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Even More Consequences From A Call

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Chapter 20

 

Churchyard, Meryton
Saturday, September 21, 1811

 

Reginald Hurst looked at his sister and her new husband and sighed. Over the past nine months he had thoroughly enjoyed his newfound closeness with Grace. He hoped her marriage would not severely alter their relationship again.

 

The former Colonel, or Richard now that they were brothers, had heard about the confrontation Grace had with their parents in Hyde Park, almost certainly from Tylor, and rushed to Darcy House that same day to ask him and Aunt Phoebe for their blessings to request Grace’s hand in marriage. He was hesitant to say yes, he wanted to demand a courtship period first, but Aunt Phoebe wore him down. The couple had known each other for nine months and Grace was of age and he was not sure what she would do if he withheld his blessings. He truly had no objections, other than losing his sister. He wrote a note to the Sakville’s granting Richard permission to have a private audience with Grace that very evening. Everyone was happy for the new couple and an announcement was sent to the papers.

 

The Sakville’s left London for Dorset first thing Monday as planned. Mr. Sakville wanted his wife home for the remainder of her condition and would hear no arguments about returning to Netherfield or attending the wedding. Mademoiselle Brodeur had agreed to grant Grace an appointment early on Monday, before she officially opened, to pick out the design of her wedding dress and one for Miss Darcy as the maid of honour. As soon as the ladies were done, the Meryton party also left London.

 

Grace, Miss Darcy, Miss Owens, Miss de Bourgh, and Lady Catherine had moved into Haye Park, leaving them with no free bedrooms. Aunt Phoebe continued as the official mistress of the estate. She had tried to defer to Lady Catherine, but the latter was afraid of falling into old habits and declined.

 

The past two months had been spent planning and preparing for the wedding. Aunt Phoebe and Lady Catherine quickly realized that Grace truly had no opinions, other than who the groom was and that she preferred to be married in Meryton. Mrs. Bennet was delighted to be asked to join them because she knew the particulars of Meryton society and the merchants. Grace gave the three of them free rein to do as they pleased. Most of the young ladies had suggestions or requests to offer, especially Lydia who had an eye for colour combinations. Everything had turned out exceptionally well.

 

Richard, to the relief of his family, had sold his commission and, as their wedding gift to the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sakville had allowed him to move into Netherfield for the two-month period until the Bingley’s lease started. It was improper for him to stay at Haye Park with his fiancée, and there were no free bedrooms anyway, but it also gave them the extra space required to house the wedding guests and a larger venue for the breakfast.

 

The day before Michaelmas, the new couple planned to relocate to Haye Park. Reginald was surprised they were not leaving for Cherry Grove immediately. He was touched when Grace finally confided in him that she was worried for his state of mind and wanted to be there as support when the Bingley’s arrived.

 

In a way, he was glad the wedding was over. The engagement teas, dinners, and parties had taken their toll on him. One thing he was certainly appreciative of, was the amount of time he got to spend with Miss Bennet and the number of dances they were able to share.

 

He noticed Darcy standing next to the church and started chuckling silently. He was staring at Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who was speaking with Miss Darcy, with a love-struck look on his face. He could not pass up the ability to tease his friend and walked over.

 

“Darcy, your thoughts are written plainly on your face. It is not hard to guess you are wondering how long until you can make Miss Elizabeth sister to Miss Darcy,” he told Darcy with an impish smile.

 

“Your conjecture is completely accurate, Hurst. She has bewitched me,” Darcy admitted quietly.

 

“I feel the same way about Miss Bennet. The next two months will go very slowly,” he told Darcy. They had never vocalized their feelings, but he was absolutely certain Miss Bennet’s feelings matched his own. He did not know how he would survive when Bingley arrived. As the most beautiful woman in almost any room she was in, Miss Bennet was exactly the type of lady his brother-in-law would not be able to resist. It would be torture watching Bingley pay his attentions to Jane. He wanted to inform Bingley he had an informal understanding with Miss Bennet, but that would be dishonest, and it would most likely cause Miss Bingley to make a scene.

