Charles Bingley was sitting in his office, very absorbed, reading ‘Meryton’. Will had done wonders with it in the last four months that he was the editor. He wondered how his friend could find time for everything, taking care of the whole business and being the editor as well. Will was very displeased, when his uncle sent him to ‘Meryton’ but he accepted the responsibility as the final test before becoming CEO of Pemberley Net. It was about time that position returned to the Darcys. Anyway, not only had Will saved ‘Meryton’ from bankruptcy, but he was going to make it one of the most respected political magazines in the country. Charles smiled. If that was a test, then Will was passing it with an A+. As always.
Will had also discovered and hired Elizabeth Bennet. That woman was incredibly good at her job. She had an instinct that made her choose the topics that would later become the hottest ones. And she wrote prodigiously well. She made everyone want to read her articles, even if the topic was not at all to their interest. People would talk about her column between meetings and at parties. She had made political discussions really popular again. And although she was very severe, she had no enemies. Everybody adored her. Except Will, who hardly ever looked at her and always behaved more coldly than it would be polite towards her. Charles sighed, recalling the events of the party. His friend had made a real blunder there, because everyone talked about his remark regarding his employee and sympathized with Elizabeth Bennet. But knowing Will for so long, Charles had come to terms with the fact that his friend would never love anyone but his sister and two or three other people he had grown up with.
He returned to Elizabeth’s article. It was fascinating, as always. The subtle irony charmed him, and reminded him of his surprise when he discovered how different her style was than her sister’s. Well, they couldn’t possibly be the same. Elizabeth was a journalist in ‘Meryton’ and Jane was writing novels for children. But they were both equally good at their perspective fields.
Yes, Jane was a discovery, too. He knew that Will would doubt his motives, but they had already signed a contract. It was true of course that he was impressed by her outstanding beauty, but her work was as perfect as her looks were. She wrote in that sensitive way, with respect towards the children’s intelligence. She seemed not just capable to guess their wishes but willing to take the trouble to fulfill each and every one of them. She was devoted to her work, more than the average writer. And though Charles had to admit that her beauty was what had attracted him in the first place, he now wanted to discover what was hiding behind the big blue eyes and porcelain skin.
The only problem was that Jane was not willing to open up. She was polite, friendly, always smiling and ready for pleasant conversation, but she didn’t seem inclined to give more. He knew that she had married her high school boyfriend at eighteen, that they had moved to New York at twenty-two and that they had signed the divorce papers only a month ago, on the day he had met her himself. Was it a painful experience? Was it his fault, or maybe hers? The latter was difficult to believe, but one could never know for sure. He had absolutely no idea and Jane did not give a clue. Charles was not a patient man, but this time he decided to make an exception. This amazing woman, smiling yet melancholic, talkative yet mysterious, certainly deserved it. He only needed a clue of how to go on. And it was Caroline—of all people—who offered it. She called him just as he was getting ready to leave his office.
“Charlie, I’ve just had a wonderful idea!”
Charles knew enough of his sister’s wonderful ideas to feel uncomfortable.
“What is it, again, Caroline?” “
Try to sound a little more enthusiastic, darling.”
“May I remind you that your last ‘wonderful idea’ ended in the worst fight I had ever had with Will?”
“You exaggerate, brother.”
“No, I do not exaggerate at all! He didn’t talk to me for a whole fortnight after that! And you know something, Caro? He had every right to be so angry!”
“First of all, I told you never to call me Caro! Secondly, do not shout at me. And thirdly, Charlie, normal people like surprise birthday parties!”
“Maybe, but only when they take place on their birthday, not on the anniversary of their parents’ wedding! Especially when their parents are dead!”
“It’s not my fault that he talks so little of himself and his family. How was I supposed to know that…”
Charles didn’t want their conversation to last forever.
“All right, Caroline, you are right and the rest of us are blind, as usual. Can you now come to the point, please?”
