Part 1 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
"…then she said that I was the last man in the world to whom that she could ever be prevailed on to marry. After that, I must have muttered something and left." He seemed to want to say more, but evidently decided against it as he buried his face in his hands and turned to face the fireplace, even though it was empty and cold this late in April.
A few moments of uneasy silence hung over the elegant, well-stocked library of arguably one of the grandest townhouses in London. The only other occupant of the room, an intelligent-looking woman in her mid-to-late twenties, gave a decidedly unladylike snort as she studied at her companion with a critical eye.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy." Her tone was one of mild disapproval, as she inspected her fingernails, a deceptively frivolous act that belied the hard competence of her eyes. "You have well and truly outdone yourself in the idiocy stakes this time."
"Oh my eternal thanks," the man snapped sarcastically, turning to face her "Just the balm I needed to soothe the gaping wounds of my broken heart." He was about two or three years her senior, a tall, handsome man in his prime, his dark liquid brown eyes now filled with pain, which belied his rather cutting tone of voice.
"You don't have one." The woman shot back, as though prepared for his answer. "Either that of you don't have a brain. One of those had to have been missing if you treated her like that!"
"Meg!" Darcy sprang up from his chair and began to pace. "I told her the absolute truth - that I was so much in love with her that I was willing to put aside all other feelings, prudence, expediency, even common-sense, just to marry her. Was that heartless? Stupidity?"
"That was exactly what I meant, Fitz. Sometimes you are remarkably unperceptive and insensitive." He winced, as much at her choice of words, as the calm matter-of-fact tone, but remained silent. "How would you feel if someone burst into this room at this very moment and declared that in spite of their better judgement they had decided to lower themselves to depths previously unfathomable and ask for your hand in marriage?"
"Insulted, affronted, hurt…" Darcy trailed off as Meg started to nod.
"Exactly." She stated as Darcy fell back into his chair and once again buried his face in his hands.
"Then…I must have hurt her so much. And my letter would not have made things much better, though I hope that she will not think so badly of me - if she reads it…" He stopped.
"You wrote her a letter?' Meg raised an eyebrow.
"Yes. I had to explain. That I thought it all for the best. About Wickham's true character…"
"You told her about Georgiana and Ramsgate." Meg stated, rather than asked.
"How did you know?"
"I am practically Georgiana's only female friend, Fitz. Go on." Her voice brooked no opposition.
"Anyway, yes, I wrote her a letter. I only hope it will redeem me in her eyes…" His voice trailed off "And such eyes…"
Meg rolled her eyes slightly. It seemed that her old friend and childhood sweetheart had finally found his soul mate. She supposed that it was hilarious, and would be when they all reminisced about it in the far distant future. But that was the future. With Darcy's stumble here, it was unlikely that he would meet her again. Unless something - or someone- would throw them back into each other's paths. But first - to see if there was any possibility that things would resolve satisfactorily of their own accord.
"Is she the woman you were raving about all winter?"
"I was? Well…yes, I suppose I was, and she is. Why? Are you trying to tell me that I'll get over it? I tried all winter Meg. It didn't work."
"I'm not saying that Fitz. I'm saying that you probably botched what is very likely your only opportunity with this 'perfect woman'." She decided not to take sadistic glee at the look of abject resignation and despair on his face.
"You've discovered a great many things about her that you didn't know. She is a woman of high principles, an honest one, who will not give herself in marriage to someone whom she feels she cannot share love and affection with. She is relatively uninterested in the financial inducements of a marriage, (for no one will be entirely uninterested) and will not accept a marriage simply out of prudence and security, for the sake of fine gowns and high status. She is very different from most of the women in our socio-economic strata, myself excluded. Can you imagine what…say, Caroline Bingley would do in the same situation?"
"She'd probably scurry out to buy her wedding clothes and then spend the rest of our lives clinging to every word I say." He shuddered.
"Exactly. And I don't need to remind you of how many times you've criticized women in general for doing exactly that. Well, Fitz. It seems your first serious dip in the matrimonial pond has not been particularly pleasant."
"No." His look implied that she was stating the rather too obvious.
"Just remember then, there's no point scurrying back to the house just because your clothes are a bit wet." She chuckled a little to herself at this last analogy, though Darcy had no idea why. She looked at her timepiece. "If you no longer need me to grind your ego into the ground, I have an appointment with my banker. Shall I see you at the Matlocks' on Wednesday?" He nodded as he pushed himself from his chair and went to open the door for her.
Lady Megan Carter was the sole heir to vast estates and assets worth a quarter of a million pounds. That was the rumor at least, and, almost five years since their her parents' deaths - they had died mere weeks after her coming-of-age - the ruthlessly practical side of her was grateful that it had come so late - it removed the need for irritating guardians - it had grown considerably. Her scathing wit and professed disinterest in the opposite sex meant that she was, in the eyes of society, a confirmed spinster. Whether this was more a source of despair for those men who wished to assist her in the management of that considerable fortune, or one of relief for those more interested in the aforementioned men, I can not tell.
Her parents, Lord and Lady (of something which she always pretended to forget) had enjoyed a close friendship with the Darcy family for many years. Meg gave a small smile as she settled in her carriage and remembered their first meeting.
Twenty Years Ago
Meg gazed wide-eyed at the bustle and activity of the servants as they scurried around in their preparations for the guests as they arrived for one of her mother's famous garden parties. She herself had no taste for such things, where the adults would smile indulgently at her and then pack her back up to the nursery where she would be forgotten until they had gone. Meg faded into the shadow of a pillar as soon as she saw her governess pass. It was not that Miss Jones was unpleasant - indeed, she was an exemplary governess, but she would send Meg straight back up to her rooms if she were found.
"There you are!" Miss Jones appeared around the pillar "I've been looking all over for you - come on, the guests have started to arrive!" Miss Jones half-led, half-dragged her small charge to the drawing room.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were a handsome couple whose smiles were not at all condescending as she made her curtsey. With them was their eight-year-old son, Fitzwilliam.
"How do you do?" he asked, awkwardly after both sets of parents had all but pushed them from the room, instructing Meg to 'show him around'.
"I am well, I thank you" Meg replied, just as awkwardly, not even sure what to call him. Neither of them would ever become easy in strange company.
An uneasy silence hung over them as they found themselves outside. The silence was oppressive. Meg bit her lip. She had to say something.
"Would you like to see the stables?"
She was rewarded with a slight smile as he agreed.
And how rare those smiles were, even for me, Meg realized as the carriage stopped outside her townhouse. Their friendship had progressed from there, the uncomfortable silences becoming comfortable ones (though never disappearing altogether), sharing a love of horses, dogs and hunting, and later of books, art and music combined with a mutual distaste for most social functions.
He was, she supposed, one of her closest friends. He had cried on her shoulder when his mother died, a display of emotion she was sure he had shared with no one else outside his family. He had been there when her parents had died, comforting her, he had danced with her at her debut, written to her on his Grand Tour more often than he'd written to his father.
Once their parents had considered a match, but both of them had been either too realistic or too romantic to imagine that it would work. They were good friends because they were alike. That was also the reason that they could never be more than that. They would need someone to compliment them, to bring out their best qualities. Left to their own devices, Meg was well aware that both she and Darcy would end up crabby, unpleasant snobs. Now Darcy had, it seemed, finally found that someone. Meg sighed as she ascended the stairs to the door.
It's obvious this little situation won't solve itself, she thought briskly now…I wonder…Bennet…Hertfordshire…tradesman…Cheapside. She paused as she handed her hat and coat to the footman. But is it really any of my business? She asked herself. Fitz's just dug himself into a deeper hole with this Elizabeth Bennet by interfering with Bingley and his affairs. If I er…help, will I be any different?
She contemplated this as she walked up the stairs, past her companion's room - silly custom, that, she thought savagely, just because I've never married, nor do I intend to, does that mean I'm not responsible enough to look after myself? When I can manage an estate worth £250 000, why can't I manage myself? Why do I need a, here she launched into a series of adjectives not normally associated with nicely-brought up young ladies, mainly learned from Darcy and her other male friends (without their knowledge, of course) chaperone? But seriously, she continued, turning into her own room and sitting in front of the mirror, it's not really interference. It'll just be putting things back into their proper place.
The lure of material reward is always appreciated, no matter the time and place. London in the early nineteenth century was no different, Meg thought wryly as she shuffled the papers on her desk. A series of subtle inquiries and observations from many corners had indeed uncovered a family by the name of Bennet, who lived in a small estate called Longbourn in Hertfordshire, and the lady of the house had a brother who was a respected importer and dealer of fine goods from all over the known world.
Hmmm, Meg thought, as she rose from the desk, I suddenly find myself in need of a very special gift…for no one in particular.
When she put her mind to it, Lady Megan was no different from any other rather arrogant aristocrat in having her own way. It was with this tenacity that she found herself in an otherwise unremarkable warehouse in decidedly unfashionable Cheapside not two hours later.
Judging from the fine quality of the goods of display, the proprietor, a man by the name of Gardiner, possessed exquisite taste. Even if her excursion did not bring her further intelligence about the woman who had caught Darcy's heart, she had, at least, discovered a new shopping destination.
After a little subtle (and I meant that in all honesty) persuasion, Mr. Gardiner was induced to show her the various pieces and bring out others, she was, she explained, looking for a very special gift, for a very special friend. Meg did her utmost to prolong the conversation, trying to determine if he was the 'unsuitable' connection that Caroline Bingley had been screeching about all last winter (while Meg did not like Miss Bingley personally, Caroline was always good for a laugh or two).
