A Constant Love
For two beloved sisters who had both recently become engaged to be married, and were betrothed to men who were already particular friends, it was natural that talk would soon turn to the notion of a double wedding. Neither Jane nor Elizabeth Bennet could remember who first brought the idea about, but both preferred an arrangement that would be easiest on the families involved, and as both were of generous dispositions, there were no selfish feelings in sharing such a special day.
Jane broached the idea to Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy, and all agreed that there was great sense in such a plan. It was introduced to the rest of the Bennet family, and after Mrs. Bennet – who had planned for each of them to have a separate, quite extravagant wedding – was brought around to the idea, the couples fixed upon a date. All agreed that most of the guests would stay at the larger Netherfield estate, where exposure to Mrs. Bennets's continuing high spirits at having two more daughters married would be minimised, and that the wedding breakfast would be held there, in Netherfield's spacious ballroom.
Jane and Elizabeth's aunt and uncle Gardiner were among the few guests to be put up at Longbourn, and they arrived a week before the date with the usual tumble of young children emerging from their carriage, running up to the house and then remembering their manners as they greeted the Bennets. Elizabeth felt a sense of relief upon seeing her aunt; her mother had been suffering from increasing fits of nerves and had finally taken to her room, attended by their aunt Philips, and unable to help with any of the final preparations or provide any advice to her soon-to-be-married daughters. And Mrs. Gardiner, as soon as she had changed from her travelling clothes, asked what she might do to help.
The Netherfield guests began arriving a few days later. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, who brought in their carriage a sulking Caroline Bingley, were first, followed by a train of carriages bearing the Earl of Brandon, Lord Andrew, and his wife Lady Ellen Fitzwilliam; their sons Andrew and Edward; Andrew's wife Alice; Georgiana Darcy; and Miss Darcy's companion, Mrs. Annesley. This accounted for all of the close family of the two grooms, with the exception of some relations of the Bingleys from Scarborough, who could not make the journey, and Lady Catherine de Burgh and her daughter, Anne, who would not be attending. Lady Catherine firmly told her nephew of this in a letter with a great many underlined words, the second such she had sent to Mr. Darcy on the topic of his "unfortunate engagement." He had not seen fit to favour her with a reply.
Of all the guests, Elizabeth was most looking forward to seeing Miss Darcy again. The Hursts and Miss Bingley she had no care for furthering her acquaintance with, but with her sister marrying Charles Bingley (by far the most amiable person in the family), that would not be an option. She was more apprehensive about meeting the Earl of Brandon and his family. His younger son, Colonel Fitzwilliam, she was already acquainted with, and she enjoyed his company very much. However, she was not sure if the rest of the family would be so amiable, and she was not accustomed to addressing an earl. As the carriage brought her, Jane, and Mr. Bennet up to the entrance to Netherfield, she tried not to dwell on how much influence the guests in the house would have over her future life.
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley were waiting to hand the Bennet ladies out of their carriage, and then the group moved through the entrance-hall and into the drawing room that had become so familiar to Elizabeth over the past few months. She need not have worried about the earl and his family. Mr. Darcy made the introduction, and Elizabeth soon found they were all as pleasant to be in company with as Colonel Fitzwilliam, particularly Lady Ellen, who was impeccably dressed and possessed such elegant manners that Elizabeth found herself thinking that here was a woman she could emulate, as the future Mrs. Darcy. Lord Brandon and his elder son were more reserved, but still contributed periodically to the inquiries on the health of her family and the final wedding preparations.
Civil conversation was soon diverted when Caroline Bingley noted how very tired Eliza Bennet looked from all the wedding planning, and offered her services to the Bennet sisters if there was anything she could do to help. Many of those in the drawing room were already used to Miss Bingley's attacks on Elizabeth Bennet; it was no secret that Caroline had wished to marry Mr. Darcy herself, and the event a few days hence would be the end of several years of fruitless pursuit. Lady Ellen, however, gave Caroline a look of strong reprobation and stated that she should never have thought Miss Bennet tired – she looked every bit as handsome and radiant as a soon-to-be bride should.
