TSSAW Chapters 19-24

Chapter 19

Madeline Gardiner looked at her oldest niece. Jane was radiant. It was as if the happiness of her countenance accentuated her God-given natural beauty in a way she had never seen before.

“Well Jane, did you and Mr. Bingley find much to talk about when I was tending the children?”

“Oh Aunt, I do not know where to begin! Mr. Bingley came to gain my consent to be courted!”

“Did he think it actually necessary?” Mrs. Gardiner teased.

Jane blushed and said, “Yes he must.”

“And is it really necessary Jane?” Jane would not answer.

“Then enjoy this time Jane. Get to know the man for who he really is. Make sure he is worthy of your trust, respect and love.”

“He is on his way to Longbourn now.”

“Mr. Bingley wasted no time!”

“He was worried that Papa would deny his courting me.” Jane added mischievously.

“As if Fanny would let him!” Mrs. Gardiner teased back.

“I told him the same thing!”

“Good for you Jane, he needs to see that side of you, too. Very few people know that you can tease just as much as your sister Elizabeth. I suppose that Mr. Bingley will make every effort to be here for dinner tomorrow and I would not be surprised to see him arrive slightly early. Do you wish to inform your uncle of what has transpired?”

“What is your opinion Aunt?”

“I would like for you to tell him, Jane, since much of your courting will most likely take place whilst you are here in London with us. He should know sooner rather than later.”

“Then I shall inform him as soon as possible. Thank you Aunt.”

“I am so happy for you, Jane. Mr. Bingley appears to be a good man. Now did he have anything else to relate?”

Jane told her all about Caroline Bingley’s deception. Somehow Mrs. Gardiner was not surprised and sincerely hoped that woman would learn her lesson, for Jane’s sake. Mr. Gardiner was overjoyed when Jane relayed her news that evening. He looked forward to meeting the gentleman and seeing if he was good enough for his eldest niece.

<<>>

Bingley arrived at Netherfield shortly before dinnertime. A very surprised Housekeeper greeted him.

“Mr. Bingley sir, we had no notice that you were to arrive sir. I am afraid that we do not have the house ready to be opened sir.”

“That is quite all right. I only intend to stay the night. I have business to attend to first thing in the morning and then I will be off to Town again. Please do not trouble yourself too much on my account. A simple meal will be fine. All I desire is a bath, hot meal and comfortable bed.”

“I will order water to be heated immediately. I will have your room made ready and I will personally see that your meal is waiting for you after your bath. It will be simple fare, sir.”

“That will be fine. Why do you not have it served in my chambers? I will only require a simple breakfast in my room in the morning as well. Have it sent up to me at 8 o’clock. I will make an early start to my day and most likely I will not return to Netherfield, but will return immediately back to Town when I am finished with my business. .”

“Very good sir. Mr. Bingley? I have not had any directions from your sister when you plan to return. Do you have any firm plans yet sir?”

“If all goes well I will be coming back within 6 weeks. When my plans are firmer I shall send you word. I know there is much to do to open this house. Do not worry, I will not show up unannounced on the doorstep like this again, but will inform you of my plans for immediate occupancy.”

“Thank you sir, we look forward to your being in the neighborhood for an extended period of time.”

Dinner that evening was indeed simple yet delicious fare. He suspected that he was sharing the same dinner as the servants but he did not mind. He had not given them any notice and they had performed admirably under the circumstances. He was exhausted from the experiences of the day and fell asleep quickly when he retired for the evening. The next morning he was awakened as requested at 7 o’clock. A servant assisted him with his morning routine and he was famished when his meal arrived at 8 o’clock. Fed and ready to depart he ordered his bag packed and his horse saddled. By 8:30 he was on his way to Longbourn. He knew it was too early in the day to call normally, but he also knew Mr. Bennet to be an early riser. Indeed, his host greeted him in the study.

“Mr. Bingley, I had not been informed you were in the neighborhood. What brings you to Longbourn so bright and early today?” Mr. Bennet had a good guess but decided to see how his guest reacted.

“Mr. Bennet, I arrived at Netherfield late in the afternoon yesterday. I caught my staff rather off balance for they had no idea of my coming.”

“What brought about this sudden journey?”

“To see you sir,” Bingley blushed.

“I am here as you see.” Mr. Bennet decided a little sport was called for.

“Er yes, you are Mr. Bennet. What I mean is to say that I have come to speak to you about your daughter sir.”

“I have five of them still I think, of which do you speak?” It was diverting to watch him squirm.

“Of your eldest, Miss Jane sir.”

“Well, what do you wish to speak about her Mr. Bingley?” It was too early to let him off the hook.

“When I returned to London I learned she was staying with her family in Gracechurch Street. Yesterday I was finally able to call on her. Whilst there I had the opportunity to finally ask her if she would allow me to formally court her.”

“Did she say yes, Mr. Bingley?” One more barb was called for.

“Of course she said yes, why else would I be here?”

“Then why are you here?” It was too tempting to keep going.

“I am here to ask your consent to court Miss Bennet, sir!”

“Ah, I was wondering when you were finally going to come to the point Mr. Bingley. Tell me, why I should allow you to court my daughter?”

“Because Mrs. Bennet will not allow you to refuse!”

Mr. Bennet was delighted. Maybe there was hope for the young man yet. “Well, when you put it that way Mr. Bingley, I suppose I must give my consent. Well done sir!”

Bingley finally began to relax. “Will you be this hard on all of your daughters’ suitors, Mr. Bennet?”

“If they give me the chance, of course I will. Never pass on the chance to make young men nervous, Mr. Bingley. And you are not completely off the hook yet. You still have to obtain Jane’s hand in marriage. If you thought today was difficult, wait until then!”

“I look forward to the day when I may be able to come to you with such a request Mr. Bennet. My intentions to your daughter are honorable sir.”

“If I had doubted your intentions I would have denied your request Mr. Bingley. But tell me why you waited until after you returned from Manchester to make your intentions known.”

“I did not think it fair to make such a request before, knowing I would be leaving the next morning with no fixed date of return. But before I left I assured Miss Bennet of my intentions to return to call on her. I did not wish her to believe I was fleeing from her.”

“That was very wise of you. Now perhaps you ought to be off before my wife and other daughters make an appearance. You would be safe from Mary, but the others…”

“I understand sir. But perhaps you would like me to wait so that I may take any letters back to London with me.”

“An excellent idea, save me postage. I have a letter ready for Elizabeth but I will write one to Jane and my brother Gardiner. Would you like anything while you wait?”

“Thank you Mr. Bennet. I have already eaten but I would like some coffee.”

Mr. Bennet had coffee brought in and then quickly wrote his two letters.

“I take it you will call again on Jane soon and be able to give her these letters. She will be able to send Lizzy hers.”

“Actually I am invited to dine at the Gardiners’ this evening with Miss Elizabeth and the Darcys.”

“Why am I not surprised? Give my best to Edward and Madeline, Mr. Bingley.”

“Indeed, I will sir.”

“Now be off with you while you still can,” Mr. Bennet said as he shook the young man’s hand.

Mr. Bingley left just before the family came down for breakfast.

“You had an early visitor today Mr. Bennet. What did he want?”

“It was not much, please do not concern yourself with it Mrs. Bennet.” Mary looked up at her father. She had seen Mr. Bingley come into Longbourn as she was leaving for her walk. She would have said something but her father gave her a wink. She grinned back at him and went back to her breakfast. She would give Jane the peace her father obviously intended for the moment. It would change soon enough.

<<>>

Bingley arrived back in London tired but exhilarated. He was impatient to share his news with Jane. As soon as he arrived home he ordered his bath and an hour later was out the door and on the way to Gracechurch Street.

Mrs. Gardiner was not too surprised to find Mr. Bingley at her front door much too early for dinner. “Mr. Bingley you are early sir. I am afraid Jane just went upstairs to prepare herself. Mr. Gardiner though should be home any minute. Perhaps you would care to wait in his study?”

“Thank you for your forbearance at my early arrival. I should very much like to meet Mr. Gardiner when he arrives. I shall be happy to await him in his study.”

“Right this way.” Mrs. Gardiner led him into the study. “You must excuse me, I need to see to dinner.”

Mr. Gardiner arrived 10 minutes later. He was immediately summoned to his wife.

“Edward dear, Mr. Bingley is here and waiting for you in the study. Be kind to him, he appears anxious enough as it is and if I know Thomas, he did not have the easiest time seeing him.”

“Madeline, it has not been THAT many years since I was in the same position myself! I will have pity on the poor soul but I will set the rules with him.”

“I would not expect any less from you dear. Now go meet your guest!”

Mr. Gardiner found the object of his scrutiny pacing in his study. “You must be Mr. Bingley. I am Edward Gardiner and I am pleased to meet you, sir”

“It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance Mr. Gardiner. I have three letters to deliver to you sir. I was in Hertfordshire this morning.”

“You have certainly traveled much today then, sir.”

“My business was concluded in a most satisfactory manner which negated any fatigue I might be experiencing now. I was asked to see that you read your letter at your earliest convenience. Please do not mind my presence.”

Mr. Gardiner smiled knowingly at the young man and opened his letter. He was not at all surprised by its contents. After he concluded he looked up to address its main subject.

“Mr. Bingley, I see that my brother has granted his consent for your courtship with my niece. Since it appears that much of this will take place whilst she is my responsibility I think that we need to clarify what I expect from you in this matter.”

“I completely understand sir, that was the main reason I came early this evening, to meet and talk with you sir.”

“Come now, that may be a secondary motive but I hardly think it was the main reason you came early.” Mr. Gardiner teased. Bingley could only blush and smile at this. The gentlemen discussed expectations and then settled into comfortable conversation waiting for the woman to come downstairs.

<<>>

Darcy and Elizabeth had spent much of the week away from each other’s company. They saw each other at mealtimes and after diner but they were never alone together. Secretly both were happy with this arrangement.

Georgiana insisted that Elizabeth wear one of her new gowns that evening. The first of them had been delivered that afternoon along with a new cloak. Elizabeth had never worn such fine clothing before and she wondered what Jane and her Aunt might have to say about it. She would have an awkward time explaining it to them.

“You must wear the burgundy one Elizabeth. I think the color becomes you very well,” Georgiana ordered.

“If you insist Georgiana, I will. It is hard to refuse when you paid for most of its cost!” Elizabeth replied.

The journey to the Gardiners was the first time Elizabeth and Darcy had been in the close confines of a carriage together since Darcy and Georgiana had collected her on Sunday. Elizabeth had thought nothing of sharing a carriage ride with Darcy that first day. She had been too excited about seeing Georgiana again to allow his close proximity to affect her. Georgiana had sat across from her next to her brother on the ride home and commanded her attention.

Tonight was a very different experience. Georgiana was seated next to Elizabeth with Darcy across from them. Elizabeth was forced to look either at him or at her hands. Georgiana’s constant conversation made it impossible for her to stare out the windows, since it would be rude to seem to ignore her friend. Elizabeth forced herself to not stare at Darcy and tried focusing on a point next to his head. She found his close presence slightly intoxicating. She had to will herself to attend Georgiana’s conversation and was much relieved when they finally arrived at their destination.

Darcy on the other hand was grateful to his sister for sitting next to Elizabeth. That way he could focus on his sister and not have to try not to stare at Elizabeth. He had been avoiding being alone with her all week but he found her close proximity in the intimate enclosure of the carriage rather disconcerting. She looked stunning in her new gown and he was much relieved when they arrived at their destination.

Elizabeth could tell her sister was agitated when they entered the room. Mr. Bingley was already there and he appeared to be enjoying a quiet conversation with her Uncle. Jane motioned for Elizabeth to join her apart from the rest of the party.

“Do you have some news for me, Jane?” Elizabeth asked coyly.

“Oh Lizzy!” Jane began, “Mr. Bingley called on me yesterday. In the course of our conversation he asked permission to court me! He then rode to Netherfield yesterday afternoon and spoke with Papa just this morning. Papa has given his consent to Mr. Bingley! Can this really be happening to me?”

Elizabeth contained the urge to exult and instead quietly said to her sister, “Oh Jane, I told you not to worry! I am very happy for you. Enjoy this time away from Longbourn, Jane.”

The two sisters looked at each other knowingly. Jane then noticed her sister’s new gown.

“Elizabeth, when did you get this gown? It is exquisite!”

Elizabeth blushed, “Georgiana and I went shopping on Monday and this came today, along with the new wrap I was wearing. Do you like it then?”

“Oh Elizabeth, it is stunning on you! But it looks very expensive. How can we afford such things?”

