First of all, it's been 200 years to the day since Pride and Prejudice was published! Happy Birthday, P&P! Here's my humble offering upon your altar of evergreen fangirling -may you forever fill hearts with joy and wild thoughts of dashing dark, silent men.
Second of all, I began this fic because of a review on one of my others. The review was from a guest signed 'pricessbuttercup' and I really have her to thank. She dropped the little idea of having a 'discussion between Jane and Bingley, playing giggling matchmaker' into my head, and there it all began.
So, this story is basically the other side of the second proposal -what is happening with Jane and Bingley at that time?
I hope you guys enjoy the story. If you do, don't forget, please review!
Disclaimer: Pride and Prejudice is open-source. Which means that I may use Fitzwilliam Darcy for myself, but so can the rest of the world. *sighs*
It was a truth acknowledged, in Meryton, Hertford, that Jane Bennet was the luckiest girl in the world. The Bennet family's misanthropies and misfortunes were widely popular, in spite of which Jane Bennet had managed to secure to herself a not just a rich husband, but a young and devoted one, as well. Very few people begrudged her this happiness, for her goodness was as reputed as her mother's volubility. And indeed, at the very moment of which we speak, dear Jane was, even in her happiest moment, anxious for the felicity of another.
"Even now, I can scarce believe it!" –cried she, with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, making her affianced congratulate himself for his good fortune yet again.
"Nor I," said Charles Bingley, the joy on his face matching hers.
A small pause, and yet, it was enough to make her affianced anxious. "Yes, my dear. Something troubles you?"
"It is only –Elizabeth. I do wish she could share in my joy."
"If it were possible to marry both of you, I would have done so instantly!" -Mr. Bingley cried, with ill-thought chivalry. Jane, however, was not one to take offence easily, if at all ever.
"That is very kind of you, my dear," said she sweetly, "but I should think Elizabeth would have made your life perfectly miserable."
He let out a surprised laugh. "You think me so defenceless against a young lady?"
"You know what I mean."
"Indeed I do," he admitted, and added with a mischievous grin, "but I would have you, my guardian angel, to protect me against her clever wit and sharp tongue."
"Oh, hush, Mr. Bingley! I love Lizzy very dearly!"
"As do I. She is my favourite among all your sisters," said he, with perfect sincerity.
She smiled beatifically. "She will be pleased to know that. May I tell her?"
"Of course. I suspect she has already guessed."
"Perhaps. Lizzy is rather clever."
Jane seemed to fall into deep contemplation once more and Mr. Bingley made an effort to rouse her. "Come now, Jane, dearest, there must be someone that will satisfy our Lizzy."
A frown on her face, "I'm afraid not. I have never seen her fancy a gentleman before –although she did seem to prefer Mr. Wickham –" both their brows darkened, "but she has assured me several times that she had never accorded him much affection, and I tend to believe her. And she has been propositioned only twice, which both she rejected, but-"
"Twice? Someone other than your cousin Collins?"
Knowledge of her lapse mortified Jane intensely. Her cheeks flushed darker than before, and she turned away in embarrassment.
"Oh! You were not to know –no one knows, and she told me in strict confidence! Oh –irresolute, betraying tongue of mine!"
"Jane! Dearest –worry not, you did not intend to tell me, it was an unconscious error. You are easily forgiven, my dear." –said he anxiously, shocked at her violent response, wondering in secret if it was a Lord of some sort that Elizabeth had rejected.
"No, you do not understand! You, of all people, must not know this!"
This statement quite befuddled our Mr. Bingley. How was he mixed up in Meryton domestic intrigue?
The obvious reason appeared on his tongue. "Is it someone I am acquainted with?"
"It is someone you know very well!" –said she tearfully. "Oh, pray desist, Mr. Bingley, I must not speak of this."
"Of course, my dear," said he hurriedly, but his good-natured mind was still fixated on this curious problem. Who on earth did he know –very well, as it appeared! –who also knew the Bennets, for a long time it had to be, for the gentleman had proposed marriage-
Only one person came to his mind.
"Oh, hell!" –said Charles Bingley.
This exclamation shocked Jane so much that she forgot proper terms of address. "Charles!"
"Darcy? Darcy proposed to Elizabeth?"
At this display of superior guesswork, Jane could only reiterate in an even more shocked tone –"Charles!"
"The bloody daft fool! What on earth made him think she would accept him? What on earth made him propose in the first place? Madness; utter, impossible, improbable, inconceivable madness!"
