TSSAW Chapters 25-30

Chapter 25

Upon finding her brother in the house, Georgiana began to inquire after his morning’s ride.

“Did you enjoy your outing, Fitzwilliam?”

“I suppose. Anne did not have much to say and Richard was annoyingly quiet. I had to try and keep up the conversation. Normally that is Richard’s duty!”

“I told you Richard has feelings for Anne!” Georgiana cried.

“How so?” Darcy asked incredulously.

“Because he was quiet! Honestly Fitzwilliam, are you blind? When has Richard ever been quiet around a woman? Never! I think he was nervous.” Georgiana explained.

Darcy was silent. Could she be correct? “I agree that it is unusual behavior for him. Therefore, I will continue to watch the two of them in company.”

“Very good Fitzwilliam! The more you see the two of them together, the more you will be convinced that I am right!”

<<>>

Easter Sunday Morning dawned bright and clear. The fresh crisp air filled Elizabeth’s lungs as she walked in the park in the first light of day. Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday. The implications of the day weighed heavily on Elizabeth’s heart. Her faith was nothing without this day. It was a time to ponder, a time to reflect, a time to be humbled, a time to give thanks.

Darcy was up early this morning, too. He awoke an hour before dawn and could not go back to sleep. He finally resigned himself to an early start and had his man prepare him for the day. With the rest of the house still asleep, he stepped out for a walk in the park. The silence was a welcome balm. He felt so alone and unsure of himself. He was always the one in control of his own destiny. Why did he now feel as though he had lost that control? He saw that there were things beyond his control, like his heart.

Before long Darcy spied someone up ahead of him walking in his direction. Within moments he recognized her. His heart leapt at the sight of her but soon began to sink into despair. The power she had over him! And she did not even know it.

“Good morning Miss Bennet! He is Risen!” Darcy said as she approached.

“He is Risen Indeed! Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth gave the centuries-old reply. “It is a glorious morning. Have you been out long?”

“I left Rosings fifteen minutes ago.”

“And I left the parsonage about the same time. I felt the need to be outside today. Today is a day for reflection and I find it much easier to do so out here where I am enfolded in God’s creation.”

“I agree. Would you care to take this way with me, Miss Bennet? If you had rather be alone I would certainly understand.”

“I would enjoy your company, Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth replied and they walked along together in comfortable silence. Each one’s thoughts were a myriad of remembrances. Darcy thought back to the night of the Netherfield Ball, to their dances together. Elizabeth seemed to understand the value of silence. It was one of the many things that surprised him about her. For a woman as skilled at conversation, to comprehend the power of the restraint of speech was remarkable. But then again, many things about her were remarkable. Once again he felt the feeling of loss begin to overtake him and he struggled to keep his emotions in check.

Elizabeth was also lost in her own memories of that night. What was it he had said? Oh yes, it was, ‘Sometimes silence is preferable Miss Bennet, but not right now.’ But now it was essential! How was she to think around this man? Her heartbeat had quickened as he had approached. She was so affected by him. How much more could she take before she let her feelings slip? Why did it have to be him? She glanced at his face. So beautiful, so noble, and so beyond her reach.

Before long they had come upon the place in the path that lead off to the secluded glade Elizabeth had discovered. Darcy seemed to recover himself and asked, “Have you discovered the glade at the end of this path, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, I have, Mr. Darcy.”

“Really! The path is so overgrown it is hard to distinguish. I am very surprised you found it so soon.” Darcy said amazed.

“Mr. Darcy, I found it because I went looking for it. Tuesday I climbed to the top of the hill and as I descended I spied this glade. I knew its general direction so I went looking for it. It did take me about an hour to discover this path. When I set out on it I was soon rewarded by finding my goal. I decided to suggest this spot to Georgiana for a walk this next week.”

“She has not been back there for many years. Did you find the bench, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes I did. It was a restful place to sit and read.”

Darcy smiled. “My father had that bench made for my mother long ago. It was her favorite place to come when they visited Rosings. My father determined to surprise her for her visit one year. I must have been about six years old then.”

“Happy memories Mr. Darcy?”

“Some of my fondest associated with this place, Miss Bennet. You should bring my sister there again.” Darcy told her.

“Then I shall, Mr. Darcy.” They were silent for a few minutes. “I think I should be heading back to the parsonage now. Thank you for you company. I had a very enjoyable walk this early morning.” Elizabeth said.

“The pleasure was all mine, Miss Bennet. I shall see you at the service then.”

As he bowed over Elizabeth’s hand Darcy could not resist the urge and he placed a light kiss upon her fingers. Elizabeth did her best not to physically react but he noticed. His dark eyes bore into her and she could not look away. Finally he released her hand, nodded his head, and turned back towards Rosings. Elizabeth stood there watching him until he disappeared around the bend in the path. She was trembling. At last she too turned and made her way back to the parsonage. ‘Oh Lord, help me!’ was all she could think.

<<>>

The morning services were as unremarkable as could be. The congregants made their way through the familiar collect and Mr. Collins’ sermon was mercifully short. Elizabeth suspected this was because he was eagerly anticipating the opulence of the table and fare at Rosings after the conclusion of the service. Her cousin enjoyed his food, even though others did not enjoy watching him consume it.

Back at Rosings, the party sat down to a sumptuous feast. Lady Catherine certainly knew how to keep a good table. With her hoped-for future son-in-law in residence, she especially aimed to impress. Darcy found it curious that his Aunt had Elizabeth sit next to her. He was even further astounded when Lady Catherine engaged her in a long discussion. Although discussion did not seem to be the proper word to describe it. Perhaps debate would be more accurate. Lady Catherine began to ask Elizabeth her how early she had come out. From there they waged a spirited argument on the proper age to enter society. Elizabeth held her own and Lady Catherine failed to treat her with the condescension normally associated with the lady’s attentions. It dawned on Darcy that his Aunt was fond of Elizabeth. This was the first person to whom he had ever seen her react this way, outside of old acquaintances and some family members. Darcy had thought it impossible that he could respect Elizabeth any more than he already did. But now he found his respect increase even more.

Meanwhile, Georgiana was observing the interaction of her cousins Anne and Richard. They were seated across from each other. At first neither seemed inclined for conversation but then Richard began to make the effort to converse. Anne gradually became less withdrawn and by the end of the meal they were engrossed in a discussion about the gardens. Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Jenkinson mostly kept their attentions to the other. It was obvious that both of their charges were quite capable of seeing to themselves at the table. Mr. and Mrs. Collins and Maria were forced to entertain each other.

After lunch the party moved into the main drawing room. Georgiana was asked to oblige the company on the pianoforte. Georgiana agreed only if Elizabeth would consent to sing the next with her. Quite serendipitously, the two had practiced much of Handel’s Messiah together whilst Elizabeth was in Town. Georgiana had even prevailed upon her to sing the parts transposed from the soprano to the alto.

Whilst Georgiana played a piece by Mozart, Elizabeth left the room to warm up her voice. Ten minutes later she rejoined Georgiana, who had just finished her first piece, to begin their selections. Georgiana had brought her music from town expressly for this occasion. Once again Georgiana began the Sinfonia and Darcy snapped to attention. He remembered the last time she played this and knew what was to come. When Elizabeth finished “But who may abide the day of his coming?” Darcy was surprised when Georgiana transitioned into “He shall feed his flock” and then “He was despised”. Elizabeth was going to sing each air written or transposed for the alto! Next she sang, “Thou art gone up on high” and followed it with “How beautiful are the feet” and finally “If God be for us”. Georgiana finished with a pianoforte solo of “Worthy is the lamb that was slain.”*

When the last chord had been played, the room was still. Each person was deeply affected in his or her own personal way. Georgiana herself had tears running down her cheeks. At last, Lady Catherine spoke in a quiet voice, quite foreign to her audience, “Thank you Georgiana, Miss Bennet. I can think of nothing more appropriate on this day. You have given us a glimpse into the Mind of the Almighty I think.” And with that she was silent. Still no one moved. Elizabeth was the one to finally break the spell. She turned to her young friend, smiled and said, “Thank you Georgiana. I had no idea when we were practicing this in London that we would ever perform it all in front of an audience. Your playing was unparalleled, my dear friend.”

“The privilege, once again, was mine, Elizabeth. I have great joy listening to you sing.” Georgiana replied.

“Then it is best that you play and I sing if we are to show ourselves to the best advantage, Georgiana.” This elicited the intended smile from them both and they moved to rejoin the rest of the party.

“It is quite obvious that you two have practiced your music together. I find it incredible that you should have done so much in Hertfordshire.” Lady Catherine said in her once again usual commanding voice.

“Aunt Catherine, I invited Miss Bennet to stay with us in London for six weeks this winter whilst Mrs. Annesley attended her daughter at the birth of her first grandchild. Elizabeth and I spent many hours together working on these and other pieces.” Georgiana answered.

“You did not tell me this, Miss Bennet.” Lady Catherine cried.

“Your ladyship did not ask. I would have told you this if you had inquired. You had so many questions for me,” came Elizabeth’s retort.

Lady Catherine had to fight showing a smile. ‘Well done Miss Bennet. I wish Anne would stand up to me like that!’ “But you should have told me this when I asked about your acquaintance with my niece and nephew.”

“If I had mentioned it, you would have thought me implying more intimacy with your family than exists. You would have considered such as an attempt to ingratiate myself towards your acceptance. I wish to be judged by my merits alone!”

This time a smile did escape momentarily on Lady Catherine’s face. But she then schooled her features back into submission. “What you say has merit Miss Bennet. I shall take it into consideration. Now tell me, have you met any others of the family?”

“I was introduced to Lord and Lady Matlock. I have not made the acquaintance of any of their children save Colonel Fitzwilliam here. But I did not meet him before he came to Kent.” Elizabeth replied.

“Miss Bennet and Georgiana performed part of what they played just now for my Aunt and Uncle one night when we dined at Afton House.” Darcy added.

“You seem to have me at a disadvantage Miss Bennet. You have met most of my family and I have meet none of yours.” Lady Catherine continued.

“That is true, Lady Catherine, but you have asked me many questions about them. By now you must feel as if you know them all well!” Elizabeth shot back. Anne could not contain a laugh and lady Catherine looked at her sternly. Anne quickly regained her reserved countenance.

Lady Catherine continued to hold court until it was time for the party from the parsonage to depart. Georgiana promised to call the next morning and Anne added that she would likely come too.

*All selections for G.F. Handel’s Messiah

That evening after supper, Georgiana had a chance to have a private word with the Colonel.

“Richard, did you see the look on Fitzwilliam’s face when Elizabeth was singing. I had a perfect view from the pianoforte bench.”

“I must confess I was too absorbed in the music to notice anything else.”

“Well, Fitzwilliam was surprised by the music and entranced by Elizabeth’s song. I hope now that you believe me and are ready to help me play matchmaker.”

“Georgiana, you are a bit young to be doing that. But I agree that Miss Bennet does seem to be a woman worthy of Darcy. I especially enjoy seeing her stand up to Aunt Catherine!”

“So does Aunt Catherine, Richard. I believe our dear Aunt likes Elizabeth!”

“I would not be surprised at that either. But that would change if ever Darcy become affianced to Miss Bennet.” The Colonel replied sagely.

Georgiana sighed, “I believe you are correct, Richard. However, will you help me?”

“What do you propose and how can I be of assistance in your scheming.”

“It occurs to me that the main difficulty here is keeping Aunt Catherine from interfering. The easiest way around this is to make her think my brother is paying attention to Anne. Anne likes Elizabeth and is disposed to help as well. I believe that we should make every effort to include Anne in our outings and to include Elizabeth as well. Since Aunt Catherine appears to approve of Elizabeth, I believe she will think Elizabeth a good companion for me. So then, when we are with Elizabeth I shall do my best to put her and Fitzwilliam in company together. Meanwhile, you can partner Anne. That way you can keep Fitzwilliam from thinking he needs to see to Anne. What is your opinion on this scheme?”

The Colonel was oddly very pleased. “I believe that is a very reasonable course of action. You need only think of way to secure time for Darcy with Miss Bennet. You and I can keep Anne company as needed. I believe the letter I am expecting from my parents to Darcy will help as well.”

“What did you ask them to write, Richard?” Georgiana asked.

“I asked them to give him the Fitzwilliam Family talk.”

“Which is?”

“Something you are not ready for my dear. In a year or so, I am sure my mother and father will tell you. But until then, you must trust me when I say that it is the most reasonable piece of advice I have ever received.” The Colonel finished.

Georgiana was not pleased effectively being told no. She was sure she was old enough, but knew better than to push her guardian. What was a year after all? It must have something to do with courtship and marriage, but beyond that it was useless to speculate. She would have to wait until they returned to town to ask her Aunt Helen!

