I apologize for the long hiatus on posting this second edition. The truth is, I’ve been in a bit of medical limbo again and have also been battling some pretty extreme depression from it. I had a good day with enough time and mind space to get this chapter ready for posting. I hope to keep at it once a week, but can’t make any promises.
Darcy awoke early his first morning in Hertfordshire and found himself the first in the breakfast room. He hoped Georgiana would enter soon so they might go on a walk. But unfortunately, they had not had a private moment together the night before and formed no definite plans.
Additionally, Darcy knew Caroline Bingley would try to invite herself or create a deterrent for his plans if she knew of them. Last night, when not flattering him or Georgiana, she disparaged the Bennet family. Miss Bingley described the younger sisters’ unfortunate behavior, the mother’s vulgarity, and the poor connections — including the Gardiners whom Darcy had already met and not found wanting. She claimed to hold the eldest Miss Bennet as a friend, but Darcy knew the insincerity of Miss Bingley’s affections. She never missed a moment to laugh at or belittle her friends in town.
When Caroline began censoring Elizabeth, he recognised that her opinions of Elizabeth proved false, and so too must her report of the other Bennets. Until established otherwise upon meeting the family, Darcy considered them harmless. Just as Darcy considered leaving alone for his exercise, not caring to question his reasons, Bingley entered the breakfast room.
“Good morning, Darcy. I hope you do not have plans this morning. I thought you and Miss Darcy should like to call upon the Bennets with me.”
Darcy attempted to hide his smile with his coffee cup. “Very well, Bingley. I am sure Georgiana would like the scheme. She was disappointed to not meet the other Bennet ladies yesterday.”
“Darcy,” Bingley began but paused, clearly trying to find the best words. “I know Caroline has said much of the Bennet family, but you have already met Miss Elizabeth, so you must know how wrong my sister is. She does not allow for the differences between town and country or of temper and disposition. I know you are uncomfortable in society, dislike displays of the ridiculous, and generally do not care if others find you arrogant, but….”
“Say no more, Bingley.” Darcy held up a hand to save his friend further awkwardness. “I perfectly understand.”
“You do? You are not offended at what I have said?”
Darcy shook his head and lightly chuckled. “I have recently been persuaded to practice conversation with strangers.”
“Well, that is….” Bingley trailed off, seemingly uncomfortable with the notion of Darcy admitting to any sort of weakness or deficiency.
“Shall we depart in two hours then?” The conversation then turned to how Bingley found the estate and the country.
Mr. Bingley and the Darcys arrived at Longbourn promptly despite a momentary delay from Miss Bingley. Mrs. Annesley stayed behind to rest after so much travel in such a short time. Bingley’s resolve to leave surprised Darcy as his friend typically fell prey to his sister’s manipulations. Darcy surmised Bingley must have found an ‘angel’ in residence at Longbourn to provide the motivation.
Nary a second after the introductions, Mrs. Bennet began shrieking. “Oh, you do us a great honour Mr. Darcy in bringing Lizzy home. I see the rumours of your wealth must be true. What a fine carriage!”
Before Darcy could think of how to respond, she turned to his sister. “And Miss Darcy, the silk of your gown!”
Five years in London society had taught Darcy to quickly see the mercenary glint in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes. He internally cringed for a moment before catching her following words.
“Yes, Miss Darcy, you will find my Lydia is lively company. She is quite the favourite among her sisters. With only a much older brother, you must be in want of a sister.”
Is Mrs. Bennet trying to match me with that—that child —laughing too loudly in the corner?
Mrs. Bennet continued speaking to Georgiana. “You enjoy the pianoforte, do you? Lydia does not favour practicing;. If she did, she would be a true proficient. That is why she is favoured at all the balls—she is greatly skilled in dancing and rehearses constantly.”
Darcy could hardly contain his smile when he heard words alarmingly similar to his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s. He realised Mrs. Bennet was indeed no worse than his own embarrassing family. His disgust turned to amusement just as Mr. Bennet, who had witnessed the transformation, walked into the room.
After his introduction, the older gentleman began, “Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, it is a pleasure to finally meet you, sir. Of course, I have heard of your debating skills, but I can clearly see you share my amusement at the follies of others.”
Darcy finally let his laughter break free at such a picture of himself. Instantly, he realised he should learn Mr. Bennet’s ability to manage the situation of boisterous Bennet women. So he stepped forward with an outstretched hand to greet the family patriarch.
“Mr. Bennet, a pleasure to meet you, sir! I gather you are a studier of character like your daughter, then.”
“I see you have survived your time with Elizabeth. May I presume she engaged you in battle, sir?”
“Yes, I must give my compliments to you for teaching her so well!” Darcy glanced in Elizabeth’s direction, and judging by her blush, she overheard his praise.
“Lizzy has a quicker wit than my other daughters, you shall find. I wish I could take all the credit, but she naturally desires to learn.”
Before Darcy could reply, he was interrupted by Mrs. Bennet. “The others are just as clever as Lizzy. It is only that Lydia does not go on and tease others, and Jane never says anything unpleasant, of course.”
