Read Part One, Part Two.
The Bennets were breakfasting when an unusually large stack of letters arrived at Longbourn. One missive was for Jane from Miss Bingley, in response to her last, and two particularly thick ones were addressed to Elizabeth from her Aunt Gardiner and Georgiana Darcy. Elizabeth perused the latter first, being more surprised by its arrival, her lips turned up in an amused smile all the while.
“Well Miss Lizzy?” her mother’s excited voice interrupted her reading. “Tell us what Miss Darcy has to say?”
Elizabeth allowed her mother to wait until she completed the letter, to her father’s great delight, allowing herself a moment to compose her thoughts before responding. “She congratulates me most warmly on my engagement, professing her sisterly devotion.”
Mrs. Bennet beamed. “That is how it should be. What else?”
“Miss Bingley has invited her to stay at Netherfield for the wedding,” Elizabeth said with a conscious look at her sister, who seemed pleased with the contents of her letter.
“Yes,” Jane commented, “she mentions so much here.”
“While Miss Darcy appreciates the opportunity to be with her brother on this occasion, it does not seem that she relishes the idea of Miss Bingley’s companionship. For a girl of sixteen, the pursuits of such older ladies cannot be particularly stimulating.”
“I certainly would not care to spend all my time with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and I am a year older than Miss Darcy,” Kitty stated with determination.
“How fortunate then that you are not required to,” replied Mr. Bennet. “You Jane, being so very much older than Kitty, will not feel it too hard I am sure.”
Elizabeth seized her opportunity, “I believe Kitty makes a valid point. Would not Miss Darcy be far happier amongst girls her own age? If you see no objection, I’d like to invite her to stay with us at Longbourn instead.”
Mr. Bennet frowned slightly, but before he could respond his wife said excitedly, “Oh yes! Indeed, my dear; that is exactly what you should do. We would be honored to host Mr. Darcy’s sister.”
“Would we, Mrs. Bennet? Just when these stressed walls could finally breathe a sigh of relief, are you intent on once again filling Longbourn with an excessive number of young ladies?”
Mrs. Bennet bristled. “I assure you we can make Miss Darcy quite comfortable.”
“It was my own comfort I was considering.”
“Please, Papa. Miss Darcy is a very quite, reflective young lady. I assure you her presence will be no intrusion, and I believe we will all benefit from her companionship.”
Mr. Bennet saw Elizabeth’s genuine desire for Georgiana’s presence and relented with a smile. “Very well, my dear. If she might set a less foolish example for my daughters to follow, who am I to object? I would like to think myself the head of the family, but as we all know that place to be held by your mother’s nerves, I submit to their whims.”
“My nerves have nothing to do with the matter,” Mrs. Bennet asserted. “Having Miss Darcy at Longbourn will bring Mr. Darcy all the more often, and Kitty can entertain her while Lizzy attends to him. You see how nicely it is arranged.”
“I would think that a lady of Miss Darcy’s education would prefer to spend her time engaged in more productive pursuits than Kitty enjoys. I shall ask her to practice with me.”
“I am sure Miss Darcy has interests enough to enjoy both yours and Kitty’s companionship, Mary,” said Elizabeth, smiling at Kitty who looked unsure. Elizabeth herself felt rather uncertain of what Mr. Darcy would make of his sister staying at Longbourn, immersed in the society of her family. She would speak to him of it this morning, as the gentlemen were expected to take Jane and Elizabeth for a walk.
It remained warm for the season, and the party departing from Longbourn animatedly discussed the felicity of the weather, sharing recollections of autumnal scenes until they passed Meryton, where they broke into two groups. Jane and Bingley discussed Caroline’s letter and a potential wedding date, while Elizabeth regaled Darcy with an account of her aunt’s praises.
“Aunt Gardiner cannot say enough in your favor. She calls you a perfect gentleman, hailing from the perfect place, and could not be happier for us. I am surprised Uncle Gardiner hasn’t become jealous, for how can he be expected to compete with a Derbyshire man?”
Darcy smiled the subtle way he did before offering a rejoinder, as she was now beginning to recognize, “We cannot allow my birthplace to disrupt such a happy marriage as the Gardiners’. Shall we relocate to Hertfordshire? According to Mrs. Bennet, with very little improvement, which I could doubtlessly afford, the great house at Stoke would make an admirable residence.” Elizabeth stopped walking and a look of utter horror spread across her face. Darcy couldn’t help laughing, “Come now, Elizabeth! Surely you would not reject me now, were I to trade being Master of Pemberley for Master of Stoke?”
