A Truth Universally Acknowledged
Bingley didn't see Darcy for two weeks following his return from Scotland, but had heard about his friend around town. His sisters were especially adept at collecting and passing along gossip. Apparently Darcy's transformation into a "better" person was virtually complete and all of London seemed to be talking about it.
He finally met the source of all that talk one fine Wednesday at their club.
"Bingley, good to see you. I didn't know you were back in Town," Darcy greeted him as they shook hands.
"I've been back about a fortnight. Caroline and Louisa have kept me busy," Bingley replied.
Darcy suggested they find a table somewhere in the far corner, perhaps near a window. "Goodness, London is hot. I'm finding the weather unbearable. How did you find Scotland?"
"Certainly much cooler than here. Overall, I thought it was a very enjoyable trip. I also got to try my hand at golf. A word of advice, Darcy-- don't try it unless you like humiliating yourself or don't care what your score is at the end," Bingley replied with a rueful smile.
"It's that bad? I read some interesting things about the game," Darcy said.
"By all means, give it a try, but don't say I didn't warn you. So how have you been keeping busy?"
"Well Georgiana's sixteenth birthday is coming up in a few weeks so I've arranged for a new pianoforte to be delivered to Pemberley. I've also had her sit for a portrait for the gallery at Pemberley. It will be unveiled on her birthday."
"That's wonderful news. I'm sure she'll love the new pianoforte. I think I'll get her some new music as a present. When will you be leaving for Derbyshire so I'll make sure I drop it by beforehand?"
"Perhaps you would like to join us? Maybe your sisters would like to come as well as company to Georgiana?"
"I'd be happy to join you. I'll have to ask Caroline and Louisa, but I do not believe they have any prior commitments and I'm sure they'll be happy to be members of the party. I'll let you know as soon as I talk to them. When would you want to leave?" Bingley asked again.
Darcy thought for a moment before replying, "The beginning of the month."
"In that case, I'd better get shopping. If you'll excuse me?" Bingley said, and took his leave.
Bingley immediately went to Bond Street where he knew the best music shops were located. After a long conversation with the proprietor of Darcy's favourite shop, Bingley left with several sheets of the newest music for Georgiana. The gentleman had assured him that they were all the rage and Miss Darcy did not already have them.
When Bingley returned to his brother-in-law's home, he went looking for his sisters to discuss Darcy's proposal. He found them in the back parlour trying to keep cool and complaining about the heat.
"Oh Charles, isn't it dreadfully hot?" Miss Bingley asked. Both her and Mrs. Hurst were fanning themselves and drinking lemonade. "How can you stand going out in weather like this?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is quite warm, but there's really nothing I can do about it so I might as well go about my life."
"There you go again, always finding the positive side of everything," Caroline said crossly.
"Well it's better than complaining and seeing fault with everything," he said with a smile.
"What did you do today?" Mrs. Hurst asked, deciding that this conversation had gone on too long.
"I conducted some business around Town and then I met Darcy at our club."
"Oh, dear Mr. Darcy. We really should have him over for dinner soon. And dear Georgiana too," Miss Bingley gushed.
Bingley had a hard time keeping a straight face or at least refraining from rolling his eyes. "Darcy was wondering if we would like to join them at Pemberley. I have already said that I would go but I couldn't speak for you. I told Darcy I would ask today and give him a response tonight."
"Oh, to visit Pemberley again! Of course we'll join them," Miss Bingley bubbled. "The wilds of Derbyshire are so beautiful, so civilized. It's so much better than Hertfordshire, so backwards, so uncouth."
As both sisters believed Bingley was over the "Netherfield incident" as they referred to it, they didn't realize the pain they were causing. Jane Bennet still had a piece of Bingley's heart and probably always would.
"Splendid," he choked out. "I'll let Darcy know immediately." Bingley left for his brother-in-law's study to compose a note to Darcy.
Miss Bingley quickly followed him from the room. "Charles, when are Mr. Darcy and Georgiana leaving for Pemberley?"
"I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you. He thought the end of the week would be a good time to leave. He would like to be there a few days before Georgiana's birthday."
"A week?" his sister exclaimed. "We don't have much time then. Louisa!"
"Whatever is the matter, Caroline?" Mrs. Hurst cried, rushing from the room, fearing something awful had happened.
"Mr. Darcy wants to leave in a week. You must help me pick out my best outfits," Caroline said while rushing towards her quarters. Both sisters began talking rapidly discussing clothing as they mounted the stairs.
Fortunately Bingley missed most of this conversation as he had continued on to the study to write his note. It was quickly completed and sent.
It was soon time to leave and surprisingly both Bingley sisters were ready on time. This was due to Miss Bingley deciding that Mr. Darcy approved of punctuality and it wouldn't do to suffer his disapproval and stricture.
Both Bingley and Darcy rode on horseback as opposed to riding in a stuffy carriage. The Hursts rode in their carriage. Mr. Hurst was unfortunately already plastered, leaving Mrs. Hurst with limited activities to occupy herself and no conversation, not that her husband was much of a conversationalist. Which wasn't a surprise to anyone, Miss Bingley positioned herself in the Darcy carriage to show Mr. Darcy just how well she got along with his sister.
They traveled for several hours and were making good time. They stopped for the night at a very stylish inn, at least according to Miss Bingley's standards. The Darcys had stayed there many times because of the excellent service and when they arrived, they were made welcome by the proprietors.
The next day the same traveling arrangements were made with Miss Bingley riding with Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley, the two gentlemen riding horseback and the Hursts in their carriage. Miss Bingley thought things were going well between herself and Georgiana, however Georgiana would probably disagree.
They didn't make as good time as the previous day as one of the Hursts' horses threw a shoe. They stopped at the nearest blacksmith's to fix it, resulting in a delay of a few hours.
Due to the delay they arrived at their next stop for the night much later than they expected. Waiting for their arrival was a missive for Darcy from his steward. Apparently their had been a fire at one of his tenant homes due to the dry weather, leaving the family homeless and with no way to pay their yearly rent. His steward wanted Darcy to come immediately to evaluate the situation.
As the hour was fairly late, Darcy was forced to wait until the next morning. He spoke to Bingley prior to the group breakfasting. "Bingley, I must hurry home to Pemberley. My steward has written me with urgent business I must attend to immediately. Would you please see Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley safely to Pemberley?"
"Certainly, Darcy. You hardly needed to ask," Bingley said good-naturedly. "I hope everything is well."
"As can be expected," Darcy assured him. "Some trouble with one of my tenants. I am afraid I must be leaving now if I am to arrive there today. I've already spoken to Georgiana, but if you would explain to the rest of our party, I would appreciate it."
"Certainly. I'll explain everything. Godspeed," Bingley said as Darcy prepared to leave the Inn.
"I'll be awaiting your arrival in a couple of days. So long."
An hour or two later, the rest of the group went down to breakfast. Bingley explained Darcy's absence and Caroline displayed concern both for Darcy's business and Darcy himself. Bingley assured her that everything would be fine and Darcy would be awaiting their arrival at Pemberley in two days hence.
The traveling companions changed for this leg of the trip as Georgiana asked that Bingley join her and Mrs. Annesley. That unfortunately relegated Miss Bingley to riding with her sister and brother-in-law, a position that did not please her but she hid her disappointment surprisingly well.
For an hour or so following their departure, Georgiana remained silent, as she was involved in her studies with Mrs. Annesley. During that time Bingley read a book that Darcy had recommended some time ago but he never found time to read it.
Georgiana put down her reading suddenly and asked what seemed to be a harmless question, "How did you find your trip to Scotland?"
"Very well. I got to see a lot of the country," Bingley replied and began to tell the ladies all about the beauties of Scotland. He conveniently left out any mention of golf. Initially because he wasn't sure the ladies had heard of it and also because he was reluctant to discuss his prowess with the game. Mrs. Annesley had been to Scotland before so she contributed to the discussion by providing her opinions of the sights. Georgiana asked a great number of questions and admitted that someday she would like to see those sights for herself.
The group lapsed into silence for a short time until Georgiana spoke again. " Charles, how did you find your stay in Hertfordshire? I recall you leased an estate there."
"Oh, yes, Netherfield, a very fine estate near Meryton. I found the area beautiful and the people charming. I made quite a number of acquaintances," Bingley said with quite a bit of feeling in his voice.
"When was the last time you were there?"
"Not since the 27th of November."
