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Daniellas Bureau; A Fanfic & Desktop Site


Marry In Haste, Repent At;

Version I, Volume III.

Chapter IX.

"They have both been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other, of which we can form no idea. Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side."

"Very true, indeed; and now, my dear Jane," replied her sister, "what have you got to say on behalf of the interested people who have probably been concerned in the business? Do clear them too, or we shall be obliged to think ill of somebody!"

It was the day after an evening spent at the Philipses, where Elizabeth had occupied herself in listening to the supposed sad tales of Mr Wickham, who had chosen to inform her of his history with the Darcy family almost upon the instant of his arrival. She had not believed one word of it, seeing much of her late husband in him, and thus had spent the rest of her time there trying to keep Mr Collins away from herself and her elder sister.

"Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what disgraceful light it places Mr Darcy, to be treating his father's favourite in such a manner, one whom his father had promised to provide for."

"My dear Jane, I did not mean for you to believe that I was taken in by him!" Elizabeth quickly assured her sister. "Quite the contrary. I believe every word he says to be a falsehood."

"Good," Jane declared on that. "For it is a slight against Cha... I mean, Mr Bingley, if you believe him so easily imposed upon."

"And by no means," said Elizabeth with a teasing smile upon her features, "would I speak against Mr Bingley's character."


They were interrupted at that moment, and then promptly disturbed from their solitude in the shrubbery at Longbourn, as Mr and Miss Bingley, along with Mr Darcy, had arrived at Longbourn, in order to invite them to a Ball at Netherfield, in six days time.

Elizabeth secured a place opposite the latter gentleman, who had attended with his friend in the hope that the Countess would be there. Quietly, as soon as she could be sure that they were not overheard, she began to him, "I hope the unfortunate encounter two days ago did not make you plan to leave Hertfordshire."

"No it did not," Darcy assured her, touched by her astuteness. "I gather he spoke to you then?"

"Yes, he was invited to my Aunt Philips, and I had the occasion to listen to his conversation, as well as to avoid Mr Collins.” Instinctively she glanced around, happy to see that the priest was with her younger sister, engaged upon a discussion of Fordyce. "He believes himself to be very hard done by due to you."

"Without any foundation," Darcy replied. "If anything, it is I and my sister who were hard done by." He paused, to gaze at her earnestly. "Did you believe him?"

"No," she replied in the same emotion. "He reminded me too much of the Earl. Too good to be true."

He watched her carefully as she slightly flinched after speaking of her late husband. "I know I presume too much, but will you tell me what happened to you one day?"

"Why do you wish to know?" Elizabeth asked.

"So I can ensure that it never happens again,” he vowed.

To such a noble oath, Elizabeth could do naught but blush in reply. Across the room, Mr Bennet happened to look up, and take note of this. With an evaluating raised eyebrow, he surveyed the gentleman. Since the death of the first husband for his favourite daughter, Mr Bennet had made his own vow: to make sure that if she ever wished for a second, that he would make her happy.

For clearly, even if she would not tell him, the first had not. This Mr Darcy, while on an equal scale in terms of fortune and situation to her, may not be in terms of his character. Mr Bennet decided he would find out as much as he could about the gentleman. Only if any of it was good, would he proceed to give his blessing.

Darcy departed from Longbourn in much better spirits than he had been upon arriving there. He was very much relieved that the Countess had not been deceived by his once childhood friend, and the knowledge of this gave him confidence that if Mr Wickham had the presumption to spread the tale around the neighbourhood, it would not be as well received as he had feared it might.

He walked back into Netherfield and sought out his sister, informing her of his success in accomplishing the task of securing the Countess for the first two dances of the evening of the ball. He then left her to her music practice, seating himself before a bureau in the room. Taking out a piece of paper, he wrote to his cousin the following;


20th November


Mr Wickham has decided that the army shall be his profession, namely the regiment that has currently settled itself in the vicinity of this place.

Georgiana has not yet encountered him, but there shall be a ball here soon, and as Bingley has issued a general invitation to the officers, I would like it if it is within your power to ensure that Mr Wickham does not have a chance to encounter her.

If you can arrange for him to be transferred to another regiment, or sent to Horseguards, or something else in town on the 26th, I would be very grateful.

His cousin, while having the honour to hold of the rank of Colonel, was widely connected to certain influential people within the army and militia, and could be assured of finding ways to make Wickham's life in the militia extremely difficult. He finished the letter with a summary of events that had happened since their arrival at Netherfield, mentioning his acquaintance with the Countess, but only in brief terms, so as not to incur his cousin's teasing, and then sealed the paper.

As afternoon drifted into evening Elizabeth returned to Stoke Edith, relieved that fate and fortune had conspired to rid her of being Mr Collins's partner for the first two dances of the Netherfield ball. Barely a minute after the Bingleys and Mr Darcy had departed from Longbourn did he wait before asking her.

Not for the first time now, did Elizabeth wonder about his presumption. He seemed to be paying particular interest to her, despite all her attempts to discourage him, both from herself and from Jane. She did not mean to judge him by consequence of her situation in life, but she knew well what other people would think of him.

Nothing could induce her to marry him, for he was by far too ambitious and obsequious for her taste. Could her mother be encouraging him in the matter? Elizabeth did not believe that to be wholly unlikely. She knew her mother's enthusiasm for matchmaking extended to the desire that one of her daughters inherited Longbourn, even if it was only by marriage. And with Jane destined for Mr Bingley, she was the next likely candidate.

When she had married the Earl, her mother boasted of the match far and wide, believing that the family's future was secure, that her other daughters would be thrown into the paths of other rich men by her sister's good fortune, only to despair when the Earl died, leaving Elizabeth a widow, with no children to depend on. Her mother still feared that a distant relative of the Earl's family would suddenly appear to take away all the wealth that her daughter had gained, or that her least favourite daughter would be honoured with all the attentions of available gentlemen, at the expense of her other children, because of the fortune that came with her.

Whereas if she married Mr Collins, her mother believed that the Earl's fortune would remain in the family, and Mr Collins would not trouble himself with throwing her mother out of Longbourn, for he would have other estates at which he and Elizabeth could live, and house her sisters too, so they could be thrown into the paths of rich men. Her mother took care to make sure that Elizabeth would not fail her sisters a second time, by frequently reminding her whenever she visited Longbourn.

For the first time, as she entered the drive of her home, Elizabeth was grateful to have gained something from her late husband. That was the connection, via godson, to her cousin's esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Such a relationship, she was sure, would secure that Lady's objection to Mr Collins seeking her for his wife. How Mr Collins had remained ignorant of this connection was a mystery, but that Elizabeth intended to enlighten him as soon as possible was a certainty.

Chapter X.

When Elizabeth entered the Entrance Hall at Netherfield, all her senses were immediately overwhelmed by a rush of distant memories. Memories that she rather had kept their distance.

