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Happier in Her Friends Than Relations

Chapter Text

 

     Darcy heaved a great sigh of relief as he watched the de Bourgh carriage depart down the lane at Pemberley, and he could hear his sister beside him do the same. She shifted little Julia to her other arm, and Darcy instinctively reached for the babe. He took little Julia in his arms and cradled her against his chest as he carried her inside, relieved that Lady Catherine’s surprise visit had gone smoothly enough, and that it had last come to an end.

     Robert’s hastily written express had arrived too late to sufficiently warn Darcy of his aunt’s sudden departure from Rosings, no doubt in pursuit of her grand-child. Though they were ill-prepared for her arrival, Darcy thought he and his sister had handled the visit well, such as it could be. In truth, his biggest fear had not been that his aunt would discover their deception, but that she would attempt to leave with the child. He instinctively clutched little Julia closer, for even at the last, he had worried that his aunt might steal her away and break his sister’s heart.

     Though her strain was evident, Georgiana had composed herself far better than he had expected while their aunt was at Pemberley. Though her body had betrayed telling signs her recent condition, when he first returned to Pemberley, Georgiana had taken great pains to maintain her figure, and was recently beginning to fit into some of the garments she had worn the previous summer. If they were a little snug in the bosom, he thought with embarrassment, his aunt did not notice.

     Indeed, he was pleased with what grace she had handled their aunt’s visit, as well as the contrition she had come to show, after their first quarrel upon his return. He understood that the effects of her condition had been the cause of her heightened emotion, and though it often tried his patience, he was determined to be a better brother – the kind of brother whose sister does not run away out of boredom or want of affection.

     “What say you to a walk down to the lake,” he asked his sister after breakfast the next morning. “The weather is very fine, and I would enjoy the exercise.”

     “I would be happy to accompany you,” Georgiana said with a smile. “Though I never thought I should ever wish to paint another landscape again in the whole course of my life, I find I have actually missed my artistic endeavors, and I should be happy to take my watercolors along with me. You should bring your sketchbook, brother.”

     “I shall fetch it directly, for that puts me in mind of a drawing I did of Rosings. I thought we could frame it for Julia’s room.”

     Georgiana beamed with satisfaction. “You are too good to her, brother. I think she will like it very much, indeed.”

     “Yes, she is a connoisseur enfant, a true lover of the arts, is she not?”

     “I believe it is in her blood.”

     Darcy smiled fondly at his sister. Though brother and sister, and so far apart in age, they had fallen into the strange pattern of being mother and father to little Julia. It was unusual to say the least, but he was pleased that they were once again on comfortable terms. He briefly wondered what Georgiana would have done if he had returned to Pemberley with a bride, a new mother for little Julia. With the right woman, he hoped she would warm to the idea. She could be possessive of the child, at times, but he hoped that a woman like Elizabeth Bennet might make the new dynamic of Pemberley comfortable enough, in due time.

     He chided himself for the thousandth time, for allowing himself to indulge in such a thought. He had failed to make his intentions clear to Elizabeth, and he had to remind himself that they were not yet formally engaged. He hoped she was not pining for him too terribly. Of course not – she is grieving for her father, just as I ought to be doing for Anne.

     Darcy returned downstairs with his sketchbook to find Georgianna waiting eagerly for him. Mrs. Reynolds had packed them a picnic basket to take down to the lake with them, and informed them that Julia would be resting with her nurse for much of the afternoon.

***

     Georgiana walked happily on her brother’s arm down to the lake, enjoying the warmth of the sun, which seemed to shine brighter now that Lady Catherine had returned to Rosings. She was grateful to have her brother’s company; neither of them was particularly gregarious or lively, but Georgiana had developed a newfound appreciation for the quiet companionship that existed between them.

     It was strange, she thought, that the very same rustic simplicity that had seemed so tedious a year ago, now seemed to be a small sort of miracle. She had come to regret ever feeling that William and Pemberley were not enough for her; she had gone to Ramsgate dissatisfied with the quiet life she had always led it home, emboldened by the tales her companion, Mrs. Younge, had spun about the adventures other young ladies Georgiana’s age were permitted. She had wanted more, and she had certainly gotten more than she bargained for, in Mr. Wickham. 

