With Miss Bingley back in residence at Netherfield, she wasted no time enacting her plan to pay off every arrear of civility to the Bennets by issuing an invitation to the entire family for dinner, including the Gardiners, recently arrived from London. The Longbourn party arrived in two carriages, the first bearing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, their two youngest daughters, and Miss Darcy, while Elizabeth and Jane rode with their aunt and uncle. Mr. Darcy smiled broadly as Georgiana entered the house, comfortably chatting with Kitty and Mary, while Mrs. Bennet doted on her, “There now Miss Darcy, we deliver you again into the comfortable presence of your dear brother.” The siblings greeted affectionately. “That is just what I like to see. Good brothers make for good husbands, as my brother Gardiner proves. Miss Darcy would have preferred to wear her silk pelisse. Such a fine wardrobe! Kitty put the notion in her head that it is more becoming with this bonnet – simply nonsense I told her! – Miss Darcy looks very well in the kerseymere and it is far more subtable on an evening such as this. We would not want her catching a cold, now would we Mr. Darcy?”
Once the hypocrisy of this statement, issuing from the mouth of the woman who sent her daughter out on horseback in the rain, would have made Mr. Darcy scornful, but under the tutelage of Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet he had learned to see the humor in Mrs. Bennet's behavior. As her new found zeal for his sister showed no signs of endangering the latter's health, he saw no harm in it. If anything, Georgiana was apt to become terribly spoiled by Mrs. Bennet's attentions, who made sure her favorite foods were always served, that she was always seated in the best place by the fire, and had even gone so far as to surprise her with several trimmings that had caught Georgiana's eye in Meryton, the costs of which she refused to allow Mr. Darcy to defray.
Miss Bingley greeted everyone warmly, and if her face grew tauter than usual when Mr. Darcy stepped forward with a warm welcome for Elizabeth, no one noticed and she quickly recovered herself. When an attempt to draw off Georgiana for a quite tour of the house quickly escalated into an excursion for the entire party (Mrs. Gardiner being particularly intent on surveying her niece's new home), Caroline's smile was perfectly gracious, for the world appearing as if nothing would make her happier than to guide a gaggle of noisy Bennets and their Cheapside relations through Netherfield. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth stayed behind, happy to grab a moment to themselves.
“I shall thank Miss Bingley for so adeptly maneuvering her guests so as to procure this time alone for us. Surely that was her intention; do you not think so?”
“While I can willingly credit Miss Bingley's determination to make amends for former slights, I cannot go so far as to believe she is as pleased as she appeared with her current employment.”
“But her manner was so hospital! She has even learned to pronounce my name without that distinctive, nasal sneer she used to employ whenever she said, 'Miss Eliza Bennet.' She maintains the uninvited familiarity, but as she shall soon be Jane's sister, I will overlook the offense.”
“I must give her credit. A woman with less countenance could not hide her mortification so well, though her recent acquaintance with Sir Ludlow seems to be acting as a balm.”
“You think Miss Bingley has strong countenance? Should I be jealous?”
Darcy laughed, “Well, if you could cultivate her ability to find glory in everything I do, I would not complain. Instead you only perceive my faults.”
“I am blind to your faults, Fitzwilliam Darcy. The only folly I ever perceived in you was of my own fabrication. It never existed.”
“Oh yes indeed it did, my dear, and I trust you to keep me in check from now on.”
“Soon we shall be each other's support, be it in improvement or folly, till death do we part.”
“Just one week more.”
“It feels an eternity.”
“It will be over before you know it.”
And so it was. The next several days found Longbourn in even greater chaos than ever, as Mrs. Bennet strove indomitably forward towards her goal: nothing less than the most memorable wedding Meryton has seen in generations. Mrs. Phillips became a daily visitor, her sister claiming her presence invaluable, the only one who understood the state of her nerves (Mrs. Gardiner proving almost as unsympathetic as Mr. Bennet to their demands), and Miss Darcy was finally induced to see the justice of her brother's delicately phrased criticisms of his future mother. She could not bear witness to Mrs. Bennet's spasms, which at first appeared debilitating, followed by a frenzy of activity only the stoutest individual could sustain, without realizing that the lady was ridiculous, but Mrs. Philips's vulgarity was another, and perhaps a greater, tax on her forbearance. Georgiana approached with composure the unpleasant task of crediting Miss Bingley with some insight when she warned of the discomforts of Longbourn, an admission Caroline was quick to repeat to Mr. Darcy. Though Mrs. Philips, as well as her sister, stood in too much awe of him to speak with the familiarity which Georgiana's age encouraged, yet, whenever she did speak, she must be vulgar. Nor was her respect for him, though it made her more quiet, at all likely to make her more elegant. When Mr. Darcy approached his sister on the matter, however, she stoutly refused any change in her abode. Mrs. Bennet might not be quite what she hoped, but she had been kind and loving to her, and she would not repay such hospitality by abandoning her now.
