TSSAW Chapters 13-18

Chapter 13

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear. The inhabitants of Netherfield greeted the new day with a great mixture of emotions. Mr. Bingley was anxious to be off. He hated to go and was already pining for Miss Bennet but he reasoned that the sooner he left, the sooner he could return.

Darcy gave orders for the luggage to be taken downstairs and for his carriage to be ready to depart straight after breakfast as well. He had no desire to be around Caroline Bingley any longer than necessary. He was also relieved for reprieve he was to be granted before he would have to face Elizabeth again. He would use these next four weeks to steel his resolve. He could not forget her, that was impossible. But he could try to prepare himself to be indifferent to her. No, why delude himself; he would never be able to be indifferent to her. He asked himself why then if he was glad to be going away, why did he wish not to leave?

Georgiana prepared for her travels with a mixture of emotions as well. She was glad to be going home to Pemberley for Christmas. She was also glad to be with Mrs. Annesley again, for she had proven herself to be a valuable companion. But she would miss Hertfordshire, would miss the inhabitants of the neighborhood. Most of all she knew she would miss Elizabeth. She would see her in a month, that was true, but she wished they had been able to stay the three weeks longer as originally planned.

Caroline Bingley awoke, after the rest of the house as usual, in a joyful mood. The news of the fire was somewhat disconcerting; it had the potential to lessen some of Charles’ annual income. But when she realized that it would enable her to escape the desolation that was the country for the comforts of town, she was elated. She only wished Darcy and Georgiana were not leaving for Pemberley today. She would much rather they had gone to Town as she was. At least they would be far from that Eliza Bennet! If her plans worked, she would never have to suffer another Bennet again. Jane Bennet was a convenient distraction from boredom but Charles was paying her much too much notice. It was a good thing he was leaving. If she had it her way he would never come back!

Mrs. Hurst took the news of the fire much harder than her sister. The fire had destroyed a part of the business her father had built. Now that he was gone, it was one of the few links that remained to remind her of him.

Mr. Hurst seemed to recall something about a fire when he awoke. He had too much to drink the day before to remember, not that it was unusual for him to do so. Yes, they would be returning to London the next day. Well, at least he could go to his club to escape his family while in town!

The entire staff awoke that morning much relieved. They found their new master an amiable man. But his sister? What a nightmare! Let her go to London and wreak havoc there and leave them at peace in the country!

So the carriages carrying Bingley and the Darcys were on the road just after breakfast. Caroline made the most of her last day by ordering the house shut for the rest of the fall and winter at least. Extra servants were discharged and paid off and the house prepared to go into slumber once again.

Elizabeth was up at her normal early hour. She decided to sneak in a short walk before breakfast and was on her way to tell her father where she would be. Before she could leave Mr. Bennet asked her to stay.

“Well Lizzy, you certainly had a full day yesterday!”

“That I did father. I want to thank you for not forcing me to marry Mr. Collins, Papa.”

“Elizabeth, I would never force such a man on you. You need a husband you can respect and look up to. Anything less would put you in danger of an unequal marriage. I do not wish to see you unhappy. You should not have to suffer as your mother and I have, my child.”

Elizabeth was touched by his candor. It was not easy for him to admit his mistakes, especially to her.

“Papa, I never understood why you chose to marry Mama. She is so very different from you.”

“Elizabeth” he sighed, “I think you are now old enough to be told about your mother and me. I admit that her beauty captivated me. Even now she is still a very handsome woman, but she was much quieter then. Her ‘nerves’ only appeared after Jane was born. She was so convinced that Jane was to be my heir that when she was born she began to despair of ever having a son. I tried to tell her that there was plenty of time to have a male child but with every successive birth, and every successive girl she became more and more unmanageable. I am afraid I just gave up after Lydia. The Fanny I married was gone, replaced by a silly woman who takes great delight in gossip, matchmaking and lace.”

Elizabeth had moved to stand beside her father during his speech. When he had finish she leaned down and placed a kiss upon his head.

“I am so sorry Papa, we never knew. She has always been like this as long as any of us can remember. It must have been disheartening to watch. I can see why you retreated into this room so often.”

“No Lizzy, I should never have given up. I neglected my wife and my daughters. I should have been saving to increase your dowries. I have not. I should have taken a more active role in supervising your education. I have not. I am amazed at how well both you and Jane have turned out.”

“It is not too late for my younger sisters. Papa, yesterday Mary came to me and asked me to help her. She says she wants to become more than she is right now. I believe she would welcome any attention from you. But please, you must promise me not offer to discuss books of sermons with her!” Elizabeth added coyly.

“I shall try Lizzy. Besides, with you gone for 6 weeks after Christmas I will need another sensible person to keep me company! Speaking of your trip to town, are you eager to be gone?”

“I am looking forward to spending Christmas with my family Papa.”

Elizabeth was interrupted by the opening and closing of the front door. They were surprised to see Mr. Collins hurrying off in the direction of Lucas Lodge.

“I wonder where he can be going?” Elizabeth voiced.

“I believe he is going to pay homage to Sir William, and maybe his eldest daughter.”

“Charlotte? What could she possibly want him for?” Elizabeth was repulsed by the thought of her old friend welcoming the attentions of such a fool as her cousin.

“Elizabeth, Charlotte Lucas is almost past the marriageable age. Becoming the future mistress of Longbourn is enough of an inducement for some.” Mr. Bennet said wisely.

“But at what price? I have to say that I will think much less of Charlotte if she were to accept an offer from such a disgusting man!”

“There, there Lizzy, nothing may come of it. At least if it does you will have had some time to acquaint yourself with the idea before you must face Charlotte again. Would you end your friendship if she did accept him?”

“If she did, things certainly would be different between us. But I would never abandon her just because I believe she made a foolish choice.”

“Let us go have some breakfast then. I do not suppose your mother or two youngest sisters will be down yet!”

Elizabeth was pleased to see Jane and Mary this morning. She had told Jane about her conversations with Mary yesterday and Jane was very pleased that Mary had chosen to come to them. She was always concerned that Mary did not get out in the world enough.

“Mary,” Jane began, “Lizzy has told me you have plans to go on a walk after breakfast today. Would you mind if I joined you?”

Mary was visibly pleased that both her elder sisters would take notice of her. “Yes Jane, I would like that very much.”

The three girls gathered their things and went for a walk towards Meryton.

“I wonder were Mr. Collins was off to in such a hurry this morning?” Jane began.

“Papa thinks it was to Lucas Lodge,” Elizabeth ventured.

“Whatever for?” Jane asked

“To see Charlotte Lucas of course!” Mary quipped

Jane and Elizabeth were stunned at Mary’s remark.

“What makes you say that Mary?” It was Elizabeth’s turn to ask.

Mary could not help but giggle. “I overheard our cousin talking to himself yesterday. Would you like to hear what he was saying?”

Jane was mortified but Elizabeth was intrigued. “Mary, you know that it is improper to listen to other people’s conversations!” Elizabeth was having a hard time not laughing.

“But if one is talking to himself is he actually having a conversation?” Mary countered.

Elizabeth lost her self-control! “Now that you put it that way, pray tell us what he said!” Elizabeth managed to say between peals of laughter.

Even Jane was curious at this point.

“Well, I was on my way to my room when I heard our cousin talking. At first I wondered if anyone was with him but quickly realized he was alone when he started answering himself. He was going on and on about some list. I really did not think much of it until he started naming names.”

“What names Mary?” Jane beat Elizabeth to the question.

“The first name I heard was yours, Jane. He said ‘Jane, already spoken for,’” Jane blushed at this. “Then he said ‘Elizabeth, enough said there. Ungrateful chit!’” Mary had to stop there because of Elizabeth’s howls of Laughter.

Once she had gained control of herself again Elizabeth said, “I am sorry Mary, go on.”

“Next it was I. Let us see, he said ‘Mary, too interested in her books, would not give me enough of her attention.’”

“Lucky escape Mary!”

“Yes Elizabeth! Then he said ‘Kitty – flirting with officers unbecoming for the wife of a clergyman’”

“I knew there was some good to the War Office having them quartered in Meryton. There had to be some redeeming value to it!” Elizabeth mocked, “Was there more Mary?”

“Oh yes, I am getting to the interesting part! Now then, next he said ‘Lydia – too wild a twit!,’” Elizabeth snorted, “And then he started on the ladies of Lucas Lodge. ‘Miss Lucas – a bit old but not too high born, Father knighted, useful around the house. Not many prospects, unlikely to say no.’”

“Poor Charlotte!” Elizabeth sighed.

“Finally he said ‘Miss Maria, too young I think. Nor able to handle duties of a clergyman’s wife.’”

“Lucky Maria!” Elizabeth added.

“Lizzy! You should not say such things and you are not being a very good example to Mary!” Jane warned.

“Jane, Jane, you are right as always. Mary I should have acted with more decorum, but I challenge you to have done any better if our places had been switched!” Elizabeth said with a twinkle in her eye. “Mary, if you learn anything from me and from Jane, it is that different personalities have different ways of expressing themselves. Jane is always the model of decorum. I dearly love to laugh and will do so if the situation allows. Your tale this morning was one such time. But if we had been in much company I would have shown more restraint. I laughed because I knew I could open myself up to you. Do you understand what I am trying to say Mary?”

“If I understand you correctly, Elizabeth, you are saying that you should be true to your personality and character. Current society will place a limit on your expression but you will allow your true self to shine forth when you are with people you know will not judge you ill for it.”

“That is right Mary. Jane has very fervent feelings, you should know this.” Mary nodded, “But she rarely shows them to those outside her inner family circle. That way only those who truly know her will truly know her feelings. Am I correct Jane?”

Jane blushed, “I could never feel comfortable showing my emotions and feelings to people in general. Lizzy is much more comfortable doing so but she never allows herself such openness that will garner disapproval or ridicule.”

“The point of this is Mary,” Elizabeth jumped in, “is that we are all different and must therefore strive to find the balance of what we feel comfortable showing and what is acceptable to show. As you are more in company you will need to learn this about yourself. Jane and I will help and guide you as much as we can. We will let you know when you are bordering on the unacceptable as well as when you try and sink back into yourself as you have often done before. You have shown us today that you have a sharp sense of humor and you proved to be very observant in noticing father’s restriction on me. I thought only Jane knew about it. Coming out into the world, out of your sisters’ shadow will be work Mary. But in the end I think you will find your contentment there.”

By this time the three of them were in Meryton. They stopped to pick up some more salts for their mother; yesterday she had used up more than her normal share. Then they headed back home.

Elizabeth noted Jane’s sadness but did not remark on it until they were home and Mary had gone to practice the pianoforte.

“Next time I will work with Mary on her playing!” Elizabeth remarked. “Jane, you are unhappy. Mr. Bingley is gone from Netherfield but he has promised to return as soon as he can.”

“Yes Lizzy, but I cannot help but be disappointed. When he said he would call the day after the Ball my hopes were raised.”

“About what Jane?”

“I believe that he was going to ask permission to formally court me, Lizzy.”

“Why did he not ask before he left?”

“He said it would be unfair of him to me to speak of the things he wished to say before he left since he had no idea when he would be able to return.”

“But he said he would come back?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you sad?”

“Because he is gone and I know not how long.”

“Oh Jane, it will all turn out well!”

“He asked me to write his sister and tell her if I have any news. Caroline leaves tomorrow.”

‘Good riddance!’ Elizabeth muttered under her breath.

“The time will go by quickly enough Jane. The Gardiners will be here soon for Christmas and I know how much you enjoy our little cousins.”

“I shall try not to be sad, for you dearest sister.”

Lunch was a strained affair that day. Mrs. Bennet was living up to her threats of never speaking to Elizabeth again. But that did not stop her from speaking about Elizabeth in front of her as if she were not there. Mr. Bennet finally was forced to put a stop to it and soon after Elizabeth excused herself pleading a headache.

Mary came up to her room to check on Elizabeth.

“Are you well Elizabeth?”

“Thank you Mary, Yes I am well. I just needed to be away from Mama right now.”

“For what it is worth, I have thought much on what you had to say about Mr. Collins and I think you were right to refuse him. He would not have made any of us a good husband.”

Elizabeth grabbed her sister’s hand and pulled her into an embrace. “I am proud of you Mary. You have allowed yourself some critical thought and come up with your own conclusions. That is a very important thing to learn. I am looking forward to watching you bloom Mary. I have never thought of you as any less pretty than the rest of us, except Jane that is. She is five times as pretty as the rest of us but then again she has the sweet disposition to match! And Mary, beauty is more than skin deep. You already possess a great inner beauty and do not believe anyone who claims you do not!”

Mary was deeply moved by her sister’s kind words. She had always felt inferior to Elizabeth and Jane. Could she ever be their equal? It was thrilling to imagine it so. Thus tears of sadness and release mingled with tears of hope. Elizabeth seemed to recognize this and held her sister silently until she was finished. Once her tears had stopped, Elizabeth took a handkerchief and dried Mary’s eyes.