"Charles, they are looking!" –Jane said in a distressed whisper, beckoning him to reseat himself next to her whence he had sprang up in utter shock a few seconds ago. And indeed, through the windows of Longbourn Hall, could be seen Mary and Kitty's curious faces, very obviously watching the bench upon which the lovebirds were currently perched, observing propriety by remaining in full public view.
Dazedly, Mr. Bingley sat again, and said in a pained voice, "Am I dreaming?"
Jane, who was trying to recover from her distress, said quite calmly, "No, you are not."
"I am in Longbourn. I am engaged to you, and we are talking alone and you are ever so sweet, and Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet!" His voice became agitated once more toward the end. "I must be dreaming!"
Carefully, Jane took his hand in hers, and said softy, "No, my dear, you are not. We are engaged, Mr. Darcy proposed to my sister several months ago, but was rejected by her. That is the truth."
Mr. Bingley shook his head, still dazed. "Inconceivable."
"I do not see why it should be so."
Mr. Bingley turned to her with an earnest gaze. "My dear girl, you do not yet understand. We –his closest friends –believed him incapable of love."
"How unjust of you!"-cried Jane.
"No, no, I mean him no disrespect. No one could have a better opinion of him than I do, dearest, but he was so singularly opposed to the marriage business, and set such high, exacting standards for his future bride that we were quite sure that no lady would please him. And now-" suddenly the shock was replaced by mirth, "the man whom even the incredible Lady Cowper did not impress, is fallen in love with humble, clever Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I would not have believed it for a minute!"
"Charles," Jane interposed gently, "she rejected him."
The change was instantaneous –Mr. Bingley was sobered. "Oh dear, I quite forgot. Poor, poor man indeed. I –I wish he had told me, I would have helped him. That he had to be so proud and reserved! I should have seen it for myself. When did this happen?"
"When they were both in Kent. You were not there by his side to necessitate a confession, so do not worry yourself, my dear. Besides, he could have been afraid of you," Jane opined.
"Afraid of me? Why would he be afraid of me?"
At this point, Jane cleared her throat and said delicately, "I believe he was quite –disapproving of the attentions you paid to me here in Meryton last Autumn."
"Oh. Oh, I see," said Mr. Bingley instantly, a humourless smile curving his lips. "Worried he'd come across as a hypocrite, I suppose. Which he was, as a matter of fact."
"Oh, Charles, do leave him be. Do not speak to him of this when he returns!"
His face immediately sported that happy, good-natured look that so endeared him to the public in general. "Do not worry, Jane, dearest. I think –I think he has suffered enough. He must have really loved her if he could disregard all those objections he placed before me, and asked for her hand."
"Perhaps. Perhaps Lizzy was wrong in rejecting him." –Jane said sadly.
"Good God, no! A good man he may be, but think how ill-suited they are to each other! Darcy with his stubborn pride and Elizabeth with her bold wit –it would be a painful experience for both of them."
"I suppose so," said Jane doubtfully.
"By the by, after she knows of your indiscretion, dearest, I should very much like to congratulate Miss Elizabeth on her wonderful courage –the one woman who could say nay to Darcy, and he proposes to her! 'Twould be comic were it not a consideration of my dearest friend's feelings."
Jane smiled. "I see what you mean, Mr. Bingley. They would make a most unlikely and miserable couple."
"Ah! I see you have reverted again to 'Mr. Bingley'? Shame, for I quite enjoyed your lapse in address –you do say 'Charles' very beautifully, dearest."
Jane Bennet blushed once more the delicate womanly blush of love, and said, not unamusedly, "But your lapses, my betrothed, were far more shocking. You do speak like a sailor sometimes, my dear."
Mr. Bingley was thus painfully reminded of his deplorable language and was forced to spend the rest of his little tête-à-tête apologising to his beloved, before one of the latter's sisters was sent over to join them.
Charles Bingley was nervous and a little excited for the definitely interesting conversation that would follow in a few minutes. Fingering his glass of port, he leant back in his chair restlessly, listening for footsteps. Their sounds arrived in due time, and punctual to his words, Darcy entered the study and sank into the chair opposite Bingley, accepting a glass of port with a weary sigh.
"Tiring journey?" –Bingley asked as he sipped his port.
"Indeed. As loathe as I am to admit it, I grow old," Darcy growled.
Bingley laughed. "Come, come, Darcy. You are only four years my senior."
"Then you grow old as well, my friend."
"That does not disturb me, for I care not! I am a happy man, indeed!"