“Well, I am almost tempted not to tell you after the way you just spoke to me, Charlie…”
“That won’t be a problem. Goodb…”
“But since I am a very nice person and care for you so much, I’ll tell you my plan. I thought we could celebrate your birthday next weekend in our house in Scotland. Won’t it be just the thing? Oh, and don’t worry about anything! I’ll organize everything myself and I swear it will be unforgettable!”
“I have no wish for big parties, Caroline. They remind me of…”
“Of?” There was a hint of irony in Caroline’s voice.
“Of Jessica.” Charles was lying. He was very happy that he had got rid of that top model that embarrassed him every time they went out for dinner. He had dated other women who cared about their form, but her case was despairing! Jessica would be the last person on earth he would think while devouring his birthday cake. But he had thought of inviting Jane to dinner, showing her that he preferred her company to everyone else’s. He would have already asked her if she was free, but he was afraid of scaring her away.
Caroline was not stupid, at least not so much as to believe her brother. And she had noticed his partiality for that new writer. So she played her final card.
“It will be nothing like a big party, Charlie. Just Tony, Louisa, Will, me, you and that lovely Jane Bennet. Can you invite her as well, Charles? I really want to know her better. We will spend the whole weekend exploring Scotland’s beauties and we’ll have nothing more than a cake to remind us of your birthday. Simplicity is the key word, bro.”
Charles’ resistance had started melting the moment he had heard Jane’s name. But he could not help being surprised at his sister’s final words.
“Simplicity? That’s not your style, Caroline.”
“It is Will’s, though.”
“Oh, not again! Will is never going to fall in love with you, whatever you do! Even if you say only what he likes, you are not going to win his heart! Dozens of women have tried that before you and all in vain! You have been trying for years now, Caro. When are you going to give up? I doubt he’ll ever love, anyway.”
“I do not want to make him love me, darling; I want to make him marry me.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Will and I have something in common, Charlie. We don’t believe in love. I believe in a successful marriage, though. He has money and a name highly respected and he can offer me the life I have been dreaming of since I was ten. And if you think that I am going to give up before we both say the words ‘I do’, you are sadly mistaken.”
“I am not letting my friend make such a mistake!” Charles shouted, his voice full of indignation.
Caroline’s voice was unnaturally calm when she replied.
“Mistake, Charlie? I am too good, even for him. I am going to put up with his unsocial disposition. I am not going to demand silly romantic promises. With me, he will be able to be his real self. And I am going to build a better social profile for him, host his colleagues and bear his children. I am the best choice he can make. I am just waiting for him to realize it. And I will keep waiting, Charlie.”
“He’s not like that and you know it!” Caroline’s confidence had shaken Charles a bit, though.
“Believe whatever you want. Just stay out of this, as you have always done. You will invite Jane, won’t you?”
“Yes. Yes, I will.”
“It’s going to be perfect! Bye!”
Charles forgot that he had planned to leave his office before his conversation with Caroline. He shivered as he realized that his sister almost made him believe that his friend was another person than the one he had known for years. That he only wanted a wife, a big house with a swimming pool, parties and children to continue the family tradition. No he practically shouted to himself. Will is nothing like that. He’s sensitive and generous and has the best heart! And he won’t get married unless he finds true love. Charles smiled ruefully as he realized that Caroline was right in one observation. Will did not seem to believe in love. But, that only means he will never marry. That might be a sad conclusion, but he preferred it to Caroline’s picture of ‘artificial’ happiness. He decided to call Will to invite him to Scotland, informing him of who else was going. He was sure that he would have to use all his persuasion skills to make him join them. William chose to surprise him.
“I will be very happy to come, Charles.”
“What?” Charles exclaimed. “You really want to come?”
“You had hoped that I wouldn’t?” Will sounded amused.
“No, of course not! But I was sure that you would say no at first and then yield to my pleading.”
“Well, since you’ve decided that I will come, I am glad we didn’t waste our time in arguing.”
“Oh, you accepted the plan to avoid talking much to me?” Charles feigned being hurt.
“No, I accepted the general idea, in order to make a few suggestions for its improvement.”
“I knew that you would find fault with Caroline’s plan!” Charles couldn’t hide the relief from his voice.
