JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Resolution and Reaction (Part 1 of 3)

Pride and Prejudice
After being confronted by his sisters in London regarding his intentions towards Miss Bennet, Bingley spends some time in reflection and gathers his resolve.

"To yield readily - easily - to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you."
"To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either."
-- Volume I, Chapter X, Pride and Prejudice

Chapter One

Three days after the Netherfield Ball, in London...

Charles Bingley was uneasy.

This unusual state was not due to the clouds gathering overhead—they posed no real threat—or even to the many miles between him and the woman he loved, though he felt the separation exceedingly. It was due to the fact that he had just endured a half-hour's lecture from his sisters on the unsuitability of returning to Netherfield for the winter. Caroline and Louisa were united in their belief that Jane Bennet, though a sweet girl, was very much below them. Bingley could not see this. He believed it was the other way around; she was a gentleman's daughter, whereas he had only a tradesman's income, ample as it was, to offer her. He had no connections, no title, not even his own estate, as he was only leasing Netherfield at present.

His sisters may have forgotten their humble beginnings, but Bingley himself had neither reason nor desire to forget. He was not ashamed, and he was not grasping. His wealth was of significance to him primarily as the means of providing for himself and those he loved. Despite Louisa's marriage and her own fortune, both she and Hurst were pleased to consider their brother's resources as their own when it suited them. And Caroline! Caroline was so sure she would be Mrs. Darcy one day and wanted only to preside at her brother's table in the country and spend her fortune in London shops until her dearest wish was fulfilled. Bingley could not be so blind, however. Darcy hardly said an unnecessary word to either of his sisters; indeed, he did nothing to single Caroline out. Yes, it seemed Caroline would be dependent upon her brother's generosity for some time to come.

When Bingley entered the Hurst townhouse that morning, he was anticipating a typical, if not entirely pleasant, day in the company of his nearest relations. He had been surprised by Caroline's note the night before informing him that the whole party had come to London. He wondered why they thought it necessary. He had no inkling that he was about to enter the fray, and being thus ill-prepared, his suffering was extreme. Had he known, he would have kept to his room at the hotel. His sisters had shaken his natural optimism not so much by this surprise attack on the qualifications, as it were, of his beloved, but more by their assertion that Miss Bennet held him in no special regard. They would listen to none of his assurances. Caroline went so far as to say that "Dear Jane" would accept his proposal only because her mother wished it, as it would greatly benefit her family. With the Bennets' estate entailed away and no dowry to speak of, how could Jane let the opportunity pass? Then he would be left with the cold comfort of having a mercenary wife without even her love to offer him and being considered a fool by all their London acquaintance.

While his sisters continued their campaign, waxing particularly eloquent on the vulgarity of Miss Bennet's relations, Bingley felt his head aching. Finally he could bear no more and he excused himself, claiming some pressing business. He then did something rare for him: he went for a walk in the park. He was glad the rain held off; he needed to calm himself, and he needed to think.

My sisters cannot be right about this. Surely Jane returns my feelings. She is so modest; would she even talk with them about her regard for me? How can they know more about how Jane feels than I do? Did they come to town simply to dissuade me from returning to her? As if they could.

Bingley recalled that Caroline had liberally sprinkled hints about Miss Darcy throughout their conversation. "Dear Georgiana has become so accomplished, don't you think, Charles? Hardly any young woman of our acquaintance can compare to her." "It is a pity that Jane does not play or sing, like our Georgiana." "It would give our family such joy to see you attached to someone of quality, like dear Mr. Darcy's sister. Indeed, I am sure Mr. Darcy himself would be quite as delighted as we, my dear brother." The recollection gave him pause.

Can they really want me to marry Miss Darcy? She is but fifteen and not even out. Would Darcy be delighted? Does he expect me to become his brother? I surely do not expect him to become mine. The more Bingley thought about this, the more he realised how well these ideas suited Caroline's ambitions more than anyone else's. He did not know exactly what his friend's thoughts were on the matter, but Darcy had never even hinted at any expectations regarding Georgiana. Indeed, lately he seemed more protective of her than usual. Louisa, ever interested in improving the status of her family, would be delighted by such a match, but she mainly would be happy for Caroline's sake, for if he were to marry one Darcy, surely Caroline would have even better opportunities to recommend herself to the other. And they have decided that I should give up everything dear to me, overthrow every chance for happiness, to satisfy Caroline? Caroline, who was only civil to our Hertfordshire neighbours to oblige me, who finds it onerous to do the smallest thing I ask of her? They must think me a fool, a puppet, or worse. Why must I always bend, always accommodate the others? This time I think I shall disoblige them, and I will take great pleasure in doing so.