Mr. Gardiner would have passed even her old governess' standards of gentility. His every move showed his intelligence, 'breeding' (though Meg found that quality hard to define, she knew it when she saw it - and that it was not necessarily related to one's parentage) and sense. If he is indeed, this 'Miss Bennet's' uncle, and she is at all like him, I will have no qualms about 'helping' her and Fitz, she thought, as she nodded at a particularly fine porcelain vase.
Finally, he made some reference to relatives in Hertfordshire. Meg eagerly - but not letting the eagerness show - asked whether they lived near Netherfield Park, where she knew Darcy had stayed some weeks with the Bingleys the previous autumn. After some more careful browsing and conversation, Meg finally decided on an elegant coffee service worth some one's yearly income and left, wondering whether she should actually start drinking coffee.
Now…she thought a meeting with Mrs. Gardiner - that will be far more difficult - but it will be essential if I am to meet this Miss Bennet of Fitz's.
It was much easier than she had thought.
It had long been Meg's custom to take her horse for an early morning gallop in Hyde Park - the reason was twofold - there were less people around, and even the otherwise unsocially inclined Meg knew, it was not considered particularly appropriate for young ladies of fine breeding to tear around on thoroughbred stallions, side-saddle or not.
It was at some unholy hour on one of these rides that the already high-strung Bucephalus was startled by some small animal and promptly took the bit in his teeth and charged off. In the early morning darkness, Meg could see the figure of a small child directly in front of them. Pulling on the reins with all her might, Bucephalus came to a sudden halt mere inches in front of the child, catapulting Meg over his head.
When she came too, Meg was vaguely aware of a cool hand on her forehead and a dull ache in her left arm. Opening her eyes, she saw a handsome, motherly woman in her thirties and a well-furnished, but unfamiliar drawing room.
"Welcome back, Lady Megan," the woman smiled, her voice kind. "My name is Madeline Gardiner."
"Oh." What luck! I fall off my horse, and then I meet Mrs. Gardiner. Saves the effort - though I'd rather it were less painful.
"The doctor says that your arm's not broken, but it would be sore for several days." Mrs. Gardiner told her.
"How long have I been here?" Meg asked, dazed. Judging by the light, it was about mid-morning.
"A few hours. My husband has just gone to inform your household that you are here."
"Thank you…the little child? Is he or she all right?" Meg asked, remembering the little figure in front of Bucephalus's sharp hooves.
"Lizzy, can you come in here, please?" A little girl in a white dress came in, obviously shy. "This is Lady Megan." The little girl gave a small curtsey and blushed.
"She was your daughter? I'm so sorry about my horse. He's not usually like that…" Megan was not in the habit of speaking quite that quickly. It was a combination of concussion and the still-present disbelief of her luck.
"Now, your Ladyship, I won't have any of that. Didn't you stop him? Remember, you are the one who was hurt in the encounter, not little Lizzy."
Meg chuckled, she liked this woman.
The sound of a carriages outside announced the arrival of both Mr. Gardiner and Meg's companion, Mrs. Fitzgerald.
After introductions and a few more minutes of conversation, Meg left the Gardiner house, but not before meeting all the children and both giving (much to the consternation of Mrs. Fitzgerald) and accepting and invitation to call sometime in the future.
Now, she thought, as Mrs. Fitzgerald waxed lyrical about horseriding at ungodly hours unchaperoned and the unsuitability of socializing with tradesmen's wives, the perfect means to meet Miss Bennet. All I need to now is wait.
Again, luck was on Meg's side. After calling on Mrs. Gardiner she discovered that not only was Charles Bingley's Miss Bennet - Jane - at the Gardiners, that Elizabeth Bennet was due in London at the end of the week. Jane Bennet was a beautiful, gentle, soft-spoken young woman who seemed to be somehow unhappy. The only unpleasant part of all this was that both Darcy and Bingley were out of town, and would not return for about a month, and perhaps not even then. If only they were here, she thought savagely, this entire business could be resolved by the end of next week. But the way things had turned out had been much better than (pessimistic) Meg had ever hoped. Now all she had to do was meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Part 2 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
Incorporating a sling into a party dress was not easy, Meg discovered, as she turned a deaf ear to the dressmaker and tried to keep one eye on the door. It was not that she really needed a party dress, after all, she had more (most of which would not even be worn) for this Season than many people see in a lifetime, but one of the maids, who was a most particular friend to niece of the Gardiner's housekeeper, had informed her that Mrs. Gardiner and her two nieces, together with a friend would be patronizing this particular establishment.
Hence Meg's present discomfort. It would be far more efficient to observe this Miss Bennet when they were not in a formal situation; that way, she would not have to go through the tiresome preliminaries that would take up far too much time (which she usually ignored anyway, but never mind about that). And time, Meg knew, was not a luxury she had. The Miss Bennets would return to Hertfordshire in a few days and, even should she be able to persuade Charles Bingley to go back to Netherfield, there was no telling if Darcy would accompany him.
Why am I doing this? Meg pondered, as the dressmaker carefully draped a chiffon wrap over her dress, trying to cover the sling. Am I just being a typical matchmaking, scheming old spinster? Am I really that bored? Or do I actually (horror of horrors) want to see Fitz settled down? What's in this for me? I won't even be able to tease or flirt or even really talk with Fitz, after he's married. Am I insane? Why am I doing this? she repeated, as the dressmaker readjusted the drape, and the door opened to admit four ladies.
Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Jane Bennet were accompanied by two others - a small, rather unremarkable girl of about fifteen, and another young woman.
She was several years younger, and a little shorter than Meg - but the latter was hardly remarkable, Meg being taller than some men - with a light, girlish figure and a slight tan. She did not have her elder sister's classical beauty, but rather, something far more intriguing. Her eyes, as Darcy had implied, were indeed remarkable, large, dark and fringed with thick lashes, yet unlike most large eyes, not childlike or even cute, but with a touch of laughter and deep intelligence.
Now…if the outside matches the inside, I would say Fitz is even more of a … than I would have imagined Meg thought, as she nodded to the woman and made selections of material while listening to the conversation of the other party.
It was not that they were loud, indeed, even Meg with her musician's ear had to strain to catch the words, but every passing moment convinced her both of Elizabeth Bennet's good sense, and of Darcy's lack thereof in this matter.
Now, time for a formal introduction, Meg took a deep breath, and moved towards the party.
Both Mrs. Gardiner and Jane greeted her with warmth and introduced her to Miss Elizabeth and the younger girl - a Maria Lucas, who was so overwhelmed by meeting a 'Lady' that she spent the rest of the conversation looking at the ground. Good. One less encumbrance. Thank whatever deities (Meg was not what one would call pious) for shy girls.
Elizabeth Bennet, on the other hand, showed no such extreme deference to social rank, but engaged in the conversation with such wit and charm that Meg could see the qualities that had attracted Darcy. Apart from herself, she doubted any other woman his own age had ever challenged him before (though she was willing to bet that Miss Elizabeth Bennet had never held his head under the fish pond 'til he started turning green).
Mrs. Gardiner and her nieces accepted an invitation to call the next morning, and Meg left the shop with a feeling that she had gained a new friend.
"I understand that you've just come back from Kent, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Lucas" Meg remarked conversationally as poured the tea.
"Y-Y-Yes, your Ladyship," Maria stuttered, almost dropping her teacup.
"Which part of Kent did you visit?" Meg asked, even though she knew perfectly well I've got to link Fitz into this somehow she thought, she took a sip.
"H-H-Hunsford." Maria answered "M-M-My sister is married to the parson, Mr. C-C-Collins."
"Oh." Meg carefully raised an eyebrow. "Is that not near Westerham?"
Both Maria and Elizabeth answered in the affirmative.
"Did you by any chance visit Rosings Park?" Meg asked innocently.
"Yes, several times," Elizabeth finally put in to the conversation. "Are you at all acquainted with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, then Lady Megan?"
"Meg, please. She's my godmother." Meg hid a slight smile as Elizabeth tried to conceal the surprise on her face.
"I wonder, did you meet two of her nephews - Fitzwilliam Darcy and Richard Fitzwilliam? I believe they were in Kent a few weeks ago."
Maria answered that they had indeed met Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam, but Elizabeth only blushed and looked down at her teacup. Meg smiled, then turned to Jane Bennet.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Bennet, Mrs. Gardiner," Meg began, not quite apologetically, but close enough, "I am leaving you out of the conversation. Please remind me when it happens - it has been some time since I've had the pleasure of my godmother's company."
Miss Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner demurred and the conversation turned (not without some manipulation on Meg's part), to Hertfordshire.
"An acquaintance of mine, Caroline Bingley, spent some weeks there last autumn. Did you ever happen to meet her?"
Meg was not totally unprepared for the slight silence before Jane answered that they had. After all, if I'm wading into this Fitz/Elizabeth thing, I might as well wade into this Charles/Jane business as well. I have to start my nosy old spinster matchmaking sometime.
"Her brother, Charles Bingley, is very charming." She almost frowned as she saw Jane's crestfallen look. It seemed that Darcy was rather less impartial than he had claimed to be when determining her 'indifference'. "But if I recall correctly, Fitzwilliam Darcy also accompanied them. I remember them saying that Hertfordshire was one of the most beautiful counties they had visited." Well, maybe I did take a little leeway on that one, Meg thought But in some instances, maybe a little overkill is better than understatement she told herself.
