Caroline Bingley was most displeased. When Charles had told her that Mr Darcy's cousin, the younger son of the Earl of Matlock, would be joining them at Pemberley she had assumed that the friends he would bring would be people of some standing. And she'd expected his party to consist mostly of eligible gentlemen. She was not prepared for his friends to be predominantly penniless young women, one of whom was Jane Bennet! To make matters worse, Georgiana appeared to want to travel in the carriage with them, rather than joining herself and the Hursts. This was not to be borne.
"Come, Georgiana. There is room for you in our carriage."
"That is very kind of you, Miss Bingley, but Marianne and I are planning to spend the journey reading a novel we've lately started."
"Indeed? Well. Perhaps we should ask your brother's advice on the matter, dear."
"I assure you that I am well aware of both my guardians' opinions on the matter. In fact, Richard brought Marianne, Miss Dashwood, and Miss Bennet because he thought they would be good friends for me. Perhaps you are not aware of it, Miss Bingley, but many of the women who profess friendship for me are really only interested in my brother."
Caroline flushed angrily. She had spent a great deal of time cultivating Georgiana's acquaintance despite the naivete and dullness of the girl. At least she wasn't able to tell that Caroline was also primarily interested in Mr Darcy. She was determined that she would not be supplanted by a couple of vulgar country misses. "I am pleased that your guardians try to take such excellent care of you, my dear Georgiana, but in this instance there must be some sort of mistake." She lowered her voice slightly. "They are not of our sphere, you know."
"Quite right, Miss Bingley," a loud male voice said from behind her. She turned to face the General as he continued. "They are all gentlemen's daughters. In you get now, Georgie. Anything else you've forgotten will have to be sent for."
In a moment Georgiana was in the carriage and the General had closed the door on her. He then guided an angry and mortified Caroline to her brother's carriage and handed her in.
"How dare he say such a thing, Louisa! We are far superior to them!"
"Are we? Perhaps in some sets where wealth, fashion, and education are most prized. I expect that an Earl's family would be more interested in breeding."
"Breeding?!" she screeched, disturbing Mr Hurst who was beginning to think that fresh air would have been better for his head than the rest he'd expected from the carriage. "Do you really think that the common vulgarity of the Bennets could ever impress anyone of standing? We are far better bred than they are!"
Louisa sighed and looked at her husband. His head was clearly bothering him but he smiled when she caught his eye. "Best to begin as we mean to go on," he said, mentally saying goodbye to any hope of a peaceful morning.
"Begin? What nonsense are you speaking?"
"He is not speaking nonsense, Caroline," her sister interrupted before she began ranting again. "The fact is that your behaviour has gone unchecked for too long and you certainly appear very ill-bred at the moment. No well-bred lady would question Miss Darcy's guardians' judgement as to who are suitable friends. And the General was quite correct. Unlike them, our father was a merchant. I am very pleased that there will be some gentlemen's daughters at Pemberley. They can show you how a lady behaves. And I suggest you work very hard at it, sister. Gilbert and I expect our family to increase in the winter and if you continue as you have you will not be welcome in our house any longer."
Caroline spluttered and began to rant again, but was interrupted by Mr Hurst. "Enough!" he shouted. "Your sister has not been feeling well this last week and we would both like to rest. Quietly. I suggest you spend the time thinking about how to improve your behaviour."
Caroline fumed, but as they told her to be quiet every time she opened her mouth, she was eventually resigned to spending the first stage of the journey in relative silence. They could not, however, stop her from thinking about whatever she chose. She remembered the early days of the Hursts' marriage. He had spent far less time at his club and drank far less. Louisa had been more lively then as well. Her life had been somewhat more difficult then, however, as they had little patience for what they called her airs and pretensions. If they planned to return to that state of things then she did not want to live with them anyway. And adding a child to the household! She knew that Louisa got quite silly about children and would probably want to have the creature with her all the time instead of leaving it in the nursery where it belonged. No, she would not wish to live with the Hursts under those circumstances.
It was easy to see the solution. She simply had to get herself a household of her own. With vulgar penniless girls her only competition, Caroline was sure she could bring Mr Darcy to the point. She spent most of the first day's travel imagining how everyone would treat her once she was Mrs Darcy and the revenge she'd take on those who'd snubbed her.
Once her cousin had deposited her in the carriage with her friends, Georgiana apologised as fast as she could. "I don't know why she would say such things," she added, but Marianne wasn't having that.
"Oh Georgiana, there's no need to prevaricate. Even a blind man can see how desperately she desires to marry your brother!"
"She has already made her opinion on myself and my family quite clear. No doubt Elinor and Marianne are tainted by the connexion. She does not actually know them, after all," Jane offered.
"Well, I shall not lament it if she prefers to keep it that way."
"Nor shall I. I trust, however, that you will be civil to her until she does something deserving of reproof, Marianne."
