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"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
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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


  1. I have to take a moment to offer a (long-belated) thank you for your charming, well-written P&P fan fiction. A new piece from "Sandy W." was just what I needed to de-stress yesterday. Whether they're long or short, I have a high respect for your stories. They are my old friends — please keep them coming!

    1. Thanks for your kind words! I'm all for de-stressing with JAFF. :)