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Rudeness and Retribution

Chapter Text




Hertfordshire, 1811

"What does Mr. Darcy mean," said Elizabeth to Charlotte, "by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?"

"That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer."

"Nay, Charlotte, that is too sensible a reply! It puts this line of conversation quite at an end, and I am not yet inclined to abandon it. I shall answer for Mr. Darcy, regarding his motives: Inspired by the travels of the venerated Captain Cook, he has traveled to the wilds of Hertfordshire, to observe the savage Meryton society with his thoughts on scientific inquiry."

Charlotte laughed.

"You may laugh, my dear, but I am quite in earnest. You must own that you can think of no other motive for his coming to listen to my conversation, for he has made it quite apparent that there is nothing in our society to please him."

Charlotte owned that her observation matched Elizabeth's own: he thought himself above the present company and had no wish to enjoy the society or the conversation.

Such encouragement spurred Elizabeth on to continue in venting her feelings. "He is such a rude man! Someone ought to teach him a lesson, and to show him just how unpleasant the society here in Hertfordshire can be."

"And I daresay, Eliza, that you shall take it upon yourself to be this someone?"

"I rather think I shall. I believe I am also owed some retribution on a more personal charge; you remember his comments regarding my person at the assembly."

Charlotte had commiserated with her friend over the overheard slight before, and did indeed remember his comments. "And how will you exact your revenge, Eliza? How does one punish Mr. Darcy?"

"Nothing easier, my dear Charlotte. Observe his interactions with Miss Bingley. See how stiff he becomes whenever she approaches him with her compliments and solicitations. Now- see- she has just fluttered his eyelashes most charmingly at him, and observe his reaction: Is that not a look of unmistakable annoyance on his features? Every time her arm ever so delicately brushes his own, every time she throws her head back, showing her elegant hairstyle to its best advantage, does not his countenance grow darker and darker? There will be no difficulty in vexing him; one must only follow Miss Bingley's skillful example."

"I daresay you are right, Eliza. Miss Bingley's flirtation does rather seem to try his nerves. But could you really be as brazen as she is?"

"I could be as brazen as I like when with a person for whose opinion I do not care a whit. Doubtless Mr. Darcy will think ill of me, but the thought occasions no pain. He is such an arrogant man, I could not have won his approbation in any case."

The opportunity for carrying out her plan to punish Mr. Darcy came that very same evening, with the unwitting assistance of Sir William Lucas. Sir William had been engaging Mr. Darcy in conversation (with indifferent success) when Elizabeth walked past, and struck with the action of doing a very gallant thing, called out to her-

"My dear Miss Eliza, why are you not dancing?-Mr. Darcy, you must allow me to present this young lady to you as a very desirable partner. You cannot refuse to dance, I am sure, when so much beauty is before you." And, taking her hand, he gave it to Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth was sure that he would have liked to refuse, but was unwilling to let such an opportunity pass, and thus hastened to express her willingness to dance in such a way as to make it impossible for Mr Darcy to refuse to dance without being horribly rude. To her surprise, he received such maneuvering with more good humor than she had expected, and led her to the floor with nary a scowl.

She was determined, though, to deprive him of his good humor by the end of the dance, and accordingly, began complimenting him: "My word, Mr. Darcy, how well you dance! I do not know when I have last witnessed such lightness of foot, such elegant motion!"

Mr. Darcy looked startled at such an opening, and after thanking her with some discomfort for the compliment and returning it in kind, attempted to switch the subject to that of books. Elizabeth, however, would not be dissuaded: "Oh no- I cannot talk of books while dancing; my head is always full of something else. Tell me, Mr. Darcy: is the elegance of your dancing the result of much practice, or does it come to you naturally?"

Elizabeth then went on to express her approbation for his height, his clothes and the tie of his cravat. She watched with delight as with each compliment his expression became stonier and his annoyance more obvious. The terseness of his answers rather than deterring her, did quite the opposite.

"Oh!" cried she, "How pleasant it is to dance with a partner who does not rattle on like some other men of one's acquaintance! I daresay some green young men feel the need to prove their intelligence by talking ceaselessly during a dance, but a man of true breeding- here she met his gaze meaningfully- needs only his dignified silence to recommend him."

She wondered if her expression of approbation towards his silence would provoke him into finally speaking a word, but the set of his jaw only became more stiff. She imagined that he was clenching his teeth.

When the dance ended, he gave a short bow, and then hurried off as fast as politeness would allow, leaving Elizabeth feeling rather pleased with herself.

"I flatter myself that he has never endured a more unpleasant dance." Elizabeth later told the Misses Long, not quite able to disguise the smugness in her voice. Along with the rest of Meryton, they had heard of Mr. Darcy's slight towards Elizabeth, and had hurried over to her the minute the dance was over to hear her account of it, upon which her plan of punishing Mr. Darcy was duly explained.

"My word, Miss Elizabeth!" exclaimed the younger Miss Long, "I should never have thought to exact my revenge in such a way, but it does seem to have worked remarkably well. And there can be no doubt that he deserves it, the rude man!"

Some of the girls around her giggled, and cast glances at Mr. Darcy, where he was standing against a wall and scowling. He noticed the giggles and the glances that were being thrown his way from that quarter, and doubtlessly deducing the wrong reason for them, turned away.

This occasioned more merriment, which only gave Elizabeth more encouragement to begin thinking of new ways to flatter Mr. Darcy. Her friend Charlotte, however, took her aside a moment later, and cautioned her thus: "I begin to question the wisdom, Eliza, of setting on making yourself disagreeable to a man of such consequence as Mr. Darcy. Especially if your sister seeks to recommend herself to his friend."

"My dear Charlotte, I believe we have already had this argument. Jane does not seek to recommend herself to Mr. Bingley. At the moment she wishes only to know him better."

Charlotte's expression told Elizabeth what she thought about the wisdom of such a strategy, but she said no more on the subject.

Fate, coupled with the machinations of Mrs. Bennet, conspired to land Elizabeth in Mr. Darcy's company again sooner than she would have expected.

While there was no doubt that Elizabeth's first object at Netherfield was to see to the well being of her beloved sister, Jane, it must be owned that Elizabeth found a stimulating source of diversion in the form of Mr. Darcy.

