Netherfirld Park was dark and quiet in the early morning sun. A lone figure could be seen skulking along an upper corridor. Bent almost double, flitting from doorway to plant pot trying desperately not to be seen or heard. The journey had been arduous. The house having sat empty for a number of years was a quagmire of creaking floorboards waiting to give away his presence. As his destination finally came into view, he paused, listening carefully for any sign of movement from the bedrooms around him. Just one more dash and he would reach the stairs and freedom...
"I say Darcy, what on earth are you doing?" Mr Bingley found himself grabbed around the shoulders by aforementioned gentleman and dragged into a crouching position behind an unusually large potted plant.
"ssssssshhhhhhh" hissed Darcy, flapping a hand to emphasis his point
"What is going on?" whispered Bingley, growing more concerned every second
"If we are not careful, she will hear us" Darcy, still crouched, tried to look around the hall checking to see if anyone else was in sight
"Who will hear us?" questioned Bingley. He was beginning to feel alarmed.
"Your sister! she has had her maid sleeping by her bedroom door since i arrived."
"Has she? can't say I'd noticed to be honest. Then again, she seems to be everywhere at the moment. I though a larger house would make Caroline more bearable but she does have an uncommon knack of filling up a place." whispered Bingley in a resigned sort of way.
"Be that as it may, I find it almost impossible to enjoy my breakfast let alone read the moring paper with her prattling on at me."
Sighing Bingley rubbed his eyes, "True, there are times when I wander..."
"What on earth are you doing?"
Complete silence descended. Two of the men stared at the third who, upon being addressed by Mr Hurst, had been so surprised that he let out what can only be described as a squawk while leaping to his feet and, if later retellings of the story are to be believed, a full foot into the air.
"Are you...ahem, are you quite alright?" Asked a grinning Mr Bingley, who was making at least some effort not to laugh at his friend
"Perfectly fine" Darcy replied straightening his jacket
"Are you sure?" grinned Bingley "only you appeared..."
A bell could be heard ringing downstairs.
"Well, Caroline appears to be adjusting to country hours." Frowning in the direction of his sister's door, Bingley wandered how much longer Mr Darcy's promise to help him would win out over his desire to avoid Caroline.
After taking a moment to straighten his jacket and brush his hair back Mr Darcy, pretending nothing unusual had just happened, started walking towards the stairs.
Following him Bingley asked "What was that noise you just made?"
"What noise?" Darcy lengthened his stride in an attempt to outpace his friend.
"That..." flapping his hands to try and find a suitable term Bingley settled on "that squeaky noise!"
"No idea what you're talking about. Shall we head to breakfast gentlemen" Without waiting for a reply Darcy descended the stairs two at a time.
Mr Hurst and Bingley shared a long look, grinned and followed the taller gentleman down to the breakfast room.
"I say Bingley your cook really has outdone herself this morning, these crumpets are better than any my cook can manage." taking a moment to wipe his mouth he looked at his friend and brother-in-law out of the corner of his eye. "Do I want to know why you were skulking about the corridors this morning?"
Mr Darcy selected his breakfast from the sideboard and sat, studiously ignoring his grinning friends. After a couple of very tense moments, it became apparent that Mr Darcy was quite prepared to ignore all questions until they tended in another direction.
"Well," said Mr Bingley, deciding to be kind to his friend "What shall we do today?"
"Riding seems like a good idea."
"You always think ridings a good idea Darcy, some of us were not born on a damn horse. Why don't we explore the local village." Rubbing his head, Hurst wandered how much he'd drunk the previous evening.
"Excellent idea Hurst, perhaps we can introduce ourselves to the local tradesmen."
"Perhaps," Darcy replied "Better than calling on the neighbors at any rate."
"Really Darcy, they aren't all that bad." said Mr Bingley buttering a crumpet.
"They are not all that good either." after this declaration Mr Darcy disappeared behand his newspaper.
"Hunting then" nodded Mr Hurst cutting his bacon and eggs with enthusiasm.
"No more hunting, I never hit anything. I think Meryton, it's about time we spent some time among the locals." Replied Bingley absently, holing up a piece of toast to inspect it, there appeared to be a rather large hole in the middle. It happened every time he tried to apply the butter and he couldn't understand why.
Sighing Mr Darcy realised this was not an argument he was willing to have so early in the day "As long as your sisters are not present, I am at your disposal gentlemen." the reply came from behind his newspaper.
Mr Bingley tried to look offended and failed.
"In that case," said Mr Hurst rising to his feet "we should really get moving. I do believe Caroline will be hot on your heels."
Darcy quickly followed with Bingley smirking behind him.
They reached the door to the breakfast room and collectively stopped as Miss Bingley had appeared before them as if by magic. "Why Mr Darcy" beamed Miss Bingley in what she thought was a very becoming manner "how delightful to see you this morning. I was hoping I could show you around the gardens this morning. They are of course very primitive, far too many weeds but what can you expect from such a backwater."
Mr Bingley took a step back and slightly behind his friend as his sister was now glaring at him as if all floral deficiencies were his fault. "Actually Caroline, we were just going to ride into Meryton to explore the local area."
"Honestly Charles, I'm quite sure we saw everything worth seeing when we drove through in the carriage." Huffed Miss Bingley. She crossed her arms and scowled at her brother, then remembered that Mr Darcy was there turned so she could bat her eyelashes at him.
Nonsense, I'm sure there's plenty of quaint little stores to explore, many fine people to meet" he walked around his sister and started towards his room to collect his jacket. Seeing her brother was not going to change his plans she decided it would be best to join the party.
"Very well, we shall leave just as soon as Louisa and I have enjoyed some breakfast."
"But" Bingley caught himself on the railing, having stumbled when his sister spoke "I thought you would prefer to stay here..."
Caroline however had already made her way into the breakfast room and was pointedly ignoring her brother. Seeing he had no choice, and not being inclined to argue in general the gentlemen settled in the sitting room to wait for the ladies to ready themselves.
Mr Bingley apologized to Mr Darcy, assuring him that he would make sure his sister did not bother him too much during the planned outing. Although he was sure his friend had the best intentions Mr Darcy doubted his ability to follow through with his promise. At no point during their friendship had Bingley ever successfully stood up to his sister when she was determined.
Two hours later the Netherfield party set out for Meryton. The delay was caused by Miss Bingley changing her clothes, twice, having to talk Mrs Hurst into accompanying them "No Louisa, we absolutely cannot let Mr Darcy out of my sight today." And finally, they were all made to sit down for morning tea. Miss Bingley could not go another moment without some refreshment. Being used to her every wish being tended to by her siblings and friends, Miss Bingley didn't notice that the others in the room were less than pleased with her.