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Part One (Chapter Nine)
Posted on 2013-04-21
It was, she reflected, not unlike her return from Kent. She had so much to conceal! Of course, that was not likely to be possible with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. They had no conception of what should be concealed and why and Lizzy had seemingly no inclination to tell them.
Lizzy watched the landscape trickle by as her aunt and uncle discussed what they had seen in preparation for the inevitable onslaught of questions. Although Lizzy doubted her mother would be interested in the architecture of Blenheim.
Why had she not told her Aunt about Mr Wickham's perfidy? It wasn't because she was keeping Mr Darcy's secret; she had told Jane after all. No, she did not want to expose herself to her aunt. She who prided herself on her judgement, to be so taken in by such a man! It was humiliating.
Then there was Mr Darcy. There was the chance that Mrs Gardiner would not understand Lizzy's refusal of such a man; a man who could provide everything for her family. Mrs Gardiner did not believe in imprudence. Neither did she believe in marriage without respect nor affection, but Mr Darcy's behaviour to Mrs Gardiner would make it difficult for her to believe that Lizzy could truly think that the necessary respect and affection was impossible.
Of course, Mrs Gardiner had at first not believed what had been said about Mr Darcy at Pemberley. Mr Wickham was too charming, too associated with her nostalgia for Derbyshire and Lizzy too certain, for her opinions to be swayed by some long-time servants who would have affections of their own. But then Mr Darcy had appeared and worked his charm too and Lizzy knew that Mrs Gardiner was wondering how her favourite niece could be quite so wrong.
Lizzy could not speak because she did not know what to say. She had been mortified when Mr Darcy had arrived early and found them touring his estate. His ease of manner and insistence in being all that was gentlemanly confused her further.
Mr Bingley had been as he ever had been; charming and eager. Mrs Gardiner had remarked she found him quite like a puppy, which explained the ease in which he was led by his friends and his sisters.
Mr Bingley's sisters were unchanged also, and Lizzy congratulated herself that there her opinion and judgement had not been faulty. Miss Bingley was indeed jealous and made herself less appealing by her manner of recommending herself, and her sister guarded Miss Bingley's interests. Mr Hurst they need not even discuss.
But Mr Darcy! Lizzy could not credit it. Was this the work of her words to him in Kent? The intelligence of his servants made that unlikely. But still she did sense that he was trying to prove to her that he could behave in a gentleman-like manner.
Had he truly wished to fish with her uncle, a man in trade, who should be so far beneath him? Did Mr Darcy find him good sensible company, or was he acting the part? Or was it that his surroundings made him comfortable and able to be affable?
Lizzy saw now the genius of Mr Wickham's tales. Had she and her family now landed in Mr Darcy's mind as the type of people who were worth his while? For even according to Wickham, where he found such people Mr Darcy could be liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable?
No, she could not believe that to be true; it was another of Mr Wickham's misdirections. If Mr Darcy wished to show her, her error in refusing him her mistakes in judgement, her pride and her prejudice, he would not have been so attentive.
A simple invitation to visit with the ladies and taking Mr Gardiner fishing would have sufficed. But he had invited them to dine twice, and had taken charge of organising on one of those days a tour to places that were hidden from the guidebooks. He had played host to them and not given one sign that their presence was unwelcome or that their situation in life was unpalatable.
Lizzy felt that his feelings towards her had not changed. She tried not to feel too puffed up that his feelings for her had survived such a wounding of his vanity and pride.
What she could not make out were her own feelings. She had had a strange sensation upon first seeing Pemberley and realising of what she could have been mistress. But to accept a man because of his fine house was too much like Charlotte accepting Mr Collins for her to think on it any further.
Lizzy could now identify the many qualities that made Mr Darcy a better man, and a better match, than Mr Collins but to be so mercenary to accept a man because he liked her and he had extensive grounds was an abominable thought.
She didn't know whether Mr Darcy was necessary to her happiness. Lizzy had never been in the deepest love that she felt was necessary for matrimony. She had felt a great deal of affection, and feelings of a less noble baser origin, for a number of gentlemen. But nothing that had lasted, nothing that fostered the kind of respect she needed in a husband.
Mr Darcy intrigued her certainly, and his interest was highly flattering, but she did not know him. She thought she did, but she had been wrong.
The five days acquaintance at Pemberley was certainly not enough to be sure. Was it?
"We are almost there," said Mr Gardiner, looking out the window.
"Yes," said his wife, "Your sister will be very pleased to hear that Mr Bingley is likely to come shoot."
Mrs Gardiner could have been speaking to Lizzy or her husband and thus of Jane or Mrs Bennet, but it did not matter to Lizzy. On behalf of either lady, she begged her Aunt to keep that bit of news to herself.
The Gardiners had wasted their time reviewing their trip for the best and most entertaining details. Mrs Bennet was more concerned about their encountering bad roads and their arriving so ahead of schedule resulting in her day being quite in disarray. That topic easily segued into the normal neighbourhood problems.
The only thing that piqued Lizzy's interest was her mother lamenting the fact her husband was being so difficult with regards to her youngest daughters. Mr Bennet rarely interfered in family life, particularly when it came to curbing the entertainments of his daughters. Jane's last letter to her in Derbyshire had been particularly scanty in news and detail and Lizzy wondered that Jane had not mentioned the uproar caused by these new changes.
Lydia had greeted them on their arrival before demanding Mrs Gardiner's attentions to her gown, which had been purchased in Brighton at great expense but was, Lydia proudly boasted, made up to be the height of fashion.
"Lydia has not changed," said Lizzy to Jane in a low voice. "Papa's thought that her exposing herself in Brighton would bring her to her senses has not occurred."
The expression on Jane's face was troubled and while she attempted to smile it did not reach her eyes. Lizzy wanted to take her sister out of the room that very moment to discover the cause of this distress, but Jane, sensing her feelings, shook her head slightly. Their conversation would have to wait.
Kitty and Mary had been walking to the Lucas' and thus not been there to greet them. If Lydia had not been improved by Brighton, Lydia's shadow had little chance of success, but when Kitty entered the room, Lizzy was surprised to note her sister clutched books to her chest. She also had lost some of her paleness and Lizzy thought that perhaps the sea air had done her some physical good.
Lydia and Kitty fell into a squabble immediately, of course, over the books. Lizzy was surprised that Kitty should be interested in the great families of England, but of course she probably thought her sister had met them all on her travels.
Her aunt took this opportunity to tease Lizzy about Mr Darcy and Lizzy felt her countenance change. She should have told Mrs Gardiner not to discuss Mr Darcy, but that would be the top of a slippery slope of information that Lizzy was not sure she wanted to voice.
It was all she could do to remain serene in the face of Mrs Gardiner's assault. Perhaps she did feel more than she had ever before if she did not wish to discuss her feelings with her aunt. Previously Lizzy had been so open with her aunt about her flirtations and admirers.
Lizzy took refuge in sipping her tea and not thinking about former flirtations when her mother spoke peevishly. "If it wasn't for a small obstacle which we are all convinced will be soon overcome, Lydia would be Mrs George Wickham by now!"
"Oh yes, we expect my dear George any day now, Aunt," said Lydia from where she was playing spilkins with her young cousins.
The shock she felt at Mr Wickham's - Mr Wickham, of all people! - name coupled with her sister's made Lizzy spill her tea.
Lizzy knew not what she did as Jane and Mrs Gardiner took the situation in hand and guided her upstairs, Mrs Bennet's complaints about the spoiling of the rug ringing in her ears.
"Jane!" Lizzy allowed her sister to pull off her dress, but then she had to speak.
"Oh, it looks as though you are not scalded," said her sister.
"Mr Wickham, Jane! …what did Mama mean?"
Jane sunk onto the bed and looked at her aunt and Lizzy with a pained expression.
"I did not wish to write to you and worry you on your journey."
"They are engaged?" Lizzy could not keep the horror from her voice.
"An imprudent match, but he is a charming man, perhaps a little harsh on a certain friend of ours … " Mrs Gardiner pressed a cloth against Lizzy's dress.
"No, Aunt!" cried Lizzy. "Mr Wickham is a villain. I did not tell you before because - I do not know. But he is a villain."
"It is possible to like two people," said Mrs Gardiner mildly, "without having to take one in violent dislike because the other becomes more attractive."
"He tried to elope with Miss Darcy, who was then only fifteen years old, for her thirty thousand pounds." It was out before Lizzy could stop herself.
Mrs Gardiner looked to Jane for the veracity of this and sunk down on a chair. "Can this be? And Lydia is…"
"She is not to marry him. She agreed to leave Brighton with him. Kitty discovered their plot and …" Jane stood up to pace a little. "Poor girl. She did not know what to do. Lydia, well we know our sister…and Kitty is not… well, she is more like me, I think. She insisted that she be taken along too because it would be more proper if there was a chaperone."
Lizzy groaned and felt wretchedly ill. She could have prevented this. Thoughtless Lydia! Foolish Kitty!
"But they are both safely here," prompted Mrs Gardiner.
"I have not pressed Lydia on the matter; she will not see that she has done any wrong and our mother…assists her in that view. But Kitty is sincerely distressed. I think she feels everything that she should, but she finds it difficult to speak of it, I think. Colonel Forster wrote. Between the three accounts I believe that Lydia left Kitty alone in Brighton … "
"On the street?" said Mrs Gardiner, clearly not believing her niece to be so cruel or thoughtless.
Jane nodded. "I understand Kitty was rescued by a gentleman of Lizzy's acquaintance and thus the Colonel was informed and Lydia and Mr Wickham brought back to Brighton. Colonel Forster set out with the girls almost the very next day. Oh, Lizzy! Oh, Aunt! Mr Wickham has such debts - and not just debts. I did not think it was possible."
"Oh, I did," said Lizzy, avoiding looking at her face in the mirror. "What do you mean a gentleman of my acquaintance?"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam is billeted in Brighton."
Then Mr Darcy would know was Lizzy's first thought and how he must congratulate himself on his lucky escape.
Silence descended upon the room as the three women mediated on their own thoughts. Mrs Gardiner broke this silence first.
"Well, I am sure there is some gossip in Brighton, but Lydia is safe here, as is her sister, and soon it will be as if it never happened. It has been a very lucky escape, and we must hope that we can impress upon Lydia the magnitude of what she has done."
"You may try Aunt; I do not think I care to."
"Lizzy!" said Jane.
"No, Jane. Colonel Fitzwilliam, of all people! He too must wonder at how I should have such a family. Ungovernable mother and sisters. He shall tell all of his acquaintance."
"You spoke of him as a gentleman, Lizzy," said Mrs Gardiner.
"He is Miss Darcy's guardian he knows Mr Wickham's true nature," added Jane.
Lizzy would not be comforted.
"And what should it matter if he did?" asked Mrs Gardiner.
"Do you think Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley will return to Netherfield once they hear of this?"
Lizzy closed her eyes; she had not meant to say that! Jane turned away, but not before Lizzy saw the pain in her eyes.
"I think if a young man chooses to take aversion to a woman - a family - he admires and appreciates, because she has foolish sixteen and eighteen year-old sisters who were taken in by a practiced seducer, then he is not much of a young man and certainly not one I want marrying my niece."
"And, Lizzy, there was never much hope Mr Bingley was going to return. You must not think I hope for that anymore." Jane squeezed Lizzy's hand before leaving, no doubt to privately grieve.
