How’s Darcy doing in London?
Darcy had no sooner set foot in the entry of his townhouse than he heard a feminine shriek and the running of feet. In a moment, Georgiana threw her arms around his neck, and he lifted her feet off the ground, spinning in a circle.
“Fitzwilliam! You did not say you were coming home!”
He set his sister down. “I have something to tell you. Let me wash off all the dust, and then I shall meet you in the drawing room.”
“Very well.” Georgiana pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I have a new piece to play for you.”
“I can hardly wait to hear it.” Darcy looped her arm through his, and they walked together up the stairs. Soon, they parted. Georgiana returned to the drawing room, while Darcy continued on to his chamber.
His valet made quick work of the requisite bathing and changing. In about an hour, Darcy was seated and listened as his sister played her newest sonata. He chatted with Georgiana’s companion to hear a fuller report of what his sister had been doing while he had been in Netherfield. Or rather more importantly, how she had been doing.
“She continues to improve,” Mrs. Annesley said. “The summer experience did wound her, but she is nearly recovered and quite a bit wiser for it.”
“I am glad,” Darcy said. “I am sure you did much to help her spirits.”
“Thank you. It is perhaps unwise for me to say this, I should be more concerned about the security of my employment. However, I would say Miss Darcy needed a feminine touch. She has never been short of love, but she has never had a woman to guide her.”
“I agree with your assessment entirely. I believe I will soon be rectifying that.”
“Am I to wish you joy, sir?”
“Yes,” Darcy confirmed. “However, I must tell my sister first. Might you give us privacy when she is finished with this song? We can confer about the particulars later. Rest assured that it would not mean the end to your employment.”
Mrs. Annesley’s eyes twinkled, but her face remained neutral. “I can hardly say how happy I am for you—you and Miss Darcy both.”
“I am as well,” Darcy grinned.
Georgiana’s song had come to an end, and he clapped and cheered his praise. “Bravo! Belissimo!”
Curtseying, Georgiana smiled. She left the instrument and came to her brother’s side. Mrs. Annesley complimented her charge before excusing herself.
“Now, what is your news?” Georgiana asked once seated next to her brother. “Tell me quick, for the instrument has missed its master.”
Darcy chuckled. He had been an awful student in his youth, and now Georgiana delighted in torturing him by attempts at lessons. It was fortunate they did not have animals around that could screech in unison as he stupidly poked at the keys.
Taking a deep breath, he gathered one of his sister’s hands in his. “I know how lonely you have been since leaving school. However, in a few weeks, I believe that will be banished forever from our homes.”
Georgiana’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I am marrying a delightful young woman whom I met in Hertfordshire. Her name is Elizabeth Bennet. She has four sisters, and I know she will love you as I do.”
His sister’s jaw dropped, and she blinked rapidly. “I—I do not understand. You are taking a woman you barely know as a wife all so I will not be lonely? I have Mrs. Annesley!”
Frowning, Darcy paused before answering. He had not expected Georgiana’s reaction. “Is there someone else you prefer for me?”
She had answered too quickly. Darcy sighed. “Dearest, I will tell you as I have told our aunts and uncles. I am uninterested in matchmaking. I had always meant to find my own wife, and, at last, I have found her.”
“Do not make it sound as though you have been searching for a wife for years. We both know this was a sudden decision based solely on my folly last summer.” Georgiana crossed her arms over her chest.
“My decision to find a wife this season is not based on the events which your reference at all. I felt it was time I found a wife. Your experience with that scoundrel has only served to illuminate to me what kind of woman would best guide you to adulthood.”
“And no woman of our acquaintance could fit that need? Caroline—”
Darcy held up a hand. “Miss Bingley is my dear friend’s sister, and I know she has been a companion to you. However, she is not the sort that you need to learn from.”
“Indeed? Well, she would never attempt to elope with the steward’s son. I had thought I would do well to emulate her.”
Pulling his sister to his side, Darcy draped an arm across her shoulder and hugged her. “You need a sister that can help you gain the confidence to be yourself. Elizabeth does not worry about all the gossips and what Society has to say.”
Georgiana was silent for a moment. “I recall that name now. She stayed at Netherfield, did she not? It seemed like you did not approve of her situation in life.”
Darcy released his sister, blushing a little and scratching the back of his head. “Perhaps I protested a bit too vehemently.”
His sister grinned. “Very well. I shall love her as you do.”
The dinner gong rang, and Georgiana rose from her seat. Darcy, however, froze in shock. He had not considered that his sister and others might speculate that his marriage to Elizabeth was a love match. Did he not just explain to Georgiana the reasons for his engagement?
