Tossing and turning in his bed, Darcy could not sleep that night. His mind whirled with the myriad of possibilities. Though it was unfathomable that Fitzwilliam's heart could stray from Elizabeth, his letter betrayed otherwise. Instead of being the love-sick puppy he once was, he is now gushing over another woman. After restlessly lying in his bed for hours, Darcy rose, lit a candle on the nightstand, and went to his closet to look for his favourite cornflower blue silk robe. After searching for several minutes he realized that he had misplaced it. "Perhaps I left in London or at Netherfield," he thought. Darcy shook his head as he closed his closet door. "Hmm... The last time I remember wearing that robe was when I stayed in Devonshire..."
Sleepless and now irritated with himself, Darcy grabbed the candlestick off of the nightstand, and went marching out of his room wearing only his white nightshirt which gaped open at the neck. He walked directly to the library where he hoped some soothing words would lull him to sleep. After reading most of Shakespeare's comedy, "Much Ado About Nothing," he realized that sleep would never come. Though he tried to concentrate on Benedick's predicament, he could only think of his own. Restless, he put down the book and decided to pace the corridors.
Consumed by his thoughts, Darcy took little care in noticing where he was heading. After pacing up and down the halls for some time, he heard a scream and crash behind him. Startled, he jumped and turned around to see Mrs. Reynolds standing in the hallway. She was pale and shaking after having dropped her candlestick.
"Mrs. Reynolds, whatever is the matter?" Darcy blurted.
As Mrs. Reynolds started to swoon, Darcy quickly dropped his candlestick, rushed forward, and grabbed her before she fainted.
"Master, is that really you? I thought you were a ghost stalking the halls," she gasped.
Darcy suddenly realized that he had wandered into the area where the servants' rooms were located. Just then, he noticed lights appearing under the doors of the rooms. Servants came flooding out of their rooms holding their candles in front of them, each awakened by the loud noises outside of their door. Many of the servants gasped as they surveyed the scene before them.
An alarm rang in his head. In the middle of the night, I am in the servants' area wearing nothing but my nightshirt and caught holding my housekeeper who is five and fifty. I had better think of a good excuse to explain this conduct, he thought. "Mrs. Reynolds," he said loud enough for everyone to hear. "No, I am not a ghost. I thought I heard a noise in this part of the house so I came to investigate. I am glad that I was here to prevent you from fainting. Have you recovered from your shock?"
"But sir, I heard no noise that woke me until I heard your footsteps. The only ghost I saw was you walking in your white nightshirt," Mrs. Reynolds protested.
"Well," said Darcy releasing her from his arms, "I must have dreamed the noise. I am sorry to disturb you." Looking up at everyone, Darcy muttered "Goodnight" before stumbling into the dark and back up to his own room. Embarrassed, he did not wait long enough to pick up his candle and relight it.
"Oh Lord," he groaned upon entering his chambers. "I had better stay here the night and keep out of trouble." Laying back down on his bed, he contemplated the totality of the day's events with great turmoil.
Morning could not come too quickly for the sleepless, because the new day also brought the arrival of his sister and an excuse to see Elizabeth again. Although still sheepish about the events during the night, Darcy was determined that his countenance remain placid throughout the day. Darcy rose, bathed, and dressed much as he always did. Upon leaving his chamber to go to the breakfast room, he passed Robyn, a chambermaid, in the hall. She curtseyed and he nodded to her as usual. As he walked past her, he thought, Perhaps no one will remember or acknowledge my appearance in the servants' quarters last night. Relief swept over him until he turned the corner and heard a sudden giggle. "Oh no," he groaned as the giggles echoed throughout the house, "this will be more difficult than I had originally hoped."
Darcy kept a stone face while eating breakfast and later reviewing business with his steward in his study. However, nothing could keep his mind from counting the minutes until Georgiana's arrival. Darcy's impatience did not go unrewarded. Late in the morning, there was a knock at the study door.
"Come," Darcy answered.
The butler, Mr. Ellis, entered. "Sir, I believe that your guests are arriving," he said.
"Thank you Ellis," Darcy replied while rising from his seat, his voice betraying some of his eagerness. "I will greet them immediately."
"Very good sir," Mr. Ellis replied with a nod before he left.
"I will continue this with you later," Darcy called to his steward while rushing out of the study.
Darcy practically ran out to greet his sister. He arrived just in time to see Georgiana exiting the carriage. "Georgiana!" he called while walking to her and giving her an embrace. Georgiana was startled by her brother's sudden display of public affection until he whispered in her ear, "I must speak with you immediately," before releasing her.
Alarmed, she looked directly into his eyes, hoping to receive some hint of what type of news she was about to hear. As he smiled at her, she noticed a sparkle in his eyes like she had rarely seen.
Darcy recollected himself and greeted the rest of his guests, though in a hurried and distracted fashion. "I am pleased that you have all made the trip. Bingley, Miss Bingley, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. I trust your ride was pleasant."
"Oh most pleasant, thank you Mr. Darcy," Caroline cooed as she exited the carriage. "I always adore spending time with your sister. Of course, a trip to Derbyshire is quite a treat. Few places on earth could rival the beauty of Pemberley."
Darcy attempted to smile at her comments, but instead it came out as a pained grimace. He could not stand to listen to her protracted and excessive praise of Pemberley at that moment. Every second spent listening to Caroline was another second away from Elizabeth. "After such a trying journey, I am sure that you wish to be settled in to your chambers and rest. Please follow me inside," he offered, hoping to occupy his guests so he and Georgiana could slip away.
Darcy quickly ushered them inside and ordered the servants to show his guests to their rooms. He and Georgiana impatiently watched as his guests slowly made their way inside and upstairs. As soon as the visitors began to climb the stairs to their rooms, Georgiana turned to Darcy, "I am going to take a turn outside. I have been sitting for far too long."
"Yes," Darcy replied while offering his arm, "that sounds like a pleasant idea. I shall join you."
Quickly, they walked outside, away from anyone who might overhear their conversation. Finally, once they were under the shade of a tree a safe distance from the house, Georgiana asked, "What is it William? I have never seen you this abrupt while greeting guests."
"She is here," he replied with a smile creeping across his face.
"What?" Georgiana gasped, knowing full well who "she" must be.
Darcy exclaimed, "Miss Bennet is here in Derbyshire on holiday with her aunt and uncle. They are staying in Lambton." He smiled broadly as he continued, "She came here yesterday with her aunt and uncle to see the grounds of Pemberley. I met them quite by accident and gave them a short tour. I asked if she would allow me to introduce you to her. Miss Bennet replied that she would be very happy to meet you!"
Georgiana's excitement grew to be almost as large as her brother's. "We must go now! I must meet her! Oh William, this is wonderful!" she exclaimed while jumping up and giving him a hug.
"What about our guests?"
Georgiana grabbed Darcy's hand and began to pull him towards the carriages. "Our guests will be busy unpacking for some time. Let us go now! We will not be missed! Hurry, let us get to the carriages before they begin to unhitch the team." Darcy eagerly agreed and they set off together.
As Georgiana and Darcy arrived at their barouche, Bingley walked outside. "Darcy, I've been looking for you," he called. "Surely you are not planning to leave, are you?"
"It will be a quick errand Bingley. We won't be long. Miss Bennet is staying in Lambton and I promised that I would introduce Georgiana to her," Darcy answered while helping his sister into the carriage.
"Miss Bennet?" Bingley gasped, while a shocked but eager smile appeared.
Oh no! I've said too much, thought Darcy. "Miss Elizabeth Bennet," he corrected. "She is staying not five miles from here in an inn."