Mr Wickham seemed entirely forgot during the rest of the evening, and so, it seemed, was Mr Darcy. Lizzy was glad for it, and forced herself to speak easily of all that she saw, although it was obvious that no one was much interested, except perhaps her father.
Mr Bennet looked older than Lizzy remembered and she wanted to comfort him, but she did not know what to say. It would be better to speak to him the next morning when she could speak more rationally. At the present, time despite her sorrow that he had been so hurt and disillusioned, she could only think that she had warned him.
After she had retired for the evening, she tried to think of how she could relieve her father of some of his burden of his guilt and whether she wanted to when Kitty interrupted.
Kitty took over the brushing of her hair, and Lizzy could only think of an eager to please ten year-old Kitty who had always been available to brush her sister's hair. Lizzy had noticed Kitty watching her through dinner; at one moment after dinner Lizzy had thought she would, speak but she had changed her mind.
"Did you know about Mr Wickham?"
It was a blunt question and Lizzy was surprised at it.
"Yes. I knew of his instability of character. If anything further had happened to Lydia in Brighton, it would have been my fault for not exposing his character."
She should have exposed his character; she had discussed it with Jane and then allowed herself to be persuaded. No, that was not accurate: Lizzy had not wanted to attempt the impossible. She did not want to expose herself and her bad judgement.
"Why did you not? Expose his character, I mean."
Kitty echoed her thoughts so precisely that Lizzy had a difficult time believing this to be the same cipher of a sister who had left for Brighton two months ago.
"I did not think I should be believed. Is Mr Wickham daily expected? Jane says no one but Mama and Lydia has any real thought to it, but… "
Jane had been reassuring, but Lydia rarely confided in anyone but Kitty and while Kitty might be no longer in Lydia' good graces, she was the sister who knew Lydia best.
"No, even Lydia - I think - has forgotten him except for the fact he is the reason Papa is curtailing her access to society, … except of course when Mama reminds her of his existence like this afternoon. It is Mama who truly expects, but her mind will be moved the moment some other young man pays serious attentions to her daughters."
Lizzy let out a sigh of relief. The damage was not material to Lydia. Wickham could not have picked a better target. She had seen for herself the damage caused to a sensitive heart. Lydia would not need much to recover as long as she did not take it upon herself to run away.
"Jane tells me that Colonel Fitzwilliam discovered you in Brighton? I think you were very lucky with your rescuer. I cannot think of a better man."
What would have Kitty made of Colonel Fitzwilliam? He had a red coat but was not handsome or so very young. What had Colonel Fitzwilliam made of her and how had he compared Lizzy to Kitty and Lydia?
"Was it from him that you heard of Mr Wickham's character?"
Lizzy nodded, startled. She had not thought it would be so obvious when and where she had come by her knowledge. It was best, though, that Kitty continued to think it was Colonel Fitzwilliam. Lizzy could not expose Mr Darcy, not now.
They were interrupted by Jane; Lizzy had forgotten she had asked Jane to come see her before she retired. Jane was spending her nights with her cousins, who were going to miss her deeply when they returned to London shortly.
Lizzy did not feel able to send Kitty away, so it was with an audience that she told Jane about Mr Bingley's presence at Pemberley and the possibility of his coming to shoot. She could only hope Kitty had enough sense now not to gossip.
Her father was hiding. He was not hiding particularly well, considering he always was to be found in his library.
"Am I to get no peace?" cried Mr Bennet as he saw her.
"Papa," she admonished.
"I hope you have not come to lecture me again. I have learnt my lesson you will see."
Lizzy did not think that he had learnt his lesson, or at least for very long and that saddened her. She loved her father very much but as she grew older and hopefully wiser she saw more of his foibles.
"No, I was just going into the garden and wondered if you had any requests for the dinner table?"
"Something somber," was his joking response.
"This is as peaceful as this house will be," said Lizzy. "Normal gossip and goings on, no gentlemen to disturb, our little cousins returned to London with their parents."
"Then we must hope it will last."
It was not to last. Mrs Phillips arrived with news that Lizzy both dreaded and anticipated. Mr Darcy - with Mr Bingley - was returning to Netherfield.
Part Two (Chapter Ten)
Posted on 2013-04-28
"You cannot deny that your Mr Bingley is not prompt!" said Lizzy, helping Jane into her gown as Mrs Bennet fluttered about.
"Indeed he is prompt! He has come to propose!" Mrs Bennet was certain.
"Mama, we have not seen each other since November, I hardly think - " Jane could have been talking to a brick wall for all their mother paid her any attention.
"Oh and they will be down there alone with your father and you know he will drive them out of the house."
"Mary and Kitty are downstairs," soothed Jane, seeing to her hair.
"Hang them! What are they to this? They are not you, Jane! You cannot be this beautiful for nothing."
"Mama, attend to your own dressing and then we shall all be down together much quicker," said Lizzy in exasperation.
"Oh! And he has brought that odious man with him." With that, Mrs Bennet took herself off to her own room.
"Odious man?" said Jane. "She cannot mean Mr Darcy, can she?"
"I think she can," Lizzy sighed. "Mr Hurst is the only other option and I do not think I have ever imagined him on horseback."
Jane giggled and made one of her curls crooked.
Lizzy was determined to pay no attention to her own attire. Why should she fuss and fidget over her hair just because Mr Darcy had come?
Most likely this was another of his actions to prove to himself and the world that he was not the man she thought he was. He was here only to support his friend. Nothing else.
No one was looking at Lizzy as they entered the room. Everyone's first thought was Bingley and Jane, and for that she was glad. It allowed her to observe Mr Darcy's profile. She thought he did not look as uncomfortable as he once had in their society.
Only Kitty and Mary were there in the room and it was doubtful that Mary had contributed anything to the conversation, so Lizzy was pleased to see Kitty had clearly not managed to give him a disgust of them immediately.
His standing to greet them was overshadowed by Bingley's effusive greeting, which Lizzy could not help but smile at. Then she met Mr Darcy's eyes and she thought she read in them some amusement.
She took a seat where she could watch the room but she purposely chose one that was not close to Mr Darcy. She wished to ask him about his sister and Pemberley, and indeed, see if she could make out his character further, but she felt a sense of constraint.
That feeling grew as Mrs Bennet seemed determined to be her most amiable and her most ridiculous. There could be no doubt to anyone in the room that Mrs Bennet had expectations of Mr Bingley. It did not matter if Mr Bingley intended to oblige her; the mortification was felt by more than one in the room.
Even her offer that Mr Bingley should come and shoot her father's birds was ruined by the lack of respect and lack of consideration shown to Mr Darcy. Her mother's half hearted invitation to him made Lizzy's cheeks burn.
Mr Darcy had not said a single word and Lizzy could not understand it. Surely he could make some effort to speak? Mr Bingley took all the burden of their visit upon himself, thanking Mrs Bennet for her invitations.
"Oh, that is an excellent idea, although there will be others of the party. I should hope they are welcome."
"Yes, I did hear in the village that Mrs Nicolls was preparing for a large party," replied Mrs Bennet.
Lizzy was curious as to the additions of the party, although she suspected it would just be Mr Bingley's sisters. They could hardly let him back into Jane's company without one final attempt to dissuade him from matrimony.
"At the moment it is just Mr Darcy's cousin, a Mr Fitzwilliam. But my sisters and Mr Hurst are expected any day now, and another of Mr Darcy's cousins may join us."
Mr Darcy's cousins! Now there would be an opportunity for Mr Darcy to show his better side to the neighbourhood, thought Lizzy. She hoped they were more like Colonel Fitzwilliam than Anne de Bourgh. It may even be Colonel Fitzwilliam, although her father had mentioned that gentleman had written to him and made no mention of being able to visit Longbourn.
"If he remembers," added Mr Darcy drily, "and can get away."
It was not to be thought that Mrs Bennet could take such a comment with composure, and Lizzy found herself trying to divert her mother's attention and explain away Mr Darcy's comment.
That led to the revelation that the cousin in question was clearly Colonel Fitzwilliam's older brother. The Colonel was a pleasant gentleman, although one who thought highly of the importance of a prudent and equal marriage. Lizzy wondered what his brother would be like, and found herself pleased that to listen to Mr Darcy's description he was a much older gentleman for all his being unmarried.
A handsome young single Viscount would be too much for the neighbourhood to bear!
Lizzy wished her mother could finagle her information more delicately. She saw Mr Darcy's countenance change as Mrs Bennet continued her interrogation and how obvious it was that Mrs Bennet was thinking of Mr Darcy's cousins as possible husbands for her daughters.
Lizzy could have kissed Jane for turning the conversation before he was entirely revolted by Mrs Bennet's mercenary nature. Lizzy thought time had dulled Mr Darcy's memory of her mother and now he was being reminded of all of his original objections to her family.
She should have known that her mother would not long allow the conversation to remain on safe topics. Mrs Bennet then wanted to know all about Mr Fitzwilliam. Mr Darcy stood to stalk to the window and Lizzy felt desperately for herself and her sister that this reunion was to be spoilt.
"I understand he is Colonel Fitzwilliam's brother?" Lizzy spoke loudly, "the Colonel himself could not be spared from his duties?"
Mr Darcy turned at the sound of her voice and he looked at her with a softening face. "Yes, his regiment is in - " He stuttered for a moment; that was quite unlike him and Lizzy knew he was about to say Brighton but had decided against it. Lizzy wondered whether he really did know of Lydia and Kitty's aborted flight. "He is much occupied with regimental duties," finished Mr Darcy.
That seemed to be the extent of Mr Darcy's contribution to the conversation and Lizzy was forced to watch his back as Mrs Bennet continued her onslaught of Mr Bingley and the absent Mr Fitzwilliam.
She desperately suggested a walk, but this only had the result of the gentlemen recollecting they should not neglect their guest.
As they walked Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy out of the house, Mr Darcy inclined his head towards her and she saw he was holding a letter.
"Miss Bennet, I have been charged by my sister to deliver this. You will, I hope, inform her of my diligence?"
"Of course, Mr Darcy." Lizzy took the letter and admired the penmanship. Lydia was the same age and she never wrote so finely, neither did Kitty.
She was not able to read the letter straight away as Jane had fetched their bonnets and pelisses, clearly wishing to speak to her sister privately.
"You see, Lizzy, I am safe," said Jane when they were safely outside, walking arm in arm.
"You are not safe," replied Lizzy.
"I am not so … "
"He is in love with you."
"After twenty minutes when we barely had a chance to speak a word to each other? I did not think you so romantic!" Jane took pity on her some moments later. "I hope that we will be able to go on smoothly from here. I shall be able to meet Mr Bingley and you shall be able to meet Mr Darcy."
Lizzy pulled her arm from Jane's and walked away with no purpose but to turn around again and walk back to Jane.
"Can I meet him? Did you not see him as Mama was ….exposing us all?"
"It seems we do a lot of exposing," said Jane mildly.
"You do not mind that all she can think of is marrying her daughters and her every effort is designed to make that impossible? Except with gentlemen we have no interest in, like Mr Collins!"
"Our Aunt is right, Lizzy. I do not want to marry a gentleman who cannot see that Mama wants the best for her daughters. And that we have sisters who are exuberant and full of life. I love Mama and I love my sisters. I know you feel the same."
Lizzy pulled off her bonnet with some impatience. "Oh, Jane. You know I do. I just wish I was still a hundred miles away from them! You cannot deny that we show to much better advantage away from them."