"That long," Georgiana exclaimed, marveling at his memory. "Well then you must go back and renew your old acquaintances." Bingley appeared uncomfortable at that suggestion and didn't comment. Georgiana continued on undaunted by Bingley's silence, "Yes, you must definitely go back. Your friends must wonder what has happened to you."
Bingley remained silent and that uncomfortable expression remained on his face. Mrs. Annesley noticed and succeeded in turning the conversation back to Scotland and travels in general. Bingley quickly recovered and eagerly began telling the ladies of his travels through the European continent. The little group continued discussing this topic until they reached their stop for the night.
When they started out the next day, Bingley chose to ride as they were expecting to only be on the road through out the early morning before reaching Pemberley. He wanted to ride because he needed the solitude to muddle through all the thoughts and feelings churning inside him.
As expected, Darcy was waiting outside for them to arrive. Even from a distance Bingley could tell that his friend was excited and agitated about something. However time didn't allow for him to question his friend.
"Welcome to Pemberley, everyone. I trust the rest of your journey after I left you was uneventful and pleasant," Darcy greeted Bingley and the rest of the group as they began emerging from the carriages.
"Very uneventful," Miss Darcy assured him as he helped her from the carriage. "Charles ensured that everything went smoothly."
"I appreciate that, Bingley," Darcy said quietly to his friend and then spoke loudly for the rest to hear; "Now some refreshments have been laid out in the parlour." The party walked through the large front entrance as maids, valets and footmen began unloading the luggage.
Once they reached the parlour and begun to eat, the large group inevitably broke up into little groups. Miss Bingley tried to attract Mr. Darcy's attention but he seemed solely interested in talking with his sister and Bingley.
Bingley decided now was as good a time as any to ask Darcy just what he was so emotional about. Upon further study he realized his friend was excited as opposed to agitated. "Now, Darcy, tell us what has you grinning like that."
"Yesterday I happened to renew an old acquaintance," Darcy said matter-of-factly.
"And who might that be?" Darcy asked.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet," Darcy said. "I met her yesterday as she was touring the grounds."
"Miss Bennet was here," Miss Darcy exclaimed. "It's unfortunate we didn't arrive yesterday. I would have like to have met her."
"She's touring Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle. They're staying at the Inn in Lambton and anticipate a visit from us soon," Darcy assured her.
"Unless you have other plans, perhaps we might go this morning," Georgiana suggested hopefully.
"Wouldn't you like to settle in today? You've had such a long journey," Darcy said. He did not wish to tire his sister out with visiting after that long trip from London.
"I'm not a whit tired, so shall we go this morning then?"
"If you want," Darcy assured her. "We can go right now if you want."
"If you can spare room, I'd like to join you both," Bingley said. Up to this point he had been silent, debating whether or not he wanted to meet a member of the Bennet family.
"Of course, but what about your sisters? Would they like to join us as well?" Miss Darcy asked.
As if they knew they were being mentioned, both Bingley ladies announced that they were tired and were retiring to their chambers to rest. Mrs. Annesley had already retired so Georgiana didn't need to ask.
The little threesome was eager to see Miss Bennet, but most importantly was Mr. Darcy. He had never dreamed he would receive so cordial a reception as he had the day before considering how they parted when they were both in Kent.
Once they approached the Lambton Inn, Bingley felt a sense of dread come over him and was now unsure if he wanted to see Miss Bennet. He decided that things had gone to far to back out now so he might as well go through with it. His concern was fortunately not evident on his face so his companions had no idea of what was going through his mind.
The group alighted from the carriage and entered the Inn. They were immediately greeted by the proprietor, "Good morning, Mr. Darcy. Miss Darcy. Sir. How might we help you this morning?"
"We've come to visit one of your guests, Miss Bennet. Could you let her know that we're here?" Darcy asked.
The proprietor initially looked uncomfortable before speaking, "Miss Bennet is out walking and the Gardiners are visiting friends. I do expect the young lady back shortly through, if you'd care to wait."
"That would be fine," Darcy replied.
"I'll have Hannah take you to the sitting room in their quarters."
The young girl beside him spoke, "If you'll follow me," and began heading towards the stairs.
This was the momentary reprieve Bingley was looking for. "I think I'll wait down here, Darcy and have a cup of tea. You'll let me know when Miss Bennet arrives?"
"Of course. Enjoy your tea," Darcy wished him and followed both Georgiana and the servant.
The proprietor directed Bingley to a sitting room off the entrance and got him some tea. He then left Bingley to his thoughts.
"Why am I so reluctant to see Miss Bennet? We got a long well in Hertfordshire so many moons ago. We had such amusing talks when she stayed at Netherfield when his sister was sick-- Jane, that's why I don't want to see Miss Bennet. I'm reluctant of being reminded about Jane. What is she's married? I don't think I can bear that news, but I think I would have heard about it. Hertfordshire isn't that far away. I recall hearing about their cousin's marriage to Miss Lucas. No, I've got to get through this. It's better to know than be left in the dark."
Just as soon as Bingley had resolved his feelings in his mind, Darcy appeared before him. "Miss Bennet has asked for you."
Darcy lead the way, but once inside the sitting room he fell back to stand to one side allowing Bingley to approach Miss Bennet and speak. "Miss Bennet, I can't begin to tell you how delighted I was when Darcy told me you were not 5 miles from Pemberley. How do you do? I can see that you're well."
Miss Bennet responded in greeting, "I am indeed, Sir."
"Good. Good. And your family?"
"Very well, Sir."
Bingley looked as if there was a question he was unsure about asking. "Yes. Pray tell me are all your sisters still at Longbourn?"
"All except one," she replied. "Oh no! She's married." "My youngest is at Brighton." Bingley started breathing again.
"It seems too long. It is too long since I have had the pleasure of speaking to you."
Miss Bennet agreed, "It must be several months."
"It has been above eight months at least. Not since the 26th of November, when we were dancing together at Netherfield. Do you know I don't think I can remember a happier time than those few months I spent in Hertfordshire."
At this point both Darcys interrupted them. Miss Darcy invited Miss Bennet and her family to dinner two days following. Miss Bennet readily agreed claiming no prior arrangements.
Just prior to the group leaving the Gardiners arrived. Introductions were made and Miss Bennet informed her relations of the dinner engagement at Pemberley. They agreed that it was a wonderful idea.
Darcy reminded Mr. Gardiner of the offer for fishing on Pemberley's grounds and suggested the following day. Bingley seconded the idea, extolling the virtues of fishing at Pemberley. With so much encouragement, how could Mr. Gardiner decline so an engagement was confirmed for the next day?
The little group returned to Pemberley each filled with happy thoughts. Darcy was thinking how wonderful it was to be in Miss Bennet's presence again and how good it was to know that she was coming to dinner in two days. Miss Darcy was happy to finally meet the woman who had captured her brother's attention and admiration. She decided that she would like to get to know her better. Finally Bingley was happy to meet again with an acquaintance from Hertfordshire, especially a relative of Miss Jane Bennet's. Furthermore he was elated that Jane was still at Longbourn. "Perhaps I should return to Netherfield. The sport was very good there last fall and the society charming."
The returned to Pemberley just in time for lunch. Mrs. Reynolds seemed to know exactly when they entered the manor because she appeared as they were removing their traveling clothes. "Lunch has been laid out in the dining room. Your guests have just sat down."
"Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. We'll be there shortly," Georgiana replied.
Miss Bingley and the Hursts were well into their meals as they arrived, however they paused while the Darcys and Bingley were seated. Miss Bingley was the first to speak, "Charles, where have the three of you been hiding? We were beginning to wonder."
"We've been to Lambton, Caroline," her brother replied. "We were planning engagements."
That piqued both ladies curiosity as he expected. "Engagements? With whom?" Mrs. Hurst asked, attempting to cover the curiosity in her voice.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, will be joining us for dinner the day after tomorrow," Mr. Darcy replied.
"Miss Bennet. How nice," Miss Bingley said tersely, just barely able to cover the disdain in her voice.
"Mr. Gardiner is also meeting us tomorrow morning for some fishing. Hurst, you are more than welcome to join us," Mr. Darcy commented, trying to ignore the reaction of Bingley's sisters to the anticipated dinner guests. He couldn't believe that he used to think and act similarly and sent a silent thank you to Elizabeth and Bingley for setting him straight.
The remaining luncheon passed uneventfully and following lunch, the ladies retired to freshen up while the gentlemen moved to Darcy's billiard room for a couple of games. Bingley wished to ask Darcy more about Miss Bennet, but as his brother-in-law was strangely coherent and adept at billiards, both Bingley and Darcy had to concentrate on the game at hand.