"Oh," Bingley replied as his smile faded slightly. "I would very much like to see her too," he added with hope in his voice.
Darcy hesitated and glanced at Georgiana. He had not planned on bringing Bingley along, but now caught, he couldn't think of a way to exclude him. "You may come if you wish."
Bingley's smile grew. "I would be delighted." Not wishing to give Darcy the chance to change his mind, Bingley swiftly jumped into the carriage.
We had better leave fast before I'm forced to take our whole party with us, Darcy thought as he climbed in after Bingley. "Driver, go to the Inn at Lambton," Darcy called. Much to his relief, the carriage was off without any others.
During the short drive to Lambton, the emotions of the passengers were high, though none of them said a word. Darcy was filled with anxious anticipation and excitement at the prospect of seeing Elizabeth again. Bingley's thoughts were solely focused on Jane and gaining any information he could about her. Increasingly nervous about making a favourable impression, Georgiana felt a bit queasy and began to wish that Lambton was not so near.
The arrival of the barouche with the Darcy crest on the door caused a stir in Lambton. Usually, if Darcy had business in the village he merely rode his horse. The appearance of the carriage with several people inside started the gossipmongers talking even before it came to a halt in front of the Inn at Lambton.
The carriage stopped in front of the Inn at Lambton and the Bull, the pub beneath the Inn. Within moments, Darcy, Bingley, and Georgiana stepped outside and walked in to inquire after Elizabeth and the Gardiners. The proprietor quickly escorted them to the entrance to the rooms where the visitors were staying.
As Darcy reached the door, his palms began to sweat profusely. While he knocked, he feared that his sister and Bingley could hear his heart pounding. Pull yourself together man! he told himself.
The maid answered the door and immediately recognized him. Her astonishment was evident upon her face. "May I help you Mr. Darcy?" she gasped.
"Yes, we are here to call upon Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner," was the reply.
"S-s-sir, they have left for the morning but I believe they are to return shortly," she stuttered. "W-w-would you like to wait in the parlour for their return?"
"Yes, that will be fine," he answered.
"R-r-right this way sir," the maid replied while curtseying and showing them into the room.
Darcy walked in, followed by Bingley. Following several steps behind, Georgiana slowly entered, her apprehension growing with each step. Each visitor was nervous. Darcy walked into the parlour, his placid demeanour not betraying his anxiety, and sat down in a nearby chair that faced the entryway.
As Darcy sat, he looked about him and quickly assessed the scene. Bingley, incapable of putting on a calm façade, paced around the room, unable to stand still. The excitement, anticipation, and fear he felt was starting to overwhelm him. Soon, his pacing was steadily increasing in speed. The chambermaid whirled around straightening everything and looked half scared out of her wits, unsure of where to stand or what to do. Georgiana stood in the corner, tightly holding on to her bag. Her complexion was pale and her eyes were wide with fright. Between Bingley's pacing, the maid's fidgeting, and Georgiana's case of nerves, the room pulsated with tension. No, this must not be, thought Darcy. This will not set a good impression for any of us.
Darcy rose and stepped in front of Bingley, halting his walk. In a low voice he asked, "Bingley, I should have considered this earlier but Miss Bennet and the Gardiners are only expecting Georgiana and myself. Would you mind terribly if you waited in the Bull until I announce your presence and secure their good wishes?"
Bingley pondered the situation a moment, then assented. He looked relieved to not be forced to wait in the small parlour for their return, fretting over the possible answers to his questions. Bingley nodded to Georgiana and left in a flash to wait downstairs in front of a pint of ale.
Bingley's sudden departure seemed to make Georgiana even more ill at ease. At least Mr. Bingley was another person to hold Miss Bennet's attention, she panicked. Now it will just be William and I!
One glance at his sister convinced Darcy that he must try and calm her before she fainted away. He smiled comfortingly as he walked towards her. Upon reaching her, he reached out and touched her hand, "Cheer up," he whispered. "It will be fine."
Georgiana searched his face for one sign of doubt, but there was none. She finally smiled and nodded to him. Slowly, she relaxed the grip on her bag and tried to look less frightened.
Darcy's smile grew larger as he admired her transformation before he returned to his seat. Georgiana soon took up a station at the window so she could look outside and compose her thoughts.
As Darcy sat and waited, his own fears and concerns began to mount. What if she still despises me? What if I make a bad impression? Was this a mistake? Should I have come?
In the meantime, the maid kept looking out the window, keeping watch for Elizabeth or the Gardiners. Suddenly, she saw Elizabeth walking towards the inn. Eagerly, she called down, "If you please ma'am. There's two gentlemen and a lady waiting upon you in the parlour. One of the gentlemen is Mr. Darcy."
Darcy heart began to pound wildly as he heard her reply, "Thank you. Tell them I shall come directly."
Take a deep breath. Keep calm. Be friendly and easy. Don't be proud, he lectured to himself. Show her that you've changed. Show her that you listened to her advice. Show her that you love her… No! You can't love her, she is Fitzwilliam's! a voice screamed in his head. But he does not appreciate her! he countered. He does not deserve her.
Before he had sufficient time to fully get his thoughts under control, she walked into the room. Upon her entrance into the parlour, Darcy rose and bowed, but with greater gravity in his air than he had intended.
"Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth curtseyed and smiled. "I hope that you have not been waiting long."
"Not at all." Be warm and inviting. "May I introduce my sister, Georgiana." Elizabeth smiled and immediately walked towards Georgiana who was still standing near the window, afraid to move. "Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"How do you do?" Georgiana's voice quivered.
Elizabeth gave Georgiana an encouraging smile as she replied, "I've very pleased to meet you Miss Darcy. I've heard so much about you."
"And I about you," Georgiana eagerly answered, her courage rising in response to Elizabeth's warm welcome.
Darcy felt some relief. He had a momentary fear that Georgiana would faint under the strain. She had always been shy among strangers and Elizabeth's importance to his heart added pressure. However, his fears were unnecessary. His sister seemed to be conducting herself very well after Elizabeth's greeting. At that moment, Darcy was quite content. The two most important people in his life were finally meeting. He could have stood by and watched them talk for hours if he had the chance, but he knew he also had another responsibility. "Mr. Bingley is here with us and is very desirous to see you as well. He insisted on accompanying us. May I summon him?" Darcy asked in a friendly tone.
"Of course! I shall like to see him very much," Elizabeth happily replied.
He swiftly left the room in search of Bingley. Bingley was not difficult to find as he was sitting at the pub, staring at his untouched ale, trying to contain his anxiety. Darcy walked up to his friend and tried to soothe his nerves before the meeting. "Miss Elizabeth Bennet has arrived and she would very much like to see you."
Turning to Darcy, Bingley suddenly asked, "Do you think I was right in not returning to Hertfordshire?"
"I cannot answer that," was the stunned reply. "I think only you and Miss Bennet can answer that question. Come, let us not keep her sister waiting."
"You are quite right," Bingley said while rising from his seat. "I fear I will know the answer soon enough," his dejected voice betraying his uneasiness.
"The answer may be better than you expect," countered his friend.
Bingley looked at Darcy eagerly for a moment. His eyes wide with hope. Rapidly, Bingley walked out of the pub, up the stairs, and practically burst into the room. Upon seeing Elizabeth, Bingley's smile grew large. "Miss Bennet, I can't tell you how delighted I was when Darcy told me you were not five miles from Pemberley. How do you do?" Elizabeth's smile grew very broad as Bingley bowed and continued, "Well, I can see that you are well."
"Very well indeed, thank you."
"Good, good. Excellent. And your family?" he anxiously inquired.
"Very well, sir."
"Yes? Pray tell me, are all your sisters still at Longbourn?" Bingley asked, his eyes wildly searching hers.