Not one to be angry for long, Bingley sat down on a nearby bench to meditate on a happier subject—all his interactions with Miss Bennet. He was sure he had detected some partiality toward himself as early as that first assembly in Meryton. It is true that she smiles constantly, but she does not blush for everyone, her eyes do not light up at the approach of every gentleman in the neighbourhood. Miss Bennet was very reserved, but no more than Darcy, and Bingley could read him well enough. Caroline, on the other hand, was happy to take Darcy's politeness for encouragement, and she seemed completely oblivious to the edge in Darcy's voice when he deflected the attention she showered on him. How could she claim the ability to read Jane Bennet clearly? Of one thing Bingley was in no doubt whatsoever: Miss Bennet was no fortune hunter. She met Darcy at that same assembly, and she has spent nearly as much time in his company as in mine. Still, she has never sought his attention; she has never shown any interest in him beyond that of a neighbour, even though he is at least twice as rich as I and generally considered more handsome. That must count for something.

He sat there for some time with his eyes closed, only vaguely aware of the smile on his face and the feel of the breeze against his skin. He dwelt on Miss Bennet's merits, picturing her delight in his addresses. He recalled that during the ball, after telling her of his intention to call on her the moment he returned from London, her cheeks reddened and her eyes lowered as she said, "Mr. Bingley, you shall always be very welcome at Longbourn, I am sure." How she'd looked up and smiled then, her eyes bright with promise. He was certain he loved her; he was just as certain she could, or already did, love him.

Bingley stood. He was beginning to feel the cold, and his headache was nearly gone. He walked to the carriage and instructed the driver to take him to Darcy's townhouse. Seated inside, he leaned back and closed his eyes. He relaxed as he had been unable to do on the ride to the park. His brow crinkled as he thought of his friend. I suppose Darcy would agree with my sisters. Indeed, he probably consulted with them on the subject before they all descended upon London. I guess it is too much to hope that he will support me in this. There is no love lost between him and Hertfordshire society. The only person he paid the slightest attention to was Miss Elizabeth. He took some pleasure in arguing with her, I dare say, though I cannot say the same for Miss Elizabeth. He grinned at the recollection. Caroline was fond of teasing him about "Miss Eliza's fine eyes." I wonder why she mentioned her so much in his presence, and even more, why it never seemed to bother him. There was something else about it that puzzled Bingley. He pondered it for a minute, frowning a little as he concentrated, and then it came to him. Now that I think about it, I did catch him staring at her more than once. His eyes shot open. And he danced with her at the ball! How could I have missed it? Darcy, who never dances if he can avoid it, stood up with the same young lady he had spurned when first they met as, what did he say, not handsome enough to tempt him, was it? He laughed out loud. Apparently he thinks her handsome enough now. I wonder whether I am the only Netherfield resident to be 'tempted' by a Bennet!

The carriage stopped outside of the Darcy home and Bingley bounded up the steps to the front door, where a servant greeted him cheerfully. After ascertaining that Darcy was in the library, Bingley started to make his way there. He had decided to confide in his friend and to hear his opinion on the matter, but he would not be swayed by any of his objections. That alone will shock Darcy and convince him that I mean business. And if he starts ranting like my sisters, I can always mention Miss Elizabeth. Feeling emboldened, he pushed open the library door.

Chapter Two

After Bingley left, Caroline and Louisa congratulated themselves. "I think we have given Charles much to consider, sister," said Louisa.

Caroline agreed. "Surely he will not defy us and make a fool of himself for that Jane Bennet. How dare she raise her sights to him! She has nothing; she is nothing. What a family, Louisa! Can you imagine having to entertain her mother and those impossible sisters of hers here, in London? It was intolerable in Hertfordshire! And her relations near Cheapside! It is in every way insupportable!" Caroline said, rolling her eyes. "Besides," she offered, with slightly less confidence, "Charles cannot be insensible of Georgiana's charms." Caroline's ambition and avarice did not blind her to Jane's superior beauty.

