“Bingley!” Mr. Darcy strode impatiently through the house, his voice and steps echoing against the high ceilings. “Bingley!”
A quiet cough behind him caused him to turn his head. Netherfield’s discreet butler murmured, “Mr. Bingley is at Longbourn today, I believe. He is not expected home for dinner.”
Darcy sighed, torn. He wanted very much to ride to Longbourn, where he could see
, but private
conversation would be nearly impossible there, and explaining his precipitous
return to the Bennets was not something he wanted to do. “I will need a servant
to take over a message for me,” he told the man. Elizabeth
“Very good, sir.”
His note was brief and to the point. Bingley—Don’t tell the ladies, but make your excuses as soon as you can and come back to Netherfield. I need to talk to you. —D
About an hour elapsed before a very curious-looking Mr. Bingley made his appearance. “Darcy! What is this about?”
Darcy looked at him over the rim of his wineglass. “I was wondering if you could tell me, Bingley, why it is that half of
currently thinks I’m engaged to be married to your sister?” London
“To—Caroline?” A look of astonishment (not unmixed with unholy glee) crossed his face. “Are you serious?”
“Unhappily, quite serious.”
“They think you’re engaged to Caroline?” he repeated unsteadily, struggling to hide a burgeoning grin.
“Yes, yes!” said Darcy impatiently. “And apparently you, my friend, are the source of the rumor!”
“What?” All laughter disappeared from his face. “No, no, I assure you! I would never say such a thing!”
“And yet you said something! I spoke with your sister myself, and she assured me that you are credited. So what did you do, Charles? Who did you speak to, and what did you say?”
“Nothing!” He protested. “No one! I was scarcely in town for a day. I saw no one but my sisters and my solicitor—and a business acquaintance or two, but we did not speak of you! Indeed, why should we?”
“You must have spoken to someone, Bingley! There was no rumor of my being engaged at all until you went to town, and immediately afterward this began. Now think, man! Did you speak to anyone at all about my engagement? Some chance acquaintance, perhaps?”
Bingley knit his brows. “Well…” he said slowly, “there were a couple of ladies in the street I greeted. Miss—Lamb? And Mrs. Snitchwood?”
Darcy groaned. “Mrs. Snitchwood is one of the most indiscreet and gossipy women in all
. What did you tell
“Nothing at all, I assure you! Nothing that they could have…” he trailed off slowly, as a look of consternation settled over him. “Oh,” he said at last.
Darcy waited. “Well?”
He shook his head. “Darcy, old man, I’m sorry.” A slow grin began to tug at the corners of his mouth.
Darcy rolled his eyes. “What was it?”
“Well, I—that is to say—“ he fidgeted, amusement fighting with chagrin on his face. “They asked how I was,” he blurted out, “so naturally I told them I was splendid because I was engaged, and then one of them asked me about you and I said that you were engaged too, and that… well, that….”
“Out with it, man!”
“I said we were to be brothers,” he finished sheepishly. Darcy groaned.
“Tell me you clarified that statement!”
“I got distracted! I saw this fellow I have long been wishing to speak to about a horse he has for sale; he was headed in the other direction, so naturally I had to go after him. It never occurred to me that my words would be taken in such a way!”
“Yes, it never occurred, because you didn’t think! You said the first thing that came into your mind, sharing news, I might add, that was not yours to impart, and then ran off the moment something else caught your interest. Bingley, I knew you to be impulsive, but this passes all bounds! You must learn to consider the effect of your actions before you carry them out! Now everyone in town believes me to be engaged to your sister. Even my aunt wrote to inform me of it! Do you realize the mortification this has caused to her—will cause her, when it becomes known that it isn’t true? And what if this comes to
’s ears, or her
father’s? I know he reads Elizabeth
papers sometimes! Can you imagine their displeasure?” Darcy had stood up and begun
to pace around during this speech. London
Bingley heard his reproof without resentment. Rather, he hung his head, properly chastised. “It is very bad, I know,” he agreed. “What can I do to set it right?”
“Set it right? I can only pray that I can be set right!” He frowned heavily, lost in thought for some minutes while Bingley watched anxiously. “We must put an announcement in the papers immediately,” he said. “I believe we should announce both of our engagements together, which will, I think, make it clear to most people how the mistake came to be. If necessary, I will speak to the editors of the papers myself. And as for you—” he bent his gaze on his friend, “you will follow me back to town and pay a call immediately on Mrs. Snitchwood and Miss Lamb, and personally explain to them what you meant when you said that you and I are to be brothers.”
Bingley sighed. He was not at all happy to be leaving his dearest Jane again so soon, but in this case he clearly had no choice. “Very well, Darcy. Is there anything else?”