Darcy regarded his friend thoughtfully. "Yes. I congratulate you once more, Bingley. You have discovered true contentment."
Bingley smiled. Darcy was paving the way himself! "Yes, I suppose I have. Well, now you know what you must do, old boy. Find yourself a veritable angel and marry her!"
A wry grin was the response. "I think you will find that easier said than done."
"True. I wonder how many women I had danced with before I found Ja –Miss Bennet."
"Around a hundred, I should think," was the witty rejoinder.
"Perhaps I should ask Caroline. She would have kept count."
Another wry smile. "Perhaps."
"That, as opposed to –how many have you danced with, Darcy? Three?"
Darcy bristled visibly. "Your sister would know."
Bingley, instead of taking offence, burst out laughing. Darcy had been long given leave to berate Caroline Bingley as he wished in private with her brother, but he did not often utilise this privilege. When he did, it was always something extremely humorous and completely like him.
"Come now, Darce. Really, have you ever even made an effort to court a lady?"
"If I have, then it does not concern you at all."
"For shame!" –cried Bingley. "That I, your dearest friend, whose every escapade and every single obsession is known to you, do not know any such details about you –petty, indeed, is this friendship!"
Darcy rolled his eyes and took another swig of port. "Really, Bingley. Melodrama does not suit you."
"It amuses Miss Bennet to raptures," Bingley grinned.
"I am no simpering country maid," Darcy shot back.
Darcy was immediately contrite. "Forgive me. I –I did not mean it." He sighed and drank more port. "I am not myself tonight. I have much to think."
"What about?" –Bingley asked immediately.
Darcy sighed again, but Bingley divined his answer before he could say it. "Come, Darcy, you know you may confide in me. Unburden yourself for once, old man." Then, he continued even more seriously, "You know I would never divulge a personal secret, Darce."
Another wry smile. "True. Contrary to your public character of good-humoured vapidity, you are a formidable secret-keeper."
"I like to surprise those who underestimate me," Bingley grinned. "Well, will you tell me or not?"
Darcy hesitated for a long moment, while Bingley awaited him patiently. Finally, he said, "Alright. I shall confide in you. My worries concern… a woman."
"A woman!" –Bingley exclaimed, surprised and excited. "Oh, this will be amusing, indeed!"
Darcy threw him a dark look. "If this is to be your disposition for the rest of the evening, be warned, Bingley, I shall box your ears."
At the uncharacteristic threat, Bingley repeated disbelievingly, "Box my ears?"
"You know I can."
Bingley sighed. "You could."
"Very well. You shall listen like the mature adult you proclaim to be and offer prudent advice when required –no more, no less."
"Understood. Do continue, good sir."
Darcy shot him another of his famous dark looks and continued, "I will be direct, then –some months ago, I proposed marriage to a lady I thought most highly of –still think very highly of." He amended and paused, but Bingley simply continued to stare at him with rapt attention. "You are not surprised," Darcy said, in his turn surprised.
Bingley simply shrugged. "To be honest, Darcy, I had a secret opinion that you were already married –to some unsuitable chambermaid, perhaps –all these years. This morsel of news is actually relieving."
Darcy snorted. "How well you know me!" –said he derisively.
Bingley flashed him a dazzling smile. "Ah, but I have truly not known you well at all, my friend. For instance, I have been dying to know, what is it about Miss Elizabeth that pleases you most?"
The reaction was instantaneous –Darcy sputtered on his drink and half-rose from his chair. For the first time in their entire acquaintanceship, Darcy was at a complete loss for words while Bingley was master of the situation. And, being fully aware of this, Bingley was laughing heartily.
"Priceless, Darcy, absolutely priceless! Never, never will I forget this moment!" –said he, tears of mirth running down his face.
Recovering admirably, Darcy said coolly, "I suppose your affianced told you?"
"Don't go about judging the poor girl for that," Bingley said sharply, laughter ebbing away, "she almost let it slip, but I guessed soon enough. Apart from yourself and Miss Elizabeth, Jane and I are the only two people who know."
Darcy was quiet for a moment, seemingly struggling with some matter. Then, with a frustrated sigh, he admitted, "Georgiana and Henry know as well."
Bingley laughed again. "I'm not surprised."
Then came a final quiet addition, "and Lady Catherine."
"That old cat! How did she hear of something like this?" –Bingley asked, surprised. Darcy did not chastise him for his informal language. If he was given leave to speak thus about Caroline Bingley, Bingley was in turn given leave to do so about Catherine de Bourgh.
