Posted on 2012-12-12
London, Monday morning
What was that infernal noise? Too many brandies at the officer's mess last night have made the pounding on the colonel's door worsen the pounding in his head. Barely rising from the pillow, Richard Fitzwilliam, second son of the Earl of Matlock, bade his servant to enter.
"Yes, yes, what is it, Graves?" Who else would it be this time of the morning after the long night before?
The colonel's man of all works merely held out a silver salver with a neatly folded note on it. "Hmumph. Who is writing to me so unforgivably early today? Blast, why won't my fingers work? Graves, you open it, please, and read it to me. I just do not think I can focus."
Graves, who was suitably similar to his name, unfolded the note and intoned in a deep voice, "Sir, it is from Miss Darcy. She writes asking you to come to her immediately on an errand of great urgency. Specifically, she asks you to arrive no later than 11:00. It is 9:00 now and we should be able to get you there on time. Should I reply to the messenger that you will arrive as requested?"
"Blast. Graves, I do not have the heart to turn her down but oh how I want to just be in bed for the rest of the day. No matter. Yes, yes, return the messenger as you said and get me ready."
The trip from the Earl's home to the Darcy home was not far and the late spring air was good for the colonel's head. The knock at the front door rivaled the pounding in the colonel's head - again - and the colonel was announced in good time to his favorite female cousin, Georgiana Darcy. Although Georgie was quite a bit younger than the colonel, he was very fond of her and looked on her as a younger sister. In truth, he was one of her legal guardians but treated her with all family affection.
"Oh Richard, I am so glad to see you. Thank you for coming at once. I must go out today, and William is so out of spirits that I dare not ask him to take me. Please, please, I need to run some errands in town in preparation for my party on Friday." Georgiana then stepped closely to Richard and whispered to him "And I must speak to you away from the house. At once."
To say that Richard was at first annoyed by being asked to help her run errands and then alarmed at the nature of her second request is putting it mildly.
"Why Georgie, whatever is the matter?"
"Shhh. Richard, please. Not until we are outside. Please. The carriage is ready and we can be off immediately. Please."
Richard noticed that his cousin's eyes were unusually bright and that they were swimming in unshed tears. Oh no, not a crying female!
In no time at all the cousins were ensconced in the Darcy carriage and headed to Bond Street. "Richard, as you know, your parents are holding a family outing in honor of my seventeenth birthday at the theater this Friday. I need some new ribbons for my dress and that is our errand today."
Richard's eyes narrowed at his sweet cousin and he drawled "Annnndddd…..? What about this requires so much secrecy?"
"Oh, Richard. It is William. He is so morose. He is so sad. I do not know what is wrong with him. Ever since he returned from visiting Aunt Catherine, he has been sullen and uncommunicative. You know he isn't the world's most chatty person anyway and now he is positively grim. I don't know what is wrong. I can't think that I have done anything to make him angry at me. I am no longer so sad myself about that terrible incident with Wickham. I know I was wrong and Wickham was certainly wrong and William was right. I understand that and I have tried my hardest to get back to normal and not bother him. So I don't think that whatever has happened is my fault."
Georgie paused for breath while Richard watched his little cousin without moving. Good military man that he was, the colonel was taking it all in.
She began again. "Richard what happened in Kent? What did you and Aunt Catherine do to cause William to be so sad? I don't think I can bear this much longer. If he keeps on like this, he'll go mad."
Richard could hardly keep up with the rush of words that flowed from dear Georgie, but he got the gist that something was terribly wrong with William. Yes, he had seen William since their return from Kent and yes William seemed more subdued than usual. But as bad as this? Surely not.
"Are you sure? We did nothing there. It was our usual tedious visit with Aunt Catherine. She talked, we sat, she talked. We tried to keep from falling asleep. Boring, boring. We had a bit of a respite with some company on occasion. And we spent lots of time outside this year on the estate. She is letting it go to ruin, she is so tight fisted with the repair money. Sorry, Georgie. Forget I said that last bit."
Georgie listened patiently and still didn't see how any of this could have had the unfortunate effect on her brother, but this was news! "Really? About the money, I mean?"
Richard glared at his cousin. A long pause ensured. Georgie blinked first. "All right. I will forget about the money." They rode in silence for a few minutes. Georgie was gathering her courage. Richard was thinking about William and glancing at the pair of shapely ladies on the sidewalk.
Georgie started again. "Who is Elizabeth Bennet?"
Richard was looking out the carriage window and his head swiveled toward Georgie at this question. "What? Miss Bennet? Why she is a woman from Hertfordshire that we met while we were visiting in Kent. A moment ago I mentioned that we had some company. Well she was part of that company. Miss Elizabeth was visiting her friend who had married her cousin, who happens to be Aunt Catherine's parson at Hunsford. How in the world do you know of Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"In Kent? She was in Kent? Oh my. I have to think about this." Georgie looked out the window and chewed on her finger a bit. "When William and Mr. Bingley were visiting Mr. Bingley's estate last fall, they met Miss Bennet. I know this because Brother wrote to me about her several times."
"Yes, Darce mentioned that he and Bingley had made her acquaintance last fall. And Mr. and Mrs. Collins as well; he is Aunt Catherine's parson and she is Miss Bennet's friend who recently married the parson."
"From William's letters Miss Bennet sounded charming with her lively wit and beautiful voice but then he left that county and I heard no more about her. But last week when William was in the library and he had had too much brandy…"
"Too much brandy? Darce? I don't believe it!"
If ever Georgiana Darcy had given anyone a steely glare, this was it. Richard was quite taken aback. What had come over his meek little cousin?
Georgie began again. "Yes, I told you. He has been very morose, and I am sure the heavy doses of brandy each night aren't helping. Anyway, he was dozing, I came in to get a book and heard him muttering in his sleep. He most distinctly said 'Miss Bennet'. Later I asked him about her and he stammered, walked to the window, twisted his signet ring and never answered my question. Something is clearly wrong here. Could William's behavior and sadness have something to do with Miss Bennet and your visit in Kent?"
"Well she is an excellent conversationalist, plays the piano with great feeling, has a lovely soprano voice and by all indications she has little interest in William."