Elizabeth appeared even more embarrassed. “I warned Georgiana about this,” she sighed. “When we left Longbourn and Papa asked to see me alone it was to tell me that he was providing me with extra funds to enhance my wardrobe. He was aware that I would be needing more sophisticated clothing while I am staying in town with the Darcys. Before Georgiana and I had a chance to start shopping, Mr. Darcy informed me that they had much of the same expectations of my need to enhance my wardrobe as our father had. He then told me that they would cover the extra cost incurred by shopping at their accustomed shops. I tried to decline but was overruled. So I ordered the same number of items that I was planning on, only from Miss Darcy’s shops and the Darcys are making up the difference. I asked not to be told what that amount was. I really do not wish to know! There are more things coming and they are all so beautiful, Jane. Perhaps now I will not be completely overshadowed when I stand next to you. And by the way you look stunning in YOUR new gown Jane.”

“Thank you Lizzy. It was very generous of the Darcys to do this for you but I do understand the wisdom of their thinking.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth sighed, “and tomorrow evening only proves their point. We dine at the home of the Earl of Matlock, the Darcys’ uncle.”

Changing the subject Jane replied, “Elizabeth, Mr. Bingley brought a letter back for you from our father. Mr. Bingley offered to carry his correspondence back to London for him.”

“That was very generous of him. There was not, by chance, a letter there for you as well?”

“Yes, Papa only wished to let me know he approves of Mr. Bingley and that he was happy for me. He also said that he was relieved that the courtship should take place mostly away from Longbourn. He has promised not to tell Mama for the time being.”

“So then if neither you nor I tell her she will not know?”

“Unless Papa changes his mind.”

Elizabeth gave Jane one of her saucy looks and in her best imitation of Sir William Lucas cried, “Capital! Oh Capital, Miss Bennet.”

Their laughter attracted the attention of the others. “Elizabeth,” Mr. Gardiner said, “I have a letter for you from your father. Let me fetch it for you before I forget.”

“Thank you Uncle. Would you please have the servant place it with my things? I will read it later.”

“As you wish my dear.”

The seven of them had an enjoyable evening together. Mr. Darcy once again found himself amazed at Mr. Gardiner. He was a man of sense and education and Darcy was glad to know him better. His home, while not nearly as large as his own, was tastefully decorated and displayed the obvious comfort of its inhabitants. The servants were well trained and efficient. Overall Darcy was impressed. He was also happy that the eldest Miss Bennets had some relations that they could be proud of. And if Bingley’s happy demeanor of the evening was any indication, he would soon find himself in their company more often.

No one was more disappointed when the evening was over than Elizabeth. She wished she could stay there and stay up late talking with Jane. But it was not to be. As they departed. Darcy surprised everyone, even himself with an invitation for the Gardiners, Jane and Bingley to attend the theatre next Friday with him in the Darcy Box.

“The Taming of the Shrew is opening that night. It would be a pleasure for all of you to join us.”

“Thank you Mr. Darcy. I see that Jane and my wife appear amicable to the idea.” Mr. Gardiner responded.

“And you must come back to Darcy House afterwards.” Darcy added.

“We would be honored, sir.” Mr. Gardiner countered.

“Mr. Gardiner, please allow me to offer you my coach, I would be honored to escort all of you.” Bingley offered enthusiastically.

“Of course Mr. Bingley, that would be lovely,” Mr. Gardiner accepted.

The ride back to Darcy House played out in the same manner as their earlier journey except this time Georgiana was much less talkative. Neither Darcy nor Elizabeth were able to pick up the slack in the conversation. They were much too busy trying to keep the other from noticing their distraction. This time, however, Georgina noticed the discomfort of her brother and friend. Fitzwilliam’s did not surprise her, but Elizabeth’s did. Perhaps matchmaking between them would be easier than she feared. She had been watching her brother’s reactions to Elizabeth. Now she would have to watch Elizabeth’s reaction to her brother. The darkness inside the carriage hid Georgiana’s sly smile.

Chapter 20

Before she knew it, Elizabeth was once again sitting in the Darcy carriage, this time on the way to dinner at Afton House. Any unease Elizabeth may have been feeling was mitigated by her earlier meeting with Lady Matlock on Wednesday. Fortunately for Elizabeth it was a short distance to Afton House and within minutes she was being handed down by Darcy. She was starting to become accustomed to the touch of his hand but it still affected her. Thus she was relieved to let go of his hand and enter the house.

They were ushered into an elegant room that was different from the one she had been in before.

“Uncle Hugh, Aunt Helen, thank you for your invitation to dine with you this evening.” Darcy began.

“You are quite welcome here as always William.” Lord Matlock replied.

“Uncle, I would like to introduce my friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth, this is my Uncle, Lord Matlock,” said Georgiana making the introductions.

“So this is the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet! It is a pleasure to meet you finally. I have heard many things about you.” Lord Matlock replied with a twinkle in his eye.

Elizabeth laughed and said, “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well and if I may be so bold I believe your wife has been sharing with you details of our visit on Wednesday.”

“Indeed she has Miss Bennet. Do I take it that I am number 5 or has some other lucky soul usurped my place?”

“No, no, you are number five sir!” Turning to Darcy she explained, “Mr. Darcy, when I was introduced to your Aunt, Georgiana started laughing at her greeting. It was the same as I received from Mrs. Reynolds, you and Mrs. Thomas. I told this to Lady Matlock and she seemed quite amused by it.”

“And she told me of it.” The Earl continued. “I thought it would be quite amusing to do the same thing. I also felt sorry for you William.”

“How so Uncle?”

“You were the only male member of Miss Bennet’s fan club. I sought to join your company, William!” The whole party chuckled at this.

“Am I to receive the same greeting from any other family members I may meet?” Elizabeth cheekily asked.

“That all depends on the member of the family. But we will leave that for you to discover, Miss Bennet.” Lady Matlock answered. “Come and tell us what you have been doing to pass your time in London so far, my dear.”

The time passed quickly until it was time to eat. During the meal, Elizabeth was able to learn more about the Earl’s family.

“My eldest son, James and his wife, are currently at Matlock. I expect them back in town next week. My next son Richard is a Colonel in the Army and is currently away on duty. My oldest daughter, Amelia is married to Lord Chesley and they are here in London. My youngest, Helena, is visiting my sister Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Kent.” Lady Matlock informed Elizabeth. Elizabeth smiled at Georgiana.

“Elizabeth is somewhat acquainted with Aunt Catherine, Aunt Helen. Her cousin is Aunt Catherine’s clergyman.”

“Mr. Collins is your cousin, Miss Bennet?” asked Lady Matlock.

“Yes, he is. He is also to marry my good friend Charlotte Lucas in March.” Elizabeth answered.

“Aunt Helen, they are to be married on the 15th of March.” Georgiana could not resist adding.

Both the Earl and Countess looked on in amazement. “Having met Reverend Collins I would not be surprised if he did not know the significance of that date.” Lord Matlock said dryly.

“You have taken my cousin’s measure well then, my Lord.” Elizabeth replied with a very cheeky grin on her face.

“Georgiana,” Lord Matlock said addressing his niece. “I am glad you have made such an acquaintance in Miss Bennet. She will certainly keep things from becoming too dull.” Turning to Elizabeth he added. “You are most welcome in our home any time.”

“Thank you Lord Matlock, you are a most gracious host.”

When dinner was over the gentleman allowed the ladies to retire to the music room whilst the gentleman shared their port.

“Well William,” the Earl began, “I certainly approve of Miss Bennet. Her lively manners seem to be just what Georgiana has needed. Does she know about Ramsgate?”

“Yes she does. I have no doubt in her secrecy. I was forced to tell her in November when the rascal himself showed up in Hertfordshire near the place where I was staying. He tried his usual lies with Miss Bennet, but she was not deceived by him at all. She came to me to inform me what he was about and it was then that I related my history with Wickham to her. She deserved to know everything since she has been such a help with Georgiana.”

“I see, what kind of family does she come from?”

“Her father is a respectable landowner. His estate has been in the family for a long time. Unfortunately, it is entailed to the very Mr. Collins we were talking about. Mr. Bennet has no heir to inherit, only 5 daughters.”

The Earl grew concerned over this. “Miss Bennet is not looking to take advantage of you, is she?”

Darcy smiled, “If anyone is being taken advantage of, it is Miss Bennet. I am certain that her motives for her friendship are pure and honorable. She treats Georgiana almost as a younger sister and her affection for her is sincere. That is why I allowed Georgiana to invite her to come to London to be with us.”

The Earl was relieved at this. He liked this Miss Bennet and wanted Georgiana to be able to continue her acquaintance. He had worried for his niece since he had learned of her near elopement with his brother-in-law’s late steward’s son. Darcy and Richard had come to him asking for advice on what to do about Wickham. Short of kidnapping him and sending him on a boat to another part of the world, he could not find a way to deal with him that would ensure Georgiana’s reputation. He counseled them to wait. Someday Wickham would make a mistake and they would take advantage of that. And he had been proven somewhat correct. When they learned of Wickham’s entering the militia, Richard had seen to it that his life was made as difficult as possible by arranging Wickham’s transfer.

After an appropriate length of time, the gentleman rejoined the ladies. Georgiana was asked to play. She consented and proceeded to play the air her brother had first heard her play just after she had met Elizabeth.

“You have quite mastered that piece, Georgiana,” Darcy beamed when she had finished. “Will you play again for us?”

“Elizabeth and I have been practicing a duet. I would like to play it with her now. Elizabeth, will you join me?”

“Certainly Georgiana,” said Elizabeth as she moved to join her at the pianoforte. Darcy was surprised again when Georgiana began the Sinfonia as the prelude to Elizabeth’s song. Then Georgiana transitioned to Elizabeth’s part and she began singing; he was transfixed.

“But who may abide the day of his coming” *

Her rich voice resonated throughout the room. Darcy was not the only one caught up in her performance. His Uncle and Aunt were enchanted as well.

“…for He is like a refiner’s fire.” She finished he song and Georgiana played the ending to her selection.

“Miss Bennet, Georgiana, that was magnificent!” Lady Matlock lauded.

“Thank you Lady Matlock,” Elizabeth replied, sensible to the compliment. She turned to Georgiana and smiled. “You were correct Georgiana, I believe they liked it very well.”

“Is this what you have been working on while I have been away from home on business?” Darcy asked, the pride showing in his face.

“Yes Fitzwilliam, we wanted to surprise you.” Georgiana’s pleasure radiated form her face.

Darcy was most well pleased. He was elated to see the ease his sister was displaying playing in public, even if it was only his Aunt and Uncle. He had never seen her this at ease playing in the presence of anyone except the evenings at home with Mrs. Annesley and him. And with Miss Elizabeth too, he mused.

All too soon it was time to leave. Darcy, Georgiana and Elizabeth were all pleased with the evening, but for different reasons. Darcy was relieved that none of his admiration for Elizabeth appeared to escape. He never caught his Aunt looking at him in a knowing manner. He was glad his Aunt and Uncle approved of Georgiana’s friendship with Elizabeth. He did not know what it might do to her if their Uncle had demanded it be severed. Georgiana was happy her Uncle appeared to like Elizabeth as much as her Aunt did. He would be a major obstacle to overcome in her schemes for her brother and her friend. She also saw the way Fitzwilliam looked at Elizabeth when she was singing. All the eyes had been focused on Elizabeth when she sang and Georgiana’s position allowed her to discern the look of pure admiration on her brother’s face. Elizabeth was too lost in her song to notice this, though. She was pleased that Lord and Lady Matlock seemed to accept her as Georgiana’s friend. She had been nervous about her singing for she knew Georgiana was the superior musician, but it had turned out well.

Mr. Darcy’s close presence in the carriage had been mercifully short. One week finished, five more to go.

* G.F. Handel’s Messiah, No.6

<<>>

They attended morning services together and spent the remainder of the day quietly reading in the library. That afternoon Georgiana began a rather disconcerting habit. When the three of them were together in a room, Georgiana manufactured an excuse of needing to check on some item or another. She would leave Elizabeth and Darcy together alone for a while until she returned. Both secretly were very vexed with Georgiana, though neither would show it. Georgiana returned time and time again disappointed to find them exactly as she had left them or with one of them gone upon her return. Elizabeth and Darcy each were afraid letting slip some form of admiration when Georgiana left them in such a manner. Each was relieved when the other would leave or Georgiana would return.