During the interminably long minutes after supper when politeness obliged Elizabeth to sit with the company for some time before retiring upstairs to Jane, she often had to deal with Mrs. Hurst's superior attitude, and Miss Bingley's less than subtle jibes. The only thing that kept those evenings from being entirely dismal was watching Mr. Darcy grit his teeth harder and harder as the evening went on and forcing himself to maintain his politeness in the face of some truly shameless flirtation.

She also received some amusement from watching Caroline Bingley's response to her behavior. That woman had obviously set her sights on Mr. Darcy, and soon became quite unable to hide her hatred for Elizabeth, as it became clear that she saw her as competition. Why she should see her as a threat was a mystery to Elizabeth, as it was obvious to her that Mr Darcy despised her flattery even more than he did that of Miss Bingley. That lady, had at least, the friendship between Mr. Darcy and her brother, as an advantage. Elizabeth had not even that, and she fancied that he reacted even more negatively to her own fawning. Though perhaps, Elizabeth flattered herself, she was simply more talented at being a simpering sycophant than Miss Bingley was.

On the evening in question, the party was a rather quiet one. Each member of the group was occupied with their own employment- Mr. Bingley and Mr. Hurst were playing picquet, Mrs. Hurst observing them, Mr. Darcy writing a letter, and Elizabeth occupied by needlework, when her attention was caught by the exchange between Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy.

She was obviously trying to divert his attention from his letter onto herself, and was every so often leaning over his desk to make some comment or another.

"How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!"

He made no answer. Miss Bingley, though, refused to be discouraged by so blatant a hint.

"You write uncommonly fast."

"You are mistaken. I write rather slowly."

"Indeed!" Elizabeth chimed in, able to resist no longer, "I can have no respect for one who does not take care to considers his words before carelessly blotting them down. Slow writing is the mark of a wise and ponderous mind." She gave Mr. Darcy a meaningful look.

He frowned at such ridiculous flattery, and Miss Bingley scowled at her. She obviously did not want to be outdone by Elizabeth, and Elizabeth watched gleefully as she fell for her bait.

"How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!"

"It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of yours," he replied.

Elizabeth jumped in again. "I am sure Mr. Darcy is most attentive to his duties. Any letters he must write, he immediately attends to, whether he finds them odious or not. He is so very conscientious!"

And so on and on it went, Elizabeth outdoing each and every one of Miss Bingley's flattering remarks, to the woman's increasing vexation, and Mr. Darcy's growing discomfort. At last, though, Elizabeth was obliged to excuse herself and leave the room, lest she give herself away by breaking out in giggles which were becoming harder and harder to suppress.

Finally, Jane was well recovered enough to leave the Bingley residence, and it had been agreed that the carriage would convey her and Elizabeth home the next day. Anticipation at the prospect of finally returning home had made Elizabeth impatient, and she came to the library to read in an attempt to pass the time.

Not five minutes after she had entered and selected a book, Mr. Darcy entered after her. He frowned a bit upon seeing that the library was already occupied and by whom, but after a minute he simply ignored her and settled down in a nearby chair with his book.

Elizabeth supposed that he would be happy to sit there for an hour without exchanging one word with her, but she was not about to let him.

"Prey tell, Mr. Darcy, what are you reading?"

He did not answer her, but merely tilted the book down so that she could read the cover.

"How diverting!" she exclaimed, overcoming the brief temptation to ask his opinion regarding one of her favorite books. "I do declare, I like nothing so much as a man who reads! I cannot comprehend how one can neglect the improvement of one's mind through reading, but sadly, it is all too common to meet people who fritter away all their times in frivolous occupations, and never once open a book."

"Indeed," he replied gravely. "If you will excuse me-" and he bowed and left.

"My word," she mused to herself once he had gone, "I only spoke three sentences before he ran out of the room. Lord, but I am talented!"

After her stay in Netherfield, Elizabeth rather felt that she had had her fun and extracted her revenge, and desired no more to think of Mr. Darcy and his pride. Unfortunately, the subject seemed to be ubiquitous; soon after her meeting the new and charming Lieutenant Wickham, during a dinner with the Philipses, the subject was brought up once more.

The handsome Mr. Wickham, to Lydia's unabashed delight and Elizabeth's more subdued pleasure, chose to seat himself between the two sisters upon entering the room, and Lydia almost immediately set about monopolizing his attention. She began by asking him about his intentions of enlisting, what rank he would be, and whether he thought he would look even more excessively handsome in his new uniform. Eventually, though, the conversation turned to more personal details.

"Where do you hail from, Mr. Wickham?"

"London, most recently," he replied, "but I have spent the chief of my childhood in Derbyshire."

"Why, that is where Mr. Darcy lives, is it not, Elizabeth?" asked Lydia, with a sly smile.

Elizabeth answered in the affirmative rather reluctantly. She had no desire to discuss Mr. Darcy after a rather unpleasant encounter she had had with him the day before. During her walk in Meryton with her sisters and Mr. Collins, while they were being first introduced to Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth had seen Mr. Bingley ride towards them followed closely by Mr. Darcy. Upon espying the group and Elizabeth in it, Mr. Darcy's face changed color to red, and after the barest tip of the head required by politeness he rode off.

Elizabeth had been left feeling mortified and doubtful. She had only meant to vex Mr. Darcy a little, not to harass him to such an extent that he could hardly bear to lay eyes on her. And really, his crime had only been one rude sentence, uttered in the space of a few seconds, while her retribution for the insult had lasted a full week! Guiltily, Elizabeth mused that she had only meant to cause the proud man a little annoyance, but not to bring about such distress as the kind she had seen on his face that morning.

Her plight was exacerbated by Kitty, who had been listening in, and had chosen that moment to chime in and make Elizabeth feel even worse: "Are you speaking of poor Mr. Darcy? La! Did you see how red his face became when he came across us yesterday? And then he just rode away! I almost do feel sorry for him, though he is so proud, for he has been quite ill-used indeed!"

Elizabeth glared at her sister. Kitty had found her retribution just as funny as she had at the time. To suddenly now say that he had been ill-used by her was quite a betrayal.

Her mortification was increased when Mary King decided that she must have her share of the conversation: "Oh yes, I've heard all about that! You have taken quite an interest in Mr. Darcy's affairs, haven't you, Lizzy? Maggie Long told me all about it!" she giggled slightly.

"Excuse me," Mr. Wickham muttered, "I must take my leave. I am suffering from slight indigestion. Goodbye," and he left without uttering an additional word or meeting their eyes.

