Posted on 2012-04-30
Darcy dressed for the evening in his best black woolen dress coat and crisp white cotton lawn shirt, both of which he had chosen specifically for tonight. He knew that whatever she wore, black would complement it, and he intended to look his best for this ball.
Standing before the large looking glass, he gazed at his reflection as his man went about putting the finishing touches to his appearance. He had been anticipating this evening's festivities for several days now, for this night he would claim the dance he had set his sights on all those weeks ago at Lucas Lodge.
After his man had adjusted his cufflinks to suit him, he walked over to the window where he took his station of observer and drew back the heavy brocade curtains, carefully monitoring the activities below.
Inspecting the guests one by one as they arrived in the courtyard of Netherfield Park, Darcy was looking for one coach in particular. When that carriage finally rolled to a stop, and a footman opened the door, his eyes found the object of his imaginings. He breathed deeply as Miss Elizabeth Bennet stepped from the carriage. She was wearing a simple, yet elegant, gown of cream coloured silk and a dark green velvet wrap. Her hair was styled with tiny sprigs of baby's breath and lavender mingled amongst small light yellow rosebuds scattered about her locks, with one pale yellow ribbon and pearls interwoven in her hair, holding it all together. Her dark curls hung gracefully down her back slightly past her shoulders. He stared at her in fascination. Though her gown and coiffure were not of the latest fashion from the continent, she looked lovelier than any woman he had ever seen dressed for a ball.
She glanced up and caught his gaze, and from the expression on her countenance, he surmised she was perplexed to find him observing her. Breaking the connection they shared, he moved away from the window and approached his man.
"Winfred, I shall have the sandalwood with musk, lavender, and oak moss for tonight--the one I keep for special occasions."
"Very good, sir! It is a fragrance that most becomes you. I dare say the ladies will most certainly be fond of it," he said as he went to retrieve the bottle of costly blended oils and spices from the wardrobe.
Darcy gave a dry response as he took the amber bottle from his valet's hand. "Perhaps, but there is only one lady I want to notice me tonight, and she will be wearing lavender."
"Then you and the lady will surely complement one another very well with this one. Good luck, sir."
With a sharp look to his valet, Darcy replied, "It is not what you assume. The lady owes me a dance. That is all it is, and, therefore, I trust you will keep your thoughts to yourself."
"Umm, yes sir. It was only a misstep on my part; I simply meant to--"
"That'll be all."
"Yes, sir." His gentleman bowed and took his exit.
Darcy placed the bottle on his dressing table and left the room with one purpose in mind: to find Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He would observe her, and when the opportune moment presented itself, he would ask for her hand for one set.
Darcy descended the stairs and entered the room with confidence. He moved in and out of the crowd and found a place by the mantelpiece where he stood and leaned against it, watching the guests as they mingled, searching until his eyes finally rested on Miss Elizabeth as she came through the archway with Bingley and her sister Miss Jane Bennet. As he observed her, he noticed that she appeared to be looking for someone, and for a brief moment, he wondered if she were looking for him; but then she was approached by a redcoat, and by her expression, he knew it was not so. Darcy had since learned that Wickham had been the man Captain Carter had spoken of that day he and Bingley had dined with the officers, for he had later joined the militia stationed outside the village.
Thinking back to the day he and Bingley had come upon Wickham in Meryton, he remembered the great pleasure he had seen in Miss Elizabeth's eyes as she and Wickham had talked, and, therefore, he presumed it was he whom she sought and not himself as he had originally hoped. Darcy sighed in dissatisfaction, and for a fleeting moment, a twinge of disappointment mixed with jealousy seized his heart, but he quickly rejected it.
Darcy had agreed that Bingley should issue a general invitation to the officers, which he was well aware would include Wickham, but he seriously doubted the reprobate would have the audacity to attend. He stared and gently shook his head. Lieutenant Denny turned in Darcy's direction with a look of contempt which was followed by Miss Elizabeth's gaze, and by the disappointed look upon her face, he knew he was correct in his assumption. Elizabeth was looking for Wickham, but apparently he was not in attendance. Once more, he was saddened and wondered if he should still ask for her hand in a set, but yet again he dismissed the thought as preposterous. For he was more than assured of his abilities as well as his self confidence with respect to his person to obtain her good opinion if he wished it. He was Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire, and that alone would grant him any woman he chose for any reason he chose.
Darcy turned away and moved towards the refreshment table where he took a glass of wine and resumed his observation.
Lieutenant Denny was soon distracted by Miss Lydia, and Elizabeth was left to herself. She looked about the room until she found the familiar face of her friend, Miss Charlotte Lucas, and made her way towards her.
Darcy watched her from over the rim of his glass. She was talking with her friend most agreeably when suddenly they were interrupted by the officious looking parson he had seen with her and her sisters that day in the streets of Meryton. Darcy frowned but made no move. Elizabeth looked as if she were uncomfortable, but then she quickly recovered until the music began, and the vicar led her to the dance floor for the first two dances.
Darcy set his glass aside and moved towards the dance line where he strolled around the couples so that he could better examine Elizabeth and the parson as they performed the set. What he observed caused him to barely contain his amusement, though he truly sympathized for her condition. Her partner proved to be as big of a buffoon as he looked. The rather large parson was awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending to the dance, and often moving in the wrong direction without being aware of it, thus bringing himself into rather forceful contact with the matronly dancers who moved within his circle, much to their distress. He gave Elizabeth all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances could give. Darcy chuckled to himself as he observed the horrendous display before him. It was obvious that Elizabeth was mortified, and he wondered if her toes would survive to dance another set.
She glanced in his direction, and her gaze caught his for a brief moment as he walked about following her every move. She coloured from bright pink to deep crimson. Darcy chuckled even more. Clearly she deserved a better partner and one who could do her justice, for her steps were elegant and graceful, befitting a lady of the highest circles. Finally the exhibition ended, but before Darcy could make his way to her, Elizabeth was approached by an officer for the next set, and instead of dancing, he was forced to once again watch from a distance. However, at least this time her toes were safe, and she was spared the mortification of her last partner.
Darcy was well aware that if he was not quick on his feet for the next set, he might never have the chance, and therefore, when those dances were over, Darcy saw the opportunity afforded him and seized it.
Approaching her and her friend, Miss Charlotte Lucas, he bowed before them.
"If you are not otherwise engaged, Miss Bennet, would you do me the honour of dancing the next with me?"
With a look of complete astonishment, she responded, "I…I…had not…" she bit down on her lower lip and then spit out, "I thank you, yes."
Darcy bowed, and then turned and walked away.
When the music began, he and Elizabeth took their place in the set. They stood for some time without speaking a word until finally she spoke.
"I believe we must have some conversation, Mr. Darcy," she said with an artful smile.
She made some slight observation on the dance when they came together, but he made no reply as they moved through the line. The scent of lavender filled his senses, and Darcy's mind was too full for conversation. He was not so distracted, however, as to be unaware of his surroundings, for he did not miss the stares from the townspeople nor did he misinterpret what they meant. It was indeed a great honour that he had bestowed upon her to stand opposite him for the set, and reading her neighbours' expressions, he saw their amazement in beholding it. But the only thing he wanted was the pleasure of the moment. He had no intention of raising her expectations.
"If you will, sir," she pressed, "a very little will suffice."
They were separated again and then came back together.
"You should say something about the dance perhaps."
After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time.
"Come, Mr. Darcy. It is your turn to say something now. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room or the number of couples."
He smiled. "Whatever you wish me to say, I will say."
"Very well, then. That reply will do for the present," she said as they moved in the line. Coming together again, she smiled. "Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But for now we may be silent."
Struggling to think of something to further the conversation, Darcy finally responded, "Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"
"Yes, sometimes it is best. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?"
"Both, I imagine," Elizabeth replied mischievously, "For I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb."
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," he said. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
"I must not decide on my own performance."
He made no answer, and they were once more silent till they had gone down the dance line.
At length Darcy thought to turn the conversation in another direction more suited to his desire and hoped she would oblige his curiosity.
"Do you and your sisters very often walk into Meryton?" he enquired.
"Yes, quite often." She paused as they turned in and out of the dance line. When they once again came together, she continued. "When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance," she said sweetly, almost with pleasure in her voice.
Though he desired to know the particulars, her deportment and the lightness of her response enraged him, but he said not a word as he fought to swallow back his anger and hatred for the man who appeared to have found her favour.
After some time Darcy composed himself and spoke in a constrained manner. "Mr. Wickham," he said, "is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends, but whether he may be equally capable of retaining them is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner from which he is likely to suffer all his life."
Darcy made no answer, now desirous of changing the subject. He had no wish to explain or defend his actions. His character spoke for itself, and when Wickham's was fully known, it would define him as well.
In another moment, to his relief, Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room, but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir," he said with all officiousness. "Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Miss Eliza," he said, glancing at her sister and Bingley with a sly happy look, "shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in?!"
"Nay-nay, say no more, I understand. I appeal to Mr. Darcy--but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of this young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me." Sir William clapped his hands together. "A great pleasure it is, sir. Capital-capital," he said as he walked away.
Darcy scarcely heard the latter part of this address. Sir William's allusion to his friend struck him so forcibly that his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together. Recovering himself, he turned to his partner and said, "Sir William's interruption has made me forget what we were speaking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted any two people in the room who had less to say to one another. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine."
"What think you of books?" Darcy said, smiling.
"Books! Oh no! I can never talk of books in a ballroom; my head is always full of something else."
"The present always occupies you in such scenes, does it?" he said, pressing his brows together.
"Yes, always," she replied, softly without thought.
Suddenly she turned and spoke again. "I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."
"I am," Darcy said with a firm voice, wondering at the turn in the conversation and raising his guard, for he knew her tactics well enough to know when a trap was about to be sprung.
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"
"I hope not."
"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion to be secure of judging properly at first."