Mr. Bennet said nothing, merely meeting Darcy’s eyes with lifted brows. They all sat, and after a short silence, Mrs. Bennet began again. “The weather is so warm for October, and Mr. and Miss Darcy have not seen the grounds. Lydia, I am sure they would delight in the wilderness.”
Casting another glance about the room, she added, “Perhaps Mr. Bingley and Jane could be persuaded to join you.”
“Mama,” said Lydia, “I wanted to walk to town to see if Mr. Denny has returned in time for the Assembly. But, Miss Darcy, you should come with me, for we always meet with officers and have a merry time!”
Darcy’s head snapped to attention at her words, but Elizabeth spoke before he could utter his dislike at the plan.
“I am sure Miss Darcy is tired from her travels yesterday. I would happily escort her and Mr. Darcy in the garden while you and Kitty walk to town.”
Once outside, Elizabeth faced her new friends. “Georgiana and Mr. Darcy, I apologise for my family. Unfortunately, I failed to warn you of my mother yesterday. I had hoped she would have been more distracted by,” she glanced at Jane and Mr. Bingley conversing ahead of them, “other matters.
“It does not excuse her behaviour, but our estate is entailed upon a cousin. His father was very mean-spirited, and she fears the son could carry the same grudge against my father. At any rate, with no son, she is unusually anxious about our future and tenacious about matchmaking where her daughters are concerned. But, pray, take no heed to her. She is discouraged easily enough.”
Darcy looked at her earnestly and sought to ease her discomfort. “We all have peculiar relatives, Miss Elizabeth. Neither her concerns nor her actions are particularly unique or offensive.”
“You are too kind, sir.”
Georgiana suddenly spoke up. “A girl at school had a mother who made her eldest daughter compromise a gentleman so they would have to marry. He was a peer, and the mother wanted her daughter to be a countess.”
“My goodness!” Elizabeth threw a hand to her heart. “Mama would never stoop to that — and neither would her daughters.”
“No wonder you had no friends at that school, Georgie,” Darcy said. “I am sorry you even understand anything along those lines and had to know such girls at all.”
The threesome walked in silence for a moment until Mr. Bingley called Darcy’s attention ahead.
Georgiana seized upon the privacy. She turned to Elizabeth and asked, “Lizzy, have you ever been in love?”
The question startled Elizabeth, but she realized Georgiana likely had no other young ladies to speak to on the subjects. So she answered with sisterly affection. “No, Georgiana, I have not. I have admired a few gentlemen but never experienced the lasting sensation of love.”
“How can you say for sure you did not?”
“Well, I realized my feelings were based upon the excitement of attention. Unfortunately, the gentlemen did not inspire deeper feelings, and they were found wanting upon reflection of their characters.
“The best kind of love grows from a steady friendship, supported by respect and esteem. One should feel safe and cherished in a unique way not experienced in other relationships. Does that make sense?”
“I think so. And how are you sure love is returned?”
“These are things I have not truly experienced, but I have noticed love is selfless. A person in love will be attuned to their beloved’s desires. What would be a sacrifice for themselves will give them delight if it pleases their beloved.”
“I see. Thank you, Lizzy.” Georgiana squeezed her friend’s hand. “You have truly never been in love? You are too beautiful!”
Elizabeth laughed. “You really must stop saying so, for you are feeding my vanity. Now, I will answer your question. Truly, I have never been in love before. Besides, my appearance has nothing to do with if I have been in love, and it certainly has done nothing to inspire love in others. Any attraction gentlemen have felt for me dies when they see Jane or even before if I speak too freely.”
Georgiana gaped and shook her head. “How can you not see how beautiful and wonderful you are?”
“I am not afflicted with false modesty when I say you shall see I pale in comparison to Jane. My temperament is not as sweet as hers nor as lively as Lydia’s.
“You will easily see I am meant to be the spinster friend to all the gentlemen of Hertfordshire; all the more for them to become closer to Jane. For all her faults, my mother is quite correct in her assessment of my marital prospects, even if she lacks tact in how it is presented.”
Elizabeth turned the subject back towards Georgiana, trying not to display her sadness at feeling so unaccepted, “Why do you ask all these questions?”
“I thought I had been in love and believed he loved me, but then I later learned he most decidedly did not love me. But I see from your examples I was never truly in love either. I have wanted to ask someone, so I could be sure the next time.”
“Yes, this is a subject that one would want to ask a lady and not a brother one looks to almost as a father.”
“Exactly. Although, I believe he is gaining experience in matters of the heart.”
They had turned just then and espied Mr. Darcy waiting for them, so no reply could be made. It was just as well, for Elizabeth found it difficult to account for the sinking in her heart she felt at Georgiana’s last words.
It is a wonder a man as handsome, wealthy, intelligent, and kind as he is still unattached in the first place. Yes, some great lady has rightly earned his admiration. I knew it must be so, and I have no right to repine. I am not the sort of woman he would want.
Unfortunately, Bingley soon announced that the carriage was ready. Elizabeth gave a subdued farewell to Georgiana and her brother.