“Do not worry Mary, Jane and I will be here to help you. We will not give up on you. Do not give up on yourself. Promise?”

Mary, with still shiny eyes nodded her head to say yes.

Elizabeth spent the remainder of the afternoon in quiet conversation with her next younger sister. It would prove to be the beginnings of a much deeper relationship between the two of them that would last the rest of their lives.

Chapter 14

It came as no surprise when Mr. Collins left Longbourn before breakfast again the next day. Mrs. Bennet was still wailing over Elizabeth’s refusal but the rest of the family seemed to take things in stride. Once again Mary and Elizabeth shared a walk after breakfast. They had decided to make it a daily venture as the weather allowed. Jane was still in poor spirits over the loss of Mr. Bingley’s company. Caroline Bingley had sent over a note the day before informing her of the rest of the party’s departure for London.

Shortly after tea Mr. Collins arrived back at Longbourn, this time accompanied by Sir William, Lady Lucas and Charlotte.

“Mr. Bennet”, Mr. Collins began, “I have come to announce that Miss Lucas has made me the happiest of men and has consented to enter into Holy Matrimony with me.”

After the initial shock of the actual announcement, congratulations were quickly offered to the engaged couple. Charlotte sought out Elizabeth for a private word.

“You do not approve of what I have done do you Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth was very thankful that she had considered her answer to this question during the past two days. “Charlotte, I have long known your feelings on marriage and the lot of women in general and I know that you have acted in what you believe to be your own best interests. In many ways it is a very good match for you. Just because I could not accept my cousin does not mean that any other woman would not.”

“But you do not approve.”

“I did not say that Charlotte. It was your decision to make, not mine. If you believe you can be content as Mrs. Collins then I wish you happy. Do you have a wedding date set?”

“Yes, in three months, on the 15th of March. It should be much warmer then and it will give me time to prepare myself to leave Lucas Lodge.”

Elizabeth managed to restrain herself to just a lifting of her eyebrow when she learned the date. ‘An ill omen indeed! Oh Charlotte what have you done!’ she thought.

Fortunately Mrs. Bennet remained subdued until after the happy party left to spread their good news around the rest of the neighborhood. However, it did not take long for the mistress of Longbourn to make her displeasure known, most of it directed at her second-born. For the second time in two days Mr. Bennet was forced to intervene on his daughter’s behalf and once again Elizabeth excused herself quickly but this time to go for a walk. She informed the butler that she would be heading in the direction of Oakham Mount. She knew the exercise would calm her and help her clear her mind of all the thoughts racing through it.

Before she knew it, she was at the summit and looking down on the familiar lands. The calls of the birds were a welcome exchange to the shrill cries of her mother. Finally, all the pent up emotions from the past weeks poured out in tears. When she was done she looked around and remembered the last time she had been up here; it was with Georgiana and Mr. Darcy. She smiled as she remembered Georgiana’s ‘self-improvement scheme’. She had not had the opportunity to ask her how it was progressing before she left. She remembered how her brother had so considerately left them alone so that they could talk. Mr. Darcy was always so considerate when they met. Then the realization hit Elizabeth, she was missing them both! This would never do! She must not let Mr. Darcy affect her so or else how was she to spend six weeks in his house with Georgiana. She must use these next four weeks to steel herself against him. She could not forget him, that was impossible. As long as she was a friend of Georgiana’s he would be there, but she could try to prepare herself to be indifferent to him. No, why delude herself; she would never be able to be indifferent to him. When she was at last in control of her emotions again Elizabeth headed back to Longbourn. She could not wait for the arrival of the Gardiners. It would be another three weeks before they came.

<<>>

And so they were indeed three long weeks. Mr. Bennet had ordered his wife to stop berating Elizabeth so instead she chose to act as if she were not even there. Elizabeth could tolerate this behavior. She tried to look on the bright side, as was her disposition, and realized that this would relieve her of the responsibility of having to attend her mother. She even grew to enjoy the added freedom this gave her.

Jane still continued to struggle with the loss of Mr. Bingley. She had written twice to Caroline Bingley. After her second letter she had received a short note in reply explaining that the first must have gone amiss and that she had no news to relate. Elizabeth was very suspicious of Caroline but did not voice her concerns to Jane. Jane could not think ill of anyone and Elizabeth did not wish to drive a wedge between Jane and her potential sister-in-law.

Mary continued to take her daily walks with Elizabeth, sometimes accompanied by Jane as well. Elizabeth started to bring along books of poetry to discuss with Mary. At first Mary had difficulty making anything but moralistic observations, but as the days progressed she began to offer more in-depth, more insightful comments on the verses they pondered. One such day they were discussing Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in particularly Sonnet 46

“Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war

How to divide the conquest of thy sight;”

“It is an interesting way to begin a discussion on the nature of love. What do you think Shakespeare is trying to say in these first lines Mary?”

“I think it is his way to introduce the concept of the dual nature of love, the love a man has for a woman.”

“Go on.”

“Well, I think that the eyes symbolize the physical attraction a man feels for a woman. The heart symbolizes the attraction to her character, the beauty within that you talk about.”

“And they are at war?”

“Yes initially. But eventually they learn to co-exist and to understand that they are two sides of the same coin.”

“And?”

“They complement each other and make the love complete.”

Elizabeth smiled at her sister. “I do believe you are right. I would wish you to find a man with such love Mary.”

“As do I you. I think Jane has already found such a man.”

“Perhaps so. We shall see when the Master of Netherfield returns. Until then I would like your help in cheering Jane’s spirits. I believe she is missing Mr. Bingley most acutely.”

“I will do what I can Elizabeth. Elizabeth, do you think all couples marry for love?”

“Most gently-bred couples do not, Mary. For them it is a matter of money and connections.”

“Is that what you think about Charlotte and Mr. Collins?”

“Yes.”

“So love plays no role for them?”

“Love does play a role Mary, but not the kind of love a husband ought to have for a wife. It is the love of financial security.”

“What of our parents Elizabeth, what kind of love did our father have for our mother when he married her?”

“Mary, neither of us were alive when this occurred, of course, but I have learned many things over the years. Yes, Papa was captivated by Mama’s beauty. But I do not think that was the only reason he married her. She is much different now, Mary. From what I have been told she changed after the birth of Jane. Papa tried to help, but he could not. I am afraid most of the affection of his heart died with her transformation.”

“Then that affection was not strong enough?”

“I am not sure, Mary. It must have been very hard on Papa seeing the woman he thought he married disappear. But Mary, that is why I am so adamant about finding a man whose character is such that I can respect him enough to marry. I have seen what happens when respect vanishes.”

“Are you not worried that a man can change as our mother did?”

“Yes, but if you understand the strength of his character you will know whether such a change is possible. I believe Papa allowed himself to be blinded by Mama’s beauty and did not take the time to truly learn her character before he offered himself to her.”

“These are very sobering thoughts, Elizabeth. Once again you have given me much to think on. Right now I am afraid that I will never be able to trust my heart.”

“When the right man comes along, you will Mary.”

Soon the two sisters found themselves back at Longbourn and preparing for the arrival of the Gardiners.

<<>>

Darcy and Georgiana had arrived at Pemberley late in the day, the day after they left Netherfield, Mrs. Reynolds greeting them happily in the front entry.

“Welcome home sir! There is hot water prepared in case either of you wish for a bath. Dinner will be ready whenever you are.”

“Thank you Mrs. Reynolds. I know that we did not give you much of a warning that we would be returning.”

“We are all very happy that you have chosen to spend Christmas here at Pemberley again.”

“Yes, I should like to speak to you about that, after we have had a chance to refresh ourselves and eat. I think both of us would like a bath. Please have them prepared and tell cook that we shall be ready to eat in an hour and a half.”

“Very good sir! Miss Georgiana, it is good to see you looking so well.”

“Thank you Mrs. Reynolds. We will catch up on matters after my brother is done with you!”

“Off you two go now!”

After they had bathed and eaten, Darcy suggested Georgiana wait for him in the music room whilst he met with Mrs. Reynolds.

“I know how much you have missed your pianoforte Georgiana. Go and reintroduce yourself to it, again!” Georgiana laughed and agreed with him.

Darcy had his housekeeper summoned to him in his study.

“I must say it is good to see the two of you in such good spirits, sir. Your sister grows more like your dear mother every day.”

“That she does Mrs. Reynolds, but that is not why I have asked you here. Since Georgiana and I will be in residence for Christmas we will personally be delivering the Christmas boxes this year. Please make the arrangements and draw up a proposed schedule for it. I would like to see it in a week as well as be informed of anything else pertaining to this. I also want you to decorate the main quarters for Christmas. It has been too long since this has been done. The house will be open for general inspection by the neighborhood one week before Christmas. This should give you ample time to decorate to your high standards! If you need any additional funds to acquire or replace suitable items, please let me know. I also desire to host a dinner for the servants the day after Christmas. Please consult with cook to prepare a menu and bring it to me for my approval. We shall be leaving for town again on the 28th. I want this to be a special time for Georgiana. I am counting on you Kate.”

“I will see to these things immediately William. It will be good to have a real Christmas here again.” ‘And all we need are a mistress and some children and it will be complete!’ Mrs. Reynolds added to herself.

Mrs. Annesley arrived the next day. Georgiana was very happy to see her and they spent a long time acquainting each other with their news. Georgiana reviewed her studies and a new course of subjects was agreed upon.

And so the days flew by until Christmas. Georgiana reveled in working with Mrs. Reynolds to decorate Pemberley and she thoroughly enjoyed delivering the Christmas boxes with her brother. The two shared a great satisfaction upon seeing the faces of the estate’s children as they received their gifts. The whole Estate was looking forward to this year’s Christmas with a renewed sense of joy and peace.

The opening of the great house was heavily attended. It had been many years since Pemberley had done so and everyone was curious to see it. None left disappointed. Those who were old enough to remember it from the days of the last Mrs. Darcy came away with knowing smiles of approval. The current Darcys were a credit to their parents.

At last Christmas day came and Darcy met his sister in the breakfast room.

“When you are finished eating I would like to give you your present. I think I will surprise you this year dear.”

“I shall wait until later to give you yours, brother. I just hope you like it.”

“I am sure I will.”

Georgiana was very curious when he led her to the music room. She wondered if he had found the music she had asked about. She was totally taken aback to find not only the new music but a new pianoforte as well.

“Oh Fitzwilliam, it is beautiful! Thank you!”

“Try it out.”

Georgiana sat down and began to test it. Her eyes shone as she listened to its tones envelope her.

“It is magnificent! I do not deserve such a gift brother.”

“Yes you do, now why do you not try that new song there.”

Georgiana obeyed his request and began to play. Something in the back of her mind beckoned her but she could not grasp what it was until she was almost finished. When it did come her fingers stumbled and Darcy gave her a nervous look. When she had finished she turned to her brother.

“Is there any reason why you purchased that particular piece of music brother?”

Darcy would not look at her. “I heard that piece recently and found it very enjoyable. I knew you did not own it and thought you might derive as much pleasure from it as I did.”

Georgiana did not respond. She just looked at him. ‘He will not admit that was the song Elizabeth played. She played it for me here at Pemberley and she told me that she had played it that night at Lucas Lodge when I stayed at Netherfield. She said that she figured that if I liked it my brother would probably like it too and that was why she chose to play it then. But you did not know that I knew that did you Fitzwilliam?’

“Thank you Fitzwilliam, I will work on it and the other pieces you have given me so I will be able to give them the justice others have before me.”

Darcy shot her a worried look. Did she know? Oh dear, he should never have given into that temptation!

“Will you play some Yuletide carols now?”

“As you wish brother.”

They spent the next hour thus pleasurably engaged.

“I would like to give you your gift now. I am afraid it will seem so insignificant next to mine. I am almost ashamed to give it to you.”

“Nonsense my dear, I am sure I will love it.”

Georgiana gave him the wrapped parcel. Inside Darcy found a new book of poetry and two embroidered handkerchiefs.

“These are lovely Georgiana, and I look forward to reading this too.”

“Elizabeth helped me chose the design and she showed me how to stitch the flowers. She set me a sampler with them in different stages because she did not have time to show me before we left. Do you recognize them?”

“Yes, Sweet Williams are they not?”

“Yes, I thought it appropriate.”

“Thank you Georgiana, these mean a great deal to me. I shall treasure them.”

The dinner the next day went off splendidly. The staff very much enjoyed the special attention and Darcy made a point to stand up and thank them all for their hard work and devoted service.

Before they knew it Darcy, Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley were loaded up in the carriage and on their way to London. It had been a refreshing 4 weeks. They were both rested mentally and physically, though the journey would tax them somewhat. Gone was the melancholy that had threatened to envelope Georgiana. She was so much happier now. She was excited to be seeing her friend in a few days. Mrs. Annesley would be leaving for her daughter’s house once they reached London, of course, but she knew Elizabeth would more than make up for her companion’s absence.

