Mr. Bingley stared in disbelief as he heard tell of his ne-er-do-well sister's latest hijinks. "She did what? I'm going to give her a set down."
He walked out of the room with unusual deliberation and confronted Caroline. "How dare you," he bellowed.
She looked at him curiously. "What is it Charles?"
"You cut your acquaintance with Jane in London?"
"How could you mislead her into thinking you were her friend? Of all the cruel, insensitive ..."
Caroline interrupted him, "What are you going on about?"
"Jane made an attempt to continue her acquaintance with you in London," he spluttered, "and you ... you ..."
Caroline laughed heartily for a moment. Her brother crossed his arms. "Oh, you're serious," she said. "Let's review the facts, shall we? This is a young lady you knew for all of two months in Hertfordshire and to whom you paid attentions which nearly engaged your honor?"
"Well ... yes, I mean I would have honored my ... honor."
"I'm sure you would, but you came away to London and you became convinced she did not care for you so you did not return because her mother clearly has mercenary ambitions towards you."
Bingley could not deny it.
"And then after I did you the favor of letting her know you had decided not to return, so that she would not have to suffer the doubt of uncertainty, she jumped at the opportunity to come to London herself." He said nothing. "Did she, by some chance, mention to you during the course of your acquaintance, and your many quiet conversations, that she planned to winter in town?"
"No," he confessed.
"No and nor did she mention it to me. And yet, she arrived in London within a few short weeks of ourselves and sought to renew her acquaintance with me."
"Her friendship," Bingley corrected her.
"Friendship? If my friendship was her object, it was most assuredly not her only one. How could I not suspect her of using her 'friendship' with me to secure your hand? Do you not recollect the vulgar machinations of her mother? Come now Charles, you cannot be serious."
Charles could not deny that she made sense. Caroline only smiled when she saw his expression of surrender, then turned on her heel and left the room.
“I cannot believe what she said,” Darcy reflected to himself, as he recollected Miss Bingley's most recent shenanigans. “I will give that scheming minx a set down.”
He walked with more than his usual deliberation in search of her and upon finding her, confronted her with, “How could you say such cruel things about Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
Caroline laughed and laughed. Darcy glared at her as he twisted his pinky ring. “Oh you're serious,” she said.
He sighed, running his hand through his dark unruly curls. Suddenly, his ring caught in his hair. “Ow,” he cried. He couldn't get his hand out. Every time he tried to free it, he let out another yelp.
“Again?” said Caroline. “Here let me help,” she said moving towards him.
He backed away. “I've got it.”
She crossed her arms and watched as he tried to free his hand without pulling out all his glorious hair. She shrugged and began, “I suppose you recall our arrival in Hertfordshire? When Miss Elizabeth was ... what was it you said? Not handsome enough to tempt you to dance?”
He glared at her as he yanked his hand yet again, but to no avail. “Blast it,” he said. Then moving across the room, he stood against the mantelpiece and leaned his elbow on the mantel, as if casually resting his head on his hand. “You were saying,”
Stifling a laugh, Caroline continued. “Then you wouldn't allow her to be pretty. My poor brother ventured to say so and you gave him quite a set down. As I recall there was hardly a good feature in her face.”
Darcy gave her a sour look.
“Right, and I believe you said her manners were not fashionable and, oh yes, something about her being ... asymmetrical.”
Darcy's frown deepened.
“You recall all this?”
“Yes, but I did not like her then.”
“Ah, so your assessment of her beauty is dependent on whether you like her or not? Seems a bit ... irrational.”
Darcy huffed. He actually huffed. And forgetting his predicament, took a step towards her to deliver some undoubtedly witty, articulate, and stinging retort of at least four syllables, but alas all was forgotten when he attempted to point an accusatory finger at her to punctuate his intended riposte and instead screamed in pain.
