Saturday, October 26, 2013

Jane and Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling (Part Three)

Part One / Part Two

The Bennets were at breakfast when a letter from Netherfield came for Jane. Its arrival interrupted an exceedingly ridiculous conversation, which had just reached its culmination in this dire contribution from Lydia: "My aunt says that Colonel Forster and Captain Carter do not go so often to Miss Watson's as they did when they first came; she sees them now very often standing in Clarke's library."

Though it was addressed to her daughter, Mrs. Bennet's interest in the missive far outshone Jane’s own. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure while Jane read the invitation, or rather command, with a hardening heart. She did not like the inferiority of position such a summons presumed upon.

"Well, Jane, who is it from? What is it about? What does he say? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love."

"It is from Miss Bingley," said Jane, and then read aloud:

My dear Friend,

If you are not so compassionate as to dine today with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers. 

Yours ever,

Caroline Bingley.

"With the officers!" cried Lydia. "I wonder my aunt did not tell us of that."

"Dining out," said Mrs. Bennet, "that is very unlucky."

"Can I have the carriage?" said Jane.

"No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain, and then you must stay all night." Jane was so astonished by the suggestion she could not reply.

"That would be a good scheme," said Elizabeth, "if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home." Well said, Lizzy! her sister mentally applauded, wishing she might defend herself so ably. 

"Oh! But the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs."

Jane knew her mother would find endless excuses to arrange things in accordance with her scheme, and while she was already bracing herself for a horrid ride, she put forth the most convincing argument of which she could think: "I had much rather go in the coach."

"But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet, are not they?"

"They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them."

"But if you have got them today," said Elizabeth, "my mother's purpose will be answered."

She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged. Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mother attended her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. 

Jane rode with forbearance into the threatening weather, at first counting the rare droplets, one by one, but when the rain began to fall in earnest, she did her best to ignore it entirely. Despite her stoic posture, she felt rather miserable, but hopes that her mother’s instincts might prove right buoyed her spirits. Endowed with a disposition to make the best of any situation, while she would far rather appear before her new friends elegant and arid, as was her customary state, she was not beneath using the unfavorable circumstances to rouse their interest and care. The vision of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst recalling her harrowing journey for the benefit of the gentlemen, and their tender dismay and concern at such a lovely creature as herself undergoing such a trial (yes, she thought even Mr. Darcy might be moved on such on occasion) brought a small smile to her face as she plodded along, the horse’s hooves heavy with mud. Maybe Mrs. Bennet was right, and Jane would not be able to return that day. Then she might see the gentlemen’s concern herself.

Her hopes were answered. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission.  Jane certainly could not come back. Upon arrival Miss Bingley made much of tending to her needs, and Jane counted the drenching well worth the proof of affection it evoked. It wasn’t until she was warm and cozy by the fire (or rather chilled and clammy, despite warm blankets and vigorous flames) that she began to perceive the ill effects of her journey. 

“So tell me more of your family, Miss Bennet,” Miss Bingley was saying. “We met your Uncle recently. Mrs. Phillips is your mother’s sister?”

“Yes,” she replied, wondering why it was so hard to concentrate on what her hostess was saying.

“Does your mother have any other sibling?” Mrs. Hurst inquired.

“I’m sorry?” she asked in confusion, then suddenly realizing what had been said continued, “Yes. My Uncle Gardiner lives in London.”

“How delightful!” Miss Bingley cooed. “If one is not so fortunate to have a house of one’s own in London, than one should always have an accommodating relative conveniently situated!”

“I do not know the name. On what street does he live?”

“Gracechurch Street.” She felt relieved to be able to supply the simple answer, and it took her some moments to notice that her hosts were staring at her rather blankly. She hurried to explain that the house was located convenient to his warehouses in Cheapside, only allowing a moment of mortification to sink in at the indiscretion before continuing: “Excuse me, but I think I am not well.”

“My dear Jane!” Miss Bingley exclaimed, “Indeed, you look very ill! Nicholls! Please help Miss Bennet at once!”

