Since Thursday is Christmas Eve and I think a lot of people, myself included, are going to be busy, I thought I’d post early. I might post after Christmas as well and then back to the regular schedule. It depends on how exhausted I am from staying with family with kids the kids in tow.
Everyone wants to know, does Darcy come back to Hertfordshire? Well, here’s our answer!
“I wish you would have called on Darcy yesterday,” Caroline said as she sipped her tea at the breakfast table. “We might have been invited to Lady Crenshaw’s dinner then.”
Bingley rolled his eyes. His sister was forever using Darcy as a means of entrance to events she otherwise could not attend. They had no acquaintance with the Crenshaws. “I had no time for calls. I am here only on business. I am surprised Darcy is in Town, though. He said he would remain at Netherfield. Although, that was when I expected you and Louisa would remain as well.” He scowled at his coffee. “I must finish as quickly as possible and return.”
“You worry too much what those undignified country people think of you.”
“It is quite uncivil for us all to leave without bidding them goodbye. They were quite hospitable to us. You think they are too simple to know the slight you are giving them but, I assure you, they have easily discerned your dislike.”
His true reason for wishing to return to Netherfield was to see more of Jane Bennet. She had not saved a space for him on her dance card the evening of the ball, but upon later reflection he thought that was too bold for her. In this, he must be the bold one. First, however, he needed a strategy for learning her heart. “I will call on Darcy today.”
“Oh! I long to see dear Georgiana again.”
“You will have to make your own call on her. I am leaving directly and you are not prepared.” He stood and gave her a nod before leaving. He was seldom so stern with his sister, but Darcy would not appreciate the favour Bingley needed to ask, and he would dislike having Caroline in tow even more. Additionally, if all went well, Caroline could not go with them to the bachelor apartments of Darcy’s cousin, Lord Arlington.
In a short time, he arrived Darcy’s townhouse and rapped over-eagerly on the door. Darcy’s butler showed him to the study. “Mr. Darcy is busy at the moment. If you wait here, I will see if he can meet with you.”
Bingley glanced around the room. It was strange Darcy was not already in the room. He looked at his friend’s desk, it still looked pristine and untouched this morning. Ordinarily, he would be shown in the room with Darcy at work, and Bingley would sit across from him. Darcy clearly had not been at work, though, so he Bingley was uncertain where to sit. He stood awkwardly in the room. How strange that he should feel this uncomfortable at his best friend’s home. Shaking his head at his ridiculousness, he sat in his usual chair. It was the errand which made him nervous.
Soon, Darcy entered. Dark circles were under his eyes and his complexion was ashen. “Bingley.” Darcy nodded at him. “I trust you are well.” A cough racked his frame and he shuffled to the sideboard.
Bingley shook his head in refusal at the silently-offered liquid. “I thought you were recovered?”
“Between the grueling pace of my ride yesterday and my aunt’s insistence that I attend Lady Crenshaw’s dinner, I overexerted myself.”
“You did not need to come downstairs for my sake!”
“It is only a cold. I will rest for a few days, which I did not allow myself to do while in Hertfordshire, and I shall quickly mend.” He motioned to the set of chairs by the fireplace and Bingley followed him.
“What caused you to come to London? I thought you agreed to stay at Netherfield?”
An angry look flashed in his friend’s eyes before he looked away and sipped his port. “I did, although it seemed silly with your sisters and brother gone.”
“And for that you set off at a breakneck pace?” Something did not quite make sense. Darcy said nothing. “Was there something wrong with Miss Darcy?”
“I…I did worry, but all seems well.”
“Will you tell me what is bothering you?” Darcy raised an eyebrow at him and Bingley explained. “You have been out of sorts since last summer. The way you first behaved in Hertfordshire—well, it was abominable. Just when it seems you are warming up to their society, you turned all surly again after meeting Mr. Wickham that day. It is unlike you to fall ill and yet you cannot overcome a mere cold. You race to London on a moment’s whim—the exact opposite of your usual ways. Something is plaguing you.”
Darcy stared at Bingley for a long moment, seemingly warring with himself and his need to share his burdens. “You are in love with Jane Bennet, are you not?”
Bingley blinked in surprise. “I am,” he said levelly.
Darcy stood and walked to the fire, staring at it as though it would grant him wisdom. “I always thought of you as a brother. Perhaps I wished you were too strongly at times. It is for that reason that I kept this burden to myself when, ordinarily, I would not keep a secret from you.”
