I finally finished writing! The final chapters are with my beta reader before I send them to my editor. I’ve decided to go ahead and post faster now that I’ve got the story finished. As always, thanks for reading and I welcome your comments! Two chapters today!
Elizabeth had just returned from a walk, her toes barely with any feeling left in them and her nose bright from cold, when Kitty exclaimed from the window.
“Look! He has come!”
“Who has come?” Elizabeth wondered aloud.
“Mr. Bingley, of course!” Mrs. Bennet grinned then peered out the window as well. “I knew how it would be with Jane being invited to Netherfield the other day. He missed her in London, saw none of the ladies there could hold a candle to Jane’s beauty and is here to ask for her hand!”
She flitted around the room and then finally looked askance at Elizabeth. “You’re not fit to be seen!”
She rolled her eyes. “If Mr. Bingley is here to ask for Jane’s hand, it can hardly matter how I appear.”
“Oh, he has brought that pompous Mr. Darcy with him. And another tall man!” Lydia nearly swooned from near the window.
“Another gentleman?” Mrs. Bennet scurried back to her post.
“I believe it is Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Lord Arlington,” Jane said.
“A viscount? Well, dear me!” Mrs. Bennet collapsed in a chair all aflutter and cast her eyes about her daughters. Elizabeth had no doubts she now felt a twinge of regret for matching Jane with Mr. Bingley instead of a peer. “Elizabeth, go upstairs this instant and change. You turned down Mr. Collins and I will never forgive you if you do not do your best to catch the viscount’s eye.”
Elizabeth stubbornly sat in a chair. She would not be missing a moment of this call, and she cared nothing for Lord Arlington.
“Oooh, that must be Miss Darcy! Look at the lace on her gown!” Kitty said.
Elizabeth shot Jane a confused look. She peeked out the window before answering. “It seems all of the Netherfield residents are calling on us, and the younger gentlemen arrived on horse while the ladies and Mr. Hurst took the carriage.” She came and sat near Elizabeth.
“All of them? Where shall we put them?” Mary asked, for the first time acknowledging that she in any way noticed the scene unfolding.
“I daresay my drawing room is as nice as any in Meryton. We have no reason to think it inferior at all,” Mrs. Bennet said, not bothering to hide the offence she felt at her own daughter’s words.
Realizing that the ladies called with the gentlemen brought a moment of regret to Elizabeth. She desired to conduct herself appropriately before Miss Darcy. The feelings of envy she had about Miss Bingley’s superior mode of dress, she squashed. Still, recalling the censure she believed her petticoats inspired upon her arrival at Netherfield, she wished she had taken the time to refresh herself. There was no time now to even look in a mirror. Her hands still felt cold, and she had no doubt that her face was still flushed from her walk and her hair untidy. No more thoughts could be had for immediately their guests were announced. Elizabeth squeezed Jane’s hand to give support.
Lord Arlington greeted everyone amiably and even bowed over Elizabeth’s hand, causing her to blush as she was unused to such displays of gallantry. He sat near her while Mr. Darcy and Miss Darcy had been arranged to sit closer to her mother. Elizabeth’s disappointment was acute, although her mother seemed silenced into astonishment at a peer in her home.
“You must have been out walking, Miss Elizabeth,” Arlington said with a smile.
“I was. I am quite fond of walks.”
“My cousins and I would be pleased to walk with you some time, I am sure,” he said.
“Yes, that sounds most pleasant.” She cursed herself for sounding insipid. Their conversation lapsed for a minute and, by then, Mrs. Bennet had recovered and began asking his lordship many impertinent questions.
Elizabeth wished she had the presence of mind to interrupt her mother. It reminded her of Mrs. Bennet’s visit to Netherfield, where she had the felt the necessity to interject herself into, and dominate, the conversation. She attempted to tell herself the difference was Darcy’s clear affront at her mother’s conversation whereas the viscount seemed rather amused. In her heart she knew, however, that she simply cared less for the viscount’s good opinion than Darcy’s. Of course, now it was all for naught. She had always supposed his attention had no serious intention. When Mr. Bingley rose and requested to speak with Mr. Bennet, she feared she had lost her chance to deepen Darcy’s regard. Mr. Bingley would surely request Jane’s hand and then Darcy’s departure was imminent.
