My sister played the piano, and I tended to my correspondence—that was the general morning routine for the Darcys of Pemberley. Left alone with no company, we never bothered with breakfast; instead, a single large glass of red liquid was served for each of us—the only sustenance we needed anyway. I had finished my portion directly, but Georgiana still had her glass half full, and if the previous experience was to be believed, it was unlikely to get any emptier. Scolding Georgiana did little good these days, so I kept my thoughts on the subject to myself. Besides, there was another matter that would likely upset her, but keeping quiet on that front was not an option for long.
“Bingley has written,” I said, keeping my eyes firmly set on the papers. Georgiana did hate to be studied, and I thought it the best course save for giving her the letter and abruptly leaving the room for her to experience her anxieties in solitude and without much need for composure. But then of course I would directly show my mistrust in her abilities which might serve only to hurt her further.
Georgiana kept playing without so much as an interested word in my direction. True, Bingley writing to us was hardly news, he or his sisters did so with some frequency.
“He has decided on a property in Hertfordshire and means to move in soon,” I continued. There were many polite questions Georgiana might have asked, but she did not, keeping her fingers busy with the keys. The melody was even and lovely, unmarred by the news for now.
“He is asking for us to join him,” I finally surrendered the crucial piece of information and sure enough the piano fell silent. I allowed myself to look at Georgiana, immediately being assaulted by her pain and evident feelings of betrayal. Directly, she communicated those feelings into words.
“So, you mean to leave me,” she accused. I allowed myself a moment of composure, to stifle the want to go to her, to comfort her. Her usual response for such actions were hysterics and I rather save her—and myself— the embarrassment of a scene.
“You could always come with me,” I suggested in the gentlest tone in my possession. She violently shook her head, declining to entertain the idea.
“Georgiana, please,” I said and rose. She did the same, baking away from me, so I dared not move closer.
“I cannot go,” her voice had only the barest tremor. “I will not.”
The look of her broke my heart. She had not improved these 10 years against all promises. If anything, she had gotten worse, time neglecting to bring her any solace from the memories of the unfortunate events of her youth. She had always been a shy child, and now she was a positively unsocial woman—a generous term, considering the circumstances— crippled with nervousness and anxiety. The wave of panic was clear on her face and her only hope of salvation was the assurance of staying where she was.
“Of course,” I consented, and she seemed to relax just a little. “I can stay, too.”
“No, you should go,” said Georgiana in a small voice, suddenly embarrassed.
“Bingley will understand.”
“You cannot keep declining his invitations,” she said and sat back at the piano. I followed suit, sitting down at my desk. “He will start to think we do not like him and even someone as amiable as Mr. Bingley might take offence. I would hate for you to lose all of your friends because of me. Write to him that you are happy to go and in return secure his promise to visit us in Pemberley.”
It was a pretty speech and she delivered it with the poise that could render her earlier behavior almost imagined. It was also a sensible decision on her part—she did not dare to venture into the world, but she could afford to let a little bit of the world into her home—but there was still fear in me that as soon as I left, she would start to degrade rapidly, and when I would come back, I would not find a ready hostess but an utter wreck.
“You doubt me,” she said, interpreting my silence. To call such an assessment inaccurate would be a lie. “I do not blame you but let me prove you wrong.”
I glanced at the half-empty glass and mistrust found its way to my lips despite her plea.
“How can I? Just a moment ago you accused me of leaving you.”
“I want you to stay. But I see the necessity of you going. I am a hermit—you cannot afford to be.”
