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Elinor was doing her best to both keep her sister from the view of others and revive her with lavender water. She was not succeeding very well.

“Let me help you,” a warm voice said. “I have some rose water, which never fails to aid my mother.”

Elinor looked up gratefully, finding her assistant to be a classically beautiful young woman with nothing but kindness and concern in her looks. Between the two of them they managed to revive her. Marianne’s only thought was for Willoughby, and she entreated her sister to fetch him to her without regard for who could hear her. Thankfully the young lady did not waver in her attention once she understood what Marianne was asking for. Elinor was further surprised when she offered to remain with Marianne while Elinor went to inform Lady Middleton that her sister had taken ill. She even went so far as to help Elinor guide Marianne to the carriage. When she asked to call on them, to ensure that Miss Marianne was recovered, Elinor has no desire to deny her. The very next day saw Miss Bennet in Berkeley Street.

“Miss Dashwood, you look well this morning. I trust that means your sister was well enough to sleep and you did not find it necessary to stay up and watch over her?”

“Thank you, Miss Bennet. She did indeed sleep, though I’m afraid she received little benefit from it.”

“I am sorry to hear that. I conclude she is not up to visitors then?”

“No, I fear not.”

Jane would not stay long, knowing Miss Dashwood would wish to be with her sister, but she was there long enough for the two of them to learn of each other’s families and residences. Elinor had raised an eyebrow at Miss Bennet’s close relatives in trade, but staying with Mrs Jennings and dependent on that lady’s son-in-law, dismissed the matter entirely, choosing instead to focus on her new friend’s genuine compassion for Marianne, which some of her closest relatives lacked.

Miss Bennet continued to call, not quite daily, but as often as she could, to enquire after Marianne. Miss Dashwood’s sincere apology over her lack of reciprocity was brushed aside.

“Do not distress yourself, Miss Dashwood. Your sister must be your first concern now.”

As soon as she could contrive it, however, she called on Miss Bennet, where she was introduced to Mrs Gardiner, who she liked immensely. Aunt and niece were so similar that Elinor had trouble believing they were not blood-related. Jane had laughed at the observation, which had endeared Miss Dashwood to Mrs Gardiner more than anything else could.

“If you think that, I should dearly like you to see my uncle and mother together. You will be hard-pressed to find two more dissimilar siblings.”

By the time Elinor was able to convince Marianne to return Miss Bennet’s kind attention by calling on her, she was beginning to despair of Caroline ever returning her call. She had considered calling on her again, as she had not scrupled to do with Miss Dashwood, but she knew Caroline would not be willing to forgive such a departure from the social customs. She could not help but be concerned about her friend -- Caroline had not even sent a note! Something must be very wrong indeed.

Finally, Caroline came, a full month after Jane had called on her. When Miss Bingley left after an extremely awkward fifteen minutes, Jane gave vent to her tears of hurt and confusion. Elinor was shown in and Jane could not help spilling all the details to her. She did her best to comfort Jane, while being unable to explain any of it, not knowing the Bingleys at all. Shortly thereafter the Dashwoods left London, but Elinor and Jane had promised to correspond with each other without reservation.

Dear Elinor,

Little has happened since you left town. It has been very quiet here, but my cousin Maddie has begun to learn the pianoforte so I expect the noise to increase every day as she becomes more proficient and finds greater enjoyment in her practising.

My sister Elizabeth and Sir William Lucas and his daughter Maria stopped here on their way to Kent. They are going to visit our cousin, Mr Collins, who has lately married Sir William’s eldest daughter, Charlotte. We have long enjoyed a friendship with the Lucas family as they are our neighbours in Hertfordshire. Lizzy and Charlotte have always been intimate friends and I hope my sister will not find their friendship as altered by marriage as she fears.

I have missed Lizzy dearly, especially since I realised the truth of Miss Bingley’s lack of true regard for me. Her visit brought me great pleasure and I wished for only two things -- that her visit was longer than a single night, and that you could have met her. I shall have to hope that such an opportunity presents itself in the future.

I trust you have reached the Palmer’s home without incident and that the journey was not too fatiguing for Miss Marianne.

Yours, etc.,

Jane

 

My dear Jane,

I trust you will forgive my tardiness in replying. I have no doubt that you’ve been worrying and you were right to do so. Marianne has been very ill -- the Palmers were forced to leave for the health of their infant. In truth, we almost lost her.  I have never been so frightened, even during my father’s brief illness. And at the worst moments I had only Mrs Jennings and the servants. Her aid and expertise has been invaluable, but she was far too pessimistic to be any comfort to me.

Colonel Brandon was of great help, but at the crucial time he was not present, for Marianne was asking for our mother in her delirium and he went to fetch her. By the time they arrived, late last night, dear Marianne was out of danger. I cannot imagine the anxieties they felt on their journey. I do wish you had met the Colonel before we left London. He has been a true friend to us and I’m certain that you would find him as steadfast and sensible as I have.

He is currently entertaining Mrs Jennings, while Mama sits with Marianne. I am taking this time to reflect on what happened last night. I have told no-one, though I feel Mama and Marianne would wish to know. Your advice will help me to determine what I should do, so I ask you to dispense it freely.

Willoughby was here last night. Even seeing it written plainly like that, I can scarce believe his audacity. His manner was as warm and endearing as ever. I must admit he charmed me into feeling quite sorry for him, though thinking of what he had to say now, I cannot imagine that he deserved it. Simply summarised, he is selfish, has always been selfish, and continues to be so. He actually wished for his wife to be dead, that he could be free to once more pursue Marianne! And he claims to love her! Perhaps in his own way he does. He said he intended to propose, and I cannot see why he would lie about that now.

I am all ajumble and know not what to think. Your calm company would aid me immensely, but in lieu, please respond speedily.

Yours in confusion,

Elinor

 

 Dearest Elinor,

Thank God for Marianne’s recovery! I trust she will continue to improve now that you are home at Barton once again. As for Mr Willoughby, you will know how to broach the subject with your family, and I’m sure you will know when is the best time for it. I think you’re quite correct that Mr Willoughby’s defining characteristic is selfishness. That will not change regardless of who he is married to -- Miss Marianne was never first in his thoughts, regardless of what he may now profess.

I trust you will forgive me the pain this will cause you, but knowing of Mr Ferrars’ thoughtlessness towards you has been painful, but has helped you curtail your feelings. However much it may pain Miss Marianne, knowing the truth of Mr Willoughby’s character can only aid her.

I saw Sir John and Lady Middleton at the theatre last night. They had both Miss Steeles with them. All send their love and best wishes for Miss Marianne’s recovery. I am sorry to say that the play was not particularly enjoyable, but with so few of the ton left in town there are few opportunities for truly excellent entertainment.

Yours, etc.,

Jane


Elizabeth Bennet stared at the letter in her hands. She was mortified, ashamed, and shocked. The tale of Mr Wickham she did not wish to believe, but knew to be true. The improprieties and inconsistencies of Mr Wickham's story had at last made themselves known to her and she could not deny that, had she listened to his woes impartially, she would not have believed him so readily. And then, there was the business with Jane. She had expected him to justify himself with an accounting of the Bennets’ lack of proper connexions and inappropriate behaviour. He had not followed Mr Bingley to London, but had gone at the request of his sister. When asked for his opinion on the match by the Bingleys he had told them that Jane had appeared indifferent to him -- and here she heard Charlotte's warning to her -- but he had also told them that as Jane was a gentleman's daughter she would be a good match for Bingley. He dismissed her relatives in trade when Caroline brought them up, as the Bingleys themselves had many relatives in trade.

She knew not what to think. Well, no, she knew exactly what to think. She had been insulted by a comment she had not been meant to hear and used that to consider a reserved, proud man to be all manner of unpleasant things. She had slandered him, accused him of being dishonourable, and blamed him for matters beyond his control. She was thoroughly disgusted with herself. She had mocked her dearest sister for thinking only good while she had proved herself to think only bad, and with considerably less sense or reason. She burst into tears.

Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam was confused. Darcy had apparently told Miss Bennet everything about Wickham -- including Georgiana -- and wanted him to confirm the truth if she did not believe him. He did not understand what was going on, but Darcy had looked so miserable that he had agreed. They had called at the parsonage to take their leave and found that Miss Bennet was still on her walk. So, here he was, traipsing about the countryside with little hope of finding her. He had given himself only ten more minutes to find her when he heard a most dreaded noise. A woman was weeping. He sighed and turned towards the sound. He found Miss Bennet seated on a fallen log, her dainty lace handkerchief of no use. He proffered his square of cambric and sat beside her.

"I am grieved that Wickham was able to impose on you. I know Darcy saw to it that the merchants were warned, but he really should have had a thought to the fathers as well. Especially given our most recent encounter with the man."

Elizabeth tried to smile, "You need not worry. We none of us have dowries to tempt him. Except Miss King. I hope things have not progressed too far there."

"I will write to Colonel Forster and warn him. And though it's not proper to say so, Wickham would have no compunctions about seducing a penniless lady and abandoning her."

Once again Elizabeth was shocked. "Please tell me you are not serious."

"I'm afraid it has happened before."

Elizabeth resumed her weeping.

"I am sorry to distress you, but after what happened with Georgiana I find myself agreeing with my mother. Sheltering ladies does nothing but make them vulnerable to these sorts of creatures."

"I certainly agree with your mother, however some ladies are too willful and headstrong to allow even common sense to help them."

"Miss Bennet?"

"My youngest sisters are completely wild. I would not want to think it, but I know perfectly well that Lydia would take little seducing. I think, I hope, however, that she would be too thoughtless to keep it a secret from us. Of course it would spread immediately and we'd be ruined. Perhaps your cousin should be thankful for my thinking my blind prejudice to be so very clever."

"I do not understand. Why would Darcy be pleased that you were taken in by a scoundrel?"

"Well, I might have agreed to marry him, otherwise."

"What?!"

"You're right. Given his incomparable rudeness and the way he insulted me it's very unlikely I'd have said yes, but I might have been more civil about it. I certainly wouldn't have thought him dishonourable, however ill-humoured he might be. Though I expect he has reasons for his ill-humour," she added, looking at the letter.

"Marry?"

"What did you think he'd proposed?"

"I didn't think he'd proposed at all!" Shocked as he was, he still found the look of horror on the lady's face amusing.

"He didn't tell you that."

"No, he neglected to mention it. It does explain why he looked so miserable this morning. Now, since we've been dreadfully improper since I found you here, let us carry on in the same manner. Tell me everything about your acquaintance with my cousin from the moment you were introduced."

She laughed, "I will start slightly before that, if you don't mind."

Miss Bennet was an excellent storyteller and Richard enjoyed the tale greatly. He did endeavour to explain Darcy's thoughts and feelings however. "I am certain Darcy did not meant to insult you at the assembly. He has never been comfortable in crowds and given what happened in Ramsgate..."

"Yes. And had I not spent the last twenty years being told I'm nothing to Jane I might have been more philosophical."

"I do agree that his manners need work. I shall set my mother upon him when we return to town."

Elizabeth returned to the parsonage and Richard to Rosings. The next morning the gentlemen left. Elizabeth spent her final couple of weeks in Kent trying to come to terms with her newfound self-awareness, and tried not to appear too disheartened.


Marianne Dashwood was not well. She tried to hide it from her family, knowing how worried they had been for her recently. She could not get Willoughby out of her head, no matter how villainous he might have been. She felt very sorry for Miss Williams, but was quite sure she would not have been so weak to succumb. And yet her behaviour had been rife with improprieties. Dear Elinor had tried to tell her but she would not listen. In low moments Marianne felt that she very well could have ruined them all. That was very upsetting, but what made her truly despise herself was the way she'd treated Elinor. She had belittled her sister's feelings, believing they could barely exist if they did not fit her notions. And the way she'd behaved when Lucy and Edward's engagement had been revealed! She cringed to think of Elinor attempting to comfort her.

"Marianne?"

And there was the object of her thoughts. She smiled at her sister.

"Mama has taken Margaret into Barton Village."

"I am glad to hear it. Meg could not have taken another day of rain!"

"No, she would have driven us all mad," Elinor paused, watching her sister. "Marianne, I know something is wrong. Will you not allow me to help you?"

Try as she might, Marianne could not stop the tears from falling. "Oh, Elinor! How can you be so selfless when I do nothing but injure you?"

"Injure me?"

"I constantly cause you pain, I never even know when you need help and yet you're constantly looking after me!"

"That is because I am the elder sister," Elinor teased, joining Marianne on the piano bench and embracing her. "It is also because I am reserved, like our father was, and you have Mama's open temper."

"I never asked what your feelings about Edward were. I just assumed that I knew. Will you tell me now?"

"Let us get some tea and sit in the parlour. However comfortable you may be, I am not used to sitting at the piano for any length and I suspect this will be a long tale."

Once they were settled Elinor began. "I did develop feelings for Edward, Mr Ferrars, while we were still at Norland. I was convinced that he reciprocated my feelings because Fanny seemed to think he did. His behaviour, however, puzzled me exceedingly. I did not know what to think. And then he came to visit us here. And still his behaviour made no sense. It was as clear to me as it was to you, he came to see me. But he could not afford to marry me and his mother would never allow it. I was upset. If he truly loved me then he would have realised that raising my hopes when things were so uncertain was cruel. And then Lucy came. I was incensed. He knew he was engaged and yet he stayed at Norland and visited us here. He was clearly thinking only of himself. I could not love someone so thoughtless, so selfish. How could I marry a man who gave so little thought to the pain he would cause me? I will always consider him a friend, but by the time his engagement became public I was quite easy with the knowledge and felt no pain."

"And then Lucy ran off with his brother."

"Yes. That was a difficult conversation. He claimed that he had convinced himself that I was not affected, and yet the moment he was free he came to secure my hand. He was not pleased to hear that I was unable to respect him in the way I would wish to respect my husband."

"Poor Edward."

"I am certain that he will survive and love again."

"Thank you, Elinor. I feel I understand you better now. And you have a far better list of requirements for a husband than I."

"You are not me, Marianne, of course your list will be different. Now, I have answered your questions. Will you not answer mine?"

Marianne sighed. "I wish I could. I know not what is wrong, but I do know that there is something amiss. I cannot rouse myself to any employment, not even music. I have no energy for anything, I have no appetite. I wish only to sleep." She eyed her sister momentarily. "No matter what I do I cannot get Willoughby out of my head. I know that I could never have been happy with the man he is and yet I still love him."

"You love the man you thought he was. As I love the man I imagined Edward to be. I suspect that that love will never truly leave us, we must learn to cope with it as best we can."


Colonel Brandon turned at the sound of his name. "Fitzwilliam! This is a pleasure. What brings you to London?"

"I've been promoted to General and transferred to the War Office to see to the training of recruits."

"Congratulations! Your family must be pleased."

"Mama is thrilled I won't be in the thick of the fighting and father finds every possibility he can to mention his son, General Fitzwilliam."

"And are you hard at work or do you have time for visiting?"

"I'm on leave till the Autumn, unless something happens."

"Then I must take the opportunity to invite you to Dorset."

"Wonderful! I look forward to seeing what you've made of the place. I'm to my cousin in Derbyshire in August, and my parents for now. Perhaps July would suit?"

"I shall expect you then."

The two parted ways. General Fitzwilliam was headed to his mother, intending to relate the tale of Darcy's disastrous courtship and obtain her help in civilising the man. Colonel Brandon was headed to Gracechurch Street. He found the house he was looking for and was admitted. He was directed to a drawing room, but found himself drawn to the parlour beside it. Music had always been his weakness. He was not surprised to see a little girl at the piano, the playing was clearly that of someone just starting to learn. What had caught his ear was the rich, warm contralto that was carrying the other voices -- children's voices -- through a well-known hymn. The pianist was the first to notice him and stopped playing abruptly.

"Forgive my intrusion, Mrs Gardiner, I'm afraid I cannot ignore the siren's song."

Her laughter was rich with the music of her voice. "I am not Mrs Gardiner, but her niece, Miss Bennet. I shall fetch her for you."

"I would like to meet your aunt, but it is you that I am here to see."

"Me, sir?"

"Indeed. I am tasked with delivering vital correspondence to you and instructed to kidnap you should you not acquiesce to the demands made of you."

This time the laughter came from behind him. The deep rumble of a male and a high tinkling female giggle.

"Mr and Mrs Gardiner?" he asked, turning around. They nodded. "I am Colonel Brandon, currently playing postmaster for Miss Dashwood."

While the introductions were taking place, Jane had been reading her letter. "Oh, Aunt, Uncle! Elinor has invited me to Barton for the summer!"

"Your father will not be pleased for both you and Lizzy to be away at the same time again so soon, but I'm sure we can convince him."

"Besides," Mrs Gardiner added, "he'd best get used to it as you girls are sure to marry soon."

"Pending your family's agreement, I will be leaving town in a fortnight and will happily escort you to Barton at that time." All agreed that this was a sensible plan and the Colonel was invited to dine with them.

 

In bed that evening, Jane reread Elinor's letter, one part in particular.

It appears that while Lucy Steele is now Mrs Ferrars, she has managed to attain her goal of wealth as she is now Mrs Robert Ferrars. We owe our intelligence to Edward, who came at once with the intention of engaging himself to me. I am afraid that you will think less of me when I tell you that I lied to Marianne. She is still quite fragile and I wanted to spare her feelings, so I told her only that the conversation was difficult, and said nothing of how painful I found it. To tell the man I love that I do not want to marry someone so thoughtless and selfish! How I longed for your support!

I think Marianne is coming to realise that marriage requires more than merely passionate love. I fear that the knowledge came too late. I know not the circumstances, but I have noticed a change in the Colonel's manner to her. It was only once we came to London that I noticed he had the tender regard for her that Mrs Jennings made so much of. Since her illness he has treated her in much the same way as I imagine he does his ward. He is gentle and caring, but there is no more tenderness than one would expect from an uncle. She has not noticed the alteration, but I cannot help but wonder at it. I know he saw in her a resemblance to his beloved cousin, so perhaps that faded?

I do hope you will come to stay. Not only will it help Marianne, it will be a comfort to me.

Jane sighed and tucked the letter away. She hoped her father would give her permission to go to Barton. She did not like to dwell on it, but she'd always envied Lizzy's friendship with Charlotte. She had never really had a close friend that she wasn't related to. She loved both Lizzy and Charlotte, but could not relate to the former's cynicism or the latter's harsh practicality. Elinor's reasonable realism suited her far better. It balanced her optimistic candour without calling her worldview into question.

She did not wish to stay in town. Knowing that Caroline -- Miss Bingley -- who she'd thought was the friend she'd always longed for was so close to her and yet so far from her at the same time hurt. And the knowledge that Mr Bingley was in town with no desire to see her was even more hurtful. She did not, however, want to go home. Her mother was at home and as much as she loved her, she could not face her concern and anxiety over Mr Bingley. She did wish to see Lizzy again, letters were not enough, but she didn't feel she could explain her feelings properly in the face of Lizzy's assured opinions.


Edward Ferrars did not know what to do with himself. That was not a new state of affairs. He was quite accustomed to being idle after all his years of being under his mother’s thumb. Things were different now. He’d been so sure that all his dreams were about to come true. Lucy had run off with his brother, leaving him free to pay his addresses to Elinor. Miss Dashwood. He should think of her as Miss Dashwood now. It had never occurred to him that she might refuse him. How could it? She had shown every sign of being in love with him, even Fanny had believed it. So now he sat, not knowing what to do with himself.

He’d managed to get himself ordained, so he could quite happily be a country parson as he’d always wished to. Colonel Brandon had offered him the living at Delaford. He wasn’t certain that he wanted to be in such close proximity to Barton, though he believed Elinor, Miss Dashwood, when she said that she had no understanding with the man and did not expect to. He would still prefer to have a wife with him in his parsonage. That had always been his real dream. A happy family in a snug country parsonage.

Chapter Text

Lizzy was thrilled to find herself with Jane again, once they arrived in town, but not pleased by Jane's trip southwest. While anything that made Jane happy was almost guaranteed her approval, she could not suppress her selfish desire for Jane's comforting presence. They were spending three nights in London, at her request, and she planned to soak up as much time with Jane as she could. She was too tired to talk properly that first night and so had to wait through an entire day of polite social chat before she could acquaint her sister with the details of Darcy's proposal and the story of Wickham.

"Oh Lizzy, how you must have felt."

"I longed to have you with me. I know not what to do! How can I make people aware of Mr Wickham's despicable nature?"

"I don't think you should."

"What?! Jane!"

"Colonel Fitzwilliam said that he would write to inform Colonel Forster. Surely that will be enough? Exposing him so unequivocally when he might be trying to re-establish himself can only cause harm."

"Oh, Jane," she smiled. After a silence, she spoke again. "You have told me little of your Miss Dashwood in your letters. I'm not sure I'm willing to let her steal you away when I most need you."

"Oh Lizzy! If I'd known I would have delayed my departure."

"I'm sure you would have, but had you suggested it I would have told you not to be so silly. It's three days to Barton and it's best you go with the escort of someone trustworthy."

"Indeed, Elinor quite sings Colonel Brandon's praises. I understand that he was a great help when her sister was so ill."

"You glossed over that in your letters, what happened?"

"Miss Marianne had her heart broken by a villain even worse than Mr Wickham seems to be."

"What could be worse?"

"He courted Miss Marianne after abandoning the Colonel's ward, who he had seduced with the expected result. He then abandoned her for a Miss Grey with £50 000, who he has now married, while disclaiming any responsibility for Miss Williams, her child, and Miss Marianne."

"Good Heavens!"

"Then, she took ill on her way home from London. A mutual acquaintance told him that she was dying, which she came very close to, and so he made the trip to the house she was staying at and importuned poor Elinor with tales of his love for her sister and desires that his wife would die now that he had her money."

"My God. You are correct. Wickham's only malicious towards Mr Darcy, this man seems to delight in treating all the world infamously."

"Miss Marianne is now recovered but she is still rather fragile. I hope that I will be able to assist Elinor in speeding her return to health."

"If anyone can, it will be you, dear Jane."

 

A couple of days later the sisters separated, for what they expected to be the rest of the summer. Elizabeth was soon home and her letter informing her sister of her safe arrival followed but a day behind Jane herself. Both she and the Colonel were warmly welcomed at Barton Cottage, though the Colonel was quick to move on to Barton Park, giving the ladies some privacy. He was assured of seeing them the next day when they would be dining at the Park. Jane was swiftly installed in the guest room and, after a brief rest, she and Elinor went for a short walk.

"I am so pleased you are here!"

"You must be, that's at least the tenth time you've said as much."

Elinor laughed. "How comforting it is to be with someone who understands my feelings."

"It is of great comfort to me as well. I found I could not broach the subject of Mr Bingley with my sister. I know she must have found something out, but I feared to hear it and so kept my feelings to myself."

"What did you fear she would say?"

"I hoped that she would say that I was right, he had never felt for me more than a friend. I think I even could have borne to hear that he was purposefully toying with my affections."

"But you feared?"

"I feared what I know she believes to be the truth. I feared that he did care for me, but not enough to overcome his own weakness in the face of his sisters' and friend's objections."

"Do you believe that's what happened?"

"I would like to believe that his behaviour towards me was unintentional, but given the way Miss Bingley behaved I cannot."

"Your sister certainly didn't like her."

"No. Lizzy warned me she was deceitful."

"But she approved of the brother?"

"Yes. Which inclines me to believe that he is weak, rather than wicked, but oh how much easier would it be to put him out of my head if he were wicked."

"I do not believe it's as easy as you think."

"No? How? Does Marianne?"

"Yes, unfortunately. She could not have been happy with him and I begin to doubt that she will be without him."

"It is still very fresh, and she is only seventeen. I'm sure that she will find her way to happiness in time."

"I must try to be more optimistic, as you are Jane, and I dare say I will in time."

"Will the Colonel be staying long in the neighbourhood?"

"I understand he'll be leaving on Monday, but Sir John hopes to persuade him to stay a bit longer. He seems to think that now that Willoughby is out of the picture Marianne will immediately move on to Colonel Brandon."

"And the Colonel's attitude towards her has altered?"

"Indeed. His regard was always rather hard to discern, but he no longer watches her as he did."

 

Jane was very pleased with Barton Cottage, and though she agreed with Elinor’s criticisms over the staircase and chimney, was quite happy to spend her summer there with her friend and her family. Her observations on the neighbourhood were similar to her friend’s, though she would never voice such things aloud. And, like Elinor, she was most concerned by Marianne. She was listless and melancholy, though she tried to exert herself. It was not long before the Middletons began their summer entertainments and they were of absolutely no help to Marianne.

They all knew she had nearly died, but Sir John and Mrs Jennings were quite sure that they could cheer her up with constant parties and plenty of talk of young men, romance, and, of course, Colonel Brandon. Marianne was most surprised to discover that she now found Lady Middleton’s company most soothing. That lady chose to be kind by not asking Miss Marianne to play cards, which she knew the girl despised, but instead requesting that she play the piano. Ordinarily that would have pleased Marianne, but all the songs reminded her of Willoughby. A week after Jane’s arrival, Lady Middleton once again requested that Marianne played.

“I have just had some new songs sent down from town, perhaps you would like to try one of them.”

Marianne had never liked Lady Middleton more than she did in that moment. She was surprised when Jane joined her in looking it over.

“Do you play, Miss Bennet? I thought Elinor said you didn’t.”

“No, I don’t, but I have two sisters who do. I thought perhaps some of this music might appeal to their taste.”

“She may not play, but she sings beautifully, Marianne. Perhaps there is something you can perform together?”

Jane was quite happy to sing with Marianne and, having once heard her, Marianne rediscovered the joy she found in music. She was still melancholy frequently, but not nearly so listless. Both Jane and Elinor recognised that there was little they could do for her mood, but keeping her busy would aid her recovery, as they could both attest. For her part, Marianne still felt that she could not rid herself of thoughts of Willoughby, no matter how hard she tried. She knew Elinor and Jane were trying to distract her by including her in their walks and talks, and she was grateful to them for their care. Making new memories of the valleys and downs helped dull her recollections of Willoughby, so she was usually happy to accompany the other two on their walks, or read to them as Elinor instructed Jane in the basics of drawing.


Life at Longbourn went slowly on and Elizabeth looked forward to July, when the regiment would remove to Brighton. She'd managed to convince Wickham to avoid her by mentioning how greatly she'd enjoyed Colonel Fitzwilliam's company, and was pleased to note that Colonel Forster or one of his adjutants kept a close eye on him. She viewed the behaviour of her family with dismay and despaired of ever managing to curb their excesses.

Surprisingly, it was Kitty who helped her there. After dinner one evening, when the ladies were gathered in the drawing room and Mr Bennet had retreated to his study she asked, "Whatever were you talking about with Colonel Forster this morning, Lizzy? It sounded quite scandalous."

"When I was in Kent visiting Charlotte I met Mr Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. After hearing that the militia were stationed here, he told me a story of how some officers in the army make a game of seducing ladies -- they try to see how far they can get and how many girls they can make love them before they leave. And they frequently leave girls and their families ruined."

"Really?"

"Oh yes. I was asking Colonel Forster if he'd had any of his officers behave in such a way."

"Had he?" She had their full attention now.

"I would not wish to pain you."

"Pain us? Nonsense Lizzy," her mother said. "How could any of this pain us?"

"Because he only spoke of it to warn me. He said Mr Wickham had been putting together such a scheme and both Kitty and Lydia's names were on it."

"What?!"

"I'm afraid so, Mama. Mr Wickham would not tell him who else was involved and he worried that their freedom might make them more vulnerable than some of the more closely-guarded girls."

It did not take long for Mrs Bennet to go shrieking into the library, insisting that Mr Bennet help her to guard her precious daughters from the evil officers.

Lizzy was surprised to hear a knock on her door after they'd all retired. She opened her door to find a nervous-looking Mary and waved her in. She seated herself and, looking at one of the bedposts, began. "I wanted to compliment you, Lizzy. What you did this evening was masterful."

"Thank you, Mary."

"I particularly liked the bit where you told Mama that even if her darling daughters were too good for such a thing, that some officers would force themselves on girls if they could." She paused and then turned to look directly at her sister. "Was any of it true?"

"Most of it, though I embellished the bit about Kitty and Lydia. Colonel Forster actually said 'some of the wilder young ladies', but I trust you'll agree my inference was likely correct."

"Quite." The silence stretched for a couple of minutes and then Mary, staring hard at the wall this time, spoke again. "I know that I can never be to you what Jane is, but I hoped that perhaps you would consent to spend more time with me before you leave for the Lakes."

"Mary!"

"I know I've not always been the best of sisters, and I admit I have frequently been jealous of you, but tonight you found a way to force Mama and Papa to do their duty. If nothing else I should like to learn from you." Her voice trailed off and Lizzy could see that she was close to tears.

"Oh Mary!" she said, moving to hug her sister. "You will never be my Jane, for you are my Mary! Indeed I'm not sure I could bear having two Janes when it is so clear to me that you share some of my more critical opinions. I will only agree to this scheme of yours if you will forgive me for neglecting you before."

"I will certainly forgive you, if you truly think it necessary."

"How could it not be necessary?" Lizzy interrupted.

"Because I'm not sure that any efforts on your part would have been welcomed earlier," Mary answered with a smile.

They spent the rest of the evening getting to know one another and determined that after breakfast they would work on duets.

  

My dear Jane,

I am certainly missing you, but I'm so pleased to hear that you're enjoying yourself with the Misses Dashwood. I suppose I am now coming to understand what you've been trying to tell me all these years about Charlotte, now that our relationship has been so altered by her marriage. I know you will say it should have no effect on our friendship, but the fact remains that her first loyalty is now to Mr Collins and I know that his first loyalty is to Lady Catherine. Which leaves me unable to confide anything in Charlotte unless I'm willing to take the chance that Lady Catherine will learn of it. I would not be surprised to learn that Mr Collins reads poor Charlotte's letters! All this to say that I finally begin to understand what you've always said about close female friends. I hope that Miss Dashwood appreciates you as much as you do her. In fact, given what you say about Miss Marianne's spirits I think she must!

It sounds as if you are having a wonderful time. I read accounts of all your parties to our sisters and it seems that Lydia is beginning to think your summer will be more fun than hers! Mrs Forster has invited her to go to Brighton when the regiment moves there at the end of the month. You can imagine my feelings on the subject! I think Papa would probably have allowed her to go, simply to avoid the noise of her tantrums, but Mama said no. It appears that there have been whispers about Mrs Forster spending more time with certain officers than her husband. I'm sure there's nothing to them, but I've managed to make Mama see that Lydia and Kitty need more supervision and, as I don't think Mrs Forster would be a better guardian than Lydia herself, all I've done is support her and tell her how much I admire her for taking such good care of her daughters.

One good thing has come from your absence, and that is that Mary and I have become quite good friends. Do you know that all the time we've all (except you) mocked her for taking endless extracts from Fordyce's Sermons , she's actually been writing a novel? I finally convinced her to let me read it and I'm extremely proud of her. I'm currently trying to convince her to let Papa know, as I am quite sure it should be published and we'd need his help for that.

The girls want to walk to Meryton, so I shall close here.

Your affectionate sister,

Lizzy


Georgiana Darcy was concerned. She did not know what had happened at Rosings, but her brother had returned almost completely changed. He had refused to see anyone, all he did was work. He'd even refused to see Richard! He did not seem to be avoiding her, at least. He came to meals, though he didn't seem to eat very much. Yesterday she had been shopping with Aunt Matlock, who had said some rather odd things. If she'd understood her Aunt properly, William had done something he was ashamed of, had been set down harshly by a lady, and needed to work on his manners. It was very odd, but Aunt Matlock must have heard what happened from Richard. And since William would not see either of them, and neither of them were willing to tell her what had happened, she would need to go straight to the source.

The source was currently at his club, but should be back for dinner, giving her a few hours in which to plan her attack. By the time she was preparing for dinner she was feeling rather panicky. The only strategy she'd come up with was one that she was not altogether comfortable with. Having no other ideas on how to go about it, she would have to prepare herself as best she could.

Fitzwilliam Darcy was busily rearranging the food on his plate when a stifled sob from across the table drew his attention. "Georgiana? What is wrong?"

"I'm sorry, Brother," she choked out. "I know I've disappointed you terribly, but please don't send me away!"

"Send you away? Why would you think such a thing?"

"You've been so angry and upset. And you won't see anyone while I'm here."

"Oh, Georgie, no. It's nothing to do with you."

"But what else could it be?" she asked, looking up at him through wide watery eyes.

He felt his reserve breaking as he looked at her. "I would not burden you with my troubles," he started to say, but she interrupted him.

"I'm already burdened. You're all I have in the world, if you're unhappy so am I."

He sighed and looked at the table. "Let's go to the library and I will try to tell you."

Once they were comfortably ensconced beside the fire, Darcy began his story. He could not have had a more attentive audience and when he finished relating his failed proposal she really was crying. "Oh, William! How awful you must feel! We must do something!"

"What would you have me do?"

"Well, for a start you need to warn Miss Bennet about Wickham! And we must show her that you're a good, honourable man, whatever your manners may be."

"I have warned her. I was angry and bitter, and I wrote her a letter telling her the entire truth of Wickham, what happened between Bingley and her sister, and, of course, explaining all the defects of her family in an attempt to show her, and myself, how much better I am than her."

"Oh. Do you know if she read it?"

"She did. I was not sure whether or not she would believe what I said of Wickham, so I had Richard go to answer any questions she might have had."

"And?"

"And he found her weeping. I love her and yet I gave no thought to her feelings and almost tried to hurt her. Richard spent the entire carriage ride to London berating me for my conduct over our entire acquaintance, told me my manners were execrable, worse than the wild vulgarity of her sisters, and comparing Mrs Bennet's entirely reasonable fears over her precarious situation with Aunt Catherine's far less justified behaviour."

"It sounds as though there's nothing left for me to say on the matter. Did he say nothing of how she thought of you?"

"He said that I was very lucky to have fallen in love with a sensible woman, as it sounded as though the letter should have confirmed my arrogance and disdain for the feelings of others."

"But?"

"But she is sensible enough to feel that she does not know me. Richard agrees with her. He would not have recognised me from her description of our acquaintance."

"Well that's better than what she thought before, isn't it?"

"Is it?"

"If she feels she does not know you at all, then you're not necessarily the last man she'd ever marry."

"Perhaps."

"Come now, Brother. Do you truly love her?"

"I do."

"Well it's certainly clear that she will not marry you for mercenary reasons."

"That's not particularly comforting."

"But if you can win her, Brother, you would be certain that she was truly marrying you for who you are, not what you have."

"And how would I win her? I'm unlikely to ever see her again."

"You know where she lives, so you can certainly see her again."

"And what do you suggest I do?"

"Whatever it takes. For a start, you need to work on your manners so that they show your character rather than obscuring it. And avoiding all social interaction will not help."

"So I should take Aunt Catherine's advice?"

"What?"

"You want me to achieve proficiency through practice." They were silent for a moment before Darcy laughed at the shocked expression on his sister's face. "I'm taking it completely out of context, you need not worry that she's begun being sensible."


Edward Ferrars, once more meditating on the question of how things with Elinor -- Miss Dashwood -- had been so badly ruined, was startled by his man bringing in the post. He was not expecting to receive anything. He’d sent a letter to Colonel Brandon only the day before, laying out all his concerns as regards the Delaford living, and there was no possibility of his having received it s yet, he could certainly not have penned a reply. Perhaps the Colonel had decided to rescind his offer. The seal looked familiar, though he could not place it. Giving in to his curiosity, he found the author to be his friend, Bertram. They had been at Oxford together and their similar natures had led them to develop a firm friendship.

 My dear friend,

Things are all set for me to head to Peterborough next month to be ordained. I shall be staying with Owens and his family, as you did. I hope that you will join me there for a night or two. You may think it odd that I am extending the invitation (though I’ve enclosed Owens’ agreement to the scheme), and for so short a duration, but the real invitation is for you to join me at Mansfield Park for the month of August, and possibly to spend some time at Thornton Lacey if you have no other engagements.

My sister Maria will be married just before I leave, and she and Mr Rushworth have invited Julia to accompany them. We shall be a most diminished group at Mansfield without them, so I beg you to join us.

There are other, more personal considerations for myself, but I should prefer to discuss those in person, rather than writing.

Yours, etc.,

Edmund Bertram

Edward wondered at his friend’s reticence -- they had never scrupled to discuss delicate matters in their letters before, but sent off his acceptance happily. Perhaps Bertram would be able to explain to him where he had gone wrong.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon was feeling rather unsettled. He had been feeling this way for the last year and had begun to hope that things were settling again. It had started with the arrival of the Dashwood ladies, Miss Marianne in particular. He was first struck by her physical resemblance to his lost Eliza. His ward's appearance took more after her father, thankfully. He wasn't sure how he would have coped if she'd looked like her mother. Miss Marianne's resemblance extended beyond her looks. It felt as if each time he saw her she did or said something that brought Eliza before his eyes. His distraction was swiftly noticed and it did not take long for Sir John and Mrs Jennings to impute a romantic tendency to his behaviour. And it was not much longer than that before he began to feel for her what he had felt for Eliza. At first he was pleased to see her courtship with Willoughby -- they were well matched in every respect. And then his ward's letter had come, and Willoughby's perfidy was revealed, followed by his total lack of honour, and Miss Marianne's broken heart. His heart had broken with hers, as he wondered if her striking resemblance to Eliza had extended to her fall, or if she and young Eliza were opposites in this respect as well.

