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Elinor and Jane had removed to the conservatory where Elinor continued to instruct her friend in the art of drawing. They were soon joined by Mr Bingley. He seemed rather nervous, which surprised them. After dancing around the matter for a few moments, he eventually managed to ask for a private audience with Miss Bennet. The lady looked at him in surprise and Miss Dashwood with disbelief.

"Whatever for? I cannot imagine anything you would wish to discuss that Elinor may not hear."

"Perhaps he brings an apology from his sister."

"An apology from Caroline? Whatever for?"

"Not that then," Elinor said. "Though, really, she should do it in person."

"I quite agree."

"But what should she apologise for?"

"Do you really not know, Mr Bingley?" Jane asked.

He said he didn't, so Elinor undertook to enlighten him.

"Oh, I'm sure there's some misunderstanding here. Perhaps if Miss Dashwood will consent to leave us we can work things out to everyone's satisfaction."

Jane sighed and looked at her, "I suppose you might as well, Elinor."

"I shall not go far. I shall be at the pelargoniums."

Once she had removed herself, Mr Bingley turned to Jane. "I had thought my attentions too marked for you to mistake my meaning, but you are so modest."

"Your attentions were very marked, Mr Bingley, but it has been long since I thought there was any meaning behind them."

"Oh but there is! You must know I love you and wish to marry you."

"Do you?"

"Indeed I do! Will you have me?"

"I'm very sorry to cause you pain, Mr Bingley, but no, I will not marry you."

"But ... I love you!"

"So you say. I have seen no evidence of it."

"But I singled you out in Hertfordshire," he started.

"And then you left, without a word. Giving no thought to my feelings or reputation. You allowed your sister to dictate your behaviour. Do you think I would wish to marry someone so thoughtless? So weak?"

"But, I love you."

"Perhaps you do, Mr Bingley. You know your own feelings best. The fact remains, however, that you are not the sort of man I wish to marry."

"I'm not?"

"No."

"But, I love you."

"I'm sorry, Mr Bingley. If you will excuse me, I have nothing further to say on the matter."

"But ... I love you," he murmured as he watched her make her way over to Miss Dashwood. He sat there quietly for some time, wondering where it had all gone wrong, before he pulled himself together and made his way back to his room. He sent his apologies to Darcy, and remained abovestairs while the rest were at dinner. Shortly after that, Louisa came up to see what was wrong.

"Is it your leg, Charles? Should I send for the doctor?"

"Hmm? Oh, no. My leg is fine."

"Then why did you not come to dinner?"

"I proposed to Miss Bennet this morning," he said mournfully.

"Oh Charles," she sat beside him and hugged him to her. "What did she say?"

"That it didn't matter that I love her, I'm not the sort of man she wishes to marry."

"Did she tell you why?"

"She said I was thoughtless and weak."

"I see."

"Do you agree with her?"

"Well, I would call you carefree, rather than thoughtless. You're only twenty-five, Charles, still quite young. You have not been weighed down by responsibility in the way that Mr Darcy has, so it's only natural for you to be less aware of such things."

"So you do agree."

"You dislike conflict and confrontation, Charles. Sometimes this leads you to be silent when you should speak."

"And that makes me thoughtless and weak."

"It makes you appear thoughtless to those who suffer from your conflict avoidance."

"So you do not think I am weak?"

"I think it should not be surprising that people believe you to be so, when they see how you allow your younger sister to dictate your actions."

"That's almost exactly what Jane, Miss Bennet, said. That I allow Caroline to tell me what to do with my life. Do I really?"

"Caroline knows how to manipulate you into doing what she wants. She takes advantage of your desire to distance yourself from arguments and unpleasantness. And she will continue to do so until you put a stop to it. Which will be very difficult."

"What do I do, Louisa?"

"Well, if you wish to marry a woman like Miss Bennet, you have to be the sort of man that women like her would wish to marry. Try to see things as they really are."

"Would you, please will you ask Darcy to come up and see me this evening?"

"Of course I will. Get some rest, Charles."

It was not very much later that Darcy came to see him.

"Mrs Hurst said you wished to see me, Bingley. Is everything alright?"

"No, nothing is right."

"What can I do to assist you?"

"I doubt there is anything you can do, though I should like your advice all the same." He then poured out a rather jumbled account of his proposal to Jane and what various people had said about Caroline.

"I know how hard it is to have the woman you love tell you that you are not the sort of man she wishes to marry."

"You do?"

"Indeed I do. When I was at Rosings for Easter, Miss Elizabeth was visiting Mrs Collins. I proposed and was summarily rejected."

"She refused you?"

"And rightfully so. If any man behaved towards Georgiana the way that I behaved towards Miss Elizabeth, I would not allow him within a hundred feet of her!"

"You do not seem broken-hearted. And Miss Elizabeth is here at Pemberley."

"Yes. I took her reproofs to heart and am attempting to be worthy of her."

"You must love her a great deal."

"I do. I cannot imagine a life without her."

"Caroline will be disappointed."

Darcy made no response to that and Bingley was far more interested in speaking about Jane to notice.

"Do you think I could change for Miss Bennet?"