She could hardly contain her surprise and pleasure when Darcy remained standing after Bingley’s departure from the room and said, “Arlington, as you are enjoying Mrs. Bennet’s company so much, perhaps we might exchange seats?” His cousin readily agreed and soon Darcy sat beside her.
“I hope you have had a pleasant morning?” he asked.
“Very,” she replied with an indulgent smile. “I managed an invigorating walk and returned only a moment before your arrival, as you can no doubt tell.”
“Indeed. I confess I am unsurprised.”
“My habits have become well known,” she said, feeling a bit of apprehension.
“Just so, but also there’s this.” He reached toward her hair and removed a small twig. His hand grazed her ear, causing her to draw in a quick breath. Her face burnt crimson and she could hardly tell if it was from his touch, or because she was so unkempt she had a piece of the forest in her hair.
“I…uh…” she blushed again as she could come up with no ready explanation. She should have at least kept her bonnet on her head. It was a cold morning, but she relished the sun on her face.
“Fear not, I find it charming,” he said quietly for only her ears. Ears that still tingled in memory of his touch.
Mrs. Hill arrived with the tea things just then and their conversation turned to the refreshments. Mrs. Bennet, with a wink and a nod, requested Elizabeth serve. When she handed Darcy his cup, their fingers grazed and her breath caught again. She could nearly swear the man was unsettling her on purpose. Her task completed, they finally tried speaking again.
“How has your sister enjoyed Netherfield?” Elizabeth asked. It had been two days since Elizabeth and Jane had been invited there to meet Miss Darcy and Lord Arlington.
“She likes it very much. She was very pleased to meet you and Miss Bennet at last.”
Elizabeth grinned. “I assure you the feeling is very mutual.” She glanced to where Miss Darcy now sat, next to Arlington, but under the inspection of Kitty and Lydia. “I fear my younger sisters are too exuberant for her.”
Darcy also watched his sister. “She is quite shy. I doubt she will wish to do much beyond visiting here.”
“A girl cannot always be kept at home,” she said, hoping her words were gentle.
Darcy stiffened. “And so she is not. Last summer she was sent to Ramsgate and now she is here.”
“Yes,” she cautiously began, “but there is more to holidays than merely sitting and drinking tea in a new house.” Elizabeth watched in horror as an expression of hauteur overshadowed Darcy’s face.
“And the shops of Meryton are unique from the shops of Lambton or Ramsgate?”
She pursed her lips and did not answer. Instead, she directed her attention to Jane. She had blushed when Bingley had asked to speak with Mr. Bennet, and Elizabeth easily saw her nervousness. The interview with Mr. Bennet was taking longer than Elizabeth expected, which allowed her a moment to pause and consider.
-Elizabeth realized surely Mr. Darcy knew his sister better than she did. He would also understood what was best for her temperament. Miss Darcy was not out in society, and so it would be unlikely that she would attend any evening events at other places. Elizabeth had never been in such a situation herself, stuck between childhood and adulthood, as it were. When Mrs. Bennet believed each daughter finished her education, she put them fully out in society. Certainly, for Jane, she hoped to secure a marriage but Elizabeth acknowledged that, in her own case, it simply proved easier to allow Elizabeth to attend events with Jane than listen to the pleading to go, and insistence upon every detail when they returned. Detail of people’s expressions and way of talking, that is. Mrs. Bennet quickly tired of attempting to recount such things, but would gladly regale any and everyone with ears on the courses of a meal or the lace on a gown. The younger daughters followed suit and could not be kept home when Elizabeth and Jane had come out at fifteen.
Elizabeth realized it was not her place to push for Miss Darcy to be allowed into more adult situations than her brother wished. Indeed, she regretted she had not had time to learn more of herself before she was told to appear a certain way for Society’s sake. Several minutes had passed while she cogitated with Darcy sitting silently next to her and, just when she resolved to turn to him and speak, she was surprised to hear him instead.
