Before heading down to dinner, Georgiana stopped to see if Elizabeth would be joining them. She wasn’t surprised when Elizabeth asked her to express her regrets but promised to come down later if Jane was sleeping peacefully. As she made her way down to dinner she had a footman alert the housekeeper that Miss Elizabeth indeed would be needing a tray sent up to her.
When she entered the dining room she informed the party that Elizabeth would not be joining them. She was unsurprised when Miss Bingley conveniently forgot to promptly inform the kitchen for the need for dinner to be sent upstairs. Georgiana was surprised to see the look of regret that flashed across the face of her brother at this news. She would have to watch him whenever Elizabeth was around.
After the second course had been served Miss Bingley finally seemed to recall her forgotten guest upstairs.
“Dear me, I have quite forgotten about Miss Eliza! See that something is sent up to her room,” she commanded a servant.
Georgiana decided it would be wise not to tell her that she had already seen to it earlier.
The meal proceeded peacefully from then on. Miss Bingley was no fool. She could see that Georgiana obviously held Eliza Bennet in high regard. It was best not to speak ill of the upstart in front of her “dear” friend. Instead she would concentrate her campaign against Eliza Bennet with Mr. Darcy.
Eventually the sexes separated and Miss Bingley led the women into the parlor. Once there she planned an evening of cards with her sister.
“You must partner Charles, Georgiana.”
“I would rather not play Miss Bingley.”
“Nonsense my dear. I always play with Mr. Darcy and Charles needs a partner if he is to join us.”
Not too long after the men had rejoined the ladies Elizabeth came down to give a report on Jane.
“And how is Miss Bennet feeling?” Mr. Bingley anxiously asked.
“I believe she is feeling a little better. She was sleeping comfortably when I left her.”
”Then you must stay for a while and keep us company!” Bingley pleaded.
Elizabeth nodded her consent and picked a book to read.
“Miss Bennet you may take my place with Miss Darcy if you like.”
Suspecting them to be playing high, she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
“Do you prefer reading to cards?” said he; “that is rather singular.”
“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, “despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.”
“I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,” cried Elizabeth; “I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.”
“Is your cousin Lady Helena much grown since the spring Mr. Darcy?” said Miss Bingley; “will she be as tall as I am?”
“I think she will. She is now about Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s height, or rather taller.”
“How I long to see her again! I never met with anybody who delighted me so much. Such a countenance, such manners! And so extremely accomplished for her age! Her performance on the pianoforte is exquisite, as is Georgiana’s.”
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley.
“Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”
“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”
“Oh! Certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any, other than Georgiana of course.”
Georgiana blushed under this praise.
“Are you so severe upon your own sex as to doubt the possibility of all this?”
“I never saw such a woman, other than Miss Darcy.” Again she smiled at her blushing friend. “I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and elegance, as you describe united in anyone but her.”
Miss Bingley was tempted to cry out against the injustice of her implied doubt, and protesting that she knew many women who answered this description, but thought better of it for the present since the praise showed Georgiana in such a favorable light. Mr. Hurst called them to order, with bitter complaints of their inattention to what was going forward. As all conversation was thereby at an end, Elizabeth soon afterwards left the room.
“Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, when the door was closed on her, “is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”
“Undoubtedly,” replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, “there is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”
Miss Bingley was not so entirely satisfied with this reply as to continue the subject and remembered her resolve not to abuse Miss Eliza in Georgiana’s presence.
The next day Jane had improved but was still in no shape to leave for home. Mrs. Bennet visited her and found her in no present danger. Before she left with her three youngest daughters, Lydia had managed to get Mr. Bingley to agree to hold his long promised ball. Satisfied, Mrs. Bennet left behind her now mortified second eldest to look after her dear Jane.
“Elizabeth, do not distress yourself. You have not met my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourg. Next to her any woman is a pleasant lady. Not that I am saying anything against your mother that is.”
”Thank you, I think Jane will be well enough for me to leave her again for a little while this afternoon. Would you like to join me in the gardens then?”
“It would be lovely to join you Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth was surprised to find Mr. Darcy apparently ready to join them again for their outing.
“It is all right Elizabeth. He begged me to let him join us.”
“Can we hurry out please!” Mr. Darcy whispered.
Elizabeth laughed to herself as they made their way to the safety of the shrubbery.
“Thank you for your understanding Miss Bennet. I promise once again to give you and Georgiana your privacy. I found I needed an excuse to escape Miss Bingley. I told her I had promised to walk with Georgiana this afternoon. I just neglected to tell her we would not be alone.”
“Mr. Darcy, I think you can imagine, growing up in a house such as I did, the need for some occasional privacy.”
“Then I shall leave the two of you to talk. I will await you here.”
Elizabeth led Georgiana further into the garden.
“I feel sorry for your brother. He has few friends in this house.”
“But while you are here he has one more person he counts as a friend.”
“I think you exaggerate his opinion of me. I am not sure he would call me more than an acquaintance.”
“I think you underestimate the respect he holds for you.”
They talked of the upcoming ball. Georgiana knew she would not be allowed to dance but looked forward to the evening.
“I thought you didn’t care for such events Georgiana?”
“As I told you before, when there are people I know I do not feel so uncomfortable. There will be many people I have met there and I am sure Fitzwilliam will not allow me to be unattended at any time.”
“Yes,” She laughed merrily, “I can see him doing that very thing. Especially if it gives him the excuse not to have to dance much!”
Darcy was glad to see the ladies return. He hadn’t been entirely truthful in his reasons for accompanying them. He wanted to see her again, even if only for a few minutes. His look of pleasure upon seeing them did not escape his sister again, especially since his eyes were turned to her friend, and not to her.
“Did you miss us Fitzwilliam?”
“I always am glad to be in your company Georgiana.” Darcy deflected.
‘He avoided answering my question,’ Georgiana thought as they headed back toward the house.
That evening Jane felt well enough to join the party downstairs. Mr. Bingley was overjoyed to see his angel and spent considerable time making sure she was comfortable next to the fire. They became engrossed in a hushed conversation. Darcy, Elizabeth and Georgiana were content to find a book to read. Miss Bingley also chose a book, but only because it was the second volume to the one Darcy was reading. Finally in frustration she threw down the book and began walking about the room. Darcy studious avoided looking up.
On a whim she asked Georgiana and Elizabeth to join her.
“Miss Eliza Bennet, dear Georgiana, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long.”
Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility… Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. What could he mean? Miss Bingley was dying to know what could be his meaning and asked Georgiana whether she could at all understand him?
“Not at all,” was her answer; “but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.”
Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in anything, and persevered, therefore, in requiring an explanation of his two motives.
“I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. “You either chose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I should be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.”
“Oh! Shocking!” cried Miss Bingley. “I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”
“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth. “We can all plague and punish one another. Tease him, laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”
“But upon my honor I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that.” Georgiana rolled her eyes. “Tease calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself.”
“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.”
“Miss Bingley,” said he, “has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”
“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without. Of this Georgiana assures me!”
“Perhaps that is not possible for any one. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule,” Darcy played along.
“Such as vanity and pride.”
“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”
Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.
“Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume,” said Miss Bingley; “and pray what is the result?”
“I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.”
“No,” said Darcy turning serious, “I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost for ever.”
“That is a failing indeed!” cried Elizabeth. “Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me.”
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil — a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody,” she teased.
“And yours,” he replied, with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
“Do let us have a little music,” cried Miss Bingley, tired of a conversation in which she had no share. “Louisa, you will not mind my waking Mr. Hurst.”
Her sister made not the smallest objection, and the pianoforte was opened; and Darcy, after a few moments’ recollection, was not sorry for it. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention. Yet he could not avoid watching her when she took her turn at the pianoforte. Once again, his sister noticed this and she became more and more convinced that her brother admired her friend.
The next day Jane was much improved and wanted to go home. Elizabeth knew her mother wouldn’t send the carriage for another few days so she decided to ask Mr. Bingley if he would provide his. At this he protested that they could not leave yet. Finally Elizabeth consented to remain one more day but insisted that they leave after the Sunday morning services.
Darcy was of two minds regarding their departure. Part of him wished they would remain so he could see more of Miss Elizabeth. The other part worried about the danger of being around her too much. He could tell he was beginning to fall under her spell but he knew that he owed it to his family to make an equal match. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was definitely below him. He resigned himself to admire from afar and to take her own advice to not show her any partiality.
Two days after Jane and Elizabeth had returned to Longbourn their father surprised them with news of an intended visitor due to arrive that afternoon. After some time spent vexing his wife Mr. Bennet finally related the contents of his surprising letter.
The heir of Longbourn was coming to visit, apparently in search of a wife.
“There now Mrs. Bennet, we shall expect this peacemaking gentleman at 4 o’clock.”
The change in Mrs. Bennet’s attitude was astonishing, but unfortunately, expected. Once she deduced that Mr. Collins was coming to Longbourn to pick a bride she carefully began weighing the merits of promoting each daughter. Jane, of course was for Mr. Bingley. She had seen enough there to expect a declaration in the near future. Now the other four, well, she knew of no interests on their part. Any one of them would do just fine.
Mr. Collins was nothing if not prompt. Mr. Bennet had hopes of finding great amusement in his unknown heir but his absurdity went beyond his wildest dreams. That evening whilst they sat at dinner Mr. Collins went on and on about his noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and of the many splendors of Rosings Park, her noble home. Elizabeth spent the meal trying to maintain her composure. It would not do to openly laugh at the man who would have the power to put them all out of their home if something happened to her dear father. She was forced to hide her mirth behind her napkin on more than one occasion.
After 10 minutes alone with Mr. Collins following dinner, Mr. Bennet knew he had made a great mistake not insisting the gentlemen join the ladies directly after the meal. A little folly was fine, a total fool was overwhelming!
When the men finally joined the women Mr. Collins was asked to read to them. He objected to every suggestion as not suitable to a clergyman until he chose to read from Fordyce’s Sermon. Not five minutes into his reading Lydia disturbed him with her loud talking. Indignant, Mr. Collins refused to continue even after the entreaties of Mrs. Bennet and Jane. Mr. Collins scratched Lydia off the list of potential brides.