"How can that be? What do you mean? Everyone has an interest in William, especially women. I know he has many friends at his club and I have heard the two of you discuss the balls and the matchmaking mamas, so I know that most women have an interest in William!" Georgiana was indignant that someone had no interest in her brother. How could that possibly be?
"Well, she would tease him but her archness and sweetness belied an underlying barb to her wit. William seemed to never feel the barb. He was always engaging her in conversation of a sort. She used her wit to him - often - but as I said, he never seemed to feel the barb. I know he ran into her in the park a number of times. But Miss Bennet? I don't think she cares two straws about him."
"But Richard, did he care about her?"
"Did he care about her? Honestly, I don't know Georgie. This is an entirely new concept that I have never considered."
By this time the carriage rolled to a stop on Bond Street, and Georgie and Richard were left to their own thoughts on the subject. While Georgie bought ribbons and perfect gloves she didn't need but had to have, Richard meditated on Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. A greater puzzle in human interaction he had never encountered. She is so lively and he is so quiet. Both are equally handsome. She is poor and he is rich. No, no, it could never be that Darcy had a tendre for Miss Bennet. Could it?
As Georgie returned to the carriage she instructed the driver to take them to Gunters. "Another thing that is bothering me is this. I wonder if William's sad mood has infected Mr. Bingley. Dear Mr. Bingley is all that is amiable and happy and good natured, yet he too is suffering from something. He has been so subdued since before Christmas at least. Do you think William has caught his bad mood from Mr. Bingley? I don't understand it. Two such good friends and they are both not themselves now. What is wrong with them? Mr. Bingley was distracted when he returned from Hertfordshire and has never recovered. William's problem didn't start until after his return from Kent. What do these trips both have in common? The only thing I can think of is Miss Elizabeth Bennet!"
"Come along, girls. We have a number of stops to make, including the errand for your uncle. I have to get them all in. And, I have a treat for you while we are on our outing, so come along!" Madeline Gardiner was the kindest and most affectionate aunt two country girls could want. Hustling them out of the house and into the waiting carriage was the most stern she could ever be with her favorite nieces, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet.
A round of stops at the bookseller, warehouses and a tobacconist were all needed to complete the morning's journey. Elizabeth Bennet was thrilled to be with her dearest sister Jane after her visit in Kent. And having her favorite aunt with Jane made Elizabeth's happiness for the day complete.
"Girls, I promised you a treat and here we are. Gunter's. This shop has lovely things that you will both enjoy. Come along!"
Gunter's was the nicest sweet shop in London and being there was indeed a treat for Elizabeth and Jane. Alas, the shop was nearly full to bursting with fashionable ladies and a few gents. The Gardiner party had to wait inside the entrance for a table to be cleared. "My dears, this happens all the time. Just wait a few moments and I am certain that we will be seated. Oh, the door is opening, Jane, dear, can you step forward just a bit?"
Elizabeth turned around to see who was entering and how large their party might be and uttered a small "Oh my" to herself.
Georgiana and Richard stepped into Gunter's and were immediately stopped in their tracks by the waiting ladies. Military training always in evidence, Richard surveyed the people ahead of them and immediately spotted Elizabeth. "Miss Bennet! How do you do? What a pleasure to see you again!"
Georgie was struck nearly dumb with shock as the subject of her recent contemplation was standing not ten feet away from her. "Oh my!" and then struggled with a cough to cover her gaffe.
Richard threw her a concerned look and then recovered smoothly and said "Miss Bennet, may I introduce you to Darcy's sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. William and I recently met her in Kent."
Elizabeth and Georgiana exchanged curtseys and initial pleasantries. All the while Georgiana could barely look at Elizabeth, yet she was keen to do so to compare her mind's eye with the reality of the person before her.
Elizabeth was obliged to introduce Jane and her Aunt Gardiner to the cousins. Madeline Gardiner knew many people beyond those of her tradesman husband. She was very easy in saying to the cousins, "We are just waiting for a table ourselves. Won't you please join us?"
Without waiting for her cousin, Georgiana immediately replied in the affirmative and soon all were seated and placed their orders. Georgie sat next to Jane, but this vantage point gave her a better view to watch Elizabeth interact with Richard.
Wanting to reassure Colonel Fitzwilliam that there was no impropriety in their sharing a table, Madeline Gardiner started the conversation by saying, "Colonel, I believe you are the son of the Earl of Matlock? Yes?" A nod said she was correct. "I know your mother. We serve on the hospital charity board together. She always speaks so well of her son in the army." All were rewarded with a smile from the genial colonel. "The last time we visited, your mother was worrying over the tenants at the home farm, and the fire that they had recently suffered. I hope that things are well on their way to being mended?"
"Yes, I believe so. Mother and Father have recently returned to town after a journey to Matlock to check progress. It was a terrible thing for the tenants. But we have timber and a quarry on the estate and that has been used to help rebuild. Are you familiar with Matlock, Mrs. Gardiner?" Thus began a happy conversation about Mrs. Gardiner's association with and affection for Derbyshire.
Mrs. Gardiner was an excellent hostess, whether in her home or elsewhere, and she was able to draw all at the table into the conversation. Georgie, who was usually silent and reserved with people she did not know well, responded warmly to the obvious affection among the three women she had just met. And she felt the good will that all were displaying for her.
Georgie could see that Elizabeth was quick with a quip and just as fast to be a friend. She loved how Elizabeth's eyes were so fine, and Georgie thought they were Miss Elizabeth's most expressive feature. Watching Jane, it was evident that she was less of a wit than Miss Elizabeth, but she was oh-so-beautiful. These sisters seemed so gentle and kind, very different from the Bingley sisters.
All were delighted with their offerings from Gunters. But as the treats were consumed, the conversation and pairings shifted, and Georgie found herself talking with Jane exclusively.
"Miss Bennet, I understand that you met my brother in the fall when he visited Hertfordshire with Mr. Bingley. Is your estate nearby to the one that Mr. Bingley leased?"
"Oh yes. It is but three miles from our home at Longbourn to Netherfield Park. Netherfield Park is the largest estate in our area but it has been a bit neglected since the owners moved away several years ago. We were all hoping that Mr. Bingley would become a part of the neighborhood with his lease but that doesn't seem to be the case. He left before Christmas and has not returned."
