What Of The Girl With The Fine Eyes
Col. Fitzwilliam went to call on his cousin Darcy but found him out. His housekeeper, Mrs. Harris informed him that her master was visiting White's.
Edward Fitzwilliam, younger son of the Earl of Matlock, was not a great lover of the men's clubs in London though he belonged to all of them. Instead of going to White's to find his cousin he decided to take a stroll around the park.
Col. Fitzwilliam found this infinitely more interesting than any of the clubs. Here there was such a variety of people. Members of the ton and just ordinary people would be enjoying the fine weather and the fun of watching their fellow strollers, as he did.
He was enjoying his walk very much indeed and had found many old friends who he had not seen for some time who had decided to do as he did this day. He had enjoyed very much talking to all of them and with a feeling of great satisfaction told himself he had made a wise choice in coming here.
Looking at his watch he decided that Darcy must be home by now and started his last stroll before leaving smiling contentedly to himself in retrospection.
His reverie was interrupted by a familiar and much disliked voice.
Drat, he thought, why have I been walking about with my head in the clouds instead of watching for such as she.
"Col. Fitzwilliam, how wonderful to see you again," cooed Caroline Bingley, as her sister agreed.
"Miss Bingley,Mrs. Hurst," the Col. bowed slightly, "I would not have thought to see you here."
"Oh we come infrequently," Miss Bingley replied, "but it is such fun to see how the merchant class aspires to the ton by coming here in their finest and making as if they belonged ."
Such as you, no doubt, the Col. thought, you seem to forget that your father was in trade.
"I thought that you would be in Hertfordshire. My cousin told me that your brother had bought a house there," Edward commented.
"Oh, we spent a few weeks there but had to return to town to save my brother from making a most disadvantages marriage," Mrs. Hurst said. "You know how Charles is -- he falls in and out of love every six months. This one however we feared was getting a bit too serious and he was contemplating marriage."
"What was wrong with the lady, was she not handsome enough for you," the Col. asked.
"Oh, she was a beautiful girl," Miss Bingley said, "but she had no connections that we could find and no wealth, an income of three to four thousand a year at most, more than likely less. The estate was entailed, so she could not inherit, even though she was the eldest.
"Was her father a tradesman?" the Col. inquired.
"No, he is a country gentleman," Mrs. Hurst informed him.
"Much as my cousin, Darcy," the Col. asked, looking for the reaction this statement would get from the two ladies.
"Much as Mr. Darcy," exclaimed Caroline, "indeed not, Mr. Darcy's credentials are of the best, he is from a long line of titles and the greatest of untitled families. There is no comparison."
Col. Fitzwilliam smiled to himself, they had reacted just as he expected. He could see that Caroline Bingley still had hopes of becoming Mrs. Darcy.
"Speaking of my cousin," he said, "did Darcy find any of the ladies of Hertfordshire pleasing to him."
"No indeed," Caroline hissed.
Mrs. Hurst laughed as she replied "There was one young woman who held his attention, the sister of the girl who caught Charles's interest, but he has not missed her, he has never mentioned her name since we returned to town, even though Caroline does like to tease him about her fine eyes."
"Her fine eyes," the Col. was interested, "does she have fine eyes? If Darcy took notice of them they must be fine indeed."
"I could see no beauty in them," Caroline said in vexation, "they are too large for her face, and when one looks at her they seem to be laughing at everyone, especially your dear cousin. She was most disrespectful to him and unbelievably impertinent. Why one evening there at our own home Netherfield, she actually called him proud and vain, before she left the room she added arrogant. I could not believe my ears."
"Indeed, she was," Mrs. Hurst added, "she seemed to delight in arguing any point with him and in besting him at cards or any game we played."
"She bested Darcy," Col. Fitzwilliam laughed, "I should like to have seen that. I should like to have see my cousins's face, that must have been something indeed."
Caroline could not believe Col. Fitzwilliam's enjoyment of his cousins humiliation.
"She even bested him at chess," she said, hoping to shock the Col. out of his laughter.
"Even at chess" the Col. laughed, "she must be quite a young woman indeed."
Caroline was becoming very angry and decided that they had best leave before she said something to the Col. which would make him angry. She knew that he and Mr. Darcy were very close and she could not take the chance of offending him and incurring Mr. Darcy's bad opinion
As they left she could still hear him laughing, "bested and by a woman."
"What an odious man," she snapped at her sister, "I cannot believe at time that he and Mr. Darcy are related," to which her sister agreed wholeheartedly.
"Fitzwilliam, how good it is to see you," Darcy said as he extended his hand to his favorite cousin and best friend. "It seems such a long time that you have been in France. I have not see you since, since..." there Darcy stopped.
"Since that business with Georgiana and Wickham," his cousin put in quietly.
"Yes," Darcy replied turning a bit pale as he thought of his sisters heartbreak and humiliation.
"How is Georgiana now?" the Col. asked, "is she recovered?"
"She is still recovering," Darcy said grimly, "that business caused a great deal of pain to her. To find out the truth about the man who she had thought of as a member of the family was a great blow. She is much better each day and is much taken up with her music, she plays beautifully."
"Oh, by the way, I went to the park today when I found that you were out. I met two of your friends there, Bingley's sisters. They tell me that you saved your friend from a most imprudent marriage."
"Yes, I did," Darcy replied, "I hated to see Bingley hurt but he could not be allowed to marry this girl. She was lovely to be sure and of a sweet nature. Her family though was another thing. Never have I seen anyone with so little knowledge of propriety as her mother and her three younger sisters, even her father at times showed a lack of decorum."
"I believe the Bingley sisters mentioned that there were five daughters," Col. Fitzwilliam said, watching his cousin in the mirror to gauge his reaction to this.