"What I cannot understand is why you should care so much about Mr Darcy?"
"I do not - Oh, Jane, I do not know what I think. He is so different. So different here, to what he was in Kent, to what he was at Pemberley. It is like he is a different man in each locality! Perhaps he is actually a triplet!"
Jane laughed, but Lizzy could not laugh. She needed a nice long walk to clear her mind.
"We should have stayed and taken a walk," fretted Bingley.
Darcy knew he would begin to fret and could have set his watch by it.
"I do not think leaving Freddie to himself at Netherfield is the action of a good host." Nor a good idea, Darcy thought privately.
"But I hardly got to talk to Miss Bennet!"
"There will be time enough for that."
Mr Bingley made some exclamation and continued to talk away about Miss Bennet and his prospects.
Darcy had observed the countenance of Miss Bennet and he would have to observe her again, but he was convinced her sister was right and Miss Bennet did feel for Mr Bingley everything a wife should feel for a husband. He would have to confess to Bingley sooner rather than later, and after that he expected they would be engaged.
But it had not been the eldest Miss Bennet that had captured his attention. Elizabeth had been his first thought. She did not look materially different than she had been at Pemberley. But he thought she had been uncomfortable.
She had certainly been embarrassed by her mother's behaviour and Mr Darcy felt a pang at that. He had not meant for her to be discomforted, to such a degree, by her own family.
It was no recommendation to himself or to her if she now felt herself above her own family. He would always find Mrs Bennet's character disconcerting, and Mr Bennet lax in his duty, but Mr Darcy could now own that he himself did not have relations without fault.
He had felt severe mortification at Lady Catherine's behaviour in Kent, but he had not realised the parallels until Elizabeth's strong words had woken him from a dream.
If Elizabeth could accept Lady Catherine, then he could surely accept the Bennets?
Darcy shook his head and told himself that it could never be. He thought he had excised that hope from his mind, but seeing Elizabeth at Pemberley and showing her his home and his hospitality ,he found he had hoped.
He still had hope, but it was such a tiny spark that he dare not blow on it in case it went out. Darcy tried to pay attention to Bingley in order to clear his thoughts.
"We spoke more to Miss Kitty than Jane, and listened more to Miss Mary's concerto - We should not have gone so early. I do not know why you were so eager…"
He had been eager to see Elizabeth, a foolish childish notion. She could never love him. He must be glad that she no longer hated him, and was not disgusted by his company. She would always be the woman that he would hold other women up against.
Darcy's disappointment had been almost matched that of Bingley's when they had been given the choice of Mr Bennet and his books and the younger Miss Bennets.
He was glad, however, his friend had chosen the younger Miss Bennets. It gave him a chance to study Catherine Bennet at least.
Richard had written to him from Brighton informing him of Wickham's latest 'difficulties' …a euphemistic term if ever Darcy saw one. He was pleased to know that the full bureaucratic might of his Majesties Armed Forces was being thrust upon Wickham. It was a neat solution to a problem that had troubled Darcy for some time, but he had not seen how to solve it without exposing Georgiana.
Darcy had at first assumed that Wickham had planned his flight from Brighton in order to revenge himself more fully on Darcy, but he could not see how that would be. There was no possible way that Wickham could know of his interest in Elizabeth, and even if he did, Wickham would not credit that Darcy would do anything about his interest.
No, Miss Lydia Bennet was the sort of girl who would find it a grand adventure to run away with an officer. Wickham had just found himself very much in luck when he'd wanted to fly. Then his luck had run out when Richard and Ash had been in Brighton.
Richard had written that Wickham was entirely to blame. Knowing the two young ladies in question, Darcy did not quite believe that but Richard had rather peculiarly written and underlined that Ash would not have it that the young ladies should be blamed or that the story should be spoken of.
Darcy thought the likelihood that the story should be circulated to be quite high; a household that encouraged an elopement could not have discreet servants. It seemed that his cousins had already thought of this, but Darcy wondered how much money had been parted with to secure this outcome. Although knowing his cousins, a mere talk may have been all that was necessary. What the Viscount of Ashbourne required to happen generally occurred without delay.
With his cousin's letter in mind, Darcy had been surprised in Catherine Bennet. She had been civil and managed to keep a conversation going without resorting to gossip. She had smoothed over his faux pas when Darcy failed in his determination to say nothing that could be considered an insult to either Hertfordshire or the Bennets.
She had even seemed rather disinterested in his cousin's arrival, which was more than could be said about her mother. Darcy found himself at little surprised at that; if there was one thing Lord Ashbourne did exceedingly well, it was recommend himself to young ladies. Perhaps the manner of their meeting rendered his charm moot.
"We should visit tomorrow," said Bingley as he handed his horse to a groomsman.
"Your sisters and Mr Hurst arrive tomorrow," reminded Darcy.
"Oh, I do not have to be here to ..." Bingley broke off in agitation. He was too good natured to be such a poor host and he did not have it in him to listen to Miss Bingley's complaints if he were not there to meet her.
"Allow the neighbourhood to grow accustomed to your arrival," counselled Darcy, following Bingley into the house.
"You shall be no assistance; I know you, Darcy, you will hide yourself where my sister cannot find you."
They found Freddie in the saloon. He was lying on a sofa with his legs crossed at the ankles.
"Where have you been? I had to have my breakfast alone." Freddie did not get up to complain; rather, he continued to lament from his prone position. Darcy knocked Freddie's legs off the sofa and received a glare for his troubles. Darcy took no mind. His cousin was twenty years old and, in Darcy's opinion, in great need of suppressing.
Bingley apologised for their absence and Darcy told Bingley not to.
"They always treat me terribly," said Freddie. "It is not my fault I am so much younger than my brothers and Darcy."
"If you did not deserve to be treated terribly…"
"And now I find you have invited Ash!"
"I thought that you - " Bingley looked mortified that he may have inadvertently invited two warring brothers to stay under the same roof.
"If Freddie does not care to see Ash, then Freddie may go."
"I shall not go, I was here first. He will not come, I daresay. Did you know the last time I saw him, he made me go to his tailor to get new jackets fitted! And he read me such a homily."
"On your cravats?" Darcy did not blame Freddie's pique. He himself had been privileged to hear Lord Ashbourne's extensive thoughts on men who did not take pride in their appearance.
"Yes, amongst other things." That was said in such a way that Darcy wondered what his cousin had been up to and what his oldest cousin meant by inviting himself to a shooting party in a place of little consequence.
Part Three (Chapter Eleven)
Posted on 2013-05-03
As their carriage rattled towards Netherfield, their presence commanded rather summarily by a recently arrived and injured Miss Bingley, Lizzy felt much as she expected Marie Antoinette did on that cart.
Jane expressed no sympathy. "And you say Lydia and Kitty are the fanciful ones!"
"A morning with Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst!"
"We shall be better informed about the latest fashions," replied Jane placidly. At least Jane continued to be unconvinced in the sincerity of the Bingley sisters' friendship. "Are you sure you are not angry that Mr Darcy has returned to town?"
Miss Bingley had been most explicit in her letter of invitation about Mr Darcy's absence and the fact the other gentlemen should not be seen, for they were to shoot. Lizzy was sure she had only been invited to ensure that Mrs Bennet did not attempt to send Jane on horseback again.
"Not at all! I have no feelings about his movements! I do think it odd that he should come and go so quickly."
Jane just smiled and Lizzy wondered when her sister had found herself capable of mocking. It was not fair that Jane had all the ability to hide her feelings behind a serene countenance, and at least she knew what her feelings were. Lizzy was still not sure how she felt about the master of Pemberley. She was disappointed at his leaving but she was not sure of her reasons. Did she miss his company or was it because she worried that his leaving meant he was, after all, the man she'd thought he was all those months ago? Was Mr Darcy really the sort of man who despised company he considered beneath him and made little effort to improve his acquaintance with said company having already made a judgement upon them?
Miss Bingley was laid up upon a sofa and had a bandaged ankle stretched out in front of her.
"Do forgive me for not rising to greet you, my dear Jane, Miss Eliza. It was most distressing to twist my ankle after such a long carriage ride!"
Lizzy and Jane forgave her most freely and greeted both Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst before sitting down to exchange commonplaces.
"Did you enjoy town, Miss Bennet?" said Mrs Hurst. "I am so sorry that we should always have been missing each other."
Jane smiled, "I had much to occupy myself, Mrs Hurst; do not think about it any further."
"And, of course, Miss Eliza, we saw you in Derbyshire and heard all about your travels. Are you much distressed now to be back at Longbourn?" Miss Bingley did not wait to hear Lizzy's answer and added, "but of course you are not! Now that Netherfield is occupied once again. We have had half the neighbourhood calling."
"The Netherfield estate is an important one for our little part of the world," replied Lizzy evenly.
"Though the gentlemen only think of their sport," said Mrs Hurst.
It fell to Lizzy to ask how Mr Bingley fared, as Jane would not mention his name.
"My brother continues well. We are very sorry to see Mr Darcy go, but we suspect he will return with a very great friend."
"Mr Darcy did mention that he was expecting his cousin, Lord Ashbourne. Did Mr Fitzwilliam accompany him to town?" If Lord Ashbourne was a great friend of Miss Bingley that did not speak in his favour, although Lizzy was determined not to prejudge. She had been so faulty in her first impressions over the last year!
"No, Mr Fitzwilliam remains for the shooting."
"And I hope he is a pleasant house guest," said Jane.
"Indeed. A very pleasant man."
That seemed to be all that could be said about Mr Fitzwilliam unless either Jane or Lizzy began to question the Bingley sisters. Neither Lizzy nor Jane would give the satisfaction of seeming to be pert inquisitive young ladies out on the hunt for information about single young gentlemen.
In the end Miss Bingley, herself, had to answer what had not been asked.
"He is the son of the second Lady Matlock, and as such will inherit a very pretty estate. I think it's commensurate in size to your own estate, although being part of Lady Matlock's dowry it has had all the benefits of being run by such a family…"
Lizzy bit her tongue firmly. The implication that Longbourn suffered from mismanagement was not subtle.
"Lady Matlock is all kindness. She directed Miss Grantley - a dear friend of us both - to the best masters in town. Her son is a credit to her."
Miss Bingley talked on in this way of the Matlocks and their friends. Lady Upton, who Lizzy gathered was Mr Fitzwilliam's sister, was newly married seemed a paragon and featured heavily in Miss Bingley's lecture. Indeed, the whole Fitzwilliam family seemed designed to perfection if one believed every word of Miss Bingley's.
Mr Darcy, it seemed was a little forgotten, after all what was his wealth, his manners, his income and his family? This amused Lizzy.
Lizzy and Jane could have no share of this conversation; they were merely there to be awed. By this time, Lizzy thought, Miss Bingley should have been aware that all attempts to awe and intimidate only made her courage rise.
The image Miss Bingley painted was entirely spoilt when a young gentleman entered the room rather gracelessly. His coat was stained and his cravat quite ruined. He had clearly come straight from the shooting.
"Oh, you are in here." He looked displeased to have found himself in the middle of a tea party.
Miss Bingley beamed, "Mr Fitzwilliam!"
"Miss Bingley," Mr Fitzwilliam made a perfunctory bow to her and then to Mrs Hurst.
"Miss Bennet, Miss Eliza Bennet, may I introduce to you Mr Frederick Fitzwilliam? Mr Fitzwilliam these are our neighbours the Bennets."
Mr Fitzwilliam made his bows to them far more generously.