Although her voice was steady, Georgiana detected a certain trembling of the lips when Jane uttered these simple sentences. A check at her face revealed her eyes to be very bright and close to spilling tears. "Miss Bennet, I am sorry that my question has upset you so. Please forgive me asking such a thing. I had no idea of its effect on you," cried Georgie.
"Oh, no, silly me. I must apologize to you. It is very silly of me to reveal….Never mind. I am well." A silence enveloped the pair as they attended to their sweet delights from Gunters.
Presently Jane cleared her throat and said, "Miss Darcy, I understand that you are a great lover of music. My sister Mary enjoys playing and I would like to find some new music for her while I am in London. Are there some new pieces that you can recommend for someone who is still becoming proficient in the art?" Thus equanimity was restored and conversation returned to normal.
Later as all the parties rumbled home in their own carriages, Richard and Georgiana began an earnest conversation about their encounter. "I certainly understand why Elizabeth Bennet would be the subject of some of my brother's letters. She is very pretty and genteel and has a wonderful laugh. I wonder how he came to never write of Miss Bennet? She has a very different look but surely she is more conventionally handsome. What do you think, Richard?"
Richard was deep in thought. "Well, I …"
"And another thing Richard. Miss Bennet became almost teary when she discussed Mr. Bingley. I had no idea asking about Mr. Bingley would get such a reaction from her. You would almost think there was an attachment there."
"What? What did you say? Tell me exactly what happened in your conversation with Miss Bennet!"
Georgie thought she would not like to often be on the receiving end of that commanding tone from her cousin. She quickly related all that had occurred, and Richard groaned and placed his hands over his face. "I can't believe it. How could I be so stupid to not put two and two together?"
"What do you mean?"
"Darce told me that he saved Charles, er, Bingley, from an inconvenient relationship this past fall. Now I assume it must have been while they were in Hertfordshire because that is where they were for months. Why did I never realize that the lady had to be from Hertfordshire? Do you think Darce saved Bingley from Miss Jane Bennet?"
"Why ever for? Why would brother do that? She is lovely. There must be more to this than we know."
"But who else could it have been? Look at his misery upon his return from Hertfordshire. Look at her misery at the mention of Bingley. It has to be that Bingley is missing Miss Bennet. I wonder what that is all about?" Richard paused and groaned deeply again.
Georgiana kept looking at her cousin. "Well? What else?"
"Why didn't I think about this sooner and that Miss Elizabeth is from Hertfordshire? Of course she might have knowledge of this. Why couldn't I see that before?" Richard was clearly agitated and groaned again. "I told her. I told Miss Elizabeth Bennet about Darce's action to separate Bingley from an unfortunate match. We were on a walk our last day in Kent. Miss Elizabeth immediately claimed a headache and returned to the parsonage. I see it now. She didn't have a headache. She was furious. And that is why she wasn't available to see us the next day when we departed Kent. Darce and I were the last people she would ever want to see. Oh no, what have I done?"
"Richard, first of all, Miss Elizabeth seemed cordial toward you today. I don't think she is holding anything against you. Besides, it sounds like the interference was on William's side. You think William separated Mr. Bingley from Miss Bennet? Can you believe it? We just don't know why. But at least we have a good idea why Mr. Bingley is so miserable and why Miss Bennet is equally miserable." The pair rode along in silence for a while, each with their own thoughts.
"You know, Richard, I look at Mr. Bingley and see now that his misery may be caused by being separated from the one he loves. Can you call that crossed in love? He is behaving very similarly to William. Do you think that William has been crossed in love? Do you think it is Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Remember that he wrote to me about her from Hertfordshire, quite happily as I recall, and then he came home miserable from Kent. Miss Elizabeth was there both times. What do you think? Could William be crossed in love too?"
"Will crossed in love? First of all, I can't imagine him falling in love or how he would ever get to that point. He is always so distant, so awkward with the ladies. Second, how could he be crossed in love? Who would ever turn him down? What lady would ever not fall for his attentions?"
"If I remember your words earlier today, didn't you say that Miss Elizabeth didn't care two straws about William? Didn't you say there were barbs in her conversation with him? If that is not falling for his attentions, then I don't know what is."
Silence reigned between the cousins as Richard pondered the conversation and interaction he had witnessed while in Kent between his cousin and the charming Miss Elizabeth Bennet. "Georgie, I have been so blind. He was always pursuing her in his awkward and rather difficult way. You know how hard it is for him to engage in conversation with anyone, yet he persisted with her. He didn't make much progress but he kept at it. Then that last night we were there, he disappeared after dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Collins joined us for dinner but Miss Elizabeth was ill and did not attend. This is the same day that I told her about Darce and Bingley and that she claimed a headache. After dinner it was still light and he was gone from the house with no explanation to me or Aunt Catherine. I later saw him in a foul mood and I could hear him moving around his room until all hours of the night. The next day we left Kent he was up early and out for a walk. Our ride to town in the carriage was unusually silent. He looked anguished and sad and angry all at the same time."
"What to you think it means?"
"I think he visited Miss Elizabeth in private after dinner and they had words, probably relating to the information I imparted about her sister and Bingley. She likely gave him an uncommon set-down and he stormed off. Perhaps he stewed about it all night and was still stewing in the carriage. I don't know."
"Richard, I think that my brother is in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet and that they have argued. I don't know if he made her an offer, but if he did, she must have refused him. That is what is wrong with him. He has been crossed in love. Just like Mr. Bingley."
Tuesday morning, Matlock House
"Good morning, Mother!"
"Richard! How nice to see you downstairs so early today! How is my dear boy?"
"Mother, I am well, as you can see. I spent the day with Georgiana yesterday and we ran some errands for her to get ready for her birthday party on Friday. She is very excited about the theater and dinner afterwards. It is her first big event and even though it she isn't out, this is her first venture to the theater. She is so excited that she can hardly stand it. Thank you for doing this for her!"
A mother's indulgent smile was Richard's reward. He continued: "While we were at Gunter's yesterday, we met a friend of yours, Mrs. Edward Gardiner, who was there with her nieces."
"Ah, yes, dear Madeline. She is such a sweet creature and so attentive to her nieces from the country. I work with her at the hospital charity, you know, and she is so diligent and gets along well with all."
