At a ball held by the Matlocks, Caroline Bingley finally understands why she never truly had a chance with Mr Darcy.
A Tradesman's Daughter
Caroline Bingley had always been extremely aware of her low origins. After school, however, she came to resent them, and resent the restrictions they placed on her and her family. Her father had died before purchasing an estate, so she was unable to claim even that much - she would remain a tradesman's daughter.
When she entered society after her sister, she was determined never to speak of her money's origins and used every pretension available to her in order to do so. She spoke volubly of her brother's membership at White's - through one of their father's very grateful patrons - and his place at Cambridge. When her sister married Gerald Hurst, she lived with them, being escorted to parties under her sister's near equally mercenary eye. When Charles made the acquaintance and friendship of the wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy, she ensured her own acquaintance with him.
For years she had been cultivating her position as a fashionable member of society. She worked her wiles on Mr Darcy, determined to catch the title so many dreamed of- Mistress of Pemberley. Then her brother leased - /leased/, he did not even buy it! - that damned estate in Hertfordshire...
Netherfield, she considered, was where all her troubles began. Her brother made the acquaintance of that God-forsaken Bennet family...
The Bennet sisters had no fortunes or connections, or so the rumour mills of Meryton and the surrounding area were led to believe. All they had was some little beauty, indeed, regarded locally as the greatest of Hertfordshire's beauties... But the manners of the mother and younger daughters were appalling! The youngest eloped with Mr /Wickham/, the son of a steward! She had no idea how her brother and Mr Darcy could possibly bear to marry the elder daughters.
Nevertheless, she had been forced to sit in the church and watch as her brother married Jane Bennet - although she confessed herself relieved that Jane was so sweet and docile, hardly a threat to her position - and her Mr Darcy /degraded/himself by marrying Eliza Bennet.
Caroline had been so close! She had the sweet little sister in her grasp - and she confessed that Georgiana was almost ridiculously easy to manipulate, though less so in recent months - she had spent the autumn and much of the winter, not to mention part of the summer with him, she had made herself as agreeable as possible... Only for that Bennet girl to swoop in and dislodge her grasp on her careful plans!
Never did it occur to her that the relationship between Mr Darcy and 'Miss Eliza' could be more than infatuation on his part and fortune-hunting on hers. She had so assiduously tried to convince him otherwise, to convince him that Eliza Bennet was unworthy of him, his thoughts, his time... But to no avail. That deplorable little shrew had stolen him from under her nose with her 'fine eyes' and impertinent remarks. She, Caroline Bingley, was left to smile politely to both and congratulate them on their marriage, when half her acquaintance must be gossiping and laughing at her behind her back. Then when she returned to town they would 'condole' with her on her 'disappointment'.
Never! She was Caroline Bingley and she would hold her head up high, unconcerned about the gossip of the plebeians.
This was the reason she was stood in the ballroom of the Countess of Matlock the Season after Mr Darcy's marriage. None of the Darcys had been seen after the marriage- it had taken place in December, and they had disappeared north for Christmas, taking that Gardiner family and their children with them. The Gardiners! The /tradesman/! Again, she resolutely ignored the thought attempting to reach her, that the Gardiners were barely a generation behind the Bingleys, that perhaps /their/son or grandson would one day be in possession of four or five thousand a year...
She had attended the ball for two reasons. Firstly, because she had been invited through Jane's connection - /Jane's/! - to the Darcys. Secondly, she was prepared to see Mrs Darcy fail as the disapprobation of society fell upon her. She would watch and revel in the hussy's downfall.
Unfortunately, when the Darcys arrived, it was not to be. Mrs Darcy was radiant on her husband's arm, garbed in deep crimson silk and gold, a delicate garnet and pearl crucifix on her bosom, her hair curled and delicately dressed with jewels and flowers, her gloves white kid and expensive, and her countenance never more radiant, except perhaps for her wedding day. Mrs Darcy's beauty had only increased with her marriage, but rather through the blossoming of a still young woman, than through the expense of her new garments. Her manners were pleasing and unaffected, her smile bright, and her husband ridiculously contented.
Many of the guests, who had yet to see Mr Darcy smile in public, were amazed to see him so frequently bestow them on his wife. Not only that, but his obvious love was adoringly returned. She smiled up at him gloriously.
