A/N: This is sort of a new story, and sort of not. It's a prequel to "Left to Follow," but also a prequel to pretty much everything else I've written. This is probably not a story for the faint of heart.
Posted on Monday, 18 September 2006
The two ladies froze as they met one another’s eyes. They were both heiresses, both reputed beauties, and when they had left Mrs Willard’s prestigious London seminary two years earlier, they had both been bitter rivals. They had not seen each other since then.
The silence was broken almost simultaneously as good breeding overwhelmed old hostility. Each dropped a curtsey.
She had changed, Anne realised; no longer the haughty girl who flaunted her ancient name as if it were a splendid set of pearls, Helen Darcy looked pale, listless, and indifferent to all around her. They quickly separated, but Anne felt incapable of clinging to the cherished antipathy. It was an old childish quarrel, and even her resentful temper could not stand against the other girl’s pitiful state.
When Miss Darcy had passed, Anne turned to her companion. “Why Clarissa, whatever has happened?”
“Did not you hear about Mrs Darcy?” Clarissa Napier, otherwise a very sweet, kind person (although not very clever), was an inveterate gossip. “They say she nearly died. Mr Darcy and Lady Alexandra are with her, that is why Miss Darcy came with Sir James instead of her brother.”
Anne glanced over at the judge, who was talking quietly and earnestly to Lord Napier, Clarissa’s brother. Sir James Darcy was a brilliant man who had risen rapidly through his profession, and not much more than ten years older than his nephew. Although nearly forty he was considered an excellent prospect, and on more than one occasion, Anne’s sister had tried to influence her in that direction.
She sighed. For the last seven years, Catherine had been bent on getting herself married; that accomplished, all that remained was to marry off the rest of her acquaintance. She was, at twenty-four, well on her way to becoming the worst busybody that ever lived.
“I am sorry,” Anne said sincerely. There was at present a détente in the quarrel between the Fitzwilliams and Darcys (who had been feuding off-and-on since, according to Fitzwilliam family legend, a Darcy had called the Fitzwilliams a lot of Irish upstarts, and was overheard by one of the upstarts in question), and in any case she had always liked Mrs Darcy. “I hope she is recovering?”
“Yes, Miss Darcy said so. Well, at her age, I suppose it is only to be expected, but it is sad all the same.”
“Very. She is such an amiable woman.” It was a tepid phrase, but in Mrs Darcy’s case, perfectly accurate. Warm and lively without the smallest hint of ill-breeding, she was much loved by all who knew her well, and it seemed impossible that she had once been the fiery girl who had thrown aside the disapprobation of her family and his, and married her Mr Darcy against the wishes of all concerned but themselves. She was nearly eighty and had outlived her husband and elder son.
“Oh,” Clarissa said nervously, “Miss Darcy is talking to her uncle. I hope she did not think me impertinent? I was only worried about Mrs Darcy.”
“She seems exhausted,” Anne said, looking at her old rival sympathetically. “I am sure that is all, Clara.”
Anne considered the Darcy matter over the next several weeks. It was really a very silly grudge to hold after all these years, and she had no interest in what some ancestor of Miss Darcy’s had said about some ancestor of hers.
Anne’s father and uncle had been estranged for years over something equally trivial -- in her opinion -- and, although intending to heal the breach at some time another, had never done so. Her uncle’s death had made her Lady Anne and her father Lord Holbrook, but his grief continued almost unabated, although it had been eight months now. Anne herself had never known the previous earl, but her father’s regret had forced her to reconsider the value of her quick and unforgiving temper.
What good had the hostility between herself and Miss Darcy accomplished? Their mutual friends, like Clarissa, were made uncomfortable. The Darcys were not only a powerful family in their own right, but also powerfully connected. The present Mr Darcy’s aims were by no means opposed to her father’s and brother’s, and even a cease in hostility might win the cooperation of him and his. Every thing was in favour of some sort of reconciliation, if it could be accomplished.
When she attended the Napiers’ ball, her friend’s nervous but repeated injunctions against alienating the Darcys were unnecessary. As soon as good breeding allowed, Anne squared her shoulders and smiled as she approached Miss Darcy.
“Miss Darcy, good evening,” she said. The other started, then turned to her.
“Lady Anne,” she replied.
“Forgive me, I hope your grandmother’s health has improved?”
Miss Darcy blinked. “Why, yes, it has,” she said cautiously. “Are you much acquainted with her?”
“No, I do not know her well, but we have met several times and I like her very much. I do not think there are many women, or people, like her; the world would be a lesser place for her leaving it.”