“I apologize, Miss Elizabeth. The truth is that I do not entirely know what I am doing, raising a young girl, and while her paid companion is everything proper she does not necessarily challenge my assumptions. If you think, other outings would be beneficial…”
She smiled at him. “No apology is necessary. I quite forgot my place.”
“No, you were advising me out of concern for my sister and spoke forthrightly instead of out of deference. I expect no less from my friends.”
A part of Elizabeth swelled with pride, but the notion of friendship with Darcy could not entirely satisfy. She took a calming breath. “In that case, I will tell you my thoughts. I have taken the time to consider that, as she is not fully out in society, she should not attend other functions. But a lady’s holiday should be much more than a respite from lessons, but include appropriate amusements. She should not be confined to be bent over her needlework.”
“You suggest outdoor exercise, I am sure.”
“I do,” she nodded enthusiastically. “She should have time to speak with other young ladies of various ages and temperaments. Once she has come out, others will be thrust upon her. She ought to take this time to learn how she might handle herself in difficult situations, how to deal with difficult people and differing opinions. She has known the school room, now she must learn Society before being thrown into the sea.”
Darcy heaved a sigh. “Your metaphor is very apt. I would hate for her to suffer as I have.”
Elizabeth wondered what he meant. Miss Darcy was left in the custody of her elder brother and, although she knew Darcy’s parents were passed, she had not supposed it was so long ago that they had little help guiding him into Society. Now was not the time for such questions. “Miss Bingley praises her accomplishments. Does she often play for others?”
“Is that by choice or lack of opportunity?”
“Both, I dare say.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “I trust you and Mrs. Annesley see to all the education she needs. Undoubtedly, she has masters aplenty and surely has seen household accounts, but our country society might be the best way to teach her all the things ladies do not find in books.”
Darcy gave her a gentle smile and she was held captive by the intensity in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak but just then Mr. Bennet and Mr. Bingley returned.
“Well?” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, practically bouncing in her chair.
“It is my great privilege to announce that Mr. Bingley has requested a formal courtship with our daughter, Jane.”
“Courtship?” Mrs. Bennet asked and Elizabeth could have echoed her confusion. In another instant, Mrs. Bennet could not be contained. “Oh, gracious! Jane, a courtship!” She hugged her eldest and dearest daughter before running to Mr. Bingley’s side and flattering him profusely. Kitty and Lydia giggled at the display. Both Jane and Mr. Bingley had eyes only for each other.
She wondered how she might give them privacy when Miss Bingley’s voice cut in. “My congratulations, Jane, dear.” She walked to her friend and kissed her cheek then turned to her brother. “This news is simply wonderful, Charles.” Before either could reply, she curtsied to Mrs. Bennet. “It would not do for us to stay beyond civility, though. Thank you for allowing us to visit.”
“Oh! Do not stand upon ceremony now. We are to be family!” Mrs. Bennet cried.
“Indeed,” Miss Bingley said with little enthusiasm.
Rather than allow Miss Bingley to insult her family, Elizabeth approached. “I am sure Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst will be calling more frequently due to the increased intimacy between our families, but we cannot expect to take up all of their time, or his lordship and Mr. and Miss Darcy’s time. I believe other calls were to be made.”
“Oh, in that case…” Mrs. Bennet trailed off.
Darcy approached as well, “Yes, thank you for your hospitality.”
Elizabeth smiled to hear a note of warmth in his voice. She was uncertain if he meant it, but she perceived he was attempting to be more genial. Soon all the guests were leaving the drawing room and Elizabeth scolded herself for being so silly as to want another moment with Darcy, or at least some idea of when they might meet again.
Just before leaving, Miss Darcy stole to her side. “I regret I did not get to speak with you more, Lizzy, but your other sisters are delightful.”
She laughed. “Oh…they’re certainly something. I am not sure that delightful is quite the word I would choose, however.”
Miss Darcy smiled at the tease. “I know how fond you are of walking. Would you join me tomorrow?”
