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The Benevolence of Scandal

Chapter Text

Chapter IV

…As to the request you made of me before I left, I have managed to fulfill that duty sooner than expected.  Knowing Bingley, I doubt you shall be surprised that he made us attend a local assembly on our third evening there.  Knowing me, I doubt you shall be surprised when I tell you that I was not entirely eager to attend.  Bingley’s encouragement was, however, quite fortuitous as I happened upon none other than Miss Bennet.

As you will likely want to know, she looked very well, and I, despite being an unenthusiastic dancer, asked her to dance. I daresay she dances well, which I know is high on your list of accomplishments.  I hope you shall find it reassuring that she was very interested in news of you.  I mentioned that you would like to begin a correspondence, and she readily agreed.  Unfortunately, our dance came to an abrupt end, so I did not have another opportunity to speak with her again.  Perhaps, it was for the best, seeing as she repeatedly wielded her rapier wit at my expense.  Thus, abandoned, I was to be left to the machinations of Miss Bingley.

Nevertheless, I do hope the presence of Miss Bingley at Netherfield will not induce any trepidation about your arrival here at the end of October.  I have it on Bingley’s authority that the Bennet estate, Longbourn, is but three miles hence.  I do think the proximity of Longbourn will provide amusement and companionship for you during your stay here.  Miss Bennet and her elder sister, whom I have not yet met but Bingley says is very kind, will be a comfort, I hope .  The two youngest sisters, however, are as unlike Miss Bennet in every way possible.  I have heard nothing yet of the middle sister, who Bingley assures me exists.  I can only hope she takes after her elder sisters rather than the younger ones for I believe she would be closer to you in age.

Overall, I anticipate that you shall enjoy your trip to Hertfordshire in spite of the presence of your rather taciturn brother for there is some very pretty scenery, and Bingley, for all his frivolity, is an excellent host.

            Your loving brother,


Georgiana refolded the letter and hastily finished the last of her breakfast with the hope of sending a letter off to Lizzy in the afternoon post.  As she was about to take her leave of Mrs. Annesley, Richard was announced.

“Shall you receive in the drawing room?” asked the housekeeper.

“Yes, I shall be there directly.”

She nearly rolled her eyes.  Richard had come to call every day since Fitzwilliam left, and in some ways, Richard’s presence was more suffocating than Fitzwilliam’s.  They both felt so obviously guilty for what happened and would never let her take any responsibility, but neither would they talk about it in any way but a circumlocutory and stilted manner which made her uncomfortable and ashamed.  Richard, however, clearly felt the greater ignominy of the two.  He had not been there, and he had been the one to suggest the trip to Ramsgate.

Now, every interaction was defined by that incident, and all they would ever ask is “are you well?” with their voices full of pity.  It was insufferable!  She wanted to scream and laugh and cry, but the only place to do so was into her pillow at night.  If her maid noticed anything, she said nothing, yet Georgiana strangely wanted her—or at least someone—to know.  She wanted someone to know how she was feeling without her having to explain.  She wanted someone to know what she needed even when she did not, and Richard and Fitzwilliam could not even understand.

The door of the drawing room opened, and Richard walked in somberly.  “Good morning, Georgie.  Are you well?”

She nearly laughed at how predictable he had become.  “I am well, Richard.  How are you?”

“I’m well…well…” he said pensively before taking a seat in the armchair next to hers.  He did not say anything for several minutes, merely fidgeting with the tassels on the edge of the armchair.

“Ah, did you receive a letter?  From whom?” he finally said.

She realized she had been turning the letter over in her hands.  “Fitzwilliam.  He wrote of his initial impressions of Hertfordshire.  Would you like to read it?”

She passed it over to him, thinking that the letter would give them better food for conversation than Richard’s tepid questions.

“Is this the Miss Bennet you met…in Canterbury?”


“I see,” he said before continuing with the letter.

After a moment, he sat up and laughed loudly.  The sound had become so unfamiliar to her in the last few weeks, it made her jump.