Miss Darcy’s lips curved into a tentative smile. “I am in perfect agreement. We are all very fond of her, everyone who knows her is.”
“I imagine so. Her illness -- it is not serious, I hope?--that is, she will recover fully, will she not?”
“Our physician says so. She has a strong constitution and the worst has passed.”
A brief, awkward silence reigned. Anne briefly wondered why Miss Darcy’s eyes seemed fixed on her neck; at first she assumed it was because the other girl was so much smaller, but then she realised that the necklace she wore was *that* necklace.
“Lady Anne,” Miss Darcy said hurriedly, “I must apologise to you, about the matter of -- of the necklace.” She nodded at it, then lifted her eyes to Anne’s. “I should not have made such rash accusations, and I am sorry. I can only say in my defence, that Adela was my friend and I trusted her. I never dreamed she would have stolen anything from me, and when I saw you wearing it, I simply assumed . . . but I was very wrong, and I apologise.”
Anne coloured slightly, both from embarrassment at the memory -- her own behaviour had been far from exemplary -- and from the knowledge of how far her own prejudices had misled her. She had assumed that Miss Darcy had fixed on her because Lady Adela was a duke’s sister, and Anne only an Irish earl’s niece. Miss Darcy’s reserve and Lady Adela’s insipidity had precluded her from suspecting any particular friendship between them.
“Oh! Miss Darcy,” she said warmly, “your apologies are not necessary, but I accept them nonetheless. I was as wrong as you were -- you cannot know how wrong I was.” She laughed a little. “I was far too sensitive. You could not know that as intractable and wild a girl as I would never do something like that, I loathe deceit. I have long since forgiven you.”
To her surprise, a vibrant smile dimpled Miss Darcy’s round cheeks at this, nothing like the weak passive smiles she had seen on her face before. “Oh, I feel very silly then,” she said frankly. “I have longed to beg your forgiveness, almost since I realised the truth, but I did not dare; you always seemed very forbidding. I could not think you would hear above one word in ten.”
“Well,” Anne said, “I probably would not have, then. I have a dreadful temper. But I do hope that henceforth we will be able to meet on terms of cordiality, at least.”
“I am certain we shall.” Miss Darcy paused, her gaze turning quizzical. “I do not believe you are acquainted with my brother; I should like to introduce him to you. He heard a great deal of you when we are at school.”
Anne said ingenuously, “Your brother? He is here? I thought he was with your grandmother.” She did not know Mr Darcy, but she certainly knew of him. His family was one of the oldest and most respectable in England, their seat, Pemberley, was worth well over eight thousand a-year, and the man himself had the best part of beauty, charisma, and good sense -- or so she had heard. Anne really was starting to think she was the only lady in town who had not set her cap for him. She had also heard that he was, or had been, a wild young man, and great catch though he was, had no intentions of being caught.
Miss Darcy’s smile returned. Anne supposed that her favour was courted often in hopes of gaining her erstwhile brother’s. Anne comforted herself that her motives were rather purer; she had no interest in Mr Darcy as a prospective husband, and she had hopes of Miss Darcy for her own sake. The other girl was intelligent, loyal, and determined; such people were few and far between.
“No, my uncle is with her -- Sir James.”
“Yes, I know him, a little,” Anne said unenthusiastically.
Miss Darcy turned to her in surprise. “You do not like him?”
“Oh no!” Anne hastily retraced her errant steps. “It is not him, it is . . . well, it is very embarrassing. My sister kept on throwing me at him.” She bit her lip. “I am sure he is an excellent man, but . . .”
Miss Darcy’s blue eyes widened. “My uncle? Why, you are younger than I am.”
“I was seventeen in January,” Anne replied, nodding. “But then, she married Sir Lewis de Bourgh, and he is fifty if he is a day. I love her dearly, but I will confess I am very glad she is fixed in Kent, for my sake -- and your uncle’s.”
Only three weeks passed before they met again, in Lady Cecil Duckworth’s drawing room. Anne fled some family friends as quickly as she civilly could, and joined a group of clever young women. She was not a bluestocking, but their company was certainly preferable to insipid discussions of fashions and the latest indiscretions of this countess and that duchess.
There she found Miss Darcy next to a stately, severe-looking woman of perhaps fifty. “Why, Lady Anne,” the former declared, “I am delighted to see you. Please, sit down with us -- if you would like.”
“Thank you, I shall. Are you much acquainted with the Duckworths?”