It was clear during dinner that, while Charles Bingley had his usual cheerful manners, he had planned, or perhaps overplanned, dinner quite mindful that an earl would be in attendance. The richness of the dishes, and the sheer number of them on the table, meant that much of the conversation was centered around the food, and the party spent much of the dinner's duration dutifully applying themselves to try just a trifle of this or that. Elizabeth did not mind, as with Earl Brandon at the table, precedence had been carefully observed, and so she was seated between her father and Mr. Hurst, with Jane across from her. Mr. Hurst applied himself to the food and wine with such dedication that there was not even any aspect of his behaviour that her father could make her laugh at, and she could think of no new topics that the Bennets had not already discussed throughout the course of the day.
When the seemingly interminable dinner finally reached its end, Elizabeth sought out Miss Darcy's company as the ladies retired to the drawing room. Georgiana Darcy had been exceedingly quiet before and during dinner, hardly speaking at all to anyone other than Mrs. Annesley, and Elizabeth wanted to ensure she was not feeling neglected, so when the young lady chose a settee on the very edge of the room, Elizabeth joined her.
"You are very quiet this evening, Miss Darcy. Are you well?"
"Thank you, Miss Bennet. I am well. It's just – I am not used to being in this much company."
"It is rather a lot of people, isn't it?"
Georgiana nodded her agreement.
"Do you spend much time with your aunt and uncle?"
"We visit frequently when all of us are in London. Their estate is about a hundred and twenty miles from Pemberley, so we are only there occasionally."
"That is quite a distance. I do not get to see my aunt and uncle Gardiner nearly so much as I would like, and they are only as far away as London," Elizabeth said. "They arrived at Longbourn three days past, however, so I do at least have their company until the wedding."
"Oh, I remember them – they were so kind and such excellent company. Do you – do you think I might call at Longbourn to see your aunt, and meet the rest of your family?"
"I think that would be lovely. Please do feel welcome at Longbourn at any time, although I must warn you, my mother is not of the sort of constitution to handle wedding preparations well. We may need to spend much of our time out of doors."
Georgiana smiled. "I should like to be introduced to all of your family. After all, in a few days they will be my family as well – Miss Elizabeth, I cannot tell you how happy I am to be gaining a sister."
"I am as well, Miss Darcy."
"But you have four already!" Georgiana exclaimed. "One more must not be of much consequence."
"When she is as lovely and as accomplished as you, I assure you, she is," Elizabeth smiled. "I will allow you, though, that it is not the same for a lady who has always had sisters to gain one, as it is for a lady who has never had a sister."
"That is what I meant – I have always wanted a sister, and now finally I shall have one."
Their conversation was soon interrupted by the entry of the gentleman into the room, and Elizabeth encouraged Georgiana to move with her to chairs closer to the center of the room, and endeavoured throughout the course of the evening to draw her into the conversation whenever possible, asking her opinion on some of the topics under discussion. Elizabeth was pleased to see that although Georgiana seemed uncomfortable at first to be singled out to speak, her confidence seemed to grow slightly by the end of the night, and Elizabeth's attentions also made the rest of the party think more about the presence of a young lady who was of a shy demeanor, and not likely to interject herself into a fast-flowing conversation. Jane and Lady Ellen, in particular, sensed what Elizabeth was at, and made their own efforts to draw Georgiana out.
If there was one complaint Elizabeth had, when Mr. Darcy finally handed her back into the carriage, it was that she had spent very little time with him in the course of the evening. In such a group, private conversation was difficult, and she was required to console herself with the thought that in three days, they would be married, and able to spend as much time alone in each other's company as they chose. Mr. Darcy provided further consolation by arriving on horseback, along with Mr. Bingley, early the next morning; the gentleman were to go for a long ride, but they had ridden out in advance of the party so they might call on Jane and Elizabeth.