"Yes, there are," Darcy replied a small smile playing on his lips. "The second daughter, like her older sister was a model of decorum, witty, intelligent and with a quick mind. She had no qualms about expressing her views and we argued them frequently."
"She argued with you," Fitzwilliam laughed, "this must be quite a young lady indeed. Caroline mentioned something about her fine eyes, but she finds little beauty in them."
"Yes, she does have fine eyes," Darcy said, "large and dark, sparkling with fun and laughter unless she is displeased with something, then they can shoot fiery sparks. The most unbelievable lashes, long and thick and curling. Dark curly hair, which escape the combs and pins, especially when she is walking briskly along."
Col. Fitzwilliam smiled to himself, I should like very much to meet this young woman who seems to have caught my cousin's fancy. Darcy sounds like a man in love, though I doubt that he would admit it or that he is even aware of it.
"Tell me more of this young woman," he said, "does she have any talents other than arguing and chess."
"She plays and sings beautifully," Darcy said, almost as if he were speaking to himself, "she does not play the notes as well as Georgiana, but there is such enjoyment in the music when she plays, it is most enchanting."
"Well, when do I get to meet this captivating creature," Fitzwilliam asked.
"Never, I should imagine, I doubt very much that we shall ever meet again," Darcy said as he poured himself another brandy, unaware of the looks that had crossed his face as he spoke of Elizabeth or the look of regret as he pronounced the last words.
"How unfortunate," the colonel said, "she sounds like just the woman you need."
"I could never marry one with her connections or lack of property and money," Darcy said sharply. "It is better that I am here and she in Hertfordshire, any relationship between us would be impossible, I owe my family better than that. They would be shocked if I were to make such a connection."
"Especially, Aunt Catherine," his cousin said, "do you plan to marry your cousin Anne then."
"Good God, no," Darcy snapped. "I need a woman who can give me an heir. Cousin Anne, I doubt would be able to withstand the duties of marriage, no I must look elsewhere."
"Caroline Bingley is always there, just waiting to be asked," Col. Fitzwilliam replied with a grin
He laughed heartily at the look that his cousin threw at him.
Darcy donned his hat and cape, turning to his cousin he said, "I would not be going to this party if you had not insisted, but I know that as you have been telling me you are badly in need of amusement after being so long in France."
His cousin answered with a smile saying "Perhaps this one will be different, you might even enjoy yourself. What has happened to you, Will, as I remember you liked ton parties but all I have heard from you is how dull they all seem to be. Were things in Hertfordshire that much livelier that your old haunts now bore you?"
Darcy stepped into the carriage saying, "No one here enjoys an evening of listening to music in the home, they all seem to think they must go to the theater or the opera to enjoy good music. No one plays, no one sings."
Is my cousin thinking of this girl with the fine eyes when he speaks, Col. Fitzwilliam thought. I must find out more about her, perhaps I can loosen the tongues of one of the Bingley sisters with a well placed question or two, we shall see.
They had not been at Sir Richard Martin's more than 15 minutes when Caroline Bingley caught up with them in spite of Darcy's bobbing and weaving among the guests to avoid her.
"Mr. Darcy, I was afraid for a short time that you would not be here and that the evening then would turn out to be a crashing bore," she purred as she slipped her arm through his.
For the next hour and a half Darcy could not shake her, to Fitzwilliam's amusement she stayed at his cousin's side hardly letting go of his arm for five minutes the entire time. No matter what he did or said she clung to him, as if establishing her territorial rights.
When he asked if he could get her some wine or punch she said that she would have whatever he was having and instead of waiting for him to bring it to her accompanied him to the refreshment table.
Caroline could not understand what was wrong with Mr. Darcy of late. For years he had enjoyed skirting the room with her listening to her witty remarks about those present and once in a while adding some of his own, telling her that she was sometimes cruel in her assessments while smiling in encouragement as she went on to the next. Now he didn't seem to care for her remarks and remained for the most part silent.
She knew that he was sorry that Charles was so unhappy and that he had gone to Leicester. She was sure that they had done the right thing. she could not have borne it if her brother had married someone of such low estate as Jane Bennet. It would have been too humiliating for her and Louisa. He would just have to get over it.
She wished he had found some other way to try to forget. Going to their old home was a reminder of their humble beginnings, so when she was asked about his whereabouts she simply said he was visiting friends in the north. Really, she thought, he could show some consideration for his sisters.
Sir Richard after watching Darcy becoming more and more uncomfortable with his unwanted companion asked him if he would join him and the rest of the men who wished to enjoy a cigar and some brandy in the smoking room, "Your cousin is already there he said, regaling us with tales of old Boney."
Darcy was more than happy to join them and taking Caroline's arm off his asked her to excuse him, and went quickly away hurrying to get as far from her as possible as quickly as possible.
Caroline was most unhappy, "He seemed almost elated to be asked to go to that smelly smoke filled room," she complained to Louisa, "I cannot believe that he would prefer a room full of men swapping was stories to my witty conversation."
"Do not worry, my dear sister, it will not be for long. Lady Martin is having the tables set up for cards, he will be back before you know it."
Lady Martin set the tables up and called a lackey to tell the men that they were wanted to partake of the games.
"Oh don't bother with him," said Caroline, "I will go, you did manage to put me at the same table as Mr. Darcy, didn't you?"
Lady Constance answered that indeed she had but that she would send the footman. "It would seem improper for you to go to the smoking room, don't you think Miss Bingley, what would Mr. Darcy think of such impropriety."
"Of course, your ladyship, what was I thinking?" Caroline answered
You were thinking to latch on to Darcy, her ladyship thought as she smiled sweetly at Caroline.
As the evening wore on Caroline seemed to make silly mistakes, much to the consternation of her partner. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, seemed to win almost every hand, but did not seem to enjoy it. "Oh, Mr. Darcy you are too skilled for me I fear," Caroline purred, "you have won every game."