The next morning Mrs. Bennet was speaking with Mr. Collins. He praised the merits of all her daughters, mentioning especially her first born. Mrs. Bennet wasted no time thanking him but also intimated that her eldest would very likely be soon engaged. With that Jane was scratched of his list. It was only a matter of moments before he shifted his attentions to the next oldest, Elizabeth.
Lydia suggested a walk into Meryton to see if Mr. Denny had returned to the regiment from London and Mr. Collins wasted no time in soliciting Elizabeth to walk with him. Resignedly, Elizabeth consented but determined to walk speedily along to Meryton to minimize the time she would be forced to bear his company alone.
When they reached Meryton the young ladies’ attention was soon caught by a gentleman whom they had never seen before. He was in the company of the very officer, Mr. Denny, whom Lydia had hoped to see. This young stranger was quickly introduced. Mr. Wickham possessed the happy manners of a well-bred gentleman. He quickly charmed the ladies with his ease and apparent openness. Lydia’s and Kitty’s pleasure was complete when they learned that he had joined the unit and would soon be wearing regimentals.
This amiable conversation continued until Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy came riding through the town on their horses. Upon perceiving the Bennet party Mr. Bingley led the way over to them and began to address Miss Bennet. The two were on their way to Longbourn to enquire after her health. Mr. Darcy was prompt in seconding this notion and was about to resolve not to look at Elizabeth when he spied Mr. Wickham instead. Mr. Darcy immediately turn white, Mr. Wickham red. The latter gentleman finally was able to respond with a touch of his hat. Darcy gave an almost imperceptible nod, turned his horse, and began to ride away.
Elizabeth had witnessed the manner of their greeting and was astonished. It was obvious that both men felt very uncomfortable in the presence of the other and had a shared history. Mr. Wickham was quick to recover but not before Elizabeth caught the fleeting expression on his face. Hatred and fear were what had flashed across his features. Why, she had no idea but she began to doubt the man before her. Mr. Darcy may have been reserved but he had shown himself to be a good man. What was the quarrel he had with Mr. Wickham? She would find out soon enough.
After Mr. Bingley made his way to follow Darcy the party moved toward the Phillips’ house in town. Mrs. Phillips was the sister of Mrs. Bennet, but unfortunately, she had no more sense. She had married her father’s clerk and when her father had died Mr. Phillips took over his Attorney’s practice in Meryton.
Mrs. Phillips had noticed the handsome stranger and was only too pleased to use his presence with his nieces as an opportunity to invite him to cards and supper that evening at her house. Mr. Wickham, being fond of society was quick to accept.
That same evening then, Elizabeth found herself in the unexpected position of finding out the nature of the disagreement between Darcy and Mr. Wickham.
“I noticed the presence of a particular gentleman this afternoon. Tell me, has he been in the neighborhood long?” Mr. Wickham began.
“About a month sir. It is said he has an estate in Derbyshire”
“Yes, a fair and noble one. You could not have met with a person more capable of giving you information about him than myself. I have been connected with that family most of my life.”
Elizabeth could not help but look surprised.
“You look surprised. You did not miss the cold manner of our greeting today.”
“I did not.”
“Are you much acquainted with Mr. Darcy?”
“Not very, he seems to be very proud, a man who does not easily make acquaintances with those who are of little consequence.” Elizabeth was proud how she was able to play down her acquaintance.
“I have no opinion on his manners with new acquaintances. I have known him too long to give an honest one. He has done me great wrong Miss Bennet.”
“Pray how sir, he has the appearance of a man who lives to do his duty.”
“That may be how he appears to the world but between us things are very different. His father, you see, was my godfather and a better man I never met. He supported me through school and intended me for the church. He remembered me in his will and directed that a certain living be given to me when it became available. When it finally did the son refused point blank to give it to me. So I have been forced to make my own way in the world.”
“This is quite shocking. How could the son go expressly against the wishes of his father’s will?”
“It was given to me conditionally but the son’s jealousy of his father’s good opinion of me would never let him see my merits.”
“Then he deserves to be exposed!”
“I could never expose him so. I loved his father too much to sully his memory in such a manner.”
‘Then why are you telling me this now,’ thought Elizabeth.
“Tell me what you know of Miss Darcy, what kind of girl is she?”
Elizabeth added to herself, ‘How he responds should tell me more about him.’
He shook his head. “I wish I could call her amiable. It gives me pain to speak ill of a Darcy. But she is too much like her brother — very, very proud. As a child, she was affectionate and pleasing, and extremely fond of me; and I have devoted hours and hours to her amusement. But she is nothing to me now. She is a handsome girl, about fifteen or sixteen, and I understand, highly accomplished.”
‘Your fatal mistake Mr. Wickham. What manner of man are you really?’ she mused while she inclined her head to acknowledge his speech.
A few minutes later after inconsequential talk about the neighborhood in general, Mr. Wickham left their conversation very pleased with himself. He had seen the way Darcy had looked upon Miss Elizabeth when he first approached. Tonight had gone well, he had managed to poison Miss Bennet against Darcy. ‘Good luck now Darcy. After talking with me, she now despises you.’ He had based his opinion on Elizabeth’s agitated manner. In truth Elizabeth was distressed, but for an entirely different reason. She had to speak with Mr. Darcy to warn him about the story Mr. Wickham was bound to spread. He would not stop with her, of this she was certain. Elizabeth was worried about how such gossip would affect Georgiana. No, this could not happen. She had to find a way to speak with him as soon as could be.
That night Elizabeth unburdened herself to Jane. Jane being Jane had a difficult time believing ill of anyone but agreed in the deceit of the man when it came to Georgiana. She agreed to help Elizabeth get a message to Mr. Darcy that she needed to speak with him. As it turned out, Jane’s assistance was unnecessary.
Elizabeth had determined to go out walking in the direction of Netherfield the next morning in hopes of running into Mr. Darcy. No sooner than she had left the confines of Longbourn then she spotted him coming her way on his horse.
“Good morning Miss Bennet. I see that you are well this morning.”
“Yes I am, I thank you. I am feeling much better this morning than when I went to bed last night. I was just about to walk towards Netherfield. Would you care to join me?”
“Thank you, I would.” They walked along in silence for several minutes. “Miss Bennet, I must confess I rode to Longbourn in hopes of meeting you on your walk.”
“And I went walking this morning in the hope of meeting you. Dare I assume that we wish to speak on the same topic?”
“Miss Bennet, you noticed the cold manner with which I greeted a certain gentleman yesterday.” Elizabeth noted the strain in his voice when he said the word ‘gentleman’. “As you may have guessed Mr. Wickham and I have a previous acquaintance. I urge you to beware of the man. He is a cad and a rake and it is best you not give consequence to anything that he may have to say.”
“Mr. Darcy, I thank you for your warnings but I had already ascertained that he is not a man to be trusted.”
“But how, if I may ask?”
“What did Wickham say about Georgiana Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked through clenched teeth. Elizabeth noticed his distress and wondered at it. Had Mr. Wickham tried to hurt Georgiana? Again she was forced to table her questions and wait until Georgiana felt ready to talk to her.
“He only said that she was a proud girl. You and I both know that nothing could be further from the truth. If he lied about her he was capable of lying about the things he said about you.”
“What did he say about me?”
“Only that you had refused to give him the living your father promised him.”
Darcy was so angry he couldn’t speak.
“It went against everything I know about you Mr. Darcy. I refused to believe that you could behave in such a manner so I believed that there must be more to the story than he was telling.”
Darcy was finally in control of himself to speak. “Yes, there is much more to the story. I trust in your discretion that what I am about to tell you will go no further, even to your sister Jane?” Elizabeth nodded her consent.
“George Wickham’s father was steward of Pemberley until his death nearly five years ago. He discharged his duties as steward faithfully, honorably and with the greatest of integrity. Unfortunately, those are qualities that he failed to pass on to his son. My own father was George’s god-father and was, unfortunately again, blind to Wickham’s true character. Wickham hid behind his pleasing manners but I, who was nearer his age, was not fooled. But my father, who also died nearly five years ago, loved him and provided a legacy of £1,000 in addition to a recommendation that a valuable living be presented to him when it became available. Not long after my excellent father’s death Wickham came to me and asked for remuneration of £3,000 in exchange for the promised living. I immediately agreed and was very relieved that Mr. Wickham resigned all claims to assistance from the church. I had been loath to present a living to such a man and would have been mortified to inflict such a man on people I felt responsible for.
“I had hoped not to see Mr. Wickham again, but a few years later the aforementioned living became available again and Wickham had the gall to ask for it despite the earlier compensation. I refused and he reacted angrily and left at once. That was the last I heard from him until this past summer. In June Georgiana and her then companion, Mrs. Younge, went to Ramsgate. And thither also went Mr. Wickham, undoubtedly by design for there proved to be a former acquaintance between him and Mrs. Younge. There he courted Georgiana and convinced her she was in love to the extent that she consented to an elopement. He would have succeeded had I not, providentially, arrived unexpectedly to surprise Georgiana. She related the affair in full, not wishing to disappoint me.
“You met her scarcely more than a month after these events. You noted the sadness that was about her. You even mentioned it to me once. I would not have told you of this except that you have proven yourself a true friend to Georgiana. She owes much to you for her recovery after Ramsgate. I shudder to think of what she might still be if not for you. But I must ask you not to tell Georgiana that you know of this.”
“I am so sorry Mr. Darcy. Of course I will not tell Georgiana I know about Wickham. Indeed it was for Georgiana’s sake that I sought to meet you today. I fear the impact of Mr. Wickham spreading his lies about you. At present he is still, I believe, unaware of Georgiana’s presence here. We must do something to keep her safe!”
Elizabeth smiled shyly. “Yes we. You must know that I care about her very much and I feel it my duty to protect her. Much the same as you feel sir.”
“What do you think you can do Miss Bennet?”
“Counteract any lies Wickham may try to spread. The people who live here have known me all my life. They are more likely to listen to me than some handsome stranger.”
