Welcome back to Austen Promises!
Today’s post is a scene that was cut from another story. I got stuck with the story and decided to go a different direction. It’s another vignette, but it’s a longish one.
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Later that morning, Darcy rose again, dressing to go riding before breaking his fast. When he finally arrived in the breakfast room, his host and friend, Charles Bingley, was just filling a plate.
“Good morning! How was your ride?” Bingley carried his plate to the table and sat, nodding at the footman who offered him coffee.
“Apollo and I had an excellent excursion. The country here is beautiful.”
“Good, good.” Bingley lifted his fork. “I was going to ask how you found the place.”
“This is a lovely estate, and there are some equally lovely people in the area.”
Bingley grinned and swallowed his mouthful of eggs. “I could not agree more.”
Darcy chuckled, his head shaking. “That is because you have snatched up the most beautiful woman in the neighborhood.”
“I have.” Bingley’s grin grew wider. “I am a lucky man.”
“You are. Miss Bennet is perfect for you, and it is clear she adores you as much as you do her.”
Bingley pointed his utensil at his friend. “My sisters do not think so. They lectured me to no end about her, trying to persuade me against my choice.”
“Good for you for standing firm. You have given in to their urgings too often. It is time you became your own man.” Darcy paused. “I would go so far as to say you should give less credence to even my own opinions. You became my friend when you knew little of society and had few connections, but after a dozen years, I would say you are quite capable of standing on your own.” He lifted his coffee in a toast. “I am proud of how far you have come.”
Bingley had stopped eating as his friend had spoken. His lips broadened into a wide smile. “Thank you, Darcy. It feels good to be viewed as a thinking adult.” He puffed out his chest for a moment then laughed and resumed his usual posture. “I thought Caroline might appeal to you upon your arrival and convince you to make me see things differently.”
“Oh, she did. She tried, anyway. Caroline and Louisa together cornered me in this very room my first day here.” Darcy shrugged. “They were less than pleased to hear my refusal. I finally gave in enough to promise to examine Miss Bennet and, if I did not see equal devotion, which they assured me I would not, to speak to you about it. I strenuously reminded them that your honor is engaged and you could not break the engagement, regardless, but you know your sisters.”
Bingley rolled his eyes. “I do know them. I apologize.” He paused, looking down at his plate and then back up at Darcy. “Just out of curiosity, what did you tell them when you reported back?”
“That I did not understand how they could not see Miss Bennet’s devotion to you and that I would not be interfering in your happiness.” Darcy set his cup on the table and picked up his fork. “What are your plans for the morning?”
Bingley grinned at his friend for a long moment. “Thank you, Darcy. You are an excellent friend.” He cleared his throat. “I plan to visit my betrothed at Longbourn this morning. Care to join me?”
“As a matter of fact, I would, if you do not mind.”
“Not at all. You are always welcome.”
Just then, Bingley’s sisters could be heard at the door and by mutual, unspoken agreement, he and Darcy ceased their conversation.
“Good morning.” Caroline Bingley breezed into the room, her sister behind her and trailed by Mr. Hurst, Louisa’s husband.
Darcy and Bingley rose to greet his family and, once that was completed, resumed their seats to finish their meals.
“Good morning.” Bingley’s slightly subdued reply gave evidence that he remained upset with his sisters.
Darcy carefully examined his friend’s face, but, seeing nothing that would indicate Bingley intended to continue their conversation, applied himself to finishing his meal. He looked up when the scent of oranges wafted over him.
Caroline took the seat next to Darcy, smiling at him as she unfolded her napkin and draped it across her lap. “Did you sleep well, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy took his time to reply, swallowing his last bite of eggs and washing them down with coffee. “I did. Thank you.”
“Excellent.” Caroline reached for the pastry on her plate, using her knife to cut it in four pieces. “Is there anything I can get for you to make your stay with us more … comfortable?” She tilted her head, sending him a flirty smile.
“Thank you, no. I have all I need.” Darcy’s mien remained somber. He learned long ago that the best way to deal with Caroline was to give her no encouragement. He speared the last bit of ham off his plate and put it in his mouth, then placed his fork on the table beside it and used the napkin to blot his lips. He picked up his coffee, leaning back in his chair as he sipped.
Caroline gazed at her brother’s friend for a couple more seconds before returning her attention to her plate. She daintily picked up a piece of her pastry, addressing Bingley as she did so. “What are your plans today, Brother dear?”
“I intend to visit Jane this morning. You have things to do to ready the house for the Christmas ball and I intend to stay out of your way.” Bingley paused to sip his own beverage, tipping his head toward his friend as he set the cup down. “I am taking Darcy with me. We will probably be gone all day.”
“That is probably a good idea. We have so much left to do.” Louisa buttered her toast.
“I suspected as much.” Bingley looked beyond his eldest sister to her husband. “Do you wish to come with us, Hurst?”
Mr. Hurst shook his head. “Thank you, but no.” He looked out the window, gesturing with his fork at the cloudy sky. “I would like to get in some sport today. Perhaps I can bag a few birds to add to the table for the ball.”
“Why are you taking Mr. Darcy with you?” Caroline frowned. “There is nothing at Longbourn for him, and surely he does not wish to listen to Mrs. Bennet’s loud crowing all day.” She turned to the gentleman sitting beside her. “I am certain you would much rather spend all day here, with us.” Caroline lifted her lips in that same come-hither smile she had given him just a few minutes earlier.
Darcy set his now-empty cup on the table. “Actually, I am eager to spend time at Longbourn. My best friend is going to marry the eldest daughter of that house, and it behooves me to get to know all the members of the family better.”
Caroline drew her head back, her brows creasing as her smile turned into a frown. “You have been here a fortnight and had numerous interactions with the entire Bennet clan. Surely you are not suggesting you desire to willingly submit yourself to the headache that will result from being in Mrs. Bennet’s presence for a prolonged period.”
“I assure you I do desire just such a thing.” Darcy saw that Bingley was finished eating and rose, tossing his napkin on the table. “I am eager to admire all the ladies of Longbourn and to be entertained by them, from Mrs. Bennet right on down to Miss Lydia.” He bowed and stepped away from the table. “Good day to you all.”
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