So... I'm back. Please accept my sincerest apologies for letting this story go for so long. Please also accept my sincere thanks for not giving up on me. :) As was the case before, I cannot promise regular updates, but I'm doing my best to start writing again. I'm hoping that with the commencement of school, I'll have a bit more time to dedicate to that.
I am thinking of changing the description of the story. Possibly even the title. Any suggestions?
This chapter may be a bit short, but I wanted to get something out to you all.
Mrs. Bennet, together with her two youngest daughters, quit Netherfield soon after their time in the gardens. She was quite satisfied that an offer of marriage to the eldest daughter was forthcoming. Whether that offer would be forthcoming from Mr. Bingley or from Mr. Darcy was uncertain in her mind, but she found herself beyond delighted that two so very eligible gentlemen seemed to be carrying tendres for her daughter. In her mind, Jane was as good as married. And with such an advantageous match made, she should have no difficulty finding equally excellent matches for her younger four daughters. Oh the raptures in which she found herself were beyond anything she could have imagined!
Elizabeth, not having quit Netherfield as had her mama, found herself in quite a quandary regarding the affections of a certain gentleman. While Jane had claimed to feel no more affection for Mr. Darcy than that of a friendly acquaintance, Elizabeth feared that her words of encouragement regarding that gentleman may have held some sway over her sister's heart. And so, unsure still of Jane's feelings, she determined to speak to her sister as soon as opportunity presented itself. Rather than take tea with the rest of the household, she asked a maid if she would please bring a light tea to Jane's room.
As she poured a cup for her sister, Elizabeth smiled. "You are looking much improved, Jane dear."
Jane's smile, while still but a shadow of its usual brilliance, came more easily to her lips than Elizabeth had seen since her sickness began. "I feel much improved, as well, Lizzie. Thank you," she said as she accepted the teacup from Elizabeth. "Was Mama terribly vulgar in her comments?"
"She was as she always is," was Elizabeth's reply. "Mr. Bingley did not seem so very offended, though. He seems to be a man whose good opinion is easily bestowed."
"Is that so? I should hope not too easily bestowed."
"Well, Jane dearest, with sisters such as he has, I suspect that his idea of an excellent female is quite below that of ours. Or even that of Mr. Darcy."
"Oh, indeed?" Jane asked before she took a small bite of a biscuit. She chewed thoughtfully before inquiring further. "Was that gentleman much offended by mama's antics?"
Elizabeth's heart sank at Jane's words. She had been quite certain, until recently, that Mr. Darcy's heart lay with her elder sister. Lately, however, she feared that she had missed the mark in understanding the man. If this was the case, and Jane now felt for him what he did not feel for her, then Elizabeth may well have ruined the happiness of a most beloved sister. She meant to discover the nature of Jane's feelings so that she may know whether she must guard her own heart.
"No, Jane dearest, he appeared to be not offended at all."
"I am glad. Mr. Darcy is a great man, and great men often have quite a bit of sway over other's opinions. I fear that if his opinion of our family was poor, then not many should venture to contradict him."
"That is true, Jane, and then we should never hear the end of our poor fortune from our mama."
Jane's laugh was light.
"However," continued Elizabeth, as she sipped the last of her tea, "I am convinced there is nothing to fear on that count. Mama believes, as do I – and that has much more consequence – that you shall soon have an offer of courtship."
Jane's eyes widened at that. "From whom? Certainly not from Mr. Darcy. Nor I fear from Mr. Bingley." Her voice lowered in disappointment at the last.
"Would you prefer an offer from Mr. Bingley more than from Mr. Darcy?" asked Elizabeth, a tentative hope blooming in her breast.
A faint blush spread across Jane's face and a small smile trembled on her lips. "Yes, Lizzie, by far." Her face fell suddenly, though, and she continued, "I have been ill, though, confined to this room and not been around anyone. No attachment could possibly have been formed."
"The ball, Jane. You and Mr. Bingley became acquainted at the ball. And he does ask after you quite often."
"Does he?" asked Jane a bit breathlessly. In a more moderated voice, she said, "I am in his home. It is only good manners that he asks so often."
"You have certainly formed an attachment in such a short time. Why cannot he have done so, as well?"
"I. . . I do not know."
