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Pemberley Manor

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Pemberley Manor

from Chapter V

As the Hurst carriage moved away from Longbourn on the London road, Caroline Bingley exhaled a long sigh of relief. "I don't believe I have ever spent a day in more tedious company. I expected at least that our charming in-laws and their quaint neighbours might have exerted themselves on such an occasion to dress in this year's fashion, but even that pleasure was denied us."
Louisa rejoined languidly, "It is not so much a case of being behind the fashion as of being totally without fashion!" Caroline laughed loudly, delighted she could at last find humour in the day.
The urgent business that called the party to London was a scheme of Caroline's to hold a soirée for their most intimate friends. She had invited only those members of their circle whose venomous wit might enliven a post-mortem on the subject of the great brought low, and who could be counted on to maintain a discreet silence afterwards. During the darkest hours of the humiliating spectacle she had been forced to witness that day, Caroline had begun to regret her plan, but upon reaching the carriage, she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her. As the miles between her and Meryton mounted, the anticipation of an evening among her peers buoyed her spirits.
Mr Hurst, whose enjoyment of a party was more dependent on the richness of the supper and prospects for serious gaming than on witty conversation, promptly fell asleep in the carriage as Caroline and Louisa entertained themselves planning the final details of their party and deciding in what manner the wedding should be described to give most pleasure to their guests.
"You shall have the honour, Louisa, of testifying to the impeccable manners and dress of the Bennet family, but take care you do justice to Mrs Bennet's monstrous hat. And you must make mention of the absence of dear little sister Lydia, so recently elevated by her marriage to the wicked Mr Wickham. That will be too delicious!"
Louisa laughed gaily at the prospect of such a narrative, for indeed the finery of Meryton and the provincial airs of its denizens left her in no fear of a want of material. Caroline continued, "I reserve for myself the depiction of the brides and grooms, for I could not bear to omit the effect those 'fine eyes' of Miss Elizabeth's had on the noble bearing of Mr Darcy. Did you see how he looked, Louisa? Whatever spell she has cast has quite deranged him for the moment, but I daresay not many days will pass before he awakens one morning to the realisation that the maintenance of the honour of the Darcy name depends on something a bit more substantial." Both sisters laughed maliciously at this image and Mr Hurst's sleep was troubled by frequent outbursts as the Bingley sisters sharpened their wit for the evening's gathering.
By the time they reached their residence in London, Caroline was so fully in control of her feelings that she was in a fair way to anticipating her scheme as a pleasant revenge upon those gentlemen who had so frustrated her hopes for a resplendent future. Truth to tell, she was not so reconciled to her fate that she was able to think with any pleasure of the more distant future, but she wisely chose to confine her thoughts to present pleasures so as not to be disturbed by that reality.
The guests that assembled the following evening at the Bingley mansion comprised among their number some of the most privileged idle minds of the fashionable world, and their expensive education and polished speech were soon put to use in ridiculing the fall from grace of one of the most illustrious members of their set. An exquisitely wrought invitation in black with silver inscription proclaimed the occasion as a Memorial to the Death of Reason, and it was with venomous delight that the assembled guests delved into the topic. Although Caroline and Louisa had envisioned the party as a time of reflection on the disaster that had befallen both Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy, precious little time was wasted on the fortunes of the former. There was little to amuse them in scorn for Mr Bingley, for his kind heart and good nature rendered him invulnerable to such malice. It was the proud and arrogant Mr Darcy who provided the chief subject for their long-flowing wit; scarcely was there man or woman among them who did not revel in the delicious spectacle he had made of himself.
Caroline Bingley initiated the festivities with an introduction, rising to her subject with all the enthusiasm engendered by her frustrated dreams.
"My dear friends, we are gathered together to mourn the passing of two of our number who are recently descended from the ranks of superior and noble birth into the obscurity of the unfashionable world of Hertfordshire. My sister and I thank you for your attentions to us in our hour of sorrow, for as you know, one of these unfortunates is our dearest brother Charles. We, too, have been called from your midst, forced by our brother's folly to ally ourselves to a family of such humble origin and modest accomplishment that the mere mention of their name is likely to distance us in future from your own tender regard." As she paused in mock solemnity, a wave of twittering laughter set the tone for the evening.
She continued, confident that her wit could not fail to promote her standing among such charming rogues as were assembled before her. "My brother Charles is known to all of you for his unfailing generosity of spirit, and if it were his story alone we were forced to tell tonight, there would be little in it to surprise or entertain. His easy nature and the ignorance of his position in society, would, I fear, have suited him more admirably to a life in the colonies, where superiority of birth and connections are seen as matters of small consequence." She paused to allow the suspense to build before thrusting her barb into the heart of the matter. "But our tale of woe is the more shocking because it encompasses another, known to all of you for his former unstinting adherence to the social structure that has been the solid foundation from which our great empire rose. The fall of this great warrior, who for the first eight and twenty years of his life so proudly rebuked all usurpers who attempted to rise above their station, has grave consequences for all of us. For if Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy has succumbed to the allure of a pair of fine eyes, throwing away in a moment all thought of custom or reason, can the monarchy itself remain firm?"
Caroline Bingley stood basking in the uproarious applause and laughter that greeted her speech, and if she had not managed another witty phrase for the remainder of the evening, her fame - and Mr Darcy's - would have been sealed. But the hearty approbation of her friends inspired her to dizzying heights of malice as the evening wore on, and Charles Bingley was quite overlooked in her lust for revenge. Louisa's amusing narrative on the subject of country weddings was scarcely remembered in the days that followed, for wherever the revellers chanced to meet, the subject of Caroline Bingley's finest hour was sure to be the topic. Her triumph was so complete, indeed, that it was several days before the pleasure it afforded her was supplanted by the gnawing comprehension that the person she most wished to entertain had missed her finest performance.

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©2007-2010 Kathryn L Nelson, Pemberley Manor ©2006 Kathryn L Nelson, ISBN:E9781402212857

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