He had begun to think that while he would always love Eliza, and by extension her daughter and Miss Marianne, she was no longer the sort of woman he would want to share his life with. The final nail in the coffin came when he overheard the obvious result of such outspoken sensibility. The rose-coloured glasses fell away and he saw the truth of the selfishness that lay at the heart of that type of person's worldview when he heard Miss Marianne berating Miss Dashwood for having no heart. During her illness and the start of her convalescence he had once again begun to resign himself to spending the rest of his life alone.

He had not, as yet, spent very much time with Miss Bennet, but the time so far had only built upon that first favourable impression of her singing with children. In some ways she greatly resembled Miss Dashwood, being calm and reasonable, and yet she had never inspired such thoughts. Miss Bennet was undeniably beautiful, but it was a very different sort of beauty to which he usually considered attractive in a woman. He'd always favoured women like Eliza and Miss Marianne, striking with ever so slight a hint of something exotic. Miss Bennet was classically beautiful, a type that he usually found cold, whereas she was characterised by a warm serenity of countenance that seemed to match the warmth of her voice and character.

Delaford needed his attention at the moment, but he had an open invitation to Barton Park, for himself and Fitzwilliam. As the latter was known to be a sociable man Brandon did not think he would object to spending some time there.


One morning in early July found Elinor, Marianne, and Jane walking along East Wilder Brook, past Barton Park and some of its outlying farm-houses. They were following Elinor, who had a particular scene in mind. Jane had brought her sewing and Marianne had undertaken to read to them. They had just crested one of the downs and as Elinor discussed the prospect with Jane, Marianne turned to look eastwards. Her eye was quickly drawn to the rising cloud of dust that was moving towards them.

"Who do you suppose that is?" she asked and the other two turned in her direction.

"Sir John has not mentioned any guests, no doubt he's going to see someone in the village."

Marianne continued to watch the rider while Elinor and Jane turned their attention back to Elinor's intended drawing. It was not long before Marianne interrupted them again.

"You are mistaken, Elinor. He is going to Barton Park. I recognise him now, he's one of Colonel Brandon's stable boys."

It appeared that he had seen them as well, for he checked his horse and turned towards them. He stopped briefly, speaking only to Elinor as he explained that the Colonel had sent him to deliver a letter to her or her mother. He was then on his way to deliver another letter to Sir John and Lady Middleton. Consumed with curiosity, the ladies decided to curtail their expedition and return to the Cottage. The letter pleased them all and they knew that receipt of a similar letter would please Sir John and Mrs Jennings greatly. Colonel Brandon was required to be at Delaford, but he wished to procure some society for his friend, the newly arrived General Fitzwilliam, and so was inviting them all to stay in Dorset for a few weeks.

They were all pleased to do so and by the end of the week Delaford was fuller than it had been in many a long year. The Colonel undertook introductions and was rather disconcerted to find himself annoyed by the way his friend stared at Miss Bennet.

When he introduced her, the man exclaimed, "I knew I recognised a familiar face! I have lately been acquainted with your sister, Miss Elizabeth."

"Then I expect we should congratulate you on your promotion, as she mentioned no Generals to me."

He was duly congratulated by all and the conversation turned more general.

My dear Lizzy,

Your astute eye will have noticed that I have moved to Dorsetshire. The inhabitants of Barton Park have come as well, in addition to other friends of Colonel Brandon, whose hospitality we now enjoy. Among them is a man who take great pleasure in discerning a likeness between you and I. I have ventured to extend your congratulations on General Fitzwilliam's recent promotion and trust you will forgive me singing your praises for as long as I have so welcoming an audience. His manners remind me of you and his friendship with the Dashwoods is exactly what I would wish yours to be.

I am very pleased to hear such good accounts of my mother and sisters, though, as you expected, your methods do trouble me. As it appears to have helped, rather than harmed, I will say no more on the subject. I am greatly pleased to hear about Mary's willingness to speak to my father on the subject of her novel. If she can bear for you to read it, she can have no fears of my father's disliking it. I am only jealous that I must wait to read it once I'm home again.  I have even wished once or twice for your visit to the Lakes to be cancelled in favour of a visit to the sea! I do not know that I shall ever be pleased to spend so long without you, though my Aunt Gardiner's reminder of the price of marriage inclines me to think that it will be the usual state of things in the future.

But I will not let such maudlin sentiments hold sway for very long. Tomorrow, as you know, is the night of the full moon and we shall be spending hours in carriages if the weather is fine, for we shall spend the day at Lyme and walk on the Cobb and apparently there's also a very pleasant walk on a beach. I am so pleased that I will finally see the sea and wish only for your presence.

Your most affectionate sister,

Jane


Mr Bennet was an observant man. He prided himself on his ability to take in all that went on around him. He had been aghast when Mrs Bennet had come shrieking into his library, wailing about the militia's designs on their two youngest daughters. He'd been so busy watching society that he hadn't noticed they were all grown up. He could see Lizzy's hand in his wife's newfound desire to guard the girls and was almost curious enough to ask how she'd managed it. First, though, was whatever was making Mary so jittery. Since Jane had gone to her friends in Devon -- and he could have done without Mrs Gardiner's hints of getting used to a future without his eldest daughters -- Lizzy and Mary seemed to have struck up a friendship. He had watched them walk, read, and sing together, and was pleased to see it. With any luck Mary would improve into a decent companion.

He suspected he was about to be approached, given the way Mary kept darting glances at him. Lizzy was chattering away, sending soothing smiles to her sister. Sure enough, not five minutes after he'd gone to his library there was a timid knock at his door. Mary tiptoed in, clutching her books of extracts, with Lizzy grinning cheerfully behind her. They seated themselves and sat in silence for a moment.

Finally, Lizzy spoke, "Papa, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Mary has been hiding things from us all and I'm not sure you'll be able to forgive her."

Mary's eyes widened in horror and it was all her father could do not to laugh. Unlike her, he could see Lizzy's eyes twinkling. "Well, she doesn't seem to have run off with one of the tenant's sons, and do not even try to tell me she's been carrying on a flirtation with one of the officers - I will never believe it."

Lizzy could not help laughing at that and even Mary was able to smile as she shook her head. "No, Papa. I do not think it anything so bad as that. And Lizzy says you'll be pleased, so I thought..." she trailed off and ended by putting the books on the table in front of him.

He didn't know quite what to do with them. Why Lizzy thought he'd be pleased with books of religious extracts... ah. She knew he wouldn't, which meant that whatever the books contained it was not what he was expecting. He took the top book and opened it. He was astounded to find himself faced with a novel. He raised an eyebrow at his daughters and began reading. That evening he learnt that for all Lizzy's intelligence, Mary was the daughter who was most like him. The novel was filled with acerbic, misanthropic observations on her characters' lives -- some of whom he recognised from the neighbours he delighted in observing. The first time he laughed Mary relaxed visibly. At some point he looked up and the girls had disappeared. That was the point at which he noticed it was dark and the candle beside him was almost burnt out.

A few days later, when he'd finished reading all the material she'd left with him, he called her back to his library. "Now, Mary, Lizzy was quite correct. You have kept something wonderful from me for many years. You're going to have to find a way to make that up to me. For now, though, I wanted to know what you intend to do with these volumes."

She looked at his hand, resting on the books she'd poured herself into. "I'm not really sure. Lizzy thought I should try to publish it, but I'm not certain that would be right."

"As your father it is my duty to guide you in these sorts of things. I think it would be criminal not to publish this."

She was silent for a moment and then addressed herself to the portrait of her grandfather that hung above the fireplace. "I do not know how to go about publishing something."

"Well you need not worry about that. Your Uncle Gardiner is a partner in one of the London publishing houses. You will need to create a fair copy of the manuscript for him to take away with him. No doubt you will have to spend some time in London at some point, but we can discuss that with him when he comes to steal Lizzy away.


The party left Delaford at daybreak. Lyme Regis was only a few hours away and most of the ladies spend those hours dozing in the carriages. Elinor, Jane, Marianne, and even young Margaret were determined not to miss a moment and were constantly pointing out bits of scenery to each other. The town was quite crowded, being a popular tourist spot, but they were all determined to enjoy themselves, so only Lady Middleton found anything to disapprove of.

Marianne felt that she would be happy to spend the rest of her life beside the sea, and she and Margaret amassed a large collection of shells and interesting stones. Both Jane and Elinor enjoyed walking on both the cobb and the beach, but Elinor was also determined to sketch as much as possible in order to have a number of options to choose from later. Leaving Marianne and Margaret to the care of their mother and the boisterous Sir John and Mrs Jennings, the Colonel and the General devoted themselves to the sketching party.

Lady Middleton also chose to join this grouping, as she’d never been fond of exercise and if she was to be outside she preferred to be as stationary as possible. Despite her complete lack of interest in anyone other than herself and her children, she was not blind. It was clear to her that the two gentlemen were displaying an interest in the two young ladies and, having nothing better to do, she observed the tentative courting taking place.

Miss Bennet, who was clearly the eldest of a large family based on the immense number of things she was able to secrete in her pockets, had brought out some work and was discussing the drawing of designs on fabric with Miss Dashwood. The gentlemen were feigning interest remarkably well. When the conversation began to dry up, Miss Bennet produced a book of poetry from her capacious pockets.

“Would either of you be so kind as to read to us? My uncle recommended this book, and it contains many works inspired by the ocean, I understand.”

The Colonel volunteered, which Lady Middleton thought best. The General clearly knew more of drawing and so had an easier time conversing with the ladies. Now if only Miss Dashwood would stay in one spot for more than half an hour!

They took their dinner at an inn, which was surprisingly respectable in her opinion. The young ladies were all greatly pleased with the outing, and most of the dinner conversation revolved around how dearly they wished to spend the rest of their lives beside the sea. Of course, the sensible Misses Dashwood and Bennet were less effusive than Miss Marianne, but they both agreed that a longer stay would have been most welcome to them as well. Even Lady Middleton had found the outing exceedingly pleasant and thought that in a few years the children would enjoy such an outing, provided acceptable accommodation could be found, of course. She would not be spending her time in an inn, thank you very much.

 

General Fitzwilliam, though no stranger to the sea, had never been to a beach for pleasure. He thought it a wonderful thing. Aside from Brandon, he had only known these friends for a week, and he found himself greatly enjoying their company. And how pleasant it was to be able to have a rational conversation with a well-informed young lady.

Lady Middleton was insipid, and Miss Marianne only interested in books and music, but Miss Bennet was an intelligent, interested listener, and Miss Dashwood had clearly read widely and kept up with the news. He had been pleased to discover that lady to be entirely talentless at music. He was finding her far too perfect for his peace of mind. Spending the day escorting her up and down precarious steps, and on long walks was heavenly. Sitting beside her as she sketched reminded him of time spent with Georgiana in many ways. He rather thought that the two would be instant friends.

 

Elinor had not expected to fall asleep in the carriage on the way home. It must be all that sea air. What a day she had had! She hoped that she could turn one of her sketches into something worthy to gift the Colonel in thanks. She thought that Sir John and Mrs Jennings had been confused when the Colonel had elected to stay with their group, rather than wherever Marianne had to be, but it was only natural that he would wish to remain with his friend who had so slight an acquaintance with the rest of them.

She had been surprised when Lady Middleton had identified him as the son of an Earl (Marlborough? That didn’t sound quite right). She would have expected someone so high-born to behave more like John and Fanny. She had chastised herself for judging those she knew nothing of on more than one occasion this past week, but had found herself doing it again today. She had not thought an Earl’s son would know so much about the sort of drawing a woman might do, but he was able to discuss it as knowledgeably as every other subject, though with far more frequent references to his cousin, Miss Darcy, who he seemed to think a paragon of womanly accomplishments. As she drifted off to sleep she rather thought she could like him very well indeed.

 

Jane had tried to keep herself awake, it was not often that she made such a journey and she did not want to miss a moment of it -- how else would she be able to relate every detail in her next letter to Lizzy? She must have slept, though, as Colonel Brandon had woken her when he opened the carriage door to hand them out. What a good man he was!

She was pleased that she was used to going on excursions with Lizzy, though they’d never done something like this. Lizzy was almost like a brother in her need for activity and intellectual stimulation, but did not always recognise her own needs, so Jane was in the habit of carrying a book with her. She rather thought the Colonel had appreciated that. One could not always be talking and men often seemed uncomfortable sitting in silence. It was a great pity that Lizzy was not one of the party. Not only did she miss her sister dearly, but she wished to share her friends and experiences with her. And Lizzy always seemed to know what to say to gentlemen. They need not fear any silences when she was around. Still, the Colonel had seemed to enjoy himself, as much from the outing as from the enjoyment his guests experienced.

 

Colonel Brandon was exceedingly pleased with himself. Only Miss Dashwood could have suspected that he’d arranged the trip to check on Eliza as much as for the pleasure of the thing. He’d had the pleasure of seeing her and the babe while his party had been occupied with the few shops the small town could boast. They were thriving and Eliza spoke of her work with pride, so there was nothing to put a damper on the rest of the day.

The young girls had enjoyed themselves so much they were unwilling to leave the beach and their happy spirits had been matched by the irrepressible Sir John and Mrs Jennings. He’d enjoyed the more sedentary pleasure of Miss Dashwood’s sketching party. He’d enjoyed spending time with Fitzwilliam and had been pleased to find Miss Bennet so thoughtful as to have equipped herself in consideration of everyone’s needs. And then, to see the ladies in their half-asleep state on arriving back at Delaford had crowned the entire day. He rather thought the sight of Miss Bennet blinking at him in sleepy confusion would haunt his dreams.


My dearest Georgiana,

You have no idea of how much I'm looking forward to joining you and Darcy at Pemberley next month. I'm very pleased that you're continuing my mother's attempts to civilise him! I have a proposition that I think will help, but will probably be more acceptable coming from you. In his last letter Darcy warned me that Bingley, and consequently his sisters, will be joining us at Pemberley. As your guardian I am concerned about you not having appropriate young ladies to form friendships with. Naturally I have a solution to the problem. My promotion was well-deserved, dear cousin.

I am currently visiting my friend, Colonel Brandon. Knowing of my fondness for society he invited a number of friends to join us, including a number of young ladies. I should like to introduce you to Miss Dashwood, her sister Miss Marianne, who I understand is recovering from a somewhat similar disappointment to yours, and their friend Miss Bennet. You did indeed read that correctly. The eldest Miss Bennet is dear friends with the eldest Miss Dashwood. Obviously one way to start improving Miss Elizabeth's opinion is to impress her favourite sister. Convince Darcy to send an invitation forthwith!

Yours ever,

Richard

Having read her letter, Georgiana went to work on her brother. He had received a similar request directly from the General, who had stressed the point of friends for Georgiana. The invitation was swiftly dispatched.


Prior to making the invitation known, Fitzwilliam needed Brandon's advice. "You have spent more time with Miss Bennet than I. Would it be better to discuss the matter with her privately?"

"Why would that be necessary?"

"She is acquainted with Darcy and his friend Bingley and his family. I understand from her sister that the connexion has given her some pain."

Brandon was reluctant to cause Miss Bennet pain and agreed that she should be prepared for the invitation. It took some maneuvering but they were both experienced strategists and it was not long before Jane found herself walking alone with General Fitzwilliam.

"I trust you will forgive Brandon and I for our scheming."

"Scheming?"

"Indeed. We worked very hard to separate you from your friends, but I trust you will forgive us when you hear what I have to say."

Jane was surprised. Her first thought was that the General was working up to a proposal. A moment convinced her she was mistaken, they barely knew each other. "Well, you will have to tell me all before I decide whether or not I forgive you."

"It's quite a simple matter, but I trust you will also forgive your sister who confided in me."

"She has already told me that. There is nothing to forgive."

"Excellent. Then you know that I am one of Miss Darcy's guardians."

"I do."

"And I trust your experience will bring you to agree that Miss Bingley is not a good choice of friend for a shy young lady."

"Oh. Well. I am sure that if she truly cared about her she would be a very good friend."

"And do you think a woman who would treat someone as she did you is a good role model for an impressionable young girl."

"No, I do not."

"And that is a sign of your good sense. As the guardian of such a creature you may assure yourself that I am always on the lookout for more appropriate friends for her."

"Of course."

"Naturally I think that you and the Miss Dashwoods meet my criteria. So, I have convinced Darcy to invite you all to Pemberley next month."

"And why, if the invitation is for all of us, do you need to speak to me privately?"

"Ah. Well. I shall come straight to the point. Bingley and his family with be there as well."

She was silent for a moment and the General took care to focus on the scenery and give her time to compose herself. "Tell me, General, how close is Pemberley to a village called Lambton? Do you know?"

"Lambton? What has Lambton to do with it?"

"I've had a letter from Lizzy. She was supposed to be going on a trip to the Lakes, however the trip has been curtailed and they will spend some time at Lambton where my Aunt Gardiner lived for some years."

"I can assure you that Pemberley will put you only five miles from your sister."

"Then I shall hope my hosts will accept your cousin's very kind invitation."

They found their friends in the conservatory. It was not long before the General found himself alone with a young lady again. Marianne wished to avail herself of the Colonel's pianoforte and soon absconded with Jane, who she wanted to have accompanying her. Naturally the Colonel was pulled along in their wake, as attracted to music as ever.

"Well, Miss Dashwood? Should you like to join our musicians?"

"No, I would much rather remain here in peace. The Colonel has some exotic plants I'd like to sketch."

He hesitated, unsure of himself. He would very much like to stay, even just to watch her draw, but could not tell from her manner if he would be welcome. It was not a position he found himself in very often and it made him deeply uncomfortable. She watched him steadily and smiled as he started to fidget.

"I see," she said. "You have had your private conversation with Jane and now you wish to speak to me."

"I... that is... well, yes, actually."

"Come along then. I can talk while drawing. I frequently listen to Marianne playing, or Margaret reading while sketching. Conversation will not be much different."

He followed her to a bench where she had already placed her materials and assisted her in placing the orchids before seating himself in the position that gave him the best view of her. For a moment he lost himself in admiration. She was utterly beautiful, particularly when she crinkled her nose as she concentrated on her canvas.

"Is what you wish to speak to me about the same as what you discussed with Jane?"

"Somewhat. The core question is the same, but the necessary questions around it are quite different." He paused, not quite sure where to start. "I would not have you think my questions impertinent," he began, but was interrupted.

"Oh dear, this is not an auspicious beginning."

"Miss Dashwood?"

"The last time someone started a conversation that way was very distressing and had such far-reaching repercussions that I sincerely hope it shall never be repeated."

"I'm afraid this conversation will be rather distressing, as much for myself as for you. And while I certainly hope there will be long-term ramifications, the ones I'm hoping for are, I think, very pleasant."

"I shall trust you on that point for now, General. And since you've successfully piqued my curiosity, I shall beg you to ask your impertinent questions."

He watched her a moment, enjoying the mix of amusement and trepidation on her countenance. "It has been rather widely spoken of that your sister was recently disappointed. Will you tell me what happened?"

Elinor looked up sharply, unable to believe her ears for a moment. He was quite serious, grave even. "I don't really think," she began.

"Please, Miss Dashwood. I know this will distress you and I shall respond with an equally distressing confidence I assure you."

"Very well. Marianne fell deeply in love with a young man. You have seen her intensity for yourself, so I shall allow you to infer the violence of her passions. His regard seemed equally fervent. We were all expecting an engagement. No, that's not quite true. I expected that they wouldn't bother, that they'd just come home from the church one day, announcing their marriage with characteristic impudence. Instead he left the neighbourhood suddenly, claiming his aunt had sent him away. I daresay that was true. Marianne was miserable, but had no doubt of his constancy, nor of his swift return. He did not return, however. We joined Mrs Jennings in town, on her part purely out of a desire to see him. She sent him notes, but he did not come.

Finally we met, such a meeting was inevitable, of course. The way he acted! As though we were nothing more than distant acquaintances! No doubt you can imagine Marianne's distress. She wrote him one final note and the response was utterly infamous. He claimed that we had misconstrued his friendship! And within days knowledge of his engagement to a young lady with £50 000 was all over town. To add to his perfidy, we then learnt that he had seduced a dear friend's ward. With the usual result. As if that weren't enough, he heard of her illness, of the danger she was in, and actually importuned me for half an hour with talk of how pitiful his circumstances were! To ask us to have sympathy and compassion for him!"

"Thank you," was all he could say at the end of her recital. "I'm afraid to distress you further, but I must ask his name. I have a ward myself."

"Willoughby. John Willoughby."

"My ward is my cousin, Miss Darcy. I share guardianship with her brother. She is shy and he is reserved. Their mother died a few years after her birth and their father shortly after Darcy reached his majority. She was kept innocent, within the family circle. I am sorry to say it, but we gave her a companion and gave no thought to friends. Daughters are rare in the Darcy and Fitzwilliam lines, which left us ignorant of the need young ladies have for friends. Her only choices were those women related to Darcy's friends, most of whom are older, far more worldly, and interested in her exactly as far as required to gain access to her brother."

"The poor girl."

"It gets worse. My Uncle Darcy had a godson. The son of his steward. I trust you will remember the name of George Wickham. My uncle doted on him, but Darcy saw what he was really like. He was profligate, dissolute, and deficient of all virtues. All was well until my uncle died and Wickham had to deal with Darcy. He was still kinder and more generous than the cad deserved, but at some point he had enough and refused Wickham's demands."

"Oh dear."

"I see you suspect the resultant debacle. Georgiana has £30 000, no doubt Wickham felt it should always have been his. She knew nothing of what he was like, we could not see the need to tarnish her memories of her father's favourite. He convinced her to elope with him and it was only by chance that Darcy prevented it."

They sat silently for some moments before the General spoke again. "Now that our spirits are thoroughly depressed let us move on to the hopefully pleasant consequences of these confidences."

"And what would those be?"

"Quite simply, we are now aware of Georgiana's need for real friends. As you no doubt suspect, I'm proposing yourself, Miss Marianne, and Miss Bennet for the office. You and Miss Bennet would benefit any young lady, but I admit that I am hoping that your sister, having had a somewhat similar experience, will lift her spirits through the knowledge that she's not the only young lady to be deceived by a rogue."

"And how do you plan to enact this design? Have you sent for her?"

"No, I could never get her to face a house full of strangers. I have convinced Darcy to invite you all to Pemberley, when the Colonel and I go there in August."

"And the willingness of such a reserved man to open his house to strangers has, of course, nothing to do with Miss Bennet being part of the group. I see now why you needed to speak to Jane. I take it she is amenable to your scheme?"

"She informs me that her dearest sister, Miss Elizabeth, will be not five miles from Pemberley for a fair portion of August."

"Well, pending my mother's permission I think you may consider this part of your plan a success."

Chapter Text

Mrs Dashwood was more than willing to allow the girls to go to Derbyshire and that night saw Jane and Elinor in the former's bedchamber, talking matters over.

"I think, Elinor, that the General did not tell you all when he spoke to you."

"No?"

"No. He is too honourable to tell you of what we spoke."

"Is there more than Mr Darcy's desire for your sister's good opinion?"

"Mr Bingley and his sisters will be there."

"Oh dear. Are you certain you wish to go?"

"I am. I wish to know the truth. I confess I am more concerned about seeing Miss Bingley than her brother. He is amiable and warm-hearted, but young and weak. She, however, has shown herself to be duplicitous and untrustworthy."

"Well she will not deceive you again. You shall have both Marianne and I to give you strength. And I hear your sister Elizabeth will be nearby?"

"Indeed. I am very pleased that you will be able to meet her."

"Given what you have said about Miss Bingley, can I assume that she aspires to be Mrs Darcy?"

"She does, I believe. Why?"

Elinor explained the General's desire for better friends for Miss Darcy, and Jane acknowledged that he had spoken of it to her as well.

"He pays us a great compliment."

"Yes. I expect it helps that none of us have shown any interest in General Fitzwilliam, the younger son of an Earl."

"None of us, Elinor? Are you quite certain?"

"Jane?"

"You certainly watch him a great deal."

"I do. He has a very expressive countenance. I confess I would very much like to try my hand at some of his expressions. I would not presume to ask it of him though."

"I do not think he would mind."

"No?"

"Shall we ask the Colonel's advice? He would know if the General would be offended, or construe more than was meant."

"An excellent idea Jane. Have you noticed that while the Colonel is warm-hearted and sensible, he is neither young nor weak?"

Jane blushed. "I think he will soon be as dear a friend to me as he is to you."

"Only a friend?"

"Would I? I do not wish..."

"Remember Jane, no secrets between us. Tell me the uncharitable thoughts you are trying to suppress."

"He's so responsible. I have to say that he's one of the best men I know, the other being my Uncle Gardiner."

"And why do you hesitate to admit that?"

"Because I compare him to my father," she whispered. "Not only does it feel disloyal, but it is my father who suffers from the comparison."

"It sounds to me that you are now truly grown up and ready to make your own household and family. Do you love him?"

"No, not yet. I do not believe it will be prudent to allow myself to feel so much so soon."

"I do not believe that you can prevent yourself from falling in love."

"No, but I shall do my best. After all, he's not likely to fall in love with me -- I am very different from Marianne and hence Eliza."

 

In the library, Colonel Brandon and General Fitzwilliam were drinking port and watching the fire die down. It was Brandon who broke the silence, turning to study his friend.

"Miss Dashwood has £1000 of her own and will inherit a little more from her mother."

"And you're sharing this with me because?"

"I see the way you look at her."

"She's a beautiful woman."

"You don't flirt with her."

"What?"

"You're a flirt, you always have been. You even flirt with Mrs Jennings. And yet you do not flirt with Miss Dashwood."

"Do you suppose she's noticed?"

"I would be surprised if she hadn't. She is a very astute young woman. And she spends a great deal of time watching you."

"She does?"

"Yes."

"Oh dear."

"Would her falling in love with you be so very bad?"

"When I can't afford to marry her? Yes, it would be unfortunate."

"Well I do not say she loves you. She looks at you, but judging by the way her fingers move when she does I should say she wishes to draw you."

"And why have you been watching her so closely? Or is it only her proximity to another young lady that leads to you observing her?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"No? Sir John and Mrs Jennings would assume I meant her sister, but I see nothing in your behaviour to justify it. Miss Bennet on the other hand..."

"Miss Bennet? Who you've told me is in love with Mr Bingley?"

"Is she? She certainly does not behave like a woman with a broken heart."

"Of course not. She would never allow others to see such a thing."

"Or her heart was but lightly touched, as my idiot cousin thought. I suppose we shall learn at Pemberley."


It was not long before the party found their way to London. They were all to stay with Mr and Miss Darcy for a few days before they began the journey north. Elinor had told Marianne that Miss Darcy had suffered a betrayal of a somewhat similar nature to her own and that her spirits were much oppressed by it. Jane had said only that Miss Bingley had told her of Miss Darcy's proficiency on the pianoforte and harp. Marianne was looking forward to meeting her. The first meeting was not auspicious. Miss Darcy blushed and stammered and, for a moment, Marianne wondered at her being so shy. She was, however, determined to help and befriend the girl and was not about to let such hesitancy get in the way of intimacy.

Georgiana was also determined. Her brother was in love and it was her job to help him by impressing on Miss Bennet and her friends how good and wonderful he was. If only talking wasn't so hard! She thought she'd ease herself in by listening to their conversations first. She was not prepared for Miss Marianne. She'd merely settled herself in her chair and taken only a sip of her tea when she was attacked.

"Now, Miss Darcy," Marianne said, "Jane tells me that you're a wonderful musician."

"Jane?" she asked. Who was Jane?

"That would be me," Miss Bennet said. "I know we've never met, but I heard of it from Miss Bingley and my sister Lizzy told me that your aunt, Lady Catherine, as well as your cousin and brother quite sung your praises."

"I wasn't aware they could sing," she answered, not knowing where to look or what to say.

While the others laughed at what she belatedly realised must have sounded like a joke, Miss Marianne waved her hand impatiently. "Never mind them, you cannot imagine how I've been longing for someone to talk music with. Elinor and Jane try, but they don't really know anything about it."

Georgiana soon found herself swept away by Marianne's enthusiasm and, before she had even finished her tea, they were in the music room.

 

"Oh dear," Elinor said once they were gone. "I feel as though I've let loose a hurricane."

"Perhaps I should have warned her," the General murmured, "Miss Marianne is rather like an unstoppable force of nature. Still, I have certainly succeeded in my plans. I'm not even sure Miss Marianne noticed you were in the room, Darcy. All she could think of was music."

Noticing that Darcy looked rather uncomfortable at his cousin's allusion, Jane spoke. "It is such a pleasure to have such enthusiastic musicians in the family. I believe dear Marianne has played for us almost every day."

"Yes, and she's had you sing with her almost as often," Elinor said. "I trust General Fitzwilliam will let us know if Miss Darcy finds Marianne's enthusiasm overwhelming."

He knew orders when he heard them and assured her that he would monitor his charge.

 

Knowing that Elizabeth would have confided in her sister made Darcy feel rather awkward, but aside from a compassionate look when they arrived, she treated him as she did Colonel Brandon and his cousin. He was both relieved and unsettled. The General had assured him that she was aware that the Bingleys and Hursts would be of the party and had no concerns in that quarter. He could not be quite as easy. He knew now of Miss Bingley's deception, he knew now that Miss Bennet had cared for Bingley. He did not know if her affections had survived and he did not know how Bingley would react when faced with Miss Bennet.

He was seated near her and took the opportunity to quietly broach the subject as the others were discussing a landscape that showed part of the countryside near Pemberley. "Miss Bennet. My cousin has assured me that you are aware that there will be certain others in the party. He tells me that you are quite content, but I wish to make absolutely certain of your comfort."

"That is very kind of you," she said. General Fitzwilliam had suggested that they keep the news of Lizzy's impending arrival a secret, so as to surprise him. She quite agreed, especially now that she saw how nervous he was merely talking to her. "Mr Darcy, I am not quite as frank as Lizzy, but I think I owe it to you to put you as much at ease as I can. I doubt the meeting will be entirely comfortable for either myself or them. Mr Bingley is either weak, wicked, or without perception. Whichever it may be I can meet him with equanimity. I am quite equal to his friendly manners and open temper. Meeting him again will not bother me. What concerns me is meeting Miss Bingley. I confess that I am not easy about facing her. I was wholly taken in by her and I am not sure how I will feel or behave when faced with her."

"Well, I can assure you that Bingley is not wicked. He has no confidence in his own judgement, which I suppose you may consider weakness."

"I do. How will he head a household if he cannot trust himself?"

"He is young yet, he will learn."

"I'm sure he will."

"As for Miss Bingley. Well. I share Richard's desire for truer friends for Georgiana. If Bingley were not such a good friend we would not see her. I hope she will not cause you too much discomfort. I trust you will not think too badly of me if I enjoy whatever discomfort you may cause her."

"I shall pretend I did not hear you say that and so I will not be aware of any amusement you gain from the matter. Unless of course your expression when you do so resembles my father's or Lizzy's. I am well versed in detecting illicit amusement."

He felt himself blush at the mention of her sister. Not knowing quite what to do, he stammered an excuse about checking on his sister and left the room. He took a moment to calm himself and to prepare himself for many more moments like it over the next month. He could happily, easily ignore every allusion Miss Bingley made to her, he didn't see why Miss Bennet should be any different. And yet she was. Determining to meditate on the matter later, he headed to the music room. He did not go in, he merely stuck his head around the door long enough to observe the two heads gathered over the piano, discussing fingering in Beethoven with great seriousness.

As he was passing through the hall, Bingley was admitted. "Hello Darcy! I hope you don't mind me dropping in like this, I know your cousin and his party arrived today, but I simply couldn't stomach my sisters' arguing any more."

"Not at all, Bingley. I'll introduce you in a moment, but first I think we should talk in my study."

"That sounds ominous."

"It may be."

He wasn't quite sure where to start once he had Bingley seated before him. "I'm afraid this is going to be rather muddled, Bingley. And no doubt you'll wonder why I said nothing for so long. The simple answer to that is that I didn't know what to do."

"But you know now?"

"Yes. No. Well, I don't really have a choice. If this was not now forced on me I suspect I would still be dithering back and forth."

"But you're going to tell me whatever it is, so you might as well just get it over with."

"Quite. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was in Kent while I was there visiting my aunt."

"Really? What was she doing there?"

"She was visiting her friend, Miss Lucas, who has lately married my aunt's vicar, Mr Collins."

"Isn't that a coincidence!"

"Quite. While there I discovered that her older sister was here in town, visiting relations. She had visited your sister who had very decisively broken the acquaintance."

"What?!"

"It appears that your sister claimed we were aware she was here but were uninterested in meeting with her as you were very busy making yourself agreeable to my sister."

"Georgiana? But she's just a child!"

"Indeed."

"Oh, what must she think of me! And of course she will have long left town. What should I do?"

"She did leave town. She went to spend the summer with friends. She has now returned to town, however, as she is one of my cousin's party and will be joining us at Pemberley."

"You mean she's here now?"

"I do."

"Well, what are you waiting for? Take me to her."

Darcy obliged his friend, though he felt it might have been better to delay the meeting by a day. He introduced him to the others and was not surprised to see him greet them happily and then essentially dismiss them in favour of Miss Bennet. He found Miss Dashwood was watching their conversation with an air of sympathy, compassion, and impatience. What surprised him was to see how his cousin's attention was all on Miss Dashwood, while Colonel Brandon was watching Miss Bennet with concern and Bingley with suspicion.

 

Jane was taken completely by surprise when Mr Bingley bounced through the door slightly ahead of Mr Darcy. Judging by the concerned way he was looking at her, and the slight hint of disapproval that crossed his face when he turned to his friend, she was fairly sure that this meeting had been neither planned nor anticipated by him. And then her attention was wholly on Mr Bingley, seating himself near her and expressing his great joy at seeing her again.

"Your memory is quite exact, sir," she said when he paused for breath.

He was off again before she could say more. "Darcy tells me that you were actually in town earlier this year and that your sister spent a few days as well! So we could have met more recently than the ball if only we'd known. Though Darcy did say you'd seen my sister. I can't imagine why she never mentioned it to me. Perhaps she misunderstood the length of your visit."

"Considering she took almost a month to return my call I must say that I find that unlikely." Jane trembled at saying something so unkind, but she said it. Candour, optimism, seeing the best in people, and giving them innumerable second chances was her preferred way of conducting her life, but she had hopes of a husband and children one day and she had to learn to see people as they truly were if she were to successfully run a household.

Mr Bingley seemed rather taken aback at her response and Elinor took the chance to join the conversation. "I understand that your sisters will be joining the party at Pemberley. If there was any misunderstanding I'm sure it will be cleared up quickly." It was clear from her tone that she did not believe that there had been anything resembling a misunderstanding and Bingley was once more left not quite knowing how to respond.

The General was next to jump into the breach, "I've heard that there will be still others joining us." Jane's eyes widened as she saw Mr Darcy was startled. She looked at the General enquiringly, he'd been so adamant that Lizzy's arrival in Lambton should be a surprise. The General grinned mischievously. "You'd best send an express to warn Mrs Reynolds, Mama appears to be planning to descend upon us on the 10th."

"Your mother is always welcome at Pemberley, as you both know perfectly well. And I'll not insult Mrs Reynolds by implying she is not always prepared."

"Caroline will be very pleased to meet the Countess. Will the rest of your family be coming as well?"

"No. My brother and father need to come back to town. She's inviting herself to avoid rattling around Matlock by herself."

"Well, the more the merrier, I always say. Don't you think so, Darce? I don't think Caroline's met you yet, has she General? I'm sure she'll find you very pleasant company."

"I have not had the pleasure, no," was all the General said before Colonel Brandon spoke gravely to Elinor.

"Are you aware of the time, Miss Dashwood?"

"Oh, thank you, Colonel. I had best rescue poor Miss Darcy."

"I'd best come with you, Elinor. We can make a little party of it."

"I'm sure Marianne would appreciate that."

It was not until they stepped out the door that they realised they did not know where to go. Richard breathed a sigh of relief when Miss Dashwood returned to the room and asked him to guide them to the music room.

 

Marianne was not pleased to have her sonata interrupted in order to rest, but her sister was firm. "Indeed you will, Marianne. You will simply have to humour my belief in your continued fragility. And you will not be alone. Jane and I also intend to rest for a few hours and we are hoping to persuade Miss Darcy to join our party, if she can bear to continue discussing music."

Georgiana was pleased to be invited along and said as much. "Perhaps we could read? I've a new novel, but William is not often interested in reading them with me."

Elinor and Jane shepherded the younger girls upstairs as Marianne began to talk of literature and poetry with as much passion as she'd earlier devoted to music. Georgiana was enjoying herself immensely. Not even at school had there been anyone who cared so little for who she was and what she had. She wasn't sure she could cope with all the intensity that Marianne focused on her interests all the time, but there were other ladies in the party. For a brief moment she imagined the look on Miss Bingley's face if she were stuck in the carriage with Marianne. Only the knowledge that she would have to bear her company as well prevented Georgiana from contriving it.