“Yes, Lady Cecil’s people, the Everills, have an estate about twelve miles from Pemberley. Oh! Mama, I do not think you have been introduced. This is Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, Lord Holbrook’s younger daughter. Lady Anne, my mother, Lady Alexandra Darcy.” Miss Darcy bit her lip and glanced from one to another.
So this was Lady Alexandra. Tall and dark, she looked nothing like her golden-haired daughter, more like Anne, as a matter of fact; but her mother had been a connection of the Fitzwilliams, which no doubt explained it. “Lady Anne,” she said coolly. Anne inclined her head.
“Lady Alexandra, it is an honour. I will confess I never thought to be introduced to any of Miss Darcy’s relations, but she has been generous enough to forget our old quarrels.”
Lady Alexandra softened visibly at this. “Helen is a very sweet-natured girl,” she allowed, with an approving look at her daughter.
“Lady Anne, tell me how your father is,” Lady Alexandra commanded. “I have not seen him since I was a girl.”
Her manner rankled, but Anne swallowed her pride and said, “He enjoys excellent health, ma’am.”
“He was created an English peer last year, I understand? Your family must have been very pleased.”
Anne felt herself flushing a little and cursed her fair skin. “We were, although still in mourning for my uncle, of course.”
“Oh, yes -- poor John. My mother was a relation of his -- quite distant, but we met at family gatherings and such.”
“In Milton,” Anne said wickedly.
“Yes, of course. I understand your father now has a large estate in Yorkshire?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is called Houghton.”
“How very fortuitous for you all, they very rarely come up for sale.”
“I think you misunderstand, Lady Alexandra,” Anne said, meeting the older woman’s eyes defiantly. “My mother inherited the land from a cousin, but the house had burnt down, so he had it rebuilt.”
“I daresay he did so very thoroughly,” Lady Alexandra replied, after a brief silence. “Edward was always very thorough.”
“Yes, he is.”
“Your mother, she was Lady Anne Leigh before her marriage, was she not? The Duke of Beswick’s daughter?”
“Quite a good connection, for he must have married her long before he had any expectations of the title. The Leighs are a very new family, but still, a duke’s daughter is always a good thing to have in the family. She is his second wife, is she not? And his first wife, she was very wealthy but the family was not quite respectable -- ”
“I cannot say, Mrs Fitzwilliam died several years before I was born and I know nothing of her.”
“And your mother was a companion of some sort to her, was she not? They were cousins?”
What an impertinent creature! Marquess’ daughter or not, she had not half the good breeding of her mother-in-law, whose father had been only a spendthrift baronet. Anne felt herself colouring, with shame and anger, and said, “So I understand.”
“Your brother and sister are only halfblood then?”
Anne lifted her chin. “My brother, ma’am, is as dear to me as any brother could be, and I am also very fond of my sister. She is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I believe you may be acquainted with her husband?”
“Yes, very well acquainted,” said Lady Alexandra. “The de Bourghs are an excellent family, ancient and honourable both. Your sister must be very pleased.”
Anne thought of Sir Lewis, a colourless, obsequious man, and suppressed a grimace. “She is.”
Lady Alexandra left to join her own friends shortly afterwards, and Anne breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh! Lady Anne,” Miss Darcy said anxiously, “I hope you will forgive my mother. She has not been herself, ever since grandmama fell ill. She would not have bothered, I assure you, unless she actually liked you, or meant to like you.”
Anne was still thoroughly annoyed, but not at Miss Darcy. She smiled at her. “Do not worry, Miss Darcy. I hope we are friendly enough not to be frightened away by one another’s relatives. Your mother reminds me a little of my sister.”
Miss Darcy suppressed a giggle. “I hope we will be friends, Lady Anne,” she said. “I like you very much, and I am sorry we missed out on so many years because of something so silly as a quarrel we cannot even remember the reasons for -- at least, I do not.”
Anne laughed. “Miss Darcy,” she said warmly, “you must call me ‘Anne.’ I hope we are friends.”
“I shall, if you will stop with that wretched ‘Miss Darcy’ and call me ‘Helen.’ ”
They shook hands and, as quickly as that, the old feud was forgotten, and the two girls nearly inseparable friends.
Posted on Thursday, 21 September 2006
“Anne, I am so pleased you are here. Why, I do not know half these people! Grandmama -- ” Helen turned to the small, round, elderly person at her side -- “Grandmama, this is Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, I think you know her?”
