If you love to hate Caroline Bingley…. you will LOVE this chapter! 🙂
XOXOXO Elizabeth Ann West
Chapter 2 - A Spring Sentiment, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
Poor weather delayed the planned outing for inspection of proper housing for the Bennet women all week. But by Thursday morning, an invitation to dine at Netherfield arrived as the roads were just barely dry enough for the carriage to travel the short distance.
With a heavy heart, Elizabeth sighed while the carriage passed Longbourn. Squished to the window while sharing a bench with Kitty and Lydia, she found looking out at the passing landscape the only available position of comfort.
“This carriage smells of beets.” Lydia wrinkled her nose in response to her own observation.
“It was very kind of Mr. Darcy to purchase the old Long carriage for our use, Lydia. You be sure to thank him,” Mrs. Bennet scolded.
“Me? That’s Lizzie’s job.” Lydia rolled her eyes.
Elizabeth ignored the bait to allow Lydia a discussion about how she could thank Mr. Darcy and continued staring out the window. She could just make out her favorite path up to Oakham Mount in the dwindling light.
“Mama, when do you think I might purchase more paper? I am nearly without.”
“Gracious, child, you know we are on economy. Your writing is a hobby we may not be able to afford very much longer!”
“But Lydia bought new ribbon and fabric! It’s not fair!”
“And when you’re engaged to be married, you can buy new ribbon and fabric, too,” Lydia responded with a mocking voice.
“Girls! Girls! My nerves!” Mrs. Bennet began to flutter her handkerchief and breathe in and out at a rapid rate. Jane reached over to pat her mother’s hand.
“You’re not even engaged anymore. He left you!”
“No, he didn’t! He has business in London. Take that back!” Lydia grabbed Kitty’s arm and pinched with a twist.
“Ow! Mama!” Kitty swatted back at Lydia.
Jostled about and hitting her forehead on the glass, Elizabeth turned toward her sisters and grabbed Lydia and Kitty by their arms, pinning them to the back of the bench. “Cease this moment! So help me, I will open that carriage door and cast you both out!” Elizabeth stared her sisters down and finally released them. Making sure her gown was properly adjusted, Elizabeth took a calming breath. “Kitty, I will take you into town tomorrow to purchase paper. You must stop antagonizing Lydia, and do not dare hint at Wickham during this dinner.”
Meekly, the two youngest girls shrank back from their older sister. It was rare to see Lizzie flare-up in a temper, and for a time they modified their behavior. The carriage remained silent as it creaked and groaned up the drive to Netherfield.
Ever practiced at recovering from a sisterly squabble, the Bennet sisters descended from the equipage as though nothing fractious had occurred. The ladies were greeted by two dashing gentlemen on the stairs, eager to escort them inside. As Bingley walked forward to claim an arm of Miss Bennet and Mrs. Bennet; Darcy was free to claim his betrothed.
“Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy bowed deeply and offered to take her arm. The estate aglow in soft candlelight, Elizabeth wondered how Netherfield compared to the illustrious Pemberley.
“Do you miss your home very much, sir?” she asked as they carefully traversed the worn and slightly icy steps to the front entrance.
“Indeed, but not nearly so much as I would miss you if I were apart from your company.”
Elizabeth’s brilliant smile and laughter with Mr. Darcy made Caroline Bingley freeze in the foyer. She had half-heartedly put together this dinner after much debate with her brother. The more she saw Darcy with that plain chit of a girl, the more her confidence grew that she only need show him what an upstart Elizabeth was, and then she could win him back. She refused to believe her brother’s constant warnings that Darcy had never held a romantic interest in her.
“How lucky, dinner is ready to be served!” Caroline walked forward to claim Mr. Darcy’s other arm.
“Caroline, they have only just arrived. Surely we are to take drinks in the drawing room first,” Mr. Bingley said through his teeth.
Caroline waved her hand dismissively at her brother. “I cannot be responsible if the cooks in these backwater counties cannot stick to a simple schedule. I was just informed that dinner is ready to be served, and I am sure the courses would be ruined if we wait.”
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Chapter 2 (cont'd) - A Spring Sentiment, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
With barely enough time to have their cloaks removed by footmen, the Bennet family entered the formal dining room set in a very bizarre table setting. On the one end, there was a plate flanked by two, with the entire middle of the table left empty. On the opposite end, there was a plate flanked by two pairs. Clearly, the intent was for the Bennet family to dine at one end of the table, alone.