His sister paused at the door and looked expectantly at him. As he finally stood and walked to her side, Darcy considered that he had never cared for the idle opinion of others. It would do them no harm for people to suppose they loved one another. He already admired and respected her and believed, in time, they would grow to be genuinely fond of one another. If the world believed that to be love all because she had hardly a pound to her name and was not of his circle, then he really did not care.
The next morning, Darcy rode to Doctor Commons’ and applied for a special license. As Elizabeth’s father was deathly ill, proven by his own testament and that of the surgeon, Darcy was assured it would be ready the following day. Returning to his home, he attended to his letters of business while Georgiana went about her daily routine until an unexpected knock disrupted him.
Unease filled him when the butler announced, “The Earl of ___, sir.”
Darcy glanced up at his uncle and prayed for patience. Offering the man a seat and a drink, he readied himself for battle.
“You have finally done it! I know Catherine has been after you for ages, but—”
Word travelled quickly in Town. As soon as his uncle was announced, Darcy knew it would be about the fact that he had been seen applying for a marriage license. “I am not marrying Anne.”
“You are not?”
Taking great joy in flummoxing his uncle, Darcy offered no additional information, at first.
“To be sure, you could do better than her. However, you are not courting anyone. Who is the lady, then?”
“Her name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Her father has a small estate in Hertfordshire, near Meryton.”
“I have never heard of Meryton. No, I cannot allow you to do this to the family, son.”
“You are not the head of the Darcy family, and I have no duty or obligation to you.”
“A man of your stature and connection in life to be wed to some unknown country miss! How has she seduced you when you have avoided entanglements thus far? Pay her off—Fairfax knows a good solicitor—”
“I am uninterested in the assistance of your wayward heir. Miss Bennet has not seduced me, and I will not countenance any talk against her. I have made my decision and will not change it.”
“You will ruin us!”
“I hardly see how marrying a woman you did not expect will ruin the family.” Darcy took a sip of his port. He did not usually indulge in the middle of the day, but his uncle grated his nerves.
“Her family will be after your connection to me. They will constantly hound you for money.”
“I do not know that she even knows of our relationship.”
“So, she is a simpleton too, then?”
Darcy sighed. “Sir, I have told you about speaking ill of my betrothed. She is likely unaware of our relationship because she cares little for the trappings of London Society. It is one of the things I admire most about her. As to your assumption that they will bleed me dry, you and I both know that I have far too much money for that to ever happen—which is why you are so interested in my affairs. If they attempt to garner favours from you, you may simply say no.”
The earl frowned before downing his drink. “This requires strategy then. We cannot have her embarrass the family. Matilda will—”
“My aunt shall do nothing. If Elizabeth enjoys my aunt’s company and desires a relationship with her, then that is one thing. However, the countess is not to meddle in my marriage and attempt to shape my wife after her. If that does not suit your hopes, then that is entirely on you.”
Darcy met his uncle’s eyes, unwilling to back down. The battle for control was not a new one between them, but Darcy had always prevailed and, when it came to his household, always meant to. Something about announcing his intentions to his family and arguing her case before others filled him with satisfaction. How had he struggled over courting her for so many weeks? If he had found a lady like her at a London ball, he would have been speaking with her father after their third encounter.
“I will not be moved,” Darcy said with finality.
After a few more minutes of locked eyes and disgruntled sounds, Darcy’s uncle stood. “I can see you are determined to be stupid. Do not complain to me when you regret it.”
Darcy made no acknowledgment of his statement. He allowed the earl to see himself out, merely shaking his head when the front door slammed a moment later.
Staring down at his correspondence, Darcy smiled a little to himself before murmuring, “I will never regret choosing you, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth looked out the library window and sighed. If everything went as planned in London, Darcy would have the license in hand and arriving at Netherfield this afternoon. She did not expect him to call on Longbourn immediately. That would be far too lover-like for their business arrangement. Still, one could not blame a lady for desiring to see her betrothed.
In truth, Elizabeth had been plagued with worry. What if Darcy thought better of his proposal once he reached Town? What if his family talked sense into him? Mr. Bennet weakened by the hour. Breathing was a laborious process, and he could consume only water and broth. He slept much of the day. Elizabeth fought to keep him from over-exerting himself when he was awake. It seemed to her, he attempted to put an entire lifetime’s worth of interest into his final days. He spent his precious breath instructing Elizabeth and Jane on how to see to their mother and sisters. He dictated several letters to Mr. Darcy, including his thoughts about how best to care for his family.
