Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2011-07-16
April - Hunsford, Kent
Lizzy stared out the window of the post coach to take in as many sights of the passing landscape as possible. She had rarely been afforded the opportunity for travel beyond the few trips to London to stay with her uncle and aunt Gardiner. She felt that this journey into Kent was exactly what she needed to start anew.
Her childhood home had already begun to change due to Mary's marriage and subsequent removal to Hunsford. Elizabeth knew that further changes were on the horizon. It was only a matter of time before Bingley proposed to Jane. The thought caused a small stab at Elizabeth's heart; however, she was pleased beyond words that Jane had found her happiness.
Thinking of Jane's new found love also brought Elizabeth's own disappointment back to mind. She had done her best to bury it deep within after he left with nary a word of goodbye. With each attempt by her mother to discover if there was still hope, Elizabeth built the wall around her heart a little higher and outwardly laughed as she assured her mother that there had never been any hope in that quarter.
Once the holidays had past, her family finally ceased their questioning. Lizzy had done an admirable job of putting on a happy face during their calls to neighbors; that is, until Mr. Bingley unwittingly brought up his friend's name again. It seems that Mr. Darcy had been enjoying all of the diversions that the season had to offer this year. According to Mr. Bingley, this was very out-of-character for his good friend. When Mrs. Bennet asked if perhaps a lady had caught his friend's eye, Mr. Bingley quickly glanced in Elizabeth's direction and then responded that Mr. Darcy had only been seen attending these functions with Mr. Bingley's own family. The subject was changed directly and Elizabeth did her best to remain in the drawing room just long enough so as to avoid any suspicion of her feelings.
Now, as she drew closer to her sister's new home, she resolved to put this pain behind her. She would not continue to pine for a man who had not deigned to say goodbye and went directly to new enjoyments without a backwards glance.
Elizabeth felt the carriage slow and looked up to see Mary and Mr. Collins waiting for her beside the small gate in front of their home. The landscape surrounding the small cottage was well manicured and would be beautiful when the flowers were in full bloom.
"Oh Lizzy! I am so glad that you have come at last!"
Lizzy smiled brightly as Mary rushed to embrace her sister and held her tightly. She could see that her younger sister had truly missed her and she realized that Mary must have experienced some homesickness since she was never one to travel away from home. When the sisters finally parted, Mr. Collins greeted his sister-in-law.
"Yes, welcome dear sister to our humble abode. I hope that you will not find it too humble. Lady Catherine herself has stated that our cottage is perfectly comfortable for those of our station. I am sure that you will agree for Lady Catherine is most knowledgeable…"
"Yes, my dear, I am sure that Lizzy will be sufficiently comfortable once she has actually entered our home. Let us not delay any longer on this path. Come Lizzy, I want to hear all of the news from home."
The sisters turned to enter the house leaving Mr. Collins to follow behind them.
Elizabeth had been at Hunsford for almost a week and had truly enjoyed her time there. Mary seemed to have blossomed with her newly married status. She was a very capable mistress of the house and performed her duties with precision and a smile. Mary was especially busy in the mornings, which suited Elizabeth perfectly since there were various scenic paths in the surrounding area to ramble the time away. Their afternoons were spent together at the pianoforte or browsing the local shops or discussing the books they were currently reading.
It was during such an afternoon as this that Elizabeth finally met the revered Lady Catherine. The sisters were conversing pleasantly while completing some knitting for the poor box at church when they were interrupted by the arrival of Lady Catherine and her daughter, Anne. When the introductions had been performed and the ladies seated, the inquisition began.
"So, you are Elizabeth Bennet. I have heard much of you from your sister. How do you find your stay in Hunsford?"
"Very pleasant, my Lady."
"Well, I should think so. You couldn't have traveled much. I understand that Mary had rarely visited beyond the boundaries of Hertfordshire prior to her marriage to Mr. Collins."
"That is true, Lady Catherine. However, I have had the opportunity to visit London several times. I find that I prefer the quiet beauty of the country to the bustle of town though both offer their own advantages."
"I have always been a great advocate for vigorous activity while in the country. A brisk ten minute walk in the morning is most beneficial for a healthy constitution." The great lady stated in a most imperious voice.
"That is no issue with our Lizzy. She can be found walking for hours enjoying God's creation in nature." Mary added with a smile.
Lady Catherine as well as her quiet daughter Anne both looked horrified at this.
"What! That will not do. No, not at all Miss Bennet. You must restrict yourself to a short walk on clear days only. It is the worst possible thing to damage your young constitution in such a way."
Elizabeth fought hard to keep down the smirk at the Lady's conflicting words of wisdom. The conversation then turned to Mary's inadequate management of their fowl and how best to obtain more eggs this spring.
After this first meeting, the party of Hunsford was issued several invitations for tea and to dine at Rosings over the course of the next two weeks. Lady Catherine proved to be all that Elizabeth had imagined. She was full of her own importance and felt that her money and title gave her the right to dole out counsel to any and everyone within her own kingdom of Rosings. She was especially exacting in her instruction to the Collins' regarding everything from household staff to the Sunday sermons. Mary handled this unwanted advice with aplomb and seemed to know exactly how to respond without giving offense. Mr. Collins just dabbed at his sweaty brow while pledging to follow every morsel of advice to the letter.
Elizabeth found a surprising friend in the quiet Miss de Bourgh. Anne's appearance was sickly and fragile in nature; however, she was unexpectedly sensible when she was able to converse while out of the scrutiny of her mother.
It was a few days before Easter and Mary and Elizabeth had joined the ladies of Rosings for tea. Lady Catherine was occupied discussing a local pregnant woman with Mary, which allowed Elizabeth and Anne to have their own conversation.
"Miss Bennet, have you heard from your family since you have arrived?" Anne enquired.
"Yes, my sister Jane has written me. I actually expect another letter from her soon since she has yet to reply to my reponse."
"You are very close then?"
"Yes, while I would like to think I am close with all of my sisters, I must say that Jane is my best friend."
"How lovely it would be to have sisters. I have often thought so. I have several cousins; however, those of my age are male and do not often visit. Although, my cousins Darcy and Fitzwilliam do come annually, we are not close."
"Do you not correspond with Georgiana then?" Elizabeth asked without first giving thought to it.
"Ah, I have forgotten that you are acquainted with my cousin Darcy. In answer to your question, yes, I do correspond with Georgiana. She is a dear girl yet still quite young. How was my cousin when you last saw him? I know that he can appear quite haughty; however, I know him to be awkward in new company. We share that trait."
Elizabeth kindly smiled at Anne, "He was perfectly amiable as you have been."
"I am glad to hear it. Perhaps he is changing his ways."
Anne glanced towards her mother to confirm that she was still preoccupied with her conversation before lowering her voice to say, "I believe that my cousin may have finally fallen in love."
Elizabeth could not help the gasp that escaped her but Anne did not noticed and continued.
"My mother was recently very upset regarding some news that arrived from Town. Darcy apparently was very busy this season and attended several high society functions while escorting a young woman. It is being said that a marriage is surely expected since Darcy has never before shown such preference. Her name is Miss Bingley."
"I have met her." Elizabeth dejectedly whispered.
"You have? I have not had the pleasure but, based on the subtle hints from my cousin Georgiana, I'm sure that she's simply awful."
They were startled out of their tete-a-tete when Lady Catherine's booming voice could be heard.
"What is it you are speaking with Miss Bennet about Anne? You are speaking so quietly that I cannot make it out. I must have my share in the conversation."
"I was just suggesting that Miss Bennet walk the path besides the brook tomorrow morning since the weather should be fine." Anne replied smoothly and smiled towards Elizabeth.
The next morning found Elizabeth sitting beside the brook with a letter in hand. She was exhausted after a sleepless night. Although a letter from Jane had arrived while they were at Rosings, Lizzy had retired to her room claiming a headache. Anne's gossip regarding Mr. Darcy's supposed attachment to Miss Bingley completed the puzzle. He had left shortly after her arrival to Hertfordshire. Why, he had left her standing on the dance floor when he saw Miss Bingley arrive! This must also be the reason that Mr. Bingley looked so sheepish when saying that Mr. Darcy was enjoying his time in London. Mr. Bingley must know that I admired his friend! How mortifying! Elizabeth thought.
Now, Lizzy was tired and in great need of her elder sister's comfort so she escaped to the solitude of the brook to read the latest letter from Jane. As she broke the seal and began to read, her own troubles were momentarily forgotten as she learned that Jane was engaged to Mr. Bingley. Her true happiness over this joyful event showed on her face. The sincere smile was still firmly in place as she looked up to find that she was no longer alone.
"Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth exclaimed. The gentleman was so moved by finally seeing her again, and with that intoxicating smile, that he could not utter a word of greeting. When her shock erased the smile from her face, he was finally released from his stupor and spoke.
"Good Morning, Miss Elizabeth. I see that your habits continue though you cross county lines."
"Yes, so it seems." Though she was startled by his appearance, Elizabeth did her best to conceal the upheaval of her emotions upon seeing him again.
Silence lingered as Darcy continued to gaze at Elizabeth and she continued to avoid that gaze.
"I trust that your family is well?" He said as he glanced towards the letter in her hand.
"Why, yes, they are well, thank you."
Again, silence. Darcy was beginning to think that meeting her alone was not ideal after all.
"Well then, I'll not interrupt your solitude. If you will excuse me, I will leave you to your letter."
He slowly began his retreat, disappointment clearly showing on his face. Elizabeth was at war with herself. She was still so hurt and angry by his sudden departure in the fall; however, her heart would not allow her to let him walk away.
"Mr. Darcy," she whispered.
He stopped in his tracks and looked up with such hope on his face that she could not help but smile.
"Sir, I do not prefer solitude to conversation with a friend."
He returned her smile at that and replied, "Then, if you will permit me, I will join you."
He offered her his arm and then they continued down the path together.
"I was unaware that you would be visiting your aunt during my stay here."
"Yes, well, we were unsure if we could make the trip this Easter. My cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam and I normally visit every spring."
He did not expound on the reasons for his possible delay or his sudden appearance so she decided to change the topic.
"How is your sister?" she asked.
"Georgiana is quite well, thank you. She remains in London until I fetch her so that we may travel to Pemberley together. And, your sisters, are they all home or do they travel as well?"
"Actually, my sister Lydia is also away from home. She was thrilled beyond reason to travel to Brighton as the personal guest of Mrs. Forster. I believe you met the Forster's while you were in Hertfordshire? When the regiment removed, Lydia was heart-broken until the invitation arrived and then there was no peace to be had until my father acquiesced and gave his permission."
Darcy looked thoughtful at this information and Elizabeth could only assume that he, like her, did not think it wise for her young and often foolish sister to travel without her parents. Though she loved her papa dearly, she knew that he would always take the path that caused the least amount of trouble to himself when parenting. She sighed at the thought and then decided to bring up a much more pleasant topic.
"Perhaps I am ruining a great surprise but you can blame my uncontainable joy as excuse if pressed in the future. I shall soon call your friend, Mr. Bingley, brother."