"The main one being that she is brother to Mr. Darcy, of course!" Louisa said, giggling.

Caroline joined her in her laughter, then added, "That, and her thirty thousand pounds! Charles will do quite well with her. She is so compliant, a quiet, mousy creature, so easily led, that they will suit admirably! And they will quite depend upon us and Mr. Darcy, of course, for guidance. Oh, that Charles had purchased an estate before now! He must give up Netherfield as soon as may be, and look for something nearer Derbyshire."

Louisa nodded. "When he is safely married to Miss Darcy and you become Mrs. Darcy, Caroline, Charles will see how little he misses Jane Bennet. Brother to Mr. Darcy, and doubly so! There can be no greater advantage for him, I am sure, and poor Jane has no such benefit to offer him." She loved to indulge her sister in her favourite pastime, which was planning her future with Mr. Darcy, of course.

Caroline reached up and slowly fingered one of the feathers in her headdress. She thought with satisfaction of her last letter written in Hertfordshire. "If poor, dear Jane dares to answer my letter, I shall reply in such terms as to leave her in no doubt of where she stands," said Caroline. "She will fade away quietly, I dare say, and Charles will be free of her. And as for Charles himself, Mr. Darcy will see him soon enough and finish what we have begun. Mr. Darcy will be grateful that we have laid the groundwork; it will make his task that much easier. We are of one mind regarding the Bennets." In spite of Miss Eliza's 'fine eyes,' she added to herself.

Darcy did not notice at first that he had a visitor. He finally had abandoned all attempts to deal with his correspondence some minutes ago; he had been unable to focus on it for these last two hours at least. Images of sparkling eyes matched by a sparkling wit, bouncing curls, and a very pleasing figure would intrude. Now he sat before the fireplace, brandy in hand, staring blankly into the flames. He started when he heard his name and spun around in his chair to face an amused Bingley. Hoping his preoccupation was not apparent, he roused himself to greet his friend. "Good morning, Bingley. Good to see you. I have been meaning to speak with you about something particular," he said as he motioned him to sit.

Unlike earlier, Bingley was prepared for this interview. He paused and looked Darcy straight in the eyes before taking his seat. "If perchance the 'something particular' involves a certain lady in Hertfordshire," he began, "I will hear what you have to say, Darcy, though I do not know what can be added to Caroline's and Louisa's many words on the subject to me this morning. Before you begin, however, I must assure you that my mind is quite made up."

Darcy's surprise was evident in his countenance. He nearly dropped his glass as he lowered it to the side table. He had indeed intended to have a serious talk with Bingley about Miss Bennet but had never expected Bingley to anticipate him. He stared at the younger man a moment as if unsure that this was really his friend regarding him with such an uncharacteristic look of self-assurance, even archness, in his features. Darcy averted his eyes and fiddled with his signet ring for a moment before recollecting himself. He stood and leaned against the mantel.

Darcy had been concerned ever since Sir William Lucas's intimation during the ball that their Meryton neighbours expected Bingley and Miss Bennet to be soon engaged. Foremost in his mind was his utter conviction of Miss Bennet's unworthiness due to her want of connections, fortune, tolerable relations, and, most importantly, any symptom of true regard for Bingley. Further back in his mind, all but unacknowledged, were the fledgling thoughts that Bingley might make a fine match for Georgiana in a few years, and that keeping Bingley away from one Miss Bennet could only strengthen his own resolve to stay away from another.

Darcy's thoughts had not yet been examined to the point where he could recognize the inconsistencies in them. If Miss Bennet's relations were difficult to bear, what could he say of Bingley's sisters? Did their fortunes make their irritating ways more tolerable, the transparency of their social aspirations more excusable? Miss Bennet's younger sisters behaved poorly in company, but their youth was a credible excuse, and they did not pretend to be above their station. They might yet improve. He was in no position to judge them, for had not Georgiana herself, in spite of her superior breeding, recently undergone a trying experience which could have resulted in consequences much more severe than the occasional snicker or snide remark inspired by the younger Bennets? And was Mr. Hurst, who was barely civil even to his friends, truly that much less vulgar than Mrs. Bennet or Mrs. Philips? Perhaps his standards could use some reevaluation.