Chapter Text

Caroline Bingley was most displeased. When Charles had told her that Mr Darcy's cousin, the younger son of the Earl of Matlock, would be joining them at Pemberley she had assumed that the friends he would bring would be people of some standing. And she'd expected his party to consist mostly of eligible gentlemen. She was not prepared for his friends to be predominantly penniless young women, one of whom was Jane Bennet! To make matters worse, Georgiana appeared to want to travel in the carriage with them, rather than joining herself and the Hursts. This was not to be borne.

"Come, Georgiana. There is room for you in our carriage."

"That is very kind of you, Miss Bingley, but Marianne and I are planning to spend the journey reading a novel we've lately started."

"Indeed? Well. Perhaps we should ask your brother's advice on the matter, dear."

"I assure you that I am well aware of both my guardians' opinions on the matter. In fact, Richard brought Marianne, Miss Dashwood, and Miss Bennet because he thought they would be good friends for me. Perhaps you are not aware of it, Miss Bingley, but many of the women who profess friendship for me are really only interested in my brother."

Caroline flushed angrily. She had spent a great deal of time cultivating Georgiana's acquaintance despite the naivete and dullness of the girl. At least she wasn't able to tell that Caroline was also primarily interested in Mr Darcy. She was determined that she would not be supplanted by a couple of vulgar country misses. "I am pleased that your guardians try to take such excellent care of you, my dear Georgiana, but in this instance there must be some sort of mistake." She lowered her voice slightly. "They are not of our sphere, you know."

"Quite right, Miss Bingley," a loud male voice said from behind her. She turned to face the General as he continued. "They are all gentlemen's daughters. In you get now, Georgie. Anything else you've forgotten will have to be sent for."

In a moment Georgiana was in the carriage and the General had closed the door on her. He then guided an angry and mortified Caroline to her brother's carriage and handed her in.

"How dare he say such a thing, Louisa! We are far superior to them!"

"Are we? Perhaps in some sets where wealth, fashion, and education are most prized. I expect that an Earl's family would be more interested in breeding."

"Breeding?!" she screeched, disturbing Mr Hurst who was beginning to think that fresh air would have been better for his head than the rest he'd expected from the carriage. "Do you really think that the common vulgarity of the Bennets could ever impress anyone of standing? We are far better bred than they are!"

Louisa sighed and looked at her husband. His head was clearly bothering him but he smiled when she caught his eye. "Best to begin as we mean to go on," he said, mentally saying goodbye to any hope of a peaceful morning.

"Begin? What nonsense are you speaking?"

"He is not speaking nonsense, Caroline," her sister interrupted before she began ranting again. "The fact is that your behaviour has gone unchecked for too long and you certainly appear very ill-bred at the moment. No well-bred lady would question Miss Darcy's guardians' judgement as to who are suitable friends. And the General was quite correct. Unlike them, our father was a merchant. I am very pleased that there will be some gentlemen's daughters at Pemberley. They can show you how a lady behaves. And I suggest you work very hard at it, sister. Gilbert and I expect our family to increase in the winter and if you continue as you have you will not be welcome in our house any longer."

Caroline spluttered and began to rant again, but was interrupted by Mr Hurst. "Enough!" he shouted. "Your sister has not been feeling well this last week and we would both like to rest. Quietly. I suggest you spend the time thinking about how to improve your behaviour."

Caroline fumed, but as they told her to be quiet every time she opened her mouth, she was eventually resigned to spending the first stage of the journey in relative silence. They could not, however, stop her from thinking about whatever she chose. She remembered the early days of the Hursts' marriage. He had spent far less time at his club and drank far less. Louisa had been more lively then as well. Her life had been somewhat more difficult then, however, as they had little patience for what they called her airs and pretensions. If they planned to return to that state of things then she did not want to live with them anyway. And adding a child to the household! She knew that Louisa got quite silly about children and would probably want to have the creature with her all the time instead of leaving it in the nursery where it belonged. No, she would not wish to live with the Hursts under those circumstances.

It was easy to see the solution. She simply had to get herself a household of her own. With vulgar penniless girls her only competition, Caroline was sure she could bring Mr Darcy to the point. She spent most of the first day's travel imagining how everyone would treat her once she was Mrs Darcy and the revenge she'd take on those who'd snubbed her.

 

Once her cousin had deposited her in the carriage with her friends, Georgiana apologised as fast as she could. "I don't know why she would say such things," she added, but Marianne wasn't having that.

"Oh Georgiana, there's no need to prevaricate. Even a blind man can see how desperately she desires to marry your brother!"

"She has already made her opinion on myself and my family quite clear. No doubt Elinor and Marianne are tainted by the connexion. She does not actually know them, after all," Jane offered.

"Well, I shall not lament it if she prefers to keep it that way."

"Nor shall I. I trust, however, that you will be civil to her until she does something deserving of reproof, Marianne."

The girl in question laughed at her sister. "I believe I can promise you that with ease. I have no doubt that she will say something provoking every time she opens her mouth!"

 

They spent the evening at the Darcy's usual inn and Caroline set about making them see her superiority at once. As this chiefly consisted of complaints of everything from the lacklustre accommodations to the deplorable food, most of the rest of the party simply ignored her. When Mr Hurst interrupted her diatribe to say that he thought the food excellent for an inn and, really, no-one was more fussy about food than he, she took the hint and changed tack.

"Did you enjoy your novel, Georgiana?"

"Indeed, we all did."

"I admit myself surprised at your choice -- I know your brother feels that reading should improve oneself and there is nothing laudable in a novel."

"Nothing laudable?" Marianne interjected, her tone expressing her outrage to all. "Really Miss Bingley, have you never even read Scott? Are you aware that operas and plays are considered cultural pastimes and their only difference from a novel is that they do not allow you to see the thoughts and feelings of the characters?"

"Well said, Miss Marianne," Darcy replied while Miss Bingley looked down her nose at the girl. "You will be pleased to know that I have ordered the rest of the author's works and they should arrive at Pemberley in the next week."

"Thank you, Brother!" Georgiana said quietly.

 

While she knew perfectly well that Miss Bingley was only interested in her brother's wealth, she was rather puzzled by her sudden hostility. She mentioned as much to her friends when they were once more in the carriage the following day. She watched Jane and Elinor glancing at each other.

"You are our hostess, Miss Darcy, and as such I believe you have the right to know of any difficulties that might arise from your guests," Jane said. She then gave a slightly edited account of her acquaintance with the Bingleys -- there was no need to mention Miss Bingley's suggestions of an attachment between Mr Bingley and Miss Darcy, after all. She ended by saying, "And, of course, she greatly dislikes my sister Elizabeth, which you should bear in mind as well."

Georgiana wondered why Miss Bennet thought her sister was relevant to the current situation, but was prevented from asking by Elinor.

"I have only just realised that everyone in this carriage has been disappointed in love in one fashion or another." Seeing a look of horror settle on Georgiana's face she attempted to put her at ease. "You need not worry, Miss Darcy, though your cousin confided your story in me, there is no need for you to speak of it if you do not wish to. For now, let me tell you my story."

Once Elinor had finished, Marianne told Georgiana of Willoughby and by the end both girls were crying. Having heard their stories, Georgiana felt brave enough to tell her own. When the carriages stopped for the night the ladies were somewhat concerned that Miss Bingley would notice they had been crying. She was too put out to notice, but both Darcy and Fitzwilliam did. Before either could say anything to Georgiana, Elinor had whispered to the General that some tears were cathartic and it would be best to say nothing. He caught Darcy, who was reluctant to ignore his sister's distress, but as he saw that she was exerting herself to behave normally he restrained himself.

 

Caroline found the second day of travel even more unpleasant than the first. Not only had she failed to break up the ladies and convince Georgiana to ride in her carriage, she found that her carriage could not have accommodated her. "Why are you not riding, Charles? You know you prefer it to being shut up in a carriage."

"Louisa asked me to. We're to have a family discussion."

"No one said anything to me."

"There was no need, Caroline. We knew you would be travelling with us regardless."

Caroline merely sneered at her sister and did not deign to reply.

"First, Charles, you must congratulate us. You may expect a niece or nephew in three or four months."

"How wonderful! You must both be thrilled!"

"We are," Mr Hurst said.

"Are you sure you should be travelling? All this bumping around can't be good for the baby."

"We made sure the doctor thought it acceptable," his brother answered. "Considering our previous losses we are taking every precaution."

"Excellent! If you need anything do not hesitate to ask!"

"Which brings us to the second thing. My dear?"

"Yes. Gilbert and I have discussed this and we agree that Caroline's behaviour has gotten out of hand. If she does not learn how to behave like a lady by the time the baby comes, we will no longer allow her to live with us."

"I say! That's a little harsh, don't you think?"

"No," Mr Hurst said. "If Mr Darcy hasn't proposed yet he probably never will. And you heard what Miss Darcy said about women who befriend her. All of society knows that Caroline has been throwing herself at Mr Darcy for the last few years. It is time it stopped."

"And there is nothing Gilbert and I can do about it, Charles. You are the head of the family. It is your duty to see to it that Caroline comports herself properly. We can only support you in what you choose to do."

"I don't know what to do."

"For now, support your sister and I in trying to curb her behaviour. Think on the rest, there is time for that. And if you wish to discuss anything with us we will be happy to oblige."

Bingley did think about it. When they stopped to change horses he chose to exit the carriage and continue the journey on horseback. He did not know what to do. On the one hand, he trusted Louisa to guide him, as she had since they were children. On the other he simply could not believe that Caroline would behave improperly. He knew she was ambitious, that she wished for their family to rise above their origins and join the first circles. She knew better than any of them what was acceptable there. His thoughts turned to Jane. He had thought they were friends, but there had certainly been some misunderstanding there. Now that he thought about it, he remembered Caroline had always said she believed his Jane was indifferent to him. Obviously she was trying to protect him, as she always had. Well, he would certainly take this opportunity to see if he could make her care for him. And he'd tell Caroline that even if he couldn't she should not fear being friends with Jane. Most importantly, to his mind, Darcy had never said anything about Caroline's behaviour. He was always quick to criticise those who did not meet his fastidious standards. If he had no complaints about Caroline he could not see why Louisa and Hurst should. And they hadn't even let her speak in defence of their claims. That was hardly fair! He was resolved. This evening he would ask Caroline about the business with Jane and see if she had anything to say about Louisa and Hurst's charges.

She had plenty to say. She started by calling Jane a brazen fortune hunter who had followed him to London, and went on to describe her as wholly indifferent to him, wanting only to secure her family's fortune. And the family! She had plenty to say about them. Bingley had heard it all before and, though he agreed with some of it, had no interest in hearing it again. He interrupted her and asked what she had to say about Louisa and Hurst's claims about her behaviour.

"That's absolute nonsense, Charles! Do you know that their principle objections are my caring enough for Georgiana to not want to see her befriending women I know to be fortune hunters, whatever her guardians may say about it. They are far more circumspect when amongst the gentlemen, so I am not surprised that they have been taken in."

"I'm sure they realise that you are merely caring for your friend as best you can. And you may be mistaken after all. I'm sure Darcy and Fitzwilliam have much more experience with fortune hunters. Either way, you've warned them and it's now up to them to make their own mistakes." Caroline looked as though she was going to argue the point so he hurried on. "Whatever did Hurst mean by saying that all of society knows you've been throwing yourself at Darcy?"

"I can only suppose that he's been listening to ill-natured people that are jealous of our friendship with that family. I have done nothing improper, and I am sure I would behave no differently with any other dear friend of yours."

"So you do not wish to marry him?" She could not help blushing. "Caroline! Are you in love with Darcy? I had no idea!"

"I confess, I do feel a partiality towards him, and I know how much it would please you to be his brother. But I could never so much as hint such a thing to him."

"No, of course not. Well, I am surprised. But you are correct that it would be wonderful to have such a brother."

They were silent for a few moments. She was observing the effects of her words on him and feeling that she'd done very well. He was pondering the idea of having Darcy for a brother and wondering how he'd never noticed his sister's feelings.

"Well, Caroline, I feel that I should give you some advice, but I do not know what that would be. Darcy is, of course, far cleverer than I, so he's likely noticed your feelings if others have. I wonder why Louisa and Hurst object so strongly?"

"Hurst has never liked me, I don't know why. I suspect Louisa is betraying some of that irrationality that pregnant women are prone to."


It was not until they were in the carriage, leaving Peterborough for Northamptonshire, that Edmund felt comfortable discussing that personal matter with Edward.

“This is a very awkward matter to discuss, but not only do I need your support, I would appreciate any advice you might have on the matter.”

“You always have my support. And if it is within my power to aid you in any way, I should be quite happy to do so.”

Edmund was silent momentarily. “I have fallen in love.”

“Indeed?”

“It is strange to say it aloud. You are the first I’ve said those words to.”

“So the lady does not know?”

“I should be surprised to find her completely ignorant of my feelings, but I have no hope.”

“How can you be certain of that?”

“I am a clergyman, and very happy to be so. She says she will never marry a man of the cloth.”

“Does she say why?”

“She believes that such a man could not distinguish himself adequately.”

“Sounds like what my mother and sister say.”

“Miss Crawford has, really, only the London clergy to judge from, and her brother. He is, I think, the sort of man most likely to wish to preach in London.”

“Which is a thing you do not wish for.”

“I do not, no. Though, perhaps, one could do a great deal of good in a London parish.”

“I’m sure you could. If she asked that of you, would you do it?”

“Not now, of course, but one could work up to that sort of thing.”

“Compromises are important, and if you believe you could be happy so, perhaps you should mention such a thing to her.”

“I do not expect to see her. Indeed, I believe she has returned to town and I know not when to expect to see her in Mansfield again.”

“Well, that’s not entirely a bad thing, Bertram.”

“No? I confess I cannot see anything good about it.”

“First, it gives you a chance to settle in at Thornton Lacey and become comfortable with your new position. It also allows you to determine whether or not you could give up your country vicarage in favour of London.”

“But what if she meets someone else?”

“There is nothing to prevent that. But if she does, then you know where you are. But were she to return unmarried, you will be able to meet her knowing whether or not you wish to try for her.”

“Your logic is sound, as always. Thank you, Ferrars, you have set my mind at rest.”

“Have I? I’m pleased to hear it. Perhaps tomorrow I shall unburden myself to you.”

Chapter Text

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."

"My sister?"

"Yes. Perhaps you would like to stay at Pemberley rather than in Lambton? If you move tonight you will be here when she arrives."

"My sister?"

"Yes."

"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."

"Jane?"

"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."

"Mrs Gardiner?"

"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."

"Thanked me?"

"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."

"What? No!"

"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."

"Quite correct."

"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?"

"No."

"Because?"

"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."

"I cannot."

"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."

"What? Who?"

"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.

Chapter Text

Elinor Dashwood was confused. She had thought that she and the General were quite good friends, she knew they could never be anything else, after all. The younger son of an Earl, one of the youngest generals, could not marry a penniless woman. She'd been amused by Georgiana's attempts to extract information subtly. She was not prepared for what resulted. She wasn't sure which of them noticed her partiality -- and if even Marianne had been surprised by her attachment to Edward, why could she not hide this! -- but they'd gone on a ride together and whatever they'd spoken of had caused the General to alter his manner to her. Before he had seemed quite comfortable talking to her, though he did not appear to flirt with her as he did the other ladies. Now, however, he appeared to be avoiding her. She saw him only at meals and after dinner, though he did his best to keep his distance.

She realised what was happening when she went through her portfolio, looking for paper to draw on. She came across a portrait of Edward and, as she turned it over to assess whether the back could be used for another drawing, she could not help comparing the General with him. Suddenly his behaviour made sense. She had told Georgiana about Edward's thoughtless selfishness and she'd shared the story with the General. Regardless of how much it hurt, the fact that he would do what he could to prevent raising her hopes gave her some comfort.

Naturally the rest of the party had noticed his behaviour. The gentlemen were occasionally amused by it, but generally let it pass without comment. Most of the ladies were kind enough not to mention it, communicating their sympathy through looks. Georgiana was distressed every time she noticed and was heard remarking that this was not what she had meant.

Only Miss Bingley felt the need to comment on it, and of course she chose to do so during the after-dinner separation of the sexes. "Why, Miss Dashwood, what have you done to upset General Fitzwilliam? He positively avoids your company now."

"Does he? I was not aware of any change in his behaviour."

"But there is a marked difference in the way he acts. Perhaps he noticed your attempts to draw him in?"

Elinor was pleased that Marianne was distracted by Georgiana at the piano, and chose to pretend not to understand her meaning. "In what? I was thinking charcoal would be best, though I know Jane thought I should try it in watercolours."

Miss Bingley pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow. "You mistake my meaning, Miss Dashwood."

"Oh I am sorry to hear that, Miss Bingley. What then did you mean?"

Louisa could see quite clearly where this was going and attempted to prevent her sister from continuing the conversation. Caroline ignored her, but now the attention of all the ladies had been drawn.

"I meant your paltry attempts to seduce him, of course."

Elinor laughed. "Seduce him? My dear Miss Bingley I would not know how to go about a seduction."

"You may deny it all you want. He knows what you are up to. It was clear to me from the beginning that he was trying to indicate his displeasure with your presumption, as I noticed that he was very careful not to flirt with you. What brazen behaviour you must have displayed in order for him now to so completely disdain your company!"

"Miss Bingley! How can you say such a thing?"

"Now, Georgiana, I know you're quite sheltered, but as your guardians will do nothing to protect you from these women, I will undertake that duty."

"Caroline, that is enough," her sister said. She might have saved her breath as Caroline paid not the slightest attention to her.

"Take Miss Eliza, for example. Your brother danced with her once and now she's followed him to his home in the hopes of entrapping him in a marriage."

She was wholly disconcerted when all the ladies laughed at her statement.

"Stop ascribing your motives to others, Miss Bingley," Lizzy said. "You are the only fortune hunter in the room."

Before Miss Bingley could respond they heard the approach of the gentlemen. They were rather disconcerted to walk into a completely silent room and only Bingley failed to notice the sour expression on his sister's face. The other gentlemen correctly deduced that they had interrupted an argument.

"It's awfully quiet in here," Bingley said jovially. "How about some music?"

"Perhaps a little later," Mrs Gardiner answered. "Miss Darcy had a lovely idea this morning, and now that we're all together we can discuss it."

"I did?" Miss Darcy asked.

"Yes. The picnic."

"Oh, yes! Please may we, brother?"

"I see no reason not to have a picnic if the weather is suitable. Did you have a particular spot in mind?"

"I do, though I'm not sure where it is. You know that watercolour Mother painted? I have never been to the spot and would very much like to go."

"It's a very pleasant spot," Darcy said. "We went quite a few times when Mother was alive. Do you remember Richard?"

"I do. And the walk there was lovely as well. I suppose we won't be able to go paddling in the lake, but we might do some fishing."

"It all sounds rather savage, if you ask me."

"But we didn't, Miss Bingley," the General responded immediately. "If you do not wish to join us I'm sure Darcy and Georgiana could have no objections to your remaining behind."

"Really. There's no need to be rude."

"I quite agree," Darcy said, glaring at his cousin.

Caroline was thrilled to have Darcy agreeing with her and preened.

"We will need to leave here shortly after breakfast, ten o'clock should be sufficient. I realise that is rather earlier than you are accustomed to, Miss Bingley, but Richard is right. Georgiana and I will not be offended if you choose not to join us."

She spluttered. "Surely there is no need to leave that early. And if a scheme does not meet the approval of the whole party I do not think it should be undertaken."

"Your objections have been noted," Darcy said, at the same time as his cousin grinned and retorted, "But it is necessary to leave that early. It's a two hour walk."

"Two hours! You cannot seriously expect me to walk for two hours for a mere picnic. Surely there is a more appropriate spot nearby."

"Really, Caroline," her sister said. "Miss Darcy clearly wants to go to this spot and if Mr Darcy and General Fitzwilliam could get there as children I'm sure you're capable of it."

Bingley had been looking increasingly uncomfortable with the argument and, hoping to settle the issue, addressed his sister. "What about your condition, Louisa?"

"The doctor told me to walk regularly, as it is very beneficial in these cases."

"Yes, but surely two hours is too much and you will be too fatigued to enjoy yourself?"

"No, brother. I may not be as accomplished a walker as Miss Elizabeth or Miss Marianne, but I am certainly capable of rambling at length."

"Perhaps Miss Bingley could ride?" Georgiana asked.

The others agreed that was a good solution, with the exception of the Hursts and the Bingleys.

"Well, Caroline?" Louisa asked.

She glared at her sister and ground out, "I am not able to ride."

"Really?" Elizabeth asked. "I thought all accomplished ladies could ride."

Miss Bingley glared haughtily and maintained a stony silence.

"If horses can reach the place perhaps some of the ladies could travel in a cart."

"Really, Charles, if a cart can reach it there's no reason not to take the comfort of a carriage."

"An excellent idea, Caroline."

The rest of the picnic was planned with somewhat less fuss, but Miss Bingley's objections had to be steadily overridden by the others. They planned to carry their dinner in baskets, with the intention of leaving the servants behind. When she objected to not being waited on, she was told she was welcome to bring one of her own servants if she truly required it. In keeping with their intention of informality, they agreed to seat themselves on rugs. Miss Bingley considered this quite undignified and finally settled on her making use of a nearby bench rather than bringing a chair with her.

 

Later that evening, when they were alone, Darcy reprimanded his cousin for his behaviour.

"I know it's hard to stop yourself, but you need to stop baiting Miss Bingley. It gives her an excuse to retaliate and make things even more unpleasant than she already does."

"It is extremely hard to resist. I do my best to just ignore her, but sometimes she asks for it."

"It's not your place."

"No, but her brother won't do a thing about it. Is he really so oblivious to everything around him?"

"Sometimes. I think, though, that he simply can't face reality if everything isn't rosy. He wants everyone to be good and amiable, so that's what he sees."

"In other words he believes whoever is in front of him and she ensures that he dances to her tune."


Edward was warmly welcomed at Mansfield Park and was pleased for his friend when they discovered the the Crawfords were still at the Parsonage. He tried to compliment the lady as his friend expected, but he could not do so comfortably. Bertram had spoken of her at length, in the warmest and most flattering terms available, but Edward could not agree. She was certainly a pretty girl, but rather too much like the ladies in town that his mother and sister approved of. He rather thought she and his sister would get along famously, considering their shared views on the church as a career option. He could not approve of her the way his friend did, and he certainly could not rationalise away some of the things she said.

He thought Miss Price to have the better temperament -- aside from her timidity, he thought her rather like Miss Dashwood. Had Miss Dashwood grown up as the poor relation in a family that seemed as self-absorbed as his own, she too may have retreated into herself in a similar manner.

He was rather surprised to find Mr Crawford trying to ingratiate himself with Miss Price. It was clear to him that she did not like the man. Perhaps it was merely the lack of other young ladies that caused him to behave so. Either way, Edward felt sorry for the girl and determined that the gentlemanly thing to do would be to distract the man’s attention. He rather misjudged his audience. Knowing that Mr Crawford had been to a university, and having heard him speaking with Bertram in his teasing way, Edward had assumed he’d be able to discuss matters of doctrine.

He was wrong. The man’s opinions were superficial at best. Miss Price, however, was able to discuss the matter with the ease that only the well-read and well-educated had. Mr Crawford was not pleased by this and kept trying to turn the conversation. Bertram and Miss Crawford were soon attracted by the lively talk. His opinion was welcome. Hers was as superficial as her brother’s and, even worse, was the fashionable view. It was clear that she had no true understanding of the subject. Edward wondered at his friend’s blindness, struck by the likeness to his own infatuation with Miss Lucy Steele.

 

For her part, Fanny was astounded. Mr Crawford’s attention was grating, and she knew not what he was playing at. Mr Ferrars on the other hand, was a true gentleman. She knew he had seen her distress and he had come to her aid. He was very like dear Edmund, though she rather thought he disapproved of some of Miss Crawford’s words. As Edmund should. If only Edmund would. Still, she was glad he had brought his friends back with him. Perhaps Mr Ferrars could make Edmund see how ill-suited he and Miss Crawford were for each other.

As the days passed, she came more and more to rely on Mr Ferrars’ presence. Mr Crawford continued to make himself a nuisance, but Mr Ferrars always seemed to know when she needed aid and had not yet failed her. She found herself enjoying his company more and more, and had even been so bold as to seek him out on occasion. He was so pleasant to talk to, she never felt as though she were a small child, as she sometimes did with Edmund, nor that she was provincial and uneducated as both Crawfords seemed to imply.


The morning of the picnic dawned bright and clear. Only Miss Bingley saw anything wrong with the weather, but as she could not bear to have the party leave her behind, she contented herself with continuous complaints and dire predictions of sudden changes in the weather. She was the last to join the throng in the hallway and refused to assist them in any way. She was most put out to discover that she would be alone in the carriage. She thought it prudent to be aware of the others' conversations. There was nothing to be done, however, as they were all intent on walking. Not even Charles would ride with her, presumably intent on fluttering around Jane for the full two hours. She had plenty of time alone in the carriage to derive derisive comments and put-downs for the rest of them and looked forward to showing them that they'd made a mistake by not listening to her.

She was disconcerted to find herself alone at the appointed spot, with only the driver and groom that were required by the carriage. They had made good time and she had a full hour to wait before the rest of the party arrived. When they did she was seething. She had dressed carefully in silks and jewels, intent on outshining the other ladies in the eyes of the gentlemen in general and Mr Darcy in particular. She merely made herself look ridiculously out of place as she descended from the carriage and more than one smirk was hidden.

Bingley had, as his sister suspected, attempted to escort Jane on the walk, but she wished to walk with Miss Dashwood. Georgiana joined them and the conversation mostly revolved around the landscape, the picturesque, and how pleased they were that they had brought their sketchpads. Bingley was relegated to the company of the military men that followed in their wake. The married couples were moving slightly slower than this group, but as they did not keep stopping for quick sketches and lengthy discussions of angles, light, and materials, they arrived ahead of them.

Marianne and Elizabeth had early discovered their mutual love of walking and preferred a far swifter pace to the rest of the party. Only Darcy had any interest in accompanying them at their pace, which while pleasing to at least two of them, had the unfortunate consequence of inspiring Miss Bingley to join them as soon as they arrived.

"Oh, Mr Darcy, how pleased I am to see you here. I was beginning to wonder if I were quite safe here all alone. The area is very wild."

"I assure you, Miss Bingley, that you are perfectly safe at Pemberley, regardless of the landscape."

She attempted to giggle coquettishly. "Oh, everyone knows that there is no danger at Pemberley!"

"Then why were you concerned for your safety?" Marianne asked bluntly.

Miss Bingley was forced to admit that she hadn't been. She then attempted to smile enticingly at Darcy, "You must be fatigued from your walk, sir. I saw the pace these ... country girls ... set for you. There is a bench just here."

"No, thank you, Miss Bingley. I am not at all tired. I am a country gentleman, after all, and used to more strenuous exercise than this."

To her indignation he then suggested that the ladies may wish to climb a small hill close by as the prospect it offered back to the house was quite worth seeing. Marianne and Elizabeth were more than pleased to do so. Miss Bingley was not prepared to let Mr Darcy out of her presence, especially not in the company of these hoydens, and insisted on joining them. Politeness required that he offer his arms to the ladies. Unsurprisingly, Miss Bingley grasped hold of him quickly, while the other two disclaimed any need for it. He was forced to go at her pace, but contented himself by ignoring her rambling diatribe while watching Elizabeth walk confidently up the slope and imagined the joy of having her always at Pemberley.

Almost as soon as they reached the top Marianne was declaring the view breathtaking and that Elinor and Georgiana would need to set themselves up there and paint it. Once they arrived they took her advice and did just that. They were therefore lucky enough to miss the ensuing argument over where to place the blankets. Miss Bingley felt that they should be placed at her feet, around the bench where she had installed herself immediately on descending the hill. While most of them agreed that that would be the polite thing to do, the fact remained that the bench was in full sun. Mr Gardiner and Mr Hurst insisted that their wives be seated in the shade and the blankets were placed accordingly.

Mr Gardiner, Mr Darcy, General Fitzwilliam, and Colonel Brandon set up their fishing rods and behaved somewhat like young boys doing it. Mr Hurst was content to sit against a tree and listen to the ladies chattering around him. Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Hurst were continuing a discussion on names and naming conventions, which attracted Jane, Marianne, and Elizabeth. Bingley was flitting between his sister, sweltering in her silks on her sunny seat, and his darling Jane. Marianne thought he was buzzing around like a particularly annoying fly, but before she could voice her thoughts she was distracted by an outlandish literary suggestion from Elizabeth. Marianne's passionate intensity was very different to Elizabeth's detached wit, but Jane could tell they were both deriving immense pleasure from the debate and let them be.

She turned her attention to the older ladies. "I am already aware of the particular family names of my aunt, but I know nothing of yours, Louisa. Are the three of you named for family?"

"I am named for our paternal grandmother, and Caroline for our maternal. Our mother disliked her name and so chose not to name either of us for her."

"And your brother?"

"He is named for our father and both grandfathers. They were so excited to have a little boy."

"What was your mother's name, if I may ask?" said Mrs Gardiner.

Louisa smiled broadly as she answered, "Abigail. Now how about you? Are all five of you named for family?"

"No. I am named for my father's sister, who died shortly before my birth. I was also given my mother's name, Frances, though she finds the practice of naming children after living relatives confusing. Elizabeth Anne is for our father's and mother's mothers. After that I believe she simply chose names that she liked."

"It's a hard balance to reach," Mrs Gardiner mused. "You want to honour the forebears equally, but you have no control over the number of children you have. You run the dangers of using them up too soon, or not being further blessed when you've got more people to honour."

 

Dinner was a lively affair, despite Miss Bingley glowering down at them. They had moved the blankets to where she sat when the sun had moved, but that had done little for her disposition.

 

"I feel quite sorry for Mrs Hurst," Elinor said to Jane as they walked back, "I can only imagine what she'll have to endure in that carriage."

"I expect it's best that she expresses her feelings in private. And only Mrs Hurst could hope to convince her to alter her thoughts or behaviour."

"Except that she has so far tried without success. Still, you are likely correct. Giving voice to her feelings privately, whether to a sympathetic audience or not, may help her gain control of herself better."

"And if her sister cannot curb her behaviour, our sisters will meet her barb for barb." They laughed and turned the conversation to more interesting matters.

"Georgiana drew a beautiful representation of the view from the hill, though I think she was rather disappointed that I would not show her my efforts."

"Why did you not?"

"Because I wish to surprise her. I drew the view beneath us, showing her brother and friends enjoying themselves because of something she suggested."

"And you intend to gift it to her. How thoughtful."

"She is a delightful girl, I'm glad the General thought to introduce us to her."

"Marianne certainly enjoys her company a great deal."

"It must be hard having only paid companionship. I could not imagine not having my sisters."

"Nor I. And, as I have four of them, I can readily spare one for her, even if it is my Lizzy."

"Derbyshire is quite far from Dorset. Still, you will both have the means of travelling and the space to house each other's families, aside from meeting in London."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Elinor," she replied, trying not to smile and failing. "I must admit that while I find the land beautiful, this northern wildness is far better suited to Lizzy than I. I confess I much prefer the south of England."

"I will agree with you, and venture that Marianne agrees with your sister. I am so very pleased we were able to introduce them to each other."

"Oh yes! After my experience with Miss Bingley I can better understand how Lizzy must feel about Charlotte's marriage."

"How so?"

"She thought they understood each other and found Charlotte's behaviour incomprehensible and, no doubt, a betrayal of their friendship."

"Do you disagree?"

"I do. Charlotte made her opinion on marriage clear to us all. I was not surprised by her accepting Mr Collins."

"Do you think your sister imposed her own opinions on her friend?"

"Without a doubt. And, knowing that she cannot respect Mr Collins, while Charlotte's first loyalty and duty is now to him, I expect Lizzy considers their friendship irreparably damaged."

"And her believing this makes it so, as it alters her behaviour. Well, I pray none of us find ourselves in Mrs Collins' position."

"Indeed we shall not. Your family has already shown their willingness to aid you, and I shall always be welcome at the Gardiner's."

"And, no doubt, here," Elinor said, glancing pointedly at Lizzy and Darcy, walking ahead of them in deep discussion.

Chapter Text

The post had only arrived after they left in the morning. Both Lizzy and Jane had received letters from home, Lizzy's from Mary and Jane's from Lydia. Jane was shocked and distressed by her letter, while Lizzy was able to take Mary's news in stride. They discussed the matter between themselves, unsure what to do.

"Georgiana certainly deserves to know, but is it our place to tell her?"

"You are right, Jane. We should let Mr Darcy and General Fitzwilliam know and they can decide how best to proceed."

They consulted Mrs Reynolds, who directed them to Darcy's study and undertook to send General Fitzwilliam to them. She liked most of the guests and was particularly pleased that Miss Elizabeth seemed a sensible, amiable girl. However much they tried, the servants would talk. Mrs Reynolds saw nothing wrong with it, provided that they didn't go gossiping to outsiders. Everyone could see how the master looked at the young lady, after all, and Miss Darcy had never been happier. The Miss Bennets looked grave and upset this afternoon, though they had seemed quite happy when they returned from the picnic, so she had no compunctions about doing as they asked.

Darcy was pleased to see Elizabeth and Jane, until he took in their expressions. "What is wrong?"

"We've asked Mrs Reynolds to find the General. I think it's best we wait for him," Jane said.

They had only a moment to wait before the General arrived. "What's wrong?" he asked at once. "Mrs Reynolds made it sound quite urgent.

The sisters shared a glance and then Jane spoke. "We've both had letters from home and while Lydia's is rather sensational, Mary's letter confirms the facts. It appears that Lydia's friend, Mrs Forster, was discovered by her husband to be engaging in an affair with Mr Wickham. Colonel Forster has instituted divorce proceedings, but he also challenged Mr Wickham to a duel and has consequently been arrested for murder."

"So Wickham is finally dead. I can't say I'm surprised it happened this way."

"We shall have to tell Georgiana," Darcy said and Elizabeth jumped in with relief.

"Yes, we thought perhaps it would be best coming from you."

"I certainly shouldn't be the one to tell her," the General said. "I could not hide my glee from her. The only one I have any sympathy for is Colonel Forster."

"You should certainly be here for the conversation, though, Richard. I think perhaps the ladies should break the news, if you feel comfortable doing so."

"I do," Jane said firmly.

Darcy sent a servant for his sister, who was disconcerted when she saw three grave faces and Richard's grin. Jane explained the news to her and they awaited her reaction.

"I am sorry for the Forsters, and him especially, but I am not sorry that Wickham can no longer hurt anyone. Am I wrong to not be sorry he is dead?"

"I am very pleased that he's dead, so I shall say nothing against you."

"You cannot help your feelings, Georgiana, and while I do not go so far as to be able to take pleasure in his death, I will not mourn him," Elizabeth told her. "I think only Jane could be so kind as to mourn the death of such a man."

"I mourn the loss of potential. Perhaps if he had merely lost the duel he would have realised his position and taken action to redeem himself and make amends to those he has hurt."

"I, myself, do not know how to feel, Georgiana. I am both saddened and relieved. I expect it will take me some time to fully process this news and you should be free to do the same," her brother advised. She took him at his word and chose to retire early.

It was just as well that she did. The news was discussed openly and Miss Bingley made no effort to restrain herself from making a number of snide remarks directed at the Bennets in general and Miss Elizabeth in particular. That lady had no difficulty in defending herself, but found she was vocally supported by Marianne, the General, Mrs Hurst, and even Bingley who, while he didn't seem to understand that his sister intended her words to be insulting, felt that the untimely death of anyone was a tragedy and that one should only speak of it with the appropriate shock and gravitas.

After her brother had reprimanded her Miss Bingley fell silent. But her presence was oppressive and many of the ladies chose to retire early.

 

They were all, save Miss Bingley, of course, at breakfast the next morning when the butler hurried in.

"Sir, we've just had word. Kympton is on fire and it's spreading fast."

Darcy was up immediately and didn't object when the other gentlemen offered to lend their assistance.

"I wish there was something we could do," Georgiana said once the ladies were alone. 

"But there is," Lizzy said. "If the fire's as bad as it sounds there will be a need for refreshments and nursing. I'm sure you have some salves in your still room and we can certainly have the kitchen prepare some snacks we can take over."

They agreed it was a wonderful idea and quickly divided up the tasks. Lizzy and Jane went to turn out the still room, Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Hurst went to the kitchen to arrange refreshments, and Georgiana and Marianne found Mrs Reynolds and went in search of bandages, baskets, and anything else she thought might be of use. Elinor went to the stables to arrange a cart and horses, or whatever could be found to transport them and their supplies. Most of the men had gone to lend their assistance, but there were two grooms and four horses remaining behind. Once they heard what the ladies wanted they were more than willing to help as it would mean they would be able to assist in the fire-fighting.

As they readied the carts Elinor returned to the house and found herself faced with an older woman descending from a carriage.

"Oh! You must be Aunt Helena. I'm afraid we quite forgot you were coming in all the bustle. Most of the staff have gone to help, but Mrs Reynolds is here and she'll assist you."

"What is going on?"