     Thinking of sweet little Julia, it was hard for Georgiana to completely regret her actions last summer, though the past year had been painful in so many ways. Her brief romantic interlude had felt like everything she had always wanted, after so many years of solitude at Pemberley, while her brother enjoyed all the liberty allowed in the world of men. She did not wish to be a child anymore, and she had certainly gotten her wish. 

     The pain of Wickham’s abandonment was a terrible blow, but worse had been William’s anger and disappointment in her, for it had made her feel more isolated, more like a child, than she ever had before, and had only inspired a stronger sense of rebellion within her.

     Strangely, Anne had understood, in a way that Georgiana could not imagine her brother, her cousin Richard, or any man truly understanding. Anne should have been furious with me, for her own sake. Georgiana could not imagine Anne’s marriage to William had been a happy one, for Anne’s letters were almost as lonely as her own, in the months Georgiana had spent in Frodsham. Anne had quickly come to understand what a quiet, lonely place Pemberley was, and though she was happy to be away from her mother, her one course of escape was by no means a fairytale. 

     Though her heart ached for Anne’s loss, Georgiana hoped that she and her brother had come away from Frodsham as better people from what time they had with their cousin. In the month her brother spent in Kent, Georgiana’s anger had cooled, and she had come to know more of her own heart. She desired her brother’s good opinion, his affection. She wished them to be at ease with one another once more, and certainly it was what Anne had wanted for them. 

     William had returned in April, seemingly of a similar mind, and in the last two months they had truly began to live as the family Anne had wanted them to be. Though he arrived at Pemberley in far more depressed spirits than she had anticipated, and despite Georgiana bitterly envying the fact that her brother, as a gentleman, that was free to come and go in the world as he pleased, she was struck by the notion that this freedom had not brought him any more happiness than it had her.

     Julia was her true source of joy in life now, and Georgiana had begun to share that with her brother. It had been hard, the idea that Julia was not her own, not in name – Julia belonged to William. She was his child in the eyes of the world, but at home William was generous, and allowed his sister unrestricted access to the child; with none but him around, him she might be as tender and affectionate to Julia as she wished.

     In public, of course, she must be merely Julia’s aunt, doting but distant, and acting the part for the first time so soon after her birth has been difficult during Lady Catherine’s visit. Speaking of Julia as Anne’s daughter had been strange, but not as impossible as she had feared, and seeing her brother’s approbation with her restraint had given Georgiana the strength to keep up with the act for the two weeks Lady Catherine was with them.

     It pained her to see William participating in the ruse. Disguise of every sort was his abhorrence, and she knew this lie, which they must commit to for the rest of their lives, had been a bitter pill for him to swallow.

     “Why did you do it?”

     He laughed bemusedly. “Why did I do what, Little Miss?”

     “Why did you commit yourself to a lifetime of deception for my sake? Why raise my child as your own? You could have settled her with some family in a distant county, or sent us both off to the estate in Scotland, but instead you have sacrificed yourself for the sake of keeping us all together.  If Anne had lived, you would have lost your chance of finding a true love match.”

     “I do not intend to marry in the near future, Georgiana,” her brother said cautiously.

     “Yes, but surely you will marry when your mourning for Anne is up – indeed, society would forgive a man in your position if you chose not to wait, and you have always said you wish to marry for love, as Mother and Father did.”

     “That is my ideal, yes. I shall marry a lady who will bring warmth and joy into our lives, and who will accept Julia for who she truly is. Do you not wish the same?”

     Georgiana shook her head. “I suppose you would wish to tell your future wife the truth of Julia’s history, though it frightens me a little. Many women would judge and resent me for it. I cannot imagine I shall ever be at liberty to share my secret, and so I do not think I shall ever marry. Surely no gentleman would marry one who had done what I have.” 

