Georgiana approached her brother that evening, and asked to speak to him privately.
"What is it, Georgie?"
"Do you think it would be possible for us to stay another night in this village?"
"It is certainly possible. Do you want to? I would have thought you were eager to be home as you usually are."
"I do long to be home again, but I think Marianne might need a longer rest. She was recently very ill and though she does not complain I can see she is unwell."
"Ah, well I need to reach Pemberley tomorrow, but I will speak to Richard about it."
"Do not say it is on Marianne's account that we are stopping."
"I will place the blame squarely on you," he smiled. "Though I hope you realise that you will have to endure Miss Bingley's complaints."
"I am not afraid of her." The look she received from her brother spoke his disbelief so clearly that she felt the need to reassure him. "Truly, brother. If it were I alone then I might worry, but with Elinor, Jane, and Marianne beside me she cannot frighten me."
"I am pleased to hear it," he said, wondering again why it had never occurred to them that she would need real friends of her own.
He discussed it with the General and they agreed that Darcy would ride ahead and the rest of the party would follow the next day.
Darcy was unsurprised to see an unfamiliar carriage outside his stables. Tourists were fairly common in the summer. He just hoped he could avoid them, he was tired and had no interest in conversing with strangers. He was most surprised to find the tourists were in the kitchen garden -- almost no-one ever asked to see it. He was shocked when he recognised one of them to be Elizabeth. He managed to stutter out greetings and ask after her family. She was blushing a bright red and he felt a similar heat in his own cheeks. At last he recollected himself and excused himself to wash and change.
He caught up to them alongside one of the streams and tried his best to make himself agreeable to both her and her relations. He had some trouble believing that Mr Gardiner was Mrs Bennet's brother, their behaviour was so very different -- as different as Elizabeth was from her younger sisters. They talked comfortably for a while and when they were waiting for the carriage to be brought round he asked to introduce his sister to her.
"When I consider how much she has already benefitted from meeting your sister and her friends, I can only imagine what you will do for her."
"Yes. Perhaps you would like to stay at Pemberley rather than in Lambton? If you move tonight you will be here when she arrives."
"Perhaps you could explain more clearly, Mr Darcy," said Mrs Gardiner. "When did your sister meet one of Lizzy's? Did you stop at Meryton on your way north?"
"Meryton? No. Miss Bennet joined us in London."
"You do not know?"
"No, Mr Darcy, we are quite in the dark," said Mr Gardiner.
"My cousin, General Fitzwilliam, travelled to friends in Dorset last month. He met some young ladies who he thought would be good friends for Miss Darcy. These were Miss Dashwood, Miss Marianne, and Miss Bennet. So we invited them, along with Colonel Brandon, to join us at Pemberley."
"Why did Jane not tell me she would be here?"
"She did not tell me that you would be at Lambton. Though now that I think on it she and Richard traded a number of looks -- obviously he thought your presence should be a surprise."
"Are they your only visitors?" asked Lizzy.
"No, the Bingleys and Hursts are travelling with them and I expect my Aunt Helena to join us at some point as well."
"I can't believe Jane will be here tomorrow! How I've missed her!"
"Mr Gardiner, it would please me greatly if you would stay with us at Pemberley."
Neither Mr nor Mrs Gardiner were fools and they could see quite well how the gentleman looked at Lizzy. Curious to see how things would develop and knowing that Lizzy would choose anything that put her with her favourite sister again, they agreed to his entreaties.
Only Miss Bingley was displeased to see that Darcy was not the only member of the welcoming committee. Seeing Miss Eliza Bennet and her relations in trade only angered her further. Jane was not content to wait for a gentleman's assistance and was out of the carriage and in her sister's arms almost before they had come to a halt. The ladies all retired upstairs to rest, though Miss Bingley snidely remarked that she did not think anyone could rest with the amount of noise they made.
While her sister viewed them with anger and jealousy, Mrs Hurst felt only a deep longing for friends of her own. It had become clear that Charles would not stand up to Caroline, that he felt they had misunderstood her, that she had manipulated him as easily as ever. There was nothing she and Hurst could do about it, except spend less time with her and try to find some friends of their own. She also wished to apologise to Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth -- she hadn't been paying a great deal of attention but she recalled that Caroline had held all of Hertfordshire in contempt and the Bennets in particular.
Separating herself from Caroline was not hard. Unable to manipulate her, Caroline avoided spending time with her. Getting the Miss Bennets alone was close to impossible. After two days she gave up and resolved to do it in front of the other young ladies. She probably owed Miss Darcy an apology as well. Caroline was keeping fashionable hours and only rose at noon. This meant that Louisa had all morning without interruption. The gentlemen often went riding after breakfast, but the ladies usually gathered in the music room.
Mustering her courage she asked Miss Darcy not to start just yet. "I have something to say, and I ask you all to please listen to me. I wish to apologise, to you, Miss Bennet, to Miss Elizabeth, and also Miss Darcy. A couple of years ago my husband and I suffered some losses that one is not supposed to speak of. In our grief he turned to drink and I chose to let myself be numb to everything. I let Caroline have full rein, though I knew how ... difficult ... she could be. Now that we have recovered ourselves and are once again expecting an increase in our family, we find ourselves horrified by the way she's behaving. We have spoken to her and will continue to check her as much as we can. Unfortunately Charles is ultimately responsible for her and until his eyes are opened to her manipulations there is very little we can do."
