JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

Thanks for dropping by! Titles are below and to the right, under the following headings:
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Note: Some stories include direct quotes from Austen's works, and there is the occasional nod to one or other of the adaptations.

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A Little Alteration: Mrs. Forster's Friend (October 2016)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Friendly Game of Hide and Seek, Part 2

The Twenty-Ninth of November

The ___ Inn on the road between London and Meryton
Darcy was beginning to question more than his judgement. He was beginning to question his sanity.

Over-exposure to the late-autumn sunlight could not be the culprit.

Perhaps it was that persistent, unwelcome notion that if he did not follow this path or examine that copse for signs of his friend, he would miss the very clue he sought. No matter how many times such searches yielded nothing, he could not suppress the urge to leave no trail unexplored—if only for a moment or two—before continuing on his way.

But the unfruitful detours, tedious as they had been, were nothing to what he was presently enduring. He looked about him and groaned. Why had he decided to track Bingley to the end of the world, or at least to the far reaches of Hertfordshire?

He was not right in the head. That strain of unreasonableness that he often saw in Lady Catherine must be making its way into his...

No. It could not be that bad.

His idea had merit. Of course he ought to have inquired at each reasonable place where a traveller might stop! It was the nature of the task that was to blame: having to mix with persons whose station in life was decidedly below his own; having to describe Bingley to those with no useful intelligence to offer for his pains; and the other thing, the thing that threatened to drive him mad.

Having to hear about Bingley without knowing where he was was bad enough.

Having to hear about Bingley in contrast to himself five times in as many minutes was intolerable.

Yes, he had finally come to a place where his friend had been seen, but he took little pleasure in this discovery, for he heard nothing he did not already know: Bingley had been on his way to London on Wednesday. The more serious he tried to appear when closely questioning workers at the inn, the more one spoke of Bingley's smiling countenance; the more imperious Darcy's manner, the more another remarked on the way Bingley's friendly nature put a body at ease.

This unhelpful barmaid now standing before him was as abysmal as the rest. "Such an amiable gentleman your friend was, sir," she said. "And so generous." She looked in the approximate direction of his purse and all but held out her hands together with palms upwards.

Darcy raised his eyes in silent petition and, against habit and inclination, ordered a second drink.

Longbourn House
"Jane," Elizabeth said, "I have kept count this past hour. She has mentioned Mr. Bingley seven times, and—"

"Eight!" corrected Mary.

"Eight, then. And she has mentioned Mr. Collins no less than thirteen times."

"I counted nineteen."

"Enough, Mary. Just for that, you are coming with us."

"Where?" Kitty asked.

Mary frowned. "I went with you yesterday."

"So you did," Elizabeth answered. "We are going out, Kitty," she added.

"Out where?" said Lydia, eager to go.

"Where we will not hear Mama no matter how many times she mentions the names of certain gentlemen."

Lizzy barely managed to shepherd all her sisters through the door before the count increased to nine and twenty, respectively.

In Conduit Street, late afternoon
"Can you believe Darcy, of all people, interrogated me regarding the whereabouts of that young pup, Bingley? What, he dropped his leash and now must scamper about town trying to find him?"

"Sour grapes again, Ross? Scared him off, did you, with talk of your Amelia? You know that Darcy has never shown interest in her, nor is he likely to."

"I don't see why not! She is a fine girl, and her twenty thousand pounds ought to be good enough for him."

Greyson shook his head. "Find someone else for Miss Ross. You are wasting your time with him."

On the path to Longbourn House, late afternoon
"Mr. Darcy!"

"Jane, why spoil such a lovely outing? The mere mention of his name may bring storm clouds upon us and ruin our walk. I am sure you can find a more palatable topic for conversation."

"No, Lizzy," Miss Bennet almost hissed, turning her head to the side for a moment. "Mr. Darcy is here."

"I hope you are joking," Miss Elizabeth said, and then she bumped into the back of Miss Bennet, who had stopped all at once and stood rigid, staring at him.

