I’m pleased to be back in my chair typing away. In fact, thanks to author Nicole Clarkston and her willingness to get up at 5:00 a.m. to do typing sprints with me, I’m almost finished with chapter 5 already. That woman is a marvel.
What is a typing sprint? We set the timer for 30 minutes and type as much as we can during that time period. At the end we compare our word counts, take a five-minute break, and do it again. This morning she did a bit better than I did at over 1,100 words. I typed 1,079 in an hour. It sure gets the juices flowing knowing I have someone to be accountable to. My daughter, Jennifer, also does this with me but she does 40 minutes at a time. More time equals more words.
Without further ado, here’s chapter four. (Link to chapter One if you are just getting started: Chapter One)
Jane Bennet had stars in her eyes and Elizabeth was well pleased to see her sister’s delight. She did not have to wonder at the source of her favorite’s joy.
“He is everything a young man ought to be.” A sigh punctuated Jane’s words. Elizabeth smiled at her sister. “Mr. Bingley’s good humor coupled with his sense and liveliness, and perfectly good breeding, why, I have never seen such happy manners!”
“He is handsome,” replied Elizabeth, “which a wealthy young man ought to be if he possibly can.”
“I was very flattered by his asking me to dance a second time at the assembly. I did not expect such a compliment.” Jane mused. “And, Charlotte? That he would stand up for two sets with her as well that night and enjoy her company during the game this evening, shows a remarkable ease at elevating a young woman who is often passed over, so she feels worthy. Yes, even upon this short of acquaintance, his gallantry appeals to me.”
“Dearest Jane, you are too good.” Elizabeth finished tying the ribbon at the bottom of her thick braid. A feeling nagged at her, like having a tiny pebble in her shoe, when she considered the conduct of the Netherfield party, including Mr. Bingley. Shaking it off as her own sour disposition in comparison to Jane’s sweet temper, she added, “We have known Mr. Bingley for less than a se’nnight. Might it not be best to guard your heart until his character has been firmly established?”
As soon as the final word erupted from her mouth, Elizabeth wished it unsaid. For the light, the sparkle, the pleasure on Jane’s face left, leaving behind hurt and discouragement. Elizabeth felt of no more worth than the bucket of icy water the maids used to douse the final embers in the downstairs fireplace at disappointing her dearest sister.
Jane, her tender Jane, paid far more attention to her younger sister’s warning than she probably ought. “You are most likely in the right of it, Lizzy. I give my heart too easily, but…”
“No. Pray forgive my callous mind and wayward tongue.” Climbing into the other bed in the chilly room, Elizabeth regretted her harshness. “I am allowing the poor manners of Mr. Bingley’s sisters and his tall friend to influence me against the whole of our newest neighbors.”
“Mr. Darcy should not have said what he did at the assembly.” Jane’s voice was unusually firm, and Elizabeth appreciated her most peace-loving sister’s defense. “Despite this, he did appear pleased at being your partner for the treasure hunt. His eyes followed your every move.”
“How would you know?” Elizabeth chuckled. “Your own eyes were attuned to your companion’s brother, I do believe.”
“Not all of the time!” A giggle burst forth from Jane. “Well, I might, in truth, confess to a great portion of the time—perhaps.”
Elizabeth blew out the candle and settled down into the pile of bedclothes, their warmth wrapping her in comfort. The waning moonlight filtered through the cotton covering the window between the two beds. Her sister lay flat on her back, her hands, resting over the top of her coverings, were folded as if in prayer. Her lips pressed together.
“Lizzy, I cannot give up my hope in Mr. Bingley. I cannot.” Jane whispered into the silence of the night. “At almost three and twenty, I have never met a man who has appealed to me more. Certainly, he appeals to Mama as well.”
Elizabeth’s smile matched Jane’s. “Yes, I do imagine he would as he is a single man in possession of a fortune. According to our parent, how could he not be seeking a wife, especially one from amongst her own daughters.”
“I will not disregard your caution, Lizzy.” Jane turned to look directly at her. “There is wisdom in not trusting too soon, but I cannot believe Mr. Bingley could act in an ungentlemanly manner after being shown his happy disposition, which revealed no variance in the two occasions we have been in his company.”
Although Elizabeth’s exposure to the world was greater than her sister’s, it was only through the books in their father’s library. Rarely had new individuals moved into their small portion of Hertfordshire. The ones who had, until that point, were not unattached, nor were they gentlemen. This was new ground they were treading. She could not help the inner hint of doom surging through her when contemplating their simple life in comparison to the routines of the wealthy in flitting from one house party to the next.
“Then we shall have to, as Mama suggested, throw ourselves in front of Mr. Bingley so we have an opportunity to perform a thorough study of his character before you wed.”