"Did he?" Elizabeth observed "I would not have thought it so."
"No." Meg agreed, "Mr. Darcy is not usually very easy in a large crowd. But in smaller gatherings he is much more pleasant."
At this, Maria asked after a small ornament on a table, and Meg, sensing an opportunity when it came and hit her over the head, took it to request her companion to show Mrs. Gardiner, Jane and Maria the various ornament collections - most of which were at the other end of Meg's townhouse - which was certainly not small.
"Have you known Mr. Darcy for long then?" Meg thought she could detect a slight tone of jealousy in Elizabeth's voice.
"Since I was five years old. So I feel that I know him as well as anyone apart from his family. He has always been pleasant to me, but I am aware of his faults, for I have shared many of them." Here she glanced at Elizabeth for a second, and then, with a small smile, continued. "Pride, Arrogance, conceit, and a selfish disdain for the feelings of others." Here she stopped and noticed Elizabeth's slightly shocked expression. "I hope that I have overcome them, but…poor Darcy. He has only recently become aware of them."
"Oh?" Elizabeth was barely audible.
"He was moping around town all last week, looking as though someone had dragged him across England face down. I haven't seen him so despondent since his father died. He would not tell me what was wrong. Did he seem so despondent in Hertfordshire? I would not ask, but that he seemed … distracted all winter" Well, maybe you're laying it on just a bit thick there, girl, but… She sighed, hoping she still wore a comparatively innocent expression.
Elizabeth was silent.
It was then that the other ladies returned and Mrs. Gardiner, noticing the silence in the room, suggested that the ladies take their leave.
Well, Fitz, Meg thought after the ladies left, She knows that you were in shock. I know that you're still on her mind. Oh dear, I hope I wasn't too obvious…
But, as she knew before, nothing could be done before the Darcys returned from Bath.
The Miss Bennets and Maria Lucas left London for Hertfordshire the next morning. In an ironic twist that Meg thought worthy of a novel, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his younger sister Georgiana returned from Bath the same afternoon, about three weeks earlier than Meg had expected them (she had not thought Bath was quite that dull, however little she thought of it).
It was now early in May, when most of fashionable society had already gone to their country estates. As she had been forbidden to ride until her arm had healed and disliked using the carriage for long distances, Meg had no alternative but to remain in town for a few more weeks.
Which meant she could still work on Darcy without the interference of his many admirers.
"How is it going?" she said by way of greeting as she walked into his study.
"Terribly." He ran his fingers through his hair. "Do you ever have this much trouble from your tenants?" a quick peek at his accounts showed that it wasn't really that bad, only a few unable to pay their rents, but knowing Darcy's fastidious character, she knew better than to remind him of it.
"No," she answered, lounging on a chair on the other side of his desk. "Primarily because I don't have tenants at Montfort anymore (Montfort was her largest estate, in Cheshire)."
"What happened to them? Plague? Was it contagious?"
"In this case, I hope so. I no longer have tenants, but neighbours - I sold them the land that they had been farming. The last installment of payments came in about a month ago."
"Offered to sell them the land. Payment in installments, comparable to the rent they had been paying before."
"And that was…"
She named a figure, and he raised his eyebrows in shock. "I am perfectly aware that it was well below the market value of the land, Fitz," she chuckled "It was not that I really needed the money, after all."
"What possessed y…"
"Maybe I was sick of living off other peoples' labour, doing no work" she said calmly, though emphasizing the last word, cutting him off smoothly "to justify my existence. At least managing my estates and investments gives me a sense of worth, which is more than I can say for many of our peers. Maybe I know that the days when ones' worth was tied to the land one owned and the lives one controlled are numbered. Perhaps I don't see 1789 and 1792 as a historical anomaly, but more a glimpse of the future."
"So you think that one day…"
"One day the mob will rise up and guillotine us all? No. That is not the way I believe it will happen here. It will be much slower, but just as sure. I don't know whether it will be next year, in fifty, or in five hundred, but the day will come when we are no longer an agrarian-based economy in a society precariously balanced between feudalism and capitalism. The land is theirs now, and they no longer have their harpy of a landlady hammering them for the rent when they can least afford to pay it."
He seemed surprised.
"Agrarian. As in agriculture, farming, Fitz."
"I know that," he snapped irritably "I'm a bit surprised you did."
"Just because I'm not allowed to attend Cambridge or Oxford, doesn't mean I'm mentally deficient, Fitz," She shook her head. "Anyway, agriculture isn't as profitable as it once was."
"At the risk of sounding like a money-grubbing merchant, what did you do with all that money? I mean, even at the price you were offering, the size of Montfort ensures that you made a huge profit."
"I did. It's invested in shipping and factories, at the moment. I was contemplating putting some into a plantation in America, but I thought that was going to be a bit hypocritical even for me."
"Look, I take the money I earn by giving people who were effectively modern-day-serfs their economic freedom, and I invest it in a project which would invariably be run on slave labour. That does offend my morals - and since I don't have many in these matters, it is not a huge loss. Might I add that those 'money-grubbing merchants' that you so despise are probably going to be the ones with the most power and influence soon, the way we're headed at the moment. On a much more cynical note, when I offered them the option of buying the land and paying by installments, not one of them missed a payment, even though it was higher than the original rent. My steward was most put out. I have a sneaking suspicion he actually liked haranguing them. Oh well," she shrugged "he's a good accountant. I suppose he couldn't be perfect."
"Just when did you start doing this?"
"I had the idea a bit before my parents died. Do you remember when I went on my version of the 'Grand Tour'?"
"You went to more places than me and never let me forget it. Just who did you meet there?"
"Many people. But the deciding factor was my distant cousin Olga in St. Petersburg." She stopped for emphasis. "She was an anarchist - who had been trying to assassinate the Tsar since she was about sixteen. She got pretty close a few times, but nobody ever believed it was her. Probably because she's Princess Olga Mikhailovna Ulyanova"
"What!" Darcy all but jumped out from his seat "you're doing all that because of a terrorist?"
"An unsuccessful terrorist," she corrected him "and because I am well aware that if people like us don't become a bit more… shall I shock you? liberal and progressive we might get some a bit more competent than an exceedingly bored aristocrat. Anyway, she's lost interest in it now. I heard that she married a Prussian lawyer a few years ago and they're exceeding happy arguing economic theory with each other."
"A Princess? Marry a Lawyer?" Darcy's voice conveyed his disbelief.
Meg shrugged "I think her family just wanted her out of the country in case she finally got lucky. In any case, she'd refused every other offer she'd had - she's a few years older than me, in any case. I presume it was a love match. And, after all, that's all that matters in the end." She looked sideways at him. Wisely, he did not take the bait.
"So, you suggest I just sell off Pemberley to the tenants to save myself from the tumbrels?" he asked, turning the subject back to his rather troublesome accounts.
"If they're anything like mine were under my father, it's probably a good idea." He looked up in shock. "My father might have professed liberal opinions in the drawing room, but he rarely practiced what he preached. I hope he's turning in his grave. Don't look so shocked. Do you think everyone has a good a relationship of mutual respect with their parents as you did? And as willing as mine were to let me expand my mind and train my own horses, their concessions stopped at me having any awareness of politics."
"Think that Pitt is where the maids empty the chamber pots and Spencer Perceval is the name of the new cut of coat this year. I have gathered that. Last winters' debutantes are the worst I've seen for a long time. Even Caroline Bingley doesn't think that the House of Commons is a charity hospital."
"What did you tell her?" he asked suspiciously.
"That the Luddites are tremendously fashionable this year and she simply must get into contact with them. I made them sound like a new lot of dressmakers."
Darcy shook his head "When will you stop baiting the poor woman?"
"When she stops believing me, probably."
Part 3 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
After Meg's visit, Mr. Darcy suddenly found that his business in town, far from taking only a few days as he had envisioned, would occupy him until July, by which time the Bingleys would return to town and from there travel to Pemberley, the Darcy country estate to which Meg had also accepted an invitation, where the Bingleys would stay for some time, and Meg a week before she left for her own estates in Cheshire.
This was completely unconnected to the fact that Mr. Gardiner's business was so successful that he was obliged to curtail a planned tour of the Lake country with his wife and one of his nieces to Derbyshire, in around mid-July, coincidentally when Pemberley was at its most beautiful and romantic.
Of course, Meg had absolutely nothing to do with either of these circumstances. If you didn't believe that, you're very cynical. And completely right. As Meg knew very well, few incentives are more powerful than material gain. And as honourable and likable as both Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy were, they were hardly any different. She was not being purposely cruel. Mr. Gardiner would soon have a valuable shipment of silk and porcelain from China (which he would have no difficulty disposing of - Meg had thoughtfully dropped the hint to nearly every single woman who could afford such things while convincing her that it was a 'secret') and under all the paperwork, Darcy would find the full impact of his losses due to the incompetence of his managers (who Meg had no qualms exposing. After all, she'd had similar problems with her interests - Darcy had a slight advantage in that only the stupidest tried to take advantage of him, while in Meg's case, all but the most honorable did (attempt, not succeed. None of them did that.)).
How Meg actually accomplished this was a little unclear, but in some instances, it is better not to inquire.
The point of the entire exercise, aside from preventing Meg from dying of boredom as her arm healed, lay in several days in late July and early August, when the Darcy party would be at Pemberley and the Gardiners, with Miss Bennet, would be in Lambton, a little town of no consequence, except those fortunate enough to have lived in it.