"I say! Are you the young lady who recently visited Pemberley?"
Lizzy had to own that it was so, and Mr Fitzwilliam sat by her and seemed interested in her opinions of the place.
He was not quite the picture of the flower of nobility that Miss Bingley had attempted to conjure up, but he was extremely pleasant although rather young. He had clearly been given all the benefits of life and none of the hardships.
She found it easy to talk to him and was glad for it, because Mr Bingley and Mr Hurst followed after him. Mr Hurst stretched out and went to sleep, but Mr Bingley could not be moved from Jane's side. Without Mr Fitzwilliam's company, Lizzy would have had to be silent or worse still talk to Miss Bingley and her sister.
In very short time they found out they shared almost the same birthday - that made Mr Fitzwilliam almost of age along with herself - and that Mr Fitzwilliam did not hold his cousin in wonder.
Lizzy would be sure to mention some of Mr Fitzwilliam's tales of his childhood to Mr Darcy. It would do him good to be discomposed.
The house felt empty. It had never done so before. Darcy chose not to examine the fact it was only since his return from Kent that it felt like a mausoleum. Not even Georgiana's presence could enliven it, although she was still safe at Pemberley with Mrs Annesley.
Why had he gone to Netherfield? There was no reason, except to ensure that Miss Bennet did truly esteem Bingley, and he had not even done that!
He was sure Elizabeth's view was correct and one look at Jane Bennet proved that she was a serene girl, who was unlikely to show her true feelings to the world. But one glance was not enough to say she was certainly in love with Bingley and that he had fulfilled his duty to Bingley's best interest! Certainly it did not explain his hurried removal.
Darcy feared he was becoming like Bingley, inconstant and easily swayed, always going hither and thither bending to the will of others and capable of sudden caprice.
Worse still, Freddie had refused to join him in returning to London. Darcy would have to return, he could not in good conscience and good manners leave Bingley to host his cousin without Darcy's presence. There was not such a degree of acquaintance between Freddie and Bingley that it would be acceptable.
Then there was Ash. Darcy did not understand why the viscount had made plans to join them.
Richard had assured him that it had been settled between them that Richard would write to Mr Bennet.
Mr Bennet would hardly expect Lord Ashbourne to call to discuss Miss Lydia's aborted elopement.
It was one of his cousin's whims and would probably come to naught. Indeed, Darcy had hoped to catch his cousin and persuade him to go Newmarket or attend one of the many house parties to which he had no doubt been invited. It was possible even that Darcy could accompany him.
There Darcy might meet a young lady of eminent respectability, who would adorn Pemberley, whose family would never cause him a moment's embarrassment or give him a disgust of them.
There was Darcy's problem. He loved Elizabeth and yet her family! At Pemberley it had been so easy to think of her there, and to forget the troubling aspects of her family. Just as he forgot Lady Catherine, so too could Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins, and her silly sisters be consigned to oblivion.
He paced and came no closer to a conclusion. Should he stay away from her so he should not be in danger? Should he return for an inoculation?
Did any of these thoughts matter when she did not like him, let alone esteem and love him?
Bingley would propose to Jane Bennet and then there would be no severing the connection, unless Darcy distanced himself from Bingley, which Darcy had no desire to do. He enjoyed Bingley's company; with Bingley he could act as mentor and friend. Unlike his cousins, Bingley did not poke fun at him. No, he had known from the minute that Elizabeth had mentioned, over dinner at Pemberley, that her sister had been in town all those months, that Bingley and Miss Bennet's union was inevitable.
He was surprised Bingley had not ferreted out Darcy and his sisters' interference. Darcy knew he would have to confess to that, but he would do so after Bingley had proposed and was in a better frame of mind.
"Darcy, why are you pacing in your own hallway?" His cousin looked baffled and was still in his greatcoat.
"Ash?" Darcy stared at him.
The viscount held a card between his gloved fingers and had a perplexed look upon this face, "You invited me? Have you perhaps been out in the sun?"
Lizzy found she had little amusement in the card party thrown by Mrs Goulding. It was clear that worthy woman was revelling in the fact she should be the first to host Mr Bingley to a formal party, that her rooms should be where the neighbourhood could watch Mr Bingley and Jane and gossip freely about their reconciliation.
She saw that the Bingley sisters were watching all that went on with judgement in their eyes. Lizzy did not know why she cared. It was doubtful that they could convince their brother that Jane did not love him. It was doubtful that Mr Bingley would care about her family and their circumstances. He was an affable man who believed the best in people.
So why did it pain her, that her friends and acquaintances were exposing themselves and to such people? The Bingley sisters were not models of propriety, with their sharpness and ill-judged remarks.
She did not want to think that her enjoyment of the evening was spoiled by the fact that Jane looked as if her fondest wish was about to come true and Lizzy had no prospects.
"Miss Elizabeth, is it not customary to smile at such events?"
Lizzy looked up to see Mr Fitzwilliam and a glass of lemonade. She accepted it gratefully and did not mind when he sat beside her.
"Do you not enjoy cards? I understand from my cousin, Georgiana, that is, not Darcy, that you take pleasure in a great many things. If that is so then I cannot fault you for disliking cards."
"I do enjoy cards, sir, but I have little inclination to play this evening. I feel rather dull and should disappoint my partner. Have you received a letter from Miss Darcy recently?"
"This morning, but she only wrote because I fear she was waiting for a letter from a much better correspondent." He looked pointedly at her.
"If you mean me, then I wrote to her on Saturday."
Lizzy had been pleased to have received the letter from Miss Darcy. They had spoken of writing to one another, but Lizzy had not been sure whether that was just politeness. Miss Darcy had written of commonplaces and Lizzy could sense her shyness and reserve, but Lizzy had been determined not to let her own awkwardness show in her reply.
Miss Darcy surely needed practice and support. It did not seem that she had many female friends of her own age. Miss Bingley's condescension did not count.
Mr Fitzwilliam and herself spoke of Miss Darcy for a while and then of the party in general, before he asked to be introduced about. He might be Mr Darcy's cousin, but Meryton society soon decided Mr Fitzwilliam was a very different sort of man to his cousin and found him to be much more in Mr Bingley's style of manners and thus much more to their liking.
Lizzy might have been distracted, but she could not fail to note that Jane and Mr Bingley were never more than three paces away from each other; a fact she mercilessly teased her sister about when they were retired to bed.
But Jane, it seemed, was not as convinced as Lizzy - or indeed the whole household - that there would soon be a proposal.
"Jane, you cannot still think he does not admire you?" They were walking around the garden the next morning while the others played about them.
"Oh no, I am sensible of his attentions, but, Lizzy, I was sensible of them before."
"I thought Charlotte a fool when she said one should show more than one feels, but there may be some truth in what she says, particularly for you, Jane."
"Particularly for me?"
"You are so very patient and kind to all; I imagine that to a gentleman who is equally as tender-hearted as you, it would be very hard to presume that you thought of him above all others."
Jane did not answer for a moment or two, "I grant you there may be some truth, but I cannot act - I cannot be Lydia."
"No, no one is unaware of who Lydia esteems."
"Lizzy, do you think the Colonel spoke to Mr Darcy about Mr Wickham? Once or twice I suspected - "
Now it was Lizzy's turn to pause, "I had noticed, but I cannot think that the Colonel would - or at least I think he would conceal our names even if he wishes Mr Darcy to be aware of his former friend's behaviour."
She had thought longer on the subject than before and now believed it would be impossible for the Colonel to act so ungenerously, particularly in light of Miss Darcy's aborted elopement.
"Then what else explains his odd behaviour, his coming here and going away so quickly?"
"It is not like you to be suspicious, Jane." Lizzy spoke lightly for she did not want to allow Jane to continue her line of questioning. She knew Jane was suspicious of her feelings, and wanted to know whether now Lizzy would speak of them.
"It is not like you to be so secretive. Your letters from Lambton were so scant with detail. Was it very awkward to meet Mr Darcy again?"
Yes, Jane had now decided that the moment was right to delve into her sister's emotions. Lizzy had wanted to be open with Jane in everything, but not when she was so confused and not when the situation with Mr Bingley was unresolved. Although, Lizzy knew that very soon she would not have that excuse.
"Oh no, he was everything that was kind and generous. I could not have been so generous in his place. To find actually visiting his estate, with no warning, the young lady who so vehemently refused him under such a misapprehension of his character? No, I could not have been so generous."
Jane took Lizzy's hands in her own and would have spoken more except for Hill interrupting them.
It seemed that Jane's happiness would be thwarted once again because when Mr Bingley next visited he did not visit alone. They had certainly expected to see him. No one who had seen them together the previous evening would have been surprised by his presence at Longbourn.
This perhaps explained why Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were so diligent in their calling; it was one last attempt to prevent the inevitable.
While Lizzy could not fault the outcome, she cringed when Kitty suggested a walk and then when Lydia in her carrying voice announced that they should walk faster, so as to out pace Jane and Bingley.
The Bingley sisters had decided not to join them perhaps realising the futile nature of their plan or not realising that the Bennet sisters would abandon Jane and their brother.
Lizzy, in the end, decided that no one should see their defective chaperoning and they almost ran towards Meryton, talking about Jane and Bingley, and the unpleasantness of his sisters.
If Bingley did not take his opportunity, he was a fool, thought Lizzy, as they slowed their steps down Meryton's high street. Lydia had taken the first opportunity to enjoy herself in one or all of the shops, but Kitty seemed satisfied to merely look in the shop windows.
Lizzy turned her head to see Mr Fitzwilliam crossing the street to join them.
"Miss Elizabeth, it is fortunate that we meet again and this must be one of your - " Mr Fitzwilliam stopped short and seemed struck by Kitty. She was the same; suddenly still in Mr Fitzwilliam's presence.
Lizzy tried to see Mr Fitzwilliam through her sister's eyes. He was a handsome man, he was certainly eligible, and he had a winning smile. Kitty was certainly unable to drag her eyes away from his and Lizzy blushed for her blatancy. The only consolation was that Mr Fitzwilliam seemed just as transfixed. Kitty was certainly a pretty girl, but surely Mr Fitzwilliam had seen prettier.
"Yes, Mr Fitzwilliam, this is my sister. Kitty, may I introduce Mr Fitzwilliam?" Lizzy hoped speaking would bring them both back to their senses and remind them they were standing in a public street.
"Mr Fitzwilliam?" said Kitty faintly.
"Yes, Mr Darcy's cousin?"
Kitty, it seemed, would not be brought to mind her surroundings, and Lizzy wondered if she had been this disordered in Brighton by all the officers, many of whom surely would have been as handsome as Mr Fitzwilliam.
Part Four (Chapter 12)
Posted on 2013-05-13
The awkwardness between Kitty and Mr Fitzwilliam remained for some moments longer until Lizzy noticed another man crossing the street to join them. He was, perhaps, Mr Darcy's age and as well tailored, if not more so.
His identity surprised her when Mr Fitzwilliam, who managed to tear his eyes away from Kitty's, asked Lizzy's permission to introduce her to his brother, Lord Ashbourne. Mr Darcy had led them to believe the viscount was a much older gentleman, and for some reason Lizzy had supposed him inclined to corpulence.
She hoped that Lady Upton was reasonably plain; otherwise it would be very unfair to Colonel Fitzwilliam to be the only plain Fitzwilliam sibling.
