Having a house full of males, I was forced to go through the phase where my sons watched professional – and I use the term lightly – wrestling. Great athletes but terrible actors. Regardless, my sons were enthralled. Thankfully, they outgrew it after about five years or so. Blech! I bring this up because the phrase, are you ready to rumble, was how the television program started, and today, I am bringing to you two of the greatest adversaries in Pride and Prejudice.
In this corner, Miss Caroline Bingley. Wealthy, entitled, and completely focused on acquiring one Mr. Darcy from Pemberley as her future life companion. Well, acquiring Pemberley as her future life companion, Mr. Darcy is a necessary evil. In the opposing corner, we have Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The second daughter of…. wait a minute. In this story, she is the niece of Mr. Bennet Thomas of Longbourn, daughter of James and Isabella Bennet (deceased), owner of Netherfield Park, and – well – I cannot give you all the goodies right now. You will just have to wait until the book comes out. (Soon, my pretties. Very soon.)
This little vignette is about a delicious set down of the orange shrew. Oh, how we all love to hate her. Funny aside, my first JAFF novel was of Caroline Bingley’s redemption, so I truly don’t hate her, but it is fun to bring her down a peg or two. That said, I hope you enjoy this snippet.
They had just received their tea and confections when the door to the shop opened and an elegant lady, along with a handsome young girl entered and were seated on the opposite side of the room, partially hidden by a column. Elizabeth hadn’t paid them much mind other than to experience a sense of familiarity with the girl. Because she didn’t want to be caught staring, she turned back to her conversation with Aunt Madeline.
“I am delighted with what we purchased and will meet you next week at the seamstress I have always used for linens.” She took a sip of her tea before continuing. “Has Uncle Edward reached out to find another family to lease Netherfield? I am quite sure the Bingleys shall not return and hate the thought of it lying vacant for yet another year.”
“No, he has heard nothing from the gentleman. Such a shame, how everything came about. How have you been faring with your gentleman?”
“I am well although, after being left in no doubt that I have no authority within the walls of his home, I find my days are tedious. I do not know what I shall do once the renovations of my bedchambers are completed.”
“You have not met any of his family?”
“Other than his cousin, whom I told you about earlier in the month, I have met no one else. I am sure, once the weather permits, he will haul me off to Derbyshire and leave me there until he feels the need to beget an heir.”
“He has not come to your bed?”
“No, he has not and at this point I am grateful. The thought of being intimate with him is beyond my capabilities at the moment. I will take as long a reprieve as I can.” She flicked another quick glance at the girl, and again wondered why she seemed so familiar. “I must admit,” she finally said, “I do not mind that he is absent from the house, although I am not used to so much quiet. Longbourn was always filled with conversation and laughter.”
“What will you do when he finds out you have refurbished the mistress chambers?”
“Truly aunt, he barely darkens the door of his own home. I have no fear of him peeking into my bedchambers, and even if he did, I have used my own funds.”
“When, and I say when because sooner or later he will discover what you have done, he will wonder how you paid for all the furnishings and accoutrements. He is not a stupid man, Lizzy. When he receives no outstanding bills, he will ask you where the money came from.”
“Maybe in some way that is why I am doing this. I wish to inform him, on my own terms, that I do not need him or his money. I am still very angry over his behavior.”
The door to the shop jangled again.
“Marriage is for life, Lizzy. Please try to reconcile before it is too late–”
“What are you doing in here!”
“As you can see, I am enjoying a cup of Oolong tea.” Elizabeth held Miss Bingley’s gaze with unflinching resolve. To drive the point home, she raised her cup and took a sip before placing it back on the saucer.
“I demand the proprietor throw this wanton hussy from the premises.” Miss Bingley cried out in a loud voice, looking toward the rear of the shop. An older gentleman came through a curtained entrance and approached them.
“I would ask that you lower your voice, Madam. You are disturbing my other guests.” He cast a furtive glance toward the woman behind the column, hinting at her importance.
“Do you always serve courtesans in this establishment?”
Aunt Madeline’s mouth dropped open in surprise while Elizabeth sat stunned. The proprietor turned to face Elizabeth; his face showing disgust.
“I must ask that you leave at once and never enter these premises again.”
Elizabeth stayed seated, refusing to even look at Miss Bingley.
“I am not what she has intimated and frankly, very disturbed that you would take the word of a virtual stranger without first finding out the truth of the matter.”
