Will Bingley cause trouble about Lydia? Will Elizabeth’s mocking of Lady Agatha blow up in her face?
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Darcy waited in Calverton’s exercise room. Elizabeth had told him about Bingley’s sighting of Lydia. Darcy hoped that Bingley would arrive before the appointed hour so they might have a moment of privacy. However, as usual, Bingley was the last to arrive.
Lady Calverton’s brothers were nearly as adept at the art of boxing as Calverton. The blacksmith had more brawn than the others but was also slower. Darcy mentally chided himself for his prejudices. While he did not bat an eye at the news of Lady Calverton’s relations, he was keenly aware that only a few months ago, he would have objected to being so intimate with them.
The fact was, ever since his aunt asked him to reform the Bluestocking Club, the whole world had been turned upside down for Darcy. Arrogance and conceit which he used to ignore or make allowances for were no longer excusable. At times, he feared the whole of London high society was rotten. The concern of how he could make any difference in the world and anxieties over all of its problems threatened to overwhelm. Then, he would remember about the Club and feel as though he could do some good. He was not the sort that could dabble in every concern. There were many in the fashionable set that donated to different charities. However, Darcy had noted that because they did so, they never put forth much effort to any specific project. As such, they made little difference. Darcy knew that if he focused on one area, he usually excelled at it. To this end, the upcoming Parliament season, even without the threat of Liverpool’s blackmail, unnerved him.
A punch landed at Darcy’s jaw. “Head in the match, Darcy,” John Fielding said.
Darcy shook his head and refocused his efforts on the occupation in front of him. It was a close match, John was younger and swifter than Darcy, but in the end, he prevailed. Darcy supposed that it was due to the hours of learning technique from a true master like Gentleman Jackson.
Finally, Bingley made his appearance.
“What kept you?” Calverton asked with a good-natured smile. “If you say your bed was too pleasant to arise from, then my mother will be well-pleased.”
Bingley chuckled. “I have no complaints about my bed, but that was not the cause. Your sister has set her cap at me!”
“Ah, I thought I saw that last night. Well, whatever you do, do not marry the ninny. She would make you miserable. I would not wish her on my worst enemy.”
“I am surprised to hear you say such,” Bingley said as he wrapped his hands.
“Why should I not be truthful just because she is my sister?”
Darcy watched the scene with interest. There had been a time when Bingley had all but said those exact word to Darcy. “Do you not think she would be a good match for Bingley in the material sense?” Darcy asked.
“Well, if Bingley were the sort to only care about her dowry and connections, then I suppose she would do quite nicely. However, that is rather like buying her in my opinion and marriage should be based on more. Their temperaments do not suit.” Calverton motioned to Darcy and Bingley. “You two pair up. John, do you think you can take me this time?”
“You are going down today, old man,” John said with a laugh.
Darcy and Bingley looked warily at one another. Bingley had pushed Caroline on Darcy for selfish motives. However, Darcy had not truly considered Bingley’s feelings when he separated him from Jane or when he had promoted a match with Georgiana.
“I am sorry,” they spoke simultaneously.
“Pardon me,” Darcy said. “Go ahead.”
Bingley looked more nervous than Darcy had ever seen him. “I apologise for the way we parted. I was wrong to thrust Caroline on you.” He glanced around. “It is strange for us to be talking and not fighting. Shall we?”
Although hesitant at first, the two soon grew more confident with their swings. Darcy did not worry about leaving marks on anyone else, why should he worry about bruising Bingley?
“What about Georgiana?” Darcy said with a jab that landed in Bingley’s gut.
Bingley groaned. “That too. I was confused. I wanted to do the right thing, be the right sort of man.” He swung, and narrowly missed contact with Darcy’s jaw.
“I can understand that sort of confusion. I can even understand refusing to accept your flaws and failures when they are first pointed out to you.” Darcy jerked to the left to avoid Bingley’s fist but it made contact with his ribs anyway. “Oof. I did think you were the ideal candidate for Georgie.”