The occasion which this present scene before her bore more than a passing similarity to, had been the first and last ball of her marriage, when she had been presented at Court, as the wife of the Earl of Saffron Walden. Even then, she had not known happiness in her marriage. She particularly remembered being grateful to wear long evening gloves, else she would not have been able to hide the red bruise that had encircled her wrist. He had always been careful to make sure no one else noticed the injury, save herself.


Startled so suddenly, Elizabeth could not refrain from flinching, and when she had returned to the present, was sorry for the protective measure. "Forgive me, sir, I had not realised it was you."

"No, no," he replied, as if it did not matter, "I should have spoken more first. But, I see that I am disturbing you, so I shall go."

The hand that had so gently taken hold of her own, now just as gently withdrew, prompting Elizabeth to quickly reassure him. "Mr Darcy, please stay. Your interruption was by no means unwelcome."

He gracefully stepped back to her side. "Then may I be of service to you?" He held out his hand. "May I have the honour of escorting you into the ballroom?"

"You may, indeed, there is nothing that I would like better than to get out of this hallway," she confessed, placing her hand over his arm in the proper fashion.

They followed his friend into the room, for Mr Bingley, upon first sight of his angel, Miss Bennet, could do nothing else but abandon the receiving line and devote himself entirely to her. Darcy's eyes remained upon his companion as they entered, their dark pupils tinged with concern as to the possible nature of her fear at this evening.

He wished more than ever that he was of a position to her as to be a confidant, but sadly he was not. Reluctantly turning his eyes from her, he searched the room, and spied someone who would perhaps suffice.


Elizabeth's features brightened immediately; she had not seen Charlotte for a week. "Charlotte, I have so much to acquaint you with."

Darcy reluctantly released her arm, and then bowed. "I shall leave you to your friend, Countess." He gallantly kissed her hand. "Till the first dance then."

Elizabeth merely nodded, watching him go. Her friend, as soon as he was out of earshot, turned to her with surprise. "I see many things have happened since I saw you last, Elizabeth!"

Her companion blushed. "It is not what you suppose, Charlotte."

"Is it not? Then I wager it soon will be."

Across the room, in attendance upon his sister, Darcy could do naught but rejoice at the sight of the return of the Countess' happy manners once more. Her look of intense preoccupation which he had encountered upon first seeing her, had well-nigh torn his heart. He had wanted to wipe those painful recollections away, and in their place put new, more joyful, ones. But he could not. He was not at liberty to do so. Not yet.

At least Wickham was not at this ball. His timely note to his cousin had done the trick, sending the man away to town, and enabling him to let Georgiana attend her first proper ball, even though she was not yet out. Darcy smiled as he watched her quietly answer a question from one of their companions. He had not the heart to refuse her anything, and she looked so beautiful in her new gown. So grown up. The two words frightened him. He had not thought the years to go by so fast.

The orchestra halted in their playing, and struck up a different tune. Darcy bade his sister and companions farewell, and went back to the Countess.

His choice of dance partner caused many a glance from many a person in the room. All eyes turned as he took up a place in the dancing line and bowed to begin the dance. Three in particular kept their gazes upon the pair throughout the two dances.

The first was Mr Collins. He was not in a good humour this night. Having written to his kind, gracious and most esteemed patroness of his choice for a partner in life some days ago, today he had received the reply. Her ladyship had been most displeased. Unused to incurring her ladyship's wrath, Mr Collins was at quite a loss as to how he should resolve the situation. He was also most ashamed at himself for presuming in the first place.

His most esteemed patroness had been very correct in reprimanding him. He had forgotten his station, the gratitude that he owed to his most gracious patroness. He had thought himself above those things he held most dear. Oh, how grateful he was to her ladyship! Her kindness knew no bounds. In guiding him back on the true course, she had shown that he was still preferred by her as a parson of the Hunsford parish to any other.

Now it was up to him to show that he had paid heed to her advice. The fault had been his and his alone, to think himself worthy of obtaining the Countess of Saffron Walden. She may be his cousin, but she was also, as his dear patroness had pointed out, far above him in terms of her station and rank. Lady Catherine was very particular in her opinion that the distinction of rank must be preserved for the good of the natural order of society.

No, he must choose another. But with this decision came a heavy sacrifice. It meant that he could not fulfil his promise to his late father and secure the olive branch by marrying a Bennet. For all, by relationship to the Countess, were also above him. No, he must look elsewhere.

It was then that Fate intervened once more. A young lady walked passed him, and Mr Collins could not help but be struck by the realisation of her fine looks. Would she fulfil the requirements that his most excellent patroness had instructed him to follow? True she was the daughter of a Knight of the Realm, but she was also the younger daughter, and in no way stood to inherit a fortune. Yes, he believed Miss Maria Lucas would suit his patroness' requirements excellently.

"I believe we must have some conversation, Mr Darcy. A very little will suffice."

"You talk by rule then, while you are dancing?"

"Sometimes. It would look odd to remain entirely silent throughout."

"True," he conceded, and then fell into silence once more until the next turn had brought him opposite her again. "What shall we talk of then?"

"You do not wish to begin the subject yourself?"

"No, whatever you wish me to say should be said."

"Sir, that will not do for a reply, not without doing a great disservice to your character."

"Does it not display a desire to please one's companion?"

"Yes, but it does not follow that the companion would be pleased by such a reply. It would not do for a gentleman to be so always anxious to please a lady. Especially if they had a different opinion than the one professed."

"That still does not argue for the conclusion that I should begin the subject, Madam. Propriety commands that a gentleman always accedes to a lady."

Elizabeth chuckled. "I see that we are at an impasse then, sir. Very well, it is my wish that you would chose a subject."

"I...." Darcy smiled. "You have caught me well, madam."

"Yes," she replied with a laugh, "I believe I did."

It was at this moment that the pair passed the second person who would observe their actions throughout the entirety of the two dances. Mr Bennet had the adept hearing to catch the entirety of his daughter's conversation, as well as the laugh, and the effect that they created within his mind was one of profound curiosity.

This, when taken in conjunction with the other occasion that he had had the opportunity to observe their conversation, could only lead to one conclusion. And it was a conclusion, which, at the moment, concerned him greatly.

He watched them carefully as they continued up the line of dancers, and then back down. His eyes stayed on them as the first finished and the second commenced, even though he could no longer listen to their conversation.

As the dance reached signs of its imminent end, he moved away from his previous position by Mrs Bennet, and into the path of his daughter and Mr Darcy.

"Papa," the former began. "Are you enjoying this evening?"

"Ask me when I have found the way to Mr Bingley's library," Mr Bennet replied to the amusement of all.

"I warn you now, sir," Mr Darcy remarked, "that the place does not have much in the way of books."

"Indeed? I see that we have found another adherent to our cause, Lizzy. The neglect of family libraries is a severe testament against any establishment."

"Though it does not necessarily follow sir, that if one adds to a library that it is to the enjoyment of the said person."