If Lord Ashbourne noted the strange behaviour of his brother and her sister he made no sign of it, asking where they were walking and offering to accompany them. They turned towards Netherfield and Lizzy was sure the viscount would grow tired of dancing attendance on them and in time she and Kitty would be able to circle back to Longbourn.
"Do you often walk into Meryton?" asked Lord Ashbourne.
"Frequently, we country mice have little other entertainment."
"I understand from my cousin that there is a monthly assembly, do you often attend?"
"I am a young lady with four sisters there is only one answer to that question. Do you speak of Mr Darcy? Has he returned to Netherfield?" Lizzy hoped she sounded indifferent.
She was a little distracted not least because Kitty and Mr Fitzwilliam were walking very close together. They were whispering together, and they had known each other for five minutes! She saw Miss Watson peering at them from her parlour window and Lizzy blushed. Their walk and Kitty's behaviour would soon be common knowledge.
"Yes, Darcy. He obligingly came to London to fetch me in case I should forget my way."
The viscount had an easy manner, but Lizzy noticed that he too had half an eye on his brother. She was mortified that he should have perceived it. They were giggling together now like children, but they were not children and Kitty should not forget it. Lizzy thought that her sister had grown up after her experience in Brighton, but she still flirted when she should contain her emotions and not excite talk.
Lord Ashbourne's eyes may have noted the behaviour in front of them, but his conversation and tone did not change as they walked along. They spoke of nothing of importance and Lizzy did not press him over his cousin.
They reached the outskirts of Meryton and Lizzy made her curtsey. "Well, here we must part ways," said Lizzy with a smile
Lord Ashbourne looked around in some puzzlement, "This is your destination? No, I cannot have you think so ill of my brother and I as to not allow us to walk you properly to the door, so to speak. I am not entirely without country manners."
Lizzy cast her mind around for some excuse when Kitty stepped forward, her eyes bright and cheeks flushed and spoke.
"We are walking about only to allow Mr Bingley time to propose to our sister, Jane. We have no destination, except at some point we must find Lydia and return to Longbourn."
"Kitty!" Lizzy was alarmed that Kitty would speak so immoderately in front of strangers and about details so very private. This was the Kitty who existed before the summer and Lizzy blushed for her.
"Then clearly it is our duty to walk you back into town," replied Lord Ashbourne.
"It is not at all necessary. My sister misspoke … " said Lizzy in an attempt to dissuade him, but he would not be dissuaded.
"There is not need for talk of necessity! I have nothing better to do, except acquaint myself with the town, or to acquaint myself with the manner of sport that might be found here."
Lizzy recovered a little, "Well, I confess… your brother or Mr Bingley, or if you are acquainted with Mr Hurst, they are who you should turn to with your questions of sport."
"Then you will assist me with the town? I hear that a former mayor - a Sir William Lucas - is giving a dance. Is that correct?"
Lizzy confirmed that it was so.
"And what manner of man is he?"
In this way they spoke until they returned to where they had first met. Lizzy was relieved to hear from some of the young Lucas boys that Lydia had found Maria and returned to Longbourn. But there was no sign of Jane and Bingley.
"No doubt they are either walking the charming country lanes or have returned to Longbourn," said Lord Ashbourne with a smile.
Lizzy gave a small curtsey, "Indeed, we shall not trouble you any further." With that remark Lizzy practically dragged Kitty in the direction of Longbourn. Lizzy did not look backwards.
"Kitty! You should not talk of our private concerns."
"You think Mr Bingley will not propose?"
"That is not the point!"
Lizzy attempted to make her sister understand that her behaviour was wrong, but Kitty could only think of Jane and the romance of a proposal.
Kitty was not to be disappointed, Maria Lucas ran out of the house shouting that Mr Bingley had proposed. She would have continued her story, but Lydia catching up to her told them all the details.
"He proposed not moments after we left them; see I told you it was a good idea, Lizzy. La! You should listen to me more often. He was most violent in his affections and insisted on speaking to Papa immediately. He has left now, to follow his sisters back to Netherfield to acquaint them of the good news. I expect they shall look sour!"
Lydia was correct in her assessment, so Lizzy did not feel able to admonish her, although she knew that she should be a better example of behaviour for her sisters.
But first she must speak to Jane. She found Jane upstairs in their room.
"Oh Lizzy! Can anyone be as happy as I am? 'Tis too much! By far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! Why is not every body as happy?''
"Because you are too good, Jane, and do not say you do not deserve it; you who have borne so much."
"Oh, Lizzy it was only a persuasion of my being indifferent that made him go away. How right Charlotte was, if only I had given a little sign, I could be long married."
"If you had given a little sign you would not be my Jane." The sisters embraced and only a small part of Lizzy was jealous.
They returned downstairs to listen to their mother's raptures, which soon turned into sorrow when she realised that Jane's first appearance as an engaged woman must be at a dance given by Sir William Lucas.
Their mother's annoyance at this fact was only allayed when she realised how much Lady Lucas would be envious of Jane's good fortune. Indeed all the mothers of the neighbourhood would surely be green-eyed of Mrs Bennet's genius at attracting suitors. That put her in a much better frame of mind, even if it made Jane quite distraught. Jane had wanted to conceal her engagement so as to not spoil the evening for Miss Emma Lucas, who would be coming out at the dance.
"No one will suspect you, Jane," said Lizzy in a low voice, "and I do not think you can keep your engagement secret, not even for one day…" Lizzy shot a reproachful look at Kitty, which Kitty chose not to acknowledge.
Their discussion of the wedding and all Mrs Bennet's concerns about the ability to put decent food on her table for the wedding was interrupted by their Aunt Phillips. She looked full of news and curiosity.
"I had to come the minute I heard the news."
"Good heavens, it has not made Mertyon already? Mr Bingley has only just proposed!" cried Mrs Bennet.
"Mr Bingley has proposed? Oh, Jane!" Mrs Phillips fell upon her niece.
"Did you not know, Aunt? Then why have you come?" said Lydia who was collapsed in a chair only now beginning to be interested the in the conversation.
"Mr Darcy has returned to Netherfield and brought his cousin." Mrs Phillips straightened and smiled.
"The viscount?" Mrs Bennet sat further forward in her seat, Jane's triumph momentarily forgotten.
"Indeed. A handsome young man, much younger than I supposed, after all, he is from the first marriage, I understand. I only saw him from the window, but I am surprised your daughters have not given you a better description."
Mrs Bennet turned to stare and Lizzy noted that both she and Kitty tried to meet her look with indifference.
"Lord, I did not see him Mama," said Lydia.
"He was with his brother, Mr Fitzwilliam, who greeted Lizzy so civilly. By the by, what do you know - " Aunt Phillips was triumphant.
"What do I know?" said Mrs Bennet annoyed at her sister's way of prolonging her own enjoyment at Mrs Bennet's expense.
"Off walked this happy little quartet, they must have done a lap of Meryton. He seemed quite taken with Lizzy." Lizzy was not Aunt Phillip's favourite, but one could forget that fact based on how she was now looking at her second niece.
"If you mean he was polite enough to discuss with me how I found the countryside and whether he was likely to get any good sport…then, Aunt, I confess," replied Lizzy archly refusing to give into too much speculation.
Mrs Bennet knew her daughter too well to think that Lizzy would divulge any further information, so she turned the conversation back to her sister and had to be satisfied with Mrs Phillip's knowledge of the new arrival.
Jane seemed complacent and not at all unhappy that she was no longer the centre of attention, even teasing her sister over whether she had made a fine conquest.
"Not at all. His manners are extremely pleasant. He presents himself far better to his inferiors than his cousin did at first. But there is something wanting in seriousness, I think."
"You are severe. Perhaps you do not wish a certain gentleman to think you prefer his cousin," said Jane.
"Not three hours engaged and you have become bold," was Lizzy's response. She refused to think about Mr Darcy and what it might mean that he had returned to Netherfield.
"I think we have the best carriage," said Ash stretching out his legs. "Is Miss Bingley always so enthusiastic?"
"That is not a word I would have used to describe her," replied Darcy looking out the window as they approached Lucas Lodge, "but then I am not the heir to an earldom."
"You always assign the basest of motivations to people, Darcy."
"You think I am wrong?"
"Frequently. In this case perhaps not. Miss Bingley certainly has enough money of her own that she might marry comfortably to a gentlemen she esteemed, rather than switch her allegiance so readily. Or am I mistaken?"
Darcy shook his head, "I did not encourage her."
"You encourage no one," was his cousin's response.
Freddie stuck his head out the window, "It looked a decent sized house, there should be enough dancing, and luckily Mertyon has enough pretty ladies so that we shall not be confined to the Bingley sisters."
Ash inclined his head to see past his brother's, "It is a sizable house. Sir William must be profitable in his business."
Darcy snorted, "His elevation to the knighthood gave him a disgust of business and he has retired here. His children will have little. The eldest daughter married Mr Collins, who has the unfortunate, although he will never think so, position of being Lady Catherine's parson."
Freddie made such a face at this disclosure that Darcy could not help but laugh.
"Country society," said Darcy as the carriage came to a stop.
"You think the ton does not have such foolish and short sighted men? Come you are not so stupid, or so ignorant," responded Ash.
Countless times before had Darcy wished he had his cousin's ease of address and wondered whose blood caused it. None of his Darcy cousins had such charm and address so Darcy presumed it was the Darcy blood that reigned supreme within himself, but upon reflection it could not be the Fitzwilliam blood that held all the charm because Cousin Anne was not at all at ease with others. However, since Freddie, Annabelle, Richard, and Ash all had reasonably equal measures of charm, Darcy was at a loss to explain it since the only blood they shared was Fitzwilliam.
Freddie had certainly come ready to dance and be merry. Ash was more guarded and Darcy could not tell if he was play acting the generous lord, or whether he truly found the society pleasing.
Darcy watched Bingley give all his attention to Miss Bennet, whose smiles were nothing like they had once been. Gone was the reserve and serenity. Her modesty had not allowed her to hope or expect anything of Bingley but now she was assured of his love, she was free to show hers. Darcy envied her.
He found himself drawn into a conversation with his cousins and Sir William Lucas; or rather he stood at the side of the little party and listened as Sir William discussed St James' Court. Miss Bingley, and many others of his acquaintance, would have shown their contempt, but his cousins did not.
"Miss Lucas, I expect I am too late, but if you have any dances free, would you do me the honour of standing up with me?"
This pretty phasing had Sir William all effusive pleasure, and allowed Lady Lucas to remind the viscount that he was in the country now; they rarely filled up their dance cards beforehand.
Thus Ash was manoeuvred into leading Emma Lucas out to open the dancing. She was pretty, but no doubt as empty headed as Miss Maria Lucas who had not said many words of sense together when she had been at Kent.
Darcy was surprised that Ash had allowed himself to be tricked in such a way, but as he watched his cousin make Miss Bennet his next partner, Darcy thought Ash might have a plan.
Miss Bingley reminded him of their dance, which Darcy had not remembered offering, but it would do him no good to stand around on the fringes of the dancing all night. He should have lead her off the dance floor and offered to get Miss Bingley some refreshment, but his manners were forgot when he saw that Ash was next soliciting Elizabeth for a dance. He could not help but drift towards them.
"Miss Elizabeth, I hope you shall do me the honour of the next?"
"You shall be quite tired if you dance every dance, my lord, but you will be very well liked."
"I am fond of being liked, so I shall remind myself tomorrow when I do not wish to rise from my bed. Darcy, you will dance with Miss Elizabeth next after this, shall you not?"
