Yay! Another one-shot! This one takes place after the events in Pride and Prejudice, about six or seven months after the Bingley/Darcy wedding, i.e., this takes place on June 23, 1813(Midsummer's Eve, and all)... this is also another jab at Caroline Bingley from my side... read on, and you'll see!
As usual, Favourite it, or Alert(though its a one-shot so its technically not needed) or anything you like, but reviews really, really gladden my heart!
A/N: I have edited and reposted this story, because a very vital part of this story was in my head, and never ended up here because of my sleep-ridden brain, as is usual at hours like 2 in the morning. I am very, very sorry for this inconvenience, believe me, all the reviews were welcomed and appreciated!(For those who are still confused by my dithering, I have added an extra conversation, just to make Caroline's defeat more complete)
Disclaimer: I am not Jane Austen. You do the math.
A Fashionable Soirée
The annual ball at Lady Cosper's fashionable London establishment, taking place with calculated accuracy on a perfect Midsummer's Eve, was one of the most well-anticipated events at the height of the Season. Several Earls and Baronets were invariably a part of it, and Lady Cosper, with unerring judgement, added the more mundane elements of the ton so as to harmonize and balance her guest list perfectly. Everyone, who had heard of Lady Cosper, and had the good fortune to attend one of her parties, were of the unanimous opinion that she happened to be the best hostess in England. If there was present a Baron of redoubtable reputation, a paragon of a Duke would also be included. Haughty young unmarried women were balanced by fresh, well-mannered young debutantes and avaricious dowagers were invited along with vague, disinterested, yet fashionable mothers. And yet it was not for the sole purpose of a well-made guest-list that Lady Cosper's Midsummer's eve ball was famous; her apartments being of such opulence, the decorations and preparations of such grandeur, that it was seldom that anyone declined an invitation to this event.
It was thus of no great surprise that the Darcys were invited –for Lady Cosper kept herself abreast with all the latest gossip in town and everyone in London was anxious to witness the new Mrs. Darcy –and that they readily accepted. Added to this honour, almost as an afterthought, was an invitation to the Bingleys, who also accepted with ease.
On the evening of the ball, half of fashionable London turned up at Lady Cosper's doorstep, all the while exchanging excited gossip about the spurned other half. The guests arrived in swarms, and not ten minutes past the hour marked for commencement did the musicians begin their performance and the invitees begin their revelry.
Caroline Bingley arrived much earlier than her brother, with her closest friend, a Miss Grantley, only daughter of the widow Lady Grantley, whose firm hand in her children's lives was well-known. It was thus that Miss Bingley alone was immediately besieged by several young ladies in glittering evening wear, and that they all demanded of her but one thing –who was this Mrs. Darcy?
Miss Bingley's feelings for the erstwhile Miss Elizabeth Bennet had hardly changed since the double-wedding more than six months past; however, she always revelled in being the centre of attention and to be the possessor of some new, unshared morsel of news –in the present instant, finding her position to be true in both cases, Miss Bingley could describe Fitzwilliam Darcy's bride with perfect unconcern and not too many exaggerations.
"But what of her family?" –a young lady dressed in a vibrant hue of red demanded of her new bosom friend, Miss Bingley. "Why, we have not heard of any Bennets in Town, ever!"
"Indeed you would not," Miss Bingley said with a casual wave of her fan, "for the family is quite inbred, and has wallowed in the country for generations."
"I still cannot believe that Fitzwilliam Darcy should marry an illiterate country lass!" –another girl in pale green spoke with much distress.
With a superior sniff, Caroline Bingley said, "I should not call her illiterate, Susan, for she certainly knows how to read, and has a higher opinion of herself as a result."
Another young lady, more of Miss Bingley's age –perhaps older –leaned in and added her malicious quota to the conversation –"But the most surprising fact is that Mr. Darcy should not chuse you, Caroline. Indeed, we all thought it was only a matter of time before the announcements were put in the papers and the banns were read."
Miss Bingley, being a veteran gossiper, knew to expect such a quip from some quarter or the other. Nevertheless, a faint flush crept up her cheeks as she said gaily, "Why! –so they said about him and Anne de Bourgh, and what came of that, I'd like to know? It is true that Mr. Darcy and I were very close friends, seeing how my brother and he were nearly like brothers themselves! And perhaps there may have once been a certain admiration on his part to me –but I for one do so dislike flattery, it is such a vile, empty form of entertainment!" On which tangent Miss Bingley paused, seeming to realize her error, and then continued, with perfect poise, "In any case, there was no such understanding between us, and I assure you that we remain good friends."