"You are not joking," said Miss Elizabeth as she moved to stand next to her elder sister. She, too, was now staring at him. The other three girls came round them both to gawk at him as well.

Darcy looked at their faces in turn. He could not recall the last time he had confronted a gaggle of young, eligible women without a single one of them appearing interested in him. Not even Miss Elizabeth seemed so; in fact, she looked positively hostile.

He could not imagine why.

"Mr. Darcy!" Miss Bennet called out and curtsied, remembering her manners and recalling the others to like exertion. "I had thought," she began with the notable absence of her usual serenity. "Oh, Miss Bingley wrote that you were all gone to town for the winter. But where is Mr. Bingley?" Her voice pitched higher. "Is he not with you?" Miss Bennet's eyes strayed to the road behind him, as if she were expecting an addition to their party at any moment.

Darcy's concern began to mount. Miss Bennet's obvious agitation was unexpected. Why would she be agitated about Mr. Bingley's whereabouts?

He stated the obvious: "He is not with me, Miss Bennet."

Miss Bennet's face arranged itself into the most adorable display of disappointment he had seen in some time.

"Actually," he explained, "He was not at the hotel where I expected to find him. I returned to Netherfield attempting to locate him."

"Oh, my." The disappointment rearranged itself into worry. If Darcy had not been convinced before, he would have been swayed by this latest proof of a heart that had certainly been touched. So much for his Miss-Jane-Bennet-as-fortune-hunter theory.

"Perhaps we should call him Mr. Wingley," Miss Mary said. "It appears he took wing and flew away."

Mr. Darcy raised an eyebrow.

"Mary!" Miss Bennet cried, wringing her hands.

Miss Lydia snorted.

Miss Catherine giggled.

Miss Elizabeth pressed her face into her palm. When she looked up, she said, "You must pardon us, Mr. Darcy. I had believed we Bennets were fated to show to greatest disadvantage only when the moon is out—I drew this conclusion directly after the ball, you understand—but it appears afternoon sunlight will serve just as well to illuminate our peculiar inanities." She took a deep breath and released it slowly. "At least my elder sister may always be relied upon to preserve us from universal censure."

Miss Mary took immediate offence. "Just because you cannot appreciate a pun is no reason to be insulting, Lizzy." This comment and the expression on Miss Mary's face resulted in more giggles from Miss Catherine and an outright guffaw from Miss Lydia.

Miss Elizabeth mumbled, "I wish Mr. 'Wingley' would swoop down and rescue us from this humiliation." She turned aside and said in a low voice, "Forgive me, Jane," and reached out to squeeze Miss Bennet's hand.

Darcy heard it all, accustomed as he was to listening to Elizabeth's conversations and gravitating to her side whenever they were in company together.

Not that any of it helped. Miss Elizabeth seemed to take no pleasure in his company, Miss Bennet was sincerely attached to his friend, and the rest of the girls were certifiably insane, or, at the very least, patently ridiculous.

And where was Bingley?

Amidst all the questions swirling in his head, of one thing Darcy was certain: If Miss Bingley were to call at his London residence today, it was satisfying that he would not be there, wherever in the world Bingley might be.

Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence, late afternoon
"What can Mr. Darcy mean by still having his knocker down?" Miss Bingley was not amused.

Louisa was not either, but she was resigned to the situation. "It is just as well, Caroline," she said. "We should not be calling here in any case."

"Why ever not?"

Because we just called yesterday, she thought. Because Mr. Darcy would have sent word if there had been any news, she thought. Because Mr. Darcy had worn that pinched look on his face when last they spoke, she thought. It was the very look he sometimes wore when Caroline had paid him just this side of too much attention. Louisa was not fond of that look.

"What else are we to do?" Caroline asked her.

"I do not know what you mean to do, but I am going home. Chasing Charles is a wearying business."

On the path to Longbourn House, late(r in the) afternoon
Miss Lydia and Miss Catherine began to talk amongst themselves. Miss Mary was silent, her wit seemingly exhausted on the pun. Miss Elizabeth, however, addressed Darcy thus: "I suppose you have no reason to fear Mr. Bingley has met misfortune on the road?" Miss Bennet seemed eager to hear his answer as well.

