>Some With Traps
The Gardiners invited Elizabeth and Jane to town, where they could have the best selection of materials for their respective trousseaus. Neither needed much, but they went for the pleasure of the Gardiners' company--and the lack of Longbourn and Meryton relations.
One night, Darcy and Bingley joined them for a night at the theatre. As they settled into the box, Darcy asked, "Have you ever seen Much Ado about Nothing before, Jane?"
Oddly enough, Jane blushed red before owning that she had seen it just last winter.
"I do not recall your mentioning that," said a surprised Elizabeth. "Nor did Uncle or Aunt Gardiner."
"I--don't remember much about it," Jane stammered. "It must not have been a very good performance."
"But why shouldn't you tell me about it in your letters?" questioned Elizabeth, in her puzzlement not noticing her sister's discomfort. "It's unlike you to forget an evening of Shakespeare."
Bingley interrupted. "Who is playing Beatrice tonight, Darcy?"
Darcy replied with the name of a well-known actress; Jane asked who was playing Benedick, and the conversation returned to its normal cheerful flow.
Elizabeth had never seen Much Ado, before, and she enjoyed every moment of the production. She was especially delighted by Benedick and Beatrice, who sparred in "skirmishes of wit" until the other characters conspired to make them fall in love. These other characters included Claudio, Benedick's best friend, and Hero, Beatrice's sweet cousin--young lovers first engaged, then parted by deceit, then finally, happily united. But before their marriage, they made sure that the older lovers admitted their love for one another; and the play ended with a double wedding.
Her own impending double wedding planted the first seed of suspicion in Elizabeth's mind, as she and Darcy settled into his phaeton for the trip home. Earlier that evening, when she had expressed the wish to see a much-praised production of Romeo and Juliet rather than a lighter comedy she knew nothing about, Bingley had said "But my dear Elizabeth, you shall love Beatrice; you are sisters in spirit, I believe, and perhaps situation as well." He then grinned and refused to answer any entreaties as to his meaning; his next look was a slight wince. What had Jane been doing at that moment? She tried to remember. Her sister had been seated at Mr. Bingley's left; but Elizabeth had not paid any attention to her at the time. She had looked at Mr. Darcy, but he had merely raised his eyebrows and shrugged. Now that she had seen the play, she was no closer to apprehending Bingley's meaning about "situation." Unless...
She turned to her beloved. "Did you enjoy the play, Mr. Darcy?"
He replied that he had.
She hesitated. "Did you note any--well, strange parallels?"
He hesitated, too. "To our own situation, you mean?" At her nod, he continued. "I was just thinking about that: two pairs of lovers; one of them tranquil, with a relatively smooth courtship, and the other always teasing and misunderstood..."
"And in the teasing pair, they begin by despising one another, before each is brought to recognize the good virtues of the other."
"Though he always appreciates her, you will notice," Darcy said with a smile. "'And there's her cousin, who exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December.'"
"Why, Mr. Darcy," laughed Elizabeth, "you surprise me. I had not supposed you such a student of Shakespeare."
His smile widened to a grin. "I believe I owe it to Bingley," he said cheerfully. "During our junior year at Eton, he was obsessed with Shakespeare and quoted him endlessly. He even organized some amateur theatricals, of Julius Caesar and Hamlet and"--slowly, as he realized--"Much Ado About Nothing."
Elizabeth looked at Darcy. Darcy looked at Elizabeth. The lady spoke what both were thinking:
"Is it possible that Jane and Bingley are responsible for our present happiness, that they set up our relationship? That perhaps they arranged for my tour of Pemberley, and your fortunate early appearance there? Lydia's slip, Lady Catherine's misplaced forthrightness--all the little details that led to our good understanding..." She paused. "Jane does have a mischievous streak, and Mr. Bingley could be more devious than he seems--do you think?" She laid her hand on his arm. "Mr. Darcy?" She smiled. "Benedick..."
He put his hand over hers, but said nothing, still remembering. Bingley's young passion for the Bard may have passed, but only that morning he had slyly drawled, "Thou will be like a lover presently, and tire the hearer with a book of words," in response to a long discourse on Elizabeth's many beauties. Now that Darcy had seen the play again, he recognized the quotation, and wondered if his beloved might be correct.
The coach stopped at a crossroads, and he took that opportunity to raise her hand to his lips. He looked deep into her eyes. She gazed raptly into his. At the same moment, both laughed and shook their heads. "Jane and Bingley, conspiring! Not possible..."
At just that moment, in his own carriage, Bingley slipped his arm around Jane's shoulders. "Well, my love?" he said to her. "Now that we have provided for two of your sisters, which of the others do you want next?"
"Ah, I think we can leave off matchmaking for a while," she said, "and just enjoy this match of our own." She snuggled further into his arm. "I felt rather bad for Mr. Darcy, his paying George Wickham again after you had already paid him to take Lydia away; and we could have chosen better for Lydia, I see now. The wretched man was supposed to marry her in Scotland, not hold out for more money in London. But then, I suppose we repaid Darcy with Lizzy."
"Yes, it was a stroke of genius on our parts. How lucky I met you again at the theatre last winter! All this felicity and amusement lost, on our side and on theirs."
"And the romance, too--being secretly engaged for almost six months was wonderful, if tiring. But we did good work in that time. I have never seen Elizabeth so happy."
"The same for Darcy. He actually laughs now."
"You did most of the work on that one--arranging the tour, dispatching him to Pemberley on the right day--I still believe it would have come off in a week if not for the Wickham debacle. But then, you saved it by sending Lady Catherine to inform him of Lizzy's regard."
"Only after you managed to remind the driver that I lived at Netherfield, where she could get easy refreshment," Bingley said loyally. "And made sure that the Gardiners wouldn't go to the Lakes." He stretched his arms out behind her, and winced slightly. "My love, you needn't have elbowed me quite so hard at dinner."
"I'm sorry, dearest," said Jane, not at all apologetically. "But you were being most obvious. This business will be so much easier when we can simply introduce the right men to Mary and Kitty. Or--do you have someone in mind for Caroline?"
Bingley smiled. "After her behavior to you, I believe I want to see if Wickham has any available relations."
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