However, none of these deeper issues troubled Darcy at the moment (that was to happen later in the day), and thus he was able to recover from his surprise and articulate his concerns to Bingley. He spoke well, and within a few minutes he had abandoned his position at the mantel in favour of pacing, preferring the constant motion as he expounded on the difficulties of an alliance with the Bennets.

Bingley listened politely, even thoughtfully, for he did have the highest respect for Darcy. However, until then it had never been so clear to him just how wrong his best friend could be, how mistaken in his notions. It seemed Darcy was human after all.

Bingley had drawn his own conclusions as to his sisters' motivation for their attempts at persuasion, but now he considered what aim Darcy might have in pressing his case. Darcy seemed to feel his opinions strongly; Bingley could only wonder at his zealousness on his behalf. Surely he could not have any objection to Jane herself. Yet he seemed to believe, as his sisters claimed, that she felt nothing for him. As Darcy stopped in front of his friend to further press this point, Bingley felt the need to interrupt.

"Darcy, do you mean to tell me that because Miss Bennet simply welcomes my company, says and does nothing whatsoever to discourage me, and communicates her pleasure in our acquaintance completely within the bounds of propriety that she is deficient in this regard? Should she perhaps follow another's example and throw herself at me then, praising my home and my sister and my library in anyone's hearing, simply to convince my friends of the sincerity of her affections? Yet if she were to do so, I imagine you would hardly hold her in high esteem for it."

Darcy grimaced slightly in disgust at this less-than-subtle reference to Caroline's efforts to gain his favour. "You misunderstand me, Bingley. You know that is not what I mean," he said, exasperation in his voice.

This was enough to give Bingley the boldness to continue. "Then what do you mean? You want to sway me to your opinion, and I dare say you believe everything you are telling me, but how can these objections really count for anything? Miss Bennet's connections and the smallness of her dowry do not worry me. Her having an uncle in trade can hardly offend me! And as to her supposed indifference, well, I am certain of her regard. Even if I were not, I would offer her the chance to love me as I do her."

"But how can you ignore the importance of family and societal obligation, of establishing yourself creditably in the world?" Darcy responded, running his fingers through his hair in frustration.

While Darcy continued in this vein, something pulled at Bingley's memory. As the memory became clearer, Bingley smiled to himself. He allowed Darcy to have his say, and then decided to end their argument and at the same time test his theory about Darcy's fascination with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

"I have heard your opinion, and it seems we remain at cross purposes. What did you yourself say once, Darcy? I believe I heard your view on just this sort of dilemma - let me see, something about yielding without conviction not reflecting well on either party, was it not? It was during one of your famous debates with Miss Elizabeth while her sister was recuperating at Netherfield. I am sure you recall it. You may think I do not pay much attention to what goes forward in my own drawing room, but I do. I shall not yield, Darcy. My conviction is the opposite of yours." Bingley had watched his friend carefully as he spoke, so he had not missed Darcy's brief loss of composure and struggle to regain it. Bingley fought back the grin that threatened to overspread his face.

As pleased with himself as he was for standing his ground, Bingley could not be insensible of the awkwardness his friend was experiencing. He became serious. "I thank you for your concern. I do not want to appear ungrateful, truly I do not. Your friendship means a great deal to me, and there is much that I owe you. Still, do you not think that you are taking too much upon yourself, offering such particular advice? Could there be something to what Caroline says?" Here he hesitated, and lowered his voice as he continued. "She seems to think, Darcy, forgive my frankness, but she gave me to understand that you would not be displeased if I formed an attachment to your sister. Is there any truth to this?"

At the mention of his sister, Darcy's pulse quickened. He endeavored to calm himself and responded immediately. "Bingley, you know Georgiana is not out and will not be for another year or two, and I have no wish for her to marry immediately thereafter. It is simply too early to begin entertaining any specific thoughts about that aspect of her future." As he said the words, he realised that they were true. He felt no loss on his sister's behalf. He began to see that any hope for Georgiana and Bingley to be attached was born after Ramsgate out of a need to protect her, to have a brother-in-law whom he could trust implicitly not to harm her.

Bingley released the breath he had been holding. "I must own that I am relieved to hear it," said Bingley, "because I would be a most wretched husband to her, or to any woman who was not Jane Bennet."

