The second morning, Caroline had claimed indisposition and said she would not be going to breakfast. Having spoken to her maid, he gave her half an hour to ready herself. Not believing he would follow through on his threats, she ignored him. He dragged her down to breakfast in her nightclothes, her hair loose around her shoulders.
"I apologise for our tardiness," he said as he entered the breakfast room. "I trust you will forgive Caroline's attire, she was feeling somewhat unwell this morning."
"Of course, Mr Bingley," Lady Matlock said, smiling at the pair.
Caroline had never been so angry in all her life. She held her tongue in front of the Earl, Countess, and Viscount, but spent the entire meal fuming over her brother's treatment of her. For him to treat her so in front of them! To ignore her protests! To disbelieve her! It was not to be borne! Louisa was embarrassed, but the rest of the party enjoyed the situation immensely. To see the haughty Miss Bingley forced to endure such humiliation! Only Jane and Georgiana had compassion for her, though both hoped that such an act would teach her that her brother was serious in his resolve, and that she would not test him so again. Privately, Lizzy wondered if Lydia might have had to endure something similar had she been allowed to continue on the path she was on.
Caroline did not eat anything and excused herself as soon as she could do so politely. She considered returning to her bed, but chose instead to dress and then give her brother a piece of her mind. Their discussion was not private, for the simple reason that her shrieking could be heard throughout the house. Her mood was not helped by the fact that Bingley ignored her outbursts and calmly told her that she knew what was expected of her and that if she chose to defy his perfectly reasonable requests, the consequences were on her head.
The next morning she again tried to plead indisposition, but took her brother's threats seriously, as she had seen that he was perfectly willing to carry through his words. She chose to take her ire out on the penniless adventuresses and, learning that the General was courting Miss Dashwood, had many things to say on the subject of poor honourables and the sorts of people that were easy sponging off those above them. Marianne was incensed, but having been told the enchanting story of Owlsbury Hall, was able to derive somewhat silent amusement from Miss Bingley's tirades, as Elinor and Lizzy did. Finding her target unaffected, she decided to start dropping hints on the matter to Lady Matlock. That lady was entirely unaffected and, except for some pointed remarks on the mercenary ambitions of some women, completely ignored the topic.
She doubted the Earl would be of any use, as he seemed to be completely under his wife's thumb, but she thought she could get the Viscount to agree with her. She was quickly disabused of that notion -- the Viscount merely expressed his surprise that Miss Bingley was unaware that his little brother had an estate and house in town of his own, inherited from their great aunt. The lady was momentarily annoyed, but remembering the General's unaccountable behaviour towards her, she concluded that she wouldn't have wanted him anyway.
The next day saw two of the ladies at the extremes of emotion. Georgiana was elated, Caroline was devastated. After yet another uncomfortable breakfast, Caroline retreated to the library. She needed to reassess her strategy as her brother was proving problematic. She had expected him to relent and return to his usual pliable self after a few days. She did not understand what had caused this change in him and did not know how she could regain her influence over him.
She had retreated to a small, somewhat hidden alcove where she felt she would not be disturbed. She had thought that the library would be a quiet place where she could think. She was not prepared for the number of people who used the library as a place to have private conversations. She rather thought she would have to come back another day, there were so many interesting bits of information she learnt. She could have done without her sister and Mrs Gardiner's talk on pregnancy, but found the information that Jane had refused her brother very interesting. Obviously that was in some way responsible for the change in her brother's behaviour. At first she had been incredulous, but was then pleased to hear that she had been instrumental in that.
Her pleasure was short-lived.
Next to occupy the library were Mr Darcy and Eliza Bennet. She was utterly horrified to hear him proposing, and her accepting! She could not believe her ears! It took a moment to sink in, but when she realised that this was his second proposal she was horrified. To hear the man she'd been actively courting, as much as a lady can, talk of changing himself for some foolish chit who spurned him at a time when she would have done anything for him to propose. She could not bear it and stepped out to tell them what she thought of all this. She stepped back into the alcove very quickly. They were kissing. Kissing! As if she needed more proof of the girl's vulgarity! The depths to which the Darcy name would sink was unimaginable! Why not take the girl on as a mistress and marry a real lady like any normal gentleman?
There was some whispered conversation and then, "I must go to your uncle."
Caroline was alone in the library again. She did not know what to do with herself. Darcy was to marry Eliza. She would never be Mrs Darcy. She had briefly forgotten her grievances with her brother, but recognising the reality of her situation brought it all back to her. She would not be Mrs Darcy. Louisa was to have a child, so she did not wish to live there. Charles was being intolerable. And Mr Darcy was probably giving him advice on how to change himself to suit a Bennet. Obviously Jane refused him on Eliza's advice, hoping to alter him to what she desired. And obviously that included debasing himself and mistreating her while believing all he did was for the best.
If he kept his new attitude, she would need a house of her own. Living with him would be even worse than with Louisa and her child! They had suggested that she set up her own household in town. She certainly could do that, but she would need to hire a companion and people would gossip over her living arrangements. There was something so old maidish about a single woman living with only a paid companion. People might begin to think her on the shelf.