The young lady in red then demanded if it was true that Mr. Darcy and her brother were now indeed brothers by marriage.
"Oh, yes, but Jane is a delight!" –Miss Bingley answered much more warmly, as it was much easier for her to be generous in inclination towards mild, gentle, Jane Bingley, née Bennet. "She is the most perfect angel, I simply cannot wait for you to witness her –as it is, I am sure they will be arriving soon this very evening."
"And which perfect angel are we to meet this evening!" –cried a jolly young man-about-town, who had only just noticed the group of unchaperoned ladies and had quickly made to their side with some friends of his.
"Oh, hush, Mr. Gerard!" –Miss Bingley admonished. "I speak of my newest sister, my brother's bride."
"Bingley found his illusive sprite, then?" –Mr Gerard asked good-humouredly.
"It certainly appears so, Mr. Gerard, but wait 'till you hear who else is bringing his bride!" –cried effusive Susan, the amply-proportioned lady in pale green. "You can never guess!"
"Now, I simply must know!" –Mr. Gerard said gallantly. "Who is it, Miss Bingley?"
"None other than Fitzwilliam Darcy!"
The compliant Mr. Gerard answered with all the shock and curiosity expected of him. And although the male half of that evening's attendees were more concerned with matters of game, estates, cards and war, the younger generation, especially the unmarried portion of it, were generally curious to see the woman Fitzwilliam Darcy had finally condescended to approve of. This was more in part due to the general feeling of resignation that Mr. Darcy, Master of Pemberley, had the choicest picks of the unmarried women of society, and that when he would choose, he would without doubt choose the jewel amongst them all. Thus it occurred that even racing enthusiastic young men, who did not know the difference between a cotillion and a quadrille, were surprized at the news of Mr. Darcy's union to an unknown country girl.
For some time , the rumours of the erstwhile Bennet sisters were rapidly shared amongst all of the people in the hall, it seemed. During the second set of the dances came one of the much-awaited couples –the Bingleys had arrived. Charles Bingley looked positively radiant in his joy, and his wife next to him, looking demurely beautiful in a shimmering gown of pale rose, looked no less happy. Several people enjoined Miss Bingley's friends in welcoming and congratulating them. Both man and wife blushed furiously under the compliments, even after more than six months of connubial felicity, and were instantly declared to be the most perfect couple in the hall that evening, especially after witnessing the two of them share the very next dance as partners.
Barely a few minutes after the Bingleys joined the dancing couples, the arrival of the other, more-anticipated couple was announced, and several heads bent in a struggle to catch a glimpse of the Darcys.
"My, such a terrible crush!" –exclaimed Elizabeth upon viewing the mass of silk-bedecked bodies before her.
Mr. Darcy managed to convey in a whisper so low that only she should hear, "And it gets worse each year."
"And now, my dear, you must comprehend why I was forced to resort to that 'dreadful mask of pride' as you so put it the other evening. What else would you have me do at such a place?"
Elizabeth's eyes sparkled at once with keen mischief. "Very true, my love. You shall now find me converted in my ideas, for I cannot bear to imagine you defenceless against such a potent force of evil!"
Those in the vicinity of the Darcy party were astonished to witness a smile of perfect ease and affability enlighten Mr. Darcy's features –a sight unseen by most of the ton.
Meanwhile, Miss Darcy, who was escorted by her cousin, the amiable Colonel Fitzwilliam, looked visibly apprehensive. Immediately her sister was by her side, soothing her worries, quieting her fears and solemnly vowing to make sure she was not unattended through the entire evening. Both Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam appended their similar assurances, and Miss Darcy was thus effectively assuaged.
Soon after that there was little time for private conversation as all the personages and acquaintances of their set came forward to welcome them. Elizabeth was amused to see surprize, and often shock very clearly writ on most faces as they were introduced to her. While they were expecting everything from vulgar insolence to frightened timidity, they were not prepared for Elizabeth's poise and ease of manner. The men were surprized to find that Elizabeth was no ravishing beauty, and the women that she was not wearing an unduly grand gown –in fact, they were shocked by its comparative simplicity. It was only later, after further observation, that the men realized that while Elizabeth was not beautiful, she certainly was not unattractive; and the women ascertained with great consternation that the delicate lace on Mrs. Darcy's plum-coloured silk gown was of the rarest Belgian make, and her jewels had been in the Darcy family for generations. It was thus that Elizabeth was accepted into the crowd –grudgingly, yet admiringly.