"Well" Meg observed, one evening in late July. Her arm had long since healed and the following day she would travel with the Darcys and their other guests to Pemberley. "I suppose having gotten this far it won't be too difficult to persuade Fitz to ride with me to Lambton one morning."
The only other occupants of the room, a rangy, one-eyed wolfhound almost as old as Meg, a bright-eyed Great Dane puppy and a large, sleek, haughty cat gazed back at her.
"I'll take that as affirmative." Meg snapped and downed her glass. It was not a common drink for young ladies, but Meg had been hard-pressed to re-organize both parties without them noticing. She felt she deserved a little fortification from the reserves her father and grandfather had laid down.
The cat jumped up on her lap and demanded a pat. "I wish my wants were as simple as yours, Calpurnia," she smiled as she stroked the cat, then pushing it off her lap and brushing cat hair from her dress.
"What do I want?" she asked her pets. The wolfhound closed his one eye and lay down. "I didn't expect you to help, Cyclops," she chuckled as the old dog raised his head once more. "What do you think Hercules? Calpurnia?" the puppy cocked his head, and the cat began top wash herself.
"Pets" Meg complained groggily "They never provide any stimulating conversation. I need to find someone human. And Darcy will be gone soon, if this mess works." She stood, a little unsteadily. "I'm going to bed." She announced to the three animals, and then stumbled out of the room.
As soon as she had gone, Cyclops, Hercules and Calpurnia looked at each other and seemed to nod.
"I will never drink that stuff again," Meg promised, leaning over to pat her new saddle horse. Bucephalus had been sent back to Cheshire after the Hyde Park/Lizzy Gardiner incident and Meg's new 'London' saddle horse was a slightly less nervous, but still spirited black mare by the name of Medea.
"You and Darcy are two of a kind!" came a cheerful, but painfully loud voice. Charles Bingley, who rode like a sack of …well…something came up on his own sedate brown gelding, rather sensibly named 'Fred'. "You can not name anything without giving it some great historical or literary significance. I wonder what you two would name your children, the poor things!"
Meg was saved from making a reply by the arrival of Darcy and the carriage that would carry Miss Bingley, Georgiana and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst to Pemberley. Darcy looked distant, barely paying attention to Miss Bingley as she extolled the virtues of his dress, his horse, his carriage - well, anything to do with Darcy, really. Meg rolled her eyes. It was going to be a long trip. Though it could be greatly shortened by the addition of a little arsenic in some one's morning coffee…if I thought it worth my while…
When they reached their first overnight stop (Miss Bingley had insisted on two overnight stops, even though it was quite possible to undertake the journey with only one - a non-stop journey was also possible, but Meg had discovered that it was not recommended to undertake it side-saddle) Meg found a message waiting for her.
It was from Hannah, the maid at the Lambton inn she had…asked? convinced? persuaded? Oh, all right, bribed to keep her informed about any changes to the Gardiners' itinerary. She picked up the piece of paper with a sense of misgiving.
The news was better than Meg's wildest dreams. They were to visit Pemberley! Tomorrow - her heart sank. They would not arrive until the day after. What could be done? She snapped her fingers, a most unladylike gesture as the answer came to her.
"Fitz." she stated after dinner, when the others were out of earshot. "Didn't you mention something about a problem with your steward earlier?" Actually, he had said nothing of the kind, but sheer invention sometimes helped. It had worked often enough in their childhood.
"I did?" he asked, unsure. That was one big change in him now. He was no longer so certain, so confident as he had been.
"Yes." Yes you did. Swallow the nice bait. You want to go home. You want to go home…
"Well, I have had some letters from him. But nothing that terribly important."
"But didn't you say that a small problem should be dealt with before it becomes a large one? That was your first bit of advice to me when I started to manage my estates. You, Richard and Wollstonecraft were the only ones who didn't tell me not to 'worry my pretty little head about it', incidentally. "
"Oh…well…it…I know I should but…"
"But what?" she probed.
"I haven't been home since…well…you know. And I'd always imaged that She would be there with me. And now when I do go back, it'll be final. She'll never be with me. Never"
This is going to be much easier than I thought.
"You're going to have to go home sometime, Fitz. Maybe it will be easier to arrive alone than with Caroline Bingley." Here Meg stopped and, almost on cue, they both heard Miss Bingley's rather irritating laugh. That settled it.
"You're right. Do you think you'll be all right tomorrow if I go on ahead?"
Despite Miss Bingley's protestations, Darcy was on his horse a little after sunrise the next morning, ready to go to Pemberley.
"You could be there by mid afternoon if you really want to stretch Sir Galahad." Meg told him, patting the gray horse on the nose.
"You really want to get rid of me, don't you? Won't I wind him?"
"He's one of the finest from my stud. A little gallop. Wind him? Not a chance!"
"What about me then? If we gallop the whole way, have you any idea what I'll look like when I arrive?"
"I never knew you took such care of your looks" Meg teased "But if you're hot, you could always take a dip in the lake. It's not as if anyone's going to see you."
But Elizabeth Bennet isn't 'anyone' Meg thought, waving him good-bye. Tomorrow, she would see if the luck they had so far enjoyed held out. "Tomorrow," she repeated aloud.
Part 4 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
The next twenty-four hours were some of the longest in Meg's life. Eventually, though, the party arrived at the front of Pemberley at about half past nine the next morning. Meg felt a little malicious in getting everyone up well before sunrise, but it was worth it to see Caroline Bingley so put out. She felt a twinge of guilt for exposing Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley to Miss Bingley's running commentary (Mrs. Fitzgerald had gone on a well-deserved break by the seaside) of her dislike for early hours, but it was only mild compared with her impatience to see Darcy and ask whether he had indeed 'happened' to meet Elizabeth Bennet the previous afternoon.
The object of her thoughts waited for them at the top of the steps with such a smile on his face that she had no need to ask. She lingered by Medea, carefully checking the mare for any signs of strain while listening to Darcy talk to his sister. Darcy's enthusiasm was startlingly obvious as he half-persuaded, half-bullied his sister into accompanying him to Lambton to meet Elizabeth Bennet. Charles Bingley, who had also been lingering, insisted on going with them. The Hursts and Miss Bingley had already gone into the house. Faced with the choice of staying in the house with them or going to see Elizabeth Bennet again, Meg quickly included herself in the party going to Lambton.
In the interests of giving Darcy and his sister a little privacy with Miss Bennet, Meg suggested that Charles Bingley might want a drink while she went to have a look at the nearby shops. After what seemed like an eternity, Darcy returned downstairs with a request to join them.
Meg's greeting to Elizabeth Bennet was polite and friendly. If Darcy was surprised at their previous acquaintance, he did not show it. Indeed, he did not show any emotion other than complete and utter adoration towards Elizabeth. Meg watched with amusement as Bingley made his less-than-subtle inquires after the Bennet family and Georgiana (under Darcy's very obvious prodding) invite their party to Pemberley the following day.
"You knew, didn't you?" Darcy's tone was low and accusing as he and Meg watched Charles and Georgiana make their way into the house.
"Knew what?" Meg asked innocently.
"Don't pretend. You knew She was going to be at Pemberley yesterday, didn't you? That was why you sent me off."
"My actions yesterday morning may or may not have any bearing on the circumstances of your arrival, Fitz. What are you accusing me of?"
"It's just a little bit convenient, isn't it? You get a note from Lambton the night before last, you coerce me into coming a day early, and then She is here!"
"Some would call that Fate…or Destiny…by the by, how do those sound as names for my new deerhound? Sanders finally found another to replace Hamish. On another note, must you keep speaking in capitals, I know perfectly well who 'She' is without that sick-puppy look."
"You always made your own Destiny, Meg. You've never left anything to Fate. You could have given me a hint! You could have at least left off the swimming recommendation. Have you any idea how humiliating it is to meet the woman of your dreams looking like a drowned rat?"
"No I don't. But I'll take your word for it that it is a most interesting experience."
"Interesting! You would call it that. But have you any idea how I must have looked? Shirt wet, breeches drenched, hair…"
"You may spare me the description. I know perfectly well what you look like wet. I take it that it did not have too negative an effect on Miss Bennet?"
"She looked at me as though I had sprouted an extra head. Then I must have muttered something - I was so embarrassed - you have no idea - then I scurried off and got changed- even you would have been proud of the time I set - anyway, I managed to catch her before she left. We talked and walked and…"
"So she no longer believes that you are the Devil incarnate?"
"No. At least, I hope not. And how would you know what I look like wet? You've never…"
"Do you remember a particularly hot summer some years ago? When you, Richard and George Wickham decided to go swimming without me?"
"Meg, it wasn't that long ago. There was no possibility that you could have swum with us like you had ten years before that."
"Try telling that to a (I must admit, rather spoiled) seventeen year old. Anyway, it was most impolite to abandon a lady. How do you think I felt? All I had to talk to was Lady Catherine and Anne, seeing as Georgiana's governess didn't let her two inches away from the nursery - a place, as you well know, I have a marked avoidance."
"Wait a minute. You were the one who stole our clothes, weren't you?"
A sardonic lift of the eyebrows. "I bow to your unparalleled genius. It only took you eight years to work that one out."
