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Marry in Haste, Repent At;

Version I; Volume II

Chapter V.

The water was so hot that steam rose off his back and shoulders. Darcy closed his eyes, letting the water trickle down from his curls to the edge of his face, then drop down into the water that already filled the bath. Leaning back in the tub, he relaxed in the comfort. His valet stood discreetly by the dressing room door, giving him a relative privacy.

Relative. That word made him instantly reflect on the events of the day. He could see why the Countess had married at only eighteen. Mrs Bennet was truly a woman who could only be tolerated in small doses. In less than five minutes of his return from dining with the officers Darcy had already determined whose bright idea it had been for Miss Bennet to arrive on horseback for dinner with his friend's sisters.

Satisfied that her daughter's illness was not serious, Mrs Bennet was quite content to let her remain at Netherfield forever. No sooner than she had finished with visiting her daughter, did the woman proceed to survey the house with all the obvious manners of a prospective mother in law.

Bingley, less experienced in the forms of scheming matchmaking Mamas than himself, noticed nothing, even when Mrs Bennet had inquired, with all the subtlety of a falling chandelier, how long he planned to remain in the neighbourhood.

The Countess then had tried to change the subject, commenting upon the character of his friend, which Darcy observed she had caught excellently. He himself had tried to add to the conversation, remarking upon the lack of people to study in the country, to which she had replied that people 'alter themselves so much that there was something new to be observed in them forever.'

But Mrs Bennet had taken his comment in the wrong way, repeating what she judged to be his two most damning insults; 'confined' and 'unvarying' and responding that they had dined with as many as four and twenty families. To which, Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst had not been able to refrain from chuckling.

Lady Saffron Walden had then asked after Miss Lucas, which still did not prevent Mrs Bennet from casting aspersions on the good breeding of certain persons present. Darcy had heard all of this from his stance at the window, a habitual position of retreat for him, feeling strongly all the while for the Countess.

Mrs Bennet then drifted on to singing the praises of her eldest daughter, commenting on some poetry which Miss Bennet had received from a past amour. In reply the Countess had uttered, “And so ended his affection. There has been many a one I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love."

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," Darcy had replied.

"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it only be a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."

To this he had merely smiled, and a general pause ensued, breaking only when she prompted her mother to thank Mr Bingley for his generosity. His friend had been his usual civil self, causing his sister to be civil also, until Mrs Bennet had ordered the carriage.

Upon this signal, the youngest daughter, who had attended with her mother and her next oldest sister to Netherfield, stepped forward and blatantly asked if Mr Bingley was going to give a ball, which he had promised.

It had caused a gasp from all the women in the room except the Bennets, even his sister, who was shocked at how a girl scarcely a year younger than herself could be so brazen.

Bingley had honoured his promise, whereupon the visit, to the relief of all concerned, ended. The Countess quit the room a minute later, retreating to Miss Bennet, leaving Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst at liberty to abuse her and her family for the rest of the morning.

Now it was the afternoon, and he had shut himself away in his suite of rooms from everyone after finishing the sport with his friend and Mr Hurst. Divesting himself of clothes he had ordered the bath, and relished the temporary peace needed to reflect upon all that had passed since the commencement of the day.

By the conclusion of his musings over the events of the morning, the water was dangerously close to cold. Darcy opened his eyes and sat up, signalling his valet to come over. Standing up he availed himself of his robe from the hands of his servant. He then grabbed a towel for his hair and walked to the window. Drying his unruly curls he surveyed the prospect below.

A beautiful sight met his eyes. In the grass at the foot of the house stood his dog, a stick in his mouth, whose whims the Countess was indulging with a gentle tease to prise it from him. Darcy was instantly entranced. The hound, his toy taken, barked gleefully at the Countess to repeat the game, to which she obliged, laughing as she threw it for him to run and catch.

Above and unseen, his master could do nothing but smile.