"One of the villages is burning. The gentlemen all went to assist and we're planning to head over shortly with refreshments and medical supplies. Let's go inside and see if we can't find Mrs Reynolds. And, of course, Georgiana will want to see you before we leave..." she trailed off and stopped still on the stairs. "I just realised, you're the General's mother, the Countess. I've been abominably rude Lady ... Fitzwilliam? I don't believe anyone's mentioned the title."

"It's Matlock, but you may continue to call me Aunt Helena. Which one of Georgiana's friends are you?"

"Elinor Dashwood, ma'am."

"Well, Elinor, I shall be joining you on your mission of mercy."

Lady Matlock had hoped the young lady was Elinor. She was kind, thoughtful, and artless. She also seemed genuinely unaware of what the title was, which meant that she had not bothered to talk to anyone about it, as it was very widely known. They were met in the vestibule by one of the maids, readying the ladies' bonnets and pelisses. The rest of the ladies, and a good supply of maids, appeared shortly thereafter toting an enormous supply of baskets.

"Goodness," Elinor said. "We've only got two carts. I hope we can fit everything in."

"Aunt Helena," Georgiana said, as soon as she looked up.

"Lady Matlock! I'm so sorry there was no-one to welcome you. I have your usual room prepared," Mrs Reynolds said hurriedly.

"Do not trouble yourself, Mrs Reynolds. Elinor welcomed me quite wonderfully and I shall be going with them if there's room in the cart."

"Oh, I'm sure there's room Aunt. Let me introduce you to everyone."

The introductions were made and Lady Matlock was surprised and pleased to find Elizabeth Bennet among them -- Richard had told her that she would be in the neighbourhood, but she had not expected to find her in the house. There was, however, someone missing.

"And where is Miss Bingley? Was she not to join her brother on this trip?"

As one, the ladies turned to Mrs Hurst, who blushed. "My sister chooses to keep the fashionable hours of town and has not yet risen today."

Lady Matlock raised an eyebrow but did not comment.

They packed all their baskets into the carts and then tried to fit themselves.

"This is not working," Lizzy said eventually.

"No," Elinor agreed. Either two stay behind or we make two trips."

"That doesn't seem fair to the horses," Jane said. "Given their condition I think Aunt Gardiner and Mrs Hurst should remain behind."

"Nonsense," Mrs Gardiner said at once. "Travelling a short distance in a cart will not injure us. Besides, I think experienced nurses will be needed."

"The smoke and the stress, however, may well cause problems," Lady Matlock declared, once she'd made sure she understood their condition. "I suspect that the more serious cases will be sent here and Mrs Reynolds may well need your assistance. Also, you appear to have cleared out the still room and I suspect we'll have need of a great deal more, so perhaps you could take care of that?"

"I will certainly remain behind," Mrs Hurst agreed, concerned for her baby given her previous losses. "If nothing else it would be best to have someone to supervise Caroline."

After a few more moments' negotiation Mrs Gardiner also agreed. The rest of the ladies packed themselves into the carts and made their way to Kympton. It was not far, though they could see the smoke, and even flames, long before they reached the village. The scene was rather chaotic, but they saw people laid out in a meadow upwind and went there. The villagers were pleased to see them, especially the women who had exhausted their supplies. It was hard, hot work, but they were mostly protected from the smoke and flames.

"Mama!" Richard exclaimed when he came up some hours later. "This is a pleasant surprise. How are you?"

"There's nothing the matter with me. What have you done to yourself?"

He looked down at his sodden clothes and grinned at her. "Nothing. Darcy doused me preemptively. I do need a stretcher though, if there's one available. Bingley fell through a few levels and seems to have a broken leg."

"Of course. Elinor! Have we any stretchers?" she called, as she turned to face the field.

"Just a moment!" Elinor called back, moving in search of the last one she'd seen.

Mr Gardiner came up at that moment and congratulated Jane and Lizzy on convincing their aunt to stay behind.

"Don't thank us, Uncle. Lady Matlock was the one who convinced her and Mrs Hurst."

Mr Hurst had come up behind them and both gentlemen thanked her. There was no time for more as Elinor appeared then with two stretchers. She handed one to the General and laid the other near the entrance to the meadow so that it was easily available to those who needed it. Georgiana and Marianne were manning a refreshment station nearby while the others ladies tended the wounded. Elinor checked in on them and learned they'd commandeered one of the carts to resupply them. They had a small, very well controlled fire they were using to boil water to make tea as well as a herbal concoction that seemed to consist mostly of mint, which one of the village women had told them was good for smoke inhalation.

They were in need of it as a man helped Colonel Brandon up to them. He was coughing and having trouble breathing and the ladies rushed to his aid. When he reached for the cup they noticed his hand was burnt. Marianne ran to fetch one of the other ladies, while Georgiana helped him drink. Jane returned with salve and bandages and tended to him as Marianne breathlessly asked the man with him what had happened.

"He's been helping the children and elderly get out. Some of them can't walk, or didn't know what to do, so he was guiding them. Had too much smoke as a result, I'd wager."

 

It was late afternoon before the fire was contained and dusk before it had been fully extinguished. They were all tired and dirty, and many of them were wet as well. Few of the houses at Kympton were still habitable. Most of the villagers were being housed at Lambton and other nearby villages. The severely wounded had been taken to Pemberley, to make it easier for the two local doctors to treat them all. Mrs Gardiner and Mrs Hurst had been busy, as had Mrs Reynolds and the staff that had remained behind. 

Miss Bingley had risen and found the state of things to be dire. Her maid had been much longer bringing her tray than usual and was soundly chastised for it. She had eventually allowed the girl to explain and was utterly horrified. She could not believe that the inhabitants of Pemberley would go to so much trouble for undeserving peasants. Her maid was treated to a lengthy lecture on the dignity of the gentry, and how this was what happened when one allowed the lower orders into one's society.

Once Miss Bingley felt herself appropriately dressed -- which required three changes of costume and at least six different hairstyles for she had not forgotten that Lady Matlock was due to arrive -- she arrayed herself in one of the grandest drawing rooms and waited to greet the guest. She was quickly bored. On enquiry, she found that her sister was assisting Mrs Reynolds with settling and nursing the injured. She was told, though she did not care, that Mrs Gardiner and a number of maids were busy in the still room. With nothing to do and no-one to talk to she amused herself by mentally redecorating the house and fantasising about how much better things would be managed when she was mistress.

She was angry by the time they returned. She moved to the hall when she saw them approaching. "Is this your idea of entertainment, Mr Darcy? What will you expect of your guests next? Tending livestock perhaps?"

"This was strictly a voluntary undertaking, Miss Bingley," Darcy said tiredly, in no mood to put up with her at the end of a very long day.

"I take it by her lack of arrival that you were kind enough to warn your aunt, Lady Matlock, of what you had planned."

"You are mistaken, Miss Bingley. My mother not only arrived this morning, but she lent us her assistance. Let me introduce you."

She came forward to meet the young woman, feeling rather more dislike than she'd expected given what she knew of her. Miss Bingley was clearly dressed to impress in brightly coloured silk and lace with feathers in her hair.

"How is your brother?" she asked and was pleased to see the girl appear disconcerted.

"My brother? How should I know? He went out with all of you."

"He is as well as could be expected," Mrs Hurst said, coming down the stairs. "The doctor has set the bone and given him some laudanum for the pain. He is still sleeping, but the doctor tells me that's expected."

"Louisa! How could you not tell me Charles was injured?"

"I tried. You told me you had no interest in any of the injured and would thank me not to talk about it. Now, we've got as many baths going as possible, but some of you will have to wait. We've also sent a tray and tea up to your rooms as I'm sure you're all starving."

With a slight acknowledgement they streamed up the stairs in search of sustenance and cleanliness.

Caroline was outraged and turned on her sister before all the others were out of earshot. "How could you embarrass me like that in front of the Countess!"

"If your conduct embarrasses you perhaps you should behave differently. Besides you sounded as though you were doing a good job of it yourself before I said anything. Now, will you sit with Charles for a bit? I want to see Gilbert."

"He doesn't need anyone with him while he sleeps. What if Mr Darcy comes downstairs?"

"I expect they're all exhausted and will retire early. I don't think you'll see any of them until morning."

Louisa was quite correct, but Caroline stubbornly remained in the drawing room until late in the evening just in case. 

 

After breakfast Colonel Brandon was sent back to bed by Jane. He was still coughing and had aggravated his old war wound. The Hursts went to sit with Bingley, as the doctor thought he would wake soon. Georgiana, Marianne, and Elizabeth went to the music room, Jane and Elinor to the still room -- they all intended to spend a few hours there through the day -- while the Gardiners went for a short walk in the shrubbery.

Lady Matlock was left with her son and nephew. "Miss Bingley is even worse than I imagined.  And the disrespect she shows by maintaining such contrary hours!"

"I think it's remarkably kind of her to absent herself for so much of the day."

"Richard!"

"That's part of why she's worse than usual. Of course, Miss Elizabeth and Miss Marianne are almost as bad as him."

"Miss Elizabeth's very existence upsets her!"

"I expect so. I do like your Miss Elizabeth, Darcy. Kind, capable, and good-humoured. I trust her unexpected presence in the house means you've managed not to insult her?"

"I hope so. I think so. She was certainly pleased to be reunited with Miss Bennet."

"Ah, but I get the credit for that."

"And why neither of you felt the need to communicate our proximity to either of us still escapes me. We might have missed meeting each other entirely!"

"I thought the surprise would be good for you."

"Yes, well, it all worked out for the best this time. I've had a number of conversations with her and I think we're coming to know each other a bit better."

"Good. Georgiana seems much improved."

"It seemed almost overnight she transformed. I knew Miss Elizabeth would be good for her, but Richard really does deserve the credit here. I was not sure that a sudden influx of strangers would help. I would have introduced the ladies one at a time, but I think being part of the group has helped."

Darcy was called away by his steward to discuss the rebuilding of Kympton, leaving mother and son alone.

"I like your Elinor a great deal as well, Richard."

"What? Mother," she held up her hand to stop him.

"I know what you're going to say. You need to marry with money in mind and Elinor does not meet that criterion."

"I'm glad you understand."

"I do not. I share Georgiana's confusion as to why the origin of the money matters."

"It just does."

"Mmmm. And if didn't you'd be doing your best to secure her?"

"But it does matter."

"Georgiana found your calculations and passed them on to me," his mother said, taking a sheet of paper from her reticule.

"Then you know how futile this conversation is," Richard said just before he stormed out.

"It's not futile, Richard. Richard! I'm not finished!" she called after him in vain. She sighed and went in search of the other ladies.

 

Elinor and Jane busied themselves in the still room. Elinor was making more lavender water, as well as a marigold tincture for those who had suffered burns. Jane was concentrating on the need to help those who were suffering from smoke inhalation and was carefully creating elderflower infusions.

“I’m sure there must be something more we can do.”

“We can only do so much at a time, Jane.”

“Yes, I know, but it just feels so little when the poor colonel is suffering so.”

“And so the real cause of your distress is revealed.”

“Oh, Elinor! I did not mean to disparage anyone else’s efforts, but he has made himself quite sick and aggravated the rheumatism in his shoulder, and I just wish there was something more we could do to help him.”

“I’m sure knowing of your concern will aid in his recovery.”

“Elinor!” Jane blushed a deep crimson, while her friend merely grinned at her.

“I’m quite serious, Jane.”

“Whatever my feelings may be, I doubt that he could ever see me as more than a friend.”

“So you admit you have feelings for him?”

“I can no longer deny it. Seeing how hard he worked to rescue the villagers, I just find myself thinking of his selflessness and determination. How could anyone not admire him?”

“And Mr Bingley’s broken leg?”

“I am very sorry for him, of course, but he really should have been more careful.”

“Indeed. Well, I declare you in love and will not tease you further.”

“And you?”

“Me? Well. Like you I seem to making it a habit to fall in love with unsuitable men. At least the General appears to be trying to prevent me as much pain as possible.”

“He is a good man.”

“And that, of course, makes it all the more difficult to bear. Still, it must be borne. We shall continue on and hope for the best.”


Lady Matlock looked in on the three in the music room, spent a few minutes contemplating Georgiana's resemblance to her mother, and then made her way to the still room. If she had reached her destination she could have joined Elinor's amusement in watching Jane fret over the absent Colonel. Instead, she was intercepted by Miss Bingley.Miss Bingley. I missed you at breakfast."

"Yes," she smiled superciliously. "I find town hours much more reasonable than country hours. I expect you understand how it is."

"I can't say that I do. I've never understood the appeal of living most of one's life after the sun has set. Unless, of course, that was the schedule preferred by my hosts. It is only basic courtesy to respect the timetable of those kind enough to welcome you into their home."

Miss Bingley heard the implication and blushed angrily. "Shall I call for tea?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"If you wish. I'm sure that whatever he may ordinarily feel, your brother appreciates your preference for fashionable hours now. I expect you sat up with him all night while we slept. How was he when you left him?"

She knew Caroline had done no such thing, Mrs Hurst had received a report from his valet before breakfast and relayed it to them.

"He was still asleep. The doctor did say he was unlikely to wake till this morning."

Lady Matlock had hoped she could shame the girl into doing as she ought, but she lied shamelessly without even a hint of a blush. Lady Matlock was disgusted. Caroline was saved from a reprimand by the appearance of the other young ladies. Miss Marianne was complaining to her sister, who patiently ignored her and told her that she could return to her beloved Haydn after having some tea. And eating something, for Miss Dashwood had seen how little she consumed at breakfast.

"We could have had refreshments in the music room."

"Where you would have ignored them. Besides, I'm sure Aunt Helena wishes to spend some time with Georgiana and she can't do that if you keep her tied to an instrument."

"Oh Georgiana, Lady Matlock, I'm so sorry. I did not think."

"There's no need to apologise, Miss Marianne. I looked in on you three and was very pleased to see how much Georgiana was enjoying herself. In fact, my dear, you reminded me of your mother."

"Really?"

"Oh yes. She was as indefatigable as Miss Marianne. She had the harp in the window, just as you did, though I did not see it very often as I was drafted to accompany her on the piano."

Georgiana was thrilled with this glimpse of her mother. Elizabeth wanted to hear more as well, and not just for Georgiana's sake but for Darcy's.  "Had she a favourite composer?"

"I believe she considered them all to be her dear friends. Do you know she occasionally composed her own songs?"

"I did not, how lovely," Georgiana replied.

"Did she keep any?" Marianne asked excitedly. "Oh Georgiana, just imagine how pleased your brother would be if we played something of hers for him!"

"Oh yes! That would be wonderful! Do you know where any are, Aunt?"

"I shall come with you to the music room after tea and we'll see what we can find."

"Music is such a pleasant occupation, I think," Miss Bingley said.

"Do you play?" Lady Matlock asked.

"Of course," she replied. "All educated ladies play."

"That's not true at all," Marianne said immediately. "I don't believe Jane plays, though she sings beautifully. And Elinor is completely incapable of music."

Elinor laughed, while Jane blushed and said, "It's kind of you to say so, Marianne, but now you've heard Lizzy I expect you can see how inadequate my abilities are."

"I understand you draw, Elinor."

"Yes, Aunt Helena. And if it will not make her too self-conscious, I should like to try my hand at Georgiana and her harp."

"Me? Why?"

"Because I think it would please your brother."

"Now you've done it, Elinor!" Lizzy laughed. "You know she won't say no if it's for her brother."

They all laughed, except Miss Bingley who merely smiled tightly. It galled her to hear a penniless girl with no connexions addressing Lady Matlock so familiarly.

"I was not aware you were acquainted with Lady Matlock, Miss Dashwood. Pray, where did you meet?" Her tone, implying disbelief in Elinor's knowing anyone in the first circles made Marianne bristle in indignation.

Elinor, however, answered quite easily. "We met yesterday on the carriage sweep."

Lady Matlock smiled at her bland tone and added, "I felt an instant kinship, as if you were my own daughter."

That made Elinor blush, and Lady Matlock was pleased to see it.

"I confess myself surprised, Lady Matlock, that you are so willing to invite intimacy with such complete strangers."

"But they are not strangers, Miss Bingley. My son, my nephew, and my niece have told me all about them."

Miss Bingley's expression soured even further, though more than one of them had thought it impossible. Her thoughts were clear to them all -- she had known the Darcys longer and so the intimacy with the Countess should be hers. Most of them were hoping that she would be put-out enough to leave, but Lady Matlock was almost as powerful a draw as Mr Darcy.

Mr and Mrs Hurst came in just then, which changed the subject as everyone asked after her brother.

"He's awoken and the doctor is with him now," she said. "We'll know more once he is done, but he didn't expect any problems, especially since Charles awoke hungry."

"He was not pleased when we told him he could not eat until after the doctor had seen him," her husband said, sharing a smile with her. He'd used some quite colourful language, which had shocked Louisa, but the doctor said it was due to the last of the laudanum and assured them he'd recover his self-control once he ate.

Chapter Text

Henry Crawford was most put out. What was Edmund thinking, inviting this insipid clergyman to visit? And, more importantly, how could Fanny Price fail to see his own superiority in comparison? It was clear to both him and his sister that Fanny would rather spend her time with Mr Ferrars, though neither could understand why. Take this morning, for example.

There Henry was, entertaining the girl with his tales of town, which he knew she must enjoy. Not only had she never had the chance to enjoy such delights for herself, but Henry knew himself to be an excellent storyteller. And then he’s rudely interrupted in order for her to go on her ride. That, certainly, he should have expected. Fanny’s a creature of habit, after all, and she takes her ride at the same time every day. But she did not even hesitate a moment. There was not a single sign of her being reluctant to leave his company, as there should have been. And then, to add insult to injury, he learns that Ferrars had joined her. Henry was heartily wishing that man any number of unpleasant accidents.

 

Mary Crawford was confused. She had longed for Edmund’s return, feared that he’d met some young woman that actually wished to marry a clergyman, and censured herself for her feelings. It was not right that the one man she’d ever even considered caring for should be so stubbornly unsuitable. She had been pleased for Henry to delay their departure, but now she knew not what she felt.

And as if Edmund weren’t causing her enough problems, he’d brought Mr Ferrars back with him. Had he done so for Fanny’s benefit? It certainly seemed so, given the pleasure the two clearly found in each other’s company. She could not understand how Fanny could possibly prefer him to her brother, but the girl clearly did. Well, she hoped they would be very happy together. Fanny was a good girl and it was amusing to see Henry battle such strange competition.

Edmund certainly gave her no pleasure, continually showing himself to be so very indifferent to what she would have him do. She had hoped he had come to care for her enough that she might have some influence, but it was clear she didn’t. How she longed for the simplicity of town!

 

Fanny would have been most surprised to learn that she was currently sharing Miss Crawford’s confusion. She had loved Edmund for years, he was the yardstick against whom she measured all others. Never before had she met someone she could possibly consider better than him. And yet here was Mr Ferrars, who had not been taken in by Miss Crawford’s pretty face. She rather thought a clergyman should be better able to conceal his thoughts, but she was pleased that she was no longer the only one to find something a miss in Miss Crawford’s speech.

And as he was not captivated by her, he was fully able to aid her in deflecting Mr Crawford. What that man was about, she had no idea. She had made her disapproval of his behaviour quite clear. But she would not upset herself by dwelling on that. For the first time she was accompanied on her ride by someone other than a servant. She had had no idea how pleasant it was to go riding with someone in this manner.

“It is a great pity that you’ve not seen any of your family, aside from William, in so long. No doubt when you marry you will wish to settle closer to them.”

“Marry? I admit, Mr Ferrars, that I had not considered it at all.”

“No?”

“No. I have never wished to leave Mansfield. I do miss my family, you are correct, but I don’t believe any thought has been given to my marrying.”

“I am surprised. I was under the impression that young ladies thought of nothing else.”

Fanny laughed. “I know you are teasing me. Some ladies may think of nothing else, but you would probably not be riding with me if I were one.”

“Indeed I would not. Still, while you are young, you should probably begin to think of your future.”

“I expect to remain here. My Aunt Bertram needs me.”

“Sir Thomas could easily hire her a companion.”

“But why should he, when he has relations willing to aid her?”

“Well, then, when you marry he may send for one of your younger sisters.”

“You seem very certain that I will marry.”

“Of course you will. You are precisely the kind of girl that a man wants as a wife. Even Crawford can see that.”

“Mr Crawford is…”

“The less said of him, the better.”

“Quite.”

They were silent a few moments before Fanny mustered her courage. “And what of yourself, Mr Ferrars? Is there a wife as well as a living awaiting you?”

He looked at her, startled. “Well, there is a living in Dorset. As for a wife…” he trailed off, not knowing what to say.

“I am sorry. I did not mean to cause you pain.”

“Oh, no, it is merely a long, complicated story. And shows my own foolishness. Still, I think I may confide in you.” And so he did.

Fanny listened in fascination, horrified by Lucy’s perfidy and saddened by Miss Dashwood’s refusal. There were long moments of silence when he had finished the tale.

“I have shocked you, Miss Price.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “To actually throw you over for your own brother! And him! You must forgive me, Mr Ferrars, but I can only think them lacking in integrity and honour.”

“As do I, though I hope there is some affection there as well.”

“As do I.”

“And will you not censure my own behaviour? I have been wrong, I know. Come, Miss Price, let me have your worst.”

“You were wrong to enter into a secret engagement, but as you already feel it to be so, there is no need for anyone to censure you.”

“And have you nothing to say on my dealings with Miss Dashwood?”

She looked at him keenly.

“Do you truly wish to hear my thoughts on that matter?”

“I do.”

“Then I suppose I must tell you what I truly think.”

“Indeed, Miss Price, as my friend you are obligated to.”

“I have seen firsthand that when men are in love they are inclined to let their principles slip and not judge accurately.”

“Bertram has been rather blinded by the attractions of Miss Crawford.”

“The only engaged people I have known were my cousin Maria and Mr Rushworth. I can only compare your situation to theirs. I do not doubt that you and Miss Dashwood behaved with far more honour,  but you should have left the moment you felt yourself in danger. You had an obligation to Miss Lucy Steele, and regardless of what Miss Dashwood may or may not have felt, you dishonoured your engagement by remaining there.”

“I understand, Miss Price. I am pleased I convinced you to speak, for I had not understood before, but your explanation is the clearest I have yet had.”

Fanny, blushing and uncomfortable, looked at him and smiled tentatively. He returned the smile and turned the conversation by asking after her brother William.


Elizabeth snagged her sister for a walk. She needed someone to talk to and Jane was her only confidant on the matter. Of course, there were things that she wanted to ask her sister as well.

"I must admit myself confused by your behaviour. I know how much you cared for Mr Bingley and how upset you were when he appeared to have abandoned you. Yet now that you have been reunited you seem totally indifferent to him."

"I am not indifferent, though I try to be."

"He needs encouragement, Jane, and you do not give him any."

"I know your opinion on our parents' marriage, Lizzy. Would you be happy married to a man who treated you with disrespect?"

"Certainly not!"

"Then why should I?"

"But he does respect you! It is his sister who manipulates him into thinking you would not be a good match for him."

"He did not respect me, or love me, enough to ignore his sister's manipulations. He is weak-willed and allows her to dictate his thoughts and actions. He is not ready to head a family. He is not the sort of man that I would be comfortable entrusting myself and my children to."

"But you love him!"

"No, Lizzy. I love the man I thought he was. And even if I did love him, that is not all that is required for a marriage. I certainly hope to love the man I marry, but in order to love him I would need to respect him s the head of my new family."

"I suppose."

"You suppose? Lizzy! I know you feel the same about the man you would be willing to marry."

"Yes, but I did not expect you to agree with my opinion on the matter."

"My opinion on the matter is not what has changed. What has changed is what I require in a respectable man."

"And yet I am feeling as though I am talking to an entirely new Jane."

"Your confidence has been shake, both by Charlotte's marriage and Mr Darcy's revelations. I do not say this to pain you, but I feel that you are now listening to me rather than hearing what you expect me to say."

"That does pain me. How can it not? I feel totally inadequate as a sister."

"And yet you are the one who was able to help our parents see the ramifications of Kitty and Lydia's behaviour, and drew out Mary's hidden depths. If you are inadequate as a sister what must I be?"

"You must be the best of sisters, for you are incapable of anything else."

"No, Lizzy. My inability to see anything other than the good in people is harmful because it prevents me from seeing reality. If I cannot see how things really are how can I hope to judge properly, or guide others in a way that is beneficial to them?"

Lizzy had no answer to that, which Jane took to indicate agreement and turned the subject back to Mr Bingley.

"I trust you understand my feelings towards him now?"

"I believe so. But I am left wondering how you will ever find a man worthy of you when we have so few resources."

"You forget that I have friends outside of Hertfordshire now. They have introduced me to both Colonel Brandon and General Fitzwilliam, though I do not believe the latter is available."

"No?"

"I suspect a preference for Elinor. I know that money is an issue, but I will have to hope that it can be resolved."

"And Colonel Brandon?"

"I confess I like him very much. Do not say anything, Lizzy. I do not believe he will ever care for me as more than a friend and I will not allow myself to be hurt by that. Besides, it looks as though I will have a sister to throw me in the paths of other rich young men." She looked enquiringly at her sister.

“Oh Jane! I don't know what to do."

"No?"

"He's so very different to how he was in Hertfordshire."

"Is he? I confess I don't see much difference, except that he seems more comfortable with all of us now."

"I was so sure he was ill-tempered and disdainful."

"I think he must be exceedingly even-tempered to be able to bear Miss Bingley's behaviour with equanimity."

"I don't know how anyone can!"

"He derives amusement from the discomfort we cause her, though he does not allow it to show."

"I've noticed. I had not thought he had a sense of humour at all, but now I find it rather dry and somewhat similar to Papa's."

"He would be a good match for you Lizzy."

"After the way I treated him! He could never consider it."

"You are very wrong. No-one can miss the way he looks at you. I think he merely awaits a sign from you before he renews his addresses."

"But do I want him to? I certainly feel that I know him far better than ever before, but I feel as if I'm barely acquainted with myself!"

"You have not changed much, Lizzy."

"Haven't I? I like him. I respect him. He may well be the best man I've ever met. But do I love him?"

"Only you can answer that. Can you bear the thought of parting from him? Or his being hurt and you unable to help and comfort him?"

They walked silently until they came to a fork in the path.

"I will return to the house. I know you wish to think and I shall leave you to it. Besides, I could not keep up with you."

 

With Darcy in Kympton, the express that arrived was delivered to his sister. She went in search of Mrs Reynolds and then her aunt.

"Aunt, Uncle Henry and James will be here soon."

"Here?"

"Yes, they say to expect them either late tonight or early tomorrow."

"What for?"

"They don't say," she handed the note to her aunt, but as all it said was to expect them shortly for a family meeting, she was left as much in the dark as her niece.

The General did not return from his ride until almost dinner time, so his mother and cousin could not ask him if he knew anything about it. He was unusually grave at dinner and had avoided everyone but Darcy, who had returned from Kympton at about the same time. Darcy was also grave and troubled when they met for dinner. The General had told Darcy that he would be leaving in the morning, had then had to explain why, and the ensuing argument, much the same as with Georgiana and his mother, had upset him further. He had considered skipping dinner, but felt that one last meeting was necessary. He must leave, but he could not go without saying goodbye.

It was Lady Matlock who began the conversation. "William, Richard, we received an express from Henry and James this morning. They will be here later tonight or early tomorrow."

"And what brings them here?" her son asked, convinced that they were part of a plot to force charity on him.

"We were hoping one of you knew," Georgiana said quietly. "They said nothing about why in the letter." She passed the note to her brother who read it and looked at Richard.

"All they say is that they wish to speak to all the family. You shall have to delay your departure."

"Departure?" More than one person asked, surprised.

"Yes," he answered calmly, looking at Elinor. "I find I cannot remain here any longer. But now I will have one more day with all of you."

The only person uninterested in his leaving was Miss Bingley, who had caught what the really important part of the disclosure was and spoke stridently to Lady Matlock, "Would that be your husband, the Earl of Matlock, and his heir, Viscount Walsham?"

"Yes, Miss Bingley."

"The Viscount is unmarried, I understand."

"Oh! Maybe he's come to tell us he's getting married!" Georgiana suggested.

"There would be no need for an express and sudden visit for that!"

"No, I suppose you're right."

"Do they plan to stay long?" Miss Bingley asked, intent on the information she desired.

"They did not say, Miss Bingley," Darcy answered shortly and then changed the subject. "I hope your presence at dinner indicates you are well, Colonel Brandon?"

"Tolerably, I thank you."

"What did the doctor say?" Jane asked.

"That I should do nothing strenuous and rest at the first sign of shortness of breath until my lungs have completely recovered from the smoke."

"And the old injury?" Fitzwilliam asked.

"I shall need to be careful not to aggravate it for some time yet."

Jane noticed his embarrassment at being the centre of attention and redirected the conversation. "And your brother, Mrs Hurst?"

"His leg is giving him some pain. The doctor says he'll have to remain in bed another day or two before he can try walking again."

"Does he expect Mr Bingley will have trouble walking?" Mr Gardiner asked.

"No, he will merely need to use crutches for some time. It was a clean break," Mr Hurst answered.

Miss Bingley was uninterested in the Colonel (old, boring, and only £2000 a year on some tiny little estate in the middle of nowhere) or her brother. Her mind was far more agreeably engaged. An unmarried Viscount! She could be Lady Matlock! True, Darcy had the advantage of being without parents, but the Matlocks were both titled and wealthy. Perhaps Darcy was taking her too much for granted, assuming that she would still be there when his foolish inclination for Eliza Bennet was over. A little jealousy would do very well, and if she managed to catch the Viscount, even better.

Elinor was unsettled. On the one hand, she knew why the General felt he needed to leave and she commended him for actually doing it. Part of her felt that she should be the one to leave as this was his family's house. She knew that was impractical, however. As a lady she did not have the same freedom of movement that he did. On the other hand, the thought of him leaving made her feel quite ill. She knew perfectly well that he could not afford to marry someone with as little as she had. She was distracted from her contemplation by Lady Matlock.

"I'm sorry, Aunt Helena, I missed what you said."

"I was merely asking if you had a preference for the southern or northern counties? Miss Bingley prefers town, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Marianne, and Georgiana are in favour of the north, and Miss Bennet prefers the mildness of the south."

"Well, I think an argument can be made in favour of every county. Of course, I've never experienced a northern winter, so my opinion is subject to change."

"You do not want to experience one," Mrs Hurst said. "I grew up in Yorkshire and will quite happily never spend another winter there. The other seasons are lovely, however."

"Which counties have you lived in, Elinor?" Lady Matlock asked, redirecting the conversation where she wanted it.

"Well, we grew up in Suffolk, spent some time in Sussex, and we now live in Devon. We have spent some time in other counties, Dorset and Somerset, as well as in London, but we've only lived in those three."

"I see. And you've never stayed in Hampshire?"

"We did spend a few nights in Winchester when we moved to Devon. I took the opportunity to sketch the Cathedral. It is a breath-taking building."

"I can see you're wondering why I'm asking. My husband is trustee of an estate near Winchester, Owlsbury Hall."

"I've never heard of it. When did this happen?" Richard asked.

"When you were still a child. Your father is only a trustee, but we hope we've found the heir now and I would like to visit the area." She looked quite steadily at her son while she spoke. He could tell she was trying to convey something, but he knew not what.

 

The Earl and his oldest son arrived the next morning, while the party was still at breakfast. They were welcomed and invited to join them, which they did. After breakfast the Darcys and Fitzwilliams adjourned to Darcy's study.

The Earl began, "You may have heard that George Wickham was recently killed in a duel."

"We have."

"I had not," Lady Matlock said. "But surely that's not why you're here?"

"It is in part. After his death his things were packed up and sent to your house in London, William. Your butler put most of it aside and intended to write to you about it. He took the trouble to separate the bills from the other papers and found some letters written in a hand he recognised."

They could not help it, both Darcy and the General glanced at Georgiana. The Earl and his son noticed the look, shared a glance of their own, and then the Earl continued.

"Knowing I was in town, he brought the letters to me. At first I was certain there was a mistake, though the hand was equally familiar to me. So I read them. There was no mistake. And the contents are shocking." He paused, looking at his niece. "I'm not sure you want to hear the rest of this, Georgiana."

"I do."

"Very well. The letters were from Catherine."

"Catherine? Your sister Catherine?"

"Yes, my dear. Though I am no longer willing to acknowledge her as my sister."

"What did the letters say?"

The Viscount extracted a paper from his coat and handed it to his brother. "Read it yourself."

He read it aloud.

Wickham,

Do not think I am taken in by your scruples. I have told you what I am willing to pay and all your attempts at negotiation will be fruitless. And it's not as if I want you to publicly ruin the girl. Merely make it clear to Darcy that he is an unfit guardian. I will do the rest.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Both Georgiana and Darcy paled at the words.

"How could she?" Lady Matlock asked in horror.

"I don't know. But it's clear that she did, we have the evidence in her own hand. He kept all their correspondence."

"We shall never see her again," Darcy said, moving to sit beside Georgiana and placing his arm around her.

"What about Anne?" she asked.

"It does not appear that she knew anything about it," the Viscount said. "And, hopefully, what Father and I have in mind will benefit our cousin."

"Does it involve me running that harridan through?"

"You're so hot-headed, Richard," his brother replied. "You run her through and then what? She dies. There's no suffering in that."

"What do you have in mind?" his mother asked.

"I thought we should have her declared mentally incompetent and committed to an asylum."

The three young men laughed and it was quickly agreed that this would be both the best and the most satisfying solution."

"But how will this affect Anne?" Georgiana asked again.

"She is of age, so legally Rosings is already hers. With Catherine out of the way she will be able to do whatever she pleases, though I expect she'll need some help running the estate at first."

It was decided that the Earl would write to his solicitor and begin setting things in motion. Until they heard back from him they would remain at Pemberley and continue plotting for contingencies.

As she was leaving, Georgiana turned and asked her brother, "May I tell my friends?"

"Provided you make it clear that Miss Bingley must not hear of it."

"That woman! I recommend you ensure never to be alone with her, James. She would compromise herself in a moment," Lady Matlock said. It seemed as if she had a fair bit more to say on the subject, so Georgiana slipped away and went to find her friends.

They were outraged, as one would expect. Elizabeth and Marianne took great pleasure in thinking up increasingly bizarre punishments for her aunt until they could no longer breathe for laughing so much.

At that point, Miss Bingley arrived, "What are you making all this racket for? You should have some respect for the family. They obviously have something serious to discuss."

"But Miss Bingley, have you not heard? Laughter is the best medicine," Georgiana said cheekily, moving so she was no longer hidden behind the others.

"My dear Georgiana," she gushed, "do you not realise that this undignified behaviour is why you have been excluded from the adults' discussion? You will be coming out soon and will need to learn how to comport yourself as one of the first circles."

"And I suppose you think that your behaviour is the model she should follow, Miss Bingley?" A cold voice asked from behind her.

She turned to face Lady Matlock. "As one of Georgiana's closest friends I will always endeavour to assist her where necessary. Especially if her family is content to see her associate herself with vulgar fortune hunters."

"You are not my friend at all, Miss Bingley," Georgiana said coldly, finally driven to anger by the continual abuse of those she did consider to be her real friends. "Everyone knows that all you want is to marry my brother -- a thing that will never happen, let me tell you -- and if not for that you wouldn't give me the time of day. I will not help you entrap anyone in marriage and I will not stand for you abusing me, my family, and my friends in my own home."

Miss Bingley gaped at her in shock. It had never occurred to her that Georgiana might see through her insincerity and meet her with anything other than blind friendship.

"Well said," Lizzy said, coming to stand beside Georgiana in support.

"I see you have been coaching her, Miss Eliza. I'm sure that her brother will be very interested to know that you've infected her with your conceited independence. If he does not object to me as a friend of Georgiana's then who are you to?"

She'd forgotten that Lady Matlock was behind her. "I think you'll find my nephew as thrilled as the rest of the family is by Georgiana's gaining some much-needed confidence. And make no mistake, Miss Bingley, we recognise you for what you are. Darcy merely tolerates you for the sake of your brother."

Caroline was outraged, but Lady Matlock was not finished.

"I think you should spend this evening in your room. We will give your apologies at dinner. And if you continue to behave like this I may speak to your brother about hiring a governess."

She then ordered a nearby footman to escort Miss Bingley to her room and inform her maid and the kitchen that she would be remaining there for the rest of the day. Caroline was, once again, both mortified and incensed. It would not do for her to go against Lady Matlock, so she would have to do as she was bid. This was all Eliza Bennet's fault! Rather than reflecting on what had happened and been said, she instead fantasised about getting revenge on the impudent chit.

In the end she decided that she would leave her room, though she could not go downstairs without disobeying Lady Matlock, and went to her brother's room.

"Caroline!" he said cheerfully when she came in. "This is a nice surprise. How are you? You look upset."

"I am."

"What's happened? It must be something serious to upset you."

"Oh, Charles! I know you haven't noticed, but none of the other ladies here like me and they've been poisoning dear Georgiana against me!"

"Not like you? Why wouldn't they like you? And how do you know?"

"I do not know why they don't like me. I expect it's jealousy. I should have expected that after my experiences at school, but I must confess myself completely surprised by it."

