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Not So Wholly Unexpected

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Not So Wholly Unexpected

“To Kitty, however, it does not seem so wholly unexpected.” (P&P, Chapter XLVI)

July 31, 1812

Catherine Bennet, known to all her family as Kitty, became increasingly uneasy as she read the letter, received only that morning, from her younger sister, Lydia. One part of her – the romantic part - envied Lydia for the adventure the latter was planning. The more sensible portion of her character wondered if the romance of the adventure were better left in those pieces of fiction that she and Lydia delighted to read whenever they could be brought to such an endeavour. She was quite sure that a dungeon, for instance, would contain an awful lot of spiders, and she could not abide spiders – not at all. If her sister was to elope to Scotland, they would have stay overnight in inns for several nights. She had stopped at the inn just outside London once and the smell had been disgusting, the language of the patrons only slightly less so, and there had been no shortage of spiders. Her father had hurried them away and her mother had complained for a half-hour without cessation. It was thus, with such thoughts plaguing her, and with a great disturbance of mind, that after breakfast that day she approached her eldest, most practical, and most proper sister.

“Jane,” said she, “do you not think that an elopement is the most delightful and romantic way to marry?”

Her sister’s expression of amazement was beyond anything Kitty had ever before seen on her countenance.

“Indeed, I do not!” declared Jane Bennet. “Why ever would you think so? It may be the stuff of those romantic novels you sometimes read, but surely you understand that an elopement creates a great deal of scandal and inconvenience for the families involved. Moreover,” she stated with greater emphasis, “should a woman elope, she marries without the protection of a settlement which might very well leave her impecunious – whatever fortune she possesses at the disposal of her husband. Should he be a … a scoundrel…” Jane could barely get the word out, “he might take her money, her virtue and desert her.”

Jane’s suspicions must have been aroused by the alteration of her sister’s features, for she immediately inquired into the reason for Kitty having asked such a question. Kitty was loath to expose her younger sister’s confidences and, hoping that her plans were not so scandalous as Jane’s reaction suggested, attempted to dissemble.

“Surely it cannot be so very bad, Jane, for they will marry and is that not the important thing?”

Jane looked at her sister askance. She had known that her two youngest sisters were far from the most proper young ladies and prone to flirtations with any handsome gentleman, with a marked preference for those wearing regimentals. But to regard an elopement as proper and acceptable was a degree of foolishness she had not thought that even they would countenance.

“An elopement is barely short of a disgrace, Kitty! Surely you must comprehend that? To marry without the sanction and approval of one’s family, without a father’s consent, without one’s family present to lend countenance and respectability to the marriage, is simply not to be done. It should never be contemplated, let alone attempted!”

“But . . . but . . .”

“But what, Kitty?”

Kitty could not remember her sister’s manner ever being so severe.

“What have you done, Kitty? You have not agreed to an elopement, have you?” Jane looked at her sister more closely and sighed in relief at Kitty’s emphatic denial of harbouring any such intention.

“Good,” said she, “I had not thought you strongly attached to any gentleman. But from where does this speculation arise?”

She inspected her sister more carefully and noticed, for the first time, the existence of a letter in Kitty’s hand. As her sister corresponded only rarely and almost exclusively with one person only, she was certain as to the source of Kitty’s perturbation and the cause of her questions.

“What has Lydia written?”

Kitty hesitated momentarily before surrendering the letter and then watched, somewhat fearfully, at her sister’s increasing discomposure.

“Jane?” she whispered.

Jane looked at her sister with horror. “She proposes to elope with Mr. Wickham? Impossible – unless his circumstances are better than we have been led to believe.”

There was a dreadful silence as she considered the matter, looking at her younger sister all the while, although Kitty was under no illusion that she was the object of her thoughts.

“How I wish Lizzy were here.” Jane muttered, “She would know what best to do.”

“Do? Why should we do anything?”

She shied back from the censure in Jane’s mien. Her sister suddenly straightened and grasped Kitty firmly by the arm.

“We must bring this to our father’s attention.”

Kitty was not at all pleased at that prospect, for her father’s disapproval was sure to be directed as much at her, the bearer of news, as at Lydia, the source of it. Neither had ever garnered his praise, unless it was for being silent, and if her sister’s anger was an indication, this would surely provide additional assurance and justification for his disapprobation.

Mr. Bennet’s irritation that his book room, where he always expected to find leisure and tranquillity, had been invaded so early in the day was ameliorated greatly when he realized that his eldest daughter, whom he knew to be sensible, was the person demanding his attention. His interest sharpened when he observed the worried cast to Jane’s features, for it was an expression rarely seen.