They all opted for a short walk, although it was still chilly and the frost crunched under Elizabeth's boots as they made their way across Longbourn's grounds. As per unspoken tradition, the couples soon separated – not enough to be improper, but enough that their conversations could not be overheard.
"I wanted to thank you for your attentions to Georgiana last night," Mr. Darcy said. "She has not often been in so much company, and I find she has not been comfortable speaking in such situations."
"Of course. With such a silent, taciturn brother it is not a shock that she does not often speak in groups," she teased. "Perhaps it is hereditary. But do not worry, I will help her as much as ever I can. As for you, you are a grown man and must fend for yourself."
"You speak in jest, Elizabeth, but you are right. My own avoidance of unfamiliar company has likely harmed Georgiana, who has not had the opportunities to 'practice' her conversation, as you once indicated I should."
"She is not yet eighteen; she still has plenty of time."
"Not for a woman of her station who has no unmarried sisters. There will be whispers in town that something is the matter with her if she is not out in the next season. Some of her peers will be married already by that time," he said. "I worry about Georgiana. Her demeanor is more positive, now – Mrs. Annesley has worked wonders in that regard – but the event with Wickham seems to have permanently shaken her confidence."
It did not help, Elizabeth knew, that her marriage to Darcy would bring Wickham into Georgiana's family. She and Mr. Darcy agreed completely that Wickham would never be welcome at Pemberley or his house in town. Lydia herself might, in time, be invited as guest, but only well after her letters had passed the stage where she went more than a few lines without mentioning "my dear Wickham."
"We will just have to work to rebuild it, then. She is a very accomplished young lady (and I mean that even by your definition, Mr. Darcy) and quite intelligent. She added much to the conversation once she began speaking."
"You are right in that she will need more opportunities to speak up in company. I had thought about perhaps going to London for the little season this fall – it will be less pressure for her with fewer people in town and fewer events," he said. "It would mean delaying our taking up residence at Pemberley until at least Christmas, though."
"I do not mind at all, if it would help Georgiana," Elizabeth said. Truly, even more than not minding the idea, she actually preferred it. Although the idea of being mistress of Pemberley had thrilled her at first, and still did in some ways, she was also apprehensive about taking on such a role. Her mother, the only person she had ever been able to observe at length, was an indifferent household manager, and Longbourn certainly could not compare to Pemberley in the size of its operation. Elizabeth knew she would be expected to handle things with the elegance and gracious manners of someone like Lady Brandon, and was not sure she was yet able to the task.
As well, going to London in the little season would allow her as well as Georgiana some time to acclimate to the company Mr. Darcy kept. She would be expected to move in different circles, now, to develop influence and ensure that Georgiana had every possible opportunity for superior company. Superior, marriageable company, if she must come out. Elizabeth understood Darcy's concern fully now – Georgiana was a sweet, shy girl, nowhere near ready to fend off suitors she did not prefer.
"You would be amenable to transferring to London after Weymouth, then?"
"Yes, of course."
Weymouth had been their plan for a honeymoon for some months. Brighton was far more fashionable, but held such negative associations for Elizabeth that she was not yet ready for a visit there. Although Lydia's flight with Wickham and eventual marriage had perhaps been the event that reinforced Mr. Darcy's continued regard for her, and therefore should be seen as having some positive aspects, to Elizabeth, Brighton was still a place where a young girl could run wild and be compromised. They had settled on Weymouth as a suitable alternative, because although Elizabeth had no wish to go to Brighton, she did have a great desire to visit the seaside.
"Thank you, dear Elizabeth. You know how important Georgiana is to me, and to know that you share such concern for her welfare – it means a great deal to me."
She patted his arm as they made their turn back toward the house. "No one who knows Georgiana could not be concerned for her welfare. And do not worry, with practice, as you say, she will become more comfortable with what is required of her in being out in society."
"I suppose it may help that she gains a slightly impertinent sister."
"Why Mr. Darcy, I do believe you are teasing me," she said. "You see, if I can teach you to tease, helping Georgiana speak up in company will be nothing."
