Mr. Darcy is able to stop Lydia from leaving the house and is set to rejoin the party when he is accosted by Caroline Bingley. Fleeing from her and hoping to have not raised her marriage expectations, he finds himself alone in a secluded hallway with Elizabeth. Though he convinces her to share what is troubling her, she is interrupted by her father. He teases the two of them, which results in further misunderstandings between them as Elizabeth believes Mr. Darcy is offended at the idea of marrying her and flees before her own feelings might be disclosed. Darcy, while trying to understand Elizabeth's reaction, again meets Mr. Bennet. Darcy informs Bennet of his interaction with Lydia and is angered at Mr. Bennet's careless attitude about the incident, but cannot do anything about it.
Following his encounter with Mr. Bennet, Darcy felt unequal to the task of joyful socialisation and had it in mind to quietly find his sister and depart. Sadly, this scheme was not to be. Upon returning to the main room, he was dismayed to see Georgiana clasped tightly by an animated Miss Bingley and her elder sister. Though his sister looked mildly uncomfortable, he did not perceive her to be upset and so he considered leaving her to the capable conversation of the two ladies who seemed to be most earnestly engaged with her. He was not allowed sufficient time to contemplate this, however, when Miss Bingley, ever vigilant for his presence in any room, noticed his return and moved the party swiftly to his location.
"Mr. Darcy!" that lady exclaimed, "How fortuitous that you have returned and at the perfect moment!"
"Have I?" he asked, looking toward his sister for understanding.
She was unable to reply as Caroline continued with great enthusiasm: "Louisa and I have only just learned from dear Miss Darcy that she had intended to stay at the inn in Meryton! Really Mr. Darcy, I cannot account for why you should not have written to Charles as he would naturally have desired for you to stay at Netherfield, but it is no matter and all will be well. We have been telling Miss Darcy that of course you both must come to Netherfield! We will be quite the merry party I am convinced!"
Darcy was conflicted; ought he to accept in order to be nearer to Longbourn or would this seem to further confirm Miss Bingley's pretensions to becoming his wife? Then again, did he truly have a choice? He did not wish to be removed from Miss Bennet and he would not countenance keeping Georgiana at the inn for very long. With an attempt at casual appreciation he replied, "Thank you, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, we would appreciate your kind hospitality so long as it is not inconvenient for you."
"Not at all! As you know, this neighbourhood is quite lacking in good company so you will be a welcome addition!"
Darcy and his sister were spared the need to reply as it seemed the newly married couple was set to depart for their wedding trip to the seaside. Naturally, this required far too much fluttering and cries of delight from the ladies assembled for Darcy's liking, but he thought he might at least see where Miss Bennet had removed.
Glancing around the room, he did not see her and became concerned. Surely she was not so discomposed as to miss her sister's departure?
Before he could delve too deeply into this concern, Georgiana inadvertently put his mind at ease: "Oh look, Fitz, Miss Bennet has just returned! Might we speak with her for a few moments before we have to leave?"
"Certainly. I should like nothing better, in fact."
He observed that while Elizabeth's face wore a smile, her eyes did not seem to possess the sparkle of merriment he had often observed within them. In fact, he would have said they appeared slightly swollen and red, but as her elder sister was then tearfully embracing her with abandon, it seemed likely the cause was none other than might be supposed by their emotional farewell. He tried to arrange his own thoughts into some sort of order; ought he to inform her of their immediate plans? Could Mrs. Hurst or Miss Bingley be prevailed upon to issue an invitation and, if so, how might this be accomplished? And then Mr. and Mrs. Bingley were approaching them and he was forced to put these thoughts away for the moment.
"Darcy! Miss Darcy, Caroline, Louisa, and where's Hurst?" Bingley asked with a nod to each of the ladies and continuing without pause: "I trust we will see you all when we return from our tour! My darling Jane has never been to the sea! Can you imagine? I am positively bursting to show her all the sights!"
Jane blushed becomingly while the chorus of affirmations and well wishes came from all near to them, though most loudly from those not in his immediate party. And then they were off with the crowd exiting the house with them and cheering as the couple mounted their carriage. Darcy noted that Bingley had not let go of his wife's hand except briefly to climb inside the carriage and the smile on his face had not dimmed one whit. Jealousy raged within Darcy, but he made every effort to repress the unworthy emotion; he reiterated to himself that he would soon make his suit known and hopefully secure his own happiness as his friend had.
