Content Harry Potter Jane Austen by Pamela St Vines
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Chapter Seven - Egress and Entrance


You have delighted us long enough.
Mr. Bennet to Mary Bennet in
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 18


For all the attendant anxieties, the required introduction of Mrs. Annesley and Caroline Bingley on Sunday evening was a brief and quiet affair. Of course Bingley and the Hursts had taken great care that it should be exactly so, devoting most of the previous afternoon to preparing a room for the event. They selected a small parlor as the site, their primary consideration being its proximity to the family wing. Then under the guise of another decorating scheme, Louisa had ordered the servants to strip the room of everything but the rugs, draperies and furniture. The staff wisely made no comment, but many knowing looks were exchanged as they accomplished the hasty removal of all things breakable or easily thrown, particularly after Louisa had announced that she would wait until Monday to refurnish what was to be her morning room.

The barrenness of the room did not escape Mrs. Annesley's attention, but rather confirmed her suspicions regarding the odd noises occasionally heard from that end of the house. The woman breathed a silent prayer of thanks that she would have Mr. Hopkins' aid until they were safely away from England, even as she graciously accepted the proffered cup of tea from Louisa. Perceiving her hostess's distraction, Mrs. Annesley kindly spared her the burden of making small talk by steering the conversation to the morning's sermon, carefully couching her remarks so that Louisa need only make perfunctory replies to satisfy the demands of propriety. It is well she did so, for Louisa's preoccupation increased with each passing minute. The women were just finishing their tea when Caroline finally entered the room escorted by Bingley and Hurst. As Caroline looked rather smug and the gentlemen were plainly exasperated, it was clear that she had engineered their delay.

Caroline swept into the room, thinking to intimidate Mrs. Annesley by playing the grand lady. Caroline had mistakenly reasoned that the mere widow of a clergyman would be easily cowed by the proper display of her qualities. Sadly for Caroline's schemes, Mrs. Annesley had known many great ladies--both in terms of rank and character--and she immediately decided that this young woman satisfied neither standard for greatness. Had she been less fixed in her principles, Mrs. Annesley might have been sorely tempted to put the affected young woman in her place. As it was she did entertain the thought, albeit only briefly, but Eleanor Annesley had determined long ago that her own conscience would be the sole determinant of her conduct. Therefore, she merely offered a kindly smile in response to Caroline's condescending sneer. Satisfied that the forms had been observed, Mrs. Annesley saw no purpose in prolonging the encounter once the introduction had been made.

"I am delighted to meet you, Miss Bingley," she said, "and I look forward to furthering our acquaintance during our travels. Please excuse me now as I have not completed my preparations for the journey."

Caroline's eyes narrowed as she barely acknowledged these words with a nod. While some might have misconstrued her silence, Caroline's relations knew that she was inwardly seething. Although Mrs. Annesley had been polite and cordial, Caroline chose to take offense at her ending the interview.

"How dare that insignificant woman dismiss me as if I were insignificant," Caroline silently railed, "as if I were not a very accomplished and superior young woman--as if I were some poor spinster being shuttled off--"

In hopes of covering Caroline's coldness, her relations bid Mrs. Annesley a most cordial goodnight even as they watched their sister in considerable alarm, for to their experienced eyes Caroline was clearly growing more livid with each passing moment. Happily they regained their family privacy not a moment too soon.

As Mrs. Annesley withdrew, Caroline glanced about for something--anything--she could destroy to vent her rising temper. She had been too occupied with her own schemes to adequately note her surroundings upon entering the room, but now Caroline perceived the room's barrenness. She immediately understood its significance. Her loving family had anticipated her temper and taken measures to forestall a full-blown tantrum. Oh, how Caroline wanted to hurt them--her loving family indeed. If no other weapon were at hand, then she would simply use her tongue.

"Yes," Caroline thought with an evil smile, "I will shred them all with my tongue--Charles, Louisa, and the insufferable Hurst. How dare they presume to pack me off to Ireland with a nonentity like that insufferable widow as traveling companion."

Alas that release was also denied her as Caroline's mounting fury had rendered her incapable of comprehensible speech. Unable to articulate the choice words that sprang to her mind, the lady stamped her foot in frustration and flounced from the room. Bingley followed at a discreet distance and to his vast relief Caroline hastened directly to her own chamber. Bingley locked the door behind his sister with a sigh and returned to the Hursts.