"That must be the only time in my life more embarrassing than meeting Eliz…meeting Miss Bennet yesterday. At least I had some clothes on yesterday. But then, I had Richard with me that time. And the only person who caught us sneaking back was father - and after we got dressed, we had to take him back to the lake - where our clothes were just sitting there on the bank…" Here he stopped " You put them back as soon as we were out of sight, didn't you? And you were watching too weren't you? I never would have thought you would do something like that Meg!"
Meg glowered at him "No, you wouldn't. And if you don't stop that I'll dunk you in the fishpond like I used to. Come to think of it, I haven't done that for a while…"
They both laughed at that, remembering shared childhood memories, many of them of this very estate.
"Come on, let's go in." Meg took his arm "We've got to tell Caroline Bingley that Elizabeth Bennet is coming tomorrow."
Darcy chuckled again as they ascended the steps.
Part 5 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
Caroline Bingley sat on the sofa, barely containing her rage. It had been bad enough, discovering that Lady Megan would be at Pemberley, but now, Elizabeth Bennet! Lady Megan she could stand - the woman was wealthy, titled, well connected and, most importantly, as Caroline now noticed, had absolutely no romantic interests in Darcy. Between them was the intimacy of old friends and of brother and sister, but no more. Elizabeth Bennet was a much greater risk to her dreams of being Mistress of Pemberley, but even those dreams were fading as she watched both her rival and Lady Megan. It was obvious that the Lady preferred Elizabeth Bennet's company over Caroline's own, and even more obvious that Lady Megan did not think that Caroline Bingley was a suitable Mistress of Pemberley in any case.
Meg observed the other occupants of the room with a slightly amused expression. Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, silently stewing. The Gardiners, who were as pleasant and well-bred as she had remembered, and Mr. Hurst, who had taken advantage of Darcy's fine cellar and was now sprawled across the low divan on the other side of the room. Charles Bingley, who studied Elizabeth Bennet intently, though not with the gaze of a lover - like one who is trying to see a resemblance to someone else. Darcy himself was transfixed on the pianoforte and the two young women near it. Meg, never sentimental, thought that he looked like a stunned sheep.
Elizabeth Bennet was playing a Mozart aria, her playing pleasant, but not remarkable - certainly nothing to the technical dexterity of the Bingley sisters, but with much warmth and feeling that her technical shortcomings were easily overlooked. Her voice was a clear, deep soprano, as different to Meg's dramatic mezzo-soprano or Georgiana's delicate, breathy voice as it was to Caroline Bingley's screeching. She finished her song and stayed for a few moments, talking with Georgiana and convincing her to play.
That, if it were at all possible, raised Meg's opinion of Miss Bennet - no one, with the exception of Meg (and that was only very, very rarely) and Darcy himself had ever been able to persuade Georgiana to play in front of so many people. After helping Georgiana to arrange her music, Elizabeth started to walk back to the seats.
"Miss Eliza. Are the militia still quartered at Meryton?" Meg winced as Caroline Bingley interrupted Georgiana's playing.
"No. They are encamped at Brighton for the summer." Elizabeth Bennet is hiding something - but what?
Meg pondered this until she heard the word "Wickham".
The music stopped abruptly, and Georgiana looked as though she had been slapped. A few seconds of tense silence spread around the room.
Elizabeth Bennet made some excuse about Georgiana's need for a page-turner and hurried back to Georgiana's side - completely lame, Meg thought, considering that Georgiana's piece was only two pages long. Meg stole a look at Darcy to see his reaction to the event.
Even she, who had been his friend for a good twenty years, was surprised at the undisguised emotion on his face - admiration, love, adoration, lust. She was even more amazed to see a similar look on the face of Elizabeth Bennet. The room seemed to be uncomfortably warm. Well, this is a development
Eventually though, the Gardiners took their leave and departed, much to Darcy and Georgiana's disappointment and Caroline Bingley's undisguised joy. Meg waited in the Drawing Room with the Bingley sisters until the others returned.
As soon as Darcy entered the room, Miss Bingley started to list, very loudly, every fault she found in Elizabeth Bennet (in random order - or not. Meg was past listening at that stage). Meg could see the tensed muscles under Darcy's jacket which indicated his suppressed rage. She knew that he was only barely managing to restrain himself.
"I even believe you found her rather pretty at one time." Miss Bingley simpered, batting her eyelashes at Darcy, who remained resolutely facing the fireplace.
"Yes I did. But that was only when I first knew her" Fitz! What are you saying? You are not going to fall out of love with her now. Not after I saw how you looked at each other. Not after all the work I've put into the two of you. If you agree with Caroline Bingley about this, of all things, I shall be forced to rip your head off and shove it down your throat!
"For it has been many months now since I have considered her one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance, next to Lady Megan." Here he made a bow to Meg, who glanced at Caroline Bingley, seeing the dismay and indignation, before he left the room.
Whoo-ho! That was perfect, Fitz! What a way to put Caroline Bingley down. I presume that you won't need that much help from me now. She smiled a little at the inclusion of her name, not because she was under any delusion of romantic feeling from him, but of his rather pointed exclusion of Caroline Bingley as a 'handsome woman of his acquaintance'.
"I wonder Cal," Meg asked her cat as she brushed her hair "Why am I so happy to see Fitz fall madly in love? I should be acting like Caroline Bingley, bristling and trying to turn his attention towards me, not helping him win some other girl I hardly know." She put the hairbrush down and looked into the mirror. She was not unattractive - but that was not the reason for her single status. She had never felt the lack of a husband before; she and Darcy had been alike in their previous confirmed bachelorhood. Now Darcy was in love. Darcy, who had been her pillar of strength after her parents died. She was alone, for the first time in her life. Hardly alone, she admonished herself, I have my investments, my other friends, my pets. I even have Wollstonecraft's niece if I ever feel the need to 'mother' something.
"Well," she said, turning to Hercules and Cyclops. Calpurnia jumped off the dressing table. "What do you think I should do? Not go up to Fitz and say 'Elizabeth Bennet's a hopeless moron, give up on her and marry me instead?' certainly. For a start, we'd turn into arrogant snobs and secondly I don't love him. But I don't want to lose him either, which is what will happen." She stopped. "Am I just being a stereotypical spoilt aristocrat here?"
The three animals nodded. This was becoming a very familiar speech for them.
"Thanks." Meg stood up and began to pace the room "What should I do then? If…when Fitz marries Elizabeth Bennet I'll have no one to talk to. Well, no one human anyway. Mrs. Fitzgerald isn't much in the way of stimulating conversation. I picked her because she didn't object too vigorously to anything I said or did. Well, what's done is done. I'm going to bed. Goodnight."
Hercules, Cyclops and Calpurina looked at each other. They were looking forward to Meg finding a mate. That way they wouldn't be screamed at quite so often.
Somehow Meg was not at all surprised when Darcy came to the breakfast table not long after dawn. That was why she was already there. I must stop taking such an avid interest in this. Nothing is worth waking up before dawn just to see the expression on his face. He had taken inordinate care of his appearance. Forest green today.
"Where are you going today?"
"Oh. I see. To pay a call on someone?"
"You know." Here Darcy paused "Meg, why are you doing this?"
"Doing what?" She asked as she finished her tea and stood up.
"Helping me in this matter." He answered, following her out to the hall.
"Because you are my friend. And I want to see you happy."
"But most women would sooner cut off their right arm than do something like…"
"I'm not 'most women', Fitz," Meg admonished " as I have reminded you time and time again. You are in love with her. You are not in love with me. I am not in love with you. Case closed. You are going to ask her to marry you again, aren't you?"
"How did you…never mind, I don't want to know." Darcy stopped himself, though he was positively being eaten alive with curiosity.
"I have my ways. Anyway, what else was I supposed to do? In case you haven't forgotten, I'm a crabby, wealthy old spinster with far too much spare time and almost too much money. I dislike parties, shopping and embroidery. Matchmaking is practically the only socially acceptable hobby that I can do. I'm just happy that my first attempt turned out so well. Have you got a ring?"
"Men." Meg snorted. "You are just never prepared for this sort of thing. Here." She drew a small box from her pocket, and placed it in his hand. "Your mother gave me this, but Elizabeth Bennet has a larger claim on it than I. See you this afternoon." Meg gave him a peck on the cheek and then turned and walked in the other direction.
Darcy opened the box as soon as she was out of sight. He nearly dropped it.
It was his mother's engagement ring.
Part 6 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
Meg paced impatiently in front of the large French windows overlooking Pemberley's drive. Darcy may have only left barely half an hour ago, but that did not stop her from wearing out the fine Persian carpet. She had decided to return to her estates and Cheshire the following day, both out of homesickness and the professed opinion that people in love made her nauseous.
Finally though, Darcy came up the drive, Sir Galahad showing signs of strain, though it was nothing compared to his master. Darcy looked as though he had been riding through his worst nightmare. Something was terribly wrong.
Meg all but ran out of the house What can have gone wrong? It was going perfectly!
"What's wrong?" She asked him bluntly as he came in the door. Darcy's jaw clenched, and then he looked around, making sure that they weren't going to be overheard.
"Her younger sister has just eloped with that…that…George Wickham." He spat the name out as though it burned his tongue.
This was certainly an unexpected development. George Wickham had been a childhood companion like Darcy and Richard Fitzwilliam, but one she had only barely tolerated for her friends' sakes. He was a shallow, rather superficial person who seemed only out for any material gain. His attempted seduction of Georgiana the previous year had not done anything to raise his stature in Meg's eyes.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked.
He did not answer.