The ladies didn't return until shortly before dinner when Darcy decided to show off Georgiana's new portrait. He had it placed in the Music Room at present before it was moved to the Gallery to be hung with the rest of the family portraits. The entire party commented on it and complemented Georgiana, most especially Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. They were so emphatic with their praise that their comments were starting to sound trite and hollow.
"Fitzwilliam, what's this?" Miss Darcy asked as she stood by a cloth-covered object. "I don't remember it being here before."
Darcy smiled and replied with, "I knew you would notice it. I had hoped to wait until after dinner." He walked over to join her and removed the covering. "Happy birthday, Georgiana."
Georgiana looked at her beautiful new pianoforte and was initially speechless. "Oh, Fitzwilliam, it's beautiful. Thank you so much. There's even new music."
"They would be from me," Bingley said. "Happy Sixteenth Birthday."
"Thank you as well, Charles."
Darcy was about to entreat at her to play a little when Mrs. Reynolds notified them about dinner. Darcy reminded himself to ask Georgiana to play after dinner.
During tea and coffee, Mrs. Annesley helped Georgiana through her new music pieces on the pianoforte. Even though she had never seen these pieces before, she played remarkably well and made the instrument sound amazing, which was a treat to the ears of the rest of the group.
All three gentlemen appeared at the breakfast table in their sporting clothes, giving the ladies a chance to comment. Miss Bingley stated that they were dressed so informally, however she didn't want to offend Mr. Darcy so she tried to make it sound as it their dress was a refreshing change from the usual breakfast wear. Miss Darcy told her brother that he looked very handsome and sporting while Mrs. Annesley chose to remain silent. Finally as Mrs. Hurst had already seen her husband, she commented that she had tried to talk him out of it.
Mr. Gardiner arrived as the gentlemen went outside to check on the preparations for the fishing engagement. Introductions were made between Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Hurst and then the group moved towards a favourite spot of Darcy's along the lake.
Time was spent initially selecting fishing tackle and staking out spots along the bank. Soon the little group was seated below a stand of trees, plying their luck at catching the night's dinner.
Due to the sedentary nature of fishing, the gentlemen were free to converse. They discussed local as well as international events.
Just as they were in the midst of discussing the problems in the Canada Colony by the renegade Americans, Bingley's line jerked. After fighting with the line for a while he reeled in a fairly large fish. As if Bingley's good luck was contagious, Mr. Gardiner's line went taut. Unfortunately the line snapped and went slack before he could reel in the fish.
The group lapsed into silence for a while, each man focusing on catching a fish. They stayed that way until Mr. Gardiner broke the silence, "Mr. Darcy, I wish to thank you for your kind offer of fishing today. It's so infrequent that I have the chance for an afternoon of fishing."
"You're very welcome and the offer stands that as long as you're in the area, feel free to fish as often as you'd like," Darcy replied, wishing to encourage the gentleman to visit repeatedly.
"Thank you, again. I just might take you up on that offer. I would also like to say how delighted my wife and myself were with your sister. In fact, Mrs. Gardiner and my niece were planning on paying her a call this afternoon," Mr. Gardiner replied.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I'll go extend my greetings to Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet," Darcy said and took his leave.
Bingley and the two other gentlemen continued fishing for some time after Darcy left. Mr. Gardiner and Bingley discussed Mr. Gardiner's business and trade in general because, while Bingley's family had not been in trade for some years, Bingley still remembered a few things his father and grandfather had taught him as a young lad.
Bingley had an unacknowledged ulterior motive for getting to know Mr. Gardiner, as he was a relative of Jane Bennet. Fortunately for him, Mr. Gardiner had developed a favourable opinion of the young man and thought that it was very unfortunate nothing occurred between Bingley and his niece, as the two were well suited to each other.
The older gentleman moved from one young man and Jane to the other and Elizabeth. Through observations of the two, he had decided, and his wife concurred, that young Darcy was very much in love with their niece. They were unsure of Elizabeth's feelings. They could tell that she looked favourably towards Darcy, but felt that she was not in love.
After a considerable period of time had passed without any luck, the gentlemen decided to call it a day. As they were walking towards the house, they saw that Darcy was escorting Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet to their carriage. Both Bingley and Mr. Gardiner hurried towards the group so Bingley would give his greetings and Mr. Gardiner would catch a ride back to Lambton.
Bingley accompanied Darcy back to where the ladies were sitting in the Music Room. He could hear that his sister was criticizing Miss Bennet, which considering Caroline's personality, was not surprising. She paused only slightly as the gentlemen entered, however as she had a new audience she couldn't resist repeating those comments she had already made. "How very ill Eliza Bennet looks, Mr. Darcy. I never saw anyone so much altered as she is since the winter. She is grown so brown and coarse! Louisa and I were agreeing that we should not have know her again."
Darcy took the comments in stride, considering the source. Miss Bingley was attempting to eliminate a potential rival for Darcy's affections, not that she ever had them. "I perceived no real alteration, other than her being rather tanned. That is to be expected when one travels in the summer in an open carriage," he replied coolly.
Miss Bingley would not be undaunted and continued on with her criticisms, "For my own part, I must confess that I never could see any beauty in her. Her face is too thin. Her complexion has no brilliancy and her features are not at all handsome. Her nose wants character. Her teeth are tolerable, I suppose, but not out of the common way. As for her eyes, which have sometimes been called fine, I could never perceive anything extraordinary in them. They have a sharp, shrewish look, which I do not like at all. And in her air altogether, there is a self-sufficiency without fashion, which is intolerable."
Throughout this diatribe, the other occupants of the room remained silent with varying expressions on their faces. Mrs. Hurst was nodding her agreement with every point. Mrs. Annesley did not look surprised, as if she had seen this before, while Georgiana looked shocked. Bingley was trying to silently send messages to Caroline to be quiet, as well as saying, "I think--" every now and then. The face of the person her comments were chiefly directed towards remained impassive and spoke not a word.
Miss Bingley determined to receive a reaction, continued speaking, "I remember when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty. I particularly recollect your saying one night, 'She a beauty! I should as soon call her mother a wit.' But afterwards she seemed to improve on you and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time."
Darcy finally chose to respond to Miss Bingley's comments, however his words offered her no solace; "Yes, but that was only when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance." Once that was said, Darcy left the room.
Bingley debated staying to reprimand his sisters for their inappropriate behaviour, which would have been inappropriate itself as Georgiana and her companion were present, or follow Darcy to apologize for his sisters, something he to be doing often. He chose to leave the room to change and then perhaps find Darcy.
Once dressed in clothes more suited for an afternoon indoors, he went looking for his best friend. As expected, he found the door to the study closed and a helpful footman working nearby informed Bingley that the "Master did not want to be disturbed." Upon receiving that information, Bingley headed towards Pemberley's phenomenal library to read and think for a few hours.
He had firmly decided to return to Netherfield in September for some sport. He had also resolved to ask Darcy to join him, but as for other guests, he was undecided. "Perhaps I should just keep the party small this year."
Returning to Netherfield brought forth the spectre of Jane Bennet. She was a woman who would always have a place in his heart and be his ideal of womanhood. He should at least do what he could so they would remain friends.
The mere thought of one Bennet daughter automatically brought the others to mind, most especially Miss Elizabeth Bennet. While they were in Hertfordshire, Bingley was almost convinced his friend was in love. Later he was no longer sure, especially after Darcy told him about his rejected proposal in Kent. However after seeing his friend these past few days in the company of Miss Bennet, Bingley was convinced that Fitzwilliam Darcy was hopelessly in love with Elizabeth Bennet.
Of Miss Bennet's opinion of his friend, Bingley was less certain. He could see that the animosity that was there in the past was gone, but it was not yet love. He hoped that Darcy would ascertain that lady's feelings and propose.
He silently wished his friend all the happiness in the world and hoped that things would be settled between the two shortly.
His thinking/pondering seemed to take more time than he thought and several hours had passed. There was just enough time for Bingley to clean up before dinner. He spent the time after dinner listening to Miss Darcy play her pianoforte and attempted to out-smart Darcy at chess. Darcy's mind wasn't totally on the game it seemed so while Bingley faced a challenge, it wasn't too difficult to win.
The next morning Bingley went looking for Darcy in the hopes they might go riding. His search finally took him to the stables where he found that Darcy had already left for Lambton and was not expected back for some time. "Good luck, my friend,"Bingley thought.