"May I ask to what these questions tend?" he asked, finally tired of their tête-à-tête.
"Merely to the illustration of your character," she said. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as to puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," Darcy answered gravely and with caution, "that reports may vary greatly with respect to me, and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either of us."
"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity."
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he replied with cold civility.
Darcy was more certain than ever that Wickham must have given her some perverse intelligence of their dealings.
Miss Elizabeth made no response, and they went through the other dance and parted in silence.
Darcy walked away with his mind full, and though he held a powerful resentment for Wickham, there was an equally powerful feeling towards Miss Elizabeth. He could not find it within himself to resent her, for he was now certain that the black-hearted villain had filled her head with his lies, and unfortunately, she had apparently been deceived by them. But, however disconcerting it was to know the truth, he was not sorry he had ferreted it out of her, for now he knew that she was not as knowing as she thought herself to be.
Supper had begun, and the guests were finding their places as they gathered around the table elegantly set with fine bone china and displaying a feast fit for the occasion. His card had been placed across from the Bennets. No more had he taken his seat and begun to dine, than the parson who had danced with Miss Elizabeth approached him and bowed low in solemn humility.
Darcy turned in his chair and stared at the man so imprudent as to break from propriety.
"Mr. Darcy," the man said, "I have made a remarkable, I must say an amazing discovery. I understand that you are the nephew of my noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park. Well, Mr. Darcy, I am in the happy position to tell you that her ladyship and her lovely daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh, were in the best of health…" he paused and glanced aside for a fleeting moment, "yesterday, a sennight ago."
Appalled by the man's forward behaviour, Darcy restrained himself as he spoke. "I'm glad to hear it," he said with coldness as he rose to his feet. Towering over the obsequious man still bowed low at the waist and looking up at him, Darcy asked, "And may I ask," he pressed, "what is your name?"
"I, sir, am her ladyship's humble servant, parson of Hunsford Parish, William Collins, Mr. Darcy. And I am very, very honoured to…"
Darcy turned and walked away before Mr. Collins could finish his speech, leaving the fawning subservient toad with his grovelling manners standing there alone, looking as senseless as he was large.
He joined the Bingley sisters, who looked on with horror making signs of derision as the evening rapidly deteriorated into a comedy of errors. Bingley had asked for some music and had requested that his sister Caroline play, but before he could finish his request, Miss Mary Bennet had risen to the occasion, much to everyone's surprise and distress, and all but ran to the pianoforte. Taking her seat, she jutted her jaw and arranged her sheet music. She began to play and sing a laborious piece, her voice shrill and grating as she banged on the instrument with more force than was necessary.
Darcy, impenetrably grave, glanced at Miss Jane and then Miss Elizabeth. Both were staring in mortification, especially Miss Elizabeth, as the entire room seemed to be made uncomfortable by the performance. Even her father was embarrassed. The display was crass and discordant--much worse than he had remembered from before.
When she had finished, she began anew, and, at this point, her father interrupted her before she could proceed, humiliating the girl who then gathered her music and ran from the room. Darcy breathed deeply, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end at the display. It was clear that, as a father, Mr. Bennet showed little consideration for his duty as master of his house. What had he accomplished as over the years? His wife was unrestrained in her tongue, and most of his daughters showed little regard for proper decorum.
Then, just as Darcy thought things could not possibly become worse, they did. Waxing eloquent with a speech of self-importance, Mr. Collins moved toward the pianoforte.
"If I," said Mr. Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. I do not mean, however, to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainly other things to be attended to. The rector of a parish has much to do. In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that he should have attentive and conciliatory manners towards everybody, especially towards those to whom he owes his preferment. I cannot acquit him of that duty; nor could I think well of the man who should omit an occasion of testifying his respect towards anybody connected with the family."
Happily, before he reached the instrument, Louisa Hurst rescued the moment and rushed to the bench where she took her seat and began to play an Italian song, her hands moving rapidly over the keys with perfection.
Walking through the crowded room, Darcy could not help but hear the hum of conversation. Everyone, it seemed, anticipated the wedding of his friend to the eldest Miss Bennet. The vulgar display of her mother, stuffing food in her mouth while talking, was easily seen as well as heard over the din as she declared that the marriage of Miss Jane would throw her remaining girls into the paths of other rich men. She even alluded to the fact that Elizabeth might soon be engaged to the overly officious parson. Mr. Bennet, though he appeared to be embarrassed, made no effort to check his wife.
Next Darcy glanced at the eldest two Miss Bennets, and from their flushed expressions, he could see that they were further humiliated with shame for a situation which they could not control. He heard Elizabeth endeavour in vain to check the rapidity of her mother's words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in a less audible whisper, but it was to no avail. Her mother only scolded her for being nonsensical.
Darcy shook his head in disgust.
Turning to walk away, he was nearly knocked from his feet by Miss Lydia who was sporting an officer's military sash over her head as the young man gave chase. Miss Catherine was no better, for she, too, was being chased by an officer while she waved her ribbon as a prize to be caught. The evening was quickly digressing into a calamity; even the local gentry appeared to be made uncomfortable by it all.
Stalking about the room, unable to return to his seat, fire burned in his eyes. He was incensed. On no previous occasion in his life had he witnessed such a display of ill and offensive manners by one single family. If it was the last thing he did, he was determined to put an end to this charade between his friend and Miss Bennet. For he had no doubt that she, at her mother's bidding, would accept his friend's addresses regardless of her true feelings and have him leg-shackled before Charles realized what had happened.
Climbing the stairs to his room, Darcy reflected back on the events of the evening. It had begun well enough with great expectations, but just as quickly, it had disintegrated into a complete disaster--one that would embarrass anyone with good sense.
The Bennets had been the last guests to depart as Mrs. Bennet seemed in no hurry to leave, nor would she refrain from making a further spectacle of herself, fawning and flattering Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, making assertions about her daughter and their brother. From his stance by the fireplace, he had observed it all.
He knew by their contemptuous expressions that the Bingley sisters were just as appalled as was he. And while Mr. Bennet had given the impression of being embarrassed, he never once made an attempt to curb his wife's vulgar behaviour. Instead, he had seemed reconciled to accept it with complete indifference, if not, even, with a measure of humour. This angered Darcy even more.
Whatever feelings he had for Miss Elizabeth must surely be put away now. By no reasonable means could he consider making her an offer of marriage or ever entering into a courtship after the total want of propriety he had witnessed by her family this night. If he should condescend to do so, this evening's improprieties would only be repeated in his own house with Miss Lydia and Miss Catherine creating a scene so distasteful as to chase after every single man in attendance--especially his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam! What example would they set for his sister?
And then there was Charles. After Sir William had called it to his attention, Darcy had carefully watched his friend with Miss Bennet throughout the course of the evening. It was obvious to the casual observer that he had been drawn in by her and fancied himself in love, but by the serene expression on Miss Bennet's face, Darcy could not see any sign of real affection.
Reaching his room, he found his man cheerfully waiting for him.
"May I enquire after your evening, sir?" Winfred asked, rising to meet his master.
"You may," Darcy said, ripping his cravat from his throat and throwing it across the back of a chair as he stalked into the room, "but I doubt you will be pleased with the answer."
"That bad, was it? Sir, I am truly sorry."
Darcy gave him a sharp look.
"And the young lady…did you have your dance?"
"Yes. That was perhaps the only good thing to come of the evening, but it was not enough to make amends for the rest. Winfred, her family is appalling," Darcy said, as his gentleman removed his coat. "I've never witnessed such a display of vulgar and disrespectful manners in all my seven and twenty years as I saw this night. Any man unfortunate enough to find himself shackled to one of those girls must be either insane or lacking in good judgment. Never have I been so glad to see an evening end as I was this one."
"Oh, I had hoped it would prove to be an enjoyable evening for you, sir, but I can sympathize with your predicament. My Molly's family was somewhat of a disgrace as well, and I had to think long and hard before overcoming the obstacle of her less than desirable relations and make her an offer, but I have found that love will find a way if it is meant to be."
Darcy furrowed his brow and glanced at his man. "What were they like?"
"Oh, sir, they were the most horrid family that you could imagine. They came from a prosperous English family on the island of Barbados. But they were very wild, their manners fixed with such commonness. Some of them displayed such savage behaviour for which I had never seen the likes. Rude and loud accompanied by riotous living, gambling away their fortune in the gaming hells of London, and there were several family members in trade at the time with less than honourable dealings. They have since gone the way of men of such disrepute, but then it was to be expected, you see, for their grandfather was hanged in the Americas for piracy--Stede Bonnet, if you recall his reputation."
"Stede Bonnet--the gentleman pirate?" Darcy asked in astonishment.
"The very one, sir, and the Bonnets carry his stigma to this very day. They seemed to have had an aversion towards respectability, but my Molly was a true lady in every sense of the word. Though she had no dowry, she was virtuous and pure--gentle as a dove, even if the family reputation was tarnished." The older man continued with a twinkle in his eyes, "So you see, sir, you must never judge a book by its cover. I fear that if you do, you will do it and yourself a great injustice."
"I'll keep your counsel in mind," Darcy said as he pulled his nightshirt over his head.
"Will there be anything else, sir?"
"No. That'll be all. Do not come for me until seven o'clock. It has been a long day."
"Very well, sir. Seven o'clock it is."
That night as Darcy lay in bed tossing and turning, he thought about everything his valet had said, but no matter how he struggled, he could not reconcile the evening's events or, for that matter, everything previous from Miss Bennet's illness to her mother's behaviour, with his obligation to his duty towards his family, his position in society, and need he add, himself. For Mr. Cunningham to align himself with a reprehensible family was one thing, but for Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley and Derbyshire to do so was quite another.
