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Glaring at the missive in his hands, Charles Bingley crumpled it. An important business meeting was called for the following Wednesday, the day after the ball, and he could not miss it. His annoyance came from the dislike of having anything to think about in the hours between now and the ball. It was critical that the evening went as planned, for he hoped to make Jane Bennet an offer of marriage.
Now instead of anticipating such a joyous event, he had to consider this appointment in London. Bingley pored over his previous correspondence and notes for hours before coming to the conclusion that he must ask for Darcy’s assistance. Yet Darcy was still abed, having retired early the previous evening, and Bingley suspected he was coming down with the same cold as the ladies of the house.
Just then, Bingley heard a step outside the door. Only Darcy would come down this wing to the library. Leaving his study, he quickly found his old friend.
“Darcy, are you well?”
Darcy stood staring blankly at a chair. Bingley walked up and touched him gently on the shoulder. The man startled and jerked his head.
“Just like you to frighten me, Bingley!”
“I called to you when I entered the room.”
Darcy’s eyes again returned to the chair.
“I do not believe you are well. You should return to your room. My sister would never forgive me if you caught your death from a cold. She has such big plans for you.”
Darcy quickly turned to Bingley then stumbled and touched his head.
“Now I have done it. You had better sit.” Bingley guided Darcy to the settee across from the inexplicably fascinating chair. “I shall call Mrs. Parker to attend you.”
“No, I am well. The fever has broken.”
“You are far from well. How Caroline will recover from the heartache of hosting a ball and not dancing with you, I know not.”
“I have no plans to take a wife.”
Bingley looked at his friend in confusion. It was a strange wording, even if he only meant he would never marry Caroline, which they both well understood. Believing it simply a matter of illness, he did not address it. “I am glad to speak with you before the ball. I have had an express from my uncle. I will need to leave for London on Wednesday morning.”
“You should have no plans to take a wife either!” Darcy said rather forcefully.
Bingley sat back, prepared to do battle. “My wealth may only be half of your reported income, but it is quite sufficient.”
“Yes, but your children may not find it quite enough if you marry a woman with no standing or income.”
Bingley shook his head. “I have heard all your arguments before. Spare me. I will act how my conscience dictates.”
“You are blinded by love,” he said with disdain.
“I am not like you. I wish to marry for love and be loved in return.”
Darcy pinched the bridge of his nose before meeting his eyes. He looked more cognizant than he had a few minutes before. “That is exactly your problem. There is no way to know for certain a woman loves you, with all the money you have. Consider the pain you will feel when you discover it was all a lie.”
Bingley could find no reply. There was much he did not know of his friend’s past; much he did not understand. Darcy had always been wary of sentimental attachments. Bingley knew Darcy’s parents had an arranged marriage, and yet the marriage was not bad. If it were, then it would hardly make sense that Darcy should wish to marry in a similar fashion. Yet he had never been so vehement in his opinion before; worse still, Bingley had to face the reality that he could offer no argument. He did not know for certain that Jane loved him.
Darcy checked his watch and then stood before breaking the silence. “Assuming you are not leaving to meet with the solicitor for marriage articles to Jane Bennet, what business do you have in town?”
“My uncle is concerned about the continued riots in Nottingham.”
Darcy frowned. “I thought those riots were about pay. There can be no concern with our mills.”
Bingley shook his head. “I am inclined to agree with you, but my uncle still worries. They might be angry that we hire outside the guilds.”
“Lacemaking is quite different from hose knitting. Apprentices are not necessary. Besides with the war…” He trailed off rather than tell Bingley what he already knew. Darcy looked at the clock. “It is nearly time for dinner. I must dress, but I would be happy to ride to London with you. If you will recall, before you requested my assistance at this ball, my intent was to leave this week.”
Bingley winced. “I actually was going to ask if you would stay on while I am away. I do not think my sisters and brother will remain otherwise.”
Darcy cocked his head to one side as though in thought. He admitted, “London does have more diversions, even at this time of year.”
“Please, Darcy. What would it look like if the whole party left the area directly after the ball?”