She was still there a quarter of an hour later when he emerged from the house. The hound, noticing his master's arrival, darted towards him, tail wagging. After deigning to have his head and ears ruffled in greeting, the dog darted back to the lady, eager to show his master his new friend.

"He is yours then?" Elizabeth confirmed, the laughter still in her eyes. She was seated on a bench by the wall of the house, the hound at her feet.

"Yes. He's almost seven, though you can't tell by his manners, can you, Ilyich," Darcy replied, with another ruffle of the dog's ears. In response Ilyich merely barked and wagged his tail even more.

"Do you have any others?"

"A few of his siblings, his mother, and a couple of greyhounds. They're at my home in Derbyshire, Pemberley."

"Pemberley?"

"My estate. No doubt you have heard Miss Bingley sing its praises."

"Yes, it is hard not to," Elizabeth answered with a smile. "Has she always been like that?"

"Since we first met, I believe," Darcy commented. "Sometimes it is useful in keeping everyone else away, other times it is something to be tolerated. She will not desist, no matter how little my reactions are."

Elizabeth chuckled at that, causing him to enquire for a cause. "When your sister invited us over, she referred to Miss Bingley as the Spanish Inquisition."

"My sister is never wrong," Darcy answered, causing them both to erupt into laughter. He marvelled at the beauty it added to her complexion, feeling humbled that he was responsible for such a circumstance.

Elizabeth, noticing his silence, ceased her laughter and turned to glance at him. His look caused her fingers to stop caressing the dog's head, as a tingling sensation ran through her, the result of the close proximity of his hand to hers and his form beside her on the bench.

His eyes seemed to reveal his every emotion; staring at her with deep and powerful feeling. Lost in the moment, she quietly stared into their depths, noticing for the first time how handsome and finely figured he was.

How long they sat staring at each other neither knew. Ilyich was also quiet, wrapped up in watching the progress of his master with his new friend, eagerly hoping that he would see more of her.

Through devoted eyes he watched their faces move closer and closer to each other until they were almost touching. He utter a joyful woof in appreciation, and the moment was lost, the spell broken.

Embarrassed Elizabeth moved away, rising from the bench. "Excuse me, I must return to my sister," she uttered, curtsying. Then she turned, walked round the corner and back into the house, leaving Darcy alone with his hound.

Darcy watched the corner where he had lost sight of her with a mournful expression of what might have been. Anxious to be forgiven for his clumsiness, Ilyich pushed at the hand which was still upon his head. His master sighed and returned to the present.

"Not your fault, boy," he assured him, ruffling his ears. "Neither of us are ready for such a revelation," he added, to which the dog howled and put a paw up. "Oh, it will come," Darcy added, "we just have to wait for her to want it as much as myself."

Ilyich barked in agreement. His master rose from the bench, glancing around to see if anyone had witnessed him talking to his hound. A wicked wish rose to his mind: Caroline seeing the event, declaring to herself that he was mad and going off to find another wealthy man to console herself with.

It brought a smile and a laugh, restoring his good humour. "Come on, boy," he addressed the hound, "let's go and scare Miss Bingley."

The dog barked eagerly in reply.


As Elizabeth descended the stairs for dinner that evening, she heard what sounded like a muffled scream. A minute later the door to the Dining room opened; out ran an orange figure, too quickly for her to identify, followed by a messy and muddy Ilyich.

"Mr Darcy," the figure, which Elizabeth now determined to be Caroline, cried mournfully, "save me from this wretched creature!"

Elizabeth turned to see Ilyich's master standing in the doorway of the Dining room, a barely restrained grin upon his face. "Mr Darcy, you are a wicked man."

"I am sorry, Milady," he replied, "but as you know I have little control over the animal."

She blushed at his allusion to their previous time with the hound. In the distance there was another bark, then a howl as Caroline, still clean, though flushed from the exercise, with her hairstyle a mess of feathers and ribbons, hounded the dog to a servant and returned to the hallway.

Darcy held out his arm. "Countess, would you care to accept my escort into dinner?" He paused to smile at her teasingly. "I promise to be good."