"I am very pleased to hear it is so. I will admit, I am not surprised by such an announcement. Bingley long ago made his preference for your sister known to me. They are well suited and I am sure that they will be happy. I have not had much opportunity recently to speak with Bingley since he remained at Netherfield."
It seemed that both of their thoughts turned towards their time in Hertfordshire together since the conversation stalled once again. Elizabeth finally gained enough courage to broach the subject that was forefront in her mind.
"You left Netherfield rather abruptly last autumn."
Although she was looking down, Darcy could hear the hurt in her voice as she made this statement. The reminder of his rash behavior and realization that it caused her pain was an arrow through his heart. He stopped their walking and turned to look at her fully.
"Miss Bennet…Elizabeth, please, I would ask your forgiveness for my rude manner of leaving. I was overwhelmed by certain events and did not think clearly. It was wrong of me to not properly take leave of my friends in Hertfordshire when I felt so welcome there."
He hoped that he conveyed his feelings through this apology. As he waited for a response, Elizabeth continued to look off into the woods in silence. When she finally turned towards him, there was a hint of fire in her eyes.
"Sir, that is the second time that you have called me by my Christian name and I must asked that you desist. I have not given you leave to take such liberties."
Darcy was completely taken aback by her vehemence. He had expected her to understand but only saw hurt and anger. Before he could defend himself, she continued.
"You call me friend yet left me standing alone in the ballroom and without a partner for dinner. Then you had not the decency to call prior to leaving the county indefinitely. I would not expect such behavior from a gentleman and certainly not from a friend. I had thought…but it is of no consequence. I understand that you will make a similar announcement as your friend Bingley soon."
Elizabeth finally stopped and looked away. Before she could blush from exhibiting such forwardness, Darcy grasped both of her hands and willed her to look at him.
"You thought correctly. In vain have I struggled, it will not do. You must allow me to tell you that I love you, most ardently."
And with that, he closed the distance between them and claimed her lips in their first kiss. Elizabeth was powerless to refuse him and soon reciprocated his kisses. For Darcy, the floodgates had opened and he was finally allowing himself to act on the feelings that he had been trying to overcome these many months.
When they finally broke apart from the kiss, Elizabeth looked into his eyes and whispered, "I don't understand. Why did you leave me if you feel this way?"
"Please, have a seat and I will tell all. It is an awful tale but I cannot continue knowing that you have reason to doubt my feelings for you."
Elizabeth sat on a nearby log and tried to calm herself to hear out the man before her. She had pushed her own feelings down so deep that it was difficult to accept his actions and words of love. Darcy paced as she waited patiently for him to begin.
"Elizabeth, I…gah, this is difficult. I must first tell you about a horrible incident involving my sister, Georgiana, which took place last summer at Ramsgate. I had given her permission to travel there for the summer with her companion. Unbeknownst to me, our father's late steward's son was also in Ramsgate and began courting my sister. I tried to shelter Georgiana from the harsher aspects of life; therefore, she was unaware of this man's completely immoral behavior, which caused me to cut ties with him some years before. Ere long, he had convinced Georgiana that she was in love with him and suggested they elope."
Elizabeth gasped at this and was about to interrupt when he continued.
"Fear not, I arrived to check on my sister the day before the planned elopement and put a stop to it. It was plain to see that he was only after her inheritance for, once I made it clear that her dowry was only released upon my approval of her marriage, he left without a word to Georgiana. She was devastated and still suffers the effects of such heartbreak."
He paused and then whispered, "The man who did this was Mr. Wickham, whom you met in Hertfordshire."
Elizabeth startled and then did speak.
"This is the cause for your reaction to him then. What an awful cad. I am glad that he did no harm in Hertfordshire before the regiment moved on."
"Yes, that was a concern of mine as well which is why I went to his commanding officer and informed him of Wickham's penchant for debauchery. In order to protect Georgiana's reputation, I could not divulge details regarding the attempted elopement; however, I did inform him of the many gambling as well as debts to the shopkeepers that Wickham left behind in Derbyshire. Colonel Forster assured me that he would keep a close eye on him and would not allow any of his officers to shame the regiment with such behavior."
Elizabeth nodded but then looked at him expectantly knowing that there was more to this tale.
"As you can imagine, I have done everything possible to preserve Georgiana's reputation. The only people who I told of the incident are my cousins Richard, who is Georgiana's co-guardian, and my cousin Anne, who is a faithful female correspondent to Georgiana and now you. Unfortunately, my thoughtless actions have led to Georgiana's possible ruin."
"Prior to coming to Netherfield with Bingley last autumn, I wrote a letter to Richard referring to Georgiana's continued despondency after the Ramsgate affair. I left this letter, unsealed, on my desk. Miss Bingley found the letter and read it and is now demanding that I marry her or else she will spread the scandalous news among the ton. They would tear my sister apart."
As the import of his words sunk in, Elizabeth stared in shock at Darcy.
"Then, it is true. You are engaged to Miss Bingley?" she whispered.
"What could I do? Georgiana does not deserve to pay for an indiscretion made at the age of 15! I went along with Miss Bingley's plan to protect my sister. I thought that I could resign myself to such a fate knowing that it would allow my sister to live a happy life. I know not what to do. I never imagined that I would find my heart's desire in Hertfordshire. I tried to remove myself and fight it but I cannot fool myself any longer. I love you Elizabeth and I cannot give you up."
He was on his knees before her, holding tightly to her hands as he said this. She had tears streaming down her face as she began to speak.
"How could you? How could you do this to me? Knowing that you could not act on such feelings, why did you continue to show me preference? Why did you dance with me? Why did you make me fall in love with you?"
She quickly pulled her hands away and rose. Darcy was desperate to keep her with him and make her understand.
"I never meant to hurt you, I love you more than life itself. I would give up anything to be with you Elizabeth, anything. I will find a way to fix this. I must find a way to protect Georgiana from Miss Bingley's wrath but, I swear to God, I will not go on in this life without you!"
He again swept her into his arms and kissed her with all of the passion he was feeling. However, this time she pushed against his chest and broke the kiss before backing away quickly.
"This is wrong. You have pledge yourself to another and yet make love to me. It is vile that Miss Bingley would harm such an innocent; however, I would not be the cause of Georgiana's ruination. Now, you have not only brought suffering on yourself but have broken my heart too. Please, leave me be."
She turned to leave but soon felt him behind her. He stilled her movements by gently placing his hands on her arms as he leaned in to whisper into her ear.
"You may run away now but I will come for you. Now that I know that you love me in return, I will stop at nothing to bring this to rights. Make no mistake, you will be my wife and I will spend the rest of my life making amends for the pain I have caused. I love you, do not forget it."
She did not respond and only nodded once before walking away as her tears continued to fall.
When Darcy returned to Rosings after his conversation with Elizabeth, he immediately requested that Col. Fitzwilliam and Anne join him in the library. Thankfully, given the hour, it would be possible to have this discussion without the pleasure of his aunt Catherine's company. She was quite adamant that every great lady required a nap at mid-day and so would be safely sequestered in her bedchamber.
When Col. Fitzwilliam and Anne arrived, Darcy was pacing the length of the room with a look of pure determination upon his face.
"O-ho! Have the alarms been sounded? Will you be joining my regiment in battle Darce?" Col. Fitzwilliam said with a laugh.
Darcy turned a scowl towards his cousin and replied,
"Yes, I believe we are at war with a very dangerous enemy!"
Anne calmly seated herself and then stated,
"Come, cousin, have a seat and let us hear what has ruffled the great paragon that is Darcy. You look positively feral pacing about in such a manner."
Once they were all seated, Darcy only hesitated slightly before beginning.
"I have asked you here in order to solicit your help. I find that I am in a dreadful situation and require additional assistance."
He paused to collect his thoughts and then turned to face his cousins once again. Both Anne as well as the Colonel wore looks of astonishment as Darcy relayed the manipulative actions of Miss Bingley. When he had stated how his marked attentions to her over the season were all part of her plan and that she expected an upcoming formal announcement of their engagement, Colonel Fitzwilliam could hold his tongue no longer.
"I cannot believe that such a vile thing, for a woman she will never be, could do such a thing. Over my bloody dead body will she be part of our family. I'd rather ship you to the colonies than see you endure such a fate Darce!"
"Calm down, Richard. Of course Darcy will not marry the fool. Have you forgotten that he has asked for our help?"
Anne turned a shrewd eye to Darcy.
"I suspect, cousin, that there is more to this tale? Although I would certainly do all within my power to protect Georgiana as well as yourself from such a one as Miss Bingley, I can only wonder that you are only now trying to extricate yourself from this engagement when you played along with this farce for all of the season."
Before Darcy could form a coherent response, Anne continued. She nonchalantly smoothed her skirt while saying,
"Miss Elizabeth is quite a beauty. I believe you have had the pleasure of making her acquaintance some months ago."
"You are observant as ever, Anne. In truth, I am completely in love with Miss Elizabeth and fully intend on her being the next Mistress of Pemberly."
Anne smiled knowingly while Colonel Fitzwilliam was again dumbfounded.
"I say, this only gets better and better. The boys in the barracks could not create a more intriguing tale. Well, I am at your service in any way necessary. What's the plan?"
The Colonel rubbed his hands together and had a gleam in his eye that only a military man would at such a time. Darcy continued,
"My first priority is shielding Georgiana from any gossip so we must come up with a way to discredit Miss Bingley without allowing her to spread her venom."
"I believe that I may start the campaign against Miss Bingley with my mother's help."
Anne's statement caused both gentlemen to stare back at her stupidly.
"Don't look so astonished. Mother need not know about Georgiana's indiscretion. I know just the way to spur mother into action." She smiled as she said the last.
"Yes, well, that is good as long as we are able to keep her unconnected to Darcy. What else do you propose Darce?"
"I believe that I have no other choice than to involve Charles and inform him of his sister's devious blackmail. The problem is that I know not if he will be strong enough to curb her tongue."
The trio was silent as they considered the problem. Finally, Colonel Fitzwilliam stood and with an air of finality announced, "I know what must be done."
"I shall be the sacrificial lamb. I can tempt her away with my charm and, of course, the fact that I am an Earl's son will not hurt." He said with a smirk.
"Shall we exchange one beloved family member for another in the lion's den?" Anne exclaimed.
"Fear not, Annie. I'd rather eat this cushion than shackle myself to such a woman. I'll simply string her along until Darce is safely engaged to another and allow her to see my true colors. At that point in time, it would be futile for her to spread tales about Georgiana. Also, if your venture is fruitful, than the Ton will already be poisoned against her."
"I would not wish to bring shame to your name as well, Richard. What if she plays the part of the jilted lover when you break things off? Your father would certainly be displeased." Darcy added.
"What good is a second son but to bring some color to the family? Better I than Georgiana's name being bandied about. Also, I am certainly not known for my expert ways with the fairer sex. It would be forgiven as soon as I find another heiress to marry."
"Well, it is not a perfect plan but it is the best that we can do given the circumstances. I cannot call her lineage into question without harming Bingley and it would be dishonorable to ruin my best friend to protect the actions of my sister."
Anne and the Colonel exchanged a sympathetic glance. It was clear that their cousin bore the weight of the world on his young shoulders.
