Fitzwilliam Darcy had always thought himself to be a good brother. It was something that he prided himself upon. Responsibility had been thrust upon him at an early age; he was barely three and twenty when his father departed from the world, leaving his son a large estate and a sister more than ten years his junior to raise.
Few expected such a young man to deal with this, but those who knew Mr Darcy saw in him what society did not; a profound sense of familial duty, combined with compassion, and gentleness. All these qualities made him address the task he had been left with most seriously, determined to do his late father proud.
Five years later however, tragedy struck. His sister Georgiana, now but fifteen, had been taken from the establishment formed for her in London to Ramsgate; under the chaperoning of a Mrs Younge. A woman in whom that Mr Darcy found later he had been most heavily deceived. For she had made the acquaintance of a man by the name of George Wickham, a person whom had long been known to Darcy, as the godson of his late father, and a close childhood companion before his character grew reckless at Cambridge.
A man of ill repute and disgraceful conduct, he had tried to persuade Georgiana to fall in love with him and consent to an elopement. By chance, Miss Darcy wrote to her brother, and her words, although only containing a slight mention of Mr Wickham and not by name, induced Mr Darcy to go down to Ramsgate.
He arrived just in time. Georgiana, fearing to disappoint a brother that she looked up to almost as a father, told him the entirety of Wickham's scheme at once. Mr Darcy only needed a brief audience with the man to set him straight and send him on his way. Mr Wickham left the next day, leaving a broken hearted Georgiana, and an ashamed Fitzwilliam Darcy.
It was after this terrible event, that Darcy came to the following conclusion. His sister needed a sister, an ally to confide matters in, when she felt she could not discuss it with him. Determined that such a failure would not happen again, and having no other sibling but her, he began to look for a wife.
But society did not possess a woman that he could trust with himself, let alone with Georgiana, leaving him only one option. That was to seek a wife in his close family. He had two such possibilities; in the form of cousins, from his mother's side of the family. The first, Lady Eleanor Fitzwilliam, daughter of his Uncle, was only ten years old, hardly a suitable choice. So he settled upon the second.
Anne de Bourgh was the only daughter of his mother's older sister, Lady Catherine. She stood to inherit her father's estate; Rosings Park in Kent. She was but one and twenty, an young enough age to find intimacy with Georgiana and old enough to be a suitable wife. But these were not the only reasons that made Mr Darcy chose her as his bride. Anne's mother had sheltered her from much of society, causing Anne to be pronounced as sickly, when in truth, all Miss de Bourgh needed was some freedom under which to thrive.
Having been friends from childhood, Darcy learnt of this from Anne herself, and she in turn had learnt of his trouble with Georgiana She agreed to his proposal and Lady Catherine's consent was applied for accordingly. As the match had a been a favoured wish of this lady, she accepted immediately, but the rest of the family took the news differently.
The Earl of Matlock, Darcy's maternal Uncle, urged caution to his nephew, determined in his opinion that marriage to Anne was not the way to prevent another 'Ramsgate tragedy' and his wife was likewise opposed. Their eldest son and family also disagreed. Only the younger son, a colonel in the army and thus perhaps more willing to understand a marriage of convenience than others who had the luxury of choice, accepted his cousin's decision.
Thus it was to the surprise of most of his family and all of society when Fitzwilliam Darcy married Anne de Bourgh on the ninth day of August, in the year of grace, 1811. The wedding took place at Pemberley, Mr Darcy's country estate, where he and his sister had spent nearly all of their lives. As the day faded into evening, and the newly wedded couple retired for the night, they kept their agreement of not consummating a marriage that was purely of convenience and friendship.
The next day, a Dr Dawson, family physician to the Darcys for many years came as agreed to examine the new Mrs Darcy and determine the real cause for her sickly constitution. Much to their surprise, her worse suspicions were confirmed. Anne had consumption. The word sent dread to both their hearts, worsening when the doctor pronounced her to not survive over a year.
Darcy was all prepared to blame himself, when Anne brought him to realise that the year she had would help the both of them to better cope when she did pass away and leave him eligible once more. Her husband vowed to keep the illness from the rest of their family, informing only Georgiana, and to make Anne's last year the happiest she had ever experienced.
And thus this is where our story begins, one evening in London, in Grosvenor Square, where the Darcy family have been residing to enjoy the Season approximately one and forty days.
Grosvenor Square, Late evening, 25th September 1811.
"Darcy, what a joy it is to find you still in London!"
The gentleman in question had risen from his chair the moment the speaker had been announced. Now he shook hands and replied, "Bingley, what brings you back so soon?"
Charles Bingley inwardly smiled at his friend's unusual exuberance. He had made the acquaintance of Mr Darcy at Cambridge and had remained his friend ever since. Two years his senior, Darcy had proved to be an excellent friend, offering Bingley the best advice when it came to investing his inheritance in property.
Until his marriage Charles had always thought his friend too reserved, but the influence of Anne had done much to alter his outward manner, making him easier in society, whatever its consequence. He still had a reserve, but it was less displayed.
"I think I have found a house," Bingley replied after he had sat down. "Netherfield is located in Meryton, in the county of Hertfordshire. I looked over the place as you suggested and I believe it to be suitable, but I would like your opinion before I set residence."
"How is the neighbourhood? Is it of good repute?" Darcy asked him.
"Netherfield is the largest estate I believe. The solicitor mentioned two families of consequence; a Knight of the Realm and a gentleman with family. Other than that it seems to be your typical country village."
"Like Lambton?" Georgiana asked, referring to the village that was but five miles from the boundaries of her brother's estate in Derbyshire.
"Yes, it reminded me very much of Lambton," Bingley replied. "That I must admit is my only disagreement with the place; that it is some distance from Derbyshire."
"Yes, I am sorry I could not find anything suitable in its neighbouring counties," Darcy remarked.
"It is no matter," Bingley assured his friend, "but keep looking. I intend Netherfield to be only a temporary residence. Get me used to managing something of that size, so my future home is not much of a trial. Speaking of homes, how is Pemberley?"
"Reynolds gives me his assurances that everything is progressing smoothly," Darcy answered. "The key to a good home, Bingley, is not just your management, but a good steward as well. And I think that's what you have found in Wilkins. Someone who can almost run the place in your absence."
"Yes his references spoke highly of him," Bingley agreed, pleased that his friend approved of his newest servant, employed purely for his new house. "So will you come and see the place? And if I take it, join me and my sisters when we settle there for a while?"