"Miss Bingley, you and your sister were telling me something of the beauties in Hertfordshire this afternoon. You were telling me of one who sounded most interesting, I believe you said she had fine eyes," Col. Fitzwilliam said while avoiding his cousins look. "I believe you said that she was impertinent and disrespectful to Mr. Darcy at their every meeting."
"Yes, she was, but I do not wish to speak of her now, we are playing at cards," Caroline snapped
"I should like to hear more about her," he persisted. "What is she really like?"
"She has an air of conceited independence, and a self sufficiency without fashion that I found intolerable," Caroline replied, "ask you cousin if I am not right."
Darcy kept his face passive and refused to look at Fitzwilliam at the next table. He heard his snort a laugh as Caroline spoke and knew that he was enjoying Darcy's discomfort greatly.
Rising Darcy thanked his host and hostess for the evening but said that he had to rise early the next morning so would have to be going.
"You may stay if you like Fitzwilliam," he said turning to his cousin, "I am sure that you will find someone who will be most happy to give you a ride home, I will tell Carstairs to wait for you before locking up."
"No, no, I will come with you, I have had a long day and could use the sleep myself," Fitzwilliam answered and in turn thanked the Martins for a most enjoyable evening.
Miss Bingley rose and accompanied them to the door protesting that the departure of Mr. Darcy would ruin the rest of the evening for her. "Perhaps we shall leave too and if Louisa and Mr. Hurst want to stay perhaps I might find an escort home elsewhere," she purred.
Darcy, however, was not about to be caught in her trap and replied, "Yes, I believe the Stantons are about to leave. They live near you -- I am sure they will be happy to take you. Goodnight, Miss Bingley."
Caroline stomped her foot in consternation, "Why did he not offer me a ride himself she said to herself, it is because of that odious cousin of his, I know it is."
When they were safely away from the house Fitzwilliam turned to Darcy and in a high pitched voice said,"Oh, Mr. Darcy, you are such an expert player, no one can compete with you," and bent over laughing, "Darcy, if you could have seen the look on your face." Then in the same voice he said through his laughter, "Oh, Mr. Darcy, I cannot stay if you leave, please escort me home."
Darcy glared at him and said, "I am glad that you at least enjoyed the evening and my discomfort."
"Darcy, Darcy, loosen up a little, you take life and yourself too seriously," Edward told his cousin. "We shall have a good time tomorrow night at the Maxwells I think, especially as your great admirer is there. She is certainly determined to be the next mistress of Pemberley and fends off all would be competitors."
"I have no intention of going to the Maxwells," Darcy informed Fitzwilliam, "I would rather stay at home with a book, a man can take just so much."
"But you would not wish to disappoint Miss Bingley," Fitzwilliam laughed, "her evening will be ruined if you are not there. Really, cousin, I thought for a while that I might have to pry her off you as I did the leeches off my men in the trenches in France."
"You are very funny, Fitz, but you will not have the pleasure of laughing at me tomorrow night," Darcy said quietly.
"I am sorry, Will, but she is so determined to have you, and your expressions as you try to be a gentleman and not throw her away from you in disgust are too precious for me to pass up," Col. Fitzwilliam said, "I will try to let the subject die now."
The next day
Darcy and Fitzwilliam decided to go to the park for a ride and a walk. They had ridden through twice talking to friends and enjoying the fine morning.
Tying their horses to a hitching post they started to walk around the park as well, suddenly they heard the sound of laughter. Fitzwilliam chuckled and said, "What a delightful laugh, I have no idea what she is laughing about but she makes me want to join in."
As they passed through a break in the bushes the Col. stopped to admire the party across the walk. A middle aged woman and four children accompanied by two striking young women. One a golden goddess with hair the color of ripe wheat and an unbelievably beautiful face, with such a sweet expression as he had never seen before. The other with jet black hair and dark eyes set in a face that would stop a man in his tracks, it was hard to say which was the more beautiful, the golden one had an air of sweetness that was visible even from where they were standing. The other had an air of great energy and joy, she fairly glowed with life.
As they were watching she laughed at one of the children and Fitzwilliam said, "She is the one...it is her laugh that we heard," and turning to his companion for conformation found that he was alone and Darcy was already almost ready to mount his horse.
Hurrying after him he was shocked by the look of pain on his cousin's face, he was as pale as if he had seen a ghost too.
"Darcy, what is it, are you unwell?" he said with great concern, "why are you leaving so suddenly?"
"I am well, Fitzwilliam," Darcy answered, "I just remembered that I have urgent business that I must take care of at once, stay here and enjoy your walk," and he rode off.
Fitzwilliam stood there wondering what was wrong with his cousin, why had he turned so pale and ridden off in such haste. Of one thing he was sure it had something to do with the party in the park and the girl with the joyous laugh.
Fitzwilliam entered Darcy's room dressed for the party.
"Are you sure you want to miss the Maxwell do tonight cousin?" he said. "They are, if I remember correctly, two of you favorite people and you always have a delightful time at their soiree's. You are dressed to go out, good I hoped you would change your mind."
"I have no intention of going to the Maxwell's tonight, I am going to the theater. Mr. Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew is playing. Would you like to change your mind and accompany me?" Darcy said with an affectionate smile at his favorite cousin.
"No, thank you," Fitzwilliam replied, "I am not such an admirer of Shakespeare as you. Perhaps you should have asked Miss Caroline Bingley to accompany you, the title is most appropriate for her, is it not?"
Darcy laughed, "Cousin, you are too much some times, are you certain that you would not prefer a quiet night at the theater, the crowd will be small with all that is going on elsewhere tonight, I would much enjoy your company."
Fitzwilliam declined saying that he thought he might pop into White's to see if he could find someone to attend the party with him, "I do hate to enter a large party by myself," he said, "could you not put Mr. Shakespeare off for another night and go with me instead."