He was uncertain what to do; he could choose to ride out by himself or return to the house where Georgiana and Mrs. Reynolds were busy preparing for dinner with Miss Bennet and the Gardiners. Considering Bingley's perceived importance of Darcy's excursion to Lambton today, this dinner would be very important. Bingley chose to do the former as the latter really wasn't his area of expertise and from his experience with the Netherfield Ball, he had a tendency to get in the way.
He had only ridden a short distance from Pemberley when he spotted Darcy riding back towards the house at a rapid pace. Bingley attempted to attract his friend's attention, however with no luck. He was convinced Darcy had seen him, but chose not to wait for Bingley to ride toward him. If Darcy's news were good, his friend would have waited so Bingley feared the worst.
He set off quickly for the house and succeeded in reaching the main entrance shortly after Darcy. As he was entering the manor he heard Darcy tell his sister and Mrs. Reynolds to stop preparations for the dinner as Miss Bennet and the Gardiners had to hurry home due to urgent family business and passed on Miss Bennet's apologies. He then stalked to his study and shut the door.
Bingley was waiting outside when Darcy emerged, but had to hurry to keep up with his friend as he headed upstairs. Darcy's right hand clutched a valise containing an ample amount of papers. "Darcy, whatever is the matter?"
"I'm afraid that I have to leave for London immediately. There is a delicate matter waiting for me there," Darcy said matter-of-factly.
"I understand completely. Maybe I should come with you, perhaps I can help?" Bingley offered.
"I appreciate that, but this is something I need to handle on my own. Please stay and enjoy yourself. It should not take long." By this point they were standing in front of Darcy's quarters and the two parted company.
As it turned out, Darcy was unable to leave immediately due to the preparations that were necessary and the fact that his sister persuaded him to wait and go the next morning.
For the rest of the day, Darcy was on edge and preoccupied. He seemed to be lost in his own thoughts and even barked at Miss Bingley when she made a snide remark about Miss Bennet's absence. At that point Darcy excused himself for the evening.
His friend was gone long before Bingley was awake so he was unable to wish Darcy well on his journey. Bingley hoped that whatever the issue was that it was resolved to the satisfaction of all involved.
From then on, Bingley's days were relatively idle. He rode Wellington about the countryside; he fished in Pemberley's prime fishing locations, however, he rarely caught a fish, and fishing solitary was rather boring; and he also accompanied Miss Darcy and his sisters on excursions in the area. A fortnight passed in this fashion.
He was hoping that Darcy would return shortly and liven things up. Bingley was craving for some male companionship, as his brother-in-law was never much of a companion. Mr. Hurst was very much focussed on his food and drink, and cards. Georgiana had received letters from her brother so Bingley knew his friend was well, but the matter that took him to London was progressing slowly.
Bingley was passing by the parlour one morning when a conversation between his sisters caught his attention. He stopped to listen. "You won't believe what I've just heard, Louisa," Caroline said conspiratorially.
"What's that, Caroline?" Mrs. Hurst asked.
"Well I've been informed that one of the Miss Bennets has eloped."
"Who?" Louisa asked, always interested in gossip, especially scandal.
"The youngest, Lydia, I think her name is. Supposedly she left Brighton in the company of George Wickham. They were headed to Gretna Green, but no one has seen them after arriving in London."
"No! I always knew those Bennets were no good."
The two women began commenting on the supposed ill breeding of the Bennets, as well as the family's unfortunate circumstance. Bingley chose to leave the room at that point.
"That explains the Bennet family emergency. Perhaps that's why Darcy went to London. If anyone knows the mind of George Wickham, Darcy would, after growing up with him." Bingley then said a silent prayer for the Bennets that everything would work out.
Still time passed without any hint of when Darcy would return to Pemberley, just an indication that things were progressing well and that he would keep Georgiana informed.
While Darcy provided practically no information regarding his delicate matter, Caroline and Louisa were well informed regarding "The Bennet Scandal" as they called it. Considering the outrageousness of the some of the news, Bingley doubted the veracity of most, although he was sure there was some inkling of the truth in there. Luckily his sisters had the decency to keep most of the news from Miss Darcy. Bingley doubted that his friend would want his sister exposed to such goings-on.
Finally, three weeks following Darcy's departure, his sister received a letter indicating that Darcy was on his way home. In fact he would be leaving the very day the letter arrived. Bingley was glad that everything had been worked out, if his suspicion was correct, and it was confirmed later that day when he read in the paper, "Lately George Wickham, Esq. to Miss Lydia Bennet."
Three days later, Darcy arrived at Pemberley and before anyone could ask him a question regarding his absence, he and Georgiana went into his study for an hour or so.
Rather than wait for his friend to reemerge, Bingley let his friend come to him. Darcy entered the billiards room about two hours later, after he had talked to his sister, changed out of his traveling clothes and eaten. "Ah, Bingley, I thought I'd find you in here," Darcy greeted him as he entered the room.
"Where else would I be on an evening such as this?" Bingley countered. "Welcome back. I trust your business went well."
"As well as could be expected, considering the circumstances," Darcy replied grimly. Knowing what he was referring to, Bingley chose not to question Darcy's tone of voice. "I trust your stay at Pemberley has been good?" Darcy asked.
"Oh, yes, your sister has been a very good hostess, however we have been missing our host."
"I do apologize, but it was necessary for me to go to London."
"We do understand. Darcy, I was wondering if you would like to join me at Netherfield next month? I thought that we would go late in September for a little shooting, since the sport was so good last year," Bingley asked, hoping for a positive response.
"Of course, Bingley, I would be happy to join you. Would your sisters be joining us?"
"Not this time. They will be returning to London shortly before traveling to Scarborough to visit my brother-in-law's family."
The two men began a game of billiards at the same time discussed their plans. It was decided that Bingley would send a message to the housekeeper at Netherfield to prepare the house for their arrival some time around Michaelmas. He would then return to London with his sisters and see them on their way. Darcy would join him there mid-month and they would proceed to Hertfordshire together.
Darcy handily won the game and kindly offered his friend a rematch. "I'm afraid I must decline. I should begin that letter to Mrs. Nicholls. Shall I see you at dinner or are you going to disappear to London again?" Bingley asked with a touch of humour in his voice.
"At present I see no reason to leave," Darcy assured him and Bingley took his leave.
The time came for their guests to leave and both Darcys were sorry to see them go; mostly sorry to see Bingley go and only a little bit sorry to see his sisters leave. Darcy had completely lost patience with Miss Bingley and Georgiana was tired of the sisters' attempts to bring Bingley and herself together, however pleasant the female companionship had been.
"Don't forget that you're meeting me in a fortnight," Bingley reminded him as he mounted his horse.
"Of course. I'll see you soon," Darcy assured him and the group began moving towards the exit.
As promised, Darcy arrived in London at the set time (for Darcys are always punctual) for his trip with Bingley to Netherfield. Both men chose to ride in Darcy's carriage so Bingley's was sent earlier with their horses and belongings to be available when they arrived. As Bingley had given Mrs. Nicholls more than ample notice of their arrival, Netherfield was humming with activity and everything was prepared--menus, rooms, etc. Bingley complimented the staff on a job well done and gave special complements to the Nichollses for their planning and organization.
Bingley initially experienced some anxiety about returning to a place that had such an impact on his recent past; new friends, potential marriage, etc. Once he arrived at Netherfield, however, he instantly felt relaxed as familiar sights, sounds, and smells surrounded him. Also he was back in a place he could call his own, even though he was only renting, and that was a comfort.
For the first day following their late evening arrival at Netherfield, the neighbourhood left Bingley and Darcy to their own devices, although Mr. Nicholls, the butler, informed them that the countryside knew they were there. With the solitude, the gentlemen were able to go shooting, play billiards, and pursue all those other gentlemanly pastimes that they intended to do while in Hertfordshire.
The next day, the local gentry again came to call. As occurred a year ago, Sir William Lucas was the first to call. "Good day, Mr. Bingley. Mr. Darcy, good day to you as well."
"Good morning, Sir William," Bingley warmly welcomed him. Darcy also greeted him.
"I came to welcome you back to Hertfordshire. It has been far too long since you have been to Netherfield and dancing with us," Sir William commented.
"Very true, Sir William, however the shooting in Hertfordshire was so good last year that we couldn't stay away too long," Bingley commented.
Sir William prattled on for a while regarding local events before commenting that, "Lady Lucas would be missing him." He did pass on an invitation from his wife that the gentlemen should to come for dinner one evening while they were there. At that point he took his leave.