“You must help me in speaking to your sisters. You must impress upon them the necessity of their speaking well of
They both knew neither woman was naturally inclined to do so. “If we want to
avoid scandal it must be made absolutely clear that neither Miss Bingley nor I
ever claimed the engagement—that it was a purely mistaken rumor. If it is seen that she is on
good terms with my intended—that she bears her no malice, and in fact finds it all quite amusing—that
will help tremendously.” He looked seriously at his friend. “I am counting on
you for this, Charles. Remind her that it is her own reputation that is at
stake as well.” Elizabeth
Charles nodded. “Caroline does not lack for sense. She will do what is necessary, I am sure.”
Darcy sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I must away back to
immediately. There is no time to spare
in setting this right! You will come tomorrow?” London
“In the afternoon, yes. I have a meeting with my steward in the morning.”
“Very well. I will see you then.” Their farewell was as brief as their greeting, and as soon as his horse was rested, Darcy was back in the saddle.
Mrs. Hurst was sitting with Miss Bingley when Mr. Darcy was announced the next morning. Caroline seized her sister’s hand and held it tightly for a moment. “Are you sure you can’t make him—?” whispered Mrs. Hurst, but she shook her head emphatically, and shushed her.
Darcy strode into the room and bowed to both ladies, offering a civil but brief greeting before turning to Miss Bingley. “Madam, I saw your brother yesterday, and have to report to you that you were correct: he was, unwittingly, the source of these false rumors.”
“But that makes no sense,” protested Mrs. Hurst. “Why would Charles say such a thing?”
He smiled wryly. “He did not—precisely.” He then proceeded to recount Bingley’s explanation with surprising good humor.
“Oh, how—how very like him!” exclaimed Caroline faintly.
“Indeed. He is truly penitent now, and he intends to return to town later today to support you, and to explain himself to the ladies that began all this. I have just come from visiting the offices of two major daily papers, where I personally spoke with the editors and requested that they announce the true details of my engagement, as well as your brother’s, tomorrow.” Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst both knew how much Mr. Darcy despised associating himself or his name with the papers, so his willingness to do this conveyed just how determined he was to set the rumors right immediately. “I am truly sorry, Miss Bingley,” he said sincerely, “that your name should have become involved with mine in such a manner, and for all the embarrassment I know this must have caused you. But you need not worry.” He rose to his feet. “After tomorrow—or the day after at the latest—no one will ever suspect you of being engaged to me again.”
Miss Bingley looked away.
“My advice to you,” he continued, “is to act like nothing is wrong. Pay and receive visits as always. Talk about it as lightly as possible; laugh about it if you can. And,” he looked rather sternly at both her and Mrs. Hurst, “the more affection you can show when speaking about both Miss Bennets, the better it will be for you. Let the world see that all is well between our families, and they will quickly accept that it was a simple mistake, and that you are in no way to blame for it.”
“Th-thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she said with some difficulty. Then as he turned to go, she suddenly stood and called out after him, “Mr. Darcy!”
He paused. “Yes, Miss Bingley?”
“Mr. Darcy, I have—I have forgotten to inquire of you how you left Miss Bennet and her family. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I mean.”
“She was very well the last time I saw her, I thank you.” He turned again.
Again he paused. “Yes?”
“Mr. Darcy…” she bit her lip, then looked at him squarely. “Do you really love her?”
The look Mr. Darcy directed at her was not without understanding, and some sympathy. “I have loved her for a long time,” he said.
“Then—” she took a deep breath, and then let it go. “I wish you both very happy.”
“Thank you, Caroline,” he answered, using her given name for the first and only time. He fitted his hat back on his head, nodded to both ladies, and left.
Mr. Darcy’s fourth stop of the morning was his uncle’s house. It was his aunt he came primarily to see, of course. His uncle was a mild-mannered, retiring man, the very opposite of his sister, who generally deferred to his wife’s judgment in all things.
Lady Matlock looked up when he was shown in, and extended her hand for him to kiss. “There you are! I have been wondering if you were planning on calling and explaining yourself!”
“My apologies, Aunt. I have been out of town, and my staff failed to forward your note to me. I only received it yesterday.”
She gestured at a chair, and he took it. “I hope you are going to set my mind at ease, Darcy.”
“I hope so too.”
“Don’t be so teasing! Tell me outright: are you going to marry that Bingley woman?”
“I am not.”
She nodded with satisfaction. “And I said as much to that fool woman who tried to assure me it was true. Do you have any idea how the rumor got started? It wasn’t she, was it, in an attempt to force you? All of
knows she’s been dangling after you for the last two years!” London
He sighed. His aunt was only so brutally frank in private, but it still sometimes discomposed him a bit. “It was a misunderstanding based on something my friend Bingley said. May I ask you if you have received any recent correspondence from Lady Catherine?”