"Yes, we met her nieces, Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"I met those girls several years ago. Very sweet and so well mannered. I think they very probably have both grown to be beauties. Am I right?"
"Uh, yes, Mother, they are both very pretty. Georgiana was quite taken with them and wondered if it would be possible to include them and their aunt and uncle at the theater on Friday? I don't know who else is invited and if there is enough room in the boxes."
"Certainly. I will send a note round to Gracechurch Street with an invitation at once. And we will ask them for dinner afterwards."
"Well, you can give me the invitation as Georgiana wants to call on them this afternoon and I am to accompany her. Georgiana may want to ask one more person who is also known to you, if she can. She won't know until Thursday but do we have room for one more gentleman?"
"Is this a gentleman for Georgiana? I'm not sure I approve of that at all, my dear."
"No, Mother, it is not. It is Charles Bingley, whom you have met before. A great friend of Darcy's. He is also known to the Miss Bennets. Georgiana thinks that she would like to include him but she will not know for sure until Thursday. Can you squeeze him in?"
"Yes, we'll hold open a place but that is five more and I don't think I can manage any more. Fair enough?" A nod of her son's head said it was. "You worked that out nicely, didn't you son? Not to worry. The Gardiners are lovely people, even if they are in trade. I don't understand how the ton limit themselves so to such a restricted group of people. Thank goodness neither your father nor I were raised that way, and neither were you or your siblings. Where your brother got such ideas about his station is beyond me, but that is another matter! Yes, indeed, we shall have the Gardiners and their two pretty nieces with us on Friday. And perhaps Mr. Bingley."
The Darcy carriage rolled through London from Mayfair to Gracechurch Street, past the financial district and past the warehouses. The cousins discussed again the affairs of Darcy and Bingley. What could it all mean? They agreed they were on the right track, until or unless events proved them wrong.
Arriving at a good-sized house on this street of well-maintained homes in this less than fashionable district was not expected by either cousin. Neither had ever ventured here before, and the gentility of the surroundings surprised them both. But, considering the connections Mrs. Gardiner had, it was to be anticipated.
The callers were announced by the house parlor maid and shown into the drawing room where all the ladies of the house were visiting and doing needlework.
"Mrs. Gardiner, how pleased we are to see you again. I bring greetings from my mother and an invitation for you. This Friday we are going to the theater and then having a small supper at home. But, here is the invitation and you can read it for yourself."
Georgiana was waiting for Richard to finish when she added "It is my birthday this week and my dearest Aunt is giving me my first opportunity "out" to the theater and a small supper. I do so hope that you can all come and Mr. Gardiner too, of course!"
"Georgiana, congratulations on your birthday! That is very fine indeed. Yes, we are available on Friday and we would be pleased to join you. Colonel, please thank your mother for her kind invitation. Let me pen a note for you and call for tea. I will return shortly."
Good tea, good manners and good conversation were shared by all. Today's visit reinforced the good opinion of each of the participants for the others. At the end of the visit, Georgiana proffered an invitation to tea at Darcy house and, happy plans were made to meet again soon at 3:00 on Thursday.
"Mrs. Annesley, I have invited ladies for tea tomorrow and I want to invite Mr. Bingley to join us. He is very sociable and I think he would fit in well. Would you please pen the note for me? Please be very explicit for him to arrive precisely at 2:45. Not a moment later. Please?" And so it was done that on the next day, the Bennet ladies would meet Charles Bingley for the first time since the 26th of November.
Charles Bingley was a good-natured and amiable sort of man about town. He had his business interests but he had to keep them a bit quiet so as not to be tainted by the stain of trade. His good father had left him well fixed financially, and it was up to him to become the gentleman that his father envisioned.
It was with great delight that Bingley had received the invitation from little Georgiana, but it was a bit peculiar. He must arrive at exactly 2:45. Very mysterious, this. But being a good friend to the brother and hopefully a sort of older brother to the sister, he was happy to oblige. Remembering the "argument" between Miss Elizabeth and Darcy in the fall, Bingley wondered, was this yielding easily to the persuasion of a friend? Yes! And he was happy to do so! A knock on the Darcy door, an announcement by Rivers the butler, and he was soon within.
"Ah Bingley! Welcome!"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam! How good to see you! It has been far too long. Miss Darcy."
"Mr. Bingley, thank you for coming today. I so appreciate it. Please take a seat. I need to tell you that my brother will not be joining us today but we have other guests who are known to you."
"Well, I have recently met and become acquainted with two ladies from Hertfordshire. I believe that you know them both. Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet…
"Miss Bennet will be here?"
"Yes. They will both be here and they will be accompanied by their aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, who is a friend of Lady Matlock. I particularly wanted you to be here when they visit because I don't know them that well and I understand that you do and I thought that it might be nice for you to renew your acquaintance with them."
"Here? The Miss Bennets will be here? When? Now? At 3:00? Well that is delightful. I should be very happy to see them again. It has been an age." If possible, Mr. Bingley's smile became wider and his face more open. You could see the joy building inside him.
Georgie looked at Bingley most earnestly and said with deliberate slowness, "I was very glad to meet them also. It is strange that I had never run into Miss Bennet before, considering that she has been in town since January."
"Since when? January? Where has she been?"
"Why, at her aunt's home in Gracechurch Street. I am so surprised that Miss Bingley didn't mention it to you because your sister had visited Miss Bennet sometime in February."
"How do you know this? Did Ja, er, Miss Bennet mention this to you?"
"Miss Elizabeth mentioned it," said Georgie.
"Caroline never said… What must she think of me? Dear Jane!" Bingley walked to the fireplace and looked in, though nothing was burning there. His face was afire with embarrassment and mortification. Not only had he abandoned his dear Jane but his sister had seen her and he knew, deep down, what a viper she could be. " I must get to the bottom of this," thought Bingley. "Why did I ever listen to Darce about my angel? Now, I get another chance."
Georgiana and Richard shared a sidelong glance at each other. Richard said, "Well prepare yourself, Bingley. I think I hear a carriage pulling up outside, and it is sure to be our guests." Richard walked to the fireplace and clapped a hand on the shoulder there and said, "Bingley, this is an opportunity. Go to it, man."
