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A Worthy Woman

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The first time Georgiana thought seriously of her brother’s marrying was when her father was sick (dying, Fitzwilliam had told her; Fitzwilliam always told her the truth, even when it was difficult). It was not a subject that had ever been discussed before, at least not in her hearing, and though she knew it was only natural for young men to grow up and find wives, it was not something she had ever connected with him. To her, he was just Fitzwilliam, equal parts brother, and protector, and friend; he did not have time to be someone’s husband. 

She should not have been listening at all, as she sat in the passage outside of her father’s room. It was wrong of her, but she did not know what else to do with herself. She found it frightening to be with Father now. She did not know what to say to him or how to behave. Georgiana could not remember her mother dying - she had been just four years old; her mother’s death had been very sudden - and had only hazy recollections of the weeks that had followed. This, she thought, was worse. They were all just waiting for the inevitable to happen (it would be days now, not weeks, Fitzwilliam said). It hovered over everything; they could not get away from it. 

So she sat outside his door, unwilling to go in. Fitzwilliam was with him, and it was Fitzwilliam’s company she wanted. She wished her father would sleep so she could talk to her brother, or he could read to her, or they could take a walk outside to distract themselves; and then she felt guilty for thinking any such thoughts. 

“Fitzwilliam,” said her father suddenly, and though his tone was urgent, his voice was weaker than Georgiana had ever heard it, “promise me that you will not marry your cousin Anne.” 

Fitzwilliam gave a spluttery sort of laugh.

“I can safely promise you, Sir, that there is not the slightest possibility of my marrying her.”

“I do not care what your aunt thinks,” her father went on resolutely. “You deserve better. You must marry a worthy woman; someone you respect. Someone you love. I wish you to be happy in your marriage.”

He sounded feeble but earnest. Georgiana was glad she could not see their faces.

“I do not believe that I will ever marry,” said Fitzwilliam. His voice was thick. “We should all resign ourselves to the fact that one of Georgiana’s children will eventually inherit Pemberley.”

“Ah, Fitzwilliam, the right woman will come along at last, and when that time comes, I want you to remember just how silly I find you now.”

Fitzwilliam responded lightly, but Georgiana could not hear his words. She walked away, feeling very uncomfortable. She did not want Fitzwilliam to marry. He would not have as much time for her if he had a wife. And his wife might dislike her, might not want her underfoot; she might turn Georgiana out and into the care of a relative! Georgiana did not want to live with Lady Catherine.

Fitzwilliam would never marry that sort of woman, she reminded herself, and he would never make me leave Pemberley.

Still, the thought plagued her for the rest of the evening.

But Georgiana was eleven and her father was dying, and soon other thoughts drove Fitzwilliam’s future wife away.

***

For a long time, her anxieties about the next Mrs. Darcy remained distant and isolated; they were her middle-of-the-night fears. It was only in that peculiar frame of mind - waking suddenly, with hours to go until morning, when all of her anxieties intensified and everything seemed much worse than it really was - that they really tormented her.

But Fitzwilliam was busy. He had an estate to run and a younger sister to look after. If he thought of young ladies at all, Georgiana certainly never saw the evidence of it.

***

“You should marry, Darcy,” said her uncle.

Georgiana found the earl intimidating; her aunt cold and formal; her cousins, all much older than she was, strange and distant. She wished they would go home.

Fitzwilliam made an equivocal sort of answer, unusual for him (Colonel Fitzwilliam - the only one of his family that she really loved - winked at her from across the table; they both knew how her brother disliked this subject).

“You are young, perhaps,” her uncle continued, “but you have the means. Pemberley feels so empty without a family in it.”

She resented this slight against their little family of two (she and Fitzwilliam were enough, and the Darcys, at their most numerous, had only ever been a party of four; not such a great difference). She could not deny, though, that Pemberley was quieter without their father in it. He had been an exuberant presence, especially when compared with his reserved children. 

What would it be like, if Fitzwilliam started his own family? Would it really be so bad, providing it was with the right sort of woman? She would have a sister, and nieces and nephews; they might be her friends and companions.

She still could not like the idea; it gave her a sick sort of feeling in her stomach. She did not want to think about it.

Fitzwilliam made another vague response and turned the conversation to other matters.