The ladies were all sorry to see him go, and even sorrier a few days later, when they heard that he had changed his mind and abandoned his decision to purchase a commission in favor of returning to London. None of them, however, thought to connect his actions with the conversation that had taken place that evening in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Philips.

Any remorse that Lizzy may have felt for her treatment of Mr. Darcy was quickly wiped away the night of the Netherfield ball. During her painful dance with Mr. Collins, Lizzy saw Mr. Darcy across the room. He was watching the humiliating spectacle of her cousin dancing with a sardonic smirk on his face, and Lizzy immediately decided that he had clearly not been punished enough.

She began to wonder how Mr. Darcy would react if she began to follow him around the room, in an obvious attempt to procure an invitation to dance. If she was persistent enough, might she actually compel him to go to bed early and leave the ball? Soon however, all thoughts of Mr. Darcy were driven from her mind in her distress over her family's embarrassing behavior.

The next day, Mr. Bingley left for London. The rest of his party, including Mr. Darcy, left one day later. A note from Caroline Bingley to Jane indicated that they were not to return.

Chapter Text

Kent, 1812

Elizabeth heard soon after her arrival in Kent that two of Lady Catherine's nephews were expected to arrive for a visit on the week preceding Easter: A Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a Mr. Darcy. The news was by no means welcome to her, but after a few weeks in the company of Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins, she began to think that any variety in such a limited circle must be welcome.

"I do wonder," Elizabeth remarked to Charlotte on the day of Mr. Darcy's arrival, "how long it will be until we see Mr. Darcy. Having a previous acquaintance with us, courtesy requires him to call, but I cannot imagine that it is a duty he will relish."

"I do hope, Eliza," replied Charlotte, with a serious tone that was unsuited to the levity of Elizabeth's observation, "that you have forsaken your crusade of making Mr. Darcy uncomfortable by flattering him. Lady Catherine wishes Mr. Darcy to marry her daughter Anne and will not be pleased to perceive that another woman has designs on him, especially one of our rank. My husband and I are dependent on Lady Catherine's good will, and the results could be needlessly unpleasant for us all."

"You need not fear, Charlotte," Elizabeth replied laughingly, "By my calculation, a full week of fawning at Netherfield is more than enough retribution for one rude comment, the poor man." Then, because it had been weighing on her for a while, she could not help but add: "I have long been regretting my behavior towards Mr. Darcy in Hertfordshire. I vexed Mr. Darcy at every opportunity, caused Miss Bingley to perceive me as a threat, and gave the general impression of being grasping and mercenary. I do not doubt that Mr. Bingley's relations urged him to sever his connexion with Jane due to my bad behavior."

Charlotte hmmed. "Have you told Jane about your suspicions?"

"Jane is an angel, of course. She refuses to blame me and insists that she must have imagined his interest in her and indulged in wishful thinking. It is quite clear to me, though, that he was completely enamored with her, and I cannot help but think that if I had only behaved better, his friend and sister would not have felt the need to keep him away."

Charlotte was too honest an individual to reassure Elizabeth with insincere platitudes, but she was also too good a friend to say 'I told you so'. So she merely stroked Elizabeth's hair comfortingly and went to prepare her a cup of tea.

When Mr. Darcy and his cousin did finally call, as expected, a few days after their arrival, Elizabeth's predictions were realized. Mr. Darcy was stiff and uncomfortable, and gave the distinct impression of wanting to be elsewhere. After discharging his duties, he did not linger, and reminded his cousin that they were expected at Rosings. Elizabeth regretted the shortness of the visit, as the Colonel was all that was engaging and gentlemanly, but she made a point to engage neither of the gentlemen beyond what politeness required. She was determined that one who observed her that afternoon would have no cause to think that she had any designs on wealthy and connected gentlemen, and was far less talkative than was her wont.

Her resolution lasted her also through dinner at Rosings, to which they were finally invited on Easter-day. Elizabeth sat through Lady Catherine's condescending instructions and her cousin Collins's obsequious concurrences and felt quite ill at ease. At one point during the meal, when Mr. Collins was engaged in his customary flattery of Lady Catherine's benign greatness, she saw Mr. Darcy glance between herself and her cousin and his lip curl in a half smile, and she fancied he was observing a familial resemblance between herself and her toad of a cousin. The thought made her even more miserable.

Occasionally, when Lady Catherine would say something boastful regarding the wealth or connexions of her nephew, Mr. Darcy would glance at Elizabeth warily, as if expecting her to join in on the praise, and she enjoyed disappointing his expectations by remaining quiet and seeming disinterested.

Still, the entire dinner had been a dismal and uncomfortable affair, and Elizabeth had never felt more self-conscious in her life. No longer surrounded by a society who had known her for her whole life and knew what she was about, she felt the full weight of the censorious stares of those who thought poorly of her.

The next morning, as she walked in the park at Rosings, Elizabeth was once again berating herself for her behavior in the fall. While generally able to laugh off and forget the unpleasantness of the past, the nagging feeling that she had injured her sister with her behavior did not allow her to forgive herself.

"Wretched fool!" she told herself, "Are you really so vain that you must torment a man and make him hate you simply because of a short comment made before your acquaintance? Thoughtless, thoughtless girl!"

It was at that moment that Mr. Darcy appeared in front of her unexpectedly, walking in the opposite direction, and with a small grimace, stopped to wish her a good morning. Elizabeth replied in kind and then informed him that she often walked this path so that he would know to avoid it in the future. After this polite and short exchange, Mr. Darcy began to leave.

Her reflections of that morning still pained her, and perhaps that was what had caused her to call out just as Mr. Darcy had turned to go: "Mr. Darcy!"

She watched as his back tensed and his shoulders stiffened, before he turned around to face her. "Can I help you, Miss Bennet?" he asked reluctantly.

She swallowed her pride. "I would like to apologize for my shameful behavior towards you back in Hertfordshire this fall," she told him quietly.

He frowned at her for a moment before replying stiffly, "I do not comprehend you."

She laughed sharply. "It is gallant of you to pretend that there was nothing wrong in my conduct, but we both know it is mere politeness on your part. The truth is that I behaved in an outrageously flirtatious manner with the sole purpose of causing you annoyance. It was childish and petty of me, and I have learned to regret it."

He gaped at her, looking less than composed for the first time in their acquaintance. "You knew that you were annoying me? You were doing it deliberately?"