A twinge of guilt struck Darcy as he listened to Bingley's line of questioning. It was clear that he was still pining over the loss of Jane. If Elizabeth was correct in believing that Jane loved Bingley equally, then the fault of Jane and Bingley's pain lay solely at his door. Having now experienced the pain of a lost love, he would never wish that feeling upon another soul, least of all his friend.
"All except one, my youngest sister is at Brighton," she replied. Darcy thought he heard Bingley give a relieved sigh at the news.
There was one in the room not so interested in the exchange between Bingley and Elizabeth. Georgiana stood beside Elizabeth, desperately searching her face. How can I make her fall in love with William? she thought. Suddenly, a plan sprung into her head. She curtseyed quickly and approached her brother.
"Ah. It seems too long. It is too long since I've had the pleasure of speaking to you," Bingley continued.
"It must be several months," Elizabeth replied.
Georgiana leaned forward and whispered to Darcy, "William, why don't you ask Miss Bennet and her relatives to Pemberley for dinner?"
Bingley corrected Elizabeth, "It is about eight months at least. We have not met since the twenty-sixth of November when we were dancing together at Netherfield."
Darcy looked into his sister's eyes, "That is a very good idea. Why don't you ask her?"
"I think you must be right," Elizabeth answered with some satisfaction seeping into her voice.
"Me?" Georgiana questioned, suddenly becoming very nervous.
"Do you know, I do not think I can remember a happier time than those short months I spent in Hertfordshire," replied Bingley wistfully.
Before his sister lost courage, Darcy interrupted, "Miss Bennet, my sister has a request to make of you."
Georgiana swallowed hard before managing to ask, "Miss Bennet, m-m-my brother and I would be honoured if you and your aunt and uncle would be our guests at Pemberley for dinner. Would tomorrow evening be convenient?"
Pleasantly surprised, Elizabeth answered with a smile, "Thank you, we shall be delighted. I can answer for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, we have no fixed engagements."
"And shall we hear you play?" Georgiana eagerly asked.
"If you insist upon it, yes, you shall."
"Then we shall be the one's who are delighted Miss Bennet," said Darcy warmly.
Elizabeth blushed at his comment, "I will try to live up to your expectations."
"You always do," he softly added.
Suddenly, Darcy heard a noise walking up the stairs. "That must be my aunt and uncle!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "I shall introduce you all and inform them of our dinner engagement."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were surprised upon entering the parlour and finding the visitors. Their curiosity about each of the guests was great. However, after a short introduction and meeting, Darcy recalled the guests left at Pemberley and knew they could not stay very much longer. With great regret, the Darcys and Bingley departed from the inn. Their only solace was the dinner engagement planned for the following evening.
The ride home from Lambton was much cheerier than the ride to it, though no more talkative. Each of the occupants was lost in his or her own recollection of the meeting and was eagerly planning for the next.
Upon arriving at Pemberley, Bingley walked directly upstairs to his bedchamber to gather his thoughts and prepare for dinner. Georgiana, however, was very anxious to talk with her brother, and he, no less anxious to talk with her.
"Will you join me in my study?" Darcy asked.
Georgiana quickly nodded her assent and followed him into the study. As soon as he closed the door, her questions began to burst forth. "Was I all right William? Do you think she likes me? Oh, I so like her. She is very warm and friendly. I hope I wasn't too quiet. I tried to speak to her, but I am always afraid of saying the wrong thing. I know I can be awkward sometimes…"
Darcy quieted his sister's fears with a kiss on the forehead. "You were marvelous. You did very well. I know Miss Bennet well enough to say that she likes you very much. She does not believe in hiding her emotions and if she did not like you, she would not have been so encouraging."
"Really?" Georgiana asked, doubtful of his sincerity.
"Yes, that is the honest truth. She likes you, of that I am certain," he soothed. "Besides, I have been learning lately that you are no longer the child I once knew, you are a lady and are capable of handling yourself quite well," he said with pride welling in his voice.
"Are you proud of me even when I'm being difficult?" she asked with some doubt.
"Especially when you are being difficult," he affirmed. "You are learning to stand up for yourself which is a very valuable quality," he replied with a smile. "That reminds me, close your eyes."
"I said close your eyes, tightly," Darcy ordered. Though she looked confused, Georgiana did as her brother bid. "And keep them closed," he warned.
Darcy led Georgiana out of the study by the hand. He glanced back at his sister, doubtful that she was really keeping her eyes closed. He led her around the house for several minutes before stopping in the morning room. He paused, dropped her hand, and stood in front of her with his arms folded.
After several seconds, Georgiana grinned, "William, why are we in the morning room?"
"I knew it!" he declared, swiftly untying his cravat.
Georgiana opened one eye and smiled, "I never could wait for surprises."
Quickly, Darcy used his cravat to blindfold his sister. "Come on," he said with exaggerated exasperation as he spun her around, then grabbed her hand and led her out of the room. After several more minutes of walking through the hall and in and out of rooms, he led her to the music room. Once he positioned her in front of the new piano forte, he said, "You may remove that silly thing from around your head."
Georgiana removed his cravat and gasped at the sight before her. "William, it is beautiful!" she exclaimed as her eyes grew wide.
"It is a present for being such a good sister," he replied with a smile.
"I don't deserve it!"
"Oh yes you do," he countered. "You have been the one bright spot in my life these past months. I just hope this instrument can give you some pleasure."
She ran her hand along the length of the piano forte before sitting down and playing a few notes. "It is exquisite!" she squealed.
Darcy surveyed the scene with great satisfaction. The day had gone almost perfectly. His sister seemed genuinely pleased by his gift. Elizabeth and Georgiana seemed to get along well. Even Bingley appeared more chipper after the news of Jane. And, for the first time in months, Darcy had some reason to be optimistic about the future.
Georgiana barely slept a wink that night. After hearing her brother's opinion of Elizabeth, Georgiana had thought she would like Elizabeth. However, she had not been prepared for the warm reception Elizabeth had given her. Elizabeth seemed not only polite, like all gentlewomen are, but also kind and intelligent. Though Georgiana loved her brother dearly, he was not easy for her to confide in. He always seemed too imposing and authoritative to express her innermost thoughts to. His other marriage prospects, such as their cousin Anne or Caroline Bingley, were not an improvement. Miss Bennet, on the other hand, seemed to be all Georgiana could wish for in a sister. Sweet, sincere, and charming, Elizabeth seemed like the type of person she could talk to. It didn't take long for Georgiana to admit to herself that she wanted to promote Darcy's chances with Elizabeth as much for her own sake as for his. That night, she finally fell asleep as her mind was busy at work on plans for the next day.
At breakfast, Darcy informed his other guests of the dinner plans. Though he had the opportunity to tell them sooner, he postponed telling them the news knowing their probable reaction. He knew their good opinion of the dinner would never be obtained. The news did not please Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst. As expected, they expressed their displeasure loudly. Darcy turned a deaf ear to their protests and complaints by turning his back to them, walking to the window, and staring outside. Oh Lord why does Bingley have such tedious relatives? he asked himself.
Unfortunately, the morning did not go smoothly for Georgiana. Being extremely nervous about having to be the mistress of Pemberley over such an important dinner, she soon began to fret over every small detail. This dinner was too important for Darcy's future, as well as her own, to settle for less than perfection. Her brother seemed too preoccupied to be bothered by the minute details of the dinner. She considered asking Louisa or Caroline to help her, but they were so against the whole idea, that she thought it would not be wise. Instead, she relied on Mrs. Annesley to assist her. The two ladies sat in Georgiana's sitting room most of the morning planning the evening. Finally, at ten o'clock, she settled on a menu, but was puzzled over the accompanying wines. Being just sixteen, she had limited exposure to wine and the whole business seemed very confusing. She sought out Darcy, both so that he could approve of her food choices and decide on the liquid refreshment.