Darcy was even more than usually morose at the dinner table that evening. Afterwards, Meg announced her intention of returning to her estates that following day. Georgiana and Charles Bingley protested, but Darcy was silent. When Miss Bingley made yet another cutting remark about Elizabeth Bennet, he stood up abruptly and all but stormed out of the room.
Meg left early the next morning, but not so early as Darcy who must have, by her calculations, been gone well before sunrise. She settled in the carriage with her pets with a feeling of unease. Should she do something about the Lydia Bennet/George Wickham affair? Was it time she should leave Darcy to do something? Sitting up, she made her decision.
"Jeems," she called to the rider beside her "Go back home and tell everyone that urgent Business in London will prevent me returning for some time." She turned to the coachman "London."
Cyclops whined. He disliked London, he complained, the air made his bones sore and London was no place for a wolfhound.
"There, there. We'll be home soon," she patted the huge dog on the head. She looked at her other two pets, "I've got to finish this," she told them.
By using the ingenious network of street urchins that circulated around London and its environs, Meg managed to discern that Darcy had arrived only a few hours before herself, and, consequently, had not yet begun his search. The Gardiners were still in Hertfordshire and…here she stopped and re-read the scrap of paper. Darcy's cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, was also in town, and Darcy had gone to visit him directly after his arrival in town.
The next day brought Meg to the Darcy townhouse with a large stash of papers and intelligence from the street urchins. They were a most useful means of obtaining information, and came cheap at a few pennies, some food and occasionally some shelter or medical care.
If the butler was surprised to see her at this early hour, he did not show it, and led her to the library were Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam were perusing what appeared to be a map of London.
They both greeted her with warmth, but not bothering to hide their weariness. By the dark smudges under their eyes and the rather wrinkled state of their clothes, Meg surmised that they had been up most of the night.
"I thought you had gone to Cheshire." Darcy stated.
"You thought wrongly." Meg answered, as she opened the leather folder on the table.
"What have you got?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked, curious.
"These are copies of Mrs. Young's references," she held up several sheets of paper. Mrs. Young had applied for the position of her companion several years ago, but Meg had thought her too pushy and irritating. Darcy and Fitzwilliam, however, had disagreed and hired her as Georgiana's companion during the disastrous Ramgate incident. She was also an intimate of Wickham.
"This is the address of Wickham's lodgings," another scrap of paper, bearing an address in a very bad part of town.
"And his debts." This was the bulk of the paper in the folder, and was placed on the table with a thump.
Darcy took one look at the address, then garbled something about the need to change clothes, and all but ran out of the room.
"My cousin must really be in love with her if he is willing to go through with all this for her sake."
"Yes. I believe he is. You have met her, you know. What do you think of Elizabeth Bennet?"
"She is one of the finest women I have ever met. If either of us had had the money, I would have asked her to marry me - but seeing as I was thinking of money at all I cannot have been too much in love with her to begin with." Here he sighed.
"You know, Meg, I envy you. You can marry whoever you like and no one will gossip within your hearing. You can chose not to marry and still have the funds for your lifestyle." Here he stopped, and studied her carefully.
"Why are you doing this, Megan Carter?" he asked "Darcy could have handled this by himself. Not as quickly as you do, granted, but he would do it in the end."
"Precisely for that reason. The less time taken for this incident the better."
"But why? You of all people…well maybe except for Lady Catherine and Darcy's admirers…should not want to see him married to Miss Bennet, as beautiful and intelligent as she is. It would be rather difficult for a single woman to meet with a married man as often as you and my cousin do."
"So? I have other friends. Your cousin was never more than that."
"Then why did Lady Anne give you her engagement ring? Surely you would have considered pursuing him at one stage. It would show that Lady Anne, at least hoped you two would make a match, no matter what Lady Catherine claims."
"Who said it was his mother's engagement ring?" Meg asked, amused.
"Darcy did. And if he was mistaken…"
"I only told him that his mother had given it to me. I never said it was her engagement ring."
"It was very similar to her engagement ring, I grant you that. It's even more similar now than when she gave it to me - it only required the addition of another diamond - what worthier cause is there to contribute an earring when its mate has been lost? They were probably made by the same jeweler, too. But you've obviously never studied her engagement ring, have you?"
"No. But what does…"
"The inside rim of Lady Anne Darcy's engagement ring was engraved with the words I will love you forever , but I doubt Darcy knows that - she only took it off once, by my reckoning, and that was when she was teaching me how to judge the quality of diamonds (don't ask - long story). That ring is not engraved. And the diamonds themselves are of a slightly different cut and size, but not that you would notice unless you compared the two rings side by side. And that is impossible. The original was buried with Lady Anne."
The Colonel laughed. "Only you would think of something like that, Meg."
As the three of them picked their way through the seedy side streets of London, (yes, it would have been chivalrous and correct for the cousins to not let Meg go, but they knew from long experience that any attempt at chivalry would be interpreted as patronizing and condescending, and perhaps result in having their heads held under the water of the horse trough. So they didn't bother) Meg made a silent vow that she would start giving more to charity. How could people live like this? For the first time, she realized that these were the homes of the luckier of the street urchins who were so invaluable for her investigations.
They paused beneath a run-down house, where George Wickham and Lydia Bennet were staying. It had been decided that Meg would talk to Lydia while Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam would speak to Wickham.
I would rather talk to Wickham Meg fumed as she listened to Lydia Bennet rattle on about soldiers, elopements, the attractions of town, and her boredom.
"Miss Bennet," Meg interrupted "I wonder if you are even fully aware of the consequences of your actions."
"La! Lady Megan, I wonder that you are not aware! We are to be married. What does it matter if it is now or a little later."
"But the fact remains. You are not yet married to Mr. Wickham, nor do I see any signs that you will be."
"We are to be married!" Lydia almost screamed.
"Miss Bennet. When I referred to the consequences of your actions, do you realize what this could mean to your family? Or your sisters?" Meg rested her forehead on fingers, as though staving off a headache.
"Oh! They will be perfectly fine. A girl must get married somehow, and eloping is just as fine as anything else, is it not, Lady Megan? Oh! But you would not understand, you are wealthy enough, but poor me must find a husband by any means possible!"
Meg, never patient at the best of times, was at the end of her tether.
"Do you not understand, girl!" Lydia Bennet stopped in shock. "Because of your stupidity your sisters will forever have your faults hanging over their heads. Already this will be gossip in your home town. Good Grief, girl! If you wanted to get a husband, you should marry him before you travel alone with him. Your parents would not have objected."
"They will not object! And we are to be married!" Lydia repeated.
Meg stood "I can see that we can have no common ground in this matter. Good Day, Miss Bennet."
"I can't believe that they come from the same species, let alone the same family," Meg observed, poking at her desert. They were some of her favorites; cloud soft sponge cake, fruit tarts, rich puddings with chocolate and caramel sauces, yet she seemed utterly without appetite. Her cook would look anxiously at the almost-untouched plates.
Darcy and Fitzwilliam, who shared her sweet tooth and her uneasiness, agreed.
"She and her elder sister are unusual in that family." Darcy supplied, toying listlessly with a blob of thick chocolate sauce. "They are perfectly amiable, well mannered young ladies."
"How did you two go with Wickham while I was being tortured by Lydia Bennet?" Meg asked, curious.
"He will marry Lydia, his debts will be covered, and a position in the regulars will be bought for him" Colonel Fitzwilliam answered. "It was far too generous, in my opinion. We should have sent him to the debtor's prison."
"Then what would have happened to Lydia Bennet? And, by extension, the rest of her family?" Meg replied "As distasteful as it sounds, there probably was no other solution. Which regiment?" she swiftly changed the topic.
"We have not yet decided, but one as far away as possible."
Meg nodded. "A good choice. I will see what I can come up with."
"Meg, what can you do about commissions, anyway?" Fitzwilliam asked "If anyone has to find a position for that……it should be me."
However, as usual, Meg got her way. With a combination of charm, persuasion, extortion, and outright blackmail she obtained an ensigncy in General -------'s regiment in the North, one which would soon be transferred to the colonies - far away. By obtaining an ensigncy, Wickham would have his commission (he had failed to specify which he wanted) yet being far inferior to the other officers, as a man of his age still an ensign would be looked upon askance.
Two weeks later, Lydia Bennet became Lydia Wickham, and the newly married couple left for a visit to her home, then to join his regiment. Darcy stayed the London, Fitzwilliam returned to his regiment, and Meg, finally giving in to the cajoling of her pets, left for Cheshire.
Part 7 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
An urgent matter regarding her Continental interests brought Meg back to London in September. She was happy to find that Charles Bingley had returned to Hertfordshire, and his engagement to Miss Jane Bennet was announced the day following Meg's arrival in town.
She was less than happy, though, when she discovered that while Darcy had also gone to Hertfordshire, he had left after several days, and was now in town, presumably on business, but was doing nothing of importance as far the street urchins could surmise. She waited several days, settling matters with her lawyers and bankers, before deciding to call on her old friend.
He looked marginally better than he had that April, after Elizabeth Bennet had rejected him, but only marginally.
"What happened?" Meg asked bluntly, as soon as the butler had closed the door.
"So what are you doing back here? You should be courting her."
"She hates me. She wouldn't talk to me. What could I do?"
"Talk to her, maybe?"
"But she was so cold…so reserved."
"And you were not?"
"Oh, for goodness sakes, Meg!" Darcy bounded off the chair and turned on her.