“Oh yes,” said Mrs Darcy, a smile crinkled up her face, “Lord Holbrook’s daughter, I remember. Your grandfather was very charming. He had the most wonderful eyes I ever saw, why all the young ladies were quite mad for him! I only had eyes for my Francis, of course. I hear from my granddaughter that you two have become fast friends?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Anne, much more pleased to be interrogated by *her*.
“Excellent . . . excellent. In confidence, Helen could use a good friend, a real one, not one of those dreadful painted creatures who are forever trying to catch George. Speaking of George, where has my grandson gotten to? Helen?”
“I do not know, Grandmother,” said Helen; “he does what he will and listens to nobody.”
“Ah well. Do you know him, Lady Anne?”
“I have not had that honour.” Anne bit her lip. “I am glad to see you so recovered, Mrs Darcy. Miss Darcy has been fretting.”
“Well, she is a worrier. Are you not, Helen? Always fussing. I may be old but I am not on my deathbed, young lady. She did not think I was up to attending this little soirée.” Anne choked; 'this little soirée' was one of the grandest events of the season. Helen had confessed that she had no desire to attend but did not dare offend the Duchess by remaining absent.
“I am sure her motives were entirely altruistic,” Anne said, with a sideways glance at her friend. Mrs Darcy laughed.
“You understand her perfectly, then?”
“Oh!” Anne shook her head carefully; the latest styles did not exactly promote any sort of rapid movement. She was certain the elaborate coiffure was about to unravel at any moment. “I do not think so, ma’am. We can never perfectly understand another person, can we?”
Mrs Darcy’s eyes grew sharp. “You are a clever, thinking sort of girl, aren’t you? Nothing like these namby-pamby creatures -- ” she waved her fan at the ball’s attendees. “Good, good. I hope to see more of you, Lady Anne.”
Anne smiled. “And I you, Mrs Darcy. Why, if Helen tries to evade any more balls by your indisposition, it will be quite inevitable, I fear. They are trying enough when there is at least one person I can depend on for good company, but without her?” She shook her head. “Next time I shall play truant with you, Helen.”
The others laughed.
“Helen, there he is. Fighting off the young ladies, you see.”
Helen stood on tiptoe. “Wha -- ah, I see him now; poor George, he looks quite pained. Oh, Anne -- I never introduced you to my brother, did I? And I promised I would.”
“No, you did not,” Anne protested, “I do not mind, really.”
Helen laughed. “You think badly enough of him as it is, when you know him only by reputation; now you can think badly of him with a clear conscience. I insist! Come -- ” The other girl pulled her along with a surprisingly strong grip for one so small. She did not have to beg anyone’s pardon or slip past; a path simply opened before her. Anne envied her the supreme self-confidence that provoked such behaviour in others, but had hardly a moment to think on it before Mr Darcy himself was in front of her.
He was as handsome as gossip painted him -- fair like his sister, but slender and nearly Lord Holbrook’s height. His smile was exactly Helen's, down to the dimple creasing his left cheek and the flash of good teeth. Anne braced herself against some deliberate charming, as his clear eyes briefly met her own before flicking back to his sister.
“Helen, there you are; I was looking for you.”
“You seemed quite desperate in your search for me, brother,” Helen said dryly. “Come, I want to introduce you to my friend.” The three walked away from his retinue and towards a quieter area. Mr Darcy’s eyes were icy as he looked once more at her, although his smile did not waver in the slightest.
“Anne,” said Helen, “this is my brother, Mr Darcy; George, my friend, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam.” Casually, Helen added, “She did not want to meet you, but I insisted.”
“Helen!” Anne blushed a vivid red, but Mr Darcy’s demeanour instantly warmed.
“It is a pleasure, Lady Anne. The last I heard, you two were sworn enemies. What happened?”
“We became women,” said Anne, “and put away childish things*.”
Mr Darcy’s smile altered into something a little more genuine, amusement crinkling his blue eyes. “I see. Well, I am pleased to see that your taste in friends is improving, Helen.”
“George!” She flushed. “You must forgive my brother’s impertinence, Anne, he thinks himself amusing, and quite forgets the . . . intellectual peculiarities of *his* usual companions.”
“Touché, Helen. My sister, your ladyship, thinks it her life’s duty to keep my vanity under good regulation.”
“Someone must do it, and it is not as if anyone else has the inclination.” Helen turned to Anne. “My brother is quite spoilt by the world’s good opinion, you see. Is he as dreadful as you feared?”
Anne met Darcy’s gaze challengingly, and said, “I am still reserving judgment.”