"I told her."
Bingley was appropriately shocked. "Of all the people to tell!"
Darcy sighed again. "She was being difficult."
"When is she not?"
Darcy was silent. "Perhaps you should tell me all from the beginning," Bingley suggested.
"I do not like to narrate my life's happenings as if it were a child's tale," Darcy muttered.
"I am not asking you to do so," Bingley said calmly. "But surely beginning to end is a logically sound manner of narrating something is it not?"
Darcy sighed again. "Forgive me, my friend. I am tired –very, very tired."
"Unburden yourself, Darcy. You will sleep all the better due to it."
With another sigh of acceptance, Darcy nodded. "Very well. Pay attention for I will not repeat myself. I found myself –appreciating Miss Elizabeth's company far more than I expected last Autumn. I was afraid my feelings would grow stronger, and so I removed myself –er, and you –from Meryton before any real harm could be done. I was not entirely successful –I still thought of her, and I knew I was doomed for sure when I went to Rosings in the Spring and found her visiting her friend at the Parsonage.
"In Kent the inevitable happened; thrown into her company almost everyday, in that limited social circle –but no, I deliberately threw myself into her company. I could not resist it –do you remember telling me the same about Longbourn and Miss Bennet?" –Darcy added abruptly, to which Bingley nodded. "I could not understand you then, but I comprehended perfectly during those weeks in Kent.
"It came to a point where I could not convince myself with any arguments that she was not suitable for me. I proposed to her, and was shocked to discover that not only was she disinclined to accept me, but that she absolutely detested me." He paused there. "Did you know?"
Bingley was suddenly uncomfortable. "I don't know about 'detest', Darcy, but she didn't seem to particularly, well, like you."
Darcy closed his eyes. "I see," said he, quite emotionlessly.
Bingley hastened to say, "I thought you knew, old boy, it was quite –but, well, if you had confided in me, perhaps-"
"Had I confided in you, we would all have been spared several months of pain and despair," Darcy said quietly.
Bingley attempted to placate his friend, but his efforts were waved away. "I am aware that it will not do to regret. One cannot turn back time, and I am quite resigned to it. To continue with my narration, I was obviously shocked and despondent at her reaction. She had raised several points of concern against me, and I attempted to correct her information with a letter I gave her before leaving Kent. I did not know if she read it or not, but I hoped that she did, and that she would not think too ill of me when she was done."
"What were those concerns?" –Bingley asked astutely.
It was obvious Darcy did not wish to be asked that. "She blamed me for breaking your interest from her sister," he said reluctantly. "I admitted to her in the letter that I had joined your sisters in advising you to quit Meryton, but not conscious of the fact of Miss Bennet's affection for you, as she had believed. Indeed, Charles," Darcy added anxiously, "I truly believed Miss Bennet did not care for you."
"I know, Darce," Bingley said solemnly. "Go on."
"She also blamed me for bringing down in life a certain man called Wickham," Darcy continued, his look turning dark. Bingley was shocked. "She did not!" –he cried. "Oh yes," Darcy answered darkly. "He had already shared with her his version of the sad tale of his descent in life. She blamed me absolutely for his poverty and social inconsequence."
"That blackguard!" –Bingley muttered.
Darcy grinned humourlessly. "Indeed. I could find no other manner in which to convince her than with the absolute truth. I thus told her all about his dealings with me, and Georgiana."
Bingley nodded approvingly. "Your trust in her must only prove to her the depth of your interest."
"My interest did not factor in the confession," Darcy said impatiently. "I did not wish for another person so high in my estimation to be deceived by the same scoundrel –he has given me enough pain to last several lifetimes."
Bingley nodded understandingly. "And then?"
"There the matter ended –or so I thought. I never expected to see her again –until I found her strolling through the wooded walks of Pemberley."
Bingley nodded comprehendingly. "I wondered at her change in manner when I met her -but, of course, she had, by then, read your letter." He shook his head. "I do not wonder now. Poor girl, she must have felt terribly awkward!"
Darcy did not answer.
"But surely nothing of importance occurred in Pemberley." -Bingley prodded him to continue.
Darcy was quiet for a moment. "Her changed manner, it affected me. It gave me hope."
"And then?" –Bingley said, after Darcy showed no sign of continuing.
Darcy finally looked at his friend, who was shocked by the vulnerable expression on his face. "It led me to think that perhaps I had been given a second chance. Perhaps, this time, I would court her in the right manner and –who knew? –possibly would be blessed with a more positive outcome."