He modulated his voice upon noticing her jump.  “I apologize, Georgie,” he said contritely.

“No, do not apologize,” she shook her head vehemently.  “What made you laugh so?”

Richard smirked.  “’Tis only…I have never before heard your brother wax poetic about aught but Pemberley and crop yields!”

“To what are you referring, Richard?  I saw nothing of the sort in that letter.”

He looked reluctant to speak more, but she would not have it.  “Come, Richard.  I am not so dull-witted that I cannot understand what you mean.  Please tell me.”

She realized it was likely the most emphatic speech he had heard from her in recent memory, but it worked.

“I do not doubt your intelligence.  It is just I do not think your brother would like me to speak of him in such a way to you, but if you shan’t tell him—”

“I shall not,” she said, feeling satisfied.

“Very well, then.”  He sat back in his chair, and a smile played about his lips.  “I have never heard him speak so…admiringly of a lady before.  Aside from you, of course.”

“He was hardly effusive.”  She furrowed her brow.  She had never seen her brother and Lizzy interact more than just a few exchanged words, and his letter led her to believe they may have had a negative exchange.

“No, but your brother never is.  I have never heard him speak about a woman except to say she is accomplished.  He may comment on a lady’s appearance if she or some relative makes it clear they expect him to do so, but I cannot recall a time where he has ever volunteered such information on his own. 

“However, it is this line which makes me think our poor relation has a particular interest in this lady.”  He read aloud in a mocking imitation of Fitzwilliam’s voice, “‘Unfortunately, our dance came to an end, so I did not have another opportunity to speak with her again.  Perhaps, it was for the best, seeing as she repeatedly wielded her rapier wit at my expense.’”

Georgiana inclined her head.  “You think so?  That line worried me.  Lizzy—Miss Bennet—has a rather direct manner, and I was afraid he took umbrage at something she might have said.”

“No, no, no, dear Georgie,” Richard said jovially, “You have never seen Darcy at a ball or out in society.  He is wholly ill-suited to small talk and detests the games and machinations of society.  Too often, people fawn over him as a wealthy, eligible bachelor, as I am sure you know.  If your dear Miss Bennet is direct and witty and not intimidated by his rank, I daresay your brother would be veritably pleased by her company.”

“Oh.” Georgiana was slightly confused as she rarely thought of what occupied her brother other than his business with the estate and with the family.

“What does she look like, your Miss Bennet?”

Georgiana tried to think of what to say for she had hardly seen Lizzy when she was not in her nightclothes.  “She is about my height though she is five years my senior, and she has dark curls and large dark eyes.  I could not tell you more, but I hope you shall meet her when you escort me to Hertfordshire.”

Richard smiled.  “I would like to.  She sounds as if she has been a good friend to you.”

“Yes, she has.  I wish time would move quicker, so I could be in Hertfordshire with her.  If Fitzwilliam is enjoying her company, I feel perhaps…” How could she tell Richard about her frustrations with them both?  She feared for her future daily and keenly felt Richard and Fitzwilliam’s opaqueness.  She was sure they were making plans for her future, but she had no inclination of what they were.

Her memory of waking up in the middle of the night with Wickham’s hands under her shift was little more than the memory of fear.  She could not picture anything, yet she could remember the pain and the sounds of his threats in her ears.  Her only lucid memories from the night were the relief she felt when Fitzwilliam had found her in Lizzy’s room and embraced her and the renewed fear she felt after answering all of Mrs. Gardiners questions and realizing the implications of the attack.  Every passing day had brought more realizations about the ramifications of her actions, and she was certain she felt melancholier a fortnight after their return from Canterbury than she had the day after the attack.  Regardless of her mounting dread, she felt as if she had no right to ask about her guardians’ plans for her.  It had been her poor decisions that had initiated all of this pain.  How could she defend her right to decide for herself?

“Georgie?” Richard said, looking at her worriedly.