<<>>

The Gardiners arrived at Longbourn ready to spend Christmas. Elizabeth and her father had written them ahead of time to warn them of all the extra unrest in their typically chaotic home, but nothing could prepare them for the verbal assault perpetrated by Mrs. Bennet. Somehow she had determined that this could very well be her last Christmas as the mistress of Longbourn. She was certain that Mr. Bennet was on his last legs and they would surely be cast out to die in the hedgerows. It took all of the skill Mrs. Gardiner had to calm her down. Mrs. Gardiner only prayed that Mrs. Phillips would not choose that moment to pay a call and undo all of her work.

At the first opportunity Elizabeth sought out her Aunt.

“Well, was it as bad as you expected Aunt?”

“Much worse my dear.” Mrs. Gardiner sighed. “I do not think I have seen your mother that worked up in quite some time.”

“Hopefully now that you and Uncle are here she will calm down again. She is very vexed with me but I do not think that is all of it. I think she is worried that Mr. Bingley will not come back and make an offer to Jane. It was all that she would talk about before Mr. Collins poked his ugly head into our affairs.”

“How is Jane?”

“She misses Mr. Bingley terribly. His sister, Caroline is doing her best to discourage Jane but I keep reminding her that he has promised to return and to speak particularly to her. And besides, I shall be in London with the Darcys if Mr. Bingley should return to town before he comes to Netherfield. Perhaps I might be able to do some good there. I have asked Jane not to tell Miss Bingley that I will be in town. I told her I would rather keep that between Georgiana and myself for now.”

“Did she agree to that without questioning you?”

“She knows that Miss Bingley does not think very highly of me and so she agreed to my request.”

“Do you think Jane would like to come back to Gracechurch with us Lizzy? I would think that it would be better for her spirits if she did not have to listen to her mother’s effusions every day.”

“That is a marvelous idea Aunt! I am sure Georgiana would love to be able to visit her as well. Please do ask, though my father may be less agreeable to the suggestion. At least he would have Mary to keep him company.”

“Mary? Our Mary?”

“Yes Aunt,” Elizabeth chuckled. “She has matured greatly these past three weeks. It is as if she woke up and decided that it was time to become a real lady. I am very proud of her and I have to admit that I will miss her company whilst I am away.”

“I had noticed a difference in her tone since she started to write me. She said it was your suggestion to write. I think it was very wise of you to direct her to an older woman other than your mother or Mrs. Phillips.”

“I only advised her to seek out the wisest woman I know. You have meant so very much to Jane and me. Now that Mary was ready, I felt it time you worked your magic on her.”

“Thank you my dear but I did nothing special for you and Jane.”

“On that we must disagree.”

Mrs. Gardiner continued, “But I am pleased Mary has sought you and Jane out. Perhaps this summer I will invite her to visit us instead of you or Jane. I think you two might be needed elsewhere.”

“Jane I can understand, but me?”

“I sense great change coming to you and to Longbourn. I do not think you will be calling this place home much longer.”

“That would mean meeting a man who would want to marry me that I would want to marry in return. I am not sure that will ever happen Aunt.”

“We shall see Lizzy.”

Changing the subject Elizabeth went on. “I want to thank you for taking me back to London with you. The Darcys offered to send a coach but I hate to trouble them that way.”

“It may be a bit cramped if Jane comes too, but it does not take long to get to London. I know the children will not mind. Are you still to stay a few days with us?”

“Yes, Georgiana said she would send a servant with a note when they arrived. They hope to be in town by the evening of the 29th so I anticipate them sending for me the next day.”

“That seems a reasonable plan. I would not mind seeing Miss Darcy again. I hope you will be able to call on us in Gracechurch Street.”

“If Jane is there I would be surprised if we did not. But I will be at Georgiana’s disposal so I cannot really promise anything.”

“Let us go rescue your Uncle, Elizabeth. I am sure he is ready to head to the study to be with your father.”

And so the Gardiners settled in for the Holiday. Jane was asked, and given permission to go to London with Elizabeth and the Gardiners. Mary was disappointed at first until her Aunt assured he that an invitation for the summer would be coming. Mrs. Gardiner made a point to seek out Mary when time allowed. She had to agree with Elizabeth, Mary had matured and it was gratifying to see the changes in her.

When Christmas and Boxing Day were over the trunks were packed and the two eldest Miss Bennets prepared to leave their home. Mr. Bennet summoned them both into his study.

“Jane, Elizabeth, I hope you have a wonderful time in London girls. Your mother does not know this but I have given your Uncle some money for you to do some shopping whilst you are in Town. Feel free to use it however you wish. I do have one request to make though. Please, keep the lace to a minimum!” Both ladies had to smile at their fathers jest.

“Jane I need to speak to your sister alone for a few minutes. Will you let your uncle know that we will be out shortly?”

“Yes Papa.”

“Elizabeth,” her father began once they were alone. “I wanted you to know that I have included more money for you than for Jane. Please, listen to me. You will need it! The Darcys are of the first circle and you will be needing to purchase some items for your wardrobe. Please do not feel uneasy about this. I am thinking of it as an investment for your future. If you find that you need more, let your Uncle know. He and I have discussed this and we are in agreement. You are a beautiful young woman Lizzy, do not be afraid to accentuate your beauty my dear. Do not worry about your mother, leave her to me.”

“Thank you father! I do not know what to say.”

“Say that you will do your best to have a good time. I am sure that you will. Your Miss Darcy is extremely fond of you and I think she will try very hard to make sure she is a gracious hostess.”

“I shall miss you Papa. Take care with Mary for me. She has come so far so fast. Do not let Mama stifle her again, please!”

“I plan on spending a great deal of time with Mary. She will be the only female left with any good sense!”

“Oh Papa!”

“Now be a good girl and get yourself out to the carriage. I will be along in a minute.”

Elizabeth kissed her father’s cheek and went out to meet the rest of her party. Mr. Bennet stayed for a minute in his study to compose himself. He would greatly miss his two eldest and he felt that soon their leaving home would be a permanent journey. With one last pause he went outside to bide his farewells. He stayed outside watching until the carriage disappeared from view. Slowly he returned to the house, wondering when it was that all of his little girls had grown into such beautiful women.

Chapter 15

The very first thing Jane did on her first morning in London was to compose a note to Caroline Bingley telling her of her arrival. Caroline frowned when she read the contents of the note.

“What is it Caroline?” her sister Louisa asked.

“It is a note from Jane Bennet informing me of her arrival in town.”

“Charles will be pleased when he arrives next week.”

“Charles will never know that she is in Town Louisa.”

“Caroline, what are you up to?”

“Jane Bennet may be a sweet girl but she is not good enough for our brother. I will see to it that he never returns to that God forsaken patch of earth in Hertfordshire!”

“Caroline, I do not think that this is a good idea. If Charles ever finds out you have tried to interfere in his affairs you will be facing serious difficulties.”

“As long as you do not tell him he will never know.”

“I will not lie to him, but I am concerned about the lack of connections and dowry of Miss Bennet so I will not tell him I know she is in town. I also do not wish to know of your plans to separate him from Miss Bennet. At least I will be able to truthfully say that I was in the dark regarding your schemes should they fail. I have nothing to lose but his respect and this is something I do not wish to forfeit. You are walking a dangerous path sister.”

“I will be able to make Charles do whatever I wish, just as I always have.”

Mrs. Hurst gave her sister a dubious look but decided not to press her on the subject. There was no way to change Caroline’s mind once she had made it up.

<<>>

Later that afternoon a note arrived at Gracechurch Street for Jane from Caroline Bingley.

My Dearest Friend,

I was saddened by the arrival of your note today. Not because you are in Town, but because I would not be able to call on you. I leave early tomorrow to visit my Aunt in Lincoln. I received a letter from Charles the day before Christmas informing me that he does not foresee his business allowing him to leave Manchester before March. He therefore suggested I accept our Aunt’s invitation. I would have called on you today except that with such a short notice before my departure I had numerous things to do. I am afraid I shall be away until after your planned departure to Longbourn. I sincerely hope you enjoy your stay in London.

Yours ever,

Caroline Bingley

Elizabeth watched her sister’s progression through the letter with growing alarm.

“What is it Jane?”

“It is from Caroline Bingley. She writes to say that she is leaving for Lincoln in the morning and that her brother does not expect to leave Manchester before March.”

“He did tell you that he could be gone for that long. Do not despair Jane. Enjoy your time in London. Let us go shopping tomorrow. A new dress, ordered without Mama’s ‘invaluable’ advice should cheer you considerably!”

Jane did smile at this but Elizabeth knew she was still missing Mr. Bingley terribly. Perhaps she could find out more reliable news about him at the Darcys.

That afternoon Mrs. Gardiner took Jane and Elizabeth to call on the Clarks. “You must see your beau Elizabeth, before the Darcys spirit you away!” Mrs. Gardiner teased.

“How could I resist a chance to see my Nicolas!” Elizabeth countered.

Mrs. Clark was delighted to see her old friend and her two nieces. “Let me call Nicolas, Miss Elizabeth. He will be cross with me if he discovers you were here and I kept you from him! But do not worry, it is nearly his nap time so he will not terrorize you for very long.”

Nicolas was elated to see his ‘Miss Izbet’ again. Since Elizabeth actually doted on the child, she did not mind giving him her attention. Nicolas was not pleased when his mother told him it was time for his nap and he was only content when Elizabeth offered to tuck him in. When he was finally safe and secure in the nursery, Elizabeth was at last able to join the other ladies.

“I must say that he is still the same enchanting child he was the last time I was here,” Elizabeth offered.

“He cried for a week after you left last time. I am afraid that you have stolen my son’s heart Miss Elizabeth,” Mary Clark responded. “How did you like Pemberley Miss Bennet? I heard from my mother that you met her and Miss Darcy there. I have also heard that Miss Darcy has taken quite a shine to you.”

“Your mother is a gracious woman Mrs. Clark, though I think she was a bit vexed with you for not informing her that we would be in the neighborhood.”

Mrs. Clark laughed, “She got over it soon enough. But what about Miss Darcy?”

“Georgiana is a dear sweet girl who is going to turn into an elegant lady very soon.”

“Georgiana is it? It appears you have made a fast friend, Miss Elizabeth.”

“Yes, I confess I have. And Pemberley is such a beautiful home. I would like to return someday and have a chance to explore the woods and grounds that we did not have time to do before.”

‘From what my mother says, I do not think it will be too long before you return there, Miss Elizabeth. And perhaps not carrying the name of Bennet any more.’ Mrs. Clark thought to herself.

“I am glad you think as well of the place as I do,” Mrs. Clark continued.

“You are very fortunate to have been able to grow up there Mary,” Mrs. Gardiner inserted.

“Yes I am Madeline, and thank you for bringing your delightful nieces today.”

The ladies continued their pleasant conversations until it was time to leave.

“Give my warmest regards to Mr. and Miss Darcy when you see them, Miss Elizabeth. And tell Mr. Darcy that I order him to treat you well!”

“I shall repeat your instructions word for word, Mrs. Clark.” Elizabeth laughed.

“I am counting on it!”

With much lighter hearts the three ladies returned home.

The next morning Mrs. Gardiner took Jane and Elizabeth shopping. She agreed with her younger niece that a new dress or two would help shake Jane out of her melancholy.

“I think that fabric will look wonderful on you Jane. Of course you can make sackcloth look attractive, but the pale blue will look stunning. Now, shall we choose some lace to go with it or do you think father would think that a betrayal?” Elizabeth teased.

Jane blushed at such praise. She truly did not understand how beautiful she really was and any such comments made her very self-conscious and uncomfortable.

“Jane dear, this will make a wonderful gown.” Mrs. Gardiner turned to the proprietor. “When will the gowns be ready for a fitting?”

“11:00 o’clock Tuesday ma’am.”

“Very good,” turning to Elizabeth, “Perhaps you and Miss Darcy could meet us here during that time?”

“I shall certainly ask her if she would be willing to accompany me then,” Elizabeth replied.

The ladies left the modiste satisfied with their purchases. Jane had ordered two new gowns. She had to admit it was a much more enjoyable process not having to circumnavigate her mother to get what she wanted. Usually she left such encounters exhausted. She and Elizabeth had teamed up for many years on such outings to join forces against their mother. Most of the time they came away what they wanted but it was always after much aggravation on their parts. While their mother had a good eye for fashion, she did not possess the same tastes as her 3 eldest daughters. Mrs. Gardiner, on the other hand, shared many of the same ideas as her nieces, so it was a pleasurable exercise for all three of the ladies to go out shopping together.

After dinner the much-anticipated note from Miss Darcy arrived informing Elizabeth they had just arrived in London that evening. A carriage would be sent to pick Elizabeth up after morning services and lunch the next day, if that was agreeable. Elizabeth sent a note back with the servant confirming the arrangements.

When Jane and Elizabeth stayed up late that night talking, Elizabeth tried to reassure her sister.

“Jane, he will come back. He gave you his word and your Mr. Bingley is an honorable man.”

“Lizzy, he is not ‘my’ Mr. Bingley. But I cannot help my doubts. Three months is a long time. What if his regard for me does not stand up to this long separation?”