"None, Miss Elizabeth. I discovered rumours this morning of his having lately been seen, but nothing substantial, so I inquired at the principal hotels before starting on the route to Meryton. I did come upon an inn where Bingley is known to have stopped two days ago on his way to town. By the time I conceded I had more than likely left him behind me in London, I was near enough to Netherfield that I approached the house. It had every appearance of being closed for the winter. And when I saw no sign of him there..." He glanced at Miss Bennet, letting the words hang in the air.

Miss Elizabeth eyed him speculatively. "You are thorough, I will grant you that."

Miss Bennet's blush was discernible even in the fading light. "It is possible," she said with the air of one trying to divert attention from oneself, "he met with friends in town. Mr. and Mrs. Newland, who are recently returned to London after their wedding tour, or Colonel Parker, or Captain Smith, or..."

Darcy's eye twitched.

"...Mr. Barton, who I believe also has a sister named Louisa, or Mr. Kell from university, or..." Miss Bennet seemed to realise she was running on in an uncharacteristic manner and did not finish her list.

Darcy was impressed, despite himself, with Miss Bennet's information. Not only did she recall the names of Bingley's friends, people she only knew of through conversation, but she was sensible in suggesting that Bingley might have met one of them and altered his plans as a result. How very like him that would be. "Bingley and I hardly have every acquaintance in common," he told her, "but I am familiar with one or two of the names you mentioned." He smiled. "It never occurred to me to call on any of them. Perhaps I am not so thorough after all."

In Berkeley Street, late afternoon
"Sofia," said Mrs. Beaufort to her daughter as she spied a trio of gentlemen conversing with spirit on the opposite pavement. "I thought you told me Mr. Bingley had removed to the country."

"He did, Mama."

"But is that not Mr. Bingley I see there?"

Sofia looked where her mother indicated and blanched. That was enough confirmation for Mrs. Beaufort. How fortunate it was that the man in question stood with his back to them as they passed by.

"I am surprised he is so near Portman Square and has not called on you, my dear!" Mrs. Beaufort whispered, hurrying her daughter onward.

"It matters not, Mama," said Sofia in a tone that assured her mother it mattered a great deal.

Mrs. Beaufort began to regret having pointed the fellow out. After all, Mr. Bingley had not paid Sofia any more attention than he had paid to half a dozen other young ladies she could name. "Young men can be so capricious," she said once the gentleman was out of sight. "Better you know it now, my love."

Part 3

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Friendly Game of Hide and Seek

Pride and Prejudice
Where is Mr. Bingley? That is the question baffling friends and family alike in the days following the Netherfield Ball.

"He has many friends, and he is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing."
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 32

The Twenty-Seventh of November

On a London street, in the middle of the afternoon
"Bingley! I had no idea you were in Town!"

At the sound of the familiar voice, Charles Bingley turned to greet his friend. "Barton! Well met! As to my being in town, you could not have had any idea of it, for I have only just arrived."

"Did you find the country lacking?"

"Not at all. Rather, I found it delightful! I shall return in a few days."

"Ah!" said Mr. Barton with a knowing grin. "Delightful, you say? What is the name of this er...Hertfordshire beauty? You are come from Hertfordshire, are you not?"

Bingley's answering smile was lightning-quick. "Your memory is commendable, as is your conjecture. I admit there is a beauty involved, but she far surpasses all others upon whom I have bestowed the compliment."

Mr. Barton laughed. "Bingley, I do not know when I have ever seen you out of love! However, your praise of this estimable lady does exceed what I generally hear from you."

"She deserves every word! I could talk of her all day long and not do her justice."

"Will you lodge with Hurst?"

"No. He and my sisters remain at Netherfield, along with Darcy."

"You are not going to stay at a hotel?" At Bingley's nod, Mr. Barton offered, "You must come to my house instead, and you can tell me all about your young lady. If she is all you say, I expect I shall be meeting her soon."

