Chapter 1: John (October)
Miss Bingley seemed to be in a unique state of agitation the afternoon preceding the Assembly at Meryton. Mr Darcy found himself curious in spite of himself and asked her what was wrong.
"Oh!" said Miss Bingley. "It is nothing."
But it was quite obvious that there was something on her mind. Further conversation on behalf of Mr Darcy soon brought out the focus of her worries.
"It is only that I will soon be put in the company of Mr John Bennet," she said, "which is something I have been trying to avoid."
Mr Darcy had never actually met John Bennet, but he had heard more than enough from Bingley about that gentleman. John Bennet was the eldest child and only son of a local landowner. He was a particular friend of Bingley's, the two having been at Oxford together, and Bingley had taken the lease on Netherfield partly on John Bennet's urging.
In fact, Bingley seemed to be quite enthusiastic at the prospect of introducing Darcy to John Bennet, having confided in him that Bennet was, in fact, "the best man I have ever had the experience to know." (He then reassured Darcy that he was a close second.) It was hard to reconcile Bingley's love of the man to Miss Bingley's dread of him, but Darcy supposed it was possible that Bingley had been deceived.
Further questioning, however, revealed that it was not so much the man's presence that Miss Bingley dreaded, but the prospect that he might be paying his attentions to her. It seemed that Bingley was much in favor of seeing a match between his sister and his friend.
(In this Darcy could not quite fault him, for did he not want the same for Bingley and Georgiana? And were Miss Bingley safely married, perhaps she might stop paying so much attention to him.)
He wondered what it was the Miss Bingley found lacking in John Bennet as a suitor, if it were just that his name was not "Fitzwilliam Darcy" or if the man in fact had more serious defects.
"Is he ugly, then?"
Oh no, Miss Bingley reassured him, John Bennet was the furthest thing from ugly.
Miss Bingley shook her head. Evidently, John Bennet rivaled Charles Bingley for amiability, if tempered by a more reserved disposition.
"Ah," said Darcy, remembering something Bingley had mentioned to him, "I think I comprehend. Mr Bennet has yet to come into his inheritance."
"Even if he had," said Miss Bingley, "his yearly income would only come to half Charles' own. Less than, now that he has come of age and the property has been broken to provide dowries for his four younger sisters. And such sisters! The eldest is quite wild—an absolute hoyden—the youngest two are incorrigible flirts, and the middle one is an absolute bore. The mother is insufferably vulgar and as for the father, I always feel as if the man is secretly laughing at me! This would be bad enough, but his nearest relations consist of one uncle who is a country solicitor and another in Trade! Is it any wonder I have no wish to marry him, no matter how amiable his disposition and fair his face."
Mr Darcy nodded as he listened to this tirade. With such grave reservations, it was no wonder why Miss Bingley hoped to avoid the man's attentions. Still, there was one question he had yet to ask.
"Do you like him?"
"Like!" Miss Bingley cried. "What does liking have to do with anything?"
"Humor me, Miss Bingley."
"Yes," she said, after a very long moment. "I do."
Chapter 2: Matthew (December)
Whether it was by chance or design was difficult for her to determine, but Elizabeth soon found herself alone with her brother in the parlor the very morning after he returned from Oxford. He had that expression on his face that signaled when he was preparing a speech and was only looking for quotations to pepper it with. Elizabeth knew she had to prevent this.
"If you mean to urge me to marry Mr Collins, Matty, you are far too late for that."
Matthew Bennet scowled. He hated being called by that childish nickname and said as much. He also added that he'd heard of Miss Lucas' good fortune from their mother.
Elizabeth looked down, feigning a sudden concentration in her darning in order to mask her expression. She considered Charlotte's 'good fortune' to be nothing of the sort and had privately vowed to continue to call her brother by the name she had in his infancy until he finally learned not to be so pompous. (Which meant, she supposed, that he would be Mr Matty Bennet until the finale trump sounded.)
"It was foolish to refuse him," said Matthew after an uncomfortable pause. "You do not know if you will have such an eligible offer again." He then said a few words on women and obedience that Elizabeth knew were not original to him—when did Matty ever have an original thought?—and concluded that Elizabeth must have refused Mr Collins due to him being less handsome than her rumored beaux from the ____shire Militia; a foolish thing indeed as Mr Collins had far more to offer than a penniless soldier, even if he was a trifle fat.
Elizabeth ignored these slanders more than she usually would, for her mind was fixated on one essential point in her brother's lecture. "Mr Collins, eligible?" she cried. She did not know if she wanted to laugh or cry at the sound of that description.
Matthew favored her with a forbidding look that could rival Mr Darcy's. "Mr Collins is quite eligible. I am to understand his living in Hunsford is a very good one and to be a vicar of the Church of England is in every way a superior calling." His expression turned suddenly wistful. "In fact, I envy him." The wistfulness was only momentary, however, and Matthew was back to glaring. "And now that I have met the man I am even more baffled by your refusal, for his character is in all ways excellent! You will not see such a suitor again, Lizzy Bennet!"