"You decided to court her again?" –Bingley repeated, almost in awe. "After she had rejected you once? You are a brave man, Darcy."
"Her rejection was due to the fact that her opinion was poisoned against me," Darcy snapped irritably. "This was a chance to start from the beginning, as it were. And do not speak so reverentially –you came back to court Miss Bennet, did you not?"
Bingley smiled, abashed. "Touché, Darce. Continuez."
"Before I could even ponder further over this matter, a villain's evil struck my happiness once more. Wickham had run off with Lydia Bennet, and her sister had to return to Longbourn before I could say or do anything."
Bingley sighed. "That man is very –very trying!"
"To put it mildly," Darcy smiled grimly. "You know what I did next. They were married and I convinced you to return to Netherfield, my last payment due to her."
"Rubbish!" –Bingley exclaimed. "Now who is being melodramatic? You owed her nothing."
"I owed her the happiness I had stolen from her and her family."
Bingley shrugged. "Your altruism is commendable, but I must admit, Darcy, quite irritating. It makes us mere mortals feel such fools, you know."
"Oh, don't be droll, Bingley," Darcy snapped.
"Very well," Bingley grinned. "Continue."
"That is all."
"And where does Lady Catherine factor in this?"
"She happened to visit me two days ago…"
Bingley sat up excitedly. "Hold there a moment, Darcy. I believe she was here!"
"In Meryton. At Longbourn!"
"If you would let me finish, Bingley, you would know." Bingley grinned apologetically. "Ah. Do tell."
Darcy took a deep breath. "She heard from somewhere –her pusillanimous parson is my best bet –that I am to be engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"How would Mr. Collins know such a thing?" –asked Bingley, astonished.
Darcy was silent, but Bingley knew better. "Well?" –asked the latter.
"I have a theory," Darcy admitted finally. "I imagine he learnt of my… proposition from his wife, who, I know, is Miss Elizabeth's dearest friend."
"Do you think Miss Elizabeth would have confided a matter of such personal and private nature in Mrs. Collins?"
Darcy misinterpreted Bingley's statement. "I do not think it possible of Miss Elizabeth to divulge my confidences so easily, Bingley, you do her an injustice by assuming her to be so indiscreet." –said he sharply.
"I said no such thing!" –Bingley exclaimed righteously. "But women in general are far more prone to share their own secrets with their closest confidants –she would have withheld the contents of your letter, but she may have spoken of your inclination toward her."
Darcy sighed. "Either way, Lady Catherine quite mistook whatever it was she heard and came here to refute those imagined rumours."
"But how could she have managed to do that here, when –oh!" Bingley finally understood Lady Catherine's visit. "She thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet propagated those rumours to begin with?"
"Dear me." Bingley leaned back in his chair, and let out a sudden chortle. "I should have liked to be present during their conversation."
Darcy grinned too, one of his rare boyish ones. "Indeed. I do not doubt Miss Elizabeth gave my aunt that which she truly deserved."
"And then Lady Catherine came to you?"
"To convince herself that there was no danger concerning the veracity of these rumours –at least on my part." Darcy paused. "You see, Miss Elizabeth had said something."
Bingley sat up again. "And that is what brought you back?"
Darcy gave a single affirmative nod.
"What was it she said?"
Darcy seemed to struggle for a moment. "She refused to promise to not marry me, should I ask for her hand in the future."
It took some for Bingley to comprehend that statement. "But then- that would mean… she cares for you!" The joy on Bingley's face was one that should have been on Darcy's visage instead.
"I do not know that, Bingley."
"Oh, posh! If she did not, she would have said so to your aunt! She is never one to keep her opinions to herself!"
"I have misjudged her words and actions once before. I cannot make the same mistake again." –Darcy muttered, his voice strained.
"Well, that is true," Bingley conceded. "But, really, why do you not ask her?"
Darcy did not answer immediately. "I could not –bear it if she rejected me again. I –I could not." His head was turned away, and his voice was suddenly softened and vulnerable –Bingley had never before seen this side to his friend.
"I understand completely, Darcy," Bingley finally said, quite gently. "Believe me, I do. But surely it is preferable to this uncertainty?"
Darcy remained still for some time, before suddenly turning to his friend. "Yes. You are right, Charles. Anything is preferable to this –this maddening doubt and equivocation. I must have an answer."
