Elizabeth Bennet's head ached as she attempted to absorb everything written in her sister's letters. She could not stay within the confines of the inn...I must find my uncle and aunt. Oh, where are they? She walked out of the inn and into the street, hardly knowing where she was going.
"Miss Bennet, is that you?"
She turned around and found Georgiana Darcy standing before her, carrying a basket with different types of fabric, along with a servant holding several parcels of shopping.
They curtsied, and Miss Darcy inquired after Elizabeth. "I must confess that I am a little surprised to see you. My brother, well...Mr. Darcy told me that he was going to pay you a visit this afternoon."
"Did you not see him?"
"No..." She was at a loss for words. Why would Mr. Darcy come to see her? If he were to discover what happened to my sister... "I was not aware that he...I did not know Mr. Darcy had intended to pay me a visit. He said nothing of it last night..."
"He did not mention that it was a fixed engagement. All he told me that he was going to make some visits with tenants and then come to see you at the inn. Pray tell me, are you well? You look quite pale."
Elizabeth did indeed look pale after reading Jane's letters. She did not know how to tell Miss Darcy that she and her aunt and uncle would not be able to attend their dinner that evening. She informed Miss Darcy briefly that she had just received urgent news from home that she needed to share with her relatives, but could not find them.
"Do you know where they went?"
"The church, I think."
Despite her protestations, Miss Darcy insisted that she accompany Elizabeth to find her relations while Miss Darcy's servant carried her parcels back to her carriage. Finally, they found Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at the village library. They were very concerned at seeing their niece's discomposure and insisted that they take refreshment at the tea parlour that faced the library. They also greeted Miss Darcy cordially.
They sat in a private corner of the parlour, and Elizabeth, feeling she had not an instant to lose, began by apologising to Miss Darcy.
"Miss Darcy, I must acquaint my uncle and aunt with some news which I fear will cause you some pain, but I must apologise in advance. I can no longer delay disclosing the sad truth. Uncle, Aunt, I have received the most distressing news from Jane. I can hardly believe it, but..." She looked doubtfully at Miss Darcy.
"What is it?" Miss Darcy asked. Elizabeth was pleased at her concern in her family's affairs, but did not wish to hurt her by mentioning the man who had caused her so much pain so recently.
"Jane has written to say that Lydia has gone missing..."
"What? Lydia missing?" her aunt exclaimed with surprise.
"Please let me finish. Lydia has gone missing from Brighton, for she has thrown herself into the power of...of Mr. Wickham."
There was the smallest of gasps from Miss Darcy, but she recovered quickly. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were speechless.
Finally Mr. Gardiner spoke. "Go on, Lizzy. What else did Jane write?"
"It is not known where they are, and father asked Jane to write and request your immediate assistance. So you see, we have not a moment to lose." She looked gravely at Miss Darcy, with such an look of entreaty and sympathy, at which Miss Darcy could not help but remember what her brother once said about Miss Bennet's lovely expressive eyes. "Miss Darcy, you will have to excuse us from your dinner party this evening."
"Pray do not trouble yourself. I understand completely. You need to return to your family and assist your sister." Miss Darcy's voice trembled a little, but remained steady.
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner rose. "Lizzy, stay with Miss Darcy and finish your tea. We will proceed to the inn and make arrangements to leave as soon as possible. I insist." Mr. Gardiner put his hand on Elizabeth's shoulder, as she was about to rise and join them. "Yes, please apologise for us to your brother for not being able to attend this evening."
Elizabeth sipped her tea nervously as she watched her aunt and uncle leave. "Miss Darcy, I have a confession to make."
"No, Miss Bennet, it is I who have a confession to make." Elizabeth was surprised at this, but let Miss Darcy speak. "I...uh...am not as surprised at your sister's disappearance as you might expect me to be. I know too well how ill-used your sister has probably been at the hands of Mr. Wickham. I...I know this because I...I nearly suffered the same fate." Tears sprang to her eyes despite her efforts.
"Miss Darcy, there is no need for you to continue." Elizabeth impulsively reached out to reassure her. "In the strictest confidence, your brother disclosed to me the whole of what transpired between yourself and Mr. Wickham last summer. I did not want to mention it to my uncle and aunt because I wished to respect your brother's wishes to remain silent on this subject, as well as not to cause you any embarrassment."
Miss Darcy was genuinely surprised. Fitzwilliam's trust was hard to win; she knew that Elizabeth must be an important person in her brother's life to disclose such a personal matter to her...
Elizabeth interpreted Miss Darcy's silence as offence. "I hope you are not angered that your brother has told me..."
"No," interrupted Miss Darcy. "I am not in the least angered. I am actually relieved at not having to recount the entire story to you." She smiled weakly. "Now I understand the apprehension you must have felt in having to inform your uncle and aunt of the news in front of me."
"I did not want to distress you, that is true. Most of all, I did not want you to be angered at your brother for disclosing such an unpleasant affair to me..."