She sat up, realizing that she had been slouching while lost in thought.  “Forgive me, Richard.  I was not attending the conversation.  What were you saying?”

“I was wondering whether you might visit Hertfordshire sooner.”


“If I can get away, I might be able to escort you a se’ennight before.”

The broad, joyous smile that overtook her face felt rather unnatural as she excitedly blurted, “Oh, yes, Richard, would you?”

Richard laughed, and it was incredible to think of how long it had been since they had been so easy with each other.  “Yes, I will write your brother and look into it.  Do not tell Miss Bennet yet for I will need to secure your brother’s permission, but I suspect he will acquiesce.”

She suddenly could imagine walks through the Hertfordshire wilderness with Lizzy and her sisters.  Perhaps, with Lizzy and Mr. Bingley for company, she and Fitzwilliam might be easier with each other.  It all seemed idyllic, and she felt sure that everything would change if she were only able to join them as soon as may be.

“Oh, why has he not yet come?” Mrs. Bennet cried, staring out the window.

“Who, dear?” asked Mr. Bennet innocently, not looking up from his paper.  He took a bite of toast with a sardonic smile playing about his lips.

“Mr. Darcy!  Who else?”

“Who else?  My dear, you regularly have everyone from Lady Lucas to Mrs. Long travelling through this house every day of the week.  Why should you be in such a state over an unfamiliar man?”

“You read the letter from my brother Gardiner!  He said that Mr. Darcy would call on us here, and he has not, even though it has been nearly a se’nnight since the ball,” she turned with unwieldy speed to Lizzy, who hid her grimace in her teacup.  “Lizzy, are you sure you said nothing to scare him away?  He did you such an honor, singling you out in such a way,” she admonished, waving her handkerchief wildly as she gesticulated.  “I cannot believe you have been so cavalier in your acquaintance with a man with ten thousand pounds a year!  You must catch him before he gets away!”

“Mama, I have told you.  Mr. Darcy only asked me to dance because we were previously known to each other.  As my uncle wrote in his letter, we briefly met the Darcys and have a very civil but distant acquaintance.  It was mere politeness, I assure you.”

“Lizzy is right, Mama,” Lydia cried from the opposite end of the breakfast table, “I heard him say Lizzy was plain and unappealing and that he would rather stick a fork in his eye than dance with her.  Unfortunately for him, he felt obligated to ask her to dance because they were known to each other.”

Lizzy gripped her cup firmly in her hand, willing herself to stay calm.  Bent on revenge for her lecture at the assembly, Lydia had let everyone within 10 miles know that Mr. Darcy found her grotesque and despised dancing with her, and with each reiteration, Mr. Darcy’s supposed language became more offensive.  She took a deep breath before catching her father’s laughing eyes above his paper and smiled in spite of herself.  Lydia was being childish and ridiculous—why it should affect her so now was beyond her ken.

“See, Mama?  You must not hope for anything from that quarter.  I am apparently not handsome enough to tempt Mr. Darcy,” she said plainly.  From the corner of her eye, she saw Lydia pout in indignation at her sister’s apparent immunity to her goading behavior.

“Jane, however,” Lizzy continued with a mischievous glint in her eye, “clearly caught the eye of Mr. Bingley.  I daresay we should expect him to call in the coming days.”

Before her mother could begin to rhapsodize about Mr. Bingley’s many virtues—most of them having to do with his wealth and his interest in Jane—Hill arrived with the mail.

“Let us see,” her father said, scanning over the pile, “this is for Jane, and these two are for Lizzy.”

Lizzy looked at the two letters.  One was unmistakably from her Aunt Gardiner, but the penmanship of the other was unfamiliar.  Opening the unfamiliar letter first and scanning to the signature, her face lit up upon recognizing the letter’s author.

“And, whose letter has made you smile so, my dear Lizzy?” her father asked teasingly.