"I would be happy to do so," Darcy replied to his first question, before turning to his wife. "Anne, what do you think? Would you and Georgiana like to join us if Bingley settles?"
"Yes," Anne replied, after glancing at Georgiana, who quietly nodded her acceptance. "Netherfield sounds just the thing to come to after a London Season."
With Mrs Darcy's agreement, the conversation soon turned to other things, until dinner was announced. Mr Bingley stayed for the meal, and then accepted his friend's kind invitation to stay over, as there seemed little point in returning to his residence in town, when they would be both departing for Hertfordshire on the morrow. Thus, it was not until the Darcys had retired for the night that Fitzwilliam had a chance to get Anne's true opinion on the matter.
"Anne, have you enjoyed this time here?" Darcy asked her when she had joined him in the small anteroom that divided their chambers. He had become concerned by her particular phrasing upon her acceptance to his friend's scheme.
Anne saw her cousin's- she could rarely think of him as her husband, for to her they were more two friends living together than a married couple -concern, and replied at once. "It was a wonderful amusement at first. All those Society belles and their mamas looking decidedly disgusted at the news of our match. I took great delight in observing them all. The balls we have attended have been very enjoyable. However, as the days have gone on, I must confess that I found myself missing sensible conversation. Our days at Pemberley after the wedding has made me value intelligent converse, and there is very little to find at St James."
Darcy chuckled. "Yes indeed there is. I was concerned it had worn you out, but I am thankful to learn the contrary."
"You must stop worrying yourself over me," Anne gently remonstrated. "Despite my affliction- I will not call it illness, that will give it too much power -I feel quite well. Distance from my mother, combined with amusing society and the good company of you and Georgie, has done wonders for my constitution. I am also quite determined to enjoy myself before.... circumstances prevent me from doing so."
Darcy could not refrain from flinching at the last. He tried not to think of the fate that would shortly befall her, that was not how he wished to remember her; ill. He wished to remember her as his good friend and cousin. Hurriedly he spoke to cover the motion. "And what do you think of Georgie joining us? She is not out, and you know her feelings about Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. I would love her to come, but I am concerned about her enjoyment being affected by them."
"I will ask her about it tomorrow, but I'm sure she will find their company preferable to remaining in London without us." Anne rose and walked over to her companion. "And now, sir, with regards to the morrow, I suggest you retire, for you and Bingley have a long ride ahead."
"How can I refuse a suggestion from the daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh? Whose advice as you know, can never be refuted," Darcy teased in reply.
"Not just her daughter, but also your wife, sir, and capable of ordering you even further," Anne retorted back, the slight smile at her lips betraying her amusement.
"And here was me thinking that the wife was supposed to submit to her husband's rule, but I can see I was deceived." With that Darcy rose from his chair and kissed Anne on the cheek in true 'cousinly' fashion. "Goodnight Anne. I'll see you in twelve days."
Two horses- one white, one black, and both with the fine figure and grace which implied a thoroughbred ancestry -raced across the fields of the quiet village of Meryton, in the county of Hertfordshire. Their destination; a point where it was suitable to view the country estate that one of their riders was hoping to rent for a time.
The white stallion was the first to come to a halt. Its rider gazed straight ahead for a moment at the prospect, then turned to his companion. "There, what do you think?"
The black stallion was slightly more restless than his white friend, causing his rider to walk him in a circle while he answered the question. "It seems established enough. If you can tolerate the savage society," he added jokingly, "I think you should take it."
"Country Manners?" Bingley queried. "I think they're charming. And take it I shall. I'll settle it with the attorney directly." He then flicked the reins and began the gallop back.
Darcy's stallion was still walking in circles when the rider caught sight of a figure some distance away, watching them. He could glance at the figure only for a moment, as his horse still refused to settle. With one final glance at the house, Darcy reared the stallion and set off to join his friend.
Even though the figure was no horse woman, she could not fail to be impressed by the unconscious display of horsemanship she had just witnessed.
Elizabeth Bennet had stopped to watch the riders from the moment they had first emerged upon the fields of Oakham Mount. A new tenant for the Netherfield estate had been rumoured for quite some time, and this was the first confirmation of it. But which of the riders was it?
Elizabeth guessed the first, he seemed more focused on the building. She smiled as her eyes rested on the racers, watching as the black soon outpaced his white companion. Its rider had hesitated before joining his friend. Had he spotted her? At this distance, it was difficult to tell.
Just then, the chimes of the church bells announcing the beginning of a new hour in the day could be heard. Realising the time, Elizabeth followed the motion of the horses she had just witnessed, running down the path to the gate that would lead her home.
Only later was she to recognised the significance of this event.
Upon their return to the pebbled drive of Netherfield Hall, the riders saw not one but two personages waiting for their arrival. One they identified immediately, for he had been with them from the moment they arrived in Meryton. The other remained a stranger to them.
Bingley, the last to reach their destination, dismounted first. His friend followed suit some seconds later, his cautious and habitually reserved nature evaluating the stranger before them.
"Thank you, sir, for letting me view the place one more time. I agree to your previous offer of letting the residence from Michaelmas with the fixed price," Bingley announced once he was by the Solicitor.
Darcy smiled at his friend's obvious good cheer, before returning to his observation of the stranger who was now observing the both of them. A man several years his senior, judging by his appearance, and of lower occupation than himself but superior than the solicitor he stood next to, at least Darcy presumed so by his apparel. He wondered if the man was one of their immediate neighbours.
Bingley soon answered his friend's silent wondering by introducing himself to the stranger, after his conversation with the solicitor had completed itself. "Charles Bingley, sir."
The stranger took the hand. "Andrew Bennet. Please to meet you, Mr Bingley. Netherfield has been neglected for some time. It is welcome news to see that you have taken it up. It is a very good estate."
"Yes, it appeals to my needs." Bingley gestured to his friend and Darcy joined them just as he began the introduction. "May I present my friend Mr Darcy. Darcy, this is Mr Bennet."
Mr Bennet took his hand as they both privately observed each other. "And how do you find Hertfordshire, Mr Darcy?"
"As much as anyone does, by directions," Darcy replied back, his appraisal of Mr Bennet convincing him that the gentleman would understand the witticism.
Mr Bennet did indeed chuckle at the reply. "I see you are of my humour sir. Have you come to prevail an estate, or do you already have one?"
"The latter," Darcy replied. "It resides in Derbyshire, much to my satisfaction. And your own?"
"I see you are very perceptive like myself. Longbourn is but three miles from here. You may take the opportunity to visit if you wish. There, I have done my duty."