"Thank you! I believe I will."

Netherfield, at tea
"Mr. Darcy," Miss Bingley said, putting her cup aside, "you must agree with Louisa and me that Miss Bennet is entirely unsuitable for Charles."

Mr. Darcy said nothing, which Miss Bingley took as assent. There really was nothing one could say.

"We thought," stated Mrs. Hurst, "we might follow Charles to town and open the house for him. It ought not to be too difficult to convince him he need never return here. At least, we hope he will listen to his own sisters on such an important matter. However, if you, as his most trusted friend..."

Miss Bingley nodded approvingly at her sister and looked to Mr. Darcy with expectation.

He did not disappoint. "I certainly shall give him my opinion, should he ask for it," he said.

Miss Bingley tittered in relief. "I knew we could rely on you, sir!"

The Twenty-Eighth of November

Outside a perfectly adequate (and not at all comfortless) hotel in London
"How pressing can his business be?" Caroline lamented in a low voice, frowning at the memory of Mr. Darcy's having deserted them upon reaching London.

She had promised to send his trunks to his home the minute she and the others were settled in Grosvenor Street—a needless gesture, she admitted to herself, for of course she would send them! What use had she for men's things? And Hurst or Bingley could hardly use them, with Mr. Darcy's height so superior to theirs! But he had taken her quite by surprise by going away like that, and the words tumbled out before she had time to give them an elegant turn.... Yes, she had promised, and she had barely the opportunity to tell him that much before she was waving with feigned enthusiasm and trying not to frown at his back as he left.

With the object of her matrimonial hopes no longer immediately before her, Caroline had the grand idea to seek out Charles directly and bring him along to the Hursts'. The sooner the efforts to keep Charles in London were begun, the better.

So here she sat in front of the hotel, waiting for her brother.

When the servant she had sent to fetch Mr. Bingley returned to the carriage without him, she was seriously displeased. "How like Charles to inconvenience us when we have gone out of our way to meet him! When is he expected back? Did any one say?"

"No, Ma'am. They never said when he is coming back because he is not there at all."

"What do you mean?"

"The gentleman said no one of that name has taken a room at his establishment."

Louisa asked, "Do you think Charles has met with an accident?"

"Our brother?" Caroline smirked. "He is the luckiest person I know. He never has accidents."

"Too true," Louisa conceded. "Did he give us the name of the wrong hotel, then?"

"He cannot have. I made him repeat it several times. Besides, where else would he stay? This is the obvious choice."

Louisa sagged.

Hurst snored.

Caroline sat upright as an idea occurred to her. It was so clear! "He must have anticipated us and gone to your house instead!"

The Hursts' residence in Grosvenor Street
"Where is my brother?" the mistress inquired of her butler.

"I have not seen Mr. Bingley since your departure from town, Madam," he answered.

"What?!" exclaimed Miss Bingley. "Has he not come here in the last day or two?"

"No, Madam."

"He is not at the hotel, and he is not here. Where in the world can he be?" Miss Bingley asked the mistress.

The sisters stared at each other. The butler stared at nothing in particular.

"Perhaps he has gone to Mr. Darcy's house," the mistress wondered aloud.

Miss Bingley smiled brightly and said, "Oh, why did I not think of that? He must have done so. Let us call there immediately!"

Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence
Mr. Darcy started when his visitor was announced. He had believed himself rid of her company for the day at least. He disliked being wrong. He should have known better; unnecessary as it was for her to personally oversee the delivery of his luggage, it was not unfathomable that she would contrive to do so.

Miss Bingley walked in, almost dragging her sister behind her.

Her inquiry surprised him as much as her presence had, for she said not a word about his trunks. "No," he told her in reply, "Bingley is not here. Why did you think he would be?"

"Well, he must be! He is not at the hotel, and he is not at Hurst's!"

What sort of reasoning is that, Darcy wondered. "There are myriad places my friend could be, and he must be in one of them, for he is most definitely not here."