Once the couple had driven away, Darcy turned to attempt to bring Miss Bennet into company with his sister, but found Miss Bingley eagerly awaiting their attention.
She did not seem in any way discomposed to see his start of surprise but instead offered, "Well, now that that business is all settled, let us get you and Miss Darcy situated at Netherfield. Should you like me to have a servant collect your things from the inn?"
This did not seem a good precedent to set so he replied, "Thank you but I shall speak with one of our grooms to send word to the inn. I am sure it will all be well. While I do that, might you bring Georgiana to speak with Miss Bennet? I had agreed that she should be able to see her again before we left."
Both ladies agreed to this plan, though each understanding the intentions differently. While Georgiana hoped to secure additional visits and time with her particular friend, Caroline thought this was a final farewell to Miss Eliza. Consequently, when they met the lady in question, it was with eager anticipation from both but only one was to have her desires gratified.
"Miss Bennet," Georgiana called as they neared, "I am so pleased we were able to find you again in this crowd! It did not seem so many people when we were all spread out inside but seeing everyone out here it looks to be as busy as Hyde Park in the afternoon!"
Elizabeth smiled warmly and replied, "My dear friend Miss Darcy, I too am quite pleased we found one another. And Miss Bingley, I do not believe we have had the privilege yet of speaking today! I hope you are well."
"Ah, Miss Eliza, yes, I am quite well, thank you."
"Actually," Georgiana spoke up, "Miss Bingley has been so kind as to issue an invitation to my brother and myself to stay at Netherfield. I hope it would not be too presumptuous of me to enquire if you might come to visit me during our stay?"
Miss Bingley's head turned sharply at this, but she could not revoke Georgiana's invitation to Elizabeth and so she was powerless to stop the agreement that followed.
Elizabeth, who truly enjoyed her time with Miss Darcy, even if Mr. Darcy was not around, replied with equal warmth, "I can think of nothing I would enjoy more but I will only agree if you will come to visit me as well. And I daresay Mama will want to invite you and Mr. Darcy over to dinner some night, but I will not speak for her as I do not know which day she might prefer. Truly though, I hope you will like Hertfordshire! It is maybe not so grand as Derbyshire to hear Aunt and Mr. Darcy tell of it, but I think you will see that there are many beautiful sights and pleasures to be found in this country."
Georgiana, who was determined to be pleased by anything that pleased Elizabeth, readily agreed. Caroline, who could not abide what she perceived was a slight to Darcy's estate, ventured to right this perceived wrong: "Miss Eliza, how you shock me! There is no country that may compare to Derbyshire, none are its equal even only to use for comparison. As you have clearly never been there, it is quite beyond your experience, but I daresay you would realize your mistake almost as soon as you stepped from your vehicle. Pemberley in particular is quite the most beautiful estate in all of England!"
It was at this point that Darcy returned and was surprised at Caroline's speech. Nonetheless, he replied with amiability: "I thank you, Miss Bingley, for the kind compliment to my home. Indeed though, as it happens, Miss Bennet has already agreed to be at Pemberley for the summer so she will quite soon be able to form an opinion on the subject. As I have always particularly enjoyed Miss Bennet's opinions, I am especially eager for this one."
Both Miss Bingley and Miss Bennet were rather taken aback by this speech, though for different reasons. Caroline was beginning to suspect that there was more happening around her than she had previously realised; after all, if Darcy were finally going to make her an offer, why should he consent to another lady visiting his home and sister at such a time? It did not seem consistent with her understanding of his character as he was not capricious or impulsive like Charles. Though some inkling of the truth was beginning within her, she ruthlessly suppressed it in favour of ignorance and confusion.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth was shocked to hear Mr. Darcy's plans for her to visit over summer as he had not seemed to be desirous of this plan before. She wondered if perhaps Jane's marriage to Mr. Bingley had somehow elevated her and their family in his eyes? Or perhaps he was simply an indulgent brother who did not want to deny his sister something she wanted. She tried to search his expression, but it gave nothing away and when he turned to her, she found she must look away or risk losing her control again. She knew she must aim for an air of levity or he would sense she was not herself.