Elizabeth glanced to Darcy, who watched the scene from the other side of the room, near the gentlemen. “I would love to, but you had best consult with your brother and then send me a note.”
“Oh, but we arranged it all before arriving. If it pleases you, we may all meet here after breakfast.”
“That sounds marvellous! The path is well maintained and even Miss Bingley may manage to enjoy it.”
“It shall only be us, my brother and my cousin,” she said softly.
Elizabeth blinked, trying to make sense of the latest information. His lordship mentioned wishing to walk with her, but her heart hoped it was all Darcy’s doing. “Then we shall have the most pleasant time!”
Miss Darcy said her goodbyes and Elizabeth dare not even look at Darcy to escape blushing.
Darcy’s heart pounded as he sat in the carriage on the way to Longbourn. How did Bingley and Arlington do this all the time? He loathed to admit it, but he was used to deference. He was confident enough in his own character and honour, but typically by the time an acquaintance discovered that about him they had already viewed him as the superior in the relationship. The fact was, very few people had use of him if not to gain something from him. Although he was not titled, he was rich and related to a powerful earl. Attempts at appearing ordinary were fruitless and he never before had had to truly court the good opinion of someone. He knew enough of Elizabeth’s character to know that she would not be taken in by pretentious things. He regretted he lacked the charm and amiability of his two friends.
In their last visit to Longbourn, Bingley was a ball of nerves. Now, he sat contentedly, his smile growing by every mile that brought them closer to Longbourn. More than once in his friendship with the man, Darcy envied him, but never more so than now. The only thing which brought relief was the presence of his cousin. Arlington intended to observe Elizabeth again, but had said he thought she was “inclined to be partial to Darcy.” He was growing quite indebted to his cousin. Being six years older than Darcy, Arlington often ignored the younger boy as a child. By the time Darcy reached adulthood, the viscount indulged in a lifestyle he wanted no part of. Instead, he grew closer to his cousin in the army, Richard, who was also Georgiana’s co-guardian. However, Darcy was impressed at Arlington’s agreement to leave London and assist Darcy with Georgiana. Perhaps his cousin was at last accepting responsibility.
Georgiana fidgeted beside him. “Are you well?” he asked her.
Darcy raised his brow at her, unconvinced by her curt reply.
“Are you not looking forward to calling on Longbourn?”
“Of course I am!”
“Then explain your anxiety.”
She cast her eyes down and took a deep breath. “I did not sleep well.”
“Should we return?”
“No, I was too excited about today to sleep last night. Do not fret.”
“Darcy quit being her nurse,” Arlington said.
He rolled his eyes at his cousin and assessed Georgiana again. She did not look ill, but he thought he detected anxiety behind her eyes. Deciding that remarking on such would only heighten her feelings, he turned his attention to Bingley. “You did well to keep your sisters at home.”
“It was Arlington. He had everything arranged with Caroline by the time I came down for breakfast.”
“I merely suggested that she could set a better table than Mrs. Bennet and how after a morning of calls I look forward to a good meal,” Arlington said while shrugging his shoulders. “She is not so terrible if you actually speak to her instead of treating her as a bother.”
“I have had a lifetime of trying and have yet to learn that trick. You have a gift, Arlington, truly,” Bingley said.
“The natural politician in you,” Darcy said with a smirk.
Arriving at Longbourn, they set about to their pre-ordered duties. Worried that the younger sisters would desire to walk with them, Georgiana asked to speak with Elizabeth alone in the garden. Darcy did not know what Georgiana planned to talk about, but after several minutes Arlington stood and suggested Darcy go with him to check on the horses.
“They are my best racing greys. I could not leave them in London, lest my brother use them for his own devices.”
“Racing! That sounds terribly adventurous!” Miss Lydia exclaimed.
“It is and when I return, I shall tell you about the time I broke my arm leaping from certain death.”
“Oh!” Lydia and Catherine exclaimed in unison, and the gentlemen took the opportunity to leave the room.
“Excellent plan, Arlington.”
“Those silly girls wouldn’t know the first thing about racing or horses.”
“No, it’s really not so different there where there are so many insipid ladies with a lot less innocent arts and motivations vying for your attention. I suspect you know that, of course.”