Then his eyes narrowed as his thoughts turned to his friend. If Charles were to marry Miss Jane Bennet and settle at Netherfield, Darcy would be forced to either choose between his friend's family and being thrust into Miss Elizabeth's path whenever he was in Town, or parting ways, for surely Bingley would insist on his company at every opportunity and that he could not abide. Yes, Elizabeth Bennet was a true danger to him and that truth he could no longer ignore.
Darcy made his way to the breakfast parlour a little late the next morning. He had slept longer than was usual for him, and therefore, had expected to find the other members of the household long since finished with their morning meal, leaving him to take his in peace. But it was not to be. Caroline and Louisa were fretting about Charles in miserable conversation when Darcy entered the room.
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, you must lend us your assistance in this matter of great urgency!" Caroline cried, wringing her hands in severe agitation as she turned her head in his direction.
"Yes--you must," Mrs. Hurst added, "for if you do not, I do not know what will become of us--of our poor brother. Charles has gone to London on business, but it is not just business that calls him away. He intends to purchase a ring for Miss Bennet! We cannot let him throw his life away on someone with such an offensive family and such vulgar manners!"
"You are perfectly right, dear sister," Caroline interjected, turning back to Louisa. "And speaking of vulgar manners, did you not see how Miss Lydia behaved last evening? She had Lieutenant Denny fetching grapes from her bodice--grapes from her bosom, dear sister! Can you believe one would display such a wanton act of impropriety and in view of the whole room! And if that were not enough, I do believe her sister Catherine had spilt wine on her bodice while frolicking with another officer. I have never seen such vulgarity as we witnessed last night."
"No, nor I," said Louisa with great animation.
Darcy said nothing as he took his coffee to the window and gazed out into the courtyard where just the night before he had watched, with great anticipation of a pleasurable evening, Miss Elizabeth exiting her carriage.
"It would be simply insupportable to be aligned with such a family. Do you not agree, Mr. Darcy?" Caroline asked.
Darcy turned and strolled to the sideboard. "Yes…I concur wholeheartedly. It would indeed be a degradation."
"Then you must do something to help us."
He gave no immediate answer, but instead, filled his plate and took his seat. As he began to eat, he glanced between the sisters and asked, "What would you have me do about it? Your brother is a grown man in possession of his own fortune. Charles is his own master, Miss Bingley."
"Yes, but you could at least talk to him--persuade him to think the better of it. He listens to you and holds your opinion in very high esteem."
"Yes," Darcy nodded, "he does at that, but I am not sure it is my place to intervene in such personal matters. Selecting a horse or buying a dog is one thing, but choosing a wife is quite another."
Caroline and Louisa simply looked at one another with stunned expressions.
Darcy was silent on the subject as well. Although he agreed with the Bingley sisters and would like nothing better than to separate Bingley from Miss Bennet, he was hesitant to do so for the expressed reason that it gave nothing more than the appearance of a haughty intruder who would do so for purely selfish reasons. But there was one point on which he could feel justified in interfering: from his observations, Miss Bennet held no true regard for his friend, and that was reason enough for him to act.
Miss Bingley must have also had some reservation on the matter for it was a little while before she spoke. Finally she swallowed in trepidation and did so.
"Yes," she stated at last, "but you must admit, Mr. Darcy, that a wife is a far more permanent attainment than a dog or a horse. If either of those should prove to be unsatisfactory, one can simply dispose of them--sell them to someone else. It is not so with a wife."
"You make a valid point, Miss Bingley," he said looking up at her as he returned his cup to its saucer. "Allow me to consider your request. I have to ride out this morning to check on the work in the fields. It should be complete in a day or two, and then perhaps, if it is all that important to you, you should close up the house and proceed to London. No matter what you choose to do, I am leaving for Town in the morning. I've had quite enough of this savage country. I am impatient to return to society and see my sister. My cousin, Lord Wexford, will be back from his travels and I am anxious to see him, and then perhaps I shall take Georgiana out for an evening at the theatre. Though some in this country may not think so, there is much to be said for the pleasures of Covent Garden and Drury Lane."
Returning to his meal, he said nothing further as the two sister exchanged pleased looks.
When he had finished, he threw down his serviette, rose to his feet, and left the room. He needed time and space to unclutter his mind so that he could think more clearly. Interfering in a man's life on such a personal level was insupportable, and yet he found himself considering it, if only for the noblest of reasons. In that he could justify his actions. And besides, it was no secret that Charles fell in and out of love at the drop of a hat. Surely he would overcome his infatuation with Miss Bennet and go on to the next lady who caught his fancy. Such was the way of things with Charles Bingley.
Once Darcy had cleared the room, Caroline turned to her sister.
"Louisa," Caroline said with confidence, "It is obvious that Mr. Darcy will indeed aid us in getting rid of Jane Bennet, and any hope she and her mother might possess of an alliance with our brother will be crushed. After last night's display, I do not think even a pair of fine eyes is incentive enough for Darcy to overlook the disparity in our respective classes."
"Hum…yes, sister, I quite agree. But it is too bad Jane has such relations and low connections, for I do fairly like her."
"But not enough for our brother!" Caroline cried.
"No, indeed not. While it is true I am fond of Miss Bennet, I do not like her well enough to claim her as sister, especially with all the baggage that must accompany that appellation."
"I quite agree, Louisa. I am desirous that our brother will form an attachment to Miss Darcy. It would be far more beneficial to us."
"You mean to you, Caroline, for if he does, that will throw you into the path of her brother." Mrs. Hurst laughed. "How very clever of you, my dear sister…very clever indeed."
They both burst into giggles as they followed Mr. Darcy's example and quit the room.
Caroline went about her household duties, giving instructions to Mrs. Nicholls and the butler to close up the house, explaining that it might be some time before the family returned, if at all. They were all given generous compensation for the short notice and wished well. Caroline then sat down to pen a letter of explanation to her "dear friend," giving subtle hints such as to dissuade Miss Bennet from any further hope of a connection with their brother while offering Jane all her deepest sympathies and regrets for the loss of her friendship at this particular time, though she alluded that they would visit again in the yet to be determined future. When she had concluded her missive, Caroline sealed it with satisfaction and handed it to a footman to post on the morrow, long after they were gone. Afterward she went about having her things made ready to leave for London at the break of dawn on the morrow.
Riding out to the fields where the men were working, Darcy thought about his conversation with Miss Bingley and her sister. It was certainly not in keeping with his character to interfere on such a personal level. But in this particular case, he could justify it because he knew, or felt reasonably certain, that Miss Jane Bennet would do her mother's bidding regardless of what she felt, and securing a rich husband to raise the family's fortune was her mother's only consideration.
And yet something from deep within urged him to desist, affirming that in doing so he would commit a grave wrong against both his friend and Miss Bennet. Darcy took a deep breath of the chilled air blowing in his face as he tried to reconcile himself to the conflicting feelings fighting for dominance in his troubled mind.
Reaching his destination, he slowed his horse, entering the work area at a trot.
"Good morning, Mr. Darcy," Mr. Goolsby said, looking up from his work. "Is Mr. Bingley not with you this fine morning?"
"Is it a fine morning, you think?" Darcy asked with some doubt.
"A bit cool, I'd say, but fine nonetheless."
"Yes, it is rather cold, but it is the twenty-seventh day of November, and that is to be expected. As for Mr. Bingley, he had pressing business in Town which called him away."
"Ah, I am sorry to hear that as I wanted to tell him that I think one more day will do it, and this job will be complete."
"Yes, well, it could not be helped. But as to the job," Darcy glanced around, "it looks completed to my specifications exactly and very well done at that. You and your men are to be commended. How are the walls on the other side of the estate coming along?"
"Splendidly, sir. The men finished up yesterday."
"Good. See Mr. Phillips in Meryton, and I will see to it that you are all paid by tomorrow. Until Mr. Bingley returns, that will be all that is needed for the present. When you are required, you will be contacted again. Mr. Bingley will, of course, keep you and the principal men on retainer. See the attorney for the particulars."
"Thank you, sir."
Darcy tipped his hat and mounted his horse, riding off in the direction of the village to settle things with the attorney for the men's wages. Bingley had given him carte blanche to hire workers, dismiss or pay them, and do whatever else was needed on his behalf, and thus Darcy intended to use it.
When Darcy returned to the house, he found, much to his disappointment, that Miss Bingley was waiting to greet him.
"Mr. Darcy, all the arrangements have been made to leave in the morning at first light. I am closing up the house. If I have my way, Charles will not be returning to this wretched place any time soon. But you must help Louisa and I to convince him of it, for I fear he may not be so easily motivated unless you assist us."
Darcy glanced at Caroline while the footman helped him with his greatcoat. His valet had appeared in the vestibule to hand him a letter, and by the look on his man's face, he knew Winfred was aware of what was taking place, and why.
Taking the letter, he dismissed his man and sent him on his way with instructions to prepare his trunks to leave at first light on the morrow. Then, turning to Miss Bingley, he said, "There is only one way in which I will assist you, and that is if I am certain that it is for the best."
She was taken aback.
"Surely you cannot think that an alliance with the Bennets is a good thing; you would not want your family in such a … a disadvantageous situation, would you?"
"Certainly not, but what of your brother? Are his feelings not to be of any consideration?"
"Mr. Darcy," she reaffirmed, "you know as well as I that Charles falls in and out of love on a notion. He will not be as affected as you seem to imply. This is for the best…for all of our concerns, for if he were to marry Jane Bennet, you know as well as I that all of us would be tainted by the association."
Darcy stared at her and gave a deep sigh. Although he hated how she presented her argument, he knew that she was most probably right. While in Derbyshire society it might not matter; in London, it most assuredly would.
Releasing a terse breath he finally spoke. "If you need my assistance, then you shall have it, but I am doing it for one reason only, and that is because I do not believe that Miss Bennet's heart is so easily touched. If I thought for a moment that it was, I would not interfere. At some point your brother must make his own way without my assistance."
"Agreed!" Caroline cried.