“You should not joke of such things,” she replied seriously. “Pemberley is part of you, and I would not wish you different for the world!”
He gazed deeply into her eyes, “I know. If you coveted my possessions, you would have accepted my offer at Hunsford.”
“But sir, that was before I saw your beautiful grounds.” They laughed together and resumed their walk, arm-in-arm. After a moment, Elizabeth broke the peaceful silence, “My mother should not speak to you of such things. I thought I had better shielded you from her tongue.”
“But your mother did not tell me so: it was your father when we were shooting yesterday. He recited a fascinating tale of the homes your mother suggested as possible residences for Mr. and Mrs. Wickham.”
“Ah yes, I believe she dismissed several grand homes as unacceptable before my father declared it mattered little, for they would never enter Longbourn. It took a great deal of persuasion before he relented.”
“So he said. Your father thinks very highly of your judgment, Elizabeth, as do I.”
She blushed. “I wonder what you will think of my most recent decision, though I really do not know what else can be done. You see I received a letter from Miss Darcy this morning.”
“Georgiana has been a very active correspondent lately. I suppose she couldn’t resist sharing her delight with you directly?”
“Oh, she is excessively joyful, and I only fear that when she knows me better, she will be disappointed.”
“That’s not at all likely. As she gets to know you, she will love you more,” he said assuredly.
“It seems she will soon have the opportunity.”
“What do you mean?”
“Miss Bingley has offered her a place in the Hurst’s carriage when they travel to Netherfield.”
“Excellent! It will save me a trip to London.”
“But your sister does not enjoy Miss Bingley’s company. She would rather, so she writes, enjoy the hospitality of Longbourn.”
This time Darcy halted in his tracks. He looked down at Elizabeth with surprise and concern. “She invited herself to stay with you?”
“That is one way of putting it, yes. It is no imposition, I assure you. We would be delighted to have her.”
He did not respond, and another silence ensued as they walked on, this one uncomfortable and tense. Elizabeth felt mortified, then angry. “So we are here again,” she thought. “I believed he had overcome his disdain for my family, but I see I was wrong. But of course, he is right to hesitate. What kind of environment is Longbourn for Miss Darcy?” She spoke, her voice quivering with emotion, “If you deem my family inappropriate company for your sister, Mr. Darcy, I shall inform her that we are unable to accommodate her.”
He turned to her in surprise, but she continued to face forwards. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he turned her towards him. “Look at me, Elizabeth,” he demanded in a slightly pleading tone. She looked up. “That is not what I was thinking. Georgiana knows better than to put herself forward in such a manner. It was very inconsiderate of her to do so. Surely you can’t imagine that I think Miss Bingley a more appropriate companion to my sister than you?”
“But what of my mother, and my younger sisters? Miss Darcy does not share your intimidating height, sir,” she tried to laugh, “and is unlikely to dazzle my mother into silence.”
“True, but your mother can be counted on to do everything possible to make sure her material comforts are fully met, and I am sure Georgiana will find your sisters very pleasant company, once they get to know each other.” He smiled encouragingly, an expression she was now fully able to return. She had been wrong to doubt him and wrapped her arm snugly around his as they walked on, to express her both her love and repentance.
“I say, Darcy!” Bingley called from behind, where he and Jane had lagged despite Darcy and Elizabeth’s slow progress. Now they walked hurriedly forward, glowing grins adorning their miens. “Jane has had the most wonderful notion!”
Jane blushed and said shyly, looking to her sister, “We were just discussing Miss Bingley’s travel arrangements when it occurred to me that it would save everyone a good deal of trouble - that is if you approve, of course – were we to have one wedding, rather than two.”
“You see Darcy! A double wedding! Is it not a marvelous idea?”
Mr. Darcy was a bit surprised, but felt no aversion to sharing his nuptials with his friend, and Elizabeth’s look as she lovingly took her sister’s hands suggested that it was exactly what she would most enjoy. “It seems a very practical solution. No need prolonging the disturbance such preparations cause. Are you in agreement, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Oh yes! It will be wonderful. My mother might at first despair the reduction in fanfare, but surely her nerves will reap the benefit in the end.”