She looked at him speculatively. “Yes, she’s written, but I haven’t been in the mood for her humors recently, so I haven’t read any of it. Should I?”
“That is for you to decide, but I am grateful for the chance to inform you first of a circumstance that has greatly displeased her.”
“Well, it doesn’t take much to do that usually.”
“Out with it!”
“There is a part of that rumor that you should know is true. I am not going to be married to Caroline Bingley, but I am going to be married.”
His aunt’s eyes widened. “Indeed! And when were you going to tell us of this?”
Her eyes gleamed, but she shook her head sternly. “And pray tell, how long have you been engaged?”
“About two weeks, madam. This is my first trip back into town since then, and I thought it better to speak to you in person than to write.”
“Why? You haven’t made an unsuitable alliance, have you, Darcy?”
“I trust you will not think so,” he answered, but so seriously that the anxious look stayed on her face.
“The Darcys have always been proud, and you the proudest of them. Are you going to tell me now that you’ve chosen someone your parents would have disliked?”
“No.” He smiled now. “No, I believe my parents would have liked her very much. Georgiana is delighted with her. Her family, I own, is not what I would have chosen, had I chosen her for her family, but she is a gentleman’s daughter, and a true lady herself. And I did not choose her for her family,” he told her firmly.
“Why did you choose her then?” she asked, watching his face closely.
He looked her in the eye. “I chose her because I love her.”
“Well that’s something, anyway. But are you sure you haven’t entangled yourself with a girl who is unfit for the sphere you function in? Who is she? Do I know her? It isn’t that Marlburg woman, is it?”
“Or Eleanor Jurbish? Or Alice Simmons?”
He shook his head impatiently. “None of them,” he said with dismissive contempt. “The woman I am to marry is completely unknown to
you may perhaps have heard her name.” London
As he was speaking, a voice and a quick step had been heard in the hall; the door opened; Colonel Fitzwilliam entered. “Good morning to you, Mother!” he said cheerfully. “Darcy, old fellow! I thought you were in the country!”
“I was,” said Darcy, rising to give him his hand.
“Richard, you have interrupted at quite the wrong time!” his mother said.
“Why, is Darcy telling you secrets?”
“Not with you here.”
“Oh, in that case—!” he turned toward the door. Darcy spoke.
“No, stay, Fitzwilliam! I am telling news, but no secrets.”
“News? What kind of news?”
“Your cousin says he’s getting married!”
“Getting married!” Fitzwilliam turned astonished eyes on him. “You?”
“I, cousin!” Darcy smiled. “In fact,” he added deliberately, “you know the lady.”
Fitzwilliam laughed. “I know a lot of ladies, Darcy! Does my mother know her too?”
“No, not yet. It is not anyone in
he added. His eyes looked steadily at the colonel’s as the older man searched
his mind in vain. London
“A lady I know, not in
must you make me guess, Darcy?” London
“Because I am curious to see if you will.”
The colonel furrowed his brow. “Have we been in company with this lady together?”
“Yes, we have. On numerous occasions, in fact.”
“But I haven’t even seen much of you since—” Fitzwilliam’s eyes widened suddenly. Darcy’s even gaze did not falter. “Why, you sly dog!” he cried. “Is that why you were so silent and stupid the whole time, and glowered at me whenever I talked of her? You should have told me to keep my hands off of her!”
“If I had had the slightest real concern that you would—er—put your hands on her,” replied Darcy calmly, leaning back in his chair, “then I assure you I would have.”
“So instead you sat by and let me flirt with the woman you were in love with!”
“Well you did have your uses, you know. You got her to talk, which was more than I could do then.”
“But who is it?” cried her ladyship. “I demand to know at once whom you are speaking of!” Darcy just looked at the colonel, his brows raised slightly.
The colonel turned to his mother. “Well, ma’am, unless I am very much mistaken—and if I am I’m about to put my foot in it—our Darcy’s engaged to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” Darcy smiled his approbation, and Fitzwilliam exclaimed, “There! Upon my word, I congratulate you, cousin! She will make you a delightful wife.”
“Thank you.” A spot of color rose in each cheek.
His aunt was frowning. “Elizabeth Bennet? I have heard the name, but I do not immediately remember where.”
“It was from me. I met her when Darcy and I stayed at Rosings over Easter. Her cousin is Aunt Catherine’s vicar, and she was visiting at the parsonage. We saw a great deal of her.”
“And did Catherine approve of her?”
Darcy answered her. “At the time, I believe she liked her quite well, although
more opinions than she was accustomed to.” A smile flickered around his mouth. Elizabeth
“But I don’t understand,” said Fitzwilliam. “When did this happen?”
“About two weeks ago.”
“But—you’ve been in love with her since the spring?”