Taking Darcy's arm, she led him toward the dining room. "Now, let us have our evening meal and retire for the night so that we may take our leave at first light. Our trunks are already loaded onto the carriages. When yours are ready, I will have Simmons fetch them down as well."
Winfred Cunningham stood at the top of the stairs in disbelief at the conversation he had just overheard, and though he knew he should not, the man felt a strong compulsion to aid his master, even if his master did not wish his assistance. But alas, realizing that everyone must be allowed to make their own mistakes, even Fitzwilliam Darcy, he left to do his master's bidding with a heavy heart.
Once behind closed doors, he went about packing Mr. Darcy's trunks with misgivings, for he was quite certain that his master was making an immense mistake--one that he might one day regret when it came full round to bite him firmly on his posterior.
"Meddling in your friend's affairs is serious business," Mr. Cunningham grumbled to himself. "You should not listen to Mr. Bingley's ruthless sisters. They are harpies of the worst kind, better left to men who will enjoy their qualities--though I doubt Mr. Hurst is very enthused over his jewel."
Having overheard the conversation below stairs, his opinion of the Bingley sisters was decidedly fixed. In his estimation, they had neither good breeding nor good sense. He could hardly believe that they would consider intruding in their brother's personal affairs, but he knew what they were about. Their own selfish interests drove them. However, to involve Mr. Darcy was beyond common decency. It was a damned shame. And even more than that, Mr. Cunningham was sorely disappointed in Mr. Darcy; for he knew the real reason his master would consider stooping so low as to help Mr. Bingley's sisters. His master was afraid of something he could not comprehend. That was a failing indeed.
Mr. Cunningham looked up from his work and glanced around the room to make sure all of Mr. Darcy's articles were packed and ready for tomorrow's journey. Satisfied that they were, he sighed and took one remaining suit from the wardrobe and began to press the coat as he continued to mumble to himself.
"And so you are stumbling headlong into another grave mistake. For a man of sense and education who has lived in the world, it astounds me how you could be so damnably stupid in matters of the heart!"
He had seen Mr. Darcy's longing gazes as he stared at the lady from Longbourn, and he knew what they meant. Mr. Darcy was in love--and it was not merely a lustful love, though Winfred was certain there was plenty of that. Mr. Darcy was a healthy male in possession of a virile appetite with all that those urges demanded; but it was more, it was a longing he recognized from his own days as a young man struggling over his Molly.
It grieved the older gentleman to see the young man he had come to love and respect throw happiness away with both hands, all in the name of duty and honour; for what did those things matter on a cold winter's night when you lay alone in an oversized bed? The older man shook his head in sorrow as he continued to press Mr. Darcy's travelling clothes.
"You will regret this day, sir," he said to himself. "You have made a grievous error in judgment. One with the spirit and intelligence of Miss Bennet is a rare jewel not often found, and you are too blind to see it. Nevertheless, I shall pray for you and ask our Lord and Saviour to intervene on your behalf."
While Mr. Cunningham was putting the final touches on Mr. Darcy's shirt and cravat, his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his master's voice.
"Winfred, is everything ready to be loaded on the carriage for tomorrow's trip?" Darcy asked as he entered the room.
"Yes, sir," the elderly gentleman said as he turned to face Mr. Darcy. "I shall send for a footman directly to take your trunks down."
"Winfred," Darcy said as he walked over to the side table and poured himself a glass of brandy, "you do not approve of our leaving on such short notice, do you, my good man?"
Mr. Cunningham looked away and gave no answer.
"We've been together since I was a youth," Darcy pressed. "You can speak your mind. I know you think I am wrong in my decision."
"Mr. Darcy, sir," Mr. Cunningham replied, catching his master's gaze, "it is not my place to say whether you are right or wrong. Only you and your maker can judge that, but if I may be so bold, sir, I will say this: do not let other people involve you in their misdeeds, for trouble will surely follow, and on that I must now be silent and not speak further. I have said all I will say."
Darcy looked down into the glass of brandy in his hand and sighed as he swirled it around. He knew better than to push the issue, for when he wanted to, his valet could be more stubborn than a jackass laden down with burdens and refusing to move.
"Is there anything else you desire before I retire for the night? Shall I help you with your nightshirt?"
"No, that'll be all," Darcy replied, shifting in his seat. "I will undress myself. Call for me at four o'clock. We are leaving at dawn."
"Very good, sir; I shall see you at four o'clock sharp, then."
Without a word more, Mr. Cunningham quit the room, closing the door with a resounding click, leaving Darcy alone to consider the situation at hand and his involvement in it. For some hours his mind was engaged in a personal war, but in the end, his stubborn pride carried the day.
The next morning, as the sun rose in brilliant colour over the eastern sky, the Netherfield party boarded their coaches and set out for Town. The family rode in Mr. Hurst's rather elegant chaise-and-four, and Mr. Cunningham, along with the personal servants, followed behind in Bingley's less comfortable carriage while Darcy and Mr. Hurst rode alongside the carriages.
Sam, running alongside Darcy's horse, barking and frolicking, seemed delighted to be once more travelling with his master.
Coming to the crossroad between the village of Meryton and London, Darcy took one last look back in the direction of Longbourn, and then turned his head towards London. He could almost see her eyes bright with laughter, but the relentless pounding of the horses' hooves against the hardened road served to remind him that he was leaving her behind forever. Furthermore, if she chose to marry that sycophant of a parson, it was no concern of his.
The London Chronicles
Posted on 2012-05-04
November 29, 1811
Darcy, along with Sam, had no more than stepped through the door of his house at Number 15 Grosvenor Street, than a jubilant Georgiana rushed down the stairs to greet him, followed by her companion, Mrs. Annesley.
"Brother!" she cried as her steps quickened, intending to embrace him before remembering herself and slowing her approach to a more sedate pace. Blushing, she glanced back at Mrs. Annesley who only smiled and nodded her approval in return.
Dropping a curtsey, she smiled shyly. "Brother it…it is unexpected--though I am not without pleasure that you have come home. I thought from your last letter that you would be some time in Hertfordshire."
Darcy broke into a grin, almost laughing, as one footman removed his greatcoat while the others went to retrieve his trunks. "Georgie! My heart has longed to see you, and, therefore, I could not resist the opportunity to return when Bingley left for Town on business. Letters are a fine thing, but nothing can replace being in the presence of a dear one. I've missed my baby sister's smiles." Turning to the footman, he said, "Take Sam to the kitchen and have Mrs. Whitmore feed him. Then order a bath. He's to stay in the house tonight." Returning to Georgiana, he continued. "Come," he said, motioning for her to step forward.
Taking her into his arms, he hugged her tightly, for he truly had missed her.
She looked up at him and furrowed her brow. "Brother, I am no longer a baby. I am soon to be sixteen."
"And so you are! And I should do well to remember it. In fact, Georgie, it is soon to be Christmas, and I want us to spend time together. I am going to have two portraits commissioned to celebrate the event--one for Darcy House and the other for the gallery at Pemberley. I'll tell you more when I've hired a master."
He stepped back and held her at arm's length as he looked her over. A soft smile spread across his features. "My little sister is indeed growing up," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "You are a young lady now. It is time to step out into society. In two years you shall be presented at court and have your coming out ball for your first season."
Georgina lowered her gaze. "But Brother…you have not married yet. Should you not have a wife before that special time? I should like to have a sister, and please do not let it be Miss Bingley!"
Darcy laughed. "It will decidedly not be Miss Bingley. On that I am very certain."
"Good, for it is plain to see that she only likes me because she wants to marry you, and besides, she makes me feel…well…I feel somehow inadequate in her presence; but Brother, who shall you marry? For you must marry. I want to be an aunt."
Darcy sighed and passed his hand over his face. "Yes, I should…but Georgiana, I have not met a suitable lady, and I do not want to marry someone who...." Darcy glanced away.
"Someone who…?" she asked.
Darcy turned back to his sister. "It is nothing for you to concern yourself over. When the time is right, I shall choose a wife."
She looked confused. "But…I…I had thought from your letters, that is…that--what about Miss Elizabeth Bennet? I--"
"If I led you to believe that she and I were more than friends, then my words were badly chosen. While Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a remarkable young woman, we are not suitable for one another. The matter is closed. I will see you tonight at dinner, and then afterwards, I want you to display your latest accomplishments for me on the pianoforte and harp. Now, if you will excuse me, I must freshen up as I have business at my club."
He gave a slight bow and turned to leave, taking the stairs at a rapid pace.
"But…" Georgiana's voice trailed off in a soft whisper. She glanced at Mrs. Annesley with a worried look.
The older woman moved beside her, gently laying an arm across Georgiana's shoulder.
"There-there, child. You know your brother is a very busy man."
Georgiana looked to her companion. "But I thought my brother was in love. He rarely mentions any women and never the way he spoke of her. I read the passages to you. Did you not think he had met someone who suited him?"
The two women walked into the front drawing room where Mrs. Annesley called for tea. As they both took a seat on the settee, the motherly woman took her young charge's hand and spoke in a gentle voice.
"Miss Darcy," she said with wisdom in her eyes, "the way of men and women is…well, complicated. It is clear from his many letters that your brother liked the young lady from Hertfordshire, but whether or not he felt that he should make her an offer of marriage, or even enter a courtship, is another matter entirely."
"But I don't understand. If you like someone, then what could possibly be wrong with going further? And Mrs. Annesley, I do believe he feels more than friendship for her. My brother has never spoken of any woman the way he spoke of her."
"Miss Darcy, it is difficult to say, but I cannot stress it enough when I tell you that there are many things that come between people. Perhaps the lady could not return your brother's affections, or--"
"Impossible! My brother is the best of men. He is kind and generous and caring. He always tells the absolute truth. There is no one better than Fitzwilliam!"
Mrs. Annesley smiled. "That, I am sure, is true, but there is also your brother's social status to consider. Ladies and gentlemen of your sphere do not marry people of another. Like keeps to like."