A crowded club in London, in the evening
"An angel, I tell you!"

"You have told me many, many times." Laughter punctuated this statement.

"That is because it is true. As I was saying, when she enters a room, it is as if..."

Mr. Hurst heard nothing more of the two gentlemen's discussion that could be distinguished over bites of ragout, sips of wine, the general sounds of a room full of people, and the multitude of conversations occurring nearer than the one that caught his attention. For a fleeting moment, he had thought the voice of the man describing the angel was Bingley's. He could not be certain, however, and he was not going to twist his body around in his chair or, worse, stand up and stare at everyone in turn. He was not that curious, and he was hungry. He took another bite of ragout and another sip of wine.

The Twenty-Ninth of November

Fitzwilliam Darcy's town residence, at dawn
Darcy awoke with a singular notion. The more he considered it, the more it intrigued him.

He would track Bingley down.

He might rest a little longer, have an unhurried breakfast, and be well on his way before noon. Why not? The effort would cost him no more than a few hours.

It amused him to think that when an idea struck and he had leisure to explore it, he could be as impulsive as his friend.

The pressing business offered as an excuse the previous day had been to remove himself from Miss Bingley's company as expeditiously as possible, and that scheme had only been partially effective. Feeling guilty for this disguise of sorts, he had set to work in his study, but having dealt diligently with his correspondence in the last weeks, he had found little with which to occupy himself.

In fact, Darcy had no engagements, no urgent responsibilities, and no matters that could not be seen to from the countryside as easily as from London. He could come and go as he pleased. He had not yet told Georgiana of his change of plans, so no one would miss him were he to leave.

The thought was liberating.

Somewhere on Park Street
Mr. Felder was confused by the sudden slowing of his companions' walk until he realised two of them were leering—leering!—at a man on horseback.

"What a handsome man!" observed one of the girls with no consideration for how well her voice carried in the open air.

"Mmmmm, yes!" replied another, equally careless in regard to the properties of sound. "I am tempted to go after him!"

"Well, I am not," announced the third just as boldly. "He is nothing to Captain Smith."

Up ahead, the man on horseback, with his noble mien and forbidding countenance, removed all doubt that he had heard the incautious remarks when he turned and glared at the three ladies. To their father's mortification, they giggled.

"Girls!" Mr. Felder said, using a quiet but forceful tone to put a stop to a conversation he found more objectionable with every sentence. "You are not outside for a quarter of an hour before I am tempted to take you back home and never allow you out again! Stop ogling the poor gentleman, and lower your voices if you cannot find a more suitable topic for discussion. Please, have some sense of decorum!" I must have three of the silliest girls in the kingdom for daughters, he thought despairingly.

Along a field on the road between London and Meryton
Why, Darcy asked himself as he rode away from the metropolis, had he agreed to return to town?

Darcy had inquired at a few places but heard nothing definite. Yes, Bingley had been there, but was it days ago or weeks ago? Yes, Bingley had been seen mere hours before, or had that been Carlisle? After all, the two had similar hair colour and were easily mistaken for one another at a distance. No, no one had seen Bingley in an age, but rumour had it he was in town. Should not Darcy know this already, since he was his close friend?

Darcy tried to keep these unhelpful conversations brief, for if he did not, the men were likely to introduce the topic of their unmarried daughters, nieces, sisters, or cousins. He had not been wholly successful.

That giggling trio of vulgar girls had decided him: he would leave London behind and seek news of Bingley along the route to Hertfordshire. Perhaps there he would find a clue—some mention of a different hotel as his destination, for example. For all he knew, Bingley could have been detained by a lame horse or broken carriage wheel.

Should the search last longer than expected, he could stop at one of the inns. He had a small supply of clothes with him; the impulse that had prompted this little adventure had by no means cured him of his habit of preparing for contingencies.

Yes, this was a far better idea than tolerating the stench and the crowds of town.

It was also preferable to being stared at by impertinent misses and compared unfavorably to men of dubious consequence. After all, who was Captain Smith?

Part 2