Their other visitors that morning were very much the same and just offered their own welcome back to the neighbourhood. Like Sir William, a few also passed on invitations of various types from their wives.
That evening, over brandies, Bingley brought up a delicate subject, "Darcy, I was thinking that I would pay a visit to the Bennets tomorrow morning." Bingley was unsure how Darcy would respond considering he didn't know what occurred between his friend and Miss Eliza and also Darcy's involvement with the Wickhams.
"Sounds like a good idea. Might I join you?" Darcy asked. He had expected this to happen fairly soon after their arrival, although Bingley did surprise him with it being two days after their arrival.
"Of course," Bingley said. "I thought we would go about ten."
"That's fine. I can get some correspondence done in the early morning."
"Since that's settled, how about a game of chess. I've just learned a new opening I'd like to try," Bingley said and went to get the chess set.
When Bingley got up the next morning, he found that he was extremely nervous. Not surprising really considering he was unsure how the Bennets would act towards him, most especially Jane Bennet. Her opinion was what mattered most if they were going to remain friends.
Unbeknownst to Bingley, but highly suspected, Darcy was also nervous and unsure of himself. Mrs. Bennet always set him on edge and he didn't know how to react around Miss Bennet considering their parting in Lambton. His anxiety made it awfully difficult for him to get any work done that morning as he intended.
The young men's nervousness didn't abate during breakfast or during the short silent ride to Longbourn. They each experienced a spike in their anxiety once they entered the front entrance. Bingley spotted a face at the window, Kitty he suspected, as they dismounted so he knew that someone was at home.
"Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to see the Bennets," he said to Mrs. Hill after she answered the door.
"The master is currently away, but the ladies of the house are in the parlour," Hill announced. "If you would follow me."
She led the gentlemen toward the back of the house and announced them, "Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, Ma'am."
All five ladies were standing as they entered. The group exchanged courtesies and Mr. Bennet welcomed him, "Mr. Bingley, you are very welcome."
Bingley was focused on the older woman, but he quickly glanced at Jane and his nervousness rapidly decreased as she smiled at him. "Thank you, Mrs. Bennet and how do you do? I agree--"
Bingley was unable to finish as Mrs. Bennet interrupted, "It is a long time since you were here and very, very kind of you to call. I am delighted. And Mr. Darcy, you are welcome too."
At this point the entire group sat, except for Darcy who took up his usual position during uncomfortable situations, at the window. Darcy did occasionally glance at Elizabeth Bennet and once as he caught her eye, he was rewarded with a shy smile.
Mrs. Bennet began to speak again and at such a pace Bingley was unable to contribute, "We began to be afraid you would never come back again. People did say you meant to quit Netherfield entirely at Michaelmas. Ring the bell, Mary." Once she was sure Mary had done what she was asked, Mrs. Bennet began speaking again," A great many things have happened in the neighbourhood since you went away. Miss Lucas is married and settled. And one of my daughters. I suppose you've heard of it. Indeed you must have seen it in the papers. It was in the Times and the Courier."
Darcy was a little surprised that she brought it up considering that the incident might have ended it ultimate family disgrace. Even Jane and Elizabeth were a little surprised. Bingley was unsure how to respond for the exact same reason, "Yes, indeed--"
Mrs. Bennet didn't even wait for his response, "It was not put in properly. It only said, 'Lately George Wickham, Esquire, to Miss Lydia Bennet.' Without one word about her father or the place where she lived, or anything. It is a wonderful thing to have a daughter married. At same time, Mr. Bingley, it is very hard to have her taken such a long way from me. They have gone down to Newcastle and there they are to stay. I suppose you've heard he's gone into the Regulars. Thank Heavens! He has some friends willing to help him, though perhaps not as many as he deserves--" At this point she cast an accusatory glance toward Mr. Darcy, much to the chagrin of Bingley and her daughters. Fortunately Darcy didn't see it, but he did get her meaning from the tone of voice.
Miss Eliza was able to get a few words in at this point in hopes of changing the conversation, "Do you intend to stay long at Netherfield this visit, Mr. Bingley?"
This was another question Bingley was unsure how to answer. He glanced at both Jane Bennet and Darcy for potential guidance. He received a shy smile from Miss Bennet and no response from his friend. "Our plans are not firmly settled but I would like to stay a while at least. I would like that very much."
Mrs. Bennet seemed very pleased with that reply. "When you have killed all your own birds, Mr. Bingley, I beg you will come and shoot as many as you please on Mr. Bennet's manor. I'm sure he will be vastly happy to oblige you." She looked at Mr. Darcy, realized her omission and added, "You may bring your friend if you will."
The gentlemen stayed only a short time longer while discussing general topics such as the fall weather. Finally when the gentlemen rose to leave, Mrs. Bennet was mindful of her intended civility, and Bingley was invited to dine at Longbourn in a few days' time. "You are quite a visit in my debt, Mr. Bingley, for when you went to Town last winter, you promised to take a family dinner with us, as soon as you returned. I have not forgot, you see; and I assure you, I was very much disappointed that you did not come back and keep your engagement."
Bingley became a little flustered before replying, "I'm sorry, but I was prevented by business. Of course, we'll be happy to join you for dinner in a couple days."
If Mrs. Bennet was disappointed that Mr. Darcy would be joining Bingley, she didn't show it. "Well that's settled then."
The majority of the ladies accompanied the gentlemen to the door, except for Miss Mary Bennet who immediately returned to the pianoforte.
The two men returned to Netherfield in the same fashion as they left--silent. Each man was going over his observations from the meeting. Bingley realized that there was no animosity towards him from the Bennets and Jane seemed happy to see him. That was definitely relieving. He decided to do his best to restart their friendship from a year ago. Darcy's thoughts were along similar lines. He pondered how Elizabeth felt about him, but was unsure. He didn't spend long on that topic and moved on to Bingley's situation. His observation of Jane Bennet indicated that she was very happy to see him again, but unsure how to act. Not surprising considering what happened almost a year ago. He couldn't make any further conclusions from their short meeting, and decided the situation needed further thought and observation.
The two young men spent the next two days pursuing the Netherfield covies and were fairly successful. A few humourous situations occurred during that time, such as when Bingley's gun recoiled so strongly at one point that he was thrown backwards onto his rear-end. Another occasion was when they misjudged the flight path of a flock and were directly below it as a number of birds chose to relieve themselves. It may be good luck, but still disgusting in their minds.
That happened shortly before they needed to prepare for their dinner at Longbourn so they really needed to rush to ensure they were properly attired in time for the ride over. They were lucky and were only a few minutes late.
When they arrived at the house, they discovered that instead of a small family gathering, there was a large party assembled. Shortly after their arrival due to timing, the party repaired to the dining room. Bingley was invited to sit by Mrs. Bennet, however once Jane smiled at him, he immediately went to sit at his usual spot from a year ago beside her.
Bingley had decided on the ride over that he would proceed cautiously, but attempt to reconstruct his friendship with Jane during that evening. He began by asking her about her drawing and if she had done anything recently that he might see. She pointed out a small water colour of a meadow hanging on the wall. She said that it was done only about two months ago. He complimented her on it saying that it looked very lifelike.
She politely asked about his sisters and seemed somewhat pleased to hear that they were well.
Bingley glanced occasionally toward his friend during dinner and had to pity him considering his dinner companion was Mrs. Bennet. They seemed to speak rarely and when they did, it was very stiff and formal.
Too soon for Bingley's taste, dinner was finished and the ladies departed. He was enjoying Miss Bennet's company immensely and he could even feel the little tingles of his former love for her. "Remember, you're here to become her friend again, not fall in love," he silently reminded himself.
Darcy seemed very much in thought during the gentlemen's cigars and brandies so Bingley had to fill the other men in on the sport they'd had since arriving in Hertfordshire. He even told them about the gun recoil and bird incidents, much to the amusement of the others. Those stories generated other humourous stories experienced by the men and they were all laughing heartily when they joined the ladies for tea and coffee.
Bingley placed himself as close to Miss Bennet as he could and both of them seemed very happy to continue their conversation. When dinner had ended they were discussing horses so they picked up right where they left off.
The time to leave arrived to soon and unfortunately Darcy's carriage arrived first, out of all the other carriages. Both gentlemen said their good-byes to assembled party and silently sent specific good byes to their chosen ladies.
"What a pleasant dinner," Bingley declared. "Don't you agree, Darcy?"