“Jane?” he inquired as he waved them to the chairs before his desk.

He watched as she sat in silence for some moments, marshaling and organizing her thoughts. She had always been a deliberate child and her behaviour thus not unexpected. Not for Jane to blurt out a problem and require him to make sense of an incoherent mess. He allowed her time and his patience was shortly rewarded.

“Kitty has made me aware of a problem which is of such a nature as to require your immediate action.”

His eyebrows rose quizzically, for acting with urgency had never been part of his character. He was quite content to allow a matter to be deferred until it either resolved itself or disappeared altogether. His indolence was as old and comfortable a friend as his wife’s nerves. A problem must indeed be serious to prompt such a reaction from Jane. He straightened in his chair, sighed and leaned forward to gaze at his eldest daughter, his mien resigned. His second youngest and silliest daughter was obviously the source of Jane’s concern, for he could think of no other reason for her presence. Jane would not have brought the matter to his attention if it were not a serious problem.

“I fear that the news you intend to impart will not be such as to make me happy. Well, better be about it, Jane, for it likely will not improve with age.”

Jane’s hesitation had mostly to do with explaining her information about Mr. Wickham without revealing how she and Elizabeth had come to learn of his character. She would not expose the means by which Mr. Darcy had related it and trust that her father would not pursue that matter when the more serious issue of dealing with Lydia was before him.

“Lydia has written to Kitty,” Jane slid the letter across the top of the desk, “and has stated she intends to elope with Mr. Wickham.”

Mr. Bennet’s eyes widened in surprise and then fixed immediately on Kitty as his hand groped for the letter. His features were far from happy when he began its perusal and became increasingly forbidding. He dropped the letter on the desk.

“is this first you have known of this, Kitty? The truth now!”

Kitty admitted that she was aware of an attachment forming between Lydia and Mr. Wickham.

“But of her intention to elope, I knew nothing,” she wailed.

“Papa,” interjected Jane, “I wonder at his intending to marry, for I did not think him having the means to do so.”

“We must hope that he will, although his joining Lydia in this mad scheme does not speak well of his character. A gentleman would have approached me. Of course, I would not have agreed to any marriage unless satisfied as to his ability to support a wife and family, for Lydia will bring little or nothing to the match. But I have no other reason to suspect his character apart from the imprudence of this venture. I had thought better of his understanding. That he would have wished for a wife with some intelligence and wit.”

“I believe we have been sadly misled as to Mr. Wickham’s character, Papa,” replied Jane. She wished to think well of Mr. Wickham. She had told Elizabeth that they should not disclose his character to their acquaintance lest they make him desperate. She did not wish to be the cause of his behaving badly if he were making an attempt to improve himself. However, she could not withhold from her father what she knew of Mr. Wickham’s past behaviours.

Her father looked at her questioningly.

“I do not have the pleasure of understanding you. Do you know something of his man which has not been vouchsafed to the rest of us?”

Jane nodded and then reluctantly began to disclose the history of Mr. Wickham’s dealings with Mr. Darcy that she had learned from Elizabeth. That he possessed a dissipative character, incurred debts which were left unpaid, had wasted four thousand pounds in two years and had declined, and been compensated for, the living gifted by Mr. Darcy’s father. His failed attempt to elope with Miss Darcy and her large dowry was also mentioned, although Jane was careful to avoid revealing the name of young lady.

“So, while I might wish that he is willing to marry Lydia, I cannot state with any assurance that he will do so, for she has no dowry to tempt him.”

Mr. Bennet sat in stunned silence for several minutes before asking the question which Jane dreaded.

“How is it that you know of these matters, Jane?”

Her reluctance to answer was obvious but Mr. Bennet would not relent and his gazed remained fastened on her face and he prodded and probed until she at last responded.

“Elizabeth was informed of the particulars when she visited Charlotte in Kent. Mr. Darcy spoke with her there.”

“Mr. Darcy is the source of this information? Mr. Darcy who everyone finds so disagreeable? And Lizzy accepted his word on the matter? I can hardly credit it.”

“Mr. Darcy treated Mr. Wickham horribly, Jane. This cannot be true.”

Kitty’s defence of Mr. Wickham was waved off by her father.

“I doubt” said he, “that Mr. Darcy is any worse than any other rich man. Besides Mr. Wickham’s character is proven suspect by behaviour such as this.”

“Perhaps he truly loves her?”