"No, I have had my fill of these gatherings," Darcy replied, "but enjoy yourself."
"What shall I tell Miss Bingley, she will certainly ask where you are," the Col. asked.
"Tell her whatever you like, just don't tell her where I am," Darcy said.
"I shall tell her that you are here catching up on your correspondence and your reading," Fitzwilliam replied, "that should satisfy her. Of course I could tell her you went in search of the girl with the fine eyes."
He immediately regretted his last statement when he saw the look which crossed his cousins face.
"What do you suppose she is doing tonight?"
If I know Miss Elizabeth Bennet she is reading," Darcy replied softly, "she is a voracious reader and enjoys all books, her father has a fine library from what I understand."
Elizabeth Bennet, the Col. thought, at last we have a name for the lady.
"Well cousin, enjoy Mr. Shakespeare," Fitzwilliam said as he stepped into his carriage.
"Thank you, Fitz, I always do," Darcy said with a smile.
Darcy waited until it was curtain time before he entered his box. He wished for privacy and did not want anyone to know that he was there so he sat in the back of the box out of sight of the theatergoers.
Before the play was ten minutes running he heard a familiar laugh, it sounded like it was come from the next box.
That is Sir James Oglethorpe's box, he thought, she surely would not be in there, it must be my imagination. I hear her laughter in my dreams, and now I think I am hearing it at the theater. It must be from seeing her today.
Just to be sure he moved around the box so that he could see into the Oglethorpe's without being seen himself. To his surprise it was indeed the Bennet sisters with Sir William Lucas, his younger daughter and the lady who had been in the park with them and another fashionably dressed gentleman. Who could these two be? he wondered. Surely not her aunt and uncle, they did not appear to be tradespeople. Indeed, they were were far more tastefully attired than many of his friends in the ton.
He had never seen Elizabeth look so lovely. she was dressed in a pale green silk gown and her hair instead of the tightly bound fold in the back as she always wore it was piled high on her head held by a coronet of white silk roses and then let cascade down her back in a mass of dark curls. How soft and beautiful it looks, he thought, I had no idea her hair was so long. He watched as she turned to Sir William and the other gentleman, to comment on the play, eyes alight with enjoyment, her face aglow with smiles.
Elizabeth, Elizabeth, how could I ever have said that you were not handsome enough to tempt me, he said to himself, you would tempt any man tonight.
When the bell rang for intermission he moved to the back of the box and pulled the curtain aside just enough so that he could see the occupants of the next box emerge.
It was no surprise to him to see several of the young bucks around town crowd around them, reminding Sir William that he had met them at the Court Of St. James and asking to be introduced to the young ladies.
Sir Richard Markham, the Earl of Ansley, paid particular attention to Elizabeth so the others backed off and gave their attention to the other two girls.
Darcy could not hear what his lordship was saying but from the expression on Elizabeth's face he could tell that she had taken an instant dislike to the gentleman.
Elizabeth, he laughed softly to himself, again you show your superior intelligence. Forget her Richard, she will have none of you.
As he returned to his seat he was still smiling to himself. What am I so pleased about, he thought, why should it matter to me if she takes up with his lordship. The thought made him feel a sharp pang in his chest, he could not abide the thought of her and any other man. I cannot be jealous, he thought, she can mean nothing to me, she is most unsuitable for me. I must put her from my mind once and for all.
He could not concentrate on the play with Elizabeth so close and the sound of her laughter coming across to him, so he sent for his carriage and returned home before the play was ended and before anyone could see him and know that he had been there.
Darcy sat in his room trying to read when a knock came on the door.
"Enter, Fitz," he said.
"How did you know it was me?" Fitzwilliam asked, "but never mind that. You have been the means of my getting the dressing down of my life, cousin," he said, "even General Foxworthy could not chastise me as Miss Bingley did."
"Miss Bingley, what did she have to chastise you about," Darcy laughed, "did you step on her foot?"
"I should have liked to step on her tongue," Fitz joined in the laughter. "She asked where you were, so I told her that you were home. She must have left immediately to come here, she said something about you needing help if your correspondence was piled up but I thought nothing of it and did not miss her."
"Less than an hour later she was back in a rage, hissing at me that you were not here and that I was conspiring to keep her from you. She demanded to know where you were. I told her that you were here when I left, which was only the truth, cousin, you had not departed yet when I left."
Darcy laughed, "Poor Fitz, he said, "how are you going to avoid her for the rest of the season, I plan to attend few parties, and those will be the ones I know she will not be invited to."
"I believe I shall follow your lead," his cousin replied with a sigh, "as much as I like a good party, Miss Bingley is too much for this old warhorse. When do we go to Rosings, Darcy, it cannot be far off, Easter is about upon us. Aunt Catherine will be waiting for us."
"I believe we have ten days time," Darcy answered.
Col. Fitzwilliam looked over the top of his paper studying his cousin. Darcy had been quiet and seemed to be lost in thought all morning long. Sometimes he had to repeat himself three times before he got Will's attention. He had a feeling that something had happened the night before at the theater. Carstairs had informed him that the master had returned much to early to have watched the entire play.
What could have happened, he thought, why was Darcy so preoccupied. He was certain that he would get nothing from the man opposite him, but it was worth a try.
"Carstairs tells me that you were home very early last night, Darcy. Was the play not as you expected, were you so disappointed in the cast that you would leave so early? Darcy! Darcy! Where is your head today, this is the third time I have asked you about the play last night."
"I apologize, Fitz, what were you saying?" Darcy asked.
"The play, Will, from the time Carstairs gave me of your return home, I know that you could not have seen but half of it -- at the most. Was it so disappointing?"