“Indeed.” It was why Elizabeth was so rare. Although, he recalled being surprised by his conversation with Lady Belinda. “Although, there are some ladies in Town that may surprise you.”
“Changing your mind?”
“No, no. I only meant the lady that your mother wishes you to meet I found not so terrible.”
“I am not the marrying sort,” he said. Darcy chose to remain quiet until they found the ladies.
At first they went unnoticed as they approached. “I do not think I understand, Georgie. Could you tell me more?”
Georgiana furrowed her brows and then noticed the gentlemen. “Here they are!” She smiled at them. “Now, lead the way, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth looked confused but nodded. “I thought I would show you all Oakham Mount today.”
“Are you fond of mountains?” Darcy asked nervously.
“I have not experienced very many, as there are none in Hertfordshire” she confessed. “I have seen sketches of the peaks in Derbyshire. They seem breath-taking.”
Darcy smiled. “Perhaps one day you may journey there. They are far better in life than in books.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Indeed! I do hope I can convince you I am more than a great walker and reader.”
“You enjoy music,” he put forward.
“How politic of you! You do not say that I excel at performance, just that I enjoy it.”
She raised a teasing eyebrow and her eyes twinkled. Darcy felt a smile tug at his lips. “I have had the pleasure of hearing you play many times now. Do not pretend to be afraid of my opinion. You must know you play well.”
“Your brother paints too nice a picture of me,” she turned to Georgiana. “Perhaps he is fishing for me to return the favour.”
“Oh, no! He would never…” Georgiana ceased as Elizabeth winked at her. Darcy wondered what Elizabeth was playing at.
“I have determined he is a most accomplished gentleman. Why, as a brother, cousin, and friend he is constantly given a good name. And to all this he adds something more.”
“What is that?” Arlington broke in, enjoying Elizabeth’s high spirits.
Meeting Darcy’s eye, she held it before replying with a smile. “He excels at dancing.”
The others laughed along with her, for it was no secret to his sister or cousin that he hated dancing, but Elizabeth’s laughter rose above the rest. It settled in his heart. Suddenly, he had no use for Arlington’s presence. He believed she quite welcomed his attentions, and whether she did or not, he would fight until he won her heart. He was sick of timidity. Belatedly, he realized he had not replied with more than a smile, and Elizabeth awkwardly turned and rushed ahead. Arlington followed her and Darcy stepped forward, but Georgiana touched his arm.
“I told her about Mr. Wickham,” she said.
The euphoria Darcy felt came crashing down. “What?”
“I…I needed a lady’s opinion on falling in love.”
His heart began to beat again. “And what did she say?”
“She said true love creates only beauty around it. That if I was feeling sorrow or inadequacies then it was not love.” Darcy nodded his head as Georgiana continued speaking. “She said love was selfless.”
He cast his eyes over the path as Elizabeth and Arlington drifted out of sight. “She sounds as though she has been struck with Cupid’s bow before.”
“I cannot say for sure, but I think she may be quite smitten with someone.”
“You, silly!” she smiled brightly and Darcy grinned back. “But, I was worried her opinion of you might alter if she spoke to Mr. Wickham. That is when I told her that sometimes people who claim to be friends are quite untrue. I suggested that a young man she recently met may be dishonest.”
Darcy furrowed his brow, recalling what he overheard her say before they knew she was present. “Did you ever mention Mr. Wickham by name?”
“No, I could not bring myself to do it.”
They were interrupted by Arlington bounding towards them. “I have been instructed by Miss Elizabeth to retrieve you two.”
He smiled and clapped Darcy on the back in clear congratulations. Desiring to end talk of Wickham, he walked briskly back to Elizabeth’s side. Surely she was intelligent enough to understand Georgiana meant Wickham. As they continued on their trek, thoughts of his enemy disappeared entirely. Life was too full of light and laughter to consider such darkness.