"There you have it!" –Bingley exclaimed. "You will visit Longbourn with me tomorrow, and manage to have a conversation with Miss Elizabeth –"
"What if she does not wish to speak to me?" –Darcy asked suddenly, his voice still pained. "She has been unwaveringly ambivalent whenever I have met her in the past weeks."
"So have you, Darce," Bingley said, grinning.
"But I was awkward and anxious!"
"Possibly she was so, as well."
Darcy sighed. "Your ready responses are supremely irritating, Bingley."
"I am glad to be of some service!" –Bingley laughed. "And in fact, although you owe me –do not deny it, Darcy, you have much to redeem for separating me from my beloved so painfully last winter!"
Darcy sighed again. "More melodrama. I find myself dreading the manner of redemption you will assign to me in the future."
Bingley smirked. "Perhaps you should have thought of that before your condescending betrayal."
"You have a very good store of descriptives for my misdemeanour, I see." –said Darcy with his usual wryness.
"It ought to be good, for it is the work of many days of earnest contemplation!" –Bingley laughed, "but let us not forget our main issue at hand. I was saying, that despite your obligation toward me, I would gladly help you tomorrow. It is perfectly apparent, in any case, that you are in need of it-"
"You are truly enjoying having this to hold over me." –Darcy interrupted, his smile belying his irked drawl.
"Does that surprise you?"-Bingley smirked back. "Do let me finish, my man, I am doing this to ensure your own felicity, you know."
"How magnanimous of you!" –said his friend, with a mocking glint in his eye.
"I can afford to be so, since my own felicity is so irrevocably assured. Now do you want to listen to my brilliant plan or not?"
"I am eager with anticipation."
"You would do well in moderating your sarcasm, Darce. I am not sure your beloved would appreciate it or even tolerate it as I do."
Darcy grinned again, his elusive boyish one. "Then you cannot pretend to know her very well."
That produced yet another bout of laughter from Bingley. "By Jove, I do believe I was wrong this afternoon when I insisted to Ja –Miss Bennet that I thought the two of you to be a most unlikely couple. I imagined you to be perfectly miserable with each other when in fact-" Here he stopt, either from loss of breath or words, or both.
"In fact, we are perfect for each other," Darcy finished softly. "Do what you will tomorrow, Bingley. You are right –I do require your aid."
Bingley nodded, his smile not mocking but sincere.
"Very well, it is very simple. I shall insist on us all walking out together –Miss Bennet will have my arm, and Miss Elizabeth shall be forced to take yours. We will allow you to outstrip us –you walk abominably fast as it is, and so does she, I believe –and you may have a perfectly respectable, yet private conversation with her."
If Darcy was daunted by the implied 'privateness' of the conversation, he did not show it. Instead, he said,
"You are aware that our primary motive is to chaperone you, Bingley."
Bingley's smiled turned into a smirk once more. He was determined to not let himself bear the brunt of the teasing remarks once more –not yet, at least. "I think you'll find, my dear fellow, that Ja –Miss Bennet and I will be doing the chaperoning."
At this clever and very agreeable response, Darcy could not help but grin back.
"Jane? –I am allowed to call you Jane now, am I not, dearest?"
Jane Bennet blushed becomingly. "Yes, Charles."
"Excellent!" –her betrothed said approvingly. "Very well then, Jane, do forgive me for saying so, but I do not regard your sister Kitty very favourably at the moment."
"What do you mean, Mr. Bingley?" –her voice, though shocked, was also wary, and she had a slight frown between her brows. That she cared for her family and regarded them with some pride was obvious –to her lover, this endeared her to him even more.
"Just at the moment, dearest; I am not so mean as to be undeserving of being addressed by my first name! Kitty irks me, simply for causing a complication in a plan I had perfected last evening."
As he spoke, Jane had understood that he had only been speaking trivially, and so she once again conferred upon him that well-earned service –that of being called by her, in her sweet voice 'Charles'.
"Charles," said she, her brow cleared, "do explain yourself, dear."
Charles did explain. "Why did she have to accompany us?"
"Why not?" –Jane asked, quite bewildered, and therefore ungrammatical.
Her affianced sighed. His friend had made him promise not to tell anything of their plans to Miss Bennet. If Mr. Darcy were not to get an opportunity to speak with Miss Elizabeth, he did not want her forewarned by her well-meaning sister.
"It is so irksome," Mr. Bingley said instead of answering her, with melancholy in his tone rather than irritation, "that however infallible you think your arrangement, often the smallest, most simple error can be neglected, and when the error does occur, one feels such a complete idiot!"