Elizabeth nodded. "I am ashamed to admit it."

"But why?"

Elizabeth blushed at the prospect of admitting just how vain she was, but forced herself to answer honestly. "The first night of our acquaintance, at the Meryton assembly, I overheard a disparaging remark you made about my looks. I was offended, and wished to exact retribution."

"And you did so by flattering me?"

She nodded. "I saw how it tried your nerves. I am truly sorry, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps subjecting you to one uncomfortable dance at Lucas Lodge would have been appropriate retribution, but I continued to torment you in your friend's home, where I was a guest, and it was truly beneath me. I fear that there is more meanness in me than I had known. I am sorry for my behavior."

His colour was high and his voice tense when he replied: "So all of those uncomfortable hours I spent trying to politely fend you off, I was really the object of your joke?"

She lowered her head contritely. "I am sorry to say that it was so. Your general attitude when in company seemed to suggest that you thought yourself above us all, and the irony of vexing you by treating you with exaggerated deference amused me."

Mr. Darcy frowned. "Were you punishing me for my comment, or for my superior attitude?"

"Both, I suppose. I must admit, though, that had you not wounded my vanity, I doubt I would have taken issue with your pride. It appears that I am quite the ridiculous creature. Again, I apologize."

"Yes. Well. Thank you for your apology." And he hurried off.

Elizabeth sighed as she looked at his hastily retreating back. The entire affair had been badly handled, from start to finish.

As Elizabeth had expected, she encountered no one on her morning walks for the next two days. Doubtlessly, Mr. Darcy was avoiding her after the humiliating conversation they had had, and she expected nothing different. Therefore, she was quite surprised to meet him on her walk three days after their encounter.

"Miss Bennet! I was hoping to find you here."

She curtsied. "Mr. Darcy."

He seemed ill at ease, and paced for a few moments before launching into his speech.

"The last time we were here, you offered me an apology for your behavior during the period of our previous acquaintance. I accept your apology and forgive you wholeheartedly, in the hopes that you will do the same for me. I must apologize for my abominable conduct and my rude behavior while in Meryton. I came to the assembly expecting to be displeased with everything and everyone, and thus found what I sought. My comment-" he blushed "- was far more a reflection of my own attitude than of your looks. I apologize for it most humbly."

This speech quite shocked Elizabeth who, while having acknowledged that she had been unfair to Mr. Darcy, had not thought him to be capable of such humility and charitable feeling. She quickly rallied her wits, though. "Mr. Darcy, you are quite forgiven. I thank you."

"I am glad," said he. "I would like to forget our old interactions with one another and start anew."

"You are being quite generous, Sir. I rather thought you hated me after our last conversation."

He shook his head. "I did not hate you, but I must admit that I was, at first, quite angry. Not," he added, "as you seem to think, over the annoyance you caused me. While it was vexing at the time, it was no more than a passing annoyance, not worth the energy it would take to resent it. Rather," he smiled ruefully, "I was angry over my wounded pride."

Elizabeth, who rather thought the whole issue had been about her own wounded pride, was quite confused, but said nothing and allowed him to continue his explanation.

"All those times you fawned over me, flattering me, while it tried my nerves, I accepted it as nothing more than my due. I am a wealthy man, from an old and respectable family, with every advantage attached to my situation; it was only expected that I should be seen as a desirable object for matrimony wherever I went. So I had thought. I was humiliated to discover that while I was thinking so, you were secretly laughing at the high and mighty Mr. Darcy who thought he was above everyone."

She opened her mouth to speak, but he raised his hand, silencing her.

"Please do not attempt to deny that such was the case or apologize for it. It was a just humiliation. I have always despised society for its mercenary nature, its deference to wealth and meaningless status. And yet, I came into your assembly with the expectation of finding everyone inferior to me, simply because I had more money and connexions than them, and, perhaps, had seen more of the world as a result. I considered myself a respectable gentleman, but the rude way I spoke of you makes me unworthy of the title. In short, I have been an arrogant hypocrite, and whatever amusement you had at my expense was well deserved. You have humbled me, and I thank you for it."

Elizabeth was shocked. She had hardly expected to inspire such a change in the attitude of the gentleman when she tendered her apology. Since he hardly knew her at all, she concluded that this revelation was very little to her credit and was far more a testament to the gentleman's powers of self-reflection and unyielding integrity, even in the face of uncomfortable truths. This reflection occasioned the admiration which his good looks and wealth had not been able to inspire.

"Mr. Darcy, I hardly know what to say. I did not imagine that my words would have such an effect."

He chuckled. "I will admit that they did not initially, it took me time to reflect back on my actions with an objective eye. At first, I was very offended. That is why it took me so long to come to you to tender my own apology. In time, though, I had to admit to the justice of your portrayal of my superior attitude. And I came to look on your form of punishment with some humor."

Elizabeth was astonished. "You did?"

"Even before I had forgiven you, I grudgingly admitted that had it happened to someone else I would have found it quite funny. You and Caroline Bingley, goading each other into new heights of ridiculous flattery, me in the middle, wishing for nothing more than to run away and hide in my room. Fitzwilliam laughed uproariously when I described it to him."

"You told the colonel? Oh, what must he think of me!"

"He thinks you quite clever, as do I." He smiled at her. "I daresay none of the tricks he has played on me over the years have been so successful in annoying me, nor have they been as justly deserved."

"I am amazed at your gallantry. You must admit that I was rather badly behaved."

"Perhaps, but then so was I. Come now, Miss Elizabeth, you, more than anyone, must able to learn to laugh about it. I bear you no ill will."

"You make a convincing argument. Are we to be friends, then?" Little as she would have expected it only an hour earlier, she believed that Mr. Darcy could make a truly valuable friend. His mind was equal to hers, and their conversation proved that he was not as haughty or as staid as she had first thought him. She believed she could come to like Mr. Darcy very well.

He bowed to her. "I would be honored to be considered your friend."

Over the next few days Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam came to call on the parsonage often. Sometimes together, sometimes apart. Almost every morning on her walk, Elizabeth met Mr. Darcy in the grove, and they would walk companionably, talking about anything that came to mind.

Elizabeth was disappointed one morning when, coming across a figure, it turned out to be Colonel Fitzwilliam and not Mr. Darcy. That was nothing to her distress at the conclusion of their conversation upon his confirmation of what she had long suspected to be true. That evening she excused herself from tea at Rosings and sat down to read a letter from Jane which wanted its usual cheerfulness.