Despite her father’s state of near-constant sleep, Elizabeth could not rest. The unbearable agony of waiting for the terrible inevitableness plagued her mind day and night. Last night, she was nearly asleep when her mother entered the room. Mrs. Bennet hovered over Mr. Bennet’s bedside for a moment, watching his unsteady breaths before raising his hand to her lips.
Elizabeth watched in silence as tears streaked down her mother’s cheeks, and she stroked her husband’s forehead, brushing aside the hair that had fallen over it. Mr. Bennet nuzzled into the touch, his breathing calmer.
“Fanny.” He said on a quiet exhale, seemingly still asleep.
“Do not leave me, Thomas. I cannot bear it.” Mrs. Bennet whispered into the night.
Elizabeth expected her mother to launch into one of her usual series of complaints on being left alone with so many daughters. Typically, she then expounded on the horror of expulsion from her home.
Instead, she leant down and pressed a kiss to his lips. “I have always loved you.”
Through one half-open eye, Elizabeth saw her father raise a hand and cup his wife’s cheek. “And I you. Do not fear, my love. All will be well. I am sorry to leave you, though.”
Mrs. Bennet held a sob in check, and Mr. Bennet let out a deep breath resulting in a coughing fit that sprang Elizabeth into action. It took several minutes before he calmed. When it was all over, Elizabeth feared the worst, but he had survived another night. When, at last, Elizabeth had thought beyond her worry for her father, she turned to see her mother crying quietly in the corner of the room.
“What is it?” Elizabeth asked quietly.
Mrs. Bennet shook her head. “You were always such a good girl. I am sorry I did not see it enough. I know…I know I embarrassed you and I did not set the example for you that you thought I should have. I wish I had shown how in awe I am of you. You were always so strong and his darling favourite.”
Mrs. Bennet had never been a very affectionate mother toward Elizabeth, and even after such an unexpected speech, all she offered was a squeeze to Elizabeth’s hand. Still, the entire scene had stirred something in Elizabeth’s soul. She had misunderstood her parents. She could see now that while their love did not conform to her expectations, it was no less real. Even more so, her mother had always loved and valued her. The gift of seeing them such was almost worth the pain that would follow in a matter of days.
She stretched her back and rolled her shoulders. She had grown tense from her constant vigil. Lost in her thoughts, the sound of a carriage, brought her mind to the present. Surprise filled her upon seeing the Darcy crest. When her aunt descended, a small gasp escaped Elizabeth before she went dashing from the room. Her sisters, who had heard the carriage as well, joined her outside.
Elizabeth allowed the others to greet their aunt. When it was finally her turn, she held Mrs. Gardiner in a tight embrace. “I am so pleased you have come. I did not expect you yet.” Tears welled in her eyes.
“Your Mr. Darcy put the matter rather bluntly.”
“I hope you or my uncle have not been put out by him. I know he can be…commanding.”
“My dear, if all his commands are in your best interest as was his very civil request that we join him for your sake, then I should become his loyal servant.”
“For my sake?”
“Indeed! Honestly, if we put weight only on the words of your letter, we would not have known how serious matters were. It sounds as though Mr. Darcy is ready to help, but even if there was no anxiety or moving required at all, how could you think that we would not wish to be here to support you? We have always known that things regarding your parents’ demise would fall mostly to you.” Mrs. Gardiner paused. “Now, it looks as though your young man wants your company. Later, we will talk privately about how this engagement came to be and why you have been so sly and reported him as arrogant in your letters.”
Elizabeth nodded at her aunt’s words, and rather than greeting Darcy right away, she spoke with her aunt for a few moments. Finally, as the assembled group made their way inside, she addressed Darcy.
“Thank you for bringing them. I did not expect such kindness and admit it eases my heart considerably. You must have discovered by now that they are very genteel, and it will be a boon to you to have such sensibleness around when dealing with my family.”
“I have enjoyed the company of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner very much, but even if they were the silliest couple in the kingdom or lived on the edge of the Earth, I still would have brought them to you. I believe I thought only of you and your comfort.”
Elizabeth’s breath left her. She looked up at Darcy and found his intense gaze upon her.
“I have missed seeing you, Elizabeth.” He raised a hand to his lips. “You look in need of rest. Do you have the energy for a walk around the garden?”
Elizabeth looked at her watch. “I was about to bring my father some tea, but I would enjoy walking with you. I confess I have rarely stirred from the library since you left.”
“Allow me to sit with your father. Visit with your aunt and uncle, and after your father is finished, we shall have our walk.”
Elizabeth agreed, and Darcy continued to the library while she entered the drawing room.