Four days later, Bingley sat in the breakfast room, awaiting Caroline. He had called on Longbourn each morning before breakfast and Darcy, Arlington and Georgiana had come later in the day, but thus far Caroline had refused to come. He would have it no more. Jane would be his wife, in time, and Caroline would not be allowed to treat her badly. Their privacy was assured. Louisa and Hurst always took breakfast in their rooms and he had asked the others to do so as well this morning.
“Charles,” Caroline said upon entering, pulling him from his musings.
“Good morning, Caroline.”
“I am surprised to see you. Tired of Jane and Mrs. Bennet already?”
She gathered her breakfast items and frowned at the empty room. “Where are the others? I hope Lord Arlington is not ill.”
Bingley tossed down his napkin. “That is precisely what I wanted to speak to you about.”
“I will send for a physician at once!” she stood and moved to call for a servant.
“Arlington is perfectly well. Sit down.”
Although clearly confused, she complied. “That was a cruel joke.”
“It was no joke. You misunderstood me. Just now, you cared only for Arlington’s health and did not spare a moment to ask after Darcy or Georgiana. I would point out that you have known them both much longer and have claimed deep friendship with them both.”
“What are you saying?” she would not meet his eye and instead stared at her coffee.
“You have to cease these grasping ways.”
“What?” She jerked her eyes away from the cup and met his.
“It is no secret you believe Jane Bennet beneath me. You treated her nicely enough when we were first in the county, but you were terribly rude to the rest of the Bennets.”
“No. They are—”
She interrupted him. “Do not dare make them into something they are not. They have no fortune, fashion or extreme beauty. Their relatives are in the trade.”
“So are ours!” Had she always been so hypocritical?
“I know!” She screamed.
Bingley was no stranger to Caroline’s high dramatics, but she was louder and more forceful than usual with her last statement. Tears pricked her eyes and he allowed her to calm.
“I am very aware that we have relatives still in trade. I know our fortune will never remove the stain of its source. It is our duties to marry better, to find a better position in society for our future generations.”
“Our duty to who, Caroline? Mother and Father are dead. Do you know why they died so young?”
“If we had lived in a better area in London, perhaps they would have survived their illnesses. Or if we could have secured a more expensive doctor.”
“Do you truly think that? You think a street address protects one from illness? It did not protect Darcy’s parents.” At last she was silenced, so he continued. “I believe they were weakened long before the fevers struck. They allowed no true happiness into their life. Mother always worried about Society and how to do better. Father was terrified of making a mistake; that is why he never bought an estate. They never followed their hearts. You know they barely tolerated one another.”
“So you would tell me to marry any man, regardless of rank? Do you not wish for me to have security? Women are entirely dependent on men. Tradesmen expect loving and doting wives, the upper circles allow women to lead their own lives.”
“You mean take lovers!”
She vehemently shook her head. “I would never dishonour myself so much, but it is the only way some ladies ever know love or happiness.”
She looked so sad and, at last, Bingley understood. “It would not be that way if you accept the right gentleman from the start.”
“Who is the right gentleman for me, Charles? Where are the lines of suitors you imagine? My dowry is impressive but not rare. Would you have me marry a fortune hunter? Any man who does not need my money cannot overlook my connections. I know I am pretty, refined and educated, but it is not enough. It affords me no respect among men or women.”
Bingley slowly nodded his head, finally understanding his sister’s thoughts. “But Darcy always treated you with respect.”
“I never thought I would have his love. But I hoped he could see the value of me. He never did, though. I always thought he was too proud, and respected him for it, but that seems to be of no importance to him since meeting Eliza.”
“He fell in love, Caroline. There is no real logic behind it. He may choose to act on it because he feels she is worthy Or he may choose not to act on it because he considers her beneath him., but there is no explaining matters of the heart. One day a gentleman will fall in love with you as well.”
“I dare not trust in something as fanciful as love. Ladies do not have the freedom of choice that gentlemen have. Eliza may have refused the preacher but if her father were dead and she was at the mercy of relatives, I daresay she would have chosen differently.”
His jaw dropped at a sudden insight; as he understood what she did not say. “You were once in love!”
She gave him a sad smile. “Yes, I was Georgiana’s age and Father had just died. You were obviously not of age.”