Jane’s aim was true. The pillow landed flat against Elizabeth’s face. Before she handed it back, Elizabeth decided she would use whatever powers of observation she possessed to determine whether the man was worthy of Jane’s heart. For, she knew herself well, if Mr. Bingley were to be found toying with the affections of her favorite sister, Elizabeth had no qualms in making her displeasure known.
Darcy accepted the brandy his friend poured, holding it up to the candlelight rather than drinking from the crystal glass. He recognized it as being he same pattern as those at Darcy House and wondered if Bingley or his sisters had been the one to make the purchase. He felt no flattery at the imitation, only a sense it was not a good sign that they were not confident in making their own path in setting up their household.
“What a lovely evening with our neighbors.” Bingley proclaimed, completely unaware of Darcy’s introspection. “Even you seemed to enjoy the game, my stoic friend. In fact, I believe I might have seen your face crack into a smile at one point, or had the rich food unsettled your stomach, causing indigestion?”
“The ladies were uncommonly brilliant. When added to their loveliness, even you can not claim they are not worthy women.”
“Worthy of what, Bingley?” Darcy sat erect in the leather chair. “Are you already enamored to the point you are ready to offer for one of the Hertfordshire ladies? We have been in their company for less than a se’nnight, have you already made your choice? Which lady shall it be? Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Lucas, or possibly one of the younger Bennet girls, maybe the one who won the game, what was her name, Miss Mary?”
“Darcy. Darcy. Darcy.” Bingley chided. “Miss Bennet is all that a young lady should be.”
Darcy shook his head. “You cannot know this, not for certain. What of her mother? Do we not check the sire and dam before purchasing a horse and bringing it into our stables? Why should we not do the same with the woman we intend to take as a bride?”
“Darcy!” Horror covered his friend’s face.
“Do not be blinded by fine looks and a gentle mien, my friend.” Darcy sipped his drink. “Just as I am often told how much I resemble my father and you are told the same about your mother, the Bennet daughters would naturally resemble their parents. Could you truly see yourself tied to a woman like Mrs. Bennet with her shrill proclamations of our fortunes and her haughty presumption that you are soon to be her son?”
He had silently berated himself the whole journey back from Lucas Lodge for his momentary attraction to Miss Elizabeth. Yes, he had been impressed by her quick thinking and her consideration of others. Yet, had it been a show? Had she been displaying conduct not truly her own for the purpose of enticing his interest? Other grasping females had done so.
Mrs. Bennet’s demeanor and speech had called to mind some of the military maneuvers Richard had shared. The first was to know your enemy. Had the matron of Longbourn secretly planned the initiative whereupon her eldest presented themselves as different enough from the general female populace so they stood out as special? Attractive? Tempting? Darcy would not put it past the woman.
He huffed. How in the world was he to find a pearl amidst the motley populace surrounding Meryton? He would not. The course of wisdom would be to remove himself to Percy Hamilton’s country estate. Darcy had ninety-one days remaining to find a bride. Twisting the glass so the light refracted in a rainbow, he resolved to write Percy in the morning to accept his invitation. He could be in Yorkshire within the week.
Bingley, surprisingly, had pondered his comment before replying. “I would not be marrying Mrs. Bennet should I offer for her daughter.” He stated matter-of-factly. “Although there is some morsel of truth to your observation, the simple matter we both need to keep in mind is that we have yet to come to know Mr. Bennet’s character. While I saw evidence of the two youngest of their progeny being much like their mother, I saw no such evidence in the three eldest. Did you?”
Honesty bade Darcy confess, “No, I did not.”
He refused to change his mind about the suitability of the Bennets or anyone else in Hertfordshire. What intelligent man would tie himself to a flighty woman who was an embarrassment to the man’s good name? Surely, Miss Elizabeth’s father was little more than a figurehead in the running of his estate. With a wife like that…Darcy shuddered, he could not be a man who took control of his household. It was his greatest fear, being attached to a conniving female who would make his future a living hell.
If only he had the option of remaining single. Georgiana could marry and birth the heir to Pemberley. However, the codicil ended any opportunity to wait, take his time, or leave the responsibility to his sister.
Yet, in all honesty, he always assumed he would eventually marry. The thought of filling his home with happy children with a proper companion by his side pleased him greatly. Ninety-one days to…
Bingley blurted, “Then I recommend we call upon Mr. Bennet during visiting hours tomorrow to see if Miss Bennet is her mother’s daughter or her father’s child.”
Darcy nodded. Hope was not a commodity he held in abundance. In his lifetime, the loss of his parents and the ensuing responsibility kept him placing one foot in front of the other without speculating on what might have been or what could be. The exception was in matters of business. He relished the research, the thrill of contemplating one path over the other, and the opportunity to grow his properties and rejoice in his own success. He hoped for financial stability in a changing world.
Where people were concerned? The quality was elusive. Years of being disappointed time after time by both sexes not seeing beyond what he possessed to the man behind the wealth and name, had jaded him. He had no possible prospect that Mr. Bennet would be any different than his wife. Thus, the brief flicker of whatever emotion the man’s second daughter had fostered in Darcy’s chest, would be extinguished, the ashes falling to the large pile of disappointed soot already existing in his heart.