I saw at once her meaning and swallowed my rising anger. Georgiana last broached the subject of the necessity of my marrying someone—anyone—six months ago. Truth be told, she screamed those words at me during a particularly violent argument. I had wanted her to assume the social duties that might be expected of Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley. Bingley actually had given me that misbegotten idea, or rather his sister had. Miss Caroline Bingley took on all the affairs that otherwise a wife would resolve, and she did it so naturally that it made me believe Georgiana—older than Miss Bingley, though she would never look it—capable of small steps in that direction as well. Not without some venom, my sister had made know to me that I could expect no such thing from her. If I wanted a lady to tend to my comfort and fill the role of a Mrs. Darcy in the neighborhood, then I was more than welcome to bestow such a blessing on a suitable lady before I considered myself too old to court girls who might have called me a grandfather under different circumstances. As things stood I had willingly signed away my God-given right to die a mortal death and become a vampire locked in the body of my 27-year-old self. I was 37 now—not terribly old, but soon approaching a threshold when asking the permission to marry a girl of 20, who could be considered a mere child in comparison, would seem exceedingly distasteful, thus leaving me to choose from the small pool—a puddle, really—of equals who were fashionable, predictably rich, and vampire. Considering my odds, I had made peace with spending an eternity as a bachelor.
Georgiana had other ideas. She also was utterly silent for a week after our argument, and I did not want to inspire such behavior again.
“My books disagree with you entirely,” I managed to say.
“It is good to be rich, leaves you many avenues to choose from.”
I swallowed my inquiries about any possible choices she had considered for me. The idea of her playing a matchmaker was dreadful; it seemed not only improper but given her geographical constraints I was sure to be settled with an ill-behaved kitchen maid.
“And it is good to remember, dear sister, that not every single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
In a few days, I was in London greeted by my close friend Mr. Charles Bingley. He was a young man of a sizable fortune and had no master but himself, therefore he could pick his friends where he liked. Perhaps that is how he ended up with me. The society was strictly divided on this matter—the matter of vampirism—and angering the wrong people might cost a young man, but Bingley was sure to make friends anywhere he went, even with me by his side. Sometimes, because of me. Not because of my supposed importance and interesting background, but because with me as a background he was sure to stand out as the most amiable of men. I was not sure if he himself was aware of this fact, but our dichotomy often struck me in the face. Still, he was a cherished friend—young, lively, and unexperienced—a soothing balm for my usual stuck-up race who took themselves all too seriously, exaggerating their importance and ruling it over everyone. Bingley lacked that artifice, but he was also vulnerable, and I often thought of myself as a kind of protector, a figure of an older brother who steered him in the right direction.
“I do wish Miss Darcy was with you,” said Miss Bingley. If the brother could easily be thrown off course, always at the mercy of the wind, then the sister was the captain of her own journey, often mercilessly so. She possessed beauty and fashion, and what she lacked in mercy, she compensated with a great deal of determination to appear pleasing to those she would have be pleased. “The honor of her exquisite company will be sorely missed. Where shall I find a friend of such elegance in Hertfordshire?”
“And I suppose my presence amounts to nothing?” said Mrs. Hurst, her and Binley’s sister upon entering the room, conveniently having misplaced her husband.
“Luisa, darling, you are the unquestionable heart of this party,” Miss Bingley replied with an easy manner, “but Miss Darcy would have been the light.”
“Then we must walk in darkness, or you must fill that role yourself,” said Mrs. Hurst and smiled at me pointedly. I suppose she silently requested me to pay a similar compliment to her sister or support her own, but she got nothing from me. Miss Bingley did not seem to wait for it, perhaps, knowing me better.
“And yet, it will be so hard to give out harsh opinions and know ourselves correct with only the two of us. Mr. Darcy, you will have to oblige us and be the third.”
“I shall endeavor to fix any incorrect observations you might have,” I said, which might not have been entirely the answer Mis Bingley wished for, but she smiled just the same.
“There shall be nothing to criticize!” exclaimed Bingley. “The estate, the views, the countryside, the people—all is loveliness itself!”
Nobody in the present company was inclined to believe him for a second.
The estate was fine, the views were average, the countryside was a countryside, but the people, however, were a dreadful bunch of awful wretches, and I wanted to desert during the first minutes of assembly at Meryton. They stared, they whispered, they smiled at me their wicked, calculating smiles, eager to peel me back bit by bit and find a bloody prize in the middle.