<<>>

Monday morning Georgiana asked Anne to accompany her on a call to the parsonage. She wanted to establish Anne as a welcome caller on Elizabeth before taking the men along. Darcy and the Colonel went for a ride.

Elizabeth was delighted to see the two women from Rosings. Anne had quickly become a favorite of hers and Elizabeth was always happy to see Georgiana.

Part way through their visit Elizabeth brought up a subject that needed to be addressed.

“Georgiana, as much as I would like to spend as much time as possible with you, I am a guest of the Collins. I cannot neglect Charlotte.”

Georgiana had considered this too. “What do you propose, Elizabeth?”

“I believe I should reserve the mornings for Charlotte. I would then be free to spend the afternoon in general with you.” Elizabeth explained.

“I think that is a marvelous idea. Have you spoken with Mrs. Collins about this?” Georgiana asked.

“Yes I have. She agrees that this is an amicable solution. She understands the depth of our affection, Georgiana. She also realizes that Lady Catherine is pleased with me and that this will afford her more good will with that woman.”

“Then we shall call on you tomorrow after Lunch. Do you have anything in mind?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. Miss de Bourgh, can you walk much distance?” Elizabeth asked turning to address the other young woman.

“I manage much better than people believe but I do have my limits.” Anne answered.

“I believe you can manage what I have in mind. Georgiana, will you please ask your brother to arrange transport to the place he and I talked of yesterday. He will know what I speak of.”

“Of course Elizabeth. You are not going to tell me where that is, are you?” Georgiana said.

“Patience is a virtue, Georgiana!” Elizabeth teased.

“A virtue I could sometimes do without!” Georgiana cried.

As the two women from Rosings left, they thanked Mrs. Collins for her hospitality. Maria was still in too much awe of the ladies to say much.

“Maria,” Elizabeth started once they were gone, “You need not be afraid of Miss Darcy or Miss de Bourgh, they are both very kind and unaffected.”

“I know Elizabeth, but they both travel in the highest levels of society and it makes me feel inadequate when I am around them.” Maria confessed.

“Oh Maria, that will not do! They are human beings just as you are. Georgiana particularly would be mortified to know that you were intimidated by her. I fear that much of the time it is the other way around when she is not familiar with a person.”

“Really?”

“Georgiana is a very shy person around strangers, Maria.”

“Somehow that makes me more at ease, Elizabeth. Thank you, I shall try to not be so timid around them.”

“Good, because you will be in their company during the next ten days or so, until the Darcys depart. They will be calling tomorrow afternoon and you shall join us on our walk Maria,” Elizabeth finished. Both Maria and her sister were very pleased that Elizabeth was taking pains to include Maria in her plans.

‘Now where is that letter from Jane? Elizabeth briefly thought before her attentions turned to the rest of the day’s activities.

Chapter 26

The long-awaited letter from Jane arrived with the rest of the post Tuesday morning. Elizabeth was surprised and pleased to find a second letter from Mary. She decided to read Mary’s first, saving Jane’s for last.

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dear Elizabeth,

If you have not first read Jane’s letter, please stop now and finish this after you have read what our dearest sister has to relay.

Mary

Elizabeth again was surprised by her sister but did as she was requested and picked up Jane’s letter to peruse.


Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dearest sister,

Papa received another letter from Mr. Bingley yesterday. I know, we all expected him to be back at Netherfield by now but his business has delayed him yet again. He did say that he would come to Netherfield from London on Monday. By the time you receive this he will be back in Hertfordshire! Oh Lizzy, I am so pleased he is finally to come. I must confess that I am anticipating meeting him again. I hardly know what to expect. I so wish you were here but Mary has proven herself a most pleasing companion in your absence. She has matured much since last November; she hardly seems to be the same person at all! She has promised to do her best to protect me from Mama at this time. Mama means well, but sometimes I wish she would just let things take their course naturally.

I do hope your time in Kent has been enjoyable. Georgiana will have been very anxious to see you again. How did you find Colonel Fitzwilliam? Is he what you expected? And what of Miss de Bourgh and Lady Catherine? You must write and tell me all!

Give my compliments to Charlotte and our cousin.

Your loving sister,
Jane

‘Dearest Jane, how much have your spirits improved today when Mr. Bingley called this morning?’ Elizabeth replaced Jane’s letter to resume Mary’s.

I felt it best that you read Jane’s version of the events as they stand before I gave you the true situation at Longbourn. I love my dear eldest sister very much but her inability to see anything but the good in people can become annoying at times.

Elizabeth smiled as she read this comment from Mary. She was showing more and more of a biting sense of humor. Their father could not help but be overjoyed to gain such a companion.

I believe Jane must have told you Mr. Bingley is expected in Hertfordshire Monday. Indeed, by the time you are reading this I am convinced that he should have called at least once by now. Jane tries to hide behind a placid countenance but she cannot hide her excitement from me. Actually, up until last December I doubt I would have even extended the effort to look. But that is another subject entirely.

Jane is absolutely glowing with happiness. I find myself of the same opinion as you; I do not think Mr. Bingley will tarry long before declaring himself. Therefore, I have been practicing my choice of words to get the two of them out of the house and away from Mama. How does this sound? “It is a lovely day. Would you care for a walk toward Meryton with me Jane? Mr. Bingley? Walking is such healthy exercise and after all the time you must have spent in a carriage lately Mr. Bingley I am sure it will do you some good.” And this, “Have you seen the new bulbs in our garden Mr. Bingley? They are quite beautiful this spring. Jane and I would love to show them to you.” I am working on others but hopefully it will not take many of these lovely machinations before Mr. Bingley takes the situation into his own hands.

Papa asked to speak to me in his study after he spoke to Jane. He told me of the contents of Mr. Bingley’s letter and asked for my help chaperoning the happy couple. Many of his thoughts on the subject run suspiciously akin to yours. I begin to suspect that you two have discussed the subject before!

Papa and I have begun reading Tom Jones* together. You are probably shocked that your once constantly moralizing younger sister should read such a scandalous book. I find myself surprised as well. Monday after you left Papa welcomed me into his study. He then told me that he suspected that I might be ready to read more unconventional literature and felt it his duty to ensure I did not read anything totally unsuitable for a young woman. He then surprised me by proposing to read Tom Jones ALOUD to me each day. I think he enjoyed seeing the shocked look on my face. I must confess that I was reluctant at first to agree but I soon warmed to the idea. I am very pleased that our father trusts me enough to share such a book with me and I am enjoying it immensely.

I have also begun to re-read Milton’s Paradise Lost** . Before you start to worry, let me explain. I am NOT relapsing back into old, immature mindsets. I may have discarded my moralizing but I have not discarded my faith. I wish to read Milton again from a more ascetic approach. I am fascinated with the picture the poet draws of the Fall. I am attempting to feel the writer’s passion through his choice of words and I am trying desperately to allow the text to paint a mental picture for me. When I am satisfied with developing such an image I want to compare it to my previous assumptions on the subject. I find this all to be a thrilling mental and spiritual exercise. When I finish Paradise Lost, I will attempt to do the same with Paradise Regained. Papa knows of this and is very encouraging. He wants to hear my conclusions when I am finished!

I will close now and plan my morning escape! Perhaps I can convince Kitty to come with me. Separating her from Lydia seems to calm her down some. Still, she has a long way to go. Just listen to me! As if I am suddenly an authority on proper behavior!

Your Loving Sister,
Mary

Elizabeth was delighted with her letters and purposed to reply at her first opportunity. If what she had learned from her two letters was true, she expected another letter very soon.

Elizabeth was not the only person to receive a letter that morning. Darcy was the recipient of a rather surprising letter himself. A letter from his Uncle, Lord Matlock, came with the rest of the day’s post. Darcy excused himself to go and read it in private. As he left, he noticed his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, giving him a rather odd look. Perhaps he knew what his parents had written him. Darcy was all the more apprehensive as he entered his room. He sat down in a chair next to the window, unsealed the letter and was startled to see that it was written in the hand of both his Uncle AND his Aunt.

Alton House, London

Dear William,

No doubt that you will be astonished upon opening this to perceive the handwriting of both your Uncle and Aunt. This is extraordinary for us as well but after receiving Richard’s letter we felt it best to proceed this way. Before I go any further, please do not be angry with Richard. He loves you as his own brother and nothing but his concern for you could prompt him to ask for our help. He asked that we give you the “Fitzwilliam Family Talk” since your mother was born one. That was an unnecessary plea because we were considering giving it to you before he wrote. I will let your Aunt continue from here.

William,

I wish to tell you the story of my courtship. It is a necessary component in what we have to say to you.

When your Uncle Hugh first began courting me, it was hailed as a splendid match. I was the well-dowered daughter of an Earl; he was a future Earl. Indeed in the beginning that was the motivation for trying to make the match. I had been raised to expect such a marriage of convenience. I was told that was the way people of our circle met and married. I was resigned to such a life but then something very unexpected happened. Hugh and I formed a real attachment. Before either of us knew what was occurring, we realized we were in love! Most of the Ton never suspected our true affections. Even now some of our acquaintance scoff at our domestic felicity, supposing it is a well-engrained act, but it is not. I love your Uncle now more than I did when we were first married and I am ever thankful that I was given a husband who would love and respect me for all of our lives together. I believe you are seeking the same thing, William. Your Uncle and I truly hope you find it. I will turn the page over to Hugh and let him continue.

Now I will continue on with our story. Even though we made a love match in the end, neither of us had changed our views on marriage for our circle. We felt that we were fortunate to have love in a marriage of convenience, but soon our opinions began to change. This change came about as the result of witnessing the unions of my two sisters. Anne and Catherine were always so very different. Anne was determined to marry for love or not marry at all. Our parents were not very happy with her repeated declarations of her determinations. Thus when your father asked permission to court Ann, my parents consented. The Darcy fortune was acceptable enough for them, though they lamented the lack of title. Your mother and father fell in love and were soon married. Within a year came the news that you would be born. Your parents were ecstatic and so very content. We watched as you came into this world and Pemberley was filled with joy. You had a very happy childhood because of your parents’ love for each other, and for you.

When you were two years old, your Aunt Catherine began to be courted by Sir Lewis. Catherine was indifferent to him personally but was intrigued by Rosings. This led her to accept his attentions, no matter how little she cared for him. Anne tried to reason with her. She told her she should look at more than Sir Lewis’ fortune in choosing a husband. But Catherine was determined to have her way and when Sir Lewis proposed, she accepted. Helen and I had our misgivings as well and voiced these to your Aunt. But none of us could move her. She would have Sir Lewis and his estate!

It was not surprising that several years passed before Catherine became with child. What you do not know is that she lost that first one. The loss of the babe seemed to alter her even more. She became colder, more domineering, and many times unpleasant to be near. We could tell she was miserable but she was too proud to admit it. Within a year she became with child again. This time the child survived and Anne was born. Catherine later told Helen that she had thereafter refused Sir Lewis in her bed. It did not matter because by the time Anne was two, he was dead. Catherine was left with his estate, which Anne will inherit control over upon her mother’s death.

Helen and I watched my two sisters and the lives they made for themselves. We came to the conclusion that we did not wish any of our children to suffer in marriage as Catherine did if we could help it. Therefore, as each child reached the marriageable age we told them the story of our courtship, and the contrasting marriages of their two Aunts. We then urged them to not follow the dictates of society and marry for wealth alone. We told them to follow their hearts and in the end all would turn out well. James and Amelia have chosen their partners with their hearts. Richard and Helena have yet to meet their soul mates, but they too seek a love match and know we will support them whomever their choice may be.

And now, nephew, we extend this to you. Follow your heart. Do not be afraid to go against the dictates of society. When you find your match, do not let her go, no matter what you believe society may think. As long as you love her, and she loves you in return, you will have our blessing. Your mother and father would have told you the same thing if they had survived. Your father never wanted you to sacrifice yourself if happiness was within your grasp. When you find a woman worthy, marry her!

Your loving Aunt and Uncle.

Darcy was, justifiably, stunned. He sat for many minutes in his chair and then re-read his letter. When he finished, he stood and began pacing. The implications were staggering! His uncle had just given him his leave to follow his heart! Darcy felt a great weight begin to lift from his entire being. Could it be possible! Was Elizabeth truly within his reach now? She was a gentlewoman. He a gentleman. She was…everything! He did not need her fortune, or her connections. He had enough for both. Besides, he knew his entire family liked her and the Earl’s acceptance would pave the way for the acceptance of society in general!