"Oh, I'm sure your thoroughness and earnest manner does you credit, my dear," Jane said soothingly. "You may feel foolish, but I assure you that you are not."
Mr. Bingley sighed again, this time with pleasure. "With such heartening words from such a lovely mouth for a lifetime, I am certain I shall never be distressed!"
Jane, who had no ready witty quips like her favourite sister, simply blushed at the not-unwelcome flattery.
Her lover, after warbling several more statements of love, was still somewhat rational, and his mind dwelled on the sudden complications in his well-thought plans.
"We must have Kitty join us!" –said he presently.
"But why, Charles? They are far gone! –there, look, I can barely see their figures beyond the turn at the Wilsons' gate."
The gate in question was, in fact, quite far away, and Mr. Bingley realised that to rejoin their friends he and his dainty betrothed would have to run in a rather undignified manner. Another sigh of intense distress escaped him.
"The fates are indeed against me!"
"We could try walking faster," Jane suggested, trying to be helpful, "perhaps we shall be abreast of them soon enough."
Mr. Bingley shook his head rather morosely. "Oh, leave it be, dearest. After all, tomorrow is another day, and my plan is not restricted to today." Then he seemed to remember something even more distressing. "But Caroline arrives tonight!"
"I shall be glad to see her," Jane said softly in an effort to diffuse her beloved's sombre mood.
It seemed to work –Mr. Bingley looked upon her in astonishment. "Truly?"
Jane insisted that she did mean it.
"But why? She was a large part of the reason why I abandoned you so –so abominably last autumn!"
Her cheeks flushed slightly, but otherwise serene, Jane murmured, "I'm sure she was acting with your best interests at heart."
"She was acting with her best interests at heart. She has always wanted me to marry a grand lady of society, so that her own prospects might increase twofold!"
"That is a perfectly reasonable thing to wish for. Every woman wants an advantageous match –it is the one ambition we are allowed to cultivate. And remember, Charles, she lives in Town, and must therefore have the best possible connexions to subsist in such a social place. To myself and my sisters, living in the country, social establishment does not matter as much as financial stability, among other things. Caroline is forced, by her own habitat, to seek for social betterment in any manner possible, since, well, birth has not offered it to her."
Jane blushed as she uttered those last words, but her beloved was not offended. "You are an angel, indeed," said he wondrously, "if you see good in even my sister's underhanded schemes. I do adore you so deeply, dear Jane Bennet!"
And thus they once more descended into flowery praises and shy declarations that are so ordinary for a young, happy couple as they.
Charles Bingley thought no more of his thwarted plan until he and Miss Bennet returned to Longbourn to find Kitty Bennet demurely sewing in the sitting room, with no sign of his favourite friend, or her favourite sister.
"Where is my friend?" –asked he of the girl. "Is he returned to Netherfield already?"
Kitty giggled, and Bingley was pleased to note that it was of much shorter duration than he had been previously used to. This improvement, however, was only passingly marked by him. "La! I'm sure Mr. Darcy would not abandon you in such a mean manner, Mr. Bingley, although he is so stiff and proud-"
"Kitty!" –her eldest sister exclaimed in embarrassment.
Kitty rearranged her expression, and managed to say, with minimal giggling, "He is still with Lizzy, I think, for they have not come in yet."
Surprise muted Bingley, and his betrothed asked for him with appropriate astonishment, "Not come in! But you were walking with them, were you not?"
They received another prolonged giggle in response and managed to decipher that she had broken off at the Lucases' to visit with Maria Lucas.
"Mr. Darcy must be a slow walker indeed, Mr. Bingley," giggled Kitty more clearly for his benefit, "for them to be out still. Lizzy walks fast, this I know."
Joy –silent, restrained joy had replaced surprise within Bingley's chest. "No. Darcy walks fast also. This I know."
Miss Bennet looked at him inquiringly, but her affianced divulged nothing. He was almost certain of the success of his friend's endeavours, but keeping in mind the occurrence of unforeseen mischances, he disclosed not one of his suspicions.
Miss Elizabeth and Darcy returned more than a half hour later than the unchaperoned lovers. Once more, Jane Bennet did the questioning while Bingley simply cast a discerning glance at Darcy –one look was enough, and Bingley was assured of his friend's felicity.
