I’m typing fast and furiously. If you are just starting, here’s the link to Chapter One: Chapter One
Darcy had no idea of the turmoil he was walking into when he descended the stairs. Richard had fallen asleep as his mother caressed his hand while his father paced and worried. Dr. Stevenson had returned to the drawing room moments before.
Six Bennet females and one Miss Lucas along with her father were being assisted by numerous maid and footmen as they sorted through coats, pelisses, scarves, and gloves. Dr. Stevenson’s full attention was devoted to Miss Jane Bennet.
Glancing back towards Bingley’s study, Darcy caught his friend’s eyes, only to observe him shake his head and shrug his shoulders.
Miss Bennet was practically swaying on her feet as she assured the physician she was more than able to make the journey home. Miss Elizabeth failed to look Darcy’s way at all. Mrs. Bennet and her other daughters hesitated as long as possible in donning their outerwear, possibly in hopes of spending more time with his aunt and uncle. However, a quick whisper from Miss Elizabeth to her mother had them scurrying outside. Sir William and Miss Lucas were right behind them.
He failed completely to understand what was happening. Neither of Bingley’s sisters had deigned to see their guests from the house. Instead, he could see Miss Bingley’s tall feathers bobbing back and forth where she sat on the sofa gesturing a good riddance, in the manner of Patroclus from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.
Hoping to gain some insight, he entered Bingley’s study, closing the door behind him.
“She refused me.” Bingley dropped his head into his palms, elbows firmly planted on the desk.
“Pardon me? Who refused you? Miss Bennet?” Darcy was flummoxed. “When did you have a chance to offer for her? Has she not been in her room for the past few days?”
“No, not Miss Bennet.” Sighing, Bingley finally raised his head. “You were correct in everything you said about me. I have been a flirt.”
“I fail to understand.”
“You warned me several times about the danger of being overly friendly with ladies who were unattached. Specifically, you noted my expressions of affection to Miss Lucas.” Bingley rubbed his hand over his face. Before he set them on the desk, Darcy noted they quivered. “I have erred most grievously. Sir William asked me about my intentions. I felt like he was pressing me into a corner where the only way out was to offer for his daughter.”
“And, she said ‘no’,” Darcy surmised, saving his young friend from having to say it again.
“She did.” Slapping his palms flat on the desktop, Bingley continued, “She stood before me a dignified woman. She allowed me to say the words and told me she had never hoped to hear them so well-delivered to her. Then she explained how marrying a flirt, a man without honor and loyalty, would cause her immense pain and suffering over the lifetime of a marriage. She would rather remain a spinster…” When Darcy started to interrupt, incensed Bingley had chosen to use such a horrible word, Bingley raised his hand to stop him. “Yes, she used the word in describing herself, Darcy as she delineated why she would rather remain unwed than be joined to me. Me!”
“Charles, I do not know what to say.” Indeed, Darcy was at a loss.
“If only this was the only matter she addressed.” Bingley huffed. “Miss Lucas outlined several powerful reasons why an intelligent female would not want to remain in a house, even as the mistress, with my sisters present. Evidently, the blatant rudeness and arrogance at the assembly and upon further association have given warning to the unmarried ladies of the shire, including Miss Bennet, of my not taking Caroline to task for her poor behavior. The general opinion of my character is one of weakness.”
“I know. I know. You have spoken to me of this before.” Bingley sat back in his chair, gazing unseeingly at the ceiling. “The wise Miss Lucas briefly instructed me on the proper role of a man in the household. How he is to take the lead by making the tough decisions after listening to the opinion of his wife. How he should put his wife ahead of all others as they become, in the Biblical sense, one flesh.”
Darcy knew not what to say to offer comfort to his friend, nor whether it was wise to do so. These were hard lessons to be learned. “What will you do?”
Bingley threw his hands into the air. “What can I do? While I would love to blame these faults on the ignorance of youth, I cannot. I have been warned but I chose to ignore those words of caution. Where I would greatly desire to run from Netherfield Park and start anew, I have an injured man under my care who will remain here for several months. I have his family here to see to his needs and you, my closest friend, as my guest.” Again, he slammed his palms against the hardwood surface of the desk. “I cannot quit, Darcy. I, to my eternal embarrassment, will need to take myself and my sisters to task if I am ever to have any hope of being a man worthy of a woman like Miss Lucas or Miss Bennet. I will need to adjust so the good people of Hertfordshire will find a reason to respect me. I shall earn their approbation, or I will die trying.”
He was exceedingly proud of Charles Bingley. “Then, I wish you success.”
“Darcy, you should know that I am not angry with Miss Lucas. In fact, I am grateful. I will become a better man because of her.”
Thinking back to the conversation with Miss Elizabeth in the glen and how she called him to task for his ill-favored comments at the assembly, Darcy balanced the value of a wise woman and the betterment of a man with the silly, self-serving females like Caroline Bingley and what they would do to a man.
“I understand.” And, he did. Correction at the hands of a caring, wise female was priceless.