"Too true, too true," Mr Bennet replied. "Are you of that class, Mr Darcy?"

"No, the volumes that I add are those that I like, rather than those society would have me like."

"Such as?" Mr Bennet asked, his estimation of Mr Darcy rising. The gentlemen named those volumes that he had lately added, causing Mr Bennet to raise his eyebrow at the varied nature, quantity and expense. Clearly, the upkeep of a library was very important to this gentleman.

Choosing one from among the many, he asked for his view on the author's latest work. Mr Darcy replied with a succinct but sound judgement, and they continued on the same vein until his daughter parted from them to talk Jane. This event evoked a change in his companion.

"Sir," began Mr Darcy, when he had answered the last question, "I believe you have now successfully sought out all my opinions on the latest authors, those of ages past, and those whose works are considered timeless. May I ask as to where these questions tend?"

"Very good, Mr Darcy," Mr Bennet replied with a smile, "you have seen through my disguise. In short, they tend in a quest to establish your character."

"You believe one's character can be defined by one's library?"

"Without fail. One will not read books where there is no character that one cannot identify with at some point. They define so very well the reader's sense of morals, values and character."

"And have you achieved success?"

"I believe I have only one more question to ask. What are your intentions to my daughter Elizabeth?"

Despite having expected such a inquiry, Darcy was nonetheless surprised by its occurrence at this time. Mr Bennet was obviously a very astute man, to have figured him out so early on. Solemnly he faced his companion, and replied in tones of the greatest gravity. "Only those of the most honourable nature, sir."

Mr Bennet revealed nothing of a reaction in his features. "You'll do, you'll do," was all he remarked.

"I need not ask how you are enjoying this evening so far, dear Jane; it is clearly answered by the sweet complacency and happy glow that I see within your expression. Dare I presume to determine the source?"

Jane blushed as she saw her sister's gaze turn in the direction of Mr Bingley. "Indeed," she confessed, "he has been very attentive all evening."

"And why would he be otherwise," Elizabeth remarked, determined to raise her sister's modest hopes a little higher. "Perhaps he is imagining how his next ball might be, and who might be beside him?"

"Lizzy! Surely...."

"No indeed, Jane, you may believe me. I have said it before, and I shall say it again. No one who has seen you and Bingley together can doubt his affections."

"Miss Bennet, Countess," cried a different voice at that moment, as the orange figure of Miss Bingley swept into the place where they were standing. "I have not spoken to you at all this evening. I must rectify such neglect immediately."

"I'm sure your brother has already done that, Miss Bingley," Elizabeth replied while her sister blushed again.

"Humph," was all that Miss Bingley muttered to that. "Charles has been so generous with his invitations. Did you know that he gave an open one for all of the officers in Colonel Forster's militia?"

"No, I did not," Elizabeth replied. "But then I have not been much in their company since their arrival."

"Oh," Miss Bingley answered, most displeased with that reply. She had been hoping for a quite a different response. "Do excuse me," she added, "I must check that enough white soup has been laid out."

Caroline walked away, with disgust barely held in check from her features. She was the third person who had watched Mr Darcy dance with the Countess, a move which had caused her afterwards more than a little ill humour. She had thought everything to be going according to plan.

The groundwork of her attack had been so carefully mapped out, so meticulously timed. How it had gone so completely wrong she knew not. She was sure that Mr Wickham, with his background in Darcy family history, would be successful in parting the Countess from him, leaving Caroline free to continue her quest of becoming the next mistress of Pemberley.

Instead, however, as she had just learnt, not only had the Countess not become Mr Wickham's staunch defender, but the man had not even attended the ball! Caroline could not account as to how this could be. She had insured that her brother would leave an open invitation to the officers. What was the man's excuse?

Well, there was only one way to find out, even though she loathed to sink to such a level. Quickly, she sought out Captain Denny.

Five minutes of conversation later, and she had ascertained her answer. Mr Wickham had been obliged to pay a call on a Colonel in town, and carry a message back to Meryton for his commanding officer. And the name of that Colonel was Richard Fitzwilliam.

Caroline Bingley was no fool. She knew perfectly well now who had initiated Mr Wickham's absence from the ball. And his identity annoyed her no end! How dare Mr Darcy choose to foil her plans so excellently! He was supposed to be of the same mind as her about the Countess!

She stood in a corner of the room and fumed. It was something she was most talented in, and therefore her fuming lasted a very long time. Eventually, she was obliged to sit down and return to the supper. Still fuming, she ate the white soup in chilling silence. The footmen who came to move the empty bowls away, shied rapidly from her thunderous glare, which did nothing to compliment the shade of her gown.

At the end of the second course however, Caroline realised that all was not lost. She still had two methods of attack which had yet to be attempted. And now was the perfect occasion to put them into action. Raising her glass to her lips, she murmured, "Shall we not have some music?"

As if on cue Mr Bingley rose from his chair and announced to the room at large; "shall we not have some music? Caroline, can we persuade you?"

Miss Bingley lingered in her chair. Normally she would have been most happy to accede to her brother's request, but at this moment, she wished for someone else to play. And that someone was seating herself at the piano right now. A minute later, and Caroline smiled. Miss Mary Bennet was exactly who she had wished for. Dramatically, she swept out of her chair and walked to the end of the room.

Halfway down, she stopped, alighting upon her other prey. "Miss Lydia," she began in tones of the most saccharine, "your wine glass is empty. Let me get you another."

Chapter XI.

"Caroline, what on earth did you mean in plying Miss Lydia with so much wine all evening? Did you intend for the ball to be ruined so?"

Miss Bingley made no form whatsoever of a reply to her sister. Truth be known she was now as dissatisfied as Louisa about how the ball had turned out. She had meant for Lydia's move to grab a sword and be chased around by an officer to be noticed by only two people, not the entire invited population of the ball! What was more, and what was far worse, the very two people she had intended the incident to be noticed by, did not notice it at all! Instead, they had gazed at each other all night.

A knock sounded, breaking the temporary silence of the room. Mrs Hurst bade whoever it was to come in. "The Countess of Saffron Walden and Miss Bennet are here to see you all, ma'am," spoke a footman.

Miss Bingley snorted and sent a look of disapproval to the servant. "Fosset, how many times have I told you not to call me Ma'am. I am Miss Bingley, not a spinster!"

"Yes, Miss Bingley. Sorry Miss Bingley," Fosset replied, before backing out to let the visitors in, so he could return to the peace of the kitchens, and the kind company of the housekeeper.

As Mrs Hurst greeted the visitors, Caroline resumed her seat with the look of annoyance still displayed upon her features. After all that she had attempted in vain yesterday, the arrival of the very two people she wanted never to see again was naturally most distressing. So focused upon brooding as she was, she almost missed her sister's first words of conversation.

"I am afraid it is only we ladies who are in the house today," Louisa began, "for Charles and Mr Darcy have gone to London on business."