 

“You are brother to my cousin, so, in a roundabout way, we are now cousins too. Please, call me William.”

 

“And I would be honoured if you would address me as Reginald.”

 

“According to his lease, Bingley takes possession of Netherfield next week Sunday. Does knowing the Bingley siblings may arrive soon cause you concern?”

 

“I am reconciled to it, William. I refuse to step foot in Netherfield while Miss Bingley is mistress. Please do not ask it of me,” he pled. He would not be held responsible for his actions if she started to berate him and he could not easily escape.

 

“Reginald, we both know Bingley’s social nature. He will eventually want to host a dinner party or a ball for his new neighbours. Would you turn down any opportunity to dance with Miss Bennet and leave her at Bingley’s mercy? You know he will focus his attentions on her, do you not?” Darcy asked gently.

 

“Believe me, the thought had crossed my mind. If Bingley decides to throw a ball, I will attend,” he decided with a determined sigh. “I will, however, refuse any dinner invitations that are issued from Netherfield while Miss Bingley is hostess.”

 

“I understand,” Darcy said, “it would be easier to limit your contact and avoid them, without being obvious, at a ball.”

 

“How am I to pretend nothing happened?” he asked despondently. “Miss Bingley all but murdered my wife. I have not had to look at her face since we left for Pemberley. True, we saw them at the park, but Miss Darcy and I turned around as soon as she recognized who was approaching.”

 

“You know it is inaccurate to say Miss Bingley murdered Mrs. Hurst,” Darcy said gently and compassionately. “While I do not dispute that she contributed to your wife’s death, it was an accident. Yes, it could have been avoided if she had shown the slightest bit of common decency, but you, better than most, know what Miss Bingley is like. Everything is all about her wants and her needs. She despises tradesmen and is outright rude to them while conveniently forgetting to tell people in society how her father made his fortune. She seems to think her attitude is acceptable and that she can buy her way into society with the amount of her dowry. I hope you remember that you could still demand Bingley to pay you £7,000 more out of her dowry. If my math is correct, that would decrease its value to £8,000. Although, I have yet to hear it spread around London that it is now £15,000, so I highly doubt she would tell people if it decreased any further.”

 

“Yes, she cast some serious aspersions on Grace’s character that day in Hyde Park. If our aunts and Lady Sheldon had not stepped in, my sister’s reputation could have been irreparably ruined. It definitely counted as gossip against the Hurst family. I wonder if it would have been vile enough for a slander lawsuit?” he asked.

 

“At minimum, you could threaten to look into the possibility,” Darcy responded. “As far as I am aware, there was no time limit listed in the contract that was signed with the Bingley’s. I would advise that you have a serious discussion with Bingley to remind him that he needs to keep his sister under control. As much as you do not want to see her, it might be best to demand she is present. I am unsure if you can count on Bingley to relay the message with the severity it requires.”

 

“I appreciate the advice. It is my turn now. If I was in your position, William, I would request to officially start calling on Miss Elizabeth, or better yet, you have known her long enough to request a courtship directly. Before the Bingley’s arrive,” he warned sternly. “You were entirely correct, I know my sister-in-law very well and she plans to be your wife, regardless of your feelings on the matter. From the first moment Miss Bingley sees you with Miss Elizabeth, she will have no doubt where your affections actually lie. Do you think she would not attempt to cause trouble between you and Miss Elizabeth? She would most certainly tell half-truths, give misleading information, or tell outright falsehoods in an effort to separate you, if not worse.”

 

He could see the colour drain out of Darcy’s face just at the thought. “You need to make sure Miss Elizabeth is absolutely, without a doubt, aware of your intentions. You would do well to inform her what type of person Miss Bingley is so she is on her guard. Also, under no circumstances, at all, are you to stay at Netherfield overnight if Miss Bingley is in residence or even retire to rest. EVER! I do not care if we have to carry you to the carriage, you will sleep at Haye Park or Longbourn.”

 

“You think she would attempt to compromise me?” Darcy asked, looking shocked.