Tension surrounded the table at the evening meal as Miss Bingley vied for the attention and approval of Lord and Lady Matlock. Either Bingley had said nothing to his sister, or she had chosen to ignore him.
“Like you, Lady Matlock, I take charge of my own household.” Miss Bingley boasted.
“You do? Just like me?” His Aunt Helen had played this game many times before. As the daughter of a duke, she was born knowing her position in society and well-trained to recognize parasitic leeches who sought her favor for the sole purpose of advancing their own standing. “Then I must ask, Miss Bingley, who it is within your household who directs you?”
“Directs me?” Caroline Bingley’s disdain dripped from her tongue. “Why, no one.”
“I see,” Aunt Helen sipped her wine before continuing. “This is your household then?”
Confusion settled as Miss Bingley struggled to see where she had gone wrong. It was apparent to all at the table that this was not how she had planned things to progress. “I am sure I do not know what you mean?”
“My position in the home is to elevate my husband’s status amongst his peers, Miss Bingley. In doing so, not only is he well-thought of, my own capabilities are praised. Should I strive to usurp him in his authority, he would be considered a fop by these same close associates and would be pitied for having a wife who single-handedly robbed our home of peace.” Again, she sipped. “A man with an estate has plenty to do without needing to apologize for a wife who makes them both look poorly in the eyes of those whose respect should be due them.”
“Oh!” Miss Bingley did not look pleased.
“Might I remind you, Miss Bingley, that this property is leased by your brother, not you. Although he may give you the freedom to rule this particular roost, I would remind you that the hen who makes the most noise is the one often found first in the stew pot.” At that, she suggested the ladies remove to the drawing room, so the men would be left to their own company.
He was exceedingly proud of his aunt. These were hard lessons his hosts were learning but necessary if they were to continue their climb up society’s ranks.
“Miss Elizabeth is gone?” Richard was stunned and slightly petulant. “Who is to finish translating the story? Dr. Stevenson said I was to be read to each day.”
“I will send to London for a copy of the book and read it to you myself.”
His cousin snorted. “While I have no doubt your German is sufficient, you could never do justice to the character voices like Miss Elizabeth. And you are far less attractive to gaze at as well.”
Now it was Darcy’s turn to snort. The night was late, and the majority of the house was already abed. After sharing the events of the day, all that happened to the Bingleys to have his cousin focus solely upon Miss Elizabeth? Pshaw!
“I am well-aware of that fact, Rich.”
“Well, this puts us both between the horns of a dilemma, does it not? How are either of us to woo our fair lady when she is not here?”
Darcy had wondered the same. He had a plan, one which did not involve his cousin. Excusing himself, he went to his own room to prepare.
Lord Matlock’s morning plans were in direct conflict with his own. He wanted privacy. His uncle wanted to discuss the situation at Netherfield Park.
“William, while I freely admit my son could have had an accident anywhere—God forbid it would have taken place on the field of battle—the simple fact is he was injured here in Hertfordshire.”
“I am aware.”
“This begs the question, why are you here? More specifically, why are you continuing in Bingley’s company?”
“We have had this discussion before, Uncle. Bingley is a good friend.” Ire at the subject threatened to choke him.
“I will agree he is a friendly sort of young man. Personally, I understand why his character appeals to you. If my guess is correct, he has never asked anything of you other than advice.”
“You would be correct.”
Uncle Hugh nodded. “As before, I will not demand you give up the association.”
Darcy felt the tension leech from his bones.
“However,” his uncle cleared his throat, drawing out the process until Darcy’s nerves were set on edge. The tension poured back into each cell.
“However, you must admit this friendship comes with some risks. For example,” The questions came rapidly, like gunfire. “…how does Georgiana respond when in their company. Does Bingley flirt with her? Do you and my son allow this? Does Miss Bingley overpower my niece or set an example which would hinder Georgiana’s when she enters society? Are you attracted to the woman? Do you plan to make her Mistress of Pemberley, for I have no doubt it is her greatest desire?”
“Uncle, I have given consideration to each of these questions since Bingley left university and attached himself and his family to me.” Darcy tapped his knuckles against his chin. “He is a good man who has never shown any affection towards Georgiana other than as a sister. I strive to keep Miss Bingley away from my homes. On occasion when I am unable, Georgiana is dismissed from company as she is not yet out. I have absolutely no intention of marrying Miss Bingley. As a matter of fact, I spoke with Bingley yesterday about restraining her. With this latest fiasco within their household, I will not be inviting them to Pemberley or Darcy House until Bingley takes control of himself and Caroline.” Darcy sighed. “Uncle, he is a man without guile who is honest to a fault. Orphaned at a young age, he had no male guidance. I look at him and see the potential for a great man.”
“Just be cautious, William.”
“Do you ride out this morning?”
He had been caught by his uncle on his way out the door. He was dressed in his riding clothes. “My horse has been ready these fifteen minutes.”
“The horse can wait for I need to speak with you about Richard.”
