It is no secret that I am a Janeite. I love Jane Austen’s writing, and am constantly inspired by her. I am not alone in this. Many, many talented authors have taken the step into writing sequels and variations on Jane Austen’s classic novels. Provoked by a recent question on one of my favorite blogs, I have followed their lead into a piece of “fan fiction.” I have written a short story (my first), posted here. Your comments would be appreciated!
The Murder of Caroline Bingley…
By Lauren Gilbert
Miss Bingley paced the drawing room. “I must be rid of her!” she fumed to herself. “She has bewitched him, and the others follow him like sheep. With her out of the way, it would be easier to convince him that there are other, worthier consorts.” Miss Bingley had just returned from a visit to her brother Charles and his wife Jane. Of necessity, a visit had been paid to Pemberley. Observing Darcy’s felicity with that brass-faced hussy had poured salt into a wound that had never healed. Just then, her sister Mrs. Hurst entered the room. “La, Caroline, do sit down!” she exclaimed in annoyance. “Watching you prowl the room gives me a nervous headache. Whatever is troubling you now?”
“Oh, Louisa, I am … I am … I am offended and resent the fact that that unworthy wretch has the power to affect me so.” Mrs. Hurst nodded wearily. “Ah, I see we are back to Mrs. Darcy yet again. Caroline, you must give it up. They have been married for three years, and a blind man could see how contented he is with her. Can you not see how you demean yourself? You are approaching thirty, after all, and no nearer to settling yourself than you ever have been.” Caroline looked at her sister angrily. “Demean myself? How could I demean myself more than by settling for a less eligible parti? Before Miss Eliza Bennet practiced her allurements on Mr. Darcy, he found me … attractive enough. In time…”
By now, thoroughly tired of the endless discussion of the iniquities of Mrs. Darcy, Mrs. Hurst responded bluntly. “Frankly, Caroline, I saw no indication of any interest in you on Darcy’s part. He has always been polite and gracious enough to us, as sisters of his friend. I daresay, if not for Charles, we may never have formed acquaintance with Mr. Darcy and his sister at all. Don’t let the wish become fact in hindsight, my dear. ‘If only…’ are two of the most futile words. You must come to terms with reality, sister, and think of your future.” Aggravated beyond measure, Caroline flounced out of the drawing room, leaving Mrs. Hurst alone.
Gazing absently, Louisa Hurst reflected on the situation. When Mr. Hurst agreed to allow Caroline to live with them, it was with the understanding that the arrangement would last only so long as needed for Caroline to marry and form her own establishment. Instead, Caroline had been with them for several years. Mr. Hurst had given her yet another uncomfortable reminder of the household expenses, and she had not had the fortitude to mention that several of the bills in question included purchases made by Caroline and charged to Louisa’s accounts.
Although Louisa and Caroline had received equal settlements from their father, Caroline’s finances were in much better condition than her own, due to Caroline contributing nothing to the household and being slow to repay Louisa for her purchases. With an unladylike grimace, Louisa faced yet another unpleasant confrontation: trying to convince Caroline to reimburse Louisa for her purchases, and to set up her own accounts. Mr. Hurst had not yet mentioned the dread word “retrench”, but she feared the bare possibility, as Mr. Hurst’s idea of retrenchment involved year-round residence at their home in the country.
In her own room, Caroline also stared out of the window, her thoughts equally unpleasant. In just a few months, she and the Hursts would be accompanying the Bingleys to Pemberley for an extended visit. The gentlemen would be hunting and fishing, leaving the ladies to entertain themselves. “More opportunity for her to flaunt her success!” steamed Caroline. “It is not to be born.” This time would be different, she determined. She was not sure how it would come to pass, but she would see her rival humbled, if not eliminated altogether. “Wait. Eliminated…” thought Caroline. Elizabeth…gone, removed, as if she had never been. But how to encompass such an elimination? Wild thoughts of hiring someone to carry Elizabeth off flitted though her mind, only to be dismissed. “Darcy would insist on trying to bring her back. Convincing Darcy that Elizabeth was a fallen woman would take too long; then, there would come the difficulties of divorce.” No, something far more permanent was needed. Caroline sat, lost in thought.