"Of course you would love him, Matty," Elizabeth replied scornfully. "Mr Collins is just like you. Do you really think I wish to marry my own brother?"
Matthew stared at her. Seeing that she had, if only momentarily, startled him, she pressed on in a more gentle tone. "I'm afraid it's true. Mr Collins is so much like you, brother, in character if not quite in aspect, that would find it quite impossible to even contemplate marriage to him. Would you like to marry a girl just like Lydia?"
Matthew made a face at the thought. Elizabeth endeavored to conceal her smile. Matthew was younger and more pedantic and Mr Collins older and more obsequious, but both brother and cousin were exceedingly vexing to deal with for any real length of conversation.
"Ah," he said gravely, "perhaps I comprehend." His expression, however, looked quite pleased, somehow, and Elizabeth realized with both amusement and disgust that he had been flattered by the comparison with Mr Collins. How she wished that her brother could be more like their father!
Now, she predicted, he will respond with some ill-chosen and overly-long quotation from one of his more ponderous religious texts. Her suspicions were neatly met.
"Would you like me to explain this to Mamma?" Matthew asked once he'd finished showing off. "She may herself comprehend it better were I to deliver it."
Elizabeth nodded. "Yes, please." She was relieved to see him go.
Chapter 3: Lucas (April)
When news of Mary King's recent removal to Liverpool reached Lucas Bennet, he immediately went in search of Mr Wickham where he knew he would find him. Unfortunately, Wickham wasn't there. Further intercourse with the proprietor established that not only was Wickham not anywhere in the building at present, but he would no longer be welcome at any point in the future.
Lucas wondered for the briefest moment why the man would wish himself rid of such a regular customer, but as Lucas was not much for thinking on things too long, the moment of confusion soon passed. It was really too bad for Wickham, though. One of the serving girls had a very pleasing figure and William Goulding had sworn that there was very little she would not do if the coin was right.
Luckily, there was more than one such establishment of that ilk in the village of Meryton and it was in the other one that Lucas found his friend and mentor.
"Lord! Aren't you a sorry sight!" he exclaimed, sliding into the chair next to Wickham. He took a swig from the other man's bottle. Lucas wasn't very good at judging liquor quality yet, but he supposed it was as decent as could be purchased on Wickham's credit. He knew Wickham liked fine things.
Wickham frowned. "Shouldn't you be with your tutor this time of day?"
Lucas laughed. "Mamma sent him home once I explained about your hour of need. She still likes you, at least." He took another swig. "I never understood why you had an understanding with the chit in the first place. Such an ugly little freckled thing and no," and here he made a hand gesture, "to speak of."
"Ah," said Wickham, "but she was an ugly little freckled thing with ten thousand pounds. When one possesses only an officer's meager salary, sacrifices have to be made." He took his bottle back. "Besides," he added philosophically, "all women pale in comparison to Miss Darcy."
"Miss Darcy!" cried Lucas. "That is a name I haven't heard from you before. Is she some relation to that puffed-up old bore that abused our Lizzy at some assembly or another? Didn't you say that you'd been done great wrong by a man named Darcy?"
"Miss Darcy is his younger sister," Wickham explained, "and yes, Darcy has done me great wrong, in all conceivable fashions. Do you remember me telling you how he denied me my proper inheritance?"
Lucas frowned. "Some sort of living, wasn't it? Though really, I don't see why you'd want it! I think it's a much finer thing to wear a handsome suit of regimentals and march in line than to wear a stiff collar and make dreary sermons any day of the week!"
Wickham chuckled softly, then, and made some remark under his breath about Lucas truly being fifteen, which Lucas didn't think was quite fair, especially since he would be sixteen in June. Perhaps some of his indignation show on his face, for Wickham quickly recovered from his momentary lapse into mirth and went on with his story.
"We had an understanding," Wickham confided. "In fact, I'm sure we would even now be married if it weren't for Darcy's interference. It was his damnable pride, you see. It wouldn't allow him to become brother to his father's steward's son. The day before we were to travel to Gretna Green, Darcy somehow caught wind of our plans and descended upon his sister's residence with the fury of a jealous god. Her lady's companion—our co-conspirator—was turned out onto the streets and Miss Darcy herself was spirited away to languish under the suspicious and watchful eye of her most dour and forbidding relations. It amounts to nothing short of a tragedy, for I know that I shall never find a woman so eminently suited to me than Georgiana Darcy."
He went on to describe that lady and all her virtues to Lucas, a task that took some time in doing. Suffice to say, Miss Darcy possessed in abundance all that which Miss King lacked—and with a dowry that was thrice the size. By the end of it Lucas felt truly sorry for his friend—and more than a little eager to meet Miss Darcy himself.