“I need not fear being spoilt by yours, I see,” he replied with a smile. “Perhaps you will honour me with your hand for the next set, and enjoy further opportunity to ponder the imperfections of my character?”
She was very surprised at the offer, and all clever remarks flew out of her mind. She glanced at Helen, who -- though equally astonished -- seemed very pleased, and inclined her head. “Thank you for the kind offer, sir.”
One eyebrow arched. “Is that an acceptance or refusal, Lady Anne?”
She smiled. “An acceptance, sir.” His smile, genuine this time, lit up his face.
“Thank you, then.” She could feel the wonder and suspicion of all her friends, but ignored it for the moment. She meant to enjoy herself, and it was only a dance.
It was halfway through the evening and Anne was enjoying comparative solitude, when someone cleared his throat near her. Anne started.
He bowed. “Lady Anne. I was hoping you would favour me with one more dance?”
Her dark brows drew together. “Mr Darcy, people are already wondering about one dance between us.”
“Oh, surely you do not pay such inane talk any mind, your ladyship.”
“You are a man, sir,” she said sharply, “you can afford to ignore it, but I am a lady, and I will be subjected to innuendo and gossip, if you show such unguarded partiality without intending anything by it.”
His gaze grew sharper and more intent. “And if I do mean something by it?”
Colour flooded her cheeks. “Mr Darcy, we are hardly even acquaintances. You have only just met me, and I am your sister’s friend. For Helen’s sake, if not mine, devote your attentions to another young lady, or several, for all I care, but do not expect me to be the next in your line of conquests.”
“I see,” he said, his mouth twitching, “that Helen was not joking about your poor opinion of me.”
“Not of you in particular,” she said, her chin held high, “I hardly know you. But I do not think highly of any man who toys with ladies’ affections. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to reassure Miss Napier that I befriended Helen because I *like* her, and I remain as uninterested in you as I have ever been.” With only the slightest inclination of her head, she pivoted and walked rapidly away, not daring to look back.
Helen laughed, looking around her with only a hint of apprehension. She possessed the unassailable self-command that came from absolute confidence in the general superiority of herself and her kin to the rest of humanity; in some ways it was impossible to disentangle the two sides of her that were "Helen" and "Miss Darcy of Pemberley."
“No, I am not angry in the least,” she assured Anne. “Why, I think you are the first woman who has not practically fallen at his feet. Well, he is very good-looking.” Anne allowed this. “But I think it is good for him. Of course, he is undeterred.”
“What?” Anne looked up, dismayed. “Helen, cannot you persuade him?”
“It is the challenge,” Helen explained. “My explaining your antipathy more fully would only make him more determined to win your good opinion, not less. He is as vain as any young lady. And I think he really admires you.”
“Your intelligence and loyalty -- and face and figure.” Anne coloured and Helen laughed. “He is not blind, Anne.”
“Oh, my face is handsome enough,” Anne replied frankly. “I have always been pretty. But my aunt and my sister always said that no man would admire my figure. I am far too thin. Even the servants are always trying to fatten me up, as if I were some sort of cattle.”
“George does not think you are,” Helen said. “He told me that you were the first friend of mine he has ever approved of.”
“Please, Helen. I do not mean to fall in love with your brother, or anyone at all. I -- I do not think I can.” Anne’s fingers curled around her skirt, then relaxed as the parlourmaid bustled in. “Nora, pour Miss Darcy some more tea.”
“Yes, your ladyship.” Nora, like most of the servants imported directly from Milton, obeyed quickly and efficiently before vanishing.
“You mean -- because of -- your parents?” Helen blushed. “I do not mean to pry, but I have heard rumours from some of the tabbies.”
Anne laughed, a little nervously. “Yes. Oh, my parents are happy, but the talk is just awful. It is much worse in the country, actually. They chew over old affairs for decades, I think.” She shivered. “I know the whole story now, they wanted me to be prepared. I love my mother dearly, but I cannot help thinking of Catherine’s mother, and what she must have endured, knowing that her husband was in love with another woman, and her own cousin at that. No.” She shuddered. “I think love must be a terrible thing to cause so many people so much unhappiness. I would rather do without.”
“It is not always like that, Anne. Most lovers’ stories are very dull.”
“On the surface, perhaps. But you never know what lies beneath those pictures of respectability, do you?”
“Anne my love, I have just heard the most remark -- ” the Countess of Holbrook blinked twice, then her look instantly shifted to a perfect balance of warmth and good breeding. “I beg your pardon, I had no idea you had a caller.”