Jane was so grateful to find herself ushered into a bed that it was several hours before she realized Miss Bingley had called her by her Christian name. It was just the kind of casual intimacy that made Jane most uncomfortable. Her own manners were impeccable, and she sincerely hoped, before falling into a feverish sleep, that Miss Bingley spoke out of affection, and not from a sense of superiority.



The morning dawned on a worsening Jane, but she found a great deal of comfort in the few words conveyed to her from Mr. Bingley, expressing his concern and dismay at her predicament, along with assurances that her every need would be met while she remained at Netherfield, as she surely must until fully recovered. Jane imagined the excitable man fretting over her with as much satisfaction as her current state allowed, and she wondered whether or not Mr. Darcy might be similarly moved by her plight. His emotion would not be as transparent as his friend’s, but Jane envisioned the slight raise of eyebrow and change of countenance that might have expressed his concern. Such muted displays were much more to her taste than that she attributed to Mr. Bingley. In fact, when she considered the matter, Mr. Darcy’s manners were as flawless as her own. Unlike the other members of her family, whose scorn for Mr. Darcy was loudly expressed, Jane found nothing at fault with the man but his speaking slightingly of Lizzy at the Meryton Assembly, and as his insult of Elizabeth was a compliment to herself, she was inclined to be lenient. 

About an hour after receiving Mr. Bingley’s message, his sisters presented themselves in the sick chamber. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst quickly determined to consult the apothecary, but Jane demurred at first, knowing full well the alarm that might be roused at Longbourn upon learning of Mr. Jones’ visit to her bedside. Her mother would soon be descending upon the estate in a flurry of concern and meddlesomeness. Never an apt nurse at the best of times, knowing that Mrs. Bennet’s interest lay in keeping her at Netherfield for as long as possible, Jane feared her persistent presence might cause more harm than help. But Miss Bingley, truly alarmed by her guest’s pallor, was persistent, too: “My dear Jane, enough! You must accept my advice. We will call for this Mr. Jones immediately, though I do wish Meryton had a surgeon. You look dreadfully ill!” The patient noted her concern in her favor, grateful in her weakness to forgive Miss Bingley’s continued familiarity, but when once again alone with no one but a maid, she considered the entire circumstance with misgiving. Mrs. Bennet’s presence was most undesired. Any benefit to be derived from being at Netherfield might be entirely undone by her mother’s coarse manners. Besides, was she not the same misguided mother who sent her daughter off on horseback into a certain storm? What might she not do to prolong her convalescence? Better to call forth Lizzy instead. Her care would be more to the point and her presence at Netherfield far less embarrassing. It was with some degree of bitterness and a great deal of intention, though lost on her sister, that Jane wrote:

My dearest Lizzy,

I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr. Jones – therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me – and excepting a sore throat and headache, there is not much the matter with me.

Yours, &c.

The letter had its intended effect: Elizabeth set forth at once upon its reception.


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Come back tomorrow to read Part Four!

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8 comments:

  1. I think Jane could not believe that her mother was sending her out in the dismal weather just so she could catch a man. Did her mother not realize her womanly wiles could well enough catch them on her own!

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    1. Very good point! Jane would not find such machinations necessary, at least not yet...

      Great to hear from you!

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  2. I think she was probably a bit in awe of her mother's plotting, but probably miserable from the elements too. It's probably a mixed emotion toward a parent of understanding the motives, embarassment by the need to have ploys like this.

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    1. I think that as the daughter of Mes. Bennet, Jane has been trained to endure such a trial all her life. If it were me, I would not have handled it so gracefully.

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  3. I think Jane is thinking that her mother's suggestion has it pros and cons. On the one hand, she can draw out the ladies and gentlemen's concern to her plight. But the disadvantage is that she has to suffer to get their attentions.

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    1. She sure does! I think Jane is used to grinning and bearing a great deal.

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  4. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/241435229997312255/

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  5. I always like to think Jane is silently cursing her mother as she rides to Netherfield. At least that's what I would have been doing in her shoes. ;)

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