“Believe that if you wish, Jane. But if he did, he would not expose her to the censure likely to arise from such an action.”

“What shall you do, Father?”

“The first order of business will be to send a letter to Colonel Forster informing him of Wickham’s plans. I doubt he will be pleased to learn of such behaviour by one of his officers. As well, I will demand he keep Lydia locked in her room until I can retrieve her.”

“You plan to travel to Brighton, Papa?” asked Jane. “It is a distance of nearly eighty miles.” She had never known her father to exert himself so.

“Lydia says she will be leaving shortly.” Whispered Kitty.

“An express then, Papa!” cried an alarmed Jane. “It must be sent express lest she leave tonight.”

Mr. Bennet nodded reluctantly. An express might arrive in time that evening, for surely his daughter would not leave the Forster home until all were asleep.

“As you say, Jane! Now leave me in peace while I compose this letter to Colonel Forster.”

He reached for his quill and then drew a sheet of paper from the top drawer of his desk. As his daughters were about to leave the room, he called them back.

“I will enjoin you to withhold this information from your mother. And Mary! And anyone else! Lydia’s intentions must be our secret. I will not have her foolishness become the object of gossip and scandal amongst our neighbours.”

Kitty and Jane gave their assent and turned to go; however, before doing so Jane inquired of her father how he proposed to quiet Lydia on the matter.”

Mr. Bennet was rendered silent for several seconds before a wry smile crossed his lips.

“I recollect saying to Lizzy” he replied, “that Lydia could not get much worse without my having to lock her in her rooms for ten years. It now appears that her silence may be her only parole from such a fate.”

Kitty gasped. Her father looked at her in amusement, turned to Jane and requested that the carriage be readied, an express rider sent for, and that Mrs. Hill prepare a food basket for his trip.

“I shall not make Brighton today but, if conditions remain favourable, I should be there late tomorrow.” He explained.

He then waved them both away and turned to write to Colonel Forster. An hour before mid-day the express was on its way to Brighton.

 

August 7, 1812

Elizabeth had been very disappointed in not finding a letter from Jane on their first arrival at Lambton; and this disappointment had been renewed on each of the mornings that had now been spent there. Her disappointment was lessened to a great extent by other pleasures attached to her sojourn in Lambton. She had been reluctant to tour Pemberley, the estate of Mr. Darcy whom she had so sadly misunderstood and mistreated so very badly. Yet she could hardly repine having overruled her fears and toured the house and grounds with her aunt and uncle Gardiner, for they had encountered Mr. Darcy there and he had been everything polite and solicitous to her comfort and gracious to her relatives whose connection he had disdained only a few months before. That pride and arrogance, which had so offended her, was absent and the three days of their acquaintance at Pemberley had not seen its return. He had, she now believed, taken her reproofs to heart and amended his manners and behaviour. There was, in his attentions to her, even reason to hope that he might direct his addresses to her again.

However, on this the third day of her stay in Lambton, she was to be gifted with the receipt of two letters from her elder sister at once, on one of which was marked that it had been sent by mistake elsewhere. Elizabeth was not surprised at it, as Jane had written the direction remarkably ill.

They had just been preparing to walk as the letters came in; and her uncle and aunt, leaving her to enjoy them in quiet, set off by themselves. The one misdirected must be first attended to; it had been written a week ago. The beginning contained an account of all their little parties and engagements, with such news as the country afforded; but the latter half, which was dated a day later, and written in evident agitation, gave more important intelligence. It was to this effect:

“Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of alarming you - be assured that we are all well. What I have to say relates to poor Lydia. Kitty approached me this morning, concerned and fearful about something Lydia had conveyed to her in a letter received only that very morning. Kitty confessed that Lydia had, in previous letters, admitted to a increasing attachment to Mr. Wickham and that she believed his for her to be growing as well. Her last letter, however, put a different and more serious interpretation on this attachment, for Lydia confessed that they planned to travel to Scotland, there to marry as soon as may be.

So imprudent a match on both sides! It was not to be thought of and I informed our father of the matter at once. I disclosed to him that information imparted to you by Mr. Darcy. You may be assured I did not inform of Miss Darcy’s role, nor did I tell him that you learned of the particulars from a letter. Father was most perturbed about the matter but chose to credit your account. You may well, however, face serious questions from him upon your return. He has directed that the subject be kept in confidence – not even our mother to learn of it – lest the scandal tarnish all our reputations. An express was sent immediately to Colonel Foster, alerting him to the situation and requesting him to secure Lydia until her father can arrive to return her to Longbourn. Our father was most seriously displeased and Lydia, I fear, will feel the brunt of it. He has threatened to lock her in her room until she is thirty. Father has just left Longbourn and hopes to arrive in Brighton before dark tomorrow.