He then began to examine his conduct toward her. The more he pondered it, the more ashamed he became. He knew she could sense his emotional withdrawal from her. She did her best not to be alone with him and have to suffer from his polite civility when their companionship had once been more amiable. He began to despair of her ever forgiving him for his cold manner. But Darcy was not a man easily defeated. There were very few things in life denied to him and he was not used to giving up when faced with a challenge. Today he would begin meeting that challenge, the challenge of winning Elizabeth’s heart. If he could show her he was a man worthy of her affection and trust he was sure she would accept his attentions. She once had told him he was one of the best men she knew, and there was the look she gave him Easter morning. He would see if she still held him in the same regard. If she did, nothing would stop him from making her love him.

Yet, did he love her? Darcy pondered on this. He was amazed to realize he had loved her for a long time, perhaps even as early as the first time they met! He was predisposed to like her, so many had sung her praises. Still, he was skeptical that any woman could be so perfect. Then when they were introduced, the vibrancy of her personality overwhelmed him and he responded rudely to her. Thank God Georgiana made him apologize! How much would he have ruined if she had not insisted he ask Elizabeth to dance? He could not, thereafter, resist the opportunity to be near her. Even against his better judgment, he allowed Georgiana to ask her to stay with them in London. Yes, he had loved her all this time. The sense of loss was the loss of her love for him! He would win that love if it was the last thing he did!

<<>>

That afternoon, Darcy arranged for Anne’s phaeton to be readied. He would ask Georgiana to ride to the parsonage with Anne so that he could have a word with Richard.

As the two gentlemen walked toward Hunsford Parsonage, Darcy spoke to his wary cousin.

“Fitzwilliam, I am not angry with you.” Darcy began.

“That is a relief Darcy, I was unsure of how you would take your letter from my parents. Did they give you the Fitzwilliam Family Talk?” The Colonel asked.

Darcy momentarily considered toying with his cousin but decided time was of the essence. “Yes they did. Both of your parents wrote to me. I must say I was very surprised!”

“Undoubtedly!”

“But it was appropriate. I needed to hear from Aunt Helen as well as Uncle Hugh. The strength of their unity reinforced their message.” Darcy admitted.

“What do you plan to do now?” The Colonel asked.

Darcy looked closely at his cousin, trying to determine if he knew about his love for Elizabeth. He decided that if he wanted his cousin’s help, he needed to be honest and up front with him. “Beginning today, I will attempt to win Miss Elizabeth’s good opinion of me. If I believe she harbors any tender feelings toward me I will make her an offer of marriage.”

The Colonel beamed at Darcy. “That is the most reasonable thing I have heard you say in a very long time, Darcy. Miss Bennet is worthy of you, and you of her. How can I help?”

“I am not exactly sure, I have not long been accustomed to the idea of pursuing Miss Elizabeth. For today, however, if you could keep Anne company I would greatly appreciate it. Georgiana has already told me she plans to engage Miss Lucas in conversation. My sister is trying to play matchmaker with me, Fitzwilliam.”

The Colonel chuckled, “She asked me to help her with you, though she will never admit it. Very well Darcy, if you can engage Miss Bennet, I shall engage Anne in your stead.”

They found themselves at the front gate of the parsonage. Georgiana and Anne were just arriving as well. Together the four of them entered into the house. When the entire party had gathered into the parlor Elizabeth informed them of their destination.

“Oh Fitzwilliam, it has been ages since we were last there” Georgiana cried in delight.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam, would you please ride out with Anne to the path to the glade and we will meet you there. I am sure Maria will enjoy the walk. Georgiana, Mr. Darcy and I shall keep her company. Well then, shall we?” Elizabeth inquired.

The party set out down the path toward the turning to the glade. Maria was in awe of the beauty of the park. She had not explored it as had Elizabeth, until now preferring the company of her sister. Charlotte had stayed behind in order to tend to her many duties. Soon Georgiana drew ahead with Maria, eminently pleased with the division of the party. She could not have planned it better had she tried! Elizabeth was amused by the smug expression on her friend’s face as she looked back at her. She was enjoying her walk with Darcy. The cold distance seemed to be gone again. It appeared he took real pleasure in her company.

“Have you heard from your family, Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked.

“This morning I received letters from Jane and Mary. I must say I never anticipated deriving so much pleasure from my younger sister’s correspondence.”

“How so, Miss Bennet?”

“Mary has changed much since you were in Hertfordshire, Mr. Darcy. I am not sure what caused such a change to occur but it is as though she woke up a new person the day after the Ball at Netherfield. She is becoming a mature young woman and it is a pleasure to see. Much the same as it has been a great joy to see Georgiana blossom since I first met her at Pemberley.”

“Miss Bennet, you may beg to differ but I see many similarities in our sisters. The main point they have in common though, is you.”

Elizabeth blushed at such a compliment and stole a glance at Darcy’s face. He was staring intently down at her. She thought she recognized the look in his eyes. Was it truly admiration? And what kind of admiration could it be? Elizabeth tuned her gaze once more to the path ahead.

“I also learned Mr. Bingley was due to arrive at Netherfield yesterday.”

“I dare say Miss Bennet will be most pleased with his company.” Darcy replied. Elizabeth detected no disapprobation in his voice. He appeared reconciled to his friend’s choice.

They were nearing the junction of the path to the glade. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne had already arrived and the Colonel was tending to the horses as they prepared to join the others on foot.

“Anne, Richard, you made good time.” Georgiana said in greeting.

“I am well accustomed to handling horses Georgiana!” The Colonel answered

A little over ten minutes later, the party had made their way into the glade. Maria was delighted. The Colonel led Anne to the bench to rest while Darcy and Elizabeth laid out the blanket and food Darcy and the Colonel had brought with them. They reclined on the blanket consuming the contents of the hampers whilst Elizabeth read to them. She had brought along a copy of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night*** and proceeded to entertain them with her different rendering of the voices of each character. Darcy was charmed by her playfulness and begged to be given at least one character to read.

“Very well, you may read the part of the fool if you like. For he is the wisest of them all!”

When Elizabeth and Darcy had finished to the applause of the company it was time to pack up and return. Darcy once again secured a place next to Elizabeth and the two continued on in amiable conversation all the way back to the parsonage. Before they left, Georgiana and Anne prevailed upon Elizabeth and Maria to call the next afternoon at Rosings. It was agreed and Georgiana once again returned with Anne to the great house. Darcy and the Colonel soon followed.

“You seemed to do well today Darcy. I dare say Miss Bennet enjoyed being in your company.” The Colonel began.

“It was only one day Fitzwilliam. Let us see what tomorrow brings. Did you enjoy your time with Anne?”

“I do not believe I have ever spent that amount of time with her before. I must confess that she has continued to surprise me on this visit. I think she might finally be ready to emerge from beneath the shadow of Aunt Catherine.”

Darcy saw what the Colonel could not. The Colonel was beaming when he spoke of Anne. “I believe you may be correct, Fitzwilliam, and I must say, it is about time!”

In the phaeton Georgiana quizzed Anne. “Did you enjoy your time with Richard, Anne?”

“Do I need to answer you? Yes, I enjoyed it very much. But then, I have always enjoyed any attention he has given me.”

“Then I am glad Elizabeth suggested he drive you.”

“Did you put that idea in her head?” Anne asked.

“No,” Georgiana laughed, “I cannot claim any brilliance in that matter, it was all Elizabeth’s doing. She did seem to enjoy her time with Fitzwilliam, though. He seemed pleased with her as well.”

“I agree. I was observing them too. There may be hope for your scatterbrained schemes after all!”

‘If you only knew how right you are, Anne!’ Georgiana mused.

* The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding

** Paradise Lost by John Milton

*** Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Chapter 27

Elizabeth found herself with a free hour before dinner and decided to answer her sisters’ letters. To save time and postage she decided to address them both in the same epistle.

Hunsford Parsonage, Kent

Dear Jane and Mary,

I received both of your letters this morning and decided to combine my responses into one missive.

By now, Mr. Bingley has called at Longbourn and I am sure Mama could not be more delighted! Before I left I charged Mary to be your chaperone in my place, Jane. I am confident that she will discharge her duties in a most obliging manner.

Charlotte seems to be quite content with her situation. The house is comfortable and well furnished. The park across the lane is most delightful. I have availed myself of it many, many times since we arrived.

Lady Catherine is everything I expected her to be. Take that as you will. I am surprised by the fact that she seems to like me, though. I do not think many have ever dared voice an opinion opposite her own. My willingness to stand my ground before her has earned her grudging respect, I believe. In my own way I am fond of her as well. She does not suffer fools lightly, how can I NOT be disposed to like someone like that!

Her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh, was not at all as I expected. She hides behind a veil of infirmity but she possesses intelligence and a keen wit. I have enjoyed our conversations together. I believe she will turn out well if she were ever to escape her mother’s heavy hand.

Colonel Fitzwilliam is an amiable gentleman. After meeting his parents I expected as much. It is clear he holds all of his cousins in deep affection. He has a wonderful rapport with Georgiana and I believe he and Mr. Darcy have been very capable guardians for her.

As for Georgiana, I was very pleased to see her again. She continues in the development of a quiet confidence in herself. She may still struggle with being uneasy amongst strangers but when she is with her family and circle of acquaintance she has developed a wonderful poise. On Sunday we played more of Handel’s Messiah for the company. She was masterful!

Mr. Darcy remains the attentive brother. It is clear that there is nothing he would not do for his sister. His kindness and gentleness toward her is always on display. If we had been so fortunate to have had a brother, I would have wished him to be like Mr. Darcy.

I miss you both. Please send me any important news!

Your loving Sister,
Elizabeth

<<>>

The next morning Elizabeth and Maria accompanied Charlotte on her calls to the residents of the parish. Elizabeth was impressed how well her friend had slipped into the role of clergyman’s wife. She seemed genuinely concerned for the people she looked after. If the residents of Hunsford Parish were not treated to imaginative sermons, they would at least be the recipients of kindness from the sermon maker’s wife.

After lunch, Elizabeth and Maria made their way to Rosings to spend the afternoon with Georgiana and Anne. Elizabeth wondered what they could do to pass the time away from Lady Catherine’s watchful eye. They soon arrived and were shown into the room where Georgiana, Anne, Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Jenkinson were. Georgiana informed them that she and Anne had decided on a walk though the gardens near the house. As the ladies passed through the hall on their way outside, they came across Darcy and the Colonel walking from the library in the direction Lady Catherine’s Study.

“Will you two gentleman accompany us on our visit to the gardens?” Elizabeth asked. Darcy was pleased that she wished their company.

“No, Elizabeth, Richard and Fitzwilliam have sacrificed themselves for our sakes! They are on their way to see my Aunt on estate matters,” Georgiana informed her friend. Darcy again was pleased to see a slight look of disappointment momentarily flash across Elizabeth’s face.

“What we will endure for the sake of the ladies, Darcy!” The colonel replied melodramatically, hand over heart. “Off to face the lioness! With apologies of course to you, Cousin Anne.” The Colonel bowed smartly to the ladies and quick marched away, leaving Darcy in his wake.

“Shall we see you again before dinner, Fitzwilliam?” Georgiana asked.

“That depends entirely on Richard. If he can restrain himself well enough we should be through all our business in two to three hours. If, however, he persists in his more provoking attitude we shall be much longer. I fear a long afternoon.” Darcy admitted and took his leave.

Georgiana and Elizabeth led the party to the rose garden. Maria was very much overwhelmed to be in the company of Miss Anne de Bourgh. Anne realized the young girl’s unease and began to try and make her feel more comfortable.

“Miss Lucas, have you enjoyed your visit with your sister?” Anne thought if she could get her to talk, the poor thing would relax.

“Yes, I have, Miss de Bourgh. Charlotte has had me accompany her on her calls and we have spent many hours together in the drawing room. We never had this much time together at home. Mama always had something for one of us to do, so this has been a peaceful change for us. Elizabeth has been kind enough to allow us this time alone, even before Miss Darcy came to Rosings.”

“Miss Bennet appears to be a kind and loyal friend. Coming here must not have been the most agreeable prospect for her, considering her history with her cousin.”

“You know about that, Miss de Bourgh?”

“My mother knows almost everything that is connected with Hunsford Parsonage,” Anne answered sagely.

“I suppose that should not be a surprise to me, knowing my brother-in-law,” Maria ventured. Anne nodded her head in response.

Ahead, Georgiana and Elizabeth were discussing the previous day’s outing.

“Thank you so much for arranging the outing to the glade. It has been years since I was last there. It is a very special place to Fitzwilliam and me. I feel my parents’ presence there, it is the only place like that away from Pemberley for me.” Georgiana confessed.

“When I entered the glade with your brother he told me about your parents and the bench. I sensed he too has many happy memories associated with that place.” Changing the subject, Elizabeth observed, “I believe your cousins enjoyed their time together as well, Georgiana.”

“Yes, Elizabeth. Was there any thing else you noticed?”