As Georgiana left her sitting room with her list in hand, she saw Mr. Ellis walk by. "Excuse me, Ellis," she called, "have you seen my brother?"
"I believe he is in the study Ma'am," the butler replied with a bow.
Georgiana quickly walked to the study and knocked on the door. "Come," answered a voice from the room. Georgiana entered to find her brother sitting at his desk, reading a letter. She had expected him to be cheery, since Elizabeth was to come that evening. Instead, she found him in a black and angry mood. His jaw was clenched and set. His eyes seemed to shoot flames into the paper. For a brief moment, Georgiana was afraid. She had never seen torment expressed so vividly on his face. "Yes?" he growled without looking up.
"I came to seek your advice," was the answer.
Darcy gave a start and looked up quickly. "Georgiana!" he exclaimed. "I had expected someone else. Please come in, I will try to be of assistance to you," he said while quickly folding the note and shoving it into his coat pocket. Quickly, his face changed to its familiar, placid expression, though she doubted that the rage in his heart had been similarly squelched.
Concerned, she cried, "I hope you have not received bad news…"
"No, no, nothing to concern yourself with," he replied with a wave of the hand. "Now, how may I help you?"
"I wanted to discuss this evening's dinner menu with you," she said while placing the menu in front of him. "I also chose the accompanying wines, as you can see."
He looked it over a moment before nodding his head. "This will be fine."
"I just chose the same wines we have every night…"
"Yes, yes. That will do well."
"But I didn't think it good enough," she blurted. "These are not ordinary guests, and I want the dinner to be perfect, not just fine," she attempted to explain. Her eyes eagerly looked at him, hoping that he understood her meaning.
Darcy looked up at her a moment. She has a point, he thought. It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Can it be the same for a woman too? Regardless, I must show Elizabeth how important she is to me. He surveyed the menu again, grabbed a pen, and began making revisions. He scribbled in one item, only to scratch it out again. Until now, I never understood why ladies took so long planning for parties. After a multitude of changes, he finally leaned back in his chair. "Yes, that will do nicely," he mumbled to himself. "I hope you don't mind that I changed your menu," he asked his sister.
"Not at all," she smiled. "I am sure that now it will be perfect. I will take this back to my room and rewrite it before giving it to the cook. Thank you for your assistance." Shortly thereafter, Georgiana left the room, pleased with her brother's care over the dinner, but concerned with what troubles he was hiding from her.
As soon as Georgiana left the room, Darcy pulled out of his pocket the item that he had been previously reading. It was the letter he had received from Colonel Fitzwilliam two days earlier.
Miss McBride possesses a beauty few could rival. Her skin is like porcelain, very delicate and smooth. Her hair is bright red with flecks of gold. Her eyes are the colour of Emeralds. Her tall, delicate frame is perfectly proportioned. You must see her. She would take your breath away.
He read it over and over again, it was practically memorized. Something about it unsettled him, though he could not define what. Each time he read it, he became angrier. Yet, despite his fury, he still felt guilty over harbouring such an overwhelming passion for his cousin's fiancée. Is it fair that Elizabeth not know of his change of feelings? Should I tell her about her fiancé's unfaithfulness? Can I lessen the pain that she will feel? he wondered. Darcy rose from his desk and walked to the window. As he stared outside, he began to calculate the dangers against the benefits of meddling into Fitzwilliam's affairs and telling his fiancée of the Colonel's escapades in Scotland.
At the appointed time, the Gardiners' carriage arrived. Relieved that they finally came, the Darcys eagerly went outside to greet them. The party's arrival saved Georgiana from further worrying and Darcy from his somber reflection.
After the initial greeting, the Darcys ushered the Gardiners and Elizabeth into the sitting room where the Hursts and the Bingleys were waiting. It was immediately evident to all that Caroline and Louisa were not happy to see the new guests. Quickly, Bingley set out to please the newest arrivals and introduce the Gardiners to his family. After the initial pleasantries were passed, Bingley engaged in lighthearted chitchat with the Gardiners. Darcy, on the other hand, fell into his old routine and contented himself by sitting on a nearby chair and watching Elizabeth, not uttering a word. Georgiana viewed this newest development with some alarm. Oh no! she thought. Could Mr. Bingley be in love with Elizabeth too? He was very insistent on accompanying us yesterday. Oh dear! William is just sitting there, silent as a church mouse. I must think of a way to have him engage in conversation too.
Soon, her fears were diminished by the call to dinner by a footman. Earlier that day, Georgiana took great care in arranging the seating for dinner. She made sure that the dinner table had been extended far enough so that Caroline could not easily converse with her brother, but not so far that Elizabeth could not speak with him. The seating arrangement placed Darcy at the head of the table with Elizabeth on his right. On the other side of Elizabeth was seated Mr. Hurst, and across from Elizabeth and on Darcy's left was Mrs. Gardiner. She hoped that this arrangement would promote Darcy's opportunities of speaking with both of the ladies, since Mr. Hurst would certainly fall asleep during dinner. On her end of the table, Georgiana was seated at the foot of the table, next to Mr. Gardiner and Bingley. Unfortunately, Caroline sat between Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Hurst, and Louisa sat across from Caroline and next to Mrs. Gardiner and Bingley. Georgiana hoped that the Bingley sisters would treat the Gardiners with respect, but after their complaining that morning, she doubted they would be on their best behaviour.
After Darcy escorted Mrs. Gardiner and Georgiana escorted Mr. Gardiner into the dining room, everyone settled into his or her seat. It was soon apparent that Caroline did not appreciate being seated between Mr. Hurst and Mr. Gardiner and away from Darcy. After observing the arrangement for a moment, Georgiana found herself surprisingly amused by Caroline's disconcerted looks.
The first course of Chilled Peach Soup accompanied by a sparkling white wine was promptly served. Georgiana did not understand why her brother vetoed her choice of Dill Cucumber Soup until she over heard his conversation with Elizabeth.
"This soup is delightful, Mr. Darcy," complimented Elizabeth. "Peaches are my favourite fruit, but we seldom get ripe, sweet peaches of great quality in Hertfordshire."
"Really?" asked Darcy. "Many fine fruits are grown in this area. These peaches were grown just outside of Lambton." He turned to Mrs. Gardiner; "Surely you remember how lovely the peaches from Lambton are."
"Yes," Mrs. Gardiner readily agreed. "The groves around Lambton are some of the finest in the country..."
Georgiana relaxed slightly. "Perhaps my brother is not as clueless as I had thought," she pondered.
"This wine is a perfect compliment, Mr. Darcy," commented Elizabeth. "It is very unusual. Is it a Moscato di Canelli from the Piemonte region?"
"Miss Eliza," interrupted Caroline, "anyone can see by the bubbles that it is Champagne. Isn't it Mr. Darcy? Perhaps it is because of the larger circle we have been accustomed to, we are familiar with such things."
Darcy could barely stifle a chuckle as he corrected, "Actually Miss Bingley, Miss Bennet is correct. This is a Moscato. The bubbles you see are because the wine is a bit frizzante."
"In other words, it has some small bubbles," Elizabeth explained, barely concealing her own grin.
Caroline looked vexed at Elizabeth's comment, "Yes, I think I can comprehend that much Italian," she muttered under her breath.
"Miss Bennet, are you familiar with the wine?" Darcy asked.
"Somewhat," she smiled, pleased that she guessed correctly. "Though I have never tasted such a fine example of it before."