Miss Bingley concealed a smug smile. She had nearly forgotten that piece of news. Partly because Charles had chosen to announce to all the nature of said business just before he had left. Said nature had also left her in a fuming state. Still, Miss Bennet did not yet know the nature, and if Miss Bingley had her way, as she was determined to do so, Miss Bennet would never find out.

"Yes, we know," the Countess replied with a small smile. "Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy informed us of their short absence last night."

"Short?" Miss Bingley repeated in perfect wide eyed innocence. "I never heard anything from Charles as towards the length of his stay. Did you Louisa?"

"No," Louisa answered with perfect understanding of her sister's intent. "I do not believe I did either, Caroline."

"That is most strange," a voice suddenly commented, her innocence from a source of perfect truthfulness, "for I am sure that I was in the room with you all at the time, and I heard your brother say that he would be back within a day or two."

Caroline put her cup of tea rather noisily back down on the tray nearby and almost glared at the speaker. She had forgotten Miss Darcy was with them. Her last minute attempt at rescuing the damage of last night would have to be ditched.

At least for now.

Georgiana did not return to the Drawing room after the departure of the Countess and her sister. Instead she slowed down her walk, and watched Miss Bingley make her way to the room that she used for her correspondence.

Catching the door before it could be locked, Georgiana pressed the small, almost unnoticeable dent in the wood. Carefully she slipped inside the little passageway that lay in between the room and the hallway. She and Darcy had discovered these passages when Bingley had showed them the estate plans.

The house had once been owned by Catholic sympathisers in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and the passages for accessing the priest holes had remained unchanged by time. She pressed forward, watching the movements of Miss Bingley's hand, which could be clearly seen from the small hole in the wall in front of her.

Some minutes passed before Miss Bingley exited the room, leaving Georgiana able to slip out of the second exit for the priest hole. The remains of the letter that had been written were quite detectable upon the blotter. Miss Darcy only had to read a few words before the import of it became clear to her.

Instantly she left the room and went to her own upon the first floor. By the window lay her very own Davenport, her last birthday gift from her brother. She seated herself in the chair, laying out the necessary materials for a letter of her own.

Miss Bingley was not going to stop Mr Bingley from obtaining happiness. Miss Darcy would see to that.

"Sir, there is an express waiting for you."

"Thank you Guildford." Darcy took the paper from the footman and watched him depart. Then he turned over the letter to see if he could discern the identity of the author. A second was all that he needed to do so. The name of the sender shocked him to the core. He remembered the last time he had been sent an express from Georgiana; Ramsgate, last summer. Hardly caring for the presence of his friend, Darcy ripped apart the seal and read the information contained within.

His first act afterwards was to sink into a chair and breathe a loud sigh of absolute utter relief. His second was to read the express again. Then, without a word of explanation, he handed the paper over to his friend.

Mr Bingley needed to read the letter three times before he could take any of it in. "How could she do this?" He cried aloud. "My own sister would wish me to sacrifice all my hopes of happiness in favour of a wealthy marriage?"

Darcy merely glanced sympathetically at his friend. They had only just returned to his house in town, having been out most of the morning they had arrived. Bingley had wanted his second and impartial opinion on something, and upon hearing what that something was, Darcy had been only too happy to comply. Now he steepled his fingers together and calmly remarked, "Who is to say that Miss Bennet is not a good match?"

"Certainly not me, Darcy!" Bingley cried, still astonished by the scheming of his sister. "And I did not mean to imply that I believe the opposite."

"Neither did I, Charles," his friend replied, dropping formality to assure him of the seriousness of his point. "I merely wished to point out that your sister does not possess the full facts concerning the nature of Miss Bennet's connections and fortune."

"No, she doesn't," Mr Bingley agreed, "but I still do not see how such knowledge would make her not want me to marry dear Jane!" He sat down opposite his friend. "I understand from Jane herself that she will only inherit a share of five thousand pounds upon the demise of her father and her mother."

"That is not entirely true," Darcy continued. "After the Countess' husband passed away, he left everything to her. She in turn helped to raise a further three thousand per annum on her father's estate, and promised each of her sisters thirty thousand either when they married or when they had reached the age of five and twenty."

"How do you know of this?" Mr Bingley asked, mystified.

"Mr Bennet told me so last night." After the man had announced his judgement upon him, they had talked further while the Countess had been with her sister. During this conversation Darcy had learned many things about the woman he was fast supposing himself to be in love with, and he had fallen even more deeply for her as a result.

"Mr Bennet told you...." Bingley trailed off in incomprehension. "You find the oddest things to talk about with everyone, Darcy!"

His friend merely shrugged his shoulders before getting up and moving to gaze out the window. Charles observed him with the slow dawning of realisation. "And just why did Mr Bennet seek to discuss his second daughter with you?"

His friend did not move from the window. "No reason."

"Really?" Bingley uttered in a tone that implied he knew exactly what the reason could be, and did not need to voice the notion, for his friend would understand that he knew what he knew. Laying the express from Miss Darcy on the desk, Charles leaned back in the armchair, and returned to their original topic. "We shall return to Netherfield tomorrow. Where I intend to give Caroline a lecture that she will not forget!"

Elizabeth laid aside her book and raised her eyes to the window. Gazing out at the prospect of Stoke Edith's grounds, she silently reflected on all that had happened since she had left the house the night before, for the Netherfield Ball. She blushed as the nature of her first recollection came foremost to her mind; that of her dances with Mr Darcy.

Indeed, apart from that time he had spent with her father, and she with her sister, he had scarcely left her side the entire evening. Other than the dances however, they had rarely been alone. After he had escorted her into the supper, they had been joined by his sister, then eventually Jane and Mr Bingley.

Dividing her time between observing the actions of the latter duo and coaxing Miss Darcy into greater confidence to talk, Elizabeth had only heard of her younger sister's incident with a sword afterwards, when she had travelled with her father- who had wished for the silence of her carriage over the noise of his -to Longbourn.

Thanks to his keen observation, Elizabeth had learnt the cause of her sister's antics as well, which was why she had stayed at Longbourn overnight once more, and accompanied her sister to Netherfield the next morning. Unlike herself Jane was too good a person to suspect anyone of guile, and if she had not been with her, Elizabeth had feared her returning with the belief that Mr Bingley would never return to Netherfield, despite his professing the contrary to both of them the night before.

Elizabeth sighed. She wished her sister much happiness in what she knew with almost complete certainty was to come, but she also knew what Jane would wish for her in return. And Elizabeth, as much as she would like to please her sister, did not believe she was ready for any thing of that nature. Furthermore, she doubted that she would be ready for quite some time.

Chapter XII.

"But Charles!"

"No, Caroline, I have had quite enough. You will leave this house at once."

"I still do not see why. What have I done wrong my dear brother?"