"With pleasure." She accepted his arm, leaving Caroline to snort and try to enter behind them with dignity despite her appearance, causing all at the table to smile in amusement.


Chapter VI.

Caroline Bingley did not like being pushed aside in favour of someone else. In fact she heartily despised it. She also despised the woman who made her be put aside. After all, it was not the gentlemen's fault, and they could hardly be blamed for being led astray by another supposedly more pretty than her. And whenever such an occasion arose, Caroline set instantly about her revenge.

She always succeeded. No matter who the woman, no matter who the man, she always emerged the victor. She knew the characters of both so well as not to fail to do otherwise. And this present situation would be no different from the others. Even if the other gentlemen in question had married long ago.

This time however, that would not be the case. She would win not only the battle, but also the war. After all she deserved to. She had been hunting- no, pursuing, the gentleman longer than her rival, thus she was rightfully due all the rewards that said gentleman possessed. This rival had no need of such.... assets, she already had them, and had already enjoyed the.... er... advantages which married life afforded.

But to resume. Caroline could stand matters as they stood at present, no longer. Events had gone on for long enough. The time to act, was now. That incident with the dog- horrible hound! -had decided matters. She was sure that it was all her conniving. After all, he would never be so cruel to her. Yes, it was time to begin her revenge. To stoop to conquer. And conquer she would, dog or no dog. In fact, if things went her way, that horrid animal would soon cease to exist.

So, her mission was as follows: Firstly, to enact revenge on the Countess of Saffron Walden. It mattered not that she was a Countess. Indeed, that was precisely why she should not be allowed to succeed over her. She had no need to marry rich, she already was. Caroline would succeed, and her revenge would be sweet. She would make sure said gentleman rued the day he had ever met the Countess.

Secondly, she would then present herself as a willing comforter of Mr Darcy's woe. Naturally he would not be allowed to grieve for long.... no more than a day, perhaps two, Caroline thought generously. Then he would rejoice in his escape. He would see her, Caroline Bingley, as the woman of his dreams, the only woman in world to suit Pemberley as its mistress. Then they would marry, and she would be able to gloat.... er, speak of her good luck- read cunning victory -for the rest of their long, happy lives.

Having once established a mission, Caroline did not back down. Instead she walked straight into action. This action took place immediately after the night of that incident with the hound, the moment the Countess came down from attending to Jane.

Discovering in advance that Mr Darcy had no desire for cards, a game which she had tried unsuccessfully to involve him in two nights previously, Caroline persuaded her brother in law to challenge Charles to a game of piquet, then persuaded Louisa to watch. Miss Darcy, she knew, would be happy to oblige them all with some music, which left Mr Darcy and the Countess. Cunningly Caroline placed some volumes that she knew the Countess liked to peruse, around the sofas, then waited for events to unfold.

The others came into the room. Mr Hurst followed her plans to the letter, challenging Charles, and requesting his dear wife to observe. Miss Darcy happily answered her eager entreaty that she play for them, and the Countess spied a particular volume that immediately caught her interest, leaving Mr Darcy to his own devices.

He seated himself at the bureau, and began to lay out materials needed for replies to correspondence. Caroline watched him intently. She waited for him to begin the letter, waited a few moments more for the address to be finished, then pounced.

"Pray sir," she remarked, seating herself in the chair beside the bureau, placed at such an angle as to perfectly observe him, "what do you do, so secretly?"

"It is no secret," he replied after a moment, "I am writing to my Aunt Catherine." In order to put off another request to visit her and 'dear cousin Anne'.

"Oh, dear Lady Catherine!" Caroline cried, "oh how I long to see her again." Truth be known, she had only met the woman once, but she had liked her very much indeed. In fact, she was exactly the sort of woman whom she saw herself being in later life, though perhaps with more good looks, and higher title. This elevation she would manage to procure for Darcy after they had married, for she was not above conniving with those who dispensed ranks of the peerage out to deserving gentry. "Has she altered much since the spring?"