“Miss Darcy has written me,” she said, suppressing her smile, before interjecting with a glance to her mother, “which makes sense seeing as I know Miss Darcy far better than her brother, with whom I have hardly spoken.”

“Well, there is an idea!” cried her mother.  “Get to the brother through the sister!”

Appalled by the suggestion, Lizzy suddenly stood up.  “I believe I shall read these on my walk.”

“Oh dear!  Oh, Lizzy, why do you not stay here this morning?  What if Mr. Darcy calls?  You could speak of his sister!”

“Goodbye, Mama,” Lizzy said, giving her mother an indulgent look to conceal her frustration.

Outside, Lizzy took a deep breath, relishing in the crisp scent of the autumn air.  She walked to the edge of the park until she could no longer see the house and seated herself beneath a tree.  She eagerly opened her letter from Georgiana first.

1 October 1811

Dear Miss Elizabeth,

I only just received a letter from my brother, informing me of your agreement to our correspondence, and I could not have been more eager to write you.  Mrs. Gardiner has often shared pieces of your letters to her with me on our calls, and I find them to be such a balm to my low spirits.  I do want to assure you that I am not always in such low spirits as I have very much enjoyed spending time with your young cousins!  Little Amelia and John are perhaps the sweetest children I have had the pleasure of meeting, and it never fails to brighten my day when I am presented with a little posy or a found piece of string, given with the utter delight that only a child can contain.

I digress, though.  I cannot say how pleased I was to hear an account of your meeting with Fitzwilliam at a ball of all places.  I must say how diverted I was to imagine you outwitting my shy, taciturn brother on the dance floor.  He is not one who enjoys an excess of people, nor am I for that matter.  I, however, am not required to socialize as much as him.

I can say that I am absolutely delighted by the prospect of joining my brother at Netherfield Park on the 27th of October.  Although I know our acquaintance has been brief, I have longed for someone in whom I can confide and who is near to my own age.  I have never before so felt the effects of being without a mother or a sister.  In this regard, Mrs. Gardiner’s companionship has been a blessing as she is warmer than my own aunts and provides meaningful guidance to me.  I can most assuredly see the familial resemblance between the two of you, even if you are not related by blood!

 I hope this letter finds you in good health, and I am eager to hear your reply.  Please feel free to inform me of how my brother is faring and your general view of Hertfordshire.  He treats me too delicately, and I think he conceals that which he believes may concern me.

Your friend,

Georgiana Darcy

P.S. I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to write the greeting of this letter.  I know we have had this discussion previously, but writing Elizabeth or Lizzy felt too informal for an introductory letter.  Please let me know how best you would like me to greet you in future correspondence.

Lizzy read over the letter once more before she sat back with it.  The letter was quite charming, much in the same way Georgiana was herself.  She wrote with a winsome candidness that was at once endearing and concerning.  It was a sanguine letter yet one that revealed the struggle and pain that lie beneath her optimism.

She was pleasantly surprised, however, by the revelations that Georgiana had been spending a great deal of time with the Gardiners and that she would be coming to the neighborhood within the month.  Why had Mr. Darcy not informed her of this information, she wondered.  What could he have told his sister of their interactions at the assembly?

She heard his voice say, “Miss Bennet,” and she looked up to find him standing in only six feet front of her with his perfectly erect posture as if she had summoned him.

She froze for a moment, not quite certain that he was truly before her.  Quickly folding her letter, she stood up awkwardly and curtsied in response to his very proper bow.  “Mr. Darcy.  What brings you this way?”

“I have actually come to call on your father.  I believe your uncle sent him a letter informing him of my arrival.”

“Yes,” she said quickly.  He had a strange look on his face as he regarded her, and she was vexed with herself for appearing so disheveled.  “I had a letter from your sister this morning,” she added quickly, wanting to distract him.

“So soon?” His face did not change except for a raised eyebrow.

“I was surprised as well.  You must have written her immediately after the ball for me to have such gratification after only a few days.”

He colored slightly, but otherwise she could detect no change in his countenance.  “What has she written you?”