 

“Clueless as ever, William,” he said ruefully. “Of course she will!”

 

“I hate to admit it, but you are correct. I had thought to wait to approach Miss Elizabeth until...” Darcy trailed off.

 

“Were you waiting for my mourning period to officially end?” he asked incredulously. Darcy’s response was a sheepish look. “Of all of the ridiculous... You are too bloody honourable, William.”

 

Hurst heard a giggle behind them and turned to see the swish of what appeared to be a child’s skirt turning the corner of the building. “Did you see who that was?”

 

“No, I did not. Although, from the height of the skirt, it had to have been a child,” Darcy answered.

 

Hurst started laughing and then laughed even harder when he saw confusion on Darcy’s face. “I am sorry, William. I had a sudden thought that Anna was the one to overhear our conversation. Could you imagine what would happen when she meets Miss Bingley if it was indeed her?”

 

He smiled as Darcy started laughing too.

 

“There is Mr. Bennet. Let us ask if Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth may ride with us to Netherfield in your carriage. It is a short enough distance and if we leave the windows open the sisters can chaperone each other,” Hurst suggested. “It is a shame the wedding breakfast had to supersede our week to host the after-church meal and games. We should ask the sisters to take a stroll after the wedding breakfast to be able to spend more time with them. We could offer to escort them back to Longbourn. Do you think three miles would be too long of a distance to walk?”

 

“Good idea, Hurst. I know Miss Elizabeth could easily handle the distance. Miss Bennet will be the unknown. I could have almost kneeled at Lady Dobbs’ feet when she offered to continue hosting every other Sunday meal at Haye Park in Mrs. Sakville’s absence. I will certainly miss the fun when the weather turns too cold,” Darcy said.

 

“Me too. Come, let us ask. I will make sure you and Miss Elizabeth stay just out of earshot of me and Jane on the walk to Longbourn,” he said.

 

“Jane?” Darcy asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“Come now, like you do not call her Elizabeth in your mind? I will be careful not to slip in her presence. For another two months, in any case,” he said with a roguish grin as he started walking towards Mr. Bennet.

 

“Mr. Bennet, did you enjoy the wedding?” Darcy asked.

 

“Not as much as I should have, I believe. It made me start dreading the day, if it ever arrives, that gentlemen start coming to me for my daughters. I am quite at leisure most days after tea, perchance that information becomes useful to any gentlemen I know. Now, please tell me the plan you two came up with to spend more time with my daughters so I may approve it and send you all on your merry way,” Mr. Bennet said with a twinkle in his eyes.

 

Reginald explained their plans before adding, “As to your other unspoken question, you know my current situation. William, however, needs to speak with you a moment before we leave.”

 

“You have my permission, as long as you take Anna with you in the carriage. And Mr. Darcy, you have my permission to ask Lizzy for a courtship, for it certainly is about time,” Mr. Bennet replied with a smirk.

 

“Very well put, sir,” he said while clapping Darcy on the back. “We were having an eerily similar conversation a few minutes ago. We shall find your beautiful daughters and Anna. Thank you.”

 

Hurst was still chuckling when they approached the eldest Bennet sisters.

 

“What have you found so amusing, sir?” Miss Bennet asked with a smile.

 

“Your father is a sly old fox,” he mused and noted the confused looks on the faces of the sisters. “We asked for permission to transport you to Netherfield in the Darcy carriage, and your father allowed it to be so on the condition we bring Anna.”

 

Both ladies laughed before Miss Elizabeth said, “Yes, she would willingly tell father any transgression that might possibly cause him concern.”

 

“Your father also gave us permission to walk back to Longbourn with you after the wedding breakfast. Would that be too far?” Darcy asked the ladies.

 

“Not for me,” Miss Elizabeth said. “Jane?”

 

“A long walk would be lovely,” Miss Bennet said while looking at him and blushing. “Lizzy and I always keep an extra pair of boots in the carriage. You never know when rain or the desire to walk home will strike.”