“Jane, has your regard for him lessened?”

“No, you know it has not.”

“Is it stronger?”

Jane hesitated, “Yes, I believe it is so.”

“Jane, listen to me very carefully. I do not think you would have bestowed your tender feelings on a man who did not deserve them, who would not treasure them. If you feel this way about Mr. Bingley then I am sure he must feel the same towards you. Do not despair, he will return to you. You must believe me on this. He was totally entranced by you when he left Hertfordshire. I do not think him so shallow that he would cease to hold you in high regard. Please be patient and have faith in the constancy of your Mr. Bingley.”

“I shall try Lizzy, for you.”

Jane did not correct Elizabeth about her saying ‘your Mr. Bingley’ this time. Elizabeth noticed this and took it as a step in the right direction.

<<>>

Darcy, Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley arrived in London around dinnertime. Georgiana wasted no time sending a note to Elizabeth informing her of their arrival and of the arrangements for the next day. They had discussed it as they had approached town.

Mrs. Annesley would leave for her daughter’s house on Monday after she made sure Georgiana and her guest were all settled in. She was actually anxious to see Miss Bennet again. It was obvious that this woman would be an important part in the life of her young charge and she wanted the chance to know her better before she went off to be with her own daughter. She was thankful to Miss Bennet for the peace of mind she brought, knowing Georgiana would have a trusted confidante whilst she was away.

Georgiana, despite the fatigue of the journey, had a difficult time going to sleep that night. This would be her first time being hostess to someone she, rather than her brother, had invited. And speaking of her brother, she would have to keep an eye on his reactions to her friend. While she knew he admired Elizabeth, she did not know if he would be willing to act on it. These next six weeks would be very interesting. She finally fell asleep thinking about all the things that they would be doing and dreaming up circumstances for her brother to further his acquaintance with Elizabeth.

Darcy was acutely aware that tomorrow would begin the most trying six weeks of his life. He was attracted to Miss Elizabeth; it was pointless to deny it now. But he owed it to his family, to Georgiana, to marry someone from their own circle. How would Georgiana make a suitable match if he did not? He would continue to be polite and courteous to Miss Bennet but he would have to maintain his emotional distance. He did not want her to get the wrong impression of his intentions. He could not bear the thought of hurting her that way. He would have to protect her from his own treacherous heart.

<<>>

At 1:00 o’clock, the Darcy carriage pulled up in front of the Gardiner’s house in Gracechurch Street. Expecting it to be empty, Elizabeth was pleasantly surprised to spy Mr. Darcy stepping out to assist his sister down from the carriage. Darcy and Georgiana were announced as the family waited in the parlor. Elizabeth stepped forward to make the introductions.

“Uncle and Aunt, I believe you remember Miss Darcy. May I introduce Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy? Mr. Darcy, this is my mother’s brother, Mr. Edward Gardiner and his wife Mrs. Madeline Gardiner. My Aunt is the good friend of Mary Clark and they are god-parents to little Nicolas.”

“A pleasure sir, madam.”

“Thank you Mr. Darcy. I must thank you for allowing us to tour your home in Derbyshire. My wife has long spoken of it to me. I must say that even her high praise did not do it justice, sir.”

“I thank you for your compliments, Mr. Gardiner. My home is a very special place to me and I am always glad to hear that people approve of it.”

“I would assume that there are not many who do not approve, sir. It truly is a magical place.” Mr. Gardiner replied.

“Georgiana, I am surprised to see you. I expected you would just send the coach to collect me.” Elizabeth interposed.

“Georgiana could not wait to see you, Miss Elizabeth. Then I could not very well let her come without escorting her myself.” Darcy turned his address towards Jane, “Miss Bennet, it is a pleasure to see you again as well. I would like to thank you for agreeing to share your sister with mine.”

“I am rather used to it, after sharing her with three other sisters. What is one more admirer?” Jane replied.

The Darcys stayed for about 20 minutes whilst Elizabeth’s things were loaded and secured in and on the carriage. Darcy, having no idea what to expect from Elizabeth’s London relatives, was pleased to find them warm and hospitable. This should not have surprised him, since Edmund and Mary Clark were fine people who would never have chosen unworthy persons to be their son’s godparents. Before they left they were invited to return for dinner Friday evening. Seeing how much delight Georgiana took in their company, Darcy readily accepted the invitation. Later he would be struck with the realization that just the day before he would never have dreamed of dining in such a part of London as Gracechurch Street. He wondered how many other people he had summarily dismissed because of their address.

Elizabeth was not surprised when they pulled into a fashionable neighborhood and the carriage stopped in front of a handsome townhouse. “Darcy House” adorned the nameplate. She was not surprised at the lack of a pretentious title. Such things were not in character for Darcy family. Darcy escorted both ladies into the house, where they were met by the housekeeper.

“Miss Bennet,” Darcy began, “may I introduce my house keeper, Mrs. Joan Thomas? Mrs. Thomas, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“So this is the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet! It is a pleasure to meet you finally. I have heard many things about you.”

“I am pleased to meet you as well.” Elizabeth laughed and addressed Georgiana. “Do you realize that Mrs. Thomas is the third person associated with you to greet me in the exact same manner. First it was Mrs. Reynolds, then your brother and now Mrs. Thomas. I could develop a false sense of worth if all your relations keep saying the same thing!”

“I have heard you have been to Pemberley, Miss Bennet. I hear that is where you met Miss Darcy.”

“Yes, she was quite gracious to take notice of me there.”

“Elizabeth, it is the other way around, I assure you. I shall show you to your rooms now and introduce you to your maid whilst you are here. Then I will give you a tour of the house. Mrs. Thomas, please have some refreshments made ready for us in the music room.”

“Very good Miss Darcy.” Mrs. Thomas was pleased to see the self-confidence Miss Georgiana was displaying. From what she had learned from her letters with Mrs. Reynolds and with her conversations with Mrs. Annesley, Miss Bennet was responsible for much of this. It would be an interesting six weeks. And given the way her master tried to keep from staring at the young lady, things could become even more interesting.

Darcy excused himself and the ladies made their way up to Elizabeth’s room. She noted the simple elegance of the décor, which reminded her of what she had seen at Pemberley. She was delighted and could not see anything she would change herself if ever given the privilege. Elizabeth was taken aback as she entered her room. No, make it rooms. She had her own sitting room attached to her bedchamber and a small dressing chamber as well.

“Do you like it Elizabeth?”

“Georgiana, this is a grander room than the master’s suite at Longbourn!”

“It is the principle guest room here. Only the best for you my dear friend!” The maid came in with Elizabeth’s trunks. “Elizabeth, this is Sally. She will serve as your maid whilst you are here.”

“It is nice to meet you Sally, will you give Miss Darcy and me a minute please.”

“Yes Ma’m.”

“Georgiana, I do not need my own personal maid. I am quite adept at doing without one. I shall only need occasional help when we are going out for the evening.”

“Nonsense Elizabeth! Sally is the maid for any guests staying with us who did not bring their own. She is quite skilled and I think you will like her. If she does not suit then I will arrange for something else.”

Elizabeth sighed in resignation. “I see there is no point arguing with you about this so I will just have to accept your generosity. I am sure Sally and I will get along just fine. I only hope I do not become too spoiled for my return home!”

“Let me show you around the rest of the house now, Elizabeth. Sally will put your things away and will be ready to assist you when it is time to change for dinner.”

Georgiana guided Elizabeth around the rest of the upstairs rooms. Elizabeth was delighted with Georgiana’s rooms and admired her tastes in decoration. When they were finished with all there was to see they went back downstairs. Elizabeth was quite taken with the Library and longed to explore it. Georgiana assured her that she could pick out whatever she liked and take it to read in her rooms if she wished. They finished the tour in the music room where Mrs. Thomas had their refreshments awaiting them.

After they finished their tea, Georgiana asked if she could play for Elizabeth. Elizabeth was eager to hear her friend play again. One could imagine her surprise when Georgiana began playing the piece Elizabeth had played for her at Pemberley. She did not choose to sing but she played the piece flawlessly.

“I shall never again be able to play that song in front of you or your brother. When did you get the music?”

“Fitzwilliam gave it to me for Christmas, along with a new pianoforte.” She said somewhat embarrassed. “ Would you allow me to accompany you on pianoforte while you sing the verses. I would be honored to do so and I am sure Fitzwilliam would be delighted. He admitted he bought this particular piece of music because he enjoyed hearing you perform it in Hertfordshire.”

“Did he really say he enjoyed hearing me play it?”

“Not exactly, but I deduced it on my own. You told me yourself that you had played it in his company and that was the only time he could have heard it played so I concluded that when he said he enjoyed it he was speaking of you.”

“Oh.”

Mrs. Annesley came into the room before Elizabeth had a chance to say any more.

“Miss Bennet, it is delightful to see you again.”

“It is good to see you again as well. It appears your charge continues to blossom under your influence Mrs. Annesley. I should also congratulate you on your soon becoming a grandmother.”

“Thank you Miss Bennet. It is a relief knowing I leave Miss Darcy in your capable hands.”

“I will do my best to see that she comports herself as a proper lady at all times!”

“Elizabeth, you know that if anything you tempt me to highly impertinent behavior!”

The three ladies laughed and continued on in pleasant conversation until it was time to prepare for dinner.

“It would be advisable for you to see that I make it safely back to my rooms Georgiana. I fear it will take me a while before I know my way around well enough not to get lost!”

“I have no fear of it taking you that long Elizabeth, but I will come and attend to you when you are ready to go down for dinner. Send word with Sally when you are ready.”

“I forgot about Sally! I will either be ready in record time or be very late because I let her play with a new hairstyle. You do not know what you have loosed Georgiana!”

They were now at the door of Elizabeth’s room. “Remember to send word when you are ready Elizabeth.”

“Thank you, Georgiana. I am really looking forward to these next six weeks.”

Elizabeth decided to wait until the next day to test out the possibilities that her own maid suggested. Therefore, she was ready in relatively no time for dinner. Georgiana came and took her down to the dining room. Mrs. Annesley and Darcy were already there waiting for them.

“I hope you found your arrangements satisfactory, Miss Bennet.”

“Indeed they are, sir. I have already told your sister that you will quite spoil me before I return home.”

“We both hope you find your stay here pleasurable, Miss Bennet.”

“I am sure I will!” Elizabeth mirthfully replied.

“Well then, let us see what Georgiana has ordered for dinner tonight. Ladies.”

Dinner that night was a pleasant affair. The four of them enjoyed a wonderful dinner and the conversation was pleasing. Elizabeth felt Darcy to be more reserved than she remembered him from their time together in Hertfordshire but she was relieved at this. She could control her changing emotions better if he remained so detached. It was only when he smiled broadly that she began to doubt her ability to survive in his presence without saying or doing something foolish. In many ways these would be a long six weeks.

After dinner, Darcy chose to follow the ladies into the music room, where Georgiana offered to play for them. Darcy was pleased to see his sister stride confidently to the pianoforte. After two songs she asked Elizabeth if she would join her. Elizabeth, of course, accepted. Darcy was totally unprepared when Georgiana began to play that now familiar tune. When Elizabeth began to sing Darcy was bewitched. He could not take his eyes off her. Elizabeth noticed his stare and tore her eyes away before he could unsettle her. When the music was finished silence pervaded the room. No one moved until Elizabeth turned to Georgiana.

“Thank you, Georgiana. I have never been so well accompanied!”

“The pleasure was mine, I assure you, Elizabeth.”

The spell was broken and the rest of the evening was spent in amiable conversation. Mrs. Annesley was the first to excuse herself.

“I need to prepare to remove myself to my daughter’s tomorrow.”

“Please give Mrs. Glass my regards and best wishes for a safe delivery, Mrs. Annesley.”

“I will tell Rachael you said so, Mr. Darcy. Goodnight”

When Mrs. Annesley was gone, Elizabeth turned to Mr. Darcy.

“Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Clark asked me to convey to you a message.”

“Yes?”

“Let me get this correct. She said, ‘Give my warmest regard to Mr. and Miss Darcy when you see them, Miss Elizabeth. And tell Mr. Darcy that I order him to treat you well!’

Darcy laughed heartily at this.

“Leave it to Mary to send a message like that!”

“I take it that you are friends still?”

“Yes, I could hardly help it growing up with her as I did.”

“She is a fine woman Mr. Darcy, you should be proud to count her as a friend.”

“Indeed I am Miss Bennet. Now if you ladies will excuse me, I think it is time for me to retire as well.”

“I think I will join you as well Fitzwilliam. Will you be retiring now too Elizabeth?”

“I would like to pick out something from the library first.”

“You can have a servant direct you to your rooms if you need help then. Goodnight Elizabeth.”

“Goodnight Georgiana. Goodnight Mr. Darcy.”

Fifteen minutes later Elizabeth made her way from the library to her room without getting lost. She had chosen several books that had caught her fancy. If she could not sleep tonight at least she had something to keep her amused. It had been a memorable day. As she prepared for bed she could not believe the luxury of living in such a house. The next six weeks promised much. She planned on taking it one day at a time.