Upon reflection I must believe that we have misunderstood Mr. Wickham’s character. Thoughtless and indiscreet I can easily believe him, but this step (and let us not rejoice over it) marks nothing bad at heart. His choice is disinterested at least, for he must know my father can give her nothing. How thankful am I, that we never let them know what has been said against him; we must forget it ourselves should he become our brother.

Our poor mother is sadly grieved. My father instructed me to inform her only that Lydia has suffered a mishap, has requested to return home, and he has gone for that purpose. I must conclude, for I cannot be long from my poor mother. I am afraid you will not be able to make it out, but I hardly know what I have written.”

Without allowing herself time for consideration, and scarcely knowing what she felt, Elizabeth, on finishing this letter, instantly seized the other, and opening it with the utmost impatience, read as follows - it had been written several days later than the conclusion of the first:

“By this time, my dearest sister, you have received my hurried letter; I wish this may be more intelligible, but though not confined for time, my head is so bewildered that I cannot answer for being coherent. Dearest Lizzy, I hardly know what I would write, but I have good news for you, and it cannot be delayed, for I would not have you worry needlessly. I would have written sooner had I news to impart, but you are too aware of our father’s dilatory habits with correspondence to believe him likely to write and keep me informed of what was happening. It was not until his return with Lydia that all was made clear.

Mr. Wickham is truly possessed of a most despicable character. Imprudent as a marriage between W. and our poor Lydia would have been, it seems probable that it would not have taken place. But I am getting ahead of the story. Our father’s express to Colonel F. arrived late that same night in time for him to prevent Lydia’s departure which he learned was to have taken place later that same evening. Lydia was confined to her room and a short note found there to Mrs. F. gave them to understand that she and W. intended to go Gretna Green; however, later the next day, Colonel F. interviewed Denny who expressed his belief that W. never intended to go there, or to marry Lydia at all. W. had been secured by Colonel F. who confessed that he had been badly misled as to W.’s character and learned he was not a man to be trusted. Apparently, W. has incurred debts amongst most of the reputable tradesmen in Brighton and Col. F. stated to our father that since W.’s arrest, an appreciable number of his fellow officers have come forward claiming debts of honour from W. - he truly is a dissolute man and I suspect Mr. Darcy did not describe the full measure of his dissipation to you. Our father remained in Brighton for two days in order to ensure that W. would be properly disciplined by his superiors. It appears that a court martial is to be held, W. to be charged as unfit to be an officer and his commission revoked. Father has been assured by Col. F. that W., once his punishment by the militia is complete, will be brought before the magistrate for his debts and will either be transported or sent to debtor’s prison. I cannot help but regret that his transgressions have produced such a result. Our father’s investigations in Brighton have indicated W.’s debts amount to several hundred pounds, more than sufficient it seems to ensure W.’s incarceration for many years, should it come to that.

Mama’s confusion over the whole business is very great; however, she is delighted that Lydia appears well and when our father informed her that Lydia had expected to marry W., was most distressed to learn that Papa had forbidden the match and insisted on Lydia’s return to Longbourn. Lydia is most unhappy about the business, not having been convinced that W. did not intend marriage, despite Denny’s report. She has, on more than one occasion, declared her desire to return to Brighton, however, our father has affirmed that she is confined to Longbourn for the foreseeable future. Mama, of course, does not understand why this should be so, blames our father on preventing the marriage, and cannot be brought to understand the undesirability of W. as a husband. That he was indebted to his fellow officers and many shopkeepers has not reduced his eligibility in her eyes and I suspect that all she can see that a daughter was prevented from marrying. Papa tolerates it all in his usual manner and says to tell you that he bears you no ill-will for being right in your advice to him in regards to Lydia’s being allowed to travel to Brighton. It shows, he claims, a certain greatness of mind on his part. Lydia is greatly angered at Kitty for betraying her confidences and has refused to speak with her. Kitty, however, seems to bear the punishment well and has been much in my company, seeking to understand why her sister’s actions would cause such distress. I believe I am slowly opening her mind to the lack of propriety involved. There may be some good arising out of this business. Can I own that I long for your return? I am not so selfish, however, as to press for it, for there really is no reason to shorten your trip. All is well here.