Darcy was now thoroughly uncomfortable with their conversation and wished it were already at an end. He could not fathom how Bingley had not capitulated. He found it disturbing, disorienting. Clearly he has given much consideration to this matter. He seems unusually determined. I hope he is not acting simply to oppose his sisters. No, there is nothing of carelessness or even anger about his countenance. I have never seen Bingley so set on a course, so impervious to persuasion. Darcy was convinced that his own assessment was correct, that Miss Bennet did not love his friend. His only hope was that she would refuse him, for it was clear that Bingley would return within the next day or two to tender his proposal. Otherwise, Darcy thought, I will have to stand up with her at the wedding. How shall I bear it? Of course it was not the eldest Bennet girl he was thinking of; Jane was not the one who had shattered his peace of mind.

Bingley was content. He had shown himself a man where it mattered. He would finish the remainder of his business that afternoon, and he would pick up his angel's ring from the engraver the following morning. He could not repress a smile. He rose to his feet and addressed Darcy.

"It must be noon already. Come dine with me at the club."

"Thank you, no. Another time, Bingley. I have been neglecting my work," Darcy replied, motioning toward the piles of correspondence on his desk, "and I had better make up for it today."

"Will you accompany me to Hertfordshire when I return tomorrow afternoon?"

"I imagine not. I would like to spend more time here with Georgiana."

"She is more than welcome to join us there, though she would need to bring her companion along as I have reason to doubt that my sisters will return with me."

Darcy offered no response to this invitation. The two stood in silence for some moments. Darcy walked over to the mantel and gently fingered a statuette that had been his mother's. Wickham was still in Hertfordshire, he assumed, and Bingley could not know that he would do anything to shield his sister from that man. He would know if you told him, came the fleeting thought. But how can I tell him, or anyone? This has become too much. And then there is the matter of Elizabeth. An image of her, seeing to her sister's comfort at Netherfield, flashed before his eyes. He thought of how devoted she was to Jane, of how Georgiana would blossom under such sisterly devotion. She will not leave my thoughts even for a moment. I cannot continue in this state. I must conquer this.

Meanwhile, Bingley regarded his friend, his sentiments an odd mixture of triumph and concern. Darcy had been distracted throughout their discussion. Clearly he was taken aback by Bingley's uncharacteristic confidence, but there was something else. He was not quite himself. He sounded as if he were trying to convince himself as well as me. Perhaps he really was in a muddle over Jane's sister. As he thought about it, Bingley concluded that Darcy and Miss Elizabeth might actually suit if they ever managed to see eye to eye long enough to consider it. Both were avid readers and clever conversationalists, passionate and opinionated, not easily intimidated by others. If Darcy could, this once, put his own felicity before his overdeveloped, misdirected sense of duty! He was his own master. He needed to oblige no one but himself. The situation was difficult but not hopeless. Surely her ill opinion would give way in the face of his true character. If she really knew him, she could not fail to value his generous nature, but Darcy never tried hard enough to please. In his defense, he rarely needed to; most people excused his pride and deep reserve in light of his consequence and his many recommendations. But Elizabeth Bennet was not most people.

Bingley was determined to mention Miss Elizabeth once more before quitting the house. He knew it was risky, but his courage was high. After all, he was mere days away from securing his own happiness. Throughout their friendship, Darcy gave the advice and Bingley took it. That was the way it always had been. However Bingley sensed that by not bending his will, in some way he had risen in Darcy's esteem. He could not resist the urge to make use of this rare insight into his friend's struggles. He strode to the door and turned back to take leave.

"Well, Darcy, I will leave you to your letters and your drink. I suppose I would be in just such a state myself if I had spent as much time in Hertfordshire arguing with my Miss Bennet as you did with yours! Quite an unconventional way of paying court!" Darcy absolutely started at this; his face blanched. Bingley's expression became inscrutable as he delivered the final blow, "By the way, do you think if Miss Elizabeth were to exchange her dislike of you for a more...accommodating sentiment, you would be a little less nice about her dowry and her relations? Well, I do hope you can at least be civil to each other for the sake of my wedding. But I am getting ahead of myself. Love is a blessed thing, Darcy. I highly recommend it." With that, he left.