Chapter 16

The next morning, Georgiana met Elizabeth as she was going down the stairs for breakfast.

“Oh good, now I do not have to ask directions to the breakfast room. I had considered just following my nose though!”

“And good morning to you too, Elizabeth! Did you sleep well?”

“Good morning, Georgiana,” Elizabeth grinned, “How could I not sleep well in such a bed. I really mean it when I say that I will be spoiled when I return to Longbourn.”

Mrs. Annesley was already in the breakfast room when they arrived.

“Has my brother been down to breakfast yet, Mrs. Annesley?”

“Yes, he was just leaving when I came in. He said he had an early appointment today.”

“When will you be leaving?” Georgiana asked

“Mr. Darcy ordered the carriage to be ready to take me at 10:00. It should not take too long to get there.”

“I shall miss your company, Mrs. Annesley.”

“And I shall miss yours, Miss Darcy.”

“Georgiana,” Elizabeth started, “What do you have planned for us today?”

“Well, it is such a fine day and I hate to waste such a day indoors this time of year. I was thinking we could go for a walk after Mrs. Annesley leaves. After lunch I thought we could go shopping. There are several things I am in need of and I would like your opinion. Is this agreeable with you?”

“It sounds lovely. And speaking of shopping, we went shopping the day you arrived and ordered two new gowns for Jane. They will be ready for a fitting tomorrow at 11:00. My Aunt has asked if we would meet Jane and her there.”

“That would be most agreeable, Elizabeth. I greatly enjoy the company of your Aunt and sister. Please send a message informing them we will be there and also ask them to join us for lunch as well.”

“That is very generous of you, Georgiana. I am sure they would be pleased to join us for lunch.”

At 10 o’clock Georgiana saw Mrs. Annesley off and she prepared for her walk with Elizabeth.

“I hope you dressed warmly, Elizabeth!” Georgiana warned as they left the house.

“Do not worry, I came prepared. I had a feeling you and I would be doing a fair amount of walking on my visit.”

“Do tell me of news from Hertfordshire.”

“Well, the most important news is the betrothal of my friend Charlotte Lucas to my cousin Mr. Collins.”

“Ehww!”

“Georgiana”, Elizabeth laughed, “that is most un-lady like. Mrs. Annesley is not even to her daughters house and already you are misbehaving!”

“Tell me my reaction was any different than yours when you heard the news.”

“I was able to keep my opinions to myself!”

“But your opinion is roughly the same as mine. Come now, admit it Elizabeth!”

“Georgiana, I am in total agreement.”

“You could never marry a man like that, Elizabeth.”

“That is why I refused when he asked,” Elisabeth said playfully.

Georgiana stopped walking and turned to face Elizabeth. “That toad of a man had the gall to ask for your hand in marriage? The pompous fool thought you would accept?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth sighed, “I was hoping to avoid it, though I saw it coming. My father obviously supported my decision but my mother did not. That is one of the reasons I was so eager to accept your invitation. But indeed, I also wanted to spend time with you.”

Georgiana started walking again. “I am happy you came and I am glad I could provide some relief. I still cannot believe my Aunt’s clergyman thought you would want to marry him. When is their wedding planned?”

“The ides of March!”

“You are joking! How could anyone willingly choose that for a wedding day? An ill omen for any marriage.”

“I totally agree but I do not think my cousin has read much Shakespeare, Georgiana.”

“But what about Miss Lucas?”

“I think she knows but has decided not to press the point. However, I do need to be back in Herefordshire for the wedding.”

“So I will not be able to persuade you into staying more than a month past your original stay?”

“You may want to wait to extend such an invitation until after I have been here more than a few days Georgiana!”

“We shall see. It is about time we started heading back. What else do you have to tell me?”

Elizabeth and Georgiana enjoyed a companionable walk back to Darcy House. When they arrived, Georgiana was informed that her brother had returned and would be joining them for lunch.

While they were eating, Darcy asked them about their plans for the rest of the day.

“Elizabeth and I are going to do some shopping.”

“Yes, Georgiana has told me she needs to pick up some items and I need to do some looking myself. My father provided me with some extra funds to buy some new gowns and accessories, without the supervision of my mother.”

Darcy and Georgiana exchanged a look. When Georgiana nodded her head Darcy began.

“Miss Bennet, I am glad the subject has come up. For what I am about to say please forgive me if I offend you. It is not my purpose but I must speak plainly for you to understand what it is that I am saying. Your father was generous and wise to give you the extra money. I think he realized that your stay here would necessitate an expansion of your current wardrobe.”

“Yes, that is what he said. He also said my Uncle agreed with him and would be able to provide me with extra funds if it was necessary.”

“I do not believe that it will be. Miss Bennet, it seems then that you are aware of the difference in the circles of our family and acquaintances. I do not mean to disparage your family Miss Bennet. Whilst we will not be going to any balls, there will be times when you will be in company of people who will judge you by the clothes that you wear, I am sorry to say. Georgiana and I had planned on helping you with your wardrobe for these occasions. We do not wish to see you uncomfortable. Now before you say no, please hear me out. I am sure that the shops your aunt frequents are fine establishments but they will not be places that will possess the level of quality our circle demands. You must have an idea of how many items you would have been able to purchase at your aunt’s shops. We shall take that figure and have you purchase the same number of things, but at the shops Georgiana patronizes. You will contribute the amount of money that your father has set aside and I will cover the rest.”

“Mr. Darcy, Georgiana, you must know that this offer is much too generous for me to accept.”

“Elizabeth, I knew you would react this way.” Georgiana smiled at her brother before continuing. “But Fitzwilliam is right. Please do not worry about the money. I never, ever come close to spending my clothing allowance. Even this added amount will not do it. Trust me.”

“But Georgiana, I still do not feel right about this.”

“And it does you credit Elizabeth. I know that you have never sought my friendship for material benefits. Please let me do this for you.”

“I do not know, Georgiana.” Elizabeth said doubtfully

“You have forced my hand then. If you do not accept then I shall be forced to write to your mother and complain that I am trying to ‘put you in the paths of rich young men’ but that you will not cooperate and that I need her help in persuading you!”

“Georgiana Darcy! That is Blackmail!” Elizabeth cried.

“Yes it is; I had a good teacher!” Georgiana replied with a smirk. She knew she had won.

“I only taught you impertinence. You moved to blackmail all on your own.”

“Then you agree, Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked.

“Unfortunately I see the wisdom and reasonableness in your offer Mr. Darcy. At least I shall return to Longbourn the best dressed daughter for once.”

“I never have found you lacking, Elizabeth,” Georgiana replied heartfelt.

‘Neither have I,’ Darcy added to himself.

“Then it is settled. You ladies have a good time spending my money. I shall see you at dinner.” Darcy said excusing himself.

When he was gone Georgiana could barely contain herself.

“This is going to be so much fun, Elizabeth. I have never gone with someone else on a shopping trip like this. We will both look fabulous when we are done.”

“Let us hope so, my pride can only take so much!”

With that the ladies prepared themselves for an afternoon at London’s finest modistes.

“Georgiana, whatever you do, do not let me know how much we actually spent today.” Elizabeth said as they rode home later that day from shopping.

“My lips are sealed!”

“Good! It will be hard enough explaining this to my father. Unfortunately, Mama will say she expected you to do it all along. I just hope she does not notice until I have been home for a few days at least.”

<<>>

That evening, dinner was an even more intimate affair with the loss of Mrs. Annesley.

“Did you enjoy your shopping today, ladies?” Darcy asked.

“Your sister took great delight in dressing me up, Mr. Darcy. I felt like a doll with all of the fabrics I had draped over me.” Elizabeth replied.

“We ordered some beautiful gowns that I am sure will look lovely on Elizabeth. The first ones will be ready for a fitting on Wednesday then ready to be picked up Friday.”

“Good, because we have been asked to dine with Uncle and Aunt Matlock on Saturday Georgiana.” Darcy explained further, “My uncle is the Earl of Matlock. Our mother was his sister, Miss Bennet.”

“I see.”

“Elizabeth, do not worry. My Aunt Matlock is one of the most sensible people I know. She has been the closest relation to a mother I have had since my own passed away. She will love you. I was thinking about calling on her this Wednesday, after we go to the fitting. Would that be amenable to you?”

“Georgiana, I am at your mercy dear. I will go with you wherever you will. Do not worry, I rise to the challenge whenever anyone attempts to intimidate me!” Elizabeth grinned.

“Just remember that if you ever meet my other Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.” Georgiana quipped.

“Mr. Collins’ noble patroness?”

“Unfortunately, yes!” Georgiana answered.

“What a tangled web we weave! Now I am doubly convinced of my father’s good sense.” Elizabeth replied.

“Why do you say that, Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked intrigued.

“He was very relieved that Mr. Collins chose Charlotte Lucas to be his bride instead of one of his own daughters. No entailment was worth that.” Elizabeth answered. It was close enough to the truth to not be actually lying.

“Fitzwilliam, you will never guess the date of Mr. Collins and Miss Lucas’ wedding.”

“And when will it be?”

“The Ides of March!” Georgiana and Elizabeth chorused together.

Darcy eyed them in wonder and then the three of them burst out in laughter simultaneously.

“Does this mean he will name his first born Brutus, or will just plain William suffice” Darcy managed to say. That only brought on more fits of laughter.

Finally they were able to regain their composure.

“I wonder what Lady Catherine will say when she hears the date.” Elizabeth offered.

“Knowing my Aunt as we do, she will have a great deal to say about it, and anything else pertaining to the wedding, honeymoon, setting up housekeeping, proper transportation and all.” Darcy answered.

They all shared a knowing look and proceeded to finish their dinner.

<<>>

Charles Bingley arrived back in London after a long, hard month in Manchester. He was anxious to be off to Netherfield but he had some business to attend to in London first. Among the many things he needed to do was to meet with his solicitor to prepare his personal accounts so that they would be ready for him to marry. He hoped Miss Bennet had missed him as much as he missed her and would be willing to let him press his suit soon. He believed she returned his affections but any doubts would not subside until he could see her again.

He found Caroline at home by herself that evening.

“Caroline! It is good to see you again. I am surprised Louisa and Hurst are not here.”

“I am glad you are back in Town again Charles. Louisa and Mr. Hurst had another engagement this evening. Louisa will be happy to see you too. What news do you have from Manchester?”

Bingley spent the next 20 minutes relating all of his dealings there. Caroline listened politely waiting to set her schemes in motion.

“I have business in Town these next few days but I am planning to return to Netherfield as soon as it is completed. Have you heard from Miss Bennet?”

“Charles,” Caroline began in her most soulful voice, “I did not wish too alarm you in my letters to you. I knew you had much on your mind.”

“What is it Caroline?” Bingley asked, his mind filling with dread.

“I received a letter from Miss Bennet shortly after I returned to town. She informed me that she was going to visit old friends of the family, a family by the name of Walter I believe, in Devonshire.”

“Did she say when she would be returning to Longbourn?”

“Yes, she was to be gone until the end of February.”

“Two more months!” Bingley was devastated. How could she leave for so long when she knew he was coming back to call on her as soon as he could.

“That is not all Charles. She wrote of her anticipation of renewing her acquaintance with a Mr. Andrew Walter, the eldest son.”

This sent Bingley reeling. His sister saw it and was ready for the kill.

“Charles, if you are to be returning to Netherfield I will send word to the housekeeper there and have the house opened and made ready for you. Will you be leaving before Friday or will your business keep you in town longer?”

“I do not know Caroline. I will tell you in the morning.”

“Very good Charles. I am happy to see you safely in London again. But you must be hungry and exhausted. Why not freshen up and I will have cook prepare you a tray for you in your room.”

“Thank you Caroline. I am afraid I am in no mood for company anymore this evening.”

Caroline rose and put her hand on her brother’s shoulder. “It will be well Charles. I am sure that a good night’s rest is all you need. You will know how to proceed in the morning.”

With that she left to give instructions to the kitchen staff.

‘That was easier than I thought! There is no way he will ever return to Netherfield now. As long as he does not accidentally bump into Jane whilst she is in town these next six weeks everything will turn out exactly as I plan. I will have to keep my eye on Charles. They should not meet; we travel in such different circles after all.’

The next morning Bingley decided to pay Darcy a call. He would know what to do. He did not tell Caroline where he was going. He just said he had an appointment. He did not want his sister along to interfere and try and monopolize Darcy’s attention.

Bingley arrived at Darcy House and was just being ushered into the hall when Georgiana and Elizabeth came down preparing to leave.

“Miss Bennet! What a surprise! I had no idea you where in town.”

“Mr. Bingley, it IS a pleasure to see you again sir. Georgiana invited me to stay with her for six weeks. Jane and I arrived in Town on the 27th. As a matter of fact, Georgiana and I were just on our way to meet her and our Aunt at the modiste’s.

“Miss Bennet is in London!” cried Bingley incredulously.

“Yes.”

Chapter 17

“Miss Bennet is in London!” cried Bingley incredulously.