"I would never hear the end of this from my wife if I did not invite you to return my call. However, since as I am the only one who knows of your arrival here, I shall repeat this visit and give a more formal request later. Until then I bid you adieu." Mr Bennet winked at the gentleman and bowed before departing from all.
When the gentleman had departed, Bingley chuckled and turned to his friend. "It never ceases to amaze me Darcy how you manage to encourage wit from just a simple phrase."
"And it shall never cease to amaze me Bingley how you are always mystified by it," Darcy replied before returning to the horses. "I'm going for a ride, Zeus is still a little restless. I'll see you this evening."
After Darcy had worn the restlessness out of his stallion he returned to Netherfield to find that his friend had sorted everything regarding the letting of said estate and had bade the Solicitor, who happened to be Mr Phillips of Phillips & Avery Solicitors, and brother in law to Mr Bennet, farewell.
The two friends sat down to a companionable supper then retired to the Library. While Bingley ensconced himself in a book about the history of the estate, Darcy seated himself at the bureau to write to his wife.
The letter ran as follows;
1st October 1811.
Have arrived at the above safe and well. Bingley finalised the arrangements and has let the estate to his original agreement. I myself find Netherfield to be very satisfactory, although it could do with a larger and more cultured library.
I know that the Hurst and Miss Bingley intended to join us here on the seventh and I would be most pleased if you and Georgie would be able to do the same. The countryside surrounding here is very beautiful and has many paths for walking and good ground for riding.
So far we have met two inhabitants of the neighbouring village, Meryton, a Mr Phillips and a Mr Bennet. The latter owns Longbourn, an estate about three miles from here, while the former is the solicitor for this estate.
Both stuck me as amiable gentlemen, Mr Bennet possessing that keen wit that you and I have found wanting in London Society of late.
Give my regards to Georgie and let her know that I was most pleased that her Aria has turned out as well as she wished it to.
Adieu, till your arrival
Anne received the above missive from her husband some four days later. Three days later, she and her sister in law had arrived at Netherfield, just after the arrival of Mr Bingley's relatives, the Hursts and his unmarried sister Caroline.
Although the family's presence in the neighbourhood was known, they managed to remain relatively undisturbed by the inhabitants of Meryton and its environs for many days. Finally, upon the twenty-first day of October, they found themselves obliged to attend an assembly at the rooms in the village.
Bingley was the only inhabitant that was glad to go. His sisters thought the neighbourhood to be inferior to themselves and thus not a society to interact with. Mr Hurst could not be imposed to agree either way, for as long there was enough food and wine with which to occupy him.
Georgiana, not being out was required to remain behind and the Darcys would have happily stayed with her, had not Mr Bingley pressed for their attendance and company.
The evening came, and the carriage departed from the drive to the village.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that timing is important. To arrive too early at one's required meeting place is seen as too eager and to arrive too late is considered unseemly. Thus, one must judge one's timing as carefully as a juror decides which verdict to deliver on a murder case. The slightest mistake could place one person's life in danger, or completely damage another person's reputation forever.
The party from Netherfield did not arrive too early, nor did they arrive too late. Instead they came at the fashionable time that lies between these two states. Their destination seemed to have anticipated such a plan on their part for a musical flourish to signal the end of the first dance set had just played its last note when the doors opened to admit them.
Naturally, all eyes turned to observe them. A hush came over the room, occasionally emitting a few murmurs as occupants whispered their opinions to their companions beside them. Their new arrivals returned the stare, but not the murmurs.
Sir William Lucas walked forward to welcome them. The Netherfields had made his and his family's acquaintance a few days previously, and judged him to be something of an oddity- at least this was the opinion of certain superior sisters -but still felt obliged to indulge the gentleman.
Said gentleman made his greeting, and Darcy soon found himself following his friend and wife to an introduction that said friend had been wanting for some days, after learning of the renowned beauty of Mr Andrew Bennet's five daughters.
As they came upon Mrs Bennet, Darcy noted the stark contrast that existed between the woman and the two younger standing beside her. All three had been in conversation until their inevitable arrival was described, and now the eldest woman happily fawned and bowed over his friend, eagerly introducing her companions.
"This is my eldest, Jane. And Elizabeth. And Mary sits over there. And Kitty and Lydia are my youngest you see there dancing. Do you like to dance yourself, sir?"
Darcy resisted rolling his eyes with the greatest of difficulty as his he listened to his friend's reply. "I am quite happy to dance. And if Miss Bennet is not engaged, I would be honoured if she accepted to dance the next?"
"I am not engaged, Sir."
"Good." Bingley looked like he had just won her hand for life rather than the dance and his friend hid his amusement once more. Bingley was known for falling in love at almost every occasion, and the feelings were usually of short duration. His friend paid as much mind to this one as he had done in the past.
"And do you like to dance, sir?"
Darcy looked up with surprise as he found himself being introduced to Mrs Bennet, along with his wife. "I thank you madam, but I rarely dance."
Mrs Bennet, as soon as she had heard the words 'Mrs Darcy,' refrained from hinting to the gentleman any longer. Married men were of no consequence to her present state of mind, no matter what their estate in Derbyshire was. Casting her eye about the room, she made an excuse and moved to seek Lady Lucas, leaving her second daughter to the company of the new arrivals, certain in the hopeful knowledge that her eldest was secured for life.
The next dance rapidly followed, leaving Anne to begin anew. "I apologise for my husband's friend's eagerness to dance. He shall no doubt monopolise your sister for most of the evening."
Elizabeth laughed. "Is he not your friend as well then?"
"I am not as familiar with him as my husband is. I have only recently made his acquaintance."
"You have not been married long then?"
"Since August, though it is not widely known. I am afraid it has damaged his reputation most dreadfully, has it not, my dear?"
Darcy momentarily hesitated before replying. "So much so I do not know how I will bear it, Anne."
"Your repute does not seem to me as wholly damaged sir." Elizabeth gestured to a spot behind them.
Darcy turned and instantly saw Miss Bingley. "Oh, joy," he muttered in reply, loud enough for the two women to hear. "Anne, can you spare me?"
"I am afraid so, my dear. You will have to endure her at least once this evening. Best it is over and done with soon enough."
Darcy bowed and turned to meet the woman halfway, leaving Anne to turn to her new friend with a smile. "Now all the men have deserted us we can have a chance for real conversation. Caroline will endeavour to entrap him for most of the evening."
"There are some exceptions then?"