Darcy winced inwardly when he heard Elizabeth call Wickham handsome.
“I can also be sure to insist that all our walks together be chaperoned.”
“I shall do the chaperoning Miss Bennet. And I think I will be able to do more. Did Wickham in fact join the regiment?”
“Yes he did.”
“Good! That was a mistake on his behalf. My cousin, Georgiana’s other guardian, is as I said before a colonel in the army. I shall send him an express and see if he can get Wickham transferred to another regiment. He will not know what hit him!”
“It is fortunate that you possess such useful connections. I am willing to assist you in whatever manner is possible Mr. Darcy. I will not see Georgiana hurt.”
“I know I can depend on you Miss Bennet.”
They had come back to Longbourn by now.
“Good day Miss Bennet. It has been a most enlightening morning.”
“Good day Mr. Darcy, will you bring Georgiana around today then?”
“No, unfortunately I will have much to do today. But I will endeavor to bring her tomorrow.” With that Darcy mounted his horse, tipped his hat, and rode off towards
Elizabeth was not surprised when Mr. Bingley arrived at Longbourn in the company of Mr. Darcy and Georgiana. He seemed to take advantage of every opportunity to visit. As soon as they were seated and the normal pleasantries were dispensed with, Mr. Bingley made his business known. In truth he could hardly contain himself waiting for the opportunity to speak.
“I have come today to personally issue you an invitation to a Ball at Netherfield next Tuesday.”
“Oh, a Ball! Mr. Bingley I am sure it will be the grandest in memory if you are to hold it sir!” Mrs. Bennet gushed.
“Of course your whole family is invited, including you Mr. Collins,” he added.
“I am sure we will all be there Mr. Bingley. A Ball! I am so looking forward to it!” Mrs. Bennet went on and on.
Finally Bingley suggested a walk in the garden. Darcy quickly asked Elizabeth to join Georgiana and him before Mr. Collins had the opportunity to request her company. Darcy meant to engage Elizabeth for the supper dance. He knew this would make Georgiana very happy. In fact Georgiana was the one who suggested it. She also suggested that he ask her to open the Ball with him. As much as he was tempted to do so he knew that it would be unwise.
“Georgiana,” He had said to her the day before. “As much as I enjoy dancing with Miss Elizabeth you know it would be unwise for me to open the Ball with her. We have discussed how difficult it is dealing with her mother about your acquaintance. Imagine how much more difficult it would be if Mrs. Bennet imagined I was paying attentions to her. She would never have a moments peace!”
“Once again you have shown you are never wrong brother. I agree with the logic of your proposed course of action.”
‘But I do not agree that you do not wish to show attentions to Elizabeth. When are you going to stop denying that you admire her brother?’ Georgiana thought to herself.
“Will you ask her to dance the Supper Dance at least? That way you will secure her for dinner with me Fitzwilliam.”
“I suppose I can do that, just do not expect any more from me.”
”Will you open the ball with Miss Bingley then?” She teased.
“Heaven forbid! I will not dance the first set. I may ask her for the next but only to get it out of the way for the evening.”
“Wise decision brother. I wish I could dance with you.”
“Next year dear. And just to let you know, you are the only one I would want to open the ball with.” He took her hand and smiled down on her. “My dearest sister!”
Now that they were in the garden Darcy wasted no time in engaging Elizabeth.
“Miss Bennet, would you do me the honor of reserving the Supper Dance for me at the Ball.”
“Of course Mr. Darcy, I would be honored sir.”
“There you are Georgiana, your fondest wish has been granted!”
“Georgiana Darcy! What do you have to say for yourself”? Elizabeth mockingly demanded.
“If you must know Elizabeth, I knew my brother intended to ask you for a dance at the Ball. I simply asked him to choose the Supper Dance so that he might insure that you will be my dinner partner. I thought it was a very good maneuver myself. You must allow me to be selfish once in a while.”
“A very reasonable answer Georgiana. You must promise me then to secure our seats at a table away from Miss Bingley, or my mother for that matter.” She added with a knowing look.
“I will do my best Elizabeth,” she promised. “After all, I shall not be dancing and should have time to insure a desirable seating arrangement.”
“It seems as if you ladies have everything covered. I only need to need to keep from stepping on Miss Elizabeth’s toes and I shall fulfill my part!”
Elsewhere in the garden Mr. Bingley was walking with Jane.
“Yes Mr. Bingley?”
“I should like very much if you would dance the first set with me.”
“I would be delighted sir.” Jane replied.
“May I also ask you to reserve the supper dance for me as well?”
“Yes, that is most agreeable Mr. Bingley!”
He saw the look of heartfelt joy in her acceptance and his own heart leapt with hope.
“I shall very much look forward to dancing again with you Miss Bennet.”
“I too sir.”
They too affected to speak for a while. Finally Jane broke the silence.
“We are all very honored that you chose to deliver the invitation to the ball in person Mr. Bingley.”
“I would not have it any other way.”
It was at this point that they met up with Georgiana.
“Mr. Bingley, I came to ask, came to ask…well I came to give Fitzwilliam some time to ask Elizabeth to dance in private.” She fibbed. She could see that they had both wanted a few moments of privacy by the looks they exchanged. She misinterpreted their reason for such privacy but she was happy to do whatever she could to forward a match between her beloved bother and her best friend.
Fortunately neither Bingley nor Jane had any inclination to doubt her motives or words so they happily included her in their party.
Georgiana had left Darcy and Elizabeth to ask some question of Mr. Bingley. When she had moved out of earshot, Elizabeth opened the subject they both wished to talk about.
“What news of Mr. Wickham do you have Mr. Darcy.”
“As soon as I reached Netherfield after talking with you yesterday I dispatched an express to my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.” Elizabeth looked at him askance.
“What is it Miss Elizabeth?”
“Your cousin shares a name with you sir.”
“Yes, it is the Darcy tradition that the eldest son bear his mother’s family name.”
“I see, pray continue about Mr. Wickham. I am sorry to distract you.”
“As I said, I sent my cousin an express telling him about Wickham. I related to him that Wickham had joined the militia and asked if he could manage to get him transferred to another regiment. Colonel Fitzwilliam has many connections. I received an express from him late last night saying that he had begun the process of getting him transferred and expected to know more in a few days. He was pleased to be able to exert some control over Wickham. He wanted to run him through after Ramsgate. In the meantime, I will make sure that I am with Georgiana when she is away from Netherfield. I believe Wickham will be gone in the next 4 to 6 days so it should not be too much of a strain. Perhaps you can arrange another walk with her for the next few days.”
“Yes I will do that. I shall also keep my ears open to discover if Mr. Wickham has started spreading lies about you.” At this Elizabeth wore a most mischievous grin. “I never thought I would see the day when I was glad my mother loved to gossip. If there are any ill rumors about you, she will know as soon as they are about.”
Darcy wisely kept his comments to himself and smiled faintly.
“Let us rejoin the others. Bingley has much to do today. He has been neglecting a few things around Netherfield since he began seriously contemplating this Ball. I need to remind him to do his duty first.”
“You are as invaluable as a friend as you are as a brother Mr. Darcy. I pity the person to cross you sir.”
“You have nothing to fear on that score I am sure madam.”
They then joined Jane, Georgiana and Bingley and heading back to the house.
“Miss Bennet,” Bingley began. “My sisters asked me to convey an invitation to come for tea the day after tomorrow. May I tell them you will come?”
“I must check with Mama first but I believe I will be able to come.”
“It is a good thing they did not ask for today or tomorrow Mr. Bingley” Elizabeth said.
“And why is that Miss Elizabeth?” Bingley asked.
“Sir, with your invitation to the ball this morning I am sure our mother will have plenty for us to do to procure needed items for the ball as well as accompanying her to call around the neighborhood to discuss those same preparations for the ball. You see, we will be quite busy between now and the Tuesday!”
“Then I hazard that means you will not be available to accompany me on a walk tomorrow Elizabeth?”
“No, Georgiana, I can scarce avoid the same fate as my sisters.”
“Can you come the day after tomorrow? You could come with Miss Bennet when she comes to tea. Please say yes, no offense Miss Bennet, but I do not wish to spend the day with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. They are so much older than I and they do not enjoy walking as I do.” Georgiana could say more, but not in the presence of their brother or Miss Bennet.”
“Then I must rescue you from the clutches of three ancient women Georgiana!”
“Sorry Jane! Elizabeth smiled coyly.
Once they made their way back into the house the three visitors took their leave and made arrangements for a carriage to pick up the two eldest Miss Bennets two days hence.
Elizabeth was not able to keep her spirits in check and foolishly asked Mr. Collins if he intended to accept the invitation to the Ball.
“Would it be proper for you to attend?”
“I am by no means of opinion, I assure you,” said he, “that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, to respectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am so far from objecting to dancing myself, that I shall hope to be honored with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course of the evening; and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, Miss Elizabeth, for the two first dances especially, a preference which I trust my cousin Jane will attribute to the right cause, and not to any disrespect for her.”
Elizabeth was left in the unhappy position of opening the ball of the season with the man she had the least desire of doing so. She only hoped he had a better command of the dance than she dreaded he actually possessed.
Late that evening when the rest of the house was comfortably settled into their rooms Jane sought out Elizabeth. The two sisters had, for as long as they both could remember, enjoyed spending time with each other in such a manner. It had become a custom to resurrect the events of days such as today.
“Did Mr. Bingley ask you to dance, Jane?” Elizabeth began.
“He asked me to reserve the first set and the Supper Dance.”
“So you are to open the ball with your Mr. Bingley.”
“He is not my Mr. Bingley, Lizzy.” Jane blushed.
“I think he will remedy that shortly, Jane.” Elizabeth dared. Jane would not answer her on that affair.
“Did Mr. Darcy ask you to dance, Lizzy?”
“Yes he did. He also asked for the Supper Dance so that he could secure me as a dinner partner with Georgiana. He claimed it was her idea and she would not deny it.”