“Here, do allow me to help,” she said, approaching him. This time he let her work on freeing his hand. “So it seems you are allowed to insult a lady's looks if you do not like her, but as soon as you change your mind and no longer find her ill-looking, no one else is then allowed to make the very same comments you made yourself in the past; and, moreover, everyone of your acquaintance should just know when you've changed your mind?”
She stepped away from him. His hand was free, his magnificent hair still intact. “Thank you,” he said sheepishly, inspecting his ring.
“You may have decided that you like Miss Elizabeth, but I still do not like her, therefore, by your own reasoning, I retain my right to say what I think of her looks whether favorable or not.”
He could not argue with her flawless logic. She smiled, turned on her heel and walked away.
“What is that you say?” cried Lady Catherine de Bourgh, after being informed of the latest tomfoolery by that upstart, Caroline Bingley. “I will travel to London to give her a set down.”
Off she went to London with all the deliberation her coachman could supply. Upon finding Miss Bingley alone in the drawing room at the Hurst townhome, Lady Catherine began unceremoniously, “You can be at no loss, Miss Bingley, to understand the reason of my journey hither.”
“Indeed, you are mistaken, Madam. I have not been at all able to account for the honour of seeing you here,” replied Miss Bingley with the utmost politeness.
“Allow me to enlighten you. It has recently been brought to my attention that you, Miss Caroline Bingley, have formed a most pretentious ambition to marry my own nephew, Mr. Darcy.”
Caroline laughed a little, then noticing the countenance of the lady darken, said, “Oh, you're serious.”
“I have never been anything less than perfectly serious for even the smallest moment in the whole course of my life.”
“Pity,” said Caroline under her breath. Then she said more loudly, “But I do not understand your objection. Do you not consider it every young lady's duty to do the best for herself that she can?”
“Well certainly, but ...”
“Then why should I not take my chance with a man such as Mr. Darcy?”
“Because ... he is engaged to my daughter.”
“That is a matter you should take up with him, not me.”
“I intend to, I assure you. But I also wanted to give you a warning of the disapprobation you would receive from his family, supposing there was any chance of success for your schemes, which of course there is not.”
“If you are so certain of the outcome, why would you trouble yourself to come all this way?”
“I am on my way to Hertforshire, on another matter. You are not the only young lady who requires a set-down.”
“Indeed, if you were to give a set-down to every young lady who tried for your nephew, I fear you would do nothing else.”
“I will not brook this insolence. How I choose to spend my time is no concern of yours. You need only heed this: Mr. Darcy's family will never approve a match with a woman so wholly unworthy.”
“Do you think me unaware of your circumstances? All of your airs cannot hide the stain of trade that your family bears. Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?”
Miss Bingley laughed, “My dear Lady Catherine, my family has not been in trade for three generations. My father was a gentleman.”
“He sadly did not live to purchase an estate but he certainly intended to. Nevertheless, he never worked a day in his life, was educated at Cambridge, and was a member of every fashionable club in London.”
Lady Catherine scoffed.
“My sister and I attended the finest school in town and I am proficient in all the accomplishments suitable for the wife of such a man. Marrying someone like Mr. Darcy is exactly what I have been raised for. Moreover, I have twenty thousand pounds and my family and I move in London's most fashionable circles.”
“Mr. Darcy shall marry his cousin,” spat Lady Catherine.
“From what I can tell, Mr. Darcy shall do just as he pleases. Whether it pleases him to marry his cousin, appears to be as of yet undetermined. And what of Miss de Bourgh, have you even consulted her wishes on this matter?”
“Her wishes are of no concern to you.”
“Very true, but perhaps they ought to be of concern to you. For my part, I shall act to secure my own happiness, regardless of both her wishes and yours.”
“Obstinate, headstrong girl, I am ashamed of you.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Lady Catherine, and if you would hear a word of advice I would counsel you to rethink any further set-downs you have planned. You will find Miss Elizabeth Bennet to be even more obstinate and headstrong than myself.” Lady Catherine seemed surprised. “Now,” added Miss Bingley, moving towards the door, “I must go as I have an important engagement to attend to. Stay as long as you like; help yourself to refreshments.”