"Jealous of what?"

"The fact that I've been educated -- none of them have attended a school save Georgiana. The fact that I have a fortune -- only Georgiana compares, the rest are all penniless. The fact that I have long been an intimate friend of Georgiana's and, through you and her, a friend of Mr Darcy's."

"I can see why some people might be jealous of all that, but the ladies here are not those sorts of women."

"Then why do they hate me so?" she wailed, trying to squeeze out a few tears.

"I'm sure there's just been some miscommunication."

"But there hasn't. Georgiana said just this morning that I was not her friend. And Louisa's been spreading that ridiculous nonsense about me throwing myself at Mr Darcy. And Miss Eliza called me a fortune hunter. Me! I have a fortune of my own, unlike them. And if I were a fortune hunter would I not be downstairs throwing myself at the single, wealthy, titled Viscount Walsham?"

"Oh my poor sister."

"What am I to do,  Charles?"

"I think you can only wait until time proves the true nature of your character to them." At this point she finally managed to produce the tears she wanted and Charles hurried on, "I'll speak to Louisa about it tomorrow. She's your sister, I'm sure she will help you. And at the moment that's all I can do, confined to bed as I am. If it gets too much for you, please feel free to come here at any time."

Chapter Text

Having had a lively discussion about what to do about Lady Catherine, the Earl set about writing a letter for his lawyer.

"And after that I expect you want to talk about Owlsbury, Richard."

"Owlsbury? What has that to do with me?"

The Earl looked at him for a moment and then shook his head. "Go find your mother and then we'll talk."

He found his mother in time to hear her ordering Miss Bingley to her room and, once she had left, made no effort to restrain his laughter. The ladies admonished him, though it was clear that they were all amused as well. He escorted his mother back to his father and asked what was going on.

"I know you were trying to communicate something when you mentioned the place at dinner, but I did not understand you."

"I could see that. And there you were being noble and trying to leave."

"Leave? Do you mean she refused you?"

"He hasn't asked her yet, Henry. He thinks he can't afford to and so was leaving to avoid raising hopes and breaking hearts."

"I can't afford to," Richard said, deciding against pretending ignorance. In response his father located a piece of paper and handed it to him. "What's this?"

"A copy of my Aunt Cassandra's will."

Curious, Richard skimmed it for mentions of Owlsbury Hall. He found it fairly quickly. She had left it in trust to her nephew, with the intention of it going to a younger child who wished, but could not afford, to marry someone they loved.

"And you intend to give this to me?"

"You're the only child in your generation that can't afford to marry where you choose. If you had not fallen in love, it would have gone in trust to your brother for the next generation."

"I know nothing about running estates."

"You're one of the youngest ever to have been made a general, Richard. I'm sure you'll figure it out."

"You said it was in Hampshire?"

"Yes. It's in desperate need of redecoration, but otherwise it's in good repair. It brings in about £3500 a year, I think?"

"That's about right. There's also a house in town, which is currently rented out."

"Well that will be convenient -- save the War Office from lodging me somewhere."

"You could resign your commission if you wished."

"I'll give it some thought. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a young lady to court."

He left his parents and went in search of Elinor.

"What is she like, Helena? I wasn't paying too much attention when we were introduced."

"I like her, and I think you will too. And since you were too busy fuming over Catherine, I presume you didn't notice William's Miss Elizabeth either?"

"No, I didn't. I take it you like her too?"

"I like them all, except Miss Bingley," she said.

 

Richard went back to the conservatory where he had seen the ladies last. He found only Miss Bennet, seated in a sunbeam.

"Miss Bennet. All alone? I am surprised."

She smiled. "It is difficult to be alone in a party such as this, but I confess that I sometimes long for the peace and quiet of solitude."

"Then I will disturb you no longer."

"Oh, I didn't mean you should leave. Especially since you're planning to return to London soon.  Though I expect you probably have a hundred more important things to do."

"My plans have changed. With the news my father and brother brought I do not expect to leave earlier than originally planned."

"I'm pleased to hear it."

"So where have the others got to?"

"Elinor and Georgiana have gone out sketching. Lizzy, Mr Darcy, my aunt and uncle, Marianne, and your brother have gone walking. I believe Mrs Hurst is in the music room, and Mr Hurst is in the library with Colonel Brandon."

They sat quietly together, only speaking occasionally.

"Miss Bennet..."

She turned her head to look at him, but said nothing. This was not the first time he'd attempted to speak what was on his mind, but he was not having much success.

"I really don't know how to say this."

"Why can you not say it plainly?"

"I do not wish to either offend or insult you."

"And you think that likely, do you?"

"I have no idea. I don't normally have this much difficulty speaking to ladies."

"Perhaps you should stop thinking of me as a lady and think of me as a friend."

"I certainly should," he grinned, "but you are another's friend before you are mine, and as I wish your advice on my friendship with her I am not certain I should say exactly what I think."

She smiled broadly at him, "I will certainly not betray your confidence any more than I would hers. I should very much like to hear what you have to say on the matter."

"I shall speak plainly then, as you asked me to. Now, I understand that you are a young lady of small fortune who had her heart broken by the thoughtless behaviour of a relatively worthless gentleman?"

"That's one way of putting it."

"And I understand that your friend finds herself in a similar situation?"

"Do you? Where did you hear that?"

"From Georgiana, when she was trying to determine my income and suitability as a husband."

"Not for herself I presume."

He looked horrified. "Georgiana's not coming out until she's thirty, if Darcy and I have anything to say about it. And possibly not even then."

Jane laughed. "Well, her information was quite correct. Did she consider you able to marry?"

"I have no idea. The important point is that I did not, and finding myself in an uncomfortable position I determined to leave."

"And now you are forced to stay due to family business. I do not think you need worry. I certainly considered that that may have been your motive for leaving. We are all aware of your situation."

He grinned at her. "You are not quite paying close enough attention, Miss Bennet."

"No?" she looked confused.

"No. I said that I did not believe I was able to marry."

"And was your belief mistaken then?"

"Indeed it was!"

"How wonderful!"

"Indeed. But I am sure you see my dilemma."

"I do not. What could possibly stand in your way?"

"My recent behaviour, which was intended to prevent certain things."

"Your behaviour was understood by us all. Well, no, not by Miss Bingley, I'm afraid to say, but I expect you will not concern yourself with that."

"I cannot think of anyone whose opinion I value less."

"Quite. I still do not see the difficulty. You can easily explain the change if anyone should ask. And, given your previous behaviour I would imagine that a change in your behaviour would likely indicate a change in your circumstances."

"Do you think so?"

"I do. And if it is not, then I can always volunteer my utterly disinterested opinion on the matter."

"Thank you."

They sat together companionably until it was time to dress for dinner.

 

Dinner was a lively affair, made more so by Miss Bingley's absence. Elinor found herself seated between the Earl and the Viscount and enjoyed herself immensely. Seeing the rest of the family gave her some insight into the General, and she allowed herself a few pangs of disappointment that they would not be her family as well someday. Thankfully the conversation kept her mind occupied, as she was having little success convincing herself to be happy with friendship. Every time Jane looked at her she smiled brightly, and she did so often. Elinor wondered what had occurred to make her so pleased, but assumed she would find out later.

Colonel Brandon, seated beside Jane, had also noticed her behaviour and spoke to her in his quiet manner. "You are distracted this evening, Miss Bennet."

"Oh, Colonel, I've been neglecting you. I am sorry."

"Do not be. You are obviously very happy about whatever it is. May I venture to guess that it involves Miss Dashwood?"

"You are quite correct, though I expect that required very little puzzling out."

"You are rather transparent in your joy. I shall also guess that Miss Dashwood is unaware of whatever it is."

"You are very astute, Colonel."

"No doubt you will explain all to her this evening after you retire, and she will be just as happy in the morning."

"Oh no, Colonel. I would not betray a confidence so."

"A confidence? Ah, well, I shall have to go to the source then. I admit myself surprised his family managed to make him see reason, he has always been fiercely independent."

"I shall neither confirm nor deny your suppositions."

"You may not say anything, but your face gives you away."

"Does it really? Lizzy has always said I'm so reserved as to be inscrutable."

"Perhaps you are to those who have open manners. I, however, am also reserved and have spent a great deal of time with Miss Dashwood, who is similarly reserved."

"You make an excellent point, Colonel. Take Mr Darcy, for example. My sister did not understand him at all at first."

"Indeed? Well, they certainly appear to have resolved their differences," he said, nodding to where they sat.

Darcy and Lizzy were very busy enjoying a rather heated debate on the merits of Cowper and Byron. Marianne and Georgiana joined in occasionally, but were mostly discussing music and the odd ways in which different people flirt.

 

During the separation, the Colonel attempted to interrogate the General about what he'd said to give Miss Bennet such joy.

"What! I thought Miss Dashwood was the woman?"

"And so she is, brother. But as she was out with Georgiana, I took the opportunity of discussing some of my concerns over my recent behaviour with a friend."

"Good, good. I like your Miss Dashwood very much, son. Quite sensible and very amiable."

"Pretty too. Well, I never thought you'd marry before me, but I shall like her as a sister very much."

"I've not yet spoken to her, you really shouldn't assume that she'll accept me."

"She will," Colonel Brandon said. "I've seen the way she looks at you when she thinks no-one's watching."

"Richard is correct, however. He cannot be certain of his acceptance until he has received it from her."

"What would you know of it, Darcy? No sane woman would reject you," the Viscount said, surprised when Richard laughed and Darcy flushed red.

"Do you mean you have been rejected? Who would do such a thing?"

"Miss Elizabeth Bennet," Darcy muttered.

"What?!" Her uncle exclaimed. "She never said anything. How uncomfortable this must be for you both."

"Why did she refuse you?" the Earl asked.

"Aside from the bit where I insulted both her and her family, you mean? I behaved abominably towards her from before I even met her, so she had no trouble believing the worst of me when Wickham fed her his lies."

"Oh dear," Mr Gardiner said. "I can't imagine that was pleasant for either of you."

"You know your niece well. I currently hope that I am no longer the last man she could ever be prevailed upon to marry, and can only hope to win her in time."

"Did she really say that?" the Viscount asked.

"I should have thought that honour would go to Mr Collins," Mr Gardiner said.

"Mr Collins was already married to Miss Lucas," Darcy said, confused.

"Who accepted him not three days after Lizzy refused him."

"What! That obsequious little toad had the gall to offer for her?"

"Oh yes, Mrs Bennet was most displeased with Lizzy. Thankfully her father is sensible..." Mr Gardiner trailed off and started laughing.

Darcy was too incensed with Mr Collins daring to propose to his Elizabeth to see anything humourous in the matter.

"Don't mind me, I'm just picturing my sister's reaction if she were ever to find out Lizzy refused you!"

Mr Darcy did not find that terribly funny, but Mr Hurst laughed uproariously.

 

When they joined the ladies they found them clustered around the piano. They were followed by two footmen carrying Georgiana's harp. Once she had it positioned correctly she took her seat, as Marianne seated herself at the piano. Lady Matlock instructed all the rest to find seats.

"We have been working on a surprise for you gentlemen. Our lovely, talented musicians will be entertaining you tonight with pieces composed by the late Lady Anne Darcy."

She took a seat where she could see Darcy clearly. As Georgiana would be paying some attention to the music, she would not get the full view of her brother's reaction and her aunt had agreed to tell her all. Knowing of the plan, Elinor had secreted her sketchbook in the room earlier and surreptitiously sketched the faces of Georgiana's relatives The performance was well-received and the music lovely.

 

Caroline arrived at breakfast the next morning, to the surprise of the party. She was determined to impress the Viscount and ingratiate herself into his family. The Countess was likely a lost cause -- Caroline did not understand why she seemed to dislike her so. Not understanding the dislike there was nothing she could do to mitigate it. She assumed that it must be envy of Caroline's youth and beauty -- no doubt she was trying to keep Caroline down because she felt threatened by her.

She was disgruntled to find the Earl sandwiched between the Bennets and apparently enjoying their company immensely. He was, indeed, very happy with his position. He greatly enjoyed Elizabeth's vivacity and wit, and thought she would complement Darcy wonderfully. Especially since she had already rejected him and he could be sure that his position and wealth was not a consideration. He liked the older sister as well. Her aura of calm serenity seemed to spread outwards from her such that all around her felt the effects of it. He'd briefly considered her as a match for James, but when he suggested it to Helena she said that the lady appeared to be already attached to Colonel Brandon. Now that he was looking for it he could see the way she looked at him.

Caroline seated herself across from the Viscount and attempted to gain his attention. She received only cursory replies as he was deeply embroiled in a discussion of art with Elinor and Georgiana. The General was chatting with Darcy, though their attention was split with Elinor and Elizabeth, on either side.

After breakfast almost the entire party went outdoors to enjoy the day. The doctor had said that Mr Bingley could try out his crutches briefly, but was not to go far and to ensure he rested as much as possible. Mr and Mrs Hurst went upstairs to assist him. He did not feel up to trying the stairs just yet, but spent a half hour going up and down the passageway. He intended to keep at it in the hopes of making it down to dinner the next day.

Caroline attached herself to the walking party, who intended to go around the lake, as it included both the Viscount and Darcy. Neither Lady Matlock nor Miss Eliza were with the group so she was sure she would be able to obtain the attention she desired.

 

Mrs Gardiner had expressed a wish to speak to Elizabeth privately, so they had walked in another direction.

"Now, Lizzy, I do not mean to pry, but your uncle and I wish to be certain that you are well."

"How could I be anything else in a place like this?"

"Last night Mr Darcy told the gentlemen that you had rejected his proposal."

Lizzy went crimson.

"Neither of us had any suspicion of such a thing, though we could see how attached he is to you. If you are uncomfortable or do not wish to remain here for any reason, we will go."

"Oh, no. I was uncomfortable at first, but no longer. I feel as if I had not known him before, I misunderstood him so badly."

"Will you tell me about it?"

Lizzy did, sparing neither his dignity nor hers.

"You were perfectly right to refuse him, though I agree that you should not have let your temper get the better of you."

"We have both apologised for our conduct at that time and agreed to start anew."

"And how do you feel about him now? He told the gentlemen he had hopes of winning you in time -- if you feel that you will only ever be friends you should let him know as soon as possible, to avoid raising his hopes any further."

"Do you think I should do that?"

"I think what you should do depends entirely on how you feel."

"I do not know how I feel."

"You certainly like him and would wish to always be his friend."

"Yes, I know that much. And I respect him. Seeing him here at Pemberley has shown me how dedicated he is to his responsibilities and how well he cares for those in his power."

"Respect and friendship are the best foundations for a marriage. I think he would suit you very well if you came to care for him."

They were both well-pleased with their talk and their walk and returned to the house in good spirits.

 

The same could not be said for the other party. The walk around the lake was, generally, lovely, and a favourite with many. The General and Colonel Brandon had devoted themselves to their ladies and those four had enjoyed their walk greatly. This was partly due to the company and partly due to a desire to prolong their time together that led them to lag far behind the others. Elinor was greatly pleased by the change in the General's behaviour, presuming that she now had reason to hope.

Marianne and Georgiana had mostly enjoyed the walk, as they were generally left to themselves, though both Darcy and the Viscount attempted to devote some of their time to them. They were all greatly annoyed by Miss Bingley. She spoke loudly and continually tried to direct the conversation to what she wished to discuss. This involved more gossip than any of her listeners could bear to hear, but she was unstoppable. If they tried to discuss the landscape, or literature, or literally anything else, she simply spoke over them, desperate to show how well-connected she was.

They were all exasperated by the time they returned. The gentlemen went to Darcy's study to discuss business, by which they meant a stiff drink and some peace and quiet. Georgiana and Marianne excused themselves to rest, by which they meant hiding from Miss Bingley in Georgiana's room with a new novel. Caroline actually did go to rest -- she did not normally walk so far and had spent the last quarter of an hour complaining about the heat, the pace, and anything else that presented itself. They had tried walking faster in the hopes of her not having breath to speak, but had underestimated her need to dominate.

She felt that she had done well on the walk, keeping their attention on her while being suitably deferential. She was sure that Mr Darcy would now see how ladylike she was in comparison to the hoydenish Eliza Bennet, and his infatuation with the girl would fade. Of course, she'd also shown off her attributes to the Viscount, who would no doubt also be competing for her soon.

Chapter Text

Charles Bingley was exceedingly frustrated. He desperately wanted to see his angel again. The only way to do that was to go downstairs, as she would not be allowed in his room until they were married. He was finding the crutches rather difficult though. He persevered and with Louisa and Hurst's help was indeed able to make it down the stairs to dinner the next day. Everyone was pleased to see him and he rather enjoyed the fussing. He was introduced to the Earl and the Viscount and found them to be interesting men with plenty to speak about.

He noticed Caroline was doing her best to be pleasant to Darcy's family. Now that she'd pointed it out he did see some of the ladies giving her looks of disapproval. Like her, he could not account for it, as she had not done anything to deserve it that he could see. He did notice that she was treating the Viscount in the same way that she usually treated Darcy -- proof that she was not throwing herself at Darcy and treated him as she would any friend -- and that she was almost cold to Darcy -- obviously in response to the admonishments of Louisa.

The angelic Miss Bennet had smiled brightly at him and said how pleased she was to see him up and about. They were not seated near each other, but he had a clear view of her face as she spoke quietly with her friends. He was rather jealous of Colonel Brandon, who had her undivided attention and was telling her what appeared to be an extremely engrossing story. She had asked him how he had been wounded in the war. She rather thought he was downplaying the danger he had been in, but as he was now retired she did not feel the need to question it. He was safe now. The Viscount, seated near them, was interested in what the Colonel had to say, though his attention was continually drawn away by Caroline, who felt the need to address all her comments to him, completely ignoring Mr Gardiner on her other side. That gentleman felt rather sorry for the Viscount and did his best to divert Caroline's attention, and was amused by her single-mindedness.

Louisa, at the other end of the table blushed continually for Caroline, but knew better than to shout down the table at her. She felt slightly better after the Earl patted her hand and told her not to worry, "You have not met my sister, Mrs Hurst, and I hope for your sake you are lucky enough that you never do. We cannot help our relations and once they're grown up we have to let them make their own mistakes." She agreed, but she still tried to have a quiet word with Caroline once the ladies retired to the drawing room. She was, of course, ignored and told to mind her own business.

Caroline had determined that, as the Countess was clearly threatened by her, the way to ingratiate herself was to impress the older woman with her deference. Caroline was sure that she would soon be Lady Matlock's favourite, as none of the other ladies treated her with the respect she deserved. Why, Mrs Gardiner treated her as if they were equal, despite the fact that she was nothing but a tradesman's wife. As annoying as she considered the girl, Lady Matlock was also able to derive amusement from her single-mindedness and could not help but think of how well her antics would be appreciated by Lady Catherine. She supposed that she would need to go to Rosings when the time came. Poor Anne would need the support.

A moment later she resolved never to think of Lady Catherine again, as she stormed into the drawing room with Anne and Mrs Jenkinson trailing in her wake.

"Helena! What is this scandalous rumour that you think I've gone daft?"

"I do not know, Catherine. I have not heard such a rumour. Shall I introduce you to Georgiana's guests?"

Lady Catherine looked around the room imperiously and sniffed. "Certainly not. I have no desire to encourage her association with impoverished gentry and tradespeople. I demand to see Henry at once! You will put it about that this rumour is a scandalous falsehood and finalise the arrangements for Anne and Darcy's marriage."

She was met with stony silence. Georgiana was the one to break it. "Perhaps, Aunt Helena, we should take Lady Catherine and Anne to my brother's study. Mrs Jenkinson will be quite comfortable here with the ladies."

Lady Matlock agreed that it was a good idea and the four of them left. A footman was sent to summon the gentlemen to the confrontation.

"I really don't think the entire family need be here for this," Lady Catherine began.

"But I do," her brother said. "What brings you to Pemberley?"

"There's a ridiculous rumour in town that you think I've gone senile. You will write to your friends and set them straight."

"Is that all?"

"No. It is high time Anne and Darcy's marriage was finalised. I've brought the settlements. Once he's signed them we may begin the wedding plans. I've obtained a special licence as well."

Darcy laughed and the others soon joined him. Anne merely looked confused, but Lady Catherine reddened alarmingly. "This is not a laughing matter!" she expostulated, but stopped when her brother held up his hand.

"Lady Catherine, as you were once my sister, I will inform you of what is happening. First, Darcy will not be marrying Anne. He is his own master and may marry where he chooses. Even if I had any say in the matter, I would not use it to force such a marriage."

"Nonsense. This marriage has been planned since they were children."

"No, it hasn't. And even if it had, he is not bound by it. This is one of the reasons we've undertaken to have you declared mentally incompetent."

"What?" There is nothing wrong with me!"

"If there weren't you would not persist in this nonsensical fantasy. If there were nothing wrong with you, you would never have paid Wickham to ruin Georgiana, all to forward your desire to control Pemberley."

She paled dramatically. "That is a vicious lie! I would never do such a thing! How can you believe that ingrate over your own sister?"

"I don't."

"Then why would you say such a thing?"

"Because George Wickham is dead. We have the letters you wrote to him."

She glared angrily at her brother,

"Come now, Lady Catherine," Richard said happily. "Aren't you going to explain how the letters were fabricated? I'm sure one as mentally stable as you claim to be would have thought of how to explain this all away in advance."

She turned her head to glare at him. "I suppose you expect Rosings out of all this. You think my Anne will be forced to marry you, but I will never allow her to shackle herself to someone as penniless as you!"

"You are mistaken there. Not only have I recently come into an inheritance, I have another woman in mind for my wife."

She was utterly enraged and moved to attack Richard. Darcy and the Viscount restrained her, while the Earl summoned the butler.

"Mr Moore, Lady Catherine is in need of restraining. I'm afraid she's lost what little grip on reality she had left. Her maid is welcome to tend her, but ensure there are always two footmen at hand in case she becomes violent."

Lady Catherine was manhandled upstairs, screaming imprecations all the way. The guests in the drawing room were drawn out by the racket. Only Miss Bingley was concerned.

"How dare they lay hands on Mr Darcy's aunt! He must be informed at once!"

The other ladies were incredulous, as she strode over to the gentleman's study. Without knocking she flung the door wide open and went in.

"Mr Darcy! You must come and reprimand your men at once! They dared to lay hands on your aunt's person!"

The General sniggered as Darcy regarded her wearily. "I told them to, Miss Bingley. And I'll thank you to keep your nose out of my family's business."

"If only we could lock you up as well, Miss Bingley," Richard said. "It would make this visit a great deal more pleasant."

Caroline was irate to see both Darcy and the Viscount smirking at her. She turned on her heel and returned to the drawing room, where she was met with knowing grins that only served to upset her further. Her only ally, her brother, had retired immediately after dinner to rest his leg.

In the study, Lady Matlock went to sit beside Anne and took hold of her hands. "I'm sorry you had to witness that, Anne, but you are a part of this family and so we felt it best you were here."

"Do I really not have to marry Darcy?"

"I fully intend to marry someone else entirely, Anne, so there is no danger of that."

"Thank you."

"Now, Anne, you are the legal owner and mistress of Rosings. With your mother out of the way you will be able to take your proper place."

"Are you sure? Will she not return?"

Darcy snorted. "If I have to lock her in an attic for the rest of her life, she will not be able to importune us any longer."

Anne seemed relieved at this.

"There is certainly no need to make any decisions now, Anne," her aunt told her. "For now, I think you're in need of a rest. Tomorrow you can enjoy yourself with the other ladies and we'll deal with things as they come."

Georgiana took Anne to the drawing room, introduced her to the ladies, and then escorted she and Mrs Jenkinson upstairs where they could rest.

 

Unlike Caroline, Anne came to breakfast with the rest of the party and so was taken under their wing. She remembered Miss Elizabeth, and had enjoyed listening to her conversations at Rosings. The one she was having with Darcy was over books she'd never read, though, so she found it rather hard to follow. Miss Marianne tried to discuss music with her, but she knew nothing of it and left it to Georgiana. Miss Dashwood and Miss Bennet were the ladies she ended up speaking the most to. They made every effort to include her in the conversation, asking her opinions on the matters they were discussing.

After breakfast they asked her to join them in the rose garden, if she felt up to it. Elinor planned to draw some roses and Jane was going to read to her. Anne very much wanted to join them and said so. They matched their pace to hers without complaint, though she could tell they usually walked faster. It was a warm, sunny day, but the heat was not oppressive. Anne felt a sense of glorious freedom. Her mother would never have allowed her to walk so far, and certainly not to sit in the sun for any length of time -- what if her skin browned? She watched Miss Dashwood's drawing with interest and some jealousy. She had always wanted to draw -- she even remembered having a few lessons as a child -- but her mother had declared her constitution unfit for it, and stopped her. Miss Bennet was reading Scott's Waverley and she enjoyed the sound of her voice as the story washed over her.

Most of the gentlemen had gone riding after breakfast. They all rode over to Kympton to see how things were progressing after the fire. Only Darcy stayed, however. The Earl and Viscount had letters to write to the lawyers, explaining the latest matters concerning Lady Catherine. The military men had women to woo, and fully intended to get down to business. They were happy to join the ladies in the rose garden and Colonel Brandon offered to read, if Miss Bennet was tired. Knowing how men hated to be idle and thinking that the Colonel read particularly well with his particularly lovely voice, she was quick to hand the book over and took up her work.

She had asked Elinor to sketch a scene on the fabric and was slowly bringing it to life in silk threads. Anne was fascinated by this. Her mother had never allowed her to touch a needle and thread, fearing infection and death if she should prick herself, and she envied Miss Bennet's deftness. Most of the General's attention was on Elinor, but he noticed the wistful way that Anne watched the other ladies. When the Colonel came to the end of a chapter, he asked her if she'd like to learn either skill.

"I should like to learn both, if possible. Mother would never allow me."

"Of course you wish to learn, I don't know why we did not think of it ourselves," Elinor said.

"Which would you like to start with?" Jane asked. "I'm sure I have a sampler in my basket, and I know Elinor has paper and pencils."

"I do, but I have brought only one board, unfortunately. I'm sure, however, your cousin would be happy to retrieve another from the house."

Despite having had a few drawing lessons when young, Anne thought that perhaps embroidery would be easier. Sewing was a far more widespread occupation than drawing, after all. Having made her choice, Jane set about teaching her the basics. She found it both easier and more difficult than she had expected.

When the party went in for tea they found Miss Bingley installed in the drawing room.

"Why, Miss de Bourgh, I thought you would be resting or with your mother. If I'd known you weren't I would have come to see you."

"That's very kind of you, Miss Bingley, but I enjoyed my time in the rose garden very much."

"I'm pleased to hear it. I do hope, however, that you won't allow the ladies to exhaust you with their outdoor expeditions. They seem to believe that everyone is a robust country girl."

"Don't worry yourself, Miss Bingley," the General said. "I was there to keep an eye on my cousin."

"Were you? I thought all the gentlemen had ridden over to that burnt village."

"Oh, we did. There was plenty of time for us to do both after breakfast."

Anne did go to rest after tea, and was pleased when Georgiana asked if she and Miss Marianne could join her to read together. Miss Bingley remained in the drawing room as Lady Matlock had come in with the other married ladies. She wished to continue her campaign of winning the Countess over, but found it rather difficult as they insisted on discussing what could be done for the Kympton villagers. Caroline did not see the point -- if those people suffered it was obviously their own fault.


Fanny had been overjoyed when, having received word that William was home, Sir Thomas instructed her to invite him to visit. The evening before he arrived she tried to compose herself, but Mr Ferrars kept returning to the subject. Mr Crawford was also happy to keep her talking on the matter and she had never found him as pleasant as she did that night.

The gentlemen, however, had very different motives. Henry had not thought her capable of such effusiveness and wanted to know as much as possible about this favourite brother so that he could enlist his assistance in conquering Fanny’s heart. Edward, who already knew a great deal about William, was pleased for her and looking forward to meeting the young man. Knowing that she would be able to think of little else until he arrived, Edward chose to indulge her by speaking of her brother’s enjoyments and the pleasures he would experience on his visit.

Edmund was also pleased that William was able to visit, he liked his young cousin immensely, and was telling Miss Crawford about him. She was not particularly interested in what he had to say, giving more attention to the other three. As much as she loved her brother, she was rather enjoying the fact that he had some very strong competition. Usually he had no trouble getting girls to fall in love with him, Fanny’s indifference was what had caught his attention in the first place, after all. She did not understand how the awkward Mr Ferrars could possibly compete with her brother, but the fact was that he had never before been so challenged. Yes, she was enjoying her brother’s difficulties very much. It was all very amusing.

Lady Bertram was dozing on the sofa with her pug, leaving poor Sir Thomas entirely to the tender mercies of Mrs Norris. That lady was commending his kindness towards those undeserving Prices, while commenting on Fanny’s vulgar forwardness in commandeering two young men so. It was clear to Sir Thomas, at least, that the two young men were the ones who were instigating it all. He rather thought that Edmund’s friend was displaying a marked interest in his niece and she certainly received his attentions with pleasure. Perhaps there would soon be another wedding at Mansfield.

Chapter Text

Elinor and Jane had removed to the conservatory where Elinor continued to instruct her friend in the art of drawing. They were soon joined by Mr Bingley. He seemed rather nervous, which surprised them. After dancing around the matter for a few moments, he eventually managed to ask for a private audience with Miss Bennet. The lady looked at him in surprise and Miss Dashwood with disbelief.

"Whatever for? I cannot imagine anything you would wish to discuss that Elinor may not hear."

"Perhaps he brings an apology from his sister."

"An apology from Caroline? Whatever for?"

"Not that then," Elinor said. "Though, really, she should do it in person."

"I quite agree."

"But what should she apologise for?"

"Do you really not know, Mr Bingley?" Jane asked.

He said he didn't, so Elinor undertook to enlighten him.

"Oh, I'm sure there's some misunderstanding here. Perhaps if Miss Dashwood will consent to leave us we can work things out to everyone's satisfaction."

Jane sighed and looked at her, "I suppose you might as well, Elinor."

"I shall not go far. I shall be at the pelargoniums."

Once she had removed herself, Mr Bingley turned to Jane. "I had thought my attentions too marked for you to mistake my meaning, but you are so modest."

"Your attentions were very marked, Mr Bingley, but it has been long since I thought there was any meaning behind them."

"Oh but there is! You must know I love you and wish to marry you."

"Do you?"

"Indeed I do! Will you have me?"

"I'm very sorry to cause you pain, Mr Bingley, but no, I will not marry you."

"But ... I love you!"

"So you say. I have seen no evidence of it."

"But I singled you out in Hertfordshire," he started.

"And then you left, without a word. Giving no thought to my feelings or reputation. You allowed your sister to dictate your behaviour. Do you think I would wish to marry someone so thoughtless? So weak?"

"But, I love you."

"Perhaps you do, Mr Bingley. You know your own feelings best. The fact remains, however, that you are not the sort of man I wish to marry."

"I'm not?"

"No."

"But, I love you."

"I'm sorry, Mr Bingley. If you will excuse me, I have nothing further to say on the matter."

"But ... I love you," he murmured as he watched her make her way over to Miss Dashwood. He sat there quietly for some time, wondering where it had all gone wrong, before he pulled himself together and made his way back to his room. He sent his apologies to Darcy, and remained abovestairs while the rest were at dinner. Shortly after that, Louisa came up to see what was wrong.

"Is it your leg, Charles? Should I send for the doctor?"

"Hmm? Oh, no. My leg is fine."

"Then why did you not come to dinner?"

"I proposed to Miss Bennet this morning," he said mournfully.

"Oh Charles," she sat beside him and hugged him to her. "What did she say?"

"That it didn't matter that I love her, I'm not the sort of man she wishes to marry."

"Did she tell you why?"

"She said I was thoughtless and weak."

"I see."

"Do you agree with her?"

"Well, I would call you carefree, rather than thoughtless. You're only twenty-five, Charles, still quite young. You have not been weighed down by responsibility in the way that Mr Darcy has, so it's only natural for you to be less aware of such things."

"So you do agree."

"You dislike conflict and confrontation, Charles. Sometimes this leads you to be silent when you should speak."

"And that makes me thoughtless and weak."

"It makes you appear thoughtless to those who suffer from your conflict avoidance."

"So you do not think I am weak?"

"I think it should not be surprising that people believe you to be so, when they see how you allow your younger sister to dictate your actions."

"That's almost exactly what Jane, Miss Bennet, said. That I allow Caroline to tell me what to do with my life. Do I really?"

"Caroline knows how to manipulate you into doing what she wants. She takes advantage of your desire to distance yourself from arguments and unpleasantness. And she will continue to do so until you put a stop to it. Which will be very difficult."

"What do I do, Louisa?"

"Well, if you wish to marry a woman like Miss Bennet, you have to be the sort of man that women like her would wish to marry. Try to see things as they really are."

"Would you, please will you ask Darcy to come up and see me this evening?"

"Of course I will. Get some rest, Charles."

It was not very much later that Darcy came to see him.

"Mrs Hurst said you wished to see me, Bingley. Is everything alright?"

"No, nothing is right."

"What can I do to assist you?"

"I doubt there is anything you can do, though I should like your advice all the same." He then poured out a rather jumbled account of his proposal to Jane and what various people had said about Caroline.

"I know how hard it is to have the woman you love tell you that you are not the sort of man she wishes to marry."

"You do?"

"Indeed I do. When I was at Rosings for Easter, Miss Elizabeth was visiting Mrs Collins. I proposed and was summarily rejected."

"She refused you?"

"And rightfully so. If any man behaved towards Georgiana the way that I behaved towards Miss Elizabeth, I would not allow him within a hundred feet of her!"

"You do not seem broken-hearted. And Miss Elizabeth is here at Pemberley."

"Yes. I took her reproofs to heart and am attempting to be worthy of her."

"You must love her a great deal."

"I do. I cannot imagine a life without her."

"Caroline will be disappointed."

Darcy made no response to that and Bingley was far more interested in speaking about Jane to notice.

"Do you think I could change for Miss Bennet?"

"Only you can answer that, Bingley. You know the faults she finds, do you think you can alter them?"

"Well, I certainly don't mean to be thoughtless, you know."

"No one ever does."

"How do I become more thoughtful?"

"It's very difficult, but you have to examine all that you say and do constantly and try to imagine the effect it will have on those around you."

"I do not know that I can do that, but I will certainly try."

"It's a process, a long-term change. It will not happen immediately and you will have to keep at it for years before it becomes habitual."

"And the other matter?"

"Do you really need my advice there?"

"I do. I don't understand how people can misunderstand my sister so."

"I do not understand why you think that they are the ones who misunderstand her rather than you."

"So you agree with them?"

"Bingley, she separated you from Miss Bennet. You knew your honour was engaged, and yet you allowed Miss Bingley to convince you to behave contrary to what you knew was right."

"She said Miss Bennet was indifferent to me, clearly she has been proved correct."

"Did Miss Bennet say that she did not care for you?"

"Not in so many words."

"Miss Elizabeth told me that she did care for you, that she had been disappointed by your leaving Netherfield. Indeed she blamed both myself and your sisters for the separation."

"So she cares for me, but does not wish to marry me."

"Bingley, you do realise the implications of marriage for women, do you not? She will be completely in your control. It doesn't matter how much she loves you, if she cannot trust that you will care for her and any children before anyone else then she should not marry you."

"But I have never loved anyone as I love her."

"Your feelings are irrelevant."

"What? How can they be?"

"It is easy to say that you love someone. It's so easy that fortune hunters and other social parasites lie about that sort of thing constantly. You say you love her, and yet you allowed Miss Bingley to separate you, even though you knew your honour was engaged. From her perspective it must appear that your sister and her desires come first."

"I had not thought of how it must appear to her. I only want my sister to be happy. And she will no doubt marry soon, so surely that should not be a long-term consideration."

"And who do you think will marry her? She is not even being courted."

Bingley blushed.

"Furthermore," Darcy continued, "you may want her happiness, but does she return the sentiment?"

"Of course she does!"

"Are you basing that assessment on her words or her actions?"

"She has confided in me!"

"She has lied to you on multiple occasions. She has shown that her words are untrustworthy. You need to ignore what she says and look at what she does. Her behaviour strongly suggests that she wishes to marry into the first circles by whatever means necessary and you are merely a pawn in her schemes."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do. Take a few days to watch her behaviour, rather than seeing what you want to see. Listen to the way she speaks to others, listen to what she's trying to achieve, rather than the words she uses."

Bingley agreed to do so. Darcy had a point after all. If everyone was saying the same thing then there was probably some truth to it.

 

Jane had been subdued all evening, though only Elinor, and later Mrs Hurst, had any idea why. She retired early and was swiftly joined by her aunt, her sister, and her friend.

“Oh, Elinor, you were quite right about how painful such a refusal is.”

“So Mr Bingley proposed then?” her aunt asked.

“Yes, and he kept saying how much he loved me. I wish I could have spared him this pain.”

“Of course you do,” Lizzy said, embracing her sister.

“Perhaps Mr Bingley will take your words to heart, Jane, and consider the influence he allows his sister.”

“I would not wish to come between them.”

“But you would wish for something good to come from this, would you not?”