Rivers announced the ladies and turning around from the fireplace was none other than Charles Bingley. He looked directly at Jane, went to her and claimed her hand saying, "Miss Bennet it has been months since we danced at Netherfield. How delighted I am to see you." Poor Jane knew not where to look but she felt the reassurance of her hand in his and saw the warmth in his eyes that was previously there. Jane knew not what to do, but she knew that all the past months had evaporated in an instant. Mr. Bingley was here!
"Mr. Bingley, what a pleasure and a surprise. Please let me introduce to you my aunt, Mrs. Edward Gardiner."
"Delighted, Mrs. Gardiner. Miss Elizabeth, how nice to see you again." Elizabeth curtsied and could see that Mr. Bingley had eyes for no one but Jane. Georgiana called for tea and Bingley made certain to sit as close to Jane as possible. While others held the general conversation, Bingley and Jane were in deep and quiet conversation, and you could hear an occasional gasp from Jane. Heads turned but as Jane did not appear to be in distress, their conversation continued unabated.
As tea was finished and all the participants rose, Mr. Bingley made certain that he had the address for the house in Gracechurch Street. There is no way he would depend on Caroline providing it to him. "Mrs. Gardiner, may I call on you tomorrow afternoon?"
"No, I am sorry. We have an engagement then." A quick look at Jane told her all she needed to know. "Perhaps in the morning instead?" A nod. "Good. Until then."
Their carriage was at the front door of Darcy House. Mrs. Gardiner then Jane alighted. Last to get on was Elizabeth Bennet, who was wearing a blue dress that she had often worn in Kent. The dress had a sweet little hat and matching feathers. It was this flash of blue that Fitzwilliam Darcy saw as he was rounding the corner and watching a strange carriage pull away from his house. "What the devil! Can't be." Yet as the carriage rolled by, there in the window sat his Elizabeth.
Darcy bounded up the steps of his London residence. "Rivers, where is Miss Darcy?"
"They are all still in the drawing room, sir."
"The Colonel, Mr. Bingley and Miss Darcy, sir."
"Thank you. Is there any tea?"
"I'll have some fresh delivered to you, sir."
"Georgiana, Richard, Bingley. I just saw a carriage leave. I didn't know there was a party today. Who were those people?"
All the others looked at each other and then at Darcy. "Brother, that was Mrs. Edward Gardiner and her two nieces, Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. They came to tea and on Friday they are coming to my birthday party."
"How do you know them? Richard what is your part in this? And you Bingley, what are you doing here?"
More long looks. Richard started first. "Georgie and I ran into them at Gunter's on Monday. Georgie remembered your writing of Miss Elizabeth from your visit with Bingley here and when we saw them, I introduced them and now here we are."
"Yes, and brother, we visited them on Tuesday at their home on Gracechurch Street and invited them to my party."
"Why was I not informed of this?"
Georgie's eyes turned bright and tears were threatening to spill over. Richard noticed this and said, "Steady on, Darce. You were busy, Georgie needed some errands run, you were out, she called me, there's nothing more to it than that."
"Yes but this is Thursday and all that happened on Monday. Again, why was I not informed of this?"
"Brother, do you have an objection to my knowing the Miss Bennets?"
"No. Yes. No." Darcy ran his hand through his hair in a gesture of frustration and impatience. "Charles as happy as I am to see you, as always, what are you doing here?"
"Georgie invited me to have tea. Since she knew I had met the Miss Bennets before, she invited me to round out the party. I'm going to see them tomorrow morning. Would you like to come with me?"
"Charles, may we go to the study? I have something to discuss with you. Privately."
"Mr. Bingley, before you go, please join our party on Friday night at the theater and then dinner at the Matlock's afterwards. Do say you will come?"
"Certainly. I would be delighted."
"Excellent. I'll send round the particulars. Thank you for coming for tea this afternoon."
"Believe me, Miss Darcy. The pleasure has been all mine."
Darcy's imperious glare was in full force as he said, "Charles? The study?"
The two friends moved into the study where William immediately assumed his position by the window. "Charles, I have something to confess to you. I learned several weeks ago that Miss Jane Bennet very likely did return your regard while we were in Hertfordshire. My opinion that she did not was clearly wrong. I am sorry that I advised you otherwise."
"Darce, how do you know this?"
"I had a conversation with Miss Elizabeth, who was visiting her friend Miss Charlotte Lucas, now Mrs. Collins, at the same time I was visiting my aunt. In that conversation, Miss Elizabeth let me know that her sister held you in high regard and was suffering most miserably by your absence. I interfered in your affairs and I was wrong to do so. Not only was I wrong in my opinion, I was wrong for interfering. I can see how miserable you have been since November, and I know that I contributed to it. I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me this. I have been trying to find the right time to discuss this with you."
"Darcy I have…"
"And it is not only this. I must also tell you that I knew Miss Bennet has been in town since January and I concealed it from you. I know that Miss Bennet visited your sisters and that Caroline returned the call. I have concealed that also. Again, I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me. All this. So much."
Again, the signet ring is twisting and the hand is running through the hair. Darcy is in quite a state.
"Darcy, I must tell you that were it not for Georgiana, I would be very, very angry with you right now. I know that you have often rescued me from social mistakes but by God, this was going too far. And yes, I would be angry. But I can forgive you because I have seen Miss Jane Bennet this day and I know that I love her as much as ever and I also believe that she still has regard for me. Had you confessed this to me without my having seen her again, yes, I would be very, very angry, but not now. We move on." Bingley's hand came forward and Darcy shook it firmly and then embraced Bingley, much to his surprise. "So, will you go with me to Gracechurch Street tomorrow?"
"No, Charles. I thank you. But that is an errand you will do best on your own. Now I must go see to my little sister."
"Darce, don't be hard on her. What that girl has wrought is a miracle and I will thank her for it every day and ask her to be godmother to one of our children!"
Bingley found his way out while Darcy made his way to the drawing room where Richard and Georgie awaited his return. "Richard, what do you have to do with all this?"
"Darce, I told you. We ran errands, ran into the Miss Bennets and the rest is history. Mother has invited them to the theater and the dinner on Friday."
"There's more. I know it. Spill it. Tell me now, Richard."