"Mmm," Darcy said noncommittally. Bingley could see that he was still in that pensive mood. Bingley had seen him like this many times before and had learned to leave him alone with his thoughts.
Bingley returned to his library once they arrived at Netherfield as he had some correspondence awaiting his attention. Darcy repaired to his quarters for some reason, even though it was early.
As Bingley was finishing up his work, Darcy walked into the room. "Bingley, I'll be leaving for London in the morning."
"London? Why?" Bingley was a little flustered.
"I just realized there were some things I need to do for Georgiana," Darcy replied. "I also ordered a new rifle and the letter saying it's available."
"Of course. When will you return?"
"I expect to be back in ten days time. I would like to discuss something with you in the morning before I leave, if you don't mind."
"Anything. I'll be sure to be awake early," Bingley assured him.
Bingley preceded Darcy to the dining room by thirty minutes the next morning. He was mildly concerned with his friend's demeanor the previous night and Darcy's urgency for his London trip. "Good morning, Darcy," Bingley greeted him.
Darcy did not speak for a few minutes, long enough for him to prepare his cup of coffee and a muffin. "Good morning, Bingley."
"Are you still going to London today?"
"Of course. There are many things I need to take care of while I'm there. Before I go, we need to talk, Charles."
Bingley paused for a moment, unsure how to respond considering how Darcy brought up the topic. "Go right ahead."
Darcy took a deep breath and began, "Charles, the first thing I need to tell you is that Jane Bennet loves you. After two days in her company with you I can see where her heart lies." Bingley didn't speak at that comment, but his countenance brightened. "There's more. I've been informed that she's always loved you, since last year. When you left in November, it nearly broke her heart."
"But you said then that she didn't feel the same as I--that her heart was untouched by me," Bingley said in a confused voice.
"I know and that was in error. I'm truly sorry. Thinking back on Miss Bennet's actions--the signs were there that she loved you and I missed them," Darcy admitted.
"Well--" Bingley began but Darcy stopped him with a hand.
"There's one other thing you should know and this is something I'm not pleased that I had a hand in. Miss Bennet was in London this winter. She communicated several times with your sisters and I believe even visited on one occasion. Your sisters and I thought it best that you knew nothing about it. I'm very sorry for my part in the deception."
Both young men had finished their meals by this point, not that much eating was done. Darcy was preparing to leave as he expected Bingley to throw him out. Externally Bingley gave no indication of how he was feeling, but inside his emotions were churning. He was extremely pleased that his beloved Jane shared his love and was eager to see her. He was tortured with the fact that his insecurity and uncertainty regarding her feelings last year prevented him from returning and nearly broke his beloved's heart. He was also slightly angry with both his friend and his sisters from keeping all knowledge of Miss Bennet's presence in London from him.
Darcy rose to leave. "Bingley, I'll be taking my leave now. I was wondering if I might return in ten days time," he asked with uncertainty in his voice.
Bingley was suddenly snapped back to reality. "Of course. We've been friends too a long time for something like this to have a negative affect on our friendship."
As they walked out the entrance, Bingley chose to clarify the London portion of the story. "You knew that Miss Bennet was in London all those months and even visited my home, but thought it best that I knew nothing about it?"
"Yes and I can only apologize for my actions. It was an arrogant decision based on my failure to recognize Miss Bennet's true feelings. I should never have interfered in your personal affairs."
"You admit that you were wrong?" Bingley pressed for confirmation.
"Absolutely," Darcy assured him.
"Then I have your blessing to marry Miss Bennet? I know that I don't need it. I don't need anyone's permission, but I should like to have yours all the same."
Darcy was surprised that even after admitting his involvement in the whole affair and that he never should have become involved, Bingley was asking for his blessing. "You have it and good luck. I'll see you in ten days time," he declared as he climbed in his coach.
As the coach pulled away, Darcy heard Bingley call urgently, "Davis, bring me Wellington and quickly."
Somewhere in the recesses of Bingley's churning mind, he realized that he was not properly dressed to go calling. He had left the manor only in his shirtsleeves. He dashed through the front door calling for his coat, overcoat, hat and gloves. The items were procured quickly, since the staff could tell the Master was in a hurry.
Wellington was waiting when Bingley reach the front walk. He took the hand up offered by Davis and was off. He wanted to ride overland and as quickly as possible, but in order to be presentable when he arrived at Longbourn, Bingley had to ride fairly sedately along the road.
He had decided to propose marriage to Jane as soon as he arrived, but as he rode he was trying to think of how he should go about it. Obviously his original idea from a year ago wouldn't work, but what would? Bingley went through a number of scenarios, but nothing seemed appropriate. He hadn't resolved upon anything by the time he passed through Longbourn's gates. It appeared that he would just have to take any opportunity presented.
Unfortunately, due to the earliness of his arrival, none of the ladies were dressed. Mrs. Hill directed him to the morning parlour and informed him that the ladies would be with him shortly. Tea was brought so Bingley was given time to drink a cup while trying to compose himself.
A couple times he thought he heard shrieking and crying from upstairs but wasn't totally sure. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, the ladies joined him along with Mr. Bennet. Mrs. Bennet welcomed him and to make polite conversation, asked after Mr. Darcy.
"He left for London just this morning, Ma'am, but expects to return in ten days." When he said that he wasn't sure if he saw Miss Elizabeth's face darken.
They made idle chit chat over tea and once it was over, Mr. Bennet retired to his library and Mary went to her pianoforte. That left Bingley with the Mistress of the house, the two eldest daughters and Miss Kitty.
Bingley was unsure how to get his beloved alone, but Mrs. Bennet had a plan. Getting Bingley to marry Jane had been her goal since Bingley arrived in Hertfordshire a year ago, and now that he had returned, she was determined to make it happen. For a considerable length of time, she sat winking at Elizabeth and Kitty, but not making much of an impression. Eventually Kitty took notice and asked, "What is the matter, Mama? Why do you keep winking at me? What am I to do?"
"Nothing, Child. I did not wink at you. Although, now that you mention it, I do want to speak to you about something." She rose and beckoned Kitty to join her outside the room.
Bingley didn't notice the distress on Jane's face. She most definitely did not want to be left alone with Bingley and looked to Elizabeth for assurance. However, that was not to be as five minutes later, Mrs. Bennet called Elizabeth out of the room. She gave Jane a look before leaving as if to bolster her flagging spirit.
There was silence for some time as nether knew what to say. Bingley hadn't expected to be given such an opportunity. Jane was extremely nervous as well as slightly mortified by her mother's behaviour. Bingley was the first to break the silence: "Miss Bennet, I'd like to apologize. I didn't know that you were in London this winter."
Miss Bennet was speechless. His sisters had led her to believe that Bingley knew she was in Town but two busy to see her. Of course she was too much of a lady to mention this.
Uncertain how to interpret her silence, but suspecting it had something to do with his sisters, Bingley pressed on. "My sisters deceived both of us so you need not cover for them. But enough said about that. I want to tell you now that I love you. That I've loved you since the Meryton Assembly. I have no idea what your feelings are toward me, but I believe they're feelings of love. I should never have let my fear keep me away last year. So I'm asking today, would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?" Bingley started speaking slowly but his speed increased so much so that the proposal came out all in a rush.
Even though Bingley spoke quickly, Jane followed every word. Her eyes filled with tears and her voice caught in her throat. She couldn't believe that it was actually happening and the day that she never expected to arrive finally had. Bingley didn't know what to do since she had not spoken yet. As he was about to say something more, she nodded and spoke, "But your sisters said you were to marry Miss Darcy."
"Georgiana? I know that's what my sisters would like, but I feel as a brother would toward a little sister. It's you who I love so will you marry me and make me the happiest man in England?"
Through her tears, Jane was able to quietly answer, "Yes".
At that Bingley took her hand in his and brought it to his lips for a kiss. He then tipped her face towards his and placed a light kiss on her lips. The kiss had just completed when Elizabeth returned to the room. Upon being discovered, they quickly separated.
"I will go to speak with your father immediately," Bingley whispered and made a hasty exit from the room, leaving his betrothed to share her news with her favourite sister.
Bingley quickly located the study and was extremely tense when he knocked on the door. Mr. Bennet seemed slightly surprised to see who his visitor was. "Mr. Bingley, what can I do for you this morning?"
"Well, Sir, I have come to ask for your permission to marry your eldest daughter. I have already sought and received Jane's acceptance. Your approval is all I need to make it complete," Bingley said, speaking more formally than he had ever spoke, even at Cambridge.