     “I will raise Julia as my daughter, and will never marry a lady who did not accept this, just as I would hope that you might find a man who could love you, even after knowing your secret. You are not incapable of inspiring such devotion. We will give you a season in the spring, is that not why you intend to practice your skills on her as a hostess in the next few weeks?”

***

     Darcy had high hopes for what the upcoming visit from the Fitzwilliams would mean for his sister; her spirits had certainly been depressed while Lady Catherine had stayed with them. Georgiana was fond of their cousins, as well as Mr. Bingley, and Darcy had begun to nurture the small hope that she might come around to thinking of Bingley as a prospective suitor.

     Though Bingley had a reputation for flitting from one woman to the next rather quickly, and had even once shown an inclination for his own Elizabeth, Darcy had a hope that within the next few years, as Georgiana grew into womanhood, Bingley would outgrow his puppyish behavior and finally seek to settle down. He would be a good match for her, in a year or two, for his lively manners would do well for Georgiana, who had been too long left in solitude, with naught but his own somber company. It would be a splendid match for Bingley, and not only in terms of fortune, for he was sure that Georgiana would make him a delightful wife, and with Caroline Bingley’s social grasping at last satisfied, that particular lady might even become somewhat more bearable. He hoped that Georgiana’s excitement about their upcoming visit indicated that such a future was not too far off, and meant to watch their interactions closely over the next few weeks. 

     Georgiana agreed that she was eager to receive their friends and relations, and they spoke for a while about the various amusements they might have, and plans they might form to keep their guests occupied. After a long and diverting conversation, Georgiana picked up her brother’s sketchbook and began to leaf through it. “Where is the sketch you wished to show me of Rosings?”

     Darcy turned to the pages he had filled with sketches of the exterior of the house and the grounds, and Georgiana look through them in rapt attention. “Your skill has improved, I think. These are very good.” She looked through the drawings of Rosings for a while, and then began to peruse the other pages, until she came across the sketch he had begun of Elizabeth. “What a beautiful woman. Who is she, brother?”

     Darcy reached for the sketchbook, but Georgiana drew back and continued to stare at the page.

     “It is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She was a guest of her sister, who had recently married our aunt’s parson, Mr. Collins.” 

     “The same lady that my cousins wrote of? Mr. Bingley’s Elizabeth Bennet?”

     Darcy frowned. He was still rather unsettled by all that he had learned of Bingley’s dealings with Elizabeth, and Richard’s assurances that Elizabeth’s heart had not been broken did little to temper Darcy‘s frustration with his friend for having trifled with her. He considered Georgianna‘s interest in Elizabeth, as the object of Bingley’s affections, and wondered if it was inspired, in part, by jealousy. He hoped that was not the case, for surely Bingley had forgotten all about his ‘goddess,’ and would likely not settle down with Georgiana for several years, allowing them both a chance to mature in temper and understanding.

***

     “I do not think there shall be a match between them, despite what some may have hoped,” William said sadly.

     Georgiana smiled wistfully at the image Miss Elizabeth Bennet, oddly pleased at having the opportunity to set eyes on the woman who had raised her interest so much in the winter. Rebecca had mentioned her many times in the letters she included with Richard’s, but had said nothing of Miss Bennet being in Kent at the same time as them. Lady Catherine had lamented Darcy’s acquaintance with an inconsequential country miss who had been visiting at the parsonage, and Georgiana realized it must be the same person; Miss Bennet seemed to have greatly displeased Lady Catherine. Now I really like her.

     She wondered at the drawing being incomplete. Had William started sketching a picture for Mr. Bingley of his lady love, only to discover Miss Bennet no longer cared for Mr. Bingley? “Why did you not finish your drawing?”

     William looked chagrined. “The lady did not know I was taking her likeness, in fact. We had gone out to walk in the garden, to get away from some rather impertinent visitors at Rosings, and I began sketching her to pass the time as the lady read a rather long letter from home. Unfortunately, the letter contained some rather dire news of her father’s illness, which required her immediate departure.”