"Only you can answer that, Bingley. You know the faults she finds, do you think you can alter them?"

"Well, I certainly don't mean to be thoughtless, you know."

"No one ever does."

"How do I become more thoughtful?"

"It's very difficult, but you have to examine all that you say and do constantly and try to imagine the effect it will have on those around you."

"I do not know that I can do that, but I will certainly try."

"It's a process, a long-term change. It will not happen immediately and you will have to keep at it for years before it becomes habitual."

"And the other matter?"

"Do you really need my advice there?"

"I do. I don't understand how people can misunderstand my sister so."

"I do not understand why you think that they are the ones who misunderstand her rather than you."

"So you agree with them?"

"Bingley, she separated you from Miss Bennet. You knew your honour was engaged, and yet you allowed Miss Bingley to convince you to behave contrary to what you knew was right."

"She said Miss Bennet was indifferent to me, clearly she has been proved correct."

"Did Miss Bennet say that she did not care for you?"

"Not in so many words."

"Miss Elizabeth told me that she did care for you, that she had been disappointed by your leaving Netherfield. Indeed she blamed both myself and your sisters for the separation."

"So she cares for me, but does not wish to marry me."

"Bingley, you do realise the implications of marriage for women, do you not? She will be completely in your control. It doesn't matter how much she loves you, if she cannot trust that you will care for her and any children before anyone else then she should not marry you."

"But I have never loved anyone as I love her."

"Your feelings are irrelevant."

"What? How can they be?"

"It is easy to say that you love someone. It's so easy that fortune hunters and other social parasites lie about that sort of thing constantly. You say you love her, and yet you allowed Miss Bingley to separate you, even though you knew your honour was engaged. From her perspective it must appear that your sister and her desires come first."

"I had not thought of how it must appear to her. I only want my sister to be happy. And she will no doubt marry soon, so surely that should not be a long-term consideration."

"And who do you think will marry her? She is not even being courted."

Bingley blushed.

"Furthermore," Darcy continued, "you may want her happiness, but does she return the sentiment?"

"Of course she does!"

"Are you basing that assessment on her words or her actions?"

"She has confided in me!"

"She has lied to you on multiple occasions. She has shown that her words are untrustworthy. You need to ignore what she says and look at what she does. Her behaviour strongly suggests that she wishes to marry into the first circles by whatever means necessary and you are merely a pawn in her schemes."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do. Take a few days to watch her behaviour, rather than seeing what you want to see. Listen to the way she speaks to others, listen to what she's trying to achieve, rather than the words she uses."

Bingley agreed to do so. Darcy had a point after all. If everyone was saying the same thing then there was probably some truth to it.

 

Jane had been subdued all evening, though only Elinor, and later Mrs Hurst, had any idea why. She retired early and was swiftly joined by her aunt, her sister, and her friend.

“Oh, Elinor, you were quite right about how painful such a refusal is.”

“So Mr Bingley proposed then?” her aunt asked.

“Yes, and he kept saying how much he loved me. I wish I could have spared him this pain.”

“Of course you do,” Lizzy said, embracing her sister.

“Perhaps Mr Bingley will take your words to heart, Jane, and consider the influence he allows his sister.”

“I would not wish to come between them.”

“But you would wish for something good to come from this, would you not?”

“Yes, Aunt.”

“Then we must hope Miss Dashwood is right. He is the only one who can help Miss Bingley improve herself.”

“You are right, of course, Aunt, I only wish it had not come to this.”

“Of course you do, dear Jane,” her sister said. “You never wish for pain for anyone.”

“However did you manage it, Elinor?”

“With the same difficulty that you are.”

“And you had not the support I do. Your family must have been disappointed.”

“They were. Marianne understands now, but I am not sure that Mama and Margaret ever will.”

“Marriage is the most important decision you will ever make,” Mrs Gardiner said softly. “I am sure your mother would not wish for you to engage yourself lightly, Miss Dashwood.”

“Oh, no, she would never have us marry where we did not love, but she is very like dear Marianne. They do not always realise that love alone is not enough.”

“Well,” Lizzy said brightly, “what’s done is done and we must merely hope for the best. For now, though, Jane, what would you like to do?”

Jane did not know, so Mrs Gardiner took the chance to ask about her niece’s feelings for Colonel Brandon. Elinor laughed, both at Jane’s blush and Elizabeth’s surprise.

“I think very highly of the Colonel. What I have seen of his character and what Elinor has told me of the matters I would not otherwise be aware of shows that he is one of the very best men I have ever known.”

“So you care for him then?”

“I’m afraid I do, Lizzy. Before you start match-making though, I must tell you that I do not expect to ever be more than his friend.”

“Whyever not?” her sister cried.

“Jane is convinced that as she is nothing like the women he had previously shown interest in, that he could never fall in love with her,” Elinor explained.

“What nonsense, Jane!”

“Do you think so, Aunt?”

“I do. I don’t know anything about these women, but I do know how he looks at you.”

“I do know about them and I say the same thing,” Elinor added.

“There,” Lizzy said. “If that doesn’t give you reason to hope, then nothing will.”