Mr. Bennet intended to give his permission, but before he did, he was going to given the young man a lecture on how a gentleman treats a lady. He had seen how his daughter suffered for the past year, but unfortunately was unable to do anything to relieve it. However as he was about to speak, Bingley spoke again, almost as if her knew what the older man was thinking, "Mr. Bennet, I must apologize for my behaviour last year towards your family and most especially Jane. I know that I hurt Jane were badly. I have already apologized to her and I believe she has forgiven me. I hope you can find it in yourself to accept my apology and give your permission for our marriage. I promise you that I will spend the rest of my days seeing after your daughter's happiness."
Mr. Bennet was impressed with the young man's candor, admitting his errors and resolving to correct them in the future. He could see Bingley's nervousness and uncertainty and decided that he could no longer let the young man suffer. "Well then, if you feel this way, I have no choice but to grant your request."
The relief on Bingley's face was visible when he heard that news. "Thank you, Sir," he said, and offered his future father-in-law his hand, who shook it firmly.
"Congratulations. I'll let you get back to my daughter. I expect Mrs. Bennet will burst through that door shortly and I'll need as much silence as I can get before that happens," Mr. Bennet said solemnly.
Bingley returned to the parlour with an even lighter step than he had when he left. He expected to find his betrothed waiting for him when he returned, but discovered only Miss Elizabeth. "Where is your sister?" he asked hastily.
"With my mother upstairs. She will be down in moment I dare say," Miss Elizabeth replied.
"I'm sure Jane has mentioned to you that soon we will be brother and sister. Nothing pleases me more," Bingley said warmly as he approached her at the sofa.
"She has indeed and I am very happy for both of you. You're perfectly suited for each other and know that you'll be very happy."
"I feel like the luckiest man in England and I must certainly be the happiest," Bingley exclaimed. "Your sister is truly the pinnacle of womanhood, a Helen of Troy. She's an angel; beautiful, good natured, talented, kind." Bingley went on for some time with the ramblings of a man very much in love. Miss Elizabeth was only able to smile.
The family was in high spirits for the rest of the morning. Everyone was delighted with news. The happiness of Miss Bennet gave her face such a glow that she seemed more beautiful than ever. Bingley's happiness was also visible on his face, giving it a boyish cast.
Mrs. Bennet couldn't believe that soon she would have a second daughter married. Jane's match was much better than Lydia's. The Wickhams were soon forgotten, what with them being so far away and the Bingleys soon to be living so close. She prepared herself to go and visit Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long to tell them the good news.
"I'm happy for you Jane. I do hope you will give a few balls at Netherfield every winter," Miss Kitty exclaimed. She also wished aloud that her turn would be coming soon.
Miss Mary also made a petition to Bingley and Jane, asking if she might make use of the Netherfield library. Unlike Kitty's request, which Jane responded to noncommittally, Bingley approved Mary's request and hoped she would find a treasure-trove.
Bingley returned home with a happy heart. He informed Reynolds that Miss Mary Bennet was allowed access to the library whenever she wished and then he retired to his study. He wished to inform his sisters of the engagement, as well as his friend and urge Darcy to return. Even though he was excited, these letters were important so he took his time.
Dear Louisa and Caroline, I am afraid that have been amiss in writing since I arrived at Netherfield. I trust your visit with the Hursts is going well. I am unsure what your schedule is for following this visit, but you might want to leave some time available for visiting Hertfordshire. I asked Miss Bennet to be my wife this morning, and we are now engaged. She has made me the happiest man in the world. I am aware of your interference last winter and while it angers me, I have decided to overlook it. Jane has also kindly chosen to overlook it. That said, I trust you will welcome her to the family and renew your friendship from the past. A wedding date has not been set, but please come to Netherfield as soon as you are able. I will send more information regarding the wedding as soon as I can drag myself away from my beloved. Yours affectionately,
October 4, 18--
Dear Louisa and Caroline,
I am afraid that have been amiss in writing since I arrived at Netherfield. I trust your visit with the Hursts is going well. I am unsure what your schedule is for following this visit, but you might want to leave some time available for visiting Hertfordshire. I asked Miss Bennet to be my wife this morning, and we are now engaged. She has made me the happiest man in the world.
I am aware of your interference last winter and while it angers me, I have decided to overlook it. Jane has also kindly chosen to overlook it. That said, I trust you will welcome her to the family and renew your friendship from the past. A wedding date has not been set, but please come to Netherfield as soon as you are able. I will send more information regarding the wedding as soon as I can drag myself away from my beloved.
He wisely chose not to discuss much of their behaviour in London towards Jane and himself. He also deliberately omitted mentioning who informed him. His letter to Darcy was much different.
October 4, 18--
I hope your business is going so well in London so that you might return early. I have some wonderful news to share. Miss Bennet and I are engaged to be married. I asked for her hand shortly after you left for London. God knows what causes an angel to love a fool.* I am the luckiest man in the world and we're to be the happiest couple in England. Please return to Netherfield and celebrate with us. The wedding date has yet to be set, but I was wondering if you would stand up with me.
However since you're in London, could you do me a favour? Could you pay a visit to my bank and obtain my mother's wedding rings? I have sent a note to my banker giving you permission. Please bring the rings with you when you return to Hertfordshire. I cannot wait to see them on Jane's finger.
That's all the news I have so far. I'll send more information as soon as I am able.
Bingley asked Reynolds to send Darcy's letter, the letter to his sisters and the letter to his banker to the Post the next day.
* "Stumbling In" - Great Big Sea
Happy were the days following his engagement. Bingley spent most of his time at Longbourn; mornings, afternoon and evenings. Long hours were spent discussing the wedding and their life afterwards. Each share their hopes and dreams and to the delight of both, they were remarkably similar.
About a week following the engagement as Bingley was visiting with the ladies of Longbourn enjoying a morning of idle pursuits, the sound of a carriage drew their attention. Always the swiftest to investigate such things, Miss Kitty looked out the window. "Why it's a carriage. Very elegant," she exclaimed.
Mrs. Bennet joined her at the window. "I wonder who it could be. I don't recognize the livery and it's too early for visitors."
"Perhaps we might take a stroll around the yard, Jane," Bingley suggested in hopes of avoiding the visitor. "It's such a lovely morning." Miss Bennet readily agreed and they disappeared. Miss Mary also made herself scarce under the pretense of her music.
As they strolled through the shrubbery that surrounded Longbourn, they speculated as to the identify of the mystery caller. They approached the copse at one side of the property and saw Elizabeth as well as heard a voice raised in what seemed to be outrage, "Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relationship he has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns."
Jane and Bingley didn't wait to hear Elizabeth's exact response, just her raised voice. Jane was so concerned for her sister that she never bothered to inquire who the woman was, but Bingley recognized the voice as Darcy's imperialist aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He didn't know why she would be visiting, but considering her tone of voice, it must be highly important, at least in her mind.
By the time they returned from their walk Lady Catherine had departed. No word was mentioned as to why she came, just speculation as to news regarding the Collinses. Very little was seen of Miss Elizabeth for the rest of the day.
She was also very quiet the next day. Her behaviour gave Bingley pause and he decided to ask his beloved a question when they were alone. "Jane, what does your sister think of my friend?"
Jane paused for a moment to collect her thoughts and replied, "She does not think very highly of him." She could have been more specific but she didn't want to damage the relationship between her future husband and her sister.
Bingley wasn't entirely convinced that that currently was Elizabeth's opinion of Darcy. "When we met in Derbyshire, I was convinced she held a different opinion."
"She really hasn't said much about Derbyshire. Perhaps her opinion has changed," Jane said thoughtfully.
Bingley had one further question to ask, "What is her opinion of marriage?"
Jane put some thought into this question as well before answering, "She once said that only the deepest of love would induce her to marry."
"Oh," Bingley replied, unsure how to continue so he carefully changed the subject to Jane's view of marriage.
When Bingley returned to Netherfield that evening, He discovered a surprise. He found his best friend sitting in his library reading the newspaper. "Darcy, what a surprise. Why didn't you send word that your would be returning?"
"And ruin the surprised look on your face? Of course not. You wanted me to hurry back so writing a letter would take too much time," Darcy replied with a grin.
Bingley could only grim in kind before Darcy spoke again, "I brought the rings as you asked in your letter. I even took them by my jeweler for cleaning. Congratulations my friend."
Bingley took the box and shook the proffered hand. "Thank you for everything."
"So how is the happiest couple in England?" Darcy asked.