Jane was puzzled. It appeared Miss Darcy was there when he asked Lizzy to dance. Why had she said otherwise?
“Was Miss Darcy with you when he asked?”
“Yes, then she said she had a question for Mr. Bingley and left us alone for a few minutes before we joined you again.”
“That is curious, she said she wanted to give her brother some privacy to ask you to dance.”
Elizabeth started to laugh. “I think Georgiana was trying to give us some privacy. I fear my friend is trying her hand at matchmaking!”
At this Jane joined in on Elizabeth’s laughter. “Do you mind Lizzy?”
“Mr. Darcy would never be able to offer me anything other than friendship. I am afraid he looks at me as his sister’s friend and nothing else. I am too insignificant to garner any interest on his part.”
“You have not answered my question Elizabeth.”
“I would rather Georgiana not play matchmaker, Jane. I would not wish for her to get her hopes raised needlessly.”
“Would you welcome his attentions if he offered them?”
“That is a moot question, he never would stoop to anyone my level.”
“But if he did?”
“I have never given it any thought Jane. I am not sure I can answer that. I suppose that if he did single me out that I would have to consider whether I welcomed him or not. For now, I could not say.”
“Elizabeth, you are my sister and I am partial, but I think you and Mr. Darcy would suit very well. Mr. Bingley has the highest opinion of him and Miss Darcy already loves you as a sister.”
“But society would not approve Jane. Mr. Darcy has a duty to marry well. I am sure he intends to fulfill that duty. Enough about Mr. Darcy, Jane tell me what you plan to wear and how you think you will do your hair for the ball!”
The two spent the next half hour discussing their planned preparations. Jane agreed with Elizabeth’s intention of weaving fresh flowers in her hair. They would be lovely set off against her dark tresses.
The next day panned out much in the manner Elizabeth predicted. By that evening she was sure there was nothing left to plan or discuss other than how many more days there were before Tuesday’s Ball.
The following day gray skies greeted Elizabeth when she awoke. The skies threatened rain all morning and when the carriage arrived to take them to Netherfield Elizabeth could smell the approaching rain. She was about to send her regrets to Miss Darcy when the footman handed her a note.
I know it looks like rain and that will mean an end to our planned walk today. Please, still come and see me. I cannot abide another day alone with Miss Bingley without your company. I promise we shall find something to amuse ourselves. Even if it means I have to bully my brother into giving us a lesson at billiards!
Elizabeth grinned at her note and allowed herself to be handed into the carriage. They were not halfway to Netherfield when the rain began. By the time they had arrived the shower had passed but the planned walk was definitely going to be cancelled. The two ladies were announced in the drawing room where the ladies of the house were all assembled.
“I am afraid we shall have to postpone our walk for another day Georgiana,” Elizabeth began once the civilities were finished and they were seated. “What do you have planned for us instead?”
“I had a delivery of a few new books yesterday. They are in my room. Would you like to come with me and see them?”
“Yes I would but I think we should wait awhile. I would not want Miss Bingley to overwhelm my sister with our hasty withdrawal.”
“Of course, let us wait 10 minutes and then I shall announce our intentions to our hostess.” Georgiana replied.
They talked of the new music Georgiana had been working on. Miss Bingley exclaimed how beautifully ‘dear’ Georgiana played and continued to praise her in a like manner until Georgiana made their excuses to leave to see the new books.
“I should be very interested in seeing them as well Georgiana. I do so love a good book,” Miss Bingley added attempting to show her implied intimacy with the young lady.
“Yes Miss Bingley, we will return soon,” was all Georgiana trusted herself to say as she and Elizabeth left the room.
“Dearest Georgiana,” Elizabeth began in her best Miss Bingley voice as soon as they were safely upstairs, “I am sure your taste in books is exquisite, as to match your skill at the pianoforte. Oh that all ladies were as accomplished as we are!”
Both ladies burst out in laugher at this and it was several minutes before either of them had any semblance of self-control. At last they were both able to overcome their giggles and peruse Georgiana’s newest books, two novels and a new book of poetry by Coleridge.
“I think Miss Bingley might be interested in these novels but I sincerely doubt she has the… the patience for Coleridge,” Elizabeth tried to say with a straight face. Once again the two Ladies spent considerable time regaining their composure. First one would start giggle and that would ruin the other’s self-control. They traded doing this to each other until a knock on the door finally brought them back to some semblance of proper decorum.
“Georgiana, it is Fitzwilliam. Is Miss Elizabeth in there with you?”
Opening the door she responded in the affirmative.
“Miss Elizabeth, your sister wishes to leave soon. She is afraid of become stranded here because of the weather.”
“I think once is enough for the both of us being houseguests here during this house party. Dear Jane is always right about these things. I should make myself ready to leave Georgiana.”
“I will be happy to escort you both down stairs,” Darcy volunteered.
“Do not forget the books Georgiana. I am sure Miss Bingley is dying to see them!” said Elizabeth dryly.
Neither woman dared look at the other for fear that they would start laughing all over again. With their dignity intact they were led into the drawing room where Jane was anxiously awaiting them.
“I have ordered the carriage be brought around front for you ladies.” Darcy told them. The butler then informed them that it had just arrived and Jane and Elizabeth made their farewells and headed to the carriage.”
“Thank you for coming,” Georgiana quietly spoke to Elizabeth. “I do not think that I have laughed so much at one time.”
“When the weather has cleared I shall send word when I can come again for our postponed walk.” Elizabeth responded.
“I am looking forward to it.”
Jane and Elizabeth hurried into the carriage and headed back to Longbourn.
Unfortunately the poor weather held until the day of the Ball. Elizabeth’s patience would be greatly tried being tied indoors. If it had not been for the ball to look forward to the entire house would have been in a pitiable state. Indeed, the greatest trial was enduring Mr. Collins. Elizabeth found herself often forced to retreat to her or Jane’s room for sanctuary.
It was with great joy then that Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear. It was a good omen for the promise that the ball held for the night.
The carriages carrying the Bennet party were the last to arrive. Mrs. Bennet wanted to ensure that Mr. Bingley would lead Jane into the Ball.
Darcy and Georgiana had patiently waited just inside the room for Elizabeth to make her entrance. Upon spotting the pair, Elizabeth made her way over to them trying her best to shake off Mr. Collins in the process.
“Elizabeth, I am so glad to see you. You look so beautiful tonight! Does she not Fitzwilliam?”
“She looks very well indeed Georgiana. Miss Bennet it is a pleasure to see you this evening. I had my work cut out for me just keeping my sister here from ordering the carriage to take her to you since the last day we saw you. I had to remind her that the roads were in no shape for such a journey and that your family would not be expecting anyone in such weather.”
“Though I would have welcomed the intrusion I assure you.” Elizabeth replied.
The strains of music alerted everyone to the imminent beginning of the opening dance. Mr. Collins rushed over to claim Elizabeth for the set. She did not care for the way he looked at her. She only hoped that she was not the one he had chosen for his bride, though it seemed as though he had. She did not fear being forced to accept such a man. Her father would never inflict such a husband on her, no matter what the advantage to the family. The only concern was the unpleasantness that refusing any offer would entail.
Elizabeth was mortified by the conclusion of the first two dances. Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was ecstasy. He led her to Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth introduced the pair.
“Delighted to make any acquaintance of my fair cousin Elizabeth. If you will excuse me now I must claim my dances from another of my cousins. Ladies.”
“At least that is over Elizabeth.” Charlotte began after he had left.
“Unless he tries to secure another dance!”
“And you have any left to give?”
Elizabeth laughed, “No, but that does not mean he will not try nor that one of my partners is unable to fulfill his commitment.”
“At least this means you do not have to dine with him then. Who will your dinner partner be?”
“Partners Charlotte. Mr. Darcy has engaged me for the Supper Dance so that I might be able to dine with Miss Darcy.”
“I suppose he does not mind having to dine with you then?”
“Charlotte! He would do anything for his sister. But he and I are united in our desire for the best for Georgiana. I do not think he will mind my company.”
Elizabeth’s next dancing partner came to claim her for the next set. In fact Elizabeth did have partners for all the dances before supper. Her lively personality made her a desirable partner for all the young men at the Ball.
When the music started for the final dance before the meal, Darcy came and collected Elizabeth. Many eyes turned to them in wonder that Darcy would so single her out. They were both conscious of the stares but each decided not to let what they could not control bother them. They would enjoy their dance together and then have a pleasurable meal with Georgiana.
After a few moments dancing in silence Elizabeth was first to speak.
“Come sir, we must have a little bit of conversation while we dance. A little will do.”
“What would you have me say?”
“You should comment on the size of the room or the number of couples.”
“I believe there are the perfect number of couples for the size of the room.”
Elizabeth laughed, “You only need comment on the weather and the state of the road and we shall have exhausted all topics of polite conversation!”
“You talk then as a rule when you dance?” Darcy was enjoying himself completely.
“Yes, it would seem odd to be silent for a whole half hour.”
“Sometimes silence is preferable Miss Bennet, but not right now.”
“What news do you have of Mr. Wickham? I notice he is not here tonight even though I understand that Mr. Bingley issued a general invitation to all of the officers.”
“Mr. Wickham has joined his new regiment in Surrey. Colonel Fitzwilliam has an old friend, Colonel Williams, who enjoys tormenting officers who take on the airs of gentleman when they have little claim to the title. When my cousin brought Mr. Wickham to his attention he was only too happy to take him in his regiment.
“What did Colonel Fitzwilliam tell him?”
“Fitzwilliam related that Wickham had grown up on my family’s estate and that he abused the trust of my father. He told him that Wickham had squandered the legacy left him by my father and had refused the living that had been provided for him.
It was enough to convince Colonel Williams. He has also promised to keep my cousin apprised of Wickham’s ‘progress’. I am afraid Mr. Wickham is in for a surprise when he gets to Surrey. He is ignorant of the reasons behind his transfer. Imagine how surprised he will when he discovers that he has been brought in to be made an example of.”
“I am pleased for it to have worked out so well. Does Georgiana know he was here?”
“I told her after he was gone. I felt she needed to know he was here from me and not by overhearing some idle gossip.”
