I am having a ball playing with the grandkids. On Saturday, we went to the jungle (yes, the Amazon jungle). It was warm and lovely and the altitude was much easier for me. I get light-headed in our apartment because we are so high up. Good man that he is, John moved my desk into our room so I can get up and type for a while and then lay down to get my body’s bearings again. It’s still worth it.
Here is chapter 10. I think you may be surprised by what happens. From now until the end each chapter will be jam-packed with action. If you just started reading, here is the link to chapter one: Chapter One
“She is delightful.” Dr. Stevenson shared with the two men remaining in Richard’s chambers. “Her translation was magnificent and the voices she gave the characters made the parents and their sons come alive, almost as if they were in the room reciting their own story.”
Easily, Darcy could imagine quiet evenings at Pemberley with her entertaining a house full of young children. The hallways would ring with laughter. The thought brought comfort and peace to a life constantly in turmoil since inheriting from his father. He smiled.
“She would be an asset to any man’s home.” Richard agreed to his musings.
“Have you been introduced to the eldest Miss Bennet?” The doctor queried. “She is a lovely woman of exceptional beauty. Why, even with a red nose and a fevered brow, her elegant good looks almost robbed me of my breath.” He paused in contemplation of Miss Jane Bennet.
“I have not had the privilege.” Richard turned to his cousin. “Do you find Miss Elizabeth’s sister to be superior in appearance to Miss Elizabeth?”
“Not at all!” There was no hesitation. “Although Miss Bennet has the fair coloring of the classic style claimed by the ton as being the epitome of charm and desirability, I find she pales next to her sister.”
Darcy then directed his focus on Dr. Stevenson. “You are inclined to pursue the elder sister then?” He hoped.
“No, I am not.” The surgeon sighed. “Bingley’s interest is apparent, and I would not risk the loss of a pleasant acquaintance by giving pursuit to a lady he holds in esteem.”
“Yet, you feel no such compulsion to expressing interest in Miss Elizabeth when the both of us have clearly expressed our intentions.” Richard pointed at his chest and then at Darcy. His brow lifted. Darcy knew that look. It was his cousin’s way of getting a man to rethink his position, to come to the conclusion Richard wanted him to reach.
“I apologize, sirs.” The doctor tipped his head to them both. “I assumed you were speaking of a friendly competition and were joking when you shared your intentions.” He looked from one man to the other. “You were not in jest?”
“Not at all.” Darcy’s firm reply would have left no misunderstanding in the doctor’s mind.
“Then I will bow out of the competition and wish both of you gentlemen well in your pursuit. As mentioned before, she is a remarkable young woman who would enhance your happiness, I have no doubt.” At that, he rose to join the company downstairs, leaving the cousins alone.
When the door closed behind the surgeon, Richard inquired, “Was Stevenson correct about Miss Bennet?”
“Bingley believes so.”
“Is she as lovely as his other ‘angels’?
“More so, I believe.”
“Hmmm.” The Colonel pondered, then shook his head slowly.
Darcy’s hopes in his cousin’s lack of attachment to one Bennet sister in possible favor of the other burst with Richard’s next comment.
“Then I am pleased for Bingley.”
Within an hour the drawing room of Netherfield Park started filling. The first arrivals were his aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Matlock. Aunt Helen had barely greeted her hosts before moving quickly up the stairs to attend Richard. Uncle Hugh received a report from both Darcy and Dr. Stevenson. The news was a heavy burden for a father who loved his son.
The next to arrive was Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her three youngest daughters. Upon their entrance into the room, the noise level increased exponentially.
While Miss Bingley ignored the Bennet females, she fawned over his uncle.
Darcy had no clue who disgusted him more. His hostess, who placed rank over manners, or Mrs. Bennet, who declared her youngest, Miss Lydia, to be the perfect match for a military man, especially one who was the son of an earl.
When Sir William and his eldest, Charlotte, joined the fray, Darcy invited his uncle to join Richard and Aunt Helen in the upstairs bedchamber, far away from the noise.
“Charlotte,” Elizabeth was pleasantly surprised to see her good friend outside Jane’s doorway. “Welcome.” She stepped back to allow Charlotte to enter. Before the door closed, she easily heard her mother’s loud exclamations of glee at having two daughters already ensconced at Netherfield with an offer of leaving Lydia to care for Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Turning back to the room, Jane asked, “Are you well, Lizzy?”