Chapter Three

"What?!" Darcy could not believe his ears. He neither noticed that he had exclaimed aloud nor registered the sound in the hall of Bingley's muffled laughter indicating he had been been overheard. He stood gaping at the library door. Had Bingley just told him that the depth of his attraction to Elizabeth was so obvious? Well, Caroline certainly had noticed it, but he had admitted his admiration of Elizabeth to Caroline several weeks ago. But had Bingley just said she disliked him? How...? She does not like me? Why ever not? This is all Wickham's doing! Who knows what lies he has been feeding her?

Darcy loosened his cravat as his thoughts swirled around in his head. He was tempted to chase after Bingley to refute what he said, to tell him about Wickham, but no, that would be wholly unreasonable. There was no cause for such a disclosure. Still, something didn't fit. Wickham had just entered the neighbourhood in the middle of November. But Bingley had referred to arguments at Netherfield during Jane's illness; they had occurred before Elizabeth could have met Wickham. Besides, Bingley hardly spent any time with Elizabeth at the ball; undoubtedly he was too busy enjoying her elder sister's smiles to give any attention to Elizabeth's misplaced sympathy for that scoundrel. Even before the ball he must have discerned my partiality for Elizabeth, and her supposed lack of amiable feelings toward me! Ha! So he says. He's just upset because I was so honest with him, because I told him that Jane is indifferent to him. He is more affected by our talk than he seemed to be. Good! He will see the truth of it once he calms down.

No sooner had Darcy finished the thought than he knew that he was being ungenerous. Bingley would never stoop to such a hollow, vengeful attack. He had not been upset at all; on the contrary, he had seemed perfectly calm when he said those words. It was Darcy himself who was upset. His hands flew to his temples, and his fingers raked through his hair and rested on the nape of his neck. Why had Bingley said that Elizabeth disliked him? True, she didn't seem the type to be swayed by fortune and rank; it made her all the more attractive in his eyes. She wasn't overbearing in her attentions like Caroline. She never even sought him out. She disagreed with him more often than not, and she was not so intimidated by him that she couldn't make sport of him. She never shrank from his gaze, stammering and blushing furiously as other young ladies might be expected to do. In fact, she met his stare with a look of challenge and, well, impertinence...

The truth hit him like a slap in the face. What made me think she ever liked me in the first place? He had been pacing, but at this thought he stopped. He felt weak, lightheaded. He walked over to his chair and sank down into it.

He had been so enchanted, so caught... Had his rational mind deserted him? Perhaps she was so unlike the ladies of his acquaintance because she didn't care for his good opinion. But I know there is more than that! I do not want her out of some perverse desire for the unattainable! She is witty, knowledgeable, beautiful, passionate! She plays and sings with such feeling, she lights up the room with her eyes...

He rested his head in his hands as snippets of their conversations came back to him.

"You are severe on us."

"I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner...Mr. Darcy is all politeness."

"...and now despise me if you dare."

"Such as vanity and pride..."

"...a propensity to hate everybody."

"We are each of an unsocial and taciturn disposition..."

A groan escaped his lips. Yes, Elizabeth had managed to communicate her disdain for him to anyone who cared to notice. He alone had been too thick-headed to see it for what it was. In fact he could not think of another person she treated that way, not even Caroline Bingley, much as the latter deserved it. Perhaps she chooses not to offend her future sister-in-law? He laughed bitterly at the idea.

More images of Elizabeth intruded: greeting Bingley with pleasure; conversing animatedly with Charlotte Lucas; tolerating Sir William Lucas with equanimity; smoothing over one of her mother's ill-judged comments; walking three miles over muddy fields to tend to Jane. And me? She has challenged, contradicted, even mocked me. "She must hate me. And she believes I hate her! What a fool I have been!" The words hung in the air. The fire was dying out, but Darcy actually felt warmer. He removed his cravat and wiped his brow with it.

Even without the wagging of Wickham's slanderous tongue, Darcy had done enough damage on his own to earn Elizabeth's disapproval, he was certain of that. And Wickham likely would have told no tales unless he saw that he could gain her sympathy. He probably asked her what she thought of me before laying all his 'misery' before her. Unlike me, he probably flattered her from the moment they met. I cannot help it that I am no flatterer.