"Only Miss Bingley to my knowledge, but then she has always considered Darcy destined for her. What his opinion on the matter is, I shall leave for you determine. For my own sake, two days in her company was all I could stomach."
"And how have you found Hertfordshire?"
"Positively delightful. A wonderful reprieve from London."
"Yes, London is a town one tends to enjoy more if they only spend little of their time there. Anything more than a month and one yearns for the country."
"Precisely," Anne remarked and the two drifted into a companionable silence, watching the performance of the dancers in front of them. Anne observed Mr Darcy's forbearance of Miss Bingley for a moment, before following Miss Bennet's gaze and fixing on Mr Bingley and her sister.
Already the two seemed at ease with each other. Elizabeth had high hopes that this sign carried the potential for something more, providing her mother's exuberance did nothing to interfere. "I hear you reside in Derbyshire?"
"Yes, indeed we do," Anne replied. "Do you know of the county?"
"My Aunt hails from it, a little town called Lambton."
"You don't say!" Anne replied in joy. "Why that is not five miles from where we live, at Pemberley." She paused, as a sudden coughing fit seized hold. Fortunately for Anne its effect was only brief, enabling her to continue as if nothing of significance could be attached to it. The importance of such circumstance thus did not occur to her friend until later.
The Netherfield party returned to the house in better frames of mind than when they had left it, save perhaps for a few exceptions. Miss Darcy was there to greet her brother, eager to hear of his and Anne's enjoyment, as well as anything they had learnt about the neighbourhood surrounding them.
Anne and Darcy were happy to relate to her the events of the evening without prejudice, though the same could not be said for Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst. The two were determined to find fault with every article of the evening, from their new acquaintances, to the dance choices. The Bennet family in particular were dealt the blows of their dislike.
"I declare I do not know when I have found so little to like in an evening," Miss Bingley remarked in conclusion to the whole room. "The Bennets were reported to be local beauties, yet neither I nor Lousia saw anything particular in their countenance. Miss Bennet is a sweet girl, but her mother..."
"I myself have never met with such prettier girls and pleasanter people in my life," her brother began after Caroline had seen fit to pause.
"Charles, you astonish me," his sister replied. "I saw little breeding and no beauty at all. Would you not agree, Mr Darcy?"
Darcy inwardly groaned as he tried to reply. The better part of his evening had been spent trying to escape Miss Bingley's company in favour of his wife's and her new friend, the last thing he wished now was to be drawn into agreement with her. "No I would not."
Miss Bingley tried not to huff in disgust at his words. Certain she once had been- and still was -that she would have caught him if he had not rushed off to parts unknown earlier in the year, she hated the now unwelcoming news that he possessed an opinion contrary to her own.
There was a time when he would have agreed with her every word upon the evening, but now he deferred to another, and for Caroline it was not to be borne. Desperately she hoped that the marriage of Mr Darcy and his cousin would not last for long.
The next day opened with the family at Longbourn's reflections upon the assembly, the opinions of the two eldest in particular, as they had had very little time to talk the night before. Conversation naturally began on Mr Bingley.
"He is just what a young man ought to be, Lizzy. Sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners!- so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!"
"He is also handsome," Elizabeth replied, "which a young man ought likewise to be, if he possibly can. His character is thereby complete."
"I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment."
"Did you not? I did for you. But that is one great difference between us. Compliments always take you by chance and me never. What could be more natural than his asking you again? He could not help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. No thanks to his gallantry for that. Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have like many a stupider person."
"Oh you are a greet deal too apt you know, to like people in general. You never see a fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life."
"I would wish not to be hasty in censuring any one; but I always speak what I think."
"I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others. Affection of candour is common enough;- one meets it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design- to take the good of everybody's character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad -belongs to you alone. Yet you must admit, the manners of his sisters are not equal to his."
"Certainly not; at first. But they were pleasing women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house; and I am sure we shall find them to be very charming neighbours."
"One of them maybe."
"No, Lizzy, I am sure. And what of the Darcys? Did you find them like their friends?"
"As far as Mr Bingley goes, certainly. I confess I liked Anne very much. She has excellent candour, though untempered it is by a desire to improve the good in people. Her husband is alittle reserved perhaps, but lively enough when you converse with him."
"Do you think they make a good match?"
"Not an excellent one to be sure, but the potential of a good, considering how recently they have married. There is an easy banter between them, and a willingness to laugh at oneself on either side. Yes I like them both very much indeed."
Elizabeth found little to change her opinion of the new arrivals over the course of the next thirteen days, during the dinners and events that followed the assembly. The sisters were still calculated in their outward manners, retaining their real opinions for when they thought no one was listening.
Mrs Darcy fast became a friend, and her husband thought to be still reserved but worth knowing. As for Mr Bingley, Elizabeth was determined that in her eyes he would do nothing wrong in his continued preference for her sister.
His attention to her was markedly increased upon every occasion, and his feelings for her could be by display nothing resembling dislike or sufferance. As for her sister's feelings, Elizabeth was certain that it was evident by her manner and behaviour that if he continued to be as he was, she would be in a fair way of falling love with him.
Her desire to think well of all people and her easy friendly manners assured Elizabeth that nothing would alter in the future, and she lay in the happy hope that she would soon see Jane happily settled. During an evening at the Lucases, she made her opinion known to her other great friend, Charlotte.
Miss Lucas however was inclined to be of a different opinion. "Oh, to be sure," she began, while they had a moment alone in the company of all their acquaintances to witness the furtherance of the match, "it is evident that he likes her, but I do not think it is so noticeable that Jane likes him."
"Charlotte, how can you say such a thing! Is it not discernible by her manner and preference for his company above all others?"
"It may be to you and me, Lizzy. We know Jane for the wonderful person that she is, but to others it is best perhaps to display more evidence. She should show more affection, even than she feels, not less, if she is to secure him."
"Secure him! Charlotte!"
"Yes, she should secure him as soon as may be."
"Before she sure of his character, before she is even certain of her own regard for him?"
"But of course. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance you know. There will always be vexation and grief. And it is better to know in advance as little as possible about the defects of your marriage partner."
Elizabeth laughed. "Charlotte, that is not sound. You know it is not. You would never act in this way yourself."
"It seems that Jane will not," Charlotte replied, neatly avoiding both disagreement and acceptance of her friend's view of herself. "So let us hope that Mr Bingley will."
Elizabeth smiled and shook her head, just in time to see her new friend pass near them. "Anne, what do you think? Should a person show more affection than they chose in order to secure early their partner in life?"