She offered, "I am quite appreciative of your invitation and I look forward to the opportunity to evaluate Pemberley for myself."
Darcy smiled at this, but Caroline was pushed beyond the point of endurance: "Good gracious, Miss Bennet, but one should sooner ask the Queen if they might evaluate Buckingham House than Pemberley!"
This was patently ridiculous, but as Elizabeth had her father's love of absurdity, she teased, "Oh indeed! As you say, Miss Bingley, I should quite like to evaluate the Queen's House as well! When I was in London, I was sadly not invited to stay at Buckingham House, but perhaps I may arrange it another time. What say you, Mr. Darcy, have you any royal connections you might impose upon on my behalf?"
Georgiana giggled at this and enjoyed the smiles on both her brother and Miss Bennet's faces. Miss Bingley was sadly out of temper now as she could see that all three of her companions were making sport of her! Mr. Darcy's continued replies to Miss Bennet were beyond bearing.
That gentleman affected a look of disappointment and offered, "I do apologise, Miss Bennet, but I am afraid all I can offer is an earl. While I do believe he has many times met the king and queen, I cannot say with certainty that he has ever been invited to stay."
"Well then, sir, I fear I will be forced to make an uneducated assessment of Pemberley when I visit. It is a pity that I will not have Buckingham House as a comparison but I shall venture to persevere nonetheless. I do hope you will pardon the lack."
"It seems we shall simply have to make do," he offered with a smile.
At this point, their conversation was interrupted by so many persons that it was hopeless to attempt to continue. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst came for Caroline as their coach had arrived, Charlotte Lucas and her family came to say their good-byes to Elizabeth, and Darcy saw one of his grooms waiting off to the side for an opportunity to indicate their carriage was also waiting. Freed from the spell of Elizabeth's warm smile, he questioned the imprudence of his behaviour but as his sister was smiling quite happily and the detached look in Miss Elizabeth's eyes was quite gone, he could not regret having been somewhat marked in his attentions in front of so many others. After all, he reasoned, I wish for her to know of my regard, so what is the use in concealment?
His sister seemed of the same mindset as she repeated her request to see Elizabeth again and soon which received a reciprocal acknowledgement. He made a point to tell her in their carriage that he was proud of her for expressing herself so well. She teased him that she had been forced into the act as he had quite made her friend lose the thread of their original conversation. Georgiana was gratified immensely to see her brother laugh freely at this playful ribbing and felt within her heart that Miss Bennet must be the woman for him, if for no other reason than that she had not seen her serious brother ever enjoy himself so much as he did around Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the departure of the guests meant a great deal of work would now need to be done at Longbourn. Already exhausted from days of work and the emotional upheavals presented by both her sister and Mr. Darcy, Lizzy was nevertheless resigned to her task and about to head upstairs to change into a more suitable garment when her mother stopped her.
"Lizzy, there you are! I must speak with you."
Elizabeth inwardly cringed but obeyed her mother's request. "Yes, Mama, what can I do for you?"
"We have not finished discussing how you will repair matters with Mr. Collins. Now that we no longer have to prepare for Jane's wedding, it is time for you to be serious about your future. Mr. Collins assured me before he left that he quite understood your modesty but trusted that I would be able to help you overcome it. I –"
"Mama!" Lizzy interrupted, "I have told you again and again that I will not marry Mr. Collins ever. What is more, Papa has promised me that he would never force me to marry against my wishes." Here, she momentarily paused with chagrin thinking of the context of this reminder from only a few hours earlier and regarding a very different gentleman, but continued, "I cannot and will not marry Mr. Collins or any man who I cannot love."
Mrs. Bennet, who never appreciated being over-ruled by her husband or disrespected by her children, replied with considerable heat, "Elizabeth, be sensible! Love is for girls like Jane, sweet and beautiful. Mr. Collins is exceedingly eligible. How can you be so selfish as to allow the rest of us to be thrown into the hedgerows once your father dies? Do you think Mr. Bingley will want to support all of us? Mr. Collins will inherit Longbourn and if you will marry him, I can be comfortable into my dotage. How can you not think of my comfort? Are you so ungrateful for all I have done for you?"