“Mama,” said Anne, “may I introduce my dear friend Miss Darcy to you?”
Lady Holbrook’s eyes widened slightly, and then her look warmed slightly. “Miss Darcy, what an unexpected pleasure!” she cried. “Anne mentioned that you had become friends. I was so delighted to hear of it. I simply loathe quarrels, and family ones most of all. Why, that must be the reason -- well, Carstairs told me that you had danced with Mr Darcy, Anne, and everyone was talking of it.”
“Everyone?” Anne said skeptically.
“The Napiers and Calverleys and Mirfields, at least. I was quite befuddled because I had no idea you were at all partial.”
“It was only one dance, Mama.”
“But I quite forgot that you were such friends with Miss Darcy. I am certain you only accepted for her sake. Is that not so, Miss Darcy?”
Helen, whatever her own thoughts, maintained her composure admirably and said, “I am sure it is, your ladyship.”
“That is exactly what I thought. Although, my dear, we could not be happier if . . . well, never mind that. I shall not impose any more, doubtless young ladies like yourselves would rather talk freely by yourselves.”
“Oh no, we are not -- ” Helen began, to no avail. Lady Holbrook took her leave and drifted away.
“Mama likes novelty, so she is always trying on new roles,” Anne explained. “She is pretending to be a sort of flighty frivolous society lady at present. It has been nearly six weeks, so I imagine she quite enjoys it.”
Helen’s blue eyes opened wide. “How unusual,” was all she said, but Anne laughed ruefully.
“Nothing is ever dull here. I think,” she added, “I should very much like to live a nice, boring, prosaic life.”
“You would run mad,” said Helen.
Helen hesitated a moment. “What did your mother mean, that she, or ‘they,’ could not be happier if -- ”
Anne blushed. “Pay it no mind. Mother is very practical and pragmatic underneath all her playacting. She wants me to marry well.”
“Oh, I see. Someone like my brother?”
Anne shrugged. “I suppose. Not a new family, at least. Her family and ours are so recent they haven’t had the opportunity to gather any dust. It smarts, sometimes, that the old respectable families will still often have nothing to do with us. That is why Catherine married Sir Lewis, of course. He is old and plain and was never thought sensible, but the de Bourghs are very old and respectable, and his . . . ductility of temper suits her very well.”
“I see,” Helen said. “I had never thought of it, I confess. We have never worried about that.”
“You do not have to. Your family is even older and more respectable than Sir Lewis’. Oh, I do not mean anything -- it is not your fault. It is just how things are.”
“I remember when my grandfather was offered a title,” Helen said dreamily. “I was just a little girl, perhaps five or six, but he was so offended, he stalked around and told anyone who would listen that he was a Darcy, and that was all the title he needed. And he had some very creative suggestions as to what the King could do with his offer. I really was almost afraid -- he was usually very merry -- but then Grandmama laughed him out of his ill humour and it was never spoken of again.” She smiled. “We have always been very proud of our heritage at Pemberley.”
“Your mother seems prouder than your brother,” Anne said, then flushed. “Oh! I did not mean -- ”
“I understand how it must seem,” Helen replied seriously, “but George has his pride, too. We all do, in our ways. Mother is autocratic but George, he . . . well, he has never minced words. He expects me to make a great marriage, they all do.” She looked down at her clasped hands. “Nothing less than an earl, I daresay.”
“You should fall in love with a gentleman of three thousand a-year, bury yourself in the country, and spite them all. *You* are not afraid of love.”
“I could not. I owe my family -- ” She shrugged. “You know how it is. I could never be so selfish as to think only of myself and my own preferences.”
Anne thought of Mr Darcy, his vibrant eyes intent on her own, asking her to dance a second time. And if I do mean something by it? She felt herself growing cold and pale, or rather, his warmth and vitality throwing her coldness and pallor into sharp relief. What would Catherine say? 'Anne, do not be a fool. The chance will never come again. It is your duty to encourage him, do your best to catch him, marry him if -- no, when (provided you have done your part adequately) he asks.' Her father, her mother? Oh, they would be kinder, gentler. They would tell her that of course she must not marry anyone she could not like. They would name the advantages, but add that she was young and there would be other opportunities. Beneath it all, though, they would mean the same thing. And Edward?
Edward, stop burying yourself in the country. I need you. Tell me what to do.
And all this, from only a little flirtation, an invitation to dance a second time at a large ball.
Anne blinked, then laughed a little shakily. “Oh, yes,” she said fervently. “I know how it is.”