He coughed and then took a sip of the wine. After his breathing had calmed, he looked at Bingley once more. “Last summer, while Georgiana was at Ramsgate, she nearly eloped with a man. George Wickham,” he ground out the name, “followed my sister there and convinced her she was in love. He desired her dowry but also vengeance upon me. I fear his appearing in Hertfordshire is no mistake. I find myself entirely divided in my loyalties. I do not wish to be away from Georgiana, should Wickham be scheming of a way to hurt her again, but perhaps the best way to detect any such schemes is by being near him. Ignoring his existence in the world and hoping he would leave me alone has not worked.”
Bingley mutely nodded his head. He was astonished Miss Darcy would have considered such a thing. Wickham must be quite the charming rogue to break through her reserve. “I am resolved to return to Netherfield as soon as I can. I will gladly assist you in anyway and you know that Miss Darcy is welcome as well.”
“I worry about bringing her so near him again. I have no fear that she would elope with him again and I do not imagine him so evil as to physically harm her in some way, but I know she would hate to see him again. I fear what he could do to her fragile emotions.”
“We do not need to associate with him or any of the officers. Surely, between us and my sisters, we can protect Miss Darcy.”
“No! Your sisters must not think there is anything amiss.”
“Are there any others who you would trust to see to her welfare and occupy her time?” Bingley’s eyes lit up. “What about Lord Arlington?”
“You would wish such a cad in your home?”
“Caroline is not a debutante, she knows an incorrigible flirt from a serious suitor.” Darcy raised his eyebrows and Bingley laughed. “You do not flirt, but neither are you hateful to her. You are enigmatic and gentlemanly. Your cousin is a confirmed rake. Caroline is a social climber, but she would not desire his title if it means sacrificing her pride and respectability.”
“You sound as though there are others you believe I am hateful to,” Darcy said before another round of coughs.
“Do not trouble yourself, old man. When you are well, we will return to Netherfield with Miss Darcy and Lord Arlington.” He stood and looked at his feet. “I had hoped to speak with him on a matter anyway.”
“Oh?” Darcy asked.
“You wisely pointed out not long before the ball that I am uncertain of Miss Bennet’s affections for me. I know I have been led to believe more than once by a charming woman that she truly cared for me. A man with a reputation such as he has must be better at deciphering a lady’s interest than you or I.”
To Bingley’s surprise, Darcy smiled. “You know, I quite like that idea.” He clapped Bingley on the shoulder as they walked to the door. “I’ll send a note in a few days and we will call on him together.”
“But why is Mr. Bingley staying so long in London? What can keep him from Jane?” Mrs. Bennet wailed for the tenth time that evening.
“If I ever go to London, I would never leave,” Lydia said. “Meryton is so dull!”
“Maybe you will marry Captain Carter. Would you follow him from camp to camp?” Kitty asked.
“Captain Carter? Oh no, nothing short of a colonel from a good, fine family will do for you, girls. I don’t care if he does have a large allowance from his father or how grand their store is. Every one of them are shoppy.” Mrs. Bennet interrupted their musings. She frowned and stabbed her needle through her work. “Especially after Jane marries Mr. Bingley, he can put you in the path of other men.”
Growing distressed at the continued talk about Mr. Bingley and her mother’s expectations, Jane gave Elizabeth a pleading look.
“Miss Darcy’s cousin is a Colonel,” Elizabeth ventured.
“And probably too pompous to even do the King’s bidding, I daresay.” Mrs. Bennet frowned at her embroidery.
“Miss Darcy is very amiable and kind, if shy. She says her cousin is very gentlemanly and you could not meet with a pleasanter soul.”
“So, quite unlike her brother then! So much pride!”
Elizabeth forcefully stabbed a needle through her work. “If we make allowance for fortune and figure, and believe his nearest relations are kind, should we not believe his closest friends when they declare Mr. Darcy only needs time to make an acquaintance?”
“How can you say that, Lizzy? He said something quite terrible about you!” Kitty declared.
Jane watched as Elizabeth chewed her lip. Her sister was behaving peculiarly, but she was grateful to have the prying eyes and questions of her family directed towards another. “It was a private conversation. Surely nothing good can come from overhearing a private conversation. What do you think, Mary?”
Jane gave Elizabeth a grateful smile as Mary began extolling on the necessity of forgiveness, followed by Mrs. Bennet’s complaints about Charlotte Lucas marrying Mr. Collins. Next, she was scolding Elizabeth again. At last, it was time to retire for the evening. Elizabeth followed Jane to her room.