The week passed by peaceably until Friday evening during the night at the Theatre. Elizabeth was excited. She dearly loved Shakespeare and was eager to see this particular play performed, since she had only read it at home in her father’s study. She would also be wearing another of the new gowns that had been made for just such an occasion. Each time she had worn one of her new gowns she could not help but marvel at how she now owned such fine things. In preparing her toilet for the evening she had allowed her maid, Sally, to style her hair in a daring new way. Borrowing combs from Georgiana, Elizabeth was extremely pleased with her appearance. She would not shame her hosts by her appearance in public this evening.

Darcy’s jaw dropped when Elizabeth came down the stairs to prepare to leave. To him she was a vision of beauty unlike anything he had ever seen before. Georgiana looked at her brother with a slight, smug smile on her face. ‘Try not to show admiration for THAT Fitzwilliam!’ she thought.

By the time she made it to the landing, Darcy had composed himself enough to offer an arm to Elizabeth and Georgiana to escort them to the carriage.

“I shall be the envy of every man in London tonight with such visions of beauty on either side of me.” Darcy said, betrayed by his tongue.

“I think your friend Mr. Bingley may disagree with you, Mr. Darcy. If not for Georgiana here, I would say he would be correct, for who else can compare to my Jane!” Elizabeth countered.

‘You do Elizabeth,’ thought both Darcy and Georgiana.

The Darcys’ entrance into the theatre was met with no little amount of interest. Darcy alone would have been enough to draw the attention of the throng but the presence of Miss Darcy, who would soon be fully out, on one arm and the mysterious young beauty on his other was enough to start the tongues wagging. Not much was known of this young lady other than that she had been staying at the Darcys’ and had appeared at different places about town with Miss Darcy. Conjecture as to her identity was vast, but all of this was ignored by Darcy. He was used to it by now. When Bingley joined them with another mysterious beauty on his arm and an unknown couple, speculation started anew. The two mysterious women, while very different in coloring, appeared to be sisters. Many wondered if there were any more like them from wherever they came from; the women fretted, the men hoped.

The entire party made their way to Darcy’s box. Bingley and Jane took the first seats, followed by the Gardiners. Before he had a chance to react, Georgiana sat down next to the Gardiners and bade Elizabeth to sit next to her. Resigning himself to the inevitable, Darcy sat on the end next to Elizabeth. He produced a pair of opera glasses and handed them to Elizabeth.

“I knew that you did not have a pair and I know how loath my sister can be at sharing hers. You may use these this evening if you would like, Miss Elizabeth.”

They were beautiful and Elizabeth gave him her thanks. Soon the lights were dimmed and the performance was underway. Predictably, Darcy missed most of it, his attention drawn to the woman beside him. At first she was conscious of his nearness, but soon lost herself in the performance. Her face shone with joy at the close of the first Act.

The gentlemen offered to fetch the ladies their refreshments between the first two acts. They returned with their drinks quickly, Darcy deftly managing to avoid being waylaid.

Mrs. Gardiner had a chance to comment to Elizabeth about her new gown. “That gown looks lovely on you Elizabeth! Is it new?”

“Yes Aunt.” Elizabeth decided now was as good a time as any to explain her new clothing. “Georgiana and I went shopping together last Monday. This and the gown I wore to dinner last week are two on the ones she helped pick out. I know you can see how fine they are. I also know that you know my father sent extra funds for me to purchase some new clothing. Mr. Darcy and Georgiana insisted on my ordering them from places Georgiana frequents and bearing the extra cost. I tried to refuse but in the end was forced to relent or risk seeming ungrateful and rude to my hosts. But this is such a lovely gown. I cannot believe I own such a marvelous garment!”

“Mr. and Miss Darcy are very generous. I believe they thought only of your comfort and pleasure.” Mrs. Gardiner wisely replied, fully understanding the true extent of their motives.

<<>>

The second act saw the same seating arrangements. By this time Darcy began to see the advantage of being able to look at Elizabeth without being seen. He could appear to be looking at the stage while needing to move his eyes sideways only slightly to look at Elizabeth. He could not help himself.

Between the next two acts Lord and Lady Matlock came to call at Darcy’s box. Introductions were quickly made and Georgiana made plans to spend an afternoon at Afton House the following week. Lady Matlock was much impressed by Elizabeth’s sister. She noted that Bingley looked on her adoringly. She was a beauty but she had a quiet strength to her. After meeting Elizabeth, Lady Matlock was not too surprised to find so much in the sister.

Lord Matlock was impressed on how well Elizabeth looked that evening. She was simply stunning! He noticed that his nephew had a difficult time keeping his eyes off her. Her sister was a goddess but he paid her no mind. This was very interesting. He would have to follow any developments on this front. He also knew his wife would be quite keen on hearing his observations. They had both worried about their nephew. They could see he was lonely and began to despair him finding a suitable wife. They had witnessed the two extreme marriages of his two sisters and had come away very much affected by the outcomes. His sister Anne had married a man she respected and admired and the years they had spent together were happy and filled with love. His other sister Catherine had married for more material reasons. She had never loved her husband. He was rich and Catherine now had Rosings, but at what cost? She had become cynical, controlling and vindictive. Poor Anne suffered under her mother’s thumb. It was concern for Anne that caused him to send Richard and now Helena to give Anne a respite. If it took a woman like Miss Elizabeth to make his nephew happy, so be it. As long as he truly loved his bride and she loved him in return, without regard for his money or place in society, he would not stand in Darcy’s way. Lack of fortune and connections did not matter as long as they loved and respected each other. That was what he wanted for his children and that was what he desired for his sisters’ children as well.

The Matlocks returned to their own box for the start of the third act. Jane asked Elizabeth to sit by her and the Gardiners happily moved down to accommodate them. Darcy felt the loss of Elizabeth but was finally able to devote his attention to the performance. The fourth act proceeded as in the same manner as the third. Several of Darcy’s acquaintances stopped by between the third and fourth and the fourth and fifth acts. Each time the entire party was introduced and polite conversation ensued. The party was rearranged for the fifth act as once again Bingley claimed Jane’s sole attention. The seating was rearranged as it had been during the first two acts. Darcy was pleased and forced to withhold a smile. He had seen enough of the play to carry on an intelligent conversation afterwards.

Both carriages made their way back to Darcy House, where Mrs. Thomas had seen to all of the details and the food was ready for them in a very timely manner. The party enjoyed talking over the play while at the table. Georgiana had determined to have the seating be informal so they were spread companionably around the table. Elizabeth especially had enjoyed the performance. The acting was notable, the company enjoyable and she felt like a duchess in her new gown. What a magical evening. Darcy and Georgina took pleasure in her obvious delight. Georgiana loved being able to give such a gift to her dear friend. She was still very cognizant that she owed Elizabeth a great debt of gratitude, one that she doubted she could ever repay. Not unless her brother could look around long enough to see what was before his very eyes. Day by day Georgiana became convinced that the two of them would do very well together indeed!

At last Bingley ordered his carriage readied and prepared to take Jane and the Gardiners home. He had had a wonderful evening. He was loath to have it end but he knew they must be off. Elizabeth wished her sister a good night and promised to call the next week. Mr. Gardiner once again thanked Darcy for a wonderful evening.

“It was my pleasure Mr. Gardiner. Thank you for joining us this evening. I very much enjoyed the company of your whole party sir.”

With that they were off to the carriage. Elizabeth went to bed with visions of the theatre in her head as well as the delightfully disconcerting memory of the nearness of one Fitzwilliam Darcy.

<<>>

Monday morning Georgiana was reading through her letters when she cried out happily.

“Good news Georgiana?” Elizabeth asked.

“Mrs. Annesley’s daughter, Rachael Glass, had a baby boy on Saturday. They named him Henry Thomas after his grandfathers. Mother and baby are doing well.”

“I am glad to hear it. Please give Mrs. Annesley my congratulations when you write back.”

“I will Elizabeth,” Georgiana replied.

<<>>

The next three weeks passed pleasurably enough. Georgiana and Elizabeth happily spent their days together. They visited museums and lectures together, and when the weather allowed, they enjoyed walking in various parks. During the times they were home, Elizabeth would retreat to the library when Georgiana attended her studies. Sometimes she would join her in the music room when Georgiana was practicing the pianoforte. Georgiana kept contriving excuses to leave her brother and Elizabeth alone. Several times Georgiana had mentioned the possibility of Elizabeth’s extending her stay but Elizabeth remained vague. She knew her father missed her. He had written twice! She missed him and she also missed Mary. From her letters, and the ones to Aunt Gardiner, Elizabeth learned the Mary was continuing to improve but that her mother had been a real trial for her. As much as she would have liked to stay, she knew she should not. Besides, the frequent presence of Mr. Darcy continued to pray on her composure. He elicited very strong emotions in her and she was afraid her heart would be totally lost if she did not gain some distance soon.

The actual decision was taken out of her hands by a letter from Mary. It seemed that her mother had somehow gotten her hands on a letter that mentioned Mr. Bingley’s courting of Jane. From that point on the house had been in even more chaos than normal. Elizabeth knew that she and Jane needed to return for the sake of Mary and their father. Jane confirmed this with Elizabeth, so plans were made to return to Longbourn. Mr. Bingley had offered to escort them back in his coach, but those plans were quickly cast aside one day when he paid Jane a visit.

Bingley entered the Gardiner’s house highly agitated. He did not take long to reveal the source of his agitation.

“Miss Bennet. I received a letter from my solicitor in Manchester. It appears that matters have once again come up there that require my personal attendance. I am sorry to say this, but I cannot return to Hertfordshire with you next week as I must leave for Manchester the day after tomorrow. The nature of this trip demands that I be away for at least a month, possibly two. This is a very critical time for this business and I owe it to all who depend on it for their livelihoods to be there.” Bingley took hold of Jane’s hand. “I do not wish to leave you again like this but I must. I will send word to Netherfield and your father when I know I can return. I truly am sorry.”

“Do not apologize to me for this, Mr. Bingley. You are a man of honor who must see to his responsibilities. I can wait sir.”

“Thank you Miss Bennet. I will speak to Darcy about providing an alternate mode of transportation home.”

“I am sure we can secure seats on the post. My Uncle will send a servant with us.”

“Nonsense. That will not be necessary. I will talk to Darcy and we will arrange something more suitable. I will not have it any other way.”

“Thank you Mr. Bingley. I will miss you.”

It took all of Bingley’s self control to not drop down on his knee right there and propose. But he would not do that. Jane deserved a proper courtship and he knew where he wanted to ask her to marry him. It could wait.

Bingley called on Darcy and briefed him of the situation. Darcy immediately agreed to see that the Miss Bennets were taken safely back to Longbourn. Bingley thanked his friend and went to make his own arrangements for his departure.

Georgiana was not pleased to discover that Elizabeth would not be staying any longer than planned. She was equally vexed that all of her matchmaking efforts did not appear to be succeeding. Oh it was clear that her brother was smitten with Elizabeth, he just refused to act against what he felt was his duty. Elizabeth had shown signs of being attracted to her brother as well. It was not so much what she said or did but what she would not do. She would no longer engage him in the teasing manner she had at the beginning. She would avoid being alone in his presence. It was not because she did not desire his company. She was always friendly with him when in company. Georgiana could see that she was trying not to show any tender feelings she might have.

It was not without a few tears that Georgiana finally saw Elizabeth off. Darcy had provided his carriage and his most trusted footmen to escort the two sisters home. Elizabeth and Georgiana promised to write and Georgiana promised another invitation to visit in the future.

“I have much to show you at Pemberley. You must promise to come this summer if I can talk Fitzwilliam into it.” Georgiana persisted.

“I will have to see Georgiana. Thank you for everything. I have had a marvelous time.” Elizabeth said.

“I shall miss you.” Georgiana said, holding back the tears.

“Georgiana, Mrs. Annesley will be back in a few days. You will be fine without me.” Elizabeth assured her.

“No one can replace you Elizabeth.” Georgiana could no longer hold back her tears. Elizabeth dried them off, hugged her tight one more time and walked to the awaiting carriage.

“I shall expect a letter soon, Georgiana!” Elizabeth called out as the carriage began its journey to Hertfordshire.

Chapter 21

The Darcy carriage pulled up in front of Longbourn just after lunch. Mary was the first out to greet her sisters, followed closely by their father. Mr. Bennet missed his two eldest daughters greatly whilst they were in London. He had spent more and more time with Mary but he longed for the company of his dearest Elizabeth again. Mr. Bennet instructed the driver to take the carriage to the stables and to tend to the horses there. He would see that Mr. Darcy’s men were also fed, before they began their return journey to London. It was the least he could do for them after seeing his two precious daughters safely home.