Darcy determinedly finished the sentence he was writing before replying. "As her last letter to me was more about my cousin Anne than herself, I presume not."

Caroline let him carry on for another sentence or two before speaking again. "How delighted Lady Catherine will be to receive such a letter."

Annoyingly, Mr Darcy made no answer to this. Caroline sat astonished for a few minutes, then recovered herself. "You write uncommonly fast."

Yes, I wish to get this over and done with, so I can leave you and go to the Coun.... er my sister. "You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."

Though distressed by his contradiction, Caroline remained still determined to occupy his attention. "How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!"

"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours."

Caroline was struck dumb for a moment upon the implication that she gathered from this, she believed, rather provokingly intimate reply. Then, realising that the time for blushing prettily in response to it had come and gone, she continued to bother..... er, talk. "Pray tell your Aunt that I long to see her."

"I have already told her so once, by your desire." Darcy, in fact, had done no such thing, but he was not about to tell Caroline that, even if disguise of every sort was his abhorrence. Nor was he about to admit that his Aunt detested Miss Bingley, thinking her to be scheming away 'dear Anne's' future suitor. And while this was true, Darcy was determined to be ensnared by neither.

Caroline almost swooned over the honour that she had just been accorded. "I am afraid you do not like your pen," she began after letting him write another two sentences, "let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."

"Thank you, but I always mend my own."

Caroline was once more struck dumb. She absolutely hated to be struck dumb twice in one evening. She knew she must not continue to be so however. "How can you contrive to write so even?"

He was silent.

Caroline was most annoyed that he was silent. He should never tire of her conversation and voice. He should always long to hear it. "Tell your Aunt that I shall be delighted to see her whenever she wishes, and that I am already in raptures at the thought of such an occasion."

"Will you give me leave to defer your raptures till I write again? At present I have not room to do them justice."

"Oh it is of no consequence, I am sure to have the honour of seeing her soon. But do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr Darcy?"

Darcy had a good mind then to tell Miss Bingley exactly what his Aunt Catherine thought of her, but knew it would make him the evil and not her. "They are generally long," he replied, though this one, like the rest of them, was short, at least by Lady Catherine's standards, "but whether always charming it is not for me determine." She certainly never writes to me charmingly.

"It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill," Caroline announced to the whole room.

"That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline," cried her brother, entering into the conversation, much to his sister's annoyance, "because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?"

"My style," Darcy replied, grateful that someone else was finally involved in the discussion, "of writing is very different from yours."

"Oh!" cried Caroline, "Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest."

"My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them- by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents."

It was then that the most annoying thing in the world happened. At least in Caroline's opinion. In Darcy's opinion it was the most welcome of all events that had occurred that evening. But this was not about what he thought. No, it was about Caroline, and Caroline was determined that he thought like that no more.

Nevertheless however, there was no way she could ignore this incident. Like the dog, it simply had to be endured, until there was opportunity to hound it away.

Perhaps at this juncture it would be prudent to say what exactly had occurred to award Miss Bingley's title of 'most annoying thing in the world.' Well it was this; the Countess of Saffron Walden spoke. Not only did she speak, in fact, she did much worse. She entered into the conversation which Caroline had hoped to remain between herself and Darcy all evening. Angrily did she note the words, and the long response which followed, causing a whole discussion to open between them.

When the discussion turned into a debate, Caroline was even more annoyed, for she knew all too well how much Darcy liked debates. With a barely restrained temper did she listen to each party's speeches, her face turning more and orange to match her dress at every new sentence. By the time her brother entered into it once more, and with the most disgraceful slander upon Mr Darcy's character, Caroline had had enough. Instantly she began an expostulation upon her brother, annoyed that he dared speak such nonsense.

Mr Darcy however, as Caroline always saw him to be, was gracious enough to not show that he was insulted. "I see your design, Bingley. You dislike an argument and want to silence this."

