Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 14

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Part Fourteen

Bingley made certain not to be available when his sister arrived home later that night, and in the morning, he took his breakfast in his study with strict orders to  Jenkins that he was not to be disturbed by his sister.  Then, after a few moments of clearing up some accounts and writing instructions to a particular milliner that credit was not to be extended to his sister beyond a certain point, he went in search of her.

She was at the piano forte, attempting to master a new piece of music.

He stood at the door for a moment or two listening.  She was not a proficient, but she was every bit as good as the two ladies he had heard last night at the Johnson’s.  Caroline was not without accomplishments, nor was she lacking in beauty. What his sister lacked was sense enough to realize that her ambitions were not to be fulfilled.  She would never be the mistress of Pemberley, even if Miss Elizabeth refused the position. Darcy was not inclined to tie himself to a lady like Caroline for the simple fact that Caroline was grasping, and she lacked the sort of wit that would challenge Darcy.  In fact, Bingley was quite certain that Caroline would never dispute with Darcy on much, and no matter how much Darcy liked to be right and in charge of every detail, Bingley knew that his friend craved stimulating conversation and having his opinions questioned — at least, at times.  He chuckled to himself. There were moments when challenging an opinion would rile Darcy into a fit of temper.  Richard was proficient at marching directly up to that point of breaking and then, with a laugh and a tease, retreating to a safer position. Bingley had witnessed it on several occasions.  Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 14

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 13

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Part Thirteen

The library was not wholly unoccupied. Mr. Johnson gave the young gentlemen a smile and a nod as they entered.

“Your mother will be displeased if you spend the whole of your time in here,” he said to Richard.

Richard allowed it to be so but assured the gentleman that they were only attempting to find a quiet spot to have a bit of a tête-à-tête and would not be overly long.

Mr. Johnson chuckled as if he knew very well that the three men would be in his library as long as they thought they could stay. “I have a daughter,” he said. “This room could be yours at every function my wife holds.”

“It nearly always is now,” Richard returned with a grin. “The desk is a  very nice addition.”

Mr. Johnson shook his head.  “Fitzwilliam, why do you attend if you are only going to hie off to the library.”

“My mother,” Richard replied as he took a seat in a group of chairs as far removed from the door as the room would allow. Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 13

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 12

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Part Twelve

Bingley stood near the door in the Johnson’s music room.  He had seen his sister to her seat and then left both her and her friend in Hurst’s care.  Caroline had, of course, protested in her teasing, cajoling fashion.  However, he had reminded her that Miss Clark suggested that he stand, and she had agreed that her friend’s idea was an excellent one.

He smiled even now, as he found a piece of wall to lean against, at how her jaw had clenched in displeasure as she attempted to remain pleasing should anyone hear their conversation.  He was certain she and Miss Clark were equally as displeased that he had not gone to stand with Mr. Clark.  In fact, he had made certain to stand on the side of the room opposite of that gentleman.  Wagging tongues would always wag, but it was not his intent to give them something about which to whisper.

He pulled his watch from his pocket and gave it a glance. The music should begin soon.  From where he was standing, he could just catch a glimpse of the entry.  It seemed as if they were in for a crush this evening.  Certainly, every gentleman not already lining the walls would soon be in deference to his lady’s being allowed a place to sit.  Such a sizable crowd would also make it much easier to slip out of the throng and hideaway.

Ah, there was Richard. Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 12

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 11

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Part Eleven

A light rain was beginning to fall as Bingley reached his home after delivering Darcy to his and spending an hour or so discussing the afternoon and the changes that they hoped would soon be coming.  Darcy was, understandably, more concerned for his fate than Bingley would ever be now that he knew Jane would welcome his addresses.   Bingley climbed down from the carriage and, pulling his collar close, hurried into the house.

“The Hursts are here,” Jenkins said as he greeted his employer. “And Miss Clark. They are having tea in the drawing room with Miss Bingley, sir.”

Bingley thanked him for the information and then stood for a moment in the corridor pondering what he should do.  It would be the polite thing to greet his guests and relations, but he had very little desire to do so.  His day had been rather pleasant to this point, and Caroline was guaranteed to put a damper on his mood.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam called earlier.”  Jenkins’ voice penetrated Bingley’s deliberation.

“Will he be returning?”  Perhaps if he was, it could be an excuse to see Caroline for a very brief amount of time without raising her suspicion that he was put out with her — which he was.

“No, sir.  He grumbled something about his mother forcing him to attend a soiree and asked if I would allow him to leave you a message.  The missive is on your desk as he requested.”  The butler gave Bingley a significant look and lowered his voice.  “He did not wish for the information to be seen by any but you.”

Bingley smiled.  “Very good.  Then, I suppose I shall have to attend to that before I greet my sister?”

His butler shook his head.  “I should think it would be better to greet your guests for a few moments before begging off to attend to duty.  Your name has been bandied about a good deal.”

Bingley cocked his head to the right and studied his butler.  “My sisters are scheming?”

Jenkins’ brows lifted and lowered, nothing else on his person or in his expression shifted, but it was enough of an answer for Bingley.  Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 11

Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 10

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Part Ten

Continue reading Thursday’s Three Hundred: Confounding Caroline, Part 10

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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