“Well, it’s all right with me. I like small parties. But, if I were Jane Bennet, I would feel a bit uneasy.”
Charles suddenly felt sick, but he remained silent, as William continued:
“Practically, you are not even dating. And you are inviting her to your house. Who else will be there? Tony and Louisa: a couple. Me and Caroline: we will never be a couple, but Jane doesn’t know that. Furthermore, I am afraid that Caroline has told her at the party how close she thinks we are. You have told me that you don’t want to scare her off. You cannot find a better way to scare her off than this invitation, Charles.”
“Oh, God! What am I to do?” Coming up with good ideas when his love life was getting difficult had never been Charles’ specialty. William ignored his incoherent murmurings and went on.
“On the other hand, this weekend, if better planned, could finally get you two closer. Scotland, birthday, long walks, romance. It’s the ideal opportunity.”
“Yes, yes, that’s right. What are you suggesting? Will, please help a man who’s so deeply in love!”
William smirked. ‘How easily he can say such a thing! And then he can’t remember their names.’
“If she knew well someone of the party, she would feel more at ease,” he replied carefully.
“Oh, do you think we have time to make her better acquainted with Caroline?”
“Do you know many people who feel at ease with Caroline around?” William was getting inpatient.
“How about you?”
“It’s not ease, Charles. It’s resignation.”
Charles was happy that his friend was not under Caroline’s spell, but Jane’s problem remained unsolved.
“Too bad you have no common acquaintances.” Will offered.
“Yeah, too bad…”
“No one. You know none of her friends…”
“None of her family…”
“Yeah, no one… Wait, wait! No! I do know. I do! I know her sister! Elizabeth!”
“You do?” William asked, trying to hide his relief that his friend had finally got the hint.
“Yes. Oh, how didn’t I think about that before? We met at the party and then she came along with Jane when we signed the contract. And we all celebrated it together. And then I saw her at…”
William knew of course everything about the few times Charles and Elizabeth had met, but he couldn’t tell him that. So he let him continue, until Charles announced that he felt that he and Elizabeth shared a close friendship and he could not but invite her to Scotland. William readily agreed and ended the conversation as soon as possible.
From the first moment Charles had mentioned Scotland, William had thought of Elizabeth. Elizabeth in Scotland with him. Nothing else mattered. Nobody else mattered. They would spend a weekend in the same house and he would find a way to make it unforgettable for her. Yes, he had this urge to please her lately. He wanted to make her happy. He felt a pang in his stomach every time he saw her smiling. Especially when he had something to do with the reason that made her smile. He was glad when she was glad. A word, a look or a teasing were enough to make the bitterness inside him more bearable. She could make him laugh: Not his reserved smiles or his usual smirk, but the deep, healthy laugh. He tried to deny the importance she had obtained in his life, but all he managed was to name the situation ‘a temporary crisis’ which would end some day. So, he decided to stop checking himself every time his affection for Elizabeth took the better of him. The only resistance he maintained was the desire not to let anyone know about his feelings. Not even Elizabeth.
For her own part, Elizabeth had stopped planning to ask William to break up. She knew it was a mistake, she knew that she was giving her heart to a man who would never be truly hers, but she could not help it. She was falling in love with him. It was true of course that he didn’t talk about himself; he never whispered endearments or made compliments to her. But he could send shivers to her spine only by looking at her or touching her hand. She was lost in his eyes; she was lost in his voice. He was a tender yet passionate lover. He was sensitive and romantic – though he hated the term. He had taken her for a walk one night and showed her the stars. He narrated all the fables related with the gods and heroes they were named after. His deep voice mesmerized her, and in the end she could not fight the urge to kiss him. He made her feel beautiful and desired, like she had never felt before. Conversations with him were always a challenge and a source of knowledge. She admired him, and was grateful for the wonderful sensations he awoke in her. So, she decided to be with him as long as possible. She dreaded the moment he would decide to end their relationship, but she was sure that it would come sooner or later.