     Georgiana looked sadly at the drawing, and could see that Miss Bennet was indeed seated on a little stone bench, reading a letter amongst the rosebushes. How sad it was to think that Darcy had captured her in a moment that would soon turn to such distress. “What became of the lady’s father?”

     William turned away, furrowing his brow. “I believe he passed away a few days later.”

     “Oh, how sad! I am very sorry for her. And now I suppose she is in mourning, and Mr. Bingley cannot pursue her?”

     William frowned. “Something like that.”

     “I should very much like to meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” 

     “Perhaps one day you shall. She is a great friend of our cousin Rebecca’s, and I daresay she might be in London when we journey there for the little season. We need only to find you an appropriate sponsor.” 

     Georgiana smiled, for it seemed she knew something her brother did not, and she had no intention of betraying a confidence Rebecca had bestowed in her most recent letter. It seemed Rebecca had learned of Miss Bennet’s plans to travel north with her aunt and uncle for her birthday, and they had been persuaded to forgo their journey to the Lakes, in favor of the visiting the home town of Elizabeth’s aunt, Lambton, the village closest to Pemberley. Rebecca intended to mention their presence in the area to William when they arrived, and so Georgiana decided to keep her cousin’s secret, and took private delight in the knowledge that she would soon set eyes upon the young lady who had inspired such affection in her cousins, and in Mr. Bingley.

***

     Typical of his cousins, Darcy thought, to disoblige him by arriving a day later than the Bingleys, though the four of them were to have journeyed north together. Rebecca explained the delay, when she and Richard arrived, claiming that she had tarried in London to attend to a matter of business with Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet, for it seemed Lady Catherine had been involved in the destruction of Elizabeth’s wardrobe in Kent, and Robert had sent along a sum from Lady Catherine’s allowance, enabling the Gardiners to purchase their niece a suitable half-mourning wardrobe for her travels, and Rebecca had overseen it all.

     Darcy was pleased, after dealing with an entire day of Caroline Bingley’s undivided attention, to see that lady particularly vexed when Elizabeth Bennet remained a topic of conversation throughout dinner. Richard, Rebecca, and Bingley had lately seen Miss Bennet, as they had attended a ball given by her friends in Hertfordshire before their journey north. Darcy lamented that he was not able to attend, as he had received more than one invitation thither, and had it not been for his aunt’s unexpected arrival, he would have been happy to return to Elizabeth’s side. Knowing she had been trapped at home with her dreadful sister and cousin installed as master and mistress did not sit well with Darcy, for had he spoken sooner, it might have all been helped, and he felt himself very much to blame for any discomfort she was presently experiencing.

     Suspecting that Caroline’s displeasure was partially to blame, Darcy observed that his sister took a great deal of interest in asking Rebecca questions about her recent visit with Elizabeth in Meryton. “You said she was purchasing traveling clothes,” Georgiana prompted her cousin. “Where does Miss Bennet mean to journey to next? I believe she has had adventures in London and in Kent already this year.”

     “Indeed, she is quite an adventuress,” Caroline Bingley scoffed.

     Rebecca ignored Miss Bingley and smiled at Georgiana and Darcy. “She means to travel north with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, such wonderful people, do you not think, Mr. Bingley?”

     Bingley answered in the affirmative as his sister rolled her eyes. “Yes, indeed, and it is a happy coincidence Mrs. Gardiner was grew up in Lambton; I understand that is very near Pemberley.”

     “Indeed it is” Rebecca said with wicked glee before addressing Darcy directly. “I hope they shall have an invitation to visit us at Pemberley, cousin. The Gardiners are kind and sensible people, and very genteel.”

     “Yes indeed,” Miss Bingley agreed, her lip curling in disdain. “Was their house in Cheapside not situated so very near there warehouses, one might not even know they were in trade.”

     Charles laughed off his sister’s malicious words. “My house is Grosvenor Square, and I still tell everyone exactly where my fortune came from.” 

