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In Praise of Her Conceited Independence

Chapter Text

Darcy energetically bounded up the steps leading to the house in Ramsgate. Having concluded his business in town early, he was eager to surprise his sister by showing up two days before he was expected. He had set out the day before but had been obliged to stop and spend the night at an inn once the sun had set.

He had been plagued by an inexplicable uneasiness the entire previous day, and it had taken some considerable firmness from both his valet and his coachman to convince him that it was necessary to stop for the night. Rationally, he knew it was foolish to insist that they ride on to Ramsgate through the dark, but there had been an itching under his skin that he could not ignore, and he felt eager to be on his way.

Waking up as early as was decent in the morning, Darcy had immediately set out, and was now looking forward to surprising his sister before she broke her fast. He knocked on the door and waited impatiently for it to be opened by one of the staff.

"Good morning, Mrs. Greene!" He greeted the housekeeper when she opened the door for him.

"Mr. Darcy!" She exclaimed upon seeing him. "Oh, thank goodness you've come, Sir! I am much relieved!"

Something very much like dread swooped down in his stomach. "Whatever do you mean? Has something happened?"

"Oh, Sir, I don't rightly know, but something is wrong. And it has to do with that horrid Bennet woman."


Mrs. Greene looked around, to make sure none of the other servants were nearby, and lowered her voice, so that Darcy had to lean in close to hear her.

"Yesterday, Miss Darcy went out on a walk with Mrs. Younge, and Mrs. Younge returned sometime after without her. When I asked her where Miss Darcy was, she told me the young miss had sent her back home, because she wanted to be on her own."

Darcy frowned. "Georgiana knows better than to do something like that."

"That's what I thought too, Sir!" Mrs. Greene cried passionately. Then, looking around, she lowered her voice again. "When Miss Darcy came back to the house almost an hour later, she had a young lady with her. And if you don't mind my saying Sir, she didn't look like the same quality of lady you would expect Miss Darcy to befriend. I can only judge by her clothes, Sir, but I daresay she does not run in the same circles as the Darcy family. The young lady introduced herself as Miss Elizabeth Bennet."

"Did she say how she knew my sister, or why she was accompanying her?"

Mrs. Greene shook her head. "No, Sir. And when I asked the young miss about why she had sent Mrs. Younge back without her, Miss Darcy began to say how it wasn't her who had sent Mrs. Younge back, but that Bennet woman shoved an elbow into her, and Miss Darcy simply fell silent mid-sentence. I saw it myself!"

Darcy felt something dark and heavy settling in his throat at the thought of someone threatening his sister. "Is Georgiana awake yet? I must go speak to her. And Mrs. Younge, too."

"Mrs. Younge is gone, Sir." Mrs. Greene said, "Right after they came in, she- the Bennet woman, that is, told me to call Mrs. Younge over. As if she were the mistress of the house! I wouldn't have listened, only Miss Darcy seconded her. And when I brought Mrs. Younge over, Miss Bennet fired her!"

"Miss Bennet did? But she has no authority over Mrs. Younge, surely she knew that!"

"Mrs. Younge tried telling her that, but Miss Bennet wouldn't listen. She threatened to have her arrested for trespassing if she did not leave immediately, and upon my word, I thought Miss Bennet might hit her! She is a slight thing, Sir, but she had such a look in her eyes- I own even I was frightened of her in that moment!"

"And what did Georgiana say?"

"She simply stood off to the side and let Miss Bennet dismiss Mrs. Younge. Mrs. Younge ran off to pack and was gone within the hour!"

"I must speak to my sister immediately." Darcy said tensely, trying to step around Mrs. Greene, but the housekeeper put out her hand to stop him.

"Wait, Sir. You ought to know- she is still here."

"I thought you said Mrs. Young ran off- Miss Bennet? She is still here?"

Mrs. Greene nodded emphatically. "After Mrs. Younge left, Miss Bennet and Miss Darcy went up to the Miss's bedroom, and Becky said she was passing by, and she heard the sound of Miss Darcy crying from within. A few minutes later, we were given two letters to send out. One was from Miss Darcy to you, to be sent express, and one was from Miss Bennet to her relations- a couple named Gardiner, asking them to send her things over. She spent the night with Miss Darcy."

"When you say that she spent the night with Miss Darcy, surely you do not mean-" he trailed off.

"I do indeed mean it, Sir! In Miss Darcy's room! I told her there were more than enough guest bedrooms to accommodate her, but she insisted on sharing a room with Miss Darcy! I wouldn't have obeyed, but Miss Darcy told me to do as she says."

"This is very distressing indeed, Mrs. Greene. I cannot imagine what she has done to coerce my sister, but it ends now. I shall be going to see Georgiana."

"I am so relieved, Sir! God help me, but I have been worried about the young miss."

