Richard and Darcy arrived in London around noon the following day. Elizabeth had not asked for Darcy to inform Bingley about Jane’s feelings for him. However, Darcy knew he needed to confess his wrong-doing to his friend. He imagined how he would feel if Bingley or Richard had told him that they had found Elizabeth unworthy of him and withheld information about her whereabouts. Of course, Darcy might have thanked them for the effort. He was rather sure that Bingley would not be so grateful.
Dropping Richard off at his Regiment, Darcy returned to his empty London house. No friends or family greeted him; only paid servants. Trustworthy and loyal though they were, he felt the pang of not having others to share his time and space. Even Lady Catherine had her daughter and Mrs. Jenkinson. Even Mr. Collins had found a wife and hosted guests.
When Darcy had retrieved Georgiana from Ramsgate, she came to Darcy house. After a week or two, he hired a companion and set up an establishment for his sister. They had never been close, and he believed it would allow her the freedoms and interests a young lady would have. She would enter Society soon, and friends already arrived to call. Hating the ever-increasing flow of fortune hunters wanting only a glimpse of him, he gave her a residence of her own. It also proved that he trusted her and did not blame her for the Wickham fiasco. Did he ask how she felt?
Bringing her and Mrs. Annesley, Georgiana’s new companion, to Darcy House instantly crossed his mind. However, he realised his first instincts often did not consider the emotions of others. He had thought his decisions perfectly rational and logical, but he had grown so used to shutting off his feelings that it did not occur to him that others felt differently. Still, he hoped Georgiana might be willing to reside with him until she married. Instead of relying on her companion to chaperone after her come out, he would squire her around himself. A selfless task, indeed.
He had too many matters to attend to after being gone for so long to call on Georgiana that day. It required thought and preparation as to what to say. He worried, too, the desire would vanish as instantly as it had occurred and one could not simply boot their younger sister out of a house because they changed their mind.
Retiring early that evening, he determined to seek out Bingley in the morning and then call on his sister after that errand finished.
The April day in London dawned partly sunny. Parliament had returned to session and the Mayfair district Darcy lived in thrummed with activity as lords and ladies welcomed the warmer temperatures. The Season continued until the end of June, but few could afford to spend all of the time in Town. Warming temperatures meant an increase in the city’s population. In turn, the streets were more crowded. All was not perfect, though. Pickpockets came out in an abundance and ragged, dirty children asking for handouts lined many streets. Darcy could not abide to ignore them. He might have been one. George Darcy had every right to cast him and, later, Georgiana aside.
Instead of arriving by coach, he chose to walk to the Hurst Townhouse on Grosvenor Street. With any luck, Bingley would be in and his sisters would not. As he entered the drawing room, his hopes proved wrong.
“Darcy!” Bingley cried with his usual cheerfulness and reached out for a handshake. “What brings you here? I thought you were in Kent!”
“I returned yesterday.”
“And your first thought was to visit us?” Miss Bingley cooed. “How thoughtful!”
“Have a seat,” Bingley said. “We were just ordering refreshments.”
“I am sorry there are no lemon tarts, as I know they are your favourite,” Caroline said.
“As long as there are some crumpets,” Hurst said.
“Of course, there are your crumpets,” his wife glared at him. “You are always here, and we know what you prefer.”
“Do tell us, Mr. Darcy, if you plan on visiting more frequently. We could easily keep your favourites on hand,” Caroline smiled as she poured him a cup.
Darcy held in his sigh as she added three cubes of sugar. He detested overly sweet tea.
“Just as you like,” she beamed.
Handing it to him, she leant down in attempt to display her cleavage. Darcy averted his eyes, as usual, and murmured his thanks.
“How did you find Rosings?” Bingley asked.
“My aunt and cousins are well,” Darcy smiled. “To my surprise, I met with a few of mutual acquaintances of ours.”
“You will recall Mr. Collins,” Darcy said.
Bingley stared blankly at him.
“The parson related to the Bennets? His patroness is my aunt.”
At the mention of the name Bennet, Darcy saw Bingley’s eyes take on a faraway quality.
“Yes, he danced at my ball.”
With Elizabeth, Darcy mentally added.
“Do not get me started with that dreadful ball,” Caroline said. “Such vulgarity! And the Bennets arranged to leave last, I am sure of it!”
“The presumption,” her sister added. “So disgusting.”
“And that Eliza!” Caroline harrumphed. “I tried to steer her away from Mr. Wickham, but she would defend him, no matter how abominably he used you, Mr. Darcy.” Caroline fluttered her lashes and simpered at him.
“What do you expect from such low breeding?” Mrs. Hurst added.
“I expect you to see to my plate,” her husband grumbled.
Darcy watched the scene as though he had never met them before. Had he thought the Bennets improper? Bingley’s family was little better. Nor was his. He cleared his throat. “As it happens, Miss Elizabeth Bennet was at the Parsonage as well.”