Caroline felt vindicated, however, by the words of other society ladies and matrons.
"Hardly beautiful." One woman sniffed, one hand pressed comfortingly to her plain, but overdressed daughter's shoulder.
"And really, to display such affection for each other! It is barely tolerable to see!" Another complained.
"/She/caught Mr Darcy?" A young lady gasped, aghast.
Unfortunately, the married ladies and many of the gentlemen soon made their opinions known, especially as the Darcy's made their way around the room.
"A treasure, undoubtedly." A gentleman Caroline knew to be the Earl of Suffolk told another. "What beauty! And her mind... Why, her wit is sharp as a knife, but not nearly as dangerous. Yes, a very sweet young lady."
"I agree, Ithought it was hardly possible when I saw her sister - Mrs Bingley, you know, agood match all around I hear - but Mrs Darcy is very lovely. There is vibrancy in her eyes... A zest for life. Good for old Darcy, I daresay. She balances his seriousness nicely." His friend replied.
The Earl smirked. "And I daresay that liveliness coupled with affection leads to a very satisfactory... marriage."
Caroline withdrew, the look on her face almost ugly, only to overhear Lady Atwood, one of the most influential of the society matrons.
"Oh, she /is/a delight!" The older woman smiled. "Such a mind and such liveliness! And so in love with her husband, oh, I'd almost forgotten what young love looks like! But they are so handsome together, dark as they both are. He clearly dotes on her."
Lady Holmwood agreed. "And to think, he didn't even know who her aunt was until they married! But then, Mrs Kingston is so reticent about her family, and she and her husband are so rarely in town, even during Parliament."
Caroline's lips pinched. Learning that Mr Bennet's sister was married to one of the influential speakers of the House of Commons had been very galling indeed. Especially when she had been congratulated on her brother's making such a /valuable/connection.
"Mrs Darcy has the most glorious wit!" Mrs Grey added delightedly. "Why, she quite silenced that grasping Miss Johnson, did you hear? Oh, I think she will be a great addition to our society, indeed. Lady Anne would have adored her."
Caroline gasped at the reference to Mr Darcy's mother.
"Oh, yes." Nodded Lady Atwood. "Lady Anne never wanted anything but the best for her son, and she loves him so much, especially with all their troubles. And certainly Mrs Darcy is the best for /him/. She may lack for money, but her father is still a gentleman, of long standing I believe."
"Over two hundred years." Lady Holmwood clarified. "I heard that it was one of the first estates to bear an entail."
"Yes, so unfortunate. To be unable to buy and sell land to make an estate more profitable... My husband was quite voluble on it when our son suggested it." Mrs Grey smiled. "Still, I think her charming."
"Oh, indeed." Lady Atwood agreed with passion. "A most valuable addition to the /Ton/. And her sister, such a sweet young lady."
"Of course. I've heard that the youngest sister married poorly though." Mrs Grey looked concerned.
"A lieutenant in the regulars." Lady Holmwood waved a hand dismissively. "Probably alove-match if the silly girl eloped as some have said."
Caroline longed to inform them of the length of time between the elopement and the wedding, but could not. Not only had her brother forbidden her to talk of such things, but she was now related to the Bennets. Any gossip concerning them would concern her too.
She moved away from the group, not wanting to hear any more compliments regarding the'charming' Mrs Darcy and her 'glorious wit'. She was soon led to the dance-floor by a Mr Black of reasonable standing, but little else. Afterwards, she made her way as quickly as possible away from him.
It was this last overheard conversation that truly ruined her evening. She ended up sat near Lord and Lady Matlock and their elder son, Lord Buxton.
"...thoroughly agree with him. Elizabeth is truly charming." Lord Buxton complimented his new cousin. "I was slightly worried about the lack of fortune..."
"Come, James, Darcy has no need of fortune in his marriage." Lord Matlock laughed. "The lack of connection was worrying, but then her aunt and uncle... I cannot imagine a reason for keeping such a thing quiet!"
"Privacy. Although it does seem a little odd..." Buxton frowned.
"Odd!" Lady Matlock laughed. "Elizabeth has informed me that her father and uncle share, among others, two overwhelming traits: privacy, and eccentricity."