"Poor Wickham!" he exclaimed after the story was done. "How cruel it must seem to have Miss King snatched away from you in the very manner Miss Darcy was. Well, I shall never turn on you! Marry whichever of my sisters you may care to! I shall see that you will never lack for anything."
Mr Wickham smiled.
Chapter 4: Charley (July)
There was an assembly that night in Brighton and Lydia Bennet had complained of a headache. Her brother, Charles Bennet, was naturally worried. Unlike himself, Lydia was nearly always in good health. For her to have the headache—especially one painful enough to cause her to miss out on any amusement—was a rare occasion indeed, and so he elected to stay home from the assembly as well. Lydia was his favorite sister, after all, and they'd been to any number of assemblies in the two months since they'd come to Brighton with the Forresters. He planned to catch up with much-neglected correspondence while she slept.
One needs to keep this in mind to comprehend how very startling it was for him to find Lydia up and about and dressed for traveling.
"La! You gave me quite a fright, Charley!"
"Lydia?" he whispered, mindful of her headache. "What are you doing?"
Lydia gave him an odd look. "Why are you whispering?"
Charley frowned. "I thought you had the headache."
Lydia laughed. "Silly Charley. You know I never get the headache. It was all just my clever ruse! Can you keep a secret?" She didn't wait for an answer. "When next you see me, I shall be a married woman, for I'm eloping with Mr Wickham!"
"Mr Wickham?" her brother repeated. "But I thought he was penniless!"
"Pooh! What does fortune matter if you are truly in love? Anyhow, Mr Wickham says there are people in London who owe him quite a lot of money, so we shall go there first before heading to Gretna Green."
"I'm going with you," said Charley. He said it so quickly that there wasn't really time to think about it. But it felt right, somehow. He repeated himself, more slowly.
Lydia blinked. "Why would you want to do that? I'd have thought you'd miss Brighton. Especially after the big fuss you made when it looked like only I was going."
"You'll need a chaperon," said Charley, "and Papa only sent me to Brighton because Lizzy kept begging him not to send you at all and he thought she'd be satisfied if I were here to watch over you. So I have to with you, don't you see? Besides," he added in what he thought was a cunning manner, "you do want your favorite brother to see you get married, don't you?"
Lydia laughed. "All right, but you ought to hurry. I don't think Mr Wickham will wait for us very long."
It only took a minute for Charley to find his coat and jot down a postscript to Lydia's note for Mrs Forrester. Arm in arm, the two youngest Bennets hurried off to what promised to be a greater adventure than even Brighton had been.
Chapter 5: Edward (August)
No one had any expectation that Edward Bennet would join his sister and new brother on the journey back to Longbourn—no one, that is, except Lydia and she soon reassured herself that it was all to the better that she and her dearest Wickham would make their visit sans older brother: she'd seen an awful lot of Edward over the past month anyhow—he and his stuffy friend Mr Darcy—and the absence of Edward at Longbourne would mean that everybody's attention—and especially her mother's—would be paid wholly to her, as was only proper.
As for Edward, he had very good reasons, or so he thought, to not join his sister on her visit home. Not only was he heartily sick of the company of Wickham and Lydia—as well as extremely desirous to take Mr Darcy's offer to return with him to Pemberley for a month's visit—but he quite wisely did not want to be the person to inform Mrs Bennet that her favorite daughter would henceforth be separated from her not merely by miles but by whole continents.
(It was quite lucky, Edward thought, that Colonel Fitzwilliam had friends in a great number of Army regiments, including the one that would be departing for India some thirty days hence.)
So it was that Edward kissed his sister, told her to be good (which he knew she likely would not), glared at Wickham, and sent the merry couple on their merry way.
The day after Lydia's wedding, Edward called at Darcy House shortly after breakfast with the intention of inviting Mr Darcy to walk with him in the Park. Mr Darcy accepted. Together the two friends walked alongside the Serpentine, talking mostly at first of inconsequential things. It was Edward who steered the conversation to more serious matters: "I'm very grateful, Darcy."
Darcy seemed somewhat alarmed at this statement. He immediately assured Edward that by no means he should feel grateful, that if Darcy had told anyone what had happened at Ramsgate—if he had at least told Edward, who he trusted more than anyone outside the family and even some family members—if he hadn't been so damned concerned with trying to conceal everything—
"Nonsense," said Edward. "You did what any man might do. I cannot fault you for it—I will not fault you for it, no matter how much you try to make me. Without you I might never have found Lydia—and if I had, I would have beggared myself convincing Wickham to marry her. I owe you much."
"You owe me nothing," said Darcy and on this point he stood firm.