"I had - " Darcy had not thought Ash had even noticed him there. "If Miss Elizabeth does not object."
"I expect he will stand on your feet and be disagreeable in his choice of conversation, but if you do not dance with him I do not know who will. But I sense you are a woman of great fortitude."
Elizabeth laughed, and then blushed. "If Mr Darcy has no objection to dancing with me, then I should be honoured."
"I have no objection indeed, quite the reverse," said Darcy feeling lightheaded.
The feeling did not abate even when he took her hand in his after Ash relinquished her.
Darcy could not have told you of what they spoke, nor could he be sure he had acquitted himself correctly. But Elizabeth seemed to have no issue with allowing him to bring her some punch and he counted that as an improvement from their last dance.
Part Five (Chapter 13)
Posted on 2013-05-19
Their maid was detained helping Mrs Bennet into her nightclothes. Their mother always wanted to talk over the night immediately and the maid was the lucky recipient of her confidences.
Sally was not a bad maid by any means; she just came from a local family whose siblings had all gone into service. Sally saw nothing wrong in telling her family the Bennets' concerns, and thus it was that the neighbourhood knew almost everything Mrs Bennet chose to confide in Sally.
There was nothing Lizzy could do about that, so she focused on helping her sister with her hair.
"I do hope Emma had a lovely evening," said Jane.
"She was led out to dance by a viscount; if she did not have a lovely evening, then she is hard to please."
"I thought that was very kind of Lord Ashbourne. His manners are pleasing, but I found him more reserved than you led me to believe."
"Reserved?" That was the opposite of what Lizzy would have described him as.
"Yes, I think some of his pleasantries are rather studied. He means to give no offence so he does not, it is not that he is truly - I cannot explain it, but surely you see the difference between the genuineness of Charles and the viscount?"
Lizzy had not thought of it like that, and now that Jane had remarked on it, she revisited his actions and words.
"You think him insincere?"
"No, but he is a very great gentleman. Our concerns can be little to him. I think it reflects well that he does not - well, Mr Darcy has been our guide of rich young men recently, has he not? And he does not have the manner of goodness even though we know he does have much goodness within him. But we shall probably see little of Lord Ashbourne." Jane turned to assist Lizzy with her hairpins. "Mr Fitzwilliam, however … "
"You think he shall stay in the neighbourhood? He does not strike me as a young man who likes to be in one place for very long."
"Did you not notice he danced two dances with Kitty?"
Lizzy had not noticed that, she had been so focused on Mr Darcy that she had not seen anything. "I did not remark it."
"Then you were the only one. His attentions were very marked, and Kitty was distracted during every other dance. Kitty is never distracted during dances, she enjoys them too much."
"I did not tell you their manner to each other upon their meeting. It was if they were struck dumb by one another," said Lizzy. "Oh, I expect Mama and Sir William will be planning another wedding. I know that Papa swears by life being nothing more than us making sport for our neighbours and then laughing at them in our turn, but I feel it is never our turn."
Jane gave Lizzy a hug. "Dearest Lizzy, you will be happy too, I promise."
"If you will allow me to teach your ten children to embroider, I will be."
"It is possible that Mr Darcy …"
Lizzy shot Jane a look.
" - or some other young gentleman you come to admire (after all, I am sure Charles has many friends,) will wish to make you his wife, and you will wish to become his. Do not give up quite so early; you are not even one and twenty."
Lizzy threw one of Jane's ribbons at her.
The next morning, the dance was the sole topic of conversation in the Bennet household and when the Lucas women had exhausted all of their own words on the topic, they came to visit so that both Bennets and Lucases could discuss the dance some more. Then, the next day, they went to Church where, besides the sermon, they could hear everyone else's opinions on how the evening had gone.
Lord Ashbourne figured a great deal in the conversation and Lizzy and her father had some fun in teasing Mrs Bennet. Mr Bennet because that was his chief source of amusement and Lizzy because she did not want her mother to see Lord Ashbourne as the property of one or other of her girls. She would be disappointed after all.
Lizzy was surprised that Kitty seemed so discomforted about the attention she was being shown regarding her having made a conquest of Mr Fitzwilliam. Was it possible that Kitty really had fallen in love at first sight?
Normally Lydia and Kitty were happy to discuss their flirts; indeed they did not wait to be asked about them. This Kitty was reticent and blushed and looked confused as if she did not understand what was being asked.
"Shall we see your name being read in the Banns, Miss Kitty, you sly thing," said the eldest Miss Long.
"I do not know what you mean. I wish to pay attention to the sermon."
Lizzy had never seen her sister pay such dutiful attention towards anything before; their rector had never been a very great sermon giver, any topic in his hands turned brittle and dry.
It did not dissuade the interest of the Miss Longs, who captured Kitty's' attention outside of the church by way of blocking her path.
"Mr Fitzwilliam is fearful handsome. He should enlist; a red coat would perfect him. Has he any intention, do you know?"
"Why should I know of Mr Fitzwilliam's intentions?"
The Miss Longs laughed. "Oh, Kitty!"
On their walk back to Longbourn, Lizzy ventured to suggest that Mr Fitzwilliam was very handsome and attentive.
"Oh, not you too, Lizzy!" was all Kitty would say which puzzled her greatly.
"I do hope, Mr Darcy, that you are not regretting your return," Miss Bingley clung to him as they made their way into Longbourn.
"Is there a reason I should do so?"
Miss Bingley laughed. "They will not be happy with just Miss Bennet married. She is a charming beautiful young lady and I am happy to have her as a sister, but her family! You cannot be blind to their faults."
"I endeavour not to be blind to faults," was his only response.
"Oh, and Mr Fitzwilliam! I do not know what he is about bringing that object. He dropped it on the way here and I quite think my toe may be broken."
Darcy could not help but notice that Miss Bingley's affection for Freddie had faded fast. She had no doubt noticed he was a young puppy and none of her skills could draw him in, so she had no use for him.
Darcy, too, wondered what had possessed his cousin to bring what looked like a wrapped book to Longbourn. He detached himself from Miss Bingley and slowed his cousin's step.
"I hope that is not from Bingley's library?"
Freddie started, "What? Oh this? No, no, this is my own book."
"You brought books in your trunk?" Darcy did not believe him.
"No, I sent for it, from London," said Freddie, "On Saturday. It is a gift…loan."
"Darcy, are you intending to loiter about all evening?" Ash called to them from the entrance hall.
The mystery of the wrapped book was soon solved, as Mr Bennet noticed it and asked directly.
Darcy watched as Freddie handed it to Miss Catherine Bennet, who seemed as surprised as anyone. He saw the bemused expression on her face when the novel was revealed and she looked up, not at Freddie, but directly at Ash.
Ash was not looking at her; instead he was intently studying the stucco, which instantly made Darcy suspicious. Freddie was too young to marry unless he fell into a lasting and deep love, something longer than an acquaintance of a sevennight could engender.
Ash loved his brother too much to see him do something foolish, so what was he about to allow this gift to be given so brazenly?
Darcy could see that the conversation was troubling Miss Catherine and chose to ask Mrs Bennet about her plans for the wedding. He received an approving look from Elizabeth, but she did not come to join him; instead he watched as she went to speak to her sister and Freddie, leaving him to discuss the finer points of lace as best he could.
He was rewarded for his pains by being seated next to Elizabeth at dinner.
"I see that your mother has ordered all of Bingley's favourite dishes."
"Is it not said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach?" She smiled at him briefly before surveying the courses before her.
"I think she should be secure of Bingley."
The conversation lapsed until Elizabeth told him she had lately received a letter from Georgiana. "This one through the medium of the post, rather than hand delivered. Your sister is a credit to you."
"I am very glad she values your friendship, you may provide what I cannot. I am not equipped to converse easily on all subjects that a young lady may wish to."
"Whereas I, being a young lady and one with many sisters, am eminently qualified."
"If it is not too much trouble."
"Your sister could be trouble to no one," Elizabeth frowned at saying that, clearly thinking of Wickham.
Darcy wanted nothing more than to reach out and tell her that he did not mind her knowing about Georgiana. He had wanted to tell her, wanted her to know, he trusted her with that knowledge. He also wanted to tell her that Wickham imposing himself on sisters was not her fault. But he had no right to talk to her on such matters or reassure her; for all he knew, she blamed him. After all, she must have felt constrained in being able to warn her family and friends about Wickham.
His own behaviour in Meryton had given everyone such a disgust of him that any attempt to reveal Wickham's true nature would be more difficult than if Darcy had just made an effort to ingratiate himself. But he always thought such artifice beneath him.
He never deigned to learn about other people beyond his first cursory impression of them. He had not noticed before that if a gentleman was rich and belonged to the right society, he was more likely to give them time to display their qualities than if they were poor and coarse. The exception was his own tenants and was that because he knew himself to be in control of their destiny?
Darcy was so wrapped up in these thoughts he hardly noticed the ladies leaving the table.
Mr Bennet passed the port to Freddie. "I should by rights give my new son-in-law the bottle first, but you, sir, have raised many expectations this night."
Freddie looked like a rabbit caught in a trap. He did not look at all like a young man giving a lady he admired a gift.
As blunt as Darcy had found Mr Bennet's statement, he had to concede there had been no point hiding such a notion; once they rejoined the ladies, Mrs Bennet seemed unable to talk of anything but Mr Fitzwilliam's generosity.
It was only a novel and a rather lurid one at that! As if every woman who received a torrid novel was eventually married to the gifter!
Darcy made his way to the coffee and took himself a cup; Ash was doing the same.
"Do you think this quite wise…" he gestured at Freddie, who was being most cordially thanked by their hostess.
"Sugar in your coffee? I do not prefer it but if you do … "
"Talk sense, Ash. Your brother…and his…offering."
"You sound as if he were a priest."
"This society has certain expectations which are being raised." Darcy knew Ash had heard Mr Bennet and was not blind to Mrs Bennet either.
"This society? All society, I think you will find …"
"In town, such flirtations can be seen as what they are - here…and it is not … "
"He is of an age; she is of an age, what is there to object to?"
"The fact your brother does not seem very committed to the object of his affection does not worry you?"
Ash looked at him in some surprise.
"He does not look as though he wished to give her a present. He likes her, that is clear enough, but it is nothing more than a flirtation."
"She likes him," was Ash's simple answer.
"She likes him so well that she looked first at you when she opened the present."
The spoon clattered as it came to rest on Ash's saucer and Darcy closed his eyes briefly, trying to think what this might mean and when he had opened them Ash had moved away.
Darcy looked back at Miss Catherine sitting by herself on the sofa near them. She was tolerable enough, but not at all his cousin's usual flirtation.
Part Six (Chapter 14)
Posted on 2013-05-25
Despite Kitty's reaction to Mr Fitzwilliam's gift, Lizzy saw that she had spent all night pouring over it and fallen asleep upon it. Lizzy would not have remarked upon it but Lydia was not so kind to her sister.
"Your lover is very handsome, Kitty. Did you dream of him all night?"
"Lydia!" said Jane, blushing red.
"He is not - It is just a book," said Kitty, not sounding very convincing.
"A book from a man who wants to marry you! Oh, Mama, two daughters married and very well indeed," said Lydia winningly.
Mrs Bennet smiled, and ignored the fact Kitty took herself back to her bedroom before she had even finished her breakfast. "Indeed. I think they shall do very well together."