“Did she take the news well?”
“Yes, she has much recovered from her trauma. I think she rather enjoyed the fate Fitzwilliam arranged for him. She was also glad that you were not taken in by his manners.”
“So am I.”
At that moment Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy he stopped with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.
“I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Miss Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy, but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me.”
The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Sir William’s allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane who were dancing together.
Elizabeth followed his eye towards he sister. She had recovered from Sir Williams’s ill-mannered allusions and was looking with joy at her sister. Darcy’s attention came back to his partner and he noted the look of pleasure on her face as she beheld the pair.
“Do you approve of Mr. Bingley and your sister?”
“I only wish for her happiness.”
“And what would make her happy?”
“Being with those she loves, either with her family at Longbourn or in a home of her own someday.”
This gave Darcy much to think on. He had never detected any symptom of peculiar regard by Miss Bennet for his friend. Could it have been there all along and he had missed it. And what of Bingley? Was he aware of the general expectation of the neighborhood? He needed to speak with him, and soon. After his behavior tonight he needed to make some decisions and Darcy needed to make sure Bingley was aware of what he was doing.
Elizabeth observed his silent contemplations. It was obvious he was thinking about her sister and his friend. She needed to change the subject before he became too withdrawn.
“I want to thank you Mr. Darcy for securing me such a delightful dinner partner. I look forward to sitting with Georgiana”
“And what about me, Miss Bennet, or have you forgotten I am to be your other dinner partner.”
“Oh no sir! I am just not sure what manner of a dinner partner you will be!”
“I am wounded madam!” he mocked. “I have always been told I am a delightful dinner partner!”
“By Miss Bingley and every other woman like her?”
“Point taken Miss Bennet. Do you think I will make a delightful dinner partner?”
“That depends on which Mr. Darcy shows himself.”
“Pray enlighten me! What do you mean by ‘which Mr. Darcy shows himself’?”
“Will it be the kind and solicitous brother or the reserved, does not care to be in much company Mr. Darcy?”
“Which would you prefer?”
“You would have me be not what I am?” he cried.
“No, you mistake my meaning sir!”
“Then what do you do mean?”
“I would wish to see the gentleman whom you really are!”
Darcy was stunned. What did she mean?
“What kind of gentleman do you think that I am?” he asked nervously.
“Do you truly want to know?”
“Well sir, you are a difficult man to get to know. If I were to have judged you on the usual reserve you present to the world in general I would have found you to be an extremely proud and disagreeable man. But, that is not who you are. You are a man of honor who takes his duties and responsibilities very seriously. You are a loving brother; anyone can see that. You are a loyal friend. I know that you have come to guide Mr. Bingley, but have not acted in a way that would overshadow him, even though it would be very easy for you to do just that. You are intelligent, and obviously well read. You weigh your decisions carefully, but act quickly and resolutely when you do come to a decision. You treat servants as human beings worthy of respect. You are not irreligious, for you have not missed a service while you have been here, which is more than I can say for our hostess. In short you are one of the best men I have ever known and it is an honor to know you and your wonderful sister sir.”
With that she was silent. He could only manage a mumbled “Thank you for your kind words,” before the set had finished and he led her to meet Georgiana who was waiting for them at a table.
Elizabeth was no less affected by her words than he. Did she really just call him the best man she had ever known? Oh Lord, Jane was right! She would accept his attentions if he sought them. Why did she have to come to realize that now? Would it complicate things with Georgiana? She must stop dwelling on these thoughts! She was beneath him, they both knew that. He would never reject his duty to marry someone of equal wealth and status. She must not allow her self to be hurt. And she must return to her normal spirits, because they were even then approaching Georgiana at the dinner table.
“Elizabeth, Fitzwilliam! I very much enjoyed watching you two dance together. It is like you have been doing so for years. The harmony of you motions was sublime.”
“Georgiana dear, you forget that you made me dance with Miss Elizabeth before. We are not totally unaccustomed to each other in the dance.”
“Perhaps, but it was still enjoyable to watch. Come sit with me. I think you will be pleased with our table.”
Georgiana, not being out and dancing made full advantage by securing a table full of pleasurable company. Miss Bingley was a few tables over and Mr. & Mrs. Bennet sat at the other end of the room.
“Well done Georgiana!” Elizabeth laughed, “I see you have gone out of your way to ensure my comfort. Too bad Mr. Bingley and Jane had to sit with his sisters. But I am sure she will not be displeased considering her dinner partner.”
As they neared the end of the meal Mr. Bingley asked Miss Bingley to oblige the company with a song. Elizabeth was relieved that she had remembered to speak with her sister Mary earlier that day.
“Mary, it is very likely that Mr. Bingley will call for young ladies to exhibit on the pianoforte this evening.”
“I anticipate that he will Elizabeth, that is why I have chosen two numbers to bring with me tonight.”
“Mary, I need to remind you that Mr. Bingley will first ask Miss Bingley to play. When she is finished then other ladies will be asked to take her place. Please understand that you should only plan on playing one piece, especially if there are many ladies willing to play. I would suggest you play that new air you have been practicing.”
“But I was planning on playing the other new piece, the one with three movements.”
“That would be fine in a smaller gathering but tonight there will be dancing and all. Keep it light and short and you will bring much more pleasure to those who are anxious to return to the dancing.”
“I do not know what pleasure it is that so many find in the dance. But what you say is proper. Do not worry, I shall follow your advice Elizabeth.”
And so she did. The air she played was received with more polite applause than she was used to and she almost began playing her second piece before Elizabeth’s words came to mind. She blushed and moved to allow the next lady her turn. As she looked up at Elizabeth she was rewarded by one of her sister’s famous bright smiles as she nodded her approval. Mary had little experience being on the receiving end of one of those smiles from her sister. She found unexpectedly that it brought her great comfort. Perhaps it might be worth spending a little less time with her books and more with the company of her sisters, well her two eldest at least.
Darcy quite enjoyed his dinner. His companions were amiable and he was able to converse with them in the easy manner they were accustomed to. The other persons at his table were well mannered as well.
Without much thought he asked Elizabeth, “Do you have any remaining dances that I might claim one Miss Elizabeth?”
For some reason Elizabeth colored and looked shyly at him before responding.
“Aye, the last one sir.”
“No one has claimed the last dance! I am astonished!”
“I have been asked but I told them I was engaged elsewhere.” She said uneasily.
“But you just said that you had the last one free?”
Elizabeth bit her lip, unafraid of what he might think of her answer. Georgiana observed with growing amusement. Elizabeth was clearly discomposed. Whatever for?
“After my sister Jane’s second Ball I resolved to always save the last dance for my dinner partner. I reasoned that if I felt comfortable dining with him then at least the last dance would be enjoyable.”
“And if you found that person disagreeable?”
“My father knows of my resolution. If I ever found myself desirable of another partner I would then claim his prior commitment and I would dance the last with him instead.”
“Why were you so embarrassed to tell me? It seems a very reasonable resolution.”
“I was afraid you would think me begging a dance with you Mr. Darcy.”
“But I am the one who asked you! Will you be dancing the last with your father Miss Elizabeth?”
“How can I when you have already asked me Mr. Darcy!” she smiled.
Strangely relieved, he smiled back and said, “I look forward to it Madam.”
It was only after the dancing began again the he kicked himself. ‘Oh Lord, I have done the thing I have said I would not do and singled Miss Elizabeth out,’ he thought. ‘It is done now and there is nothing for it. I might as well enjoy it!’
With that he went to claim Mrs. Hurst for their dance.
Finally it was the last dance of the evening and Darcy led Elizabeth to the set. Once again they were the objects of many looks of surprise. This time they were too lost in their own thoughts to notice. Their actions were as harmonious as the last dance but there was a tension neither wished to break. They moved in silence, content with the pleasures of the brief touches the dance induced. At last it was over and Darcy led Elizabeth over to her father.
“Mr. Bennet, please allow me to apologize for taking your place with your daughter for the last dance. She assured me that you would understand. Miss Elizabeth, thank you for the pleasure of your company for both our dances tonight. I only hope that I was a worthy enough partner for you.”
“The pleasure was all mine Mr. Darcy, I have never stood up with a better dancer sir.”
Darcy smiled, “Mr. Bennet, Miss Elizabeth” he said taking her hand in his bowing, and bestowing the lightest of kisses on her fingers, and then took his leave to go and find his sister.
Just as she had done in insuring that they were the last to arrive, Mrs. Bennet made sure they were the last to leave.
When they were finally gone Mr. Bingley invited Darcy to join him in the library for some brandy.
“I will be there in after I see Georgiana to her rooms Bingley. I have wish to talk to you tonight.”
“I will be awaiting you there Darcy, send my best wishes for a good night’s sleep to your sister.”
Bingley made his way to the Library to await his friend. He too had many things he wished to speak to Darcy about, and he could not bear to wait until morning to do so.
Darcy took his time walking back to the library after escorting Georgiana to her room. His thoughts kept going back to his dances with Elizabeth. Elizabeth, she had been Elizabeth in his mind for some time now. She would always be Elizabeth to him. At the beginning of the first dance she was almost playful, as if she were purposefully trying to make him smile. Then she turned thoughtful as he told her about Wickham. Next she seemed grateful when she acknowledged that she was relieved the scoundrel had not taken her in. She was gentle when their conversation turned to Bingley and her sister. She did not betray any confidences but she had gently led him to understand that there was more to her sister than he had seen.
Next she artfully changed the conversation to their mutually favorite topic, Georgiana. Finally she had astounded them both by her recitation of her opinion of his character. She seemed as affected as he was, almost as if she had seen him for the first time. Their second dance? How could he put it into words when none were spoken? Once again Elizabeth had shown that she knew when there was an appropriate time for silence. What had she been thinking? He had thought her so beautiful, so graceful, so alive! If she had spoken to him he was not sure he could have spoken in reply. So alert were all of his senses to her!