“I take no leave of you Miss Bingley. I send no compliments to your sister. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”
Miss Bingley turned on her heel and left the room.
“She said what?” cried Lizzy, who was more than fed up with Miss Bingley's antics. “How dare she! I'm going to give that pretentious, holier-than-thou, judgmental, little witch a set down.”
Elizabeth left the room in search of Miss Bingley with unparalleled deliberation. “Ah there you are,” she said, upon finding her. “A word.”
“Certainly," said Caroline, giving Elizabeth her full attention.
“I heard what you said about my family,” Elizabeth said accusingly.
Miss Bingley laughed and laughed. Elizabeth raised an arch eyebrow. “Oh you're serious,” said Caroline.
“Indeed. I suppose you never thought your words would get back to me. That can be your only excuse.”
“I did not give a jot whether my words got back 'round to you or not, since I only speak the truth, or at least the truth based on my own observations, which is all I can do. If your family behave differently when I am not around, by all means enlighten me.”
“You should not be gossiping about my family,” said Elizabeth.
“What you call 'gossip,' I call facts. Shall we start with your mother?” Elizabeth winced. “I understand her predicament. A mother of five single daughters with an entailed estate. Who can blame her for snatching at any eligible young man who happens within her grasp?” Elizabeth looked surprised. “It is not her objective that gives rise to gossip, but the manner in which she chooses to carry her purpose. Her … what shall we call it? Lack of refinement? Lack of elegance? Let's just call it vulgarity. Her vulgarity works against her purpose.”
“She does the best she can,” said Elizabeth.
“No doubt. At least she does something. The one person with both the intelligence and the duty to guide her efforts chooses to mock her instead and ignore the problem.”
“My father is a good man.”
“Good men are certainly capable of failure.”
“It is easy to criticize when ….”
“When both my parents are dead? That's a fair point. I do not doubt you would have found something to condemn, if given the opportunity.”
“If they were anything like your brother, I'm sure I would have found them very pleasing and amiable.”
“Assuming you would have met them. Shall we talk about your three youngest sisters? Two of them so overindulged they cannot be kept under good regulation and the third so starved for attention, she will do anything – no matter how embarrassing to herself or her family – to get it.”
“You have said quite enough madam. No one is without fault. I dare say even you have your share.” With that, Elizabeth turned on her heel.
“Just a moment,” said Caroline. Elizabeth looked back. “What was that you just did?”
“I just turned on my heel.”
“Did you? I couldn't tell.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” said Elizabeth.
“Allow me to demonstrate,” said Caroline. She then turned on her heel.
“No, no, no,” said Elizabeth, repeating her own technique. “Like this.”
“But that is all wrong. It doesn't convey enough haughtiness,” said Caroline, repeating her own method.
“Haughtiness is so mundane,” replied Elizabeth. “It is an arch manner that has the desired effect, rather than haughtiness.”
They both continued repeating the gesture towards one another until Miss Darcy walked into the room. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“We are turning on our heel,” said Miss Bingley authoritatively.
“What is that?” asked Georgiana.
“It is a gesture to demonstrate conclusively that you have won an argument and leave your opponent gaping in your wake, having been utterly vanquished,” said Elizabeth.
“What she said,” agreed Caroline.
“Like this?” asked Georgiana, attempting the maneuver.
“No no,” cried both the other ladies. And the lesson was on.
“She did what?” asked Louisa, on learning of her sister's latest mischief. “I shall go give her a set down.” She walked with no deliberation to find her sister and upon doing so looked her in the eye, crossed her arms, tapped her foot, and said, “I'm here to give you a set down.”
Caroline looked at her sister and said, “You can't be serious.”
“No, of course I am not serious!” said Louisa, and they laughed and laughed and laughed.