Georgiana looked down the length of the table and began to wonder about her brother's reaction. At this latest comment from Elizabeth, he leaned back with a smile on his face, but didn't say a word. Oh Lord! Georgiana fretted, I hope he doesn't sit back with that silly grin on his face all night. At this rate, he'll never win her. With all of the books in his library, isn't there one that can instruct him on how to woo a lady?
Had Darcy been able to read her thoughts, he would have told Georgiana that she need not worry. His momentary silence was caused by Elizabeth. He was amazed at the endless ways she surprised him.
With the next course and wine, Darcy sat back and watched Elizabeth carefully as she took her first sip of wine. Her brow furrowed as she pondered the white wine in front of her.
"Do you like it?" he asked quietly.
"Very much so," she cried. "It is very good."
Darcy grinned. "What is it? Do you know?"
Elizabeth smiled back and asked archly, "Mr. Darcy, are you questioning my palate?"
"No, not at all," he defended. "I would never question any talent of yours." He paused and leaned towards her as he lowered his voice, "Nonetheless, you haven't answered my question," he teased.
"Hmm…" Elizabeth began, turning her attention back to her glass. "By the wonderful bouquet, I guess that it is a Riesling. The sweetness matched with the acidity leads me to believe that it is German. It is an incredibly rich, yet youthful wine…" Elizabeth looked at Darcy out of the corner of her eye. He was obviously trying to hide a smile. "But, it is deceiving. Its youth is not derived from its lack of years, rather its potential for longevity. I think it is from the great vintage of 1748. There, have I satisfied you thus far?"
"I give you full marks and my admiration," Darcy declared. "But Germany is a large country, where within the country is the wine from?" he asked with a smile on his lips.
Elizabeth pondered his question a moment. Her experience with German wines was limited and her guess of the year was based on what she had read about the vintage and not first hand knowledge, though she wasn't about to admit that to him, especially in front of Miss Bingley. Elizabeth had noticed that Caroline had been taking an eager interest in the conversation between her and Darcy. Instinctively she knew that Caroline was only waiting for the opportunity to pounce on her and ridicule her skills. "There is an apple quality that I believe is indicative of grapes grown near the Mosel."
Darcy applauded. "There can't be more than a few dozen people in all of England who could have identified that wine. I am impressed."
"You are far too kind. It was a lucky guess," Elizabeth blushed.
"I, for one, believe ladies have better pursuits than to drink spirits all day," Caroline huffed. "Don't you agree Louisa?"
Mrs. Hurst nodded her head, "Quite so, my dear. Wine deadens the senses. I think that anyone who overindulges is not very genteel."
Georgiana listened to the conversation with some alarm. She was afraid that Elizabeth or the Gardiners would be offended. However, one look around the table soothed her fears. Darcy and Elizabeth appeared as if neither heard their remarks. They were too wrapped up discussing the merits of the drink in front of them. Mr. Gardiner was in the midst of a conversation with Bingley and paid little attention to the sisters. Mrs. Gardiner listened to Caroline and Louisa's conversation with some amusement, rather than offense, and smiled comfortingly at Georgiana when she noticed Georgiana's alarmed look.
"Miss Bennet, where did you acquire such a fine palate? I had not known there were many wine experts in Hertfordshire nor opportunities to become skilled at such a pursuit," Darcy asked.
"Indeed, there are not. Mr. Gardiner taught me what little I know. He is a great oenophile and I have tried to learn from him."
"Mr. Gardiner," Darcy called to him, "I am very impressed with your pupil. You have taught her well."
"I am afraid that I cannot take the credit, Mr. Darcy," Mr. Gardiner protested. "This is a case when the student surpassed the teacher. Her discernment is beyond what I could hope for."
Elizabeth blushed further and quickly changed the subject. "Mr. Darcy, how is your aunt and cousin Anne? I had the pleasure of meeting them when I stayed at Hunsford," she explained to her aunt.
"They are well, thank you," came the answer.
Elizabeth hesitated a moment before continuing, "How is your other cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam?" She asked the question in a casual tone, but her eyes betrayed her eagerness to hear the answer.
Darcy was speechless for a moment. His mind whirled with the possible answers he could give. "He is well. He is in Scotland on an assignment," he finally replied.
"Is he enjoying his time in Scotland?" she asked, her voice laced with a tinge of anxiety.
What can I say? he panicked. I cannot break her heart now, yet I cannot answer untruthfully. Damn Fitzwilliam, why did you put me in this spot? "I believe that he is adjusting to his situation there," he answered.
Elizabeth looked confused at Darcy's veiled answer, but to his relief, she did not ask for a further explanation. Darcy and Elizabeth sat silently for several minutes; each consumed by his or her thoughts on the present situation. When the third and fourth courses were brought, Darcy ate them silently without looking up from his plate, while Elizabeth spoke to her aunt.
Georgiana carefully observed the interaction between Darcy and Elizabeth. She had been straining to hear the conversation all evening. She had not heard anything in their discussions to account for Darcy's sudden attack of taciturnity. With the arrival of the fifth course and selection of wine, she decided to intervene. She called to him, "William, I know so little about wines. Could you tell me a little about this one?"
Darcy looked up at his sister and recollected himself. "Miss Bennet is the expert here. Perhaps she should tell you," he answered with a smile towards Elizabeth.
Caroline quickly took a sip from her glass. "It is a claret," she declared. "And a very lovely claret, Mr. Darcy. It is probably the finest I've ever had."
As Elizabeth sipped her wine, Darcy gave her a wink. "Oh really Miss Bingley? It is the finest claret you've ever drunk?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," she replied confidently. "See Georgiana, deciding on the type of wine is not very difficult. It just takes some exposure to the different types of wines available. When you begin to move in a larger circle, you will learn it all very easily."
Oh Lord! Georgiana inwardly groaned. Perhaps I should have had the table extended even farther, though I doubt extending it all the way to London would have kept Miss Bingley from interrupting Miss Bennet's conversation with William.
Mr. Gardiner looked puzzled after he tried his glass. "Perhaps I have a different wine than you, Miss Bingley, but I believe mine is a Red Burgundy, not a Red Bordeaux."
"Impossible!" Caroline countered. "One cannot purchase Burgundy in England right now."
"It is difficult," Darcy admitted, "but not impossible." Addressing himself to Mr. Gardiner he explained, "You are correct sir, it is not a claret. It is a Richebourg from 1800. It isn't the best vintage nor example of wine from that vineyard, but as Miss Bingley already pointed out, acquiring Burgundies right now can be difficult."
Caroline turned red at this latest revelation. She was obviously vexed. Though Georgiana was relieved that her embarrassment and distress would quiet her for a time, she knew her too well to believe that Caroline would be silent for the entire evening.
With the sixth course, Darcy let out a sigh when the wine was poured. "This is my favourite wine," he explained to Elizabeth. "It is rich and meaty, yet has a wonderful bouquet with hints of rose petals and orange peel."
After trying it, Elizabeth exclaimed, "It is magnificent. This is the best claret I've ever had."
"And it is?" he questioned in a lighthearted tone.
"Surely it must be from the great 1784 vintage."
"And it must be from the left bank."
Elizabeth took another sip and pondered it a moment. "It is not from the Graves area. It does not portray enough earthiness. It has a very firm structure, with lots of cassis… Normally I would say that it is from the Pauillac, but there is a hint of roses and a velvety texture that tells me that I would probably be wrong. Is it from the village of Margaux? Perhaps Chateau Margaux?"
"It is!" Darcy happily declared. "It is from Chateau Margaux. You are truly amazing, Miss Bennet."