"Carstairs sometimes talks too much," Darcy replied, "but the play was fine I just did not feel like staying to the end and being caught and forced to spend an hour conversing with other theater goers about it, so I left in the middle of the second act. I will have to have a word with my butler."
"Please do not confront him, Will, I should not have mentioned it, he was just worried that you might be feeling ill and hadn't told him or Mrs. Harris. I am beginning to wonder myself about you," Fitzwilliam told his cousin. "I should hate to be the cause of any trouble between you and your staff, Carstairs has been with you most of your life."
"There will be no trouble between myself and my butler," Darcy laughed, "it is just that sometimes he is like a mother hen."
"Well, let us change the subject then," Fitzwilliam said. It was obvious that his cousin was going to tell him nothing about the night before.
"When is Georgiana to return from my parents home, my mother loves having her there and would keep her if she could."
"They are to return to town today," Darcy said with a smile, "I have missed my little sister these past few weeks, but you mother has consented to stay here with her until we return from Rosings, Georgie dislikes going to her Aunt Catherine's for such a length of time. She is uncomfortable with her cousin illnesses and her aunt's constant advice. I look forward to your parents visit, I do so enjoy their company, you mother is such a wit, she is very good for Georgiana too."
Before Fitzwilliam could answer, Carstairs entered and announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley to call, sir."
Darcy shot his cousin a warning look as the Col. tried to stifle a laugh as he whispered, "If you do not go to her she seeks you out, cousin, you will not escape her."
"Mr. Darcy, we missed you so last night, we had to come today to see if you were well. Your cousin told us that you had stayed at home to work but when we came to give you our assistance you were not here. Louisa assured me that you must have just stepped out for some air, but I had to know that you were not unwell," Caroline said with her best smile.
Fitzwilliam stared at her, wondering how she could go on so long without taking a breath. When he looked at Darcy, however his cousin avoided his eyes.
"I have come to offer you my assistance today, if your correspondence it so great that you would miss a Maxwell party I am sure that you could use my help. I am a very good letter writer," she continued on.
Darcy could scarcely believe her effrontery, this was too much even for Caroline Bingley. He dared not look at his cousin who had risen and hurried to look out the window. He knew that Fitzwilliam was enjoying his discomfort greatly.
"I thank you for your kind offer, Miss Bingley," he said in a tight voice, "but my correspondence is private and meant for my eyes only."
"I am sure when you marry your wife will be a great help with it, Mr. Darcy, you will agree to that I am certain,"' Caroline purred.
Darcy was shocked. Fitzwilliam escaped out the door but he could hear his laughter as he fled down the hall.
"Whether my wife is privy to my private affairs will be between myself and her, Miss Bingley, if or when I marry," he said stiffly.
Caroline realized that she had gone to far and was in danger of incurring Mr. Darcy's wrath so she decided to try another tact.
"Charles is to return to London tomorrow," she said, "when is Georgiana to return?"
"Georgiana is to arrive today," he replied.
"Oh, how wonderful," Mrs. Hurst cried, "Perhaps they can go to the concert at Covent Gardens Friday night, I understand it is to be a grand one and they do seem to enjoy each others company so very much."
Darcy was searching for a reply when he heard Georgiana's light step in the hall and she burst into the room crying, "Will, brother, I have missed you so," and flung herself into his arms.
Realizing that he had guests, she quickly straightened her dress and blushed deeply.
"I am so sorry," she said quietly, "I didn't look to see if any one was here, I do apologize humbly."
"There is no need to apologize, dear Georgiana, of course you are happy to see your brother, as we all are when he has been away from us as you have been away from him these past weeks," Caroline said in her sweetest voice, "we are all so happy to see that you are back with us. Mr. Darcy had just informed us that he was expecting you before you came in. We were discussing your going to the concert Friday evening with us and Charles."
Caroline started at the voice of Lady Rebecca Fitzwilliam, she was unaware that her ladyship had accompanied Georgiana.
"Making plans for the Darcy's are you Miss Bingley, before my niece even has time to say hello to her brother." Lady Matlock glared at Caroline as she spoke. "Well, I fear that I must upset you applecart, but we have plans of our own, family plans. I see that you have brought reinforcements, too. Good day Mrs. Hurst, Mr. Hurst."
Louisa decided that it was time to go before Lady Matlock could further embarrass them. She knew how much the lady liked to remind them that their father was a tradesman and that she considered them just jumped up peasants.
Giving their goodbyes to the Darcy's they took their leave.
"How I detest that woman," Caroline hissed as they entered the carriage.
"You will have to learn to put up with her if you are to be Mistress of the Pemberley and the Darcy estates," Louisa reminded her sister.
"Where is the master, Mrs. Harris," Lady Matlock asked the Darcy housekeeper.
"I believe he is in the library, Ma'am," Mrs. Harris answered.
"Oh yes, I should have known," murmured her ladyship, "that is where he always goes to hide himself away. He will not escape me this time, I shall know what went on at Rosings Park, that witch Catherine is behind this I am sure."
Since his return from Rosings after Easter, Darcy had been morose and melancholy when he wasn't angry, but mostly he seemed angry at everyone and everything. She had had enough and meant to confront him. Georgiana was frightened and had retreated into her shell of shyness, and watched her brother with sad eyes.
As she entered the library, Rebecca stopped short as she watched her favorite nephew bring his fists down onto the arms of the chair in which he was sitting. He then proceeded to bring his hands up to push his fingers through his hair until they met at the top of his head, he sat there for a few seconds seeming to try to pull his hair out before bringing his hands down to fold them together in front of his mouth as he stared at the fire before him. As she started to speak, he moved his hands to cover his face and she was certain that she heard a sob escape him.
Her ladyship stood there trying to decide what to do or what to say when she heard him whisper one word twice, but she could not make it out.
She could not let him know that she had seen him in such a state of dejection much less confront him so she quietly tiptoed out of the library, closing the door behind her.