     Miss Bingley made some retort, but Darcy did not hear it, and indeed ceased to listen to the conversation at table for some time as he processed his cousin’s news. Elizabeth was coming to Derbyshire. She would be in Lambton. She could be at Pemberley if he invited her, as Rebecca clearly wished him to. He gave his cousin a warm smile of thanks and met her eye across the table. Damn meddlesome woman.

     Despite his delight in the knowledge that Elizabeth would soon be in his home, Darcy began to feel some trepidation at the prospect of her visit taking place while Bingley would be there. Bingley was acting rather strange; he asked a great deal of questions about Elizabeth’s upcoming visit, until one of them provoked a great outburst of indignation from Rebecca.

     “Will Miss Jane Bennet be accompanying Miss Bennet in her travels?”

     “Good God, I should hope not,” was Rebecca’s response, and Bingley recoiled in astonishment.

     Darcy glanced curiously at Richard, who smiled as he clapped Bingley on the back. “Charles, old boy, I think there has been some mistake. Jane Bennet has been Mrs. William Collins these six months.”

     Bingley’s confusion was apparent. “Jane Bennet is married to Mr. Collins? The pompous little fellow who would not stop talking?”

     Rebecca laughed. “I wonder, then, that he did not inform you of the fact himself.”

     “You must be mistaken, Lady Rebecca. I addressed the lady as Miss Bennett several times. I am sure and she did not correct me.”

     “That may be,” Richard replied. “I cannot tell you what Mrs. Collins was about in allowing you to form this misconception, Bingley, but I would ask you not to give credit to all her assertions. Jane Collins’s character has been made known to my sister and I for some time, and that is all I wish to say about that lady.”

     “One should always be on one’s guard around such people,” Miss Bingley said with a sniff, and Rebecca’s response was a withering glare.

     Darcy thought there was something he was missing from their conversation – why had Bingley assumed Mrs. Collins was unmarried, and what difference did it make to him if she was?

     “I would agree that he that I found Mrs. Collins to be rather wanting in character, from my time in Kent,” he agreed with a severe look at Bingley. Am I to surmise that you have discovered her manners to be otherwise? I daresay Miss Bennet may not be inclined to agree with your estimation of her sister’s character, for I understand Elizabeth Bennet does not share your approbation of Mr. Collins and his wife.” 

     In fact, his aunt had sought to brag about her own involvement in exacerbating the tension between Elizabeth and her sister, and it was at the conclusion of that discussion that Darcy had requested her immediate removal from Pemberley. What was Mrs. Collins about trying to ingratiate herself with Bingley? And how could Bingley form a positive impression of such a person? Ah, but that is easy enough to guess.

     Bingley brushed Darcy’s warning off. “If Elizabeth is on bad terms with her sister, I am very sorry to hear it, but I am sure she will not begrudge me for getting to know all of her family better, and I daresay I like them all very well indeed. Her mother is rather a lengthy conversationalist I think, but a good sort of woman, who cares about her daughters a great deal. The younger sisters are not as clever as Elizabeth, I think, but very energetic and charming. I feel very sorry for their loss, for I think they all feel it very keenly. Elizabeth in particular was very out of sorts.”

     “Perhaps this may portend that Miss Bennet does in fact object to those who would seek to be on friendly terms with a sister who has treated her with cruelty.”

     Miss Bingley grew impatient. “Why are any of us to care about their petty country squabbles?”

     Bingley scowled and simply spoke over his sister. “Well, I wish she would have told me so, but no matter, we shall make amends when she comes to Pemberley. You will invite her, will you not, Darcy? I find I have quite missed her company, all those months she was away, and it was good to see her again at the ball. We spoke for quite some time about all that she has suffered, and I understand she is much depressed.”

     Darcy felt his temper rising, and refused to admit it bothered him that Elizabeth might have confided in Bingley. Darcy wished to be her confidant, as they had been for one another in Kent, and Bingley’s inference felt intrusive, not to mention that it was entirely offensive. To think that Bingley would imagine himself able to swoop in, months after abandoning Elizabeth in London, and declare himself quite a hero for detecting that the lady with grieving the loss of her father, and then suggest he might simply make amends for showing what was likely to have been an unseemly amount of attention to her cruel elder sister!