I was a young man—I looked like a young man—which seemed entirely a reason in itself to pierce me with hungry gazes, uninhibited by politeness or propriety. I felt naked and probed by the stares of the curious. They were ravenous and I was the supposed pray which was not a position I would accept without a fight.
I was wealthy—wealthier than Bingley—which for them was an unexpected novelty, a circumstance they were not accustomed to, and the implications sickened me. My dislike was not reduced to their lack of wealth; the dislike stemmed from their schemes, from their equating me and Bingley with bags of money. I could not forgive them on my account, and I vehemently despised them on my friend's account. Nobody doubted that Bingley was a gentleman with a happy disposition, but to think that their friendship was contingent on him having money beyond their dreams was an outrage without measure. They sought to extend such warm feelings towards me also, and I was ready to all but throw it back in their leering faces.
And lastly, I was a vampire which was an oddity unrivalled in these parts. This was a bit of information I did not particularly hide, but the fact that it was advertised on my behalf made me uneasy. Suddenly in the bland bag of my accomplishments was that fashionable fact which some looked upon with awe, others with disgust. Rumors of what I did in my spare time as a vampire—filthy rumors, too, I had no doubt—permeated the minds in this assembly and if they were not spoken about aloud, I was sure to have the insult of them spoken about behind my back in tearooms, morning visits, and bedchambers.
I wanted to leave, but I made myself stay still and suffer. Damn Bingley and his joyful demeanor. He could not possibly guess my suffering; his smiling face was blind to all he did not wish to see. He was engaged in conversation and dancing, while I was sure to bite—no, not like that—anyone who tried to press on me their company for a prolonged period of time. I trusted myself with nobody beyond my own party and blessedly Miss Bingley kept her guard over me as much as possible.
In a course of a single evening, my reputation was decided, and I was crowned the prince of disagreeableness. I should have felt sorry at least that I was probably the first vampire people here were meeting and I gave the most sordid impression of all my brethren, but truth be told, I knew not of a single vampire who would care anything about the opinions of people such as these.
“Come, Darcy!” I was at one point accosted by Bingley. “I must have you dance.”
His demand had no effect on me. I would have rather jumped out of a window than oblige him in this particular way. If he kept insisting, I might take him with me when I did so.
“I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance,” he continued, undeterred by my general lack of enthusiasm.
“I certainly shall not. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
Distinctly I felt the lack of Miss Bingley at my side. I was sure she would have this conversation with her brother in my stead, being my unconquerable advocate. There was not a matter yet as far as it concerned me where she would take her brother's side. Alas, she was suffering the attentions of another.
“I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” exclaimed Bingley. “Upon my honor, I have never seen so many pleasant girls in my life, and there are several of them uncommonly pretty.”
This was a poor advertisement, especially since I had observed—and no doubt everyone else here came to the same conclusion—that Mr. Bingley had eyes only for one particular lady. His desire to offer me his castoffs as a gift was not appreciated.
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.”
This seemed to derail his attention from me, and his eyes sparkled with delight either with the mention of Miss Bennet or my approval of her.
“She is the most beautiful creature I have ever beheld!” he announced with such feverish devotion that I could only hope was the effect of the wine. Miss Bennet indeed was rather handsome, but surely Bingley was surrounded by youth and beauty enough for his head not to be turned by such a sight. His eyes told a different tale and mocked me for a bitter old fool.
“But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable,” said Bingley, and I wished he had stuck with the admiration of his Miss Bennet. “Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
I turned and sure enough, there was a girl of some claim to beauty—if one was keen to look for it—sitting behind me. Not beautiful enough by the common vote if she was not dancing already. I suspected this to be a ploy from my friend who evidently was trying to please his beautiful partner. I could oblige him and let him play the hero of the dance floor by rescuing the other Bennet girl, but I rather quickly decided not to.
“She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no mood to give attention to young ladies who are slighted by other men,” I said. “You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
The calculation between spending his time with me and Miss Bennet was an easy one, and Bingley departed smiling and not at all displeased with his loss. After all, in matters of persuasion, he must have been used to losing so often that he probably barely noticed it.