Okay, before I continue, I first want to explain, that in this version, Caroline Bingley has already arrived at Netherfield for the Jane/Bingley wedding even before Darcy's second proposal. Louisa Hurst and her husband have not yet arrived, so it is just Caroline, Darcy and Bingley at Netherfield.
Secondly, I want to apologise for portraying Caroline in such a negative light, and exposing her to so much unkindness, but in my defence I just have to say- I HATE that woman.
That being said, let us continue...
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must always be surrounded by atleast a dozen enterprising young women, each scheming to place herself as Mistress of the aforementioned fortune.
Until recently, Mr. Darcy was such a single man, and Caroline Bingley was his universally-acknowledged-enterprising-young-woman. It was with great relief that Darcy reminded himself of the fact that he would no longer be included in the mercenary lists of the matchmaking mammas. However, Miss Bingley did not yet know of his recent felicity, and it fell into Darcy's lot to open her eyes to the- to her- bitter truth.
"And how was dear Jane today, Charles?"- Miss Bingley asked almost too sincerely, as they retired to the drawing room after dinner.
"She grows more beautiful each day," Bingley said fervently.
"Yes, indeed, I cannot imagine anyone more worthy I should like to call my sister!"
Darcy frowned momentarily at this untruthful declaration. Bingley's tone remained stubbornly sincere as he played along with Caroline's falsities.
Seeing her occupied for the moment, Darcy sat himself before the handsome desk and proceeded to write to his sister, sending her the much-awaited news. For several moments, Darcy was completely intent on his purpose, a smile curving his lips as he imagined his sister's reaction to every phrase that he wrote.
"Do you write to Georgiana, Mr. Darcy?" Caroline Bingley asked, lowering her voice to what she thought was a seductive tone.
A wince passed through his features, before he turned away from the desk and replied, "Indeed, Miss Bingley."
"Ah! Do tell her that I send her my warmest regards, and that I pine for her company," Miss Bingley commanded him sweetly.
"I have already mentioned it, madam, in anticipation of such a wish from you." Darcy glanced at his friend and saw him grin wickedly.
"Oh, how well you know me, Mr. Darcy!"- Miss Bingley exclaimed with delight.
Darcy chose the best response he could give to such a statement- he ignored her, and returned to his letter. Caroline Bingley, however, was not done with him for the evening.
"What fine penmanship you have, Mr. Darcy," said she, standing before his desk elegantly.
"I believe you have already bestowed such a compliment upon me; nevertheless, I thank you."
Miss Bingley simply simpered.
Bingley turned to his book; not reading, Darcy knew, but waiting for the confrontation, thus forcing Darcy to make conversation with Caroline. However, Darcy had nearly a lifetime's experience of aloofness, and thus concentrated on being as silent and withdrawn as possible to discourage conversation.
But Darcy had reckoned without the fact that Caroline was very used to this silent version of him, and so had no qualms about engaging him in conversation.
"Pemberly must be beautiful this time of the year, should it not?"- she asked presently, circling the desk with a measured, graceful walk.
"Indeed. Autumn is as welcomed as spring at Pemberly," Darcy said, faithfully keeping his eyes on the letter.
As was her wont, Caroline Bingley resorted to desperate impoliteness as she asked, "What do you think of my gown, Mr. Darcy? Is it not fine? These sleeves are of latest fashion, I'm told."
Darcy then had to look at her; but he only glanced at her briefly, and said, with no little amusement, "'Tis a fine garment, indeed, Miss Bingley, but you should count my opinion as one with the least worth, for I know little next to nothing on the matter of ladies' fashion."
"Lack of knowledge does not necessarily imply bad taste, Mr. Darcy," said she consolingly.
"Indeed, and no doubt the converse is true as well."
Caroline looked for a moment as though she might be offended, but she immediately said, with a carefree laugh, "How wise you are, Mr. Darcy!"
Darcy took the opportunity of exchanging looks with Caroline's brother, who at that moment was being thoroughly entertained. Both men could see that Miss Bingley had increased the volume of her simpering flattery; perhaps urged by the possible proximity of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, now that one's close friend and the other's closest sister were engaged.
"In any case," Miss Bingley continued the previous topic with fierce determination, "I should have thought that you would have some knowledge of an accomplished young woman's finery, seeing as you have such a lovely sister as Georgiana, and take such a healthy interest in every facet of her life."