“Yes, Aunt.”

“Then we must hope Miss Dashwood is right. He is the only one who can help Miss Bingley improve herself.”

“You are right, of course, Aunt, I only wish it had not come to this.”

“Of course you do, dear Jane,” her sister said. “You never wish for pain for anyone.”

“However did you manage it, Elinor?”

“With the same difficulty that you are.”

“And you had not the support I do. Your family must have been disappointed.”

“They were. Marianne understands now, but I am not sure that Mama and Margaret ever will.”

“Marriage is the most important decision you will ever make,” Mrs Gardiner said softly. “I am sure your mother would not wish for you to engage yourself lightly, Miss Dashwood.”

“Oh, no, she would never have us marry where we did not love, but she is very like dear Marianne. They do not always realise that love alone is not enough.”

“Well,” Lizzy said brightly, “what’s done is done and we must merely hope for the best. For now, though, Jane, what would you like to do?”

Jane did not know, so Mrs Gardiner took the chance to ask about her niece’s feelings for Colonel Brandon. Elinor laughed, both at Jane’s blush and Elizabeth’s surprise.

“I think very highly of the Colonel. What I have seen of his character and what Elinor has told me of the matters I would not otherwise be aware of shows that he is one of the very best men I have ever known.”

“So you care for him then?”

“I’m afraid I do, Lizzy. Before you start match-making though, I must tell you that I do not expect to ever be more than his friend.”

“Whyever not?” her sister cried.

“Jane is convinced that as she is nothing like the women he had previously shown interest in, that he could never fall in love with her,” Elinor explained.

“What nonsense, Jane!”

“Do you think so, Aunt?”

“I do. I don’t know anything about these women, but I do know how he looks at you.”

“I do know about them and I say the same thing,” Elinor added.

“There,” Lizzy said. “If that doesn’t give you reason to hope, then nothing will.”

Chapter Text

The next day Bingley was rather subdued, but spent the day amongst them all. He tried to watch his sister's behaviour critically, as Darcy had suggested to him. It was not easy. He caught himself making excuses for her all day. The only ladies she made any effort to spend time with were Lady Matlock, Miss Darcy, and Miss de Bourgh. He noticed that she tried to direct the conversation to topics she wished to discuss, rather than what was of interest to the other ladies. He heard Lady Matlock comment on her disrespect in adhering to town hours, he heard Miss de Bourgh liken her to Lady Catherine -- which Caroline took as a compliment, but Bingley could not given what Darcy had said of that aunt. He heard her trying to show herself as superior to the other ladies by putting them down.

He watched the way she behaved with the gentlemen and he paid attention to how they responded to her. It dawned on him that the gentlemen would not choose to associate themselves with her, and only did so when they were forced to notice her. The General treated her with derision and none of the others defended her. They seemed to agree with him and found humour in his remarks. He watched her single out both Darcy and the Viscount, how overt and unwelcome her advances were, and how carefully calculated everything she did was. He also noticed that while everyone else spoke to him and asked after his health -- even Miss Bennet! -- his sister ignored him unless she wanted something from him. As far as Caroline was concerned he might as well not be there.

He did not notice that he was being watched.

The following morning he went into Caroline's room as soon as he was dressed and woke her up.

"Charles? What are you doing in here?"

"I've come to escort you to breakfast. Lady Matlock is perfectly correct that your behaviour is extremely rude and disrespectful."

"My behaviour? Nonsense! She has old-fashioned notions. No one else objects."

"No one else objects for the simple reason that they do not wish for more of your company."

"Charles! How can you say such a thing?"

"Because I've watched them, as I have you. As Darcy says, it is very easy to say things, it is your actions that show who you truly are."

"There is nothing wrong with my behaviour!"

"There is a great deal wrong with it. My eyes have been opened, Caroline. I will no longer listen to your pretty words. I will pay attention only to what you do. And you will learn to behave properly. I expect this will be a long and difficult path for us both, but it's important."

"Don't you love me, Charles?"

"I do, very much. That's why I wish to see you become the woman I have always believed you to be. I expect you at breakfast every day for the rest of your stay. I have instructed your maid to that effect and she will be reporting to me."

"She is my maid."

"And I pay her wages. She is in my employ, despite the fact that she is assigned to assist you. Now, up you get."

He left his sister and her maid alone, making his way to breakfast. He did not know what to do if she defied him. He would have to ask Darcy's advice on that matter. And he clearly owed Louisa and Hurst an apology. They had tried to show him, but he'd allowed Caroline to sway his opinion.

Caroline did appear at breakfast, though she arrived late and even the fashionably challenged could tell she was extremely over dressed. Miss de Bourgh made another comment likening Miss Bingley to her mother, which greatly amused the wider audience. The atmosphere was strained by Caroline's petulant attitude and the party was quick to split up afterwards. Bingley felt that he had achieved something and so decided to leave Caroline to her own devices for the moment. Darcy was with his steward, preparing for the upcoming harvest, so he took the opportunity to speak with his brother and sister.

"I must apologise for not believing you."

"There's no need for that, Charles. Your eyes have now been opened. I only hope that you can have some effect."

"I've told her to be at breakfast every day while we're here. Eloise will be reporting to me if Caroline should actually be indisposed."

"I'm sure that didn't please her!"

"No, Hurst, she was quite put out. But, as I told her, I pay Eloise's wages, so have the final say in her duties."

"Well done, Charles!"

"She gave in with surprising ease. I do not know whether to be pleased that she's obviously not so far gone as I had thought, or to fear that this is merely the calm before the storm."

"I suspect the latter."

"I rather thought you would. I suspect Darcy will as well."

"He is a clear-sighted man."

"Yes, but what do I do? I can tell her to behave properly, and even what I mean when I say that, but what do I do if she decides to defy me?"

"Well, Lady Matlock did suggest that she may be in need of a governess."

"A governess? She's almost twenty-one!"

"And yet she does not know how to behave," Hurst said quietly.

"Quite," his wife answered. "While you need not go to that extreme, if she behaves like a child then you should treat her as one. You are in control of her allowance. Perhaps you should keep an account and dock her a shilling for each infraction."

Hurst laughed. "A brilliant idea, my love, but what happens when she comes of age?"

Bingley had an answer for that. "If she dislikes living with me, and you will not have her, then she will have to set up her own establishment."

"Of course! How obvious a solution."

"And only four months away!"

"I think, brother, that you and I should visit a number of the shops in London and tell them that we will not be accepting her accounts. They must settle them with her."

"Oh dear, I suppose we must."

"Yes, Charles. We must. She always exceeds her allowance and leaves you to make up the rest. If you're going to be docking her allowance then you cannot allow her to spend freely."

"You are right, of course. This is going to be very uncomfortable."

"Yes, it is. But you must be firm, Bingley. We will support you and I do not doubt that Darcy will as well."

"Shall we send for her and explain how things will be in the future? I expect it's best to get it said as soon as possible so that she has time to adjust."

"Of course, Louisa. And some tea, I think."

The tea came well before their sister who swept into the room haughtily.

"What do you mean by sending for me like an errant servant, Charles? I was with Lady Matlock."

They explained the agreement they had come to. Only Bingley was surprised by the reaction. She screamed, she cried, she blamed, she threw things.

"Enough!" he bellowed eventually. "Throwing a temper tantrum like a badly behaved toddler only shows how far gone you truly are. Since you are clearly not fit for company you will return to your room and remain there until breakfast tomorrow. Use the time to reflect on your conduct. I expect to see an improvement tomorrow."

He asked Hurst to see that she reached her room and instruct the staff on her confinement. He was in need of rest.

 

The General had had a far more pleasing time over the past few days. He spent his time with his friends and family, and Elinor. She had his attention whenever she was near, frequently when she wasn't, and he had no patience for those who would seek to divert him. He had even less tolerance for Miss Bingley's need to be at the centre of attention than usual, restraining himself only when he saw a hint of censure in Elinor's eyes. He thought he was making himself appear ridiculous. His brother, father, and cousin agreed. Able to take their raillery no longer, he had decided that today was the day. He had not planned his campaign, but decided to take the first opportunity that presented itself. Luckily the ladies in his family fully agreed that it was high time he got on with it and had been engineering situations to get him alone with Elinor.

They finally succeeded and the General found himself unaccountably nervous. "Will you walk with me, Miss Dashwood?"

"Certainly, General. Is there a particular path you wish to take or shall we merely ramble about?"

"I think I should like to ramble, if you have no objections."

She did not, and they set out. They ambled through the rose garden until Elinor could take it no longer and directed them onto one of the river walks.

"You are uneasy, General."

"Am I?" he knew he was, but had thought he hid it better.

"You are. Something is clearly bothering you. I must assume that the point of this walk is for you to unburden yourself, and so I ask you to do so now. You will be much relieved when you have spoken what's on your mind, I am sure."

"Will I?"

"That is the usual way of things."

"I have no doubt that you are right. I find, however, that all my thought has been on what to say and now I find I do not know how to say it."

"I think you'll find plain English quite serviceable."

"I may, but will you?"

She smiled. "I always prefer clear, unambiguous language where possible."

"Very well then. As plainly as I can, I love you and wish to marry you."

She stopped dead and stared at him agape.

"Miss Dashwood?"

"I was not expecting that."

"No? I fear you're the only one."

"I don't know what to say."

"Might I suggest 'yes' as a place to start?"

"You may, but I cannot start there."

"No?"

"No. I've known you for less than two months."

"You fear I'm too hasty."

"I do. For such a permanent step as marriage -- the rest of our lives! -- I would think a longer acquaintance necessary."

"Indeed?"

"Certainly. It is very easy to fall in love when you're much thrown together. You must be sure that the affection and esteem will not fade with either distance or time."

"I see. Well then, Miss Dashwood, will you allow me to court you?"

"Yes, I will."

"I am very pleased to hear it, I know not what I would have done had you said no."

"Perhaps I should change my mind so that you can discover your reaction?"

"Ah, no! If you do that I fear I shall have to compromise you at dinner and then write of it to all the gossips I know."

She laughed. "I shall hope you are not serious, but as I do not wish to change my answer, I'm afraid I shall have to learn to live with the uncertainty."

They walked in happy silence for a while. He finally broke it to tell her about Owlsbury Hall.

"How romantic of your great aunt! I must remember to tell Marianne, it will please her greatly."

"Does it please you?"

"Indeed it does. I cannot see any other way for us to  marry, should it come to that."

" When it comes to that, my dear Elinor."

"You are very confident."

"I have every reason to be. If you did not care for me, you would have refused me."

"That is certainly true."

"You shall be in town for the season, and I shall ask you again then, and we will have proven that our love will last."

"I have no plans to be in town this winter."

"You do, you just don't know of them. Georgiana plans to invite both yourself and your sister to join her. You would not wish to disappoint her, would you?"

"Marianne would never forgive me if I did. I shall have to resign myself to seeing you sooner than I had hoped."

They walked along, grinning at each other, before a thought intruded on the General's good humour.

"What is the matter?"

"I shall have to go see your mother. By the time I return it will be time for you to leave Pemberley."

"That will not do, and Mama would not ask it of us. We can send a messenger, if you do not wish to wait and escort us back to Barton."

"I will certainly be escorting you home, but I do think your mother should be applied to beforehand. I'll speak to my father about sending one of his men."

They returned to the house very pleased with themselves and all the world. Marianne and Georgiana were disappointed that they were not engaged, but still delighted with the outcome.

Bingley wondered if he should risk speaking to Miss Bennet again, and asking to court her. He was unsure, but when he suggested such a thing to Darcy, he received a decided negative.

"You can't commit yourself to that while you're still dealing with your sister. Once that situation is under control and you are able to show that you're attending to her concerns, then you can revisit the subject."

Taking his friend's advice as gospel once again, he dwelt no more on it.

Much of the day was spent in planning the ladies' season in town. The Earl was sending a messenger to town the next day, and agreed that the man could make the trip to Devon, while the lawyers arranged the matters necessary for dealing with Lady Catherine. He was also to stop briefly in Meryton to deliver letters as it was on the way to London. They spent the time before dinner hurriedly writing letters for their family and friends.

 

Anne de Bourgh was an intelligent, observant woman. Had she not been so naturally, she would have had to develop the latter quality. There was little else she could do, after all. She was rather looking forward to finally taking her place as mistress of Rosings. She did wonder, though, if she could really do it. She tried not to think too hard on that. Darcy would help ensure her staff were honest and competent, and would certainly help her learn how to manage the estate properly. And Mrs Collins would always be there to help. He would be a burden, but she was sensible and a great favourite in the parish. She was also friends with Miss Elizabeth, which was a point in her favour.

Unlike her mother, Anne had seen quite clearly why Darcy had kept putting off his departure from Rosings at Easter. Having never wished to marry her serious cousin, Anne was quite happy to see him mooning over another lady. No, Cousin Richard suited her far better, though she thought someone more gentle, less boisterous would suit her. And now, she rather thought she'd found the man for her. She thought it wrong, but could not help feeling grateful to George Wickham. He was responsible for convincing the family to do something about her mother. It was thanks to him that she'd been dragged to Pemberley, that she'd met the man for her.

She was a very observant woman. She could see that he cared for another. She could also see, far more clearly than he himself could, that the woman he loved was attached to a different man. He would get over it and, with just a little luck, he would come to care for her. If nothing else, they could bond over their unfortunate relatives. She was not quite ready to speak to him directly, but Miss Bennet and Mrs Hurst would be good to start with. It was much easier for her to speak to the ladies, especially as they were all eager to help her gain accomplishments.

She doubted she would ever be truly skilled at any of the occupations, starting so late as she was, but she enjoyed doing them regardless. She'd decided to stick with sewing, drawing, and dancing for the foreseeable future. She enjoyed music, but felt that it would be beyond her at this stage. She took great pleasure in being able to read what she wished openly, rather than hiding the really interesting tomes with a novel or poetry that her mother had deemed acceptable. The ladies were such a help to her that she sometimes found it quite difficult to rein in her emotions as she knew she should.

And that brought about her first conversation with Mr Bingley. He came upon her in a little used parlour.

"Miss de Bourgh? Whatever is wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong."

"You will forgive me, but weeping generally indicates that there is something the matter."

"Nothing is wrong. Everything is right! You're all so kind to me, and think I can do things, and want to know what I think, and what I want. I'm just... I don't... It's a little overwhelming."

"Well, I'm pleased that these are happy tears. I'm afraid I don't understand though. Why should people being kind to you be the cause of so much joy?"

"It is very different from what I am used to."

"Ah," he nodded. "Darcy has occasionally mentioned your mother to me over the years. I had not realised your situation was so dire as to cause simple human kindness to have such an effect. I'm sure he did not either, or he would have taken steps to do something sooner."

"Oh no, he cannot have known, for I did not know it myself. You will not tell him, will you?"

"Not if you do not wish me to. It can be our secret."

"Thank you." She wanted to continue the conversation, to ask after his sister, but she knew not how. Mr Bingley, however, was a gregarious chap and chatted away quite happily about everything and nothing. By the time dinner came, he could not remember what all he had found to say to her, but he did remember that she was an intelligent listener who paid attention to both what he said and what he meant, an important point as those were not always the same thing. The other ladies were pleased to see that he was regaining his usual cheer.

Chapter Text

The second morning, Caroline had claimed indisposition and said she would not be going to breakfast. Having spoken to her maid, he gave her half an hour to ready herself. Not believing he would follow through on his threats, she ignored him. He dragged her down to breakfast in her nightclothes, her hair loose around her shoulders.

"I apologise for our tardiness," he said as he entered the breakfast room. "I trust you will forgive Caroline's attire, she was feeling somewhat unwell this morning."

"Of course, Mr Bingley," Lady Matlock said, smiling at the pair.

Caroline had never been so angry in all her life. She held her tongue in front of the Earl, Countess, and Viscount, but spent the entire meal fuming over her brother's treatment of her. For him to treat her so in front of them! To ignore her protests! To disbelieve her! It was not to be borne! Louisa was embarrassed, but the rest of the party enjoyed the situation immensely. To see the haughty Miss Bingley forced to endure such humiliation! Only Jane and Georgiana had compassion for her, though both hoped that such an act would teach her that her brother was serious in his resolve, and that she would not test him so again. Privately, Lizzy wondered if Lydia might have had to endure something similar had she been allowed to continue on the path she was on.

Caroline did not eat anything and excused herself as soon as she could do so politely. She considered returning to her bed, but chose instead to dress and then give her brother a piece of her mind. Their discussion was not private, for the simple reason that her shrieking could be heard throughout the house. Her mood was not helped by the fact that Bingley ignored her outbursts and calmly told her that she knew what was expected of her and that if she chose to defy his perfectly reasonable requests, the consequences were on her head.

 

The next morning she again tried to plead indisposition, but took her brother's threats seriously, as she had seen that he was perfectly willing to carry through his words. She chose to take her ire out on the penniless adventuresses and, learning that the General was courting Miss Dashwood, had many things to say on the subject of poor honourables and the sorts of people that were easy sponging off those above them. Marianne was incensed, but having been told the enchanting story of Owlsbury Hall, was able to derive somewhat silent amusement from Miss Bingley's tirades, as Elinor and Lizzy did. Finding her target unaffected, she decided to start dropping hints on the matter to Lady Matlock. That lady was entirely unaffected and, except for some pointed remarks on the mercenary ambitions of some women, completely ignored the topic.

She doubted the Earl would be of any use, as he seemed to be completely under his wife's thumb, but she thought she could get the Viscount to agree with her. She was quickly disabused of that notion -- the Viscount merely expressed his surprise that Miss Bingley was unaware that his little brother had an estate and house in town of his own, inherited from their great aunt. The lady was momentarily annoyed, but remembering the General's unaccountable behaviour towards her, she concluded that she wouldn't have wanted him anyway.

 

The next day saw two of the ladies at the extremes of emotion. Georgiana was elated, Caroline was devastated. After yet another uncomfortable breakfast, Caroline retreated to the library. She needed to reassess her strategy as her brother was proving problematic. She had expected him to relent and return to his usual pliable self after a few days. She did not understand what had caused this change in him and did not know how she could regain her influence over him.

She had retreated to a small, somewhat hidden alcove where she felt she would not be disturbed. She had thought that the library would be a quiet place where she could think. She was not prepared for the number of people who used the library as a place to have private conversations. She rather thought she would have to come back another day, there were so many interesting bits of information she learnt. She could have done without her sister and Mrs Gardiner's talk on pregnancy, but found the information that Jane had refused her brother very interesting. Obviously that was in some way responsible for the change in her brother's behaviour. At first she had been incredulous, but was then pleased to hear that she had been instrumental in that.

Her pleasure was short-lived.

Next to occupy the library were Mr Darcy and Eliza Bennet. She was utterly horrified to hear him proposing, and her accepting! She could not believe her ears! It took a moment to sink in, but when she realised that this was his second proposal she was horrified. To hear the man she'd been actively courting, as much as a lady can, talk of changing himself for some foolish chit who spurned him at a time when she would have done anything for him to propose. She could not bear it and stepped out to tell them what she thought of all this. She stepped back into the alcove very quickly. They were kissing. Kissing! As if she needed more proof of the girl's vulgarity! The depths to which the Darcy name would sink was unimaginable! Why not take the girl on as a mistress and marry a real lady like any normal gentleman?

There was some whispered conversation and then, "I must go to your uncle."

Caroline was alone in the library again. She did not know what to do with herself. Darcy was to marry Eliza. She would never be Mrs Darcy. She had briefly forgotten her grievances with her brother, but recognising the reality of her situation brought it all back to her. She would not be Mrs Darcy. Louisa was to have a child, so she did not wish to live there. Charles was being intolerable. And Mr Darcy was probably giving him advice on how to change himself to suit a Bennet. Obviously Jane refused him on Eliza's advice, hoping to alter him to what she desired. And obviously that included debasing himself and mistreating her while believing all he did was for the best.

If he kept his new attitude, she would need a house of her own. Living with him would be even worse than with Louisa and her child! They had suggested that she set up her own household in town. She certainly could do that, but she would need to hire a companion and people would gossip over her living arrangements. There was something so old maidish about a single woman living with only a paid companion. People might begin to think her on the shelf.

No. She needed a husband to supply her with a new household. Her options were rather limited. The only available men at Pemberley were the Colonel and the Viscount. It looked like there would be a title in her future! Now, she just needed a foolproof plan to convince him to marry her...

 

Having gained Mr Gardiner's consent, Lizzy and Darcy informed the rest of the party. Everyone was pleased with the news, but Georgiana's joy outstripped them all. She was thrilled to finally have a sister, and for it to be someone she knew and loved made her all the more happy. That she had been expecting such an event had no effect on her feelings. Only Miss Bingley gave cold and formal congratulations, but as that was expected no-one was concerned by it.

Darcy decided to ride to Hertfordshire the following morning to gain Mr Bennet's consent. Lizzy was not pleased by this, as she was not certain he would give it due to her previous, vehemently expressed dislike of the man. Jane convinced her that her fears were groundless. They had both sent letters home, which Jane was convinced would show that she had altered her opinion, and she could send one to her father with Mr Darcy if she had any real doubts about his reception. Both they and Mr Gardiner wrote letters for Mr Darcy to take with him. He was not concerned about that matter. Elizabeth was of age and she had consented, that was all that mattered to him.

Almost the entire party was overflowing with joy that evening. Even the servants were extra cheerful. Miss Bingley was disgusted by it all and retired immediately after dinner. No-one thought anything of it, as they assumed she was simply upset at having to face that she would never get what she had wanted. Charles mentally commended her for leaving, so as not to show her disappointment in public, and determined to tell her how pleased he was with her behaviour this evening, in the morning. The talk in the drawing room was all centered on the engagement and making tentative wedding plans. Lizzy hoped very much that telling her mother what Mr Darcy's aunt, the Countess, had suggested would help her have the wedding she desired, rather than whatever Mrs Bennet thought appropriate.

No-one noticed when Mrs Hurst was called out of the room. Her husband and Mrs Gardiner did notice how pale she was when she returned. They asked if all was well, at which she burst into tears. It was some time before she could coherently explain what had distressed her. When she did, her listeners were aghast, except for Lizzy, who could not contain her laughter. They set about preparing a plan of action, which they would put into effect when they were ready to retire. There was no urgency, after all.

The company was so unsettled, however, that they ended up deciding to retire early and all trooped upstairs as silently as they could. They gathered in the passageway in the family wing and the Hursts, Mr Bingley, the Earl, and the Countess crept into the Viscount's dressing room. He followed after them, making slightly more noise. From there he moved into his bedchamber, stopping dead just inside the door.

"Miss Bingley! What are you doing here?"

"What does it look like?"

"It looks as though you have somehow mistaken my room for your own, though considering Darcy houses you as far from the family wing as possible, I can't see how."

"Oh, there's no mistake. I'm exactly where I wish to be."

"But you are not welcome here. You will kindly remove yourself."

"Don't be silly. My maid has informed all the servants of our assignation tonight, and you have retired early. We shall be married by a special licence in town at the start of the season."

The Viscount laughed. "You are as delusional as Lady Catherine! I expect Richard will suggest sending you to the same asylum. Your brother may be more lenient."

"My brother will insist upon your marrying me, now that the entire household is gossiping about you compromising me. I wouldn't be surprised if the news has already spread to others."

"Oh, it's spread alright," the Viscount said, turning to the door of his dressing room.

Caroline was aghast to see the others come into the room. She knew the look of stony resolve on her brother's face did not bode well for her. She was forced out of the room and down the passageway, to her own room, in only the diaphanous nightgown she'd been found in. It was sheer apricot silk that left nothing to the imagination and she cringed as she passed the party, and when she saw the number of servants assembled. She was locked in her room, with footmen guarding the doors.

 

Darcy left early the following morning and had been barely out of view when Lizzy sighed and said she missed him. The other ladies tried to cheer her up, though only Georgiana had much success, as she insisted on calling the two Bennets her sisters. It would take him at least two days to reach Meryton, never mind returning to Pemberley, and Lizzy had decided she would not be unhappy in his absence. It was difficult, but she exerted herself to go walking (and, of course, debating) with Marianne, playing music with Marianne and Georgiana, and anything else she could find to occupy herself with, which was how the party found themselves doing a dramatic reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream one evening. Georgiana tried to delegate as many of the hostess duties to her as she could, which they all found amusing, Lady Matlock in particular. Nothing could dampen Georgiana's jubilation, not even when Miss Bingley could be heard screaming at her brother and sister.

They did not have to hear her long. Mr Bingley had sent an express to their aunt in Scunthorpe and, on receipt of her response, Caroline was sent to her the next day. Her brother would see to it that she received her allowance from the bank every quarter, once she came of age. At that time she was welcome to do as she pleased, but neither her brother nor her sister would have anything to do with her until she'd shown that she had reformed. Until she came of age, however, she was banished to her aunt's.  Miss de Bourgh was quite happy to discuss the situation quietly with Mr Bingley, and had only sensible things to say when he began to castigate himself for allowing the situation to get so completely out of hand.

They were not the only ones having quiet conversations. Jane and the Colonel took slow walks through the shrubbery and rose garden, where they discussed every little thing that occurred to them. The Colonel felt rather out of his depth. He had only ever courted passionately impetuous women and did not quite know how to go about things with a serene one. He was drawn to her, even when she was not singing, and took great pleasure in reading to her. Her education had not been as extensive as Lizzy's, being her mother's favourite rather than her father's. The Colonel did not make her feel at all deficient and not only seemed to enjoy reading more edifying tomes to her, but appeared to delight in answering her questions.  She was quite correct there. He had a wonderful time sharing the things he loved with her.

With Lizzy engaged and Elinor being officially courted, Jane was beginning to feel a little frustrated. She wanted her happy ending, but the closest they'd come was the Colonel asking if she would be in town in the winter. She had no set plans, but told him that she hoped to visit her family there at some point in the season, and they both agreed that they would be very pleased to see each other then. She knew he was right to be cautious, but it still frustrated her. As Lizzy fully intended to be married before Christmas, she would be more than happy to have her favourite sister stay with her. And if she wasn't, Jane intended to impose on the Gardiners. She was fully prepared to do what it took to ensure she met with the Colonel again.


Sir Thomas, having decided to have a ball, set about making it happen. No matter what Mrs Norris might say on the matter, all the young people were pleased. Fanny was surprised to find Mr Ferrars taking an early opportunity to secure her hand for the supper set, and any other set she chose. As he was the first to ask her to dance, she felt it only right that he should have the first set. He was honoured by such a response and the two were most pleased with their conversation. William also expressed a desire to dance with his sister and she was most pleased to arrive at a ball with three sets already secured.

Mr Crawford was less pleased. Certainly, Mary had managed to get her to wear his necklace, but that she had not saved the first set for him! Why, she did not even look as though she regretted it when she told him it was not available. He assumed that her brother, or perhaps one of her cousins was opening the ball with her. Even Sir Thomas would have been preferable to that wretched Mr Ferrars.

Unlike his rival, Edward enjoyed the ball immensely. Though he felt poor Miss Price’s sorrow over her brother’s impending departure, both were pleased that Miss Crawford could no longer put off her journey to town, and she would be escorted by her brother. Edward had never before enjoyed a ball so very much. He didn’t think he’d ever even danced the first set, not even at his sister’s coming out ball.

 

The next morning was a subdued occasion, with William and the Crawfords leaving Mansfield. With September drawing ever nearer, Edward knew that he would soon need to depart for Dorset and his living at Delaford. He would welcome the house of his own and the occupation.

“I shall miss you, Miss Price,” he said to his companion, as they rambled through the shrubbery.

She looked at him, surprised.

“Oh. I had not meant to say that aloud. Do forgive me Miss Price.”

“There is nothing to forgive, Mr Ferrars. Dorsetshire and Northamptonshire are far apart, it is only natural that you will miss your friends. I have greatly enjoyed your company.” She felt very bold making such a statement, but the truth was that she would miss him too.

“I hope you don’t think me forward, but I wondered if you’d allow me to suggest a visit to your relations to your uncle? Portsmouth and Dorset are not so very distant from each other.”

“I should like to see my family again. Perhaps I might even see William’s ship!”

He smiled and, having a brief moment of total privacy, decided to seize his opportunity. “Perhaps, if you would consent, I might ask his permission to court you at the same time?”

She blushed crimson, thrilled and embarrassed and breathless. She took a moment to compose herself, and then she lifted her eyes to his and whispered, “I should like that.”

She knew not how to feel. For so long she had loved Edmund, had thought him the epitome of manhood, but here was Mr Ferrars showing her such a great deal of care and affection that she could not help caring for him in turn. For all their similarities, she thought him superior to Edmund -- another thing she’d never imagined -- and could only hope that she would always be as happy as she now felt.

 

Sir Thomas, having kept a close eye on his niece at the ball, was unsurprised when Mr Ferrars asked to speak with him the following day.

“I rather thought you’d be asking to marry her, but I expect you wish to see her in her natal family first.”

“Er, yes, sir,” he said, for he did wish to meet the Price family and did not wish to discuss his previous disappointments.

“Well, of course you have my consent. And I shall be pleased to send her to Portsmouth to visit her family.”

Sir Thomas was also pleased to tell the family of Fanny’s courtship at dinner. Lady Bertram was surprised, but pleased. She did not like the idea of Fanny leaving her for Portsmouth, but if Sir Thomas felt it best, it must be so. Mrs Norris gave grudging congratulations. She could not like anything that gave Fanny pleasure, and the attentions of a young man were anathema to her. Certainly a clergyman of good family should not be distinguishing the girl, however impoverished he may be. Edmund, however, could not have been happier for them. His congratulations were so warm and sincere, they put the rest to shame.

Chapter Text

Darcy returned with the Earl’s messenger. Mr Bennet had consented, Mary was thrilled, but they both agreed that Lizzy would want to tell her mother in person and undertook to keep her secret until she returned. Mary’s letter was so full of effusions of joy for her sister that Lizzy quite blushed. Mrs Dashwood was more than happy to consent to Elinor and Richard’s courtship, though her letter to Elinor contained a paragraph expressing her inability to understand the need for such an interim step, and offering her consent to the marriage, should they desire to become engaged while so far from her.

The Earl’s letters were rather more somber, but all arrangements had been made to admit Lady Catherine to the Bethlehem Hospital in return for a substantial donation. The Earl decided it was best to take her at once, and after some discussion with the family it was decided that the Earl, the Countess, and the Viscount would all accompany her on the trip south. The Earl had not wanted his wife to join them, but she insisted upon it and, as her arguments were all reasonable, he finally capitulated.

They elected to leave at daybreak, taking along provisions for their meals. The Darcys and Anne saw them off and it was a very distressing parting. Miss de Bourgh was left in tears upon seeing her mother still raving on about her and Darcy’s supposed engagement. Later that morning she sought out Mr Bingley to talk about it. He comforted her, trying to find soothing words. Bingley was not very good at that sort of thing, but she much preferred blunt honesty and told him so.

“You love your mother,” he said. “This wouldn’t hurt so if you didn’t. It’s hard, probably harder than my banishing Caroline was for me. At least there’s a chance that Caroline will reform herself.”

“Do you think there’s no hope for my mother?”

“Perhaps if something had been done sooner, but an institution seems rather irrevocable.”

“It does, but what else could have been done?”

“Nothing. She is a forceful woman. As far as I can see the only person she obeys is her brother. He has other duties, other responsibilities. He could not care for her as well as those at the hospital will.”

“True”

“And, of course, the hospital staff have experience, so they may have some success in treating her.”

“Do you think so? You hear such awful stories about these places.”

“You do. But your family can afford to pay them to care for her properly. And you will be able to visit her and see for yourself how she is treated. If she is mistreated I am sure your uncle will remove her and make other arrangements.”

“You are right, of course. I cannot help but worry though.”

“You would be a most unfeeling daughter if you didn’t! Once she’s had some time to settle in ask your family to escort you on a visit. Seeing her there may help.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea! I hadn’t thought of that!”

“Just don’t go with Darcy -- it might give her the wrong idea.”

She giggled slightly at that and Bingley felt quite proud of himself for eliciting such a reaction.

“I hope that I will see you in town for the season?” he asked.

“I’ve never been to town. It feels so strange to be able to decide for myself what to do. I think I may have a house in town.”

Deciding that it was ridiculous that she knew nothing of what she owned, she determined to speak with Darcy about it. He thought that a fantastic idea and asked to tag along.

“I would not make you uncomfortable in any way, but I’m still learning to manage an estate myself, and would benefit from any discussion on such matters.”

She had no objection and the two went to find Darcy. He was not pleased at the thought of being dragged away from his fiancee for such a matter, but Lizzy had no intention of leaving.

“I’ve no doubt that they will benefit from hearing what I have to say about the mistress’s duties. Besides, I should like to listen to you anyway.”

As long as she would not be leaving, he was quite happy to spend the day talking about estate management. It was not just a duty to him, he was truly passionate about it. While his listeners may not have shared his enthusiasm, they appreciated his expertise. He fully supported everything Lizzy had to say about the duties that fell to a mistress, and suggested that Anne ask for advice from her Aunt Helena, or other trusted, experienced ladies.

“I had thought of enlisting Mrs Collins’ help,” she said timidly.

“She will certainly be able to help you,” Lizzy answered. “She’s very active in the parish and knows the people there, so she will certainly be able to guide you.”

“Indeed,” Darcy agreed. “It is important to know what the tenants are like in order to appropriately mediate their disputes and ensure they receive the correct assistance when needed.”

 

As August was drawing to a close, they began making plans for meeting again in the winter. It was Anne who started the argument.

“As Elizabeth and Darcy will be married by then, they will have each other and not need all the other ladies to stay with them. I know Georgiana and Marianne will not wish to be parted, but I should like for Elinor and Jane to stay with me.”

“Oh no,” Lizzy said. “I cannot give up Jane!”

“But you will not be giving me up, Lizzy. I shall see you regularly, and Anne will have greater need of me.”

“Indeed I will.”

“But if you have Elinor, she will be able to guide you and Jane would be superfluous.”

“Her companionship will still be necessary to me.”

“Do not forget that Mary will be coming to town then as well. We would be more than happy to have her with us, but she would be pleased to be your guest, Lizzy,” Mr Gardiner said.

“Unless Anne tries to steal her away as well!” Lizzy laughed. The others quickly joined in.

“I have an idea!” Bingley said suddenly. “Why do we not all spend a few days at Netherfield on our way back to town?”

This sufficiently distracted them from the argument and they all agreed it was a good idea. Some of the party had reservations, but they did not share them with the group.

 

Lizzy expressed her fears of her family’s behaviour when she and Darcy had a moment to talk together quietly in the drawing room.

“My darling Lizzy, what on earth are you worrying for? Bingley has had to banish Miss Bingley to the north and Lady Catherine has been institutionalised. Your family does not compare!”

“But Colonel Brandon has not yet met them!”

“Do you think he will think less of your sister?”

“I don’t know. I just know that my mother will push her on Mr Bingley more than ever!”

“That will not scare him off. Have you not heard what happened to the first woman he ever loved?”

“No?”

“His father was her guardian. He pushed for a marriage with the older brother as she was wealthy and the estate badly mismanaged. They were fully prepared to elope and he stayed true to her until she actually gave in to the pressure and married his brother.”

“How awful.”

“Yes. But the point is that he will not be chased away by relatives who plan other matches.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“And I think Jane has made herself quite clear.”

“Yes, but still,”

“No. You have no cause for concern. As soon as you tell her that a Countess wishes to help plan your wedding, she will forget all about Jane.”

Lizzy laughed, as he had intended her to, though they both knew it was true.

 

Jane and Elinor waited until they had retired to have their talk. It was somewhat similar in nature.

“I just don’t know how to make her understand! If I tell her I’m no longer interested in Mr Bingley, she will tell me I’m being silly. If I tell her I’ve refused him, she will do everything she can to undermine my choice.”

“So don’t tell her that. You cannot make her understand and you cannot change her behaviour. The only thing you have any control over is you. Your behaviour, your words, your decisions.”

“So what do I do?”

“Ignore her as far as you can. I know that makes you uncomfortable, but you must remind yourself that trying to convince her of the truth will only upset her further and make things more difficult.”

“You are right of course.”

“And if you can bring yourself to do it, it will be very easy  to distract her from your situation.”

“How?”

“Your sister is engaged. Simply redirect the conversation to that topic and she will forget all about you.”

 

When Mrs Bennet heard that Netherfield was being opened for the master and a large party of friends, she lamented long and loud that Jane had ever been allowed to go so far as Devon. Knowing exactly where both Jane and Lizzy were, and having a clearer understanding of how the former felt, both Mr Bennet and Mary found her antics amusing and ignored her as much as possible.

Kitty and Lydia were pleased simply because they were bored. With the regiment in Brighton there was nothing of interest at home, with Mrs Forster in disgrace there was no news of officers at all. They were most put out that he was only staying a few days before going on to town. The least he could do is stay long enough to host another ball. Lydia declared that she would tell him so.

“And you think a man will listen to a little girl like you?” Kitty asked spitefully.

“Of course he will,” was the easy reply. “Just because you can’t say boo to a goose doesn’t mean no-one else has any gumption. Besides, he did last time.”