“Besides, Kitty and I are supervising several preparations. Mrs. Bennet would be beside herself were I to relinquish my responsibilities.”
“You could visit daily from Netherfield.”
“But Brother, that is when Mrs. Phillips visits, so I should not be spared the real evil of the situation. She stares at me so, questioning Mrs. Bennet all the while about our family, as if I were not in the room. It's nearly intolerable. No, the evening are by far the most pleasant time at Longbourn. Kitty and I were up so very late last night, engaged in the most amusing conversation, I am surprised I could open my eyes this morning, but I feel perfectly refreshed.”
“I am glad you enjoy Miss Catherine's company. Of what did you speak?”
Georgiana looked askance, “Nothing I shall share with you, Brother.”
He laughed, “Oh no, of course not. I shan't force your confidence, but I am glad to know you have made a friend. Do you spend much time in Miss Mary's company.”
“Yes. We have been practicing together, which, and I hope I many not be accused of arrogance, has resulted in a great improvement in her performance. Mr. Bennet even said so. But she is not like Kitty, who is so very unreserved – not in any negative sense, it is just that she speaks so honestly and without disguise. I feel as if I could tell her anything, even about Wickham.”
“No. It would not be right to say such things of her sister's husband, but I do hope she does not spend much time with them in the future. Kitty tells me Lydia was always pushing her to venture into schemes with which she was uncomfortable. Such companionship cannot be good for her.”
“I think you have little to fear. But for when the Wickhams travel here, an expense which they are unlikely to be able to often afford, Catherine will not be seeing her sister. Mr. Bennet sees the situation much as you do.”
“I am very glad to hear it.”
“I think we had better invite Miss Kitty to join us at Pemberley, as her companionship is so agreeable to you. What do you think of the notion?”
Georgiana's face lit up, “Oh yes! That would be delightful, as long as Mary doesn't feel slighted.”
“I have already discussed it with Elizabeth, and she assures me that Miss Mary's sense of duty would not allow her to abandon her parents. We will have her to Pemberley another time.”
Georgiana's obvious pleasure warmed Mr. Darcy's heart. They were comfortably ensconced in Mr. Bennet's library, the only room in the house where any privacy was to be had, while their host was about his business on the estate. When Elizabeth knocked on the door to join them, his happiness was complete.
“I am not intruding?”
“Not at all.” Georgiana rose and hugged her. “Fitzwilliam just told me we shall invite Kitty to Pemberley. I am thoroughly pleased with the idea. Does she know yet? May I tell her?”
Elizabeth laughed, “No, we thought it best not to say anything unless you approved. She is in the store rooms, overseeing the inventory.”
“I will go to her at once.” She dropped a hurried curtsy and left the room.
“She seems much happier. Was it a difficult conversation to have?”
“No. She was honest about her discomfort, but has not the least intention of decamping.”
“I wish I could better shield her from the frequent notice of my aunt. You I can keep to myself, and to those of the family with whom you might converse without mortification. Georgiana, here in the heart of bedlam, is harder to shelter.”
“She seems to think just as she ought on the matter. A few more days will bring an amendment to the situation.”
“So they will.”
Elizabeth and Darcy sunk in to silence, enjoying this rare moment alone. Their peace was disrupted by the loud chatter of young ladies. “It seems Georgiana found Kitty.”
“And that her news was taken well. I hope you do not regret your generosity to my sister. Her presence will certainly enliven Pemberley.”
“I am looking forward to it. She will keep Georgiana entertained while I engage in more important business.”
Elizabeth blushed, but any uncomfortable feelings arising from his look only added to her hope for the future. She looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.
“Lizzy? May I come in?” asked Jane, with a perfunctory knock at her bedroom door.
“Of course! I was just going organizing my correspondence. Will you help me decide what to keep and what to burn? It is so hard to know what will have meaning and permanence in this new life, and what should be relegated to the past.”
“I know what you mean, though it is easier for me. There are several items of childhood memorabilia I am leaving behind for now, knowing I can easily transfer them to Netherfield later.”