****


When Caroline Bingley had regained the power of rational thought, she began plotting her revenge. Direct action against her family was impossible while Bingley controlled the family's wealth, but she could hurt them nonetheless by exacting her revenge upon Eliza Bennet, soon to be Mrs. Darcy. Caroline had finally accepted that reality. Darcy was determined to have her for his bride, and he could be most intractable, particularly when he was angered. Caroline could see now how foolish she had been to oppose the match directly, but it was, alas, too late to undo the past. However, by injuring the wife, Caroline would also be injuring the husband and, therefore, her brother who was particularly fond of Darcy.

Men might demand satisfaction with rapiers or pistols on a deserted field at dawn, but between women it was a subtle and far more devious thing. Women destroyed and triumphed over one another with words and the battle ground was more often than not a drawing room or ballroom. Caroline smiled, knowing that a whisper in the right ear would suffice. After all, gossip was the favorite past time of most women of her acquaintance, and the general dismay over Darcy's engagement would predispose most of the unmarried ladies of London--and quite a few of the married ones--to believe any manner of evil of his bride. Although she loathed the idea of being stranded in Ireland, Caroline decided it would be to her advantage. Charles could hardly associate her with Eliza Bennet's downfall when she was so far removed from the scene. Caroline was still trying to determine exactly whom she might best use to bring down the proud Miss Elizabeth Bennet when she nodded off. While it cannot be said with any certainty that her dreams continued in that vein, it is a fact that Caroline awoke feeling that she had slept very well indeed.


****


Even before the coach was away from Netherfield the following morning, a lone rider set out from Meryton. He was, however, not bound for Wales, but for London. Reaching town well before midday, the rider hastened to make his report without stopping to don his uniform. Fortunately he was not bound for Horse Guards where his nonmilitary attire would have raised unwanted questions, but went straight to an elegant townhouse in the most prestigious quarter of London. Despite the man's humble appearance, he was admitted to the fine house immediately.

"Well, Sgt. Murphy, what is your report?" his host asked as soon as the servant had left them alone. "Does the situation warrant intervention? Shall I--"

Colonel Fitzwilliam broke off, embarrassed by his own lack of manners.

"Forgive me for beginning so abruptly, Murphy," he apologized while pouring the man a drink. "Please have a seat. You must have ridden like the devil to arrive so early. Here. Would you like something to eat?"

"Thank you, Colonel, sir, but this will set me to rights."

Murphy gratefully accepted the seat and the offered brandy, which he eagerly downed before continuing, "I must confess the horse did the work, sir. I am fit, you see, but you look to be faring poorly, Colonel. I warrant you have been worrying again. My report should set your mind at ease though. By all accounts, your cousin is marrying a very fine lady--"

"A fine lady," Colonel Fitzwilliam interrupted him, "but I have never heard of her and according to the inquiries I was able to make discreetly here, neither has anyone else."

"Well, I do not mean 'fine' in that sense, sir," Murphy explained, holding out his glass for a refill. "I do not think the lady is in line for the throne and such, but I was quite thorough in my investigation--"

Fitzwilliam could not help but smile at that. While not an especially handsome man, Murphy had an unfailing natural charm. Men and woman alike warmed to him instantly and there were few who would not confide in Murphy once they had been subjected to a little deliberate attention from the man. No doubt half of Meryton was already lamenting his absence including a sizeable portion of the unmarried women.

"Yes, I was quite thorough," Murphy continued satisfied by the colonel's smile. "The general opinion in Hertfordshire is that this is a love match and your cousin is a most fortunate man."

"A love match," Fitzwilliam repeated in wonder. "I am astonished. That is so unlike Darcy.

"Yes, sir," Murphy cheerfully agreed, "it is surprising, but there is no other way to account for it according to the locals. Mr. Darcy met the lady at a local assembly and he called upon her the very next day and every day thereafter until she accepted him."

"Pray did you see the lady?" the colonel asked.

"Aye, Colonel, I did--they were both at Sunday services, but I took care that Mr. Darcy did not see me."

Understanding what a sacrifice it was for the staunch Catholic to attend a protestant service, Fitzwilliam thanked him warmly. Then endeavoring to understand his cousin's uncharacteristic behavior he ventured to say, "And I suppose the lady is very beautiful."

"Aye, sir," the sergeant agreed, "but not in the way you mean, Colonel. Miss Bennet--or Miss Elizabeth as they call her in Meryton--is pretty to be sure, but not remarkably so at first sight. Her older sister is considered the family beauty and she is truly one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever had the fortune--

"Darcy's bride?" Fitzwilliam interrupted him.