Caroline paid no attention to what her brother replied, and therefore was surprised when she witnessed the Countess returning to her book, and Mr Darcy to his letter. Anxious not to have a repetition of what she had just observed, Caroline refrained from pursuing his attention, and moved to join her sister.

Later, when she retired for the night, Caroline reflected back upon the incident with much more generous conclusions. The Countess may have bested her on this occasion, but only because, she, Caroline, had let her. The next time, it would be very different.


Chapter VII.

At the commencement of the next evening, Elizabeth found herself witness to a wonder that she would never have dreamed possible.

Upon removing with the ladies after dinner, she had run up to her sister, and, seeing her well guarded from cold, attended her into the Drawing Room, where, much to Elizabeth's surprise, she was welcomed by Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley with many professions of pleasure.

Elizabeth had never seen them so agreeable as they were during the hour which passed before the gentlemen appeared. Their powers of observation were considerable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.

Miss Darcy, her confidence raised by their good humour, also contributed to the discussion, proving to have a talent for mimicry, conveying to the audience the precise character of tone for each amusing acquaintance described.

But when the gentlemen entered, Jane was no longer the preferred of Miss Bingley or Mrs Hurst. The latter turned to her husband, the former to Mr Darcy, prevailing upon him just as he arrived in the room, giving him a chance to say only a polite congratulation to Jane's recovery, before being forced to submit to his hostess's enquiries. Mr Hurst too, only made a slight bow.

Bingley therefore was the one by whom diffuseness and warmth, joy and attention, were displayed. He spent the first half hour in piling up the fire, lest Miss Bennet should suffer from the change of room; and Jane removed herself at his desire to the other side of the fireplace, so that she might be farther from the draft of the door. Then he sat by her and talked scarcely to anyone else. Elizabeth, in a position opposite, saw it all with great delight.

After tea had been cleared, there emerged a chance for Mr Darcy to escape his hostess, and join his sister, who had remained by the Countess' side since he had entered. The two received his company with pleasure, his sister describing the event that had passed before his arrival, which he laughed at with good humour, revealing to the Countess another facet of his character.

She had never denied to herself that he was a handsome man, and now she could not deny that he was rendered even more handsome when he smiled and laughed. The effect brought a sparkle to his dark eyes, softened his mouth, and the attention which he bestowed on his sister, made him all the more agreeable in Elizabeth's eyes.

Their conversation soon drifted to the conclusions they could draw from their observation on her older sister and his host. To Elizabeth's great delight, both approved of the match.

"I have never seen Bingley so attentive," his friend declared to the ladies, in a voice audible only to them.

"I do think your sister right for him," Georgiana agreed timidly, anxious to not be overheard, "but I do not think others approve."

"Yes, I can see that," Elizabeth remarked. "I hope Mr Bingley is not a gentleman to be so easily swayed by their biased opinions."

"He will only be swayed if he is unsure of reciprocation," Darcy replied, partly in warning, partly in defence of his friend. “Once he is certain however, no one will dissuade him from asking. He knows that he has my approval; not that he needs it, but that will help to reconcile others."

Elizabeth uttered a quiet gasp at his words. "Do you believe that he will, then?"

Darcy glanced only at her in reply. "I know that if I were in such a position of happiness, I would not hesitate to secure it." It was the first time he had ever been so direct in his implications, so he watched her reaction with the greatest of attention.

Elizabeth was surprised. Indeed, who could not be, in such a situation? There was no way that she could mistake his meaning, for he continued glancing at her long after he had spoken. At first she did not know what she thought of the speech. Even the Earl had never uttered such an implication as direct as that.

She knew instantly that she did not fear it, a result which furthered surprised her, but did she welcome it? It had been so long since anyone had made such a speech to her, that Elizabeth did not know. Her impulsive emotions however, had paid no attention to the uncertainty in her mind, causing her after a little delay, to blush, flattered.

