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Excessively Attentive - Chapter 28

August 19, 2023 02:09AM
Note: I'm sorry. I have been working on it. Eep. Still not finished. But here's the next chapter I meant to post!


Elizabeth knocked quietly on Anne's door, and her elder sister cracked the door to peek out. "Oh, it is you," she said, and opened the door to let Elizabeth in.

They settled on the edge of the bed. "Jane retired for the evening?" Anne asked.

"Quite. I think she wishes to meditate on the potential reversal of her fortunes in love," Elizabeth replied with a half-smile. "Miss Bingley apologized to our Aunt Gardiner, in front of her brother, and took her brother by surprise, from Aunt's retelling of it." A shrug as Elizabeth leaned back slightly onto her hands. "I think she is hopeful that, with his sister's gracious approval," a slight sarcasm she could not suppress, "Mr. Bingley will find it appropriate to finish his pursuit."

"He is a handsome man, charming and well-tempered," Anne replied. She smiled slightly. "Nor is he without fortune, which can only enhance his character."

Elizabeth laughed. "I said nearly as much to her in October." Then she sighed. "I only hope she is not due a second disappointment."

"It is in Mr. Bingley's hands, to be sure," Anne replied. "But one hopes he has more sense than to offend an Earl's extended family by disappointing one of their daughters."

A rueful laugh. "Indeed," Elizabeth replied. "Miss Bingley may find that particularly offensive herself, which should only encourage the man."

A sleepy silence reigned for a few moments, which Elizabeth tentatively broke. "Why are you so skittish about even talking about George?"

Anne's immediate reply was a heavy sigh, and to mirror Elizabeth's half-leaning back posture. She spoke after a moment, words short and somewhat halting. "I never fancied William, as a girl. He is far too clever by half for me, always was. He was -- is -- more brother than cousin, to be honest. Richard I adore, but his head has always been turned by women prettier than I, and I would be a fool to think at our age he is likely to change, to appreciate someone who is quieter and less enthusiastic about company than he is." She paused. "George was the only one who paid me any court, you know. I never had a Season, more because I never wished for one. But friends of Mother's and Father's, who kept up their acquaintance with our family, and all our extended family, would often visit, for Mother enjoys company. Many of them brought their sons, particularly their second sons, hoping I would fall in love with them or they me. And George … George remains the only one who has ever paid me any court, or hinted in any way, that I might be suitable."

She leaned her head on Elizabeth's shoulder. "And then he went to university, with William, and slowly sank further and further, and then he all but disappeared from view. And then resurfaced, injuring Georgiana in the process. I know it was accident. I know what they have both said of late, but at the time, I was … a part of me was jealous that he would, after all, do the same as all other men of my acquaintance, and chase after the pretty one."

Elizabeth remained silent for a moment, her head resting against her sister's. "I have always been envious of Jane, for she is easily five times prettier than I. I have always been reminded of it at every turn. To be honest, I cannot understand William's interest in me, with Jane there in front of him just as often as I was."

"Men are a puzzle, are they not?" Anne replied with a half-laugh.

"Indeed. Confusing, confounding, and troublesome," Elizabeth replied, with a mix of amusement and exasperation in her voice. Another sleepy silence descended, which Elizabeth broke. "Are you at all thinking that George may be suitable, now?"

Anne sighed. "I do not know. He has been redeemed, somewhat. Only time will tell, and there are so many unknowns at the moment I barely know which way to turn." She pulled away from Elizabeth and brushed a lock of Elizabeth's hair back from her face. "I cannot even imagine how confused you are, at the moment, if I am this bewildered."

Elizabeth smiled slightly. "I am attempting to not think deeply on any given topic outside of a book or play at the moment. I fear if I give too much thought to any of it, I shall have to commit myself to Bedlam. Then what would befall us all?"

Anne giggled. "William would probably charge in on a white steed to rescue you, and be committed himself."

Elizabeth laughed. "That would be a sight to behold. I am almost tempted to see how accurate your depiction of the situation would be."

"Lizzy!" Anne cried, even as she laughed harder. "You will not!"