“Who placed these settings?” Caroline yelled out making the kitchen staff in the dining room suddenly disappear through the door towards the kitchen in search of various tasks, except for a lone footman who dared to point out that Caroline herself had given instruction for the odd setting.
Elizabeth couldn’t hide her smile at the footman’s breach and looked at Kitty, who also pulled a face, making Elizabeth laugh aloud. “Fret not, Miss Bingley! Perhaps you have yet to master clearly communicating with your staff. It can be difficult for those not raised in such a household” She broke off from Mr. Darcy’s arm and calmly picked up a plate to carry it to the side of the table with only three. Each of her sisters took the hint, and Lydia grabbed two plates to include their mother.
“Oh, that’s much better! What a, er, lovely centerpiece you have, Miss Bingley!” Mrs. Bennet struggled to find a compliment for the young woman as Caroline was escorted to the very end of the table by Mr. Darcy. For his part, after dropping Miss Bingley at her seat, instead of taking the setting next to her, he and Kitty whipped around the table to change places, so he was across from Miss Bingley, but sitting next to Elizabeth’s right side to round out the seating.
While the footman served each guest, Mr. Bingley kept the chatter light as he delighted Kitty and Lydia with tales of London. Loose plans were made to visit various exhibitions and the famed Covent Gardens when the warm weather returned.
“Please, Mama, can’t we all go to London in the spring? It would be such a diversion!” Lydia exclaimed.
“Forgive me, but I thought you were soon to be married. Married women rarely have time for such activities, or so my sister is always telling me.” Caroline gave a knowing smile to Lydia as she took a sip of wine.
“I am not—”
“We have not set our plans for the spring just yet. Mr. Darcy, we have not yet decided where we are to wed! Would you prefer to return to Pemberley or have the ceremony in London?” Elizabeth interrupted and changed the subject.
Mr. Darcy frowned at the mean behavior of his friend’s sister. It wasn’t until Elizabeth gently touched his arm that he was shaken out of his own thoughts about how to keep the woman away from his impressionable younger sister, Georgiana.
“Yes, forgive me; I was not attending.”
“I was just asking about your thoughts for our wedding. Where would you like it to take place?” Elizabeth hid a laugh by tucking her bottom lip under her top one with a wide smile.
“You must have it here in Meryton, of course! We will have the grandest wedding breakfast the county has ever seen. Perhaps you and Jane could make it a double wedding. Wouldn’t that be nice, Lizzie?” Mrs. Bennet cooed and nodded in approval to her own plan.
Jane and Bingley both blushed, and it was Jane who softly reminded her mother that she and Mr. Bingley were not engaged.
“Well, with so many daughters, and two recently engaged, it is not a wonder that you lost track, Mrs. Bennet,” Caroline said, her face a studied mock of sympathy.
Ignoring Caroline, Mrs. Bennett addressed Jane instead, “Er, well, yes, I suppose. I merely get carried away when it’s obvious you and Mr. Bingley are so violently in love. Anyone can see that. Yes, that’s it.”
The table was uncomfortably quiet as, besides Mrs. Bennet, the entire party suddenly became interested in their plates. It was a few moments before Elizabeth realized Mr. Darcy had never answered her about where they were to be married, and worse than that, she realized she didn’t have a wedding date. She knew they were waiting to hear from Colonel Fitzwilliam about the search for Wickham, but it had been three weeks already. What if the man was never found? Would Mr. Darcy call off their engagement?
As conversation swirled around her, Elizabeth was lost in the dour mood that had lately latched onto her mind. Whenever talk of her wedding arose, so came thoughts of her father. She had always dreamt of the day he would walk her down the aisle. And now, she might not even have a wedding if Mr. Wickham couldn’t be found and made to marry Lydia! She felt her eyes growing moist as a heaviness threatened to descend upon her heart. It was only when Mr. Darcy nudged her that she realized Mr. Bingley was speaking to her.
“I said, Miss Elizabeth, that you had high hopes for the cottage did you not, as being the perfect home for your mother and sisters?”
Elizabeth shook her head and looked to Jane, but couldn’t catch her eye. Jane gazed at her lap, and Elizabeth felt uncomfortable being used as a pawn in Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy’s attempt to convince her mother into a smaller house.