Both couples turned their steps back towards Longbourn, the ladies excitedly discussing the arrangements along the way. As they passed Lucas Lodge, they noticed a yellow post-chaise, obviously newly arrived, in the swoop drive. “It’s Charlotte!” Elizabeth cried and hurried forward with Jane to greet their friend, who was now excitedly calling to them. The gentlemen stayed back, merely waving their greetings, not being on such intimate terms with the family as to intrude at such a time, but as soon as Mr. Collins noticed them he left Sir William Lucas’ side to pay his respects.
“Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, may I offer my sincerest congratulations on your approaching nuptials? As a recently married man myself, I can assure you both of the felicity of the state. Your Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, was in perfect health when we departed Rosings, though I am afraid not as enthusiastic as myself about the engagement.”
“I am sure I will hear from my Aunt herself on the subject.”
“That is to be expected, Mr. Darcy. While I fully feel the honor of your marriage to Cousin Elizabeth, your aunt cannot be expected to feel quite the same. For one of such dignity and lineage, it cannot be the match desired. Why you chose my humble relative in favor of Miss Anne De Bourgh, such a superior specimen of her sex, is certainly not my concern, but Lady Catherine feels it most severely.”
While Darcy angrily endured Mr. Collins’ civilities, much to Mr. Bingley’s amusement, Charlotte gave the Bennet ladies a quick history of their departure. “Lady Catherine was so incensed that she blamed Mr. Collins for failing to marry you, Eliza. Under such conditions, you can understand my desire to be away.”
“Lady Catherine is insufferable! How dare she insult you so?” Elizabeth demanded.
“Surely she is just angry,” Jane suggested. “It is very wrong of her to use her dependants in such a manner, but she must be bitterly disappointed. It will pass.”
“My thoughts precisely,” concurred Charlotte.
“I am not so forgiving, or as practical, as you, and I have my own reasons for resenting Lady Catherine’s officiousness,” admitted Elizabeth, “but rather than be angry, I will thank the lady for sending you to Hertfordshire. You must come to Longbourn as soon as possible.”
“I will be there in the morning. Perhaps you had better rescue Mr. Darcy from Mr. Collins?”
“Indeed. Until tomorrow, my dear Charlotte.”
“Goodbye Eliza, goodbye Jane. You cannot know how happy I am for you both.”
Upon returning to Longbourn, Mr. Darcy sought Mr. Bennet in his library, “May I have a moment of your time, Mr. Bennet?”
“Certainly, Mr. Darcy. Sit down.”
“I am pleased to be having this discussion with a man familiar with the whims of young ladies. Sir, I cannot apologize enough for my sister intruding upon your hospitality in such a manner. Never before has she behaved with such disregard to civility.”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes twinkled, “Does this mean that it was not my Lizzy who came up with the felicitous notion of hosting your sister? I suspected as much.”
“I believe it does. I cannot imagine what possessed Georgiana.”
“It is best not to trouble yourself with trying to find reason behind a lady’s behavior. You are better off accepting it as unfathomable and letting it go.”
“Unfortunately, in this case, my sister’s actions have placed her in a very uncomfortable position. You see, I never told you what caused my family’s estrangement from Mr. Wickham, sir. Indeed, I never told anyone but your daughter. You see it was due to some misconduct, on his part, toward my sister. I hope I need not elaborate.”
“No indeed. Do go on, sir.”
“Georgiana was deeply hurt by Mr. Wickham’s actions, only recently recovering her spirits, and I fear that staying at Longbourn, where he is likely to be frequently discussed, will have a poor effect on her health. If you, Mr. Bennet, could find away to curb the frequency of his mention, I would feel far more comfortable with the arrangement.”
“The care you show for you sister is admirable. I will certainly hint to my more garrulous relatives to avoid the subject.”
“Thank you, sir. I very much appreciate it.”
The men shook hands and joined the ladies in the sitting room. Later that evening, when the visitors had departed, Elizabeth approached her father, “Shooting, long talks in the library: it seems you are taking pains to get to know Mr. Darcy, Papa, and I thank you for it.”
“Yes, your Mr. Darcy rises in my esteem by the hour.”
“I am pleased to think you find him an equitable companion.”
"Oh, be assured I admire all my three sons-in-law highly," said he. "Wickham, perhaps, is my favorite, but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane's."
Come back next Thursday for another weekly dose!