Hang in there. It’s a rough few chapters but Our Dear Couple will come together eventually! Right now, their broken hearts need some tender love from family and friends.
Jane watched Elizabeth across the room. Jane recognized the look on her dearest sister’s face. She suspected that Elizabeth would never say it to her, but her sister was in love with Mr. Darcy and hurting at his sudden departure. Jane’s suspicions began when Elizabeth had made no mention of the beautiful Christmas decorations. Usually, she delighted when the holly and ivy were brought into the house. Nor was she animated by their Uncle Gardiner’s conversation or their aunt’s latest report from London. At the moment, Mr. Wickham was speaking to her, but she seemed to blankly nod her head when required.
Aunt Gardiner met Jane’s eyes and then nodded her head toward the door. Jane nodded an agreement and waited for an opening in Charles’ story that held Kitty and Lydia captive while her aunt left the room. She was pleased again to see Mary and Caroline conversing, although both seemed to be observing Elizabeth as well. She made a note to talk with Mary about it later. Leaving the drawing room, she saw Mrs. Gardiner in the hall.
“Speak with me in here,” the older lady said and directed Jane to the back drawing room. There was no fire laid and they both gasped at the cold. “Why is there no fire here? Your father may be worried about your mother’s spending this time of year, but this is a foolish way to cut costs, even if the room is seldom used. Lizzy’s room above here must be freezing.”
Jane shook her head. “She has not mentioned it, but she has been so unlike herself the last few days.”
“What has caused this alteration?”
“A gentleman was paying her significant attention. We all expected him to offer for Lizzy. He is Bingley’s closest friend.”
“He suddenly left on Monday and did not even say goodbye. There has been no note from his sister, either, and we had been regular correspondents.”
“That is not so very different than the position you were in a month ago,” Mrs. Gardiner said.
“Indeed. That is why I can recognise the pain she must be feeling. Bingley has said he is uncertain how long Darcy is to be away, but he is always welcome at Netherfield.” Jane blushed lightly. “Of course, he will likely wait many weeks before visiting newlyweds.”
“She is always welcome with us, but I hardly know if we would move in the same circles as him. What did you say his name was?”
“Mr. Darcy. He has an estate named Pemberley in Derbyshire.”
“My gracious,” Mrs. Gardiner said and raised her hand to heart. “That estate is mere miles from the town I grew up in. The character of the Darcy family is greatly respected. His father was a very great man, very liberal to the poor. His mother was the daughter of an earl. You say he paid Lizzy attention?”
“Yes, from nearly their first encounter. She did not always like him, but in the last several weeks I think she genuinely grew to care about him.”
“But admiration alone should not give rise to such expectations when the difference between their stations is so large.” Jane furrowed her brows. “Do not look at me like that. I know that your uncle being in trade affects the matches you girls can make. It is the truth, whatever the fairness, whether you wish to think of it that way or not.”
“He called at Longbourn every day. He asked Lizzy to correspond with his sister and, after returning from London with Bingley, he introduced us all to her. He gave no indication that he thought her below him.”
“I wish I could console her, but I am afraid that these sorts of inconsistencies are very frequent. A gentleman may seem violently in love and then is separated by chance, their admiration ceases.”
“I would be surprised if Mr. Darcy fell in and out of love as easily as that.”
“Well, do you really think Lizzy loves him? It seems unlike her to not laugh herself out of any setback. I think she may get over it in a few days; after all, Mr. Wickham is a charming young man and is paying her considerable attention as well.”
“I cannot say. I have not talked to her about the matter.”
“Then we will arrange to speak to her after dinner today. Now, let us return to the drawing room. I cannot abide this cold room a moment longer!”
They filed out and returned to the larger party.
Bingley stayed for dinner, and as it was the first time he had stayed to dine since the proposal, Mr. Bennet invited him to the study after the meal. Jane and Mrs. Gardiner used the opportunity to sit near Elizabeth.
“You did not eat much at dinner, Elizabeth,” Mrs. Gardiner began.
Elizabeth shrugged. “I was not very hungry.”
“Jane says you have barely eaten in days.”
“It must be because I sprained my ankle and have been unable to walk. I am confident my appetite will return shortly.”
Mrs. Gardiner shook her head scoldingly. “I want to talk to you very seriously.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in expectation but said nothing.
“You are too sensible of a girl to fall in love merely because others hoped for it and so I believe this Mr. Darcy must have truly touched your heart, and I am sorry that he has left, but you are acting very silly.”