"What is my love-life to you? You, who watches everyone around you make idiots of themselves and laugh. Is that all I am? A figure of amusement. Fitz, finally in love. The ultimate capitulation. You've played with everyone for far too long. I'm not just a pawn in your matchmaking games. Why can't you and all those other old spinsters out there just leave me alone?"
Meg drew herself up, her voice cold. "I am two years younger than you. If I am an old spinster, what does that make you? I was trying to get it through your incredibly thick head that there is a woman there who is just as much in love with you as you are with her, except you just don't see it. A woman who will think that you hate her if you go on doing this to both yourself and her." Here she stopped "But you would never consider that. I will leave you alone, Fitzwilliam Darcy, for you have made it quite clear you would like to be like that for the rest of your life."
Well, he wants me to get out of this, she thought savagely "Well, Herc, what do I do?" She asked the Great Dane. Though he was not particularly vicious, she had discovered that having the huge (though still admittedly half-grown) dog with her served as a deterrent to most would-be harassers (there were other methods for discouraging the others). Hercules whined, then gave some cutting barks.
Meg stopped and snapped her fingers. "That's it! The perfect person!" She almost jumped into her carriage.
"Home," she told the coachman "I have a letter to write."
I am aware that we have not been on the best of terms in recent years, but I now write to you of a matter which has surprised me considerably. Your nephew, Mr. Darcy, has recently expressed his intention of marrying one Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of Longbourn, Hertfordshire. He tells me that you are also acquainted with this young lady, when she visited Kent earlier this year. He seems completely bewitched by her. I ask you then, Godmother, to give me some further intelligence about this young lady, who, as you may guess, has captured my curiosity.
Please give my regards to Anne and everyone else at Rosings Park.
Lady Megan Lilith (her parents had a rather irreverent sense of humor) Simone DuBois Carter
Meg laid down her pen. It had been a difficult letter to write - the various pieces of discarded paper on her desk were ample evidence for that - now to see if Lady Catherine de Bourgh would react as Meg hoped.
"You had a fight with Darcy, didn't you?" It wasn't really a question, as Colonel Fitzwilliam moved a knight.
"So what? We've had fights before." Meg took his bishop with a rook.
"Not ones like this. Darcy is despairing that you'd never talk to him again."
"Oh? I thought that was what he wanted."
"He told me to leave him alone. So I am. Check."
The Colonel moved his King.
"I wonder, Meg," he mused "Do you have anything to do with a certain visitor he had today?"
"That depends. Who was it?"
"What did you do?" Colonel Fitzwilliam asked over a late supper. "It's not like Lady Catherine to leave Kent."
"I wrote her a letter." Meg selected a biscuit and sat down. "Really, Richard, what else could I do?"
"You? You would physically drag my cousin all the way to Hertfordshire and lock him in a room with Miss Bennet if you really wanted to."
"Probably. But that's not the point. Lady Catherine is achieving exactly what I would, only quicker. I'm trying to be a bit more subtle than she is."
"You are. But, as you've said, subtlety often goes unnoticed."
"So I had someone else be blunt for a change. Poor Godmother. I wonder if she even realizes that I wanted her to goad Darcy into action. I'd only expected her to write. I didn't expect her to visit."
"She didn't just visit him."
"She paid a call on Miss Bennet as well, to try to get her to…well…I'm not quite sure. Darcy was a little incoherent when I called on him after she left."
At that moment, the object of their conversation entered the room.
"Well," Meg began "What are you doing here? I thought you would be in Hertfordshire by now."
"No." Darcy shook his head. "I'm going tomorrow." At Meg's nod he sat down and the maid handed him a cup of tea. "I came to apologize for my behavior the other day. I know that if you hadn't done what you did, I would never have had the chance to meet her again. You, at least, gave me hope."
"Thank you." Meg smiled.
"I say, Darcy," Richard joined in "I doubt Aunt Catherine will be overjoyed at that."
"No. She will not be. But seeing her again reminded me of what I might turn out like if I remained the way I was. For that too, I must thank you Meg. Even after how I treated you, you still helped me."
"What are friends for?" she asked. "Remember to invite us to the wedding."
And so he did.
Part 8 Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 1999
Meg gave a small grin as she perused the letter one final time before making her reply. She wondered if Caroline Bingley had been particularly incoherent that day. (It was dated the day that Darcy's engagement was announced.)
My dearest Lady Megan,
The celebrated bluntness of your character will not tolerate any sort of disguise. I concur completely, for, like you, deception of any kind is my greatest abhorrence. Thus, I shall not conceal my true intent. As you are no doubt aware, my brother, and also Our Mutual Friend, Mr. Darcy, have made most unexpected connections. But, unlike the two aforementioned gentlemen, I have not overlooked grave factors in the matches. The two ladies have no fortunes, nor connections, and I fear, their family is Most Alarming, their mother seems an escapee from Bedlam, they have an uncle engaged in trade, and as you have no doubt heard, their youngest sister has eloped with the son of Mr. Darcy's late steward! As to the ladies themselves, Miss Bennet is rather handsome, but I fear has little else - do not mistake me, I am sure she is a very good sort of girl, and I wish her all the happiness in the world - but I do believe my brother has not made the best choice he could have. As for Miss Eliza, as you have observed, is far to impertinent for the position to which Our Mutual Friend seems to intend for her. I hope that you will be able to assist me in communicating to my brother and Mr. Darcy our mutual reservations towards their intentions.
Your dear friend
Caroline 'Caro' Bingley
Meg shook her head and made her way to her desk.
My dear Caro,
She wondered how she could convey condescension in ink.
I have only a passing acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth - we met at Pemberley I believe? Or was that some other Miss Bennet? So I have not the pleasure of being able to pass judgement. Would you be agreeable to spending a few minutes with an old spinster tomorrow morning to enlighten her further?
Lady Megan Lilith Simone DuBois Carter
She gave a sadistic grin as she sealed the letter, and began on another.
Caroline Bingley will quite possibly arrive tomorrow afternoon, rather the worse for wear. In the unlikely event that she arrives before me (I shall be taking Prometheus), I ask that you avoid her completely (I know it will be difficult, but try). Ask Charles to pretend that you have 'departed' using that word- no questions - I shall enlighten you further when I arrive.
P.S. Do you remember my first pony, 'Fizz'?
She stood, stretched, and went upstairs to her room, to finish the last of her packing before she set off to Netherfield. The heavier trunks, Mrs. Fitzgerald, the dogs and her maid would be sent off by carriage that day, with Meg and her escort carrying only the most essential items as they rode to Hertfordshire the next morning. Her secretary, Wollstonecraft, would remain in London, as always, to handle all but the most urgent affairs - and there was a stable full of fast horses and eager stable boys should there be a need for any communication.
"Oh &*($#^!" Meg exclaimed as she looked out her bedroom window. Caroline Bingley was at least half-an-hour earlier than expected. Bundling handkerchiefs, hairbrush, dagger, pistol and other essentials into the saddlebag, she straightened the plain black dress she wore and smoothed down her hair. She wore her riding boots underneath, hoping they wouldn't be noticed, and her riding habit, gloves and hat lay on the bed, in readiness for a quick change. She wriggled her shoulders "Up," she ordered Calpurnia, and the cat settled around her neck, looking like nothing so much as a thick fur stole. Meg grabbed a transparent black veil and prettily embroidered handkerchief as she darted out the door, making a quick detour into the kitchen before running into the drawing room.
Caroline Bingley, though she had been in many fine houses, could barely stop gaping like a country bumpkin when the butler showed her in. The townhouse was furnished like a palace - no, finer. Her eyes swept over the furniture and ornaments as though appraising their value. She had been here only once before, and her cheeks burned with embarrassment as she recalled it. If only she had known Lady Megan had such a curious notion of what 'parties' consisted of! She remembered many people talking of such dull subjects, not at all interested in the happenings of town. Having had a little too much to drink, she accused them all of being…well…suffice to say, she deeply regretted her failure to notice just how many eligible bachelors were interested in Lady Megan's dull 'parties'.
She could hear the sound of sobbing in the drawing room. She gazed at the butler.
"She insists on seeing you, ma'am," the butler said seriously "but you must be gentle - it was rather a shock."
Caroline was into the room before she could ask the butler any more, and so failed to see the look of amusement on his face.
Meg sat on the sofa, daintily dabbing at her eyes with an embroidered cloth and looking as though she was trying not to bawl.
Caroline sat down next to her and patted her hand awkwardly. "Good morning. I hope you're well…what a nice fur…Argh!" Caroline jumped up from the sofa, screeching as the 'nice fur' she as about to touch came to life and unsheathed its claws. Caroline was now confronted with two pairs of piercing green eyes. She gulped as Meg unwound the cat from her neck and placed her, hissing, (Calpurnia, not Meg) on the ground between them. Now, with Caroline standing, she looked like a supplicant come to beg a favour from a monarch.
"I'm fine…" Meg waved the cloth "It was just a bit of a shock, that's all. Oh Caroline! Fitz….Fitz…."
"Yes?" Caroline gritted her teeth What? Oh that I could call him that. What makes her so special that she can call him by that stupid nickname?
"Fitz is dying. He might even be dead by now." Megan finished and, as though it had taken all her strength, buried her face in her handkerchief.
"What! Oh dear. I must…I must go to Netherfield…at once! To see what I can do to…help! Oh I said that little witch would do that to him" She paced the carpet. "Do you know what happened?"