"Jane, dear, I believed so strongly in Mr. Darcy's having a tendre for you that I entirely focused my notice upon his behavior. But as I recall, it was Mr. Bingley who asked you to dance twice at the ball, and Mr. Bingley who sent for the apothecary, and Mr. Bingley who asks after you at every chance."
"Mr. Darcy? But I have never spoken to the man! Not at length, at any rate." Jane peered closely at her sister. "But you, I daresay, have. For quite some time at the ball. And the other day, I felt I must go mad if I did not rise from bed and walk at the least around my room, I heard Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst complaining in the hall outside my door that you were taking so much of Mr. Darcy's time in conversing with him. I cannot believe their claim that he was merely tolerating you held any truth."
Elizabeth felt warmth spread through her chest, spilling up her neck and onto her cheeks.
"And your blush, Lizzie, tells me that you and he have been conversing a great deal."
Poor Elizabeth's thoughts were quite muddled after that. It was unlike her to have such difficulty in sorting them. Thankfully, tea had wearied Jane a bit and she wished to rest after they had finished.
Elizabeth retired to her own room to dress for dinner. As she removed her gown, she did her best to calm herself. It seemed that Jane was free from any sort of attachment that she had imagined her to have with Mr. Darcy. Knowing that caused more joy in her heart than Elizabeth would have expected. Her mind wandered to Mr. Darcy and their time spent in the gardens. She was truly glad that he and Georgiana seemed to have reached an understanding regarding their difficult summer. However, she found that her thoughts centered upon the time she spent with him after the younger girl had returned to the house.
She poured water from the pitcher into the waiting basin and quickly splashed some onto her face. Starting at the cool temperature of the water, she wondered briefly whether Miss Bingley had ordered it to be sent up early, knowing that Elizabeth would be occupied with her sister when the water was still warm. Knowing that it was not beyond the realm of possibility, Elizabeth decided that she did not care. Quickly washing her face and neck, she re-dressed in the same dress. No doubt, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst and even Georgiana would have dressed in an evening gown for dinner, but Elizabeth had only brought with her a basic few dresses, the minimum that she would need to attend her sister.
"Still," she murmured as she smoothed her hair again, "had I packed the entirety of my clothing, I should not have a third of the gowns that I am certain Miss Bingley has."
Peering into the looking-glass, she determined her appearance to be passable and went down to dinner.
Darcy, whose tolerance of Miss Bingley had been dangerously close to reaching its limit, looked up in relief as Miss Elizabeth entered the room. He rose to his feet out of habit, murmuring a half-hearted "excuse me" to Miss Bingley. He noticed that the young lady to whom he bowed briefly still wore the same gown she did during the day. It had not the elegancy of Miss Bingley's gown, nor the grandeur of Mrs. Hurst's, nor the fine attention to detail as his sister's, but it suited her honest, wholesome beauty. Determining not to resubmit himself to Miss Bingley's excessive attention, he purposefully strode to the place that Miss Elizabeth had seated herself beside his sister.
"Miss Elizabeth," he breathed as he reached her side. She looked up at him, nodding her head minutely as a small smile quirked her lips into an upward curve. The liveliness dancing in her eyes caused his heart to pound.
"Mr. Darcy." He could not be certain, due to the abysmal lighting of the room (after seeing Miss Elizabeth in full sunlight, he feared that he would never be satisfied with anything else), but it appeared that she blushed slightly as she spoke.
Georgiana sat quietly for a moment, then chirped, "Brother, Elizabeth was about to tell me of the merits of Meryton. We have not yet had opportunity to venture there. As dinner has not yet been announced, should you like to hear her, as well?" Amusement colored her voice, as she looked from one to the other and back again.
"Ah, yes, Georgie. I should be delighted to hear whatever Miss Elizabeth would like to share."
The faint coloring on Miss Elizabeth's face deepened, and her eyes sparkled with some unseen joy. Darcy pulled a chair closer to the settee the two ladies shared and settled into it.
Miss Elizabeth chuckled briefly, then cleared her throat. "While Meryton likely has none of the amusements that London is sure to have, it does boast a millinery. My Aunt Phillips resides there with Mr. Phillips; she is my mother's sister and we are obliged to visit her with some regularity."