When Jane entered into the house, she was met by her mother who began exclaiming over her good fortune of almost securing Mr. Bingley for a husband and how their worries would be over when she did. Jane was mortified and Mary threw Elizabeth a resigned shrug. Elizabeth was glad she had not allowed Jane to brave the onslaught without her support.

That night, Jane and Elizabeth invited Mary to their nightly chat and she was very pleased to be included. For a long time she thought nothing of these sisterly conferences, but since that night at the Netherfield Ball she had become jealous of her two eldest sisters’ intimacy. Jane had Elizabeth, Lydia had Kitty and Mary had…Fordyce’s Sermons.

Mary was asked to acquaint the other two regarding the news of the house and neighborhood whilst they were away. She took great enjoyment from the exercise and even surprised her sisters with her sometimes-witty commentary.

“Kitty and Lydia spend almost all of their waking moments either talking about officers, thinking about officers, or walking to Meryton to be near officers. There were times I thought I would scream if some one had said another thing about a ‘red coat’.” Mary continued later, “Mama is an interesting paradox. On one hand she is mortified that Charlotte Lucas will one day take her place as Mistress of Longbourn, but on the other hand she is offering Lady Lucas all kinds of advice on Charlotte’s wedding. She prefaces everything with ‘The Future Mistress of Longbourn deserves…’ As I said, it highly diverting.” Elizabeth was delighted in the continued blossoming of her next youngest sister.

Before Mary left for bed, Elizabeth asked, “Mary, would you allow Jane and me to experiment on your hairstyle tomorrow? If you do not like it you can always change it. We were talking about some of the things we saw in Town and we both thought several might look very becoming on you!” Mary hesitated. Elizabeth went to reassure her. “Mary, before we left we promised to help you and be by your side. We intend to do that, but Jane will not be here for very long. Mr. Bingley will not be gone that long and when he returns her days at Longbourn are numbered.” Jane blushed but did not contradict her. “Let us make the most of the time we have left together. Let us fulfill our pledge to you. And besides, it will keep us out of Mama’s path for at least one morning!”

At last Mary seemed to relax and she acknowledged her acceptance before she left. When she was gone, Elizabeth turned to Jane. “Thank you for agreeing to allow Mary into our conversation tonight. I would like to continue if you do not mind. She is changing before our eyes. And I was serious about you leaving soon. Do not deny it, you know I am right Jane.”

“I cannot deny the fact that it appears to be heading that way. But Lizzy, Mr. Bingley has not made me an offer yet.”

“I think the only thing that has stopped him from doing so is his business in Manchester. I do not think that he will wait long once he returns.”

“I hope you are right, Lizzy.” Jane admitted

“Of course I am! Now let us form our plan about Mary.”

It was agreed that they would continue to invite her to their nightly chats. Elizabeth would continue to walk with her and Jane would work on her social skills and manners. Elizabeth would also make suggestions on her pianoforte performance. She did not think that it would take that much to help her there. Her very newfound maturity would naturally lead to more maturity in her performance as well.

The next morning, Elizabeth collected Mary for a short walk before breakfast. She told her that she and Jane had planned to spend much time with her in the coming weeks. Mary agreed to resume their walks as the weather allowed and was overjoyed at the permanent invitation to their nightly chats.

After breakfast, Jane, Elizabeth and Mary retired upstairs to Mary’s room. With the help of their maid, they tried out the different hairstyles. They especially like two of them and Mary agreed that they looked well on her. The maid agreed to help Mary and the three of them ventured downstairs for lunch. As they entered, Mr. Bennet looked at his middle child and smiled warmly at her. When the opportunity arrived, he quietly complemented her on the new look. While the change would not be called dramatic, the overall effect was a general softening of the features of her face. She might not yet be called beautiful but she could now be called pretty, a word rarely associated with Miss Mary Bennet before. Changes in her posture would be Jane’s next project.

The afternoon saw Elizabeth at Lucas Lodge being informed of all the wedding details by her friend. There was now around one month left til the wedding. Charlotte’s mother had planned a shopping trip to London for the next week. Charlotte invited Elizabeth to come with her but she declined. This was a poor time to leave Longbourn, for Mary and Jane’s sake.

“If you will not come to London with me, then you must come visit me in Kent. Papa and Maria are to visit me at Easter and I would like it if you would come with them.”

“Charlotte, I have just returned from being gone over 6 weeks and now you wish for me to spend another month away from home so soon after?”

“It is nearly two months from now. Please say yes, Maria is counting on you to come.”

“I will speak to my father, but I cannot guarantee anything before I do. Are you sure you would like house guests so soon after you are married?”

“I do not mind. Maria will be there if you do not come, so do not feel that you will be intruding on us.” Charlotte pleaded.

Elizabeth realized that this would put her at Hunsford at nearly the same time that Georgiana and her brother would be at Rosings. Of course she would love to see Georgiana again but she was afraid it would be too soon to be confronted with her brother. She would have to consider it more before she accepted. She was also worried that her father would not permit her to go so soon after her latest visit. Mary would be there to support Jane against her mother, that was not a concern, but Mr. Darcy kept coming back into her thoughts.

“I will tell you soon Charlotte, I promise. Now tell me all that I do not already know about the wedding plans. Do you know yet where you will spend the wedding night?”

Charlotte filled her in on all the details only ladies would be concerned about. Elizabeth still wondered at the wisdom of her friend’s choice but she did note that Charlotte did not seem to be too concerned about her future marriage partner. Elizabeth began to understand that she would make him a good wife. Charlotte had the good sense to know how to manage such a man, and to carve out enough of a life of her own to keep her content. Elizabeth would not wish it on herself but she understood that many women would give everything they had to be in Charlotte’s position. She would never be poor and that was enough for Charlotte.

<<>>

The next item on Jane and Elizabeth’s agenda for Mary was a meeting with their father. They would need some extra funds if they were to continue the transformation of Mary’s appearance.

As agreed, Elizabeth began the campaign. “Papa, Mary has told us of the extra time you have been spending with her. Thank you. We both were worried that Mama would overwhelm her whilst we were away just as she has made the first steps to becoming a more mature woman.”

“Jane, Lizzy, there is no need to thank me. I have only done what I should have been doing all along with Mary. Indeed I should make more of an effort with Kitty and Lydia. I would if I thought they would actually listen to me.”

“Oh Papa, do not be so hard on yourself. Jane and I are hardly any less to blame than you. But for now I think one project is more than enough for us to handle.”

“I noticed the new hairstyle on Mary today. That was your doing I suppose?”

“Yes, Papa, Elizabeth and I thought it was a good place to start.” Jane said entering the conversation.

“Well girls,” Mr. Bennet replied, “I think you made a good start there. Tell me what is next.”

“Jane and I have invited Mary to participate in our nightly discussions.” Mr. Bennet was very pleased to hear this. He knew Mary would be honored by being invited to join and that it would do her self-confidence a world of good.

“I have asked Mary to continue our morning walks together,” Elizabeth continued, “the exercise will do her good and it is a time that we can use for uninterrupted conversations. I also plan to continue taking a book with me for discussion when the times arise. We have already had many of these and I have found Mary’s insights to be surprisingly perceptive. But that is just another example of how much I have ignored her to not know the depth of her mind on anything other than morality.”

“What is your particular part in this Jane?” her father asked.

“My part is less defined Papa. It is more my position to be with her in company and to assist her in learning more acceptable social behavior. I will start be sitting with her with Mama and helping her learn from there.”

“I see. Now you must have more plans and I would be obtuse to think that in some way I was not to be involved.”

“Yes Papa,” Elizabeth answered, “I will be speaking to her about her performance on the pianoforte. She needs to learn to play with more feeling and your encouragement of her improvements would be most welcome.”

“And,” he prodded.

Elizabeth smiled at his perceptiveness but she was not ready to press home the main point just yet.

“And it would be most helpful if you would continue spending time with her,” she added.

“And,” he prodded again.

“And we will need a little bit of ‘working capital’ for our effort to improve her dress. We are not asking for a whole new wardrobe. You have already been more than generous with Jane and me. What we are asking for is a small amount of money to help Mary make subtle changes to the gowns she already has. We thought about asking Mama for this but…”

“I understand.” Mr. Bennet finished. “I think you two have crafted a well thought out plan. I will be your financial backer. Do not worry, your mother will never know. Let me know how much you think you might need and I will make sure you have it. I must say you have made a very good start. Mary is much improved already.”

“Mary is the one who deserves the praise Papa. None of this would have happened had she not wished it so.” Jane replied.

“Nevertheless, you deserve some credit. I believe I may be down to only two silly daughters. Once you finish with Mary I expect you to work your magic on Lydia and Kitty!”

Jane excused herself but Elizabeth stayed behind to talk more with her father.

“Papa, I visited Charlotte Lucas today.”

“Have you reconciled yourself to accept her choice yet?”

“Yes I have. I see now that she understands what she is doing. She will make him a good wife and I am happy for her that she will someday have Longbourn. If one of us could not have it then I am glad it will have such a capable Mistress.”

“I am glad you are so reasonable about this Elizabeth. I would be sorry for you to have lost your friendship over this.”

“Yes. Papa, Charlotte asked me to come visit her at Hunsford when her father and Maria visit over Easter.”

“Do you wish to go Lizzy?”

“I am not sure. I just returned home from a nearly 7-week absence. Would you be disappointed if I left again so soon?”

“I would miss your company but if you want to go you have my permission. Do you want to Lizzy?”

“I honestly do not know yet Papa. I will give you my answer in a few days.”

“By that time you will be begging me to allow you this relief from your mother!”

“I believe you may be correct Papa!” Elizabeth laughed as she placed a kiss on his cheek before she left him.

<<>>

The first time Elizabeth wore one of her new gowns her mother’s reaction was not wholly unexpected.

“Why Elizabeth, what a beautiful new gown. I suppose you bought that in town?”

“Yes Mama,” Elizabeth answered.”

“That is a very fine gown indeed, how ever could you afford such a thing?”

Elizabeth had anticipated her mother’s question and had decided on the approach she would take. “It was a gift from Georgiana, Mama. In fact she had several made for me.”

“I would have expected nothing less. How many rich young men did you meet?”

Elizabeth struggled not to roll her eyes. “I was introduced to Mr. Darcy’s friends whenever we met. But remember Georgiana is not yet out and our opportunity to be in company was limited.”

“Yes, but did you receive many gentleman callers?” her mother prodded.

“No Mama, the gentlemen came to see Mr. Darcy on business.”

“Perhaps the next time you stay with the Darcys you will be able to meet with more men.” Her mother stated, assuming Elizabeth would be a frequent guest of the Darcys.

Elizabeth then steered the conversation in another direction.

<<>>

The next few days passed in an expected manner. By the end of them Elizabeth was happy to inform Charlotte that she was accepting her invitation to visit Hunsford.

Mary and Elizabeth continued their morning walks and gradually increased the length of their excursions as Mary became more and more able to keep up with her sister. Sometimes Jane would accompany them and the three enjoyed their ever-increasing intimacy.

One morning Elizabeth and Mary were discussing Wordworth’s poems from Lyrical Ballads.

Elizabeth read:

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it griev’d me my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose-tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trail’d its wreathes;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopp’d and play’d:
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made,
It seem’d a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If I these thoughts may not prevent,
If such be of my creed the plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?*

“What are your thoughts on this, Mary?” Elizabeth asked.

“I find his way of describing nature interesting. He appears to eschew verbose, allusion-filled images in favor of a lighter treatment. He sees nature as simple, pure and so chooses simple verse to reflect this.” Mary offered.

“I can see your point Mary. I am struck though by the pain he is expressing.”

“How so, Elizabeth?”

“Do you not feel it in the lines ‘What man has made of man?’ There must be some deep hurt that is able to intrude at any time into his thoughts, even when he is in such a peaceful environment. I would not wish to be hurt so, Mary.”

“I would not either, Elizabeth. But what choice do we have? Retreating from society is not the answer. I have tried that and found it brings no true contentment.”

“Yes Mary. We do not find contentment without companionship do we?”

“No we do not. I do not believe I have ever been so at peace with myself than I have been these last three months. Even when you and Jane where gone, I found that I could bear the chaos of Longbourn much better knowing that I had your support.”

“I am so happy you came to me, Mary. You are growing to be quite a woman you know. Papa, Jane and I are very proud of you.”

“Now if only Mama would notice.” Mary sighed.

“Give her time, Mary. Eventually she will see what we have seen all along.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth, I really am glad you are my sister.” Mary smiled.

