew he was the cause of such pain to Darcy?

“Your family ─”

“No,” Bingley cut in again.  “My family, just like yours, expects me to marry well, and I shall.”  He smirked.  “It shall, perhaps not be as well as certain members of my family would wish, but it is I who has to live with my choice of bride, not them.  At least, I hope Caroline does not always live with me.” He shuddered.  She would be the next problem he would have to sort out.

“My family expects…” Darcy attempted to speak once again only to find Bingley talking over him once more.

“I know what your family expects.”

He had heard his friend wax eloquent on it many times — usually when explaining why he could not consider this or that lady whom Bingley had suggested.  They were all excellent ladies.  Very pleasant.  Not at all stuffy and overbearing.  But, none had interested Darcy in the least. Indeed, even some of the stuffier well-positioned ladies Bingley had mentioned in passing had never gotten more than a sigh and a reluctant agreement to consider them if it became necessary.

Bingley’s brows drew together, and a small smile played at his lips.  None of them had ever flustered Darcy as much as Miss Elizabeth had.  She had drawn him out, caused him to debate, and even to dance.  And now she was the one woman that Darcy would regret all his life if he did not pursue and win her.

With a most serious look on his face, Bingley sat forward in his chair, leaning toward his friend.  “What would happen if you did not fulfill your family’s expectations?  Would you be cut off?  Disinherited? Shunned by society? What would the consequences be?”  He asked.

Darcy shrugged and sipped his drink.  “I suppose it would cause a family rift.”

“Meaning you would have fewer functions to attend because they would not invite you?”

Darcy nodded.  “Yes, there is that.”

“Who would refuse to see you?”

Darcy drew a deep breath.  “I cannot say with any certainty who would do so besides Aunt Catherine.”

“But,” Bingley persisted. “She will be displeased no matter who you marry unless it is her daughter.  You have said so yourself. Do you intend to marry your cousin?”

“No, I have no desire to marry Anne.”

“Then marrying Miss Elizabeth would be no different than if you married some duke’s daughter.”  Bingley cocked his head to the side and settled back in his chair.

“It might make it more challenging for Georgiana when she comes out if my connections are not of the first circles.”

Bingley shrugged.  “Will she not still have her thirty thousand?”

“Of course, she will.”

“Will your family’s ties to the land and aristocracy not still be of long standing?”

Darcy shook his head. “That is a foolish question. How would my heritage change?”

Bingley smiled. “I do not know, but you seem to think that marrying a gentleman’s daughter will somehow change how a prospective husband will view Georgiana.”  He shrugged, rose from his chair, and paced to the window before presenting his next argument.  “Actually, I am rather surprised that you would even consider a gentleman who offered for your sister only because she would be a feather in his societal cap.”

Darcy’s head pulled back, and he blinked.

Bingley smiled. The comment had done its work. It had startled his friend and would hopefully get him to begin to see duty for what it was ─ a weight that could drag a person down into wretchedness.  Perhaps Darcy would consider such a fate for himself, but he would never do so for his sister.

“You must consider her happiness,” Bingley continued, leaning against the bookshelf that was near the window.  “I know people often think of me as obtuse — do not deny it,” he challenged as Darcy opened his mouth to speak.  “To be fair, I often am. I am not as quick to catch on to things as some, but I am not oblivious to the world around me.  I do spend time in observation and contemplation.” He smirked.  “Not as much as you, my friend, but I do practice the skills occasionally.”

Darcy chuckled.

“You know I care for Georgiana, although not as my sister would wish for me to care for her,” Bingley said.

Again Darcy chuckled, and Bingley joined him.  They knew that Caroline wished for not just one connection to the Darcy family through marrying Darcy herself. She also wanted her brother to marry Darcy’s sister.  To her, there was no better way to ensure they had risen above their roots in trade than to secure ties to the aristocracy and ancient lands and money.

“I care for her as a brother might care for her. I would not wish to see her harmed in any fashion.” Bingley came back to where Darcy still sat swirling and occasionally sipping his drink.  “She still feels the weight of disappointing you, Darcy.  I can see it in her eyes when she looks at you when you are unaware.” Darcy had shared with him about Georgiana’s ordeal with Wickham at Ramsgate.

“But she has not disappointed me. I have failed her.”  Darcy’s brows furrowed, and he shook his head.

“Yet, she perceives she has disappointed you, and it still plays upon her spirit.  Imagine how her spirit would suffer if she were to learn you had given up happiness for her. You know as well as I that she would never be happy no matter the match you might make for her.” He shrugged.  “And what match will you make for her?  Will it be one of duty and obligation, or do you wish for her to find felicity and love?  And with time, might you not grow to resent the fact that you gave up the possibility of your own felicity for your sister?”

Darcy gaped at his friend.  “I had not thought of it in those terms.  But, I fear, it does not matter. Miss Elizabeth would not have me anyway.”

~*~*~

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