She could tell the man was surprised at how well she spoke and he looked toward Miss Bingley, who responded with, “I know for a fact that Mr. Darcy, nephew to the Earl of Matlock and a particular of mine, refused to marry this chit after she tried to compromise him.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes in embarrassment. Miss Bingley was not lowering her voice and now everyone in the shop could hear the venom she spewed. Thankfully, besides the other two customers, only the owner and his employee heard her tirade.
“I shall ask you one more time to exit my shop and not return.”
The owner had obviously decided Miss Bingley held more sway. Unbeknownst to them, the lady had come to stand beside Elizabeth’s table. Caroline audibly sucked in a breath at the arrival of the elegant woman, to whom the owner gave a deferential nod and began to apologize profusely.
“I apologize, my lady. If you would return to your table, I will have Agatha bring out an assortment of sweets to make up for all this unpleasantness.”
“I am not wanting more biscuits, kind sir. I have come here to ask this person” – she indicated Miss Bingley – “why she accosted my niece in such a dreadful manner.”
Miss Bingley glanced toward the young girl, still seated.
“My lady, in no way did I infer your niece was deficient. I am speaking of this trollop, Eliza Bennet, whom I know for a fact is a fallen woman.”
“Miss Bingley – it is Miss Bingley, correct?”
“Yes, my lady.” Caroline preened that this great lady knew who she was.
“Pray, stay silent on this matter as you are in grave danger of making a fool of yourself, more than you have done already.”
The older woman turned her attention to Elizabeth.
“Forgive me for not seeing you when I entered the shop, dearest Elizabeth. I must have been so entranced with what your sister Georgiana was saying about her new music master, I did not even look around when we came in.”
Two things shot through Elizabeth’s mind like a bolt of lightning, illuminating the scene with perfect clarity. One, the lady in front of her had to be Lady Matlock and two, the girl with her was none other than Miss Georgiana Darcy. She now realized why the young girl seemed familiar. She had seen a portrait of her during her tour with Mrs. Whittaker. A third thought began to germinate and that was Darcy’s aunt was aware she and her nephew were married, most likely via her son, the colonel. She rose to her feet and decided to let Lady Matlock carry the conversation.
“Thank you, my lady. I was so vested in my conversation with Mrs. Gardiner, I also did not notice your entry.”
Not for the life of her would she divulge Mrs. Gardiner was her cousin’s aunt in front of Caroline Bingley. Through all this, Miss Bingley’s color rose and her mouth had thinned to the point of almost disappearing. Mrs. Hurst began to edge toward the exit.
“Mr. Darcy married you?”
“Yes, Miss Bingley.”
“Am I to understand my husband did not inform you of his joining the name Bennet to Darcy?” Elizabeth could not help but dig at her nemesis with a turn of her own phrase. “Such a shame. And here I thought you were all such great friends.”
Before Caroline could speak, Lady Matlock deliberately stared her down and her mouth clamped shut.
“Elizabeth, would you introduce me to your companion?”
“I would be honored. Lady Matlock, may I present Mrs. Edward Gardiner.”
“Is that of Gardiner Emporium?”
Aunt Madeline had also risen to her feet and deliberately stood in front of Miss Bingley, effectively making her stare at her back. Elizabeth struggled not to smile.
“It is, my lady,” Aunt Maddy said with a polite curtsy.
“I have been to your husband’s warehouse. He has the most delightful products.”
“We are both very proud of his business, my lady.”
“And for good reason.” Lady Matlock turned to the owner of the shop, who stood mouth agape. “Would you please add two more chairs to my table? Mrs. Darcy and her companion will join me and Miss Darcy.”
It was at this time the countess gave Caroline her undivided attention, and even though she leaned into the younger woman and spoke low, Elizabeth clearly heard every word.
“Heed my words, Miss Bingley. Never, ever, denigrate a member of my family. Do not even whisper the vitriol you feel splashing about your tongue. Swallow it and move back into the shadows where you so rightly belong. Do I make myself clear?”
All color had leeched from Miss Bingley’s face during this exchange. She audibly swallowed and gave a slight nod. Lady Matlock pivoted on her heel and without even acknowledging Miss Bingley or her sister further, returned to her table. After a quick glance at Aunt Madeline, Elizabeth followed and they took their seats. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst stood completely motionless, staring at one another before they exited the shop. The four ladies sat without saying a word until fresh tea had been provided and a vast array of treats were piled on the table.
“Lady Matlock,” Elizabeth decided to break the awkward silence. “This was not how I envisioned meeting my husband’s family, nor his sister. I am so sorry it happened this way.”
I am at 68K in this novel, only about 7K to go and she is finished! I hope by the next posting I can offer a free e-book – but that is next time (barring any life impediments which can derail an author). Until then,