“Not really, Georgiana,” Elizabeth admitted.

“I believe my cousin Richard is beginning to be attracted to Anne!”

“Georgiana, you should not try and match-make. Allow events to proceed in their natural course. You could do more harm than good.” Elizabeth said. ‘And unknowingly cause pain to those you are attempting to match.’

“All I have done is try and give them opportunities to be together, when they can have some privacy. You were a great help yesterday when you suggested Richard drive Anne.”

“I assure you that I was not trying to do anything untoward. I only thought the Colonel was the natural choice to accompany Miss de Bourgh with his intimate knowledge of horses.”

“I know, Elizabeth, but it was a brilliant stroke by you, however unintentional it was. They both enjoyed their time together. I just hope Richard does not dally around too long. We are only here until next Thursday.”

“Just be careful, Georgiana,” Elizabeth warned once more.

Elizabeth and Georgiana decided to switch partners so that Georgiana could become more acquainted with Maria Lucas. Elizabeth’s previous words and Anne de Bourgh’s kind manner put Maria more at ease to speak when she joined Georgiana. Elizabeth and Anne quickly fell into easy conversation.

“Miss Bennet, it is very obvious that my relatives were correct when relating what a good influence you have been on Georgiana. She is much more confident since the two of you met. I could tell there was a change in her by the tone of her letters. At least, I had hoped there was. I cannot tell you how delighted I was when it was proved upon her arrival.”

As could be expected, Elizabeth tried to deflect such praise back onto Georgiana. “I am afraid you give me too much credit, Miss de Bourgh. I could not make Georgiana anything other than what she truly is. All I have ever done is to encourage her to not be afraid to be herself. While I admit to highly encouraging any tendencies toward impertinence, I believe that what you now see is what was waiting to be revealed when the proper time came.”

“Nevertheless, you were the instigator of her blossoming and I, and the rest of my family, are very grateful for your friendship and devotion.”

“Thank you, Miss de Bourgh,” Elizabeth finally assented.

The gentlemen of the house were still encamped with Lady Catherine when the ladies returned from their walk. Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Jenkinsen had allowed the young ladies their privacy. Both were pleased to see their younger charges finding such amiable ladies to divert them. Mrs. Jenkinsen especially was happy with this development. She was weary from having to present a different demeanor in the presence of her employer than in privacy with her charge. Anne had taken her into her confidence very early on and Mrs. Jenkinsen had played a very useful role in assisting Anne in her quest for some small amount of freedom from her domineering parent. Perhaps now Anne was ready to begin to assert herself more, as Mrs. Jenkinsen had long been advising.

After Elizabeth and Maria left to return to the parsonage, Georgiana and Anne had a joint word with their companions.

“Mrs. Annesley, Mrs. Jenkinsen, Anne and I would wish for you to know that when we are in the company of Miss Bennet and Miss Lucas we do not wish you to feel obligated to stay with us. If you would much rather occupy yourselves with other things we will not be offended. We are not asking you to NOT be in our company. Rather, we are giving you the freedom to use your discretion as to whether or not your presence is either required or needed. We hope you are satisfied enough with the character of these two ladies to feel comfortable leaving us to ourselves.” Georgiana concluded.

“Miss Darcy, Miss de Bourgh,” Mrs. Jenkinsen began, “Mrs. Annesley and I have discussed the two ladies in question and are very much satisfied with the content of their characters. We are happy to provide company for you whenever and wherever you wish. Thank you for the consideration you have shown in speaking to us in this manner.”

All four were pleased with the results of the conversation.

<<>>

Over the remainder of the week Elizabeth, sometimes accompanied by Maria and Charlotte, had daily outings with the younger inhabitants of Rosings. Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Jenkinsen remained behind when the gentleman joined the ladies. When the gentlemen were absent, they did escort the ladies, but always kept to themselves, sometimes with Mrs. Collins, to allow their charges the freedom to converse solely with the unmarried ladies of the parsonage.

When the gentlemen were present, Georgiana did everything in her power to insure that her brother fell into company with Elizabeth and Anne with Richard. She found an unwitting ally in her schemes in Maria Lucas. Miss Lucas was eager to receive the attentions of a young woman close to her age and found she greatly enjoyed talking with Georgiana. She would have plenty of opportunities to be in Elizabeth’s company back in Hertfordshire. Darcy was all too willing to seize on these opportunities for Elizabeth’s attention. He continued to be open with her, engaging her in spirited conversation at every opportunity. Elizabeth was very gratified to perceive the return of his open and playful manners. She had missed the man she had come to know in Hertfordshire. It certainly was preferable to the emotionally distant one she had spent six weeks living with in London.

The Colonel was coming to more and more enjoy the time spent with his cousin Anne. This was truly the first visit to Rosings where he made any effort to become much better acquainted with his cousin. It began to dawn on him how well suited they were for each other. He was astonished at how similar their tastes were in many areas. He was equally astonished to discover a real strength of character lurking just below the surface.

Fortunately for all parties concerned, Lady Catherine had no suspicions as to the tide of events unfolding right under her nose. As far as she was concerned, Darcy had been spending considerably more time in the company of Anne than he ever had before. Now, maybe very soon, her dream would be fulfilled and Darcy would become her son-in-law.

The invitation was extended to the residents of the parsonage to dine at Rosings on Sunday. Lady Catherine was anticipating another lively evening crossing swords with the very intriguing Miss Bennet. Lady Catherine had also hoped Anne would take a liking to her so that she could invite her back to Rosings and not be at the mercy of her ridiculous clergyman or his wife to extend further invitations. The thought of engaging her as a new companion for Anne was appealing, but Mrs. Jenkinsen had served faithfully for many years now and she rather doubted Miss Bennet would abase herself so if there were not some dire financial need.

<<>>

Sunday morning, Elizabeth sat in her pew contemplating the events of the week. She wondered what was happening between Jane and Mr. Bingley. Hopefully, she would be receiving another letter in the next day or two. She was anticipating a highly gratifying report of her sister’s engagement to Mr. Bingley. Surely the man would not tarry long! Her thoughts then turned to Bingley’s friend. As Elizabeth looked at the back of his head, at his luscious dark curls, she finally knew she loved him. She had tried to deny it for so long. But his open manner of the last several days had exposed her heart as nothing else could. How could she not love him? He was everything she desired in a man. He was a man she held in the highest esteem, a man who had proved himself a fierce and loyal friend. He was intelligent, witty, protective of his loved ones, and stunningly gorgeous! A great feeling of sadness settled over her features. She would love him but she knew he could never love her in return.

At that moment an elderly gentleman behind Elizabeth coughed, Darcy instinctively turned his head to look and caught Elizabeth staring at him. She blushed and dropped her gaze but not before he saw the look on her face. He turned his head to look forward again. He then became lost in his own thoughts. Elizabeth had been staring at him, that much he could say with confidence. He had felt that someone had been, but he had schooled himself not to look back. The only reason he had finally turned his head was the subconscious need to see who had coughed. But why had she looked so… forlorn? What made her look at him like that? Was it the same look of longing he gave her when no one was looking? Was there hope? Darcy once again sneaked a quick glance back but Elizabeth was still gazing at her hands. He would watch her again tonight at Rosings. If she gave any indications of any tender regard, he would seek her out and discover her mind. He was ready to declare his intentions.

<<>>

As much as Darcy, or Georgiana for that matter, tried to garner Elizabeth’s attentions that night, Lady Catherine had other ideas. Almost as soon as the Hunsford party arrived, Lady Catherine had demanded the attention of Elizabeth. Darcy actually began to find it quite amusing. His Aunt obviously had taken quite a fancy to this young lady. She did her best not to show her any peculiar partiality, but her lack of disdain in addressing Elizabeth gave her away. Elizabeth also perceived the difference in address as opposed to the rest of the non-family members of the party. She was diverted as well by her ladyship’s attempts to provoke her to impertinence and decided to indulge the lady’s wish for Elizabeth to knowingly defend opinions both knew were not her own.

The time came for the ladies and gentlemen to separate after dinner. The Colonel and Darcy had no desire to do this tonight, each wishing to be in the presence of a different lady. Mr. Collins could never disagree with any wish of his noble patroness’s nephews and so agreed to join the ladies immediately. Cards were decreed by Lady Catherine and she asked Elizabeth to partner her against Mrs. Annesley and Mrs. Jenkinsen. With such a table she knew she could monopolize the conversation with Miss Bennet. Elizabeth graciously accepted her fate for the evening.

Mr. Collins, Charlotte, Maria and Georgiana made up the next table. Georgiana did this so that Lady Catherine would be pleased her brother was speaking with Anne. Darcy, the Colonel and Anne moved away from the others and sat down by themselves to converse. Darcy was more than content to let his two partners carry the conversation. He was only required to give an occasional comment. It was very obvious that the two of them were getting on very well and an affection was developing between them unlike the previous cousinly rapport that existed beforehand.

Prior to their departure for the evening, plans were made for the next day to visit a nearby lake for a picnic. Lady Catherine surprised them by inviting herself along. None were happy about this, but what could be done? When Lady Catherine decided upon anything, who could say no to her? Her ladyship offered the use of two of her carriages. Mr. Collins was so overwhelmed by her generosity that he decided to attend the outing as well. With much of the anticipation for the pleasure of the outing dissipated, the evening concluded with resigned acceptance by the rest of the party.

The picnic to the nearby lake went as well as could reasonably be expected. Darcy and the Colonel entertained Anne. Georgiana tried her best to draw Elizabeth away from the clutches of her Aunt. She succeeded a few times, making use of Mr. Collins’ incessant need to praise Lady Catherine as a means of escape. Georgiana was profuse in apologies to Elizabeth but Elizabeth insisted it was not necessary.

“Georgiana, as much I as hate to admit this, I am enjoying the attention of Lady Catherine. She values my independent spirit and, in a perverse way, reminds me of my father. I shall not be here for much longer than you and it is giving Miss de Bourgh an opportunity to be out without her mother constantly fussing over her. I am consoling myself with the knowledge that the next time you and I meet, it will be away from Rosings and the oversight of your Aunt.” With this speech Elizabeth was able to sooth over any feelings of regret by Georgiana.

“I think we should take this opportunity and plan a walk for tomorrow.” Elizabeth continued. “Why not meet me at the path to the grove tomorrow morning. Charlotte has other engagements tomorrow and I find myself without obligations for the day.”

“That is a wonderful idea, Elizabeth. I shall meet you at 10 o’clock then.”

The carriages were finally ordered and Darcy helped the ladies up into the carriages. When he took Elizabeth’s hand to assist her he felt her tense and saw her blush. Very pleased with her reaction he held her hand a moment longer than required and felt her unwillingness to release their grip. At last, Darcy knew there was hope!

<<>>

When Elizabeth returned to the parsonage that afternoon she was pleased to find a letter from Jane. ‘At last!’ Elizabeth tore open the seal and began to read.

Longbourn, Hertfordshire,

Dearest Lizzy,

I do not know where to begin! Oh Lizzy, he loves me! Charles and I are engaged to be married…

Chapter 28

Charles Bingley was a very frustrated man. He had intended to leave Manchester for Lincoln Tuesday morning but a last minute delay caused him to postpone his trip for one day. The weather on Tuesday had been sunny and clear all day but Wednesday morning greeted him with dull, overcast skies. Soon a light drizzle began and the coach was slowed so much that Bingley found himself only to Sheffield by nightfall. He had hoped, if the weather had held, to make it nearly to Lincoln that evening. As it now stood, if the dismal weather continued, he would be fortunate to reach Lincoln by nightfall the next day.

Fortunately, the rain abated during the night and by midmorning the sun was shining once again. In the middle of the afternoon, Bingley’s carriage pulled up in front of his Aunt Blackwell’s home on Bailgate. Caroline Bingley rushed out to greet her brother as soon as she had spied the carriage pass under Newport Arch.

Caroline took the unprecedented step of throwing her arms around her brother. Bingley did not know what to make of this uncharacteristic display of affection from his sister. Being a man of such kindly disposition he immediately saw it as proof of his sister’s reformation.

“Caroline! It is good to see you again. I must say that you are looking well!”

“I am well, thank you Charles. I am very happy to see you brother. I have missed you and Louisa and Mr. Hurst very much. But come inside and see our Aunt Blackwell. She has been very anxious for your safety these last two days. We expected you Tuesday evening.”

Bingley allowed Caroline to show him inside the house and into the drawing room. Mrs. Blackwell greeted her nephew effusively, remarking on how similar his looks were to his late mother, her sister.

“We expected you to arrive two days ago, Charles. I hope there was nothing greatly amiss.” Mrs. Blackwell enquired.