“Yes.” Elizabeth replied. “Did your sister not send you a letter before she left for Lincoln?”

“Lincoln? Caroline is in London.”

“We arrived in town on Thursday. Friday morning Jane sent a note to Miss Bingley informing her that she was to be in London for six weeks. Miss Bingley then wrote back with regrets that she could not call, because she was leaving for Lincoln to visit her Aunt the next day. She also said she did not expect you to be able to leave Manchester before March.”

“Then your sister is not in Devonshire visiting the Walter family?”

“Mr. Bingley, I am afraid we do not know any such family and we have no friends, to my knowledge, in Devonshire.” Elizabeth replied.

“I am beginning to see.” Bingley pondered. “Miss Elizabeth, I WILL be calling on Miss Bennet, but I have much to do today. I should like to surprise her. Would you and Miss Darcy be so kind as to not let her know I am in town yet? I promise I will call as soon as I can, Miss Elizabeth. It has been too long since I had the pleasure of your sister’s company. Could you please also give me the address where she is staying?”

“Certainly sir, Jane is staying with my Aunt and Uncle at No. 10 Gracechurch Street. I will not tell her I have seen you. I think I can comprehend the nature of your business sir. And I wish you well in concluding it in a satisfactory manner.”

Elizabeth had a very good idea what his business was to delay his calling on Jane. She had seen him struggle to maintain his composure as he discovered his sister’s attempt at deception. She only wished she could see the look on Miss Bingley’s face when he called her out.

“Miss Darcy, is your brother in his study? I have an important matter I wish his advice on.” Mr. Bingley asked.

“Yes, he is, Mr. Bingley. I am sure he will be happy to give you his opinion on whatever you may wish to ask him.”

“Thank you. Ladies, it was a pleasure seeing you both. Now if you will excuse me, I need to see Darcy.”

Georgiana and Elizabeth left in the carriage to meet Jane and Mrs. Gardiner.

“Elizabeth, did what I think just happened, really happen?”

“Yes Georgiana. Mr. Bingley must have been told that Jane was in Devonshire visiting a family called Walter. Knowing Miss Bingley, she probably intimated that my sister was interested in some man there as well. Miss Bingley told Jane that she was going to Lincoln to keep Jane from calling and accidentally running into Mr. Bingley. Miss Bingley probably knew her brother was going to be coming to London soon. If she were to stop Jane and Mr. Bingley’s courtship she needed to try to convince them that they were both away and that they were indifferent to the other. By the look on Mr. Bingley’s face, I would say that Miss Bingley is in for a very nasty surprise. I only hope your brother can help Mr. Bingley come up with a suitable rebuke, one that will teach her not to try and interfere with others like that again!”

“Knowing my brother’s ‘regard’ for Miss Bingley, I am confident they will come up with something appropriate.”

Georgiana and Elizabeth headed to their appointment resolute on keeping Mr. Bingley’s secret.

<<>>

Bingley entered Darcy’s study highly agitated.

“Welcome back to London, Bingley. I trust you have concluded your business in Manchester to your satisfaction.”

“Yes I have, thank you Darcy.”

“Is something the matter Bingley, you do not appear to be in the best of spirits this morning.”

“I encountered Miss Elizabeth in the entry way just now Darcy.”

“Yes, she is staying with Georgiana whilst Mrs. Annesley attends her daughter awaiting the birth of her daughter’s first child.”

“Miss Elizabeth informed me that Miss Bennet was staying with her relatives in Gracechurch Street.”

“Yes, as a matter of fact we are having dinner there Friday evening. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are pleasant people Bingley, nothing at all like Mrs. Bennet.”

“Darcy, when I arrived home last night Caroline was there. She told me Miss Bennet was staying with a family in Devonshire and that she was not expected at Longbourn until March. She also said Miss Bennet was enjoying the attentions of a young man in the family she was staying with.”

Darcy was shocked.

“Miss Elizabeth also told me that Caroline wrote Miss Bennet telling her that I was not expected to leave Manchester before March and that she was on her way to stay with our Aunt in Lincoln. Darcy, I cannot believe this of Caroline! She has willfully sought to deceive me, to separate me from the woman I intend to court! How could she!”

“Bingley, calm down. I know that you always try to see the good in people. That is one of your most endearing qualities. But my friend, not every one is as amiable as you or Miss Bennet. I hate to say this but your sister is one of the most selfish women I know. She cares only for her comfort and her position in society. That is why she has been chasing after me for all these years even though I have tried to make it perfectly clear that I have no desire to pay her any attentions.”

“Darcy, I know you have always been polite to her for my sake. I know she is a selfish woman but I never thought she would be willing to cause me pain just to get her own way. What am I to do, Darcy? I cannot stand by and let her get away with this. If I do she will never listen to anyone again.”

Both men were silent, lost in their thoughts, pondering the situation and evaluating different courses of action. Darcy was the first to speak.

“Bingley, you say Caroline claimed that she was going to go and visit your Aunt in Lincoln. Is that not the Aunt she is always putting off, trying to avoid such a visit.”

“Yes,” said Bingley, comprehension dawning. “Go on.”

“Since Miss Bingley expressed her desire for such a journey I think you should arrange it for her. Send an express to your Aunt warning her to expect your sister. Tell her what she tried to do.” Both men shared a knowing look at this. “When you have a reply, confront Caroline and see what she has to say for herself. If she denies everything, well, then perhaps you should tell her that the fire has greatly set you back and that she should not count on you continuing to cover her overspending of her allowance for the foreseeable future. The quarter has just started. She should have plenty of time to economize.”

Bingley smiled at this last suggestion. “I think I will tell her that she must live within her allowance anyway. She will not be welcomed back into my house until she has proved she can act with the proper amount of respect to me and those close to me. This includes you and Georgiana, Darcy. She will cease her machinations towards you. You have borne them for too long. I should have stopped them long ago.”

“I wish you luck Bingley. I shall inform the staff that we are not home to Miss Bingley until you have news from your Aunt. I would not want your sister to find out Miss Elizabeth is here. It would warn her of her danger.”

“Thank you my friend. I shall see you when this is resolved. I have asked your sister and Miss Elizabeth to conceal my presence in town from Miss Bennet until I can call on her myself. Well, I should be off to send an express and make arrangement for my sister’s removal to Lincolnshire. Goodbye Darcy.”

“Good luck Bingley!” said Darcy as he shook his friend’s hand.

After Bingley left Darcy sat back in his chair and reflected on this most unexpected meeting. A smile formed on his lips when he thought about Bingley confronting his sister. Bingley seemed to be coming into his own. He was ready to confront his overbearing sister and assume his rightful place as head of the family. He smiled even further when he considered that he would no longer need bear with Miss Bingley’s unwanted fawning over him. At least one good thing was to come out of this mess. That was worth celebrating! Darcy went and poured himself a glass of wine. He picked it up and raised the glass. ‘To Bingley! May he finally have found the resolve to be the gentleman he can be!’

Elizabeth and Georgiana met Jane and Mrs. Gardiner at the Modiste’s at the appointed time. Jane looked as beautiful as ever in her new gowns. Georgiana thought the blue one especially became her.

“Miss Bennet, you will look stunning in that gown.”

“Thank you Miss Darcy.”

“Will you not call me Georgiana now?”

“If that is your wish. Then you must call me Jane.”

“Of course, Jane! Now, I know of a wonderful little teashop near here. When we are finished let us meet there for lunch. We can compare our notes and plan for the rest of the day.”

Mrs. Gardiner noticed the new confidence in the girl before her. When she first met her in Derbyshire she appeared so sad and withdrawn. It was pleasurable to see her blossoming into a confident young lady. Lizzy would be a perfect companion for her at this time. If she could impart more of her liveliness on Miss Darcy it would help her overcome the famous Darcy shyness. She was becoming more and more like her mother all the time.

“That is a wonderful idea, Miss Darcy. Since the weather is clear today and the teashop is just a few blocks away, why not walk? We can have the carriages meet us there later.” Mrs. Gardiner suggested.

Elizabeth laughingly replied, “Aunt, Georgiana and I never refuse the opportunity for a walk. I think Jane is the only one who would refuse. But as we all know, Jane is too good to ever do so!”

“Lizzy! Stop or I shall have to tell Georgiana about you, Mr. Perkins and the beech tree!”

“Jane! I wish to keep my dignity intact for at least one more day. I relent!”

“Jane,” Georgiana queried as the made there way toward the teashop, “Who is Mr. Perkins? Pray tell me.”

“Have mercy on me, Jane!”

Jane ignored her sister; she knew Elizabeth really did want her to tell her story.

“Just after Lizzy turned 16 a gentleman by the name of Mr. Perkins came to stay in the neighborhood. I believe he was about 5 and 30.”

“At least” groaned Elizabeth.

“Well, this Mr. Perkins took quite an interest in Elizabeth and our mother did everything in her power to further the match.” All the ladies rolled their eyes. “Elizabeth did everything she could to avoid being alone with him. One day she was caught outside walking when Mr. Perkins appeared. Fortunately for Lizzy she was near a grove of beech trees. When they caught sight of each other Lizzy quickly turned into the grove. Unfortunately, there was no group of trees she could hide herself in so she did the next best thing.” Here Jane paused for effect.

Georgiana took the bait. “What did Elizabeth do?”

With a triumphant smile Jane continued, “Why, she climbed up into a beech tree off course!”

“Elizabeth, you did not?”

“What else was I to do?” Elizabeth grinned.

“And you claimed I was not acting very lady like the other day when you told me about Mr. Collins! Did he find you?”

“Elizabeth was safe from him, that is until he got concerned and came back to Longbourn to organize a search party!”

“And what happened next?” Georgiana giggled.

“Fortunately my father had an inkling as to what was going on.”

“Only because he had climbed trees with me in that same grove.” Elizabeth piped in.

Jane continued as if she had not been interrupted. “Papa made sure he was the one who searched that grove where Mr. Perkins had claimed he lost Elizabeth. Once Papa had assured her he was alone she alerted him to her position and he helped her get down without anyone knowing where she was. Mama was beside herself when Lizzy walked into Longbourn on our father’s arm. After that, Papa had a talk with Mr. Perkins letting him know that Lizzy did not desire his suit nor would he ever grant his own consent. I think Papa was worried that she would be forced to climb another tree to avoid him and he was concerned she would fall and hurt herself.”

“Not quite Jane, he KNEW I would not fall out of a tree, he just did not want to keep going out to look for me in the trees of every grove within 5 miles of Longbourn!”

The four ladies entered the small teashop in jubilant spirits after Jane’s tale. They spent a delightful half hour eating their lunch and drinking their tea.

“Well Miss Darcy, what are your plans for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I need a new bonnet. We were going to look for one, and perhaps one for Elizabeth too. Would you care to join us?”

“Aunt Gardiner, it is up to you. Do you need to be home soon?” Jane asked.

“Unfortunately, yes I do Jane.”

“Mrs. Gardiner, we could bring Jane back to Gracechurch Street when we are finished if she would wish to join us.”

“I have no problem if you wish to join Elizabeth and Miss Darcy for more shopping, Jane.”

“Then I shall be back in Gracechurch Street by 5 o’clock Aunt. Thank you.”

“Do not spend all of your father’s money in one place girls!” Mrs. Gardiner jokingly admonished her two nieces as she left. Not that she was worried that they would; they were too responsible to act in such a reckless manner.

Georgiana knew many places to go searching for bonnets and the three ladies had a very enjoyable afternoon shopping. Georgiana bought two new bonnets and persuaded both Jane and Elizabeth to buy one as well. When Elizabeth and Georgiana dropped Jane off, Elizabeth ran inside to have a quick word alone with her Aunt.

“Aunt, you will never believe it but I saw Mr. Bingley today. Let us just say Miss Bingley has not been totally forthright in her dealings with Jane. Mr. Bingley should be by to call in the next day or two but he wants to surprise Jane. I just thought you should know. I did not want Jane to suspect anything so I contrived an excuse about money to talk to you. I shall fill you in with more details when I can, Aunt. I must be going now.”

“Thank you for warning me. Do not worry; I shall not say a word to Jane. Goodbye now dear, we shall see you Friday evening then.”

Elizabeth and Georgiana made their way back home. It had been another eventful day.

“Georgiana, you are going to wear me out if you keep me going like this. Older women such as myself cannot maintain such a pace! Promise me we will not do anything other than attend my fittings tomorrow. I think I have shopped more in these two days than I have in the last two years!

“As you wish Elizabeth, but remember I said we were to visit my Aunt tomorrow.”

“How could I have forgotten? Then we shall visit your Aunt and attend my fitting but that is all! I have hardly set foot in your magnificent Library. Please allow me the luxury tomorrow?”

“Of course! And I told you, do not be concerned over meeting my Aunt. She will love you.”

“You said that before, Georgiana.”

“It is the truth, Elizabeth. Now, it is time to prepare for dinner. I will see you in an hour.”

An hour later they joined Darcy for dinner. Conversation soon turned to Mr. Bingley.