"Strong objections to the lady!" cried she, "Who could object to Jane with her goodness, her grace and her beauty! No, doubtless it was her family that was the real problem! Her shamelessly flirtatious and mercenary sister, who could not leave Mr. Darcy alone. Of course he would seek to prevent his good friend from making such a connexion! Oh dear Jane, what would you say if you knew that all your misery was by the hand of your beloved sister?"

She was still wallowing in her misery over Colonel Fitzwilliam's revelation when the doorbell sounded, and soon after- to her great surprise- Mr. Darcy entered the room.

"I have come to inquire after your health. Miss Bennet! Have you been crying? Whatever is the matter?"

"I am a horrible sister!" she exclaimed, with more feeling than sense "I have ruined forever the happiness of my most beloved sister, and at the time I thought it all to be a big joke!"

He sat down next to her and offered her his handkerchief. "You are not a horrible sister," he told her. "You are a most devoted one. I remember how impressed I was by your dedication to her when you walked all the way from your home to Netherfield in the mud simply to care for her. Of course, I soon began to suspect that your real object in coming was to capture me-" he chuckled slightly, but then immediately stopped when Elizabeth's sobs only became louder at the reminder of her behavior.

"Miss Bennet, please do not cry over my foolish comment! I know now that you had no designs on me and were thinking only of your sister. It is obvious to anyone how much you care for her. If you have injured her in any way, I am sure it was unintentionally done. Come, tell me about it, it might not be as bad as it seems."

Elizabeth described her conversation that morning with Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I knew at once that your objections to the connexion could not be Jane's fault. She is all sweetness, beauty, and goodness. There was nothing unladylike in her behavior. It was my fault that you wished your friend to distance himself from our family. The worst of it is, that Charlotte warned me of making a bad impression on Mr. Bingely's relations, and I laughed her off!"

"Miss Bennet," said Mr. Darcy gently, "I hate to see you in such distress when you are not at all at fault. While it is true that I encouraged Bingley to reconsider offering for your sister on account of my poor opinion of her family-" He looked at her nervously to see if she was offended, but she only said, "An eminently justifiable opinion under the circumstances, please continue."

"Well, I told him that I did not find the rest of her family equal to her, but Bingley loved her and said he did not care at all. And now, I fear, I must disclose what will cause you to hate me. I went on to tell Bingley that I did not believe your sister returned his feelings. I had watched her, and she smiled at him sweetly, but she did the same to everyone. I discerned no particular favour towards him. I realize now that I was wrong about her feelings, but I believed at the time that she was indifferent to him. Bingley is naturally modest and was easily convinced that he had mistaken her sentiments. He resolved to stay away, and when your sister came to London, I conspired to keep the knowledge from him, wanting to avoid causing him pain. So you see, Miss Bennet, it is not you who ruined your sister's happiness, it is I. All your anger and acrimony must be directed not towards yourself but at me."

She shook her head slowly. "I cannot be angry at you, Mr. Darcy. You only did what you thought best at the time in an attempt to protect your friend. It was an honest mistake. But oh, poor Jane! Her shyness has deprived her of her love!" She sniffled.

Mr. Darcy shook his head. "Miss Elizabeth, do not despair! Now that I know Miss Bennet's true feelings, it will be the work of a moment to acquaint Bingley with the misunderstanding. I daresay he will reopen Netherfield within a week, so all hope is not lost for them."

The smile she gave him from behind her tears that was so brilliant, that he momentarily quite forgot how to breathe.

Chapter Text

Hertfordshire, 1812

Upon returning to Longbourn, Elizabeth did not acquaint Jane with the conversation she had had with Mr. Darcy that day at the parsonage. She did not doubt that Mr. Darcy would prove as good as his word, but the ultimate conclusion of the disclosure depended on Mr. Bingley, and it would not do to get Jane's hopes up when nothing was yet established. Besides, if Mr. Bingley was as in love with Jane as Elizabeth thought he was, he would arrive in Hertfordshire quite soon. Then, Jane could know.

Elizabeth did, however, tell her about her apology and subsequent friendship with Mr. Darcy. Jane, who liked nothing better than to have everyone be friends, was pleased to hear of the cessation of acrimony on both sides, but she seemed a bit melancholy at the reminder of the party that had inhabited Netherfield the previous fall.

As Elizabeth had suspected, though, Jane's melancholy was not to last long, and not a fortnight had passed before the news arrived that Mr. Bingley was to return to Netherfield. These tidings had sent Mrs. Bennet into paroxysms of delight, but Jane was a bit more cautious. When speaking to Jane of the matter, Elizabeth tried to be as encouraging as she could without revealing her knowledge of Mr. Bingley's feelings.

Mr. Bingley came to call on the Bennet household the very day after his arrival at Netherfield, and to Elizabeth's delight, Mr. Darcy came along with him. It had occurred to her, in the preceding days, that Mr. Darcy might choose to accompany his friend, but she had tried not to think about it much. She did not wish to get her hopes up, neither in regard to being again in Mr. Darcy's presence, nor in regard to the secret, foolish hopes she had begun to entertain back in Kent.

Mrs. Bennet was all things welcoming to the two gentlemen, though she was perhaps warmer towards one than towards the other. However, her constant praising of Jane and obvious attempts to encourage Mr. Bingley in her direction made the conversation awkward, and it was not long before Mr. Bingley suggested taking a walk. Mrs. Bennet made it clear to Elizabeth through some very unsubtle hints, that she was expected to tag along and distract Mr. Darcy, so as to give her sister and Mr. Bingley time alone, a task she was only too happy to undertake.

It seemed completely natural, once they were outside, that on the path wide enough only for two people, Jane should walk with Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth with Mr. Darcy. Upon exiting the line of sight of Longbourne, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy slowed their steps, allowing Jane and Mr. Bingley to overtake them and speak privately. Behind their retreating backs, Elizabeth looked meaningfully at Mr. Darcy and beamed.

Mr. Darcy chuckled ruefully.

"What is it you find amusing, Sir?"

"Merely your smile. It is so different from that small, insincere little thing you used to give me at Netherfield. I daresay if you had been smiling like that when I first saw you at the Meryton assembly I would have told Bingley that you were the handsomest woman of my acquaintance, and this whole mess might have been avoided."