Elizabeth smiled back at her and they continued their walk and their discussion of Wordworth’s poetry.

*William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads “LINES Written in Early Spring”

<<>>

Mr. Bennet called Jane into his study one morning.

“Jane dear, I have just received a missive from your Mr. Bingley. I must say that I am grateful that he personally called to ask permission to court you. It would have taken me a week to decipher his meaning had he written. Would you like to see his letter?”

“May I?”

“Of course dear. Here, read it yourself.” Mr. Bennet chuckled as he handed Jane the letter. Jane appeared very excited under her calm exterior. Her excitement quickly abated as she comprehended the deplorable nature of Bingley’s hand. She struggled for several minutes trying to make it out. At last she handed the letter back to her father.

“Miss Bingley was not exaggerating when she described her brother’s correspondence. I think that he said that his business in Manchester was very complex and that he anticipated being there at least through the end of March. Is that what you gathered?”

“Yes it is, Jane. I am sorry he is so delayed. I know you miss him no matter how hard you try and hide it, dear.”

“I do miss him, Papa. He is the best man I know.”

“If even better than your own father?”

“Oh Papa! Will you ever tire of teasing us?”

“No Jane, you must allow me this one comfort in life. Now run along and share your news with Elizabeth. She is much better at consoling you than I.”

<<>>

Before long it was the day of the wedding of Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte made a lovely bride and Lady Lucas was ecstatic. Mr. Collins could not help telling everyone how his ‘dear Mrs. Collins’ had made him the luckiest of men. Before she left the wedding breakfast, Elizabeth promised to write to her friend and confirmed her plans to visit Hunsford.

Elizabeth had exchanged several letters with Georgiana since she had left London. Georgiana was thrilled that she would be seeing Elizabeth so soon. However, she decided to keep this bit of news from her brother. It would be lovely to surprise him. This would be the first time she had ever eagerly anticipated a trip to visit her Aunt Catherine at Rosings Park!

Chapter 22

One week before Elizabeth was due to depart for Kent, Mr. Bennet received another letter from Mr. Bingley. After a half hour’s examination, he sent for his eldest daughter.

“Jane, I have received another letter from your Mr. Bingley. Are your cryptography skills up to deciphering it or would you rather just have me summarize what I think he said.”

Jane blushed slightly as she answered her father. “Please tell me father, I would rather not wait to read it myself.”

“Very well then. Mr. Bingley says that his business would be completed in the next few days in Manchester. From there he will travel to Lincoln to visit his sister, Miss Bingley, and their Aunt. He is unsure if he will be there more than 2 days, but he will definitely not stay more than four. After that, he must travel to London for a few days and then he will come to Netherfield. So then I think we can safely say that we shall be seeing the gentleman in around ten days time.” Jane was very pleased with this news. “Why not wait to tell your mother about this until closer to the time of Mr. Bingley’s arrival?” Mr. Bennet asked, his eyes filled with mirth.

“Whatever you wish, father.”

But Jane was happy to keep this news to herself as well. The one person she would share it with was Elizabeth. Jane went in search of her and found her with Mary at the pianoforte.

“That was excellent, Mary. You played that with much more feeling this time. Remember. After you master the basic fingering you must ask yourself what feeling and emotions do the piece stir in you. Identify those and concentrate on them as you play. They will begin to influence how you play the notes and the song will become much more personal to you and your performance more pleasing to yourself and to others.”

When Elizabeth was finished Jane sat with them and told them her news. Mary was honored that her eldest sister would trust her with keeping this secret.

“Mary, why not play this piece through several times whilst Jane and I go out into the Garden. I think that solitude right now will allow you to concentrate on hearing the soul of the music better than if I stayed with you. When you finish come and join us outside. It is a lovely day!” Elizabeth suggested.

Mary agreed to the wisdom of this. In fact she was eager to try Elizabeth’s suggestion. She already felt the music begin to stir her and she was anxious to explore it more deeply.

Jane and Elizabeth progressed to the garden. It was April now and the countryside had come out of its slumber. The early flowers had begun to bloom. Tulips, irises and daffodils exposed their delicate faces to the sun. Spring had begun and the air was heavy with its perfume. Elizabeth breathed in deeply before turning to her sister.

“There are new beginnings in the air, Jane. Soon you will be beginning a new life just as these flowers. I do not think Mr. Bingley will wait too long before declaring himself. Are you prepared to give him your answer, Jane?” Elizabeth asked very seriously.

Jane was taken aback by this speech from her sister. Rarely was Elizabeth this thoughtful and serious when talking about their lives. She usually saved her most insightful comments for discussing books with their father.

“I have thought it over very carefully and I know my heart and mind, Lizzy.” Jane finally replied.

“Good, Jane. I will not be here when he returns. I know you feel much more comfortable discussing things with Mary now, but she still does not know you as I know you, Jane. As long as you are confident in your decision, then I can leave for Kent in good conscience.”

The answer to Elizabeth’s question hung in the air. Elizabeth was not going to press Jane for an answer. If Jane wanted to tell her she would listen, but they both knew what that answer would be.

Finally Elizabeth broke the silence. “The choice of a marriage partner is the most important decision we will ever make. A husband will have complete power over us. Our father will not be able to protect us. We leave our home and make another. I know you will make a wise choice, Jane.” And Elizabeth said no more on the subject.

They continued to walk in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, allowing their surroundings to draw them in. They came upon a bench and Jane asked Elizabeth if she remembered the time they used to play at that very bench.

“Yes I do, Jane. We used to pretend it was the seat of a curricle and we would take turns ‘racing the horses’ from Longbourn to Netherfield. Those were wonderful times. Jane.”

“That they were, Lizzy”

They continued to remember times from their childhood. Mary found them laughing over another one of Elizabeth’s escapades from her childhood. Soon Mary began supplying her point of view from many different events. Mary knew more than either woman suspected about their (mostly Elizabeth’s) past indiscretions and the various punishments their father was forced to pass out.

“I remember the day you came in after being caught in the rainstorm. Papa was so worried about you. He tried not to show it but I could tell. When he finally allowed you to go out again you were vary relieved, though you hated having to tell someone where you were going.”

“I wonder how you ever found out about that Mary? I only ever told Jane.” Elizabeth asked.

Mary appeared sheepish at this question. “I overheard Papa talking to you.”

“But we were in his study.”

“There was no one in the hall so I listened through the key latch.” Mary admitted.

Both Jane and Elizabeth looked at Mary incredulously until Elizabeth’s mouth twitched and she began to laugh. Soon Jane and Mary joined in.

“I certainly hope you didn’t do that very often, Mary. I do not believe you were ever caught in the act.” Elizabeth finally replied. “I probably should not ask this, but what else did you discover by eavesdropping on Papa like that?”

Mary then started reciting the different conferences she overheard with different sisters.

“You mean Papa actually ordered Lydia to stop chasing after Samuel Jenkins!” Elizabeth cried. Samuel Jenkins was a young man who had stayed at Lucas Lodge 4 years ago.

“Why else do you think she left the poor boy alone. What 16 year old wants or needs an eleven year old following him around.” Mary said.

“Well that certainly explains a few things. Like the fit Lydia threw over not being allowed out of the house for three days!” Elizabeth concluded.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in more reminiscing. When it came time to get ready for dinner, the three sisters were weary from their afternoon of laughter.

<<>>

The day before Elizabeth was to leave, her father asked her to join him in his study.

“On pleasure bent again, Elizabeth?”

“I think you know I would not be going but for my eagerness to see Miss Darcy again and my faith in Mary to support Jane.” Elizabeth answered.

“At least this time you need not be ashamed of your wardrobe!” Mr. Bennet teased.

“You never mentioned anything about it to me. You must know that the Darcys helped pay for it. We could never have afforded such beautiful things.”

“Yes, and I believe I can guess a motive for their generosity. They did not wish you to be uncomfortable, did they Lizzy?”

“Yes, in the end I was forced to relent because I could see the reasonableness of the offer and because I knew Georgiana was not trying to buy my favor.” Elizabeth replied.

Mr. Bennet marveled at the daughter who sat before him. She was beautiful, intelligent, humble and wise. She was a remarkable woman. Soon some one worthy would recognize that and take her away. Jane would soon be gone, of this he was certain. Mr. Bingley had done nothing to disprove his worthiness of his eldest’s affections. There was a man in Elizabeth’s acquaintance who was her equal; unfortunately he was also her superior in wealth and connections. Mr. Bennet doubted whether such an obstacle could be surmounted. Finally he answered his daughter.

“Elizabeth, I shall miss you. I always do when you are gone. Please enjoy your time away. I believe Longbourn will be even more chaotic when you return. I am counting on your bringing some sense back into the house! Please give my greetings to my cousin and his bride and to Mr. & Miss Darcy.”

“Thank you Papa, I will.”

Then they launched into a discussion of a new book Mr. Bennet had just read.

<<>>

Later that day Elizabeth took advantage of the opportunity to take a stroll in the garden with Mary. She had some very important things to discuss with her in private.

“Mary, I want to talk with you about Jane and Mr. Bingley. He should be arriving after a few days and this will be a very important time for Jane. I have no doubt that he is coming to finally make an offer to Jane and I do not think he will tarry too long. Jane is terrified that Mama will leave her in some awkward situations and she will be counting on your help, Mary.” Elizabeth began.

“What would you have me do, Elizabeth?”

“First of all I want you to promise me that you will not tell Jane what I have said.”

“If you think it necessary Elizabeth, then you have my word.”

“Good! Now, the first thing you must know is how to be a proper chaperone. When you are indoors, do your very best to not let Mama leave Jane alone with Mr. Bingley.”

“But…”Mary tried to say before Elizabeth continued.

“No Mary, Jane would be mortified if Mama did that. You must be diligent and have your wits about you to successfully circumvent Mama. Now then, when you are chaperoning them out doors you must do all you can to give them as much privacy as allowable.”

“But you just said…”

Elizabeth interrupted Mary again. “I never said to leave them entirely alone! Just make sure you are well out of hearing distance. And an occasional five minutes out of your sight will not hurt either. But most importantly, if Mr. Bingley suggests a walk to a certain place or in a certain direction then you must do everything in your power to assist him.”

“Why Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth smiled most mischievously, “I think the only reason Mr. Bingley has not already made Jane an offer is because he has a certain place in mind in Hertfordshire where he wants to ask her.”

“Oh!”

“And if Mr. Bingley does wish to walk to a certain place then you must seek out ways to provide him the privacy he requires to open up his heart.”

Mary smiled at the pleasure of such thoughts. “I will do my best, Elizabeth.”

“I’m not finished yet! After Jane has accepted Mr. Bingley, then you may begin to give them more privacy, even indoors.”

“Just leave them alone?”

“A few minutes here and there are perfectly acceptable, Mary,” Elizabeth answered. “And when your time comes, Jane and I will do our best to do the same for you!”

The next morning found Elizabeth’s trunks loaded in the coach and her on the way to Hunsford with Sir William and Maria. Elizabeth had stayed up much too late with Jane and Mary the night before. It was as if all three knew this would be the last time they would have together like this. Jane would still be there when she returned regardless, but it would be different with her formally engaged.

After exchanging pleasantries and polite conversation in the beginning of their journey, Elizabeth quickly fell asleep. The rocking rhythm of the coach and the lack of sleep conspired to make an invincible team. When she finally awoke they were in a country with which Elizabeth was unfamiliar.

Noticing Sir William was awake, Elizabeth asked, “Do we have much further to go, Sir William?”

“I believe we should be at Hunsford in about an hour, Miss Elizabeth.”

An hour later did indeed find them pulling up to the parsonage, greeted by Mr. Collins and Charlotte. With all the flourish he could muster Mr. Collins addressed his father-in-law.

“My dear sir, it is an honor to welcome you to our humble abode. Maria, cousin Elizabeth you are most welcome as well.”

Elizabeth had been prepared to meet him in all of his glory but she still struggled to maintain her countenance as she rose from her curtsy. Fortunately she looked upon her friend Charlotte and was able to contain the evidence of her amusement.

“Charlotte! It is so good to see you again. You look very well,” Elizabeth greeted her friend.

“I am well as you see, Elizabeth. Come, let us go inside and I will show you to your rooms.”

As they entered the house, Mr. Collins could not help but point out all the fine aspects of ‘his humble abode’. Charlotte was relieved when he finally offered to show Sir William his garden. The women declined to join them, claiming a need to refresh themselves from their journey.

“It is a comfortable house, Charlotte.” Elizabeth offered when she was alone with Mrs. Collins.

“Yes it is, Elizabeth. I believe Lady Catherine did a great deal to the place before Mr. Collins came.”