“I assume Mr. Bingley wanted to talk to you about his sister, Fitzwilliam.”

“Yes he did. What do you know about this whole affair?”

“Elizabeth told me about the note Miss Bingley sent Miss Bennet. We assume from what Mr. Bingley said, that Miss Bingley is not currently in Lincoln, that she told him Miss Bennet was in Devonshire and that possibly she was accepting the attentions of another man.”

“That about sums it up.”

“What will Mr. Bingley do, Fitzwilliam?”

“That I am not at liberty to say. However, I would not be surprised if Miss Bingley goes to go visit her Aunt in Lincoln after all.” Darcy said this with a smug expression on his face. The rest of the meal was spent recalling the rest of their day. Georgiana spared Elizabeth a retelling of the tree story. She was sure Elizabeth would be mortified if she did.

<<>>

Charles Bingley spent the remainder of the day planning his confrontation with his sister, and pining for Miss Bennet. She was so very near to him but he would not see her until he had resolved things with Caroline. Caroline had betrayed him and he was determined to resolve the issue before he went to apologize to his Jane. She did not deserve this and he did not want her to worry needlessly over the matter for he was sure she would be kinder to his sister than she deserved. He was ashamed for his whole family. Hopefully tomorrow Caroline’s fate would be sealed and then he could face his angel again.

Caroline misinterpreted her brother’s ill mood for the success of her schemes. The fire in Manchester had come at just the right time. Soon she would see Charles fall in love again with some other pretty thing. If she had the right connections and a large enough fortune she would see her brother married before autumn. Then she would finally secure Mr. Darcy for herself. She had great plans for Pemberley. Her thoughts then strayed to the challenge it would be to redecorate such a large house.

Mr. Bingley awoke the next day counting the hours before he could expect a reply from his Aunt. If all went well, he would confront his sister before dinner. He would tell her his plans and make sure she was ready to depart first thing on the morrow. After she was gone he would go to Gracechurch Street to call on Miss Bennet. If she forgave him for his sister’s actions, he would ask her if he could court her. If she agreed he would ride to Hertfordshire that afternoon and see Mr. Bennet the next day. If all went well, he could return to London by Saturday, happily on the way to matrimony.

<<>>

Wednesday morning after breakfast, Georgiana took Elizabeth for the fitting of the first of her new gowns. Georgiana was very pleased with the way they looked on her friend.

“These will look lovely on you, Elizabeth. Fitzwilliam will be quite pleased!” Georgiana added without thinking.

“I am sure your brother needs no confirmation of your excellent taste. He sees its results on you every day.”

Georgiana blushed when she realized what she had let slip. “Elizabeth, you know you are a beautiful woman, my brother would hardly be a man if he was not pleased by these new gowns on you.” She covered.

“If you were speaking of Jane I would agree. She is five times as pretty as the rest of us Bennet girls.”

“You sell yourself short, Elizabeth,” Georgiana protested. “But I will grant you that Jane is simply stunning. I know of few women who can compare to her in beauty, especially the beauty of her character.”

“Yes, that is my Jane.”

Changing subjects Elizabeth asked, “When do we call on your Aunt?”

“We will leave here and go directly to Afton House.”

“Tell me what to expect Georgiana.”

“My Aunt, Lady Matlock, is a kind, generous woman. She has a lovely sense of humor but she does not suffer fools well. I think you will like her very much as she will like you.”

“Thank you, I must admit I am looking forward to meeting more of you family even if it has not seemed as I do. I was a bit tired yesterday when we spoke of it.”

<<>>

Afton House was very impressive indeed. Elizabeth felt that, if ever she could be intimidated meeting someone, it would be someone living in a home like this. Georgiana and Elizabeth were led into a sitting room, where an elegant looking woman of about 50, if Elizabeth could guess an age, greeted them.

“Georgiana!”

“Aunt Helen, it is so lovely to see you. May I introduce my friend? Aunt Helen, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth, this is my Aunt, Lady Matlock.”

Elizabeth curtseyed and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you Lady Matlock.”

“So this is the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet! It is a pleasure to meet you finally. I have heard many things about you.” Lady Matlock replied.

Georgiana and Elizabeth exchanged looks and Georgiana began to laugh.

Elizabeth hastened to explain. “You must forgive Georgiana, Lady Matlock. I am afraid it is my fault. You are the fourth person associated with Georgiana that has said the exact same thing when we were introduced.”

“In whose illustrious company do I now reside?” Lady Matlock asked, now much intrigued.

“Well ma’am, first it was Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley. I am acquainted with her daughter Mary Clark. Then, your nephew Mr. Darcy said the same thing. Finally Mrs. Thomas, his housekeeper here in town so greeted me when I met her on Sunday.”

“Knowing the character of all three of those persons I feel better about the company I unwittingly keep!” cried Lady Matlock. “Please be seated. Georgiana has spoken often of you in her letters, Miss Bennet. She also informs me that you are the reason she is not staying with me right now. It is quite all right as I see that you are keeping her good company. It is wonderful that she has found someone close to her own age.”

With that Lady Matlock had pronounced her judgment; she approved of this Miss Bennet. It was obvious that everyone was right about what they were saying of her. By the end of the visit she had shown herself to be a lively, intelligent woman and at the same time unpretentious, not seeking to benefit from her acquaintance with her niece other than with the rewards found only in the bonds of true friendship. London could use more women like her. Elizabeth Bennet was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Chapter 18

An express arrived for Charles Bingley shortly after 5 o’clock, whereupon he retired to his study to read it. A sad but satisfied smile overspread his face. His Aunt Blackwell had consented to his plan. She conveyed her dismay at her niece’s behavior and promised to make every effort to make her see the error of her ways. Everything was readied. He went in search of Caroline and found her sitting with their sister Louisa. Mr. Hurst was not there.

“Louisa, I did not know you were here or else I would have come to see you.”

“Caroline said you had some pressing matters of business. I would suppose that after the fire you have many things to take care of in London, brother. I trust all things are getting back to normal now?”

“Things are progressing,” he said cryptically. “Caroline, you never would guess who I ran into yesterday when I called on Darcy.”

“You called on Mr. Darcy and Georgiana? I would have accompanied you if I had known you were going, Charles. I had not heard they were back from Pemberley yet.”

“They arrived on Saturday.”

“Whom did you meet so unexpectedly?” Caroline asked.

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet. You do remember her from your stay at Netherfield do you not?”

Caroline Bingley turned pale. Her sister noticed this and decided to take over the conversation from her sister. She loved Caroline but this time she had gone too far and Louisa was not going to take the fall with her.

“What a surprise Charles! But Miss Darcy did seem quite taken with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. What news did she bring?”

“She told me, among other things, that Miss Jane Bennet was in town and that Miss Bennet had sent Caroline a note informing her of this. I can see by the looks on both of your faces that this is true.”

“Charles,” Louisa began, “I must confess I knew Jane was in town, I was here when her note came. But I did not know her sister was also.”

“And did you know that Caroline told her that I was not to leave Manchester for 2 more months? Did you?” Bingley was beginning to shout now.

“No I did not. When the note came I agreed not to say anything about Miss Bennet being in London. I feel that you can do better than her, Charles. But I refused to lie to you if it came up and I certainly refused to participate in any other scheme Caroline came up with. I warned her against such things.”

At this Bingley softened at his sister. “Louisa, you of all people should know the value of love in a match.”

Shamed, Louisa replied, “You are right Charles. If you love Miss Bennet then you should pursue her. I believe she would make you happy. That is all I ever wanted for you, and for Caroline.”

“Thank you Louisa, I shall count on your support. But you do not know what else Caroline has said?”

“I am ignorant of anything other than knowing Miss Bennet is in London.”

“It seems as though our sister did not approve of my choice of Miss Bennet and sought to divide us. She told Miss Bennet that I would be in Manchester until March and that she was going to visit our Aunt Blackwell in Lincoln and would not be able to call on her. Caroline also told me that Miss Bennet was in Devonshire visiting a family by the name of Walter and that she was receiving Mr. Walter’s attentions to her.” Louisa could only stare at her sister.

“What do you have to say for yourself Caroline?” Bingley demanded.

“I was only concerned for your happiness, Charles. The Bennets are so far beneath us. Any connection would be an abomination. Mrs. Bennet would lead you around by a noose and the other Bennet girls are a disgrace. I would not see you burdened by such lowly people.”

“You are lying Caroline!” Bingley said in a highly incensed voice. “The only thing you care about is yourself! You are selfish, snobbish, haughty and vain. You chase after a man who cares nothing for you and you have sought to divide me from the woman I love. Do you think I would have given her up so easily? Only an engagement announcement in the papers would have kept me from honoring my word and returning to call on Miss Bennet at Longbourn. You would have had us waste two months and brought us unnecessary pain. Miss Bennet is the daughter of a gentleman. She is more than my equal. I do not own an estate. I only lease one. She may not have the wealth or connections but she has the one thing you and I do not. She was born to a gentleman. I have had enough! Since you said you were going to visit Aunt Blackwell, to Lincoln you shall go. She is expecting you. You shall pack your things and leave first thing in the morning. You will not be allowed to return to my home until you can prove that you can behave in a civil manner again to me and those I hold dear. You will cease to pursue Darcy and you will stop fawning so insincerely over Miss Darcy. If I hear another unkind word about Miss Bennet and her family I will cut your allowance completely. As it is, the fire has set me back. You will still receive your quarterly allotment but I warn you not to exceed it. I will not be covering any additional expenses of yours. The quarter has just begun. You have enough warning to economize. Do you understand what I have said or do I need to explain further?”

“You are perfectly clear Charles. Louisa, if you will excuse me. I will have dinner sent to my room so I may supervise the packing of my things. Good night Charles.” Miss Bingley left the two without any sign of remorse.

“For what it is worth Charles, I think you handled that very well. Caroline needed someone to bring her in line.” Louisa offered.

“Unfortunately, the only thing she is sorry for at the moment, is that she got caught,” sighed Bingley.

“Give her time Charles. I thought sending her to Aunt Blackwell’s was a brilliant stroke. She should drive Caroline insane with all of her moralizing. She has been avoiding visiting her for years!”

Bingley brightened, “Actually it was Darcy’s idea. He came up with the suggestion about the allowance as well. I must say he was pleased when I told him that Caroline would be made to stop chasing him. I think he rather enjoyed the thought that I would finally bring Caroline under heel.”

“Mr. Darcy has always been an invaluable friend to you, Charles. I need to go home. Mr. Hurst will be very interested in hearing my news.”

“I imagine he will be relieved I did not saddle you with Caroline.”

“I think he may have actually refused her once he heard what she has tried. Have you called on Miss Bennet yet?”

“I was waiting to resolve this with Caroline first.”

“That was wise, Charles. I am very sorry for all of this. I should have tried to talk Caroline out of it.”

“We both know it would have been a waste of your breath, Louisa. Give my best to your husband. I have many things to accomplish these next few days. When I can I will send word and ask you to join me for dinner.”

“I understand. Good luck Charles.” Louisa leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “It will all turn out well. Goodnight!”

After Mrs. Hurst was gone, Bingley went to inform the housekeeper of all the changes for the evening and of his sister’s removal the next day. He was not very hungry that evening and sleep came very begrudgingly.

Charles Bingley did not want his sister to skulk off to Lincoln without saying goodbye to him, so he informed his valet that he wished to be awakened when his sister was awake. Miss Bingley was surprised that he came down to join her for breakfast. She had arisen early in an effort to avoid him, if at all possible, before she was banished to Lincoln.

“Good morning Caroline.”

“Good morning Charles.” She replied coldly.

“I am not here to lecture you again, Caroline. I came to wish you a good journey and a productive time with Aunt Blackwell.”

“Hmph”

“Caroline, all I, and Louisa for that matter, want is the return of the wonderful person you used to be when you were young. We miss that. I miss that Caroline.”

“I am no longer a child, Charles!” she said indignantly.

“That is not at all my meaning. When you were younger you used to care for people. You wanted to please your family. You were happy. Now all I see is a disillusioned woman who is without any true friends. Those you call friends do not care about you, they care only what you can do for them. They are as shallow as you have become. Use this time to become the person of substance I know you can be. Make peace with yourself and maybe then you can be happy for me. Think about what I have said, Caroline. Please write and let me know you have arrived safely. I shall write to you when I have any news. Goodbye Caroline, safe journey sister.” Bingley leaned over, tenderly kissed his sister’s cheek and left her alone to her breakfast and her thoughts.

Bingley left his home and made his way over to Darcy House. He was one of the few people who would be let in so early. Darcy was in the breakfast room when he arrived.

“Bingley! You are certainly early this morning. I am going to my club after breakfast, would you like to join me?”

“Only for a little while Darcy, I have a call to make this morning!”

“I take it that you have talked with Caroline?”

“Yes, and Louisa.”

“Was she involved too?”

“Only to the extent that she knew Miss Bennet was in town and had agreed with Caroline not to tell me. But that was all she knew and she even told Caroline not to try any form of deceit. She is not the one to blame.”