"Such flattery, Mr. Darcy! I see what you are about; you wish to exact revenge over my shameful treatment of you last fall. Ah, but you forget what a vain creature I am, for I shall not suffer at all by your punishment. On the contrary, I shall enjoy being flattered exceedingly."

"You mistake me, Miss Bennet, if you think I wish to exact any retribution. Since our conciliation I have wished only to enjoy your company and friendship with no acrimony between us. If I say something complimentary, it is only because I believe it to be the absolute truth."

Elizabeth blushed, and found herself at a loss for words for a whole ten seconds. Eventually, she recovered her wits enough to shoot back a teasing reply that was perhaps less clever than her usual standards, but neither she nor Mr. Darcy forgot how affected she had momentarily been by his compliment.

It took only three more visits for Mr. Bingley to gather the courage to ask Jane for her hand in marriage, and there was much rejoicing when it finally happened. Mrs. Bennet's effusions were, perhaps, the loudest, but the radiant joy on Jane's face overshadowed even Mrs. Bennet's happiness in its brilliance.

When Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth walked out with Jane and Mr. Bingley, as had become their custom, they quickly separated into two parties, giving the happy couple some privacy, and the other couple a chance to congratulate themselves on the part they played in the union.

Such was Elizabeth's happiness, that she could not bring herself to remind Mr. Darcy of the role he had played in separating the pair in the first place. Instead, she amused both herself and Mr. Darcy by declaring that such matchmaking skills as theirs were too rare to not be put to further use, and ought to be utilized for the general benefit of the unwed population.

They spent some time trying to devise a suitor fit for the great Lady Catherine, but could conceive of no man worthy of such a great match, nor likely to survive the experience.

They moved on to the easier target of Colonel Fitzwilliam, which proved to be a bit less difficult, though still challenging. Elizabeth broke down laughing when Mr. Darcy suggested introducing him to her sister Mary.

"Mr. Darcy, this will not do! We cannot simply pair up two persons on the sole basis that they are both single and in our circle of acquaintances! There must be some method to our madness."

"Fitzwilliam is too lighthearted!" Mr. Darcy protested defensively. "He needs someone to show him the ways of the Lord, not to mention remind him how to behave in polite society! Your sister is ideally suited to the task."

"Colonel Fitzwilliam is not that bad," Elizabeth laughed. "Besides, he has told me himself that he must look to fortune when marrying. No, your cousin Fitzwilliam must marry your other cousin- Anne de Bourgh. Thus, Colonel Fitzwilliam obtains the fortune he desires, and Lady Catherine need not fear Rosings falling to any man of an unworthy name."

Mr. Darcy grinned. "That in not a bad idea; not at all. And, it would have the added benefit of ending my aunt's continuing insistence that I marry Anne myself."

"Ah, but then a new problem arises. Who shall we pair you with, Mr. Darcy?"

Mr. Darcy contemplated this problem with an expression of utmost solemnity, but a twitch of his mouth gave him away. "She must be a woman who is not intimidated by rank and bluster, or she will be scared away by my aunt Catherine. A woman of keen understanding, or I shall bore of our conversation, and possessing some ease and lightness, so that my manner might be softened by her. Additionally," he shot her a sly look, "I have been accused before of possessing an excess of pride. Perhaps it would be best if I marry a woman of lesser birth and wealth, so as to prove my detractors wrong on that account."

Elizabeth laughed, even as she felt her face heating up.

Mr. Darcy turned to her more fully. "Well, Miss Elizabeth, can you think of a woman who meets all of those requirements? Who do you think would make me a good match? For you see, I greatly value your opinion, and would marry no woman without your approval."

"Oh," she replied offhandedly, "it is too difficult. There can be no woman wonderful enough to be deserving of the hand of the great Mr. Darcy. Such an object of perfection could not be found on this mortal plane. Perhaps, then, we should simply award your hand to the woman who has shown you the most dedication. The only woman in awe enough of your many great attributes to be deserving of them is Caroline Bingley. There can be no other."

"Wicked, teasing, woman!" he exclaimed, with mock outrage. "I rescind my previous statement. You will no longer have any say in whom I marry."

"Fickle man! I would retaliate by disallowing you to have any say in whom I marry, but I am afraid that it would not make much of a difference. I have it on Mr. Collins' excellent authority that I cannot expect another proposal of marriage."

Mr. Darcy shook his head. "That, Miss Elizabeth, I find exceedingly hard to believe."

As time passed, and Mr. Bingley came by to call every day accompanied by his friend, Elizabeth found herself spending more and more time with Mr. Darcy. Their relationship had reached a level of ease and camaraderie that exceeded even the closeness Elizabeth had once felt to her friend Charlotte.

Such a change could not remain unnoticed by others forever, and it was a month after the engagement, as they were getting ready for bed, that Elizabeth was questioned by her sister Jane about her relationship with Mr. Darcy.

"Lizzy, you are not still angry at Mr. Darcy, are you?" she asked her sister, as Elizabeth sat brushing her hair.

"No, of course not! I told you of our mutual apologies back in Hunsford, and we are now quite good friends. Why do you ask?"

"Well," Jane looked abashed, as she did whenever feeling the necessity to bring up a subject that might lead to disagreement, "You do seem to be flirting an awful lot with him lately. Not that he seems to mind-" she hurried to add, upon seeing Elizabeth's horror-struck countenance, "-but it did make me wonder what was going on."

"Jane, I am not flirting with Mr. Darcy! I am teasing him; it is the exact opposite action! Flirting was what I was doing before, when I was complimenting him for everything!"

Jane's color rose; she hated contradicting people. Still, she did not relent. "Lizzy, I do not think that what you were doing to Mr. Darcy before was flirting. It was more like I imagine Mr. Collins treats Lady Catherine. He greatly admires her, yes, but I imagine that he does not flirt with her. This- this playful back-and-forth you engage in with Mr. Darcy is far more flirtatious to my mind."

"It is simply the way of my friendship with Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth explained. "It amuses us to tease each other because of how our friendship began. If you had been there for the whole conversation, you would not have thought it flirtatious."

"Perhaps," Jane conceded, "but Lizzy, I am only telling you what it looks like to an outside observer. If you do not wish to raise speculation in our circle of friends regarding your relationship with Mr. Darcy, you might want to keep that in mind."

The trouble was, Elizabeth mused as she lay in bed later that night, that however facetious her manner was when teasing Mr. Darcy, she did harbor hopes in that direction.