***

“What fault did you find with the Miss Thomases? I think they are charming.”

Georgiana had tried not to overhear this discussion, but her cousin’s voice was loud and it was too late for her to move without attracting attention.

“Do you mean to pester me about this now, too?” her brother said, exasperated. "I thought you, of all people, would take my side."

“I am not saying you have to marry one of them--"

“What a generous concession.”

“--but they are good company.”

“You do not find them all rather vulgar?”

Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed. “That does not bother me.”

“No,” her brother agreed dryly. “It never has.”

“That is the problem with you, Darcy. You are too scrupulous. You could enter a room and immediately have your pick, but instead you are as prudish as an old woman.”

They were walking away now, closer to the stream; Georgiana did not hear the exact words of his reply, but they sounded derisive.

She was very fond of her cousin, but she was glad that her brother was not like him. 

***

The Bingley sisters had always paid an excessive amount of attention to Fitzwilliam, more than Georgiana thought was appropriate (she was not sure what the appropriate amount was, but this could not possibly be it). She no longer had reason to fear the eldest Miss Bingley - Mrs. Hurst, as she now was - but she was beginning to feel very uneasy indeed about Miss Caroline.

Caroline made Georgiana uncomfortable at the best of times. There was something about her that was artful and insincere; she was outwardly kind to Georgiana - always complimenting and praising and admiring - but Georgiana never felt as though she could trust her. She had a suspicion that it was all done for Fitzwilliam’s sake, as a means of gaining his good opinion. Caroline wasn't particularly kind in general. 

In all honesty, Georgiana did not like Caroline Bingley very much. 

Fitzwilliam didn't either, which should have been a comfort. He tolerated her for Mr. Bingley's sake, and ignored her outright when she was acting especially forward, but though he had given Georgiana no reason for anxiety, still, she wondered.

Mr. Bingley had been her brother's good friend for many years. They were very often together, which meant that Fitzwilliam was not infrequently in Caroline Bingley's company. And unless it was only Georgiana’s imagination, Miss Bingley had been more determined than ever to attract his attention on her most recent visit to Pemberley.

Georgiana did not know the particulars of how young men fell in love with young ladies, but she had heard that it could happen quite unexpectedly, especially when the lady was exceptionally handsome.

Caroline was very pretty.

“You are not going to marry Miss Bingley, are you?”

Fitzwilliam choked on his tea. Georgiana looked up quickly to see his expression. He was laughing.

“What on earth would make you think such a thing?” he asked, moving his book hastily aside.

“She pays you a great deal of attention.”

“And have I ever behaved in such a way as to make you think I enjoy her attention?”

“No,” admitted Georgiana. “But she is very persistent.”

"Yes, she is," said Fitzwilliam grimly. 

Georgiana must have looked troubled, because Fitzwilliam stood up and came over to her. 

"I could never marry Caroline Bingley, even if I were tempted to."

"Why not?"

"Because you do not love her," he said simply.

Georgiana had a very good brother.

***

Georgiana did not like to make assumptions about affairs of Fitzwilliam’s heart (he would be straightforward with her, if there was anything worth telling), but she could not help noticing that his last several letters had contained more than one reference to a certain Miss Elizabeth Bennet. This young lady, it seemed, was a recent acquaintance, and had more than a few admirable qualities.

Georgiana read his letters over and over again, searching for answers to questions that would be too awkward to ask. To be sure, he wrote of Miss Bennet with approbation, but it was without exceptional warmth, so she could not be sure of the strength of his regard. 

And yet, Fitzwilliam had never admired a woman to Georgiana before.

She was unnerved. She wanted to believe that she would love Fitzwilliam’s choice of a wife, whenever the time came and whoever she may be, but what if she didn't? 

Not that he was going to marry Miss Bennet. So far, he just admired her. Admiration did not mean love… not yet, at least. Georgiana was being silly. Still, he thought highly enough of Miss Bennet to write about her, and not in the satirical way in which he wrote about Miss Bingley. That must mean something.

Whatever he had once said to their father, Fitzwilliam might actually marry one day, and perhaps that day was soon.

Her objection to the idea was no longer her possessiveness as a sister (it was mostly no longer her possessiveness as a sister), but from her belief that he should only marry a woman who deserved him, and her doubt that such a woman existed.