“Oh, nothing of interest to a man I am sure,” she said coyly before narrowing her eyes at him mischievously.  “I must say I was surprised to hear that you sent your sister an account of your conduct at the assembly.”

“I spoke very little of my conduct.  I said only that you danced very well and that you were in good spirits—or some such remark that would satisfy my sister.”

“I see,” she said, unfolding the letter in her lap, “then might you tell me what your sister means by the comment: ‘I must say how diverted I was to imagine you outwitting my shy, taciturn brother on the dance floor?’”

“I may have also made an admiring mention of your wit, even if it always seemed to come at my expense.”

He was slightly embarrassed to see her surprise at his indirect compliment.  The past three days had found him pouring over their interaction at the assembly, attempting to remember her words and expressions to determine what her opinion of him was.  He was rather surprised to find that he could not bear the idea that she thought ill of him, given that he took great pride in his propensity to disregard the opinions of those wholly unconnected to him.

That, however, was the crux of the matter.  Miss Bennet was not wholly unconnected to him.  Her actions in Canterbury indelibly linked her to his family.  He could not be indifferent to her because of this inexplicable bond that now existed between his family and hers, and for that reason, he desired her good opinion.  What she felt about him, however, was unidentified.

If they could simply move past his damned insult!

“Mr. Darcy?”

He blinked at her, realizing that he was not attending the conversation.  “Excuse me.  I was woolgathering.”

She smirked and let out a little breath of laughter, “Ah, so that explains your glare.”

“My glare?”  For some reason, he suddenly thought of her uncle Gardiner.

“Yes, Sir, you were glaring at me, and I was beginning to believe my dishevelment worse than I had previously thought.”

“No!” he exclaimed impulsively, feeling distinctly ill at ease, “Your dishevelment becomes you.”

She tilted her head and regarded him with an amused expression.  Changing the subject abruptly, she asked him, “Would you agree with your sister’s assessment that you are shy and taciturn?”

He had to keep himself from smiling at her boldness.  “Perhaps, I would not use those words in particular, but I am a private man.  I do not like to be at the center of attention, and I do not like to speak unnecessarily.  I am a firm believer that brevity is the soul of wit.”

“I am of a somewhat similar disposition.  We both are unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.”

She was teasing him, and it was a distinctly enjoyable sensation.  “And you maintain that this description suits us both?”

“Perhaps,” she said tapping her finger on her chin in a way that drew his entire focus to the place where the tip of her index finger lightly touched the indentation beneath her lips.  “You must admit, however,” he reluctantly drew his eyes back to hers, “that perhaps our shared predilection for quoting great works of literature stems from a desire to be seen as profound on the hope that no one recognizes our plagiarism.”

It was incredible how quickly her mind worked.  He could never assume where she would take their conversation next.  “Then, I must ask you, Miss Bennet, to refrain from pointing out my pretensions to intelligence for I believe you would certainly discern each failed attempt to affect wisdom for its falsity.”

She blushed, and he could not prevent one side of his mouth from tugging upward.

“You have clearly not met my father, Sir.  I believe you may appreciate his sense when you call.”

“By all means, lead the way,” he said, holding out his arm for her to take.

She hesitated, and he worried he had done something inappropriate.  “Is aught amiss?”

“No—no,” she said evasively.

He looked at her knowingly, and her shoulders slumped.  “May I be frank with you, Mr. Darcy?”

He smirked.  “Has my lack of permission previously deterred you?”

She smiled shyly.  “I do not think it best for us to enter the house together”

“Why ever not?  There was nothing improper in this meeting.  We met each other by happenstance.”

“Sir, you did me a great honor in the eyes of the neighborhood by asking me to dance at the assembly, and my mother now has the inane notion that you have…designs on me—of the matrimonial kind.  Therefore, I think it best that you call without me, and I shall join later.  It would not do for you to show me any sort of kindness in front of my mother, Sir.  For all her virtues, she is quite silly about the marriageability of her daughters, and mere civility will provoke her to be quite relentless.”