After the usual round of meeting acquaintances, made more tedious by the necessity of introducing Elizabeth to each and every one of them, the Darcys stood up for the next set, the gentleman's perfect compliance with this activity surprizing several of his acquaintances.
"You are quite unsettling the good people here tonight, sir," Elizabeth teased as they took their place among the couples. "I am ready to swear that Miss Buckleby nearly had a swooning fit when you insisted that you had rather dance than debate the issue of Napoleon."
Mr. Darcy merely smiled although Elizabeth knew he would have been laughing aloud, had he not been amidst company. "I should have thought it was self-explanatory, madam," said he, "for who would talk of a tiresome French general instead of spending the same time with a delightful young woman?"
Elizabeth laughed. "My, my, Mr. Darcy, but you do have a way with words!"
At that moment, they were pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who partnered Miss Darcy, and the Bingleys. The rest of the set passed in cheerful conversation between the three couples, several times during which Mr Darcy demonstrated his newfound good humour to an astonished audience.
The next set found none of the six people remaining sitting, as they simply exchanged partners; they were, however, joined by Miss Bingley and the affable Mr. Gerard.
Mr. Gerard, who found himself enchanted by witty Mrs. Darcy, very kindly complimented her on her dancing style after the second set was also done.
"Indeed, Mrs. Darcy," he insisted, "I have seldom seen more graceful dancing."
"You are too kind, Mr. Gerard," Elizabeth said, "and I must reiterate the same to you, but with much more sincerity, I'm sure, for women as a sex are generally graceful creatures, but one may not apply the same quality to men –as such, you must believe me when I say I have seldom seen more graceful dancing, and acknowledge it as not mere flattery, but frank truth."
"Do you mean to say, Miss Eliza, that you have never seen a man dance gracefully?" –Miss Bingley demanded of her. No one but his wife noticed Mr. Darcy's vexation at the address used by Miss Bingley.
"I merely said 'seldom', and not 'never', Miss Bingley."
"Oh, but that denotes much the same thing," Miss Bingley insisted dismissively.
"Perhaps in a general sense –we in these days do not offer as much regard to our words as we ought to –but in my context, it does not. I take care to say what I mean, and to mean what I say."
"But we digress," Miss Bingley insisted crossly. "Who, in your opinion, dances gracefully?"
"My brother Bingley, of course, is a splendid dancer," Elizabeth answered, while Bingley acknowledged her compliment with a delighted bow, "but I bestow this compliment more for stamina than for style." Mr. Bingley laughed aloud at that. "My husband, of course, is one of the most graceful dancers I have ever beheld, or had the good fortune to dance with." Mr. Darcy also smiled, and said, with gentle wryness, "Now that, my dear, is flattery."
Miss Bingley then said, as though remembering something long-forgotten, "Only one of the best, Miss Eliza? I suppose you count one of your military gentleman friends as the most graceful dancer. I remember you and your sisters seemed to have several acquaintances amongst the militia when they were quartered near your village two years ago –I'm sure you must have observed in one of them your idea of a perfectly graceful dancer."
Miss Bingley was so intent upon delivering her speech to Elizabeth, taking into advantage the presence of a fast growing group of acquaintances, that she did not notice the brows of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley darken, or Jane Bingley's flush of confusion.
Only Elizabeth remained calm, and she said coolly, "You are right, Miss Bingley; the man of my acquaintance who I consider the most graceful dancer is indeed consigned to the Army. You are mistaken, however, in presuming it was someone from the regiment quartered at Meryton two years ago. I refer, of course, to my husband's cousin, Henry."
The change in Mr. Darcy's countenance was plainly visible, and he found himself congratulating himself on acquiring such a brave and clever wife.
Colonel Fitzwilliam also acknowledged the compliment with a joyous bow. "Mrs. Darcy, you flatter me."
"Indeed, I do not! It is true, Mr. Darcy himself accepts that you are the better dancer, do you not, my love?"
"If you say so, my dear."
"There! –it is settled."
