What if, after the Bingley-Hurst-Darcy contingent left Netherfield Park, someone older and wiser showed up to ask them why? Introducing Mrs. Bingley, the mother of Charles, Caroline and Luisa, to do just that in The Forgiving Season.
“I couldn’t make a lick of sense of Charles’ explanation earlier, Mr. Darcy,” Mrs. Bingley said. “Perhaps you can tell me, why did you all depart Hertfordshire? I did gather that Charles had a business concern, of which he didn’t wish to speak and undoubtedly doesn’t want me to bring up, but that doesn’t explain why all of you made such an abrupt departure. In his letters, it sounded as if everyone was enjoying the countryside.”
Though she’d posed the question earlier, Darcy still hadn’t managed to formulate an acceptable reply. He looked to Bingley’s sisters, feeling decidedly uncomfortable. They stared back, offering no aid. If Darcy must speak, he would speak the truth, and the silence that now blanketed them was growing insufferable.
Mrs. Bingley’s eyes narrowed. “Do you know what is odd about the letters my children wrote me from Hertfordshire, Mr. Darcy?”
He blinked, suspicious of the reprieve. “I do not.”
“My daughters told me how dreary a place Hertfordshire is, and how drafty Netherfield Park,” she said. “They deemed the company unbearable. Aside from yourself, of course.”
Darcy inclined his head in acknowledgement of the exception.
Mrs. Bingley offered her daughters a sad look before turning back to Darcy. “As with many of their letters, I was not very subtly made to understand I wouldn’t be happy where they were. It’s a terrible life they lead, from what I read in their correspondence, where every place is miserable and all people they meet unbearable.”
“That is unfortunate,” Darcy said. Yes, an aversion to people in trade taken a considerable length too far.
He glanced away from Mrs. Bingley to take in the others seated at the table. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst looked down at their plates. The red of a blush colored what was visible of Miss Bingley’s face and neck, but from the glimpse he could see of Mrs. Hurst’s face, she was defiant. Bingley looked back and forth between his sisters, frowning. Mr. Hurst reached for a platter of potatoes.
“Yes, it is rather unfortunate, but that is not what struck me as odd,” Mrs. Bingley continued. “What was arresting, was the difference in Charles’ letters. Normally, he is polite and relates events and people with what I feel is little bias, as in his praise for you.”
“Mr. Darcy is Charles’ singular friend, Mama,” Miss Bingley said, looking up.
“Yes, and I can see why, dear.” Mrs. Bingley didn’t look at her daughter, her attention on Darcy. “Charles’ letters from Hertfordshire began as usual, but soon took on what I can only call a tone of heightened joy, one I’ve never seen in his correspondence before. There was also frequent mention of a Miss Jane Bennet, culminating in his use of a word I’d worried not to hear from him for years to come, marriage. You see, it was not only my children’s’ reluctance to visit me for Christmas that spurred my journey south. That is a regular occurrence. This year, however, I was desirous of meeting this singular creature who could draw the intention of marrying from my son. Yet, as you know, I reached Netherfield Park to find you all departed.” She released Darcy from her scrutiny, her gaze going around the table. “Now, one of you will inform me as to why.”
Darcy had no idea Bingley hadn’t seriously contemplated marriage before meeting Miss Bennet. He’d often seemed in love, languishing over this girl or that. If Darcy had known Bingley’s mother was alive, he would have suspected her tired of hearing about various young women, not waiting for tales of one.
“You wrote to Mama about Miss Bennet?” Miss Bingley’s tone was accusatory as she turned to her brother. “But, Charles, how could you?”
“Yes, I wrote to Mother about her.” Bingley frowned. “I mean to marry her. What brought me to London won’t take long to resolve, and then I’m going back.” He turned to Darcy with narrowed eyes. “Not to be ungrateful, Darcy, for your home is far preferable to a hotel, but may I ask for your reason in returning to London? Caroline said you wished to have Christmas here and bring your sister in from Pemberley.”
Darcy turned to Miss Bingley with raised eyebrows. She flushed. He wondered how long-reaching her plans were when she came to him in the library at Netherfield. Had the goal simply been to remove Bingley from Miss Bennet, or had her machinations already included him hosting Christmas and Georgiana’s inclusion?
“Caroline.” Mrs. Bingley’s voice was hard. “What have you been doing?”
Miss Bingley stared at her mother. She looked to Mrs. Hurst, who shook her head.
“Caroline,” Mrs. Bingley repeated.
“Charles can’t marry Miss Bennet,” Miss Bingley exclaimed. She raised her hands, beseeching. “She’s wholly unsuitable. She would be a terrible match for him. Louisa agrees with me, and Mr. Darcy. We were all part of the plan.”
Darcy winced as Bingley and his mother turned astonished eyes on him. At the edges of the room, he could feel his staff attempting to meld inconspicuously with the woodwork, but he knew they took in every word. Eyes on the lavish spread, Mr. Hurst reached for another serving plate.
Mrs. Bingley returned her attention to her younger daughter. “Why is she unsuitable? Charles told me she is lovely and kind. Are those not traits you want for him in a wife?”
Miss Bingley looked between her sister and Darcy, expression beseeching.
“Well, she is those things,” Mrs. Hurst said. “But her family is awful. All of them. You wouldn’t want them as relatives.”
“I see. Are they in trade?” Mrs. Bingley asked.
“No, they are not,” Darcy said, finding a question he could reply to. In the face of how Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst treated their own mother, he was beginning to question siding with them against anyone, even the crasser members of Elizabeth’s family.