Elizabeth giggled. "No, indeed. Mére would be very put out with me, no doubt. And you have never seen Jane lose her temper."

"Dear, sweet Jane has a temper that even you fear?" Anne asked laughingly. "I never thought I would see our courageous Elizabeth cowed by anyone."

"We all must have our fears," Elizabeth mock-sagely replied.

"Indeed," came the laughing reply.

While Bingley did not customarily attend his sister while she welcomed guests, he would not have missed this particular tea for the world. Jane was to be here, after all, and Miss Elizabeth. He nearly expected Darcy to show up unannounced mid-morning for "business," but instead received a note that the Bennets had arrived at his townhouse, and he may need an escape route for tea. Bingley laughed as he penned a (for him) clear reply inviting him over.

Darcy did arrive half an hour before Jane and Miss Elizabeth, and Bingley found himself hard-pressed to keep from laughing. For a tea invitation, it was to be rather crowded: himself, Caroline, Louisa, Hurst, Darcy, Jane and Miss Elizabeth. Thankfully, Caroline never did anything by halves; there should be plenty extra even with extra guests.

Jane and Miss Elizabeth arrived a few minutes early, while Bingley and Darcy were in Bingley's study discussing a bit of news from the paper. As soon as the servant informed them of the girls' arrival, they made haste down to the parlour that Caroline had selected that morning. The girls were just settling in with Caroline and Louisa. Hurst, it appeared, would arrive shortly.

"Have my parents and sisters arrived in London yet?" Jane asked Darcy after the polite how-fare-you's were completed.

"Yes, indeed," Darcy replied. "Mrs. Bennet seems to be quite enthusiastic to be in London, and Mr. Bennet had to remind her of her plan to rest prior to dinner with the Matlocks tonight. She was quite aflutter to see you and Elizabeth."

"Yes, Mrs. Bennet does seem to be rather enthusiastic about certain topics," Bingley replied drolly as Jane thanked Darcy for the update.

Darcy laughed at Bingley's comment, and Bingley suppressed a smirk at the fact that Darcy and Miss Elizabeth glanced at each other. Jane's eyes had flicked in her sister's direction, and she seemed pleased by the interaction she saw, particularly after, a bit of teasing between the twain, Miss Elizabeth consented to play at the pianoforte. "But only," she said, "the one piece you have so particularly requested, William, if Miss Bingley does not mind. Tea is more about talking than performing."

Darcy affected a slightly injured air. "I was specifically tasked by Georgina to hear how you are getting on with the piece; my agreement was requisite for my leaving the house without her."

Caroline was faintly shaking her head in disbelief, but said to Miss Elizabeth, "I have no objections. We can surely not disappoint Mr. Darcy." Bingley felt a faint sense of déjà vu, and caught the measuring look between the two girls. Darcy, it seemed, was also recalling something of import. The momentary tension passed, and Caroline gave Miss Elizabeth a genuine smile. "Truly, I have no objections." Miss Elizabeth eyed Caroline a moment longer then nodded, and, with Darcy at her heels, opened the pianoforte and sorted through the music to find the piece Darcy had requested.

Jane sat facing the pianoforte, and Bingley took advantage of her sister's relocation to relocate himself. "They will do well together, I think," Bingley said quietly, for Jane's ear alone.

She glanced at him. "So I hope," she replied, just as quietly. "I have worried for her, these past days. Although I am afraid of how … rapidly their friendship has progressed. I found myself giving her similar advice as she had given me in the fall, to have patience."

Bingley suppressed the wince. It was, truly, not his fault, and yet he could not assuage the guilt he felt at having let his sister manipulate him as she had. He had suspected she wished him to reconsider Jane's suitability, and Darcy had spoken enough to lend merit to the view. But Caroline had injured them both by stooping to such unscrupulous behaviour to enforce the separation. "Darcy is not as eager to please his family as I am," he finally replied, under the beginning strains of Miss Elizabeth's playing. "It is not my place to say this, but he always meant to defy his family regarding her, if necessity demanded it of him. It is fortunate that such will no longer be necessary, but it would not have swayed him regardless." Bingley smiled ruefully. "He once all but said my easy going nature was a detriment. In this case, I believe he was more correct than any of us allowed."