The news about Scotland was very welcome. The only problem she had was how to conceal her enthusiasm. It was not only the prospect of spending time near William that filled her with joy. She was also very happy for her sister. It was evident that Charles Bingley was very attracted to her and he was flirting with her quite charmingly. Elizabeth thought that it was a blessing indeed. She had not spoken with Jane about her feelings, but she could see that her sister’s mood was becoming lighter. She believed that her sister was not in love, and not at all likely to fall in love. But she also knew Charles by reputation. She considered him harmless, unable to excite strong feelings or fall in love himself. She was certain that he would give some strength to Jane’s beaten ego, without wanting or asking much more. After all those horrible years near Jason Younge, Jane could live her life again. She could flirt and act a little irresponsibly. She had a right to do so, after having sacrificed her youth in an unfortunate marriage. Elizabeth shared these thoughts with Charlotte, with whom she had been close long before their parents’ marriage. Charlotte however expressed some objections.
“I think, Liz, that Jane should be very-very careful about her reputation.”
“Her reputation? Don’t be ridiculous Charlotte! Do you know which century we live in?”
“Do you know what kind of society we live in, Liz? People are cruel. If she acts like a schoolgirl people will say that Jason was right after all…”
“Jason is a monster! Everyone knows that the rumors he spread about Jane were untrue!” Elizabeth cried indignantly. Charlotte remained calm.
“Jason is an unfeeling egoist, Liz, but I am afraid that people tend to believe his version of the story.” Before the angry Elizabeth had time to interrupt her, she continued: “Jane has already made a huge mistake by not making generally known what happened. Even I know no details. In fact I know only what you have told me. Jane doesn’t speak about it at all.”
“Jane was really hurt. And she is not the kind of woman who would spread horrible reports about her ex, although in their case it would be fair enough.”
“I know, Liz, but you have to admit that Jane is perhaps the only woman to react like that after what has happened. I believe you, and her story, only because I have known you since childhood. Their common acquaintances won’t be so insightful.”
“Jason’s story is a huge lie, that…” Elizabeth was ready to explode.
“…that is much easier to believe.” Charlotte completed the sentence and continued, “It matches with their ideas about poor uneducated women who secure rich husbands at the age of eighteen. And before you start shouting, I am very well aware that it is not the case. But I am equally convinced that this is what everyone thought in their society then. Jason’s lies, presenting Jane under such a light make them feel cleverer and say to themselves I knew it!. You know this phrase’s magic, Liz, don’t you?”
“Them, they, their society… whom are you talking about, Char?” Elizabeth asked, a bit scornfully. She knew the answer.
“Their common acquaintances, who are rich and very important people, Liz. They belong to the same circle as Bingley or Darcy. Do you think they won’t tell him?”
“We live in England and Jason is in New York, Char.” Elizabeth had thought of many other logical arguments but she became somewhat abstract when Darcy’s name popped in the conversation.
“No, he isn’t. I am sorry that you learn this from me Liz, but he never returned home after they signed the papers. His parents were quite upset with the divorce, blaming him entirely. You know that they needed the marriage to Jane to control him, of course. They threatened to disinherit him and he stayed here to persuade them, as well as all his old friends, that Jane was responsible for their marriage’s dissolution. Jane has to be careful.”
“Jane has had enough of responsibilities, rules and restrictions for the past twelve years.” Charlotte was amazed at how calm her usually fiery friend sounded. Elizabeth continued: “If their acquaintances choose to believe the scoundrel, it’s too bad for them. Jane owes nothing to Jason and her clear conscience is enough for her. It is enough for me, and it should be enough for everyone who loves her. She is never going to spread the truth. Even if I don’t agree with all her actions, I respect them and I even admire them. And, Charlotte, I will tell you this once and will never repeat it: Jane has nothing to lose.”
“But the gossip…” Charlotte’s ideas could not reconcile with such a declaration.
“Did you hear me Charlotte? Nothing at all.”
At least, I tried. was all that Charlotte could content herself with when the conversation ended.
The conversation with Charlotte clouded Elizabeth’s moon, as it reminded her of the trial her sister had been through. And she remembered that Jane had suffered alone, far away from her home and her real family. Jason Younge, her husband, had never been family to her.