Darcy nodded at her, and then rushed up the stairs towards Georgiana's room. Once he reached the room, he paused outside of it, and put his ear to the door. Behind the anger at Miss Bennet and the worry for Georgiana, his mind was swimming with bewilderment over the unusual situation. He hoped that by listening in he might hear something that would make some sense of the madness. All he could hear from the other side, though, was the soft breathing of sleeping persons.

Twisting the handle quietly, he tried to enter the room, only to be confronted with the fact that the door was bolted. The wench had locked his sister in with her! He raised his fist and pounded on the door, loud enough to wake whomever may have been sleeping until that point.

"Who is it?" a female voice called out, a voice that did not belong to his sister.

"The master of this house!" he roared, "I want to see my sister, now!"

"Fitzwilliam!" This time the voice was his sister's. There was a sound of fumbling at the lock, and a moment later, she was finally in his arms.

He crushed her to his chest, breathing easily for the first time since entering the house.

"Oh, Fitzwilliam," she breathed, her voice slightly muffled by his chest, "I am so relieved that you are come. I was so scared."

"I am here now, dearest." He murmured softly.

Then, when Georgiana finally let go of him, he looked her up and down, trying to determine if he could detect any damage. A noise by the bed reminded him of the presence of another in the room, and he straightened and turned to the woman who had spent the night with his sister.

"You!" he barked at her, "How dare you come here and intimidate Georgiana? Leave immediately, or I shall have you arrested for trespassing." He echoed the same threat she had uttered to Mrs. Younge vindictively, enjoying turning the tables on her.

The woman's features, which had seemed rather soft as she watched brother and sister embrace, composed themselves into a blank mask.

Georgiana began to say his name, sounding rather distressed, but Miss Bennet held up a hand to stop her, and his sister fell silent.

"Mr. Darcy," she said politely, as if she were in the middle of an assembly and not in his sister's bedroom having just been threatened by him. "I have never attempted to intimidate your sister. There is much you do not currently know. However, it is not my place to acquaint you with the story, but rather your sister's. Now that you have arrived, I shall be happy to leave, just as soon-" and here she blushed "as I am properly attired to leave the house."

Darcy suddenly realized that he had confronted the lady while she was still in her nightgown and felt his cheeks heat, but quickly reminded himself that it was only right for him to put his sister's wellbeing before propriety. He turned to his sister to see her response to Miss Bennet's speech.

She nodded softly at him. "Truly, brother, Lizzy has helped me while you were not here, and I am more grateful to her than words can say. I shall explain all, but perhaps you should now give us some privacy to make ourselves presentable."

Darcy nodded at this, though he blushed again at the reminder that Miss Bennet was in a state of dishabille. He turned to her, keeping his eyes on the ceiling and averted from her under dressed form, and said curtly: "I apologize."

Then he bowed and hurried out of the room.

He stood outside the door for a couple of minutes in quiet contemplation, and then began to pace impatiently. His impatience only increased when he heard some quiet murmurs from within the room, followed by giggling. What did they have to giggle about while he was stranded in suspense outside? How had Miss Bennet assisted Georgiana? If it had not been Miss Bennet that had frightened her, what had it been, and how did Miss Bennet enter the picture? How long had they been in there? Surely, it was more than enough time to get dressed!

He was just about to knock on the door and ask how much longer they would be when they both exited the room. Darcy eagerly hurried over to them.

Miss Bennet turned to Georgiana and held both his sister's hands in her own. "Dearest Georgiana! I must leave now, but I shall call on you later today, at a more fashionable hour, to see how you fare." Then she turned to Darcy and curtsied. "I shall see myself out, Sir. You and your sister have much to discuss."

She turned and left.

Darcy turned to his sister. "Shall we adjourn to the study? I am eager to hear your explanation." He held out his arm to her, and she took it with a sad smile and followed him to the study.

After Georgiana had explained all to him (not without twice breaking into tears during the telling and needing to be comforted by him), it was some time before Darcy thought of Miss Bennet. He was initially far too occupied with his fury at Wickham and his wicked scheme. His struggle to conceal his anger from Georgiana, so as not to distress her, took up too much of his attention for him to think about the woman who had rescued his sister.

But as the hour fashionable for calls approached, Georgiana became less occupied with apologizing for her foolishness in agreeing to an elopement, and more occupied with the anticipation of seeing her new friend again. Darcy could not be sanguine regarding the expected call. He was relieved for something to take Georgiana's mind off her distress and self-recrimination, but he did not like the idea of his sister befriending Miss Bennet.

Yes, she had saved his sister, and he was very grateful for it, but he thought that any woman who could walk into another person's home, especially a person so far above her own station, and begin to order the staff about and intimidate the help, could not be a good influence on his sister. In his opinion, her officious behavior and intimidation of Mrs. Younge were evidence of bad breeding and poor manners.