"He must have had his reasons to do so," said Miss Darcy thoughtfully to Elizabeth. Did Elizabeth also fall in love with George, she wondered, and her brother was wishing to warn her against an alliance? Or perhaps her brother was interested in her himself? He certainly paid her many compliments of late. She wished for once that she could read her brother's heart at that moment. "I am only sorry now to hear that another young lady is again under George...under Mr. Wickham's spell."
"If only I had conveyed this information to my family, then perhaps Lydia would have been better protected, but..." She looked at Miss Darcy. "I would never have betrayed your brother's confidence for anything. Oh, Lydia...stupid, stupid girl. She is ever so young."
"Do not place the whole of the blame on her. Mr. Wickham can be very persuasive."
Elizabeth blushed at what she said about Lydia, remembering all too well how close Miss Darcy was to Lydia's age. There was a brief but awkward pause.
Elizabeth looked into Miss Darcy's eyes. "Yes, I know. In fact, he convinced me that your brother had cheated him of his rightful inheritance. I am very sorry to admit how mistaken I have been in your brother, but you must understand that this is when I was just beginning to make his acquaintance." Before I understood his true character, before I was able to behold him as he truly is. How could I have been so mistaken?
"I do not doubt it. Mr. Wickham convinced me that he was deeply in love with me. But if he truly had, he would not have nearly dishonoured me in such a fashion."
Elizabeth reiterated her distress at having to make mention of a person who had caused her such grief.
"Please do not make yourself uneasy on my account. It had to be done, your uncle and aunt had to know. I am only sorry that your family must suffer as a consequence of that man's actions."
"So you will convey our humblest apologies to your brother and the rest of the Pemberley party?" Elizabeth rose, as she prepared to take her leave. "I really must go and rejoin my aunt and uncle, Miss Darcy."
"Yes, of course. I am sure that my brother and Mr. Bingley will be disappointed to learn of your sudden departure." She does not mention his sisters, for I am sure they will be thrilled beyond words to find me gone. Poor Mr. Darcy!
Elizabeth nodded, as her eyes met Miss Darcy's. There was a mutual understanding between them now. She wished that she could exact some sort of promise from Miss Darcy not to speak of what happened to Lydia to Mr. Darcy or anyone, but did not feel it would do any good. Soon all of London would be acquainted with news of the Bennet family's misfortune. She felt that perhaps this would be the last time she would ever be in the company of Miss Darcy. And now she would not even have the opportunity to bid her brother goodbye. She felt a twinge of pain at the thought. I will never see him again...
Little did Elizabeth know that when she thought those words, her lips mumbled them half unconsciously, and Miss Darcy heard and understood her.
I will never see him again for he shall want nothing to do with me.
Miss Darcy and Elizabeth shook hands, and Miss Darcy tried to give her an encouraging smile. "I do wish you and your family the very best, Miss Bennet. I hope that your sister will be soon recovered."
Yes, but the damage is done, and she is lost forever..."Thank you, Miss Darcy, I..." Elizabeth could not bring herself to ask for Miss Darcy's silence.
As if she read her mind, Miss Darcy quickly replied, "Do not trouble yourself, Miss Bennet. I will not acquaint them with news of your sister if you do not want me to." At least not yet, thought Georgiana. "I will tell them that your immediate return was requested and that I was ignorant of the reasons why. It is more or less true."
Elizabeth frowned slightly. "But I do not wish you to lie to your brother."
"It is true that I never lie to him, but rest assured, I will only omit the truth as need be."
Elizabeth, genuinely surprised, thanked Miss Darcy for her kindness and promptly departed the tea parlour to rejoin her party at the inn. Miss Darcy rejoined her servant at her carriage and returned to Pemberley.
Jane Bennet stood at her bedroom window in an anxious state, looking out onto the driveway of Longbourn. She was so nervous that she had not yet bothered to change into her nightclothes and it was quite late. She hoped against hope that her sister would finally return home after receiving the dreadful news about their youngest sister.
Jane was exhausted. Her days were now spent caring for a hysterical mother, a peculiarly reticent sister, another sister who moralised without end on Lydia's "fall," and her young cousins who, due to their age, had little sympathy for her unenviable position as family comforter.
"Where could they be?" Jane wondered aloud. "Why haven't they responded?" She half-expected an express horse to arrive any minute with news of their return. But so far, there was no word. Her letter was sent nearly a week ago, and she knew that if Elizabeth had not responded, there was something wrong. She knew that Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle would return promptly to Longbourn once they received news of Lydia's disappearance.
Jane also worried about her father. She was most concerned when he departed Longbourn immediately after receiving the express from Colonel Forster. She could not believe how so much had happened in only the span of a few days.
"Jane, I trust you to manage here until your sister and uncle and aunt return. I hope that Lydia may be found before their return, but I cannot let myself become too optimistic. I, after all, allowed Lydia to come to Brighton in the first place."