Darcy abandoned his pen with a sigh; Miss Bingley would not let him be, and neither would Charles if he did not break the news tonight.
"You cannot be more mistaken, Miss Bingley," said he smoothly, his face showing none of his irritation, "for Georgiana prefers to chuse her own wardrobe." Darcy could not help but feel that he must disclose the news to her as soon as possible. He still wondered why imparting such news to her caused him such consternation, but his ever quick mind assured him of the answer- that Miss Bingley placed an unhealthy regard for him, despite his many attempts to suggest to her that he was not interested. By being his affianced, Elizabeth Bennet would be a flesh and blood reason for her to be refused by him. And he was not entirely sure how Caroline Bingley would take such a tangible refusal.
Meanwhile, Caroline was continuing her smug discourse on the same topic still. "Ah- then that explains it. Although, even if you did harbour a more active interest in such matters, I would not be surprised if present company would obliterate any little information you would have had. I must say, I have never seen more plain nor old-fashioned dresses than here in Hertfordshire. Quite the sad little backwater," she said smoothly and maliciously, after she made certain that her brother was involved in his reading, but added, for good measure- "Jane Bennet, of course, I must exclude from the rest, she is a veritable gem." This kind afterthought slightly softened Darcy's regard for her, and made him consider telling her the news in the most painless way possible. Her next statement, however, made his ire increase to higher levels than they were at previously. "Of course, there are those few women with supposedly fine eyes that could, perhaps, be included with the likes of Jane Bennet. I, personally, beg to differ."
Consideration for Miss Bingley's feelings flew out the window at her less-than-considerate jibe at the love of his life, and the profound influence of Elizabeth Bennet's teasing playfulness asserted themselves in her fiancé's mischievous eyes.
Pretending to assume an air of nonchalant indifference, Darcy took up his pen, saying, "Your personal views interest me to no end, Miss Bingley. However, I must plead leave to write Georgiana; I must give her the good news as soon as is possible."
"Good news?"-asked she with politeness bordering on apprehension.
"Yes, indeed, I find myself on the brink of marriage; at long last." –said he, with a gentle smile.
Miss Bingley seemed to be unable to speak for the first time ever in the history of their acquaintance.
"I think I can safely assume that we shall be splendidly happy together. I am even more gladdened by the fact that as a consequence of this union, I shall soon call Bingley my brother."
Caroline Bingley's hand quickly found her chest as she let out a surprised gasp; her mind directly believing the first thing that such a pronouncement could suggest to her.
"Surely you jest, Mr. Darcy!" –she cried happily and- Darcy noticed with some disapproval- triumphantly.
"I never jest, Miss Bingley," said he gravely.
"Charles- oh, Charles! Did you hear?" –she continued in her triumphant vein.
"Of course, Caroline, I'm not deaf, you know," Bingley said smoothly; only his friend noticed his obvious struggle to suppress the laughter threatening to burst forth his lips. "I'm sure you expected it all along," her brother added sweetly.
"Of course, I did! Oh, Mr. Darcy, you have made me incandescently happy!"
"I am honoured to be of some service to you, Miss Bingley." –said he with a slight bow of his head.
"Come, come, Caroline!" –cried her brother. "Where are your manners? Congratulate him at once!"
Caroline Bingley immediately assumed an air of teasing archness. "I apologise for my momentary lapse of manners, Mr. Darcy. I congratulate you most feelingly." Darcy could only marvel how the very same expression, with the very same intent, could be so dissimilar in two different women. For when Elizabeth teased him, it was all he could do to prevent himself from gathering her in his arms; when Caroline Bingley attempted the same, he was actually repulsed, for he knew that the playfulness was only surface veneer which sheltered a most unfeeling, mercenary heart.
"I forgive and thank you, Miss Bingley. I am only touched that you seem to be so enthusiastically cheered by my felicity."
"It is not solely your felicity that I consider, Mr. Darcy," she continued in her playful manner. "There are other parties concerned in this matter."
"Ah. Of course," Darcy said with a knowing smile.
"And correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Darcy, but surely you must propose with a ring? It is the fashionable and proper thing to do," said she. Again Darcy was repulsed by her mercenary superficiality.
"You are right, Miss Bingley. However, I must admit that my proposal was rather… spontaneous. I have, however, already sent for my Grandmother's ring."