***

Georgiana was happy to be spending Christmas alone with her brother (she had worried that they would be joined by the Bingleys, something that Miss Bingley had hinted at). She missed him when they were apart, and after the events of last summer in Ramsgate … well, she appreciated having him to herself, and was reassured that he was quite as doting and affectionate to her as ever.

The day had been cheerful and they had lapsed into a contented silence as the evening drew to a close, Georgiana sleepy and Fitzwilliam thoughtful.

“You would like her, I think,” he said suddenly. 

Georgiana looked up, nonplussed. 

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” he clarified. “She is very different from us -” (he smiled a little) “- and I have never met anyone quite like her, but…”

He trailed off and didn’t finish his thought.

Oh, dear.

***

These little mentions kept occurring. They were not overly frequent, nor (with the exception of that time at Christmas) were they made in anything but an off-hand, mild manner, but Georgiana understood her brother well enough to know that any mention at all meant that Miss Elizabeth Bennet was very often on his mind.

A little time had softened the idea of Fitzwilliam’s being partial to Miss Bennet, and Georgiana was growing less startled and more intrigued by her. She could not say with certainty that Fitzwilliam cared for her - she thought he probably did, though he had not admitted it - but, if nothing else, this young woman had her brother’s good opinion. That alone made her an object of interest.

Fitzwilliam’s judgment was good and Georgiana trusted it. If he thought well of Miss Bennet, then so would she.

“I hope to be acquainted with her one day,” she told him, and she meant it.

***

Georgiana was not sure why, but her brother’s visit to Rosings seemed particularly odious to her this year. 

“Fitzwilliam,” she said, echoing her father’s words from five years ago, “promise me that you will not marry Anne.”

She neither liked nor disliked her cousin, but Anne would make a most unsuitable wife.

Fitzwilliam smiled. “Of course I am not going to marry Anne. I do not think anyone seriously believes that I intend to.”

“Lady Catherine wishes it.”

Their aunt was fond of the story, which seemed to grow more mythical with each telling: a cradleside oath between two sisters, the cousins bound together by destiny, a match that was a foregone conclusion; what the Fitzwilliam sisters had joined together, let no man put asunder.

“Unfortunately for Lady Catherine,” he said, “I have some say in the matter.”

He had always treated it as a joke (Mother had never mentioned a word of it to him, he said, rolling his eyes).

“She will be very angry with you.”

Fitzwilliam shrugged, entirely unconcerned. It certainly did not seem as though he would ever make Anne his wife. But he had a strong sense of honor, and obligation, and loyalty, and what would happen if Lady Catherine pressured him? 

He is too obstinate, Georgiana reassured herself. He would never marry Anne out of some misguided sense of obligation. 

Even so, she wished it was not such a favorite hope of Lady Catherine’s.

“Should I go with you to Rosings?” Georgiana asked. 

Fitzwilliam always endeavored to shield her from these trips (“There is no need for us both to suffer,” he said), for which she was grateful, but maybe she should come along this time, just to keep an eye on things.

“Do you want to go?” he asked, his mouth quirked in amusement.

She shook her head quickly. Want was not the correct word.

“Then why this voluntary penance?”

“Is it not my duty as a niece?”

He laughed. “The duty of a brother is greater than that of a niece, and I would be failing in my duty if I did not save you this exposure to our aunt.”

Georgiana was not sorry to avoid Rosings. She only hoped that Anne had not improved, and that Fitzwilliam was as politely indifferent to her as ever.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. From Miss Bingley to Miss Bennet to Anne. She should not imagine wives in every corner.

***

Fitzwilliam had not spoken of Miss Elizabeth Bennet for some time - not since he had left for Rosings; she supposed it was because he had not seen her for so long; perhaps she was forgotten - and Georgiana was surprised to learn that not only was Miss Bennet in the country, but that Fitzwilliam would be introducing them that very morning.

There had been something new in his tone when he told her this (he had been rather somber in general since Easter, which made the change more noticeable). Where he had formerly been more guarded when speaking of Miss Bennet, he was undeniably eager now. Fitzwilliam’s was a quiet eagerness, but it was there

Georgiana was alarmed at the thought of meeting so important a person, though it was tempered by a good degree of anticipation. 