“Thank you for distracting Mama, Lizzy. I am sorry that she is still angry with you.”
“I would bear with her anger for a thousand years before I would marry Mr. Collins. I cannot fathom what made Charlotte accept him.”
“You must make more allowances for temper and situation in life. She comes from a large family and has declining opportunities to marry.”
“She never showed much of an inclination to marry before. It is so strange she would snatch up Mr. Collins.”
“Then believe that they both have affection for the other. A woman cannot induce a man to matrimony against his will. It is not as though she made him propose to her.”
“No, I would not think she entrapped him. And we do know his mind was bent on marriage,” Elizabeth said with a smirk. “However, Mama insists a lady may make a man’s mind up for him, and Charlotte was of the same mind.”
“How do you know such a thing?”
Elizabeth stammered and blushed but replied, “She mentioned weeks ago that she thought you should encourage Mr. Bingley more.”
“Do you agree?” Jane asked and looked at her hands.
“Of course not!”
Jane sighed in relief. “You do not blame me then for his continued absence?”
“No! You could only be yourself. In truth, I had worried that it was my fault.”
“Impossible! How could you drive him away?”
“I fear I have made my dislike of Mr. Darcy no secret and it has wounded his pride. I worry he encouraged his friend to stay in Town.”
“Do you think Mr. Bingley has so little resolve or that Mr. Darcy has so much pride and hatred? You defended him earlier.”
Elizabeth grew quiet. “I do not know what I think of Mr. Darcy.” Then, drawing out a letter from her pocket she smiled cheerfully. “I do know his sister is a very dear girl. I am sending our reply tomorrow, is there anything you wish to add?”
There being nothing new to add to the letter, she wished her sister a good night. Once alone, Jane allowed her thoughts to turn to Mr. Bingley.
He had been fixed in her mind from nearly their first moment of acquaintance as the most amiable man she had ever met. Her mother always had high hopes for her with any and every gentleman she met with a little bit of money or name about him, and Jane learned from an early age to protect her heart. A week ago, she would have said she liked Mr. Bingley very much and, should he have proposed, she would have consented. He was everything proper in a young man, he could afford to marry, and it would please her family. She had no doubts she could have grown to love him as a husband; her heart would have been open only to him. However, she had scarcely allowed herself to think about it; many a gentleman paid her some kind of attention before their interest waned or time parted them.
Now, she realized she had given her heart away unawares. No logical explanation of his worth had a thing to do with it. She had not seen any extreme encouragement on his side, she feared Elizabeth far too generous there. Nor could the flaw in his character revealed by his extended absence and the hasty removal of the Netherfield party from the neighbourhood, change her feelings. She had liked him when she thought him the perfect gentleman, but in learning that he was imperfect, she discovered she loved him.
Jane allowed a tear to trickle down her cheek as she blew out her candle. In her youth, she learned to hide her feelings of embarrassment and shyness. She feared she lacked the strength to mask the pain of disappointment and regret.
Elizabeth looked over the afternoon post with greedy eyes, snatched Miss Darcy’s letter from the tray, and ran upstairs. Quickly scanning its contents brought immediate relief. Darcy arrived on the previous Saturday and they would have left for Netherfield again this very morning, but his doctor recommended waiting a few more days as Darcy’s cold had returned. Bingley and his sisters and brother-in-law were to return as well. Elizabeth could hardly believe it.
She let out a sigh. She had not lost Jane’s chance with Mr. Bingley because of her imprudent treatment of Darcy. More than that, she was coming to realize she may wish to know more of that enigmatic man himself. Mr. Collins’ proposal had made Elizabeth face a reality she was unprepared for. She was surprised when her father had only reluctantly supported her refusal and, in general, he was behaving oddly of late. Even he took notice of Mr. Bingley’s absence and now spent many evenings with the officers.
For all Elizabeth’s boasting, she had not met with many gentlemen. There were few in her own neighborhood. Bingley was pleasing but suited someone like her sister. Mr. Wickham was too…something. Mr. Collins was entirely out of the question. And Mr. Darcy was…not as repulsive as he was only a few weeks ago. Knowing of his admiration soothed her vanity and inspired her gratitude. She was coming to see he even had his kind moments and they could feel alike at times. Perhaps it was foolish to dismiss him so quickly from the offence of one night and a taciturn, reserved nature.
More than the logic of it all, she wished for her own sake to know more of him. She had been wrong. She thought he held her in contempt. Instead, he admired her. Now she wished to know the true him.