“How did Caroline take it when you confronted her?”

“She denied nothing. She tried to justify herself by denigrating Miss Bennet and her family. I would not stand for such a thing. I told her what I believed were her true motives. I then informed her that she was going to visit our Aunt in Lincoln and I told her she had to live within her allowance. I even threatened to cut her off completely if she did not stop abusing Miss Bennet or her family.”

“You did not leave anything out, did you Bingley? Charles, I am very proud of you. That was a very difficult situation to handle and you handled it as any gentleman should.”

“Thank you, William. Now what do you have to eat this morning. I did not eat much for dinner last night and have not yet eaten this morning. I am starving!”

“Help yourself Bingley, my cook never lets me down!”

Shortly thereafter, Georgiana and Elizabeth both came in for their breakfast.

“Mr. Bingley! Mr. Darcy, Good morning!” Elizabeth greeted the gentleman warmly.

“Good morning Miss Bennet. I see that you are well this morning.” Bingley replied

“Yes, I thank you. Have you concluded your business of two days ago?” Elizabeth queried.

“The first portion was concluded just this morning. When the second is completed to my satisfaction is entirely in the hands of another. I must be patient if the desired result is to be accomplished.”

“I see. Have you had a chance to call on my sister in Gracechurch Street yet, Mr. Bingley?”

Bingley countenance brightened somewhat. “No, not yet. But I hope to remedy that later this morning. I told Darcy here I would join him at his club first before heading out to make my calls.”

“I am sure my Aunt will be pleased to finally make your acquaintance. If you would sir, would you please relay a message to Jane for me?”

“At your service madam!”

“Please inform Jane that I demand to see her in blue tomorrow evening when we dine at Gracechurch Street. She will understand my meaning.”

“Of course, and I know better than to question the words of a lady.”

“Very good Bingley,” Darcy interrupted, “are you ready to leave now.”

“Darcy, you are heartless! Can you not see how much I am enjoying speaking with Miss Elizabeth here?” Bingley cried.

“She will be here another 5 weeks, Bingley. You have plenty of time to see her again. Let us be off.” Darcy finished.

“I am sorry ladies. It appears that, for now, I am at Darcy’s mercy since I did promise to accompany him to his club. I shall relay your message, Miss Elizabeth. Now if you will excuse us I will take my taciturn friend away now.”

Darcy was relieved to be away. As much as he enjoyed Bingley’s lighthearted repartee, he was jealous of Elizabeth’s attention. ‘Stop that man; she is not yours to be jealous for! Remember to keep your emotional distance.’ Darcy railed at himself.

<<>>

“What do you have in store for us today, Georgiana?” Elizabeth asked as soon as the men were gone.

“I have been woefully neglecting my studies and my pianoforte. I think we should stay home today.” Georgiana admitted.

“She is wise and beautiful!” Elizabeth teased.

“Oh no Elizabeth. I am only afraid of the disapprobation of my brother!”

“As if you could ever really disappoint him!”

Georgiana suddenly colored at Elizabeth’s jest. Immediately Elizabeth sensed why but she could not let her friend know that she knew.

“If I have said something to give you pain Georgiana, I am truly sorry.” Elizabeth offered.

“No, it is not you Elizabeth. A painful memory just now chose to re-introduce itself into my thoughts.” Georgiana sighed. Elizabeth smiled kindly in understanding. The ladies continue to eat their breakfast. Only the sound of cutlery on plates broke the silence.

Finally, Georgiana spoke. “Elizabeth, do you remember when we first met at Pemberley?”

“Yes, of course I do” Elizabeth replied ‘Will she now reveal her burden to me?’

“I was very shy and reserved when we first met.”

“Yes.”

“There was a reason for that.”

“Too much time spent around your brother?” Elizabeth teased.

“Yes and no,” Georgiana smiled back. “I do share some of his natural shyness but that was not the reason for my reticence. Earlier that summer I was greatly deceived by two people I trusted. I was almost ruined and only by the grace of God was Fitzwilliam there to save me.” Elizabeth wisely chose to remain silent. “I went with my then companion, Mrs. Younge, to Ramsgate. Whilst there, a man whom I knew from my youth, the son of our late steward, met with me. I told me he loved me and wanted to marry me. I consented to an elopement. It all seemed so romantic. A few days before we were to leave my brother came unexpectedly to surprise me. I had to tell him, he has been like a father to me and I could not conceal such a thing from him now he was there. He was very gentle with me but knew my ‘fiancé’ was only after my fortune. Fitzwilliam took care of everything. He dismissed Mrs. Younge, who was in on the deception from the start, and brought me back to Pemberley. I was devastated. You came to Pemberley about a month later. You were just what I needed Elizabeth. You have helped me draw myself back out again. I own you a great debt of gratitude. Your friendship is the most important one of my life, Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth comforted the now crying girl. She held her gently until the tears subsided. When Georgiana had regained her composure Elizabeth began to answer her.

“Georgiana, I thank you for your trust in confiding in me. The first day I met you I sensed a great sadness in you and wondered at its cause. I am glad I was able to play a part in your overcoming this trauma. I have a confession to make to you now. I know about Mr. Wickham, Georgiana.”

“You do? How did you, why would my…”

“Before you become angry with me or your brother, please, let me explain. When you were in Hertfordshire your brother told you that Mr. Wickham had been in the neighborhood but that he had gone by then.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“What you do not know is that I was present the day your brother learned he was there. I witnessed their greeting of one another. That night I was in Mr. Wickham’s company and he tried to poison me against your brother by telling me falsehoods and half-truths. I was very suspicious of him. Since I knew he did not know you were at Netherfield I asked him about you. He told me the most bald faced lie about you and I knew then he was lying about everything else. I was very concerned about what that man might try if he knew you were near and I went out walking the next morning hoping to come across your brother. Fortunately, he was of the same mind and came looking for me. He explained the whole of your family’s acquaintance with Mr. Wickham. He did not leave anything out. He had come to respect our friendship enough to realize that I was an ally and would do anything to protect you. Together we plotted to have Mr. Wickham removed from the area. He enlisted the help of your cousin, the Colonel. I was to quash any rumors Mr. Wickham might have started in Meryton. We were both relieved when he was finally gone. So you see, your brother only acted to protect you, Georgiana. I was waiting for you to feel comfortable enough with me to reveal your dealings with him on your own. As I said earlier, I am grateful you have chosen to confide in me about this. Now that it is out in the open, please allow me to help you when unpleasant thoughts intrude. You were not the one at fault, Georgiana, others were culpable, not you. Please believe this.”

“I will try, Elizabeth. Thank you for keeping my secret so well. I am not angry with either of you. I can see why you have chosen to proceed as you did. Thank you for allowing me the time to come to you with this when I was ready.”

Elizabeth smiled kindly at her young friend again. Georgiana’s hand in hers she asked, “So, is it your studies or your pianoforte first this morning?”

Smiling back gratefully Georgiana replied, “I think my mood requires my pianoforte. Will you join me in the music room?”

“After I pick out a new book to read from your magnificent Library,” she said squeezing hr friend’s hand before releasing it.

The ladies spent a quiet and peaceful day at home.

<<>>

Meanwhile Darcy and Bingley had arrived at Darcy’s club.

“Bingley, what are your plans for calling on Miss Bennet?” Darcy began.

“I will go there directly from here. I have much to apologize and ask forgiveness for.” Bingley added darkly.

“Charles, it is not your fault. They were your sister’s actions, not yours.”

“No, ultimately I am to blame. I am the head of my family. For too long I have turned a blind eye to everything both of my sisters have done. Louisa is Hurst’s responsibility now but I am still responsible for not checking Caroline.”

“I still think you are being too hard on yourself, Charles.”

“No William, I need to be a man and face up to my responsibilities, just as I have watched you do all these years. Because I trusted my sister too much, I allowed her to drive a potential wedge between Miss Bennet and me. I shudder to think of what these next two months would have been like if Miss Elizabeth had not been staying with you. I need to explain everything to Miss Bennet and to ask her forgiveness. I only hope she will not hold Caroline’s behavior against me.”

Darcy smiled at his friend’s dejected demeanor. “Charles, from what I have learned of your Miss Bennet, I do not think that will be an issue.”

“You have been reluctant to approve of her for me.”

“I see now that your regard for her has not abated. In fact it has caused you to act as your own man unlike anything else I have ever seen. If this is what she can bring out in you then she is more than worthy of you, in spite of her lack of fortune or connections.”

“Thank you William. And now I must leave you. I have a call to make!” said the much-brightened Bingley.

Darcy watched his friend disappear and wondered if he would ever find the same happiness.

<<>>

Bingley was soon at No. 10 Gracechurch Street. Jane was visibly startled and pleased when his name was announced. She and her Aunt received this most welcome visitor in the parlor.

“Mr. Bingley, it is good to see you again sir. Aunt, this is Mr. Charles Bingley. Mr. Bingley this is my Aunt, Mrs. Madeline Gardiner.”

“Delighted to meet you sir. You are welcome in our home.”

“Thank you Mrs. Gardiner. I have often heard of you from your nieces.”

“I did not expect to see you until after I returned to Longbourn, Mr. Bingley. Your sister indicated in a letter before she left for Lincoln that you expected to be in Manchester until March.” Jane explained

“My sister was very much mistaken to tell you so Miss Bennet. She knew I was coming to London this week.”

“I do not understand, Mr. Bingley.”

“Jane,” Mrs. Gardiner interrupted, sensing the two of them needed some privacy, “I need to check on the children. Is it acceptable if I leave you and Mr. Bingley here to catch up on your news whilst I attend them? I shall have some tea sent in.”

“Yes Aunt, I will be fine, and I would appreciate some tea. Thank you.”

Mrs. Gardiner left, leaving the door open on her way out.

“Miss Bennet, I am afraid I have come to apologize to you and ask your forgiveness.”

“Whatever for, Mr. Bingley?” said Jane, her heart pounding in fear.

Bingley sighed before continuing, “For the actions of my sister, Miss Bennet. You must know that she has sought to deceive us both. I learned of her attempts at such officious interference just two days ago when I met your sister at the Darcys’. Caroline has been in London this whole time and had only sent you the note to keep you from calling. She would have hidden your presence in town from me. But it is not only this, she told me that you were in Devonshire and that you were receiving the attentions of a Mr. Andrew Walter.”

Jane was truly shocked at this. “But I know no one by that name and have no acquaintance in Devonshire!”

“I know that now, Miss Bennet. When I learned the truth of my sister’s lies I arranged for her to indeed visit our Aunt in Lincoln. I confronted her last night about the entire situation. I am pained to admit that she bears no remorse for her actions. I sent her to Lincoln this morning. I hope she soon will come to realize the error of her ways and have a change of heart.”

“I am sorry to be the cause of such familial strife, Mr. Bingley.”

“No Miss Bennet. This has been building for many years, I am afraid. You were just the last in a long list of items. I should have curbed my sister long ago, Miss Bennet. Can you please forgive me?

“Mr. Bingley, you are not to blame and have done nothing that needs my forgiveness. I do not believe Caroline to be so bad. I hope that soon she will be sorry for what she has done and be anxious to re-establish her character.”

“Miss Bennet you are too good!”

A servant entered with the promised tea. Once alone again, Bingley forged on ahead.

“Miss Bennet, we have long delayed a discussion I began when I took leave of you in Hertfordshire.”

“Yes Mr. Bingley?” Jane said nervously, hope once again rekindled.

“Miss Bennet, from almost the beginning of or acquaintance I have found you enchanting. I have been drawn to you as a moth is to a flame. I wish to risk myself just as the moth, to be in the warmth of your presence. Miss Bennet, may I formally court you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

Bingley broke out in his wonderful huge smile. “I shall ride to Longbourn today to speak to your father first thing in the morning. I will not wait for a letter Miss Bennet! I will return tomorrow once I have received his consent.” Bingley stopped here and a cloud of worry crossed back over his features. “He will consent will he not?” Bingley asked.

Jane laughed demurely. “Mr. Bingley, I do not think my mother will give him much choice!”

Bingley was delighted to see this teasing side of his beloved Jane. Mrs. Gardiner chose this moment to reappear. It was obvious that something had taken place but neither Jane or Bingley would speak of it. Bingley stayed for another 15 minutes until he made his excuses to leave.

“Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth and Mr. & Miss Darcy are to dine with us tomorrow evening. Would you care to join us?” Mrs. Gardiner asked.

“I would be delighted to Mrs. Gardiner! I have much business to attend to tomorrow but I believe I will be able to attend. If I am delayed I will have a note dispatched so that you do not wait for me.” Bingley’s eyes never left Jane’s as he spoke. “Until tomorrow then. Oh, I almost forgot! Miss Bennet, I saw your sister at Darcy’s this morning and she asked me to pass along this message. She said that she demanded to see you in blue tomorrow. She said that you would understand her meaning.”

Jane smiled at her younger sister’s machinations. “Yes, I fully comprehend her intent. Thank you Mr. Bingley.”

And with that Bingley bowed and took his leave.

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