Jane and Jason had met at high school. They had exactly opposite temperaments and characters but instantly fell in love with each other. Jane was sweet, tender and sensible; there was calmness and serenity about her. Jason on the other hand was a ‘lively boy’. Coming from a very rich family he was spoilt. He always got into trouble but his undeniable charm helped him out of it. None of his actions or his decisions was made after much thought. Jane used to bring him down to earth and he used to take her to heaven. That’s why they became inseparable.
His parents adored Jane. They admitted that apart from being the kindest person they had ever known, she was also the only one who had ever managed to calm down Jason a bit. She had managed to do what they had failed to achieve. They knew that he was much safer with her by his side. And, knowing how little she cared for their fortune, they were almost happy when their son announced that they had eloped at the young age of eighteen. They welcomed her to their family and treated her as their own daughter. They even told Jason that he had to prove himself a successful husband to inherit his fortune.
Now, Elizabeth wondered why her sister, who never rushed into things, had decided to elope. At the time, she was only sixteen and she had joined her mother into considering it utterly romantic. But now she deplored the lack of good advice in her family. She wished she could turn back the time and change everything. But it was all too late. Jane had made her decision – either from overwhelming love or from lack of experience. The decision was wrong and she had paid for it - dearly. It was as simple as that.
At first they were almost happy. Jason went on with his studies and Jane was restricted at home, as his ideas about the duties of a wife were clear and unchangeable. His parents paid all their bills and did so very discretely. The old Younges had to admit that the elopement with Jane was their son’s wisest choice. She helped him with his studies and dissuaded him each time he declared that he wanted to drop university. Jane was still in love and believed that she was happy. However no sooner had Jason finished his studies and started working than things changed for the worse.
Jane wanted a child but Jason dreaded the responsibility. At last, he was convinced but despite their efforts the baby would not come. The doctors finally said that Jason could not have children unless he did some therapy, which he refused. Jane suggested adoption but Jason would not hear of it. He swore Jane to secrecy and became cynical and hostile. He wouldn’t return to their home in the evenings and he’d leave for a whole weekend without notice. Jane suspected that he had an affair. Soon, she received some photos which confirmed her suspicions. She was at a loss as to what she had to do and she blamed herself for having pushed Jason so much.
One evening Jason returned home and announced that they were leaving for New York. He looked very scared and anxious to be away from England as soon as possible. Jane did not question his decision. She suspected that he had had a talk with his parents and he had decided to give their marriage another chance. So, eight years ago she had left all her family and friends to restart her life with her husband.
During the first years things improved. Jason was a bit possessive but Jane preferred his jealousy to his former behavior. But Jane’s new period of happiness was not long; not much time passed before Jason started excluding her from his social life again. It was obvious that he had a mistress, or several mistresses, if Jane were to believe the gossips. When she mastered the strength to talk to him about it, he didn’t even bother to deny it. However, when she asked for a divorce he went mad. He refused, threatened, pleaded and again threatened. But Jane had made her decision and this time it was the right one.
Jason wanted revenge. His ego could not stand being dumped. Furthermore, his parents were very displeased and threatened to leave him without any money. So, he followed Jane back to England, signed the divorce and started telling everyone the story he had invented back in New York: that Jane had told him that she was pregnant to make him marry her in the first place. That afterwards she refused to have children. That she used him and his money to gain status. That she had been always cold and distant, never truly responding to his love and always playing with his affections. That she had been cheating on him. And that she had left him because she had found someone richer than him. He had chosen his words very carefully. Anyone who was used to the ways of scheming women and did not know Jane very well would believe him. The false pregnancy was not astonishing and some of Jane’s acquaintances interpreted her calmness as coldness or indifference. Yes, many people in both countries believed the charming, vulnerable, disappointed new bachelor. And, despite Elizabeth’s entreaties and Charlotte’s advice Jane didn’t try to stop him. She wanted just to forget. And, she had nothing to lose. That’s what she thought anyway.
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