These thoughts were all the more fervent as she considered how upset she was over Charlotte’s acceptance of Mr. Collins’ proposal. Elizabeth considered again the potential for Georgiana to be led astray by her friends or simply by societal pressures of expectations. It was likely too forward, but she poured her heart out to her new friend. It reminded her of the kinds of letters she would send her Aunt Gardiner when she was at such an age. Mrs. Gardiner was less than ten years older than she, and while Elizabeth did not have quite that claim on seniority over Georgiana or the intimacy, she sensed the girl needed feminine guidance.
While Elizabeth and Jane were out of sorts over the absence of the Netherfield Party, although neither spoke more of it, and their father acted peculiarly, the remainder of their family behaved as much as they ever had. Mr. Wickham had become a favourite of all the others, including her father. Wickham frequently called and was requested to stay for dinner. Elizabeth was relieved, however, that she was not the sole object of his attention. He played many games of chess with her father in the library. Fond of the game herself, they engaged in a few matches of their own. There was little doubting he was a gifted strategist. When they would meet in the drawing room, he no longer spoke of Darcy but instead confined the topic to books, news, and music. Still, his conversation was somehow wanting. He was pleasant, perhaps too deliberately pleasant, but not exactly intriguing.
Georgiana had indicated that she and the others would arrive on Friday and, as all letters were consigned to the regular post now, Elizabeth expected no reply to her last letter. She admitted to herself feeling a twinge of trepidation over meeting the younger girl. Her letters proved her to have a pleasant disposition, and her brother characterized her as nearly shy, but Elizabeth had heard from Bingley’s sisters and even Wickham about Miss Darcy’s talents.
The afternoon before the expected arrival Elizabeth was walking the lane just beyond Longbourn when she recognized a familiar man’s posture on a horse. In the instant before he greeted her, she wondered how she became so familiar with Mr. Darcy that she could make out his figure from a distance when she had only seen him mounted on one occasion.
“Miss Bennet!” He called out before she had a moment to answer her own internal questioning. He directed the horse towards her.
“Mr. Darcy,” she smiled and curtsied. “Miss Darcy’s letter indicated you all would not be arriving until tomorrow.”
He dismounted before speaking. “She was correct. Bingley and I left this morning, however, as he had some matter with the butler and housekeeper to discuss.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in question and Darcy provided the answer. “Amongst other things he needed to request yet a further additional room be readied as one of my cousins will be staying with us through the holidays.”
This accounted for him not bringing Georgiana with him, surely he trusted his cousin, but she had not thought they meant to stay in the area so long. “You will not spend Christmas in Town? Or at your estate with your family?”
Darcy stiffened a bit. “Georgiana and I generally celebrate alone.”
Elizabeth perceived he needed a lighter mood. She said smilingly, “You can be assured you will not be left to your own devices here. My mother, amongst others, have lived their whole lives wishing to display their accomplished holiday meals to someone of your consequence.” As always, the reminder of his position discomfited her.
“For my sister and cousin’s sake, I will attend every festivity.”
She smiled and a quiet descended between them. “Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth began at last, “I wish to thank you for the kindness I believe you have done to my sister, Jane. When we last discussed the matter, I had believed you disposed to think ill of a match between her and Mr. Bingley and I did fear, when the entire Netherfield Party left, that you had wanted him away.”
He stepped closer to her, “I was inclined to think so at first, but I was afforded a moment of clarity. Did you not say love took time to bloom?”
“Thank you, then, for suggesting your friend return for I am certain you will see the love between Jane and Mr. Bingley grow.”
He blinked in apparent confusion and shook his head slightly. “Yes, I think you may be correct.” He looked at her steadfastly again before abruptly asking, “May I escort you home?”
“Thank you, but you must be tired from your journey and your sister would never forgive me if I caused you yet another cold.”
“Fear not, I am entirely well.”
She looked closely at him. “You are fatigued. Take care, sir.” She waved at him and turned before he could argue again.
In two days’ time came a message from Caroline Bingley requesting Jane and Elizabeth to spend the following Monday morning at Netherfield arrived.
“I will arrange for the carriage,” their father grumbled.
Elizabeth was surprised by his mood, but remembered her mother had been more trying than usual with the excitement of Jane’s first real prospect of marriage. No matter their father’s strangeness, Jane and Elizabeth thanked him profusely before Mrs. Bennet might scheme of some way for them to remain at Netherfield for another week.