"Well I suppose there is just one more thing." Richard watched Darcy twist his signet ring. "Well it is about Kent. I told Miss Elizabeth that you had separated Bingley from a most unfortunate relationship. She did not take it well and in fact, that is the night that she did not come to dinner at Aunt Catherine's. Mrs. Collins said she was unwell, but I think she was furious because that "unfortunate relationship" was her dearest sister Jane. Am I right?"
"Richard, of all the blundering idiots. Why did you tell that to Miss Elizabeth? What could have been your purpose?"
"Well I met her in the park and we began discussing you and your care for others, such as Georgiana, and then I mentioned this as another example. How would I know it would have such repercussions? Besides, what business it is of yours to be separating a man from his lady love? Bingley is clearly besotted with her and from what I saw of her behavior today, only a blind person could miss that she is clearly besotted with him. Are you blind?"
Deep sigh. "Yes, Richard, I am blind. I could not see affection on her part. Her mother would throw any of her daughters at a rich man. Whether she felt any affection for my friend or not, Miss Bennett would have been forced to marry him by that avaricious mother. I wanted more for Bingley than that, so I warned him off. No, I did not see her affection. She holds herself in such great reserve that it is hard to tell her emotions."
"Great reserve. Hummph. Who else do we know like that? Richard, what say you?" Georgie smiled at her cousin and then turned a smirk to her brother. "Hmmm?"
"Yes, I am blind and I don't show my emotions. You're right. I admit it. Jane Bennet must admire my friend. I have it on good authority from her sister, Miss Elizabeth. It must be so." Darcy walked to the window, paced and turned to face the others. "Yes, I don't show my feelings to the world either, so why would I condemn Jane Bennet for not showing hers. I understand that. Now." The hand goes through the hair again. The body walked to the window and the eyes stared. The cousin and the sister waited for him to speak again.
Darcy turned from the window and faced his family. "I have just confessed my interference to Bingley in all that has happened. He has forgiven me, thanks to you Georgie. I don't know how you knew this or engineered their meeting but it was a wonderful thing you did to rescue my friend from his misery that I created."
"Brother, since you are confessing. Do you have one more confession to make? Are you in love with Elizabeth Bennet? Tell the truth."
Richard and Georgie held their breath and stared at Darcy. For his part, Darcy looked at his shoes, twisted his ring and made a decision. He looked them both full in the face.
"I am. Desperately, hopelessly. And she won't have me. I have proposed, and she won't have me. My timing was perfection itself. I proposed right after you had told her about Bingley." Richard groaned. Darcy directed a smile toward Richard. "Don't take it such to heart. Her dislike of me wasn't founded only on that, and she advised me that I was the last man on earth she could ever be prevailed upon to marry."
"Oh Brother! No!"
"Oh yes. At the time I was very angry, very disappointed. I said things that should not have been said." There was a long pause, the hand went through the hair, the signet ring turned some more. "In fact, I botched the entire thing, so Richard, I can't have you taking any blame for this. I began by telling her of the inferiority of her connections and moved on from there." A gasp from Georgiana. "Yes, I know. What was I thinking to say that to the woman I loved. That I love still. Yes, I botched it all on my own, Richard, so be easy. My pride, my abominable pride has gotten between me and the woman I love so very desperately."
Such a look of anguish came over his face that Georgie jumped up to embrace her brother. She could feel him shaking and motioned for Richard to come over as well.
Richard finally spoke. "Darce, you love her still. You must pursue her and let her know that you were wrong. Prove to her that you are worthy of her. I know so many men who have a veneer of the gentleman but you, you truly are a gentle man in all you do. You are worthy of pleasing Miss Bennet and you just have to show her. This Friday at the theater, you get your chance. Miss Elizabeth will be there and perhaps you can start over. Go to it, man!"
Georgiana's big day had arrived: her first outing to the theater, her first adult party in her honor. No, she wasn't "out" and all attendees were family, or nearly so, but this was a start. Georgiana had visited Lady Matlock's modiste for a suitable dress for her age and station. It wasn't a little girl dress but it wasn't quite a lady's dress either. But it suited her perfectly.
Georgie was quite atwitter about seeing Jane and Elizabeth once again. She had not seen Mr. Bingley since his visit to Jane at Gracechurch Street that morning, but she was hoping all was well. She would know about that duo the moment she saw them at the theater. Now if she could only maneuver to get her brother close to Miss Elizabeth, that too would be on the road to recovery.
While walking to the carriage, William exclaimed over how pretty Georgie looked and how grown up. "But I won't go on about it because I don't want to turn your head. You know you look very well indeed. Come, give me a kiss. Thank you again for your encouragement yesterday. Keeping all that inside was making me miserable, and I know now it was making you miserable too. Again, I am so sorry for all the bother. Your brother, the bother. That's me."
"Oh Will. That's not true. I could not imagine a better, stronger, finer, more gentlemanly brother than you. You will always be the perfect brother for me. Besides, I'm not going to get another, so I better do the best I can with the one I have."
"Minx. Are you sure you haven't spent much time with Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"No, but I am hoping!!! Now at the theater, I am sure that Aunt Ellen will want me to sit on the first row in the box. I will sit in the middle and I want the Miss Bennets on either side of me. You and Mr. Bingley can sit on the side of them. I am hoping that will give you some opportunities. Aunt and Uncle and Richard can sit on the back row with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. That should work out perfectly. Will you help me get that arrangement?"
"Like I said, minx! Yes, if I can I will. I will also tell Richard and he will help. Ah, here is Charles. Perfect timing!"
Luckily for everyone, all three carriages arrived at the theater at the same time, making introductions easy, and the seating arrangements happened just as planned. Jane and Bingley could not keep their eyes off each other, so Georgie knew that her brother's interference, which had made things go very wrong, had been set right by her interference! Now, if she could only help her brother.
Darcy and Elizabeth had walked up the stairs to the box together but both were so overset with their own thoughts, their own resolutions that neither one spoke much. When they did, of course, it was simultaneously. "Oh no, you first Miss Bennet. Please. I was just about to remark on the size of the theater or the number of couples at the theater. Completely inane, I assure you." All this was said with a smile.