Bingley landed another blow, this time at Darcy’s jaw. “I also acted selfishly regarding you and Jane. I justified it to myself as thinking of you, but I was terrified of a greater connection to the Bennets.” Darcy’s fist collided with Bingley’s ear.
Bingley shook himself as though his head was spinning. “We were both hypocrites and selfish. I finally understand how loathsome it must have been to have Caroline chase you all those years. I have only had to endure Lady Agatha for less than a day! Why did you ever put up with her?”
“Because she was your sister.” Darcy connected with the same spot on Bingley’s belly that he had struck before. “You were like a brother to me, and I will endure much for the people I love.” Darcy jabbed again.
“And does that have anything to do with why Lydia Bennet is pretending to be a servant?” Bingley panted and clutched his side.
“Will you expose her?”
“I would never do anything to harm Jane.”
“I know, I know.” He held up his hands. “I will love her from afar and hope to be of service to her in anyway that I can. I will not add adulterer to my list of sins.”
Recovered, he stepped toward Darcy and attempted an uppercut. Darcy neatly avoided it.
“What is going on, Darcy? How can I help?”
Darcy glanced at the others. They were still quite occupied. He enjoyed the exercise and release which boxing afforded, but at the moment, he would rather talk than fight. “Come, we need privacy.”
After removing their gloves and putting their garments back on, the two men secluded themselves in Calverton’s study. Darcy explained Lydia’s situation and Liverpool’s blackmail.
Bingley growled. “I do not like this Dorset.”
“Of course, you do not,” Darcy said with a raised brow. “He won Jane.”
“No, it is more than that. If I saw that she was happy and well taken care of, then I could bear it. However, you see what she will have to endure! He ought to think more about her happiness.”
Darcy sighed. “It is a difficult situation and Jane has told Elizabeth she has chosen this path. Now, did you say anything to anyone who witnessed your interaction with Lydia?”
“The butler asked why I had reacted so strangely and I merely said that she looked like an old acquaintance of mine. It was all I could think to say at the moment.”
“That sounds vague enough. I have no doubt they will spin tales, but you did not explain how you knew her.”
“Will you allow me to have a word with Miss Darcy? I believe I must apologise for my actions last spring. I can see she is uncomfortable around me.”
“As long as Mary or Elizabeth are within viewing distance, I have no objections.”
“Then, if you will excuse me.” Bingley stood. “I do not know if we can ever have the friendship we once had. I know that I betrayed your trust, but I will always regret it and am endeavouring to do better.”
Darcy nodded. “I broke your trust as well. I say we take it one day at a time. If our loyalties are tested again, it will prove if we have learned our lessons.”
Bingley smiled a little at that piece of encouragement before departing. Darcy settled in at the desk to review Calverton’s accounts as requested.
Elizabeth sat on a bench with a book while Bingley and Georgiana slowly walked along the garden path. Bingley had explained he had Darcy’s approval to speak with Georgiana as long as there was a chaperone. As Mary had gone on a walk with the other ladies, she was unavailable. Although Elizabeth was skeptical about why Bingley would need to speak with Georgiana privately, she trusted her husband’s judgment. She had no fear of Georgiana’s reputation, but it would be better to avoid gossip.
The conversation was brief and a few moments later, Georgiana approached Elizabeth looking more relaxed than she had since they arrived at Calverton Hall.
“It seems as though it was a pleasant discussion,” Elizabeth said.
“It was. He apologised for his lame attempt at courtship earlier in the year. It is a relief for me, as I admit to feeling as though I had misjudged his character as I did with you-know-who.” Wickham’s name was never to be mentioned in the household. “I would like to find Mary now. Do you wish to join me?”
“I think I will continue with my reading. Thank you, though.”