It was some time later that Darcy brought up the subject of Georgiana: what did Edward think of her? Did he think she was pretty? Amiable? Well-bred with a well-formed mind? Edward declared that she was all those things and that knowing what had happened at Ramsgate did not change his opinion of her one bit.
"I'd intended her to marry Bingley at one time," Darcy said, "but your sister soon put an end to those plans."
"Was that why you told Bingley she didn't care for him?" Edward asked. "I was quite furious at you for days after Bingley told me. Luckily I was able to convince him otherwise, or I might have never forgiven you for running Jane's happiness."
"No," said Darcy, "I really did doubt her feelings at that time. Your sister is very reserved."
"Unlike myself," said Edward with a grin.
"Quite," said Darcy.
They walked further and when it seemed at last that they were quite alone on the path, Edward at last brought up the subject that had been very much on his mind since Kent.
"Darcy, what you said the night before you left Rosings—"
"I had hoped you had forgotten that," said Mr Darcy, in a quiet, dull voice, "even though I cannot."
"Unfortunately," Edward said, "you drank much more of Fitzwilliam's brandy than I did." He did not add that even his smaller amount had been quite sufficient to earn him a lecture from Mary upon his return to Hunsford. Darcy already seemed quite embarrassed as it was. Edward didn't enjoy causing his friend such pain, but if the result of that short-lived embarrassment was worth it all… "I never got a chance to answer your question."
Darcy was staring at him as if he had gone mad. "Bennet, if this is due to some misplaced sense of gratitude—"
"Don't be an idiot, Darcy," Edward snapped. "I don't commit hanging offenses out of gratitude." He took a deep breath. "Darcy, if your feelings are still what they were in April, please tell me. My own are the same as yours were."
"They have not changed," said Darcy, and the joy in his eyes was mirrored by that which Edward felt inside. "If I could but only reassure you of them—"
"I look quite forward to that."
Mr Edward Bennet did not commit hanging offenses out of gratitude. Friendship and affection, however, were quite a different story.
And Edward thought he and Mr Darcy might be friends for a very long time.
Chapter 6: And they all lived...?
With infinite thanks to hl for her advice regarding Mr Edward Bennet's later fate.
JOHN BENNET did indeed ask Miss Bingley for her hand before Christmas. She declined regretfully and instead married a elderly but wealthy Knight of the Bath the following spring, as Mr Darcy was by then unavailable. When he asked her a second time—a year after her first husband's death and a full three after his father's—she accepted. In this fashion the dearest wish of two life-long friends was answered: John Bennet and Charles Bingley were at last brothers.
MATTHEW BENNET always regretted not having an older brother. His dearest wish was to join the clergy and as eldest and only son that pleasurable calling was denied to him. Learning the workings of his future estate was no more than a burden, although he took heart in the fact that once he had come into his inheritance he might be able to lock himself in the library in the manner of his father. However, his friend Edmund Bertram was lucky enough to be a second son and it was while visiting Mansfield Park that Matthew fell in love with Bertram's young cousin: Miss Fanny Price.
LUCAS BENNET finally met Miss Darcy on the occasion of his two eldest sisters' double wedding. His attempts to impress her with his charm and good looks did not go as planned, but his high spirits were in no way damaged, for the tedious business of finding husbands for his older sisters was very nearly over and he hadn't even left for university! Only Mary remained unwed and she hardly counted, being a born spinster. It was a pity that his father was so against having Wickham and Kitty live with them at Longbourn, but no matter. Once the estate was his, Lucas had every intention of welcoming his favorite brother and dearest sister back home.
CHARLEY AND LYDIA BENNET never got any further than London on their journey to Gretna Green with Mr Wickham. Upon reaching the city and securing rented lodgings for himself and the two Bennets, Mr Wickham then went to complete the business he had alluded to in his conversations with Lydia. He never returned. After a week of waiting, Charley and Lydia made their way to their Uncle Gardiner's house and explained what had happened. Lydia then added that she was sure Mr Wickham must have been killed by his business partners, or else he would have returned to her. She declared she would mourn him forever, though the resolution only lasted a fortnight. Charley was simply content to have lived through an adventure which he might use to impress Maria Lucas.
EDWARD BENNET AND FITZWILLIAM DARCY would attend many more weddings for their friends and relations in the future, some of which were more agreeable to their tastes than others. Charlotte Lucas was the next to wed (to a Mr Bertram of Northamptonshire) followed by Kitty Bennet (to the current Vicar of Kympton.) Georgiana Darcy would not marry until after she came of age on her twenty-fifth birthday. When she did it was to a Mr Henry Crawford of Everingham, a man who her brother liked very little. Neither Edward Bennet nor Fitzwilliam Darcy ever married themselves: choosing, instead, to leave Longbourn and Pemberley in the hands of favored nephews.
It goes without saying that Edward and Mr Darcy remained the very dearest of friends for the rest of their natural lives.