 

“Mr. William and Mr. Hurs, I am so very glad I found you,” Anna said after she had run into their group. “Did you see me throw the flowers? Miss Grace let me throw the flowers! Look! I have a new dress. It’s the prettiest dress I own!”

 

“She is Mrs. Fitzwilliam now,” he said a little gruffly.

 

“Fiswilliam? But that is Mr. William’s first name. How can it be Miss Grace’s second name now, Mr. Hurs?”

 

“My mother was Anne Fitzwilliam. When I was born, they made my mother’s last name my first name,” Darcy explained. “And that is a very pretty dress.”

 

“I think I stand. That means when you and Miss Lizzy have children, the first boy will be named Bennet?” Anna asked curiously with her head tilted to the side.

 

Hurst watched as Miss Bennet smiled, Miss Elizabeth blushed, and Darcy’s face was overcome with a dumbfounded look for a moment before he too blushed. He knelt down in front of Anna and said, “Mr. Bennet has allowed me and William to bring Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth to Netherfield in the Darcy carriage if you are along to chaperone. Would you like to ride with us instead of in the Bennet carriage?”

 

“Yay!” Anna said while jumping up and down and clapping. She threw her arms around his neck to give him a hug before pulling back and announcing, “We hafta bring Reggie too. Mrs. Sally says I am a super good sitter. I promised to help sit when she works at the wedding breakfast.”

 

He stood up, grabbed Anna’s hand, offered Miss Bennet his arm, and asked, “Sally and Wiggins are over by the carriage. Shall we go collect my godson?”

 

Miss Bennet smiled sweetly at him as she accepted his arm.

 

“We must stop by the Bennet carriage for our boots first, Mr. Hurst,” Miss Bennet reminded him.

 

Hurst and Darcy handed the sisters into their carriage and back down a few moments later. Reggie saw them approaching the Darcy carriage. The nine-month old started kicking his legs, babbling, and reaching towards him, obviously requesting to be held.

 

“Come here, young man,” he said to Reggie while taking him from his mother’s arms.

 

“Wiggins,” Darcy addressed his coachman, “Mr. Bennet has given us permission to transport Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth to Netherfield.”

 

“Very good, sir,” Wiggins replied. “Would you like Sally to ride inside with you or on top with me?”

 

“What do you prefer, Sally?”

 

“I think with Anna and Reggie in the carriage, the sisters will be well chaperoned. I would appreciate the chance to spend the alone time with Evan,” Sally answered.

 

“Mrs. Sally, did you see me throw the flowers?” Anna asked. “Miss Grace bought me a pretty new dress!”

 

“I did see you, Anna. You did a wonderful job on the flowers and your dress is beautiful,” Sally responded.

 

“It is Mrs. Grace now, Anna,” he gently reminded the little girl before he handed Miss Bennet into the carriage and passed Reggie to her.

 

The group had a grand time chatting all the way to Netherfield, it was hard to stay sombre with Anna and Reggie near.

 

“Mr. Hurs, why does everyone say you are morning? Why can’t you be in the afternoon?” Anna asked.

 

“Not morning as in the early part of the day, Anna,” Miss Elizabeth explained. “Mr. Hurst is mourning the loss of his wife. Mourning, with a u, means you are sad that someone died. Do you remember when your mother got sick and passed away? You wore black dresses and your father wore a black armband.”

 

“Yes, I member. I was very sad, but you and Miss Jane helped me,” Anna said. “What happened to your wife, Mr. Hurs?”

 

“Anna! That is a very improper question,” Miss Elizabeth admonished.

 

“All is well, Miss Elizabeth. I know Anna is a curious child,” he assured her. He was uncertain if he should explain until he glanced at Miss Bennet and saw her nod. “Anna, my wife, Louisa, was outside when it was cold, wet, and slippery. She fell, hit her head, went to sleep, and never woke up,” he explained gently to all of the curious ladies who were in the carriage.

 

“I am sorry, Mr. Hurs,” Anna said before jumping down to give him a quick hug. “You don’t have a black armband on now. Does that mean you can marry Miss Bennet?”