Kitty walked off wondering why she could not have a real friend. Maria Lucas didn’t really count for she was as interested in men, flirtation, and dancing as Lydia herself. Well, Mary had been able to get Lizzy to take notice of her, surely Kitty could convince one of her older sisters to be her friend.

The entire household was in an uproar a few days later when two carriages and a large number of horsemen appeared. The family was ordered outside by Mr Bennet, to some surprise. Mrs Bennet knew not where to turn, seeing so many men (including Mr Bingley!) at her door. When they began handing young ladies out of the one coach, and her own brother descended from the other, she was as flustered as she’d ever been.

Mr Bennet and Mary were the only ones prepared for Jane and Lizzy to disembark and were ready to step forward to welcome them home. Mrs Bennet was, thankfully, trying to split her attention in too many directions to have any impact on the group, though she managed to invite them all to Longbourn for dinner the following day.

After greetings and introductions, the Netherfield party departed to get some rest, though Lizzy and Marianne had planned an expedition to Oakham Mount the next morning, and Georgiana, having gained an introduction to ‘the musical Bennet’, had come as close to demanding as she could and insisted on a visit the following day to play duets together.

“And there’s a piece Marianne and I would like to play that’s two pianists and a harp. We tried to convince Lizzy to play with us, but she was not able to give her full attention. I know you’ll be in town in the winter and we’d very much like it if you’d play with us.”

“Oh yes,” Marianne said, overhearing the last part. Mary then discovered what single-mindedness really meant and it was all Elinor could do to separate them.

Alone again, the Bennets and Gardiners gathered in the drawing room to hear the latest news of the travellers and greet the children who had remained inside. Mrs Bennet had many sly remarks to make to them, Jane in particular, and they were all relieved when they were finally released to rest. Lizzy debated waiting till the evening, but decided it was best to do it at once. She asked to speak to her mother privately, an audience Mrs Bennet was not inclined to grant, as she wished to interrogate Jane further. She finally decided that Lizzy probably wanted to talk about that as well and the two went off together.

“I hope, Mama, that you will understand that I wished to tell you this in person, and won’t be angry with Mary and Papa for not telling you sooner.”

“Telling me what? There’s no need for secrets!”

“It is not a secret, I just wanted to share it with my mother in person. You know how important mothers are to their daughters, so I’m sure you comprehend my feelings.”

“Yes, of course you would want to tell me yourself.”

“I hope you will be happy for me.”

“For you?” she asked sharply. Jane was supposed to be the one marrying Mr Bingley.

“Yes. I am engaged to Mr Darcy.”

It was as if her mother’s brain had frozen. She sat there, silently, staring at Lizzy while opening and closing her mouth in shock. She knew not what to say.

“Mr Darcy?” she finally asked.

“Yes.”

“The proud one with £10 000 a year and a house in town?”

“The very same.”

“Engaged?”

“Yes Mama. Very happily engaged. We wish to be married in early December.”

“So soon?”

“Yes. His aunt, the Countess of Matlock, has no daughters of her own and would like to help with the planning. We know you won’t really need it, but she wants to be involved. She gave me this letter for you and hopes that you will correspond with her.”

“A Countess?”

“Yes Mama. May I leave you to your letter? I would like to rest some.”

“Of course you must rest! I need to see to tomorrow’s dinner and … Oh Lizzy!” Her mother embraced her strongly and left in a tizzy.

Jane would not condone her sister’s blatant manipulation of her mother, so Lizzy chose to share that only with her father and Mary. Mary also wanted to hear all about the proposal and whatever had been left out of her letters.

It was lucky that she chose her younger over her older sister on this occasion. Kitty was screwing up what little courage she could to knock on Jane’s door. It took her a few attempts and she almost ran away immediately after her hand left the door. Jane opened it too swiftly for that.

“Kitty! Come in. How thoughtful of you to come keep me company.”

Kitty blushed, but said nothing to dissuade her sister from that opinion. She waited quietly while Jane changed out of her travelling clothes, and may have sat there without saying anything all afternoon. Jane was watching her, however, and could see her sister wished to talk.

“Now, Kitty, come lie on the bed with me and tell me everything I’ve missed.”

“Oh, but my dress…”

“I shall not let you escape me until it is time to change for dinner, so there need be no concerns for your dress.”

“Alright then,” Kitty said, joining her sister.

Jane asked questions designed to get her sister to talk and she succeeded.

“You don’t sound to have enjoyed your summer at all.”

“Oh, that’s not true. I have had fun, and we’ve had the children to look after and play with, but it just seems so hollow in retrospect.”

“So your enjoyment was fleeting?”

“Yes! And I don’t understand why. I never used to feel this way!”

“No, but you were a child then. You are growing into a woman now and you feel the need for more substantial endeavours.”

“But what do I do? I’m not clever like Lizzy and Mary, and I have no friends of my own.”

“You will find your friends. And home will soon be irrevocably changed and we will all need to make adjustments.”

“Changed? What do you mean?”

“I do not think Lizzy will mind my telling you. She is speaking to Mama now, and then it will only be Lydia who doesn’t know.”

“Know what?”

“Lizzy is engaged to Mr Darcy!”

Kitty gasped. “Really? Mr Darcy?”

“Yes. They hope to be married before Christmas.”

“A winter wedding! I hope there’s snow. And she must have some of those white roses in the hothouse for her hair. They will look beautiful amongst her dark curls.”

“Yes, they will. And we shall no doubt be very busy with wedding planning for the next few months. But we are talking about you now. With Lizzy gone and Mary and I in town this winter, what can we do for you to have more lasting enjoyment over the winter than you did over the summer?”

“In town? But then I shall be stuck with Lydia!” she wailed.

Jane laughed. “We’re trying to make that less burdensome for you, my Kitty. I shall suggest some books I have found very interesting and we can discuss them once you’ve read them.”

“That won’t help. Lydia will just pull them out of my hands so that she can read them and then she will spoil them for me.”

“She will not. The books I have in mind are not novels. I do not read as extensively or widely as either Lizzy or Mary, but I have read some interesting histories and accounts of life in other lands that I would like to share with you. I’m sure you will have plenty of questions as you read, I certainly did. Colonel Brandon answered them for me, as I shall try to do for you.”

“Colonel Brandon? Was he the one with a blue coat and the chestnut horse?”

“He was. How did you remember?”

“I simply extrapolated from your blush now to his looks earlier.”

Jane blushed even brighter. “You must not say anything, Kitty.”

“I won’t. I saw how uncomfortable you were in the parlour with Mama. I wonder I never noticed before.”

“It is as I said, you are beginning to become a woman. Now, I have a second suggestion for you.”

“Yes?”

“I could not help noticing how decorative your letters were.”

Kitty blushed and looked away. “I was just bored.”

“They were beautiful.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. I showed them to Elinor. She’s been teaching me the basics of drawing and she said that you would do well at it.”

“Oh, do you think so?”

“I can only say that I thought your letters beautiful. I know nothing of what it takes to draw well, to Elinor’s chagrin. She , however, said it was outrageous that you have never been instructed. Now, it’s not the present I intended to give you, but I bought some drawing materials when we were in town. I think you would do far more with them than I ever will and I would like for you to have them.”

She could not help herself, she began to sob quietly. Jane, of course, was distressed by this. She did not know what to do when Kitty told her that no-one had ever said such kind things to her, or thought that something of theirs would be better as hers.

“I suppose I must learn to see our family as they really are, instead of what I wish them to be, as well. I would not know where to begin to curb Lydia’s head-strong selfishness, but I will speak to Lizzy. I may not agree with her methods, but she gets the desired result.”

Jane eventually dropped off to sleep, but Kitty did not mind in the slightest. She was overjoyed by the things Jane had said, the way she had treated her and spoken to her. She could’ve stayed there all night, basking in her happiness.

Chapter Text

It was not to be, however, and dinner came far too soon to suit Kitty’s feelings. The first thing she did at dinner was to offer her congratulations to Lizzy. Her thanks were drowned out by Lydia.

“What are you congratulating her for? She’s not the one who slaved over children all summer.”

“Neither did you,” her father said acerbically. “Mary and Kitty undertook the bulk of the duties there. And she is congratulating Lizzy on her engagement.”

“Lizzy? Engaged? Who would want to marry her?”

“Mr Darcy, of course,” her mother said sharply. As if anyone could object to one of her daughters! “You had better be on your best behaviour tomorrow, girls! Now, Madeleine, I understand from her letter that you spent quite some time with the Countess of Matlock?”

The entire table stopped talking at that. Lizzy tried valiantly to hide her amusement at her father’s gobsmacked expression, but not even Jane could repress a smile.

“Yes Fanny,” Mrs Gardiner answered sedately. “I do hope you will be kind enough to let her assist.”

“Oh yes, I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to have only sons! Now, she suggested that as they only want a three month engagement that it’s most sensible for me to take care of everything here and for the two of you to handle anything that needs to be done in town.”

“That is very sensible and I would be happy to help.”

“Wonderful! I must admit I did wonder how to plan everything and manage all the wedding clothes as well, but with the Countess of Matlock to assist me, all shall be well.”

Lizzy rolled her eyes and resigned herself to hearing those words multiple times a day until the wedding. Mary wondered at the similarity between her mother and Mr Collins, considering that he was her father’s relative. They spoke mostly of wedding matters over dinner, and Kitty made Lizzy retell the story of the proposal as she had not yet heard it. As Lizzy would quite happily talk of Darcy all day she obliged them all.

Lydia sulked the whole way through the meal. Not only did they ignore all her efforts to change the subject, but she had to hear them all praising Lizzy to the skies. Even Kitty had defected, which Lydia was determined to punish her for. She had always wanted to be the first to marry and to have it be Lizzy of all her sisters was pouring salt on her wounds. Nobody paid her the slightest bit of attention even when the ladies withdrew. It was galling. And then her aunt made it even worse.

“Now, there was some argument over who would be visiting where for the season, but we would like to have Mary with us for at least part of it.”

Mary was thrilled, though she knew the invitation was coming, as it meant they’d be working on publishing her novel! Kitty was stoic, as she too knew the invitation was coming. She hoped that Mary would enjoy herself.

“Why Mary?” Lydia asked loudly. “You should ask me. Mary won’t enjoy it at all, after all, she doesn’t know how to have fun.”

“Don’t be silly, Lydia,” her mother said to everyone’s surprise. “Everyone thinks her plain because they only see her with the rest of you. In London they’ll probably think her quite pretty enough.”

Mary blushed, Kitty looked horrified, Jane distressed, and Lizzy amused. Lydia pouted.

“I think, Lydia, you would be the one who would not enjoy staying with us. London society is much stricter than here and a girl your age wouldn’t be invited to balls or parties.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Lizzy said. “I’m sure there are far more rogues trying to take advantage of naive girls in town.”

Mrs Bennet nodded, making a note to ask the Countess of Matlock about it, and turned the conversation to Mr Darcy’s dinner preferences.

 

The next morning saw a carriage arrive at Longbourn long before most of the family were up. Marianne alighted and was quickly met by Lizzy. She handed over a note for Jane, which Lizzy gave to Mrs Hill. They soon embarked on their walk, arguing over which poet best described the beauties they were seeing.

Jane was next to appear downstairs, but went back up after reading her letter.

“Kitty! Wake up!”

“What? Jane? What time is it?”

“It is early yet, but Elinor said that since Georgiana demands the musical Bennet, I am to bring the artistic one.”

Kitty sat up immediately. “Truly?”

“Read it yourself,” Jane said, handing the note over.

She did and was promptly replaced by a hurricane as she tried to ready herself as quickly as possible. So it was that when Mary came down to breakfast, she found Jane sedately sipping her tea and Kitty unable to sit still.

“Good morning sisters,” Mary said. “I did not expect to see either of you so early this morning.”

“Oh, Mary! Isn’t is wonderful!”

“I do not know. What is this ‘it’?”

“Elinor has asked Kitty and I to join the party at Netherfield today. While you play we shall be drawing.”

“I can’t wait!”

“I should say that Kitty will be drawing, as I have not yet mastered even the simplest of Elinor’s lessons.”

“And, of course, you are so excited you wish to leave at once.”

“You should eat something first, of course, but I hope you will be quick. I want to be gone before Lydia arises.”

Mary scowled at the thought of her youngest sister and set about her breakfast. The girls did not tarry long and were soon ensconced in the carriage and on their way to Netherfield. They were warmly welcomed and spent a fair portion of time with the entire group They all wished to get to know the younger Bennets.

Kitty’s enthusiasm had not abated and Elinor soon rewarded her patience by taking the younger girl off to the conservatory.

“I would not normally start with plants, as they can be rather difficult to get quite right, but I think you have a natural talent and will have no trouble.”

Kitty did not agree with this assessment of her skill, but was too abashed to say so. She need not have worried. Elinor kept an eye on her and, in between frequent praises, discussed techniques of shading, angles of light, and other things that Kitty found fascinating and Jane did not care to comprehend. They were mostly left alone by the others.

Colonel Brandon came with some regularity and eventually commandeered a table and worked beside them. Jane had expected the General to be with them, as she knew how much pleasure he got from watching Elinor draw. He, however, had joined Darcy on a ride. He knew Darcy hoped to meet up with Elizabeth, which would leave poor Marianne to her own devices. Knowing that Elinor still worried over Marianne, despite admitting it to be largely unnecessary, he would watch over her. Elinor had been pleased when he told her what he intended and he was rather inattentive to both his cousin and his horse as he dwelt on the way she had looked at him.

Georgiana and Mary were in the music room with Mrs Hurst, who was taking Marianne’s part while she walked with Lizzy. Only Anne remained abovestairs, resting. Three days in a carriage had exhausted her, despite the improvement increased exercise had made to her health. She hoped to be able to attend the dinner at Longbourn that night, and so sent her apologies to the guests.

 

The rest helped and she was able to go to dinner. The party was large and she felt some uneasiness, but as most of the people present were ones she knew, she soon relaxed. Marianne, Mary, and Georgiana were talking about music, Mr Bennet, Mr Darcy, and Lizzy were talking about chess, or politics, or something. Mrs Hurst and Mrs Gardiner were attempting to keep Mrs Bennet from saying anything untoward and not succeeding terribly well as her mind could not be distracted from Lizzy’s engagement, or the fact that Jane and Mr Bingley had been reunited. While some of her comments were not to Anne’s taste, and most should not have been spoken aloud at all, Anne could see that they were all caused by the woman’s love of and concern for her daughters. She was seated near Elinor and Kitty, and so was able to join in their talk of drawing, and was pleased to find another beginner.

Lydia had seated herself between Mr Bingley and General Fitzwilliam and was indefatigable in attempting to convince the former to agree to stay long enough to hold another ball, and trying to dazzle the latter with her charms. Mrs Bennet had been most pleased to meet the Countess of Matlock’s younger son, who had volunteered to transport any letters or messages to her in town, and did not miss the looks he occasionally gave to Miss Lydia. He was often surprised and occasionally disgusted. She assumed that he was used to the more sophisticated society in town and that Lydia was too young and unpolished to be in company there. She determined to give her youngest a hint later that evening.

The General was mostly paying attention to Elinor’s conversation, only interjecting to suggest that Anne might like to hire a drawing master in town. Both cousins noticed the wistful expression that plan elicited from Miss Kitty. Being utterly incapable of refusing a lady anything, Mr Bingley found himself entirely monopolised by Miss Lydia. He explained to her a number of times why he could not stay longer in the neighbourhood and that he could therefore not host a ball, but she ignored it all. She declared that his business was not nearly as important as he said, certainly not as important as her need to dance with a man like the General, that, really, he must want to have some fun after spending all that time with the dreadfully dull Darcy, and he could even dance with Jane again. In fact, given that Lizzy had somehow convinced Darcy to marry her, he was obligated to host an engagement ball. Taking pity on the poor man, Colonel Brandon contrived to begin discussing estate management.

“How very boring! I wouldn’t think a Colonel would usually be so dull, but I suppose you are very old and have forgotten how to enjoy things.”

Unfortunately she said this in a brief moment of silence and the entire table heard. All her family were too shocked to say anything, but Colonel Brandon was prepared.

“Quiet now, Miss Lydia, the grown-ups are talking,” he said before turning back to Mr Bingley.

Mr Bennet could barely contain his laughter. Mrs Bennet decided that Lydia was definitely not ready for London -- insulting such a nice man with his own estate and everything! She remembered how Lizzy had praised her for taking such good care of her daughters when the regiment had been stationed in Meryton. She’d rather enjoyed having the daughter most like her husband compliment her and think well of her. Lizzy looked horrified, Mr Darcy was grave, and the General was shocked. She knew what she needed to do.

When the ladies withdrew, Lydia was sent to her room. She did not go quietly. The entire household heard the screaming. The noise stopped abruptly, which many wondered at.

Elizabeth had hung back, wanting to admonish Lydia herself. She was pleased her mother was doing the right thing and just as shocked by the reaction. Unable to contain herself, she had slapped her sister.

“How dare you speak to Mama that way! Apologise at once and do as you’re told!”

In response, Lydia glared at her sister and ran up the stairs to her room.

“I’m sorry Mama, I should not have struck her.”

“Why would she say such awful things to me?”

“For the same reason I did when you punished me for getting my new dress soiled in the stables. She does not understand that you’re acting in her best interest.”

“You were eight! A child!”

“What does that say about Lydia?”

“Perhaps we should put her in the nursery with her cousins?”

Lizzy laughed. “Oh Mama! That will only make her angrier. But you must do something. Why, she didn’t even apologise!”

“Well, I don’t know what would be appropriate. But we’ll have to worry about that later, we’re neglecting our guests.”

They went to join the other ladies in the drawing room, Mrs Bennet reflecting on how pleasant it was to have Lizzy look at her that way and not just her father. And it didn’t matter if she didn’t know what to do, Lizzy was very clever and would think of something. It was Colonel Brandon who gave Mrs Bennet the solution when he apologised for the way he’d spoken to her daughter. He had not realised that she was out. The solution was so very obvious. She should not be out.

After the guests had left -- with many plans made for the following day -- she spoke to her husband about it. He agreed that Lydia clearly did not know how to behave in polite company and promised his wife his support on the matter. She informed the housekeeper, who relayed the news to the rest of the staff.

Lydia was most put out the next morning, when she was awoken at the inhuman hour of half past eight and summoned to breakfast. She sulked through it and was even more displeased by being taken into her father’s study afterwards.

“Now, Lydia, you have shown yourself to be a badly behaved child. Your mother and I have decided to treat you in the way that you behave. Until you prove to us that you are able and willing to behave properly, you will not be allowed in company.”

“What?! That’s not fair! Mama! Tell him it’s not fair!”

“It was not fair for you to scream such abuse at me last night, but you did it anyway. This is perfectly fair. If you want to be treated like a lady then you must act like one.”

Lydia stormed out of the room and went to find Kitty. It took rather longer than expected, as she was in the still room with Jane and Lizzy

“What are you doing in here, Kitty? Come, I want to talk to you.”

“I’m learning what the duties of an estate’s mistress are.”

“What for? We shall marry wealthy men and have servants for that.”

“You’re not out, Lydia, I don’t think you have any comprehension of what men want in their wives.”

Lydia flushed angrily. “Kitty! That’s not true! Mama and Papa are only doing this because Lizzy is jealous of me.”

Her sisters laughed at her.

She stamped her foot. “I know more about men than all the rest of you put together! I wager I’ll be the first to marry, see if I don’t!”

She flounced out of the room in high dudgeon.

“Poor Lydia,” Jane said. “It must be very hard for her.”

“She brought it on herself,” Lizzy answered, and they turned their attention back to their task.

 

Lydia did not return to the house. She knew quite well how to get a man to marry her, she just had to pick one. She rather liked the idea of marrying a General, and his father was an Earl, so she’d outrank all her family! Now she just had to find him.

It did not take long. The gentlemen were out riding and she flung herself to the ground near their path and began sobbing loudly. Naturally, they stopped.

“Miss Lydia?” Bingley asked. “Whatever is the matter?”

“I’ve turned my ankle. I’ve tried to walk on it but it’s too painful.”

“Oh dear. Well, we are very close to Longbourn, I’m sure we can see you home safely.”

They muttered amongst themselves quietly, while she continued to sob, carefully lifting her skirts above her ankles in what she thought was a seductive manner.

“Miss Lydia,” a deep voice said, and she looked up at Darcy. “I’m going to have to lift you onto the horse as you cannot stand.”

She agreed with alacrity and excessive gratitude. She’d planned on the General, but stealing her sister’s fiance would be a real coup. It was only once he’d placed her on the horse that she noticed that all the other gentlemen had dismounted as well. She sat atop Mr Darcy’s horse seething in frustration as they walked her home.

They did not offer to assist her in dismounting when they reached Longbourn. They sent a servant for her parents and openly discussed how they’d found her with them. Mrs Bennet went to examine her at once. Having had Lizzy for a daughter she had some experience with twisted ankles.

“There’s nothing the matter with you, Lydia. Why your ankle is not even bruised, there’s no swelling at all.”

Mr Bennet eyed the gentlemen and said stiffly, “I wonder why the child lied.”

“Too lazy to walk home, I wager. You could have told the gentlemen you were tired, they would have helped you even if you weren’t injured.”

“Your naivete still astounds me, Mrs Bennet,” was her husband’s only response. “Ah, Hill. Escort Miss Lydia to her chamber. She will not be leaving it again today.”

Once more there was screaming and tears. Mr Bennet excused himself and dragged her away.

“I don’t know what’s got into her,” Mrs Bennet said.

“Oh, the baby is always rather spoilt, Mrs Bennet. Just ask my mother what I was like at that age! Discipline is all that’s needed,” the General assured her.

Darcy snorted, knowing full well that at that age all his cousin had been interested in was fencing, shooting, and tales of battle.

The gentlemen continued their ride while the Bennets attempted to discipline their daughter. She did not see that she had done anything wrong, but even her mother was against her.

 

The ladies from Netherfield called a bit later. They wished to accompany the Bennet girls on their calls. Anne particularly wished to meet the rest of  Charlotte’s family, so their first call was to Lucas Lodge. Mrs Bennet was pleased to be seen with so many lovely young ladies, and even more pleased to be able to tell all her acquaintance of Lizzy’s engagement.

Lydia’s absence was mentioned by almost everyone, as her not taking the opportunity to visit was unheard of. Mrs Bennet sedately explained that she had shown she was not yet ready to be out and turned the conversation back to her preferred topic. By the end of the day all of Meryton and its surrounding estates were aware of Mrs Bennet’s correspondence with the Countess of Matlock, Mr Darcy’s aunt, who would be assisting her with some of the wedding plans.

Mrs Hurst spent the visits expressing her regrets at their sudden departure last winter -- she told them Caroline had suddenly taken ill -- and explaining that they were only here for a few days due to Miss de Bourgh’s frailty, but that they intended to be back in a month or so, when they would hope to undertake more engagements. She even went so far as to suggest that if Elizabeth could convince Mr Darcy to consent, they would like to host an engagement ball on their return. Naturally all the young ladies begged Lizzy to do whatever it took. She simply laughed and said that she did not think he would have any grounds to object as Lady Matlock was planning a ball to celebrate their marriage in town in the New Year.

Chapter Text

The next day saw both the Gardiners and those at Netherfield depart for town. The General had a few letters for his mother, from both Mrs Bennet and her two eldest daughters. They arrived in time for dinner and almost all retired early. Elinor and Richard stayed up fairly late, talking quietly of their hopes and dreams for the future. The following morning saw the Dashwoods leaving in the carriage, after many parting tears from Marianne and Georgiana, with the Colonel and the General riding alongside. Elinor dozed for most of the morning, having slept little the night before. The three days to Barton were uneventful and Mrs Dashwood was thrilled to have her daughters back with her. Brandon and Fitzwilliam planned to spend the night at Barton Park and leave immediately after breakfast the next day. Mrs Dashwood managed to convince them to stay at the Cottage for dinner, which they did happily. Richard was pleased to get her consent to the courtship in person, though he had more to ask.

"I know you will think it very forward and presumptuous of me, but would you allow me to correspond with Miss Dashwood?"

"Oh, yes! Of course you must write! It is another four months till you meet again, how are you to court her if you have no contact at all?"

He was pleased to get his way, and Elinor's eyes brightened, which he considered a sign of her pleasure.

"I expect you'll be engaged soon anyway," Mrs Dashwood continued. "I suppose Elinor will not let us start planning the wedding quite yet, though I have had a few little ideas since your letter came."

"I am pleased to see you share my optimism, Mrs Dashwood. My friend Brandon here is as cautious as our lovely Miss Dashwood and has not even progressed to the courting stage with his Miss Bennet."

"A little caution never hurt anyone, Fitzwilliam. And before you get swept away with praises for Miss Dashwood, I shall ask Miss Margaret how her studies are progressing."

The conversation flowed from there and all too soon it was time for the gentlemen to leave.

"Oh, it is so good to be home once more!" Marianne cried. "I have enjoyed our time with friends immensely, but there's something so satisfying about home."

"I quite agree," her older sister said. "Perhaps you will forgive me for not being too eager to leave permanently."

"I confess, my dear, I do not understand why you are only courting and not engaged. I should think you know him quite well after spending two months in the same house."

"If it were only a matter of knowing him, Mama, I would not hesitate. But we were convinced we knew Mr Willoughby and Mr Ferrars and were proven mistaken. They are both proof that love does not always last. A separation, though comparatively short, will test our knowledge of and love for each other."

" I have no doubt of it!"

"Neither do I," she smiled, "but I should like to be sure all the same."

"And what of you, Marianne?"

"Me? I have no doubts either, I don't believe anyone could, except the ghastly baby Bennet."

"No, dear, I was asking if you had found someone for yourself."

"No, there was no-one there for me. And I am in no hurry for romance. My family and friends are enough for me."

 

When Colonel Brandon returned to Delaford, he found Edward Ferrars installed in the parsonage. He did not know Mr Ferrars well, but thought they would get along quite well. He was quite correct, as Mr Ferrars was an intelligent, educated man, for all his diffidence. Having grown accustomed to being surrounded by people he found Delaford rather empty, and so invited the vicar to dinner regularly. Edward felt rather awkward at first, convinced that the Colonel must know all about his ill-fated attachment to Elinor. He was swiftly disabused of that notion.

“I have some news of our mutual friends, that you will be pleased to hear,” the Colonel said, the first time they met at his table.

“You mean the Dashwoods, I presume?”

“Indeed. My dear friend, General Fitzwilliam, is courting Miss Dashwood.”

“I am very pleased to hear it,” Edward said, only partially surprised to find that he meant it. “I myself have recently begun a courtship.”

“And who is the young lady?”

“Her name is Fanny Price. She is currently visiting her family in Portsmouth, but she lives at Mansfield Park in Northamptonshire with her aunt and uncle.”

“Mansfield Park? Is that not Sir Thomas Bertram’s seat?”

“Yes, he is her uncle. Do you know him?”

“Only by reputation, though I believe my late uncle was a friend of his father’s.”

 

Edward threw himself into the work of the parish, grateful for Colonel Brandon’s guidance. The Colonel still rode over to Barton Park with some regularity, as much because he knew the General would be more inclined to write to Miss Dashwood than himself, as because he hoped for word of Miss Bennet. The Dashwoods had all been pleased to hear of Mr Ferrars’ courtship, though they might be forgiven for being pleased that they were unlikely to meet him soon.  After one of these trips he brought back a letter for his friend.

“Ah, there you are, Ferrars.”

“Brandon! I had not expected to see you till the day after tomorrow.”

“Miss Dashwood received a letter from her brother that she believes was ultimately intended for you.”

He was surprised, but took the letter and then asked his friend’s advice. Brandon, once understanding the matter, encouraged him to reconcile with his family.

“After all, they may be inclined to aid you in some way, which could only benefit your Miss Price.”

“I am not certain I could write an appropriate letter, as Mr Dashwood suggests I do.”

“Perhaps a trip to Portsmouth for Miss Price’s assistance is in order?”

“Or maybe I should go see my mother in town.”

“That would probably be better, but you should be sure to spend some time in Portsmouth on your way up and down.”

Considering the matter quite settled, Edward began to plan his trip.


Darling Lizzy,

We are all safely arrived in town. I miss you already and have only left you a few hours ago. I have no doubt that the ladies will write of their plans to you, but it appears each house requires a Bennet at all times. Jane will come to us, Mary to the Gardiners, and Kitty to Anne and the drawing master she intends to hire. Half way through the season Jane will move to Anne, Kitty to the Gardiners, and Mary to us. Is this not a good plan? I think it excellent and would like to take the credit, but it seems Miss Dashwood was the one who thought of it. Apparently Kitty is a natural artist and will do very well with some instruction. Mary, of course, is required for Georgiana and Miss Marianne's musical endeavours. I need not explain Jane's appeal to you, who will suffer most from this parting.

I know you will soon be here to shop, but I wish to have you beside me as my wife already. Is it too late to make a quick trip to Scotland?

Yours ever,

FD

My dear Elinor,

I am safely arrived in town and have reported to the War Office. I begin training tomorrow. It's an important task, but not one I relish. Now that I have you, I should not wish to risk myself on the battlefield. I'm not sure that I could, after the horrors of my last campaign, but I no longer desire to. I have not yet decided whether or not to resign my commission. I know you said not to dwell on such thoughts yet, but I cannot help it. It would be an easy decision were I not based in London. Well, we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.

I cannot wait for January, when I will see you again.

Yours,

Richard

Dear Anne,

Thank you so much for inviting Kitty to your drawing lessons. She has not stopped smiling since your letter arrived, save a few short moments when she feared our parents would not consent. Mama is so pleased to see her daughters spend a season in town, and Papa is pleased by Kitty's desire to learn something. He has taken to discussing some of his more precious illustrated books with her and she is blossoming under the attention.

Wedding plans continue apace and we look forward to next month's trip to town for the wedding clothes. I do hope you will join us for some of the shopping, and I know Lizzy feels the same. We were all very pleased to hear about your seeing Mr Darcy's doctor and hope that all goes well with the treatment.

Please do keep us informed!

Yours, etc.,

Jane

Dear Jane,

I, too, was surprised to hear of Mr Ferrars’ courtin a young lady. I am very pleased, though. I think Marianne feels that he should have ended his days pining for me. I do think that with so much evidence to the contrary she will soon reevaluate her position on second attachments.

The Colonel seems to consider his visits to Barton somewhat spontaneous, and I know that those at the Park do, but I have noticed that he always arrives within three days of your letter to me. And, of course, he always takes care to ask after you particularly. He shows interest in news of our other friends from Pemberley, but he only asks after you. I do think you have reason to hope, and look forward to your meeting him in town.

Would it be presumptuous of me to write to Miss Catherine? I look forward to seeing her in the winter, of course, but thought that perhaps she might like someone to discuss drawing with in the interim.

Yours, etc.,

Elinor

My dear General,

I am very pleased to hear that all goes well with your new recruits. I confess I have never given any thought to the sort of training a soldier requires and find your accounts of the men most interesting. And then, of course, I wonder about how the men I know would fare in such conditions. Though I know he served with Colonel Brandon in the East Indies, I confess I cannot imagine Sir John as a soldier.

You have not yet met him, but I do not doubt that you will have as much difficulty discerning a potential officer in my brother as I do. Though perhaps with your wider acquaintance in the army you will know of men with similar temperaments who have acquitted themselves well.

I expect you have more recent news of Longbourn than I, but Jane is well and tells me all her sisters are likewise. The Colonel presents himself at Barton Park with regularity. He does not say it, but I believe he comes for news of her. My own family are also well. Margaret continues in her studies with greater enjoyment now that Marianne is here and determined to share her love of music and literature with her.

Do let me know how Aunt Helena’s plans for the ball go.

Yours, etc.,

Elinor

My dear William,

Every day I reconsider your proposal of making for Scotland. Thank Heavens I shall only be married once! With the days shortening rapidly and the temperature dropping, it becomes more and more difficult to escape the madness. If the woman you marry is not entirely sane, you have only yourself to blame! You should never have suggested an engagement in the first place!

Still, I am certain that time spent peacefully with only yourself and dear Georgiana will allow me to recover in time for the season. I am sure I will enjoy all the delights of London, but I confess I very dearly wish for the woods of Pemberley right now.

Your aunt’s correspondence with my mother has been a godsend and all I really wish for is the time to pass far more quickly than it does.

Yours ever,

Elizabeth

Dearest Georgiana!

Thank you so very much for the book! I do agree with you that Wordsworth compares favourably with Cowper. It would have been an age before the book appeared in the local bookshop and even then I would probably have had to request it! The proprietor has rather antiquated beliefs on both poetry and what constitutes appropriate reading for young ladies!

Thank you again and again for this gift, which has spoken directly to my soul.

With everlasting gratitude,

Marianne

My dear Mary,

Knowing how fond you are of Haydn, I thought you might appreciate this hard-to-find sonata. I openly confess to two ulterior motives. The first is that I struggle with the fingering in the second movement and am hoping you will provide me with a solution when you come to town in winter.

The second is that William wishes to give Lizzy some jewellery from the family collection, for her to wear at Mr Bingley's celebratory ball. We felt that if I enquired too closely on what she was wearing she would know at once what we had in mind. We thought of a rather lovely citrine hair comb of our grandmothers, knowing she favours yellow, but it all depends on what she plans to wear.

Please let us know as soon as possible!

Yours, etc.,

Georgiana

Mary, knowing better than to involve either her mother or Jane in the task of keeping a secret, went instead to Kitty. Together they managed to contrive to send a drawing of the dress, as well as samples of the fabric, to Georgiana, with strict instructions not to let her brother see. She thought the comb would be perfect and he presented it to his fiancee when she arrived in town at the start of October.

Lizzy and Jane had elected to stay with the Gardiners, but the two weeks were a whirlwind of shopping and engagements. Mrs Gardiner was instrumental in obtaining the best materials, and Lady Matlock knew the best modistes. Town was still fairly quiet, with most of the ton still in the country. There was some gossip in the papers about the young ladies that the Countess of Matlock had been seen with -- two were indeed her nieces, Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh, but the other remained unknown, though reports stated that one was soon to be Mrs Darcy. The engagement announcement was not sent to the papers until the party returned to the country, so Lady Matlock dealt with all the curious callers who wished to know more. She did not disclose very much information that was not already known, except that yes, it was a love match, and yes, both she and the Earl approved whole-heartedly.


Edward Ferrars had stopped for a few nights in Portsmouth. He was, frankly, appalled by Miss Price’s family and the surroundings he now found her in. He was not pleased to hear that Mr Crawford had been there earlier that week. Given that he was responsible for her brother’s promotion, such a visit could appear innocent, but both he and Fanny felt that the man still had designs on her peace. Appalling though their situation and manners may be, Edward still found much to enjoy in his time visiting the Prices. She was pleased to hear that his family had made known their desire to be reconciled with him and encouraged him in the endeavour.

 

As promised, he stopped for another two nights on his return, in order to tell her all about his time in town.

“They were surprised, I think, that I was not engaged to Miss Dashwood but courting you.”

“Were they?”

“They did not say so, but I believe it was rather heavily implied.”

“And what did they say of our courtship?”

“Naturally they wished to know all I could tell of you. Knowing your modesty, I will not repeat all that I said, but they were pleased by your connexion with Sir Thomas and that you would marry from Mansfield, should my suit be accepted.”

“Your mother and sister are much like Miss Crawford, I believe?”

“They certainly view the world in the same way, but I believe Miss Crawford has a far more pleasant disposition.”

“And what was their final verdict?”

“They are clearly inclined to approve of Sir Thomas’s niece, presumably due to the smallness of their current family. Mother has promised to do the same for me as she did for Fanny, which is to say she intends to settle £10 000 on me when I marry. Hopefully she will not have another change of heart in the interim.”

Edward left Portsmouth with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he was pleased to be his mother’s son again, but he was fully aware that her approval was conditional. He had the approval of Mr and Mrs Price, but Fanny was clearly suffering in the city. When he reached his parsonage he would have to write Bertram a strongly worded letter. How ill would she become if they delayed moving her to the country?


Georgiana and Anne were very pleased to be at Netherfield, far away from all of the speculation of town. The engagement ball was set for the beginning of November, with the wedding set for the middle of December. All of Meryton was aflutter with excitement, except for Lydia. She was utterly outraged that there was a ball that she would not be going to. She begged for a new gown for it, but was told that as she would not be attending and was not out, she did not require one. Being cunning, she soon decided that she could simply take one of Lizzy's new gowns from London and alter it for herself.

This turned out to not be possible as the wedding clothes were locked in Lizzy's trunk. Disappointed, she settled for using some of Kitty's gowns. They would look like new on her, given how little Kitty's dresses suited their owner. She settled on a lilac gown and began trimming it with lace, ribbons, and beads. No-one would ever recognise it. On the night of the ball she appeared in her finery when the family was readying themselves to leave.

"Come to see us off, have you?" her father asked.

"Don't be silly, Papa. I'm coming with you."

"You were not invited, Lydia," Lizzy said.

"Of course I was. And even if I weren't, Mr Bingley is so easy-going he won't mind."

"You are not coming with us, child," her father said firmly. "You will remain here."