"Sorry, sir," Murphy responded with a grin. "I forgot that you will be seeing the other Miss Bennet soon enough for yourself. But as to Mr. Darcy's Miss Bennet--she is not so very beautiful when you first see her, as she is after a bit. It creeps up on you and I do believe the lady has a pair of the finest eyes God ever gave a woman."

"And what else did you learn of her?" the colonel prompted him.

"Quite a bit actually, sir," Murphy continued. "The lady seems to be something of a local heroine. By all accounts she is universally admired. Everyone speaks of her cleverness, but I heard not a whisper of her marrying your cousin for his fortune. I heard quite a lot about her kindness in general and her care for their tenants in particular."

"Their tenants?" Fitzwilliam repeated in shock.

"Aye, they say she is as good at doctoring as the local apothecary--started out as a wee lass when she found out their people were sometimes reluctant to send for him. She did not want their folks to do without doctoring because they were worried about the bill. The tenants call her "Miss Lizzy" and they say she is part fair--"

Murphy stopped himself realizing that portion of the story would do nothing to calm his colonel. Having grown up with tales of leprechauns and other "faerie folk," the sergeant had found the tale of Darcy's bride being part fairy both amusing and impressive, but Colonel Fitzwilliam, while a fine man, had almost no imagination. The sergeant quickly resumed his report taking a tack that should restore Colonel Fitzwilliam's peace of mind.

"From the way the locals speak of her," he continued, "Miss Elizabeth would have made a fine soldier--if she were a man--one you would want her at your side in battle--even going up against Boney himself."

Fitzwilliam sat back in thought. This was praise indeed from his faithful sergeant and not at all what he had pictured or feared.

"Thank you, Murphy," he said after a time. "You have done me a great service. I was prepared to act rashly in what I thought was my cousin's behalf before you volunteered to look into his engagement. Based on what you learned in Hertfordshire, it seems that Darcy has no need of my rescue. My mind is considerably eased; however, I know my cousin, as you do not. I must ascertain his state of mind before I will be fully reconciled to the match. I think I will go into Hertfordshire a day earlier than planned. I must speak with Darcy privately before my parents arrive. Would you perhaps accompany me into Hertfordshire? I may have need of you."


****


And so it was that Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived in Hertfordshire late Wednesday afternoon, only to find that neither of his cousins was currently at Netherfield. Bingley greeted him warmly, explaining that Darcy and Georgiana were having dinner with the Bennets that evening.

"--but allow me to send a message to Longbourn that you have come," he said. "The Bennets will certainly release Darcy and Georgiana from their obligation to hasten a family reunion."

Having decided that his best hope of ascertaining Darcy's true state of mind was to catch him unawares, Fitzwilliam assured Bingley that it was not necessary to summon his cousins, and the affable Bingley was easily dissuaded. He was soon expressing his joy at the opportunity to further their acquaintance and speculating as to the degree of Darcy's surprise in finding his cousin already come to Netherfield.

Meanwhile Sgt. Murphy was settling back in at the inn in Meryton. Of course the locals there only knew him as Thomas Murphy, a fine fellow who had recently stopped over on his way to London and had now announced his intention to rest in the friendly environs of Meryton for several days before returning to Warwick from whence he had ostensibly come.

While the sergeant was having a pint with the friendly folks at the inn, the colonel was sitting down to an elegant dinner at Netherfield. Although the conversation around the dinner table included commonplace references to Darcy's bride and the wedding itself, nothing particularly revealing was mentioned, and the colonel found himself sorely tempted to press his hosts for more information about the Bennets on several occasions. He refrained, of course, as it would be highly irregular for a dinner guest to subject his hosts to a thorough interrogation. Fitzwilliam also took great care to hide his frustration, lest it be construed as opposition to the match. In addition to being terribly closed mouthed about his private affairs, Darcy could also be quite stubborn in the face of resistance or what he deemed to be interference.

Although his hosts were congenial, the colonel found it taxing to pretend a happy nonchalance he did not feel, all the while hoping his companions would reveal something important. More than once, he wished that Murphy were at his side rather than hidden away at the local inn. The Irishman would have been able to elicit all manner of information from his hosts without their even knowing he did so. The colonel could not help but smile at the thought that Murphy had probably learned more of Darcy's present state while dining at the inn than he had among Darcy's close friends. There was nothing for it, the colonel resolved, but to wait and hope that Darcy would arrive shortly to allay--or confirm--his fears.