The other ladies commiserated, congratulated, and, having seen both she and her husband trying to improve Caroline's behaviour, they forgave her. Mrs Gardiner rose and invited her to take a stroll in the garden.
"I must apologise to you as well, Mrs Hurst."
"To me? Whatever for? We've only just met."
"I judged you by your sister when I know perfectly well how different siblings can be, and how easy it is to let those with stronger personalities dominate. I had never met you, I only heard of you through my nieces. If I'd heard them impartially it would have been clear to me that you were allowing your sister to dominate you."
"Well, I certainly don't think it necessary, but if you truly wish for my forgiveness you have it."
"Thank you. Now, as you and I find ourselves in the same position, let us take advantage of being without young ladies to really talk."
"I imagine our little one will arrive at the end of January. When is yours due?"
"Early December. Oh, how wonderful! We were still at school when our mother died so I've never really had anyone to talk to about this sort of thing."
Having suspected as much, Mrs Gardiner was quite happy to discuss everything of interest to expectant women.
On the second day of their journey to Mansfield, Edward decided to avail himself of his friend’s counsel. Edmund listened silently to his tale of his engagement (what had he been thinking?!), his meeting Miss Dashwood (why did he not leave at once, if he felt himself in danger?), Miss Lucy Steele’s betrayal (only to be expected, of course) after his being disinherited (an unfortunate business, but Ferrars had acted as honour required), and his unsuccessful offer to Miss Dashwood (most surprising, but he sort of understood what she meant).
“Well, Ferrars, I am most surprised, I had not an idea of any of this.”
“No, I was not comfortable confiding a secret engagement to anybody.”
“I do not doubt I would feel the same. Now what is it that is troubling you about all this?”
“I do not regret that Mrs Ferrars chose my brother. I was surprised, but as I no longer felt myself to love her, I cannot regret that she chose to find her happiness elsewhere.”
“I trust she and your brother must care for each other a great deal, or he would not have done such a thing.”
“I imagine so.”
“Then it is Miss Dashwood’s refusal that bothers you?”
“Indeed. I do not comprehend how you can love someone, but not wish to marry them.”
“Well, her point about not thinking of her is fair, but I’m sure you were unaware she had developed such feelings for you.”
“You are quite correct. I felt she was a dear friend, and I hoped she would judge that an acceptable basis for marriage. I certainly hoped her feelings exceeded that, and considering my sister’s opinion, I thought it a possibility.”
“And Miss Dashwood thought you had guessed her feelings. If you had, you would indeed have been open to accusations of thoughtlessness and selfishness. Perhaps she thought she had made her feelings clear to you?”
“I must assume as such.”
“And if your new sister had told her of the engagement, then she no doubt attempted to change her feelings. It’s an unfortunate series of errors.”
“I know not what to do about it.”
“Well, I hope that confiding in me has helped in some way, as I’m afraid I have no suggestions to offer you. Perhaps something will yet come to us.”
“I shall pray for the blessing of inspiration.”
Caroline was discovering that being at Pemberley was not what she had expected. Louisa was being ridiculous and censuring her every time she opened her mouth. She seemed to have made friends with Mrs Gardiner who managed to convey her disapproval without saying anything. She had tried to remonstrate with Louisa -- being intimate with a tradesman's wife was not the way to increase their family's consequence! Louisa had laughed at her and told her that she'd rather have friends than status. It was madness! Georgiana was never without Miss Marianne, who was extremely insolent. She could not spend time with Jane without Charles thinking she approved of the match, she would rather run naked through the portrait gallery than spend time with Miss Eliza, and Miss Dashwood had the same trick of radiating disapproval as Mrs Gardiner.
At first this had pleased her, as she expected that the gentlemen would be more willing to spend time with one lady than many. They, however, were spending most of their time in gentlmanly pursuits that it was not suitable for ladies to join. When they did join the ladies, none of them seemed to notice her. Mr Hurst only spoke to censure her, much like his wife. Mr Gardiner seemed to find her amusing, which she did not understand. Colonel Brandon looked at her gravely but gave most of his attention to the Misses Dashwood and Bennet. General Fitzwilliam was sarcastic and sometimes even rude to her, though she knew well his reputation as a harmless flirt. She was not the only lady he did not flirt with. Whatever Miss Dashwood had done to deserve his ire she didn't know, though he seemed perfectly capable of being civil to that lady. That left her brother, who was generally hovering around Jane Bennet, but was at least willing to entertain her when she told him to, and Mr Darcy, who appeared to be making himself ridiculous over Miss Eliza.
All in all she was finding Pemberley insufferable. At least when the General's mother arrived there would be someone to appreciate her.