If only Edward had not had to report back to his battalion so soon after their return she could find out from him what was troubling Darcy.
At first she had thought that Lady Catherine had coerced and bullied him into marrying his sickly cousin, but she had abandoned that thought when she saw nothing in the papers announcing any engagement between the two of them. She knew that if he had at last offered for Anne, Lady DeBourgh would have spread it across the papers like a royal proclamation. No, something else had happened.
She knew one thing Georgiana could not be allowed to stay in this environment. That evening at dinner she decided to tell Darcy that she was returning to Matlock Manor and taking his sister with her.
"I cannot with good conscience leave her here with you in the state that you are in," she said, "and Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst's daily visits are becoming too upsetting to her."
"Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst, what have they to do with anything?" Darcy asked.
"They are here almost daily questioning the poor girl about the state of your health and prying into the affairs of both of you. None of us knows what is wrong with you but the sisters persist, it is very unsettling for your sweet, dear sister and I have had enough of them."
"I am fine, Aunt, there is nothing wrong with me for any of you to worry about," Darcy said. "What the bloody, er er. I apologize Aunt, but what is my business to do with either of the Bingley sisters?"
"Darcy, you cannot be so blind that you do not see that Caroline Bingley is determined to become your wife and the mistress of Pemberley," Lady Matlock said with exasperation. "Everyone in London knows of her designs. She has spread the rumor all over that Charles is to marry Georgiana and it will only be a short time before you ask for her hand so that you can be one big happy family."
Darcy stared at her blankly for a few moments before replying "Georgiana and Charles, Georgiana is but a child and Charles thinks of her as a sister," he said certainly, "I know has no designs on her. You are right Aunt Rebecca, take her home with you, I shall go to Pemberley, I have something that I must work out for my own sanity, besides I am sick to death of London and every thing about it, especially the Bingley sisters. How soon can we leave."
Six weeks later Col. Edward Fitzwilliam returned to his parents estate to find his mother in a very agitated state of mind.
He had been home scarcely an hour when she asked him to accompany her into the garden, "I must speak to you, son, out of the hearing of the servants or Georgie."
"What have I done now, Mama," the Col. said with a smile, "I remember as a child when you brought me out here for a talk that I had done something that vexed you greatly."
"This is not about you, Edward, and it is not a matter to be taken lightly, I assure you," her ladyship said sharply.
"Well then, Mama, tell me at once, do not keep me waiting and wondering."
Lady Matlock rose and leaned on her walking stick trying to collect her thoughts so that she could talk to her son without alarming him too much.
"You know, my son, what a good correspondent your dear cousin Darcy is," she said.
"Yes, Mama, he is a prodigious letter writer, I know," Edward said with a grin at his mother.
"Well, he hasn't been of late," she replied sharply, "six weeks ago I brought Georgiana here and Darcy went to Derbyshire. No one has heard a word from him since he left. I received a letter a about ten days ago from Mrs. Reynolds, she is very upset and worried about him. She does not wish to trouble Georgiana so she wrote to me. She tells me that he has been drunk almost constantly since he arrived six weeks ago, he eats little and neglects his personal toilet shamefully. His man has to do battle with him just to shave him perhaps twice a week. This is not at all like Darcy, he has always been the most fastidious of men. Most upsetting of all to her is that he calls out for someone called Elizabeth in his drunken stupor."
Fitzwilliam's head snapped around as he said, "Elizabeth."
"That is what I said," returned his mother in exasperation.
"I want to know what happened at Rosings Park, and who is Elizabeth? He has been in a black mood since your return and shuts out everyone."
"I really don't know what happened, Mama, he would not speak a word to me all the way back to town," Fitzwilliam answered.
"Then tell me what happened at Rosings from the day you arrived," her ladyship said.
"Of course, Mama," Fitzwilliam said thoughtfully. "When we arrived Lady Catherine had a visitor, her clergyman, a silly inconsequential man who informed us that they had a visitor from Hertfordshire who was an acquaintance of Darcy's, a Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I remember Georgiana mentioning something about her brother enjoying the company of the lady when he visited Bingley at Netherfield last fall," Lady Matlock mused. "What is this Miss Bennet like, Edward?"
"She is like no one I have ever met before, Mama, certainly like no one Darcy has ever met in 27 years. Not only is she lovely, black hair, with a beautiful natural curl, large dark eyes, sparkling with fun, incredibly long dark lashes curling over those beautiful eyes, creamy complexion, witty, intelligent, well read, with an appreciation for art and music, and theater much like Darcy and with a fine figure," Fitzwilliam told her with a smile.
"Good heavens, son It sounds like you fell in love with the young lady yourself," Lady Rebecca said, watching her son closely.
"Yes, Mama, I must confess I did," he replied with a sad smile, "but though her father is a country gentleman, the estate is entailed to Lady DeBourgh's stupid, insipid clergyman, so she has very little in the way of fortune, and as you know Mama, when I marry it must be to a woman who can afford the second son of an Earl."
Lady Matlock sat down beside her son, saying, "Edward, I have told you that the 40,000 that your grandmother left me is yours anytime you want it."
"No, Mama," Col. Fitzwilliam answered, as he kissed his mother's cheek, "with Gerald's habits that might be all that stands between the House Of Matlock and total ruin."
"I should hate to see it go to pay gambling debts and for the foppish attire your brother has begun to wear, he seems to be trying to compete with Mr. Brummel, what foolishness. I am told that he has started to seek out the company of Miss Caroline Bingley at any party they both attend. What a fool, though I must say her overdressed and over bejeweled appearance would go well with his. She however, if too busy pursuing your cousin to pay him any heed. But enough about your silly, foolish brother, tell me about Miss Elizabeth Bennet."