‘Elizabeth, it is not fair! Had you been born to my circle I would be on my knee right now begging you to have me! How can any acceptable woman match up to you! What will I do now? I need to secure an heir. It would not be fair to another woman to have her live in your shadow in my mind! Oh Elizabeth!’ he thought. How could he stand to be around her? How could he tear himself away? If she were not Georgiana’s best friend he would flee, avoid her. But he could not. He could not do that to either of them. He would have to distance himself another way. He would remain polite, but he must guard himself when in her presence. With this resolve he entered the library to do his duty to his friend.
Bingley was anxious to see his friend. He had always relied on Darcy to give him good advice when he was planning something major. Well, now he was planning for the most significant undertaking of his life and he wanted his friend’s blessing for the course of action he was prepared to take.
“I say old man, I had a very agreeable evening. I hope the neighborhood enjoyed themselves as much as I did! Would you like a brandy?”
“Yes please. Bingley, I must congratulate you and your sister too. Your first ball at Netherfield was a rousing success! I dare say it will be the chief topic of conversation for weeks to come.”
“Thank you Darcy! It was a grand evening,” Bingley sighed as he poured their drinks.
“Bingley, I do not think the ball will be the only topic of conversation about tonight.”
“Whatever do you mean Darcy?” he said as he handed Darcy his brandy.
“Are you aware of the general opinion of the neighborhood regarding your acquaintance with Miss Bennet?”
“No, what are people saying?” he asked guardedly, sipping his drink.
“It seems that the general opinion is that you are very shortly to make an offer to Miss Bennet.”
“And if I am?”
“Bingley, what are your intentions toward Miss Bennet?”
“I plan on calling on Mr. Bennet tomorrow to ask permission to formally court Miss Bennet, Darcy.”
“Do you not approve of Miss Bennet Darcy, do you believe she is a fortune hunter?”
“Charles,” Darcy hardly ever called him Charles. Bingley knew he was being completely open with him now. “I do not now believe Miss Bennet to be a fortune hunter. Neither do I know what her true feelings are for you. That is for you to determine.”
“What do you mean by ‘now’ William?”
“I mean that tonight I was told, by someone who should know, that she would never leave her family for someone she did not love.”
“Miss Elizabeth told you this?”
“Yes, not in so many words. But she revealed enough about her sister tonight that I can safely tell you that this is true.”
“But you still have doubts about my course of action?”
“You have only known her a short while.”
“How long is long enough William? I think I have loved her since the first night I saw her.”
“There are other things besides love to consider when choosing a spouse Charles.”
“You must know that the Bennet girls have little to no dowry. Miss Elizabeth has told Georgiana that they do not.”
“And Miss Bennet has no significant connections. She has an uncle in trade and an uncle who is an attorney.”
“She is a gentleman’s daughter William!”
“Yes, whose estate is entailed upon my Aunt’s clergyman for God’s sake!”
“And what am I Darcy? My father was a tradesman. Where do you think my fortune came from? Someday I may become a gentleman farmer if I buy an estate. But if I do not then what am I really, William?”
“Charles, are you willing to become responsible for Miss Bennet’s family if something should befall Mr. Bennet?”
“Of course I am! It may not be easy but I have enough to take care of them. And her sisters will most likely be all married by then anyway.”
“And what of Mrs. Bennet? Could you endure her as a mother-in-law? Her manners, indeed the manners of her youngest three daughters leave much to be desired, especially the youngest.”
“William, it is most likely they will grow out of it somewhat. They are young and have much to learn. But the point is, if I marry I do not marry them, I marry Miss Bennet. If that is what I want then why should these other insignificant things have any bearing on me.”
“I am afraid that you would come to resent Miss Bennet for all of these ‘insignificant things’ in the future. Charles, I do not wish to see you hurt.”
“William, I understand and I thank you for your concern. It does you credit that you are so concerned for me. But I have a question to ask you. Would you have wanted your father to reject your mother if she had not been Lady Anne Fitzwilliam? What if she had been the daughter of some lower born gentleman like Mr. Bennet? Would you have had him walk away from the love of his life over money or an overbearing sister-in-law? I will not. I will not let them stand in the way of spending the rest of my life with the woman I love!”
At this Darcy was silent. He did not know how to reply. Would his answer affect more than Bingley’s suit with the eldest Miss Bennet?
Before he could formulate an answer, a servant entered the room with a letter on a tray for Bingley.
“Excuse me sir, this express just came for you.”
“Thank you, you may go.”
Bingley opened the letter and began to read. Darcy watched him blanch while reading its contents.
“Whatever is it Charles, you look as though it bears ill news?”
“It is from my solicitor in Manchester. There has been a fire. My main warehouse there has been destroyed. Fortunately it was mostly empty or I might have been ruined! William, I most go to Manchester at once. I cannot allow anyone to act on this for me. I must do this myself!”
Darcy only nodded in confirmation.
“Why now? Why does this happen when I am ready to formally declare my intentions to the woman I love and wish to marry?”
“Charles, perhaps there is some good to this timing.”
Bingley looked at him incredulously.
“Do you remember that one of the first concerns I expressed to you was the short length of your acquaintance with Miss Bennet? Perhaps this time away will give both of you a chance to gain some perspective. Go to Manchester. Take care of your business there. If you still feel as strongly for Miss Bennet when you are finished then you can return here and ask permission to court her. She may then let you know if her feelings have stood the test of time as well. If they have, then she will accept your suit. If not, you have not committed yourself to a course of action that will only lead to unhappiness for you both.”
“I do not know William, what will she think if I leave without giving her any assurances?
“Then call on her before you leave. Tell her your business and assure her that you will return to call on her when your business is finished. This way she will know that you are not just running away from her and all you have committed yourself to is a call upon your return.”
“I see the wisdom in your advice William. I will think on it tonight and decide what to do when I call on Miss Bennet tomorrow.”
“When will you leave for Manchester?”
“The day after tomorrow. I am sorry to leave you like this. I know Caroline will want to return to Town as soon as she can. She does not care for the country. You are welcome to stay here with Georgiana if you want.”
“No Charles, we will leave as well, you know we should not stay if Miss Bingley leaves. I will have the servants begin packing and prepare to leave when you leave.”
“You do not want to be left with Caroline without me to protect you?” Bingley teased.
Darcy was glad to see his friend smile again. Tonight did not go as badly as he feared. He had done his duty to his friend and Bingley did not reject him because of it. He never had answered his question though. He hoped Bingley would not remember and press him for an answer because he really did not know if he wished to answer it. Its implications were more than he cared to think about right now.
Instead he just answered, “Good night Charles. Thank you for the drink. I shall see you in the morning.”
That night as Elizabeth prepared for bed Jane came in to talk over the events of the ball with her.
“I see you survived the first two dances with our cousin Lizzy.”
“Barely! I was so relieved when it was over and he went to claim his dances with the rest of you. By the time he made it back my card was full and I could refuse him without losing the pleasure of dancing the rest of the evening. I was surprised to see you only dance two sets with your Mr. Bingley though.”
“Lizzy! He is not ‘my’ Mr. Bingley. It would have been improper to dance any more.”
“I thought that by the end of the evening he might have a claim to that right.”
“There is no arrangement between us Lizzy. But what about you? I see that you kept to your resolution to reserve the last dance for your dinner partner.”
Jane was amazed to see her sister blush. It had been a running joke with them for years.
“Oh Jane, I was so embarrassed. At the end of dinner he asked me if he could have another dance. He was amazed I had the last dance available. When I told him that I did and why I could have died with embarrassment. Fortunately he took it all in good stride and even teased me about it with Papa afterwards.”
“And did you enjoy you dances with the gentleman.”
“Yes, very much.”
Jane wished for more but knew Elizabeth well enough to know that her sister would not be pressed to say more than she wished. She seemed reluctant to even speak about it. What had happened?
“Do you think Mr. Darcy dances as well as Mr. Bingley?”
“Jane, there is no way I will answer that question!” Jane succeeded in drawing her sister’s spirits back out. “If I say Mr. Darcy then you will think I prefer him. If I say Mr. Bingley you will go on and on praising him! No! I shall not answer your question. And now it is late and I think we both need to get to bed. Goodnight Jane. I am glad you had a magical time!”
“Good night Lizzy, I think you enjoyed yourself more than you are willing to admit.” With that Jane closed the door and went to her bedchamber.
Mr. Collins had enjoyed himself tonight very much. Tomorrow all of his hopes and plans would come to fruition. He would secure Miss Elizabeth as the companion of his future life. She was the favorite of Miss Darcy, the niece of his noble patroness, which must be counted in her favor. And Lady Catherine would be pleased with Elizabeth’s lively manners, once she learned to treat her ladyship with the respect and silence due such a noble personage. Yes, tomorrow would be a great day indeed! He fell asleep reliving his dances with his Elizabeth.
Mr. Bennet went to bed that night having enjoyed his evening immensely. His absurd cousin had diverted him with his horrendous dancing. He only felt sorry that his daughters had to partner him. And unless he was very much mistaken, he anticipated having to deny a request to marry his Elizabeth either by the man himself before he asked her or by her mother after Elizabeth rejected him. Yes, tomorrow would be a very entertaining day.
Mrs. Bennet went to sleep that evening very satisfied. She had seen enough to know that very soon her dearest Jane would be the next mistress of Netherfield and her next daughter would be assured of succeeding her as mistress of Longbourn. She would never have to worry about being cast out of her home to starve in the hedgerows. Yes, it was a very good evening.
Mary Bennet went to bed that evening resolved to seek out her sister Elizabeth the next day. She was tired of being the Bennet sister who was always looked over. Well, Elizabeth had not looked over her tonight and she was very grateful. Perhaps there was more to being a lady than could be found in her books of sermons on upright behavior. Elizabeth and Jane were fine ladies and it was time to ask for their help. Yes, tomorrow she would seek Elizabeth out.
Kitty and Lydia went to bed that night with red coats dancing in their heads. They had danced every dance with one officer or another. Lydia was sorry Mr. Wickham was not there, she was sure he would look very handsome in his regimentals. But he had been transferred just days before. He must be some soldier to be in such high demand! Yes, to dance with an officer was heaven!