Adieu,
Jane

Elizabeth hardly knew what to think about the developments her sister outlined. Everything could have turned out so horribly wrong had not Kitty disclosed Lydia’s intentions. She could only suppose that some small vestige of sense reposed in her sister for her to have betrayed Lydia’s confidence. How close her family had come to ruination could not be glossed over and the correctness of Mr. Darcy’s strictures about her family’s improprieties were brought home once more. Her first thought was to apprise her relatives of what had happened and seek their advice on what course should be followed. They were to dine at Pemberley that evening and as much as she wished to return to Longbourn to assist her sister, the desire to be in Mr. Darcy’s company again was much greater.

She was rising from her seat as she finished the letter, in eagerness to follow her aunt and uncle without losing a moment of time, when as she reached the door, it was opened by a servant, and Mr. Darcy appeared. He seemed astonished too on finding her alone, and apologised for his intrusion by letting her know that he had understood the Gardiners to be within as well.

They then sat down, and when her enquiries after Pemberley were made, seemed in danger of sinking into total silence. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, to think of something, and in this emergency recollecting the substance of Jane’s letters, ventured to say, “I believe, Mr. Darcy, that I and my family owe you a great debt of gratitude.”

He made no attempt to mask his surprise. “While I am gratified to be of service, I confess to a great deal of confusion as to how it came about.”

As he had approached the inn where she was staying, he anticipated finding her in company with her relatives and wondering how he might contrive a to obtain a few moments of privacy. To find her alone caused him to think immediately of how he might advantage himself of it and in his preoccupation had not attended her manner. Now her disturbance of mind was clear, although she appeared amused rather than distressed. Before he could recover himself enough to speak, she, though her mind was full of Lydia’s situation, suddenly wondered at his presence that morning. She not expected to see him again till they dined together that evening. Why had he come?

“Miss Bennet?” he prompted, for she had fallen silent and he now worried that news of an alarming nature had arrived from Longbourn, for he could see the letters still clasped in her hand. “Have you receive news to concern you?”

“Oh!” said she, looking down at her letters. “No, not really. Leastways there is nothing to concern me now, for the matter appears well in hand.”

Seeing the quizzical look on his features, she felt obliged to alleviate any concern and confusion he might feel.

“As I said, Mr. Darcy. I, we, have cause to be grateful to you, for you imparted to me sufficient information about a certain gentleman to prevent the ruination of my family’s reputation.”

Darcy, who had been leaning forward in his chair, the better to listen to her explanation, sat upright immediately. He doubted not as to whom she referred.

“I would be pleased, “ said he, “to have the matter explained in full, if you would not feel it an intrusion on your privacy.”

Elizabeth smiled at him and his heart’s hope bloomed even more at the warmth of her look.

“I believe I can repose my trust with great confidence in a gentleman who has chosen to do as much to me.” Said she. “My youngest sister, Lydia, was invited to accompany Colonel Forster’s wife to Brighton when the ____shire militia moved there for the summer. I had spoken against the move, for I thought Mrs. Forster lacked the maturity to chaperone my sister. Father, however, was of a different conviction, and to Brighton she went. There she appeared to have come under the sway of Mr. Wickham and, by him, persuaded to elope. Fortunately, she confessed her plans to Kitty who had the good sense to break her confidence and speak of it to Jane. You can have no doubt of her reaction. She spoke to our father immediately.”

She fell silent, remembering Darcy’s condemnation of her father’s behaviour and seeing the justice of it, for Lydia should never have been placed in the care of someone so ill-equipped to discharge the duties of care. Darcy would never have countenanced such an action in regards to his own sister.

“Miss Bennet?” his tone was gentle and she could hear his concern. “All is well, surely?”

“It is.” She replied, “However, had you not informed me of Mr. Wickham’s character and had I not spoken to Jane of it, I doubt my father would have acted as forcefully on the matter as he did. We did not – Jane assures me of this – reveal anything of his behaviour with Miss Darcy. On that matter, you need have no fear that your trust has been broken. But of the character of Mr. Wickham it was essential that my father be convinced he had no intentions of marrying Lydia.”

“And what has been done to recover your sister?”

“Father sent an express to Colonel Forster immediately, warning him of her plans and instructing that she be held until his own arrival. He followed upon the letter and arrived in Brighton late the next evening. Colonel Forster had not only secured Lydia but arrested Mr. Wickham. He is, I gather, to be court-martialed for his debts.” She glanced quickly through the letters until fixing at the relevant portion. “Jane says he is in debt to most of the shopkeepers in Brighton and owes debts of honour to his fellow officers.”