If Darcy was surprised to find his cousin present upon his return to Netherfield, Colonel Fitzwilliam was no less surprised. The initial source of his astonishment was the news that Georgiana had decided to stay the night at Longbourn. Understanding the depths of her shyness, Fitzwilliam was amazed that Georgiana would enjoy such intimacy with people she had only just met. This startling development was quickly forgotten, however, as the colonel comprehended the change in Darcy's demeanor. It was staggering. He had never seen his cousin's countenance so open, nor could he remember a time when Darcy had appeared so happy. Fitzwilliam glanced at Bingley questioningly and Bingley's response was a nod and a wink. After the obligatory pleasantries, Darcy excused himself to place something in his chambers and promised to rejoin them shortly.

"Your cousin is a changed man," Bingley said with a grin once Darcy's footsteps had echoed down the hall. "Perhaps it was unfair of me not to warn you earlier, but one must really see Darcy to fully appreciate the transformation that has come over him. I assure you that he is the same as he ever was in his principles, but Darcy's outward behavior and manner has altered considerably since meeting Miss Bennet. Just wait until you see them together. It is most amusing."

"And the lady?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked in considerable relief. He had been perplexed by Bingley's earlier avoidance of discussing the topic at length, but now it was clear. Bingley had simply wanted him to experience the alteration in Darcy without forewarning. He was taken aback by the sharpness of Bingley's reply.

"After seeing your cousin's happiness, do you still doubt his choice?"

"No," Fitzwilliam answered evenly. "Darcy's happiness is my first concern in this matter and those fears have undoubtedly been laid to rest. However, I am most curious to know about the woman who has succeeded in capturing his heart when so many others have failed in the attempt."

Bingley's smile returned as he hastened to satisfy his guest's curiosity.

"In that case I will be happy to enlighten you, sir. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a fine young woman, and they are very well suited to one another. In fact, Miss Elizabeth may be the only woman of my acquaintance who is clever enough to hold your cousin's interest."

"Ah, so she reads Chaucer and Milton--" Fitzwilliam said with a laugh.

"--and the agricultural journals, as well, I believe," Bingley added with a chuckle. Then meeting the colonel's gaze, Bingley continued very seriously.

"I also believe Miss Elizabeth's integrity and strength of character to be a match for Darcy's--something I would not have expected of so young a lady," he said, "and she is most definitely a lady in every way. There is nothing improper or objectionable about her. Miss Elizabeth's ardor is, therefore, restrained in comparison to your cousin's but it is no less evident."

Rising from his chair, Hurst said, "Well, if you two gentlemen are going to sit here gossiping like old hens, I think I will join my wife upstairs. Good night, Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam."

His murmurs were audible as Hurst quitted the room, "Just as well-- I do not think I can stand another case of Darcy's raptures."

"Raptures?" Fitzwilliam repeated incredulously.

"Oh, yes," Bingley answered with a smile. "Get Darcy to talk about 'his Miss Elizabeth' and you will see. I must admit that after all of Darcy's chiding me for my impulsiveness, I find his recent behavior very amusing."

"It is plain that you have no concerns for his future contentment," Fitzwilliam said in relief.

"I would hope that I am not so careless a friend to your cousin," Bingley replied earnestly. "Had I any reservations regarding the soundness of Darcy's choice, I would not have encouraged him. I banished my sister from this house because of her attempts to interfere, and I will do the same to you, sir, should you threaten his current state of happiness."

Fitzwilliam was somewhat taken aback by this forceful reply from the easy going Bingley. It raised his opinion of the man considerably.

"Please accept my apologies, Bingley," he said. "I did not mean to imply that you would be cavalier regarding Darcy's future, and I happily admit that in my anxiety for my cousin, I have allowed myself to imagine difficulties where none exist."

"Your apology is accepted, Colonel."

"Thank you, Bingley, but did you really evict your sister?" Fitzwilliam asked with a smile. "I thought she was visiting a relation."

"That part is true, but the visit was at my insistence," Bingley replied grimly. After a moment's pause, he continued with a sigh.

"No doubt Darcy has alluded to my sister's shameless pursuit of him through the years. He has always been courteous to Caroline, but never offered her the slightest encouragement. I am afraid she became rather unhinged when Darcy announced his engagement. My sister can be very unpleasant when provoked and I could not have her ruining my closest friend's well-deserved joy, so I dictated Caroline's departure. She is now in route to Ireland, where Caroline will remain with our aunt for at least a year--if she desires further financial support from me."