“Oh, my goodness. This is serious business indeed. I would hate to be as silly as other girls.”
“You are not serious now!” Jane cried.
“I shall try again,” Elizabeth said with a less satirical look. “If I were truly in love with Mr. Darcy then I could not help but be as silly as other ladies appear when in the same situation. However, as interesting as I would be to all my family and friends, I am not in love with Mr. Darcy, nor any man.”
“Then you will have no trouble ceasing this behaviour. Your father, I am sure, would want you to behave better.”
Elizabeth bit her lower lip. “I would hate to lose his good opinion of me. Very well, I see I have acted foolishly over the sudden absence of such agreeable friends.”
Jane smiled. “Then we shall just have to invite other friends over more often.”
“Indeed. Mr. Wickham is a most charming man and not someone you would have to worry about falling in love with since he has such little income.”
Jane saw Elizabeth briefly tense then nod her head. “Certainly. He, amongst others, is intriguing company. How fortunate we are that the Militia is quartered here for the winter to provide such diversion.”
The return of Bingley separated their group. Although Elizabeth claimed to feel no attachment to Darcy, Jane resolved to continue to observe her sister. Should Elizabeth continue to seem affected, Jane would speak with Bingley about the matter. In the meantime, she agreed with her aunt’s recommendation that Mr. Wickham may be the gentleman to draw Elizabeth’s wit back out.
Bingley sat in his future father-in-law’s study after dinner on Christmas Day and took a look around. Until the other day, he had not been inside it in weeks. After his return from London, Mr. Bennet had taken to staying in the study all the time. Bingley worried he had actually offended the gentleman by his lengthier than planned stay in London. The man had agreed to Bingley’s request to court Jane, but seemed annoyed nonetheless.
After proposing to Jane at Sir William’s the Friday before, Bingley arrived just after breakfast on Saturday to find Longbourn in chaos. Elizabeth had sprained her ankle, there was something about Darcy rescuing her, and Mrs. Bennet had an attack of nerves between believing Darcy would offer for Elizabeth and welcoming Bingley into the family. He could sense Jane desired to spend time nursing Elizabeth and so, after receiving Mr. Bennet’s indifferent blessing to their marriage, he quickly returned to Netherfield. Sunday afforded no time to call between services. From now on he would attend morning service with the Bennets, but he had not thought to arrange it then.
He did not stay long on Monday because Darcy and Arlington were suddenly, and without giving a reason, leaving for London. He had called just long enough to give their excuses—Darcy’s was call was even stranger since he did come to Longbourn yet neglected to go in. Arlington and Darcy’s departures did not appear to be coordinated. Caroline took to her rooms, and Louisa spent the day with her.
When Bingley called on Christmas Eve, he, at last, met Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. They were amiable and well-educated people and he looked forward to having more of their company when he was in London. Jane was distracted again, by concern for Elizabeth, but not her ankle this time. He observed her as well. Bingley could make no sense of Darcy’s sudden departure and without a word of returning. He knew Darcy was in love with Elizabeth, and she seemed pained by his absence. They must have argued; he had seen them argue before, and hoped it was just a mere misunderstanding.
Now, having spent the day with his family at Longbourn, he was exhausted from the energy of the Bennets. He was pleased to see Caroline interacting more with his future in-laws. He had even witnessed her attempting to speak to Elizabeth, but the latter was given to little true conversation with anyone.
He needed to go to London soon and resolved to leave as quickly as possible if Jane agreed. A greater errand than the solicitor’s office awaited him. How could he live with himself if his betrothed’s dearest sister was hurting at the hand of his friend? And what kind of friend would he be if he allowed that friend to separate himself from the one woman he had ever loved?
“Exhausted from a day with the ladies of the family, I see,” Mr. Bennet interrupted Bingley’s thoughts.
“Not at all. It was invigorating. We usually celebrate the Yuletide very sedately. Our mother loved Christmas but since she passed…”
“How old were you?” Mr. Bennet asked with uncharacteristic interest. He had seemed excessively lackadaisical the last several weeks.
“I was eighteen. Caroline was twenty, Louisa two and twenty.” He grew silent for a moment as old memories resurfaced. “She was ill for several years before. My father died unexpectedly just after I went to school. She was weak the rest of her life.”
Mr. Bennet pulled off his spectacles and cleaned the glass with a handkerchief. Bingley noticed the deep lines in the older man’s forehead. “Age matters little, one is seldom prepared for the death of a parent. Of course, perhaps if my older brother did not go with him…”
Bingley nodded his head in silent acceptance of Mr. Bennet’s pain. He had not known that he had an elder brother and had inherited the estate unexpectedly.