“Some of the relatives are,” Mrs. Hurst said.
Mrs. Bingley gave her a sad look and turned to her son. “You didn’t mention Miss Bennet’s family.”
“They are perfectly likeable people,” Bingley said.
“That means nothing coming from you,” Miss Bingley said. “You like everyone when you meet them. They are horrible and will wear on you, Charles. Even if you found happiness with Miss Bennet, they would ruin that happiness in time.”
Bingley frowned at her. “Miss Bennet’s family won’t bother me.”
“Of course, they will,” Mrs. Hurst exclaimed. “They’re insufferable.”
“There’s another objection,” Darcy said, for if he was embroiled in this excess of drama, he may as well speak his peace. He addressed his words to Bingley. “Miss Bennet doesn’t love you. She likes you and would accept an offer of marriage, but only because her mother wants her to marry someone wealthy.” He added in an aside to Mrs. Bingley, “The estate is entailed away from the daughters, making it so marriage to a wealthy man is important.”
“Why do you think she doesn’t love me?” Bingley asked, worry replacing anger for the first time since Miss Bingley admitted to their subterfuge.
Darcy collected his thoughts, seeking the words he’d crafted in the seclusion of his club. “She is too calm. She isn’t excited to see you or let down when you leave.” He went silent, feeling decidedly awkward. This was not the private discussion he’d planned.
“You see, Mama, Mr. Darcy says she doesn’t love Charles,” Miss Bingley said. “We had to remove him before he did something irreversible, and then follow so he wouldn’t go back.”
“Remove me?” Bingley repeated, frowning. “How?”
“Hush, Charles,” Mrs. Hurst snapped, darting a look Darcy’s way. “That’s not important.” The timing was wrong for Bingley’s sisters to have arranged the letter summoning Bingley to town. Did they suspect Darcy had done it earlier? Darcy bristled for them to think he would do such a thing, even knowing he’d considered it. Besides, Bingley would have returned quickly if there were no real reason for him to be in London. Whatever his business was, it was taking a little time.
“It is if you interfered with my concerns.”
There was another tense silence as Bingley glared at his sisters. Miss Bingley cast Darcy a beseeching look, which he ignored. He wasn’t going to rescue them. He had not arranged the letter.
“You are good at judging people?” Mrs. Bingley asked Darcy, breaking the tense tableau.
“I believe I am,” Darcy replied, relieved to be on surer footing. “I have to hire many people, and I’ve had practice judging people.”
“And I daresay you never make a mistake?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.
Darcy shook his head in the negative a moment before his mind fully caught up with the question. Never… that was a longtime. Had he?
A smile touched Mrs. Bingley’s lips. “How fortunate for you that you’ve never made any mistakes when assessing others. My deceased husband had to hire both for our household and his businesses. He was usually right, but sometimes he wasn’t. Some people fooled him, despite all his experience. He must have hired hundreds of people over the years. He would be the first to admit to you that sometimes he was wrong.”
Darcy stared at her. He could feel heat creeping up his neck. He hadn’t hired a hundred people.
Now that he thought about it, saying he’d hired many people was a gross exaggeration. He employed many people, but most of them had been hired by the few people whose job it was to do that, and those people hired by his father, rather than him.
The thought flashed through his mind that in one case where his choice of employee had truly mattered, he’d selected someone who was nearly disastrous. He, and he alone, had hired Georgiana’s governess. The woman who’d given Wickham access to his sister and encouraged Georgiana to elope with him. It was only by chance that Darcy had visited Georgiana, and his presence caused her to confess to the planned elopement, so he could put a stop to it.
Mrs. Bingley must have sensed his discomfort, for her expression softened back to its earlier kindness. She turned to her son. “Do you think she loves you, Charles?”
Bingley frowned for a long moment. He nodded. “I do. I love Miss Bennet, and I truly believe she reciprocates the feeling.” He cast a glower toward his sisters. “And I find her family perfectly acceptable.”
Mrs. Bingley looked about the table again. “There you have it, then. Charles must get to know this young lady better and associate closely with her family to see if they are acceptable to him. Then, he will be better able to select a proper course of action, though I don’t believe anyone but God knows our hearts.”
“Mama, you–” Mrs. Hurst began.
“No,” Mrs. Bingley interrupted. “Charles could be right. The rest of you could be wrong.”
“But, Mama,” Miss Bingley said. “If he decides not to marry her, he is leading her on. She is a sweet girl. I will admit that. It would be wrong to hurt her.”
Mrs. Bingley shrugged. “Then Charles will agree to spend less time in company with her. He will make a point of associating with others in her family. Bring them over to Netherfield Park regularly, not single Miss Bennet out.”
~ THE GIVEAWAY! ~
In The Forgiving Season, Mrs. Bingley is an older, wiser version of her son Charles and possesses his affable and kind nature, but that is only one possible interpretation. As she is not featured in Pride and Prejudice, we can only know Mrs. Bingley through her children.
What do you believe the woman who is mother to the lovable Charles Bingley, yet also to Luisa and Caroline, would be like?
To celebrate the release of The Forgiving Season, we’re giving away two kindle copies! Just comment below to be entered.*
Good Luck and Happy Reading!
Want more Renata McMann and Summer Hanford? There are free samples of all our works on our website: www.renatamcmann.com.
*Giveaway ends on Tuesday, February 20th
Winners will be announced on Saturday, February 24th