Darcy could do naught but rejoice in response. He smiled at her, a small smile, one not obvious to any but her. The effect served to soften his brooding expression directed at her, and instantly diffused a part of Elizabeth's fear, though Darcy had no idea that she had ever possessed any in the first place. The silence that arose between them was not at all unwelcome, for they were quite content to remain as they were forever.

Georgiana saw this all, and smiled as well. She liked the Countess very much, and could tell that her brother now possessed the same opinion. She had never seen her brother in love before, and the sight pleased her no end, for, like any good sister, she wished him to be happy and prosper.

She had always wanted a sister, and the Countess seemed far more ideal than any other woman who had tried to capture her brother's eye. She knew him to be every thing that was amiable and good, honourable, and kind. She also knew that the Countess would not pursue him for mercenary purposes, like so many others.

Her only worry though, was the possibility that the Countess would not reciprocate.


On the dawning of the next morn, Jane announced to her sister that she thought it best, and believed herself well enough, to return home. Elizabeth accordingly wrote a note after breakfast to their mother, asking for the carriage. It was a request which neither of them needed fulfilling, nor did Elizabeth expect it to be fulfilled, but she also knew that they had to awaken the idea of Jane's return in her mother's head, and gauge the response.

It was as she expected. Mrs Bennet declared that she had not thought of Jane returning until her stay had reached two weeks, adding in the postscript that the carriage could not be spared until then, and that she could also spare Jane very well, if the Bingleys pressed them to stay longer.

Elizabeth relayed this news to her sister, and was given the expected reply. Jane was quite determined that they should leave, for she felt that they could not intrude any longer on Mr Bingley's kindness without creating talk in the surrounding neighbourhood. Elizabeth then sent a note to her steward at Stoke Edith for one of her own carriages, and was pleased to tell Jane that all of hers were in perfect working order, and would be sent as soon as they requested them.

While they were having luncheon with the others, Jane quietly announced their intentions. Mr Bingley heard this with great sorrow, and repeatedly tried to persuade her from exerting herself too soon after her recovery. Jane was eventually convinced to stay until Sunday, but remained firm to anything beyond.

Darcy also viewed their future absence with an emotion akin to sorrow. In his opinion Elizabeth had not been at Netherfield long enough either. No other woman had ever attracted him like she did before, and never had such a woman remained insensible of it. Darcy had no wish to inform her directly just yet though.

He could detect that she was unready for such clear attentions, and so kept to only hints throughout the remainder of their days spent there. Whether she received these with pleasure he could not be certain, but that she did not fear them, nor withdraw from him, was considered progress enough.

On Sunday, after morning service, the separation, so agreeable to only two, took place. Miss Bingley's civility to them until the moment, increased rapidly, as she assured them both of the pleasure it would be to see them either at Netherfield, Longbourn or Stoke Edith. Mrs Hurst expressed the same sentiments, as did Miss Darcy, but in such a way as to assure the sisters of her sincerity in comparison to the former.

Elizabeth then conveyed her sister to Longbourn, where they were not welcomed very cordially at all by their mother. Mrs Bennet wondered at their coming so soon, and thought them very wrong to cause so much fuss upon a Sunday, and was sure that Jane had caught cold again for exerting herself so suddenly.

But their father, though laconic in his expression of pleasure, was really very glad to see them, declaring that their arrival had brought back sense and animation to the family circle. He pressed Elizabeth to stay the night, not desisting until she had said yes.

The Countess was glad to accept. She had no desire to quit the company of her sisters so soon, and her father obliged her wish of a game of chess after dinner. Retiring with Jane at a later hour, the two spent some more minutes talking as they had done in their youth, before Elizabeth returned to a room that she had not used since her marriage.

To her surprise, everything had remained unchanged. Upon stepping into the room, she felt as though she had travelled back in time, to the days when she had nothing but thoughts of a happy romance before her. Now she had only the regretful memories which she wished to forget forever. It was a distressing contrast. Before tears could come to her eyes, however, she blinked the nightmares away, and focused upon preparing herself for bed.