The girl in question laughed at her sister. "I believe I can promise you that with ease. I have no doubt that she will say something provoking every time she opens her mouth!"
They spent the evening at the Darcy's usual inn and Caroline set about making them see her superiority at once. As this chiefly consisted of complaints of everything from the lacklustre accommodations to the deplorable food, most of the rest of the party simply ignored her. When Mr Hurst interrupted her diatribe to say that he thought the food excellent for an inn and, really, no-one was more fussy about food than he, she took the hint and changed tack.
"Did you enjoy your novel, Georgiana?"
"Indeed, we all did."
"I admit myself surprised at your choice -- I know your brother feels that reading should improve oneself and there is nothing laudable in a novel."
"Nothing laudable?" Marianne interjected, her tone expressing her outrage to all. "Really Miss Bingley, have you never even read Scott? Are you aware that operas and plays are considered cultural pastimes and their only difference from a novel is that they do not allow you to see the thoughts and feelings of the characters?"
"Well said, Miss Marianne," Darcy replied while Miss Bingley looked down her nose at the girl. "You will be pleased to know that I have ordered the rest of the author's works and they should arrive at Pemberley in the next week."
"Thank you, Brother!" Georgiana said quietly.
While she knew perfectly well that Miss Bingley was only interested in her brother's wealth, she was rather puzzled by her sudden hostility. She mentioned as much to her friends when they were once more in the carriage the following day. She watched Jane and Elinor glancing at each other.
"You are our hostess, Miss Darcy, and as such I believe you have the right to know of any difficulties that might arise from your guests," Jane said. She then gave a slightly edited account of her acquaintance with the Bingleys -- there was no need to mention Miss Bingley's suggestions of an attachment between Mr Bingley and Miss Darcy, after all. She ended by saying, "And, of course, she greatly dislikes my sister Elizabeth, which you should bear in mind as well."
Georgiana wondered why Miss Bennet thought her sister was relevant to the current situation, but was prevented from asking by Elinor.
"I have only just realised that everyone in this carriage has been disappointed in love in one fashion or another." Seeing a look of horror settle on Georgiana's face she attempted to put her at ease. "You need not worry, Miss Darcy, though your cousin confided your story in me, there is no need for you to speak of it if you do not wish to. For now, let me tell you my story."
Once Elinor had finished, Marianne told Georgiana of Willoughby and by the end both girls were crying. Having heard their stories, Georgiana felt brave enough to tell her own. When the carriages stopped for the night the ladies were somewhat concerned that Miss Bingley would notice they had been crying. She was too put out to notice, but both Darcy and Fitzwilliam did. Before either could say anything to Georgiana, Elinor had whispered to the General that some tears were cathartic and it would be best to say nothing. He caught Darcy, who was reluctant to ignore his sister's distress, but as he saw that she was exerting herself to behave normally he restrained himself.
Caroline found the second day of travel even more unpleasant than the first. Not only had she failed to break up the ladies and convince Georgiana to ride in her carriage, she found that her carriage could not have accommodated her. "Why are you not riding, Charles? You know you prefer it to being shut up in a carriage."
"Louisa asked me to. We're to have a family discussion."
"No one said anything to me."
"There was no need, Caroline. We knew you would be travelling with us regardless."
Caroline merely sneered at her sister and did not deign to reply.
"First, Charles, you must congratulate us. You may expect a niece or nephew in three or four months."
"How wonderful! You must both be thrilled!"
"We are," Mr Hurst said.
"Are you sure you should be travelling? All this bumping around can't be good for the baby."
"We made sure the doctor thought it acceptable," his brother answered. "Considering our previous losses we are taking every precaution."
"Excellent! If you need anything do not hesitate to ask!"
"Which brings us to the second thing. My dear?"
"Yes. Gilbert and I have discussed this and we agree that Caroline's behaviour has gotten out of hand. If she does not learn how to behave like a lady by the time the baby comes, we will no longer allow her to live with us."
"I say! That's a little harsh, don't you think?"
"No," Mr Hurst said. "If Mr Darcy hasn't proposed yet he probably never will. And you heard what Miss Darcy said about women who befriend her. All of society knows that Caroline has been throwing herself at Mr Darcy for the last few years. It is time it stopped."
"And there is nothing Gilbert and I can do about it, Charles. You are the head of the family. It is your duty to see to it that Caroline comports herself properly. We can only support you in what you choose to do."
"I don't know what to do."
"For now, support your sister and I in trying to curb her behaviour. Think on the rest, there is time for that. And if you wish to discuss anything with us we will be happy to oblige."