"I do not see what would be the point, one learns soon enough if they like or dislike them anyway."
"And what was your method, Mrs Darcy?" Charlotte asked.
"My preference has always been for love above situation, but then I was always assured of the latter, so I am a bad example I fear."
"Do you think Mr Bingley will act differently then?" Elizabeth queried.
Anne laughed. "Oh, never, I believe. Unless his sisters persuade him otherwise, he will always chose preference. My husband believes Charles falls frequently in and out of love, but I am sure that this time will different. He has seen the improvement marriage has made in his friend, and so shall be agreeable to settling soon. But I beg you to change the subject, as I espy Darcy within our hearing and I do not wish him to hear us talking of him."
Anne's husband and cousin if asked, would not be able to even discern by their manners that they were talking about him, for quite a different subject occupied his mind at present. He found himself to be in the imminent throws of a mental and emotional battle, one which his mind and body had neither expected nor prepared for, given his recent emergence into the marriage state.
In short, Mr Darcy was attempting to fight off the clutches of early attraction. At first he had scarcely allowed the woman in question to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the assembly, his mind more on the conversation rather than the appearance; and when they next met, he looked at her only in an attempt to discount his former memory.
But no sooner had he made it good to himself that she was not a local beauty he found her to be rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.
To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure in her form; he was forced to acknowledge to himself that her figure was light and pleasing and was caught by her easy playfulness of manners as much as his wife was.
Indeed this was where therein lay the problem;- that he should be thinking such thoughts when he was so recently married. A match of convenience it may be, but Darcy had believed that he would be able to control himself if it ever came that he would find a woman that he liked.
So in-built was his concern for family duty, love and honour, that he had determined to stay as true to his marriage vows as he possibly could- with regards to fidelity. He was convinced that any feelings would in some way betray Anne, and that could not be borne by either of them. It had the potential to disrupt a year together that he was determined to make her favourite.
Thus Darcy felt he had no right whatsoever to feel the things he was beginning to feel for Miss Elizabeth Bennet. No matter how fine her eyes were.
The occupants of Netherfield found little cause after the party at Lucas Lodge to trouble themselves with the company of their Meryton neighbours for several days.
Mr Bingley made the occasional- as far as one can count that definition for almost daily -visits to Longbourn and others, while the Darcys spent their time showing Georgiana the surrounding countryside, but the superior sisters chose not to deign their acquaintances with their company until a week and more had passed.
Only then did they decide, conveniently while the gentlemen had made plans to dine with the officers of the regiment that had encamped Meryton some days previously, that a dinner invitation to the eldest Miss Bennet would be most tolerable.
Unfortunately for them Mrs Bennet had seen through part of their design by sending her daughter to Netherfield on horseback, causing Jane to catch a cold as a result of a rather wet ride and the inquisition styled questions of Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst.
Mrs Darcy tried her best to lessen their frequency, even managing to obtain her shy sister in law's assistance, but alas, it was not to succeed. Overwhelmed by all the attentions of Mr Bingley's sisters, Jane only managed to survive the fish course before succumbing to blissful unconsciousness.
While Caroline and Louisa mortified themselves over the fragile nature of women and how it served to upset their plans for their brother, Anne did her best to ensure that Miss Bennet was escorted to the most comfortable guest bedchamber.
Once she had her established therein, she sent out a footman to fetch the doctor instantly and a note to Longbourn for Miss Elizabeth, knowing that Miss Bingley's similar page to her mother would do nothing to lessen the fears of a close sister.
Indeed Mrs Darcy had made the right move for Elizabeth could do naught but walk the three miles to Netherfield the next morning, determined to be by her sister's beside. Mr Darcy was there to meet her, as per his wife's instructions, and coped admirably with the task of escorting Miss Bennet through the formal gardens into the house and up to the bedroom where Jane lay, answering the questions concerning her welfare to the best of his ability.
Once inside Elizabeth rushed to her sister's beside. "Oh Jane I am sorry!" She cried, feeling fully the dreadful injustice of their mother's designs. "Thank you, Anne, for the note, its assurance was most welcome."
"No need for thank yous, Lizzy, I felt it only my due. After my failure to lessen the trials of the dinner....." Anne paused. "How are your family?"
"Oh we are well, Mama is coping admirably well with the knowledge that one of her daughters is ill. Forgive me, but is that music I hear?"
"Yes it is, I had quite forgot. The music room is below this bedchamber and Georgiana is most likely practising there right now. Do you wish us to move your sister so she is not disturbed by it?"
"Oh no, how could anyone be disturbed by such wonderful playing. Pray who is this Georgiana?"
"My sister in law and cousin, Miss Darcy. She is but recently sixteen, and therefore not yet out in society, which is why you have not yet met her. She is quite the gifted musician, is she not?"
"Undoubtedly," Elizabeth replied as her ears strained to identify the tune that was being played at the moment, smiling as she realised it was Jesu, joy of man's desiring by Bach, a favourite of her own. "She must love it very much to be so well trained while so young."
"Yes, she adores it. Almost everyday you will find her at the pianoforte or the harp. I often wish I had had the time to learn, but it is well that I have perhaps not, since Darcy is so enamoured of his sister's accomplishments. My mother always believed it would put too much of a strain on my constitution to allow me to even try. Do you play?"
"Yes, but not very well. Mary is the only one of us who had the patience and time to further it. I more often than not chose to walk or read."
This immediately led on to a conversation about books and the friends indulged themselves well in the discussion until Anne's husband popped his head round the door to inquire if they wished for luncheon.
Elizabeth instantly made known plans to leave, a notion which was quickly discounted by her host who had rapidly followed his friend upstairs, and turned into one to stay until her sister had recovered, brooking no refusal. Thus the three left Elizabeth alone with her sister until the evening, when she was required to attend dinner.
Jane had woken during this time and managed to assure her sister that she could attend said meal without worrying about her welfare. Elizabeth thus reluctantly changed into a dress that had been sent along with others from Longbourn after her stay was confirmed, and bade her sister farewell for the evening.
After answering faithfully to their inquiries during the meal, Elizabeth was both relieved and disappointed to see her host's sisters revert to their former calculated appearances, satisfied that they had asked enough about the well-being of their friend. When the ladies departed to the drawing room, Elizabeth was glad to attend upon Anne, who instantly introduced her to Miss Darcy.
Miss Georgiana was indeed everything her friend had laid out to be, an incredibly shy but well-mannered young girl, and extremely mature for her age, at least compared to her own sister that was only a year younger, Elizabeth mused.