"Well, enough of this dreary talk. On to pleasanter topics…when will I be able to meet the illustrious Miss Elizabeth Bennet? I feel as though all have met this enchanting creature but me."
A genuine smile crossed Darcy's face as he responded.
"Perhaps I can make the introduction tomorrow after breakfast if you are inclined to ride out with me."
The morning dawned bright and clear. When the inhabitants of Rosings gathered to break their fast, it was obvious that both Darcy and Fitzwilliam were looking forward to their ride, which would lead them to the parsonage.
"I believe we will ride out this morning to make our customary review of the grounds, Aunt." Darcy said once morning pleasantries were exchanged.
"Yes, yes, that is a sound plan, nephew. It appears to be a fine day for a ride."
Darcy and the Colonel were somewhat surprised by their aunt's cheery response until she added in a disgruntled voice,
"And don't let that farmer, Mr. Mason, complain about the state of his homestead again. That thatched roof is perfectly sound."
She went on to grumble to herself of the village folk looking above their station and wishing for such grand accommodations such that Rosings offered for mere commoners.
Her nephews quickly hid their smiles and then began discussing the route that they would follow for the review. Seeing that her cousins were occupied, Anne seized this opportunity to put her plan into action.
"Mother," she said in a soft voice.
"Yes, my dear."
"I do not wish to displease you; however, I have received word from another source in Town that that wretched woman, Miss Bingley, has been spouting that she has secured my cousin Darcy's hand."
Lady Catherine's face took on an awful shade of red as she responded, "Perhaps I need to remind Darcy of his duty to this family given the volume of gossip this young upstart is generating."
Anne quickly intervened, "No, no, that won't be necessary. Only yesterday, Darcy confirmed to Richard and I that there is no engagement between Miss Bingley and he."
"What could she mean to accomplish by spreading such falsehoods? She appears to be a notorious social-climber." Lady Catherine exclaimed.
Anne quietly sipped her tea before continuing in a very innocent voice.
"I cannot be sure, but I believe there had even been rumor of certain indiscretions between Miss Bingley and men of the lower classes. However, I could be mistaken of course."
"Of course, dear." Lady Catherine responded before finishing the toast on her plate. Then she continued.
"So, she is a wanton as well. I do not wish for you to be exposed to such a woman. Perhaps I should inform a few of my friends in Town. I would not wish for them to unknowingly expose the young ladies of their family to her."
Anne smiled in satisfaction as her cousins rose and prepared to leave for their ride.
Lady Catherine reached over and patted Anne's hand and quietly said, "Do not allow all of this gossip to affect you, my dear. Darcy knows his duty and will not fail to make his intentions known to you soon."
"Mother, I have been considering our uncommon engagement and believe that I would prefer to wed a gentleman from a titled family."
Lady Catherine was surprised.
"Whatever can you mean Anne? Darcy's lineage is almost as old as the Fitzwilliam's and there are few whose wealth exceeds that of Pemberly."
"Yes, the Darcy's are almost as old as the Fitzwilliam's."
Anne took another sip of tea and then said, "Perhaps a son of an Earl would do."
Lady Catherine followed Anne's eyes towards her nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam. She allowed a small smile to grace her own face and simply replied, "Perhaps."
Posted on 2011-08-09
Darcy was hopeful that he would find Elizabeth on one of her walks this morning so that he could introduce his cousin. Normally, he would not be pleased to share her company if he could avoid it; however, given their emotional meeting yesterday, he thought that having another person present would lessen the tension when next they met.
Not surprisingly, they found her not far from the parsonage. She stopped and turned in their direction once she heard their horses. When her eyes met Darcy, she immediately flushed and looked down again. It pained him that there was any awkwardness between them and he sought to alleviate it.
"Good day, Miss Elizabeth."
"Good day, Mr. Darcy."
The men dismounted and approached her.
"With your permission, I wish to introduce you to my cousin."
She finally raised her head and smiled at the unknown gentleman with Mr. Darcy. With a quick nod of her head, Darcy continued.
"Miss Bennet, this is my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam of Matlock. Richard, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn."
Richard bowed over her hand and said with a charming smile, "It is truly a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Madam."
Elizabeth blushed at the compliment and bobbed a curtsey. She was feeling very self-conscience of her appearance this morning since little sleep was to be had following her meeting with Mr. Darcy yesterday. She was determined to appear as unaffected as possible since she had little hope that this situation could be resolved with her heart intact.
"Have you had an enjoyable ride this morning?" Elizabeth asked the gentlemen.
"Yes, thank you. It was most invigorating." Darcy replied with his eyes trained upon her face.
"You might be surprised to hear that my cousin Darcy has quite the competitive side. He is constantly trying to surpass my excellent riding skills but has yet to beat me."
The Colonel leaned towards Elizabeth and said in a conspiratorial whisper, "Although I do allow him a head start now and again…I would hate to see the poor boy discouraged."
They all three laughed at this and began to make their way back to the parsonage.
Mrs. Collins met them at the entrance and asked the gentlemen to stay for tea. The cousins accepted with enthusiasm and the quartet settled in the parlor.
"I apologize for Mr. Collin's absence. He is currently assisting one of his parishioners who has need of his counsel. I am sure that he will be most displeased at having missed the opportunity to make your acquaintance Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Darcy attempted to hide his smirk, knowing that Mr. Collins would certainly abandon any lowly parishioner in order to further ingratiate himself with another of Lady Catherine's family. He glanced at Elizabeth to find that she was having a bit more trouble hiding her amusement. She must also be thinking the same of her brother-in-law.
Conversation among the small group flowed freely as Elizabeth relaxed and focused on enjoying the many tales that the Colonel had to tell of not only his adventures at war but also of the many childhood adventures shared with Darcy. Mary went so far as to add a few of Elizabeth's more notable scrapes from her younger years. They were all laughing at the thought of Elizabeth stubbornly sleeping in the barn to protect her new kittens since they were not allowed in the house when a horse was heard approaching followed by the entrance of an express post for Elizabeth.
Both sisters looked alarmed when they realized that the missive came from Longbourn.
"Pardon me, gentleman, but I must open it at once to ensure that my family is well." Elizabeth said absently even as she was opening the letter.
In an unspoken agreement, the gentlemen were just about to make their excuses to leave the ladies to their news, when Elizabeth gasped and then burst into tears.
Mary was immediately at her side. Elizabeth wordlessly thrust the letter into her sister's hand before making her way towards the door. Darcy moved towards her as sobs began to rock her body. He reached out to take hold of her hand.
"Please, tell me what has happened? What can I do to relieve your suffering?"
She glanced up at him with tears streaming down her face. The look in his eye was so urgent and loving that she could not help another sob from escaping.
"There is nothing that you can do, sir. We are ruined. Please, release my hand, I must go to my room at once to pack."
She pulled her hand away and ran up the stairs without looking back.
Darcy turned to Mrs. Collins, who had finished reading her letter and had a severe look upon her face. With all of the strength she could gather, she turned towards her guests.
"I apologize gentlemen but I must attend to my sister. Thank you for your call this morning."
Colonel Fitzwilliam saw that they were being dismissed and made to move to the door. However, Darcy could not bear to leave knowing that some disaster has befallen his beloved. Disregarding her words, he stepped closer to Mrs. Collins.
"Mrs. Collins, is there nothing that I can do to help? I hope that no illness has fallen upon your family at Longbourn?"
Mary stared at the man before her. She was always the strictest of her sisters regarding propriety and knew that the terrible news she had just received should not be discussed outside of the family. Yet, the look upon Mr. Darcy's face told her that he could be trusted and, even more, that he truly did care for her sister. Suddenly, Mary made the uncharacteristic decision to break propriety and trust these men.
"No, sir, there is no illness at Longbourn. However, we have just been informed that our youngest sister Lydia has made a terrible mistake that will reflect upon our whole family. My father has requested that Elizabeth return home at once."
Darcy interrupted and said, "Perhaps there is some way that I may assist in rectifying this situation with Miss Lydia. Elizabeth had mentioned that she was away at Brighton with a friend."
Darcy's use of Elizabeth's name was not lost upon Mary or the Colonel. Mary decided to inform him of exactly how dire the situation was with her family.
"Mr. Darcy, I do appreciate your concern and offer for help; however, there is little to be done. My sister, Lydia, has decided to throw all propriety to the wind and has left her friends to elope with a militia officer."
At the mention of the militia, Darcy's heart almost stopped and his mouth was set in a grim line. He asked who it was that Miss Lydia abandoned her family for but knew the answer even before Mary replied.
Elizabeth was jolted awake as the carriage traversed the gravely road. Her head was aching from the events of the day.
Her worry for her young but foolish sister Lydia was foremost in her thoughts. When she and Mary had packed their small traveling bags, in the brief time afforded them to prepare for the journey to Hertfordshire, they had discussed what could possibly await them at home. Perhaps if it was Jane who was by her side when news of this catastrophe arrived, then Elizabeth might be tempted to join her optimistic elder sister in thinking that all would be well. However, Mary was much more pragmatic and chose to dwell on how the family would need to behave and what actions should be taken to reduce as much gossip as possible.
Elizabeth turned her head to look out the window at the darkening sky. She was almost immediately met by the penetrating stare of Mr. Darcy. She quickly turned back into the carriage even as he bowed his head in acknowledgement. Her head began to throb again as she contemplated how humiliated she was to have her sister's actions exposed to someone of Mr. Darcy's status.
He had appeared so hopeful that morning. She was truly enjoying herself as she conversed easily with Mr. Darcy and his cousin. He had been so confident when he spoke of his love for her and his determination to set things right the previous day. Yet, it would all be for naught once the truth of Lydia's situation was found out. After she fled the parlor that morning after receiving the express from Longbourn, she did not believe that she would ever lay eyes on Mr. Darcy again.
Her shock was palpable when Mary finally joined her to say that they must quickly gather their belongings for the trip to Longbourn for Mr. Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam would be returning shortly with their carriage to convey them home. When Elizabeth had asked if Mary shared the gravity of the situation, all her sister said in response was, "The gentlemen are aware."
When the carriage arrived, Elizabeth had tried to dissuade the gentlemen from joining them home. She would not have their presence known to the neighborhood for fear that the scandal might touch them. Col. Fitzwilliam glanced to his cousin and then excused himself to speak with the driver.
Mr. Darcy had taken a step closer to Elizabeth and in a soft voice said, "As I have already told you Elizabeth, I will not let you run from me. I plan to do all within my power to assist your family in this situation."
"But, sir, it will certainly bring shame…"
Before she could continue, he cut her off and said, "If not for chance, it would be my own sister in Miss Lydia's place. I will not allow Wickham to get away with this. Please, rest during our journey. Col. Fitzwilliam and I are prepared to handle Wickham."
She could only nod her head before joining Mary in the carriage.
It seemed like ages that they had been traveling; yet, it was still the same day. They were nearing Meryton now as dusk began to set in over the countryside.
When the carriage arrived at Longbourn, Mr. Darcy dismounted and was waiting to hand the ladies down. He offered Miss Elizabeth his arm to walk to the house but she stopped him by placing her hand upon his.