Jane's expression turned thoughtful, and Bingley hoped that admission would not harm his suit. "You were doing your duty to your sister, and family must come first," Jane said, even more softly. "I of anyone understand that. I do not wish to come between you and her."

"You will not," Bingley replied. It was all he had to not ask her then and there.

Jane glanced up at him, and smiled, and Bingley felt some of the anxious tension leave. She believed him, and thought no less of him. She settled ever so slightly back, relaxing a tiny amount, her attention back on her sister and Darcy. Bingley had little attention to spare for Miss Elizabeth's playing, but what he listened to -- as mirrored in Jane's delight in it -- was well played indeed. He pondered asking her before they left today, but decided against it. I of anyone understand that. Jane would insist on staying with Miss Elizabeth until the chaos resolved. Perhaps she would allow him to pay court, instead? Yes, that may work. Mr. Bennet currently resided in Town, it would be almost no effort at all to make such a request of him -- provided Jane allowed it.

William felt Jane's eyes on them as he assisted Elizabeth in finding the piece Georgiana had so helpfully tasked him with hearing her play. "Your sister is worried," he said in an undertone.

"She has reason to be," Elizabeth replied. She glanced at him under her eyelashes. "She gave me advice I distinctly recall giving her in the fall."
William felt hesitant at requesting clarification as to what advice that might be, and Elizabeth began to play, her eyes on the music. Mostly. "They are talking; good," she said.

William smiled at that. "No doubt about her concerns for you," he said.

"Be that as it may, I am hopeful that Mr. Bingley will not be long from the point of expressing his interest. She has waited long enough for encouragement."

"Would she accept?"

Elizabeth bit her lip, focusing on the music. "If she thought he would be willing to wait until the whirlwind I appear to be caught in has set me down on steady ground, yes."

"Ah," William said, understanding the concern. "She -- you both -- wonder if he will be persuaded to delay again?"

"Quite," Elizabeth sighed. He suppressed the desire to comfort her physically, if only because it might disrupt her playing.

"I have offered my encouragement," he replied. "From what I have seen thus far this evening, his sister has as well. I think he is only waiting for a moment of time. Would courtship, you think, be enough of a delay and an encouragement, for her? I will suggest it to him, if he has not come to that idea himself."

Elizabeth inclined her head. "Indeed, that is possible."

They fell silent for a moment, as she worked through the fingering on a trickier passage. "And how soon is too soon for me to hope?" he asked just loud enough for her to hear him.

She nearly fumbled her fingering, and did not immediately reply. "You are certainly part of the whirlwind," she said finally.

"For good or for ill?"

"I think you and Jane are the reasons I still know which way is up."

It was not a declaration of love, or even of friendship, but in a way, it was infinitely more important. She trusted him. "If the whirlwind seems likely to set you down askew, I will do my best to catch you."

She smiled, and did not reply for the piece was nearly finished. The occupants of the room applauded. "And your report to Georgiana?" she teased loudly enough for others to hear.

"Your progress is exemplary, of course," he smiled back.

"In truth," she said more quietly, "she had a few suggestions that, over the last few days, I have indeed practiced, when I have had time. She is quite insightful when it comes to the pianoforte."

William rose from the bench and offered her a hand up. "She has been playing since she was quite young, and there are days when she would forget her books in favour of her music."

"And I was apt to forgot my music in favour of my books," Elizabeth laughed, as she stood. William, loathe to relinquish her quite yet, escorted her to the sofa to sit across from her sister.

Miss Bingley had seated herself on the other side of her brother, and now that both Bennets were seated and talking, relayed the import of her conversation with Miss Bradshaw and Miss Dreyham the day before. William shrugged helplessly. "At least we had agreed on the story beforehand, Elizabeth, Jane," he offered.

"Indeed," Jane fretted. She glanced at Elizabeth, eyes worried.

"I do not believe there is any reason to fret, although I will pass the information on to mére and Lord Matlock," Elizabeth soothed. "We knew it was likely to occur, and the story is reasonable enough."

"You think we are overly paranoid," William retorted.