"Oh," Georgiana said softly. "I do understand that. But she is a gentleman's daughter. My brother said so, and her father owns an estate. I believe Fitzwilliam said it was called Longbourn. They are equals. My brother is a gentleman; her father is a gentleman. I see no conflict."
To this Mrs. Annesley shook her head and laughed.
"In that sense they are, but in wealth, most likely they are not. However, it is not our concern, and we should be mindful of it. Your brother's personal life is just that…personal, and, as ladies of good breeding, we mustn't meddle."
"No, I suppose we should not," Georgiana said despairingly as a servant entered the room with her favourite tea service on a silver tray. Dismissing the servant, Georgiana's smile returned as she poured herself and her companion a cup of Christmas tea. Mrs. Annesley said she should not meddle and she would not. But what harm would there be in asking Brother to tell me more?
She saw no harm at all, and therefore, she determined to ask him about the young ladies of Longbourn. Fitzwilliam loved her, and consequently she felt confident enough to enquire.
And if that fails, I shall swallow my misgivings and ask Miss Bingley!
With a contented smile, she turned to her companion and sipped her tea.
Darcy washed the dirt from his face and hands and changed his clothes to make himself presentable. He was fairly certain that at this time of day he would find Bingley at White's, either with friends or alone. He hoped for the latter. After his man had put the finishing touches on his favorite coat, Darcy left for his club.
Since Mr. Hurst had expressed a wish to join him, Darcy set out on foot for Hurst's townhouse, which was but two down and across the street from his own. Both homes were situated in the heart of London's exclusive Mayfair District, the most elite section of the Old City, with Hyde Park nearby. Once he arrived, they would travel together in Mr. Hurst's carriage.
The short ride to St. James's Street gave Darcy time to think and reason through what he was about to do in the coming evening. Although Reginald Hurst was a man of few words, he and Darcy had talked much about the events over the last several months. Hurst had been as appalled as he and Bingley's sisters over the Netherfield ball and stated as much openly. This gave Darcy a greater sense of justification in taking responsibility for his friend's happiness, but he still questioned whether it was the right thing to do.
Staring out the window deep in thought, Darcy stroked his chin while he pondered further the implications of his actions. The irrevocable choice he was about to make had long-ranging consequences which would affect the lives of more than just one person. He gave himself all the reasons why it was a good and sensible thing to do, and yet, something from deep within his inner being told him it was wrong to interfere.
Although his given reason was his friend's wellbeing, which it was, he knew perfectly well the true reason for his concern was his own wellbeing; for if he were to spend much more time in Miss Elizabeth's company, then her family might actually become his family. No matter how he tried to deny what he felt, Darcy knew he had never wanted any woman as much as he wanted her. His need to feel her warm body beneath his and to have her lying next to him after they had made love had almost become an obsession--one which very well could make him forget everything but his desire to have her.
The coach jerked, snapping him out of his trance as it came to a stop. He shuddered and turned his attention back to Mr. Hurst who, in that short span of time, had fallen asleep.
"Hurst," Darcy said, nudging his companion. "Hurst…we are here."
"What? Oh," he replied looking around. "Louisa kept me up last night with her incessant babbling about her brother, and that, fixed with being up at the crack of dawn, I'm afraid I am a little tired. Ah, well, let's be about our business."
When the gentlemen of Grosvenor Street entered White's, Mr. Bingley, who was sitting alone, stood to greet them.
"Darcy! Hurst! I thought you were at Netherfield," Bingley declared, his expression puzzled.
"Yes, we were, but your sisters decided to follow you to Town. I had business here as well, and so they closed up the house and here we are."
"Caroline closed up the house?! Blast! I'd planned to return by the end of the week."
"Yes, but since we are all here," Hurst interjected, "perhaps we should stay for at least a fortnight."
"Perhaps maybe a sennight, but I must get back to see Miss Bennet. She will be expecting me. I said I would return in five days."
Darcy coughed and then cleared his throat. "Bingley, there is something we must discuss, but not here. We'll do so tonight over dinner. You, along with your sisters and Hurst, are invited to dine with me at Darcy House--unless, of course, you have other plans."
"No, no other plans. I was going to dine here at White's and then return to my hotel."
"There is no need to remain in a hotel, Brother; you may bring your things to Hurst House and reside there with us. Louisa and Caroline would not have it any other way, and I will have no peace until you do," Hurst said with a deep laugh.
"Well, since you put it like that, then I shall remove myself today to your home, but come, man, you and Darcy must sit and take tea with me. I just ordered a platter of cold meats, some cheese, a small loaf of bread, and cucumber salad. It would be a shame to let it go to waste."
The three gentlemen took their seats and began to eat while engaging in casual conversation. Darcy conveyed that the work at Netherfield was now complete to his satisfaction, to which Bingley expressed his gratitude for his friend's diligence on his behalf.
While they were talking, several friends stopped by their table to give their salutations. One, in particular, was a jolly sort of fellow.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy!" The gentleman cried, approaching the table with a bow. Turning to Bingley and Hurst, he bowed again. "Charles Bingley and Reginald Hurst! Fancy meeting the three of you here. I've been looking for you. Viscount Wexford said you had taken an estate in the country…ah...where did he say?"
"Hertfordshire," Bingley answered brightly.
"Yes, quite right. Hertfordshire. Dreadful country! But never mind that. I was going to call round to invite you to our yuletide ball. My wife would have my head if I did not. Your cousins will be there," he said, turning to Darcy. "The ball is the twenty-first of December, and you are all invited. I shall send the invitations round directly."
Charles's features skewed, and he went to speak, but Darcy raised his hand to silence him.
"Randal Pennington…it has indeed been a while. I have not seen you since your wedding last Christmas."
"Yes…I do believe that is correct. Marital felicity and family duties have consumed my time. My father keeps me busy at Sandalhurst and Greensward, and my wife keeps me busy elsewhere."
They all laughed.
"I understand, but nonetheless, I am glad to see you just the same. Send round your invitation. We'll be there. I think I might enjoy a ball in this festive season," Darcy said, glancing at Bingley.
"Well, I should hope so. Susan has two unmarried sisters here from India with their father, and they each come with a dowry worth a fortune the likes of which is only to be seen in a princess," he said with a wink at Darcy and Bingley. "But I'll not have either of you breaking Kate's or Millie's hearts--especially you Bingley. Poor Miss Carter. You quite broke her heart last year, you did. It took her all of a fortnight to recover from her disappointment. Jolly well, I must be on my way. Susan expects me home for tea. You know how it is when you are newly married, Reginald! Remember, all of you are invited, and send my best regards to Mrs. Hurst."
"I will at that, Rand," Mr. Hurst replied.
When Mr. Pennington was out of hearing, Bingley spoke. "Darcy, why did you accept that invitation as if it were a settled thing? I presume you know I came to London to buy a ring for Miss Bennet. We are as good as engaged."
"Have you asked for her hand?"
"Well, no, but there is an unspoken understanding. I can tell she holds an affection for me, and I certainly do for her. I plan to be at back at Netherfield in no later than a sennight. I've already selected the ring I wish to purchase."
Hurst, wanting to avoid an unpleasant situation, took his watch from his waistcoat and said as he glanced at Darcy, "Three o'clock. If we are to be at your house by eight, we had better leave.
"Bingley," he continued, returning his gaze to his brother-in-law, "I will send round for your things in half past the hour. Be ready and then we shall talk tonight. Come, Darcy," Hurst said, rising to his feet.
Once they were outside, Darcy turned to Hurst.
"Reginald, I owe you a debt of gratitude. It would not have done for Bingley to know too much before we speak tonight."
"Think nothing of it, Darcy. I was glad to be of service."
Riding back to Grosvenor Street, Darcy sighed and closed his eyes as he thought to himself. …well, whatever hesitations I might have felt, I am now committed and there is no turning back.
Later that Evening
Dinner at Darcy House
When dinner had concluded, instead of the gentlemen separating from the ladies for brandy and cigars, as was the custom, they all joined together in the drawing room where Georgiana played for them on the pianoforte. Darcy sat in a state of peaceful contentment as he listened to his sister's performance, and for the briefest of moments, he was once again back in Hertfordshire at Lucas Lodge. He could see Miss Elizabeth playing at the pianoforte with an expression of sweetness on her countenance as she sang. She smiled at him, and his eyes flew open. His heart pounding, he swallowed hard and reached to loosen his cravat which had suddenly become very constrictive.
Sitting up straight, Darcy shifted in his seat. Georgiana had finished her piece, and Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst could not give her accolades enough. Even Charles admired her performance. Recovering himself, Darcy spoke.
"Georgiana, your performance was magnificent, perhaps the best I have ever heard you play," he said with true joy. "But now, if you will indulge your older brother once more, I would have you play the harp. I feel that I need the comforting music only your talent can bestow."
"Very well, Fitzwilliam; though I do not excel, I shall play, but only one song."
"Nonsense!" cried Miss Bingley. "No one plays as well as you, for I have heard many performances in the great halls of London, and I can assure you of the justice of my words," she said, glancing at her sister.
"I, too, quite concur, Miss Darcy," replied Mrs. Hurst. "Your performance is sublime. Do you not agree, Brother?"
"What! Oh, yes-yes. Please play a sweet melody for us, Miss Darcy," Charles said, rather distracted. "I would love to hear you exhibit."
"You are very kind, Mr. Bingley," Georgiana answered softly, rising from the pianoforte to take her place at the harp.
As his sister began to play, Darcy closed his eyes and smiled absently. Georgiana's playing served as a balm to his troubled soul much like young David's music had soothed King Saul.
Darcy breathed wearily. He had always been a man of conviction, and tonight would be no different. His duty to his friend was as great as his duty to his family.
After the music was over, he opened his eyes and smiled once more.
"That was lovely, Georgiana. You have truly grown in your accomplishments. I am very proud of you."