At first she could obtain nothing beyond monosyllables from her, but persistence and assistance via Anne eventually obtained Georgiana's conversation, proceeding so well that when the gentleman entered, all were surprised to witness laughter rising from the latter.
Darcy himself was particularly surprised and pleased. Since his marriage to Anne Georgiana still remained affected by the incident at Ramsgate, however much he and his wife had tried to change it. Even now, the slightest mention of Wickham or anything to do with men and holidays by the sea would reduce her to silence and the speaker to the deepest self-mortification that she or he could ever devise upon themselves.
The effects had spread to her social skills and as a result, she would rarely speak to any person outside their immediate family, Charles Bingley being only the one notable exception. Added to this, she was not yet out, due to a stipulation in her father's will concerning her guardianship which was divided between himself and their cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Those who had the privilege to know her, thought Georgiana to be a dear sweet girl, while distant acquaintances believed her to be too much like her brother; reserved and proud. It was the hope of her brother, her cousin and Anne that the latter opinion would soon fade away under their care.
Until now, that hope had been slim and Darcy was now gratified to see it had not been in vain. His sister's laughter was rare in the extreme and he had not heard it in almost a year. He could not help but smile at it.
Elizabeth saw this, and wondered. It was not the appearance of it that mystified her, but the circumstance that produced it. Why would he smile thus at a motion of his sister's, a motion which to her seemed relatively commonplace. Would this emotion indicate that it was in fact the opposite, perhaps?
Scarcely had she brought this question to her mind that she was obliged to abandon it, for the arrival of the gentlemen commanded the whole attention of herself and her group of friends, thus securing the conversation for the rest of the evening, until she felt she must return to her sister.
Elizabeth returned to Jane's room with a sigh, sinking down into a chair with no other feeling than that of relief. Her mother in public was a trial to bear at the best of times, but this particular occasion there had been no excuse for her to expect any different as, after all, she had invited her over herself. And she had brought over Lydia and Kitty into the bargain.
The trio had stayed but half the hour with Jane before deciding to attend to their host, forcing Elizabeth to be witness to her mother at her worst, with Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst snickering at the sight of it. The only end was their departure, a prelude to her retreat to Jane.
In this room she could be certain for a chance of solitude, however brief. And solitude she needed desperately at this moment; the respite that usually acted as a restorative to her peace of mind. Here she felt allowed to dwell upon the chaos the visit had caused, seek a method to lessen its aftermath and find a way to better cope with its possible consequences.
Her moment of peace however was soon cut short by a knock on the door, followed a second later by the form of her friend appearing in the open gap and an enquiry as to her welfare.
"You have heard then?" Elizabeth remarked in reply, as Anne and Miss Darcy had both been elsewhere when Mrs Bennet and her daughters had walked into the drawing room.
"I did and believe me you have it easy. You should see mine." She stepped forward and took her friend's hand in hers. "Come, Georgiana is in the music room. You need some distraction."
Elizabeth hesitated for a moment. "That does not usually help."
"Believe me when I say that solitude only works for so long," Anne remarked in reply. "Come, I shall tell you why yours are a blessing in my estimation on the way."
Lizzy felt she could do naught else but comply and followed her friend out of the room and into the corridor. As they walked along the well-lit hallway, Anne began to prove her point.
"My mother, Lizzy, is nothing like your own, yet she is worse. She comes from a ancient lineage, a fact that she reminds everyone of daily and uses it as a device to control everything and everyone around her. As the oldest surviving member of her family and a widow in control of a large household she feels it her duty to pass on her opinions and advice to all her relatives and acquaintances and expects it to be obeyed without question, no matter what they think of the advice themselves."
Anne paused to gather breath and then changed her voice and manner, proceeding to display to her friend her best imitation of her mother. "You will never speak French, Anne, unless you practice more. I always believe in the good practice of speaking another language. I would have spoken fluent French if I had had the time to practice it and I will not see my daughter neglect it when she has the time."
Elizabeth smiled and laughed, she could not help, her friend's mimicry had worked perfectly. "She sounds a very forthright woman."
"Oh indeed she is. You are fortunate to not have her in your acquaintance, any opinion other than hers is considered scandalous to her ears. For example she had the rest of my family afraid for years to express theirs and my own opinion that I was in the best of health, and did not need to be paraded around as an invalid."
"I am surprised she allowed you to marry, if this was the case."
"Well mine and Darcy's union has always been a favourite wish of hers, so when we announced it to her, she was far too pleased to worry about anything else that might pose a threat to it. And I myself was too relieved to bring the matter up."
They entered the music room at that moment and thus Elizabeth was unable to inquire further into the matter. As already attested Miss Darcy was present, standing by the pianoforte, sorting through the musical material provided for one of her favourites. She looked up at Anne and Elizabeth's entrance. "Miss Bennet! You succeeded then, Anne?"
"In part I did, Georgie," Anne replied.
"And it is Elizabeth or Lizzy, Miss Darcy," Elizabeth added, "if you do not mind my addressing you by your own given name in return."
"Not at all, I would be glad of it," Georgiana replied as she came away from the instrument. "And how fares your sister?"
"Improving every moment, despite the visit from our mother."
"I was just telling Lizzy how grateful she should be for such a mother, compared to mine," Anne added, causing her sister in law to laugh for the second day in a row.
"Dear Aunt Catherine!" She exclaimed in reply, before producing a similar mimicry to her cousins. "All this laughing it is not to be borne!"
"What is this? What are you talking of? I insist on having my share in the conversation," produced a different voice entirely, causing both Anne and Georgiana to jump before following their friend's suit to turn and identify the source. Unlike Elizabeth however, they were not surprised; or indeed if they were, they kept it to themselves.
"William!" Georgiana exclaimed as she moved to embrace her brother where he stood just inside the room, having just entered it. "You do that too well sometimes," she added in praise of his imitation.
Elizabeth watched in silence as she witnessed a very different Mr Darcy to the one she had come to know over the multitude of days since his arrival in the shire. Her previous judgement of him had been reserved, and hard to coax out of such reserve. Now to see him laughing and teasing his sister;- it was an intriguing contrast and one to be studied much.
Of all the new characters she had met since Michaelmas, his was the most complex. The majority of the time he was silent; the observer. When he did speak it was succinct but sensible and always intelligent. Rarely had she seen him display wit, although she suspected him of being capable of humour, but reluctant to draw attention to himself.
He appeared aloof, and yet was not. Most intriguing of all was that there were times when she found him looking at her, and with such intensity that she knew not what to make of it.