"Well, there is that," Elizabeth admitted. "But you have your reasons, and while I do not agree, I am pragmatic enough to agree that precautions are reasonable, perhaps necessary. Or I would not have devised a reasonable, fairly truthful, story in the first place."

Louisa and Hurst, to whom Bingley had, with William's reluctant approval, relayed the information to, under strict confidence, requested to know the story being given out for the moment, should they be placed in a position where it may be necessary. Jane filled them in, and Bingley nodded approval as he listened.

Hurst snorted his admiration. "Just enough suggestion of upper class snobbery and condescension to make it believable, without actually stating anything of the sort. You are a devious one, Miss Elizabeth."

She laughed, and disclaimed any sort of praise. William simply grinned, knowing that she had experienced such firsthand, not just from himself, and that, from a simplistic viewpoint, it was a reasonably framed story. The merchant class wives and debutantes would certainly consider it valid.

Miss Bingley, however, teasingly asked about this ball she had heard mentioned. Elizabeth grimaced while Jane hid a smile. "I will be introduced as a de Bourgh then," Elizabeth replied, "although not before. And a new gown, of course, simply must be had."

"Poor Lizzy," Jane reached over to pat her hand. "So put upon, having to go shopping."

"The company of my cousin's wife was no issue, I hope?" William asked.

"No, indeed, I am quite taken with Cassandra. She is a lovely lady," Elizabeth replied.

Miss Bingley shook her head. "Only you, Miss Eliza, would complain however good-naturedly about a shopping trip with the Countess and Viscountess."

Elizabeth laughed. "Yes, I am certainly less fashionable than most, for I prefer a walk in the park to a walk down Bond Street."

William almost said she was perfectly welcome to do both, to the point of bankrupting him, but squelched the inclination in time.

At length, Elizabeth and Jane admitted they were needed at Matlock House prior to their family descending en mass on the Fitzwilliams. "Did our uncle leave a carriage with you?" William asked Elizabeth as they made their way into the entry hall. Miss Bingley had let her brother persuade her that she need not see her guests to the door personally; he and William would attend that duty. Elizabeth and William gave the other pair a bit of space.

"Yes, he did," she smiled up at him. "And you," she added, "do need to return to your townhouse to ensure my father and mother, and sisters, make it to Matlock House, rather than following me there immediately. And do not forget Georgiana!"

He grinned. "As you wish."

She glanced over her shoulder to see Bingley and Jane conversing closely. She looked back up at him, her eyes serious. "Truly, I do not need your assistance to land on my feet when stepping out of a carriage in broad daylight. I will need you, and Jane, tonight."

He nodded, and, unable to help himself, brushed a curl away from her face. She smiled. "Until later, then."

"Until later," he agreed, before leading her out the door and down the steps to the carriage that lingered in front of the Bingleys' townhouse, and bore his uncle's markings. He made sure to be as gallant as absolutely possible while handing Elizabeth into the carriage, and was still considering joining them for the trip when Bingley and Jane appeared and Bingley handed Jane into the carriage. Elizabeth rather pointedly looked at the door, and William could not help but grin in response. "As you wish," he said, shutting it, and stepping back, waved at the coachman that the girls were ready.

"So?" he asked Bingley, as they shut the front door behind them.

"She has reservations, mostly about her sister, for which I cannot fault her," Bingley replied. "But I will ask the favour of perhaps you assisting me in finding a moment to ask Mr. Bennet tonight, if I may court her, now that I have her permission."

"Excellent!" William cried. "We had thought to suggest it. Elizabeth is aware of Jane's concern, of course. She will be pleased."

Bingley laughed. "I am glad to know you are pleased, my friend. And you?"

William shrugged. "She trusts me, which is a treasure in its own right. There is plenty of time, and I would not wish to rush her headlong."

Bingley smiled. "Hope. I had not thought either of us would know the meaning of the word even a month ago."


"Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart." -- Miles Vorkosigan, "Memory", Lois McMaster Bujold

Excessively Attentive - Chapter 28

JessicaSAugust 19, 2023 02:09AM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 28

LynetteAugust 26, 2023 03:38AM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 28

Steph DAugust 22, 2023 02:18AM


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