“I see.”

“I am quite content, Elizabeth, do not mourn for me. I am making my own life here and I want for nothing,” Charlotte said, trying to put her mind at ease.

“I’m sure you are. Now tell me about Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Is she everything you expected?”

More at ease with Elizabeth’s impertinent remarks, Charlotte laughed and began to inform Elizabeth about her ‘noble patroness’.

“You will meet her Sunday. We have an invitation for tea on Palm Sunday. You may meet Miss de Bourgh earlier, though. She likes to drive around the park and she sometimes stops by to call. I have to admit she was not what I was expecting when I came.”

“How so Charlotte?”

“What impression do you have of her from Mr. Collins’ descriptions Elizabeth?”

“I received the impression of a spoiled woman dominated completely by her mother.”

“Yes, I thought the same thing, but that is not Miss de Bourgh,” Charlotte claimed.

“Then what is she really?”

“She is a young woman who has long lived under the shadow of a domineering parent. She has built up a facade of infirmity as a protection against the whims of her mother. I believe she is bright, witty and very observant, despite her attempts to hide behind a wall of indisposition. Lady Catherine is too vain to see her subtle defiance, but it is there if you look.”

“That appears to be a very perceptive observation, Charlotte. What does your husband think about her?”

Charlotte gave her a look before saying, “Mr. Collins sees what he wants to see. He finds her lovely and amiable, but that is because he thinks Lady Catherine wants him to think that. The fact that he is perfectly correct is lost because he came to the proper conclusion for all of the wrong reasons.”

“I suppose I must meet Miss de Bourgh and judge for myself. Now then, tell me why there are shelves in my closet?”

Charlotte laughed and told Elizabeth about all of the improvements Lady Catherine had suggested to Mr. Collins. Every room marked some particular attention to detail that Lady Catherine was infamous for. Once again Elizabeth said a word of thanks that she was not forced to be in Charlotte’s place right now.

Elizabeth indeed did have a chance to be introduced to Miss de Bourgh before Sunday when Miss de Bourgh stopped by the parsonage on her ride. Elizabeth was delighted in her greeting.

“So this is the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet! It is a pleasure to meet you finally. I have heard many things about you.” Miss de Bourgh said, her voice filled with amusement.

“I see my reputation proceeds me Miss de Bourgh.” Elizabeth replied.

“Both Georgiana and Aunt Helen wrote of it to me. My cousin is looking forward to see you again. Did you know that she has not told her brother you will be here?”

Sudden thoughts of Mr. Darcy intruded into her consciousness. Miss de Bourgh noticed her slight discomposure at the mention of Darcy and decided to explore that further in the future.

“I did not know she was keeping it a secret. I hope he will not find my presence here an impediment to your family party.” Elizabeth finally replied.

“I can assure you Miss Bennet, that will not be the case. Any excuse to escape from my mother will be a profound relief to William, Georgiana and Richard.”

“Do you mean your other cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“Yes, have you met?”

“No, but I learned of him from Lady Matlock when we visited Afton House.” Elizabeth explained.

“My cousin Richard always comes to Rosings with William for Easter. They have been doing so for years. You will like him Miss Bennet. He is a very amiable man.”

“Having met his parents, I am sure he is. Thank you for calling, Miss de Bourgh. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last.” Elizabeth said.

“The pleasure was all mine, Miss Bennet. I shall see you again Sunday.” Miss de Bourgh responded as she bade the horses to be off.

‘It certainly should be an interesting month’ thought Elizabeth as she walked back into the house.

Chapter 23

The morning dawned bright and clear that Palm Sunday. Elizabeth was strangely anxious for the morning service. She had never heard her cousin from the pulpit and was anticipating it with a perverse sense of curiosity. She was convinced that there was a decided lack of originality in the mind of Mr. Collins. She secretly hoped she would be able to pick out quotes from Fordyce’s Sermons that Mary used to recite at every opportunity. Undoubtedly his sermon topic had been selected by Lady Catherine.

The party from the parsonage arrived at the church in good time. Elizabeth sat between Maria and Charlotte in the pew; Sir William sat at the end. Elizabeth was quietly contemplating the morning’s reading when Mr. Collins stepped up to the pulpit. What followed was perhaps the most boring sermon Elizabeth had ever heard. How he extrapolated familial duty from the Parable of the Tares* she would never be certain. About half way through the sermon Elizabeth gave up and began surreptitiously observing the people around her. Anne had entered trailing behind a rather imperious looking woman whom Elizabeth presumed to be her mother, Lady Catherine. The latter exuded an air of superiority that was difficult to miss. To her amazement, Elizabeth detected a similarity in appearance to her brother the Earl of Matlock.

Upon further contemplation, she realized that this should not be so surprising. They were brother and sister after all. She could even trace resemblances to the picture of Lady Ann Darcy that hung in the hall at Darcy House. She had stopped many times in front of that picture pondering the woman depicted. Would she be pleased with her children now?

Her eyes wandered to Anne. Georgiana had told her Lady Catherine expected her brother to wed their cousin but that neither of them had ever shown any inclination to do so. Anne appeared trapped between being the woman her mother thought her and being the woman Anne wished to be. Elizabeth was filled with great compassion and resolved to befriend this young woman if she was given the opportunity.

After what seemed an eternity, the final hymns were sung and Mr. Collins rushed out of the church to prepare to offer his salutations to his noble patroness. Elizabeth watched in amusement as her cousin bowed deeply and fawned over Lady Catherine and her daughter. Elizabeth also noticed, for the first time, an older-looking woman attending Anne. This must be her companion. Whoever this woman was, she gave off the air of a subservient mouse who would obey Lady Catherine without question.

Outside the church, the objects of Elizabeth’s observation were introduced to her party. Sir William bowed low to the great lady and was too affected to speak. Likewise was Maria. Only Elizabeth seemed unaffected by the introductions. Anne hid a faint smile as her mother looked down upon Elizabeth. It was clear Lady Catherine was accustomed to the cowering of those she met who were of such low rank. Confronted with one such person who refused to be intimidated was a novel experience. Strangely, she was not provoked. She only repeated the invitation to take tea and strode off to her carriage to journey the short distance back to Rosings.

As they walked back to the parsonage, Charlotte procured Elizabeth’s company.

“Elizabeth, what did you think of Lady Catherine?” Charlotte asked.

They had been friends too long for Elizabeth not to be completely honest with her. “She does not appear to be a woman often gainsaid,” she answered. “I doubt if anyone ever dares question her authority or her opinions and I imagine she is quite used to getting her own way.”

“I believe you have once again, taken an accurate measure of a person, Elizabeth.” Charlotte replied sagely. “However, I think Lady Catherine, in spite of herself, likes you.”

“Whatever do you mean Charlotte? I hardly think such a woman as Lady Catherine deems me worthy of her notice.”

“Nevertheless, I still believe she likes you. I have known her only a short while, but I have never seen Lady Catherine NOT look on another person without distain. She looked on you with curiosity, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth was doubtful of the accuracy of Charlotte’s conclusions on the matter. Lady Catherine would never see her as anything other than the cousin of her clergyman.

<<>>

The party from Hunsford approached the great house for tea later that day. Sir William had yet to recover from the earlier meeting. His eyes were as round as saucers and his mouth kept groping like a fish gasping in the air. Maria walked on silently with a wild, fearful look in her eyes. Elizabeth thought that if she shouted, the young Maria would startle and flee back to the parsonage like a spooked deer. Mr. Collins joyfully related all the particulars he had learned about the house and garden, spending no little time on the glazing of the windows, while Charlotte tried to ignore his endless prattle. And Elizabeth walked along, once again amused by the folly surrounding her. She could not comprehend the fuss one woman could inspire.

Elizabeth allowed her concentration to wander to her surroundings. The Park between Hunsford Parsonage and Rosings itself was quite lovely and she looked forward to exploring its many lovely paths and glades. As they approached nearer to the house the appearance of the vegetation changed. Gone was the whimsical randomness of the trees, shrubs and grasses. In its place were carefully arranged, carefully manicured, hedges and topiaries. The flowers were arranged in an almost military precision. Nothing was left to chance; spontaneity was crushed. Elizabeth wondered how much this mirrored the character of the Mistress of the house.

Upon arrival, Mr. Collins confidently strode into the house, past the butler and into the sitting room. However, once he crossed the threshold into the room a bizarre transformation occurred. Mr. Collins’ shoulders hunched forward and his right shoulder dropped even further. His head lurched forward and his jaw jutted out in an awkward angle, seemingly in opposition to the slight bowing of his head and the lowering of his eyes. A ridiculous smirk overspread his face whenever he spoke with Lady Catherine. In short, he became the groveling, sniveling man Elizabeth had the misfortune of sharing a house with during his residence in Hertfordshire. She shivered with abject disgust at the memory.

The great lady spoke to her subservient clergyman, “Mr. Collins, you are late! What do you have to say for yourself?”

Elizabeth was shocked. They were actually five minutes early and they would have been even earlier had not Charlotte restrained her husband from fairly running to Rosings.

“Your Ladyship, please accept my humble apologies for the tardiness of our arrival. We must have misjudged the amount of time it took to walk here.”

“See that it never happens again. You know how highly I value punctuality!”

“Of course your ladyship, again I apologize for any inconvenience our late arrival may have caused you. I am mortified that any such lapse on my part should in any way injure you. Indeed such an important personage as yourself deserves every effort of servility and…”

“Yes Mr. Collins, that is enough.” Lady Catherine effectively ended his soliloquy. Elizabeth was astonished to detect a hint of amusement in Lady Catherine’s features. Of course! Lady Catherine was purposefully tormenting him. She knew he was early and yet still decided to have a little sport with him. It was quite astonishing! Lady Catherine presented herself as a very complex individual. As quickly as the hint of amusement occurred it was replaced with a look of haughty superiority.

Lady Catherine then proceeded to spend the next five minutes pontificating on the necessity of punctuality. When she was finished she turned her attentions on Elizabeth. Not one to mince words, Lady Catherine addressed Elizabeth.

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I believe your father’s estate in Hertfordshire is entailed upon Mr. Collins.”

“Yes Ma’am. It is.”

“I also believe that you are the second of five daughters.”

“You are correct, Lady Catherine.”

“How many of your sisters are out?”

“All of them.”

Elizabeth was beginning to be annoyed at this line of questioning but sat calmly, not betraying her annoyance.

“All five out at once! The younger before the elder are married! Your younger sisters must be very young.” Lady Catherine responded indignantly.

“The youngest is not yet sixteen and is too young to be in full company. But really your ladyship, I do not think it right to deny the younger ones their share of society and amusements just because the older ones do not have the means or inclination to marry early. Do you not agree, Sir William?” Elizabeth asked, determined to deflect the focus of the party away from her.

Sir William was still too much in awe of Lady Catherine and thus unable to answer Elizabeth’s inquiry.

“How old are you Miss Bennet?” Lady Catherine asked, determined not to be moved from her line of questioning.

“With three younger sisters grown up your ladyship can hardly expect me to own it?”

“Come now, Miss Bennet, you can hardly be more than twenty, I am sure.” Lady Catherine replied.

‘I am sure you are,’ Elizabeth thought to herself. Not wishing to incur the displeasure of her hostess, no matter how rude she believed her to be, Elizabeth answered, “I am not one and twenty.”

“Hhmm. Miss Bennet, I understand you have made the acquaintance of my nephew and niece, Mr. and Miss Darcy.”

“Yes, your ladyship. They came to stay at an estate near our own. Miss Darcy is a delightful young woman.” Elizabeth decided it was best to keep her prior meetings with Georgiana to herself at this time.

Mr. Collins saw his chance to interject himself back into the conversation. “Your niece is a beautiful and talented young woman your ladyship, such manners and affability to condescend to look down so kindly on my poor cousin Elizabeth.”

“Georgiana plays the pianoforte with great proficiency. Did you have the opportunity to hear her play, Miss Bennet?” Lady Catherine asked dismissing Mr. Collins’ attempted intrusion.

“Aye, Ma’am. I have had the pleasure of hearing her play. She is very accomplished.” Elizabeth offered.

“Yes, I have encouraged her to continue to practice most diligently. It appears she has taken my advice.” Elizabeth struggled to keep at bay the smile that threatened to show itself. Georgiana would never credit her Aunt’s advice as the reason she worked so hard at mastering her music.

“Do you play Miss Bennet?” Lady Catherine continued.

“Yes I do, but I am afraid my skill and proficiency fall well short of Miss Darcy’s.”