Georgiana blushed and lowered her lashes. Lifting her eyes, she caught Darcy's soft gaze. "Thank you, Brother. I have tried very hard to become the kind of lady that would please you."
"And that you have done."
Mrs. Annesley, who was sitting in a chair by the fire with her needlework, spoke in a gentle voice. "Mr. Darcy, your sister has indeed accomplished much in such a short period of time, and I, too, am well pleased with her progress--especially in music, but now," she said, glancing at Georgiana, "Miss Darcy, it is time for you to retire for the evening. Tomorrow's masters will be here very early, and you would not want to disappoint them by being tired."
"No, I would not," she said, rising from her seat. "I am eager to excel in Latin as well as music, and Mr. Emerson is quite the demanding taskmaster with his lessons. Therefore, I bid you all a good night."
"Goodnight, Miss Darcy. I hope to see you soon. Do call at Hurst House when it is convenient and we shall spend the day on Bond Street shopping," Caroline said with an artificial smile.
The Hursts and Mr. Bingley gave their regard, and with a curtsey, Georgiana left the room with her companion.
Darcy stood to his feet and followed them to the door, closing it behind them. He then turned to Bingley who was seated on the settee beside Mr. Hurst.
Miss Bingley, seeing the opportunity accessible to her, seized the moment and rose to her feet, coming to stand in front of her brother.
"Charles," she said in a firm voice, "there is something of great importance which Louisa and I must discuss with you."
Bingley glanced between his two sisters who were both now standing over him. "Here? What could be on your mind that we must discuss here, Caroline?"
"You cannot be serious in offering for Miss Bennet," Caroline said.
"Yes, I am perfectly serious."
"But Charles, did you not see and hear what was so obvious to all the night of the ball? Her mother is the most vulgar woman any of us have ever seen. What could you mean by such an alliance?" asked Louisa.
"I don't see it as such a degradation when one is in love; nor do I see it as any business of yours. After all, it is I who will be marrying her," he said with conviction.
"But it is my business when it affects you and your good standing in society," Caroline responded with vigour. "You cannot align yourself with her!"
"I do not understand this passionate reaction of yours. You and Louisa both admired and liked her, pronouncing her to be a sweet girl, one whom, as you both have stated, you should not object to knowing better. 'Miss Bennet,' you said, 'is a sweet girl, one of fine deportment and polished manners,' and, therefore, I felt authorised by such commendation to think of her as I chose; now you are telling me otherwise?!"
"But, Bingley," Darcy interjected, strolling over to stand next to his sisters. "You have always told me that you wished to marry for affection, have you not?"
"Yes! And I love Jane dearly!"
"But what does she feel for you?"
"Well, I think she feels the same. She seems to enjoy my attentions whenever we are together."
"Seems to!" Darcy cried. "And that is the material point, isn't it? You are not certain how she really feels, are you?"
Bingley started to speak, but then released a breath and fell back against his seat, doubt written in his expression.
Darcy folded his hands behind his back and paced in front of Bingley. Turning, he looked his friend directly in the eye and asked, "Has she told you or even alluded to you how she might feel? Or are you so blinded by your own infatuation that you cannot discern the truth of hers?"
"Well, no, we have never discussed it, but I think--"
"You think, but you do not know. I, on the other hand, have observed the two of you together, and while she clearly enjoys your attentions, I sense she has no real affection for you. But, what I have heard and seen is that her mother wants this match very badly, and Miss Bennet, gentle and compliant as she is, will do whatever she is told. She will marry you out of duty to her family, as so many other young women do every day in this country. Is that what you want, Charles…a wife who will be nothing more than her mother's instrument in securing a rich husband so that not only Miss Bennet, but her sisters as well, will benefit from the connection? Can you not see this?"
"Charles, listen to Mr. Darcy. I know you, as well as everyone in the whole room, heard Mrs. Bennet the night of the ball. You are the prize--the catch--to deliver them from their present circumstances, and if that suits you then, by all means, do as you will, but before you even consider it, think of Caroline. Her chances of making a good match will be severely damaged, even with her dowry of twenty thousand pounds! Think of us all!" Louisa cried.
A great sorrow overcame Bingley, and he turned first to Mr. Hurst and then to Darcy.
"Is that what you think…that Jane does not love me, but is rather a pawn of her mother's machinates …nothing more than a device to secure not only me, but other rich husbands for all her daughters? Yes, I heard Mrs. Bennet that night, for who could not? I doubt even the dead escaped her voice; it was loud enough to wake them…and yes, I was embarrassed by the display--but for Jane's sake--not mine."
"Bingley," Mr. Hurst said, "many a man has entered a marriage of convenience. You know it is expected amongst our circle, but I have known you for a long time, and that sort of situation, convenience coupled with unequal affection, would crush your spirit. You possess neither the strength nor the will to endure it. Think long and hard about your decision; for you will not only acquire Miss Bennet, but also her mother, and her father and sisters as well, and while Mr. Bennet and his two eldest daughters appear to be sensible, the others most certainly are not. Is that what you want?"
Bingley dropped his head. "No," he breathed out.
Looking up, he caught Darcy's piercing gaze. "Is this what you truly believe?"
"Then I had better take my hat and leave. I'll send a message to Nicholls in the morning and tell her to close up the house for long storage as it is unlikely that I will return."
Darcy felt the severity of his friend's pain like a blow to the chest as he watched Bingley amble from the room.
Once the door was closed behind him, Caroline and Louisa celebrated in triumph.
"Thank goodness! We prevailed," Caroline said. "For I feared we would not!"
"Yes, I know. I thought it might be more difficult than it was, and I don't think it would have been possible at all but for you, Mr. Darcy. We are in your debt." Louisa smiled.
Darcy acknowledged her with a nod, but said nothing.
Instead, he watched with disdain as Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst continued their attack on the Bennet family. Gazing at them, he shook his head in contempt for what motivated them. Their behaviour was calculated to please when it suited them, as it had been with Miss Bennet at the time, but he clearly saw it for what it was. They were proud and conceited, their only concern was associating with people of rank and moving in high society, and, therefore, they thought well of themselves and meanly of others. Bingley's sisters cared not one jot for their brother's feelings or whether or not he married for affection. All that mattered to them was themselves and their position in society. And though Darcy could not recommend the Bennets, he knew the eldest two Miss Bennets did not deserve the harsh derision at the hands of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. He glanced away as he began to feel sorry for his role in this entirely sordid affair, though he firmly believed it was for the best.
Unable to sleep, Darcy sequestered himself in his study, watching the flames crackle and pop, with a bottle of brandy for his comfort. Pouring himself another drink, he sat there stone cold in his chair. Sipping his drink slowly, he thought about the evening and all that had transpired, reliving the events that had led up to this moment as he gazed into the fire. The image of Bingley's face suddenly appeared in his mind's eye. Charles looked like a caged animal about to be taken to the slaughter. Darcy downed his drink and shook his head as he reached for the decanter of brandy.
Pouring his next drink, he was alerted to the small knock on his door.
He turned his head and called out. "Enter," he said, thinking it was his man.
Peeping round the corner with her fingers gripping the door, Georgiana said shyly, "Fitzwilliam, may we talk?"
"Come." He motioned with his hand for her to take a seat. "I thought you were Winfred, but never mind. What do you wish to speak of?"
"Well…I was wondering--if it is not too presumptuous of me, that is…if you might tell me a little more about…about…Miss Elizabeth Bennet. You spoke so well of her in your letters. You said she is lively and kind and has a great affection for her sister. I have always wanted a sister to love--and to love me back like Miss Elizabeth loves her sister…one whom I could tell my deepest secrets to and she could tell hers to me. Please…if you will, tell me more."
Darcy stared past his sister's shoulder, fixing his gaze on the picture of their father and mother above her head, contemplating what she had asked. He understood her need better than perhaps she thought, for he had always wanted a brother--one that he could respect and confide in. That was possibly why he had felt the betrayal of George Wickham so acutely. In George he had hoped to find that bond he longed for in a sibling and yet never had. It seemed but an illusion, like sand slipping through one's fingers when clutched tightly; and furthermore, perhaps that was why his friendship with Bingley meant so much to him. Bingley needed him like a wiser older brother to think of his needs, to keep him from getting himself into the sort of scrape he had just escaped. Darcy turned his gaze from their parents' portrait and caught his sister's intense blue eyes.
"I will tell you all that I know," he said at last. "She is kind, as I told you in my letters," he nodded, "but she is also stubborn when she feels she is right. She is not afraid to speak her mind, something I admire greatly in a woman. Did I tell you that she walked three miles through the countryside in the dirt after a rainstorm, her petticoats six inches deep in mud, to attend her sister when she was ill at Netherfield?"
"No," a shocked Georgiana replied, "you did not. You only said that she came to care for her sister." Georgiana paused. "Were you not affronted by her appearance when you saw her?"
Darcy smiled and shook his head. "No, not in the least, for she was absolutely beautiful. I met her on the far end of the lawn as she jumped the fence onto Bingley's property. I was so stunned by her sudden appearance that I could scarcely draw breath. Her green eyes, brightened by the exercise, shone like polished emeralds, and her face was flushed with a warm glow. I saw no fault in her at all."
"What else? Go on; tell me more."
"Well…she is the first woman to have ever challenged me in an argument with the confidence to win--which she almost did on several occasions. I would say at least some of them were a draw with neither of us defeating the other. And she plays the pianoforte with such feeling that I find myself spellbound in a world of my own when I listen to her performances. She does not play with perfection like you and Bingley's sisters, but the emotion she puts forth is truly remarkable. Her singing is also very beautiful. With the right masters, she could become a great performer--much better than Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst.
"And then there is one other thing. She has made a close friend of Sam."
"Sam?" Georgiana laughed. "Why Sam, I wonder? Though you did mention him in your letters."
"Did I?" He laughed.
"Yes, you did, but I would still like to know why he would choose her?"