"No, just very lucky today," Elizabeth blushed. "Tomorrow I could easily mistake a Loire Valley wine for one from Spain."
Darcy laughed. "I can assure you that I have mistaken a Loire Valley wine from a wine from Spain many times."
As Darcy and Elizabeth both chuckled over the last comment, Caroline sat staring at her food, fuming.
At the conclusion of dinner, the ladies retired to the music room, while the gentlemen left to drink some brandy. While waiting for the men to join them, Georgiana took the opportunity to remind Elizabeth of her promise to play the piano forte. "Will you please play for us when the gentlemen join us, Miss Bennet?"
"I will, Miss Darcy, if you insist. But I do not want to increase your expectations. Your brother has grossly exaggerated my talents," Elizabeth replied.
"It will be amazing if you could still play after all of the wine you consumed," Caroline sneered. "But perhaps you are accustomed to drinking vast quantities of drink and therefore it doesn't affect you as much as it does a normal person."
Georgiana gasped at Caroline's outburst. She is so unladylike! Oh I hope Miss Bennet is not offended! she thought.
Elizabeth was not surprised by Caroline's comments. She knew the "lady" too well to believe that she would not take any opportunity to insult her. "You are mistaken, Miss Bingley. I only drank a few sips from each glass. In fact, most of the people at dinner did not try more than a third of a glass of each of the wines."
"Who do you suppose drank all of that wine?" Caroline countered.
Elizabeth was spared being forced to answer by the gentlemen entering the room. Mr. Hurst's stumbling and obviously inebriated state answered Caroline's question for her. Elizabeth only glanced at Mr. Hurst then back to Caroline with a triumphant smile on her face.
Caroline, now truly angered and humiliated, sat down next to Louisa to fume and wait for her next opportunity for attack.
"William, Miss Bennet has agreed to perform for us," Georgiana exclaimed, inwardly thankful for his entrance.
"How delightful. It will be an honour to hear you play, Miss Bennet," Darcy said warmly. Darcy walked over to Elizabeth and bowed, "May I escort you to the instrument?" he asked while offering his arm.
As Darcy and Elizabeth walked over to the piano forte together, Georgiana followed. Don't they make a splendid pair? she sighed to herself. As Elizabeth settled on to the seat, Georgiana asked, "May I turn the pages for you?"
"Yes," Elizabeth smiled, "I will need the assistance. What would you like me to play? My fingers are at your command."
Georgiana puzzled over the question a moment before selecting Mozart's "Voi, che sapete che cosa é amor" from The Marriage of Figaro.
As Elizabeth was playing, Georgiana couldn't help but steal a few glances at her brother. His admiration and love exuded from his face as he gazed upon her. Georgiana smiled, confident that she would gain a sister very soon.
At the conclusion of her piece, everyone clapped, though some not as enthusiastically as others did. The Bingley sisters applauded quietly and only enough to be considered barely civil.
"Absolutely marvelous," Bingley cheered.
"Will you not play again? You played that song so beautifully," requested Georgiana.
"Not very beautifully, not faithfully at all," Elizabeth protested. She lowered her voice and continued, "You must have seen how I fudged and slurred my way through the difficult passages. It is a beautiful instrument though."
Good! Here's my chance to tell her how marvelous William is, Georgiana thought. "My brother gave it to me this week. He is so good. I don't deserve it."
"I'm sure you do. Your brother thinks you do and as you know, he is never wrong," Elizabeth said while looking over at Darcy.
Georgiana smiled confidently, She loves him too! The smile on her face says it all!
Darcy had been trying to focus on the conversations around him without any success. All of his attention had been riveted to the conversation occurring at the piano forte. As soon as he heard Elizabeth mention him, his eyes immediately flew to hers.
Elizabeth grinned at Darcy, then turned to Georgiana, "Now, it is your turn. No, I absolutely insist."
Play? Me??? That isn't part of my plan, Georgiana panicked. "In front of all these people? I will play but please don't make me sing," she begged.
"If you like," Elizabeth agreed while pulling out a piece of music. Georgiana was relieved to find that Elizabeth had selected a piece that Georgiana knew well. It was Beethoven's Andante in F. She would be able to play it with credit, while still stealing glances at her brother and Elizabeth.
As Georgiana began to play, Elizabeth rose and began to walk towards a seat further away from the instrument and closer to Darcy.
As Elizabeth walked by Caroline, Caroline halted her movement with a question, "Pray Miss Eliza, are the militia still quartered at Meryton?"
Oh Lord. Doesn't that woman ever keep quiet? thought Georgiana.
"No, they are encamped at Brighton for the summer," was the reply.
"That must be a great loss for your family," Caroline continued mockingly.
"We are enduring it as best we can, Miss Bingley."
"I should have thought one gentleman's absence would have caused particular pains," Caroline said with daggers in her eyes.
"I can't imagine who you mean."
"I understood that certain ladies found the society of Mr. Wickham curiously agreeable."
Georgiana's eyes and attention were immediately drawn to Elizabeth at the mention of "Mr. Wickham." George Wickham? What attachment could he have with Miss Bennet?! Surely she does not care for him? What if she does? I can't believe he claimed he still loved me just eight months ago. As Georgiana recalled the pain and humiliation in her heart and worried about Elizabeth's future, her fingers stumbled over the piece. Oh Lord! I must be wearing my emotions on my sleeve. Even William reacted to my mistake. I must gain composure.
Elizabeth immediately walked back to Georgiana and soothed, "I'm so sorry. I'm neglecting you. You play with no one to turn the pages. There, allow me."
Elizabeth sat next to Georgiana for the rest of the piece, turning the pages for her, and stealing glances at Darcy. They must love each other! Georgiana triumphantly thought. The look of love in her eyes are as unmistakable as the look of love in his.
At the conclusion of her performance, Georgiana gave a shy grin to her brother, but a glimmer in her eye unnerved him. The hair on the back of his neck began to stand straight up, though he knew not why.
As soon as the audience stopped their applause, Georgiana sweetly asked, "Now that Miss Bennet and I have entertained our guests with some music, will you not read to us William?"
"I do not know that our guests would enjoy my efforts," he stammered. "Perhaps Miss Bennet would be so kind as to perform for us again." A nagging suspicion started to form in his mind that his innocent sister was setting up a trap.
"Oh Mr. Darcy!" Caroline Bingley exclaimed, "We would very much enjoy hearing you read to us. It would be a great treat. I'm sure that no one reads quite as well as you. And your library is so fine. I was just telling Louisa the other day that there is nothing so entertaining as a book. I do so love reading."
Louisa quickly nodded her agreement.
Darcy looked helplessly at Elizabeth, but she was no of ally of his. She was enjoying hearing Caroline Bingley praise his vocal skills too much. "Mr. Darcy, will you not oblige us? Unless you are not so inclined to please your guests..." said Elizabeth archly.
Darcy sighed. He knew he could never refuse any wish of Elizabeth's. "Very well, if you will excuse me for a moment, I will go to the library..."
"Oh that is not necessary, William," exclaimed Georgiana, suddenly jumping up from her seat and grabbing a book sitting on a nearby table. "There is a book right here." She quickly walked over and handed it to him.
Inwardly, Darcy smiled as he took the book from his sister's hands. He could have sworn that he heard the sound of a trap springing as she walked away. He looked at the binding and was not surprised to find that it was a book of poetry.
Playing along with her game, he asked her, "Is there anything in particular that you would like me to read Georgiana?"
"Anything your heart desires," came the reply.
As Darcy opened the book, he noticed a bookmark barely poking out it. Well, I took the bait this far, might as well swallow the whole hook, he thought. As it opened to the desired page, he glanced at it. One page bore an ode written by a William Collins, No, that won't do, thought Darcy with an involuntary shiver. On the other page was "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe. He quickly skimmed the Marlowe poem before looking up at his sister with a raised eyebrow.