 

“Anna!” Miss Elizabeth said sharply before taking a breath and continuing at a calmer tone of voice. “I have told you, too many times to count, that it is not proper to talk about two people getting married. You could raise expectations and harm reputations. I realize it is a complicated set of rules, but you are intelligent and old enough to understand and adhere to them, especially after being told so often.”

 

“Mr. William, did I do bad?” Anna asked him.

 

“Not this time, Anna. However, Miss Elizabeth is absolutely correct that talking about two people, who do not have an established understanding, getting married is not proper. You must be very careful what you say when you are in public,” Darcy warned.

 

“Anna, to answer your earlier question, no, I cannot marry Miss Bennet right now. Society dictates that I mourn for an entire year but I was able to remove my armband after six months. To honour Louisa’s memory, I will comply with the full period.”

 

“I stand. But when the year is over, I get to throw the flowers,” Anna said with a huge grin. “Watch, Reggie knows how to play peek-a-boo.”

 

The rest of the carriage ride was spent watching Anna play with Reggie and listening to their giggles.

 

The wedding breakfast was perfect. The food was plentiful and pleasurable. The company was pleasing. Grace and Richard had flitted about the room accepting congratulations from their guests until the last carriages had departed for London.

 

“Congratulations, Grace,” Reginald whispered into his sister’s ear before he released her from a hug. “Richard, I trust you will take care of my sister.”

 

“You have my word,” his new brother-in-law answered. “And when she is not with me, Tylor will be nearby.”

 

Reginald offered his arm to Miss Bennet and walked out the doors of Netherfield feeling sad. He directed her towards the Darcy carriage so the sisters could change their shoes for the planned walk.

 

“Wiggins, please arrive at Longbourn in an hour,” Darcy told his driver.

 

He gave Darcy a significant look and nod at Miss Elizabeth when she directed them to the trail to Longbourn.

 

“You have not lost a sister, Mr. Hurst, you have gained a new brother,” Miss Bennet said gently, breaking the silence after a few minutes.

 

“I know,” he admitted. “It is just... Grace and I have never had a true relationship before. I was at school when she was born, then when I graduated from university, she was already at school, and afterwards father arranged my marriage and mother would not welcome us to the estate. The past nine months have been wonderful. I enjoyed meeting the woman my sister grew to be.”

 

Hurst saw Miss Bennet open her mouth and then close it without saying a word.

 

“You are curious why my mother would not invite me and my bride to my childhood home?” he stated.

 

“I would never presume to ask you such a personal question,” Miss Bennet answered quietly.

 

“Allow me to volunteer the information,” Reginald said then disclosed how his marriage came about.

 

“You were sold to save your estate?” Miss Bennet asked with wide eyes.

 

“Do you know, that is almost exactly the same thing Miss Darcy asked me when I first told her my history? I will respond just as I did before. It was my decision to marry to save my family’s estate. I had attained my majority and was not dependent upon my father for an allowance,” he told her. “Louisa and I were happy, at first, until her siblings moved in without my knowledge.”

 

“They must have asked your wife,” Miss Bennet offered.

 

“I am not certain. My wife was older by five years and for her entire life was ordered to make sure her younger siblings were safe and well cared for. It created a very unique family support scenario. I can see them deciding they were moving in and Louisa, out of habit, not arguing,” he said.

 

“I am so sorry for everything you went through, Mr. Hurst. I cannot imagine my father requesting me to marry someone I did not love.”

 

“Thank you, Miss Bennet. That means a lot coming from you,” he said softly.

 

They walked in companionable silence for a few moments until he noticed Darcy had stopped walking and followed suit. When Miss Bennet looked at him questioningly, he said, “Miss Bennet, I feel that I must bring up the conversation I had with you and your father in his study.”

 

“I would be happy to hear anything you wish to say to me. However, I fully understand, and approve of, the limitations you are under,” Miss Bennet said with a blush.

 

“I freely acknowledge I will honour my late wife and am not currently able to make any formal promises, but I need you to know how much I have grown to care for you. On November 26th, I will arrive at Longbourn to speak with your father.”