"I don't know for certain, but I think she and Sam are kindred spirits. Sam loves to play and can recognize when a person is amiable or not, and she is a studier of character who can also discern goodness or folly in people…and apparently dogs. Besides myself, I've never seen Sam so taken with another human being as he was with her."
Darcy was unaware that he smiled in quiet reflection.
"The first time I ever spoke to her was when no one was around to distract us. She and Sam were playing a game of fetch in a meadow covered in heather. Miss Elizabeth is playful and carefree, and Sam was delighted to have the attention. After that I caught them frolicking quite often. In fact, I really believe she would like to have him for her own hound if I were willing to part with him."
"Umm…I wish I could play in a meadow of flowers. It sounds so…so simplistic. I am predisposed to like her already. What else! Tell me more!"
"Well, let's see. Miss Elizabeth is a great reader, though she would tell you otherwise. She enjoys Sir Thomas More."
"Sir Thomas More? Is that not a favorite of yours? I think he is your most favorite author, for you are always reading his work."
Darcy laughed. "That he is…one of them, at least. I once tried to engage her in conversation concerning books while we were dancing, hoping to learn more about her tastes, but she would not speak of books in a ballroom."
"So you danced with her then…that is very good. Is there anything else you might tell me? What is her family like? Are they rich? You said her father was a gentleman. Is he like our father was--a gentleman in high standing in their community?"
Darcy breathed deeply as he lifted his glass for a swallow. Setting it back down, he met his sister's curious gaze.
"They are perhaps not rich, but well off, I would say--and yes, Miss Elizabeth is the daughter of a gentleman who is perhaps the wealthiest in his sphere, but, unfortunately, his estate is entailed away from the female line, and thus it will be lost upon his death as he has five daughters and no sons."
Georgiana's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh! How horrible. That means either she or one of her sisters must marry well."
"Yes," Darcy said, nodding his head slowly. "One of them must marry well."
"Perhaps the eldest Miss Bennet will marry Mr. Bingley and then maybe--"
"Georgiana that is enough for one night. It is well past your bedtime, and Mrs. Annesley is correct; you will be in no condition for your Latin master tomorrow if you do not go to bed."
"I suppose so." She sighed. "But when we talk next, I want to know all about her sisters--especially the younger sisters. Are they close to me in age?"
"Close--especially the youngest, but you have nothing in common with them. Now off to bed."
"Yes, Brother." Georgiana dropped her gaze and rose to her feet. Before she left the room, however, she turned and said, "I only want your happiness, Fitzwilliam. Your felicity is my only concern. I love you dearly, Brother."
With that, she closed the door behind her leaving him alone once more, and Darcy did feel alone…alone in a way he had never felt before.
He downed what was left of his drink in one swallow and left for his own bed, praying tomorrow would be a better day.
In the quiet of her room, Georgiana Darcy dropped to her knees and said a simple prayer.
"Please, dear Father, help my brother. I know he cares for Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but something is terribly wrong. I fear my brother has carried the weight of the whole world upon his shoulders for so long that he no longer recognizes his own needs. He always puts everyone and everything before himself, and that is wrong. Please help him to understand that simple truth can overcome whatever it is that would keep him from her, and not only for Fitzwilliam's sake, but for mine as well, for I so need and want a sister, and I am certain it is Miss Elizabeth that I want. Goodnight, dear Lord. Amen."
Georgiana slipped under her warm covers and fell asleep with a contented smile on her lips, secure in the Lord's goodness.
The next day, any regrets Darcy might have had on separating Bingley from Miss Bennet were quickly put away. In fact, he congratulated himself on having saved his friend from the inconveniences of a rather imprudent marriage.
Donning his greatcoat and beaver, he grabbed his walking stick and set out for the day. Strolling down the sidewalk, he twirled his cane and griped the handle tighter as he tapped it against the bricks and mortar. …what's done is done, and done for the best! I am protecting everyone's future, especially Georgiana's. …Her future is paramount to everything else!
December 12, 1811
The following days had passed by rather quickly. Darcy had called on Charles twice, but his friend had not felt like company, and Darcy, therefore, had been forced to put up with the displeasure of spending the calling hour with his sisters instead. Having conveniently found somewhere else to be, even Hurst had not been available for his relief. It was a most unpleasant experience, one he had just as soon not repeat; and therefore, he had no plans to call on Bingley again anytime soon. When Charles was ready, he could call round to Darcy House.
Since he had yet to call upon his cousins, Darcy's plans were to visit Viscount Wexford, and if Richard was in town, perhaps the three of them might spend the afternoon together. Then this evening, he and Georgiana would make use of their private box in Covent Garden Theatre. This evening's production promised to be one of the best of the season. Macbeth, featuring Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth, was being performed, and when he first mentioned it to his sister, her excitement was the only gift he needed in this Christmas season; for it had given him great pleasure to see the light return to her clear blue eyes.
Gathering his beaver, coat, gloves, and cane, Darcy left for the short walk to Number 10 Brook Street where his cousin, Viscount Wexford, lived with his parents in Matlock House.
Raising the heavy lion's head knocker, he gave three sharp raps.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy," the butler said as he opened the door. "Won't you come in? Lord and Lady Matlock are not in at present, but the Viscount is in the drawing room with his brother, Colonel Fitzwilliam."
"Thank you, Robinson; my cousins are precisely whom I have come to see. Do not bother announcing me, I know the way."
"Very good, sir."
Moving into the great hall, he turned left and took the corridor to the front room with the wall of windows facing the gardens.
"Darcy!" Colonel Fitzwilliam cried, jumping to his feet, followed by the Viscount, as they both went to greet him. "I had quite given up on you," the Colonel said. "Have you been in Hertfordshire all this time?"
"I arrived back in Town a little over a week ago, but have only now had the time to call round."
"And what of Bingley? I had rather thought from your last letter that he would be leg-shackled by now. You seemed distressed at the prospect."
"Yes…well, things took a turn in a different direction--to everybody's satisfaction." Darcy moved to gaze out the window at the large Spanish oaks towering over the shrubbery. Murmuring under his breath, he said privately, "Satisfaction and relief."
"What did you say, Darcy?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, looking rather perplexed.
Turning, he answered, "I was about to ask after your parents. I trust they are well and in good health."
"Yes, quite well. In fact, we are all in good health at the present."
Lord Wexford laughed. "For the present yes, but soon my brother may be in some danger."
"What Wex is referring to," the Colonel spoke up, "is the post I received from the commanding general of the horse regiment earlier this morning. It seems that I am to return to Sandhurst on the tenth of January for training exercises."
"Training exercises…what does this mean?"
"Simply that I am needed at Sandhurst to train a Regiment of Horse making them battle ready. The war with Napoleon is heating up, and if my intelligence is accurate, a war with our former colonies is also brewing."
"Precisely. There is still bad blood between us and the Yanks over the rebellion. Due to trade restrictions because of our on-going war with the French, our ships are seizing their trade vessels and abducting their sailors, pressing them into service in the Royal Navy--not to mention British support given to the American Indian tribes against American expansion into their lands, or the American's outrage over insults to their national honour after we humiliated them on the high seas. The Yanks will not stand for it much longer, I fear. Wex and I were just discussing how on earth we can fight a war on two fronts. It cannot be done. The cost in British lives will be immense."
"This is a heavy burden indeed. Do you think you will be deployed?"
"Only if it explodes on two fronts, but at present, I am only to be used in training as my good friend Colonel Forster is doing in Meryton. And I know what you're thinking, but there is no need to worry. I am training until early spring. I will accompany you in March to Rosings. Only out and out war with the Americans can prevent that."
"That is good to know, as I'm not sure if I would make the trip without at least one of you. It is bad enough to put up with Lady Catherine's officious interference, especially where our cousin Anne is concerned, but to do so alone, I do not think I could endure it. Why doesn't one of you marry her? Especially you, Wex. I dare say it would suit Lady Catherine, and it would be a great relief to me."
Wex gave a hearty laugh and threw up his hands. "Not me. I desire a woman a little less…how do I say it?"
"A woman with a little less overseeing from her mother, perhaps?" Darcy asked.
"That, and one a little less sickly. One with more of a healthy appetite, if you understand what I mean."
"I do indeed." Darcy smiled.
Walking over to the wine table, Lord Wexford poured three drinks and handed one to his brother and another to Darcy. "Why don't you both join me at The White House in Soho Square tonight? We can celebrate the season and my brother's eminent removal to Sandhurst after the New Year. They have some very delectable French courtesans that I am told are very skilled in the art of love making."
"I think not," Darcy said, "Fitzwilliam may join you if he wishes, but I am taking Georgiana to Covent Garden Theatre tonight." Darcy paused for a sip of wine and then glanced between his cousins. "Instead of spending your time in a brothel, why don't the two of you come with us? Georgiana would love to see you both."
"I love Georgie as much as either of you, but a French courtesan in high demand waits for no man. I can see Georgiana at another time. I have an appointment."
"I think I would much rather take Darcy's offer, Wex. My taste for French anything has waned over the years."
"As you wish, Brother," the Viscount said, sipping his wine. "Your tastes have certainly become priggish, if you ask me."
Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. "And I certainly did not ask you, but maybe you, good Brother, need to give up your association with Prinny's set. Lord Bryon and Beau Brummel and their Whig friends will be your bane. What you need, Wex, is a good woman and an heir, lest I have to find a wife and produce one in your stead."
Lord Wexford smiled. "In good time, Brother…all in good time."
"Topics of marriage and courtesans are not why I am here," interjected Darcy. "Let's go to White's and have luncheon. Then we can discuss whatever you like over a decanter of good Italian wine--as long as the subject is not one of the aforementioned. I'd rather discuss war to women."
They all laughed and set out for White's Gentlemen's Club. Once they arrived, Lord Wexford found a secluded table in the far corner and ordered a bottle of their best Toscana wine along with a platter of cold meats and all that went with it. Pouring three glasses, they each took their drink and began to talk as they ate.