“I am well.” Elizabeth felt the warmth of humiliation rise from her chest. She only hoped the gentlemen were not witnesses to her mother and youngest sister’s inappropriate conduct. They had little to recommend themselves…Elizabeth shuttered upon realizing how many times over the past week the same thought had crossed her mind, always in reference to herself and Mr. Darcy. Get control of yourself, Lizzy Bennet!
“Charlotte, I am pleased you have come.” Jane, flushed with the remnants of a fever, graciously offered the chair next to the bed to Miss Lucas.
“How could I not come, Jane? I have such happy news to share.”
At this, Elizabeth pulled another chair close. “Do tell, my friend.”
A becoming blush covered Charlotte’s cheeks. “As you are aware, Mr. Bingley paid particular attention to me both at the assembly and the evening we hosted the Netherfield party at Lucas Lodge. My father is downstairs inquiring as to the gentleman’s intentions. Holding my hand and embracing me surely means Mr. Bingley has decided to pursue me for a courtship and marriage. I have never been this pleased.”
How could this be?
Elizabeth could not speak. Jane said not one word. The red hue to Jane’s face and neck was replaced with a pasty white color. Elizabeth was distraught and angry at the truth of her words. Mr. Bingley had done exactly as she stated. However, both sister’s assumed it was a reflection of his friendly nature rather than genuine interest.
“Did you not notice how he gave equal attention to Jane?” Elizabeth had to ask. Her beloved sister’s heart was breaking in front of them both.
“Indeed, I did, at the assembly.” Charlotte nodded. “Nonetheless, he singled me out for particular notice during the treasure hunt. A gentleman of good reputation would not have done so unless his affections were engaged.”
Jane whimpered, cupping her hand over her mouth to stop the noise.
Immediately distressed, Charlotte begged for understanding. “I am exceedingly sorry, Jane. I had no idea your heart was fully engaged. I saw nothing in your approach to indicate you were in any way helping Mr. Bingley along.”
Covering her eyes, Jane swallowed. Inhaling deeply, she dropped her hand to her side and looked directly at her friend.
“I am pleased for you.” Her smile was tremulous. “There is no one other than Lizzy I would wish more joy than you, dear Charlotte. I am not at all surprised at Mr. Bingley finding you to be anything other than what you are, an exceedingly lovely woman who would grace his home.”
“I thank you for your kindness, Jane.” Charlotte admitted, “I will confess to being surprised at his attention. In looks, I pale to your beauty and I am far more pragmatic than kind. I am also, I believe, Mr. Bingley’s elder by several years. In this, I find I would be far more qualified to marry Mr. Darcy than his friend as we are closer in age and character.”
What? Marry Mr. Darcy? How could this be? Elizabeth fretted. Surely not!
“Yet, Mr. Darcy has shown no interest at all to any of the young ladies here in Hertfordshire,” Charlotte continued. “I fear he will soon depart for greener pastures where the company meets his exalted standards. He would have no interest in the likes of us.”
Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who turned her head away.
“You will accept Mr. Bingley then?” Jane whispered.
“I would be foolish if I did not.” Charlotte harrumphed. “And, I doubt my father would ever forgive me if I refused him. He has, not so gently, been pushing me to put myself out there for any man’s notice. He even suggested I flirt with Mr. Martin within weeks of him losing his wife in childbirth. He would be impossible to live with if I chose not to become Mistress of Netherfield Park.”
Elizabeth nodded. Sir William was a jovial man who thrilled to repetitiously boast of his short time at St. James Court in London. Having a daughter residing in the grandest house in Hertfordshire, especially one exceeding the influence of Longbourn, would be a topic he could brag upon for decades to come. He was not a malicious man, at all. He was a father who wanted the best for his children, especially if it reflected well upon himself.
“But, do you love him?” Elizabeth was moved to ask.
Charlotte pondered at length. Finally, she responded.
“I do not believe so, Lizzy. I have never been romantic, nor can I imagine my becoming so. I should think I have as good a chance of happiness as if I studied his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always contrive to grow sufficiently unlike afterward to have their share of vexation. And, it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
“Charlotte! You cannot believe this to be true.”