Darcy recalled what he had said to Bingley about Elizabeth in order to avoid dancing that first night in Meryton. He suspected then that he had been overheard, but he had never even considered apologizing. His subsequent behaviour to her apparently strengthened her initial opinion. How else could she fail to appreciate his singling her out by dancing with her at Netherfield? How else could she bring up Wickham's claims in a ballroom? Darcy never said anything overt about her relations in her hearing, but he made his superiority felt, his disapproval of them written all over his face. Where Bingley was all affability and attention, he was barely civil, possibly even rude, to the Bennets. In one sense it is good that Bingley is determined to return to Hertfordshire. At least Elizabeth will not be able to blame me for keeping him away; I am sure she thinks me capable of it! And she would be just in her accusation, based on my advice to Bingley today. This will be one less charge against me.

Around noon, Mr. Hurst returned from his club to the clucking and cackling of the resident hens. He mumbled his greeting and headed for the dining room. He never had understood how the sisters found so much to talk about, or why so much of it had to do with Darcy. Darcy was only a man, after all. Surely he does not waste one thought in a hundred on my sister-in-law. He ate quickly and retired to his study to enjoy a drink in relative peace.

Chapter Four

"Fitzwilliam, is something the matter?" Georgiana was hesitant to broach the subject, but she was not sure when she would have another opportunity. Her brother's behaviour since returning to London was such as he had never exhibited before. Had he come back unexpectedly just to glower and brood and sulk? He had hardly looked at her in the last day or so. She had heard him mention her name to someone, probably Mr. Bingley, as she walked by the library door, but she had not lingered to make sense of what was being said.

"No, no. I am well, dearest." Darcy interrupted his daydreams to reply to his sister's inquiry. He picked at his breakfast and lapsed back into his reverie, no longer attempting to resist thinking of Elizabeth.

Georgiana saw his sad expression and heard the faraway quality in his voice and assumed the worst. She tried to stem the tears that threatened to flow down her cheeks. If she started now, she would not stop for many minutes and she would not be able to get even one word out. She swallowed hard and spoke again, although she could not look at her brother's face. "Fitzwilliam, I know that what I have done has hurt you deeply. I am so sorry! If I could erase the entire summer from history I would do it. I can never make it up to you, but I cannot bear for you to think ill of me! Please say that you will forgive me in time!" With the last word, she sobbed loudly and buried her face in her hands.

Darcy was startled by this display, but rushed to his sister's side. He embraced her and offered her his handkerchief. I cannot allow her to think that she is responsible for my mood. But how can I tell her? I must, if only so that she will know I do not blame her in the least.

Darcy held her for several minutes. He was not fit to be in company this morning. After the previous day's disastrous visit with Bingley, he had worked well into the night and slept ill. Since returning to London, he had been distracted, solemn, and even more reclusive than usual. He and his sister had been apart for months, yet he hardly remembered greeting Georgiana or speaking more than ten words to her since their reunion. No wonder she thought he was angry with her.

When Georgiana's tears had ceased, Darcy took her by the hand and led her to the music room. Still holding her hand, he motioned to a sofa and sat down next to her. He looked at this young girl with golden hair so like their mother's, a girl who might have been a married woman by now if not for what he liked to think of as divine intervention. Had he arrived at Ramsgate to save his sister from such an awful fate only to have her live in misery ever after? Was her wretchedness in believing herself lowered in his eyes really less than what betrayal by Wickham would have caused? Did it matter? He closed his eyes a moment. He knew what he must do.

He would stop being Darcy the father figure, Darcy the guardian, Darcy the wealthy and well-connected gentleman. Away from the eyes of society and unencumbered by the presence of guests or even servants, Darcy the brother would have to do. Georgiana was nearly grown up now. As siblings, here in the comfort of their own home, could they not relate as equals? They had so much in common—both still feeling the loss of their parents, reserved and uneasy in company, their peace recently wounded, themselves in need of guidance, a friend, a confidant. He would start there.

He composed himself and, as eloquently as he could, he assured her that she meant just as much as ever to him. That he was proud of her and always would be. That he wished their mother and father could see the beautiful person she had become. That she need not be afraid to talk to him about anything, for they would always have each other. That they could not afford to let Wickham, or anyone for that matter, hurt them forever. That she would meet a man someday who would treasure her as she was meant to be treasured.