"Bingley, I am impressed," Fitzwilliam said in honest admiration. "I underestimated your regard for my cousin. Pray, why a year? Darcy and Miss Bennet will be married in a few days' time."

"Yes, but my sister can be quite--persistent--even when she has been proven wrong," Bingley explained. "I want to be certain that Caroline has abandoned her foolish notions before I allow her back into London society. It is also my hope that our aunt will be able to exert a positive influence upon her so that Caroline will derive personal benefit from her time away from us."

The Colonel was astonished. He had always thought of Bingley as weak and easily swayed, but it appeared the young man did have his own convictions and was fiercely loyal to Darcy.

When they heard Darcy's footsteps in the hall, the two men fell silent. As Bingley and Fitzwilliam were both lively conversationalists by nature, Darcy correctly assumed that they had been speaking of him, nor did he blame them, knowing that his life was far more interesting at the moment than either of theirs.

"No doubt Fitzwilliam was quizzing Bingley about Elizabeth and her family," Darcy thought upon entering the silent room.

He was not, however, angered or dismayed by the prospect. In addition to being cousins, Fitzwilliam and Darcy shared the guardianship of Georgiana, a tie that had kept them close through the years. It was, therefore, understandable that Fitzwilliam would be curious about his cousin's bride, and Darcy had no fear of Bingley's answers, as he was confident of his friend's whole-hearted support. Seeing that his companions were already supplied with brandy, Darcy simply nodded to them and crossed the room to pour one for himself.

That done, Darcy seated himself directly across from his cousin and said, "All right, Fitzwilliam, I am happy to see you, but I suspect your early arrival has a purpose. Ask your questions so that we may all retire at a reasonable hour."

Seeing that Darcy was not the least bit affronted by his concerns somehow alleviated the Colonel's anxiety even more than all of Murphy and Bingley's reassurances had. Fitzwilliam actually had the grace to appear embarrassed.

"I am sorry, Darcy" he began. "I must confess that I had worked myself up into an apprehension regarding your impending nuptials, but seeing your happiness and hearing your friend speak of Miss Bennet-- Well, I realize that it was foolish of me-- It all seemed to be so unlike you."

Fitzwilliam was relieved and amazed to see Darcy actually smile at him.

"On the contrary, Fitzwilliam," Darcy explained, "it is exactly like me. You may know me best of all and I am certain you will agree that I can be very selfish and impatient. When have I ever been slow to pursue something I truly want?"

Fitzwilliam chuckled and nodded his head as the truth of Darcy's point drove home.

"Rest assured," Darcy continued, "this marriage is what I want. I can understand how my past behavior may have caused you to believe that I had no interest in marriage. After all I have long taken pains to avoid any such entanglements. However, marriage has long been my aim, but I was determined that I would only marry for true affection. Therefore, I had no interest in marriage until I met Miss Bennet."

"I hope you will forgive my presumption, Darcy," Fitzwilliam apologized.

"Of course," Darcy answered. "I perfectly understand that your fears were motivated by your regard for me, Cousin, and I am gratified that you hold me in such high esteem. I am not afraid of your questions, so ask them if you will. Tomorrow you will meet Miss Bennet and you will begin to truly understand, but for now how may I allay your anxieties?"

"My anxieties are banished," the colonel said with a smile. "Simply speak to me, Cousin. I would hear more of your betrothed."

Darcy quickly warmed to his favorite subject. He recounted their meeting at the assembly and confessed that he had not only made a slighting remark about the lady, but that she had actually overheard it.

"I wondered why you were suddenly so attentive to Miss Elizabeth," Bingley exclaimed in delight, "and particularly after you had flatly refused to stand up with her. Am I to understand that she actually heard your unflattering comment and called you on it?"

"Yes, Bingley, that is exactly what happened," Darcy said with a grin, "and I am most happy that she did so. I expected to spend a tedious half hour listening to her prattle on as atonement for my rudeness. However, after initially teasing me about my ungenerous remark, Miss Bennet was very kind. She seemed to sense my discomfort with strangers and somehow managed to put me at ease."

"And exactly how did she achieve that, Cousin?" the colonel asked. "Surely, half the mamas in London will be dying to know."