“I can, Lizzy.” Clasping her hands together on her lap, Charlotte continued, “You see, I have studied the disparate relationship between each of your parents and mine. Both husbands and wives have little in common after several decades together, yet they continue on as contented as they can be under their circumstances. With Mr. Bingley’s amiability and the evidence that he easily bends to his sister’s will, I have no reason to doubt we will have a measure of upbuilding interchange during our marriage.”
“This is not sound,” Elizabeth exclaimed, ever aware of her sister’s pained countenance. “I will confess to having reservations after seeing Mr. Bingley’s conduct towards you both at the assembly. He acted the flirt. Nevertheless, I was willing to overlook his attitude since it appeared to come to no harm. Now? I wish I had said something to you and to Jane.” She rubbed her palms on the fabric covering her legs, knowing this was dangerous territory to venture into. “Can you trust a man to remain loyal? What if you wed and he continues his overly friendly overtures to other females? Could you keep from resentment should you witness his familiarity with a woman who is everything lovely? What happens when you have birthed your fifth child, you are closer to five and thirty than the days of your youth, you have softened around the middle, and no longer give evidence of the vitality of youth? At that point, Mr. Bingley continues his habits of holding a young woman’s hand, embracing her in front of your friends and family, and paying particular attention to a debutante who is fresh on the marriage mart with more accomplishments than the three of us added together? How contented would you be then?”
Before Charlotte could respond, a maid rapped on the door requesting Charlotte’s presence in Mr. Bingley’s study for a private audience.
Shrugging her shoulders, their friend walked from the room, not looking back.
Jane burst into tears.
Moving into the chair closest to her sister, Elizabeth sought to provide comfort. When the sobbing finally abated, Elizabeth was shocked at the first words from her sister’s mouth.
“I would not accept Mr. Bingley if he had offered and I pray Charlotte does not as well.”
“What? How could you…?” Perplexed, Elizabeth sought to understand.
“Lizzy, I allowed myself to be blinded by his smile to a flaw I despise. Charm with no honor is false and will only lead to far more pain than I am feeling now.”
“Will you be well, dearest?”
“I would far rather find out now when my feelings are new than to discover later when I have no way out of a terrible marriage.” Jane swallowed. “Pray request a carriage for our immediate removal.” She threw back the bed clothes and moved to stand. “Despite what our mother desires, I am done with Netherfield Park.”
Elizabeth wanted to cheer. Pieces had fallen into place and she now understood what had made her uncomfortable from the beginning of their acquaintance with the Netherfield occupants. They would return to Longbourn where she would continue to nurse Jane. This would keep them from company until, hopefully, Mr. Bingley’s future with Charlotte was sealed.
Netherfield was a leased property. Possibly, Mr. Darcy or his family would encourage Mr. Bingley to take a more permanent estate in the north. The far north.
Stepping outside the room, Elizabeth called to the maid to deliver a message to her mother to await her two eldest daughters. She could take all five of her children home with her when she departed.
Elizabeth could not help thinking of Miss Bingley’s shear delight at having them gone.
By the time Elizabeth and Jane reached the bottom of the stairs, Charlotte entered the hallway from Mr. Bingley’s study. Her countenance was solemn, opposite of what it had been when she had first arrived in Jane’s chambers. Mr. Bingley remained at his desk, a stunned look upon his face.
“I refused him.”
With those three words, Charlotte determined her fate as well as Mr. Bingley’s. She would be the spinster who foolishly turned down an amazing offer of marriage, and he would be proclaimed a flirt in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation.
“Are you well, my friend?” whispered Elizabeth.
Leaning closer, she spoke softly so only Elizabeth could hear. “While I am pleased to have been asked, I could not choose a future with a dishonorable man.” Charlotte took Elizabeth’s hand. “Although my father will be displeased, I find myself standing a little taller than when I marched into his study. I am a worthy woman.”
With as much bustle as when they had arrived, the Bennets and Lucas’s departed the company of Mr. Bingley, his family, and his friends. None of the females looked back as the carriage made its way towards Meryton. As far as they were all concerned, though it remained unspoken, they were finished with their newest neighbors.
Except, the deep, black void settling in the pit of Elizabeth’s stomach ached with unfulfilled yearning. Yearning for what, she wondered.
Dark eyes, wavy dark curls, broad shoulders, and gleaming white teeth when he smiled.
She sighed. It was too bad, she would not be able to complete her task. With his time taken by his care for his cousin and no desire to again be in the company of his hosts, Elizabeth decided her best course was to put him out of her mind. Far, far away.