Scene from Chapter 19 of 1932: Darcy is at dinner with the Bennets, musing to himself when he’s interrupted by Mrs Bennet –
“ . . . do you know, Mr. Darcy?”
“Hmm?” He jerked himself back to his dinnertime conversation. “Pardon?”
“I was wondering if you knew when Mr. Bingley would return from Glasgow.”
“Oh. Probably not for a while. He is working on opening the store there. His aunts seem to have the Meryton store well in hand, so there is no need for him to be here.”
“Hmm,” Mrs. Bennet sniffed delicately, casting a blatant look at Jane.
He turned his attention to Jane too, and squirmed again, but for a different reason. He remembered his conversation with Bingley back before Christmas.
“Darcy, old man, I need some advice.” Charles looked up at his friend uncertainly. “I’m thinking about trying to open a store in Glasgow; the dry goods place there closed last year, so there’s a building already established and it’s for sale. The store here and the one in Franklin have been doing well, so I have some capital to invest in start-up.”
“Sounds like you’ve got it all planned out.”
“Then there’s the personnel issue. I’m sure there are people there looking for work, but I was thinking it would be good to have someone in charge that I knew was capable and responsible. Caroline has already said she doesn’t want to move.” Bingley looked up anxiously at his friend. “I was thinking about offering the job to Jane Bennet.”
“Yes, now, I know what you think about the Bennets, but Jane’s very sharp. She’s good at designing displays and what she orders from the suppliers always sells. And the customers love her.” He fidgeted, shuffling his feet and looking down. “I mean, what’s not to love? She’s kind, and helpful, and easy to talk with . . . and beautiful . . . ”
“Charles,” Darcy’s voice carried a warning tone.
“What are you thinking? Don’t tell me I have to warn you about trifling with the employees.”
Charles looked up at him, offended. “I’m not ‘trifling’ with Jane Bennet. I really like her. If I could spend some time with her, I think . . . well, she might be just the girl for me.”
Darcy snorted. “How many times have you said those same words about some other woman?”
Bingley grinned sheepishly. “Perhaps. But this time I really mean it. Come on, admit it, man — she’s an angel.”
“She smiles too much.”
Bingley rolled his eyes.
“She is quite pretty, I suppose. But Charles, think very carefully — are you sure she wants your attention?”
Bingley looked taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is — have you ever seen any indication that she welcomes your advances?”
“I’ve hardly made any kind of ‘advances’ — what kind of man do you think I am?”
“I know that you’re a gentleman. But does Jane Bennet know you well enough to know that?”
“Well . . . ”
“And how do you think she might react to what she sees as advances from her boss . . . given that she needs this job to help support her family? Do you really want to put her in that position?”
“I never thought about it like that.”
“I just think you need to be sure before you consider courting a woman who works for you.”
“Exactly.” A haughty voice sounded from the doorway. The men turned quickly, alarmed to find Caroline Bingley standing in the doorway, listening to every word they said. Darcy cringed for Charles’ sake. He was glad he didn’t have to deal with that meddling woman; Charles was much more patient than he would ever be. Too patient, probably.
“William,” she cooed. “You always give Charles such good advice. Very sensible. Besides, I like Jane Bennet very much; she is valuable to us at the shop here in Meryton as an employee,” she said, emphasizing the word ‘employee’ and making it quite clear she didn’t want to think of Jane Bennet as anything else — certainly not a member of her family. “And I would hate for you to frighten her off, Charles.”
Perhaps he had overstepped the bounds of friendship on that one. Then again, if Charles had felt what he should have for Jane Bennet, he would not have given up so easily.
His thoughts were interrupted by a shriek from the other end of the table.
Lydia Bennet was giggling hysterically. “We should go down and call on Denny at the feed store; maybe we can catch him with his shirt off when he unloads the truck.”
Kitty snorted, choking on her food. She grabbed her water and was trying to take a sip, when Mary reached over and gave her a sharp slap between the shoulder blades that sent water all over Kitty’s plate.
He looked over at Elizabeth, who was sending her father a pleading look and looking humiliated. Mr. Bennet chewed his food thoughtfully, as if he hadn’t heard or seen a thing amiss.
Darcy glanced back at Jane, whose face was frozen in a smile. A woman who would not react to this cacophony must not be affected by much. Charles was probably better off without a woman whose feelings could not be touched.