Bingley stared at her in astonishment. "'Dear brother,'" he repeated, pacing the room, "if you really thought that of me you would not choose to separate me from the woman whom I love. What is it about Miss Bennet that you do not like? She has beauty, both in looks and character, and she has better prospects than we were aware of. What fault did you find that caused you to ruin the ball and forge my handwriting in order to make Miss Bennet believe I was never returning to the neighbourhood ever again?"

Caroline made no answer. She could not. She was still feeling bitter about the way everything had gone this morning. All had been planned, all worked out, for her and the rest of the occupants at Netherfield to be in London by the afternoon. The only difficulty she had foreseen was in persuading Miss Darcy to join herself and the Hursts.

Never for a moment had she expected her brother to return so early! The sight of him catching her in the Entrance Hall, with all her bags behind her, and in her travelling clothes was one that she was not liable to forget very soon.

What was worse, what was far worse, was that Mr Darcy was standing directly behind him when they had returned, with a completely unrestricted view. Scarcely had she been able to collect her composure to formulate a greeting and explanation, when, without any warning, her brother had taken her arm and almost dragged her into the drawing room.

From that moment on, things had gone from bad to worse. Not only was he already aware of her schemes, but he had also discovered her forged letter in his handwriting to the attorney who managed Netherfield for its owners; Mr Philips, with the instructions to let the place once more.

Caroline had no idea as to how he had found out about that. She had been utterly alone when she had written the letter, and was to send it off the moment the carriage left via Meryton's main road. Her brother's discovery in combination with his early return from town now prevented this letter from ever going out. And left Caroline pleading to remain in the neighbourhood, a circumstance which she most detested.

But Charles had not yet finished speaking. "And, not only do you have the presumption to write to Netherfield's attorney, but you also write to Miss Bennet, giving her the impression that I will never return here, and that I will soon attach myself to Miss Darcy!"

"Oh," Caroline spoke, feeling that she could not stay silent any longer, "you found out about that?"

"Yes, I did." Her brother paused, coming to a decision. "I now ask that you leave this house at once. I can no longer bear your company with the ease of a proper brother. You will go with the Hursts to town, and stay at their house. And you will not return to my company until you can conduct yourself in a rational manner."

And with that Charles Bingley walked out of the room, slamming the door. Within minutes he was astride a horse and on his way to Longbourn.

Three miles away, another house was also in uproar. And the wife of its owner was the origin of it all.

Mrs Bennet, thinking nothing of the impropriety of reading another person's correspondence, and knowing the identity of the sender, had opened the now infamous letter from Miss Caroline Bingley to Miss Bennet, and was thus the first person to react to the false - though unbeknownst to her - news that Netherfield was deserted once more. The state of her emotions, of one who had planned so much for her daughter, were naturally in turmoil. Instantly could her voice be heard all over the house, as she cried aloud her distress at their departure.

By the time Jane had emerged for breakfast, the entirety of the news was already known to her, and, with all that was good in her character, to think well of any and all she knew, she now began to doubt Mr Bingley's word that he would be back from town as soon as he was able.

So she remained silent while her mother declared her now firm belief that they were all doomed to be turned out of the house and into the hedgerows by Mr Collins, with only the kindness of her dear daughter Lizzy to depend upon for comfort.

It was perhaps just as well then that while Mr Bingley galloped across the countryside to the place, that the person he was in search of would meet him along the way. All the time it had taken to conclude the morning repast was all the time that Jane had needed to realise that she could not survive the rest of the day unaffected without seeking the solitude and tranquillity of the surrounding countryside.

She and Elizabeth- who had just arrived at the estate -had set out from the house the moment her meal was over, in the midst of wailing from their mother, as she continued to believe in the ruin of her dear girls now that Mr Bingley was gone from the neighbourhood.

Neither Elizabeth nor Jane had spoken a word since their exit from the house, both content to merely enjoy the calming influence of the grounds as they made their way out of Longbourn and into the fields that bordered their father's estate, separating it from Netherfield and others.

Indeed, as they had just passed over a mile in this manner, there was no longer any need to fret or doubt themselves or others with the news they had received that morning. For a horse carrying the object of them came into their sights.

As he was by no means deficient in any way to his friend, Mr Bingley had noticed the identity of the two young ladies in his path almost immediately, and had at once brought his horse to a halt and dismounted with all the showmanship of an excellent rider. "Countess, Miss Bennet," he cried aloud in greeting.

Jane blushed prettily in surprise, leaving her sister to make up for a reply. "Mr Bingley," Elizabeth began, "we did not expect to see you. Your sister informed Jane that you had all left for London."

The gentleman seemed to pale slightly then, his appearance losing some of its joviality. "Yes, I assure you, it as much as a surprise to myself as I am sure it was a surprise to you. But merely a misunderstanding on my sister's side, which I have now remedied. Lady Saffron Walden," he suddenly began in a entirely different tone, "would you be so kind as to bestow me a few minutes alone with your sister?"

Elizabeth smiled, now possessing a fair idea as to what was going to happen next. "Of course," she replied, moving away, back down the path, until only their outlines could be seen.

Mr Bingley turned to his remaining companion. "Miss Bennet," he began, in a voice etched in nervousness and hope, "though loathe I was to leave this place, I had realised that there was something I needed to fetch from town, which, if you did me the honour of accepting it, would make this stay in Hertfordshire the happiest moment of my life."

He reached into his pocket and brought the object out. Dropping to one knee, he opened his fist so it rested upon his flat palm for her to see. "I have been in love before, but never have I felt it so powerfully, so deeply, with the expectation for it to be permanent, until I laid eyes on you. From the moment that we parted at the ball, I knew that I never wanted us to part from each other ever again. Miss Bennet, Jane, will you marry me?"

Jane had quietly gasped when he had opened his hand to reveal the gold band, graced by a single large specimen of her favourite gemstone, of which she knew not how he had obtained such intelligence. Now she was smiling as he finished speaking, her answer already long known to herself, and only had to be made known to him. "Yes, I believe I will."

Mr Bingley felt himself truly smile for the first time that day. He rose from his knee, placed the ring upon her finger, then clasped her hands in his own in pure joy. "Dearest Jane," he uttered aloud, the two words managing to convey all his sentiments. "You have no idea how happy you have made me."

"Oh I think I do," she replied softly, "for you have made me feel the same."

The moment Elizabeth had descried the figure of the gentleman moving to kneel down, she had turned away, feeling her sister needed this moment to be private, as did every man and woman when confronted with such a happy conclusion of a courting, particularly one that had never defined itself as such aloud to anyone.

All her sisterly generosity had awakened; she could not be happier for Jane. She had no desire to draw any comparison to her own proposal of marriage, not wanting to sour the moment of joy. All her emotions of that nature, were felt with such a sincerity, warmth, a delight, which words could but poorly express. Every goodly sentiment possessed too much of an inadequacy to properly suffice as a fitting description of the occasion.