"Now is not the time to be so hard upon yourself, Papa. The most important matter at hand is to discover Lydia's whereabouts..."
"And afterwards? Oh, how is such a man to be worked upon?"
"Perhaps they have already married in Scotland?"
"They are certainly not gone to Scotland, or we would have received such news already. You may think differently, but I am prepared for the worst. I only hope your mother and sisters will be able to bear it."
"We will do our best to face whatever situation arises." Mr. Bennet smiled at this remark.
"I believe it well of you, and of Lizzy. Oh, to think of the consequences of Lydia's actions on both of you." He gave her a sorrowful look and chose not to deliberate farther on the matter. "Well, I must away."
"Papa, I shall not detain you a moment longer, but promise me...do be careful."
"Have you been listening to your mother? She thinks I shall meet my end in a duel! No, Jane, do not worry over me. I shall be well...I shall be perfectly well once this is all sorted out. Remember to give my note to your uncle once he arrives."
Jane reassured her father that she would follow all of his instructions. Again, she expressed her feelings of concern for her father's health and wondered if he should wait for Mr. Gardiner's surely imminent arrival.
"Jane, I cannot tarry any longer. I will write you upon my arrival and hopefully I will more news than we have now."
They embraced, and Jane walked with her father to the carriage. As she watched the carriage drive off, Jane thought about her father's words: Oh, to think of the consequences of Lydia's actions on both of you.
Jane did not want to think upon this; her disappointment upon Mr. Bingley's departure from Netherfield and his subsequent disregard of her presence in town was still fresh in her mind. She desperately longed to have Elizabeth back at her side to cheer and console her. Nothing could stop Jane from thinking that any future connection between her and Mr. Bingley was impossible.
This final conversation with her father and her thoughts following it would not quit Jane's mind, but this went unnoticed by her mother and sisters, who were too preoccupied with Lydia's disappearance to notice Jane's low spirits. Jane was well able to disguise her low spirits in public, but knew she could not do it for long.
Jane had never felt so alone in her life.
"Miss Jane?" Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, knocked on Jane's door. "Your mother is asking that you come to her chamber."
Jane sighed, as she lifted herself from her window seat, where she spent much time looking out for any sign of express horses or carriages. "Thank you, Hill." Jane searched for the needlework pattern she was working on earlier that afternoon to take with her to her mother's chamber when Kitty burst into the room.
"Jane, the carriage is here! They've come!" Kitty was already in her nightclothes and her hair in plaits. "I heard the carriage stop outside."
Jane had no words. She looked out the window and saw her uncle's carriage, along with a team of very exhausted horses. The driver had just left his seat to open the carriage door for the passengers. She left her chamber and rushed to her mother's chamber.
"Jane, there you are. My nerves...oh, I do not know if I can bear it! How can your uncle be so unfeeling in our time of need? Why does he not come?"
"Mama, they are here. Kitty heard the carriage stop outside." Mrs. Bennet's face changed from chagrin to hope. "I shall return shortly, Mama."
Jane walked downstairs and found her sister taking off her bonnet and gloves and handing them to Hill. Jane smiled broadly as she went to greet her sister. "Oh Jane," sighed Elizabeth. "How I have missed you!"
"And I you." They embraced warmly, and they looked at each other warily. Jane saw how exhausted she was from her trip, and she saw Elizabeth's look of concern. "What is it, Lizzy?"
" How are you? You look so pale, and I see how much you have had to bear these several weeks. Oh, that I had been with you! My poor dear Jane, all alone."
Jane was about to protest, but Elizabeth continued. "You know my meaning, Jane. You are the only one with sense who is keeping this household in order."
Jane coloured a little at this praise, and embraced her sister again. "Oh, I am so glad you are returned. But such flattery is unnecessary."
"You are right. You deserve much more." Elizabeth smiled at her sister, as they started walking up to their mother's chamber. "How is Mama, Jane?"
"She has been very upset because she thought that my uncle would not come and assist Father."
"We would have come sooner, but you wrote the direction very ill on the letters. I had only received them the other day."
"Both of them? But they were sent a few days apart."
"Yes, I know. But once we received the news, we made haste to travel back here. Uncle Gardiner will be going directly to London early on the morrow. He would go now, but Aunt and I both persuaded him to rest first."
"Lizzy, oh Lizzy!" Mrs. Bennet cried out for Elizabeth when she entered her chamber. "What will become of us now?" Mrs. Bennet then expressed again her fear at Mr. Bennet's well being, and Jane and Elizabeth took great pains to relax their mother. When Mr. Gardiner came to see his sister, he found her less agitated than he had anticipated.
"Oh, brother, I was beginning to despair of you. What is to be done?"
"My dear, I will go directly to London in the morning. You must not worry so...has Mr. Bennet sent any new word?"