Elizabeth was only barely controlling her temper. She and her mother had had nearly this same argument after Mr. Collins' proposal and the result had been her mother refusing to speak with her until she recanted her rejection. She had not done so and the resulting tension had made the London trip necessary. She did not think she could go back to London so soon, and perhaps did not wish to with Mr. and Miss Darcy staying on for some time at Netherfield. She took a deep breath and prayed for calmness in her manner and speech:
"Mama, I am grateful to you for all you do for me and my sisters. But I must admit that I do not believe we will be so wholly without friends as to be thrown into the hedgerows. I do believe Mr. Bingley or my aunt and uncle would take all of us in, but I do not think that will be needed. I am sure that Mary, Kitty, and Lydia will all marry and I had already thought I might help Jane once she has children. So you see, there is no cause for distress. Please, let us not fight."
Mrs. Bennet was not yet prepared to release her anger but she was also not entirely insensible to the logic of these words. Having no other recourse, she retreated with poor grace: "How you try my nerves! I cannot look at you!"
Though this was not as conciliatory as Elizabeth may have preferred, she did feel this was better than she might have expected so she did not respond. She allowed her mother to take the main stairs to get to her room and decided that she herself would take the servants' stairs so as to stay out of her mother's way. On her way up to her bedroom, Lizzy was surprised to hear the two housemaids speaking quietly on the first landing. Their voices seemed to carry some anxiety but when she asked if all was well, they startled and agreed before hurrying off. Not seeing any reason to pursue the matter further, Lizzy continued onto her bedchamber to change her dress. It stung slightly when she realised she needed to ask Mary to come assist her, but the quiet company was a nice change after the loud disagreement with her mother. Mary offered to come with her to take cake to the tenants and neighbours who had not been able to attend the breakfast and Lizzy agreed.
Though they did not expect the other girls would wish to accompany them, they stopped by their bedchamber to enquire nonetheless. As it happened, Kitty and Lydia were in the middle of a heated tête-à-tête but stopped their conversation immediately when Mary and Lizzy knocked. At learning of their sisters' task, the younger girls glanced at one another and then away again. Lizzy thought this seemed strange, but as Lydia was forever getting into trouble and bringing Kitty into the scrapes with her, Lizzy assumed it was their usual foolishness. She issued her usual warnings to behave and reiterated the invitation that the younger girls should accompany Mary and herself but Lydia claimed she was too tired to walk all that way and Kitty said she had plans with Maria Lucas, despite only just seeing her at the breakfast. Elizabeth rolled her eyes, but let it pass, and reminded them that dinner was set earlier this evening as a result of the wedding. With that, she and Mary left to begin their visits.
Dinner at Longbourn without Jane was difficult for Elizabeth to countenance. Though she tried to remind herself that it was not uncommon to experience meals without her elder sister, especially when Jane would visit the Gardiners, Elizabeth could not convince herself that this meal was the same. She knew Jane would not be back and she could not pretend otherwise. Matters were further strained when Mr. Bennet brought up Mr. Darcy's report about Lydia.
Mrs. Bennet had been listing all of the various merchants on whom she must make calls the next day to thank them for their fine foods and merchandise when Mr. Bennet interrupted, "That reminds me, my dear. Lydia, where were you off to today?"
This inquiry had a chilling effect. Kitty and Lydia's forks each paused and then lowered back to plates quickly. Had Elizabeth not been so distracted by her feelings about Jane's absence, she might have noticed, as Mary did, that the younger girls again shared a significant glance.
"What do you mean, Papa?" Lydia asked with an affected air of innocence.
"Oh, only that Mr. Darcy felt compelled to speak with me about your attempted escape. Planning a rendezvous with a secret paramour, were you? An elopement perhaps?"
The name caught her attention more fully and Lizzy wanted to ask her father about Mr. Darcy's involvement, but thought better of it. She was unclear if her father was truly making sport or in earnest about Lydia's activities and did not want to distract from the issue. Mrs. Bennet had no such qualms.
"Elopement? Oh Mr. Bennet, do not say such things! My Lyddie would never be so foolish! If she was leaving during the party, I am sure it was only to get a breath of fresh air. You know how stuffy the house gets with so many people."
Lydia, always ready to use her position with her mother, agreed quickly, "Just so, Mama! How well you know me! I am sure that Mr. Darcy could not have said I was planning to meet anyone."