Georgiana gave a slight nod of encouragement and smiled innocently back at him as he cleared his throat and began to read.
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountains yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool,
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy-buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Darcy did not dare lift his eyes while reading because he knew they would immediately fly to Elizabeth. However, as he read, everyone else in the room faded to the background and he was only conscious of the two of them. Slowly, he felt the room grow warmer as he envisioned what his life would be like if she were to live with him and be his love. The passion that they could share at Pemberley began to invade his thoughts.
Abruptly, the end of the poem broke the spell. Darcy suddenly became very conscious that all eyes were on him and the impropriety of reading a love poem to his cousin's fiancée. After he finished reading, he still stared at the page, unsure of where or how to look. Just then, Mr. Hurst yawned loudly, for which Darcy will always be grateful. Anything to take everyone's focus off of Darcy's glowing pink cheeks was a relief.
"Will you read another poem?" asked Georgiana.
"No, no," Darcy quickly replied, trying to regain composure. "Perhaps our guests would prefer cards. I will have the table set up."
"I thank you for your hospitality Mr. Darcy," said Mrs. Gardiner, "but it is getting very late. Perhaps on another occasion we will be able to play," she said with a comforting smile. "I am afraid that I am not accustomed to such late hours and I wouldn't be very good company."
"I am sorry. I hadn't realized the time. Yes, perhaps next time," Darcy eagerly offered.
Darcy felt a mixture of sadness and relief as the Gardiners and Elizabeth prepared to leave. Though he always loved being in Elizabeth's company, he feared what schemes his sister may have already set in motion.
Darcy, Georgiana, and Bingley accompanied the Gardiners and Elizabeth to their coach. As soon as the occupants were seated inside and carriage began to leave, Bingley escorted Georgiana back inside, but Darcy, pulled towards Elizabeth, involuntarily walked a few steps forward, his body betraying his thoughts.
After the carriage disappeared into the night, Darcy gazed up into the sky. A million stars twinkled back at him. The vastness of the sky made him feel very small and very alone. Desperately, he looked for a shooting star to wish upon, but he could not find one. As he examined the blackness above him and admired the twinkling stars, he wasn't sure if the heavens were smiling upon him or merely taunting him, showing him the happiness he would never possess.
Darcy slowly walked back to the house. As soon as he stepped inside, he saw Georgiana waiting for him. "Remind me to never trust your innocent face again," he teased.
"What do you mean?" she asked with a smile while slipping her arm in his. "Your reading was lovely."
Darcy grinned, "You weren't very subtle, but I fell in your trap anyway. I hope I did your poem justice."
Georgiana smiled, "Yes, you read the poem very well, perhaps too well. I doubt you noticed, but the poem had more than its desired affect."
The look of concern crept across his face, "What do you mean?"
"Judging by the look on Caroline Bingley's face, I think Miss Bingley believed the poem was meant for her," Georgiana laughed.
"Oh no," Darcy groaned with a roll of his eyes. "I doubt she needs much encouragement to believe that I would read poetry to her."
"Yes, I would be careful dear brother. Miss Bingley is quite determined to have you as her husband," she replied slyly.
"Georgiana, I believe I can safely promise that I will never marry Miss Bingley," Darcy comforted with a pat on her hand. "I should return to our guests and you should go to bed. It is quite late and Miss Bennet isn't the only one who should be sleeping. Good night."
"Good night." After giving him a kiss on the cheek, Georgiana happily climbed the stairs to her bedchamber.
Darcy walked back toward the music room, only to find Bingley waiting outside for him. "Darcy," Bingley whispered, "Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked quite well, don't you agree?"
"Yes, quite," he replied.
"And the Gardiners are very genteel people, don't you agree?"
"It wouldn't be so bad being related to them, would it?"
Darcy eyed Bingley warily, Is he part of Georgiana's plot as well? he wondered. "Bingley, what are you driving at?"
Bingley sighed, "I suppose it does not matter for Miss Bennet does not care for me."
As he surveyed Bingley's glum face, doubts began to fill Darcy's mind again, Could I have been wrong? Could Miss Bennet truly love him? "Come now. Let us go back in. Your sisters will wonder where we've been," he encouraged.
Darcy strode into the room straight towards the wine decanter. He had a sinking feeling that he would need a drink to withstand the barrage of insults that would flow forth from Caroline. As he poured himself a drink, Caroline did not disappoint.
"How very ill Eliza Bennet looked this evening. I've never in my life seen anyone so much altered since the winter," she began.
"Quite so my dear," Louisa eagerly agreed.
Patience. Keep a cool head, Darcy cautioned himself.
"She's grown so brown and course. Louisa and I were agreeing that we should hardly know her. What do you say Mr. Darcy?"
Being forced to participate in the conversation, Darcy replied, "I noticed no great difference. She is, I suppose, a little tan, hardly surprising when one travels in the summer." Keep calm. One… Two… Three… he counted to himself.
Caroline eyed him carefully during his answer. Being vexed with Elizabeth, Caroline continued, "For my part I must confess I never saw any beauty in her face. Her features are not at all handsome. Her complexion has no brilliancy. Her teeth are tolerable I suppose, but nothing out of the common way. And as for her eyes, which I have sometimes heard called fine; I could never perceive anything extraordinary in them. An in her air altogether there is a self-sufficiency without fashion which I find intolerable."
Ten! It is no use. She is impossible! During her monologue, Darcy began to grow angry. She looks ridiculous with her orange dress, orange feathers, and beak-like nose. How dare she presume to speak ill of my Elizabeth! That canary is lucky that she is a woman and not a man, or I would have more than just words with her!
"I think…" Bingley tried to interrupt.
"How long we first knew her in Hertfordshire. How amazed we all were to find her a reputed beauty. I particularly recall you, Mr. Darcy, one night after they had been dining at Netherfield saying 'She a beauty? I'd have soon call her mother a wit.' But afterwards, she seemed to improve on you, I even believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
That's it! I've had enough of this foolishness, Darcy fumed. "Yes, I did, but that was only when I first knew her. For it has been months now since I've considered her one of the most handsome women of my acquaintance!" He felt a wave of satisfaction wash over him as he glared at her for a moment before storming out of the room.
That night, Darcy could not sleep. His mind was filled with images of the evening. Images of Elizabeth's smile and teasing grin flashed before his eyes. Realizing that trying to sleep was fruitless, he rose to take a walk. After recalling the disaster of a few nights prior, he dressed himself fully before stepping outside of his bedchamber.
Darcy quietly walked downstairs and outside to the dog kennels. Realizing that since he had guests at Pemberley, he would have limited time to spend with his dogs, and this was a good opportunity to take them for a walk. The two dogs, Penrose II and Earnshaw, heard his approach. Being familiar with the sound of their master's footsteps, they immediately began to whine.
"Shhh… Don't fret, I've come for you," he soothed. Taking them out of their holding pen, he let the two dogs run free in the bright moonlight for several minutes before calling them back with a whistle. The dogs trotted obediently back to their master and stayed with him dutifully. Darcy set out for a short walk near the lake.
"Boys," he told his companions while they walked with him, "never fall in love. It is the most dreadful experience." As his dogs trotted along with him waging their tails, Darcy laughed. "All right. Perhaps dreadful is an exaggeration. Love is… exhilarating… infuriating… exasperating… and wonderful all at the same time."