Lying in the warm sheets, she distracted her mind, and thought of all that happened at Netherfield, and was astonished and also pleased, when Mr Darcy came to be foremost of those reflections.


Chapter VIII.

Netherfield

November 18th


To Mr George Wickham,

Sir, you do not know me, nor I you, but I have heard of your connection with a certain gentleman of our mutual acquaintance, and the circumstances which ended your friendship with him.

If you wish, such as I, to exact revenge, then I suggest that you take a commission in the regiment which has stationed itself four miles from here, in Meryton, under the command of Colonel Forster.

I shall contact you further when you have arrived in the neighbourhood.

Sincerely,

Caroline Bingley.

 

Caroline had heard of Mr Wickham quite by chance, she happened to see him calling at Mr Darcy's townhouse one day, and assuming by his handsome and well-dressed appearance that he was an aquaintance of her brother's friend, took care to inform Mr Darcy of the circumstance when she saw him next. Upon being informed by Mr Darcy that the man in question was only son of a steward at Pemberley who had parted the county after a quarrel to seek his own fortune, Caroline took care never to mention her enduring curiosity concerning this glancing acquaintance when she was in Mr Darcy's presence. This impediment did not stop her from finding out what she could of the man when she a guest at Mr Darcy's houses. Once his whereabouts were discovered by her, she took care to keep a note of them, so she could use the man to her advantage, if the need arose.

And now such need had.

With immense satisfaction did Miss Bingley survey this note. "Yes, Countess," she mused to the empty room, "you may have won the battle, but I intend to win the war. And this," she held up the letter, "shall be my means of accomplishing that victory."

And with that, she sealed the letter, and sent it off to the post.


A few days later, the Countess Saffron Walden happened to be walking out and about Meryton, when she encountered her sisters, and a strange man, whom, judging from the accuracy of her father's description - tall, heavy looking man of five and twenty, with a grave and stately air, formal manners, and absurd in the extreme - she determined to be her priestly cousin, Mr Collins.

With pompous nothings did he greet her, fawning over her until she felt to look upon the noisy intervention of her sister with relief, as Lydia set about persuading her to agree to a purchase of lace and bonnet which her pin money, having been spent the day before, could not cover. Gratefully did Elizabeth enter into lecturing her sister about the proper management of her finances before buying just the lace, by which time Mr Collins had run out of breath to speak.

Her desire satisfied, Lydia then pointed out another fascination: a man whom they had never seen before, walking on the other side of the way with Mr Denny. The question of the latter's return from town had been the real object of her desire to walk out, and as they passed, she was very much caught by the stranger with him. "Denny!" she immediately called out.

Jane met and matched Elizabeth's despair at their youngest sibling's lack of propriety, and then she introduced Mr Collins, as they discovered the identity of the stranger. His name was Mr Wickham.

Whether it was from her less than pleasant recollection of her late husband, or something in his manner, Elizabeth could feel from the first that this new acquaintance did not appear to be all that he seemed. He had too much in his favour. All the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address, along with a readiness for conversation. In short, Elizabeth thought him entirely too good to be true.

Just then, the sound of horses drew all their notice. Upon distinguishing their identities the riders drew nearer, and began civilities. It was Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy. The former was the principal speaker, and Miss Bennet the principal object, as he informed them all of his wish to inquire after her well-being as his and his friend's primary reason for being in Meryton that morning.

While they were engrossed in conversation, Elizabeth encountered the eyes of his friend, and therefore was the first and the only to witness the effect upon his countenance that the notice of the new gentleman in town had. Instantly his features paled and his eyes narrowed in emotion, as all of his faculties attempted to rein in the anger that he felt at meeting Mr Wickham once again.

The latter turned red, suddenly at a loss for words. Then he touched his hat, a salutation which Mr Darcy just deigned to return, before clicking his heels to his horse's flanks and resuming his way out of the village.

"I say Darce....... Darcy? What ever is the matter?"