“I would suggest that you would do well to emulate her practicing then. You may use the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room. You will be in nobody’s way there.”

“Thank you, Lady Catherine.” Elizabeth wasn’t surprised at Mrs. Jenkinson’s eager acquiescence to Lady Catherine’s offer of her room. The woman appeared to be everything Elizabeth had guessed when she had seen her first that morning. Anne’s companion was nothing if not inconsequential.

Lady Catherine continued with her interrogation of Elizabeth. By this point Elizabeth was resigned to her fate. Lady Catherine was determined to know everything about her no matter how hard Elizabeth tried to steer the conversation away from herself. Lady Catherine was shocked to find that the Bennets never employed a governess.

But secretly Lady Catherine found herself liking this young woman from Hertfordshire. Elizabeth had borne with grace and dignity every deliberate attempt by Lady Catherine to discompose her. Lady Catherine despised simpering fools, especially when they were women. On the rare occasion that she did meet with a lady of strong character, she enjoyed herself immensely. The eyes of the world would never see this though. Lady Catherine de Bourg had a reputation to maintain! Her vanity and sense of self-importance made her blind to the incongruity of her manner of domineering over her daughter while holding a preference for strong-willed women. It could only be said that Rosings could only tolerate one such strong personality in residence at a time.

When the evening was ending, cards being the pastime of choice, Lady Catherine offered the use of her carriage back to the parsonage. Whilst they waited for its appearance, Elizabeth had the chance to once again speak with Anne.

“You may not believe this Miss Bennet, but I believe my mother likes you.” Anne said to a surprised Elizabeth.

“If this is how she displays her fondness, I should hate to be one she dislikes.” Elizabeth replied.

“Actually, she normally asks several of her candid questions. If she does not care for the answers, she ignores that person. So even apparent condescension is a sign of respect, Miss Bennet.”

Just then the carriage was announced and the Hunsford party returned to the parsonage.

<<>>

Elizabeth spent her mornings exploring the paths through Rosings’ Park. Her second morning found her climbing a small hill. She knew that it must overlook Rosings but was pleasantly surprised at what was awaiting her at the top. There stood a round building that looked like a Grecian Temple. The columns rose majestically to support a domed roof. Elizabeth was delighted. She could imagine walking up here to have a picnic with Georgiana after she arrived. The timber had been removed to form a lane and it offered an unencumbered view of the great house. But as delightful as this building was, the real beauty was the wood that guarded its approach. The rhododendron bushes that lined the path were substantial and were beginning to show their blooms. In the weeks to come they would be magnificent. Elizabeth was anticipating their intoxicating fragrance to be almost overpowering. She was also delighted to find that the current owner of Rosings did not see fit to arrange for the careful ordering of the plants so far from the house in general. Nature was allowed her purview here. Only in the pathways was nature imposed upon. Up here, the only allowance for the Mistress of Rosings’ authority was the cleared lane between the temple and the formal lower gardens. The garden staff apparently was sent occasionally to uproot any offending sapling or bush that invaded the grass which covered the lane up the hill. Upon closer inspection, Elizabeth found a variety of wildflowers in this lane whose color was hidden from view lower down, furthering her enchantment with the place.

When the time for lunch was approaching, Elizabeth reluctantly left the hill’s crest and began descending to level ground. Wild game were abundant and twice she spotted rabbits scurrying for cover upon her unwelcome intrusion. Elizabeth’s keen eyes spotted a few glades visible from the heights and determined to seek them out the next day.

Sir William had departed for Hertfordshire just after breakfast that morning. Elizabeth found the dinner conversation varied little with his departure, as Mr. Collins still took every opportunity to praise Lady Catherine and everything associated with her.

The next morning, Elizabeth struck out on a path she was sure would lead her towards a hidden glade she had spotted the previous day. She wandered for nearly an hour before she spied a faint, overgrown trail. Sensing that she had found the access to that glade, she immediately drew up her skirts and went in search of it. Her instincts did prove correct for within ten minutes she came out of the wood and entered into the hidden glade. No signs of man’s interference were present save for a crudely carved bench at the edge of the clearing. Elizabeth was delighted once more to have found such a lovely place to bring Georgiana. Elizabeth availed herself of the bench and drew out the book she had brought with her. It was Shakespeare’s Sonnets, her old and trusted friend. Many hours she had spent pondering the words of the Bard. She could recite many of them by heart.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”**

Elizabeth was in the mood for contemplation. Georgiana would arrive tomorrow. Elizabeth was thrilled to see her again so soon but that thought was tempered with the knowledge that her brother and her cousin would be accompanying her. She was eager to meet Colonel Fitzwilliam, since Georgiana had often spoken of him in the most glowing of terms. If he were as amiable as his parents, he would be a delight to know. But Elizabeth was ambivalent about seeing Mr. Darcy again. She knew she was deeply attracted to him. His very presence excited her yet brought about an uncomfortable knowledge that he could never lower himself to take notice of her. He was always polite but maintained a discernable emotional distance. Yet, at times he slipped into an easier demeanor and engaged in the teasing she adopted with Georgiana.

It was no use, her heart was in danger and it was no one’s fault but her own. She should have declined Charlotte’s invitation and overcome her desire to see Georgiana so soon. She should have taken more time to prepare herself, but the deed was done and tomorrow the object of her admiration would be ensconced at Rosings.

She was brought out of her reflections by a bird that suddenly called out from a nearby tree. It was time to return to the parsonage for lunch. Elizabeth sighed, closed her book and rose from the bench to begin the journey back. It was only three weeks. She would school herself to hide her emotions for 3 weeks. As long as Georgiana did not ask any penetrating questions, her secret would be concealed. Oh whom was she kidding! Georgiana would most naturally ask such probing questions. She had been attempting to match Elizabeth and her brother her entire stay in London. If it became too uncomfortable she would have to speak openly with her friend. Elizabeth dared hope it would not come down to that.

* The Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30
**William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Chapter 24

Two hours after lunch on Thursday, the Darcy carriage bearing Darcy, Georgiana, Mrs. Annesley and Colonel Fitzwilliam pulled into Rosings. Georgiana was near bursting, wishing to call on Elizabeth but she had to hide the source of her excitement from her brother.

“Georgiana, I have NEVER seen you excited to be at Rosings before,” Colonel Fitzwilliam commented as they left the carriage.

“I am excited to see my cousin Anne.” Georgiana offered in explanation. Darcy looked at her askance, wondering what she was hiding.

“It is time to face the gauntlet. As the oldest I insist you lead us in, Darcy!” the Colonel joked.

“The courageous Army Officer to the last, Fitzwilliam, you were always good at defensive strategies,” retorted Darcy.

“Yes, but perhaps we should allow Georgiana to precede us. Women make affective human shields!” came the Colonel’s reply.

“Both of you, stop this instant! Fitzwilliam and I will follow you. He is correct, you are the oldest.”

“Alas, I am to be fed to the lions!” the Colonel cried.

“Lioness,” Darcy corrected.

The party entered Rosings laughing together. They continued in high spirits as they were led to meet their Aunt. Easter at Rosings had been a tradition for Darcy and the Colonel since Darcy’s father had died. Georgiana usually stayed with the Matlocks, but after Ramsgate Darcy preferred she stay with him. The Colonel welcomed any relief from the boredom of his yearly visit. He was often left alone whilst Darcy and his Aunt reviewed estate matters. Cousin Anne was occasionally in his company, but most of the time he was left to fend for himself.

At last they were shown into the drawing room where their Aunt sat imperiously waiting for them.

“I expected you an hour ago, what delayed you?” she demanded

“Aunt Catherine! My, you are looking as well as ever,” the Colonel replied.

“Fitzwilliam, I sincerely hope you were not the means of delaying Darcy and Georgiana. It will not do for a soldier in His Majesty’s army to be so lax.”

“Dear Aunt, Darcy would never allow me to delay him. No, we made good time coming today. I am surprised we arrived this early,” the Colonel said in their defense.

“Very well. Darcy, Georgiana, it is good to welcome you to Rosings again. Anne and I have been awaiting your arrival with much anticipation.”

Darcy dared not look at Anne; he was in no mood to discuss THAT at the present. “If you do not mind Aunt, I am sure Georgiana would like to refresh herself after the journey. We will rejoin you in an hour.”

An hour later Darcy and Georgiana rejoined Lady Catherine in the drawing room. Lady Catherine began speaking about the additions to the parsonage.

“Mrs. Collins appears to be a suitable wife for a clergyman. From what I have been able to observe, she is not one to be wasting their income. Anne seems to enjoy her company. But Mrs. Collins seems to suit the office better than her friend.”

“I beg your pardon Aunt Catherine, but what friend?” Darcy asked.

“A Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She and Mrs. Collins’ younger sister are currently visiting Hunsford. Mrs. Collin’s father was also here, but he left two days ago. I am told you made their acquaintance last fall in Hertfordshire.” Lady Catherine answered.

“I had the pleasure of making their acquaintance when we were guests at my friend Charles Bingley’s estate in Hertfordshire.” Darcy said eyeing his sister. ‘So this is what you have been hiding from me, you little minx! We shall have to discuss this later.’

Colonel Fitzwilliam finally made his appearance. “I see I have been preceded by Georgiana and Darcy. Please forgive me Aunt, I decided on visiting Anne in her rooms before I came down. She was resting comfortably when I left her.”

In reality Anne was more than ‘resting’. For years she had perpetrated the disguise of infirmity with her mother. She found that Lady Catherine left her alone if she said she was unwell or that she needed to rest. Early on in the charade Anne recruited the doctor into her ruse. Fortunately, he was a sympathetic man who took pity on the young Anne. They had worked out a scheme by which the good doctor would know if he were being summoned for appearances sake or for real complaints. The doctor was not above accepting remuneration for these unnecessary visits, for that was his compensation for his silence and co-operation.

The rest of the family was aware of Anne’s true health. The Earl and his wife tacitly approved of the arrangement by sending Colonel Fitzwilliam and then, most recently, Lady Helena to divert her boredom. Lady Matlock and Anne had corresponded for several years. Fortunately Lady Catherine allowed this without interference. Lord and Lady Matlock were the only correspondents of her daughter whose letters Lady Catherine dared not read. There was only one person in her life Lady Catherine still feared, and that was her brother.

“What plans do you have for tomorrow?” Lady Catherine asked.

Darcy replied, “I believe we will make a call at the parsonage in the morning. Perhaps Anne would wish to accompany us?”

“That is a wonderful idea Fitzwilliam! Let us ask her at dinner.” Georgiana cried.

Eventually it was time to gather for dinner. Mrs. Annesley joined Georgiana, Darcy and the Colonel in the dining room where Anne and Mrs. Jenkinson were waiting for them. Lady Catherine made her grand entrance minutes later.

With her appearance, they were at last able to begin the meal. Georgiana made a concerted effort to converse with her female cousin during the meal. Anne did not discourage such efforts and the two spoke amiably. Richard was taken aback by the outgoing manner of Anne. She rarely had said so much at one time. He began to be jealous of Georgiana’s ability to draw Anne out in the presence of her mother. Lady Catherine was pleased as well; Georgiana would make Anne a fine sister.

Once dinner was over, the men decided to forgo the separation of the sexes and they retired to the Blue room. Anne and Georgiana quickly found seats separate from the others, while Darcy and the Colonel were forced to play court to their Aunt. The two ladies’ companions sat a little apart from the rest of the company.

“Have you met Miss Bennet, Anne?”

“Yes I have, she is as delightful as Aunt Helen described.”

“Did Aunt tell you about Miss Bennet’s stay with me in town this winter?”

“Yes she did, but my mother still is ignorant of it, and of your meeting at Pemberley.” Anne answered.

“Aunt Helen is a valuable correspondent. I was very glad you suggested passing along more detailed notes to you in her letters. At least that way you have some privacy.”

Anne sighed. She was growing tired of playing someone she was not. She wished to live out in the world, not sheltered away in Kent.

“I think I would go mad without Aunt Helen. She is the only one who can tell me what is truly happening in our family.”

Georgiana decided it was time to bring up a tricky subject. “Anne, how would you feel if my brother admired another woman?”

“Very relieved Georgiana! William knows I have no desire to wed him. If he found a woman to marry I should be happy for him.”

Relieved, Georgiana went on. “I believe he has found such a woman, Anne. Tell me, do you think he would suit Miss Bennet?”

The very idea delighted Anne greatly. “I think it would be marvelous. On the few occasions we have met she impressed me very much. Incidentally, I think even my mother likes her, though she would never admit as much.”