"Eleanor!" Matlock half-scolded her, even as her son laughed.
"The Bingleys are an acceptable connection, though." Buxton pointed out.
"Yes, a good match for both. By marrying a gentleman's daughter, he secures his future position as a gentleman, although I suppose he might have founder a richer woman. However, by marrying well, she helps secure wealth and help for her family. Of course," Matlock smiled indulgently, "love makes the connection all the more favourable and rare."
"Yes, it does. And Mrs Bingley's beauty and manners leave nothing to be desired. She is not quite as lively as Elizabeth, but they possess the same sweetness. Of course, I've been assured by both Elizabeth and Bingley that Jane is an angel on Earth!" Lady Matlock smiled again. "And I cannot disagree. I am satisfied with the connection - a love match is so precious."
"It is. I had almost despaired of Darcy managing one, with all the grasping females around him." Buxton shuddered. "Including his best friend's sister. How disappointed must poor Miss Bingley be!"
Caroline started at this casual phrase, almost bordering on mockery.
"Honestly, James, she may have made her way into many of the higher establishments, but she is still nouveau riche/." Lady Matlock sniffed. "Her brother is an amiable, kind, honest man, and that gains him entrance. /He has secured himself. Darcy says he's looking to finally buy an estate, and then he will be settled. But Miss Bingley... That woman has a cruel and cutting tongue. Idaresay she thinks herself witty. The number of young women she has cut..."
"How could anyone take a cut from her seriously?" Buxton enquired. "She's a tradesman's daughter!"
Caroline's breath stopped. Her worst fears realised themselves. The upper echelons of society recognising and remembering her roots and origins. Her parentage. She was an attractive young woman, reasonably intelligent, accomplished with afortune of twenty-thousand pounds. Obviously, however, this had not cleared her of the crime of having a father in trade.
"And she was always angling for Darcy. He gave her no encouragement at all, and she continued. She's positively terrified Georgiana over the years - the poor girl was so glad when she heard the news that Darcy was to marry Elizabeth, she apparently danced around the music room with Mrs Annesley." Buxton chuckled. "That/woman/ has a nasty mercenary streak that Darcy spotted the moment he met her. He only accepted it because she was Bingley's sister."
Caroline reeled back in shock. Surely Mr Darcy did not dislike her! She looked for the man across the room with fresh eyes. He was stood with his wife, charming the ladies who had earlier degraded her, and she could see the genuine laughter startling itself out of the unwilling women. Darcy's attention was on Elizabeth. He had never gazed at her like that. Never touched her back comfortingly. Never danced even slightly closer than propriety dictated as did with /her/.
Caroline had never had a chance. She had made the fatal mistake of not realising that Mr Darcy needed to /fall in love/, not accept someone who ingratiated themselves adequately. She bristled at the talk of Georgiana though. She had /never/meant to frighten the girl! She had always found the shy girl charming, considered her a friend, despite the ease of manipulating her. She was disappointed that the girl thought she had used her to get to her brother. At first, certainly, but she had learned to truly care for Georgiana.
"Darcy has some/pride." Matlock declared quietly. "He would /never have married less than a gentleman's daughter. Miss Bingley would do well for a lesser estate owner or someone in need of her dowry, but she could never be a Darcy of Pemberley."
"Besides," Lady Matlock sniffed, "she was only in love with Darcy's fortune and position, never him. He could never be happy. Not with a fortune-hunter."
Caroline quickly moved away, not wanting to hear anything else. She prayed that no one else had overheard. It was one thing to be told she would never be Mrs Darcy, but to be declared a fortune-hunter...
And it was quite another to think that Elizabeth Bennet had snatched the title of Mistress of Pemberley from her than to discover she had never had a chance.
Those offers -to dance or for marriage - she had turned down in hopes of Mr Darcy! Those hours ingratiating herself, only to discover she had never had any hope of him.
That night, in the privacy of her bedchamber, she wept for the lost opportunities of the years.
From then on, Miss Bingley dropt all her resentment; was fonder than ever of Georgiana, almost as attentive to Darcy as heretofore, and paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth.*
She may be 'only' a tradesman's daughter, but now she was a proud one.
*From /Pride and Prejudice,/Volume III, Chapter XIX (61)