The general lack of moxie attributed to Charles Bingley stuck in my craw from my first reading of Pride and Prejudice. I know for a certainty I am not alone in this. Two or so years ago there was a hotly contested thread about Bingley and the definition of personal responsibility over at the Meryton Literary Society’s A Happy Assembly site, and this little story was my response to it. Yes, Bingley is ultimately the author of his own actions. He allowed himself to be persuaded out of what he wanted—there is no disputing that. For me, the what-if of Bingley developing a spine became the next creative leap of faith. Not so much spine as to make him a regular Darcy—he has to still be his affable self—but rather enough his own man to realize he is miserable and sort out why for himself. So begins My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley.
But Bingley’s sisters took a huge risk in not responding to Jane Bennet’s letters announcing her presence in London. What if Caroline and Louisa had not been home and their brother was when Jane paid her call? Just to enliven the proceedings, I cast the POV from the butler, who can but guess at the tense excitement such a coincidence might create. And so let us consider what happens when…
A Lady Calls
By Linda Beutler
The butler tapped lightly at the open door to the study of the Hurst residence in London. “Excuse me, sir.”
Charles Bingley looked up with bright eyes. “Yes, Humpy?”
The butler, whose name was Humphrey, pursed his lips, expressing in doing so as much disapproval as he dared. On the whole, the staff at Hurst Place did not find Mr. Bingley’s habit of altering their names to be amusing or even quite proper.
“Sir, I am not aware of the plans of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and their maids are on errands. A lady is here, and is wondering if they may be at home to callers this afternoon.”
“I do believe they will be. They are making calls themselves just now, but Caroline, at least, intends to be at home.”
Humphrey bowed. “Thank you, Mr. Bingley.”
Bingley asked after the morning’s caller as Humphrey made for the study door. “Who is it who has called, Humpy?” His tone was not a little bored. The morning’s post held no excitement.
The servant’s shoulders sagged minutely. He turned and read the card on the salver he carried. “A Miss Jane Bennet, sir.”
Before Humphrey knew what he was about, Mr. Bingley was standing so as to plunge one handle of the salver into his silk brocade waistcoat as he snatched the card.
“Ouch, Humpy! Must you stand so close?”
Humphrey knew there was no rational response to be made.
Mr. Bingley tapped the calling card to his nose.
“Roses!” He smiled widely and stepped around Humphrey into the passage.
The servant followed and watched as Mr. Bingley dashed into the entry hall.
“Miss Bennet! How delightful to learn you are in London! You are looking very well!”
The lady curtsied and kept her face down. “Mr. Bingley!”
“Caroline will be receiving callers this afternoon. Pray tell me, how long have you been in London?”
“It has been five days, sir,” came the demure reply.
“And your family is well?”
Miss Bennet nodded but did not meet Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “Everyone at Longbourn is perfectly well, sir.”
“And you are staying…?”
Before the lady could answer, the gentleman did so for her. “Oh, but you are staying with your aunt and uncle in Gracechurch Street, are you not?”
The lady at last met Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “You remember?”
“I do!” Mr. Bingley laughed. “My sisters spoke of it enough, it rather stuck.”
The lady’s eyebrow rose, but she did not respond directly. “My aunt had business nearby this morning, and I wished to renew my friendship with your sisters. I had written—twice…” Miss Bennet quickly gave a little cough behind her hand.
Humphrey wondered if he heard her say “twice” or did the lady clear her throat?
“…I would be in town, but perhaps they have not had time to respond. The —ahem, first—letter was but a fortnight ago.” The clear blue eyes were lowered again. There was irony to be detected.
It was Mr. Bingley’s turn to raise his brows. “Yes, well, you are here now, and how lucky for me to be at home to you. Very lucky. I shall scold their manners.”
The lady appeared alarmed, but looking up, was faced with a broad smile. She returned the expression. Mr. Humphrey thought her smile held some affection.
“Please do not scold them, Mr. Bingley.”
“Why ever not? They scold me with predictable regularity. I am pleased for the reason to return the honour. Yes, most pleased.” Mr. Bingley paused a moment in apparent study of the lady caller before nodding his head decisively. “Miss Bennet, have you any engagements for this evening? I have been invited to join Darcy in his box at the theatre. He would not care were I to bring a friend, or indeed, several friends. May I invite you to join us?”
“Oh, I cannot think so, Mr. Bingley.” The lady’s chin lifted. “I cannot think Mr. Darcy would approve.”
“Nonsense! Do not call here this afternoon. I shall call on you! Give me the direction, that I might meet your relations and repeat the invitation to them. I recall you are most fond of this aunt and uncle. I shall send a card around to Darcy. Would that reassure you?”
Again the lady smiled with a warm look into Mr. Bingley’s eyes. “Yes, I would be relieved for the assurance Mr. Darcy would know me in town.”
Humphrey was as well acquainted with Mr. Bingley’s friend Mr. Darcy as a servant could be. He readily understood the lady wishing to be comforted on that score.
Mr. Bingley looked a little sour for a moment. “He only seems imposing.” The gentleman shook off his disquiet. “I am certain you will find him friendlier here than in Meryton. I shall call at two o’clock, depend upon it.”
Miss Bennet looked vastly pleased. Humphrey thought her one of the most beautiful ladies to ever visit Hurst Place.
Mr. Bingley followed the lady onto the broad top step of the house. An expensively appointed landaulet was just pulling to a halt.
“Here is my aunt for me, sir. The direction of their home is on my card.”
Mr. Bingley held out his hand and Miss Bennet placed her gloved one in his. He looked into her eyes. “What is the date, Miss Bennet?”
“’Tis the seventh of January, sir.”
“Let us remember this day. Let us have seven be our lucky number, shall we?” He bent and kissed her gloved hand, holding his lips against the thin leather for longer than seemed necessary.
The lady blushed and grew agitated.
Mr. Bingley laughed, sounding a triumphant little crow. “Until two o’clock?”
Miss Bennet nodded with a happy smile and turned away.
Mr. Bingley closed the door and crossed the entry hall. “Humpy! This is my lucky day! The luckiest day of my life!”
Humphrey could not be quite as pleased with it, and did not adequately hide the roll of his eyes, to be so addressed.
Mr. Bingley saw the look. “So sorry, Mr. Humphrey. I should not try your patience. When my high spirits get the better of me, please remind me of your preference. I know better. I do. Now I must write to Darcy. Send a footman to me, Mr. Humphrey.”
A lucky day indeed. He took a greater liking to the lady caller, Miss Jane Bennet. He hoped to see more of her, if her presence inspired such an improvement in Mr. Bingley. “Very good, sir!” Humphrey nodded and nearly smiled.