With an eagerness becoming her character, Caroline asked,
"What does it look like?"
Darcy's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "It is cast in gold, with a large central circular emerald surrounded by a cluster of diamonds," he explained, nevertheless.
Caroline Bingley only acknowledged this information with a slight nod; in her mind were running the various possible designs according to which she could have the stones in the ring reset.
"I hope you think it suitable enough?" –Darcy enquired. "A lady's opinion in such matters always counts."
"It sounds perfectly suitable, Mr. Darcy," she said, her mind still occupied by the several pieces of jewellery she had espied in London; jewellery, she now realised with delight, that she could afford to buy in heaps.
"Thank you, Miss Bingley. Your help is appreciated," said he with a smile.
The smile served to encourage her in the exact manner he intended, for Miss Bingley suddenly realised that her dream was coming true- she was going to marry Mr. Darcy.
"Oh, finally! I must plan. Oh heavens, so much to do!" –she cried, the entire force of her thoughts crushing down upon her in an instant. "Gowns- I must have new gowns! Apart from the one for the wedding, of course, I shall need several new ones to promenade in. And jewels! I shall have to invite so many people…"
"Really, Caroline, you were not half as excited when I announced my engagement," Charles said impishly.
"Of course not, Charles, that is a different matter altogether."- his sister snapped, almost condescending in her glare. It was the condescendence that did it- Darcy knew instantaneously that he was done playing with Caroline Bingley's feelings- to continue would be stepping over the limits. In that very instant, therefore, Darcy stopped committing himself to convenient half-truths, and said, with a great deal of earnestness and civility-
"I am sure Miss Bennet will be gratified when she hears about your selfless affection for her."
"Indeed, I am much attached to Jane; but I do not see where this attachment is relevant to the matter at hand," Caroline said, a little defensively, perhaps suspecting that the gentlemen doubted her feelings for the eldest Miss Bennet.
"I do not speak of Miss Jane Bennet; I speak of Miss Elizabeth Bennet," Darcy explained softly. Bingley's smile had left his face, and now he was gazing earnestly at his sister.
Miss Bingley's shoulders stiffened. "What of Eliza Bennet?" –she asked, considerably cross.
Bingley stepped in quickly, sensing his friend's sudden awkwardness. "Nothing, except that she shall only be too pleased to learn of your joy at the news of her engagement."
Caroline's eyes widened dangerously as she whispered, "Her engagement?"
Darcy nodded, affecting a nonchalant manner, "Of course. Could you not fathom it from my words, Miss Bingley? Miss Elizabeth and I are engaged."
There was a moment of cold silence as Caroline Bingley stared at him, horror-struck, mortified, and –very visibly- enraged.
"Engaged?"-she repeated with an angry hiss.
"Yes, Miss Bingley."
"But you said- I thought you meant me!" Caroline's voice rose as she pointed an accusatory finger at Darcy.
"I meant no such thing," said he calmly.
"How could you deceive me like this- I was to marry you, I was to be Mistress of Pemberly- not that plain, upstart-"
"Caroline!"- her brother interrupted, horrified, even as Darcy sprang up, furious.
"I shall say what I like!" –she screeched, abandoning full pretence of control. "For years, I have persevered, I have waited, knowing that some day, one day I would be rewarded with what I seek, what I deserve!"
"It was never yours to seek in the first place. I have made that clear to you very early on in our acquaintance-"
"That was when you were promised to that miserable Anne de Bourgh! And when I was certain- you were certain you would not marry her, I thought-"
"Exactly, Miss Bingley, you thought. I never said a word to inclinate your affections towards me or my estate. It was you who seemed to assume that it meant the certainty of a union between us- I never implied such a thing."
Upon that pronouncement, Caroline Bingley was finally reduced to a state of absolute rage- she raved and screamed and hurled curses at the absent Elizabeth with the derangement of a madwoman. It took a vigorous shake from her brother to restore her sense.
"Quiet down, for heaven's sake, Caroline! Behave yourself!" –he hissed.
Caroline Bingley stopped screaming immediately, and stared at Darcy with mute anger. Darcy himself stood stolidly, his face impassive- only his clenched fists showing stark white knuckles bore proof to the seething anger he harboured underneath his stony façade- anger he experienced with every word spoken against his dearest Elizabeth.