Darcy nodded thoughtfully, “That is much as it ever has been with Wickham. I confess to a great deal of satisfaction that he will be required to face the consequence of his vices.”

Elizabeth laid the letters aside. “I suppose I should inform my aunt and uncle of the matter. Jane wishes for me to return, although she has not asked it of me. I will lay the matter before my aunt and uncle. I see no reason to shorten our trip, but they may view the matter differently.”

“I would not wish for you to do so, Miss Bennet.” Darcy removed himself from his chair to kneel before her. “Dare I hope that your feeling towards me are of a kinder nature than they were several months past. I know you too well to believe you will trifle with me. My feelings are unchanged, my wishes that you will accept me as your husband more ardent than ever. If you cannot accept me, I . . .”

It was now essential to stop him and she placed her fingers on his lips to silence him.

“My feelings now, my feelings are very much the reverse of what they were then. Your assurances I accept with the greatest of pleasure.”

The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Elizabeth, well able to encounter his eye, could see how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him. He told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.

There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. In this happy state they were allowed to remain for some time before sounds from outside the door heralded the return to the Gardiners. It was impossible to conceal, had the young couple even the slightest intention of attempting such a feat, that some event of momentous importance had overtaken them. The Gardiners had suspicions that Mr. Darcy admired their niece. Her feelings were less obvious, however, a single glance at her countenance was sufficient to assure them both that not only were her affections engaged but that the couple had arrived at a highly satisfactory arrangement. If any doubts lingered, Darcy’s immediate request to speak with Mr. Gardiner in private laid them to rest.

While Darcy and Elizabeth wished for the time and privacy to explore the ramifications of their attachment, practicalities would not allow for such a luxury. The Gardiners were expected at the home of one of Mrs. Gardiner’s former acquaintances and Darcy must return to Pemberley where he was hosting Mr. Bingley and his sisters. There was time, however, to resolve several matters. The Gardiners, apprised of the events at Longbourn, saw no reason to shorten their trip, for their presence was unnecessary there. They had planned to stay several more days in Lambton before returning home, and several more days they would stay. Darcy resolved to accompany them, for Mr. Bennet’s consent to the betrothal must be obtained. Till then, the engagement was to be a secret, although the couple did confess that they would disclose it, each to their dearest sister.

“I will also speak to Bingley and encourage him to return to Netherfield.” declared Darcy, “I may have to explain the reason for the request, but I believe I can trust in his discretion on the matter. He may chose to accompany me.”

When Elizabeth arrived at Pemberley that evening, she was greeted with particular warmth by Miss Darcy who impressed upon Elizabeth the pleasure she felt in gaining a sister. As she could speak little of her satisfaction, she pressed into Elizabeth’s hand a letter. Four sides of paper were insufficient to contain all her delight, and all her earnest desire of being loved by her sister.

That Darcy had spoken to Bingley was clear almost as soon as Elizabeth entered the drawing room where the latter greeted her with even greater ebullience than usual.

“I believe,” said he, “that we shall have the pleasure of travelling together to Hertfordshire. I will be notifying Mrs. Nicholls to open the house for our arrival. I look forward to seeing my friends in Hertfordshire again.”

Miss Bingley looked little pleased by the prospect and when Elizabeth inquired as to whether she would accompany her brother, gave them all to understand that she and the Hursts would continue their journey to London. Miss Bingley could not be happy that Darcy was to accompany her brother to Netherfield and, if her own wishes could be granted, would have chosen to act as her brother’s hostess there, since her efforts to persuade him against the plan met with failure. If she could not prevent her brother from reacquainting himself with Miss Bennet, she could hope to hinder and obstruct his courtship efforts. Unfortunately, her brother’s manner was uncharacteristically severe and her company specifically excluded. London was to be her destination and the Hursts, her hosts. Moreover, a suspicion, now bordering on certainty, that an attachment had formed between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, could not but alarm her; and, if unable to divert his attentions to herself, Miss Bingley wished to salve her pride by preventing one with Elizabeth Bennet. However, this object was to be denied her, for her brother, angered at her past interference, had forbidden her Netherfield Park. The Hursts were encompassed in his censure and had decided to return to their house in London. Miss Bingley must make her home with them until her brother’s ire was finally assuaged.