The next morning, Mr. Bingley had shown up with Mr. Darcy at Longbourne at the very earliest hour that could still be considered polite, as had become their habit. It was a beautiful day, and it was quickly decided that no weather could be better for a picnic.

Kitty expressed some considerable enthusiasm for the idea, but Mrs. Bennet quickly intervened, insisting that she needed Kitty and Lydia very much today and could not spare them. And so, it was left to Jane and Elizabeth to accompany the two gentlemen alone.

It was then that Elizabeth finally realized why there had been so many opportunities for her to speak alone with Mr. Darcy, and why she was always the one to accompany Jane and Mr. Bingley as a chaperone with his friend. She marveled now that she had not seen it before. It appeared that at least in one quarter, expectations regarding her relationship with Mr. Darcy had already been raised. She prayed that Mr. Darcy had yet to notice her mother's machinations.

The small party was soon situated on a sunny patch of grass with their food spread about them. After a good hour of pleasant companionship, the betrothed couple hinted at a desire to speak privately, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy went for a small stroll.

There was the usual easy comfort in their casual conversation, which was of books, when a comment by Mr. Darcy gave Elizabeth pause. It was merely a favorable comparison of Elizabeth's wit to that of the heroine of a book they had both read, but Elizabeth had been about to reply with a comparison between Mr. Darcy and the Heroine's love interest. She suddenly remembered Jane's cautioning from the night before, and the words died in her mouth.

"Is aught the matter, Miss Elizabeth?" Mr. Darcy asked, when she didn't respond for several long moments.

"No, nothing. Only-" she hesitated for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "Jane said, last night, that our manner of teasing each other might lead to speculation regarding the nature of our relationship. Have I been very flirtatious?"

"No more than I, I suppose," Mr. Darcy replied, chuckling slightly. "I believe your sister and my friend have been colluding with each other. Last night, I was given a very similar talk from Bingley. He said that I must stop teasing you the way I do if I do not wish to raise your hopes."

"Collaborating to approach us both at the same time?" Elizabeth could not help but laugh as well. "They are slyer than I gave them credit for, though not half so sly as you and I."

"True," he responded, "but perhaps they have not been wrong in their perceptions. What say you? Have I raised your hopes, Miss Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth could not bring herself to lie, but lacked the courage to speak the plain truth. She settled for a teasing smile. "And if I said you had raised my hopes, what would you do?"

"Well," he paused for a moment and tore a leaf off a nearby bush, playing with it absentmindedly, "I have caused you grief through my actions once already. Seeing you cry that time at the Hunsford parsonage was quite enough for me. If I had raised your expectations, I would have no choice but to prevent you from any further sorrow by asking for your hand in marriage."

"Mr. Darcy, are you in earnest?"

He looked in her eyes for a long moment before replying. "Yes, I am in earnest. I phrased my offer in such a way as to give myself the possibility of pretending I was in jest if you indicated that you did not return my affection. It was cowardly of me, and I apologize. Miss Bennet, I am completely in earnest: I love you, and wish for you to be my wife."

"In that case, Mr. Darcy, I must tell you that you have raised my hopes. Indeed, if you were to leave me now, I should cry most grievously, something you have resolved to avoid. Therefore, you must offer for me."

"Well, it seems that I have no choice in the matter: Elizabeth, will you marry me?"

She smiled with delight. "I will indeed marry you, Mr. Darcy, for I love you most dearly."

Chapter Text

Darcy was frowning in concentration as he wrote an important business missive when a voice in his ear caused him to startle.

"My, Mr. Darcy, how neatly you write! I declare I have never seen a man with a hand as nice as yours!"

"Elizabeth, my dear," he said absently "I am rather busy at the moment. Might we talk later?"

"Of course!" cried she, "I would not dare to disturb the austere master of Pemberley in his duties, for they are of the utmost importance. And you perform them to perfection, Sir! I am in awe of your competence and your conscientiousness!"

At this, Darcy raised his eyes from the letter he was writing for the first time. "Have I done aught to upset you, that you are subjecting me to your patented punishment of fawning flirtation?"

"Upset me?! How could you upset me? You must know that I am grateful for any small morsel of attention the great master of Pemberley condescends to bestow upon me, for he has many other duties to perform. And you do perform them so well, Sir!" She fluttered her eyelashes at him.

"Ah, so you are feeling neglected." He sighed. "My love, before our wedding I had done all that I could to care for my business concerns in advance, so that I may dedicate all my attentions to you during the first fortnight of our marriage. But I can put off my work no longer, and after neglecting it for two weeks, the amount of issues that require my attention is truly overwhelming."

She softened slightly, but persisted. "Oh, I understand! I would never deign to try and take your attentions off the myriad of matters that you must attend to, for you are a man of such importance! I do quite comprehend that the great master of Pemberley (of ten thousand a year) would be too busy to even send a message with a servant to inform me that he is unable to attend the walk we had planned around the grounds this afternoon."

"The walk? But we agreed we would walk together at four. And now it is only-" he pulled out his pocket watch "-four thirty. Oh dear."

Elizabeth smiled ruefully. "I felt like quite the fool, waiting for you at the entrance for half an hour. And the servants did stare! But I was hesitant for some time to interrupt you in your study, for I thought you must surely be in the midst of an important meeting to abandon me so."

"I am sorry, my love. I simply lost track of time. Can you forgive me?"

Her expression remained in a pout, but a twitching at the corners of her mouth told him that he was forgiven. "There is nothing to forgive, for the great master of Pemberley can do no wrong."

"Is that so?" he smiled. "Even if the great master of Pemberley is a lecherous man who wishes to take his wife to his bedchambers in broad daylight, and keep her there for two hours at least?"

"You are a man of impeccable judgement, Sir, and if you deem it appropriate- Fitzwilliam! Put me down!"

"I shall not," said he. "For I have half an hour that I ought to have been spending with you that I must compensate for. And I intend to begin immediately."

"But what if one of the servants were to see us? What would they say?"

"They would say," he replied, "that the great master of Pemberley is a man of infinite wisdom, and if he deems it necessary to carry his impertinent wife to their rooms, then he must know what he is about."

Caroline Bingley gritted her teeth.

After the announcement of Eliza Bennet's engagement to Mr. Darcy, she had gone to great lengths to endear herself to her usurper in order to retain the right of visiting Pemberley. It was an utterly mortifying experience, and she was beginning to think that it had not at all been worth the effort.