Jane went to bed that evening full of Mr. Bingley. She had seen the look of adoration in his eyes. He said he would come and see her tomorrow. Would tomorrow bring the culmination of all her hopes? Would she finally be able to call him Charles? He had been Charles to her since the night of that first assembly when they had met and danced together. Yes, Tomorrow promised to be a very good day.
Elizabeth went to bed that evening very confused. What was happening? She could not allow herself to fall in love with Mr. Darcy. He was the brother of her best friend! She must guard her heart because she was too far beneath him. But how could she guard her heart? Tomorrow, she would think on it tomorrow after she had a good night’s sleep to clear her thoughts.
Miss Bingley went to bed that evening very vexed. The country nothing, Eliza Bennet had somehow managed to ingratiate herself with HER Mr. Darcy! To see Darcy stand up with the little tramp twice was…infuriating. And Charles! What was he doing! Surely he could do better than Jane Bennet! While Jane was a sweet thing, she was a nothing, a nobody. Any connection to the Bennets would be an abasement. She must find a way to get Charles out of Hertfordshire before it was too late! Yes, tomorrow she would figure out a way to save Charles!
Mr. Hurst went to bed that evening thinking of nothing. He had passed out and his valet had to get him into bed. Yes, tomorrow he would wake up with the usual headache.
Mrs. Hurst went to bed that evening somewhat relieved. Mr. Hurst had passed out and she would not have to deal with any drunken amorous advances for the evening. She was also relieved to escape her sister. Caroline had been in a foul mood all evening, only because Mr. Darcy sensibly did not ask her to open the ball with him. Sooner or later Caroline would see that any efforts to attach Mr. Darcy were futile. He couldn’t care three straws about her. Yes, tomorrow she would have to speak to her sister.
Mr. Bingley went to bed that evening in turmoil. He knew he had found the woman he wished to marry. But he also knew he could do nothing about it until he returned from Manchester. Why did this have to happen now! He would call on Miss Bennet personally to explain why he was leaving and to ask if he could call again when he returned to Netherfield. Yes, tomorrow night maybe he would be able to sleep, for sleep would not come easily tonight.
Miss Darcy went to bed very happy with the events of the evening. She had enjoyed herself very much. Fitzwilliam had looked so dashing and Elizabeth so beautiful. She began to think of Elizabeth as the sister she always wanted. Yes, tomorrow she would begin matchmaking between her brother and her best friend.
Darcy went to bed exhausted, yet he could not immediately fall asleep. Memories of the dances he shared with Elizabeth flooded his mind. He recalled the exhilaration of her touch as they moved through the patterns, her startling revelation of esteem for his character, the eloquence of her silence. He was falling in love with her and he could not allow it. Yes, first thing tomorrow morning he would make the arrangements for their removal to the safety of Derbyshire.
Darcy awoke the next morning much later than usual but well before most of the rest of the party. He was not too surprised to find Bingley in the breakfast room when he made his way downstairs.
“Bingley, you are up awfully early today!”
“I am afraid sleep did not come easily.”
“I am not surprised. Did you get any sleep at all?”
“Not much Darcy. I had many things on my mind.”
“Did you make a decision on what we discussed about Miss Bennet?”
“Yes, I did. I have decided to wait to ask permission to court her until I return from my business in Manchester.”
“I think that is very wise Bingley. I am very glad you came to that conclusion”
“I came to the conclusion you suggested, but not for the reasons you offered, Darcy. As I pondered the wisdom of your words I came to realize that this was not a good time to begin my formal court because it would not be fair to Miss Bennet. How could I ask to court her and then leave the next day without knowing how long I will be gone? It could take me 1 to 3 months depending on what I find when I get there. I could not in good conscience ask her to agree to such uncertainty. I will, however, call on her as I promised today. I will tell her what has happened and then tell her I plan on returning when my business is concluded with the intention of calling particularly on her when I return.”
“I see your mind is made up on the matter Bingley and I shall not try and dissuade you. But what if her alleged feelings have cooled in the interim?”
“Then I shall see if I can reanimate them! If I truly love her and she is a woman worthy of my efforts than I shall not give up without a fight. But I do not think that will be necessary Darcy. You have not seen the intimate looks we have exchanged. No, she cares for me Darcy. She cares enough that this time of separation will only make our attachment grow stronger!”
“Very well Bingley.”
Georgiana entered the breakfast room and was very surprised to see both her brother and his friend.
“I must say that I am not surprised to see you so early brother but Mr. Bingley, it is a surprise to see you up this early!” She then looked at his haggard face. “Mr. Bingley, are you well? You do not look as though you slept much last night.”
Darcy nodded his permission to Bingley. “Miss Darcy, last night after the Ball I received an express from my solicitor in Manchester. There has been a fire at one of my business interests and I must leave tomorrow for Manchester.”
“How long do you believe you will be gone?”
“I am not sure Miss Darcy but I do not believe I will be back before Christmas, it could be much later.”
“Georgiana,” Darcy began, “I learned of this last night and have made plans to leave tomorrow as well. I know we planned on staying 3 more weeks but with Bingley gone, it is very likely that Miss Bingley will prefer to remove to London. I was wondering if you would be amenable to returning to Pemberley and spending Christmas there. We could then return to town in time for the New Year, weather permitting.”
“What about Mrs. Annesley? She is due to come here in four days.”
“I have sent her word this morning to meet us in Derbyshire. It will be more convenient for her to travel directly there.”
“Darcy, Miss Darcy, I am sorry to leave you but I have much to do today. Will you join me when I call on Longbourn?”
“Yes, we will join you. I am sure my sister will want to see Miss Elizabeth one more time before we must go away.”
“Good, I shall have the carriage ready in an hour and a half then,” Bingley promised before he left the room.
“Georgiana, I know you are disappointed to leave your friend early but you know we cannot stay while Bingley is gone.”
“Yes Fitzwilliam, I understand. I do not want to be here alone with Miss Bingley any more than you do.
“As you know, Mrs. Annesley has asked permission to attend her daughter for the birth. She was planning on spending December with me and returning after the New Year to her daughter’s home. We know we had talked about me going to stay with Uncle and Aunt Matlock. I was wondering if, instead of this, I could invite Elizabeth to stay with me?”
Darcy was numb. “Let me think on this Georgiana.”
“I would like to ask her, if you agree, when we call. It is so much preferable to a letter, as much as I enjoy her correspondence.”
“Very well, I will give you my answer before then. Now if you will excuse me, I also have many details to attend to in preparation for our removal to Derbyshire. You are glad to be going home to Pemberley Georgiana?”
“Pemberley is my home too brother. I am always happy to return there.”
“Even though you will miss your friend?”
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder brother!”
Darcy inwardly winced. ‘I hope this is not the case with Elizabeth or I will be in worse shape than I already am!’
Elizabeth awoke that morning feeling much better than she had when she finally retired the night before. Today was a new day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and she would finally be able to go for a good long walk! When she made her way down stairs she was surprised to find her sister Mary waiting for her in the breakfast room.
“You are up early today Mary! I must confess that I did not expect anyone to be up so early today.”
“Yes, it is a bit early but I wanted to talk to you.”
“Yes Mary?” Elizabeth asked. She was surprised at her sister. Mary never had time for anything other than her books and the pianoforte. She certainly never sought out the company of her sisters.
“Elizabeth,” Mary never called her Lizzy, “Do you recall the conversation you had with me yesterday concerning choosing music to play for the company last night?”
“Yes” Elizabeth responded apprehensively.
“Well, you were right. I have never received the approbation for my playing as I did last night. It made me ponder; if you were right about that, how many other things are you right about that I do not even know? When you smiled at me after I played, I was amazed. You have rarely given me such a smile and I found it… pleasing.”
“Oh Mary, I am so sorry. You deserve many more smiles than I have given you. I have neglected seeking you out to spend time with you Mary. I am sorry.”
“No Elizabeth, I would have spurned your attempts at increased intimacy. Last night I caught a glimpse of what I have been missing. It occurred to me that there were other places to search for wise counsel other than in my books. You and Jane are wonderful women. I would do well to learn from you and follow your example.”
Elizabeth went to Mary and took her in her arms. “Mary, Jane and I would be honored to guide you in any way you ask. Just as our Aunt Gardiner has helped us, so we shall help you. I know I can speak for Jane on this. You are our sister, we love you even though we do not say so often.”
“Thank you Elizabeth.”
“You are welcome Mary. Would you like to join me on a short walk before breakfast? I know you are not used to such exercise so I will not take you far if you wish to join me. I believe you will feel better afterwards and more ready to eat!”
“Yes, I believe I shall. Would you like me to fetch your things?”
“Please, and I will tell Mrs. Hill where we will be.”
“Does father still insist you tell him where you are going when you are out?”
“I did not know you knew about that Mary. I believe we both have much to learn about each other.”
“I shall be right back Elizabeth.”
Mary went upstairs to collect their things. On the way up the stairs she met her mother and Mr. Collins talking quite animatedly but strangely quietly passing her on their way down.
Elizabeth was surprised to see Mr. Collins this early and she was astonished to see her own mother too. She never made it out of her chambers before noon the day after a ball.
“Lizzy, Mr. Collins has asked to have a word with you in private.”
“Mama, please, there is nothing Mr. Collins can say to me that cannot be said in the presence of others. Besides, Mary and I were just about to leave on a walk. She was just going to get our things.”
“Lizzy, you will stay to hear what Mr. Collins has to say. I will be in the front parlor.”
Unfortunately, Elizabeth knew exactly what the gentleman in question was going to say. She had been avoiding being alone with him fearing just such a moment. ‘Very well, might as well get it over with.’
“Cousin Elizabeth, you must have some inkling as to what I am about to say. You are an intelligent, charming woman. I am sure that you realize that I came to Longbourn seeking a wife and I believe that we will be very happy together.”
Elizabeth was having a hard time keeping her countenance. She wanted to laugh at the man but was, at the same time, mortified to think that he believed her wishing his proposal. While pondering such things she missed a few lines of what he was saying.