"When we first arrived at Rosings Park, as I told you, Mr. Collins informed us of their visitors. I wish you could have seen the look that crossed Darcy's face. Of course if Aunt had known the reason for the smile she would have ordered the lady off the premises immediately.
We immediately, at Darcy's insistence, went to the parsonage for a visit, where my poor besotted cousin did little but gaze at the lady and inquire after her family.
In the days that followed we saw them frequently, as Aunt Catherine seemed to enjoy the company.
To my surprise Aunt seemed determined to play cards a great deal, though Miss Bennet proved to be a skilled and bold adversary, winning a great deal of the time. She seemed especially to enjoy besting Darcy, and to my amazement he didn't mind at all losing to her.
Aunt was another thing, however, but when I asked her why she kept asking the lady to play if it made her so angry she vowed that in the end she would best the young woman and teach her a lesson on playing with her betters. It was all that I could do to maintain my countenance at that statement so I asked to be excused before I would break out laughing at her.
What a difference from the games we play in town where the ladies seem to make so many foolish and silly mistakes allowing Will to win every game and then declaring that he is the best player in the entire of England. Miss Bingley is especially guilty of this and does not see that it makes Will feel foolish and angry.
After dinner on Easter Sunday Miss Bennet played and sang for us and she was delightful. Aunt, however, seemed to think it necessary to inform the young lady that she should practice more to improve her skills. She then proceeded to inform us of what a great proficient she would be if she had learned to play herself.
The good natured banter began between Darcy and Miss Elizabeth began that afternoon and grew as the days went on.
I was much surprised at the sportive way she talked to him, she seemed to find every excuse to argue with him, whether it was music, books or games.
Darcy seemed to enjoy it greatly to my amazement. Every woman we have ever known fawned over him and agreed with all and anything he had to say, but not Miss Bennet. She took great delight in disagreeing with him at all times, but with such a sweet smile that one could not believe she was doing anything but teasing.
After a week Darcy started disappearing every day at the same time so I decided to follow and find out where he was going.
He was meeting Miss Bennet on her daily walk, sometimes she did not look too pleased to see him, but they walked on talking little but seemingly enjoying the walk.
I knew then how much he loved her, I had suspected as much just from the way he looked at her, his eyes following her every move, never leaving her unless Aunt called for his attention.
Miss Bennet though seemed unaware that he had any feeling for her but contempt for her station in life and her lack of what she called fashion.
I hated spying on them so I stayed at Rosings and fended Lady Catherine's questions as best I could.
The days before we left I myself met Miss Bennet as I made my yearly tour of the park and we talked of Darcy and the Bingley's. She seemed to find it amusing that Will seemed to take such good care of Charles but her mood changed quickly when I informed her that Will had recently saved his friend from a most imprudent marriage. She became almost angry at his interference and declared that she could see no reason for Darcy to decide how his friend was to find happiness.
She soon developed a headache and I escorted her back to the parsonage.
That evening she did not come with the Collins' when they came for games and Mrs. Collins informed us that she still had a headache and thought that she would recover more quickly in quiet and solitude.
Aunt was much vexed at this turn of events, but she was even more angry when after a few minutes Darcy excused himself saying that he felt the need for some fresh air and that he was going for a walk.
In less that an hour he was back looking like a man who had aged ten years. I thought he was ill but he declared that he was well but had some important business to attend to and asked me to make his apologies to Aunt Catherine.
When I went up that night I could hear him pacing the room but he would not open the door to me saying that he had something he must finish.
I went to his room early the next morning, but he was not there. In a few minutes he arrived back at the house and declared that he wished to leave that same day.
I hurried to the parsonage along with Darcy to say my goodbye's. He didn't wish to go but agreed after I pointed out to him the impropriety of leaving without thanking Mrs. Collins for her hospitality while we were there. Miss Bennet had not returned from her morning walk and Darcy left quickly without saying goodbye to her. I myself was denied that privilege when she did not return for an hour and I knew that Will was waiting and we must be on the road. if we were to make town before dark.
Darcy said not a word all the way to town, but he looked positively ill. I know not what happened but I am sure that he went to the parsonage to see Miss Bennet when she did not come to Rosings with the rest of the part and I am certain that they had a quarrel.
You have seen how he has been since our return. I now know that the lady that he saved Charles from was Miss Bennet's sister, so I am sure that I am the reason for their disagreement."
"Well, said Lady Matlock there is nothing else to be done, I must go to Pemberley to have a talk with that young man."
Arriving at Pemberley Lady Matlock was met with great joy by Mrs. Reynolds, "Oh, your ladyship! I am so happy to see you the housekeeper declared, we have been worried sick about the master, perhaps you can find out what it is that is causing him so much pain and find a solution.
"I shall try, Mrs. Reynolds," her ladyship declared, "Where is the master now?"
Lady Matlock received a great shock when she saw her favorite nephew. He was in need of a shave and his clothes looked like they had been slept in for days, but he was sober for which she was grateful.
"Will," she cried "what is wrong with you, you look no better than one of the beggars on the streets of London!"
"Aunt Rebecca, what are you doing here?" Darcy muttered.
"I am here to see why no one has heard from you for all these weeks," she declared, "Georgiana is almost ill with worry and the rest of of us are about the same."
"Georgiana has no reason to worry about me nor do any of you, I can take care of myself," Darcy said.
Georgiana has no reason to worry about you,' his aunt snapped, "you have always been a most thoughtful correspondent and write to her almost daily when you are separated, but this time she has not had a word from you. Of course she is worried, she thinks it has something to do with that business with Wickham and she blames herself for all your troubles."
"Wickham, this has nothing to do with that scoundrel, but how did you know of this, Edward promised not to tell anyone," Darcy asked.
"Georgiana told me herself, she heard you mention Wickham's name to Edward just before he left and she assumed that the old wound had been reopened somehow," her ladyship told him.