Mr Bennet grunted. "Well, perhaps he likes stupid women; he seems rather silly himself."
"Papa!" Lizzy could not help but exclaim; if her father kept denigrating her sisters, then they had no motivation to be better, and Mr Fitzwilliam was young, not silly.
"I just hope he does not keep her waiting as long as Mr Bingley did Jane."
Lizzy was glad that Mr Bingley and the other gentleman from Netherfield called, so she could escape from this conversation and the house.
She observed Mr Fitzwilliam and did not think he acted like a man violently in love. He did not question Kitty's absence; he did not grow silent and refuse to speak to anyone else. Nor did he even throw a glance or two towards the house.
"You enjoy reading, Mr Fitzwilliam?"
"Not particularly. Of course I read about all the latest farming practices, deadly dull but it would not do to fall behind. I prefer to read the gentleman's magazine if I read at all."
"You are conscientious in your duties?"
"I cannot afford not to be! My brothers would not let me waste my inheritance!" Mr Fitzwilliam laughed. "I have no real duties; a small estate is not such an encumbrance."
That was spoken like the son of an Earl, thought Lizzy. Or one who applied himself diligently to his work and did not let things get behind like her father. Lizzy wondered if Longbourn could be better managed by someone interested in its management. It was not likely to get that in Mr Collins so they must hope that his sons would rescue the estate.
"I have no interest in being a great man like my brother. I think it lucky he was born first."
Lizzy looked over at Lord Ashbourne, who was walking with Jane and Mr Bingley. "Or perhaps it is because he was born first."
"I know many a first born and it is not always the case!"
Their conversation was interrupted by Mr Bingley speaking loudly so they could all hear.
"What does everyone say to a picnic?"
The look that crossed Mr Darcy's face made Lizzy sure of his feelings on the matter, and she tried not to think why she first looked to him.
"The weather is not likely to hold, Bingley," he said.
Lord Ashbourne waved his hand in dismissal, "If the weather does not hold, we retire to Netherfield or Longbourn or some such place."
"Indeed!" said Mr Bingley. "I think it would be the most supreme fun."
"At some great expense and management, I think," said Mr Darcy. "You cannot expect Miss Bennet to plan for a picnic and a wedding."
This was a sensible thought, but Lizzy wished Mr Darcy was not the one to raise it; it would do him no credit in the minds of Meryton!
Jane demurred announcing herself to be quite up to the task, the same moment Bingley demurred that he should take on the entirety organisation.
Their brief moment of domestic infelicity was broken when Kitty barrelled out of the house looking a frightful mess. She came to a sudden stop at the edge of the lawn and blushed.
Lizzy looked to Mr Fitzwilliam and could think of no other reason that Kitty should bring herself downstairs looking so disordered. She normally thought much of her own appearance.
Mr Bingley saved the moment "Miss Kitty! Just the very person!"
Lizzy was sad that Kitty looked a little baffled that she should be so wanted. She really should try to be a better sister and guide Kitty.
"We have been talking about having a picnic. It has been such good weather and it seems a pity to waste it! There are some objections, but I know you will support me."
"Who would object to a picnic?" Kitty sounded surprised.
"I do not object to a picnic. I merely commented on the effort that much be expended and the - " Mr Darcy sounded stilted. Lizzy felt for him keenly; to be reserved amongst so many sociable creatures.
"Yes, for we have no legs to walk upon, nor arms amongst us to carry the rugs and baskets. You are very right, Darcy." Lord Ashbourne sounded teasing but Lizzy was not quite so sure how close the cousins were.
"I suspect Miss Bennet," Mr Darcy nodded at Jane, "would plan a more refined picnic than ones we enjoyed as children. I was thinking more of the picnic we enjoyed with Miss Bingley. That was a lot of planning and work and I should not think …"
"Caroline may prefer carriages and servants and tables and chairs, but the Miss Bennets are hardier women! As, I suspect, are the other young ladies in the neighbourhood; no, a picnic is a very pleasant idea. I shall undertake to plan it myself if that is your objection!" Mr Bingley was very pleased with his own idea.
"Mr Bingley, I would be very glad to plan a picnic, though I should prefer carriages to walking," said Jane.
"Oh no, I suggested the picnic…"
Lizzy sighed as Jane and Mr Bingley resumed their arguing, as much as two people of their disposition could be said to argue.
"They are a well matched pair - " said Mr Fitzwilliam, who, Lizzy could not help but note, had drifted towards Kitty.
Lizzy laughed. "Indeed, we shall never have our picnic organised, for they will claim the most trouble for themselves until…winter at least."
"I think not, Miss Elizabeth," replied Mr Fitzwilliam.
"You think they will come to some conclusion?" Lizzy felt surprised.
"No but - " Mr Fitzwilliam's explanation was cut off by Lord Ashbourne, who had been standing at the edge of the party, not paying much attention Lizzy would have said.
"Saturday! We shall leave from Netherfield. Seems as good a day and place as any, we must hope for continuation of good weather. I have here a list of what seems to me to be the principal guests - or at least those who would be most offended if left out of the fun. You shall have to check my list, Miss Elizabeth, you will be practical but not as kind hearted as your sister, so we shan't have the entire population hereabouts with us. We will have perhaps a manservant, and we will all take a great quantity of simple food and some rugs, and thus all we have to do is organise the carriages and placate the cooks. Et Voila. And those who find it too childish can stay home with a book."
Lizzy knew then what Mr Fitzwilliam had meant about his brother, and found herself obeying when she was summoned to assist with the list of guests.
Of course Lord Ashbourne had not picked a location for their picnic, but this was hardly surprising as he was not a native of the area. The Bennet sisters picked the location - a river that Lizzy remembered from their childhood. They had picnicked there regularly until their father had become tired of going, and then all that was left to do was deliver the invitations.
Jane and Mr Bingley were to do that, until Kitty invited herself along. Lizzy did not understand her sister's plan until their return, when Jane had mentioned they had gone to Netherfield.
Would Kitty never be restrained in her feelings and affections? Had she not seen the way Jane had been disappointed and the centre of attention, of kindly meant but hurtful consolations? Lizzy was glad her romances had been so ignored by society.
Darcy waited for his turn to take a shot, and idly listened to the other gentlemen discussing the picnic.
He waited until Ash had shot, successfully, of course, before joining his cousin.
"I think you are in ignorance of the type of picnic this shall be."
"One with rugs and food?"
"The persons that have been invited; the Miss Lucases and the Miss Longs! You, who avoid Almacks…"
"I do not avoid Almacks," said Ash with a creased frown.
"You avoid the marriage mart."
"You think I should not go on this picnic because I shall find myself wed? Do parsons often officiate marriage ceremonies by rivers?"
His cousin was being flippant and Darcy could never speak to him in this mood, so he made to walk away. Ash caught his arm.
"Darcy, it is acceptable to enjoy oneself with a pretty young lady. I would have thought you would be thinking of ways to separate Miss Elizabeth from the party. A romantic stroll by the waterside, just the thing to convince a young lady she was wrong about you."
Of course, Richard had spoken to his brother. Darcy had never told Richard outright of his rejection and love of Elizabeth, but Richard did have eyes.
"That was folly. I should have thought more about myself and my position, and her situation in life."
Ash reloaded his gun; the loader they had brought out was busy with Mr Hurst and, as the Earl always said, a man should know how to handle his own guns. Darcy was glad he still had his uncle in his life to guide him. Sometimes he felt his father's loss keenly; this was one of those times.
"And I was in such a good mood, Darcy, do not spoil it."
"You misunderstand me. I should have thought more of whether I would make her a good husband. I misunderstood her every look and - the more I think of it, I wonder if we both had a lucky escape. How can you ascertain from such limited connection whether you could make each other happy for the rest of your lives? That you should be able to raise children successfully?"
"You have thought about this," said Ash lightly.
"I have. I admire Miss Elizabeth Bennet immensely. I have not met a woman I respect more. I do not, however, respect or admire her family. Nor would marrying me be an easy choice for her. Your father will welcome her, no doubt, and Georgiana already thinks of her as a sister, but can Miss Elizabeth be willing to be suspected and talked about by the rest of my acquaintance? Not all admiration leads to lasting happiness."
This serious conversation was interrupted by Freddie almost shooting Darcy's hat off. After that, there seemed nothing for it but to return to the house. Ash and Freddie came with him, Freddie apologising for his unpardonable aim and Ash lecturing him.
They were so intent on their squabble that they did not notice that Mrs Hurst and Miss Catherine Bennet were walking in the shrubbery. Their meeting was awkward and Darcy blushed that they should be found in such an un-gentlemanly discussion and so informal an attitude.
Mrs Hurst recovered her surprise first and claimed Darcy's arm. This left Miss Catherine to his cousins. Darcy wondered how Ash would feel to be so left out as it was likely that Freddie and Miss Catherine would talk of the book Freddie had given her and other such nonsense.
They went inside to find Bingley in raptures about the way their invitations had been received. Darcy should have liked to go and change from his dirty clothes but Miss Bingley was as sour on the idea of a picnic as she had been the night before and required his assistance.
Darcy did not find he could assist, as while he had reservations about the picnic, he had raised them and that was that. He would not continue to voice his complaints when others were so looking forward to the entertainment. That would be churlish.
Where Darcy struggled to assist the siblings find some common ground, Miss Bennet did a little better to soothe the siblings before she decided retreat was a better option and collected her sister and returned to Longbourn. Jane Bennet had more sense than Darcy had given her credit for, so Darcy decided to follow her lead and he went to finally divest himself of his coat and mud encased boots and left Bingley and Miss Bingley to continue their argument.
He crossed the entrance hall and paused when he heard Freddie's voice echoing from the billiard room.
"So discomposed! It is not like you to be out manoeuvred! I think this is quite a different case than you were thinking, and I must say I'm glad that you have been set straight - perhaps you will listen now since you would not listen to me!"
Ash apparently did not care to stay and listen to his brother further and stalked out of the billiard room with a strange expression on his face. He stopped upon seeing Darcy.
"You have given me much to think on," was all he would say, leaving Darcy none the wiser. Darcy was unaware that he had said anything to Ash, especially anything he meant Ash to ruminate upon.
Unless Ash meant to think upon Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship? Darcy did not know whether he wanted his cousin's support in their leaving immediately and giving Darcy a chance to reclaim his heart, or his cousin's support in his eventual marriage into the Bennet family. He was concerned by either outcome.
Part Seven (Chapter 15)
Posted on 2013-06-03
"You see, Lizzy, we do not have to ride with Miss Bingley," said Lydia, laughing.
Lizzy tried to shush her sister, not that it had any effect; Lydia would never be suppressed.
"She is allowed to be escorted - without a chaperone I see - with a Viscount." Lydia's tone was strange and Lizzy did not quite understand her meaning. Her words were clear enough but Lizzy still felt as if she were missing something.
All of the Bennet sisters were crammed into one fragile open carriage, and the other ladies were similarly conveyed. The men all chose to ride, although Mr Bingley came very near the Bennet's carriage... sometimes near enough to alarm them.
"It shall be better when you are married," said Lizzy with a laugh.
"Temptations should always be removed, and passions restrained," said Mary solemnly.
"We should have left you at home," sighed Lydia. "Kitty, you are squashing me."
"We are sitting three across, I cannot help but sit very close," was Kitty's petulant response.
The picnic had been all Lydia had been able to speak of over the past days; even if her particular friends and flirts were not invited, she was still young enough to find it adventurous. Lizzy was surprised that Kitty was not similarly excited.