He was caught between mortification and admiration.  He could not believe that this woman who was unrelated to him was speaking so frankly of marriage.  Her expression was completely artless, and in spite of his fear that he had shown Miss Bennet preference, he could not fathom what a blessing it was for Georgiana to have a friend who did not see her as a tool to find a wealthy husband.  He could not help, however, feeling rather injured at her reluctance.  It was a novel sensation, but he figured that, in her thoughtfulness, she must merely have been conscious of the difference in their stations and the precariousness of his current position with Georgiana.  He chided himself for thinking of it at all.  What did it matter if Miss Bennet thought of him as a potential husband or not?

“Mr. Darcy, I must once again ask if I have offended you.  You are glaring at me again.”

“On the contrary, I was merely surprised, and I assure you I was not glaring.  I do appreciate your frankness in this matter and am relieved that Georgiana has a friend who does not use her to gain her brother’s hand.”

“Has that happened before?” she asked in dismay.

“Yes,” he said gravely.

They stood in stony silence for a moment before he thoughtlessly asked her, “What is it about our conversations, Miss Bennet, that always seems to make me reveal more than I would like?”

She looked a little taken aback, but her answer was surprisingly sincere.  “Perhaps you understand, Mr. Darcy, that I am not one to be taken aback by even the cruelest truths of life, and indeed I am not.  I would much rather one speak openly to me and find some kind of mutual assurance in such discourse than to dissemble and continue to feel misunderstood.”

He could not respond to this easily.  “I very much believe I do understand that, Miss Bennet.”

He thought back to the conversation he overheard on the balcony at the assembly and briefly wondered if she was out here to escape.

“I should call on your family I believe,” he said, feeling like he suddenly knew too much.

“Yes,” she said with a self-deprecating smile.  “I dare say you should.”

He bowed and took his leave of her.

Once he was in sight of the house, he looked back to see her with her bonnet pulled off and head tilted back.  On stray curl was blowing in the wind, and he found he envied the lightness and freedom of spirit she possessed.

Smiling ruefully to himself, he turned and made his way to an old house with a brick façade that was beginning to crumble.

When Lizzy arrived home, Mr. Darcy was nowhere in sight.  Her mother was in fine fettle, however.

“Lizzy, you disobedient child!  I told you that Mr. Darcy would come, and he did!”  She waved her handkerchief wildly in Lizzy’s direction as if it would somehow wave her daughter’s willfulness away.  “He did not even ask after you, and he was rather disdainful.  He hardly spoke to us and then hid away with your father in his study for a quarter of an hour and was barely civil when took his leave!

“I know not what you said to the poor man during your dance, but I am certain that whatever it was must have scared him away!  If this hurts Jane’s chances with Mr. Bingley, I shall never forgive you!”

“I would never forgive myself if I caused such a thing, but I am certain all is well.  Mr. Darcy is a perfectly agreeable gentleman but not one prone to idle chat.  ‘Tis possible he merely felt ill-at-ease in the company of five women.”

“I do not see why he should be!  He is a young man in possession of a good fortune.  He must be in want of a wife, and we have five gently bred young ladies here.  Though, he will likely not seek Jane because his friend has expressed an interest in her.”

Jane entered the room, and everyone turned to look at her.  “Is aught amiss?”

Her mother fluttered toward her and took her hand, patting it gently.  “Not at thing, my dearest girl!  For you shall marry Mr. Bingley, and we shall be saved!”

“Oh, Mama!  Do not let your hopes exceed reality.  I very much enjoyed my dances with him, but there is no telling when I shall see him again!”

“I told you!  You must see him when you dine with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley today at Netherfield!”

“What is this?” Lizzy asked skeptically.

“You would know if you had stayed after breakfast, but Jane received a note from the ladies up at Netherfield to dine with them today.  Jane shall be taking horseback, and when it rains, she shall have to stay the night!”