“Who was it? Did he pay you his addresses?”
“Do you recall spending the summer with our cousins? It was John’s friend, Mr. Truman. He was not of age and we made plans to elope to Scotland. Then I overheard Mama speaking with our aunt about how she worried for our futures. My marriage to him would have brought nothing but pain to the family. He was to go into the army with only a lieutenancy; our income would have been small. We only could have managed with my dowry and you know there was no guarantee Uncle Stanley would give it under such circumstances.”
Bingley reached for his sister’s hand and squeezed. “I never knew.”
“You were still a child.”
“We will both have love, Caroline. Jane will be the making of me. Her steadiness and sweetness of temper will guide me. You are no longer a young girl fresh from school with only University students as male acquaintances. Any gentleman you would meet now would have income and you know, it is not impossible for me to add to yours if needed.”
Caroline gasped. “You would do that?”
“If it made you happy.” He shrugged his shoulders. “So, it would mean I buy a bit smaller of an estate. What is that compared to my family’s happiness?”
Caroline squeezed his hand back and shook her head. “Oh, Charles. Let us hope Jane is better with economy than you.”
Bingley laughed. It was as near a blessing as he could ask. “Say you will come with us today.”
She took in a slow breath but nodded her head. “Just allow me to finish my breakfast and then I will get ready.”
Bingley smiled and walked to the door, but she called after him. “I really did worry about Lord Arlington, Charles. I am not as heartless as you think.”
He shook his head. There certainly was more to his sister’s heart than he ever knew.
Jane walked in the garden with Elizabeth while awaiting Bingley’s arrival. She knew his intentions this morning and hoped Caroline would arrive with him. She did not count on Elizabeth’s anxious behaviour, however. There was a crunch on the gravel behind them and Elizabeth whirled around, then sighed in disappointment as it was only the rustle of leaves instead.
“You do not think Caroline would delay them all morning, do you?” Elizabeth searched the road for any sign of a carriage.
“I truly believe she will come with him. Who could deny such a loving brother?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Not that I believe Mr. Bingley an insufficient brother, but he is younger than she. Not everyone holds the same sway over their sisters as Mr. Darcy has over Georgie.”
“I am sorry I have been too occupied to pay her more attention.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I am not. You are occupied exactly as you should be. I am so happy for you!”
Jane laughed. “If only Mama would quit dropping hints at expecting a proposal.”
“You do not wish for one?” Elizabeth studied her feet.
“I do not doubt that I will have one from him in his own time.”
“Ah, yes. A gentleman does not like to be forced into things.”
“Quite true. I cannot help but feel that I was partially to blame for his leaving and staying away so long. I think I was too guarded with my feelings and I ought to now show him my affections more plainly. After all, it is proper to do so now. I never want him to doubt my love again.”
“The both of you are very silly. Anyone can plainly see how much he cares for you and I think it is just as obvious to him, who spends his time nearly exclusively with you, that you love him.”
“Take care, Lizzy. One day you will fall in love and find that it is the least rational time in your life. Doubts and fears shall plague you. You will anxiously look for any sign of encouragement from the one you esteem and then worry you only imagine his affections. The assurances from your family and friends will mean nothing until you hear it directly from him.”
“And have you?”
Jane only smiled. Some things were too private to share.
“You are too sly, Jane! Please, tell me!”
She was saved the trouble of having to reply by the arrival of the Bingley carriage with the single men following on horseback.
Elizabeth’s eyes flew to Mr. Darcy’s and she beamed for just a moment before turning her head. Jane laughed to herself. She was not the only Bennet daughter who was fond of slyness.
She was pleased to see Bingley hand Caroline down from the carriage. “Caroline, how nice it is to see you.”
“I hope my brother made my apologies over the last few days. I did not feel well and did not want to pass it on.”
“Indeed, he did relay you were indisposed. I am glad to see you well today.”
Caroline met Jane’s eyes. “I am happy to be here.”