Neither man spoke of this assurance of joy for the remainder of their visit. For Bingley, this was a much easier task since he was given leave to monopolize his beloved without suspicion nor censure. For Darcy, this was much harder to bear –had there been a truly attentive observer in their company that evening, he could not have missed the sly glances and sudden smiles upon Darcy's and Miss Elizabeth's visages. But of course, Jane Bennet's happy situation was more widely known and remarked upon, and thus the unacknowledged lovers remained safe in their obscurity.
The exact magnitude of Darcy's joy was fully apparent once they were outside Longbourn Manor. Seating himself upon his horse with an alacrity that harked back to his younger days, Darcy urged his steed into a gallop without waiting for his friend, his exhilarated mood calling for a similarly energetic ride.
Bingley arrived at his own doorstep some time after his friend, and found him pacing the steps impatiently, awaiting his arrival.
"You are a slow, old fogey, indeed, Bingley!" –cried he. "Were you riding Apollo or a field mule?"
Bingley simply dismounted and shook his friend's hand with vigorous enthusiasm. "I must congratulate you most feelingly, my dear Darcy!"
Darcy's impatience seemed to melt away. "I have told you nothing yet," smiled he.
"And you do not need to!" –cried Bingley. "I know enough the looks of a man whose love is requited –I'm sure I sport the same mien! Come, come, let us not dally on the stairs. You have letters abound to write, I expect!"
As they entered the fine establishment, Darcy's smile reduced, although fractionally. "We have yet to –it is not a formal attachment."
Bingley stood in his tracks. "How do you mean? What has happened, Darcy?" Darcy was shocked at his friend's serious tone.
"Have you compromised her?"
Darcy's offended reaction was instantaneous. "Bingley! What sort of fiend do you think me to be?"
Bingley's expression was pained, but resolute. "Forgive me, Darcy, but she is soon to be my sister, and-"
"-and she is soon to be my wife," his friend interrupted testily. "I have asked for her hand and she has accepted me. All that remains to make ours a formal engagement is to ask Mr. Bennet for his permission, which I shall do on the morrow."
Bingley was sensible enough to be embarrassed by his assumption, and Darcy content enough to soon forgive his well-meant offence.
With that misunderstanding cleared, Bingley demanded how the conversation came to pass, and Darcy capitulated willingly, explaining how Kitty Bennet had unknowingly assured his good fortune by chusing to visit with Maria Lucas instead continuing with them.
When he learnt that it was she who had begun to speak first, Bingley could not hide his delighted laughter. "Courageous woman indeed, that she chose to speak before you without hesitation."
"I am well aware of her many virtues, Bingley." –came the sly rejoinder.
Bingley acquiesced immediately –who else could know her better?
The rest of their conversation, made dull and prosaic by their male tendencies to not over-embellish, followed.
"Today is a happy day, indeed! We must celebrate!" –exclaimed Bingley with fervour as soon as his friend finished his narration.
"Perhaps we can celebrate tomorrow? We have told no one, save you and your affianced. Your sister will wonder."
"Caroline!" –said Bingley in sudden remembrance. "Good heavens, I had forgotten that she is due to arrive any moment now!"
Darcy smirked. "You forgot the arrival of your own sister? You need a wife far more urgently than you let on, Bingley. Miss Bennet will care for you perfectly."
"And Miss Elizabeth, you! It is time enough someone curbed your unreasonable taciturnity and apathy toward social customs."
"You make me sound quite the law-breaking rake." –grinned Darcy.
"I should hope not! My duty as a brother to her will be to protect her from such unsavoury troublemakers!"
Although the last was said partly in jest, Darcy was moved.
"I am glad that you look upon her with such affection, Bingley. She will not want for a caring brother," said the latter, certain of the other's sincerity.
"She shall not, indeed! As my soon-to-be-wife's dearest sister, she is my dearest sister as well."
"And I, as your dearest friend, will be her soon-to-be-husband! It is wonderful," said Darcy, shaking his head smilingly, "all tied up so beautifully. The Bard could not have written us a happier ending."
Bingley, of course, for such was his disposition and his situation, concurred heartily.
And, as it would be proved in the not-too distant future, the two young men did attain a happy ending, their felicity persisting unhindered by embarrassing mothers, interfering sisters or overbearing aunts with such equanimity that the Great Bard would have been pleased indeed, had he been living to witness an example of such supreme matchmaking, and, of course, been able to recount it with his own ink.
A/N: I have tried my best to make this story accord with Insipidity, Noise, Nothingness and Self-Importance(which is where I got the review btdubs), but it does contradict it a little. Still, this story stays true to Austen canon, if not my own canon.