Georgiana wandered off and Elizabeth watched as Bingley stared off into the distance. She supposed he was a man with many regrets. Finally, he turned to leave, just as Jane appeared on the path. Both coloured and faltered in their steps. Jane smiled first, propelling Bingley into motion.
Elizabeth could not make out their words, but they appeared to be more at ease with one another than when they first arrived.
“Mr. Bingley!” The shrill voice of Lady Agatha broke the calm of the garden. “Oh, there you are!” She stormed toward him at an unladylike pace. “Excuse me, Mrs. Sackville,” she said to Jane, “but Mr. Bingley was to escort me through the garden.”
Jane and Bingley both visibly stiffened at the obvious insult to Jane. “I have made no such promise and I daresay you ought to address Her Grace appropriately,” Bingley said.
Lady Agatha lifted her chin. “Pardon me, Duchess, but I believe your husband must be wanting you and you ought to leave the single gentlemen alone.” She latched onto Bingley’s arm.
Elizabeth stood to her feet. Before she could reach them, Bingley had pried Lady Agatha’s hand off his arm. “Lady Agatha, I do not know why you have set your sights on me, but it will not work. My heart is already taken.”
Calverton’s sister recoiled as though slapped. Her eyes darted between Bingley and Jane, then her brows rose to her hairline. “Yes, I see!” Then she ran away wailing of being poorly treated by vulgar people of inferior rank.
Approaching, Elizabeth blew out a breath, cursing herself and her desire for amusement at Agatha’s expense.
“Do you think that will cause any trouble?” Bingley asked.
“It is hard to say. Her heart was not broken, only her pride. I daresay she will recover soon enough,” Elizabeth said with a nervous glance at Jane. She had tears in her eyes.
Bingley stirred beside her, but Elizabeth shot him a quelling look. He sighed. “Pardon me, I think I must go see Calverton and make my plans to leave. If I do not see you again before I depart, allow me to say how good it was to see you both again and I wish you every happiness.” He bowed civilly to Elizabeth but took Jane’s hand in his and nearly brought it to his lips.
When he left, Jane stared after him, only then allowing a tear to trickle down her cheek. She dashed it away. “Let us go find our sisters.”
She marched off with determination and Elizabeth followed after her. In a matter of minutes, they found Mary and Georgiana walking with Sarah Calverton and her sisters-in-law. Elizabeth pulled Sarah aside and explained the scene between Lady Agatha and Bingley.
“Oh dear,” Sarah said. “I fear my first house party has been quite the failure.”
“I am afraid I am to blame. Lady Agatha asked for my assistance in ensnaring a husband and I put it in her mind to chase after Bingley certain it would be a fruitless endeavour.”
Sarah laughed. “I do not care about that. Agatha got her just desserts if you ask me! Maybe, she will learn from this misadventure. I am only sorry that my guests—meaning you and your family—are having such an unhappy time.”
“It is not your fault. We are all so consumed with this plot and keeping up appearances. Maybe we should not have come.”
“Do not say that! I had planned on a journey to Chetham’s Library tomorrow and later in the week we could visit some of the old houses in the area—perhaps Ordsall Hall. I do know how much you love a great hall and timberframing.”
Elizabeth’s eyes rounded with interest, before she smoothed her features and affected a great sigh. “I suppose I shall just have to content myself with such activities. However, it shall be a trial.”
Sarah laughed. “Oh, yes. Finding a way to amuse oneself while on a holiday and with all one’s favourite interests at hand often is a hardship.”
Elizabeth and Sarah continued to laugh and joke and managed now and then to bring the other ladies into their amusement. However, Elizabeth noticed Jane appeared more pensive than before. Bingley was gone before dinner, and while Lady Agatha and her mother stared daggers at Elizabeth, neither one reproached her. By the end of the evening, Elizabeth was sorely looking forward to returning to Pemberley, despite her words to Sarah. She wondered, too, how she would endure the upcoming Season if she could not endure a house party at her friend’s house.