“No, Aunt. On Monday a last-minute detail delayed my departure until yesterday. Unfortunately, I was caught in the weather and had to break my journey in Sheffield. I traveled the rest of the distance today. It stopped raining early enough last night for the roads to sufficiently recover to the point where near normal traveling speed was possible. I have to admit that I was very frustrated with the delays.” Bingley replied.

“The important thing, Charles,” Caroline interjected, “is that you are now safely in Lincoln. What are your plans now, brother?”

“I had planned on staying at least until Saturday before heading to London.” Bingley began. He noticed his sister’s eyes brighten and the mention of the capital. “I have business that will take a few days to complete before I return to Netherfield.” Bingley watched his sister for a reaction to his last statement. Caroline was able to school her features to not betray her inner feelings. She instead forced a smile on her face.

“I am glad you are taking such an interest in your estate Charles. I have heard it said that the master of the estate is most busy in the spring during the planting season and the fall during harvest.”

“That is not the only reason I am returning to Netherfield.” Charles corrected.

“Yes Charles, I know you wish to see dear Jane. I cannot wait to see her again myself!”

Bingley was very pleased by this pronouncement from his sister. His Aunt Blackwell, however, still harbored her doubts. When Caroline left to change for dinner, Mrs. Blackwell remained behind to have a word with her nephew.

“How is my sister truly, Aunt?” Bingley asked as soon as he was assured of their privacy.

“Charles, I am not certain of the sincerity of your sister’s reform. She has done all that I have asked her to do, but I do not detect a willing spirit. I may be wrong. She may be the type of individual whose feelings are not easily discernable. If you take her away now, I cannot guarantee that her manners will last through the carriage ride to London.”

Bingley was slightly disheartened by this report. Nevertheless, he was determined to seek out the potential good in his sister. Dinner went well that evening and the next day Caroline never gave any reason for her brother to doubt her sincerity. Bingley decided to forgo traveling on a Sunday and made plans to depart for London at first light on Monday. He would break his travel for the day somewhere in the vicinity of Peterborough. That would put him in Town later in the day on Tuesday. If all went well, he would be able to conclude his business in Town and leave for Netherfield Friday morning. He did not wish to travel on Good Friday, but Hertfordshire was only a half-day’s journey and he would be there early enough in the afternoon to pay a call on Longbourn.

Saturday, he informed his Aunt and sister of his plans. Seeing no reason not to, Bingley asked Caroline if she would like to accompany him to London. If her behavior remained satisfactory, he resolved he would then invite her to travel with him to Netherfield. Of course Caroline was pleased to be escaping her exile in Lincolnshire and quickly, but she temperately voiced her approval of his offer to bring her to London.

Sunday was spent quietly at services and home. Caroline had spent the day before instructing her servant to pack her things in her own particular manner. Bingley and Caroline took their leave of their Aunt before going to bed that night. They would be on the road before Mrs. Blackwell would awake. After Caroline had retired, Bingley remained to thank his Aunt once again.

“Aunt, words cannot express my gratitude for your hospitality to Caroline these past four months. I believe your dedication to moral uprightness has had a positive influence on her and I am very glad for it.”

“It is one of the last services I can provide to your dear departed mother, Charles. I know she would be very proud of you if she were still alive. I only hope she would be proud of Caroline as well.”

“Thank you, Aunt. I am sure she would be.” Bingley stated.

Mrs. Blackwell was silent for a few moments before answering. “Charles, if you need to send Caroline back to me, she will be welcome.”

“I do not believe that will be necessary, but it is comforting to know your home is always open to us,” Bingley answered with great feeling.

<<>>

Bingley was quite pleased when Caroline appeared at the appointed hour dressed and ready to depart. The cook had prepared a hamper so that they would have something to eat on the road and not have to stop until lunch. Although Caroline had been on time for the early departure she soon fell asleep with the gentle rocking of the carriage. When she was finally awakened by her hunger, Bingley was very anxious to talk about his plans for removing to Netherfield when his business in Town was complete. Caroline had not been awake long enough to gain the full use of her faculties.

“Oh Charles, I do not see why you are so infatuated with Jane Bennet. She is a dear sweet girl, but her mother!” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Caroline knew she had made a grave mistake.

Bingley’s face changed from incredulous to extreme anger in a matter of seconds. He banged his walking stick on the roof and ordered the carriage to stop. After contemplating the situation in silence for ten minutes, he ordered the driver to turn around and return to Lincoln.

Caroline Bingley had witnessed such animosity from her brother on only a handful of occasions in her life. Each time he had harbored an irrevocable determination to see out his course of action. She knew any chance of returning to London had vanished with her very ill chosen words. She only hoped that he would stop there and not make good on his earlier threats.

Bingley was so livid he did not trust himself to speak. Caroline had played him for the fool, again! This was not to be borne! As soon as the impact of her words registered in his mind he knew he could not stand to share the coach with her all the way to London. The only thing he could think about was how to be out of her presence as soon as possible. Had he been a less kind man he would have proceeded to the next town and given her money to catch the post. But he would not shame his sister so. He determined to return her to the nearest relative; that meant a return to Lincoln. Thank God Aunt Blackwell had enough insight into Caroline’s character so see though her falsehoods in offering her standing invitation.

They rode the entire hour and a half back to Lincoln in silence. Caroline was wise enough to see that, at that moment, any conversation could only be to her detriment. Bingley did not wish to confront his sister further in a moving carriage.

Mrs. Blackwell was not too surprised to see her niece and nephew returning, but perhaps a little sooner than she would have anticipated.

“Have Miss Bingley’s things removed to her bedroom.” Bingley commanded the servant. “Aunt Blackwell, Caroline has expressed her desire to remain with you longer. She is not ready to return to society in London at the present. I will return in an hour and we can discuss this further then.” With that Bingley headed up Bailgate to the White Hart. Once there he engaged a room for the night and had a glass of ale sent to his quarters.

One hour later, and much more in control of his emotions, Bingley returned to his Aunt’s. He immediately asked to speak to his Aunt alone, something easily accomplished as his sister had yet to leave her room.

“As you may have deduced, Caroline has managed to disappoint me severely. We had only been on the road for just over an hour and a half when Caroline woke from a short slumber. I do not believe she had time to steel herself to hide her true opinions when she insulted my intended fiancé’s family. I warned her in January that I would not tolerate such behavior from her. I informed her then that such behavior would result in the cessation of her allowance from me. She has received this quarter’s allotment but will not be receiving any more. When I return to London I will arrange with my solicitor to have the full amount of her dowry given over to her. If that is impossible, then I will have the yearly interest assigned over to her as her income until she comes into possession of the principle. I know this puts you in a very awkward position. I am sorry, Aunt.”

“Charles, do not despair over me. I must admit that I am not surprised by the events of the morning. Caroline is still the same selfish person that arrived here four months ago. I do need though, to ask if she is free to leave my house if she wishes it.” Mrs. Blackwell inquired.

“As far as I am concerned, Caroline may live and travel anywhere she wishes as long as it is not to my house in Town or to Netherfield. She will not be welcome at either place until she has acquired some respect for me. I did, however, offer to take her to London. I will leave funds enough for her to travel there if she so desires. I suppose she will have to procure an invitation from one of her friends or the Hursts first, though I am inclined to believe Louisa will be loath to have her at this time.”

“Having observed Caroline for four months, I believe you are able to accurately divine your other sister’s feelings on the matter.”

“There is one more point in this matter, Aunt. Please, do not be offended, but I found the prospect of spending the night under the same roof as my sister distasteful. I have engaged a room at the White Hart and will be leaving for London again at first light in the morning.”

“I am not offended, Charles. I understand your motivations and do not hold them against you.”

“Thank you for your understanding, Aunt. I pray that Caroline will use this time more wisely than the last. I will speak to her now and then will remove myself to my lodgings. I will take my leave of you now Aunt, whilst I still am able to do so civilly.”

“God bless you, Charles!”

<<>>

Mrs. Blackwell left her nephew in the room and went to summon Caroline to her brother. Caroline had spent the last 3 hours trying to devise a way to entreat her brother. She could think of no way that would not debase herself and therefore had no plan of action. She entered the room and saw her brother with his back to her, looking out the window. He waited until he knew she was seated before beginning.

Still with his back to her he said, “Caroline, after what happened in London in January I never thought you could hurt me again as you did then. I had hoped that you were only being selfish then. Now I know I was mistaken. Not only were you being selfish then, you were showing that you do not care for me, that you do not love me. If you did truly love me then you would wish for my happiness. As it is, you care only for yourself. At least I know that Louisa loves me enough to wish this for me.”

“I will travel to Town tomorrow. Whilst I am there I will see to it that you take as much possession of your fortune as is possible. If I cannot give you the full amount, then I will assign all future interest to you. You have received this quarter’s allowance from me. It will be the last. You must live on the income your fortune provides alone from this point on.”

Bingley finally turned to face his sister. She was shocked to see the tears running down his face. “Once you are able to demonstrate that you love me and care for my happiness, then you will be welcome in my home. Goodbye, Caroline. Never forget that I love you and will be waiting for you.” With that, he walked out of the room and out of Caroline Bingley’s life.

<<>>

Bingley spent the entire day walking around Lincoln. At least here there were no painful memories of Caroline. Someday he would bring Jane to Lincoln. He would show her the places he remembered from his youth. They would laugh as they walked up Steep Hill, and Jane would learn why that was its name. He was saddened that she would not see the wooden spires that had once topped the two towers of the Cathedral. He remembered them towering over the city like nothing he had ever seen before or since. He recalled his Aunt’s descriptions of the city’s residents when the spires had to come down four years ago. The people wept with their loss. Part of his childhood was lost with them too. He made his way down to Brayford Pool on High Street. Along the way he purchased a small watercolor of the Cathedral to give to Jane.

At last he walked back up to the White Hart where he dined and retired early for the evening. Bingley, however, found sleep hard to come by. He was fully aware that his sister was but 200 yards down the street. He wondered when he would see her again. Would she come to his wedding, if Jane said yes? Could Caroline ever learn to love him again as she once did as a girl? The loss of his mother had been the beginning of her transformation. Their father could refuse none of them anything. How he had remained unspoiled was beyond him, looking back at it now. Louisa had escaped when she had married. Hurst may have given her free reign over his household, but he did know where to draw the line and was able to keep his wife in her place, most of the time that is. Caroline was not so fortunate. If she had not set her cap on Darcy, something he repeatedly warned her was futile, she might have been able to make a match before this. She was a handsome enough woman, and a dowry of £20,000 was not to be disregarded. Now, she faced a difficult road if she did not mend her ways. No honorable man would wish to pay the price of such a wife, even if he did need the money! He despaired of her ever finding someone to bring her joy as Jane did for him.

Tuesday found Bingley in his carriage from sunrise to just before sunset. He stopped at an inn just outside Peterborough, just as he had planned to do the day before. He repeated his previous day’s efforts on Wednesday and reached London as the shadows were drawing long across the streets.

That night, alone in his house, Bingley wrote a letter to Mr. Bennet informing him that he would be traveling to Netherfield on Monday. He had hoped to spend Easter Sunday at Longbourn; he was confidant that Mrs. Bennet would have invited him to do so! Instead, he hoped he would spend it with Louisa and Hurst. After sealing his letter to Mr. Bennet, Bingley drafted a note and had it sent to the Hursts. He requested a meeting tomorrow evening. During the day he had too much business to conduct if he hoped to leave for Hertfordshire Monday morning. Louisa responded back with the messenger that they would be happy to accommodate her brother’s request and asked if he would join them for dinner. The servant was once again fetched to deliver Bingley’s acceptance of the invitation to dine and to inform them that he would be arriving at 7 o’clock.

Bingley’s main purpose in visiting London, before his episode with Caroline, was to confer with his solicitor to begin rough drafts of the marriage settlement he planned to offer Mr. Bennet for Jane. The additional burden of Caroline’s issues did not add too heavily to his schedule. He arrived at the solicitor’s office promptly at 10 o’clock and spent the next three hours discussing options for settling Caroline’s fortune upon her immediately. The issue was as complicated as Bingley had feared, due to the measures of his father’s will. Before they broke for lunch, Bingley came to a resolution on the proper course of action and the papers would be prepared for his signature Friday morning. After lunching at his club, Bingley returned to his solicitor to discuss his own marriage settlements. Bingley was in a decidedly better mood due, naturally, to the anticipation of such an event. A first draft would also be ready for his inspection Friday morning.

Feeling much relieved, Bingley rode back to his home to relax before it was time to prepare for dinner. He began daydreaming about the day he would bring his Jane to London to take up her position as Mistress of the house. His butler found him asleep in the chair by the fire, with a very content smile on his face.