     “I wonder that she means to travel at all, at such a time,” Caroline observed. “She should be at home with her family, not traipsing across the country. I knew she lacked in decorum, but that she would disregard the strictures of mourning, even as she claims to feel her father’s loss, at a ball suggests her incapable of every proper sentiment.”

     Rebecca seemed to be on the verge of a particularly poisonous retort, but Darcy cut her off. “Miss Bennet and her relations will be most welcome here,” Darcy said sternly. “I think it would behoove us all to treat our guests with the utmost kindness and respect, in light of Miss Bennet’s recent bereavement. Speaking as one who has recently suffered a great loss, I would hope that all of my guests would behave in a way befitting the situation.”

***

     Despite Miss Bingley’s venom, William seemed to be directing the brunt of his displeasure at Mr. Bingley, and Georgiana was most perplexed. It seemed Mr. Bingley had developed a certain degree of friendship with Elizabeth’s sister, not realizing the lady was married, and was apparently not a very nice person. That her brother was so distressed by his friend’s thoughtless treatment of Miss Bennet was evident, and Georgiana began to wonder if he desired the match for Bingley as much as she herself did. Certainly he had taken pains to become acquainted with Mr. Bingley’s love interest while they were both in Kent, and had even attempted to make a sketch of her for Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth Bennet’s time at Pemberley would be an ideal opportunity for Mr. Bingley to renew his addresses, and Georgiana determined at once that she would make herself useful to her brother’s friend. Surely it would please William. She would likely have a great ally in her cousin Rebecca in making the match, and that it would displease Caroline Bingley it would be icing on the cake. 

     Georgiana put her plan into action the very next day. As Caroline seemed rather focused on monopolizing the conversation of William and Richard, Georgiana was able to speak at length with Mr. Bingley about the topic that held such interest for her. She asked him a great many questions about Elizabeth Bennet, and encouraged him in recounting many occasions pleasantly spent in that lady‘s company in London. He was very disappointed at having to take his sister to Bath for her health, and it occurred to Georgiana that Miss Bingley might very well have faked her illness in order to remove Bingley from London. Poor Miss Bennet. Well, it would all be put to rights, now; Georgiana gave Mr. Bingley her assurances that she would do everything within her power to ensure that Elizabeth Bennet enjoyed herself very well at Pemberley, and that Mr. Bingley enjoyed Elizabeth Bennet’s company as much as possible.

***

     On her third evening at Pemberley, Rebecca received a note from Elizabeth, informing her of their arrival in Lambton; they were to stay the night at the Rose and Crown. Rebecca quickly dispatched a response, advising them to expect a call at half past ten the next morning. She had expected Darcy to be a more pleased at the news, delivered as she enjoyed brandy and cigars with her brother and cousin, after the others had retired for the evening. Instead, she found Darcy more agitated than excited.

     “I do not like the way Bingley has been speaking about her,” Darcy said, pacing the room. “He means to resume courting her, here in my own home. I think perhaps I had better not invite them.”

     “If you do not invite them,” Rebecca drawled with a roll of her eyes, “you will not be able to see Elizabeth, you blockhead.”
     “Bingley is intent on having her, he has made that plain.”

     “But she will not have him,” Rebecca insisted.

     “I am inclined to agree,” said Richard. “Miss Bennet has told me that she bears him no ill will, but she is certainly no longer interested. It was bloody daft of him to up and leave for Bath with his sister after raising her hopes, but she has not been wounded by his weakness to his vile sister, and I think it has been a good thing for her to make the discovery. I wish him well, but he could not make her as happy as you could, Darcy. You should be very well matched, indeed. I think she shall liven you up when you grow dull, as you are prone to do.”