“I knew it!” Caroline cried in glee. “She did marry her cousin. Her mother crowed that she would.”
Thank God, I do not have to live through that misery, Darcy thought as Anne’s words echoed in his head.
“You see, Charles,” Mrs. Hurst said. “They are all out for as much as they can get. Anyone who would marry such a fool is.”
“I do not feel qualified to speculate on the heart of his wife. However,” Darcy paused for dramatic effect, “the former Miss Charlotte Lucas married Mr. Collins. Elizabeth Bennet was there as a guest, as was Mrs. Collins’ sister.”
“Did she mention her sisters? Are they all still at Longbourn?”
Bingley nearly dumped his plate of biscuits over and sloshed his tea in excitement. It told Darcy all he needed about his friend’s continued feelings. Each mentioning of Elizabeth’s name, each reference of her family, Darcy recalled his terrible proposal, feeling a fresh slice to his heart. Still, for Bingley, he would bear this. He had wronged the man.
“Mr. Darcy, have you seen Georgiana yet?” Caroline interrupted. “How I dote on her! I am due to call on her. Perhaps you could escort my sister and me there tomorrow as my brothers have need of the carriage.”
Darcy’s mouth dropped at Caroline’s forwardness. A part of him wanted to think that if she had not been scrambling to redirect the conversation, then she would have behaved better but there was delight and security behind her eyes mixed with her panic.
“I have no definite plans but allow me to answer your brother’s question.”
“It hardly matters—”
“Caroline!” Bingley called in a tone Darcy had never heard him use before. “Let the man speak!”
Miss Bingley blushed a little, and even Mrs. Hurst looked away and did not come to the support of her sister. Darcy took a breath to quell his courage.
“All but one are at Longbourn,” Darcy said and glanced at Miss Bingley who fiddled with her skirt. “The eldest Miss Bennet is in London and has been for many weeks.”
“We must call on her!” Bingley sprang from his chair. “Do you know the address?”
“I…I do not but perhaps your sisters might?” Again, Darcy glanced at Caroline, giving her every opportunity to disclose her involvement in the matter.
“Of course!” Bingley continued, unaware of the mounting tension. He turned to his younger sister. “You must write her directly. I believe it was somewhere near Cheapside.”
“Bingley,” Darcy said in solemn tones. “I need to speak with you alone.”
“A splendid idea,” Caroline agreed rapidly. She hastened to her brother and kissed him on the cheek. “You are so fortunate to have such a great friend in Mr. Darcy. We are all so dependent on him for advice.”
She was going to pin this all on him? She and Mrs. Hurst scurried away. Hurst had fallen asleep and remained.
“What time do you think I should call tomorrow?” Bingley said as he walked around the room full of nervous energy.
“Bingley—you may want to sit down for this,” Darcy said, and his friend slowly wheeled toward him and cocked his head.
“I have done you a disservice.”
“Oh, God. No, don’t do it, Darcy. Even you can’t be that thick-headed.”
“Ask me for Caroline’s hand. You just avoided your cousin, but it does not mean you need her.”
“Good God!” Darcy cried, and he was the one who stumbled backward into a chair. “Have I made you or her think I would? Do others believe it?” He pulled on his cravat feeling like a noose squeezed around his neck.
“Nothing beyond her grasping wishes and my knowing you would deny your heart for Society’s approval.”
Darcy shook his head. “I would never…but you are a good friend. You tried to stop me.”
“Of course,” Bingley said. “Caroline is my sister, but she is not for you. We do not need to be directly related.”
“Indeed,” Darcy said as he gathered his thoughts again on how to ask the most faithful friend he ever had to forgive him of cunningness and deceit.
“Well, if you are not here to ask for my sister’s hand then what has you looking so awful?”
Darcy met Bingley’s eyes. “I have known Miss Bennet was in Town since January. I should have told you. My interference was officious.”
A vein near Bingley’s left eye ticked. It was the only sign that he had even heard the damning words Darcy said. After several moments of strained silence, Bingley spoke.
“Why didn’t you?”
Darcy shrugged. “At the time it seemed well-reasoned. I did not lie when I told you my observations in November. I did not believe Miss Bennet cared for you as you did for her. When I heard she was in Town, I worried you had not been parted long enough to loosen her pull on your heart.”
“Who told you she was here?” Bingley asked, but his face showed security. He already knew.
“That is unimportant,” Darcy said as he leant forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “I knew you relied on my opinion. Nor did I even put the information to you. I decided for you.”
“You were very wrong,” Bingley’s voice shook.
“I was,” Darcy said.
“Do you think so little of me?” Bingley glanced away.
“No,” Darcy said truthfully. “I failed to reason that you would feel differently than me. Or that you would trust my judgement.”