Georgiana firmly squeezed her brother's hand in thanks and offered him a faint, but genuine, smile. Then she listened with widely varying emotions as he told her all about his visit to Hertfordshire and the lady who had captured his heart.

In the Hurst carriage, Caroline and Louisa were discussing Charles and wondering whether to send another note to his hotel. They had just called at Mr. Darcy's house but neither gentleman had been there. Miss Darcy had greeted them cordially, but as she could offer no information about either brother's whereabouts, the ladies did not stay long.

"Georgiana did not look at all well this morning, Louisa."

"Yes, she was rather pale."

"It's a shame that she had no news of Charles. I wonder if she has got word of his fascination with Jane. That may well have worried her. After all, she may feel some affection for him. I imagine she rarely sees any other gentlemen, and certainly none as frequently she does Charles. With Charles being her brother's particular friend, it is inevitable that they should be attached. Surely Mr. Darcy has invited Charles to stay with him. That is the best arrangement for all concerned."

Louisa rather doubted that Georgiana would be crying her eyes out and making herself ill over their brother. She had seen no sign of attachment between them as yet. Still, she did not want to go through the trouble of disabusing Caroline of the notion, for in the end, was that not what they both wanted? They chatted comfortably for the duration of the ride home.

As they walked inside, Caroline noticed a letter addressed to her on the table in the foyer. She picked it up and read it, disgust showing in her features.

"What is it, sister?"

"It is from Jane. She must have written me the moment she got my letter for this to have arrived so soon. Well, I shall reply to her just as quickly. Hopefully this will be the last letter I need write to her. After all, why should she entertain false hopes for one minute longer than necessary?" She hurried off to her writing desk, and in less than an hour a second letter to Jane Bennet from Caroline Bingley was on its way to join the first.

Darcy had left Georgiana much recovered when he had departed for his club. As he glanced back, he could see a carriage pulling up to his house. He was glad to have missed whoever it was. He was interested in seeing only one person at present. Only one person currently in London, that is. He entered the club and scanned the room in search of the familiar face. He was not disappointed.

"Darcy! Come join me, old man." Bingley was off to himself in one corner of the room. Darcy made his way over to him, nodding to a few acquaintances on the way.

"I was hoping I would find you here."

"I completed the last of my errands this morning, and after yesterday, I am in no mood to spend time at Hurst's with Louisa and Caroline. Perhaps I will visit them briefly to take leave, or even better, simply send a note. It may be some time before they are reconciled to my choice." The younger man frowned. "Of course there is always the chance that I'm being too sanguine and Jane will refuse me." He laughed nervously.

"Yesterday you were certain of her affections."

"True, true. However, I suppose I am allowed a little anxiety given the circumstances."


Darcy studied the man seated across from him. Bingley was one of the very few people who really knew Darcy. He could not let his personal struggles injure their friendship. Bingley would be a difficult friend to replace. Darcy had thought much about their previous conversation and its implications. His openness with Georgiana had freed him of a great burden. He was not interested in retreating into his reserve.

"Bingley, I have much to say. If it is all the same to you, I would prefer to discuss matters in my study. Do you have time now? I promise you it will not be a repetition of yesterday."

Bingley was curious. What else could Darcy have to impart? "Certainly," he replied. "I could do with a glass of your excellent port."

They left the club and took Darcy's carriage back to the house. Within an hour of their arrival, Bingley was made aware of the essentials regarding Georgiana's excursion to Ramsgate as well as Darcy's difficulties in Hertfordshire, which he had decided to resolve if possible rather than evade. Bingley was shocked to say the least. After all was revealed and after some quiet reflection by both parties, Bingley resumed their dialogue.

"Does this mean the four of us will set out today for the country then?"

"Not quite. Georgiana will join me some weeks hence, perhaps for Christmas. She needs to prepare herself to see Wickham again. At least she is no longer attached to him; nevertheless, it will be difficult for her."

"That sounds wise. Perhaps by then my sisters will have changed their minds. I shall be glad to have your presence and support, especially at this time, Darcy. I know now it comes at a high cost."

Darcy only nodded his acknowledgment.

Several hours later, the two friends left for Hertfordshire.

Chapters Five through Eight

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