“Very well, but I wish to see my sister before next week is out.”
“You are welcome to return any time, and my sisters would be delighted to host Miss Darcy.”
“Yes, I am sure,” Darcy said with a rueful smile before leaving.
Bingley sat and exhaled. Could he really be so uncertain of Jane’s feelings for him? He had not considered before that her attachment did not equal his own. Nor could he consider how to address the issue with the lady in question. He knew her to be too kind to intentionally trifle with his feelings, too sweet to use subterfuge. If he asked, she would answer. Amiable as he was, his stomach turned at the thought of suffering a rejection, not of his hand but of his offer of love. As his sisters were sick, he had not visited her in person to give the invitation to the ball as he had wished. Thus, he had no opportunity to secure sets with her. If she saved a space for him on her card, he would take it as clear encouragement. However, the thought did not sit well with him, and anxiety continued.
Darcy did not attend dinner. Instead, word came that he was ill. As the evening progressed, it became clear Bingley had caught the same cold afflicting the others, and so he determined his previous unsettled feelings were simply due to being ill.
“Briggs!” Darcy called out, entering his dressing room.
“Yes, sir?” the valet asked.
“I will not be departing the day after the ball.” The servant looked at him sceptically but said nothing. Darcy hastened to add, “Mr. Bingley has asked me to remain while he goes to London on some business. When he returns, we will depart. I expect it to be next Saturday at the latest.”
“Very well, sir,” Briggs replied with a look of mild astonishment.
Darcy returned to his chamber. At first, Darcy was uncertain why his most trusted servant seemed so confused by his actions. Then it occurred to Darcy that he had delayed his departure twice now due to nothing more than the simple request of his friend. Was it only a week ago that he had debated with Elizabeth Bennet the nature of friendship and persuasion? Their debate was interrupted by Bingley’s uneasiness with arguments. And yet Elizabeth had not deferred to his opinion. She was not so eager to please him or thought so little of her own self that she withdrew her opinion.
Thinking about the conversation reminded Darcy of her words on the topic. She had argued that in ordinary cases it was perfectly natural to change one’s mind for a friend. However, this was no ordinary case. Darcy’s business was not pressing, nor did he need to see his sister at this very moment, but it was not as ordinary as a suggestion on whether to ride or play billiards.
Darcy felt an excessive regard for Bingley, often caring for him as a younger brother. While it often meant tolerating Bingley’s annoying sisters, he had never done anything he did not wish out of sake for the friendship. A few weeks ago, he had not relented to his friend’s request about as something as trifling as dancing. Now, he put off seeing to his own sister’s welfare for the sake of keeping Bingley in his county of choice.
He slumped in a chair with realisation. A regard stronger than friendship had influenced his decision. They were separated by miles and days apart, and yet Elizabeth was his reason for staying.
She was also his reason for desiring to leave.
Darcy was quite aware of his danger with Elizabeth. He would not allow his heart to feel attached. He was just as determined when he had walked into the library to glare at the chair in which Elizabeth last sat. She had cast a spell on him with her dancing eyes and quick thoughts. She was dangerous, but he could not afford bewitchment. Then Bingley had entered, and like a week before when faced with the prospect of never seeing Elizabeth again—and in the very same room—Darcy had agreed to remain.
He must leave Hertfordshire. He had seen first-hand what happened when one believed themselves in love, especially to a woman of inferior birth. Many years ago, his cousin, very close to him in age, had believed himself in love with the daughter of a country attorney.
Richard had visited his old tutor after finishing at Cambridge. His family wished him to enter law, but he was partial to the church. He visited the tutor, now in charge of a small parish, for a taste of country life before deciding on his career. He enjoyed it immensely and soon felt attached to a local girl in the village. When she was introduced to Richard’s family, the girl showed her true character by attempting to seduce Richard’s elder brother, a viscount. Richard’s depressed spirits were horrifying to witness. When the Treaty of Amiens was broken, Richard offered his services as an officer against all arguments from the family. They had spent the last eight years terrified of his possible demise.
