The Journey Home to Pemberley
Georgiana Darcy seemed all pleasantness and politeness, but in truth she desperately longed to see Pemberley coming into view. Not only was she desirous to see her brother, but she was also eager for the carriage ride to be over. Mrs. Annesley was pleasant company, as always, but Georgiana had never been able to feel comfortable with Miss Bingley.
Mr. Bingley rode his horse alongside the two carriages. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst rode in one carriage while Miss Bingley, at her insistence, rode in the other carriage with Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley. Mrs. Annesley was content to quietly admire the scenery. Miss Bingley, however, found no difficulty in filling any silence with the sound of her opinions on everything under the sun. Accustomed to quiet and solitude as Georgiana was, the constant chatter wore on her patience.
She was also quite preoccupied by a conversation she had had with her brother the previous day. They had talked of his altered disposition over the past several months and the reasons for it. Georgiana loved her brother very much. It was very difficult to accept his belief that he had behaved badly, but he assured her that he had earned every bit of the pain he had suffered in recent months. She was at a loss for ways to help him from his despair. She hoped that being at Pemberley would restore him. His happiness was of the utmost importance to her.
Miss Bingley began prattling once again, "It is so pleasant to be settled in a home. I do hope that Charles will find a new estate soon. If he would only accept an eligible purchase of Netherfield, we could also have family retreats at our home out of town." Mrs. Annesley smiled politely in reply. Miss Bingley stirred restlessly, hoping that Georgiana would respond to her attempts at conversation.
To Miss Bingley's satisfaction, Georgiana's interest was piqued by the reference to Netherfield. "Is that Mr. Bingley's house in Hertfordshire?" she inquired quietly.
"Yes. It is nothing to Pemberley, but is a fair prospect," replied Miss Bingley with a smug smile. She was very pleased to at last draw Georgiana into conversation with her. Now she would be able to tell Mr. Darcy how well they were getting on!
"I wonder, then, that you would wish for it to be sold. It seems to me that Mr. Bingley has talked of his time in that neighborhood with great fondness," probed Georgiana.
"Oh, no! You must be mistaken," replied Miss Bingley. "I am certain that Charles was only being polite. You know how kind he always is. And, of course, he can never bear to talk of unpleasantness. He is exceedingly good humored." Miss Bingley always praised her brother to Georgiana.
"Were there objections to the neighborhood?" asked Georgiana.
Miss Bingley raised her eyebrow and smirked. "I would not wish to seem unkind, dear Georgiana. It is only that one must maintain certain standards when it comes to society. That society, if you could really even dignify Hertfordshire with the term, is quite without fashion. I do not recall meeting even one young lady you could consider accomplished," she said in a very superior tone. Miss Bingley leaned forward as though taking Georgiana into her confidence, "Indeed, none of the Hertfordshire ladies could please your brother. He suffered greatly in such confining society. Poor Darcy!" Miss Bingley's cruel laugh burst forth.
Miss Bingley's unkind superiority rankled against Georgiana's forbearance. "I am very surprised to hear you say that. I was certain that he had indicated otherwise," she replied, simultaneously curious to see Miss Bingley's reaction and surprised at her own daring. Mrs. Annesley looked at Georgiana in surprise.
Miss Bingley also looked surprised, briefly taken aback, and then thoughtful. "Well, there were a few tolerable girls. The eldest Miss Bennet was sweet," she said cautiously once she was certain that her brother was out of hearing. "And one of her sisters had many pert opinions that did seem to amuse Mr. Darcy for a time. But I know that he really found the people there quite tiresome. He was most eager for us to return to town. There was no one of that neighborhood worthy of his attention," she said, smiling frostily at Georgiana. "Why even the most famous of the Hertfordshire beauties have uncles in trade!" She laughed meanly at this last as though she had said the wittiest thing in the world.
Miss Bingley suddenly broke off her laughter as she noticed that Georgiana would not join in with her. Seeing her distaste, Miss Bingley attempted to turn the discussion more to Georgiana's liking. "I suppose you might think I am being too hard. But indeed, the situation of the Hertfordshire families was nothing compared to the lack of propriety displayed by several persons at the local assemblies. That was what gave us all concern. Several of the girls chased after officers and men of fortune as would men after sport. I would not shock you, Georgiana, but one neighborhood mother set her daughter after poor Charles in a most distasteful fashion. Of course his heart could not be touched, as it is most agreeably engaged elsewhere already." With this, Miss Bingley smiled and patted Georgiana's hand. "Our time in Hertfordshire was most unpleasant. Can you not see why we might wish to remove ourselves from such society?"
Georgiana blushed as she comprehended Miss Bingley's implication of the relationship between her and Charles. Miss Bingley's schemes to push the two of them together became more obvious all the time. She cast a wide-eyed gaze at him. He smiled pleasantly in greeting to her.
Of course Georgiana regarded Mr. Bingley with affection. He was a nice man and a good friend to her brother. Usually he had the most engaging and optimistic disposition, though he had seemed somewhat out of sorts of late. But she really saw Mr. Bingley in the light of a friend, not a lover. Though her experience in matters of the heart was slight, she did feel that she knew enough of desire to know when she did not feel it.
She wished to change the subject before Miss Bingley became any more direct in her implications. "I suppose if it was like that… did any of those people… did they… pursue my brother?" she asked. She was curious to see how Miss Bingley's account of the time spent in Hertfordshire further compared to that her brother had given.
"Why, of course they did, Georgiana. What woman could not but be interested in him? Fortunately, your brother is quite adept at turning away people who seek him for his position and fortune."