The gentleman addressed slowly came out of his trance and raised his face to meet that of his friend. Mr Bingley gasped at the state of his expression. Never before had he seen him so distraught. The man he saw before him was a mere shadow of the strong, usually so outwardly self-assured friend whom he was proud to have.

Now, Darcy, dismounted and with his back braced against the tree for support, attempted to recover himself. He had no wish for the encounter which he had just endured to affect him so deeply, but the suddenness of the man's appearance had occasioned an unusually strong recollection of the events during his last meeting with him, producing the result which Bingley saw before him. "It is nothing," he tried to deflect.

Ordinarily, Bingley would have let him remain concealed. But this was no ordinary situation. Bingley dismounted from his horse, and stood in front of his friend. His face expressed a silent demand for him to confide the nature of the sorrow that had so suddenly conflicted him. For a moment Darcy hesitated. But only for a moment. Standing up, he remarked, almost in passing. "I never did tell you the reason for my sudden departure last summer, did I?"

"No you did not."

"Well, it was to do with Georgiana, and Mr Wickham."

By the time they had returned to Netherfield, Bingley was just as annoyed as his friend. As they separated in the hall, he bound for his sisters, Darcy for Georgiana, Charles vowed solemnly, "He will never get within a mile of her, not if I have anything to do with it."

"Thank you, my friend." Darcy replied just as solemnly, and with such a look and shake of proffered hand, as to have no doubt of the certainty of that loyal vow.

Georgiana was in the music room, her tall form seated at the pianoforte, her mind focused upon the piece she was presently learning. Darcy hesitated at the door, reluctant to disturb her current happiness. Yet he could not ignore Wickham's presence in the neighbourhood longer than a moment. They had to leave now.

"William?" Georgiana had halted her music, and was now staring at him. "Was there something you wanted to speak to me about?"

"Pack up your things, Georgie," he replied, "we are leaving at once."

"At once?" she queried, coming forward towards him. "Why," she asked, and then added in a very quiet voice, "have I done something wrong?"

Darcy rebuked himself instantly at his choice of manner and words. She was still so sensitive, so fragile, to any change in his emotions. "No, dearest, you have done nothing wrong, never fear that. It is only that I have just learnt of an acquaintance of ours who has just arrived. A man whom you and I wished never to meet with again."

"Oh," she uttered, understanding at once. She turned away from him, walking over to a window, which, her brother mused, seemed to a familial habitual place of retreat. For some minutes did she there stand, uttering several deeply measured breaths in an attempt to regain her composure.

Her brother watched her with ever increasing apprehension. Since his rescue of her last summer, Darcy had doubled his time with her, watching over every manner of her establishment, which he overhauled the moment that they returned from Ramsgate, taking care to fish out any of those who had favoured Mrs Younge.

Even now, months later, he was still reluctant to part from her, still reluctant to place her with a new companion, even though he had taken the liberty of lately choosing such a person to preside over her establishment, on the recommendation of his cousin Colonel Fitzwillam. He still held himself responsible for all that had occurred on that fateful vacation.

"There is no need for concern," his sister remarked suddenly, her face turned from the window towards him. "I shall be fine."

Darcy gazed at her slowly, then walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I fear you are copying too much of my habits, Georgie. If you cannot confide in me, be yourself around me, then who else have you to turn to? We have always been honest with each other."

"Thank you," Georgiana smiled up at him, a part of her mask coming away, revealing the great struggle it had taken to say that she would be fine in the presence of Mr Wickham. "It will be hard," she confessed, "but I want to stay, William. There is something here that I would like to see remain unaltered, and continue to grow. I would not want it disrupted on my or...... his account."

"And what is that?"

"Your attachment to a lady who recently stayed here." She paused to look at his reflection in the window for signs that she was right in her suspicions. "I like her very much. And I would like that attachment to continue and increase."

"I....." Darcy smiled and sighed, too tired to deny. "I would too, Georgie. I would too."


Volume III


© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2013.