"Deliriously happy, generally. We've been a little troubled the past couple of days though," Bingley said bluntly.
Darcy smiled. "Whatever could disturb the happiest couple in England?"
"Your aunt paid a visit yesterday to the Bennets. Jane and I happened upon a conversation she had with Elizabeth. Lady Catherine was very blunt, to say the least. Afterwards Elizabeth was very quiet. She hasn't been the same since yesterday morning."
"I was visited by her as well. Last evening to be exact. She was indeed very blunt and shared with me her conversation with Miss Bennet. Her visit is the reason I'm here this evening. I thought I might discuss Aunt Catherine's visit with Miss Elizabeth tomorrow," Darcy replied.
"I'll see what I can do to help. What I can do about getting you both alone to talk," Bingley said helpfully. "I think I'm going to turn in for the evening. I'm exhausted. Happiness can really tire a man out. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night," Darcy wished him and went back to reading the paper.
The gentlemen arrived at Longbourn early. Bingley attempted to help out his friend as promised; "Shall we all go for a walk?"
"I am not in the habit of walking," replied Mrs. Bennet and Mary said she couldn't spare the time. "The rest of you should go though," she advised.
Bingley and Jane paired together and Darcy walked with Miss Elizabeth and Miss Kitty. They walked toward Lucas Lodge and Bingley convinced Jane to walk slower than the rest. Bingley explained to Jane what Darcy and he had discussed the previous night. She was please that Darcy wanted to help her sister. Soon Jane and Bingley couldn't see the other three walkers.
They were just about to sit down to eat when Darcy and Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. "My dear Lizzy, where can you have been walking to?" Jane asked.
"We wandered about until I was beyond my own knowledge," Elizabeth explained.
"She must have taken you quite a distance, Mr. Darcy," Mr. Bennet commented. "My Lizzy has explored the entire reaches of Hertfordshire, I think."
Bingley watched both Miss Elizabeth and his friend for some time. He was sure that something had gone on between them during their walk besides a discussion about Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Eventually it was time for the gentlemen to return to Netherfield. During the ride back, Darcy startled Bingley was some news. "We're engaged."
"Pardon me," Bingley said. "Who are engaged?"
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet and myself."
"I thought something had occurred between the two of you. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Congratulations to you both."
"It's not yet official so could you please be discrete?" Darcy asked.
"Discretion is my middle name," Bingley assured him. "When we get home, this news deserves a drink." Darcy just laughed in response.
They had their celebratory drink and Bingley asked Darcy all about his love for Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy told him everything; when it began, their past meetings, Elizabeth's wonderful qualities. Darcy even brought up the first proposal and the change it brought about in him. He also thanked Bingley for his contribution. "If you hadn't rented Netherfield, we would never have found happiness," Darcy commented. "To happiness," he said raising his glass.
They talked for most of the night and only retired to their rooms in the wee hours of the morning. Both were a little bleary-eyed when they both appeared at breakfast the next morning. As they were desirous to see their beloveds, they were breakfasting extremely early. "Good morning, Darcy. Sleep well?"
"Of course but I think I'll have a few more cups of coffee this morning than I normally do. Reminds me of Cambridge."
They quickly finished their meals and coffees, and hurried over to the Bennet residence. Bingley tried to inform Elizabeth silently that he knew the good news and how happy he was about it. "Mr. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again today?" he asked after he had greeted everyone.
"I advise Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy, and Kitty," said Mrs. Bennet, "to walk to Oakham Mount this morning. It is a nice long walk, and I'm sure Mr. Darcy has never seen the view."
Bingley thought having Kitty along would definitely spoil things and set out to change it. Lovers should have time to be alone, especially new ones. "It may do very well for the others but I am sure it will be too much for Kitty. Won't it, Kitty?"
"I would rather stay here," Kitty replied. "Maria Lucas said she might call this morning."
"I confess I have never seen the view from Oakham Mount, but have heard it's quite spectacular," Darcy commented. "Shall the rest of us go?"
The group soon set off and as occurred the previous day, Jane and Bingley fell behind Darcy and Elizabeth. Soon each pair of lovers was alone to talk and ramble. Jane and Bingley discussed how happy they both were about Darcy and Elizabeth's engagement.
The group met up on a path back to Longbourn and Darcy remarked that the view from Oakham Mount was indeed spectacular. Elizabeth and Darcy had decided that Mr. Bennet's consent was to be asked during the evening and that she would ask her mother later once the young men had left. Jane and Bingley wholeheartedly approved of that plan.
Bingley silently wished his friend well when Darcy followed Mr. Bennet to the library. He knew from very recent experience just how nerve-racking that could be. He was gone for some time and then Elizabeth hurried away as soon as he returned. He glanced at Jane and could see the worry he felt reflected in her eyes. Eventually she returned to the parlour smiling, relieving the anxiety felt by her betrothed, her sister and Bingley.
As the second engagement become known throughout the area, the Bennets were declared the luckiest family in the world, with two daughters engaged to such fine rich gentlemen. Letters of congratulations were received daily and many visitors as well. Some words of congratulations were effusive and heartfelt while others were flat and insincere.
Preparations began in earnest, especially as a double wedding was planned for late autumn. Considering whom her daughters were marrying, Mrs. Bennet spared no time or expense and would have planned an extravagant wedding had her husband and daughters given her leave. Guests began arriving shortly before the wedding. Soon both Longbourn and Netherfield were filled with family and friends.
Well the day finally arrived, the day that two deserving young men would marry two equally deserving young ladies. Nerves were raw everywhere one looked, most especially in one room at Netherfield.
Bingley was fretting over his clothing, the most immediate thing on his mind. "I'm sure this cravat isn't tied properly. Is that a spot on my boots? I'm sure I asked that they be polished so I could see my face in them."
A breakfast tray had been brought up at his request but Bingley couldn't even look at it, let alone eat anything. He feared that if he had even just a small bite, it wouldn't stay down, considering how unsettled his stomach seemed.
He was also suffering from a lack of sleep so a large cup of black coffee was looking highly attractive. He just couldn't bring himself to pour a cup. His hands were shaking.
"Oh my nerves," Bingley declared as he rubbed at the nonexistent spot on his boots.
"You've been around Mrs. Bennet too long. You're starting to sound like her," Darcy commented as he entered the room.
"What? I sound nothing like her and how can you be so calm?" Bingley asked, astonished at friend's demeanor.
"I'm not calm. I'm just doing a better job hiding it. Besides I've been waiting for this day for so long that I no longer have any worries," Darcy replied. "Have you eaten?" noticing the untouched tray.
"Of course not. It feels like I've swallowed an entire beehive."
"Eat something; even just a little. Trust me, you'll feel a lot better. Here drink this juice."
Bingley did as his friend advised and surprisingly did feel better. He felt good enough to eat a muffin.
A knock at the door revealed Dawkins. "The carriages are ready, Sir." His news spiked the slowly quelling anxiety in Bingley, but he no longer had a chance to do anything about it. "Good luck, my friend," he wished Darcy as they walked to the front door.
"To you as well," Darcy said and they shook hands before entering their carriages to take them to Longbourn church.
There were mostly happy faces in the church as Mr. and Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. and Mrs. Darcy were united in holy matrimony. However there were a few sad ones. Caroline Bingley was disappointed that her brother was marrying a Bennet daughter and to add insult to injury, she would never become Mistress of Pemberley now that Mr. Darcy was also marrying one. Mrs. Hurst was also displeased with her brother's choice of bride, but nothing could be done now, except welcome Jane into the family. While Mrs. Collins was happy for her friend, Mr. Collins feared Lady Catherine's wrath. In fact he was so afraid of what she might do when he told her that the marriage had occurred that he was considering no returning to Kent until long after Christmas, perhaps even after his child was born.
Those few sour faces were greatly outnumbers by the happy ones. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, happy to see their daughters married well (he, to men who they loved and loved them back and she, to men of good fortune and would be well taken care of in the future). Miss Darcy was happy to see her brother so much in love with his perfectly suited bride. Reverend Smith was pleased to be marrying such fine young people on such a pleasant fall morning. In the midst of this sea of happiness, no people were happier than the four standing at the alter having themselves pronounced "man and wife" and introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley.
Author's Note: It's finally finished after a year and a half of work. It's hard to believe that I've finally come to the end. I'd like to thank Hannah E and Annie for acting as my Beta readers. Thank you for providing encouragement and helpful comments.
the end© 2002, 2003, 2004 Copyright held by author