"Please, I thank you for the transport in our time of need but I beg you to go now."
Just as he was about to reply, Jane and Mr. Bingley walked out of the house to greet the party. Jane immediately rushed to Elizabeth and enveloped her in a hug even as she reached out to grasped Mary's hand. Mr. Bingley's grim countenance was especially disconcerting to see. He moved around the weeping women to shake hands with Darcy and the Colonel.
"I know not how you came to bring Miss Elizabeth and Mrs. Collins to Longbourn but I greatly appreciate it if only for Jane's sake."
The three sisters straightened up at that time and Jane spoke to the newly arrived party.
"Come, you must be exhausted from your journey. Please join us for tea?"
"We would not wish to intrude on your family party." Darcy replied while keeping his eyes locked on Elizabeth.
"I am certain that my father will wish to thank you for bringing my sisters home safely and so soon after he requested their presence." Jane pressed them.
Mr. Bingley added, "I, myself, was only staying for tea before returning to Netherfield. You can join me when I return for I will not hear of you staying anywhere else."
Both Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam nodded their agreement and the somber party entered the house. They immediately heard Mrs. Bennet's shrill voice coming from her chambers upstairs. Jane informed them that she had remained in her room since the news of Lydia arrived and that Kitty was sitting with her now.
"I believe that my sister, Mary, and I should go and greet our mother and sister at once. Please excuse us, we will join you again momentarily." Elizabeth said as she mounted the stairs with Mary in tow.
Jane led the gentlemen to the parlor and asked the maid to send for her father and to bring the tea. The maid had been gone but a minute when Mr. Bennet entered the room. Darcy saw at once that the news of his youngest daughter's elopement had aged him. He acknowledged Col. Fitzwilliam with the briefest of nods as the introductions were made before turning his attention to Mr. Darcy.
"I find that I must thank you sir for returning my daughters home safely. Would that all of my daughters were home safe at this time." He paused after whispering the last almost to himself. There was an awkward silence until Mr. Bennet again spoke.
"Perhaps you could inform me of how you came to assist my daughters in such a timely manner?"
His tone was not harsh but there was certainly a hint of suspicion. Darcy cleared his throat before responding.
"My aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, his Mr. Collin's patroness, as you might have known."
A ghost of a smile appeared on Mr. Bennet's face before Darcy continued.
"My cousin and I join her each year to celebrate Easter. We were visiting with Mrs. Collins and Miss Elizabeth when the express arrived this morning. I was determined to assist in any way that I can."
"Then you are aware of our misfortunes?" Mr. Bennet asked in a defeated tone.
"Yes, we are aware and would like to offer our help."
Mr. Bennet's eyes flashed at this and tersely stated, "Your friend, Mr. Bingley, has proclaimed that he will stand with us and not abandon my Jane due to these circumstances but I see no reason for someone so wholly unconnected to our family, such as yourselves, to become caught up in this scandal."
"Mr. Bennet, my cousin and I wish to assist based on our previous knowledge of Wickham's deplorable behavior. Both Col. Fitzwilliam and I are aware of some of Mr. Wickham's past associates who may be able to lead us to your missing daughter."
Mr. Bennet seemed to crumble again as he replied, "I know not to what end you offer your help but I will accept it. Lord knows we are in need of friends right now."
Col. Fitzwilliam finally joined the conversation now that it appeared his help would be accepted.
"What has been done to recover your daughter sir?"
"I received an express from Col. Forster late last night stating that my daughter had gone missing from his home. His wife was certain that Lydia had finally eloped with the officer that she had been enamored with for some months. Apparently my reckless daughter had been greatly enjoying her time and told Mrs. Forster that she would certainly not return to Longbourn with the name of Bennet. Col. Forster quickly found that Mr. Wickham was missing from the ranks. Upon further investigation, he found that Mr. Wickham owed many of his fellow officers money and that a carriage was seen leaving Brighton with a young couple headed for London."
Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam exchanged a glance at this news. Mr. Bennet stated, "I shall leave for London at first light to join my brother, Mr. Gardiner, in the search but in a town that size I have little hope retrieving my youngest."
"With your agreement sir, I'd like to join you to London. I know specifically of a woman who Wickham is acquainted with who runs a boarding house. I believe that would be the best place to begin."
"Yes, and I will contact Mr. Forster and obtain some more information regarding Wickham's debts. The other officers may be more willing to provide a true account of Wickham's actions with another officer who is not their Colonel."
Elizabeth and Mary joined the gentlemen and Jane at that time. Elizabeth looked drawn and tired. Darcy was anxious to speak with her again but knew it would be impossible with all of her family surrounding them. The gentlemen continued to discuss their plan to find the young couple.
Suddenly, there was a great commotion in the lane outside. Elizabeth glanced out the window to see a carriage waiting and just caught a glimpse of the woman within the carriage.
"It cannot be!" She exclaimed as she raced out of the room to the door.
The rest of the party rose and followed her out and arrived outside just in time to see Lydia emerge from the carriage with a great laugh as Elizabeth grabbed her and pulled her into a hug. Jane and Mary quickly followed and surrounded their youngest sister to ensure that she was well.
As Mr. Bennet approached to gather his youngest daughter in a gentle hug, Elizabeth began asking how she came to arrive home.
"I have come with the greatest news. You will not guess! I am to be married!" Lydia announced followed by a loud snort and giggle.
Elizabeth shook her head as if in shock,
"Then, it is true? You left the Forster's to elope with an officer?"
"Yes, would not it be a romantic tale for our children?" Lydia responded dreamily.
It was at that time that the rest of the party from within the carriage made their presence known. There were two officers as well as another young lady. When Elizabeth saw the small group, she gasped.
"Mr. Wickham! How could you sir?"
A confused expression barely registered upon his face before a fist crashed into his jaw with enough force to knock him to the ground.
"Mr. Darcy! What are you doing?" screamed Lydia.
Darcy saw nothing but red as soon as his eyes landed upon Wickham. He was towering over his old friend with a murderous expression. The other officer who traveled with Lydia quickly rushed to help Mr. Wickham from the ground and placed himself between Mr. Darcy and his confused friend.
"I believe that there has been a grave misunderstanding. Please, sir, allow me to explain the situation." Said the young officer.
"But, Lydia, you…you said that you eloped with Mr. Wickham?"
"Ha! No, I did not say any such thing, Lizzy."
Lydia walked over to take the arm of the unknown officer and gazed up at him adoringly.
"I am to marry Captain Denny, of course!"
Posted on 2011-10-13
There was a great silence as Lydia's announcement hung in the air.
Although Darcy was still seething, he realized the rashness of his actions and offered his hand towards Wickham. To his surprise, Wickham accepted his hand and, before Darcy could offer an apology, he quickly muttered,
"Think nothing of it. I am certain I was due a good throttle for one reason or another."
Darcy only nodded and then turned back to Captain Denny.
That young man drew himself up and stepped toward Mr. Bennet.
"Mr. Bennet, we met once while the militia was encamped at Meryton. I realize the irregular circumstances surrounding our arrival have caused you alarm but I would like to offer an explanation if you would allow it sir."
Mr. Bennet's stony countenance only allowed the briefest of nods before addressing the group.
"Let us all return to the house. I would rather that this conversation not take place upon a public lane."
Once they entered the house, Mr. Bennet requested that the gentleman join him in his study so the ladies went to the parlor to await the outcome.
No sooner did the study door close, than Mr. Bennet addressed the men gathered therein.
"I am very anxious to know how you came to arrive at my doorstep with my missing daughter, Captain Denny. Given the delicacy of the situation, I would not normally request that others join us for this interview. However, since news of a scandalous elopement has already reached my home, I find that I would rather the truth be known to all who are privy to the situation thus far. The truth could not be worse than a soldier whisking my young, impressionable daughter away from her friends and family."
Captain Denny felt the effects of this last statement immediately and was attempting to gain control of his speech in order to address these charges. He finally felt able to begin and cleared his throat.
"Sir, if I may, I would like to tell you all that has transpired to bring us where we are this evening. I will answer any questions you may have within my ability."
An angry Mr. Bennet tersely responded, "Perhaps you should begin with how you came to be engaged to my daughter without my prior knowledge or consent…sir."
"Of course. I would like you to know that it was never my intention to cause any harm to Miss Lydia's reputation in any way. We met while I was stationed in Meryton and then renewed our acquaintance when we met again in Brighton. Miss Lydia attended all of the balls and parties along with Mrs. Forster. I was at once captivated by her love of life. Over time, we became friends and I can say without a doubt that I am in love with your daughter and wish nothing more than to make her my wife."
"Well, that is a relief. I know Lydia to be a silly child and questioned the veracity of her statement in the lane. I would like to know why, if you are truly consumed by this love for my daughter, that you chose this disgraceful manner rather than requesting her hand?"
Captain Denny's face fell a little as he began to answer.
"As I stated before, Mr. Bennet, I would never choose to do anything that might bring shame upon the woman that I love. I knew that I wanted to petition for her hand in person, so I requested leave from the militia and it was granted. My plan was to travel home to speak with my father before continuing on to Longbourn. You see, in addition to my commission, I am also due to inherit a small estate from my father's brother. I wanted to obtain the documents from my father to show you that I am capable of providing for Miss Lydia upon marriage."
Mr. Bennet merely nodded so Captain Denny continued.
"I informed Miss Lydia of my intentions and told her that I would return to Brighton within a fortnight, hopeful that it would be with your blessing. The morning that I left, I came upon Miss Lydia quite a distance from the village. She was carrying a small valise and informed me of her intention of joining me."
Mr. Bennet slammed his fist upon his desk and with a red face shouted, "Are you telling me, sir, that my youngest daughter forced you to compromise her reputation?"
"Please, please Mr. Bennet, do not be angry with your daughter. As you said tonight, she is young and impressionable. It seems that she has romanticized the idea of elopement and thought that there would be no harm since my intention was to marry her all along. Of course, I disagreed with her knowing how society would view an elopement regardless of good intentions. Unfortunately, it was too late for me to return her to her friends without solidifying the ruination of her reputation. I thought up the best plan that I could and acted on it.
I decided to continue to my home with Miss Lydia since it was only a half-day's journey and then enlist the help of my sister. She could claim to have joined Lydia during the entire journey to quell any speculation that something untoward had taken place. Once we were settled in my parent's carriage, we immediately made our way to Longbourn. Given the circumstances, I did not know how to explain in an express and thought to provide my explanation in person once we arrived. I apologize again for any pain that this has caused to your family."
Mr. Bennet could only rub his hands over his face while muttering, "foolish, foolish child."
Col. Fitzwilliam took this lull in the story to pose a question.
"And how does Mr. Wickham fit into this tale?"
Captain Denny smiled while replying, "Mr. Wickham has been a good friend to me. He was joining me on the beginning of my journey home before he planned to continue on to London. Once Miss Lydia joined us, he said that he would stand by me and also attest that my sister had been present during the journey. I am blessed to have such a loyal friend who is willing to assist in such a way."