The intention to call, though, had already been stated, and his sister was eagerly anticipating the visit, so Darcy remained with her to supervise and ensure that decorum was maintained.

She entered the room wearing a dress that was probably a few seasons old and was of a lower quality than any of Georgiana's dresses. He grudgingly admitted to himself that it looked quite becoming on her, even if it was slightly faded. She politely thanked the footman who had shown her in, curtsied to himself and his sister, and sat down once invited to, making easy conversation with his usually shy sister.

Her manners were not those of the town, but they were easy and engaging. Darcy watched her suspiciously, trying to reconcile this pleasant well-bred lady with the shrew who had waltzed into the house of her superiors the day before, ordering his staff about as if she owned the place. He could not at all make out the reason for such a discrepancy.

The answer finally came to him a few minutes into the conversation. He had made an unfortunate remark and had asked Georgiana if she had yet been to some attraction available in the area, not knowing that it was where she had 'accidentally' met Wickham for the first time. At this reminder of her folly, his poor sister was overcome by sobs, and while Darcy sat there stupidly, wishing he could take back his question, Miss Bennet had already acted.

In a flash, she had left her seat and had come to sit next to Georgiana, cradling her head against her shoulder, petting her hair, and murmuring soothing nothings to her. There was such a sweet tenderness in her manner, that Darcy could not help but realize how completely he had misjudged her.

She was not an ill-mannered woman, unable to behave with decorum; rather, she was a feeling person, who had ignored propriety when she found a distressed girl in need. She knew how to behave like a lady, but she did not let social convention overcome her consideration of his sister's needs.

Darcy watched Georgiana sob into Miss Bennet's handkerchief, which was by now soaked and was staining Miss Bennet's dress with tears (and, it must be admitted, some mucus). Miss Bennet paid no attention to her abused dress, hugging Georgiana against her, and speaking to her with as much compassion and tenderness as if she were her own mother.

Abruptly, Darcy felt ashamed of himself. He had judged Miss Bennet's actions by the standards of polite society, rather than the standards of human virtue. So taken aback was he by this young nobody taking charge of his home, that he had not seen the goodness of her actions. Miss Bennet had done his sister an incredible kindness, and he had condemned her harshly for it in his thoughts simply because she was not of his strata and he felt himself to be her superior; in a place to judge her.

While Darcy had always tried to do right by those less fortunate than himself, he had done so from a position of superiority, thinking rather meanly of those beneath him. Looking now at Miss Bennet, tending to his sister in her seasons-old, faded dress, he knew which of the two of them was the superior being.

The sight of Georgiana's trembling shoulders jerked Darcy out of his reflections, and he fished in his pocket for his own handkerchief. He handed it to his sister, and stood before her awkwardly, trying to think of something comforting to do, but coming up with nothing further than putting a soothing hand on her shoulder.

Finally, after a few minutes of sobbing, Georgiana's tears subsided. Darcy exhaled in relief and gave Miss Bennet a grateful smile over his sister's head. She looked surprised for a moment, but then returned the smile tentatively.

Once Georgiana's distress had subsided, embarrassment set in, and she began to apologize most profusely to her brother and her friend for losing her composure. Both were quick to assure her that it was not unexpected given the circumstances and that she had offended neither. Miss Bennet, though, said that perhaps Georgiana would like some privacy and rest and she should end her visit. Georgiana protested initially, but after Darcy suggested that she needed cosseting and he would have chocolate brought to her in bed, the idea gained her approval, and she reluctantly bid Miss Bennet goodbye.

Darcy showed Miss Bennet out, bowing to her quite deeply and trying in his manner to make up for any initial coldness he might have shown her. After she left, he went upstairs to visit his sister in her room. She was already comfortably ensconced in her bed with a novel and hot chocolate, and she smiled at him as he came in and sat at the foot of the bed.

He waved off her offer of sharing her chocolate and came straight to the point which he had been pondering. "Dearest, I have been thinking of cutting this visit short. This house has been leased for two weeks more, but under the present circumstances I thought perhaps it would be better if we were to depart early to Pemberley or to London. Please do not think I mean this as a punishment; but given your earlier reaction to simply being reminded of the place where you saw- well- him, I thought perhaps staying in an area where you would be constantly reminded of- of what happened would distress you. Not to mention how it would be if you accidentally happened to see him. I thought that perhaps you might prefer to go home."

Georgiana's lips trembled slightly at the reminder, but thankfully she did not cry. She simply nodded softly and agreed with her brother that it would be for the best to be away from Ramsgate, as there was no more pleasure to be found for her there. He hugged her softly, kissed her head, and left her to her novel.

As he went to make preparations for their departure the next day, he mused to himself that the only thing left to repine by leaving Ramsgate would be the untimely severing of his sister's relationship with Miss Bennet. She had not only done his sister a very great service, she had also by example, with her simple, artless, kindness, taught Darcy a lesson he was unlikely ever to forget.