"So you think war is inevitable, do you?" Darcy asked Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"I do, and as I said before, it is coming on two fronts. We are already at war with the French, and before this next year is out, we will be at war with the Americans, as well. They are a stubborn stiff-necked people--the best and the worst of the motherland, and as they have proven, they know how to fight. It will take all the forces this country has to offer and then some to wage war on the American continent and at the same time engage the French."
"Then Colonel Forster will get his wish," Darcy replied softly.
"And what wish is that?"
"To join you on the battlefield one more time…Old Ironsides."
"What?! Did he tell you about Ponsonby?"
"Indeed he did."
The Colonel rolled his eyes and Lord Wexford laughed. "Brother, no matter where you go, you shall never escape the association with Cromwell. Cheer up. You cannot help it if you are as skilled and cunning as our worst enemy from the days of the English Civil Wars. Think about it. You bring balance to the record."
"I'd just as soon not. You know how I feel about that Puritan butcher. The stories have been passed down from one generation to the next, how he came into our villages offering peace only to turn and kill our women, children, and old men, and what he didn't kill of our children, he sent to the sugar plantations in the West Indies as slaves. I will hear none of it--no praise associated with him will I share. Now, if you please, no more talk of me or Oliver Cromwell.
"Darcy," the Colonel said, changing the subject. "You have piqued my curiosity over this country miss you've found in the wilds of Hertfordshire. You spoke so well of her in your letters that I am eager to know her better. You said she had dark hair and emerald eyes--a striking beauty, I'd say, and one who plays and sings. What is she like?"
"Humm…has our cousin met a woman who captivates him enough to write home about? Eh, Darcy?" Lord Wexford winked.
Though he was a man who kept himself under good regulation, this question caught Darcy completely off guard and caused him to blush. "Miss Bennet is a singular woman," he said at last, composing himself, "much different from the ladies of the ton. But she is nothing to me other than a friend, I assure you."
"Ah, our cousin has met his match. What a safe answer, Darcy! Even I know when you are avoiding a subject which evidently causes you distress, but if you do not want to share the particulars of your country lass, then so be it. I have a good imagination."
"Imagine what you will, Wex, but that is all it is--a fabrication of your fancy."
The Colonel chuckled. "If she is all that you have written to me in your letters and you truly have no interest, then perhaps I shall get to know her better. How much is her dowry?"
"If she has one, it would be a paltry sum. I'm told her father's estate is entailed away from the female line. She has no brothers."
"That is a great misfortune. She will have to rely on her charms for there are few men who can, or are willing to, take on such a burden," said the Colonel.
Lord Wexford studied his cousin carefully. "An entail is a nasty thing that plunges our women into poverty, leaving them little choice but to go into service or worse. I may talk lightly about brothels and such, but I know it is a deplorable plight many women face, and it should not be forced upon them. Our own third cousin, Lady Mary Fitzgerald of Ireland and her sisters, would have been reduced in circumstances to the point of living in the parish poor house had it not been for Father.
"His cousin, the Earl of Derryberry, thinking he would preserve his properties by entailing them to his earldom, placed his son's family in grievous danger when no sons came of his heir's union with Lady Lyndon.
"When I take my seat in the House of Lords I intend to push for legislation to do away with such cruelties as the entail. The only reason Father hasn't opposed it is because the Lords resist change, and he has had so many other important changes for which to fight that he has not had the strength to add entailments to the battle. However, I intend to fight them when it is my turn."
Darcy stared at his cousin for some moments as he sipped his wine. He had all but forgotten their distant cousins from Ireland, but now that Lord Wexford had called it to his attention, he remembered his parents talking about their piteous plight. And if Lord Matlock had not stepped in, George Darcy had intended to. Entails were indeed a mockery of justice.
Setting his glass aside, he bristled. "Yes…I remember poor Lady Mary and her sisters well. I was just a boy when they were turned out of their home with no remorse or respect from the heir when he came to claim what was his. Your father gave them each a dowry of ten thousand pounds and the dowager cottage at Matlock where they lived until they were respectfully married. It was a sad situation."
"Here-here, let us speak no more of such serious business," the Colonel said. "It is depressing, to say the least. Let us speak of something more cheerful. What say you of Pennington's ball? Are you coming, Darcy? Wex and I plan to attend, and I hear there are to be some extremely pretty--and eligible--young ladies in attendance. There certainly won't be a question of dowries there. Pennington also promises to extend the invitation to a foxhunt as well to be held in mid-January, which, unfortunately, I will not be able to attend." The Colonel sighed. "His family raises some of the best hounds in all of England. I only wish I could be here for that. Say you will attend the ball, Darcy. It will be my last time in society until Easter when I travel to Rosings with you. If you do come, we can ride to Cavendish Square together."
Darcy answered in the affirmative, and after the topics of the ball and Pennington's fine foxhounds were exhausted, they talked of other things: the current bets on the books at White's, which of their friends were next to be married, and the politics of the day. When the hour grew late in the afternoon, Darcy pulled out his fob and made note of the time.
"Three o'clock. The hour draws near to tea time. I had best be off to Darcy House to take tea with Georgiana and her companion. Do you wish me to meet you at Covent Garden, or shall I come for you in my carriage?"
"I'll meet you at the theatre. Look for me in the lobby."
Darcy snapped his watch shut and the three gentlemen left for home.
The Darcy coach pulled up and rolled to a stop at the entrance of Covent Garden Theatre. Darcy exited the coach first and gave Georgiana his hand to help her down. The look of awe in his sister's eyes warmed his heart and gave him cause to smile, something he had done a great deal of these past few days in her presence. Except for an occasional slip, he now managed to hardly think of Miss Elizabeth, or of his stay in Hertfordshire. It was a memory just as soon forgotten and put away as a foolish inclination.
As they entered through the great doors, Georgiana turned to her brother and said, "Oh! It is such an elegant place. It glitters like a thousand diamonds shining all at once. The chandeliers are magnificent! Thank you, Brother, for bringing me here. It is truly a wonderful sight to behold and the best present you could have given me. Shall we now find our box, or shall we wait?"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam is to join us. Once he arrives, then we shall find our box. Patience is a virtue, Georgie," he teased with a smile.
Georgiana returned his smile as she glanced up at him. "You are perfectly right, Brother," she said in confidence, tightening her grip on his arm as they moved into the lobby. "I must learn to be all things gentle and good."
They had not gotten very far when a fashionably dressed party approached.
"Darcy! Fancy meeting you here! And Miss Darcy, too! Susan and I were just talking of you, and well, here you are." Mr. Pennington bowed.
"Rand, it is indeed good to see you. And Mrs. Pennington, it is always a pleasure to see you." Darcy bowed.
Susan Pennington laughed. "I am always glad to see you Mr. Darcy. Please, do not be a stranger. Call on us."
Darcy smiled and nodded.
"Yes, of course!" Randal Pennington said, "You must call at Cavendish Square and bring Miss Darcy with you. Now," turning to the two young ladies standing beside his wife, he continued. "If you will, allow me to introduce you to my wife's sisters, here lately from India: Miss Kathryn Singleton and Miss Millicent Singleton," he said with a sweep of his hand, "This fine gentleman, ladies, is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and his sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley. They own an estate next to ours in Derbyshire."
Each young lady curtseyed, the dark haired one batting her lashes as her intense green eyes searched Darcy's countenance. He noticeably stiffened and drew a deep breath. "Miss Kathryn, Miss Millicent, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," he said with a bow.
The ladies smiled. "We are pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Darcy," Miss Kathryn spoke up. Tearing her eyes away from Mr. Darcy, she continued. "Miss Darcy, I am pleased to make your acquaintance as well. My sister, Susan, speaks well of your family, and it is indeed an honour to place the faces with the names."
"I am honoured, Miss Singleton," Georgina said, returning a curtsey.
"The pleasure is ours, Miss Darcy. But you must call us Kate and Millie, for we are twins and are not inclined to follow formal protocol," the fair-haired girl replied.
Kate's eyes flew back to Darcy. "I understand you are to attend my brother and sister's ball, Mr. Darcy."
"Yes. My cousins and a good friend will be in attendance."
"Perhaps I shall see you there, then," she said with a coquettish smile.
Georgiana's eyes darted between the two, shock and surprise written in her expression. When they departed, she whispered to her brother. "They are quite unusual, are they not--and rather forward?"
"Unusual, perhaps, but not in an unpleasant way," he muttered as his eyes followed their leaving. Then, as if on impulse, Miss Kathryn Singleton looked back over her shoulder and smiled.
Darcy's lips lifted in a gentle curve as he stared, taking in her beauty. She had an uncommonly beautiful shade of hair which he found striking; it especially complemented her dark forest-green eyes, rendering her even more handsome in a daring way.
Her hair is unusual…a shade of black cherry red. I've never seen anything like it. …She reminds me of Miss Elizabeth Bennet in an odd sort of way, only more polished and refined in her address, and her sister is equally lovely. I wonder? Perhaps Bingley might find the fair-haired lady as agreeable as I find her sister…yes…he might indeed!
About that time, Colonel Fitzwilliam came through the entrance. "Darcy, I am exceedingly sorry for being late, but we have not missed the opening scene, I see. Let us hurry to your box for the curtain is sure to soon rise."
They arrived at their box and were seated comfortably. It was a front box situated for the best viewing, and Georgiana was seated between her brother and cousin.
Darcy glanced over to Georgiana, who was well pleased with the performance of the first act, which consequently pleased him. However, before he could return his gaze to the stage, his eyes locked with Miss Kathryn Singleton's from across the gallery. She was seated with her sisters, fanning herself--desire clearly written in her eyes.
Turning back to the stage, Darcy smiled softly. …perhaps they will indeed do …yes…perhaps they will at that…Continued In Next Section