“Then I shall have to enlist you in my cause. As much as I am sure Fitzwilliam admires Elizabeth I believe he is struggling with his conscience and ideas about duty.”

“The famous Darcy Pride!” Anne interjected.

“Yes. Only I do not think our family is an issue. I would love to have Elizabeth as my own sister. Aunt Helen and Uncle Hugh are fond of her and I am sure our other cousins will be enchanted when they meet her. You like her and so does your mother. Now as to Aunt Catherine’s reaction if they ever did attach themselves, I cannot judge but I doubt she would take it well.”

“Because she wants Darcy to marry me,” Anne added as a matter of fact.

“But you do not wish to wed him. Is there anyone else for you then, Anne?” Georgiana probed.

Anne blushed but sadly admitted, “No, there is not. Though I am of age I do not know many eligible men. Mama has kept me secluded for much of my life, reserving me for your brother. But we long ago agreed that was not the path either of us wanted.”

“Returning to the subject of my brother and Elizabeth, do you have any ideas?”

“Let me think on this, Georgiana. I am certain between the two of us we can come up with ways to throw them together. Do you know if Miss Bennet returns any of his regard?”

“Elizabeth has been very guarded with her feelings, Anne, but I believe she is not indifferent to Fitzwilliam.”

“It is a start then. These next few weeks could be fun Georgiana!”

“Why Anne dear,” Lady Catherine interjected. “You seem to be in fine spirits this evening. I do believe your rest this afternoon was very beneficial. Do you not agree Darcy?”

“Anne appears in good health this evening, Aunt Catherine.” Darcy replied without emotion.

Anne and Georgiana continued in quiet conversation and after a short while the Colonel came to join them. Georgiana noticed the look of satisfaction this elicited on Anne’s face. Georgiana could not but help recall her earlier conversation with Anne. She was not interested in marrying her brother but her gaze betrayed a look of longing when she said she had no one for her. She was correct in the assertion of not knowing many eligible men. She rarely was in company, and mostly then with family. If Georgiana did not know better she would believe there was a man of her acquaintance whom she admired. Then it came to her. Richard! Anne admired Richard! It had to be him. It was not Fitzwilliam, and cousin James was married. This left Richard. And she did appear pleased when he came over to them.

“We were just discussing Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Richard.” Georgiana volunteered.

“Georgiana has spoken very highly of her, I am most anxious to meet her.” The Colonel declared. Anne frowned ever so slightly.

‘There it is again!’ Georgiana thought. ‘Anne does not at all appear pleased that Richard praised Elizabeth so warmly. Perhaps I am on the right track after all.’

The Colonel also noted Anne’s displeasure and was secretly pleased. ‘But why!’ he asked himself unable to discern from whence his pleasure sprung.

<<>>

That evening, as Georgiana retired to her room, she walked up the stairs with Anne.

“You prefer Richard do you not, Anne?” Georgiana had decided on the direct approach.

Anne was mortified.

“You need not hide it, Anne. I think I may even be able to help you,” Georgiana continued.

Anne began to re-exert control of her faculties. “And if I do?”

“Then this will be a very, very interesting two weeks! Do not worry; your secret is safe with me. But I do think our trying to throw Fitzwilliam together with Elizabeth can be to your advantage. I plan on asking Richard to help me matchmake with Elizabeth and have Fitzwilliam matchmake Richard with you.”

“But you said you would keep my secret?”

“Of course Anne, I fully intend to. I plan on telling him I think you and Richard would suit very well. Besides, Richard has been acting restless lately, as if he is ready to settle down. Why not with you, Anne?”

“Do you think Richard will be attracted to Elizabeth?”

“That is a worry. So, I plan a preemptive strike. I shall ask for his help BEFORE he meets Elizabeth.

“You seemed to have everything planned out, Georgiana. I would venture you know that many things may go wrong with your schemes.” Anne said warningly

“Yes Anne, that is why this is so much fun! Good night Cousin. I shall see you in the morning. Will you call at the parsonage with us?”

“I told Richard I would. At this point I do not wish to miss it for the world!”

<<>>

Despite it being Good Friday, it was decided to call at the parsonage late that morning. Darcy ordered the carriage so that Anne could come. Normally they would have walked but he knew Lady Catherine would not allow Anne to do so.

When they arrived, and the introductions were complete, Colonel Fitzwilliam could not resist addressing Elizabeth.

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

Once again Elizabeth had to laugh. “I believe you have spoken with your parents about me Colonel Fitzwilliam.”

“But of course! Tell me, am I number six?” he teased.

“No! That honor belongs to your cousin Miss de Bourgh. You sir, are number seven.” Elizabeth responded impertinently.

“And a lucky number it is!”

The party laughed at their playful banter. The colonel spied out his cousin Darcy’s reaction. ‘It is a good thing Georgiana warned me about her brother’s attraction. Miss Bennet appears to be a woman who can draw a man in quite effortlessly. But Darcy appears smitten. I think it is time I write my parents.’

The Colonel decided to test his observations by engaging Elizabeth in conversation. Darcy tried to hide his annoyance but could not do so entirely. Once again he found himself struggling with his self-control in Elizabeth’s presence. He thought he could overcome his attraction but he was beginning to fear the futility of his efforts. What was he going to do?

Georgiana and Anne both noticed Darcy’s discomposure and were very pleased. Georgiana could see his pride weakening and Anne hoped she would soon be free from her mother’s machinations. Darcy was lost; he just did not know it yet.

The Colonel noted Darcy’s unease and decided to have pity on him. He brought Georgiana into the conversation and then excused himself to engage Mrs. Collins. She seemed a pleasant woman. He could not, for the life of him, understand why such a sensible woman would agree to marry such a foolish man. Then he recalled that she must have found herself in a similar situation as him. She needed to marry for money just as he did. But his parents had told him there was more to marriage than money. No, he could not attach himself to a fool just because she was rich.

He also noticed that Anne seemed pleased when he began speaking with Mrs. Collins, as if she did not like his playfulness with Miss Bennet. He found himself pleased with that as well, though he did not stop to ask himself why.

As the visit drew to a close, Georgiana and Elizabeth planned a walk for the next day. Anne extended an invitation from her mother for the Hunsford party to join them after Easter Services. Everyone was well pleased with the visit, with the exception of Darcy.

Elizabeth was relieved at how well her first meeting with Darcy went. The large number of people in the parlor was helpful, since others were there to demand her attention. Colonel Fitzwilliam appeared to be an agreeable man with perfect manners, just as she expected after meeting his parents. She repeated her resolve to take it one meeting at a time.

After Lunch, the Colonel excused himself to go and write some letters. He actually only had one letter to write, and that was to his parents.

Rosings, Kent

Dear Father and Mother,

We arrived just yesterday and yet I have much to relate to you. I was surprised to find that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the very woman you spoke to me of, was visiting her friend at the parsonage. Georgiana knew of this but decided to keep it from both her brother and me. His reaction to her presence was quite enlightening.

We called on Miss Bennet and the other ladies residing in the parsonage this morning. I must say that Miss Bennet is as delightful as you described. I must also say your conjectures about Darcy’s heart appear to be just as correct. I have known him too long to be fooled by him. Georgiana herself warned me of his preference before we called. I must admit to a bit of mischief here, I purposefully tried to make Darcy jealous of me. It worked like a charm!

My reason for telling you this is because of the rest of the conversation I had with Georgiana about her brother. Georgiana is convinced Darcy is in love with Miss Bennet but that he does nothing to act on this because of his overdeveloped sense of Duty. I must conclude then that you have not given him the Fitzwilliam family talk. Please, his mother was a Fitzwilliam and thus he is too. Write to him. See if you can assuage his fears. Miss Bennet is a woman worthy of him. It took me only ten minutes of conversation to acknowledge that.

I eagerly await your response.

Your loving son,
Richard

The Colonel reread his letter. Satisfied with its contents he sealed it and had a servant take it to be placed with the rest of the out-going post.

While the Colonel was writing his letter, Georgiana had a chance to be alone with her brother.

“You are not angry with me, Fitzwilliam, for keeping Elizabeth’s presence here a secret from you?”

“No, I am not angry but I am not entirely pleased either. I am responsible for your safety and well-being. I would like to know the important happenings in your life, Georgiana. We both know how important Miss Elizabeth has become to you.”

“I suppose you are correct. I just wanted to surprise you, that’s all,” Georgian answered. It was time to change subjects. “Elizabeth and I are going for a walk tomorrow.”

“Yes, I know,” said Darcy.

“Why don’t you and Richard take Anne for a drive? I am certain she would enjoy your company.” Georgiana suggested.

“I will speak to Richard about it in the morning.”

“It would be another chance for Richard to be with Anne.”

“Georgiana Darcy! What are you up to?”

“Fitzwilliam, Anne does not wish to marry you. You do not wish to marry Anne. Richard has always said he needs to marry a woman of fortune. Anne has a fortune. And besides, I think Richard may have feelings for Anne. He just is not ready to acknowledge them yet.”

“And what gives you that idea?” Darcy challenged.

“I have been watching him. There is no harm is putting them together. At worst they will get to know each other better as cousins. And if they did form an attachment, it would solve your Aunt Catherine problem.”

“Hhmm”

“Please, you do not have to do anything further if you do not see any signs of attachment.”

“Very well, I will watch them. If, and only if, I see signs of attachment will I go along with your little scheme.” Darcy said in acquiescence.

“Thank you, Fitzwilliam. I AM correct about this. I just know it!” Georgiana replied triumphantly.

<<>>

The next day, Elizabeth met Georgiana at Rosings for their walk. Elizabeth was relieved to find her alone. Georgiana knew it was not the time to ask her brother to accompany them, since she needed a chance to find out the heart and mind of her dearest friend. Besides, Fitzwilliam was needed to put Ann and Richard in company together.

“Do you have any place particular in mind Elizabeth?” Georgiana asked as they prepared to leave.

“It is a lovely day, what say we walk up the hill to the Temple. I was up there on Tuesday and the view was wonderful.”

“I have not been up there in ages! Yes, let us go!” Georgiana cried in assent.

“It is so good to see you again Georgiana. I missed our time in London.” Elizabeth started as they took to the path.

“I missed you too. The house felt bereft of your presence after you left.” Georgiana admitted. “Do you have any more news from home.”

“I expect a letter from Jane. Mr. Bingley is due back at Netherfield any day now.”

“Do you think he will seek Jane’s hand?”

“I would be shocked if he did not. You have seen them together. Only fate and the fire have kept him from declaring himself before now, in my opinion.”

“I am happy for them,” Georgiana stately simply. “It occurs to me that such an event will lesson the tensions about the entailment of Longbourn. Perhaps you mother will relent on you now.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Oh that it were possible! I am afraid that the only way Mama will be content is to see all of us married. Then again, she will probably start desiring grandchildren! No, I will not be safe from her nerves for as long as she lives!”

“Then you should find a man to marry who lives far away from Meryton, Elizabeth.” Georgiana said coyly.

Elizabeth shot her a look out of the corner of her eye. She decided not to engage Georgiana on the subject she was alluding to. Did she not know how difficult this was for Elizabeth? But now was not the time, so instead she changed the subject and continued up the hill.

Once they were on top they stood for a long time to admire the view. Rosings was a rather gaudy looking building for both of their tastes, but it was an impressive sight to look down upon.

“Poor Anne, she would love the view from up here.” Georgiana sighed.

“Yes she would. It is a shame Lady Catherine does not allow her the freedom to be as she chooses.” Elizabeth replied sagely.

“You know this of Anne?” said a very taken back Georgiana.

“Of course Georgiana, it does not take a genius to know that the Anne she projects to her mother is not the same Anne she projects when not in her company. I suppose she has hidden behind the disguise of infirmity for many years now. I do not understand why though. She is so much more than she appears. What is she afraid of?”

“She has long been dominated by Lady Catherine. She found that the only way her mother would leave her alone is by feigning illness.” Georgiana answered.

“But why stay, why allow herself to be subject to such behavior?”

“She fears the loss of her inheritance. She hopes that when my brother marries another, her mother will finally allow her to move about in society. She is planning a miraculous recovery!” Georgiana explained.

“I would think that she has more control over her destiny than she believes. Perhaps someday she will have the courage to find out,” Elizabeth finished.

The rest of their walk was lovely. They admired all of the plants and views the walk afforded. Soon they returned to Rosings. They said their goodbyes and Elizabeth walked back to the parsonage. Darcy spied her leaving from an upstairs window. His heart ached to be near her, but he was afraid. For the first time in many years, he was afraid to follow a path he knew society would scorn.

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