The happy rapport between the Darcys was not lost on any of the spectators, especially Miss Bingley. Determined to set her course, she then said laughingly, "Do you always call your cousin by his first name, Miss Eliza? After all, Colonel Fitzwilliam is only your cousin by marriage. And yet, I seem to remember hearing that the two of you were quite good friends even before your marriage –well, that explains it all, I'm sure!"
Mr. Darcy's expression was not unlike what it had been before he met Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. Even Colonel Fitzwilliam turned a little red –not from mortification, but from anger. Mr. Bingley looked ashamed, and Miss Darcy and Jane Bingley appeared distressed. Elizabeth turned pale with mortification for a moment, but before she could think of a suitable reply, Colonel Fitzwilliam provided an admirable one.
"Indeed, Miss Bingley, you are perfectly right. Mrs Darcy and I have always been good friends. I believe it was my cousin who introduced us, was it not, Mrs. Darcy?"
Elizabeth, who had recovered from her weakness completely, assented with firm assurance. "Perfectly true, Henry. And I agree with you, Miss Bingley, it is unusual for me to address Henry so, but you must understand, he shares his last name with my husband's Christian name. I merely wish to cause no comical, and often tiring misunderstandings. Fitzwilliam is, to me, my husband and no one else." At this point, husband and wife exchanged a knowing smile that Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have instantly labelled to be utmost indecent.
Seeing her spiteful edifices burn around her, Caroline Bingley let loose her last arrow. "Yes, how delightful –speaking of the militia, I believe one of your sisters married an officer, did she not? What was the name again –ah! Mrs. Wickham! –tell me, Miss Eliza, have you heard from her?"
Poor Miss Darcy turned pale, but otherwise exposed no other sign of weakness –already Elizabeth had instilled confidence in her. In everyone else the reaction was as was expected, for there already existed rumours of the actions of a certain rake by the name of George Wickham, and all turned to Elizabeth Darcy, curious and expectant.
"Not lately, I have not, Miss Bingley," Elizabeth admitted.
"Their departure from your village was quite sudden, was it not?"
"Yes, my brother's regiment had just been despatched to the North and he could delay his stay no longer."
"And yet you have not received any letters? Quite remiss of your sister, is it not?" –Miss Bingley's voice was more confident in its malice.
"No, it is just Lydia being herself. Especially after her marriage, having to live in a new town must not leave her much hours of respite." And then, remembering Lydia's parting words from Longbourn, Elizabeth added, her eyes twinkling with wit, "Of course, as a married woman, my sister will have several responsibilities that an unmarried woman does not. As a wife myself, I can very well comprehend her silence. Perhaps you may, someday, comprehend the same, Miss Bingley."
At that moment another set ended, and immediately Mr. Darcy escorted his reigning triumphant wife to the dance floor, leaving mortified Miss Bingley to lament in solitude.
Her embarrassment was so apt and complete that she herself was shocked when Mr. Darcy approached her for the last dance but one before supper.
"May I have the honour, Miss Bingley?" -asked the gentleman civilly, indicating the floor where several couples were taking their place.
Miss Bingley soon recovered enough to accede monosyllabically.
The first few minutes were spent in silence -characteristic on Mr. Darcy's part, but deeply uncharacteristic on the part of the usually voluble Miss Bingley. Yet it was she, in the matter of a long-standing tradition, who finally broke the silence thus-
"You are enjoying the evening, I hope, Mr. Darcy?"
"Eminently so, Miss Bingley."
Several more minutes of silence reigned after this exchange. Gathering much courage in the course of these minutes, Miss Bingley observed with -to her delight -perfect composure that Miss Darcy was a fine dancer. Mr. Darcy acknowledged the compliment with a small, if not complete, reduction of his usual cold manner.
"My wife has taught her much," he added, observing her closely.
Miss Bingley coloured, but maintained her haughty expression.
"Miss Bingley," said he, after a moment, "I must admit I sought to secure you for this dance for a particular reason. I wish to have a frank, private conversation with you, and there is no better manner nor time than here and now to do it."
"I am suitably curious, Mr. Darcy," said the lady, her apprehension invisible on her face. "Perhaps I may be able to guess at your intentions." Everyone knew of Mr. Darcy's unflinching loyalty and absolute intolerance for slights aimed at his near and dear ones. Miss Bingley realised, a little too late, that perhaps taunting the bride of such a man as Mr. Darcy in his very presence was not the best procedure.