“A carriage accident. I found out while I was in London, at a gaming table, no less. I never desired to travel much after that.” Mr. Bennet returned the spectacles to his face. “I was studying the law and meant to be a barrister but was giving it up to instead be a country solicitor.”
Bingley raised his eyebrows in surprise and Mr. Bennet supplied the information. “I had no wish to have a political career and found certain aspects of London brought out the worst in me. Determining I was better suited to a quiet, country life, I had spent the summer before with my wife’s father. I had just proposed to Mrs. Bennet and was to inherit the business upon his death. Then my father and brother died and overnight I was Master of Longbourn. Fanny was perhaps not the best choice for a landowner’s wife and my mother was terribly harsh on her.”
Bingley stared at his hands. He did not know what to say to this rare opening of a heart.
“Worry not about Jane, though. She is very good humoured and will do you credit. I wish now that I had taken the girls to London when they were younger. I worry about her entering that Society now. You know how shy she is.”
“I promise she will be well cared for,” Bingley said with all of his heart. “If she hates London then I would never go again.”
Mr. Bennet gave him a wry smile. “It is just as well. Whenever she was in London with the Gardiners she attracted male attention. Had I taken her for a true Season then perhaps she would have accepted an offer before you.”
Mr. Bennet watched Bingley’s reaction, but he only shook his head at the tease. A month ago he was insecure, but now he was confident of Jane’s love for him. He would not worry about empty words of her father.
“You will not rise to the bait?” Mr. Bennet asked then laughed. Calming, he sat back in the chair and closed his eyes for a moment. Exhaustion swept over his face.
“Speaking of London,” Bingley began, “I need to go next week. I would like to start proceedings with my solicitor.”
“You will be sure to return this time, will you not?” Mr. Bennet quipped.
Bingley blushed. “Knowing Jane awaits my return will undoubtedly add speed to my errand.”
“I cannot give her much,” he said.
Bingley waved his hands. “I do not care. Keep it for her sisters if it would ease your mind.”
Mr. Bennet looked out a window at the quickly setting sun. “If only we could all have your ease with money.” Returning his eyes to the room, he looked at the clock and stood. “Come, let us re-join the ladies.”
That night, Bingley spoke with Caroline about his plans to leave for London.
“I know you would like to come, but I would rather you and Louisa stay,” he said.
“I do not wish to go,” Caroline quickly cut in.
His eyebrows rose. “Why not?”
“Do I understand you to plan on spending time with Mr. Darcy?”
Bingley sighed. “We have been through this before, Caroline. He does not care for you, he never has. I am sorry if you hoped otherwise. I do think he cares for Lizzy and mean to speak to him about it. With any luck at all, she will be the next Mrs. Darcy.”
Caroline shook her head. “No, I do not wish to interfere there. I hoped Eliza would accept Darcy’s suit. I only want to avoid him because I do not desire to see Lord Arlington again.”
Panic filled Bingley. “Did he approach you?”
“No!” Caroline cried. “Why is that everyone’s first fear with him? He was always perfectly gentlemanly toward me.” She sighed and then smoothed her skirts. “He offered me the position as his wife and although we are fond of each other, there is no love between us.” She raised her head and met his eye with pride. “I kindly refused him. I finally have hope for love again.”
The anguish twisting in Bingley’s stomach was quickly replaced by surprise and joy. “Indeed! Then perhaps this Season, after my marriage, you will finally find your match!”
She swatted his arm. “You need not say finally as though I am on the shelf! And no. I have decided I do not desire the London life after all.”
“This is a change indeed!”
“No,” she nodded her head. “I am returning to my original sentiments. I do not care for London. I wish you luck in all your endeavours, Charles. Darcy will need your encouragement. I do not understand why Eliza refused him, or why he did not approach her again as planned, but I can see how unhappy she is and never doubted his attachment.”
“If only he were not so stubborn!” Bingley cried.
Caroline agreed, and the two set to plans for his departure in a few days’ time.
Georgiana sat in the drawing room at Darcy House, idly fingering the piano keys. Earlier this morning she had reread all the letters she had received from Lizzy. Now, they sat at her side.