As if he had conjured Richard by thought, Briggs came in with the post and a letter from Darcy’s cousin. It was postmarked from London! The papers had reported that Richard’s regiment, the Second Dragoon Guards—commonly called the Queen’s Bay’s—had fought valiantly at the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain. It was a massive victory for the Allies, and many hoped it would allow greater access into Spain. Letters from the Peninsula were infrequent, of course, but writing from London could hardly denote anything good. Darcy ripped open the letter.
I am sure you are reading this with your brow furrowed and all the worry of a grandmother, so I will not make you wait for the news. Yes, I saw action at Rodrigo. If it were not for Jacob Truman, I am sure this letter would have very different contents. Even so, while he spared me from a French bayonet, he could do nothing to prevent an illness setting in. The regiment is due to return in January, and Truman and I were sent ahead to allow my health to recover and to facilitate arrangements. We lost Major-General Craufurd, and there is talk of perhaps Lieutenant-General Vyse taking his position. Father would be delighted, of course, to have one of his political allies so closely related to the man in “charge of my fate” as he puts it.
There is little more to say than that London never changes, and you know I can never be at ease here. Mother is matchmaking and pressing me to resign my commission.
I have seen Georgiana. She seemed much altered since this summer and talked solely of letters from new friends of yours. Two ladies from Hertfordshire. What are you doing, man? It is unlike you to be captivated by a lady, and I gather she is without name or fortune. Beware, Cousin, I fear her desire to become Georgiana’s friend opens you to blackmail. Georgie may confide in this woman about her misadventure, or W— might seek her out somehow as he did with the governess. At least Georgie is now well settled with Mrs. Annesley and in London has the frequent visits of my mother and father. I had thought James might have called to check on her while I was away, but it seems he has not. Ah, but then we cannot expect viscounts to do our bidding, can we?
I trust I will see you ‘ere long. Either when you tire of Bingley or Bingley tires of the country.
Although Darcy was happy to hear of his cousin’s relative good health, he could not shake his anger at Richard’s blanket prejudice against Elizabeth. Looking at his hand, he tossed the now crumpled letter into the fire. He had already determined Elizabeth was unlikely to believe Wickham’s lies. If she could withstand him, then she was worthy indeed of his attentions. He did fear, however, that Elizabeth might believe Wickham’s slander of himself. Losing her good opinion and respect was something the honour in him cried out against. More still, honour had nothing to do with why he felt the need to pull Elizabeth from Wickham’s side. She was to be his and no one else’s, even for a minute.
He held his head in his hands. It was a weakness—it went against every piece of logic he was taught, against his character and reason—but his heart—traitorous thing that it was—battled with him to end its agony. His head throbbed, and he stared into the fire, seeking an answer until his eyes blurred. When Briggs came to assist him in dressing for dinner, chills racked him, and immediately he was sent to bed. Refusing to allow a physician to be called for what he insisted was a slight cold, he welcomed fevered dreams of Elizabeth.
At last, he awoke, drenched in sweat and his mind jumbled. Briggs was by his side and arranged for a bath and food. All told, he had spent nearly four days senseless and abed, and the ball was on the morrow. Taking a deep breath and slowly letting out an exhale, he came to a conclusion. “I will merely get to know her better—that is all. I will attempt to see her merits as a wife without prejudice.”
He spoke the words aloud to consider the situation resolved. Perhaps it might have been if Briggs had not entered the room to help Darcy dress after his bath.
“When you were ill, I could not tell you, but I put that piece of tatted lace from your pocket there on the table. Our Miss Georgiana is growing up rather nicely. So accomplished!”
After Briggs had left once more, Darcy turned to look and saw with a feeling of mingled resignation and appreciation that Elizabeth’s bookmark had never left his side.
10 thoughts on “Sufficient Encouragement Refresh– Chapter Seven”
Come on Darcy, let Bingley make his own decisions and you need to decide if you want Elizabeth or not!
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Always a bit of a hypocrite, isn’t he?