Elizabeth laughed and smiled up at him, recalling her earlier comments at the Netherfield ball. Yes, this man had a wit. She was fortunate enough to look at this face at this very moment to be able to see not only the smile but the warmth in his eyes that she had always mis-read in the past. Not one to make the same mistake twice, she now knew what that look meant. If only she could say what she wanted to say before show started. She knew she would not be able to concentrate on the performance at all; instead she was worried about this very important performance of her own.
"I think that is a very good start and perhaps I might remark about the decorations or the temperature of the theater. But that is enough for now." Darcy appreciated the look in her fine eyes and the arch of that pretty brow, more now than ever before. He smiled at her again and waited for her to continue. "Mr. Darcy, I must tell you how ar…."
"May I show you to your box, sir?" The floor usher was at the top of the stairs and ready to assist them. All conversation of a private nature ceased. They were immediately followed by the others and naturally Elizabeth had to wait longer for her performance. In any other circumstances Elizabeth would have reveled in the word play and the performances on the stage, but she was too worried about her needed conversation with Mr. Darcy. She must have it. She must have her conversation. "Oh dear, I am starting to sound like Lady Catherine and we can't have that," thought Elizabeth.
Intermission finally arrived and Darcy asked Elizabeth and Georgiana to accompany him for refreshments in the lobby. While Elizabeth was happy to spend more time with Georgiana, she knew her plans had again been thwarted. How would she ever manage to say what she needed to say to the brother?
"Miss Bennet, are you remaining in town long? I would hope to see you more often in the coming weeks." Georgie was trying to think of how she could encourage more meetings between her brother and the woman whom she hoped would be her sister.
"Unfortunately, no. My sister and I are returning to our home early next week. Tuesday, I believe." Darcy returned with punch for all and so he caught just the end of the exchange.''
"Tuesday? Did you say you are leaving on Tuesday?" As soon as he let go of the punch glasses, he began to twist his ring, a sign that Georgie knew signaled anxiety.
"Yes, we leave on Tuesday. But tomorrow we plan to visit my uncle's warehouses. My uncle imports fabrics, laces and trimmings from around the world. The warehouse is usually a bit quieter on Saturday afternoon, and we can go in and select what we want before the goods get distributed to the various modistes and shops in London. Would you care to come with us? Both of you, I mean? If you have never been to such a place, I believe you will find it a wonder."
Darcy was surprised at this offer but readily accepted, especially when he could see the happiness on his sister's face at the invitation. "Miss Bennet, we would be delighted. We shall call on you and then leave from Gracechurch Street. Say 1:00?" It was done. Darcy decided this was another opportunity for him. Perhaps he could show her that he did not resent their awful conversation at Hunford and had worked on his faults.
Elizabeth decided this was another opportunity for her, if she wasn't successful tonight. With so many people around, her chances were getting slim. Jane and Bingley wandered over in the crush and Jane began, "Miss Darcy, thank you for the recommendation on the piano music. I have located it and think it will suit my sister Mary quite well." The three were chatting amiably as Darcy and Elizabeth looked on.
Perhaps Elizabeth's opportunity was now after all. "Mr. Darcy, I have so wanted to speak to you again on a matter very personal to us both. Would it be convenient for…."
"Darcy! I say! Haven't seen you at the theater in an age! What! Who is this pretty young woman?"
Darcy and Elizabeth looked at each other for the briefest moment and both groaned inwardly for yet another interruption. "Uncle Raymond. How good to see you! Miss Elizabeth, this is my father's oldest friend, Lord Raymond Bellamy. This is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. You should say hello to Georgie over there. It is her seventeenth birthday."
"Is it, by Jove. Well lead on." Another missed opportunity. Darcy and Elizabeth were becoming equally desperate for a moment alone. But the play began, was over and soon they were in separate carriages headed toward Matlock House. Perhaps there would be an opportunity during dinner?
Dinner was a grand affair with only ten participants but the meal, service and settings were splendid indeed. Mrs. Bennet certainly set an excellent table, but it was nothing compared to this. Alas, Elizabeth and Darcy were not sitting close to each other, but Richard and Georgie were near Elizabeth. They knew the problem and were both ready to help.
"Miss Elizabeth, I understand from Georgie that there is a trip planned for tomorrow to your uncle's warehouse. I think it must look like Ali Baba's cave, the goods there will be so wondrous." A smile from Elizabeth. "And yet, I bet it is just the sort of place where you can easily get lost, just like on a country lane or the walks at Rosings. Perhaps you and Darce will get lost there and have one of your rambles, as you were so often wont to do in Kent!"
"Colonel, I assure you that all those meetings with Mr. Darcy while on my rambles were purely accidental on my part. For Mr. Darcy, I cannot say!" The eyebrow was arched and her voice was laughing. "We have started several conversations while at the theater that I would like to complete, so perhaps your suggestion has merit. We shall see."
Later at Darcy House, Georgiana said, "Brother, I know she wants to talk to you. She said as much while we were at dinner. Specifically she mentioned several conversations at the theater that she wanted to finish. Did you not see how often she glanced your way during dinner? Didn't you see how unattentive she was during the play because she was so fidgety? Why would she be fidgety? She was worried about you and about what she wanted to say. Tomorrow, I suggest that you and Miss Elizabeth wander off in the warehouse and have some conversation. I will do all I can to help."
Later at Gracechurch Street Jane said, "Sister, I know you have not been focused on Georgiana tonight. Are you regretting spending time in Mr. Darcy's company? Are you regretting refusing his proposal? What is going on? Talk to me."
"Oh Jane. I haven't told you everything. Yes, I refused Mr. Darcy and no I don't regret it. But I am horrified by the way that I spoke to him and the things that I accused him of. I was so unjust. I must apologize to him. I don't know if he is the man for me or not, but I believe that the man I thought he was is not the man he is. I desperately need to speak with him to apologize and to ascertain his feelings. Then I would like the chance to get to know him better. I don't want to shut him out and never have the opportunity to know him. From what I saw tonight, he was so amiable with everyone, including Aunt and Uncle - people who are in trade! People whom I would think he could disdain. But I was wrong. He was lovely. I really would like to know him more. He seems a different man from the one we met in Hertfordshire. I think he still has feelings for me."