"I had a letter from my father last week, but he has not yet had any success in discovering Lydia and Mr. Wickham." Jane looked at her uncle gratefully. "Knowing that you will assist my father in town will ease my mind as well as Mama's." Mrs. Bennet then accosted her brother with all manner of requests...to forbid Mr. Bennet from duelling and to make sure Lydia would not give any directions about her trousseau until she consulted her mother about the best warehouses.
In full knowledge of his sister's temperament, Mr. Gardiner bore these words with patience and gave her every assurance that he would endeavour to assist her family in every way possible.
Jane grew a little impatient with her mother's histrionics, though she would never admit it aloud. She wanted so badly to converse with her sister. Therefore, she was very pleased when Elizabeth pulled her out of Mrs. Bennet's chamber while Mrs. Bennet was preoccupied with Mr. Gardiner.
"There is much I have to tell you, Lizzy." Jane and Elizabeth went downstairs to the library, where they knew they could speak without interruption.
"And there is so much I have to tell you, Jane. I had no opportunity to write you during the journey to Derbyshire, but you will not believe who I happened upon in that county." Elizabeth paused reflectively and blushed at the memory.
"Who was it, Lizzy?" Jane was instantly curious as to who could have inspired such embarrassment to her sister.
"Mr. Darcy?!" Jane was incredulous. "You saw Mr. Darcy in Derbyshire?"
Elizabeth nodded. "We paid a visit to the Pemberley estate, with the knowledge that the family would not be present for some time. As we were viewing the grounds, he happened upon us most unexpectedly. As we were about to take a closer look at the gardens, there he was in front of us. Oh, Jane, I must confess I was mortified. I wanted to leave directly, but he was so agreeable and kind to myself and my aunt and uncle. In fact, he did most of the talking as he led us on a short walk in the woods close to the gardens. He even invited Uncle Gardiner to fish at Pemberley."
Jane smiled. "This is a very different portrait you paint of Mr. Darcy. He certainly made an effort to be pleasing to you and Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. He seems almost another person entirely."
"I grant you that, but the more I reflect upon what has come to pass, the more I am convinced that I had judged his character too soon and most unfairly." Elizabeth smiled when remembering Mrs. Reynolds' words. "Before we saw Mr. Darcy, his housekeeper gave us a tour of the house and she said that she had never seen a more good-natured child. Her opinion of him was decidedly contrary to mine. Much as I am loath to admit it, Jane...I have been mistaken."
"Truly you did not know all the facts...no one could blame you for disliking Mr. Darcy."
"Yes, nobody could be blamed for disliking him. He speaks so little and does so little to recommend himself to others." Elizabeth smiled briefly, as she remembered a conversation she had with Mr. Darcy at Rosings. But memories of my time in Kent only remind me of that dreadful scene at the Parsonage...Her smile faded as she immediately changed the subject. "Not only did I have the opportunity of seeing the Bingleys again, I did have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mr. Darcy's sister as well."
Jane coloured a little, but quickly replied. "How did you find Miss Darcy?"
"Miss Georgiana Darcy was not at all as I had first imagined her to be. But remember, I had my first account from Mr. Wickham! She is very young, and she does not have any improper pride. She has a high regard for her brother, and she was very kind to myself and to my aunt and uncle." Then Elizabeth smiled slyly at her sister. "But Jane, why do you not inquire about Mr. Bingley or his sisters?"
Jane brooked no objection to hearing her sister speak of them, so Elizabeth proceeded. "Well, Jane, I hate to confess it to you, but Mr. Bingley was just as amiable as ever."
"Why would he not be as amiable?"
"Because it would appear that he did not treat you so gallantly when you were in London. But he did ask after you, albeit in a most indirect, yet telling manner."
"Could you speak more plainly, Lizzy? What are you speaking of?" Elizabeth noted a hint of impatience in Jane's voice. Despite everything, she still holds Mr. Bingley in high regard...
"He recalled with precision the very last date we all saw each other...the night of the ball at Netherfield. Then he inquired after all my sisters, and asked if they were all in health. Really I think Mr. Bingley should have simply come to the point and enquired about you. In fact, his very words were: 'Are all your sisters at Longbourn?'"
Elizabeth saw that Jane was determined not to be discomfited as she had no response, but Elizabeth was not discouraged. "I suspect that he does hold some regard for you yet."
"Lizzy, I have long ago decided that any future connection between Mr. Bingley and myself to be impossible. If he were ever to return to the neighbourhood, I shall meet him as an indifferent acquaintance and that is all." At this response, Elizabeth could not help but tease her sister further, questioning whether she could really do so.
"Have you no faith in me? Honestly, Lizzy, you are too severe upon me!" Jane looked at her sister with some disbelief. "So, do you think Lydia and Mr. Wickham could be married by now?"
Elizabeth let her sister change the topic of conversation without comment. "I do not know, Jane, and from what we know of his past, it seems more and more likely that they have not gone to Scotland."
"Oh Lizzy, I still cannot believe that Mr. Wickham could be so very pleasing in his outward manners, and yet look what he has done."