At 7 o’clock, Bingley was shown into his brother-in-law’s home. Louisa was very happy to see her brother again.

“It has been nearly three months since you left for Manchester. Has your business there gone well, Charles?”

“Thank you for asking, Louisa. The repairs to the warehouse are complete. It will be open for business again on Monday.”

“That is very good news Charles. I believe Papa would be very proud of the manner in which you have conducted this affair. Now tell me, how did your visit to Lincoln turn out. I had thought you might bring Caroline back to London with you.” As soon as Louisa spoke these words she knew something was wrong by the look on her brother’s face. It had only taken an instant for the storm clouds to appear on his visage. What had Caroline done now?

“I was delayed two days in reaching Lincoln. When I arrived, Caroline seemed to be the charming woman we used to know. Events went so well that I invited her to come back to London with me on Monday.”

“But you arrived only yesterday. Did the journey take you three days?” Mr. Hurst asked.

Bingley continued. “We left as planned at first light on Monday morning. Shortly after we departed, Caroline fell asleep. When she awoke an little more than an hour later, she was not in full control of her wits and proceeded to insult Miss Bennet and Mrs. Bennet.”

Bingley stopped for a minute to regain his composure. “I immediately stopped the coach. After I had calmed down enough to think rationally, I ordered the coach to turn around and return to Lincoln. Aunt Blackwell had expressed her doubts to me about Caroline and had offered her home again if the need arose. To be honest, I do not think she was too surprised to see us returned to Lincoln.”

“I left Caroline and took time to order my thoughts. I was deeply hurt by Caroline’s words and actions. I knew that the time had come to stand up to her and show her that I am a man, not some boy to be pushed to the side! I spoke to Aunt, gained her approval, and then confronted Caroline. I have cut off her allowance. I met with my solicitor to arrange the disbursement of the interest of her fortune as Caroline’s sole source of income. I cannot change the terms of father’s will regarding the settling on her fortune. She must wait to gain control of it. But from now on she must live without any aid from me, and not in my home.”

Both Hurst and Louisa were stunned into silence. This was a side of Bingley they had only seen glimpses of. He was acting as his own master, no matter how much it hurt him to do so. They also knew that Caroline would not be coming to live with them at that time. She had lessons to learn. As long as Aunt Blackwell was willing to provide her a home, Caroline would be staying in Lincoln.

“I am very sorry it has come to this Charles. I believe you did the only thing you could do for Caroline by cutting her off. She needs to learn to respect you, if nothing else. She will not be welcome in this house at this time.” Louisa said and in an effort to reassure her brother, continued, “But I do not believe you will be in Town long brother. When do you go to Netherfield to see your Miss Bennet?”

This brought about the desired change in Bingley as he smiled at the thought of seeing his Jane again. “I shall travel to Netherfield Monday. My business with the solicitor should be concluded tomorrow but there is still the chance that it will not.”

“Then you must spend Easter with us Charles. We would not wish you to be alone at a time like this,” Louisa offered.

“Thank you, sister. I shall be delighted to join you.” Bingley replied, very relieved he had some family of whom he need not be ashamed.

Chapter 29

Bingley awoke Good Friday morning feeling much more rested than he had felt all week. He was to meet with his solicitor at 10 o’clock and if all went well, his business would be completed by 2 o’clock and he would have the rest of the afternoon to spend on more agreeable matters.

The promised documents were ready for his perusal when he arrived. He had one or two changes to be made to the marriage settlement papers before he was ready to discuss them with Mr. Bennet, assuming Jane accepted him that is. His solicitor promised to have those finished by Monday morning at the latest. The matter of Caroline’s fortune was more complicated. Bingley was required to make a visit with his banker before the necessary papers could be completed.

His next appointment was with his banker. After explaining the requirements of the lawyer, Bingley was satisfied with the response of the banker and returned to the solicitor’s office with the banker’s needs and requests. His solicitor assured him that every detail was in order and that the final documents would be ready Monday morning as well. Once that interview was over Bingley made one final visit with his banker to apprise him of the situation. This task complete, Bingley was now free to spend the rest of the day as he pleased.

After refreshing himself with a hearty meal, Bingley left to visit the jewelers. He wanted to buy Jane an engagement gift, something she could wear as a demonstration of her pledge to marry him. He had often envisioned her wearing a sting of pearls and so he set out to find the perfect strand. It took visits to four different jewelers until he finally found what he desired. He also purchased a delicate looking gold and pearl brooch that he would save for later as a surprise for Jane.

Bingley decided that attending services that evening would be a good thing for him. He had never been much of a churchgoer, but that was before he took possession of Netherfield. He now knew that, as the master of an estate, it was up to him to set the example for his tenants. Learning this was part of the education Darcy had started to impart to him when he had finally come to Netherfield. Bingley was shamed by his lack of foresight in this and many other areas. He had no idea of the amount of responsibility even a smaller estate such as Netherfield carried with it. How much more would a grand estate like Pemberley entail? Bingley’s respect for his friend had increased even more than he had previously thought possible. He was grateful for Darcy’s handling of the situation. Darcy had never displayed a superior attitude towards him during his stay. He was content to quietly suggest alterations in Bingley’s outlook that were reasonable and perceptive. Bingley slowly but surely was learning to look upon Netherfield through the eyes of a man who sought to see the realities of his estate, not his fantasies of its perfection!

Bingley was surprised by the comfort he found whilst in the service. The contemplation of a love willing to sacrifice everything for its beloved was soothing. He left the church much more at peace than he had been in days. He knew he had done what was required of him, Caroline’s future was in her own hands now. He hoped his Aunt Blackwell would succeed where he, and his father before him, had failed.

Saturday was a day of rest from responsibilities. Bingley reasoned a visit to his club was warranted. He would have preferred to spend his time there with Darcy, but he was in Kent. Instead he would have to make do with several others of his acquaintance. Bingley was too outgoing in nature to be without friendly conversation for long. Soon he found himself engrossed in the tales of another gentleman and spent many hours so agreeably engaged.

Easter Sunday was a glorious day all over the country. The skies were clear and blue and the air crisp. After the morning services were concluded, Bingley rode over to the Hurst’s. Louisa graciously invited her brother in.

“Charles, welcome!”

“Good afternoon, Louisa,” Bingley said, bestowing a kiss on his sister’s cheek. “Hurst, you look well this afternoon,” Bingley continued, offering his hand to his brother-in-law.

“I must admit that the absence of one particular female relative has done wonders for my disposition!” Hurst replied dryly.

“Harold! You should not say such things!” Louisa scolded her husband.

“Even if they are true?” Hurst challenged back.

Bingley was astonished. He had not witnessed such teasing banter between his sister and her husband for a long time. Perhaps removing Caroline from London had done more good than he realized. Had Caroline been such a negative influence all along? How had she affected him?

“Do not appear so surprised, Charles. Did you believe there was no affection left between us? I admit it was not as it once was but the peace and lack of disquiet these past four months has had its unexpected consequences.” Hurst looked fondly at his wife. “You will be an uncle before the year comes to a close, Charles.” Louisa finished.

It took Bingley a few moments to react. When the import of the words finally sunk in he broke out into one of his infectious grins. “A day to celebrate new beginnings! Congratulations, Louisa, Harold. I am very happy for you both! Have you been well, sister?”

“Yes, so far I have felt nothing out of the ordinary.”

“That is good news, sister. I pray that it will continue. I have news to report as well. I have met with my solicitor and my banker and the final arrangements for Caroline’s income will be completed tomorrow. She will not gain full control of her fortune until the terms set in father’s will are fulfilled. But I have assigned the interest from her fortune to be given to her. It is not as much as I was giving her before, but she should be able to live comfortably on it if she manages her money wisely.”

“I also wish to tell you that after I return to Netherfield, I will be seeking Miss Bennet’s hand in marriage. I do not anticipate tarrying long before I plead my suit. If all goes well I shall attend church next Sunday with my fiancé’,” Bingley concluded, anxious for his sister’s response.

He was pleased to see a sincere smile on Louisa’s and Hurst’s faces. “Charles, I am ashamed of how I previously thought on this subject. You were very correct in taking me to task over it after the New Year. If you love Miss Bennet then you should pursue her. I do not think she would be accepting your court if she were indifferent to you. It is not in her nature to deceive. As you have so often described her, she is ‘an angel’.”

“And as beautiful as one too!” Hurst could not resist.

“Harold!” Louisa cried

“Miss Bennet is nothing in comparison to you, my dear,” Hurst responded with a tender look.

“You are forgiven then,” she said as she smiled back at him.

“If you two are now finished, tell me more news from my absence,” Bingley said to change the subject. It had dawned on him how annoying this kind of mooning could become. He sincerely hoped to return the favor with Jane soon! They spent the rest of the day in the quiet comfort of their reduced family party. Caroline was never mentioned but she remained in everyone’s thoughts. Secretly, each was thankful she was in Lincoln.

<<>>

Monday morning Bingley ordered his carriage readied to travel to Netherfield. As soon as his business with the solicitor was completed, he would leave for the country. At 10 o’clock sharp he was at the door of his solicitor to conclude his errand. The documents for Caroline’s finances were all in order. After reading them through one last time, he signed them and had the appropriate papers sent to his banker. The papers regarding marriage settlements were in order as well. These Bingley folded and placed in his coat. They were not yet needed but Bingley wished to be prepared. He did not want to leave Netherfield again without Jane by his side. Bingley gave his solicitor his final instructions in reference to any changes that might take place and arranged to have them sent by post if needed. Returning one last time to his house, Bingley lunched and changed into his traveling clothes. By 1 o’clock the carriage was on its way to Hertfordshire.

<<>>

Shortly before the sun was beginning to set, Bingley’s carriage came to a stop before the front entrance to Netherfield. This time the servants were fully prepared for his arrival. The master of the house ascended the steps and was greeted by both his housekeeper and butler. Bingley was pleased with his reception and even more pleased to discover that a hot bath awaited him whenever he desired it. Anxious to remove the grime of the road, Bingley asked that his bath be readied immediately and ordered supper to be served in an hour. As much as he longed to call at Longbourn that night, it would have to wait until the following day. Dinner and a bath greatly revived his tired spirits and after an evening of reviewing the status of the house, Bingley retired for the night.

Bingley awoke Tuesday morning with a variety of emotions. Today he would see his angel again! Unfortunately, it would not be for long enough. He had been gone nearly five months and he had all manner of matters that required his attention. Duty always called. It could never stop love, but it could delay it for a while. He would call at Longbourn and arrange to come back again tomorrow.

As Bingley rode up to Longbourn he winced as he heard Mrs. Bennet’s shrieks. Once again he wondered how his Jane could have such a mother; they were in no way alike in character. Mrs. Bennet had undoubtedly been a very beautiful woman. Even with five grown daughters she was still a handsome woman, nothing to Jane, but handsome nonetheless. Bingley was surprised, and relieved, to find Mr. Bennet in the drawing room when he was announced. He was glad he would not be the only male present.

Mr. Bennet had his own reason for his presence. First, he selfishly wished to observe the reactions of his silly wife to the appearance of his eldest daughter’s suitor. Second, he did not wish to leave Mary without his support. She would have a difficult enough time counteracting the efforts of her mother. Finally, he wanted Jane to know how much he approved of the young man by not abandoning him to the effusions of Mrs. Bennet.

Mary was much relieved to see her father there as well. Mama would not dare try and leave Jane alone with Bingley with Papa in the room. Mary hoped her father would remain for the length of Bingley’s visit.

Jane’s face glowed with joy upon Bingley’s entrance. It had been a very long three months for her. Every day since he had left her in her Aunt’s drawing room she had drawn hope from the memory of the way he looked at her. She believed he had been on the verge of proposing at that very moment but had somehow restrained himself for reasons known only to him. She had long known her own heart and her heart was ready to give itself to him alone.

Bingley stood still when he saw Jane. His eyes devoured every inch of her form and settled upon her face. How long he remained so he could not recall. He was finally shaken from his reverie by the indistinct sound of a throat being cleared. No one present minded his lack of manners. It was evident that all in the room were pleased to see him. Even Lydia managed to behave with decorum.

After spending several minutes addressing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Bingley was finally free to speak with the object of his visit.

“Miss Bennet, you look remarkably well today.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bingley. It is good to see you back settled again at Netherfield. Do you anticipate spending much time there sir?”

Looking meaningfully into her eyes he said, “There is nothing in this world that could make me leave at present, save one thing.” He did not have to explain what that one thing was.

Jane was very pleased with this. She had missed him terribly and could not begin to think on him leaving yet again.

“I cannot stay long today, Miss Bennet. I have been away far too long and there is much that I need to do. I owe it to my tenants to see to my business with them first. But I would like to call again tomorrow, if you wish it.”