Col. Fitzwilliam could not help the snort from escaping as he stated, "Yes, I don't believe you could have found another so well-versed at deception."
Wickham did not respond while Captain Denny seemed affronted by such a statement. Before he could respond to such rudeness, Mr. Bennet spoke again.
"I feel that it is best to continue with your plan then Captain Denny. If your party is amenable to staying with us at Longbourn, then we can invite over a few of my wife's friends from Meryton to tell of Lydia's grand traveling adventure with your sister. I will also send an express this night to Col. Forster explaining that all is well and provide the same story that we shall circulate here. With God's favor, we shall keep Lydia's reputation in tact. Consider yourself engaged. Now, I would ask that all who are in this room would keep this knowledge in confidence."
Each of the men gave a solemn nod.
"Fine, fine, now, please leave me in peace and join the ladies. I find that I require a bit more meditation on the events that have been related to me this night."
The men stood to leave the gentleman to his thoughts. Darcy was on Wickham's heels in the hallway and before he could enter the parlor, he leaned forward and said, "I see you have failed yet another profession. Heading to London? Col. Forster might be interested to know of your current whereabouts."
"Do what you must, Darcy. I resigned my commission before leaving camp. Col. Forster was unavailable so I left the documents with his page."
Darcy was again surprised by Wickham's ability to sound sincere but could not help but add, "Even if that is true, I will not pretend that your presence here is acceptable. I will only say this once…Stay away from the Bennet daughters."
The forcefulness in his voice caught Wickham's attention.
"I see that it is as I suspected. Miss Elizabeth has touched your heart. Fear not, I have no reason to interfere. You of all people know that I need to marry money."
At this reminder of Georgiana, Darcy actually growled.
"Calm down, I am only here to support my friend as long as he has need of me. Once this business has passed, I will be on my way to Town and out of your life."
"Pray that it would be so." Darcy ground out between clenched teeth.
Wickham only paused a moment more at that entrance to the parlor before turning back. He did not make eye contact with Darcy but looked down while saying.
"I am sorry for the past, she did not deserve my treachery."
With that, he proceeded into the parlor where the party was already loud and animated thanks to Lydia's return. Darcy remained in the hallway attempting to quell the desire to repeat the pleasant experience that had taken place upon Wickham's arrival.
The occupants of Longbourn and Netherfield were constantly in company during the days following Lydia's arrival. Mrs. Bennet was ecstatic to find that her youngest daughter was engaged to an upstanding military man who happened to be in line to inherit a small estate. The worries of her daughter's silly conduct was soon forgotten as the matron spread the news far and wide that her eldest and youngest would be wed on the same day. The ladies who received this news in the parlors surrounding Meryton wore expressions of either happiness or envy depending on the marital status of their own daughters.
Elizabeth was very pleased that both of her sisters would be wed to such amiable gentlemen. She had been pleasantly surprised by Captain Denny's manners and respect towards her family. Her only concern was his trust and friendship towards Mr. Wickham; however, she was not at liberty to divulge the information that she held against that gentleman. Thankfully, Mr. Wickham had been polite while in company with the family and somewhat aloof or absent when Mr. Darcy or Col. Fitzwilliam joined the party.
Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth could not deny that her feelings towards that gentleman grew daily. They had not had the opportunity for any private communication since their arrival; however, his every action supported his continued regard for her. Even while surrounded by her family and friends in the parlor, he would see to her comfort by offering her a seat closer to the fire or moving a lamp so that she was able to better see her needlework. These little gestures seemed to have gone unnoticed by the party in general given the constant wedding planning taking place but Elizabeth appreciated it nevertheless.
She wanted nothing more than to openly reciprocate his feelings; however, she could do nothing until she was certain that his unspoken engagement to Miss Bingley had been broken. Her constant worry of the entire situation was taking its toll upon her. She wished to speak with him about it but did not know how to accomplish this since she had so little time to herself now that her mother demanded all of their attention for wedding details.
It was almost two weeks after she had returned to Longbourn when she was finally able to escape the house alone. Her mother would accompany Jane to a dress fitting this morning and did not require her other daughters to join them. Jane had told Elizabeth the night before that Mr. Bingley would not be calling at all that day since he needed to attend to some household details before additional guests began arriving the following week.
Elizabeth walked the familiar path to the meadow contemplating what changes these guests would bring. Mr. Bingley's sisters would soon be here. Could the beautiful woman whom she had briefly met truly be as awful as Mr. Darcy had claimed? Would she ruin his young sister if he did not follow through with the marriage? Elizabeth pondered how she could be happy knowing that she put her own happiness above that of a young woman who was obviously so well-loved by Mr. Darcy. This thought caused a few tears to escape her eyes.
She had reached her destination but was unable to see the beauty surrounding her. The spring flowers speckled across the landscape held no appeal to her. It is truly hopeless, she thought as the tears poured down in earnest.
"What has caused these tears?" said a gentle voice.
Elizabeth looked up into his eyes and again saw such devotion that she could not help but cry harder and covered her face with her hands.
Suddenly she felt strong arms envelope her as Mr. Darcy sat beside her and pulled her to him. He did not speak again but to whisper sweet words as he placed kisses upon her hair. She knew that it was wrong but could not stop herself from leaning into his embrace and turning her face into the crook of his neck. She had never felt such love or comfort from another person.
"Will you not tell me your troubles, sweet one? Perhaps Miss Bennet's imminent departure from Longbourn has caused these tears?"
"I…I do not wish to pain you with my answer." Elizabeth quietly responded.
"Ah, then it is I." He stated.
They both were quiet then but did not disengage from their current position upon the ground, neither wanted to give up the closeness they had been craving for weeks.
"Do you doubt my feelings for you, Elizabeth? Do you not trust that I will be true to my word and break this absurd engagement to Miss Bingley?" Darcy finally asked.
"I cannot see how it is to be done without causing harm to your sister. I would never wish to bring harm to one you love."
His eyes softened as he realized that she was already protective over his sister without having met her yet.
"I see. I can only tell you again that I will not proceed with this forced engagement for a moment longer than necessary. I plan to speak with Bingley's sister as soon as she arrives next week. Col. Fitzwilliam and I have discussed it and have a plan in place to try to minimize the impact to my family. I also do not believe Miss Bingley will cause a scandal at her brother's wedding. Her main concern is her own status and it would not reflect well on her if she did. Truly, this nightmare will be over soon."
Elizabeth only nodded. He gazed down upon her and gently wiped the remaining tears from her face.
"Now, I must ask again. Do you doubt my feelings for you?" He asked quietly.
"No, I could never doubt that you love me. I see it every time you look at me. I feel it when you are near. It consumes me. How would I survive a loss of such a love now that I have felt it?"
Elizabeth had barely stopped speaking when his lips crashed down upon hers. It was not a sweet, tender kiss but a hungry, passionate response to her question. Darcy had never before felt such a strong desire to love and protect another person, not even his sister. He forced himself to break the kiss and quickly panted out, "You never need worry because you have my love for eternity. I could sooner part with my heart than give you up, Elizabeth, because that is what you are…my heart."
He gently pulled them both up and placed her hand upon his arm.
"Now, let us continue walking and enjoying this beautiful day. In a few weeks, there shall be a wedding and," he lowered his voice as he leaned in to whisper in her ear, "I dearly love weddings, Elizabeth."
She could not help but smile at him but then the sound of an approaching horse caught their attention. Any enjoyment in the day was lost as the rider stopped a few paces away and a sharp voice was heard.
"What is this, then? Was a picnic planned that I was not informed of?"
Darcy's face was grim as he responded, "Hello Caroline. I see you have arrived early."
"This is the welcome that I am to receive? Perhaps the poets were incorrect when they said that absence makes the heart grow fonder?"
Caroline smirked as she said the last and then narrowed her eyes at Elizabeth before she spoke to Darcy once again, ignoring his companion.
"I apologize for interrupting your…walk…however, Louisa and I arrived and found that you were away from the house. I decided to retrieve you for I find that I have missed your company and wish to discuss the upcoming happy events that will take place while we are here in Hertfordshire."
Elizabeth could not miss her meaning. She drew in a shaky breath and then spoke to Caroline for the first time since she arrived.
"Welcome back to Hertfordshire, Miss Bingley. I beg your pardon but I must return home for I will surely be missed by this time. Good day, Miss Bingley, Mr. Darcy."
She spared a quick glance at Darcy and attempted to smile as she bobbed a curtsey and turned towards the path to Longbourn.
Caroline wasted no time in attaching herself to Darcy's arm.
"Well, I see that you have become friendly with the locals. It is no matter, I am here now and we must discuss the announcement of our engagement. It is sure to break the heart of that poor girl but she is of little consequence. Most of the hearts in London were broken this season of much higher stations than she." Caroline laughed at this.
Darcy merely continued walking forward taking the reigns of Caroline's horse. When he did not respond, she huffed and said,
"You might show a bit more enthusiasm, Mr. Darcy. I trust you to be circumspect in any female friendships that you might maintain after our marriage. I do not wish for you to be wholly unhappy so long as I remain Mistress of Pemberley, I care little of your other…diversions."
At this, Darcy's tenuous hold on his temper snapped and he growled,
"You would do well to remember that Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a gentleman's daughter and not speak of her in such a way! It is beneath even you!"
Miss Bingley felt the sting of such a reproof, especially since Darcy was highlighting that fact that she was not born a gentleman's daughter. Her own temper flared and she stopped them both to respond.
"I see that you are determined to be miserable. I was trying to be kind but you continue to despise me in private. That is your choice; however, do not be deceived that it will in any way impact my objectives."
She stopped to calm herself and then said in a quieter voice,
"Charles plans to have a ball to celebrate the upcoming wedding. It is the perfect venue to announce our engagement. Be sure to speak with him prior to that night to request my hand. I will now leave you in peace."
She turned to walk back to Netherfield but stopped once more to add,
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet is to be my sister through Jane. It would be perfectly scandalous for all parties if my fiancé were found in a dalliance with her. I trust you there will not be a repeat of the tete a tete I witnessed today."
Then she hurried up the path quickly and did not hear Darcy's response.
"Yes, Caroline, I will be certain to speak with Charles immediately."
"Darcy! Please come in. It is the perfect time for me to cease this tedious work and enjoy a drink a friend."
Bingley poured a glass and handed it to Darcy before pouring himself a generous amount. He glanced at his friend's face and realized that this must be a conversation of some importance.
"I trust that you have greeted my sisters?"
"I have," was the only response the Bingley received.
"Yes, well, it seems that Caroline was intent on arriving as soon as possible. She claims that she wished to assist in the wedding preparations but I suspect that there was further inducement to be found at Netherfield."
Charles smiled slightly at Darcy and waited for his friend to address his subtle hint. He had not long to wait.
"Charles, I must discuss something with you that I fear will bring you pain."
Charles could see that his friend was uncharacteristically nervous and could not help but interrupt.
"I cannot but admit that I was expecting this conversation. Both Louisa, as well as Caroline, has hinted that it was coming over the last several months; however, I will not disguise that I am quite astonished. While I love my sister dearly, you never gave any indication that you favored her in all of our years of friendship. Until I heard the rumors this season, I would not have believed that there was an attachment. Yet, here we are."