The sisters arrived at Netherfield with feelings widely different from their last entrance to the house, which had been the night of the Netherfield Ball. Then Jane had been assured of the affection of her two friends and nearly as much of their brother. Since Caroline’s letter, however, she was far less assured and had noted it to her sister. Elizabeth felt Jane’s nervousness but never worried over Bingley’s regard, and so her thoughts were primarily on meeting Miss Darcy. She was more than commonly anxious to please the girl, and yet fearful that the brother’s partiality had raised high expectations.
Of seeing Darcy again, Elizabeth was entirely unsure how she felt. If she understood correctly from their chance meeting the other day his admiration had not diminished, nor was he offended by her last treatment of him. She now recognized she had reasons to esteem and respect him, she was even grateful for his admiration and could not deny she felt an interest in his welfare. Her vanity told her he may be in her power and she only wished she knew if to employ it would lead to the happiness of them both.
Miss Bingley greeted them with cold civility. “How nice to see you again Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth,” she said with an elegant curtsy.
Mr. Bingley quickly came to his sister’s side as the ladies returned the civility. “It does seem as though it has been a very long time since we were last all together dancing here,” he said while looking intently at Jane.
“It was only the twenty sixth of November, Charles,” Mrs. Hurst declared. “You were gone hardly past eight days.”
“Eight days may as well have been eight months!”
Jane smiled. “It has been nearly a fortnight, and a fortnight may seem a very long time, indeed, on occasion.”
A young lady standing nearby, who was tall and had a womanly figure and countenance, and who was surely Miss Darcy, giggled. “Forgive me,” she whispered and looked quickly to Mr. Darcy for acceptance.
Elizabeth began to walk to them. “If your thoughts tend like mine than you were laughing only because you know the nearly irrepressible excitement one feels when looking forward to an event and yet it being of some distance away.”
“Yes, that is it entirely!” she cried. “I have been looking forward to meeting you now for nearly a month!”
“Then you must wait no longer,” Darcy said and smiled affectionately at both ladies before making the formal introduction.
A gentleman who had been pouring a glass of port with Mr. Hurst then came forward. “Yes, dear Georgie was unbearable with her desire to come to Hertfordshire.” He smiled at Miss Darcy, who returned it, and Elizabeth was happy to see the younger lady was not too embarrassed to be teased. “It was Darcy, though, who apparently needed to come so quickly he needed to ride with Bingley ahead of us.”
The gentleman gave Darcy a good natured clap on the shoulder, but Elizabeth saw Darcy stiffen. He said with cold civility, “Bingley asked if I might journey with him.”
Wishing to put Darcy at ease, Elizabeth spoke. “I think you have settled our debate at last, Mr. Darcy. It seems on general matters of little importance you will easily give sway to the persuasion of a friend. Unless, of course, your other friend here had suggested you remain in London until the originally appointed hour?”
Darcy’s lips turned up in a slow smile. “You have the right of it. My cousin did attempt to delay me, but it must mean I prefer Bingley that much the more. Miss Elizabeth, allow me to introduce my cousin, Viscount Arlington. Arlington, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Arlington bowed and Elizabeth curtsied.
The group began to take their seats and Darcy escorted Georgiana to Elizabeth’s side. “May I retrieve you some refreshments?” he asked. Upon returning, he lowered his head, while handing her the plate, and said for Elizabeth’s ears only, “Perhaps you mistake the matter of my draw to Hertfordshire and it is someone else entirely that persuaded me that returning as soon as possible was the best course.”
He looked her in the eye, but Elizabeth could not read his look at all. She attempted to not blush as he returned for his own plate then took his seat.
The course of the morning passed swiftly. There was no chance for private conversation with either Darcy or his sister again, but everyone proved pleasant. Even Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst seemed to feel their affection for Jane reawaken. Elizabeth almost considered they had resolved themselves to Mr. Bingley marrying Jane, but then she could not consider what would have changed their mind so quickly unless he had made some kind of announcement of his intent to them. The thought, which once would have brought joy, now brought only trepidation. If Jane and Bingley married soon, Darcy would surely return to London to allow the newlyweds space. Her mind rapidly considered if she could invite Georgiana to stay at Longbourn, but that would not solve the concern of frequently meeting with Darcy, as she now wished.
The sisters returned to Longbourn without incident and with smiles on their faces. As Elizabeth attempted to sleep that evening, she went over again how she may ensure both her sister’s happiness and now her own, but could draw no satisfactory conclusion.
What did you think of that? I’ll post again on New Year’s Eve at the latest!