"Insipidity, noise, nothingness, and self-importance," Darcy said slowly after another silent moment had passed, unclenching his fists carefully. "I see them all at this moment, bodily encompassed by a person here, in this very room. Insupportable, indeed, to pass an evening in this manner."
Caroline Bingley coloured deeply, for she remembered the conversation as well as he; it had been the first time that Darcy had propounded aloud a compliment to Miss Bennet, and it had been Miss Bingley's first warning of Elizabeth's hold on that man.(*)
"I… fear I am indisposed," said Caroline Bingley, her voice several octaves below what it had been a minute past. "I must retire for the night." With which inadequate whisper, she hurried from the room, her cheeks still coloured with mortification.
The two gentlemen glanced at each other and took their seats in the room.
"Entertained enough, Bingley?"- Darcy asked stonily.
"Of course not- I mean to say, it was hardly pleasant!"
"You should have known, then. She is, after all, your sister," Darcy replied coldly.
"I am aware of the fact, Darcy- stop trying to make me feel worse than I already do, man!"
"I apologise," Darcy said, after a moment of uneasy silence. "For what I said now, and to your sister- I am sorry."
Charles Bingley shook his head. "She deserved it. I… cannot conceive how to begin to explain. She is my sister, Darce, and I do care for her, I do indeed. But… she let it all get to her head- the money, the society, the high ideals… she became intolerable." He shook his head in wonder, trying to understand how Caroline Bingley became what she had become.
"I know. I'm sorry, Charles."
"Whatever for?" Perceptibly, Bingley's humour seemed to improve after his confession. "I mean it when I say she deserved it, Darcy. She needed it. You saw very well for yourself how unbearably conceited and condescending she has become. Such a reprehension was long due to her- it is only more effective for the sole reason that it came from your quarter."
"She is still your sister, Bingley."
"When on earth did I deny that? Of course she is my sister, but that does not instantly make her agreeable and the epitome of goodness itself! We cannot all have Georgianas, you know."
Darcy allowed a smile to flit across his features.
"In truth, we cannot help but acknowledge the fact that some of us may just be burdened with disagreeable sisters, and we shall have to live in acceptance of that fact."
"Fine words, indeed, Bingley. Words I'm sure our respective betrotheds have told themselves numerous times." –said Darcy with a return of his playful smile.
"Aye," Bingley agreed heartily. "And the fact that you can consider the Bennet sisters with such admirable good humour only assures me that I must thank Miss Elizabeth –soon- for driving the curmudgeon out of you."
Darcy grinned affectionately, his thoughts once again filled with Elizabeth. "What can I say, Bingley? She makes me- incandescently happy."
With which happy note the two happy young gentlemen retired to bed, each eager to view the face of his beloved the earliest possible on the following day.
*Author's Note: The conversation between Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy that I've mentioned(which also influenced the title of this story) occurs in Chapter 6 in Sir William Lucas' party, where Elizabeth refuses to dance with Mr. Darcy. Here's the relevant excerpt:
"I can guess the subject of your reverie."
"I should imagine not."
"You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner-in such society; and indeed I am quite of your opinion. I was never more annoyed! The insipidity, and yet the noise-the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people! What would I give to hear your strictures on them!"
"You conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow."
For everyone's peace of mind, Pride and Prejudice is now currently open-source, so I doubt I'll be breaking any legal restrictions by publishing this little except- I found this in Wikisource.
A/N 2: This is to all the guest reviewers to whom I cannot send my defensive, explanatory PM's... I've always thought that Caroline Bingley was an absolute COW. There- brief and to the point. In fact, I chose the title for this story keeping her in mind- Caroline is at once insipid, self-important, vapid, and too loud for her own good. I know some of you would like to think better of her- I certainly don't criticise those of you who do. But I'm afraid I'm one of those writers who insist on describing Caroline Bingley's screeches and gaudy orange dresses with relish. Nevertheless, I do realise that what Darcy and Bingley did was rather too mean- so I have added those last few lines of conversation in an attempt to redeem them. Like I made Charles Bingley say- she needed it.
Oh dear, I'm sorry, I sound rather rude, but I'm only trying to justify myself, and maybe explain Darcy and Bingley's actions- because I do not want anyone to think ill of them! Anyway, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course, and I just want to make my intentions clear. There. I shall take no more of your time, so now you can go ahead and review(hint, hint)...