He was weary.
Elizabeth Bennet chewed on her lower lip as she bent to the task at hand. She was grateful her father’s penmanship was easily read. However, the totals for the weekly purchases were outlandish. Longbourn estate took in over fifty -pounds per month in rents. The crops currently being harvested were already sold and should add the bulk of their annual income of two-thousand pounds. Produce for the estate was gathered and stored, wood chopped and hauled for the upcoming winter, and the house itself had recently been cleaned from the bottom to the top in preparation for the days when the ground rested and the seasons invited family to visit from afar. Everything was as it should be except for the accounts.
“Papa, was it really necessary for Mama to replace all of the furniture in the parlor and her sitting room? Did not she do the same last November?” Elizabeth tallied the columns and came up with the same negative number.
Mr. Bennet looked up from his book as Elizabeth checked the title. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume II by Edward Gibbons.
Elizabeth shook her head in frustration. Their own household was in decline and neither her father nor her mother appeared concerned in the slightest.
“Your mother would not be satisfied with anything less than the latest in furnishings to impress the neighborhood.” He quipped.
Elizabeth translated his statement to mean her father was not willing to listen anymore to his wife’s ranting and railing over her desire to elevate herself over Lady Lucas. Nor was he willing to use his authority to stop his wife’s foolish spending, nor his own.
“Papa, the price for your latest shipment from London was dear.” Elizabeth loved her father’s library, spending hour after hour curled up in the large leather chair in front of the fireplace, perusing tomes from classic history to romance. But the cost of the two books delivered the day prior would have covered all the tallow candles Longbourn would need for the cold days from November to March when daylight was short, and the darkness would need to be illuminated.
Endeavoring to keep resentment from her voice, she tried again. “At this rate, Father, there will be no funds to set aside should an emergency occur.”
Mr. Bennet flipped his hand in the air, returning to his book and refusing to reply, only adding to her ire and concern.
“Papa, would that I could be like my mother and sisters who believe all is right with Longbourn. But you know I cannot.” Clenching her teeth, her nostrils flared. She placed the quill back in the holder and pushed the estate ledger away from her as if repulsed. “Can we not exercise economy? Can we not stop this unnecessary spending before we are unable to pay the merchants who are relying upon our honour to support their own families? Papa, are you listening to me?”
“I cannot possibly fail to hear you, Lizzy.” He marked his book and closed it. However, he did not deign to move his eyes to hers. Instead, his gaze moved from one set of bookshelves to the next. “I am surrounded by riches more precious than gold. My library is the work of a lifetime and I could spend the rest of my years in contentment to never leave this room.”
She heard his pride and her heart dropped to her toes. She wanted to demand his attention and satisfaction be with his children not his books. From past experience, Elizabeth knew it would not happen.
Keeping her voice modulated, she asked, “then what do you plan to do with your books when we cannot pay the bills coming in, when we lose our home to our debts, and when we are thrown to the hedgerows like mother fears?”
He huffed. “Do not worry so, Lizzy. Longbourn has always managed, and we will do so in the future.”
“Papa, might you decided what could be done with the east field? Could we not plant the soil that has been dormant for my lifetime to increase the crop yield? Would that not help pad the coffers…”
“Enough!” Mr. Bennet sighed, ran his hand over his mouth, then finally looked at his daughter. “Do not fear, my daughter.” With a wry grin, he chuckled. “Your Mama has determined Jane will wed our newest neighbor before the crops need to be replanted in the spring, so we will merely decamp to Netherfield Park should our economies become poorer than they already are.”
Elizabeth was furious. From her early adolescence, both her and Jane determined to marry only where the deepest affection existed between themselves and their future mate. The prospect of a marriage of convenience, like that of their parents, was intolerable.
“Father, you must know that Mr. Bingley paid equal attention to Charlotte as he did to Jane. There is no guarantee that his affections are engaged towards either woman. You should not count on your daughters, who have little to recommend themselves, making a match that would save Longbourn.”
“Lizzy,” he pinned her to his chair with a penetrative stare. “I am the master of Longbourn, not you. We are solvent. There has been no emergency to reduce our funds to the point we would need to leave our house behind. You are worrying about something that has not happened yet. A sensible man would never choose Miss Lucas over our Jane, Elizabeth. Now, tally your columns and leave me in peace.”
She felt the blow in the pit of her stomach, numbness radiating to her limbs. How could he…
The tap on the door was most untimely. Their housekeeper announcing the presence of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy was unwelcomed, at least by her. Her father’s pleasure at the sudden interruption grated upon her sensitivities.
With a dip of her head to acknowledge their presence, she closed the ledger and placed it with the others on the shelf.
Here is the link to chapter five: Chapter Five