General Richard Fitzwilliam did not know what to do with himself. He thought he should leave, rather than allow himself to fall further. He was thankful that Miss Elizabeth was there -- if Darcy was not so distracted he would have been interrogated already. He also found himself pleased that Bingley was there. Though the man was far too eager to please everyone to do anything other than annoy him, he excited Brandon's jealousy over Miss Bennet and kept his attention diverted. He had not reckoned on Georgiana.
Saying she'd barely spent any time with him in ages, looking up with her big blue eyes wide and pleading, she convinced him to go riding with her one day after breakfast.
"I do not think I've thanked you yet, cousin."
"For bringing me such wonderful friends. It's such a relief to spend time with ladies who enjoy the same things I do, rather than having to gossip and talk about fashion all the time."
"You may thank me all you like for that, and the best thanks will be forgiving me for not realising what you needed sooner."
"But cousin, if you'd realised sooner you would have brought me other friends and I would not trade these ones for anything."
"Ah, that sounds like forgiveness to me."
"I would also like to apologise to you."
"Apologise? What could you have done that needs an apology?"
"Will you promise not to say anything until I've explained myself fully?"
"If you think such a promise necessary I will make it."
"Thank you. This is hard for me to speak of, so it's best that I say everything I need to before you respond." She took a deep breath. She was dreading this conversation, and the similar one she would have to go through with her brother, but it needed to be done. "I need to apologise for my behaviour in Ramsgate."
"You promised not to interrupt."
Richard grimaced, glared at her, and waved her on.
"Both you and William tell me I did nothing wrong. It simply isn't true. It's very sweet of you to say so and I'm sure you both believe it to be true. However, I am growing up. I'll be coming out in the next couple of years, and part of being an adult is knowing that actions have consequences and taking responsibility for one's actions. Yes, I was young and naive. Yes, I truly believed that he and I loved each other. Those are mitigating circumstances, but they do not, they should not, absolve me of all blame. I knew that eloping was wrong. Whatever Wickham said I should have known that neither you nor William would prevent my happiness due to jealousy. I knew that I was too young to marry, that you'd certainly say we had to wait till I came out, at least, and till I came of age if you were really against it. I know that a man who truly loves me will wait for me, rather than insisting on a 'romantic' elopement without even approaching either of my guardians. I knew that spending so much time unchaperoned was wrong, yet I made no protest. I knew I was doing things that I knew to be wrong, and that is what I must apologise for. I only wish I knew I behaved that way."
"Apology accepted. I don't have the answer you're looking for, but perhaps you did it because you feel yourself growing up and still being treated like a child?"
"That is what Lizzy suggested. I'm sure that was part of it, but I think there's more."
"You're going to have to thank your brother for that particular friend."
"Hmph. He's not getting thanked until she's my sister."
They both laughed, releasing some of the tension Georgiana was feeling.
"There is something else, cousin."
"Oh dear, you're back to being grave again. Well, out with it."
"It's just, I understand about fortune hunters, but you've always said you'd have to take fortune into account when you married. I knew you were not a fortune hunter, but I didn't understand what made you different. So I asked Elinor about it."
"And she clarified matters for you?"
"Mostly. You need to take fortune into account because you need to be able to support your family. You are not interested in enriching yourself through marriage, you want to ensure that your family will be provided for if something happens to you."
"There is one thing she said that doesn't satisfy me."
"And what's that?"
"I asked her why the money needed to come from her family as a dowry, rather than your family -- what you consider charity -- and she said the only answers she had were noble stupidity and male pride."
They rode in silence for a while. Georgiana was quite happy to do so. She'd made her point and her cousin was considering it. Hopefully he'd put his silly pride aside, accept money from the family, and marry Elinor.
"Perhaps it is nothing more than pride, but the two situations are wholly different, though I can't explain why."
She sighed. Men. Hopefully Aunt Helena would knock some sense into him. "Okay, so a dowry is acceptable but money from your family is not. What if your family settled the money on her as a dowry? Is that acceptable?"
"I don't know, Georgiana, I can't put it into words. It just feels different."
"Hmm... We'll have to think of something. Elinor said she'd consider herself wealthy with £1000 a year, but she'd be willing to marry on £750. She has only £50, unfortunately, how about you?"
"Georgiana, I'm not going to discuss this with you."
"You're right, you should discuss it with her."
"But you do love her?"
He couldn't help his smile. "Yes Georgie, I do love her."
"Well, she's had her heart broken by a man who couldn't afford to marry her, so you'd better not do the same."
"Their half-brother's wife's brother."
"And he broke her heart? She does not appear broken-hearted, but she would conceal those feelings."
"Of course, he was selfish and thoughtless as well, which you are not, so there's that. He gave no thought to her feelings on the matter."
They completed their ride in silence. Richard knew now that he had to leave. It wasn't only him, he had to think of her as well. He could not take the chance of hurting her. He planned to pack his bags as soon as he returned to the house, but Darcy intercepted him outside the stables and happened to mention that his mother would be arriving in a few days time. He could not leave. If he left he'd have to answer to his mother and Darcy. While he could tell Darcy that the War Office called him back early, his mother was a different story entirely.