“I fear I must suspend my preferences until we can view the properties, sir.” Elizabeth smiled meekly.
“Then we must all go tomorrow! It will be a party, and we could pack a picnic!” Miss Bingley offered with a catty smile.
“Miss Bingley, thank you, but no. My mother cannot possibly enjoy a picnic in her mourning state, and the weather is hardly warm enough for a stroll, let alone a picnic.” Jane surprised Elizabeth by finally speaking her mind to the woman who would be her sister-in-law if Bingley would just get on with it and ask Jane to marry him.
“I completely forgot, forgive me. It’s just that you and your sisters ran around London so much this winter, I wasn’t sure you were even observing a proper mourning period.”
“Caroline!” Mr. Bingley admonished.
But it was Elizabeth who cleared her throat. “My sisters and I may not have had the security afforded to you when you lost your parents and had a brother to take you in, Miss Bingley, but my father would be very proud that his daughters did not dally about crying hay while our futures were so unstable.”
Caroline sniffed and replied, “You are so decidedly sure of your opinions, Miss Eliza. That is such a refreshing trait to possess.”
A sudden clanging of metal rang from behind the door, and Caroline threw her napkin on the table. “What now?” she exclaimed as she rose from the table, causing Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley to immediately rise with her to the sound of scraping chairs on the wooden floor. They both remained standing and only resumed their seats after she made her way to the servant’s door.
The dinner party flinched as Miss Bingley’s shouts and abuse could be heard through the door. Elizabeth continued to work on her second course and took a healthy gulp of wine. Conversation remained stilted until Miss Bingley finally reappeared.
“It would seem that terrible crash was the rest of our dinner as James’ clumsiness set off a chain of falls down the stairs. I’m afraid dinner is at an end.”
Mr. Bingley turned a bright shade of red as he held his breath before finally erupting. “Caroline Margaret Bingley, this is beyond the pale! You go down to that kitchen, and I don’t care if you have to help prepare it yourself, but there will be cold meats and fruit served in the drawing room in fifteen minutes.” Mr. Bingley rose and offered an arm to Mrs. Bennet, who gladly accepted such gallant behavior. “I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Bennet; I’m afraid tonight’s dinner has been a complete disaster.”
“Oh, nothing to fret about, Mr. Bingley. Your sister is very young. It is difficult to hold such events as these without the proper training. I made sure to instruct all of my girls. . .” Mrs. Bennet continued to chat about the various admirable qualities of Jane and her other daughters as Mr. Bingley also caught Jane’s arm and escorted the ladies to the hall. Kitty and Lydia followed closely behind as they had finished their meal, their laughter and chatter grating on Caroline’s nerves as they glanced back at her.
“Mr. Darcy, I—,”
Darcy held up a hand to stop Caroline’s attempt at redemption as he offered to escort Miss Elizabeth. “Truly, Miss Bingley, your motives were rather transparent.”
Leaving Miss Bingley in the dining room, Elizabeth and Darcy found themselves alone in the foyer as the rest of the party had retired to the drawing room. Mr. Darcy tried to stop as Elizabeth walked on until his sudden halt pulled her back to step in line next to him.
“Elizabeth . . .” he muttered, turning her to him.
“Do not, sir. Please desist with your pretty words and caresses.”
Suddenly shocked out of his arduous mood, Mr. Darcy furrowed his brow. “What’s this? Have I done something to offend you?”
“Not at all, sir. Your silence was most agreeable.” Elizabeth unlinked her arm from Mr. Darcy and walked the remaining steps to the drawing room. Just as she was to turn the knob and open the door, Darcy grabbed her hand and pulled her around to follow him behind the staircase. The jerk was so sudden and unexpected, Elizabeth followed without resistance.
“Mr. Darcy, we cannot be away from the others.”
“We are already engaged, Elizabeth. Now, please, before Caroline Bingley’s petty behavior further ruins the evening, will you not tell me what vexes you?”
“You! All through dinner, you were silent. Not until the end did you say anything to that harpy—”
“That harpy who is my hostess while I remain here.”
“Yes, but-but you said nothing when I asked about our wedding date!”
Mr. Darcy took a step back as they had become very close during their heated discussion. He covered his mouth with his hand and dragged the skin as he rubbed his chin. Finally, he placed both hands on Elizabeth’s arms and looked deep into her eyes.