     “And more importantly.” said Rebecca. “I am certain that Elizabeth cares for you. I abused you quite soundly to her, and she was quick to come to your defense. She will not admit to anything more, at present, but I believe her good opinion is rarely bestowed, and well worth the earning.”

     Darcy appeared to consider this. “Are you certain you are not blinded by a desire to see what you wish for come to pass?”
     “I not think Elizabeth is in love with you because I wish for her to be. I have merely observed that she finds you a great deal more tolerable than I do.”

     “Only consider this,” Richard said, clearly wishing to prevent Darcy and Rebecca from coming to blows. “If Bingley can have his head turned by Elizabeth’s own sister – and I assure you, he paid her far too much attention, and she allowed it because she is malicious woman – how could Elizabeth continue to foster any hope toward such a man? She would hardly be sensible for it, and you know she is intelligent. I believe Bingley it has sunk himself even further in her estimation in his recent behavior, than he did in his travels to Bath.”

     Still Darcy paced, his hands folded tightly behind his back, his eyes on the rug. “I will ride to Lambton in the morning and propose.”

     Richard grimaced. “Why, because you fear Bingley poses legitimate competition? Don’t be daft, Darcy. If you propose because you fear she may accept Bingley, Miss Bennet will know it. Do not do her the insult of a proposal made out of desperation. No, let her come to Pemberley and see what she might be mistress of, let her work her magic on Georgiana, God knows the girl is eager to adore her. Let Bingley do his best and I promise it will not be enough to tempt her, and then you may make your proposal confident in the knowledge that you are her true choice, and not just the first man to come along and ask. She will see you in your element, come to know you better, and it will be a sound decision.”

     Rebecca scowled at her brother. “It is a pretty thought, but I must disagree. Why should Elizabeth not come to Pemberley and view it from the first as her future home? I rather like the idea of Darcy proposing at once. I fear it will be as it was in Kent, something will happen at the last moment to prevent it, and I would not wish for a repeat of that misfortune.” 
     “She shall be here in his own home, nothing shall prevent it. I saw her reaction when you told her she was to come to Pemberley. It gave her a great shock. Better not to overpower her all at once.” 

     Darcy looked alarmed. “She does not wish to come?”

     Rebecca looked rather guilty, but said nothing, and her brother spoke for her. “Rebecca wished to ensure that vile Mrs. Collins would not prevent Elizabeth’s journey, and enlisted their mother to her cause, but in so doing, I think she caused Miss Bennet some alarm, for she was obliged to retreat to the ladies’ retiring room for some time after receiving the news that we had all expected to bring her such joy.”

     Darcy looked stricken and merely repeated himself. “She does not wish to come to Pemberley?”

     “I rather think it was her knowing that Bingley was to be here, as well, that caused her distress,” Rebecca answered, hoping that she was correct. “All the more reason for you to propose before he can cause her any further distress. I fear he will behave badly, if given the chance.”

     He seemed to consider this as he continued his pacing, and finally he said, “I believe I must do as Richard says. I must see for myself that she truly harbors no tender feelings toward Bingley. If I propose on the morrow, I will never know if she truly preferred my friend, and I should hardly wish to find out later. I must discover for myself if she truly still prefers him or not.”

     Rebecca shook her head. “You are a dreadful blockhead, Darcy. Have you so little faith in her? Do you really think that the whole time she was at Kent, Mr. Bingley was the man occupying her thoughts?”

     “I wish to be sure,” Darcy said. “It is not because I have a low opinion of Miss Bennet, but because I have the very highest opinion of her, and I wish her to be at liberty to choose. I would not have her accept me out of a fear that she might not have another offer. If Bingley wishes to press his suit with her, and he really is her choice. I must accept that. Of course, I endeavor to do everything I can to ensure that it is I who wins her hand, but I would not deny her the assurance of knowing that she might be at least have a choice. Whether ‘tis fair to Bingley or not, I do not wish to ponder, for it cannot be helped.”

     Richard raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you are a great blockhead, Darcy.”

     Darcy merely shrugged. “We are all fools in love, I suppose."