She also knew instantly that Jane would be happy. With such a disposition that her sister held, it was impossible to be otherwise. Her good nature so well complemented that merriment of her suitor, giving every impression that their future would be filled with perfect contentment and tranquillity.

Elizabeth smiled as she imagined it all, knowing her dreams for her sister could never quite match the reality, but certainly would not be a contradiction of it. Everything that she had hoped for herself upon such an occasion, Elizabeth now hoped for her sister.

And by far her most fervent prayer, was that all the unhappiness she had experienced in her marriage, would never exist in Jane's.

Chapter XIII.

It is a truth sometimes universally acknowledged that in a small village, news travels fast. That, due to size and population, those who live there are in such a way as to be almost intimately acquainted and connected to each other's needs, wants, problems, and all other forms of everyday life. Nearly inevitably there often arises competition between persons that are of, or are in the same situation in life; with little consequence to the difference of their monetary worth in general.

Meryton was no exception to this rule. Its population contained rather a surplus of small, middle-aged, married, gentlemen, landowners perhaps, which is why it often had a tendency to make a fool of itself over any young, single, handsome, rich gentlemen who came to stay in the neighbourhood for a time.

Following that other universal truth, all the wives of said small gentlemen landowners assumed that the new arrival- or indeed, if they were lucky, arrivals -must be in a want of a wife, and tried with their daughters to answer that need accordingly. And when one mother succeeded, she felt to be rightly justified in the frequent talk and display of that news, wherever she happened to go.

In this case the latter task fell upon Mrs Bennet, a woman who, once acquainted with the news, felt that there was no other who deserved such reward. She had always believed her eldest was destined for great things, and now she had been proved correct, in the form of her future son in law, Mr Bingley.

She had accomplished what no one else had in this village, by gaining an Earl and a man of five thousand pounds a year for a son! Mrs Long could no longer gloat about her dear Emily's hopes of marriage. Nor could Lady Lucas about her husband's not so recent ennoblement. Mrs Bennet had outdone them all by far with Mr Bingley. She had another daughter engaged! And at just three and twenty!

This news had set her into quite a flutter. Gone was the despair of the early morning, completely forgotten by this happiness that had now beset her this midday. Now was the time for a walk about the neighbourhood, to visit her great friends: her sister Philips, Lady Lucas and Mrs Long. To then persuade Mr Bennet that a trip to London for wedding clothes was entirely necessary. But above all to talk as often as she could of her daughter's good fortune.

Evening came to what was to everyone else but Mrs Bennet already a long day, and with it an evening at Lucas Lodge, to which the gentlemen and remaining lady from Netherfield would also be invited. Mrs Bennet entered the room with one of the latter, her future son in law, along with her dear Jane, and dear Elizabeth not far behind. She had now two great ladies of society for daughters, something that no one else in the village had ever achieved, and, if she had her way with the other three, never would.

What Jane and Elizabeth felt about all this, would not be too difficult to imagine. Both had witnessed it all before nearly three years ago, when the latter's engagement had been announced to Longbourn, another item that Mrs Bennet was also determined to bring up as often as she could this evening, along with the vast fortune that Elizabeth was in sole possession of.

They dealt with the matter in their normal way. As soon as they had arrived, they sat with Mrs Bennet and Lady Lucas for a few minutes, while their mother delivered the news in full. Then, as soon as she was quite engaged, they would move quietly away to another part of the room, where they could be assured of passing the time in a peaceful and more agreeable fashion.

It was here, in the quiet corner of the drawing room, that Miss Darcy, and soon afterwards her brother, joined the trio of Elizabeth, Jane and Mr Bingley. So happy was she that her plan had gone so well, Georgiana's usual shyness disappeared, and she eagerly related to all how she had discovered Miss Bingley's scheme, and what measures she had taken to put the matter to rights for the happiness of all concerned. It was the most animated that her brother had ever seen her, and he observed her interaction with the greatest of sibling pride.

Elizabeth observed the look, a tumult of emotions passing through her mind as she did so. Maybe it was the situation, maybe it was the room, maybe it was length of the day, maybe it was the news of her sister's happy event. Whatever it was, she suddenly felt unable to deny to herself that he was having an effect on her any longer.

She could not argue that he was not a handsome man. Nor could she ignore his other qualities, and how much they appealed to her, in a way no other gentleman had before. His manner, though reserved, was friendly and engaging. His intelligence befitted his situation in life, as widely experienced and informed, displayed by every opinion that he expressed, and every cause he argued for in gentle debate.

His loyalty to his friends and sibling was second to none. In short, Elizabeth could not recollect any other who was his equal, her late husband being far down that sort of list. He only had to, as her father would say, produce an excellent library, and he would answer her needs to be a companion for life.

It seemed most sudden to think these thoughts, and indeed Elizabeth felt that, had it not been for one thing, they would never have occurred to her during the course of this evening. And that was her realisation of his interest in her. It had only taken one look, one sudden meeting of eyes, and there it was. The interest lay bare before her.

Unforced, unsought, yet deeply held, and showing no sign of fading away. Instantly, she knew her mind about it. She did not fear it, as she had expected to fear any man taking an interest in her since the death of her husband. Nor did she find it unwelcome.

To her surprise, she felt able to return it, if not as deeply, and not of the same foundation, but able to return it nonetheless. Never before had she entertained the possibility of ever marrying again, too fearful of it turning out like her first, until now. Before her previous fears could override control of her actions again, she looked up again, met his eyes once more, and tentatively returned the expression he had sent her.

Darcy saw the response, and his heart rejoiced inside.

Mrs Bennet was now on a mission. Having secured one of her girls for the new tenant of Netherfield Hall, she felt that her next task would be to secure the passing of Longbourn. As disgusting as it was to her, the idea of Mr Collins soon inheriting the property when her dear husband had gone, Mrs Bennet felt that her nerves would cope better if one of her daughters was left to look after the place as well.

Jane was already taken, Elizabeth too much a grand lady of the land to be tied to a country parson, especially after being the wife of an Earl. Lydia, while being her favourite child, was too young, and Kitty, not set for a quiet country life. So it was Mary whom she felt would best suit Mr Collins, having a preference for religion already built into her reading tastes.

Believing herself to be a messenger of the best advice for Mr Collins, Mrs Bennet informed the man of her 'wisdom' the next morning, after the occupants of the house had broken up from breakfast. She conducted the conversation in her usual style, underlying the wishes that he had stated in his original letter to her husband, about establishing a proper olive branch. She then exited the room, and went to locate the daughter in question.

Mr Collins received her words with mixed feelings. He felt obligated to his most kind hostess, and therefore would ask the question she proposed, but he did not want the answer in any way to be a positive one. He felt that cousin Mary, while indeed excellently informed on all matter of religion and its way of life, did not complement him.

Nor did she answer to all his most esteemed patroness' advice about who and what his wife should be. He felt terribly torn concerning the matter, but also unable to disobey her Ladyship, whose bounteous generosity had done too much for him to be able to ignore her most recent words of advice.