Elizabeth had little time to worry about Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst. Miss Darcy garnered the majority of her attention that evening and her placement at the table at Darcy’s right hand allowed them to converse freely for much of the meal. Darcy wished to enjoy as much of Elizabeth’s company as was possible; however, as the Gardiner’s had previously made arrangements to visit acquaintances while in Lambton, her obligations to them meant that she was much engaged in their visits. Nonetheless, they arranged to enjoy a picnic and to dine again at Pemberley the night before departing for Longbourn. More than once in the days that preceded their departure did Elizabeth wish that she had been more earnest in her desire to return early to Longbourn. Until their engagement was sanctioned, she and Darcy would be afforded little opportunity to converse in private away from the burden of other company.

The Gardiners finally returned to Longbourn with their niece. She brought with her a betrothed and his sister, both of whom travelled in a separate carriage in company with Mr. Bingley. The Hursts and Miss Bingley had departed Pemberley the previous day, for Miss Bingley could ill suffer the realization, made more obvious with each passing day, that an attachment had been established between Darcy and Elizabeth. The couple was discrete but a discerning eye – and one particularly seeking such indications that might be displayed – could note such small affectionate exchanges as they allowed themselves. It was more than Miss Bingley could tolerate with equanimity, and she importuned her brother Hurst to leave as soon as possible.

Elizabeth was welcomed at Longbourn, although only Jane was sensible of the dramatic events that were soon to envelope the house. As the hour was late, the Darcys and Mr. Bingley had travelled directly to Netherfield, allowing Elizabeth the opportunity to meet with her family without the distraction of their company. Mrs. Bennet had little thought for her daughter’s return, for a matter of greater importance had consumed her mind for the past few days. Netherfield Park was to be reopened and Mr. Bingley was expected to take up residence again shortly. Mrs. Bennet was waiting with ill-concealed impatience and anticipation for his return to Netherfield and his visit to Longbourn which she was sure would follow almost immediately. He could have returned for one reason alone – to call on her eldest daughter.

Given the events that had transpired at Longbourn and Pemberley, it was to be expected that Elizabeth and Jane, once ensconced in the privacy of their bedroom, had much to discuss. As eager as she was to speak of Lydia’s near elopement, Elizabeth was first required to explain the attachment she had formed with Darcy and the modifications to her opinions which allowed it to come about, for Jane, despite her sister’s assurances as expressed in her letter, could hardly believe such an evolution in Elizabeth’s feelings. She was, however, after some time and much effort on Elizabeth’s part, made to understand the depth of her sister’s affections and her concerns for Elizabeth’s future happiness alleviated.

Lydia’s discontent and surly attitude had been obvious from the moment Elizabeth and the Gardiners entered Longbourn House; however, it seemed that Mr. Bennet had chosen to find peace and quiet not by secluding himself in his book room but by the happy expedient of banishing Lydia to her room should her disquiet be expressed. She might be as surly and unhappy as she wished, but in his parlour and presence she would be quiet. As she preferred company to solitude, her displeasure was voiced without disturbing anyone else. She failed even to win her mother’s support, for that lady was more interested in Mr. Bingley’s eventual return (Mrs. Bennet harboured no doubt as to his purpose) than in her youngest daughter’s unsuccessful attempt to marry.

Of Lydia’s misbehaviour there was, in fact, little to be added. As far as their neighbours understood, she had unwisely accepted a marriage offer to which her father had declined his consent on the grounds that the groom could not afford to support a wife. The appropriateness of the decision was soon clear to one and all, as Jane vouchsafed.

“Oh, Lizzy! Lydia has had a most fortunate escape, little though she accepts that fact. Our Aunt Philips has only today informed us that Mr. Wickham left behind numerous debts in Meryton and. . .” Jane blushed, her voice dropping almost to a whisper, “and. . .and seductions. Aunt says that several tradesmen’s daughters have been trifled with.”

“And what has been done with Mr. Wickham?”

“Colonel Forster has written that he has been court-martialled, stripped of his rank, flogged and offered the choice of enlisting in the regulars with a posting to the continent or debtor’s prison. He chose to joint the regulars and will be sent to Spain shortly.”

“Good! I feel little sympathy for the man after his behaviour. I do not wish further ill on him, but should I never see him again, I shall not repine his absence.”

Jane nodded. “Lydia is much changed.”

“Is she? She appeared much as ever to me, only quieter, but if that is the full substance of her improvement, I will have little complaint.”

“She is not so very bad, Lizzy.”

“She was within several hours of bringing ruin upon her family!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Wickham would not have married her, Jane. You must know this! He had not the means to do so. My engagement to Mr. Darcy would not have taken place, for he could not, would not, have such a scandal attached to his family. Mr. Bingley would not have come back for much the same reason. You must see this, surely?”