Jane sensed the truth of the statement but watched Caroline’s face as her mother and sisters noisily spilled out of the house. Instead of seeing the hint at displeasure she usually witnessed, she saw an expression of sadness as Caroline watched Kitty and Lydia go to Georgiana’s side. Then her eyes darted to Elizabeth. Mrs. Bennet had called Lord Arlington over to where she stood next to Elizabeth, and Darcy slowly approached. It was nothing new to Jane, Elizabeth frequently commanded the attention of the male sex, although she never seemed to notice. Caroline took a deep breath and straightened her posture. Louisa and Mr. Hurst approached their side and Mrs. Bennet shooed them all inside for tea.
Everyone broke into small groups then. Her younger sisters sat around Georgiana, who had slowly become less shy around them. Darcy and Arlington sat near Elizabeth, the latter two frequently laughing and the former managing to smile. Her mother talked to Louisa about fashion while Mr. Hurst helped himself to many biscuits. As Bingley talked to her about the upcoming Christmas season, Jane noticed how Caroline sometimes remarked in one conversation or another but felt sad that she was never truly a part of any of them. Elizabeth would likely scold her, but she found compassion for the woman she hoped to call sister.
“Of course, girls,” she heard Mrs. Bennet say and her younger sisters filed to the door.
Unexpectedly, Mary turned back. “Miss Bingley, would you like to come with us? I admire your taste in Italian songs.”
The question clearly surprised Caroline, and Jane smiled at Mary. Strangely, the two ladies had some things in common. Both desired to be relished as accomplished, and both seemed frequently forgotten in a room of more exciting occupants. She did not know if Mary asked out of civility or a true desire to spend time with Miss Bingley, but Jane was happy nonetheless. She was certain Caroline could not object to her family if they showed her better attention. Gratitude alone would make Caroline see their value.
“Mr. Bennet is in his library again?” Lord Arlington asked her mother.
“Oh! It is no slight to you, good sir,” Mrs. Bennet hastened to explain.
“I had not worried that it was. Some of us prefer solitude. We are the intruders in his home.”
“Never an intrusion!”
Lord Arlington waved away her concerns and complimented her on the tea, ensuring several minutes of profuse thanks on her side.
Bingley had been watching the scene as well and then turned to her. “Is your father well? I have not seen him for several days.”
Jane shook her head. “I have not heard that he is Ill, but he seldom leaves the library now, only when the officers come.”
Her words attracted the attention of Darcy and Arlington. The latter asked, “Oh? Any officers in particular that are his favourite?”
Jane smiled at his tease. “It is the same ones that always visit: Captain Carter, Mr. Saunderson and Mr. Denny. Mr. Wickham has not come in several days. Papa sits here for the visit and then invites them into the library for cards and chess. If any of you prefer them, I am certain he would enjoy a match.”
The gentlemen looked at each other pointedly but said nothing. Jane saw Elizabeth observe their behaviour as well.
“Perhaps on the next call,” Arlington said and stood. “Darcy, we had better leave if you still want to go shooting.”
Jane did not miss the looks of disappointment that Elizabeth and Darcy both had, as Elizabeth remarked. “I daresay I am jealous of gentlemen, always being allowed out of doors. When you leave, I shall be forced to go to the music room with the others.”
Darcy smiled. “We will schedule another walk, then. I leave it to you and Georgiana to arrange the matter.”
“Indeed! And I notice you do not praise me and say I do not need the practice.” She feigned a pout and a glare. “Shall our debate continue? For often times where there is music there is dancing, and you may have to reap the penalties of our practice.”
He chuckled and leaned closer to hide his reply from Mrs. Bennet, Louisa and Hurst, but the others were near enough to hear it. “So long as I can claim a dance with you, I do not care what jigs are played. Or if you are to perform, then tell me you have no reason for sad love songs.”
Elizabeth blushed scarlet and Darcy bowed to her before declaring he would say farewell to Georgiana as the others had been invited to stay for dinner.
Seems promising for Darcy and Elizabeth and also for Jane and Bingley! What do you think of Caroline and do you think Lizzy understood enough from Georgiana’s conversation to be cautious around Wickham? Guesses for the future?
I’ll post again tomorrow as well!