"Charles, you have been deceived. It is true that the information that I wish to discuss is regarding your sister Caroline; however, I will most certainly NOT be requesting her hand in marriage."
Darcy then disclosed everything to Bingley, hoping that the sordid tale would not destroy their friendship. When he finished, Darcy realized that Bingley was eerily silent. He quietly refilled their glasses and waited for his response. Bingley jumped up and began pacing the floor before finally breaking his silence and exclaiming,
"What could she be thinking? What has she become?"
He stopped short in front of Darcy and then continued.
"Why did you not immediately come to me? That my own sister could contemplate harming Georgiana in such a way is despicable but her attempt to blackmail you to marry her is absolute madness!"
"I am sorry Charles. I can only admit that when she first approached me, I was resigned to my fate. I felt that I had failed Georgiana and perhaps by marrying your sister, I would be paying my penance. Many marriages are based on mutual gain and not affection. However, I have since realized that I cannot tolerate being married to a woman capable of such deviousness or live in a loveless marriage."
"Well, surely you realize that I will not give my blessing to such a union as this…although I see now that you have no intention to ask for it. I shall speak to Caroline immediately. If common decency is not enough inducement to keep her quiet, then a freeze on her allowance will certainly keep her tongue in check."
Bingley continued to look both puzzled and pained at once, so Darcy quietly excused himself to speak with his cousin. He found him lounging in the billiards room.
"Wonderful! I was hoping to have a game or two and here you appear to fulfill my wish."
"I would gladly best you again, cousin, however, I wanted to inform you that I just spoke with Bingley. I believe that Miss Bingley will be summoned to see her brother shortly so we had best prepare for the aftermath."
Col. Fitzwilliam turned serious at once.
"It is as it must be. Let us see what the result is from Bingley's interview with his dear sister. I will continue on my course to sway her interest from you to myself."
He turned to set up the table for a new game before adding with a smirk,
"I believe our sweet cousin Anne is also helping your cause in her own way."
Much to Col. Fitzwilliam's chagrin, Darcy was true to his word and won their first game shamefully quickly.
"Blast! Must you spend so much time in the country? This is what becomes of the man who prefers the company of other men during balls rather than dancing!"
"Stop carrying on as a child…I will be sorely disappointed in you if you cry to my aunt because I have bested you yet again. Might I remind you that it was your idea?" Darcy responded with a smile.
Before Col. Fitzwilliam could reply, a loud noise was heard down the hall that sounded suspiciously like breaking glass. The men emerged into the hallway just in time to see the swish of Miss Bingley's skirts as she stomped down the hall towards the stairs. They waited briefly to ensure that she would not return before venturing forth to Bingley's study. There, they found their usual jovial friend looking defeated as he slumped in his chair holding a glass of brandy. Broken glass could be found scattered on the floor and it appeared that the glass that Bingley held was the sole survivor of the assault.
Bingley glanced up but did not hold Darcy's eye as he bid them enter. Col. Fitzwilliam closed the door before letting out a low whistle.
"Hell hath no fury…" he whispered to Darcy.
Darcy gave him a disapproving glance before turning to Bingley. Without further entreaty, Bingley began speaking.
"I confronted Caroline about the blackmail. She remained quiet when I asked how she could treat our friends in such a manner. Friends who had been so good as to open up their home to us as well as include us in many elevated social engagements. She would not speak in her defense or admit any fault. I then threatened to cut off her allowance if she did not stop with this shameful plot to marry you, Darce. As you can see, that finally resulted in some reaction."
Bingley waved his hand towards the broken glass.
"I am at a loss as to how to proceed. My wedding is approaching and I will be holding a ball in a matter of days to celebrate. Do I banish my sister from my home? Would not such actions cause unwanted speculation?"
Darcy sighed before saying, "Charles, I do not wish to cause any further disruption to mare this time for you. If you wish, I will remove to Town immediately."
Bingley immediately interrupted him.
"No, absolutely not. It was my sister's actions that have caused this mess. Also, how would you stand up with me if you are in London?"
Darcy was moved by his friend's loyalty and bowed in acknowledgement.
"Well, I realize this is not my decision, but I would think that the best action would be to carry on with all inhabitants still in place. There was great speculation as to a pending match between your sister and Darcy. I believe that if either of them left before your wedding then gossip would spread like wildfire."
Bingley and Darcy had almost forgotten Col. Fitzwilliam's presence until this little speech.
"Yes, I believe you are correct Colonel. Perhaps Caroline will realize the magnitude of her actions now that I have spoken with her. Yes, I am sure that we can now proceed with the festivities and she will have the good sense to act as a proper lady ought."
Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam were both greatly doubtful of this; however, Bingley seemed so desperate to have this ugly situation resolved that they did not press the issue.
Dinner that evening was a subdued affair. Contrary to her earlier actions, Caroline was all that is affable and gracious. She did not dominate the conversation as she was normally want to do; however, she always responded in a sweet tone when addressed. Needless to say, this behavior did not calm Darcy or Col. Fitzwilliam at all. The Col. had already begun to put his own plan in place by offering Miss Bingley his arm as they departed the dining room as well as immediately taking a seat near her in the drawing room. She received his attentions with a smile but did nothing to encourage further notice.
Darcy did his best to avoid her throughout the evening but his curiosity was peaked. Mrs. Hurst also had a shrewd eye on her younger sister. Though she was unaware of the details behind Caroline's 'relationship' with Mr. Darcy, she was certainly expecting a betrothal to soon be announced. Caroline had all but confirmed it during the carriage ride to Netherfield.
After Caroline had finished her second turn on the pianoforte, she rose and spoke to Charles.
"Do forgive me brother but I believe that I will retire for the evening. I have had a trying day…due to our journey."
Charles was beyond pleased with his sister's improved disposition this evening and smiled widely before responding.
"Of course, Caroline. Pleasant dreams."
She smiled sweetly in return before bobbing a quick curtsey to the other gentlemen and leaving the room. The Hurst's quickly followed her claiming the same fatigue. Not long after they had left the room, Bingley looked to Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam with a bewildered look.
"Well, I know not where it came from, but thank the Lord for Caroline's change in disposition. I am glad to see that we can now move forward with the festivities without fear of outbursts such as I witnessed today."
Again, Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam only nodded their heads but did not agree in the slightest with their host.
The trio relaxed and continued to discuss the upcoming ball and the local inhabitants who would attend when there was some commotion heard in the entrance hall. Soon after, the butler entered announcing the arrival of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Miss de Bourgh and Miss Darcy.
Bingley welcomed his unexpected guests and ordered refreshments for the ladies as Darcy and Col. Fitzwilliam greeted their family members.
"I do apologize for our unexpected arrival, Mr. Bingley; however, I found that I needed to speak with my nephews regarding an urgent matter."
Georgiana looked to her brother with apprehension and he smiled to try to ease her mind. He knew better than most that his aunt did not adhere to societies rules when it interfered with her own agenda, even if she demanded it of others.
"No need to apologize, Lady Catherine. I am pleased to welcome you to my home. I would be honored if you would accept my hospitality for the duration of your stay."
"Yes, yes, I have already instructed my footman to bring in our belongings."
Although his aunt's presumption was mortifying, Darcy could not help but smile at this. The look that passed between Col. Fitzwilliam and Anne revealed that they too were amused. Bingley only stuttered a bit before continuing.
"Good…good then. I'll just go make the arrangements with my housekeeper, if you will excuse me a moment."
He quickly bowed and departed the room.
Darcy wasted no time in approaching his aunt.
"Might I ask, aunt, what urgent matter has brought you to Hertfordshire?"
"You may, nephew. I have come to keep an eye on you."
"On me? Whatever could you mean, aunt?"
Before responding, Lady Catherine spoke to the other inhabitants of the room.
"Richard, perhaps you could entertain your cousins while I discuss this matter with Fitzwilliam?"
"Of course, aunt. I would be delighted to hear of my cousins' journey today." Col. Fitzwilliam replied with a smile and a bow. He then ushered the ladies to the other side of the room but kept an eye on his aunt and unfortunate cousin.
Lady Catherine wasted no time in returning to the discussion at hand.
"Do not be obtuse, nephew! I am well aware of what type of woman you have surrounded yourself with and I will not stand by and allow you to become entrapped by a simpering social-climber!"
Darcy was so stunned by this outburst that he could not quickly form a reply. Fortunately, such was not the case for his aunt.
"I am one of your nearest relations and when word of Mrs. Collin's sister's intended elopement reached my ears with you located only in the next estate, I knew that I must quickly arrive to bring some decorum to this county. I am also not ignorant of Mr. Bingley's own sister's behavior. Dalliances with servants? Aspirations to the Darcy name? The poor girl is deluded."
"Where have you heard such things aunt?" Darcy questioned.
"Mr. Collins, of course, informed me of the status of the Bennet girl's sudden elopement turned engagement. I am sure that her parents are relieved that the young man has some gentlemanly ways and agreed to marry the girl. Regarding Miss Bingley, the whole of London is talking about her proclivities, I assure you."
A quick glance to Anne's smirking face said more than his aunt's response.
"I realize that you have befriended Mr. Bingley and it is certainly noble of you to try to improve the lot of one so beneath your notice; however, I will not allow your name to become embroiled with a hint of scandal. I felt that my presence along with Anne and Georgiana would lend respectability to the party here. Now, I am exhausted. I will seek out the housekeeper myself to ensure that the girls and I are given the suitable rooms. Single gentlemen never know the proper way to handle houseguests. Come along Anne, Georgiana."
With that speech, Lady Catherine swept out of the room.
"Brother, I hope you are not angry with me. Aunt Catherine arrived and instructed me to pack at once to join you at Netherfield. I did not know that you were unaware that we were coming until Anne informed me during the journey."
"Of course I am not angry with you, Georgiana. I am always glad to see you."
A look of relief lit up the young girl's face.
"Well, I have not had such an eventful day since my time on the continent!" laughed Col. Fitzwilliam.
Meanwhile, in Miss Bingley's chambers
"Caroline, darling, will you not tell me what has happened? I do not understand why Mr. Darcy showed you so little deference today? Have you had a disagreement?"
Louisa Hurst may appear to have little interest in topics beyond fashion; however, she did care deeply for her siblings and was distressed over her sister's seething. Louisa had heard of Caroline's volatile actions earlier in the day, who in the house could not have heard? Yet, during dinner and afterwards, Caroline was somewhat subdued yet perfectly charming. Now, her young sister was pacing the bedchamber while muttering to herself. Caroline finally turned and looked at her elder sister.
"Enough, Louisa! I do not wish to hear of Mr. Darcy's change in attitude. If he does not follow through with his former intentions to marry me then…"
"Then, what, dearest?" Louisa asked.
"Then, I will ruin him once I am married." Caroline whispered.
"What? Whatever could you mean?"
"Fear not, Louisa. I am going to give Mr. Darcy some time to reflect before speaking with him again. I do not wish to anger Charles before his wedding. However, if I leave Netherfield without Mr. Darcy proposing, then I plan to marry Sir Mason once we return to town."
