Pride and Prejudice’s 200th Anniversary Retellings
Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy discuss Mr. Bingley’s desire to let Netherfield Park.
(The Scene: Bingley has taken up residence at the estate, but the neighborhood has yet to make their morning calls. Bingley has asked for Darcy’s assistance in determining the estate’s fitness, and Darcy is all too happy to guide his friend’s choices.)
Darcy closed his eyes and pictured Georgiana. For a fleeting moment, he could vividly see the sweetness of her smile. He slowly refolded the letter, savoring the moment as if it were a magical interlude, and then placed it in the inside pocket of his morning jacket. The sound of Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst in the morning room interrupted his reflections. He would need to join them for breakfast, but he would sorely prefer to dwell awhile longer on his thoughts of his sister’s recovery. Reluctantly, he unfolded his frame, stood, adjusted his clothing, and strode purposely from the library to join his hosts.
“Ah, Mr. Darcy, I see you have risen before the rest of our party,” Caroline said as he entered the room.
Darcy made a quick bow to both Caroline and her sister before crossing to the breakfast repast to refill his cup one last time. He politely replied, “It is true, Miss Bingley, I prefer to rise early. It is a habit my late father instilled in me many years ago. This morning, besides your family’s hospitality, I have read a letter from my sister.”
“How is dear Georgiana?” she replied without any true concern evident in her voice.
Typical for Caroline Bingley, thought Darcy; she knows the right words to say in each situation, but Miss Bingley possesses no real emotion—no real thoughts of her own. The lady mimics those about her. “My sister enjoys her time in London with her favorite pastime—music.” He had hoped that this would end Caroline’s attentions, but unfortunately, the lady strolled over to where Darcy examined the choices under the covered dishes. Supposedly, she wished to refill the chocolate in her cup, but they both knew she sought a closer proximity to him. She would display her “wares” for his pleasure: a glance at her long, elegant neck, her creamy complexion, and her décolleté. As a man of wealth, a man often targeted by women in pursuit of a husband, Darcy recognized her game. He had learned to gracefully avoid such claims on his time by employing a haughty, prideful manner; his esteemed father had pointed out long ago that a man of fortune could offer indifference to such ambitions. Now, as Caroline sashayed across the room playing up her feminine qualities, Darcy took on a familiar somber attitude.
“I do wish Georgiana could have joined us at Netherfield,” she said, refilling the cup and taking a step closer to him. “Surely, you could send for her, Mr. Darcy. I so long to renew our acquaintance.”
Again, the lady says what is polite, Darcy reminded himself, but not what is sincere. If Caroline knew the real Georgiana, the lady would understand that keeping company is one of my sister’s least favorite activities.
“She has her studies to which to attend,” Darcy responded as he purposely walked away, increasing the distance between them, and taking up a position by the window. Turning to observe the grounds, he continued, “Will your brother be down soon? I had hoped we could survey the estate today.”
As if on cue, Charles Bingley sauntered into the room. “Come, Darcy, tell me I am not tardy? You speak, Sir, as sternly as my former tutors regarding my punctuality,” he said good-naturedly as he bent to kiss his eldest sister’s upturned cheek. “We will have plenty of time to explore my lands.” He winked at Darcy. “Of course, they will never compare to your Pemberley, but it will be a fit beginning, do you not think?”’
Making a slight nodding bow to his friend, Darcy could not help but get caught up in Charles’s enthusiasm. Darcy’s smile came easy when he was with Bingley. Although their acquaintance had been a short one, he and the young man had become fast friends. “In my opinion, nothing can compare with Pemberley except possibly Inveraray in Argyll or that property I observed in Rambouillet, outside of Paris. Of course, it had an English style park,” he said genially, as he accepted another cup of dark tea from the servant. “I suppose St. James might measure up.” He laughed at his own attempt at humor. In a more serious vein, he said, “We should survey the fields, the fence line, and observe the homesteads on the estate.Then we may assess what to address immediately and what to delay until the new growing season. We should do so before the obligatory calls from your neighbors begin and before you decide to stay in Hertfordshire.”
“I am most agreeably considering my new neighbors,” Bingley replied as he fixed himself a plate of eggs and ham and sliced fruit.
“I fear,” said Darcy assuming his superior attitude once again, “you will find little true society in Hertfordshire. It is a country setting and is likely lacking in manners and refinement.”
“Darcy, you should open yourself more to new adventures,” Bingley teased.
“I concur with Mr. Darcy,” Caroline intoned haughtily. “I cannot imagine what would lead anyone to think that Society existed outside of London. Surely, Hertfordshire lacks any idea of fashion or fine manners.”
Bingley’s countenance took on its usual teasing attitude. “If that be so, Caroline, you will be credited with changing my neighbors’ lives forever. Every woman will want to copy your style, and men will be eating from your hand.”
Caroline dropped her eyes in a coy manner after darting a glance at Darcy. The lady, obviously, hoped that he found her “style” to his liking. Not today, Caroline, he thought. Your feminine wiles are wasted on me. When I choose a mate, she will be refined and a credit to the Darcy name. She will possess an innate intelligence and a temper remarkably easy. She will, of course, be everything that is generous and considerate, especially to my sister, and the lady in question will be sensible of her uncommon good fortune of marrying into the Darcy family.