Fortunately for Mr Collins and perhaps fortunately for the young woman as well, Mary did not want to marry him either. It was nothing to do with any dislike for Mr Collins, or his situation, or even his esteemed patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh. No, her reasons were far more personal.

Sometime ago, she had decided that a life in the world was not to her liking, and therefore had chosen to prepare herself for one that never permitted the outside world to influence it. In other words, she was to take the veil, as soon as she had sufficient funds with which to travel to her chosen nunnery. She was unaware that Elizabeth had settled a sizeable dowry upon all her sisters, for Elizabeth and Mr Bennet had agreed that her sisters would remain ignorant of their good fortune until they came of age, or accepted an offer of marriage. Both were in agreement that if her sisters were informed of their considerable dowries, Mrs Bennet would learn of them and boast of their eligibility far and wide, exposing them to fortune hunters and other scoundrels, whilst the behaviour of Kitty and Lydia would become so far unchecked as to reach beyond the point of amendment.

Mr Collins, infinitely happy that his lack of enthusiasm and words of affection had not injured his dear cousin in any way, parted from her with the best of terms. He quite admired her for choosing such a way of life, one that, had he not familial responsibilities to fulfil, he might have chosen himself.

So highly did he hold her choice, that he felt no fear about informing her mother of it, when he met her outside the room, and answered to her enquiries about how the proposal had gone.

Mrs Bennet, upon receiving such a piece of unexpected news, might be justified in failing to notice Mr Collins' next actions. Her dreams she felt had been shattered by a selfish daughter, who needed telling so, before she fell back on another plan, which was to offer Kitty or even Lydia to him instead.

So too busy was she in the task of lecturing her daughter, to witness Mr Collins leaving the house soon after their encounter, and returning just before the evening meal.

When Elizabeth came to the house the next day, she found it in a worse state than when they had being mistakenly informed of Mr Bingley's departure. Stalling at the front door, she turned to see her father, framed in the window of his study, put down his book, and motion her with his hand to see him first. Five minutes later, and Elizabeth was acquainted with the full facts of the latest matter to trouble her mother's nerves.

"I cannot say I am surprised either," Mr Bennet remarked after he had listened to his favourite's reaction. "I always felt that Mary's interest in religion would make any other form of life feel unnatural to her, but I did believe that out of all my daughters, she would be the one most able to handle Mr Collins, though I would have preferred you or Jane to inherit the house after me. Oh, only if I could take away the entailment, otherwise I would never have to imagine forcing either of you on to the man."

"So, who do you think Mr Collins will now choose?" Elizabeth asked.

"Do you not mean who Mrs Bennet will now choose for him?" Mr Bennet countered with a chuckle. "No, Lizzy, I agree. Mr Collins is too concerned with the advice of his patroness to obey Mrs Bennet and ask another of my children instead, not that any will say yes though. No, I think she will have to face the very real possibility of nobody once connected to the name of Bennet inheriting Longbourn."

Indeed, it was as if he had spoken prophecy, for not long after making this remark, Mr Bennet admitted another arrival to his study, for his daughter within. It was Charlotte Lucas, and her reason for coming, was soon very clear.

Mr Collins apparently, when leaving Longbourn after the proposal to Mary the day before, had gone to Lucas Lodge, and with what reason for visiting, no one but himself had known, save expected. He intended, as he announced to all present upon his arrival, to ask Miss Maria to be his wife.

After first laughing at the very idea, the young lady in question had been shocked beyond words to discover that he was actually serious. Fortunately for Mr Collins, Lady Lucas and Sir William had taken him at his first attempt. Never had it occurred to them that their daughter might not be so willing.

A a vigorous debate followed, with the intended lady on one side, her parents and intended on the other, and Charlotte wisely choosing to keep silent in between.

It had remained unresolved when Mr Collins, with the greatest reluctance, had returned to Longbourn for dinner, but was now, as Charlotte informed Elizabeth and Mr Bennet, happily concluded in Mr Collins' favour.

"As you may imagine, Lizzy," Charlotte began after she had informed the prospective groom, and she and the Countess had escaped the house, "the conclusion was not reached with any show of willingness on Maria's side."

"Yes," Elizabeth replied, "I can well imagine that. But why were Lady Lucas and Sir William so eager for her to agree, if you will forgive me for inquiring?"

"I forgive you," Charlotte assured. "Indeed, I am glad to be able to confide in someone. It was not due to a desire for Longbourn. No, it was more to do with their belief that she best accept this proposal, rather than wait for the hope of one to come later in her life. Maria had wanted to refuse from the onset, and it was only after a great deal of..... persuasion shall I say, that she actually....."

"Became resigned to the match?" Elizabeth finished.

"Yes, I am afraid so. I would have happily taken her place, but Mr Collins was insistent about her, and so it was decided this morning. And it is not as if there is anything intolerable about his situation in life. He is not vicious, and I am sure there many things to enjoy in Hunsford."

Elizabeth, knowing that her opinion differed entirely from Miss Lucas', chose to refrain from remarking anything further upon the subject with her.

She parted from Charlotte awhile later, and returned to her father's house, where she found Jane just returned from Netherfield, where she had been to talk with the housekeeper upon the future joint management of the household.

Securing her arm before she stepped inside, Elizabeth led her away to walk among the grounds and told her the whole. Jane was surprised by the match, and just as astonished to listen to Elizabeth's view on the meaning behind Charlotte's restrained words on the subject.

Marriages where one or either party was unwilling to enter for any other reason than familial duty, were not uncommon in their world, but nor were they a thing that Elizabeth or Jane had encountered frequently.

Neither had thought it possible for Sir William and Lady Lucas to force one of their children into marrying, yet there was no denying that it had now occurred, as the nerves of their mother could clearly be heard expressing themselves through the closed windows and walls of the house.

She did not want to accept the reality of it yet.

Chapter XIV.

When the news of the union between Maria Lucas and Mr Collins was entered into the local broadsheet and the national papers, its future reality could no longer be ignored by those who most wished it a dream, putting an end to all doubts upon the subject.

Mrs Bennet was by far- save perhaps the future Mrs Collins -the worst mourner upon this, and thus in a most pitiable state. The very mention of anything concerning the match threw her into an agony of ill-humour, and wherever she went she was sure of hearing it much talked of.

The sight of Miss Maria Lucas was odious to her. As her successor in that house, she regarded her with jealous abhorrence. Whenever Lady Lucas and her second daughter came to see them, she concluded her to be anticipating the hour of her possession.

Whenever the former spoke in a low voice to Mr Collins, Mrs Bennet was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate - which was somewhat larger than Lucas Lodge -and resolving to turn her and her daughters out of the house, as soon as Mr Bennet was dead.

After a fortnight spent complaining bitterly about the match to any who would listen, Mrs Bennet resolved to hope for better things. After all, Mr Collins was not an enviable prize when compared to Mr Bingley and his five thousand a year.