 

“I am so very glad to hear that. I look forward to that day with hope and anticipation,” she said with glistening eyes.

 

“Now it is my turn to say I am glad to hear that,” he said with a smile. “Now to the unpleasant part of what I need to communicate to you. The Bingley siblings will most likely be arriving after Michaelmas. I must warn you Miss Bingley is not to be trusted,” he said with a serious look on his face.

 

“Grace and Georgie have mentioned a few things regarding Miss Bingley. I have the impression that she is not a genuine person,” Miss Bennet responded.

 

He noticed Darcy and Miss Elizabeth’s conversation seemed to become intense before William abruptly stepped back, put her hand on his arm, and started walking again. He slowly followed as he said, “Allow me to explain my history with Mr. and Miss Bingley.”

~*~

Walking trails, Hertfordshire
Saturday, September 21, 1811

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy had been asked by Richard to be his best man. He was honoured, certainly, but he felt envious during the entire ceremony. He knew Reginald and Mr. Bennet were right. It was past time he asked Elizabeth for a courtship.

 

He saw Hurst shoot him an expressive look and a nod towards Miss Elizabeth as she directed him towards the path to Longbourn. He did not understand why this was so difficult. He knew how much he cared for her and could tell they were meant for each other, but he still could not form the words. He sighed in disappointment.

 

“I thought it was a beautiful ceremony too, Mr. Darcy,” Miss Elizabeth said.

 

Realizing she must have thought his sigh was from contentment rather than frustration, he answered, “It was a beautiful ceremony and they are obviously very much in love. I am thrilled for Richard and Grace.”

 

“It seems odd hearing your change of address to be less formal and more intimate,” Miss Elizabeth commented.

 

“Grace is now my cousin by marriage and she insisted I use her given name,” he answered with a smile.

 

They walked in a companionable silence for a few minutes until Miss Elizabeth spoke again.

 

“Something has been troubling you recently, Mr. Darcy. A problem shared is a problem halved. I am here if you would like to discuss anything,” Miss Elizabeth told him quietly.

 

“I am... concerned about the upcoming arrival of the Bingley’s,” he admitted hesitatingly.

 

“Would this concern have something to do with Mr. Hurst?”

 

“You are very perceptive, Miss Elizabeth.”

 

“I am a studier of human nature, Mr. Darcy. I have noticed that Mr. Hurst seems uncomfortable whenever they are mentioned, especially Miss Bingley.”

 

“Also true,” he sighed. “I should start at the beginning, I suppose. I met the current Mr. Bingley shortly after his father died and, as macabre as it sounds, we bonded over our shared life experiences.”

 

“That sounds entirely reasonable,” she responded.

 

“Mr. Bingley’s father had just arranged a marriage between Hurst and the previous Miss Bingley, Louisa, before he passed away. The engaged pair spent her deep-mourning period becoming acquainted through letters. They were actually happy for a while until conflict started to arise early into their marriage.”

 

“Would that conflict have been in the form of his in-laws?”

 

“Yes, it would most definitely. The strain of having Mr. and Miss Bingley living in their household was too much and their relationship disintegrated until Hurst was very unhappy. I must ask you to keep this next part to yourself.”

 

“It is not my story to tell, Mr. Darcy. I will listen and not reveal what I have heard,” Miss Elizabeth told him.

 

“Well, to be completely blunt, and I hope this does not give you the wrong impression of Hurst, he became a sloth of a drunkard who overate and slept as much as possible to avoid his miserable life,” he explained.

 

“I find that very hard to believe!” Miss Elizabeth exclaimed. “Not the Mr. Hurst I have met in Meryton.”

 

“The death of his wife changed him, Miss Elizabeth.”

 

“I believe there is more to the story than what he told us in the carriage, too.”

 

He sighed and shook his head before giving her a quick summary of what happened in front of Darcy House. “So you see, he could not stand to be in London and had no idea where to go or what to do with himself. He was so lost, I offered him the chance to mourn at Pemberley and Richard and I helped him come back to his former self. Better than before, if you believe Reginald.”