“…It was the particular advice of my noble patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And now all that is left to do is to assure you of the violence of my affections. I am well aware that you have very little dowry but I shall never make an issue of that once we are married!”
“Mr. Collins! Please, you are too hasty sir. Allow me to answer you. I am aware of the compliments of your offer and I thank you, but I cannot accept sir.”
“I am aware that elegant females sometimes reject the offers of the man they secretly intend to accept. I will take it as a means of your wishing to increase my love for you!”
“You are incorrect sir. I am not in the habit of tormenting respectable men! I was perfectly serious in my refusal. I am the last woman in England who could make you happy. Please believe me! I cannot accept you. My feelings forbid it in every way! Now if you will excuse me, my sister is awaiting me for our walk.”
Mrs. Bennet was waiting with Mary outside the breakfast room. She was startled to see Elizabeth brush past her, gather Mary with her and rush outside. When she went to offer Mr. Collins the congratulations of a mother he happily accepted and told her of Elizabeth’s refusal in order for her to increase his devotion. Mrs. Bennet might not have been the keenest woman but she knew her second daughter was serious in her refusal. She immediately went to find her husband.
“Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins. She vows she will not have him and if you do not make haste he will begin to have second thoughts about her.
“Very well. Have Lizzy fetched here at once and I will give my opinion to her.”
Once Elizabeth was brought back to the house from the garden Mr. Bennet began. “Now Elizabeth, it is my understanding that you have been made an offer of marriage from Mr. Collins. Is that correct?”
“It is sir.”
“And I understand that you have refused him.”
“Oh you ungrateful girl! If you do not change your mind I will never speak to you again!” Mrs. Bennet interrupted.
“Be that as it may madam. Elizabeth, I am afraid an unhappy choice awaits you. From this day forward you are to be estranged from one of your parents. Your mother says that she will never speak to you again if you do not accept Mr. Collins and I will not if you do!”
With that Mr. Bennet smiled at his favorite and dismissed her and her mother from his room.
‘Well, well, I was right. The fool thought he could win my Lizzy! But my girl, I would never inflict such a man on you.’ Mr. Bennet mused.
Mr. Collins was not at all pleased with such news. Perhaps Elizabeth was just as foolish a girl as Lydia. She would be crossed off the list as well. The only problem with this was that it left none of his cousins as prospective brides. He had early on crossed off Jane as taken, Lydia as too wild. Mary soon followed as too engrossed in her books. He wanted a wife at his beck and call. Kitty had been crossed off the list when he saw her flirting with all the officers last night at the ball. That had left only Elizabeth, whom he had been paying his attentions to anyway. If she would be so foolish to not accept him then he would have to look elsewhere. Miss Lucas seemed respectable. Her father had been knighted. He would have to talk with her before he left Hertfordshire.
Elizabeth hurried back to the garden where she had asked Mary to wait for her.
Seeing her usually buoyant sister so out of sorts concerned Mary.
“Elizabeth, what ever has happened?” Mary asked.
Elizabeth continued her pacing. “Mr. Collin made me an offer of marriage which of course I refused. Mama went to father to insist I recant and accept Mr. Collins. Papa refused and now Mama is furious. What a wretched beginning to such a fine day!”
“You refused an offer of marriage? You could have been mistress of Longbourn some day!”
Elizabeth smiled wryly. “Mary, there are more things to consider when made an offer of marriage than just material comfort.”
“I do not understand. Mr. Collins is a respectable man. He is to inherit Longbourn when our father is gone.”
Elizabeth had Mary come sit next to her on a nearby bench. “Mary, just this morning you said you wished to learn from Jane and me. One of the most important lessons you can learn is what you should look for in a marriage partner.”
“Is not Mr. Collins an acceptable prospect?”
“For some women, but not for me. Mary, when you consider that the man you intend to accept will be your companion for the rest of your life, you need to have confidence that you will not come to regret your choice.”
“Can one ever be sure?”
“Yes, I believe you can. If you take the time to get to know the true character of a man then you will see if he is worthy of your admiration and respect. If you can respect your future husband then you will be able to enter that union willingly. We pledge to obey our husbands. Can you do so honestly if you do not respect him? I do not respect Mr. Collins. He is not a sensible man. I could never respect and admire him let alone love him. No, he is not an acceptable prospect for me.”
“What about love Elizabeth? What role does that play?”
“Mary, I intend to marry for love, to a man I can respect and admire. I believe if I can respect such a man, I could and would love him. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“I think so. You intend to fully honor your wedding vows. That means that you plan on loving your husband and obeying him. You could only place yourself under his authority if you respected him. Thus you will only accept a man you can respect, who is your equal?”
“Yes Mary, you understand correctly. Jane has the same feeling on this as I do. I know it is not the normal acceptable position in good society. People marry for money and material comforts all the time. I, and Jane like me, do not intend to sell my self-respect for a comfortable situation. I would rather be poor and free than a slave to man I do not respect.”
“You have given me much to think on Elizabeth. Whom do you learn such ideas from?”
“Aunt Gardiner! She is a very wise woman and you would do well to listen to her. Why do you not begin to correspond with her? I am sure she will be happy to do so with you.”
“That is a good idea. I shall write to her this afternoon!”
“Well then Mary, I think it time we go inside again. Would you like to take a walk with me tomorrow morning again, after breakfast this time? We will not go far and maybe Mr. Collins will be gone back to Kent by then!”
Elizabeth was relieved to find Mr. Collins gone when they entered the house.
“Charlotte Lucas came by. When I told her all the to do, she offered to invite him to dine with them. He seemed happy to escape Mama!” Kitty informed them. “I think you should avoid her as well Lizzy. She is very vexed with you!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and nodded ruefully in agreement.
After they had eaten and retired to the different parts of the house Mr. Bingley called with Darcy and Georgiana. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Mr. Bingley suggested a walk. Mrs. Bennet was anxious for her Jane to be alone with Mr. Bingley so she quickly acquiesced when Darcy asked if Elizabeth could join him and his sister as well.
After much consideration, Darcy had decided to grant Georgiana’s request to ask Elizabeth to come for a visit when they returned to London. He knew how important she had become in his sister’s life. He would be able to control himself for his sister’s sake.
Jane and Bingley allowed the other three to go on ahead.
“Miss Bennet, I very much enjoyed our dances together last night.”
“As did I Mr. Bingley.”
“Miss Bennet, after you left last night I received a distressing express from my solicitor.”
“Whatever is the matter? Is something wrong?” she cried.
“There was a fire in Manchester. My main warehouse there was severely damaged. Fortunately it was mostly empty at the time. But I must leave for Manchester in the morning. I should have left today but I could not go without seeing you. I do not know how long I will be gone. I believe it will be at least one month. It could be as many as three. I needed to tell you this because I did not wish to you to think that I was leaving because of you. I want to stay because of you Miss Bennet! But I cannot. My duty takes me away.”
Jane was shocked and saddened by the news. She looked at him longingly.
Bingley saw this, stopped her and took her hand in his. “Miss Bennet. There is much that I wish to say to you but now is not the time. I must away tomorrow and to say any more would be unfair to you. When I can, I will return. I wish to call again, particularly to see you. May I call when I return Miss Bennet?”
“Yes” was all she said.
Bingley raised her hand to his lips and bestowed the lightest of kisses on her fingers. Then he tucked her hand back in his arm, turned them and began to follow the three in front of them once more.
Just after they left the confines of Longbourn, Darcy addressed Elizabeth. “Miss Bennet, we have called specifically to take our leave of you today.”
“But I thought Georgiana had told me you would be here for 3 more weeks!” cried a very surprised Elizabeth. A bad day was rapidly turning worse. What next? And the weather was so beautiful!
“Last night after all the guests left, Mr. Bingley received an express from his solicitor. There was a major fire at one of his businesses in Manchester. He leaves tomorrow and does not know when he will be back. He wanted to tell your sister himself.” At this Darcy glanced back to see Bingley standing next to Jane. “We cannot stay. I am sure Miss Bingley will leave for Town within days of her brother. She does not care for the country.”
“I will miss you Georgiana.”
“We will go to Pemberley for Christmas and return to Town for the New Year.” Darcy explained.
“I imagine Christmas at Pemberley would magical.” Elizabeth said dreamily.
“Yes it is.” Georgiana replied. “Elizabeth?”
“My brother and I would like to invite you to come visit me in town after the New Year. I told you that Mrs. Annesley was planning on coming to Netherfield four days from now. Now she will meet us in Derbyshire. What I do not think I have told you is that she will return to her daughter after Christmas to be with her for the birth. I was going to be staying with my Aunt and Uncle Matlock but Fitzwilliam has said that I can stay at home if you can come. Will you Elizabeth?”
“I must first ask my parents Georgiana. As much as I would like to say yes right now I still need to consult my father. Though after this morning I do not think he will begrudge me being gone.”
“Is there something the matter Miss Bennet?” Darcy asked concerned.
“No, just a disagreement between my mother and me. It will pass soon enough,” and Elizabeth added to herself ‘I hope!’
“I am glad to hear it. I hope you parents will let you come. I know Georgiana has her heart quite set on this and you know how much I hate to disappoint her!” They all laughed at this.
Darcy quietly kicked himself. ‘Distance man! How can you maintain emotional distance if you insist on teasing her!’
The two groups continued on their way. Soon they returned to Longbourn where all three took their official leave but not before Elizabeth secured her father’s consent to the Darcy’s invitation.
Mrs. Bennet, while still vexed with her second daughter, calmed down somewhat upon hearing of the invitation.
“So you will be Miss Darcy’s particular friend! Not that you deserve such after your dealings with Mr. Collins. We will all be ruined! But perhaps you will meet some eligible rich men in town. I am sure Mr. Darcy has many such men come to see him.”
She spent the rest of the day alternating between being distressed over Mr. Bingley and Mr. Collins to being delighted about Miss Darcy’s invitation. Elizabeth was glad when she was finally able to escape to her room for the night. It had been a remarkable day! And for once the weather had absolutely nothing to do with her mood.