Elizabeth watched as her sister, reluctant to assign fault to anyone, finally sighed in acceptance.

“Has our father spoken of his plans for Lydia?”

“Apart from not allowing her out in society and insisting that either Mary or I accompany when she walks to Meryton, no. Nothing!”

“And Kitty?”

“Lydia is not speaking to her as yet, to which I confess she does not appear to object. She is much in my company now and I find her presence tolerable. I hope, with time, to effect an improvement in her.”

“She could have no finer model! Perhaps she might come and stay with Mr. Darcy and myself at some point. Not immediately, of course.” Elizabeth spoke with some haste and embarrassment. Her sister smiled.

“Perhaps,” Jane said

~~~~~~~~~~

Events can have a momentum of their own, to be deflected from their course by only the largest of objects. In this instance, no obstacles arose. Mr. Bennet’s consent and blessing to his second daughter’s engagement was sought and, after some small persuasion by Elizabeth that her opinion and feelings for Darcy had changed greatly, given. Mrs. Bennet, while Darcy spoke with her husband, was apprised of her betrothal and was rendered silent in amazement for some minutes before erupting in such an effusion of delight as to thoroughly embarrass her daughter. Fortunately for the latter’s composure, Mrs. Bennet was too greatly in awe of Darcy to express her happiness in her usual fashion. The presence of Bingley in her parlour, as enraptured with her eldest daughter as ever he was, also deflected her attentions and it was hard to know which prospect pleased her more.

The only major disturbance arose from the efforts of Lady Catherine de Bourgh upon being apprised of her nephew’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The lady, having expectations that said nephew would marry her own daughter, a circumstance that he had assured Elizabeth he had never contemplated, wrote sulphurous letters to both Darcy and Elizabeth. The latter, being warned of her ladyship’s probable displeasure was, from her own acquaintance with her, neither surprised nor dismayed at the contents of her missive. As her ladyship was wholly unconnected to her and her opinions of little material importance, Elizabeth was content to discard the letter and her ladyship’s displeasure along with it. Darcy, however, responded more directly, advising his aunt that all further contact between them would be severed until such time as Lady Catherine was prepared to accord his wife her due respect. As it turned out, the estrangement lasted little more than a year before Elizabeth encouraged him to overlook the offense and seek a reconciliation. After a little farther resistance on the part of his aunt, her resentment gave way, either to her affection for him, or her curiosity to see how his wife conducted herself; and she condescended to wait on them at Pemberley, in spite of that pollution which its woods had received, not merely from the presence of such a mistress, but the visits of her uncle and aunt from the city.

Bingley and Jane Bennet came to an agreement within a week of his return to Netherfield and their marriage was joined with that of Darcy and Elizabeth to the satisfaction of both couples. With what delighted pride Mrs. Bennet afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the prosperous marriages of her two eldest daughters produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; however, I cannot. Perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly. Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly; his affection for her drew him more often from home than anything else could do. He delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was least expected.

Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. To live so near to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighbouring county to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not of so ungovernable a temper as Lydia; and, removed from the influence of Lydia’s example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid.

Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet’s being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.

As for Lydia, her character suffered little revolution from the marriage of her sisters. It is not to be supposed that her father could sustain his impulse to moderate her behaviour and within a year of her sister’s marriages, she had resumed her flirtatious ways. Fortunately, no militia regiment was quartered in the neighbourhood of Meryton for more than a decade and the number of gentlemen upon whom she could exercise her talents remained limited. However, after several years and no improvement in her behaviour, her father, with the assistance and support of Bingley and Darcy, introduced her to an officer in the regulars with a modest estate and an appreciation of her boisterous manners. A marriage was arranged and it soon became apparent that he had the fortitude to control her behaviour. If her manners could never be held up as an example of all that was proper, she did not materially harm his reputation or that of her family.

Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy’s marriage; but as she thought it advisable to retain the right of visiting at Pemberley, she dropped all her resentment; was fonder than ever of Georgiana, almost as attentive to Darcy as heretofore, and paid off every arrear of civility to Elizabeth.

Pemberley was now Georgiana’s home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended. Georgiana had the highest opinion in the world of Elizabeth; though at first she often listened with an astonishment bordering on alarm at her lively, sportive, manner of talking to her brother. He, who had always inspired in herself a respect which almost overcame her affection, she now saw the object of open pleasantry. Her mind received knowledge which had never before fallen in her way. By Elizabeth’s instructions, she began to comprehend that a woman may take liberties with her husband which a brother will not always allow in a sister more than ten years younger than himself.

With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.

Finis