I shall endeavour to have the measure of him before this visit is out, she vowed silently, returning her attention back to the music. Her movement caused an entreaty from one of her companions.
"Please favour us with a display, Elizabeth," Georgiana entreated, turning from her brother as she did so.
"Oh no, I would not have those who are in the habit of listening to the best performers hear me muddle through," she replied good-humouredly.
"Please, Lizzy," Anne begged.
Eventually at the further persevering of her two friends, Elizabeth yielded and seated herself at the instrument, selecting a composition from the pile that she felt she could play with sufficient mastery, while the Darcy trio availed themselves of the best seats upon which to listen and observe.
Her performance is pleasing, but by no means capital, Darcy observed critically to himself within the first five minutes, before forcing his mind to admit that this was another talent of the woman before him which he could not dislike, that while she had not the expertise of his sister, she had yet the artistry to perform wonderfully.
He had tried, since his previous mental battle at Lucas Lodge to restrain himself from paying any attention to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but had abandoned the attempt within moments of taking it up, finding it impossible. Never had a woman so bewitched him before. How had it happened so quickly? Darcy chose not to ponder on this point, trying to focus instead on keeping the display of what he felt to a bare minimum.
Anne glanced at her husband and cousin briefly, the motion leaving her instantly puzzled. She had known him almost all her life, cheered his success in accomplishment, seen him through the deaths of both his parents, bore witness to the frequent attempts of society women and their Mamas to capture him the moment he gained his inheritance, yet never had she seen him show the slightest evidence of surrender, nor stress at being forced to make such a gesture. Never had she seen him as conflicted as he appeared now.
If music be the food of love, she mused silently, play on.
Two days passed in much the same fashion as the ones before her mother's visit had. Jane continued to improve, the superior sisters continued to visit with their caring facade and the ladies of the Darcy family attended both Bennet sisters with their usual sincerity, kindness and generosity.
On the evening of the second when the ladies departed to dress for dinner, Elizabeth ran up to her sister's, and, seeing her well guarded from cold, attended her into the drawing room. There Jane was welcomed by many declarations of pleasure, as Elizabeth witnessed Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley at their most agreeable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.
When the gentlemen entered however, Jane was the first object no longer. Miss Bingley immediately seized upon Mr Darcy, addressing him with a comment. Brushing her aside Darcy politely paid Miss Bennet a congratulation; Mr Hurst made the same to a lesser degree, leaving their host to deliver diffuseness and warmth. Mr Bingley was full of joy at her part return to health. The first half hour was spent piling up the fire, lest she should suffer from a change in climate, and then he remained seated by her and talked only to her for the rest of the evening. Elizabeth, from her seat across the room, could not help but triumph at seeing it.
After tea Mr Hurst made a request for cards but was denied, causing him to stretch out upon the nearest sofa and go to sleep. Mr Bingley and Jane continued to converse, while Elizabeth engaged herself in a discussion with Anne and Miss Darcy. Mr Darcy took up a book, Miss Bingley did the same and Mrs Hurst involved herself with playing with her adornments and bracelets, occasionally joining in the conversations of either her brother and Jane, or the Darcys and Lizzy, for her seat was in the middle of them.
Both book readers soon found great difficulty in keeping their attention focused on the volumes in their hands. Miss Bingley, who had only picked up a second volume of Mr Darcy's, was continually trying to gain his view or opinion upon the first and occasionally resorting to leaning over to read a page or two, an attempt which instantly failed, for Darcy always seemed to have reached the end of a page or found he needed to adjust the book's position.
As for his attention, despite having chose the book by interest rather than imitation, it was constantly drifting to his wife's lively converse with Miss Elizabeth and the lady's comments and opinions that she expressed. He longed to join in, but found himself unable to summon the courage to do so; his unease in social gatherings winning through. Instead he found himself almost the constant listener, for to observe would instantly give him away.
As a result he again found himself admiring yet another of Elizabeth's virtues. Her opinions were always well-informed and brilliantly expressed, often with a quote or two which bespoke a varied education. Often he found himself silently agreeing with most them, and if he did not, he saw her point, thus causing him to view many of his own opinions with fresh perspective and with a view to adjust them to include parts of hers.
Miss Bingley, having soon tired of not being the centre of attention, laid down her book with a loud sigh, and glanced around the room. Fixing upon her brother she instantly interrupted him with, "by the by Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield?"
"Indeed I am," Mr Bingley replied. The plans had been in discussion for some days now, brought on by Lydia's question during her visit. "Why do you ask?"
"I believe there are some here who would find it more of a punishment than a pleasure. I myself should like balls infinitely better if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."
"Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say but it would not be near so much like a ball," her brother replied, causing the majority of the room to turn away and hide their smiles, and Miss Bingley no other option but to retreat into her book.
Darcy was glad of the return to the relative silence that had existed before Caroline's speech. He risked a glance at Miss Elizabeth before returning to his book, trying to awake within him all the criticisms of his youth, of his views before Ramsgate; trying to convince himself that she was beneath him in every respect. It was the only argument he had left, the only tool he had yet to use in his mental battle against his attraction to her. Since her arrival at Netherfield he had felt the danger of paying her too much attention. The longer he tried to resist that inclination, the better hope he had of none discovering him.
The next day, as a consequence of an agreement between sisters, Elizabeth wrote a note to her mother, requesting that the carriage was made available for their return to Longbourn during the day. Their mother however, had a very different idea of when they should return, and sent reply that she could not possibly send it until Tuesday, a duration which would make Jane's stay at Netherfield a full week, adding in postscript that if their host wished them to stay even longer, she could well spare them.
Elizabeth, wild to be home, persuaded Jane to speak to Mr Bingley, who after many entreaties that they should stay, that it was too early after Miss Bennet's recovery to depart, sadly donated them use of his own carriage. To all but him, Mrs and Miss Darcy, their departure was welcome. Miss Bingley's dislike of one sister exceeded much her affection for the other, and thus was quite pleased to learn Jane's view of being firm where her desires lay.
Thus after services Elizabeth and Jane were seen to the carriage, where the former witnessed a fond parting display between Mr Bingley and her sister, causing her to awake the hope that Jane would soon be happily settled for life.
From the first floor his friend watched the carriage leave the grounds silently, feeling relief that Elizabeth was no longer a guest at the house. This distance would serve, he hoped to strengthen his determination to fight her allure, an notion that Darcy was now firmly resolved to succeed in. The moment the drive was empty, he turned from the window and involved himself wholly in the tedious conversation of Miss Bingley, closing a door in his mind upon Elizabeth and all that he felt for her and turning the key in the lock.