“Look - here are your letters from London. Shall I relegate those to the fire?”
“Most certainly. It will not do to remember such times.” She sat beside Elizabeth on the bed and glanced over the sad lines written in such misery, though she tried to hide it, when all hope of Mr. Bingley seemed lost. Acting her own advice, she cast them into the hearth. “I found the book of pressed flowers I made when Lydia was born, as well as our collection of riddles. Remember what a nuisance we made of ourselves, quizzing all the neighborhood for submissions?”
Elizabeth laughed, “How could I forget?
'I never was, but always am to be;
None ever saw me, you may never see;
And yet I am the confidence of all
Who live and breathe on this terrestrial ball.'”
Jane smiled at the memory and resumed the recitation, “'The lover trusts me for his destined bride;/And all who hopes or wishes have beside.*' And now it is our time. Are you nervous?”
“Yes, but it is a happy feeling. In many ways I am sorry to leave Longbourn, but as I have every reason to believe that the future holds far more pleasures for me than I have ever been accustomed to, it is easy to overcome such regrets.”
“I will miss you terribly.”
“Oh Jane! So will I. When I think of you, Derbyshire seems farther away than ever before.” The sisters embraced, all their hopes and fears for the future conveyed in their loving arms. They were interrupted by Mrs. Bennet, who insisted they get to bed in order to be in their best looks on the morrow.
“We will write so often and at such length that our husbands might very well fear for their purses,” laughed Elizabeth as she pulled away from her dearest sister.
“What nonsense Lizzy! Why, Mr. Darcy has ten thousand pounds! He can well afford your correspondence.”
The wedding day dawned cold but fair. While Mrs. Bennet attended to last minute details, Mrs. Gardiner assisted Jane and Elizabeth to dress. Both wore elegant white muslins: Jane's whiteworked and Elizabeth's embroidered with primrose flowers. Mrs. Gardiner smiled approvingly at both ladies as they happily adjusted each other's gowns, relishing the knowledge of what delights lay in store for her favorite nieces, so blessed as to be marrying honorable men whom they loved. Their beaming faces assured her of their felicity, and she said a silent prayer of thanks that circumstances had worked out as they did.
At Netherfield, the gentlemen gathered in the hall as they waited for the ladies to appear. Colonel Fitzwilliam had arrived the evening before and Miss Bingley immediately made him the recipient of her attentions, requiring a much longer time than usual to expend on her dress. Mr. Darcy paced the floor while Mr. Bingley stared at the stairwell, his pallor tinged green, all to the Colonel's great amusement. When Caroline and Louisa finally began to descend, both grooms were out the door and in the waiting carriage before they reached the bottom step. At one time, such a slight would have raised Miss Bingley's ire, but as Colonel Fitzwilliam graciously took her arm and escorted her to the door, she found it quite easy to make allowances for the impatience of two gentlemen in love.
Friends and family assembled at the church to see the double wedding, all of whom proclaimed the brides beautiful, the grooms beaming, and the recitation superb. Mr. Bennet was particularly affecting as he proudly gave away his eldest daughters. Those in attendance who knew his disappointment over Lydia's marriage had some notion of how deeply he appreciated the characters of his new sons. He kissed Jane before placing her hand in Mr. Bingley's and then performed the same office for Elizabeth, whispering, “You will always by my little Lizzy,” before taking his seat. Those invited to partake of the wedding breakfast had the satisfaction of being able to declare it the most complete of its kind. If Mr. Hurst found fault with the preparation of the ham, no one paid him any heed, least of all his hostess.
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.
Very different sensations belonged to Lady Catherine when she read the wedding announcement in the paper. Fortunately, by that time Elizabeth and Darcy were well on their way to Pemberley, and Lady Catherine was the farthest person from their minds.
*I never was, but always am to be;
None ever saw me, you may never see;
And yet I am the confidence of all
Who live and breathe on this terrestrial ball.
The princely heir, his honours not yet blown,
Still looks to me for his expected crown;
The miser hopes I shall increase his wealth;
The sick man prays me to restore his health;
The lover trusts me for his destined bride;
And all who hopes and wishes have beside.
Now name me, but confide not, for believe
That you and everyone I still deceive.
From The American Girl's Book: or, Occupation for Play Hours by Eliza Leslie
Leslie, Eliza. The American Girl's Book. Boston: Monroe & Francis, 1831.
Can you solve the riddle? Come back next Thursday to learn the answer and for your first dose of what is likely to be Persuasion Janeicillin!