No. She needed a husband to supply her with a new household. Her options were rather limited. The only available men at Pemberley were the Colonel and the Viscount. It looked like there would be a title in her future! Now, she just needed a foolproof plan to convince him to marry her...
Having gained Mr Gardiner's consent, Lizzy and Darcy informed the rest of the party. Everyone was pleased with the news, but Georgiana's joy outstripped them all. She was thrilled to finally have a sister, and for it to be someone she knew and loved made her all the more happy. That she had been expecting such an event had no effect on her feelings. Only Miss Bingley gave cold and formal congratulations, but as that was expected no-one was concerned by it.
Darcy decided to ride to Hertfordshire the following morning to gain Mr Bennet's consent. Lizzy was not pleased by this, as she was not certain he would give it due to her previous, vehemently expressed dislike of the man. Jane convinced her that her fears were groundless. They had both sent letters home, which Jane was convinced would show that she had altered her opinion, and she could send one to her father with Mr Darcy if she had any real doubts about his reception. Both they and Mr Gardiner wrote letters for Mr Darcy to take with him. He was not concerned about that matter. Elizabeth was of age and she had consented, that was all that mattered to him.
Almost the entire party was overflowing with joy that evening. Even the servants were extra cheerful. Miss Bingley was disgusted by it all and retired immediately after dinner. No-one thought anything of it, as they assumed she was simply upset at having to face that she would never get what she had wanted. Charles mentally commended her for leaving, so as not to show her disappointment in public, and determined to tell her how pleased he was with her behaviour this evening, in the morning. The talk in the drawing room was all centered on the engagement and making tentative wedding plans. Lizzy hoped very much that telling her mother what Mr Darcy's aunt, the Countess, had suggested would help her have the wedding she desired, rather than whatever Mrs Bennet thought appropriate.
No-one noticed when Mrs Hurst was called out of the room. Her husband and Mrs Gardiner did notice how pale she was when she returned. They asked if all was well, at which she burst into tears. It was some time before she could coherently explain what had distressed her. When she did, her listeners were aghast, except for Lizzy, who could not contain her laughter. They set about preparing a plan of action, which they would put into effect when they were ready to retire. There was no urgency, after all.
The company was so unsettled, however, that they ended up deciding to retire early and all trooped upstairs as silently as they could. They gathered in the passageway in the family wing and the Hursts, Mr Bingley, the Earl, and the Countess crept into the Viscount's dressing room. He followed after them, making slightly more noise. From there he moved into his bedchamber, stopping dead just inside the door.
"Miss Bingley! What are you doing here?"
"What does it look like?"
"It looks as though you have somehow mistaken my room for your own, though considering Darcy houses you as far from the family wing as possible, I can't see how."
"Oh, there's no mistake. I'm exactly where I wish to be."
"But you are not welcome here. You will kindly remove yourself."
"Don't be silly. My maid has informed all the servants of our assignation tonight, and you have retired early. We shall be married by a special licence in town at the start of the season."
The Viscount laughed. "You are as delusional as Lady Catherine! I expect Richard will suggest sending you to the same asylum. Your brother may be more lenient."
"My brother will insist upon your marrying me, now that the entire household is gossiping about you compromising me. I wouldn't be surprised if the news has already spread to others."
"Oh, it's spread alright," the Viscount said, turning to the door of his dressing room.
Caroline was aghast to see the others come into the room. She knew the look of stony resolve on her brother's face did not bode well for her. She was forced out of the room and down the passageway, to her own room, in only the diaphanous nightgown she'd been found in. It was sheer apricot silk that left nothing to the imagination and she cringed as she passed the party, and when she saw the number of servants assembled. She was locked in her room, with footmen guarding the doors.
Darcy left early the following morning and had been barely out of view when Lizzy sighed and said she missed him. The other ladies tried to cheer her up, though only Georgiana had much success, as she insisted on calling the two Bennets her sisters. It would take him at least two days to reach Meryton, never mind returning to Pemberley, and Lizzy had decided she would not be unhappy in his absence. It was difficult, but she exerted herself to go walking (and, of course, debating) with Marianne, playing music with Marianne and Georgiana, and anything else she could find to occupy herself with, which was how the party found themselves doing a dramatic reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream one evening. Georgiana tried to delegate as many of the hostess duties to her as she could, which they all found amusing, Lady Matlock in particular. Nothing could dampen Georgiana's jubilation, not even when Miss Bingley could be heard screaming at her brother and sister.
They did not have to hear her long. Mr Bingley had sent an express to their aunt in Scunthorpe and, on receipt of her response, Caroline was sent to her the next day. Her brother would see to it that she received her allowance from the bank every quarter, once she came of age. At that time she was welcome to do as she pleased, but neither her brother nor her sister would have anything to do with her until she'd shown that she had reformed. Until she came of age, however, she was banished to her aunt's. Miss de Bourgh was quite happy to discuss the situation quietly with Mr Bingley, and had only sensible things to say when he began to castigate himself for allowing the situation to get so completely out of hand.