In Meryton, Kitty and Lydia were just giving up the purpose of their travels when Mr. Denny stepped out of a shop with an officer they had not met before. The man was more handsome than any they had ever seen. Lydia made headlong for them.
“No, we do not have time,” Kitty called after her younger sister. “Mama wants you to have enough time to dress to impress Mr. Darcy tonight. She thinks Miss Darcy was quite taken with you and would welcome you as a sister. Although, I think they both prefer Lizzy.”
“La! Why would I want a dull man like Mr. Darcy?” Lydia grabbed Kitty by the hand and launched her the last few feet to the gentlemen. “Mr. Denny! We had come into town just to inquire after you!”
“As you see, Miss Lydia, I have returned in time to claim a set with you this evening!”
He spoke to Lydia, but her attention was already captured by his friend. “Of course! What fun we shall have! And who is your friend?” Lydia fluttered her eyelashes coquettishly.
“Allow me to introduce Lieutenant George Wickham. Wickham, these fine ladies are Miss Catherine Bennet and Miss Lydia Bennet.”
George Wickham turned his most charming smile upon the young ladies. He had overheard their conversation and believed Hertfordshire would prove a most fruitful endeavour.
The Assembly started pleasant enough. However, it was not to last. Upon the Netherfield party’s arrival, Mrs. Bennet had alternately insulted Mr. Darcy for not bringing Georgiana and then sickeningly flattered him and tried to bring Lydia to his notice once more. He briefly greeted them and then all but ran towards a corner to speak with some gentlemen.
As the evening wore on, Elizabeth saw his disapproval whenever he glanced at her. Lydia and Kitty flirted loudly and outrageously. Clearly, any respect he felt for her was sinking; everything must sink under such a proof of family weakness. She could neither wonder nor condemn. She now feared her dance with him.
Elizabeth surreptitiously watched Mr. Darcy. He did not dance the early dances and instead chose to acquaint himself with some local gentlemen. As he conversed with others, he often looked her way, especially when she had a partner. While he had secured her hand for a set, he also did not ask any other lady for a dance. Elizabeth had no hope that he wished to dance with her for any romantic intentions, but it bordered on rude to dance with no one else. He must disapprove of the entire area, not just the Bennets.
Lost in these unhappy thoughts, Lydia and an unknown gentleman came upon her.
“Lizzy! You have not met Mr. Wickham yet! He recently joined the Militia. Isn’t he just dashing in a red coat?” Lydia giggled.
“I am pleased to meet you, Miss Elizabeth. Could I have the honour of your next available set?”
Elizabeth politely acquiesced, allowing him her only open set, which happened to be next.
Once dancing, Wickham proved a charming partner. He deftly transitioned the conversation from the town and weather to the subject of the area’s new residents. “Your sisters tell me you are newly acquainted with Mr. Darcy of Pemberley.”
“Yes, sir. We met in town just before he intended to travel here to visit his friend. Do you know him?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied when the steps of the dance allowed. We grew up on the same estate. My father was his father’s steward, and we were the closest companions in our youth. I was a favourite of his father. However, the current Mr. Darcy and I have drifted apart after he took over his estate and I completed university.”
“How fortunate to meet again, then.” Something about Mr. Wickham’s manners made Elizabeth feel uneasy. They seemed too well-rehearsed to be genuine.
“I am unsure if he would count it as fortunate,” Wickham’s face took on a visage of sorrow. “When last we met, we had a terrible disagreement.”
“Sir, I wonder—”
“Forgive me, I know I must sound forward, but the disagreement was of a nature that I cannot help but worry for any young lady who makes his acquaintance.”
Elizabeth gasped at his words, “Surely not, sir. He is very gentleman-like.” Mr. Darcy, a rake?
“He can please where he chooses. I do not mean to imply anything too sinister. But you see, he is engaged to marry his cousin. Our last disagreement was due to him desiring to break apart a lady’s engagement to keep her affections for himself. I would not wish to see yours or your sisters’ affections trifled with when he can have no honourable intentions as he is destined for another.”
Elizabeth moved through the remaining paces of the dance in a daze. Then, seeking to settle herself, she made her way to the punch table only to be accosted by Miss Bingley.
“Miss Eliza! So nice to see you after your banishment to London! I hear you have already met Mr. Darcy and his sister and even had the audacity to importune on them for a ride to Longbourn.” Miss Bingley’s lips pulled back into a sneer. “While I am sure those sorts of plots work well on the men of the country, you must see Mr. Darcy will not be deceived by your charms.
“He needs a woman of class and breeding with beauty and wealth. Really, Eliza, you would do better to try to gain the attention of one of these officers. Just follow your sisters. They quite excel in the art.”
Before Elizabeth could reply, the lady fled with a great rustling of garish skirts. Elizabeth determined that the revelations of the evening should not disturb her. She had always known she could never attract any worthy man and never once assumed Mr. Darcy would think of her. However, the pounding in her head could not be ignored. Now feeling truly ill, she begged her mother to call the carriage. Accompanied by her sister Mary, she slipped out of the assembly hall. She longed for solitude and her bed.