His position in her mind was lowered even further when she considered the vast estate her dear daughter Lizzy had to call home, and who would surely provide a house suitable for her sisters and mother when Mr Bennet was dead to spend the rest of their lives within.

Stoke Edith might do, if the drawing rooms were larger. Or the house in Kent, from where she would not be so subjected to the sight of Mr Collins owning Longbourn. One of the houses in town would also suit, though not the one with the dreadful attics.

Thus, by the time the winter festivities drew near, Mrs Bennet was returned to her usual self. Whenever Lady Lucas mentioned Mr Collins, she would counter with Mr Bingley and the Countess of Saffron Walden, and there would be an end to the matter. She was therefore able to greet her brother Gardiner with tolerable equanimity.

Mr and Mrs Edward Gardiner had come to spend the winter festival with the rest of their family, and arrived at Stoke Edith on the twenty-third of that twelfth month. Mrs Gardiner, being several years younger than both her sisters in law, was a great favourite with her eldest nieces, who had frequently stayed with them at Gracechurch Street.

A perceptive, intelligent woman, she was perhaps the first and only one to notice Elizabeth's dissatisfaction with her marriage, and was gratified to see the girl much happier now that it was safely behind her. So after a long satisfying talk between the two ladies, she, along with her husband and children, stowed their belongings at Stoke, and, with the latter abed, left for Longbourn with Elizabeth to greet the rest of the Bennets.

After distributing the presents, describing the latest fashions, then listening to Mrs Bennet's woes over Mary, Mr Collins, Miss Maria Lucas and Lady Lucas, as well as her joy over Mr Bingley and Jane, Mrs Gardiner was at last able to meet this infamous gentleman and his friends, who were once again spending the evening at Longbourn.

They were in the conversation and company of Jane and Elizabeth, a scene which, upon first encountering it, intrigued Mrs Gardiner greatly. Between Mr Bingley and Jane she saw much to be glad over, so easily detectable was their mutual happiness to her.

Then her keen eyes settled upon his friend. She who had once been a native of Derbyshire, had heard much of the illustrious family which lived not five miles from her birthplace, though she had never met them, having not originated from the same circle.

Of the young Mr Darcy, she had not heard much, having been in London by the time he became master of all the family's estates, but she could confidently recall him being mentioned as a fine boy, a proud example of the name, and his sister equally a sweet natured girl.

Now, as she observed them for the first time, she was able to perceive what only perhaps Mr Bennet had seen; a mutual affection between the gentleman and her niece Elizabeth. Without consulting either one of them, she could easily observe that Mr Darcy held a deep devotion for her niece, and, quite unexpectedly, Elizabeth was beginning to return it.

Mrs Gardiner made her way over to them, noticing the manners of the gentlemen as they respectfully stood, and watched her second niece carefully as she made the introductions. The conversation had no time to acquire stilted tones, for as soon as she had sat down, Elizabeth explained her Aunt's connection to the town of Lambton, a piece of information not lost upon anyone.

The Darcys immediately became alive, the gentleman first responding, the lady following, and soon Mrs Gardiner found herself in delightful recollection with them over the life and persons who had lived or still continued to do so in the village which bordered Pemberley.

With happy acknowledgement she confirmed the fine chestnut tree that stood outside the smithy, which Mr Darcy confessed running down to each day when he was a young boy. Soon she felt able to admit that nothing but the best compliments had been used to describe his late father and the estate, and Darcy was able to detect the wistfulness in her voice which conveyed that she had yet to see the house.

Within the next moment he was offering admittance to them both, at any time they happened to be in the county, promising to write a note to his housekeeper to confirm such a gift.

Thus the first night of the Gardiner's visit was passed, and the trio returned to the great house at Stoke in the best of spirits. Mrs Gardiner had garnered enough from her conversations with her former Derbyshire neighbours to be able to smile at her niece teasingly whenever she happened to mention them.

"Aunt," Elizabeth was forced to speak after the fifth or so time, "please, do not suppose anything to be certain. I do not know myself if matters are as you perceive them. He only looks, he does not talk."

"True," Mrs Gardiner conceded, "he has not said the words, Lizzy, but I think his intentions are clear enough. Edward mentioned that your father has spoken something upon the subject to him."

"Well, this is news to me! When?"

"On the night of the Netherfield ball. When you went to Jane, your father kept Mr Darcy occupied for over an hour."

All Elizabeth could say to this was nothing. No words came out, only a blush. Her Aunt and Uncle smiled at each other.

The Gardiners stayed in Hertfordshire but a week, and its conclusion saw them returning to London with the addition of Jane, who had been charged by her mother with the task of filling her trousseau. Before they parted from Stoke Edith however, they made an offer to Elizabeth which she could not help welcoming with anything but acceptance.

They would take her to the lakes in the summer. Elizabeth delighted in travelling with her Aunt and Uncle, a pleasure which her early marriage had put an end to until now. With joy did she promise them to be a most effusive traveller, muddling the lakes, rivers, rocks, and mountains together until they had to quarrel over which was which when they recalled the journey.

She saw them and Jane off from her house, then made her way to Longbourn, where the Lucases, much to the vexation of her mother, were visiting once more. Charlotte, who had rarely a chance to talk with her friend during the winter social engagements that had often included the Netherfield party, was most glad to see her, and wasted no time in securing two chairs together so that they might converse.

Elizabeth found that after Maria had been married and settled at Hunsford Parsonage a three month, Sir William and his eldest daughter were to visit Mrs and Mr Collins, and Charlotte was to spend until the end of April with them. A request followed this delivery of information. Would Elizabeth join them?

The Countess was surprised, but felt she could not refuse her friend. The vacation would present an opportunity to her which she had long avoided; visiting her late husband's estate that resided in the county, a house which she had not even seen before, it having spent many years shut up.

The recollection of this place brought another memory to her mind, that of the Earl's connection to her cousin's patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. This venerable lady, due to some distant offshoot of Sir Lewis de Bourgh's family, was related by marriage to the Cavendishes of Saffron Walden, and had the honour of being godmother to the last Earl.

"It is a connection," remarked her nephew Mr Darcy, who had called with his sister on Stoke Edith the next day, "that my Aunt is hardly likely to forget. Be sure to refrain from mentioning that you are staying at the Parsonage, else she is liable to offer you a room at Rosings."

"And an offer from Lady Catherine one can never refuse, correct?" Elizabeth replied.

"Most correct, Lady Saffron Walden," Darcy affirmed, his mouth lingering slightly over her name, privately wishing that he could drop the formality of the title. But he had not the courage to ask her that particular question yet.

She may given him a tentative indication of her regard, but it was only a tentative look, and he did not wish to scare her away by rushing things.

No he would wait until he encountered a look that burned with as much fire, as much passion, as much devotion as his own.

Volume IV

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