Instead, Kitty had been in a sulky mood, which did not quite tally with her being in love with Mr Fitzwilliam. Perhaps something had occurred between the two of them.
He was certainly young enough to have a careless address and she was old enough to be sensible of a slight. Or perhaps, more likely, something had been said that made it obvious they would not be able to marry.
If the Earl of Matlock and his wife were anything like his sister, then Lizzy could not imagine them welcoming Catherine Bennet of nowhere Hertfordshire into their family.
It was not only Kitty who did not seem pleased to be picnicking. Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst found much to fault.
They faulted the spot by the river, the rugs brought, the cold spread, and even the direction of the wind. Lizzy could understand, although not agree, with the first complaints, but the wind was entirely out of anybody's control.
"I think you must be glad Miss Darcy is not with us, to sit on such wet ground would be injurious to her health." Miss Bingley exclaimed as she was being helped down from the curricle.
Mr Darcy seemed surprised at being so addressed. "My sister is of an excellent constitution and the ground does not seem damp to me."
The Miss Longs, Miss Goulds and the Miss Lucases seemed quite cowed by Miss Bingley and so for some time they all sat in silence while the gentlemen saw to the carriages, horses and other arrangements.
Miss Bingley only wished to speak again when the gentlemen returned. "Will we be seeing your dear sister for the wedding?"
Mr Darcy ducked his head, and Lizzy was surprised he seemed embarrassed by such a question. It was hardly impolite! When he looked back up he looked so intently at her that Lizzy wondered what he was about.
"My sister has inquired if she may journey for the wedding, if that is acceptable to you, Bingley and Miss Bennet?"
Jane very much wished to meet Miss Darcy, so she had no objections and Bingley would never have any objections to his greatest friend's sister.
"She wrote very fervently about coming, so I am glad she will find such a welcome." Still he looked at her.
"I do hope she knows it will not be a fashionable wedding," said Miss Bingley, "Of course it will be very pretty, Jane, and we shall all celebrate, but Miss Darcy will be used to much finer events."
"I do not believe she has been to a wedding before, Miss Bingley."
Miss Bingley was shocked. "But surely she attended Lady Upton's wedding?"
Mr Darcy coughed., "Theirs was a very small wedding party, and Georgiana could not make it in time." Then he stood up and walked off towards the river.
Lizzy wondered what the story was there or whether Mr Darcy had found himself at the end of his patience for questions.
Miss Bingley continued to praise Miss Darcy and denigrate everything and everyone else to such a degree that Lizzy could not blame Lydia for standing up and announcing she wished to explore.
"That sounds an excellent notion," said Mr Fitzwilliam.
"We,\ ladies shall walk in this direction, we shan't want any of the gentleman, shall we, ladies?"
Lizzy found herself blushing, once again, for her sister, but no one contradicted Lydia and the gentlemen followed Mr Darcy and the ladies, Lydia. Most of the ladies of course, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were happy enough on their damp rug it seemed.
Lizzy did not notice until they were around a bend and hidden from their picnic spot that Mary, too, had chosen to remain behind.
"I do wish she would join us; it cannot be good for her to read nothing but books. Surely she should see nature and how the world - you cannot learn everything in a book," said Lizzy, linking her arm with Jane.
"She is very serious, Lizzy. Very different from her sisters."
"But Jane! If she took the time to practice social graces the way she does her piano - " Lizzy cut herself off when she saw Jane's expression and she had to concede she was being hypocritical. She could hardly insist Mary practice when Lizzy herself had no fortitude for doing things she disliked. Her parent's lenient approach to parenting had meant that none of the young ladies had the accomplishments standard to their class. They could do bits here and there where their passion took them, but put a watercolour palette in front of them and Lizzy did not think any of them would know what to do.
Jane stopped suddenly., "Oh, Lizzy!"
Lydia had begun to remove her shoes and stockings and, quick as anything, was barefooted by the edge.
"Lydia, put on your - the gentlemen could…" Jane was shocked and Lizzy hardly less so. Lizzy remembered that they had done this as children, but they were no longer children and they must remember that it was not father who had escorted them.
"Then I shall be in the river and they shall not see my bare legs," retorted Lydia, hiking her dress up and splashing in the shallows.
"That is hardly any better!" said Lizzy.
Lydia's idea was infectious and soon the Miss Lucases, Goulds and Longs were also finding places to sit down to pull off their shoes.
"You must stop the gentlemen coming to see, Lizzy!" said Emma Lucas she, too, shucked off her shoes and stockings.
"How am I supposed to do that, pray?"
"Tell them we are bathing!" said Maria with a laugh, pulling one of the Miss Longs into deeper water. Lizzy was glad it was an unseasonably hot day, otherwise they might all come down with colds, or their dresses would not dry in time to return to their party as respectable young women.
"I think that is likely to have them descend upon us with alacrity," retorted Lizzy, but she knew was fighting a losing battle.
"Lizzy, I shall go back and ensure the gentlemen do not come this way," whispered Jane as she retreated back along the river.
Lizzy sat down on a log to watch the girls. They were certainly making enough noise to attract attention. She felt quite jealous that she had to be responsible. If only Mr Bingley had been the only gentleman to accompany them, him and perhaps Mr Fitzwilliam. Then there would be no difficulty, Lizzy could paddle to her hearts content.
Darcy was glad to put some distance between himself and Miss Bingley, and if he was honest to himself, Elizabeth.
"Darcy, this is supposed to be a restful trip," said Bingley, struggling to keep up, and almost tripping over a tree root.
"The view is much better from along here," said Darcy shortly.
Bingley, good man, did not retort that Darcy had never before in his life stepped into this part of Hertfordshire, Freddie had no such restraint.
"And when have you walked along this river bank? Bingley, you give him too much credit. Just because he says everything in such a determined, knowing way does not mean he has any idea of what he speaks! You conflate his tone with his intelligence."
Bingley laughed, "But Darcy is so often very right with his guidance."
"I expect when he gets it wrong, he gets it very wrong," retorted Freddie.
That did not make Bingley laugh and Darcy knew then that Bingley had suspicions about his role in keeping him from Miss Bennet.
"Have you told your brother your theories? Do they hold true for him as well?" said Darcy.
Freddie laughed. "No. See he was even canny enough not to join us on this muddy walk."
Darcy looked behind him and saw that Ash had not joined them. Nor had Mr Hurst, but that was unsurprising; the surprising fact was that Mr Hurst had consented to leave the sofa at Netherfield if he was not to be allowed to shoot.
Freddie overtook him and then stopped. "I have changed my mind, Darcy. You do always know what you are doing."
It took Darcy a moment to understand his cousin, but then he realised that their picnic spot was in a bay of the river, and if the young ladies had walked one direction and they the other, they now were overlooking where the young ladies were. The young ladies had taken to river bathing, just splashing about but Freddie was transfixed.
Bingley tried to play propriety, but Darcy could see he was seeing if Miss Bennet was indulging.
Darcy could say nothing in response, because he had first looked to see if Elizabeth's no doubt shapely ankles were on display, not that they could see a great deal from this distance.
"Charles?" Miss Bennet's voice floated through the foliage and Bingley looked stricken.
"She cannot see - that we …." Bingley was in somewhat of a fluster.
"Then you go and meet her, Bingley," said Darcy patiently, and his friend took his advice.
"You give such sound advice," said Freddie, "I see why Bingley needs you."
Darcy did not deign to answer him and instead followed Bingley back towards the picnic spot.
Miss Bennet clearly knew what her sisters and friends were doing; indeed they could hear them laughing gaily, and Miss Bennet was determined they not walk any further than the rugs.
"I do wish I could be so carefree," said Miss Bingley picking at some cake. "We took a little walk, but found nothing of gaiety."
"Do you not wish to go see what delights the young ladies, Mr Darcy?" Mrs Hurst, clearly also knew or suspected what the young ladies were doing.
Darcy announced his lack of curiosity and was rewarded with one of Miss Bennet's smiles. He preferred the reward of Elizabeth returning to their picnic spot, except she looked perplexed.
"Has anyone seen Kitty?" Elizabeth looked about and then added, "Or Mary?"
"Perhaps they have taken a walk with my brother, he is not back either," replied Freddie, stretching himself out upon the ground and attacked some fruit with some gusto.
The mystery of Miss Catherine and Mary Bennet was solved when, after some time, a dishevelled Miss Lydia returned to the party.
"Lord, Kitty twisted her ankle and has been taken home."
Miss Bennet seemed quite alarmed, but Miss Lydia was so very unworried. If it had been anyone but Miss Lydia giving the news, Darcy should have said it would be Miss Bennet overreacting.
"Oh but who has gone with her, Lydia?" said Elizabeth, drawing her sister's attention.
"Lord Ashbourne has taken her and Mary too. I think it paltry of her. Kitty, I mean, of course Mary would take any opportunity to return home to play the piano poorly. I thought Kitty had more heart than that."
"Shall we call the young ladies back from the water?" said Bingley, determined to return the party to some good humour.
Miss Lydia said she should go with Bingley and Freddie, and Darcy hoped that the young ladies had finished their bathing. Perhaps Miss Lydia had made some sign to her sisters that they had finished, for he could not imagine Elizabeth or Miss Bennet exposing the young ladies, although the sisters seemed distracted by Miss Catherine's accident.
"I assure you both; my cousin will take very good care of her. He has a sister." Darcy did not add that usually he was not so polite to young ladies who had such accidents around him. Darcy could only assume that Miss Catherine had genuinely injured herself; otherwise Ash would have found Bingley and handed Bingley's future sister-in-law into his care.
Elizabeth murmured, "Must we always be indebted to your family?" She could not have meant him to hear her, and indeed her sideways glance made Darcy sure she did not mean to say it out loud.
"Perhaps you would accompany me to speak to the coachmen, Miss Elizabeth? They can reassure you of your sister's condition."
Elizabeth did not demur and he accompanied her towards the carriages.
"Miss Bennet," He did not ask her to stop but she heard his request. "You should not feel indebted to my family. I know that my cousin counts himself lucky that he could render your sisters such a service. We who knew who Mr Wickham was should have - I should have thought it a worthy ambition to prevent him taking advantage of any young lady and not just ensured my sister's safety. My sister is precious to me, but all women are someone's sister or daughter. I forgot that."
He did not pretend to comprehend the entirety of the gamut of emotions that crossed her face. He thought he saw relief and a realisation that neither himself nor the Viscount held any lingering assumptions about her family. Lydia Bennet might be a foolish stupid girl, but she did not deserve Wickham's attentions and machinations.
"Thank you, sir, and thank your cousin too. I admit I am troubled that your cousin spread the story but I do understand it, your being so closely concerned to Mr Wickham's affairs."
"If you wish to thank my cousin for his actions, you may do so yourself, though I suspect he will not welcome them, having no expectation of their being necessary."
"Oh, will he be attending the wedding?"
Darcy was confused by Elizabeth's question, but did not get a chance to clarify as there was a sudden shrieking behind them.
They turned, but could not see the commotion. Darcy strode towards the sound, but was intercepted by Freddie.
"One of the Miss Lucases had a fright. Your barging in will not assist." Freddie had a grin and Darcy tried to hold onto his charitable thoughts about Miss Lydia Bennet.
His only consolation was that Elizabeth did not look as if she was thinking benevolent thoughts about her youngest sister either.Continued In Next Section