"I can well believe it...we were all deceived. We wanted so much to believe in his good character, that it distracted us from the truth." Elizabeth could not help but think of Mr. Darcy's letter. I know not in what manner, under what form of falsehood he has imposed on you; but his success is not perhaps to be wondered at. Ignorant as you previously were of every thing concerning Mr. Wickham, detection could not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not in your inclination. Despite her best efforts, Elizabeth could not keep out the memories of her fateful interview with Mr. Darcy and the succeeding letter.
"Lizzy?" Jane looked at her sister with concern as she remained silent. "How did the party at Pemberley take the news?"
"I had no opportunity to tell them. In fact, Miss Darcy is the only one who knows."
"Miss Darcy alone? Why?"
"After I received your letters, my mind only held one thought, which was to find my aunt and uncle. As I sought them out, I met Miss Darcy by chance as she was doing some shopping. She offered to assist me in my search. She was there in the tea parlour when I acquainted all with news of Lydia."
Jane was shocked silent for a moment. "Oh, Lizzy, how could she bear hearing such news? Poor Miss Darcy! What a shock it must have been to hear such dreadful news, and considering what she had suffered at that man's hands."
"Yes, I was fearful of causing her pain, but she was quite calm, and expressed sympathy for Lydia's situation." Elizabeth thought of Miss Darcy's composure throughout their interview in the tea parlour.
"I do regret that I was unable to take proper leave of Mr. Darcy or of Mr. Bingley. But it could not be helped. And it would have been awkward, having to explain our departure. At least Miss Darcy could feign ignorance of the details of our situation, when she conveys our regrets for not being able to dine with them."
"What? You did not ask Miss Darcy to lie, did you?"
"Of course not, Jane. Yet I did not feel that I had any right to ask her to remain silent on the subject, for the news will surely spread throughout London regardless of what we attempt to prevent it. However, I saw that Miss Darcy sensed my distress in leaving so hastily. And despite everything she endured at Mr. Wickham's hands, Miss Darcy volunteered to be discreet as long as is possible. But I know it cannot be so very long."
Jane expressed her gratitude at Miss Darcy's consideration of Elizabeth's feelings and expressed her regret that she did not make her acquaintance.
"I think you would like her, Jane. She is not at all the proud and spoiled child that Mr. Wickham once described to us." Then Elizabeth laughed quite ruefully. "And that reminds me...long ago, we did have Mr. Wickham's portrait truthfully drawn for us, though we were quite unaware of it at the time."
"What do you mean?"
"At the Netherfield ball, I remember being so disappointed at Mr. Wickham's absence. And when Miss Bingley insinuated that Mr. Darcy was ill used by Mr. Wickham, I never suspected that her words would hold any truth. I simply interpreted it as coming from spite." She sighed. "But she did not know the particulars of what transpired. When I pressed her for more information, she did not know anything, and it appears that Mr. Darcy did not make her privy to any specific information about Mr. Wickham."
"Yes, I recall asking Mr. Bingley about Mr. Wickham, and he did not have any more information than we did."
Elizabeth expressed her surprise that Mr. Darcy's good friend was not acquainted with what transpired between Mr. Wickham and Miss Darcy.
"Mr. Darcy trusted your discretion, Lizzy."
"Yes, for he certainly could not trust Miss Bingley's!" Elizabeth smiled, but was immediately sobered by her sister's serious countenance. "He wanted me to understand the truth, to be warned against Mr. Wickham's charms, I suppose. He could not defend himself against my accusations otherwise."
"Lizzy, Mr. Darcy acted so gentlemanly toward you when you were in Derbyshire. Do you suppose that he still cares for you?"
"He was no more gentlemanly than he had always been, I realise that now. I judged him unjustly. But after all that has transpired, I have no reason to expect him to renew his offer." And would it be so unwelcome, a renewal of his offer? It was too impossible a thought to consider seriously. The future mistress of Pemberley would not, could not have such a relation as Lydia to besmirch her reputation.
Jane, sensing her sister's fatigue, insisted that Elizabeth retire to her chamber. Despite the long journey, Elizabeth could not bring herself to sleep for some time. All she could think about the moment when she and her uncle and aunt happened upon Mr. Darcy with surprise. She tried to remember the expression on Mr. Darcy's face, to judge whether he was annoyed or whether he was pleased to encounter her again. All she could recall was that she was so embarrassed that she could not even bear to meet his eyes.
After much struggle, Elizabeth finally managed to fall asleep with the image of Mr. Darcy's kind, concerned eyes upon her.
"Miss Darcy, it is time for dinner." Mrs. Annesley walked into the music room, where Georgiana Darcy was trying out a new book of music she had just purchased in Lambton. "Mr. Bingley and Miss Bingley have arrived."