Yesterday had been Christmas Day, and she and William had spent the day alone, again. Lord and Lady Matlock had gone to their estate along with Richard. Arlington disappeared within the city as usual at this time of year. Georgiana had looked forward to Christmas at Longbourn. She did not understand why Wickham was at Longbourn or why she was sent back to the carriage. Only after they reached Netherfield did she realize that she still held the letter meant for Lizzy. William refused the idea of returning to Longbourn.
Inspiration struck, however, when she overheard a maid discussing returning to her home on Longbourn land for Christmas. Knowing about William and Lizzy’s help of the Harrison boy, Georgiana asked for the girl to pass along the letter to Mrs. Harrison. Lizzy was sure to visit either today, Boxing Day, or after the baby was born and then she would read William’s letter.
In the meantime, she found no solace. She had been depressed after Wickham’s betrayal, but the depth of pain William now felt was much worse. He seldom spoke or even met her eyes. She had locked herself away after returning from Ramsgate and was filled with self-reproach. William sat listlessly in any room he was in, as though not quite part of the world any longer. He still met her for meals and inquired after her day. He seemed resigned to attempt to live life, a cold, hollow life without Lizzy in it.
The post arrived and, amongst her correspondence, her eyes fell upon a letter from Caroline Bingley. In the past, even when attempting to gain William’s notice, Caroline had seldom written her. She opened it with a degree of curiosity.
My dear Georgiana,
Netherfield seems gloomy with the absence of you, Mr. Darcy and Lord Arlington. The only thing I can consider good out of this ordeal is that now we spend most of our days at Longbourn. I have surprised myself, but I admit that I quite like some of them. Jane is a darling angel and Miss Mary has praised my skill at the pianoforte so much I cannot help but be pleased. Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia are easily ignored and Mrs. Bennet’s shrill effusions and constant compliments are something I have learned to tolerate. Then there is Eliza.
Georgiana held her breath, certain Caroline would demean her friend.
She puts on a brave face, but there is no light in her eyes. Her liveliness is gone. Most disconcerting is that one of the officers pays her quite a bit of attention and I know your brother thinks ill of Mr. Wickham.
Do you understand at all what has happened? Why did your brother not, at least, give her his letter? I had thought Eliza foolish to refuse him, but in her face, I see the haunted look of a young woman who knows she has turned down a man she loves.
I have determined to not go to London this Season. Eliza can go with Charles and Jane in my place and I hope she will meet with Mr. Darcy often. If love could conquer their hearts, then why not their heads?
I hope you had a happy Christmas and are well.
Georgiana sat thinking about her letter for some time. She wished with all of her heart she had some means of ensuring William and Lizzy might meet again. Additionally, it warmed her heart to see Caroline’s genuine concern. She had distrusted the lady for several years but was pleased to see she had misjudged her all along. William entered, disrupting her thoughts.
“Anything interesting in your post?” he asked as he sat.
“A letter from Miss Bingley and others from our aunts that I have not read yet.”
William smiled just a bit. “You should get to them. I believe you will find them most amusing.”
“It seems Richard is engaged and Lady Catherine is probably full of the usual words about how I must honour my duty to marry well, all in reference to Anne.”
“Arlington is determined not to have her?”
“The arrangement is what cost him Claire, in his mind, after over a decade of resistance he is unlikely to give in.”
Georgiana nodded. “What is this about Richard? He is actually marrying, or has Aunt Eleanor simply found another perfect match for him?”
“Both!” The smile returned and Georgiana was pleased to see it. It was the most animated he had been in a week. “She dragged him to a dinner with Lady Belinda while we were…” he trailed off and the smile disappeared.
Georgiana ached for her brother. He could not even bear to say the name of the county they were in.
“Away,” he finished at last. “She and her parents were guests of the Matlocks on Christmas Eve. He was immediately smitten at their first meeting and proposed on Christmas Eve under the mistletoe. . Our aunt is planning a lavish wedding already. They will return to London tomorrow and will be holding an engagement dinner soon.”
“Oh my! Well, our aunt must be proud of herself! A son engaged at last and to the lady she had long wanted as a daughter.” William nodded his head. “Anything else?”
“I believe Bingley will be arriving soon. That is all I could make out from his letter.”
Georgiana smiled. “If only there were small printing presses available for personal correspondence!” Gathering up her letters, she stood. “I will go to my chambers to read mine and reply.” Before leaving she kissed her brother’s cheek. “It will get better,” she said.
“How do you know that?” he asked while scowling.
“It is what you told me after Ramsgate, and you were correct.”
She would have said more, about how he still had a chance with Lizzy, but knew he did not want to hear that again. She silently exited and hoped for patience.