The family left, leaving Lydia in the hall, sulking. She was determined, however, and decided to go on horseback. It made her late, the dancing had started by the time she arrived. When she attempted to enter, however, she was told that it was a private ball, unless she could produce an invitation she would not be admitted. Nothing she said had any effect on the servants, as all the neighbourhood knew she was no longer out. Eventually, they closed the door on her. Lydia, however, knew the layout of Netherfield, having played in the gardens with Lizzy as a child. There was a side door that was rarely locked -- Lizzy would never let her go in and explore, but she had done it anyway.

The door was not locked, so she went in, divested herself of her cloak and made her way to the ballroom. The General was the first to spot her. He was trying not to mope over not seeing Elinor till January, but was still less lively than usual. He gaped at her momentarily, having had the entire story from Darcy. He went to his mother, and explained the matter, though she knew part of it from Mrs Bennet's letters. She made her way straight to the other lady.

"My dear Mrs Bennet, who is that over-dressed child? I can't imagine how uncomfortable such gaudy taste must make her mother."

Mrs Bennet paled. "She's not supposed to be here. We told her she was not to come. How did she get here?"

"Do you mean that she is here despite being told she was not welcome? What a trial she must be to her mother. Who is she?"

"My youngest. Lydia."

"Oh you poor dear. You had best fetch Mr Bennet and deal with it. I shall distract Lizzy and Darcy, I know you wouldn't want them upset if she should cause a scene."

"Thank you, Lady Matlock. I shall go at once."

Having been told what to do, she did it. Lydia was most displeased to be pulled out of the ballroom by her parents. She hadn't even been asked to dance yet! On consulting the butler they were told she had been denied entrance. Hearing that she had ridden over, Mr Bennet elected to return her on horseback.  On arriving at Longbourn, he informed the servants that she was not  to leave her room until morning and not to leave the house at all unless escorted by one of her family. She did not take the news well, but as the servants were instructed to pay her no heed, her demands went unanswered.

The remainder of the ball passed uneventfully. Very few people had noticed Lydia and those who had were keeping it quiet. Jane and the General were rather melancholy, but did their best to hide it. Mrs Bennet was confused by Jane seeming to avoid Mr Bingley and tried to speak to her about it. Jane was also doing a fairly good job of avoiding her mother, though she did find herself cornered more than once. She tried explaining that she did not wish to marry Mr Bingley, but her mother declared that to be nonsense.

"I don't know why you're not engaged before your sister. You're far prettier, you know, and not nearly so wild. Well, Mr Darcy always was unaccountable. But you must give poor Mr Bingley your attention. Why he has not yet danced with you and it's almost supper! If you're quick I'm sure he'll ask you for the supper set."

"It will not matter if he does, for I am dancing that set with General Fitzwilliam."

"Him? I suppose you couldn't very well refuse him, but why is he asking anyone for the supper set when he's courting another?"

"I expect he wants to spend the meal talking of Elinor. And he is a dear friend, I would not see him unhappy."

"But what about Mr Bingley?"

"If he should ask me, I will dance with him. But Mama, I have no wish to marry him."

"No wish? Nonsense, child! Of course you wish to marry him."

Jane sighed and turned away, thankful that the next dance was beginning and she could escape. She was pleased to see that Mr Bingley had saved this dance for Anne and expected to enjoy the meal that followed. As Georgiana and Mary had sat this one out, they secured good seats for the three couples. Kitty had danced with the eldest Lucas boy and was seated with him and his sister Maria.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Lydia sulked through breakfast as the others spoke of the ball. She tried to turn the conversation a few times, but her sisters just ignored her. They decided that they would call on the ladies at Netherfield that morning, if they could have the carriage. Lydia tried to get herself included, but not only did her sisters not welcome her company, her father would not allow her. She watched the carriage leave angrily and decided that she would walk to Meryton to see her Aunt Phillips. That lady would be sympathetic to her plight. It was not to be, however. The servants refused to fetch her things and reported her intention to her father. She was called into his library and had to sit there quietly while he lectured her. She paid not the slightest attention.

When the Bennets arrived at Netherfield, the were pleased to find Anne in the drawing room. They had been concerned that she would be greatly fatigued by the evening, but she had avoided that by retiring after supper. There was plenty to say on the matter of gowns and partners, and they chatted the entire morning away. The next day saw most of the Netherfield party return to town, though they would be returning for the wedding a month later.

My darling Elinor,

I never thought I would wish for time to pass faster as I do now. The months until you return to town stretch before me, desolate and dull. Is there no way Anne can convince you to travel sooner? And, yet, as much as I long for your company, I hold some hope that this will be the last winter you spend with your family, and so I would not wish to take you from them too soon. I am rambling, but you shall have to forgive me.

I do not doubt that the Miss Bennets have already written to you about the engagement ball at Netherfield. Perhaps Anne or Miss Catherine have sent you sketches of the dresses. I will only say that it was a great success and I enjoyed the opportunity to dance with all our friends. In your absence, Miss Bennet kindly granted me the supper set, and I think I managed not to speak of you for the entire meal.

Yours ever,

Richard

Dearest Richard,

I must apologise for the length of time it has taken me to reply to your last. You will forgive me at once when I tell you that Marianne has been ill. Her love of long walks has not abated, and neither has her inability to predict the weather accurately. Thankfully the chill she caught did not worsen, but we kept her abed for a week to be certain. She has never been delicate and so finds our concern quite frustrating, but I tell her she shall simply have to get used to it. We almost lost her once and will not take the chance that something dreadful will happen. She is quite recovered now, and playing a piece that Georgiana sent her. Your cousin has exquisite taste.

We have been very quiet here at Barton. Though Sir John would like very much to be organising parties and entertainments as much as he does over summer, the weather prevents him. We are quite happy to go along quietly in our cottage, however little he would believe us if we told him so. Still, he came to visit this morning, ostensibly to check on Marianne, though really wanting to cheer her up with the news that colonel Brandon will be visiting next week.

We shall be very pleased to see him, of course, but I do wish Sir John would not endeavour to make matches. I, for one, do not doubt that the Colonel’s regard is given elsewhere and that the only reason the notion ever entered Marianne’s head is because others put it there! Still, I am pleased she has never thought of him so and will thereby avoid having her heart broken a second time.

I am being terribly indiscreet, but I must admit that writing to you feels much the same as talking to you. You have the dubious ability of making me feel the need to confide all in you. Mama, of course, was thrilled by that admission. She had such an open relationships with our father that she feels it a sure sign that you and I are made for each other. I would not go quite so far, but certainly agree that openness between husbands and wives is best.

Yours, etc.,

Elinor

My dear William,

I am exceedingly cross with you! I know you wish for perfection in everything and I understand that you have a great deal of business to take care of prior to our nuptials, but I do wish that you had remained at Netherfield. There would have been two effects. Mama would be distracted from pushing Jane at poor Mr Bingley, and I would be able to escape the horrors of wedding planning more often!

I miss you so! December cannot come soon enough.

Your Elizabeth

Before they knew it, Lizzy and Darcy were married. They went straight to town from the wedding breakfast. Mrs Bennet was most disappointed that Netherfield was closed the next day as everyone else returned to town as well. Mrs Hurst was nearing her time and they wished to be in town for the birth. She was safely delivered of a son and the Darcys and Gardiners were some of her first visitors. A few weeks later the Gardiners welcomed their third son into the world.

Miss Bingley had come of age and returned to town by then. She went straight to her brother's house and was most upset to be denied entry. She went next to the Hursts and was again turned away. She went next to the Darcys and was told they were not at home. It was quite true, as they were visiting the Gardiners at the time. She did not know what to do. Her aunt had sent a maid and a man, but she had sent them back as soon as she arrived in town. She could not stay alone in an inn, and had no time to arrange a suitable companion. She could not believe that her family would treat her so infamously. She knew the Hursts were here, with their dratted offspring, so she returned to their house to demand entry.

Charles was leaving when she arrived and she harangued him on his infamous treatment of herself. When he finally understood the problem, he offered to lend her a maid until she obtained a companion.

"I won't need a companion, Charles."

"Well, you can't have my maid permanently, so you will have to find one. Besides, while a maid will be acceptable when staying at an inn you cannot live with only servants."

"An inn? Charles, I shall be staying with you."

"No, Caroline, you will not. You are not welcome even as a visitor until you can show that you've improved yourself."

"Improved? You're not still going on about that nonsense are you?"

"Yes, I am. And I will be until you give me a reason to stop. Now, I shall find you a maid and settle you in an inn. If you wish for my assistance in selecting a companion or lodgings, send a note."

She was most displeased and expressed her feelings loudly and at length. He remained unmoved and she had little choice but to accept the maid and find an inn. She did not know how to go about finding either a companion or lodgings, so she presented herself at her brother's house late the next morning. She was surprised to find herself denied entry, telling the butler that she had been told to meet with him. The butler explained that the master had said she was to be reminded that she was told to send a note and her physical presence was unwelcome. Angry and annoyed, she returned to her room at the inn and sent a note to her brother.

She received a reply stating that he would arrange to interview companions, view lodgings, and a meeting with both the banker and the solicitor to ensure her independence. As he said that the absolute earliest the meetings could be arranged was the next day, she decided that she was free to go out visiting. Her first stop was the Darcys, where she was told they were not at home. When she complained that she had just seen two other ladies go in, the butler merely raised an eyebrow and repeated that they were not at home.

Annoyed, she decided to call on a friend of hers, Miss Phyllida Harrison. She was soon admitted, but found her friend was not alone. As the guest was Miss Anna Godden, another friend, she was quite pleased to detail all her woes.

"It is utterly awful! Mr Darcy is engaged to this insolent country chit with no manners and less breeding, and she's turned all my family against me! I am in the process of setting up an independent establishment because the situation is so intolerable. Charles is completely taken in by the older sister, who is just as determined a fortune hunter!"

"You've been out of London for quite some time, Caroline. Your information is somewhat out of date," Phyllida said.

"It is?"

"Oh yes," Anna said with an unnerving smile. "Mrs Darcy has made quite the sensation already."

"Mrs Darcy? Well, she didn't waste any time. I wonder if there's a reason they married with such haste. I certainly witnessed enough improprieties at Pemberley to believe it of her."

"Did you? How very interesting."

"Few have met her, but we expect they intend her debut to be at the Matlock's ball on Thursday."

"Yes, Phyllida, they've been 'not at home' to all but family as yet."

"I do hope she hasn't convinced poor Mr Darcy to let her vulgar relations in trade presume upon the acquaintance, but he is completely taken in. He even had them at Pemberley!"

The visit rapidly came to an end, as Miss Bingley claimed other engagements. Once she had left, the two women smirked at each other. They wondered how much truth there was to their friend's claims, and how much was jealousy. They were now even more eager for the ball.

Having been made aware of the ball, Miss Bingley determined that some shopping was in order. She needed to show Darcy what a mistake he had made, and how much more elegant and appropriate a choice she was. She wondered at the modiste's asking her where to send the account and gown upon completion.

"Why, Madame la Neve, have you lost my information? Surely you know my brother's address?"

"Indeed I do, Miss Bingley. But he has said that he will no longer be accepting your accounts."

Incensed, she gave her sister's address.

"You will forgive me, Miss Bingley, but we have had the same instructions from Mrs Hurst."

She was mortified, her only comfort that she was alone in the shop. She said that her accommodations were not yet settled and that she would send a note as soon as they were. She gave her address at the inn, in case they completed the gown before she had found the right lodgings. She returned to the inn to sulk.

 

The two ladies she had seen entering the Darcys' house that morning were Anne and Elinor. The three Bennet girls had arrived in town the night before, and all stayed with the Darcys for their first night. Miss Mary's things would be removed to her aunt's house, and Miss Kitty's to Anne's. For now, however, they had to enjoy being together again. And, of course, they were going shopping. Mary tried to get out of it, claiming that her dress from Lizzy's engagement ball was quite good enough. The other ladies refused to listen to her, and started to enumerate the guest list, which included a number of lords and their ladies. All of the family's friends and relations, along with most of the rest of the ton were expected to be there. Finding herself so completely outnumbered, Mary gave in with good grace. The gowns they settled on were gorgeous and neither Mary nor Kitty had felt half so beautiful in all their lives. They then escorted Mary to the Gardiners, purely in the interests of all seeing the baby that was preventing the couple from attending the ball. After much cooing the rest of the party took their leave.

Thursday dawned bright and clear, and all of London was in a bustle preparing for the ball. The family all arrived early to give them some time to organise their ladies' dance cards. Georgiana was being allowed to dance with her brother, cousins, and uncle, as well as Mr Bingley and Colonel Brandon. She was quite pleased with that, and had no desire to be introduced to all the many strangers that would be present.

The ball started promptly and much enjoyment was had by all. The General was pleased to see his Elinor again and managed to talk her into dancing the first, last, and supper sets with him. There was some speculation on the matter, as he rarely danced twice with one woman, and certainly not thrice! All were quite willing to tell that he was courting the lady and a number of hearts were broken. The only other lady he favoured more than once was Georgiana. In that case all the speculation was on her and, more specifically, on when she'd be coming out. Lizzy and Darcy planned to ease her into it slowly over this season and have her official debut at the beginning of the next.

The Colonel and Jane danced together twice and spent a fair bit of time talking together. Being the beautiful elder sister of Mrs Darcy, she received a great deal of attention. Most of the gentlemen seemed to think that beauty necessarily indicated ignorance, but she failed to understand the reason for their superficial conversation. She knew only that she enjoyed her dances with her friends best, and the Colonel's even more so. Darcy had no interest in dancing with any lady outside his own party and had even tried to convince his wife to keep every other dance for him. She had laughed and bargained him down to the first, last, and supper sets, as well as two others. Kitty had danced almost every dance and enjoyed herself immensely. Mary and Anne had danced least, though they both felt it had been quite enough. Marianne had danced every dance and had a number of stimulating debates. It helped that the Colonel had taken care to introduce a number of men who he knew enjoyed that sort of thing.

The women of London were not bothered by Darcy's behaviour -- they were quite surprised that he danced so much, in fact -- and the General's courtship was a pleasant bit of news to most of the ton. Mr Bingley's behaviour stymied them, however. Like Darcy he danced only with the ladies who had been at Pemberley, with the addition of Kitty and Mary, and only once with each. Usually he danced every dance and complained that the evening was far too short. Of course, as soon as anyone asked about it, he admitted that he had broken his leg over the summer and that it still pained him if he did not limit his exertions. The story spread quickly of course, and he was unilaterally forgiven.

The only person unwilling to forgive him was his sister. First, she had to make her own way to the ball. She had sent a note asking what time he would be collecting her, and received the reply that he would not be, as she was not invited. She knew better, of course. Her evening had not gone well. She had danced only two sets when she found herself facing her brother along with the Earl and Countess.

"Caroline. I believe my note was perfectly clear that you were not invited this evening."

"I don't know what you mean Charles."

"Regardless of how duplicitous you wish to be, Miss Bingley, the fact remains that you were not invited. Will you allow us to see you out, or should my husband send for some of his footmen to remove you?"

Unfortunately for Caroline, the Countess made no effort to lower her voice and all those nearby heard her. Caroline left, angry, as the gossip over her situation began to spread.

The next morning, while she was scouring the gossip pages, hoping she would not be named, she received a note from her brother giving her a time and place to interview for a companion, as well as details on potential lodgings. She was pleased to see that he would be accompanying her for both. She did not like the look of any of the housing he was considering, simply from the addresses. None of them were in fashionable areas and some of them were known to be frequented by tradespeople. Annoyed, she turned back to the newspapers. She scowled at them. Every single one of them mentioned her humiliation. One of them even went so far as to name her in full.

Everyone else was enjoying the morning after the ball. Georgiana, Mary, Kitty, and Anne had all retired after supper, though they had not slept till after the ball had finished, too busy chatting and giggling.

Mr Bingley met with his sister to interview companions. She disliked all of them and the feeling appeared mutual. They then went to view the accommodations he had suggested. Mr Bingley despaired of finding something that would suit. She wouldn't even get out of the carriage at most of them. There was only one that Caroline considered close to suitable, though she disliked the situation as being unfashionable. He insisted she take it, however, as all the addresses she favoured were beyond her means. He arranged to move all the furniture that belonged to her, including some items that were his, but which he considered hideous and Caroline adored. She could not move in with only a maid, so they had to arrange further interviews for companions. He was dining with the Darcys that day and regaled them all with his tale.

The next day, Lizzy spoke to Georgiana. "I know you will not wish to part with her, but would you consider giving up Mrs Annesley? We shall not be willing to part with you and I fear she may feel unnecessary."

"I had not considered such a thing! I will certainly think on it."

Georgiana was distracted all day as she thought on the matter. Finding herself still undecided, she decided to speak to Mrs Annesley about it at tea.

"I have been considering the same thing, dear. You no longer have need of me, and I'm sure there are young ladies out there who do."

"So you will be leaving us?"

"I think so, yes. And however subtle your sister may think herself, I have no intention of putting myself in Miss Bingley's employ."

"Miss Bingley?" Georgiana looked horrified. "No! You must rather stay with us! I'm sure Elizabeth did not think that!"

Elizabeth had in fact thought exactly that. She thought there was a chance that Mrs Annesley would be able to teach Miss Bingley how to behave properly. Miss Bingley probably would have been quite happy with Georgiana's companion, but as the option was never given to her, it was not to be.

After another day of useless interviews, Charles gave his sister an ultimatum. She had one more day of his assistance and then she would be on her own. She was not pleased, but managed to select an older French widow. Bingley did not think it a good match -- he could see the contempt with which she looked at his sister, but Caroline could not and so was happy. Having settled his sister in her new lodging, Bingley felt himself free to end the association. As Caroline was too busy calling on her friends and acquaintances she did not notice the lack of attention from her family.

A fortnight later it became clear how few were willing to return her calls, and that the ones who did were the people who wanted something from her, usually gossip, but sometimes a step up the social ladder Unfortunately, none of her high society friends had any particular interest in continuing the acquaintance after it was made clear that Lady Matlock disdained her. They were all trying to make the acquaintance of the new Mrs Darcy. Determined to show the little upstart how superior she was, Caroline attempted to call. It did not matter when she came, how many others had gained admittance before her, the Darcys were not at home when she called. None of the others in that circle would admit her either, including her brother and sister. She was incensed. How dare they treat her so! She threw herself into the engagements she was welcome at, determined to find a wealthy title for herself and show them all how very wrong they were.

Bingley was much happier now that he no longer had to interact with Caroline. His plan had been to revisit the matter of courting Miss Bennet once he had finished with his sister, but he had noticed the way she looked at the Colonel at Lady Matlock's ball. She had looked at him that way at the Netherfield ball. He was hurt, and melancholy, but accepted that what had happened was his own fault entirely. There was a part of him that wanted to blame her, to call her fickle, but he knew that was wrong. He had abandoned her and she had inferred that he did not care for her and moved on. It was his behaviour that had lost her. He was surprised that he was not more unhappy over it, but as he could see that she was happy, he determined to find happiness for himself.

Jane was happy. She saw the Colonel almost every day and enjoyed his company immensely. She thought him happier and his countenance lighter than he had been previously. She was quite correct about that. He had surprised himself by finding Delaford cold and empty, despite the fact that nothing there had changed. It puzzled him, as he'd never found the estate to evoke such feelings before. He had a few months to meditate on the matter and was surprised when he realised what was missing. He had never thought of a woman in the context of quiet winter evenings at home. When he thought of Eliza and even Marianne, there was noise, activity, presence. And now he longed for the quiet conversation of Miss Bennet. To read together before the fire with a couple of children at their feet. To see her at the breakfast table every morning and to retire with her each evening. He had always thought of passionate love, never of the quiet, comfortable companionship, the routine of everyday life. He rather wished he had and felt now that only that could have made him happy. He was determined as he had not been in almost two decades. He would pursue his Jane and hope to win her. He thought she had been encouraging at Pemberley and hoped that would continue in town. Jane was just as encouraging in town and he began to hope, as he had not allowed himself to hope since Eliza.


Lydia was not at all pleased to find herself the only daughter not in town come January. She expected that after the wedding her parents would regain their senses and stop being so unreasonable. That had not happened. Being the only one left at home, while a complete travesty, should allow for her mother to resume spoiling her and for her father to go back to spending all his time in his book-room.

She was correct that all her mother’s attention was now focused on her. Unfortunately for her that took the form of lessons. Mrs Bennet was not a gentleman’s daughter, but she was mistress of an estate. She had taught Jane and Lizzy how to see to the mistress’s duties as soon as they were old enough so that she could focus on doing what she enjoyed. They had taught Mary and even Kitty some of it. Now that they were all away, those duties were once more laid at her door. Teaching Lydia to undertake those tasks could only benefit her.

Lydia was as recalcitrant as ever -- why should she do any of this? That’s what servants are for. To add to her dismay, her father was not content to return to ignoring household matters. He seemed to actually care about what went on. She could not understand it. Even worse, they were now more relaxed about her leaving the house, but she did not wish to! It was bad enough that she had to sit in a drafty old church once a week, who would choose to go out into such bitter cold? It was all insufferable.


Edmund gazed at his cousins across the carriage. Ferrars was quite right, Fanny did not look well. How much better it would have been if she could have been fetched sooner. He understood his father’s unwillingness to spare anyone to such a task, however. Tom’s illness really was extremely troubling. If it were not for this business with Maria, Fanny and her sister would have been left to languish in Portsmouth for who knows how long.

At least they’d managed to reach Julia before she eloped. What could she have been thinking to consider such a thing at a time like this? She was safely home now, and Mr Yates had been told that his courtship would be considered only once tom’s illness was over. Assuming, of course, that their feelings had not changed in the interim. Neither Edmund nor his father expected to see Mr Yates again.

No doubt Fanny would agree, when he had the opportunity to speak to her alone. He’d have to tell her that the family had completely broken with the Crawfords as well. She would miss her friend, of that there could be no doubt, but she would no doubt be pained to learn of the flippancy with which Miss Crawford viewed the whole wretched business.

 

Fanny was pleased to be going home, and she knew Mr Ferrars would be pleased. He did not think that living in a city agreed with her and she thought him quite correct. If only it were not under such unpleasant circumstances. Well, Tom would soon be well. She would nurse him as well as she could, and between she and Julia and Susan, he could not fail to regain his health.

The less said about Maria and the Crawfords the better. Hopefully Edmund was now able to recognise how unsuitable such a match would be. She rather thought he must. He did not appear to be broken-hearted, so surely that must mean he was no longer able to care for her as he had? There was a small, selfish part of her that both regretted losing her proximity to Mr Ferrars, and hoped that she was no closer to an engagement and marriage of her own.

 

Susan, on her first journey away from home found herself unable to match the solemnity of either her sister or her cousin. She could not truly sympathise with either Tom;s illness or Maria’s disgrace. They were no more than names to her. She expected she would have to make herself useful to the family and help nurse her cousin, but that was all in the future.

 

Ferrars,

I expect you’ll be pleased to know Fanny is now at Mansfield again, and we’ve brought her sister Susan with us as well. Susan keeps my aunt in good spirits, while Fanny has taken over nursing Tom. You will not be surprised to learn that he improves daily. Julia has also returned, though I’m sorry to say that recent disappointments have had an adverse effect on her temper. She does keep my Aunt Norris occupied and as she has lately spoken of nothing but that which upsets my mother, I am glad of it.

Fanny tells me that, as she was not surprised by my last meeting with Miss Crawford, you will not be either. She actually spoke of ‘the folly of our relations’. Folly! As though it were not the most dreadful sin! I cannot understand how I could possibly have been so misled as to her character. And yet I must have been utterly blind, as both Fanny and yourself were able to see her clearly. I fear I have done nothing but ramble of my own troubles here, but I wish for your steady counsel.

My father calls me,

Yours, etc.,

EB

Chapter Text

This was Mary's first trip to London and she was enjoying herself more than she had thought possible. While her aunt and uncle were neither going out nor entertaining beyond the family, they encouraged her to go out with her sisters and their friends. She went to balls, the theatre, lectures, exhibitions, museums, and shops. The list of entertainments seemed endless. She had some quiet evenings, but the only time she really had for writing was in the morning, before breakfast. She had always treasured the early morning at home. Her bedroom window faced east and she would sit at her little table and write while watching the light spread across the countryside.

In London, her chamber faced north, but she had claimed a spot in the parlour that saw morning sunshine. Every morning she sat there, writing furiously, trying to record the events and personalities she had seen, snippets of conversation. In just two weeks she was convinced that she had material for another three novels. Her first novel was at the printers, as she'd attended to the proofs immediately on arriving. She often felt that she was dreaming, she had never dared to hope that anyone would think her work worth publication.

Kitty felt that she was dreaming. To be spending a season in town! To be staying with two ladies that were friends, not relatives! To take lessons from a drawing master! She was in heaven. She had tried to share her joy with Lydia, but had received a reply that if she wasn't going to write about anything interesting -- fashion, balls, men, parties -- she shouldn't write at all. It had upset her, but she determined that she would not let her fun be ruined by Lydia.

Today was to be an exciting day, even by Lydia's standards! The General was taking her, Elinor, and Anne to watch the men training. They had packed their sketchbooks and charcoal, planning to make only quick sketches, which they would later work into larger pieces. The men had all been warned to be on their best behaviour and Richard was hoping to spend most of the day with the ladies for a change. They were introduced to so many officers that they all started to blur together. There was one, however, who Kitty recognised.

"Why, Captain Carter, what are you doing here? I thought the militia and the regulars were quite separate."

"Indeed they are, Miss Kitty. I have transferred to the regulars and am now Major Carter."

"Congratulations!" she said, as the others rejoined her. He was introduced to the ladies and they spoke a while, though Kitty's attention could not be drawn from all the red coats for long.

"I am quite jealous, Major," she said eventually.

"Jealous, Miss Kitty? Of what?"

"First you join the militia and travel all over England and now you are in the regulars and will likely go abroad. This is my first trip from home and I can never hope to see all that you have!" She sounded quite petulant, and Elinor laughed at her.

"Oh, Kitty, you can certainly travel widely if you wish to. You must simply find a husband who will take you where you wish to go." She had noticed that the man had seemed particularly pleased to see her friend and rather thought that army gentlemen made some of the best husbands.

A number of the officers they had met were invited to call upon them with the General, and the Major was one of them. Kitty went to bed with her head full of oceans and mountains, jungles and islands.

 

Due to his duties, the General had not been able to spend as much time courting as he had hoped. He had taken possession of his house in town and was trying to determine whether or not to leave the army altogether. If he did resign he would have all his time to lavish on Elinor. Every time he thought of actually resigning though, he felt a weight in his stomach. Not knowing what to do, he consulted his lady.

"You do not seem to want to resign, so I shall have to say that I do not think you should."

"No? Even though I see you so rarely?"

"Several times a week is hardly rare. If you were likely to be sent to the fighting again, to be in danger, then I would probably think very differently. But you are in no danger at all, so that has no weight. You enjoy your time training the men and they have need of your expertise. So, no, I do not think you should resign unless the work starts to make you unhappy."

 

There were many in town for the season, and neither Marianne nor Elinor were pleased when their brother came to call. His wife came as well, gushing over them as though they were favoured relations. Her ambition brought her -- the first of her friends to meet the new Mrs Darcy and Lady Matlock's nieces. They were only thankful that she was spiteful enough to leave her new sister behind. Of course appearances must be maintained and it was not long before all the John Dashwoods and her mother found themselves dining at the Darcys.

John Dashwood had been overjoyed to hear his eldest sister was marrying into the Earl of Matlock’s family. He did rather share his wife’s confusion as to how she’d managed to attract such a man. Despite her illness, Marianne was still the more striking of the two. Fanny Dashwood and her mother discussed their surprise  at the match on their way home from the Darcys.

“She’s practically penniless, as well, mother.”

“I suppose that an Earl’s family need give no thought to dowry, in general, but I always understood that the younger son would have to make his own way.”

John thought that one of the youngest ever generals must be a successful man, but was in no mood to argue the point and so said nothing.

“I understand that Mrs Darcy has even less than Elinor and Marianne, yet she managed to catch him somehow as well.”

“I do wonder how long Mrs Darcy’s family have been acquainted with your sisters, John. They seemed very close indeed, yet neither of you have ever mentioned it to me before.”

“Why would we, Mother? Mrs Darcy’s family is as impoverished as our sisters.”

“I believe the acquaintance was only made last season, before Marianne was taken ill. Colonel BRandon was involved somehow, and they all spent this past summer together.”

 

Mr and Mrs Robert Ferrars were also in town. He was swiftly returned to the family, and she had only to wait a few weeks before her assiduous attentions allowed her admittance to the family circle. She had been quick to call on both Dashwood sisters, claiming their friendship and using that to gain an introduction to the Darcys and Miss de Bourgh. Georgiana was terrified of her, so she frequently found that the Darcys were not at home. She had rather more success encroaching on Miss Dashwood’s politeness, but never received the coveted introduction to the Countess. Why, when she left at the end of the season she hadn’t even been introduced to the General!

The elder Mrs Ferrars and her daughter were also discouraged by their formal, polite acquaintance that never achieved the desired results. Mrs Ferrars might not understand it, neither Lucy nor her mother-in-law, but Fanny Dashwood knew exactly why they were treated so distantly. What she could not understand was why their previous treatment of the Dashwood sisters was being held against them. No-one would have behaved any differently, given what their expectations had been. The behaviour of the Darcys and their Matlock relations was unaccountable, going around elevating penniless misses.

 

As if their relations were not enough of a trial for Elinor and Marianne, they had the misfortune to meet the Willoughbys at the theatre one evening. Lady Middleton had made the acquaintance of Mrs Willoughby soon after her marriage. Mrs John Dashwood was quite pleased to make her acquaintance as well, which was easily done as she and Lady Middleton truly enjoyed each other’s company.

When Mrs Willoughby heard that Miss Dashwood, who her husband also happened to be acquainted with, would be able to provide an introduction to Lady Matlock, she was determined to befriend the girl. Though her husband warned her that neither the Dashwood sisters nor their friends were likely to welcome such a thing, she carried her point and he took the first opportunity to make the introduction.

Marianne was even colder than Elinor and ,while they did not snub the couple they came close. As the rest of the party took their cue from the sisters, Mrs Willoughby was forced to admit she would never have more than a formal acquaintance with the Darcys or Miss de Bourgh, never mind the Matlocks.

“I do not understand why they should treat me so coldly, Fanny.”

“They have gotten above themselves. They are distant with me as well, their own family!”

Lady Middleton could not restrain herself from saying, “I expect they dislike you for marrying Mr Willoughby, Sophia.”

“Well, really, how could they possibly expect to compete with me? I had £50 000.”

“And yet General Fitzwilliam is courting Elinor who has only £50 a year.”

“Do you know that young lady, Mary? They have actually cut her!”

“I believe that is Miss Bingley. I think Miss Godden is a friend. Would you like an introduction?”

Mrs Willoughby did, and so they were shortly chatting amiably with Miss Bingley.

 

They waited the appropriate number of visits before they felt themselves intimate enough to consider asking the questions they had at the theatre. Caroline was more than willing to detail her grievances against the Bennets and their friends, with particular vitriol reserved for Mrs Darcy. Her new friends were quite sympathetic, with only Lady Middleton finding anything in the lady’s behaviour to censure. She would never say as much, of course, and soon put the matter out of her head entirely. She preferred to focus on the more important matters, such as her children and the elegance of her entertainments. When Fanny and Sophia began making noises about finding an appropriate husband for Caroline, she could not help but be reminded of her mother, but was sure her friends would undertake such a thing with far more decorum. The ladies had their work cut out for them, as the lady was fussy and the gentlemen were cautious.

 

The General waited until the beginning of February and then renewed his addresses, by asking Elinor if they were sufficiently acquainted for a proposal.

"You may laugh at me all you wish, but I would not give up these past few months for anything."

"No?"

"Not for all of England. You know not what your letters mean to me."

"As long as you engage yourself to me, I shall not repine any choices that have pleased you."

"You will be pleased to know that you need not ride to Barton. Mother has already given her consent."

"And will you give yours?"

"I will."

Soon all their friends and family had the news, and the congratulations were hardly out of Lady Matlock's mouth before she began planning the engagement ball. If Elinor had thought life in town a whirlwind before, she had no way to describe how busy she now was. Lady Matlock insisted on dressing her for the ball, as it was the closest she'd yet come to having a daughter. Their taste was similar, and both were reasonable enough to compromise, so that they were both pleased with the chosen gown.

There were wedding clothes to buy, though Elinor didn't think she needed quite as many as everyone else thought necessary. In addition to the clothes, there was also a house to decorate. While Elinor might be frugal with regard to her trosseau, she quite agreed that the entire house needed to be redone. It had last been decorated almost fifty years previously and Elinor found it all dark and oppressive. All the ladies were happy to give their opinions, but Elinor knew what she liked and could not be persuaded that red was the most romantic colour for a lady's chamber, no matter what Marianne said. When the house was finally finished -- a mere three weeks before the wedding -- it was tasteful, elegant, and understated. Elinor had chosen greens, cream, pale yellows, and blues, and, of course, white, and each room gave an impression of light and space. The General was most pleased and said he could not wait to see what she made of Owlsbury.

Lady Matlock's second ball of the season, celebrating her son's engagement was a huge success and greatly enjoyed by all who were able to acquire an invitation. Miss Bingley was most displeased to find that she was not one of them, but had at least learnt not to turn up uninvited. They were forced to invite Mr and Mrs John Dashwood, but were all pleased that there was no need to invite any of the Ferrars. The Willoughbys were certainly not on the list.

Elinor did not believe that anything could possibly dampen her happiness and would not have cared had any of them been invited. As it was, she enjoyed herself immensely. The General was extremely pleased with himself and the only thing he was able to find fault with was that his lady did not think it proper to dance more than three sets with him. Surely at a celebration of their engagement he should be entitled to dance every set with her? Even Darcy was laughing at him!

Colonel Brandon had danced the first set with Miss Bennet with great enjoyment. He rather thought her manner encouraging. He was distracted from his musing by Sir John.

“Ah, Brandon, there you are. Sir Thomas would like an introduction.”

Sir Thomas had not been pleased that business called him to town, but Tom was on the mend and he really could not delay any longer.  He had brought Edmund with him as much for his company as for his assistance. He had not expected to find himself at the Earl of Matlock’s ball.

“Colonel, Sir John tells me that your estate is at Delaford.”

“It is.”

“Would that be the same Delaford that has Mr Ferrars for its vicar?”

“Indeed it is. Are you Miss Price’s uncle then?”

“I am. Such a pity there’s so large a distance, but I’m sure she’ll be very happy there.”

“I certainly hope so. Did she perhaps accompany you this evening?”

“No, no, she’s at Mansfield yet. My eldest son has been unwell. My younger son, Edmund, is here, however.”

Edmund and the Colonel were soon introduced and Sir Thomas left them happily discussing the matter of their mutual friend. They were interrupted by Marianne.

“You have not forgotten our dance, I trust?”

“No, indeed, Miss Marianne. Is there perhaps a young lady free for this set that I can introduce Mr Ferrars friend to?”

Marianne gave her attention to the young man with far more pleasure than if he had been a total stranger. “I believe both Mary and Anne have yet to be asked for this set.”

Having met the young ladies, Edmund requested dances with them both and was soon introduced to the entire group. He greatly enjoyed his dance with Mrs Darcy, at least in part because he reminded him of Miss Crawford. She had kept him on his toes with her witty banter and it was only afterwards that he was able to reflect on the matter.

“You seem solemn, Mr Bertram.”

“Forgive me, Miss Dashwood, my attention should be on my partner.”

“Might I enquire as to what you were thinking of?”

“Mrs Darcy reminds me of a young lady I used to know.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes. Just as lively. But I shall be distracted again. I understand your family lives quite close to Colonel Brandon?”

“A half day’s ride.”

“Ah, so if my cousin should become Mrs Ferrars perhaps she will meet all of you?”

“I’m sure she would, though I shall not be there very much longer.”

“No, but as General Fitzwilliam is so close a friend of Colonel Brandon’s you may visit him.”

“Indeed, I think that likely. And should the Colonel marry there would be a friend very close to her.”

“Do you think that he intends to marry?”

She smiled and said that she did not think it her place to speculate on such a thing. Edmund had followed her eyes to Miss Bennet, who was dancing with Mr Darcy, and resolved to meet the woman. He danced the first set after supper with her and was pleased with her gentle nature. He thought she would make a fine friend for Fanny.

As he readied himself for bed that night, he had to admit to some disappointment that the only lady he’d found himself interested in was Mrs Darcy. He had hoped that perhaps he would meet a lady he could come to care for on this trip to town, but while they were all lovely, amiable girls, he had to admit he found none of them captivating.

 

Anne and Mary had struck up a close friendship, at least partly due to their similarly retiring natures. They both enjoyed observing those around them, particularly in social situations that they would otherwise find overwhelming. It was to Mary that Anne told her hopes of Mr Bingley.

“Do you really like him so? I must confess myself surprised. You conceal your feelings very well.”

“Do I? I have made no attempt to do so.”

“Perhaps it is merely habit from always being careful to show nothing of what you truly felt or thought to your mother.”

“You are, no doubt, correct. As is usual. Do you suppose that he remains ignorant of my feelings?”

“I do not know. I shall have to watch him the next time you are in company with him.”