"My dear Mr. Darcy," Eliza simpered, "I do declare that I have never seen a man more sharply dressed than you! And how ever do you contrive to keep your clothes so free of wrinkles?"

"I have my man iron them before use, for I am in fear of shaming my elegant wife by appearing any less than my best. But then, Mrs. Darcy, your beauty is so great, that I am in doubt as to whether anyone notices what I wear when I am in your presence. They are surely too enchanted by you to give me a second glance."

Said beauty (who Caroline personally never thought was all that attractive) shot Mr. Darcy a coy smile. "I wonder that you should say such a thing. I have always found it to be the other way around. Whenever you enter a room, no female in it (myself included) can remove her eyes from you."

Caroline could bear it no longer. "I beg you excuse me, I find my head is paining me." She curtsied and rushed out of the room before the saccharine flirtation of the two inside could cause her to be physically ill. Nothing was worth enduring another moment of that, not even the bragging rights of being a regular visitor at Pemberley!

After the door closed behind her, and her footsteps faded away, the Darcys burst into giggles.

"You, my wife, are brilliant!" declared Mr. Darcy.

"Stop it," Elizabeth chortled, "she is gone now."

"How long do you think it took?" Mr. Darcy asked.

"About fifteen minutes, I suppose."

He consulted his pocket watch. "Close. It was seventeen minutes. Not bad, but there is always room for improvement."

Elizabeth smiled. "Worry not, my darling, we will ensure that by the time this visit ends, she will never again seek an invitation into our home!"

Caroline stepped out of the carriage and into the grounds of Netherfield with a slight downward curl to her lips and a delicate wrinkle to her nose. Not enough to appear unladylike or unattractive, but simply to subtly announce to any observers that her surroundings were beneath her, and it was a great act of condescension on her part to grace the home with her presence. It had been years since she had last deigned to visit her brother's home, and she wanted to make very clear what a great sacrifice her attendance had taken.

Unfortunately, both her brother and Jane seemed oblivious to this slight. Her brother greeted her with enthusiastic warmth, and Jane was a font of compliments to her looks and clothing, which, quite distressingly, sounded genuinely pleased on her behalf, with not a tinge of envy to be heard.

The rest of the day continued in a similarly unsatisfactory manner, and by the end of it, Caroline was cursing her capitulation to her brother's request to spend the Christmas season with the family. To think- at this very moment she could be in town, attending balls and soirees, and giggling with her friends over the fashion faux pas of their peers. Instead, she was stuck between her brother Hurst on one side, and Mr. Bennet on the other, and could not rightly decide which would be more painful to converse with.

The worst of it was, that as an informal family gathering, supper was attended by the children as well, and was therefore a far louder and more exuberant cacophony of an affair than any civilized person was accustomed to.

Caroline tended to avoid little children, as she had always observed an alarming tendency on their part to begin exuding snot at unpredictable moments. Therefore, it took her a while to notice that one of the children was missing.

"Where is darling little Sophie?" she asked her sister Jane, upon observing the absence of her favourite niece.

A look of consternation crossed Mrs. Bingley's usually serene countenance. "She has been a naughty girl today, and so has not been allowed to attend dinner with the adults." Lowering her voice, so the other children wouldn't hear, she confided in Caroline: "I truly do hate to punish my children, but in this case, there was really no choice. She has been very bad. Imagine- she has pushed her younger cousin Darcy into a pond during an argument! His clothes were completely covered in mud."

Caroline gasped with shock. "Your Sophie? Pushed her cousin into a pond? How distressing!" She could hardly believe that any child of Charles and Jane would be capable of such behavior. She would expect something of the sort from Miss Eliza's wild daughter, but sweet, angelic Sophie? How could such a thing be?

Then- it came to her. She realized immediately what had caused Sophie to act so out of character. Her little niece wanted to marry the young Darcy. He was, after all, promising to be as handsome as his father, and was the heir to Pemberly besides, and as his cousin she had a definite advantage in the field. Only, being six years old, she did not know how to properly entice her love interest.

Everyone knew that when little boys fancy little girls they often pull on their braids and bother them to get their attention. Poor Sophie, having observed this behavior, had mistakenly concluded that teasing and bullying were the right way to engage the object of her affections.

Well, Caroline would be happy to help by setting her straight. She was something of an expert on the matter, having observed the whole sordid courtship between Eliza and Mr. Darcy, and thus knew the way to a Darcy man's heart. She would help little Sophie, and her niece would succeed where Caroline herself had failed, and secure the hand of what was sure to be the most eligible bachelor in a few years' time.

After excusing herself for the night, Caroline went upstairs to her niece's room and knocked on the door. Sophie opened it with a petulant and stubborn look on her face, but it faded once she realized it was her aunt Caroline, and not her mother come to try and cajole her into apologizing.

"Dearest Sophie!" Caroline exclaimed with genuine affection, pulling her pretty little niece into a hug, "How good it is to see you! I missed you at dinner, tonight."

"I wanted to go, but Mama didn't let me," Sophie said. "I had to have dinner alone in the nursery."

"I know," cooed Caroline soothingly. "She told me all about it. Now, you are very like your aunt Caroline, you know, and I immediately realized why you pushed your cousin into that pond."

"So you understand?" Sophie asked. "You are not here to scold me?"

"No, no," Caroline assured her. "I merely wanted to offer you some advice. Listen carefully, now: The best way to go about your objective is to flatter your cousin excessively. No matter what he does, and no matter how inane it is, you must act as though you are deeply impressed by it. No flattery is too excessive, even if it seems ridiculous and transparent. Trust me, I know Darcy men, I have witnessed this method succeed first hand." She could not quite keep the bitterness from her voice.

Sophie nodded solemnly, resolve on her pretty little face. "Tell him that everything he does is great. No matter how ridiculous it seems. Thank you for the advice, Aunt Caroline."

Caroline patted her affectionately on the head, pleased to be dispensing such invaluable pearls of wisdom. She left in high spirits.

How strange, Sophie mused, watching her aunt leave the room. Her aunt Lizzy and her aunt Caroline hardly ever agreed on anything, but when her aunt Lizzy had visited her earlier to hear her side of the story, and Sophie told her how mean Ben had been and how she had wanted to punish him, Aunt Lizzy had advised the exact same thing.