Bingley did think about it. When they stopped to change horses he chose to exit the carriage and continue the journey on horseback. He did not know what to do. On the one hand, he trusted Louisa to guide him, as she had since they were children. On the other he simply could not believe that Caroline would behave improperly. He knew she was ambitious, that she wished for their family to rise above their origins and join the first circles. She knew better than any of them what was acceptable there. His thoughts turned to Jane. He had thought they were friends, but there had certainly been some misunderstanding there. Now that he thought about it, he remembered Caroline had always said she believed his Jane was indifferent to him. Obviously she was trying to protect him, as she always had. Well, he would certainly take this opportunity to see if he could make her care for him. And he'd tell Caroline that even if he couldn't she should not fear being friends with Jane. Most importantly, to his mind, Darcy had never said anything about Caroline's behaviour. He was always quick to criticise those who did not meet his fastidious standards. If he had no complaints about Caroline he could not see why Louisa and Hurst should. And they hadn't even let her speak in defence of their claims. That was hardly fair! He was resolved. This evening he would ask Caroline about the business with Jane and see if she had anything to say about Louisa and Hurst's charges.
She had plenty to say. She started by calling Jane a brazen fortune hunter who had followed him to London, and went on to describe her as wholly indifferent to him, wanting only to secure her family's fortune. And the family! She had plenty to say about them. Bingley had heard it all before and, though he agreed with some of it, had no interest in hearing it again. He interrupted her and asked what she had to say about Louisa and Hurst's claims about her behaviour.
"That's absolute nonsense, Charles! Do you know that their principle objections are my caring enough for Georgiana to not want to see her befriending women I know to be fortune hunters, whatever her guardians may say about it. They are far more circumspect when amongst the gentlemen, so I am not surprised that they have been taken in."
"I'm sure they realise that you are merely caring for your friend as best you can. And you may be mistaken after all. I'm sure Darcy and Fitzwilliam have much more experience with fortune hunters. Either way, you've warned them and it's now up to them to make their own mistakes." Caroline looked as though she was going to argue the point so he hurried on. "Whatever did Hurst mean by saying that all of society knows you've been throwing yourself at Darcy?"
"I can only suppose that he's been listening to ill-natured people that are jealous of our friendship with that family. I have done nothing improper, and I am sure I would behave no differently with any other dear friend of yours."
"So you do not wish to marry him?" She could not help blushing. "Caroline! Are you in love with Darcy? I had no idea!"
"I confess, I do feel a partiality towards him, and I know how much it would please you to be his brother. But I could never so much as hint such a thing to him."
"No, of course not. Well, I am surprised. But you are correct that it would be wonderful to have such a brother."
They were silent for a few moments. She was observing the effects of her words on him and feeling that she'd done very well. He was pondering the idea of having Darcy for a brother and wondering how he'd never noticed his sister's feelings.
"Well, Caroline, I feel that I should give you some advice, but I do not know what that would be. Darcy is, of course, far cleverer than I, so he's likely noticed your feelings if others have. I wonder why Louisa and Hurst object so strongly?"
"Hurst has never liked me, I don't know why. I suspect Louisa is betraying some of that irrationality that pregnant women are prone to."
It was not until they were in the carriage, leaving Peterborough for Northamptonshire, that Edmund felt comfortable discussing that personal matter with Edward.
“This is a very awkward matter to discuss, but not only do I need your support, I would appreciate any advice you might have on the matter.”
“You always have my support. And if it is within my power to aid you in any way, I should be quite happy to do so.”
Edmund was silent momentarily. “I have fallen in love.”
“It is strange to say it aloud. You are the first I’ve said those words to.”
“So the lady does not know?”
“I should be surprised to find her completely ignorant of my feelings, but I have no hope.”
“How can you be certain of that?”
“I am a clergyman, and very happy to be so. She says she will never marry a man of the cloth.”
“Does she say why?”
“She believes that such a man could not distinguish himself adequately.”
“Sounds like what my mother and sister say.”
“Miss Crawford has, really, only the London clergy to judge from, and her brother. He is, I think, the sort of man most likely to wish to preach in London.”
“Which is a thing you do not wish for.”
“I do not, no. Though, perhaps, one could do a great deal of good in a London parish.”
“I’m sure you could. If she asked that of you, would you do it?”
“Not now, of course, but one could work up to that sort of thing.”
“Compromises are important, and if you believe you could be happy so, perhaps you should mention such a thing to her.”
“I do not expect to see her. Indeed, I believe she has returned to town and I know not when to expect to see her in Mansfield again.”
“Well, that’s not entirely a bad thing, Bertram.”
“No? I confess I cannot see anything good about it.”
“First, it gives you a chance to settle in at Thornton Lacey and become comfortable with your new position. It also allows you to determine whether or not you could give up your country vicarage in favour of London.”
“But what if she meets someone else?”
“There is nothing to prevent that. But if she does, then you know where you are. But were she to return unmarried, you will be able to meet her knowing whether or not you wish to try for her.”
“Your logic is sound, as always. Thank you, Ferrars, you have set my mind at rest.”
“Have I? I’m pleased to hear it. Perhaps tomorrow I shall unburden myself to you.”