Darcy changed into his riding coat and boots and rushed toward the stables; since he was in leading straps, he had loved being in the saddle. Cerberus waited for him at the mounting block. Normally, a man of property rode such an inspection of his land in the springtime, but Charles Bingley had made an impetuous decision. He had only of late decided that he should take possession of Netherfield Park – without the usual inquiries of the soundness of the structures or the condition of the land. Then Bingley had “begged” Darcy to lend his expertise in what to address in the estate’s upkeep. Bingley was quickly learning that in Society land ownership determined acceptance. Darcy had inherited Pemberley through a system of primogeniture. As Bingley’s father had made his wealth in trade, he held neither ancestral ties to the land nor any real knowledge of the accountability involved in owning an estate.
As they prepared to ride out, Darcy, in his element, noted, “I have observed several points of interest over the past few days of which you should be aware.” He watched while Bingley climbed into the saddle aboard a gray gelding. “Netherfield Park holds areas where drainage needs to be addressed in a timely manner, but it also possesses immediate grounds offering paths and parkways for its owner’s pleasure. You may have stumbled across a slightly tarnished gem. The question to be determined is how tarnished?” Darcy smiled largely as he kicked Cerberus’s sides.
“A treasure hunt!” Bingley declared as he followed Darcy into the forested area behind the main house. For the next hour they rode together, stopping periodically for Darcy to point out what Bingley’s untrained eyes could not see. Finally, Bingley led them to a small hill where they might get a better view of the prospect leading to Netherfield’s main drive. Smugly, Bingley queried, “Well, Darcy, do I have your blessing in this matter?”
“Let us wait a bit longer, my friend,” Darcy began, “until you have spent a winter at Netherfield. A fine home in the late summer or early autumn may be a drafty pit in the winter.”
“Darcy, you are the voice of gloom,” Bingley laughed. “Why can you not be happy for me?”
Darcy flushed with his friend’s taunt. Despite Bingley’s sometimes-impetuous nature, he truly enjoyed the man’s company. He had missed having a close male companion with whom he could share moments such as these. With his duties to Pemberley and to Georgiana, he sometimes saw life with a stern resentment. Bingley’s spirit of activity brought a new aspect to Darcy’s life. “Gloom seems like sound reason from my perspective,” he reasoned, but thought once again of his consciousness of misery. Of late, he could not quell the loneliness that had invaded his soul.
Bingley turned his mount toward his new home. Shaken from his thoughts, Darcy circled Cerberus to follow, but a glint of color moving along the road below them and to the right caught his attention. He pulled up on the reins to keep the horse in place, and upon closer inspection, he realized a young woman strode along at a robust pace. How unladylike he thought. Yet, her obvious joy at ignoring propriety had momentarily intrigued him, and he had found himself smiling at the sight of such unbridled freedom. She is delightfully happy. He watched her until she was out of sight, and while he looked on, he could not help but wonder if he had ever been so delightfully happy. Had he ever known pure abandonment in something as simple as walking along a country road?
Upon their return to Netherfield, both men washed the dust of their rides away and retired to the study to recapture their thoughts on Bingley’s investment. “The lodge is stately and will serve you well, especially for shooting parties.”
“The stream is adequately stocked, although the wooded area was a bit over grown,” Bingley observed.
“Being able to harvest some of the wooded area for heating purposes will serve the estate, Bingley, and you may choose to sell off some of the lumber for profit. Yet, be sure seedlings are available to replenish the area.”
“I never considered those possibilities, Darcy. Your counsel is invaluable to me.”
Darcy again felt the comfort of friendship. Something missing from his life of late. “As for the house itself, the lighting in the dining room, morning room, and study is pleasantly suited – picking up the early light. Of course, for my taste, I hope, Bingley, you will address the library’s need for comfortable furniture and adequate evening lighting.”
“Sometimes, I forget, Darcy, how much you pride yourself on the reputation of Pemberley’s library. Although I am not the reader you are, I will certainly address my home’s shortcomings,” Bingley mocked.
Their conversations continued along this vein until dinnertime when the gentlemen dressed for the meal and escorted the ladies into the formal dining room. Congenial conversation followed the meal of several courses. “We received,” confided Miss Bingley, “several cards and invitations from our neighbors. I expect some gentlemen to call tomorrow to pay their respects.”
“I am anticipating becoming acquainted with the locals,” Bingley beamed.
“Do not imagine that the local gentry has much to offer in the way of polite society,” Darcy had returned to his earlier disparagements. As he said the words, h thought of the girl on the road again. She had certainly abandoned all propriety. “Country manners, I find, are greatly lacking in a sense of decorum. One might note the preponderance of gross ignorance, some meanness of opinions, and very distressing vulgarity of manners. No doubt many of your neighbors will be intolerable.”
Caroline added, “I expect Mr. Darcy to have the right of it, Charles. In the country, the peoples’ very rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different from what we know in Town.”
(The scene comes from Regina Jeffers’ first novel, Darcy’s Passions.)