You can find previous posts HERE.
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.
Lady Matlock was whispering something to him. He nodded and then followed behind his parents, stopping when they did to greet the few people who remained in the hall, having not yet entered the music room.
“Pardon me,” a footman said as he slipped in front of Bingley on his way to help another open the doors that joined this room to the drawing room beyond. Unsurprisingly, the drawing room had been rearranged so that its furniture and, Bingley imagined, a few extra pieces from other room were facing the instruments positioned in the alcove created by the large bow window on the front of the house.
Mrs. Johnson was a seasoned hostess. She had kept the room small until the numbers had begun to look impressive. Only then, had she thrown open the doors to the room she knew she would need to add. It was a bit of staging ─ a few dramatics that lent themselves to how successful her soiree had been. After all, the room was not large enough to hold the attendees. Almost inevitably, tomorrow, there would be someone in all the most important drawing rooms in town commenting on her success.
Bingley shook his head and chuckled. Some of these society matrons would make shrewd businesswomen. Presenting things to best effect, scheming to arrange meetings, wrangling willing daughters and less-than-willing gentlemen into life-long contracts ─ yes, they would likely own all of England and a half or better of the West Indies in a very small space of time should they put their minds to such a task. And heaven help the poor fellow who attempted to stand in their way! Even Prinny would find it difficult to contain such a movement.
A shoulder pumped against Bingley’s, drawing his attention away from the way Mrs. Johnson was fluttering about with her daughter close behind her.
“Where is Darcy?” Richard asked.
“I assume he will be here in,” Bingley drew his watch out once again, “two minutes as the music is to begin in five.”
Richard chuckled. Darcy did not like to be tardy to any engagement, but he also did not like to arrive early since arriving early meant he would be expected to stand around and converse politely about trivial matters.
As if the mention of his name had conjured him, Bingley caught a glimpse of his friend at the entrance. “He’s early,” Bingley said, nodding his head toward the door. “What were your mother’s instructions?” Bingley snapped his watch closed and tucked it in his pocket. “I saw her speaking to you in the hall.”
“I am not to sneak out to the garden, and I am to be civil to at least three ladies this evening.” Richard smirked. “I have spoken to three ladies so that requirement is met. As for the garden, I have no intention of strolling about the garden with its dimly lit areas where a compromise could be affected when we could retire to the safer confines of the library.”
“You think there are ladies here who would try to trap you into marriage?” Bingley asked with a chuckle.
Richard shrugged. “It would not be the first attempt. There are those who wish for a connection to my father, but I have no desire to sacrifice myself just to elevate some lady to daughter-in-law of the Earl of Matlock.”
“Unless, of course,” Bingley added with a smirk, “she has a fortune that is as handsome as she is.”
Richard nodded. “Precisely. I shall throw myself on no matrimonial swords unless the conditions are in my favour. Darcy,” he greeted as his cousin joined him. “Quite a crush, is it not?”
“My favourite sort of event,” Darcy replied grimly.
“Two songs,” Richard whispered. “My mother will stop looking back here after that, and we can make our escape.”
“Am I going to run afoul of your mother?” Darcy asked.
“Most likely,” Richard replied with a grin. “Consider it practice for when you make your intentions known regarding a certain young lady.”
Darcy shook his head. Teasing words seemed to roll off his cousin’s tongue as easily as butter slid from a heated knife. There was seldom a time when Richard found himself without a witty rejoinder. It was something Darcy had always envied, for, to him, ease in conversation only came when he was with a small group of intimate acquaintances. A room filled to overflowing, as this one was, made him uneasy and often muddled his thoughts.
His father had stressed to him the need to never bring shame to the Darcy name. Therefore, every word should be measured carefully before being spoken. Darcy shifted, moving his weight from his right foot to his left, as their hostess welcomed the assembled masses and introduced her daughter, who was to begin the evening with a piece performed on the violin. Perhaps if he had considered his words more carefully in Meryton, he would not now find himself loving a lady, who had very little liking for him.
For the duration of two songs, he pondered his various meeting with Miss Elizabeth. Then, when the third song began, he followed his cousin and Bingley out of the room and down the hall to the library.