They were not the only ones having quiet conversations. Jane and the Colonel took slow walks through the shrubbery and rose garden, where they discussed every little thing that occurred to them. The Colonel felt rather out of his depth. He had only ever courted passionately impetuous women and did not quite know how to go about things with a serene one. He was drawn to her, even when she was not singing, and took great pleasure in reading to her. Her education had not been as extensive as Lizzy's, being her mother's favourite rather than her father's. The Colonel did not make her feel at all deficient and not only seemed to enjoy reading more edifying tomes to her, but appeared to delight in answering her questions. She was quite correct there. He had a wonderful time sharing the things he loved with her.
With Lizzy engaged and Elinor being officially courted, Jane was beginning to feel a little frustrated. She wanted her happy ending, but the closest they'd come was the Colonel asking if she would be in town in the winter. She had no set plans, but told him that she hoped to visit her family there at some point in the season, and they both agreed that they would be very pleased to see each other then. She knew he was right to be cautious, but it still frustrated her. As Lizzy fully intended to be married before Christmas, she would be more than happy to have her favourite sister stay with her. And if she wasn't, Jane intended to impose on the Gardiners. She was fully prepared to do what it took to ensure she met with the Colonel again.
Sir Thomas, having decided to have a ball, set about making it happen. No matter what Mrs Norris might say on the matter, all the young people were pleased. Fanny was surprised to find Mr Ferrars taking an early opportunity to secure her hand for the supper set, and any other set she chose. As he was the first to ask her to dance, she felt it only right that he should have the first set. He was honoured by such a response and the two were most pleased with their conversation. William also expressed a desire to dance with his sister and she was most pleased to arrive at a ball with three sets already secured.
Mr Crawford was less pleased. Certainly, Mary had managed to get her to wear his necklace, but that she had not saved the first set for him! Why, she did not even look as though she regretted it when she told him it was not available. He assumed that her brother, or perhaps one of her cousins was opening the ball with her. Even Sir Thomas would have been preferable to that wretched Mr Ferrars.
Unlike his rival, Edward enjoyed the ball immensely. Though he felt poor Miss Price’s sorrow over her brother’s impending departure, both were pleased that Miss Crawford could no longer put off her journey to town, and she would be escorted by her brother. Edward had never before enjoyed a ball so very much. He didn’t think he’d ever even danced the first set, not even at his sister’s coming out ball.
The next morning was a subdued occasion, with William and the Crawfords leaving Mansfield. With September drawing ever nearer, Edward knew that he would soon need to depart for Dorset and his living at Delaford. He would welcome the house of his own and the occupation.
“I shall miss you, Miss Price,” he said to his companion, as they rambled through the shrubbery.
She looked at him, surprised.
“Oh. I had not meant to say that aloud. Do forgive me Miss Price.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Mr Ferrars. Dorsetshire and Northamptonshire are far apart, it is only natural that you will miss your friends. I have greatly enjoyed your company.” She felt very bold making such a statement, but the truth was that she would miss him too.
“I hope you don’t think me forward, but I wondered if you’d allow me to suggest a visit to your relations to your uncle? Portsmouth and Dorset are not so very distant from each other.”
“I should like to see my family again. Perhaps I might even see William’s ship!”
He smiled and, having a brief moment of total privacy, decided to seize his opportunity. “Perhaps, if you would consent, I might ask his permission to court you at the same time?”
She blushed crimson, thrilled and embarrassed and breathless. She took a moment to compose herself, and then she lifted her eyes to his and whispered, “I should like that.”
She knew not how to feel. For so long she had loved Edmund, had thought him the epitome of manhood, but here was Mr Ferrars showing her such a great deal of care and affection that she could not help caring for him in turn. For all their similarities, she thought him superior to Edmund -- another thing she’d never imagined -- and could only hope that she would always be as happy as she now felt.
Sir Thomas, having kept a close eye on his niece at the ball, was unsurprised when Mr Ferrars asked to speak with him the following day.
“I rather thought you’d be asking to marry her, but I expect you wish to see her in her natal family first.”
“Er, yes, sir,” he said, for he did wish to meet the Price family and did not wish to discuss his previous disappointments.
“Well, of course you have my consent. And I shall be pleased to send her to Portsmouth to visit her family.”
Sir Thomas was also pleased to tell the family of Fanny’s courtship at dinner. Lady Bertram was surprised, but pleased. She did not like the idea of Fanny leaving her for Portsmouth, but if Sir Thomas felt it best, it must be so. Mrs Norris gave grudging congratulations. She could not like anything that gave Fanny pleasure, and the attentions of a young man were anathema to her. Certainly a clergyman of good family should not be distinguishing the girl, however impoverished he may be. Edmund, however, could not have been happier for them. His congratulations were so warm and sincere, they put the rest to shame.