“There are some subjects which I am never inclined to discuss in front of others, and I consider our wedding plans to be a most private matter for only you and me to discuss.”
“Pray, when do you intend to discuss these plans with me, privately?”
Darcy let go of her arms and walked away. “As soon as we may arrange, madam.”
Elizabeth stood for a moment before scurrying to catch up to him. The way that man could make her heart melt in one minute and infuriate her in the next was most taxing! This love business was absolutely exhausting.
She took his arm and silently slipped into the drawing room to find Lydia entertaining the group with a funny story that was clearly embarrassing Kitty. Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth released it slowly in frustration that she would have to keep a vigilant eye on those two for the remainder of the evening. The dinner at Netherfield Park couldn’t end soon enough for her taste, even if her stomach still rumbled in hunger.
* * *
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2 Books + 1 Exclusive Story from Elizabeth Ann West!
Three Dates with Mr. Darcy is a bundle of: An exclusive story, Much to Conceal, a novella that imagines what if Elizabeth confessed to Jane in London that Mr. Darcy proposed in Kent?
A Winter Wrong, the first novella in the Seasons of Serendipity series that imagines what if Mr. Bennet died at the very beginning of Pride and Prejudice?
By Consequence of Marriage, the first novel in the Moralities of Marriage series that wonders what if Mr. Darcy never saved his sister Georgiana from Wickham’s clutches?
Elizabeth Ann West’s Pride and Prejudice variations have enthralled more than 100,000 readers in over 90 countries! A proud member of the Jane Austen Fan Fiction community since the mid-2000s, she hopes you will join her in being happily Darcy addicted!
Chapter 2(cont'd) - A Spring Sentiment, a Pride and Prejudice Variation
The dingy, dirty streets of London were a natural hiding place for the unwashed who preferred not to be found. Mr. George Wickham, lately of the militia, stumbled out of a gambling den with coins jingling in his pocket, belching from heavy drink. His eyes struggled to focus on the signs around him, and he turned around a few times to look in all directions for the alleyway he had come in on.
“George Wickham. Fancy seeing you again.” A familiar woman’s voice called out to him in the mist. He shakily stumbled forward with a lopsided grin on his face.
“Sally Younge! What brings a good girl like you out here on a night like this?”
“Just looking for boarders. I run a house around the corner. Warm bed. Clean linens.”
“Awww, you offering me a place for old times’ sake?” He gallantly placed his arm around her shoulder as she began steering him toward the far corner of the street.
“Old times nothing. You pay, just like everybody else!” She threw his arm off as her boots made crisp, curt connections with the stone steps to her run-down row house. She stopped on the top step and looked back. Wickham held the railing and swayed gently in his drunkenness.
“How’s about I pay the way I used to?”
Sally Younge laughed. “You’re too far gone for that, but come inside all’s the same. You won’t be freezing on my doorstep.”
Mr. Wickham tipped his shabby hat and lurched forward with assistance from the railing. Using a wide gait, he managed to stumble up the steps and into the meager warmth of the tenement before Mrs. Younge, the former companion to Miss Georgiana Darcy, shut the heavy wooden door against the chill.
You’ve been reading A Spring Sentiment
A Spring Sentiment, Book 2 of the Seasons of Serendipity
a Pride and Prejudice novella variation series
Release Date: September 24, 2014
33,000 words, ~162 pages in print.
After losing her father in autumn and falling in love with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet quickly feels the frustrations of settling her newly widowed mother and making her debut in London society. Tackling adventures in three counties, the Bennet sisters find new paths opening up before them. A mistake by one sister places the whole family at risk and it takes the full Bennet family strength and friends they can rely on to help Darcy and Elizabeth march down that wedding aisle!
A Spring Sentiment is the second book in a series planned to chronicle 4 years of the Darcy-Bennet-Fitzwilliam families. Death, marriage, changing fortunes, and politics test Jane Austen’s wonderful characters in an alternate universe where the girls have not the protection of their father.
“Elizabeth Ann West keeps writing winners. She has a gift, She can transport you to another time” – Debbie Oelke, Amazon.com 5-star review on A Spring Sentiment
+ 15 additional Pride & Prejudice variations are available at these fine retailers . . .