“We would very much enjoy your company Mr. Bingley,” Jane said before her mother managed to cut in.

“Well then Mr. Bingley, perhaps you would join us for dinner tomorrow?” Mrs. Bennet offered.

“I have no engagements, Madam. I would be honored to join you. Mr. Bennet, if you have time tomorrow, perhaps I could come early and we can discuss some issues I have with my tenants.”

“You are most welcome, Mr. Bingley. Come whenever you wish. I will be in my study.” Mr. Bennet replied

“Thank you sir. Now I must be on my way back to Netherfield. My steward has much to still discuss with me. Until tomorrow then.” Bingley bowed, took one last look at Jane and departed. Jane watched from a window as he rode away.

<<>>

Bingley spent most of the rest of the day with his steward. Truly, there were many things that needed his attention if he ever hoped to run an estate on his own. A good steward, such as Bingley’s, was invaluable but nothing took the place of a well-informed, fair and decisive master. Bingley understood this now and he vowed to become such a man, a man a wife would be proud of. Wednesday morning was spent in the saddle as again Bingley was with his steward. He met with several of his tenants and felt more comfortable and confident with each successive encounter. Finally, by mid-afternoon, he was finished with his responsibilities for that day and was able to prepare to call at Longbourn. Several of his neighbors had called while he was out that morning. Returning their calls would have to wait. In the end, he was confident that they would understand.

Bingley arrived at Longbourn and was taken in to see Mr. Bennet in his study. Mr. Bennet thought of teasing the younger man before him but felt, for some odd reason, that this was not the time for indulging in such amusements. “Mr. Bingley, you wished to discuss estate matters with me.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Bennet. You have lived at Longbourn all your life and are very familiar with the local populace. I believe you are just the man I need to see in order to better understand the local workings. I wish to be fair with my tenants. Any knowledge that you can give to me that will help me better understand their situations would be of great help.”

Mr. Bennet was impressed. Bingley was showing great maturity and insight in his request. Yet again he was proving how worthy he was of Jane. He would have no regret giving her to such a man. With a seriousness rarely displayed, Mr. Bennet launched into a narrative of the local politics and economy. Bingley asked succinct and probing questions. By the end of their time together Bingley had a much better grasp of the community in which he was a principle figure and Mr. Bennet had a growing respect for his soon-to-be future son-in-law.

When the gentleman emerged from the study, Mary and Jane just happened to be passing by. Mary decided this would be a golden opportunity to get Jane and Bingley outside and away from their mother.

“Have you seen the new bulbs in our garden, Mr. Bingley? They are quite beautiful this spring. Jane and I would love to show them to you,” Mary offered, proud of herself for finding an appropriate use for her much practiced question.

“A marvelous idea, Miss Mary! Miss Bennet?” Jane blushed as he motioned with his arm for the ladies to precede him out the door. Once outside, he offered an arm to each lady and allowed them to guide him to the desired flowerbeds. After reaching them, Mary disengaged her arm from Bingley and proceeded to point out some of the lovelier specimens. Quite cleverly she allowed the two others to head off in the other direction. From that point on, she kept a discreet distance and maintained a diligent vigil to give Jane and Bingley some privacy from her mother and her younger sisters.

Once Bingley realized Mary was providing him with the opportunity for private conversation, Bingley changed his manner of address from polite to attentive.

“Miss Bennet, I cannot tell you how long these last months have been for me. I have greatly missed your company.”

Jane did not respond but Bingley could tell she was pleased with his remarks.

“I traveled to London first to attend to business so that I would have no reason to leave Netherfield for an extended time once I came.”

“Did you see your family before you came to Hertfordshire?” Jane asked. Bingley grew agitated and spent several moments contemplating his answer.

“I did see my Aunt Blackwell and Caroline in Lincoln before I traveled to London. In London I spent considerable time with Louisa and Hurst. Please do not ask me more at this time. Events in Lincoln did not go well. I am afraid Caroline will be staying with my Aunt for an extended time.” Then his face brightened again. “The Hursts informed me that I am to be an uncle!”

“That is wonderful news! Please convey my congratulations to them when next you write.”

“I will do so, Miss Bennet. Please, tell me of all the local news. I know Miss Lucas is married now and that Miss Elizabeth is visiting her. Darcy and his sister and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, are at Rosings as well. I imagine Miss Elizabeth is enjoying seeing Miss Darcy again.”

“Yes, she wrote of their meeting. I am sure she is finding great enjoyment in her stay.”

They continued to talk of inconsequential things, ultimately rejoining Mary before heading back to the house to prepare for dinner. Mrs. Bennet made sure Bingley sat across from her eldest and next to her husband for the meal. Even she could not exaggerate the amount of affection the two young lovers shared. She was making a mental list of all the homes she would call on to announce the engagement, once it was entered into. The evening was enjoyable for all. As Bingley left, he once again thanked his hostess for a wonderful meal and he promised to call again soon. It was left unsaid that it would be tomorrow.

<<>>

The next morning, Mary asked Jane to join her for a short walk before breakfast. The two had spent the previous evening discussing the events of that night so neither felt compelled to rehash the events, unlike their mother.

“Jane, when Mr. Bingley calls today. Do not look at me like that; you and I both know he will! When he calls today I am going to suggest we go for a walk to Meryton. Do you have any objections?” Mary asked her sister.

“No Mary, a walk would be most refreshing. Please promise me though that you will not abandon us.”

Mary smiled innocently. “I promise to be the best of chaperones!”

Jane had learned enough of her middle sister, as well as having to deal with Elizabeth for years, to distrust her statement. Just what did Mary consider to be the duties of the best of chaperones? Jane was mortified to think that Mary would scheme to leave her alone with Bingley. But when Jane considered her options, she believed she had to trust in the good intentions of her sister.

Bingley arrived shortly after lunch. Mary gave Jane a knowing smile. After sitting with the rest of the women of the family, Mary spoke up.

“It is a lovely day. Would you care for a walk toward Meryton with me, Jane? Mr. Bingley? Walking is such healthy exercise and after all the time you must have spent in a carriage lately, Mr. Bingley, I am sure it will do you some good.” Once again Mary was please to be able to recite her much practiced request.

“I agree that it is a lovely day but I think I would prefer to walk to Oakham Mount instead.” Bingley answered.

Mary remembered Elizabeth’s advice.


‘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’

“I think that is a wonderful idea. Kitty, Lydia, would you like to join us?” Mary cringed inwardly, afraid they might accept. Fortunately, Lydia had other plans.

“No, Mary, Kitty and I were already planning on walking to Meryton to call on Aunt Phillips and some of the officers.” Lydia replied a bit too enthusiastically. Mary, Jane and Bingley were all relieved. Kitty, however, was not. She did not wish to accompany Lydia but realized that with the others heading in the opposite direction, she had no choice. If she refused to accompany Lydia, she would just complain to Mama and Mama would force Kitty to go anyway. Kitty had begun to tire of Lydia’s incessant talk of redcoats and officers. Lydia often talked of marrying a soldier. Kitty had begun to see what a hard life that could be. Unless you married a Colonel or higher, your income would be barely enough to live as she was accustomed to. Lydia would not see this, but Kitty did.

So Mary, Jane, and Bingley set off in the direction of Mount Oakham. Mary realized it was too soon to separate from her sister and Bingley seemed determined to include her in their conversation. When they reached the path up the Mount, Bingley offered his arm to both ladies but Mary declined. Instead, she took the lead up the sloping path. Once at the top, she waited until Jane and Bingley arrived. Bingley was anxious to see the view of his estate so Mary chose that moment to head in the opposite direction. She made as her excuse the desire to sit under a certain tree to read in quiet solitude from the book she had brought along.

Thus, Bingley led Jane to the view of his estate. He did not release her arm from his when they reached the desired spot. Instead, he placed his other hand over hers. Both stood silent for several minutes. At last he was ready.

“Miss Bennet, I had a particular reason for wishing to come here today. Actually, I have wished to bring you up here since last November when I first left for Manchester. Most of the land you see before you is under my management. There, my wishes are met whenever I speak them. But there is one thing I wish that is not there now.” Bingley released her arm and turned to face her. Her took her hands in his and met her eyes, willing them to gaze at him in return.

“I wish for a woman who will share her life with me. A woman who will love me, in spite of all my faults. A woman who will support me when all others doubt. A woman who will bear my children and bring love and warmth into our family. A woman I adore. A woman I worship. A woman I fell in love with the first time I set eyes on her. You, dearest, darling Jane are that woman. I love you and I cannot live without you. Jane, will you consent be my wife?”

There, it was finally said! Bingley waited for Jane’s response. Tears of joy formed in her eyes and a radiant smile burst on her face.

“Yes, I will marry you, Charles,” she replied in a joyful tone as the tears began rolling down her cheeks. Tenderly, Bingley wiped them away with the back of his fingers. Jane shivered at his touch. Slowly, he leaned over and gave her the most tender of kisses before bringing her into his embrace.

Mary had surreptitiously checked several times on the couple. When she saw them in embrace she smiled, knowing that the words had finally been spoken. She decided to give them ten more minutes of privacy before it was time to suggest a return.

Before the ten minutes were up Jane came to her sister, looking radiant. “Oh Mary, we are engaged!”

Mary congratulated the couple and suggested a return to Longbourn. This was happily agreed to. Bingley needed to speak to Mr. Bennet and Jane wished to tell her mother. It would be a joyful day at Longbourn!

When they arrived at Longbourn the party separated in the hall. Bingley went to find Mr. Bennet in his study. He knocked on the door and was bid to enter.

“Mr. Bingley, Welcome! Have you come with more questions about our neighborhood?” Mr. Bennet had a good inkling this was not the case.

“No sir, I have a more personal matter to discuss.”

“Then have a seat, young man. Would you like some port?”

“Er, yes, thank you.” Bingley waited for his host to pour their drinks before he continued. “Mr. Bennet, I have come to ask for the hand of your eldest daughter in marriage.”

“Has Jane consented?”

“Yes, I asked her when we were on our walk.”

“Good for Mary!”

“Excuse me?”

“Never mind, please continue.”

“As I said before, I have gained Miss Bennet’s consent. Now I am asking for yours, and for your blessing.”

“Well, Mr. Bingley, since you have come right to the point, so will I. Yes you may marry my daughter and yes, you have my blessing. You will make Jane a fine husband and I am happy for her. Welcome to the family, my boy!”

“Thank you, sir. When I was in London I had my solicitor draw up an initial draft of the proposed marriage settlement. I will bring it tomorrow and we can discuss it more then. I know your daughter has very little dowry. That is of no concern to me. I will make sure she is given her proper due!”

“I am relieved to hear that, not that I expected anything else from you. I suspect you have loved Jane for a long time. I am content that you have now found each other after waiting for so long!” Mr. Bennet finished and offered to refill their glasses.

Meanwhile, Jane informed her mother of the engagement. It is not necessary to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that she was overjoyed and needed her smelling salts!

That evening, Jane sat down to write Elizabeth. Jane was slightly disappointed she could not share her joy with her beloved sister in person so she poured out her joy in her letter.

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dearest Lizzy,

I do not know where to begin! Oh Lizzy, he loves me! Charles and I are engaged to be married! I know you have been anticipating this event for a long time now, Lizzy, but the reality is still so overwhelming to me. To know I will be bringing such joy and happiness to all my family is almost too much to bear. Oh, how can anyone be so happy?

I know you want all of the details but I must save some for you upon your return. But I will tell you this. This afternoon when Mr. Bingley called, Mary suggested a walk toward Meryton. Charles, I can call him that now, suggested a walk to Oakham Mount instead. Mary readily agreed to this and the three of us set off.

‘Good for you Mary!’

…and so we returned to Longbourn and Papa gave his consent. We have not yet set a wedding date but have talked about three months from now in mid July.

I cannot wait for you to come home. Please write me with all of your thoughts and praise Charles as much as you wish!

Your loving sister,
Jane.

Chapter 30

Mrs. Annesley appeared in the Breakfast room to find the Colonel and Darcy already finished eating.

“Is my sister to follow you shortly, Mrs. Annesley?”

“Actually sir, she will not. Miss Darcy awoke with a headache and asked me to have a tray sent up to her room.”

“I shall go visit her right now.”

“That was the wish she conveyed to me, sir.”

“Then if you will excuse me, Mrs. Annesley, Cousin”

“Give my best to Georgiana, Darcy. Tell her I hope she is feeling better soon.”

“Of course.”

With that, Darcy made his way to Georgiana’s room.

“May I come in dearest?”

“Of course, Fitzwilliam, you are just the person I had hoped to see. Well, the only person I dared hope to see.” Georgiana smiled sheepishly.