If he wants me to become acquainted with her, she thought, then he must think I will approve of her. She is sure to be someone very remarkable indeed.

She did not dwell overlong on why Fitzwilliam wanted her approval. She should not always be conjecturing. Today was about meeting a pleasant young woman; whatever followed was beyond her control.

The momentous introduction was made. Georgiana, never entirely comfortable talking to people she did not know well, and certainly nervous to speak with a lady so esteemed by her brother, was nevertheless determined to observe as much as possible (she knew how other women behaved towards Fitzwilliam; she needed to see that this one was different). 

Elizabeth Bennet was not what Georgiana had expected. She was certainly pretty, though not in the showy way that Miss Bingley was, and she was less fine than most of the ladies that Georgiana knew (Fitzwilliam probably liked that; he could be contrary that way). She was shorter and slighter than Georgiana had imagined, but she had the most beautiful dark eyes.

She seemed a little flustered by this meeting (though not as flustered as Georgiana was), but there was no denying that Fitzwilliam's admiration had not been misplaced. Miss Bennet was amiable and kind, her smile was easy, and if she found Georgiana’s manners awkward or off-putting (as many people did), she never gave any sign of it.

Georgiana was impatient to know her better.

***

"Miss Bennet looks at you very often, Fitzwilliam," Georgiana said.

That had not been true in Lambton - Miss Bennet had seemed much more embarrassed and bashful around him on that occasion - but it had certainly been true today at Pemberley. It was done slyly, surreptitiously, but Miss Bennet had spent a great deal of time glancing at Fitzwilliam, or observing him as he spoke, or peeking at him when she thought no one was looking, and Georgiana, watching closely, had noticed it all.

To her surprise, her brother turned rather spectacularly red. So he does love Miss Bennet. 

“I am sure she looked at me only as often as she looked at anyone else,” he said, trying and failing to sound nonchalant.

“No,” said Georgiana, and she felt unbearably bold, contradicting him in this way. “I saw her. She was attentive and polite and very charming to the rest of us, but she found you the most interesting of all.”

Somehow, his heightened color intensified. Georgiana had never seen him like this.

She considered her own feelings. She had always rather dreaded the idea of Fitzwilliam’s future wife, and had certainly found other women in his life entirely unsuitable for him. But there was something special about Miss Bennet, though she could not say what. Perhaps it was that Miss Bennet did not make a fool of herself, trying to be agreeable to Fitzwilliam. Maybe it was that she had taken such pains to know Georgiana, and had seemed genuinely interested in her, despite Georgiana’s diffidence. It was very unlike Miss Bingley’s behavior. 

Now, having met her, Georgiana could not believe that she had ever felt so apprehensive about her before. As far as she was concerned, Miss Bennet was exactly the sort of woman that she would wish for her brother. Of course, she did not yet know Miss Bennet well, but from Fitzwilliam’s account and her own observation, she was a woman of sense and intelligence, and there was a look of good humor in her eyes that Georgiana was happy to see. Fitzwilliam needed someone who would make him laugh. 

Georgiana approved of her. She would like to have such a sister, if that was Fitzwilliam’s intention.

She hesitated for a moment, but could not keep herself from asking (she wanted the confirmation): “Are you fond of Miss Bennet?”

Fitzwilliam always told her the truth, even when it was difficult.

“Yes,” he said finally.

Georgiana did not press him any further - it was not her place and she would not pry - but she was pleased.

“I like her very much,” she said. She hoped he understood what she was telling him.

Fitzwilliam did not lower his head quickly enough to hide his smile.

***

Georgiana received her brother’s letter, announcing his engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, with great delight.

She quickly wrote him a very long reply (probably childish in its happiness, but he would not mind; he would know it was sincere).

All of my love to you, dear Fitzwilliam, and to Miss Bennet.

Your affectionate sister,

Georgiana

Things had turned out well; better than she had ever hoped. She need not have worried, after all (she blushed to think how conflicted she had originally been about Elizabeth, before she had even met her; she was glad that this was her little secret). Georgiana would have a sister, Pemberley would remain her home, their family would grow, and Fitzwilliam’s wife would be exactly what he deserved: lovely, amiable, and eminently worthy.