"Thank you, Mrs. Annesley. I will go to the dining room shortly." Georgiana watched her leave, and then she sighed. She wanted to speak to her brother in private, but there was little chance of that with a dinner party with the Bingleys. Mr. Bingley was the very epitome of amiability, but Miss Bingley was all artificial kindness. Georgiana always felt that there was an undercurrent of contempt underneath her sweet tongue. She knew that her brother felt the same, though he would never admit it aloud to her. If Miss Bingley were to announce her immediate departure, Georgiana would not be sorry.
In contrast, Elizabeth Bennet was all sincerity and delight. She conversed openly and freely, often to Miss Bingley's dismay. But it was understandable as Miss Bennet commanded Mr. Darcy's attention far more than Miss Bingley. Georgiana regretted that Miss Bennet and her relatives would not be present at dinner that evening.
Georgiana spent the greater part of the late afternoon reflecting on her conversation with Miss Bennet. Georgiana wondered why she did not excuse herself away when Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were discovered. Certainly she was curious, but she was also concerned at Miss Bennet's distress and wondered if it was possible for her to assist them. There was no way to anticipate what Miss Bennet would reveal. Miss Darcy, I must acquaint my uncle and aunt with some news, which I fear will cause you some pain, but I must apologise in advance. I can no longer delay disclosing the sad truth...Lydia has gone missing from Brighton, for she has thrown herself into the power of...of Mr. Wickham.
She blushed at remembering Miss Bennet's words. She had no idea how painful it still was, to hear of Mr. Wickham, even almost a year later. It brought back so many horrible memories...especially that of disappointing her brother and her cousin Fitzwilliam. Though they never blamed her, she always blamed herself. How could she have been so blind to George's flattery? Georgiana, you are the dearest creature in the world to me...I have always been in love with you, and my dearest wish is to have you as my wife...Even our names complement, my sweet one, it is our fate...our fathers would have wished for our union... She did not know, she could not know that George's intentions were so mercenary...she, who, until that summer, never believed that it was possible that a family acquaintance like George would lie to her so cruelly.
Georgiana knew that her brother blamed himself for her near-fall into ruin and disgrace. No matter what she or her cousin Fitzwilliam told him, Darcy bore the responsibility of dealing with George Wickham and of keeping the story out of public knowledge. Georgiana had agreed to keep the silence, not only out of sheer embarrassment, but also for the sake of the family honour. Now, all of this care for discretion only set the stage for the fall of another young woman. Miss Bennet's youngest sister.
Miss Bennet is a very kind, thoughtful person...she was so very concerned that I would find offence to hearing George's name. Georgiana's brother had spoken of her with great admiration when they were in London, and she saw that, as usual, none of his praise had been exaggerated.
Georgiana wanted to speak to her brother directly and inform him of Miss Bennet and the Gardiners' departure. However, upon her return to Pemberley, her brother was nowhere to be found. She had hoped that he would return before the dinner party arrived, and she had instructed Mrs. Jenkinson to inform her the moment her brother was returned. But the hour grew late, and still William was nowhere to be found.
As she left the music room to meet her guests, she found her brother looking at her pensively as he approached her.
"There you are! Where have you been? I...William? What is the matter?" She started when she saw her brother's agitated face.
"Georgiana." She saw him trying to compose himself, but she could tell that he was upset.
"What happened? Are you having any trouble with the tenants?"
He reassured her that all was well on the estate. "I must inform of you of some unfortunate news. Miss Bennet and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner will not be joining us this evening. I had arranged for a carriage to convey them hither, but the driver just informed me of their abrupt departure. I do not understand. Why would she...why would they leave without any explanation? They sent no message..."
"That is the matter I wished to discuss with you, dear brother, but you were nowhere to be found when I returned from my errands in Lambton. I met Miss Bennet there, and she wished me to convey her regrets..."
"What? Where did you meet her? How?" Mr. Darcy was all astonishment.
Georgiana was surprised at this emotional reaction. At this moment, she felt that she had to understand her brother's heart. "William, you have always been honest with me, and I have always been honest with you. I do not wish to be impertinent, but I am most concerned. What are your...um...intentions...I mean, how do you regard Miss Bennet?"
Darcy, startled by his sister's direct question, did not have the opportunity to answer her, for at that very moment, Charles Bingley walked into the room. "There you both are! Caroline insisted that I come and search you two out. I am famished, and I also have some news for you all..."
"Oh, there you are!" interjected Caroline Bingley, who was swift on the heels of her brother. "Cook has informed us that dinner is ready."
Georgiana grew impatient at all these interruptions. Cook and dinner can wait. A talk with William cannot. What shall I do?
"Let us not keep our guests waiting any longer, Georgiana. Come." Darcy held out his arm for his sister to take. Charles escorted his sister downstairs to meet Mr. and Mrs. Hurst.
As they descended the main staircase, Georgiana whispered to her brother. "I hope I shall another opportunity to speak with you. It is very important."
He could only nod. Georgiana's spirits sunk. There was the familiar wall that her brother put up, that no person could penetrate. Except a certain young woman...