Darcy passed the first day of Miss Elizabeth's absence from Netherfield tolerably well. He awoke with no feeling of discomfort and when he breakfasted, her empty place at the table was dwelled upon not.
He found himself perfectly able to focus on correspondence and direct his steward- who had sent him his monthly report on his master's estates -with clarity and forethought.
In the evening he attended to his wife and his sister with his customary consideration and heeded not an ear to his host's distracted murmurs about how sorely felt Miss Bennet's absence was.
The second day however he was not so lucky. For upon seating himself at his bureau and sorting through his correspondence, he found a letter addressed him by his cousin. This was not a rare event in itself, indeed he regularly received letters from his cousin, but usually these had a military seal as postscript, the cousin in question being Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.
The only occasion when they did not, was when Richard was on leave and that he usually spent in Matlock, not in London, which was where this letter had been sent from. It was therefore with a mild trepidation that Darcy opened the letter. He pursued the wording thoroughly once.
His features paled. He repeated his actions a second time, his thoughts instantly drifting to her, wondering what the possible consequences of this news would have on her. Then a third. At the end of this read-through, his features darkened. Almost at once he rose from his chair and left the room.
A few moments later Anne was quite surprised to receive her husband. She was alone, having only just risen from her bed, the fact apparent by her being still attired in her dressing gown. This instantly caused a concerned inquiry from the gentleman.
"Believe me, William, I am perfectly well," Anne replied, as he came to stand by her post at the window. As she saw him admiring the prospect, she added, "but I observe quite clearly that you are not."
Darcy sighed, his eyes still focused on the view. "I received word from Richard this morning," he began, not turning to face her, "he has heard from his army contacts that Wickham has obtained a lieutenancy in the militia, which is camping around Meryton this very moment."
"Oh," was all Anne felt able to say. The subject of George Wickham was a tense one for her husband and she knew all too well the reason why. "But surely he will refrain from doing anything once he learns that you are in the neighbourhood?"
Darcy laughed harshly. "On the contrary I believe my very presence will make him tread the waters all the more. And if he is to hear that Georgiana is with us as well...." he trailed off at the thought of it. "We must make arrangements to depart at once."
Anne laid a hand upon his arm. "No! Why should we leave? It is he who has committed the fault, not you. Why do you not mention something to his commanding officer?"
"What?" Darcy asked. "You know I cannot, Anne. That will ruin Georgiana's reputation far more than anything he can spread about himself."
"Well we cannot leave. You know how much she is looking forward to the ball." The date had been decided upon the night before; 26th November, just over a month away. At sixteen she was too young to attend, but Anne and Darcy had promised to show her a room where she could observe everyone and not be noticed doing so.
It had appealed greatly to her shy nature. A nature that had before...... Anne willed the thought away, her anger at Wickham rising once more. "What day is he to arrive?" She asked softly.
"Then you rouse Charles and push him to accompany you for a ride through town, with the excuse of seeing Jane. The officers will be about the main streets and you can deliberately catch his eye. If he has enough sense he will leave the neighbourhood at once."
Darcy refrained from mentioning that Wickham rarely had sense, let alone enough, and instead took her hand and kissed it in gratitude. "Where would I be without you, Anne?"
Able to display openly attraction to a woman I know you like, Anne silently mused, before replying with a banter of wit to keep the affection for what it was; friendship.
She turned to watch him leave, stopping him at the door, as a thought suddenly occurred to her. "I think you ought to tell Bingley, so he can limit the invites for the ball. And if you feel the need to warn anyone else, I am sure Georgie will understand. You need not go into specifics."
Darcy nodded and with a final glance at her, departed from the room.
Not more than a hour later did Darcy find himself trotting his stallion through Meryton, Bingley slightly in front. Keeping a careful eye upon every redcoat, he had almost fooled himself into thinking that his cousin had been misinformed, when his friend came to a stop and alighted from his steed.
Darcy followed the movement and halted his own, bowing his head in agreement of the general greeting that his friend bestowed upon all of the Bennet party, before focusing solely on Jane. Darcy observed their converse for a few moments then passed his gaze on the rest of the family.
He passed Lydia, Kitty and Mary without thought, stopping briefly on the oily gentleman next to them. It was with difficulty that he managed to conceal his reaction at seeing the newest servant of his Aunt de Bourgh's patronage, the reverent Mr Collins, and had just determined himself not to fix his eyes upon Miss Elizabeth when the person standing opposite her caught his attention.
This time he completely failed to conceal a reaction, turning pale, a contrast to redness of his nemesis. After a long minute of staring at the face of his once childhood friend, Darcy finally managed to bow his head in acknowledgment, before riding off, causing his friend to follow some moments later.
"I say Darcy, what on earth sent you so suddenly from the Bennets?" Bingley began the moment he had levelled with him. "Was it the sight of their cousin?"
"He's their cousin?" Darcy questioned incredulously, before sobering. "No, it was the other stranger that made leave. Charles, can I confide something in you?"
Bingley stopped his horse immediately, both being fortuitously well passed the outskirts of the village and into the fields beyond. For Darcy to call him by his first name meant something serious was bothering him. "Of course you can. Our long friendship should have assured you of that."
"Do not mistake me, I do trust you," Darcy reaffirmed. "This matter is very complicated however and extremely delicate. You cannot not even let on that you know of it to anyone else, including those involved." He paused and dismounted, choosing to lean against a nearby tree before continuing.
His friend followed suit with the horse, standing opposite him. Slowly Darcy told him everything; from the moment he had first known Wickham, until the occasion of his marriage to Anne, and the circumstances that had led him down that path.
After expressing his anger at Wickham and his concern for not only Georgiana, but his friend and Mrs Darcy as well, Bingley added, "if you wish it, I shall refrain from delivering a general invitation to the officers for the ball."
"Thank you," Darcy replied, "but I cannot let you do that. Give me time and I shall come up with something that Richard can do to get him to town for that day. If you refuse to invite all officers, it will alert him that you know and attract notice far more from the general populace than just his absence would."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Woo Miss Bennet and achieve all the happiness you deserve is all I require of you," Darcy stepped away from the tree, his good humour and faith in close friends restored. "Seriously if you can keep an eye on Georgie and Anne for any signs of distress when I cannot and alert me to it....."
"Done, all three," Bingley declared with his usual inane grin and together they remounted and returned to Netherfield.