He saw her about half a mile from the house. Clutching a leather-wrapped packet, Miss Elizabeth strolled through the fields as if she was at total peace with her surroundings. Never had he known someone so at one with the natural world. It was a unique gift for a young woman as most were required by mothers to remain indoors to protect their complexion and spend hours learning skills to make them a desirable mate. Miss Elizabeth appeared to march to her own rhythm.
Dismounting quickly, he waited for her to approach.
He waited for her smile of greeting only to suffer disappointment.
“You are upset with me.” He concluded.
“Am I?” He glimpsed a minute movement of her lips. Her full lips.
“Are you not?”
“In truth, I am not.” She huffed, then walked to a nearby stile and seated herself on the top step. “The events of yesterday were upsetting. My sweet sister, Jane, had her heart crushed by Mr. Bingley. Though she claims she only had a slight inclination towards him, her tears were vivid proof of her heart’s involvement. My closest friend outside of Jane, Charlotte, was placed in an untenable position by your friend. She showed her value by refusing Mr. Bingley, despite her father claiming, loudly I might add, that this might be the only offer she would ever receive.”
“I am sorely vexed.”
“Why? Was any of this your doing? Were you encouraging Mr. Bingley on this foolish course?”
“Not at all.”
“I thought not, Mr. Darcy.” Smoothing her skirts, Miss Elizabeth continued, “When we returned home my father announced an unexpected visitor will be arriving this afternoon. Mr. Collins holds the living at Hunsford Parsonage in Kent and is the heir to Longbourn through an entail. His purpose in calling, as stated clearly in his letter, is to extend an olive branch by marrying a Bennet daughter so the estate will remain in our family line.”
“I know this man. He is a buffoon.”
“You know him?” Elizabeth clasped her hands to her chest. “He is, then, as his letter indicated, a sycophant?”
“Very much so.” Darcy wondered how much to share. “Do you recall when I mentioned a relative who would make my sister’s life one of constant misery should Richard and I lose guardianship?” At her nod, he continued, “My aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is his patroness. She is strong of opinions and uncaring of whether they are correct or not. Rarely does she bend to anyone’s will. Therefore, she surrounds herself with toadeaters who bow and scrape to her. This accurately describes Mr. Collins. For confirmation you can ask Richard as he also has met the man.”
She flung her hands to the side. “This is everything terrible. While my mother was upset at Mr. Bingley for breaking Jane’s heart and offering for Charlotte yesterday, today she is in a much different frame of mind. Determined that your friend will come to his senses and court Jane, my Mama has decided I am to be the sacrificial Bennet to marry Mr. Collins and secure our family home.”
“What! How can she do this to you?” He was incensed.
“Sir, the love my father has for me will see him standing behind me, supporting me in whatever choice I make. I only wish…” She shook her head. “No, I will not consider what might have been.”
“Miss Elizabeth, you may share your worries with impunity. Should I have the power to help, pray believe that I am at your service.”
“I thank you, sir. I find you have enough problems of your own to take on the struggles of the Bennet family’s future.” Elizabeth considered, then spoke. “Since we have been unafraid to canvas difficult subjects, might I ask, were you at all drawn to Charlotte upon learning she wisely rejected Mr. Bingley? She is approximately your age and would make a wonderful companion for your future?”
“Not at all!” Despite Miss Lucas being a fine woman, he was repulsed at the thought. “Although I have only eighty-two days remaining to find a wife, I cannot consider Miss Lucas for the role. In spite of her hair being brown, I find it is the wrong shade to what I desire. Her eyes? If I recall properly, they are a mixture of grey and green. While pretty, they do not sparkle with life like the dark brown most appealing to me.”
Miss Elizabeth’s laughter rang across the meadows. “You, sir, are single-minded.”
“That I am.”
“You have now rejected my three greatest prospects for a bride. Jane, Miss King, and Charlotte. I am afraid you shall need to search farther afield.”
“I cannot.” Should he tell her he was unwilling to look elsewhere? Not yet. “My cousin’s recovery will be long. He is a patient man under good circumstances. Under adverse conditions? Impatience eats at him until he wants to burst. I simply cannot imagine being anywhere else until he is able to walk away from Netherfield Park.”
“Does he have prospects for marriage?”
“Why? Are you interested in him?” Darcy was stunned. Surely, she was not. Was she? Gulping, he finally admitted the truth. Miss Elizabeth would be the perfect bride for his cousin. They would have a lively house. He, himself was a quiet man. Bringing her to Pemberley might be a punishment. The isolation. The long distance from her family in Hertfordshire. His quiet demeanor.
He wanted to hit something. Instead, he spoke to her at length of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, magnificent man that he was.
As the stories flowed from him, Elizabeth was struck by both his honesty and his humility. Many times, the words highlighted the superiority of the Colonel in comparison to his younger cousin, Mr. Darcy. Some of the tales were told with such wit, they brought a smile to their faces. Never had she seen a more handsome, elegant man than the one standing in front of her.
When his narrative changed from concern over the Colonel’s injuries to his worries over the maturity of Mr. Bingley, she knew deep in her heart, that this man, Mr. Darcy, would not be an excellent match for Jane, Charlotte, or Mary King. He was perfect, but only for her.