Georgiana smiled wryly at Miss Bingley's assertion. Since her stupid affair with Mr. Wickham the previous year, Georgiana had been most attentive to her brother's methods of avoiding the attentions of fortune hunters. His interactions with Miss Bingley had provided her with much instruction.
Miss Bingley interpreted Georgiana's smile as an approval of her opinions. She continued with brittle laughter, "Do not give too much credit to the Hertfordshire ladies, my dear. Darcy was quite severe upon them."
This last gave Georgiana discomfort. Fitzwilliam, himself, had described his behavior in Hertfordshire as abominable. Miss Bingley's evident pleasure at his behavior there confirmed his assessment. His resulting regret and self-recrimination might have some foundation, then. And if that was true, then how must he have behaved at Hunsford?
"You mentioned that he seemed entertained by the 'pert opinions' of one lady, however. Whatever did you mean?" she asked with an apparent innocence designed to hide her intense curiosity.
Miss Bingley's countenance darkened. "There was a young lady who became ill while visiting us at Netherfield. Of course, we invited the poor dear to stay until she was well enough to return home. One of her younger sisters, a most ill-bred and independent young woman, came to Netherfield to wait on her. Charles, in his usual way, kindly insisted that the younger sister stay with us as well. Mr. Darcy seemed for a time to regard her strange behavior as amusing. He would engage in odd discussions with her, almost disputes, over the strangest things. It was a great relief to us all when the Bennet sisters left Netherfield at last."
"Elizabeth Bennet argued with him?" inquired Georgiana. She could not recall a time when she had ever seen anyone argue with her brother. The idea gave her great astonishment.
Miss Bingley nodded in assent. "She spoke to your brother in a most inappropriate, sporting manner. She said that he acted as though he hated everyone in the world and even accused him of excessive pride and I think vanity. I really could not bear her manner at all. Darcy's patience and civility were far more than she deserved."
Georgiana considered Miss Bingley's statements. Of course any woman who conversed with Fitzwilliam in a familiar manner would aggravate Miss Bingley's jealous dislike. As to the lady's accusations of hating people and having excessive pride, there must be some mistake. How could anyone speak so ill of him? He was so kind and generous.
Georgiana then remembered an incident from a few years before, when she had overheard some children speaking of her and saying that she was haughty and mean. She remembered her tears and hurt confusion and how Fitzwilliam had tenderly comforted her. He had explained to her that those children had misunderstood her shyness and discomfort with them. Could the same sort of thing have happened to him?
Miss Bingley started as she realized what Georgiana had said. "How is it you know the name Elizabeth Bennet?" she asked with apprehension, color rising in her cheeks.
Georgiana looked at Miss Bingley with surprise, afraid for a moment that she had spoken overmuch. She stammered, "You… you… must have mentioned it, I am sure."
"Did I?" said Miss Bingley slowly, almost certain that she had not. "Well, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is woman without fashion or any sense of decorum. She is generally uninformed, unsociable by turns, independent, outspoken, and altogether common. You are most fortunate never to have made her acquaintance!"
Georgiana fell silent for the rest of the journey, taken aback by Miss Bingley's vehemence. She knew that Miss Bingley was not a good authority where Fitzwilliam and any woman were concerned. A lady would have to be intelligent and beautiful, if he was attached to her. Her brother had spoken of Miss Bennet in such terms as assured Georgiana of the lady's wit and charm. She knew that her brother felt that he had done some great wrong to this lady. She also knew that the events of the past year had affected and changed him profoundly.
If only he could show Miss Bennet how he had changed. If only she could meet this Miss Bennet and tell her of his true character! Whether she feared this or wished for it more she was unsure. Miss Bennet sounded quite formidable. She was fearful that in the presence of a woman of such liveliness she would shrink in upon herself and be unable to speak at all. Yet at the same time she was determined that should such a meeting take place, she would do everything in her power to speak on her brother's behalf. Georgiana shook herself from her reverie. She was unlikely to meet Elizabeth Bennet. Such reflections were pointless.
Caroline Bingley turned back from the carriage window and said, "Oh, Pemberley at last! I thought we might never arrive. And look! Your brother awaits our arrival."
Georgiana looked out the window and waved to her brother. He smiled broadly and waved back. She was surprised at this and wondered what could have affected such a change. The carriage rolled to a stop. Fitzwilliam opened the door to their carriage himself and offered his hand to Georgiana. He looked better to her than he had in months. His eyes glowed with excitement. She waited next to him as he handed Miss Bingley and then Mrs. Annesley from the carriage.
Miss Bingley seemed stunned by Mr. Darcy's smile. With effort, she spoke a greeting. Mr. Darcy spoke pleasantly in return and then turned and offered his arm to Georgiana. Miss Bingley stared after them.
Fitzwilliam was unable to contain himself. "Georgiana, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, very pleasant gentlefolk. They were here at Pemberley when I arrived. We talked and visited pleasantly. We walked together in the gardens. She was lovelier than ever. She agreed that I might introduce you to her!"
Georgiana laughed as he finished his breathless recitation. He blushed, but looked into her eyes with a lack of reserve that confirmed all of his feelings for Miss Bennet. Delighted at her brother's joy, Georgiana clasped his hand and said, "Let us call on Miss Bennet at once. Perhaps she might be persuaded to visit Pemberley again, maybe even for dinner tomorrow evening?"
Fitzwilliam kissed his sister's hand and gave her a look of gratitude. As the two walked toward the house Georgiana glanced back, moved to pity for Miss Bingley. For Georgiana knew that if she and her brother had anything to say about the situation, Miss Elizabeth Bennet's fortunate visit to Pemberley would be the only the first in her own journey home there.
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.