"Caroline! You cannot mean that. Sir Mason is more than twice your age with a horrible reputation! When he made those lewd comments to you, you assured me that you would sooner live in Scotland than marry such a man!"
"I care not for his reputation. Once we are married, he will live his life and I will live mine. He is wealthy and, regardless of what is known about his character, he is welcomed among London society. Let us discuss this no more, I wish to retire. You must not discuss this with Charles though, Louisa. I have already angered him today and do not wish to spoil his wedding."
Louisa was very concerned but nodded her agreement before leaving the room.
Posted on 2012-05-07
The days following the arrival of Bingley's sisters and Lady Catherine's party were filled with activity. All of Netherfield's new occupants were informed of the ball and spent time preparing for the night of celebration. Lady Catherine was certain that it was Providence who led her to arrive just in time to have a say in the preparations.
Miss Bingley was true to her word and did not approach Mr. Darcy again regarding the dissolution of their secret engagement. She had been enjoying the attentions of Col. Fitzwilliam hoping that Mr. Darcy might take notice and show a hint of jealousy. Yet, while Col. Fitzwilliam was flirting with her, Mr. Darcy was oblivious to anyone other than that homely sister of Jane's.
The day before the ball, the ladies of Longbourn were invited for tea at Netherfield. Whether this invitation originated from Miss Bingley, who was by rights the hostess, or from Lady Catherine, who took great pleasure in ordering servants to her liking, was debatable.
Miss Bingley was determined to show that she was indeed in charge of the household and, therefore, chose a seat closest to Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennet to lead the conversation with the two domineering matrons.
"I find the weather quite refreshing this week. I hope that it holds for the ball tomorrow evening that we might take advantage of the veranda."
Lady Catherine immediate responded in a booming voice.
"Weather, you say? What nonsense to be speaking of the day before a ball. As mistress of Rosings Park, there are a great many more important details to be focused on the day before a ball than mere weather. Refreshing, indeed."
The great lady huffed while turning her attention to Mrs. Bennet.
"Have you ever heard of such foolishness, Mrs. Bennet? I am sure that you have given little thought to the weather today. I am sure that you have the good sense to instead focus upon your daughters, as I myself have today."
Mrs. Bennet was so enthralled to be included in a conversation with the great Lady Catherine that she did little other than nod her head furiously before responding.
"To be sure, my Lady. I personally chose their dresses and hairstyles to best suit their attributes."
She then turned to Miss Bingley, who had not quite recovered from Lady Catherine's rebuke, to continue.
"I do believe that you will understand once you are married yourself, Miss Bingley."
Elizabeth and Jane observed this entertaining conversation for a moment before Jane's soft heart led her to join her soon-to-be sister. Just as she left, Miss de Bourgh joined Elizabeth.
"Miss Elizabeth, I wondered if you would join me for a short walk outdoors. We will not wander far, I assure you, however, I find that this room is particularly stifling today."
Elizabeth would have been slightly offended by Anne's last comment except that she saw that her eyes were narrowed in the direction of Miss Bingley.
"Of course, Miss de Bourgh."
Once the pair had excused themselves and gathered their pelisses, they fell in step on the path through the small shrubbery.
"Your eldest sister is delightful. I have greatly enjoyed making her acquaintance during my stay here as well as your own."
Elizabeth smiled broadly before replying.
"Yes, Jane is quite the angel. It has been a blessing to have a friend and confidante so close at hand throughout the years. Perhaps I have been more of a plague to her at times than a blessing, what younger sister can resist teasing her elder sister? Yet, I do love her and will miss her terribly."
"I would have been well pleased to have had a sibling to grow with as well as share all of my mother's loving attentions."
Anne smirked and both young women laughed. Anne turned thoughtful once again before continuing.
"Perhaps Jane has been your main confidante; however, I can see that she is unaware of certain recent events in your own life."
Elizabeth stiffened at Anne's reference to such personal information and blushed slightly before retorting.
"I will not pretend to be ignorant of what you refer to; however, I see no reason that this is any business of yours, Miss de Bourgh."
Anne stopped and caught Elizabeth's hands in her own.
"Please, Miss Elizabeth, I meant no offense. I am often too forward for my own good…a family trait, I think. I only wished to let you know that you are not alone and if you are in need of a friend, then you have one in me. William is very dear to me and has known more heartbreak than any young man should in a lifetime. Family is important to me, as I know it is to you. Just as you would go to any lengths to protect your sisters, I would do no less for my cousins. Now, I will leave you to contemplate that and enjoy the afternoon in peace."
Anne abruptly turned and hurried back on the path towards the house. Elizabeth was quite stunned and could not understand why she had been so deserted until she realized that she was indeed not alone.
"I hope that my cousin was not tormenting you, Elizabeth."
She turned towards the gentleman with a smile on her face.
"Of course not, Mr. Darcy. Miss de Bourgh and I were having a very enlightening conversation."
"I know Anne to be quite insistent when she's attempting to gather information. Truly, did she upset? If so, I will certainly speak with her."
"No, please, I am perfectly well. In fact, she did most of the talking and informed me that she was pleased to meet me during her stay here."
"Well, who could not be pleased to be in your presence Elizabeth?"
He smirked as she blushed and then retorted,
"I would have you know that I am not normally at such a loss of words, sir. What is it that you do to me?" She teased.
Darcy could stand it no more and pulled her to him.
"On the contrary, Elizabeth," he whispered, "what is it that you have done to me?"
Elizabeth closed her eyes in anticipation of feeling his lips once again but was startled back to reality by a loud snort of laughter.
"Why Lizzy! Whatever are you doing?"
Elizabeth was mortified. She turned to see not only Lydia and Captain Denny but Miss Denny and Mr. Wickham as well.
"Oh, Lydia. I was just returning to the house. I believe it is almost time to depart for Longbourn."
She immediately turned down the path towards the house but Mr. Darcy held fast to her hand and gave her a reassuring smile. He then placed her hand upon his arm before walking back at a more leisurely pace.
Lydia could be heard several steps behind them whispering to her party with a laugh.
"Perhaps we should have sent Miss Denny and Mr. Wickham with Lizzy. I believe she is in greater need of chaperones!"
Elizabeth and Darcy reached the main hall to find that her party was readying themselves to return home. Darcy handed her into the carriage with a gentle squeeze of her hand and eyes that promised of things to come.
"Louisa, may I speak with you in the parlor? I would like your opinion on the flower arrangements that arrived for the ball tomorrow." Caroline ordered sharply.
When Louisa joined Caroline in the empty parlor, she was stunned by the look in her younger sister's eyes.
"Tomorrow during the ball, I need you to ask Mr. Darcy to go to Charles' study before supper. Do what you must, but he must come."
"What are you up to Caroline? Charles has already told you that he will cut you off if you do not leave Mr. Darcy alone. I do not believe it is a good idea to spend any time alone with Mr. Darcy now."
Louisa rose and placed her hand upon her sister's cheek.
"You must give this up, dearest." She begged softly.
Caroline softened her look before quickly replying.
"Yes, yes, I know. It is just that I need to apologize for my recent actions. I do not wish for an audience to such a conversation."
Louisa smiled, thinking that her sister was finally seeing reason.
"However, if it will make you feel better, then ask Charles to join us after Mr. Darcy goes into the study. I just need enough time to make my apologies and, hopefully, start to mend our friendship."
Caroline looked pleadingly at her sister. Louisa smiled and nodded.
"Yes, I can understand that you would wish for a certain level of privacy. Charles and I will follow shortly after to ensure that there is no impropriety. I am glad to see that you have realized the error of your ways. Now, I believe we should retire for the evening. Sleep well, Caroline, tomorrow will be a busy day."
"Thank you, Louisa, truly." Caroline smiled and thought to herself, Yes, tomorrow will be a very busy day.
10 years later…
Fitzwilliam Darcy was in love. He was discussing some improvements with his steward on the west side of his estate. When their business was finally concluded, he quickly mounted his horse and took off at a gallop toward his home. He had a very important event to attend and was anxious to have time to dress.
As his valet outfitted him in full formal attire in the middle of the afternoon, Darcy's mind drifted to a pair of stunning brown eyes and beautiful, curly locks. He hoped that his darling would be pleased with the present that he would present her with today. He had sent to one of London's finest establishments for it and had it custom made for her. He smiled as he thought of her reaction to such a gift.
At last, he was dressed in all his finery and made his way to a lovely room just down the hall. A maid answered his knock and, rather than enter straightaway, he spoke in a formal voice.
"Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy to see the Princess Darcy, please."
"Daddy! You're finally here!" his exuberant daughter exclaimed as she ran to him.
He caught her up in his arms and swung her around a few times while she laughed.
"Sir, please. You are interrupting a very important tea party."
Darcy glanced to the small table in the corner of the room to find his wife smirking at him. He was also surprised to find his two sons looking very put out to be seated at such a fine princess table. He walked to his wife while still carrying his little girl as well as a rather large package with a big, red ribbon.
"Forgive me, madam, for my interruption as well as my tardiness. I wanted to be sure that I was dressed appropriately for the occasion. After all, it is not everyday that a princess turns four."
He gave his daughter a kiss on the forehead before gently setting her down. Before taking his assigned seat, he quickly patted his eldest son's back.
"I am glad to see you here, Edward."
"Father, mother forced me to attend. Must Richard and I endure this?"
"Yes, father, I want to go fishing," His youngest son, Richard, added in a pleading tone.
"Now, boys, today is your sister's birthday. If her only wish is to host a birthday tea party including the people she loves, then you should feel honored to be included in that number."
His daughter walked to her oldest brother and put her little hand upon his cheek.
"Don't you like the tea, Edward?" she asked sweetly.
The little seven year old boy's eye softened before he replied, "Yes, Janie, it is the best tea I have ever tasted."
Darcy glanced at his wife with pride at his son's words until he heard six-year-old Richard mutter, "There are no frogs at a tea party. How could it be fun?"
Soon after the tea party concluded and little Janie was taking a nap holding her new doll, Darcy and his wife decided to take a stroll in the gardens. It was a beautiful, spring day and the flowers were bursting with color. Darcy was admiring his gardener's handiwork when there was a sudden pull upon his arm causing him to stop. Before he could question his wife, she stood upon her tiptoes to kiss him and then said, "You do look dashing this afternoon, William."
"Lucky for me that you think so. Please feel free to continue in such a manner, I am quite at your disposal, Elizabeth."
She obliged him again but then they continued on their walk and began to discuss the guests who would soon arrive.
"I am greatly looking forward to Charles and Jane's arrival tomorrow. Janie will benefit from having Sarah and Frannie for company."
"Yes, I am sure the girls will be thrilled to see one another again; however, I am certain that Edward and Richard are not anticipating being outnumbered with any pleasure." Darcy said with a laugh.
Elizabeth smiled as well before approaching a sensitive subject.
"Jane received word from Louisa. The Hurst's will be joining us at Pemberly, after all this summer. They will be returning from Scotland in two weeks and will arrive here within the month."