“Mrs. Annesley told me you were unwell with a headache. Is there any thing I can do for you?”

“Yes there is. I was supposed to join Elizabeth for a walk this morning. Would you mind going in my place? I’ve written her a note explaining the situation. Please, Fitzwilliam, it would very much relieve my worry if you would do this for me.”

“You know I cannot resist you when you ask me that way.” He teased. “It would be my honor to escort Miss Bennet this morning.”

“Thank you brother. I am sure I will be feeling much better by this evening. Elizabeth will understand once she has read my note.”

“Then I should be off to keep your appointment. Oh! Georgiana, I received a letter from Charles Bingley this morning. Would you like to hear what I was able to decipher?”

Georgiana knew the trial her brother had trying to read Bingley’s scrawl. “Of course I would since you obviously wish to tell me.”

“Bingley wrote to announce his engagement to Jane Bennet.”

“That is wonderful news!” Unable to resist she plowed ahead. “Does not one wedding usually bring on another?”

“Georgiana Darcy! Are you trying to play matchmaker?”

“Yes I am! But I really do have a headache and I would not be able to meet with Elizabeth this morning if I wanted to. I do not think that she will be too disappointed with having you as her companion in my stead.”

“Perhaps not. Where am I supposed to meet her?”

“By the path to the glade”

“Very good!” Visibly pleased, Darcy was unable to resist himself and added, “Wish me luck!”

‘Indeed I shall brother, indeed I shall’ She added to herself after her brother quit her room.

<<>>

Lady Catherine caught Darcy retreating from his sister’s room and immediately began accosting him.

“I have heard that my niece did not come down for breakfast. Is she unwell? I must know!”

“Lady Catherine” Darcy began smoothly, “Georgiana awoke this morning with a headache. She assures me that it will be better with rest and solitude. She asked that she not be disturbed.” Seeing Lady Catherine about to object, Darcy hurried on. “I am sure that if our dear Anne had asked the same thing you would respect her wishes Aunt. After all, I know that you have long regarded Georgiana as a kind of second daughter.” ‘You owe me for that one sister!

“Yes Darcy, you are correct. We must allow Georgiana her rest. I have been meaning to…”

“You will have to excuse me Lady Catherine. Georgiana was supposed to walk with Miss Bennet this morning and was distressed to have to miss it. She has charged me with delivering this note to Miss Bennet with her apologies. I believe she is waiting even now.”

“Of course, Darcy. Normally I would object to someone of such low connections befriending Georgiana but find that I cannot object. When I heard she had rejected Mr. Collins I must admit it raised my opinion of her. It may have been imprudent on her part but I believe Mr. Collins would have had a difficult time handling her. The present Mrs. Collins does an admirable job with the man if I do say so myself.”

“Miss Bennet rejected Mr. Collins? Remarkable!”

“Yes it is. Now go and discharge your duty, Darcy. I shall expect to talk with you this afternoon.”

Resigned to his fate Darcy replied, “As you wish, Lady Catherine,” and departed to meet Miss Bennet.

<<>>

When Elizabeth saw Darcy approach she was filled with joy. The smile on her face was immediately replaced with a frown of concern when she realized Georgiana did not accompany him.

“Good morning, Miss Bennet. You look displeased to see me!” Darcy said as he bowed.

“Good Morning, Mr. Darcy” Elizabeth responded as she rose from her curtsey. “I am not displeased to see you, sir. Indeed this is a pleasant surprise. I was only expecting to see your sister. Pray tell, is she unwell?”

“I am glad my presence does not disconcert you!” Darcy teased. “I regret to inform you that my sister awoke with a headache. When she realized she would not be able to meet you she asked me to take her place and to give you this in explanation. She said you would understand after you read it.”

Recognizing Georgiana’s flowing hand, Elizabeth unsealed the note and began to read.

Elizabeth,

Do not be alarmed that I am unwell. I awoke this morning with the onset of my monthly courses and the headache that nearly always attends them. I am confident that the worst will be over by this evening and I anticipate being able to see you tomorrow. Please assure my dear brother that I will be fine. I love Fitzwilliam, but he can be rather clueless when it comes to such things.

Georgiana

Seeing his anxious appearance, Elizabeth smiled. “I am sure you sister will be feeling much better by this time tomorrow.”

“Truly?”

“Truly, sir,” she assured him.

“Then shall we take this way together?” He said as he offered her his arm and leading the way to the glade.

“I believe I can tolerate your presence for now, Mr. Darcy,” she laughed as she took his proffered arm.

“I believe I should be offering you congratulations, Miss Bennet. I received a short missive from Mr. Bingley announcing his betrothal to your eldest sister”

“Thank you. I too received the same news from Jane. Though, from what I hear of Mr. Bingley’s correspondence, I believe I had a much easier time learning of it than you did.”

Darcy laughingly replied, “Of that I have no doubt!”

“What is your opinion of the match, sir?”

“I am pleased, if that is what you are asking. Bingley is a great friend. I only wish to see him happy and he has made it quite clear to me that the only way that will happen is if he has his Miss Bennet at his side as his wife.”

“You are a good friend indeed then, Mr. Darcy. I am afraid there are many who will not look on the match with a kind eye. My sister brings little to the union other than her sweet disposition and caring manner. Not many will overlook our lack of sizable dowries.”

Darcy sighed, “I am afraid you are all too correct in your opinion of society, Miss Bennet. But I am confident than when Bingley introduces the new Mrs. Bingley to his friends, they will be won over quickly by her grace and charm.”

They walked on in silence. After a few minutes, Elizabeth introduced a new topic for discussion.

“Mr. Darcy, we have often discussed books together but you have never told me who your favorite author is.”

“Until recently I would have said Milton. But I have come to regard Shakespeare as my favorite now.”

“Why Mr. Darcy, how extraordinary! I have come to believe you a man of firm principles who once he has come to a decision rarely changes his mind. What made you change yours, sir?”

They had just entered the glade and before he lost his nerve Darcy began.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments:”

Elizabeth stopped immediately, her eyes flying to his, scarcely daring to believe what this was implying.

Darcy took her hand in his and continued.

“Love is not love

Which alters when its alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to everywand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and checks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ nor no man ever loved.”*

When he finished he held her gaze.

“Miss Bennet, Elizabeth. I can see that you know where this conversation is leading. But there are things that I must say before I get to that point. They are painful to speak of and may be painful to hear, but I owe it to both of us to tell you. May I proceed?”

Numbly she nodded her head

Her put her hand back on his arm and began to lead her towards the rough bench his father had made for his mother so many years ago.

“I think it best you sit here. This may take a while. Please listen to all I have to say. When I am finished, if you wish me to stop, I will.”

Once she was seated he began. “Has Georgiana ever spoke to you about Ramsgate or George Wickham?”

Confused, Elizabeth shook her head yes.

“In Hertfordshire I told you about Wickham and the living in my father’s will. I told you about how he imposed himself on Georgiana. Early last summer when I allowed Georgiana to travel to Ramsgate with her companion Mrs. Younge, I had no idea of the danger I put her in. I am ashamed now how much I neglected my duty to my sister by not thoroughly inquiring after Mrs. Younge. If not for the providence of God, Georgiana would be shackled to that villain as his wife. You met Georgiana at Pemberley not long after that. You noticed the sadness about her. We have spoken of this before.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“That was why I was so surprised to find her so altered, so much more like her old self when I returned to Pemberley. I soon learned of your meeting and of your correspondence with her. I must admit that at first I was uneasy with this. I knew nothing of you or your family and I immediately made inquiries with Mrs. Reynolds. I was much relieved when she assured me of her daughter Mary’s high opinion of you. I know Mary Clark and I know that she is a good judge of people. Mrs. Annesley also testified of your gentle handling of my sister. Do not be upset with Georgiana, but she began to share with me the letters she received from you. I think she knew I needed the reassurance”

“Do not distress yourself, Mr. Darcy. I know you were only looking out for her best interests. After what you have related to me so far, I must say that I am in agreement.”

“Thank you. And I must say that you are an amusing correspondent. We laughed so hard many times that we were both driven to tears!” Elizabeth grinned.

“So then, when Georgiana asked to come with me to Netherfield I was disposed to agree. I reasoned that if your letters were helping bring my Georgiana back, your very presence would be certain to accelerate the process. And I was right. What I did not anticipate was the affect you would have on me.”

At this Elizabeth colored and dropped her eyes to examine her gloves.

“It began the first night we met. You have this strange power over Darcys it seems, Elizabeth.”

When he said her name she looked up to him again, her eyes drawn to his.

“At first I did not wish to acknowledge it. I came to enjoy your company. But after the Netherfield Ball, after our dance and conversation… I became confused and frightened. How could some country miss make me feel so disquieted? I had been raised to do my duty; to marry someone in my own circle and to beget heirs to continue our family name and Pemberley. When you came to London I began to withdraw into myself. It was very unfair of me. From the first of our acquaintance you offered me your friendship without expectation of anything else. Do you realize that you are the first woman who has ever done that? I decided for Georgiana’s sake that I needed to accept you as her friend. She needed you and if that meant that I had to accept your friendship then so be it. I was a fool to believe I could stop it there.”

“Elizabeth, you are a spectacular woman the likes of which I have never seen. It is only my pride which has prevented me from admitting it to myself until recently.”

“What has changed? Why do you tell me this now?” Elizabeth pleaded.

“I am ashamed to tell you this, Elizabeth. Please forgive me for what I am about to say. The night of the Ball at Netherfield I became aware of the general opinion that Bingley was expected soon to make his addresses to your sister. Do you remember our conversation with Sir William whilst we were dancing?” Elizabeth nodded yes.

“Up until that point I sincerely doubted your sister’s affection. No, do not say it. After your words I came to realize that I did not know her true feelings and that I probably would not know unless I asked directly. When the last of the guests left, Bingley invited me to join him in his study. I came right to the point and asked him what his intentions were. He confirmed he was preparing to bring his suit before Miss Bennet. I felt that I owed it to him, as a friend, to talk seriously about this with him. I told him that it was impossible for me to assure him one way or another of your sister’s feelings but I did have some serious questions to ask. I told Bingley that after my conversation with you that I believed your sister would only marry for love. But I was unsure whether or not your sister would even be allowed to reject his suit if she wanted to, though I did not say this to Bingley. I am sorry to say, but your mother did not appear to be the type to allow that to happen.”

“You are mistaken there, sir!”

“Yes, I know that now. But I did not know that then.”

“And pray, how do you know this?”

“Because you were allowed to refuse an offer of marriage”

Shocked at this Elizabeth asked, “How did you learn this?”

“Lady Catherine let it slip this morning. Actually, she told me that it raised her opinion of you,” Darcy smiled.

“But I digress. I also warned Charles about your sister’s lack of fortune and connections. I am ashamed to admit that Bingley had to remind me that in marrying your sister he would actually become her equal. His money comes from trade. He does not own his own estate. Longbourn has been in your family for generations. As to fortune, he has enough to not be needing any more from his bride. I warned him that he would end up having to care for your mother and any remaining unmarried sisters once your father died, with Longbourn entailed away to Mr. Collins. Forgive me again, but your mother would be a trial for Bingley, no matter how pleasant his disposition. Please understand, I did not want to see Bingley trapped in a loveless marriage. I wanted to see him happy.”

Elizabeth colored again and sighed resignedly. “While it is not easy for me to hear these things, I understand, Mr. Darcy. My mother does not display the propriety she should. Neither do my youngest sisters. I know we have little but our charms to recommend us when finding a marriage partner and I am touched by the concern you have shown your friend. You have nothing to be ashamed of to me. It is I who should be ashamed in front of you.”

“Do not say that! I am ashamed because I used the arguments I used on Bingley upon myself. I have not told you yet what he said to me that night when I had finished. He spoke to me about my parents. He asked me, if I had a chance to find love the way that they did would I reject it because of society and status? He told me that he would not and if Jane Bennet was the woman he would love the rest of his life, then he would let nothing stand in his way of marrying her if she would have him. But I was not yet willing to explore the import of his words as related to myself.”

At this he was silent. He gazed at her trying to discern her thoughts but could not. She dropped her gaze to her hands again. Finally, he continued.

“Last week I received a letter from my Aunt Matlock. Colonel Fitzwilliam had written to his parents about me, and about you. He knew I was struggling with my ideas of my family’s expectations. He asked his mother to give me the ‘Fitzwilliam family talk’.”

“And what is the ‘Fitzwilliam family talk’”? Elizabeth asked.

“It is the best piece of advice I have ever received. Simply put, the Earl and his wife have told each of their children the same thing. Choose for your life partner someone whom you can love and respect. The rest will take care of itself.”

Darcy looked at Elizabeth. It was time.

*Shakespeare, Sonnet No. 116

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