"We were not speaking of Georgiana and Wickham, but of some falsehoods that Wickham has been spreading about me, Darcy muttered.
"Well how is she to know that, when you shut her out and run to Derbyshire, his aunt scolded, I declare Darcy you have thought of no one but yourself these past months, it is about time you started to think of someone else and gave some thought to the feelings of those who love you."
Darcy looked at his aunt for a moment before saying quietly, "That is what she said of me."
"That is what who said of you, Darcy, you are making no sense, who said what of you and when?" his aunt declared.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet, when she refused my hand , she said that she found me arrogant and conceited, with a selfish disdain for the feelings of others," Darcy answered.
Lady Matlock had been walking about the room trying to ease the soreness she felt from the long ride to Pemberley. With Darcy's last statement she fell into a chair as she exclaimed,"She refused your hand, I cannot believe this Darcy, you must have misunderstood. No woman in England would refuse you."
"You are mistaken Aunt, Darcy replied, there is indeed one who would and did refuse me."
"Will, dear, you misunderstood her I am sure," Lady Matlock said kindly.
"There was no misunderstanding," Darcy said, "she said that I was the last man in the world she would ever wish to marry."
"How impertinent, does she realize who you are, your position, your distinguished family name, your wealth? Why ever since you turned 18 every predatory mama and daughter have pursued you with a vengeance. From what Edward told me she is but the daughter of a country gentleman, how could she refuse your offer, no this all a misunderstanding."
"No, dear Aunt Rebecca, as I said there is no misunderstanding, she had every right to refuse me, you do not know the terrible things I said to her. Elizabeth Bennet the one woman I ever met who cared naught for wealth or position, only that she could love and respect the man she marries. Fortunate indeed will that man be," Darcy replied.
"Darcy, you proposed to her -- how could that be terrible, what could you have said, just tell me from the beginning what happened," her ladyship told him.
After Darcy recited to her word for word what had happened that day at the parsonage as well as what his actions had been at Hertfordshire, Lady Matlock looked at him with a shake of her head as she said, "Will, Will, you are right she had every reason to refuse you, no self respecting woman would say yes to such a proposal and she was right you certainly did not act in a very gentlemanlike manner." With a short laugh she said, "I can think of one though who would have accepted such a proposal."
"You mean Miss Bingley," Darcy laughed, "never fear Aunt, she is the last woman I would ever offer for."
"What are you going to do, Darcy, marry your sickly cousin Anne? You must produce an heir for the Darcy Estates," Lady Matlock asked.
"No, I have no intention of marrying cousin Anne," Darcy said, "her mother would be living under my roof from the wedding day, that is too much for any man, besides I doubt that Anne could produce a child. No I shall never marry. Georgiana will have to bear the heir."
"Darcy, you feel like that now but in time you will change your mind, what a waste it would be if you should not marry. Now, get yourself cleaned up and tell your man to pack your trunk, we are going to London, I shall not leave until you agree to return with me. Enough of this nonsense of sitting here drinking and feeling sorry for yourself. You are coming with me and make an effort to be sociable and put poor Georgiana's heart at ease. We will try to find a way to straighten this all out, but right now what you need is family and friends, give some thought to them, dear, you will find that thinking of others will make your own heartbreak a little less painful"
Darcy kissed his aunt on the cheek, saying fondly, "You are right of course, instead of trying to become the man Elizabeth could love I have been sitting here selfishly thinking only of myself. Perhaps with a great deal of effort I can become a better man."
As they traveled the road to London Darcy asked his aunt one question. "Please Aunt, be brutally honest with me, have there been others who thought me arrogant and conceited, have you yourself ever thought such a thing of me?"
Rebecca looked at her nephew for a time, trying to think of how to be honest with him without being unkind but she decided to tell him what he needed to know.
"Will, dear you know that I love you and Georgiana, dearly, don't you?" she said.
"Yes, Aunt," Darcy said with a smile, "but that sounds ominous, pray continue, do not worry about offending me, you could never do that."
"Well, I have heard some complaints of your being uncivil to those you considered beneath you, especially in the last few years since you have been associating with Caroline Bingley so closely, that would seem to be just about everyone. I have heard it said that you seemed to be more Catherine's son than Anne's, please, do not think that we have in any way felt that way, it is just people outside the family who feel thus."
Darcy leaned back and closed his eyes, "Like Catherine DeBourgh's son," he said, "I have become like her haven't I. I who have looked with contempt on her ladyship because of the rudeness of the way she treats people, yet I am guilty of the same thing. I was certainly rude to Elizabeth from the first night I met her. Thank you Aunt, I needed to know that, it will help me to change the old arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy into a more thoughtful caring man."
Lady Matlock walked through the hall to the breakfast room at Pemberley, there she met Mrs. Reynolds and they both smiled with delight at the sound of laughter coming from the room.
"Such joy as she has brought into this old house," Mrs. Reynolds said, "it is such a delight to see the Master so happy."
"Yes, she is just the right woman for him," her ladyship replied, "he was right she is just what he needed to soften that Darcy pride and reserve."
As she entered the room she chuckled when she saw her favorite nephew and his Elizabeth locked in an ardent embrace.
The two parted when they heard her laugh and Elizabeth reddened as she tried to pull away from her husband, but he kept an arm around her waist as he said, "We did not hear you coming, Aunt Rebecca."
"No, I can see that, you were more pleasantly engaged," Lady Matlock said with a grin, "and to think that just three years ago, the last time I was here you thought that all was over for you. Now we are here for the christening of your first son and heir."
"Our first son," Elizabeth said with a laugh, "what do you mean Aunt Rebecca?"
"From what I have seen of you too,' her ladyship answered, "I believe that Pemberley will be filled with the happy sound of children's laughter in a few years."
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