“Longer, actually.” Darcy got up and poured himself a drink, fighting rare self-conscious shyness. “I first fell in love with her in Hertfordshire last autumn.” He turned his eyes to his astonished aunt. “So you may rest assured, Aunt, that this is not hastily done on my part.”
“But if you’ve known your own desires so long, then why weren’t you married months ago? What took you so long?”
Darcy stared at the liquid in his glass and did not immediately reply. It was Lady Matlock who eventually broke the silence. “You don’t mean to say she wouldn’t have you?”
“No, madam,” he replied in a level voice, “she wouldn’t.” Then he smiled. “Until now.”
“Well!” She subsided into thoughtful silence.
Fitzwilliam was shaking his head. “Now I know what to make of your black moods! You were thwarted in love, by Jove! I can only hope your present happiness makes up for your unhappiness then!”
Darcy sighed and smiled even more. Aunt and cousin exchanged an amused look. “More than sufficiently. I am indeed the happiest of men,” he acknowledged.
“But who is she?” asked Lady Matlock. “Who is her family?”
“Her father, Mr. Bennet, is a gentleman. He owns a modest estate outside of Meryton, called Longbourn. I believe it has been in the family for several generations. It is unfortunately entailed, and since he and Mrs. Bennet have no sons, it will devolve, upon his death, to that same Mr. Collins,
’s cousin whom she was staying with
in Hunsford. Her elder sister, Miss Jane Bennet, is to marry my good friend,
Mr. Charles Bingley.” He looked at the countess gravely. “She has no fortune,
and no connections to speak of—which did prevent me from initially forming any serious designs on
her. I became convinced in time, though, that she herself more than makes up
for any drawbacks of that kind, and remain even more convinced of it now. And
since she was by no means eager to receive my attentions, you may acquit her of
fortune hunting.” Elizabeth
He put his glass down and stood up. “Since I am sure whatever I might say in Miss Bennet’s praise will be immediately considered suspect, I will instead leave that for my cousin. You will,” he said, smiling, “do her justice, I know, Richard. Madam, I must bid you good day.” He bent over his aunt’s hand.
“Will I like her, Darcy?” she asked.
“I think you will. But—” he picked up his hat and gloves. “I am going to marry her regardless.”
That made her laugh. “Good! You always were entirely too sure of yourself for such a young man, but this is one thing a man should be sure about.”
“Thank you, Aunt.” He paused at the door. “My Aunt Catherine is very angry. I wish you would not credit whatever she may say about
“No, no, I shall wait and judge for myself.” He thanked her again, made his last goodbyes, and left.
“Well!” she exclaimed, looking at her son’s twinkling eyes. “What kind of woman is she, Richard?”
“A charming one, I assure you.”
“You don’t need to tell me that! You don’t suppose a man like Darcy would fall in love with a woman who wasn’t exceptionally charming? But what is she like? What of her temperament, her manners, her appearance?”
He reflected. “She’s pretty, though not extraordinarily so. She has a great deal of spirit and vivacity that increases her prettiness whenever she’s talking—and she talks very well, with wit and clever opinions on everything—the kind that amuse but don’t offend,” he added. “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed conversing with a woman more. She never showed the slightest sign of being intimidated by Lady Catherine, and Darcy’s right, I can’t recall that she ever paid much attention to him at all. When they did speak, she teased him amazingly. I remember being quite surprised at it.”
“Many women try to tease Darcy.”
“Not like this. She wasn’t teasing to get a compliment from him. She was—well, frankly, looking back, she was making veiled insults, I suppose, but delivered with such a sweet archness of manner that it’s not surprising he wasn’t offended. On the contrary, I think he liked it.”
“And did you have no suspicion of his being attached to her?”
“I thought he admired her. He certainly looked at her enough. But as for his trying to attach her—I never saw any evidence of it. He spoke less than I’ve ever seen him do in my life—in small groups, I mean. I assumed her lack of connection prevented him from acting on whatever attraction he felt.”
Her ladyship gave a very unladylike snort. “It would be just like Darcy to make up his mind to marry a woman without bothering to pay her any attentions, and then be astonished when she didn’t immediately accept him. He has had far too much of his own way for most of his life.” Then, as Fitzwilliam burst out laughing, she asked, “Well? What is it?”
“Oh, just that I remember Miss Bennet saying something very like that once.”
“Well! Perhaps she has some sense, then. Darcy has plenty enough money, and pride, and good connections. It won’t hurt him to marry a little beneath him, if he can get himself a wife who’ll teach him not to take himself so seriously, and to laugh a bit more.”
“Miss Bennet laughs a great deal, I promise you.”
“So much the better. Now where is that letter from Catherine? She must be absolutely mortified to find out that Darcy prefers a country nobody to her daughter! It will be vastly entertaining.”