He walked on for several more minutes before approaching a grove of trees. "There," he pointed to the trees, "there was where I emerged and first saw Elizabeth at Pemberley. She is my cousin's fiancée. At least she is for now... I vowed to forget her, but how can I with her intoxicating presence so near? I came to Pemberley to forget her, but I came to the wrong place. Seeing her here has kept her fresh in my mind. And the torture, I assure you, is acute. What do you lads think?"
Penrose looked up at him and whined.
"Please forgive me, I haven't read you the letter," Darcy apologized. "Let's go to the study now and you will hear for yourself how unworthy my cousin is of someone as extraordinary as Elizabeth." Darcy turned towards the house. Upon reaching the door, he stooped down to pick up the candlestick and matches he left for his return. After lighting the candle he whispered to his companions, "Remember boys, be quiet. Mrs. Reynolds would skin me alive if she knew I was bringing you two indoors again after the vase you broke last time. Now hush…" Darcy silently opened the door and motioned for his dogs to enter. After they entered, he quickly followed. He guided the dogs to the study, carefully avoiding the area near the servant's quarters.
After the dogs entered the study and Darcy closed the door, he walked directly to his desk and opened the drawer. He pulled the drawer completely out of the desk and then reached back into the opening, pushing a lever located on the left side. Out sprung a second drawer from the side of the desk. From the second drawer, Darcy took out the letter. "With guests and possible prying eyes in the form of my sister, it is best to keep important papers hidden," he explained. "Now here is the letter I received from Colonel Fitzwilliam two days ago," he prefaced before reading the letter to the dogs.
...Last night, one of the local residents, Mr. McBride, held a ball at his estate, Tanglewood. It was there that I met his daughter, Brenda McBride. Darcy, I have never met a more lovely and enchanting woman...
At the conclusion of the letter, he addressed himself to his companions once more. "Does this sound like a letter from a man in love? I think not. But should I tell Elizabeth? Should I show her the letter? If he is being unfaithful, she has the right to know. But am I the proper person to tell her? Or am I too close to the situation to think clearly?"
At the end of his questions, Penrose barked.
"Yes, perhaps you are right," he replied absentmindedly while nodding his head. "That is the best course of action."
The next morning, Darcy rose early and dressed with great care. His mood was grim and serious. I need to get this over quickly before I lose my nerve, he thought. But it must be done.
Once he finished dressing, Darcy furtively walked down the back stairs to his study. Quickly, he retrieved Colonel Fitzwilliam's letter and shoved it in his pocket. As he returned the desk to its original state and was about to leave the room, he heard footsteps and the voice of Caroline in the hall. Oh no, he thought. She is the last person I want to see. Darcy looked around the room. Anything to avoid that woman, he thought as he silently opened the window.
Hopping out of the window, he walked directly towards the stable to saddle his horse, Captain Stanhope. Normally, a stable hand would have performed the task, but Darcy did not want to alert anyone to his leaving. As soon as Captain Stanhope was ready, he mounted the horse and galloped away, but not without being seen.
Georgiana had been looking out her bedchamber window when she saw Darcy walk towards the stables. She had been watching for sometime, hoping that she would see him riding in the direction of Lambton. As he was riding away, she smiled to herself and sighed most contentedly. "He couldn't even wait until her arrival for tea later today to see her again. I wonder if he is sneaking out to ask for her hand?" she wondered aloud.
Not wishing to give her guests any more ideas on her brother's errand than he did, she sat in her bedchamber for several minutes, trying to calm herself and not exude the excitement she felt inside. After she thought she gained sufficient composure, she left her room.
Just as she entered the hall, Bingley was walking past. "Miss Darcy!" he declared. "It is a bright, beautiful day. I trust you slept well?"
"No, I didn't," Georgiana admitted, "but I do believe it will be a marvelous day."
Concerned, he asked, "Really? You didn't sleep well? You look quite well. Your cheeks have a very rosy glow."
"Do they? Well, I'm sure it is just the excitement of having guests at Pemberley that makes me look so well."
Bingley smiled warmly at her. "May I escort you to breakfast?" he asked, offering his arm to her.
"Yes, thank you," she replied while accepting it.
The pair walked arm in arm to the breakfast room. Caroline and Louisa were already inside, waiting for the others to join them. Upon seeing Bingley and Georgiana enter together, Caroline and Louisa passed each other a very self-satisfied smile.
Oh dear, thought Georgiana, the Bingley women won't be happy until they've married every Darcy in the kingdom to Bingleys.
"Good morning!" Bingley greeted. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"
"Good morning Charles and Georgiana," Caroline returned. "It is always a beautiful day at Pemberley. By the bye, when will Mr. Darcy be joining us?"
"I'm afraid that he will not be joining us for breakfast," Georgiana announced. "My brother has some urgent business to take care of in a neighbouring village. I'm not sure when he will be returning."
Dejected, Caroline's smile fell at the news. "I hope his business will not take him away from us for long."
On the contrary Miss Bingley, Georgiana thought, I hope his business will take him away from you forever.
Darcy rode quickly to Lambton. He felt the letter burning a hole in his pocket and his mind filled with doubt. What am I doing? he asked himself. I am betraying the trust of the man who once saved my life. But this situation is deplorable and must be remedied. Fitzwilliam admires Miss McBride and Miss Bennet must know. With every second that passed, he rehearsed what he would say, Miss Bennet, I feel honour bound to show you this letter that Colonel Fitzwilliam sent to me… No, no… Miss Bennet, you have my undying respect and friendship. It is because of my respect for you that I feel it is important that you read this letter… No, no, no… That's not right either.
He soon arrived in Lambton. Quickly, he dismounted and walked into the inn, afraid that if he delayed his errand, he would lose his nerve. A servant immediately recognized him and announced his entrance.
"If you please ma'am," said the servant while opening the door.
Darcy walked in and bowed, "Miss Bennet. I hope to speak…"
"If you beg my pardon," Elizabeth interrupted, "I must find Mr. Gardiner at this moment. I have business that cannot be delayed. I have not an instant to lose."
"Good God!" Darcy exclaimed, "What is the matter?" Damn Fitzwilliam, you told her in a letter? Couldn't you have the decency to tell her to her face that you were breaking the engagement? "Of course I will not detain you, but let me go or, or let the servant go and fetch Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. You are not well. You cannot go yourself."
"No, I must!" she cried while starting for the door.
"Come, I insist. It'll be for the best," Darcy replied while guiding her to a chair and gently setting her down. "Hello there!" he called to the servant. Once the girl rushed to the room, Darcy issued his instructions, "Will you have Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner fetched here at once. They walked in the direction of…"
"The church," Elizabeth continued.
"The church," repeated Darcy.
"Yes sir, at once," replied the servant with a scared look on her face, quickly shutting the door behind her.
Concerned, Darcy sat down on a chair facing Elizabeth. Her look of distress broke his heart. "You are not well. May I now call a doctor?"
"No, I am well. I am well."
Darcy's mind desperately searched for something to help her. "Is there nothing you can take for your present relief? A glass of wine? Can I get you one? True you look very ill."
Elizabeth tried to look him in the eye, "No, I thank you. There is nothing the matter with me. I am quite well. I am only distressed by some dreadful news, which I have just received…" She momentarily stopped and broke down crying.
Darcy anxiously watched Elizabeth's pain. Oh please Elizabeth, his mind begged. Do not cry. He isn't worth it. I will go to any lengths to relieve your suffering.
"I'm sorry, forgive me," she continued.
"No, no," he comforted while reaching out and touching her hand.
"I just received a letter with such dreadful news, it cannot be concealed from anyone…" sobbed Elizabeth.
Darcy's outrage grew. Richard Fitzwilliam, next time I see you, I will run a sword through you! How dare you treat Elizabeth in this fashion! he silently vowed.