"He was just walking around the grounds as he usually does, and just suddenly collapsed…they think his heart just gave out…he may not live till tomorrow…why? Why now?" Meg gave a convincing show of sobbing.
"I have to go…my brother will need me." Caroline finished lamely and all but bolted out the door.
Meg sat up after she left. Well, onions really do work better than smelling salts.
The selection of Lady Megan's escort for such trips requiring speed was always a rather unamiable affair, at best, among the grooms and stable hands. Not only out of concern for their mistress (Meg was rather generous as to terms of employment), but such a trip would mean a chance to ride one the finest horses in the stable. While the exercise of such horses was part of their duties, nothing would compare to really riding. Such as it was, being aware of the urgentness of the task (and because they understood the joke being played on Miss Bingley, who was rather difficult when it came to the treatment of her carriage), they selected the best rider to accompany her. While it was unlikely that they, travelling light and on two of the fastest horses in England, would not arrive in Hertfordshire before a heavy coach laden with luggage, there was no telling what might go wrong, or what a hysterical passenger on aforementioned coach would do.
Meg and her escort pounded the road to Hertfordshire, with Calpurnia, who was rather precariously placed in a specially designed saddlebag, holding on to dear life and looking rather ill. They arrived at Netherfield in record time, to see Darcy arrive there also, albeit at a much more subdued pace.
"Did you get my letter?" she asked, as her groom led away the horses.
"Yes. What on earth were you on about? What has old Fizz got to do with anything? Didn't he die years ago?"
"Megan!" Charles Bingley came bounding down the stairs, to seize her hand in an enthusiastic handshake.
"Congratulations to you both," she smiled, before withdrawing Caroline's letter from her pocket. "Caroline sent me this yesterday." She handed it over. Both men read it, Darcy turning rather pale.
"What did you do to her?" he asked suspiciously.
"Nothing…yet." She smiled. "I asked her to call on me this morning," she conceded, as the walked up the stairs. "She found me in an awful state because my old pony had died."
Bingley shook his head in incomprehension. "What has that to do with anything?"
"His name was 'Fizz'," she told them "Isn't it funny that when somebody is 'crying' it sounds remarkably similar to 'Fitz'?"
Darcy was the first to break into laughter. "I see now. I was starting to fear you'd knocked her over the head and chained her in the hold of a ship bound for the colonies, or you'd had her convinced I was about to declare my undying love, and she should go and await me at Gretna Greene."
"That would have worked." Bingley agreed. "But what did you do?"
"I think you'll see when she gets here." Meg's grin got a little wider.
A light went on in Bingley's eyes. "I get it now!" he exclaimed. "She gets here, Darcy's not here, I tell her he's already 'departed', she has hysterics and consequently is too embarrassed to try and interfere in either match!"
If she was a little startled at how deviously Bingley's mind could work she did not show it. Instead, she nodded "I hope you don't mind, Charles. I should have asked…she is your sister…"
He held up a hand, his voice firm "I think, after all the lies and deceptions she's played on me over the last twelvemonth, I think I'm entitled to some sort of revenge." He looked at the surprise on both their faces "You didn't think I could feel like that? Rest assured, Caroline is a rather remarkable exception. Come on now, we'll have to keep a lookout on her."
Charles Bingley was, to all intents and purposes, reading a copy of the 'Times' when his sister rushed in, wearing a black dress that did not quite fit, hat at least two years out of date, and a black lace veil which bore a remarkable resemblance to…upholstery.
"Caroline," he looked up from the paper with a look of remarkable indifference. "You've just missed Darcy. He left not five minutes ago."
A spiraling "NOOOOOOOO!" caused Charles to clap his hands to his ears and two more people listening in the corridor to wince in pain.
"He can't have! He can't have!" she sobbed hysterically, prostrating herself on the floor beneath Bingley's amused eye.
"Think its time to go in yet?" Meg whispered.
"In a second," replied an unusually fiendish Darcy "I want to enjoy this."
"I shall miss the old fellow admirably, of course," a clear female voice, accompanied by two sets of footsteps - a man and a woman, both wearing riding boots - interrupted Caroline's hysterics. "But he was eight-and-twenty - a good life - he went well." Miss Bingley was about to whip around and berate Lady Megan before she heard a very familiar male voice join the conversation.
"A pity. It just won't be the same without the old chap. Are you getting another?" Miss Bingley froze, stood up and began to turn around.
"I must, I suppose. Probably when I go up to Scotland next. I need to start breeding the next generation's birthday presents soon you know!"
"Always Meg," Caroline followed her brother with her eyes as he walked towards the newcomers. "Horses and books. Do you never think of anything else?"
Meg sounded mock - offended "Of course! I did bring a little something for your lady-loves. Miss Bennet is blonde and Miss Elizabeth is a brunette?"
"How did you know…."
"Caroline!" the subject winced and completed her turn, now wishing the ground would swallow her up "I hadn't expected you here yet!" Meg turned to the two men with mock-innocence in her eyes. "Miss Bingley was so kind as to call upon me this morning and console me on the loss of Fizz."
"That grouchy little Shetland pony?" Bingley feigned ignorance "I remember him. You used to let him have freedom of the grounds. He nearly bit me once."
"If you'll excuse me," Caroline found her voice "the roads were terrible. I feel that I must retire to my chambers."
"I had not thought she would react like that, to tell the truth," Meg confessed after dinner.
"You forget," Charles nodded at his friend "she's been after old Stoneface there for years. Did you think she would give up so easily?"
"Perhaps not." Meg conceded. "But I hadn't meant to humiliate her like that. I just wanted to embarrass her enough that she wouldn't try to interfere. Not like this."
"Don't blame yourself." Charles was unusually firm "She's my sister. There have been times when I wanted to do something like that to her…goodness knows I wanted to after…" he stopped "How did you know that Jane is blonde? And don't say it was a lucky guess."
"I met her earlier this year. As I met Miss Maria Lucas, Miss Elizabeth, and the Gardiners."
Darcy stopped gazing into his glass. "I was wondering how you knew them at summer. So, where? when? how?"
"Town. Spring. I nearly ran over their cousin - Lizzy Gardiner - you know, the younger girl - when I hurt my arm getting thrown off Bucephalus. It so happened that I met the Gardiners then, and also Miss Bennet, who was staying with them. I was so fortunate to be introduced to Miss Elizabeth and Miss Lucas when we met at the dressmakers about a week after that."
Darcy took a sip. "It wasn't an accident, was it?"
"The getting-thrown-off-my-horse was. The rest wasn't" she conceded.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Bingley, it's not exactly something I can introduce into after-dinner conversation, after all. What would it be? 'Do you think Napoleon's defeat was due to his own mistakes, the skills of Kutusov, or the weather?' 'Mostly weather, and by the way, I saw the girl you fell violently in love with last autumn, who I'm not supposed to know about, at the dressmaker's today and we went shopping and then drank tea together.' I don't think it would quite work."
"You've introduced more difficult topics." Darcy reminded her. "Like the time you walked into the middle of a ball the night your favourite retriever bitch gave birth and asked where puppies came from."
She glared at him. "I was nine then. How on earth did you know about it?"
"My parents told me. What I think surprised them was that you seemed to have a pretty good idea already."
"I didn't know when I was nine." Bingley muttered.
"I suppose practically accusing a Duchess of lying was a bit much." Meg conceded "but she was making rather nasty remarks about the other women in the room, and plotting to steal someone else's husband."
"What did you do?" Bingley asked, intrigued.
"Well, as my parents were in the middle of the dance, they hadn't noticed me come in, so the Duchess of - stopped me and asked what I was doing there, not knowing that I had overheard her plans to 'steal' the husband of one of my mother's friends. I said I wanted to come and ask my parents a question. She said they were busy, but she could answer it if I asked her, probably thinking that I was going to spill the beans on some embarrassing family secret. So I asked her where puppies came from - Fitz is right, I did have a pretty good idea, but I wanted confirmation a bit more official than listening in on the stable boys."
"…looked flustered, then gave me a rather garbled account about storks, cabbage patches, and fairies. To which I replied that it couldn't be true as the puppies were too big to be carried by fairies, the soil was all wrong for cabbages and there hadn't been any storks around for years. Then I asked how any of them could have gotten the puppies into the mummy-dog's - yes, I did use that word - I had contemplated bitch but thought I was embarrassing my parents enough as it was - tummy."
"What happened after that?"
"The set had finished, my parents raced over and dragged me to my governess, who was hovering around the door looking scandalized, and I was removed from the room crying that the 'nice Duchess - lady' hadn't finished telling me the story. She didn't ever try to steal Lord - , by the way."
Bingley sat back in his chair "I'll have to make sure one of my children," he was blushing slightly "does the same to you one day."
"It doesn't worry me." Meg chuckled almost gleefully "I'll act amazed that they haven't been enlightened and then give them an expert lecture on the anatomy of whichever species they decide to speculate upon."
"Including human?" Darcy teased, then stiffened as she nodded.
She laughed, "No, not what you're thinking. I do have a very nice act collection, you know - with plenty of works 'inspired' by living subjects."
Darcy relaxed. He has got to get over this eternal suspicious elder-brother thing, or he's going to stifle Georgiana one of these days. I wonder if she'd like to stay with me for a bit during the winter so we can give Fitz and his wife some privacy
She stretched her shoulders, a little stiff from her long ride. "I suppose you two will want to get to your lady-loves bright and early tomorrow? Can you wait for me…I can't wait to meet the famous Bennets."