 

“That was very admirable, Mr. Darcy,” she said quietly with tears glistening in her eyes.

 

“I feel I must also warn you specifically about Miss Bingley.”

 

“I believe I have her measure already, sir, from things Georgie and Grace have let slip. Miss Bingley is determined to be Mrs. Darcy and will use whatever means at her disposal to ensure it happens,” she stated confidently.

 

“You are a marvel,” he said appreciatively as he came to a stop. “I hope you know, Miss Elizabeth, that I never gave Miss Bingley any indication that I favoured her. In fact, I did everything possible as a gentleman to discourage her. Hurst and I are worried she will see where my affections lie and try to cause problems.”

 

“Your affections?” she asked quietly looking up at him with watery eyes.

 

“Yes, Miss Elizabeth, my affections,” he responded gently before taking hold of her hands. “In the time I have known you, I have come to realize you are everything I have been looking for in a partner. You are intelligent, compassionate, lively, playful, witty, good natured, strong willed, caring, loyal, and absolutely perfect for me. I spoke with your father earlier, and he gave me permission to ask my next question. Would you, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, allow me to court you with the intention of making you my wife?”

 

“Yes, Mr. Darcy, it would make me very happy,” she responded with a tear slowly trailing down her face. “I have long thought you were perfect for me too. You are honourable, intelligent, liberal-minded, rational, caring, the best of brothers, loyal, and handsome as a young man ought to be,” she finished with a tease and a smile.

 

“Miss Elizabeth, if you keep teasing me so, and looking at me like that with your fine eyes, I may lose all my restraint and do something ridiculous.”

 

“What would that be?” she asked him pertly with a teasing smile and sparkling eyes.

 

“Right now, I am thinking I would like to take you in my arms, kiss you senseless, and then get down on one knee and propose to you,” he practically growled.

 

“Oh my,” she muttered breathlessly with wide eyes.

 

“Perhaps it is best if we continue to Longbourn,” he said before putting her hand on his arm and starting to walk again. “You should be made fully aware of what has occurred between Hurst and the Bingley’s these past nine-months, if you are to help me shield your sister and my friend from any potential unpleasantness.”

~*~

Bingley residence, London
Wednesday, October 2, 1811

 

Charles Bingley was again in a carriage with his sister and at the end of his patience. He was beginning to suspect his parents did Caroline and himself a disservice by indulging their every desire. His sister was proving to be uncontrollable and, he worried, not quite right in her mind. Was she delusional or was she simply raised to expect everything she wanted would just appear? Could he break through her armour of self-importance?

 

He had arrived in England three weeks ago weary from his travels and tribulations. He had been unable to warn his driver when his ship was due in, so he hired a carriage to transport him to London and then travelled to Yorkshire to pick up his sister and visit with his aunt and uncle before leaving for Hertfordshire.

 

What he found in Yorkshire was even more discouraging than he feared. Caroline had immediately asked him to escort her on a walk, supposedly to stretch his legs after a long carriage ride. She spent the entire time harassing him for leaving her with their Bingley relatives. After dinner, he spent the rest of the evening listening to his uncle complain of Caroline’s behaviour.

 

By the time the siblings left for London, he was ready to escape listening to his sister argue with their aunt and uncle. Uncle Wilbur claimed Caroline’s behavior since he arrived was his fault. Apparently, Caroline never dared backtalk to their aunt and uncle when Charles was on the continent. He did not know what to believe anymore.

 

As they approached his leased townhouse in London, he took a deep breath and fortified himself for the eruption he knew was to come.

 

“Charles, do you intend to renew the lease on the townhouse? I would think you should see if you can find one in a better neigbourhood,” Caroline said.

 

“If you recall, Caroline, I did not have much time to look at properties in December after your despicable behavior with Louisa’s jewellery. Besides, I rather like the location of this townhouse,” he defended his decision. His sister huffed and started to put on her gloves.

 

When they entered the house, his sister instantly became upset.

 

“What is Mrs. Verdier doing here?” Caroline hissed.