Jane protested, “Mama, it is deceitful to purposely go to take advantage of their hospitality!”

“Not at all!  You heard your father say that he cannot spare the carriage today.  ‘Tis just a happy coincidence,” her mother said with more genuine cheer than Lizzy had ever seen.

Her mother scurried away, ordering Hill on some errand or another, and Lizzy took Jane’s arm and pulled her into the music room.  “You must tell me, dearest sister?  How awful was his visit?”

Jane’s expression wore a paradoxically stunning grimace, and she sighed, “I cannot say it was much of anything.  He was with us very briefly before he asked after Papa, and they absconded to his study.”

“Yes, Jane, but you must tell me what Mama said that made him appear ‘rather disdainful.’”

Her voice was amused, but she was internally fearful that her family had humiliated her more than she previously thought.  Mr. Darcy’s presence simultaneously fascinated her and made her feel distinctly self-conscious.  She found him more difficult to read than most, so his assurances often left her at sea.

“Yes, well, I remember Mama asking after his health and the health of his sister and informing him that you had received a letter from her earlier in the morning.  Then, she remarked on how much she enjoyed watching you and he dance at the assembly three nights past.  And Lydia…”

“Lydia?” Lizzy urged her to continue.

“She made some sort of remark about how she was sorry that he had to dance with her most ill-favored sister.  That is when Mr. Darcy requested to speak with Papa.”

Lizzy smiled at that.  Perhaps Lydia’s vulgar comment was for the best.  Mr. Darcy surely could not judge them too harshly when reminded of his own gentlemanly behavior.

“Now, for the real heart of the matter,” Lizzy took Jane’s hand with a glint in her eye.  “How do you truly feel about the thought of seeing your Mr. Bingley tonight?”

“He is not my Mr. Bingley,” Jane responded with a shy smile.  “But, truly?  I cannot deny that I am nervous.  He is such an amiable gentleman, and I do so enjoy his company.  I do not enjoy the pressure that comes with these rituals of courting.”

“Nor do I, but unlike you, I do not have any opportunities to feel such pressure,” Lizzy laughed. “The waiting and wondering will undoubtedly be difficult.  Though, I think as long as you find that you could respect Mr. Bingley enough to marry him, it shall be no burden for him to fall in love with you.”

“Dearest Lizzy, you always have such faith in me even when I do not.”

“If I could not have faith in the most wonderful lady I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, I would be a fool indeed.  Luckily for us both, I am not a fool.  Therefore, I can continue to advertise your goodness and beauty to the world without expense to your natural modesty.  I hold no such compunction.”

“Oh, Lizzy, if there was but a man that could match your wit and appreciate your combination liveliness and sense, I am sure that you would leave him defenseless.”

“Yes, but if such a man were sensible enough for me to respect him, he likely would not marry a dowry-less lady of average beauty and subpar accomplishments.”

“Come now,” Jane admonished.  “Such talk is not like you.  You know that you would bring value and joy to any partnership.  You must know that.”

Lizzy had once imagined a marriage based on love.  She had had a romantic ideal in mind.  A man with intelligence and sense who was reasonably handsome and made her feel giddy.  Much to her chagrin, Mr. Wickham had conformed to that very ideal, and it had only been a few short hours later that her romantic ideal had begun to crumple under the weight of his deceiving appearance.

She did not have such an ideal anymore.  In fact, she could not imagine herself married at all.  Her pride had withered in the past months, leaving her to fully understand just how cruel the world was and how vulnerable she was to its caprices.  She had ever had a philosophical view on life and accepted sorrows and disappointment as common and necessary.  She had now, however, resigned herself to a sort of complacent uncertainty about her future.

“Then, I shall bring joy to your family someday as the spinster aunt who spoils your dozen children when you are not looking.”

This made Jane laugh, and Lizzy persuaded her to abandon the current topic and focus on what Jane would wear to dine with the Bingley sisters.