“You expect me to believe that you did not trust yourself?” Bingley scoffed. “You are the most arrogant man I have ever known.”
Darcy gulped. “That is true, and I do not expect your forgiveness.”
“Why do you tell me now?” Darcy opened his mouth, but Bingley shook his head and held up his hands. “No, I no longer care. Get out.”
Bingley had barely moved a muscle from his position in the chair, but Darcy felt as though he had been punched in the gut. In truth, he would rather face his friend’s fists than his solemn and determined silence. “If you wish.”
Darcy bowed, but Bingley did not look up. As Darcy walked to Mrs. Annesley’s residence on Park Lane, he reflected that being denied his heart’s greatest wish and then losing his greatest friend in one week was just one more cruel fates destiny handed him.
“Fitzwilliam, I did not expect you,” Georgiana said as she invited him to sit in the modest drawing room.
Darcy looked at his sister, seeing more than a hint at the woman who bore them. He ought to have done this years ago.
“I returned from Rosings yesterday. Lady Catherine and Anne are well.”
Georgiana tensed. “Did they ask after me… do they suspect?”
If he answered as callously as he felt, it would be, Of course, no one suspects you planned to elope with the steward’s son! Ladies of Society rarely do so. However, even before Elizabeth’s chastisement, Georgiana was one person with whom he could be nothing but gentle. “Nothing is known, and there is no reason for alarm or worry.”
Sighing, Georgiana sagged in relief against her chair. “Then why do you visit?”
“I am your brother.” Did family usually need reasons for visiting? In the Darcy family that had been the case.
“Yes, I know. My brother and my guardian, in charge of everything about me until I marry.”
Darcy shook his head. “I do not wish for our relationship to be as cold as you say. I would not wish to encroach on your freedoms.”
“I am told you give me more freedoms than most brothers in addition to your unending kindness and forgiveness.”
Georgiana stood and walked to a window. Some might assume it an inherent Darcy trait yet it must have been Lady Anne who did so when troubled. Darcy had no reason to believe they shared a paternal bloodline.
“Georgiana, I wish for your happiness.” Darcy walked to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Is it too late to ask you to confide in me?”
“Should I?” She asked, sounding like a fragile child.
“I wish to be your friend and confidant.”
“Is that not unusual and improper? I should conceal my feelings—”
“No, you should not,” Darcy said adamantly. “I have recently learned the very high cost of hiding one’s emotions.”
“In that case,” Georgiana whirled around and threw herself into his arms, sobbing on his chest. “I am so very tired of being alone.”
Slowly, Darcy’s arms tightened around her. Since George Darcy’s death, he had often felt over-extended and like he held too much responsibility. Too many people relied upon him. However, Georgiana never felt like a mere responsibility and never should.
I love her, Darcy realised suddenly. Having not grown up together and then merely being her guardian, he had not considered that sentiment. He had loved his mother yet when he knew the truth of what she did, he also hated her. He respected George Darcy but having so little affection from the man, he could not say it was real love. Darcy’s feelings to accept and protect Georgiana were love of the most profound sort. Family.
“You are not alone,” he said as he rubbed her back. “Would you like to return to Darcy House? To live there?” Georgiana stilled and pulled back her head. Her blue eyes looked more vibrant than usual against the red rims, but the sorrow in them struck him to his core.
“Could I? You would not resent the weakness?”
Darcy hugged her closer. “You are my sister, and we are family. I wish I had understood all of what that meant earlier, but I think I begin to understand.” Loosening his hold, he offered his handkerchief. “It is what I had come to propose.”
“Yes. I no longer care about Society’s suggestions on how to raise you. You need family, and you need love. That you shall have.”
“Thank you so much, Fitzwilliam,” she stretched on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “I will begin packing right away.”
Georgiana scampered off, leaving Darcy alone in his thoughts. Jane’s pain had become Elizabeth’s because she loved her. Indeed, insulting her family hurt Elizabeth because of her love for them. What a dunderhead he had been! What a lesson he was learning about love, acceptance, and family. How had he lived nearly eight and twenty years without knowing it?
Georgiana returned a few minutes later saying her maid was packing. As Darcy had walked instead of bringing a coach, the maid and her things would follow later. They walked arm in arm to Darcy House. Along the way, a few acquaintances stopped to talk with them. Georgiana blushed under the appreciative gazes of a few gentlemen and Darcy’s arm flexed beneath his coat. I have just discovered her and will not give her up quickly. If Georgiana’s reaction was any indication, she also had no intention of marrying young and leaving him. Perhaps they would be two old siblings together. No. Darcy shook his head. He would not wish that on her. He would hold onto her for a little while longer, but he would not deprive her love and children.
“Thank you, Fitzwilliam,” Georgiana gave him another kiss as he brought her to the chamber she had used before. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Darcy said quietly and earned a small smile and another kiss on the cheek from his sister. The more he said it, the more he liked saying it.