 

“Caroline, Aunt Lucile pointed out to me, quite correctly, that you must have a companion,” he explained.

 

“That does not explain what she is doing here!”

 

“Mrs. Verdier is the sister of our aunt. You will not speak of her disparagingly,” he warned. “Caroline, you must acknowledge that you cannot continue living with me without a companion or suitably married woman in residence. When Aunt Lucile brought this oversight to my attention before I left on holiday, I tasked her with finding a suitable and trustworthy person. Our aunt offered her sister the opportunity to join our household as a favour to both of us. Mrs. Verdier keeps her status as a gentlewoman, and it allows her to live for free and save her marriage settlement for her care later in her life, while it allows you to maintain respectability and accept callers in Meryton.”

 

“Charles, her husband’s estate was only worth £900 a year. What could she possibly know about the society we have become a part of? I insist you send her away immediately!” Caroline ordered.

 

“Not another word, Caroline, until we are in my study,” he threatened as he took her arm and directed her down the hall. When all three people were in the room, he began, “Caroline, do not try to challenge this. You have very few options available to you. First, you may continue to live with me and Mrs. Verdier. Two, you may use your inheritance to set up your own establishment and hire a companion of your choice, to be paid out of your funds. Three, you may beg Uncle and Aunt Bingley to let you live with them, although I doubt they would accept you. Those are your only options and they are non-negotiable.”

 

Caroline looked furious. She opened her mouth to speak when Mrs. Verdier beat her to it, “Miss Bingley, I suggest you take the evening to think about your options. Your family is doing me a favour, it is true, however I do not need your charity and will not tolerate any form of verbal abuse. I warn you, if I leave, I will not come back.”

 

“Caroline, Mrs. Verdier is correct. We will be leaving for Meryton Friday morning to allow me time to complete some business. I need to know your decision by Thursday evening to ensure I have time to make alternate travel arrangements if needed. Make no mistake, I will be going to Meryton, with or without you, and you will not be allowed to stay here alone while I am gone,” he told his sister in as firm a tone of voice as he was capable. “Mrs. Verdier, I have already informed my staff, but we are not at home to visitors and my sister is not allowed outside of this townhouse. For any reason.”

 

“Unlike my sister and brother-in-law, I do subscribe to the London paper. I know exactly what she did to require your abrupt departure in June. I will do my best to stop her.”

 

“I am of age!” Caroline spat. “You cannot order me about like this.”

 

“Perhaps. I do, however, control your access to the one thing you may actually care about. Money. I do not have to give you an allowance from the interest of your dowry. I could instruct my man of business to reinvest the quarterly interest. What do you think Caroline, shall I do that? Your dowry would start to rebuild if I did,” he threatened.

 

“What do you mean, rebuild?” Mrs. Verdier asked with narrowed eyes.

 

“You did not inform our aunt and uncle that your dowry is now £15,000?” he asked mockingly.

 

“How did that come about?” Mrs. Verdier asked. “If I am to live in your household, I must know everything that has occurred.”

 

Charles told her everything, from the accident outside of Darcy House, to the confrontation in the haberdashery.

 

“To think, your parents wasted all of that money on a fancy education. Your sister is foolish,” Mrs. Verdier stated harshly. “Even the wife of a gentleman with an estate only worth £900 a year, knows how to act within the bounds of propriety.”

 

Caroline looked furious and opened her mouth to respond, but only managed to produce unintelligible sounds.

 

“Mr. Bingley, I demand that you stop at a bookshop and purchase a book on propriety or etiquette, preferably both,” Mrs. Verdier ordered. “Your sister and I will spend a good portion of every day reviewing what any young child already knows.”

 

He could see his sister was ready to explode. “Caroline, have you thought about what would happen to you if I refused to let you live with me and denied you an allowance? Remember, according to our father’s will, I do not have to release any funds to you until you are thirty-years-old or married. Whether you like it or not, you are beholden to me,” he said with narrowed eyes.

 

Charles was pleased to see he might have actually found a way to exert some form of control over his sister. Would he have the strength to persist?