Yes, that is what I observed last night when Miss Bennet played and sang for us all. William actually smiled. Of course, I had seen him smile before...but the smile I saw was like none I had ever seen...and Miss Bennet had inspired it.
"What news do you have for us, Bingley?" Darcy asked, as they entered the dining room.
"In two days I leave for Netherfield. I do not know yet if I can say the same for Caroline." Charles was smiling at Darcy. Georgiana was genuinely surprised. She looked over to her brother and saw that he was not very surprised by this turn of events. There was even a slight smile on his face. I wonder if he knows why Bingley has decided to return to Netherfield?
Caroline rolled her eyes. "Of course I shall come. Louisa and Mr. Hurst will be leaving for the North to visit his relations, and I do not wish to go with them." She threw an apologetic look to her sister, who did not seem to notice.
"Well, Bingley, I thought that you were to accompany me to town next week. But it is of no great consequence." Darcy gave a sign to a servant to commence serving the meal.
"Darcy, I must insist that you come visit me when your business in town is done. The hunting this time of year should prove excellent."
"As always, I am at your disposal." Georgiana was surprised to see him actually smirk at Charles.
"Dear Georgiana, I wonder if might persuade you to come with us? Of course, Hertfordshire is nothing compared with Derbyshire, but without Louisa, I shall feel the deprivation of society very much. You shall be all alone here, I expect, when your brother leaves for town." Caroline smiled affectionately at Georgiana.
"But I shall be accompanying my brother to London, will I not?" Georgiana looked at her brother with entreaty. William had to know that she could not bear the thought of spending more time with Caroline Bingley than absolutely necessary...she would much rather spend the rest of the summer alone at Pemberley.
"I leave it to you to decide, Georgiana. If you come to London, you will be mostly alone in the townhouse while I tend to business matters. And I do not want you to stay alone here in Pemberley since Mrs. Annesley is to visit her relations in a fortnight."
Well, it turns out that my own brother leaves me no choice but to endure Caroline's company! But Netherfield might turn out to be such a punishment. After all, the Bennet family lives in the same neighbourhood, and I should like to see Miss Bennet again. "Very well, brother, I should like to see Hertfordshire for I have never been there."
Caroline expressed her gratitude so profusely that Georgiana almost considered changing her mind so that she would say no more on the subject.
Since Georgiana wanted so desperately to speak to her brother, the dinner progressed very slowly. William mentioned briefly that Miss Bennet and her aunt and uncle were called away suddenly and were unable to join them that evening. Charles expressed his regrets, and Caroline almost gloated in the liberty to speak her mind about Miss Bennet.
"She looked so altered last night! For my own part, I must confess that I never saw any beauty in her. Her face is too thin; her complexion has no brilliancy, and her features are not at all handsome." Charles attempted to interrupt her, but no one could cool her ardour in speaking so against Miss Bennet. "As for her eyes, which have sometimes been called so fine," she looked in William's direction briefly, "I never could perceive any thing extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all, and oh, in her air altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."
I almost feel sorry for Caroline. Little does she know how ineffectual her efforts are to impress my brother. Georgiana observed that her brother refused to respond and she wondered why her brother would not come to Miss Bennet's defence.
Caroline continued. Oh, she is quite relentless. Georgiana looked at her brother with puzzlement, wondering why she was letting Caroline carry on like this. "I remember how amazed we first were to find that she was a reputed beauty in Hertfordshire and I particularly recollect your saying, 'She a beauty! -- I should as soon call her mother a wit.' But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
"Yes," said William, exasperated by Caroline's ranting. "But that was only when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance." He then looked at Georgiana meaningfully before leaving the room.
Georgiana tried not to smile...her brother accomplished a minor miracle in saying the very thing that would silence Caroline for good on the subject. Also, she was now more certain than ever that her brother was indeed in love with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
"Hill, what is it?" Jane was sitting in the drawing room, reading a book. She saw the housekeeper smiling broadly.
"A gentleman to see you, Miss." Hill then stepped out of the room to let Mr. Bingley enter.
"Miss Bennet, how I have longed to see you." His eyes were so blue and intense, that she was startled and she looked away.
"Mr. Bingley, you are too kind. It is so good of you to call on me."
"All of these months, I have thought of no one but you. Dearest Miss Bennet, I..."
Jane awoke to the sounds of screaming punctuated by doors slamming and the sound of footsteps going back and forth throughout the house. She felt it was providential that she should wake up at that exact moment in her dream. I should not continue to have these fantasies about Mr. Bingley. If Lizzy knew, she would tease me incessantly. I must master my feelings...oh, but it is hopeless. Jane could not help it. Even after he neglected to call on her in London, she continued to have dreams about Mr. Bingley.
Jane could not reproach him for anything. There was no understanding between us, and it was best this way, for who knows what infamy our family must endure when news of Lydia's elopement is made public. He would be happy to have escaped such an unhappy alliance with our family. She looked at her vanity table, and saw in a vase, a dried flower from the Netherfield ball. Mr. Bingley had given it to her at the close of the ball, and Jane had cherished it as a token of his admiration.