Georgiana herself came to call, along with Lady Ellen and Mrs. Annesley, about an hour after the gentlemen had ridden off. Elizabeth was impressed by the condescension Lady Ellen showed, in requesting to be introduced to the rest of her family. Although her mother's nerves had shown rapid improvement upon her hearing a noblewoman was calling, to the point where Mrs. Bennet had dressed and joined them in the drawing room, Elizabeth found her mother rendered so quiet by Lady Ellen's superior manners and appearance that she did little more than curtsy and say she was pleased to make her Ladyship's acquaintance. Mary and Catherine, as well, were quiet, answering politely and carefully whenever Lady Ellen asked them a question. Georgiana even ventured a question of her own, Elizabeth noted with satisfaction.
With Elizabeth, Jane, and Mrs. Gardiner helping the conversation along, a half-hour passed quickly, and Lady Ellen rose to take her leave, telling them she was very pleased to make the acquaintance and hoped she might see them again before the wedding. Georgiana rose to follow her, but she looked reluctant to leave, and Elizabeth was reluctant to see her go. She suggested that perhaps her soon-to-be sister might stay to dinner and help them with final preparations. Georgiana said she should like that very much, Lady Ellen offered to inform the Netherfield guests of her plans, and Mrs. Annesley said she would stay as well, so that she and Georgiana could return together.
Mrs. Bennet retired to her room, to rest, and Mrs. Gardiner was left to explain to Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley that they were finishing the items for the Miss Bennets's trousseaux. The wedding dresses were all complete, but there were still a number of other dresses and items to be finished and trimmed. Georgiana picked up a bonnet from the table and said she should like to try trimming it, while Mrs. Annesley applied herself diligently to embroidering handkerchiefs.
Some time passed in silence, all of the ladies working. Elizabeth looked up periodically to see that Georgiana still had sewed nothing on the bonnet itself, although she seemed to be working carefully on some pieces of fabric. Mrs. Annesley, meanwhile, worked with delicate little stitches. Then Elizabeth found herself concentrating on her own work, embroidering the hem of one of Jane's dresses, and it was only Catherine's exclamation that made her look back up:
"Why, that is the most elegant bonnet I have ever seen! You must teach me how to make the little roses, Miss Darcy, you must."
Georgiana blushed, and Elizabeth could see that her sister's praise was not overdone. The fabric Georgiana had been working on had been turned into tiny little pink roses, arranged artfully around the brim of the bonnet, with a pale green ribbon intertwined around them. Catherine moved to sit beside Georgiana, and Georgiana obliged her with a lesson in gathering and sewing the fabric to look as though it was a rose.
Thus began a somewhat unlikely friendship between Georgiana Darcy and Catherine Bennet. Georgiana had long been lacking in company her own age, and while she would be gaining Elizabeth as a sister, a married sister was not the same as an unattached friend of similar age, however different their expectations might have been. Elizabeth worried about the connection, at first – Kitty had, for several years, been nearly as silly as Lydia. But Kitty received her own private letters from Lydia, and she knew that married life with a man of insufficient income was not nearly the same as what her elder sisters were about to achieve. She had come to understand that a good marriage would be necessary for her future happiness and independence, although she still harbored hope that it might somehow be with someone in an army uniform. She came to realise that she could no longer be amused by chasing after officers, and a friendship with a well-bred, accomplished young lady was far more desirable to her than it would have been before.
Georgiana, meanwhile, benefited from Catherine's friendly, open manners, and as she visited them in final days before the wedding, Elizabeth was happy to see that Georgiana had found another person she could speak to so comfortably. Mary, initially aloof, was pulled into their confidences when Georgiana heard that she was accomplished at the pianoforte and asked to hear her play. As it had been a very long time since someone had actually asked to hear Mary play, this endeared Georgiana greatly to Mary, and Georgiana seemed none the worse for listening to Mary speak, sometimes at length, in her pedantic way.