After a moment's pause to consider how he might explain Elizabeth's affect upon him, Darcy said, "While Miss Elizabeth is extremely clever, she is wholly without the artifice and slyness that is so common among our London acquaintance. She did not exhaust us both with attempts to rouse my admiration. I was, in fact, impressed by her natural sincerity and her expectation of no less from me. We spent most of the half hour discussing books. Her intelligence and her depth of understanding surprised me. Those are rare enough traits in a young woman who is also uncommonly pretty."

There was a moment of silence before Darcy added, "I thank God every day that she has accepted me and that her family has consented to a brief engagement."

Fitzwilliam was quite moved by his cousin's eloquence, but he also felt as if he had pried into something deeply personal. To lighten the atmosphere, the colonel addressed his next question to their host.

"So tell me, Bingley, is it true? Is the lady uncommonly pretty?"

"That she is," Bingley answered with a smile. "Of course, her elder sister Miss Jane Bennet is even lovelier. She is the most beautiful creature I have ever beheld, but Miss Elizabeth is very pretty, too. It is also universally acknowledged in Hertfordshire that Miss Elizabeth is uncommonly clever. Therefore, I must agree that your cousin has chosen well. After all, there are few ladies who would actually enjoy discussing literature with your cousin."

"No doubt you are right, Bingley," Fitzwilliam acknowledged with a grin. "I daresay there are even fewer ladies with whom Darcy would enjoy such a discussion."


****


Meanwhile in Cardiff, Eleanor Annesley consoled herself with the knowledge that their ship was to sail on the morrow. Although she considered herself a woman capable of great forbearance, Mrs. Annesley had abandoned any hope of Caroline Bingley proving to be a tolerable traveling companion long before the coach had left the environs of Hertfordshire.

Given the younger woman's propensity to complain, Mrs. Annesley was intensely grateful for Mr. Darcy's insistence upon Mr. Hopkins acting as their escort. Not only was he a very pleasant and capable man, but Mrs. Annesley also suspected that the presence of Darcy's man had a mitigating effect upon Caroline's rudeness. She shuddered to think of what the last three days would have been like without his company as Miss Bingley was not only generally disagreeable, but she also found something to criticize at every turn.

Mrs. Annesley's had originally estimated Caroline Bingley to be an over indulged and rather selfish young woman who would never be considered a beauty, but was still somewhat attractive and reasonably intelligent. A greater knowledge of the young woman had changed her opinion entirely. Caroline Bingley was, in Eleanor Annesley's current opinion, a wholly disagreeable person who possessed no virtues to compensate for her lack of character and consideration. She complained and whined repeatedly like an overwrought child and at her most pleasant Caroline was merely condescending. Mrs. Annesley allowed herself the brief indulgence of wishing her companion a serious bout of mal de mer during their crossing, after which she knelt to ask the Almighty's forgiveness for her unkind thoughts, as well as His assistance in enduring her current unpleasant duty.


****


Caroline, conversely, gave Mrs. Annesley no thought at all as she sulked in the adjoining room. Her thoughts were centered on those she had left behind in Hertfordshire. Given as she was to criticizing everyone but herself, Caroline still could not grasp how she had failed so utterly in her attempts to captivate the elusive Fitzwilliam Darcy and his beautiful estate in Derbyshire. Had Darcy elected to marry a lady possessed of superior fortune or rank, Caroline would have been able to accept her defeat, but his choice of an inconsequential chit like Eliza Bennet was simply beyond her ken.

Her inability to comprehend the events that had turned her path to Ireland had in no wise lessened Caroline's determination that Darcy, Elizabeth, and by extension her brother would feel her displeasure. Darcy's position might force society to include Elizabeth in their functions, but with few exceptions the women of the first circles--whether they be dowagers, debutants or somewhere in between--were quite adept at the discreet yet unmistakable cut. Not having been born into the first circles Caroline had endured their snobbery--all the while ingratiating herself to those who would allow it--but her own past mortification would be as nothing to the humiliations awaiting the new Mrs. Darcy.

In a rare flash of insight the previous morning, Caroline had perceived that she need not bother to commence any correspondence about Darcy's bride. Once news of their marriage was widely known, her acquaintance would undoubtedly write to "dear Caroline" for details of the amazing match, and she, being all politeness of course, would answer them in vague generalities--nothing explicit, merely enough left unsaid or hinted at to fuel the fires of gossip.

"Yes," she thought smugly, "it will be quite easy to manage."


Copyright 2008 Pamela St Vines
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