Darcy silently nodded his head, so Elizabeth left off the topic and continued to walk with her husband. As they continued down the garden path, both of their thoughts turned towards that fateful night ten years earlier. The other Bingley sister was at the forefront of their minds.
10 years earlier (Night of the Netherfield Ball)
Netherfield was buzzing with activity, as any respectable household would be when a ball is to take place. Maids were busy making finishing touches to all of the beautiful arrangements that could be found throughout the ballroom and large dining area, while the kitchen had practically developed a life of its own as dish after dish was created in anticipation of tonight.
When the time finally arrived for the Netherfield party to begin receiving guests, Darcy was positively bursting with nervous energy. He had spoken with Georgiana earlier in the day and explained that given the attendance of a certain undesirable militiaman, she would be unable to join the party even for a short time. He was surprised to find that Georgiana was quite content to remain above stairs. She had plainly stated that, although she was determined to never be intimidated by such a one as Wickham again, she agreed with her brother that now was not the time to confront that man. Also, her appearance at court would not take place for another year, so her absence from the festivities could easily be explained.
As Elizabeth and Jane approached the receiving line, they were met with Bingley's beaming smile. As Bingley greeted his fiancé, Elizabeth was met with the unpleasant task of speaking with Miss Bingley.
"How lovely to see you again, Miss Eliza." Miss Bingley exclaimed.
Elizabeth was somewhat taken aback by such a greeting but overcame her surprise quickly to respond.
"Why, thank you, Miss Bingley. Netherfield looks stunning."
"Yes, well, I do enjoy planning such events. It is a pleasure to assist my brother; however, I will be relieved when dear Jane is in charge of the household so that I can focus on my own."
"I see." Elizabeth replied with a tight smile.
Thankfully, the awkward pause, which followed, was ended when more guests arrived in the receiving line, demanding the attention of the Bingley's.
The Bennet family had not moved far past their hosts when Darcy approached with his cousins. After the normal exchange of pleasantries, he saw that Mrs. Bennet was intent on speaking with his cousins and then turned his attention to the object of his affections.
"Miss Elizabeth, if you are not otherwise engaged, may I have the pleasure of your hand for the first set?"
Elizabeth's cheeks blazed under the scrutiny of her family party upon this request by Mr. Darcy.
"You may, sir."
He bowed slightly and just as the onlookers were turning back to begin new conversations, Darcy cleared his throat and spoke again.
"Perhaps then, Miss Elizabeth, you would also be amenable to granting me your company for the supper set?"
A hush settled over the party once more as Elizabeth only produced a shy curtsey signifying her acceptance.
Darcy smiled brilliantly and then turned to begin a conversation with Mr. Bennet. Col. Fitzwilliam gladly joined in while trying to suppress his merriment over this blatant show of regard by his love-struck cousin.
Not long before the dancing was to begin, Col. Fitzwilliam made his way towards Miss Bingley.
"Madam, I believe that you are my designated partner for the first set this evening."
Miss Bingley raised an eyebrow and then laughed lightly.
"Truly, sir? I know not of any such arrangement." She quickly glanced over his shoulder to find Darcy preparing for the set with Miss Elizabeth. The Colonel was well aware of the sight she was beholding and decided to press on.
"Well, perhaps one of us has not perfect recall of our agreement to dance; however, I will consider it Providence that we are both free to now take advantage of that fact."
He paused slightly before adding, "I will also take inspiration from my cousin Darcy and immediately request your hand for the supper set as well. It appears the most desirable partners are quickly spoken for at these occasions."
At this, a slight scowl appeared on Miss Bingley's face but she quickly masked it and then politely responded, "I am sorry sir; however, I am…unavailable for the supper set. I would be honored though to join you for the first set."
The dancing commenced and most everyone assembled was having a wonderful evening. The town of Meryton had already been greatly anticipating the wedding of Mr. Bingley to one of their own. However, this ball allowed for an even greater morsel of gossip since Miss Lydia Bennet was in attendance with her fiancé. Few could deny that fortune was smiling upon the Bennet family. This was solidified when the great Mr. Darcy was found to be, once again, lavishing attention upon Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Yes, those Bennet's were blessed indeed.
During the break in dancing before the supper set, Mr. Darcy was speaking with Sir Lucas and counting the minutes before he could join Elizabeth again, when Mrs. Hurst approached him.
"Mr. Darcy, I wondered if I could have a word with you, sir."
"Certainly, Mrs. Hurst."
Darcy quickly made his excuses to Sir Lucas before giving his attention to Mrs. Hurst again.
"My sister has need of your presence in my brother's study, sir."
Darcy's face immediately took on a hard edge when he replied; "I fear that I cannot possibly leave the ballroom at the moment, Madam."
Louisa gave him a pleading look and said, "Please, Mr. Darcy, I know that my sister is truly remorseful for any offense she has given. I believe she only wants the opportunity to make amends."
Darcy glanced up to find that several pairs of eyes were fixed upon him. He did not wish to cause unwanted gossip by making this request appear untoward. He quickly nodded to Mrs. Hurst and then walked away.
Miss Bingley was feeling rather proud of herself. She was certain that her sister would fulfill her promise to have Mr. Darcy appear. She had only been waiting in the study for a short time but she quickly disheveled her hair and pulled at her dress to reveal a scandalous amount of her person at her bodice. What a simple task it will be to secure Darcy. There would be no possibility of escape for him when he is found with her alone in the study by her own siblings, especially in her current state. His actions in Town last season will provide the validity she needs to ensure no scandal is attached to their engagement. Why, the ton expected their marriage! He should not have forced her hand like this.
She was surprised when the click of the door broke her out of her musings. She turned to greet her soon-to-be intended but was horrified to find it was not Darcy who entered the study. Before she could react, the man approached and pulled her into his arms and began kissing her with abandon. She attempted to push him away but he only chuckled and held onto her more tightly. Against all reason, she found herself slowly lessoning her attempts stop him. Who could have thought that such base behavior was so enjoyable?
She was brought back to her senses by a high-pitched squeal and abruptly smacked her attacker's face. She turned to the door to find her sister gaping like a fish and her brother with such fury on his face that she had never before seen.
"What is the meaning of this, Mr. Wickham! You will unhand my sister at once!" Bingley shouted.
Mr. Wickham merely slipped his arm around Caroline's waist and replied with a smile, "I do apologize, Mr. Bingley. We certainly never meant for you to find out about our attachment in such a way."
Caroline quickly pulled away and hissed, "There is no such attachment, sir, as you are well aware." She turned to her brother and said, "Charles, this man has attacked me! Are you not going to call him out for such behavior?"
"Enough, Caroline! What I have just witnessed was certainly no attack. You appeared to be participating willingly in this…" He broke off for lack of words to describe the scene he walked in upon.
"Charles, you cannot be serious!"
The look upon her siblings' faces reflected that she would have some difficulty explaining her actions. As she realized the gravity of the situation she found herself in, Caroline quickly formulated a new plan.
"We are family here…there is no need to do anything drastic. Mr. Wickham can remove himself from our property and…"
"Upon my word, what is this?" Lady Catherine's voice bellowed from the door. The old woman's shrewd eyes missed nothing as she took in the current inhabitants of the study. Richard and Anne were standing only slightly behind her.
Too late, Caroline remembered her dress and quickly remedied it as best as she could. Wickham, once again, stepped to her and partially blocked her view from the others.
"Dearest, I believe that we must announce our engagement at once." Wickham said endearingly.
Caroline turned towards him with pure malice in her eyes, "Marry a steward's son? I think not!"
"You most certainly shall!" Commanded Bingley.
In the silence that followed Bingley's uncharacteristic command, Lady Catherine could be heard to say with disgust, "Too low to wed, but not to bed."
Bingley turned to the gathered spectators and, as calmly as possible, spoke, "I would ask that you continue on to the dining hall. Louisa, please escort Caroline to her chambers. Mr. Wickham and I will remain to discuss some pressing business."
Caroline stood speechless, listening to her brother's instructions and watching her fate quickly taking a horrible turn. She finally remembered her earlier prey and pitifully asked her sister, "But where is Mr. Darcy?"
Lady Catherine immediately responded, "My nephew? You dare to drag his name into this sordid business? Give him not another thought. He is currently escorting a respectable gentleman's daughter to dinner."
With that, she turned her back on Caroline and said, "Come along, Anne, this is no place for you. Why did you ever wish to show me the portrait in Bingley's study in the midst of a ball, my dear? This is what comes of attending soirées of the lower classes."
As realization hit Caroline, she narrowed her eyes toward Anne. Anne merely smiled and did the most unladylike of gestures…she winked at Caroline.
Has it truly been 10 years since I was condemned to this life? When I close my eyes, I can almost see the beautiful chandeliers and hear the soft music from the night that my life changed course so abruptly. I had been sure that by this point in my life I would be living the elevated life as the mistress of Pemberly. Hosting dinner parties that would be the envy of the Ton, visiting the Earl's estates, perhaps even strolling the grounds with my esteemed husband…
"Mrs. Wickham, are you quite well?"
My daydream came to a sudden halt when I heard the voice of that wretched man again.
"Yes, Dr. Dryburgh, I am as well as I always am after such a visit."
The good doctor flinched at my tone. I realize that he thinks me rude but I don't care anymore. His visits always mean the same thing.
"Yes, well, I will just be on my way then. You should have no trouble given your experience but send your boy round if you have need of me in the coming months."
He was quick to leave my presence but I barely noticed.
This would be my 8th child in 10 years.
Another year trapped in this miserable house in Scotland.
Now, I will be unable to visit Louisa in Town. She had finally convinced my awful brother Hurst to allow me to visit them and I will not be allowed to travel due to this latest little beast.
I know that he does this on purpose. After our hasty wedding all of those years ago, he insisted that we immediately travel to Scotland where a 'suitable' home would be purchased using MY money. I am sure that this hovel is suitable for a steward's son but hardly the accommodations that I was expecting upon my marriage. Yet, worse than being banished to the outskirts of the kingdom is that I have not returned to Town in all these long years. How I long to go to a ball! Or even attend a proper tea!
Not that my husband shows a care! He is constantly going about the county with one or another of our sons to visit the many friends he has in this backwards place. He only returns long enough to leave me in this condition before traveling again. If my maid can be trusted, he is extremely familiar with some of the women at the local pubs. Dreadful man. I hate him.
"Ah, my darling! I have just heard the wondrous news that you are to gift me with another bundle of joy!"
And here is the devil himself. He just bursts into my room with that stupid grin upon his handsome face.
"Yes, husband. Another child." I respond with a sneer.
"Now, Caroline, do not be cross. There is nothing so blessed than children. They are a testament of our love for one another." He says as he takes a seat on my bed beside me.
The nerve of him. He actually appears sincere when he speaks of our love. I am about to finally speak my mind about all of these babies before he continues.
"You are so lovely when expecting that I cannot resist the temptation to grow our family. Look at me and tell me that you wish me to cease my attentions to you." He says softly while stroking my cheek.
When he is looking at me as this, it is difficult to remember my ire. He leans down to kiss me and, just as I did all those years ago in my brother's study, I succumb to his charm again and respond. Perhaps not everything in my life is wretched after all.The End