Dear Miss Bennet, I hope to share many more evenings like this with you...
Jane sighed when suddenly, her door opened and Kitty burst into the chamber. "Jane! You must get dressed quickly! Oh, there is such news!"
Jane's eyes widened. "Is there word from Papa? Have they found Lydia?" Jane got out of bed and put a shawl around her shoulders. "Why is there so much noise?"
"Hill was running errands early this morning, and she heard word that there are servants who are readying Netherfield for their master's return. Can you imagine? Mr. Bingley is coming back to Netherfield."
Jane was stunned, but she recollected herself. No, we shall meet as indifferent acquaintances, and that is all. All will be well... "Kitty, is it known for certain? Is it not merely town gossip?"
"No, for one of the caretaker received an express yesterday from Mr. Bingley informing him that he and his sister will arriving this evening along with another guest."
"It is true, Jane." Elizabeth walked into Jane's chamber at that very instant. "I took in a walk to Oakham Mount early this morning, and on my way back, I noticed much activity at Netherfield. There were plenty of people there, and carts going back and forth with deliveries. The whole town of Meryton is apparently abuzz with the news."
"Cannot a man return to his estate in peace?" wondered Jane aloud. She smiled, thinking upon how absurd the whole situation was.
"Not Mr. Bingley, I'm afraid. A young man with a fortune and no wife will always inspire mayhem and gossip." They then both heard their mother wail loudly, "Where is Jane? Is she not yet dressed? Hill, where is Jane?"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Come, Kitty, let us leave Jane to get properly dressed, before Mama loses her mind."
Hill appeared in the doorway. "Miss Jane, you are wanted immediately."
"Yes, Hill, thank you. Tell my mother that I shall arrive in her chamber shortly."
After Jane dressed, her mother met her in the hallway. "Oh, Jane, did you hear the news? Mr. Bingley is returned at last. And I know that he will soon come to call on you! We must have you look your best. Today, we must go to the Mantua maker, then we must..."
"Mama, please! I would not have you get so excited like this about Mr. Bingley. We have not even heard word from Papa or my uncle. I know that my mind cannot be easy until we hear word from either of them." Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, and their children left Longbourn only the previous day, and were currently on their way back to London.
"Jane, when they come to call -- and I know they shall! -- you must look your very best. Oh, and Mr. Bingley will not be able to resist you and he shall fall madly in love with you. This is a sign, I know it!"
"Mama..." Jane knew that any protest from her would fall on deaf ears, and since she had not seen her mother in such lively spirits, she let Mrs. Bennet rave on and on about Netherfield and Mr. Bingley.
"Oh, Jane," smiled Elizabeth, as she met her sister downstairs in the dining room. "Take care." Jane knew what the look on her sister's face meant and she was appalled at her lack of faith in her fortitude.
"Lizzy, have you no faith in me at all? I shall not let this news distract me from the matter at hand. Our sister is still to be recovered, and our poor dear Papa is still not returned from London."
Elizabeth laughed at her, but Jane did not see why. She demanded to know what was so humorous. Elizabeth then looked at her sister with all seriousness. "Jane, you have been the literal backbone of this family throughout this entire Lydia crisis. Let me take over now. It is time that you relax and take care of yourself. Who knows? Mama might be right about Mr. Bingley."
"Oh, Lizzy, not you too!" Jane took some tea, and sat down at the table. Her sister joined her. Kitty and Mary were already at the table eating breakfast.
"Lizzy, you just saw Mr. Bingley at Pemberley, did you not? How did he look?" Kitty smiled as she addressed her sister.
"He looked quite well, as did his sister. He even enquired after all of you." Elizabeth smiled at the recollection, for she had just seen Mr. Bingley only a few days ago at Pemberley.
"Perhaps he is come to propose to Jane at last!" Kitty grinned at Jane, and Jane coloured at her suggestion.
"Kitty, Jane is abused enough as it is by Mama. Let us not yet speculate on the gentleman's intentions."
Jane assented and asked Kitty to just please finish her breakfast. Just as Mary was about to contribute her own comment on the impending arrival in Hertfordshire, Maria Lucas rushed into the room. "I apologise for interrupting your breakfast, but I've just heard the most interesting news about Netherfield!"
"What is it Maria?" Kitty, who was about to leave the dining room, stood nearest to her, and her eyes were bright with anticipation. Any news that did not have to do with Lydia was most welcome.
"As you know, the Bingleys are coming back to Netherfield this very evening. And can you guess who is the guest that accompanies them? His fiancée!"
"What? Maria, you must be mistaken." Elizabeth immediately replied. "Where did you hear this news?"
"I heard it from my mother. All of Meryton is speaking of it. Miss Darcy is coming with Mr. Bingley and Miss Bingley. She is coming to visit her future home!"