Lizzy could feel the emotions of the past week catching up with her. "Why oh why can women and men not communicate with each other? Why can't we discuss our feelings and know what the other feels? For a man to just spring a proposal on you from out of nowhere and have it so unexpected. The man has given it thought before he asks, but the woman has had no such opportunity. All you can do is refuse or accept it. It is so wrong. There is no middle ground. It is just so unfair."
She sat a few minutes more and finally said, "I feel like I don't know Mr. Darcy. From what I have seen of him tonight, I want to know more of this Mr. Darcy. I do want to know him more." Lizzy looked out the window and the tears were running down her cheeks. Dear Jane was so concerned for her sister but knew that words were not the answer. So she just held her until Lizzy pulled away.
"Tomorrow we will be in uncle's warehouse. I am going to try to separate Mr. Darcy from the rest of the group and get lost among the racks so that we can have five minutes of quiet conversation together. I tried last night so many times and was never successful. I must speak with him."
"Do you think that is right? What will Aunt Gardiner say? Oh Lizzy, do be careful."
"Jane, just five minutes. That is all I ask. I must speak to him alone. Help me Jane. Think how you have suffered with this terrible communication problem with Mr. Bingley. Had you been able to speak openly and freely, the terrible trauma you have suffered since November would have been avoided. You and Mr. Bingley are well on your way to an understanding now that you have been able to speak freely." Jane smiled, blushed prettily and nodded. "I need to speak to Mr. Darcy. Help me."
"Welcome to the Gardiners of Gracechurch! I am so pleased to have you here! Miss Darcy, Mr. Darcy, welcome! I wager you have never been in such a place. We supply the fabrics and trimmings to the finest shops and modistes in all of England. Please start wandering around and looking. When you find something you want, just point it out to one of the boys and they will bring it to the front to be cut."
Aunt Gardiner began first. "Miss Darcy, I am going to look for fabrics for some new fall day dresses. Although it is late spring, the fall fabrics have begun to arrive. I am looking for darker colors but a medium weight. I know that you will likely want a heavier weight, Derbyshire weather being so much cooler than here, but I know where those are. Would you like to come with me?" A nod from Georgie confirmed the plan.
"Aunt, Lizzy and I are taking Mr. Darcy to the men's fabrics. We will wander down a different aisle." A nod from Mrs. Gardiner and the trio was off. Jane walked ahead to the heavier fabric while Elizabeth and Darcy were quick behind her. They stopped and admired the fabrics but soon Jane wandered farther down the aisle looking at other items and quickly turned the corner leaving Darcy and Elizabeth alone.
Not wanting to waste a moment alone, Elizabeth began, "Mr. Darcy, I know we don't have much time. Please allow me to say how much I want to apologize to you for the hurtful things that I said to you that awful evening in Kent. Your letter showed me how much I had misjudged you. I even understand how you misjudged Jane's affection. I am astounded at the wickedness that Wickham has foisted on you and dear Georgiana. How I could believe that man I do not know. It was wrong of me, so wrong. I do not believe that you are the man I thought you were. I do so humbly apologize and hope that you will forgive me. I know it is not usual for ladies and gentlemen to converse about their feelings but I had to right the wrong I have done. I do beg your forgiveness."
This was said in a rush of words so fast that Darcy scarcely heard her words because he was so mesmerized by her eyes, her scent, her everything. But he did understand that she was giving him a chance to start again.
For her part, Elizabeth saw the warmth in his eyes but also saw that he was still and tense. "Now I have offended him again and all I wanted to do was apologize," thought Elizabeth as she studied her shoes.
"Miss Bennet, there is no need for you to apologize for that evening. The lack of decorum was all on my side, I assure you. Everything I said gave offense. I don't know how I came to be so clumsy and make such a mess of it. I have always had difficulty expressing myself. But I assure you, my affection was sincere. Is sincere. It remains so." He looked at the top of her head, willing for her to look up.
And look up she did. The expression of love on his face left no doubt in her mind that his attachment was still strong. Her look to him was neutral at first but she could not resist returning the smile. "Could we…."
"Elizabeth? Elizabeth? Oh there you are. I wanted your opinion on this blue for Miss Darcy. Have you and Jane helped Mr. Darcy find something?"
"Aunt, I think I have found just the thing down here. Come look," called Jane. Mrs. Gardiner and Georgiana moved down the aisle to the end where Jane was looking. Lizzy and Darcy followed but not before Lizzy's smile became more dazzling and Mr. Darcy showed Lizzy his handsome dimples for the first time.
"I noticed, Mr. Darcy, that you had a lovely green waistcoat and I wondered if you favored that color and might not like another in a similar color but different pattern. This one seems very nice."
"Miss Bennet, it is perfect. Thank you." And the bolt was removed from the rack. As the group headed toward the front, Mr. Darcy leaned toward Jane and said with his warmest smile, "Yes, thank you again for everything."
The cuttings from the bolts were made and purchases paid for and all headed for the Darcy carriage. The Bennet sisters were returning home with the Gardiners after closing the warehouse.
Darcy knew he must seize the opportunity before him. "Miss Elizabeth, may I call on you tomorrow? In the afternoon?"
Lizzy's eyes settled on him and noted the earnest gaze toward her person. "Yes, Mr. Darcy, you may. Perhaps Mr. Bingley would like to join you so that we may take a walk in the park." Lizzy bestowed another smile on the joyful Darcy.
Darcy helped Georgiana into their carriage. The door was barely closed when Georgie pounced. "Well, Brother. What happened? Tell me all!"
"Georgie, I won't do it. But I will tell you that things are looking up and I am to visit tomorrow. I asked for a visit and she agreed. She suggested Bingley could come also so that we could walk in the park."
"I knew it! I just knew it! When you disappeared I knew something was happening. Oh Brother, I am so happy for you. And if she wants Mr. Bingley to come, that means she intends to walk out with you as Jane walks out with Mr. Bingley. You can all be together and proper, but I am sure you will be alone. Oh this is too good. Do you think she returns your regard?"
"No, not yet. But I think that she may, in time, if she gives me a chance and if I can prove to her I am a gentleman and not an ogre. Little sister, you have helped me and my cause more than you know. How did you get to be so wise?"
"I don't know. I guess it all started when I wrote a note!"The End