Louisa was passing through the hall, when a servant presented her with a sealed missive. Opening it, she discovered an outrageous bill for ells of expensive lace, purchased by Caroline and charged to her account! Over one hundred pounds…for lace! Suddenly, Louise could bear no more. Feeling as if her head were going to burst, Louise ran up the stairs and rapped on Caroline’s door. When the door opened, Louisa pushed her way in so impetuously that Caroline almost fell. “What do you mean by this?” she hissed. “I have asked you repeatedly to start paying for your purchases. This is ridiculous!” Brushing her skirt exaggeratedly, Caroline sniffed and turned away. She tossed the length of lace at Louisa. “Why should I?” she asked. “My few little purchases…” “Little purchases?” replied Louisa, ominously quiet. “Over one hundred pounds for lace is no ‘little’ purchase! I will notify my purveyors that you are not authorized to charge any items on my accounts tomorrow. This is finished!” Shutting the door gently behind her, Louisa took herself into the garden, not noticing she still held the lace crumpled in her hand.
Shrugging her shoulders, Caroline adjusted her hat just so, threw on a shawl, picked up her reticule and left the house, after waiting impatiently for the servant to open the door. She walked briskly to the apothecary shop in the shop district, and stood at the counter, studying the bottles and jars to see what useful substance might be available. Weighing the advantages of laudanum, she stood irresolutely. Just then, she was approached by an unusually-garbed woman. “May I help you, madam?” the woman asked. Caroline just stared at her, not knowing how to respond. Dropping her voice, the woman asked quietly, “Are you looking for a particular nostrum, or for … something else?” Suddenly panic-stricken, Caroline went towards the door. The woman followed her. “I know what ladies like you are looking for, madam, but you won’t find it here.” They left the shop, and walked a few squares, deep in conversation. They stood on the corner, and some money changed hands…
Louisa could not settle. The garden suddenly felt closed in, suffocating, so she went back into the house. Using the servants’ entrance, she slipped out of the house and walked aimlessly down the street, which was mercifully deserted. As she approached the first shops, whom should she see but Caroline, standing on the corner in front of one of Louisa’s favorite shops, deep in conversation with a stranger! Giving her money! Her blood boiling, Louisa became enraged all over again. Stepping into a narrow gap between the buildings, she waited for Caroline to finish her conversation, hoping against hope that Caroline was returning home. Peeping around the corner, she saw Caroline approach. As Caroline drew near, Louisa reached out and grabbed her arm. Quick as a flash, she threw the length of lace around Caroline’s neck and pulled with all her might. Completely off balance, Caroline was unable to struggle very much, merely gasping and choking for air. “I have had enough of you,” said Louisa, conversationally. “You should never go out without your lace!” Letting Caroline fall heavily to the ground, Louisa dropped the lace contemptuously over her face, daintily dusted off her hands, and stepped back into the road.
Still no one appeared. Louisa returned to the house, slipped back into the servants’ entrance and back out to the garden. Resuming her seat on the bench, she looked around, feeling as if she were just awakening from a heavy, nightmare-ridden sleep. Refreshed, she rose and returned to the drawing room and picked up her embroidery. When the butler brought in the tea tray, Louisa enquired casually for Caroline. “I believe Miss Bingley has gone shopping,” he said. “Young Thomas mentioned letting her out some time ago.” “Thank you,” replied Louisa. She sat tranquilly sipping her tea, enjoying the peace and quiet.
That evening, Louisa and Mr. Hurst were preparing to sit down to dine when there came a knock on the door. The butler entered, shaken, and said, “Sir, Madam, there are some people here from the town. It seems they have found Miss Bingley!” Returning to the drawing room, Mr. Hurst was required to support his wife as the news of her unfortunate sister’s demise was broken to her. Bursting into tears, Louisa wailed, “I thought she was dining with a chance-met friend! It is not her way to notify me when she will be out…” Thomas was summoned to give the men as much information as possible about when Miss Bingley left the house, and in which direction she walked. Bowing quietly, the men left the house of mourning, to begin the investigation.
Mr. and Mrs. Hurst were mortified to read a brief notice of the finding of Caroline’s body in the local journal two days later. The investigation continued for some days, but no useful information surfaced. The only solid clue was the length of lace with which she was strangled. After a few more days, the episode appeared to be forgotten. Mrs. Hurst noted with great satisfaction that the household accounts were in much better condition, as Mr. Hurst made no further complaint. Upon discovering that Caroline’s will divided her assets equally between herself and their brother Charles, Louisa thought of Caroline affectionately indeed.
Epilogue: A few weeks later, Louisa read a gazette printed in Derbyshire, forwarded by Charles, with great interest. It appeared that an armed man actually fired at Mrs. Darcy as she was walking in the village of Kympton! The miscreant’s aim was fortunately inaccurate, and the man was set upon by Mrs. Darcy’s footman and others. In the ensuing melee, the assailant was badly injured. It was determined that he was not from the local area. No one knew him, and he died without saying a word.
Lauren Gilbert Copyright © 2011