She realised her error a moment too late when her father replied, "No indeed, he did not. He did say he thought you were planning to take a trip. But very well then, if there is no sweetheart, were you running away to join a convent, perhaps? I might have thought that of Mary, but I do not think I can quite believe that of the silliest girl in all of England."
Lydia started to say "no," when her mother again interjected, "A convent? Of course not! How you try my nerves! I had rather she was eloping than become one of those Roman Catholics! Gracious, why must you say such things?"
Elizabeth was becoming frustrated; leave it to her mother to entirely miss the important points! "Mama, I am sure Papa was only teasing about the convent. But where was Lydia going and without any of us to accompany her?"
Lydia sent an irritated look at her sister and thought briefly that perhaps Lizzy and Mr. Darcy would be a perfect match with their love for sticking their noses where they were not wanted! She tried to keep her anger out of her voice when she replied again, "Oh la, Lizzy! I was only going into the garden like Mama said!" And then inspiration struck, "And besides, I did ask Mama. Don't you remember, Mama? I said it was too stuffy and hot and I just needed a quick walk. Surely you can't object to that Lizzy," she added with venom at her second eldest sister, "But perhaps, Mama, you did not hear me?"
Her feigned innocence was enough to convince Elizabeth that something more was happening with Lydia as her sister never put this much effort into trivial matters normally, but she could hardly object when her mother replied, "Oh yes, I am sure you did. I was so busy attending to all of the guests that I must have forgotten, but I am sure you did."
"And the valise you were carrying?" Mr. Bennet, far from seeming angry at the efforts of his youngest to account for her behaviour, seemed quite entertained by the results of these words.
"Valise?" Mrs. Bennet said the word as though she did not understand its meaning. Kitty, who still did not speak, gasped and turned quickly to Lydia in alarm. Mary seemed troubled by this news but Elizabeth felt it most keenly as a sinking feeling in her stomach. Mr. Darcy interrupted my sister behaving wildly yet again! What he must have thought! she reflected in some despair.
Lydia flushed but managed to stammer, "N-no, Papa, I wasn't – I mean I didn't – it was not a valise. I – I could not find my matching reticule. I had loaned it to Kitty to use," here she looked meaningfully but quickly at Kitty, "and as I wanted to … work on a ... hat in the garden, I needed a bag to carry all of my supplies. So I found a bag large enough. I could not very well use a work basket with all the guests around!"
Lydia seemed pleased with this explanation and Elizabeth was disturbed to see Kitty and Mrs. Bennet nodding along. Surely, Papa will not believe this tale!
Mr. Bennet, who had now grown bored with this game, did not fully believe her but also did not believe she was actually running away. He imagined she might very well have had the bag filled with hats and ribbons, but perhaps to sell back to the milliners in the hope of upstaging her elder sisters at the next ball. Just the sort of thing Lydia would do when no one was looking, he thought, and offered a non-committal, "Ah, very good," before complimenting his wife on their meal. This served to soothe Mrs. Bennet's ruffled feathers, but only further upset Elizabeth, who had not believed one word of Lydia's story.
Elizabeth spent the rest of the meal contemplating what Lydia might have been attempting to do but could not find a satisfactory answer, no matter how many wild and unlikely scenarios she imagined. She resolved to keep a closer eye on her youngest two sisters over the next few days. She thought perhaps Mary would assist her and felt better to have an ally, even if it was not Jane. This thought brought the same pangs in her heart as before, but with this new task in front of her, she was able to put those feelings aside with more ease.
Well, better late than never, I suppose. I try to limit personal information on here, but just as a way of explanation/apology, here's what's been happening in my (insanely busy) life these past 2 years: selling a home, buying and completely renovating another, 2 best friends had babies and 2 sisters got married so I planned a total of 5 showers (including both baby and wedding), and now I'm currently expecting my first baby. All of this while working full time and serving on 2 separate boards. It's been tough finding time and I don't imagine a baby will make things a lot easier. I'd love to say I'll wrap the story before the baby comes, but I don't think I can promise that. Instead, I'll promise what I have always promised: I will not give up on this story and I will finish it. Goodness knows how long it will take me, but I swear I am continuing to work on it!
So, all that said, thank you again and again for continuing with me! I truly do appreciate how frustrating it can be waiting for a story to update and it means more than I can possibly say to know that you're all still reading, reviewing, favoriting, and following. Thank you, thank you, thank you!