Darcy was about to comment when a servant entered the room to announce dinner. Once all were seated, the company proceeded through dinner. Darcy endured the renewed attentions of Miss Bingley, who had arranged for his seat to be beside hers. Miss Elizabeth sat across from him, though, so he simply directed his gaze her way through the worst of Miss Bingley's overtures and was rewarded with her sparkling eyes and hidden smiles. Is she amused by my misery? The thought fostered a desire in him to ask her outright. He was uncertain whether to be annoyed that she found humor in his discomfort or gladdened that she knew he did not enjoy Miss Bingley's attentions.
After dinner, the gentlemen retired to a separate parlor for a time. Elizabeth hurried to Jane's side, happy to see that with the brief rest, she felt well enough to join the ladies for a time in the drawing room. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were so very attentive to her sister, so very solicitous of her comfort and amusement that Elizabeth felt herself very near to being endeared to them for that.
However, upon the gentlemen's rejoining them, she was immediately thrown back to her previous views of those two ladies. Miss Bingley all but forgot Jane's presence in the room while Mrs. Hurst was, as usual, her continual cohort in attempting to secure Mr. Darcy's attention. Or attentions. Either would be entirely accurate, thought Elizabeth acerbically.
As the gentlemen entered the room, Miss Bingley opened her mouth to comment on something-or-other almost before Mr. Darcy had completed his polite bow to Jane, expressing his happiness at seeing her looking so well. Of course, her face colored slightly, as it did with Mr. Hurst's brief congratulations. However, it was at Mr. Bingley's heartfelt and rather rambling expressions of joy at seeing Jane so comfortably situated in his drawing room, that her face shone brightly, both with a blush and with happiness.
Elizabeth, seeing that Mr. Bingley intended to stand before the settee upon which Jane was situated and converse with her, decided to move across the room to where Georgiana sat, reading.
"You will be alright, dear, won't you?" she murmured in her sister's ear before rising. "Should you need anything from me, please ask. However, I am certain that Mr. Bingley will be most attentive and you shall not need me until you are ready to retire for the evening."
The answering blush on her sister's face was enough to quirk Elizabeth's lips into an amused grin as she made her way to Georgiana.
"Good evening, Elizabeth." Georgiana's smile was warm as she smoothed her skirts a bit closer to her side of the settee to make room for Elizabeth. After hearing the elder lady's greeting, she continued. "I had meant to ask earlier, whether you would be so kind, once your sister is fully recovered and you both have been safely conveyed to your home, whether you would be so kind as to be my guide on an expedition to Meryton. I should like ever so much to see it."
"I should be delighted, Georgiana! Would your brother find it acceptable for only me to accompany you? If not, I am sure we can find a servant somewhere to accompany us."
"I would not find it acceptable for two young women, one of whom has not yet had her come-out, to go gallivanting about the countryside."
"It is not gallivanting!" cried Elizabeth warmly.
Mr. Darcy smiled, then continued, "Even so. A servant will not be necessary, however, as I should be more than happy to attend you both. Just name the time."
Elizabeth felt a fluttering in her heart, even as she sternly chided herself for it. After all, Mr. Darcy's agreeable words were primarily aimed at his sister, were they not?
"Very well, Mr. Darcy. I shall send word to Georgiana when Mama gives me leave to go."
"Excellent," was the man's reply.
The rest of the day, and the following two passed pleasantly. The company visited together, and Jane's time away from her sickroom increased with every passing day. By the third day, she was quite determined to no longer infringe upon their host's hospitality, and so Mr. Bingley called for his carriage to convey both young ladies back to Longbourne.
AN II: So, quick update on the family, for anyone who is interested. (And if you're not, don't bother reading; this has nothing to do with the story.) Our eldest, the custody of whom we gained a year ago (he's my hubby's cousin) is doing well. He'll be in sixth grade. Still learning to follow our family's rules, etc, but overall he's doing wonderfully. Our daughter is going into first and is reading! As my husband and I are both avid readers, this was a very exciting development. She seems to enjoy it as much as we do. Our four-year-old son may be in preschool this coming year, if we can get him in. If not, he'll be fine academically (he's already starting to sound a few simple words out), but we'd love for him to learn the practical parts of school before kindergarden if possibly (staying in his seat, raising his hand before talking, etc.) Finally, our youngest is now ten months old. He loves crawling around and getting into things. He's learning so much! Favorite words are "Hi" and "Yeah".