"I should imagine so," said he, "I am aware of your -disinclination towards my wife, and even perhaps our mutual sister, Mrs. Bingley." Miss Bingley's defense was prevented by their separating and circling another couple. When they were in each other's proximity again, Mr. Darcy continued without giving her pause enough to speak- "You must not endeavour to insult me with false remonstrances, Miss Bingley. As I said before, I should like to indulge in a frank conversation, and am in no mood for prevarications of any sort."
His tone, if not his words, expressed plainly enough how serious he was in his purpose. Miss Bingley, left defenseless, was forced to admit, "Very well. I suppose I made my feelings on the matter quite well known, Mr. Darcy. It would be foolish of me to deny the fact."
"Indeed, your views never were private."
They separated again, and at their reunion, Miss Bingley insisted on his continuing. He complied-
"I do not wish to presume on the reasons for such a prejudice. Perhaps it is their social standing, perhaps it is jealousy for their beauty -or perhaps it is a more material circumstance." Miss Bingley coloured deeply. "I do not know. However, I wish to ask you -nay, request you -this: leave them be. It is hard enough for them to withstand the ever-curious, ever-malicious eyes and ears of the ton. My wife may not express her discomposure at facing them, but her sister -your sister, Miss Bingley, is not quite so resilient. If you truly love her, as you profess, you must not distress her so."
Miss Bingley, having no other alternative to answer this, bristled angrily. "Mr. Darcy, really, I-"
Mr. Darcy interrupted her. "I believe, Miss Bingley, that I was clear in my wish of entertaining no falsities this evening. I implore you -do not ignore my words. She is as a sister to me now -due to her relationships with both my wife, and your brother. Do not, in your selfish aim of taunting one particular person, agonize others. Your words have bigger ramifications on more people than you realize."
Miss Bingley did not speak, and could not look at Mr. Darcy for anything in the world. After several more silent minutes, Mr. Darcy said, "That is not all I wished to discuss with you."
"Indeed!" -Miss Bingley cried. "What more could you have to say to me?"
Mr. Darcy's voice seemed more grave than usual as he spoke -"It is another request I must make -but this is not so conditional than an absolute command. Miss Bingley," said he, lowering his voice so his seriousness frightened Miss Bingley even more, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet and I were married more than six months ago. It is thus an obvious conclusion that since then, her title has formally changed to 'Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy'."
"I am aware of that," Miss Bingley said nervously.
"Then it should not unduly surprize you when I ask you to address her so at all future occasions?"
"It does not." -Miss Bingley whispered.
"Very good. I am glad we understand each other, Miss Bingley."
It was to the satisfaction of both that the music ended there, and Miss Bingley was escorted from the floor with no little relief on either side.
For the rest of the ball, Miss Bingley did not speak to Mrs. Darcy or any of her party, except with Mr. Bingley and his wife. In the meantime, the rest of the guests treated Mrs. Darcy with more consequence, and the men admitted to themselves gloomily that Fitzwilliam Darcy had, after all, chosen the jewel amongst them all.
On the carriage ride home, Mrs. Darcy finally made an admission to her husband. "Fitzwilliam?"
"Yes, my love?"
"You were right, and I was hopelessly wrong."
"Generally, or in particular about something?"
"Oh! –do not tease me so, when I am perfectly serious!"
"My apologies," said he with a smile. "Do continue."
"It is indeed a terrible trial to forbear such an evening. You must teach me to be reserved and withdrawn."
"What are you saying, Elizabeth?" –asked he, all astonishment.
"Exactly what I mean, Fitzwilliam. Will you teach me?"
Mr. Darcy's expression of astonishment quickly changed to one of mirth. "So now do you believe that we must face a 'potent force of evil' in every ball in Town during the Season?" –he teased.
Elizabeth laughed. "Indeed, and you would do well to prepare yourself, my love, to protect me from these evil forces. You are, after all, my knight in shining armour."
"Of course! -what does the knight-errant do, but serve his damsel?"
"And his ruler. He must not forget to serve his liege." –Elizabeth reminded him.
"It is thus no surprizing matter that you are both, my dearest."
The conversation thus flowed on, both witty and affectionate, never terminating completely, only serving to build up an environment of loving harmony between them that would last for a long time to come.